Category Archives: Political culture

Political statement for geeks

You’ve seen those bumper stickers that some political progressives have, right? You know, there’s the word “Resist!” and under it or beside it the circuit diagram symbol for a resistor. (Though there’s a part of me that wants to know how many ohms of resistance I’m supposed to provide.) Now here’s a version of that meme aimed at geeks who are also politically progressive…

The middle two statements are nonsensical (is “capacitate” the opposite of “incapacitate”?). But the last statement is actually my preferred slogan for action in today’s political climate: I don’t want to resist, I want to transform (though let’s be clear that I do not mean this literally: I don’t want to transfer electrical energy through coupled inductors via a magnetic field, OK?).


If you want to promote U.S. job growth, electrifying the CalTrain commuter rail line from San Jose to San Francisco should be high on your list of priorities.

CalTrain serves Silicon Valley, one of the major economic engines in the U.S.; however, in order to continue its upward economic trajectory and to continue adding jobs to the economy, Silicon Valley needs investment in its infrastructure, especially its transportation infrastructure. In addition, electrifying CalTrain would add construction jobs — jobs that can’t be outsourced. But the CalTrain electrification project is being delayed by the current presidential administration.

Since the current administration has stated that job growth and infrastructure projects are top priorities, they should support CalTrain electrification, a project that is ready to start producing jobs very quickly. Let’s bring some pressure to bear on the president and the Secretary of Transportation — click here to take action.

Take action on affordable housing

Housing advocates worry that funding for Section 8 housing may not be fully funded by the current Congress. Jane Graf, president and CEO of Mercy Housing, a nonprofit that provides provides affordable housing in the western states of the U.S., writes: “A recent survey asked me what my biggest concern was for 2017 in regards to affordable housing finance. Without hesitation, I answered, ‘Section 8 renewals.'”

Graf suggests that if we want to keep Section 8 housing fully funded, we should contact our elected representatives in Washington to tell them this. Graf added that the National Housing Trust has a suggested message you can use to write to your elected officials, online here.

I used the Common Cause Web site — here — to find contact information for my elected officials. I modified the National Housing Trust talking points into a letter that focuses on my main concerns: housing for seniors, and housing here in Silicon Valley. I’ve included a version of my letter below, in case you share my concerns and want to save time by using my wording.

You now have no excuse. Take five minutes and use the online contact forms for your elected officials to express your opinion about Section 8 funding. Or take fifteen minutes, and send a physical letter.

Here’s my sample letter: Continue reading

Religious tolerance and Trump’s order banning refugees

The BBC has posted the full text of Trump’s executive order titled “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States” here.

The executive order states in part: “The United States cannot, and should not, admit those who do not support the Constitution, or those who would place violent ideologies over American law.” By the same logic, the executive order itself should support the Constitution, including the right to religious belief set forth in the First Amendment, viz.: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

What is particularly problematic here is that Trump, like both his presidential predecessors, is using executive orders too broadly. This particular executive order has the effect of proscribing persons with certain religious beliefs, notwithstanding that the courts have generally held that, while certain destructive religious practices (e.g., Hindu suttee, human sacrifice, etc.) can be prohibited by law, religious beliefs cannot be regulated by Congress. Trump’s use of a presidential executive order can be seen as an attempted end run around the First Amendment. US District Judge Ann Donnelly has issued a temporary stay of the executive order, though she did not attempt to rule on its constitutionality — that will be left to another court.

Although Trump has stated that this executive order does not target specific religious groups (i.e., Muslims), the effect of the order is to severely limit the admission of Muslims into the United States; under the order, no visas will be issued to nationals of seven countries, including Syria, Iran, Iraq, Yemen and Libya, all of which are Muslim-majority countries, according to the BBC. Furthermore, the BBC notes that in an interview of Friday, Trump specifically said that Christians “would be given priority among Syrians who apply for refugee status in the future” (BBC’s paraphrase), thus implying that the government gives preference to certain religions.

All people belonging to faith communities should be wary of this executive order; we have a vested interest in maintaining freedom of our religious beliefs in the United States, and this executive order is a definite step towards establishing state-sanctioned religious beliefs, insofar as it brands certain beliefs as not acceptable. As noted previously, Trump has indicated that Christian refugees will be considered exceptions under this executive order, but Christians should also be worried, unless you’re sure that you hold exactly the right kind of Christian belief that will receive government sanction. Atheists and agnostics, you too should be worried about the creeping establishment of government-approved religion!

Write to Trump right now to express your concern. You can send your email to — if you prefer to send classic mail, address your letter to:
The President
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Do this RIGHT NOW. Then tell ten friends to write letters as well. Let’s make sure the White House receives a million or more letters opposing this executive order within a week.

I’ll put the text of my email below, along with a sample email you can tweak for yourself….

Continue reading

Multifaith Service of Concern and Commitment

Last night, our congregation hosted a Multifaith Service of Concern and Commitment, an event sponsored by Multifaith Voices for Peace and Justice. Held on the eve of the presidential inauguration, the event aimed to demonstrate that many people of faith do not agree with the stated agendas of the incoming presidential administration, especially religious intolerance and anger directed at immigrants. We had an overflow crowd, with people seated in the lobby and a few standing along the walls.

The service opened with the sounding of the Jewish shofar by Ted Kahn, a Christian call to prayer by Eileen Altman, an Islamic call to prayer by Ahmed Saleh, and a Quaker invitation to silence by Eric Sabelman. Longer reflections came from a Native American tradition (Chastity Lolita Salvador), Judaism (Sheldon Lewis), Christianity (Annanda Barclay), Islam (Samina Sundas) Buddhism (Ayya Santussika), and an immigrant reflection by Guadalupe Garcia. Here’s Samina Sundas giving her reflection on what it means to be a Muslim in the U.S. today:

We had music by an Islamic ensemble, two Jewish singers, a Catholic pianist, and a Unitarian Universalist choir. To close the evening, Amy Eilberg and Diana Gibson, two of the organizers of the event from Multifaith Voices for Peace and Justice, asked everyone present to talk in small groups and commit to one or more actions to keep us moving in a positive direction over the next few years — that is, moving away from hatred and division and towards acceptance and love. Here are some of the commitments that people wrote on sticky-notes and posted for all to read:

This was a good way to mark the end of Barack Obama’s presidency, a presidency which had its faults but which was marked by an attempt to move the U.S. towards greater unity and acceptance of each other. This is a good time to commit ourselves once again to the moral ideal of loving one’s neighbor as oneself — it’s going to take a bit more effort under the new presidential administration, which so far has been distinguished morally by selfishness, defensiveness, and self-righteousness. Time to gird up your loins, campers, and get to work — ’cause we haven’t reached the promised land yet.

For reference, here’s a PDF of the program for the Multifaith Service.

Why I won’t be wearing a safety pin

Another social media maelstrom, this time over the wearing of safety pins: Straight white people are wearing safety pins as a symbol that they are allies to people of color, BGLQQT people, Hispanic people, other marginalized or oppressed groups. Some people like the idea, some hate it.

I don’t have a strong opinion about whether anyone should wear a safety pin or not, but I know I won’t be wearing one, and here’s why:

A significant part of my career as a minister has been cleaning up after clergy sexual misconduct. This has turned out to be a complicated business: there are more than a few misconducting ministers who have a lot of power in Unitarian Universalism, and these ministers have a lot of friends. They have gotten very good at shutting down victims of ministerial misconduct, and shutting down those of us who stand by those victims.

Often these misconducting ministers, and their friends, talk about how they want to end ministerial misconduct. Then they’ll say that we have to do it the right way — we can’t rush, we can’t do any damage to those talented ministers who committed misconduct. In the end, this means they will resist any change in the status quo with all the force at their disposal, all the while talking as if they want real change.

Thus I have learned to pay little attention to what people say. Instead, I watch for those who stand up to sexual misconduct even when it is inconvenient, those who do something even when they think no one is looking.

As a corollary, I also assume that no one should trust me. Just because I’ve done a little bit of work on clergy misconduct, I do not expect victims of clergy misconduct, or anyone else fighting this battle, to claim me as an ally. It’s too easy to tell stories about yourself and make yourself into a hero; therefore anything I say about myself can be discounted. If you see me doing the work, then you can count me as an ally — but only for just as long as I’m doing the work.

As an example of what I mean, I had a conversation with a powerful UU minister this past summer. This person said that they were staunch advocates of cleaning up clergy sexual misconduct. Yet it quickly became clear that they knew little or nothing about how one actually cleans up after clergy misconduct; and it quickly became clear that they were allied with some ministers who have actively resisted change, that they had been mentored by older ministers who have been documented as having committed misconduct. This minister said they were a staunch ally to those of us working to end clergy misconduct; I believe they honestly thought they were helping end clergy misconduct; but their words and their deeds were not aligned.

That’s why I won’t be wearing a safety pin. I don’t want to be one of those well-meaning white people who have convinced themselves they’re anti-racists when they’re not. I don’t want to be one of those well-meaning straight people who think they’re fighting homophobia, but they’re not. I’m not looking to set up false expectations for myself; I already know I fall short, and I’m sure I fall short by a much greater distance than I’d like to think.

I’m not going to judge you if you wear a safety pin; we’re all doing the best we can, and me trying to judge you is just another way of falling short myself. But for my part, I’d rather be judged on what I do; that’s a course of action that won’t be particularly comfortable, but I suspect the lack of comfort will do me good.

Statement from California legislative leaders

Our legislative leaders here in California have issued a joint statement on the presidential election. This statement, issued by California Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de León nd California Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, says in part:

“California has long set an example for other states to follow. And California will defend its people and our progress. We are not going to allow one election to reverse generations of progress at the height of our historic diversity, scientific advancement, economic output, and sense of global responsibility.

“We will be reaching out to federal, state and local officials to evaluate how a Trump Presidency will potentially impact federal funding of ongoing state programs, job-creating investments reliant on foreign trade, and federal enforcement of laws affecting the rights of people living in our state. We will maximize the time during the presidential transition to defend our accomplishments using every tool at our disposal.” Read the complete statement.

The statement also points out that California has the largest economy of any state — and there’s an implication that the reason we have the largest economy is that we actually believe in science (including climate science), and welcome diversity.

It’s going to be very interesting to see what happens here in California, now that the Democrats have a supermajority. California is headed down a very different path from the path that will be taken by Republican-dominated Washington. Want to bet someone starts printing bumper stickers that read, “Don’t blame me, I’m from California”?

Naomi Klein: The Democrats done it

In an opinion piece in The Guardian, Naomi Klein gives her analysus of why Trump won the presidential election: Kalein puts the blame squarely on the Democratic party, who embraced neo-liberalism:

“Under neoliberal policies of deregulation, privatisation, austerity and corporate trade, their living standards have declined precipitously. They have lost jobs. They have lost pensions. They have lost much of the safety net that used to make these losses less frightening. They see a future for their kids even worse than their precarious present.

“At the same time, they have witnessed the rise of the Davos class, a hyper-connected network of banking and tech billionaires, elected leaders who are awfully cosy with those interests, and Hollywood celebrities who make the whole thing seem unbearably glamorous. Success is a party to which they were not invited, and they know in their hearts that this rising wealth and power is somehow directly connected to their growing debts and powerlessness.”

I think Klein is on to something here. When you realize that a moderate like Bernie Sanders looks like a socialist to most Americans, you realize just how far to the right the Democratic Party has gone. Klein notes that the neo-liberalism embraced by the Democrats has not provided much in the way of benefits to a lot of people.

And Klein offers a way forward:

“People have a right to be angry, and a powerful, intersectional left agenda can direct that anger where it belongs, while fighting for holistic solutions that will bring a frayed society together. Such a coalition is possible. In Canada, we have begun to cobble it together under the banner of a people’s agenda called The Leap Manifesto, endorsed by more than 220 organisations from Greenpeace Canada to Black Lives Matter Toronto, and some of our largest trade unions.”

So I looked up The Leap Manifesto referenced by Klein. It’s not perfect, it’s obviously targeted at Canadians — but it’s pretty good.

Something like the Leap Manifesto written by and for progressive U.S. residents would be a great place for us to start rebuilding democracy here in the U.S.

“All you, to whom adversity has dealt a final blow”

As we think about the the necessity of rebuilding a foundering democracy, a democracy currently dominated by rancor and hate, I can’t help thinking about one of my favorite songs for activists.

Back on December 24, 2008, I wrote about how this song literally saved someone’s life; and how it is a song that could serve as a non-theistic anthem. But I recently found a Youtube video of Liam Clancy singing this song — Clancy was best known for his rendition of the anti-war song “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda” — and perhaps what he says is the best possible introduction to the song:

“I think it was Bertolt Brecht [says Clancy] who said one time, ‘With a man’s dying breath, he should be prepared to make a fresh start.’ That’s what this next song is about, although it’s supposedly about a ship that went down in the sixties, a ship called the ‘Mary Ellen Carter.’ There’s a lovely last verse to it which is the moral of the whole thing. And it’s a verse that I will tell you because, like myself, you may get solace from it on occasions of tragedy… It says:

“‘All you, to whom adversity has dealt a final blow,
With smiling bastards lying to you, everywhere you go,
Turn to, and put out all your strength of arm and heart and brain,
And like the Mary Ellen Carter, rise again.

“‘Rise again, rise again,
Though your heart may be broken and your life about to end,
No matter what you’ve lost, be it a home, a love, a friend,
Like the Mary Ellen Carter, rise again.'”

And in a later post, I’ll write about some of the ways we can make democracy rise again.


Video still of Liam Clancy speaking

Above: Liam Clancy saying, “Rise again”; video still from “The Mary Ellen Carter” as sung by Clancy (click on the photo for Clancy’s rendition of the song).

Or to hear a video that first tells how the song saved Robert Cusik’s life, and then to hear Stan Rogers himself singing the song (Rogers starts singing at 1:35), click here.

Hooray for the rule of law

Speaking as a religious leftist, here’s a brief word to my liberal friends about the rule of law.

We just had an emotionally and politically divisive election. Yet the rule of law has held out: we will all quibble about the details, but while the election may not have lived up to many people’s ideals for a fair election, for the most part the election was fair. And then I think back to Massachusetts politics, where for many years the president of the state senate had close ties to organized crime, and where politics was very dirty and very personal (see: Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill, Black Mass: Whitey Bulger, The FBI, and a Devil’s Deal, New York: Public Affiars, 2000) — and Rhode Island politics, where it was rumored that half the state legislature had Mob ties, and where the governor was convicted of blatantly illegal activities. By those standards, the recent presidential election looked like a Sunday school outing.

Actually, having supervised some pretty unpleasant Sunday school outings, maybe I should change that analogy.

Bad analogy aside, the point is that for the most part the existing laws and court opinions held sway. You may have preferred it if there were different laws on the books, and different court opinions (I certainly would prefer that), but for the most part, the rule of law has held.

So this is not an apocalyptic scenario. Carol and I read to each other at night, and right now we’re reading “A War in 1935” by Evelyn Waugh, from When the Going Was Good (Penguin Books, 1946/1976), in which he describes the Italian invasion of what was then Abyssinia; that situation represented a breakdown of the rule of law, and was mildly apocalyptic. I’m also reading (on my own), the Letters of Pliny the Younger, in which he describes some of the truly horrible events during the reign of the emperor Domitian, a reign during which people could be put to death on mere suspicion of an unpleasant thought about the emperor. And then, look at the coverage from Syria: that really is an apocalyptic scenario, in which the rule of law has completely broken down.

I don’t like the results of the recent presidential election, but at this point I prefer it over the 1972 presidential election, when, under the direct leadership of Richard Nixon, the rule of law did break down. Or consider the Teapot Dome scandal during Warren Harding’s presidential administration. Or Franklin Roosevelt’s attempt to pack the Supreme Court in order to get the rulings he preferred. Or, for that matter, the breakdown of the rule of law detailed by Michelle Alexander in The New Jim Crow.

So far, the rule of law is holding out pretty well. I would prefer that some of the current laws on the books were different, but in my case that mostly means that I need to get off my ass and stop working too many hours at my job and do my duty as a citizen of a democracy and get involved in elections and legislation. Nor do I have any illusions that the rule of law can be taken for granted; this again means, in my case, that I need to get off my ass and do my duty as a citizen of a democracy by attending city and county meetings, getting involved in voluntary organizations that amplify my solo voice (this, by the way, includes involvement in a local UU congregation).

f I don’t like the results of an election, then I need to stop spending time in the echo chamber of social media, stop anesthetizing myself by watching too many Youtube videos, and actually go out and do something.

That’s my two cent’s worth. Your mileage may vary.