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...but am I being paranoid enough?

This morning, the Boston Globe published the story of a Massachusetts State Representative, one John Binienda. It seems that Mr. Binienda will no longer meet with constituents accompanied by translators. He says it takes too much time -- all meetings are essentially doubled, as everything said is said twice. He wants his constituents who have problems with English to come with a representative who will speak for them.

He is being lambasted by a group called "Neighbor to Neighbor," a community-action group that provides the translation services at no charge. The group's leader, one Harris Gruman, discussed his group's position on a couple Boston talk shows.

While listening to him very calmly and reasonably explain why it is bad for Representative Binienda to ban translators and why they are so good, I found myself what was his REAL agenda in going after the Representative this way. The normal reasons -- to keep his program alive and going through donations and grants -- didn't seem quite enough to justify his vehemence. Then I startet getting much more conspiracy-minded, and an idea started to bubble upwards.

One of the standard conservative lines of attack is that liberals like people kept dependent. For example, if immigrants aren't pushed to learn English, then they are shut out of a great deal of the country's society and economy. By assailing attempts to push English over other languages, the argument goes, the liberals are perpetuating a persistent underclass who will vote for liberals who will keep the largesse flowing.

But this wasn't quite sinister enough for me. Representative Binienda's banning of translators threatens to cut Neighbor to Neighbor, and similar programs, out of the picture entirely. As it is now, if one of his constituents finds themselves in a bit of a jam, who do they turn to for help? No, not their duly elected representative to the state legislature. They go to Neighbor To Neighbor, who takes them in hand and guides them through the process of seeking redress. In the process, though, NTN (I'm tired of typing it out) is doing all the work for him -- they aren't showing Pablo how to do this for himself. Instead of teaching him how to use the system for his own benefit next time, they're inculcating him in getting used to going to NTN with his problems.

They are establishing themselves not as a way to help people deal with the government, but an essential part of the process. They are insinuating themselves into the relationship between the individual and the government. In effect, they are becoming yet another unofficial, unelected, unaccountable arm of the government. And when this group starts denouncing or praising candidates (such as Representative Binienda), those people they have been "helping" will listen. And when those voters start doing NTN's bidding, candidates will find themselves kowtowing to NTN out of simple political self-preservation.

Yeah, this is all paranoid speculation, completely ungrounded in any solid evidence. I'm just thinking out loud here. But this strikes me as eminently possible, if not probable, and very well could be happening already. This is one of the ways special-interest groups develop their political power, and I think I see it happening now in Worcester, Massachusetts.

This could well be worth following. I'll see what the Globe does with it.


Comments (13)

Interesting take on it, let... (Below threshold)

Interesting take on it, let's see how DU and DailyKos decide to lampoon and demonize you (or Kevin in your name) this time.

Uhhhh.... he's looking for ... (Below threshold)

Uhhhh.... he's looking for his 15 minutes?

I've been on both sides of ... (Below threshold)

I've been on both sides of the lingustic minority fence before, and its perfectly obvious to me that if you aren't conversant in the dominant language you'll always be at the mercy of the person who converses on your behalf. Their goodwill is essential to your continued functioning in society and they are, essentially, your agent, lawyer, whatever, possibly without the constraints your agent would typically have via custom, law, or contract. This isn't to say that all translators are out to screw you (I certainly hope I don't screw the clients I have at the moment), but you do have to take care that a) your interests are not at cross-purposes with your translator's and b) you do not blindly trust your translator just because he is the only person you can understand.

...if you aren't convers... (Below threshold)

...if you aren't conversant in the dominant language you'll always be at the mercy of the person who converses on your behalf.

That should be simple common sense. Anyone you allow to stand between you and the solution to your problem may be your ally, but is also a potential ally of the problem. If you don't even understand the language, you have no way of knowing which.

You are not paranoid, you'r... (Below threshold)

You are not paranoid, you're correct. My big thing is if they want to come to the US and live here, they should learn English and learn how to accomplish things - maybe first time with help - teaching, not doing. If they are going to be here, then they should learn the language and the rules.


There is more to being conv... (Below threshold)

There is more to being conversant in a language in order to be a decent transalator. You really have to be able to transalate simultaneously with the speaker.

There is more to just</b... (Below threshold)

There is more to just being conversant in a language in order to be a decent transalator.

I'm tired.

Even Europe is using Englis... (Below threshold)

Even Europe is using English as its dominant language. Ever since the formation of the EU (and of course the UN) France has forever had "bigger dick" anxiety since English was chosen instead of French as the "common" politics/business conducting language.

Its a lot easier to choose one language and stick with it. Can you imagine the US constitution written in the 4 different languages (German French Spanish English) of the time?

There are two kinds of inte... (Below threshold)

There are two kinds of interpeters, consecutive and simultaneous. The congress-critter doesn't like dealing with consecutive because it does double the time involved.

Let him demand, then, that people come with simultaneous interpretors who speak a word or two behind the original speaker.

Sure, simultaneous is hard, very demanding work. Those who do it professionally work in 20-minute stints, spelled by another. And it's more expensive. Not only do you need two interpreters, but they can each demand top wages.

And just to be pendantic a bit, intepreters work with the spoken word; translators work with printed text.

NTN my ass! ITD is more ap... (Below threshold)

NTN my ass! ITD is more apropos (Immigrant To Democrat). It's far more prevalent than you are acknowledging.

Do more on this. Someone o... (Below threshold)

Do more on this. Someone out there must be
able to identify the funders of Neighbor to Neighbor.
Just read that Britain is trying to update their
immigration policies MUST SPEAK ENGLISH is
one of the criteria as is skill level.
Read it yesterday but cannot remember site


You're not too far fetched ... (Below threshold)

You're not too far fetched with this idea. It's happening in California's school system. The Democrats shot down Reed Hastings' plan to bring the immigrant population of kids up to snuff in English. I really couldn't think of a different motive behind it other than to insure they have dependent constituents in the future. The parents of these kids WANT them to learn better english. It's the Democrats that thought they shouldn't be forced to.

I've got another angle of a... (Below threshold)

I've got another angle of annoyance at reading this story. As a physician the state of Massachusetts MANDATES that I provide a translator for anyone who shows up in my office needing one and requesting one, in order to properly provide for their care. Now here's the tricky part. If I am forced to hire a translator to be in the office for a medicaid patient's visit I lose money! The translator gets paid around $100/hr. Medicaid re-imburses less than $30 for the office visit. Medicaid doesn't pay for the translator - I have to.

So this legislator doesn't want to meet with constituents through translators, but he can mandate that I provide one for any patient who wants one, and lose both time and money in doing so. Go figure.






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