Friday, May 31, 2024

Friday cat blogging and more

We flew home to the cats (and our people) yesterday. The felines seem happy enough to see us -- or at least to sleep alongside us.

Janeway resumed her morning perch on my lap.
Mio looked a little wide-eyed as usual.

But they both seem to accept that we belong here along with them. Bet they miss their friend Allan though.

• • •

We flew, first in a small plane from the Island; then Boston-Logan to San Francisco. At the ground level when we departed, all was fog. But soon this was the view over southern Massachusetts.

The news of the Trump's guilty verdict came through while we sat in the gateway waiting for our cross-country flight. Erudite Partner shouted "GUILTY" to no one in particular. All sorts of women rushed up to high-five us.

The country has a long way to go, but we are in this together.

Thursday, May 30, 2024

Go get him, Joe!

What would’ve happened if Black Americans had stormed the Capitol? I don’t think he’d be talking about pardons. This is the same guy who wanted to tear gas you as you peacefully protested George Floyd’s murder. It’s the same guy who still calls the ‘Central Park Five’ guilty, even though they were exonerated. He’s that landlord who denies housing applications because of the color of your skin. He’s that guy who won’t say Black lives matter and invokes neo-Nazi, Third Reich terms.

President Joe Biden, in a campaign speech to Black voters in Philadelphia

Via TPM and Politico. A political season where this must be cheered is scary. But Biden's speaking truths.

Wednesday, May 29, 2024

People living on the streets are old

I'm a San Franciscan. Unhappily, I'm all too used to living near unhoused people. But this summary still could jar me.

A major study on homelessness in California, released last year by UC San Francisco’s Benioff Homelessness and Housing Initiative (BHHI), includes two notable findings: 48% of all unhoused single adults in the state are 50 or older and 41% of unhoused older adults became homeless for the first time after age 50.

According to the report:
• “Being single is a risk factor for homelessness.” Of the older adults surveyed, 52% were single and never married; 17% reported being married or partnered. More than a quarter were divorced or separated, and 4% were widowed.

• “More than 80% of older adults entered homelessness from housing: 46% from non-leaseholding arrangements and 35% from leaseholding arrangements. The other 19% entered homelessness from institutions, which included time in jail, prison or healthcare settings.

• Poor health is a common reality among older adults experiencing homelessness. More than two-thirds reported having at least one significant chronic health condition. About a quarter of those surveyed said they’d experienced a time when they couldn’t get healthcare or obtain medication they needed.

• While people of color are overrepresented overall within the state’s unhoused population, older Black adults are particularly overrepresented. The report notes that 31% of older adults experiencing homelessness identified as Black, compared with 6% of all Californians age 50 or older. Older adults who identified as Native American or Indigenous and multiracial were also overrepresented, the survey found.

• The majority of older adults surveyed expressed optimism that “well-timed financial support would have staved off homelessness,” the authors wrote. Many believed that a modest monthly subsidy ($300 to $500), a one-time payment ($5,000 to $10,000) or something akin to a housing voucher would have allowed them to stay in their homes.

We use folks up and spit them out.

Tuesday, May 28, 2024

We can help with this!

Can you imagine being a young woman who is just getting her first period -- and there is no running water in your home or anywhere nearby? Far too many rural Nicaraguans live like that. El Porvenir helps such communities to help themselves -- digging wells, building water systems, improving watersheds. 
On May 28th, we celebrate Menstrual Hygiene Day, a day dedicated to dispelling myths and misconceptions that affect the lives of many girls in Nicaraguan communities. Our menstrual hygiene program includes conducting workshops, giving talks in schools, and setting up school hygiene corners (areas in the classroom with hygiene products like soap, toilet paper, and pads.) Our program aims to dismantle these barriers so girls can learn about menstrual hygiene and lead healthier lives.
 You can help. Please contribute today.

Monday, May 27, 2024

MAGA at work

Isaac Arnsdorf's Finish What We Started: The MAGA Movement’s Ground War to End Democracy is a fascinating piece of election journalism, perhaps most especially to a practitioner of campaign mobilization like me. But it's also a book for anyone who, confronted by the spread and endurance of the MAGA movement, finds themselves asking, "what's wrong with these people?"

Arnsdorf is billed as "a national political reporter' for The Washington Post, but in this volume he goes local, looking at the on-the-ground antics of MAGA in Arizona and Georgia.

He explains his project: 

... The movement now called MAGA has long existed in the American political bloodstream ...this movement's ideology was and is loosely defined by nationalism and tradition social values, fierce opposition to liberalism as a slippery slope to communism, and a tendency toward paranoia and conspiratorial thinking....
... In the story of the mass radicalization of the Republican Party, Trump is a singular, indispensable actor. But his perspective is not where the drama and tension unfold. This book turns the camera around from its usual focus on politicians and operatives, focussing instead on the faces in the crowd: what makes them believe, what motivates them, what stirs them to action. ...
Arnsdorf's story has two main protagonists;
• in Cobb County, Georgia, Salleigh Grubb, previously a casual suburban Republican, was so thrown off center by the convergence in 2020 of COVID, Black Lives Matter, and Trump's loss in November, that she became a vehement "Stop the Steal" activist.
On Facebook she posted an upside-down flag, widely recognized in right-wing circles as a distress signal.

Her energy was unabated despite repeated Georgia setbacks.  Eventually she was elected county chair and even met her orange-coiffed cult leader in person.

• in Maricopa County, Arizona, Kathy Petsas had served as a district chair for the Republican Party for decades, laboriously turning out voters for GOP nominees whether she thrilled to them or not. A post-2020 influx of new MAGA militants found her leadership too accommodating and practical for their virulent politics. They voted her out and overwhelmed party old-timers.

Behind both these stories in Arnsdorf's telling lurks Steve Bannon, the podcast proponent of burning the whole country down and MAGA's evil wizard. Bannon is clearly a bad dude, but I am not sure I would ascribe quite as much agency to him as Arnsdorf does. He is, after all, a mercenary con man who grabs onto whatever looks like a good thing with showy pomposity. A very American type. Plenty of MAGAs thrill to his style.

Bannon discovered one Dan Shultz, another familiar sort of rightwing crackpot, who had found his obsession in what he called the Precinct Strategy. If he could just convince MAGA true believers that political parties needed thousands of local precinct activists to turn out their neighbors and that these precinct chairs would then participate in intra-party elections for party office, MAGA could take over the Republican apparatus and elect its candidates to public office. Shultz, through Bannon, enjoyed good timing for his nostrum; Biden had won in 2020, Trump refused to concede, and MAGAs needed something to do. Riding Bannon's cred, pretty soon the Precinct Strategy was all the rage among MAGAs.

What Dan was offering was so pure, so simple -- seventh-grade civics. Bannon knew there was a hunger out there for that. ... The Precinct Strategy could help restore that missing [social] connective tissue. ... There was already a structure, an organization, a hierarchy. ...

For Kathy Petsas in Arizona, this new crop of enthusiasts (and fantasists) engulfed her district leadership.

.. she started getting deluged with applications to become precinct committee members ... It was an obscure role and Kathy was used to getting two or three people a month who might express interest in become a PC. ... she invited the applicants to meet for coffee. ... if these strangers were asking to represent her party in her district, and she was going to exercise her discretion as chair to appoint them, then Kathy wanted to get to know them a little first. She had 132 coffees. ...

.. It was clear to Kathy from the start that Donald Trump was many things, but he was not a conservative. ... It wasn't just the Trump was rude, he brought out the rudeness in his followers; they were not winning anybody over by standing on street corners with Trump signs and guns. Kathy believed that elected officials were supposed to represent everyone, not only the people who voted for them. But everything Trump did was for his base. ... He didn't stand for anything but himself.

But she wasn't the sort of Republican to become a Never-Trumper (unfortunately). She been around long enough to suspect she might have to reconstruct the party if the fever passed. Still ...

... she wasn't going to go door to door for candidates she couldn't defend. .. [the new PCs etc] were like living, breathing manifestations of all the conspiracy theories and misinformation that had been swirling and spreading for two years now.

Neither of these two state parties -- not Georgia nor Arizona -- came out of the 2022 cycle successful. In Georgia, Trump-promoted Senate candidate Herschel Walker proved too crazy for the electorate. The Arizona party seems still fully MAGA-fied having nominated the batshit loony Kari Lake for the Senate in 2024. Trump is running again.. This story is not finished. Isaac Arnsdorf does a useful job of introducing some grassroots combatants.

• • •

I do have a major to bone to pick with this journalist however. He would have written a better book if he'd done some research into how precinct level party organization of all variants of U.S. parties have worked for decades -- perhaps even back to William  L. Marcy in New York in the mid-1840s. Smart party leaders have long known that neighbors engaging neighbors was the gold standard of electoral organizing. Dan Schultz' idea was no novelty.

My mother was Republican precinct leader in Buffalo, NY, in the 1950s and '60s; she kept a card file on every voter, recording whether she'd gotten them to vote yet! Such people were then and always the backbone of civic engagement. And she was a Nelson Rockefeller-Republican, not any kind of insurgent!

This is how functional elements of political parties have long organized themselves and their voters. Such organization is the strongest form of civic engagement this democracy knows; door-to-door canvasses from strangers, phone and text contact, and mass media don't hold a candle to year round persuasion by your neighbors. Where it exists, deep precinct organization is the way to go. Parties can seldom achieve it or maintain it over time. People get exhausted. The tone deaf MAGA antics Arnsdorf describes don't seem likely to age well ... but prediction is still foolish.

And if your door-to-door outreach is by an offensive MAGA nut ... perhaps not an attractive strategy as people like Kathy Petsas understand.

For Memorial Day

The title of Phil Klay's reflection says so much: "How Should We Honor the Dead of Our Failed Wars?:

Klay is a U.S. Marine veteran of the Iraq war; he muses

This year, when I remember them, I will not just remember who they were, the shreds of memory dredged up from past decades. I will remember why they died. All the reasons they died. Because they believed in America. Because America forgot about them. Because they were trying to force-feed a different way of life to people from a different country and culture. Because they wanted to look after their Marines. Because the mission was always hopeless. Because America could be a force for good in the world. Because Presidents Bush, Obama, Trump and Biden didn’t have much of a plan. Because it’s a dangerous world, and somebody’s got to do the killing. Because of college money. Because the Marine Corps is cool as hell. Because they saw “Full Metal Jacket” and wanted to be Joker. Or Animal Mother. Because the war might offer a new hope for Iraq, for Afghanistan. Because we earned others’ hatred, with our cruelty and indifference and carelessness and hubris. Because America was still worth dying for.

The full article is worth reading.

• • •

The last member of my family to die in one of our wars, Naval aviator Commander James Kent Averill, was lost in 1944 in a plane crash on take-off from the USS Lexington  after refueling in the Pacific Ocean. He had served since commissioned from the Naval Academy in 1931 in various aspects of building up U.S. air capacity over the Pacific, a pioneering effort at long distance air war.

This was three years before I was born, so I did not know him. Averill's war, the war against the Japanese empire following on its attack on Pearl Harbor, was one of our few conflicts that most Americans have ever felt wholeheartedly in support of. The notion of a "Good War" -- against Japan and Hitler's Germany in Europe -- has left us haunted and a little confused about our military efforts ever since. We still ignore the vicious race subtext (on both sides) of the Pacific war. And we expect that our wars should be "good," though they don't qualify somehow. 

And so we're back to Phil Kay's questions to his fellows about why they fight ...

Saturday, May 25, 2024

Trails don't take care of themselves

National Trails Day comes along a week from today, but I want to celebrate now while still here on Martha's Vineyard island. For the last couple of months I've been exploring multiple pathways to my absolute delight (aside from one dramatic mishap.)

Today an article in the NY Times laments that the country seems to no longer be able to fund or staff crews to maintain trails in national parks. That is distinctly not the case here. An elected commission gets a cut of land transfers whenever real estate changes hands; they map the island natural resources here. Numerous private groups acquire and care for lands they make open to the public.

We've been walking with friends who are yearround residents; we all marvel at how well maintained the trails seem. They report that they regularly encounter trail crews, moving fallen trees and leveling areas washed out over the winters. 

As in so many respects, I'm lucky to be able to enjoy their work.

Friday, May 24, 2024

Here's an ad that nails the coming season ...


Good for the Biden campaign for not pulling its punches. We cannot say we have not been warned.

Thursday, May 23, 2024

After empire

Conservative Party British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has set a general election for July 4. (We'll be in that country floating the inland canal system on a narrowboat, so I may or may not see something of this.) 

I had been holding Alex Massie's commentary on the contemporary United Kingdom for our visit, but Sunak's surprise move makes it worth publishing now. 

There is much truth in the post-imperial line, “We are here because you were there” but even this undersells the real transformation of the British population.
To observe this is simply to note reality. There is nothing wrong or deplorable about any of this and I see no reason to regret it.

And, overall and with obvious counter-examples to complicate the picture, this transformation has been achieved with comparatively little trouble or fuss. That is not to downplay the experiences of black and asian Britons but, rather, to try and see the larger picture.

High-profile leadership positions are not everything but nor are they nothing. The prime minister is a Hindu whose parents hail from India, the mayor of London is the son of a Pakistani bus driver, the first minster of Scotland is Scots-Pakistani (and so is the leader of the Scottish Labour party), Kemi Badenoch, who may yet be the next leader of the Conservative party, was born in Nigeria, the next foreign secretary, David Lammy, is the son of Guyanese immigrants, and Vaughan Gething, the new first minister of Wales, is a black man born in Zambia.

It is exaggeration to say that among western nations only the United States has political leadership of such diversity (and even then, some of that American diversity is a matter of political appointment rather than electoral success).

Ten million people living in Britain today were born overseas. The paradox of immigration politics in Britain is that politicians talk tough on immigration while presiding over a system of unprecedented liberalism. The rhetoric may sometimes be ugly; the reality is rather different.

Britain is no longer the quaint antiquarian museum of castles, cathedrals, and the slightly absurd monarchy of American imagination. Nor is it the land of a wondrous, universal national health system won by unionized labor. I am looking forward to a glimpse (only) of a more complex reality.

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

When the jury takes over ...

Philip Bump creates data journalism -- charts and graphs -- for the Washington Post. But some years ago, he served on a jury in a complicated criminal case which involved many legal curlicues. He has thooughts for court watchers who think they know what the jury in Trump's hush money/election interference trial are about to do.
Our experience of what has happened and what it means is fundamentally different than the experience of the people who will ultimately decide Trump’s fate: the jury. With the defense wrapping up its case Tuesday, it’s a good moment to remember that what the jury has seen and what it is contemplating is very, very different than what you or I have seen or what we contemplate from the outside.
Put another way: Forget what you think you know about what will happen next. ...
Allow me to establish some credentials on this topic. In spring 2009, I was called for jury duty in New York City. .... For months, we heard testimony from witnesses called by the prosecution...
A lot of our time — perhaps half of it — was spent not in the courtroom but the jury room, down a short hallway from where the case was tried. It was dominated by a large table around which we sat while waiting to be called back to the jury box — or, on some occasions, to be released for the day. It was often boring. One day, we all hid in the adjacent restrooms when we knew the bailiff was coming to get us; he was understandably surprised to find the jury room empty when he arrived.
We understood that we were waiting for some legal issue to be adjudicated but, crucially, we didn’t know then and never learned what those issues were. The lawyers and the judge were discussing what evidence might be allowed or the constraints of a witness’s testimony, debates that would make it into media coverage of the trial. But we weren’t privy to any of it. Our experience of the case and the broader situation was constrained by what we saw in the courtroom. ...
... we were given instructions about reaching a verdict. Our task was not simply to determine whether [defendants] had committed a crime. It was, instead, to figure out whether they had committed the specific crimes for which they were indicted, crimes with specific criteria that established their commission. If there was any reasonable way to conclude that the defendants hadn’t met those criteria, then they were innocent. If not: guilty.
... When we walked into the jury room to begin our deliberations, I did not expect it to take long. To me, the criteria had clearly been met in some regards and clearly not in others. I naively assumed everyone had reached the same conclusions. Obviously, they had not. It took us 11 days to finalize our verdicts on the various counts at issue...
Over the course of those 11 days, we deliberated. We took occasional votes to finalize our consensus on certain charges but spent most of the time making our cases to one another. We needed unanimity, as you probably know, but not every juror responded to the evidence or the arguments in the same way. So we had to figure out how to reach consensus with that additional boundary.
... We treated the task seriously and engaged in it earnestly. And no one — ourselves included — could have predicted how the evidence and the law and the deliberations would combine for the specific outcome we reached.
... I would caution people, based on my own experience, to remember that their experience from the outside is as different than the jury’s as the courtroom sketches are from the reality of being there in person. ...
• • •
Juries interest me. They are the most intimate exercise of democracy in which we are likely to participate. A surprisingly high fraction of us have sat in a jury box. A recent survey found that about "one in ten Americans have served on a jury in the last 10 years." Not as many as have voted, but an awful lot. And for many of us, a more emotionally and intellectually demanding activity than casting a ballot. 

Since any particular experience may range from satisfying to frustrating to confusing, it's hard to generalize about what jury service means. When the little jury notice postcard arrives from a court, most of us recoil -- such an interruption of our lives. But that juries are constituted and serve at all remains something of a civic miracle.

Tuesday, May 21, 2024


Yesterday I took one of my occasional, entirely inadvertent, bone density tests. There was a root on the trail and then the earth banged into my face. No real damage done, though enough blood to make an interesting pattern on my hat which I used to staunch the bleeding.

Think I'll take it easy today ...

Monday, May 20, 2024

Remembering sometimes love wins

A friend here on Martha's Vineyard sent along a reminiscence published in a local newspaper of a proud Massachusetts anniversary. In May 2004, after a tortuous legal process featuring blocking efforts by state pols and then-Governor Mitt Romney, the first same sex couples in the country were able to celebrate state recognized weddings. 

Vineyard resident Mary Breslauer, who handled communications for the legal team seeking to win LGBT marriage, offers a charming reminiscence.

Martha’s Vineyard enjoys a very prominent tie to these first marriages: the author of that historic 2003 decision was Margaret H. Marshall, then the chief justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court and the first woman to lead the court. At the time, she was an Island regular, often in residence at home in West Tisbury with her late husband, the two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis.

In fact, as anxious lawyers, plaintiffs, politicians and the public at large were waiting for the court’s decision, everyone had a theory of when the ruling would drop. My personal favorite was the clarion call that went out because Justice Marshall was spotted on the ferry returning one Tuesday morning. Clearly, the decision would be released that day or the next. Nope. Not happening.

Justice Marshall has said she wrote about 300 opinions during her 14 years on the bench, many of them drafted on the Island. But her legacy is cemented in her four-to-three majority opinion, which made it unconstitutional to deny same-sex couples the rights and privileges associated with marriage.

It would take a dozen more years, filled with countless lawsuits, ballot questions and statehouse battles before the United States Supreme Court would take up the case, ruling in a five-to-four decision to grant federal access to marriage across the country to loving, same-sex couples.

Breslauer recalls being questioned by reporters about the issue that captured much attention: what did Hillary and Julie Goodridge wear for the novel ceremony? Her entire account is charming.

Sunday, May 19, 2024

Pentecost: the flames of freedom rising

From Cole Arthur Riley,  Black Liturgies:

It began with a strong wind. Then something like tongues of fire began to divide and rest on each person gathered. I can’t tell you if they were afraid, if their eyes widened and hearts raced. If they thought to hide, be it from the fire or from one another. But I can tell you that in mystery and all at once, people in the room began to utter tongues unknown to them. An utterance that went out to the multitude, people from every nation, as the sacred sound drew them toward one another.

They heard themselves in the sound—not the language of their oppressors or people who believed themselves to be closer to the divine than others. They each heard their own language and understood. What words were spoken remain as mysterious as the tongues that bore them. But together, even in the presence of doubt, people from all nations remembered their ancestors. Those who had an imagination for a miracle such as this. The image of God, a sacred multitude, gathered in the midst of a cosmic power shift.

... Could it be that Pentecost is paradise remembered on earth? What does it mean that in the story we are not told precisely what they communicated about the miracle or the divine? We know only that it was understood—that no tribe or tongue was excluded nor made a singular spectacle, but that a collective was born.

Two thousand years after the Tower of Babel falls and fifty days after Christ rises from the dead, we find the story of Pentecost. The Spirit descends upon a sacred diverse gathering, and language is made portal to the divine. A path to God, to one another, and to shared imagination. Pentecost reminds us that the Spirit of God rejects assimilation under the guise of “unity.” This tale is not just about diversity; it’s not mere tokenism; it’s language as liberation. It’s the sound of excluded voices making something whole again.

• • •

From Diana Butler Bass

The people who gathered in Jerusalem that morning were not free. They were not there with protections of religious liberty. They made this journey in the shadow of crucifixion, where one of their own people, a popular yet controversial rabbi, had been executed by the overlords. And the rumors swirled — of a missing body, of strange appearances. They’d made a difficult journey from long distances in dangerous times to be at this festival.

If we understand who was there and why, the real miracle of Pentecost comes into focus. All these victims, those demeaned, enslaved, and brutalized by Rome, stopped being afraid. Those diverse peoples, who had been at war for centuries, whose ancestors had tried to destroy one another, suddenly realized they weren’t enemies at all.

They finally heard one another — the spirit broke through — and they rediscovered their own story of a world destined to be shaken by the justice of God.

However, there was an enemy: Caesar, the imperial force that had, for generations, inflicted trauma upon them and their historic homelands through their military might, political manipulation, ethnic superiority, and economic control.

And there was an Advocate for them: the Holy Spirit. The spirit was unleashed — “poured out on all flesh.” Even — maybe especially — their colonized flesh, their owned bodies. Men and women alike, and despite enslavement: these were God’s dreamers and prophets of “the great and glorious day.”

If you insist on celebrating Pentecost as the birthday of the church, please remember the uprising of Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs. They remind us that the thing we Christians call “church” was born in the fire of anti-imperialism and the burning faith of the colonized to be a community of resistance against militarism, ethnic superiority, and economic injustice. This is the new body of Jesus, the embodiment of solidarity, freedom, and equality in this world.

Saturday, May 18, 2024

It's a mystery ...

 Kevin Drum points out:

Compared to a year ago, eggs are down 9%! Apples are down 13%. Seafood is down 3%. Coffee is down. Citrus fruits are down. White bread is down. Peanut butter is down. Lunchmeat is down.

And this has all been happening while average wages have gone up 4% in the past year. You'd think all of this would be of some interest to news consumers ...

It's certainly of interest to me. I was looking to buy eggs and encountered this in the supermarket. But noting how well things are going in the economy seems out of reach to too many of us much of the time.

On the one hand, there are all kinds of signs, like the egg prices, that inflation is controlled. Pretty much anyone who wants a job can find one judging by the "HIRING" signs in storefronts. And the stock market is booming; that's not everyone's preoccupation, but for those who benefit, this signals good times.

click to enlarge

Yet people's confidence in being able to maintain their standard of living is not much higher than it was in the midst of the Great Recession of 2008.

The political implications of these mixed experiences and feeling are truly weird:

click to enlarge

In all the states where the choices for president will likely determine who wins, most voters think their local state economy is doing fine. And at the same time, they believe that the American economy, the whole country's economy, is doing poorly. This seems schizophrenic, but I don't doubt the survey research.

And it seems too simple to assume, as I've heard some say, this is just prosperous Republicans whining because they don't like Joe Biden. Sure, researchers find plenty of GOP folks who are happily jamming flights to go on vacations and buying boats while complaining about this president.

But the intense sense of economic precariousness isn't entirely politically partisan. The best explanation I can come up with is that we're still living a hangover from the pandemic. It turned out that we could not assume that our lives would just chug along uninterrupted; we, whatever our politics, could find ourselves thrown off by a microbe. What a shock! We're shaken and our feeling of expected safety will take a long time to recover, if ever.

Friday, May 17, 2024

Friday cat blogging

 This house is graced with a visitor.

I think Jack knows how beautifully he accents this rug.
He certainly expects appropriate appreciation.

Thursday, May 16, 2024

On the well organized perversion of Christian attachments

For too long now America's Christian nationalist movement has been misunderstood and underestimated. Most Americans continue to see it as a cultural movement centered on a set of social issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage, preoccupied with symbolic conflicts over monuments and prayers. But the religious right has become more focused and powerful even as it is arguably less representative. It is not a social or cultural movement. It is a political movement, and its ultimate goal is power.
Five years ago, Katherine Stewart published her exploration of the movement infrastructure of Christian nationalist right, The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism.

The book is a tour of that infrastructure, built, in Stewart's telling, by power hungry political entrepreneurs out of a culturally narrow -- and very white -- religiosity.
The Christian nationalist movement is not a grassroots movement. Understanding its appeal to a broad mass of American voters is necessary in explaining its strength but it is not sufficient in explaining the movement's direction. It is a means through which a small number of people -- quite a few of them residing in the Washington, D.C., area -- harness the passions, resentments, and insecurities of a large and diverse population in their own quest for power. ... From the perspective of the movement's leadership, vast numbers of America's conservative churches have been converted into the loyal cells of a shadow political party ...

Stewart seems to have had little difficulty infiltrating and observing the components of the movement. She reports on clergy trainings where Protestant pastors are taught how to mobilize their flocks to vote and work for the most wackadoodle Republicans, those who seek to repel "the humanists" and "the homosexual agenda."  

She visits megachurch leaders who make a very good living out of preaching intolerance and organizing for their own power. 

She adopts Randall Balmer's thesis that outlawing abortion became a central issue for Christian nationalists because their real beef -- racially segregated schools denied federal funding -- didn't sell as well.

Stewart reports her own experience of heavy bleeding while pregnant with a wanted child, being transported to a Catholic hospital, being left to hemorrhage alone on a gurney until she went into shock, and only being given a necessary abortion to save her life when she had lost 40 percent of her blood. This was long before Dobbs -- Catholic doctrine has long readily dictated what became a pillar of a broader Christian nationalism.
She introduces readers to disciples of the fascist monarchist R.J. Rushdoony who gave the movement a pseudo-intellectual gloss.

Perhaps the most obvious paradox of Christian nationalism is that it preaches love but everywhere practices intolerance, even hate. Like Rushdoony the man, members of the movement are often kind in person. They love and care for their children, volunteer in their communities, and establish long friendships -- and then they seek to punish those who are different.
The Christian nationalist movement has made up and adopted a dense false story of the United States, propagated by an unqualified charlatan of history named David Barton. This fanciful hash undergirds their anti-democratic aspirations. Most likely our crackpot Supreme Court justices get their "originalist" notions of the American past from this current.

This is all convincingly reported, fluidly written journalism about some of the scariest people now in the MAGA fascist base.

I had issues with some of Stewart's framing. She treats the mechanics of how Christian nationalist leaders activate their followers as a kind of conspiracy. Trainings in messaging and how-tos for activism are always the stuff of getting groups of people moving for collective power. This is very American. As a community and electoral organizer myself, I see movement techniques as simply how you get a lot of people engaged and effectual. But for Stewart, as perhaps for most Americans, the process is novel. Since she loathes and fears Christian nationalist ends, she slides easily into seeing organizing methods as simply evil plots.

Some of this book feels a little dated after only five hard years of MAGA. But it is still a smart window into white Christian nationalism and we only need more such understanding today.

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Strange days and soothing fantasies

David Kurtz writes a newsletter which introduces the daily minutia of the news for the journalistic site Talking Points Memo. Very occasionally he steps back from the chatter and noise, folly and scandal to think about the strange times we are living. A recent such piece seems worth sharing in full:

As we come to the end of a difficult week, it’s becoming obvious that daily news coverage isn’t sufficient to capture what a deeply strange period we’re living through.
The former president is on criminal trial for making hush-money payments to a porn star he says he didn’t have sex with, while trying to stave off the three other criminal prosecutions he faces. At the same time, he is promising more post-election criminality if he loses in 2024, which is the very thing two of the remaining prosecutions are seeking to convict him for having done in 2020.
Not content to merely replay his first term, he is promising a second presidency that will be authoritarian to its core. It begins with the premise that he must exact retribution against all who have wronged him, including prosecuting the current president whom he falsely claims is behind his own legal turmoil. From there, he swears he will target disfavored classes of people – immigrants, the press, anyone whose fealty to him he perceives to be insufficient – abusing the powers of his office to inflict pain and suffering to the delight of his supporters.
He is also determined to harness the full powers of the federal government in pursuit of personal political and private ends, even and perhaps especially if that means breaking government in the process.
In the meantime, the coverage of the current president is the same tired analysis, worn thin by overuse, and utterly oblivious to the looming authoritarian threat. Complexities like post-pandemic economic policy are reduced to a thin gruel of “inflation is bad for incumbents.” The nightmarishly difficult Israel-Palestine conflict is more easily covered as an American political story about law and order, and so campus protests are forced to stand in as a poor proxy for the actual conflict in the Middle East.
In the face of what almost certainly is a significant historical moment that is full of uncertainty and unpredictability, we grasp for ways to make sense of it all but what we grab ahold of for comfort and security is oversimplification, reductiveness, and cliches. Rather than rising to the moment, we just try to cover our eyes and soothe our souls so we can endure it. It’s a temptation that’s hard to resist.
It’s in moments like these that the overconfident diagnoses and simplistic solutions of someone like Donald Trump hold their greatest allure. He offers certainty amidst the chaos, even if he has no idea what he’s talking about and doesn’t have the skill or capability to do anything about it. He’s a chaos monster: the more of it he creates, the greater the need for the snake oil palliatives he offers. He’ll make you sick to sell you his bogus curatives.
This is all happening against the backdrop of the even bigger existential threat than Donald Trump: climate change. The environmental catastrophe already underway adds layers of uncertainty that we may have never encountered before as a species. It dwarfs our political chaos. It feeds the anxiousness that makes us seek solid ground, some permanence, a place above whatever the new high water mark may turn out to be. For many people, it’s easier to find immediate security in a Trump (even if that means drowning later) than enduring the uncertainty, trying to make sense of it all, and doing the hard work of piecing together solutions.
So don’t get too caught up in the day-to-day news. There lies madness. Embrace the uncertainty, live with the dis-ease that comes with not knowing, and forswear the cheap and easy fixes offered by tawdry figures who prey on the victims of the chaos they create.

No easy fixes, but keep on keeping on ...

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Gaza war: a complete military failure and an ominous political success

What follows is an article, in full, about the murderous Gaza campaign by way of Standing Together, a Jewish and Palestinian movement of citizens of Israel organizing in pursuit of peace, equality, and social and climate justice.

The author, Dr. Guy Laron, is a lecturer in the Department of International Relations at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Bringing about the collapse of Hamas isn’t one of the goals of the war in Gaza

If we judge the military operation in Gaza by the goals that the government presented to the public, it is obviously a complete failure. After six months of combat, the IDF hasn’t reached its primary goal: destroying Hamas’s control in Gaza. The assessments are that thus far the IDF has disabled a third of Hamas’s combat force and destroyed about twenty percent of the organization’s tunnels. This is a hard hit but not a fatal blow and Hamas is alive and kicking. Not only that, but Hamas has managed to take control of areas that the IDF withdrew from and shoot rockets from those areas to the towns in the Gaza Envelope. 

Moreover, the other declared goal of the operation - bringing back the hostages - hasn’t been achieved either. The absolute majority of hostages that were released thus far were freed as a result of a deal in which they were swapped for Palestinian prisoners.
 In contrast, only three hostages were released as a result of a military operation. Even worse, three hostages were shot dead by the IDF and an unknown number of hostages were killed as a result of the IDF’s indiscriminate bombings (according to what Hamas ordered the Israeli hostage Hersh Goldberg to say in a recently released video, Hamas estimates that 70 hostages died this way). 

The cabinet that decided to go to war included two retired Chiefs of General Staff,
one retired Major General and a Prime Minister, who has approved and supervised many military operations. Moreover, the current Chief of Staff pushed and pressured the cabinet to approve the military ground operation in Gaza. These people knew full well the limits of what could or could not be achieved by the military plans they were approving. Proof of this can be found in the interview that Gadi Eisenkot gave to Ilana Dayan. The experienced General explained well to the senior journalist why the operation has no chance to free hostages: the hostages aren’t held above ground in an isolated object like a plane or a bus, he said, but are hidden in tunnels that the IDF will struggle to reach. Therefore, it’s easy to conclude that the goals of the operation as they were presented to the public were meant to recruit public support for it, but were never the real goals that the cabinet aimed for. 

What then are the real goals of the operation? 

The first real goal of the operation - and it is valuable to the current coalition - is protecting the settlements in the West Bank. The settlers’ movement’s leadership has gained representation in key offices in the current administration: The ministries of Finance, Security, and National Security which is in charge of the police. The judicial reform that the coalition was promoting was also meant to enable a unilateral annexation of the West Bank without providing civil rights to the Palestinians living there. If implemented, this reform would have enshrined the property rights of the settlers. 

In the decade and a half preceding Hamas’s attack, Netanyahu did all he could to convince the Israeli public that the occupation comes at a low cost. Israel, Netanyahu claimed, could become a high-tech powerhouse and forge ties with countries in the region despite the expansion of the settlement project in the West Bank. The key to that, the Prime Minister explained, is to keep the divide between the West Bank and Gaza, as a result of the two areas being controlled by opposing and competing Palestinian organizations. Netanyahu also seems to have thought that Hamas had an interest in becoming a collaborator to the Jewish colonialism in the West Bank as a result of the money they received from Qatar. 

Hamas’s attack on October 7th destroyed all of these assumptions. Hamas used the money from Qatar to build a sophisticated war machine, making a laughing stock of Netanyahu in Israel and around the world. Had Israel limited its response to the attack, focused on rebuilding the security fence and on a hostage deal, the public would have had time to discuss the collapse of “the Bibi doctrine” and demand snap elections. By deciding to start a military operation, the government bought itself time and postponed a public debate over the true costs in money, blood, and reputation, of the settlements in the West Bank. 

By rejecting another hostage deal, the government is taking off the table the question of the “day after”, and any agreement or peace accord which would ensure a long-
term calm along the borders. This is because the government is afraid that any formal agreement with the Palestinians will require an evacuation of some of the settlements. 

In addition, the government isn’t only acting to protect the settlements, but also working on expanding this project through activity that is meant to destabilize the West Bank. For example, the government is refusing to allow Palestinian workers from the West Bank to return to work within Israel and it’s trying to hurt the Palestinian Authority (PA) by refusing to transfer money that the PA deserves according to the Paris Agreements.  

In this way, financial suffocation is created in the West Bank and the ability of the PA to pay officials and police officers is curtailed. The activity of settler militias who damage Palestinian property and expel Palestinian farmers has also continued after October 7th.  

While the fighting continues, the government is acting to promote the second real
 goal of the war, which is the continuation of the government's judicial reform. This continuation is meant not only to reduce Israel’s democratic space but to completely privatize all government services. The government is working towards total privatization relying on sectorial politics to garner support. These are, in fact, complementary steps. Reducing the freedom of speech and the freedom of assembly are tools to suffocate the protests over the collapse of the welfare state. Those who are working most ardently to promote these goals are the ministers of the Religious Zionist party.  

For example, the Minister of National Security continues the task of appointing the police’s senior ranks, turning it into a political party’s militia. Furthermore, Itamar Ben Gvir is privatizing national security by doling out tens of thousands of weapon permits. Thus, the police is losing its status as the keeper of order and security, to a host of local militias. Personal security turns into the mission of individual citizens rather than the state. 

At the same time, the Minister of Finance continues to distribute money to sectors that are close to the government, the Ultra-Orthodox and the settlers. All of this is happening while the health, education and public transportation services are collapsing due to painful cuts that the Minister of Finance is forcing upon them. In this way, following the collapse of the education and health systems that belong to all of the public, the only route for citizens to get education and health services is by joining the settler or Orthodox sectors.  

The third real goal of the operation is a live ammo demonstration of the army’s capabilities, combined with its attempt to recover its reputation. The guilt of the military establishment goes beyond the devastating defeat of October 7th. No organization internalized “the Bibi doctrine” to a greater extent than the army. The army wasn’t only securing the settlements, but creating bureaucratic and technological arrangements that turned the occupation and the settlements into a low-cost operation.
The army identified the unease of the educated bourgeoisie from the mission of policing in the West Bank, so it assigned the mission to the working class that served in specialized police battalions. The sons and daughters of the educated bourgeoisie were integrated into high-tech army units that were meant to allow the management of the conflict even with a small number of personnel. They got to serve in units that promised them profitable employment in the future, and along the way solved the army’s manpower shortage problem.  

Thanks to this, the IDF could move most of its infantry to security missions in the West Bank and leave only a small number of forces along the northern and southern borders. The army convinced itself that the intelligence capabilities of the 8200 unit, as well as the robotic technologies that were deployed along the southern border, would ensure that the army wouldn't be caught unawares, and if it was, it could respond immediately. 

The IDF believed in the “Bibi doctrine” to such an extent that the high-ranking officers in the Intelligence Corps refused to understand the obvious signs of an impending attack. Even when the lower ranks in the intelligence forces - like the field observers or non- commissioned officers in the 8200 unit - brought convincing proof of a coming attack, the colonels at the military intelligence branch shut their ears. Hamas’s surprise attack on October 7th exposed the incompetence of Israel's military leadership. 

To deal with the fear and the shock of the Israeli public, the army is holding onto the military operation as an immediate solution to the hit its image took on October 7th. Since 2006, the General Staff of the IDF, which is usually led by officers from the ground forces, invested in technological capabilities that would allow the army to improve over its poor performances in the 2006 Lebanon war. The current "Iron Swords" war has given these generals an opportunity to check if the investment succeeded and test it on the battlefield. 

When those generals understood that the ground operation wouldn't lead to the defeat of Hamas, the fourth real goal of the operation was born: the mission of revenge. Though they knew that it would create a difficult problem for Israel with the international judicial system, the generals in the General Staff and battalion commanders in the field allowed the soldiers on the frontlines to upload videos and photos that would satisfy the public’s lust for revenge and make them forget the fact that the operation won’t be able to destroy the Hamas. 

That is how the ground operation in Gaza became a military failure and a political success. Under the guise of the operation, the army and the government are rehabilitating their public image and promoting their institutional interests. Their political egoism is expressed in their willingness to ignore the difficult problems that they create: the regional and global isolation of Israel, an eternal conflict in the Gaza Strip, an economic crisis, and political polarization in Israel. These ministers and generals lead to an endless war. After them, the deluge!

Editing: Tom Alfia

Translation to English: Tal Vinogradov 

Sunday, May 12, 2024

For Mother's Day

Martha Sidway Adams, 1923
In this picture, my mother would have been 15. She looks ready to take on the world, doesn't she?

Saturday, May 11, 2024

Three women journalists respond to Stormy Daniels's testimony

I didn't expect to be very interested in the porn entrepreneur's couple of days under oath in Donald Trump's trial for falsifying records of illicit payments which Trump thought, in October 2016, would protect his candidacy. There was an election to be won ...

But Donald also has insisted that he never fucked Stormy, even though he signed checks to Micheal Cohen which the prosecution asserts covered payments to Stormy for her silence.

Trump put the story of their encounter at a Tahoe golf tournament on the court's agenda by denying it ever happened.

Her testimony seems, in the opinion of many reporters, to have dispelled any possibility that this is anything but another Trump lie.

I'm finding the way women reporters handle the story fascinating.

Anita Chabria is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times. Perhaps distance and location afford her the opportunity for a delightfully breezy take on Stormy on the stand.
Stormy Daniels has been in the spotlight — literally — since she started stripping in Louisiana at age 17 to pay the bills when her negligent mother kept disappearing. She was called as a prosecution witness Tuesday in the Donald Trump hush money trial, putting her on the global stage.
Folks, this is a woman who isn’t scared of a fight, and isn’t afraid to talk about sex — even if we are.
In a world where women are routinely expected to be ashamed about any public conversation of sex, whether it’s consensual or during an assault, Daniels didn’t avoid the nitty-gritty.
That included accounts of spanking Trump with a magazine, silky jammies (his) and her own ambivalence in the moment, all told in a rapid-fire, conversational tone while she looked right at the jury.
Daniels’ radical shamelessness is important because it upends the status quo that men have long depended on in sex-involved court cases — that the woman will be humbled, and that she can be torn down as weak or a liar because of the humiliation, guilt and stigma we expect her to feel.
... With decades of experience as a sex worker, Daniels doesn’t seem cowed by expectation or the squeamishness displayed by [Judge] Merchan and others in the courtroom.
“You could compare it to a doctor talking about surgery and arteries and blood and tissue,” [Alana] Evans [a sister porn entrepreneur] said. “These are things they see every day and it doesn’t affect them. You show that to someone else and they may pass out.”
... to see Stormy Daniels rejecting the contempt piled on other women in her situation is wonderful — though she too said she felt the infamy of it all.
When asked who she had told about the sex, she said very few people.
“Because I felt ashamed that I didn’t stop it, that I didn’t say no. A lot of people would just assume — they would make jokes out of it. I didn’t think it was funny,” she said in court.
But why should she be disgraced with the dumb blond trope when it was Trump who had a wife at home, with their newborn son?
Why should she be apologetic for being a sex worker when she has built a business — acting, directing, producing, writing — that has made enough money for her to support herself and her family?
Why should she accept being vilified, just because that makes people more comfortable?
The truth remains, not many women can sustain this bold posture. The New York Time's in-court observer Jessica Bennett catches the ambivalence many women feel in sexual encounters with oblivious men who seem to assume that sex ratifies their power over women.
... “The room spun in slow motion”; “I was staring up at the ceiling”; “I was ashamed” — will remind a lot of women not of family men, but of stories about unwanted but perhaps not entirely nonconsensual encounters that many of us harbor. ...
This had me running to figure out how many of the jurors were women. (Five of twelve it turns out.) I suspect that it would be hard to find sexually active women to be on the jury who had not had the experience of lying there, feeling no emotional connection to the guy, and wondering when this would be over. And the men in this drama, judges and lawyers, may not even know enough to look for those women.

I'm an old lady lesbian and this may be nowadays a less common experience, but perhaps not.

Finally, Amanda Marcotte at Salon thinks journalists, especially male journalists, have learned something from #MeToo that is coloring their coverage.

... What the press coverage of Stormy Daniels' testimony shows is that journalists have a far more developed understanding of how to place an experience like what she recalled into context. It may not have been a sexual assault by the legal definition — and Daniels has repeatedly denied that is what it was — but alongside other stories, it fleshes out a picture of Trump as a man with coercive tendencies. (Something he brags about publicly when talking about matters outside of sexuality.) This matters in helping the public understand the complexities when it comes to issues like sexual violence and consent. But it also matters in understanding this specific criminal case.

Trump's team demanded a mistrial after Daniels testified, arguing that the vivid telling of the ugly encounter was prejudicial. Judge Juan Merchan denied the request, as well he should have. As unpleasant as it was for everyone to hear about how Trump pressured Daniels into unwanted sex, it was necessary to establish the prosecution's case. As MSNBC legal analyst Lisa Rubin explained on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" Wednesday, the prosecution wants "the jury to understand is what the impact of her story would have been, had Michael Cohen, in the final days of the campaign, not rushed to reach settlement with her."

There's much more to come in this legal joust.

Friday, May 10, 2024

Yet another legal atrocity

Employers can still discriminate against LGBTQ employees. At least some employers can.

We might think this sort of thing was just an historical curiosity -- but not so.

A federal appeals court on Wednesday [May 8] sided with a Catholic high school that fired a gay teacher over his plans to marry his partner, saying that the termination did not violate federal workplace protections for LGBTQ workers.

A three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals said the North Carolina school did not violate Lonnie Billard’s rights under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a federal anti-workplace discrimination law that protects against race, sex and religious discrimination.

Two members of the panel held that Billard “played a vital role as a messenger” of Charlotte Catholic High School’s faith values and said as a result, his firing was permissible under the “ministerial exception to Title VII.”

That is, a drama teacher at a school run by a religious institution has to follow and promote its line, whatever that line is. Religion trumps the full citizenship of a guy who just wanted to share the news of who he loved.

A couple of thoughts: 

1) Those artsy types are always the subversives. 

2) All of us need to be aware that our "rights" exist at the sufferance of federal judges.

After the Supreme Court decision voiding women's right to abortion, we should all know the second point.