There is hope for everyone, even racists and Nazis

By Robert Mann

I love redemption stories because they show, as someone once observed, “Nothing is exempt from resurrection.” And few are more inspiring than one who renounces violence or hate and becomes an exemplar of tolerance or love.

Last week, I came across what first appeared to be a powerful redemption story about a Virginia Catholic priest who revealed his Ku Klux Klan past. Father William Aitcheson wrote about his white supremacist college days, which included burning a cross in the yard of a Maryland black family in 1977.

Besides the cross burnings, he mailed threatening letters to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s widow, Coretta Scott King. After publishing his confession, Aitcheson stepped down from his Fairfax City church. My first thought was that I hope, for his parishioners’ sake, he returns to his pulpit because we need all the inspiring examples of redemption we can get.

Aitcheson’s story summoned images of other haters who buried their former selves and embraced a new life. I recalled the zealot Saul persecuting early Christians. An accessory to murder, he held the cloaks of those who stoned a man. After his dramatic conversion, St. Paul wrote most of what Christians call “the New Testament.”

Unlike Aitcheson, Paul didn’t hide his past. The same goes for my favorite redeemed sinner, the Englishman John Newton. Of his debauched early adulthood, Newton recalled, “I don’t believe that I have ever since met so daring a blasphemer as myself.”
Newton’s depravity got him sold into virtual slavery in West Africa. He almost starved and was left for dead. His dramatic escape — part of what he called “many dangers, toils and snares” — later persuaded Newton that God preserved him for a higher purpose.

Newton’s spiritual awakening occurred during an Atlantic storm that nearly sank his ship. Despite his renewed faith, Newton entered the slave trade, making three voyages to transport human chattel. “I hope it will always be a subject of humiliating reflection to me, that I was once an active instrument in a business at which my heart now shudders,” Newton wrote in his 1788 pamphlet, “Thoughts on the African Slave Trade.”

Newton’s conviction about the wickedness of slavery happened gradually. When he renounced slaving, it was not out of disgust with his wicked work but because he desired more time with his wife. Only as he studied to become a Church of England priest, did he reflect on his wretchedness.

During his 16 years as a priest in the village of Olney — about 60 miles north of London — attendance exploded as the charismatic, self-educated man shared his life story.

On New Year’s Day, 1773, Newton delivered a meditation to his congregation about God’s use of flawed individuals. He also recited the simple poem he wrote about his redemption: “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound! That saved a wretch like me! I once was lost, but now am found. Was blind, but now I see.”

Keep reading on at this link.

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Teach your children well

By Robert Mann

When violent white supremacy exploded in Charlottesville, Va., last weekend, many of us wondered how these young men could have gone awry, descending not only into bigotry but hate so virulent that they could embrace Nazism and murder in service of racial purity.

Where and how did they acquire their sick ideology? What did their parents teach or model for these men that led to their acceptance of such dark and cancerous evil? What could have been done to point them in another direction?

This week, I’ve also asked myself if i have done enough to teach my children about the dignity and inherent worth of every person.

I pray I have. This I know: If my daughter and son have learned anything about love and tolerance from their dad, it’s because my mother taught it to me.

In recent decades, few weeks have passed that I haven’t recalled a seminal, searing event of my childhood, a moment as inedible in my early memory as the Kennedy assassination or Neil Armstrong’s Moon walk. It was the Sunday morning in the late-1960s when my mother — outraged by the humiliation of a black woman who visited our church — dressed down our pastor.

The middle-aged woman was driving to worship when her car broke down in front of the Pinecrest Church of Christ in Beaumont, Texas. Not wishing to miss worship, she came inside. Most members welcomed her warmly. In acknowledging her, however, our pastor explained to the congregation the unusual circumstances that brought this interloper to us, the subtext being we could rest easy knowing she wouldn’t return.

My mother was livid.

Continue reading on at this link. 

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Grateful Obamacare is still alive? Thank Mary Landrieu

By Robert Mann

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is safe for now, and let’s hope Congress will fix its flaws and enhance it, something members should have done years ago. Correcting the ACA would be impossible if three Republican senators — Maine’s Susan Collins, Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski and Arizona’s John McCain — hadn’t opposed repealing the law and, with it, insurance for tens of millions of people.

As we praise them, however, let’s save some applause for former Louisiana Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu, who cast a crucial 60th vote for the ACA in December 2009. In the decades-long fight for universal health care coverage — still an aspiration in the world’s wealthiest nation — few deserve praise more than Landrieu. If she had voted no, the bill might never have become law.

In 2009, Landrieu knew Louisiana’s politics were shifting to the right. In a state once dominated by Democrats, she was isolated. Her upcoming 2014 reelection, never a sure thing, was precarious. She eventually would run in the sixth year of Barack Obama’s presidency, a dangerous period for a congressional Democrat in the Deep South.

She knew the voters who sent her to Washington three times might reject her for supporting Obama’s health care program. “It was a very difficult vote,” Landrieu told me by phone from Washington on Wednesday.

If you were Landrieu in 2009, wondering what might increase your reelection chances, opposing Obamacare would have been a reasonable bet. “I knew that could be a career-ending vote,” she said. “It’s not that I doubted it was the right vote, but I knew the storm of disinformation” would blow long after Obama signed the bill and throughout its implementation.

I argued in March 2014 that Landrieu, while vulnerable, wouldn’t lose because of her ACA vote. The state’s political and demographic changes were greater factors in her loss to Republican Bill Cassidy. Landrieu, however, maintains “it was a factor.”

Still, had she opposed the bill, it might not have helped her much. As I suggested in 2014: “Had she stopped Obamacare, would Republicans be holding parades in her honor?” Nope. Republicans would have waged war on her, regardless of her ACA vote and would still have savaged her for supporting Obama 97 percent of the time (or, absent her pro-ACA vote, 96 percent).

With then-Gov. Bobby Jindal undermining Obamacare in Louisiana — and national Republicans waging a dishonest smear campaign — many Louisiana voters accepted the deceitful portrayal of the law he, then-Sen. David Vitter and other Republicans fed them.

Continue reading on at this link.


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Donald Trump is taking us into the heart of darkness

By Robert Mann

Ten percent of any population is cruel, no matter what, and 10 percent is merciful, no matter what, and the remaining 80 percent can be moved in either direction.” ―Susan Sontag

With his profanity and crude insults, his threats of violence against opponents and his insults of the disabled, women and prisoners of war, President Donald Trump has contributed much to the coarsening of American society and politics.During his six months in the White House, he has made the U.S. government callous — even hostile — to the poor and powerless. More troubling, he’s abetted in his immoral enterprise by so-called Evangelical Christians, who ignore Jesus’ admonition to care for “the least of these,” or as I prefer to call them, “God’s beloved.”

Trump didn’t prompt his Evangelical and other supporters to abandon the poor and the sick. Many of them had done so long ago. He has, however, fortified their animosity and vitriol toward the powerless.

What, in God’s name, has happened to us? The United States was once a country people in dark, violent corners of the world saw as a refuge from persecution and torture. People everywhere knew America stood, not only for freedom but for universal human rights.

They had faith the U.S. government — embodying the decency and goodwill of its people — would help them after earthquakes, floods, famines, genocide and war. They knew when no one else would take them in, Americans would throw open our doors to the “poor . . . huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

America has long been a beacon of hope and a staunch defender of the oppressed. Under Trump, however, that’s ending.

We are becoming a sick and sad shadow of our former self. A president elected by a minority of voters and buttressed by a gutless GOP majority in Congress is taking the country on a terrifying ride into the heart of darkness.

Trump and his shrinking but still-potent base oppose offering refuge to oppressed people from other lands, especially if they are from the Middle East. Trump imposes a cruel travel ban against Muslims, and people cheer. Neither he nor his supporters find it within their hardened hearts to defend immigrants with young children before they toss them from the country.

Continue reading on at this link.

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Sen. Bill Cassidy betrays sick kids, fails the ‘Jimmy Kimmel test’

By Robert Mann

I was a sucker. Like the parents of sick children I’ve seen on TV in recent weeks, I had faith in U.S. Sen. Billy Cassidy’s goodwill when he told late-night host Jimmy Kimmel he would protect sick children and their families.

“If your baby is going to die and it doesn’t have to,” an emotional Kimmel told his audience in May after his son underwent heart surgery, “it shouldn’t matter how much money you make.”

Asked about Kimmel’s statement, Cassidy told CNN he wouldn’t support a health care bill in the Senate unless it met “the Jimmy Kimmel test.” That, Cassidy explained, meant, “Would a child born with a congenital heart defect be able to get everything she or he would need in the first year of life?” Later, appearing by satellite on Kimmel’s show, Cassidy expanded the test to include “not only on the first year [of life] but every year thereafter.”Screenshot 2017-05-12 17.37.24

A physician who worked in the state’s charity hospital system, Cassidy led us to believe he would prioritize the interests and needs of sick children. He wanted us to buy the idea that he cared for these families. He assured us he would not support a bill that hurt them.

I swallowed it and wrote, “Perhaps more than any member of the Senate Republican caucus, Cassidy understands the struggles of working-poor families. I suspect he does not want it on his record or his conscience that he made life harder — or more deadly — for these families.”

What a fool I was.

On Tuesday (July 25), Cassidy voted with the Republican majority to begin debate on repealing the Affordable Care Act, which would make it difficult (if not impossible) for millions of families with sick and dying children to get the critical care they need.

Cassidy also supported an amendment — offered by Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Rob Portman, R-Ohio — that makes a mockery of his Kimmel test pledge. The Cruz amendment (it failed with only 43 votes) would roll back Medicaid expansion and encourage insurance companies to hawk bare-bones policies that provide little or no meaningful coverage.

Just as troubling, the Senate took up Cruz’s language without an analysis from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), meaning Cassidy backed a bill without bothering to investigate the effects on families he says he would protect.

On Wednesday, Cassidy was one of 45 votes for legislation that would have repealed most of Obamacare without a replacement, an appalling betrayal of the parents he had assured on Kimmel’s show. The CBO estimates the amendment would cause 32 million people to drop or lose their health insurance.

Early Friday morning, Cassidy betrayed these families again when he supported the so-called “skinny repeal” legislation, which the CBO said would cost 16 million their health coverage. That measure failed 49-51.

Continue reading on at this link.

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Donald Trump isn’t ending politics, as usual, because it’s his actual defense

By Robert Mann

“Most politicians would have gone to a meeting like the one Don jr attended in order to get info on an opponent. That’s politics!” –President Donald Trump tweet, July 17

In the spring of 2005, I betrayed a close friend and destroyed our friendship. It was a panicked, spur-of-the-moment choice I made for political reasons. It was wrong, needless and the decision I most regret in my 58 years.

I was communications director to then-Gov. Kathleen Blanco. I had asked my friend to create a website to defend Blanco and criticize her political opponents. When a reporter discovered the memo he wrote me, outlining the specifics of the ill-considered plan, I threw him under the bus. “I get lots of emails,” I said, hoping to leave the impression I was the passive recipient of the plan, not one of its originators. I immediately regretted my cowardice and tried to correct the record, but the damage to our friendship was done.

I thought about all this the other day when President Trump’s son Don Jr. released an email chain from 2016, which revealed his willingness to collude with Russian officials to get dirt on Hillary Clinton. “I love it,” Trump Jr. replied to the nefarious message.

Trump Jr. lied about his subsequent meeting with the Russians and later explained he couldn’t help what people sent him. Later, he and his father settled on the justification, summarized in the tweet above, that everyone does this kind of thing. No big deal.

Yes, very big deal.

The emails and Trump Jr.’s meeting demonstrate how much Trump’s campaign wanted to collude with Russian agents working to undermine our elections. And they showed us how far Trump and his campaign would go to win.

So much for draining the swamp and ending politics as usual. Politics, as usual, is now their actual defense.

I’ve never served on a presidential campaign staff, but I worked in politics for 20 years, including on a half-dozen statewide campaigns. I can tell you that winning is not just an important part of politics; to many, it’s the only thing. No one wants to lose. And it’s no secret politicians and their aides go to extraordinary — sometimes illegal — lengths to win.

By the time I turned 45, I was weary of this feature of politics. I did not like the person I became in the midst of a tough election. I hated how the competitive juices turned me into a person I did not recognize. I was happy to abandon that aspect of the political arena in 2006.

I never broke the law, but I sometimes did and said things in the heat of battle that cause me shame today. Some of what I said in print about former Gov. Buddy Roemer during the 1995 governor’s race bothered me so much that I invited him to speak to one of my classes at LSU in 2008 and apologized to him in front of my students.

Continue reading this on at this link.

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Could Louisiana survive without its colleges and universities?

By Robert Mann

The differences in opinion are stark but not surprising. “A majority of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents (58%) now say that colleges and universities have a negative effect on the country, up from 45% last year,” the Pew Research Center reported the other day. “By contrast, most Democrats and Democratic leaners (72%) say colleges and universities have a positive effect, which is little changed from recent years.”

Many who disparage higher education likely live in states with the lowest rates of college graduates, like Louisiana. Too few people in those states understand the value of universities beyond providing entertainment like football and basketball.

Nationally, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 33 percent of Americans have a bachelor’s degree or higher, with almost 60 percent having some college. Among the states, Massachusetts has the highest percentage of college graduates, with 41 percent. Not one Southern state makes the top 20. In the South, Georgia is highest with 29 percent.

You will not be shocked to learn Louisiana has among the lowest percentage of college graduates, with 22.9 percent. We’re in 46th place, a notch above Kentucky (22.2), Arkansas (21.4), Mississippi (21.8) and West Virginia (19.2).

I would bet next month’s paycheck that the bulk of GOP disregard for higher education comes from states like Louisiana, where former Gov. Bobby Jindal and his legislative allies slashed higher education funding and worked to weaken LSU and other schools.

They knew they would pay no political price for attacking universities because so few of their supporters had college degrees.

These new Pew survey numbers are interesting and telling, but they don’t answer the central question, which should not be difficult to answer: Could a state like Louisiana — even one in which only one in five has a degree — survive without its universities?

We couldn’t. Where would we find engineers to design and build our roads and bridges? Where would we get new doctors, dentists, nurses, pharmacists and veterinarians to replace those who retire each year? Where would we find school teachers? Who would train accountants, lab technicians, coastal scientists and architects?

I could go on, but you get the point: Our colleges and universities are vital to Louisiana’s economic and cultural life.

Sure, it’s possible to support a family without a college degree. Many do. It’s not possible to have a functioning society, however, if you lack residents with degrees and the specialized skills that accompany them.

Continue reading on at this link.

Posted in Education, Louisiana budget, Louisiana higher education, Louisiana Politics, LSU, Politics | Tagged , , | 4 Comments