If we weren't so informed we might be Republicans.Or Matt Leinart fans.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Islam doesn't kill people, people do

After every terrorist attack the response from the conservative media is always the same - liberal apologists and political correctness are to blame for this horrific tragedy. Suchis the case with a conversation between Sean Hannity and Michelle Malkin from earlier this week on Fox News titled, "Political correctness 'at all costs' costs lives". In their minds, despite the fact that many terrorist attacks are home grown, laws such as the President's unconstitutional travel ban are a panacea for stopping terrorism.

Of course what they are really talking about here is the conservative belief that Islam is the root cause of these attacks, and the counter argument from liberals, that on the whole Islam is a peaceful religion that is being manipulated and co-opted by violent extremists. While there is no denying that many of these attacks are perpetrated by groups claiming to be ruled by Islamic doctrine, and there are many countries where the Quran is used as justification for oppressive and archaic laws; asserting that not all Muslims view the teachings of the Quran in the same way is hardly the roadblock to stopping terrorism that conservatives pretend it is.

Having said it's possible that what we have here is a failure to communicate, let's put the argument for a measured response to Islam in terms that conservatives are more comfortable with. After every mass shooting, liberals quickly demand new restrictions on guns because they believe that guns kill people. The conservative response to this is always - Guns don't kill people, people do. It turns out that same logic is at the heart of the push back from liberals on Islamic terrorists. It's not that liberals don't believe there are Muslims that kill people under the guise of Islam. It's just that Islam doesn't kill people, people do.

So if we believe the trite memes that argue pencils don't misspell words, forks don't make people fat, and cars don't make people drive drunk, then it follows that Islam doesn't make people terrorists. Similarly, if banning guns is useless because bad guys will find ways to get guns; then banning Muslims won't work either since bad Muslims will find a way to commit acts of terror. In fact the sort of extreme vetting some people think will prevent terrorists from entering the country is nearly identical to the guns laws that many believe prevent guns from falling into the wrong hands. As the NRA has argued, the only thing these proposals do is add an unnecessary burden to law abiding citizens.

Gun advocates also believe that only a good guy with a gun can stop a bad guy with a gun. With this in mind, perhaps the best solution to a bad guy with a Quran is a good guy with a Quran. This means arming more citizens with the peaceful interpretation of the Muslim holy book and helping them spread the word instead of painting all Muslims with the broad brush of terrorism.

The reality is that, just as the right to bear arms is protected by the constitution, so is the right to religious freedom and protection from discrimination due to your religious beliefs. This is why the courts continue to block the Muslim travel ban that it has determined "drips with religious intolerance, animus, and discrimination".

Asking people to refrain from pigeonholing Islam and it's followers as inherently evil isn't because liberals are afraid of offending ISIS or other terrorist groups committing atrocities under the guise of Islam. It's because books don't kill people - people do, which means stopping Islamic terrorists requires us to combat the terrorists, not Islam.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Conservative Media Coverage of Maryland Student Rape is Shamefully Political

Looking to avoid hot topics like the false allegations of wiretapping, the failing health care bill, and the increasingly troubling connection between the Trump administration and Russia, Fox News and other conservative media outlets have shifted their focus to a story that fits their narrative - the rape of a 14 year old girl by two Central American immigrants, at least one of which is believed to be in the country illegally.

Obviously such a case is something the Trump administration is going to want to showcase because it provides cannon fodder for the "build the wall" crowd which is why Press Secretary Sean Spicer made sure to mention it in a recent press briefing. It should come as no surprise that the media arm of the Trump Administration - Fox News - would make this one of their top news stories.

Bill O'Reilly for example said that is was shameful that none of the "liberal" news outlets were covering the story because "Illegal immigration is a political issue." While true that illegal immigration is a political issue what rape cases Fox News chooses to cover versus what other main stream media outlets cover says a lot more about the bias at Fox News than it does ABC, NBC, CBS or CNN. For instance a quick Google search of the rapes Fox News deems news worthy come up with the following headlines: "Afghan teenager detained in rape, slaying of German student", "Mexican charged with rape in Kansas had 19 deportations", and "Idaho town torn by alleged rape, fear of refugees".

Of course it should be noted that Fox News has ignored a number of other recent rape cases that really don't fit their narrative like "Diocese places priest accused of rape on leave", "West Tenn. pastor accused of raping teen after tying her up", "Pastor of LaFollette church charged with statutory rape of 16-year-old girl", and "Preacher, teacher's assistant charged in rape". The reality here is that Bill O'Reilly and his cohorts at Fox News are attempting to portray immigrants as inherently criminal despite the multiple studies that show immigrants actually commit less crime than natural born citizens.

Having said that if these conservative talking heads aren't pushing this story simply because it matches their political ideology and the real goal is just to make sure Americans are safe then they might like to know that white Americans make up an inordinately large number of those arrested for Arson, Vandalism, and DUI's. In fact whites make up 84.2% of those arrested for DUI with white kids under 18 accounting for 91% of the DUI's in this age group. Given that around 10,000 people die a year in the U.S. from drunk drivers perhaps there needs to be some extreme vetting for whites who would like to drive in the United States.

If the concern here however is mainly with sexual assault then it should be mentioned that despite making up 62% of the population whites accounted for 66.2% of the rapes and 72.4% of other sex offenses. Data also show that 93% of sex offenders label themselves as "religious" and that within faith communities the sexual abusers have more and younger victims.

There is no doubt that we should do our best to make sure that rapes like the one that occurred in Maryland are stopped but complaining that everyone else is presenting bias information when your coverage focuses almost exclusively on the few cases of rape by illegal immigrants while ignoring the other 100,000 rapes that occur every year is extraordinarily hypocritical.

Beyond that demonizing an entire segment of the population so that you can present some anecdotal evidence is a great way to create fear among your viewers but it is awful way of generating good legislation to deal with a real problem. The reality is that for every "bad hombre" that comes to the U.S. there is another hero who saved a cops life, rescued a child from a kidnapper, or saved the life of a young boy or girl in need of help. If only Bill O'Reilly and the other fine folks at Fox News were willing to hold themselves to the same journalist standards they demand of others.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Republicans will regret confirming Betsy DeVos

The recent appointment of Betsy DeVos has proved one thing - conservatives are far more concerned about politics than they are about educating children. A sampling of their self-serving arrogance can be seen in the numerous Fox News opinion articles from the likes of Bobby Jindal, Ralph Reed, Liz Peek, and the entire New York Post Editorial Board.

The New York Post believes "The War on Betsy DeVos Is All About the Teachers’ Unions". Conservatives have long believed that unions are bad for the country, but the data doesn't support that assertion when it comes to teachers. If these conservatives were being honest they would acknowledge that multiple studies show teachers’ unions have a positive impact on educational outcomes, while another study showed that in areas where union membership was greater, children in low income families were more likely to achieve higher incomes.

Beyond that, if unions were the biggest obstacle to improving education, then why do so many countries that outperform the U.S. have higher rates of unionization among their teachers?

Of course the idea that unions need public schools to maintain their power ignores the fact that 12% of charter school teachers are represented by unions.

Ralph Reed feels that the opposition to Betsy DeVos is due to the "liberal war on religion" despite the fact that her faith and religiosity were not a reason given by any of the fifty Senators that voted against her appointment. Having said that, there are clearly concerns that DeVos, who was quoted as saying she wanted to confront the education culture "in ways that will continue to advance God's kingdom" while her husband - Dick DeVos - stated it is "certainly our hope that more and more churches will get more and more active and engaged in education".

Given the multiple cases that have helped define the separation of church and state within public schools, it would seem there is little DeVos can do to push her faith as the Secretary of Education; however, she wouldn't be the first conservative to advocate for getting public funding to flow to private religious schools. If following the constitution constitutes a war on religion, conservatives should get ready for a battle.

Like many others, Liz Peek pretends our schools system is broken and that the ideas DeVos supports are the answer. Unfortunately for DeVos supporters like Peek, they are woefully uninformed on the problems of education. Data show that we have a poverty problem not an education problem. In fact, when adjusted for poverty, the U.S. test scores rank number one in the world.

The reality is that, if conservatives spent as much money and effort on ending poverty as they do trying to end public education, the system we have in place would already be producing the best results in the world.

Unlike the others that were mainly interested in presenting biased information to make liberals look bad, Bobby Jindal presented biased information to pat himself on the back in addition to making liberals look bad. In Jindal's mind, DeVos will save education because she agrees with the policies he has followed as the Governor of Louisiana. Jindal goes on to talk up the value of charter schools while ignoring the most recent data that show there is virtually no difference between the performance of charter schools and public schools. Making matters worse is the fact that the data used to show this doesn't include some of the best performing public schools in the country. This means charter school are only as good as the public schools people have deemed failing. That is faint praise to only be as good as the bad public schools.

Of course Jindal also fails to mention a number of other issues with charter schools that should trouble most people that claim to care about children, like the fact that charter schools spend less on teachers yet don't save tax payers any money. Charter schools are less transparent, give parents less control over the direction of their child's education, and take money out of local communities. Despite costs tax payers as much as their local public school, Charter schools serve fewer special needs and English learner students which tend to cost more to educate. Charters weed out students with lower test scores and expel more students, yet still don't outperform their local public school.

Beyond this, as Fox News contributor Todd Starnes noted, over the last eight years, where charter schools have increased by 47 % under President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan, U.S. test scores have gone down. Odd that this free market competition has led to a general decline in outcomes given the rhetoric from conservatives.

When you analyze the data you see that charter schools aren't the panacea of education reform but just another type of school plagued by the problem of poverty.

Jindal also believes that Betsy DeVos has proven she is dedicated to improving the education system because she has "spent millions of dollars of her own money" on education reform. Well Governor, if spending her own money shows the level of commitment DeVos has to our children then it should be mentioned that teachers across the U.S. spend $3.5 billion of their own money to buy supplies for their classroom and for students who can't afford the necessities. In fact, some of the lowest paid teachers spend the largest percentage of their own money. How is it DeVos's spending shows her dedication, yet opposing her view of reform while spending a greater percentage of your income directly on students suggests you want kids to fail?

The concerns that most Senators - including two Republicans - had with DeVos was the fact that she had never been part of the public education system as a student, parent, or staff and that she couldn't answer some simple policy questions that are quintessential to the job.

The question these opinion writers should really be asking themselves is not does DeVos support charters, the reduction of unions, and the transfer of public funds to private institutions, since every person Donald Trump would nominate for this position would have backed these ideas; but rather, is Betsy DeVos the best candidate for this position. It seems ideologically inconsistent to suggest that DeVos's lack of experience is an asset while also arguing that teachers should be assessed, reviewed, and rated to determine if they are "highly qualified" for their job.

In the end, this hypocrisy and willful ignorance in supporting an unqualified candidate tells you all you need to know about the motives of the conservatives that back Betsy DeVos. Unfortunately, the well-being of America's children seems to fall a distant second to the political motivations of killing unions, weakening the separation of church and state and enriching the same corporate interests behind the explosion in defense spending.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Homophobic, Racist, Xenophobic Conservative Jesus Freak Todd Starnes Doesn't Understand Freedom of Speech

Conservatives often claim that any news that doesn't support their narrative is "fake news" yet many of these same people are oblivious to how fictitious the information they report as news really is. A recent article by Fox News contributor Todd Starnes in response to the protests at the University of California Berkeley offer an excellent example of this hypocrisy.

The concern from Starnes and other conservatives is that a speech by an alt-right author was shut down by protesters that felt the author, who had been kicked off Twitter for incessantly harassing and bullying SNL star Leslie Jones with racist comments, should not be allowed to speak on campus. To Starnes these protests show that "the Left is absolutely terrified of free speech".

It seems that the irony of this statement is lost on many conservatives. The students that are protesting are simply exercising their right to free speech. They were not protesting him as a person or his right to speak. They were protesting his hate speech. The reality is the speaker was not physically prevented from speaking by the protesters. He could just as easily have taken his act to another venue. His right to free speech was in no way infringed upon by these students.

The first amendment doesn't protect everyone’s right to say whatever they want whenever and wherever they choose. Just as Congress doesn't have to allow a person who wants to extol the virtues of Sharia Law a forum to speak, the school has no obligation to allow every person who wants to hold an event to do so. Many of these same conservatives certainly had no qualms with protesting the Duke University decision to allow Muslims to use the university's chapel bell tower for Friday prayers. Notre Dame Students and alumni didn't have any problems protesting President Obama due to his views on abortion. And it seems few conservatives argued for free speech when Bill Ayers was disinvited to speak by multiple colleges and universities.

In fact while Fox News, and Starnes in particular, would have you believe that there is an epidemic of schools censoring conservative speakers, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) keeps records on such occurrences and has found that less than 60% of speakers who were the targets of disinvitation protests came from the left. There may be a rash of speaker protests sweeping the country, but the political leanings of the protesters is far more evenly divided then conservatives would have you believe.

Of course part of Starnes' issue is the fact that the UC Berkeley protests resulted in damage to the student union and a few physical confrontations. While the vast majority of liberals will tell you there is no place for these sorts of actions in a protest, the focus on violence and destruction from conservatives is again very self-serving. Many of the same people that claimed the protests against Donald Trump late last year were stocked with hired professional protesters only seem to hold that view when the protests are peaceful. As soon as things turn violent these conservative talking heads suggest this is par for the course with liberal protests. Either these protests represent liberals/Democrats or they don't. Picking and choosing which events contain the true liberals/Democrats based on how it fits your personal or political narrative exposes a bias and hypocrisy that makes it difficult to take these talking heads seriously.

Having said that, many of these same conservatives didn't seem to have a problem with citizens pointing guns at federal agents during a dispute over grazing fees or the armed takeover of public lands in Oregon. They also don't seem very concerned about the racist and pro-Trump property damage and vandalism at universities and other locations across the country. And while physical violence is clearly a problem in what should be peaceful disagreements, you'll notice that for people like Todd Starnes, conservatives attacked by liberals are victims yet liberals attacked by conservatives are agitators that got what they deserved.

But perhaps the most disturbing idea that Starnes seems to support is removing federal funding for any "public universities that want to silence conservative voices". You'll notice he didn't say for public universities that want to stop free speech. He said for those who want to silence conservative voices. Perhaps this is because he is so ill informed on the breakdown of who is being protested at college campuses; but more likely it's because he truly feels anyone who identifies as conservative should be given carte blanche over all public spaces.

This is an extraordinarily dangerous opinion which Starnes should be embarrassed to hold. Protecting every American’s right to free speech and forcing public institutions to provide a forum for hate speech are two totally different things. Should Neo-Nazis be free to argue that there is a master race and that other races should be exterminated? Absolutely. Should all public universities be forced to provide a venue for this sort of speech? Absolutely not.

The problem here is that conservatives like Starnes are clueless on the duplicity of their positions, so they are fine with putting a gag order on government agencies that disagree with their beliefs, but letting public entities determine what qualifies as educational is unpatriotic and unconstitutional.

Of course few liberals would disagree with Starnes assessment that these aggressively racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic speakers trolling college campuses epitomize the views of conservative Republicans. If only he had the same sort of clarity on what qualifies as a restriction on free speech.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Conservative outrage over post-election protests is unjustified

If you want to know why the country is divided, you need look no further than an article this week by Fox News' Sean Hannity. He claims he wants everyone to come together and give President-elect Donald Trump a chance, yet he can't help but lambast the very same people for the recent rash of protests popping up around the country. Like many conservatives, Hannity attempts to delegitimize the dissent by suggesting they are being organized by "professional protesters" as though there are no authentic reasons to oppose Trump. But the bigger and far more damaging issue here is that Hannity and other conservatives are labeling the people participating in these demonstrations as "crybabies".

The problem with such righteous indignation and deriding some liberal's response to the election is the ignorance and hypocrisy it represents.

If you take a look back at how conservatives conducted themselves over the past eight years, it makes you wonder where does someone like Sean Hannity get off calling anyone else a crybaby.

Hannity himself once said of President Obama - "he's not my president". The same phrasing that conservatives are now chastising as un-American. Of course this is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to duplicity of conservative rhetoric.

For example, have conservatives forgotten the Tea Party protests that most conservative media outlets supported?

Have they suppressed the memory of the people shouting down elected officials and getting in fist fights at town hall meetings?

Have they contracted amnesia regarding the number of times Republican legislators symbolically voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act?

Are they oblivious to the rapid increase in hate groups and militias not seen since Bill Clinton was in office?

Are they ignoring the massive jump in gun sales after each of the two previous elections over irrational fears that guns would soon be outlawed?

Have they blocked out their rallys supporting those who spoke out for denying same sex couples their rights guaranteed under the constitution?

Don't they recall the rolling coal movement where conservatives removed the emissions controls from their vehicles in protest of government restrictions aimed at lowering CO2 emissions?

Have their efforts to add restrictions to voters, who just happen to mainly vote for Democrats, slipped their minds?

Don't they remember the daily and sometimes violent protesting outside of abortion clinics despite the issue being settled by the Supreme Court over four decades ago?

And have they no recollection of the birther movement where a majority of Republicans supported the idea that President Obama wasn't born in the U.S. and therefore was not qualified to be president?

So while Sean Hannity and others suggest that protesting after the election isn't how adults act, you'll have to forgive liberals if they have trouble accepting such criticism from a group of people who have spent the past eight years acting like a bunch of children who didn't get their way.

The people flipping cars and damaging stores in protest don't represent the vast majority of the 68 million people that didn't vote for Trump. For most non-Trump voters, protester or not, there are plenty of legitimate reasons to oppose his policies. Dismissing these because your guy won the Electoral College certainly doesn't represent the best of a democracy.

While Hannity and other conservatives think liberals should be embarrassed by the protesters, the people who should really be embarrassed here are those that are suddenly offended by vocal opposition to the government after nearly a decade of doing the exact same thing. If you want to bring the country together, admit that your side was no better than the Americans you are now calling crybabies; because, if you want to act like the adult in the conversation you're going to have to take a little personal responsibility for your own immature actions.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Conservatives views on Colin Kaepernick and patriotism are self-aggrandizing and insulting.

Talking on the Fox News program Outnumbered this week, Bill O'Reilly claimed that Colin Kaepernick "doesn't understand the big picture of his country". O’Reilly then goes on to prove that he, himself, doesn't understand the big picture of this country for non-white Americans.

Firstly, he suggests that protesting the national anthem is disrespectful to "all Americans" despite the litany of support Kaepernick has received from many Americans, including those who have served our country. O'Reilly is fine with protesting, but is offended by Kaepernick taking a knee during the national anthem and thinks that the NFL should instead give him a room where he can talk about his opinions.

This is classic conservative logic at play. Minorities are free to protest as long as they do it when, where and how whites tell them to, because God forbid anyone protest in a way that is offensive or unpatriotic to conservatives. After all, it’s not like conservatives stand outside Planned Parenthood facilities holding signs with aborted fetuses meant to be so offensive that patients change their mind. It's not like conservatives laid down on a bridge with guns pointed at federal officials in protest of "government overreach". It's not like conservatives took over a wildlife refuge in Oregon, costing taxpayers millions. It's not like conservatives ever booed a serviceman or their parents for being gay or having a different view.

Conservatives wouldn't do these things because they could be seen as offensive or unpatriotic which is totally unacceptable.And we all know if there’s one things conservatives believe in, it is making sure that no one is ever offended by what someone else says or does because they whole hearted support that sort of political correctness and censorship.

The reality is, protests are meant to draw attention; and regardless of your stance on kneeling for anthem, Kaepernick's protest has attracted a massive response.Pretending that minorities need to appease whites when protesting has racial undertones that O'Reilly should be embarrassed to present as rational.

Where O'Reilly really exposes his ignorance is when he not only errantly chastises Kaepernick for kneeling during the national anthem on 9/11, despite the fact that the protest occurred on Monday Night Football on 9/12, but also suggests Kaepernick's protest is over the fact "that some black people have been killed by police". If he had taken even 30 seconds to understand why Kaepernick was protesting, he would have found this quote: "I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color".

The fact that "some black people have been killed by police" is part of this protest, but it is hardly the entirety of it. In spite of O'Reilly's comments to the contrary, statistics show that systemic racism is a problem in the United States. In Ferguson it was determined there were "clear" and intentional "racial disparities" in the application of the law. When it was discovered that the IRS was singling out conservative organizations, conservatives were outraged by the injustice. Why then are they indifferent to other government agencies disproportionately targeting African Americans?

Of course systemic racism isn't limited to the Ferguson police department. Data show that, despite the fact that white youth are more likely to use drugs, black youth are twice as likely to be arrested for drug use. The stop and frisk program in New York so many conservatives loved resulted in blacks making up 54% of those stopped while only 9% were white. Studies have found that the average sentence given to a black person convicted of a crime was 10% longer than that of their white counterparts. And a new federal report found that black students were four times as likely to be suspended as white students.

These statistics do not represent an equal opportunity for blacks, which is exactly the type of injustice Kaepernick and others hope to change.

Beyond that, Kaepernick also stated he was concerned about the oppression of "people of color". This covers a number of other issues like the unconstitutional "papers please" law in Arizona, the test on how loyal Muslims are to America that some conservatives support, and the illegal voter ID laws that target poor minority voters.

While Bill O'Reilly's treatment of Colin Kaepernick and his protest are insulting and border on racist, perhaps the worst statement O'Reilly makes is when he arrogantly suggests there is no doubt he would "win the debate about patriotism in America" with Kaepernick.

It's great that Bill O'Reilly loves his country and feels he is very patriotic, but to question another man’s patriotism because he has experienced a different world than you and reacts to it in a way you dislike exposes a distinct lack of patriotism on Bill’s part. In fact, this is the sort of love of country logic disturbingly used by Joseph McCarthy in the 1950's to discredit dissenters.

Kneeling for the anthem is no less patriotic than interrupting the president during an interview. Pretending one act disrespects "all Americans" while the other represents a patriot standing up for his beliefs shows just how disingenuous O'Reilly is being regarding patriotism.

What would conservatives do to prove their patriotism if they there wasn't an American flag to wrap themselves in while spewing hate? How could they show they love America if they couldn't act like supporting a blank check for the military industrial complex represented the purest form a patriotism? How could they prove their nationalist pride if there were no enemies for our troops to fight?

Merriam-Webster defines patriotism as "love that people feel for their country". How that love is exhibited changes over time, it differs by person, and it has no definitive measure. But if it did, many would probably argue that refusing to stand up for the national anthem is far less disrespectful to our servicemen than refusing to stand up for those who are being denied their constitutional rights, through systemic racism and inequality, that our servicemen have sworn to protect.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Conservative response to Orlando shooting is embarrassing

As the U.S. deals with yet another mass shooting, the response to this tragedy is predictably frustrating. Liberals are calling for the an increase in gun laws and gun advocates are trotting out the typical talking points, while pretending we are on the precipice of a full repeal of the second amendment.

It is human nature to seek ideas that will prevent catastrophes from reoccurring. For example, before 1970 the leading cause of death for children under 5 was poisoning from prescription drugs which resulted in some 500 deaths per year. To address this issue, President Nixon signed the Poison Prevention Packaging Act of 1970 requiring child proof caps for prescription drugs. This simple change reduced child deaths by 45%. That same year Nixon also signed the Occupational Safety and Health Act that saw workplace deaths fall from 40 a day in 1970 to 17 a day in the 80's and 12 a day by 2009 despite the fact that the workforce doubled over that time. In response to the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the U.S. passed legislation to overhaul the security procedures for all airports in hopes of preventing another similar attack. More recently, due to what was seen as a methamphetamine epidemic, congress passed a law that required an ID to purchase products containing methamphetamine, required sellers to record the name and address of all purchasers and limited the amount of the products people could purchase.

Imagine if the Republicans that support these laws had applied gun advocate logic to these other problem areas. Drugs, cars and workplace equipment don't walk around killing people - people using these items kill people. So while Conservatives support registration and limitations on Sudafed to prevent unnecessary deaths, similar registration and limitations on certain types of guns is seen as a clear infringement of one's constitutional rights.

Others argue that more regulations on guns won't stop bad people from getting guns. While this might be true, it should be noted that drug laws don't stop people from getting illegal drugs. Abortion restrictions don't stop people from getting illegal abortions. Transgender bathroom laws won't stop sexual deviants from entering a women's bathroom. Voter ID laws won't stop people from voting illegally. And immigration laws won't prevent people from coming to the U.S. illegally. The point of gun laws is that making certain guns illegal acts as a deterrent for people who can't purchase a gun legally, makes obtaining a gun more difficult, and provides law enforcement a tool to get some of these bad guys off the streets. The fact that gun advocates find this important for everything other than guns tells you all you need to know about how serious this talking point is.

Some conservatives have taken this tragedy as an opportunity to purport Islamophobic views, suggesting the shooter was an Islamic terrorist despite information from the FBI that shows he was not tied to any particular terrorist group and that there could be other motives or explanations for the attack beyond his religious association. But even if this were the case, stopping attacks by religious extremists and putting restrictions on certain types of weapons that allow shooters to kill more people per attack are not mutually exclusive ideas. While religious ideology could be the motive for some of the recent mass shootings in the U.S., it only makes up a small portion of the killers that used guns to murder U.S. citizens on American soil. We should be looking for solutions to both problems instead of using one as a justification for ignoring the other.

Of course Islamophobia is only one of the many methods gun advocates have to rationalize the protection of any and all guns. As Sean Davis recently wrote in thefederalist.com, the 248 murders of Americans killed by a rifle in 2014 were far fewer than the 1,567 people murdered by a knife. While it is troubling that some 1,500 people a year are killed by knives, that doesn't make the 248 lives of those shot and killed by a rifle any less worth saving. This is like arguing that more people are killed by cars while riding their bikes than are killed by being backed over by cars so, until being backed over by a car is the deadliest type of pedestrian accident we should do nothing to prevent it.

Having said that, Davis' statistic is ideal for pointing out why restrictions on guns could very well be a good idea since the reason more people are killed by knives every year than rifles is that nearly everyone in the U.S. has easy access to a knife but only a limited number of people have access to an assault rifle. Estimates put the number of assault rifles at around 1.5 million units while the number of knives is well in the hundreds of millions. Additionally there are no regulations determining who can own a knife. The fact that over 1,500 people a year are killed by knives in a country with over 300 million guns is a cautionary tale of what the U.S. might look like if access to rifles were equivalent to that of knives.

It's possible that some mass shootings might be stopped sooner if more rifles were on the streets, but given the fact that knives are apparently deadly enough to kill more people each year than rifles yet few if any knives have been used to bring down an attacker in a mass shooting suggests that weapons are better for attacking people than stopping an attack, which means an increase in rifles per person will likely lead to a net increase in rifle deaths.

No one is suggesting that by limiting the sale of certain types of guns or doing background checks we will eliminate the types of mass shootings that have become an all too common occurrence in the U.S. However as Presidents Reagan, Ford and Carter once wrote “While we recognize that assault-weapon legislation will not stop all assault-weapon crime, statistics prove that we can dry up the supply of these guns, making them less accessible to criminals,”. The fact that we can't prevent all gun deaths with a single piece of legislation isn't a viable rationalization for doing nothing.

The reality is, we're not the only country with religious extremists, or mentally ill citizens, or criminals; so, unless gun advocates can present a feasible reason why the U.S. is the world leader in mass shooters that is more than embarrassing hypocritical rhetoric, they can expect the calls for gun control to continue.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Privatization of public education is a failure

This election cycle has been heavy on rhetoric and light on policy. Given that nearly 50% of Americans consider themselves angrier than a year ago - with white Republicans being the angriest - it's no wonder that rather than having substantive discussions, most solutions being offered currently are knee jerk reactions that have little to no factual support. A prime example of this are the changes many conservatives endorse for "fixing" public education.

Consider for example the panacea of conservative school improvement ideas - charter schools. The most recent data show that around 25% outperform their local public school counterpart. This means that around 75% of charter schools are no better or actually worse than the local public school. Essentially, in locations where charter schools exist they are on average no better or worse than the average public school. If the goal is to improve education, getting the same results as local schools, deemed failing by charter school advocates, is a shockingly disappointing outcome.

Of course it should be noted that charter schools never get a foothold in areas where the schools are already high performing. Given that charters can't even outperform average public schools the fact that some of the country’s best schools aren't included in this analysis only makes the results for charter schools that much more disconcerting. Perhaps, instead of spending tax dollars to spread charter schools that don't improve outcomes, we should take the model used by some of the thousands of exceptional public schools and disseminate that to the lower performing schools.

Having said that, the goal of the majority of charter schools and the politicians that support them isn't to improve student achievement. It is to siphon taxpayer money out of public schools and into the hands of wealthy donors. Because these politicians understand that the only thing that matches the Republican base's hate of government spending is their unwavering belief in the magical powers of capitalism. This mentality is why military spending accounts for 54 % of the Federal Government's discretionary spending, (more than that of the next 10 countries combined), and why few industries turned out better profits during the Great Recession than the Defense industry.

Ironically, many of the people who think that the potentially cozy relationship between some school board members and the teachers’ union leads to sweetheart deals seems unfazed by the reality that corporations outspend unions 15 to 1 when it comes to political contributions. If union spending buys special treatment, then spending 15 times as much should certainly result in some ill-gotten gains for corporations.

Based on the amount of money that corporation are pouring into political coffers, it should come as no surprise that other faux-solutions to improve education such as privatization of public schools’ services are on the docket for school boards across the country. While the companies offering these services and the politicians they have bought will argue that this is a way for schools to save money, the data show that in nearly every case it costs taxpayers more when a public service is privatized.

The reason private services typically cost more is that you are inserting a highly paid middle man into the process. Obviously the goal of any for-profit company is to make a profit, which means they will either cost more or they need to find savings elsewhere. These companies will try and sell schools on the idea that there are savings to be had which will come from eliminating inefficiencies; however, the reality is the reduction in cost will likely come from lowering employee wages and cutting corners - neither of which is good for the students.

Additionally, by outsourcing this work you are also removing local control. Does the company do the same background checks your local school would do or are they less diligent about preventing dangerous people from interacting with your child such as one company that provided two custodians with criminal records for drug and sex abuse? Does the company respond to the complaints from the administration and the community or are they willing to let some inappropriate conduct occur around young children such as in Chicago where privatization has resulted in dirty schools? Does the company provide the same quality of service as those employees hired directly by the school system or does it fail to meet the standards previous established such as in Michigan where the outsourcing of food services lead to maggots in the food?

Beyond that, the privatization of public schools takes money out of the local community and sends it to companies headquartered hundreds of miles away. It takes hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer money out of the class room that is instead spent on advertising. It also makes it possible for foreign companies to rake in huge profits off of your tax dollars.

But perhaps the biggest question supporters of the conservative plan to convert public schools to private entities is, if outsourcing services is such a great idea then why do so many charter schools hire their own support services staff? Do the principles of economies of scale somehow no longer apply to charter schools? Is the core competency of charter schools somehow different than that of public schools? Would charter schools somehow not benefit from the competition privatization of services creates?

Most Americans want to see the U.S. towards the top of educational rankings; however, it should be noted that while politicians continue to push capitalism as a cure for our so-called "failed" public school system, every country that outperforms the U.S. on standardized tests uses a more socialist system. Now that's something to be angry about.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Conservative's love of police and hate for teachers exposes an embarrassing hypocrisy

Last week a Virginia State Trooper was shot and killed in the line of duty. Unfortunately rather than addressing this as the tragic and senseless event that it is conservative media outlets like Fox News are attempting to paint this singular attack as an epidemic with headlines like "Va. trooper's killer reportedly hated cops, stoking new fears of anti-police climate". Police officers like many other occupations put their lives on the line on a daily basis so the threat of death is nothing new for them but for the conservative media stoking fear has become a cottage industry.

Data show that the number of police officers killed in the line of duty is near historic lows. When taking into account population increase and the corresponding expansion of the police force in the US the data show there has never been a safer time to be a police officer. In fact, you are more likely to die on the job if you work in the landscape or waste management industries. Beyond that, statistics show that targeted attacks on cops is nothing new with an average of 64 attacks per year between 1980 and 2014 with 2013 being the lowest over that 35 year span.

Despite this reality the conservative media has spent the last few years attempt to set a new narrative to combat the outrage resulting from the 1,000 or so Americans that are killed by police every year. They claim that rhetoric surrounding some of the killings and the officers involved is putting police officers at risk.

The problem is that this stance seems very hypocritical when compared to how these same media outlets have handled the issues with other public sector jobs.

For example over the past few years the conservative media have portrayed public school teachers as public enemy number one.

They claim that public school teachers make too much money yet in many of the states that are used to illustrate this talking point, the police officers actually earn more and they do so with lower education levels. It is estimated that only 25-30% of cops have four-year degrees. While the conservative media is happy to offer anecdotal evidence of individual teachers making well of $100,000 per year you certainly won't here them talking about the Boston police officer who took home $272,000 a few years back.

Another common complaint you'll here from the conservative media is that it is impossible to fire bad teachers. Yet they ignore data from places like Philidelphia where an outside arbitrator reinstates 9 out of 10 officers fired by the police chief.

The conservative media is also very concerned that in some school districts former teachers or other individuals that are sympathetic to educators have been elected to the local school board which means the teachers are negotiating their salary and benefits with a school board that includes some people that may not be completely impartial. Given that the vast majority of these board members have been elected by the community it seems that the residents are not near as concerned about this issue. Having said that, if having a close relationship with the people in charge is an issue then the conservative media should be outraged by the fact that police officers are practically immune from indictment in part because of the cozy relationship they have with the prosecutors office.

In addition to these double standards the conservative media is fond of offering solutions for "fixing" public education that they would never suggest for their local police department. For instance, the conservative media loves the idea of paying teachers based on the results of their students yet if you based police officer pay mainly on the amount of criminal activity that occurs in their precinct there would be considerable push back. After all, how can you base the pay of all officers on the actions of others?

The conservative media also supports privatizing education because they believe the free market produces better results however no one seems to talking about privatizing the police force to reduce crime or cut down on the number of unarmed citizens that are shot and killed. If the private sector is that superior shouldn't we look at privatizing more public sector jobs than just teachers?

If an anti-police climate is a concern then these hypocritical attacks on teachers should be an issue as well because comments like those from Chris Christie who called that teachers unions "the single most destructive force in public education in America" that deserve a punch in the face or John Kasich who would like to "break the back" of whiny teachers are clearly not establishing a pro-teacher climate. In fact, polls show that confidence in public education is near all time lows and the rhetoric like this are clearly contributing. While these threats of violence might be in jest it should be noted that the conservative media has created a climate of disrespect for teachers that has led to a record number of physical attacks on educations with over 200,000 attacks per year.

The reality is the vast majority of police officers and teachers a good people who are great at what they do. Acting like one group can do no right while the other group can do no wrong is fantastic if you goal is fear mongering through misinformation but it's probably the worst thing you can do if your goal is to be a fair and balanced news source.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Bernie Sanders isn't the socialist candidate conservatives should be scared of

Bernie Sanders calls himself a Democratic Socialist. This is music to the ears of many Republicans who pretend that Sanders wants to turn the U.S. into the next Venezuela and claim that Sanders’ supporters don't understand history or economics, because in their minds socialism is an unmitigated disaster. While this rhetoric plays well with conservatives in bite-sized Facebook posts, it exposes how little some understand Sanders’ policies.

As conservative author and Senior Fellow at the Adam Smith Institute, Tim Worstall wrote, "Venezuela's Not Suffering From Socialism But From Anti-Marketism". While Venezuela may be a socialist country, their biggest failures have occurred because of their attempts at setting prices for products. It should also be noted that Venezuela's programs that most would consider socialist did actually improve the lives of many poor people by lowering poverty, increasing access to health care and improving educational outcomes. That's not to say that Venezuela represents a successful socialist government, but comparing Bernie Sanders’ policies to the Venezuelan's government form of socialism is completely disingenuous.

The reality is that Bernie Sanders’ "Democratic Socialism" is almost nothing like the socialism currently at work in Venezuela. Sanders is looking at offering free college and universal health care which are programs offered in countries like Germany, France, Finland and Norway, not a government takeover of private industries and $0.02 per gallon gas.

While misrepresenting Sanders’ policies as something akin to Communism is a dishonest analysis of why people shouldn't vote for him, the bigger problem here is the hypocrisy of many of the same people when it comes to socialism.

Few Americans would support turning all public roads private with toll booths at every corner or being forced to write a check to the fire department before they put out a fire at their house. Polls also show that Americans are very fond of some of the most socialist policies currently at work in the U.S. such as Social Security, Medicare and the Military.

It would also seem likely that the majority of Americans support socialist programs like public parks, state snow removal, border security, sewer systems, the Hoover dam, the VA, prisons, public libraries, police, the postal service, the court system, free lunch program, and public schools.

These may be some of the most popular socialist programs in the U.S., but these only represent a small portion of the socialism that many Americans utilize on a daily basis; so the question is, do these conservatives that are trying to paint Bernie Sanders as the second coming of Karl Marx really hate socialism, or is it just a tool to attack a politician on the other side of the aisle?

If they are truly concerned about the potential spread of socialism in the U.S., you should expect many of the same people to be attacking the Republican Presidential candidates as well. For example, Donald Trump has filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy 4 times. This process asks the public court system to provide protections for Trump's corporations that allow him to void or restructure agreements he made prior to the bankruptcy filing. While this may be a good business decision, it can be detrimental to employees who may lose their jobs and pensions or see their wages cut. Without this social safety net to protect his assets, its likely Trump wouldn't be the billionaire he claims to be.

Trump has also been more than happy to take government handouts in the form of tax breaks for building hotels and other properties. It has been reported that just one of the tax abatements he negotiated cost taxpayers nearly $60 million in the first decade of a 40 year agreement. Trump is hardly the only person to take advantage of these race to the bottom wealth redistribution offers that Republican's claim create jobs despite studies to the contrary. Data show that states and cities shifted an estimated $70 billion last year from corporations and wealthy individuals to tax payers using these tax incentives.

Tax breaks that mainly benefit the rich tend to be one of Republican’s favorite forms of socialism. The Pew Research Center reports that reduced tax rates on capital gains and dividends accounted for over $120 billion in lost revenue for the federal government in 2015. Thanks to this government sponsored give away, some of the richest people in America pay a tax rate nearly identical to the average middle class household. It is also one of the big reason why former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney only had an effective tax rate of 14%.

To spin the massive hand-out to the rich as good for all Americans, Republican’s point out that anyone can participate in the stock market and get rich, yet the data show that the top 1% hold over 50% of all stock, bonds and mutual funds while the bottom 50% hold a whopping %0.05 percent.

The wealthy also take home an inordinately large amount of other tax deductions such as the home mortgage interest on second homes, yacht tax deductions and the estate tax.

Of course Republicans also support the cap on social security, which costs a system in desperate need of funds around $100 billion a year. According to the Cato institute another $100 billion a year is lost in corporate welfare that mainly gives money away to companies that are already profitable. This corporate welfare doesn't even include the hundreds of billions of dollars the U.S. government spends every year on defense contracts. Republicans also push to convert public sector jobs to private sector jobs despite the data that show that in 33 out of 35 occupations it costs the government more to hire private companies than using their own employees. This can be seen in a Department of Defense report showing that private contractors comprise 22% of the workforce yet account for 50% of the cost.

The reality is that these tax breaks, special deals and government programs that Republicans support cost well over a trillion dollars a year. So if you're the kind of person that thinks people who support Bernie Sanders are idiots because "someone has to pay for that free college", you need to recognize that someone also has to pay for the Republican backed socialist wealth redistribution that benefits rich individuals and corporations. The big difference is that, as an average Joe you might actually benefit from Sanders' socialism.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Response to Beyoncé shows how far we still have to go

Police across America have decided enough is enough. They are tired of being held accountable for their actions are have decided the best way to clean up their image is to boycott pop singer Beyoncé. The Miami chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police said the reason for the boycott was because Beyoncé "used this year's Super Bowl to divide Americans by promoting the Black Panthers and her anti-police message".

How very mature of the police union to suggest that because Beyoncé, in their eyes, had used the Super Bowl to divide the country, they would in turn further divide the country by boycotting her performances. If we were having this discussion on an elementary school playground, such a childish response would be expected, but we are talking about the people who are tasked with public safety. This is a group that has taken an oath to protect and serve. If their goal was truly to unite the country, they would have come out with a statement that the police shootings referenced do not represent them or their members; and, while they disagree with this portrayal, they support Beyoncé’s first amendment right to free speech and would love to sit down with her to discuss her view on how police departments across the country could bring all Americans together.

After all, many people who are outraged by Beyoncé’s performance and video are the same people that have called on black leaders to fix black on black crime or for Islamic leaders to denounce Islamic terrorism. Why do they not hold police officers to the same standard? Data show that, despite comprising only 13 percent of the population, African Americans represent 32 percent of the people shot and killed by the police. Even if all of these events were completely justified, which seems unlikely given video footage, the optics are clearly troubling and should be addressed in a very public fashion.

Of course the bigger problem is the hypocrisy of those who are bashing Beyoncé. For example, the conservative media has complained for years about African Americans who turn every situation into a racial incident, yet these same people were falling all over themselves to claim that the 'X' formation made by Beyoncé’s backup dancers was a reference to Malcolm X. Maybe that was the case or maybe it wasn't, but for a group that wishes African Americans didn't see everything in terms of race, assuming a dance formation symbolized a departed black leader is an astounding double standard. It should also be noted that the very next formation was an arrow. Was this also an homage to another black activist, or is it possible that these white people are hypocritically seeing race where there is none?

Even if the entire performance was a reference to historic black leaders and groups, is there a problem with that? February is black history month, so paying tribute to those who fought against injustice and violence towards their community shouldn't be seen as an attack on whites as much as honoring past civil rights leaders. We as a country celebrate those who fought for this country and protected it from tyranny, yet we label those in the African American community who spoke out against undeniable oppression and occasionally turned to violence, as a means to protect themselves, as terrorist.

If the mere threat of violence is enough to condemn people, then we should be similarly outraged by the NRA who's member routinely suggest they will exercise their second amendment right against the authorities if they try and take their guns away. We should be outraged by the churches that advocate for the death of homosexuals because that's what the good book tells them they should do. We should be outraged by the spike in patriot hate groups that see the government as the enemy and have organized to kill police officers. We should be outraged at the free loaders who pointed guns at federal officers.

It may just be a coincidence that it is mainly white people who defend the threats of violence from white leaders and organizations yet denounce those same threats when it comes to black leaders and organizations, but the duplicity in reactions and the inequality it creates is part of the reason that many in the African American community continue to speak out.

There is perhaps no better example of this issue than the recent debate over the confederate flag. Despite the fact that the flag didn't fly over the South Carolina State House until the height of the civil rights movement, many white southerners feel this represents their heritage and are willing to ignore the vicious history it represents; yet when it comes to African Americans honoring their heritage and far less violent struggle, these same people are somehow offended.

The reality is that the U.S. has a long and shameful history of mistreating African Americans that data show continues today. Trivializing this fact while hypocritically feigning outrage at the slightest acknowledgement of the African American experience only serves to divide us further.

The problem here is not that Beyoncé chose to publicly celebrate her culture and comment on what challenges still remain, but that so many others refuse to accept any responsibility for their part in creating an environment where race is still an issue.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Conservative fear mongering hurts Muslim assimilation

It is human nature to fear things we don't understand. Unfortunately, too often, rather than recognizing this issue and taking steps to become informed, many look for opportunities to justify their fear and the bigotry it creates. This mentality can be seen in the rhetoric around immigrants from Mexico, where the recent discussions have attempted to paint these people as criminals despite the data to the contrary. Uninformed fear over government regulations on guns has advocates hoarding firearms and rejecting even minor changes because they believe the government is coming to take their guns. But perhaps the greatest example of the fear mentality right now can be seen in the Islamophobia that has taken root in recent years.

Clearly if you are an American traveling through ISIS controlled territory there is reason to be concerned about terrorists, but here in the United States you are far more likely to accidentally kill yourself with your own gun or get shot by police than you are to die at the hands of an Islamic extremist.

In spite of this fact, there are far too many people who have never picked up a Qur'an who claim with absolute certainty that Islam runs counter to American principles and values. One recent example of this mentality is an article titled "The multiculturalism myth: World leaders ignore Islam's refusal to assimilate" by Fox News political contributor Cal Thomas.

To validate the odious ethnocentrism that follows it, Thomas opens his piece by suggesting the repugnant actions of some Muslim immigrants towards women in Europe will surely spill over to the United States unless something is done.

It's an outstanding fear-mongering tactic to use anecdotal evidence and paint an entire religion as aggressively misogynistic; but the reality is that women across Europe and the United States already face extraordinarily high rates of sexual abuse, especially when compared to Syrian women. Using rape as a tool to push a political agenda is embarrassingly irresponsible.

Of course Thomas isn't really that concerned about the threat Muslims represent to European women. The goal of his article is to scare Americans into making irrationally jingoistic decisions, because like a lot of old white conservatives, Thomas is afraid of change. So rather than discuss strategies for helping Muslims assimilate, Thomas makes a politically motivated attack on those who embrace diversity.

"What we are witnessing is the complete breakdown and failure of multiculturalism. Dictionary.com defines multiculturalism as "the preservation of different cultures or cultural identities within a unified society, as a state or nation."

That definition contains a glaring contradiction. A society cannot be unified if it preserves different cultures and cultural identities within itself."

"Our failure to inculcate American traditions, beliefs and history, even in the native born, not to mention immigrants, is rapidly destroying the country bequeathed to us by our forebears."

The problem with Thomas' beliefs here are many. First, expecting any group of people to arrive in a new country and adopt that country's history, beliefs and traditions while totally abandoning their own within a few years is silly. History shows that assimilation takes generations. Beyond that, being Syrian or Muslim is part of who these people are. Retaining aspects of the life they have lived up until war drove them away isn't an attack on American or European values.

If Thomas was suddenly forced to leave America and live in a Middle Eastern country would he be quick to learn the local language, embrace local traditions and forsake his own values like he expects these immigrants to do? Would he stop celebrating Christmas and Easter and instead embrace Muslim holidays? Would he allow his wife to leave the house without a hijab?

There is also the question of when did we reach the pinnacle of American traditions, beliefs and values that Thomas would like to freeze in time? Were we greatest when we thought owning people should be legal? Are the traditions of a 40 hour work week, minimum wage and weekends included in the parts of America we should inculcate? Is providing universal health care, free public education and a social security net important American values. Were we harmed by the introduction of music from other continents that lead to the songs we hear today? American traditions, beliefs and values have changed over time and will continue to do so. It's asinine to suggest further changes will destroy this country.

While Thomas' stance on American traditions is uninformed and self-centered, his statement that "A society cannot be unified if it preserves different cultures and cultural identities within itself." is very disturbing. The idea that, unless we are one homogeneous society we cannot be unified is outrageous. Many people who would probably agree with Thomas' assertion are the same people who are unabashedly patriotic and believe the U.S. is by far the best country in the world. If that is the case, it should be noted that there is probably no country in the world more diverse than the United States. If the U.S. is great it is great because of this diversity and the unity it has created, not in spite of it.

The reality is that what we should really be concerned about is how we as a country assimilate immigrants and their traditions, beliefs and values to make us a better, stronger more advanced country; because, based on how we have treated many of the immigrants in the past it seems that the people who really have the biggest problem adjusting are the natives who think America is perfect as it is and go out of their way to make immigrants feel unwelcome.

The solution is understanding muslims and getting them to understand us.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Christian persecution is a self-inflicted fallacy

A growing number of Christians in America feel they are being persecuted. Some of the examples they give to prove Christianity is under attack include the war on Christmas where nativity scenes are shamefully made to exist in the same public space as other religious symbols while some companies refuse to greet every customer with Merry Christmas. Some view removing god from the pledge of allegiance and preventing educators from proselytizing at public schools as an affront to Christianity. Others believe that laws prohibiting Christians from using their faith as a reason to discriminate shows how godless liberals are ruining this great country.

While most Christians aren't this oblivious, the vocal minority that feel their religiosity should be on display at all times and in all places clearly can't put themselves in the shoes of those Christians and non-Christians who would rather not be inundated with Christian symbols and principles in public spaces. To many, this sort of overt display of one religion makes them feel like they are being forced to participate in something they don't believe in or would prefer to handle privately.

Fox News contributor and bestselling author Jason F. Wright recently penned an article discussing the fine line between forcing religion on others and practicing his faith. Wright was compelled to write this work after he received an email that suggested that by raising his kids in the Christian church he was forcing them to believe in God. The idea being that the kids should have free will to decide for themselves what they believe.

To counter this assertion, Wright states that "It’s up to us to send signals to our children about what’s important" and that as a parent he also teaches his kids not to touch a hot stove, to say "please" and "thank you", and to look both ways before crossing the street.

While this may seem like a good justification for his position, there is a subtle bigotry to his statement that rubs some people the wrong way. The idea here is that Wright's job as a parent is teaching his kids the difference between right and wrong. By including Christianity in this list, he implies that by not teaching your kids about God you are essentially sending them across the street of life without looking to see if there is traffic first.

This sort of arrogance and ignorance about others is why so many Christians are baffled when non-Christians reject their religious expression in public spaces. Claiming that banning prayer in school is leading to the demise of America is insulting to those who don't believe in God. Many of the people who support prayer as the answer for public schools were the same people that were outraged when the President addressed the countries children. Despite the fact that message was completely innocuous - stay in school and work hard - and that Republican Presidents before him had done the same thing, there was an outcry from the right that the President was trying to indoctrinate their kids. It is an odd double standard to be offended by the President’s appearance in a public school because of his liberal views but fight for the inclusion of religious symbols in these same schools that don't represent the entire student body.

Of course, even beyond Wright's implicit belief that raising his kids Christian is superior to bringing them up as non-Christians, there are many different interpretations of the Bible which make such blind faith troubling. In years past, Christians used the Bible to justify the killing and enslavement of non-Christians. More recently Christians have used their religious convictions to refuse marriage to interracial and same sex couples. Over time the view of what is considered good and moral changes, and Christians are not always at the forefront of these shifts.

Perhaps worse than Wright's soft bigotry toward non-Christians is his explanation for why his kids aren't being forced to believe in God. To Wright, forcing implies that the kids have no choice in the matter, so he prefers to see his guidance as "inviting" them to believe in God. One wonders how Wright has handled the situation where one of his kids refused their father’s invitation to Church. Did Wright willfully accept this rejection, or did he let his kids know that, while they lived under his roof they would be attending Church and honoring God? If the invitation doesn't include the option to say no then it becomes much less of an invitation and much more of a command.

Even in letting readers know that he would still love his children if they decide not to pursue the life of a devout Christian, Wright continues the unwittingly condescending tone when he says "as adults, they’ll find their own way, make mistakes" because in Wright's mind not choosing to have Jesus in your life is clearly a mistake.

Wright's essay offers the perfect example of why some people fight so ardently against religious proliferation in America. No one rejects Christian imagery in the public sphere because they want to end Christianity. They reject it because it represents an intolerance of non-Christians and an establishment of Christianity as the de facto state-sponsored religion.

Christians like Wright mean well; but if their intentions were truly just about being allowed to practice their religion as they see fit while "inviting" others to share in their faith, then they must quit pushing their symbols and principles on those who turn down this invitation and stop looking down their noses at everyone who chooses a different path. Because the so called persecution of Christians in the U.S. all but disappears if these peddlers would just take no for an answer.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Conservatives should be embarrassed by their Muslim rhetoric

Most Americans seem to agree that the world would be a better place without extremist groups like ISIS and Al-Qaeda. Unfortunately, rather than having a substantive conversation on solutions, talking heads in the media resort to hateful rhetoric and fear mongering.

A recent example of this uninformed bigotry comes from Fox News Anchor Judge Jeanine Pirro who was "furious" at statements made by Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney after an attack on a police officer by a Muslim American. Kenney said "In no way shape or form does anyone in this room believe that Islam, or the teachings of Islam, have anything to do with what you've seen on that screen. That is abhorrent, it's terrible, and it does not represent the religion in any way shape or form or any of its teachings."

In response to the Mayor's comments Pirro angrily howls, "The man is wearing Muslim garb. He's sworn an allegiance to ISIS. He told the cops he did it for Allah and ISIS. His own mother says he's a devout Muslim. Are you stupid?" The problem here is not that Kenney is stupid but that Pirro isn't really listening to what Kenney is saying.

Nowhere in his statement did Kenney suggest the shooter wasn't dressed in Muslim garb. Nowhere in his statement did Kenney claim the shooter wasn't a Muslim. Nowhere in his statement did Kenney say ISIS isn't a problem.

The only thing Kenney said was that the actions of this man do not represent the teachings of Islam for Muslim Americans.

While there are certainly examples of Muslim Jihadists killing people in America; non-Muslim extremists, some of which were Christian, actually account for more deaths over the past 15 years. In fact Fox News reported that the Department of Defense considers Catholics and Evangelical Christians as terrorist groups similar to Al-Qaeda and the KKK. Ironically, many in the Christian community were offended by this classification and feel that the actions of a few extremists shouldn't sully the reputation of an entire religion. Apparently they feel that the attacks by Christian extremists in no way, shape or form represent the teachings of the Bible.

Despite her irrational response, it's possible that what Pirro is really concerned about here is that, in the edited clip she shows to viewers, the Mayor never addresses the issue of the "war on police". Obviously the attacks on the public servants is troubling and should be taken very seriously; however, data indicates that in spite of the popular narrative, police are not under attack. In fact police deaths from guns is at or near an all-time low.

Of course it should be noted that there isn't some epidemic of Muslims shooting cops across the United States. There was, however, a group in Michigan a few years back that considered themselves "Christian Warriors" who planned on killing various police officers and civilians in the hopes of starting a violent revolt. Oddly, it seems Judge Pirro never felt compelled to use her bully pulpit to express her outrage over these Christian cop killers.

Also missing from Pirro's rant is any mention of the shooter's mother's statements that her son had been hearing voices recently. Gun advocates like Judge Pirro are usually quick to say we don't have a gun problem in the U.S., we have a mental health problem. Yet whenever the mentally ill person is a Muslim, concerns about mental health are replaced with platitudes about Islamic terrorism.

There is no doubt that there are Muslims in this world that would like to do us harm and use Islam as the rationale, but in the U.S. the Muslim extremists are far outnumbered by all manner of other religious and cultural extremists. Castigating an entire religion for the actions of a few is something the Christians wholly reject when it comes to Christian extremism, so why are they so willing to do the same thing when it comes to Muslims?

Fixing religious extremism should absolutely be a priority for the U.S., but expecting people who are willing to die for their God to accept ignorant insults and blind hatred as a call for an honest introspection into their religious beliefs is asinine. Conservatives should also realize that many of the ills of Islam existed in Christianity hundreds of years ago; and while Christians have made great progress, it hasn't happened overnight and it certainly isn't perfect, as there are still those who call for the killing of homosexuals, those who demand women obey their husbands, and those who call for the murder of doctors that honor a woman's constitutionally protected right to abortion.

Islamic extremists may be responsible for the deaths of thousands of people, but if you live in the U.S., odds are your own gluttony will kill you long before ever even encountering a radical Muslim. Pretending that is not the case doesn't make you a patriot or a protector of the constitution. It makes you a bully. If only these talking head Christian Crusaders were willing to do the same sort of soul-searching they expect everyone else to do.

Monday, January 11, 2016

The president is not coming to take your guns

In the U.S. there is nothing quite like the unwavering support for the 2nd amendment. One need look no further than the President’s recent executive actions on gun sales and the reaction from the Republican presidential candidates - most of which came before the actions were ever announced.

Jeb! penned an article which appeared in the Iowa paper, the Gazette, where he says the president "shows an utter disregard for the Second Amendment as well as the proper constitutional process for making laws in our nation."

Ben Carson tweeted "The President's actions have everything to do with advancing his political agenda & little to do with actually protecting American citizens."

Chris Christie said "The president is a petulant child," for taking executive action on gun sales.

Mike Huckabee attempted to conflate abortion to gun control when he stated "You say if we can save one life we should. Well, apply 5th & 14th amendments to the unborn & save 4,000 lives a day."

While no one should be surprised by the over the top nature of this election year rhetoric that has more to do with pandering to the Republican base than analysis of the president’s actions,
all of these quotes seem completely reasonable when compared to the outright absurd assertions made by many Republicans, including Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz who insist that President Obama is coming to take your guns.

The president is not coming to take your guns.

A quick scan of the action shows it is just a series of guidelines and suggestions to tighten up laws that are already on the books and improve gun safety. Pretending this is some nefarious illegal plan to confiscate everyone's firearms is an embarrassingly inaccurate interpretation of what the president has offered. Even conservative law professor and National Review contributing editor Jonathan Adler called the President’s actions "legally meaningless".

Only in the minds of gun enthusiasts is an action that is "legally meaningless" construed as the president repealing the second amendment.

The president is not coming to take your guns.

Beyond this, the reality is that what the president has offered contains a number of ideas previously supported by gun advocates. For example, NRA "solutions" for gun violence such as "enforcing the laws that are already on the books", "address the problem of mental illness and violence", and strengthening the "gun check system" to make sure states are including criminals, are all part of the President’s new plan.

It should also be noted that the only changes to gun laws under President Obama expanded not restricted gun rights. In fact, when compared to Republican icon Ronald Reagan who supported such things as banning open carry, banning machine guns, banning assault weapons, and mandatory background checks, Obama looks like the second coming of Charlton Heston.

The president is not coming to take your guns.

But perhaps the biggest rebuke to the concern over gun confiscation is the fact that, despite support for universal background checks from 92% of Americans and 86% of gun owners congress was unable to even bring background check legislation up for a vote. According to an NRA poll, when asked if "Every American has a fundamental right to self-defense and a right to choose the home defense firearm that is best for them.” 76% of Americans said yes. If President Obama, with 92% support, can't get even the simplest of gun control measures passed, then what in the world makes anyone think that there is even the slightest chance that the President could push through legislation to round up the 300 million or so guns floating around the United States.

There is no greater ruse in American politics today than the NRA-manufactured idea that the government plans on taking your gun; and no more obviously paranoid group than gun advocates, who in spite of mountains of evidence to the contrary are absolutely convinced that their 2nd amendment rights are in imminent danger. One wonders if gun supporters get the irony that it is their unequivocal intransigence regarding even the slightest change to gun laws that precipitates the sort of actions they errantly see as government tyranny.

The reality is that this sort of uninformed fomentation by individuals who would like to hold the highest office in the land does far more damage than good because there is absolutely, positively, without a doubt, no way the President is coming to take your guns.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Conservative media coverage of Missouri University protests is embarrassing

The conservative media isn't a big fan of discussing racism. They are however very eager to discuss all of the reasons people shouldn't be talking about racism. The diversionary tactics include such classics as "playing the race card", "black on black crime", "White guilt", "I have a black friend" as well as more recent incarnations like "all lives matter", "reverse racism", and "racism doesn't exist anymore". The purpose of these talking points is not to have a substantive discussion on how to improve race relations in America. No, the purpose of these talking points is to specifically avoid such discussions by dismissing racially based discrimination and hate as the imaginary rantings of politically correct crybabies.

Unfortunately the recent events at Missouri University offer yet another example of conservative media's deride and disparage tactics when it comes to the uncomfortable conversation of racism. Rather than talk about the overt racism experienced by some black students, the conservative media is dissecting video of a student that may or may not have been struck by the University President's car. Rather than debate the need for greater diversity among the staff and faculty, the conservative media has obsessed over a false story that the bathroom swastika might be a hoax. Rather than consider how some minority students might feel marginalized at a predominately white school, the conservative media is more concerned about the criticism they have received for their reporting.

Maybe the incidents described by students are completely accurate or maybe they aren't, but all of this hand wringing about needing extensive proof of racism rings hollow coming from the conservative media, given their penchant for making a mountain out of a molehill. For example, one of the top viewed stories on Fox News the past few days is an article by Christian huckster Todd Starnes titled Teen runner disqualified from state meet -- Was it the Bible verse?. Despite providing zero evidence that the runner was disqualified for his religious views, Starnes had no problem publishing the concern of Republican lawmakers over "Religious expression being squashed right here in the Ninth District".

The reality is that when it comes to the concerns of conservatives, the mere appearance of discrimination is all the proof that is required. So while the conservative media chides a group of people they tend to label as entitled and lazy for organizing and bringing about change with terms like "disgusting" and "infantile", their concern for this kind of change via protest seems to be limited to black students and liberals. In fact, when it comes to protests outside of medical clinics by anti-abortion zealots who bully women into conforming to their way of thinking, the conservative media is rather supportive. The same is true of instances like the Christians at Duke University that protested the use of the school's chapel bell tower for the Islamic call to prayer and the protest over the lack of Christmas symbols on the cups at Starbucks. If trying to change minds through protest is disgusting and infantile, then these acts by conservatives deserve as much if not more scrutiny than the Missouri students.

Perhaps the problem here is that the conservative media doesn't like the idea of someone demanding change. After all, the conservative media response to the list of demands submitted by Concerned Student 1950 was to cry fascism. This rhetoric is, however, surprisingly absent in the conservative media when conservative Christians like Mike Huckabee, Franklin Graham, and Bryan Fischer demanded change because their feelings were hurt.

The conservative media was also largely silent when Republican politicians made outlandish demands as part of the debt ceiling deal, payroll tax cut negotiations, as well as the recent Republican presidential debate.

But possibly the biggest hypocrisy of the conservative media when it comes to the Missouri University protests has to do with how they have reacted to Jonathan Butler who went on a hunger strike in response to what he saw as systemic racism at the University. The bulk of the conservative media coverage of Butler has focused on the fact that he comes from a wealthy family, because in their minds this exposes a hypocrisy by Butler regarding his organization’s statements on white privilege. The problem is that his wealth has no bearing on the color of his skin. Perhaps he is a spoiled rich kid, but that doesn't mean he hasn't also experienced racism or discrimination associated with being an African American.

Even if it were the case that privilege and white privilege are synonymous, does that somehow make Butler unqualified to comment on the topic? Republicans in Congress routinely complain about how the system they are a part of is broken, yet the conservative media never suggests that their job as a Congressman makes them ineligible to critique Congress. After every terrorist attack perpetrated by Muslims, the conservative media is the first to ask other Muslims to denounce these acts. And you can bet anytime a Democrat disagrees with President Obama, the conservative media will be the first ones to hold that person up as proof of the president's failure.

The idea that being rich precludes Butler from the bigotry and intolerance experienced by black students is idiotic. but compounding the issue by also suggesting his critique is invalid simply because he grew up privileged is completely embarrassing.

The reality is, if there is anything that should be dismissed out of hand, it is the conservative media's coverage of racism. Not only is their narrative so uniformly biased as to be detrimental to a rational discussion, it is also absurdly hypocritical. There is plenty of worthwhile issues to debate regarding racism in America; unfortunately, the conservative media has decided to bury their heads in the sand and cover none of them.