NRA Chief directs rant at Dems, FBI and Media

Video PBS News Hour via YouTube

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Billy Graham and the Gospel of Fear

Billy Graham was a preacher man equally intent on saving souls and soliciting financial support for his ministry. His success at the former is not subject to proof and his success at the latter is unrivaled. He preached to millions on every ice-free continent and led many to his chosen messiah.

Graham also left behind a United States government in which religion plays a far greater role than before he intruded into politics in the 1950s. The shift from secular governance to “In God We Trust” can be laid squarely at this minister’s feet.

Graham’s message was principally one of fear…fear of a wrathful god…

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5 Places Hypocritical Republicans Ban Guns for Their Own Personal Safety Do as they say, not as they do.

After every mass shooting, a portion of this country insists the real problem is that there aren’t enough guns. The group that pushes this absurd lie includes Republican politicians, many of whom fear that admitting otherwise would drive away NRA donor funds. There’s been a lot of recent discussion about how GOP legislators do nothing in response to gun massacres, but a 2016 Harvard Business School study proves that’s not quite true. In states with overwhelmingly Republican legislative bodies, after mass shootings, “the number of laws passed to loosen gun restrictions [increases] by 75 percent.” Despite being counterintuitive and demonstrably dangerous, more firepower is the GOP’s go-to solution because “something something don’t tread on me.”

It’s a bad-faith proposition. A party that truly believes guns are the way out of this thing, and that an even more heavily armed populace will ensure American safety, would make different personal choices. In fact, we can gauge GOP disingenuousness on the gun issue just by noting all the places Republican politicians frequent where weapons are banned. Pointing out their hypocrisy has never helped to shame the GOP into decency, but it’s worth a review nonetheless.

Here are five places hypocritical Republicans ban guns in order to ensure their own personal safety.

1. The White House

Along with making Mexico pay billions for a wall it opposed and never taking a golfing vacation, Trump promised on the campaign trail to legislate a future in which guns could legally be brought into every kindergarten classroom and nursery. “My first day, it gets signed, okay? My first day,” Trump told supporters in Vermont in 2016. “There’s no more gun-free zones.”

While it’s true no president could unilaterally scrap federal law, it’s also true that Trump’s complicit Republican Congress would probably greenlight any pro-gun horrorshow he could dream up. Yet, in the year since he took office, Trump has not spoken out once—even via his digital bullhorn at Twitter—against the anti-freedom gun ban at the White House. What better way for this president to signify his wholehearted support for gun-based lifestyles than by letting White House visitors from around the world—especially those who live under the tyranny of gun control abroad—bring all the guns they want into the People’s House?

Or maybe Trump hasn’t brought up the matter because he doesn’t actually want strangers bringing guns into the White House, seeing as they can and do kill people at the squeeze of a trigger.

2. The Republican National Convention

The quadrennial gathering of this country’s most dedicated Republicans should be a place where GOPers can briefly escape oppressive gun-free “safe spaces” and live on their own gun-riddled terms. Attendees should be permitted—nay, required—to come armed to the teeth. Downtime convention activities should be strictly gun-focused. (Think ball pits, only filled with guns. Cocktail hours, only the drinks are all guns.) At the very end, instead of confetti, the audience should be showered in loose ammo.

But instead of a three-day orgy of gun lust and ammosexuality, the Republican National Convention is a gun-free zone. Guns were banned at the RNC in 20082012 and 2016, and that’s not for lack of trying by those who bothered to petition for bringing guns to the party. For some strange reason, the RNC keeps choosing venues that explicitly ban guns, almost as if it was looking for a convenient excuse. The Secret Service keeps banning guns from the events, almost as if it knows the whole “good guy with a gun” claim is a just a myth. And not a single Republican politician has raised their voice to demand guns be allowed on the convention floor, almost like they’re tacitly admitting to being iffy on the whole “responsible gun owners” thing.

3. Mar-a-Lago

A staffer told ABC News back in 2016 that guns were banned from Trump’s Palm Beach golf property, where the president spends so much time it’s hard to know when he’s doing the actual job of presidenting. That policy appears to still be in place, according to a Politico report from late last year. “Pocket knives, laser pointers, pepper spray, and any other items deemed to be a safety hazard are not permitted on property,” a letter the club sent to members cautioned. “Any items surrendered will not be returned.”

4. The U.S. Capitol Building

Surely, a Congress that has steadfastly refused to pass gun legislation is cool with guns in the Capitol building, if only to make a patriotic point. Why not let the Senate and House galleries double as shooting galleries, since guns are such a national point of pride? When are the gun-loving legislators of Congress, who believe that murdered 6-year-olds are just the price of freedom, going to change the rules so the U.S. Capitol building can become the guntopia it’s meant to be?

The short answer is never. Guns are banned on the Capitol grounds and inside the building itself, which includes the House and Senate galleries. Visitors are also warned against bringing “black jacks, slingshots, sand clubs, sandbags, knuckles, electric stun guns, knives (longer than 3”), martial arts weapons or devices…razors, box cutters, knives, knitting needles, letter openers…mace and pepper spray.”

Which all raises the question: what kind of heartless, cruel and immoral people consistently vote against gun control for most Americans’ work lives, but cynically keep guns far away from their own place of business?

5. Republican Town Halls

In early 2017, when Republican legislators realized that angry crowds were showing up in town halls to speak against repeals of the Affordable Care Act, they found two ways to avoid those meetings. The first was to label their own constituents “paid protesters.” The second was to demonize civically engaged voters as violent mobs. It was all for show, of course. In fact, as Talking Points Memo notes, “guns are frequently prohibited at GOP congressional town hall meetings, especially after the shooting of former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in 2011. Even stalwart conservatives like Rep. Paul Ryan and former Rep. Allen West opted to ban firearms at their town halls.”

Texas Republican Louie Gohmert even went so far as to invoke Giffords as a political prop to get out of being berated by the people he supposedly serves.

“At this time there are groups from the more violent strains of the leftist ideology, some even being paid, who are preying on public town halls to wreak havoc and threaten public safety,” Gohmert claimed in a statement. “The House Sergeant at Arms advised us after former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords was shot at a public appearance, that civilian attendees at Congressional public events stand the most chance of being harmed or killed—just as happened there.”

Giffords, incredibly, had to release a statement encouraging Republicans to do their damn jobs.

“To the politicians who have abandoned their civic obligations, I say this: Have some courage,” Giffords’ message said. “Many of the members of Congress who are refusing to hold town halls and listen to their constituents’ concerns are the very same politicians that have opposed common-sense gun violence prevention policies and have allowed the Washington gun lobby to threaten the safety of law enforcement and everyday citizens in our schools, businesses, places of worship, airports, and movie theaters.”

In an interview later, Giffords stated, “If you don’t have the guts to face your constituents, then you shouldn’t be in the United States Congress.”

And maybe, if you don’t have the guts to deal with the laws you force the rest of us to live under, you for sure shouldn’t be involved in making them.

By Kali Holloway / AlterNet

Posted by The NON-Conformist

‘Crisis Actors,’ Conspiracy Theories, and the Fear of Social Media Yes, kooky rumors can spread quickly online. In this case, the angry reactions to those rumors may be spreading even faster.

Crisis actor” conspiracy theories claim that various mass shootings and other public tragedies are staged by the powers that be, and that you can tell this because some of the same faces keep coming up when the media cover the crime scenes. The idea has taken off yet again in the wake of the Parkland massacre, with assorted yo-yos declaring that the survivors who have been all over TV for the last week are actually paid actors. As always, some of those yo-yos hold more prominent positions than you’d guess from the common but misleading stereotype of the conspiracy theorist as an unemployable crackpot in his mom’s basement. Notably, an aide to a Florida state representative lost his job this week after claiming that two of the Parkland teens “are not students here but actors that travel to various crisis [sic] when they happen.”

For some pundits, this isn’t merely a reminder that people are capable of believing bizarre stories that are based on only the thinnest alleged evidence. The pundits worry that the rumor represents a breakdown in the media ecosystem. ThinkProgressstory, to pick one representative example, announces in its lede that these crisis-actor tales “have spread like wildfire across social media platforms—despite the repeated promises of Big Tech to crack down on fake news.” The author circles back to that idea at the end, arguing that “the viral spread of the ‘crisis actor’ theory, along with other recent examples of highly-shared fake content, shows that [Facebook] is still ripe for misinformation and exploitation.”

How ripe? The piece notes that one Facebook post touting the theory has gotten more than 110,000 shares, and that some of the videos promoting the idea have been “viewed tens of thousands of times.”

We do not know how many of those 110,000 shares were trolls or bots, those crisis actors of the online world. Nor do we know how many people watched one of those videos because they were inclined to believe it, how many watched because they were inclined to laugh at it, and how many just turned it off after 30 seconds. Most importantly, ThinkProgress doesn’t do anything to contextualize those numbers. MSNBC posted a video yesterday of one of the Parkland students reacting disdainfully to the idea that he’s an imposter; as I type this, that’s been viewed 94,000 times. That is also in the “tens of thousands,” though I suppose we don’t know how many of those viewers believe what they’re hearing either. (The student himself suggests that the conspiracy theorists are just trolls, and that they’re ultimately helping rather than hurting his anti-gun cause.)

I probably follow more weirdos on Twitter than most people do, and in my feed the overwhelming majority of tweets mentioning crisis actors have denounced, debunked, or just made fun of the theories. Of course it’s possible that I just follow a better class of weirdo, so I did a Twitter search for “crisis actors” to see what sort of cross-section of opinion would appear. Of the first 30 tweets that came up, two-thirds were putting down the idea. I did the same on Facebook both Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, and I got roughly the same results, with a slightly higher percentage knocking or mocking the idea on the second day.

I also noticed that several (though not all) of the Facebook posts promoting the idea were getting pushback in the comments. So this isn’t just a matter of conversations taking place in separate bubbles. Actual arguments were underway.

Now, I know very well that those are not scientific samples. I’m not going to make any grand claims here about how many people have embraced or rejected the rumor. But what I saw does at least reinforce what common sense would suggest: that widespread discussion of a bizarre belief is not the same as widespread support for a bizarre belief. That is especially true when you remember three more things:

1. Many of the people who believe the crisis-actor theory—I suspect almost all of them—are already predisposed to believe tales like this. In an earlier era, with an earlier weird rumor, they may well have whispered the story to each other in person.

2. Social media tend to make marginal ideas more visible. But this increased visibility does not always go hand in hand with increased popularity, and you should not mistake one for the other.

3. Most people still get more news from TV than from social media, and TV coverage of the crisis-actor thesis has been overwhelmingly critical of the concept. Indeed, just about all the mainstream coverage has been overwhelmingly critical of the idea. With that extra boost, there’s a strong chance in this case that criticisms of the rumor have been more viral than the original rumor.

The idea that the crisis-actor story is replicating unchallenged in some endless cancerous pattern may play to people’s anxieties about social media. For some, it may also play to the pleasures of highlighting the most idiotic arguments on the other side. (Debating whether a vast conspiracy is hiring kids to pose as crime victims is probably more fun than debating whether the assault weapon ban worked.) But out there in the actual internet, people are knocking these crisis-actor stories down. And the process of knocking it down is probably happening much more quickly now than in the days when such rumors unfolded in more private spaces.

By Jesse Walker/reason

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Black Homebuyers Are Still Being Denied Home Mortgages and It’s Worse Than a Decade Ago. Can Black Banks Make a Difference?

A decade ago, in the midst of a historic financial crisis, numerous critics lined up to lay the cause of the housing meltdown at the feet of the African-American, Latinx and poor communities. The oft-repeated narrative, advanced particularly by Republicans on the congressionally-created Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission (FCIC), contended that affordable housing policies and regulations aimed at more equitable lending—as represented by the 1977 Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) and implemented by government mortgagers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac — were to blame.

In December 2010, following a report to this effect by the Republican commissioners on the FCIC, then-House Speaker designate John Boehner (R-Ohio) stated, “This eye-opening report details how government mortgage companies played a pivotal role in the financial meltdown by handing out high-risk loans to families who couldn’t afford them.”

Unsurprisingly, the allegations were subsequently found to be baseless, as bipartisan research concluded that government-backed affordable housing practices were “not a significant factor” in the crisis. “In the wake of the affordable housing goals of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and the CRA, they get to take shots at poor people,” quipped Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass), then chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, responding to Republican claims at a 2008 Boston forum on foreclosures. “And let’s be honest, the fact that some poor people are Black doesn’t hurt, either, from their standpoint.

Given the housing meltdown a decade ago was not caused by too many unqualified African-Americans “buying houses they could not afford,” one could casually assume lending practices in the Black community have resumed at a similar pre-crisis rate, or even improved.

They’d be wrong. A Pew Research Center report revealed that, in 2005, African-Americans in the US were roughly 1.7 times more likely to have their conventional mortgage applications denied than their white counterparts. A decade later, in 2015, African-Americans were more than 2.5 times more likely than white applicants to have their applications denied. The metropolitan area of Atlanta mirrors this 2015 national average, while Mobile, Alabama, weighs in at a nation-high 5.6.

“It’s a sad state of affairs,” offered James E. Clingman, economist, professor and journalist. “If we look back at Black business history, we can see that Black folks have obviously been screened out, left out and discriminated against when it comes to credit, which essentially played a major role in putting us in the economic position which we find ourselves today.”

Lenders can reject a mortgage application for a variety of reasons, including poor credit history and high debt-to-income ratios if it is judged an applicant does not make enough income given her or his level of debt. Pew reported that credit is the most commonly cited reason of denial by lenders for African-American applicants. However, this cannot be independently verified, given that, unlike income, debt-to-income ratios, the size of a loan, and racial demographics, banks have successfully blocked efforts to require them to report an applicant’s credit score to the government.

“Many of these banks have put Black people in a catch-22,” said Clingman. “You can’t get credit because you have no net worth, and you have no net worth because you can’t get credit to buy a home, which would increase your net worth.”

The banks see it differently. “No data set can satisfactorily explain all underwriting or pricing decisions,” stated the American Bankers Association in their April 2017 report. “For many years, HMDA (Home Mortgage Disclosure Act) data have been used to identify possible instances of illegal discrimination” and “regulators have long noted that HMDA data alone cannot be used conclusively. There can be legitimate, necessary, and non-discriminatory factors — unobtainable via HMDA data — involved in underwriting or pricing decisions, and such information, when reduced to individual data points, will be of limited use in understanding credit decisions.”

The feds aren’t offering any help. The Trump administration has yet to pursue any racial discrimination cases against lenders, while simultaneously relaxing CRA compliance standards. Before that, the Obama administration was almost as bank-friendly as 99 percent of financial institutions rated satisfactory or outstanding based on compliance inspections under the CRA.

Still, such entities, both public and private, regularly tout home ownership as the basis for wealth and financial stability in America. Unfortunately, African-Americans are struggling in all of these categories, as wealth and income inequality are the highest they have been since 1928, with the gap in median household incomes between whites and African-Americans increasing from $19,000 in 1967 to $27,000 in 2012. Consistently, the racial homeownership gap is currently greater than it was in the 1920s as well.

Some maintain that disproportionate mortgage denials by race and insufficient anti-discrimination regulations by the government have greatly contributed to these persistent gaps.

“The fact that housing finance was at the center of the 2008 financial crisis highlighted yet another problem in the longstanding history of private and governmental racial discrimination in access to housing finance and the resulting economic inequality by race,” recently wrote Emma Coleman Jordan, law professor at the Georgetown University Law Center. “Who is responsible for ensuring that home ownership, the centerpiece of middle- and working-class wealth potential, is financed with stable, suitable financial products that lead to eventual ownership?” Coleman asked, before answering her own question. “A central role of government is to mediate the market forces that manipulate the deep longing for participation in home ownership as a fundamental marker of economic citizenship.”

Such participation has dropped dramatically since the housing crisis. Pew reported that in 2015 only 132,000 African-Americans applied for conventional loans, a sharp decrease from 1.1 million in 2005. Also, in 2005, nearly 10 percent of conventional mortgage applications came from Black households while, in 2015, less than 4 percent did.

Given these numbers, Clingman proposed it is “really incumbent upon the consumers to take some of these issues into our own hands.” Referencing the recent #BankBlack movement, where African-American consumers transferred millions to Black-owned banks nationwide as a “nice first step,” the economist promoted the need for a “reciprocal movement among the Black banks, who really got a windfall in deposits, to develop special kinds of lending programs for Black people.” Upon acknowledging these institutions are subject to the same regulations as other institutions, Clingman suggested “there are creative financing initiatives that could be executed to ensure reciprocity for those deposits” before pointing to the Collective Empowerment Group (CEG), a Maryland-based community organization that effectively halted redlining in its midst.

In the early 1990s, a sizable collective of churches in Prince Georges County, Maryland, and the nearby metropolitan Washington area organized around redlining and other inequitable banking practices affecting their members. A representative group of pastors met with 16 banks and implemented covenants that largely ensured their churches and congregation members would benefit from more equitable financial services. After partnering with numerous Black banks and over two dozen organizations for a wide range of products and services for its increasing membership, CEG subsequently evolved beyond church doors into a community economic empowerment group promoting homeownership preservation, financial literacy, education, health care, inclusive public policy and public safety. “They’ve been doing this for 20 years,” said Clingman, noting how CEG “leverages their collective numbers for reciprocity with the banks that they deal with, both Black and white.”

“We always say, ‘well, they’ve taken our community,’” Clingman said, referring to ongoing gentrification in major cities across the nation. “No, it’s not ours, we don’t own it,” he stressed, promoting the need for increased financial literacy in the Black community to understand such communal pitfalls as renting versus owning property. “We just have to be more informed and more willing to work collectively, like CEG, to leverage for reciprocity and not allow ourselves to be run over by these banks. There’s no redlining in the area where CEG is, and, since they started, they have generated about 300 million dollars in mortgage and business loans.”

“Now that,” added Clingman, “is a good model to follow.”

By D. Amari Jackson/AtlantaBlackStar

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Stamping Out Hunger…No Stomping on Hunger!!!

I lived in the woods north of Santa Cruz, CA. for part of the summer in 1978.  The rest of those five or six months (it was California) I either lived on the beaches north of the town or was on the road.  Living was cheap and living was easy.  Mostly, my friends and I had to stay a couple steps ahead of the cops and away from the straight and rich white folks.  We weren’t alone in that.  I lived off of fifty bucks worth of food stamps per month and money I made doing odd jobs.

Image result for food stamps
Image: ABC11

Then it was off to the grocery store and then back to the camp in the woods or on the beach.  Since fifty dollars didn’t really cover a person’s food costs even then (and even though we ate lots of beans, rice, cheese and potatoes), we usually pooled our resources with other folks living in the encampments, conjuring up some dandy meals of the aforementioned foods.  Spices can work wonders, as any cook knows.

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The “Alt-Right” Is Building a White Nationalist Mass Movement With “Operation Homeland”

The “Alt-Right” Is Building a White Nationalist Mass Movement With “Operation Homeland”

The “alt-right” didn’t really enter the spotlight of mainstream US culture until it dropped back into the gutter. For the first years of its infancy, from the founding of “” in 2010 until the popularization of the #AltRight hashtag in early 2015, members had focused on trying to rehabilitate the image of white nationalism.

Posted by The NON-Conformist