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. . . is the problem with Trump. Is he our president or the flunky of a foreign, frequently hostile government? We don’t know.

Vladimir Putin should not be allowed to choose the next Supreme Court Justice.

So I’m with Robert Reich: this nomination must not go forward until the investigation into election tampering and Trump’s ties to Putin is complete. We deserve to know where Trump gets his money, why his private server talks to Alfa Bank so frequently (the F.B.I. says the reason could be innocuous–fine–find out for certain by subpoenaing the records), and to whom he’s in debt. We deserve to know whether he has been blackmailed by Russia and why he claimed that Carter Page never worked for his campaign (although he specifically named Page as a foreign policy adviser six months previously) and if there is anyone else, besides Page and Paul Manafort, who had a foot in both Putin’s and Trump’s camps.

Of course the government must keep rolling with him as provisional president, but allow him to name a new justice, who will serve 30, 40 years? No. Not until we have some answers. Much of this can be checked by following the money–is that why we still haven’t seen his tax returns?

I’m in the process of calling every member of the Senate Intelligence and Judiciary Committees, listed here and here, respectively, to say this: “You are going to be greatly embarrassed by history if you confirm a Supreme Court Justice who was selected by someone who proves to be a puppet of Vladimir Putin. Please hold the nomination until the full investigation of the financial and other ties between the president and the Russian government is complete.”

A friend circulated this video to remind us what risks the drivers of colectivos, town-to-town taxis in Oaxaca, take whenever they get behind the wheel. When we want to go to San Martín Tilcajete for the munchkin to learn woodcarving, or to Teotitlán del Valle to see the weaving, we usually get there in a Nissan Tsuru. This is what a 35-mph head-on collision does to the people in a Tsuru.

Crash Test Dummies Show The Difference Between Cars In Mexico And U.S.

When we return home later this week, I’ll be glad to be back in the land of airbags and strong steel frames, but like my friend, I worry more about the drivers than us. They’re the ones who spend half their waking hours in one of these cars.

But why is it made with so many safety shortcuts? We could blame Nissan, but it’s no different than most automobile companies in making cars to the standards set by the country, and no higher. Airbags were required by legislators, who passed that regulation over the decades-long protests of the manufacturers’ lobby; anti-lock brakes ditto; you can’t drive in the U.S. without working windshield wipers, the frames can’t crumple like they do in that video, and you can’t disable the seatbelts.

The only reason we have these safety features is that our government requires them. With an incoming administration dedicated to “easing regulations,” I wonder how long it will take for the cars sold in the United States to match those sold in Mexico.

 

The news is all about how Melania Trump was channeling Michelle Obama last night. But the Congressman from Iowa’s 4th District was busily repeating old but, sadly, energetic white supremacist lies.
“Where are these contributions that have been made by these other categories of people that you’re talking about? Where did any other subgroup of people contribute more to civilization?” —Rep. Steve King, July 18, 2016
Whether the people who contributed more than “any other subgroup” are “old white people,” as King originally said, or “Western civilization,” as he said in a quick definitional retreat, it means simply: we’re the superior race.
But many people may nod along because it’s the history they learned. Sure, that’s us! We’re the cradle of civilization! And then when the evidence of other peoples’ accomplishments becomes too much to deny, we deftly sweep them up into our tent. Egypt, with all its accomplishments, can’t possibly be African–it’s “ours” (Western, white–Steve King’s kind of people). The Babylonians developed algebra centuries before Christ–oh, then they must be part of Western civilization too! (Even though they’re the bad guys in the Bible and seem to have been located in . . . oh dear . . . Iraq.) By the way, speaking of math, the supposed birthplace of Western thought, ancient Greece, was embarrassingly late to the foundational concept of zero. The Egyptians, Babylonians, and Olmecs were busily using zero while Socrates’s contemporaries were still dismissing it.
And then there’s agriculture, astronomy, music, literature, art, religion, philosophy, navigation, etc., all shaped by the contributions of Africa, Asia, Oceania, and the pre-“Columbian” Americas, even though in U.S. American education, these contributions are often afterthoughts at most.
I remember when an English professor at my college asserted that the syllabus of his early-American lit class was composed of white male writers because others just hadn’t contributed. Students started posting flyers all over campus: “Professor, have you heard of:” followed by a long list of African-American and female writers of the time. I don’t know if it changed his views, and I doubt very much that such a stream of “people you should have heard of” would change Rep. King’s. But that list changed me forever. So, not for King but for the sake of anyone who might be thinking, quietly, “He’s right . . . ,” please comment with some of the greatest contributors to human thought and culture who were not “white people.”

Almost every time someone asserts “Black Lives Matter,” someone responds “ALL lives matter,” “That’s racist,”  or “Don’t you care about [Syrian refugees, victims of civilian crime, etc.]?”

I have been involved in many justice issues, and none of them has attracted this level of “What about…?” backlash. None has made people jump in with accusations that I am being exclusionary. When I talk about modern slavery, people sometimes say “What about sweatshop labor?” but they understand that I’m not tacitly approving of paid, exploitative labor just because I’m focused on literal slavery. When I talk about our area housing crisis, people may say “We need higher wages,” but they never accuse me of not caring about wages. When I talk about gay rights, people don’t chime in with “But what about the rights of girls in Afghanistan?” or anything of that kind; they are content to engage with the issue of justice for gay people.

I said none of them inspires accusations of exclusion, but actually there is one issue that does. Almost every discussion of animal rights and welfare I have ever been part of has garnered at least one comment along the lines of “Why don’t you worry about the rights of human beings?” People get really upset about the simple assertion that other animals may also deserve freedom from cruelty, and calm responses about caring deeply about both have no effect. Evidence that one works for human rights as well as animal rights has no effect. You have done something offensive, threatening, by even mentioning other animals, by giving a concern for them them any part of your care and time.

I don’t want to leap to conclusions, here, or oversimplify a complex situation. I just want to note how chilling it is to realize that only two issues, in my experience, elicit the passionate conviction that concern for X necessarily excludes concern for Y: a focus on the worth of non-human animals’ lives, and a focus on the worth of black humans’ lives.

It was 1984, and it felt like it. I was in high school, trying to be a radical. Out in the world, the Soviet leader du jour and Ronnie (the other one) were playing at who could bring us closer to the nuclear brink. As a hostage situated midway between New York City and Electric Boat in New London, I figured it was likely that the means of my death would be nuclear war and the time would be within the following 20 or 30 years, probably even sooner. The United States seemed to be on the wrong side of every struggle for freedom: backing apartheid in South Africa, funding rape, torture, and murder in Central America just like the bumper stickers said. I carefully lettered “War is Peace / Freedom is Slavery / Ignorance is Strength” below a photo of Reagan looking jubilant, and glued it to the front of my notebook. I split my school days between my suburban high school, in Hamden, and ECA, the New Haven arts magnet that served surrounding towns as well as the much grittier, much cooler city. I was a member of my high school’s only left-wing political group, Students for Nuclear Disarmament, and making a list of colleges known for activist students.

Ronnie Gilbert and Holly Near were coming to New Haven to play at majestic Woolsey Hall, but in between the booking and the performance date, the clerical and technical workers of Yale had gone on strike. Woolsey Hall was part of Yale University. And there was no way these two were going to cross a picket line to sing. So they found an alternate venue a few miles north: the gymnasium of Hamden High School.

When the night arrived, there I was, in a room redolent of the unhappiness, if not the actual sneaker stench, of gym classes, gazing up at these two icons of subversive activity. An entire lineage was there: Ronnie Gilbert of the Weavers, who’d sung with Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger and been blacklisted by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC); Holly Near of the next generation, her protegee and spiritual heir; and, another generation along, us.

I did not grow up on this music the way some of my friends did. I barely knew who the Weavers were (my friend Seth had been appalled to learn that I didn’t know “Goodnight, Irene”). I don’t know how I even came to have tickets to this event, and I didn’t anticipate how gloriously incongruous it would be to hear this concert at my high school until they started singing. “Hay Una Mujer Desaparecida,” “Two Good Arms,” “Harriet Tubman,” “Mary Got a New Job,” “Perfect Night.” Heroes and martyrs, rabblerousers and activists, lesbians, even, were being sung and celebrated right there in our gym!

Holly and Ronnie led us in “Singing for Our Lives,” the first time I heard that song, and the tears rolled down my cheeks. We were, we were singing for our lives–they understood! They set our struggles to music! Right under the noses of the assistant principals and all the other petty tyrants of Hamden High, who–if they did not actually endorse the dictators and juntas whom we’d recently discovered and vowed to oppose, and if they didn’t even vote for Ronald Reagan (that HUAC toady)–seemed to be arrayed on the side of repression. Most of the authorities in our world wanted us to be good little students, sit tight, date straight, not stir up trouble, not have any opinions. In the midst of political repression and standard adolescent turmoil, imperfectly and self-righteously, but with earnest hope, we were trying to sing our own song. And here were our convictions, my convictions, being given harmonious voice by these two tough, joyous women.

We sang “Goodnight, Irene” and went home. The concert was over. But the music played on. It’s never stopped, and it never will.

RIP, Ronnie Gilbert.

There’s a store selling a t-shirt with an upside-down United States flag on it. Those who hold the flag sacred are outraged and boycotting the store. Many, like me, who have a nuanced and ambivalent view of what the flag represents, think the shirt is rude. I wouldn’t wear one, and I find their window display childishly disrespectful.

Now, what if a couple of people, not content to protest or boycott, went off the rails about this and bombed the store? What if they actually killed people who wore or created the shirt?

Judging from current events, we would then see waves of people buying the shirt, holding “lampoon the flag” drawing contests, and being hailed as anti-terrorist heroes.

For my part, I still wouldn’t wear it, for a simple reason: millions of people consider it rude, people who would never threaten me for wearing it, but would just be hurt and offended. Decent people seek not to cause unnecessary offense. Why would I insult the many people who are hurt by an upside-down flag, just to show I’m unbowed by a few nutcases who get violent at the sight?

Yet that’s what I’m seeing from supposedly calm, considerate people when it comes to “Draw Muhammad” contests. For example, someone on Facebook commented about such a contest, “I would prefer if it was a comic drawing of/about all religions and ideologies – Islam included. But I would back it as it is. The only way to undo the presumption of a right not to be offended is to offend.”

“The only way to undo the presumption of a right not to be offended is to offend”? That lacks imagination; I can think of six other ways before breakfast. But more to the point, very few people do presume they have a right not to be offended. They’re just like me; they would rather be treated politely than rudely. They don’t want people walking up to them on the street and spitting on their shoes, they don’t want to be called nasty names, they don’t want their sacred symbols stomped on, and they would never respond with violence to anyone who did those things. They would just feel bad.

Someone who goes out of their way to make these folks feel bad is not heroic. They’re just having an adolescent tantrum, trying to pass off nastiness as courage.

It was the kind of exchange of mindless violence that wreaks havoc on those who are innocently going about their lives in war zones of all times and places. In this case, it was in Belfast in 1976. IRA members fired on a British patrol. The British returned fire, killing the IRA driver. His car ran up on a sidewalk where Anne Maguire was shopping with three of her children, killing two of them before their mother’s eyes and injuring the third so badly that he died the next day. Betty Williams saw the accident and ran to help. She’d grown up in Belfast and seen deadly violence up close before, but this incident was the last straw for her. She began collecting signatures and organized a march of women protesting the endless cycle of violence. The 200 or so marchers passed by the house of Mairéad Corrigan, who was the aunt of the three children who were killed, sister of Anne Maguire. Corrigan came out and joined the march, and not long after that, she and Williams had planned another march, this time of 10,000 women to the graves of Joanne, John, and Andrew Maguire. The organization of Protestants and Catholics that they founded, the Community of Peace People (changed from Women for Peace when Ciaran McKeown joined them in leadership), pressed constantly for the battling parties to sit down together, and served loyalists and republicans equally, for example by arranging buses for people of all religions and political persuasions to visit their imprisoned family members. As they mobilized hundreds of thousands of war-exhausted, grieving people in Ireland and England, the fatalities in Northern Ireland fell dramatically. The Peace People’s declaration was signed by over 100,000 people:

We have a simple message to the world from this movement for Peace.

We want to live and love and build a just and peaceful society.

We want for our children, as we want for ourselves, our lives at home, at work, and at play to be lives of joy and Peace.

We recognise that to build such a society demands dedication, hard work, and courage.

We recognise that there are many problems in our society which are a source of conflict and violence.

We recognise that every bullet fired and every exploding bomb make that work more difficult.

We reject the use of the bomb and the bullet and all the techniques of violence.

We dedicate ourselves to working with our neighbours, near and far, day in and day out, to build that peaceful society in which the tragedies we have known are a bad memory and a continuing warning.

Williams and Corrigan were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize that year. Alfred Nobel described the intent of the award quite narrowly–the recipient “shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses”–but the committee recognized the power of a grassroots movement. A peace congress probably wouldn’t have made much difference, but thousands of people demanding peace, over and over, in a grassroots movement all over two lands, most certainly did good work for fraternity–and sorority–between those two nations. Both women continue to agitate for peace to this day.

So much of women’s history in the United States focuses on a single, exhausting struggle: the fight for the right to vote, finally won in 1920 after several failed attempts to get it through Congress and ratified. It seems unbelievable that women have only been able to vote for president, and for most other offices in most places, for well under half of our country’s history. A global view puts that fact into perspective: modern democratic governments began coming on the scene in the early 17th century, but it was not until almost the 20th century that any of them permitted women the fundamental act of a citizen: New Zealand made history by granting women the vote in 1893, only 14 years after all men attained the vote there (prior to 1869, most men had to own land to vote).

Saudi Arabia includes women in the vote for the first time this year. After that, the only country where the right to vote is restricted to men will be Vatican City, which does have female citizens (a few dozen of its several hundred citizens) but recognizes no voting rights except those of cardinals.

However, like the gap that still exists in the United States between de jure and de facto voting rights, especially for people of African descent, women’s being granted the right to vote does not always equal the ability to exercise that right freely. Afghan women had the vote in 1919, a year before their sisters in our country could vote, but women under the Taliban cannot give speeches or run for office, and they can’t leave the house without a male chaperone: all dampers on their actually putting a ballot into the box to be counted.

The first time I did door-to-door political canvassing, I asked a woman if she’d made up her mind for the Congressional election and was silently shocked when she said, “Oh, no–my husband decides that kind of thing.” Around the world, in places where women have little freedom of other kinds, how many of their votes serve only to give their husbands a double dip in the voting pool?

Only three women have been featured on United States currency other than special commemorative coins: Susan B. Anthony on the ill-designed dollar coin; Sacajawea on the better, current dollar coin; and Helen Keller on the quarter honoring her home state, Alabama.

I imagine that the way I learned about Keller was typical: she was the protagonist of an overcoming-adversity tale, cast as a mixture of victim and heroine. What that story obscures, as such stories tend to do, is the fact that her accomplishments would be remarkable regardless of her ability to see or hear. She co-founded the American Civil Liberties Union, one of the bulwarks between the radical freedoms promised by our constitution and the many forces (especially internal) that seek to erode them. She worked for the vote for women, pacifism and access to birth control. She was acclaimed in her own time, but when she became an outspoken socialist, critics began pushing back and suggesting that her physical limitations made it difficult for her to reach wise conclusions about such matters.

She wrote to a British newspaper, in 1911:

Our democracy is but a name. We vote? What does that mean? It means that we choose between two bodies of real, though not avowed, autocrats. We choose between Tweedledum and Tweedledee. . . . You ask for votes for women. What good can votes do when ten-elevenths of the land of Great Britain belongs to 200,000 and only one-eleventh to the rest of the 40,000,000? Have your men with their millions of votes freed themselves from this injustice?

Women got the vote in the US nine years later, thanks to thousands like Keller. We have not used our millions of votes to redress that inequality, yet.

(I can see that a pleasant hazard of writing a post a day for Women’s History Month will be that I add many must-read books to my list. I have never read Keller’s autobiography, and now want to.)

Every time abortion is debated I have this wish, this longing, which, forgive me, I’m going to articulate as a list. As with many polarizing debates, people tend to hunker down in their camps pointing at the most extreme versions of their opponents’ views (possibly fictional): “She had a ninth-month abortion so she could fit into her prom dress!” / “He thinks people shouldn’t even use contraception!” We know the stereotypes: Pro-choice people are just callous and selfish and eschew personal responsibility. Anti-abortion people just hate women and fear sex.

I believe (and fervently hope) that there is a vast realm of people who do not all agree about the ethics of reproduction but do share the following values, or strive for them, even though we get very nervous about how others might exploit them to ends we don’t share:

(1) We think sex is a valuable and precious part of adult life and should be enabled and celebrated. We want people to rejoice in their sexuality, not be ashamed.

(2) We value the lives of people living in the “fourth trimester” and beyond.

(3) We believe that somewhere between conception and birth, the human zygote / embryo / fetus takes on qualities that obligate us to it in ways that we are not obligated to our appendix or spleen. This does not necessarily mean that it has the same moral claims as an infant, just that it is not the moral equivalent of an object.

(4) We believe that women’s autonomy is as important as men’s.

(5) We believe that the person whose body nourishes and is inextricably bound up with a growing fetus has a unique relationship to that fetus and the issues surrounding it that is not equivalent to the biological father’s, other parent’s/parents’, or anyone else’s–which is not to suggest that others have no relationship or obligations to that being.

(6) We harbor deep questions and uncertainty about where the dividing line is between not-living and living, about what and who has moral claims on whom, and about how much some frequently-debated questions even matter to the question of abortion.

(7) We believe in two principles that are often in tension with each other: people have a moral obligation to accept the consequences of their actions, and people need the space to start afresh after mistakes. We want to live honestly with this tension and seek neither irresponsibility nor punitive rigidity.

(8) We believe that in an ideal world, people would choose if and when they want to reproduce, be enabled to reproduce when they wish it, be able to enjoy their sexuality without unwanted pregnancy, and be supported in raising wanted children. We commit to work together toward such a world.

(9) While recognizing that pregnancy is too often a sorrow and a burden, indeed sometimes a tragedy, we also see the profundity and beauty in it and feel a deep sadness about the loss of a pregnancy, however it comes about.

(10) We recognize that legality and morality are not exactly the same, nor can they be, nor should they be. There may be illegal actions that are morally right. There may be immoral actions that are perfectly legal. This will always be so in anything other than a totalitarian society.

(11) We would like to move beyond rhetoric and dismissively pat solutions and slogans.

(12) We believe these issues are important and difficult.

(13) We wish to talk with others who struggle with these issues, not in order to concede to intolerable positions nor make peace with every opponent, but because they matter to us, and it is the duty both of a government and a civilization to grapple honestly with such questions.

I would love to attend a forum where people engage with these issues, respectfully, setting aside fear and righteousness as much as possible in order to come to a deeper understanding for ourselves, which may help our public policies be wiser as well. At our best, we Unitarian Universalists have a commitment to the inherent worth and dignity of all people, embrace moral complexity, trust that reason and relationship can get us to a better society, and believe that it is our calling to help make that better society. And we are currently working, as a denomination, on the issue of reproductive justice. So what better time to host such forums?

Please comment respectfully.

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