The Students Of James Madison University – Drowning Out Anti-Gay Hate With A Song About Love

In a time not so very long ago, if a politician wanted to get his message across, he found a busy corner, put down a wooden crate to elevate himself above the crowd, and began pontificating. Union organizers used the technique outside factories. Leaders of the temperance movement used it outside churches to rile up women into storming the local watering hole. It’s where the expression “get off your soapbox” comes from.

Soapbox speakers are an anachronism in our twenty-first century, so much so that now, when one appears, we immediately suspect a personality disorder. That was my first thought when I heard about the “preacher” on the campus of James Madison University in Virginia. Watching a video of his performance didn’t do much to change that impression. He tells one young woman who says she is Catholic that she belongs to a “screwy” religion. And no one should ask a stranger if they masturbate.

You can judge for yourself in the video below.

I admit am not comfortable with confrontation. Even with the comments people leave taking issue with something I’ve written, I have a policy of replying once, and then letting the person have the last word – sometimes several last words. That’s because I honestly don’t think minds are ever changed by such exchanges, and all too often, it is just an opportunity to insult someone you disagree with. (“screwy religion”) Had I been present on campus last Tuesday, my cowardly inclination would have been to ignore the preacher and leave the area, so I give great credit to the students who tried to take him on with logic. But, watching that video, I didn’t think there was anything anyone present could have said that would have shut the man down.

I was wrong.

Shortly after the video posted above ended, the preacher went after a gay couple who had paused to watch his one-man show. The guys were holding hands, and the preacher told them they were going to hell. That’s when the students shut him down. Accompanied by one lonely acoustical guitar, the students of James Madison University began to sing. They sang about love – about a god who loves everyone – until the preacher’s message of hatred could no longer be heard.

See for yourself:




mcmWhile the students’ success in conquering hate speaks for itself, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out the irony in the choice of songs the students sang. How He Loves Me was written by John Mark McMillan, (right) a thirty-something singer-songwriter in the Christian music world and a repressed gay man. That’s not me diagnosing him from afar, he talks about his “journey” from living as a gay man to living as a married straight man in a biography he wrote for his Christian ministry website. Sadly, he admits that he still fights the urge to return to his gay life, but so far he has not found the courage to find his way back to his true self.

John Mark McMillan wrote that particular song in 2002, before he decided to live as a straight man, upon the death of his “best friend” Stephen, who died in an auto accident. Since McMillan says in his bio that he never had a platonic male friend before he decided to live as a straight man, it follows that McMillan wrote How He Loves Me to remember his lover. I doubt that the students knew that when they chose the song, but wow…

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Militia Darling Chris Heben And His Make Believe Black Attack

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Last week, a group of bat counters filed a complaint against three militia “border volunteers”. These militia members have flocked to the Southern border ever since they heard that in their desperation to escape the violence in their home countries, Central American women and children have headed to the States. The logic of their presence escapes me, as the reason they know about the immigrant crisis is because the facilities meant to hold them are full – and the reason they are full is because the border-crossers either turned themselves in, or were caught by real border patrol agents.

I’m sure I’m not the only one to have suspicions about why the militia members are really there. I think it’s a chance to wave their guns around, which makes them feel like they are people of courage – like they are heroes.

Now for me, when it comes to courage, anyone willing to walk across a desert in the hope of a better life has it all over the armed, well-hydrated men trying to catch them. The same goes for people who voluntarily go into a cave in the dark of night to count how many bats are flying around. No matter how big your assault rifle is, it can’t help you in there. Perhaps that’s why, when the conservationists and the militia volunteers encountered one another, things didn’t go well.

It happened around 11:00 at night, in Sonoita, Arizona, about thirty miles from the U.S.-Mexico border. Three of the militia volunteers, dressed up in camouflage and armed with assault weapons, were riding around on ATVs looking for someone suspicious to inspect, when they came upon the group of bat counting conservationists walking back to their campsite in a nearby campground. The militiamen hit them with their searchlights and shouted in Spanish for the men to stop. The scientists had no idea who the armed men were, and didn’t understand what they were yelling, so they headed for the nearby rocks, and a not-so-merry game of hide and seek ensued.

Fortunately no one was hurt, but the conservationists filed a complaint. They have a point. Why should they have to identify themselves to a volunteer militiaman? One of the scientists told Huffington Post:

“We had them yelling at us with spotlights, acting like they have some kind of authority.”

The militia said they were sorry, but were mystified when the bat counters weren’t receptive to their apology. To the “border volunteers” their manhunt was all just a benign mistake. No big deal. No doubt chasing down that bunch of unarmed bat counters will soon be turned into a tale of courage in the face of unknown danger. They like to pretend to one another that they are heroes.

Which brings us to Chris Heben, the poster child for militia members, who just got caught pretending he was shot by three racist black men.

Pres obamaChris Heben is a former Navy Seal who appears to be having a difficult time letting go of his glory days in the service. He sells Seal Team gear, offers security services and gives motivational speeches encouraging people to “dominate”. I’m not crazy about the domination theme, I’m more of a “share the land” girl myself, but hey, everybody has to make a living, and he’s doing what he loves. I respect that.

Heben wows them at Tea Party gatherings and makes regular appearances on Fox News giving the “Navy Seal Perspective”. He thinks Hillary is responsible for Benghazi; we should have let P.O.W. Bowe Bergdahl rot; and he has a photo of President Obama (right) surrounded my Mideastern terrorists on his Facebook page.

Heben told Bath County, Ohio, police that he was out to do a little light shopping when he exchanged angry words with three black men who almost hit him in the parking lot of a Mustard Seed grocery store. He claims one of the men shouted, “You got a big mouth white boy. You need to learn some fucking respect,” and then shot him in the stomach.

slider3In Chris Heben’s version of this story, he did a “physical assessment” and decided he was “still functioning,” so instead of calling for help, he staunched the bleeding so he could chase his assailants’ fancy gray sports car through the streets of Bath County, until he began losing consciousness. At that point, he pulled into a fire station, and was transported to the hospital. (Photo above)

The story made Heben an instant celebrity with the Fox News crowd, who called the attack a “racial hate crime” and elevated Heben to hero status. But while he made the rounds of the right-wing news shows (and CNN) telling his glory tale about how a car full of racist black men shot him, the police were investigating his story. Last week they charged Chris Heben with making a false police report and obstruction of justice.

Bath Township Police Chief Mike McNeely:

“We have overwhelming evidence based upon video, cell phone records and interviews that the shooting did not occur in the West Market Plaza and that Mr. Heben made false allegations to us.”

chrisInterestingly, Heben seems to have anticipated that the racist black shooter story wasn’t going to hold up. He was going to need another explanation. So Heben confided to World Net Daily that, upon reflection, he now thinks the attack was Al Queda revenging the death of Bin Laden by targeting a Navy SEAL.

(How can a small town police force be expected to recognize Al Queda in disguise?)

Of course there is still an unsolved mystery. Who shot Chris Heben? Was it an accident? Was it self-inflicted for the sake of publicity? Was it by someone Heben is trying to keep out of trouble? Or was he just an ordinary crime victim who couldn’t admit all his guns and training didn’t help him? My writer’s imagination can come up with a dozen plausible scenarios, but Chris Heben is sticking to his “if it wasn’t racist black men then it must have been AlQueda” story.

I think the militia crew who chased the bat counters in Arizona had a need to feel courageous. I think Chris Heben needed that too. I think he needed it so much, that when he found himself shot in some inglorious way, he made up a story that made him look large and in charge.

What’s your guess?

Feature photo via Facebook

Photos via Chris Heben’s Facebook

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The Crystal Vision Of Blind Congressional Candidate James Woods

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Governor Bob McDonnell went out with a whimper and a sob this week, the one-time poster pol for Christianity’s religious righteous, felled by eleven public corruption charges. While, like most women, I think of Bob McDonnell as Ken Cuccinelli’s wingman in the Republicans’ war on the women of Virginia, I didn’t realize the disgraced governor was a product of Pat Robertson’s Regent University until Rachel Maddow reminded us the night after his conviction.

Robertson is best known in LGBT circles as one of those homophobes who insist every earthquake, tornado and bout of ptomaine is caused by gays. Any day now, I expect him to announce Christian scientists have discovered global warming is caused by the friction of gay sex. So here’s what I have been wondering. How come Robertson, who is so attuned to heavenly signals of displeasure, never looks at events like the disgrace of Bob McDonnell and thinks, oh,oh, God must be angry about the way Bob McDonnell governed? Why doesn’t Pat Roberson look at the McDonnell conviction and wonder if God is saying “Let the gays marry.” or “Stop closing down women’s clinics.” Why doesn’t Pat Robertson put the McDonnell fall from grace together with the biblical message, “Judge not lest ye also be judged”?

Never going to happen, you say? Probably true. I don’t think Pat himself really believes God is in is heaven throwing thunderbolts because the wrong humans are copulating. It’s theater, the Limbaugh Low Road, audacity begets publicity – and the right loves to use it. The left? Not so much. We have no crazy anti-Limbaugh to proclaim God allowed that nine-year-old to kill her Uzi instructor as a signal to humans to read the fine print in his thou shalt not kill commandment and stop treating guns like toys. We have no one to announce God sent the influx of women and children to the borders as a test of our compassion: whatever you do unto the least of these, you do unto me. Let’s face it; we’ve got nobody. (I’d volunteer myself if I believed in a god, but it’s hard for an atheist to be taken seriously when she purports to be channeling some other religion’s deity.)

So I began running through Democrats looking for a few possibilities, and I realized Democrats not only don’t have many bomb throwers, we’re generally poll-timid. Most of our party speaks in support of an issue only when it’s in the public eye and they have the cover of their fellow lawmakers. Where are the issue champions willing to make noise?

We do have Joe Biden. I personally don’t think same-sex marriage (or President Obama’s embrace of LGBT equlaity) would be where it is today without the vice president. Joe Biden is so authentic they give him staffers charged with keeping Joe from being Joe.

We also have Elizabeth Warren. No one can say she doesn’t have the courage of her convictions. Half the time when she gets into the banking weeds, I’m not even sure I understand what she’s talking about, but I trust her. She is, at present, the only politician I would use in proximity to the T-word.

I put Nancy Pelosi on my list, and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, even though he isn’t a Democrat. I would have included Barney Frank if he hadn’t retired. There’s Sandra Fluke in L.A. and Brian Sims in Philadelphia. And there is someone I would put on my short list who you may not know – yet. James Woods, from Phoenix, Arizona.

James Woods is running to represent Arizona’s 5th District in the United States’ Congress, but he is a politician by chance – or by fate if you believe in such things. He was a non-religious “tech” guy who thought he’d have a career in computers. Then life threw him a curve.

James told his story to Phoenix New Times:

hospital“…a month before my 27th birthday, I was working as a contractor for a company that didn’t offer me any health benefits and I ended up getting really sick. I was hospitalized for MRSA–a life-threatening infection that’s resistant to antibiotics. It almost killed me. While I was in the hospital, my vision started to get dim on a Monday. By Friday, I never saw anything again. The doctors had to cut out part of my collar bone and amputate most of my toes. I went into organ failure and ended up on dialysis. I survived, but I spent two years in and out of hospitals while I recovered. And my family and I needed help. Without Social Security Disability, Nutrition Assistance and Medicaid/Medicare, I wouldn’t have made it. I would have died.”

There’s nothing like a near death experience to put your priorities in focus, and for James, it brought what seems to be a genuine desire to make America a better country. His Facebook page is full of articles urging compassion for immigrants, backing a living wage, supporting LGBT equality and women’s reproductive rights, which brings me to why I put James Woods on my list of politicians who are not afraid to say what they believe, rather than what they think will get them elected.

planned parenthoodThe National Pro-Life Alliance sent a survey to all the congressional candidates, asking them to go on record with their views on what they call the “sanctity of life.” Think Progress reported last month that James, who, by the way, did not “come to Jesus” after his illness and proudly calls himself a “humanist” on his campaign site, answered with this letter:

“Thank you for taking the time to write to me about your anti-abortion stance. While I cannot support policies that jeopardize the health and stability of women and their families, there are many measures that I do support that are proven to quickly enhance the well-being of women — and to significantly reduce abortion. These proven pro-woman, pro-family initiatives include: promoting sexually healthy, knowledgeable and responsible communities beginning in our K-12 schools; expanding publicly supported family planning services including universally accessible birth control for all women; and strengthening government empowerment programs for low income women and their children.

I look forward to working together with you to promote policies like these that support our families – and that quickly safely and dramatically reduce abortion.”

condomAs a kicker, James sent the letter back with some free campaign condoms emblazoned with the words: “prevent abortion.” Could Arizona’s James Woods be the Democratic bomb thrower we’ve been looking for?

From James Woods website:

“I have a vision for an America in which government is a Progressive instrument of the people used to empower all of us to live in safety and happiness. To succeed, we must ensure equality of opportunity for everyone. When anyone is denied full inclusion in social and civic life, it degrades our economy and takes a terrible toll on our communities. I support policies that safeguard equal treatment, protection and opportunity for everyone.

There is such delicious irony in the fact that the blind candidate is the one with the clearest vision.

A young, blind, secularist, liberal with a brand new kidney might not seem like the obvious choice for Arizona, but he has my attention, and my admiration. Today, The crystal vision of blind candidate James Woods, in On Our Radar.

Photos via Facebook

 

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God Buys Himself A Billboard

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Now hear this: God loves gays. God loves gays so much he’s going to put up a billboard in Topeka, Kansas, to make sure the Westboro Baptist Church gets that message. It seems there have been some communication problems between Heaven and the Westboros in the recent past, and God thinks this billboard will keep them in the loop of modern Christian thought going forward.

westThough his likeness and quotable quotes have appeared in direct ad campaigns throughout the world, as far as I can determine, the God Loves Gays billboard will be the first direct ad buy by God himself. Since the Westboro members most often communicate by signs and placards, a large, colorful billboard in their home town will ensure God’s message of gay love will be seen and understood by the group.

Fans and followers of God, both gay and straight, have acclaimed God’s new plan to confront the Westboro Church directly. Said one of the volunteers working to make the billboard a reality:

“God is tired of having hate-speech put into his mouth by bigots.”

Many are hoping God will go even further in his billboard campaign, perhaps erecting one to inform Pat Robertson the reason he sends hurricanes is to show his displeasure for the way the Robertson Christians pass judgement on gays. Or one to remind Justice Roberts that gay people who desperately want to marry are dying with their dreams unfulfilled, waiting for the court to either rule or lift the stays on marriage equality.

One humorous side note concerning God’s decision to erect a God Loves Gays billboard? Heaven has been run for an eternity on the currency of empathy and selfless acts. God’s surprise order means project directors are suddenly scrambling to raise cash – although one unconfirmed rumor says Harvey Milk was so excited about the billboard that he offered to melt down his golden halo for start-up money.

billbFortunately, Heaven’s representatives have found another way to raise funds – an Indiegogo campaign. As of this morning, they had raised almost $60,000, that’s $10,000 more than their goal. It’s enough for the Topeka billboard, which they hope to have up in October. The rest will go to The Trevor Project, which provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention to the at-risk LGBT youth God has been so worried about lately.

Now if the Westboros will only let God’s message of love sink in…

Heaven did not immediately reply to our inquiry asking whether God might consider a defamation lawsuit, or even a traditional plague of boils if the billboard doesn’t succeed in adjusting the attitude of the Westboro Church members.

You can watch the God Loves Gays campaign video below:

Photo from YouTube

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Immigration And The Religious Freedom Exemption

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Think Progress posted
a great piece a couple weeks ago about a church in Tucson that has given “sanctuary” to an undocumented immigrant. Tiny Southside Presbyterian Church in Tuscon, Arizona, (photo above) took in a woman named Rosa Imelda Robles Loreto, (photo left) who was scheduled to be deported by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, (ICE) August 8.  

rosarobles-and-family-spotlightRosa has been living in the U.S. since 1999. Her husband and two sons are also undocumented, but it is only Rosa who is being deported. (I’m guessing the way it works is immigration deports one parent hoping the rest of the family will self-deport?)

This is the second time this year Southside has given “sanctuary” to an undocumented immigrant. Last May, the church protected a man named Daniel Neyoy Ruiz, who has lived here for fourteen years. Daniel was pulled over for a smoking tailpipe, and fell victim to Arizona’s “papers please” law that allows law enforcement to inquire into the immigration status of anyone they suspect might be in the state illegally. He was detained and scheduled to be sent back to Mexico.

danielDaniel (photo right) spent a month at Southside while members kept up a 24-hour vigil with him in the church. Church members lobbied the media and politicians on Daniel’s behalf. They found him legal advisers. In the end, Southside prevailed. ICE granted Daniel a one-year stay of his deportation order. Alison Harrington, the church’s pastor said the church is hoping for a similar happy ending for Rosa, telling reporters: 

“The beautiful thing about offering sanctuary is that we can actually do something. We have the ability to stop a family from being torn apart.”

Rev. Harrington has ambitions beyond sheltering one or two immigrants. She is trying to reactivate the Sanctuary Movement from 1980s, when Ronald Reagan faced an influx of Central American war refugees looking for asylum.

If you are too young to remember that fractious period, the U.S. was up to its CIA eyebrows instigating unrest in that part of the world, yet the Reagan administration labeled immigrants from Central America “economic refuges” and granted very few of them asylum. So a group of churches in the border states began offering them sanctuary. They made no secret of whom they harbored, daring law enforcement to raid a “house of God”, which police rarely did. (Although to raid or not to raid was a frequent plot line on the police dramas that were popular in that era.) That reluctance may hold true today. Rev. Harrington says she has a promise from local law enforcement that they will not enter the church looking for someone whose only crime is a customs violation.

Eventually, a kind of immigrant underground railroad formed across the U.S. which helped pressure congress into passing the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. By the way, the church that started the 1980s Sanctuary Movement? Southside Presbyterian. 

Southside has formed its sanctuary strategy around a 2011 memo by a former director of ICE, ordering staff to use “prosecutorial discretion” when deciding which cases to pursue. It tells agents to place a lower priority on the deportation of immigrants who have long-standing community ties, no criminal record, or have children. Southside plans to offer protection to immigrants who fit that criteria. But it occurred to me sanctuary churches are in a perfect position to make the “religious freedom” argument that worked so well for Hobby Lobby.

alisonRev. Harrington (photo left) made this statement in explanation of Southside’s decision to offer sanctuary to undocumented but otherwise upstanding immigrants:

“We seek to follow Christ who commanded us to love our neighbor as ourselves and also to offer radical hospitality to those in need. The scriptures tell us to care for the widow and the orphan, and our immigration system creates widows and orphans every day … So we are standing by undocumented families and not allowing them to be torn apart.”

That sounds like a firmly held religious belief to me, does it not?

slider_churchAnd therein lies the dilemma for the Rush Limbaugh crowd who love, love, love the religious freedom exemption when it comes to gays and sexually active women. Are they going to love, love, love it if Southside succeeds in reviving the Sanctuary Movement and hundreds of immigrant families are sheltered inside Christian churches? Are they going to demand the government raid the churches and apprehend the “lawbreaking illegals” they have such contempt for? Or are they going to defend the principal that those with firmly held religious beliefs should be exempt from laws that offend them? 

Any predictions?

Today, the firmly held beliefs of Southside Presbyterian Church in Tuscon, Arizona are On Our Radar. 

 

Southside Photos are from Facebook
Loretos family photo is from Southside Church
Ruiz family photo is from Groundswell
Rev. Harrington’s photo is a screenshot from MSNBC

 

 

 

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The Politics Of Punishment

Reagan_assassination_attempt_3
This week, the death of James “Jim” Brady was announced for the second time. He was the career politician who was serving as Ronald Reagan’s press secretary when he was shot in the head during an assassination attempt on President Reagan. (Photo above) I wrote “the second time” because in their haste to get out the story, ABC News reported Jim Brady had died from his wounds back in 1981.

Happily, that report was in error, and Jim, although disabled, went on to live another 33 years. He and his wife, Sarah, went on to found the Brady Campaign To Prevent Gun Violence, and the most comprehensive federal gun sanity law passed in half a century bears his name. One of my most exciting Twitter moments was exchanging tweets with Sarah Brady who reached out to say that she liked a piece I had written about mandatory gun insurance.

Say the name Jim Brady today, and people immediately think “gun control”. Say the name of the man who shot him, John Hinckley, people think “Jodi Foster.”

The story of John Hinckley Jr. deciding to shoot President Reagan because he thought it would endear him to the actress is part of the fabric of American history. But what you may not remember was what followed that not guilty by reason of insanity verdict. Congress was outraged. They couldn’t punish Hinckley, so they got out their pitchforks and torches and toughened the law regarding insanity pleas, something that didn’t seem important at all four years earlier when Harvey Milk’s assassin Dan White was found not guilty of murder using the famous “Twinkie” insanity defense. The law said Hinckley would be hospitalized until his doctors deem him cured, but lawmakers decided, in Hinckley’s case, congress would have to first agree to his release – making a mockery of that “blind justice, all equal under the law” promise America is supposed to ascribe to.

sarah_and_james_bradyNow, 33 years later, the passing of Jim Brady has threatened to ignite that congressional lynch mob mentality once again. His death has officially been ruled a homicide, the direct, though delayed, result of the bullet fired by John Hinckley in 1981. Already news outlets are barraging the the U.S. Attorney’s office with questions about whether they will now prosecute Hinckley for the murder of Jim Brady.

I for one hope they let it go. Hinckley is now 58 years old. Though his doctors have certified he is no longer mentally ill or a danger to society, he remains in the mental hospital by the will of congress. A jury of his peers said he was insane at the time he committed the crime. To charge him all these years later, under laws changed because congress didn’t like the original trial verdict, wouldn’t seem like justice to me. It would seem like vengeance.

I was imagining what a Hinckley murder trial might look like when I had a eureka moment. We often characterize the differences between Republicans and Democrats as conservative and liberal, as the daddy party and the mommy party, or even as the party of freedom and the party of justice. We don’t often think of them this way, but at their core, the Democrats are a party that wants to use government to help people, and the Republicans are a party that wants to use government to punish them.

Think of all the major issues of the day. Immigration. Abortion. Marriage equality. Even health care. In every instance, the Republican policy response is punishment. No wonder Republicans don’t like government, they use it as an instrument of judgement.

The Democratic approach to immigration is to find a way to put the millions of undocumented people living and working here on the path to citizenship. Yes, it’s a policy that shows compassion to people who broke the law to come here, but absorbing them legally would be better for the country too. Millions of undocumented families are already part of local communities, and have been for years, often for decades. Their children are American in every way but on paper. It’s better for our country to have these immigrants paying taxes and buying insurance, but because it’s better for the immigrant families too, Republican policy makers can’t entertain that approach, even if it leaves the country broken. To Republicans “immigration policy” means “punish immigrants”.

The Democratic approach to abortion policy is to allow women to be in control of their own bodies, while reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies through sex-education and providing contraception. Republican policy is to punish women who want to end a pregnancy. Want a legal abortion? First the government is going to stick a probe in your vagina, and then have someone shame you for an hour. Then, after the probe and the slut-shaming, lawmakers are going to make you wait a day – because they say so. To Republicans, “abortion” policy means “punish abortion seekers”.

The Democrats have finally found the courage to back marriage equality, (thank you Joe Biden) and support ENDA. DADT is gone. DOMA has been eviscerated. Even the most anti-gay Republican can see they are losing the fight to keep gays in the closet. Their response has been predictable: if the courts say gays can marry, we’ll find another way to punish them. To that end, we are seeing a flurry of Republican “religious freedom” laws designed to make it legal to discriminate against gay people. The Republican policy on LGBT equality remains the same as always, to punish gay people for being born that way. 

The Democrats gave the country the imperfect Affordable Care Act, but their policy goal has long been to give more Americans access to health care. While it seems like a strange place for the Republicans to have a punishment policy, they do. Half the states have rejected extending Medicare coverage to their low income citizens. In Republican policy world, people who don’t earn enough money to afford health care insurance don’t deserve to have it. The Republican health care policy is to punish the people who need health care but can’t pay for it.

brady898_10204219877755341_2908375731952057979_nDemocrats think of the federal government as the way ordinary people come together to accomplish the things we can’t do alone. Republicans think of government as the powerful in Washington unreasonably demanding citizens help those who are undeserving. Therefore it is the Republican’s duty to punish those they judge as unworthy. Knowing this, it is my prediction that Democrats will consider the death of Jim Brady to be the end of his story. It is also my prediction that there will be Republicans who will soon clamor to punish John Hinckley some more.

Am I wrong?

Feature photo via Wikipedia


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Mike Peters – An Unlikely Hero In The War On Women

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The week has been filled with the kind of stories that suck up all the oxygen in the news world – Israel, the Ukraine and the House debacle over the border babies. With all that drama, you may have missed this great story out of Jackson, Mississippi, about how a mild mannered real estate entrepreneur became a folk hero in the War On Women.

Mississippi was ground zero in the abortion fight this week. The state is down to one clinic, the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, and this week, it was literally under siege. The clinic has been operating out of compliance with a state law passed in April of 2012, which says abortion providers have to be certified OB-GYNs and have admitting privileges at a local hospital. A judge for the 5th Circuit granted them a temporary stay from those regulations, and last week, a three judge panel for that court heard a challenge to that decision.

As the court heard arguments, the clinic became a magnet for out of-state anti-women’s rights groups. Chief among them was Ohio’s Created Equal who bussed in their protesters along with their large photo displays of the unborn. (That’s two of the many photos they put along the sidewalk in the photo above.)

What the Westboro Church is to gay rights, Created Equal is to a woman’s right to choose. They seem to think of themselves as some kind of “men in black” tough guys with a fetus fetish. Remember this photo when you see them whining later in their own video. This from their Facebook page:

men_in_black

Not surprisingly, the anti-choice carpetbaggers brought out the clinic’s supporters. They call themselves the Pink House Defenders after the bright pink color the clinic was recently painted to call attention to itself – the last abortion provider left in the state of Mississippi. Led by local activist Derenda Hancock, (that’s Derenda in the hula hoop on the right) many of them are volunteers who escort patients into the clinic and try to shield them from harassment from aggressive protesters like those from Created Equal.

 hula

Notice the Pink House Defenders are all holding their signs – even the one on the ground. That is because there is an ordinance in Jackson that requires all protest signs be held. Created Equal conveniently leaves out that important fact when they tell their version of this story, but they are aware of it. Philip “Flip” Benham, former director of Operation Save America, told the Clarion-Ledger the group is frustrated with what they call “silly” city ordinances that do not allow signs to rest on the ground and police officers who stand watch and wait to arrest protesters that do not obey.

In fact, the anti-choice activists were so unhappy with the way Jackson police treated them and their gigantic fetus signs, they filed a harassment lawsuit against them. One of the complaints in that suit is that Jackson officers told protesters they could not put signs on public sidewalks but instead had to hold them at all times. That lawsuit seems to have led to a change in police orders, because last Thursday, for the first time, the police did not stop Created Equal from setting up their visual display.

ceNow, directly across the street from the pink clinic is a thriving retail center known as Fondren Corner, developed over the last ten years by Mike Peters, who rents retail space in an iconic blue building he owns and who manages many of the adjacent properties. Included in those retail establishments is Sneaky Beans coffee shop, Babalu Tacos & Tapas, and Rooster’s and Basil’s sandwich shop, the kind of places that don’t appreciate large photo of fetuses outside their dining room windows. To these businesses, the ordinance that keeps Created Equal’s fetus photos off the sidewalk is not “silly” at all.

I don’t pretend that Mike Peters was thinking about the rights and dignity of the women of Mississippi when he decided to move the five-foot display boards Created Equal set up across from Fondren Corner. I am sure he was thinking about the rights and sensibilities of his tenants and their customers. But whatever the reason, Mr. Peters took it upon himself to enforce the ordinance the police were (apparently) instructed to overlook. He remove the illegal signs. One by one, he picked them up and silently carried them past police and into the basement of his blue building.

mike p

“It was horrible.” Mr. Peters told the Jackson Free Press. “If they would have had little signs like most of the locals have now … we probably would have just let it ride, but these were horrible. Every 5 feet there was just another one, another one, another one.”

When they saw what Mr. Peters was doing, several of the business owners came out and helped him. Nathan Glen, owner of Rooster’s Fondren located directly across the street from the clinic was one of them. He called the Created Equal protesters “social terrorists”.

“We get the protest. I don’t mind the protesters,” Glen said. “But why should their civil rights come over mine? We’re actually paying taxes here. We live here. And they come in from out of Ohio and don’t abide by the laws we have.”

The Created Equal “men-in-black” protesters were beside themselves. They taped Mike Peters and his associates as they silently moved the display, but he refused to engage them. They nagged police officers to stop the thieves, but police just stood and watched as he carried the signs past them.

“I’m not mad at you,” Peters told the officer. “I know you’ve got to do whatever you’ve got to do. But I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do.”

Mr. Peters said he thinks police had orders from city hall not to interfere with the protester’s signs even though they were in violation of the local ordinance – and their protest permit to boot. As to why they didn’t stop him, Mr. Peters told reporters he thinks the police said to themselves:

“‘Well, why should we arrest him for doing this, and yet we’re letting them (the protesters) break the law too? That’s not right.'”

Mike Peters eventually returned the signs to the group, so they could pack them up and send them on to the next protest. (My guess would be Louisiana where they are hard at work trying to close down abortion providers there.) But his moment of civil disobedience should not go unnoticed or unlauded. Well played, sir. Well played.

You can watch our hero in action in the video below.

All Photos via Facebook

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