Archive for October, 2014

If you follow any far-right websites, church-state separation sites, or probably LGBT sites, you have seen this story. It has been going on now for over two weeks, and it seems as though WND is finally down to only posting on this once a day instead of several. So, first the (non-exhaustive) links:

If you were to focus on the WND headlines and have the vaguest idea of what this is about, you would conclude the following: (1) The mayor of Houston is a lesbian (a really “big” lesbian, based on the repeat of this adjective in the headlines), (2) she has demanded that area pastors turn in all copies of their sermons, (3) in clear violation of church-state separation, and (4) that pastors are protesting.

So, what’s really going on?

The story started many months ago, when the mayor of Houston, Annise Parker (who does happen to be a lesbian), championed an anti-discrimination ordinance (HERO: Houston Equal Rights Ordinance) that protects against discrimination based on sexual orientation. Texas is pretty conservative, so it was opposed, including to the next ballot. But, the petitioners failed to get enough signatures to get it on the ballot for repeal. Darn.

The petitioners are claiming that the City Attorney, David Feldman, wrongly decided they hadn’t gathered enough valid signatures to qualify for the ballot, and they will have their day in court in January 2015.

That’s the first part. The second part of this is to remember that America has this thing called “separation of church and state.” I know that many conservatives don’t like this, and don’t think it applies to the church affecting the state – just vice versa – but case law would seem to go against that. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has a rule that enforces this church-state separation, in that the IRS won’t tax a church if it stays out of state business. Put more bluntly and specifically, the 1954 Johnson Amendment bans tax-exempt 501(C) organizations from intervening in political campaigns.

Officials in the city of Houston had a feeling that this was not followed by local pastors, that the local pastors advocated for the repeal of the measure. Which would put it at odds with church-state separation; or, at the very least, it would put them at odds with their tax-exempt status.

And so, city attorneys took the rare measure of subpoenaing, as part of discovery because of the suit the petitioners filed against the city (as in, they brought this on themselves), “all speeches, presentations, or sermons related to HERO, the Petition, Mayor Annise Parker, homosexuality, or gender identity prepared by, delivered by, revised by, or approved by you or in your possession.” They “were issued to several high-profile pastors and religious leaders who have been vocal in opposing the ordinance. The Alliance Defending Freedom has filed a motion on behalf of the pastors seeking to quash the subpoenas.” (source)

Perhaps most importantly, Mayor Parker did not even know about – let alone initiate – the subpoenas. In fact, she criticized the city attorneys after she found out about it. Somehow WND seems to have failed to notice this very salient point.

At this point, we can reject the second conclusion from the WND headlines. And if it wasn’t obvious, the first one is a non sequitur because someone’s sexual orientation has nothing to do with any of this in terms of its legality. Though, Pat Robertson would beg to differ.

The third point, the violation of church-state separation, is a more interesting question. Before reading anyone else’s commentary on it, I admit that this was an eye-raiser for me because it seems like it’s treading on thin ice. But the more I thought about it, the more I thought that this was okay. The state isn’t telling the church what to do. It isn’t asking for anything that’s private. It’s asking for something that anyone who went to the sermons – which are open to anyone – could have learned.

That said, people with far more legal expertise than I do think that while this isn’t necessarily unconstitutional, it is over-reach: “[The legality] presupposes that the information in the subpoenaed sermons really is substantially relevant to a case or an investigation. I don’t quite see how “all speeches, presentations, or sermons related to HERO, the Petition, Mayor Annise Parker, homosexuality, or gender identity prepared by, delivered by, revised by, or approved by you or in your possession” would be relevant to the litigation about the validity of the referendum petitions.” (source)

And, since the severe backlash, including a letter from the Texas Attorney General, the city attorneys have backed down.

Meanwhile, on the right, there’s some hypocrisy going on. The American Family Association (AFA), a far-right Christian group who is likewise outraged over this, has long held that the First Amendment only applies to forbidding Congress from interfering with the church (and only the Christian churches), nothing more. Their entire case, in this case, rests on a local Mayor (which is inaccurate – it’s the city attorneys). But, AFA’s spokesmouth has stated this:

First, the amendment applies only to Congress. “Congress shall make no law…” No other entity is restrained by the First Amendment. Since the amendment applies only to Congress, it is legally, historically and constitutionally impossible for a state, a county commission, a city council, a school board, a school principal, a school teacher or a student to violate the First Amendment. This is for one simple reason: none of them is Congress. Violating the First Amendment is something only Congress can do.


This has also given many people and groups the opportunity for (un-)righteous indignation. Such as Ted Cruz, who agrees with fear-mongers that pastors may soon be “hauled off to jail for a hate crime” for just preaching what they want to preach. Others, like Glen Beck, say that this is the most dangerous thing they have ever seen.

Overall, WND posted a lot about this. Most of it came from their chief in anti-gay writing, Bob Unruh, though it also made two of founder and CEO Joseph Farah’s columns. Not to mention one by Chuck Norris and the main tabloid rumor reporter, Joe Kovacs. It has spawned very roughly 4700 comments on WND across the posts that I clicked on and linked to above.

Meanwhile, it gave the über-right a rallying cry of another (made-up) example of (false) Christian Persecution. Because laws are made for everyone else, and hyperbole is okay in an election year.

That in mind, I don’t expect to write about this anymore, baring a major new development.

Back in July, there was a “little” thing of another Israeli war. I had a tiny personal stake in the issue because my brother was just finishing up a trip to Israel when the rockets started to fire.

Just a few days before, Malaysia Airlines flight 17 (MH 17) had been shot down over eastern Ukraine, likely by rebels using Russian surface-to-air missiles.

What’s the relevance? Well, Israel is a small, narrow country. Much smaller than the war zone in eastern Ukraine. And, for a few days near the start of the fighting, the United States’ Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) shut down all US flights to Israel.

Makes sense, right?

Unfortunately, you’re kinda damned if you do and damned if you don’t. If there had been no cancellation of flights, and something had happened (since both sides have missiles that can hit commercial airlines), Republicans would have complained that Obama doesn’t care about security and this is just like what happened over Ukraine, why oh why didn’t you learn from it?!

But, since the FAA did shut down flights, now it’s a conspiracy theory. WND had several articles about this, spear-headed by fake-news-in-chief, and senior WND news editor, Aaron Klein (and if you think that moniker is undeserved, see pretty much any post on this site about Aaron Klein. Specifically for this topic:

The first article starts out in typical Klein fashion, not citing any actual source, just rumors: “Officials in Jerusalem are quietly wondering whether the Federal Aviation Administration’s prohibition on U.S. flights to Tel Aviv is partially a tactic to pressure Israel into a cease-fire. … Behind the scenes, several Jerusalem diplomats who spoke on condition of anonymity questioned whether the FAA flight-ban was in part a tactic to press Israel into a truce with Hamas. A cease-fire would tentatively stop Hamas’ rocketing of the Jewish state. … Earlier Tuesday, after the decision by Delta and United to cancel flights and before the FAA ban was announced, the White House issued a statement saying the airlines were not acting on orders from the U.S. government.”

There were 513 comments that are about what you’d expect with WND. But that is a lot of comments. All of the highly voted ones are defending Israel and/or attacking President Obama.

On the second story, with only 16 comments, the sane people had a chance to come out. Top-rated comment is by “PBO_Go” who wrote, “Sorry, Ted, stopping flights for a day was an appropriate action and one of the few this admin has done in the last six years.”

The third story only got 2 comments.

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted. Over 2.5 months. But, NASA’s proposal-writing season is dying down, and I only have two left, and those are due on Friday. Writing on here will still likely be hit-or-miss for a bit as I gear back towards a regular schedule, but I expect to be back to a few posts a day within a week or three.

In the meantime, I have a gagillion WND stories flagged to potentially write about. And, I’m going to lump a lot together that deal with the same topic. To start with, I’m going to talk about Dinesh D’Souza.

Never heard of him? I’m not surprised. He’s a Z-list celebrity on the religious “right” in ‘Mer’ca, but he’s yet another trumped up fake example of Christian Persecution by the non-majority in this country. From what I can find (and seriously, I did not look that long), D’Souza is just another guy who can’t stand President Obama and keeps finding publishers to print his material denigrating the President. Among other things.

The “persecution” started back in July, while I was still writing, and I flagged many WND stories about it:

Meanwhile, there were some slightly more mainstream – well, at least sites that I read – sources that carried the story.

  • “After Conservative Pressure, Costco Restocks Dinesh D’Souza’s Weak-Selling Book” –by Scott Kaufman via the Raw Story (07/09/2014)
  • “Dinesh D’Souza Explains How Costco, Google And The New York Times Are Conspiring Against Him” –by Miranda Blue via RightWingWatch (07/11/2014)
  • “Dinesh D’Souza: ‘I Don’t Want To Seem Like A Crybaby’ But Google And Costco Are Persecuting Me” –by Brian Tashman via RightWingWatch (07/22/2014)
  • So, what went on? Well, it looks like Costco initially stocked his book, it wasn’t selling well so they pulled it, people screamed persecution, and Costco figured they’d already bought ’em so might as well still try to sell ’em. Oh, that and, “because D’Souza’s film, America, has created an uptick in sales.” From The Raw Story article:

    In a statement posted on its Facebook page, a Costco representative named “Dave” wrote that “Costco is not a book store. Our book shelf space is very limited. We exercise discipline in the best utilization of that limited space based solely on what our members are buying. We can’t carry every title that our members are interested in reading. We are constantly monitoring book sales, and make decisions to pull books off the shelves frequently based on sales volume to make room for other titles. Politics or controversy over content do not influence our decisions.”

    In the wake of renewed interest, however, Costco has decided to begin stocking the book again.

    However, throughout the “ordeal,” as RWW puts it: “Conservative activist Dinesh D’Souza insists that he is the victim of persecution by a left-wing conspiracy emanating from the White House which directed Costco, the New York Times and Google to discriminate against his latest anti-Obama movie and companion book, “America: Imagine the World Without Her.””

    As I said, Persecution. So far as I know, he hasn’t pulled the Galileo Fallacy … yet.

    But, D’Souza’s persecution but the Liberal Loonies didn’t end with Costco or Google in July. Instead, he was hit again in September:

    I think “nemesis” is a bit too strong a word here. Perhaps “annoying buzzing mosquito” would be a better term. This was also covered by RightWingWatch by Brian Tashman, “Dinesh D’Souza: Government Is ‘Shutting Me Up’ With Campaign Finance Trial.” And there was a follow-up that refers to that last WND post by Deborah; this is via the Raw Story’s David Ferbuson, “Judge to Dinesh D’Souza: No, you can’t delay your sentence to promote your movie.”

    The issue this time is that D’Souza kinda screwed up with The Law by, well, violating it. It was a white collar crime, violating campaign finance law, by making illegal contributions to a Republican Senate candidate. He arranged for “straw donors” to contribute $10,000 each to the failed 2012 campaign of a college friend of his, Wendy Long. He was faced with two years in prison and large fines, and prosecutors had asked for at least a 10-month prison term, in part because D’Souza showed no remorse.

    Instead, he got 8 months in a “community confinement center,” 5 years probation, community service, a $30,000 fine, and mandatory psychological therapy. Not bad for someone facing two years in prison. And whose ex-wife wrote to the judge and asked him “to impose the harshest sentences he could against D’Souza, who she said was a serial liar and abuser.”

    What’s incredibly outlandish is that he wanted his sentence delayed. From the Raw Story:

    federal judge has denied conservative filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza’s request to postpone his eight months of confinement to a halfway house so the he might promote his new film and spend time with his daughter during her school holidays.

    D’Souza and his attorney Benjamin Brafman asked the court to allow D’Souza to honor several “professional engagements” this fall promoting America: Imagine a World Without Her — the sequel to the 2008 film 2016: Obama’s America.

    According to the New York Post, Judge Richard Berman issued a ruling on Wednesday wherein he not only slapped down D’Souza’s request for a delay, but expressed surprise that the former Reagan administration wunderkind is still at large.

    “Application respectfully denied,” Judge Berman wrote. “The court is, in fact, surprised that its 9/23/14 sentence is not already in effect.”

    … “I’m not sure Mr. D’Souza gets it and it’s hard for me to discern any personal acceptance of responsibility in this case,” Berman said.

    Of course, this is all Obama’s fault. Isn’t it? That’s how the WND stories spin this (helped perhaps by Corsi being the “birther-in-chief” — he’s been the main drive behind the birther movement). They claim that D’Souza is a victim of political pressure and that despite all of those pressures, his book and movie are still great and making inroads against The Man.

    Edited to Add (next day): Corsi has another update, this time it’s “Judge Restricts Dinesh D’Souza’s Travel.” D’Souza doesn’t seem to understand that this is meant to be a punishment not just a line on a piece of paper.

    Meanwhile, the top-rated comment, by “ratamacue76” also doesn’t get it: “The Left really, really does not like this guy. From such an intense reaction to him I’d say he scares them to their very core.”

    No, he really doesn’t. I don’t care what your politics are. You were given a sentence by a judge. You carry it out. You don’t get exceptions because you want to give an interview or a talk in a different state. You’re lucky you aren’t actually behind bars.