Monday, June 25, 2012

Showcase Blog: Will Republicans Really Allow Student Loan Rates to Double?

President Obama speaks out about student loan rates in April.

In April, I had the chance to be on a White House conference call with President Obama and some of his aides who discussed the possibility that student loan interest rates could double if Congress doesn't act by July 1st. Seven million students would be affected, President Obama told us, with rates jumping from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent. At the time, Mitt Romney claimed to agree with the President and Congressional Republicans seemed to as well.

Yet here we are just a few days from the July 1st deadline and Congress has done… nothing. Well, what does Congress do these days? Senate Majority leader Harry Reid says the Senate is working on a solution, but even if the Senate Democrats find a solution, will Senate Minority Leader McConnell and the obstinate Republicans agree? It’s not looking great, to be honest. We all know that in this uncertain economy, which has had a remarkably negative toll on young people, the last thing needed is another stumbling block for recent high school graduates, college students, and college graduates.

But will the Republicans agree to do anything about it? McConnell said after the 2010 elections that his primary goal was to ensure that president Obama wouldn’t be reelected. Since then, some believe that the GOP has purposefully tried to sabotage the economy in the hope that it will make reelection for the president more difficult. But will they really make life harder for struggling college students in the name of winning the White House? Are they really foolish enough to think they could get away with that?

It seems they are. While it's currently uncertain how the negotiations between Reid and McConnell will turn out, we do know that Republicans have attempted to exchange continued low interest rates on student loans for decreased funding for screenings for a women's medical fund that pays for breast cancer and cervical cancer screenings. Leave it to the Republicans to turn a straightforward issue on student loan rates into another facet of the war on women.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Fundamentalists Fight Evils Like Terrorism, Drug Abuse, Hitler, and Glee

The religious right is continuing to warn of the dangers of pop culture because, as we all know, behind every popular TV show, book series, or music sensation, Satan and his minions lurk. When I was a kid, the Devil was using Pokémon to teach kids the evil doctrine of (gasp!) evolution. Once I got over my Pokémon faze and started reading the Harry Potter books around age 11, they decided to warn me that I was going to become a witch (warlock?) if I kept reading them.

Thank God for Truth in Action Ministries, a fundamentalist Christian organization that recognizes the true dangers to America. They even use The Hunger Games book trilogy to illustrate this without claiming that Satan possessed Suzanne Collins when she wrote the fictional story of a dystopian future America. In a recent video, they discussed whether or not America is heading towards a “Hunger Games” style future. To illustrate their fear of what the future may hold, they pointed to the September 11 attacks, the wars in the Middle East, drug abuse, Apartheid, Hitler and… Glee.

Well, nevermind. Apparently, a kiss between two gay male characters, Kurt and Blaine, on the television series is on par with the Holocaust and Islamic terrorism. 

Dave Daubenmire of Pass the Salt Ministries was incensed. In his article, which included the censored image of the kiss seen below (“blocked for decency’s sake”), he declared thus:

“Oh, how the pigs will squeal. The sodomites will cry ‘hate’ as if the truth of a picture can be hateful. The Christians in pretty suits will cry ‘mean’ as if being nice ever won a war.
It is God who first called them sodomites. If it is good enough for him then it should be good enough for us. It is time to take off the gloves. It is time to get down and dirty. It is time we fought like we wanted to win.” [Daubenmire then requests a non-tax deductible gift to fund the war with the gays].
Glenn Beck announced this past week that he's on board with the Glee-is-produced-by-Satan train, describing how he and his wife watched an episode in "horror."

Meanwhile, another pop culture icon drew the ire of staunch fundamentalists this past week. Charisma magazine published an articledenouncing X-Men for an issue that had…gay people in it. One Million Moms expressed fears that gay characters in X-Men would lead little boys who want to be super heroes also wanting to have boyfriends.

But really, they shouldn't worry that Glee or X-Men will turn their kids gay if precedent means anything. The Harry Potter film series surpassed Star Wars as the biggest film series of all time and the sales of the book series are also unprecedented. Somehow, the generation that grew up with Harry Potter still hasn’t exchanged their cars for flying brooms… yet.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Mega Church Pastor Creflo Dollar Arrested for Beating Daughter, Blames it On Satan

Another day, another Dollar controversy. The same mega church preacher who once stirred controversy after suggesting that he'd like for non-tithing members of his church to be killed by a firing squad was arrested Friday after his daughter called 911 alleging that she had been physically attacked.

The 15-year-old girl claimed that her father began choking her after an argument escalated when Dollar refused to let his daughter go to a party. His other daughter, who is 19, said she witnessed the incident and corroborated her sister's claim.

But the shepherd was greeted by rousing approval and a standing ovation from his flock of sheep when he walked into his multi-million dollar church on Wednesday. He denied that he had touched his daughter, blamed the bruises on her neck on a skin abrasion, and then blamed the entire episode on Satan:
"It's not as much against me as it is this message of grace. The devil knows in order to discredit the message, you have to first of all discredit the messenger."
In that way, he's similar to fellow money hungry mega church pastor Eddie Long, who in 2010 received a standing ovation upon entering his church when it was revealed that the devil had attempted to discredit his ministry by forcing him to molest dozens of underage boys in his church.

Satan is so pesky.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

In-Depth: Religious Stupidity, or "Faith Healing," as an Excuse for Child Neglect?

Zachery Swezey, 17, faith healing victim.
In August 2011, a couple whose pet Burmese python crushed their two-year-old daughter to death was sentenced to 12 years in prison. In Februray 2012, a couple who allowed their 8-year-old son to die of cancer without seeking treatment was sentenced to 8 years in prison. And this month, a couple who allowed their 17-year-old son to die of a ruptured appendix because they chose to pray instead of seeking medical treatment will get off without any prison time thanks to a law that makes exceptions for religiously motivated neglect and stupidity.

Zachery Swezey was a junior in high school who, like millions of people, got appendicitis. His parents chose to ignore proven medical options that has long rendered appendicitis more of a nuisance than a life threatening decision.They watched as he writhed in pain and misery, offering nothing but empty prayers while he died the kind of death that we don't even allow a death row inmate to suffer.

The couple, Greg and JaLea Swezey, are members of the Church of the First Born, whose doctrine of faith healing has left a bloody of trail of agony and senseless death.Some of the Church of the First Born's victims include:

  • Saundra Arnold, 13, who died in the 1960s after being sick 18 days with an intestinal blockage. Her mother did not believe in seeking medical treatment and offered her prayer and a deathbed baptism.
  • Travis Drake, 14, of Colorado, who died in 1982 several days after his appendix ruptured and his parents chose prayer over treatment.
  • Desiree Camren, 14, of Oklahoma, who died in 1987 after a week of illness because, despite the fact that her parents knew she was dying, they “believed her death was punishment from God because the father had not been attending church.”
  • Newborn Lukas Long, who died several hours after being delivered by unlicensed midwives in Colorado in 1987. The baby suffered breathing problems and his parents called the church elders to pray for healing. Six hours later, he died.
  • Amanda Bates, 13, who died from diabetes in 2001 because her parents refused to seek medical treatment. The Mesa County coroner ruled her death a homicide.

In most of these cases, the parents were tried and convicted on counts of manslaughter. Joshua and Mindy Glory, for example, were sentenced to 16 years in prison after their infant son died from pneumonia. But when Jason Lockhart died at age 9 of a ruptured appendix in 1982, his Church of the First Born parents were acquitted of first degree manslaughter thanks to a religious exemption law in Oklahoma that made child neglect excusable by sincerely held religious belief. Public outrage eventually led to that law being changed.

Yet in Washington state, Zachery Swezey's death will go largely unpunished because a law similar to the one on the books in Oklahoma in 2002 remains in place.Greg and JaLea Swezey were acquitted of second degree murder when a jury deadlocked, citing State Law RCW 9A.42.005 as the source of their confusion. 

At first, the law seems like a clear indictment of the Swezey parents:
"The legislature finds that there is a significant need to protect children and dependent persons, including frail and elder and vulnerable adults, from abuse and neglect by their parents, by persons entrusted with their physical custody, or by persons employed to provide them with the basic necessities of life. The legislature further finds that such abuse and neglect often takes the forms of either withholding from them the basic necessities of life, including food, water, shelter, clothing, and healthcare, or abandoning them, or both."
Then, the law devolves into stupidity and superstition unworthy of the 19th century:
"It is the intent of the legislature that a person who, in good faith, is furnished Christian Science treatment by a duly accredited Christian Science practitioner in lieu of medical care is not considered deprived of medically necessary health care or abandoned."
Christian Science is a sect with a similar approach to medicine that has a blood trail even longer than the Church of the First Born. Although the Swezeys are not Christian Scientists, they were able to claim that there neglect was in the same spirit of the Christian Scientists as the law intended to protect.

After being acquitted of second degree murder, the couple averted even being charged with manslaughter by accepting plea deals for "third degree criminal mistreatment." Their punishment? They must not commit a felony in the next two years and the parents must call Child Protective Services if any other children get sick in the future. Case closed. Sorry, Zachery.

Their lawyer isn't completely happy, however. He said that the law is "begging" to be changedchanged to ensure that it is clear that any couple of any faith cannot be held legally accountable for allowing their child to die in agony and torment. I agree the law should be changed, but in quite a different way.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

John Hagee to Atheists: 'Get Out of America. We Don't Want You.'

In a sermon this past Sunday, mega church televangelist John Hagee made clear that he has no interest in bringing atheists and non-believers into the Christian fold; he wants atheists to get out:

“Let me be very clear. This country was not built for atheists or by atheists. It was built by Christian people who believe in the word of God. To the atheists watching this telecast: If our belief in God offends you, move. There are planes leaving every hour on the hour going every place on planet earth. Get on one. We don’t want you. And we won’t miss you, I promise. Our coins say in God we trust, President Obama recently told the foreign media that America not a Christian nation. You are absolutely wrong. We were, we are, and always shall be a Bible reading, praying Christian people.”
 Hagee's understanding of American history is, of course, incorrect if not insincere. The people who built this nation had varied and mixed views of religion and its role in public life. Certainly, there were few who saw it the way Hagee sees it. Thomas Jefferson said that the "superstition" of Christianity had not "one redeeming feature." Thomas Paine said that he "would not dare to so dishonor my Creator God by attaching his name to that book (the Bible)." James Madison said that religion and government "will both exist in greater purity the less they are mixed together."

Are these the Bible reading, Christian people that Hagee says built this nation? No, they are not. And the documents they gave us, including the Constitution, make clear that religion is not a litmus test for citizenship in the United States and it is not the method by which we guide our laws or governance.

But having abandoned the precepts of the articles of his own religion, we can't be shocked that Hagee would so choose to ignore the words of our founders and our founding documents in pursuit of his own vision. The New Testament of the Bible stresses the importance of charity and of searching for souls that need to be saved from eternal damnation. Since Hagee believes that non-Christians will burn in hell, one might think that he would relish the opportunity to preach to and convert the atheists in America. But no, given the chance to speak to them, if they are listening, he doesn't welcome them to the message of the Christian Gospel, but tells them to get out of America because, "We don't want you."

That's because Hagee, like many on the religious right, isn't interested in building the spiritual kingdom of God that the Bible speaks of. He isn't interested in searching for lost Americans souls and bringing them a message of salvation. He's interested in purging the land of those who prevent him and his fellow theofascists from establishing a theocracy ruled solely by his vision of Christianity wherein everyone worships the same God as him, not by faith, but by compulsion. Why else would he want those who believe differently to leave the country?

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Pastor: The Government Should Kill Gay People

Didn't have your cravings for insanity and bigotry sated by North Carolina Pastor Charles L. Worley, who called for gay men and lesbians to be put behind separate electric fences (because if we just separated gay men from lesbians, they would stop reproducing and gay people would die out)? Well, Kansas to the rescue.

 In a sermon last Sunday, New Hope Baptist Church Pastor Curtis Knapp unequivocally called for the government to put gay people to death. That's unlike when Andy Gipson, who, despite citing Leviticus 18:22, which calls for gay men to be put to death, denied that he intended to insinuate that gay people should be put to death. Yet Knapp didn't shy away from what that scripture clearly says. In his sermon, Pastor Curtis Knapp told the church thus:
"They should be put to death. That's what happened in Israel. That's why homosexuality wouldn't have grown in Israel. It tends to limit conversions. It tends to limit people coming out of the closet. — 'Oh, so you're saying we should go out and start killing them, no?' — I'm saying the government should. They won't but they should. 'Oh, I can't believe you you're horrible. You're a backwards neanderthal of a person.' Is that what you're calling scripture? Is God a neanderthal backwards in his morality? Is it his word or not? If it's his word, he commanded it. It's his idea—not mine. And I'm not ashamed of it."
Is it just me, or has President Obama's embrace of marriage equality really brought the crazies out of the woodwork? Or at least, out of the closets. Listen to audio from the sermon below:

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Man Says Hospital Denied Him HIV Treatment Because of "God's Will"

This past week, an HIV-positive man brought forth a case alleging that the Trinitas Medical Center admitted him last August, but denied his sister visitation rights and denied him lifesaving medical treatment because of his HIV status. According to Joe Simoes, the plaintiff, alleged that Dr. Susan V. Borga was "unfazed" when another patient explained that he had just gotten out of prison after serving time for murder. But her response to Simoes was different. reports:
"Simoes said that he did not work because he planned to go back to school and because of his HIV status. Borga then allegedly asked Simoes how he got HIV, to which he responded, 'I got it from unprotected sex.' The complaint then says that 'Dr. Borga closed the plaintiff's file, put it down and looked at the plaintiff with disgust on her face and asked coldly, "Is that from sex with men?" Simoes says he responded affirmatively and that, immediately after hearing this, Dr. Borga proceeded to exit the room.'" 
After that incident, no nurse or doctor came to see Simoes and he was not given his needed HIV medication. He later learned that Borga had spoken to his personal doctor and allegedly said, "You must be gay, too, if you're his doctor." Then, after asking the doctor if he needed a translator due to his accent, according to the complaint, she said "This is what he gets for going against God's will" and hung up the phone. In all, Simoes missed five days of his medication because of the incident.

This kind of language and activity is, unfortunately, expected from the religious right. Speaking at Calvary Assembly's Awakening 2012 on Friday, Liberty Counsel Vice President Matt Barber said that his cousin, whom he claims to love, was "seduced" by homosexual recruiters and that he is now dying of AIDS because "the wages of sin is death." Last June, Alabama evangelist Damon Thompson preached from Proverbs 10:27, which says that "The fear of the Lord prolongs days, but the years of the wicked will be shortened." After reading the latter half of the verse, he quipped, "It's called AIDS."

Yet while this kind of attitude is something we can, unfortunately, expect from fundamentalists on the religious right, it's not something we should ever expect — or accept — from a medical professional. Are Simoes' allegations about Dr. Borgas true? I certainly hope not.