On Sunday, the Westboro Baptist Church — which is almost universally reviled for picketing the funerals of U.S. soldiers and celebrities — confirmed that founder and longtime pastor Fred Phelps Sr. has some "health problems" and is in a care facility. Late Saturday, estranged son Nathan Phelps said on Facebook that his father is "on the edge of death at Midland Hospice house in Topeka, Kansas."
Nathan Phelps also informed the world outside of the insular church that his father "was ex-communicated from the 'church' back in August of 2013," adding in an email to The Topeka Capital-Journal that after his father was voted out of Westboro Baptist and moved from his residence above the church, he stopped eating and drinking. A second estranged son, Mark Phelps, confirmed the news from brother Nathan.
Westboro spokesman Steve Drain said that Nathan Phelps was "ill informed," denied that Fred Phelps is near death, and said that "we don't owe any talk to you about" internal church matters. Star Trek alumnus and social-media celebrity George Takei urged his 6.4 million Facebook followers to take the high road with Phelps' impending death: Don't "dance upon his grave, nor stand vigil at his funeral holding 'God Hates Freds' signs, tempting as it may be." Westboro is most infamous for its "God Hates Fags" signs, and for suggesting that U.S. troops are dying because of America's tolerance for gays and lesbians. Peter Weber
You know what they say: One man's "little rocket man" is another's "supreme leader." Only in the case of President Trump, it appears the same man can be both. CNN's Jim Acosta tweeted Monday that there is a White House collectable military coin commemorating the upcoming summit between Trump and Kim Jong Un, which uses an unusually glowing title for the dictator:
There's now a White House Military Office coin for the upcoming Trump Kim Jong Un summit. The North Korean dictator is referred to as "Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un." pic.twitter.com/tFAmE813Y1
— Jim Acosta (@Acosta) May 21, 2018
While putting Kim's face on a commemorative coin is shocking enough, most publications simply call Kim the "leader" of North Korea. Calling him "Supreme Leader" is a little bit like calling Idi Amin, the former president of Uganda, by his preferred title: "His Excellency, President for Life, Field Marshal Al Hadji Doctor Idi Amin Dada, VC, DSO, MC, Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Seas and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular."
Admittedly, Kim's own full title — Dear Respected Comrade Kim Jong Un, Chairman of the Workers' Party of Korea, Chairman of the State Affairs Commission of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and Supreme Commander of the Korean People's Army — probably wouldn't have fit on the coin. Jeva Lange
Street harassers beware: Whistles and catcalls could be costly.
Lawmakers in France's National Assembly passed a measure last week that would fine people who harass women up to $885, The Washington Post reports.
The bill, which still needs the approval of the French Senate to officially become law, will require people to pay on the spot if they are caught whistling at women, heckling them, or following them. Anything that "infringes the freedom of movement of women in public spaces and undermines self-esteem and the right to security" could merit a fine. Do it more than once, and street harassment could get really expensive — repeat offenders will be required to pay up to $3,500.
French President Emmanuel Macron said the measure would make France a place where "women are not afraid to be outside," reports the Post. About 90 percent of French citizens supported the measure in one recent poll, though not everyone agrees that it will be easy to enforce. About 83 percent of French women say they have been harassed on the street. Read more at The Washington Post. Summer Meza
When management of Panama City's Trump International Hotel was wrested from the Trump Organization and its silver name chiseled off the signage earlier this year, observers noted the bruising blow to the president. The sail-shaped building had been Trump's only hotel in Panama and, at 70 stories, it was the tallest tower in the country.
This last point was of particular pride to Trump, who has been known to fudge the numbers to make his buildings appear taller than they really are. Former Ambassador to Panama John Feeley recounted the story to The New Yorker:
As [Feeley] took a seat, Trump asked, "So tell me — what do we get from Panama? What's in it for us?" Feeley presented a litany of benefits: help with counter-narcotics work and migration control, commercial efforts linked to the Panama Canal, a close relationship with the current President, Juan Carlos Varela. When he finished, Trump chuckled and said, "Who knew?" He then turned the conversation to the Trump International Hotel and Tower, in Panama City. "How about the hotel?" he said. "We still have the tallest building on the skyline down there?" [The New Yorker]
Trump's ownership of the hotel has raised red flags for ethics watchdogs, and the Trump Organization reportedly asked Panama's president to get involved when its grip on the hotel started to slip. Read the full report at The New Yorker. Jeva Lange
Fox Business' Maria Bartiromo claims 'the DOJ, the FBI, the IRS, the CIA' were all conspiring to 'take down' Trump
Fox Business Network's Maria Bartiromo doubled down on a claim that former President Obama "masterminded" a plot to unearth disparaging information on President Trump, voicing a theory that government agencies were politically weaponized during a Monday segment on the network.
"President Obama, basically it appears to me, politicized all of his agencies: the DOJ, the FBI, the IRS, the CIA — they were all involved in trying to take down Donald Trump," said Bartiromo.
Bartiromo previously alleged that Obama or Hillary Clinton had been "masterminding" FBI surveillance of the Trump campaign, which drew criticism for promoting a conspiracy theory. When Andrew Napolitano, a Fox News judicial analyst, said that any FBI surveillance would constitute "extraordinary political use of intelligence and law enforcement by the Obama administration," Bartiromo escalated the claim, roping in multiple government agencies. Watch the full discussion below, via Fox Business Network. Summer Meza
Former President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama have "entered into a multi-year agreement to produce films and series for Netflix," the streaming service announced Monday. The content will "potentially" include "scripted series, unscripted series, docu-series, documentaries, and features."
The Hollywood Reporter notes that the move is "unprecedented in media" and that "no previous former president has ever made such a deal," with post-White House productions typically limited to autobiographies.
In a statement, Obama said he and Michelle "hope to cultivate and curate the talented, inspiring, creative voices who are able to promote greater empathy and understanding between peoples, and help them share their stories with the entire world." Earlier this year, Obama appeared on David Letterman's Netflix talk show, My Next Guest Needs No Introduction. Jeva Lange
The White House has issued an informational statement echoing President Trump's controversial use of the word "animals" to describe members of the MS-13 gang. Trump's initial comments came under fire when he apparently used the dehumanizing word to describe some immigrants in sanctuary cities, although he later clarified he was using "animals" specifically to refer to violent gang members.
The press release issued Monday is titled "What you need to know about the violent animals of MS-13." The release uses eight different statements like, "In Maryland, MS-13's animals are accused of stabbing a man more than 100 times and then decapitating him, dismembering him, and ripping his heart out of his body," and "MS-13's animals reportedly saw murder as a way to boost their standing in the gang." The statement ends by vowing that "President Trump's entire administration is working tirelessly to bring these violent animals to justice."
MS-13 “animals” has gone from a presidential utterance to White House doctrine. This WH press release on “what you need to know about the violent animals of MS-13” calls them animals 8 times. pic.twitter.com/ZAfOlYjaDB
— Todd Zwillich (@toddzwillich) May 21, 2018
Writing for The Week, Paul Waldman recently argued that Trump "has used a particular strategy to justify his immigration policies: Focus on crimes committed by individual immigrants as a way of ginning up fear and hatred, creating animus toward all immigrants. And when necessary, use dehumanizing language — like calling them 'animals' — to make sure that your target audience feels no empathy or hesitation about supporting the cruelest policies to target them." Jeva Lange
Saudi activists who fought for the right to drive have been arrested for 'undermining the country's stability'
Women's rights activists in Saudi Arabia were arrested last week, reports The Washington Post, just weeks before the nation lifts a ban on women driving.
Several of the seven activists who were jailed were leaders in the campaign to allow women to obtain driver's licenses, which the Saudi government approved last year. Five women and two men were detained on charges of "suspicious contact with foreign parties" and "undermining the country's stability and social fabric," the Post reports.
One of the detainees, Loujain Hathloul, was arrested in 2014 after driving into Saudi Arabia to protest the driving ban. Hathloul, Eman al-Nafjan, and Aziza al-Yousef have also vocally opposed the nation's male guardianship system, which requires men to accompany women to access government services, reports BuzzFeed News.
Groups like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have denounced the arrests, calling the activists victims of a "chilling smear campaign" by government officials. The Saudi government has pledged to reform many of its laws regarding its social structure and women's rights, but activists and advocacy groups say the reality of the kingdom's advancements is far from what officials have claimed. Summer Meza