Many writers to the media and other pundits claim we are a "Christian" nation and that Judeo-Christian values should inform our political process. Although our Constitution is secular, it is hard to argue with those who think otherwise.
There are actually two types of religious conservatives. There are those who are simply conservative in the theology and practice. Others, however, are politically active in strong conservative movements and their theology informs their politics which in turn informs their theology.
Many think liberalism, or progressivism, are incompatible with Judeo-Christian values without realizing that many liberals and progressives are people of faith themselves. This includes a lot of Christians and Jews.
But, when one considers the values of the ultra-conservatives, it is not really a question of whether the U.S.A. is a "Christian" nation. It is more question of "are their values really Christian?" Of course, they may be orthodox on the basic doctrines of the Christian faith. They may believe in the Trinity, the Resurrection, and the Virgin Birth. They may love God. But do they always show love to their neighbor?
Many of the values they espouse are far from "Judeo-Christian." Of course, if one uses "Biblical Quarterbacking" and takes different verses from different parts of the Bible out of context, one could well come to such conclusions. You can justify slavery, flogging, and patriarchy from the Bible if you want to. However, the overall message of the Christian and Jewish Bibles is one of justice, love of neighbor, and fair treatment of all human beings.
A common Christian slogan one hears is "what would Jesus do?" Of course, it is not easy to know what he would do or say in the modern age but it is interesting to think about. If we were to take the general whole of his teachings and their spirit and not take them out of context, many might find him critical of those who promote mean social policies in his name.
What WOULD Jesus do today? Would he tell a 12-year-old victim of incest that she should have her baby? Would he make a 14-year-old girl who was molested by a 40ish married man stand in front of a fundamentalist congregation in Concord and confess "her sin?" Would he cut food assistance to the poor and resist any type of health care reform? Would he support militarism or the death penalty (he did, after all, stop an execution)?
Or, would Jesus, like many extreme conservatives promote "big lies" and fear and disinformation about "death panels" and our president? Would Jesus, like such heroes of the Christian Right as Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell support apartheid in South Africa and dictatorial butchers in Latin America? One might surmise that Jesus would not.
Humane and compassionate values are not just in the New Testament. The Jewish Bible has a lot to say about social justice. For example, those religious people who bash immigrants should read the commandment against oppressing "a stranger in the land". The Hebrew Prophets talked a lot about rich people who "eat up the poor".
Meanness, contempt for the poor, and other characteristics of many on the Religious Right are not "Judeo-Christian" values. While many condemn biological Darwinism, they are fine with Social Darwinism which seems contrary to the ideals of justice and mercy mentioned in the Bible. Especially disturbing is the identification of selfish libertarian values with Christianity.
One has to laugh about an interview years ago with Anton LaVey, the late High Priest of the Church of Satan. Of course, LaVey did not believe in a literal Devil but instead saw Satan as a symbol of our human selfishness. He said that his "Satanic" ideas were pretty much those of Ayn Rand! Do these Christian conservatives know she was also an atheist?
Liberals and conservatives generally support anyone's right to practice any religion as long as there is Separation of Church and State and that other people's rights are respected. There is no "war on Christianity" as some maintain. However, many are concerned when meanness, hate, fear, and anger are masked by religion.
(Scott Cracraft is a citizen, taxpayer, veteran, and resident of Gilford. He is not a professional theologian.)
Last Updated on Monday, 26 January 2015 09:11
The recent economic crisis hit the American middle class hard. But for the youngest adults trying to gain a foothold in the good life, it's been devastating. So why did so few millennials, the huge cohort of 18- to 29-year-olds, vote last November? Only 21 percent bothered.
Let's dispense with the excuse that they don't feel their elected government cares about them. You don't get served till you enter the restaurant.
The result of this passivity may soon be apparent. President Obama has issued proposals to restart the middle-class escalator in ways that would be especially helpful to millennials. They include free tuition to community college, expanded tax credits for child care and a tax break for middle-income working couples.
Because these things would be paid for with higher taxes on the very rich, many will be a tough sell to the expanded Republican majority. As we know, the conservative electoral gains were a gift from older voters, who turned out in relatively high numbers.
Many of these folks spend their leisure hours marinating in the glow of Fox News Channel, where they are told what exemplary Americans they are and how younger people without jobs or savings are basically bums. The median age of the Fox News viewer is almost 69. For Bill O'Reilly's show, it is 72.
Give these older conservatives credit. Their sense that government doesn't care about them is precisely a reason they vote. They vote whether they like or dislike the president. They vote if it's raining. In sum, they are doing what they're supposed to do. Vote.
Much blame for the voting age gap belongs with the various spokesmen purporting to represent the young, generally progressive electorate. They often sympathize with the group's reasons for not voting rather than telling them to toughen up and dive in.
I wish the TV comics dishing out news kibbles amid the bleeped-out F-words would stop telling the kids not to trust anyone, above all the traditional media. The traditional news media, for all their warts, remain a last holdout for grown-up coverage. Actually, serious government reporting, once you start following it, can be fascinating. Toilet jokes not needed.
This trashing of the more reliable sources drowns news consumers in the chaos of social media, where well-written lies and propaganda swirl among the honest reporting. Ironically, the older folks still read the newspaper, even as they often curse its viewpoints.
A poll of millennials conducted last spring by the Harvard Institute of Politics blamed decisions not to vote on a "decrease in trust" in government institutions and a rise in cynicism. Really? Few distrust government more than the older tea party folks, who correctly see the voting booth as the remedy for their discontent. They understand that you end up voting for the preferable of two choices, not perfection.
The younger voters, the Harvard pollster went on, "need to feel like they're making a difference."
The most obvious way to make a difference would be to vote, would it not? And by the way, it's truly cracked logic to say that once good leaders magically get themselves elected, we'll start voting for them.
There are two coherent ways to deal with unworthy politicians. One is to throw them out of office — or keep them out — through one's vote. The other is to submit to them and not vote.
Too many young Americans choose the submission route. Should the conservative Congress shoot down proposals to help them advance economically, they'll see the price of going limp.
The politically powerful know they need only one reason to vote: It's Election Day.
(A member of the Providence Journal editorial board, Froma Harrop writes a nationally syndicated column from that city. She has written for such diverse publications as The New York Times, Harper's Bazaar and Institutional Investor.)
Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 December 1969 07:00
On Martin Luther King Day, 2015, how stand race relations in America?
"Selma," a film focused on the police clubbing of civil rights marchers led by Dr. King at Selma bridge in March of 1965, is being denounced by Democrats as a cinematic slander against the president who passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
In the movie, King is portrayed as decisive and heroic, LBJ as devious and dilatory. And no member of the "Selma" cast has been nominated for an Academy Award. All 20 of the actors and actresses nominated are white. Hollywood is like the Rocky Mountains, says Rev. Al Sharpton, the higher up you go the whiter it gets.
Even before the "Selma" dustup, the hacking of Sony Pictures had unearthed e-mails between studio chief Amy Pascal and producer Scott Rudin yukking it up over President Obama's reputed preference for films like "Django Unchained," "12 Years a Slave" and "The Butler." "Racism in Hollywood!" ran the headlines.
Pascal went to Rev. Sharpton to seek absolution, which could prove expensive. Following a 90-minute meeting, Al tweeted that he had had a "very pointed and blunt exchange" with Pascal, that her e-mails reveal a "cultural blindness," that Hollywood has to change, and that Pascal has "committed to this."
These cultural-social spats — LBJ loyalists vs. the "Selma" folks, Sharpton vs. Hollywood — are tiffs within the liberal encampment, and matters of amusement in Middle America. More serious have been the months-long protests against police, following the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson and Eric Garner on Staten Island, some of which have featured chants like, "What do we want? Dead Cops!"
The protests climaxed with the execution in Bedford-Stuyvesant of two NYPD cops by a career criminal taking revenge for Garner and Brown.
Race relations today seem in some ways more poisonous than in 1965, when there were vast deposits of goodwill and LBJ pushed through the Voting Rights Act easily, 77-19 in the Senate and 328-74 in the House. Only two Republican Senators voted against the VRA.
But not a week after LBJ signed the Voting Rights Act, the Watts section of Los Angeles exploded in one of the worst race riots in U.S. history. After seven days of pillage and arson, there were 34 dead, 1,000 injured, 3,000 arrested, and a thousand buildings damaged or destroyed. The era of marching for civil rights was over and the era of Black Power, with Stokely Carmichael, Rap Brown and The Black Panthers eclipsing King, had begun.
In July 1967, there were riots in Newark and Detroit that rivaled Watts in destruction. After Dr. King's murder in Memphis in April of 1968, riots broke out in 100 more cities, including Washington, D.C. By Oct. 1, the nominee of the Democratic Party, civil rights champion Hubert Humphrey, stood at 28 percent in the Gallup poll, only 7 points ahead of Gov. George Wallace.
Though Nixon won narrowly, the Great Society endured. And in the half-century since, trillions have been spent on food stamps, housing subsidies, Head Start, student loans, Pell Grants, welfare, Medicaid, Earned Income Tax Credits and other programs.
How did it all work out?
Undeniably, the civil right laws succeeded. Discrimination in hotels and restaurants is nonexistent. African-Americans voted in 2012 in higher percentages than white Americans. There are more black public officials in Mississippi than in any other state. In sports, entertainment, journalism, government, medicine, business, politics, and the arts, blacks may be found everywhere.
Yet the pathology of the old urban ghetto has not disappeared. In some ways, it has gotten much worse. Crime in the black community is still seven times what it is in the white community. Test scores of black students remain far below those of Asian and white students. While 40 percent of all infants are born to single moms, the illegitimacy rate in black America is over 70 percent. Whether it is dropout rates, drug use rates, delinquency rates or incarceration rates, the rates for blacks far exceed those of white and Asian-Americans, and of immigrants and Hispanics.
White households have a median family income below that of Asians, but far above that of black Americans. White households have on average $143,000 in wealth in stocks, bonds, home equity and other assets, 13 times that of the average black household.
At Howard University in 1965, LBJ declared, "We seek ... not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and equality as a result."
"Equality as a result"?
Measured by the average incomes and wealth of Asians and whites and Hispanics and blacks, we have failed. And income inequality is back again, as issue No. 1.
After 50 years of affirmative action and the greatest wealth transfers in human history, "equality as a fact" has not been achieved and will not be, absent a greater seizure of power by the U.S. government and larger and virtually endless transfers of wealth.
The reports of Karl Marx's death have been greatly exaggerated.
(Syndicated columnist Pat Buchanan has been a senior advisor to three presidents, twice a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination and the presidential nominee of the Reform Party in 2000. He won the New Hampshire Republican Primary in 1996.)
Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 December 1969 07:00
Will she or won't she? She will. And by the time she does, she will have raised more money than any primary contender in history. Just a guess.
In theory, under the new rules, the fact that Hillary Clinton has locked up 99 percent of the big Democratic money (Okay, maybe just a tiny bit less) would end the conversation. The winner of the money primary has always been the candidate who collects the most "whales": the guys with money who also know how to go and collect it, the Terry McAuliffe model. But with no rules at all, which is essentially how it works out once you work your way through all of the loopholes, it really would be possible for some gigantic whale no one has even heard of to upset the show. The super-whales — guys like Tom Steyer — don't have to go to conferences and put together a consensus. All you need to start a campaign is a checkbook.
So the Democratic side becomes a snooze-like series of pieces about "what if" and "who then" and "should she grow her hair longer." You know we're in trouble when they start focusing on who Hillary will choose as her running mate, which I actually expect to see any day now. Meanwhile, the numbers will be nothing less than astronomical. There is very little room in the caboose of this train.
But on the Republican side, the fun has just begun. The money primary is on. If you're Jeb Bush, you at least start with a very long list and name recognition. Everybody else has to slug down those chicken wings, eat four breakfasts, manageto cast a vote and then hop a little charter plane to some town in Iowa where you're keynoting a dinner that half the people don't show up for.
This is how the candidates spend the year before anyone but us is paying attention. They spend it raising money — and hopefully out-training their opponents. The press does the judging each quarter.
And as anyone who has ever spent time raising money will tell you, it's a pyramid. You need a small number of big donors, and no matter how many press releases you issue, very few people are going to write a big check the first time they meet the candidate (at least not unless they've already been strong-armed by the likes of McAuliffe). They want to develop a relationship with the candidate. They want to spend time talking about issues. They want real input. "God help us," some aide is murmuring under her breath. I was often that aide.
There is nothing small-"d" democratic about it. People who pay to hobnob with presidents and would-be presidents aren't paying a year's mortgage to have a drink and fancy hors d'oeuvres with him or her because of their civic values. They do it because their industries or businesses want access to the administration (and ultimately more favorable results). "The money is beside the point," they will say, and everyone will smile and say, "Of course, one thing has nothing to do with the other" — even when we know it has everything to do with the other.
On the Republican side, the challenge for the whales will be to fight all of those sharks who would actually try to change the system and elect someone from outside the club. Good viewing.
(Susan Estrich is a professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California Law Center. A best-selling author, lawyer and politician, as well as a teacher, she first gained national prominence as national campaign manager for Dukakis for President in 1988.)
Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 December 1969 07:00
This past week the non-partisan Legislative Budget Assistant presented a "snapshot" of the state budget as of January 14th. Year-to-date, we are ahead of revenue estimates by $19.2 million which, if we didn't have some spending problems, would give us a projected surplus of just $44,000.00 to end Fiscal Year 2015 on June 30.
But, as I mentioned above, the state has a spending problem and though we've been asking for information from the governor since July of last year about department spending and lapses, the only hard data we've been able to get has been from the Department of Health & Human Services (DHHS) — and the data isn't good.
DHHS produces a "Dashboard", which is a monthly report meant to inform policy makers about the status of demand for services in entitlement programs. The department hasn't released any reports since September 2014 (http://www.dhhs.nh.gov/ocom/documents/dashboard-sept2014.pdf). In the September report, DHHS had a $48.8 million shortfall.
On January 23rd, DHHS will come to the Fiscal Committee to lay out its plan for cuts. (The governor issued an executive order asking departments to cut their budgets.) I am keenly interested in seeing what the department will be recommending, especially when it comes to our private and county nursing homes.
Apparently, DHHS advised the county and private nursing homes that they will not be paid about $5 million that was allocated for taking care of some of our oldest and frailest Medicaid recipients. What difference does any of this make to people who don't live or work in a nursing home? Ultimately, this cost will be downshifted to the taxpayers.
The majority of people in nursing homes are on Medicaid and ever since Medicaid was first created in the 1960s, the program has paid for nursing home care for people who are elderly or disabled and cannot pay for their own care. Every two years, the Legislature decides how much money should be paid to all nursing homes for Medicaid. In New Hampshire, the federal government pays half the amount, and the counties pay the other half.
DHHS, through a complicated rate determination process, decides how much each individual nursing home will actually get paid for providing Medicaid care. Right from the beginning, this process is designed so that nursing homes get paid less than their actual costs of providing the care. At the end of that process, after DHHS decides what rate a nursing home should get paid, DHHS then makes another cut, called the "budget neutrality factor." This is a flat percentage cut that applies to all nursing homes across the board. In the most recent rates set by DHHS, that cut amounted to over 29 percent.
All of this adds up to one thing: the nursing homes get paid substantially less than what it costs them to provide Medicaid services to the state. Now, there aren't many other places the nursing homes can turn to in order to make up what they aren't getting paid for Medicaid services, because the majority of the residents of nursing homes in this state are on Medicaid. And the costs of paying for the care of those residents do not go away just because there is no one to cover those costs.
Which brings us back to why this matters.
A big part of any nursing home's costs are payments to the many hard-working people who are at the bedside of the residents every day and every night, and reductions in rates can mean reductions in jobs. It would come as no surprise to anyone, then, that rate reductions can have a real impact at the bedside.
But there are also wider impacts. This Medicaid hole means that nursing homes need to find other sources of payment. In the county nursing homes, part of this hole is filled by county property taxes. In the private and the county homes alike, nursing home residents who are not on Medicaid subsidize the shortfall by paying substantially higher rates. So although you might feel the impacts most directly if you live or work in a nursing home, you don't need to be a resident or caregiver in order to be affected by this.
In the last state budget, we appropriated a sum of money for nursing homes that reflected what we in the Legislature thought we could reasonably designate for that purpose. The private and county nursing homes have planned their budgets accordingly and I believe we must stand by our funding commitment to them.
When DHHS comes to the Fiscal Committee on January 23rd, I am hopeful they will also stand by the commitment we made and not cut critical funds from the nursing homes.
(Meredith Republican Jeanie Forrester represents District 2 in the New Hampshire Senate.)
Last Updated on Tuesday, 20 January 2015 10:09