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Lone Gay Marriage Holdout Acting "Under the Authority of God"

| Tue Sep. 1, 2015 10:38 AM EDT

Sigh.

A county clerk in Kentucky who objects to same-sex marriage on religious grounds denied licenses to gay couples on Tuesday, just hours after the Supreme Court refused to support her position.

In a raucous scene in the little town of Morehead, two-same-sex couples walked into the Rowan County Courthouse, trailed by television cameras and chanting protesters on both sides of the issue, only to be told by the county clerk, Kim Davis, that she was denying them marriage licenses “under the authority of God.”

The optimist in me says that if the biggest backlash to the Supreme Court's gay marriage decision is one clerk in a tiny town in Kentucky, then we've gotten off pretty easy. And really, the more I think about it, that really does seem like the main takeaway from this.

But it's obvious that the endgame here is for Kim Davis to be fired, or tossed in jail for contempt. The Supreme Court itself has ordered her to issue licenses, so she has no further legal recourse. Only recourse to God.

I'm now curious to see what the Republican field will make of this. On the one hand, most of them are treating the primary contest as a zero-sum race to see who can move furthest to the right. On the other hand, do they really want to get on the wrong side of gay marriage and immigration? On the third hand, there's the whole rule of law thing. And on the fourth hand, Donald Trump is not an anti-gay warrior. He's the guy everyone is responding to, so maybe that means this will stay low key.

The Huckabees and Carsons of the world will surely support Davis. The rest of the field....probably not. That's my guess. Then again, if video of Davis being hauled off to the county pen ends up on a 24/7 loop on Fox News, who knows? Defying the will of a small group of pissed off base voters is not something the Republican field is exactly famous for.

UPDATE: Greg Sargent confirms my sense that holdouts like Davis are very rare. "In the seven southern states where the backlash might have been expected to be fiercest, only one — Alabama — still has multiple counties that are holding out. One other — Kentucky — has only two remaining counties holding out." The national campaign director for Freedom to Marry says that, all things considered, "things are going exceedingly smoothly."

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Pope Francis Will Allow Priests to Forgive Women Who Have Had Abortions

| Tue Sep. 1, 2015 9:58 AM EDT

On Tuesday, Pope Francis announced that during the church's upcoming Holy Year of Mercy, which runs from December 8, 2015, to November 20, 2016, he will allow priests the discretion to forgive women who have had abortions. The move effectively lifts the church's policy that can lead to women being excommunicated for procuring an abortion, for the time being at least. In normal circumstances, these women are required to seek forgiveness from a senior priest who specializes in such confessions, which can be a complicated process.

In a letter from the Vatican, Francis called on the church to practice mercy toward women who seek such forgiveness:

For this reason too, I have decided, notwithstanding anything to the contrary, to concede to all priests for the Jubilee Year the discretion to absolve of the sin of abortion those who have procured it and who, with contrite heart, seek forgiveness for it. May priests fulfil (sic) this great task by expressing words of genuine welcome combined with a reflection that explains the gravity of the sin committed, besides indicating a path of authentic conversion by which to obtain the true and generous forgiveness of the Father who renews all with his presence.

While the announcement still condemns abortions as a major transgression—a Vatican spokesman on Tuesday emphasized the decision is by "no means an attempt to minimize the gravity of the sin"—the move continues what some are calling Francis' more progressive papacy, compared with that of his predecessors.

54% of Republicans Think Obama Is a Muslim

| Mon Aug. 31, 2015 9:34 PM EDT

You know, I thought this nonsense had stopped. I don't know why I thought it had stopped—out of sight, out of mind?—but apparently it hasn't. Crikey.

Sovereign Citizens Leapfrog Islamic Extremists as America's Top Terrorist Threat

| Mon Aug. 31, 2015 6:39 PM EDT

Who do actual law enforcement officers see as the biggest terrorist threats in America? Surprise! It's not Islamic radicals:

Approximately 39 percent of respondents agreed and 28 percent strongly agreed that Islamic extremists were a serious terrorist threat. In comparison, 52 percent of respondents agreed and 34 percent strongly agreed that sovereign citizens were a serious terrorist threat.

....There was significant concern about the resurgence of the radical far right [following the election of President Obama], but it appears as though law enforcement is, at present, less concerned about these groups.

That's odd. The authors of this report apparently don't consider the sovereign citizens part of the radical right. But their roots are in the Posse Comitatus movement, and they identify strongly with both the white supremacist Christian Identity movement and the anti-tax movement. That's always sounded like the right-wing on steroids to me.

I'm not trying to foist responsibility for these crazies on the Republican Party, any more than I'd say Democrats are responsible for animal rights extremists. Still, their complaints seem like preposterous caricatures of right-wing thought, in the same way that animal rights extremism bears a distant but recognizable ancestry to lefty principles.

In any case, this comes via Zack Beauchamp, who explains the sovereign citizens movement in more detail for the uninitiated.

Donald Trump Goes Willie Horton on Jeb Bush

| Mon Aug. 31, 2015 3:31 PM EDT

Donald Trump's latest attack on Jeb Bush may strike a familiar chord for those who remember the 1988 presidential race.

On Monday afternoon, Trump released a video on Instagram that assails Bush for a supposedly lenient stance on undocumented immigration. The video cites a 2014 quote from Bush in which he referred to people who illegally cross the border: "Yes, they broke the law, but it's not a felony; it's an act of love." Then the attack ad flashes pictures of three undocumented immigrants, all charged with murder. (Only one of the trio has been convicted.)

The ad is reminiscent of the infamous 1988 Willie Horton ad, aired by George H.W. Bush supporters, that accused Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis of being soft on crime by supporting a state program that allowed weekend passes for prisoners. (Horton, who was a convicted murderer serving a life sentence in Massachusetts, raped a woman while out on a furlough.) The ad sparked a controversy, with critics claiming it exploited—or fueled—racist sentiments. 

Here's the new Trump ad:

 

This is no "act of love" as Jeb Bush said...

A video posted by Donald J. Trump (@realdonaldtrump) on

 

Here's the Willie Horton spot:

Breaking: Another Massive Explosion Rocks Industrial City in China

| Mon Aug. 31, 2015 3:19 PM EDT

Another huge explosion has erupted in China, this time in the eastern city of Dongying, according to the People's Daily, a Chinese state-run newspaper:

The cause of the blast is not yet known. Earlier in August, the city of Tianjin, one of China's largest industrial shipping centers, was rocked by massive explosions inside warehouses that reportedly stored hazardous chemicals and "explosive materials." The explosions killed at least 150 people.

This is a breaking news post. We will update as more information becomes available.

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It's Not the Economy, Stupid. The Spanish Language Is the Ur-Motive of Anti-Immigration Sentiment.

| Mon Aug. 31, 2015 3:17 PM EDT

Ed Kilgore on the conservative hostility toward illegal immigration:

This very weekend I was reading an advance copy of an upcoming book that includes the results of some intensive focus group work with what might be called the "angry wing" of the GOP base. The author notes that one thing that simply enrages grass-roots conservatives is the use of non-English languages by immigrants.

Yep. You can read all about it from one of Kilgore's predecessors, who wrote about it during our last big try at immigration reform in 2006. It's based on an excellent piece by Chris Hayes, written before he sold out to the bright lights and big paychecks of cable television.

I agree that language is probably the key original driver of anti-immigrant sentiment, though it's long since inspired further animus based around crime, gangs, social services, and other culture-related issues. The odd thing is that this is one of the few areas where I think the anti-immigrationists have a bit of a point. It's not a very big point, since (a) Spanish occupies no official role in the United States, and (b) Latin American immigrants all end up speaking English by the second and third generations anyway. Hell, the third-generation Latino who speaks lousy Spanish is practically a cliche.

That said, I've long believed that having multiple official languages makes it very hard to sustain a united polity. The Swiss manage, but the whole reason they're famous for it is because it's so unusual. Even the Belgians and Canadians have trouble with it, and they're pretty tolerant people.

Would a congressional declaration that English is the official language of the United States do anything to calm anti-immigrant fervor? At this point, probably not. But if it were written narrowly and carefully, I'd probably support it. I figure that if God considered a single common language such a boon that it threatened his dominion, it must be pretty powerful stuff.

The Conservative Tax Borg Has Finally Absorbed Donald Trump

| Mon Aug. 31, 2015 2:12 PM EDT

The New York Times reports that Republican leaders are alarmed at one particular aspect of Donald Trump's popularity:

In recent weeks, Mr. Trump has threatened to impose tariffs on American companies that put their factories in other countries. He has threatened to increase taxes on the compensation of hedge fund managers. And he has vowed to change laws that allow American companies to benefit from cheaper tax rates by using mergers to base their operations outside the United States.

Alarmed that those ideas might catch on with some of Mr. Trump’s Republican rivals — as his immigration policies have — the Club for Growth, an anti-tax think tank, is pulling together a team of economists to scrutinize his proposals and calculate the economic impact if he is elected.

First things first: Trump and the Club for Growth have been feuding ever since Trump entered the race. The Club says it's because Trump had previously supported universal health care and a one-time tax on individuals worth more than $10 million. Trump says it's because the Club tried to shake him down for a $1 million donation and he refused to give it to them. The truth is—oh, who cares what the truth is? It's just another Trump feud.

Anyway, Trump repudiated his wealth tax idea a long time ago, but he has supported (a) a progressive income tax, (b) closing loopholes for hedge fund managers, (c) tariffs on companies that move factories to Mexico, and (d) corporate inversions. But wait! In his interview with Sarah Palin, Trump inched closer to Republican orthodoxy on taxes:

We have to simplify our tax code. You have hedge fund guys that are paying virtually no tax and they're making a fortune....Now you can go to a fair tax or a flat tax, but the easiest way and the quickest way, at least on a temporary basis, is simplification of the code: get rid of deductions, reduce taxes.

OK. So Trump definitely wants to eliminate the carried-interest loophole that allows hedge fund managers to pay very little in federal income tax. But he's no longer opposed to a flat tax. It's just that on a "temporary" basis he wants to broaden the base and reduce rates. This is as orthodox as it gets.

As for the tariffs on companies that move to Mexico, that's just bluster not to be taken seriously. And reining in corporate inversions is a pretty bipartisan goal. It would presumably be part of a corporate tax overhaul that would end up being revenue neutral.

On taxes, then, Trump has all but caved in. The only serious part of his schtick that's no longer garden-variety Republican dogma is his desire to close the carried-interest loophole. And even this is small potatoes: it would raise one or two billion dollars per year, which could easily be offset by a tiny tax cut somewhere else. There's really nothing left for even Grover Norquist to dislike.

So no worries! Trump is becoming fully absorbed by the Republican borg on taxes. Aside from the Mexico stuff, which is just campaign trail bombast, there's nothing left that would raise net taxes or offend conservative sensibilities in any way. Whew.

This Week's Great Showdown: Denali vs. McKinley

| Mon Aug. 31, 2015 12:51 PM EDT

So the big news this weekend was President Obama's decision to change the name of Mt. McKinley back to Denali. As near as I can tell, the only people who truly care about this are:

  • Alaskans
  • Ohioans
  • Mountain climbers
  • Trivia buffs

Of these, Alaskans are pro-Denali; Ohioans are proudly pro-McKinley; mountain climbers have been calling it Denali for years already; and trivia buffs are almost certainly pro-Denali since they love it whenever something changes that allows them to pedantically correct other people.

So far—to my pleasant surprise, I admit—there's been very little complaining about how Obama is—again!—bending to the forces of political correctness and identity politics by kowtowing to the icy cold branch of the native American community. But the week is young and the easily outraged are probably still rubbing the sleep out of their eyes. Give them time.

For the time being, though, the pro-McKinley side has only the Ohioans, who have been battling Alaskans over this for decades. Ohioans are mighty defenders of William McKinley, proud son of Niles, Ohio. So proud, in fact, that one of their own renamed Denali to Mt. McKinley in 1896 merely because McKinley had just been nominated for president. Alaskans probably had no idea this was even happening, and in any case they weren't yet a state and could do little about it. They finally tried to officially reverse this power grab in the 70s, but sneaky Ohioans took advantage of a loophole to prevent the US Board on Geographic Names from acting. That ended yesterday when Obama decided to rename America's highest peak himself.

The obvious solution to all this is to rename Ohio's tallest mountain. Unfortunately, Ohio is flat and has no mountains at all. Its highest point is Campbell Hill, topping out at a pedestrian 1,550 feet. They could rename it McKinley Hill—unless, of course, that would outrage the descendants of Charles D. Campbell—but that's quite a comedown from the majesty of Denali, as the pictures on the right show.

What to do? Nothing much, I suppose, except for Ohio's congressional delegation to rant and rave about Obama's unilateral power grab etc. That's fine. Hometown pride demands no less. Even at that, though, I have to give props to Rep. Bob Gibbs for this masterpiece of outrage:

I hope my colleagues will join with me in stopping this constitutional overreach. President Obama has decided to ignore an act of Congress in unilaterally renaming Mt. McKinley in order to promote his job-killing war on energy.

Constitutional overreach? Sure, whatever. That's garden variety stuff by now. But how does removing the name of America's 25th president advance Obama's job-killing war on energy? Inquiring minds want to know.

As for the political implications, all you need to know is this: Alaska has three electoral votes. Ohio has 18 and is routinely a critical swing state. You may draw your own conclusions from this.

Ohio Republicans Are Freaking Out About the Denali Name Change

| Mon Aug. 31, 2015 11:36 AM EDT

On Sunday, President Barack Obama announced that the official name for the highest peak in North America, Alaska's Mount McKinley, would formally be changed to its Athabascan name: Denali. This makes a lot of sense. The mountain was known as Denali long before a gold prospector dubbed it McKinley after reading a newspaper headline in 1896, and it has officially been known as "Denali" in Alaska for about a century, according to the state's board for geographic names. The state and its Republican legislature have been asking Washington to call the mountain Denali for decades. And for decades, the major obstacle to getting this done has been Ohio, McKinley's home state.

We need not spend much time discussing Ohio in this space, but suffice it to say that Ohioans are a very proud, if sometimes misinformed, people, and the birthplace of mediocre presidents won't just take the marginalization of those mediocre presidents lying down. It will fight! To wit, the state's congressional delegation has decided to show off that old Ohio fighting spirit by condemning the decision in sternly worded press releases and tweets. Here's GOP Sen. Rob Portman:

No it wasn't! McKinley was assassinated in 1901. The mountain was named McKinley in 1896, by a random gold prospector who had just returned from the Alaskan Range to find that the governor of Ohio had won the Republican presidential nomination. This is like naming the highest point in the continent after Mitt Romney. Is Portman suggesting that the fix was in as early as 1896? Did Czolgosz really act alone? Was Teddy Roosevelt in on it? My God! Congress did pass a law in 1917 formally recognizing McKinley as the mountain's name, but that was really just paperwork.

Let's see what else they've got:

The Spanish-American War hadn't happened yet in 1896—William Randolph Hearst wouldn't start that for another two years! Okay. Here's GOP Rep. Bob Gibbs, all but engraving his sternly worded response on obsidian:

Job-killing name change!

I haven't seen this much loathing directed at Denali since the last time I went on Yelp.