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Values Voters Summit: My Yom Kippur War

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Yom Kippur is the most important holiday in the Jewish calendar. It is a day when you can find even the most secular of Jews in synagogues. But I stayed home this year. If Jews believed in doing penance, my self-inflicted torture would have counted; it was as excruciating as a hair-shirt; almost as painful as the guilt inflicted by a Jewish mother. But, alas, we Jews don’t believe in penance as a vehicle for repentance.

Yom Kippur is the holiest of holy days. One is supposed to spend the day at prayer and contemplation. It is a day devoted to atonement; no work is performed and we refrain from eating and drinking (even water.) The Talmud specifies additional restrictions that are less well-known – washing and bathing, anointing one’s body (with perfume, cosmetics, deodorants, etc.), wearing leather shoes and engaging in sexual relations are among the behaviors prohibited on Yom Kippur.

But we Jews are a practical people; there are exceptions to the rules even on this holiest of holy days. These restrictions can be lifted when a threat to life or health is involved. Even if they want to, children under the age of nine and women in childbirth (from the time labor begins until three days after birth) are not permitted to fast. And of course there is an exception in wartime, for example the Yom Kippur War fought from October 6th to 25th, 1973 … which was the basis for the rationalization I used to get myself off my spiritual hook.

For make no mistake, America is at war. Oh, I don’t mean those engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan that have killed thousands of people, bankrupted our country and compromised the effectiveness of our military. The conflict that must also concern us is being fought right here at home. And Friday and Saturday I was directly in the line-of-fire.

Thanks to live streaming, I spent Yom Kippur with the folks at the Values Voter Summit, sponsored by the Family Research Council (FRC), an organization which because of the homophobia and lies it propagates is designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC)  While many of my family and friends, supported by each other in community and prayer, contemplated their transgressions, I listened to speaker after speaker preach how my extended family and friends were much of what is wrong in America and how my life (which was consistently called a lifestyle) is itself a transgression. While my family’s and friends’ souls were stirred as they listened to the haunting melody of Kol Nidre, my stomach churned as I listened to Michele Bachmann and Star Parker.

It was a weekend filled with irony, much of which was apparently lost on its sponsors as well as the attendees; a weekend when vitriol was cheered and pleas for civility and respect were met with derision.

The presentation of the colors was accompanied by a stirring rendition of “Fanfare for the Common Man” by Aaron Copeland.

Copeland was never troubled by his sexual orientation and although he never made the political statement of coming out publically, he was quite open about it – his being gay was not a secret. As part of a group of Manhattan-based gay composers, Copeland, along with Samuel Barber, Leonard Bernstein, Marc Blitzstein, Paul Bowles, David Diamond, Ned Rorem and Virgil Thomson, changed the complexion of American Music.

After a welcome speech in which Tony Perkins, the President of the FRC, declared war on marriage equality, family planning, health care and regulations governing the environment, banks and other financial institutions, House Speaker John Boehner reaffirmed his determination to repeal health care reforms and to defend the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

But it was House Majority Leader Eric Cantor who got the first standing ovation when he said, “We have, and we always should, stand by Israel.” Observant Jews however were out of luck if they wanted to attend the whole conference. As the National Jewish Democratic Council pointed out, this is the third Values Voter Summit in a row to be scheduled during the Jewish High Holy Days. The workshop “Why Christians should support Israel” was held on Yom Kippur.

Cantor complained about the Occupy Wall Street movement, stating, “I for one am increasingly concerned about the growing mobs occupying Wall Street and other cities across our country,” claiming that Occupy Wall Street is “pitting of Americans against Americans.” Of course, when members of the Tea Party took to the streets, we were told that it was a sign of grassroots democracy in action.

Evolution was a central theme in the speech given by Bryan Fischer: “I submit to you that not a single one of our unalienable rights will be safe in the hands of a president who believes that we evolved from slime and that we are the descendants of apes and baboons.” He claimed the separation of church and state is “mythical.” Fischer’s convoluted logic posited that since the Founders believed that our unalienable rights came from the Creator, Creationism not Evolution is the correct explanation of the origin of our species and no person who does not believe in Creationism should be elected President.

The presidential candidates Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann and Newt Gingrich, as well as past candidates Tim Pawlenty and Mike Huckabee, have all appeared on Fischer’s show. Fischer is the spokesperson for the organization, The American Family Association, another SPLC designated hate group, which co-hosted “The Response” prayer rally with Texas Governor Rick Perry.

Fischer’s call for the return of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and a declaration by the next president that gays are a threat to national security and public health were reported by The New Civil Rights Movement October 9.

Robert Jeffress, a Texas Southern Baptist megachurch senior pastor introduced Rick Perry to the appreciative audience. People for The American Way’s Right Wing Watch points out, “Jeffress’ anti-Mormon views should have been no surprise to the Perry camp, and in this interview last year with the Trinity Broadcasting Network, Jeffress argued that the Mormon religion, along with Islam, is ‘from the pit of Hell.’ He went on to say that along with Mormons and Muslims, Jews and gays are also destined for Hell.”

All of the Republican hopefuls — except Jon Huntsman, Fred Karger, Thad McCotter, and  Buddy Roemer — spoke at the conference. Among the promises they gave if elected President was repeal of or a moratorium on all pending federal government regulations for six months, repeal of the recently passed healthcare plan, cutting taxes, defunding Planned Parenthood, appointing Supreme Court Justices who would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, sponsoring a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman, reinstating Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and eliminating the Department of Education. Family was always defined as a man, a woman and their children.

The most moderate of them, Mitt Romney, called for civility and respect, saying, “Poisonous language does not advance our cause. It has never softened a single heart nor changed a single mind. The blessings of faith carry the responsibility of civil and respectful debate.” Romney added, “The task before us is to focus on the conservative beliefs and the values that unite us – let no agenda narrow our vision or drive us apart.” Although these remarks were not well received in the hall, as David Badash reported on October 8th they were acknowledged positively outside the conference.

Almost every speaker assured the audience that God was on their side and that they would win this war they were waging, because God wanted them to put Him back where He belonged, in the home, in the schools, in public places, in the courts in the House of Representatives and the Senate and in the White House.

If I had any doubts that this is a genuine war, they were erased when they brought in the Marine and rolled out the General. Tony Perkins, a former Marine whose rank was never revealed, assured us, “I never back down from a campaign!” and Lt. General Benjamin Mixon (Ret.), Former Commander, Multi-National Division, Iraq, agreed that the Military is its own “kind of subculture” and “open homosexuality’ would be detrimental to the troops and their families.

I confess I skipped some of Michele Bachmann’s 46 minute speech; I’d heard it all before. The evening finally closed with this admonishment by Star Parker:

“And now we’re yearning, waiting, to protect the interest of marriage, such a most humble position God would put us in, the marital sacrament, to recognize how personal and private that is. It’s absolutely under attack to the degree that in California they now have to stop a law, they have to form an initiative to stop a law, from teaching their children gay history. We are sick as a country, and we are going to have to recognize how deep this sickness is. So that when we get to November 3rd, regardless of the outcome, the same way big moral questions were on the table before, God would answer what we are praying for.”

War had been declared: And according to them, it’s God vs. us!

The next day Lieutenant General William G. Boykin (retired) Former Commander; Delta Force, marched onto the stage and laid out the rules of engagement:

“You don’t go into battle afraid of your enemy, you just simply don’t, you have to go in knowing that you will be victorious. You know it is important that we develop the attitude that we’re going to win because we have the ultimate force-multiplier with us, and that is God Himself, the Holy Spirit. You know, nobody in this country fought a greater fight to stop the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell than Tony Perkins; he used every resource he had to try and stop the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. And you know who led the charge in our government to try and stop this repeal? That was John McCain. John McCain led the charge and John McCain kept turning to Tony Perkins, saying, ‘Where’s the church? Where are the spiritual leaders that are going to come along beside me, that are going to stand up with me?’ The answer was they were silent, the church was silent, and it is time for the Church to rise up like a mighty army.”

But it wasn’t all speeches and workshops. Those who were actually at the conference had an opportunity to visit the booths in the exhibition hall. There were books and badges for sale and buttons and brochures for the asking. In an article titled, “Antigay Message Is Everywhere at GOP Candidates Event,”  The Advocate wrote they had found disturbing imagery everywhere, with one table giving away buttons that proclaim, “Ex-Gay Is OK!” The list of more than 50 exhibitors includes the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) and Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays & Gays (PFOX).

Saturday night, while some of the conference-goers attended The Faith, Family, And Freedom Gala Dinner in the Regency Ballroom (a black-tie optional, ticketed event,) which featured Phyllis Schlafly, whom Michele Bachmann has called the “most important woman in the United States in the last 100 years,” because of her fight against the Equal Rights Amendment, my partner and I celebrated the end of Yom Kippur with friends and family at a traditional Break-Fast at my nephew’s home. There we were greeted with hugs. He and members of his family call both of us Uncle and my cousins and their families and friends honor our relationship of almost 34 years. Here our life together is not called a “lifestyle” nor is our love considered an abomination. Over bagels and lox and kugel and herring we discussed my Yom Kippur War.

Make no mistake, America is at war. Our New Civil Rights Movement is under attack. Our families are under attack. This was the year of my Yom Kippur War; this is the year of your Yom Kippur War.

Stuart Wilber lives in Seattle with his partner and cat. Equality continues to elude them. (Image: Mathew Ryan Williams.)

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RIGHT WING EXTREMISM

‘Boldly Ignorant’ Ted Cruz Slammed by Retired NYPD Detective for His Suggestions to Protect Kids

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Appearing on MSNBC’s “The Katie Phang Show,” a retired NYPD detective expressed disgust with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) over his attempts to dismiss the idea of new gun laws to protect children in schools and instead is insisting America needs to turn schools into fortresses.

In interviews and appearing at the NRA convention this weekend in Houston, Cruz has vociferously disregarded the easy availability of high-powered weapons and instead focused on a door that was left open at the elementary school where the shooting occurred.

After host Phang shared a clip of the Texas Republican making his case, she asked former law enforcement detective Marq Claxton his thoughts on what Cruz was proposing.

Calling the controversial senator “boldly ignorant,” he proceeded to rip Cruz’s proposal apart.

“Marq, I was a prosecutor for half my career, I never prosecuted somebody for leaving a door open. How absurd is this proposal by Ted Cruz that the solution is to make sure that we don’t have too many doors at our schools?” host Phang asked.

“Ted Cruz’s statements were boldly ignorant and dismissive of the clear obvious danger that is faced by so many people in society because of the prevalence of violence and gun violence in particular,” he replied. “It really shows just how so many political electeds lack the fortitude to move forward and do the right thing: save lives.”

“Instead of sloganeering, Mr. Cruz and his other elected colleagues really should be working on legislation that provides, or minimizes the risk of damage, and could quite possibly and probably save lives,” he continued. “That is some additional gun restrictions, some background checks, there are other things that are out there that will undoubtedly be effective and save lives, and prevent these gun violence deaths.”

Watch the segment below or at this link.

 

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‘Taking Us All for Fools’: Critics Decimate Greg Abbott’s Claims and Defense of His Actions in Wake of School Shooting

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Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbott in a press conference that left reporters frustrated defended his actions and insisted his earlier praise for law enforcement’s widely criticized response to the Uvalde school massacre was the result of being “misled.”

“I am livid about what happened,” Abbott declared, blaming others for his “recitation of what people in that room told me.”

Critics aren’t buying his claims.

Abbott, who’s in the middle of a heated re-election campaign, appeared extremely defensive when reporters asked him questions.

“Let’s be clear about one thing. None of the laws I signed this past session had any intersection with this crime at all,” Abbott told reporters when asked if he would call the legislature back for a special session, as The Texas Tribune’s Sewell Chan noted.

“No law that I signed allowed him to get a gun,” Abbott insisted.

“The answers fell pretty flat,” opined MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace, who noted the press event lasted just 36 minutes, less time than the police officers “stood outside and did nothing,” which was 47 minutes.

Abbott ended the press conference with many reporters almost begging him to take more questions. As the governor left one frustrated reporter was caught on a hot mic saying “unbelievable.”

Chan, who is the editor in chief of the Tribune, added on Twitter: “Abbott rejects background checks as a simplistic and ineffective fix. Wouldn’t have prevented Sutherland Springs and Santa Fe shootings, he says. Tries to turn focus to broken mental health system.”

Former FBI assistant director for counterintelligence Frank Figliuzzi on MSNBC delivered a strong rebuke to Governor Abbott’s remarks.

“No amount of free flights, no amount of free caskets, no amount of mental health counseling is going to bring back any one of those murdered children,” Figliuzzi said, referring to Abbott’s announcement an anonymous donor is putting up  $175,000 for funeral expenses of those who were murdered in the shooting and said the state will pay for mental health treatment.

Abbott also insisted that since Texas became a state it’s been legal for 18-year-olds to buy long guns.

Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter Jaime was murdered in the Parkland school shooting, blasted Abbott:

And long guns of today, as Figliuzzi noted, are often semi-automatic “killing machines.”

“The governor seems completely unable to understand that he can easily make a distinction when you’re talking about whether an 18-year-old should buy an assault rifle or not. And all he cares about is a century of history in Texas on long guns. We didn’t have the AR-15 style assault weapons back then.  He can easily make a distinction and say, ‘you can go hunting, here are the rifles you can do, you can buy, you can possess – and here’s an assault-style rifle.'”

“If he thinks that people are stupid and unable to understand that there is a clear distinction between a killing machine and a hunting rifle, that he’s taking us all for fools.”

 

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‘I Apologize for Interrupting Your Press Conference’: Tearful Texas Democrat Urges Greg Abbott to ‘Do Something’ on Guns

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The Texas Democratic State Senator who represents Uvalde stood up during Greg Abbott’s Friday afternoon press conference and almost begged the Republican Governor to “do something” about gun violence after Tuesday’s massacre at Robb Elementary School that took 21 lives.

Abbott was trying to place the blame for the school shooting on mental health despite the gunman having no documented issues, and told attendees, “we’re focusing our attention on the wrong thing.”

That was not good enough for Democratic State Senator Roland Gutierrez, who politely introduced himself and said, “I’m not making a political speech.”

“My colleagues are asking for a special session, you’re getting a letter tomorrow,” from the Senate Democratic Caucus.

“We’ve asked for gun control changes – I’m asking you now, bring us back in three weeks.”

Gutierrez grew emotional, sounding as if he was choking up, and added, “I apologize for interrupting your press conference about the needs of this community. I’ve been here for three days with all of these elected officials – this county judge has been working his ass off,” he continued.

“I don’t know how to express the loss of the families that I’ve talked to,” he added.

“You have to do something, man,” Gutierrez said, all but begging the governor to take action, and saying his “own colleagues are calling me and telling me this is enough.”

Watch:

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