“But here’s why I’m ultimately optimistic: I see how much the election of Mr. Trump acted as an impetus for people who care about democracy to get involved. The 2018 election registered the highest turnout midterm election in 104 years, and the smart money is on a similarly high turnout election in 2020. It may sound strange to say, but Mr. Trump’s election may yet turn out to be the shock and near-death experience that American political system needed to right itself.
I’m also optimistic because the one reform with the most potential to break our zero-sum partisanship, ranked-choice voting, is gaining tremendous momentum at the state and local level. In 2018, Maine became the first state to use ranked-choice voting for federal elections (after Mainers approved it in two statewide referendums). This month, New York City voters adopted it. Also in 2020, expect voters in Alaska and Massachusetts to decide whether they want in on ranked-choice voting.
By removing the spoiler effect of third parties, ranked-choice voting can break the us-versus-them force driving our partisan warfare, and create space for a political realignment that creates new coalitions to shape economic reforms and negotiate social change.”
“Given that Italy has had more than five dozen governments in 73 years, the emergence of another unlikely and unstable coalition might look, in the phrase often attributed to Yogi Berra, like déjà vu all over again. Yet in the current wave of populism in Europe and around the world, the success of the Italian Parliament in pushing back against a right-wing firebrand bears a closer look.
The stage for the turnover was set in August, when Matteo Salvini, head of the far-right, anti-immigrant League party that for over a year had been in a ruling coalition with the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, decided to cash in on his popularity and ask the Italian electorate to hand him “full powers” in new elections.
Instead, the prime minister — a law professor named Giuseppe Conte, who had been pulled from obscurity last year to serve as a figurehead leader of that coalition government — delivered a potent speech in the Italian Senate upbraiding his former patron, Mr. Salvini, for “political opportunism” in “following his own interests and those of his party.”
Mr. Conte then cobbled together an improbable coalition of two parties more usually at each other’s throats, the Five Star Movement and the center-left Democratic Party. On Monday, the government — now known popularly as Conte II, with Mr. Salvini in snarling opposition — easily won a vote of confidence and handed Mr. Conte back the ceremonial bell of the prime minister that he had held in the previous coalition government.”
“. . . That’s not what I’ve found. America is actually a checkerboard of towns and cities — some rising from the bottom up and others collapsing from the top down, ravaged by opioids, high unemployment among less-educated white males and a soaring suicide rate. I’ve been trying to understand why some communities rise and others fall — and so many of the answers can be found in Willmar.
The answers to three questions in particular make all the difference: 1) Is your town hungry for workers to fill open jobs? 2) Can your town embrace the new immigrants ready to do those jobs, immigrants who may come not just from Latin America, but also from nonwhite and non-Christian nations of Africa or Asia? And 3) Does your town have a critical mass of “leaders without authority”?”
By Alexis Clark
“They were called “brown babies,” or “mischlingskinder,” a derogatory German term for mixed-race children. And sometimes they were just referred to as mutts.
They were born during the occupation years in Germany after World War II, the offspring of German women and African-American soldiers. Their fathers were usually transferred elsewhere and their mothers risked social repercussions by keeping them, so the babies were placed in orphanages.
But when Mabel Grammer, an African-American journalist, became aware of the orphaned children, she stepped in. She and her husband, an army chief warrant officer stationed in Mannheim, and later Karlsruhe, adopted 12 of them, and Grammer found homes for 500 others.”
via Overlooked No More: Mabel Grammer, Whose Brown Baby Plan Found Homes for Hundreds – The New York Times
David Lindsay: David Leonhardt is my new go to guy for American politics. Here is a perfect example.
By David Leonhardt
Feb. 5, 2019, 174 c
“My fellow Americans, the state of our union is far weaker than it should be.
The economy’s growth isn’t benefiting most families very much. Life expectancy has been falling. The planet is warming. The rest of the world is less enamored of America than it has been in the past.
But I can offer you one major piece of good news: Our country’s urgent and growing problems have inspired more Americans to vote and to otherwise get involved in politics. And that sort of engagement is the best hope for restoring our country to its rightful strength.
Here, then, is the true state of the union, in charts:
The last few years — including 2018 — have brought some good economic news. Paychecks for most workers are rising faster than inflation. But the gains are still modest, and they don’t come close to erasing years in which pay gains trailed economic growth: (GDP has risen more than average wages. You must go to the NYT for the full chart.)
No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
via John Donne. Meditation 17. [No man is an island… For whom the bell tolls, etc.]
By Margaret Renkl
Contributing Opinion Writer
Feb. 4, 2019, 87
William DeShazer for The New York Times
CreditCreditWilliam DeShazer for The New York Times
NASHVILLE — When my mother died in 2012, she left behind a huge collection of memorabilia. Not just the usual love letters, family photographs and cherished recipe cards but also random items that almost no one else bothers to save. Parking tickets. Embossed cocktail napkins from the weddings of people I’ve never heard of. An Alabama Power bill from 1972. Things that meant something to her but whose meaning she never explained to me.
Among those chance pieces of paper, I found my own 1980 report card from our church’s Sunday school program. My teacher was Leo M. Hall, the father of two of my closest friends. Dr. Hall was a decorated medical school professor of biochemistry and molecular genetics at the University of Alabama in Birmingham, but he also taught a high school religion class every Sunday afternoon during my teenage years. It was an unpaid act of service that I’m sure I didn’t recognize at the time for the true gift it was. How many religion students are taught by a scientist? How many high schoolers are taught by a college professor who is untroubled by skepticism or dissent? How many white Southerners of my generation grew up with a mentor who was a passionate advocate for civil rights?
I saved the report card, just as my mother had, and probably for the same reason: the teacher’s comments at the bottom of the page. In his final remarks of the school year, Dr. Hall had written: “Stimulates conversation — likes the controversial topic, accepts a challenge readily. Can be a bit abrasive with classmates but has improved greatly during the last three years. Deep spiritual life. Widely read. A delightful young woman who will do well in her mature days.”
I am well into my mature days now, and I don’t much remember the 18-year-old girl Dr. Hall is describing, but I believe this to be a fair assessment of my strengths and weaknesses at the time. (“Delightful” was, and still is, a stretch.)
via Opinion | The Gift of Shared Grief – The New York Times
By Juan Guaidó
Mr. Guaidó is leading the effort to remove Nicolás Maduro from office.
Jan. 30, 2019, 369 c
CARACAS, Venezuela — On Jan. 23, 61 years after the vicious dictator Marcos Pérez Jiménez was ousted, Venezuelans once again gathered for a day of democratic celebration.
Pérez Jiménez was fraudulently elected by a Constituent Assembly in 1953. His term of office was scheduled to expire in 1958. But rather than calling for free and transparent presidential elections, he was undemocratically re-elected after holding a plebiscite on his administration late in 1957. Following widespread protests and a rupture within the military establishment, the dictator left the country and Venezuela regained its freedom on Jan. 23, 1958.
Once again we face the challenge of restoring our democracy and rebuilding the country, this time amid a humanitarian crisis and the illegal retention of the presidency by Nicolás Maduro. There are severe medicine and food shortages, essential infrastructure and health systems have collapsed, a growing number of children are suffering from malnutrition, and previously eradicated illnesses have re-emerged.
We have one of the highest homicide rates in the world, which is aggravated by the government’s brutal crackdown on protesters. This tragedy has prompted the largest exodus in Latin American history, with three million Venezuelans now living abroad.
I would like to be clear about the situation in Venezuela: Mr. Maduro’s re-election on May 20, 2018, was illegitimate, as has since been acknowledged by a large part of the international community. His original six-year term was set to end on Jan. 10. By continuing to stay in office, Nicolás Maduro is usurping the presidency.
My ascension as interim president is based on Article 233 of the Venezuelan Constitution, according to which, if at the outset of a new term there is no elected head of state, power is vested in the president of the National Assembly until free and transparent elections take place. This is why the oath I took on Jan. 23 cannot be considered a “self-proclamation.” It was not of my own accord that I assumed the function of president that day, but in adherence to the Constitution.”
via Opinion | Juan Guaidó: Venezuelans, Strength Is in Unity – The New York Times