Tag Archives: prejudice

15 years after Sept. 11: How the unity we forged broke apart

For a time, it felt like the attack that shattered America had also brought it together. After Sept. 11, signs of newfound unity seemed to well up everywhere, from the homes where American flags appeared virtually overnight to the Capitol steps where lawmakers pushed aside party lines to sing “God Bless America” together.

That cohesion feels vanishingly distant as the 15th anniversary of the attacks arrives Sunday. Gallup’s 15-year-old poll of Americans’ national pride hit its lowest-ever point this year. In a country that now seems carved up by door-slamming disputes over race, immigration, national security, policing and politics, people impelled by the spirit of common purpose after Sept. 11 rue how much it has slipped away.

Jon Hile figured he could help the ground zero cleanup because he worked in industrial air pollution control. So he traveled from Louisville, Kentucky, to volunteer, and it is not exaggerating to say the experience changed his life. He came home and became a firefighter.

Hile, who now runs a risk management firm, remembers it as a time of communal kindness, when “everybody understood how quickly things could change … and how quickly you could feel vulnerable.”

A decade and a half later, he sees a nation where economic stress has pushed many people to look out for themselves. Where people stick to their comfort zones.

“I wish that we truly remembered,” he says, “like we said we’d never forget.”

Terrorism barely registered among Americans’ top worries in early September 2001, but amid economic concerns, a Gallup poll around then found only 43 percent of Americans were satisfied with the way things were going.

Then, in under two hours on Sept. 11, the nation lost nearly 3,000 people, two of its tallest buildings and its sense of impregnability. But out of the shock, fear and sorrow rose a feeling of regaining some things, too _ a shared identity, a heartfelt commitment to the nation indivisible.

Stores ran out of flags. Americans from coast to coast cupped candle flames and prayed at vigils, gave blood and billions of dollars, cheered firefighters and police. Military recruits cited the attacks as they signed up.

Congress scrubbed partisanship to pass a $40 billion anti-terrorism and victim aid measure three days after the attacks, and approval ratings for lawmakers and the president sped to historic highs. A special postage stamp declared “United We Stand,” and Americans agreed: A Newsweek poll found 79 percent felt 9/11 would make the country stronger and more unified.

“I really saw people stand up for America. … And I was very proud of that,” recalls Maria Medrano-Nehls, a retired state library agency worker in Lincoln, Nebraska. Her foster daughter and niece, Army National Guard Master Sgt. Linda Tarango-Griess, was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2004.

Now, Medrano-Nehls thinks weariness from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and combative politics have pried Americans apart, and it pains her to think of the military serving a country so torn.

Larry Brook can still picture the crowd at a post-9/11 interfaith vigil at an amphitheater in Pelham, Alabama. The numbers seemed a tangible measure of an urge to come together.

Now? “I don’t think we’re anywhere close,” says Brook, who publishes Southern Jewish Life magazine. To him, political partisanship and clashes over Middle East policy are walling off middle ground.

Three days after 9/11, Joseph Esposito was at smoldering ground zero as Republican President George W. Bush grabbed a bullhorn and vowed the attackers “will hear all of us soon.” The moment became an emblem of American strength and resolve, and Esposito, then the New York Police Department’s top uniformed officer, was struck by “the camaraderie, the unity” of those days.

He remembers the support police enjoyed then, and how much the tone had changed by the time of the Occupy Wall Street protests in 2011, when police arrested hundreds of demonstrators, many of whom said cops unjustly rounded and roughed them up. Now the city’s emergency management commissioner, Esposito has watched from the sidelines as a national protest movement has erupted in recent years from police killings of unarmed black men, and as police themselves have been killed by gunmen claiming vengeance.

These days, Esposito hopes his job can be unifying. He wants people to feel that the city helps neighborhoods equally to handle disaster. “The 1 percenters should not be better prepared than the 99 percent,” he says.

“If everyone feels they’re getting their fair share,” he adds, “it fosters better feelings toward one another.”

For all the signs of kinship after Sept. 11, the first retribution attack came just four days later, authorities said.

Balbir Singh Sodhi was shot dead while placing flowers on a memorial at his Mesa, Arizona, gas station. Prosecutors said the gunman mistook Sodhi, an Indian Sikh immigrant, for an Arab Muslim.

Seeing hundreds of people gather in solidarity on the night of his brother’s death showed me “the greatness of unity,” says Rana Singh Sodhi, of Gilbert, Arizona. But in the last two years, he’s felt a “change toward hatred again.” He worries politicians are stirring animosity toward immigrants and minorities.

So does Imam Abdur-Rahim Ali.

After 9/11, he invited first responders for tea and coffee at the Northeast Denver Islamic Center to show appreciation and emphasize that Muslims “are regular Americans.” Now, Ali, who is African-American, believes Muslims and people of color are being demonized with “incendiary and divisive” remarks.

“We can’t act like racism hasn’t been a part of all this,” he says.

Can the United States feel united again?

Some Americans fear it will take another catastrophe, if even that can shift the climate. Others are looking to political leaders to set a more collaborative tone, or to Americans themselves to make an effort to understand and respect one another.

When Sonia Shah thinks about the push and pull of American unity since the attacks that killed her father, Jayesh, at the World Trade Center, she pictures a rock hitting a pond.

The innermost ripple, that’s the tight circle of support that came together around the people most directly affected by tragedy. Outside it, bigger and more diffuse, are bands of debate over policies and politics in the wake of 9/11.

“We usually see the outer rings of the arguments,” says the Baylor University senior. “But I think there always is a current of unity that goes underneath things.”

 

Contributing to this report were Associated Press journalists P. Solomon Banda in Denver; Nati Harnik in Lincoln, Nebraska; Mike Householder in Farmington Hills, Michigan; Dylan Lovan in Louisville, Kentucky; David R. Martin in New York; Jay Reeves in Pelham, Alabama; and Brian Skoloff in Gilbert, Arizona.

White nationalist to appear with GOP leaders at tea party convention

The Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights this week expressed concern that a South Carolina white nationalist leader is scheduled to appear alongside members of Congress and prospective presidential candidates at an upcoming tea party convention. 

IREHR documented in a new report that Roan Garcia-Quintana, a national board member of the white nationalist Council of Conservative Citizens, is listed as a featured speaker at the South Carolina Tea Party Coalition Convention to be held Jan. 17-19 in Myrtle Beach.

U.S. representatives scheduled to share the stage with Garcia-Quintana at the convention include Reps. Jeff Duncan, Mick Mulvaney and Tom Rice of South Carolina, Jim Bridenstine of Oklahoma and Louie Gohmert of Texas. Likely GOP presidential candidates Ben Carson and Rick Santorum are also scheduled to address the convention.

“Responsible political leaders should speak out against the racism that Garcia-Quintana and the Council of Conservative Citizens peddle. That’s especially true of anyone elected to represent the American people. Congressmen Duncan, Rice, Mulvaney, Bridenstine and Gohmert need to make it resoundingly clear that they won’t be silent when they’re confronted with racism,” said Leonard Zeskind, president of IREHR.

According to IREHR, the Council of Conservative Citizens is the direct lineal descendant of the white Citizens Councils that defended Jim Crow segregation during the 1950s and 1960s. Today, the Council of Conservative Citizens is one of the largest unabashedly racist groups in the country. Garcia-Quintana has been involved with the racist group going back to at least 2008.

“It’s profoundly disturbing that the South Carolina Tea Party Coalition would provide a platform for a white nationalist like Garcia-Quintana,” Zeskind said. 

“Mr. Quintana is a known figure, and well known for his white nationalist politics and leadership role in the Council of Conservative Citizens. Those racist politics led Gov. Haley to kick Garcia-Quintana off of her re-election committee last year,” said IREHR vice president Devin Burghart.

“To appear at the same podium at the same conference, even at different times, is to lend their credibility to Mr. Garcia-Quintana’s white nationalism, a cause that should not be considered credible,” added Burghart. 

Suit over sperm bank error sets off extraordinary discussion

An unusual lawsuit prompted by an insemination gone wrong has set off an extraordinary discussion touching on sensitive issues of race, motherhood, sexuality and justice, though the debate begins with one basic premise: You should get what you pay for.

Jennifer Cramblett and her wife, Amanda Zinkon, wanted a white baby. They went to the Midwest Sperm Bank near Chicago and chose blond, blue-eyed donor No. 380, who looked like he could have been related to Zinkon. When Cramblett was five months pregnant, they found out that she her donor was No. 330, a black man.

“The couple did not get what they asked for, which was a particular donor. The company made a mistake, and it should have to pay for that,” says Jessica Barrow, an information technology professional in suburban Detroit.

Barrow is black and lesbian, with a white partner. They considered insemination of the white partner before choosing to adopt. When looking at donors, they wanted sperm from a black donor, to create a biracial baby that would have shared some physical characteristics with both of them.

“They’re not saying anything racist, they’re not saying, `We don’t want a black baby,'” Barrow said of Cramblett and Zinkon, who profess their love for their now 2-year-old daughter. “They’re saying, `We asked for something, you gave us something different, and now we have to adjust to that.’”

That “adjustment” is a major justification for Cramblett’s lawsuit. It cites the stress and anxiety of raising a brown girl in predominantly white Uniontown, Ohio, which Cramblett describes as intolerant. Some of her own family members have unconscious racial biases, the lawsuit says.

That leads some to believe that Cramblett is asking to be paid for the difficulties that many black folks — and white parents of adopted black children — deal with without compensation.

“I don’t think I deserve anything more being the white parent of a black child than any parent of a black child does,” says Rory Mullen, who adopted her daughter.

Strangers have asked Mullen why she didn’t adopt a white baby. One remarked in front of her white then-husband that Mullen must have cheated with a black man. Too many white people to count have pawed her daughter’s hair.

“It’s hard, but being a parent is hard,” says Mullen, who lives in Southern California.

“Being a parent is going to throw things at you that you never expected, and we make a decision that we’re going to roll with it, because we love our kids and they deserve it,” she says.

Mullen agrees that a company should be held liable for promising one thing and doing another. But she thinks the fact Cramblett waited more than two years to sue indicates that the experience of raising a black child is her real problem.

“When you say this is too hard, I didn’t deserve this, this is too much for me to handle, then the child internalizes it and it affects their self-esteem,” she says. “It’s my job to pour self-esteem into my daughter, not tear it down.”

From the days of American slavery through the 1960s, white men fathering children with black women was commonplace and tacitly accepted — yet there were few things as scandalous as a white woman with a brown baby.

That history makes Denene Millner, author of the MyBrownBaby.com blog, say that the lawsuit is “rooted in fear … stuck in the muck and mire of racism and the purity of white lineage.”

“She simply cannot fathom dealing with what it means to, in essence, be a Black mom, having to navigate and negotiate a racist world on behalf of a human she bore, in an environment of which she is a product,” Millner wrote.

Darron Smith, co-author of “White Parents, Black Children: Experiencing Transracial Adoption,” says that the lawsuit reflects America’s unexamined racist attitudes and Cramblett’s angst over having a biracial child.

He notes that due to supply and demand, it costs about half as much to adopt a black child as a white one, and many black boys in foster care are never adopted.

“This lawsuit demonstrates quite nicely the value of skin color,” says Smith, a professor at Wichita State University.

Yet Cramblett’s defenders say she should not be held responsible for being unprepared.

“White people who aren’t affiliated with black people don’t necessarily understand the challenges that black people face in all facets of their life. This couple wasn’t expecting that, and now they have to deal with it,” says Rachel Dube, who owns a youth sports business in New York.

“She didn’t ask for a biracial baby. She was given one, she loves it, she adores it, now she’s facing challenges and admits it. That doesn’t make her a racist,” Dube says.

“You can’t fault her for what she was not exposed to,” she says. “Her only obligation is to love and raise her child in the best environment possible. And if the money will help her do that, then good for her.”

Mississippi man shot after reporting cross burning in yard

A Mississippi sheriff says a man was beaten and shot two weeks after calling authorities to report a cross burning in his yard, and investigators are trying to determine whether the attack was prompted by people being upset that the man was visited by his mixed-race grandchildren.

Deputies were called to a disturbance late last week in a rural community outside Raleigh. Craig Wilson, 45, had been shot in the stomach and beaten and was taken to University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, said Smith County Sheriff Charlie Crumpton. He was in fair condition on Aug. 19, a hospital spokesman said.

Investigators heard numerous reports from relatives about what might have started a confrontation between Wilson and 37-year-old Jeff Daniels, Crumpton said. Among other things, the sheriff said investigators were checking whether it might have been connected to people being upset about visits from Wilson’s mixed-race grandchildren. The children’s mother — Craig Wilson’s daughter — is white, and their father is black, the sheriff said.

Crumpton said Daniels was arrested and booked with aggravated assault. He was released on Aug. 18 on $20,000 bond.

Wilson and Daniels are both white. The victim is the boyfriend of the arrested man’s mother, Crumpton said.

Crumpton said he doesn’t know whether there’s a connection between the cross burning and the shooting. He said Wilson called the sheriff’s department and investigators went to see the burned cross, but Wilson didn’t press charges.

The cross burning and the shooting and beating took place in the Cohay community of Smith County, about 45 miles southeast of Jackson, where Wilson and Daniels are neighbors, the sheriff said.

Wilson and relatives were having a cookout when a confrontation erupted, witnesses said. Wilson’s sister, Julie Wilson, told WLBT-TV that Daniels and his son, who’s a minor, showed up at Craig Wilson’s home and a confrontation erupted.

“They called him some severe names and then they told him to leave and they chased him off his porch around his house and beat him with brass knuckles and then shot him with his own gun,” Julie Wilson told the TV station.

Wilson’s sister-in-law, Anita Wilson, told AP on Aug. 19 that she talked to Craig Wilson the night the cross was burned in the yard of the home he shares with Gaylene Daniels. Craig Wilson has three grandsons who are 4, 5 and 6 and a granddaughter who’s 3, and Anita Wilson said the grandsons were visiting the couple and inside the home when the cross was burned. She said Craig Wilson told her that Jeff Daniels had yelled a racial epithet about children, saying they shouldn’t be at the home.

Anita Wilson said the children were not at the home the night of the shooting. She considers the shooting a hate crime, but the sheriff said the district attorney told him Mississippi’s hate-crime law could only apply if both the shooter and the victim are not of the same race.

“How do they not understand it’s a hate crime when it was over the kids?” Anita Wilson said.

The state hate-crimes law was enacted in 1994 but has seldom been used to prosecute cases.

Crumpton said a case against Daniels could be presented to the grand jury, probably in October.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether Daniels has an attorney.

Van Hollen’s heartless choice pits him against history

Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen vigorously sought — and obtained — a stay of U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb’s decision finding the state’s gay marriage ban unconstitutional. A joyous week in Wisconsin that saw more than 550 same-sex couples marry came to an abrupt halt, and Van Hollen asked the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn Crabb’s decision.

Van Hollen said he was compelled to act in order to comply with his sworn constitutional duty to uphold state law — in this case a 2006 amendment to the Wisconsin Constitution barring same-sex marriage or anything “substantially similar.”

But Van Hollen has discretion over which laws to defend. He refused to defend the 2009 law that created a domestic partner registry for same-sex couples in Wisconsin. His communications director told WiG that’s because he believes the partner registry law violates the state’s 2006 constitutional amendment banning any status “substantially similar” to marriage, just as he believes Crabb’s ruling violates the amendment’s injunction against same-sex marriage itself.

The tide of history, which invariably flows toward freedom, should have led him to a different conclusion, as the editorial pages of newspapers around the state have pointed out. At the Attorneys General Winter Meeting in February, Van Hollen heard U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder stress that state attorneys general are not obliged to defend discriminatory laws. Attorneys general in Virginia, Pennsylvania, California, Illinois, Nevada and Oregon have declined to defend their state’s gay marriage bans, and New Mexico Attorney General Gary King has challenged laws prohibiting same-sex marriage in his state. 

Van Hollen might also have taken a clue from the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Windsor and the fact that since June 2013, marriage-equality supporters have racked up 21 consecutive legal victories — and zero losses — in federal and state courthouses. The first federal appeal court decision on the issue, which came out on June 25, also found against the constitutionality of same-sex marriage bans.

Although Wisconsinites voted eight years ago to deny same-sex couples the right to marry, there’s been a sea change in public opinion on the issue: Fifty-nine percent of Wisconsinites voted against marriage equality in 2006; by contrast, a Marquette University poll in May found only 37 percent of the state’s voters now oppose it, while 55 percent favor same-sex marriage. Even the most zealous same-sex marriage opponents now agree that its acceptance is inevitable.

When Van Hollen appealed Crabb’s decision, there were already several cases far ahead of his in the federal appeals court pipeline. There are so many, in fact, that the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals is scheduled to hear cases from four states — Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky and Tennessee — in a single session on Aug. 6.

The money Van Hollen is spending to deny same-sex couples in Wisconsin the right to marry could have been saved pending the outcome of those cases or a decision from the U.S. Supreme Court. Instead, taxpaying Wisconsin gays and lesbians are paying legal fees for their own persecution.

Van Hollen is often mentioned as a potential candidate for higher office. It’s impossible to win a GOP primary race in Wisconsin without the religious right’s support. Given the undeniable trajectory toward marriage equality, his choices on this issue seem based on ambition or bias rather than a sense of duty.

Gay marriage foe to march in NYC LGBT Pride parade

The Catholic League will be allowed to march with an anti-gay-marriage banner in New York City’s annual Pride parade, organizers said on the heels of a St. Patrick’s Day parade prohibition on gay-rights signs and subsequent boycott that drew widespread attention.

Parade organizer David Studinski said recently that he has no problem with Catholic League President Bill Donohue’s plan to participate in the June 29 parade.

“His group’s presence affirms the need for this year’s pride theme, `We Have Won When We’re One,'” Studinski said in a statement. “Straight is great — as long as there’s no hate.”

Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of GLAAD — formerly known as the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation — said several straight and Catholic organizations have previously marched alongside LGBT groups, according to Newsday.

“As a fellow Irish New Yorker, I’m hoping Bill will march with me at NYC Pride,” Ellis said.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Guinness beer boycotted the New York City’s annual St. Patrick’s Day parade because organizers wouldn’t allow participants to carry pro-gay signs.

And in Boston, Mayor Martin Walsh opted out of his city’s St. Patrick’s parade after talks broke down that would have allowed a gay veterans group to march. The Boston Beer Company, brewer of Samuel Adams, also pulled its support.

FBI investigating after noose found around University of Miss. statue

The FBI is helping investigate the tying of a noose around the neck of a University of Mississippi statue of James Meredith. In 1962, Meredith became the first black student to enroll in the then all-white southern college.

University police found the noose and a pre-2003 Georgia state flag with the Confederate “stars and bars” on Feb. 16, according to campus police Chief Calvin Sellers.

Two men were seen near the statue early Sunday and investigators were looking at surveillance footage.

“It’s a racial hate crime,” Mississippi NAACP president Derrick Johnson said after a news conference at the state Capitol. “At what level do they get prosecuted? I don’t know. But as long as we tolerate hate, we will continue to revisit history and the past of this state, and at some point we must move forward.”

University chancellor Dan Jones condemned the action, saying it was contrary to the beliefs and values of the school community.

Meanwhile, university police asked for help from the FBI, according to Deborah R. Madden, a spokeswoman for the FBI office in Jackson, Miss.

The Ole Miss Alumni Association is offering at $25,000 reward for information leading to an arrest.

When Meredith tried to enter Ole Miss in fall 1962, Mississippi’s governor tried to stop him, which was followed by rioting on the Oxford campus.

U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy then sent 500 U.S. Marshals to take control and a couple weeks later, Meredith was allowed into the school and he eventually graduated with with a degree in political science.

Assistant to the Chancellor for Multicultural Affairs Don Cole reiterated the creed that the university stands by.

“This is particularly painful because the James Meredith statue has become a gathering place for students to discuss many things, including the tenets of our creed, which calls for dignity and respect for all people,” he said.

Many questions facing NFL after bullying report

Now that the NFL knows the scope of the racially charged Miami Dolphins bullying scandal, the league has been left to grapple with what its next steps should be.

A report released late last week on the Miami case concluded with a one-paragraph call to action:

“As all must surely recognize, the NFL is not an ordinary workplace. Professional football is a rough, contact sport played by men of exceptional size, speed, strength and athleticism. But even the largest, strongest and fleetest person may be driven to despair by bullying, taunting and constant insults. We encourage the creation of new workplace conduct rules and guidelines that will help ensure that players respect each other as professionals and people.”

League executives agree steps need to be taken, and have vowed to take action. But it may be difficult to regulate locker room behavior by determining when something a player considers to be locker room nonsense crosses the line. Players are part of a team, but they are also individuals with different levels of sensitivity.

And as the report’s call to action points out, the NFL is not an ordinary workplace — locker rooms are sanctuaries within those workplaces where even without the kinds of vicious taunts and racist insults cited in the report, behavior that would not be accepted in society is tolerated, and even condoned or encouraged.

Still, Dolphins owner Stephen Ross wants his organization to lead the way to change the culture.

“I have made it clear to everyone within our organization that this situation must never happen again,” Ross said in a statement released through the team after the report was released. “We are committed to address this issue forcefully and to take a leadership role in establishing a standard that will be a benchmark in all of sports.”

Before the Super Bowl, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell had said he’d be out in front on the issue of hazing.

“Our No. 1 priority has to make sure that we have a workplace environment that’s professional, recognizing that we have some unique circumstances. But we have to make sure that our players, (and) other employees, have that kind of professional workplace environment,” Goodell said then.

After the report was released, the NFL did not mention any possible punishment stemming from the case in a statement emailed by a league spokesman.

The NFL Players Association said it will review the findings closely, confer with players and all relevant parties involved.

The report by lawyer Ted Wells said “the behavior that occurred here was harmful to the players, the team and the league,” but he noted the investigators weren’t asked to recommend discipline or determine legal liability for the bullying.

Wells concluded that offensive linemen John Jerry and Mike Pouncey joined Richie Incognito in harassing Jonathan Martin, who left the team in October, and position coach Jim Turner participated in the taunting of a second player. That player is Andrew McDonald, now with the Carolina Panthers.

The report found no evidence that the Dolphins front office or head coach Joe Philbin were aware of the conduct Martin found abusive.

“There are lines — even in a football locker room — that should not be crossed, as they were here,” the report said. “We leave the determination of precisely where to draw those lines to those who spend their lives playing, coaching and managing the game of professional football.”

Players would like to police themselves. It is, after all, their locker room.

Teams want a big say in setting those parameters. Like any other employer, they are responsible for maintaining a safe and respectful work environment that adheres to both the league’s policies and federal law.

The league is taking a hard look at the report, which details homophobic invective directed at McDonald.

That element in particular is a hot button issue in light of SEC co-defensive player of the year Michael Sam’s recent revelation that he’s gay.

Being at the center of this scandal puts the Dolphins at the forefront of any bolstering of policies protecting players from bullying.

The report said that in 2013, Dolphins players acknowledged receiving and understanding the personal conduct code and the workplace harassment and discrimination policies, both taken from the NFL handbook.

The latter policy states that “harassment can include, but is not limited to: unwelcome contact; jokes, comments and antics; generalizations and put-downs; pornographic or suggestive literature and language. In addition, harassment and discrimination are not limited to the workplace: they example (sic), through calls, texts or emails, on a plane or team bus; at a team event; or at the team hotel.”

The policy encourages reporting discrimination or harassment to the players’ union, a coach, human resources or NFL security.

The report touches on a code against snitching that exists in NFL locker rooms, however, and Martin never did report the abuse before walking away from the team when he’d had enough.

The Dolphins have already pledged to improve the team’s workplace conduct policies, which Wells called commendable. The team has formed an independent advisory group that includes Don Shula and Tony Dungy, along with several prominent retired players, to review the organization’s conduct policies and suggest improvements.

“We must work together towards a culture of civility and mutual respect for one another,” the Dolphins owner said.

“We encourage these efforts,” the report said. “The behavior that occurred here was harmful to the players, the team and the league. It was inconsistent with a civilized workplace – even in a professional football league and even among tough football players whose very profession is defined by physical and mental domination of players across the line of scrimmage.”

Hey anonymous: Websites move to block toxic online comments

Mix blatant bigotry with poor spelling. Add a dash of ALL CAPS. Top it off with a violent threat. And there you have it: A recipe for the worst of online comments, scourge of the Internet.

Blame anonymity, blame politicians, blame human nature. But a growing number of websites are reining in the Wild West of online commentary. Companies including Google and the Huffington Post are trying everything from deploying moderators to forcing people to use their real names in order to restore civil discourse. Some sites, such as Popular Science, are banning comments altogether.

The efforts put sites in a delicate position. User comments add a lively, fresh feel to videos, stories and music. And, of course, the longer visitors stay to read the posts, and the more they come back, the more a site can charge for advertising.

What websites don’t want is the kind of off-putting nastiness that spewed forth under a recent CNN.com article about the Affordable Care Act.

“If it were up to me, you progressive libs destroying this country would be hanging from the gallows for treason. People are awakening though. If I were you, I’d be very afraid,” wrote someone using the name “JBlaze.”

YouTube, which is owned by Google, has long been home to some of the Internet’s most juvenile and grammatically incorrect comments. The site caused a stir last month when it began requiring people to log into Google Plus to write a comment. Besides herding users to Google’s unified network, the company says the move is designed to raise the level of discourse in the conversations that play out under YouTube videos.

One such video, a Cheerios commercial featuring an interracial family, met with such a barrage of racist responses on YouTube in May that General Mills shut down comments on it altogether.

“Starting this week, when you’re watching a video on YouTube, you’ll see comments sorted by people you care about first,” wrote YouTube product manager Nundu Janakiram and principal engineer Yonatan Zunger in a blog post announcing the changes. “If you post videos on your channel, you also have more tools to moderate welcome and unwelcome conversations. This way, YouTube comments will become conversations that matter to you.”

Anonymity has always been a major appeal of online life. Two decades ago, The New Yorker magazine ran a cartoon with a dog sitting in front of a computer, one paw on the keyboard. The caption read: “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.” At its best, anonymity allows people to speak freely without repercussions. It allows whistle blowers and protesters to espouse unpopular opinions. At its worst, it allows people to spout off without repercussions. It gives trolls and bullies license to pick arguments, threaten and abuse.

But anonymity has been eroding in recent years. On the Internet, many people may know not only your name, but also your latest musings, the songs you’ve listened to, your job history, who your friends are and even the brand of soap you prefer.

“It’s not so much that our offline lives are going online, it’s that our offline and online lives are more integrated,” says Mark Lashley, a professor of communications at La Salle University in Philadelphia. Facebook, which requires people to use their real names, played a big part in the seismic shift.

“The way the Web was developed, it was unique in that the avatar and the handle were always these things people used to go by. It did develop into a Wild West situation,” he says, adding that it’s no surprise that Google and other companies are going this route. “As more people go online and we put more of our lives online, we should be held accountable for things we say.”

Nearly three-quarters of teens and young adults think people are more likely to use discriminatory language online or in text messages than in face to face conversations, according to a recent poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and MTV. The poll didn’t distinguish between anonymous comments and those with real identities attached.

The Huffington Post is also clamping down on vicious comments. In addition to employing 40 human moderators who sift through readers’ posts for racism, homophobia, hate speech and the like, the AOL-owned news site is also chipping away at anonymous commenting.

Previously, anyone could respond to an article posted on the site by creating an account, without tying it to an email address. This fall, HuffPo began requiring people to verify their identity by connecting their accounts to an email address, but that didn’t appear to be enough and the site now also asks commenters to log in using a verified Facebook account.

“We are reaching a place where the Internet is growing up,” says Jimmy Soni, managing editor of HuffPo. “These changes represent a maturing (online) environment.”

Soni says the changes have already made a difference in the quality of the comments. The lack of total anonymity, while not a failsafe method, offers people a “gut check moment,” he says. There have been “significantly fewer things that we would not be able to share with our mothers,” in the HuffPo comments section since the change, Soni says.

Newspapers are also turning toward regulated comments. Of the largest 137 U.S. newspapers – those with daily circulation above 50,000 – nearly 49 percent ban anonymous commenting, according to Arthur Santana, assistant communications professor at the University of Houston. Nearly 42 percent allow anonymity, while 9 percent do not have comments at all.

Curbing anonymity doesn’t always help. Plenty of people are fine attaching their names and Facebook profiles to poorly spelled outbursts that live on long after their fury has passed.

In some cases, sites have gone further. Popular Science, the 141-year-old science and technology magazine, stopped allowing comments of any kind on its news articles in September.

While highlighting responses to articles about climate change and abortion, Popular Science online editor Suzanne LaBarre announced the change and explained in a blog post that comments can be “bad for science.”

Because “comments sections tend to be a grotesque reflection of the media culture surrounding them, the cynical work of undermining bedrock scientific doctrine is now being done beneath our own stories,” wrote LaBarre.

We can’t wait to see the response to this story.

Mormon leader defends opposition to marriage equality

More states and nations may legalize same-sex marriage, but human laws cannot “make moral what God has declared immoral,” a top Mormon leader said on Oct. 6.

Elder Dallin H. Oaks, in an address at the Mormon church’s biannual general conference in Salt Lake City, said the faith’s stance against same-sex marriage might be misunderstood or prompt accusations of bigotry.

But he urged members to remember that their first priority is to serve God, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ policies are based on God’s decrees, The Salt Lake Tribune reported (HTTP://BIT.LY/1HUO8FJ ).

An LDS eternal perspective does not allow members “to condone such behaviors or to find justification in the laws that permit them,” Oaks said. “And unlike other organizations that can change their policies and even their doctrines, our policies are determined by the truths God has declared to be unchangeable.”

Some 20,000 Mormons gathered at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City and millions more watched worldwide via telecasts and the Internet to hear Oaks’ remarks on the final day of the two-day conference.

Oaks, a former Utah Supreme Court justice, bemoaned America’s declining birthrate, later marriages and rising cohabitation.

He cited the changes as evidence of “political and social pressures for legal and policy changes to establish behaviors contrary to God’s decrees about sexual morality and the eternal nature and purposes of marriage and child-bearing.”

The Mormon church teaches that same-sex attraction is not a sin, but acting on it is.

“Even though individuals do not choose to have such attractions, they do choose how to respond to them. With love and understanding, the church reaches out to all God’s children, including our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters,” the church website states.