Thursday, August 30, 2012


The Romney/Ryan presidential tandem continues the GOP’s half-century mix of “culture war” and economic issues. Some Republicans—Bachmann, Huckabee, and Santorum—emphasize “culture war” issues—examples: drugs, abortion, contraception, gays in the military, and same-sex marriage—which are important to many people and may have more immediate effects on their lives than other issues do. I do not regard them as trivial by comparison to the economic and financial issues which almost everyone agrees are critical, but do not think that the concern, say, of the undead for the condition of the unborn constitutes an existential threat to the American way of life.

Almost everyone thought that the 2012 presidential election would turn on economic and financial issues, but they have not yet received either extended attention or honest discussion. If Romney and Ryan urge a backward-looking, finger-pointing referendum on Obama’s record in office, the public will remember that much of it resulted from what Congress did or failed to do. In Obama’s first two years, Democratic majorities in the Senate and the House passed major legislation; since then, Senate Republicans have filibustered, or the House Republican majority has refused to pass, major economic, notably job-creating, legislation. Although Obama’s naïve efforts to effect bipartisanship legislation and his few efforts to persuade the public of the merits of his legislative proposals have proved ineffectual, the public credits him with trying to address the country’s economy and peoples’ fears. The popularity of Obama and the unpopularity of Congress testify to the public’s allocation of blame.

By contrast with Obama, who has been the central public figure for over three years and is well known and liked, Romney remains a mystery, and Ryan is an unknown, though both have been public figures for years. Obviously, to dispel public ignorance, they have stories to tell and records to disclose—both of which Democrats question for accuracy. Early on, Romney touted his business experience at Bain Capital as his prime qualification for the presidency during the doldrums of a lackluster recovery from a severe recession striking a year before Obama’s election. Romney has every right to tout his success in saving businesses and creating jobs. But he should have known that every story has two sides, that he could tell his side, and that others would tell theirs. He assumed, apparently out of arrogance derived from living in elite social, financial, and political circles, that his story was exempt from challenge. For he was unprepared for another story scrutinizing his record and showing that he did not create additional jobs and moved existing jobs overseas. His story discredited, Romney distanced himself from it.

The public will learn even less from Ryan, who has lived a life as an officeholder and who, as lifetime politicians often do, repeatedly misrepresents his records and his views, and dodges responsibility. Example: in legislation which he drafted, Ryan inserted the phrase “forcible rape”; it is not, as he now dissembles, a term of legislative boilerplate. Example: Ryan slapped Obama for not supporting the Bowles-Simpson budget, but skipped hypocritically over his commission vote against it. Example: using the Big-Lie technique in his convention speech, Ryan repeated the false charge that Obama took $716 billion in benefits from Medicare and spent them on the Affordable Care Act, when Obama took savings from doctor and hospital overcharges, and applied them to Medicare beneficiaries. Example: Ryan declared that Romney and he would deal with the tough issues, but he ducked any details—too many Devils in them, all unpopular with the public—like his voucher plan for Medicare. Easier for Ryan to talk about making tough decisions adversely affecting other people than for them to live with the consequences.

The second side of the story harps on the human-interest side of the consequences of Romney’s leadership of Bain Capital—the heartache, the hurt, the dashed dreams and lost opportunities of fired employees, their families, and their communities. But this side of the story, however grievous, misses the larger point bearing on the election. It misses the similarity of the Romney’s approach to business and his approach to government. In a few words, dismantle, discontinue, and downsize; not rebuild, reinvest, and restore—all in the interest of the few at the top, not the many at the bottom.

Romney’s success, which Republican Texas governor Rick Perry harshly described as “vulture capitalism,” instances the capitalistic theory of “creative destruction,” a “survival-of-the-fittest” view of free-market evolution. Romney’s chop-shop business experience is a record of dismantling faltering businesses or deporting them or their jobs. Thus, in criticizing TARP, he implies that he would have let Wall Street firms fail. In criticizing the bailout and urging bankruptcy, he would have let America’s automobile industry fail. His likely approach to the problems of major government programs—Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid as well as public education—would be no different; in fact, he has already advocated steps to dismember or underfunding them by privatizing or voucherizing them, not to reform and restore them.

Romney’s practice of using large debt to prop up ailing companies before they fail in order to make profits for Bain Capital and himself incline him to increase national debt to artificially and temporarily prop up the economy for the benefit of the few at the cost to the many. This experience in Bain Capital’s financial and management practices is not transferable to the fundamental practices of non-financial commerce and industry. More important, his zero-sum approach to business success—Bain Capital and its stockholders win; companies and employees lose—is not an approach to address large and long-term national problems and achieve solutions in the national interest.

Yet this is Romney’s and Ryan’s approach: tax cuts which will benefit Romney, Ryan, and other millionaires, and either increase the national debt, increase taxes on the middle and lower classes, or increase costs compensating for cuts in government programs benefitting them the most. I cannot think of another presidential candidate who advocated tax cuts so dramatically benefitting himself, not to mention costing others. Increased taxes or costs will reduce middle- and lower-class disposable income, their demand for goods and services, and the jobs to provide or produce them—thereby perpetrating, if not worsening, the still-feeble economic recovery.

Ryan’s ideas are more drastic than Romney’s but no more sensible. Ryan’s voucher plan, his substitute for Medicare, would boost after-voucher health-care costs and have the same effect as higher taxes or compensatory costs. Whatever one thinks of Ryan as a budgetary whiz kid, he can be no real help. He has no business experience; indeed, he has spent more time reading Ayn Rand novels than earning a living outside government. The result will be similar to the results of Romney’s exploitive operations: the rich, like Bain Capital’s officers and shareholders, will get richer, and the middle and lower classes, like the employees of shrunken or shuttered companies, will lose income or jobs.

CEO’s may not care about company employees, but presidents must care about this country’s citizens. Most troublesome about Romney is not that he is a rich man—we have had rich presidents: the Roosevelts, John Kennedy, and the Bushes come to mind—but that he lacks that empathy which comes of experience with people in other walks of life. All except Bush 43 had significant experience with people from different and less advantaged walks of life. They knew and learned, as they were taught, to empathize with and respect and serve those who had less.

A story about Eleanor Roosevelt, FDR’s wife, advisor, and well-known social activist on behalf of the downtrodden, makes this point. On a trip through California’s agricultural heartland, she saw some migrant workers taking a break; she stopped the car, got out, and approached the men to talk with them. One rose and greeted her, “So, Mrs. Roosevelt, you’ve come to see us at last.” The sense of personal worth felt by these men at her attention to and concern for them—there is nothing, absolutely nothing, like this moment in Romney’s business or religious life.

On the contrary, Romney’s life—who knows about his wife’s?—suggests a lack of concern or empathy for those unlike him. Four instances are telling: Two early instances are his adolescent bullying of an off-beat classmate at prep school and his abusive trick of pretending to hold open a door for a blind instructor and letting him walk into it. A midlife example is the now-famous episode of tying the family dog to a rooftop kennel for a 12-hour vacation trip, made even more revealing of his and his wife’s lack of empathy in their claim that Seamus enjoyed himself. A final example, one occurring and relevant in this campaign, is his callous statement that he likes to fire people.

Romney’s wife may show Romney personable in his marriage and family, but affection for his wife and children is not like empathy for others. Moreover, there is nothing in Mrs. Romney’s life like this story in Mrs. Roosevelt’s life. Mrs. Romney says she weeps when the Romneys tithe to the church, but whether she weeps in self-pity, self-satisfaction, or sentimentality, whichever, this story does not ring true. Even so, the Romneys’ checkbook charity gives them no history of experience with, or social activism connecting them to, ordinary people. They intuitively sense this lack of empathy and rightly see it as a serious deficiency in a prospective president of a democracy.

Romney and Ryan offer nostrums to national problems entirely consistent with cutthroat capitalist ideology untempered by experience with and empathy for those not like themselves. Cutting programs which constitute the “safety net” for people to live in dignity with modest means is not much different from cannibalizing companies and firing people. Reducing funding for education, as if education on the cheap can keep America competitive with economic rivals who are investing in education, dashes the basis for the hopes of many students and their parents for a better life. Reducing regulations, mainly environmental regulations, without regard for the consequences, not only dirtier air, water, and earth, but also the resulting diseases and disabilities, shows a disregard for peoples’ health or their greatly increased health care costs at a time of shrinking federal and state assistance, and of level or declining personal income.

None of Romney’s and Ryan’s nostrums—smaller government, less regulation, lower taxes—and slogans—freedom, choice, opportunities—can help America recover from its economic doldrums, much less rebuild it for this and future generations. Their Bain Capital strategy, which made money by closing companies or firing employees is no template to enrich and revitalize America, but to impoverish and deplete it. Their strategy will enable the rich to realize short-term benefits at long-term costs to all others. The reason why Romney offers no vision for America is that he does not have one for the country, only for his class—class warfare, indeed.

The question for voters does not point to the past, except as a guide to the future. It is a simple one: who is more likely to make the country and you better off at the end of the next four years? The answer is the candidate whose record reflects long service to “we the people” and whose character responds with empathy to their needs and hopes.

Saturday, August 25, 2012


The history of abortion goes back millennia and across civilizations. Fluctuations in views about abortion and variations in methods characterize that history. Most societies deplore abortions but make an exception to save a woman’s life. So private practice has often been more widespread than public punishment; back-alley abortions existed before back alleys did. From a historical perspective, the debate about the rights and wrongs of abortion has never been settled. From a philosophical or theological perspective, views on abortion have changed over time and within institutions.

Until recently, the three major faiths in the West have held positions on abortion different from that now advocated by America’s anti-abortionist extremists. No faith has encouraged abortion; all have allowed it under certain conditions and at certain times during pregnancy. Judaism, despite great respect for the unborn—think “person lite”—believes that life begins at breach. It values the actual life of a pregnant woman more than the potential life of an unborn and thus allows abortions in cases of rape, incest, and threat to a woman’s life. Following Aristotle and Aquinas, Christianity and Islam believe that human, as opposed to biological, life begins with “ensoulment,” which quickening about halfway through a pregnancy indicates. Both faiths are more tolerant of abortions before than after ensoulment, for the traditional reasons, with the life of the woman paramount. So it is an intellectual and moral perversion previously unknown in history to value the yet unborn equally to, or more highly than, the already born.

The recent, revolutionary position of conservatives mainly in the Catholic Church, in some fundamentalist Christian denominations, and in the Republican Party (with its Tea Party caucus) is that human life begins at conception. This radical redefinition reflects a tactical shift in doctrine responding to two centuries of improvements in medicine which have diminished the risks of abortion to a woman’s health and life, have made abortion safer than natural childbirth, and have supported social trends favoring less institutional power and more individual freedom. This redefinition justifies conservative efforts to obstruct medical research and medical advances which have societally and personally liberating tendencies, to oppose the secularizing tendencies of science generally, and, ultimately, to diminish, not enlarge or enhance, the possibilities for human freedom.

All of which is to say that conservatives rally to the cause of anti-abortion advocates, including extremists, as a means of waging war against what they regard as the debasing influences of modernism, secularism, and democracy. In waging this war, conservatives create radical inconsistencies with their traditional positions. Thus, those who advocate small government and personal freedom nevertheless support government large enough to hinder a woman’s right to an abortion under the Constitution and to restrict her choices affecting her life. They support laws to restrict or impede the exercise of this right by curtailing access to doctors and facilities providing abortions; or by intimidating or abusing pregnant women with invasive, involuntary, humiliating, and medically unnecessary and expensive procedures.

Such inconsistencies are consistent with hypocrisy. No one who respects the sanctity of human life would treat living humans as conservatives advocate treating women. Excepting the Catholic Church and many Catholics, a high degree of overlap occurs between those who oppose abortion and those who both oppose government efforts to help the needy, for whom the quality of life, even life itself, is in jeopardy, and favor the death penalty. The Catholic Church, despite its rigid adherence to text, teachings, and traditions, now departs from them in accepting this new definition of life—which raises the question: why not other departures accepting new positions of less moment, like women in the priesthood and the end of celibacy? The answer, also another inconsistency: they would be modern.

The conservative reaction to abortion also exposes conservative ignorance of, indifference to, or disrespect for religious positions different from theirs in the context of traditional American freedoms. When Russell Allen, the smart, capable Mormon leader of the county Republican Party and I recently lunched at Ciro’s, I began serious conversation with three questions. One, does he believe in freedom of religion? Two, does he believe that life begins at conception? His answers to both questions were “yes.” Three, does he realize that, for some Christian denominations and some other religions, his answers to the first two questions would conflict. He did not.

After I noted the main differences between widely held Jewish, Christian, and Islamic beliefs on the beginning of life, I asked him whether he would legislate according to his convictions or the Constitution, with its First Amendment provision for freedom of religion. His answer was that he would have to think about it. His hesitation about legislation making the prohibition of abortion more important than freedom of religion shows that some conservatives are not fully committed to conserving the Constitution. The same is true of New Mexico Republican candidates Heather Wilson for the US Senate and Steve Pearce for the US House, both of whom have proclaimed that life begins at conception and that they are committed to religious freedom—the same inconsistency to which conservatives everywhere adhere.

It matters that Allen’s educational background involved no college study of economics, history, philosophy, political science, or religion (other than his own)—a deficiency with likely legislative consequences whatever his views on any subject. But, on the subject of abortion (as well as associated subjects), this deficiency matters little because anti-abortion extremists treat information irresponsibly. They accept whatever agrees with their views. Todd Akin (he of “legitimate rape” versus illegitimate rape) and Paul Ryan (he of “forcible rape” versus non-forcible rape) believe impregnation-proof rape fantasies based on snippets of pseudo-science pseudo-supported by never-specified reports. They reject whatever disagrees with their views. Thus, scientific knowledge about human biology and modern medicine (also the creation of the universe, evolution, and global warming) is discounted or disregarded.

Anti-abortion extremists reject scientific knowledge in these fields because they perceive it as threatening Christian faith (per Biblical literalism). Likewise, they oppose abortion as part of their faith-based, ideological opposition to modernity and, with it, democracy. They are explicit in their beliefs that rights derive from God, not a compact among people, and that life is a gift from God not to be refused by abortion. Ultimately, anti-abortion extremists prefer the Bible to the Constitution, theocracy to democracy.

Blinded by their faith, anti-abortion extremists do not see the barbarous consequences of their now-central legislative initiative. Logically, personhood amendments are the political extension of their radical redefinition of the beginning of life. They have urged such amendments to some state constitutions and to the US Constitution. They do not recognize the perverse implication of such personhood-at-conception amendments. If a zygote, embryo, or fetus be defined as a person with all a person’s rights and privileges, then its threat to a woman’s health or life would constitute grounds for abortion as a mother’s act of self-defense against her child.

An anti-abortion position by itself should not determine one’s vote. Indeed, most people are, as they have always been, against abortions. But the extreme anti-abortion position, which makes no exceptions for rape, incest, or a women’s health or life, is symptomatic of an ideological mindset unsuited for democratic government. It sets religious dogma and dogmatism above political rights and personal freedom, and suggests a tendency toward similarly anti-modern biases on important issues in other areas. An advocate or supporter of this extreme anti-abortion position is not worth considering for anything but rejection at the ballot box.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012


Introductory Note:

Yesterday’s NMSU regents meeting mainly addressed the issue of DACC’s loss of accreditation. There were sensible questions and comments by Javier Gonzales, Ike Pino, and Christopher Dulany; and sobering comments by students and nursing professionals. Dr. Margie Huerta, DACC president, made a weak presentation mixing defensiveness about the past, optimism about the effects of current efforts, and implicit denial of responsibility; she was misled by the accrediting agency. Dr. Barbara Couture, NMSU president, made a stronger statement nonetheless disclosing lapses in judgment in her leadership approach; she was not informed by Huerta.

Huerta would have everyone believe that she was blindsided by NLNAC’s withdrawal of accreditation. Indeed, she reported her impression that the site visitors had been impressed by what they saw and pleased with DACC's efforts to remedy “historical issues.” Her April letter to students is a glowing report of NLNAC satisfaction. However, so a credible nursing student told me, the faculty received a briefing to the contrary. Thus, students heard only second-hand reports about the possible loss of accreditation, with no any explanation of what it would mean to them. I doubt that these inconsistent reports reflect any inconsistencies in NLNAC’s accreditation review process and outcome. I doubt that NLNAC site visitors first gave an overall impression of satisfaction in April later reversed by NLNAC’s decision indicating dissatisfaction. I think that the issue was not miscommunication, but misrepresentation, to students.

Couture implies that she, too, was blindsided by the loss of accreditation. Huerta did not inform her, and Couture did not inquire, about the results of the NLNAC site visit. Couture admitted to a hands-off approach to campuses other than NMSU; that approach suggests that she did not welcome communications from their leaders. Couture concluded by declaring her firm resolve to provide means of ensuring communication. Such a resolve publicly stated in this forum, though impressive, raises questions about her management approach after three years in office. Otherwise, why do problems in communication between NMSU and its satellite units exist? Why do not periodic reports on these units and, especially, on accreditation- or approval-sensitive programs, exist? Why do no management means exist to anticipate, address, and solve problems in advance or after others identify them? Or, if such means do exist, why did they fail?

In this case, at least, I think that a large part of the answers reflects a prevailing local culture which encourages what I call a hear-no-evil, see-no-evil, do-no-good approach to leadership. Huerta chose to perceive the positive and to minimize or ignore the negative in reviews of “historical issues”; Couture chose to let other campus leaders operate with little or no direction or supervision. Each president took the path of least resistance, respectively, in responding to a problem or running a university. Neither operated as a problem-solver or a manager. In this case, the consequences of their flawed leadership are enormous costs to the institutions which they are appointed to serve and, most important, the students about whom these leaders profess to care. The recovery will require a radical re-adjustment in management approaches and attitudes; the regents will have to decide whether Huerta and Couture can make the necessary changes.

DACC’s Loss of Accreditation Discredits Local Leaders

My blog on the loss of accreditation of DACC’s nursing program blamed poor management by all parties—the presidents’ offices of DACC and NMSU, and the heads of their nursing programs. I cast aspersions on the regents, and local state senators and representatives, who tout their commitment to public education.

I knew, and heard from others, that the local system of state higher education—Dona Ana Community College and New Mexico State University—is flawed, and that everyone involved in its leadership or direction, including local as well as other legislators, has failed. Thus, I pointed my finger at everyone and have listened to others who have pointed a finger at everyone else. However, a circular firing squad solves no problems.

Nevertheless, a sampling of responses indicates the scope of the system failure. For one instance, when Senator John Arthur Smith said that he wants to investigate what went wrong, he implied that he, Chair of the Senate Finance Committee, knew nothing about the inadequacy of funding for enough, suitably qualified faculty in the DACC nursing program. If so, the question is why not. The answer would have to be that DACC or NMSU officials said nothing to him or local state senators and representatives, or that they, in turn, said nothing to him and colleagues in Santa Fe about urgent needs to save this nursing program from loss of accreditation.

For another, when DACC President Dr. Margie C. Huerta discounted the importance of the loss of nursing program accreditation—graduates can still take and pass the NCLEX examination for state licensure and get nursing positions—she implied that she did not know, less likely that she did not care, that graduation from a non-accredited program denies employment at the area’s two hospitals, restricts employment elsewhere, and limits further education opportunities, and thus professional development and future earnings. If so, the question is why not. The answer escapes me unless communications between the administration and students is problematic.

Finally, since NMSU President Couture has major responsibilities for DACC, her ten-day public silence in this critical situation suggests uncertainty and indecisiveness, not leadership which takes command, gives direction, and offers support to students affected by the loss of accreditation. She seems to have done little enough thus far. If she knew nothing about the 2010 warning, she should have; if she knew something, she did nothing. Setting aside rumors of institutional rivalry for enrollments and revenues, I nevertheless wonder if her span of concern does not extend so far as her span of control.

Coming into compliance with NLNAC standards for the number and qualifications of faculty would be an effort requiring administrative and financial assistance from others. But coming into compliance with NLNAC standards for evaluating educational outcomes would be an effort entirely within DACC’s control. Yet the nursing program failed to document standard management practices in evaluating student performance and using the results to improve student performance. Whatever blame attaches to others under the first standard, significant blame attaches to DACC under the second standard.

DACC may have addressed long-term deficiencies in student performance by taking some short-cuts to improve, not teacher instruction and student learning, but the first-time NCLEX pass rate for its graduates. This pass rate is one “situation” for program approval by the New Mexico Board of Nursing (NMBN); the standard is 80 percent. Between 2004 and 2008, the pass rate never achieved this standard; it averaged 63.8 percent. Between 2009 and 2011, the pass rate never dropped below 80 percent; it averaged 91.1 percent. The difference of over 27 percent is hard to explain without considering that DACC funded a course in NCLEX preparation—which I take to be a teach-to-the-test strategy having little or no real educational value.

These numbers raise additional questions about the status, even the viability, of the DACC nursing program. Huerta rightly states that, despite the loss of accreditation, its nursing students can still graduate from a state-approved program and, by passing the NCLEX examination, become certified RNs. However, state approval of DACC’s nursing program may be in jeopardy, for the NMBN also has standards of program approval. Of nine “situations” which can trigger a site review or visit—pass rate is one—, a second has arisen, and a third appears to have arisen. Respectively, the “situations” are “withdrawal or change of program accreditation status by a board-recognized national nursing accreditation agency” and “providing false or misleading information to students or the public concerning the nursing program.” A fourth “situation” might be frequent faculty turnover.

The defects in the DACC nursing program are pervasive and have been persistent. The underlying dynamics of system failures creating these defects reflect political, personal, and institutional factors. Remediation is probably beyond the capacity of any one individual or agency. But no one has asked the larger question: if this program struggles even to achieve mediocrity, does anyone really want it to succeed?

Saturday, August 18, 2012


Story one: A local controversy arose from a float in the Fourth-of-July parade which not only flew a rebel flag, among many others, but also received the best-in-show award, with prize money attached. The flag and the prize offended an unknown number of Las Cruceans. Speaking on their behalf, Mayor Ken Miyagishima criticized the float and the award, and apologized for them. He convened a City Council working session to find ways to prevent the adverse effects of future displays which might offend some citizens’ sensibilities or tarnish the city’s reputation. The irony of the unavoidable discussion on free speech at the working session was the advanced denial of any, even short, speeches by any of the two- or three-dozen citizens in attendance.

Every member of City Council genuflected to the First Amendment’s protection of free speech. The formulaic statement was, “I support free speech, but…”—always the formulation of those who make free speech secondary to whatever follows. Greg Smith quoted from writers through the ages on the subject. Others sought ways to prevent floats from presenting messages which did not reflect and reinforce the City’s receptivity to diversity and inclusiveness, and thus gave offense to many.

The most outspoken advocate of restrictions on offensive messages was Olga Pedroza, who wanted to find ways to avoid partisan messages as well as partisan parade judges. She defined “partisan” to mean pertaining to a particular party; in fact, the word can also pertain to a particular cause or person, like diversity or inclusiveness, presumed to be primary popular civic virtues in Las Cruces. To her credit, Sharon Thomas challenged Pedroza to draw a line between what was partisan and what was not. Pedroza retreated to a position still infringing on free speech: disqualify offensive messages from receiving any prize.

Miyagishima suggested the development of guidelines for awards which would conform to the city’s preferred messages. Miguel Silva suggested that parade officials screen out floats which are offensive or likely to give offense. These suggestions infringe upon free speech by hugger-mugger administrative devices.

The only good suggestions came from Nathan Small and Gill Sorg, who, between them, questioned the desirability of competitions and awards at all—good points because they neither sanction nor censure any statement or symbol.

My fear is that the Mayor will persuade City Council to substitute political correctness for free speech in the city’s future Fourth of July parade. Parse the words any old which-way, but any restriction on expression in advance or any reward for pre-selected views in the event necessarily violates the First Amendment. If they believe, as they say they believe, in free speech, the Mayor and Councilors should decide in favor of free speech, with no “if’s,””and’s,” or, most especially, “but’s.”

Story two: Weeks later, at an NAACP meeting to which Tea Party invited themselves and were accepted as guest speakers, angry, hostile attendees asked variations of two accusatory or belittling questions. Bill McCamley, District 33 candidate for state House representative, aptly captured them: did the party know that it had offended many people, and did it not think it better to avoid doing more harm than good. Olga Pedroza, District 3 City Councilor, wanted to know whether the Tea Party had come to issue an apology. Leticia Duarte-Benavidez, District 5 County Commissioner, asked whether the Tea Party would have flown the swastika. Arrogant self-righteousness or political grandstanding underlies such comments and questions.

The appropriate responses and answers: what the party knew and whether it gave offense do not count. Free speech means that it can decide for itself what views to express and whether to take its audience’s possible responses into account. Taking offense proves no virtue and justifies no restraints on free speech or other civil rights.

McCamley, Pedroza, and Duarte-Benavidez, among those who expressed offense and urged its avoidance, echoed segregationists in the South in the 1950s and 1960s, who took offense at civil rights activists and urged quiescence, silence, and invisibility. They took offense at “uppity” blacks and then took offense as well at out-of-state, mostly northern, whites, the majority of whom were Jews, who lived and worked with blacks. They reviled and abused these offenders of traditional community norms, that is, the “southern way of life.”

They did not stop at giving advice about what was good for the blacks or asking for apologies or likening them to communists. They continued with firing activist employees or family members, refusing loans and foreclosing on mortgages, curtailing peaceful marches, terrorizing blacks by bombing their churches and burning their homes, and attacking “Freedom Riders.”

They further terrorized the blacks and whites who gave offense by killing them. When I was in the South in 1964, I was 280 miles away when segregationists took so much offense at civil rights activists James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner that they killed them near Philadelphia, MS, in June. I became a lifetime NAACP member in 1968 and have supported its causes ever since.

My experience, both from being on the ground and from reading the history of the times, is that efforts to squelch free speech and expressive action have no natural limits. Such efforts, unrestrained by a decent respect of oneself and others, and a determined regard for others’ rights, can lead to intimidation and worse. So I was appalled by the local NAACP’s chapter disrespectful reception and treatment of its Tea Party guests. I would hate to think that the operating assumption was “now it’s our turn, turn-about is fair play.”

I suggest that, when the NAACP involves itself in Black History Month, it promote a more textured view of both past and present. I hope that it will support a nuanced moral perspective to counter the abiding sense of grievance and indignation which prompted its ill-mannered behavior toward invited guests who had given offense and from whom they still took offense.

A moral: In blogs and columns, I have forthrightly opposed the Tea Party’s positions, expressed, implied, or inferred, but I defend its right to oppose diversity, inclusiveness, even equality. The issues of diversity and inclusiveness, since the emergence of since-discredited multi-culturalism and political correctness, are recent, but contentious, ones. They overlie the issue of equality, a contentious issue in America’s past, its present, and, certainly, its future. As I have argued previously, I take equality to be inseparable for democracy.

But not everyone agrees. Indeed, the Constitutional provision for counting slaves as three-fifths persons implies either a contradiction of the “self-evident” truth “that all men are created equal” stated in the Declaration of Independence or a reconsideration of who counts or how much they count as “men.” I believe that the implicit departure from principle was made to achieve a political compromise to create a constitution for the country. But others believe the departure to have been a sober recognition of a moral reality that some races are inherently superior to others.

The country divided on the issue, fought a civil war to resolve it, passed amendments establishing equality under the law, and thought that the country had moved on. Many thought so and made up the myth of “one nation,” enshrined in the Pledge of Allegiance. But the issue lingers or, perhaps more accurately, festers. Thus, the country’s post-Civil-War history includes the KKK, White Citizen Councils, and an array of white supremacist groups, Jim Crow laws, restrictive residential covenants and red-lined insurance districts, differential loan rates, job discrimination, segregation of the military services, states rights opposition to the civil rights legislation of the 1960s, recent proposals to revise or repeal the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments, and current efforts to impede the exercise of the right to vote on the fraudulent grounds of voter fraud which would have greater effect on minorities, among others.

So the debate, which goes to the definition of what America is or ought to be, goes on. Partisans on both sides must discuss the issues; those on one side must not debar those on the other. It would be a bitter irony, indeed, if those who proclaim diversity and inclusiveness practice the exclusion of those with contrary views. There is nothing easy about discussions of controversial issues, but the alternative to talk is—what exactly? So let such controversies be, if possible, teaching moments for all, in which speech is free and unfettered.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


Dr. Margie C. Huerta has become the face of poor leadership in the system of higher education in southern New Mexico, but she is not the only failed leader; indeed, she is only one of many. The local system, broken and accused of being broken for years, has finally proved itself broken. The proof is DACC’s loss of accreditation for its nursing program and all that the loss tells us about both DACC and NMSU leadership.

As the husband of a recent graduate of NMSU’s nursing program, I am acutely aware of, and sympathetic to, the enormous emotional and awful professional harm to current DACC nursing students. I know the effort, the hours, and the stress involved in arduous nursing studies; I know something of the many sacrifices of many kinds made not only by the students themselves, but also by parents, spouses, and other family members. In light of this loss of accreditation, those leaders who proclaim that they do everything for the students and their education have demonstrated their real indifference to students and the duties of their position. So, even at this remove from DACC, I grieve for the students and rage at those implicated in the damage done to them and theirs.

The magnitude of the breakdown leading to the loss of accreditation corresponds to the importance of DACC’s nursing program to DACC, NMSU, and southern New Mexico. Students completing DACC’s nursing program graduate with an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN), and graduates passing the state licensing examination become registered nurses (RNs). They work in hospitals, assisted living facilities, and medical offices, many in this region. After some years of nursing work, some enroll in NMSU’s one-year program enabling these experienced RNs to earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree before returning to work, many in this region. To enroll in NMSU’s RN-to-BSN program or similar programs elsewhere, experienced RNs must have graduated from an accredited nursing program. Experienced RNs who have graduated from DACC with an ADN have constituted the larger part of NMSU’s RN-to-BSN program.

The loss of DACC’s accreditation for its nursing program means that its current students cannot graduate from an accredited program in the region. They can train for licenses as RNs, but they cannot gain admission to RN-to-BSN nursing programs which require a degree from an accredited college. It means that NMSU will lose most of its students for its RN-to-BSN program. Finally, it means that local hospitals, assisted living facilities, and medical offices will have fewer, more highly qualified nurses available to them. DACC has thus done harm to its students, damaged its most important program, impaired its relationship with NMSU, and diminished the quality of regional health care.

(In addition, the loss of accreditation raises a question whether DACC courses taken as pre-requisites, some specific to nursing, to save money will transfer to NMSU for credit toward satisfying BSN requirements.)

The history of this breakdown, with these terrible effects, covers misconduct over a multi-month period. In April, the National League for Nursing Accreditation Commission (NLNAC) visited Dona Ana Community College to review and evaluate its two-year ADN program. As is routine at the end of such visits, the visitors indicated the likely results of their work: loss of accreditation. In response to this informal report, Huerta released a vague statement which did not clearly describe the situation or indicate its seriousness.

Huerta may have had her reasons for vagueness. From at least as early as April and into July, Santa Fe Community College sought a replacement for its departing president. Huerta applied, made the cut to the final six candidates in late April and to the final three in late May, but lost in July. Although she might have reported in April to students that DACC’s nursing program was at great risk of losing its accreditation, she might also have considered that the disclosure might reach SFCC and jeopardize her chances for the new job because it showed that she could not do the old one.

Since early August, when NLNAC announced its decision to withdraw accreditation, Huerta has responded with statements dismissing the importance of its decision. For she claims that accreditation is merely an additional evaluation without significant effect because students who pass the licensing examination can find employment as RNs.

Two implications of this statement, seemingly intended to discount the damage and diminish responsibility, are astonishing. One shows that Huerta cares only about DACC graduates’ first job, not their later opportunities for professional development and financial growth. The other is either her ignorance in not knowing the purpose and importance of accreditation, and the interface between the DACC and NMSU nursing programs; or her dishonesty in not admitting them.

In cases like this, it is usually important to answer the questions who knew what when, and what did they do to communicate, or act on, their knowledge. In this case the answers hardly matter. Some knew but did nothing, and others should have known in order to do something.

Huerta had an affirmative obligation to provide clear information to DACC students (and faculty) in the spring, when they could have made arrangements for the coming school year. She had a similar obligation to inform NMSU leaders. Given her failure, Evelyn Hobbs, dean of the Health and Public Services Division, or Tracy Lopez, Nursing Program Director, had the same obligations. Apparently, none of these three women discharged their obligations, in a collective, perhaps coordinated, dereliction of duty.

But if anyone did pass along such information, either to Barbara Couture, NMSU president, or Pamela Schultz, director of the School of Nursing, neither of them made any use of this information. Strangely, they seem not to have heard or investigated the rumors known inside DACC, but also outside, among local professionals. Worryingly, they seem not to have known about the NLNAC accreditation review and evaluation. For, if no one told them its results, they seem not to have inquired about them; if they did inquire and learn about them, they seem to have chosen to avoid the implications for action; and if they did inquire and were misinformed or misled, they seem not to be outraged. Expressions of a desire to help these affected DACC students—what else would they express?— are all to the good but they are not enough or good enough. With a half-million dollar bonus to be awarded for five years’ service, Couture may not wish to make waves and jeopardize this reward for her longevity in office.

Evasion, concealment, or denial at DACC, and cluelessness or inaction at NMSU have done some damage to formerly strong nursing programs. The underlying issues of failed leadership—faulty program management at both colleges, dissembling or non-existent communication within DACC and between the two colleges, failing supervision at both colleges—must be addressed by NMSU’s hear-no-evil, see-no-evil, do-no-good regents. And they must be addressed by the hear-no-evil, see-no evil, do-no-good state senators and representatives.

The first constructive action which the regents can take is the immediate firing of Huerta; she should not be allowed to resign in order to protect her record and enable her to work elsewhere and harm others. The Law of Just Compensation—eye-for-an-eye, etc.—should punish her as she has, in effect, punished DACC students. Anything less amounts to official concurrence in her misconduct.

The second constructive action which the regents can take is the appointment of an independent investigator charged to develop an analysis and narrative of these events, and to report to the public and the regents at the same time and without prior consultation with the regents.

Finally, our local politicians need to recognize the inadequacy of the regional culture of congeniality and concurrence, at the expense of competence and a commitment to it. They also need to confess the inadequacy of their go-along-to get-along approach to their public duties. At great expense to the lives and livelihoods of residents, these inadequacies guarantee the educational and economic deficiencies which plague this region. If southern New Mexico is to be other than a third-world-like region, it requires a counter-cultural resolve to improve itself.

Saturday, August 11, 2012


When people tout American “exceptionalism,” they should not fail to tout America’s extraordinary love affair with punishment and death. America has larger percentages of its population in prison, of firearms per capita, and of homicides by firearms than any other country with an advanced economy. By privatizing prisons, merchandizing firearms, and misusing them to commit crimes, settle scores, or secure celebrity status, America ensures that it will remain exceptional for a long time to come.

Violence in America may be more American than God, mom, and apple pie. What other country’s constitution grants citizens the right to bear arms? What other country’s anthem celebrates a flag surviving a battle in a war to protect home and hearth? Why is its second choice the “Battle Hymn of the Republic”? Why does America not have an anthem celebrating democratic values like equality and freedom?

Americans love violence. Boys get toy or real guns for Christmas which teach them what peace on earth, good will to men means: guns are the real peacemakers. Teenagers playing computerized games for hours press buttons which fire weapons to kill enemies different in appearance and thus presumably evil, but painlessly and bloodlessly, and, best of all, without collateral damage.

Boys will be boys even as men. Armed with military rifles, clad in military-style garb, equipped with military gear, and practicing small-unit tactics, they spend weekends to protect America from “tyrannical government,” the Muslim Brotherhood, or who knows what other imaginary threats to “the land of the brave and the home of the free.” The men play out the games which they learned to play as boys.

But armed youths and militiamen do not keep us safe. Instead, they kill as many Americans with guns every six years as the Viet Cong killed in the entire Vietnam War.

Nevertheless, critics of military-style weapons in the open market prompt a defensive hullabaloo. Some defenders argue that the Second Amendment precludes any regulation of any individual firearms which any individual might “bear.” I have no quarrel with the Second Amendment, but this argument defies law and fact.

All Constitutional rights are liable to restriction if their exercise does or threatens more harm than good. The First Amendment does not protect disclosure of classified information, incitement to riot, defamation of people, fraud, perjury, or yelling “fire” in a crowded theater.

Likewise, the Second Amendment need not preclude reasonable regulations about purchasing, owning, or selling weapons of mass murder. Indeed, it does not preclude the regulation of individual weapons like bazookas and rocket-propelled grenade launchers. So it could prohibit multi-round, semi-automatic or automatic weapons designed and intended to kill many people quickly, not for hunting or protection.

Others argue that if more people carried weapons, they would deter or stop mass murderers. The nonsense of this claim raises doubts whether zealots have a clue about such situations. For those carrying weapons have no training which could prepare them for mass-murder situations like the Aurora massacre. Training in arcade games or on target ranges, whether the shooter or the targets are stationary or moving, is no preparation for a shooting attack in unexpected, crowded, and chaotic situations.

When I received basic infantry training, I demonstrated that I was a crack shot, even better at night than during the day. In one nighttime range exercise, I was surprised by, and missed, the first moving target, then hit the next nineteen targets. The range officer, sure that I had cheated, demanded that I repeat the exercise on a different course, and, with two other officers, watched me from behind. I hit all twenty. The infantry tried to lure me away from my assigned branch and probably wanted me to be a sharpshooter.

But I do not think that, were I armed, I could deter or stop an attacker in a movie theater. I would not want to try or even be tempted to try. Because the advantage is always with the attacker, I would be as much surprised and disoriented as anyone else in the audience. I would have virtually no chance of getting off a clean shot at him because people would be bumping into me or running between us. Any shot would make a bad situation worse because most people in the panicking crowd would think that I was another attacker. In these circumstances, I would risk wounding or killing someone else.

So those planning an attack would probably want armed vigilantes in the audience to make things worse. And those thinking to stop it should think about their responsibility if they wounded or killed someone else. Would they rely on the confusion to conceal such consequences? Would they excuse them with their good intentions?

The millions of responsible gun owners who need firearms for hunting or for self-defense should support regulations limiting firearms for those purposes. They should stop paying NRA dues to support the firearms industry, criminals, soldier boys, and whack-jobs.

Saturday, August 4, 2012


For years and years, I have left it for others to identify and interpret the primary cause of the decayed condition of public discourse. But, since the best minds of my generation have failed and my time is running out, I think that I must come forward at last to reveal explain it all: my Theory of Everything (TOE).

As it is usually understood, the TOE is the sought-for scientific theory to explain all physical phenomena and enable predictions of all outcomes of all experiments. The problem in developing this theory is the difficulty of reconciling general relativity and quantum mechanics. Of course, this TOE is unrelated to the dynamics of discourse; my TOE applies in this domain and enjoys the elegant simplicity of the best theories.

We know that the decayed condition of pubic discourse results from an unrestrained and irresponsible rhetoric ignorant of, or indifferent to, traditional standards of verbal meaning, factual thinking, and logical reasoning. The practice of this rhetoric displays disrespect for those who disagree with the speaker’s or writer’s political opinions and, in the usual flim-flamming of campaign oratory, perhaps even some who do or might agree.

The cause of this dysfunctional rhetoric, my TOE, can be stated in three words: teachers of English (also TOE). They are not the only teachers whose students fail to master the subject and who do nothing to develop in their students the skill which constitutes every school’s mission-statement mantra: critical thinking. But they are the only teachers whom graduating students have for all thirteen K-12 grades.

I endure sports announcers and commentators whose jock talk daily descends to ever lower levels of linguistic competence. They merit the gold medal in scrambled pronouns, especially when they play take-a-guess with them. I abide the talking heads on CNN, Fox News, or MSNBC, who manifest the same slovenliness of grammar and diction. Gross deficiencies appear not only in hometown papers, which make no attempt to edit locally written items, but also such exalted sources as the Associated Press and the New York Times. However, I enjoy the irony that those who want English to become the national language are among those lacking proficiency of their mother tongue. But, then, they care nothing about precision in communication and everything about prescriptions of cultural norms.

I suffer the pedagogical misfits who speak nonsense or tolerate nonsense spoken by their students. Not long ago, I observed a professor teaching an upperclass course on Shakespeare; the subject for the day was his sonnets. She attempted to scan Sonnet 18, “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day,” but, lacking the skill to do so, made a hash of it. So she faked success by declaring it the one and only perfectly regular of his 154 sonnets—dee-dum, dee-dum, dee-dum, for seventy metrical feet—utter balderdash. Worse was her allowing a totally inane interpretation of the sonnet without asking the student how he derived his reading from the words in front of him—an inanity tacitly admitted in the pained expression of disbelief which flitted across this professor’s face.

This pedagogical example points to the central principle of my TOE: the tolerance—indeed, the acceptance and approbation—, especially by teachers of English, of any noise emitted from a mouth, any ink scrawled on paper, or any pixels displayed on a monitor. Such TOEs show no respect for the meanings of words, the significance of facts, and the importance of testing assertions against a reality other than a speaker’s feelings or first impressions. Is it any wonder that many in recent generations of students taught by TOEs in this fashion have learned no respect for words, facts, or reality?

The lesson taught by teachers of English is that every statement, however unfounded, is privileged because someone has stated it. A second statement contradicting the first is equally privileged because someone else has stated it. TOEs neither challenge nonsense nor encourage students to consider contradictory statements, explore their strengths and weaknesses, and assess whether one is better—more worthy of belief—than the other. So students never learn to accept responsibility for their utterances, to engage one another, to consider criticism in detachment. Such teaching enables inflated egos and thin skins.

By teaching that anything which students say or write (and may even believe) is exempt from scrutiny, teachers of English shift the standards of truth or reasonable belief from evidence or argument, to the speaker’s or writer’s authenticity or sincerity. This shift in standards makes it difficult for anyone to doubt, or disagree with, another without being understood to impugn his or her character or motives. Ironically, one who doubts or disagrees is then commonly abused by being accused of hypocrisy or dishonesty in making a personal attack.

My TOE thus explains why politicians of all persuasions communicate so badly (even if they have something to communicate). It also explains why citizens communicate on political issues no better. I am not sure that anything can remediate this dysfunction. Likelier, as shabby rhetoric debases discourse, it will increase the difficulties of debating political issues by democratic means. With free speech reduced to senseless babble or sinister bluster, anti-democratic alternatives will arise to supplant democracy. My TOE predicts such an outcome to the great American experiment.

Thursday, August 2, 2012


For all the pious talk about having honest discussions about the issues, we are not having them, and we are probably not going to have them. Jobs? Forget it. If I hear one more politician talk about the importance of jobs and talking about jobs without actually detailing specific provisions, or voting, for legislation to create them, I am going to join Rick Santorum at the wastebasket. And if I hear one more politician pronounce their support or rejection of some “culture war” position—abortion, contraception, gun control, same-sex marriage, voter fraud, welfare dependency—because of their belief under their god, I am going to give up pledging allegiance to what plainly does not exist and is no longer encouraged in America, namely, “one nation.”

For all the political talk about having discussions about the candidates’ records of performance, we are not having them. Instead, we are getting detached snippets alleging this candidate’s success or that candidate’s failure, with clichéd film clips and sound bites about one’s friend in slick color and one’s foe in grainy black and white. I may change channels to home renovation programs so that I can watch paint dry.

The result of such campaigning, probably most pronounced among those least interested, least informed, and least involved, most of whom declare themselves to be Independents, will be decisions in the 2012 presidential election based on feelings of hope or fear, liking or loathing, virtually no facts—and most of those half-truths—, and less sense.

The exploitation of emotions in this election is evident in the divergences and instability of the national polls. Both reflect rapid fluctuations in responses to the latest news bulletin or verbal gaffe. The traditional use of distorted or dishonest attack ads, now more distorted or dishonest than ever, augments these responses. Obviously, both campaigns believe that many voters, especially these “least” voters, are ill-equipped to detect distortions, indifferent to them, or inclined, in their casual cynicism, to blame everyone equally. It is to these “leasts,” the swing voters, that the candidates orient most of their campaign ads.

In this campaign, the Republicans, with its Tea Party caucus, may have the advantage because they trust us to have paid little attention to inside-Washington politics. Case in point: Republicans trust us to know, as they remind us, that Democrats had majorities in both houses of Congress in Obama’s first two years; but not, as they refuse to admit, that Senate Republicans have filibustered an unprecedented number of times to obstruct Democratic legislation and Obama’s appointments. Thus, the Senate Republican strategy to defeat Obama’s efforts to improve the economy, though not in the nation’s interest, is their chosen way to get us, especially the “leasts,” to blame the president and return Republicans to power.

Otherwise, both sides seem to believe that we, especially the “leasts,” do not care about the candidates’ records. Obama and Romney play to this indifference by saying as little as possible, for various reasons, about their records. Unwilling to amplify their thousand points of silence, I say nothing about their records.

Except to talk about records. Obama’s records are in the public domain, despite die-hard deniers of documentary evidence. We have seen his birth announcement in local Hawaiian papers and state-attested copies of his birth certificate. We know about his Christian religion from his church attendance and his political associates and supporters. We know where he went to school and whence he graduated (we have not seen his school transcripts, or Romney’s either, for that matter, because student records are confidential under federal law). We know where he worked, what jobs he had, what taxes he paid. So those living in the real world know just about everything about Obama, his childhood, his education, or his career. All of it is old news.

The same cannot be said about Romney. We also know about his education and about where he worked, what jobs he had, but not what taxes he paid. We have almost nothing of his business or political records. When he left Bain Capital, he destroyed many of his personal business records, and the rest remain securely stored away as corporate proprietary information. When he left his job at the Olympics, he destroyed most of his records about his work. When he left the governorship of Massachusetts, he destroyed his executive papers and bought, in order to destroy, all of the computers in the executive offices.

Romney’s habitual obliteration of records of his past performance in his career, even if entirely innocent, displays a bizarre, even unbalanced, penchant for secrecy. Now running for president, he refuses to release more than his two most recent tax returns on the bogus grounds that he follows John McCain’s example. But this fact is misleading; McCain has 30 years of government financial disclosure statements in the public record. Considered as a running mate, Romney gave McCain twenty-three tax returns. So why does Romney not give the electorate as many returns (twelve) as his father gave it? Why not give it a baker’s dozen, to cover the transitional year of 1999, when he began to work in Utah? By the way, McCain’s claim to have found nothing untoward in Romney’s tax returns is hardly a ringing endorsement, not least because it is hard to imagine that he scrutinized them more carefully than he scrutinized Sarah Palin or others on his roster of potential vice-presidential running mates.

Romney’s excuse—Democrats will pick his returns apart for damaging information—implies that he is not entirely innocent and has damaging information to hide. For if they would try to make mountains out of a molehills, he should flatten them—both mountains and Democrats—with his rebuttals and embarrass the heck out of them to boot. As it is, some suspect something illegal or at least shady; others, only exploitation of tax loopholes on an enormous scale and investments hedging on America’s economic future. But his silence as another form of secrecy speaks volumes, and not to his credit.

Worse than such suspicions is that, because of Romney’s penchant for secrecy and his destruction of records, no one can know how Romney makes decisions. Since he refuses to explain his decisions or to allow his records to speak for them, we cannot have real confidence, only blind faith, in his decisions or his leadership. So what we can see makes his trustworthiness doubtful. His flip-flops on almost all important issues mean that he makes some decisions for political convenience. Since he refuses to explain them or their timing, we cannot know what positions he would take in his presidency when post-election politics change. So we cannot know whom or what we are voting for if we vote for Romney. We certainly cannot expect him to be more forthcoming in the presidency; we can expect unprecedented use of the claim of executive privilege.

Worse is the possibility that secrecy enables his success in accumulating wealth. We know that Romney wants to lower taxes on the rich—a self-serving policy position which would further enrich him and one for which he offers no apology (in any sense of the word). We may suspect that he destroyed business and government records to prevent investigation of his dealings with his “blind trust.” The combination of a penchant for secrecy and a practice of destroying documents makes it not unreasonable to consider that he might have used insider information to give strategic, even if not specific, advice to his trust officer, who could then make investments to Romney’s financial advantage. If we knew that he did so once, twice, or thrice, we might suspect that he might do so again, as president. It certainly would be to Romney’s advantage to set the record straight with the release of his tax records, which could enable the electorate to know whether the timing of business and government decisions tracked the timing of investment decisions and thus suggest the use of insider information.

But the electorate, especially the “leasts,” may not care much about the answers to questions about Romney’s records at Bain Capital, at the Olympics, and in Massachusetts; and what they might imply about his character and conduct in positions of trust. If so, they are letting detestation of Obama, discontents with the slow economic recovery, or cheap and easy cynicism cast their vote for Romney as if buying a lottery ticket. For myself, better the devil one knows—if you have to think of Obama as a devil—than the devil one does not.