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March 18, 2014
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Most people who favor gay rights are appalled at Fred Phelps, the founding pastor of the Westboro Baptist Church who is infamous for sending congregants to picket the funerals of soldiers armed with signs that read "God Hates Fags." Phelps, a one-time celebrated civil rights lawyer, is on his deathbed, according to an estranged son. When he dies, says Mark Silk at Religion News Service, instead of picketing his funeral "we should give thanks for his gift to American society." Silk, a professor of religion in public life at Trinity College, lays out his counterintutive rationale:

So what's the gift? It's that he made religious hostility to homosexuality repulsive.... The picketing of military funerals, the rejoicing in all domestic tragedies, the celebration of whatever punishment God allegedly metes out to Americans. No one, not even Sean Hannity and the KKK could stomach this stuff. [RNS]

By being so flagrantly awful, Silk concludes, Phelps and his church have probably "increased the sum total of tolerance in America." It's something to think about, anyway. Peter Weber

3:53 p.m. ET
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Disney Animation head and Toy Story director John Lasseter announced he is taking a six-month leave of absence from Pixar, which is owned by Disney, after "painful" conversations, The Hollywood Reporter writes. "It's never easy to face your missteps," he wrote in a memo to employees, adding: "It's been brought to my attention that I have made some of you feel disrespected or uncomfortable. That was never my intent."

The Hollywood Reporter writes that it is "hard to overstate Lasseter's value to Disney. He is known as the genius behind Pixar films from Toy Story to the upcoming Coco. He took charge of Walt Disney Animation in 2006 and lead a revival that included such gigantic hits as Frozen and Inside Out."

One Pixar employee revealed Lasseter was known by entertainment industry insiders for "grabbing, kissing, [and] making comments about physical attributes." Another employee recalled walking into a meeting where a woman was sitting beside Lasseter with her hand over her thigh and his hand on her knee. Afterwards the woman told the employee that "it was unfortunate for her to wear a skirt that day and if she didn't have her hand on her own right leg, his hand would have travelled." Read more of the allegations at The Hollywood Reporter. Jeva Lange

3:34 p.m. ET
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A Quinnipiac University poll published Tuesday found that 62 percent of American voters would not vote for a candidate accused of sexual harassment by multiple women, but that Republican voters were far more willing to vote for accused sexual harassers. Across every demographic category of age, gender, race, and education level, a majority of voters said that they would "definitely not vote" for the hypothetically accused candidate. It was only when Quinnipiac sorted voters by partisan affiliation that they found a single group where a relative majority was willing to vote for an accused sexual harasser: Republicans.

While every single demographic and partisan category — including 82 percent of Republicans — strongly believed that sexual harassment of women is a serious problem, 43 percent of Republican voters said they still would vote for a candidate accused multiple times of such conduct. Only 41 percent said they would not vote for the candidate. By comparison, 81 percent of Democrats, 61 percent of independents, 53 percent of men, and 70 percent of women said they would not vote for that candidate.

Similarly, 49 percent of Republican voters contacted by Quinnipiac said that Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore, who has been accused of sexual misconduct with minors, should not be expelled by the Senate if he is elected. In every other demographic category, save for white men, a majority of voters believed that Moore should be expelled if he wins the seat.

Republican voters were also the only group in the poll to believe (by a 66 percent to 27 percent margin) that President Trump, who has been accused of sexual assault by many women, "respects women just as much as he respects men." Kelly O'Meara Morales

3:05 p.m. ET
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Retired chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov, whose men's world championship victory at the age of 22 made him the pride of the Soviet Union, claimed anyone looking to write a metaphor about President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin ought to avoid the game of chess altogether.

"When I hear phrases like 'Putin plays chess, Obama plays checkers,' or moreover, 'Trump plays chess,' I feel I have my duty to defend the game that I have been playing for decades," Kasparov said on Politico's Office Message podcast. "The game of chess is a game of strategy; of course, you have many opportunities to show your tactical skills, but foremost, it's about strategy. And also, it's a transparent game. It's 100 percent transparency."

Kasparov added that he isn't even sure Trump knows he's playing a game, much less winning at it. "You can lose the war even if you have [an] overwhelming advantage — militarily, economically, technologically — if you don't recognize you are at war," cautioned Kasparov.

The theory that Trump is outmaneuvering world leaders in a game of "3D" (and sometime "4D") chess originated with Dilbert comic artist Scott Adams' post, "2D Chess Players Take on a 3D Chess Master," Know Your Meme writes. But a pessimistic Kasparov warned that if Trump is attempting to play chess with Putin, he's doomed to lose.

"Both of them despise playing by the rules, so it's who will cheat first," said Kasparov. "But in any game of wits, I would bet on Putin, unfortunately." Listen to the podcast at Politico here. Jeva Lange

2:18 p.m. ET
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U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement will be sending agents to a national food chain in the near future as part of a series of nationwide workplace raids, The Daily Beast reported Tuesday. The stated goal of the raids, according to ICE documents viewed by The Daily Beast, is to target employers who knowingly hire undocumented workers and pay them below minimum wage.

The impending investigations against the unnamed food chain are part of ICE's recently announced plan to quadruple its workplace raids. Franchise owners targeted in these efforts will likely be charged with "harboring illegal aliens." ICE has additionally apparently been making plans to go after specific targets. An ICE official who spoke to The Daily Beast said, "These [workers] are basically being used as slave labor."

That same official also claimed that undocumented workers picked up in the raids who agree to testify against their employers could be allowed to temporarily stay in the the country, contradicting statements by ICE's acting chief, Tom Homan, who has previously said that undocumented workers detained in workplace raids would be deported.

Under the Trump administration, arrests of non-criminal undocumented immigrants have doubled, and immigration arrests as a whole have increased by 43 percent in 2017. The number of deportations, however, has dropped this year, though there is a backlog of more than 600,000 pending immigration cases in the U.S. court system. Kelly O'Meara Morales

1:39 p.m. ET

Every president has a different approach to the extremely important annual tradition of the White House turkey pardon. President Barack Obama embraced the absurdity of the ritual with dozens of extremely corny dad jokes over the years. President Dwight D. Eisenhower's vice president, Richard Nixon, honored their turkey by shaking its hand (claw? talon?). The pardoning thing hadn't quite come around yet when President Harry Truman was in office, though, so he apparently just ate his birds.

Trump's turkey pardoning technique had yet to reveal itself as he approached Drumstick, the unfortunately-named 36-pound turkey, on Tuesday. Trump's style, though, was quickly proven to be "appropriate awe" in the face of what he repeatedly noted was "a big bird."

Watch Trump pardon Drumstick below. Jeva Lange

1:14 p.m. ET

Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) issued a statement Tuesday denying allegations that he fired a female employee after she refused to "succumb" to his "sexual advances." The woman ultimately signed a confidentiality agreement in exchange for a settlement of $27,111.75, which came from Conyers' office budget. Conyers admitted no fault as part of the settlement, and in the statement Tuesday he said: "In this case, I expressly and vehemently denied the allegations made against me, and continue to do so." Conyers added he would cooperate with an investigation if the House determined to look into the situation further.

Read his full statement below. Jeva Lange

12:40 p.m. ET
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Fifty-five people have died in Puerto Rico from causes related to Hurricane Maria — at least, that's the official number. An alarming survey of funeral homes by CNN puts the death toll much higher, at 499.

The 499 deaths reported by funeral homes include "indirect deaths," which are included in official death tolls and involve circumstances "in which a person likely would be alive if not for the storm and its aftermath," CNN explains. In one example, a man who died in a house fire started by an oil lamp he was only using because of the storm-caused power outage "should be part of the official death toll, according to Puerto Rico's Department of Public Safety." But to date, only a funeral home has recorded that death, CNN notes; it hasn't been counted toward the official number collected by the government.

CNN's survey only reached 112 of Puerto Rico's funeral homes, or about half, the head of the Puerto Rico Association of Funeral Home Directors confirmed. Additionally, "there's always a significant number of bodies that don't get processed through funeral homes," said Eric Klinenberg, the director of New York University's Institute for Public Knowledge. "What that tells me [is that] there are a lot more cases to be reported — and that number is probably going to spike again."

Mónica Menéndez, the deputy director of the local Bureau of Forensic Sciences, dismissed CNN's report, calling funeral home reports "rumors" and claiming "there's no reason for us to be hiding numbers." Read the full details and methodology of CNN's report here. Jeva Lange

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