Don’t call me ‘Christian’ any longer

By Robert Mann

When an angry reader emailed recently to ask how I justified calling myself a Christian, given my beliefs on social issues like marriage equality, I told him my relationship with God was none of his business. My response surely didn’t satisfy him. And I know it didn’t satisfy me.

I’m not spoiling for theological fights with readers about why I believe God does not condemn the innate sexual orientation of those he creates, but the inquiry was fair. I sometimes discuss my faith in this space and when readers question me about it, they deserve better than, “Butt out.”

I offer apologies to my correspondent. I doubt he will like my extended answer, but here it is: I’m considering dropping the moniker, Christian. The racists, homophobes and Islamophobes in these parts have so tarnished it that many of us now need better words to characterize our faith.

A few years ago, I wrote a column for an online faith publication, in which I mused about adopting new terminology:

“Pat Robertson, Phil Robertson, Tony Perkins, the Westboro Baptist Church, the Moral Majority and the Christian Coalition. Think about the image of Christianity that these people and organizations — and dozens more like them — portray to the world. The un-churched who watch these people see Christianity as grim, unwelcoming, judgmental, joyless and self-righteous. Just what part of their hell-fire-and-brimstone sermons would be remotely attractive to a person tormented, for example, by alcoholism?”

I decided then to keep “Christian,” writing, “The public’s view of Christians will change when our Christ-inspired love for others overpowers and drowns out the hurtful words and actions of Robertson (Phil and Pat) and those like them. Changing our name won’t rehabilitate the term. Changing our actions will.”

I wrote that, however, long before white Evangelical Christians voted overwhelmingly to elect Donald Trump — a serial liar, sexual abuser, racist and Islamophobe — as president. That was also before Evangelicals in Alabama and elsewhere rallied to defend Republican U.S. Senate nominee Roy Moore, a racist and homophobic former state judge accused of molesting at least two teenagers when he was in his early 30s.

It’s not only that many so-called Christians accept Moore’s dubious denials over the testimony of these women. Just as troubling is that they worship Moore, unconcerned about whether he’s a pedophile because, you know, any Democrat is worse than a child molester.

If you need any evidence about the moral and spiritual bankruptcy of the pretenders who have hijacked the Christian faith, consider that almost 40 percent of self-professed Evangelicals in Alabama say charges of pedophilia make them more, not less, likely to support Moore.

Continue reading on NOLA.com at this link.

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Posted in Faith, gay rights, Politics, race, religion, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Republicans worry about debt and deficits only when a Democrat is in the White House | Robert Mann

By Robert Mann

Have you noticed Republicans say they hate deficits? Have you heard their passionate rhetoric about the evils of the national debt? Maybe, like me, you thought when Republicans finally controlled Congress and the White House, they’d do something about the debt they’ve long denounced.

Well, they are doing something about it. They plan to blow it up with a tax-cut bill that would pile on an additional $1.67 trillion in debt over 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office. And this additional debt would be even greater were it not for Republican plans to repeal certain middle-class tax breaks, including the deduction for health expenses and the adoption tax credit.
This bill barreling through Congress is the latest evidence that Republicans worry about debt only when Democrats are in power. There is, apparently, Democratic debt (bad) and Republican debt (good).

Is this because Republican debt funds needless wars and massive tax cuts for billionaires? Or is it that Republicans care about government spending only when they can use it to vilify Democrats?

Let’s be clear how this bill would support tax cuts for corporations and billionaires. As The New York Times concluded, “Nearly half of all middle-class families would pay more in taxes in 2026 than they would under current rules if the proposed House tax bill became law, and about one-third would pay more in 2018.”

Just as troubling is what the Associated Press has reported: “Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, says the cost of the Republicans’ proposed tax cuts would add considerably to the federal debt burden, which now equals 75 percent of U.S. gross domestic product, the broadest measure of economic output. By 2027, Zandi says, that burden would equal 97 percent of GDP.”

One can imagine what Louisiana’s Republican congressional delegation might have said if Barack Obama’s policies increased the debt. Actually, there’s no need to imagine. Here’s what they said in recent months and years:

Sen. Bill Cassidy: “[O]ur national debt is not sustainable and, unless addressed, will sharply limit future prosperity for our children and grandchildren.”

Continue reading on NOLA.com at this link.

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LSU has too many Confederates

By Robert Mann

Shortly after prosecutors sent then-Gov. Richard Leche to federal prison for mail fraud in 1940, Louisiana State University officials erased his name from campus. The school’s law school building, completed in December 1937, was named “Leche Hall.” A medallion bearing his profile rested above the building’s main doors.

With Leche in prison, school officials removed the medallion. Above the Corinthian columns on the building’s entrance, workers drew out the large limestone blocks bearing the letters of Leche’s name. They reversed them and shoved them back into place. In a matter of days, the disgraced governor’s name and image vanished from campus.IMG_6024

Seventy-eight years later, it’s time to do the same with Raphael Semmes, whose name adorns one of LSU’s most prominent streets. Semmes was a Confederate admiral and is the subject of a handful of Civil War histories for his exploits. He undoubtedly possessed a great military mind. He is no insignificant figure in Civil War history.

He was, however, a virulent racist who fought ferociously to destroy the Union and preserve slavery. After the war, he was arrested and charged with treason. Although he was never tried, his actions — like those of other Confederate leaders — were treasonous.

Born in Maryland and buried in Alabama, Semmes was not a Louisiana native. In fact, he lived in Louisiana and served on the school’s faculty for less than five months in 1867. And yet LSU accords him the remarkable honor of one of the campus’ most scenic and prominent streets. Raphael Semmes Road is the address of the Student Union, the campus bookstore, the LSU Women’s Center and, ironically, the African American Cultural Center.

Semmes is not the only offensive name on an LSU building or street. As a group of my students learned after conducting a comprehensive inventory of LSU, four buildings and streets on campus are named after Confederates while only three are named for African-Americans. (You can read their research at RenewLSU.org.)

Almost 20 years into the 21st Century, it’s time for Semmes and the other Confederates honored on the LSU campus to go. They have no place on the buildings and streets of a public university that claims to value diversity and inclusion.

My students also discovered that only one academic building displays the name of an African-American, on a campus with a student population that is 12 percent black in a state in which a third of residents are black. That building is A.P. Tureaud Sr. Hall, a grungy classroom building unpopular with students. Tureaud was a great civil rights leader. His son, A.P. Tureaud Jr., was the first black undergraduate student admitted to LSU (in 1953).

I don’t know if Tureaud’s family members are offended their father’s name is affixed to a building afforded so little respect by LSU, but they should be.

Continue reading on NOLA.com at this link.

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If you can’t speak out for sick kids, quit calling yourself ‘pro-life’

By Robert Mann

It’s hard to find a government program that does more to save innocent lives than the Children’s Health Insurance Program. CHIP and its Louisiana incarnation, LaCHIP, are shining examples of effective, pro-life government initiatives.

Louisiana’s Republican senators and congressional representatives tell us they are pro-life. But the way they have responded to Congress’ recent failure to renew funding for CHIP suggests they are just pro-birth. Once the kids pop out, they’re on their own.

That’s a fair conclusion based on the conspicuous silence of our delegation after Congress allowed the program to expire Sept. 30. Efforts to renew it for another five years are going nowhere after committees in both houses offered different funding plans. It’s not clear when (or if) Congress will resolve those differences.

The program pays for life-saving health care for 8.9 million young Americans, including 121,000 in Louisiana. Since 2003, because of LaCHIP, the percentage of uninsured Louisiana children has plunged from 11.1 percent to 3.8 percent.

The CHIP program supports a range of health services for children 19 and younger, including primary, preventative and emergency care. It also covers immunizations, prescriptions drugs and hospitalization. It saves lives. This should be the easiest government program to fund. And it was until Republicans in Congress let it expire.

Some states have more resources and, therefore, more time before their money dries up. When the federal portion of CHIP vanishes in February 2018, Louisiana must find an extra $31 million — near the end of a fiscal year — to keep the program alive. That means deep cuts to other vital health care services. And in the years after that, the state’s Department of Health and Hospitals says, Louisiana will need an additional $112 million to continue coverage.

Even if Congress restores funding for CHIP, it’s an outrage that so many families with sick kids are agonizing over whether they might end up buried in medical bills or, worse, be forced to forego life-saving treatment.

Continue reading on NOLA.com at this link.

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How Donald Trump poisons American society, weakens our values

By Robert Mann

Families don’t usually fall apart suddenly. One day, a husband and wife are inseparable. Two years later, they realize they’ve become strangers, after their relationship gradually fell victim to a hundred minor offenses and omissions.

Societies also fray and fail in incremental ways. Like a pot on the stove with a proverbial frog in it, the temperature of societal change inches up. It’s too late to escape when we reach the boiling point.

Perhaps boiling frogs and dissolving families are apt metaphors for what is happening to this country under Donald Trump. It feels we are slowly forsaking values we once treasured and guarded.

It happens. Germany didn’t descend into madness overnight in 1933. Its road to perdition wasn’t an autobahn but a narrow, winding trail of incremental atrocities and compromises that led people to forget and abandon values they once treasured. In different and tragic ways, Thailand, Turkey, Bangladesh and Nicaragua are also abandoning their democracies and betraying their values.

Could the same happen here? Well, it’s already happening.

Every week — sometimes daily — Trump and his acolytes inject the nation’s bloodstream with a drop or two of poison. By itself, each offense does not undermine societal norms or cripple our democracy. Taken together, the accumulation of toxins could render our treasured values meaningless.

Less than two years ago, we could not have imagined a president who would coarsen the nation’s discourse as Trump has in a few months.

Presidents and other public officials once paid a steep price for spewing profanity and racial slurs. Such behavior now feels normal and is applauded by his supporters.

Previous presidents didn’t abuse the bully pulpit to slander American corporations or individuals. They didn’t threaten to prosecute defeated opponents.

Presidents once responded with empathy and compassion to suffering citizens. Can you imagine any previous president attacking the mayor of an American city devastated by a hurricane? Before Trump, it would have been impossible to conceive of a president who would ridicule the mayor of London after a terrorist attack.

Continue reading on NOLA.com at this link

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Is Louisiana ignoring its many problems because of institutional racism?

By Robert Mann

It may well be that we will have to repent in this generation. Not merely for the vitriolic words and the violent actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence and indifference of the good people who sit around and say, ‘Wait on time.'” — Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

If 47 percent of our white children lived in poverty, Louisiana would do something about child poverty. If the rate of white women living with an HIV diagnosis were 11.8 times that of black females, Louisiana would declare a public health crisis. If chemical plants were located next to wealthy white neighborhoods, Louisiana would get serious about environmental justice.

If white people were shot and killed by police at a rate far exceeding their share of the state’s population, policing would change quickly. If wealthy people were required to pay a disproportionately high percentage of their incomes in sales taxes, Louisiana would promptly slash that tax.

If payday lenders preyed mostly on white people, the Louisiana Legislature would crack down on this unethical practice. If our prisons were suddenly full of young white men, Louisiana would reform its criminal justice laws overnight. If the median income of white households were half that of black households, Louisiana’s political leaders would pass laws to promote income equality.

Let’s be honest: These problems are not major concerns to most people in Louisiana because they affect primarily African-Americans and other minorities. They aren’t issues that cause most affluent white Louisianians much heartburn or consternation. 

My children have never gone hungry. I’ve never needed a payday loan. There are no chemical plants near my house. Police officers don’t pull me over for no reason. And if I do get stopped, I never fear for my life. I earn enough that sales taxes aren’t the major portion of my tax bill. I don’t worry about contracting HIV.

The problem, however, is I’m in the same boat with all the souls burdened by these and other issues. Cops who are racist aren’t just someone else’s problem. They work for me. The payday lender rips off the poor family with my tacit permission. The sales taxes that punish and crush poor people are high so that my income and property taxes can be a little lower.

There is a term that describes this collective indifference to poverty, disease, discrimination and suffering: institutional racism.

Continue reading on NOLA.com at this link.

Posted in Louisiana Politics, Politics, poverty, race, religion | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

American can-do vanishes when the NRA check arrives

By Robert Mann

The instinct is common; the pattern is clear: When people die in accidents or from defective or faulty products, Americans are quick to assess the problem and work to prevent it from happening again. For instance:

Whenever a commercial airliner crashes and kills hundreds of people, we determine the cause and work to prevent similar occurrences. That’s why airlines are the world’s safest mode of travel.

On American highways, cars often cross medians and strike oncoming traffic. That’s why many states, including Louisiana, erect barriers to prevent future crashes.

After decades during which more than 40,000 — sometimes 50,000 — people died annually on our highways, federal law in 1968 required automakers to install seat belts in new cars. By 1998, the government also mandated airbags in all new automobiles.

When someone tainted bottles of Tylenol with potassium cyanide in 1981, killing seven people in the Chicago area, it sparked a revolution in the packaging of over-the-counter medication and resulted in the 1983 Federal Anti-Tampering Act.

Following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the federal government dramatically increased security at airports and on airplanes. 

A would-be shoe bomber tried to blow up a plane on a flight from Paris to Miami in 2001. Today, most U.S. passengers cannot board a commercial jet without removing their shoes.

After 32 infants died in drop-down cribs from 2000 to 2010, the federal Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) banned the manufacture, sale and resale of such cribs.

In the 1980s, more than 6,000 people were injured in lawn dart accidents. In 1982, an errant dart killed a 7-year-old child in California. By 1988, the CPSC banned them in the United States.

Thousands of children once opened medicine bottles and died or became ill after they ingested the contents. Today, child-resistant caps are used for almost all medicine bottles and many other products, such as pesticides and other household chemicals.

Several dozen people, including children, died each year after being locked inside the trunks of cars. In 2001, the federal government required that all new passenger vehicles with trunks must be equipped with an interior release latch. 

Continue reading on NOLA.com at this link.

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