Saturday, December 06, 2014

Ways Christian Fundamentalists Hold Americans Back

With the arrival of the holiday season one sees even more false piety and self-congratulatory religiosity from fundamental Christians. The hypocrisy truly goes off the charts.  It's enough to make one want to vomit.   But besides seeking to ruin this time of year for everyone who does not subscribe to the hate and fear based religious beliefs, these "godly folk" due much to hold back America - which shouldn't be a surprise since these folks seem at times to worship ignorance and to view logic and reason as some form of communicable disease.  A piece in Salon reminds us of some of these other foul gifts from fundamentalist Christians to the nation.  Here are some highlights:
Terrible Social Safety Net.   The Jesus Christ of the Bible is forever going on about the need to clothe and feed the poor, but the Jesus Christ of the right-wing imagination is just as quick to kick a homeless person as he is to give him a meal. One of the biggest projects of fundamentalist Christianity of the past few decades is to create a religious justification for slashing the social safety net. That’s why conservative Christians tend to ignore the hundreds of verses in the Bible about feeding the poor and focus instead on a single verse, 2 Thessalonians 3:10, which reads, “For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.” . . . . conservative Christians have exploited the hell out of this verse to justify all manner of starving the poor and casting them out to sleep in the cold. 

Megachurch pastor John Hagee interprets the verse to mean that welfare should be ended. Rep. Kevin Cramer whips the verse out to justify starving SNAP-dependent children. And Rep. Stephen Fincher does the same, even though he wasn’t against taking millions in government aid himself, in the form of farm subsidies.

CreationismOne of the most peculiar ways conservative Christians try to assert cultural dominance in the U.S. is to reject the theory of evolution and instead insist on some sort of Biblical literalism that suggests humans were created by God instead of evolved over time. Because of this, only Turkey has lower rates than the U.S. in the Western world of acceptance of the theory of evolution. Unfortunately, conservative Christians refuse to limit themselves to simply believing weird stuff. Instead, creationists are forever trying to find new ways to push their religious beliefs off as “science” in science classrooms, even though the courts have firmly told them they really can’t be doing this.

Battles Over Proselytizing in Schools.  Creationism is just a small part of a larger, ongoing hunger the Christian right has for access to children in public schools. The First Amendment should forbid exploiting the fact that kids are required to go to school to foist Christian beliefs on them, but the lure of all that captive audience means conservative Christians keep trying.

Convincing People to Vote Against Their Own Self-InterestsThe 2014 midterm elections were strange, in that nearly every time voters had a chance to vote directly on legislation–such as raising the minimum wage–they voted for the liberal side, but somehow Republicans still swept the elections. There are many complex reasons for this, but one of the most straightforward is that this is the problem with religiosity. Republicans thump the Bible hard and frequently, and that causes a lot of people to believe that a vote for Republicans is a “Christian” vote. The fact that Republicans refuse to walk the walk–attacking the poor to fluff up the coffers of the wealthy every chance they get–matters little. The religiosity is skin deep, but that’s all it needs to be to get votes.

The Modern Republican Party.  Many political observers are prone, at times, to wonder how it is that the Republican Party of the mid-20th century seems to have disappeared entirely. Gone are Republicans like Dwight Eisenhower or Gerald Ford, who while certainly conservative, at least seemed to feel somewhat beholden to things like “facts” or “desire to govern,” and instead it seems like every new crop of Republican politicians going into office is nuttier than the last.

This is almost entirely due to religion. The past few decades have been a stampede of religious fanatics into high office. The results are disturbing: Congressional panels convened to push the idea that contraception is some great moral evil, Congress forbidding the EPA from consulting actual scientists on science questions, anti-science fanatics heading science committees

Rape Culture.  Most of us are fully aware of how conservative Christian hostility to reproductive rights and gay rights is setting back progress, but it’s also true that Christianity plays a big role in making it hard to address the problem of sexual assault. Many conservative Christians eagerly spread the discredited myth that women make up rape in order to “cover up” for having consensual sex, which is what Rep. Todd Akin was doing when he claimed women cannot get pregnant from “legitimate rape.” But more than that, because of their hang-ups about sexuality, conservative Christians generally get wrapped up in the idea that the problem with sexual violence is less the violence part and more the sex part.

Witness, for instance, National Review writer Carl Eric Scott, when he writes about the problem of rape: He assumes that the problem is not forced sex, but consensual sex, and his “solutions” to the rape problem are all centered around trying to discourage consensual sex. . . . conservative Christians continue to confuse the issue about what exactly causes rape, by leading people to believe it’s just about too much sex when it’s actually about power and domination.

Can the Virginia GOP Escape From Crazy Land?

RVP extremist John Whitbeck
As it gathers for the so-called "Republican Advance" - an event the Richmond Times Dispatch describes as "a holiday fundraising soiree where party notables, aspiring candidates and GOP operatives share a cup of wassail" - many wonder if the Virginia GOP has learned anything from its losses in 2013 and Ed Gilespie's defeat back in November.  In my view, the answer is a resounding "No."   Moreover, despite the fact that Bill Bolling (who unlike Ken Cuccinelli was electable) has tried to steer the Virginia GOP back toward sanity, the more likely trend is for the party to veer off into even deeper insanity, especially if The Family Foundation and Tea Party elements have their way.  The Richmond Times Dispatch looks at Bolling's efforts. Here are excerpts:
The annual gathering also offers an early glimpse at potential statewide candidates jockeying for position to run in 2017.

None of the party’s last three statewide officeholders — former Gov. Bob McDonnell, Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, or Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli are expected at the Westfields Marriott Washington Dulles.

Cuccinelli, who lost the race for governor to Democrat Terry McAuliffe, will be in Richmond for the dedication of the Commonwealth Public Safety Memorial, honoring 870 Virginia first responders who died in the line of duty.

McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, were convicted in September on federal corruption charges. The former governor has maintained a low public profile since the trial, pending his sentencing Jan. 6.

Bolling also will not be on hand — but the Hanover Republican has plenty to say about where the party is and where it needs to go to make future Advances seem less like retreats.   Bolling even took out a full-page ad in the Advance sponsorship booklet urging unity.  “This is a challenging time for our party, but if we work hard, smart and together, we can rebuild the Republican Party and once again earn the right to lead Virginia,” it reads.

He [Bolling] said some of the current leadership of the party is “in denial” that it needs a course correction despite losing the six statewide elections since Republicans McDonnell, Bolling and Cuccinelli swept to victory in 2009.

“Believe it or not, after losing two close statewide elections,” for governor in 2013 and U.S. Senate this year, “my sense of grass-roots Republicans is that they have an attitude of ‘we can do this,’ not any sense of defeatism,” Cuccinelli said in an email. “That bodes well going forward.”

Nominating candidates that “light the ideological fires of the farthest right wing of the party is fine, but those candidates aren’t going to win,” said Bolling.
Meanwhile, a piece in Blue Virginia looks at the insane likely next head of the Republican Party of a Virginia, an anti-Semite and far right extremist:
The race to lead the Republican Party of Virginia is all but settled and somehow, Virginia Republicans see no issues with elevating one of the most polarizing and insensitive figures in the Commonwealth. They couldn't find a single candidate more qualified than John Whitbeck, whose unique brand of extremism, obstructionism and of course, anti-Semitism shows Virginia Republicans couldn't be less interested in working to move Virginia forward. 

"It says a lot about Virginia Republicans that they would welcome as chair someone as extreme as John Whitbeck," said Morgan Finkelstein, press secretary for the Democratic Party of Virginia. "From his offensive anti-Semitic comments to his extreme positions opposing abortion even in cases of rape and incest, Whitbeck blatantly puts his ideological Tea Party agenda ahead of the citizens of Virginia. By backing someone so polarizing, the Republican Party of Virginia is sending a clear signal that they're only interested in being the party of 'no.'"

From his offensive positions to his far-right friends, John Whitbeck represents a major step in the Tea Party takeover of the RPV.

With voices like these leading the Republican Party of Virginia, it's no wonder that even hard-line conservatives are finding that they're not right-wing enough. Tea Party extremist Susan Stimpson has already announced a primary challenge to Speaker Bill Howell, Dan Moxley is primarying Senator Emett Hanger and of course, David Brat has already replaced Eric Cantor in Congress. John Whitbeck's rise to Chair is further proof that Virginia Republicans are bolting to the right wing extremes.

Saturday Morning Male Beauty

Are Americans Finally Realizing the Police Brutality is Everyone's Problem?

Watching the aftermath of two grand jury decisions that allowed two police officers to in the view of some get away with murder, there seem to be two reactions overall.  The white conservative Christofascists/Tea Party crowd - perhaps because of the multitude of white supremacists with that group - have either yawned at the issue or believed that it's not an issue because the victims were blacks (Note the view of Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) - a foul individual in my estimation - below).  Others from the sane and decent elements of society outside the black community may, however, be waking up to the reality that the problem threatens all of us.  I've recounted my own experience with gay bashing cops and sadly there are numerous stories of police shooting white youths without justification.  And it you're in a low income white neighborhood, don't count on the police acting the same as they would in a wealthy society neighborhood.  An editorial in the New York Times examines what may be the beginning of a long needed awakening.  Here are highlights:
The country has historically reacted with doubt or indifference when African-Americans speak of police officers who brutalize — or even kill — people with impunity. Affluent and middle-class white Americans who were treated with respect by the police had difficulty imagining the often life-threatening mistreatment that black Americans of all walks of life dealt with on a daily basis. Perhaps those days are passing away.

You can see that from the multiracial cast of the demonstrations that have swept the nation since Wednesday, when a grand jury decided not to indict a white New York City police officer whose chokehold killed Eric Garner, an unarmed black man.
In city after city, white and nonwhite citizens have surged through the streets chanting or bearing signs with Mr. Garner’s final words: “I can’t breathe.” Others chanted: “Hands up; don’t shoot” or “Black lives matter” — slogans from the racially troubled town of Ferguson, Mo., where another grand jury declined to indict the officer who shot to death 18-year-old Michael Brown.

The viral spread of the demonstrations — and the wide cross section of Americans who are organizing and participating in them — shows that what was once seen as a black issue is on the way to being seen as a central, American problem.

The question of the moment is whether the country’s political leadership has the will to root out abusive and discriminatory policing — corrosive, longstanding problems that bore down on minority communities, large and small, urban and suburban.

This week, Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. released a particularly alarming report on the barbaric conduct of the police department in Cleveland, which has been riven with discord in recent weeks, after a white police officer shot and killed a 12-year-old black boy, Tamir Rice, who was holding a toy gun.

The Times reported on Friday that the officer had quit a suburban police force after his supervisors judged that he had a “dangerous loss of composure” during firearms training and was emotionally unprepared to deal with the stresses of the job. The Cleveland Police Department had failed to examine the officer’s work history before hiring him.

The Justice Department report describes the Cleveland Police Department as something far closer to an occupying military force than a legitimate law enforcement agency. The officers, for example, seem to take a casual view of the use of deadly force, shooting at people who pose no threat of harm to the police or others.

[A]spects of illegal police conduct can be found in cities all over the country, subjecting millions to intimidation and fear that they could be killed for innocent actions.

Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, for example, asked, “Why does the federal government feel like it is its responsibility and role to be the leader in an investigation in a local instance?” That sounds like something out of the Jim Crow era, when Southern states argued that they were entitled to treat black citizens any way they wished.

That so many are in the streets protesting police abuse shows that outrage over these injustices is spreading. Now it is up to the nation’s political leaders to confront this crisis.
How one gets treated by police should not depend on the color of one's skin, their hair or dress style, the street they live on or whether they have a yacht or country club sticker on their car.  We also need to face the reality that there are many on police forces who have no business wearing a badge and carrying a gun. The Cleveland murder of a 12 year old underscores that reality.

Friday, December 05, 2014

More Friday Male Beauty

How a Victim Culture Gone Mad Harms Real Victims

Not to beat a dead horse, but in follow up to the last post, a piece in The Daily Beast - authored by a woman - looks at the risks of jumping on the band wagon of every self-professed victim without at least pausing to make sure the alleged facts and the story line match up with objective facts.  With two daughters and a grand daughter, I am certainly sensitive to women's issues and hold a deep disgust for those (typically heterosexual males) who physically and/or sexually abuse woman. But, perhaps due to the attorney in me, I know that it is critical to check out the facts.  Blindly believing your client without asking hard questions can leave one to find themselves ambushed in court or torn apart in an opposing counsel's brief.  The same holds true in journalism (which, by the way, I believe includes blogging - especially since readers will quickly tell me when I'm wrong) and is something Rolling Stone and Fox News need to learn.  Here are highlights from The Daily Beast article:
When Rolling Stone first published its explosive story detailing UVA student Jackie’s alleged gang-rape by seven fraternity brothers, few in the mainstream media doubted its veracity.

And by giving blind faith to Jackie’s story, Erdely obfuscated some of the truth, leading Rolling Stone to acknowledge “discrepancies in Jackie’s account” on Friday.

[I]n valorizing Jackie’s trauma as a victim of rape (never mind that she was and remains an alleged victim), Rolling Stone ignored glaring holes in a story that was too good to check.

Erdely’s story did damage to University of Virginia’s reputation, but more importantly, the story has done a tragic disservice to other victims of sexual violence who might be prevented from coming forward out of fear that their stories will have to withstand the scrutiny and default skepticism of police, university officials, and reporters.

Rolling Stone should be shamed for egregiously poor reporting, failing to fact-check important details like the date of the night Jackie claimed she was violently raped for three hours in a Phi Kappa Psi frat house (the fraternity did not, in fact, host a party that evening).

But of the hundreds of thousands, including journalists, who read the Rolling Stone story, few noticed Erdely’s failure to interview any of the seven men who participated in the attack on Jackie or corroborate many of the other easily corroborated details she reported.

When journalists did scrutinize what they viewed as weak and one-sided reporting, they were met with accusations of victim-blaming.
When Worth magazine editor-in-chief Richard Bradley voiced his skepticism in a blogpost, he was immediately declared a “UVA truther” by New York magazine contributing writer Marin Cogan, who compared him to 9/11 conspiracy theorists for even questioning Erdely’s story, despite including plenty of caveats that she might be telling the truth.

Cogan has since apologized for using the term and acknowledged she was wrong about the UVA story.

Jezebel’s Anna Marian attacked Reason writer Robby Soave for taking a similar stance as Bradley (in Marian’s words, Coave “takes Bradley’s giant ball of shit and runs with it.”) Marian too has since apologized, acknowledging that she was “dead fucking wrong.”

But others, like feminist writer Amanda Marcotte, have merely shifted focus to how “rape apologists” will greet the news of Rolling Stone’s admission of their report’s shortcomings, while still believing Jackie’s story . . . 

The lesson Marcotte drew from the magazine’s climbdown was that it was “interesting that rape apologists think that if they can ‘discredit’ one rape story, that means no other rape stories can be true, either.” She cited no examples. While others were debating the failings of Rolling Stone’s process, Marcotte was railing against “rape apologists [who] are so sure rapes are hoaxes...”

Still others attempted to turn the focus away from Jackie onto the magazine that credulously told her story. 

Of course Rolling Stone’s reputation should—and has—suffered from the Jackie debacle. And it will likely have a disastrous effect on Erdely’s career.

But writers like Marcotte and Valenti still cast Jackie as a victim, despite the growing evidence casting serious doubt on her story.

We live in a culture that valorizes victims—where to question one woman’s claims of sexual abuse is to be a “rape apologist,” someone who effectively dismisses heinous crime under any and all circumstances. If Jackie is lying, she will likely—and sadly—suffer for it. And she has already put herself in an unenviable position by reaffirming her version of events as described to Rolling Stone in a subsequent interview with the Washington Post.

The problem with valorizing the victim, as a “victim culture” does, is that anything that runs contrary to the victim’s narrative is cast as an attack on that person.

Question them, and you are colluding in exacerbating the awful effects of their trauma. Question their actions or motives and you are “victim shaming” and “victim blaming.” Of course, the flip-side of a victim is a bully, and it is notable that today, everyone rushes to be a victim—the right wing under attack from the left, the left under attack from the right, bigots still seeking to attack gay people, and claiming they cannot voice their bigotry.

The sad consequence of a culture of victimhood is that it obscures real victims and obscures the genuinely felt experiences of those victims, whatever they have endured.
I often bemoan the fact that we have so little good investigative reporting nowadays.  Perhaps, that is what Erdely thought she was doing.  But by not doing her fact checking and corroborating statements easily verifiable, she ended up acting no better than Fox News and pushing the story she perhaps wished was true and most certainly wanted readers to believe was true.  She did a huge disservice to everyone.

More Questions Raised About Seemingly Fabricated UVA Rape Story

It looks like Rolling Stone may have something much more foul smelling than mud on its face as the pilloried UVA fraternity, Phi Kappa Psi, rebuts many of the key details of the story of gang rape told by "Jackie" to Rolling Stone contributing editor Sabrina Rubin Erdely who apparently never bothered to fact check her story - perhaps out of eagerness to "break a big story."  Andrew Sullivan correctly notes:
How an editor ran this piece without even speaking to its author is beyond me; how fact-checkers did not discover some of these obvious discrepancies immediately is also astounding. I guess when you’re on a crusade, “fake but true” will do.
Whatever their motivation, "Jackie" and Erdely have harmed the cause of the right of women to safety on campus by making officials more likely to question rape allegations than before "the big story."  Something about the story never rang true with me after attending UVA as both an undergraduate and as a law student not to mention having numerous family members who are graduates.  If there is to be justice, I hope that Phi Kappa Psi aggressively goes after "Jackie" who seems to have played many into making jack asses of themselves.  Oh, and perhaps Jackie needs to be charged with an Honor Code violation and brought before the UVA Honor Council for bald face lying (if found guilty, expulsion from the University is the sanction).  Here are details from the Washington Post on the rapidly collapsing Rolling Stone story:
Several key aspects of the account of a gang rape offered by a University of Virginia student in Rolling Stone magazine have been cast into doubt, including the date of the alleged attack and details about an alleged attacker, according to interviews and a statement from the magazine backing away from the article.

The U-Va. fraternity chapter where the alleged attack on a student named Jackie was said to have occurred in September 2012 released a statement Friday afternoon denying that such an assault took place in its house. Phi Kappa Psi said it has been working with police to determine whether the account of a brutal rape at a party there was true. The fraternity members say that several important elements of the allegations were false.

A group of Jackie’s close friends, who are sex assault awareness advocates at U-Va., said they believe something traumatic happened to her, but they also have come to doubt her account. They said details have changed over time, and they have not been able to verify key points of the story in recent days. A name of an alleged attacker that Jackie provided to them for the first time this week, for example, turned out to be similar to the name of a student who belongs to a different fraternity, and no one by that name has been a member of Phi Kappa Psi.

Reached by phone, that man, a U-Va. graduate, said Friday that he did work at the Aquatic and Fitness Center and was familiar with Jackie’s name. He said, however, that he had never met Jackie in person and had never taken her on a date. He also said that he was not a member of Phi Kappa Psi.

Phi Kappa Psi said it did not host “a date function or social event” during the weekend of Sept. 28, 2012, the night that Jackie alleges she was invited to a date party, lured into an upstairs room and was then ambushed and gang-raped by seven men who were rushing the fraternity.

The fraternity also said that it has reviewed the roster of employees at the university’s Aquatic and Fitness Center for 2012 and found that it does not list a member of the fraternity — a detail Jackie provided in her account to Rolling Stone and in interviews with The Washington Post — and that no member of the house matches the description detailed in the Rolling Stone account. The statement also said that the house does not have pledges during the fall semester.

Alex Pinkleton, a close friend of Jackie’s who survived a rape and an attempted rape during her first two years on campus, said in an interview that she has had numerous conversations with Jackie in recent days and now feels misled. . . . . Pinkleton said she is concerned that sexual assault awareness advocacy groups will suffer as a result of the conflicting details of the Rolling Stone allegations.

Earlier this week, Jackie revealed to friends for the first time the full name of her alleged attacker, a name she had never disclosed to anyone. But after looking into that person’s background, the group that had been among her closest supporters quickly began to raise suspicions about her account. The friends determined that the student that Jackie had named was not a member of Phi Kappa Psi and that other details about his background did not match up with information Jackie had disclosed earlier about her perpetrator.

“An advocate is not supposed to be an investigator, a judge or an adjudicator,” said Renda, a 2014 graduate who works for the university as a sexual violence awareness specialist. But as details emerge that cast doubt on Jackie’s account, Renda said, “I don’t even know what I believe at this point.”

Soltis said Jackie did not tell her about the alleged sexual assault until January 2013. Soltis said she did not notice any apparent wounds on Jackie’s body at the time that might have indicated a brutal attack.
Sexual violence on campuses needs to be eradicated. Period.  By telling lies and believing a self-announced "victim" without ever bothering to corroborate the facts is no better than lynch mob behavior in the Old South.  Jackie and Erdely have harmed the cause they claim to support and one has to wonder how many real victims will now be disbelieved because of this apparently fabricated story. 

Friday Morning Male Beauty

If Eric Garner Were White He'd Be a Tea Party Crusade

As regular readers know, I have nothing but contempt for the Tea Party, which in truth just a bunch of Christofascists and white supremacists hiding under a different label because of the toxicity with which they are viewed by sane Americans if they reveal their real identity/agenda.  If one isn't a white, conservative Christian, heterosexual, to these people you are less than human.  Indeed, you are worthy of no civil rights at best and extermination at worse.  The Tea Party is comprised of foul, nasty, bigoted and often down right stupid individuals, in my opinion.  But I missed one other attribute that is defining for these folks: they are complete hypocrites.  A piece in The Atlantic looks at this reality and how, if Eric Garner had been white, the Tea Party would have launched a crusade with him as its martyr.  Here are highlights:
Imagine that Eric Garner had been white. Imagine that he’d been living in Idaho. Imagine that the law-enforcement officers who killed him had been federal agents.  His death would be a Tea Party crusade.

Think about it. The police hassled Garner because he had a history of selling untaxed cigarettes. It’s the kind of big-government intrusion that drives Tea Partiers nuts. One of the events that helped launch the Tea Party, in fact, came in January 2009, when activists from Young Americans for Liberty donned American Indian garb to protest the soda taxes proposed by then-New York Governor David Patterson.

Garner responded to being hassled with a statement of “don’t tread on me” anti-government defiance: “I was just minding my own business. Every time you see me you want to mess with me. I’m tired of it. It stops today!”  A tussle ensued. The police put Garner in a chokehold, and he died.

The Garner case bears some resemblance to that of Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher who this spring prevented Bureau of Land Management agents from impounding his cattle after he refused to pay government grazing fees. Like Garner, Bundy was engaged in a form of commerce he believed the government should not tax. Like Garner, Bundy resisted law enforcement’s efforts to punish him for it. For many conservatives, this made Bundy a hero and the government that sought to penalize him a tyranny. Right-wing activists, including some Republican legislators, flocked to Bundy’s ranch as he stared down federal agents, and Nevada Senator Dean Heller dubbed these vigilantes “patriots.” . . .  Ted Cruz called the Bundy affair “the unfortunate and tragic culmination of the path that President Obama has set the federal government on” in which “we have seen our constitutional liberties eroded.”

To imagine how Fox News would be reacting right now had Garner been white, rural, and facing the feds, you need only imagine how it would have reacted had a BLM agent shot Bundy dead.

[C]onservatives have responded to the Garner case with a yawn. At 8 p.m. Wednesday night, hours after the decision had been announced, at a time when the Garner case dominated the websites of MSNBC and CNN, the top story on was about Texas suing President Obama over immigration.  . . . . There was virtually nothing about the grand-jury decision on the websites of National Review or The Weekly Standard.

One prominent conservative who did mention the case was Charles Krauthammer, who called the grand jury’s decision “incomprehensible” but slammed President Obama’s response for “making the implication … that it was about race.”

[T]he right’s largely indifferent response illustrates just how much the Garner case really is about race. Had Eric Garner been a rural white man with a cowboy hat killed by federal agents, instead of a large black man choked to death by the NYPD, his face would be on a Ted Cruz for President poster by now.

Stopping Police Abuse of Black Men

Eric L. Adams, Brooklyn borough president and a retired New York Police Department captain, has an op-ed in the New York Times that is a must read.  It looks at the ongoing problem of police brutality against black males, many of whom lack the resources to take effective action against abusive police, assuming they survive the encounter.  Just as the police (all of whom were white, by the way) I encountered in Norfolk 10 years ago thought harassing a gay was fine - good sport even - too many police see blacks as targets they can abuse with impunity.  They see them - and in some cases, gays - as "other" and less than human and deserving of abuse.  Some of the comments made by Darren Wilson about Michael Brown exemplify the problem.  What's equally disturbing is the fact that police internal affairs departments seek first and foremost to protect the police officers and care nothing for the rights of the abused citizens.  I learned this truth first hand. Here are op-ed highlights:

I CAN recall it as if it were yesterday: looking into the toilet and seeing blood instead of urine. That was the aftermath of my first police encounter.

As a 15-year-old, living in South Jamaica, Queens, I was arrested on a criminal trespass charge after unlawfully entering and remaining in the home of an acquaintance. Officers took me to the 103rd Precinct — the same precinct where an unarmed Sean Bell was later shot and killed by the police — and brought me into a room in the basement. They kicked me in the groin repeatedly.

For seven days after that, I stared into the toilet bowl in my house at the blood I was urinating. I kept telling myself that if it didn’t clear up by the next day, I would share this shame and embarrassment with my mother, although I could never bring myself to start that conversation.

As I attempted to put that shame and attack on my manhood away, new horror stories kept compelling me to relive those memories: the nightmare experiences of Randolph Evans, Patrick Dorismond, Abner Louima and countless other young men have reminded me of my own secret. Think of all the secrets that young men of color are hiding. How many are concealing some dark truth of the abuse they endured, and what is that darkness doing to them?

In order to finally bring this darkness into the light of day, our nation must address the foundation of this crisis. That starts with acknowledging that the training taught in police academies across the country is not being applied in communities of color. After six months in the police academy, that instruction is effectively wiped out by six days of being taught by veteran cops on the streets.

They started their shift on the defensive, thinking about protecting themselves, as opposed to the communities they served, regardless of the complexion of those communities. One of my white fellow officers once told me that if he saw a white individual with a gun, he took extra care for himself and the individual. When he saw a black individual with a gun, he took care only for himself.

These are the lessons to which I was exposed, and the reality of what policing communities of color has been, not just in New York City but across America. There is a legacy of inequity that did not just appear overnight, but was carved into the culture of law enforcement over decades.

There is reluctance on the part of police leadership, which has long believed in the nightstick and quick-trigger-finger justice, to effectively deal with officers who have documented and substantiated records of abuse. These individuals need to be removed from the force. That is an essential component of the larger response we must have to address this history of abuse.

We cannot continue to approach policing in an antiquated fashion, and that certainly includes technology. Technology has been used as a crime-fighting tactic, but not as a tool to determine what happens during a police action. New York City has taken the right step in putting body cameras on police officers, but what about cameras on guns themselves?

Equally important, especially in the wake of what has taken place after the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, is reform to our grand jury system. Grand juries were established in England in the 12th and 13th centuries, a vestige of a time when people needed to be protected from unfair prosecution from the king and others. There was a necessary element of secrecy — one that need not apply in cases involving police misconduct.

Open, preliminary hearings in court can and should determine if a case should be stepped up to a trial. Additionally, the handling of police shootings should be wholly separated from local grand juries. These bodies cannot handle cases involving local police officers on whom they rely every day.

Special grand juries should be convened for police-related incidents, and independent agencies must gather evidence even before they convene, at the time of police encounters where a death has occurred  . . .

All of these ideas need to be moved forward under the leadership of our president, our governors, the mayors of our major cities and our law enforcement leadership. If we fail to take advantage of this moment that history has laid on our doorstep, we are doomed to more abuse, more division and more chaos.

When my son was 15, he was stopped by the police in a movie theater for no apparent reason. He showed his ID and explained that his father was a retired police captain and a state senator. The response was “So what?” It doesn’t and shouldn’t matter who he is. He shouldn’t have had that experience at all. And until that changes, for all men of color, real reform will never come.
I have a good friend who is black and in local law enforcement and even he has said that when he is out of uniform he worries about what could happen to him because of his skin color should he encounter the wrong police officers, especially late at night.  That is very frightening. 

Thursday, December 04, 2014

More Thursday Male Beauty

Model Christopher Fawcett.

First Circuit Denies Scott Lively's Petition To Dismiss Crimes Against Humanity Suit

Christian terrorists are not the only purveyors of hate and violence.  There are others who use religion to convince others to engage in acts of discrimination and anti-gay violence.  Most of these hate merchants - James Dobson, Rick Warren, Tony Perkins, and Brian Brown are but a few - hide under the banner of "family values" and "bible believing Christians."   Among the worse, however, is Scott Lively who, while delusional by most standards, has exported anti-gay hate and animus on a level matched by few especially to ignorant populations in Africa.  Indeed, Lively's action caused him to be charged with crimes against humanity.  Today, Lively's petition to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit seeking the dismissal of such charges - the lower court refused to dismiss the charges - was denied.   This means that Lively will have to stand trial and one can only hope that his foul deeds will result in a conviction.   A piece in the Washington Post looked at Lively's foul activities.  Here are excerpts:
Scott Lively is an obsessively anti-gay American evangelical minister. He is, according to National Journal, “perhaps the most extreme” of a network of U.S. evangelicals who, having failed in their crusade against all things gay at home, travel abroad to connect with anti-gay activists and arm them with arguments that, for example, homosexuals will seduce their children, corrupt all of society, and eventually take over the country. You don’t need to take my word for it; read Lively’s manifesto here. It’s a 2007 missive to Russians suggesting they “criminalize the public advocacy of homosexuality,” i.e., use state power to force gay people into the closet. This is something Russia actually did last year (rather indirectly, but quite effectively).

Lively has traveled to Russia to explain the gay menace. He also been involved in similar efforts in Latvia. (You can read about that and much more in National Journal’s commendable article.) And he has been active for years in Uganda, a place where persecution of gays has taken a turn for the worse — partly, it seems fair to suppose, thanks to his efforts. 

Perhaps it’s easier to understand why this is not an easy free-speech case if I change “homosexual” to “Jew.” Suppose I travel to a country where a vulnerable Jewish community faces a hostile and volatile majority; I connect with anti-semitic demagogues, some of whom are politically influential; I equip them with The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and other anti-semitic propaganda; I warn them that an international Jewish cabal will prey on their children and take over their country; I and advise them to forcibly repress Judaism. If I do all of that, what am I doing? Something more morally and legally complicated than merely exercising my First Amendment rights in the marketplace of ideas, that’s for sure.

If Lively wins, he’s a right-wing hero; if he loses, he’s a martyr. Either way, this case has potential to spread his fame far and wide and inspire imitators. He might succeed in commandeering the Supreme Court as his stage. All pretty enticing for a nut case from the fever swamps. Now, here’s what should be happening. Christians — especially evangelicals, and above all evangelicals who oppose gay marriage but insist they are not anti-gay (you know who you are!) — should be publicly repudiating what Lively is doing. . . . They should treat Lively the way white blood cells treat a bacillus, walling him off before he discredits evangelicals more broadly — as surely he will.

The Christian Terrorist Movement No One Wants To Talk About

I've often noted the parallels between far right Christian fundamentalists who seem to hate nearly everyone and the murderous Islamic fundamentalist of ISIS.  Baptist Pastor Steven Anderson's  suggestion that all gays should be killed is a case in point.  Interestingly, as reported by Addicting Information on a flight back from a trip to Turkey Pope Francis drew a parallel between Christian Fundamentalists and Islamic terror groups such as ISIS when a reporter sought to elicit a condemnation of Islam from Francis.  Indeed, Francis retorted: “You just can’t say that, just as you can’t say that all Christians are fundamentalists. We have our share of them (fundamentalists). All religions have these little groups.”  

Pope Francis was on to something.  Sadly, here in America, most journalists and news outlets refuse to reveal to the public the truth about Christian terrorist groups.  Yet again, religion and its followers are given undeserved deference.  Think Progress looks at a frightening and growing Christian terrorist movement in America.  Here are excerpts:
Last Friday, Larry McQuilliams was shot and killed by police after unleashing a campaign of violence in Austin, Texas, firing more than 100 rounds in the downtown area before making a failed attempt to burn down the Mexican Consulate. The only casualty was McQuilliams himself, who was felled by officers when he entered police headquarters, but the death toll could have been far greater: McQuilliams, who was called a “terrorist” by Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo, had several weapons, hundreds of rounds of ammunition. . . .

While the impetus for McQuilliams’ onslaught remains unclear, local authorities recently announced that he may have been motivated by religion — but not the one you might think. According to the Associated Press, police officers who searched McQuilliams’ van found a copy of “Vigilantes of Christendom,” a book connected with the Phineas Priesthood, an American white supremacist movement that claims Christian inspiration and opposes interracial intercourse, racial integration, homosexuality, and abortion. Phineas priests take their name from the biblical figure Phinehas in the book of Numbers, who is described as brutally murdering an Israelite man for having sex with a foreign woman, who he also kills. Members of the Phineas Priesthood — which people “join” simply by adopting the views of the movement — are notoriously violent, and some adherents have been convicted of bank robberies, bombing abortion clinics, and planning to blow up government buildings. Although McQuilliams didn’t leave a letter explaining the reason for his attack, a handwritten note inside the book described him as a “priest in the fight against anti-God people.”

[H]is association with the hateful religious group highlights a very real — but often under-reported — issue: terrorism enacted in the name of Christ.

To be sure, violent extremism carried out by people claiming to be Muslim has garnered heaps of media attention in recent years, with conservative pundits such as Greta Van Susteren of Fox News often insisting that Muslim leaders publicly condemn any acts of violence perpetrated in the name of Islam (even though many already have).

But there is a long history of terrorist attacks resembling McQuilliams’ rampage across Austin — where violence is carried out in the name of Christianity — in the United States and abroad. In America, the Ku Klux Klan is well-known for over a century of gruesome crimes against African Americans, Catholics, Jews, and others — all while ascribing to what they say is a Christian theology.
[R]ecent decades have also given rise to several “Christian Identity” groups, loose organizations united by a hateful understanding of faith whose members spout scripture while engaging in horrifying acts of violence. For example, various members of The Order, a militant group of largely professed Mormons whose motto was a verse from the book of Jeremiah, were convicted for murdering Jewish talk show host Alan Berg in 1984; the “Army of God”, which justifies their actions using the Bible, is responsible for bombings at several abortion clinics, attacks on gay and lesbian nightclubs, and the explosion at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia; and Scott Roeder cited the Christian faith as his motivation for killing George Tiller — a doctor who performed late-term abortions — in 2009, shooting the physician in the head at point-blank range while he was ushering at church.

Yet unlike the accusatory responses to domestic jihadist incidents such as the Fort Hood massacre, news of McQuilliams’ possible ties to the Christian Identity movement has yet to produce a reaction among prominent conservative Christians. Greta Van Susteren, for instance, has not asked Christian leaders such as Pope Francis, Rick Warren, or Billy Graham onto her show to speak out against violence committed in name of Christ. Rather, the religious affiliation of McQuilliams, like the faith of many right-wing extremists, has largely flown under the radar, as he and others like him are far more likely to be dismissed as mentally unstable “lone wolfs” than products of extremist theologies.

McQuilliams’ attack is a stark reminder that radical theologies exist on the fringes of most religions, and that while Muslim extremism tends to make headlines, religious terrorism is by no means unique to Islam.

Thursday Morning Male Beauty

Another Dead Black Man and No Indictment

After the evens in Ferguson and the blatant manipulation of the grand jury process to basically insure that no indictment would be handed down, it's stunning to see the same apparent result happen in New York City where police who basically strangled to death Eric Garner, a 43-year-old asthmatic, will faces no charges whatsoever - not even involuntary manslaughter.  No charges at all.  It's sadly part of a long trend where police avoid the charges that would be handed against the rest of us.  And for many blacks, it is yet further proof that their lives mean nothing in America's justice system.  A column in the Washington Post looks at this latest grand jury fiasco.  Here are highlights:

After a New York grand jury failed to indict a police officer in the death of a Staten Island man, protesters hit the streets of Manhattan and at least seven other U.S. cities. There were no reports by early morning Thursday of significant violence, in contrast to the looting and arson that broke out Nov. 24 in Ferguson, Mo., after a grand jury there declined to indict Darren Wilson, the officer who fatally shot unarmed teen Michael Brown on Aug. 9.

A wave of protests erupted from Manhattan to Oakland, Calif. Thousands in New York marched in support of Eric Garner, a 43-year-old asthmatic who died after being put in a chokehold by officer Daniel Pantaleo on July 17.

They shut down the Lincoln Tunnel. They shut down the West Side Highway. They shut down the Brooklyn Bridge, where officers threatened them with arrest if they did not move as a helicopter hovered above.

And they chanted the slogan heard around the country after Brown was killed by Wilson in Ferguson — “Hands up, don’t shoot” — as well as what may have been Garner’s last words: “I can’t breathe.”
“The lives of black young men, black children, they matter,” protester Florence Johnson told CBS at Times Square.

Garner, a father of six and grandfather of two, died July 17 after Officer Daniel Pantaleo placed him in what appeared to be a chokehold during an arrest that was recorded on videos that have been widely seen and have contributed to the public anger.

The grand jury decision that prompted Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. to announce the opening of a federal civil rights investigation.

President Obama, speaking earlier at an event in Washington, declined to comment specifically about the Staten Island case, referring instead to his plans to promote better relations between police and those they serve.
“I came down here because I’m disgusted about what happened,” said Edward Collins, a 19-year-old protester, told the San Francisco Chronicle. “It’s beyond a race thing to me. No matter what race you are, no one has the right to murder you.”

“Black lives do not matter in this system,” Dean Steed, one of the organizers of about 150 protesters in Atlanta, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “And we’re out here for black lives.”
We are certainly providing America's enemies with plenty of propaganda to throw back when America tries to criticize human rights abuses in other countries.  I suspect that Vladimir Putin has a huge smile on his face right now. 

The Myth of the "American Dream"

Most Americans - and likely most immigrants whether documented or not - believe in the so-called "American Dream" - the idea that through hard work anyone can rise to wealth and influence.  Increasingly, the reality is something quite different from Americas' ideas about upward social mobility (it's higher now in "Old Europe" than in America) and wealth inequality.  Indeed, most Americans would be shocked - or perhaps sickened - if they really focused on the reality of American society.  Yet the myth of the "American Dream" persists and allows plutocrats and their minions in elected office to continue the push to return America to a new Gilded Age that is wonderful for the wealthy, but frightening for most of us.  A piece in Salon looks at the reality and how the "American Dream" acts as an opiate for the masses.  Here are excerpts:
Multiple studies have shown that Americans seriously underestimate the degree of inequality in the U.S. economy. As Slate’s  Jordan Weissman noted in September, subjects in one test “estimated that the top 20 percent of U.S. households owned about 59 percent of the country’s net worth,” when in truth the number is closer to 84 percent. Moreover, the same study shows that even if the wealth of the U.S. economy was distributed like they’d believed, most Americans would still consider it too unequal. And these findings were consistent across many social groups; from Republicans to Democrats, from men to women, from the rich to the poor. No matter your vantage, it seems, Americans’ perception and their reality is not in sync.

[W]hile the gap between perception and reality was most pronounced in Americans, people from other developed (and increasingly unequal) economies also came up with ideal distributions that were markedly different from their countries’ actual status quo. What separates Americans from others, though — what makes inequality of this kind sustainable in the U.S. in a way that in other democracies isn’t; what makes the gap between perception and reality that Rock alluded to so difficult to bridge — is their faith in one of the greatest branding exercises in human history. I speak, of course, of the American Dream.

The American Dream isn’t new, of course, and it didn’t pop up as a response to the great divergence that started in the early 1970s. It’s been around for more than 100 years, and there really was a time, during the late 1800s, when rising wages and rags-to-riches stories made the theory at least plausible. But as the aforementioned U.C. Davis researcher Gregory Clark has found in a recent (paywalled) study, even if the American Dream was real in the past, it’s no longer operational today. “America has no higher rate of social mobility than medieval England or pre-industrial Sweden,”

Currently, the gap between perception and reality in U.S. society is papered over by the American Dream and its vow that regular people, through hard work and perseverance, will be able to get ahead. That dynamic won’t change until more Americans realize that the American Dream today is just an empty promise. But if that ever happens, the 1 percent and the stewards of government will have a whole lot more trouble on their hands than Chris Rock’s hypothetical riots.
Like religion, the "American Dream" is a great tool for keeping the masses docile and working for the powers that be and a system that is all too often rigged against most of us.  Of course, the 1% and their political whores like it that way.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

More Wednesday Male Beauty

Eleventh Circuit Rejects Florida Request for Stay of Marriage Ban Ruling

11th Circuit Court of Appeals
In a desperate attempt to whore themselves out to the Christofascists Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and Governor Rick Scott sought to have the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit stay the August ruling of U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle striking down Florida's ban on same-sex marriage.  Now, barring a stay by the U.S. Supreme Court, same sex marriages will begin on January 5, 2015.  The fact that the Eleventh Circuit refused to grant the stay does not bode well for marriage equality opponents since, if the Eleventh Circuit was likely to uphold Florida's marriage ban, it would have granted the requested stay.  Here are details from the Washington Blade:

A federal appeals court on Wednesday refused to continue the hold on same-sex marriages in Florida following a lower court ruling against the state’s ban on gay nuptials, allowing same-sex couples to begin to wed in the state “at the end of the day” on Jan. 5.

In a three-page order, a three-judge panel on the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals granted expedited review of a request from Florida officials to extend a stay as litigation proceeds against the state’s ban on gay nuptials, but determined the hold on Florida same-sex marriages should come to an end.

Because the Supreme Court in October refused to review decisions from three federal appeals court in favor of marriage equality, thereby dissolving the stays in those states, the hold on same-sex marriages in Florida was set to expire on Jan. 5.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, a Republican, had sought to extend the stay on gay nuptials in Florida up to Election Day and beyond, but the Eleventh Circuit order rebuffs her latest request to stop them from happening.

The state has another option: It could take up its stay request with the U.S Supreme Court. The request would be directed to U.S. Associate Justice Justice Clarence Thomas, who handles stay requests for the 11th Circuit. Thomas could decide the matter himself or refer it to the entire court.

Although the Supreme Court has recently denied stays on same-sex marriage in Idaho, South Carolina and Alaska, the lack of a federal appeals court ruling on Florida’s marriage law makes the high court’s actions on a stay more uncertain. 

If a stay request is directed to Thomas - in my view the dumbest and among the worse anti-gay bigots on the Supreme Court - beyond a temporary stay, the decision for a longer stay would depend on action by the full Court which has shown itself to be reluctant to gran stays where the out come at the lower appellate court against the petitioner seems obvious.  

The husband and I love Key West and it would certainly be nice on or next visit to be viewed as legally married under Florida law.