Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Helping Friends in Need: Sometimes Teenagers Can Make Altruistic Choices

One of my son’s friends is hurting. She put out a semi-public message describing her predicament, but she never actually asked for help. She offered to do some tasks for people — for ridiculously little money, thus, I think, showing how desperate her situation must really be. She is not one of my son’s closest friends, but she is in his broad group of friends. He was troubled by her situation and wanted to find a way to help her.

As I drove home the night that I learned about this situation, I pondered what my son could do. And I wondered how much of himself he would really be willing to give in order to help his friend. When I got home, I told him that I had several ideas. But before I could even really present those ideas, my son told me that he’d already decided what he was going to do to help. For his birthday, my son received some cash from his grandparents and his uncle. He decided to hire his friend to perform one of those tasks — one for which she wanted to be paid a paltry $15 — and then give her a $35 “tip”.

I told my son that I was very proud of him, both for wanting to help in the first place and for being so generous with his own money. After all, $50 is nearly the cost of a new Xbox game!

But I became even more proud a few minutes later. My son’s twin sister heard us discussing the situation. She doesn’t even know my son’s friend (I’m not even sure if they’ve met before), but my daughter decided that if helping was so important to my son, then she would also give the friend $50.

I think that both of my kids recognize that $50 is a lot of money; but I also think that they view it as a small amount over the course of a lifetime. And I think that they each recognize that the value of that $50 to them, measured in terms of books or games or Starbucks pales in comparison to the worth that same amount of money has for someone in need.

As our kids have matured, my wife and I have stressed how important we believe it is for each of us to try, in whatever small ways we can, to make the world around us a better place and to find ways to help those who are less fortunate than we are. I may ride my kids from time to time; certainly I’m critical when they don’t do as well on their schoolwork as I know they’re capable of and I’m not shy about voicing my opinion when they do something that disappoints or angers me. But this episode demonstrates, I think, that when it really matters, when it comes to those things that my wife and I stress as being at the core of who we are and who we want our kids to be, my kids are good people whose hearts are in the right places.

My son wants to take the lead in seeing if he can get any of the rest of his group of friends to help, but he doesn’t want to brag to them about what he did or make them feel bad if they are unable or unwilling to help. So he isn’t sure if he is going to push his friends to help; he’s going to have to tread those waters on his own. But perhaps he won’t need to prod his other friends at all; perhaps they, too, will react in a spirit of generosity on their own.

Let’s hope that my son’s generosity is not unusual; let’s hope that this situation becomes a lesson of the goodness of humanity and not a lesson in the rarity of altruism.


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Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Why Does Starbucks Hate Jews? (Sarcasm Alert!)

Why does Starbucks hate Jews? Is anti-Semitism an ingrained part of the Starbucks corporate culture? Given recent events, I’ve been forced to ask these difficult questions.

“What the heck are you talking about?” I hear you ask.

By now I’m sure you seen or read that some Christians are angry at Starbucks because this year, Starbucks has chosen to use red cups with the green Starbucks logo for the holiday season instead of having symbols of the season on the cups.


Apparently, some Christians have taken offense, arguing that Starbucks “hates Jesus” or is trying to take Christ out of Christmas. Even Donald Trump is now suggesting that a boycott of Starbucks might be worth discussing.

Now, to be fair, there are a lot of people who are rightly recognizing that this newest battle in the “War on Christmas” is utter and total bullshit and that the color of a coffee cup has nothing to do with Jesus or Christmas. Some have gone to far as to suggest that if you need your coffee cup to promote your religion, then you have bigger troubles.

But the whole situation did get me thinking and made me ask one important question: Why are the cups red and not blue?

Red is the color of Christmas, but blue is the color of Hanukkah. Starbucks has chosen, year after year, to use red cups instead of blue cups. Why? Why does Starbucks celebrate Christmas and leave out their Jewish customers? Clearly the answer is that Starbucks is hates Jews. That is the only possible explanation, right? The red cups don’t symbolize a War on Christmas; rather, they are a symbol of Starbucks’ Christian values and a weapon in the War on Hanukkah, which is merely the first campaign in the War on Jews. Removing symbols of the season from the red cups merely allows Starbucks to focus its efforts on the color of Christmas without any possibility of any symbol being thought of as generic or having any applicability to Hanukkah or Jews.

And guess what? Starbucks even sells a “Christmas Blend” coffee.


Where is the Hanukkah blend? Where are the potato latkes? Why isn’t anyone else talking about the clear examples of anti-Semitism being exhibited by Starbucks?

Starbucks may be taking the Christ out of Christmas, but it looks like they must be trying to shove it into the coffee served to Jews. That is the only explanation that I can think of.

So stand with me. Stand up to the corporate juggernaut of anti-Semitic coffee. Take a stand and make Starbucks end their War on Hanukkah! Do it now, before it’s too late! Do it now before we have to eat fruitcakes instead of latkes and replace Hanukkah gelt with over-priced, fair trade, non-GMO chocolate.


Any of you who weren’t able to tell that this post was entirely sarcastic should probably seek help. But, for the record (because I’m sure that someone somewhere will try to claim that I was serious): I do not believe that Starbucks hates Jews, is anti-Semitic, or is waging a War on Hanukkah. But you know what else? I also don’t believe that Starbucks hates Jesus, is trying to take the Christ out of Christmas, or is part of the so-called (bullshit) “War on Christmas”. It’s just a damn coffee cup.

Happy Holidays!

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Friday, November 6, 2015

The Beginning of the End for Ben “It’s Not Something I Made Up” Carson?

In mid-October I wrote about Dr. Ben Carson and his penchant for, shall we say, colorful statements and claims: Victim Shaming, Invented Stories, Ignorance of History, and Comparisons to Lucifer: The Scary Worldview of Ben Carson. Well, in the few weeks since I published that post, Carson has become the frontrunner in the race for the GOP nomination (eclipsing Donald Trump). However, with the rise in popularity and polling numbers comes something that Carson really hasn’t faced much of in the past: Careful scrutiny. Unlike many of the other candidates, Carson doesn’t have years of political office and a voting record to review, but he has given many speeches and written several books. And now that the media and others are reviewing his prior statements and claims … well, the wheels may be coming off.

For example, earlier today, Politico reported that Carson has admitted to fabricating his claim that he received a scholarship to West Point.

Ben Carson’s campaign on Friday admitted, in a response to an inquiry from POLITICO, that a central point in his inspirational personal story was fabricated: his application and acceptance into the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

The academy has occupied a central place in Carson’s tale for years. According to a story told in Carson’s book, “Gifted Hands,” the then-17 year old was introduced in 1969 to Gen. William Westmoreland, who had just ended his command of U.S. forces in Vietnam, and the two dined together. That meeting, according to Carson’s telling, was followed by a “full scholarship” to the military academy.

West Point, however, has no record of Carson applying, much less being extended admission.

“In 1969, those who would have completed the entire process would have received their acceptance letters from the Army Adjutant General,” said Theresa Brinkerhoff, a spokeswoman for the academy. She said West Point has no records that indicate Carson even began the application process. “If he chose to pursue (the application process), then we would have records indicating such,” she said.

When presented with these facts, Carson’s campaign conceded the story was false.

Oops? But remember that when people challenged Carson’s claim to have been held at gunpoint during a robbery in a fast food restaurant (a robbery that the police can find no record of), Carson said that he should be believed because he was a “God-fearing Christian, it’s something that happened. It’s not something I made up.” I’m curious to know if G-d-fearing Christians who don’t make up stories about being held at gunpoint do make up scholarships to West Point.

Or we could look to CNN’s efforts to verify certain formative events that Carson describes in one of his books:

In his 1990 autobiography, “Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story,” Carson describes those acts as flowing from an uncontrollable “pathological temper.” The violent episodes he has detailed in his book, in public statements and in interviews, include punching a classmate in the face with his hand wrapped around a lock, leaving a bloody three-inch gash in the boy’s forehead; attempting to attack his own mother with a hammer following an argument over clothes; hurling a large rock at a boy, which broke the youth's glasses and smashed his nose; and, finally, thrusting a knife at the belly of his friend with such force that the blade snapped when it luckily struck a belt buckle covered by the boy’s clothes.

“I was trying to kill somebody,” Carson said, describing the incident — which he has said occurred at age 14 in ninth grade — during a September forum at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco.

But nine friends, classmates and neighbors who grew up with Carson told CNN they have no memory of the anger or violence the candidate has described.

That person is unrecognizable to those whom CNN interviewed, who knew him during those formative years.

All of the people interviewed expressed surprise about the incidents Carson has described. No one challenged the stories directly. Some of those interviewed expressed skepticism, but noted that they could not know what had happened behind closed doors.

Gerald Ware, a classmate at Southwestern High School said he was “shocked” to read about the violence in Carson’s book.

“I don't know nothing about that,” said Ware, who still lives in southwestern Detroit. “It would have been all over the whole school.”

CNN was unable to independently confirm any of the incidents, which Carson said occurred when he was a juvenile.

It appears that tall tales and false denials are par for Carson’s course. Remember this sequence from the last GOP debate:

“There’s a company called Mannatech, a maker of nutritional supplements, with which you had a ten-year relationship,” Quintanilla asked. “They offered claims that they could cure autism and cancer. They paid $7 million to settle a deceptive-marketing lawsuit in Texas and yet your involvement continued. Why?”

“Well, it’s easy to answer,” Carson quickly replied. “I didn’t have an involvement with them. That is total propaganda and this is what happens in our society. Total propaganda.” He then backtracked a little. “I did a couple of speeches for them. I did speeches for other people, they were paid speeches,” he told the crowd before switching back to a full denial. “It is absolutely absurd to say that I had any kind of relationship with them.” Then he again acknowledged a role. “Do I take the product? Yes, I think it’s a good product.”

You know where this is going, right?

As the Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month, Carson’s relationship with the company deepened over time, including “four paid speeches at Mannatech gatherings, most recently one in 2013 for which he was paid $42,000, according to the company.” The company disputes that Carson was a “paid endorser or spokesperson,” according to the Journal, and claims his financial compensation went to charity.

National Review also highlighted Carson’s connections to Mannatech in January and how Carson’s team went to great lengths to distance themselves from the company. Some of his video appearances have been removed from the Internet, but those that remain appear to show a deeper affiliation than Carson claimed during Wednesday’s debate.

In one video for Mannatech last year that remains online, Carson discusses his experiences with nutritional supplements while seated next to the company’s logo. “The wonderful thing about a company like Mannatech is that they recognize that when God made us, He gave us the right fuel,” Carson explained. “And that fuel was the right kind of healthy food … Basically what the company is doing is trying to find a way to restore natural diet as a medicine or as a mechanism for maintaining health.”

Carson stopped short of making substantive medical claims about Mannatech’s products. “You know, I can’t say that that’s the reason I feel so healthy,” he said. “But I can say it made me feel different and that’s why I continue to use it more than ten years later.” His apparent hesitation is understandable. Seven years before Carson appeared in that video, then-Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, a Republican who was elected governor of Texas last year, sued Mannatech for running a illegal marketing scheme under the state’s Deceptive Trade Practices Act. Abbott claimed that the Dallas-based company and its sales representatives repeatedly exaggerated the medical efficacy of their products.

Or, to quote Jim Geraghty, a prominent conservative writer for the National Review who has previously investigated and written about Carson’s involvement with Mannatech:

His declarations that “I didn’t have an involvement with them” and “absurd to say that I had any kind of relationship with them” are just bald-faced lies.

(Emphasis added.)

Now that people are (kinda) taking Carson seriously as a candidate, they are starting to ask him serious policy questions, only to learn that he doesn’t seem to know much about the issues. For example:

“I’m a little different than most of the candidates,” Carson the author told the Miami Herald in a phone interview Wednesday. “I’m looking more nationally at everything that’s going on across the country.”

Before Carson the candidate campaigns to Miami-Dade County’s Cuban-American Republicans, though, he might have a little catching up to do.

Carson’s national approach means he didn’t take a close look ahead of his trip at a key issue in local politics: U.S.-Cuba policy.

In the Herald interview, Carson appeared stumped by questions about the so-called wet-foot, dry-foot policy, which allows Cubans who reach U.S. soil to remain here, and about the Cuban Adjustment Act, which allows Cubans who arrive in the U.S. to apply for legal residency after 366 days.

He was candid about not being up to speed.

“You’re going to have to explain to me exactly what you mean by that,” Carson said, asked about wet-foot, dry-foot. “I have to admit that I don’t know a great deal about that, and I don’t really like to comment until I’ve had a chance to study the issue from both sides.”

On the Cuban Adjustment Act, he gave a similar response: “Again, I’ve not been briefed fully on what that is.”

When a reporter explained the outlines of the policy, Carson said, “It sounds perfectly reasonable.”

The reporter then informed him of abuses to the policy by Cubans who obtain residency and claim federal government benefits only to make frequent trips back to the island. The abuses have been documented extensively by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

“I think the way to fix that is not so much to abolish the act, but dealing with the specific area where the abuse is,” Carson said, noting that Medicare and Medicaid fraud is “huge — half a trillion dollars.”

“We definitely need to focus on that,” he said.

Um, “half a trillion dollars” in Medicare and Medicaid fraud? Really? What Carson doesn’t seem to know is that the total spending on Medicare and Medicaid last year was only $980 billion. In other words, he suggests, in a seemingly offhand comment, that over half of Medicare and Medicaid spending is fraudulent. Oh, and his failure to have been briefed on the issues might have something to do with the fact that he is on a book signing tour, you know, to sell books, instead of, perhaps, studying the issues. You’d think that someone who wants to be President would take the time to get “up to speed”, wouldn’t you?

But this isn’t the first time that his analysis of an important issue left some wondering about his knowledge, capacity, and fitness. Recently, Kai Ryssdal, the host of Marketplace interviewed Carson on fiscal policies. Witness this exchange:

Ryssdal: All right, so let's talk about debt then and the budget. As you know, Treasury Secretary Lew has come out in the last couple of days and said, “We’re gonna run out of money, we’re gonna run out of borrowing authority, on the fifth of November.” Should the Congress then and the president not raise the debt limit? Should we default on our debt?

Carson: Let me put it this way: if I were the president, I would not sign an increased budget. Absolutely would not do it. They would have to find a place to cut.

Ryssdal: To be clear, it’s increasing the debt limit, not the budget, but I want to make sure I understand you. You’d let the United States default rather than raise the debt limit.

Carson: No, I would provide the kind of leadership that says, “Get on the stick guys, and stop messing around, and cut where you need to cut, because we’re not raising any spending limits, period.”

Ryssdal: I’m gonna try one more time, sir. This is debt that’s already obligated. Would you not favor increasing the debt limit to pay the debts already incurred?

Carson: What I’m saying is what we have to do is restructure the way that we create debt. I mean if we continue along this, where does it stop? It never stops. You’re always gonna ask the same question every year. And we’re just gonna keep going down that pathway. That’s one of the things I think that the people are tired of.

Ryssdal: I’m really trying not to be circular here, Dr. Carson, but if you’re not gonna raise the debt limit and you’re not gonna give specifics on what you’re gonna cut, then how are we going to know what you are going to do as president of the United States?

Carson: OK, let me try to explain it in a different way. If, in fact, we have a number of different areas that are contributing to the increasing expenditures and the continued expenditures that are putting us further and further into the hole. You’re familiar I’m sure with the concept of the fiscal gap.

Ryssdal: Why don't you explain that a little bit, though.

Carson: OK, well, the fiscal gap is all of the unfunded liabilities that the government owes. Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, all the departmental programs, all the agency and sub-agency programs extending into the future, which is a lot of money, versus the amount of revenue that we expect to collect from taxes and other revenue sources. Now if we’re being fiscally responsible, those numbers should be fairly close together. If we’re not, a gap begins to occur. We bring that forward to modern day today’s dollars, and that’s the fiscal gap, which sits at over $200 trillion and is continuing to grow. Now the only reason that we can sustain that kind of debt is because of our artificial ability to print money, to create what we think is wealth, but it is not wealth, because it’s based upon our faith and credit. You know, we decoupled it from the domestic gold standard in 1933, and from the international gold standard in 1971, and since that time, it’s not based on anything. Why would we be continuing to do that?

First, the whole “fiscal gap” notion — and the attached figure of $200 trillion — is a right-wing stalking horse that has been heavily criticized by many economists, including Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman. Read Krugman’s article if you’d like to understand, briefly, the major flaw in the calculation of the fiscal gap as quoted by Carson. More importantly, go back and read Ryssdal’s questions about the debt ceiling and what you’ll see is the Carson simply does not understand the questions or what the debt ceiling really is. Instead, all Carson can do is offer platitudes along the lines of “cut spending”! You’d think that before talking to the host of a show about economics and economic policies, Carson might have done a little homework on one of the top economic issues that was facing then being debated in Congress. But Carson, once again, simply isn’t “up to speed”.

Or take this example:

In his 2012 book, “America the Beautiful,” Carson says America should have gone into Iraq and leveled entire cities. Further, he suggests the reason America is afraid to do so is because “political correctness dictates we cannot kill innocent women and children in the process of destroying the enemy.”

“I would have announced via bullhorns and leaflets that in seventy-two hours, Fallujah was going to become part of the desert because there were substantial numbers of terrorists hiding there,” he wrote. “This would have given people time to flee before the city was destroyed, and is a tactic that would actually save lives not only of women and children, but also men.”

I really hope that I don’t need to spend time explaining why this view is so very wrong in so very many ways. Can you imagine a man who thinks like this as Commander in Chief?

One policy position Carson has stated that differs from some of his GOP colleagues is that he would not eliminate the Department of Education. However, his reason for keeping that Department:

“I actually have something I would use the Department of Education to do,” the doctor smirked in response to the question.

“Would it be pack boxes for the State Department? The IRS?” Beck joked.

And then Carson’s serious recommendation: “It would be to monitor our institutions of higher education for extreme political bias and deny funding if it exists.”

Excellent. He’s going to transform a federal agency into a form of speech or thought police.

I’m sure that I could spend a lot more time on his policy ideas (to the extent he has any real ideas), but I think you get the point.

Carson has also been found to hold some unusual views:

“My own personal theory is that Joseph built the pyramids to store grain,” Carson said. “Now all the archeologists think that they were made for the pharaohs’ graves. But, you know, it would have to be something awfully big if you stop and think about it. And I don't think it’d just disappear over the course of time to store that much grain.”

In the same speech, he went on to say, “[W]hen you look at the way that the pyramids are made, with many chambers that are hermetically sealed, they’d have to be that way for various reasons. And various of scientists have said, ‘Well, you know there were alien beings that came down and they have special knowledge and that’s how—’ you know, it doesn't require an alien being when God is with you.”

I’m not sure which part of this is more frightening: The idea that his belief in a literal Bible tells him (despite what archeologists claim) that the pyramids were built to store grain or his belief that scientists say that alien beings came down with special knowledge.

Carson previously said that he didn’t think a Muslim should be elected President. When people pointed out to him the Constitution’s prohibition on religious tests for office, Carson tried to backtrack:

“I would have problems with somebody who embraced all the doctrines associated with Islam,” Carson said. “If they are not willing to reject sharia and all the portions of it that are talked about in the Quran — if they are not willing to reject that, and subject that to American values and the Constitution, then of course, I would.”

Well, then, by that standard it should be fair to examine what Seventh Day Adventists like Ben Carson believe, right?

Ben Carson’s church believes the United States government will bring about the End Times.

According to mainstream Seventh-day Adventist doctrine, the Second Coming of Christ will occur after the U.S. government teams up with the Catholic Church — which Adventists believe is the “Babylon” of the Book of Revelation, with the pope being the Antichrist — to compel Adventists and others to worship on Sunday, rather than Saturday.

That may seem like a small hook on which to hang the fate of the world, but for Adventists, it is a core belief, taught at “prophecy seminars” and elaborated in excruciating geopolitical detail by key Adventist leaders.

Is it awkward for Ben Carson to run for president, if his faith believes the U.S. government will team up with the Antichrist? Will it matter to his evangelical base if he, like his denomination, believes that the government will join forces with the Whore of Babylon, to persecute religious minorities and compel Sunday worship?

Now isn’t that interesting? Wouldn’t you like to hear one of the debate moderators ask Carson to look at fellow candidates Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, and Marco Rubio (not to mention undercard candidates Bobby Jindal, George Pataki, and Rick Santorum) and explain whether he views their religious belief as being a part of the “Whore of Babylon”. Awkward. In any event, should other Americans have “problems” with somebody who “embraced all the doctrines associated with” the Seventh Day Adventist faith? I’d like to hear someone pose that question to Carson.

Oh, well. I’m sure this publicity will help Carson write and sell more books; after all, he’ll have time on his hands because he won’t be our next President.

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Friday, October 23, 2015

Sneak Attack!

I’ve previously mentioned Eric Miller and his organization Advance America (such as my deep dive into Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act). Miller and Advance America have a huge mailing list of supporters, many of whom are willing to fund his efforts and many of whom are willing to show up at the Statehouse to give voice to their fear hatred love for gays*. He has spent the last few years railing against equality for the LGBT community and against gay marriage. He was one of the frequent speakers at the recent hearings in Carmel (where he ultimately lost as the anti-discrimination ordinance that he opposed was adopted). And he was one of the loudest voices in favor of amending the Indiana Constitution to prohibit same-sex marriage. Furthermore, he was both a vocal supporter of RFRA and a vocal opponent of the so-called “fix” for RFRA. So, while he has had some wins recently (most notably passage of RFRA and the defeat of an anti-discrimination ordinance in a small city), he has seen more defeats. Very public defeats.

Anyway, there has been some discussion recently about whether the Indiana General Assembly would adopt an amendment to the Indiana civil rights statute to incorporate protections for sexual orientation and gender identity. And there has been discussion and speculation, especially following the passage of the RFRA “fix” and Carmel anti-discrimination ordinance, that Miller and Advance America might be seeing the beginning of the waning of their influence on Indiana politics.

Then came this video that Advance America posted earlier this week:


I must have missed when this sneak attack is going to occur. For that matter, when is this Organization Day? And about those corporations and special interest groups that he talks about… Do they have millions of dollars? I wasn’t quite clear on that either.

I don’t know about you, but setting aside the actual message that Miller is delivering, I found this to be one of the worst solicitation and warning ads that I’ve ever seen. Would it have been possible for Miller to have been any more repetitive (without really saying anything) in four and half minutes? It is so repetitive and says so very little. A sense of desperation permeates the entire video. You’d think that he is afraid that Indiana is about to declare the Second Amendment unconstitutional and take away all guns, make Christianity illegal and close all churches, or make Islam the state religion and force everyone to convert. Maybe all three.

But seriously, think about this video and Miller’s message to his supporters. Think about what he is worried about and how he is willing to convey the message: “The children of Indiana are in danger,” he proclaims. Um, from what? But that sort of fear-mongering is Miller’s standard operating procedure. Remember, this is the man who claimed that, should same-sex marriage become legal, pastors could be imprisoned for preaching Biblical verses about homosexuality.

It isn’t until 3:45 into the video that Miller finally tells viewers that the “sneak attack” he fears could involve “sexual activity and children”. That’s it. That’s all he’s going to tell viewers. Why? Why doesn’t he explain what he’s really worried about?

Perhaps it’s because he recognizes that more and more Hoosiers are in favor of granting protection from discrimination to members of the LGBT community. Maybe he realizes that talking about non-discrimination in business, housing, and employment won’t generate the kind of revenue that some vague fear about children and sex will. Maybe he realizes most Hoosiers just aren’t too worked up over the idea that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Hoosiers live among us and just want to be treated with fairness and dignity. But perhaps, his thinking must go, “if we can make people afraid that those evil gays and their icky sex might be forced upon our children, then maybe they’ll send us money to keep paying for my nice suits!”

Just how desperate has Miller become? How far has Advance America apparently fallen? Here was the tweet from Speaker of the House Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis) in response to Miller’s video:


I cannot imagine any Republican, let alone the Speaker, offering a public rebuke like this to Eric Miller, even just a few month ago.

Finally, to quote Gary Snyder at Indiana Talks: “Is It Really A Sneak Attack If We Know About It In Advance?”


*By “love” I think they mean “we love you, but we think you’re going to hell for having icky sex and so we don’t want you to be treated fairly because … um … Jesus”. Or something.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Biased and Misleading Headlines About Palestinian Attacks on Israelis

Do you remember the headline about the man who was killed in a classroom full of children after they’d apparently allowed themselves to get in the way of his bullets? What about the one about the airline passengers who died when a building knocked the plane out of the sky? How angry would you be if headlines following 9/11 focused on the deaths of the hijackers without mentioning the acts that they had committed? How angry would you have been if, following the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the headlines focused on the death of Adam Lanza without explaining that he had just killed children?

Yet those are the sort of headlines that are used to “describe” the ongoing wave of Palestinian terrorist attacks against Israelis (and Jewish holy sites). Here are several examples (most taken from CAMERA’s article Wave of Palestinian Violence Accompanied by Spate of Bad Writing):


That headline comes from the British newspaper The Independent (and is was later corrected, somewhat). What does that headline omit? How about the fact that the boy in question had just engaged in one of the stabbing attacks. He stabbed two Ultra Orthodox men (both in their 60s). In other words, the headline focuses on the deaths of those who have committed the terrorist acts and says nothing about those who have been the victims of the attacks. As CAMERA also notes, when The Independent previously mentioned a 16-year-old Israeli killed by a Palestinian, that Israeli was described as a “teen” not as a “boy”.

Consider this headline and story from The Wall Street Journal’s Facebook page:


Those two Palestinian teenagers? Yeah, they were the knife-wielding assailants that the story mentions. And the victims? One was a 14-year-old Israeli boy riding his bicycle after buying some candy. This particular story is also interesting because Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, in a televised speech, accused Israel of executing the Palestinian assailants:

In a televised speech on Wednesday night, Mr Abbas condemned the “occupation and aggression of Israel and its settlers” who “execute our boys in cold blood, as they did with the boy Ahmed Manasra”.

One problem. Not only did Israel not “execute” Ahmed Manasra, they even treated his injuries in an Israeli hospital (where he confessed to the attacks). Yet when Israel criticized Abbas for his claim that Manasra had been executed, The New York Times would only refer to Israel’s accusation:


The article notes that Mansara is alive and that Abbas said that he was executed, but the headline, rather than talking about Abbas’ lie, focuses on Israel and its accusation. Oh, and why would Abbas lie about Israel having “executed” a boy? Incitement, anyone?

Here is some video of the incident:

Or how about this headline from USA Today:


The first paragraph of the article is just as bad:

Four Palestinians were shot and killed by Israelis Saturday in separate stabbing incidents in Jerusalem and the West Bank in the latest in a month-long upsurge in violent confrontations.

Do either the headline or introductory paragraph give you any context to tell you that the Palestinians who had been killed were the ones who had stabbed or tried to stab Israelis?

And here is a headline from the Los Angeles Times (which was also corrected following a complaint from CAMERA):


Do you see a pattern here?

Maybe Reuters will do a better job:


Hmm. Whom and what is a “knife man” and why did the mean Israelis kill him? Might it have involved an attempt by “knife man” to, you know, stab Israelis? Isn’t that, you know, pertinent to the story?

I’m not sure if you’ve heard, but twice in the last week or so, a Jewish holy site (Joseph’s Tomb) has been firebombed by Palestinians. How does CNN report the firebombing?


Yep. It just caught on fire somehow. And note how CNN headlined an attack on an Islamic mosque:

West Bank Mosque

If a mosque burns, it’s an attack that can be blamed on someone (ooh, Jews!), but if Palestinians attack and burn a Jewish shrine, it appears that no agency or ill will is involved.

Sometimes, the headlines (and even articles) are so egregious that they border on being ghoulishly funny:


This one is from The New York Times. There are few things to note here. First, the man “died”. He wasn’t murdered. He simply died. Maybe he died from natural causes, coincidentally at the same time that the rocks pelted his car. Who knows. Second, when do rocks pelt cars? Don’t they need, you know, a human arm to throw them? Well, if you read the article you’ll see that some Palestinians were out for some good-natured fun of throwing rocks at the road. I’m sure they weren’t aiming for cars on the road or the people in those cars, right?

A few more examples (I could probably go on for pages and pages and pages). First, the Irish Independent:


The Telegraph:


Sky News:


Daily Beast:

Israeli Crowd Kills Bystander

A brief note about this last headline: It describes a truly tragic event. In the confusion following a shooting by a terrorist in an Israeli bus station that killed one and wounded several others, bystanders killed an innocent man, apparently thinking that he was the terrorist. But here is what is important about this headline. It gives you no context to understand that the man was killed in the chaos and confusion in the immediate aftermath of a terrorist attack. If you read that headline, you’re left to think that a bloodthirsty crowd of Israelis decided to kill someone rather than that they were either trying to apprehend a terrorist or, perhaps, were responding with understandable but unacceptable anger to the terrorist attack.

To go back to the questions I posed in the introductory paragraph, how would you have felt if you saw this headline the day after 9/11:


So ask yourself these questions:

  1. Why are these headlines written the way that they are?
  2. What is the effect on public opinion when people read headlines like these?

Finally, I thought it was worth sharing video of some of the recent terrorist incidents. Be forewarned that these are disturbing videos:


Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to find “clean” versions of these videos; I apologize for the quality and any additional commentary that were added to by third parties.

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Friday, October 16, 2015

Victim Shaming, Invented Stories, Ignorance of History, and Comparisons to Lucifer: The Scary Worldview of Ben Carson

When I wrote my initial analysis of the Republican Presidential candidates, one of my critiques of Ben Carson focused on some of his previous statements.

I think that he’ll have an extremely hard time convincing voters (other than those on the far right) to vote for him, in light of statements like these:

  • “Because a lot of people who go into prison go into prison straight — and when they come out, they’re gay. So, did something happen while they were in there? Ask yourself that question.”
  • “I mean, [our society is] very much like Nazi Germany. And I know you're not supposed to say ‘Nazi Germany,’ but I don't care about political correctness. You know, you had a government using its tools to intimidate the population. We now live in a society where people are afraid to say what they actually believe.”
  • “You know, we live in a Gestapo age, people don't realize it.”
  • “I think most people, when they finish [AP history], they'd be ready to go sign up for ISIS.”
  • “You know, Obamacare is really, I think, the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery. And it is, in a way — it is slavery in a way because it is making all of us subservient to the government.”
  • “They've [ISIS] got the wrong philosophy, but they’re willing to die for what they believe, while we’re busily giving away every value and every belief for the sake of political correctness.”
  • Carson said he couldn't be sure “there will even be an election in 2016” if Republicans didn't go on to win [in 2014]. (His wife also said they were keeping their son’s Australian passport handy if the election didn’t go their way.)

Recently, Carson, who is currently polling second behind Donald Trump, has decided to add to this list of memorable statements. His most recent pronunciations make for great sound bites and may be delicious red meat to the base that he’s trying to capture. However, a politician who offers such blatant bullshit as a path to success is, I think, a danger to how our system is designed to operate, unless, of course, the media starts doing actual journalism and calling out candidates for the bullshit that would otherwise be accepted as truth by a voting public that often doesn’t have the means or the time to dig into each and every thing that a candidate says.

So what has Carson said lately?

First, let’s look at some of his responses to the most recent one of the more recent school shootings, this time in Oregon:

"I would not just stand there and let him shoot me," Carson said on "Fox and Friends" Tuesday morning. "I would say, 'Hey guys, everybody attack him. He may shoot me, but he can't get us all.'"

I don’t know about you, but I’m kinda thinking that maybe Carson has watched Die Hard a few too many times. Or, perhaps he thinks that the way heroic characters behave on TV and in the movies is a reflection of real life. As one of the survivors of the Oregon shooting said, “Nobody could truly understand what actions they would take like that in a situation unless they lived it”. Carson tried to walk his remarks back a bit later by saying that he wasn’t “judging” the shooting victims. But isn’t that just what he was, in fact, doing, by saying that he would have been more heroic than they had been?

Carson also offered this memorable statement in response to renewed calls for increased gun control measures:

“As a Doctor, I spent many a night pulling bullets out of bodies,” he wrote. “There is no doubt that this senseless violence is breathtaking — but I never saw a body with bullet holes that was more devastating than taking the right to arm ourselves away. Serious people seek serious solutions.”

Think about that one for a minute. People killed by guns are not more devastating than “taking the right to arm ourselves away”. I don’t know. Dead bodies, ripped apart by gunfire, seem pretty devastating to me, especially when we remember that nobody is looking to take away the right to arm ourselves. Rather, people are looking for ways to reduce gun violence, looking for ways to limit access to guns by those with mental conditions or who are a danger to themselves or society, looking for ways to limit access to military style weapons or to armor piercing bullets, all in order to have fewer bodies for doctors like Carson to pull bullets out of. What I find devastating is that people like Carson are so willfully blind to what the real issues are or are so willing to fear-monger and give voice to those who really do fear a government attempt to take away all guns.

Carson talks about “serious people” seeking “serious solutions” but he can’t even seriously articulate the issue. And what is Carson’s “serious solution” to the problem of gun violence in America? Let’s read what he says on his website:

It was no accident that our Founding Fathers enshrined the right to own firearms as the 2nd element of the Bill of Rights, immediately after establishing our free speech rights. I cannot and will not support any efforts to weaken The 2nd Amendment.

The 2nd Amendment is a central pillar of our Constitution. Our Founding Fathers added it explicitly in order to protect freedom in the United States of America. It provides our citizens the right to protect themselves from threats foreign or domestic.

That’s it. That’s Carson’s “serious solution”. Hmm. Perhaps he’s not really one of those “serious people” about whom he speaks? Or perhaps he doesn’t really think that people being slaughtered in our schools, churches, and movie theaters is a serious problem.

Anyway, Dr. Carson was just getting started…

You see, to prove that he wasn’t judging victims of mass shootings, Carson decided to “share” the episode of the time that he went to Popeye’s for dinner and was held at gunpoint (he had to explain, further, why he, a vegetarian, was going to Popeye’s in the first place). Others have written about this episode in more detail, so I’ll just provide a quick recap of the important bits. When pressed, Carson’s campaign explained that the details about the episode were contained in Carson’s book. Only, they aren’t. And when pressed for more details, the campaign said that they wouldn’t take any more questions on the subject. And when others, like the Baltimore police (where the incident is said to have taken place), looked into the episode, they could find no evidence of it. Plus, it’s worth noting that Carson didn’t fight the alleged assailant; rather he told the guy with the gun to target the Popeye’s employee behind the cash register. For more details, read this full recap from Snopes. But, hey, it must be true because Carson said that he is a “God-fearing Christian, it’s something that happened. It’s not something I made up.”

Carson also wants kindergarten teachers to have access to guns in their classrooms:

“If I had a little kid in kindergarten somewhere would feel much more comfortable if I knew on that campus there was a police officer or somebody who was trained with a weapon. I would feel more comfortable,” Carson said in a new interview with USA Today’s Capital Download. “If the teacher was trained in the use of that weapon and had access to it, I would be much more comfortable if they had one than if they didn’t.”

Educating a group of 30 six-year-olds is easy, so let’s give the teacher the responsibility to be able to defend those children from people armed with military-style assault rifles, too.

Furthermore, apparently Carson doesn’t limit his victim-shaming just to victims of mass shootings (I wonder if he blames the Sandy Hook kids for not attacking their murderer). Nope. That would be too easy. No. “God-fearing Christian” Ben Carson also thought it would be a good idea for a little ahistorical victim shaming aimed squarely at the Jews who apparently allowed Hitler to kill them in the Holocaust. Seriously.

Ben Carson, a candidate for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, blamed the Holocaust on Nazi gun control in an interview on CNN Thursday.

Host Wolf Blitzer read a section from Carson's book, A More Perfect Union, in which Carson writes:

German citizens were disarmed by their government in the late 1930s, and by the mid-1940s Hitler's regime had mercilessly slaughtered six million Jews and numerous others whom they considered inferior … Through a combination of removing guns and disseminating deceitful propaganda, the Nazis were able to carry out their evil intentions with relatively little resistance.

“I think the likelihood of Hitler being able to accomplish his goals would have been greatly diminished if the people had been armed,” Carson elaborated in the interview. “There’s a reason these dictatorial people take the guns first.”

The Anti-Defamation League, which monitors and responds to anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry, has long opposed the use of Nazi comparisons in the U.S. gun control debate. “The idea that supporters of gun control are doing something akin to what Hitler’s Germany did to strip citizens of guns in the run-up to the Second World War is historically inaccurate and offensive, especially to Holocaust survivors and their families,” Abraham Foxman, the ADL’s national director at the time, said in 2013.

Conservatives have a history of comparing gun control advocates to Hitler and the Nazis. The ADL’s 2013 comments were provoked by The Drudge Report’s choice to use an image of Hitler to illustrate news that President Barack Obama was pursuing limited gun control measures after 20 first-graders and six school staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, were murdered by a gunman.

Many historians disagree with the idea that armed German Jews could have prevented the Holocaust. And as Alex Seitz-Wald, a journalist then writing for Salon, explained in 2013, the full story of Nazi gun regulation is more complicated than Carson and his ilk might like:

University of Chicago law professor Bernard Harcourt explored this myth in depth in a 2004 article published in the Fordham Law Review. As it turns out, the Weimar Republic, the German government that immediately preceded Hitler’s, actually had tougher gun laws than the Nazi regime. After its defeat in World War I, and agreeing to the harsh surrender terms laid out in the Treaty of Versailles, the German legislature in 1919 passed a law that effectively banned all private firearm possession, leading the government to confiscate guns already in circulation. In 1928, the Reichstag relaxed the regulation a bit, but put in place a strict registration regime that required citizens to acquire separate permits to own guns, sell them or carry them….

[Hitler’s] “1938 revisions completely deregulated the acquisition and transfer of rifles and shotguns, as well as ammunition,” Harcourt wrote. Meanwhile, many more categories of people, including Nazi party members, were exempted from gun ownership regulations altogether, while the legal age of purchase was lowered from 20 to 18, and permit lengths were extended from one year to three years.

The 1938 law did ban Jews from owning guns. But as the ADL explained in 2013, “the small number of personal firearms in the hands of the small number of Germany’s Jews (about 214,000) remaining in Germany in 1938 could in no way have stopped the totalitarian power of the Nazi German state,” which eventually conquered most of Europe.

I could go on and on, cite historian after historian about just how wrong Carson is (not to mention how offensive his comments are). Allow me instead, to offer just a few articles for you to read: Ben Carson Is Wrong on Guns and the Holocaust by Alan E. Steinweis, professor of history and Holocaust studies at the University of Vermont, From Guns to Migrants: Not Everything Is Like the Holocaust by David Frum, and Why Ben Carson's Rant About Gun Control and the Holocaust Is So Dangerous by Jay Michaelson. And this statement from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is worth noting:

Nazism represented a singular evil that resulted in the murder of six million Jews and the persecution and deaths of millions of others for racial and political reasons. Comparing contemporary situations to Nazism is not only offensive to its victims, but it is also inaccurate and misrepresents both Holocaust history and the present. The Holocaust should be remembered, studied, and understood so that we can learn its lessons; it should not be exploited for opportunistic purposes.

Of course Fox News’ favorite purveyor of psychiatric malpractice, Dr. Keith Ablow (and really, how does he still have a license?) thinks Carson is precisely right: Why Ben Carson is right about Jews, the Holocaust and guns. After reading the articles cited above, it may be instructive to read Ablow’s essay to try to understand the mindset of the far-right gun advocates who, I think, would prefer a society in which every one of his is armed 24/7.

Carson, for his part, isn’t backing down (despite what Jewish groups and historians are saying); instead, he said of arguments that gun control was not responsible for the Holocaust:

“That's total foolishness,” Carson told George Stephanopoulos on Good Morning America. “I’d be happy to discuss that in depth with anybody but it is well known that in many places where tyranny has taken over they first disarm the people. There’s a reason they disarm the people. They don’t just do it arbitrarily.”

Oh, how I’d love to hear that “discussion” … but of course, you know that it will never happen.

And before I finish, it’s probably worth sharing another interesting statement from Dr. Carson, this time on the subject of evolution his views of those of us who do believe in science:

“Ultimately, if you accept the evolutionary theory, you dismiss ethics, you don’t have to abide by a set of moral codes, you determine your own conscience based on your own desires,” Carson told Adventist Review, the magazine of the Seventh-day Adventist Church of which Carson is a member for a 2004 cover story.

“You have no reason for things such as selfless love, when a father dives in to save his son from drowning,” Carson continued. “You can trash the Bible as irrelevant, just silly fables, since you believe that it does not conform to scientific thought. You can be like Lucifer, who said, ‘I will make myself like the Most High.’”

I see. So because I believe in science, then I dismiss ethics, don’t have a set of moral codes, don’t selflessly love my children, and am “like Lucifer”. Yes, a leading candidate for the office of President of the United States said that people who accept evolution or don’t believe in the Bible are “like Lucifer”. Good to know. And I really hope someone asks him about that statement during one of the debates.

So let’s tally things up, shall we?

Carson wouldn’t let a criminal shoot him; rather, he’d either rush the gunman or, more likely, tell the gunman to shoot someone else. He also made up a story to prove his bona fides regarding experience with gun violence and then refused to answer more questions when people started to question his lies (by the way, bona fides based on lies aren’t really bona fides, are they?). He insists that he doesn’t judge people as he judges them. He wants kindergarten teachers to be armed. And he blames the Holocaust on gun control and the failure of Jews to properly defend themselves, even as historians tell him that he is wrong. And finally, for good measure, he trashes as Satanic those who believe in science (remember that he is a neurosurgeon).

And this man wants to be President?

No thank you.

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Thursday, October 8, 2015

Does My Advocacy Mean That I “Hate Christians”?

(I wrote this post a few days ago, but then delayed posting it to take the time to “sleep on it”…)

I hope that readers of this blog (or of my Twitter feed) will recognize that the fight for equality and against discrimination (and not just in terms of gay rights) and the constant struggle against efforts to lower the wall separating church from state have been among the driving themes and topics on which which I’ve written. In addition to this blog, I’ve been active in organizations and boards who have, among their goals, the expansion of rights and equality and the recognition and celebration of diversity. In those capacities, I’ve done everything from engaging in issue briefing trips to Washington, D.C. with local leaders, testifying before the Indiana General Assembly, speaking at Holocaust observances, and helping to organize political debates and candidate forums. And I can’t count the number of times that I’ve participating in a discussion or dialogue (in one form or another) in which equal rights or church-state were primary topic.

Thus, I don’t think anyone should be surprised when I criticize what I perceive as impermissible or unacceptable religious activities within or at the behest of the government (especially public schools). Nor should anyone be surprised when I trumpet my happiness at the adoption of a law designed to reduce discrimination (or the possibility thereof). I’m vocal in my beliefs and thoughts and anyone who reads this blog or otherwise follows me online will discover that fact very quickly.

One thing that I’ve repeated over and over on this blog (and on Twitter) is that I welcome real dialogue and conversation on complex and difficult issues (though I prefer that dialogue on a forum like this blog and the comment section rather than Twitter at 140 characters). When I receive a negative or hostile comment, I usually try to engage, though I’ll admit that when I receive an anonymous comment that offers nothing but insult, I’m more likely to respond with a degree of derision. Again, I can’t begin to count the number of times that I’ve read or heard something with which I fundamentally disagree and made an effort to be a part of the discussion.

Now, I recognize that some people gain pleasure from being intentionally provocative and insulting; it’s the nature of social media.

But sometimes…

Last week (September 30, to be exact), I attended my daughter’s choir performance. As I’ve done during prior similar performances, I posted some tweets criticizing the overtly religious song selections for a performance at a public high school (especially as it was not the “Holiday” show). I plan to write more on that subject in the next week or three. Anyway, later that evening, I got into a somewhat heated discussion with someone I consider to be a friend (at least on Twitter; we’ve only met in real life a few times); but, as heated as the discussion may have been I think that we would both (at least I hope that he would agree…) characterize the discussion as substantive and without animus. He took exception to a statement that I made and, over the course of a half hour or so we were able to discuss both the comment that angered him and the broader subject matter of religious songs in public school performances. It was a brief but substantive discussion.

The same, however, cannot be said of another very brief conversation that evolved out of my tweets about the choir program and which resumed earlier this week. A person (who I will leave unnamed) with whom I’d had just a very few brief previous interactions on Twitter (which began just a few weeks ago and which, I thought, were friendly and non-controversial, including a very brief discussion of which temple I’m a member of and why), responded to one my tweets by criticizing my criticisms of the religious content of the choir program. Actually, that’s not quite correct. He didn’t criticize the substance of my tweets; rather, he appeared to be criticizing the fact that I was offering critical commentary. I’d post the exact text of the tweet that was sent to me, but it appears that he deleted it. I found it odd that someone who I understood to be Jewish (and an alumnus of Carmel High School…) to be critical of my complaints about the inclusion of religious songs in the school program (as church-state issues tend to be one of the areas, at least in my experience, about which American Jews tend to hold relatively similar views). So, when I pushed him, just a little (“Oh. Why? Do you want your Jewish daughter praising Jesus in a public school choir? Year after year…”) I didn’t get any sort of substantive response.

I was a bit bothered by the exchange, but it was just a small blip and I was much more focused on my wife’s newly sprained ankle and the more heated exchange that I mentioned.

Until Monday night.

Over my years of writing this blog and tweeting, a lot of insults have been hurled my way. But Monday night another Jew appeared to allege that I “hate Christians”. Whoa, what?

In the wake of the Carmel City Council passing the anti-discrimination ordinance that I’ve been advocating for in my capacity as a member of the Mayor’s Advisory Council on Human Relations (and for which I posted my remarks to the City Council Finance Committee), I tweeted:

Great news! The anti-discrimination ordinance has been adopted by the Carmel City Council by a 4-3 vote. Equality wins; fear & hate lose.

In response to that tweet, the person in question tweeted:

Let the lawsuits begin.

My response:

By whom? Those who want to be treated fairly or those who scream that homosexuality is a sin (with a punishment of death…)?

Had the conversation gone where I expected, I would have pointed out that the Carmel ordinance does not provide a private cause of action by someone who believes that they have been discriminated against; in other words, a victim of discrimination cannot sue under the ordinance. Instead, they can file a complaint with the city who will then investigate and determine if further action is warranted. A lawsuit could, however, be filed by a business who feels aggrieved by the ordinance requiring that business to refrain from discriminating. That’s the direction another conversation that I was having concurrently went, but it isn’t the direction that this conversation took. Not even close.

Instead, his response:

A noun. A verb. And “I hate Christians.” We get it Mike. God you’re a fucking bore.

Then, in his next three tweets (which did not include my Twitter handle but which certainly seemed to be addressed to or discussing me), he said:

I’m quite content that I don't have to see certain schmucks at my congregation. Some people are just plainly rotten from the inside.

How many times can you listen to a guy kvetch about the same people until he is called out? My number is low.

Some old men are just living unhappy, sexless, pathetic lives. And they can only subsist by pretending they are fighting against *evil*.

Seriously. No discussion of the merits of the ordinance; no discussion of the issues at all. Just personal attacks. Of course I responded:

“I’m a fucking bore“. And here I thought we were engaging in dialogue. Guess that’s too hard for some people.

And “I hate Christians”? Really? Because I don’t like people - any people - who use religion as a sword against others?

Sorry but suggesting I “hate Christians” is beyond offensive. Goodbye.

I added two more “public” tweets not directed at him:

Because I support anti-discrimination law & oppose those who dislike gays because of the Bible, I’ve been told that I “hate Christians”.

Same guy says I’m unhappy, pathetic, pretend to fight “evil”, and am “rotten from the inside”. And he’s glad I don’t attend his synagogue.

I’m not sure why this exchange bothered me. It’s not a function of needing validation for what I do or any sort of concern that I might, in fact, harbor the sort of ill will of which I’m accused. And it certainly isn’t me just being thin-skinned; I’ve been called worse (“war crimes apologist” comes to mind). But I guess it did make me wonder how other people perceive what I do and say.

I’ll also acknowledge that the fact that the person in question is Jewish bothered me (probably more than it should). I’m the first to acknowledge that Jews on not monolithic on any idea or subject (even Israel, a fact that always seems to surprise some of my Republican friends), but even those Jews in the community with whom I have had substantive policy disagreements (come on, you know who you are…) have, for the most part (and with one major exception that I may write about some day…), kept our discussions civil and without suggestions of improper motive or personal attacks. So that sort of response coming from within my own community was … well, let’s just say unexpected.

So let me ask you the question: Do you think I hate Christians? Do you think that I hate anyone? Do the things that I’ve said or written in favor of equality (generally) or gay rights (in particular) or on the subject of “religious freedom” demonstrate that I have a particular animus for Christians? Or do you think that both my words and my deeds demonstrate that I have a commitment to find ways to reduce hate and intolerance? Are the things that I’ve said and written directed, not at any particular group, but rather at those who act upon a worldview that I believe is harmful to others? Are my comments and criticisms fair? Are my efforts in public sphere worthwhile? And are the things that I write on this blog perpetuating problems or aimed at finding resolutions?

Oh, and if I’m such a “fucking bore” why does he follow me on Twitter?

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Friday, September 18, 2015

My Remarks to the Carmel City Council’s Finance, Administration and Rules Committee on the Proposed Anti-Discrimination Ordinance

Last night I had the opportunity to speak to the Carmel City Council’s Finance, Administration and Rules Committee on the subject of proposed ordinance D-2224-15 (found on page 57 of the linked .pdf file), commonly referred to as the “Anti-Discrimination Ordinance”. I was speaking on behalf of the Mayor’s Advisory Commission on Human Relations. It was the understanding of the Commission that several amendments had been proposed for the ordinance and that the Committee was going to be discussing those amendments in addition to the ordinance itself. Thus, our Commission met last week to discuss the amendments and to determine what message, if any, to send to the Committee. I was asked to address the Committee on behalf of the Commission.

Below are my prepared remarks. Note that I’ve made one minor correction (I received a piece of demographic information from a member of the Commission following the delivery of my remarks and I’ve incorporated that into the following remarks). More importantly, at the beginning of the Committee meeting, we learned that the proposed amendments were not being considered; thus, I omitted the portion of my remarks that had been written specifically to address the amendments.* Nevertheless, I’ve included that portion of my remarks but I’ve marked that portion in green.

Councilor Snyder and other members of the City Council. My name is Michael Wallack and I am here on behalf of the Mayor’s Advisory Commission on Human Relations. Thank you for allowing our Commission an opportunity to speak before the Finance Committee this evening. When I rose with Dee Thornton and Raju Chinthala to speak in favor of the proposed anti-discrimination ordinance at the August City Council meeting, our remarks were limited to telling you that our Commission had voted — unanimously — in favor of adoption of the ordinance. Tonight, I’d like to offer some additional substantive thoughts.

But first, I’d like to give you a little bit of demographic information about the Mayor’s Advisory Commission on Human Relations. I want you to understand that this Commission represents a true cross section of the population of Carmel in all of its diversity. The other members of the Commission have given me permission to share with you a little bit about who we are. At present, there are nine members of the Commission, five men and four women. Five of the members are white. But four are not. Two are Indian, one is African American, and one Japanese. Three are Christian, one is Mennonite, two are Jewish, one is Muslim, and one is Hindu. Four are immigrants (from Russia, Japan, and India). All but one are married or widowed and most (or even all) are parents. Our Commission includes both the Chief of Police and the Director of Human Resources for the Carmel Clay Schools. Oh, one more thing: None of the members of the Commission are gay, lesbian, or transgender, though some have family members who are. And in the interests of transparency, I spent some time as the chair of a gay rights organization.

So I hope that you recognize that our Commission is not merely some isolated group of Carmel residents but, rather, a group of people who reflects many of the differences to be found amongst, and hopefully appreciated by, the population of Carmel.

With regard to the proposed anti-discrimination ordinance, the Commission remains strongly in favor of its passage. We met last Thursday and enjoyed a vigorous discussion about the ordinance and its meaning and intent. One thing that never came up as a matter for discussion was the idea of not adopting an ordinance prohibiting discrimination in Carmel. Phrases like “zero tolerance for discrimination” were uttered frequently and not only by the members of the Commission who hail from minority communities.

I want to briefly address a few matters that were nearly completely overlooked during the public discussion last month. One repeated refrain suggested that the ordinance would provide some kind of special status or treatment for the LGBT community. I seem to recall one person asking when he, as a straight, white, Christian, male would have a law to protect him. This sort of query and talking point has become quite common in the discussion of expanding civil rights laws. But it is a completely flawed argument. You see, the proposed ordinance doesn’t protect gays and lesbians. No. It protects people and it protects them on the basis of their sexual orientation. You know what? Straight is also a sexual orientation and the proposed ordinance will protect that straight, white, Christian, male on the basis of his sexual orientation just as it will protect a lesbian. The ordinance doesn’t protect Muslims. It protects people and it protects them on the basis of their religion. Christianity is protected in the same way that Islam or Judaism or Hinduism would be protected. So that straight, white, Christian, male will be given the same protections from discrimination. Similarly, the proposed ordinance will protect that man from discrimination on the basis of his gender and on the basis of his race. Caucasians and Christians are entitled to and given the same protections from discrimination as are members of minority racial and religious communities. It’s simply that because those are the majority groups, they are least likely to be discriminated against in the public sphere. So, the question isn’t which sexual orientations, religions, or races are protected. They all are and they all should be. And that’s what this ordinance would do.

It is important to remember and understand that the focus of the discussion may have been on protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, but this ordinance protects far more people from far more types of discrimination, including discrimination based on age, gender, disability, veteran status, and marital and family status. Thus, for example, this ordinance would protect people on the basis of whether they are married, have children, are pregnant, and so forth. The opponents of this ordinance didn’t discuss opposition to any of those sorts of protections at all. They focused their ire on the notion of being prohibited from turning away members of the LGBT community.

Let’s be clear that this ordinance would not stop anyone from voicing their disapproval of anyone or any activity. It won’t interfere with what people can teach their children or what clergy can say from their pulpit. But it will protect the vulnerable from the negative impacts of those expressions and beliefs in the public sphere.

Furthermore, the ordinance protects people from far more than discrimination in the provision of flowers, wedding cakes, or photographs. It protects people against discrimination in housing and employment, too. It protects people in areas of public accommodation and education and contracting and an assortment of other public activities. In other words, it says that here in Carmel, in the public sphere, we deal with other on the basis of merit and character and not on the basis of characteristics and prejudices.

With regard to the amendments presently before the Finance Committee, our Commission spent some time discussing their meaning and potential ramifications. And, as I mentioned above, the end result was the repetition of the phrase “zero tolerance for discrimination”. In fact, there was some degree of discomfort expressed with some of the exclusions included in the original draft of the ordinance, but none of that discomfort was enough for us to withhold support for the ordinance. The same cannot, however, be said for these proposed amendments.

The biggest concern that our Commission had with the expansion of the exceptions was that they looked like Carmel was actually offering its residents and businesses a veiled license to discriminate. This is especially true of the exceptions in paragraphs 7 and 8 which are exceptionally broad. One member of our Commission expressed some sympathy for the idea that a photographer who was uncomfortable with a same-sex marriage ought not be compelled to accept that business. But when the scenario was changed so that the wedding involved an interracial couple, interreligious couple, or previously divorced couple, she withdrew her concern and recognized that we cannot permit characteristic-based discrimination in the business realm.

Similarly, the expansion of the exception in paragraph 1 seems to go far beyond the core functions of clerical and ministerial practice that should be and are given protection. There is already ample and evolving state and federal law with regard to the distinctions between ministerial and non-ministerial functions within religious institutions and schools. Expanding this exception seems unnecessary at best and, more likely, problematic.

One last point that I’d like to make. Think back to the arguments against this ordinance that you heard, almost all of which were focused on protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. If you look back in history, sadly not too far back in our history, you will find many of the same arguments were raised against the right to interracial marriages; you will find many of the same arguments were raised against integrating schools, lunch counters, water fountains, and swimming pools. You will find many of the same arguments were used against women’s suffrage and the expansion of civil rights to protect other disadvantage groups or people against whom discrimination was deemed acceptable.

Times change but the arguments remain the same.

The next time Money Magazine ranks cities, we don’t want to read that Carmel is no longer the top place to live because it tolerates discrimination. We don’t want to read an article touting our roundabouts but noting that we declined to adopt a human rights ordinance. And we certainly don’t want to read about a business that chose to locate its headquarters in another community because of concerns about how Carmel views or treats minorities.

The Mayor’s Advisory Commission on Human Relations falls squarely on the side of expanding protections. We believe that Carmel must celebrate its diversity. That is part of being the world-class city that we view ourselves as or aspire to be. In our modern, global and competitive world, we need an ordinance that tells both our citizens and those who look at our city that we respect diversity and have little tolerance for discrimination, little tolerance for intolerance. This ordinance is an important statement and an important protection we owe to those among us who may be the subject of discrimination or even bigotry.

We urge the Finance Committee to reject the proposed amendments and to adopt the proposed ordinance.

I welcome any questions that you may have.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

*In my prepared remarks, I mention the exceptions included in the amendments that we understood to be before the Committee. I cannot find a version of the proposed ordinance online that includes those proposed amendments. Thus, I’ve included them here. New text is shown in blue. Deleted text is shown in red and strikethrough. I’ve only included the paragraphs from Section 2(c) of the proposed ordinance for which amendments had been suggested:

(1) Religious worship and clergy while engaged in religious duties or activities; including, but not limited to, schools, athletic and other educational programs; however, non-religious, for-profit business activities by entities or activities owned or engaged in by religious institutions or clergy are not excepted excluded.

(7) The refusal to provide off-business premises personal services.

(8) The refusal to create or produce custom products requested by customers.

Update: I forgot to mention that the my remarks were mentioned and quoted both by The Indianapolis Star and by The Current in Carmel (who initially misspelled my name, but corrected it upon request) and I’m shown briefly in the story on Fox 59 (sadly you can’t really see my cool purple & pink tie.

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Thursday, September 3, 2015

Hyperbolic Rhetoric Run Amok or Another Peter Heck Column

A few weeks ago, I analyzed and critiqued a column by Peter Heck printed in The Indianapolis Star (Editorial Against Carmel Non-Discrimination Ordinance Makes No Sense). Well, this week, Heck was back with another column that is, if possible, even worse than the one that I wrote about. So, just for fun, let’s take a look at Heck’s newest diatribe against equality and fairness, shall we? As in prior similar posts, the original column is presented indented and in green with my commentary un-indented and in black.

Indy Star editorial campaign is a terrible idea

The Editorial Board of The Indianapolis Star is preparing an aggressive editorial campaign designed to push state lawmakers into enacting dangerous anti-First Amendment legislation in their coming session.

What? The editorial board of The Indianapolis Star is going to support a law that bans the right to a free press? No. Maybe prohibiting free speech? Nope. Not that either. Oh, maybe the editorial board wants the General Assembly to establish a Church of Indiana. Uh uh. Then it must be a play to outlaw Christianity or make all Hoosiers become Muslims, right? Wrong again. Hmm. Then what sort of “dangerous anti-First Amendment legislation” might Heck be talking about?

Karen Ferguson Fuson, The Star’s president and publisher, recently sent an invitation to community leaders from Central Indiana asking those leaders to visit The Star’s offices for a briefing about the newspaper’s plans.

Ooh, those nefarious journalists, telling people about their plans in advance. How sneaky.

Now, no one should be shocked to find out that The Star’s opinion team has chosen a side in this looming battle that will pit the rights of conscience against the unconstitutional demands of the rainbow mafia. Just remember that when honest Hoosiers were being fileted by the national media as angry bigots, The Star didn’t take up ink to defend our honor.

Aha! There we have it. Heck is worried about the battle in which the “rainbow mafia” makes “unconstitutional demands”. You know, I have to agree with Heck. I really think the plan to make everyone divorce their opposite-sex spouse and have a same-sex wedding is troubling. Um, wait. That isn’t the plan? Oh, well, then I suppose this rainbow mafia plans to make everyone bow down before and pray to some kind of rainbow idol, right? Like Gay Thor, or something? No? Then I guess I’m confused.

In all seriousness, think about how Heck refers to the “demands” by the LGBT community that they be treated equally and not discriminated against because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The mere demand to be treated equally is, according to Heck, unconstitutional, and those who would advocate for equality are part of a “rainbow mafia”. But I’m sure that those who simply want to exercise their “rights of conscience” against the LGBT community, you know, by turning away their business, refusing them housing, firing them, beating them to death, hanging them from fence posts, and so forth, are just good G-d-fearin’ folk, right? Remember Jesus’ commandment never to bake a cake for a gay wedding!

Heck seems to almost get it at the end of this paragraph … but no. Honest Hoosiers aren’t angry bigots, but those Hoosiers who seek to use their religious views as a sword against people who are different from them or have been marginalized by society, and who try to use the law protect their right to do so? Yeah, bigot seems to fit.

Instead, the paper fueled the absurd misrepresentation of Indiana by embarrassingly using an entire front page to demand our lawmakers “fix” a law that was nothing more than a reaffirmation of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Rather than thoughtfully counter the anti-Indiana hatred, The Star unwisely provided that hatred unwarranted justification and validation, thereby hurting the state and its people.

I’ve already written a lengthy post about RFRA and the so-called “fix” (RFRA: Some History, Some Analysis, Some Thoughts); no need to re-hash all of that here. But to suggest that RFRA is some kind of “reaffirmation” of the First Amendment is … well, ludicrous seems to be a good word. The First Amendment was never a shield against complying with laws, at least it wasn’t until passage of RFRA and the twisting of the original intent of that law.. However, the rise of a vocal advocacy movement supporting equal rights for the LGBT community and for recognition of same-sex marriages (together with the mandate for employer-provided health insurance to cover birth control) seems to have sparked outrage among some who believe that their free exercise of religion allows them to refuse to be bound by laws of general applicability. That is not what the First Amendment is now or has ever been about.

It’s important to note that The Star is a corporately owned entity and there is nothing inappropriate about a company and its leaders expressing their views. The Star’s editors are completely entitled to articulate opinions that are consistent with their deeply held moral convictions, even if they are ironically preparing a campaign to deny that same right to business owners and citizens who hold different moral convictions.

I thought Heck was going to stay on safe ground with this paragraph, until he got to that last bit. Nobody, and no law, would deny a business owner or citizen the right to articulate any opinion or moral conviction. If you want to post a sign in your window saying “I hate Muslims” or “I hate faggots” then go for it. The law will protect you. If you want to post a sign in your window saying “If you don’t accept Jesus, you’ll burn in Hell” or “Scientology is a cult” then go for it. The law will protect you.

Heck could have written a column that would lead to honest, good faith discussion of parameters of public behavior and the intersection of rights and responsibilities or the clash between rights of different people. But that would be a column for someone interested in reasoned debate and civic discourse. Heck, apparently, prefers to throw bombs and pour gasoline on fires. How else to explain his claim that The Indianapolis Star will be supporting a campaign to “deny” people the right “to articulate opinions”. There is en enormous gulf between “articulating” an opinion and using a protected class (race, religion, gender, national origin, marital status, veteran status, disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity) to refuse to do business with someone, fire them or refuse to hire them, refuse them housing, and so forth.

But if you turn away business from someone because of their skin color, even if you base your actions on your understanding of some deity’s wishes or commands, then you are acting outside the scope of what our civil, rather than theocratic society, has deemed just. If you try refuse to hire someone because they pray to a different deity than you, even if you base your actions on your understanding of your deity’s wishes or commands, then you are acting outside the scope of what our civil society has deemed just. If you refuse to rent your apartment to someone because of where their parents were born or because of a disability they have, even if you base your actions on your understanding of your deity’s wishes or commands, then you are acting outside the scope of what our civil society has deemed just. And all we’re really talking about doing is adding to those sort of protections, the sexual orientation or gender identity of a person. Oh, and make no mistake: Those protections would also prevent a gay florist from refusing to provide flowers to the wedding of an evangelical Christian who articulates the view that homosexuality is a sin.

But I would caution the leadership of a newspaper I have always loved that becoming the mouthpiece for a movement that cheers the financial ruin of Christian families trying to faithfully obey God before men, might not be a great business decision.

There is hyperbole and there is simply being a fucking asshole. A “movement that cheers the financial ruin of Christian families”? Really? That’s how Heck describes the LGBT rights movement that seeks equality and seeks to be sure that those who refuse to follow the law be subject to the penalties appropriate for choosing to violate the law. Nobody wants the “financial ruin” of anyone and it has nothing to do with whether those families are Christian. Rather, what the LGBT community wants now, just as the African-American community, Asian community, minority religious communities, the disabled, and other groups have fought for in the past, is simply the right to be treated equally. Neither businesses nor Christian families will suffer financial ruin if they obey the law. It’s that simple. Don’t use a tiny subset of your religious beliefs to discriminate against others and you won’t face any sort of penalties for breaking any laws.

Since the Supreme Court issued its marriage edict, three separate national polls show support for this gay revolution crumbling dramatically. And why wouldn’t it? Any movement that harasses everyone who disagrees with their totalitarian schemes as bigots and haters, and offensively degrades the legacy of Bible-preaching civil rights marchers by equating them to drag queens, isn’t going to win over the hearts and minds of good people. And any newspaper that ties itself to such a crowd willfully destroys its own credibility among the people it serves.

I’d be curious to see the national polls that Heck is referring to (both with regard to the questions being asked by the pollsters, the methodology, and the actual results). But it’s probably worth noting how Heck refers to the drive toward equality as the “gay revolution”. Was the 1960s civil rights movement a “black revolution”? What about the fight for women’s suffrage? A vagina revolution?

And then Heck goes back to his demonizing of those who seek to be treated with equality. Of course, Heck and those who agree with him have never harassed anyone who disagreed with them, have they? They’ve never argued for the right to refuse housing, services, or employment to those who they disfavored, have they? They’ve never bombed abortion clinics or crucified gay men, have they? They’ve never refused to issue marriage licenses, even after the Supreme Court tells them they must. Of course not. Only the “rainbow mafia” harasses those who disagree, right? It really is amazing how people like Heck seem to reverse the roles of oppressed minority and oppressing majority, isn’t it. And the worst part about that is that I really think that many of those who read Heck’s columns approvingly don’t even realized that they are the oppressors rather than the oppressed.

But even that claim isn’t enough for Heck. No, he has to take his over-the-top hyperbolic rhetoric even further claiming that the LGBT community’s fight for equality is a “totalitarian scheme”. At some point you have to wonder if Heck just throws darts at a list of “evil” words that he keeps on his wall. Just think about that one for a minute: It is a “totalitarian scheme” to ask to be treated equally. Yep, totalitarian regimes are famous for the equality that they grant to citizens.

Oh, but even the “totalitarian” reference pales in comparison to Heck’s claim that it is demeaning to those who marched for civil rights to compare them “to drag queens”. Yep. According to Heck, the entire LGBT community can be boiled down to and stereotyped as simply a bunch of drag queens. It has nothing to do with loving families, or dignity; it has nothing to do with wanting a safe place to live and work and raise children; it has nothing to do with not wanting to be fired for who you love or refused service because of who you are; it has nothing to do with the children of LGBT parents. Nope. None of that is the issue here to people like Heck; rather, the only thing is those weird dudes in dresses (probably sneaking into the women’s room to do nefarious things). Of course, one of the best ways to marginalize and/or demonize a minority community is to use crass and base stereotypes that have been behind the discrimination against and even brutality toward that community throughout history. Once it was African-Americans. Once it was Jews. Or Italians. Or Catholics. And now it’s LGTB individuals. The targets may change, but the hatred, bigotry, and fear remain mostly the same.

If you don’t think that’s happening, consider that since Gannett Corporation obtained The Indy Star in 1999, the paper has taken a hard left turn in its opinion writing. How far left? In the midst of the recent Religious Freedom Restoration Act debate, liberal columnist Matthew Tully actually wrote that Angie’s List CEO Bill Oesterle might “save” the Indiana Republican Party given his strident opposition to protecting religious freedom in the state.

The Indianapolis Star as a “far left” publication. That is, perhaps, one of the funniest things that I’ve read in a long, long time. Actually, it’s not funny it all. It’s not funny because, even though the statement is laughably ridiculous, it’s being uttered and, undoubtedly, being believed by some.

Is Matt Tully left of center? Maybe. He’s certainly written many things that make me think that he has a liberal worldview. But you know what? He’s also written some things that seem to come from a right-of-center perspective, too. And one columnist does not define the paper. If The Indianapolis Star was so far to the left, neither staff cartoonist Gary Varvel nor columnists like Heck or the “Chicks on the Right” would have a place to air their views. Nor, for that matter, would we be subjected to the opinions of any of the right-of-center national columnists regularly published in The Indianapolis Star. And is it possible, just maybe, that the editorial views of The Indianapolis Star are driven, in some small part, by the views expressed by its readers?

Contemplate Tully’s ludicrous premise: The CEO of a company that has never turned an annual profit needed to save a political party that’s been so successful it holds supermajorities in both houses of the state legislature, the governor’s mansion, and every statewide elected office except two.

I’ll let Republicans fight their own internal battles over the face and future of their party. Who knows. Maybe a majority of Hoosiers do want to take their state back … back to 1850. As to the supermajorities, that’s the simple result of gerrymandering designed to protect one party’s grip on power and that serves to drive candidates further and further to the political extremes and eliminate the need for moderation or compromise. Think of it less as an indicator of success and more as the result of a scorched earth strategy.

So rather than reading the demands of The Star’s editors in the coming session, state lawmakers would be better advised to look at what is happening in communities from Goshen to Carmel when cities attempt to enact local versions of this dangerous legislation. In Carmel, constituents who pummeled councilmen with overwhelming opposition to the ordinance far outnumbered those who voiced their support. Extrapolate that outward to the entire state to get a sense for how unpopular The Star’s coming campaign will be outside the echo chamber of socially liberal corporate and media boardrooms.

Ah, yes. Back to calling non-discrimination legislation “dangerous”. Um, hey, Pete, what exactly is “dangerous” about saying that all people should be treated equally within the public sphere? Did you notice that he’s never really explained that, other than to say that people of “conscience” might have to … um … well … er … I don’t know. Bake cakes or arrange flowers?

One other thing to note here: I was at the Carmel City Council meeting; in fact, I spoke at the meeting on behalf of the Mayor’s Advisory Commission on Human Relations (I wish I had been able to speak individually and respond to some of the misinformation provided by opponents of the ordinance). Heck is right that those who spoke against the ordinance outnumbered those who spoke in favor; it was a mistake by those who favor equality not to have more voices present to articulate the importance of non-discrimination and human rights laws. And Heck is also right that the constituents (actually some who spoke against the ordinance weren’t constituents at all…) “pummeled” the Council (though I’m not sure that I’d use that word in a way that describes the success of their arguments instead of the mere repetition of the views and vehemence of their statements). What Heck fails to mention is that virtually every one of those people based their opposition to the ordinance on their Christian beliefs. (I may take the time one of these days to compile my tweets from that meeting; trust me, it was ugly. Funny at times, but ugly.) Heck further fails to mention that the ordinance in question is intended to protect not just sexual orientation and gender identity, but also race, religion, gender, age, disability , national origin, veteran status, and family and marital status. Oh, and he also fails to mention that, with one or two exceptions, every person who spoke against the ordinance was probably old enough to collect social security.

Regardless of the media’s ignorant portrayal, Hoosiers aren’t haters. They are good people tired of being maligned for their faith in God’s Word as a more reliable foundation for our culture’s moral compass than what trends on Twitter. And let’s hope that their elected representatives will recognize that despite the coming headlines on The Star’s opinion content, these so-called anti-discrimination statutes are nothing but thinly veiled assaults on the constitutionally protected rights of conscience, and should be thoroughly rejected.

No. Hoosiers aren’t haters. But the Hoosiers who would stand against laws that seek to prohibit discrimination, the Hoosiers who would use their religious views (and only a tiny, tiny subset of those religious views, while they ignore many others) as a sword to pummel one particular minority community, the Hoosiers who claim that it is intolerant to call them out for their intolerance? Those Hoosiers are haters. Those people can stand on their porches and pulpits and shout to the heavens about just how much they hate homosexuality (or African-Americans or Muslims or Democrats) and they can think those thoughts all they want. But what we can’t let them do is to move those thoughts and ideas from their pulpits and porches into the public sphere in a way that causes actual harm to others.

And that is just what discrimination does.

It hurts.

And hurting people because of the deity they worship, the color of their skin, or who they love, is not the America that most of us recognize and treasure.

Oh, and just as I was about to publish this post, I came across the following photo taken outside the Federal Courthouse in Kentucky where the fate of Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis was being decided (she was found in contempt):

Love or be damned

This photo seems to sum up so much of how these arguments play out, doesn’t it?

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