Thursday, July 16, 2020

"First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out." Reflections on Martin Niemöller, who stood up against the Nazis

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—
     Because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
     Because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
     Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
Martin Niemöller
 (1892-1984)

Like most Americans, I am familiar with Pastor Martin Niemöller's famous quote, but I knew almost nothing about him until recently. I knew he was a Protestant pastor who opposed Adolph Hitler during the 1930s, but I did not realize that Niemöller spent seven years in a Nazi concentration camp.

As William Shirer noted in his memoirs, Niemöller would seem to be an unlikely person to stand up to the Nazis. Niemöller had been a decorated U-boat commander during the First World War. He was a fervent nationalist during the post-war years, and he welcomed the day when Hitler became the chancellor of the Reich in 1933.

But Niemöller slowly became disillusioned with Hitler, and he spoke out publicly against Nazism from his pulpit. At some point, Niemoller realized that Hitler meant to wipe out Christianity in Germany and replace it with the National Reich Church.

Indeed, Hitler's national church publicly repudiated the "strange and foreign" Christian religion. The Reich church openly acknowledged that it intended to place Mein Kampe on church altars instead of the Bible.

With great courage, Niemöllerdefended his Christian faith against Hitler's paganism. In 1937, he was arrested by the Gestapo and sent to Dachau.

Shirer, reflecting on the struggle between Hitler and German Christians during the 1930s, admitted that he had perhaps paid too much attention to it. After all, most Germans were not alarmed by what the Nazis were doing. "I should have realized," Shirer wrote, "that a people who had so lightly given up their political, cultural and economic freedom were not . . . going to die or even risk imprisonment to preserve freedom of worship."

Today, the United States is swirling in a witch's brew of cancel culture, Antifa, Black Lives Matter, and "wokedom." Elected politicians publicly denounce the police, and demonstrators feel free to throw bricks and bottles at police officers. Day after day, vandals posing as protesters destroy statues and monuments that memorialize America's heritage. Churches and businesses are being set afire, and almost no one is prosecuted.

If the United States had a free press and healthy universities, all this destructive rhetoric and criminal behavior would be thunderously denounced in the media, much as some newspapers denounced the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s.

But America no longer has a free press. Instead, as Bari Weiss wrote this week in a letter to the New York Times," a new consensus has emerged in the press . . . that truth isn't a process of collective discovery, but an orthodoxy already known to an enlightened few whose job is to inform everyone else."

If our nation's universities were truly a marketplace of ideas, as the Supreme Court once described them, our intellectuals would speak up when a professor is bullied and even fired for failing to acquiesce to the destructive agenda of the cancel culture. But they are not speaking up.

For the most part, Americans are indifferent to the mass assault on traditional American values and our nation's democratic traditions. Our media and our universities are hell-bent on destroying American society, and few people dare to stand up to them.

We are like the Germans of the 1930s who stayed on the sidelines instead of opposing Hitler's thuggery. And like the Germans, we will eventually regret our cowardice.



Pastor Martin Niemöller spent seven years in a Nazi concentration camp.


Tuesday, July 14, 2020

"Don't bring your guns to town, son": Johnny Cash's mama gave good advice

Gun sales are skyrocketing in the United States. According to the National Shooting Sports Foundation (as reported by Forbes), Americans bought 2.5 million firearms in the first half of this year.

Even before this recent spike, Americans owned a lot of guns.  Today, Americans own 400 million firearms--that's a gun for every U.S. citizen, including toddlers and kindergarten kids.  And more Americans are packing heat when they travel.  As of 2019, 18.6 million citizens had concealed carry permits.

We've known for years that gun sales pick up in response to scary news events. Right now, people are worried about the coronavirus and urban violence in the wake of George Floyd's death. Many gun buyers don't actually want a firearm, but they are afraid they might need a gun one day and won't be able to get one.

This summer, however, we see a new development. Not only are people buying more guns, but they are also hoarding ammunition. As I write, it is virtually impossible to purchase handgun ammo in my city. A sales associate at my nearby Cabella's sporting goods store told me that ammo flies off the shelves as soon as it is stocked. "We sell out in about five minutes," he said.

Ammo.com reported that Texas saw a 1,000 percent increase in the purchase of 9 mm pistol ammunition this spring and a 2,400 percent increase in the sale of assault-rifle (223) bullets.

In my view, this is a worrisome trend. It is telling us that many Americans don't believe the police can protect them from crime and violence--that they are on their own when it comes to protecting their property and their families.

I'm not going to weigh in on the gun debate--the Second Amendment, yadda yadda yadda.  But I will say this. It is one thing for people who are trained to use firearms to keep securely-stored guns in their homes to protect their loved ones in the unlikely event that someone breaks into their dwelling, and the police don't arrive fast enough to deal with the threat.

It's quite another thing to carry a concealed weapon on a trip to the grocery store or to brandish a gun in public. Mark and Patricia McCloskey are famous now because they displayed firearms in their front yard when protesters came into their gated community in St. Louis. They say they were threatened and that the police didn't respond to their call for help. I believe them.

But wouldn't it have been better for Mr. and Mr.s McCloskey to have stayed in their home with the doors locked and call 911 repeatedly to ask for assistance? If someone broke into their house before the police showed up, the McCloskeys would then be well within their rights to protect themselves with guns.

But I don't see any sense in standing in one's front yard and waving a gun at people. I hope the McCloskeys aren't prosecuted for their misjudgment, but I also hope their personal drama is a lesson to the rest of us that we should heed Mama Cash's advice: "Don't take your guns to town, son. Leave your guns [inside your] home."





Monday, July 13, 2020

Two Hispanic cops killed while responding to a domestic disturbance in the border town of McAllen, TX: Do Brown lives matter?

Last Saturday, two police officers were shot and killed in the Texas border town of McAllen. Officers Edelmiro Garza and Ismael Chavez were responding to a domestic disturbance call at a local residence. When they arrived, a man identified as Audon Ignacio Camarillo opened the door and shot both men, who had no time to draw their weapons. Camarillo took his own life later that day.

What does Black Lives Matter have to say about this tragedy? Good cops are dead cops, perhaps.

And how about those lunatics on the Minneapolis City Council--the people who want to dismantle the police department even as they buy personal security for themselves. Do they have any comments?

And the "Defund the Police" nut jobs--what is their take on this?  I suppose they will argue that the city of McAllen should have sent a "woke" social worker to deal with Mr. Camarillo instead of two cops.

Both slain officers were Hispanic, shot in a town that is overwhelmingly Latino (or Latinx). Does ethnicity affect the way anti-police yahoos think about this tragedy? If blue lives don't matter, can they at least acknowledge that Brown lives matter?

All over the United States, the police will tell you that the most dangerous scenario for them is a domestic violence call. The guys who beat their wives are unstable and often have guns. Alcohol is frequently a factor.

What is the best way to deal with these perilous situations--which happen every day all over the United States? Do we dispatch a SWAT team in an armored vehicle? Do we send an unarmed community caseworker? Or do we ask the police to deal with guys like Audon Ignacio Camarillo?

Right now, our society sends cops--both men and women--to deal with domestic abusers, who are human time bombs that can explode unexpectantly.  It's a dirty job, but someone has to do it.

Is it too much to ask, then, to say that blue lives matter? Is it too much to ask Americans to say thank you?





Saturday, July 11, 2020

Not all white people live in a "place of privilege": Minneapolis City Council wants to dismantle the police department

Okie use' ta mean you was from Oklahoma.  Now it means you're a dirty son-of-a-bitch. Okie means you're scum.
John Steinbeck
The Grapes of Wrath 

Last month, the Minneapolis City Council voted unanimously to dismantle the municipal police force and replace it with an agency that will address crime more holistically. I take it that means more social workers and fewer guns.

Although the city council wants to deny police protection to the citizens of Minneapolis, some officials still want it for themselves. The city hired a private security firm to protect three council members at the cost of $4,500 a day. In other words, security for me but not for thee.

A CNN reporter asked Lisa Bender, president of the Minneapolis City Council, what people are supposed to do if their homes are being burglarized. "What if in the middle of the night my home is broken into," the reporter asked. "Who do I call?" 

Bender basically said the police aren't necessary to deal with a home invasion because if you're calling 911 to report a burglary, you're coming from a "place of privilege."  By privilege, I think Bender meant white privilege. 

If I follow her reasoning aright, Bender is basically arguing that white people don't deserve police protection from theft because they (or perhaps their ancestors) benefited unfairly from our society's structural racism.

But of course, that's bullshit. 

As far as I know, my family hasn't exploited anybody. My great grandfather on my father's side worked in a brick factory in England. Sometime in the 1880s, he immigrated to Canada with his wife and children and finally wound up in Kansas. No slaves on that side of my family.

My mother's people emigrated from Germany before the American Revolution. They settled in Pennsylvania, and several of my ancestors fought in George Washington's army. No slaves or racial exploitation on the German side of my family.

Even if you buy the tortured argument that my ancestors engaged in racial exploitation simply because they were white beneficiaries of a racist society, they certainly paid for that sin. Both sets of my grandparents lived in the Dust Bowl during the Great Depression and suffered greatly. 

Although my immediate ancestors did not migrate to California during the 1930s, many of their relatives and acquaintances did. Much like today's Mexican immigrants, Oklahomans uprooted themselves and headed to the Golden State in search of a better way of life.

And when they rolled up to the California border in their broken-down cars, the state police would not let them enter. These economic refugees were referred to as Okies--a term almost as derogatory as the N-word.

Think of that: Today's California politicians want to abolish all immigration laws and allow anyone to enter the country--even criminals. But in the 1930s, the Californians denied entrance to American citizens who just wanted to work and feed their families.

American history is tainted with systemic racism to be sure. Africans were enslaved in the South, Chinese workers were abused in the West, and the Irish were exploited in the East. And if you want to know how the Okies fared in 1930s California, view John Ford's great movie, The Grapes of Wrath

But today, in the second decade of the 21st century, we all deserve to be treated equally and with respect. And if someone breaks into our homes, don't we all deserve police protection?


Okies, keep out of California.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Three moves equal one fire: In these troubled times, shelter should be the first priority.

In the early 20th century, a lot of Americans in the rural South were tenant farmers; and they often moved from farm to farm to remain employed. "Three moves are as bad as a fire," was a common observation because the disruption, property loss, and cost of moving could be devastating. Three such moves caused as much damage as one fire.

According to the Aspen Institute, as reported by Steve Rhode, "One in five of the 110 million Americans who live in renter households are at risk of eviction by September." Most of these people live in urban areas, but the trauma and loss caused by eviction are just as devastating for them as for the Southern tenant farmers who lost their homes a hundred years ago.

Being evicted often means that parents have to pull their children out of school in midyear, which disrupts their kids' education. Renting another apartment usually requires the new tenant to come up with a security deposit, which may be impossible for people who have no savings and no credit cards. Moving to a new apartment also means having to open a new account for electricity and water, and often the utility companies require a deposit.

Three moves equal one fire in modern America. And people who can't scramble successfully from one rented apartment to another become homeless.

Our federal government has distributed massive infusions of cash into the American economy to offset the economic calamity caused by COVID-19. Still, a lot of that money went to people who don't need it. More than 600,000 businesses benefited from the Payroll Protection Program, including 1,400 investment advisors.

Poor people, on the other hand, have received scant relief.  The government mailed out  $1,200 one-time checks a few months ago, but that amount may not cover a month's rent.  Congress fattened people's unemployment checks by $600 a month--a significant benefit, to be sure, but this aid is temporary.

We already see the disruption in housing caused by the coronavirus. The number of adults living with their parents has spiked upward to 24.8 million, with the most significant increases among people in their early twenties.  Sixty percent of young Black men are living with their parents or grandparents.

Matthew Desmond called for radical changes in housing policy in his 2016 book titled Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City. He argues for universal housing vouchers to guarantee that every American would live in a home that is "decent, modest, and fairly priced."

In the short term, I don't see significant changes in national housing policy.  But this much seems clear. The federal government needs to devote a substantial amount of its coronavirus-relief money to making sure unemployed, and low-income Americans can stay in their rented homes.

Shanty housing during the Great Depression






Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Harvard University will go online this fall but will charge full tuition: $49,000 a year to take courses on your home computer

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, Harvard University announced that all undergraduate classes will be taught online this fall. Harvard will allow only 40 percent of its undergraduates to live on campus, including all of its first-year students.

As several people have pointed out, Harvard's decision to teach students online this fall will prompt other universities to reassess their own teaching plans for the fall semester. After all, if mighty Harvard, with its $40 billion endowment, has thrown in the towel regarding face-to-face instruction, then many other colleges will surely follow suit.

Who are we--mere mortals--to question Harvard? Nevertheless, I don't understand the point of bringing first-year students on campus if they are going to be huddled over computers in their dorm rooms when taking classes. Why not let Harvard students stay home with mom and dad if they are not going to see their professors?

Harvard and other elite universities will weather the pandemic if it doesn't stretch on too long.  People who get admitted to Harvard will gladly accept any inconvenience to put Harvard University on their resumes. And, for a short time at least, Harvard can get away with teaching its courses online while charging full tuition--$49,000 a year!

But experts predict that the second- and third-tier colleges will see fewer students this fall. And those students will likely take price into account when choosing their schools.  After all, if students are going to be denied a traditional college experience—student clubs, dorm life, opportunities to develop romantic relationships—why not enroll in the cheapest school?

Without a doubt, most universities will have a lot of empty dorm rooms on their hands this fall, which means a significant loss in revenue. Privately owned student-housing complexes will also have vacant units, and many of these complexes were built with borrowed money.  The savvy cats who expected to make tidy profits on so-called luxury student housing may have trouble making their mortgage payments.

The coronavirus pandemic makes a lot of recent university projects look silly. Louisiana State University, for example, spent $85 million on a student recreation center that includes a climbing wall and a "Lazy River" water feature shaped like the university's initials. It looked like a smart move at the time, and the center was financed with student fees.

Now the Lazy River no longer seems so attractive.  Instead, it just looks like a great place to contract COVID-19.

Wigglesworth Hall at Harvard: Be sure to bring your home computer

Monday, July 6, 2020

Trejo v. U.S. Department of Education: A Texas bankruptcy judge grants student-loan discharge to 47-year-old single mom

The Sad Case of Jessica Trejo

In 2017, Jessica Trejo filed an adversary action in a Texas bankruptcy court, seeking to discharge $90,000 in student-loan debt. Ms. Trejo had borrowed about $65,000 to attend three Texas colleges. She also took out a Parent Plus loan for $13,522 to help pay for her eldest daughter's college education. And she owed a little over $7,000 in accrued interest.

At the time of trial, Ms. Trejo was a 47-year-old single mother with two dependent daughters. Both daughters were "afflicted with serious Type II diabetes, high blood pressure, psoriasis, eating disorders, severe depression, suicidal tendencies, and Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder" (p. 2). Ms. Trejo testified that she had to continually monitor her daughters' activities due to their depression and suicidal tendencies.

From 2008 until 2013, Ms. Trejo took college courses on a part-time basis at Tarrant County College, Hill College, and Texas Wesleyan University. Her ultimate goal was to get a degree in bilingual education. However, "because of her family and financial situation, she no longer intend[ed] to return to college or obtain a degree" (p. 3).

At the time she filed for bankruptcy, Ms. Trejo's financial situation was precarious. As Judge Mark Mullin observed, Ms. Trejo had not had a full-time job in the last 15 years. She had worked part-time at a nail salon, but she gave up that work to care for her daughters. Due to her daughters' disabilities, she received Supplemental Security Income (SSI) checks from the Social Security Administration, totaling $1470 a month.

The U.S. Department of Education opposed Ms. Trejo's request for student-loan relief, arguing that she should sign up for a 25-year income-based repayment plan. According to DOE, Ms. Trejo's income was so low that she would not be obliged to pay anything under such a program (p. 4).

Judge Mullin applies the Brunner test and discharges Ms. Trejo's student-loan debt.

Judge Mullin applied the three-part Brunner test to determine whether it would work an undue hardship on Ms. Trejo if she were forced to repay her student loans. In Judge Mullin's view, Ms. Trejo met all three parts of that test.

First, the judge ruled that Ms. Trejo could not maintain a minimal standard of living for herself and her two dependent daughters if forced to pay her student loans.

Second, Ms. Trejo had shown that her financial situation was not likely to improve in the foreseeable future.

Third, Judge Mullin ruled that Ms. Trejo had handled her student debt in good faith. Although she had not made any payments on her student loans, she never had the financial wherewithal to do so.

Implications of the Trejo decision

Judge Mullin made the right decision when he discharged Ms. Trejo's student-loan debt. Clearly, she could not maintain a minimal standard of living for herself and her family and pay back her student loans. And, as Judge Mullins recognized, it was highly unlikely that Ms. Trejo's financial situation would improve significantly in the years to come.

The Trejo decision is a significant decision for at least three reasons. First, Judge Mullin flatly rejected DOE's tired argument that distressed student-loan debtors should be forced into long-term income-based repayment plans instead of getting their loans discharged in bankruptcy.  Over the years, DOE has snookered some bankruptcy judges with that silly argument, but those days may be over. It is absurd to deny an honest debtor bankruptcy relief in favor of a 25-year plan that requires the debtor to pay nothing.

Second, Judge Mark Mullin is one of a growing number of bankruptcy judges who are interpreting the Brunner test compassionately and with a dose of common sense. Judge Mullin took great care to write a judicial opinion that will be difficult to overturn on appeal. His decision contained 124 footnotes showing that his ruling was based on evidence in the trial record.

Finally, the Trejo decision prompts us to think about the enormous cost of higher education today, particularly when we consider how often the college experience does not lead to a good job.  Ms. Trejo borrowed about $65,000 to pay tuition at three colleges and got minimal benefit from the experience. Nevertheless, all three institutions that took Ms. Trejo's tuition money get to keep it.

We need to find a better way to provide low-income people like Jessica Trejo with the postsecondary education and training they need to become self-sufficient citizens. Clearly, the federal student loan program, as it is now operating, is not doing a good job.