Sunday, July 24, 2016

2016 Republican National Convention: Ivanka Trump Paints Rose-Colored Portrait of Her Father

The Republican National Convention took place from July 18-21 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. Before I discuss Trump's acceptance speech, I'd like to devote attention to the introductory speech delivered by his daughter, Ivanka. In a Time transcript of Ivanka Trump's speech, Ivanka described her father in glowing terms as a family man, an enlightened businessman, and a true-blue American. Let's dissect some of her statements, shall we?
"My father taught my siblings and me the importance of positive values and a strong ethical compass."
A man who advocated for the killing of noncombatants, encouraged torture, called for a ban on Muslims entering the U.S., and demonized Mexican immigrants is not a man with a "strong ethical compass".
"My father values talent. He recognizes real knowledge and skill when he finds it. He is color blind and gender neutral. He hires the best person for the job, period."
A man who has a history of misogynist comments spanning decades, defends a man accused of sexual harassment, and is himself facing sexual assault allegations is not "gender neutral". A man with a dubious history on the subject of race is not "color blind".
"One of the reasons he has thrived as an entrepreneur is because he listens to everyone. Billionaire executives don’t usually ask the people doing the work for their opinion of the work. My father is an exception. On every one of his projects, you’ll see him talking to the super, the painter, the engineers, the electricians, he’ll ask them for their feedback, if they think something should be done differently, or could be done better."
Trump listens to everyone? According to the New York Times, during a March appearance on MSNBC's Morning Joe, Trump said that, "I’m speaking with myself, number one, because I have a very good brain ... My primary consultant is myself and I have a good instinct for this stuff." According to NPR, Art of the Deal ghostwriter Tony Schwartz described Trump as "reactive whenever he feels threatened" and expressed concerns over "the limits of his attention span" in conversations. Trump does not strike me as a man who listens thoughtfully to others.
"Politicians ask to be judged by their promises, not their results. I ask you to judge my father by his results. Judge his values by those he’s instilled in his children. Judge his competency by the towers he’s built, the companies he’s founded, and the tens of thousands of jobs he’s created."
If we are to judge Trump by his business results, we should also judge him by his four bankruptcies, which do not reflect well on his business acumen.

Ivanka Trump's speech was meant to humanize Donald Trump by depicting him as an ethical, fair, and magnanimous man. Unfortunately, Ivanka's rosy portrait bears little resemblance to the man running for president. Since Trump's public image is that of a sexist, cruel, self-absorbed man, Ivanka's speech may have been an effort to dispel that unsavory image. However, a quick look into Trump's statements and actions reveal the truth about the Republican nominee.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

2016 Republican National Convention: Thiel and Falwell

The Republican National Convention took place from July 18-21 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. The last day of the convention included speaker choices who remind us that the Trump campaign is less than enthusiastic about LGBTQ equality and downright contemptuous toward church-state separation.

Among the speakers on the last day of the convention was billionaire Peter Thiel. Thiel, co-founder of PayPal and the first outside investor in Facebook, is also a gay man who was outed against his wishes by Gawker in 2007, according to Time. Thiel's speech, as captured in a Time transcript, played to his audience's feelings of (real or imagined) decline and national failure. Glaringly, he implied that the struggle for LGBTQ equality is a distraction from more important economic issues, as if American couldn't address both at the same time.

Thiel described the modern U.S. in ugly terms, telling listeners that the military is technologically backwards, that the government is more interested in war than space travel, and that the struggle for transgender bathroom rights is a "distraction from our real problems".
"Today our government is broken. Our nuclear bases still use floppy disks. Our newest fighter jets can’t even fly in the rain. And it would be kind to say the government’s software works poorly, because much of the time it doesn’t even work at all. That is a staggering decline for the country that completed the Manhattan project. We don’t accept such incompetence in Silicon Valley, and we must not accept it from our government.

Instead of going to Mars, we have invaded the Middle East. We don’t need to see Hillary Clinton’s deleted emails: her incompetence is in plain sight. She pushed for a war in Libya, and today it’s a training ground for ISIS. On this most important issue Donald Trump is right. It’s time to end the era of stupid wars and rebuild our country.

When I was a kid, the great debate was about how to defeat the Soviet Union. And we won. Now we are told that the great debate is about who gets to use which bathroom. This is a distraction from our real problems. Who cares?"
Thiel asserted that he was proud to be gay, then said that "fake culture wars" only serve to distract Americans from economic problems.

"I am proud to be gay. I am proud to be a Republican. But most of all I am proud to be an American. I don’t pretend to agree with every plank in our party’s platform; but fake culture wars only distract us from our economic decline, and nobody in this race is being honest about it except Donald Trump."
Thiel's attitude of "who cares?" and his disdain for "fake" culture wars was disappointing. The Republican National Convention may have wanted to include a gay speaker to convince LGBTQ voters that it was an enlightened party, but that speaker didn't seem eager to actually talk about LGBTQ issues. Does the GOP want the appearance of open-mindedness without the substance? I think so.

Also on the agenda was Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University. Before encouraging the audience to unite behind Trump and Pence, Falwell rejoiced over the prospect of the Johnson Amendment being repealed under Trump. Currently, the Internal Revenue Code forbids 501(c)(3) organizations such as churches from promoting or opposing political campaigns, a policy that Trump wants to repeal.
"Mr. Trump has added a plank to this party platform to repeal IRS rules sponsored by Lyndon Johnson in 1954 barring churches and nonprofits from expressing political free speech. Conservative universities and churches, however, have been investigated, while authorities have too often turned a blind eye toward liberal groups, including universities where left-wing ideology is so pervasive that they have, in effect, become Democratic voter indoctrination camps. Trust me, the repeal of the Johnson Amendment will create a huge revolution for conservative Christians and for free speech."
Falwell fails to grasp the function of the Johnson Amendment, which is not to limit non-profits' free speech, but to prevent them from abusing their tax-exempt status to endorse candidates. Furthermore, Falwell and Trump fail to recognize the importance of the Johnson Amendment for protecting church-state separation. In Trump, Religious Right leaders like Falwell have found a candidate who will erode the wall of separation and allow them to mingle religion and politics even more.

In my next post, I'll discuss the speech given by Donald Trump himself, and what his speech tells us about his worldview and campaign. Stay tuned.

Liberty Counsel Promotes Homophobia in Romania

LGBTQ rights faced a setback in Romania this week, and an American Religious Right organization played a part. According to the Associated Press, Romania's Constitutional Court ruled on July 20th that a request to limit marriage to opposite sex partners in the constitution is indeed constitutional. Currently, Romania's constitution allows for marriage between freely consenting "spouses" but does not specify gender. The July 20th ruling allows Romania's parliament to vote on whether or not to change the constitution.

The court decision comes after efforts by a Romanian anti-LGBTQ coalition to undermine LGBTQ rights. Reuters reports that an initiative called the Coalition for the Family gathered signatures from 3 million Romanians in favor of changing "spouses" to "a man and a woman" in the constitution. The push to undermine same-sex marriage has also received support from Orthodox clergy, according to Balkan Insight. Ruptly TV reports that anti-LGBTQ protesters marched through Bucharest last month, demanding a constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage. Marchers held signs that read Solidari cu Familia ("Solidarity with the Family"), 3,000,000 Sustin Normalitatea ("3 Million Support Normalcy"), and Nu Casatoriilor Si Adoptiilor Homosexuale ("No Homosexual Marriages and Adoptions").

LGBTQ rights organizations such as MozaiQ and TRANSform opposed the Constitutional Court's decision, arguing in a joint statement that the initiative "creates a hostile, degrading and derogatory environment" for LGBTQ persons in Romania.

As with many other homophobic movements overseas, figures from the American Religious Right played a role in these developments. On July 21st, Liberty Counsel released a statement through Christian News Wire praising the Constitutional Court's decision.
"Liberty Counsel submitted a major brief in support of the referendum, pointing out the intrinsic and common-sense benefits of natural marriage, discussing the deleterious effects of same-sex "marriage" in the handful of nations that have tried out this social experiment, and debunking the fraudulent Kinseyan "research" that lies at the heart of the sexual revolution. Liberty Counsel's brief was instrumental in exposing and rebutting the misleading arguments and briefs submitted by a number of pro-homosexual organizations from outside of Romania, such as ILGA Europe and Amnesty International. Romania and other traditional nations in Europe have come under increasing foreign pressure to abandon their heritage, traditions and sovereignty in favor of the homosexual agenda pushed from abroad."
Horatio Mihet, a Romanian immigrant and chief litigation counsel at Liberty Counsel, claimed that the decision affirmed "choice" over "the dictates of pro-homosexual forces".
"By approving this referendum, the Constitutional Court has given voice to the millions of Romanians who want to affirm the timeless definition of marriage. The CCR has recognized the sovereignty of the Romanian people to define marriage for themselves, as well as the supremacy of their choice over and above the dictates of pro-homosexual forces in Europe and beyond."
Liberty Counsel argued that same-sex marriage is fundamentally illegitimate, deleterious to Romanian society, based on a libertine sexual ideology, and detrimental to health. The brief of amicus curiae submitted to the Constitutional Court by Liberty Counsel urges the court to reject the "undefined experimental artificial social  construct" of same-sex marriage. Offensively, the brief claims that same-sex marriage is "grounded in fraudulent "research" based on skewed demographics and the sexual abuse of hundreds of infants and children." The brief cites junk science such as the debunked Regnerus study in order to argue that same-sex marriage endangers children and society. Some especially revolting passages from the brief are as follows:
  • "The global push for the artificial social construct of same-sex “marriage” has its origins in the "research" of American scientist Alfred Kinsey. Dr. Kinsey’s books on male and female sexuality promote the normalization of all manner of sexual conduct from birth to death between human beings and even between human beings and animals."

  • "Romania’s continuing commitment to marriage as the union of one man and one woman reflects a continuing commitment to creating and maintaining the optimal environment for rearing children. In fact, treating same-sex unions as marriages "would undermine marital stability in ways that we know do hurt children.""

  • "In addition to a union of the wills, marriage requires a union of bodies. While it is possible for same-sex couples to enter into a union of the wills, it is not possible for them to join in body in the way marriage has always required. Joining in body requires more than a sexual act. It is a natural, organic union that is "coordinated toward a common biological end of the whole that they form together.""

  • "Not only is there no bodily good or function toward which two same-sex bodies can coordinate, but there are in fact inherent harms associated with same-sex unions. For example, homosexual males are at exponentially higher risk of developing a variety of sexually transmitted diseases, and have increased risks of developing various cancers and medical conditions because of the nature of same-sex sex ... Engaging in homosexual conduct is dangerous, and endorsing and subsidizing same-sex unions and treating them as marriages is an endorsement of conduct that does not benefit society, but rather harms it by creating irresponsible and unhealthy people."

Liberty Counsel continues the American Religious Right tradition of inflaming homophobia abroad. Not content to oppose LGBTQ equality in the U.S. (and frequently at odds with growing American pro-LGBTQ sentiment), groups such as Liberty Counsel promote homophobia overseas. Using junk science, ugly myths, and fear-mongering, the American Religious Right attack LGBTQ rights in far-flung corners of the globe. Americans who care about equality can't afford to ignore this.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

The 2016 Republican National Convention: Cruz, Pence, and Gingrich

The evening of July 20th at the Republican National Convention was one of strong emotions: fear, anger, and resentment. Newt Gingrich played to his audience's fear of Islamic extremism and violence, then offered Trump as a strong leader who would overcome those fears. Later, Ted Cruz refused to endorse Donald Trump, provoking the audience's anger. Last night's speeches at the convention remind us that the Republican party remains divided against itself and draws its strength from the fear and uncertainty of Republican voters.

First, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich drew on the audience's fear of Islamic extremism, promising them that Donald Trump would keep them safer than Hillary Clinton. In a transcript of his speech posted at Bustle, Gingrich praised Trump's "courage" in acknowledging extremism.
"There have been many fascinating things to watch about the extraordinary, historic rise of Donald Trump, but the most significant has been Donald Trump's courage to tell some important truths about our national security. For example, we are at war. We are at war with radical Islamists. They are determined to kill us. They are stronger than we admit, and are greater in number than we admit."
Gingrich warned that Islamic extremists want to deny rights to women, LGBTQ people, and non-Muslims. Given the GOP's record on women's issues, LGBTQ rights, and church-state separation, I found his words highly amusing.
"If our enemies had their way, not a single woman in this room could define her future. If our enemies had their way, not a single Jew or Christian in this room would be alive unless they agreed to submit. If our enemies had their way, gays, lesbians and transgender citizens would be put to death as they are today in the Islamic State and Iran. If our enemies had their way, every person on earth would be subject to conversion by the sword and to a cruel and violent system of laws. There would be no individual liberty. There would be no equality."
Gingrich listed several recent crimes committed by Islamic extremists before assuring the audience that "we have nothing to fear from the vast majority of Muslims", reminding them that "the vast majority are peaceful; they are often the victims of the violence themselves."

To heighten his audience's fear of Islamic extremism, Gingrich claimed that terrorists could destroy an American city in a worst case scenario.
"Although we are losing the war with radical Islamists, we have been very lucky. The danger we face is much worse than the horrors that happened in Germany on New Year's Eve, when 2,000 women were assaulted. It's worse than what's happening in France, where there are stabbings of Jews in the streets and the intelligence chief warned recently that Europe is "on the brink of civil war." It's worse than what's happening in Israel, where average citizens fear for their lives whenever they leave their homes. The danger is even worse than September 11th, when 19 hijackers murdered almost 3,000 Americans. No. The worst case scenario is losing an American city to terrorists armed with weapons of mass destruction. Instead of losing 3,000 people in one morning, we could lose more than 300,000. Instead of losing 2 great buildings, we could lose block after block after block to a nuclear event."
After depicting Hillary Clinton as dishonest and corrupt, he praised Donald Trump as a man who would protect Americans through anti-immigration measures, military might, and new health care policies.
"He will rebuild our military--because he knows that a strong military is the best way to ensure peace. Donald Trump will secure our borders--because there is no such thing as a nation without a border. Donald Trump will enforce our immigration laws. He will end the policy of deliberate non-enforcement and will end the abuse of our visa programs--to protect American workers, and their wages. Donald Trump will take care of our veterans by holding bureaucrats at the Veterans Administration accountable. He WILL fire those responsible for the waiting lists, and will give veterans more choices about their care. With Donald Trump's leadership, no bureaucrat will get between a veterans and their doctor."

Later that evening, vice presidential nominee and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence delivered a speech with the usual Republican talking points. Like other speakers at the convention, he depicted Trump as a candidate who would tackle America's enemies and maintain "law and order". According to a Time transcript of the speech, he had this to say.
"We have a choice to make. This is another time for choosing. If you want a president who will protect this nation, confront radical Islamic terrorism and rid the world of ISIS, if you want a president who will restore law and order to this country and give law enforcement the support and resources they deserve, if you want a president who will cut taxes, grow our economy and squeeze every nickel out of the federal bureaucracy, if you want a president who will build strong borders and enforce our laws, and if you want a president who will upend the status quo in Washington, D.C. and appoint justices to the Supreme Court who will uphold the Constitution, we have but one choice and that man is ready, this team is ready, our party is ready. And when we elect Donald Trump the 45th president of the United States, together we will make America great again!"

The most controversial speaker of the night was former presidential candidate Ted Cruz. Cruz delivered a talk in which he denounced Hillary Clinton and encouraged listeners to vote, but stopped short of endorsing Trump. According to a transcript of the speech posted at Time, Cruz asked the audience to "vote your conscience" in November.
"We deserve leaders who stand for principal, who unite us all behind shared values, who cast aside anger for love. That is the standard we should expect from everybody. And, to those listening, please don’t stay home in November. If you love our country, and love our children as much as you do, stand, and speak, and vote your conscience, vote for candidates up and down the ticket who you trust to defend our freedom, and to be faithful to the constitution."
The crowd booed Cruz as he left the stage. Republican observers were aghast.

At a Texas delegation breakfast the next morning, Cruz explained his motives. "I am not in the habit of supporting someone who attacks my wife and attacks my father," he said, according to ABC News. Cruz's statement is a reference to Trump's mockery of Heidi Cruz's appearance and insinuation that Rafael Cruz (Ted Cruz's father) was involved in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Cruz also said that he did not intend to "go like a servile puppy dog" in support of Trump, according to Politico.

Did we really need additional reminders of why Trump is not suited for the presidency? His inability to unify his own party does not make me confident that he could unite America or its allies. On the subject of security, Trump's recent statements about NATO leave his ability to protect America or its allies in serious question. The speeches of Gingrich and Pence tried to depict Trump as a strong protector, but the reality is more disappointing. The behavior of Cruz is yet another reminder of Trump's uncanny ability to alienate his would-be allies. Is this really someone we want in the White House?

News Tidbits

Washington Post: God might not want a woman to be president, some religious conservatives say

Buzzfeed: Trump Vets Adviser: Clinton "Should Be Put In The Firing Line And Shot For Treason"

Yahoo News: Who is Paula White, Donald Trump's 'spiritual counselor'?

Washington Blade: Republican lawmakers attend Family Research Council luncheon

New York Times: Mike Pence’s Journey: Catholic Democrat to Evangelical Republican

Politico: Pence walks back criticism of Trump's Muslim ban

LGBTQ Nation: Anti-LGBT group begins effort to repeal Massachusetts trans rights law 

Religion News Service: National Hispanic leaders oppose California Bill SB 1146

New York Times: Minnesota Priest’s Memo Says Vatican Ambassador Tried to Stifle Sex Abuse Inquiry

National Catholic Reporter: Pa. state rep says 'it's not over' after Senate removes statute of limitations provision

Commentary Tidbits

The Good Men Project: Men, the Religious Right, and God’s Self-Appointed Sex Police: Privileged Cruelty

The Nation: Why Dutch Far-Right Extremist Geert Wilders Has Come to Cleveland to Cheer On Donald Trump

Esquire: This Isn't Funny Anymore. American Democracy Is at Stake.

Women's eNews: Misogyny Runs Rampant at Republican National Convention

Vice: Trump's America Includes Gay Conversion Therapy 

Right Wing Watch: Phil Robertson: If Donald Trump Loses, I'll Go Into Hiding

Huffington Post: The Christian-Political Machine Is Undermining Democracy

Media Matters for America: Inside The RNC Conspiracy Theorist Rally That Explains The Trump Campaign

Media Matters for America: White Nationalists Love Trump’s Convention: "GOP Is Becoming The De Facto White Party"

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Steven Colbert Helps Us Laugh During the Republican National Convention

Outside the Republican National Convention, Even More Wackiness

The 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio has been intense and often offensive, but I'd be remiss if I ignored the more entertaining activity outside of the convention. A fundamentalist protest, a far-right rally, and a gaggle of tricksters have made the convention week very entertaining.

First, Westboro Baptist Church -- known for protesting outside of funerals and special events with "God Hates F*gs" signs -- was also in downtown Cleveland during the convention. Fortunately, plenty of people were there to poke fun at them. Raw Story reports that comedy writer Robert Smigel, the creator of Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, led a light-hearted demonstration alongside the Westboro contingent. Smigel's followers held signs that read "God hates morning people", "God hates bangs", and "God hates bad wifi" as the Westboro protesters looked on. Frankly, if anyone deserves lampooning, it's the Westboro Baptist Church.

Second, the strongest dose of wackiness undoubtedly came from a far-right rally in a nearby park. Radio show host and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones hosted the "America First Unity Rally" in Settlers Landing Park on July 18th, according to Right Wing Watch. The rally featured speakers such as Eagle Forum president Ed Martin and Breitbart senior editor Milo Yiannopoulos, who was recently suspended from Twitter after reportedly leading an online abuse campaign against Ghostbusters actress Leslie Jones. In attendance were Tea Party activists, members of Bikers for Trump, Christians for Trump, and Asian Americans for Trump (which I imagine is a small group).

In a video posted by SF Gate, Jones led the crowd in a chant of "Hillary for prison!", then ranted about how an "outside globalist force" is allegedly demonizing police. Jones called Trump's work "over-the-top amazing" after delivery a furious rant about global conspiracies, the New World Order, and Hillary Clinton.
"Trump's a great guy and has amazing courage, but listen. We like to put our faith in any one individual. It's all of us together, the light of liberty, coming together. Nothing's going to be able to turn this around in the end. We're identifying the globalists, we're identifying their program of control, we're identifying what their operations are, and once the general public understands the paradigm, it's GAME OVER! Worldwide, worldwide, globalism and the New World Order are in trouble. All over the planet, the Brexit, all of it, example after example, where people are finding out [that] foreign, multinational, anti-free market corporations that are funding gun control here domestically and open borders, these are the people conquering us. And once we force this into the consciousness, it's over ... You are the solution. You are the answer. You are the resistance. YOU are the reason the globalists are in so much trouble ... Donald Trump, by being in the area, Donald Trump, by taking action, Donald Trump, by doing what he's done, and talking about how we are no longer declaring that we have surrendered to globalist trade, that Hillary is a foreign agent ... of the communist Chinese, the Saudi Arabians and others, no news carried that."
Um ... well then ...

Jones' rally got an unexpected provocateur in the form of actor Eric Andre. According to AV Club, Andre tried to reach Jones' stage, but was pushed back by the crowd. Jones eventually allowed Andre on stage, where Andre claimed that he was a nihilist, wondered "why does pee pee comes out yellow", and asked Jones to have sex with his wife.

The crowd booed, and Jones grew annoyed. "This is an agitator who doesn't actually want to have speech. He wants to shut down our speech," Jones told the booing crowd. Andre continued to make bizarre comments and shout "don't tread on me!" until Jones decided it was time for him to leave.

Jones also had an embarrassing experience at the Stand Together Against Trump parade, where he used his bullhorn to shout at a group of protesters shouting "Nazi scum!". Jones was eventually escorted away by police, as seen in this RT America video.

The Republican National Convention has brought out right-wing protesters, conspiracy-addled speakers, and tricksters who love making fun of them. In the midst of offensive and troubling developments in our political arena, at least we can enjoy a few laughs.

To read more about the wackiness outside of the Republican National Convention, visit the following links.

Mother Jones: GOP Convention Protesters Clash With Alex Jones, Police

Washington Blade: Trump supporter: Armed club-goer could have stopped Fla. massacre

Salon: Westboro Baptist Church trolled by Triumph the Insult Comic Dog outside RNC