What to Make of the Passing of Fred Phelps?

Fred Phelps

Whenever death occurs, it is standard for anyone associated with the deceased to pay their respects to the individual. This often includes remembering the deceased individual’s redeeming qualities and accomplishments during their lifetime.

But what happens when the deceased is seen as a villain, notorious for causing pain and suffering to so many people?


This question will undoubtedly be discussed frequently the next couple of days. Fred Phelps, the founder of one of the most controversial churches in the world, the Westboro Baptist Church, passed away at the age of 84 in Kansas late Wednesday night.  His death comes merely days after one of his estranged children posted on Facebook (on March 15) that Phelps was “on the edge of death.”

The Westboro Baptist Church was founded by Fred Phelps in 1955. Over the years the group, based in Topeka, Kansas, has become infamous for their anti-gay propaganda and picketing of funerals.

Now that Phelps has passed, the question of how we should respond remains. Responses to Phelps’ death are just beginning to come in due to it being barely 24 hours since his passing. Sarah Plake of WIBW 13, a news station in Topeka, has already begun trying to gage the reaction locally (see here). Some people have tried to respond positively, making light of a bad situation. Plake gives an example of this through her interview with Davis Hammet, a member of the local tolerance group Planting Peace:

“We’re all saddened by [Fred’s] passing. It’s another human life gone, he’s a family man and it’s unfortunate. Although we have stark disagreements with the foundations of WBC, it’s still unfortunate that they lost a loved one.”

Hammet said the best reaction to Phelps’ death is love.

“Even if we have disagreements we have to get over it and see the higher purpose of respecting each other.”

Hammet is a great example of someone who, while acknowledging the controversial being that Phelps was, still is trying to be respectful out of the goodness of his heart.

The other responses out there could not be further from Hammet’s respectful attitude. Plake also brings these perspectives to light:

Topeka resident Linda Bierley brought pins that displayed an X’d out “Fred” on them to pass out.

“Fred has been around for a long time and he has just been such an evil-spirited man and caused so much harm and pain to families that didn’t deserve it.”

As you can see, so far the American public is struggling with the right way to react to Fred Phelps’ death. While many feel a celebration is in order, others want to still remain respectful to the deceased. Perhaps Mayor of Topeka Larry Wolgast can provide us with insight on the proper way to respond. In a statement released on Thursday, Wolgast says:

I believe we should respect the Phelps family’s right to mourn their loss at this time.  Topeka is a strong and vibrant city that will continue to move forward, past destructive hate and intolerance, as a city of compassion and acceptance.  We must continue to respect and value each individual.

I really think Wolgast is onto something here. While the Mayor acknowledges the powerful hate shown by the late Phelps, he also reminds everyone to respect the Phelps family’s right to mourn him.

Wednesday night marks the passing of an influential human being, for better or for worse, to American history. No matter how you feel about Fred Phelps, be sure to remember that this is a human being, no matter how good or bad, that has passed away. As long as you keep this in mind, you can react however you wish.

On the Prospect of American Intervention

As the end of the first semester drew to a close, I was so excited for junior year and all the opportunities that I thought I was going to experience The summer before junior year, I was supposedly going to assist in a ancient Roman dig-site in Turkey for a sought-after history credit. Afterwards, I was hoping to spend the semester in the Middle-East, which they tastefully choose to rename the “Mediterranean Semester” (Because, you know, scary deserts and things). In between these two adventures, I was flirting with the idea of visiting some friends in Istanbul and Ukraine for the rest of the summer. I thought myself to be lucky to have the chance to engage in such once in a life-time chances.

Fast-forward to now, and everything now seems up in the air, as both political states are now approaching borderline chaos, if one does not think they have crossed it already. In my current position, I am faced with a few issues. Obviously, I am unable to visit Ukraine, due to Russian and American political forces destroying what was thought to be an eternal friendship. Furthermore, if the issue in Turkey gets any worse, I may not be able to engage in that adventure as well. However, if the Turkish government is really harming its people, do I really want to being digging up ancient artifacts to fill the museums of a corrupted political state?

To clarify, my life is by no means terrible or ruined because of these new circumstances. I am not even a local of the tumultuous states, and I am humbled about how well they seem to be handling such home-country issues. But, both my hesitation about now visiting Turkey and the relationship I am fortunate enough to have with the students who have lived there emphasize two facts about the America and the World: that we are all connected and that the culture I have been raised in has conditioned me and most citizens to empathize and deeply care.

It was only a century ago that America was very passionate about isolationism, and here we citizens are now, habitually concerned with every conflict that pops up around the world. Though some of us may wish for our government to intervene, it is paradoxically our massive military power that often prevents us from doing so. We all know it is unwise to destroy an ant hill with a flamethrower, and since we are not the only superpower with such firepower, we are forced to keep our fingers off the trigger. Most of this status quo is logical, but I think what is urgently missing, especially in such an age as interconnected as today, is a constant publicized voice of our citizens. The government knows we dislike violence, but after reading about the magic tricks we conducted in the Cold War, I believe they can still serve our interests. We as a human species are culturally connected, and I think it is our duty as citizens of a superpower to be diligent in our expression of what we believe is right. Though our government acts slowly, I believe the citizens’ quick response can do wonders with voices that I do not believe are currently adequately heard.

America’s Lost Fight for Democracy


Everyone has heard of the Arab Springs – the political uprisings spreading across the MENA — the Middle East and North Africa –, and now farther to places like Crimea. People are beginning to question, rightfully so, the legitimacy of their governments in place. And those countries that have not reached a state of complete turmoil, are trying to rebuild the administrative sector. All of the revolutions also follow an extremely similar pattern: regimes reach a limit in oppression and dictatorship, the populace get weary of being persecuted, and violent clashes result until the ousted leader leaves with his tail between his legs and escorted to jail. The problem? Western media has a continuous indiscretion of reporting erroneously. Not always in the fact that the sources aren’t correct, or they don’t report with journalistic integrity. It is rather the fact that there is an inherent lack of understanding when it comes to MENA affairs. With the new draft of the constitution being released last month, many are left wondering where the country will land.


Here’s where it gets controversial: The United States is on the wrong side for democracy. The US wants to continue to ‘protect’ democracy in these nations, when the government in place is often autocratic and totalitarian. But so steadfast in their ways of upholding the name of democracy, do they turn their cheek and observe from the safe distance that allows them to throw around words like ‘military coup’ and ‘revolts’.
Hosni Mubarak was in power since 1981. As vice president, he was appointed after the assassination of President Anwar Sadat. His regime was 30 years of oppression, persecution, police brutality, and the injustice of reaping the benefits of a country where 80% of the population lives below the standard of living. The protests, starting in January of 2011, were peaceful and well organized, hundred of thousands strong. After 18 days of protesting, he eventually stepped down, and is now in the middle of court proceedings due to the illegitimacy of his government, as well as ordering police officers to go out and use physical force on the peaceful demonstrations. The country was in turmoil, there was no one clearly in charge, and Egypt was going to try having the first fully free elections. The clear front-runner was Mohamed Morsi, the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, which the United States supported. The problem was not the fact that it is an Islamic group, but rather what the group stands for, which would have include the continued persecution of the Coptic Orthodox population, as well as the complete obliteration of any moderate voices in parliament. The elections were rigged, Morsi won by a landslide, and Egypt found itself under another dictator with the promise of a better tomorrow.


The United States needs to have Egypt as its ally because it holds such a crucial place, both geographically, and politically in the Middle Eastern world. The influence it holds over surrounding nations is not to be taken lightly. So instead of losing that control, the US continued to back the corrupted regime. Morsi had elected a member of a terrorist group as the governor of Luxor, he allowed Islamic fundamentalists kill hundreds of Copts, as well as bomb their religious buildings. Unemployment soared and more people were thrown into poverty. When the people had enough in 2012, they called on Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Egypt, General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, to help the people rid themselves of yet another autocrat. When he listened, and peacefully demonstrations ensued, they western press used words to throw the military in an undemocratic light, claiming it was unfairly executed and a military coup had just taken place.

After participating in demonstrations in Cairo last summer, as well as spending 4 semesters contemplating the implications of American history, its clear to see we had it easy here. The world no longer works in black and white, and the gray is seeping into the political sphere. Our  stability is secured, our democracy in place, and our constitution has been set for over 200 years. But others are not so lucky, and their whole political format is changing.
So let me ask this: is it worth the United States to keep their political place in MENA while allowing millions of people to be persecuted? Or should they just continue to stand back on their high thrones of justice and democracy and never realize that they are trying to play a game in which they have no right or understanding to be there, yet continue to shout in the name of democracy?



While most high school seniors anticipate prom and graduation activities, 18-year-old Jordan Wiser, of Ashtabula County Technical, is facing felony charges.

Jordan, a high school senior near Jefferson, Ohio, was recently expelled after school administrators found a 4-inch pocketknife, locked in the truck of his car, on school property. In addition to the expulsion, Jordan was jailed for 13 days and subsequently charged with a Class 5 felony.

On December 13, 2013, administrators initiated a search of his vehicle after growing suspicious of that some of Wiser’s YouTube uploads that demonstrated tactical firearm usage and home defense tactics. Inside the car, supervisors discovered a stun gun, locked in the glove box, an airsoft gun (similar to paint ball) in the trunk, and a pocketknife located in the pocket of his EMT medical vest. Wiser claims the stun gun was stowed away in his glove box for protection, the airsoft gun for practice with his airsoft team after school. Jordan was charged with illegal possession of a weapon [his pocketknife] on school grounds, there were no charges for the airsoft gun or stun gun.

The previous year, Jordan completed law enforcement courses at the school and received certifications in National Terror Defense by FEMA, a Terror Recognition and Emergency Vehicle Operator certification. At the time of the incident, Jordan was involved in firefighter and EMT courses and had just enlisted in the Army.

Jordan admitted that having those items on school grounds was a misjudgment and he is willing to suffer the consequences, but believes that felony charges are overkill.

If I am convicted of a felony, I’m never going to be a police officer. I’m never going to be a fireman. I’m never going to be in the military, I won’t even be able to be a janitor. I’m 18 years old, and this is going to ruin my life

Harold Specht, Chief Assistant Prosecutor for Ashtabula County, currently running for an open judicial seat, told the Huffington Post

We charge [people] with everything that we feel they are guilty of, and in this case, he is guilty of a felony.

Jordan was arrested and spent thirteen days in jail, bail set at half a million dollars and a mandatory psych evaluation. Wiser passed the psychological exam and was released on a $50,000 bond. Wiser’s hearing will take place on April 1, until then he must enroll in online classes to graduate.

I completely agree that gun violence is an issue in this country. School shootings from Columbine to Sandy Hook, have created a heightened sense of urgency to provide a solution for making students and faculty safe in our schools. However, I don’t believe a zero policy standard is the answer. Zero tolerance was implemented in 1994 as a federal law requiring states to mandate a minimum one year expulsion of any student caught with a firearm on school property.

In government, there seems to be tendency to only see things in black and white, when in reality there is a lot of gray area. Zero tolerance seems to have zero logic; it’s a simple answer to an extremely complex issue. It also takes the responsibility away from administrators and mandates responses that may be way out of proportion to the violation in question.

When a kindergartner is suspended for pointing a Hello Kitty toy that makes soap bubbles, a 5-year-old suspended for pointing his finger like a gun, or a high school honor student expelled and charged with assault for a spit ball, it is time for common sense to prevail and zero tolerance to come to an end.

While researching this topic, a theme that was often repeated was the troubling consequence of rigid and illogical consequences. Rather than improve behavior, or makes schools safer, zero tolerance increases the likelihood of future involvement in the juvenile justice system or adult incarceration. In New York City, a recent analysis by the New York Civil Liberties Union revealed that suspension of 4 to 10-year-olds has increased 76 percent since 2003. Zero tolerance mandates are pushing students out of school when polices should instead be implemented to keep them in school and deal with the issue. School districts across the nation should come up with a clearly stated policy that makes sense.

Based on the information released to date on this particular case, I believe that the administrators and prosecutor overreacted. It’s one thing to punish him, but to charge the eighteen-year-old with a felony is just overkill.

Additional Source

Chris Christie’s Big Mistake

Another day, another article about my governor Chris Christie and his ill-advised closing of the George Washington Bridge.  This particular article implicates Christie’s former campaign manager, Bill Stepien in the bridge scandal. Christie is a possible presidential candidate in 2016, and previously I would have seriously considered supporting him Now, I’m not so sure.  The revelations have shown something about Christie’s personality, something that should give pause to anyone who considers voting for him.

In early November 2013, two lanes of traffic on the George Washington Bridge, which connects Fort Lee, New Jersey to New York City were closed for four days, causing massive traffic jams.  The Christie administration claimed that the lane closings were the result of a traffic study.  However, emails emerged which showed members of Christie’s administration deliberately closed the lanes in an act of political retribution.  Mark Sokolich, the mayor of Fort Lee and a Democrat, had refused to endorse Christie during his most recent campaign. Christie claims that some of his top aides were completely responsible for the situation and that he had no knowledge.

Now, let me just start by saying that I have a soft spot for Chris Christie.  While I don’t always agree with his politics, I respect his candid political style and his desire for results.  I also like his outsized personality, his love of Bruce Springsteen that borders on obsessive, and the stereotypically New Jersey videos of him yelling at people on YouTube (seriously, check ‘em out).  Compared to most current politicians, Christie comes off as a straight-shooter, someone willing to tell difficult truths when necessary.  For example, after Hurricane Sandy ravaged the Jersey Shore last November, Christie praised President Obama for his quick response to the disaster. This was right in the middle of the Presidential election and many Republican leaders wanted Christie to keep quiet. Christie refused to play party politics though and said, “I’m a guy who tells the truth all the time, and if the president of the United States does something good, I’m going to say he did something good and give him credit for it.” I admire him for that. He did what was best for my state instead of playing political games.  Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of Christie regarding the George Washington Bridge incident.

The bridge incident is nothing more than a dirty political revenge move.  This is something out of Gilded Age politics and the era of political machines (anyone remember those Good Citizen readings?).  For a presidential hopeful, Christie revealed an ugly side of his personality.  It was a petty and spiteful move; revenge for one missing endorsement in an election that he won by 22% anyway.  For four days, ambulances were stuck in traffic, schools were delayed, and people were late for work all because of Christie.  He may have ordered the bridge closing, I don’t know.  But even if his aides are responsible, I’m sure he knew.  I find it almost impossible to believe that they wouldn’t have told Christie in order to get some praise from their boss.

Even with the scandal, there is still a good chance Christie will win the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.  He is a moderate Republican and likely to appeal to a wide range of voters, as evidenced by his success in his predominantly Democratic state.  If he runs, voters should take this incident into account.  This was a selfish, small-minded act, one that does not befit the leader of our country.

The Missing Malaysian Airplane: MH370

There have been endless theories as to what happened to Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 which departed Kuala Lumpur for Beijing on March 8. Many have suspected technological failures or a plane crash while others believe hijackers to be involved. New information has been released by Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak which indicates that the communications system has been deliberately disabled.

Prime Minister revealing newest information to the press.

Previously, investigations have been focused on an extensive search of the seas around Malaysia. News of deliberate actions on board such as turning the communications system off  indicates a need to change focus of the investigation. It will switch its focus to the passengers and crew on board in hopes to gain more insight into what occurred. In some ways this new information gives the loved ones of the 239 individuals on board some hope. However there are still many unanswered questions and with the plane missing for over a week, hopes are dwindling. Additionally, if the act of turning off identifying signals was deliberate this  points more seriously toward the likelihood that the flight was hijacked.

Last known contact and suspected location of flight 370

 In a world where most of our moves are recorded, this leaves us in an unknown and uncomfortable place in which many are feeling a sense of unease and distress. There are many loved ones of passengers who are feeling hurt and as if they are on an “emotional roller coaster” due to the varying information that is being released  by media. The only posts I have seen on social media in regards to this crisis have been American Facebook friends of mine making jokes about a “disappearing plane” and how it disappeared. Twitter also provides a host of inappropriate responses to the situation.

Screen Shot 2014-03-16 at 10.19.50 AMAlthough I understand that this is a foreign concept to all of us because it is an unprecedented situation, it is really not something to make light of.  Especially until we have more details on where the plane is or what has occurred it is not appropriate to make jokes or joking speculations. There are thousands of people who are being affected by this tragedy. Thousands of family members and friends of passengers are heartbroken and quickly losing faith that their passenger is still alive. As you navigate the media’s coverage of flight 370, be mindful that there are many emotions involved in this mysterious situation and if you choose to make a post or comment about it just remember the people behind the unnatural situation.





Rape in the Fields: The hidden story of rape on the job in America.


I attended this showing of the PBS documentary Rape in the Fields, put on by Multicultural conversations: specifically the Latin American group and SARN the sexual assault help group on campus.

I really had no idea what to expect going into this showing but I was thoroughly shocked by the realization of undocumented workers positions in the workplace and how rape and sexual abuse are still very prevalent in our society today and in most cases the perpetrator gets away with no charges.

I have always known that there are a lot of undocumented workers in the United States, but I never realized the situations that they could be put in. Because they need to make money without being questioned they take difficult/sketchy jobs that do not follow regulations such as field picking and factory jobs and they basically can be held as slaves with the threat of deportation or getting fired.

This documentary showed example after example of how illegal female immigrants are helpless to their offender because they cannot file a report to any police official and they cannot resist because of the threat of losing their job.

This has been happening for generations of female crop pickers and their managers but the first case to be reported was on Harris Farms, when Olivia Tomia reported that she was held against her will at gunpoint by Rene Rodriguez, the farms foreman, and was raped on three different occasions. When taken to court Rodriguez was found not guilty because there wasn’t enough evidence…

Then a just a few years after this case, a huge case emerged on Evans fruit farm when 15 year old Jacqueline was groped by Juan Marin, the farms foreman, and sexually harassed continually. After Jacqueline’s mother reported the incident, 15 other women stepped forward and said that they too had been sexually assaulted by Juan Marin. Again their case was brought to trial and Juan was let go scotch free.

And these are just a couple of the few cases that have been documented; there have been countless numbers of rapes and sexual assaults that have gone unjustified or even unheard.

I find this extremely disturbing because it just confirms that women are still only seen and not heard in this day and age. The fact that we live in a world that allows people to get away with raping and abusing others is unsettling.

Crossing the Line? Pranks versus Respect in Mohn

Although Saint Olaf College is considered an extremely reputable and respectable institution, it is not devoid of typical college campus shenanigans that ensue when a cluster of newly-freed young adults are placed in the same small area.  Don’t get me wrong, I have full faith in the intellect, rational-thinking abilities, and integrity of Oles, but every so often an action that was meant to be funny or simply a “prank” comes off as disrespectful or hurtful to certain individuals.  So far this year in my time living in Mohn, the line between funny and hurtful has been toyed with on a regular basis.

One of the first incidents occurred during interim, in which a group of students went from floor to floor around three in the morning and ripped off whiteboards, name signs, and personal décor from the outside of doors.  Most of the whiteboards and other stolen materials appeared slowly during the following week, always “dropped” on a different floor.  Overall, the event was not a huge deal because most Mohn residents eventually got their belongings returned, but still disconcerting to think of personal items being stolen in the middle of the night.

More recently, a bathroom on one of the floors in Mohn was abused late on a weekend night, resulting in damaged sinks, mirrors, and toilets.  It’s hard to imagine the logic behind this violation, especially if those who inflicted the damage lived on the same floor.  This kind of violence negatively affects a number of people, including the custodial staff, the residents themselves, and indirectly any individual paying to attend the college.

In order to combat this kind of behavior, Mohn Hall Council brainstormed actions that could be taken to promote respect in the dormitory.  We decided to start small, and created a “Pledge to Respect Mohn” poster, which, consequently, ended up ripped up in the garbage after a weekend.  I am by no means against fun, and a little part of me even finds the poster in the garbage humorous, but a real issue arises when the actions physically or mentally harm another student or employee of the college.

Another issue completely would be to consider how alcohol factors into these disrespectful happenings, but we’ll save that for a future post.  Moving forward, Mohn Hall Council may attempt to continue the respect campaign, but it’s questionable as to the effects it will have.  Instilling a respectful attitude in an individual is a difficult endeavor, but necessary to create a welcoming and safe dorm environment.

Decisions on Death?

I have never been one to argue for or against a topic because I feel like there is a common ground that can be found for most cases.  One topic that I have struggled with is the death penalty.  It seems hypocritical that the United States looks upon other countries that tortures and kills their criminals with such high distain, which is warranted.  But, the United states is one of five countries that still has capital punishment today.  Over two thirds of the countries in the world have now abolished the death penalty.  In 2010 the overwhelming majority of the practices took place in China, Iran, North Korea, Yemen, and the United States.  The majority of prisoners currently on death row is 44 percent and must of these cases are of African Americans charged with killing white victims even though African Americans make up at least half of all homicide victims.  And although 140 prisoners have been released due to wrongful convictions, over 1,2000 people have been executed on capital punishment in general.  I believe that people should be convicted of their wrong doings, but where I struggle, is the power/balance the government has to take away people’s lives.


 “A human system is not capable of perfection. Government does nothing flawlessly. Government cannot flawlessly kill people. If you give government the power to kill people, you are giving government the power to make mistakes killing people, and government will make those mistakes.” – Lawrence O’Donnell


We judge other countries so harshly for what they do to their citizens, while we are doing things that are equally as harmful to many citizens of our own country.  There have been several controversial cases that have brought this issue to the foreground of discussion on capital punishment.  A more recent case (2010) was the case of Teresa Lewis who was the first woman to be put to death by lethal injection in the the state of Virginia.  Lewis was charged of hiring and paying two hit men to have her husband and stepson murdered in 2002.  Her case drew a lot of attention because her IQ was 72 points, just two above what is classified as disabled.  Although this case was full of controversy, Lewis was executed on September 23, 2010.  I firmly believe that people should have consequences for their actions, but is the death penalty actually the answer for this?  What is capital punishment doing for us?  Will there ever be a balance between punishing the guilty and punishing our country’s reputation?


What Tupac Shakur Taught Me About Identity and Global Colorism

In one of my favorite hip hop songs, “Keep Ya Head Up,” Tupac Shakur asserts:

I say the darker the skin then the deeper the roots.

In doing so, he challenges the United States’ chronic devaluing of darker skin tones,  and radically transforms melanin from a burden to a benefit.  Growing up as a transracial, transnational adoptee, the U.S. media’s message proclaiming  “the lighter the better” (as evidenced here .. and seriously, almost everywhere) had particular potency in the ubiquity of its message for me. With whiteness normalized by both the media and my surroundings in a white family and neighborhood, it took me years of time spent in more diverse environments to be really comfortable in my own skin.

Songs by artists like Tupac are a small but significant part of this journey.  And as a transracial transnational adoptee, the idea that my skin might be some indicator of cultural roots is really a novel one.  Most people, from my perspective, seem to be able to list off their ethnic ties without much thought.  Swedish, Russian, Hmong, Somali … with some obvious variation in their degree of cultural significance today, there is little question in most peoples minds, in what they culturally and ethnically “are.”

I’m brown, but I was raised culturally white. I know little about the country I was born in, and don’t feel strongly connected to it. But neither do I feel any linkage to the ancestry of a family I’m not even  biologically tied to. I like to hear Tupac say my skin is some indicator of a cultural and ethnic legacy, but I’m still not sure if adoptees like myself are included in that message.

Enter India’s latest controversy (or at least one of them): the country’s ongoing problem with colorism – social prejudice based on how light or dark a person of color is.

While the U.S. somewhat indirectly propagates light-skin as the beauty ideal, in India, this message is much less subtle.  It is very typical to find skin-lightening creams in an Indian store, and color-based discrimination (compounded with the pervasive caste system… another issue entirely) is a very real issue for my home country, with sometimes serious socioeconomic consequences.  The more alive I’ve realized these prejudices are in India, the more I’ve had to question my own search for my “roots.” Surely my roots are meant to ground me and give me pride, not constrain me to the same prejudices I face in the West.

I say the darker the skin then the deeper the roots.

New discourses are challenging the colorism of India and other countries around the world, including the U.S.  These are discourses centered on  calling people back to their roots, and teaching them to find value in the phenotypical expression of cultural heritage as manifested in their skin.  India has a long colonial history whose influence it is struggling to emerge from.  Looking towards my roots means acknowledging this struggle and finding beauty in my heritage nonetheless. More than heritage, colorism is part of my lived experience – it is a conflict that transcends geographic boundaries and is felt globally.  I am not sure where to locate my roots, but I know they are tangled somewhere in this struggle.  Tupac is speaking directly to African Americans when he says these words, but they have meaning for people of color everywhere. My hope for all of us is that we learn to believe them.