'Sponsored' by My Husband: Why It’s a Problem That Writers Never Talk About Where Their Money Comes From
Here’s my life. My husband and I get up each morning at 7 o’clock and he showers while I make coffee. By the time he’s dressed I’m already sitting at my desk writing. He kisses me goodbye, then leaves for the job where he makes good money, draws excellent benefits and gets many perks, such as travel, catered lunches and full reimbursement for the gym where I attend yoga midday. His career has allowed me to work only sporadically, as a consultant, in a field I enjoy.
All that disclosure is crass, I know. I’m sorry. Because in this world where women will sit around discussing the various topiary shapes of their bikini waxes, the conversation about money (or privilege) is the one we never have. Why? I think it’s the Marie Antoinette syndrome: Those with privilege and luck don’t want the riffraff knowing the details. After all, if “those people” understood the differences in our lives, they might revolt. Or, God forbid, not see us as somehow more special, talented and/or deserving than them.
There’s a special version of this masquerade we writers put on. Two examples:
I attended a packed reading (I’m talking 300+ people) about a year and a half ago. The author was very well-known, a magnificent nonfictionist who has, deservedly, won several big awards. He also happens to be the heir to a mammoth fortune. Mega-millions. He’s a man who has never had to work one job, much less two. He has several children; I know, because they were at the reading with him, all lined up. I heard someone say they were all traveling with him, plus two nannies, on his worldwide tour.
None of this takes away from his brilliance. Yet, when an audience member — young, wide-eyed, clearly not clued in — rose to ask him how he’d managed to spend 10 years writing his current masterpiece (what had he done to sustain himself and his family during that time?), he told her in a serious tone that it had been tough but he’d written a number of magazine articles to get by. I heard a titter pass through the half of the audience that knew the truth. But the author, impassive, moved on and left this woman thinking he’d supported his Manhattan life for a decade with a handful of pieces in the Nation and Salon.
Example two. A reading in a different city, featuring a 30-sh woman whose debut novel had just been reviewed on the front page of the New York Times Book Review. I didn’t love the book (a coming-of-age story set among wealthy teenagers) but many people I respect thought it was great, so I defer. The author had attended one of the big East Coast prep schools, while her parents were busy growing their careers on the New York literary scene. These were people — her parents — who traded Christmas cards with William Maxwell and had the Styrons over for dinner. She, the author, was their only beloved child.
After prep school, she’d earned two creative writing degrees (Iowa plus an Ivy). Her first book was being heralded by editors and reviewers all over the country, many of whom had watched her grow up. It was a phenomenon even before it hit bookshelves. She was an immediate star.
When (again) an audience member, clearly an undergrad, rose to ask this glamorous writer to what she attributed her success, the woman paused, then said she had worked very, very hard and she’d had some good training, but she thought in looking back it was her decision never to have children that had allowed her to become a true artist. If you have kids, she explained to the group of desperate nubile writers, you have to choose between them and your writing. Keep it pure. Don’t let yourself be distracted by a baby’s cry.
I was dumbfounded. I wanted to leap to my feet and shout. “Hello? Alice Munro! Doris Lessing! Joan Didion!” Of course, there are thousands of extraordinary writers who have managed to produce art despite motherhood. But the essential point was that the quality of her book notwithstanding, this author’s chief advantage had nothing to do with her reproductive decisions. It was about connections. Straight up. She’d had them since birth.
In my opinion, we do an enormous “let them eat cake” disservice to our community when we obfuscate the circumstances that help us write, publish and in some way succeed. I can’t claim the wealth of the first author (not even close); nor do I have the connections of the second. I don’t have their fame either. But I do have a huge advantage over the writer who is living paycheck to paycheck, or lonely and isolated, or dealing with a medical condition, or working a full-time job.
How can I be so sure? Because I used to be poor, overworked and overwhelmed. And I produced zero books during that time. Throughout my 20s, I was married to an addict who tried valiantly (but failed, over and over) to stay straight. We had three children, one with autism, and lived in poverty for a long, wretched time. In my 30s I divorced the man because it was the only way out of constant crisis. For the next 10 years, I worked two jobs and raised my three kids alone, without child support or the involvement of their dad.
I published my first novel at 39, but only after a teaching stint where I met some influential writers and three months living with my parents while I completed the first draft. After turning in that manuscript, I landed a pretty cushy magazine editor’s job. A year later, I met my second husband. For the first time I had a true partner, someone I could rely on who was there in every way for me and our kids. Life got easier. I produced a nonfiction book, a second novel and about 30 essays within a relatively short time.
Today, I am essentially “sponsored” by this very loving man who shows up at the end of the day, asks me how the writing went, pours me a glass of wine, then takes me out to eat. He accompanies me when I travel 500 miles to do a 75-minute reading, manages my finances, and never complains that my dark, heady little books have resulted in low advances and rather modest sales.
I completed my third novel in eight months flat. I started the book while on a lovely vacation. Then I wrote happily and relatively quickly because I had the time and the funding, as well as help from my husband, my agent and a very talented editor friend. Without all those advantages, I might be on page 52.
OK, there’s mine. Now show me yours.
The purpose of leaks by “credible sources” is to manage expectations for the public. So the leak indicating that the Department of Justice will likely not pursue federal civil rights charges against Darren Wilson for the shooting death of Michael Brown is likely a trial balloon to see how the public will react.
I hope that one of those reactions is a demand for police reforms across the board, imposed not only from the top down but also from within.
Justice – which we believe embodies accountability, blame, the restoration of equality, and a repair to some awful wrong between the aggrieved and the aggressor – loses its meaning in circumstances like this. Darren Wilson will probably never have to publicly account for his actions. And this may be a singular setback for the Brown family, even if they can steel themselves to pursue a civil suit for the wrongful death of their son .
We all had grander hopes for US attorney general Eric Holder and Civil Rights Division of the DOJ – among them, that they would resolve our lingering questions from the August shooting that set off 168 days of continuous protests in Ferguson and nationwide. In past high profile cases, DOJ was able to secure convictions for the LA cops who beat Rodney King and the NYPD officers who assaulted Abner Louima – although both these men lived to tell their side of the story. And we had a lot of grand hopes for this administration. Holder’s hands-on approach and his initiatives to address mass incarceration and commutations of sentences for nonviolent offenders offered promise, yet remain unfulfilled.
There were murmurs as early as late August – shortly after the DOJ announced a separate investigation – that it would always end up this way. The way the law is crafted creates a pretty steep burden for the federal government to prove that Wilson knowingly violated Brown’s civil rights, and that he did so with malice when he shot Brown at least six times, including two shots to the head. Intent is hard to prove because of optics of the shooting – black body, blue uniform. All a police officer has to say is I stopped a fleeing suspect and I feared for my life, as we already saw in the officer-involved killings of Garner, Crawford,Hunt and Hamilton that resulted in zero indictments.
I don’t know the depth of the disappointment Leslie McSpadden or Michael Brown Sr must feel, nor that of some of the activists and protesters in Ferguson who have fought so long for justice for Brown and for us all. I do hope that they remain resolved in their efforts to push their community – and by extension, our society – for sweeping reforms in every level of our legal system. The story doesn’t end here. The struggle doesn’t end here.
Traditionally, we look to the federal government to be the intercessor, the deliverer of equitable justice where states and municipalities fail. Reforms in the 21st century must be more meaningful than lip service and scrambling by municipalities facing federal oversight. It really means doing and being the things you said you’re going to do and be: train your police in non-racist practices; recruit people to reflect the plurality of your community; find alternative revenue streams for your municipality that don’t exploit your most vulnerable citizens.
There is some comfort in knowing that the Justice Department’s wider investigation of police practices in the St. Louis County area is ongoing. And we’ve got good reason to find faith in this effort. In 2012, the Justice Department began a 16-month long investigation of the Albuquerque Police Department , and last summer, DOJ and the city of Albuquerque reached an agreement on a set of police reforms; Wednesday, they named a DOJ monitor to oversee the reforms.
The Justice Department reached a similar accord with Cleveland days after the fatal shooting of Tamir Rice. DOJ’s investigation of the Cleveland PD and mandated reforms would have been pivotal. It could have meant relieving Timothy Loehmann of duty before he could even pull the trigger ending Rice’s short life.
The struggle between theory and practice comes into play here for me. I believe in the rule of law, though I know it’s applied inequitably. And yet, I don’t want to imagine what it means when we can’t look to the federal government to fix systemic abuses when the law falls short of justice. My faith in the law, as it’s applied in theory, is too strong for me to want to consider any alternative.
I question the mindset of people who apply the law; I challenge them to be mindful of biases and aware of structural inequalities. That blind spot is where we see patterns of abuse that inevitably require federal intervention.
The feds may be able to compel corrections for St Louis County, but they’d likely have to begin inquests in nearly every municipality to root out all the injustice. We can hope that the scrutiny that Albuquerque and Cleveland have endured will be a signal to other municipalities to preemptively address their patterns of abuse, and directly deal with issues of racism internally.
But is it too late? Last week, a Florida family discovered that a mugshot of their child and other black men were being used as targets to train police officers. How does a police administrator account for that? How do you fix a culture that allows that?
Apologizing isn’t enough. A ban of the use of those images for target practice is a step in the right direction, but a placebo. For officials to claim that this was an error in policy or judgment and not recognize the racism at work is disingenuous. Police managers must address racism from within their departments if they want to maintain our trust.
We’re still watching and waiting. But we won’t do either silently any more.Related Stories
Exposed nipples? Naked bottoms? Bare breasts? The insouciant editors who sit in the front row of fashion shows have seen the lot at womenswear shows – and will barely raise an eyebrow. But the flesh on show at Rick Owens’ menswear show in Paris on Thursday surprised even them.
In a highly unusual move, the American designer sent four of his models down the runway wearing clothes with peepholes that showed full-frontal male nudity underneath.
The flash of flesh was presented subtly, in an otherwise typically dramatic, drapey collection of dark colours and loose silhouettes. As the audience gradually realised that a taboo was being broken in front of their eyes, whispers and occasional giggles rippled down the front row like a Mexican wave. It was a move which earned him the Instagram hashtag: #dickowens.
Gender-specific body parts are notoriously ubiquitous during fashion week. At Acne’s spring/summer 2015 party, guests were fed penis-shaped canapes; after his spring/summer 2014 show a year previously, Walter Van Beirendonck popped penises onto his metallic snakeskin brogues. At the spring/summer 2015 shows, Tom Ford, Erdem and Christopher Kane featured exposed nipples, but while the latter have come to be almost routine – they tend to appear every season in some capacity – exposed phalli are less common. Still, Rick Owens has a history of winning headlines with his catwalk shows. For spring/summer 2014, he was widely applauded for sending a fierce, muscular Step Dance team down the catwalk stomping and scowling. That show was heralded as a significant moment in the rise of diverse casting in fashion shows.
If the fashion crowd’s interest was piqued, the models on the catwalk were a lot more laid-back about the experience, according to one. “It was not a thing at all,” he told the Guardian. Everyone knew what they would be wearing at early fittings. Having been chosen to model one of the show’s less exposing outfits himself, “I just noticed it when I looked at the photo board and saw that there were cocks hanging about. Ha!”Related Stories
During a series of YouTube interviews Thursday, President Obama demonstrated a remarkably laissez-faire attitude toward marijuana legalization experiments in the states. And he signaled strongly that the Obama administration wouldn't be taking to the hustings to try to beat back legalization efforts, as previous administrations had been wont to do.
"What you're seeing now is Colorado, Washington through state referenda, they're experimenting with legal marijuana," the president said in response to a question from YouTube host Hank Green. "The position of my administration has been that we still have federal laws that classify marijuana as an illegal substance, but we're not going to spend a lot of resources trying to turn back decisions that have been made at the state level on this issue. My suspicion is that you're gonna see other states start looking at this."
Indeed. Legalization bills are already popping up in state legislatures around the country, and while it's unlikely—though not impossible—that any of them will pass this year, 2016 looks to be the break-out year for freeing the weed. One state is going to be the first to legalize it through the legislature, and next year seems reasonable. And the presidential election year is also likely to see successful legalization initiatives in several more.
Currently four states—Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington—and the District of Columbia have ended pot prohibition. But that's only about 18 million people. By the time they quit counting the votes on Election Day 2016, that number is likely to triple, and then some.
So, where's it going to happen? Here's where:
That California is the only state on the West Coast to not yet have legalized pot is an embarrassment to Golden State activists. They were first with medical marijuana in 1996, and they tried to be first to legalize it with Prop 19 in 2010, but came up short, garnering 46% of the vote on Election Day despite leading in the polls up until the final weeks. In 2012, with the big players sitting on their cash stashes, none of the competing initiative efforts even managed to make the ballot.
It will be different in 2016. The actors with deep pockets are all ready to get involved next year, the polling is good (if not great, hovering in the mid-50s), and the state's disparate and fractious cannabis community is already working to forge a unified front behind a community-vetted initiative. The main vehicle for activists is the California Coalition for Cannabis Law Reform, which has already started holding meetings statewide to try to a unified marijuana reform community.
With 38 million people, California is the big prize. It's also an expensive place to run an initiative, with the cost of getting on the ballot alone at around a million dollars. And it'll take several million more to pay for advertising in the key final weeks of the campaign. But the money is lining up, it'll take fewer signatures to qualify for the ballot (thanks to the dismal turnout in last year's mid-terms), and once it qualifies, it will have momentum from (by then) four years of legalization in Colorado and Washington and two years of it in Alaska and Oregon. California will go green in 2016.
Nevada is the state that is actually furthest down the path towards legalizing it next year. The Marijuana Policy Project-backed Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Nevada has already qualified a legalization initiative for the 2016 ballot. It would legalize the possession of up to an ounce by adults 21 and over and allow for taxed and regulated marijuana commerce.
Under Nevada law, the legislature now has a chance to approve the initiative. If it does so, it would become law; if it rejects it or fails to act on it, it then goes to the voters on Election Day 2016.
Nevadans approved medical marijuana in 1998 (59%) and again in 2000 (65%), but voted down decriminalization in 2002 (39%) and legalization in 2006 (44%). But it has since then effectively decriminalized possession of less than ounce, and it's now been a decade since that last legalization initiative loss at the polls. Either marijuana will be legal by Election Day 2016 thanks to the legislature or the voters will decide the question themselves at the polls.
In Arizona, possession of any amount of pot is still a felony, but polling in the last couple of years shows support for legalization either hovering around 50% or above it. Those aren't the most encouraging polling numbers—the convention wisdom is that initiatives want to start out at 60% support or better—but a serious effort is underway there to put the issue before the voters in 2016.
The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) is teaming with Safer Arizona and other state activist groups for the 2016 initiative campaign and has formed a ballot committee to begin laying the groundwork for a Colorado-style initiative.
The initiative language is not a done deal, and there are some signs that local activists aren't completely happy with MPP's proposed language, but that's why there are consultations going on.
The Marijuana Policy Project has been laying the groundwork for a statewide legalization initiative in 2016 with local initiative campaigns in some of the state's largest cities in 2014 and 2013 and is working on final initiative language now. But it is also seeing competition from a state-based group, Legalize Maine, that says it is crafting its own initiative and is criticizing both MPP and Maine politicians for advancing "out of state corporate interests" at the expense of Mainers.
Whether MPP and Legalize Maine can get together behind a single initiative remains to be seen. If they can, good; if they can't, well, Maine is a small and relatively inexpensive state in which to run a signature-gathering campaign. There could be not one, but two legalization initiatives in Maine next year.
Meanwhile, state Rep. Diane Russell has filed a legalization bill in the legislature this year. Maine is one of the states where the looming presence of legalization initiatives could actually move the legislature to act preemptively to craft a legalization scheme to its own liking.
Massachusetts is another. As in Maine, but to a much greater degree, Bay State activists have been laying the groundwork for legalization for years. Groups such as MassCann/NORML and the Drug Policy Forum of Massachusetts have run a series of marijuana reform "public policy questions" in various state electoral districts each election cycle since 2000—and they have never lost! The questions are non-binding, but they're a clear indicator to state legislators where voter sentiment lies.
The state has also seen successful decriminalization and medical marijuana initiatives, in 2008 and 2012, respectively. In both cases, the initiatives were approved with 63% of the vote. And again as in Maine, the Marijuana Policy Project is organizing an initiative, but local activists with similar complaints to those in Maine are threatening to run their own initiative. Organized as Bay State Repeal, which includes some veteran Massachusetts activists, the group says it wants the least restrictive legalization law possible. Whether the two efforts can reach a common understanding remains to be seen.
Meanwhile, the issue could move in the legislature in the next two years. New Republican Gov. Charlie Baker says he's opposed to legalization, but is praising Democratic Senate President Stanley Rosenberg's decision to appoint a special Senate committee to examine issues around legalization. Rep. David Rogers (D-Cambridge) isn't waiting. He's filed a legalization bill, and while previous such bills have languished in the Joint Committee on the Judiciary, incoming committee head Sen. Will Brownberger (D-Boston) has said he will give it a hearing. Something could happen this year, although it's more likely next year, and the voters doing it themselves on Election Day 2016 is more likely yet.
Vermont could be the best bet for a state to legalize it this year and for the first state to legalize it through the legislative process. There is no initiative process in the state, so that's the only way it's going to happen. And the state has already proceeded well down that path.
Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) has endorsed legalization in principle—the devil is the details—and the legislature last year approved a RAND study on the impacts of legalization, which was just released earlier this month. That study estimated that freeing the weed could bring the state $20 to $70 million in annual pot tax revenues.
Other state officials have expressed openness to the idea, and a May 2014 poll found 57% support for legalization. There's not a bill in the hopper yet this year, but one could move quickly in this state where a lot of the legislative groundwork has already been laid.
The Marijuana Policy Project has formed the Vermont Coalition to Regulate Marijuana to help push the process along. Stay tuned; this is one to watch.
And there's a dark horse in the heartland. The Missouri activist group Show Me Cannabis has been running an impressive educational campaign about marijuana legalization for the past few years. The group tried to get an initiative on the ballot last year, but came up short.
They've already filed paperwork for 2016 for a constitutional amendment to make it legal to grow, sell, and use marijuana for people 21 and over.
One reason Show Me Cannabis came up short in 2014 was the lack of support from major players outside the state. Given the lack of polls showing strong support for legalization, the big players remain sitting on their wallets, but that could change if good poll numbers emerge. And there's still plenty of time to make the 2016 ballot.
For children too young or sick to have received the MMR vaccine — or whose parents decided for them that they didn’t “need” to be vaccinated — the “happiest place on Earth” has been transformed into something far more sinister.
With at least 51 measles cases linked to initial exposure at Disneyland, the deputy director of California’s Center for Infectious Diseases announced that the theme park is no longer safe for the unvaccinated — the status of over 80 percent of those infected. The outbreak has spread to five states and Mexico, and includes six infants who were too young to have received the vaccine. A full quarter of the patients so far had to be hospitalized. And for 24 unvaccinated children in Orange County, where the theme park is located, school is no longer safe, either: They were told to stay home for three weeks after it emerged that an infected student had shown up on campus earlier this month.
Does that last part sound familiar? Over at the Daily Beast, pseudonym pediatrician Russell Saunders calls out our attention to this past autumn’s Ebola panic. Think of what’s now happening as the bizarro version of that: Instead of people overestimating their risk of contracting a disease, we’re now dealing with a real threat from what, while less deadly than Ebola, is “essentially the most contagious disease on the planet,” as one infectious disease specialist called it – all because some people underestimated the risk. As Dr. James Cherry, a specialist in pediatric infectious diseases at UCLA, confirmed to the New York Times, the outbreak is “100 percent connected” to Orange County’s low immunization rates.
For more on why we desperately need to readjust our expectations, it’s worth reading Tara C. Smith on how, contrary to what some anti-vaxxers argue, measles is definitely a big deal. The gist:
What many forget is that we had a massive outbreak of measles in the United States from 1989–1991. While our 644 cases in 2014 seems high compared with recent years, 25 years ago measles incidence spiked to 18,000 cases per year, with a total of more than 55,000 infections before the outbreak began to dwindle. It was the largest measles outbreak in this country since the 1970s.
…Despite our advances and our modernity and our status as a developed country, we still saw 123 measles deaths during this epidemic—here, in the United States, where we get plenty of Vitamin A. There were also 11,000 hospitalizations—fully one-fifth of people infected with measles became sick enough to be hospitalized.
In modern-day America.
Don’t expect, in other words, that modern medical advances will protect us from the ravages of measles — vaccines are the modern medical advancement that were doing a fine job of things until the misguided decisions of a few sacrificed the protection of herd immunity for all of us. If anything, the rapid emergence of antibiotic-resistant superbugs could make a modern-day measles epidemic even deadlier. The continual frustration is that measles was effectively eliminated from this country in 2000, but all it took was enough people buying into the junk science telling them that vaccines aren’t safe to give the disease a new foothold. Here’s the CDC data on measles’ resurgence:
Back when measles was beginning to make its comeback last year, Salon spoke with Stephen Morse, a professor of clinical epidemiology at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, who predicted that, if the anti-vaxxer craze continues, we’ll keep seeing the disease come back. And at a certain point, he added, “I think people will feel very differently” about prioritizing the “risks” of vaccines over those of a major outbreak. Hopefully, we won’t have to get to the point where measles is once again endemic in the U.S. for that to happen — seeing what we’ve let it do to Disneyland should be the final straw.
Bill Maher blasted Clint Eastwood’s film American Sniper during the Real Time panel discussion on Friday, comparing it unfavorably to Kathryn Bigelow’s Oscar-winning The Hurt Locker.
“Hurt Locker made $17 million, because it was a little ambiguous. And thoughtful,” Maher said. “And this one is just ‘American hero, he’s a psychopath patriot and we love him.’”
Maher also criticized the subject of Eastwood’s movie, Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, and his statements in his autobiography regarding killing Iraqi “savages.”
“I dunno, [President Dwight] Eisenhower once said, ‘I hate wars as only a soldier who has lived it can.’ I just don’t see this guy in the same league as Eisenhower, I’m sorry,” Maher said. “And if you’re a Christian — I know this is a Christian country — ‘I hate the damn savages, I don’t give a f*ck what happens to them’ doesn’t seem like a Christian thing to say.”
Wall Street Journal foreign affairs columnist Bret Stephens pushed back against Maher, saying he could not believe that was the host’s impression of the film.
“What I saw was a movie that treats what veterans and soldiers go through in a way that was subtle,” Stephens said. “It was not just about war — it was about PTSD, it was about what the wives of soldiers go through.”
Maher’s fellow comedian, Bill Burr, also took issue with his viewpoint on Kyle.
“You can’t sum up a man by one quote taken out of context,” Burr said. “You don’t know how he said that. I think if you’re fighting a war, you say a lot of f*cked up sh*t in the middle of it.”
“That was after the war,” Maher countered, adding, “I’m just saying, the idea that Americans can not see any ambiguity, that somebody has to be either ‘pure hero’ or ‘pure traitor,’ is ridiculous.”
Washington Post political reporter Nia-Malika Henderson said that one reason American Sniper has grossed more than $90 million at the box office was that it fell in line with a tradition of Americans searching for the next “totemic war hero,” with Kyle fitting in alongside the likes of Pat Tillman and Jessica Lynch.
“At some point, Americans want to do some sort of patriotic act,” Henderson said. “I think at some point, for people who went to go see this movie, it was sort of a patriotic act. People wanted to feel good about this war. You look at the polls, most Americans think this war wasn’t worth fighting.”
Former Democratic National Committee chair Howard Dean, however, argued that there was a political element to the film’s success.
“I bet you if you look at a cross-section of the Tea Party and people who go see this movie, there’s a lot of intersection,” Dean argued.
Watch the discussion, as posted online on Friday, below.
While clearing out the rubble of the recently captured Donetsk airport in Eastern Ukraine, separatist militia members discovered solar-powered Christian sermon players, reportedly from an Atlanta-based Baptist church, in the pockets of some of the dead and captured Ukrainian soldiers.
It’s not clear who gave the devices to Ukrainian soldiers, but the sermons are attributed to Pastor Charles Stanley, founder of In Touch Ministries, a Baptist group based in Georgia that broadcasts sermons on TV and radio stations around the world. On the recordings, translated to Russian, Stanley tells the Ukrainian soldiers not to be afraid and to have faith in God.
“Hello my name is Charles Stanley, you are listening to a gift from ‘In Touch Ministries’ on a solar-powered audio player,” said Stanley. “I hope the themes will be of encouragement and support to you, I hope that they will help you in your spiritual growth and knowledge of Jesus Christ. May the truth of God’s word fill your heart.”
On Twitter, In Touch Ministries commented on the revelations that their sermons were being listened to by Ukrainian soldiers.
Praying for peace in the Ukraine, and that God's Word would continue to go forth and shine light in dark places: http://t.co/jWjk3a4FfW— In Touch Ministries (@InTouchMin) January 23, 2015
At least a dozen Ukrainian soldiers were captured Thursday after the Ukrainian Army retreated from the airport after days of intense fighting.
A commander of the Novorossiya Armed Forces (NAF), the pro-Russian separatist militia that captured the airport, played the recording for the Russian news service LifeNews.
“It just like hypnotizes them, such teachings, you start to believe that you can die and then everything will be great and they’ll welcome you with open arms. They’re simply zombifying them,” he said.
Check out the video below.Related Stories
I never thought I’d be spurred to defend GOP Rep. Renee Ellmers, but the misogyny coming from the right, in the wake of her helping torpedo the 20-week abortion ban, is appalling.
The boys over at Red State are leading the charge, with sexually insecure sad sack Erick Erickson calling her “the GOP’s Abortion Barbie” (his sick nickname for Wendy Davis) and now another Red Stater, Aaron Gardner, asking “Is Renee Ellmers worthy of life?”
In a country where abortion providers have been murdered and clinics bombed, that’s a particularly ugly provocation.
Gardner justifies his threatening question by explaining he’s the product of rape – his biological grandfather apparently raped his grandmother — and that the rape exemption to the abortion ban that Ellmers supports somehow makes the case that he’s not worthy of life.
Tell me why you are worthy of this life you have been given, Representative. It might seem like an unreasonable request, I am sure that many will find it impolite…But when the pro aborts call me an extremist, when they say, “exceptions for rape”, I hear, “you are not worthy of life.” I feel compelled to justify myself and explain that it isn’t extreme to defend one’s own existence.
So the staunchly antiabortion Ellmers is transformed into a “pro-abort” through the magic of male hysteria. This is a particular kind of paranoia and narcissism that should get Gardner into therapy, not on the front page of RedState (where they’re also calling Hillary Clinton “an elderly unaccomplished crone,” by the way, but we’re used to the anti-Democrat misogyny.)
Now, Ellmers has been reliably right-wing and anti-women most of the time, leading the charge against the Affordable Care Act’s mandating that insurance policies cover pregnancy-related healthcare with the memorable war cry: “Has a man ever delivered a baby?” As I noted at the time, you might think that was the opening salvo in a defense of sharing the costs of childbearing, but no, it was a defense of protecting men, and essentially returning to the days when being a woman was a preexisting condition.
To win her North Carolina seat narrowly in 2010, she campaigned against the so-called Ground Zero Mosque – that year’s Ebola scare, which also magically went away after the election – and called in Sarah Palin, who named Ellmers to her famous “Mama Grizzlies” pack.
She also tried to help the GOP win over women by advising that when talking issues, they “bring it down to a woman’s level” by talking about real women’s lives – advice that was widely interpreted as condescending to real women.
But she’s offended some right-wingers with her defense of a pathway to citizenship in immigration reform, and her role in defeating the 20-week abortion ban – for now, anyway; Sen. Lindsey Graham obviously thinks it has a future if the GOP can solve “the definitional problem of rape” – has now turned wingnut cavemen into enemies.
To be fair, plenty of conservative women have also criticized Ellmers, but not with the sexist savagery of their male counterparts.
It’s fascinating to me: Right-wingers love their Mama Grizzlies, tough gals like Palin and Sen. Joni Ernst to name two, as long as they stay in line. But when they stray from wingnut orthodoxy, they can expect the same abuse female Democrats get. I’ve been looking around to see if any conservative women have stood up for Ellmers, in the face of RedState’s ugly assault, but I haven’t found any. I will surely update this post if I do.
To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from TomDispatch.com here.
In the dead of night, they swept in aboard V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft. Landing in a remote region of one of the most volatile countries on the planet, they raided a village and soon found themselves in a life-or-death firefight. It was the second time in two weeks that elite U.S. Navy SEALs had attempted to rescue American photojournalist Luke Somers. And it was the second time they failed.
On December 6, 2014, approximately 36 of America’s top commandos, heavily armed, operating with intelligence from satellites, drones, and high-tech eavesdropping, outfitted with night vision goggles, and backed up by elite Yemeni troops, went toe-to-toe with about six militants from al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. When it was over, Somers was dead, along with Pierre Korkie, a South African teacher due to be set free the next day. Eight civilians were also killed by the commandos, according to local reports. Most of the militants escaped.
That blood-soaked episode was, depending on your vantage point, an ignominious end to a year that saw U.S. Special Operations forces deployed at near record levels, or an inauspicious beginning to a new year already on track to reach similar heights, if not exceed them.
During the fiscal year that ended on September 30, 2014, U.S. Special Operations forces (SOF) deployed to 133 countries -- roughly 70% of the nations on the planet -- according to Lieutenant Colonel Robert Bockholt, a public affairs officer with U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM). This capped a three-year span in which the country’s most elite forces were active in more than 150 different countries around the world, conducting missions ranging from kill/capture night raids to training exercises. And this year could be a record-breaker. Only a day before the failed raid that ended Luke Somers life -- just 66 days into fiscal 2015 -- America’s most elite troops had already set foot in 105 nations, approximately 80% of 2014’s total.
Despite its massive scale and scope, this secret global war across much of the planet is unknown to most Americans. Unlike the December debacle in Yemen, the vast majority of special ops missions remain completely in the shadows, hidden from external oversight or press scrutiny. In fact, aside from modest amounts of information disclosed through highly-selective coverage by military media, official White House leaks, SEALs with something to sell, and a few cherry-picked journalists reporting on cherry-picked opportunities, much of what America’s special operators do is never subjected to meaningful examination, which only increases the chances of unforeseen blowback and catastrophic consequences.
The Golden Age
“The command is at its absolute zenith. And it is indeed a golden age for special operations.” Those were the words of Army General Joseph Votel III, a West Point graduate and Army Ranger, as he assumed command of SOCOM last August.
His rhetoric may have been high-flown, but it wasn’t hyperbole. Since September 11, 2001, U.S. Special Operations forces have grown in every conceivable way, including their numbers, their budget, their clout in Washington, and their place in the country’s popular imagination. The command has, for example, more than doubled its personnel from about 33,000 in 2001 to nearly 70,000 today, including a jump of roughly 8,000 during the three-year tenure of recently retired SOCOM chief Admiral William McRaven.
Those numbers, impressive as they are, don’t give a full sense of the nature of the expansion and growing global reach of America’s most elite forces in these years. For that, a rundown of the acronym-ridden structure of the ever-expanding Special Operations Command is in order. The list may be mind-numbing, but there is no other way to fully grasp its scope.
The lion’s share of SOCOM’s troops are Rangers, Green Berets, and other soldiers from the Army, followed by Air Force air commandos, SEALs, Special Warfare Combatant-Craft Crewmen and support personnel from the Navy, as well as a smaller contingent of Marines. But you only get a sense of the expansiveness of the command when you consider the full range of “sub-unified commands” that these special ops troops are divided among: the self-explanatory SOCAFRICA; SOCEUR, the European contingent; SOCKOR, which is devoted strictly to Korea; SOCPAC, which covers the rest of the Asia-Pacific region; SOCSOUTH, which conducts missions in Central America, South America, and the Caribbean; SOCCENT, the sub-unified command of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) in the Middle East; SOCNORTH, which is devoted to “homeland defense”; and the globe-trotting Joint Special Operations Command or JSOC -- a clandestine sub-command (formerly headed by McRaven and then Votel) made up of personnel from each service branch, including SEALs, Air Force special tactics airmen, and the Army's Delta Force, that specializes in tracking and killing suspected terrorists.
And don’t think that’s the end of it, either. As a result of McRaven’s push to create “a Global SOF network of like-minded interagency allies and partners,” Special Operations liaison officers, or SOLOs, are now embedded in 14 key U.S. embassies to assist in advising the special forces of various allied nations. Already operating in Australia, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, El Salvador, France, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Kenya, Poland, Peru, Turkey, and the United Kingdom, the SOLO program is poised, according to Votel, to expand to 40 countries by 2019. The command, and especially JSOC, has also forged close ties with the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the National Security Agency, among others.
Special Operations Command’s global reach extends further still, with smaller, more agile elements operating in the shadows from bases in the United States to remote parts of Southeast Asia, from Middle Eastern outposts to austere African camps. Since 2002, SOCOM has also been authorized to create its own Joint Task Forces, a prerogative normally limited to larger combatant commands like CENTCOM. Take, for instance, Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P) which, at its peak, had roughly 600 U.S. personnel supporting counterterrorist operations by Filipino allies against insurgent groups like Abu Sayyaf. After more than a decade spent battling that group, its numbers have been diminished, but it continues to be active, while violence in the region remains virtually unaltered.
A phase-out of the task force was actually announced in June 2014. “JSOTF-P will deactivate and the named operation OEF-P [Operation Enduring Freedom-Philippines] will conclude in Fiscal Year 2015,” Votel told the Senate Armed Services Committee the next month. “A smaller number of U.S. military personnel operating as part of a PACOM [U.S. Pacific Command] Augmentation Team will continue to improve the abilities of the PSF [Philippine Special Forces] to conduct their CT [counterterrorism] missions...” Months later, however, Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines remained up and running. “JSOTF-P is still active although the number of personnel assigned has been reduced,” Army spokesperson Kari McEwen told reporter Joseph Trevithick of War Is Boring.
Another unit, Special Operations Joint Task Force-Bragg, remained in the shadows for years before its first official mention by the Pentagon in early 2014. Its role, according to SOCOM’s Bockholt, is to “train and equip U.S. service members preparing for deployment to Afghanistan to support Special Operations Joint Task Force-Afghanistan.” That latter force, in turn, spent more than a decade conducting covert or “black” ops “to prevent insurgent activities from threatening the authority and sovereignty of” the Afghan government. This meant night raids and kill/capture missions -- often in concert with elite Afghan forces -- that led to the deaths of unknown numbers of combatants and civilians. In response to popular outrage against the raids, Afghan President Hamid Karzai largely banned them in 2013.
U.S. Special Operations forces were to move into a support role in 2014, letting elite Afghan troops take charge. “We're trying to let them run the show," Colonel Patrick Roberson of the Afghanistan task force told USA Today. But according to LaDonna Davis, a spokesperson with the task force, America’s special operators were still leading missions last year. The force refuses to say how many missions were led by Americans or even how many operations its commandos were involved in, though Afghan special operations forces reportedly carried out as many as 150 missions each month in 2014. “I will not be able to discuss the specific number of operations that have taken place,” Major Loren Bymer of Special Operations Joint Task Force-Afghanistan told TomDispatch. “However, Afghans currently lead 96% of special operations and we continue to train, advise, and assist our partners to ensure their success.”
And lest you think that that’s where the special forces organizational chart ends, Special Operations Joint Task Force-Afghanistan has five Special Operations Advisory Groups “focused on mentoring and advising our ASSF [Afghan Special Security Force] partners,” according to Votel. “In order to ensure our ASSF partners continue to take the fight to our enemies, U.S. SOF must be able to continue to do some advising at the tactical level post-2014 with select units in select locations,” he told the Senate Armed Services Committee. Indeed, last November, Karzai’s successor Ashraf Ghani quietly lifted the night raid ban, opening the door once again to missions with U.S. advisors in 2015.
There will, however, be fewer U.S. special ops troops available for tactical missions. According to then Rear-, now Vice-Admiral Sean Pybus, SOCOM’s Deputy Commander, about half the SEAL platoons deployed in Afghanistan were, by the end of last month, to be withdrawn and redeployed to support “the pivot in Asia, or work the Mediterranean, or the Gulf of Guinea, or into the Persian Gulf.” Still, Colonel Christopher Riga, commander of the 7th Special Forces Group, whose troops served with the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force-Afghanistan near Kandahar last year, vowed to soldier on. “There’s a lot of fighting that is still going on in Afghanistan that is going to continue,” he said at an awards ceremony late last year. “We’re still going to continue to kill the enemy, until we are told to leave.”
Add to those task forces the Special Operations Command Forward (SOC FWD) elements, small teams which, according to the military, “shape and coordinate special operations forces security cooperation and engagement in support of theater special operations command, geographic combatant command, and country team goals and objectives.” SOCOM declined to confirm the existence of SOC FWDs, even though there has been ample official evidence on the subject and so it would not provide a count of how many teams are currently deployed across the world. But those that are known are clustered in favored black ops stomping grounds, including SOC FWD Pakistan, SOC FWD Yemen, and SOC FWD Lebanon, as well as SOC FWD East Africa, SOC FWD Central Africa, and SOC FWD West Africa.
Africa has, in fact, become a prime locale for shadowy covert missions by America’s special operators. "This particular unit has done impressive things. Whether it's across Europe or Africa taking on a variety of contingencies, you are all contributing in a very significant way," SOCOM’s commander, General Votel, told members of the 352nd Special Operations Group at their base in England last fall.
The Air Commandos are hardly alone in their exploits on that continent. Over the last years, for example, SEALs carried out a successful hostage rescue mission in Somalia and a kidnap raid there that went awry. In Libya, Delta Force commandos successfully captured an al-Qaeda militant in an early morning raid, while SEALs commandeered an oil tanker with cargo from Libya that the weak U.S.-backed government there considered stolen. Additionally, SEALs conducted a failed evacuation mission in South Sudan in which its members were wounded when the aircraft in which they were flying was hit by small arms fire. Meanwhile, an elite quick-response force known as Naval Special Warfare Unit 10 (NSWU-10) has been engaged with “strategic countries” such as Uganda, Somalia, and Nigeria.
A clandestine Special Ops training effort in Libya imploded when militia or “terrorist” forces twice raided its camp, guarded by the Libyan military, and looted large quantities of high-tech American equipment, hundreds of weapons -- including Glock pistols, and M4 rifles -- as well as night vision devices and specialized lasers that can only be seen with such equipment. As a result, the mission was scuttled and the camp was abandoned. It was then reportedly taken over by a militia.
In February of last year, elite troops traveled to Niger for three weeks of military drills as part of Flintlock 2014, an annual Special Ops counterterrorism exercise that brought together the forces of the host nation, Canada, Chad, France, Mauritania, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Senegal, the United Kingdom, and Burkina Faso. Several months later, an officer from Burkina Faso, who received counterterrorism training in the U.S. under the auspices of SOCOM’s Joint Special Operations University in 2012, seized power in a coup. Special Ops forces, however, remained undaunted. Late last year, for example, under the auspices of SOC FWD West Africa, members of 5th Battalion, 19th Special Forces Group, partnered with elite Moroccan troops for training at a base outside of Marrakech.
A World of Opportunities
Deployments to African nations have, however, been just a part of the rapid growth of the Special Operations Command’s overseas reach. In the waning days of the Bush presidency, under then-SOCOM chief Admiral Eric Olson, Special Operations forces were reportedly deployed in about 60 countries around the world. By 2010, that number had swelled to 75, according to Karen DeYoung and Greg Jaffe of the Washington Post. In 2011, SOCOM spokesman Colonel Tim Nye told TomDispatch that the total would reach 120 by the end of the year. With Admiral William McRaven in charge in 2013, then-Major Robert Bockholt told TomDispatch that the number had jumped to 134. Under the command of McRaven and Votel in 2014, according to Bockholt, the total slipped ever-so-slightly to 133. Outgoing Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel noted, however, that under McRaven’s command -- which lasted from August 2011 to August 2014 -- special ops forces deployed to more than 150 different countries. “In fact, SOCOM and the entire U.S. military are more engaged internationally than ever before -- in more places and with a wider variety of missions,” he said in an August 2014 speech.
He wasn’t kidding. Just over two months into fiscal 2015, the number of countries with Special Ops deployments has already clocked in at 105, according to Bockholt.
SOCOM refused to comment on the nature of its missions or the benefits of operating in so many nations. The command would not even name a single country where U.S. special operations forces deployed in the last three years. A glance at just some of the operations, exercises, and activities that have come to light, however, paints a picture of a globetrotting command in constant churn with alliances in every corner of the planet.
In January and February, for example, members of the 7th Special Forces Group and the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment conducted a month-long Joint Combined Exchange Training (JCET) with forces from Trinidad and Tobago, while troops from the 353rd Special Operations Group joined members of the Royal Thai Air Force for Exercise Teak Torch in Udon Thani, Thailand. In February and March, Green Berets from the 20th Special Forces Group trained with elite troops in the Dominican Republic as part of a JCET.
In March, members of Marine Special Operations Command and Naval Special Warfare Unit 1 took part in maneuvers aboard the guided-missile cruiser USS Cowpens as part of Multi-Sail 2014, an annual exercise designed to support “security and stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.” That same month, elite soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines took part in a training exercise code-named Fused Response with members of the Belizean military. “Exercises like this build rapport and bonds between U.S. forces and Belize,” said Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Heber Toro of Special Operations Command South afterward.
In April, soldiers from the 7th Special Forces Group joined with Honduran airborne troops for jump training -- parachuting over that country’s Soto Cano Air Base. Soldiers from that same unit, serving with the Afghanistan task force, also carried out shadowy ops in the southern part of that country in the spring of 2014. In June, members of the 19th Special Forces Group carried out a JCET in Albania, while operators from Delta Force took part in the mission that secured the release of Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl in Afghanistan. That same month, Delta Force commandos helped kidnap Ahmed Abu Khattala, a suspected “ringleader” in the 2012 terrorist attacks in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans, while Green Berets deployed to Iraq as advisors in the fight against the Islamic State.
In June and July, 26 members of the 522nd Special Operations Squadron carried out a 28,000-mile, four-week, five-continent mission which took them to Sri Lanka, Tanzania, and Japan, among other nations, to escort three “single-engine [Air Force Special Operations Command] aircraft to a destination in the Pacific Area of Responsibility.” In July, U.S. Special Operations forces traveled to Tolemaida, Colombia, to compete against elite troops from 16 other nations -- in events like sniper stalking, shooting, and an obstacle course race -- at the annual Fuerzas Comando competition.
In August, soldiers from the 20th Special Forces Group conducted a JCET with elite units from Suriname. “We’ve made a lot of progress together in a month. If we ever have to operate together in the future, we know we’ve made partners and friends we can depend upon,” said a senior noncommissioned officer from that unit. In Iraq that month, Green Berets conducted a reconnaissance mission on Mount Sinjar as part an effort to protect ethnic Yazidis from Islamic State militants, while Delta Force commandos raided an oil refinery in northern Syria in a bid to save American journalist James Foley and other hostages held by the same group. That mission was a bust and Foley was brutally executed shortly thereafter.
In September, about 1,200 U.S. special operators and support personnel joined with elite troops from the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Finland, Great Britain, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Sweden, and Slovenia for Jackal Stone, a training exercise that focused on everything from close quarters combat and sniper tactics to small boat operations and hostage rescue missions. In September and October, Rangers from the 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment deployed to South Korea to practice small unit tactics like clearing trenches and knocking out bunkers. During October, Air Force air commandos also conducted simulated hostage rescue missions at the Stanford Training Area near Thetford, England. Meanwhile, in international waters south of Cyprus, Navy SEALs commandeered that tanker full of oil loaded at a rebel-held port in Libya. In November, U.S. commandos conducted a raid in Yemen that freed eight foreign hostages. The next month, SEALs carried out the blood-soaked mission that left two hostages, including Luke Somers, and eight civilians dead. And these, of course, are only some of the missions that managed to make it into the news or in some other way onto the record.
Everywhere They Want to Be
To America’s black ops chiefs, the globe is as unstable as it is interconnected. “I guarantee you what happens in Latin America affects what happens in West Africa, which affects what happens in Southern Europe, which affects what happens in Southwest Asia,” McRaven told last year’s Geolnt, an annual gathering of surveillance-industry executives and military personnel. Their solution to interlocked instability? More missions in more nations -- in more than three-quarters of the world’s countries, in fact -- during McRaven’s tenure. And the stage appears set for yet more of the same in the years ahead. "We want to be everywhere,” said Votel at Geolnt. His forces are already well on their way in 2015.
“Our nation has very high expectations of SOF,” he told special operators in England last fall. “They look to us to do the very hard missions in very difficult conditions.” The nature and whereabouts of most of those “hard missions,” however, remain unknown to Americans. And Votel apparently isn’t interested in shedding light on them. “Sorry, but no,” was SOCOM’s response to TomDispatch’s request for an interview with the special ops chief about current and future operations. In fact, the command refused to make any personnel available for a discussion of what it’s doing in America’s name and with taxpayer dollars. It’s not hard to guess why.
Votel now sits atop one of the major success stories of a post-9/11 military that has been mired in winless wars, intervention blowback, rampant criminal activity, repeated leaks of embarrassing secrets, and all manner of shocking scandals. Through a deft combination of bravado and secrecy, well-placed leaks, adroit marketing and public relations efforts, the skillful cultivation of a superman mystique (with a dollop of tortured fragility on the side), and one extremely popular, high-profile, targeted killing, Special Operations forces have become the darlings of American popular culture, while the command has been a consistent winner in Washington’s bare-knuckled budget battles.
This is particularly striking given what’s actually occurred in the field: in Africa, the arming and outfitting of militants and the training of a coup leader; in Iraq, America’s most elite forces were implicated in torture, the destruction of homes, and the killing and wounding of innocents; in Afghanistan, it was a similar story, with repeated reports of civilian deaths; while in Yemen, Pakistan, and Somalia it’s been more of the same. And this only scratches the surface of special ops miscues.
In 2001, before U.S. black ops forces began their massive, multi-front clandestine war against terrorism, there were 33,000 members of Special Operations Command and about 1,800 members of the elite of the elite, the Joint Special Operations Command. There were then also 23 terrorist groups -- from Hamas to the Real Irish Republican Army -- as recognized by the State Department, including al-Qaeda, whose membership was estimated at anywhere from 200 to 1,000. That group was primarily based in Afghanistan and Pakistan, although small cells had operated in numerous countries including Germany and the United States.
After more than a decade of secret wars, massive surveillance, untold numbers of night raids, detentions, and assassinations, not to mention billions upon billions of dollars spent, the results speak for themselves. SOCOM has more than doubled in size and the secretive JSOC may be almost as large as SOCOM was in 2001. Since September of that year, 36 new terror groups have sprung up, including multiple al-Qaeda franchises, offshoots, and allies. Today, these groups still operate in Afghanistan and Pakistan -- there are now 11 recognized al-Qaeda affiliates in the latter nation, five in the former -- as well as in Mali and Tunisia, Libya and Morocco, Nigeria and Somalia, Lebanon and Yemen, among other countries. One offshoot was born of the American invasion of Iraq, was nurtured in a U.S. prison camp, and, now known as the Islamic State, controls a wide swath of that country and neighboring Syria, a proto-caliphate in the heart of the Middle East that was only the stuff of jihadi dreams back in 2001. That group, alone, has an estimated strength of around 30,000 and managed to take over a huge swath of territory, including Iraq’s second largest city, despite being relentlessly targeted in its infancy by JSOC.
“We need to continue to synchronize the deployment of SOF throughout the globe,” says Votel. “We all need to be synched up, coordinated, and prepared throughout the command.” Left out of sync are the American people who have consistently been kept in the dark about what America’s special operators are doing and where they’re doing it, not to mention the checkered results of, and blowback from, what they’ve done. But if history is any guide, the black ops blackout will help ensure that this continues to be a “golden age” for U.S. Special Operations Command.
Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Rebecca Solnit's Men Explain Things to Me, and Tom Engelhardt's latest book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.
Pope Francis remains as busy as ever. This week he announced it was time for his flock to stop the rapid-fire procreation Catholics are known for. During a news conference the Pope said, “Some think, excuse me if I use the word, that in order to be good Catholics, we have to be like rabbits — but no.” He added that the Church should instead be promoting “responsible parenthood.”
However, the Pope stopped well short of suggesting that Catholics use contraception for family planning, something the church still frowns on. Instead the Pope reiterated that the Church only approves of natural methods of birth control, principally abstinence from sex during a woman’s fertile period (the rhythm method).
But the Pope may have raised more eyebrows when he compared ridiculing a person's religion to cursing someone's mother. He said anyone who makes such an insult can "expect a punch" in return.
The comments were made in response to questions regarding Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons, which were not only insulting to Muslims, but to Christians as well.
"You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others," the Pope said. “There are so many people who speak badly about religions or other religions, who make fun of them, who make a game out of the religions of others. They are provocateurs. And what happens to them is what would happen to [someone] if he says a curse word against my mother. There is a limit.”
The Pope said his comments were not meant to condone the actions of the terrorists in France, though many saw his statement as insulting to the memory of the slain Charlie Hebdo staff members.
Creation Museum founder Ken Ham’s year ended on a sour note and bad fortune seems to be following him into the new year. Last year, the Answers in Genesis founder took on "Science Guy” Bill Nye in a debate and lost miserably. This was followed by his proposed Noah’s Ark theme park losing $18 million in tax incentives after the Commonwealth of Kentucky determined it was engaging in discriminatory hiring practices. And this week, a report was released projecting that the park won’t be that big of a draw.
Ark Encounter officials had said attendance to the theme park should be between 1.2 to 2 million visitors per year, but a new study by a respected real-estate consultancy says otherwise. Hunden Strategic estimates the park will likely only draw some 325,000 in its first year, with peak attendance coming two years later at only 425,000 visitors. It gets worse: Hunden Strategic forecasts attendance will drop down to 275,000 visitors per year shortly thereafter.
The study, reports the Kentucky Courier-Journal, was commissioned by the commonwealth’s Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet as part of its review of Ark Encounter’s application for up to $18.25 million in state tax incentives.
Before losing the tax incentives, park officials had hired America's Research Group to conduct their own estimates, hoping to convince the commonwealth of the park's profitability. But Kentucky may have looked at those numbers with some doubt, as ARG founder and CEO Britt Beemer might not be an objective source. He previously co-authored a religious book with Ham.
Still, Ham and Beemer are sticking by the ARG findings. "That's pretty good research," Ham said. "And the ark has a much wider appeal [than the Creation Museum]. If we can get 400,000 for the Creation Museum, you know that ark is going to get a lot more than that."
But Hunden Strategic’s report casts some doubts on that figure for the Creation Museum. It says the museum has failed to meet attendance goals since opening in 2007, and attendance is declining.
Ark Encounter attorneys are contemplating a suit against the commonwealth over the decision to cancel the tax incentives, but it looks like these findings are yet another roadblock to getting the funds.
“The Hunden report adds more evidence that the Commonwealth of Kentucky made the correct decision in rejecting the Ark Encounter application for tax incentives,” said Ed Hensley, treasurer of the Kentucky Secular Society. “We should consider the contrasting claims of the Hunden report while evaluating their threats.”
Are miracles not part of your routine? Perhaps it’s because you’re too educated, according to America’s favorite televangelist, Pat Robertson. On his show, “The 700 Club,” Robertson pointed out that miracles, such as people rising from the dead and the blind regaining their sight happen with great frequency in Africa because “people overseas don’t go to Ivy League schools.”
Robertson went on to mock secularism in the U.S., saying: “We’re so sophisticated, we think we’ve got everything figured out. We know about evolution, we know about Darwin, we know about all these things that says God isn’t real.”
“Overseas, they’re simple, humble,” said Roberston. “You tell ‘em God loves ‘em and they say, ‘Okay, he loves me.’ You say God will do miracles and they say, ‘Okay, we believe him.’”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation discovered that the city of Orlando, Florida has spent nearly $25,000 on its police chaplain program over the last two years. Some $15,000 of those funds were used to buy a new Ford Focus and another $1,400 were used to have the car emblazoned with "Orlando Police Chaplain" decals. Other expenses included “appreciation dinners” for the chaplains and their wives. The dinners rang up a bill of nearly $1,000.
"It's appalling that taxpayers are footing this bill," said FFRF staff attorney Andrew Seidel, who is investigating this church/state entanglement after receiving local complaints about the program. "Surely that money could be better spent; perhaps organizing actual qualified counselors for OPD employees.”
Florida’s constitution states that government revenue cannot be used "directly or indirectly in aid of any church, sect, or religious denomination or in aid of any sectarian institution." The program also appears to be in direct violation of federal laws.
"A U.S. police department, which exists to enforce our secular laws, should take great care not to appear to be sending a message that the police force is Christian in nature, or exists to serve Christians over other citizens, or Christian police officers over non-Christian police officers," said FFRF co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor.
FFRF is considering possible legal action over the chaplain program.Related Stories
Let’s just call this week a total wash and start again Monday, shall we, womankind? It’s been a real extravaganza for progress deferred – and I’m not even going to bother delving into Mike Huckabee’s strange Beyonce fixation here.
And it all started out so promisingly, too. Earlier this week, the News Corp owned Times reported authoratively that Murdoch’s notorious tabloid, The Sun, was ending its 45 year tradition of displaying topless young women on its Page 3, news that was greeted with enthusiasm by the activists who have justifiably argued that “boobs aren’t news.” But then, in a move that can only be regarded as a massive middle finger to readers who prefer their news without T&A, the paper swiftly turned around and offered a topless model with an apology that it had suffered “a mammary lapse.” And the paper’s head of PR, Dylan Sharpe, rather brattily tweeted a picture of a winking Page 3 girl to the No More Page 3 campaigners, journalists, and a female MP. As Gaby Hinsliff explained this week in the Guardian, the whole move felt like “an act of defiance, not generous acquiescence to the public mood.”
Things did not improve from there. There was the unveiling of the Carl’s Jr. “au naturel”west coast Super Bowl ad, featuring amply endowed model Charlotte McKinney strutting around seemingly in the altogether, obstructed by symbolic tomatoes and melons, while the men around her literally cannot control their hoses or their rhythmic, back and forth movements. Because breasts! Because the breast ogling segment of the audience is the most important demographic of them all! And who cares if women make up nearly half of the Super Bowl audience anyway? Not when there’s a hamburger-based teenage boy masturbation fantasy to be made!
But what else have you brought us, this week of suck? How about the new line of smart, dinosaur-themed Natural History Museum shirts and pajamas from UK retailer Marks & Spencer – available only for boys? In the wake of strong public criticism, the chain does now promise that moving forward, it’s “working with the Natural History Museum on expanding the range to include products for girls.” How generous. How wonderful that the idea the girls might be interested in science and history is a total manufacturing afterthought.
And for one final bummer to ride out on, there’s what went down at the Australian Open, where interviewer Ian Cohen asked Wimbledon runner-up Eugenie Bouchard, during an on-court interview, “Can you give us a twirl?” When she incredulously asked, “A twirl?” he clarified, “A twirl, like a pirouette, here you go” – and she somewhat uncomfortably obliged. Bouchard later said, “An old guy asking you to twirl, it was funny.” But Serena Williams chimed in, “A commentator asked me to twirl. I wouldn’t ask Rafa or Roger to twirl.” No you would not.
So let’s just chalk this week up, note that Emma Watson did deliver another powerful speech on gender equality Friday, watch the awesome trailer for “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” until the pain subsides, and get back to smashing the patriarchy again on Monday. And ladies, if you feel like twirling, twirl because you want to, not because you’re told to.
Kentucky state Sen. Brandon Smith’s (R) lawyer argued in court on Wednesday that he should not be charged with driving under the influence because of a provision in the state constitution, WKYT-TV reported.
Smith was arrested on Jan. 6, the opening day of the legislature, and charged with speeding and a DUI after allegedly blowing a .088 on a preliminary breath test. He was also reportedly caught driving at 65 miles per hour in a 45 mph zone.
But attorney Bill Johnson filed a motion to drop the charges saying that, according to Section 43 of the state constitution, Smith should not have been arrested in the first place.
“The members of the General Assembly shall, in all cases except treason, felony, breach or surety of the peace, be privileged from arrest during their attendance on the sessions of their respective Houses, and in going to and returning from the same; and for any speech or debate in either House they shall not be questioned in any other place,” the section reads.
Johnson told the Associated Press that the provision was added to state law in 1891 to “keep legislators from being bothered by people who would arrest them during sessions.”
As the Frankfort State-Journal reported,authorities said that Smith refused to take an official breath test after being taken to jail.
However, Johnson said that his client was “told that he had ‘refused’” after trying to reach him on the jail’s phone for 15 minutes and failing because the phone did not work.
Under state law, Smith’s driver’s license would be revoked if he refused to take a test. But Johnson requested that Smith keep his license until a decision is reached on his motion to dismiss the charges. The senator’s next court appearance is scheduled for Feb. 12.
Watch WKYT’s report, as aired on Thursday, below.
[h/t Countercurrent News]Related Stories
“When women won’t talk to you, it’s heart breaking. Why are they fussy with men now days?” Who do you think wrote that sentence? Maybe an angst-ridden teenage boy who just hasn’t yet figured out the opposite sex — or perhaps even a lonely young adult frustrated with his dating life. These are the type of sentiments you hear all the time from frustrated single men. No big deal, right? But here is another sentence written by the same person: “All women needs to die and hopefully next time I can gauge their eyeballs out.”Oh, OK, gotcha.
The young man behind these messages is 18-year-old Ben Moynihan of Portsmouth, Hampshire. This week, he was found guilty of attempted murder. Over the summer, he stabbed three women, all complete strangers who were unlucky enough to become targets of his rage toward the entire female species. His victims survived, but as he later told police, he fully intended to murder them. This wasn’t because he was a “psychopath,” he wrote in a letter, but because women.
In a self-recorded video, Moynihan said, “I think every girl is a type of slut, they are fussy with men nowadays, they do not give boys like us a chance.” He continued, “I am still a virgin, everyone is losing it before me, that’s why you are my chosen target.” While waving a knife at the camera, he asked, “Shall I stab you in the neck or in the heart, shall I slash your throat or should I just cigarette lighter you or just fire you. I do not know where I could get petrol from but how hard can it be to come by.”
He ended with this warning: ”So I hope you learn a lesson not to bully guys like us, we deserve dignity, for your own generations, remember.”
It’s shades of Isla Vista all over again. Just under a year ago, 22-year-old virgin Elliot Rodger went on a shooting spree near the University of California, Santa Barbara. He killed seven people, including himself. In several Internet postings, including a 141-page manifesto, he made his motive clear. It is perhaps best summarized in a video he made hours before the attacks: “For the last eight years of my life, ever since I hit puberty, I’ve been forced to endure an existence of loneliness, rejection and unfulfilled desires, all because girls have never been attracted to me,” he said. “If I can’t have you, girls, I will destroy you.”Rodger is just the most infamous and recent example of men exacting headline-making revenge on women for, well, not having sex with them. Anyone remember George Sodini? In 2009, the 48-year-old went on a shooting massacre at a gym in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, killing three women and injuring many more. He too posted online about his lack of sex. “No girlfriend since 1984 … Who knows why. I am not ugly or too weird. No sex since July 1990 either (I was 29). No shit! Over eighteen years ago. And did it maybe only 50-75 times in my life. … I masturbate. Frequently.” He also wrote, “I have slept alone for over 20 years. Last time I slept all night with a girlfriend it was 1982. Proof I am a total malfunction. Girls and women don’t even give me a second look ANYWHERE.”
Certainly, mental health is a critical part of the equation in these cases. Not all lonely masturbators set out to commit mass murder. Most pose a far greater threat to tissues than to women. But we should be alarmed that these outlier men are driven by attitudes that are everything but outlying. We should be concerned when a mass murderer’s — or attempted mass murderer’s — manifesto reflects widespread beliefs. The rants about girls not going for nice guys and the bile directed at women for being slutty? It’s all utterly familiar. Take away the actual threats of murder and these remarks could just as easily have come from an unremarkable college virgin, hapless online dater or Salon commenter — sorry, but it’s true! — as Moynihan, Rodger or Sodini. In fact, you can even leave in the threat of violence and still have something uncannily resembling what many women encounter daily online, if not also in the real world.
I’m not sure that there has ever been a clearer expression of the deeply fucked-upedness of our attitudes toward sex.
At the root of all this is male sexual entitlement and the desire to control female sexuality. That has been going on since the dawn of time and it continues today in all sorts of sickly ingenious ways — from blaming women for their own sexual assaults to restricting access to birth control and abortion. It’s no surprise that as women have gained greater sexual autonomy, a certain kind of man has gotten much, much angrier. By “a certain kind of man,” I mean any man who has been poisoned by our culture’s toxic masculinity, and who doesn’t get that to which he feels so entitled (read: any woman he wants).
It isn’t just women who are hurt by this. All but one of the men I mentioned earlier ultimately killed themselves, and Moynihan, the only one who didn’t end his violent spree in suicide, will be in prison for a very long time. As Amanda Hess wrote in the wake of Rodger’s shooting spree, misogyny serves to control men too. “It expresses itself in the bullying of insufficiently masculine boys, in the pervasiveness of homophobic slurs, in the suppression of open emotional expression among men, and in overwhelming violence against trans women, who are especially stigmatized for appearing to reject what some consider as their God-given male bodies.” It also tells men who are not successful with women that they are not real men. And, of course, it teaches them that the only appropriate way for a man to express his emotions is with violence.
Until that changes, there will always be another Moynihan or Rodger or Sodini — and both women and men will pay the price.
While traveling in Morocco, I was offered a bride price of 1,000 camels for my hand in marriage, by a nice young man I just met named Ismael. Of course, this was just a figure of speech. Camels are no longer used as tender in the Arabic world. Nowadays, brides are paid for primarily in cash. “Please ask her family how much I have to pay for her,” Ismael requested of my friend. Little did he know that another Moroccan gentleman had already indicated to me that I was worth 3,000 camels, so he was already behind in the running.
Paying a dowry or mahr to the bride for her hand in marriage is an Islamic tradition that is still customary in the Muslim countries of the Middle East and North Africa, including Morocco. If I chose to accept the offer of marriage, the happy groom and I would then proceed to enter into a marriage contract derived from the Family Code, or Moudawana. The Moudawana governs all aspects of family life, from marriage to child rearing to divorce to inheritance.Women in Essaouira. Photo Credit: DanDan
Curious about marriage in Morocco, I looked into the Moudawana. In 2004 the government passed an updated Moudawana, changing the minimum age of marriage for females from 15 to 18, making divorce more accessible for women and placing restrictions on polygamy. Inheritance laws are still unequal for females, giving daughters less than half the share of inheritance sons get. Custody of children remains unfairly stacked in favor of men.
This means that if I decided to marry Ismael, I would have to be clear in our marriage contract that I did not permit him to have additional wives. If we had children, I must take additional steps to protect our daughter’s inheritance in case he has illegitimate sons with another woman. If he divorces me for no reason, through his right of “repudiation,” I will have a tough time keeping my children, since I will not have custody of our children after they reach the age of seven if I choose to remarry or move away from the city in which their father resides.
Even though this all seems outdated for a woman from New York, Morocco is actually considered one of the most modern and liberal countries in the Muslim world. More recently, another development in the women’s rights arena is the amendment to the Moroccan Penal Code last year. Article 475 of the code previously exempted a rapist from prosecution if he married the victim of his crime, even if the victim is a minor. Following the incident in which 16-year-old Amina Filali committed suicide after being forced to marry the man who raped her, the Moroccan parliament voted to amend the code to no longer allow rapists to evade prosecution using marriage.Northern Morocco woman outside mosque. Photo Credit: DanDan
This was a big step forward, but it seems there is room for the Moroccan law to improve. I found that there is no specific law against domestic violence in the penal code. Rape within marriage is not considered a crime. Any sex outside of marriage is a crime, but instead of protecting the victims of sex crimes, there are cases where rape victims themselves were implicated when they tried to file a complaint against the rapist. There is a strict burden of proof for cases of rape and abuse that rests solely upon the victims, making prosecution of assaulters highly difficult. All this prohibits victims who have suffered sexual abuse and violence from having hope of legal recourse.
Where the government is lacking in providing support for the women in Morocco, NGOs offer valuable resources for women in need. I had the pleasure of visiting one such organization, the Amal Women’s Training Center in Marrakech. The Amal Association is a reputable organization that offers job skills training and job placement for disadvantaged women who may be orphans, widows or divorcees. The women are paid a salary as they train and work at the Association’s restaurant. I had a delicious traditional couscous lunch here, served by a young trainee who was a little bashful, but very attentive. The women learn restaurant and hospitality skills and are placed into internships following their training where they often excel and are offered permanent positions. It was inspiring to see the women working toward a brighter future at the Amal Association.
Prior to my trip to Morocco, I was given many warnings from concerned family and friends. I also read blogs of female travelers who were aggressively groped by men in public. I braced myself for the worst. I even came to expect to be harassed and disrespected in Morocco.
Heeding the advice of other travelers, I dressed modestly with loose fitting and unrevealing clothing wherever I went, and covered my hair with a shawl or hat most of the time. I discovered that dressing modestly not only kept me warm on the chilly evenings and shielded me from the sun during the hot afternoons, it demonstrated to the local Moroccans that I respected their culture. A Moroccan man I met in the coastal village of Imsouane said he appreciated the conservative way I dressed, unlike other modern women who are “nearly naked.”
My way of dress, however, certainly didn’t stop countless Moroccan men from calling out, “Konnichiwa,” or “Arigato” (“hello” and “thank you,” in Japanese) or just, “Japan,” to me, assuming I was a Japanese tourist. I would understand another traveler being insulted by this behavior, but I chose to believe their eagerness to engage with me was just an expression of their interest in seeing an Asian face in Africa, and their manner of welcoming me to Morocco. Curiously enough, when I was accompanied by my male friend Rahul, who looks Moroccan, all the harassment stopped completely. All in all, there was only one incident in which I felt offended by inappropriate contact on a crowded street in Marrakech.
On our drive to the Sahara Desert, our Moroccan tour guide, Rashid, pointed out a little straw hut outside of a home in a roadside town. “Do you see that? It’s a ‘private prison.’ If a wife makes a mistake, the husband can lock her in there for as long as a month.” Horrified, I asked if it was a common practice in Morocco. “It is something that is done all throughout Morocco, except it is harder to do in the big cities,” he said. Later, Rashid laughed and revealed he was merely making a joke, and that the little huts were outdoor shower stalls.
I’m still not completely sure if it was an joke, but it’s true that the rural parts of Morocco are much more traditional than the city centers. In some of the towns in the south, such as Tamri, I hardly saw a single Moroccan woman outdoors. In these regions, social and religious customs have yet to catch up to the legal reforms made by the government.Trainees in Amal Association Marrakesh Photo Credit: provided by DanDan
Despite the deep patriarchal traditions, women are slowly but surely becoming more empowered. “You can feel it,” says Moroccan human rights journalist Yassin Adnan about the progress of women’s rights in Morocco. In the streets of urban centers such as Casablanca, Marrakech and Fes, I did indeed find Moroccan women going about their business walking in the streets, riding motorbikes and driving cars. There are affirmative action plans set up for governmental seats and educational institutions to promote female participation. In the last 2011 elections, 17% of the seats in Parliament were filled by female representatives, not far behind the 19% of women in the US Congress. Women are encouraged to take jobs outside of the household.
“There are now even female taxi drivers,” Yassin Adnan said proudly. I started to comment that I didn’t encounter any female taxi drivers in Morocco, but then I realized that I hardly saw female taxi drivers in New York City either.
When I returned to New York, I must admit I was happy to wear yoga pants again without feeling disrespectful, and relieved that I can walk the streets without men calling out to me at every corner. But I miss the feeling of a nation progressing toward social equality. Many rights that we have come to take for granted here in the United States, the women of Morocco appreciate daily and fight so hard for.
As for the marriage proposal from Ismael, I must turn down his offer, mainly because I just met him and do not know him at all. Also, I do not wish to live as a nomad in the Sahara desert with him.Related Stories