Wednesday, January 16, 2019

AFFORDABLE HEALTH CARE--LMAO

        OK, OK, I am not quite sure what the jurisdiction of the Department of Health and Human Services is and what role it plays in regulating insurance coverage under Medicare or the Affordable Care Act.  Nor do I know what role, if any, the State of New Mexico plays in regulating health insurers.  But I am quite sure that staunch supporters of health care, including New Mexico’s US Senators, Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, have no idea about the abuses which HHS aids and abets to ensure that private health insurers make the big bucks, but I grant that they and their staffs cannot know everything.  Newly elected District 2 House Representative Xochitl Torres Small had no idea either, but, at the time I contacted her, she has not yet been sworn into her new job. She expressed shock at what I had to tell her and promised to investigate the matter.  Meanwhile, I hope that our Senators’ staffs will also take appropriate action.  A team approach might be effective.  And it might be a good idea of New Mexico’s Progressive white knight Hector Balderas got his high horse in gear and rode over the regulators and asked them for the time of day.

I assume that private health insurance companies like Blue Cross Medicare Rx of New Mexico must give pre-enrollment—that is, early fall—notice that the cost of current premiums may change in the next year.  Otherwise, I doubt that they would trouble to put out even a brief statement to that effect which goes out to all current policy holders. In past years, my calls requesting specific information about a premium change have yielded no cost-related information, not even whether the premium is going up or down.  On that fact-free basis, current policy holders have to decide whether to stay with BC or seek coverage with another company.

In my case, the premium declined modestly from 2017 to 1018.  In my budget estimate for 2019, I provided for about a ten-percent increase.  Late in the enrollment period, in fact, just a few days before Christmas, I received the BC premium notice, but, in the rush of holiday preparations and travel, I did not open it for a week, just days before the open enrollment period closed. Sticker shock understates my reaction to the increase in the premium: 237 percent, from $21.00 to $49.70.  When I called BC, I was told that my “Premium” policy was the least expensive option available to me—a dubious assertion.  So I faced a choice: I could pay the BC premium for 2019 or I could not pay it and go uncovered for a year—and, in either case, shop for another policy elsewhere in the fall.

When I contacted what is called “Customer Service,” I vigorously complained about the sleazy tactic of withholding premium cost information until the last moment.  Basically, this agent told me that BC would record and file my complaint—translation: I could go peddle my papers—and copy it to me—which he did.  The agent thought me a fool, that I would believe that a BC bureaucrat would read yet another complaint about what the company had repeatedly chosen to do in disregard of other complaints.

If I thought for one moment that BC did not know what its costs would be for the coming year until late in the current year, I might understand that it itself was in a bind.  But a previous BC agent indicated, as I knew, that the company knew, or had a good idea, in August, before the enrollment period opened, what its premium costs for the coming year would be.  Companies as large as BC do not make decisions of this kind at the last minute; corporate financial planning requires data-based estimates well in advance future operations.  In other words, as a matter of corporate practice, BC could have made cost information available in a timely manner so that those seeking coverage could make informed and budget-responsible decisions.  Instead, it deliberately chose to exploit current policy holders by presenting them with a last-minute choice of unattractive options and counting on their reluctance to risk no coverage as a means to extract enormous profits from them.

What I find astonishing is that government officials in Democratic as well as Republican administrations enable this sleazy, profit-maximizing, people-punishing approach to health care financing.  I find it equally astonishing that elected officials supportive of health care know nothing or do nothing about such abuses (I assume that there are many more unknown to me).  But, then, nuances of policy are so much more fun to debate than details of implementation. In this case, a simple, one-line legal statement could—and most surely should—require insurance companies to announce future premiums within some small margin of estimating error before the open enrollment period begins.  Indeed, I wonder why these officials, so many of them lawyers, did not specify such a requirement in the first place.  Campaign contributions, anyone?  Think about it: when they required companies to inform the public of future changes, did they expect to be satisfied if the companies merely said that they would make future changes?  Who did they think such a statement would help?

Beyond this easy fix, our elected officials might consider the wisdom of having an office of the ombudsman in every social service agency in the federal government.  To ensure responsiveness, each such office would be annually accountable to the agency’s Inspector General and to each Congressional committee with oversight of the agency.  Accountability might include reports of (1) all complaints, (2) responses to them (including self-initiated agency reforms or remediation), and (3) recommendations for legislation.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

A PACKAGE OF PREDICTIONS, PROPOSALS, AND PRAYERS FOR 2019 (AND BEYOND?)

 This blog is a first for me: refutable predictions about, or scenarios of, the short-term future. Knowing what I write below, I hope that I am wrong.

First, the economy will collapse into a recession, possibly into a depression.  Consumer purchasing and business sales will slacken precipitously.  Tax revenues will decline steeply.  Unemployment will skyrocket; welfare relief will be inadequate to meet the needs of the unemployed and their families.  The national debt is too great to increase enough to meet social program costs without causing rampant inflation and possibly triggering a default on the national debt, which would increase borrowing rates.  Inflation will especially hurt the large, growing senior population on fixed income.  Interest rates, though raised in recent months, are too low for any cuts to act as a stimulus to investment and employment.  Stock and commodity markets will plunge.  Tariff wars, even if the U.S. seeks to back out of them, will continue as opponents seek economic and political advantage from a weakened American economy.

Second, the political system will wobble at all levels of government.  At the federal level, Trump, thrashing about erratically and ineffectually, will worsen any remaining confidence in the federal government to ameliorate, much less remediate, the economic collapse.  He will continue to have difficulty in attracting or retaining qualified personnel to serve in his administration, and more high-level appointments will be in an “acting” capacity to avoid the Senate confirmation process.  He will face a personal challenge in finding a permanent Chief of Staff.  Nominees to head departments or agencies, especially those requiring Senate confirmation, will face intense scrutiny and possible rejection even by a Republican-controlled Senate.  He already faces challenges finding an Attorney General to lead the Department of Justice and, in light of Secretary James Mattis’s resignation, a new Secretary of the Department of Defense.

Meanwhile, the various federal and state investigations into everything Trump will aggravate his deteriorating political standing, not only with the Republican Party as a whole, but also with his “base,” who will suffer enormously from the economic collapse. An economic depression and an unstable Executive Branch will erode allegiance to the GOP and increase the chances of widespread rejection at the polls despite—perhaps because of—their best efforts at gerrymandering and voter suppression.  Republican Senators know that they their base of support is shrinking; they know that they face a larger number of contested seats than the Democrats face in 2020.  The results of these investigations, especially the Mueller investigations, may outrage all but the few million remaining die-hards and lead Republicans in Congress to seek impeachment as the only alternative to political extinction.

At this point, the scenarios become too convoluted and inter-connected to pick any with confidence. Everything depends on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, probably the most capable in her position ever.  My hope is that she will manage a restoration of democracy and the recovery of the country in a pendulum-centering approach, not allowing a swing to the left which would then prompt a backlash swing to the right.

Republicans, covertly at first, overtly in time, will initiate efforts to impeach President Trump in order to save the Republican Party, though they may not know that there is little left to save.  Republicans have been prostitutes for Trump and are unlikely to convince Americans that they have restored their virginity.  Notwithstanding, Mitch McConnell knows that, if the party does not try, it may lose not only the Senate majority, but also enough seats to filibuster legislation or confirmations.  So he will have to encourage the House to impeach Trump.  But, aside from love of country, Pelosi would have little incentive to move quickly, especially as the 2020 election approaches.  The longer Mitchell delays, the more Pelosi can make Mitchell pay as a down payment on action.  My unrealistic hope: the means—more impeachments?—to undo Senate confirmation of Trump-nominated federal judges rated “unqualified” or rated “qualified” despite more than three dissenting votes.

As the federal government implodes, state governments will contract in size, scope, and, in Republican-controlled governments, effectiveness and legitimacy.  Democrats will seize the initiative and identify suitable candidates to challenge both incumbents and replacements.  Their biggest challenge will be themselves—with activist candidates out-Lefting each other and thereby diminishing party chances in purple, not to mention red, states.  The same is true at the federal level, with Progressives claiming a new day for the Left for trendy Elizabeth Warren and re-tread Bernie Sanders.  However, it will have an early sundown, for the growing support on the Left—college student activists who like causes and crusades will read the results of the mid-term elections—will be for center-left candidates who can speak to the middle and near-right voters, and win elections.  Beto O’Rourke has proven to be an attractive candidate but has little record of demonstrated competence.  Kamala Harris and Cory Booker have better records but coastal backgrounds, and I am not sure that the country will soon vote for another person of color (including rising Republican star Nikki Haley).  Joe Biden, with a far better record, can better serve as an √©minence grise.  Hillary, despite winning millions more votes than Trump, redefines an unattractive candidate, so much so that she should not be known to support anyone; as the poster person of elitist entitlement, the Left should lock her out.  My choices: Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Sherrod Brown of Ohio. But, then, I remain a Mid-Westerner at heart.

In foreign affairs and military engagements, a desperate president, facing the ultimate in humiliations, will use military or police forces to either distract the electorate from his plight and rally them to “national security”—imagine: Trump’s America is so weak that he will claim yet again that another caravan of a few thousand refugees or some convenient little nation—Grenada II?—threatens to topple America—for the same purpose.  Of course, he might order a few brinksmanship incidents—a shoot-down of a Chinese jet, a sinking of an Iranian freighter—to assist his self-preservation. I do not predict a little miscalculation leading to a war of escalating size, but I do worry about it.

About which I say in conclusion, bottom line, at the end of the day, we have every right to extinguish ourselves, if this is what human intelligence leads us to, but we have no right to exterminate other species as “collateral damage.”  I speak for my cats and dogs, and for eagles and elephants, polar bears and porpoises, barn swallows and sloths, and millions of untold populations who would, if polled, prefer to be left alone.  That, if we humans can do no better, is my image of peace on earth.  Happy New Year.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

ASSISTING RAPE VICTIMS: A "RULE OF RECOVERY"

 I was recently in court as a plaintiff in a case of fraud.  The New Mexico statute of limitations in civil cases of fraud is three or four years; in criminal cases, misdemeanors, one to two years, and felonies, four to six years.  For most civil or criminal offenses, the clock starts running on the date of commission of an offense because the victim knows that it has occurred.  For fraud and a few other cases of liability, the clock starts running, not on the date of commission, but on the date of discovery, when the victim realizes or learns that fraud has occurred.

The rationale for this start point defined by what the law calls the “Rule of Discovery” is obvious: it would be perverse for a statute of limitations for fraud to run from the date of commission when one aspect of the crime of fraud is to prevent discovery. Otherwise, the perpetrator, no doubt with fingers crossed, would hope that the unwitting victim does not discover the fraud until the statute of limitations has run out.

The law recognizes the need to recognize that an offense the concealment of which prevents reporting requires an adjustment allowing for discovery.  It does not recognize the need to recognize that an offense the consequences of which prevent reporting also requires an adjustment allowing for disclosure.

I am convinced that I shall not be a victim of rape, but, if I were, I know that the law would not treat me well.  Like the victim of most other crimes, a victim of rape (or other forms of sexual abuse) knows during the rape, or, if unconsciousness, realizes or learns soon after that she (or he) has been raped.  Because of the victim’s knowledge, most states treat rape like most other crimes and, accordingly, apply the Rule of Discovery to the statute of limitations. As in those cases, so in rape cases; the statute of limitations runs for only a few years.  In New Mexico, most rapes have a statute of limitations of six years; rapes involving great bodily harm have no statute of limitations.  If the state can recognize bodies, perhaps, in these latter days, it can also recognize souls.

For rape is a different kind of crime. It is not only violent, but also invasive; it degrades and shames the victim and traumatizes her (or him, too).  In response, most victims, though witting of the offense against them at the time, have great difficulty confronting the facts, greater difficulty disclosing them even to those whom they trust, and far greater difficulty reporting them to, and discussing them with, police officers, male and female, who are commonly unsuited personally and untrained professionally to deal with victims.  For long periods, they are unable or unwilling to take or seek legal action against the perpetrator.  By the time that they become able and willing, the clock has run out, and justice delayed has thus been denied—a further offense against the victim.  Thus, the nature of the consequences of rape makes the Rule of Discovery a means not only to protect the rights of the perpetrator, but also to perpetuate the wrongs against the victim.

Since the nature of rape and the victim’s response to it are unlike those of other overt, violent criminal acts, the law should recognize these facts and amend the statute of limitations by what I shall call the “Rule of Recovery.”  That is, the clock starts running on the statute of limitations only when the victim is able to take or seek legal action against the perpetrator.  Some will argue against the extension allowed by my “Rule of Recovery” on the grounds that there is no end in sight to the possibility of legal action against the rapist. My counter-argument is that, if so, there is no end in sight to the reality of the consequences to the rapist’s victim.  And more: a short statute of limitations under the Rule of Discovery might even incentivize the rapist to make the rape even more traumatizing than otherwise. The argument against extension because the victim can wait unduly or indefinitely is the counter-argument that waiting weakens the case.

Some state legislatures have recently recognized the inappropriateness of such a short statute of limitations for rape (or other forms of sexual abuse).  They have extended the statute of limitations up to decades or eliminated it altogether; Ohio and California are examples, respectively.  One New Mexico legislator wants it extended to ten years—better but by far not good enough.  If the state can make an exception for great physical harm, it should be able to make an exception for great psychological harm.

The New Mexico Legislature has deferred the statute of limitations under the Rule of Discovery in case of fraud, a crime designed and executed to prevent discovery by unwitting victims.  Now it should extend or eliminate the statute of limitations under a “Rule of Recovery” in the case of rape, a crime so harmful to victims that it often delays or prevents disclosure—and justice.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

DOUBLE-TALK ABOUT DUAL-LANGUAGE INSTRUCTION

Dual-language instruction (DLI)—the dual languages are usually English and Spanish—has been debated since the first program in 1963.  The debate shows no sign of abating because advocates have special interests in perpetuating DLI programs, protecting them if necessary, expanding them if possible, although the data are, after all this time, inconclusive at best, unfavorable at worst.  Data purportedly supporting DLI are unverifiable and unreliable, and, even then, of instances, not examples.

Independent research shows well-grounded skepticism about the merits of DLI.  One reason is that advocates keep changing DLI purposes and, with the changes, any data collected and any results measured.  First, they proposed DLI to help close the academic gap between Hispanic students speaking little or no English and Caucasian students. Then, when the gap did not close, they downplayed or abandoned that purpose to encourage respect for, and appreciation of the Hispanic cultural and linguistic heritage of, Spanish-speaking students in mainly English-speaking student bodies.  They later expanded this purpose to include encouraging positive attitudes in Hispanic students who felt themselves or their academic abilities inferior to those of English-speaking students.  These purposes have more to do with social status and self-esteem than education, lack defined data and measurable outcomes, make claims about its importance or success difficult to confirm or refute, and thus distance DLI programs from accountability.

Data are irrelevant to program development or evaluation in New Mexico.  They are not available on the Public Education Department (PED) website and not easily acquired from PED.  Since July, I have sought reading and mathematics proficiency data for DLI and non-DLI Hispanic 4th- and 8th-grade students for the last 10 years, with no success.  My request—first rejected; then, on the Secretary’s intervention, accepted; then promised by mid-October—remains unfulfilled.  This much is certain: if the data are not at hand, they have not been used to ascertain the merits of the state’s DLI programs.  The easy inference is that PED knows enough about the data, at hand or not, to withhold them from the public for two reasons.  One, reading and mathematics proficiency of DLI and non-DLI Hispanic students does not differ significantly.  Two, DLI programs provide little or no academic benefit at considerable cost.

In the absence of data, debating DLI merits is difficult, especially because its advocates link it more with cultural, ethnic, and social, than educational, issues.  To them, opposition implies, as they often insinuate of opponents, bias against Hispanics and their heritage.  No doubt, such bias may explain some opposition, especially at the farther reaches of the Right, but it does not explain much of it.

Ironically, bias operates even in the views of DLI advocates.  Their shifting rationales assume that Hispanic students cannot learn (well) without special programs which patronize them because of their presumed deficiencies.  So some programs presume that DLI students lack pride in their heritage or themselves and thereby perform badly academically.   Whether DLI programs instill such pride is debatable.  If DLI students perform little or no better with these programs than without them, they are likely to feel more shame than pride, as if fulfilling stereotypes which DLI programs wish to eradicate.  They may realize that happy feelings about their heritage and themselves lacked educational value, resources for psychic massages diverted resources from learning which had lasting benefits, and educators and DLI advocates patronized and exploited them.

So it is that, when I interviewed Las Cruces Public Schools Superintendent on 19 July, Dr. Gregory Ewing indicated that DLI was a means to overcome a sense of inferiority of students not well versed in either Spanish or English, and academic inadequacies.  He implied that schools with DLI programs have large numbers of demoralized and disadvantaged Hispanic students.  I have no way of knowing whether their parents share his views.  I sought a follow-up interview, but, in the three months thereafter, Dr. Ewing was unable to find a half hour for me.  So I gave up seeking answers to three basic questions about these programs.  One, what planning was done to initiate and, if necessary, terminate DLI programs?  Two, were Hispanic parents involved in program planning?  Three, what metrics were adopted in that planning to help ascertain whether and to what degree DLI programs were successful or worth the resources committed to them?  The likely answers to these questions are none, no, none, respectively.

Other problems abound.  DLI programs have difficulty finding teachers capable in course content and Spanish, especially in a serious teacher shortage.  They have not improved Hispanic academic performance, self-confidence, or self-esteem.  Most Hispanic parents know so; they want their children immersed and taught in English as the better way to close the academic gap.  Those who oppose DLI programs agree with the parents.  Perversely, DLI advocates discount parents’ wishes and disregard their interests in order to promote their own special interests, assured positions in public education.

Admittedly, the purpose of DLI in New Mexico may differ by design from that in other states with large numbers of Hispanic students.  I remain convinced that the purpose of the state’s public school system is employment, not education; and skeptical that a majority cares much about education—whether public, charter, private, parochial—, for it never worsens or improves, just remains a mediocrity embarrassing and detrimental to the state, its people, and its economy.  However, DLI advocacy serves a useful purpose for politicians, and DLI programs help DLI administrators and teachers secure niche employment for themselves, who thereby build empires on the backs of those whom they purportedly serve. Of course, this structure of self-serving officials and poorly served citizens reflects the Hispanic legacy in this state since long before statehood.

Monday, November 12, 2018

RURAL AMERICANS ARE AMERICANS, TOO

 In the second half of the fifteenth century, the Scottish poet Robert Henryson wrote a moral fable entitled “The Taill of the Uponlandis Mous and the Burges Mous,” or, for us moderns, “The Tale of the Country Mouse and the City Mouse.”  Through the particulars of its time and place, the poem shows the dichotomy between rural and urban life.

The dichotomy first arose with the invention of agriculture.  Its ability to provide sufficient food in one place from one year to the next required people to live in one place from one year to the next.  That stability allowed larger number of families to congregate in villages, then towns, then cities.  Larger numbers of people meant a greater division (diversity) of labor, some need for community services, and some organizational structures to provide them. Thus, from rural producers arose urban managers, with their different perspectives, capabilities, and responsibilities.  Producers were backward looking in relying on and replicating whatever had worked before to sustain and grow their communities; managers were forward-looking in predicting and preparing for community needs as their populations grew or rival communities threatened.  So, from the start, producers were “conservative,” managers “liberal.”  

Other dichotomies paralleled these.  Rural living and urban living require different adaptive capabilities.  Rural life makes itself meaningful, not by routine tasks, but by religion based on annual cycles of natural phenomenon and shared communal experiences.  Urban life, separated from those cycles and divided by differentiated experiences, makes itself meaningful by secular factors: the variety of tasks, diversity of people, and range of social interactions.  Rural tasks require training in traditional tasks; urban tasks require specialized education.  The easy criticism contrasting rural ignorance and urban knowledge is very unfair because the different levels of attainment reflect an efficiency of what circumstances allow or require.  Nevertheless, evolving material civilization has led to the deprecation of rural life and the celebration of urban life.  Country-dwellers have reacted with anti-elitist and anti-intellectual resentment of city-dwellers’ scorn of their “ignorance.”  These basic differences have proliferated in other ways, to reflect the greater dynamism and complexity of modern life, and growing populations diversifying in race, religion, gender, and ethnicity.

Most country-city conflicts can be conveniently reduced to alternative responses to modernity, which emphasizes rationality, secularism, innovation, law, and cosmopolitanism—the essential ingredients of urban life.  Rural areas are at once attracted to their benefits but repelled by their costs in the satisfactions of stable family and community bonds and customs (aka, “values), which make rural areas conservative. The intrusion of electronic technologies, the disruptions of daily life by mass urban communications and the ease of transportation, and the effects of national and worldwide markets aggravate the tension.  The primary political challenge confronting the Left—that is, Democrats of all stripes—is how to address the distress, fear, and anger arising from the nature of rural life.

*       *      *

A tale of two cities suggests the problem.  Two decades ago, my girlfriend and I visited Kansas to explore what I silently believed to be a wacky idea to convert an abandoned railroad line into a bicycle trail. You know how many farmers’ wives and children want to hop on their non-existent bicycles for a twenty-mile ride up and back through the wheat fields which their husbands and fathers have spent the whole day planting or reaping.  We stayed in Stafford, a small town the population of which has barely exceeded 2000 and was then about 1200, and visited Radium, an even smaller town the population of which may never have exceeded 100 and was then about 40.  The median age in the two towns is 53 and 48, respectively; the US median age 38.

Stafford consists of modest houses, many much devalued; small businesses, many boarded up; one small restaurant still open and serving “home”-made good food; a small school, closed; and not much else.  We stayed at a B&B, had good breakfasts, and learned the sad story of a dying community. The population is aging, businesses are closing, families are leaving, school-age children ride a bus 40 miles to and from school, and older children leave for opportunities elsewhere.  The signs of exhaustion are evident everywhere.  Radium consists of less: a few homes, a gas station and general store, and a co-op for the grain silo.

While my girlfriend scouted the countryside, I visited the co-op and talked with the operator and some of the local farmers.  They were uniformly friendly and not at all shy about discussing the situation with this stranger obviously from “back east.”  Agribusinesses were the problem.  They had persuaded the railroad not to serve the trunk line to the co-op’s grain silo, so farmers had to truck their harvest to buyers, at greater cost.  Eventually, they gave up, sold out, and moved away, to the agribusinesses, which combine small family farms into megafarms for more efficient farming using larger machines and fewer people.  The stress on people and communities as they lose their way of life is devastating to them.

The result: families deteriorate or divide, and communities die.  More than elsewhere, the young who remain do drugs—methamphetamine, opioids, whatever—; the epidemic is in rural areas.  Those who do not remain leave their families and communities. Paradoxically, most blame the government, state sometimes, federal mostly—a perfect case of transference. But it is easier to fall in with the traditional American suspicion of and hostility toward government than to identify the real causes and villains of the problems in businesses.  The local media, controlled by big businesses in the state is complicit in this transference.  Before boarding our plane to Washington, I bought a copy of The Wichita Eagleand was shocked by the heading of its lead editorial: “Butt Out!”  The editorial excoriated the Department of Agriculture for its seven-state study of the plight of agriculture in the High Plains.  I later read the report and understood the vituperation of the editorial: the feds got it right, to the obvious discomfort of special interests who wanted no farmers blaming them.

*       *      *

Meanwhile, in their post-election huddles, elected Democratic officials and consultants are asking the question which plagues them: how to address the denizens of the red, predominantly rural states between the coasts.  The question is almost anthropological; it regards the inhabitants as if they be primitives lately discovered in some foreign country and to think that one policy, theirs, fits all. 

 Consider their political ignorance: no recent Democratic candidate for national office has visited them.  Did Obama campaign in Cheyenne, WY; Pocatello, ID; or Ft. Smith, AK?  Did Hilary have a kitchen klatch in Goodland, KS; Durango, CO; or Elko, NV?  Are any of the 2020 Democratic candidates apt to campaign anywhere but Iowa and New Hampshire, and, if nominated, the coastal states and the upper Midwest?

Consider their political stupidity: apparently, Democrats do not realize that the residents of rural states control the Senate.  If they do, they want to “fix” the Constitution rather than talk with some of the “we the people.”  Otherwise, they seem prepared to cede its permanent control to Republicans.  And, if they do, they seem willing to make further attacks on, say, the cultural and family role played by rifles and hunting in rural life. The fact is few mass shooting occur in rural areas; most are urban and suburban events on the coasts or in the East or eastern Midwest.  Democrats might consider that a fit-the-law-to-the-phenomenon approach is a sensible, politically sensitive, and feasible approach to gun control.

It is long since time that the party which purports to represent the people finds out about all the people whom it purports to represent.  It is time for Democratic elitists, most especially its Progressive purists, to get off their high horse and get on a real one—or a tractor, truck, or boat.  There are a lot of farmers, ranchers, lumbermen, fishers, and miners who could teach them a thing or two.  And, while they are at it, they should extend their dedication to diversity and welcome of inclusion to rural Americans as well as urban ones.  Their model might be the most aristocratic president of the twentieth century, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who, confined to a wheelchair, wisely used Eleanor to meet them for him.  When Eleanor stopped her car to talk with some migrant farmworkers in California, one of the men recognized her as she walked across the field to their fire: “So, Mrs. Roosevelt, you’ve come to see us at last.”  Later, as Franklin’s funeral cortege marched slowly down Pennsylvania Avenue, a man along the route collapsed in grief.  The man next to him helped him up and offered comfort.  “Did you know the President?”  “No,” the other said, “but he knew me.”

Monday, October 29, 2018

ARE ALL CHRISTIANS ANTI-SEMITIC?

       William Nichols, a former Anglican minister and retired professor of religious studies, would not be pleased to know that one of his most distinguished books, though addressed to Christians, is shelved in the Jewish book section of mass-market bookstores like Barnes and Noble, and that store managers, because of corporate decisions, could not shelve it in the Christian book section—all to shield Christians from the truth.  Christian Anti-Semitismcannot comfort Christians about their faith and their church after two millennia of inherent anti-Judaic teaching and endemic anti-Jewish prejudice, persecution, exile, or extermination.  My wife, an intelligent, well-informed, and practicing Episcopalian, could get only halfway through it, it was so unbearable to her.  But given the Christian angst, a mostly pious and politically correct reflex, about the Sabbath synagogue killings in Pittsburgh, reading the book would be a fitting act of Christian atonement.

The book is a long, ugly slog through centuries of theological discourse reviling Judaism and Jews, and church and church-supported misconduct toward Jews.  Christian anti-Semitism is an acquired prejudice, whether learned from the Gospels, particularly Matthew and John, or absorbed from the ambient Christian culture. It is reinforced by Paul, mostly notably in his condemnation of the Jewish law as dead (versus the Christian love as living).  Paul’s condemnation gets repeated nearly 2000 years later, half a century after that aberration known as Vatican II: “‘[“the Doctors of the Law”] failed to understand that the law they guarded and loved’ was a pedagogy towards Jesus Christ. ‘If the law does not lead to Jesus Christ,…if it does not bring us closer to Jesus Christ, it is dead....’”  Thus, with virtually the same invidious comparison, Pope Frances aligns himself with Paul—a sign that Christianity has changed little in two millennia.

Christians have only themselves to blame for past and present anti-Semitism; they have made Jews the scapegoat of choice wherever Christianity has spread—that is, everywhere. In a world of 7.5 billion people, fewer than 14 million are Jews, or two-tenths of a percent.  Most of the world’s 2.2 billion Christians sense Jews as powerful and evil; most of the world’s 1.2 billion Moslems regard Jews as implacable enemies.  The slurs reflecting these views are evident in words and phrases about globalism, international bankers, undue political influence, control of the press, conspiracy to control the world—the list is long.

Not only other Christians, those who are far away or fanatical, are anti-Semitic; but also Christians even in the city of Three Crosses.  In a weekly discussion group attended largely by members of a church regarded as liberal—it firmly and publicly supports Hispanic immigrants, Muslims, and members of the LGBTQ communities—my observation that Christianity lacks a “code of conduct” like the Jews’ 613 laws was immediately, angrily attacked by two lay members: why do Jews need so many laws, why are Ten Commandments not enough for them?  After a pause to give the several retired ministers a chance to respond—none did—, I replied, not with a matching counter-question—why do Christians believe that Jesus was crucified to redeem people for their sins, not to eliminate and make an example of him, “King of the Jews,” as a political troublemaker?—but with the question whether they thought that Christians should define what Jews believe.  I got no response from them.  Later, one minister known for touting his good will toward all faiths, defended the attackers as “ignorant,” not anti-Semitic, but he lapsed into silence when asked about their angry outburst instead of a temperate request for information.  Fabricated excuses and tolerant silence are telltale signs of anti-Semitism which, like direct anti-Semitic epithets, reflect and reinforce anti-Semitism.  One of the ministers had earlier agreed with me that it was the “original sin” of the denomination.  And the church leader, open to presentations by Hispanics, Muslims, and LGBTQ people, is—save his job—not open to presentations by Jews to a congregation riddled with anti-Semites.

Knowing a few Christians who are not anti-Semitic, I know that not all are anti-Semitic.  But no Christian can easily and surely exempt himself or herself of the likelihood that immersion in a pervasively Christian culture has not stained them with anti-Semitism.  For example, fundamentalist Christians ardent in support of Israel are (un)consciously anti-Semitic.  In wanting to make Israel attractive to Jews in the Diaspora, in hoping for their return to Zion, they are really seeking to promote the In-gathering as a prelude to the Rapture.  In other words, Jews are tools to Christian ends—not a respectful regard for Jews or their religion.

I began with Nicholls; let me near the end with a few words from his book.

The simultaneous discovery of the anti-Jewishness of Christianity and the Jewishness of Jesus has created a crisis for Christian faith, still realized by only a few, yet rendered maximally urgent by the Holocaust and the events of the rest of the twentieth century.  The divine-human figure at the center of the Christian myth turns out to have been a Jew with nothing distinctive in common with Christianity. When we consider the implications of this discovery for orthodox Christianity, Catholic and Protestant, they are nothing less than startling.

If Jesus was indeed God incarnate, it follows that in becoming a believing and observant Jew God must have validated Judaism for all time against its religious rivals, including Christianity. (p. 427)

You may well believe that there is more along these lines in his conclusion.

Nicholls’s interpretation of Christianity must be more shocking to Christians than it is to me. Unlike Nicholls, I believe that Christianity can be a faith of great value and virtue, and avoid being anti-Semitic if it disavows its historical roots in Hebraism (with supersessionist tendencies) and embraces its philosophical roots in Hellenism.  Paul’s need to repudiate Judaism, expanding in the Mediterranean basin, was a thing necessary to his mission; it is no longer necessary, if it ever was, for Christianity to be imperialistic.  (I do wonder whether the urge to convert others is not a means to compensate for the disconcerting fact that his fellow Jews refused to follow Jesus.)  It can reform itself to be a religion of love for all without being a religion of hate for Jews.  But how individual Christians might escape the effects of their immersion in an anti-Semitic Christian culture I do not know.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

CIVIL DISCOURSE--IS IT POSSIBLE?

 I report part of an exchange between a friend long-serving in local government in my home town and me as an illumination of the problems which make civil conversation across the political divide so difficult.  In response to my blog “Had Enough?,” she wrote,

“I don’t get it either— why so many women hang in there defending Trump and Kavanaugh. Are they simply stupid, or have they identified with being an enslaved class of people subservient to white men and men in particular, happy to be paid less, get sexually assaulted with impunity because the courts protect the assaulters, etc., etc.? Maybe the GOP women think if they are one percenters a la Mitt Romney, that they will be exempted from laws that will be honed by the white male oligarchs? When will that section of the electorate decide they have had enough? Probably not as long as they continue to benefit from the GOP reign of terror. As to the rest of the Dems, Independents and moderates, I just hope they VOTE on Nov. 6.

To which I responded,

Thanks for this response, but I think that it views women who support Trump, Kavanaugh, and the other misogynists and misfits from the outside perspective of the Left and not from their perspectives.  I see no point in thinking of them in the terms in which you do; it just makes it hard to understand them.  I cannot claim to know for what their perspectives are, but I can make some guesses.  Some part of it is surely religious; some women do believe as a matter of their faith that they are and should be subordinate to their husbands.  Some are probably acting, as they see it, to protect prophylactically their male family members.  Some probably share the same culture-war revulsion for women’s liberation as many men feel.  If any of this is right, then the Left needs to figure out how to talk with, not to, such women (and men).

There is nothing civil about her term “stupid” or, I admit, my term “misfits,” but, between the two of us, mine was useful shorthand for the various conspiracy mongers and culture warriors on the Right who depart from 2500 years of traditional norms of rhetorical reasonableness and propriety in the Western World.

My friend replied with an alternative: wait for the demographic change and more women who have been “raped, denied contraception through workplace insurance and have to have abortions in dirty back rooms like days of yore.”  I do not begrudge my friend her anger, but I let the exchange end at that point as no longer promising.

It requires splitting hairs to see a difference between the Left and the Right in their one-on-one engagements with their opposites.  One of this city’s more outspoken liberals who agreed with me on many issues found herself in such strong disagreement with me on one issue that she not only no longer emails me or talks with me, but also walks by me as if I do not exist and cannot hear my greeting.  One of my conservative neighbors, finding herself in an untenable position near and dear to her, found it necessary to play the cards of racial insult to extricate herself from the absurdity of her position and then to order me off her property.  So I find myself unable to imagine how to discuss in a civil manner with those on both ends of the political spectrum who are temperamentally and ethically incapable of the self-restraint necessary to be respectful and rational.

My opinions—I no longer remember what the issues were—set my two acquaintances against me either before or in the course of conversation.  I had no way to reverse the hostile manifestations which made further conversation impossible.  So Ms. Litmus Test and Ms. Otherness show just how difficult one-on-one engagements can be.  Much more difficult are the improbabilities of people considering opinions or perspectives not only not their own, but also remote or removed from them.

As a teacher, consultant, and scholar, I am committed to truth, facts, and argument (I do not mean shouting matches).  These vocations and avocations have accustomed—perhaps a better word is “inured”—me to having my views challenged by all sorts of people from all sorts of perspectives.  In those capacities, I have found few occasions when good manners, good faith, and informed discussion have not produced better—always civil, often thought-provoking—results than aggressive efforts simply to overcome an opponent and think oneself a winner.  But I have not found a way to persuade many others of some ideological persuasion or another of the value of such exchanges.

One hindrance is that modern conversation is the stuff of tribal networks or gated communities of the think-alikes and of Internet materials personally selected to reinforce pre-existing convictions and prejudices.  That latter point is worrisome: the rise of tribalism roughly parallels the rise of the Internet.  The scariest possibility: as they exploit mass anonymity and wealth inequality, Internet technology and American capitalism become the bane of democracy.