Sunday, March 31, 2024

Hope is risen indeed

Let's share a reflection from an artist I know nothing about, one Scott Erickson:

... it takes an almost impossible amount of humility to let someone love you deeply.

You were not in charge of being born. You will not be in charge of when you die. You will not be in charge of being raised from the dead. What you are in charge of is removing that which is in the way of you letting yourself receive transformational Love.

You can only stand back up when you have found a firm place to stand. May the firmament that you discover to stand on be the promise that nothing, not even death, can separate you from Love.

Erickson came my way through Nadia Bolz-Weber, another teacher who knows a thing or two.

Saturday, March 30, 2024

When hope has been murdered ...

Israelis demonstrate for a ceasefire and return of the hostages of 10/7

These demonstrators, Jewish and Palestinian, are a tiny minority in their country. But they know what must be done. Nothing to do but keep on keeping on.

• • •

In +972, Meron Rapoport explains Why do Israelis feel so threatened by a ceasefire?

Until October 6, the consensus among the Jewish-Israeli public was that the “Palestinian issue” should not bother them too much. October 7 shattered this myth. The “Palestinian issue” returned, in full, bloody force, to the agenda.
There were two ostensible responses to the destruction of this status quo: a political arrangement that genuinely recognized the presence of another people in this land and their right to a life of dignity and freedom, or a war of extinction against the enemy beyond the wall. The Jewish public, which never really internalized the first option, chose the second.
In this light, the very idea of a ceasefire seems threatening. It would force the Jewish public to recognize that the goals presented by Netanyahu and the army — “toppling Hamas” and releasing the hostages through military pressure — were simply unrealistic. The public would have to concede what may be perceived as a failure, even a defeat, in the face of Hamas. After the trauma and humiliation of October 7, it is hard for many to swallow such a defeat.
But there is a deeper threat. A ceasefire could force the Jewish public to confront more fundamental questions. If the status quo does not work, and a constant war with the Palestinians cannot achieve the desired victory, then what remains is the truth: that the only way for Jews to live in security is through a political compromise that respects the rights of the Palestinians.

+972 Magazine is an independent, online, nonprofit magazine run by a group of Palestinian and Israeli journalists. ... The name of the site is derived from the telephone country code that can be used to dial throughout Israel-Palestine.

Friday, March 29, 2024

Good Friday

So the empire disposed of the Jewish troublemaker.

Historian Diana Butler Bass passed along this reflection from Dr. Reggie Williams. He is Professor of Christian Ethics at McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago. He is the author of Bonhoeffer’s Black Jesus: Harlem Renaissance Theology and an Ethic of Resistance.

Stauros is used seventy-four times in the New Testament to describe where Jesus died ... an upright stake, like a fence post... The stauros alludes to something manmade, in the case of Jesus' execution, an element of statecraft, something developed by the occupying Roman imperial power to serve [as the]  instrument of torture and death.
... a stake defines ownership ...
Whose bodies are on the stauros? ... Jesus was one of the expendables, whose death secured the community of those comfortable with the governance of violent imperial power. 
I like to consider the spiritual, "Were you there when they crucified my lord? ... were you there when they nailed him to a tree?" ... the singer knows the grief ... but the song indicates that the stauros isn't the last word. ... Friday leads to Sunday ...

Thursday, March 28, 2024

A completely normal human system

This year for Holy Week, the annual Christian ritual marking of events around Jesus's execution, my book group is reading The Last Week: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus's Final Days in Jerusalem by Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan. The two scholars set the story, as told by the evangelist Mark, "against the background of Jewish high-priestly collaboration with Roman imperial control." Credible history of first century Palestine, secular as well as religious, affirms that a Jesus existed. Just what he said and did is more up for grabs, but it is possible to describe the context in which whatever happened, happened.

Because this is basically a political blog, I thought to share what Borg and Crossan assert about Jesus' political context:

The phrase "domination system" is shorthand for the most common form of social system -- a way of organizing a society -- in ancient and premodern times, that is, in preindustrial agrarian societies. It names a social system marked by three major features:

1) Political oppression. In such societies the many were ruled by the few, the powerful and wealthy elites: the monarchy, nobility, aristocracy, and their associates. Ordinary people had no voice in the shaping of the society.

2) Economic exploitation. a high percentage of the society's wealth, which came primarily from agricultural production in preindustrial societies, went into the coffers of the wealthy and powerful -- between one half and two thirds of it. How did they manage to do this? By the way they set the system up, through the structures and laws about land ownership, taxation, indenture of labor through debt, and so forth.

3) Religious legitimation. In ancient societies, these systems were legitimized, or justified, with religious language. The people were told the king ruled by divine right, the king was the Son of God, the social order reflected the will of God, and the powers that be were ordained by God. Of course, religion sometimes became the source of protest against these claims. But in most premodern societies known to us, religion has been used to legitimate the place of the wealthy and powerful in the social order over which they preside.

There is nothing unusual about this form of society. Monarchical and aristocratic rule by the wealthy few began about five thousand years ago and was the most common form of social system in the ancient world. With various permutations, it persisted through the medieval and early modern periods until the democratic revolutions of the last few hundred years. And one could make a good case that in somewhat different form it remains with us today.

In this sense "domination systems" are normal, not abnormal, and thus can be called the "normalcy of civilization." Thus we will use both phrases to name the socio-economic-political order in which ancient Israel, Jesus, and early Christianity lived. "Domination system" calls attention to its central dynamic: the political and economic domination of the many by the few and the use of religious claims to justify it. The religious version is that God has set society up this way; the secular version is that "this is the way things are" and the best they can be for everybody. "Normalcy of civilization" calls attention to how common it is. There is nothing unusual or abnormal about this state of affairs. It is what most commonly happens.

If domination is the norm for human social organization, no wonder we have to struggle so hard. We will struggle to invent, nurture, and protect polities built instead to aim for justice, compassion, and truth. Our efforts will be imperfect and incomplete. That, too, is just the way it is.

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Edgy and interesting

Every once in a while, one of the best things about a book are its footnotes. That's how I felt about Tina Nguyen's The MAGA Diaries: My Surreal Adventures Inside the Right-Wing (And How I Got Out). Rather than burden her text with explications of the catalogue of right-wing think-tanks, conferences, and media outlets that she wandered through in her early career, she simply footnotes explanations. She knows most readers don't keep this map of right infrastructure in our heads.

(Okay -- to a considerable extent I do carry this stuff in my head, because I was employed when Nguyen was still a small child by a left think-tank that tracked those rabbit holes. Many are still the same outfits, but with new names. The personnel migrate. But such familiarity is rare where I come from.)

Nguyen explains the purpose of writing a memoir in her early 30s:
... if you are a liberal wondering why all this nativist populism seemed to come out of nowhere, to the point that it is on the precipice of subsuming American civic life, this book is for you. If you're a Republican who thought the GOP looked like a Mitt Romney paradise in 2012, believed that Trump was an aberration in 2016 and 2020, and have no idea why he's still a presence in 2024, this book is for you. ...
She disappointed her immigrant mother, Thanh Nguyen, by not getting into Harvard. A less than diligent student in high school at the private Milton Academy, she ended up following a boyfriend to Claremont McKenna in California with no idea she'd put herself on a conservative fast track that was invisible to world from which she came.
I'll give everyone else a pass on not knowing about the sheer scale of the right inside American civic life, because when I was a young conservative activist, I didn't know what they were trying to do either. Between 2008 and 2012 -- from college until my early twenties -- I was simply a politics nerd with an unnerving obsession with the US Constitution and American history, who dated an odd but highly ambitious conservative boy in high school and followed him to Claremont McKenna College, a renowned college with a notoriously conservative government department, and a deep affiliation with a right-wing think tank whose scholars and papers formed the backbone of the Trump doctrine.
From there I found some interesting internships through a local think tank, got involved in some weird ghoulish groups in Washington, DC, met Tucker Carlson, wanted to be Tucker Carlson, went to work for Tucker Carlson, experienced an identity crisis (as one does in their early twenties), and then left the movement to pursue a career in normal journalism (assisted by a nice favor from Tucker Carlson). In a bizarre twist, it brought me back to covering the movement ... when Donald Trump was elected. ...To the rest of the world, the things I'd taken for granted were actually obscure, esoteric, and hidden knowledge.
It's a convoluted story, but eventually she escaped the conservative news arena and has reported for Vanity Fair, Politico, and Puck, often covering Trump and the right wing boys emerging from the same swamp where she'd been nurtured. She writes it all with lingering amazement: these people are both formidable and a bit pathetic. She knows many of them are truly nuts; she's not convinced they won't someday take over America.

The warmest notes in the book are the descriptions of her mother, who pushed but also encouraged this strange American daughter to make a success of herself. When she was briefly hired by Tucker Carlson, her mother wondered:
"Oh, he's on television?" Mom asked. "You should ask him to help you get on TV. I think you'd be good on TV, like Connie Chung."
By the end of the book, her encouraging mother has died. Nguyen's book and still rising career seem a kind of memorial from a not very dutiful daughter who, perhaps, has made it in American journalism.

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

25 cents for justice

If you happen to meet up with me in person, ask me if I've still got any Pauli Murray quarters to share. We reacted to the news that the U.S. Mint had issued quarters commemorating the Black, gender-ambiguous, legal thinker, civil rights campaigner, and Episcopal priest by ordering a supply. 

Murray died in 1985, but her example and work lives on. The text on the coin reads "A Song in a Weary Throat," referring to Murray's posthumous autobiography.

These coins would never have been issued in a Republican administration; sometimes it is the tiny cultural shifts that point to our potential as a country.

Monday, March 25, 2024

Another entry on the Democratic bench

It often feels as if this country's old political leaders are just holding on by fingernails, waiting for a new generation of political leaders to rise up and carry on American democracy. 

Whenever a promising fresh face shows up, I like to highlight them here. Last week I pointed to Arizona legislator, Eva Burch, who shared her experience of getting a needed abortion.

Today, given my fascination with combating Christian nationalism, take a gander at Texas State Senator James Talarico: 

There's plenty of speculation that this 35 year old legislator and Presbyterian seminarian from the Austin area has a bright future.

“Loving thy neighbor is exhausting, especially in a place like the Texas legislature,” Talarico told me in the campus chapel, as the morning sun streamed through stained glass windows.

... “Seminary,” Talarico told me later after class in his basement office at the Texas capitol, “helped me crystalize the project we’ve been working on.” Through a series of legislation, Talarico has been developing a policy program that he’s billed as The Friendship Agenda. Based on Texas’ 1930 motto of “Friendship,” his agenda promises to promote everything from “economic friendship” (think medical debt forgiveness, baby bonds and subsidized marriage counseling) to “political friendship” (ranked choice voting and digital literacy, among others) and “social friendship” (“Medicaid for Y’All,” as he calls it).

“We progressives do ourselves a disservice when we discard those central stories,” Talarico said. “In my reading of history, the most successful progressives — whether it’s in the labor movement, civil rights movement, women’s movement, farm workers’ movement — they embed themselves in those stories, and then use those stories to propel their movement forward.”

Can a Democrat with Talarico's background break the Republican statewide monopoly on power in Texas? To be determined. He's likely to give it a shot ...

Sunday, March 24, 2024

Palm Sunday

Cole Arthur Riley explains how this book came to be:

I was twenty-three when I walked into an Episcopal church with an overwhelming desire to die. The service began with a hymn. Two dozen elderly choir members hovered above us from the loft, singing words I couldn’t make out, which has its own way of making you feel alone. But then all around me people began to speak the liturgy aloud. Blessed be God. And blessed be God’s kingdom, now and for ever. ...

... Ritual, when coupled with beauty, makes for a very adequate mooring. It won’t carry you to shore, but it will keep you close enough that hope can swim out to visit you regularly. ...

... The Sunday after George Floyd’s murder was Pentecost Sunday. While still in the height of the pandemic, I logged into an Episcopal church service online and waited for some manner of belief to return to me. I lay in the same position I had been for days prior, a cluster of grapes and a bag of hot Cheetos on the pillow next to me. And I waited, knowing what I’ve always known: that there are days when it is particularly difficult to pray words written by a white man. ...

And so I began Black Liturgies. Mostly out of rage. I cannot say how much of my rage was holy and how much was hatred, but I hope it contained more of the former. I was desperate for a liturgical space that could center Black emotion, Black literature, and the Black body unapologetically. ...

The resulting book is hardcover, bound like a Book of Common Prayer.

It contains prayer sequences -- wisdom from elders living and dead, petitions, breath exercises -- for the emotions she found appropriate and needed in the COVID summer after George Floyd's cinematically recorded murder by cop. It also includes prayers for religious seasons.

I'm not the intended audience, but I get a lot out of dipping in. Here's a seasonal taste:


Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it; As it is written:
‘Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion. Look, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!’ —John 12:14–15 (NRSVA)

There is miracle in belonging to a God who rejects the image of a gloried hero and instead comes to us on a donkey, centering the plight of those who suffer.

Liberation begins with this: Do not be afraid....

Blessed be.

Saturday, March 23, 2024

"No Fly LIst" litigation is back

If you've been around here for a lo-o-ong time, you might remember many posts about the U.S. government's various lists which barred passengers from airlines. After all, the E.P. and I were plaintiffs in one of the earliest of these. There came a moment when I could joke that, since we had embarrassed federal spooks for apparently having had us stopped at airports, we were among the very few U.S. flyers in 2006 who could be assured we were not on some list, once the feds were required by a judge to explain.

As in our episode, it seems that when Yonas Fikre, a U.S. citizen who previously resided in Sudan, sued to get removed from the list, the government rapidly removed him -- and expected that would make the whole thing go away. 

This didn't work:

The Supreme Court unanimously ruled Tuesday that a man’s challenge to his former placement on the No Fly List can move forward, finding the government failed to show his lawsuit is moot.

... The government later removed him from the list and signaled it was unlikely he would be readded. It then contended Fikre’s lawsuit was moot as a result and should be tossed.

The government warned that not declaring lawsuits like Fikre’s moot at the onset could require the government to disclose classified information. The Supreme Court rejected that assertion, enabling Fikre’s case to move ahead.

The ruling doesn't mean that Fikre will win his case, merely that the litigation can proceed. He claims the government tried to force him to be an informant by denying his right to fly.

Friday, March 22, 2024

World Water Day

Like too much of the planet, a combination of oligarchic rapacity -- rich families cutting timber and grazing life stock, mostly -- and climate warming has destroyed half of Nicaragua's forests over the last 50 years. Rural people compound environmental damage as they scour the land for firewood to fuel wood burning cook stoves.

Without healthy forests, clean water becomes more scarce, trickling away as run off. Communities are left with less arable fields and simply less water to sustain lives.

Pastor and his family now practice agroforestry, have orchards, and set up a local seed bank. "...We see that as the future for our children so they will have good land to work on.”

El Porvenir has been helping rural Nicaraguans improve their access to clean water since 1990. Where once that work consisted in digging more and deeper wells, today much of the organization's effort has turned to helping communities preserve sustainable water sources by improving whole watersheds.

What's that mean? Mostly, it means smart planting and tending of young trees. Healthier forests help improve adjacent crop yields. Conservation preserves water sources for future generations.

You can help improve Nicaraguan watersheds and the lives of rural communities with any contribution to El Porvenir's watershed improvements campaign.

Friday cat blogging

They seem fond of each other and mostly get along. But they are different.

Little Janeway can seem almost elegant, sultry, in her sun beam. You could forget she's a small demon with teeth and claws.

Nearby, the bulk of big boy Mio sometimes makes him look just silly. We think they are both happy, but what do we know?

Thursday, March 21, 2024

They should have to know what they do

I had several possible posts lined up for today -- but then I ran across this video by way of Jessica Valenti's essential Abortion Every Day.

Eva Burch, an elected Arizona State Senator, felt called to explain to her colleagues that she was about to have an abortion to end a wanted, but nonviable, pregnancy. This nurse-turned-officeholder describes viscerally the hoops her state's abortion laws put her through, as well as the law's requirement that her doctors read her a script full of false "information" about the procedure

This is an amazing speech and well worth a few minutes of your life. This mother of two wanted children who is hoping to have more is a brave, articulate spokesperson against lies and ignorance.

“I don’t think people should have to justify their abortions. But I’m choosing to talk about why I made this decision because I want us to be able to have meaningful conversations about the reality of how the work that we do in this body impacts people in the real world.”

• • • 

The desperate struggle at the highest ranks of the political system to hold on against MAGA and fascism tends to obscure truly heartening developments within the lower ranks of the Democratic Party. A new generation of smart, young, often female, often "of color," sometimes queer, political up-and-comers begin to give us a glimpse of new leadership. Eva Burch is one on rhese, for sure.

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

What's wrong with these people? -- part the nth

Tim Alberta's The Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory: American Evangelicals in an Age of Extremism is yet another stab at a question I can't seem to let go of -- what's wrong with the subset of U.S. Christians who make up the base of Donald Trump's ugly cult following?

I wrote about Diana Butler Bass' theological insights on the matter in a previous post and that holds up.

But Alberta's exploration of the conundrum is more intimate: Bass left evangelical Christianity a long time ago; Alberta comes from deep within the evangelical culture. His admired, recently deceased father was a successful megachurch builder and pastor. Yet the son can't square the sort of Christianity that has taken over American evangelicalism with his own faith, let along his observations as a journalist. So he uses his professional journalistic acumen and personal connections to draw a detailed, nuanced picture of a white American evangelical Christianity which has gone off the rails and rushed headlong into a Trumpist swamp.

As Alberta explained in The Atlantic (his employer) during his book launch:
I am a follower of Jesus Christ. I believe that God took on flesh in order to model servanthood and self-sacrifice; I believe he commanded us to love our neighbor, to turn the other cheek toward those who wish us harm, to show grace toward outsiders and let our light shine so they might glorify our heavenly Father.  
Not all professing Christians bother adhering to these biblical precepts, but many millions of American believers still do. It is incumbent upon them to stand up to this extremism in the Church.
Yet the responsibility is not theirs alone. No matter your personal belief system, the reality is, we have no viable path forward as a pluralistic society—none—without confronting the deterioration of the evangelical movement and repairing the relationship between Christians and the broader culture. This Christmas, I pray it might be so.
Alberta begins his book with interviews with Chris Winans, the religious leader who succeeded his father at what had been his childhood congregation. Winans tells of elders that young Tim had known all his life drifting away to aggressively MAGA churches. He sadly concludes that he knows what has become of his former members:
"Too many of them worship America. ...  At its root, we're talking about idolatry. America has become an idol to some of these people. ... If you believe that God is in covenant with with America, then you believe -- and I've heard lots of people say this explicitly -- that we're a new Israel. ... you view America as a covenant that has to be protected. You have to fight for America as if salvation itself hangs in the balance. At that point, you understand yourself as an American first and most fundamentally. And that is a terrible misunderstanding of who we are called to be."
Alberta used his professional journalistic access to observe and describe evangelical churches across the country and also MAGA movement para-religious formations like Turning Point USA and Ralph Reed's Faith and Freedom Coalition. Mostly he is appalled; repeatedly he is able to get evangelical pastors who know better to confess that they must stifle their convictions for fear of losing their people. 

In wide ranging interviews with ordinary churchgoers, he finds a dangerous underlying crevasse:

To be sure, plenty of those evangelicals had always cared more about power than principle ... But there was something deeper at work. What I'd personally encountered during those five years wasn't just an increased appetite for power. It was a sudden onset of dread. ...
There's a reason scripture warns us so often and so forcefully against fear. It's just as powerful as faith. But whereas faith keeps our eyes steadily fixed on the eternal, fear disrupts us, disorients us, drives us to prioritize the here and now. Faith is about preserving our place in the body of Christ; fear is about protecting our own flesh and blood ... No one should be surprised to see politicians and political hacks utilizing something so powerful in the name of winning an election. ...
Simply put, American evangelicals cannot let go. They cannot detach themselves from national identity or abandon the notion that fighting for America is fighting for God. Hence the creeping allure of "Christian nationalism."... Something was happening on the religious right, something more menacing and extreme than anything that preceded it. This was no longer about winning elections and preserving the culture. This was about destroying enemies and dominating the country by any means necessary.
Of course individuals are ultimately responsible for their own choices, but Alberta blames Donald Trump for exploiting the weaknesses of evangelical faith formation and practice to turn many churches into outposts of his political cult.
... his legacy in the sweep of western Christendom was already secure. More than any figure in American history, the forty-fifth president transformed evangelical from spiritual signifier into political punch line, exposing the selective morality and ethical inconsistency and rank hypocrisy that had for so long lurked in the subconscious of the movement. ... Speaking only for myself, Evangelical has become an impediment to evangelizing.
[Trump's] imprint on evangelicalism would endure. The forty-fifth president had foundationally altered the expectations and incentive structures within American Christendom. He had persuaded the churchgoing class that it was better to win with vice than to lose with virtue. He had blinded believers to the means and fixed their eyes on the ends. Most significantly, he had shown evangelicals that their movement need not be led by an evangelical.
... The forces of political identity and nationalist idolatry -- long latent, now fully unleashed in the form of Trumpism -- were destroying the evangelical church. I had seen it for myself, over the past six years, in every corner of the country. Pastors had walked away from the ministry. Congregations had been shuttered by infighting. Collective faith communities and individual relationships had been wrecked. ... [Trumpist political operatives like Charlie Kirk] did not concern themselves with the credibility of the Christian witness. Churches were not a bride to be loved, but a battlefield to be conquered.
This was nothing less than a war for the soul of American Christianity. And church by church, believer by believer, it appeared that Kirk and his allies were winning. This wasn't just because their side had more resources to deploy and fewer ethical guidelines to observe. It was because they were encountering no resistance. ...
This committed evangelical author tries to find hope for a more Biblical sort of Christian belief and practice. He finds push back on the margins; see also Russell Moore at Christianity Today and some sad pastors. He can see a small remnant:
Having spent Trump's presidency traveling the country, I knew how many sane, serious evangelicals were still out there. ...They are reasonable and realistic, making prudential political judgements that often reveal something quite limited about their core values, their commitments to others, their complex set of religious convictions. ... Their character deserves respect and the crackup of the evangelical Church is not their doing.
But this is not a hopeful book.

• • •

A couple of brief observations: what a world! -- there don't seem to be hardly any women in it, and that's not going to fly. 

And though Alberta is well aware his subject matter is white evangelicalism, he doesn't draw any implications from that. Yet despite limitations, this is a convincing, grimly fascinating picture of a subculture that deserves to dwindle.

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Trump gets the boot

Xitter loved it, loved the news of Donald Trump's inability to come up with a cash bond so he can appeal a New York State court's verdict requiring him to fork over half a billion dollars for commercial and tax fraud.

RonFilipkowski (@Ron Filipkowski)

Only Donald Trump can make a filing that he can’t come up with bond money with the same court hearing his appeal where he is arguing the trial judge grossly underestimated his net worth.
He was wrong, I’m worth billions!
But I can’t come up with bond money
More consequentially, Trump's niece MaryLTrump (@Mary L Trump) points out
Many in the media are missing something big in the news about Donald’s failure to secure a bond.
It’s not just that Donald owes a vast sum of money and doesn't seem to have enough cash to pay his debt. 
It’s that he’s an even greater national security risk than he already was…
Donald Trump, just go slink away!

Monday, March 18, 2024

Where is Christian nationalism?

The title here is really a secondary question. I should probably start from the framing question: "what is Christian nationalism?" 

The progressive side of our culture is amply supplied with sociological punditryhistorians of religion, and political scientists offering definitions of what has become a signal feature of our American times.

For today's purposes, I think I can go with a succinct definitoin from the (relatively) broad-minded U.S. evangelical publication, Christianity Today.

What is Christian nationalism?

Christian nationalism is the belief that the American nation is defined by Christianity, and that the government should take active steps to keep it that way. Popularly, Christian nationalists assert that America is and must remain a “Christian nation”—not merely as an observation about American history, but as a prescriptive program for what America must continue to be in the future.

With that in mind,  I can go to the related question here: Where is Christian nationalism?

Click to enlarge.

The Public Religion Research Institute came up with some answers recently, mapped here. Yes, the darker greens look a lot like one of those red state/blue state maps, though with slight nuances -- who'd have thought New Mexico had more Christian nationalists than Utah? Still the general picture is familiar.

But Pastor Daniel Schultz -- a United Church of Christ minister -- who has been trying to explain religious peoples' engagement with politics for a couple of decades, has some interesting takes on this map: 

Christian nationalism should not be ignored or downplayed, but at the same time the segment of the population that embraces it is punching above its weight. Two states—Mississippi and North Dakota—reach 50% support, and only a handful land in the 40s. The rest of the nation ranges from the teens to the mid-30s. That’s a significant minority, to be sure, but a minority all the same. ...

That Christian nationalists are in a solid minority in places like Ohio, Texas, or Florida also demonstrates the perilous position of hard-right regimes in such states. Were it not for gerrymandering and other anti-democratic tactics, their agenda would be firmly rejected. To put things another way: there are a lot more places that could be opened up as swing states on the basis of rejecting Christian nationalism than the other way around.

... it may be the case that, much as it was before the Civil War, Americans are facing a theological reckoning as much as a political crisis. 

On the one side is an aging, dwindling group that asserts that its understanding of God blesses and endorses a traditionalist social order. 

On the other is a more diverse, more secular group suspicious of authoritarian faith and the ways in which invocations of religious values privilege inequality and repression.

The 2024 campaign will be finally [?] a decision about which of these views should dominate and which candidate gives the best expression to authentic American values.

Dan has always been in the optimism business. I find it hard to share his vision that a defeat for Christian nationalism in the 2024 campaign will get us over some kind of hump, but he's right to remind us we're up against a force that is dwindling.

Sunday, March 17, 2024

Remedial kindergarten required?

If our system of government were parliamentary, we might not be so fixated on just who is the president. At least maybe this would be so. Jamelle Bouie offers some thoughts.

Americans are accustomed to thinking of their presidential elections as a battle of personalities, a framework that is only encouraged by the candidate-centric nature of the American political system as well as the way that our media reports on elections. Even the way that most Americans think about their country’s history, always focused so intently on whoever occupies the White House in a given moment, works to reinforce this notion that presidential elections are mostly about the people and personalities involved.
Personality certainly matters. But it might be more useful, in terms of the actual stakes of a contest, to think about the presidential election as a race between competing coalitions of Americans. Different groups, and different communities, who want very different — sometimes mutually incompatible — things for the country.
The coalition behind Joe Biden wants what Democratic coalitions have wanted since at least the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt: government assistance for working people, federal support for the inclusion of more marginal Americans.
As for the coalition behind Trump? Beyond the insatiable desire for lower taxes on the nation’s monied interests, there appears to be an even deeper desire for a politics of domination. Trump speaks less about policy, in any sense, than he does about getting revenge on his critics. He’s only concerned with the mechanisms of government to the extent that they are tools for punishing his enemies.
And if what Trump wants tells us anything, it’s that the actual goal of the Trump coalition is not to govern the country, but to rule over others.

There it is. The impending election will be a contest between people who never learned to curb toddler emotions of greed and grievance and those who internalized what kindergarten aims to teach: we all do better when we share. And it's all too close a call which way we choose to go.

Saturday, March 16, 2024

An intimate view of a genocide

I find myself, once again, trying to fill in some understanding of the eastern reaches of Europe. My generation of Americans simply didn't get it that there was a swath of territory, roughly the nations and peoples between the Baltic Sea and the Black and Adriatic Seas, which were obliterated from our consciousness by the Soviet empire. Once this had been the heart of Europe; before 1990 for many of us, it barely existed. It is thirty years since the Iron Curtain evaporated, but I'm certain I'm not the only one who is catching up. To that end, I want to recommend a difficult history.

Historian Omer Bartov, an Israeli academic who teaches the Holocaust at Brown University, brings alive life and death in one small place in western Ukraine, before and after the Nazi slaughter. Anatomy of a Genocide: The Life and Death of a Town Called Buczacz took two decades to write, collecting witness accounts, survivor stories, and old pictures. And, amazingly, it is readable and accessible.

Bertov explains his explication of local genocide this way:

By letting those who lived that history lend their own words to the telling of it and providing accompanying photos, this book attempts to reconstruct the life of Buczacz in all its complexity and depict how the Polish, Ukrainian, and Jewish inhabitants of the town lived side by side for several centuries -- weaving their separate tales of the past, articulating their distinctive understanding of the present, and making widely diverging plans for the future.
Life in towns such as Buczacz was premised on constant interaction between different religious and ethnic communities. The Jews did not live segregated from the Christian population; the entire notion of a shtetl existing in some sort of splendid (or sordid) isolation is merely a figment of the Jewish literary and folkloristic imagination. That integration was what made the genocide there, when it occurred, a communal event both cruel and intimate, filled with gratuitous violence and betrayal as well as flashes of altruism and kindness.

Buczacz had been part of the thousand year Hapsburg empire which died conclusively in 1918 with what we call the First World War. During the subsequent period, until 1939, the town was both a battleground and a haven for the nationalisms of the day, ruled, badly by Polish, Ukrainian, and Russian-oriented Soviet partisans.

The three decades that followed the destruction and erasure of pre-1914 ... society belonged to the nationalists and ideologues, fanatics and zealots of a new breed, more willing to shed blood than to seek compromise, more determined to assert their hegemony than to preserve coexistence: impatient men with guns and bombs, often led by the half educated and thirsting for a fight. ... Jews were cast in the role of a minority whose status could never be truly acceptable to either of the warring parties. Jews could be ignored, tolerated, or expelled, but by the nationalism that had evolved in this region, could neither be recognized as a separate indigenous national group or assimilated as ethnically kindred ... both Poles and Ukrainians increasingly felt that the Jews were their enemy's friends ...

In 1939, Hitler and Stalin cut a deal to dismember Poland and seize the lands between the two powers. Russia overran Buczacz and brought in NKVD (Secret Police) to rule with the support of Ukrainian nationalists. Bertov reports the opinions of Jadwiga Janika, the wife of a Polish Army captain, about this period. 

"At the the moment of of the Red Army's invasion," she testified, "an indescribable depression dominated the Polish population. Conversely, there was lively enthusiasm among the Jews and the Ukrainians." ... The early wave of fraternal killings [Ukrainians of Poles] evoked questions about the meaning and reality of interethnic relations, friendships, and communities, certainly among Poles and Ukrainians, who frequently intermarried, but also among Jews, who recalled many gentile friends and acquaintances. People repeatedly asked, Why did our neighbors, classmates, teachers, colleagues, friends, even family members turn their backs on us, betray us to the perpetrators, or join in the killings?"

Many Poles were shipped off to Soviet Kazakhstan; to Ukrainian nationalists, the Poles were interlopers, "colonists." Some locals hope the joint hatred felt by Poles and Ukrainians for the Jews might serve as "an agenda for Polish-Ukrainian reconciliation."

Hitler's German forces overran Buczacz in 1941. The exploitation and eventual extermination of the Jews became a central item on the occupiers' agenda. First came the Gestapo - the Einsatzgruppen -- charged with eliminating "political and racial foes." After the first bloody wave, came the Wehrmacht, the regular German Army. Finally the occupation, and the final solution, was left to Security Police, often men who had held a similar job in peacetime Germany. They believed Germany had achieved permanent conquest; they brought their wives and children along.

The new order established by the Security Police ... was almost exclusively dedicated to the exploitation and murder of the Jews. ... Beyond the extraordinary bloodletting this undertaking entailed, perhaps its most scandalous aspect was the astonishing ease with which it was accomplished and the extent to which the killers, along with their spouses and children, lovers and colleagues, friends and parents, appear to have enjoyed their brief murderous sojourn in the region. For many of them, this was clearly the best time of their lives: they had almost unlimited access to food, liquor, tobacco, and sex, and most important, they became supreme masters over life and death.

And when they were done, they packed up and left, often returning to their previous occupations as if nothing had happened ...

[N]ormalization of murder, the removal of the Jews as part of a day's work, as background noise to drinking bouts or amorous relationships, along with puzzlement at the Jew's conduct mixed with anger at them for making it so easy to kill them -- these were part and parcel of the German experience of genocide ... Jewish slave labor was taken for granted ... Many of the German personnel used Jewish dentists ...

Jews were rounded up in groups of several hundred, marched to the surrounding forests, and shot. Over and over again. In total some 10,000 Jews from the Buczacz area were killed; only 2000 of those were transported to a death camp. The others were eliminated personally by gun shots. 

A (very) few Jews survived:

Jewish accounts of the German occupation in the Buczacz district are invariably about rescue and betrayal by local gentiles. This is why testimonies are filled with mixed emotions of rage and vengeance, on the one hand, and gratitude and guilt on the other ... The most instructive feature to emerge from these accounts is the ambivalence of goodness: even those who took in Jews could at any point instruct them to leave or summon the authorities ... Evil was less ambivalent: most of the perpetrators killed thoughtlessly and displayed no pangs of conscience ... But occasionally, out of impulse, the pleasure of displaying their absolute power over life and death, or even a momentary recognition of the victim's humanity, individual perpetrators could spare lives in capricious acts of goodness in the midst of slaughter. For those spared, such haphazard decisions were a momentous event that determined the rest of their lives and were never forgotten, even if for the perpetrators they could be nothing more than a blur in an ocean of blood and horror.

Bertov can't let go the conundrum -- what made the difference between the vicious criminality of so many of the Germans and the occasional acts of kindness or decency? Why did a few Jews live while others died? Accidents mattered. He reports the terrible saga of one Jewish teenager which captures the contingency of life and death:

Alicja Jurman faced the whole range of attitudes under German rule. Having already lost one brother to Soviet brutality, she lost another to Nazi forced labor, a third to local denunciation, and the youngest to a Ukrainian policeman. Her father was murdered early on in the [Jewish] registration action; her mother, denounced by a Polish neighbor, was shot in front of her eyes just before the end. Alicja herself was handed over to the Gestapo by her best friend's father, who joined the Ukrainian police; she was hidden for a lengthy period by an eccentric elderly Polish nobleman living on the edge of the village, a "splendid, beautiful man" who defied all threats from the local Ukrainians; she was denounced by a local peasant after escaping mass execution, but the soldier who spotted her told her to run, saying "you are an innocent girl, after all."
Both her survival and the murder of many family members, then, were largely the result of choices made by neighbors and strangers.

This is not something that can be made much moral sense of. This is a book of "fraught and traumatized memories [that] contain as much forgetting as remembering."

And then, in 1944, the Russians drove out the Nazis. More people were killed in Buczacz, whether for aiding the occupation or to settle scores. The whole area was given new national borders by fiat of the victors and "harmonized" by transfer of peoples -- there weren't many Jews left to come out of hiding. Poles were forcibly moved north to contemporary Poland, while Ukrainians who had lived north of the new border were moved into Soviet Ukraine. 

All three ethnic groups living in Buczacz and its district underwent extreme suffering although their agony peaked at different times and often at the hands of different perpetrators ... And yet, at the time and long after, each group sought to present itself as the main victim, both of the occupying powers and of its neighbors. Poles and Ukrainians were particularly keen on highlighting these martyrdom, in part out of fear that the Nazi genocide of the Jews would overshadow their own victimhood ...

Buczacz is today a Ukrainian backwater, going by the name of Buchach. 

• • •

Very relevant to the present day, one of the things I learned from Timothy Snyder's free Yale course on the making of modern Ukraine is that, when the Soviet Union collapsed, the governments of free and independent Poland and Ukraine agreed not to reopen the (legitimate) grievances of the parts of their populations who had been forced to move. This, and the desire to be part of European Union culture and society, is probably an essential part of how a Ukrainian Jew, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, can today be the elected leader of a (mostly) new kind Ukrainian nationalism.

Bertov's history also supports one of the pillar's of Snyder's Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning. The Holocaust reached its most horrific thoroughness where state authority, both before the war and under Nazi occupation, was least intact. Buczacz makes a terrible example of a long term war of all against all, interspersed with grudging co-existence over several centuries.

Friday, March 15, 2024

Friday cat blogging

We think Mio considers E.P's laptop a kind of heating pad. Not sure if that stare means "what you gonna do about it?" Shifting Mio is heavy lifting.
Janeway can pretend to be so demure -- right before she gets the zoomies and leaps over Mio and the couch ...

Thursday, March 14, 2024

Consider the alternative

Erudite Partner tackles the moral dilemma of our moment: can we, in order to block Donald Trump's ambitious fascist plans, vote to re-elect the enabler of Bibi Netanyahu's slaughter of Gaza Palestinians? Can we? She reports a recent conversation.

... [a] college student told us he wouldn’t be voting for Joe Biden—and that none of his friends would either. The president’s initial support of, and later far too-tepid objections to, the genocidal horror transpiring in Gaza were simply too much for him. That Biden has managed to use his executive powers to cancel $138 billion in student debt didn’t outweigh the repugnance he and his friends feel for the president’s largely unquestioning support of Israel’s destruction of that 25-mile strip of land on the Mediterranean Sea. To vote for Biden would be like taking a knife to his conscience. And I do understand.

Oh, do I ever understand! My first vote for President was for Democrat Hubert Humphrey in 1968, a moral coward who dared not repudiate Lyndon Johnson's futile, endless war against the Vietnamese and Vietnamese nationalism. I had spent years working to turn a confused country around, yet I was stuck with only a lesser evil choice. The alternative was Richard Nixon who got us more war and finally corruption and disgrace. 

The E.P. reminds us what we'd get with the alternative to Biden:

... lest we forget, this is the man who tried once before to end American democracy. It would be true madness to give him a second chance.

In the California primary, I left the presidential line blank. I cast that vote before the campaign in Michigan to protest through voting "uncommitted" took off -- my protest was instinctive and it seems about 10 percent of Californians did the same without much organizing.  

But in the fall I'll be working to re-elect Biden in some swing state, I hope. Maybe I'll skip Biden again on my California ballot. But people located where their presidential votes matter, should consider the alternative.

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Can we turn a corner?

Georgetown University political historian Thomas Zimmer waited a couple of days before offering his take on Joe Biden's State of the Union (SOTU) speech. He's a smart German commentator on American discontents; his perspective reminds me of the picture of our national history we owe to such 20th century observers (and participants) as Studs Terkel and Howard Zinn

I wonder, does anyone study Zinn's People's History of the United States these day? It remains relevant.

Zimmer sees the SOTU as signaling Biden's turn, facing the threat of GOP/Trump fascism, away from "let's all get back to normal" toward "let's advance a new vision of national possibility."

... if the rise of Trumpism is a manifestation, rather than the cause, of forces and ideas that have always prevented the nation from living up to the egalitarian vision it has often proclaimed, from realizing its truly democratic aspirations, then restoration is not enough. The answer, based on this acknowledgment, can’t possibly be to merely restore the deeply deficient pre-2016 type of “liberal” democracy, to just turn the clock back to a situation that resulted in Trump’s rise in the first place.
If the danger is truly as great as Joe Biden says, must we not look for a response that is commensurate with such an immense threat – one that propels America forward and transforms it into something closer to the kind of egalitarian multiracial, pluralistic democracy it never has been yet?

Last week, Joe Biden insisted he would not walk away from the egalitarian ideal that all people are created equal, that he would fight against those who envision an America “of resentment, revenge, and retribution.” Trying to turn his age from a liability into an asset, the president proudly declared: “I was born amid World War Two, when America stood for the freedom of the world.” Deliberately or not, by referencing the global war against Hitler, Mussolini, and Imperial Japan, Biden invoked the anti-fascist consensus that has indeed crumbled.

In post-1945 America, it was certainly never enough, in and of itself, to turn the nation from a racial caste system to a fully realized multiracial, pluralistic democracy. But it did provide those who desired egalitarian pluralism with a strong argument they could deploy in their struggle against rightwing extremism – it helped police the boundaries of what was considered acceptable within mainstream politics.
If Joe Biden can help us re-imagine an anti-fascist consensus not in service of a purely restorative project, but as a reminder of the nation’s egalitarian aspirations, as a plea to finally defeat those anti-democratic forces in our midst and push America forward, I am all for it.

Marchers in 2020; never discount aroused people
Obviously, we need that new vision of a multi-racial, multi-gender, egalitarian nation for "defending democracy" to have true vitality.

It is broadening to have an historian from afar to comment on our condition. Here's Zimmer from May, 2023: 

The Unraveling of the United States of America
Here is my glass-half-full reading of recent U.S. history and our current moment: The reactionary counter-mobilization from the Right is not coming from a place of strength: Conservatives are radicalizing because they understand they are in the minority and feel their backs against the wall, leading to a veritable siege mentality. The Right is radicalizing out of a sense of weakness, and they are reacting to something real: Due to political, social, cultural, and demographic developments, the country has indeed moved closer than ever before to becoming an egalitarian multiracial, pluralistic democracy.
America has the chance to demonstrate that such a true democracy, one in which the individual’s status is not significantly determined by race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or wealth is actually feasible under conditions of multiracial, multi-religious pluralism. It’s a chance of world-historic significance, as such a democracy has basically never existed anywhere. But we need to acknowledge that as of right now, it is, at best, an open question whether or not this vision of true democracy can overcome the radicalizing forces of reaction.
It would be a relief to take a rest from this struggle. But apathy is not an option.

Tuesday, March 12, 2024

Where's the housing?

I suppose I might have expected this if I'd thought about it, but this picture draws attention to the reality that "subsidized housing" -- living spaces built, owned, and/or sometimes managed outside the real estate economy -- is mostly a feature of older states in the northeast, with a pocket in the poorest states of the deep south. In the original graphic, you can click on each state and see the number of units per thousand people.

Rhode Island had the most subsidized housing units of any US state in 2022, with over 35 units per 1,000 people. Arizona had the least, with fewer than six units per 1,000 people. These figures represent all housing under contract for federal subsidy, occupied and unoccupied units.

The need for subsidized housing often outweighs the number of units available, meaning applicants can wait years to be approved. ...

... Between 2004 and 2022, the number of units under federal contract as subsidized housing, both occupied and unoccupied, decreased by about 11% nationally. In 2004, there were 17.3 units per 1,000 people; in 2022, there were 15.4.

It's hard to avoid concluding that where there has been decreased supply, there may be greater homelessness. On the other hand, having been inside plenty of public housing in my time, I'm aware that the government is often a lousy landlord -- as are the private firms that governments contract with for management.

Monday, March 11, 2024

Sign of the times

click to read the pole

Marin County aims to educate cyclists and joggers about the implications of climate change warming on sea level rise in San Francisco Bay. Even at the lowest, dark blue, base level of 2 more feet, this whole path adjacent to Mill Valley will be long gone. Just saying ...

Sunday, March 10, 2024

One cheer for shrinkflation

Apparently there's a wave of companies putting less of their stuff in packages without acknowledging by way of size changes that the same $2.69 for a small bag gets you less Fritos, for example. That's shrinkflation. When people notice, some howl.

Companies do this because it works.

Companies choose to shrink their products rather than charge more for a simple reason: Consumers often pay more attention to prices than sizes.

When quantity goes down, “people might notice, but often, they don’t,” said John Gourville, a professor at Harvard Business School. “You don’t get sticker shock.”

One of the goods to which this is happening seems be rolls of toilet paper. Four years ago, rolls came almost 5 inches wide and similarly thick, advertised as super and jumbo. Today, many rolls seem to be more like 4x4 inches.  

In this household, that's cause for celebration. One of our bathrooms comes with a neatly tiled, recessed TP nook. Before the current wave of TP downsizing, it was a struggle to find rolls that would fit. The current 4x4 size is just what the builders built for. The annoyance wasn't so great as to cause us to remodel, but it was persistent and nagging. Yay for this instance of shrinkflation; we don't want or need monster size toilet paper!

I'm sure this respite from the TP hunt will pass. Pretty soon the makers will try to upsell larger rolls of  paper as "abundance" and I'll be hunting for the little old rolls again ... The free market, ain't it great?

Saturday, March 09, 2024

It isn't just about the money

Joe Biden did well in the State of the Union speech. Given where the world is, he could hardly have done better, at least so I think. There's plenty to pick at -- and plenty to push against -- but just consider the alternative... He's still got game.

A lot of people agree. Just look at this representation of where Biden and Trump are getting their campaign contributions showing "Who's donating to whom?" Via JVL at The Bulwark who snagged it from the Financial Times.

Click to enlarge

Unequivocally, I'd rather be on the blue team than the Trump team here. I'm with team Teachers, Nurses and Scientists any day.

Obviously, Trump's got some big robber barons on his side, but he is emphatically not winning the dollar chase. Maybe the big money Republicans don't trust him either. According to CNN

President Joe Biden’s political operation has expanded its financial advantage over former President Donald Trump’s campaign as the two men hurtle toward an expected general election confrontation, new filings show. ...

... The Democratic National Committee outraised its GOP counterpart in January, bringing in $17.4 million and ended the month with $24 million in available cash. That far surpasses the $8.7 million in available cash for the RNC, which marked a slight uptick from the $8 million it reported having in reserves at the end of last year, but still represents its lowest total in about a decade.

Maybe Trump's potential donors assume he'll use their gifts to pay his legal expenses and don't want go there? Seems likely.

The presidential election will not be decided by campaign cash. The two guys are already well known to most every eligible voter. So no ad is going to change things much. But the Dems sure will be able to go heavy, hard, and early to define Trump as the self-centered conman he has always been. 

Here's a nice post-State of the Union sample:

Friday, March 08, 2024

Friday cat blogging

The cats greet each other to meet the day.

Mio is such a big boy that one often wonders what's with the unseen far side of the cat. Janeway seems fond of her big, blundering brother.

Thursday, March 07, 2024

Spring in the Mission

I know, it is not even the end of standard time. Spring is officially two weeks away. Yet the coming season is in the air. 

The view out my window is wildly lush.

The people gather as well. 

San Franciscans demand to be heard.

And on light polls and walls around the Mission, these flyers turn up.

click to enlarge if you want to read.

Odd one this. I'm as little a fan of Mayor London Breed as anyone. 

But these flyers call to mind a long time useful axiom I've developed for understanding San Francisco leftist politics: if somebody seems to be trying to co-opt the legitimate moral energy of your justice movement, run -- don't walk -- away from them. These aren't your friends. They are either bloodsuckers or opportunists. They may be actual enemies of justice or they may be deluded, but they aren't your friends. They are trying to seize the legitimate space you are fighting to open.

Wednesday, March 06, 2024

Let me steal a headline: on the uses of a Snoozer

Joe Perticone of The Bulwark called it "Snoozer Tuesday." I like that. I can think of nothing that came out of the primary on Super Tuesday except perhaps a chance for media outlets to take a practice run in multiple state for their work next November. We've known the presidential candidates since perhaps last May; the rest was mostly expenisve noise.

Erika D. Smith of the LA Times aptly describes what it felt like to be a California voter in this oh-so-predetermined exercise: 

We used to hear: “Vote for who you think is the best candidate for the office or who best represents your interests.”

Now it’s about the mass gamification of elections.

More fantasy football than rooting for the red or blue home team. More chess than checkers. There’s a slow shift underway from thinking of voting as a simple act of civic duty. Instead it’s becoming a series of strategic decisions and complicated calculations made in a desperate attempt to create a government of politicians who will actually improve our lives.

In practice, gamification looks like obsessively reading polls in an attempt to gain an edge or dispel rumors about your party. Or “wasting” your vote on the candidate you want to win, even if the polls say they won’t win, because you want to send a message to the political establishment. Or, my favorite, voting for a candidate you don’t like in a primary to help a candidate you do like win the general election.

Sure, not all of this is new. We’ve been told to “vote for the lesser of two evils” for decades. This country’s electoral process has always been imperfect. ...

Smith ended up following her heart and voting for Barbara Lee in the US Senate contest, knowing this was a sort of protest vote against calculated decision making. I applaud her, even though I did not take the same tack.

In the Washington Post, Robin Givhan hopefully speaks to what is meaningful amid the clutter and noise of an empty primary season; she reminds that there are a deep rights at stake here.

Voting isn’t merely a zero-sum game that ends with the winners crowing over their victory and the losers slinking away in defeat. That’s part of it, but not all of it. In a free and fair election, it’s sometimes not even the most important thing.
The vote itself is proof of faith. The person casting it believes that it matters. Denying them the opportunity is a callous dismissal. The depth of meaning in a single vote comes from our troubled history, our collective ability to effect change and the dignity inherent in expressing our singular desires to the lofty state, as well as to our next-door neighbor.

... As a country, we like to speak about the right to vote as a sacred act. But in the next breath, we characterize it as a tedious chore that must be accomplished in a blizzard or downpour. And when candidates dare to linger longer than electoral math suggests that they should — we liken voting to an enabling act in service to a narcissist.
But a vote has never only been fundamentally about wins and losses. Before the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed, the lack of access to the ballot box was characterized by activists as something that was humiliating, degrading and unjust. In contrast, the act of choosing one’s representative was an expression of dignity and respect. Victory wasn’t assured. Progress was elusive. How long would it take? Not long. But justice wouldn’t be instantaneous. It wasn’t a matter of a single election or the success of one candidate. The work was in the voting, which is to say, the work was in making one’s voice heard. Again and again.
It matters if one’s candidate wins or loses. Profoundly. Today, it matters more than ever.
But there’s nothing quite as searing as a loss in which a voter had to stand by in silence and watch as it happened.

People have died for the right to have a say; even when our choices lose, our vote shouts "we are here."

Tuesday, March 05, 2024

It's primary day: about those languages

“Everybody I speak to says how horrible it is,” [Donald Trump] said during an event at the border on Thursday. “Nobody [can] explain to me how allowing millions of people from places unknown, from countries unknown, who don’t speak languages — we have languages coming into our country, we have nobody that even speaks those languages. They are truly foreign languages. Nobody speaks them.” -- Washington Post

Okay, we know that Donald is both clueless and bigoted when it comes to people who speak a language other than English -- though if he ever had an English teacher, she might wonder she'd made any impact on his ability to construct meaning in his native tongue.

Meanwhile, here in California, the legislature is considering a bill to ensure that all the citizens of this state can express themselves by casting a ballot. Calmatters reports:
California lawmakers are considering a bill that would expand language assistance and election services to immigrants who don’t speak English fluently, but a group representing voter registrars throughout the state says it will cost counties too much money.
California has the nation’s highest proportion of households that speak languages other than English. Nearly 3 million voting age Californians have limited English knowledge.

Assemblymember Evan Low, the Cupertino Democrat who co-authored Assembly Bill 884, said he hopes it will increase voter participation and strengthen democracy in California.

“California is one of the most diverse states and leads the nation in language diversity,” he said, “so it is important that we lead the way to providing in-language ballots and voting materials to reduce barriers and enfranchise more Californians.”

The bill, which passed the Assembly in late January and is before the Senate, would require California’s Secretary of State to identify the languages spoken by at least 5,000 voting-age individuals in a county who don’t speak English fluently, including groups not covered by current federal voting rights laws, such as Middle Eastern or African immigrants.

The Secretary of State would then have to provide language assistance, including a toll-free hotline and funding for county language coordinators, in areas where the need is most acute.
I can easily image that, to many harried election administrators, Low's bill looks like one more underfunded mandate. But, in my experience, people who do those jobs usually want everyone who is eligible to have a chance to vote, so they'll want to make this work.

... “We want voters to trust the government and that boils down to a voter in any community being able to understand what is happening in their own community,” said Pedro Hernandez, a policy director at California Common Cause, which cosponsored the bill. 

This is the great California experiment, something to cherish on primary day.