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Mon May 11, 2015 at 04:00 AM PDT

Whose Faith is it Anyway?

by vuzvilla

Whose Faith is it Anyway?
by Barry Friedman

(First Appeared in The Tulsa Voice)

Just when we think we’re out, they pull us back in. But it wasn’t politics this time; it was faith. Two stories before we begin.

1) What seems like a million years ago, I was flipping through the cable channels and heard Jim Bakker—yes, that Jim Bakker—preaching about a Baptist pastor who had humiliated a young girl for dancing.  

He was incensed.

Fundamentalist Baptists frown on such things, something Bakker wasn’t backing away from; yet, this incident bothered him because the pastor had the girl in tears.

“If that’s Christ,” screamed Bakker, “I don’t want Him!”

2) In a homily at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in 1998, The Archbishop of New York, Cardinal John O’Connor said, “I categorically denounce the hypothesis that to kill an abortionist is justifiable in order to save babies. I have consistently denounced violence against persons based on their sexual orientation.”

Later, he told a New York City newspaper, “Let me make this clear: if anyone feels the need to kill an abortion doctor, kill me first.”

If that’s Christ…

Why bring this up?

As much as anything, what happened in Indiana last month—what is still happening there (and in other states, including Oklahoma)—is a battle for the parameters, language and meme of Christianity in America. Remember that pizza place at the center of the controversy?

“If a gay couple came in and wanted us to provide pizzas for their wedding, we would have to say no,” Memories Pizza’s Crystal O’Connor said.

“We are a Christian establishment.”

“That lifestyle is something they choose. I choose to be heterosexual. They choose to be homosexual. Why should I be beat over the head to go along with something they choose?”

Let Elizabeth Loring of The Ripple Effect, a choir dedicated to bridging differences, pick up the story. When she first heard about Memories Pizza, Loring believed the O’Connors were cultural stereotypes, almost “cartoon characters,” she said.

“I like Rosie O’Donnell’s remark that even lesbians wouldn’t have pizza at a wedding—chili, maybe.”

Any other time, any other place, that’s funny.

The Ripple Effect founder Sherry Klinedinst—a church pianist at Southside Christian Church in South Bend, Indiana—decided, instead, the choir should go to Memories Pizza.

“I’ve been up all night thinking about these people,” Klinedinst wrote members, “and my heart goes out to them. Bottom line is that if we say we celebrate diversity and embrace our differences, then we should show them our support by showing them love. Who’s in?”

“My heart goes out to them”—? The group was in, including Loring, even after this news:

Fund Raises $840,000 for Memories Pizza After Attacks Over Gay Marriage Views

“My heart is slightly less heavy now,” Loring wrote Klinedinst. “I’m pretty sure they can stay in business if they choose to.”

“I can understand how you would feel that way,” Klinedinst responded. “I do, too. But if everyone could see the horror of the barrage of FB posts, it would be easier to see that those people would truly benefit from being shown that hate must be met with love. What would Jesus have done?”

The group went. Though the O’Connors weren’t there and Memories had closed down, the choir sang out front—hymns including, “In Christ There is No East or West” and, “They’ll Know We Are Christians By Our Love.” A trucker drove by and yelled “God Bless America;” a retiree told them, “Get a job!” After about an hour, they headed back to South Bend for Good Friday services.

“By the time we got to town,” Loring said, “the hateful comments were starting to pile up.”

From every side.

“Most of them were initially from the right, thinking we were protesting,” she said. “Later, we also got angry comments from people from the left, incensed we would show sympathy to the restaurant owners.”

If it seems that no good deed goes unpunished, it might also ring true that no bad one goes unrewarded.

All told, Memories Pizza received almost $1 million in contributions; The Ripple Effect received this:

“Now I’m getting gay fatigue to go along with my race fatigue.”

“Everyone of these gay ‘Christian’ choir members are liars.”

“The place is shutdown because of death threats from gay Nazis. How about these idiots go sing to them?”

If that's Christ ...

Garrett Epps—author of To an Unknown God: Religious Freedom on Trial, Professor of Law at the University of Baltimore, and Supreme Court correspondent for The Atlantic, warns about oversimplifying:

“Listen, for heaven’s sake, let’s not fall for the hokum that ‘Christians’ are homophobes or that ‘Christians’ support discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, because you must know, if you think it through, how many Christians have taken risks and pushed their denominations in the name of equality for LGBT,” Epps said in email. “The claim that immunity from civil rights laws is ‘Christian’ is a trap, because the corollary is that favoring legal equality is ‘anti-Chrisitan.’ Don’t fall into it.”

“It’s the fall that’ll kill you”—Butch Cassidy  

Marlin Lavanhar, senior minister at Tulsa’s All Souls Unitarian Church, also sees the rhetorical traps.

“Who gets to define Christianity?” Lavanhar said. “That’s been a question for 2000 years. If someone were to say, ‘Christians or Christianity rejects LGBT people or lifestyles,’ they would have to explain why Evangelical Lutherans, Episcopalians, Congregationalists, Presbyterians and a number of other smaller Christian denominations accept them.”

Last year, after Gov. Mary Fallin said Oklahomans are religious and do not want gay marriage, All Souls hosted an engagement party of sorts.

“Twenty-seven clergy (Christian, Jewish and Unitarian) publicly stood with our LGBT neighbors,” Lavanhar said. “These kinds of efforts are needed to remind the country and those who think they define Christianity that theirs is not a Christian consensus on LGBT issues and ethics.”  

Loring says victory is incremental.

“We can’t change every heart, so why should we try?” she said. “The whole idea was to try to create a small space where there are no sides. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, ‘But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.’”

Memories Pizza has reopened, and the O’Connors say they will remodel and give the rest to charity.

There’s a story: Walking on a beach, a man and his grandson discover hundreds of starfish beached and dying. The boy starts throwing them back into the water, one by one. The man says gently, “You can’t save them all. There are just too many. You can’t throw enough back to make any difference.” But the boy continues, saying, “But grandpa, it makes a difference to this one, and this one, and this one.”


Mon Apr 20, 2015 at 04:00 AM PDT

Beliefs Sincerely Held

by vuzvilla

Beliefs Sincerely Held
Rep. Emily Virgin rains on intolerance
by Barry Friedman

(First Appeared in The Tulsa Voice)

Around the time Indiana legislators were debating their religious freedom act (if only I could make the italics bigger), our very own Rep. Chuck Strohm (R-South Tulsa/Bixby/Jenks) introduced HB 1371, a truly horrendous bill that would have allowed individuals and businesses to refuse service—here, in the Sooner State—to people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender and Jews*, as long as they claimed that interacting with them was against their religious beliefs.

Think of it as retail discrimination—in the name of Jesus!

(*And of course Jews were not named in Strohm’s bill, but tell me how a baker who believes that Jews killed his Lord and Savior wouldn’t be protected under this law if he refused to cater a Bar Mitzvah?)

Just when we were on the cusp of taking our rightful place on the nightly national blooper reel, state legislator Emily Virgin (D-OKC) called the bet and introduced an amendment that flummoxed the bill’s proponents.

Any person not wanting to participate in any of the activities set forth in subsection A of this section based on sexual orientation, gender identity or race of either party to the marriage shall post notice of such refusal in a manner clearly visible to the public in all places of business, including websites.  The notice may refer to the person’s religious beliefs, but shall state specifically which couples the business does not serve by referring to a refusal based upon sexual orientation, gender identity or race.
Hit deep, and I don't think it's playable.

Serving certain customers intrude on your personal relationship with God, does it? Fine. Just post a list of those who give you the willies on your front window so the rest of us can decide if we want to do business with you.

As it turned out, HB 1371 never got to the full House or Senate for a vote—much less to the desk of the twice-married governor who defends traditional marriage (and Virgin deserves at least a lion’s share of the credit). But I do wonder, in my dark periods here in Oklahoma (usually when state government is in session), how many business owners would have proudly posted a sign trumpeting their faith-based hatred.

Even so, for anyone scoring at home (and if you're not, you should really start), this is how you beat crazy. You strip away its veneer and hold the underlying malady and meanness up to the light.

Besides, when you’re to the right of NASCAR, Walmart, diesel engine maker Cummins Inc. and Eli Lilly on an issue, you should be sent to bed without dinner.

Keep in mind that the national Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) of 1993—used as a legal shield by Indiana, Arkansas and people like Strohm—was meant to protect individuals, such as Native Americans who want to use peyote during religious ceremonies, from the federal government. It was not intended, as the Indiana law was crafted, to allow owners of a Fort Wayne hotel the right to refuse a recently-married lesbian couple the honeymoon suite.

But now let us head to Washington and check in with regular visitors to the column—our two pillars of piety and purity, our two U.S. senators who, instead of warning against a religiously, arbitrarily segregated nation urged, “Onward, Christian shopkeepers!”

Sen. Jim Inhofe, who once proudly proclaimed that he’d never had a gay or lesbian member in his family, introduced an amendment to a federal budget bill that would protect those who discriminate based on “sincerely held” religious beliefs.

What a guy, huh? That weasel word “sincerely” leaves one so inclined enough room to park and operate a segregated food truck.

Meanwhile, Sen. James Lankford, who (though a camp director in his previous life) once scientifically assured a confused nation that homosexuality was a choice, doubled down on those comments  (because who wouldn’t want to be gay in America, considering how well you’d be treated?) and compared discrimination against same-sex couples with buying humanely raised pork.

You heard right.

From an editorial he co-authored with Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.):

“It is crucial that the same freedom of conscience enjoyed by the leadership of Chipotle remain equally available to business owners of faith,” they wrote. “Indeed, much more so, as freedom of religion is explicitly protected by the First Amendment. We cannot simultaneously laud the leaders of a business motivated by a commitment to environmental sustainability and discriminate against the leaders of a business motivated by religious belief.”
For the love of Sodom, Gomorrah and a burrito bowl, he didn’t just equate the treatment of the LGBT community with placing a meat order, did he?

Perhaps we should let Chipotle handle this one.

“It’s a pretty ridiculous comparison,” Chipotle spokesman Chris Arnold told The Huffington Post. “Our decision not to serve pork that doesn’t meet our standards isn’t discriminating against any customers or group of customers.”
It's not every day you get to hear someone in corporate America say, “WTF!”

When the Indiana law passed, many—including Inhofe and Lankford—were shocked at suggestions it would be used to discriminate against gays and lesbians, even as Mike Huckabee intimated the LGBT community deserved it for plotting to destroy America. These are the same legislators, by the way, who said they would never frequent a place that discriminated yet have posed with smiles and waffle fries from Chick-fil-A. These leaders have also supported Hobby Lobby, a model Christian company dedicated to Chinese manufactured goods and restricting women’s access to reproductive freedoms that donated millions to an organization once run by Bill Gothard (who said in response to sexual harassment charges, “My actions of holding of hands, hugs, and touching of feet or hair with young ladies crossed the boundaries of discretion and were wrong”).  

But two men in love who want a sheet cake is the end of the republic.

I digress.

Faced with the scorn of everyone outside the Fox News green room—not to mention the prospect of losing convention business—the bill’s proponents agreed to fix the discriminatory aspects they were shocked to discover in the bill. And now, even though the discriminatory aspects they were shocked to discover were discriminatory have been removed (but damn you, liberals, and your political correctness for making such a thing about it!), they still maintain that discrimination is constitutionally protected (see recent decisions from Arkansas and Mississippi) as long as it comes from one’s understanding of God’s word.

For though Jesus commanded, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself,” he didn’t say you had to serve them all pizza.


Wed Apr 08, 2015 at 04:00 AM PDT

A Promise Made

by vuzvilla

A Promise Made
Oklahoma’s paper of record follows new editorial policy all the way to the right

(First Appeared in The Tulsa Voice)

It’s not like they didn’t warn us. Back in 2013, when BH Media Group bought the Tulsa World from the Lorton Family and Bill Masterson was named its new publisher, the paper made two announcements. The first had to do with its new policy of no longer accepting online comments from people who used pseudonyms. Although this received most of the attention, it was important only to those who wanted to continue spewing their global warming-denying, gun-loving, Obama-hating, grammatically-challenged venom in anonymity. It was Masterson’s second point, however, that was (and is) of greater concern.

The paper’s shift right.

He explained it this way (1):

I received a few notes asking for clarification when I mentioned in my first column that the editorial position was going to reflect the community in which it serves. My reason for that statement was the result of taking a hard look at the data we develop about our readers and our community. It clearly shows that the community perceives (right or wrong) that our editorial position is too far to the left and is not reflective of what is consistent with Tulsa and Oklahoman’s values.
Whoa, hoss. “Right or wrong” is a parenthetical to you?
Perception is reality and it is our job to fix that.
To the first part, no, it’s not; to the second, Ken Neal, who spent his professional life at the paper—including 12 years as its editorial pages editor (1994-2006)—said there was nothing to fix.

​“Newspapers should help shape public opinion, not follow it. Some Tulsa World readers (including our U.S. Senator) reject science, are racist, reject any religion other than Christianity, hate public education, refuse adequate healthcare and reject help for the poor. Should an editorial writer ‘reflect’ those views?”


Perception in this case wasn’t only not reality, it was manufactured and distorted, for the only Tulsa World readers who thought its editorial page too liberal were those who got their news from Michael DelGiorno and crazy relatives who forwarded discredited Drudge links.

“Only in Oklahoma would we have been considered ‘liberal,’” Neal said. “Jim Inhofe built a career on calling us (Tulsa World) liberal. I guess because we wanted enough taxes to keep the schoolhouse door open, or perhaps because we opposed religion in the public schools, or maybe because we wanted to raise the pay of teachers or keep social security for old people. I wonder if those who called us liberal knew the World has not endorsed a Democrat for president since 1936.”

This is not some bitter, aging liberal talking, either.

“I personally wrote the endorsements for Bush 43.”

Speaking of doing the (lowercase) right thing, Neal did away with the daily Bible quote (often from the New Testament) on the editorial page and put words from Jeremiah on the masthead—words that now appear in the vestibule of the World building, words adopted by Eugene Lorton, World owner from its early years until 1949—“Publish and set up a standard; publish and conceal not.” Neal said, “I don’t think the old man was so interested in quoting the Bible; just thought it fit a newspaper.”

Commie pinko!

Let’s continue.

The point here—from the paper’s subsequent bromance with Rep. Markwayne Mullin (2), to its both-sides-do-it defense of Rep. Jim Bridenstine puffily standing by while a constituent said the president “should be executed as an enemy combatant,” (3) to its begrudging pouting over the SCOTUS ruling to allow same-sex unions (4)—the World righted a ship that was never left and then, for good measure, redoubled its efforts to coddle right-wing politicians who act like ignoramuses.

Which brings us to this. (5)

Bad blood between Congress and President Barack Obama spilled onto an international stage Monday when 47 Republican senators wrote to Iranian leaders to warn them an anti-nuclear proliferation agreement being negotiated by the administration might not be binding after 2016 without Senate approval.
The letter is inappropriate, partisan and undercuts the president in his constitutionally mandated duty to negotiate foreign agreements.

That said, Obama shares some culpability.

Couldn’t help yourself, could you? Had to throw some red meat to the dogs.
He’s never learned the art of working with Congress. Some of his foreign policy decisions have alienated allies such as Israel. Members of Congress understandably are frustrated at being left out the process.
Oh, for the love of causality, this is yet another example of World Editorial Pages Editor Wayne Greene taking moral equivalency out for a walk and getting lost on the way home. Show me one instance where Democrats ever did something so similarly and unilaterally petty because a Republican president had bad communication skills. Further, show me why Israel’s unhappiness should dictate U.S. foreign policy. Show me when Congress isn’t frustrated when a president pushes an agenda. And show me how this has fuck-all to do with how senators comport themselves in world affairs and with world leaders, especially the onerous ones. For the World to suggest that 47 Republican U.S. senators (and what is it with the GOP and that number?) were justified in penning a letter to Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei because President Obama didn’t genuflect in their direction was fatuous.

More disturbing than the banality of its prose—“The president needs to understand, however, that he must negotiate with the Iranians from a position of strength” (No kidding, really?)—the editorial never gets around to mentioning that our two U.S. senators, Jim Inhofe and James Lankford, signed the letter.

Now, unless you’re too lazy to Google the letter’s signatories or afraid of angering (and/or carrying water for) your new base, how does this happen? Oklahoma’s two freedom-loving, patriotic senators sign a letter to The Leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran discounting the President of the United States and—what—nobody brought this up at the staff meeting? Imagine the banner headline, the hand-wringing, though, had Senators Reid and Schumer and 45 fellow Democrats written Saddam Hussein during the Gulf War to alert him that he would get a better deal with a subsequent administration? The editorial staff would have been verklempt and never once commiserated with the plight of Democrats “left out of the process” or explained how President Bush shared some culpability for such a seditious letter.

What our two senators did in signing this piece of dreck was equal parts petulant, disrespectful, dangerous, and borderline treasonous—which at the moment (believe it or not) is not the point. This is: The state’s leading newspaper—even in its new perceived reality—had, at the very least, the journalistic obligation to tell you they did. If Wayne Greene and Bill Masterson need to be reminded why, it’s right there on the wall when they come into work.

1) We got your comments right here

2) Wayne’s World: It’s hard not to love Markwayne Mullin

3) An opportunity missed for Bridenstine

4) Tulsa World Editorial: Same-sex marriage divisive, but the law

5) Senators letter to Iran is out of line


Mon Apr 06, 2015 at 04:00 AM PDT

Innovative Intepretation

by vuzvilla

Innovative Interpretation
Breaking with tradition on the journey toward understanding, compassion
by Barry Friedman

(First appeared in The Tulsa Voice)

No politics today. (Okay, not much, anyway.)

“I keep monkeying around with this,” Rabbi Marc Boone Fitzerman wrote, “and it’s probably just generalized anxiety that I’ve said the wrong thing without even knowing it. I do care very much about this issue. At the same time, sober/serious/dour suits me for this kind of thing.”

“This kind of thing” is a wedding he officiated last month at B’nai Emunah, Tulsa’s conservative Jewish synagogue. A same-sex wedding.

It was his and the synagogue’s first.

There are ground rules. He asks nicely, but there’s no story, otherwise. He will not mention the couple’s name, he will not get into specifics about their relationship or his counsel, he will not get into the politics.

He will not even tell me if the couple is male or female.

Shouldn’t matter. The two have dedicated their lives to one another.

Forget it, Jake, it’s Oklahoma.

State Question 711 (1)

(a) Marriage in this state shall consist only of the union of one man and one woman. Neither this Constitution nor any other provision of law shall be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups.

(b) A marriage between persons of the same gender performed in another state shall not be recognized as valid and binding in this state as of the date of the marriage.

(c) Any person knowingly issuing a marriage license in violation of this section shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.

In 2004, this amendment—this piece of homophobia and straight-sex entitlement—to the state constitution passed with 75 percent of the vote. It was eventually ruled unconstitutional, as no official in Oklahoma (or anyone anywhere, for that matter) could prove how he or she or a state would be harmed by allowing gays and lesbians to wed. Still, our twice-married governor who defends traditional marriage said at the time: “The will of the people has now been overridden by unelected federal justices, accountable to no one. That is both undemocratic and a violation of states’ rights. Rather than allowing states to make their own policies that reflect the values and views of their residents, federal judges have inserted themselves into a state issue to pursue their own agendas.” (2)

On this, the 50th anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery marches, it’s good to remember that southern governors used the same argument against civil rights legislation.  

Since the 2004 vote, other measures have been introduced in the Oklahoma legislature to protect the sanctity of marriage from gays—to protect society from them, really. Just recently, we’ve had bills to support conversion therapy (3), to punish those state officials who facilitate same-sex unions (4), to get the state out of the marriage license business entirely. (5) We have even spent more than $50 million in taxpayer dollars promoting and protecting heterosexual marriage. (6)

It’s not working. (7)

But I digress. This is about something else today, more personal than polemic.

I’ve known Rabbi Fitzerman for 30 years. We go to lunch once a decade whether we need to or not. Yet for most of that time, he was not my rabbi, but a friend. You need a disclaimer, though, so here it is: he’s now both.

He usually gets back to me in less than an hour when I write and ask him to explain liturgy, smooth out an attack, fact-check something, correct my Yiddish or simply commiserate.

He took a week and a half on this one.

(The answers, as is usually the case with our correspondence, are better than the questions.)

Barry Friedman: You had an opportunity a few years back to perform a same-sex marriage, and you ultimately refrained. Would you explain the particulars of that experience?

Rabbi Marc Boone Fitzerman:
The first round of anything important is always complicated. I’ve been committed to the cause of marriage equality for a very long time, but it was important to me that our congregation have time to work through the issue at the pace it chose. Looking back, there was the inevitable conflict between the needs of the individual and the rhythm of groups and institutions, all complicated by questions, concerns, and a multitude of small details. We came through that process, but when the couple who opened the conversation needed a definitive answer, we were still in the middle of things. I regret to this day that it didn’t work out as planned.

BF: Have you, like the president, evolved on this issue?

MBF: Yes and no. My commitments are exactly the same as they were before, but the idea of conducting a same-sex marriage now seems like the most natural thing in the world. All of the concerns that felt so important the first time around seemed to disappear. A religious community generally accomplishes a great deal of good when it tries to default to “yes.” I know that there will be exceptions, but I try to live according to that principle.

BF: What, if anything, does the Jewish Bible say about same-sex marriage, and what does the Christian Bible say?

MBF: I can’t presume to speak for another religious tradition, but the Hebrew Bible can only be fulfilled inside a living community of believers. The Torah seems to rule against a certain kind of intimacy between men, but there is a powerful thread of understanding that men can have deeply loving relationships. The idea here is that responsible change occurs when people work to hear the voice of God in Torah and also bring to bear their own informed convictions. Our people have a long tradition of confident, sometimes innovative interpretation.  I belong to a school of thought that looks at Leviticus with reverence, but sees its views on intimacy as colored by old, enduring fears. Seeing the Bible in this way is a balancing act, but it’s been going on for a very long time. The Torah says that we should stone stubborn and rebellious children, but the rabbis of the ancient world thought that was a very bad idea, and they forbade it. That kind of thinking opens a way to make the Bible live in a new way.

BF: Are you freelancing on this, or is there now a Jewish consensus on such unions?

MBF: Finding consensus in a religious community is a kind of dream. I wish that everyone felt the same way I do, but I live in a world of legitimate disagreement. At the traditionalist end of the spectrum, people remain uncomfortable with same-sex unions. In my part of the Jewish world, the prevailing view is that we are exactly as God made us, and everyone is entitled to live out the great journey of a loving relationship with another human being.

BF: Why now? Why this marriage? Will there be others for you?

MBF: I have deep respect for the couple just married and would be honored to sing their praises. Our new assistant rabbi, Dan Kaiman, feels exactly the same way. But we promised to safeguard their privacy and their desire for a traditional Jewish wedding without any sort of political overlay. That turned out to be one of the great pleasures of this occasion: a ceremony that felt sweetly and simply normal. Same ritual, same language, same everything. I hope to have many more pleasures like this one.

BF: What about those who would ask about the apparent inconsistencies with not officiating at an interfaith marriage, but officiating at a same-sex one?

MBF: The denomination I represent has been wrestling with this question for a generation. However I may feel, we belong to a national community that has described intermarriage as an issue. My heart tells me that this standard will change, especially in cases where a couple of mixed heritage makes a commitment to the idea of Jewish family, regardless of the tradition in which both partners were raised.

BF: Any pushback from the congregation on officiating this ceremony?

MBF: I’ve never been at a wedding that felt more joyful and less complicated by ambivalence of any kind. The wedding was a great roar of approval for the couple and the reality of their love.

This, too.

  My dear friends, Suzie and Laura, just celebrated their anniversary. I asked Laura about the difference in their relationship since their wedding.

“We got married three years ago on our 5-year anniversary. There is something that just feels different after you have gotten legal recognition of your relationship and also had it celebrated by friends and family after you made vows to one another. And people get what you mean when you say “my wife”—even if it takes them back for a second—people instantly understand that this is a lifelong partnership.”

That sound you hear? That’s the roar.

1) State Question 711

2) Gov. Mary Fallin Responds To Supreme Court’s Gay Marriage Decision

3) Oklahoma Committee OKs Ban on Regulating Conversion Therapy

4) Oklahoma bill would punish officials for marrying gay couples

5) Oklahoma bill would put an end to marriage licenses

6) Oklahoma Marriage Initiative Fails to Halt Rising Divorce Rates

7) Oklahoma tops list of highest divorce rates; U.S. Divorce Rate Statistics


Sat Mar 21, 2015 at 04:00 AM PDT

Is it Noonan or is it Not

by vuzvilla

Your Saturday Nooner
By Barry Friedman

"It is so tough--so, so tough--to wrap my head around words. Like dancers who refuse to move, they, filled with letters of all shapes and sizes, sit straight, erect, waiting to be soothed, massaged, satisfied, called to action. Lifeless, they mock me, like so many unrequited loves.

Ahh, happiness, contentment. The GOP had it once, shared it once wth a hurting nation, when a tower of man coddled us all, taking us in his arms and touching the small of our collective back. We sat, many of us, at night, those at the Revolution, around his bed--him in his nightshirt, how good he looked-- when he'd sip warm milk and doze off.  Nancy would bring him that milk and cookies, too, and she'd tell us not to talk too loudly or smartly. We'd listen to his stories of America and Akim Tamiroff and of him in this great untamed land, a land he tamed, hearts he touched.

Mine he touched. I still feel it.

When I think of this Clinton, though, her hair disheveled, her politics in discarded emails, I wonder who will sit at her bedside, who will love her manifestations and yarns? What words will be spoken, what words will call, 'Here. I. Am.'  Who will be touched by her?

America, as always, needs a bedtime story to wake refreshed. Am I the one to cajole the words to make it so? I am not, though I once was. But not now, not with this woman. I weep. Not for me, but for all of us.

It is so so tough to see the future, remember the past, understand the present.  What good are words when my heart yearns for touch?

Love, sweet love, I am here. Remember me.

The State We're In (2015 Edition)
by Barry Friedman

(First Appeared in The Tulsa Voice)

(Author's Note: This column was written before the ugliness on the OU campus, before a piece of legislation passed by the the Oklahoma House that would effectively prohibit the state from granting marriage licenses ... to anyone), before Governor Mary Fallin decided maybe kinda sorta the federal government should stay in the healthcare game,  and before our two United States senators, James Lankford and James Inhofe, two Christian-loving, freedom-defending, flag-pin-lapel-wearing Americans signed the letter (along with 45 other patriot Republican senators, including the most overrated human being in this history of the Naval Academy, John McCain) to the leaders of Iran that they shouldn't negotiate with President Obama--that would be the PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES, their president--because, well, they really, really didn't like him.)

Not since—well, okay—January has Oklahoma had such a perfect storm of hubris, cacophony, homophobia, illogic and mutant sanctimony sweep down its plains. This latest wave of dumbassery came about, as it usually does, because of prickly, one-note representatives, constitutional muttonheads and unapologetic gun pimps. Their efforts to control pedagogy, regulate love, punish government workers who follow the law, humanize semi-automatic weapons and humiliate state residents, though, is just the short con. They’re really after Oklahoma’s soul.

And they just might get it.

We begin.

Not only does HB 1380—which sailed through a committee hearing this week—bar state funds from being used on AP History, the legislation specifies what should be taught in the classroom by specifically identifying dozens of “documents, writings, speeches, proclamations and recordings related to the history, heritage and foundation of the United States” in the 10-page bill.(1)
Its author? This guy.
In the past few years, Dan [Fisher] has traveled the country presenting the messages “Seven Lies We’re Being Told About America” and “Bringing Back the Black Robed Regiment”. “Seven Lies” is a presentation that addresses the attacks being launched against America’s Christian heritage by the “politically correct” progressives.  It proves beyond a “shadow of a doubt” that Christians founded America—not atheists and deists, and that the Founders wanted a country where Christianity would have a strong impact—not a country where faith and government would be divided by a “strict separation of church and state.”(2)
I could tell you Fisher, who believes we all need to put on the “full armor of God,” (3) is three casseroles short of a pot luck supper, but let Thomas Jefferson tell you …

“Christianity neither is, nor ever was, a part of the common law.”

And James Madison …

“Religion & Govt. will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together.”

But why would Fisher know these quotes? They’re covered in—wait for it—AP History.

Fisher, who’s a Republican representative from Yukon, believes these Advanced Placement courses have moved away from the study of American Exceptionalism and, instead, been spending too much time on, you know, reality. He also dictates that speeches made by Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush be included in the new curriculum but omits any from Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton or Barack Obama. The fact that Reagan and Bush are Republicans, though, and Carter, Clinton and Obama are Democrats is just a coincidence—yeah, and I’ll be leading bible study at Trinity Baptist Church in Yukon this Sunday.

Dan believes that America is facing a crisis today much the same as the one faced by the country in 1776.

Would someone please stop his food?

Let’s review:

1776—a fight for independence

2015—a fight against politically-correct Christmas greetings from cashiers at Target.

So, days later, after the media knocked Oklahoma around like a piñata at a 6-year-old’s birthday party, Fisher said he would rework the bill because it was ambiguous, a polite word for what it was, and then Joy Hofmeister, new state school superintendent, said she would  “partner” with him to find “balance.” (4) We’ll cut Hofmeister some slack here, for she’s new and can be forgiven for worrying about the bullying tinhorns who control the purse strings, but for the love of Horace Mann, balance? His side of the teeter-totter is buried in the earth’s mantle and she wants to partner with him?

Dan is also on the leadership team of the OKC Tea Party and is frequent speaker at tea party rallies around the state.

Hofmeister should have told Fisher if he didn’t like Advanced Placement exams, he could home school his kids, for all she cared, and quiz them on what Moses told John Jay when they were sparring over the Establishment Clause during the Second Continental Congress.

“You can have my answer now, Senator. Nothing”—Michael Corleone.

Bill Maher was right when he said the Left in this country moved to the Center, the Center moved to the Right, and the Right moved to an Insane Asylum (though you may know it as the state capitol in Oklahoma City).  

Thing is, you meet crazy halfway, you’re still in crazy land, which means it wins.

But while this AP story sucked out most of the oxygen in the room, there was this:

“It’s a combination of principle and a matter of common sense,” said OK2A (Oklahoma Second Amendment Association) President Tim Gillespie of Earlsboro. “If we’re letting people carry guns, it makes no sense not to let them carry switchblade knives. We believe knives fall under the Second Amendment because it says ‘arms,’ ” said Gillespie. “I don’t understand why switchblades are thought to be so evil.”(5)
And this …
The Bixby Cubs, a baseball team for boys 11 and under, is selling raffle tickets to win an AR-15 rifle as part of a fundraiser. Davis said this is the fourth year in a row for the team to hold the popular fundraiser.

“It’s a positive thing for the kids, and we have received support from all of the parents,” Davis said. “We have found that people would rather buy tickets for this than a Visa gift card.”(6)

And this …
“It’s our God-given right and our constitutional right,” said Rep. John Bennett, R-Sallisaw, who has filed legislation to allow weapons to be brought into the Capitol. (7)
And this …
The “Preservation of Sovereignty and Marriage Act,” as HB 1599 is styled, also bars the use of public funds for “enforcing any court order requiring the issuance or recognition of a same-sex marriage license,” and orders the immediate removal from office of any judge who violates the provisions of the bill. (8)
And this ...
A controversial bill could require couples to prove they don’t have certain diseases, including STD’s before getting a marriage license. Under this new provision, if a person has a disease that can passed to another person, they basically won’t be able to get married in Oklahoma. Each year many Oklahomans file a marriage license. It doesn’t take much, but state lawmakers are working to change that process and to include very personal health information, making what’s now private under HIPAA laws public. (9)
This is the small-bang theory—Oklahoma is that hot dense state—at work: cynical, mean and synaptically-challenged minds wreaking havoc, piece by piece, on what Charles P. Pierce of Esquire calls our “Laboratory of Democracy.” I was wrong last column when I said we were only in double-A ball—the state is now in the show. No amount of facile snarkery (and believe me, I’ve tried) can adequately describe what’s truly going on in Oklahoma. Fisher is not a well-meaning religious patriot and legislator with an unbridled love for America—he is a hooded zealot who apparently believes he has been sent by heaven to save us from Obama.  

Along with John Bennett and Sally Kern, he is part of a new brigade—all with God on their side and flag pins on their lapels—that cherry-picks history, stifles creative and critical thinking, removes the language and institutions of love from those in love, demystifies automatic weapons in the minds of 12-year-old rightfielders (and whatever happened to bake sales and car washes?), expands the ways in which we get to kill each other, exposes the private lives of state residents who dare to live by a different moral or ethical code, and flirts with sedition and nullification. The more they tinker, paw and disfigure the ways in which we deal with each other in Oklahoma, the less recognizable and habitable the state will become.

(1) Oklahoma bill would make AP U.S. History history


(3) Okla. AP courses under fire for teaching ‘negative view of American history’

(4) State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister says she’ll work to fix lawmaker AP history bill

(5) Oklahoma Legislature may rumble over switchblade ban

(6) Bixby youth baseball team sells raffle tickets for AR-15 rifle as fundraiser

(7) Bill would allow some to carry guns into Oklahoma Capitol

(8) Bills targeting same-sex marriage advanced by Oklahoma House panel

(9) Proposed Bill: Couples Must Prove They Don’t Have STD’s Before Marriage In OK


No politics today ...

A Mother’s Love (Just one day without crying)
by Barry Friedman

The mother sat with the principal and the teacher.

“He hates it here.”
“We know.”

They were talking about the mother’s son, the son whose father, her ex-husband, died on the Wednesday over Winter Break, the day before New Year’s. On the following Monday, the son went back to school. Routine seemed like a good idea. Routine was a good idea. The misbehavior, if you want to call it that--and you probably shouldn’t--would manifest itself in the mornings in the school oval, when he refused to leave the car. He was having a panic attack, and 8-year-olds shouldn’t have panic attacks. Eight-year-olds flop, hyperventilate, succumb to the cacophony. The mother, her own anxiety, she would say, was through the roof, would sit, scared, frozen. She would not, could not send him to school on those days, so she’d take off from work, bring him home. He’d pick up his DS or iPad, take his position on the sofa--lying on his head with his feet on the window--and if you didn't know, you wouldn’t know this 8-year-old had a dead father. You’d hear him laugh and mock figures inside the game who refused to jump or defend when he told them to.

It seemed … normal.

The boy called his class evil.

“Mommy, they say ‘tick tock, tick tock,’ when I’m around.”
“Why?” she’d ask.
“I don’t know.”
“Why do you erase the board when the teacher’s back is turned?”
“I don’t know.”

There were more panic attacks, followed by more calm. More missed days of school, more missed days of work.

There were--and are--child psychiatrists and therapists. They help, they don’t help.

The mother, who never really wanted to be one, never thought she was equipped to be one, was now a single mother, a single mother of an 8-year-old, a single mother of an 8-year-old who would hit himself in the head with an open palm during math, a single mother of an 8-year-old on Fluoxetine.

And yet was also a single mother, a saleswoman, who went to grand openings of businesses and brought the big scissors for the ribbon cutting ceremonies and tried to smile.

This is not a woman trying to balance life and work. This is not a woman who wants it all. This is a woman who doesn't want any of it. This is a woman who wants to go one day without crying.

But this is a woman who loves her son--that she knows, even though she knows it won't be enough.

The principal cried, the teacher cried, the mother cried. There would be a party to say goodbye to the boy. He wasn’t being thrown out, but he was out.

The mother did not feel heroic when she quit her job; she did not feel noble when she decided to homeschool; she did not sleep through the night.

She gets up in the morning, this woman now unemployed and living, along with the son she calls The Great, on $1450 per month in social security survivor’s benefits, and calls for him to come downstairs.

She tells him to get ready for school … even if that school is presently covered in unopened mail and unfolded laundry.

Her love doesn’t have to conquer all. It just has to get her to the dining room table.


Tue Mar 03, 2015 at 04:00 AM PST

Is it Noonan or is it Not

by vuzvilla

Folky Folks
Is it Noonan or is it Not?

by Barry Friedman

"When I think of what's complicated in life, I think back to my youth and what a jumbled mess I was--a brilliant one, my friends, if unvarnished, rough, yearning for more--a delicious mess. I was part girl, part woman, part otherworldly. I thought about a man with dark hair in boots on horses and fired air traffic controller is (yes, dear friends, I did that) coming someday to show me and stoke the fire burning deep within this young, brilliant Peg.

This Congress, these Republicans, too, also young--not unlike that waif. What do they want? What did I want?

To be loved, feared, yearned for.

Look, what I see in the halls of power is folky folk, some real, some avuncular. I think if they would only ride the congress the way Reagan rode his horse--with strength. Letting this legislative mare know who's boss, patting it, stroking it, soothing the beast.
I know that beast. I feel her everyday.

It is winter now. A time when my thoughts turn to that young girl who remembers putting on an overcoat and mittens (ah, Mittens!) and muffler and making snow angels in the snow (swish, swish went my arms, flapping like a bird) while dreaming of future Gods and their calves; so, mock Jim Inhofe, avuncular though he may be, if you must, but he knows snow. He knows my heart. He knows what I know."


Mon Feb 23, 2015 at 04:00 AM PST

Party Down

by vuzvilla

Party Down
by Barry Friedman

(First Appeared in The Tulsa Voice)

I was going to let this one go by without comment—I swear on my desk-sized mock-up of The American—for the Southern Republican Leadership Conference1 has a right to hold an annual convention anywhere it wants—and better the SRLC hold it here, in Oklahoma, dropping large sums of money, than doing so in Charlotte or Dallas. Leave them alone, I thought, and let this loose affiliation of millionaires and Tea Partiers and global warming deniers stay in our hotels, eat our barbecue, hang with the reps from the reddest state in the land and buy our tchotchkes.

But then I saw this.

Real estate mogul and reality TV star Donald Trump is the latest high-profile Republican to confirm his plans to attend the Southern Republican Leadership Conference in Oklahoma City.

And then, like an alcoholic at an open bar, I couldn’t resist.

For the love of P.T. Barnum, how is Trump still considered a “high-profile Republican” and not just a foul-mouthed, thrice-married, failed casino mogul who’s part bigot, part carny? I wrote about him for Esquire a few years back when he trotted out his megalomania2 and played the GOP like a substitute teacher. Suffice it to say, he should never be allowed near the White House, even for a visit.

Back in January of 2013, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said, “We’ve got to stop being the stupid party. It’s time for a new Republican Party that talks like adults. We had a number of Republicans damage the brand this year with offensive and bizarre comments. I’m here to say we’ve had enough of that.”3

Great sentiment—except nobody, including Jindal, listened.  

(The Louisiana Governor himself recently boasted about European No-Go Zones—where Muslims forbid others from entering—without being able to cite where any might be, and once told the American Family Association, “Our God wins.”)4

Not for nothing, but the first rule of decrying the stupidity in your party: stop saying stupid shit.

Bizarre is as bizarre does, Forrest.

State Representative Sally Kern:

“We are a separate, independent state,” Kern said. “We are not controlled by the courts.”5

Welcome to Oklahomastan. No gays allowed.

Senator Jim Inhofe:

“[M]y point is, God’s still up there. The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is to me outrageous.”6

Stay thy carbon dioxide emission, in the name of Jesus!

But Inhofe and Kern—along with our own Bridenstine, Mullin, Ritze, Bennett and Lankford—are GOP role players, providing an occasional facepalm and cringe-worthy quote. The crazy we see in Oklahoma is usually laughed out of sub-committee (or court, or “The Daily Show”). But in May, the mothership lands at the Cox Convention Center in Oklahoma City with its A-team—much of its 2016 presidential field—and they bring with them some serious crazy.

There’s Rick Santorum, who once again reminded us that the debate is not about abortion and/or the life of the unborn, but sex itself.

“One of the things I will talk about, that no president has talked about before, is I think the dangers of contraception in this country.” And also, “Many of the Christian faith have said, well, that’s okay, contraception is okay. It’s not okay. It’s a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.”7

How things are supposed to be?


There’s Dr. Ben Carson (and what is it with Republicans and crazy doctors?), who said this:

“You know Obamacare is really I think the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery,” Carson, who is African American, said Friday in remarks at the Values Voter Summit in Washington. “And it is in a way, it is slavery in a way, because it is making all of us subservient to the government, and it was never about health care. It was about control.”8

Right. During slavery, families were ripped apart, men were humiliated, women raped, children abused, and the Affordable Care Act expands healthcare to poor people—so, of course, that’s exactly the same thing.

If Jindal was right in his assessment—and he was (even if, as mentioned, he can’t help but drink from the stupid trough)—what do we make of this GOP, an almost uniformly anti-science, anti-choice, pro-gun crowd, beholden to big business and its own sepia-toned America?  Where are the moderates on May’s list of speakers? At the moment, speakers also include failed California senatorial candidate and former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, who has as much chance of being the GOP presidential nominee as I do, and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who is cutting spending on Medicare and increasing taxes on businesses but lowering them for the top 1 percent9. Find me one who will decry voter suppression, trumpet a sane position on guns and insist on the health of public education.

I’ll wait.

What will ultimately be on display at the Cox Convention Center in May is a robust party— confident, greedy, sanctimonious—yet, like its minor league affiliate here in Oklahoma, astonishingly clueless.

1) Welcome to the Southern Republican Leadership Conference

2) Would God be so good?

3) Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal tells GOP: ‘Stop being the stupid party.’

4) Bobby Jindal Wants to Fistfight Your God

5) State Rep. Sally Kern says anti-gay bills are an effort to support traditional values

6) Why Do Evangelicals Like James Inhofe Believe That Only God Can Cause Climate Change?

7) Rick Santorum is coming for your birth control

8) Ben Carson: Obamacare worst thing ‘since slavery’

9) Gov. Scott Walker Cutting Medicaid To Fund Tax Cut For Rich


Mon Feb 09, 2015 at 04:00 AM PST

Profits and Losses

by vuzvilla

Profits and Losses
Push to privatize public education benefits fat cats, not students
by Barry Friedman

(First appeared in The Tulsa Voice)

Of all the awful ideas in politics these days—balanced budget amendment, elected judiciary, constitutional convention, flat tax (to name just a few)—nothing leaves more of a stench than charter schools and vouchers.

The lobbyists who push this agenda (aided by local, state and national representatives who line up for the swag and instructions on how to sell the con) (1) believe that the best thing for public education is the introduction of the profit motive—their profits. Schools will do a better job of educating children, they contend, if there’s competition between institutions—winners and losers.

Can’t wait.

Maybe venture capitalists can do for education what they did for housing. God forbid something in this country would be allowed to operate without someone, somewhere, taking a cut. Fourth graders, IEDs, soap—they’re all the same, just products to be marketed to this loose affiliation of carnival barkers, charlatans, congressional drones and grifters.

Which brings us to former Dist. 11 Democratic state Sen. Jabar Shumate, who resigned his seat in January to take a job with the American Federation for Children—a singularly horrendous name in a singularly horrendous field—as its state organization director and national director of legislative affairs. (2)

“I knew I did not want to continue on the treadmill of politics,” Shumate said. “This was a perfect place for me because it gave me a chance to continue doing things that are important to me.”


The AFC is largely financed through a foundation started by Betsy Prince DeVos, whose husband’s family owns Amway and whose brother, Erik Prince, founded the military and security contractor Blackwater.
Come again. Amway? Blackwater?

It gets worse.

The American Federation for Children (AFC) is a conservative 501(c) advocacy group that promotes the school privatization agenda via the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and other avenues. (4)
For the love of Sofh (the Egyptian Goddess of Education), Senator, you resigned your seat in the Oklahoma senate to work for a company borne of Amway and Blackwater and raised by ALEC? You traded thirty minutes on a treadmill for a career in Gomorrah.

Here’s what Diane Ravitch, former assistant secretary of education and the country’s ballsiest critic of this kind of education reform, said about AFC (5):

The American Federation of Children is a rightwing organization that spends heavily to promote vouchers and to support candidates in state and local races who support vouchers
Which might explain why AFC is so giddy about its new hire. (6)
The organization says it is committed to school choice, which it defines as public funding of private-school attendance through vouchers and scholarships.
Read that carefully: public funding—better known as your tax dollars—being shoveled to for-profit companies to educate your children.

Here’s how it works.

A private group or individual submits an application to the state to run a charter, which is kind of a hybrid public/private school. Once approved, the applicant receives state funds to run the joint.

(Author’s note: Only a cynic would suggest there’s a quid pro quo between who gets approved and the aforementioned lobbying. Call me a cynic.)

Let’s continue.

The charter receives waivers from local school districts on approved teaching methods, curricula, hiring protocols and how money is spent—including expenditures per student—in exchange for a promise of better academic results. The group or individual receiving the charter—and this is the money shot—is also allowed to take a management fee (of your tax dollars, let’s remember) off the top. This vig comes out before one textbook is bought, one teacher hired, one special-ed program developed. If the charter doesn’t turn a profit, like any business, it closes. And if students—including those in Shumate’s 11th district—are inconvenienced or burdened by having their school shut down, well, tough. That’s how the world works, kids.

Ravitch is not happy.

Who decided to monetize the public schools? Who determined that the federal government should promote privatization and neglect public education?6
And not happy with good reason. (7)
Ultimately, both the founding CEO of Philadelphia Academy Charter School and his successor were charged with stealing almost $1 million from the school’s coffers, including money students had collected for a Toys for Tots campaign. The two men — one of whom had only a high school education — also allegedly engaged in questionable real estate deals. As a result, the high school paid rent money for its facilities directly to them.
Grifters gotta grift.

So, how do the academic outcomes of students enrolled in charters compare to those in traditional schools? Eh. (8) How are the profits of those charters? Bam! (9)

With vouchers, it’s a different kind of bait and switch, promising choice, delivering illusion. Students in Shumate’s district would receive an education voucher of, say, $2,500 to attend whatever private school they wanted. Unfortunately, private schools are under no obligation to accept any of them, and the state education cuts that would have to occur to pay for the vouchers would hit local communities and schools the hardest.

And not for nothing, but tuition at Holland Hall, to give one example, is $17,300 per year, which means a student—even if accepted—would be able to attend for about a month and a half. (10)

But back to the star of our show.

Shumate, who’s been an advocate for both charters and choice, received $4,500 from the group during his years in the senate and spoke at AFC meetings and conferences. So this is not a surprising move on his part, just an unconscionable one—especially considering the issues (aside from education) his new bosses embrace. (11)

Efforts to advance shoot first laws nationwide accelerated … when the conservative, corporate-funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) adopted a model law bearing many similarities to Florida’s [“Stand Your Ground”] law. The ALEC model was developed in conjunction with the NRA, which has funded ALEC for years and, until 2011, co-chaired the council’s Public Safety and Elections task force that developed the model shoot first law.
Lovely, huh?

This, too, gets worse.

A new examination of the gun agenda of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) reveals numerous extreme bills advanced on the watch of Koch Industries as a leader and funder of ALEC.
Amway, Blackwater, AFC, ALEC, the NRA, and the Kochs. What, no Halliburton?

In going over to the dark side, Shumate abandoned his constituents and left them without representation until April, when a successor will be chosen in a special election (seven weeks before the end of legislative session). He walked away from an Oklahoma Democratic Party already on life support (with his resignation, there are only seven Democrats in the state Senate). And then, as if the sellout weren’t bad enough, he used those closest to him for cover.

“At this time,” Shumate said in making the announcement, “I have to think about my family.”


1) Shameless Lobbying by Charter Schools Jeopardizes Solid Special Education Reform

2) Former state Sen. Jabar Shumate joins school-choice organization

3) Blackwater Renames Itself, And Wants to Go Back to Iraq

(Also, this: Blackwater: New Name, New Ownership, New Company?)
4) The American Federation for Children

5) Who or What is the “American Federation for Children”?

6) Time for Congress to Investigate Bill Gates’ Coup

7) Investigating Charter Schools Fraud In Philadelphia

8) Charter School Performance Study Finds Small Gains

9) The big money and profits behind the push for charter schools

10) Holland Hall

11) “Stand Your Ground” Policy Summary


Wed Jan 28, 2015 at 04:00 AM PST

We Have To Do Better

by vuzvilla

'We Have To Do Better'
Son’s fatal shooting prompts father’s impassioned cross-country crusade
by Barry Friedman

First Appeared in The Tulsa Voice

“He needed me to do what sons do for their fathers: bear witness that they’re substantial, that they’re not hollow, not ringing absences. That they count for something when little else seems to.” —Richard Ford, Canada

His wail was excruciating; his wail was on national television.

“Chris died because of craven, irresponsible politicians and the NRA,” Richard Martinez screamed. He was talking about his son, Christopher Ross Michaels-Martinez. In May 2014, along with five others on and near the University of California, Santa Barbara campus, Michaels-Martinez was killed by Elliot Rodger, who later shot himself in a parked car.1

“They talk about gun rights,” Martinez spat into the mics. “What about Chris’ right to live? When will this insanity stop?” he asked.  “When will enough people say, ‘Stop this madness’?”

When indeed?

“It is stunning to me,” said President Barack Obama, two years earlier at a White House Q&A event, “that Congress did not take real action to tighten gun laws following the late 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. My biggest frustration so far is that this society has not been willing to take some basic steps to keep guns out of the hands of people who can do just unbelievable damage.”

December 9, 2014 (Bixby, Oklahoma)

The night is black. Blacker, as Randy Newman once said, “than a crow in a coal mine.” The stars, if they’re out, are cowed by the darkness. The houses are immaculate, as best I can see, but I can’t. Siri can’t find the place. I’m late.

It’s a long walk up the brick steps. The sign on the door says ENTER.

Richard Martinez, a lawyer who served as a military police officer in the U.S. Army, is in Bixby tonight to speak. Among the guests are people from Planned Parenthood and Moms Demand Action, Democratic leaders and representatives, lawyers, community activists and artists.

The hostess introduces Martinez and talks about Mary Fallin in a tank, crushing a Toyota, to celebrate the opening of a gun range that serves alcohol.

We all laugh. Martinez, flummoxed, is waiting for the punch line.

We tell him there is none.  

He stands in front of a fireplace, facing the living room and the kitchen with plates of lox and expensive cheeses and crackers and wine.

It could be a party.

It’s not a party.

He has been invited to recollect, to inspire, to raise awareness. Since he became a father of a murdered son, Martinez goes from city to city doing this—talking about gun control and mental health and a nation’s insanity and spinelessness.

He is not easy to hear. It’s been six months since Chris was murdered. Martinez can now get through a talk without breaking down; still, he is not polished, his cadence is off.  He rambles, he repeats. He goes on too long.

He is obviously exhausted.

It doesn’t matter.

This is what grief looks like. It sputters, it loses its place, its transitions are clunky, it’s raw—disconcertingly so.  Like a man with a stutter, you want to help finish the thought.

But you don’t.

“We have to do better, we have to do better,” he says again and again.

He talks about the statistics, the gun deaths in America versus other countries.

We know them. Everyone knows them.

The United States has more guns and gun deaths than any other developed country in the world, researchers found. A study by two New York City cardiologists found that the U.S. has 88 guns per 100 people and 10 gun-related deaths per 100,000 people—more than any of the other 27 developed countries they studied.2

“Not. One. More.”

How many times can you shake your head in disbelief? How many times can you nod? What difference does it make anyway?

According to the survey, released today [Jan. 28, 2013], a majority of Americans support a wide array of policies being discussed in Congress: 89 percent support closing the so-called gun show loophole by requiring background checks for all firearms sale; 69 percent support banning the sale of semiautomatic assault weapons; while 68 percent support banning the sale of large-capacity ammunition magazines. Meanwhile, more than 80 percent favor prohibiting “high-risk individuals” from having guns, including those convicted of a serious crime as a juvenile or those convicted of violating a domestic-violence restraining order.3

But Congress hears what it wants to hear.

Efforts to enact stricter gun laws fizzled in April of last year, when a bill that included stronger federal background checks for gun purchases failed to pass the Senate.4

Craven. Irresponsible.

There will be more. Lots more.

Martinez is a metaphor for all fathers of children murdered by guns; he’s a father of just one.

There are sons and daughters at this meeting, too, small ones, running around, hiding fruit and giggling.

It must be killing him.

He brings up Sandy Hook, which calls to mind that excruciating wail—the one we heard on national television when he told a CNN reporter, “My kid died because nobody responded to what occurred at Sandy Hook. Those parents lost little kids! It’s bad enough that I lost my 20-year-old. But I had 20 years with my son. That’s all I’ll ever have, but those people lost their children at six and seven years old. How do you think they feel? And who’s talking to them now? Who’s doing anything for them now?”

Hearing “Sandy Hook,” some parents almost instinctively freeze. It’s Pavlovian.

There’s a loud crash somewhere in the enormous house. One of these children starts to cry.

A woman, the mother, says, “Don’t worry. I know when it’s a bad scream.”

A child is fine.

Even Martinez smiles.

He knows what a father knows when a father loses a son—no, not loses. You lose a son to drugs, accidents, even cancer, but when yours gets shot in a convenience store while buying a snack, in the middle, perhaps, of some beautiful thought, in the prime of a life not yet realized, it’s not a loss—it’s—that’s the problem. Language fails you. There’s no word. And without it, how do you make sense of anything? How do you stand in a living room in Bixby, Oklahoma, facing parents who have their children—children who are running and laughing and stealing oranges—and not feel like the loneliest man in the country?

Afterward, Martinez makes his way through the room. I, along with two or three others, meet him by the kitchen table.

“I didn’t do enough,” he says again. “We have to do more,” he says again. “We have to do more. We have to.”

We nod.

I want to talk sons. Dead sons.

But mine overdosed; his was murdered. As much as I’d like to think we’re brothers, we’re not.

Grief is not grief.

I don’t bring it up.

“As badly as my family feels,” he told HuffPost Live after the shooting, “and the other families that have suffered from this tragedy, I go down the street and everybody feels sorry for me, everybody offers condolences. Nobody is going to offer condolences to them,” Martinez said. “They’ve lost a son, and not only that, they’re devastated by the other people that have died.”5

He is talking about the killer’s family. Elliot Rodger, who murdered Richard’s son as well Cheng Yuan Hong, George Chen, Weihan Wang, Veronika Elizabeth Weiss, and Katherine Breann Cooper.

“They needed support, too.”

In Judaism, during Shiva (Seven), there’s a 7-day period of mourning. The men don’t shave; the TV is off, the mirrors are covered. Mourners sit on hard chairs. Nothing is done for pleasure. Neighbors bring food and a connection. Then, after the seven days, a prayer is said, signifying its end.

No more will your sun set, nor your moon be darkened, for God will be an eternal light for you, and your days of mourning shall end.

It’s not true, of course. The darkness never lets go.

Martinez says goodbye, leaves the house for a car that will take him to a hotel. There, lost in a town he does not know, he will no doubt endure the mourning and the morning as he waits on God’s eternal light.

His son’s birthday is about a week away.

Fathers of dead sons never stop sitting Shiva.

(1) Father of shooting victim chastises politicians, demands new gun laws

(2) U.S. Has More Guns – And Gun Deaths – Than Any Other Country, Study Finds

(3) : Poll Americans want gun control

(4) Senate Blocks Drive for Gun Control

(5) Richard Martinez, Father Of UCSB Shooting Victim: Elliot Rodger’s Parents Need Support, Too


Mon Jan 12, 2015 at 04:00 AM PST

Fickle Fighter

by vuzvilla

Fickle Fighter
Oklahoma attorney general favors states’ rights, except when he doesn’t
by Barry Friedman

First appeared in The Tulsa Voice

Devon Energy happens to be involved in helping fund a group called the Republican Attorneys General Association, which recently paid for [Oklahoma Attorney General Scott] Pruitt and his peers to spend a weekend meeting at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach hotel, where a small room with a king bed can run you $489 a night.
If you were there at the Fontainebleau last year and could have put your ear close enough to the doors of Glimmer Ballroom for the Devon Energy Meet & Greet, you would have heard the dulcet tones of a quid pro quo.

But we’ll get back to that.

First, while we still can, let’s get high.

Recently, Pruitt joined Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning in fighting—wait for it—Colorado’s new drug law, which legalized marijuana.

The lawsuit from Nebraska and Oklahoma, where marijuana is still outlawed, argues that Colorado has “created a dangerous gap” in the federal drug-control system.
For the love of Bob Marley, why is this Pruitt’s business? Kids in Colorado getting stoned (legally) at some house party puts as much stress on the federal or Oklahoma drug-control system as TU football put on OU last year.

More maddening than the waste of resources is the wafting hypocrisy. Pruitt, who sues the federal government before breakfast most mornings, is now enlisting it to help him fight Colorado’s legal prerogative?

We’re Gobsmacked.

If New York went to federal court to stop enactment of, say, Oklahoma legislation requiring doctors performing abortions to have hospital admitting priveleges (and we can only pray it will), Pruitt would don a powdered wig, pick up a musket, wrap himself in a Gadsden flag and call in the National Guard to protect the borders.

This lawsuit against Colorado is a fight he can’t win, financed by Oklahoma taxpayers.

It’s a pattern.

Pruitt recently joined with other states’ attorneys general, as well, in fighting Maryland’s gun ban, which restricted some types of assault weapons, because, in Pruitt’s mind, Oklahomans have a vested interest in whether Maryland allows its residents to carry an AR-15 into Annapolis shopping malls.

Pruitt is what is known in Yiddish as a Yakhne (busybody).

But it’s not just his Away record; he’s abysmal at Home, too.

Getting back to the $489 hotel suite …

But Mr. Pruitt left out one critical point. The three-page letter was written by lawyers for Devon Energy, one of Oklahoma’s biggest oil and gas companies, and was delivered to him by Devon’s chief of lobbying.
The above concerned new EPA regulations (Bureau of Land Management stuff) imposed on the energy industry and Devon Energy’s unhappiness with them. The company wrote a letter of protest. And guess who signed and sent the letter on its behalf?
“It should come as no surprise that I am working diligently with Oklahoma energy companies, the people of Oklahoma and the majority of attorneys general to fight the unlawful overreach of the EPA and other federal agencies.”
(Author’s note: Notice the order—“Oklahoma energy companies” and then “the people of Oklahoma.”)

We continue.

But Pruitt told The Oklahoman he signs his name to a lot of letters he didn’t draft.
Lovely. Pruitt’s due diligence consisted of, “Hey, who’s got a pen?”

More problematic.

Records also show that Devon contributed $125,000 to an association led by Pruitt on March 31, two days before Pruitt wrote another letter to the EPA protesting a proposed fracking regulation.
But only a cynic would say there’s a connection.

Call me a cynic.

For the contribution to the Republican Attorneys General Association, Devon received special access to attorneys general during four annual conferences and other perks.
Devon is Geppetto to Pruitt’s Pinocchio.
“When you use a public office, pretty shamelessly, to vouch for a private party with substantial financial interest without the disclosure of the true authorship, that is a dangerous practice.”
That’s David B. Frohnmayer, a Republican, who served as Oregon’s attorney general for the past ten years.
"The puppeteer behind the stage is pulling strings, and you can’t see. I don’t like that. And when it is exposed, it makes you feel used."
And exhausted.

Pruitt has sued the president over immigration, fought for an insane Sharia Law and, most famously, used the Affordable Care Act as his own personal chew toy. Described on his own website as “ingenious” in his fight against ACA, he simply will not rest until uninsured Oklahomans—all 637,000 of them—are back in the warm, loving and affordable embrace of private insurance carriers.

“We as a state brought this to the Court’s attention from the very beginning, being the first in the nation to challenge the legality of the law. Congress empowered the states with the decision of whether to establish an exchange but the IRS has tried to circumvent that intent by allowing billions in illegal subsidies to be paid out.”
Forget for a constitutional moment that the U.S. Supreme Court deemed the law legal, Pruitt now counters that residents of states that didn’t agree to set-up state-run health exchanges, like Oklahoma, are not eligible to receive subsidies for buying insurance, even if there is a federally run exchange in the state.

If Oklahoma’s lawsuit is successful, millions of people in 34 states could be denied the government subsidies designed to help low- and middle-income people pay their health-insurance premiums starting next year.

Think about that. People in Oklahoma—poor people, those struggling in the middle class, people who can now for the first time afford to go to a doctor—will lose health benefits because the Oklahoma attorney general found an ‘ingenious” way to exploit a misplaced comma.

And if that weren’t enough—and it really is—those who have been receiving the subsidies might actually have to pay back the government.

This is your attorney general at work.

As is this:

During last April’s botched execution of Clayton Lockett, Pruitt did everything but run down to the CVS for strychnine, arsenic and a rubber mallet.

Director Robert Patton confirmed in interviews with DPS that the lethal drugs were not chosen by (Warden) Trammell: “The previous general counsel (Oakley) and the Attorney General’s Office” chose the drugs, he told investigators. When supplies of Oklahoma’s usual execution drug ran short, the AG’s office and DOC’s general counsel cobbled together a new drug protocol, the filing shows. They used online research such as “Wiki leaks or whatever it is” and testimony from an expert who testified in Florida whom they did not meet with, Oakley told investigators.
“Calling Dr. Moe, Dr. Larry, Dr. Curly!”

Scott Pruitt is for states rights, unless the state wants to ban assault weapons or allow its citizens to get high; he’s a champion of individual liberties, unless the individual wants an abortion or to marry someone of the same sex; he’s pro-life, unless the life at stake is a bad man who must be executed, proper protocols be damned; he’s pro-family, unless it’s a family of Latinos where the children are legal but the parents are not; he’s against the influence of religion in society, unless that religion is Christianity and espoused by a company that sells arts and crafts; he’s for the safe exploration of energy, unless energy companies are burdened by independent safety criteria; he’s for homeowners, unless it costs the banks any money, and he’s for health care, unless he has to help pay for anyone else to have it.

This, too:

Pruitt, who won a second term as Oklahoma’s Attorney General last November—he ran unopposed—is well-equipped to lead the state forward.

Just ask him.

“Perhaps there will be a day in the future when the need for my service and leadership shifts elsewhere.”

Can’t wait.

1) Oklahoma’s Attorney General Had an Oil and Gas Company Write a Letter to the EPA For Him

2) Nebraska and Oklahoma Sue Colorado Over Marijuana Law

3) La. Attorney General Joins 20 Others In Opposing Maryland’s Gun Law

4) Oklahoma AG Scott Pruitt Says ‘Alliance’ With Energy Industry Wasn’t Secret

5) Are state attorney generals, big energy companies too cozy?

6) Pruitt Sues Obama Over Unilateral Immigration Actions

7) 10th Circuit Says Oklahoma’s Anti-Sharia Law Un-Constitutional

8) On Obamacare, Oklahoma Leads.

9) Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt Files Petition for Certiorari with U.S. Supreme Court on ACA

10) 4.7 Million Could Lose Obamacare Subsidies After Huge Court Decision

11) Botched execution described as ‘a bloody mess,’ court filing shows

12) Attorney General Scott Pruitt Statement on Same-Sex Marriage Decision

13) Attorney General Pruitt Files Brief in Support of Hobby Lobby’s Religious Liberty Fight

14) Did Oklahoma A.G. Scott Pruitt, Mortgage Settlement Holdout, Sell Out His State for Wall Street?

15) AG Scott Pruitt Announces that He Will Not Run for U.S. Senate.

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