10 things you need to know today: October 6, 2015

AP Photo/Gerry BroomE


1. Historic Pacific trade deal reached
Negotiators from the U.S. and 11 other Pacific Rim nations reached a trade deal on Monday after years of talks. The Trans-Pacific Partnership is the largest regional trade accord in history, joining nations that represent about 40 percent of the global economy. The agreement is meant to help set global standards on commerce, worker rights, and pollution control, and to check China’s growing power. Next, all 12 nations must approve the deal, which faces opposition from skeptics in Congress from both parties.

Source: The New York Times

2. Death toll rises from South Carolina floods
Flood waters continued to rise in parts of South Carolina on Monday after three days of historic rainfall. The statewide death toll attributed to the once-in-a-millennium rains rose to at least 11 — seven from drowning and four in traffic accidents. Two died in North Carolina. About 550 roads and bridges were closed on Monday, and at least 18 dams were breached or failed. Further flood dangers were expected Tuesday, Gov. Nikki Haley (R) said, as a “wall of water” drains from inland areas to the low-lying coast.

Source: The Charlotte Observer, The Washington Post

3. U.S. commander says Afghanistan called for strikes that hit hospital
The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan said Monday that Afghan forces had called for the Saturday airstrikes that hit a Doctors Without Borders hospital. The U.S. military is investigating the incident, which killed 22 people, but Doctors Without Borders is calling for an independent inquiry. The international aid group on Sunday closed the hospital in Kunduz, which was briefly taken over by the Taliban last week before Afghan government forces regained control of key areas.

Source: ABC News

4. Missing ship likely sank in Hurricane Joaquin, Coast Guard says
The U.S. Coast Guard said Tuesday that a missing Florida-based cargo ship is assumed to have sunk off the Bahamas in Hurricane Joaquin, as feared. The heavily loaded ship, El Faro, had not been heard from since its crew sent out a distress call on Thursday saying they had lost power and were taking on water. The body of one presumed crew member has been found. The Coast Guard is searching for the rest of the 33-member crew — 28 Americans and five Polish nationals.

Source: Reuters

5. Two scientists win Nobel Prize in Physics for work on neutrinos
Scientists Takaaki Kajita of the University of Tokyo and Arthur B. McDonald of Queen’s University in Canada have won the Nobel Prize in Physics “for the discovery of neutrino oscillations, which shows that neutrinos have mass,” the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said Tuesday. Neutrinos, subatomic particles left over from the Big Bang, zip around the universe near the speed of light. The discovery that they have mass, contrary to what was previously thought, has helped scientists understand how the universe has evolved.

Source: Los Angeles Times, The New York Times

6. NATO calls Russia “irresponsible” for violating Turkish airspace
NATO on Monday denounced Russia for violating Turkish airspace twice since starting its new bombing campaign against Syrian rebels. NATO’s 28 members held an emergency meeting in Brussels and said Russia would be held responsible for any clashes that resulted from “such irresponsible behavior.” Secretary of State John Kerry said there could have been a “shootdown” if Turkey, which scrambled jets, had fired. Moscow said a fighter plane had entered Turkish airspace along the Syrian border for just “a few seconds.”

Source: Reuters

7. California signs right-to-die law
California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed an assisted-suicide bill into law on Monday, making his state the fifth in the nation to let doctors prescribe lethal doses of drugs to terminally patients asking to die. The other states to pass similar measures are Oregon, Washington, Montana, and Vermont. The Catholic Church strongly opposed the legislation, and Brown had studied to enter the priesthood as a young man. “In the end,” he said, “I was left to reflect on what I would want in the face of my own death.”

Source: Los Angeles Times

8. Train jumps tracks in Vermont, injuring 5
An Amtrak train derailed in Vermont on Monday, injuring five of the 98 passengers on board and two crew members. The train hit a rock ledge that broke off and fell on to the tracks about 10 miles south of Montpelier, the state’s capital. Gov. Peter Shumlin called the debris a “freak of nature” that the driver could not have avoided. The locomotive, lead car, and three other cars jumped the tracks when the train hit the rocks. One car fell into a brook.

Source: NBC News

9. Pilot falls ill and dies on American Airlines flight
A 57-year-old American Airlines pilot, Capt. Michael Johnston, died Monday on a flight from Phoenix to Boston. The flight was diverted to Syracuse after Johnston fell ill, and the co-pilot landed the plane, which had 147 passengers and five crew members on board. Johnston’s wife told television station KUTV in Utah that she was told her husband appeared to have died of a heart attack. She said her he had a double bypass in 2006 and got a physical every six months.

Source: The Republic

10. Fantasy sports sites shaken by insider trading allegations
Two major fantasy sports companies, DraftKings and FanDuel, released a joint statement defending their integrity on Monday after a DraftKings employee last week admitted to inadvertently releasing data on National Football League fantasy teams before the start of the third week of games. The employee won $350,000 at FanDuel the same week, sparking allegations that employees were betting using information not available to the public. “It is absolutely akin to insider trading,” sports and gambling lawyer Daniel Wallach said.

Source: The New York Times

Harold Maass

Texas Mother Outraged Her Son’s Textbook Called Slaves ‘Workers’ And ‘Immigrants’

State Board of Education board members, from left, Donna Bahorich, David Bradley, and Thomas Ratliff, raise their hands to ask questions | CREDIT: ERIC GAY, AP


A Texas mother spoke out against part of McGraw-Hill’s textbook, “World Geography,” when she noticed that the language erased slavery by calling slaves “workers” and including them in the section “Patterns of Immigration.” One example of the text:

The Atlantic Slave Trade between the 1500s and 1800s brought millions of workers from Africa to the southern United States to work on agricultural plantations.



Roni Dean-Burren, who taught English for more than a decade and is now a doctoral candidate at the University of Houston, pointed out that the language of “worker” suggests compensation and “immigration” suggests that people weren’t kidnapped and brought to North America against their will. She first learned about the textbook section when her son sent her a photo of the text.

Dean-Burren’s criticism of the textbook was widely shared across Facebook and a video made after the original post garnered 1.4 million views by Sunday, according to CNN. McGraw-Hill responded to the post on its Facebook page and announced that it will edit the section. It stated, “We believe we can do better … To communicate these facts more clearly, we will update this caption to describe the arrival of African slaves in the U.S. as a forced migration and emphasize that their work was done as slave labor.”

The online version will be changed as soon as edits are determined and the new and improved language will be present in the next printing of the textbook. Dean-Burren’s Facebook post points to wider criticism of the textbook industry, however, which is mostly based in Texas. Texas first began its grip over textbook content when it decided to pay 100 percent of the cost of public textbooks. The catch was that the Texas State Board of Education had to approve the textbooks first.

Because the books that received approval were more likely to be produced on a larger scale, the Texas textbook market affected the national textbook market, Gail Collins explained in her analysisof the Texas textbook market for The New York Review of Books. The board tends to be more conservative in its outlook and sometimes embraces narratives that favor a Euro-centric and Christian-centric revisionist history.

When it came to the Middle Ages, the board appeared to be down on any mention of the Crusades, an enterprise that tends to reflect badly on the Christian side of Christian–Islamic conflict. And when they got to the cold war era, the board wanted to be sure students would be able to “explain how Arab rejection of the State of Israel has led to ongoing conflict.” Later, they were supposed to study “Islamic fundamentalism and the subsequent use of terrorism by some of its adherents.”

Parents and educators have been taking to social media to raise awareness of how schools approach teaching about slavery in general. Teachers, journalists, and education advocates tweeted about a game about slavery that allowed players to stack slaves on top of each other, like Tetris. Soon the European game manufacturer took the slave Tetris section out of the game and made a statement on the outcry, which largely chalked up the disagreement to cultural differences. However, the greater concern was that anyone made a game about slavery to begin with.

Trump: Mass Killers Are “Geniuses,” We Can’t Do Anything to Stop Them

a katz / Shutterstock.com

Huh? What??


Donald Trump constantly promises to build a huge, beautiful wall on America’s southern border that will be infallible at preventing Mexican “rapists and criminals” from entering the US. There’s absolutely no way these illegal aliens will be able to figure out how to get around his gigantic 1500-mile beautiful wall, nope, no sir.

But mass killers? Well, they’re geniuses, you see, and there’s absolutely no way to stop them from getting around any safeguards we put in place, no matter what we do.

“No matter what you do, you’re gonna have problems,” Trump told NBC News in an interview that aired Sunday. “Because you have sick people. They happen to be intelligent. And, you know, they can be sick as hell and they’re geniuses in a certain way. They are going to be able to break the system.”

Determined killers, Trump continued, are still “gonna be able to get into a school or get into something.”

“It’s a horrible thing to say,” he added. “And it’s not even politically correct. But it’s common sense. You’re going to have problems no matter how good, no matter what kind of checks you do, you know, what kind of laws.”

No matter what we do! And especially not laws restricting access to guns. No way that would ever work.

Conservatives Cry For Obama’s Assassination Over Visit To Shooting Victims’ Families (SCREENSHOTS)

This is complete insanity…


In case you haven’t heard, President Obama is taking time out of his incredibly busy schedule to privately meet with and console the families of the victims of Whatshisname’s bloody rampage at at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. The attack on random students of varying faiths (not a targeted attack on Christians, as conservatives claim) by the “spiritual, but not religious” (not a Muslim, as Republicans would have people believe),  self-proclaimed conservative Republican (not a Black Lives Matter protester, as the Right professes) profoundly impacted our nation.

As conservatives scream their wishes into they sky, the rest of us are focused on one thing: figuring out how we can stop this culmination of gun culture run amok from ever happening again. While some countries, like Australia, have stemmed the problem by enacting common-sense gun regulation, the Right continues to blame mass shootings on nonsensical bullsh*t — like the removal of Christian prayer from public schools.

Though one would be remiss to assume that the Right actually cares about the victims of the shooting (the non-Christian ones, anyway), when the President announced his intention to meet with the families of the victims of the shooter — a product of a paranoid, Donald Trump-obsessed, open-carrying, gun-hoarding, right-wing mother who desperately feared Obummer was going to take her weapons from her — conservatives were instantly furious, which is pretty much their static condition when President Obama so much as allows someone else to hold his umbrella for him.

Shortly after news of the President’s planned visit broke, notorious birther and Islamophobe Pamela Geller shrieked war cry on Twitter, warning that the President is “NOT WELCOME” (apparently, her caps-lock key was broken) in Roseburg.


Naturally, Geller’s readers on her blog had some interesting opinions — including that Obama should blame “radical Islam” for the murders rather than the easy availability of guns to the shooter, whose name is just something that I am having trouble remembering at the moment:

At right-wing blog Weasel Zippers, which proudly places itself within the “bowels of the internet,” all they had to do was share a tweet about the announcement before readers began calling for harm or even death to come to the President:


shooter 2

At right-wing blog Weasel Zippers, which proudly places itself within the “bowels of the internet,” all they had to do was share a tweet about the announcement before readers began calling for harm or even death to come to the President:




As always, the Right’s reaction to a shooting isn’t a call for restrictions that would decrease the likelihood that another mass shooting will occur — They just want the black man in the WHITE House to be in a body bag.

The shooter’s father, Ian Mercer, wonders “how on earth” his son was able to accumulate so many guns. These people. These people, and the various organizations they represent and support, are the reason why.

It’s time to do something about it.


Democrats Release Benghazi Panel Info After McCarthy Remarks




In the letter, Reps. Elijah Cumming (D-MD), Adam Smith (D-WA), Adam Schiff (D-CA), Linda Sanchez (D-CA), and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), said that the way Republicans on the committee went about their work shows how political their investigation has been.

“Although some Republicans attempted to explain away Rep. McCarthy’s admission, it reflected exactly what has been going on within the Select Committee for the past year-and-a-half,” the letter continues. “It has held no hearings of any kind since January, and it has completely abandoned its plans to hear public testimony from top defense and intelligence officials so Republicans can focus almost exclusively on Hillary Clinton.”

The Democratic members of the panel then accused the Republican members of using “a series of selective leaks of inaccurate and incomplete information in an effort to attack Secretary Clinton with unsubstantiated or previously debunked allegations.”

In particular, the letter claims that the committee unfairly portrayed its private interview with former Clinton staffer Cheryl Mills by demanding that the interview be treated as classified information and then leaking parts of the interview to the press. The Democratic members included previously unreported excerpts of the interview with Mills in the letter, and they told Gowdy that the State Department and Mills’ lawyers have five days to identify parts of the interview that should remain private before making the entire transcript public.

Read the full letter below, courtesy of The Hill.

Correction: Rep. Cummings is a congressman representing Maryland, not South Carolina.

Read the letter from the Democrats on Benghazi panel by kballuck1


10 things you need to know today: October 5, 2015

AP Photo/Gerry Broome


1. South Carolina hit by once-in-a-millennium rains
South Carolina was hit by historic rainfall over the weekend that caused widespread flooding and left at least six people dead. Two others died in North Carolina. Mount Pleasant, near Charleston, got more than 24 inches of rain. “We haven’t seen this level of rain in the Low country in 1,000 years,” South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) said at a press conference. “That’s how big this is.” The state capital, Columbia, got more than a foot overnight. Rescuers plucked hundreds of people trapped by floodwaters, many stranded in cars.

Source: CNN, The Associated Press

2. Hillary Clinton to pitch gun-control measures
Hillary Clinton is expected on Monday to announce proposals to close gun sale loopholes and repeal the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act. Clinton, then a senator, voted against the 2005 law, which provides legal protection to gun manufacturers and dealers who sell guns that are used for criminal activity. Joining others calling for tighter gun laws in the wake of last week’s mass shooting in Oregon, Clinton also plans to back legislation to prohibit anyone with a history of domestic violence from buying or possessing guns.

Source: Bloomberg

3. Trade negotiators hope to wrap up Pacific trade deal
Trade negotiators say they hope to seal a final trade deal between the U.S. and 11 Asia-Pacific countries on Monday. The landmark Trans-Pacific Partnership, under negotiation for eight years, would open up trade and set commerce ground rules for 12 countries representing about 40 percent of the global economy. If finalized, the next hurdle will be getting it ratified in all 12 member nations. A deeply divided Congress is expected to debate the pact for months.

Source: The New York Times

4. Aid group calls for independent investigation of strike on Afghan hospital
Doctors Without Borders on Sunday called the suspected U.S. airstrike that killed 12 staff members and 10 patients at its northern Afghanistan hospital a “war crime,” and demanded an independent investigation. U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter promised an inquiry to determine whether the U.S. military was responsible. He said American “air assets” were operating in the area around Kunduz when the hospital was hit. He promised accountability for “anybody responsible for doing something they shouldn’t have done.”

Source: Reuters

5. ISIS destroys arch at ancient city’s entrance
Islamic State militants have blown up the Arch of Triumph that stood at the entrance to the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra, Maamun Abdulkarim, Syria’s head of antiquities, said Monday. Abdulkarim said ISIS “booby-trapped” the arch several weeks ago. The Islamist extremist group has been destroying monuments, which they believe promote idolatry, since seizing the 2,000-year-old UNESCO world heritage site in May. “We are living through a catastrophe,” Abdulkarim said.

Source: AFP

6. Three scientists share Nobel Prize in medicine for work fighting parasites
Three scientists from Ireland, Japan, and China were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine on Monday for their work revolutionizing therapies for devastating parasitic diseases. William C. Campbell and Satoshi Omura won for developing the drug Avermectin to treat river blindness and lymphatic filariasis (elephantiasis). Youyou Tu won his share of the prize for discovering Artemisinin, a drug that has significantly reduced malaria death rates.

Source: The New York Times

7. Debris spotted from cargo ship that went missing in Hurricane Joaquin
Search teams on Sunday found debris believed to be from the cargo ship El Faro, which went missing in the eye of Hurricane Joaquin in the Bahamas last week. The vessel had a crew of 28 Americans and five Polish nationals on board. The Coast Guard has spotted life jackets, containers, and an oil sheen believed to have come from the ship, but there have been no sightings of life boats. El Faro has not been seen or heard from since its crew sent a distress call on Thursday.

Source: Reuters, CNN

8. American Apparel files for bankruptcy protection
American Apparel filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection earlyMonday. The company is struggling with massive debts and plummeting sales. An ongoing legal fight with ousted founder Dov Charney’ also has contributed to the once trendsetting retailer’s decline. The reorganization plan, if approved by the bankruptcy court in Delaware, would reduce the company’s debt to $120 million from $311 million by letting five bondholders trade their debt for shares in the company.

Source: The New York Times

9. North Korea frees NYU student
North Korea released New York University student Won-moon Joo on Monday after holding him since April, the South Korean government said. Joo, a South Korean with permanent residency in the U.S., took a semester off to travel. He told CNN months ago that he was arrested after entering North Korea illegally via China. “I thought that some great event could happen and hopefully that event could have a good effect on the relations” between the two Koreas, Joo said in May.

Source: New York Daily News

10. The Martian leads the weekend box office with $55 million debut
The Martian dominated the weekend box office in its debut, hauling in $55 million in its opening. The Ridley Scott 3D space epic fell less than $1 million short of beating out Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity as the biggest October opening ever. The Martian, starring Matt Damon as an astronaut stranded and left for dead on Mars, also made $45.2 million overseas, bringing its total to $100.2 million globally.

Source: The Hollywood Reporter

Harold Maass

The Shady Group That Played Pope Francis

Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast


The pontiff found his reformer image tarnished when it was announced he met with Kim Davis. The group behind the political coup? The Liberty Counsel.

Around 8 p.m. on Sept. 29, the Liberty Counsel, Kim Davis’ legal representation, tweeted a report from Inside the Vatican that Pope Francis had a secret meeting with their client. Robert Moynihan, the writer who broke the story, had gotten his information exclusively from the Liberty Counsel.

What started out as a rumor about a closed-door meeting quickly evolved into something much bigger—the claim that Pope Francis, for all of his kindness toward LGBT people, was really on the side of the Religious Right.

You can imagine how the secret meeting might have gone, said the Liberty Counsel: Pope Francis embracing a humbled Kim Davis, encouraging her to “stay strong,” and validating her fight against gay marriage. And then mere hours later, with poor, sweet Kim fresh in his memory, telling journalists that government officials—why, just like that Kentucky gal!—have the right to conscientious objection.

But many journalists with connections inside the Vatican, myself included, were having difficulty figuring out exactly what transpired between Francis and Davis because the Liberty Counsel’s story was so incredibly vague. Who, for instance, initiated the meeting—and why?

According to Davis’ lawyer, Mat Staver, the meeting came “from the Vatican itself”—which reads as his deceptive way of saying, “Pope Francis didn’t actually invite Davis to the embassy, but someone with Vatican connections did, so we’re going to keep saying Vatican over and over until enough people think the Holy Father actually invited our client to meet him.”

Though many pressed Staver to release the name of the Vatican official, he held out as long as he could until eventually the secret broke. The meeting was initiated by Archbishop Vigano, Vatican ambassador to the U.S., who is a strong opponent of same-sex marriage.

Last spring, for example, Vigano attended an anti-gay rally organized by the National Organization for Marriage. In a press release, NOM called Vigano the “official representative of Pope Francis,” which—as is implied by the designation—they took as a papal seal of approval for their fight against gay marriage. (This is why Vigano has won himself the ire of many Catholics—he should’ve known that when he wades into a culture war, he drags Francis unwittingly with him.)

The inconsistencies with the Liberty Counsel’s story were infuriatingly apparent from go. For example, Staver told CBS that Francis definitely knew who Kim Davis was, before their meeting: “Pope Francis,” he said, “has been following the story of Kim Davis and obviously is very concerned about religious liberty, not just in the United States, but worldwide.” But in an interview with TIME, Staver said that he didn’t know if Francis knew who his client was, but he assumed the pope had heard of her because “her story has been published worldwide.”

The Vatican quickly realized they had to weigh in. Admitting that Francis had some brief encounter with Davis, the statement from the Holy See’s press office made clear that the meeting “should not be considered a form of support” for Davis’ refusal to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Moreover, the Vatican didn’t even consider Davis a “real audience,” saying she was just one of dozens paraded in front of the pontiff at the Vatican embassy.


To put it in theological terms, the Liberty Counsel expects us to ignore the letter of what they say and pay attention to the spirit of what they say. This explanation is an odd strategy for, you know, attorneys. “Your honor, you’re getting tripped up here on the evidence! Look at the big metaphorical picture!”

This kind of deceptive wordplay isn’t a new game to the Liberty Counsel. Just last month they pulled something similar.

Imagine this, they said. Tens of thousands of Christian opponents of gay marriage filling a field in Peru, for the sole purpose of lifting up Kim Davis, their sister in Christ, in prayer as she wages war on gay pagans. You can, in fact, imagine this because the Liberty Counsel, Davis’ legal representation promised that it happened. There are even pictures to prove it, they said.

Except, that story wasn’t true either.

The picture of a 100,000-strong rally in Peru that the Liberty Counsel tweeted out to prove that there was global support for their client was actually from a prayer rally from May 2014. It had absolutely nothing to do with Davis.

It now appears, a statement from the Liberty Counsel read, “the photograph presented to [Davis’ attorney] Mat Staver was an honest mistake.” What’s not a mistake, however, the Liberty Counsel said, is that “there is widespread support for Kim Davis. Last week she was recognized by many people as she walked through the Philadelphia, New York LaGuardia, and Washington, D.C. Reagan airports.”

Again, he argued, his lie was symbolically true. Spirit not letter, and whatnot.

Founded in 1989 by husband and wife attorneys, Mathew Staver and Anita Staver, the nonprofit’s goal is to provide legal services to those causes they feel are “dedicated to advancing religious freedom, the sanctity of life, and the family,” according to the group’s website. In other words, they provide pro bono legal representation to people who are fighting on their side of the culture war.

The group is notorious for opposing homosexuality and abortion, and fighting for its version of religious freedom. It’s also been extremely critical of President Obama. “I know for a fact salvation is not arriving on Air Force One,” Staver once said.

Ahead of the Obergefell decision, Staver co-authored a Marriage Pledge, in which he “respectfully warned” the judges not to “cross the line” on God-ordained marriage.

“Make no mistake about our resolve. While there are many things we can endure, redefining marriage is so fundamental to the natural order and the common good that this is the line we must draw and one we cannot and will not cross.”

Staver organizes and is a key speaker at an annual conference called The Awakening, which bills itself as “an in-depth Prayer and Patriotism event where people are united by love for our country’s freedom and our faith in Christ.” According to a conference schedule from 2012, topics of discussion include Israel, Islam, the LGBTQ agenda, and abortion.

The Southern Poverty Law Center classifies the Liberty Counsel as a hate group. Importantly, the SPLC does not classify religious groups as hate groups simply because they believe or preach that homosexuality is sinful (religious groups have a protected right to that belief) but because they propagate known falsehoods, and often employ “groundless name-calling.”

For example, despite the fact that reparative therapy has been discredited by science, in 2006 the LC launched its “Change is Possible” campaign, to educate youth that “unwanted same-sex attractions can be overcome.” Railing against society-threatening values like diversity and tolerance, the LC encouraged students to start Gay to Straight Clubs on their campuses, and to ask faculty to include “the ex-gay viewpoint” in all discussions of homosexuality. These initiatives, they suggest, are life-saving: “Former homosexuals have lost their jobs and been physically assaulted because they dared to tell others that people can and do overcome same-sex attractions.”

Multiple requests for comment from the Liberty Counsel went unreturned, but last month Staver told the Orlando Sentinel he rejects the hate label, claiming that “critics have misconstrued his comments and maligned his motivations in service of their own agenda to smear anyone who doesn’t condone homosexuality.”

Staver is the author of the 2004 book Same-Sex Marriage: Putting Every Household at Risk, which argued that “sanctioning same-sex marriage would have a profound destabilizing effect on the health, welfare, education, and morals of the country.” The book is full of pithy, confusing Staverisms, like: “We should not play Russian roulette with marriage.”

“When it comes to anti-LGBT hate groups,” said a representative of the Human Rights Campaign, the Liberty Counsel is “in a class of their own.” The HRC has long followed the Liberty Counsel, noting that the group supports “despicable anti-LGBT criminalization laws abroad, compares being LGBT to drug addiction, and defends the abusive and scientifically discredited practice of ‘so-called’ conversion therapy.”

The Counsel’s involvement with Davis, said the spokesperson, is “merely the latest in a deplorable, decades-long record of attacking LGBT people, their dignity, and their rights.”

A well-researched article on the HRC’s website documents dozens of cases the Liberty Counsel has been involved with. Notably, the group represented the evangelical Scott Lively against charges of “crimes against humanity,” for his alleged involvement in the creation of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act. “This lawsuit against Pastor Lively,” wrote Staver on the Liberty Counsel’s website, “is a terrifying attempt to use vague international law to silence, and eventually criminalize, speech by U.S. citizens on homosexuality and moral issues.”

The suit against Lively should scare everyone, he continued, “because it is a direct threat against every American’s freedom of speech and free exercise of religion by the use of international law.”

Staver is an expert in peddling fear. For instance, an advertisement for one of his Awakening conferences warned, “A war is raging against our shared values. Our faith and freedom are under attack.”

This is a theme of many Liberty Counsel press releases. In a writeup on Kim Davis, Staver warns, “The PURGE of Christians in America has begun.” (The word “purge” is used five times in the release.) Staver warns, “If this judge’s decision is allowed to stand, then every American Christian will be at risk of facing the PURGING of their faith and ultimately the loss of their jobs.”

He then asked Concerned Christians Everywhere for—what else?—their money.

Staver’s fear-mongering tactics have certainly paid off, as Bethany Rodgers explains in the Orlando Sentinel. Since its creation, she writes, “the nonprofit has ballooned from a tiny venture collecting less than $200,000 in yearly donations to a multipronged organization that hauled in more than $4 million in the 2013 tax year.” The group employs 10 attorneys, and has several offices in the U.S., and another one in Israel.

To be clear: This is not some fringe right-wing group enjoying little to no influence in the world. Whenever there’s a fight to be had over gay marriage, abortion, or religious freedom, you can almost count on someone from the Liberty Counsel showing up. That’s why Staver’s stunt with the pope, though maddeningly unfortunate, is business as usual for the culture warrior.

The most glaring irony here is that evangelicals are notorious for their negative views of Catholicism, and in particular the pope. Some evangelicals believe the Catholic Church is the Whore of Babylon described in the Book of Revelation. Those beliefs may be limited to a few denominations on the fringes, but it is absolutely the case that evangelicalism holds that Catholicism is doctrinally in error on several major points, including purgatory, prayers to saints, and its veneration of Mary. Indeed, the Liberty Counsel even responded to a few tweets from apparent evangelicals angry that the group would even mingle with the pontiff.

It’s certainly bemusing, then, to hear Davis talk about how humbled she was by Francis’ visit, and how encouraging it was to hear he was “on track” with her marriage crusade. It’s equally bemusing to hear Staver heap praise on Francis’ theological positions.

The Liberty Counsel’s intentions with Francis weren’t spiritual or religious. They were merely political. Everything about that meeting was calculated to further Staver’s anti-gay agenda.

Sadly, for Davis, Staver’s intentions with her also seem to be political. For all of his talk about how much his client loves Jesus, it’s tough to imagine Staver even thinks his client is a Christian. Staver is a Southern Baptist, and adheres to a statement of faith that is markedly different from the one Davis’ church believes. A big difference, and one that is an issue of orthodoxy for any Southern Baptist, is that Davis’ church doesn’t believe in the doctrine of the trinity.

At the end of the day, the Liberty Counsel is after political expediency. They play people, they use their clients like pawns to accomplish their agendas without so much as an afterthought about how they are hurting their clients’ lives. No one from the Liberty Counsel, for instance, spent six days in jail. Nor are any of them currently wanted by the FBI or Interpol.

True to form, the Liberty Counsel tried to play Francis. They knew that the Vatican, even if they wanted to, couldn’t throw Davis under the bus. First, Francis is a pastor, and he wouldn’t do that. Second, Francis already won himself the ire of plenty of American conservatives for what they consider to be his weak, not-loud-enough stance against homosexuality. Did Francis really want to risk driving those conservatives even further away from the church? It was like the Liberty Counsel drove Francis into a corner, and dared him to call their bluff.

Unfortunately for the Liberty Counsel, he did. And he did it gloriously.

Remember how the Vatican’s official statement said Davis wasn’t a “real audience” for the pope because he only had one of those?

Well, that audience was with none other than Francis’ former student, who is gay, and his partner of 19 years. CNN broke the news in an exclusive interview with Yayo Grassi, the gay student.

While there’s no video took back up Davis’ story—which will no doubt change several more times, as it already has—there’s video of the Pope embracing his real audience. He knew both men were gay, and partnered. He didn’t use the moment to pray for their conversion to heterosexuality, or to give them a brochure on the ex-gay movement, or to lecture them on church teaching about sexuality. He welcomed them. He embraced them. He kissed them on the cheek. He smiled with them.

Is that meeting proof that Francis wants to change church teaching on homosexuality? No. But it is evidence of Pope Francis’ character—that in spite of his institution’s historical mistreatment of LGBT people, the judgment stops with him.

That’s who Pope Francis is.

Good luck spinning that, Mat Staver.

Brandon Ambrosino

Ben Carson’s destructive lies: 4 racist assumptions endorsed & magnified by Black conservatives

Ben Carson's destructive lies: 4 racist assumptions endorsed & magnified by Black conservatives

(Credit: AP/Carlos Osorio)


The neurosurgeon-turned-candidate has eagerly joined the GOP in its campaign against racial justice

Through the first few months of campaign season, one thing has become indisputably clear: The Republican Party is the United States’ largest white identity organization, and openly uses white racial resentment — along with old fashioned racism — to win the support of white voters.

To wit: The Republican Party’s leading 2016 presidential candidates include open racists and nativists such as Donald Trump, as well as “dog whistle” racists such as Jeb Bush, who channel Ronald Reagan by way of “Southern Strategy”-inspired narratives about “welfare queens” and lazy blacks who want “free stuff” from white people.

And then, of course, there is the curious case of Ben Carson, who recently said that black people who support the Democrats are essentially stupid, unsophisticated, hyper-emotional, irrational, and incapable of thinking for themselves. In Carson’s delusional alternate reality, Republicans do not “see race,” and, unlike the Democrats, are the real advocates for racial justice and positive change along the color line in the United States.

Ben Carson is not alone in his twisted fantasy land. He is joined by other black conservatives — a select group of racial mercenaries who are routinely trotted out on Fox News and elsewhere — who, to great approval from white conservatives, also repeat the same anti-black propaganda.

The white racist fantasies given credence by black conservatives consist of several repeated themes.

1) Black people are on a Democratic or Liberal “Plantation”

This twisted interpretation of the political agency and intelligence of black Americans is immensely popular on the White Right. The “Democratic Plantation” lie is rooted in a white supremacist fantasy and “Gone with the Wind”-style fairy tale of happy black slaves singing, dancing, having sex, and being protected by benevolent white masters. This racist fiction ignores how black Americans self-manumitted, fought in the Civil War to free themselves, remade democracy with Reconstruction, and then made the reasoned choice to switch over to the Democratic Party en masse because of the policies of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and then later those of the Johnson and Kennedy administrations.

In reality, the slave “plantation” was a charnel and rape house. It quite literally used the bodies of millions of black people as fuel for (white) American and European empire.

There is a special hostility in the United States towards black Americans and their history of struggle, survival, and freedom. No one on mainstream cable news, among the commentariat, or in the class of political elites would dare to suggest that Jews who support the Democratic Party are in a type of “gas chamber” or “death camp.” Such an egregious insult can only be leveled with impunity at African-Americans.

2) Black people are extremely emotional and are unable to make intelligent political decisions 

This white supremacist fantasy reflects centuries-old racist beliefs that white people are supremely rational and that people of color—blacks in particular—are impulsive, unintelligent, libidinous, and impulsive.

On a range of public policy issues, black Americans have shown a remarkable amount of foresight and wisdom, being years or decades ahead of white public opinion on issues such as ending the Iraq War, the failures of George W. Bush’s leadership and administration and access to healthcare, among other issues. Social scientists have also detailed how African-Americans use complex decision making and other heuristics to factor in the realities of life in a racist society, the importance of the Black Freedom Struggle, and individual self-advancement. Some scholars of American politics even go so far as to suggest that black people may be more sophisticated in their political behavior than whites because of the former’s need to more carefully discern power dynamics and be sensitive to political partisanship and ideology.

3) Black Americans vote Democrat because they want “free things”

As I wrote in an earlier essay at Salon, this claim is both ahistorical, and also overlooks the most basic nature of politics. Politics is fundamentally about receiving benefits from the State. This is the core of interest group behavior, voting, and advocacy. To the degree that black people want “free things” they are no different from any other group. Moreover, in reality, it is White America that has been built on stealing “free stuff” from people of color (most obviously land from First Nations peoples and labor from black folks) and whose members receive a disproportionate amount of subsidies from what is known as “the submerged state”.

4) Black Americans are low-information voters who are ill-informed

As documented by the American Press Institute (API), Black Americans and whites may have slightly different news consumption patterns and habits, but the claim that African-Americans are somehow massively “less informed” than white people is specious.

The API reports that,

“Even with concerns about coverage of their communities in the news, large majorities of African Americans and Hispanics are avid news consumers and their general news habits are similar to national averages. Substantial numbers of Americans say they watch, read, or hear the news at least once a day (76 percent) and also say they enjoy keeping up with the news a lot or some (88 percent).

“But there are some differences by race and ethnicity in the frequency of news consumption. Non-Hispanic whites (80 percent) are more likely to say they get news daily than are African Americans (70 percent) or Hispanics (70 percent).”

The suggestion that black Americans are somehow ignorant and “tricked” into supporting the Democratic Party because they do not have access to correct information is especially absurd given that Fox News viewers, the vast majority of whom are white, constitute one of the least informed publics in the United States.

* * *

These defamations and slurs on the civic virtue, character, and intelligence of Black Americans are easily refuted. However, these lies are still especially dangerous because black conservatives like Ben Carson give them a veneer of truth and authenticity—thus validating the racist anti-black beliefs held by many white Americans.

A question still remains. Why do today’s black conservatives allow themselves to be used this way by the Republican Party?

Black conservatives are highly prized by Republicans. As such,they are well compensated on the lecture circuit, by the right-wing media machine, and are coddled and protected by a network of well-funded conservative think tanks and public relations firms. Their designated role as the “best black friend” for Republicans, the “special” and “good one,” is ego gratifying. And because the Black Freedom Struggle is in many ways a burden that some black folks are either too weak or unwilling to carry, black conservatives from the Reagan era onward have chosen to betray that honorable past for reasons of convenience, cowardice, lucre, and self-aggrandizement.

Black conservatives who channel racist talking points about African-Americans in the service of institutional white power are not a new phenomenon. During chattel slavery, for example, the role of “the driver” on the plantation—the middle manager who was responsible for much of the day-to-day discipline and operation of the slave labor camp—was often a black man. Likewise, for reasons humane (protecting one’s family and kin from white enslavers) and craven (owning black human property to extract wealth and income from their bodies, minds, and labor), a very small number of African-Americans in the antebellum South chose to own slaves.

Some people choose to challenge power by lying down and surrendering to it; others decide to benefit from its injustices and inequalities. The black conservatives in today’s Republican Party have made a strategic choice to do both.

H/t: DB

Chris Christie Refuses To Believe Strict NJ Gun Laws Are Responsible For Low Gun Violence (VIDEO)

ABC News Screen grab


During an interview last Sunday on ABC’s This Week, Chris Christie refused to accept that New Jersey’s low level of gun violence could possibly be attributed to the state’s tough gun laws. Interviewer George Stephanopoulos began:

“You just heard Donald Trump say, you know, sometimes people fall through the cracks. And he also questioned whether tough gun laws make a difference. But look at your state. It has some of the toughest gun laws and one of the lowest murder rates. Isn’t there a correlation?”

Without skipping a beat, Christie claims that mental health problems are the real cause of gun violence in the United States, pointing towards a need to make involuntary commitment easier for doctors.

“I don’t — George, I don’t think there is. But I’ll tell you this, I’m very concerned about the mental health side of this and I put forward a proposal to the legislature last year and then again just about seven or eight weeks ago in response to a bill they sent saying, let’s do some tough things on mental health. Let’s make involuntary commitment of people who speak violently easier for doctors.”

Christie then continued on invoking one of Republicans’ key talking points when it comes to gun regulations.

“In many of the places around this country where they have the toughest gun laws, they have the highest violent crime rates. And we focus on a tragedy like this. It’s an awful tragedy. It’s terrible. But it is the exception to violence in America. Violence in America — that’s happened on our streets in our cities, like Chicago, up 19 percent, the murder rate. New York, up 11 percent. And you have some of the most aggressive gun laws in cities like that.”

What Republicans always fail to mention is that guns have a tendency to flow into urban cities and states with strict gun control laws from ones that have lenient gun restrictions. This was shown when a report was released showing the origins of 50,000 guns that were confiscated in Chicago. Facing a surge in gun related violence, Baltimore’s Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake made it a point during the Conference of Mayors.

You can watch the interview here…

Alabama TV news panel scolds GOP over ‘fishy’ plan to close DMV offices in black communities

"Voice of Alabama Politics" on WNCF (screen grab)

“Voice of Alabama Politics” on WNCF (screen grab)

I wonder if anybody outside of that district really cares?  These commentators don’t.   It seems it’s just business as usual for the bigots and haters and everyone has to leave it up to a highly conservative Supreme Court to sort it out.  This scenario has been playing out for as long as there has been a conservative majority on the Supreme Court.  KS


A Panel of political experts in Alabama blasted the state on Sunday for appearing to target the African-Americans by closing driver’s license offices in black communities.

Just a year after enacting voter photo ID laws, the state of Alabama announced last week that it was closing 31 satellite DMV offices. As AL.com’s John Archibald pointed out, the move means that driver’s licenses offices will be closed in every county with 75 percent registered black voters.

“This is a result of the budget,” Voice of Alabama Politics host McMillan Strong noted. “But what’s the game plan? It looks fishy.”

“Not everyone cares that they closed 31 driver’s license offices,” Alabama Political Reporter Associate Editor Susan Britt explained. “They’re saying it only affects 5 percent of overall driver’s licenses in the state. But what does that tell you? That tells you that these are in rural areas, they are out in very small populations. They would have to drive a long distance to get a driver’s license — or a voter ID.”

“It appears on the surface, at least from a cursory glance, that this is disproportionately targeting folks in the black belt and racial minorities,” Strong observed. “It really does, I’m sorry.”

“Those are rural areas and if you’re going to target rural areas for closures because they’re not as busy, naturally there’s going to be a lot of overlap there,” political strategist Baron Coleman agreed. “But from an optics perspective, when you’re requiring voter ID and you go close the only place to get a voter ID in counties like Macon, Lowndes, Sumter, Hale, Greene — it’s bad optics, I’ll say that.”

“It may be not coincidental, but just the nature of how you have to do these things,” Strong opined. “But it is obvious that they are targeting more Democrats that they are Republicans.”

“You have to take into [account] that a lot of these communities are very poor,” Britt added. “And do they have the money to travel, do they have the $20 in gas that it takes to get there and back?”

Watch the video below from WNCF, broadcast Oct. 4, 2015.