Saturday, October 1, 2022

Republicans in hiding.

Randy Sparacino is a Republican.

It isn't an accusation. It is a simple fact. He is a Republican.

He is hiding it.

Randy Sparacino is a candidate for Oregon State Senate. What is happening here in Oregon is part of a pattern taking place all across the country. Republican candidates are scrubbing their websites. They are pretending not to be Republicans. They are taking the unpopular stuff out. 

No photos with Trump. No "Trump won!" graphics. No advocating that state legislators overturn elections. No talk of criminalizing abortion. No photos of the candidate with an AR-15. Nothing about climate change being a big hoax. Nothing about prosecuting Antony Fauci. Nothing about Bill Gates and micro-chips and George Soros. Nothing about ending "Obamacare." No promise to "take our country back" once "we" get a majority.

It isn't merely a kinder, gentler GOP, as depicted in their ads. It isn't Republican at all. Locally, the GOP laid out the Party line: The 2020 election was stolen, Trump won, Biden is illegitimate. There was no peep of disagreement from Sparacino. He is a team player--not that one would know it from his ads or website. 

 Here is a link to his website.

Look it over. The word Republican is nowhere. Zero. His supposed "issues" are vague complaints without solutions. He is against inflation, crime, illegal drugs, homelessness, and "runaway spending." Who isn't? Besides, right here in Medford, where Sparacino is mayor, we have inflation, crime, illegal drugs, homelessness, and critics of the city's supposed "runaway spending." If those problems are easy to fix, why hasn't he fixed them here? (I am on the city's Budget Committee. I don't think we have "runaway spending" in Medford. I do observe that it is easy to complain about runaway spending, homeless encampments and other problems if one is on the outside, poorly informed, and has no real idea what is already being done.)

There is nothing wrong with being a Republican. Traditionally, there have been a lot of good, public-spirited Republican voters and officeholders. There is nothing surprising about Sparacino receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars from the campaigns of Republican officeholders hoping to add a reliable Republican to the state senate team. There is nothing surprising about a Republican candidate getting hundreds of thousands of dollars from businesses that face potential regulation by Oregon's government. Republicans get money from Republicans. It is the way of the world.

Sparacino should stop hiding. Put the Republican label back on. What would he do if elected?

***If he will vote to criminalize abortion, say so. 
***If he thinks life begins at fertilization and he wants to ban IUDs, say so.
***If he wants to end mail-in voting in Oregon, say so. 
***If he believes Republican legislatures should overturn elections of a Democratic president, say so. 
***If he will vote to end the "Obamacare" expansion of Medicaid--the Oregon Health Plan--say so. 
***If cutting "runaway spending" means he supports even more cuts to the DMV, so that the lines and wait-times are even longer, say so.

The 2022 election will pit a Democrat, Jeff Golden, against a Republican, Randy Sparacino. If Sparacino is so embarrassed by what Republicans stand for that he needs to hide his party affiliation, then he should announce new positions or a new party. Be honest. Sparacino may well be be a full-on MAGA Republican. He isn’t saying. If he agrees with Republicans on issues, then he should say so and defend those positions. 

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Friday, September 30, 2022

Republican Jesus

Reclaim the flag.
Reclaim Christianity.

Republicans have done a good job of claiming ownership of the symbols of traditional American identity. Democratic thought leaders fuss over whether the U.S. has been racist in its treatment of Blacks, Asians, Native Americans, Catholics, and Jews. They question whether the U.S. has been imperialist in its foreign policy. The result is that Democrats come across as somehow disloyal and unpatriotic. Republicans have been the flag wavers. America is good and strong and Number One! This has been complicated lately by the GOP attack our institutions of justice. Yet somehow Republicans both wave the flag and demand we abolish the FBI. They claimed the symbol if not the institutions they represent.

Something similar has happened with Christianity. The big energy in American Protestantism is in Evangelical churches. They aren't selling piety or humility or anything like the Christianity I learned in my youth. They are selling certitude, strength, and salvation: Christ with a sword. Christ is Number One!

I leave to Christians the job of re-claiming Christianity, but I have worked to reclaim the American flag from association with the political right. During the era of Vietnam War protests I displayed the American flag in my dorm room. We were the patriots. I welcomed seeing American Muslims displaying the American flag after 9-11. They are Americans. Of course they display the flag.

A reader of this blog attended an event I held at my house in support of Joe Yetter, a candidate for Congress challenging Cliff Bentz, the Republican incumbent. Bentz voted to discard election results in Pennsylvania so Biden electors could be replaced with Trump's "alternatives." I consider voting to overthrow the peaceful transfer of power to be disqualifying for holding a position of public trust. Bonnie Bergstrom attended that gathering. She taught remedial reading to children and then led workshops where she taught fellow teachers. She retired and moved to Medford, Oregon.

Guest Post by Bonnie Bergstrom.

About a month ago I attended a fundraiser for Joe Yetter. Joe is running for Congress in Oregon's District 2. I was very impressed with his priorities and what he would try to do for our District if elected. But the thing that stayed with me was his urging us to reclaim the American flag from the right. That the liberals in this country are actually the patriots and therefore the ones who need to be displaying the flag as a symbol of that patriotism. 
I would like to propose, in the same vein, those liberals who happen also to be Christian, work to reclaim Christianity from the right. It seems that they are trying to take us closer and closer to being a theocratic state. We can look at Iran and Afghanistan, among others, to see how well that would work out. I recommend a book called The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the heart of American Power, by Jeff Sharlet, or watch the Netflix series based on the book. You will learn about the fundamentalist basis of their ties to Putin and the Russian Orthodox church among other things. The merging of religious fundamentalism and fascism is a dangerous trend around the world, and in the U.S.

I resent that the folks like Viktor Orbán and those who admire him, have co-opted Christianity as an excuse for their unChristian views. If these people actually read and pondered the actual words of Christ, they would hopefully notice that He says nothing about a Christian "culture" and in fact instructs His followers to go out and preach the gospel (the good news) to every creature. As far as the anti-immigration connection to Christianity, you will actually find hundreds of statements in both the Old and New Testaments that very directly compel us to care for the stranger. The one about the traditional family? That is most blatantly ignorant about what is in the Bible. Good luck trying to find something you could call a traditional family there! I am a non-evangelical lifelong Christian who is very familiar with the contents of the Bible. I often find it helpful to respond to those who think they are supporting their illiberal views with their religion to show me exactly where Jesus said the words or ideas they are parroting. They can't.

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Thursday, September 29, 2022

More and better

Charles Dickens: Oliver Twist asks for more: 

Child as he was, he was desperate with hunger, and reckless with misery. . . .

"Please, sir, I want some more."

"What!" said the master at length, in a faint voice.

'Please, sir,' replied Oliver, "I want some more."

Democrats should change from a redistribution and safety net message to a message of abundance. 

Most Americans want more.

I heard from Oregon's Democratic candidate for governor, Tina Kotek. She urged I watch her TV ad. Her voice narrates: "Early on, I worked at Oregon Food Bank, and I still volunteer at my church's food pantry. I've seen people struggle for all kinds of reasons." She goes on about the misery of homelessness and programs to address it.

Click Here

Dickens' 19th century readers sympathized with poor Oliver, especially since his request was made to the workhouse master, a "fat, healthy man." Oliver needed wealth redistribution. Today's Oregonians recognize that homeless people are miserable. The ad display's Kotek's compassion and her support for programs of redistribution.

I question whether it was a useful ad. It reaffirmed the current message of Democrats: Support for a better safety-net. Better food banks. More and longer unemployment insurance benefits. More addiction services. More tiny houses for temporary shelters. More latitude and support for immigrants. Student loan forgiveness.

What's my concern?

The problem is that most voters consider Band-Aids for poverty both hopeless and a financial sacrifice. It may be necessary and compassionate, but it means less for them. Voters--particularly the working class voters who are now voting Republican--would prefer a message of more. A bigger, stronger economy means a bigger pot, and if the pot is bigger it means aid to the very poor is less of a burden. Better yet, there is still more for themselves. Kotek's ad is not an aspirational message. It is a repair-strategy message. 

Democratic message strategist Ruy Teixeira advised Democrats to quit talking about the Green New Deal and instead refocus on creating abundance and talking about that. In his The Liberal Patriot post he said that talk of climate
reflects the priorities of Democratic elites who are primarily interested in redistribution and action on climate change. But voters, especially working class voters, are interested in abundance: more stuff, more growth, more opportunity, cheaper prices, nicer, more comfortable lives.
Growth, particularly productivity growth, is what drives rising living standards over time and Democrats presumably stand for the fastest possible rise in living standards. Faster growth also makes easier the achievement of Democrats’ other goals.
I get disagreement from some politically active friends when I suggest that Democrats should openly and proudly advocate for abundance. "Less is more," they tell me. "We need to walk softly on the land," they say. They tell me we should walk to the grocery store. Bicycle more. Drive smaller cars. Have smaller houses. Eat food from one's own garden. Recycle, or better yet, don't use things that create recyclable waste. A friend plans to turn off the natural gas at his home and wear sweaters in the winter. 

I consider these luxury tastes and opinions, advocated mostly by the very comfortable. In the real world that includes the great mass of American voters, people want jobs that pay better. They want better food, better housing, better education, and better health care. They want more, including more stuff. That is why there is a supply-chain problem; people want more stuff. One gets more when the economy is bigger and there is more to have and to share.

There is a reason merchants advertise sale prices. People want more for less. That is so simple and obvious Democrats can overlook this reality, even people who watch for items to go on sale. Democrats would do better to work with human nature. Democrats are more likely to get the votes they need to implement a green climate agenda if they stop talking about Band-Aids on poverty, and start talking about good jobs in world-class industries done in America by Americans.

We will deal with climate better if voters understand that Democrats think it is morning in America and there is a bright and prosperous future to protect.

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Wednesday, September 28, 2022

A Multicultural Fair and the rise of Christian Nationalism

"Multicultural." "Diversity." "Equality."

Those are controversial words.

The 29th annual Medford Multicultural Fair took place again this past weekend. 

The Multicultural event is at the front lines of the current political and culture war. The Mayor greets people. School bands and choirs perform. Booths of local nonprofits pass out literature. Volunteers paint children's faces. There are hula dancers and folk dancers on stage from Mexico, Thailand, and Japan.  

What is remotely political about this? It is an expression of liberal democracy. 

The Fair reflects an appreciation of diversity. It reflects the live-and-let-live individualism that was shared by both the political left and the old GOP of Eisenhower, Reagan, Dole, Romney, and the Bushes. Modern conservatism has gone in a new direction. The political right in America is part of a worldwide trend visible in Russia, Hungary, France, and Poland, and most recently in Italy: It is illiberal democracy. 

The world's democracies are experiencing a counter-revolution against globalism, modernism, free trade, and the free movement of capital and labor. Immigration and borders are the flash point. Trump did not happen in a vacuum. The new GOP under Trump took place in the aftermath of the U.K. Brexit and the rise of nationalist parties in Europe. Trump understands his base and he expresses illiberal democracy on its behalf in his actions and rally speeches. He lives it. Hungary's authoritarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán explains it:

Christian democracy is, by definition, not liberal: it is, if you like, illiberal. And we can specifically say this in connection with a few important issues — say, three great issues. Liberal democracy is in favor of multiculturalism, while Christian democracy gives priority to Christian culture; this is an illiberal concept. Liberal democracy is pro-immigration, while Christian democracy is anti-immigration; this is again a genuinely illiberal concept. And liberal democracy sides with adaptable family models, while Christian democracy rests on the foundations of the Christian family model; once more, this is an illiberal concept.

Orbán weaves together the themes of backlash against civil rights for Blacks, women, and non-traditional genders. American became more secular. Illiberal democracy reinstates Christianity as the default American belief system. Illiberal democracy reaffirms that Whites of European extraction are the default, the real Americans. Illiberal democracy reaffirms the "natural" and default presumption of binary genders and traditional roles within families, including patriarchy. 

There weren't Republican protesters at the Medford Multicultural Fair, but there wasn't a Republican booth, either. (There was a Democratic booth.) Illiberal democracy doesn't necessarily express itself by shouting down the people at the Bahai booth who were passing out stickers saying there was no room for prejudice. It expresses itself as resentment that Mexican youth can celebrate their their heritage, while the celebration of White majority culture might be condemned as an expression of White superiority. Illiberal democracy did not necessarily express itself with booths by Evangelical Christians with brochures urging women to submit to their husbands. Evangelicals resent the fact that they might be shamed for saying this sentiment aloud. There were no booths attacking trans people as unnatural and weird, but illiberal democracy expresses itself with quiet resentment of the fact that they might be called "homophobic" for saying it.

All the changes. A Black guy as president. Women wearing pants-suits and being the boss. Gay marriage. Trans people. Atheists. Unmarried people living together. Abortions. Pronouns.

Polls have routinely under-estimated Trump's support. Social conservatives sense they are being overpowered and sneered at by elites. They fear they are being displaced by foreigners. Their country is being stolen from them. They resent that they are shamed for feeling how they feel and thinking what they think.

After the Charlottesville rally Trump said there were "good people on both sides." Trump says forbidden things and doesn't act ashamed.

[A longer and more comprehensive discussion of illiberal democracy is available here at the New York Times.] 

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Tuesday, September 27, 2022

The privilege of presumed innocence.

I am pretty sure that when police see me they profile me as a harmless, old White guy and not the "criminal type."

I get the presumption of innocence.

If by any chance I got arrested for something, I would arrange for high quality representation, with money for investigators and experts. I don't think I would get equal justice. I would get very good justice, with access to bail and with all my rights and privileges protected. Everyone is supposed to get the presumption of innocence and access to justice.  Lots of people do not.

It isn't fair. It isn't equal justice. But it is how the system works.

College classmate Constance Hilliard brought to mind the reality of this inequality. Constance got her Ph.D. in African and Middle Eastern history from Harvard. She teaches at the University of North Texas. She wrote me after observing the privilege Donald Trump enjoys, especially in comparison with what she sees among people who are poor or who are profiled as suspicious. They get the short end of the inequality. 

Hilliard wrote:

Whether Donald Trump ever pays for any of his many crimes, the damage has been done. As a Black mother I cannot unsee the fact that our “democratic” society metes out the same quality of justice as what one might expect from a Somali warlord. Lack of power and money are what determine guilt. We just hide it beneath infinitely more layers of protocol than do the Somalis. 
Given all the brilliant minds that engage with matters of justice, why can’t our legal system rise above the habit of merely preying on and stuffing our prisons full of the poor and powerless? Those former prisoners from time to time includes some of my Black male students. Do our top law schools and brilliant legal minds devote any time at all to correcting the imbalance? After all, wouldn’t most human beings define justice as meting out the most punishment to those individuals whose wrongdoing crushes the lives of the most people?

Trump may not get prosecuted even if there is clear documented evidence that his tax returns contained perjury. He may not be prosecuted even though he acknowledges he took documents from the White House. He may not be prosecuted for leading a multi-pronged plan to overturn an election. 

There are perils to prosecuting him. If a president's successor prosecutes the defeated president of the opposite party, it sets a dangerous tit-for-tat precedent, even if the former president is dead-to-rights guilty. What constitutes truth in a courtroom may not translate out in the public square, where Trump and others will be adamant in calling the prosecution illegitimate. Trump has uncritical and loyal support. Trump warns that 'terrible things are going to happen" if he is prosecuted. Prosecutors must consider the risk of losing even an airtight case. They may encounter one or two jurors who simply will not betray their hero, no matter what.  

The Hill
However this plays out, the Trump's prosecution--or non-prosecution--is likely to reduce the justice system's reputation for fair and equal justice. Trump and his supporters are already saying the system is rigged against Trump.  If Trump escapes prosecution, Americans will see the most privileged of Americans get away with crimes. Trump--like Citibank and AIG and Fannie Mae in the financial crisis 14 years ago--is "too big to fail." Poor Americans will have yet more evidence that our legal system is rigged in favor of the rich. Comfortable, White Americans have the privilege of good justice. The very wealthiest and most powerful Americans have the privilege of no justice at all. 

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Monday, September 26, 2022

Abortion: Who decides?

Local Control on Abortion

Supreme Court liberals, in dissent: 
"Withdrawing a woman’s right to choose whether to continue a pregnancy does not mean that no choice is being made. It means that a majority of today’s Court has wrenched this choice from women and given it to the States."

The states? Why stop there?

Anti-abortion politicians argued the abortion issue should be a political issue decided by the states. They said the Roe v. Wade decision short-circuited the political process, with its push and pull of persuasion and popular choice. Let the people decide, they said. They say it's a matter of "states rights."

There is a problem with that. I know first-hand that states have significant internal divisions. Rural counties in Oregon say they want to secede from Oregon to become part of Greater Idaho. They say rural counties are steamrolled by the mass of liberal voters in the Portland metropolitan area. The division shows up in election resultsThe winner in the 2018 election for governor was Democrat Kate Brown. She got 74% of the vote in Portland's Multnomah County. She received 17% of the vote in rural Harney County. States mash opposites together. The divide is greater within states than between them. Trump won Wyoming with 70% of the vote and lost Vermont with only 31% of the vote. That is a huge difference, but nothing like the differences between the counties in the same state.

County-by-county control on abortion would be a vast improvement in representative government. We are accustomed to neighboring counties having different zoning laws, different health department priorities, different policing protocols, different facilities, and different politics. Local control maximizes representation. 

A close look at counties, however, reveals sharp internal divisions, visible at the neighborhood level. In my home country, densely-settled college-town Ashland had precincts giving 82% and 85% of the vote to the Democrat, Kate Brown. Yet in a rural precinct less than five miles outside Ashland she received less than 19% of the vote. 

To make the abortion decision "close to the people," we need neighborhoods to govern, not counties or states. This is not uncommon or unworkable. Voters are already divided into voting area precincts. We have local school districts, fire districts, and irrigation districts providing government tailored to that community's needs and wishes. A great many socially conservative anti-abortion advocates favor "neighborhood schools." They argue that parents at the local level should decide if their schools teach sex education or disturbing information about slavery, racism, or gender. Why should people in D.C., or the state capital, or even people in another part of the same county make those decisions for that school?  And then, in the local school, if the sex education lessons seem objectionable, individual parents can and do pull their children out of class for that lesson. After all, sex is a personal matter. Each parent decides what is best.

The principle of bringing the decision closer to the people has no clear limiting factor. That principle can be applied thoroughly and all the way down to the individual parent. We call it liberty. Abortion clinics can be sited in neighborhoods that want them. We would see them scattered about--but only where they are accepted. On the personal level, if someone opposes abortion, she shouldn't have one. 

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Sunday, September 25, 2022

Easy Sunday: The birth of an elephant

Today we witness the birth of a real-life elephant. 

Elephant mothers are "single moms." The mother and baby get the immediate support and protection of the herd. 

Watch. Sixty seconds.

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