“Knowing what’s right doesn’t mean much unless you do what’s right.” Teddy Roosevelt

What is the fundamentalist Christian version of the American Taliban up to in these heady days nearing November’s mid-term elections? The answer is a lot, an awful lot (with an emphasis on the word “awful”).

The lying, deceitful nature of fundamentalist Christian supremacy truly knows no bounds. This constitutionally derelict cabal isn’t even remotely content with having a massive media empire, a monolithic fundraising base, swelling and dominant hegemony within the ranks of the U.S. Armed Forces, and supreme political sway within civilian legislatures across the United States.  These dangerous dominionists have now set themselves towards rewriting American history in a manner that opportunistically advances their anti-Constitutional agenda. For those who’ve been following the advocacy of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), this isn’t necessarily breaking news. It has been the direct mission of MRFF to aggressively fight these fanatical Christian religious zealots and the perverse poison of their theocratic bigotry and prejudice at each and every opportunity provided.

And, my friends, a new one just materialized.

The misleadingly named “Restore Military Religious Freedom Coalition (RMRF),” a lie-generating rats’ nest comprised of numerous Christian fundamentalist Taliban-style entities, has sponsored a billboard at the doorstep of the USAFA in Colorado Springs, CO. The billboard ridiculously implies that Air Force cadets are prohibited from practicing their faith at USAF – conveniently ignoring the deep-rooted Christian fundamentalist dominance extant throughout the Academy for many ignominious years (USAFA even has a house “gay cure” guru in their employ). The large-scale signage asks cadets, “Are you free to say so help me God? They did.” Set against the background of a photo of Mount Rushmore, the billboard constructs a wholly false equivalent between the core values of the Founding Fathers of the United States and the Constitutionally-prohibited religious activity within the government and military that they stood steadfastly against.

Obviously, and quite predictably, MRFF has responded to this very latest vile and dishonest attempt at historical revisionism by these fundamentalist Christian supremacist cretins. Our rebuttal has come in the form of our very own billboard posted on the direct FLIP SIDE of the RMRF signboard. Yes, as fortune would have it, the other side of the RMRF billboard just happened to be available. MRFF’s rebuttal billboard speaks for itself and clearly carries the day.

So, once again, what’s all this hue and cry about? Well, under withering MRFF pressure last October, the Academy made the phrase “So Help Me God” an optional component of its previously mandatory cadet honor oath. MRFF currently has 480 cadets, staff and clients at USAFA, 401 of whom self-identify as practicing Christians, both Protestant and Roman Catholic. It goes without saying that we would never abandon our clients when they risked their careers and personal well being to alert MRFF of what basically amounts to a blatantly unconstitutional religious test.

And of course, the cadets of USAFA are completely free to say “so help me God” if they so choose. Our issue is that this important decision should be THEIR clear choice; coercion, bullying, and force shouldn’t play a role in what they choose. But the dominionist Christian American Taliban was never very big on “choice”.

RMRF’s disgracefully repugnant historical fabrication that the Founding Fathers were all merry Christian supremacist theocrats flies in the face of literally all that we know about them, historically. These were genuinely and fiercely secular gentlemen of destiny. In the final analysis, Enlightenment Rationalism profoundly guided them in spite of their personal religious inclinations.

Just as an example: in May of 1778 at Valley Forge, then-General George Washington signed an officer’s oath that clearly made NO reference to “God.” Likewise, even the Continental Congress didn’t add the words “so help me God” to the officer’s oath (last November we also pointed out this irrefutable fact with a billboard). In accordance with the Constitution’s ‘no religious test’ clause (Article 6, Clause 3), neither did the first Congress under the Constitution in 1789. The fact is, innumerable sources show that George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln took multiple oaths absolutely without any mention of “God,” or any deity whatsoever.

In short, the nefarious foundational purposes and goals of the fundamentalist Christian American Taliban, disingenuously whining and pitifully moaning about “oppression” and the “restriction” of their so-called “religious liberties”, have nothing in the least to do with legality, history, or even morality… nor can they make common cause with the slightest nuance of human decency and respect. Their false-flag screams of “Christian victimization” are merely borne of an inability to universally bully, harass, and oppress on a basis of searingly sectarian arrogance, prejudice and bigotry.

As long as these Christian fundamentalist oppressors continue their efforts to fully subvert and control the United States military as a force-multiplier for their weaponized, twisted version of Christianity, MRFF will be there to thwart their theocratic oppression. Indeed, MRFF will leave no stone unturned nor any billboard of lies unanswered.

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation is up against well-funded extremist religious organizations. Your donations allow us to continue our fight in the courts and in the media to fight for separation of church and state in the U.S. military. Please make a fully tax-deductible donation today at helpbuildthewall.org.

Michael L. “Mikey” Weinstein, Esq. is founder and president of the six-time Nobel Peace Prize-nominated Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), an honor graduate of the Air Force Academy, and a former J.A.G. in the U.S. Air Force. He served as a White House counsel in the Reagan Administration and as the Committee Management Officer of the “Iran-Contra” Investigation. He is also the former General Counsel to H. Ross Perot and Perot Systems Corporation. His two sons, daughter-in-law, son-in law, and brother-in-law are also graduates of USAFA. In December 2012, Defense News named Mikey one of the 100 Most Influential People in U.S. Defense. He is the author of “With God On Our Side” (2006, St. Martin’s Press) and “No Snowflake in an Avalanche” (2012, Vireo).

Crossposted from TikkunDaily

By Saadia Faruqi

Last week the world of American Muslim social media (if there is such a thing) was rocked by an unexpected victory. A proposed ABCFamily show provocatively entitled Alice in Arabia was cancelled after a protest by American Muslims. The reason: this tale of an American girl kidnapped by Saudi relatives and held, veiled against her will in Saudi Arabia was all too familiar as stereotypical orientalism. The question then becomes, with films and television shows preceding it rife with the racist prejudices of our American consciousness, why was Alice in Arabia different?

In fact the case brings several questions to mind. First off, what exactly was wrong with the show? As the show’s writer herself claimed, and as many experts agree, one of the ways to call out injustices like Saudi Arabia’s horrific treatment of women, is to call them out, to tell it like it is, to expose the truth no matter how ugly. While true to an extent, this strategy also backfires in that it paints an entire culture with the same brush. We don’t have to look very far to know this is fact: an extensive research of Hollywood films document how these Arab stereotypical images and concepts are perpetuated over generations under the guise of entertainment.

In the case of Alice in Arabia, the stereotypes of Muslim/Arab male dominance and female oppression especially in the context of the hijab would have been cemented even further in the minds of the American public. That the show was to be presented on ABCFamily as a teen drama, an entire new audience, children and youth among them, would then be exposed to harmful stereotypes and us-versus-them mentality.

As if that wasn’t enough, perhaps the most important negative aspect of Alice in Arabia was the absence of any actual Arabs and/or Muslims in the production or writing team, or in the cast. The writer, a white ex-military person, claimed the show to give Arabs and Muslims a voice on American television, yet the protests against it prove that it was not the voice they wanted to see. Imagine if a film about African Americans or Hispanics included no-one from that ethnic group as consultants, actors, actresses or even team members. Nobody would consider the film in any way realistic, representative or even believable.

So how did the show get cancelled even before its pilot appeared on television? Social media can take the credit for that. Within days of the script being leaked on BuzzFeed, individuals, activists and organizations led a surprisingly vocal and effective effort to block the show from seeing the light of day. Twitter saw the majority of the activism through the hashtag #AliceinArabia and both the Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee sent written letters of protest to ABC. And wonder of wonders, the show was promptly cancelled, leading Islamophobes to concur that the “angry Muslim mob” had won by using threats of violence once again.

Is the show’s cancellation a testament to the growing political and economic power of the American Muslim community? I doubt it. What it does signify is that the American media is beginning to view Muslims as a vocal group with sufficient bargaining power and access to more avenues of protest thanks to the infiltration of Twitter and Facebook. However, most American Muslims agree that ABC’s decision to cancel the show without any conversation was not a step in the right direction. Instead of re-working the script, bringing in Muslim consultants, or hiring Arab actors, ABC decided to cancel the show. If we really want to reduce and even perhaps eradicate orientalism and racism from Hollywood and other media, surely a conversation is in order? True representation of Muslims in Hollywood are certainly needed, and that can only happen if both parties work together with that goal in mind. Perhaps Alice in Arabia can be a starting point instead of a dead end.

Saadia Faruqi is an interfaith activist, editor of Interfaith Houston and trainer of American Muslim issues. Follow her on Twitter @saadiafaruqi.

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Neil deGrasse Tyson's willingness to clearly and plainly state on his TV show Cosmos that creationism is a myth has (predictably) upset Christian fundamentalists.

Moreover, in an era where conservatism is typified by anti-intellectualism, the howls of protest that Neil deGrasse Tyson would be dismissive of the fantastical and facile thinking which often hides under the false cover of "balance" and "fairness" in American political discourse, is another source of umbrage and raw offense for the Christian Right.

The hostility towards Neil deGrasse Tyson is more than a function of simple anger or rancor towards the scientific facts he deftly and calmly presents on Cosmos.

Neil deGrasse Tyson is not an empty vessel. Neil deGrasse Tyson is also not a blank slate devoid of identity or form. Neil deGrasse Tyson is a black man. His gender and his race occupy a specific location and context in American society.

As such, Neil deGrasse Tyson is not racially unmarked.

Blackness, masculinity, and being gendered as "male", channel a rich and complicated history of fear, loathing, desire, violence, fascination, disgust, envy, strength, labor, and violence (both as a subject and object), in the American racial imagination.

Neil deGrasse Tyson, as a black public intellectual and scientist, is located within that history.

In parallel, as a black public intellectual and scientist, he defies the historical stereotypes of what blackness is as viewed by the White Gaze...and yes, however tragically, as internalized by some people of color.

A black athlete who has disciplined his body to do great things on the football field or basketball court is a source of entertainment, admiration, and envy. He or she is acceptable, perhaps even a role-model of desirability, as long as they do not speak on political matters in such a manner that challenges the approved script.

A black man who has disciplined his mind to master a branch of science--and is able to effortlessly communicate his deep knowledge to a general audience on national television--is a threat to every convention, however deep it now resides in the American collective subconscious, which limits black masculinity, the black body, and their accompanying prowess to sports, music, or yes, the bedroom.

Here, black genius is one of the greatest and most profound threats to White supremacy.

The American racial imagination is incapable of seeing Neil deGrasse Tyson in a "raceless" or "race neutral" way.

The lie of post racial America has not yet found a way, as occurred in George Schuyler's 1931 master work Black No More, to turn people of color "white".

Could it be that some white folks see Neil deGrasse Tyson as "uppity" and not knowing his "place"?

The colloquialism "uppity" has a long history: it was born from chattel slavery, Jim and Jane Crow, and white supremacy.

"Uppity" still has power and resonance in contemporary America.

The word channels an understanding that black people should be submissive and deferent to White authority. Violations of that norm--as Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, and many tens and hundreds of thousands of black and brown folks have learned across the centuries--can and will be punished by violence, death, sanction, and retribution by White authority.

Neil deGrasse Tyson is a target for scorn by Christian fundamentalists. We ought not to forget that race operates both along the color line, as well as the dividing lines of religion in the United States.

The KKK is a "Christian" organization. Southern Baptists supported Jim and Jane Crow and racial segregation. The home-schooling and school privatization movements have ugly origins in how white families mobilize(d) a language of "religious freedom" and anxiety over "secularism" as cover to maintain "whites only" schools and other educational facilities.

The White identity movement has strategically targeted white fundamentalist and evangelical Christian organizations for infiltration because they are viewed as ideal spaces for mobilizing "white racial consciousness" against non-whites.

Christian fundamentalists are a core constituency of the Republican Party (what is a de facto white identity organization).

Research suggests that religious fundamentalism is associated with authoritarianism, out-group hostility, prejudice, and racism.

A black scientist who challenges the sacred religious myths of the Christian Right is a natural target for a rage born of anti-intellectualism, religious zealotry, and white racial animus.

All roads for understanding the contemporary dynamics of race in American do not necessarily have to lead through President Barack Obama. But in the case of Neil deGrasse Tyson, Obama's experiences with white rage as the United States' first black president remain helpful and instructive.

Several decades ago, African-Americans would crowd around the television when it was rumored that a black person would be featured (or appear in any context) on a broadcast. The television was a site of communal celebration and dreaming that perhaps one day black and brown folks would achieve full civic equality.

Decades later, many millions of Americans watched Barack Obama win the presidency of the United States for the first time. Tears of joy and shock rolled down the faces of many African-Americans (and others) who remember seeing black folks on TV only as maids and servants. Now, one of us/them was the most powerful man in the world.

Obama's beautiful black family would inaugurate a second American Camelot.

And now there is brilliant scientist that happens to be black, who on a weekly basis, lectures and educates the American people on the mysteries of the universe.

Racial progress can be a type of blinder for its true believers and strivers. The latter expended tears and joys at how people of color have become prominent in American political and social life in roles other than as athletes and entertainers.

There is a class of white conservative reactionaries and bigots that have had the exact opposite reaction.

To them, a black man who is President of the United States is unacceptable. To them, the future of the American republic is somehow imperiled by the fact that an African-American presides over the White House.

A black man who is a starred scientist, lecturing them on TV about the fallacies and lies that govern their worldview may just be too much to accept. Why? For the Christian Right, God is white. Everyone of importance in the Bible is also white. And of course, Jesus is a white guy who looks like a surfer.

A black man named Neil deGrasse Tyson, telling them that their Christian Fundamentalist, mythological distorted versions of reality are examples of fantastical thinking, and thus outside of the realm of empirical reality, is unacceptable. What could possibly be more "uppity" than that?

The Republican 2016 presidential primary season opened with the “Sheldon Adelson Primary.” The eight wealthiest person in the country, worth an estimated $40 billion, doesn't have to wait for the official GOP primary season to start. He holds his own primary.

Republicans even called it "the Sheldon Primary." Adelson granted audience to GOP presidential hopefuls at the spring meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition, in Las Vegas. Over the course of four days of Scotch tastings, golf, poker tournaments, and private meetings, the 80-year-old casino mogul examined the GOP's most likely 2016 presidential candidates.


  by  DonkeyHotey 

Adelson single-handedly kept Newt Gingrich in the 2012 presidential race, with nearly $16 million in campaign contributions, some of which financed Gingrich's infamous documentary, "When Mitt Romney Came To Town." When Gingrich ran out of hot air, Adelson poured more than $30 million into Romney's campaign. Whoever wins Adelson's support will have his billions behind them in 2016.

Spending $93 million on losing candidates in 2012 hasn't made Adelson gun-shy about 2016. Adelson is placing his bets more carefully. "He doesn't want some crazy extremist to be the nominee," Adelson friend and GOP donor Victor Chaltiel says. "He wants someone who has the chance to win the election, who is reasonable in his positions, but not totally crazy." (Adelson has advocated using nuclear weapons against Iran. So, "crazy" is relative.)

The "Billionaire's Primary" is a return to what Paul Krugman calls "patrimonial capitalism," where a wealthy few control the "commanding heights of the economy, and use their wealth to influence politics. Thanks to the biggest wealth transfer in U.S. history, the rich are richer than ever. And, thanks to the Supreme Court's Citizen's United decision, there's no limit on what they can spend.

The new billionaire political bosses aren't limiting themselves to national politics. Charles and David Koch made the top 10 in Forbes magazine's list of the wealthiest people on the planet. According to a George Washington University Battleground poll, most Americans have never heard of the Koch brothers, but the Koch's wealth is "trickling down" into local politics.


  by  DonkeyHotey 

Along with spending tens of millions of dollars on 2014 Senate races, the Washington Post reports that the Kochs are funneling money into "hyperlocal" races, through their Americans For Prosperity organization. The Wisconsin chapter is engaged in an Iron County board election, challenging incumbents as "anti-mining" radicals, and distributing 1,000 flyers in a county with just 5,000 voting age residents. AFP is also involved in a local race in Iowa, and property tax fights in Kansas, Ohio, and Texas.

What are the Kochs up to? David Koch says, "Somebody has got to work to save the country and preserve a system of opportunity." But the New York Times is more specific: "The idea is to embed staff members in a community, giving conservative advocacy a permanent local voice through field workers who live in the neighborhood year-round and appreciate the nuances of local issues."

This is nothing new. It's a time-honored strategy, rooted in the notion that, "all politics is local." It worked well for Ralph Reed and the Christian Coalition in the 80s and 90s. Now billionaires are using this strategy, but to what ends, and what are the implications for American politics?

Right-wing billionaires are building their own political machines, to promote their personal interests and preserve their profits. The Koch brothers have poured millions in to campaigns against Obamacare and climate science, as part of a broader campaign against government regulation — which they perceive as a threat to their fossil fuel investments and personal fortunes.

Adelson will do "whatever it takes" to stop internet gambling, to protect the profit margins of his casinos. He's hired former Democratic senator Blanche Lincoln's government consulting firm to lobby for his Vegas corporation. Though not a long-time supporter, Adelson has given Sen. Lindsey Graham (R, SC) $15,600 in campaign contributions. Graham reportedly preparing a bill to ban internet gambling.

Adelson and the Kochs show how the wealthy can use their wealth — in a post-Citizens United political landscape — to impact races and shape policy. Their fire-hoses of money can easily drown out other messages, and narrow the field of candidates for office. The cost of running for office increasingly requires candidates have personal wealth, or wealthy patrons. Those who have neither almost need not apply, even at the state and local level.

Wealthy patrons like Adelson and the Kochs don't invest without expecting an eventual return. They're likely to get what they pay for. A joint Yale and U.C. Berkeley study is evidence that money  does buy access. The study showed that campaign donors are more likely than constituents to get meetings with lawmakers — as a result of, or in hopes of getting campaign contributions. Meeting with constituents may secure votes, but meeting with donors or potential donors can secure enough money for re-election campaigns. (So much for Justice Anthony Kennedy's argument that huge campaign contributions "do not lead to, or create the appearance of, quid pro quo corruption.")

Billionaire political bosses like Adelson and the Kochs are America's new oligarchs. Political parties may at least be influenced by public opinion, but American oligarchs act in their self-interest without concern for public sentiment. They are accountable to no one, and the lawmakers on their payrolls are more accountable to their billionaire political bosses than to the rest of the American electorate.

Big league universities want the athletes they recruit to see them as substitute moms and dads. Don’t worry, they say, be happy, ’cause we’ve got you covered.

It’s all very appealing – until an athlete is seriously injured in practice or a game. Then the athlete may lose his scholarship. Then, all too often, after he leaves school, he can’t get medical care for the injury because the university didn’t continue to provide insurance. Then he’s out in the cold with no concern from the school that had been so solicitous before he was crippled on its field of glory.

“Don’t worry, be happy” is the same paternalistic hogwash that employers across America tell workers. Don’t fuss about the safeguard missing from that hazardous paper rolling machine. Don’t concern yourselves with that deadly silica dust you’re inhaling. Don’t fret about supervisors overriding safety devices. Just be happy you’ve got a job, the boss says. Some workers, however, are never happy blindly placing their lives in the hands of others. So they join with fellow workers and establish labor unions, giving them the leverage they need to improve their welfare at work. That’s what the scholarship football players at Northwestern University are doing. They’re forming a union to achieve some level of self-determination.

Like coal miners and steelworkers and school teachers, university football players want a seat at the table when issues affecting their health and welfare are decided. Scholarship football players at Northwestern University are seeking that position for themselves. They did it by authorizing a new labor union, the College Athletes Players Association (CAPA), to represent them.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), the governing body for college sports, has condemned the attempt by college athletes to secure the right to participate in deciding their own fates. The NCAA’s position is clear: it should retain complete paternalistic control over the players.

Its response last year to football players from several universities who publicly demonstrated for better concussion precautions illustrates clearly that the NCAA believes college athletes are best seen and not heard.   

Every year, researchers discover more about the devastating, life-long effects of concussions. College players, who suffer concussions routinely, are rightly concerned. Their academic scholarships will be valueless if injuries on the field cause debilitating and permanent brain injuries.

To express their concerns, some players, including Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter, wore to last season’s televised games wristbands bearing the initials “APU.” It stands for All Players United for reform of rules regarding concussions set by the NCAA and the universities.

The NCAA responded as if concussed.

That was not the reaction of a caring parent. The NCAA and the universities even failed at the pretense of paternalism.

So Colter sought help from someone he knew he could trust, Ramogi Huma, a former UCLA linebacker who in 2001 created the National College Players Association (NCPA) to advocate for better treatment of university athletes.

They decided to go beyond advocacy, to seek a union for college athletes, so they would have real leverage to use ­– the power of a team – to negotiate over safety issues. The vast majority of Northwestern scholarship football players, who are outstanding students with a graduation rate of 97 percent, signed cards seeking representation by CAPA, for which Huma also serves as president.

Huma asked my union, the United Steelworkers, for help with the legal costs as the issue of unionization by scholarship athletes was argued before the regional office of the National Labor Relations Board. The USW, which has 12 years assisted Huma and the players association, agreed.

Last week, Peter Ohr, a regional NLRB director, ruled that the scholarship players have the right to form a union. Ohr wrote that these players, who devote as many as 50 hours a week to football, are employees within the meaning of the National Labor Relations Act.  

Northwestern has announced it will appeal. That means these athletes won’t immediately get a seat at the table. It means universities and the NCAA are likely to continue ignoring many of the athletes’ concerns.

In addition to better protection against concussions, the athletes want insurance coverage that would enable them to get treatment after college for injuries sustained on the field. They want the schools to stop rescinding their academic scholarships when injuries in college games and practices end their athletic careers. They want some control over how their likenesses are used.

These young people place their health in jeopardy every time they step on the field. They know that. They love the game, and they’re willing to take necessary risks.

But they shouldn’t be exposed to unnecessary risks. No amount of scholarship money justifies endangering young people needlessly.

The safety measures and insurance the players are seeking won’t bankrupt the universities or the NCAA either. The NCAA and the universities will get, for example, $7.3 billion over 10 years from the TV coverage of the new football playoff system.

But just like other powerful, highly profitable employers, the universities won’t simply comply with safety measures or hand over benefits. They’re not kindly parents.

Despite all the assurances from football programs, the athletes still worry. They’re not happy. And Northwestern’s football players are doing something about it. They’re in league now with millions of other workers who realized that the only way to get what they need is to bargain for it collectively.

“Based upon emails, blog posts, and statements from conservative figures in the state, it wouldn’t be far fetched to say that a plan to attack the College of Charleston and the University of South Carolina-Upstate via the legislature was in the works ever since last year after a failed attempt to generate an outcry over the books . 

Furthermore, based upon those same sources, this issue seems to be less about protecting students from obscenity and more about anger over the fact that gay-themed books were being assigned on university campuses.”

In my state of South Carolina, there is a serious controversy brewing with regards to the state legislature “penalizing” two colleges for assigning gay-theme books for students to read.

The new state budget deducts $70,000 collectively from the College of Charleston and the University of South Carolina-Upstate. The amount adds up to the how much the two colleges spent on the gay-themed books. Rep Garry Smith is leading the charge because he claims the books, Fun Home and Out Loud: The Best of Rainbow Radio doesn’t represent SC community values. Rep. Smith also made the accusation that the College of Charleston was pushing pornography on students.  He pointed to images in one of the books, Fun Home, as proof of  his charges.

The controversy has raised many questions with regards to academic freedom. Rep. Smith claimed that the universities are corrupting the ideas of academic freedom.

However, just where did Rep. Smith get the idea to go after these two colleges?

The answer may be remarkably simple.

Based upon emails, blog posts, and statements from conservative figures in the state, it wouldn’t be far fetched to say that a plan to attack the College of Charleston and the University of South Carolina-Upstate via the legislature was in the works ever since last year after a failed attempt to generate an outcry over the books.

Furthermore, based upon those same sources, this issue seems to be less about protecting students from obscenity and more about anger over the fact that gay-themed books were being assigned on university campuses.

Late last year, an organization by the name of the Palmetto Family Council began raising a fuss about the books. For the uninitiated, the Palmetto Family Council is yet another one of those so-called morality groups which operates under the guise of “protecting the dignity of the family.”

The only problem is that their definition of  “family” seems to only pertain to two-parent married heterosexual families. No single parent homes, and definitely no same-sex families allowed. And, like so many of these groups, their definition of protecting the family never seems to include debating issues such poverty, income inequality, educational inequality.

Rather, the Palmetto Family Council deals with issues regarding their definition of “Christian values” and how they pertain to the family, as if implying that the only families which do count in South Carolina are two-parent married heterosexual families who have the same personal religious beliefs that the organization does.

But back to the matter at hand.

In two posts on the organization’s blog from late 2013, the Palmetto Family Council railed away at College of Charleston for selecting Fun Home as a reading assignments for students. In the the first post, written on June 24, the Palmetto Family Council contrasts Fun Home to other books assigned by other state colleges and universities. And here is the interesting part. The organization doesn’t say one word about the so-called “pornography” of Fun Home. Instead, the Palmetto Family Council cites a publisher’s review of the book:

This autobiography by the author of the long-running strip, Dykes to Watch Out For, deals with her childhood with a closeted gay father, who was an English teacher and proprietor of the local funeral parlor (the former allowed him access to teen boys). Bechdel’s talent for intimacy and banter gains gravitas when used to describe a family in which a man’s secrets make his wife a tired husk and overshadow his daughter’s burgeoning womanhood and homosexuality. His court trial over his dealings with a young boy pushes aside the importance of her early teen years. Her coming out is pushed aside by his death, probably a suicide. (Review from Publisher’s Weekly)

The comparison made between Fun Home  and the other books offered by other SC colleges and universities implied that the College of Charleston was engaging in some sort of ” gay indoctrination.” Palmetto Family Council also said the following in its post:

Which one of these books is not like the others? And exactly how bad is it? Stay tuned for the story of the family that arrived at CofC freshman orientation with happy anticipation only to discover the deep commitment the College has made to Fun Home and all that it symbolizes.

Now in the second post with regards to Fun Home, dated August 9, 2013, the Palmetto Family Council finally mentions the alleged pornography:

Ten South Carolina colleges assigned books for their freshmen to read. As we reported, a number of them selected sufficiently edgy, thought-provoking books. Then there is the College of Charleston’s Fun Home. Were it a movie, it would be NC-17, and not because of its ‘LGBT’ theme. Nine other colleges in South Carolina (and most in America) chose broad, healthy debate…and common sense. The College of Charleston chose to spend $50,000 in state funds and/or student tuition dollars on a narrowly-focused, cartoon (graphical), borderline pornographic book rarely used for this purpose.

That statement is a serious irony because, as I said, in its first post about Fun Home, the Palmetto Family Council never said a word about any pornography. In the August 9th post, the organization also complained about how the media was not giving them the angle they want:

The media has tried to turn our opposition to Fun Home into a dog bites man story: “right wing conservative group opposes book with references to Lesbianism; neo-Victorians seek to keep minds of young adults tightly closed.” That’s not the story. But then learning the truth takes time…and a desire to discover it. As for the book selection process, the task seems as easy as applying common sense, basic values, and a good grasp of reality to a wide variety of options. Nine of our ten colleges that assigned Freshman reading found a way to do that. Why was it so hard for CofC?

Now if this issue was simply about pornography, then why is the University of South Carolina-Upstate in trouble for assigning Outloud: The Best of Rainbow Radio when that book contains absolutely nothing which can be construed as pornographic? (Disclosure - I wrote a short piece on anti-gay propaganda which was included in Outloud: The Best of Rainbow Radio.)

According to a SC libertarian blog, FitsNews on August 13 of last year,  the Palmetto Family Council sent out an action alert to its email subscribers complaining about Outloud: The Best of Rainbow Radio:

In an action alert to its subscribers, Palmetto Family Council blasted the book. “The University of South Carolina Upstate is taking its own shot at traditional South Carolina values using taxpayer and family tuition dollars,” the email noted.

Also, consider the following. On August 20 of last year,  Josh Kimbrell, a conservative radio host of a show called Common Cents and head of an organization called the Palmetto Conservative Alliance, had this to say about Outloud: The Best of Rainbow Radio:

This is yet another example of how institutions of higher education across our state are ignoring the values held by the overwhelming majority of South Carolinians. To add insult to injury, these university-endorsed promotions of homosexuality are being paid for by tax money and / or mandatory student fees, effectively forcing the people of this state to support an agenda wholly opposed to our values. I half expect this kind of promotion of homosexuality and same-sex marriage in Massachusetts and California, but not at public universities in South Carolina. I also imagine that most of my fellow South Carolinians would be just as outraged if they were aware of such abuse. In an effort to reverse this publicly-funded promotion of homosexuality at public institutions in the Palmetto State, “Common Cents” and our policy foundation, the Palmetto Conservative Alliance, are working with our allies in the South Carolina House and Senate to introduce legislation that would forbid public universities from using public money and mandatory student fees to promote any sort of sexual agenda.

Below those comments is an audio of  Kimbrell’s show in which he not only reiterated that his group would be working with “allies” in the SC Legislature, but also predicted (starting at 17:45) that in January, there would be legislation coming out designed to “put a stop” to so-called university promotion of homosexuality

Just what exactly is the Palmetto Conservative Alliance? Your guess is as good as mine. I could find no information on it, particularly its membership.  However, I find it interesting that Kimbrell made an accurate prediction about upcoming legislation crafted in response to the book assignments; i.e. legislation which we are presently debating.

In addition, what are the odds that members of the legislature just happen to negatively target two universities which were the subjects of complaints by the Palmetto Family Council for the same reason – assigning students to read gay-themed books?

Coincidence? I don’t think so.

It is becoming more apparent that this controversy is less about pornography and more about some folks having a problem with universities assigning gay-themed literature to students. The “adult” material contained in Fun Home is merely a distraction, a sidebar if you will, to disguise the issue and make the faux outrage a bit more palpable to those who might not be following the issue.

There is one more facet to this story. When a constituent wrote State Senator Shane Martin an email protesting the cuts, the following was his reply:

I regret that you misunderstand the problem. The problem is that a public college is using taxpayer dollars to promote an agenda that the vast majority of taxpayers, the people that fund the school, do not agree with. No one in the General Assembly, including me, has banned any books. Colleges are free to use whatever books they want to use, or teach any classes they want to teach, or employ any professors they want to employ, unless and until they run afoul of the people paying the bill, the taxpayers. And if they want to do those things anyway, then they are free to find another source of funding. When you take your car in for service, would you want the mechanic to spray an air freshener in the car that they believed expressed their spiritual sense even if the air freshener made you sick? Of course not, and you wouldn’t pay for it. The public schools and colleges of South Carolina are not free agents. They work for the people of South Carolina, and if the people of South Carolina are unhappy with something going on at the public colleges, then those colleges are going to have change. I am very confident in the manner in which I represent my constituents, especially on this issue.

If one were to overlook the absolutely insulting idea of comparing South Carolina lgbts to air fresheners, there is that pesky bit of truth that those some South Carolina lgbts are also taxpayers. It is regrettable that on this particular point, Sen. Martin has chosen to be disingenuous.

This really was not an issue except for the Palmetto Family Council and other conservative groups.  There was no outrage, no groundswell of anger against the universities on this issue. To this day, many South Carolinians still are not aware of what’s going on or why these decisions were made. And amongst those who are aware, there have been serious signs of discomfort with not only lawmakers attempting dictate how colleges can educate their students but also their attempt to erase a portion of the state’s population by reducing the dignity of their lives to the cynical categorization of  “an agenda.”

 Perhaps instead of a conversation about academic freedom, our legislators need to have one on just who do they serve. Do they serve all South Carolinians or organizations who have obviously overstepped their bounds in attempts to define  “morality” and “families” in the Palmetto State?

 

While Peabody Energy may have hired a notorious public relations firm to hawk its international ad campaign, a village trustee and her rural farming community have exposed the devastating legacy of the world's largest coal company near its historic Illinois beginnings.

Meet Judy Kellen and the courageous community of Rocky Branch in Saline County, Illinois, whose battle to save their farms, homes and cherished Shawnee Hills from Peabody Energy's proposed strip mine expansion is turning out to be one of the most important watershed events in the heartland.

 

Testifying at the Saline County board meeting last night in Harrisburg, Illinois, Kellen and her neighbors explained how a necessary county road deviation for the proposed strip mine would dangerously cut off emergency vehicle access and be a dead-end for Rocky Branch.

"Our township is being destroyed as well as our county," said Kellen, as reported in The Southern newspaper. "It's going to be very difficult to live in an area where Peabody has sucked the life out of us. Every concession that has been made has been made to accommodate Peabody and it has hurt our residents."

For the first time in recent history, a local community deep in the heart of Illinois coal country, only miles from where Peabody sank its first historic coal mine in 1895, is saying no -- and forcing mainstream environmental organizations and citizens groups to take notice as it draws regional and national attention for its relentless grassroots efforts.

Locals have drawn a line in the sand with a clear message: Mr. Peabody's coal trains ain't haulin' away our community.

Earlier this morning, Rocky Branch supporters were arrested for blockading the county road to draw attention to clear-cut logging of Shawnee forests by Peabody, prior to the final EPA permitting of the strip mine operation, as well as the destruction of habitats for endangered Indiana bats, and dangerously overloaded equipment on county roads.

Illinois-native filmmaker Mitch Wenkus journeyed to southern Illinois recently, to chronicle the epic Rocky Branch showdown, including the role of Judy Kellen. Wenkus released this short film, "Judy's Rock," as part of his documentation:

Kellen riveted the county last fall at a special hearing on the closure of their roads to accommodate the Peabody mine:

"We have lost population, we have lost homes and we have lost roads," Kellen said. "When the mining company is gone who is going to pick up the tab for loss of revenue from homes and roads in order to continue to maintain the roads we still have? We were told when we lose old 13 and it is ripped out that the state would replace it. Our state is broke. We have lost a view of where we could see for miles. We have lost history. We had a cemetery in a beautiful location that now has been turned into something akin to an abyss. We have to endure dust, noise levels to the pitch you wanted to scream because you couldn't get any rest or sleep, earth tremors, home damages, complete isolation of any type of view to the north, health issues, a sadness in your heart that puts a dread on your face everyday and an unrest in the spirit that we knew nothing of."

Earlier this month, despite threats of violence, locals set up road blocks to call attention to Peabody-hired loggers, whose heavy equipment violated county road tonnage limits.

Last week, thanks to an extraordinary grassroots campaign, Kellen and other affected locals including Jennifer Dumbris and farmer/preacher Allan Porter, delivered over 5,000 petition signatures to state Attorney General Lisa Madigan, calling for an immediate halt to the operations and an administrative review of the rushed state permit.

The Republican Party is a white identity organization. This week, the polling firm Gallup has released new data that confirms how the Republican Party--a shambling corpse of Whiteness--lurches onward in the Age of Obama:

The increasing racial polarization in party preferences is evident when comparing the data by presidential administration. Nonwhites' average party preferences have been quite stable across the last three administrations, consistently showing a roughly 47-point Democratic advantage under Clinton, Bush, and Obama. On average, 69% of nonwhites have identified as Democrats or said they were independents who leaned Democratic, and 21% have identified as Republicans or leaned Republican.

Meanwhile, whites have become increasingly Republican, moving from an average 4.1-point Republican advantage under Clinton to an average 9.5-point advantage under Obama.

This polarization could ease by the time Obama's term finishes, in three years. However, given the already large racial gap in party preferences in his first five years, unless there is a dramatic shift among whites toward the Democratic Party or among nonwhites toward the GOP in the next three years, party preferences will end up more racially polarized in Obama's presidency than in his two predecessors' administrations.

Political pundits have generated a narrative which concludes that changing racial demographics will continue to make the Republican Party noncompetitive on a national level. The election of Barack Obama was viewed by mainstream political analysts as a coronation for "the browning of America", and the Republican Party's near, if not, inevitable obsolescence as a competitive political party.

I have thought for some time that such a claim is premature because politics is a "push and pull" story.

The Republicans have aggressively reacted to the election of Barack Obama, the country's first black president, with a strategy designed to use racial anxiety and overt racism to win the support of new white voters while simultaneously mobilizing its existing base.

The Republican Party's strategy of voter harassment, efforts to restrict access to voting for people of color, the young, and the poor, and using the courts to subvert democratic rule and consensus, is an effort to shrink the electorate so that a dying and older cohort of white voters can continue to exercise an out-sized amount of influence on American politics.

The Republican Party may be a shambling corpse of Whiteness, but it still refuses to die.

In the 2012 election, 88 percent of Mitt Romney's voters were white. Romney won 59 percent of white voters nationwide.

Gallup's finding that the Republican Party has increased its support among white voters 5 points during Obama's tenure is in many ways a function of the White Right's concerted strategy of coordinated racial appeals that range from the bizarre and histrionic (Birtherism); to outright lies (Obama is the "food stamp" president and want to give things to "lazy" black people); an intentional obstruction of governance (a record number of filibusters and holding the American federal government hostage during the debt ceiling debate by Republicans); and an assault on the symbolic power and legitimacy of Barack Obama because his personhood as a black man is incompatible with '"real (white) America".

The phrase "white identity organization" conjures up visions of the KKK or Neo Nazis. In reality, White identity organizations are any group which is dedicated to maintaining a superior relative group position for white people, and the various economic, material, political, and psychological privileges that come with the arbitrary distinction of what it means to be "white" in America.

Of course, all white people, and most certainly all white Republicans and conservatives, do not benefit from Whiteness and white skin privilege in the same way--this is of course true for poor white people (who are over-represented in Red State America).

Nevertheless, Republican elites, corporatists, and supporters of the robber baron class can use white identity politics as a means of mobilizing their base into supporting policies that in fact hurt poor, working, and middle class Americans across the colorline. The "psychic wages of whiteness" are most deeply felt when used to create an arbitrary distinction between "them" and "us"...even if it is the "us" who are hurt the most in the process.

Research suggests that the naked embrace of the Republican Party as the natural political party for "white people" is already occurring among members of the Tea Party faction. Moreover, recent work by Theda Skocpol details how the Tea Party--what is the contemporary descendant of the John Birch and White Citizens Councils--has served as a racializing experience for its white members in which they are learning to openly embrace their racial identity as central to their political decision making.

In response to this claim, there will be an obligatory protest or comment about African-Americans and their overwhelming support for the Democratic Party, such as "why can't white people organize for their own political interests too?"

Individuals and groups organize, advance, and fight for their own political goals. However imperfect in process, this is the core of interest group politics in the United States.

Of course, Black and brown folks have political interests: those political interests have been "racialized" by how centuries of personal and institutional White Supremacy have forced African-Americans and other people of color to think in terms of group uplift, survival, and advocacy. But, the Black Freedom Struggle has been radically inclusive and democratic. It created opportunities for all Americans to be more free.

There are two important distinctions to be made here.

White identity politics is based on exclusion.

The open racialization of white people's political interests is not new.

In many ways, white identity politics and White Supremacy have been the Constitutional and legal norm in the United States from the founding to the near present. Whiteness--be it mobilized and manifested by Jim and Jane, housing segregation, slavery, or "colorblind" institutional racism in the Age of Obama--is dependent upon a sense of group superiority and power over other those understood by "common sense" to be "non-white".

Although White Supremacy has morphed and changed, the multicultural, colorblind present still operates from many of its long-standing principles: black and brown people can ascend as individuals while institutional white racism still exists; white people can enjoy black and brown culture, but the former simultaneously morphs and changes the latter to their liking and sensibilities, while very often denying the equal humanity of African-Americans and other people of color in the process.

Racism works for the Republican Party in the short-term. Ironically, the Republican Party's name brand as a white identity organization in post civil rights America, and efforts to further expand its white voting base, will enable the GOP to lose by winning.

American (and world history) is replete with examples of how Whiteness does not play well with others. Consequently, the racialization of white voters' political interests by the Republican Party and its media apparatus is a threat to American democracy.

As we are seeing with the Right's efforts to subvert the democratic process, and eviscerate the social safety through appeals to white identity politics and white racial resentment, the further whitening of the Republican Party does not bode well for the American people in mass.

The historian Noel Ignatiev famously suggested that treason to Whiteness is loyalty to humanity. It is also true that treason to the Republican Party's white identity politics is loyalty to the Common Good, the General Welfare, and American democracy.

justice_spurns
“Anita” has 2 ex-boyfriends stalking her. Life threatening. I’ve seen proof. What legal help can she get? None, and I’ve tried to intervene on her behalf. Not getting legal help means she must continue to her share custody of their toddler, despite the documented disregarded mandate that he not give the baby alcohol.

“Jessica” has a lawyer to fight for custody of her 7-year-old son. Her stereotypical ex, who has cheated on her and impregnated another, has poisoned the water by accusing Jessica of being an unfit mom. The lawyer appears to be useless. Jessica tried everything, including filing a complaint with the state Bar association. She’s now saving for another lawyer with her part-time $10 an hour job.

"Rita,” a hard working single mom who provides emergency assistance for struggling families in her county, grappled with too few resources herself (love those nonprofit poverty-level wages). Somewhere she may have made an inadvertent misstep with her own food or childcare assistance programs, and now she’s been charged with a felony. Trying to get a lawyer she found she needs an impossible $10,000 upfront.

While celebrating the Supreme Court’s no-brainer decision about domestic violence perps not being able to possess a gun, it seems that day-to-day justice is harder to come by for women in poverty. The beleaguered Legal Services Corporation, the largest funder of civil services for people in poverty, list “family law” as one of their services, but my experience is they, and other poverty law providers, are beyond overwhelmed.

This March, the National Women’s History Project chose the Women’s History Month theme of Celebrating Women of Character, Courage, and Commitment.  Among reasons for those qualities, they recognize,  “Against social convention and often legal restraints, women have created a legacy that expands the frontiers of possibility for generations to come. They have demonstrated their character, courage and commitment as mothers…” No kidding. Motherhood takes a tremendous amount of character, courage and commitment, especially if you dance with poverty. My HEAR US work puts me in contact with women of character, courage and commitment. We made a documentary, on the edge: Family Homelessness in America, illustrating the horrendous gaps in the safety net for women and their families.

Fighting legal battles takes its toll on mothers, especially when they can’t get legal services. A welcomed media spotlight now shines on NY Governor Cuomo and the NY legislators’ thieving practices, if you will, for robbing legal services from impoverished mothers and other desperate folks.

“State lawmakers and Cuomo have agreed for years to use money meant to cover the cost of legal defense for the poor to help balance the state's budget, the Democrat & Chronicle reported today. "Over the past six years, the state's elected officials have yanked close to $50 million from a fund designated for indigent legal services," the paper reported.

What the (mostly) boy robber barons don’t seem to understand is that stealing from poor mothers causes myriad hardships. Ask Anita, Jessica and Rita…and millions more like them. Kids and abused spouses are traumatized in domestic violence battles. Kids are separated from loving custodial parents by judges' rulings that ignore the well being of the child. Families end up homeless because of bogus felony charges that value “right” over a desperate family’s survival, scarring the wrongly-persecuted parent with a criminal record and shattering the family’s fragile existence to the point of homelessness.

Among countless current women’s issues, access to legal services seems to be dreadfully shortchanged. If you doubt it, find a mother in need of free legal help and sit down to assist her. Make sure your phone battery has a full charge and that your heart is ready to break. 

 

 

Wendell Potter writes, in a series of posts about the poor state of dental coverage, that millions of Americans — 36 percent, according to a 2013 survey —put off visiting the dentist because of the cost of dental care. Last year, I became one of them. In pain, and in need of emergency dental care, I was shocked to find out how little my dental insurance covered.

At the age of six, I was physically assaulted by my dentist. The experience left me with dental PTSD that made my childhood dental visits terrifying. As an adult, my dental visits became rare, were usually emergencies, and required Valium.

Last fall, a toothache drove me back  to the dentist’s office. I was able to get the care I needed, but my fear of being in the dentist’s chair again was nearly matched by anxiety over at how much it would cost, and anxiety over how I would pay for it.

I was fortunate.

I wasn’t one of many Americans who end up seeking dental care in the emergency room — at 10 times the cost of preventive care. The ADA Health Policy Resources Center puts the number of dental-related ER visits in 2010 at 2.1 million, and the cost to the health system between $867 million and $2.1 billion.

I wasn’t one of nearly 50 million Americans who live in areas with too few dentists or none at all. Potter describeswitnessing thousands of people waiting in the rain for hours to get medical care in barns and animal stalls on a Virginia fairground, during a three-day Remote Area Medical health care expedition. Most were there to see a dentist, not a doctor. Some drove from as far away as Florida and Wisconsin for dental care they couldn’t find or afford back home.

I found a dentist near my office in downtown Washington, who could see me right away. She took an x-ray, and told me that I needed an emergency root canal, set up an appointment with an endodontist, and gave me a referral. I would also need to return for tooth restoration and a dental crown.

I wasn’t one of the estimated 130 million Americans without dental insurance. I had dental coverage — albeit rarely used — through my employer. Otherwise, I might have ended up in an emergency room, in far worse pain, with my health in even greater danger.

I was, however, one of many Americans who didn’t know how much some dental procedures cost. According to the Bureau of Labor statistics, the cost of dental care has risen faster than the cost of medical care overall. Between 2008 and 2012, only hospital and adult day care costs rose faster, but annual spending caps on dental coverage remain stuck at their original Watergate-era levels, between  $1,000 and $2,000.

I was also one of many Americans who didn’t know how little dental insurance covered. The dentist’s office staff assured me I had “very good” dental insurance. Yet, the cost of a root canal, restoration, and dental crown was close to the $1,500 annual spending cap on my coverage.

I got more bad news when I returned to the dentist for restoration and a temporary crown. She did a thorough set of x-rays, and said that I needed another root canal. Unbeknownst to me, a tooth had cracked as a result of bruxism, and decay had set in.

My dental insurance covered two root canals per year, but the cost of just one — and the necessary reconstruction and crown — was within a few hundred dollars of the annual cap on my dental insurance. It would not cover the second root canal, restoration, and crown.

There is really no such thing as true dental insurance. With traditional health insurance, you actually get more back than you paid in premiums, when you have serious medical problems. It’s not so with dental insurance.

You’ve probably paid more in dental insurance premiums than you’ll get back if you ever need serious dental work. Your annual coverage will run out long before your need for dental care. You’ll have to make up the difference out of your own pocket. If you don’t have, and can’t borrow the money — or find a better price — you go without dental care or put it off for as long as you can.

That’s what I did. After my second root canal, I didn’t make another appointment. I knew I’d have better dental coverage starting in January, when I would finally be covered by my husband’s insurance. Before the Court struck down DOMA, I’d have incurred thousands of dollars in taxes if I’d used the family plan that covered my husband and our kids, because it would’ve been considered a “gift.”

I have a new dentist now. He knows all about my childhood experience, and works to make sure my visits are as free of pain and anxiety as possible. The two permanent crowns are done. I’m due back this week for a cleaning and checkup, and plan to do so every six months from now on. I hope the regular visits, and my own dental  hygiene regimen, will reduce my chances of having another dental crisis.

Like I said, I’m fortunate. Childhood trauma caused me to neglect my dental care, but I was able to get the care I needed — eventually. There are millions of Americans who can’t, through no fault of their own.

This week marks the four-year anniversary of the Affordable Care Act, which only mandates dental coverage for nearly 5.3 children eligible for other federal programs, but not adults. Perhaps, as a commenter on the first post in Potter’s series suggests, it’s time for an “Affordable Dental Care Act.”