Monday, July 25, 2016

News Tidbits

Washington Post: Evangelical leader Tim LaHaye dies at 90

Omaha World-Herald: Despite medical backing, HPV vaccine rates remain low amid sexual and moral controversy

Orlando Sentinel: Holy Land Experience to unload furniture, statues amid financial turmoil

Pink News: Pastor who called for government to ‘finish the job’ after Pulse shooting to host ‘controversial’ conference

LGBTQ Nation: Colorado baker takes gay wedding cake case to the U.S. Supreme Court

Associated Press: Energized white supremacists cheer Trump convention message

Politico: Why America’s Christian leaders tolerate Trump

Commentary Tidbits

Louisville Magazine: Five Thoughts You Might Have at the Ark Encounter

Outsports: Florida school principal posts gay people must 'be put to death' in wake of Orlando shooting

Political Research Associates: When Exemption Is the Rule: The Religious Freedom Strategy of the Christian Right

Talk to Action: Trump Veep Choice Has Cozy Relationship With The Religious Right

Right Wing Watch: Citizens United & Breitbart Debut New ‘Christian War Film’ at RNC

Slate: Better Know an RNC White Supremacist: Soldiers of Odin

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Lou Engle Wants You to Join the Spiritual Air Force Academy

Lou Engle, the New Apostolic Reformation preacher who heads TheCall, is inviting believers to join his Spiritual Air Force Academy. Running from September 6th to April 30th, the Spiritual Air Force Academy offers to teach Christians how to be "pilots sent for the purpose of winning the war in the heavens at a moments notice". For $2,500 tuition (not including room and board in Pasadena, CA), you too can learn how to work yourself into an ecstatic state through prayer, which releases endorphins but doesn't actually impact the world.

In a YouTube video released this spring, Lou Engle describes the Spiritual Air Force Academy with the same bombastic language that he uses for every other prayer event. Participants learn how to fast and pray so as to "remove demons in the heavenlies from the hard, dark places of the earth".
"In 2004, in the shadow of the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, we gathered seventy young people to fast and pray for fifty days, day and night. An amazing breakthrough took place, and God began to give us what we believe is historic intercessory strategy. God is going to raise up what we're calling SAFA, the Spiritual Air Force Academy!

A movement of young men and women giving themselves to fasting and prayer to remove demons in the heavenlies from the hard, darkest places of the earth, releasing divine encounters, revival, and awakening on the ground. 

You see, in World War II and beyond, if you didn't win air supremacy with the planes winning the battle in the heavens, you could not win the ground war. It took both air and ground to win victories. I know it was like General Eisenhower calling forth the air force to invade Normandy from the heavens so that the ground troops could break through in the Battle of Normandy. This is the kind of ideology, prayer stragegy that God is wanting to release into the earth.

You're about to hear a breakthrough of angelic swords shattering the powers in the heavens, so that a vast movement of evangelism could sweep in and bring forth another massive revival. Can you imagine an army of men and women who would dedicate their lives to fast and pray? This is the time for a new strategy to come forth.

Air supremacy contending in the heavens for breakthroughs on the earth. SAFA! Sweep the skies!"
Can I inject some reality here, please? Taking part in ecstatic prayer is not the same thing as being a fighter pilot. Ecstatic worship does not make one a soldier in some cosmic war. Actual fighter pilots go through rigorous training and risk their lives in aerial combat. Working oneself into a religious ecstasy while forking over thousands of dollars to TheCall is not at all like being a fighter pilot.

If one wants to fight evil, I can think of far better alternatives to joining SAFA. Why not donate that tuition money to charity, or volunteer with any number of charitable organizations? Why not help any number of social movements calling for justice in our communities? Ecstatic prayer won't improve the conditions of the world, but charitable giving and hard work just might.

In the meantime, act out those fighter pilot fantasies by playing Ace Combat Infinity.

2016 Republican National Convention: Fear, Hate, and Trump

The climax of the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio was Donald Trump's speech on the night of July 21st. After accepting the Republican party's nomination, he delivered a speech lasting over an hour, touching upon the economy, immigrants, refugees, public safety, and Hillary Clinton.

Politico published a transcript of the speech, which was heavily laden with fear, failure, and hostility toward scapegoats. Trump depicted the U.S. as a fallen country afflicted with violence, economic decline, and intrusion from foreign criminals, a downward spiral that only he could correct as president. In reality, the U.S. is not a fallen state, and Trump is no savior.

Trump began with bombastic claims that America was in the throes of violence and social chaos, assuring listeners that he would restore the country to order after winning the presidential race.
"Our Convention occurs at a moment of crisis for our nation. The attacks on our police, and the terrorism in our cities, threaten our very way of life. Any politician who does not grasp this danger is not fit to lead our country. Americans watching this address tonight have seen the recent images of violence in our streets and the chaos in our communities. Many have witnessed this violence personally, some have even been its victims. I have a message for all of you: the crime and violence that today afflicts our nation will soon come to an end. Beginning on January 20th 2017, safety will be restored."
Trump characterized the U.S. as a violent nation, tossing out frightening statistics to the audience.
"Decades of progress made in bringing down crime are now being reversed by this Administration’s rollback of criminal enforcement. Homicides last year increased by 17% in America’s fifty largest cities. That’s the largest increase in 25 years. In our nation’s capital, killings have risen by 50 percent. They are up nearly 60% in nearby Baltimore. In the President’s hometown of Chicago, more than 2,000 have been the victims of shootings this year alone. And more than 3,600 have been killed in the Chicago area since he took office.The number of police officers killed in the line of duty has risen by almost 50% compared to this point last year."
I do wonder where Trump found his statistics. According to data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, violent victimization steadily decreased between 1993 and 2014. FBI and CDC data shows that the U.S. homicide rate has steadily decreased since the early 1990s. Regarding major metropolitan areas, while Chicago has experienced a surge in crime, Baltimore County, New York City, and Washington D.C. have violent crime rates that are either holding steady or slightly decreasing. Simply put, Trump claimed that violent crime is America is far worse than it actually is.

Trump was eager to scapegoat undocumented immigrants, depicting them as a criminal element running rampant throughout the U.S. that must be stopped. By imagining undocumented immigrants as threats to American citizens, he cultivated his supporters' fear and united them through hatred of a common enemy.
"Nearly 180,000 illegal immigrants with criminal records, ordered deported from our country, are tonight roaming free to threaten peaceful citizens. The number of new illegal immigrant families who have crossed the border so far this year already exceeds the entire total from 2015. They are being released by the tens of thousands into our communities with no regard for the impact on public safety or resources.

One such border-crosser was released and made his way to Nebraska. There, he ended the life of an innocent young girl named Sarah Root. She was 21 years-old, and was killed the day after graduating from college with a 4.0 grade point average. Her killer was then released a second time, and he is now a fugitive from the law. I’ve met Sarah’s beautiful family. But to this administration, their amazing daughter was just one more American life that wasn’t worth protecting. One more child to sacrifice on the altar of open borders."
Predictably, Trump repeated his plan to build a border wall, assuring the audience that his measures would stop undocumented immigrants from further infecting the U.S. with drugs and gang violence. The fact that a border wall would be an expensive and ineffective white elephant was ignored.
"We are going to build a great border wall to stop illegal immigration, to stop the gangs and the violence, and to stop the drugs from pouring into our communities ... By ending catch-and-release on the border, we will stop the cycle of human smuggling and violence. Illegal border crossings will go down. Peace will be restored. By enforcing the rules for the millions who overstay their visas, our laws will finally receive the respect they deserve."
Refugees also received little sympathy from Trump, who depicted them as a threat to U.S. security. He repeated the right-wing myth that the U.S. poorly vets Middle Eastern refugees, ignoring the fact that the application and vetting processes are actually quite rigorous.
"We must immediately suspend immigration from any nation that has been compromised by terrorism until such time as proven vetting mechanisms have been put in place. My opponent has called for a radical 550% increase in Syrian refugees on top of existing massive refugee flows coming into our country under President Obama. [Hillary Clinton] proposes this, despite the fact that there’s no way to screen these refugees in order to find out who they are or where they come from. I only want to admit individuals into our country who will support our values and love our people."
Trump's speech dripped with gloom and doom. He depicted the U.S. as technologically backwards, poor, and humiliated, pandering to his audience's indignation at real or imagined national failures.

"Our roads and bridges are falling apart, our airports are in Third World condition, and forty-three million Americans are on food stamps. Now let us consider the state of affairs abroad. Not only have our citizens endured domestic disaster, but they have lived through one international humiliation after another. We all remember the images of our sailors being forced to their knees by their Iranian captors at gunpoint."
Moor gloom and doom came in the form of an attack on Hillary Clinton. Trump claimed that the Middle East was in tatters because of Clinton's poor leadership as Secretary of State under the Obama Administration.
"Libya was cooperating. Egypt was peaceful. Iraq was seeing a reduction in violence. Iran was being choked by sanctions. Syria was under control. After four years of Hillary Clinton, what do we have? ISIS has spread across the region, and the world. Libya is in ruins, and our Ambassador and his staff were left helpless to die at the hands of savage killers. Egypt was turned over to the radical Muslim brotherhood, forcing the military to retake control. Iraq is in chaos. Iran is on the path to nuclear weapons. Syria is engulfed in a civil war and a refugee crisis that now threatens the West. After fifteen years of wars in the Middle East, after trillions of dollars spent and thousands of lives lost, the situation is worse than it has ever been before. This is the legacy of Hillary Clinton: death, destruction and weakness."
Not surprisingly, Trump described America in such horrific terms so that he could present himself as the nation's salvation. He assured listeners that if elected president, he would ensure safe neighborhoods, protect citizens from terrorism, and usher in a new era of economic prosperity.
"The problems we face now – poverty and violence at home, war and destruction abroad – will last only as long as we continue relying on the same politicians who created them. A change in leadership is required to change these outcomes. Tonight, I will share with you my plan of action for America. The most important difference between our plan and that of our opponents, is that our plan will put America first. Americanism, not globalism, will be our credo. As long as we are led by politicians who will not put America first, then we can be assured that other nations will not treat America with respect. This will all change in 2017.

The American people will come first once again. My plan will begin with safety at home, which means safe neighborhoods, secure borders, and protection from terrorism. There can be no prosperity without law and order. On the economy, I will outline reforms to add millions of new jobs and trillions in new wealth that can be used to rebuild America ... I have joined the political arena so that the powerful can no longer beat up on people that cannot defend themselves. Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it."
Trump nodded to his Religious Right supporters, promising them that he would repeal the Johnson Amendment that currently protects church-state separation.
"I would like to thank the evangelical community who have been so good to me and so supportive. You have so much to contribute to our politics, yet our laws prevent you from speaking your minds from your own pulpits. An amendment, pushed by Lyndon Johnson, many years ago, threatens religious institutions with a loss of their tax-exempt status if they openly advocate their political views. I am going to work very hard to repeal that language and protect free speech for all Americans."
The speech encapsulated Trump's campaign strategy. Appeal to voters' fear, inflame their anger and humiliation over real or imagined national failures, stoke their jingoism, and then promise to ameliorate everything that frightens and angers them. Target scapegoats, then unite voters in hatred against said scapegoats. In a country where right-wing voices have carefully cultivates people's fear for years and where right-wing voters fume over losing culture wars, this fear and anger are real. Not necessarily justified, but real.

Sadly, Trump cannot and will not deliver. He lacks concrete plans for achieving his promised ends, and he lacks the experience, knowledge, and temperament to lead a superpower nation. He won't make America safer, richer, or prouder. I dare not imagine what damage he would actually do in office. Voters who are enchanted by his strongman rhetoric must face these facts.

An incompetent, irascible man has just harnessed the irrational fear and anger of millions of Americans for his own ends. He feeds the ignorance and bigotry underlying those emotions. And he's a serious contender for the White House this November.

This should alarm us all.

To read additional commentary, visit the following links.

The New Yorker: Donald Trump’s Dark, Dark Convention Speech

Huffington Post: That Was A Very Scary Speech Donald Trump Just Gave

New York Times: 95,000 Words, Many of Them Ominous, From Donald Trump’s Tongue

2016 Republican National Convention: Ivanka Trump Paints Rose-Colored Portrait of Her Father

The Republican National Convention took place from July 18-21 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. Before I discuss Trump's acceptance speech, I'd like to devote attention to the introductory speech delivered by his daughter, Ivanka. In a Time transcript of Ivanka Trump's speech, Ivanka described her father in glowing terms as a family man, an enlightened businessman, and a true-blue American. Let's dissect some of her statements, shall we?
"My father taught my siblings and me the importance of positive values and a strong ethical compass."
A man who advocated for the killing of noncombatants, encouraged torture, called for a ban on Muslims entering the U.S., and demonized Mexican immigrants is not a man with a "strong ethical compass".
"My father values talent. He recognizes real knowledge and skill when he finds it. He is color blind and gender neutral. He hires the best person for the job, period."
A man who has a history of misogynist comments spanning decades, defends a man accused of sexual harassment, and is himself facing sexual assault allegations is not "gender neutral". A man with a dubious history on the subject of race is not "color blind".
"One of the reasons he has thrived as an entrepreneur is because he listens to everyone. Billionaire executives don’t usually ask the people doing the work for their opinion of the work. My father is an exception. On every one of his projects, you’ll see him talking to the super, the painter, the engineers, the electricians, he’ll ask them for their feedback, if they think something should be done differently, or could be done better."
Trump listens to everyone? According to the New York Times, during a March appearance on MSNBC's Morning Joe, Trump said that, "I’m speaking with myself, number one, because I have a very good brain ... My primary consultant is myself and I have a good instinct for this stuff." According to NPR, Art of the Deal ghostwriter Tony Schwartz described Trump as "reactive whenever he feels threatened" and expressed concerns over "the limits of his attention span" in conversations. Trump does not strike me as a man who listens thoughtfully to others.
"Politicians ask to be judged by their promises, not their results. I ask you to judge my father by his results. Judge his values by those he’s instilled in his children. Judge his competency by the towers he’s built, the companies he’s founded, and the tens of thousands of jobs he’s created."
If we are to judge Trump by his business results, we should also judge him by his four bankruptcies, which do not reflect well on his business acumen.

Ivanka Trump's speech was meant to humanize Donald Trump by depicting him as an ethical, fair, and magnanimous man. Unfortunately, Ivanka's rosy portrait bears little resemblance to the man running for president. Since Trump's public image is that of a sexist, cruel, self-absorbed man, Ivanka's speech may have been an effort to dispel that unsavory image. However, a quick look into Trump's statements and actions reveal the truth about the Republican nominee.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

2016 Republican National Convention: Thiel and Falwell

The Republican National Convention took place from July 18-21 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. The last day of the convention included speaker choices who remind us that the Trump campaign is less than enthusiastic about LGBTQ equality and downright contemptuous toward church-state separation.

Among the speakers on the last day of the convention was billionaire Peter Thiel. Thiel, co-founder of PayPal and the first outside investor in Facebook, is also a gay man who was outed against his wishes by Gawker in 2007, according to Time. Thiel's speech, as captured in a Time transcript, played to his audience's feelings of (real or imagined) decline and national failure. Glaringly, he implied that the struggle for LGBTQ equality is a distraction from more important economic issues, as if American couldn't address both at the same time.

Thiel described the modern U.S. in ugly terms, telling listeners that the military is technologically backwards, that the government is more interested in war than space travel, and that the struggle for transgender bathroom rights is a "distraction from our real problems".
"Today our government is broken. Our nuclear bases still use floppy disks. Our newest fighter jets can’t even fly in the rain. And it would be kind to say the government’s software works poorly, because much of the time it doesn’t even work at all. That is a staggering decline for the country that completed the Manhattan project. We don’t accept such incompetence in Silicon Valley, and we must not accept it from our government.

Instead of going to Mars, we have invaded the Middle East. We don’t need to see Hillary Clinton’s deleted emails: her incompetence is in plain sight. She pushed for a war in Libya, and today it’s a training ground for ISIS. On this most important issue Donald Trump is right. It’s time to end the era of stupid wars and rebuild our country.

When I was a kid, the great debate was about how to defeat the Soviet Union. And we won. Now we are told that the great debate is about who gets to use which bathroom. This is a distraction from our real problems. Who cares?"
Thiel asserted that he was proud to be gay, then said that "fake culture wars" only serve to distract Americans from economic problems.

"I am proud to be gay. I am proud to be a Republican. But most of all I am proud to be an American. I don’t pretend to agree with every plank in our party’s platform; but fake culture wars only distract us from our economic decline, and nobody in this race is being honest about it except Donald Trump."
Thiel's attitude of "who cares?" and his disdain for "fake" culture wars was disappointing. The Republican National Convention may have wanted to include a gay speaker to convince LGBTQ voters that it was an enlightened party, but that speaker didn't seem eager to actually talk about LGBTQ issues. Does the GOP want the appearance of open-mindedness without the substance? I think so.

Also on the agenda was Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University. Before encouraging the audience to unite behind Trump and Pence, Falwell rejoiced over the prospect of the Johnson Amendment being repealed under Trump. Currently, the Internal Revenue Code forbids 501(c)(3) organizations such as churches from promoting or opposing political campaigns, a policy that Trump wants to repeal.
"Mr. Trump has added a plank to this party platform to repeal IRS rules sponsored by Lyndon Johnson in 1954 barring churches and nonprofits from expressing political free speech. Conservative universities and churches, however, have been investigated, while authorities have too often turned a blind eye toward liberal groups, including universities where left-wing ideology is so pervasive that they have, in effect, become Democratic voter indoctrination camps. Trust me, the repeal of the Johnson Amendment will create a huge revolution for conservative Christians and for free speech."
Falwell fails to grasp the function of the Johnson Amendment, which is not to limit non-profits' free speech, but to prevent them from abusing their tax-exempt status to endorse candidates. Furthermore, Falwell and Trump fail to recognize the importance of the Johnson Amendment for protecting church-state separation. In Trump, Religious Right leaders like Falwell have found a candidate who will erode the wall of separation and allow them to mingle religion and politics even more.

In my next post, I'll discuss the speech given by Donald Trump himself, and what his speech tells us about his worldview and campaign. Stay tuned.

Liberty Counsel Promotes Homophobia in Romania

LGBTQ rights faced a setback in Romania this week, and an American Religious Right organization played a part. According to the Associated Press, Romania's Constitutional Court ruled on July 20th that a request to limit marriage to opposite sex partners in the constitution is indeed constitutional. Currently, Romania's constitution allows for marriage between freely consenting "spouses" but does not specify gender. The July 20th ruling allows Romania's parliament to vote on whether or not to change the constitution.

The court decision comes after efforts by a Romanian anti-LGBTQ coalition to undermine LGBTQ rights. Reuters reports that an initiative called the Coalition for the Family gathered signatures from 3 million Romanians in favor of changing "spouses" to "a man and a woman" in the constitution. The push to undermine same-sex marriage has also received support from Orthodox clergy, according to Balkan Insight. Ruptly TV reports that anti-LGBTQ protesters marched through Bucharest last month, demanding a constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage. Marchers held signs that read Solidari cu Familia ("Solidarity with the Family"), 3,000,000 Sustin Normalitatea ("3 Million Support Normalcy"), and Nu Casatoriilor Si Adoptiilor Homosexuale ("No Homosexual Marriages and Adoptions").

LGBTQ rights organizations such as MozaiQ and TRANSform opposed the Constitutional Court's decision, arguing in a joint statement that the initiative "creates a hostile, degrading and derogatory environment" for LGBTQ persons in Romania.

As with many other homophobic movements overseas, figures from the American Religious Right played a role in these developments. On July 21st, Liberty Counsel released a statement through Christian News Wire praising the Constitutional Court's decision.
"Liberty Counsel submitted a major brief in support of the referendum, pointing out the intrinsic and common-sense benefits of natural marriage, discussing the deleterious effects of same-sex "marriage" in the handful of nations that have tried out this social experiment, and debunking the fraudulent Kinseyan "research" that lies at the heart of the sexual revolution. Liberty Counsel's brief was instrumental in exposing and rebutting the misleading arguments and briefs submitted by a number of pro-homosexual organizations from outside of Romania, such as ILGA Europe and Amnesty International. Romania and other traditional nations in Europe have come under increasing foreign pressure to abandon their heritage, traditions and sovereignty in favor of the homosexual agenda pushed from abroad."
Horatio Mihet, a Romanian immigrant and chief litigation counsel at Liberty Counsel, claimed that the decision affirmed "choice" over "the dictates of pro-homosexual forces".
"By approving this referendum, the Constitutional Court has given voice to the millions of Romanians who want to affirm the timeless definition of marriage. The CCR has recognized the sovereignty of the Romanian people to define marriage for themselves, as well as the supremacy of their choice over and above the dictates of pro-homosexual forces in Europe and beyond."
Liberty Counsel argued that same-sex marriage is fundamentally illegitimate, deleterious to Romanian society, based on a libertine sexual ideology, and detrimental to health. The brief of amicus curiae submitted to the Constitutional Court by Liberty Counsel urges the court to reject the "undefined experimental artificial social  construct" of same-sex marriage. Offensively, the brief claims that same-sex marriage is "grounded in fraudulent "research" based on skewed demographics and the sexual abuse of hundreds of infants and children." The brief cites junk science such as the debunked Regnerus study in order to argue that same-sex marriage endangers children and society. Some especially revolting passages from the brief are as follows:
  • "The global push for the artificial social construct of same-sex “marriage” has its origins in the "research" of American scientist Alfred Kinsey. Dr. Kinsey’s books on male and female sexuality promote the normalization of all manner of sexual conduct from birth to death between human beings and even between human beings and animals."

  • "Romania’s continuing commitment to marriage as the union of one man and one woman reflects a continuing commitment to creating and maintaining the optimal environment for rearing children. In fact, treating same-sex unions as marriages "would undermine marital stability in ways that we know do hurt children.""

  • "In addition to a union of the wills, marriage requires a union of bodies. While it is possible for same-sex couples to enter into a union of the wills, it is not possible for them to join in body in the way marriage has always required. Joining in body requires more than a sexual act. It is a natural, organic union that is "coordinated toward a common biological end of the whole that they form together.""

  • "Not only is there no bodily good or function toward which two same-sex bodies can coordinate, but there are in fact inherent harms associated with same-sex unions. For example, homosexual males are at exponentially higher risk of developing a variety of sexually transmitted diseases, and have increased risks of developing various cancers and medical conditions because of the nature of same-sex sex ... Engaging in homosexual conduct is dangerous, and endorsing and subsidizing same-sex unions and treating them as marriages is an endorsement of conduct that does not benefit society, but rather harms it by creating irresponsible and unhealthy people."

Liberty Counsel continues the American Religious Right tradition of inflaming homophobia abroad. Not content to oppose LGBTQ equality in the U.S. (and frequently at odds with growing American pro-LGBTQ sentiment), groups such as Liberty Counsel promote homophobia overseas. Using junk science, ugly myths, and fear-mongering, the American Religious Right attack LGBTQ rights in far-flung corners of the globe. Americans who care about equality can't afford to ignore this.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

The 2016 Republican National Convention: Cruz, Pence, and Gingrich

The evening of July 20th at the Republican National Convention was one of strong emotions: fear, anger, and resentment. Newt Gingrich played to his audience's fear of Islamic extremism and violence, then offered Trump as a strong leader who would overcome those fears. Later, Ted Cruz refused to endorse Donald Trump, provoking the audience's anger. Last night's speeches at the convention remind us that the Republican party remains divided against itself and draws its strength from the fear and uncertainty of Republican voters.

First, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich drew on the audience's fear of Islamic extremism, promising them that Donald Trump would keep them safer than Hillary Clinton. In a transcript of his speech posted at Bustle, Gingrich praised Trump's "courage" in acknowledging extremism.
"There have been many fascinating things to watch about the extraordinary, historic rise of Donald Trump, but the most significant has been Donald Trump's courage to tell some important truths about our national security. For example, we are at war. We are at war with radical Islamists. They are determined to kill us. They are stronger than we admit, and are greater in number than we admit."
Gingrich warned that Islamic extremists want to deny rights to women, LGBTQ people, and non-Muslims. Given the GOP's record on women's issues, LGBTQ rights, and church-state separation, I found his words highly amusing.
"If our enemies had their way, not a single woman in this room could define her future. If our enemies had their way, not a single Jew or Christian in this room would be alive unless they agreed to submit. If our enemies had their way, gays, lesbians and transgender citizens would be put to death as they are today in the Islamic State and Iran. If our enemies had their way, every person on earth would be subject to conversion by the sword and to a cruel and violent system of laws. There would be no individual liberty. There would be no equality."
Gingrich listed several recent crimes committed by Islamic extremists before assuring the audience that "we have nothing to fear from the vast majority of Muslims", reminding them that "the vast majority are peaceful; they are often the victims of the violence themselves."

To heighten his audience's fear of Islamic extremism, Gingrich claimed that terrorists could destroy an American city in a worst case scenario.
"Although we are losing the war with radical Islamists, we have been very lucky. The danger we face is much worse than the horrors that happened in Germany on New Year's Eve, when 2,000 women were assaulted. It's worse than what's happening in France, where there are stabbings of Jews in the streets and the intelligence chief warned recently that Europe is "on the brink of civil war." It's worse than what's happening in Israel, where average citizens fear for their lives whenever they leave their homes. The danger is even worse than September 11th, when 19 hijackers murdered almost 3,000 Americans. No. The worst case scenario is losing an American city to terrorists armed with weapons of mass destruction. Instead of losing 3,000 people in one morning, we could lose more than 300,000. Instead of losing 2 great buildings, we could lose block after block after block to a nuclear event."
After depicting Hillary Clinton as dishonest and corrupt, he praised Donald Trump as a man who would protect Americans through anti-immigration measures, military might, and new health care policies.
"He will rebuild our military--because he knows that a strong military is the best way to ensure peace. Donald Trump will secure our borders--because there is no such thing as a nation without a border. Donald Trump will enforce our immigration laws. He will end the policy of deliberate non-enforcement and will end the abuse of our visa programs--to protect American workers, and their wages. Donald Trump will take care of our veterans by holding bureaucrats at the Veterans Administration accountable. He WILL fire those responsible for the waiting lists, and will give veterans more choices about their care. With Donald Trump's leadership, no bureaucrat will get between a veterans and their doctor."

Later that evening, vice presidential nominee and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence delivered a speech with the usual Republican talking points. Like other speakers at the convention, he depicted Trump as a candidate who would tackle America's enemies and maintain "law and order". According to a Time transcript of the speech, he had this to say.
"We have a choice to make. This is another time for choosing. If you want a president who will protect this nation, confront radical Islamic terrorism and rid the world of ISIS, if you want a president who will restore law and order to this country and give law enforcement the support and resources they deserve, if you want a president who will cut taxes, grow our economy and squeeze every nickel out of the federal bureaucracy, if you want a president who will build strong borders and enforce our laws, and if you want a president who will upend the status quo in Washington, D.C. and appoint justices to the Supreme Court who will uphold the Constitution, we have but one choice and that man is ready, this team is ready, our party is ready. And when we elect Donald Trump the 45th president of the United States, together we will make America great again!"

The most controversial speaker of the night was former presidential candidate Ted Cruz. Cruz delivered a talk in which he denounced Hillary Clinton and encouraged listeners to vote, but stopped short of endorsing Trump. According to a transcript of the speech posted at Time, Cruz asked the audience to "vote your conscience" in November.
"We deserve leaders who stand for principal, who unite us all behind shared values, who cast aside anger for love. That is the standard we should expect from everybody. And, to those listening, please don’t stay home in November. If you love our country, and love our children as much as you do, stand, and speak, and vote your conscience, vote for candidates up and down the ticket who you trust to defend our freedom, and to be faithful to the constitution."
The crowd booed Cruz as he left the stage. Republican observers were aghast.

At a Texas delegation breakfast the next morning, Cruz explained his motives. "I am not in the habit of supporting someone who attacks my wife and attacks my father," he said, according to ABC News. Cruz's statement is a reference to Trump's mockery of Heidi Cruz's appearance and insinuation that Rafael Cruz (Ted Cruz's father) was involved in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Cruz also said that he did not intend to "go like a servile puppy dog" in support of Trump, according to Politico.

Did we really need additional reminders of why Trump is not suited for the presidency? His inability to unify his own party does not make me confident that he could unite America or its allies. On the subject of security, Trump's recent statements about NATO leave his ability to protect America or its allies in serious question. The speeches of Gingrich and Pence tried to depict Trump as a strong protector, but the reality is more disappointing. The behavior of Cruz is yet another reminder of Trump's uncanny ability to alienate his would-be allies. Is this really someone we want in the White House?

News Tidbits

Washington Post: God might not want a woman to be president, some religious conservatives say

Buzzfeed: Trump Vets Adviser: Clinton "Should Be Put In The Firing Line And Shot For Treason"

Yahoo News: Who is Paula White, Donald Trump's 'spiritual counselor'?

Washington Blade: Republican lawmakers attend Family Research Council luncheon

New York Times: Mike Pence’s Journey: Catholic Democrat to Evangelical Republican

Politico: Pence walks back criticism of Trump's Muslim ban

LGBTQ Nation: Anti-LGBT group begins effort to repeal Massachusetts trans rights law 

Religion News Service: National Hispanic leaders oppose California Bill SB 1146

New York Times: Minnesota Priest’s Memo Says Vatican Ambassador Tried to Stifle Sex Abuse Inquiry

National Catholic Reporter: Pa. state rep says 'it's not over' after Senate removes statute of limitations provision

Commentary Tidbits

The Good Men Project: Men, the Religious Right, and God’s Self-Appointed Sex Police: Privileged Cruelty

The Nation: Why Dutch Far-Right Extremist Geert Wilders Has Come to Cleveland to Cheer On Donald Trump

Esquire: This Isn't Funny Anymore. American Democracy Is at Stake.

Women's eNews: Misogyny Runs Rampant at Republican National Convention

Vice: Trump's America Includes Gay Conversion Therapy 

Right Wing Watch: Phil Robertson: If Donald Trump Loses, I'll Go Into Hiding

Huffington Post: The Christian-Political Machine Is Undermining Democracy

Media Matters for America: Inside The RNC Conspiracy Theorist Rally That Explains The Trump Campaign

Media Matters for America: White Nationalists Love Trump’s Convention: "GOP Is Becoming The De Facto White Party"

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Steven Colbert Helps Us Laugh During the Republican National Convention

Outside the Republican National Convention, Even More Wackiness

The 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio has been intense and often offensive, but I'd be remiss if I ignored the more entertaining activity outside of the convention. A fundamentalist protest, a far-right rally, and a gaggle of tricksters have made the convention week very entertaining.

First, Westboro Baptist Church -- known for protesting outside of funerals and special events with "God Hates F*gs" signs -- was also in downtown Cleveland during the convention. Fortunately, plenty of people were there to poke fun at them. Raw Story reports that comedy writer Robert Smigel, the creator of Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, led a light-hearted demonstration alongside the Westboro contingent. Smigel's followers held signs that read "God hates morning people", "God hates bangs", and "God hates bad wifi" as the Westboro protesters looked on. Frankly, if anyone deserves lampooning, it's the Westboro Baptist Church.

Second, the strongest dose of wackiness undoubtedly came from a far-right rally in a nearby park. Radio show host and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones hosted the "America First Unity Rally" in Settlers Landing Park on July 18th, according to Right Wing Watch. The rally featured speakers such as Eagle Forum president Ed Martin and Breitbart senior editor Milo Yiannopoulos, who was recently suspended from Twitter after reportedly leading an online abuse campaign against Ghostbusters actress Leslie Jones. In attendance were Tea Party activists, members of Bikers for Trump, Christians for Trump, and Asian Americans for Trump (which I imagine is a small group).

In a video posted by SF Gate, Jones led the crowd in a chant of "Hillary for prison!", then ranted about how an "outside globalist force" is allegedly demonizing police. Jones called Trump's work "over-the-top amazing" after delivery a furious rant about global conspiracies, the New World Order, and Hillary Clinton.
"Trump's a great guy and has amazing courage, but listen. We like to put our faith in any one individual. It's all of us together, the light of liberty, coming together. Nothing's going to be able to turn this around in the end. We're identifying the globalists, we're identifying their program of control, we're identifying what their operations are, and once the general public understands the paradigm, it's GAME OVER! Worldwide, worldwide, globalism and the New World Order are in trouble. All over the planet, the Brexit, all of it, example after example, where people are finding out [that] foreign, multinational, anti-free market corporations that are funding gun control here domestically and open borders, these are the people conquering us. And once we force this into the consciousness, it's over ... You are the solution. You are the answer. You are the resistance. YOU are the reason the globalists are in so much trouble ... Donald Trump, by being in the area, Donald Trump, by taking action, Donald Trump, by doing what he's done, and talking about how we are no longer declaring that we have surrendered to globalist trade, that Hillary is a foreign agent ... of the communist Chinese, the Saudi Arabians and others, no news carried that."
Um ... well then ...

Jones' rally got an unexpected provocateur in the form of actor Eric Andre. According to AV Club, Andre tried to reach Jones' stage, but was pushed back by the crowd. Jones eventually allowed Andre on stage, where Andre claimed that he was a nihilist, wondered "why does pee pee comes out yellow", and asked Jones to have sex with his wife.

The crowd booed, and Jones grew annoyed. "This is an agitator who doesn't actually want to have speech. He wants to shut down our speech," Jones told the booing crowd. Andre continued to make bizarre comments and shout "don't tread on me!" until Jones decided it was time for him to leave.

Jones also had an embarrassing experience at the Stand Together Against Trump parade, where he used his bullhorn to shout at a group of protesters shouting "Nazi scum!". Jones was eventually escorted away by police, as seen in this RT America video.

The Republican National Convention has brought out right-wing protesters, conspiracy-addled speakers, and tricksters who love making fun of them. In the midst of offensive and troubling developments in our political arena, at least we can enjoy a few laughs.

To read more about the wackiness outside of the Republican National Convention, visit the following links.

Mother Jones: GOP Convention Protesters Clash With Alex Jones, Police

Washington Blade: Trump supporter: Armed club-goer could have stopped Fla. massacre

Salon: Westboro Baptist Church trolled by Triumph the Insult Comic Dog outside RNC

Protests in Cleveland During the Republican National Convention

Outside of the Republican National Convention, protesters across the political spectrum have demonstrated over the past few days. According to Reuters, protesters for and against Trump, including Black Lives Matter protesters, have gathered a few blocks away from the convention. A group of "anti-gay Christians" reportedly shouted at their detractors in downtown Cleveland. Three women were arrested for criminal mischief after hanging an anti-Trump banner near the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, according to Reuters. Below are three videos featuring news coverage of recent protests in Cleveland.

The 2016 Republican National Convention: Hatred of Hillary Clinton Burns Hot

The Republican National Convention is taking place from July 18-21 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. Convention speakers and attendees have bristled with hatred for Hillary Clinton, with some demanding her incarceration.

Patricia Smith, the mother of Benghazi victim Sean Smith, stoked the audience's anger by saying "I blame Hillary Clinton personally for the murder of my son," according to the New York Times. Attendees chanted "Lock her up!" as retired Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn spoke, and again as Chris Christie declared her guilty of lies and cover-ups. Darryl Glenn insisted that "Hillary Clinton is unfit to be President," adding that, "We all know she loves her pant suits, but we should...tell her she deserves a bright orange jump suit," according to a transcript published by the Colorado Springs Gazette.

Former presidential candidate and neurosurgeon Ben Carson made bizarre statements about Hillary Clinton, Satan, and the "secular progressive agenda". In a transcript of his speech posted at Bustle, he claimed that Saul Alinsky was one of Hillary Clinton's heroes, and that his stance on Lucifer was at odds with America's supposedly godly heritage.
"One of the things that I have learned about Hillary Clinton is that one of her heroes, her mentors, was Saul Alinsky. Her senior thesis was about Saul Alinsky. This was someone that she greatly admired and that affected all of her philosophies subsequently. Now, interestingly enough, let me tell you something about Saul Alinsky. He wrote a book called Rules For Radicals. On the dedication page, it acknowledges Lucifer, the original radical who gained his own kingdom. Now think about that. This is a nation where our founding document, the Declaration of Independence, talks about certain inalienable rights that come from our creator. This is a nation where our Pledge of Allegiance says we are "one nation, under God". This is a nation where every coin in our pocket and every bill in our wallet says "In God We Trust". So are we willing to elect someone as president who has as their role model somebody who acknowledges Lucifer? Think about that.

The secular progressive agenda is antithetical to the principles of the founding of this nation. If we continue to allow them to take God out of our lives, God will remove himself from us, we will not be blessed and our nation will go down the tubes and we will be responsible for that. We don’t want that to happen."

Outside the arena, Republican attitudes toward Clinton weren't much warmer. Mother Jones interviewed Trump supporters near the convention, who called Hillary Clinton a "tyrant", "fascist" and "an evil, lying witch". Some called for trial, incarceration, and even capital punishment for Clinton.

Even unofficial materials for sale outside the convention are brimming with misogynist hatred for Hillary Clinton. According to New York Magazine, pins are available at nearby kiosks with slogans such as "Life's a b**ch; don't vote for one" and "KFC Hillary special: 2 fat thighs, 2 small breasts, left wing". Huffington Post reports that some kiosks near the convention are selling T-shirts depicting Hillary Clinton falling off of Trump's motorcycle and Trump wearing a shirt that says "If you can read this, the b**ch fell off." Another T-shirt shows Trump as a victorious boxer, standing over a prone Hillary Clinton in a boxing ring.

Whatever one's opinion of Hillary Clinton, this rhetoric is unacceptable. Misogynist slurs, calls for execution, and Satanic innuendoes have no place in a civilized political campaign. Unfortunately, the Trump campaign is not civilized, and will continue to stoke the flames of anti-Hillary hatred. This can only spell trouble for a political environment already characterized by deep divisions, heightened emotions, and fear.

News Tidbits

Religion News Service: 5 faith facts on Mike Pence: A ‘born-again, evangelical Catholic’

LGBTQ Nation: Gay Men’s Choruses fight hate by serenading Focus on the Family

NPR: Anti-Abortion Groups Take New Aim With Diverse Strategies

The Advocate: 'Enemies of Equality' Report Draws Liberty Counsel's Ire 

The Guardian: Prayer and pain: why gay conversion therapy is still legal despite dangers

The Guardian: Doctors urged to advise patients about risks of abstinence-centric sex education

Gay Star News: IDAHOT 2017 will take on anti-gay ‘fear-mongering’ around ‘family values’

Reuters: Contempt ruling upheld against Kentucky clerk against gay marriage

Politico: Republicans building stronger anti-abortion plank in platform

Associated Press: Iowa: Church seeks to prevent transgender bathroom law enforcement

USA Today: Westboro Baptist Church recruits Jigglypuff, a Pokémon, against LGBT community on Pokémon Go

Commentary Tidbits

Washington Post: Looking for God in the colorful world of America’s Christian entertainment destinations

Corner of Church and State: Pro-Trump pastor whitewashes history of pastors during Jim Crow—including the history of his church

Christian Today: Mark Driscoll is hosting a conference on building healthy churches. Seriously.

Salon: Anti-choice activists attempt to hijack Black Lives Matter to shame women for abortion

The Advocate: God vs. the Constitution

Religion News Service: The Mormon fallout of legalized same-sex marriage

Daily Beast: Why C-FAM, the Catholic Fundamentalists You’ve Never Heard Of, Just Cozied Up to Iran

Huffington Post: New GOP Platform Aims To Make The Christian Right Even More Powerful

Vice: We Talked to a Quiverfull Escapee About Helping Women Leave the Movement

The 2016 Republican National Convention: Conflict and Embarrassment in Cleveland

The Republican National Convention is taking place from July 18-21 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. According to the convention website, the convention is welcoming approximately 2,470 delegates and 2,302 alternate delegates tasked with the responsibility of nominating a Republican candidate for president and vice-president. Additionally, the convention has welcomed approximately 15,000 credential representatives of the media. Archived videos of the convention are available for viewing at C-SPAN.

Donald Trump has officially secured the Republican presidential nomination, winning 69.8% of delegates, according to the Washington Post. However, the nomination process was also characterized by loud Republican infighting. According to the Washington Post, on July 18, anti-Trump attendees chanted "Roll call vote!" so that each state could announce their support for or rejection of Trump. Arkansas Rep. Steve Womack was shouted down by anti-Trump attendees and stormed off the stage. Womack later returned and stated that only six states had demanded a roll call vote, but that seven were needed. Furious, the Colorado and Iowa delegations walked off.

With only two-thirds of GOP delegates behind him and several big-name Republicans declining to attend, the Republicans' call for unity under Trump doesn't sound so convincing. How will Trump unite America if he can't even unite his party?

Republican conflict notwithstanding, the Republican National Convention has been unsettling for many reasons. Bigoted rhetoric, accusations of speech plagiarism, and an atmosphere of anger give us an ugly picture of the Trump campaign and the Republicans who support him.

Melania Trump's Embarrassment

On the evening of July 18th, Donald Trump's wife Melania Trump delivered an impassive speech at the RNC. Immediately, news outlets pointed out that a large segment of her speech was almost identical to a speech given by Michelle Obama at the 2008 Democratic National Convention. People Magazine compared segments of the speech side by side.
Melania Trump, 2016: "From a young age my parents impressed on me the values that you work hard for what you want in life; that your word is your bond and you do what you say and keep your promise; that you treat people with respect. They taught and showed me values and morals in their daily life."

"That is a lesson that I continue to pass along to our son, and we need to pass those lessons on to the many generations to follow. Because we want our children in this nation to know that the only limit to your achievements is the strength of your dreams and your willingness to work for them."

Michelle Obama, 2008: "And Barack and I were raised with so many of the same values: that you work hard for what you want in life; that your word is your bond and you do what you say you're going to do; that you treat people with dignity and respect, even if you don't know them, and even if you don't agree with them."

"And Barack and I set out to build lives guided by these values, and pass them on to the next generation. Because we want our children – and all children in this nation – to know that the only limit to the height of your achievements is the reach of your dreams and your willingness to work for them."

On July 20th, the New York Times reported that Trump campaign employee Meredith McIver apologized for the "mistake" in a public statement. McIver claimed that she included some of Michelle Obama's speech passages in Melania's speech because Melania admired the first lady.

Was the plagiarism due to laziness on behalf of the Trump campaign staffers, or perhaps an act of internal sabotage, as some have suggested? Either way, the embarrassment makes the Trump campaign appear incompetent, or at the very least poor at vetting its speechwriters. Will this be the first of other embarrassing flubs to come?

Right-Wing Rhetoric

Trump's champions at the convention appealed to the audience's longings for safety and status, as well as their darker impulses. Speakers at the convention have not only peppered their speeches with words such as "strength", "unity", and "God", but have delivered an unending stream of bombastic, transphobic, and racist rhetoric.

First, South Carolina pastor Mark Burns delivered the convention benediction, urging Republicans to stand against Hillary Clinton and the Democrats. In a video posted by Right Wing Watch, Burns asserted that God was guiding Trump in his benediction.
"Father God, in the name of Jesus, Lord, we’re so thankful for the life of Donald Trump. We’re thankful that you are guiding him, you are giving him the words to unite this party, this country, that we together can defeat the liberal Democratic Party, to keep us divided and not united. Because we are the United States of America, and we are the conservative party under God.

To defeat every attack that comes against us, protect the life of Donald Trump. Give him the words, give him the peace, give him the power and authority to be the next president of the United States of America. In Jesus' name, if you believe it, shout amen!"

Later in the convention, Duck Dynasty star Willie Robertson mocked "media experts" for being out of touch with the "regular folks" who support Trump. In doing so, Robertson characterized Trump supporters as rural, working class people who "actually work for a living", implying that their detractors in the media must be effete and snobbish.
"It's been a rough year for the media experts. It must be humbling to be so wrong about so much for so long, but I have a theory about how they missed the Trump train. They don't hang out with regular folks like us, who like to hunt and fish and pray and actually work for a living. Heck, I don't even know that they know how to talk to people from from middle America. I mean, when I tell them I'm from Louisiana, they reall start talking real slow and real loud."
Robertson claimed that a Trump presidency would mean economic strength and safety for soldiers and police.
"America is in a bad spot, and we need a president who will have our back. And I can promise you this: no matter who you are, Donald Trump will have your back. If you're looking for a job of trying to grow a business like I am, Donald Trump will have your back. If you're a service man fighting overseas, or a cop who is risking their lives to keep us safe at home, Donald Trump will have your back."

Next, retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn waxed poetic about alleged American superiority, praising America as "the greatest country in the history of the world". Flynn slammed "political correctness" and celebrated American exceptionalism, assuring the audience that America was entitled and obligated to lead the world. A Trump presidency would ensure American dominance, he claimed.
"Our new American century does not risk its future on political correctness and senseless hyperbole ... The time is now to recognize our obligation that we have to the world, an obligation to lead the world with unwavering integrity, renewed strength, and unapologetic resolve, and with Donald Trump in the White House, we will make America great again. America's once traditional undisputed role as world leader is now in jeopardy. It's in jeopardy, folks. The Obama-Clinton duo, it failed our country by defying America's exceptionalism and betraying our nation's history and our founding father's revolutionary spirit that established America on the principles of freedom and democracy."
In a particularly macho and transphobic part of his speech, Flynn sneered at the Department of Defense' decision to lift the ban on transgender service members in the U.S. military. Such "political correctness" over "trivial matters" such as "what bathroom door to open" is less important that the ability to "crush our enemies". He failed to grasp the fact that military readiness and enlightened policies toward LGBTQ service members are not incompatible.
"We must regain our ability to truly crush our enemies and our soldiers deserve to hear from their leaders with clarity and precision. Too often, way too often, our troops are instead distracted by trivial matters about what words to use, what terminology is politically correct, and what bathroom door to open up. My God, my God, war is not about bathrooms. War is not about political correctness or words that are meaningless. War is about winning!"
General Ripper Flynn condemned President Obama and Hillary Clinton as soft leaders who are more interested in "coddling" enemies than instilling respect and fear. In doing so, he appealed to his audience's pride, machismo, and fear (legitimate or not) of declining American influence.
"We are tired of Obama's empty speeches and his misguided rhetoric. This has caused the world to have no respect for America's word, nor does it fear our might. Let me be clear. Coddling and displays of empathy toward terrorists is not a strategy for defeating these murderers as Obama and Hillary Clinton would like us to believe."

Iowa Rep. Steve King took part in a panel discussion with MSNBC at the convention, during which he claimed that Christians and people of European stock have contributed the most to civilization. In a video clip of the discussion, King had this to say to Esquire's Charlie Pierce and MSNBC journalist Chris Hayes.
PIERCE: If you're really optimistic, you can say this is the last time that old white people will command the Republican party's attention, its platform, its public face ... In that hall today, that hall is wired. That hall is wired by loud, unhappy, dissatisfied white people. Any sign of rebellion is going to get shouted down either kindly or roughly, but that's what's going to happen.

KING: This whole white people business though does get a little tired, Charlie. I would ask you to go back through history and figure out where are these contributions that have been made by these other categories of people that you're talking about? Where did any other subgroup of people contribute more to civilization?

HAYES: Than white people?

KING: Than western civilization itself. That's rooted in western Europe, eastern Europe and the United States of America, and every place where the footprint of Christianity settled the world. That's all of western civilization.
This is not the first time King has made offensive statements about race, as Right Wing Watch has observed.

The convention has been disturbing to watch, and that's in addition to the vicious anti-Clinton hatred that I'll discuss in my next post. These Republicans' words show us a party whose divisiveness and intolerance has been laid bare and shamelessly utilized by the Trump campaign. What does this mean for the election? In the event that Trump wins the election, what does this mean for the U.S.?

To read more about the Republican National Convention, visit the following links.

Washington Post: Steve King: The idea that every culture is equal is ‘not objectively true’

New York Times: Questions Over Melania Trump’s Speech Set Off Finger-Pointing

Yahoo News: Trump’s favorite general leads crowd in anti-Hillary chant: ‘Lock her up’