Items filtered by date: Wednesday, 30 August 2017

The GOP May Cut $1 Billion in FEMA Funds to Help Finance Trump's Border Wall

(WASHINGTON) — President Donald Trump is promising billions to help Texas rebuild from Harvey-caused epic flooding, but his Republican allies in the House are looking at cutting almost $1 billion from disaster accounts to help finance the president's border wall.
The pending reduction to the Federal Emergency Management Agency's disaster relief account is part of a massive spending bill that the House is scheduled to consider next week when lawmakers return from their August recess. The $876 million cut, which is included in the 1,305-page measure's homeland security section, pays for roughly half the cost of Trump's down payment on the U.S.-Mexico border wall that the president repeatedly promised Mexico would finance.
It seems sure that GOP leaders will move to reverse it next week as floodwaters cover Houston, the nation's fourth-largest city, and tens of thousands of Texans have sought refuge in shelters. There's only $2.3 billion remaining in federal disaster coffers.
The disaster relief cut was proposed well before Harvey and the politically bad optics are sure to lead lawmakers to do an about face, though that would create a money crunch in homeland security accounts.
The FEMA cut is the handiwork of House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J. — the major force behind a $50 billion-plus 2013 Superstorm Sandy recovery package — and Rep. John Carter, whose home state of Texas is suffering badly from Harvey.
"Circumstances have changed significantly since the bill was drafted earlier this summer," Appropriations Committee spokeswoman Jennifer Hing said Wednesday. "Given the current situation, the committee is reassessing the issue."
Here's How Congress Might Change Your Taxes
Harvey aid is a fresh addition to an agenda already packed with must-do tasks and multiple legislative deadlines: Passing a stopgap spending bill to avert a government shutdown; increasing the government's borrowing authority to prevent a market-quaking default on U.S. obligations; and paving the way for a GOP rewrite of the U.S. tax code.
Trump is slated to meet with congressional leaders next Wednesday. The meeting follows a recess that has seen Trump lambast several top Republicans, especially Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., after the collapse of the GOP health care bill in his chamber. That has wounded the president's relationship with his own party, and the coming weeks should offer a test of how much clout he has with fellow Republicans.
"You're not going to bully United States senators, this isn't the Apprentice," said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., referring to Trump's star turn on the reality television show. "You can't look at them and say you're fired, you're going to need their vote and you oughtta remember that they're going to be at the table in every major deal you need for the next three years. So I just don't think that's a productive way to proceed."
McConnell is scheduled to attend next Wednesday morning's White House meeting, according to congressional aides. Also going are House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., the aides said.
"We expect to hear their proposal for getting done all that we have to get done in September," said Schumer spokesman Matt House.
Texas Sen. John Cornyn, the chamber's No. 2 Republican, is pressing for an emergency infusion of disaster aid pending estimates of longer-term rebuilding costs.
Despite Trump's promise at a rally in Phoenix last week to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border even "if we have to close down our government," congressional Republicans are optimistic of averting a politically damaging shutdown after the fiscal year ends Sept. 30.
For one thing, most Republicans, including Trump, want to move on to a sweeping revamp of the tax code, and a shutdown debacle would only make tax legislation more difficult. A tax overhaul, cutting rates for individuals and businesses while erasing numerous tax breaks and loopholes, is difficult enough as it stands.
Like the failed push to repeal former President Barack Obama's health care law, the tax effort is likely to encounter strong Democratic opposition and divisions among Republicans, leaving its fate uncertain.The massive, ongoing flooding caused by Harvey means that officials still don't know how much aid the metropolis will need to recover, but it's expected to be many billions of dollars. A possible outcome is one or even two infusions of immediate aid next month, with a longer-term recovery package coming by year's end.

  • Published in U.S.

White lawmaker warns black attorney she may ‘go missing’ if Confederate statues are threatened

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Protests over Confederate symbols have erupted in several cities, following white nationalist violence in Charlottesville on Aug. 12. (Amber Ferguson/The Washington Post)

LaDawn Jones is a black Democrat from Atlanta. For four years, her seatmate in the Georgia House of Representatives was Jason Spencer, a white Republican from the southern tip of the state. They see the world differently and, she concedes, there were many conversations where “we’ve had to walk away from each other because the debate was so intense.”

Those debates didn’t end when Jones left the legislature to resume practicing law last year — they were still frenemies on social media. And this week, the pair got into an online scuffle in which some say Spencer made a violent, racist threat.

It involved two of the most emotionally volatile issues in the American South: Confederate monuments and lynching.

The discussion started when Spencer posted a picture of himself next to a memorial of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. Jones, who has advocated for removing Confederate memorials from the state’s most vaunted places, posted a comment warning her former colleague that he should “get it in … before it is torn down.”

It soured from there.

The lowest point was when Spencer told her that if she and others kept up their fight to rid the state of Confederate monuments, “I cant guarantee you won’t be met with torches but something a lot more definitive.”

Republican Rep. Jason Spencer (Georgia House of Representatives).

Later, removing any doubt, he said the people who want the statues gone “will go missing in the Okefenokee,” referring to a swamp and national wildlife refuge near his home town. “To many necks they are red around here. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

The entire thread (it has some profanity, harsh language and an epic “Game of Thrones” reference) was posted online by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

At one point, Jones told Spencer to “put your hoods and your tiki torches away. We are no longer afraid. We will not let you hide behind your heritage … Lock those photos in your memory because we are about tear that s— down! #byefelicia #byeStonewall #byeLee”

Spencer replied “Hate for others and American history (good and bad) drives your quixotic journey to erase history like the Bolsheviks. Looks like you are afflicted with the same poison you claim to fight against.”

Spencer’s office did not immediately respond to an email message from The Washington Post seeking comment.

He told the Journal-Constitution that his words weren’t a threat, but a “warning to of how people can behave about this issue.”

“She is from Atlanta — and the rest of Georgia sees this issue very differently,” Spencer told the newspaper. “Just trying to keep her safe if she decided to come down and raise hell about the memorial in the back yards of folks who will see this as an unwelcome aggression from the left.”

According to the Journal-Constitution, Spencer asked that the newspaper include a picture in the story of him standing next to a monument of Martin Luther King Jr. that was unveiled on the Georgia capitol grounds.

Jones said that while she thinks her former colleague’s comments “absolutely and completely crossed the line, I personally did not feel threatened.”

There may be people in the state willing to get violent over Confederate monuments, she said, but she doesn’t think her former seatmate is one of them, even if they are diametrically opposed when it comes to the statues and memorials.

Anti-Confederate sentiment intensified after nine black churchgoers were killed on June 17, 2015, at a church in Charleston, S.C., in a racially motivated massacre.

The killer, Dylann Roof, was seen on one website holding a gun in one hand and a Confederate flag in the other. The tragedy mobilized once-hesitant Southern cities to get rid of polarizing Civil War statuary.

The debate intensified after violent, deadly protests in Charlottesville, which began with a protest of authorities’ decision to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from a public park.

The debate is playing out across the American south, including in Georgia, a state that has a bas-relief image of Confederate luminaries carved into the side of a mountain.

The Peach State, and Spencer, have been at the center of other controversial debates.

As The Post’s Lindsey Bever reported, Spencer was the author of an ultimately unsuccessful bill that would have prevented Muslim women from wearing religious garb in public places in Georgia.


Edward Ahmed Mitchell, executive director for CAIR-Georgia, told Bever his group “suspects motivated by a desire to discriminate against Georgia Muslims,” and added that the bill was “a bad solution to a nonexistent problem.”

Citing the reaction to the legislation, Spencer ultimately decided to withdraw the bill, saying it “would withstand legal scrutiny, but not political scrutiny. Nine months later, Spencer was again being scrutinized for words that offended minorities.

Jones said her former colleague called her to let her know he wasn’t making a personal threat against her, but he stopped short of apologizing.

Jones said she’s disappointed he didn’t renounce his comments. She worries they encouraged racial violence, instead of promoting a rational, civil debate about where Confederate memorials fit in 21st century America.

“I think his comfort with the fact that people in the south of Georgia would believe the right action still does make me uncomfortable,” she said. “Who would want to murder someone over some statues?”

  • Published in U.S.

Authorities surround California hotel after 3 officers shot

Law enforcement officers, including this Sacramento County sheriff's deputy surround a hotel where suspects believed to be involved in the shooting of police officers are located, Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2017, in Sacramento, Calif. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)



SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Three California police officers and one suspect were shot Wednesday following a stolen vehicle investigation that led officers on a car chase and later to a hotel where they were hit by the gunfire.

Dozens of police cars and hundreds of armed officers have surrounded the hotel, where authorities said there may be two more suspects inside after three were taken into custody, Sacramento County Sheriff's Department spokesman Tony Turnball said.

Two California Highway Patrol officers and one sheriff's deputy were shot with a high-powered assault rifle and were in a hospital, Turnball said. He did not provide their names or conditions.

The male suspect who was shot is also in the hospital. Two women are also in custody. Their names were not released.

The incident began when authorities said the women led CHP officers on a vehicle chase in what was believed to be a stolen car. When the chase ended, the women were taken into custody and the police learned one of them had booked a hotel room in Sacramento.

Officers went to search the hotel. When they announced themselves, they were hit with gunfire coming from inside the room. Authorities say a man inside the room then left through the back, where he shot a sheriff's deputy. The man was hit with return gunfire.

Jeff Marshall, who lives near the hotel, said he heard gunshots and then tires squealing and saw a grey Dodge Charger speed by his home, going the wrong way down a busy street.

Marshall estimated he heard 12 shots.

"It was like the wild West," Marshall said.

  • Published in U.S.

US military sends warships, aircraft to Texas

Washington (CNN)With floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey swallowing entire Texas cities, the US military is mobilizing its resources from states across the country to help local law enforcement and civilian volunteers in the rescue effort.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has activated the entire Texas National Guard, which is made up of roughly 12,000 troops.
State, local and military rescue units have plucked thousands of stranded residents from the water and deluged homes.
'Whole city' now underwater as Harvey makes another landfall
On Sunday, the Defense Department and Abbott agreed to establish a "dual-status command" that would allow a single commander for both federal and state forces overseeing and coordinating the response efforts.
"It is imperative that we give our military and first responders on the ground the most efficient method of execution when responding to the urgent needs of Texans," Abbott said in a statement.
On Monday, Military surgical teams, communications teams, maintenance and other military support elements totaling more than 400 personnel were given orders to be prepared to deploy within 24 hours.
These are the military forces being sent and on standby to assist with rescue efforts:
Navy and Air Force
Two US Navy warships, the USS Kearsarge and the USS Oak Hill, are being deployed to Texas, the Navy announced Wednesday.
The Kearsarge, an amphibious assault ship, was in the Atlantic Ocean for training, but returned to Norfolk on Tuesday to load up with disaster relief supplies like water and food, and a unit of Marines, before departing for Texas on Thursday.
The Oak Hill, a smaller dock landing ship, will bring supplies and join the Kearsarge in supporting "federal, state and local authorities ongoing relief efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey," according to the Navy.
Air Force and Navy helicopters began flying rescue missions in Texas on Monday night, according to a US defense official, marking the first use of active duty military assets in the hurricane rescue efforts. The helicopters used included six Navy MH-60s and three Air Force HH-60 rotary wing aircraft.
On Tuesday, US Northern Command deployed nine search-and-rescue helicopters, two fixed-wing aircraft and pararescue teams to Joint Reserve Base, Fort Worth. These teams have been actively assisting in rescue operations.
Military helicopters are being used alongside Coast Guard helicopters, but the Coast Guard has taken the lead on coordinating air operations, the defense official said.
More than three dozen additional aircraft have been identified for use in rescue operations if the state asks for additional help.
A US Navy P-8 surveillance airplane flew its first mission on Tuesday night to provide imagery to FEMA of the impact area, according to a defense official.

When used in combat zones the aircraft provides high resolution imagery, reconnaissance and surveillance data. But in civilian emergencies such as the Texas flood, the focus is on assessing widespread areas for rescue and recovery.
With the entire Texas National Guard now activated, 16 aircraft have been deployed and personnel are conducting day and night wide-area search-and-rescue missions along the Texas coast, from Corpus Christi to Houston.
The New York Air National Guard has provided one C-130 aircraft, three HH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, and two C-17 cargo planes. There are also six helicopters from Utah, the Nebraska and North Carolina Army National Guards.
The Texas National Guard is also using about 200 Humvees and 200 high-water vehicles.
Coast Guard
The US Coast Guard has 39 helicopters and seven airplanes stationed at two operating bases in New Orleans and Houston available for rescue response efforts in Texas and Louisiana, according to a tweet from the service on Tuesday.

The H-65 Dolphin and HH-60 Jayhawk are the two helicopters primarily used by the Coast Guard while the C-130 aircraft serves as the service's main fixed-wing cargo plane.
Marines, Defense Logistics Agency and Army
The US Marine Corps is deploying 690 US Marines aboard the USS Kearsarge and the USS Oak Hill set to sail on Thursday, according to a US Marine Corps official. The official said the Marines will be from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, II Marine Expeditionary Force Marine Expeditionary Force and will assist in support efforts.
The official said additional aviation assets will include: eight MV-22B Ospreys, three CH-53E Super Stallions and three UH-1Y Hueys. In addition to the air assets, the Marines will also have water purification and storage capability.
Reserve Marines from various units in Texas are supporting FEMA, state and local response efforts, according to a statement from the service on Wednesday.
"Currently, Charlie Company, 4th Assault Amphibian Battalion, based in Galveston, and Charlie Company, 4th Reconnaissance Battalion, based in San Antonio, are conducting immediate response missions in support of the relief efforts," the statement said.
A number of Marine Corps boats, aircraft and tactical vehicles are awaiting orders from US Northern Command, it added.
More than 100 2.5-ton US Army trucks capable of moving in high water were sent to flooded areas of Houston from Fort Hood on Tuesday, according to a US defense official. The trucks will be used in flooded areas to help rescue and move people through high water.
The Pentagon's Defense Logistics Agency is also providing 450,000 gallons of diesel and 50,000 gallons of gas that is expected to arrive at Fort Hood on Wednesday, according to a statement from US Northern Command on Tuesday.

  • Published in U.S.

Now Kathy Griffin Is Taking Back Her Apology For Trump Head Photo

“I am no longer sorry.”


Video link: aba21ba9a4404860b9fc674f049d4346.m3u8

Kathy Griffin is sorry she ever said sorry.

The comedian told the Australian talk show “Sunrise” Tuesday that she’s rescinding her apology for the photo that showed her with a fake severed, bloody head made to look like that of President Donald Trump’s. Griffin lost gigs, was investigated by the Secret Service and saw a friendship with Anderson Cooper dissolve in the aftermath.

“I am no longer sorry,” she said in the segment below. “The whole outrage was BS, the whole thing got so blown out of proportion.”

“I lost everybody,” she continued in the interview to promote her October tour dates in the country. “I had Chelsea Clinton tweeting against me ... I have been through the mill.”

When host Samantha Armytage suggested that even Democrats felt the image was over the line, Griffin good-naturedly took umbrage: “You’re full of crap ― stop this,” she retorted. “... Stop acting like my little picture is more important than talking about the actual atrocities that the president of the United States is committing.”

“I’ve been talking to Australians who, for the first time, are saying, ‘We’re afraid to go to America,’” she added. “I never thought I would hear that in my lifetime.”

Once more, for emphasis, Griffin said on the show: “I don’t apologize for that photo anymore and I think the outrage is complete BS.”

Ron DickerGeneral Assignment Reporter, HuffPost

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2 women entrepreneurs who invented a fake male cofounder say acting through him was 'like night and day'

  • Image: Kate Dwyer, left, and Penelope Gazin are the cofounders of art marketplace Witchsy. Courtesy of Witchsy

    Witchsy cofounders Penelope Gazin and Kate Dwyer created a fake male cofounder to conduct business by email.

  • They noticed an enormous difference between how contractors and contacts treated him versus how they treated the women.
  • They're glad to see that the story of Keith Mann, their fictional cofounder, is bringing more attention to sexism in tech and in the workplace.

Penelope Gazin, Kate Dwyer, and Keith Mann are the cofounders of art marketplace Witchsy.

But Mann doesn't exist.

Gazin and Dwyer told Fast Company's John Paul Titlow that they invented their third, male, cofounder after repeated instances of condescension with a sexist tone, like a developer who addressed an email to them starting, "Okay, girls ..."

"It was like night and day," Dwyer told Titlow of working through Mann. "It would take me days to get a response, but Keith could not only get a response and a status update, but also be asked if he wanted anything else or if there was anything else that Keith needed help with."

On Quartz, Dwyer told Lila MacLellan that before Mann existed, "it was very clear no one took us seriously and everybody thought we were just idiots." But when those same people received emails from Mann, Gazin told MacLellan, "they'd be like 'Okay, bro, yeah, let's brainstorm!'"

Dwyer told MacLellan they even gave Mann a backstory:

 "He was a dude's dude, they decided, the kind who played football in college. He was devoted to his wife of five years, and he couldn't wait to be a dad. 'He was just a really good guy,' says Gazin. 'He doesn't really understand Kate and I, but he's been happy to help us with our project before we find husbands.'"

Dwyer and Gazin's experience struggling to be taken seriously as company founders isn't as unique as you might hope. Gender bias and sexism in the business world is well-documented.

One of the biggest stories in tech this year was the internal memo sent by Google engineer James Damore, who was fired from the company after writing that there are biological differences to blame for the lack of women in tech. Google CEO Sundar Pichai responded that the claims were "offensive and not OK," but that "people must feel free to express dissent" in a respectful way.

And the stunning string of blows that ultimately led to Uber CEO Travis Kalanick stepping down from his post began with a blog post by former employee Susan Fowler alleging she experienced gender bias and sexual harassment at the company.

There have been reported instances of gender bias and sexism in every industry from Hollywood to economics.

In an email to Business Insider the day after Fast Company reported on Mann's existence, Dwyer reflected on the reaction they've gotten to the news.

"People have been losing their minds over the fact that we just gave him the last name Mann," Dwyer said. "So masculine."

She continued: "When people read about Keith they've been pretty upset at the idea that a fake character was taken more seriously than we were. He's being used as a tool now to help highlight how rampant sexism is in tech and the workplace in general. It's been great seeing so many people respond positively. Once again, Keith has done a great job!!"


A 23 Year Old Eric Clapton Demonstrates His Unique Guitar Playing Style In a 1968 Interview

In 1968, just before the iconic “Cream Farewell Concert” at Royal Albert Hall, a 23 year old Eric Clapton explained the different functions of his electric guitar, how he achieved the sounds he wanted through different pickups and then gave a fantastic demonstration of his truly unique playing style.


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Farewell Concert is the live recording of the Cream’s final concert at the Royal Albert Hall on 26 November 1968. Aside from the band’s reunion concert in 2005, it is Cream’s only official full concert release on video. It was originally broadcast by the BBC on 5 January 1969. It was not released on video in the US until 1977. The opening act for the concert was future progressive rock stars Yes who were just starting out.

via Open Culture


3 Things You Must Know Before You Start Your Etsy Business

The following excerpt is from the Staff at Entrepreneur Media Inc. and Jason R. Rich’s book Start Your Own Etsy Business. Buy it now from Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iTunes | IndieBound

If you decide to become a seller and create your own Etsy shop, the following are three key concepts you need to understand right from the start:

1. No online business is a get-rich-quick scheme. It will likely take weeks or months before you get your first sales and even longer before your business generates a profit. How long it will take to generate a steady profit is different for every Etsy seller.

2. When you create and launch an Etsy shop, you’re launching a legitimate business and need to run it as such, even if you’re doing this as a hobby on a part-time basis to make money. Start with a strong business foundation on which you can more easily build.

3. To be successful, you need to develop a thorough understanding of your product(s) and why cus­tomers will want or need what you’re selling. It’s equally essential that you develop a good under­standing of your niche target audience.

Now let’s dig into these three concepts in a little more detail.


Develop realistic expectations

First, operating an Etsy business is not a get-rich-quick scheme. While you can establish your online business in a few hours, realistically, it could take weeks or even months before you make your first sale and even longer to begin generating a steady profit.

The majority of Etsy sellers start their online business on a part-time basis. Over time, however, some develop the ability to grow their business and make it a full-time career that becomes extremely profitable. It’s absolutely essential that you begin this journey with realistic expectations, which you must establish right from the start.

Establish your business correctly from day one

The second concept you need to understand right from the start is that as a business operator, it’s important that you establish your business correctly and understand what this entails. As a business operator, you are responsible to register your business with the local, state, and/or federal government and establish it as a legal entity.

It’s then your responsibility to do proper bookkeeping (on an ongoing basis), keep track of all your income and expenses, manage your inventory, communicate in a positive and professional way with your potential and existing customers, take steps to earn a profit and pay taxes on your income. However, this is just the beginning.

As a business owner, you will be continuously juggling many different responsibilities, so it’s important that you understand what these responsibilities are and set everything up correctly from day one so the foundation for your business is strong. With a strong foundation, you’ll face fewer obstacles and challenges caused by common mistakes that first-time business operators often make, such as incorrectly filing state and federal tax returns or neglecting to file in a timely manner.

Being a detail-oriented and well-organized person who is good at multitasking and managing your time will also serve you well once you become an Etsy seller and start operating your online business.

According to Etsy’s research published online in 2016, approximately 46 percent of all Etsy sellers have applied for and acquired a business tax ID, and 41 percent have opened a business bank account. Theoretically, these percentages should both be 100 percent, which is why webook highly recommend that you establish and manage your Etsy business as a legitimate and legal business entity to avoid tax or financial complications in the future.

Know your products and your niche target audience

The third essential concept you need to understand is that you, as the business operator, need to sell items that people want or need. If no demand exists, and you can’t create a demand, you won’t generate any sales. So, in addition to understanding your product(s) and knowing how to differentiate them in the competitive marketplace, you also must understand who your target audience is and create a plan to successfully reach this audience and drive them to your shop.

The more you know and understand about your target audience and their habits, the easier it will be to sell your products to them, reach them with your marketing message and develop an online presence on Etsy that caters to this audience.


The iPhone 8 reportedly swaps the home button for gesture controls

The folks over at Bloomberg got their hands on some images of the next iPhone as well as some information from people familiar with the new model. Some of the features confirmed in their report were already known or at least heavily suspected, but there are also some new details about how the phone will function without the home button.

As has been reported before, the images viewed by Bloomberg show that the iPhone 8 will have thin bezels and a larger screen than the iPhone 7. It's also going to have a facial recognition sensor that, along with the earpiece and front-facing camera, will be contained in a cutout at the top of the screen. Some other physical details include rounded edges for the screen, a longer power button, a glass front and back and stainless steel edges with antenna cuts on the corners. The app dock is also getting a redesign and looks a lot like the iPad iOS 11 dock, according to Bloomberg.

But one of the bigger changes -- the removal of the home button that's been a part of the phone for a decade -- comes with some tweaks to how users will access the features that the home button has brought them to in the past. Now, what was once the home button's function is going the way of the iPad and Apple's laptop trackpads. Gesture controls will now bring you to the main app grid and show you which apps are open. The bottom of the screen will host a software bar that can be dragged upwards to open the phone and also to get to the multitasking interface once the phone is unlocked.

The new iPhone is expected to launch on September 12th alongside the 7s and 7s Plus models.

  • Published in Tech

The Joel Osteen Fiasco Says A Lot About American Christianity

The backlash against Lakewood Church’s response to Tropical Storm Harvey speaks to a larger powder keg of resentment directed at evangelical Christianity in the United States right now.

Joel Osteen participates in "Joel Osteen Live" at SiriusXM Studios on Oct. 3, 2016, in New York City.

Houston pastor Joel Osteen's name was trending on Twitter for much of Monday, as criticism mounted against him for not opening his Lakewood megachurch to serve as a shelter for victims of Hurricane Harvey. By the time the church did start receiving donations and refugees mid-morning on Tuesday, a narrative had already gained momentum on social mediathat Osteen was coldheartedly keeping the church's doors closed to those in need.

People railed against Osteen, arguing that his "excuses" were not valid. Outlets like TMZ covered the debacle, and the rapper T.I. weighed in, saying that the Lakewood closure "is why people (like me) don’t trust the mega churches." The speed, tone, and volume of criticisms leveled against Osteen and Lakewood Church speak to the seriousness of the flooding crisis in Houston, but also to a larger powder keg of resentment directed at a particular strain of American Christianity — Osteen’s pro-wealth prosperity gospel, and the larger evangelical movement it’s associated with — that many see as failing to be charitable to people who are truly in need.

Hurricane Harvey made landfall at 10 p.m. on Friday, August 26, unleashing unprecedented rains over Southeast Texas and Houston, our nation's fourth-largest city. A Houston-area meteorologist called Harvey "almost certainly the biggest US flood-producing storm of all time." Mandatory evacuations were issued for seven counties and a state of emergency was declared in 30 others. Since Friday, at least 19 people have died, and over 30,000 in Texas and Louisiana, at last count, have left their flooded homes with no destination in mind but away.

The George R. Brown Convention Center in downtown Houston opened its doors and has already received 10,000 refugees, double what the Red Cross planned for. People have also been received at smaller facilities across the Houston area, including many places of worship: Four mosques in the Islamic Society of Greater Houston are open as shelters, and at least 17 Houston-area churches have been operating as shelters or temporary staging areas for evacuees. But Lakewood — Houston's largest church — was slower to open its doors, and found itself in the eye of an online storm.

"We're a church, man. You don't ever open the doors and say, 'Sorry, go away.'"

Lakewood Church spokesperson (and Joel Osteen’s father-in-law) Don Iloff said in a phone interview on Wednesday morning that Lakewood is used to a constant barrage of criticism — “a daily stream of bitchery,” he called it — based on their beliefs, but that this situation felt different. “It was making us look like we don’t care,” he said. “We’re a church, man. You don’t ever open the doors and say, 'Sorry, go away.' Nobody here could do that.” He has glanced at social media the last few days, but mostly tried to stay away from it. “I stopped looking at Twitter,” he said. “We were busy doing stuff.”

Once the worst of the rains stopped, Lakewood started receiving more donations than it could keep up with. Diapers, baby formula, clothes, and towels piled up along the walls as lines of cars waited to drop off more. Then, after city officials told Lakewood that the convention center was reaching capacity, the church opened its doors to those seeking shelter, and it is currently housing more than 400 evacuees.

Lakewood Church is nothing if not a high-profile target for criticism. It is housed in the former Compaq Center arena (originally The Summit), which, until 2003, was home to multiple professional sports franchises, including the Houston Rockets. Lakewood bought the Compaq Center from the city of Houston for $7.5 million in 2010, after seven years of leasing and extensive renovations. With an estimated attendance of 52,000 people spread out over six worship services (four in English and two in Spanish), Lakewood is one of the largest churches in the US. Osteen, its leader, is the smooth-talking best-selling author of books like Your Best Life Now and the host, with his wife Victoria, of a Sirius radio channel.

Within the evangelical movement, Osteen is seen as something of an outsider: a too-slick Elmer Gantry type who preaches a feel-good prosperity doctrine, drives fancy cars, and deals in bumper-sticker theology. Lakewood Church is part of the Word of Faith movement, a charismatic movement that teaches Christians that faith in God will heal illnesses, improve relationships, and bring about personal prosperity.

This teaching is not part of mainstream evangelicalism, which has condemned Osteen and the prosperity gospel in no uncertain terms for the last few decades. Gordon Fee, a prominent Pentecostal scholar, wrote a book called The Disease of the Health and Wealth Gospels, and the well-known Calvinist pastor John Piper once said that "the prosperity gospel will not make anybody praise Jesus. It will make people praise prosperity." Utah pastor Rick Henderson condemned Osteen by name in a 2013 sermon and subsequent Huffington Post article: “He frequently misunderstands important matters of faith and doctrine when being interviewed. He repeatedly gets the Gospel wrong. And he does so when talking to millions.” So it was not entirely surprising that, as the water rose in Houston and Lakewood remained seemingly closed, the backlash against Osteen would be swift and fierce.

Donated shoes at Lakewood Church.
Albert Samaha/BuzzFeed News

Donated shoes at Lakewood Church.

By the time Harvey had started to really unleash on Houston, people were scrambling for places to stay. But Lakewood Church was curiously silent, until, at 11:13 a.m. on Sunday, August 27, it posted an update to its Facebook page: "Dear Houstonians! Lakewood Church is inaccessible due to severe flooding! We want to help make sure you are safe. Please see the list below for safe shelters around our city, and please share this with those in need!"

Immediately, commenters started writing messages — some supporting the church's leadership, some asking why the church wasn't opening its own doors, and others sharing charismatic prayers: "We exercise the authority of Christ over Harvey and tell you Harvey to leave Houston this instant never ever to return," one commenter wrote at 11:18 a.m. Harvey remained.

Just as quickly, people took to social media to ask Osteen why the church wasn't opening its doors to flood refugees, wondering about the fuzziness of the language that the church posted and why Osteen wasn’t doing more to help those displaced by the storm.

"Houston's Joel Osteen has a net worth over $50m and a church that holds 16,800 but this [tweet] is all he's offering," the economist Mark Elliott tweetedAccording to the writer Charles Clymer, someone associated with the organization Indivisible USA went to Lakewood Church on Monday, August 28, and took photographs of the parking lot, writing in a caption, "There is no flooding here. There is no flooding on the roads anywhere around the Lakewood building." More eyewitnesses posted photos from Lakewood's campus, including one woman who pointed out a dry ramp going up to the building's entrance.

More and more, prominent evangelicals seem to be folding conservative politics into their belief system.

The backlash against Lakewood Church, and the resentment fueling it, ties into a larger national narrative around the hypocrisy of politically involved evangelical leaders who helped put Donald Trump in office. American evangelicalism in the last four decades has been an increasingly politicized movement, rooted in many ways in the establishment of the Moral Majority, a political action group whose very name declared its concern with rectitude and character. Yet evangelicals are more often known for what they are against — abortion, same-sex marriage — than what they are for. More and more, prominent evangelicals seem to be folding conservative politics into their belief system.

Evangelical leaders like Dinesh D'Souza and Eric Metaxas have devolved into self-parody under the Trump administration. Metaxas, who wrote a best-selling biography of the theologian and World War II martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer, now tweets about hosting Sebastian Gorka on his radio show and wrote an op-ed about why Christians must vote for Trump. Dinesh D'Souza was a policy adviser for Ronald Reagan and wrote a well-regarded book on Christian apologetics before he launched his career as a pundit railing against Barack Obama, and eventually spent time in jail for making illegal campaign contributions under other peoples' names. D'Souza tried to return to relevance with a 2013 infomercial for his friend's artificial Christmas tree, and just this week was retweeted by Donald Trump when he shared a Washington Post articleclaiming that left-wing demonstrators were the true source of violence at a Berkeley rally.

Criticism of white evangelicals has reached a fever pitch with the Trump administration, and not without reason. A recent PRRI/Brookings poll asked whether a politician can behave ethically in office even if he has committed immoral acts in his personal life; the results showed that "no group has shifted their position more dramatically than white evangelical Protestants," who went from 30% affirmation in 2011 to 72% in 2016. This practice of changing the rules in service of political expediency drives others — Christians and non-Christians alike — to censurewhite evangelicals, especially those who espouse virtues like chastity out of one side of their mouths and use the other side to support the policies of a groping, thrice-married opportunist who once claimed he has never needed to ask God for forgiveness.

Outside Lakewood Church on Tuesday, August 29.
Jon Passantino/BuzzFeed News

Outside Lakewood Church on Tuesday, August 29.

It is also true that there can be a kind of glee with which some people rush to assume the worst about evangelicals and prosperity gospel Christians. "Joel Osteen gets it from both sides," says Kate Shellnutt, associate editor at the flagship evangelical magazine Christianity Today. "Plenty of Christians criticize him for offering what they see as shallow, self-help faith, for not preaching enough on sin. Then non-Christians or former Christians will see him as a prime example of their concerns about the church: that it’s too flashy, money-focused, selfish."

Kate Bowler, an associate professor at Duke Divinity School and the author of Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel, has observed similar attacks on Osteen and argues that he is misunderstood: "Joel Osteen is not the flashy money-grubber that people imagine when they think of a prosperity preacher," she says. He is an encouraging pastor, Bowler says, but people want to believe that his enthusiastic persona must be a cover for underlying greed and evil.

A storm as severe as Harvey, with all the pain and desperation it brings, puts any pre-existing criticisms of Osteen and his brand of religion into even sharper relief. Bowler says, "In the face of a natural disaster, the prosperity gospel lacks a language with which to account for problems that cannot be remedied by individual faith."

We do not know what to do with people who do not deal well with suffering. Evangelical Christians and those who follow the prosperity gospel are different in many ways, but alike in this important one: Neither has developed a full and attractive understanding of why people suffer and how to care for them when they do. Part of the reason evangelicals who support Trump have been so heavily criticized is that they subscribe to a religion that is meant to care for the poor, the marginalized, and the suffering, yet their politics often leave care of the most vulnerable to the whims of private institutions, which creates a gap. A church that lacks a theology of suffering — an Americanized, feel-good, eternally positive church like Osteen’s — will invariably come under fire for failing to do one of its most important jobs.

We do not know what to do with people who do not deal well with suffering.

"The prosperity gospel has been the favorite whipping boy for the wider evangelical world who are looking for an indictment of greed and hyper-individualism in American culture," Bowler says. "What observers want to see right now is that there is a language of charity embodied in American Christianity, and that generosity knows no denomination."

The vitriol against Osteen on Twitter this week has certainly been intense, and some point to the church opening its doors to evacuees yesterday as evidence that their campaign was successful — although it is not clear whether Osteen or other Lakewood staff were ever intentionally deceiving people.

Iloff offered a different version of events than the one shared by critics on social media. “The church was never locked,” he told me. “The people who showed up were let in; it’s just that very few people came.” This, he says, was due to flooding around the building and the surrounding highways. And church leaders didn’t initially offer Lakewood as a shelter in part out of concern that it would flood during the weekend’s heaviest rains, Iloff said. “If we had let people in and that water had flooded, you would be writing a whole different story now.”

Islam, Judaism, and Christianity all share the story of Noah, a righteous man among evildoers whose family was saved when God sent a flood to destroy the rest of the world. After 40 days and 40 nights of rain, the Bible tells us, Noah's ark came to rest on Mount Ararat, where he and his family stayed until the water had gone and the earth was dry. They were the only people left on the planet.

Once-in-a-lifetime floods are not something anyone in the world, except for Noah, has ever been prepared for. A flood in Sri Lanka in May killed over 200 people, and floods in India, Nepal, and Bangladesh this month have killed nearly 1,200. The death toll in Houston is likely to grow as the waters recede. Who is to blame for a natural disaster? In lieu of clear answers, we point fingers. ●

Laura Turner is a writer in San Francisco.

  • Published in U.S.
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