Posted: August 7, 2014 Filed under: Middle East, morning reads, religion, Religious Conscience, religious extremists
I’ve been spending a lot of time studying all kinds of things on the Middle East recently because I believe the human rights violations committed by extremist religious states are dire. It’s almost impossible to pick out a region of the world these days–or a continent–where religious extremists aren’t committing atrocities and removing the rights of others.
I want to start with ISIS. ISIS is a radical Sunni Jihadist group that is tearing through parts of Iraq and Syria. They are destroying historical sites, villages, homes, and competing religions in an attempt to create a homeland for radical Sunnis. They have recently attacked the Yazidis and the Kurds. Yazidis are a hybrid of various traditions of Islam–primarily of the Sufi school–and Zoroastrianism. There are hundreds of thousands of displaced citizens due to recent ISIS aggression into the region.
A humanitarian crisis that could turn into a genocide is taking place right now in the mountains of northwestern Iraq. It hasn’t made the front page, because the place and the people are obscure, and there’s a lot of other horrible news to compete with. I’ve learned about it mainly because the crisis has upended the life of someone I wrote about in the magazine several weeks ago.
Last Sunday, Karim woke up around 7:30 A.M., after coming home late the night before. He was about to have breakfast when his phone rang—a friend was calling to see how he was doing. Karim is a Yazidi, a member of an ancient religious minority in Iraq. Ethnically, he’s Kurdish. An engineer and a father of three young children, Karim spent years working for the U.S. Army in his area, then for an American medical charity. He’s been waiting for months to find out whether the U.S. government will grant him a Special Immigrant Visa because of his service, and because of the danger he currently faces.
Karim is from a small town north of the district center, Sinjar, between Mosul and the Syrian border. Sinjar is a historic Yazidi area with an Arab minority. Depending on who’s drawing the map, Sinjar belongs to either the northernmost part of Iraq or the westernmost part of Kurdistan. Since June, when extremist fighters from the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham captured Mosul, they’ve been on the outskirts of Sinjar, facing off against a small number of Kurdish peshmerga militiamen. ISIS regards Yazidis as devil worshippers, and its fighters have been executing Yazidi men who won’t convert to Islam on the spot, taking away the women as jihadi brides. So there were many reasons why a friend might worry about Karim.
“I don’t know,” Karim said. “My situation is O.K.” “No, it’s not O.K.!” his friend said. “Sinjar is under the control of ISIS.”
Karim had not yet heard this calamitous news. “I’ll call some friends and get back to you,” he said.
But the cell network was jammed, so Karim walked to his father’s house. His father told him that thousands of people from Sinjar were headed their way, fleeing north through the mountains to get out of Iraq and into Kurdistan. It suddenly became clear that Karim would have to abandon his home and escape with his family.
ISIS had launched its attack on Sinjar during the night. Peshmerga militiamen were outgunned—their assault rifles against the extremists’ captured fifty-caliber guns, rocket-propelled grenades, mortars, anti-aircraft weapons, and armored vehicles. The Kurds began to run out of ammunition, and those who could retreated north toward Kurdistan. By dawn, the extremists were pouring into town. Later, ISIS posted triumphant photos on Twitter: bullet-riddled corpses of peshmerga in the streets and dirt fields; an ISIS fighter aiming his pistol at the heads of five men lying face down on the ground; Arab locals who stayed in Sinjar jubilantly greeting the new occupiers.
Karim had time to do just one thing: burn all the documents that connected him to America—photos of him posing with Army officers, a CD from the medical charity—in case he was stopped on the road by militants or his house was searched. He watched the record of his experience during the period of the Americans in Iraq turn to ash, and felt nothing except the urge to get to safety.
The Yezidi are now a diaspora trapped on a mountainside. They practice some of the oldest religious traditions mankind invented and many of their practices and myths found their way to much younger traditions like Christianity.
They are scared of lettuce. They abhor pumpkins. They practise maybe the oldest religion in the world. And now, after at least 6,000 years, they are finally being exterminated, even as I write this.
If you haven’t noticed this epochal crime – the raping and the slaughter – you’re not alone. Of late, the world has focused on the horrors of Gaza. When we’ve had time to acknowledge the Satanic cruelties of Isis, in Iraq, we’ve looked to the barbaric treatment of women, and Christians. Yet the genocide of the Yezidi, by Isis, is as evil as anything going on right now in the Middle East; it is also uniquely destructive of a remarkable cultural survival.
So who are the Yezidi? Some years ago I studied them when researching a thriller. I also traveled to meet their small diaspora community, in Celle, north Germany. And what I found was astonishing.
Yezidism is much older than Islam, and much older than Christianity. It is also deeply peculiar. The Yezidi honour sacred trees. Women must not cut their hair. Marriage is forbidden in April. They avoid wearing dark blue because it is “too holy”.
They are divided strictly into castes, who cannot marry each other. The upper castes are polygamous. Anyone of the faith who marries a non-Yezidi risks ostracism, or worse. Yezidism is syncretistic: it combines elements of many faiths. Like Hindus, they believe in reincarnation. Like ancient Mithraists, they sacrifice bulls. They practise baptism, like Christians. When they pray, they face the sun – like Zoroastrians. There are also strong links with Sufism, the mystical branch of Islam.
Then there is the devil worship: arguably, the Yezidi worship what Christians or Muslims might call “Satan”, though the Yezidi call him “Melek Taus”, and he appears in the form of a peacock angel.
Why might Melek Taus be “the devil”? For a start, the Yezidi believe the peacock angel led a rebellion in heaven: clearly echoing the story of Lucifer, cast into Hell by the Christian God. Also, the very word “Melek” is cognate with “Moloch”, the name of a Biblical demon – who demanded human sacrifice.
The avian imagery of Melek Taus likewise indicates a demonic aspect. The Yezidi come from the ancient lands of Sumeria and Assyria, in modern-day Turkey, Iraq and Kurdistan. Sumerian gods were often cruel, and equipped with beaks and wings. Birdlike. Three thousand years ago the Assyrians worshipped flying demons, spirits of the desert wind. One was the scaly-winged demon in The Exorcist: Pazuzu.
The Yezidi reverence for birds – and snakes – also appears to be extremely old. Excavations at ancient Catalhoyuk, in Turkey, show that the people there revered bird-gods as long ago as 7000BC. Even older is Gobekli Tepe, a megalithic site near Sanliurfa, in Kurdish Turkey (Sanliurfa was once a stronghold of Yezidism). The extraordinary temple of Gobekli Tepe boasts carvings of winged birdmen, and images of buzzards and serpents.
Taking all this evidence into account, a fair guess is that Yezidism is a vastly ancient form of bird-worship, that could date back 6,000 years or more. If this is right, it means that Yezidism is therefore the Ur-religion, the mother ship of Middle Eastern faiths, and it is us who have incorporated Yezidi myths and beliefs into our religions, of Christianity and Islam and Judaism.
ISIS is literally exterminating all those individuals of rival religions. It is destroying their places of worship and any historical artifacts related to their existence.
The Yezidi religion is part of the Kurdish identity. Iraqi Kurdistan’s flag eschews the crescent moon so common on the flags of Islamic countries and opts for fire imagery from the Yezidi religion instead. Many years ago I interviewed the president of Duhok University in Iraq Kurdistan and he seemed to speak for the majority when he professed his affection for these people and their ancient religion. “I am a Muslim,” he told me. “But I love the Yezidis. Theirs is the original religion of the Kurds. Only through the Yezidis can I speak to God in my own language.”
Sinjar is a Kurdish town, but it’s in Nineveh province outside the Kurdish autonomous region. The armed Kurdish Peshmerga forces operating there ran out of ammunition and had little choice but to retreat in the wake of the ISIS assault. Tens of thousands of civilians fled the area and are stranded atop a remote mountain without food, water, or shelter.
Eight years ago I visited the Yezidi “Mecca” in Lalish, Iraq, inside the Kurdish autonomous region a ways south of Duhok. This is where the Yezidis believe the universe was born. Eternal flames burn forever in little shrines. Baba Sheik, their leader, showed me around and took me into their temple.
“All people in the world should be brothers,” he said. “You are welcome here for the rest of your life.”
Meanwhile, we continue to witness the effects of the latest Israeli attack on Gaza. This includes reactions that may surprise you. Universities are supposed to grant professors academic freedom to express unpopular ideas. It’s a hallmark of a free country and an open learning environment. Today, an Arab American professor has lost his job due to his open support of the Palestinian cause on Twitter. I’m going to refer you to the blog of Corey Robin.
Until two weeks ago, Steven Salaita was heading to a job at the University of Illinois as a professor of American Indian Studies. He had already resigned from his position at Virginia Tech; everything seemed sewn up. Now the chancellor of the University of Illinois has overturned Salaita’s appointment and rescinded the offer. Because of Israel.
The sources familiar with the university’s decision say that concern grew over the tone of his comments on Twitter about Israel’s policies in Gaza….
For instance, there is this tweet: “At this point, if Netanyahu appeared on TV with a necklace made from the teeth of Palestinian children, would anybody be surprised? #Gaza.” Or this one: “By eagerly conflating Jewishness and Israel, Zionists are partly responsible when people say antisemitic shit in response to Israeli terror.” Or this one: “Zionists, take responsibility: if your dream of an ethnocratic Israel is worth the murder of children, just fucking own it already.”
In recent weeks, bloggers and others have started to draw attention to Salaita’s comments on Twitter. But as recently as July 22 (before the job offer was revoked), a university spokeswoman defended Salaita’s comments on Twitter and elsewhere. A spokeswoman told The News-Gazette for an article about Salaita that “faculty have a wide range of scholarly and political views, and we recognize the freedom-of-speech rights of all of our employees.”
I’ve written about a number of these types of cases over the past few years, but few have touched me the way this one has.
It’s unbelievable to me that the University of Illinois could be quite so blind to the principles of academic freedom. This is a principle worth defending.
While Salaita has been until very recently very active on Twitter, he stopped posting several days ago, which is unusual for him. He is an active writer beyond Twitter, with op-eds (which of late have identified him as an Illinois professor) and with campaigns on behalf of the movement to organize an academic boycott of Israel. He has also published scholarly books, including Israel’s Dead Soul (Temple University Press) and Arab American Literary Fictions, Cultures, and Politics (Palgrave Macmillan).
Salaita’s writing last year, while at Virginia Tech, drew fierce attacks (including death threats). In a piece in Salon, he questioned the idea that people should be asked in various ways to “support the troops.”
“ ‘Support the troops’ is the most overused platitude in the United States, but still the most effective for anybody who seeks interpersonal or economic ingratiation,” Salaita wrote. “The platitude abounds with significance but lacks the burdens of substance and specificity. It says something apparently apolitical while patrolling for heresy to an inelastic logic. Its only concrete function is to situate users into normative spaces.”
While Virginia Tech did not fire him (as many critics urged it to do), some faculty members thought the university — in pointing out that his views didn’t reflect those of the institution — didn’t do enough to defend his academic freedom.
Some who have raised questions about Salaita at Illinois have stressed that they are focused on what they see as incivility and bigotry, not opposition to Israeli or American policies.
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Posted: May 7, 2014 Filed under: 2014 elections, 2016 elections, abortion rights, Africa, Capital Punishment aka Death Penalty, child sexual abuse, children, Congress, corporate greed, court rulings, Discrimination against women, education, Foreign Affairs, fundamentalist Christians, Hillary Clinton, Israel, Journalism, misogyny, morning reads, Nigeria, Psychopaths in charge, racism, religion, Religious Conscience, religious extremists, Republican politics, Revisionism, science, SCOTUS, the GOP, The Right Wing, torture, Violence against women, Women's Rights | Tags: and Technology (FIRST) Act of 2014", “Frontiers in Innovation, Boko Haram, Greece v. Galloway, Research, science, transportation housing and urban development (THUD) appropriations bill
Can you feel it? A Minkoff rant coming to ya? Yeah, it is…so just roll with it, you may find this post all over the place. But then y’all know how I get when this happens so, I will just get on with it.
First off, this shit with the Supreme Court and public prayer at town meetings. You know…what the fuck happened to a moment of silence? Do they still do that? I mean if you are going to take time out to pray a little, do it to yourself on the quiet…if you want to…because this shit SCOTUS just ruled on gives the Christian right to fuck over anyone who isn’t born again. By that I mean you too Catholics! Which is something I think those who do vote “Republican” and are Catholic seem to fail to grasp.
You see them, especially here in small towns like Banjoville. They are high and mighty evil bastards who feel above you and actually discriminate against those who are not “born again.” That means those of the Catholic, Anglican/Episcopal faith…Jews, Buddhist, Muslims, oh you all know what I am talking about.
They will say the most horrible things to kids too…shit that is beyond fucked up! And…they teach their children to behave just like them. It is an endless cycle of disgusting behavior in the name of Jesus. (Excuse me…Geeezus.)
All this shit about prayer in schools, is not for any other prayer but theirs.
It is only their religious freedom they are concerned with.
It is only their “God” or “Gawd” they consider real and therefore legitimate.
So many conservatives who are not in line with the “christian” way of believing do not get this…they don’t realize that these assholes are not really speaking for them. They vote for these bastards because they only see them as the politician who spouts on about praying in school, and other conservative value shit…but they don’t see the big picture behind it.
And why am I picking on these Jesus freaks? Because these are also the people who are the hypocritical bastards, and act the least charitable. They are hateful motherfuckers and prejudice and judgmental too. They say horrible things with an air of snotty intolerant Baptist superiority. (This is from my experience here in the Southern bible belt.) Both men and women are misogynistic as hell, the women are not supportive of other women within their circle and the girls are awful to other girls who are, “not one of them.” They take any reason and twist it, manipulate it into a reason for Geezus. It is unbelievable the way they can justify their behavior…I don’t know how they can do it and consider themselves “good Christians.”
This is the backbone of the GOP, the conservatives who are changing the laws in this nation bit by bit. The assholes that are cutting out all social programs and any hope for a future in areas of science and discovery. I can honestly say these people are ruining this country. Maybe that is taking it too far, I don’t know. But what the fuck is wrong with these people?
I am afraid, really I am.
I see what a small town mentality is like and I see it is taking over our Supreme Court. It has taken over our House of Representatives and it damn well can take over the Senate.
Gawd help us…what the hell are we going to do?
Here then are the links for today, there are a lot of them so some are in link dump fashion.
First a group of stories illustrating some of the talking points above.
Rep. Paul Ryan targest Poor as his “Signature Issue”, and I do Mean Targets (Cartoon) | Informed Comment
House Bill Cuts Transit, Housing Assistence | BobCesca.com | News and Politics Blog and Podcast | We Cover the World
House Republicans have unveiled their version of the transportation, housing and urban development (THUD) appropriations bill and, not surprisingly, it cuts funding by nearly $2 billion.
The bill cuts TIGER grants, a favorite of many lawmakers, by $500 million to a total of $100 million. It does not allow funds for bike and pedestrian paths.
The FAA is funded at $7.3 million below the fiscal year 2014 enacted level and the Federal Railroad Administration is funded at $1.4 billion, a reduction of $193 million. There is no funding for high speed rail, an Obama priority.
To cut costs, Amtrak would be required to put overtime limits on employees and not use federal funding for routes where Amtrak offers a discount of 50 percent or more peak fares.
All together, the House bill would set spending at a level nearly $8 billion less than what President Obama requested for the next fiscal year.
Opposition to the president’s request isn’t earth shattering news, but House Republicans going out their way to eliminating funding for bike paths and railway while instituting overtime limits for Amtrak employees is certainly illuminating.
Republicans have a big problem with pedestrian-friendly urban and mass transportation. You know, hallmarks of socialism; liberal stuff.
The Next Frontier In The War Over Science
The Obama administration and the scientific community at large are expressing serious alarm at a House Republican bill that they argue would dramatically undermine way research is conducted in America.
Titled the “Frontiers in Innovation, Research, Science, and Technology (FIRST) Act of 2014,” the bill would put a variety of new restrictions on how funds are doled out by the National Science Foundation. The goal, per its Republican supporters on the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, would be to weed out projects whose cost can’t be justified or whose sociological purpose is not apparent.
For Democrats and advocates, however, the FIRST Act represents a dangerous injection of politics into science and a direct assault on the much-cherished peer-review process by which grants are awarded.
“We have a system of peer-review science that has served as a model for not only research in this country but in others,” said Bill Andresen, the associate vice president of Federal Affairs at the University of Pennsylvania. “The question is, does Congress really think it has the better ability to determine the scientific merit of grant applications or should it be left up to the scientists and their peers?”
In recent weeks, the Obama administration and science agencies have — in less-than-subtle terms — offered up similar criticisms of the FIRST Act. At an American Association for the Advancement of Science forum on Thursday, presidential science adviser John Holdren said he was “concerned with a number of aspects” of the bill.
“It appears aimed at narrowing the focus of NSF-funded research to domains that are applied to various national interests other than simply advancing the progress of science,” Holdren said.
Meanwhile, in a show of protest that several officials in the science advocacy community could not recall having witnessed before, the National Science Board released a statement in late April criticizing the bill. As the oversight body to the National Science Foundation, the NSB traditionally stays out of legislative fights. So when it warned that the FIRST Act could “significantly impede NSF’s flexibility to deploy its funds to support the best ideas,” advocates said they were surprised and pleased.
“The fact that the NSB commented on legislation, I don’t know if it is unprecedented but it is at least extremely unusual,” said Barry Toiv, a top official at the Association of American Universities. “And we think that speaks to the really serious problems posed by the legislation.”
Susie Madrak » Blog Archive » See how that works?
Despite all the pissing and money about the district wasting money on outrageous teacher salaries and pensions, seems the real problem is the Santa Claus provision our Republican-dominated legislature ticked away into state law. This is, of course, contrary to the right-wing wisdom shared on our local newspaper site, but oh well! Nobody cares about schools, anyway:
Unless the Philadelphia School District raises more than $200 million extra in a hurry, Moody’s Investors Service warned it will cut the district’s bond rating — which is already down at Ba2, junk status, forcing the district to pay extra when it borrows money — because the district’s proposed $2.5 billion budget for the next fiscal year will “materially imperil its ability to provide students with an adequate education.”
Without $216 million in additional funding, Moody’s analyst Dan Seymour wrote in a report to clients, the district threatens to increase the average class size to 41 students and lay off more than 1,000 staff. ” This is credit negative because a further deterioration in education services will likely result in additional student flight to charter schools and other alternatives,” further reducing district revenues, Seymour added. 3 in 10 Philadelphia students already go to charter schools.
“Rising charter school enrollments have been a drag on the district’s finances, as state law mandates that public school districts pay the costs of sending students to charter schools. Driven largely by charter school tuition costs, the district’s costs per pupil have increased 70% since 2004. Further enrollment declines would exacerbate the district’s financial pressure as charter schools capture a larger share of the district’s expenditures,” Moody’s adds.
Conservatives Have Free Reign In Kansas. It’s Failing. | The Daily Banter
In Kansas, Republicans dominate the state government. They have the Governorship (Former Senator Sam Brownback), the State House (92-33 for the GOP), and the State Senate (32-8 for the GOP). Democrats don’t have a say in this blood red state that went 60%-37% for Mitt Romney in 2012.
Brownback and his buddies have enacted all manner of conservative economic policy in the state. Cutting taxes, etcetera. What is the result? Guess.
Citing a sluggish recovery from the recession, risk inherent in the governor’s tax plan and uncertainty over the Legislature’s ability to keep cutting spending, one of the nation’s two major debt rating agencies downgraded Kansas’ credit rating Thursday.
Moody’s Investors Service dropped Kansas from its second-highest bond rating, Aa1, to its third highest, Aa2. The Kansas Department of Transportation also took the same downgrade.
As Businesweekexplained, “the immediate effect has been to blow a hole in the state’s finances without noticeable economic growth.”
Even with the cut in taxes, big companies like Applebee’s and Boeing have moved out of Kansas.
As a result, the most recent polling there shows Brownback’s approval rating down to 33%, while he’s slightly behind the Democratic challenger.
In Kansas, they can’t (honestly) blame liberals for this. They’ve been given a free hand. They were able to enact whatever they wanted, and it has been a miserable failure at a time when other states – including very blue Democratic states like here in Maryland – have been recovering from the Bush recession.
Because conservative economics doesn’t actually work. It is a faith based program untethered from reality. The numbers don’t add up and it is destructive to societies.
Charlie Crist Says He Became A Democrat Because Of GOP Racism
Charlie Crist said once again Tuesday that racism motivates many of President Obama’s most hostile GOP adversaries.
It was partly for that reason that Crist, the former Republican governor of Florida who’s now trying to reclaim his old job as a Democrat, broke with his former party.
“I couldn’t be consistent with myself and my core beliefs, and stay with a party that was so unfriendly toward the African-American president, I’ll just go there,” Crist told Fusion’s Jorge Ramos. “I was a Republican and I saw the activists and what they were doing, it was intolerable to me.”
Crist was savaged on the right when, as governor in 2009, he hugged Obama. He said earlier this year that racism motivated the outrage over the embrace.
“I think another part of it was that he was a Democrat, but not just a Democrat, an African-American,” Crist, who’s challenging Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R), said during an appearance on “The Colbert Report.”
Just 7 percent of journalists are Republicans. That’s far fewer than even a decade ago.
A majority of American journalists identify themselves as political independents although among those who choose a side Democrats outnumber Republicans four to one, according to a new study of the media conducted by two Indiana University professors.
Write Lars Wilnat and David Weaver, professors of journalism at Indiana, of their findings:
Compared with 2002, the percentage of full-time U.S. journalists who claim to be Democrats has dropped 8 percentage points in 2013 to about 28 percent, moving this figure closer to the overall population percentage of 30 percent, according to a December 12-15, 2013, ABC News/Washington Post national poll of 1,005 adults. This is the lowest percentage of journalists saying they are Democrats since 1971. An even larger drop was observed among journalists who said they were Republicans in 2013 (7.1 percent) than in 2002 (18 percent), but the 2013 figure is still notably lower than the percentage of U.S. adults who identified with the Republican Party (24 percent according to the poll mentioned above).
That link about the journalist is more for information purposes. Read what else Cillizza thinks too at that link.
Los Angeles now spending more on Wall Street fees than on maintaining roads | PandoDaily
Los Angeles councilman Paul Koretz has called for banks NY Mellon and Dexia to return $65 million in “unfair profits and termination payments” they received between 2008 and 2014. This follows a report (embedded below) revealing that the city spent more than $200 million in fees to Wall Street in 2013 alone. Koretz says he may push the city to take punitive action against the financial institutions involved if they do not renegotiate the deal.
The report, published by the union-backed Fix LA Coalition, notes that “the City of Los Angeles last year spent more on Wall Street fees than it did on our streets.” Indeed, the report notes the city “paid Wall Street $204 million in fees, spending only $163 million on the Bureau of Street Services.”
The fees are connected to the controversial interest-rate-swap deal cemented by Los Angeles in 2006. It is a deal similar to those engineered by Wall Street in cities across the country. Those deals have made headlines in recent years in some of the country’s most high-profile municipal budget crises.
For instance, a recent study by former Goldman Sachs investment banker Wallace Turbeville found that an interest-rate swap deal was a primary driver of Detroit’s fiscal crisis. Noting that the banks used the city’s bankruptcy to demand “upwards of $250-350 million in swap termination payments,” Turbeville concluded that “a strong case can be made that the banks that sold these swaps may have breached their ethical, and possibly legal, obligations to the city in executing these deals.” (A court recently reduced the amount the city has to pay Wall Street to unwind the deals).
Border Patrol rarely punishes agents accused of abuse, study shows | Courts & Crime | McClatchy DC
A new report by an immigration watchdog finds that the United States’ largest federal law enforcement agency rarely punishes its agents for their mistreatment of immigrants and American citizens.
The report by the American Immigration Council found that 97 percent of abuse complaints lodged against Border Patrol agents and Customs and Border Protection officers resulted in no disciplinary action once an investigation had been completed. Those included a complaint from a pregnant woman in El Paso, Texas, that she had miscarried after a Border Patrol agent kicked her in the stomach, and several complaints from women that they had been forced to bare their breasts while in custody.
The survey also found that many complaints against U.S. border agents take years to resolve. The council reviewed 809 complaints filed in the three years from January 2009 to January 2012. But of those, only 485 had been investigated and resolved. The remainder are still under investigation, including a nearly 5-year-old allegation of forced sexual intercourse lodged July 30, 2009, against a Border Patrol agent in El Centro, Calif.
Among the cases that were still “pending investigation, the average number of days between the date the complaint was filed and the last record date provided in the data set was 389 days,” the report said.
“This absolutely confirms the experiences of our border families and communities,” said Vicki Gaubeca, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Regional Center for Border Rights in New Mexico. “U.S. Customs and Border Protection is now the largest law enforcement agency in the nation, and yet this massive buildup of border enforcement resources has not been matched with adequate accountability and oversight.”
And about that SCOTUS decision:
With the Supreme Court’s Help, Religion Creeps Toward the State – Garrett Epps – The Atlantic
The 5-4 decision in Town of Greece v. Galloway shows how far the ground has shifted under the Establishment Clause in the last 30 years.
Supreme Court: Tear Down This Wall!
Yesterday’s ruling in Greece v. Galloway is an affront to religious equality, but it also reflects the poisoned fruit of a bad precedent.
Symposium: Town of Greece v. Galloway going forward : SCOTUSblog
Symposium: Dismantling the wall that should separate church and state : SCOTUSblog
Symposium: Thoughts on Town of Greece – if the kilt fits : SCOTUSblog
In fact for SCOTUSblog coverage look here: Town of Greece v. Galloway : SCOTUSblog
With all this shit that happened yesterday, and the recent other shit like the repeal of some key parts of the Civil Rights Act, this next article should come as a surprise: Supreme Court popularity rebounds, survey says | Suits & Sentences | McClatchy DC
The Supreme Court’s popularity has rebounded, with more than half of U.S. residents surveyed now voicing a favorable view of the justices, a new survey finds.
The Pew Research Center survey, conducted last month among 1,501 adults, found that 56 percent have a favorable view of the court, while 35 percent had an unfavorable view. Last July, only 48 percent held a favorable view of the court. That rating was among the lowest ever recorded by the court, though still well above the abysmal poll numbers earned by Congress.
Intriguingly, 63 percent of Democrats have a favorable view of the court led by conservative Chief Justice John Roberts, Jr., compared to 54 percent of Republicans.
Take a deep breath…I know I have to. More after the jump.
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Posted: March 25, 2014 Filed under: morning reads, Real Life Horror, religion, religious extremists, Reproductive Health, Reproductive Rights, SCOTUS, U.S. Politics, War on Women, Women's Healthcare, Women's Rights, worker rights | Tags: abortion, Affordable Care Act, Antonin Scalia, Are Women Human?, Are Women People?, Birth Control, Citizen's United, contraception, Hobby Lobby, Manhattan Declaration, Obamacare, religious freedom, Sandra Fluke, U.S. Constitution
Question for today: Are women human? Are we people in the eyes of our government? We’ve been told that corporations are people. We know that white men are people–that was established by the U.S. Constitution when it was ratified in 1789. Since that time, there have been amendments that granted some rights to non-white men and to women. We can vote now. Does that mean our government recognizes our humanity?
Today our ultra-conservative, mostly Catholic Supreme Court will hear two cases that bring this question to the forefront, and the Court’s decisions may give us some answers to the question of whether American women are officially people with individual rights.
From MSNBC: Supreme Court to hear birth control case
Depending on whom you ask, Tuesday morning’s oral argument at the Supreme Court is about whether Obamacare can keep treading on religious liberty – or it’s about a woman’s right to access contraception on her employee insurance plan, no matter what her employer thinks of it. Either way, it is the first time the Affordable Care Act will be at the nation’s highest Court since it was first largely upheld as constitutional. The same two men as in that case, current Solicitor General Don Verrilli and former Bush administration solicitor general Paul Clement, are facing off to argue over a narrower provision.
Before the Supreme Court decides whether the contraceptive coverage required of insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act violates a 1993 law governing religious liberty, it has to settle the threshold question: Does a corporation even have religious liberty?
I think the question about the rights of women is far broader than that. Without access to birth control and abortion, a woman has no real autonomy as a human being. If she becomes pregnant–even through rape–she loses the ability to make choices about her future life. It has been a relatively short period of time since women have had the power to make those choices. But that power has led to other advances for women–such as the right to prosecute a rapist or an abusive boyfriend or husband, the right to have credit in her own name, the right to an education, and entry into careers from which women were previously blocked. We can only hope that the justices see clearly what their decisions will mean for women’s lives and women’s personhood.
Back to the MSNBC article:
Hobby Lobby Stores, an Oklahoma-based, evangelical-owned craft chain with about 13,000 employees, and Conestoga Wood Specialties, a small Mennonite-owned cabinet maker in Pennsylvania, sued the administration and got two very different answers from the lower courts. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals declared of Hobby Lobby that “such corporations can be ‘persons’ exercising religion.” In ruling on Conestoga’s bid for exemption from the requirement, the Third Circuit disagreed: “For-profit secular corporations cannot exercise in religious exercise.”
The companies are among the 47 for-profit corporations that have objected to their company plans complying with the minimum coverage requirements under the Affordable Care Act. Under those regulations, contraception is covered fully, without a co-pay, as preventive care. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood object to a handful of contraceptives that they speculate can block a fertilized egg, which is neither documented in the science nor the medical definition of abortion. Other for-profit plaintiffs object to any birth control coverage at all….
The Obama administration says that the government has a compelling interest in women’s health and in gender equality. The Department of Health and Human Services agreed to classify contraceptives as preventive care after considering testimony from medical experts, who cited the country’s high rate of unintended pregnancy and the persistence cost barriers to accessing effective birth control.
Some legal experts argue that to rule for Hobby Lobby would be imposing religion on others, by forcing the women who work for such companies to pay the cost of their employers’ religion. Frederick Gedicks, a law professor at Brigham Young, has even argued in a brief before the Court that doing so would violate the establishment clause of the First Amendment.
What will SCOTUS decide?
At NPR, Nina Totenberg offers some scary quotes from Steve Green, the president of Hobby Lobby:
“We believe that the principles that are taught scripturally is what we should operate our lives by … and so we cannot be a part of taking life,” explains Hobby Lobby President Steve Green.
“It’s our rights that are being infringed upon to require us to do something against our conscience,” adds CEO and founder David Green.
Using birth control is “taking a life?” Apparently one of the arguments Hobby Lobby is using that–contrary to scientific facts–some forms of birth control are equal to abortion. So is every sperm is sacred too? Should men be prosecuted for masturbating? But those questions are not likely to be asked, because it is already legally established that men are people.
At the WaPo, Sandra Fluke writes: At the Supreme Court, a potential catastrophe for women’s rights.
Unlike my congressional testimony in 2012, which was about Georgetown University — a Catholic-affiliated university — refusing to include contraception in student insurance because it was a religiously affiliated school, the institutions arguing before the Supreme Court are not houses of worship or religious non-profits. The Affordable Care Act already includes special arrangements for those types of organizations. These are private, for-profit corporations — a craft store and a cabinet manufacturer — that want to be excluded from health insurance and employment laws because of bosses’ personal views.
Laws that include religious protection have never given corporations the right to have religious views, and it would be a terrible idea to make such an enormous change to our legal precedent now. Our laws protect individuals’ private religious beliefs, but when you cross over into the public sphere to become a corporation and make a profit off of the public, you must abide by the public’s laws.
Depending on the court’s rulings, the cases’ outcomes could deny millions of women coverage of any or all forms of birth control, limiting women’s ability to control their reproductive health, plan their pregnancies and manage their lives. As I testified, women also need birth control for many other medical reasons, including relief of painful health problems like endometriosis.
And, Fluke argues, recognizing a right for corporations to hold religious views will open the door to
Allowing any private employer to dictate which laws fit inside its religious beliefs could upset the necessary balance of both religious liberty and employee health and safety laws. Depending on the exact ruling, any for-profit corporation could cut off its employees’ insurance coverage for blood transfusions, vaccinations or HIV treatment — all of which some Americans have religious objections to. Any critical health coverage the boss doesn’t agree with could be eliminated.
Furthermore, SCOTUS could not limit these proposed “religious freedoms” to Christians.
Although this country predominantly descends from a Judeo-Christian tradition, our valuable religious protection laws ensure that anyone is free to practice any religion they want, including religions whose belief systems and practices many of us would disagree with vehemently. In fact, far-ranging beliefs that are not associated with any organized religion could be used to justify a corporation’s practices as well.
Sahil Kapur of TPM points out that Justice Scalia, who might be expected to vote in favor of a corporate “right to religious freedom,” will have to deal with one of his previous rulings: Justice Scalia’s Past Comes Back To Haunt Him On Birth Control.
In 1990, Scalia wrote the majority opinion in Employment Division v. Smith, concluding that the First Amendment “does not require” the government to grant “religious exemptions” from generally applicable laws or civic obligations. The case was brought by two men in Oregon who sued the state for denying them unemployment benefits after they were fired from their jobs for ingesting peyote, which they said they did because of their Native American religious beliefs.
“[T]he right of free exercise does not relieve an individual of the obligation to comply with a valid and neutral law of general applicability,” Scalia wrote in the 6-3 majority decision, going on to aggressively argue that such exemptions could be a slippery slope to lawlessness and that “[a]ny society adopting such a system would be courting anarchy.”
“The rule respondents favor would open the prospect of constitutionally required religious exemptions from civic obligations of almost every conceivable kind,” he wrote, “ranging from compulsory military service, to the payment of taxes, to health and safety regulation such as manslaughter and child neglect laws, compulsory vaccination laws, drug laws, and traffic laws; to social welfare legislation such as minimum wage laws, child labor laws, animal cruelty laws, environmental protection laws, and laws providing for equality of opportunity for the races.”
That opinion could haunt the jurist if he seeks to invalidate the birth control rule.
“Scalia will have to reckon with his own concern in Smith about the lawlessness and chaos created by liberal exemptions to generally applicable law,” said Adam Winkler, a constitutional law professor at UCLA. “For him to uphold an exemption now is to invite more of the lawlessness that he warned about.”
At Think Progress, Ian Millhiser addresses the right wing organizations that have waged a concerted war against women’s rights during the past several years: Read This One Document To Understand What The Christian Right Hopes To Gain From Hobby Lobby.
2009 was a grim year for social conservatives. Barack Obama was an ambitious and popular new president. Republicans, and their conservative philosophy, were largely discredited in the public eye by a failed war and a massive recession. And the GOP’s effort to reshape its message was still in its awkward adolescence. If the conservative movement had a mascot, it would have been a white man dressed as Paul Revere and waving a misspelled sign.
Amidst this wreckage, more than two hundred of the nation’s leading Christian conservatives joined together in a statement expressing their dismay at the state of the nation. “Many in the present administration want to make abortions legal at any stage of fetal development,” their statement claimed, while “[m]ajorities in both houses of Congress hold pro-abortion views.” Meanwhile, they feared that the liberals who now controlled the country “are very often in the vanguard of those who would trample upon the freedom of others to express their religious and moral commitments to the sanctity of life and to the dignity of marriage as the conjugal union of husband and wife.”
The signatories to this statement, which they named the “Manhattan Declaration,” included many of America’s most prominent Catholic bishops and clergy of similar prominence in other Christian sects. It included leaders oftop anti-gay organizations like the National Organization for Marriage, and of more broadly focused conservative advocacy shops such as the Family Research Council. It included university presidents and deans from Christian conservative colleges. And it included the top editors from many of the Christian right’s leading publications.
Perhaps most significantly, however, the document’s signatories includes Alan Sears, the head of one of the two conservative legal groups litigating what are likely to be the two most important cases decided by the Supreme Court this term. Indeed, the Manhattan Declaration offers a virtual roadmap to understanding what religious conservatives hope to gain from Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood v. Sebelius, two cases the justices will hear Tuesday which present the question whether a business owner’s religious objections to birth control trump their legal obligation to include it in their employee’s health plan.
Read the gory details at the link.
Finally, I ask that everyone read this year-old article at Time Magazine by Jessica Winter, Subject for Debate: Are Women People? It is both darkly humorous and deadly serious.
All my adult life, I’ve been pretty sure I’m a sentient, even semi-competent human being. I have a job and an apartment; I know how to read and vote; I make regular, mostly autonomous decisions about what to eat for lunch and which cat videos I will watch whilst eating my lunch. But in the past couple of months, certain powerful figures in media and politics have cracked open that certitude.
You see, like most women, I was born with the chromosome abnormality known as “XX,” a deviation of the normative “XY” pattern. Symptoms of XX, which affects slightly more than half of the American population, include breasts, ovaries, a uterus, a menstrual cycle, and the potential to bear and nurse children. Now, many would argue even today that the lack of a Y chromosome should not affect my ability to make informed choices about what health care options and lunchtime cat videos are right for me. But others have posited, with increasing volume and intensity, that XX is a disability, even a roadblock on the evolutionary highway. This debate has reached critical mass, and leaves me uncertain of my legal and moral status. Am I a person? An object? A ward of the state? A “prostitute”? (And if I’m the last of these, where do I drop off my W-2?)
Please go read the whole thing. It’s not long.
So . . . those are my recommended reads for today. What stories are you following? Please post your links on any topic in the comment thread.
Posted: December 11, 2013 Filed under: Environment, Environmental Protection, Fox News, fundamentalist Christians, morning reads, nature, religion, religious extremists, Republican politics, science, the GOP, The Right Wing | Tags: Eleanor Parker, indian mascots, TCM, Trans-Pacific Partnership, war on christmas
We lost one of the most beautiful and talented actresses yesterday. Eleanor Parker passed away, she was 91 years old. This post features photographs of Eleanor and movie clips of some of my favorite scenes. TCM is going to have a memorial event for her on the evening of December 17th…so be sure to catch that.
Eleanor Parker, 91, Oscar-Nominated Actress, Dies – New York Times
Eleanor Parker, who was nominated three times for a best-actress Oscar but whose best-known role was a supporting one, as the marriage-minded baroness in “The Sound of Music,” died on Monday in Palm Springs, Calif. She was 91.
She was nominated for an Oscar for dramatic roles as a wrongly convicted young prisoner in “Caged” (1950), a police officer’s neglected wife in “Detective Story” (1951) and an opera star with polio in “Interrupted Melody” (1955), a biography of the Australian soprano Marjorie Lawrence. She also received an Emmy Award nomination in 1963 for an episode of “The Eleventh Hour,” an NBC series about psychiatric cases.
If she never became a star, admirers contended, it was because of her versatility. Sometimes a blonde, sometimes a brunette, often a redhead, Ms. Parker made indelible impressions but submerged herself in a wide range of characters, from a war hero’s noble fiancée in “Pride of the Marines” (1945) to W. Somerset Maugham’s vicious waitress-prostitute in a remake of “Of Human Bondage” (1946).
Eleanor Jean Parker was born on June 26, 1922, in Cedarville, Ohio, the daughter of a math teacher and his wife. She appeared in school plays as a child and, in her teens, headed for Massachusetts to study acting at the Rice Summer Theater in Martha’s Vineyard. Then she moved to California and studied at the Pasadena Playhouse.
From the LA Times: Eleanor Parker dies at 91; played baroness in ‘The Sound of Music’
“Eleanor Parker was and is one of the most beautiful ladies I have ever known,” said Plummer in a statement Monday. “I hardly believe the sad news for I was sure she was enchanted and would live forever.”
The fame accompanying Parker’s supporting but pivotal role in the enduring 1965 musical about the Von Trapp family was “something she came to make peace with” after many years, her son said Monday.
“It was a lovely role, and she was terrific in it,” Clemens said, “but it was hardly her greatest role. It was only in the last 10 years of her life that she became glad she had done the film. People of all ages know it.”
Eleanor Parker and Frank Sinatra in Otto Preminger’s The Man With The Golden Arm
The Hollywood Reporter: Actress Eleanor Parker Dies at 91
Eleanor Parker, who somehow remained a Hollywood mystery woman despite a dazzling array of work that included three best actress Oscar nominations in the 1950s, has died. She was 91.
Parker earned her Oscar noms during a remarkable six-year span. She played a naive 19-year-old who transforms into a hardened convict in Caged (1950); starred as Kirk Douglas’ wife with a secret in William Wyler’s film noir Detective Story (1951); and portrayed real-life Australian opera star and polio victim Marjorie Lawrence in Interrupted Melody (1955) opposite Glenn Ford.
During a career that spanned more than half a century, the Ohio native also starred as the smothering wife of recovering heroin addict Frank Sinatra in Otto Preminger’s tense The Man With the Golden Arm (1955); as a woman with three distinct personalities in the drama Lizzie (1957); and as the jealous baroness Elsa Schraeder in Robert Wise’s classic musical The Sound of Music (1965).
Screenwriter William Ludwig, who shared an Oscar for his work on Interrupted Melody, wrote in a 1986 biography about Parker that moviegoers “didn’t go to her films to see Miss Parker being Miss Parker in a different dress or locale. You went to see that person she created on film.”
That ability for the real-life person to disappear onscreen led author Doug McClelland to title the biography Eleanor Parker: Woman of a Thousand Faces.
“I don’t always recognize myself when I see my own [still] pictures,” Parker said in the book. “Even to me, they look like Ingrid Bergman, Pat Neal, Myrna Loy, Joan Fontaine and Eleanor Powell at various times. I never look like me. Frankly, I think all this is wonderful. What woman doesn’t like a little mystery about herself?”
Eleanor Jean Parker was born on June 26, 1922, in Cedarville, Ohio. Her father was a math teacher. At age 15, she attended the Rice Summer Theatre on Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, earning her keep “by [ushering] and waiting on tables. They finally let me appear in one play, a bit in What a Life!,” she told The New York Times.
TCM Remembers Eleanor Parker (1922-2013)
Woman in White and Naked Jungle. Both of those films fascinated me…I know Naked Jungle was a regular on Creature Feature…hell, Woman in White is haunting itself.
These old movies, Gone With The Wind, Jane Eyre (Orson Wells and Joan Fontaine), Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Woman in White are the keys that opened that door to books…reading and my love for the written word.
I read GWTW for the first time when I was 7 or 8 years old…It was a big deal for me, I remember taking it to school and reading it in the playground, all my friends would comment on how “thick” the book was.
Woman in White was the second “thick book” I read, I remember it vividly because after reading Gone With the Wind for the third time, I asked my mother to get me Wilkie Collins…having seen Eleanor Parker in the dual role on the local TV channel some late night.
Take a look at her in this scene from Woman in White…
Woman in White, The (1948) — (Movie Clip) I’m Afraid I’m Lost
and then wander through the links above…and spend some time to enjoy these clips from her films. She was one of the best.
So be sure to watch Eleanor Parker on December 17th, on Turner Classic Movies….and spend the day with one hell of an actress.
Oh, what would I do if it wasn’t for TCM.
(They were going to show Tony Richardson’s Hamlet with Nicol Williamson on Dec. 17th. I had been waiting a year for them to show it again…I hope they schedule it again soon.
If you have not seen this version of Hamlet it is the best. It is something else you should not miss.)
Before we get to the other morning links, here is the TCM Remembers video for 2013:
Okay the rest of today’s stories are in link dump fashion.
Let the Grievances Commence! Festivus Poles Being Erected in Wisconsin, Florida Capitals | Mediaite
Let’s see if this counts as part of the War on Christmas™: Festivus poles are being erected in both the Wisconsin and Florida state capitals, alongside the other holiday… sorry, Christmas displays. The holiday, famously started by Seinfeld‘s Frank Costanza, has taken on a life of its own and been symbolically embraced by secular groups in the years since. And now they’re fighting for a place at the table. Sometimes it’s a giant A, sometimes it’s a giant pole.
Madison, Wisconsin boasts a giant, 30-foot Christmas tree at the capital, not to mention a secular version of the “room at the inn” including Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, and Mark Twain, and also now happens to be home to a Festivus pole. The traditional airing of grievances will take place two days before Christmas, though sadly there will be no feats of strength.
Of course Fox found it a War on Christmas: Fox News host flips over atheist holiday display: ‘Baby Jesus is behind the Festivus pole!’ | The Raw Story
H/T Shakesville: 10 examples of Indian mascots “honoring” Native peoples | Native Appropriations
Indian mascots, they’re totes honoring to Native peoples, right? That’s what fans always tell us, at least. Inspired by this image above posted on twitter, from a Sonic in Benton, MO, I decided to take some time to compile a list of just a few instances of how these mascots totally “honor” Native people. This is just from memory, btw. There are so, so, so many more.
Charlie Pierce: Trans-Pacific Partnership Documents Released – Chickens Coming Home To Roost – Esquire
WikiLeaks and The Huffington Post have raised all kinds of unshirted hell this morning by publishing a trove of documents relating to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the gigantic new trade agreement which was negotiated largely in secret — unless, of course, you were a CEO or a lobbyist who worked for one — and which the administration is seeking to “fast-track” through Congress so as to avoid the kind of public scrutiny to which deals like this rarely stand up. OK, that last part’s me, but you get the point.
One of the most controversial provisions in the talks includes new corporate empowerment language insisted upon by the U.S. government, which would allow foreign companies to challenge laws or regulations in a privately run international court. Under World Trade Organization treaties, this political power to contest government law is reserved for sovereign nations. The U.S. has endorsed some corporate political powers in prior trade agreements, including the North American Free Trade Agreement, but the scope of what laws can be challenged appears to be much broader in TPP negotiations.
Read that and then look at this link that was in one of the comments on Charlie’s thread: Hightower Lowdown | The Trans-Pacific Partnership is not about free trade. It’s a corporate coup d’etat–against us!
(Just linking it here…not sure on Hightower himself. Is he reliable?)
Special report from the New York Times: Invisible Child: Dasani’s Homeless Life – The New York Times
Kudos to Joe Torre and Tony LaRussa: Joe Torre, Bobby Cox and Tony LaRussa elected to Baseball Hall of Fame by veterans committee – NY Daily News
Finally this cockroach is behind bars: Founder of revenge-porn site arrested in San Diego – SFGate
Oh and check out these cockroaches: Alien Cockroach Species Invading the U.S. – News Watch
Makes me think of that scene from Men in Black…
And finally: Rarest Orchid Species Rediscovered, Hochstetter’s Butterfly-Orchid Found In The Azores [PHOTO]
A team of botanists were surprised to Europe’s rarest orchid species growing in the Azores. Richard Bateman
One of Europe’s rarest orchid species has been rediscovered in the Azores, a group of volcanic islands in the North Atlantic Ocean.
The discovery of the Hochstetter’s butterfly-orchid confirms that the islands support three kinds of orchid species, rather than one. The findings, published in the journal PeerJ, explains how the rare species was found.
So delicate and beautiful. Well, that is all folks…have a wonderful day and share your thoughts and stories with us.