Thursday Reads: I Don’t Belong in This World

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Good Morning!!

I hardly know where to begin today. Following the news these days is like going through the looking glass into an alternate reality.

So often in my life I’ve felt that I don’t belong in this world. I have that feeling today. There are so many people and events that I just don’t understand.

I’ll begin with yesterday’s Supreme Court arguments in an important case about affirmative action. Yesterday in a comment, Dakinikat posted this article from Mother Jones: Justice Scalia Suggests Blacks Belong at “Slower” Colleges.

Scalia’s comments came during arguments in Fisher v. University of Texas, a case over whether the university’s use of race in a sliver of its admissions decisions is constitutional. The University of Texas-Austin is being challenged over its use of race in admissions decisions for about 25 percent of its freshman class. About 75 percent of the students at UT-Austin are admitted through what’s known as the Top Ten Percent program, in which any student graduating within the top 10 percent of his or her class is guaranteed admission, regardless of race. The other 25 percent are admitted via a “holistic” process that takes race, and other factors, into account. It’s the “holistic” program that Abigail Fisher—who was denied admission for the university in 2008—is challenging.

The University of Texas has determined that if it excluded race as a factor, that remaining 25 percent would be almost entirely white. During the oral arguments, former US Solicitor General Greg Garre, who is representing the university, was explaining this to the justices. At that point, Scalia jumped in, questioning whether increasing the number of African Americans at the flagship university in Austin was in the black students’ best interests. He said:

There are those who contend that it does not benefit African Americans to get them into the University of Texas, where they do not do well, as opposed to having them go to a less-advanced school, a slower-track school where they do well. One of the briefs pointed out that most of the black scientists in this country don’t come from schools like the University of Texas. They come from lesser schools where they do not feel that they’re being pushed ahead in classes that are too fast for them.

He went on to say, “I’m just not impressed by the fact the University of Texas may have fewer [blacks]. Maybe it ought to have fewer. I don’t think it stands to reason that it’s a good thing for the University of Texas to admit as many blacks as possible.”

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This morning some writers are claiming that Scalia’s comments weren’t racist because he was referring to studies by respected researchers and not expressing his personal opinion.

Alex Griswold at Mediaite: Media Jumps The Gun, Attacks Scalia For Perfectly Reasonable Question.

First of all, it’s worth noting that oral arguments are not an avenue for justices to share their views on the case at hand; it’s an opportunity to suss out any holes in the arguments of both parties. To that end, justices often advance arguments and theories they do not necessarily hold….

As it happens, Scalia was pretty accuratelyciting a brief filed by two members of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission. They point to a study showing that black scientists are much more likely to have graduated from historically black colleges, even though those schools are less academically stringent than elite universities:

With only twenty percent of total black enrollment, these schools were producing forty percent of the black students graduating with natural science degrees, according to the National Science Foundation. Those same students were frequently going on to earn Ph.D.s from non-HBCUs. The National Science Foundation reported, for example, that thirty-six percent of the blacks who earned an engineering doctorate between 1986 and 1988 received their undergraduate degree from an HBCU.

Why have HBCUs been so successful? [The authors] believed that unlike at mainstream institutions, African-American students at HBCUs were not grouped at the bottom of the class. Roughly half were in the top half of the class.

Scalia isn’t citing some crackpot theory that only these two civil rights officers are worried about, by the way. The“mismatch effect” is a pretty common critique of affirmative action in academia that’s based on pretty hard data. The most prominent book on the subject wasn’t written by cranks, it was written by UCLA and Stanford law professors.

Reading by the fireplace. Photo by Caroline Jensen.

Reading by the fireplace. Photo by Caroline Jensen.

OK, but Scalia did express a personal opinion at the end of his remarks. Furthermore, these studies apparently do not address the issue of whether diversity in the student bodies and faculty at “elite” universities is a good thing for the college experience and for society as a whole.

James Warren also defended Scalia’s remarks at Poynter: Media muddle: Was Scalia being racist?

And then there’s the question of why so many Americans love their guns more than life itself–or at least the lives of their children and fellow citizens. Many of these people are the same ones who are constantly claiming they are “pro-life.” Someone please explain to me why this makes any sense.

The Christian Science Monitor: Why are gun rights activists planning a fake mass shooting?

Two gun rights groups in Texas have planned a mock mass shooting event on Saturday in order to raise awareness about their view of the relationship between gun rights and mass shooting casualties. They believe that by increasing open carry rights, mass shootings can be reduced or even prevented.

Gun control advocates have been vocal about their desire to enact new restrictions on ownership of certain kinds of guns in the wake of two mass shootings in Colorado Springs, Colo., and San Bernardino, Calif., in less than a week. The groups hosting the mock shooting event say that it will demonstrate how the intervention of responsible gun owners can reduce the number of lives lost in a mass shooting scenario.

The two groups, Come and Take it Texas and Dontcomply.com, had originally planned to hold their event at the University of Texas but later moved the event off campus after meeting with university officials.

Sorry, but I have no clue how this exercise could relate to an actual mass shooting event.

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And what about the phenomenon of Donald Trump? Why does he think it’s useful to fan the flames of racism, nativism, and Islamophobia and in the process increasing the visibility of hate groups and encouraging violent attacks on minority groups in the U.S.?

Politico: White supremacist groups see Trump bump.

The Ku Klux Klan is using Donald Trump as a talking point in its outreach efforts. Stormfront, the most prominent American white supremacist website, is upgrading its servers to najlepszy hosting. And former Louisiana Rep. David Duke reports that the businessman has given more Americans cover to speak out loud about white nationalism than at any time since his own political campaigns in the 1990s.

As hate group monitors at the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League warn that Trump’s rhetoric is conducive to anti-Muslim violence, white nationalist leaders are capitalizing on his candidacy to invigorate and expand their movement.

“Demoralization has been the biggest enemy and Trump is changing all that,” said Stormfront founder Don Black, who reports additional listeners and call volume to his phone-in radio show, in addition to the site’s traffic bump. Black predicts that the white nationalist forces set in motion by Trump will be a legacy that outlives the businessman’s political career. “He’s certainly creating a movement that will continue independently of him even if he does fold at some point.”

Reading by the fire, Edward Lamson Henry.

Reading by the fire, Edward Lamson Henry.

Are Trump’s statements actually likely to energize hateful individuals to resort to violence?

According to experts at the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center who monitor hate groups and anti-Muslim sentiment, Trump’s call on Monday to halt the entrance of Muslims to the United States is driving online chatter among white supremacists and is likely to inspire violence against Muslims.

“When well-known public figures make these kind of statements in the public square, they are taken as a permission-giving by criminal elements who go out and act on their words.” said Mark Potok of the SPLC. “Is it energizing the groups? Yeah. They’re thrilled.”

Marilyn Mayo, co-director of the ADL’s Center on Extremism, said Trump’s proposal this week to halt the entrance of Muslims into the United States is only the latest statement to inject vigor into the racist fringe of American politics. “Since the beginning of Donald Trump’s candidacy, we’ve definitely seen that a segment of the white supremacist movement, from racist intellectuals to neo-Nazis have been energized,” she said.

Check out this piece by Steve Benen: Trump spokesperson: ‘So what? They’re Muslim.’

Katrina Pierson, a spokesperson for Donald Trump’s campaign, argued this morning on CNN that her boss’ proposed Muslim ban has merit because “never in United States history have we allowed insurgents to come across these borders.” Reminded that Trump’s policy would block lots of peaceful people who have nothing to do with violence, the spokesperson was unmoved.
“So what?” Pierson replied. “They’re Muslim.”
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How are voters responding to Trump’s hate speech against Muslims?
As for public opinion, it’s too soon to gauge polling reactions, but we already have a sense of Republican voters’ general attitudes on the subject.
Public Policy Polling published results yesterday on GOP voters’ attitudes in North Carolina. Among the findings:
* 48% of North Carolina Republicans endorse the idea of a national database of Muslims.
* 42% of North Carolina Republicans believed thousands of Middle Easterners cheered in New Jersey on 9/11.
* 35% of North Carolina Republicans support shutting down American mosques.
* 32% of North Carolina Republicans believe practicing Islam in the United States should be illegal.

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We are certainly seeing plenty of attacks on Muslims around the country. On Tuesday I posted a story about someone leaving a pig’s head at a mosque in Philadelphia. Today, I saw this on Raw Story: Texans begin nightly smashing windows of Muslim family only six weeks after they move in.

A Muslim family in Plano, Texas fear that they may have been targeted with a hate crime after rocks smashed through their windows at least two times in the last week.

The family told KTVT that they moved to Plano six weeks ago, and that they believe that the people throwing the rocks may be sending a message about their religion.

Windows in the home have been smashed twice in the last two days. At their request, the names of the family members were not being released.

Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) spokesperson Alia Salem explained to KTVT that there had been a spike in anti-Muslim hate crimes in recent weeks.

“Right now, we’re getting multiple hate crime reports every single day,” Salem said.

Why? This is not the America I want to live in. I’d rather escape into a book, but somehow I feel compelled to stay aware of what is happening.

What stories are you following today?


Monday Reads

ladiesworld_golf_mediumGood Morning!

I spent Mother’s Day napping on dad’s sofa mostly.  I am such an exciting person!!  I have no idea why I am so cold and so worn out but it is what it is.

Meanwhile,  all hell broke loose in New Orleans.  The gun violence that hit a Mother’s Day parade there was pretty much the kind of urban violence we see all too often with such easy access to guns. I wish I could say that gun violence was rare in the 7th ward.  But it is not.  Here’s a word from my congressman Cedric Richmond:

According to FBI data, 1,464 people were killed by firearms in New Orleans between 2008-2011. That’s 1,464 families who will never see their loved ones again. If we were to have passed the entirety of President Obama’s proposed reforms, sadly, many of those victims would probably have still been killed because violence is a pervasive and complex problem with a diverse set of causes. Economic insecurity, poor mental health treatment options, inferior education options and the scarcity of positive opportunities are all contributors, which one regulation alone cannot eliminate. That being said, if we only acted on just a few of the president’s proposals, we could decrease the supply of guns used in the homicides by reducing the supply of illegally purchased guns via universal background checks. This would decrease the use of guns in violent crime and keep a few more families from having to bury a loved one.

While I was serving as a member of the Louisiana House of Representatives, I introduced an assault weapons ban bill on numerous occasions. I took on the National Rifle Association in these battles not because I have a grudge against gun owners, but because I could find no reasonable defense of having these weapons of mass destruction on our streets. As a resident of Sportsman’s Paradise, I am a strong supporter of the Second Amendment. However, I do not ascribe to the belief that Congress has no role in responding to the gun violence epidemic plaguing communities like New Orleans, Chicago and Detroit.

It seems that 19 people were injured with no fatalities.

A Mother’s Day second-line shooting on Frenchmen Street in the 7th Ward, on Sunday about 1:45 p.m., left 19 people injured, according to the latest NOPD numbers. Earlier Sunday afternoon, NOPD Superintendent Ronal Serpas said that about 12 people had been injured, but the toll later grew to 19, with the NOPD explaining that some victims initially hadn’t reported being injured and more people continue to come forward.

Police said 10 adult men, seven adult women, a 10-year-old boy and a 10-year-old girl were struck by bullets.  Both of the 10-year-old victims had graze wounds to the body and were in good condition. A man and a woman were reported to be in surgery Sunday evening.

The shooting occurred in the 1400 block of Frenchmen Street at the intersection of North Villere Street. Immediately after the shooting police reported seeing three suspects running from the scene. One suspect was seen running on Frenchman toward North Claiborne, police said.

NOPD spokeswoman Remi Braden said many of the victims were grazed, some by bullets that ricocheted. “At this point, there are no fatalities, and most of the wounds are not life-threatening,” she said in an email.

“But all medical conditions are not known at this time as victims were rushed to nearby hospitals,” Braden continued. “Detectives are conducting interviews, retrieving any surveillance video in the area and, of course, collecting all evidence. This is an extremely unusual occurrence, and we’re confident that we will make swift arrests.”

Kevin Allman, editor of Gambit Weekly, said one of the publication’s writers, Deborah Cotton, also known as the blogger Big Red Cotton, was shot and was in stable condition after undergoing surgery.

Shannon Roberts, 32, was in the Interim LSU Hospital in New Orleans on Sunday afternoon and early evening alongside reams of other crying and fear-ridden – and at times, angry –  family members whose loved ones were injured in the shooting. Roberts said she was waiting on a 21-year-old nephew who was shot in the arm and stomach, a 37-year-old niece shot in the arm, and a 39-year-old cousin shot in the back.

“All innocent bystanders got hit,” Roberts said. “When I got the call saying they were shot, I wasn’t thinking at all, I was just shivering and crying… just hoping they be all right.

Hatred evidently has a basis in geography in this country.  This is an interesting twist on studying information from Twitters, locations, and Printdisplays of racism, homophobia, and basic hate speech.

Twitter, even more than many other social media tools, can feel disconnected from the real world. But a group of students and professors at research site Floating Sheep have built a comprehensive map of some of Twitter’s most distasteful content: the racist, homophobic, or ableist slurs that can proliferate online. Called Geography of Hate, the interactive map charts ten relatively common slurs across the continental US, either by general category or individually. Looking at the whole country, you’ll often see a mass of red or what the map’s creators call a “blue smog of hate.” Zooming in, however, patches appear over individual regions or cities; some may be predictable, while others are not.

The map builds on an earlier Floating Sheep project that showed where President Obama was referenced with racial slurs, but it’s far more comprehensive and well-constructed. Unlike many other studies, for example, the tweets weren’t collected and analyzed algorithmically — a method that could accidentally collect non-derogatory uses of these terms. Instead, the team first searched through a year’s worth of geotagged tweets for words, then had a group of students at Humboldt State University look at each one. Only tweets they found explicitly negative went on the map: a derogatory use of the word “dyke” would be added, for example, but one reclaiming the term for a gay pride parade would not. In total, the map charts about 150,000 negative, slur-filled tweets.

Here is some “Terrible News About Carbon and Climate Change”.

This past Thursday, the daily average atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide, as measured by the Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii, passed four hundred parts per million. In some way it was a meaningless milestone. We know that CO2 is increasing; we knew this moment would come; we know that four hundred is no more different from three hundred and ninety-nine than it is from four hundred and one.

Still, the number should shake us, if not shock us. We’ve got more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere now than at any point since the Pliocene, when there were jungles in northern Canada. And the number hurdles ever upward, as ocean levels rise and extreme weather becomes routine. Three-fifty was the old target; four-fifty is the new one. But what indication is there that we’ll stop at five hundred, six hundred, or even more?

We’ve failed collectively. As Ryan Lizza explained in miserable detail in 2010, the United States government couldn’t pass a tepid, eviscerated law. Activists have failed. We’ve all failed morally: a problem created by the world’s rich will now crush the world’s poor. In a grand sense it’s also a failure of the creators, and deniers, of climate change: the Exxon-Mobils, say, or the Wall Street Journal editorial page. A victory isn’t worth much if your children and grandchildren will one day think of you with anger and shame.

How do we get out of this mess? The political system seems hopeless. Yes, government regulation has done much to relieve us of acid rain and smog. But global warming combines two intractable problems. Reducing emissions mainly benefits people who aren’t born and don’t vote. And it requires international coördination, which is hopeless, and international law, which is toothless. We should do things like build more public transportation, which helps people here and now. We should design our cities for a future with terrible weather. But solving the problem of climate change through the U.N. is like a small man with olive oil on his hands trying to pull a whale from the water.

Man's-Life-Vintage-Magazine-Covers-12I’ve become somewhat fascinated with charter schools given their presence in New Orleans and their supposed success.  Who makes money from these things and why is that important?  It has a lot to do with Real Estate Developers and Hedge Fund Managers.  This is worth reading.

Studies shows that charter schools don’t typically outperform public schools and they often tend to increase racial and class segregation. So one must wonder, what exactly is motivating these school “reformers”? And why have they pushed for more and more closure — and new charter schools — at such an unprecedented rate in recent years?

Pro-charter supporters will tell you that it’s time for public institutions like our schools to start competing more like for-profit institutions. Test scores and high enrollment, then, define success. Unsuccessful schools, they say, should close just as unsuccessful businesses do. For neoliberal school reformers from today’s Arne Duncan-led Department of Education to scandal-ridden movement leader Michelle Rhee to billionaire Bill Gates, it is taken on faith that market principles are desirable in education.

But since it’s not clear that market principles are benefiting students on a large scale, it seems likely that something else is at stake. And reformers may be more than a little disingenuous in publicly ignoring that other, less high-minded thing: Profit. Critics of charter schools and school closings point out that proponents may not really be motivated by idealism, but by self-gain.

But who precisely is profiting? And how? Untangling answers to these questions is a more daunting task. Compared to public schools, charters schools are an extremely unregulated business. They contract with private companies to provide all kinds of services, from curriculum development to landscaping. Most of the regulations that bind charter schools are implemented at the state level. And unlike public institutions, the finances of charter schools are managed on a school-by-school basis. Because they are not consistently held accountable to the public for how they distribute funds, charter schools are often able to keep their business practices under wraps, and thus avoid too much scrutiny.

Here’s economist Joseph Stiglitz warning us about the crushing student debt in the U.S.

According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, almost 13 percent of student-loan borrowers of all ages owe more than $50,000, and nearly 4 percent owe more than $100,000. These debts are beyond students’ ability to repay, (especially in our nearly jobless recovery); this is demonstrated by the fact that delinquency and default rates are soaring. Some 17 percent of student-loan borrowers were 90 days or more behind in payments at the end of 2012. When only those in repayment were counted — in other words, not including borrowers who were in loan deferment or forbearance — more than 30 percent were 90 days or more behind. For federal loans taken out in the 2009 fiscal year, three-year default rates exceeded 13 percent.

America is distinctive among advanced industrialized countries in the burden it places on students and their parents for financing higher education. America is also exceptional among comparable countries for the high cost of a college degree, including at public universities. Average tuition, and room and board, at four-year colleges is just short of $22,000 a year, up from under $9,000 (adjusted for inflation) in 1980-81.

Compare this more-than-doubling in tuition with the stagnation in median family income, which is now about $50,000, compared to $46,000 in 1980 (adjusted for inflation).

Like much else, the problem of student debt worsened during the Great Recession: tuition costs at public universities increased by 27 percent in the past five years — partly because of cutbacks — while median income shrank. In California, inflation-adjusted tuition more than doubled in public two-year community colleges (which for poorer Americans are often the key to upward mobility), and by more than 70 percent in four-year public schools, from 2007-8 to 2012-13.

With costs soaring, incomes stagnating and little help from government, it was not surprising that total student debt, around $1 trillion, surpassed total credit-card debt last year. Responsible Americans have learned how to curb their credit-card debt — many have forsaken them for debit cards, or educated themselves about usurious interest rates, fees and penalties charged by card issuers — but the challenge of controlling student debt is even more unsettling.

Curbing student debt is tantamount to curbing social and economic opportunity. College graduates earn $12,000 more per year than those without college degrees; the gap has almost tripled just since 1980. Our economy is increasingly reliant on knowledge-related industries. No matter what happens with currency wars and trade balances, the United States is not going to return to making textiles. Unemployment rates among college graduates are much lower than among those with only a high school diploma.

Who is the one person in the beltway looking for answers?  Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren is looking at handing the loans over the Fed.  The problem is that no one seems to be taking the bill seriously.

Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has just introduced a new bill, the Bank on Students Loan Fairness Act, to offer student loans at the same rates that the Federal Reserve charges big banks through its discount window lending program. At the moment, that rate is about 0.75%. The rates on federally guaranteed student loans, meanwhile, is set to double to 6.8% this summer.

“Some may say we can’t afford this proposal,” said Senator Warren as she introduced the bill. “I would remind them that the Federal Government currently makes 36 cents in profit for every dollar it lends to students . . . meanwhile, the banks pay interest that is one-ninth of the amount that students will be asked to pay. That’s just wrong. It doesn’t reflect our values.”

“Now some explain that the banks get exceptionally low interest rates because the economy is still shaky and banks need access to cheap credit to continue the recovery.” She sighed loudly. “But our students are just as important to the economic recovery as our banks, and the debt they carry poses a serious risk to that recovery.”

It’s probably true that some say banks need low interest rates to keep the economy growing. But no one except possibly a lunatic has told Elizabeth Warren that banks are getting 0.75% at the discount window as a thank you for all the hard work they’re doing helping the economy. Discount window loans are cheap for three reasons: the borrowers have assets and income that are easy to seize, the loans are quite short term, and the banks are required to put up collateral.

As you’ll have discovered with your own mortgage or car loan, the shorter the term of the loan, the lower the interest rate. You will also have discovered that loans secured by collateral, like your car loan or mortgage, carry lower interest rates than loans such as credit card expenditures, which are secured by nothing more than your heartfelt promises to pay. You may even have noticed that the more durable the collateral, the more attractive a rate your banker will extend on it.

So it is with loans to other people, and businesses. Banks get a very low rate because they’re borrowing for very short periods of time–often overnight, always less than a year. The Fed correctly figures that the bank is unlikely to go out of business by next month–and anyway, they’re putting up collateral, which is unlikely to lose all its value in such a short period of time.

Students, on the other hand, are borrowing for a decade, and the only thing they’re putting up as a guarantee is their character. How good a collateral is their character? In 2011, 9.1% of borrowers had defaulted on their student loan within the first two years of the payment period.

The interest paid by the folks who don’t default is the only thing keeping this program from hemorrhaging money. Elizabeth Warren proposes to cut that interest rate to less than the rate of inflation.

So, those are my suggestions this morning.  What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


No. We should not respect other people’s beliefs

No. No, no, no. This is not about free speech as opposed to beliefs. It better not be. If it is, we’re headed straight for holy wars.

I’m talking about this sort of thing: BBC News – Film protest: Egypt PM urges US to end ‘insults’.

“At the same time we need to reach a balance between freedom of expression and to maintain respect for other peoples’ beliefs.”

There is no way to “respect beliefs” and have freedom of speech. It’s impossible. Think about it, Minister Qandil, for a microsecond. If my belief is that you speak drivel and should shut up, you can say nothing. If your belief is that I speak drivel and should shut up, neither of us can say anything if we’re both going to be “respectful.” Or, if we both talk and infuriate each other, then the only way to get “respect” is to silence the other. And only the dead are silent.

The malicious film is not a problem because it insults a religion. It’s a problem because its whole and only purpose is to inflict hate on people. It is not making a political statement, it is not arguing about anything. It’s trying to spit in the eye of people it hates. That is hate speech. It is incitement to riot. It is already illegal. It is an abuse of free speech. It is not protected under free speech laws.

The only problem is the growing US inability to understand that religion is a belief system, not an excuse. We should not lose all ability to tell right from wrong just because somebody hangs a judeochristian religious label on crap.

(Although when it involves a Muslim, the FBI seems to see “material support” for terrorists where only criticism exists. One example: Glenn Greenwald on the arrest of a person expressing outrage over the Abu Ghraib atrocities.)

We should take a deep breath, take our courage in our hands, and actually be responsible for some judgment calls. Avoiding responsibility with wishy-washy excuses about not having any right to judge anyone means only handing a blank check to the biggest bully to do their worst.

It’s pretty obvious where that leads. Haters incite hate and before you know it, real people with real families and real friends have died.

That’s why there are laws against hate speech. That’s why there are laws against incitement to riot.

By understanding the real reason why that sort of crap has to be squelched, it becomes clear that it is not criticism of religion which is the problem. Nobody can tell anybody to stop expressing their thoughts on a religion. They can insist on not hearing them. It’s the same as the idea behind the brown paper covers on porn mags. I don’t want to know what’s going on in the sewer of your mind, and you don’t have to tell me.

It becomes hate speech when you insist on rubbing my mind in your hated message. Then the intent is to hurt. Not to communicate. Then it’s hate speech.

That revolting film wasn’t noticed by anyone but the revolting people who made it. Pathetic, but not a huge issue. They didn’t like that. So they paid to have it translated into Arabic. That is hate speech, pure and simple.

We don’t have to slavishly avoid offending every bizarre — or even ordinary — belief system on the planet. We have to enforce our own laws against hate speech and incitement to riot. As a matter of fact, the solution is to be more willing to offend beliefs. When somebody’s beliefs result in hatred and harm we have to be ready to stand up to them and say, “NO.”

Crossposted from Acid Test