Steve Hochstadt Steve Hochstadt blog brought to you by History News Network. Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 Zend_Feed_Writer 2 ( Clothes Can Demean the Woman People used to say, “Clothes make the man.” That was true. Before the French Revolution, commoners were prohibited by law from dressing like nobles, so a person’s class was recognizable from their clothes. Clothing was a sign of status, wealth and power.

Today celebrities wear jeans, and commoners can buy designer knock-offs, so it’s hard to tell who’s who from the way they look. Only male politicians seem to wear status uniforms all the time – dark suits, solid ties, flag lapel pins, and boring shoes.

Even if they no longer identify class, our clothes still make an impression on others, and are designed to do just that. Wearers, designers, and manufacturers collaborate to create individual looks, which are always socially influenced and sometimes socially prescribed. In the American world I see in my small hometown and everywhere else, the look prescribed for women is sexy. And I think it’s a mistake for women to capitulate to that fashion in their everyday dress.

High heels stretch the calves, making them (apparently) more attractive. Very high heels, not even as high as the 5 or 6 inches of many well-promoted shoes, lead to increased incidence of bunions, heel spurs, plantar fasciitis, and knee and back pain. A recent study shows that regular high-heel-wearers alter their natural gait, even when barefoot. Dr. Judith Smith, an orthopedic surgeon in Springfield, MO, compares the social demand for high heels with Chinese foot-binding: “It is a fashion statement and a status symbol.”

Along with higher heels come short skirts, as tight as possible. It seems to me that skirts are shrinking and pants are getting tighter. It’s instructive to compare women’s and men’s jeans, or even women’s fashion jeans and the clothes of women who do physical work. Tight jeans are hard to put on, less comfortable all day, restrictive of free movement, and have no useful pockets. All form, no function, unless the function is just attracting attention to one’s body, defined by the curves of rear ends and long legs. In fact, for many women, pants have given way entirely to stretch tights.

I have to admit that I’m still surprised to see bare breasts on a daily basis. Women’s chests are more on display than any time I can remember. I can’t think of any reason to prefer tight, low cut tops for indoor wear other than for display.

In the 1970s I remember a powerful social trend among American women away from dressing for display to dressing for comfort, for convenience and for practicality. High heels shrank or disappeared in favor of ergonomic shoes, tight clothes loosened up, artificial restraints like girdles vanished, stockings were put back in the drawer. Because women were fighting to be taken seriously, as workers, as intellectuals, as minds, they rejected fashion conventions which stressed sex.

I believe that young women today have forgotten that lesson, and are returning to dressing for display. They risk being taken seriously only as sex objects.

I am not advocating that women cover up, the position taken by religious conservatives in many faiths. A woman should be able to walk around in the nude without having to worry about being assaulted, or even being touched, by strangers. But she cannot expect to be taken seriously for her intelligence, or even to have people look at her face.

Women can dress as they please. And then they take the consequences of their choices – to be regarded for their brains, their accomplishments, or their bodies.

The back of my box of Girl Scout cookies says “Oh, what a girl can do!” Whatever it is that girls, or women, might do, they won’t be able to do it as well in high heels and tight skirts, unless it is simply to attract everyone’s gaze away from their heads to their bodies.

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
I Need Police Protection I bother some people. A lot. I know this from reading the comments about me that appear everywhere these columns are read. It has been made clear to me more than once that some people with wealth and power in this town don’t like that I publish my opinions every week. There are people who would very much like me to dissociate my writings from Illinois College, where I work.

People with less personal connection with me have much harsher ideas in mind. They say I shouldn’t be a teacher, that I shouldn’t be allowed to write for a newspaper, that I am an evil person. They want to shut me up entirely.

What if they were in charge? What if our political system, at any level, were dominated by the people who want to get rid of me? That’s not such a far-fetched possibility.

When a police car drives by my house now, I have nothing more to fear than my neighbors do. That is a privilege enjoyed by few people on this earth. We Americans talk a lot about our rights. It is easy to forget that our ability to express our opinions without worry that the cops will show up at our door tomorrow is rare in the world, and has often been violated here at home. We must always be vigilant in protection of our sweet liberty.

That’s why I pay close attention to what political leaders do and say, especially those who most loudly disagree with me. Here is what I see.

Proponents of gun ownership in communities across the nation have proposed that every household in their towns be required to own a gun. Such an ordinance was passed unanimously by the city council in rural Nelson, GA: “every head of household residing in the city limits is required to maintain a firearm, together with ammunition therefore”. Kennesaw, GA, has had such a municipal ordinance since 1982. Towns in Idaho and Utah are also considering such laws. The city council in Byron, ME, passed a mandatory gun ownership law. That caused outrage among the town’s citizens, nearly half of whom packed a town meeting to nearly unanimously reject that idea.

Laws about “concealed carry” sometimes restrict the rights of private entities to control what happens on their property. Concealed carry laws have been proposed in Iowa and Ohio which would prevent private educational institutions from banning guns on their campuses. Some participants in the current discussion in Illinois about concealed carry wish to forbid private entities from banning guns on their property. What if those people were in charge?

What if the police showed up in my classroom, because I refused to teach while some students were carrying guns? What if they were required to enforce a law that mandated that my household possess a gun? Suppose they heard from reliable sources that I did not own a gun. Would they have the right to search my home?

The makers of these laws always say that they will allow exceptions. The Kennesaw GA law reads: “Exempt from the effect of this section are those heads of households who suffer a physical or mental disability which would prohibit them from using such a firearm. ... who are paupers or who conscientiously oppose maintaining firearms as a result of beliefs or religious doctrine, or persons convicted of a felony.”

What if I said publically that I refuse to own a gun? Would they test me for mental disability? If I wanted to plead poverty, would I have to show them my tax forms? Who would decide whether my beliefs are conscientious or what religion I have?

I don’t think these things will happen where I live. But there are politicians I worry about. Hispanic citizens of East Haven, CT, have been subjected to police terror for years. In January 2012, the FBI arrested four police officers, including the president of the local police union, on charges that they “assaulted individuals while they were handcuffed, unlawfully searched Latino businesses, and harassed and intimidated individuals”.

In parts of the U.S., doctors and nurses cannot safely practice medicine, if that involves the legal procedure called abortion. The kind of social practices that used to be called riots when they were protesting discrimination or the Vietnam War are now commonplace around abortion clinics in some states. Dr. George Tiller’s clinic was the scene of many instances of violence before he was murdered in 2009. He had been described by Bill O’Reilly on national television as “Dr. Killer” and “Tiller the baby killer”, and he was pursued by a prosecutor in the Kansas Attorney General’s office.

What if those people were in charge?

Extreme conservatives talk a lot about liberty. But their definition of liberty doesn’t always include my liberty. I want my police force to protect me from all kinds of threat, including those of the far right.

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
Tipping Points: Is the Culture War Over? Image via Shutterstock.

This is an extraordinary moment in American politics. The possibility that the Supreme Court will declare some or all of the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional is already sufficient reason for that label. But that is just one piece of a larger shift, a movement in the tectonic plates of national politics.

In 1996, 27 percent of Americans said they favored gay marriage. By 2006, that proportion had risen to 35 percent. In 2010 it was 41 percent. The latest poll last month showed 49 percent. This shift applies to every possible grouping, from the most opposed (white conservative evangelical Protestants over 65) to the most in favor (liberals under 30).

Malcolm Gladwell might call this a tipping point. Yet the idea of a “tipping point” focuses our attention on one moment, and obscures the long history of any significant change. The issue of gay rights and discrimination against gays came into public attention in 1969 in New York City. Now, 44 years later, the gradual shift in the American public’s understanding of who is gay and what it means to be gay could be reflected in a momentous reform of American law.

Such a repositioning of voter attitudes is not always reflected in the views of elected politicians. When Pat Brady, the chair of the Illinois Republican Party, urged Republican legislators in the state house in January to support gay marriage, he faced calls for his resignation. Although 100 prominent Republicans have recently signed a friend-of-the-court brief directed at the Supreme Court in favor of gay marriage, Republicans currently holding office remain nearly universally opposed.

Another issue which might have reached a different kind of tipping point is interracial marriage. In 1987, only 48 percent of Americans believed that it was acceptable for blacks and whites to date. That proportion has steadily risen to 83 percent in 2009. Increasing approval goes hand-in-hand with increasing practice. The proportion of interracial marriages among newlyweds in the U.S. more than doubled between 1980 (6.7 percent) and 2010 (15 percent). As in other shifts in social attitudes, younger Americans lead the way: 61 percent between 18 and 29 said that more people of different races marrying each other was a change for the better; only 28 percent over 65 agreed with that.

Here the tipping point is not about legality, but about acceptance. I see interracial couples much more often on television, both in regular programming and in advertisements. I am reminded of the belated appearance of African Americans in leading roles on TV in the late 1960s. The cautious, and thus conservative, people who decide what issues might negatively affect viewers have finally decided that interracial couples are part of the new normal.

News from Washington indicates that another tipping point may have been reached about immigration, after decades of acrimonious debate. Republican and Democratic politicians negotiating about how to deal with more than 10 million undocumented immigrants in America appear to be nearing a compromise, which might offer a path to citizenship. Here the political shift closely follows the public shift in attitudes. In 1994, 63 percent said that immigrants were a burden because they take jobs and health care, while only 31 percent said they strengthened the U.S. A survey last month showed the reverse: 49 percent said immigrants strengthen us, while only 41 percent said they were a burden.

Unlike their stance on gay marriage, Republicans in Congress perceive clear electoral liabilities in their anti-immigrant rhetoric. President Obama won 71 percent of the Hispanic vote, which is 10 percent of the electorate and growing.

I did not pick these three issues randomly: I was looking for places where American attitudes had been moving toward a new consensus. On other politically important issues, Americans have not changed their minds. The proportions who say abortion should be legal under any circumstances (about 25-30 percent), legal under some circumstances (about 50 percent), and illegal in all circumstances (15-20 percent) have not changed since the 1970s.

The shifts away from conservative positions on gay and interracial marriage and immigration signal the decline in the attractiveness of major elements in traditional Republican ideology. In all three cases, young voters lead the way in opposing positions taken by Republican politicians. Barring some unlikely reversal of attitudes, such a conservative platform will turn away more and more voters in the future.

The key to this moment is the increasing disconnect between the official line of the Republican Party and the center of American politics. That divergence has been developing for decades, too. On key issues, the American public has become more liberal, while Republicans at the national level have become more conservative. The polls I cited above also measure party affiliation. Over the past two decades, respondents who identified as Republicans fell from nearly 30 percent to under 25 percent in 2012, with corresponding gains among Independents. That small displacement is enough to lose elections.

Since they lost in November, Republican politicians have begun to discuss the possibility that their platform is a losing proposition. That’s the bigger tipping point. The Republican Party is threatened with irrelevancy, because its ideology is shared by fewer and fewer Americans. Between now and the next election, we may see a historic shift in the Republican platform.

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
Play Ball, Jackie Credit: LOOK Magazine, 1954.

I grew up in a Brooklyn Dodgers family. I loved Duke Snider, Carl Furillo, and Pee Wee Reese. I rooted for the Dodgers when they were “Da Bums”, when they lost three World Series before I was five years old, all to the Yankees. So of course I loved Jackie Robinson.

Robinson’s historic first season in major league baseball was 1947. By the time I was born the next summer, Roy Campanella was catching for the Dodgers, and Larry Doby and Satchel Paige were playing for the Cleveland Indians. When I was old enough for my father to take me to Ebbets Field, when the Dodgers at last won their first World Series in 1955, the best black man on the Dodgers was the pitcher Don Newcombe, with a 20-5 record. The best black man in baseball was Willie Mays of the hated New York Giants, who won both National League MVP and the Hickok Belt as best professional athlete in 1954, and who led the league in homers in 1955.

They were great players, but Jackie Robinson was an icon in my New York Jewish home. I don’t know for sure why my parents revered him. They rarely made political pronouncements. They didn’t belong to any organizations. There were no black people in our all-white suburb to be friends with. It’s too late to ask them why they hated racism.

Maybe it was my father’s experience with Nazis in Vienna. Many Jews identified with African Americans as victims of brutal prejudice. Like Ben Chapman, the foul-mouthed Philadelphia manager, racists were usually also anti-Semites. “There are hundreds of stories that Jews have written about how important Jackie Robinson was to Jews in Brooklyn,” said Rebecca Alpert, professor of religion and women's studies at Temple University, who wrote Out of Left Field: Jews and Black Baseball, and who grew up, like I did, near Ebbets Field. Robinson returned the favor and later condemned the anti-Semitism of some black nationalists in the 1960s.

The new film 42 shows us many hard truths about how Robinson broke through baseball’s color line. Both he and Dodgers’ general manager Branch Rickey, who was sixty-six in 1947, had spent years preparing for the April day when Robinson took the field for the Dodgers. Robinson was a mature married man of twenty-eight, who had already experienced and fought against discrimination in college sports and in the Army. Rickey was one of the remarkable white men who risked their careers, and were threatened with death, because they believed in equality for blacks. He had played professional baseball and football, coached at two small colleges, and become the most innovative baseball executive by creating the farm system and the first real spring training facility. Rickey had been talking with the Dodgers organization about drafting a black player since 1943.

But 42 leaves a lot out. Other African Americans helped Jackie get through that first year. He had met Joe Louis, the boxing champion, in the Army, and Louis’s protests helped him gain entrance to Officer Candidate School. Robinson and Doby often spoke on the phone during their first year in baseball. Robinson fought for the rights of African Americans on the field and off. He stole home nineteen times and criticized segregated hotels and restaurants.

The film leaves out Bill Mardo, a white sportswriter for The Daily Worker, a Communist newspaper in New York, who had waged a public campaign to integrate baseball since 1942, asking New York fans to urge their teams to sign Negro League players. Mardo was also there in Florida as Robinson tried out for the Montreal Royals in 1946.

Watching 42, it’s easy to hate racism and racists. The director of 42 made the unusual choice to include the entire national anthem: Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey become the real Americans, who are “decent-minded”, while Ben Chapman and the white fans who screamed at Jackie are the un-American villains. Like black people, Jews and other minorities in the 1940s, racists are now the despised “other.” Even racists deny being racists before spewing some stupid, hateful remark about Michelle Obama’s clothes or her husband’s birthplace.

Hollywood makes everything simple, but racism is never easy to deal with. American racism wasn’t defeated in 1947, or in the 1960s, or with Obama’s re-election. Many racists are obviously jerks, like Ben Chapman, but some of our neighbors, and some of our political leaders, have never been cured of the racist disease.

I don’t know how my parents’ political views, our family’s history during the Holocaust, rooting for the Brooklyn Dodgers, and Jackie’s own nobility and fearless civil rights activism mixed together to make me hate racism. We all have our own trajectories of fate and chance and education, bringing us to important decisions that define our character. Jackie Robinson, like Rosa Parks and many others, endured terrible injustice to make our nation more just. They challenge us to find the better angels of our nature.

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
Pray Like I Do The Wailing Wall. Credit: Flickr/anaulin.

A few days ago, a group of Jewish women gathered to pray at the most sacred place in Jerusalem. The Wailing Wall surrounds the ancient Temple Mount, where Jewish tradition says God gathered the dust to make Adam, where Abraham bound his son Isaac, where two Jewish temples stood for hundreds of years, where the Divine Presence rests. The women were surrounded by other Jews, who tried to prevent them from reaching the Wall, who cursed them, and threw water and chairs and stones at them. Three of these ultra-Orthodox Jewish protesters were arrested.

Last month the praying women themselves had been arrested. Their offense? They had not been praying the right way. The Women of the Wall are non-Orthodox Jews who wear prayer shawls that Orthodox Jews believe should only be worn by men. Until last month, Israeli police prevented women in these garments from praying at the Wailing Wall, because Israel enshrines Orthodox religious practices into state laws. Over the past few years, Jewish women have been arrested and put in jail for wearing a tallit, the prayer shawl, under their clothes, for holding a Torah scroll, and for praying out loud, all activities which the Orthodox believe should be reserved for men.

On April 11, the Jerusalem District Court ruled that the violent Orthodox protesters, not the praying women, were the ones causing a disturbance, and that the women should be allowed to pray as they wish.

The discrimination against women in Israel goes much deeper than disputes at the Wailing Wall. On bus lines serving areas where Orthodox live, women are forced to sit at the back. Recently some women have protested this discrimination, bringing references to the actions of Rosa Parks over fifty years ago. Israeli authorities have reacted in ways reminiscent of the reluctance of American leaders to challenge segregation: in 2011, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that segregated buses were illegal, but allowed them to continue to operate.

These arguments among Jews about how to be Jewish are common to other religions. Sunni and Shia Muslims have disagreed about the nature of Islam since the prophet Muhammed died in 632 and a dispute developed over his successor. Sunni and Shia continue today to kill each other in the Middle East. The split among Christians during the Reformation in 1500s led to a century of violent conflict across central Europe, during which Christians killed other Christians over religious differences. When the leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church instituted reforms in ritual practices in the seventeenth century, many Russians refused to allow any changes. The so-called Old Believers were then persecuted by the dominant Orthodox clergy and by the Russian state. Old Believers use two fingers to make the sign of the cross, while the official Russian Orthodox Church uses three fingers.

Violence and persecution within religious faiths occurs when state power takes one side. The French Catholic monarchy organized the massacre of French Protestants, called Huguenots, in 1572, killing at least 10,000, and probably many more. Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq was Sunni, and although a minority among the population, persecuted and murdered members of the Shia majority.

The religious disagreements in Israel are not violent. The Israeli government has allowed the Orthodox minority, estimated to be only about 10% of the population, to control significant elements of national life, notably marriage and divorce. There is considerable controversy in Israel about the outsized power of this fundamentalist religious minority, who avoid military service and receive state support for men to study religion all their lives.

Americans typically know little about the nature of the Israeli state that we support so generously. Would Americans so willingly support a state that discriminates against women? Or that makes rules about how one must pray?

In fact, American support for Israel is most powerful among the most fundamentalist Christians. A 2004 poll asked Americans “Should the U.S. support Israel over the Palestinians?” Although more Americans disagreed with that question than agreed, among evangelical Protestants the split in favor of supporting Israel was over 2 to 1.

All too frequently, religious fundamentalists of various faiths demand that everyone must follow their rules. The controversy across our states about marriage equality is a home-grown example. Citing their interpretation of the Bible, American fundamentalists want our government to enshrine their views of homosexuality into secular law.

Everyone should have the right to determine their own religious preference and beliefs. Nobody should have the right to demand, “Pray like I do.”

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
The Right to Privacy Image via Shutterstock.

I am a very private person. I won’t tell the cashier at the sports equipment store my phone number. I am not interested in reading the details of people’s daily routines that make up so many blogs. I don’t understand the need to put revealing photographs on public websites. I don’t like to talk about myself, even to friends. So I am completely out of touch with the contemporary Facebook ethos.

Headlines have been made recently by young people who have put obviously incriminating information online for anyone to see. Using Facebook, an Oklahoma mother tried to sell her two babies, so she could bail out her boyfriend, and a Tennessee teacher demanded sex from a student. When a group of teenagers attacked another teen in Chicago last year, punching, kicking and then robbing him, they filmed themselves and posted the video on YouTube. Soon they were arrested.

But these stories of inept criminals are not typical usages of social media. Despite the worries of parents, most teens are careful about what they post on Facebook, and use privacy settings and other means to manage their online reputations. What has changed, to the discomfort of many adults, is the definition of the community in which modern teens, and others, live and share.

Privacy and community are intertwined. We are not disturbed by people within a certain community keeping in contact, knowing about our lives and telling us about themselves. Modern technological culture has already greatly expanded traditional definitions of our communities of privacy. What used to be kept within the family is now known more widely, as we interact with more people over greater distances. The telephone and the automobile have expanded community over the past century. Now the internet has once again burst the accepted bounds of community by allowing and encouraging interactions between people who have never met. Many adults are willing to reveal quite personal information about themselves and their ideal partners on dating sites, and then to meet total strangers in hopes of romance.

Teens may also include strangers in their private communities: about one-third of teens are Facebook friends with people they have never met. Before the internet, this was virtually impossible, except for long-distance pen pals who exchanged letters.

A right to privacy is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN in 1948: “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honor and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.” The Supreme Court has assumed a right to privacy in some of its most significant decisions. But the intrusions on our privacy are subtle. Laws require companies to tell us about how they treat our private information, but are not useful in preventing them from ignoring our privacy unless we take definitive action.

For example, tracks which books we look at on their site, and then reminds us the next time we get on what we looked at. Like many of these systems which record what you do on the internet, Amazon’s collection of data about the books you look at, your browsing history, can be turned off by going into your account and following this path: Your › Your Browsing History › Manage Your Browsing History. Such systems are usually not easy to figure out and rarely used.

Amazon’s surveillance of our reading preferences and collection of very personal data might prove useful to us, too. The ability to compile vast data banks offers us unprecedented opportunities to connect or re-connect with people across the planet who would otherwise be impossible to find. Facebook and similar sites link the living, allowing us to find high school friends or long-lost relatives. links past and present: I have found census returns listing my great-grandparents and my mother’s teenage occupation. We may be willing to give up privacy to gain convenience. Traditional ideas about privacy may no longer be relevant.

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire Image via Shutterstock.

I read an article the other day about a famous liar, Jonah Lehrer. Less than a year ago, Lehrer was a writer for the New Yorker, one of the most prestigious jobs in journalism. He was caught fabricating quotations and plagiarizing from other writers, and resigned in disgrace. Then in February, he got $20,000 from the Knight Foundation to give a talk about his lies and how he planned to redeem himself. The Knight Foundation claims it promotes quality journalism under the slogan “informed and engaged communities”. Now he has just scored a deal with Simon and Schuster for a book tentatively titled A Book About Love. Looks like lying can be a good career move.

In fact, liars are doing quite well these days. While he was Governor of South Carolina in 2009, Mark Sanford cheated on his wife and lied about it to his constituents. He lied about misusing state travel funds to finance his long distance affair. He admitted that he had “crossed the lines” with other women during his marriage. This May he was elected to Congress, with the endorsements of Speaker John Boehner and other conservative Republicans. His website headlines “Leadership”.

Another big public liar is Democrat Anthony Weiner, a married man who sent sexually explicit messages and photos to many women while he was in Congress, and then fervently denied it. He resigned from Congress just two years ago, but now he’s back in the political limelight. Weiner is running for mayor of New York. His website promotes his “ideas”. If you want to make a contribution to his campaign, you must check a box: “I confirm that the following statements are true and accurate.” Weiner does not have to confirm that his statements are true or accurate. A poll in late May showed Weiner running second in a crowded field, with 19 percent support.

Maybe it is wrong to put journalistic liars and political liars into the same box. Journalists are supposed to seek the truth, and when they are caught lying, they lose their jobs, at least temporarily. Politicians lie all the time. Michele Bachmann is a good example of how a political career can be created by making stuff up.

She has announced that she won’t run for reelection, but that’s because of a different set of lies: she is being investigated for making illegal payments to an Iowa Republican for his support in her presidential campaign and for money laundering.

Celebrity liars appear to have great difficulty accepting that they might have to suffer some consequences. Lance Armstrong is one of the greatest cheaters in sports history, who forced his teammates to lie and cheat with him for years, but now he wants absolution so he can keep competing. Why does he think he can get away with that?

Maybe because others have already successfully turned celebrity disgrace back into profit. Jim Bakker once ruled an empire of TV evangelism with his wife, Tammy Faye. Then it was discovered that he had been pocketing profits, keeping two sets of books, cheating those who sent him money. And he cheated on Tammy Faye with Jessica Hahn. He was found guilty in federal court on 24 counts of mail fraud, wire fraud, and conspiracy. He admitted that he hadn’t even read the Bible. After 5 years in prison, Bakker is now back preaching on TV.

In all of these cases, the lies are hardly the greatest offense. Abuse of public office, cheating on one’s wife, stealing people’s words and ideas and money are indicative of more serious moral failings. But these big liars have been successful in repackaging their immorality as simple errors. Anthony Weiner said recently about his infidelity, betrayal of public trust, and lying, that “it was a personal mistake that I made.” After he won election last month, Sanford said on TV, “People do make mistakes.” Christian belief in forgiveness appears to have played a big role in his comeback, as both he and his supporters have attributed his victory to the forgiving nature of South Carolina voters.

I doubt those explanations. I don’t think the South Carolina voters are more forgiving than anyone else. Conservatives there who voted for Sanford are not at all forgiving of sins they attribute to President Obama or any liberal. Partisan politics trumps morality every time, even for so-called “values voters” who preach family values and vote for philandering Republicans over Democrats every time.

But why did Sanford win his Republican primary? There is something else at work in the public’s fascination with creeps. Here reality television gives us the clue: many Americans want to see what the people they love to hate will do. Simon and Schuster are betting big bucks that the public will buy Jonah Lehrer’s book, just like Anthony Weiner’s contributors are betting that voters will buy his “ideas”. I think people are seeking sleaze. They don’t believe these men have suddenly become paragons of virtue; they are buying into the next scandal.

Too bad for the rest of us. We’re stuck with recycled liars.

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
Fathers are Forever Credit: Wiki Commons.

I’m writing this on Father’s Day. Father’s Day is an afterthought. The second Sunday in May was officially designated Mother’s Day in 1914 by Congress and President Woodrow Wilson. The first presidential proclamation honoring fathers was issued by President Lyndon Johnson in 1966, over 50 years later.

Until recently fatherhood itself was an afterthought. In men’s lives, fathering was not the top priority. Men were breadwinners. Men were considered the heads of the household and people gave lip service to “Father Knows Best”, but women cared for children.

The women’s liberation movement of the 1960s and 1970s finally made an issue of fathering. If women were going to get out of the house and into the workplace, men had to change their roles, too. By the 1980s, fathers were allowed into the delivery room, present at that magical and painful moment when fatherhood really begins. A few couples shared jobs and child-rearing, and thought this was the wave of the future.

But changing cultural assumptions and family dynamics was not easy. I still remember being the odd man out when I brought my son to a play group in the 1980s. The mothers didn’t know what to do with me, even though we all knew each other. Did I have any interesting things to say about paper vs. cloth diapers? Did I know how to play with children? Would I act like a man among women, that is, superior and condescending? Fathers know best?

Women today still struggle with workplace discrimination and unequal pay. Paternity leave policies are far from universal. Stay-at-home fathers face social stigmas about their choices. Although fathers spend much more time taking care of their children, they are still far behind mothers. Since the 1960s, fathers have tripled the amount of time with their children, but that amount has risen from 2.5 hours a week (20 minutes a day?) to 7.3 hours per week, barely an hour a day. On average, that’s not really fatherhood.

There is much public concern about inadequate fatherhood. Many commentators on fathers and their absence, such as the National Fatherhood Initiative, claim that “Today, one in three children are growing up without their father.” This is an unfortunate error: one in three children live apart from their biological father, but many live with a step-father or adoptive father. Still, the number of fatherless children is very high, a bit more than one in four. That compares to only one in thirteen who live with no mother.

Furthermore, fathers raising their children without a mother tend to have it easier than mothers alone, according to the Census Bureau. In 2011, fathers alone cared for 5 percent of 12- to 17-year-old children, but only 2 percent of those 2 years old or younger. Fathers alone took care of 6 percent of children with no siblings, but only 2 percent of children with 3 or more siblings. About 21 percent of fathers caring for children with no mother lived below the poverty level, but that was true for 44 percent of mothers alone. The median income for mothers alone was about $25,000, while it was over $40,000 for fathers. On each of these measures, women take the tougher parenting roles.

Some of the blame for men’s insufficient attention to fatherhood can be attributed to our sexist culture. Girls are still given dolls to practice with, while boys play video games where strong men save sexy women. One of today’s Father’s Day TV programs is the Miss USA pageant.

But men themselves have to shoulder most of the responsibility for their lack of responsibility. Too many men help to make children, but then fail to help raise them. Raising children means not doing other things, including participation in the family-unfriendly work culture of corporate and professional life. Men have let women be the advocates for flexible hours, leave for child care, and other reforms which make it easier to combine family and work.

Being a parent is difficult. Fatherhood has been my most demanding, but also most rewarding accomplishment. There were no days off. Sometimes the work was literally shitty, but I liked changing diapers, because it was a moment of tender touching. (I’m a fan of cloth, by the way.) Every decision seemed momentous, with no obvious answers. Should we let our baby cry a bit longer? Is it time to replace the crib with a bed? How late can they stay out?

Fatherhood is about taking responsibility. You only earn a say in big decisions by getting up in the middle of the night, by missing meetings to stay home with a sick child, by replacing a social life with a home life. That investment is worth every second. Long after the rigors of parenting are over, children who are no longer children reflect back the love they have received. On Father’s Day, and every other day, fatherhood is the best thing to which a man can aspire.

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
Why the Hell is Anthony Weiner Still Running for Mayor?

The latest royal birth makes great news for tabloid journalism, but even better is the latest sex message sent by Anthony Weiner to a woman who is not his wife. Weiner was not yet a household name when he was a Congressional representative from New York, or even when he began talking a lot on MSNBC, but now he has become famous for the crotch shots he sends all over the country.

Can he parlay his name recognition into a successful campaign for mayor of New York? Until recently Weiner was leading his main opponent, Christine Quinn, current Speaker of the NY City Council, despite the scandal that made him resign from Congress in 2011. But in the last week we have learned that long after his resignation Weiner continued to send sexual messages and explicit photos to women he had never met. He is now reported to have initiated three new online sexual relationships and maintained them more than a year after resigning. There may have been contacts even after Weiner began his campaign for mayor.

Weiner says this is all in the past, which perhaps is true. Maybe it took him several years to learn that this form of cheating on his wife would be unpopular with voters. But what kind of man sends such messages while in Congress, gets caught and resigns, makes a big deal of publically apologizing to voters and to his wife, then continues to send messages to other women while he plans to run for mayor.

Governor Bob McDonnell of Virginia has also recently earned tabloid headlines by using his elected position to finance a lifestyle far beyond the means of virtually all Americans. Bob McDonnell is one of the highest-paid governors in the US, earning $175,000 as of 2011. But that’s not enough for him. A campaign donor, who also has business before the state government, paid for catering at his daughter’s wedding, gave loans of over $100,000 to corporations owned by him and his wife, paid for his wife’s luxury shopping spree, gave McDonnell a $6500 Rolex watch, and more. Some of these gifts were not disclosed on McDonnell’s financial statements.

Now he has apologized for the “embarrassment I brought on my beloved Virginia”. What kind of man uses elected office to enrich himself, helping a wealthy donor tout his products while accepting giant gifts from him?

What happens when politicians get caught with their pants down or their hand in someone else’s pocket? Weiner says that there is no way he is dropping out of the mayor’s race. "You're stuck with me," he said. “I am waging this campaign on a bet, and the bet is at the end of the day citizens care more about their own future than about my past with my wife and my embarrassing things,” he said in Brooklyn. Weiner sent an email to supporters saying that his campaign for mayor was “too important” to give up over “embarrassing personal things”. Too important to whom?

Republicans and Democrats have called for McDonnell to resign, even though his term ends in January. But that’s not going to happen. “I'm not going anywhere. I love this job. There has been no consideration of that,” he told NBC.

Is Weiner’s continued presence in the mayoral race good for New Yorkers? Is it good for his party? Is McDonnell’s spending a few more months in the governor’s mansion good for his “beloved Virginia”? Is it good for his own attorney general, who is waging a tight race to replace him?

Both of these guys are in it for themselves. They can’t do without the power and money that politics can bring. They don’t want to give up their position in front of the camera. They can’t admit that they have proven themselves unfit for office. They want to be the center of attention, even if that attention focuses on their egotistical creepiness, their greed, and their colossally bad judgment.

Why can’t they shut up and go away?

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
A Rocky Separation I have never seen such a rocky place as the West Bank. Among undulating hills and valleys, patches of dirt are scattered among rocks of all sizes. A small field of plowed soil is a rarity. For thousands of years, people have moved rocks so they could grow plants. The steep hills have been cut horizontally with terraces dug by hand and animal power. The terraces are supported by stone walls, some looking relatively recent, some stretching back thousands of years. Some of the olive orchards which line the layered earth look as old. These ancient walls blend into the landscape and support an agricultural economy, a way of life sustained by the people of this rocky land for thousands of years.

Recently a new type of wall has appeared in the West Bank. Twenty feet high, sunk deep into the ground, topped with barbed wire, the Israeli walls of separation prevent movement, separate people and interrupt that very life.

The official political separator between Israel and the occupied West Bank is the Green Line, drawn on maps in 1949 to separate Israel from its neighbors at the end of a year’s warfare. In the 1967 Six Day War, Israel occupied Palestinian territory beyond the Green Line: East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza. Nearly 50 years later, the conflict over this land continues.

The major separation wall generally follows the Green Line, but small and significant deviations reveal a long-term Israeli population policy of separating themselves from Palestinians and expanding their borders. The wall bulges out to encompass less inhabited hills and valleys. It bulges in to exclude Palestinian villages and urban settlements from the rest of Israel. It never actually crosses into Israeli territory, only adding, but never subtracting land. Walls extend deep into the West Bank to surround the many Israeli settlements that have been created there.

Every Israeli wall separates Palestinians from their families, their friends, their customers, and their culture. Shepherds are separated from grazing lands and water supply. Villages are separated from one another. People are prevented from access to stores, hospitals, government buildings, and each other.

Walls keep people out and people in. From the Great Wall of China to more modern walls in Berlin and on our border with Mexico, if walls are long enough, they can control entire populations. Walls become security measures when the enemy is defined as everyone on the other side.

Walls mean control and control varies by the category of people. In 1977, I could negotiate the annoying checkpoints in Berlin, cross the wall, and wander around a city that no longer exists. East Berliners could only watch. Except the privileged ones, whose greatest privilege was that they could go anywhere.

The new walls of Palestine funnel all people through a network of gates, where privilege is doled out by religion and nationality. We passed all the checkpoints with ease. Once a young soldier bent over to talk to us in the back seat. Our role was to identify ourselves as Americans, and she waved us on. Israelis, identified by their license plates, drive through, barely slowing down. Cars with Palestinian plates, and the much more numerous Palestinian walkers, are stopped. Some walls are impenetrable: many roads in the West Bank have been built only for Israeli settlers, connecting isolated enclaves back to Israel. Other walls are just difficult. A delay of hours, plus humiliating treatment, must be part of every Palestinian’s plan for negotiating a checkpoint.

These walls are part of a larger scheme to shape the population of Jerusalem and the West Bank in Israeli interests. The walls operate in conjunction with colored identification cards to segregate Palestinians into exclusive categories. Those with blue cards are considered to be residents of Jerusalem, and can move more freely than those with green cards, “West Bankers”. Green card holders can enter Jerusalem, which they have considered their capital for centuries, only with special permits. The entire system of walls, identification cards and checkpoints makes travel by Palestinians in the West Bank difficult and time-consuming.

The Israeli government is worried about the demographic future. What does a state that proclaims itself Jewish do with a Palestinian minority that threatens to grow? The wall is one answer – exclude some, prevent others from entering, encourage them all to leave.

Israel uses wall-building to promote ethnic exclusion. Other more coercive methods are also being used to reconstruct the population of the West Bank. In September 2014, new plans were revealed which would move thousands of Bedouins away from their villages just east of Jerusalem into one new “Bedouin township” miles north and east, near the border with Jordan. That expulsion would clear a large area for future Israeli settlements. Protests by Palestinians and some Israelis have interfered with these plans, which appear to violate the Geneva Convention about treatment of an occupied population.

Even the privileged have to submit to the power of the wall. We started on the ancient route from Jerusalem to Jericho, just over 20 miles, cut thousands of years ago into a rolling landscape of rocky slopes. But just outside of East Jerusalem, we ran into a wall, towering over us, turning the road into a parking lot. Go away, the wall said.

Walls are bad for both sides. These walls will eventually fall, too, but not until they have harmed the lives of all the people of Palestine.


Steve Hochstadt

Jacksonville IL

Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, February 3, 2015]]>
Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
Israeli Settler Violence In January, a man carrying an automatic rifle entered a market in Jerusalem’s Old City, cursed the local merchants, assaulted a young man, and began shooting. Israeli soldiers arrived and protected Jewish citizens, and arrested a Palestinian man. The soldiers then created roadblocks at the gates to the City and interrogated many young Palestinian men.


If you assumed that the shooter was a Palestinian, however, you would be wrong. The violent man was an Israeli settler terrorizing Palestinians. Israeli forces responded by attacking Palestinians.


This is not the usual news we hear about Middle East violence. Not because it is unusual. An Israeli newspaper reported last year that there have been thousands of Jewish settler attacks on Palestinians in recent years, with more than one per day in 2013. Another count by an American organization puts the total at 3 per day since 2011. We hear little about them.


What we learn about the Middle East is too general, too simplistic, and too loaded with presuppositions. We keep getting stories of states and politicians and worldwide organizations, full of pomposity and certainty. It’s worth hearing much smaller stories. It takes a lot of small stories to reach any understanding. But if the truth lies anywhere, it’s in hundreds of stories about people we can imagine in places we can envision.


Every story begins in the middle, and every West Bank story begins thousands of years ago. Here’s one story I couldn’t find anywhere, so I had to piece it together myself. We’ll start with the establishment of the Jewish settlement of Shvut Rachel in 1991, in the middle of the West Bank, closer to Jordan than to Jerusalem. The Israeli government in the 1980s had declared Palestinian land on the West Bank to be “public” if it had only been partially cultivated over the past 10 years. A group of settlers took some of this land to create Shvut Rachel, which the Israeli government considered illegal, until recently; it’s been legal since 2012. One of the Shvut Rachel settlers, Jack Teitel from Florida, began a reign of terror against local Palestinians after he arrived in 1999. Teitel was convicted by an Israeli court in 2013 of murdering two Palestinians. Other Shvut Rachel settlers pushed further out in 2000, occupying a nearby hilltop which they called Esh Kodesh, without any permission from the Israeli government, a mile beyond any Jewish settlement, on some private Palestinian land that had been declared “public” by Israel and some Palestinian land that was still private. Picture a dozen trailers on a rocky hill, called an “outpost”.


Settlers create so many of these illegal outposts on the West Bank that the Israeli government has had to dismantle dozens which were not even inhabited. But not nearly all: a road was paved to Esh Kodesh and precious water lines were run back through Shvut Rachel.


Almost immediately there were confrontations between Esh Kodesh settlers and the local Palestinians. The settlers built a fence around “their land”, and then demanded that the local farmers stay out of fields just outside of their fence, to which the government agreed. They began ploughing land outside of the fence, which is fertile enough to support vineyards, unusual in that rocky landscape.


Violent incidents piled up. In March 2011, settlers invaded Qusra village, provoking a gunfight there. In July 2011 settlers attacked some herdsmen and butchered sheep. The army arrived and “dispersed” the Palestinians. Then the army set up a base in September 2011 near Esh Kodesh. In 2012 Palestinians’ olive trees were vandalized.


A United Nations report in fall 2012 noted two consecutive weeks when “settlers from Esh Kodesh have attacked Palestinian civilians from Qusra village.” 126 Palestinians and 32 settlers had been injured that year on the West Bank. Another report counted 10,000 Palestinian trees damaged or destroyed in 2011.


Finally at the end of 2012, the Israeli High Court of Justice ruled that Palestinians could no longer be barred from working their own land around Esh Kodesh. Israeli soldiers had to physically remove settlers who protested that decision. In December, Jews uprooted olive trees and stoned Qusra homes. In January 2013, Palestinians attacked settler vineyards outside of Esh Kodesh. In February, settlers with guns attacked Qusra and wounded 6 Palestinians. More uprooting of Palestinian olive trees, but also planting of trees on Palestinian land that Esh Kodesh wanted. Israeli officials arrived to uproot those illegal trees in January 2014. Esh Kodesh settlers again went out to Qusra, but this time they were captured by hastily arranged security details of villagers, assaulted, and turned over to Israeli soldiers called by the Palestinians.


There is no reason to believe that the outward push of Esh Kodesh settlers, and whole settler movement, will stop. Since Shvut Rachel was founded in 1991, the number of settlers has tripled. In 2012, the Israeli general in charge of the West Bank characterized settler violence as “terrorism”. The Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service, the Justice Minister and the Public Security Minister argued in 2013 for using that label for violent settlers, but nothing happened.


I think there is no history, recent or far in the past, which justifies the economic dispossession of West Bank Palestinians. But that’s not what settlers think. At the Tomb of the Patriarch in Hebron, on the Jewish side, I met a young man, who was explaining to tourists what they were looking at and to me what he believed about the West Bank. He told me, “God gave it to us.” Meaning him, an American Jew, whose lineage is probably more than a thousand years removed from this land, if it actually connects at all. Excluding the people who have lived there all that time, constructing terraces and planting trees and finding water and building roads.


With great patience protesting illegal actions by Israeli settlers and government, with self-defense squads to protect their homes and fields, with occasional attention from Western media, the residents of the West Bank will gradually lose their lands and livelihoods. Unless something is done to reverse decades of Israeli policy.


Steve Hochstadt

Jacksonville IL

Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, February 17, 2015

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
Butting In and Screwing Up

Steve Hochstadt teaches at Illinois College and blogs for HNN. 

Some Republican Senators published an open letter on March 9 to the Ayatollah Khamenei and his government in Iran, trying to influence Iranian behavior in negotiations with the US, Germany, Russia, China, France, and the United Kingdom about its nuclear program. At least that’s what they said they were doing.

It has happened before that people outside of a significant international negotiation have chimed in, trying to push their own agenda. It is not unprecedented in American history for a political party to advocate a foreign policy of its own, even when it does not have executive power. But for both to happen, for members of one Congressional party to throw doubt on the position of the President, while he and other world leaders are dealing with Iran’s nuclear threat, that’s unique.

As a declaration of their foreign policy, it is even more important than the Republican Congressional invitation to Israeli President Netanyahu. That invitation to speak on March 3 was a deliberate insult to our President, so nothing new in Republican treatment of Obama. But then Republicans only committed themselves to listen to Netanyahu. A week later they declared themselves.

“We will consider any agreement regarding your nuclear-weapons program that is not approved by the Congress as nothing more than an executive agreement between President Obama and Ayatollah Khamenei. The next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen....”

Here is what this letter reveals about Republican foreign policy: it’s not serious.

The letter was written by Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton, the youngest and newest member of the Senate. He has no foreign policy experience, but he has clear views. In 2013, in his first term as Representative from Arkansas, Cotton offered an amendment to punish family members of people who violate U.S. sanctions against Iran. He said punishment would include “a spouse and any relative to the third degree, parents, children, aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces, grandparents, great grandparents, grandkids, great grandkids.” He said further, “There would be no investigation. If the prime malefactor of the family is identified as on the list for sanctions, then everyone within their family would automatically come within the sanctions regime as well. It’d be very hard to demonstrate and investigate to conclusive proof.” No proof needed, just put the great grandchildren in jail.

During his Senate campaign in the fall, he warned, “Groups like the Islamic State collaborate with drug cartels in Mexico who have clearly shown they’re willing to expand outside the drug trade into human trafficking and potentially even terrorism. They could infiltrate our defenseless border and attack us right here in places like Arkansas.” It turned out some conservative website had cooked up this idea with no evidence.

Just after he took the oath of office to become a Senator in January, Cotton told the Heritage Foundation on Jan. 15 that he wanted to kill the negotiations: “Certain voices call for congressional restraint urging Congress not to act now, lest Iran walk away from the negotiating table, undermining the fabled yet always absent moderates in Iran. But the end of these negotiations isn’t an unintended consequence of congressional action. It is very much an intended consequence -- a feature, not a bug.”

When presented with Cotton’s quite radical views about dealing with Iran, 46 other Republican senators signed on at lunch. There was no discussion. Senator John McCain explained that, “It was kind of a very rapid process. Everybody was looking forward to getting out of town because of the snowstorm. I think we probably should have had more discussion about it, given the blowback that there is.” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, Republican from Tennessee, did not sign itHe said, “I immediately knew that it was not something that, for me anyway, in my particular role, was going to be constructive.” His analysis didn’t seem to matter to other Republicans.

So leading Republicans get behind a freshman Senator’s untutored an extremist foreign policy. Didn’t any of them have a better idea? Why not discuss the letter with Republican presidential candidates who are not in the Senate, before speculating on what one of them might do if elected? Would a future Republican President really disavow an international agreement of his Democratic predecessor, thus disdaining all fellow signatories, including our closest allies in Europe?

Who is the letter’s audience? It was never actually a letter – the Republicans sent nothing to Iran. They simply issued a press release in English. The last Republican President labeled Khamenei’s government the “Axis of Evil”, which Republicans have continued to treat as an outlaw.

Senator Cotton and his colleagues were addressing the American voting public. Republicans are thinking about how one of their number could become the next President. That’s especially true for three of the signatories: Senators Rand Paul (KY), Ted Cruz (TX) and Marco Rubio (FL) are all running for President.

Like other Republican efforts to repudiate anything that President Obama does, the letter does not go beyond short-term political calculation. The only hint we get about what Republicans would do about foreign policy if they had executive power is this: all they care about is temporary domestic political advantage.

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
Hippies Were Happy

Hippies have a bad reputation, especially among conservatives. In 1967, the “National Review” said that hippies were self-indulgent and had a “horrified rejection of work and production”. Their thinking, “if indeed thinking it can be called, is more like orgiastic love-spluttering than coherent thought.” They might cause “outbreaks of polio and typhoid”.

In 2007, Ted Nugent remarkably blamed “stoned, dirty, stinky hippies” for “rising rates of divorce, high school drop-outs, drug use, abortion, sexual diseases and crime, not to mention the exponential expansion of government and taxes.”

The most popular speaker at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference, Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson, received a huge applause for claiming that millions of cases of STD’s today are “the revenge of the hippies!”

Even less hysterical commentators still want to blame hippies for all of our ills: in 2010, David Brooks of the NY Times blamed the hippie “agenda” for the New York City crime wave of the 1970s.

Historians also saw hippies as scapegoats. In The Unraveling of America (1984, p. 277), Allen J. Matusow asserted that they did not believe in reason, progress, order, achievement, or social responsibility, probably because “Few hippies read much”. More recently, Micah Issitt said in Hippies: A Guide to an American Subculture (2009, p. 64-5) that hippies were personally irresponsible, poor parents, and unwilling to contribute to anything more than their own pleasure, and he blamed hippie advocacy of free love for climbing divorce rates.

These stereotypes of hippies were created by people who hated them and didn’t want to understand them.

Hippies utterly rejected the consumer life. They believed that watching the clock, dressing for success, and hoping for the next raise damaged the soul. Hippies put a lot of stress on stress. Unlike most people, they were willing to make big sacrifices to avoid stress. The anxieties of modern working life, the pressures of schedules, and the confrontations with authority were not worth the hassle. At a time when daily life was being compared to a rat race, hippies wanted to leave it all behind.

Hippies took spirituality seriously. They created lives far out of the mainstream in order to preserve and nurture their spirit. Traditional gods did not play a big role in hippie spirituality. Some remained with traditional religions, but tended to worship on their own. Many, perhaps most, hippies imagined their own spiritual worlds, blending the social gospel of Western faiths with the inward search of some Eastern beliefs. A love of nature often focused on the Earth as a living being and maternal symbol. In religion, as in every area of belief and behavior, hippies were independent spirits.

Hippies did not get in your face. They didn’t send out mailers or make phone calls or knock on doors or shout into microphones. They didn’t believe that their way was necessarily better for everyone. They wanted to do their own thing.

Hippies were peaceful. That attitude went far beyond signs and symbols, and was more profound than opposition to the Vietnam War. Hippies thought that peace is meant to rule our daily lives, from international relations to the family home. When they raised two fingers and said “Peace”, they converted a plea for cooperation into a daily greeting.

Hippies abhorred violence. For trying to escape or end the draft, they were labeled cowards, but they were not. They stood up to the entire straight world, including every familiar figure of authority, to say “No,” we don’t want that life. The hippie approach to violence has been forever symbolized in the 1967 photo of a protester putting a flower into a National Guardsman’s gun in front of the Pentagon.

Hippies got high. That didn’t distinguish them from normal folks. They used a different set of drugs – not depressants like alcohol or pills, but marijuana and psychedelics, including LSD, peyote and mushrooms. Their infrequent bad trips were only bad for themselves. They were less likely to drive drunk or get into brawls than the people who criticized them for using dope.

Hippies were ahead of their time. Their unconventional ideas about gender equality, their acceptance of a variety of sexualities, and their preference for organic products and vegetarian diets are now widely accepted. “Question authority” is now a bumper sticker, but few actually reject social authority as profoundly as did the hippies. 

Hippies were less likely to cause trouble than most people. Hippie “crime” was typified by the illegal planting of flowers in People’s Park in Berkeley in 1969. But that didn’t stop people from causing trouble for them. They were called lazy, irresponsible and un-American. Hippie rejection of conventional American life made them pariahs in a country supposedly founded on individualism and freedom.

Conservative attitudes toward hippies demonstrate the shallowness of right-wing libertarianism. Rejection of authority only means rejection of government. Liberty means freedom from taxes. Politics is war.

Enough to make the real libertarians want to tune in, turn on, and drop out.

Steve Hochstadt

Jacksonville IL

Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, March 31, 2015

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
Jury Trials as National Public Spectacle: Now that's Something New

Aaron Hernandez (Courtesy: Hartfort Courant)

Steve Hochstadt is a writer and a professor of history at Illinois College.

Jury trials have recently become national public spectacles. The trials of Jody Arias for killing her boyfriend, of former Patriots football player Aaron Hernandez for killing an acquaintance, of wealthy real estate developer Robert Durst for a second murder after he escaped judgment in the first, are just some of the spectacular court cases currently being covered by national media.

It wasn’t always that way. The media circus around the trial of O.J. Simpson for murdering his ex-wife Nicole Simpson and Ronald Goldman was still unusual in 1995. O.J. was already a national spectacle himself, but newspaper and TV coverage was unprecedented. The L.A. Times put the trial on its front page every day for a year, and network news devoted more time to it than to the Oklahoma City bombing and the Bosnian War combined.

That wasn’t the first trial with national coverage. The trial of John Scopes in 1925 for violating Tennessee’s ban on teaching evolution in public schools attracted reporters from all over the country to tiny Dayton, Tennessee, and the proceedings were reported every day on the radio. That trial concerned an issue of national significance, whose outcome could influence people’s lives across the US.

Although there were jury trials, sometimes with enormous numbers of jurors, in ancient Greece and Rome, juries gained constitutional force as a democratic practice in the Magna Carta of 1215. Article 39 says, “No free man shall be captured, and or imprisoned, . . . or be outlawed, or exiled, or in any way destroyed, . . . but by the lawful judgment of his peers, and or by the law of the land.” Its mirror image was the Star Chamber, a court of the ruler’s men, or the ruler himself.

Our founders attached great importance to jury trials as integral to a free democratic system. In Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, among the charges made against the King of England was “depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury”. The Sixth Amendment to the Constitution guarantees “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed”.

Jury trials for nearly all of their history have been private and local. Jurors knew each other, they knew the accused and accusers, they knew the lawyers and the judge. No juror had to worry that millions of people were observing the case, that TV commentators were picking sides and making accusations of their own, that reporters were following them as they left the courthouse. Nor were publishers and agents waiting for the verdict with big bonuses for telling all. Deliberating jurors could hear each other better without all that noise outside. They could make up their own minds. I think that was good for justice.

Sometimes a whole community believes so strongly in justice that they act through a jury to defy their rulers. That was the case in Russia when Mikhail Beilis was falsely accused of Jewish ritual murder in a 1913 trial in Kiev. Despite dishonest prosecutors, fabricated evidence, lying witnesses, an antisemitic judge and government pressure reaching to the Tsar himself, the jury acquitted Beilis.

Sometimes a society is committed to systematic injustice and uses jury trials to enforce inequality. Racially skewed verdicts were normal in the US, not just in the South, for most of our history. Harper Lee, who happens to be in the news these days for her decision to publish a second novel written long ago, became famous with “To Kill a Mockingbird” about a white jury trial in Alabama of an innocent black man that ends in his death, based on a real case from 1936. By the time that novel was published to acclaim in 1960, and a film version won the Oscar in 1962, jury trials in America were at the tipping point when the racial injustice of the whole legal system could no longer be ignored.

The level of justice provided by jury trials may ebb and flow. The gradual retreat of racial and ethnic prejudice from distorting verdicts is accompanied by the increase of outside intrusion, seeking the thrills of snap judgment, but rarely justice.

Who knows what social transformation will affect the future of jury trials? They’ll still be better than any alternative. Every dictatorship destroys trial by jury for cases which threaten its power. When a jury failed to convict most of the accused of setting the fire that burned the German Reichstag in 1933, Hitler created a new court system, the Volksgerichtshof, where the Nazi judge acted as jury for all political offenses. Jury trials were abolished in the Soviet Union, reinstituted in 1993 after the Communists were overthrown, and then limited again by Vladimir Putin, as he gradually dismantled elements of Russian democracy.

Juries are just part of the trial system and share the flaws of the larger society. The ability of the rich to buy better verdicts through extensive and expensive use of every complication of our legal system is no secret. Even juries’ fairest collective judgments cannot make up for unequal policing or for the increasing pressures of plea bargaining.

Jury duty may seem like an inconvenient burden, although most employers offer paid leave for jury service. We are lucky to live in a society where our guilt or innocence is judged by free women and men. But if we want to be tried by a well-functioning jury of our peers, we must be willing to serve.

Steve Hochstadt

Jacksonville IL

Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, April 14, 2015

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
“What Aaron Schock should have said”

That was the Chicago Sun-Times headline after Schock gave his farewell speech in Congress. Until a few days ago, Aaron Schock was my representative to Congress. I’ve been reading superlatives about Schock for years. His biography is filled with amazing firsts: youngest person serving on a school board in Illinois at age 19; youngest school board president in Illinois history; youngest representative to the Illinois legislature at 23; youngest person in Congress at 27. Not much more was told about what he had accomplished in these offices, although he had been in the public spotlight for years.

The Republican Party loved him. While still a candidate in his first Congressional election in 2008, he was invited to speak at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, a unique honor. The National Republican Congressional Committee chose Schock to chair their biggest fundraising event of 2014, their annual dinner in March. In June of last year, Schock was named senior deputy whip in the House.

But his behavior in Congress should have raised some questions about his maturity. From the beginning, Schock was entranced with his own appearance. You can see many of the photographs he had taken of himself without a shirt on Google. He was proud of his abs, displayed prominently on the cover of Men’s Health in June 2011.

Like most Republicans in Congress, Schock decries big spending by government. But Schock himself is a big spender. Although he has faced only token opposition since his first Congressional election, winning three-quarters of the vote against no-name Democrats in 2012 and 2014, he spent more on his campaign than the average Representative. In 2014, he spent $1.5 million, against $24,000 by his opponent.

Some of this lavish spending and the fundraising that supported it began to raise questions in 2014. His hometown newspaper, the Peoria Journal Star, reported earlier this year about a number of surprising Schock campaign expenses: about $126,000 in food and drinks (that’s $345 per day); $2600 on campaign cufflinks; $1440 on “fundraising event entertainment” at a Baltimore massage parlor. His campaign bought a new Chevy Tahoe last year for $73,000 and another car, too. This is a rare practice among members of Congress, and the cars were registered in his own name.

Another way that Schock stood out was his penchant for flying on private aircraft. He, that is his campaign or his office, spent over $70,000 over the past six years on private planes, more than the rest of the Illinois congressional delegation combined. But he pretended otherwise. Eighteen months after President Obama invited him aboard Air Force One in 2009, he told a political rally, “I have to tell you that Air Force One is pretty nice. But I’ve been flying commercial ever since.” Yet USA Today reports that he had already spent $18,000 of taxpayer funds on private flights.

Everyone knows now about his lavishly decorated office. While his taste has been criticized, much more important was his neglect to pay for it. Until it became the stuff of headlines, of course, when he claimed an oversight and blamed his staff. It was only the most recent example of Schock’s flaunting the rule that he was not allowed to accept any gift, including food and beverage, exceeding $50 from any source. But Schock mainly used public funds to create his nest: according to USA Today, they “discovered more than $100,000 worth of renovations and furniture expenses Schock has billed to taxpayers in prior years, including hardwood floors, marble counters and high-end furniture.”

Schock appears to believe that he is special. When questions were raised about his office makeover, he said, “Well, I've never been an old crusty white guy. I’m different.” His comings and goings were so important that taxpayers and donors had to pay for his own personal photographer to record his high living.

His busy social schedule got in the way of doing his job. During his 6 years in office, Schock missed more than twice as many votes as the average representative.

In fact, Schock’s flamboyant lifestyle, paid with public funds, attracted attention long ago. He was on the “Most Corrupt Members of Congress Report” by the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics and Washington report for 2012 and 2013.

Oversights? Accounting mistakes? According to the Chicago Tribune, Schock requested reimbursement for driving 171,000 miles in his own car. But when he traded it up for the Chevy Tahoe, it only had 81,000 miles on the odometer. Right from the beginning of his Congressional career, in 2010 and 2011 he already claimed to have driven 96,000 miles.

In his final speech in Congress, Schock still saw himself as someone special. He compared his life to Abraham Lincoln’s, who also “faced as many defeats in his personal, business and public life . . . . His continual perseverance in the face of these trials, never giving up is something all of us Americans should be inspired by, especially when going through a valley in life.” As the Peoria Journal Star wrote, Schock was a “caviar congressman in a meat-and-potatoes district, a poster child for political excess”.

Aaron, you may have added another record to your list: youngest ever to resign in scandal at 33. In your last speech, you should have said you’re sorry. You’re no Honest Abe.

Steve Hochstadt

Jacksonville IL

Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, April 21, 2015

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
Let's Kill the Unions It’s been a bit more than 100 days since Republican Bruce Rauner became Governor of Illinois. Despite the enormous financial problems facing our state, he has yet to propose specific methods of dealing with our deficit and our debt. He has yet to propose any tax reform. But he has been very active on one of his pet projects – killing unions.

Rauner claims that union-negotiated salaries have caused our state’s financial crisis. He accused unions that represent public employees, such as firefighters, police and teachers, of manipulating elections by contributing to campaigns of elected officials. In his State of the State speech in February, Rauner said the state should ban political contributions by public employee unions.

His most significant action thus far has been to stop the payment of union dues by workers who are not members, but who benefit from union contracts, so-called “fair share” payments. Rauner’s anti-union policies may not get very far. His proposal that communities be allowed to create local “right-to-work zones” conflicts with federal labor laws, which only allow states to pass such laws. Unions have sued Rauner to prevent his “fair share” order, and the Republican comptroller has refused to put these fees into an escrow account pending a final decision.

Unions have been gradually losing public support as they have lost membership. From the 1930s through the 1960s, about two-thirds of Americans approved of labor unions in Gallup polls. That proportion has gradually fallen to barely over half in 2014. Since the 1960s, the proportion of workers in unions has fallen from one quarter to one tenth.

To those who believe that unions have too much power to influence government, here is a surprising statistic. For every dollar that labor unions and other public-interest groups spend on lobbying, large corporations and their associations spend $34. Of the 100 organizations that spend the most on lobbying, 95 represent business. The largest companies now have upwards of 100 lobbyists representing them. Lawmakers in Washington and in state capitals are besieged daily by lobbyists representing the interests of corporate America, not by union members.

The gains won by unions in wages and benefits over many decades raised the standard of living of all Americans. These gains also can raise costs. When teachers’ salaries go up, so do the costs of public schools. But paying teachers good salaries benefits our whole society by making this most important profession more attractive to the best students and by strengthening the middle class. Paying factory workers good salaries can raise the cost of automobiles and other goods, but the 20th-century gains in factory wages contributed to the strong American economy. As unions declined, workers’ wages stagnated, and the share of total income in the US that goes to the middle class has fallen from 53% to 46%. The loss of good-paying manufacturing jobs overseas is one of the causes of our economic problems.

Unions are democracy in action, created by the working poor to speak with their voice. Capitalists and governments fought them everywhere they grew. If threats of jail and loss of job were not enough, armed violence with the overwhelming power of the state was employed. The celebration of labor that happens across the world every year on May 1 came about due to the Haymarket incident in Chicago in 1886, itself the result of police shooting of striking workers. Every dictatorship of the left or right seeks to destroy the power of unions. Unions are much more democratic organizations than corporations, representing average Americans rather than wealthy stockholders and CEOs.

What is often said about democracy should also be said about unions: they are not the best we could imagine, but they are the best we have. For those who can’t afford to buy a seat at a party fundraiser, who can’t pay for a lobbyist, who can’t invite politicians out to eat or to play golf or fly a jet, no other form of collective power is more successful and more democratic.

The struggle between unions and business is about money and power: the boardroom or the workers. The essence of a democratic system, and its challenge, is to allow this struggle to take place peacefully, to insure that both sides follow the laws, to allow corporations and unions the freedom to compete.

That’s not good enough for conservatives like Rauner, Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, and every other Republican Party prominence. They don’t want a fair competition. They see nothing positive about unions and never discuss a fair fight. Their desire to destroy unions has not diminished as unions have declined in power – it has grown.

The wages of a typical Walmart worker qualify them for welfare. Walmart has fought unions for control of its workers with every legal and illegal tactic: billions are at stake. Walmart funds Republican politicians to support the fight against unions and to stall any raise in the minimum wage.

Listen to Bruce Rauner. He has not positioned himself at the Republican extreme, like Walker, Cruz, and many others. He must live with a Democratic legislature. But he hates unions like the CEO he used to be, who doesn’t want to hear what workers have to say and who is fighting them every day for money and power. If he has his way, our whole democracy will suffer.

Steve Hochstadt

Jacksonville IL

Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, April 28, 2015 and


Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
Bernie Sanders for President?

Steve Hochstadt is a writer and a professor of history at Illinois College.

The Democratic nomination for President seems all locked up. Hillary Clinton has name recognition and donor appeal that nobody can come close to. What chance does a Jewish man from Vermont, who calls himself a democratic socialist and refuses to have a super PAC, have against the Clinton juggernaut?

You might think that Sanders would try to run away from the socialist label, but that would mistake two things: Sanders’ honesty and the real nature of American democratic socialism.

For decades, conservatives have used the idea of socialism as equivalent with Soviet-style communism to mislead Americans into voting against liberals. Every policy that President Obama, a liberal, advocates has been labeled “socialist”, and therefore presumably un-American, in the conservative media world. Obama-haters regularly call him a “Muslim socialist”, despite the inherent contradiction. A fine way to find out what American socialism is really about is to look at Sanders’ first political job as mayor of Burlington, Vermont, for eight years, 1981-1989.

Although conservatives claim socialism is about big government, Sanders showed that American democratic socialism is about social ownership. His administration promoted locally owned small businesses, affordable housing, and community involvement in city planning. He fought a big developer’s vision of converting Burlington’s Lake Champlain waterfront into high-priced hotels and condos. Instead what used to be an industrial wasteland now has a community boathouse, a bike path, public beaches and parkland, and a science center.

The developer did not become an enemy, but a friend of Sanders, because both were committed to making Burlington a better place to live. Sanders promoted programs to give women an equal chance as entrepreneurs and workers. His administration passed an ordinance requiring that 10% of city-funded construction jobs be held by women. Corporations opened new facilities in Burlington, some of which are now owned by their employees. Burlington has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country.

Despite decades of name-calling by the right, socialism is no longer the political curse word associated with Senator Joe McCarthy. According to a Pew Research Center poll in 2011, 31% of Americans had a positive reaction to the word socialism, while 60% had a negative reaction. But those responses are highly dependent on age. Americans over 50 were highly negative about socialism and positive about “capitalism”. Those 18-29 were more positive than negative about socialism (49% to 43%), and more negative about capitalism (47% to 46%).

Another poll from 2011 found that a majority of Americans agreed with Sanders’ basic platform. Both Republicans (53% to 41%) and Democrats (91% to 8%) said there is “too much power in the hands of a few rich people and large corporations”. Both Democrats and Independents overwhelmingly said that our economy “unfairly favors the wealthy”. Inequality has suddenly emerged as a major media story, and a more recent poll less than a year ago showed that 46% of Americans say “the gap between rich and poor is a very big problem”.

Sanders’ specific proposals to shift economic power back toward the middle class are gaining wider public support. He wants to raise the minimum wage and increase Social Security payments. He wants to close the tax loopholes that benefit the wealthiest 1% and lower the taxes of the great majority of Americans. He says about the biggest banks, “if an institution is too big to fail, it is too big to exist.”

He won the Congressional Leadership Award of the Military Officers Association of America for trying to increase disability compensation for veterans and collaborating with Sen. John McCain to reform the Department of Veterans Affairs. 

Unlike Clinton and all the Republicans, Sanders does not have to explain away past votes. He voted against the invasion of Iraq in 2003. He voted against the Patriot Act intrusions into our personal communications. In 2005, he proposed curtailing the government’s ability to look at our library and book-buying records. While Clinton and all the Republicans try to line up the support of billionaires, Sanders has refused to create a super PAC.

His real positions rather than right-wing caricatures have begun to turn people’s heads. His speeches attract increasing numbers of older Americans, the most reliable voting bloc. A straw poll of delegates to the Wisconsin Democratic party convention earlier this month showed Sanders catching up to Hillary Clinton, winning 40% of votes against her 49%. Many Republicans agree with some of Sanders’ fundamental positions about money playing too great a role in politics. Some are openly talking about voting for him.

It’s too early to say who will win the Democratic nomination. But it’s never too early to think about how we can win back our country from the billionaires and their political buddies.

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
That Was The Week That Was Political change moves slowly across our big nation, but last week changed America. The Affordable Care Act is now settled law. Same-sex marriage will prevail in every state. The Confederate flag is coming down.


Ever since the ACA was passed in 2010, it has suffered constant attack by Republicans. The day after it was signed, Republican politicians in both houses of Congress voted to repeal it. The House voted over 60 times to repeal Obamacare. Republican arguments that the ACA was unconstitutional, however, have failed twice at the Supreme Court, although the majority of justices were appointed by Republican presidents.


Wikipedia characterized the ACA as “the most significant regulatory overhaul of the U.S. health care system since the passage of Medicare and Medicaid in 1965.” This victory does not end the war over health care and how to pay for it. It is one step forward in a long journey. During those 50 years, there have been many attempts to reform health care, as the cost of medicine has exploded. The politics have been clear: Democrats have proposed and Republicans have opposed.


This time, Republicans tried to stoke fears among the elderly that billions to pay for the ACA would come out of Medicare. That was untrue and cynical. In 1961, a youthful-looking Ronald Reagan came to national attention when he produced a 10-minute LP record outlining a nightmare vision of John F. Kennedy’s proposal to expand the government’s role in health care for the elderly: “behind it will come other government programs that will invade every area of freedom as we have known it in this country until one day, as Norman Thomas said, we will wake to find that we have socialism. We are going to spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children, what it once was like in America when men were free." Republicans opposed the bill unanimously in House committees, and eventually split down the middle in final votes.


In those days there were liberal Republicans. When the Clintons proposed health care reform in the 1990s, Republicans were totally opposed. The fight over the ACA is now over, although Republican leaders keep wasting public time with futile gestures. Rep. Brian Babin of Texas introduced the SCOTUScare Act to force Supreme Court justices and their staffs to enroll in Obamacare.


The day after announcing that Obamacare was the law of the land, the Supreme Court declared a momentous milestone in another long political battle. Same-sex marriage is legal in every state. “No longer may this liberty be denied,” wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy for the majority.


In 1960 every state considered gay sex a criminal act. As recently as 1986, the Court upheld a Georgia law against gay sex. Twelve years ago, Justice Kennedy wrote the majority opinion for an overwhelmingly Republican-appointed Court in Lawrence vs. Texas (2003), which struck down such laws in 14 states, mainly in the South. Scalia and Thomas also dissented from that attempt to protect the rights of gay people from violent government intrusion. Scalia was prescient: “this reasoning leaves on shaky, pretty shaky, grounds state laws limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples.”


The struggle for sexual equality is by no means over, but the current desperation of its opponents is notable. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, running for President, proposed a national convention to write one constitutional amendment outlawing gay marriage and another mandating retention elections for Supreme Court justices every 8 years. Nothing less would do in these “darkest hours of our nation.” Cruz might consider that hundreds of Republican political leaders, nearly half of Republican voters, and two-thirds of Americans support same-sex marriage. Republican presidential candidates Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee have both advocated treason, if elected: “We will not honor any decision by the Supreme Court which will force us to violate a clear biblical understanding of marriage as solely the union of one man and one woman.”



Since a Confederate-flag loving racist killed 9 black worshipers in a South Carolina church, many conservative leaders have suddenly changed their minds about its meaning. That political fight has also been waged for decades. The Confederate battle flag was never the official flag of the Confederacy. It became popular in the South not during the Civil War, but later as a statement in favor of discrimination. Mississippi incorporated the symbol into its state flag in 1894, right after imposing a poll tax that eliminated the possibility for African Americans, the majority of the state’s population, to vote, serve on juries or hold elected office. Georgia added the Confederate symbol to its state flag in 1956, in response to another Supreme Court decision in Brown vs. Board of Education (1954). South Carolina lawmakers raised the Confederate flag over the State House in April 1961, after a year of sit-ins across the South revived the civil rights movement.


June 2015 will be remembered by us and by tomorrow’s historians as a moment of profound cultural and political change. Like many significant moments, this one is tinged with tragedy. Behind the moment are long struggles for equality, dignity and justice, and desperate, even violent measures to stop that human progress. Remember the past and fight for the future.


Steve Hochstadt

Jacksonville IL

Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, June 30, 2015

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
Bad Wars and Their Consequences

Steve Hochstadt is a writer and a professor of history at Illinois College.

I went to see the model of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial when it came to the center of Jacksonville. “The Wall That Heals” travels across the country, bringing the cathartic effect of the larger wall of names in Washington to the hometowns of veterans and casualties of that long war. I did not serve, but I assume that this traveling reminder of the 58,300 Americans who died in Vietnam helps those who still experience the war’s pain.

I was moved to think again of my friend, Paul Semplicino (1947-1971), who died on leave in Bangkok, while President Nixon claimed to search for “peace with honor”, but secretly escalated into Cambodia and Laos.

What balances the national pain of all those deaths, over 150,000 physically wounded and many more psychologically scarred? What good did our intervention in Vietnam do?

A few years later in 1980, Ronald Reagan, running for the presidency, claimed that “ours was, in truth, a noble cause.” Individual men and women served with honor and demonstrated personal nobility. W.D. Ehrhart, just my age, writes of the unpredictable mixture of boredom, bravery, foolishness, disdain for the Vietnamese and willingness to die to save their lives. But our country earned no honor in Vietnam, and our cause was not noble.

The war was part of the global power struggle, ignoring the interests of the Vietnamese people fighting for independence from colonial domination. Hundreds of thousands of civilians were killed, including more children than American soldiers. We sprayed 20 million gallons of herbicides, mostly Agent Orange containing dioxin, on 1/7 of South Vietnam’s surface. Both American veterans and Vietnamese civilians, including babies born long after the war’s end, have suffered from the effects of these chemicals.

That was a bad war in which America, represented by a succession of governments, acted badly.

There have been good wars. That phrase is misleading about war, but it expresses a truth about joining a war. American entry into World War II was almost a “noble cause”, composed of self-protection, a response to aggression, and a fight between good and evil. Everything we have learned about World War II in the 70 years since its end demonstrates that our reasons were good, our fighting was good, and the results have been good.

One story I just heard from a new friend shows that. In the 1950s, his father took the family to France, where he had fought in 1944, but about which he said little. He drove seemingly lost among small villages. Suddenly he pulled into a little farm and stopped in front of the house and barn. The farmer came out shouting about this violation of his property, the father gestured and raised his voice that he had been here before, and the family of mother and children, including my friend, watched with dismay. The father knelt down and drew in the dirt the number “116”. The farmer burst into tears.

As the Army had came through, my friend’s father with the 116th had set up a hospital behind the farmer’s barn. The farmer’s daughter got sick. She was saved in the hospital. As the Americans and British advanced, they met joyous celebrations by the French people.

The German response to the Normandy landing was different. Six days after D-Day, a Waffen-SS battalion killed everyone in the village of Oradour-sur-Glane by herding them into barns and the church and setting them on fire.

American fighting in World War II liberated people who desperately wanted to be liberated. We even helped liberate the Vietnamese from the Japanese, only to support the reimposition of French colonial domination.

Since then we have engaged in wars around the world where we were not attacked, we were as aggressive as those we designated as our enemy, and our government lied to convince us that we were on the good side.

But I’m not making a moral argument. My point is that the results of justifiable and unjustifiable wars are different. We could have destroyed Vietnam, but we could not prevent its independence. We easily got rid of a murderous dictator in Iraq and have not been able to prevent the country from sinking into anarchy, with less security than before. We thought we could fix Afghanistan in our own image and kill those who had attacked us on 9-11, ignoring the earlier failures of the British and the Russians. The Taliban is still there, Al Qaeda has spread further, and a more deadly virus of fanatic destruction has arisen in the Middle East.

In Vietnam, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and in many other places, our leaders did not know what they were doing. The result has been disaster for our soldiers, for the countries where we intervened, for our global image and our image of ourselves.

The political leaders who now demand that we commit more people and money to these mistaken incursions into other people’s lands are the same ones who say we don’t have enough resources to pay for schools or poverty programs or museums. They don’t want to remember the lessons of the bad wars we have fought, perhaps because they sent us into them.

We need to learn those lessons.

This article was first published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, June 7, 2015

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
The Myth of Liberal Media Popular myths live long after they are disproved. One of the most significant political myths is about the “liberal media”, the supposed tilt of American public media to the left. This claim by Republicans is nearly as old as I am. It was false when it began, and it still is, although less so.


When I was growing up, the great majority of newspapers endorsed Republican candidates. The magazine “Editor and Publisher” surveyed presidential endorsements of newspapers since 1940. The first time a Democrat won more endorsements was Lyndon Johnson in 1964 against Barry Goldwater. The next time was Bill Clinton in 1992. John Kerry barely edged out George W. Bush in 2004 and Obama won in 2008, although many fewer papers endorse candidates these days. In 2012 more papers endorsed Romney, but those which endorsed Obama had a higher circulation.


Over the long term, Republican presidential candidates won nearly three-quarters of newspaper endorsements from the 1930s through the 1980s. In other elections at the state and federal level, a similar pattern holds: from an overwhelming majority of endorsements from the 1940s through the 1960s, newspapers shifted to a more even split in the 1970s and 1980s, to a slight national majority for Democrats since the 1990s, with significant regional differences. In the 2014 governor’s race in Illinois, 12 of the 14 largest newspapers in the state endorsed the Republican Rauner.


Nevertheless, Republicans asserted that the media leaned against them. In 2009 Sarah Palin, who as candidate for Vice President admitted to doing virtually no reading, nevertheless argued that all the mainstream media were unfair to conservatives, making the term “lamestream media” popular. At the same time, researchers at Media Matters for America studied media politics at a different level. They surveyed every daily newspaper in the country in 2007 to see which syndicated op-ed columnists they published. The winner? George Will, syndicated in more papers with a higher total circulation than anyone else. No matter how one measured it, conservative columnists had an advantage over liberals. 60% of daily newspapers printed more conservative columnists than liberals, with only 20% of newspapers in the other direction. Newspapers with more conservative columnists reached more readers nationally. Only in the Middle Atlantic region of New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey were liberal op-ed voices more prominent.


Why does the false characterization of the media have such strength against the facts? Conservatives overwhelmingly do not trust the media. Conservative Americans, unlike everyone else, trust only the few news sources which match their political views. Those very conservative sources, like the programs of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity, repeat this claim about the liberal media all the time.


When the media leaned strongly Republican, Republicans had a much more favorable view. In 1956, a study found that 78% of Republicans thought that newspapers were fair. The shift towards more equality, their loss of dominance, was perceived by conservatives as an unfair trend, much as the still incomplete shift towards more racial and gender equality has led to conservative complaints about reverse discrimination.


I have one more explanation. Conservatives have declared their distrust of factual information. When decades or even centuries of scientific work clash with traditional beliefs, the science is declared bad. Conservatives have attacked and tried to eliminate the government institutions dedicated to informing and educating the public, like the National Endowments for the Humanities and the Arts, and public television and radio.


Higher education has been under attack by conservatives for decades. In 2012, Rick Santorum criticized the idea of sending more students to college as an effort to “indoctrinate” them and wanted states “to get out of education”. Scan the country now for Republican efforts to do that. Scott Walker proposed to change the mission statement of the University of Wisconsin from the effort to “search for truth” and “improve the human condition” to “meet the state’s workforce needs.” Then he demanded a cut of $300 million from the University’s budget over the next two years. Doug Ducey, Governor of Arizona, proposed eliminating all state support for the two largest community college systems. Here in Illinois, one of the first institutions to be threatened with closure due to Governor Bruce Rauner’s budget cuts is the Illinois State Museum, a center for public education and scientific research.


By cutting funding of public schools and higher education, Republicans show their allegiance to the interests of the wealthiest Americans. A remarkable survey of rich Chicagoans (average wealth $14 million) shows that only one-third agree that “The federal government should spend whatever is necessary to ensure that all children have really good public schools they can go,” against 87% of the general public. Only 28% of them agree that “The federal government should make sure that everyone who wants to go to college can do so,” against 78% of the rest of us.


The children of the wealthy will go wherever they like, and the poor will scramble to get ahead. To get average Americans to support that system, Republicans must shield them from the real news, must keep them away from science and the scientific method of thinking about the world, must make the financial hurdles to education high. Telling everyone not to listen to the most informative media is one part of that plan.


Steve Hochstadt

Jacksonville IL

Published by the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, July 14, 2015

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
The Meaning of Donald Trump Steve Hochstadt is a writer and a professor of history at Illinois College. 

At this moment in the long-distance race of the Republican nomination for President, the leader is Donald Trump. Leading the pack at this point doesn’t require much support, because there are so many candidates. In the most recent polls, taken by USA Today and by FOX News, Trump leads with only 17-18%, among 15 men and Carly Fiorina. Scott Walker (15%) and Jeb Bush (14%) also scored in double digits. Trump’s share has quadrupled over the past 2 months, Walker and Bush have stayed about the same, and the most conservative also-rans, like Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, and Mike Huckabee, have lost voters to Trump.

Unlike every other entrant, he is not a politician and has never held public office. Just a few years ago, he wasn’t even a Republican. What could it mean that he is in the lead?

When Trump pretended to be a Republican presidential candidate in 2011, his history of political donations leaned Democratic, including sizable donations to Harry Reid, Rahm Emanuel, and John Kerry. He gave often to Hillary Clinton and to the Clinton Foundation.

His behavior and public statements are most un-presidential. Trump was able to use student and medical deferments to avoid service in Vietnam. Yet he claimed to Bill O’Reilly, “There’s nobody bigger or better at the military than I am.” At a Republican gathering on Saturday, he disparaged John McCain’s well known Vietnam service record: “He’s not a war hero. He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”

Trump’s personal life appears to be the opposite of what conservatives prefer. He was married three times. In 2004, he told the Daily News, “All of the women on ‘The Apprentice’ flirted with me, consciously or unconsciously. That’s to be expected.” In his 2007 book, Trump boasted, “Oftentimes when I was sleeping with one of the top women in the world I would say to myself, thinking about me as a boy from Queens, ‘Can you believe what I’m getting?’ ”

Those things appear not to matter as much to conservatives as his recent remarks about immigrants, which have catapulted him in the polls. In his June announcement that he was a candidate, Trump claimed that Mexico is “sending people that have lots of problems. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

When conservatives explain why they like Trump, they often use the word “truth”. What does it mean when Trump’s supporters say that he tells the truth? People who labeled themselves Tea Party supporters in the recent FOX poll were the LEAST likely to vote for a candidate who is “sometimes less than honest and would lie to cover up the truth.” No age group, racial group, gender group, or income group put a higher value on truth than Tea Party supporters.

Extreme conservatives want the truth as they believe it, and Trump gives it to them.

Here is that truth as shown in that FOX poll. Tea Party supporters see the least benefit in any kind of immigration and the most danger. When asked several questions about possible benefits of LEGAL immigration, Tea Party people had the least interest. When asked a series of questions about concerns they might have about ILLEGAL immigration, Tea Party supporters consistently gave the highest negative answers. 76% are “very concerned” about an increase in crime, and 80% about “overburdening government programs and services”. Other possible issues, such as “taking jobs away from U.S. citizens”, are of much less concern. Over half, much more than any other group, wanted to deport as many illegal immigrants as possible.

Less than half of Americans think Donald Trump was correct in his claims about whom Mexico is “sending” over the border, but three-quarters of Tea Party supporters agree with him.

Donald Trump is a vain, self-promoting, amoral man, whose focus on himself and his money would make an awful President. I think most of the people who say they support him now, more than six months before the Iowa Caucuses on February 1, already know that. By picking Trump, they are sending a message to the Republican Party, and to us all, about their distaste for immigration and especially Hispanic immigrants. Trump is saying what they want to hear about immigration. Right-wing Americans don’t want him – they want the other Republicans to listen up, to learn their truth.

Trump is just riding that wave. Soon he’ll go down. What matters is what other Republicans do with their most vocal and extreme voters.

We all need to pay attention. And we must keep saying, as often as possible, that just like everything else Trump says about political issues, this too is a lie.

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
What Are the Issues for Republican Presidential Candidates? The first Republican presidential debate two weeks ago has spawned countless news reports about what the candidates said, with emphasis on Donald Trump’s anger at being confronted with his own words about women. What do these men think about the real issues that face our nation?


The surprisingly pointed questions posed by the FOX moderators tilted the debate in certain directions. The first few questions pointed up potential weaknesses of various candidates, such as the problems in New Jersey’s economy under Gov. Chris Christie and the divisive rhetoric of Sen. Ted Cruz, inviting defensive assertions, but not policy statements.


Abortion was the first real issue brought up. Gov. Scott Walker and former Gov. Jeb Bush bragged about defunding Planned Parenthood in Wisconsin and Florida, although what they actually did was to reduce funding to family planning clinics, some of which are run by Planned Parenthood. Walker and former Gov. Mike Huckabee said they do not support any abortions, even to save the life of the mother. Nobody contradicted them.


Of course, immigration was a big topic for discussion. Trump wants to build a wall, Rubio said, “We need a fence,” Walker said, “Secure the border.” Nobody liked the idea of amnesty for undocumented immigrants. Of course, nobody mentioned that their number rose from 8 million to 12 million while George Bush was President, and has fallen slightly since 2008. Nobody offered any ideas about how to deal with so many people already living here. Only Bush offered anything positive, a “path to earned legal status”.


Foreign policy brought out some tough language. Walker wants to send weapons to Ukraine and put missiles in Czechoslovakia and Poland. Cruz wants to move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. Carson approved of torture of enemies. Bush said we should “take ISIS out with every tool at our disposal,” which sounds like sending more troops to the Middle East. Most who spoke on military issues urged an expansion of our armed forces. Nobody explained how this might be funded at the same time as taxes are reduced.


Gov. John Kasich offered the only discussion all night about poor Americans. He defended Ohio’s expansion of Medicaid as a means of helping the addicted, the mentally ill and the working poor. The only other person to bring up poverty in America was Jeb Bush, who said, “There’s 6 million people living in poverty today, more than when Barack Obama got elected.” That’s an amazing statement for a presidential candidate, since the US Census Bureau reported last year that over 45 million Americans live in poverty.

Otherwise no candidate even acknowledged that poverty was an issue, much less offered any kind of policy to deal with it.


Conservative disdain for dealing with poverty is linked with their desire to cut government programs. Here in Illinois, Gov. Bruce Rauner’s effort to cut the state budget is depriving programs which help the poorest people of their funding. When the United Way surveyed 400 Illinois social service agencies, most replied that they could operate only a couple of months more without additional funding, and one-third have already cut back their programs.


While everybody else demanded a repeal of “Obamacare”, only Kasich discussed the importance of caring for the health of poor people. Nobody said anything about the millions of uninsured Americans, a number which has fallen from 18 to 12 million since 2013. The phrase “health care” was never used. Besides Kasich, nobody spoke of Medicaid or Medicare except Huckabee, who wants to get rid of the income tax in favor of a consumption tax. Nobody spoke about Social Security except Christie, who wants to increase the retirement age by two years.


Nobody spoke about racial issues. When Megyn Kelly asked Walker about Black Lives Matter and police killing unarmed blacks, he spoke only of improving police training. She brought up race relations again, but only asked the one black man, Dr. Ben Carson. He criticized people who talk about racial issues as divisive and said we should “move beyond” that.


Nobody mentioned the environment. Not a word about climate change or pollution, either from the moderators or the candidates. Nobody mentioned our aging infrastructure, our unsafe bridges, our closed mines full of toxic wastes. Environmental issues inevitably cost money and require regulation, and thus don’t fit the Republican mantra of reducing government and eliminating regulations.


Primaries are about trying to appeal to your friends. Republican primaries in recent years have been about portraying oneself as conservatively as possible. The candidates who have the least conservative records, like Bush and Christie, forcefully asserted their conservatism. Nobody uttered the word “moderate”, not even Kasich. Nobody talked about compromise or reaching across the aisle. Everybody talked about unifying the country, but nobody acknowledged that only a minority of Americans characterize themselves as conservative. The latest Gallup poll puts the proportion of social conservatives at 31%, which has fallen from 42% since 2009. In fact, only 53% of Republicans identify themselves as social conservatives, with 34% moderates, and 11% liberals.


Despite the talk of bringing Americans together, these Republicans disdained the majority of Americans who voted for President Obama as deluded or even stupid. We can expect 11 months more of such rhetoric until the Republican National Convention in July 2016.


Steve Hochstadt

Chicago IL

Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, August 18, 2015

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
How Do We See the Poor? Last week I attended the Illinois Democratic County Chairmen’s Association annual brunch at the Springfield Hilton. I know what the Republicans said in their presidential debate. I wanted to hear what Democrats say as we gather steam for election year 2016.


People handed me stickers for candidates; candidates wandered around shaking hands. Then came two and half hours of speeches. Political speeches tend to sound alike. But they tell you what concerns the speaker most, what they want to accomplish with your vote. At the Democrats’ brunch, I heard over and over again the imperative to help “the most vulnerable” in our society.


Susana Mendoza, the City Clerk of Chicago who is running for Illinois Comptroller, worried about how the current budget crisis would lead to cutbacks at Illinois social service agencies, hurting “the most vulnerable”. Mike Frerichs, the Illinois Treasurer, told us what he is proud of since he barely won election in 2014: financial measures to help the poor, like college savings accounts, retirement plans, and the Able Act, helping families with a disabled dependent. He also talked about “the most vulnerable”.


Four Democrats are running for the US Senate seat held by Republican Mark Kirk. In their brief speeches, they all spoke of the imperative of helping poorer people. Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth said, “We have to be there for the voiceless. We are better off as Americans when we don’t leave anyone behind.” Richard Boykin, Cook County Commissioner, will advocate for “those who have been left out”. Andrea Zopp gave us the image of “people working hard to pull themselves out of poverty”.


Napoleon Harris went to school with the same clothes every day, before hi stalnet carried him to an NFL career and now to the Illinois Statehouse. His life demonstrates that getting out of poverty requires effort by many individuals, which is what Republicans focus on. But Harris also stressed the importance of collective help from the surrounding society.


The contrast between what these Democrats said and what Republican presidential candidates say about poverty is striking. Little has changed since Mitt Romney said that 47% of voters “believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”


Only one of the ten men at the Republican debate, Ohio Governor John Kasich, discussed poor Americans at all. For Republicans, poor people are mainly targets of abuse, not help. Donald Trump said in June that poor people “sit back and say we’re not going to do anything. They make more money by sitting there doing nothing than they make if they have a job.” Jeb Bush has criticized poor families, proposing a model he doesn’t think they follow: “A loving family taking care of their children in a traditional marriage will create the chance to break out of poverty far better, far better than any of the government programs that we can create”. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker blocked the expansion of Medicaid in his state, asking, “Why is more people on Medicaid a good thing?” The health insurance plan he outlined in the debate to replace Obamacare would cut subsidies to poor people.


There is nothing new about Republicans blaming the poor for their own predicament. Long before Ronald Reagan used stories about welfare fraud to characterize poor people in America, conservatives created a distinction between the “deserving” and the “undeserving” poor. Republican candidates don’t propose to help people in poverty, because Republican voters believe poverty is poor people’s own fault. 51% of Republicans in a 2014 Pew survey thought that poverty is caused by “lack of effort”. Republican politicians helped to create the image of the poor as undeserving. Now Republican voters demand it. Economic data, census surveys, or social scientific research are not useful here.


The Republican unwillingness to use government resources to help the poor is just what the richest people want. That’s one reason why donations of $1 million or more have benefitted Republican candidates 12 times as much as Democratic candidates.


I don’t feel that way. Conservatives imagine all kinds of explanations for why I might not think the poor are undeserving: I’m a liberal, a socialist, a communist, a Jew, a New Yorker, a college professor. I would blame my parents. They managed to communicate two ideas. It was important to look upwards, to try for better, and to work for that. Equally important was to look down the scale of success, but not to look down on less successful people. I learned from them to see how the system of power and wealth promulgates the idea that those who don’t have it don’t deserve it.


I wouldn’t have been able to hold down a brunch with the Republican presidential candidates. When Republicans turn their evil eye on the poor, I get sick. The Democrats made me feel at home. They see the system and want change it. We can argue about how much. But we won’t argue that the poor deserve what they get.


It doesn’t do Democrats any good to advocate for the poor. They don’t make the giant political contributions that keep the Republican machine going. They don’t vote as often as the people who make those contributions. They don’t staff the offices of lobbyists in Washington. They don’t hobnob with candidates at fancy dinners. There is no quid pro quo for helping “the most vulnerable”, except the feeling that it’s the right thing to do.


Steve Hochstadt

Jacksonville IL

Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, August 25, 2015]]>
Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
Science, Averages and Hokum Suppose your doctor is sure that you have a serious condition, but the causes and treatment are not fully understood by medical science. She recommends a treatment. You go to another doctor, who says the same thing. Many other doctors in many different countries all say the same thing. On the internet you read about a doctor who says something very different and proposes a much cheaper medication, whose manufacturer pays him to praise it.


What do you do?


Republicans advise us to listen to the internet. Not about your personal medical condition, but about the health of our earth.


Republican politicians nearly all say the same thing. Don’t worry about climate change. The science is uncertain. Global warming is not happening. But if it is happening, it’s a good thing. Whatever is happening, don’t do anything about it.


Both NASA and NOAA reported that 2014 was the warmest year since data began being collected in 1880. That assessment was echoed by scientific agencies in Japan, Germany, and England.


Recently, climate scientists said that 2015 will most likely be even warmer. July was the warmest month ever measured.


Are the vast majority of climate scientists around the world right? What about those people on the internet who say “no”? What about Republican politicians who say “no”? How can you tell what we should do?


Numbers matter. The fact that well over 90% of climate scientists agree that the globe is warming and that human actions are the main cause is significant, just as you might be convinced if nearly every doctor agreed that you had a disease and needed treatment. What about that tiny minority, though?


That is where some understanding of science is important. When tobacco companies were denying that smoking was addictive and caused cancer, they paid and deployed scientists to write articles which “proved” there was no connection. The tobacco industry also overwhelmingly funded Republican politicians. When the Food and Drug Administration said in the 1990s that nicotine should be regulated as a drug, House Speaker Newt Gingrich said that the agency had “lost its mind”.


So-called think tanks, like the Heartland Institute, transferred money from tobacco companies and conservative donors to scientists who wrote articles denying the link between cancer and tobacco. The president of Heartland, Joseph Bast, wrote a piece in 1998 that is still on their website denying that moderate smoking or second-hand smoke was bad for you. A year ago, Bast publically denied writing that article.


Scientists with PhDs, writing advertisements for private companies or political donors who pay them, do not produce science. Real science is much more complicated: funding comes from sources who are not committed to particular results; articles go through a lengthy process of peer review; every claim, every footnote, every number is checked for accuracy. The method of argument must stand up to careful scrutiny.


The science of global warming and the “science” of denial are separate and unequal worlds. The scientists quoted by deniers might have impressive credentials, but like the scientists who so confidently asserted that smoking was good for you, their results are bought and paid for. Their articles, reproduced in many forms by people with political interests, do not stand up to scrutiny. Take one of the most often repeated claims by warming deniers, that we have been in a cooling period since 1998, thus global warming is a hoax. The Heartland Institute has used a seemingly impressive graphic to make this claim for years. The graphic is not a fake, but the conclusion from it is. July 1998 was the warmest month ever at the time. The year 1998 was the warmest ever by a significant amount. That yearly record was not broken until 2005, but the monthly record was only broken this July. By highlighting the peak of July 1998, Heartland and others still claimed earlier this year “No global warming for 18 years”.


Measuring the temperature of the earth means averaging many thousands of temperature readings. Temperatures vary considerably by season and by region. In 2014, parts of Illinois were much cooler than usual, while California, Arizona and Nevada had their warmest year ever.


The variation across the globe in July 2015 can be seen in this map. Global warming is a long-term process that cannot be measured in any one month. In fact, the decade after July 1998 was significantly warmer than the decade before it, or any decade since measurement began. Averages show that no cooling occurred.


When you take the claims of global warming deniers, such as the so-called pause in warming, or the number of scientists who are skeptics, or the lack of consensus of the world’s scientists, and investigate the footnotes or check the math, you see that they are not doing science. Their work cannot stand peer review, so it is published on the internet, where they get maximum readership with minimal credibility.


Just like the miracle cures of snake oil salesmen, it’s hokum, paid for by oil companies and conservative billionaires, all to prevent government from doing anything. Like any miracle cure, it’s seductively attractive – take this pill and you’ll lose weight, cure cancer, prevent aging.


Swallow that at your own risk. It’s bad for your health.


Steve Hochstadt

Jacksonville IL

Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, September 1, 2015]]>
Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
When Religion and Politics Collide The role of religion in politics has rarely been so openly controversial as today. Religious conservatives are trying to reverse decades of their diminishing ability to determine political outcomes. It’s all about tolerance.


In our own Catholic diocese, Bishop Thomas Paprocki’s Family School Agreement reverses the traditional tolerance that Catholic schools have shown toward non-Catholics. That Agreement would require non-Catholic families of students at Catholic schools, including Our Saviour and Routt and schools in Springfield, to attend weekly Mass and donate 8% of their income to the Catholic Church. It’s hard for me to imagine, for example, how any Jewish family could accept those conditions and the disrespect for Judaism it implies. This shift back towards intolerance was prompted by Paprocki’s intolerance for homosexuals. He initiated the Agreement when a same-sex married couple enrolled their children at Christ the King elementary school in Springfield.


In Kentucky, Kim Davis has catapulted from county clerk to conservative celebrity, one of a number of public officials who refuse to follow the Supreme Court ruling that the Constitution guarantees a right to same-sex marriage.


The Republican presidential candidates are divided on this issue. Those who are more conservative and more supportive of fundamentalist Christianity echo her argument: she should be able to put her religion ahead of the law, even when acting as a government official.


The issue is again intolerance for homosexuals, but also part of a larger agenda and a broader intolerance. Note Senator Ted Cruz’s statement: “Those who are persecuting Kim Davis believe that Christians should not serve in public office. That is the consequence of their position. Or, if Christians do serve in pubic office, they must disregard their religious faith — or be sent to jail.” For Cruz, a “Christian” opposes gay marriage. Other ideas can’t be Christian.


Tolerance eventually leads to equality. Advocates for equality, as far back as we can see, argued for tolerance and tried to exhibit it. Those who said “no” were not willing to tolerate people they felt were inferior and so should be unequal.


These are skirmishes in a bigger battle between religious fundamentalists and more tolerant Americans within their own faiths, as well as between fundamentalists and more secular Americans.


For Cruz and many other conservative Christians in politics, religion always trumps the law. The highest law at any time must be their brand of faith. Government must serve Biblical law. This political ideology is called “dominionism”, deriving from the passage in Genesis which gives to men “dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, over the cattle and over all the earth....” Although there is nothing about one group of humans exerting dominion over others, Christian fundamentalists assert their own interpretation, as written by Rousas Rushdoony, the founder of so-called Christian Reconstructionism: “every non-Biblical law-order represents an anti-Christian religion.” Rushdoony denied the Holocaust, said democracy was the enemy of Christianity, and called Southern slavery “benevolent”. Among current Presidential candidates, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Rick Santorum, and Mike Huckabee follow this line of thought, intolerant of any religious interpretation except their own.


The politics of our major religions mirror wider American politics. Not only Catholics and Protestants, but also Jews and Muslims are divided into factions, one which cannot tolerate equality for gays, women, and any other religion, and one which preaches tolerance and supports equality.


That split has always existed. But as the center has moved inexorably toward equality, traditionalists have become angry. They are doing everything they can to slow down the future.


As Pope Francis pulls the whole Catholic hierarchy explicitly toward more tolerance, conservative Catholics push back. As Protestant denominations open their doors and their offices to women, to immigrants, and to gays, fundamentalists shut them out.


The ultimate battle is not just about religious practice. Conservative Christians claim that they are only defending freedom of religion, but there is no attack on their freedom to worship and believe as they like. They want more. They want laws which apply to all Americans to reflect their religious beliefs. They demand the right to disregard laws they don’t like. They want their religion to be our politics. They want dominion over the fish and birds and the rest of us.


Steve Hochstadt

Jacksonville IL

Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, September 15, 2015]]>
Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
What Do Republican Voters Want? What Do Republican Voters Want?


I’m not a Republican voter. I could have voted for Paul Findley, but I didn’t live here. I study in detail what people do, and I listen carefully to what they say. But I’m speaking from the outside here.


Some people might say that Republican voters don’t know what they want. More than a dozen serious politicians are risking their political reputations, and lots of other people’s money, hoping that Republican voters still aren’t sure who they want.


I think that Republican voters are expressing what they want pretty clearly. They want a political outsider. Maybe that’s their main message so far. That’s news.


In 2011, after Donald Trump made all the right moves to enter the Republican presidential primaries, he dropped out in May: “After considerable deliberation and reflection, I have decided not to pursue the office of the presidency. This decision does not come easily or without regret.” He was polling about 14%, behind Mike Huckabee. Besides Trump, every other name among the dozen Republicans that Opinion Research asked about in May 2011 was an elected office holder, present or former. Trump had the highest negative ratings of anyone, 64%.


No longer. When Morning Consult asked those who watched last week’s debate, who won, the top three were Carly Fiorina, Donald Trump, and Ben Carson, none of whom ever held public office. 60% chose a non-politician. When asked who they would vote for, the same top three emerged.


NBC took a broader online poll in the days after the debate. Marco Rubio just edged out Carson for third as debate winner. When asked who appeared “most presidential”, Marco was out and Jeb came in, edging out Carson for third. A total of 44% of all Republicans think a real estate tycoon and reality show star, a tech company CEO, and a neurosurgeon look “more presidential” than the dozen politicians in the race. 54% would vote for one of the outsiders, who take the top three spots.


We now have the most Republican Congress since 1928, but Republicans don’t like their own politicians. Polls by Pew Research show that only 41% of Republicans surveyed approve of the Republican Congressional leadership. That number was 60% in 2011 and 78% in 1995. In 1995, 80% of Republicans thought their party’s leaders were keeping their campaign promises. Now it’s 37%. The proportion of Republican voters who disapprove of the new Republican leadership in Congress jumped from 44% in February, right after they were elected, to 55% in May.


But being an outsider is not enough. Republican voters want a confrontational outsider. Not necessarily a belligerent lover of personal confrontations like Trump. Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson act more decorously, but their policies are belligerent.


Here is Carson’s website on how he would fight in the Middle East: “If a bully faction or bully nation is beating up on those with whom it disagrees, we should immediately stop them with brutal force, if necessary, because it is the right thing to do. If that were done consistently, such incidents would cease almost immediately. I mention political correctness here because it only hampers effectiveness. For example, a lot of time, effort, and lives were wasted in Fallujah, Iraq, because the terrorists were hiding among the people and using them as shields. Political correctness dictates that we play their game. I would have announced via bullhorn and leaflets that in 72 hours Fallujah was going to become part of the desert because there were substantial numbers of terrorists hiding there. This would have given people time to flee.”


Carly Fiorina said in May that she would “stand up and arm Ukraine”, and conduct more aggressive military exercises in the Baltic nations, to “send a very clear message to Vladimir Putin.” In last week’s debate, she went further: “Having met Vladimir Putin, I wouldn’t talk to him at all. We talked way too much to him. What I would do, immediately, is begin rebuilding the Sixth Fleet, I would begin rebuilding the missile defense program in Poland, I would conduct regular, aggressive military exercises in the Baltic states. I'd probably send a few thousand more troops into Germany. Vladimir Putin would get the message.”


Political outsiders and their supporters owe nothing to the cumbersome process of governing in a democracy. They haven’t tried it. They don’t appreciate the checks and balances built into our system by centuries of  political evolution of all three branches.


These political outsiders trumpet their success in systems where things get done because they say so. They seem to believe that if they say, “I’m sending more troops to Germany,” or “The Mexicans will pay for that fence,” everybody will hop to it. That’s not presidential. That’s what dictators think.


That’s okay with many conservative voters. Earlier this month, 55% of Republicans surveyed said they would “support the military stepping in to take control of the federal government” if elected leaders pursued Constitutional politics they didn’t agree with.


That’s a dangerous political mood supporting dangerous candidates.


Steve Hochstadt

Jacksonville IL

Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, September 22, 2015

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
Ben Carson’s Religious Tests for Candidates Ben Carson, the Republican neurosurgeon who wants to be President, recently said that a Muslim should not be our President. The divisions in the American body politic immediately announced themselves. That remark was widely criticized as being prejudiced, discriminatory and insulting against Muslims. Money poured into his campaign from those who support him.


On NBC’s Meet the Press on September 20, Carson laid out a general principle that certain religions need extra scrutiny. Chuck Todd asked, “Should a President’s faith matter? Should your faith matter to voters?” Carson replied, “Well, I guess it depends on what that faith is. If it’s inconsistent with the values and principles of America, then of course it should matter. But if it fits within the realm of America and consistent with the constitution, no problem.”


Carson then used that principle to exclude Islam as he understands it. Todd asked, “So do you believe that Islam is consistent with the constitution?” Carson said, “No, I don’t, I do not. I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that.”


Last week in Cedarville, Ohio, he repeated his principle:  “Who should be allowed to be President of the United States. And I said I think anybody, regardless of their religion, if they are willing to embrace the values and principles of America and our Constitution and subject their beliefs to the Constitution. I have no problem with that at all. And that's perfectly reasonable.”


This Sunday, he specified what is wrong with Islam: “I would have problems with somebody who embraced all the doctrines associated with Islam. If they are not willing to reject Sharia and all the portions of it that are talked about in the Quran, if they are not willing to reject that, and subject that to American values and the Constitution, then of course, I would. If you are not willing to reject that, then how in the world can you possibly be the president of the United States?”


He told ABC that Muslims should rewrite their sacred text: “What I would like for somebody to show me is an improved Islamic text that opposes Shariah.  Let me see -- if you can show me that, I will begin to alter my thinking on this.  But right now, when you have something that is against the rights of women, against the rights of gays, subjugates other religions, and a host of things that are not compatible with our Constitution, why, in fact, would you take that chance?”


I agree with Carson that if someone’s beliefs contradict our Constitution, they should not be President. And I agree that some Muslim religious interpretations contradict our Constitution. The trouble is that Carson applies his tests of religious suitability only to Islam. He does not advocate that a Christian specifically renounce the Biblical passages which violate our Constitution, such as approving discussions of slavery and of stoning women accused of adultery.


Dr. Carson does not advocate that Mike Huckabee drop out of the presidential race because he supported Kim Davis in Kentucky, when she placed her religious beliefs against the rights of gays above her sworn Constitution responsibilities.


Ben Carson is a Seventh Day Adventist. On their own website, they hold up “the Bible as the only standard of faith and practice for Christians.” If Seventh Day Adventists assert that the Bible is the only standard of practice, shouldn’t Seventh Day Adventists who want our votes be clear that they “subjugate their religious beliefs to our constitution”?


If Carson thinks Islam is unacceptable because it is “against the rights of gays”, then I ask him to reject the Seventh Day Adventist teaching that “Homosexuality is a manifestation of the disturbance and brokenness in human inclinations and relations caused by the entrance of sin into the world.”


On Thursday, he told Bill O’Reilly, “When I look at Islamic nations, what I see are people who don't give women equal rights.” What about the controversy among Seventh Day Adventists about whether women should be ordained? At the General Conference in July this issue came up again, and was rejected again, as it has been for more than a century. Should Carson renounce his own religion’s discrimination against women in order to be a candidate?


His claim that Islam fails his Constitutional tests resonates with Christian fundamentalists who would never accept those tests being applied to their own faith. Nor would they appreciate the suggestion that the Bible be rewritten to remove offensive passages. Carson finds support among people who are ignorant of the many varieties of Islam, as many as there of Christianity, ignorant of the Quran as a source of Muslim belief, ignorant of the long history of Islam in America as a native African American religious movement.


As Kareem Abdu-Jabbar, who converted to Islam in 1971, said, “People do not condemn all Christians for the acts of the group that calls themselves the Christian Knights or the Ku Klux Klan. I don’t think that Mr. Carson has any idea, or knows very many Muslims, because if he did he wouldn’t say the things that he’s saying.”


Steve Hochstadt

Jacksonville IL

Published by the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, September 29, 2015

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
Bugs in the Volkswagen System It looks like the biggest corporate scandal of 2015 will be the cheating by Volkswagen on emissions tests, which might come to be called Volksgate. The scale is breath-taking. Since 2008 Volkswagen made 11 million diesel cars designed to cheat on emissions tests. These cars could never have passed the tests. They produce 10 to 40 times the legal limit of nitrogen oxides.


Cheating on an unprecedented scale was a simple business decision. Volkswagen executives had spent billions to develop a new diesel engine, but executives realized it could not meet the pollution standards of many nations, including the US and Germany. They could have scrapped the new model. Instead they put a software “bug” into the cars’ computers.


The fix was clever. Emissions tests are done under controlled laboratory conditions. The software could sense a test was being conducted by monitoring speed, engine operation, air pressure and even the position of the steering wheel. Then the engine was put into a kind of safety mode, where power and performance were reduced, cutting down on emissions. Back on the road, the engines were switched to “normal”, chugging out nitrogen oxides. The secret switch is called a “defeat device”. Meanwhile, VW created a huge advertising campaign about its cars’ low emissions.


Staff in the EPA already suspected something was wrong in 2014. An organization devoted to reducing air pollution and slowing climate change, the International Council on Clean Transportation, commissioned West Virginia University’s Center for Alternative Fuels Engines and Emissions to test VW diesel cars. The results showed very high emissions. The EPA questioned Volkswagen, who claimed the results were just a technical problem. Only after another year passed did VW admit it had bugged the cars.


The dishonesty of the top leadership at Volkswagen will be expensive for them – who wants to buy, or even drive, a Volkswagen now? The international bank Credite Suisse estimates the scandal will cost the company from $30 to $80 billion, about the same cost as BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill.


But it’s also expensive for us. There are 500,000 American cars which have been spewing poisonous gases into our atmosphere. Their owners had no idea, but now their cars have lost significant value.


There is a reason for the legal limitations on nitrogen oxides. Every year they kill nearly 6000 people in London alone, and 50,000 people in the US by weakening the heart. That’s now, many years after those and other deadly emissions gases have been limited in the US and Great Britain. Since the first Clean Air Act was passed in 1963, emissions of major pollutants including nitrogen dioxide have been reduced by 72%.


Seth Borenstein of the Associated Press wrote an article published in many newspapers across the country, including here in Jacksonville, quoting scientists who estimate that the extra pollution from VWs will probably cause an additional 5 to 20 American deaths every year. That number comes from complex computer models which consider data about which VWs have been on the road, regional air movements, and disease studies, along with estimates of how much pollution the cars actually spewed out. Hence the large range from 5 to 20 as an estimate.


Who knows how many people will be sicker, what additional medical bills will be incurred, how many hours of work will be lost?


Republicans today hate the EPA, even though it was created by President Richard Nixon. Donald Trump said in 2011 that “the EPA is an impediment to both growth and jobs.” Carly Fiorina says the EPA must “roll back” regulations. Jeb Bush has proposed a sweeping rollback of regulations on the environment and the defunding of the EPA. Ted Cruz has introduced a bill in Congress to prevent the EPA from regulating nitrogen oxide, as well as many other pollutants.


Regulations and regulators save lives. Just between 1980 and 2000, reductions in air pollution led to an increase in life expectancy of 7 months. The government workers in the EPA saved future lives by discovering VW’s cheating.


That truth is buried by conservatives under constant attacks on the EPA. They are right that regulations cost businesses money. Reducing air pollution and preventing oil spills are expensive for giant corporations, who pass their costs to the consumer.


Would we rather live in Beijing, where normal people wear gas masks, people are warned not to go out on bad days, and schools are building artificial domes to keep children away from the air? Should we go back to more polluted air and shorter lives?


Without regulations on our food, our water, and our air, America would be less healthy. Why do Republicans want that?


Steve Hochstadt

Jacksonville IL

Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, October 6, 2015

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
It Can Take A Long Time My dogs spotted a squirrel the other day and couldn’t help lunging forward, even though they knew they were leashed. That made me think about men who treat women the way dogs treat squirrels.


Some men want to physically engage every woman they see who fits their image of sexy. They interrupt everything, get too close, use their hands, and won’t take “no” for an answer. When it doesn’t work, they try it again with another woman. Over and over again they manhandle women, because they think about them as the dog thinks of the squirrel, as lesser but attractive beings who must be chased.


There used to be lots of guys like that. When I grew up in the 1960s, they attracted everyone’s attention. Other guys watched them in awe and wonder at their boldness. At a time of much less free love, no matter what their success rate, they gained a reputation as very good at what they did. Their form of masculinity was taken for granted as an acceptable variant, not for every man, but worthy of respect and sometimes envy.


Other men, observers of this uninvited and unwelcome pursuit, were torn between two conflicting masculine imperatives: the ancient code of chivalry obligating men to protect women in danger, and a very modern respect for tough, aggressive, egotistical and physically dominant forms of serial conquest. The hunters may not have been universally admired by other men, but they were not recognized as the creeps we now see.


Before the 1960s, there were a few voices decrying the connection between female inequality and male sexual violence. As early as 1641, the Body of Liberties of the Massachusetts Bay colony included a prohibition against wife-beating: “Everie marryed woeman shall be free from bodilie correction or stripes by her husband.” But as late as 1970, male predators could still assume that few would try to stop them.


We still see men like that, but their days of unashamed hunting are gone. They are much more careful in their use of their hands, and perhaps more sophisticated in employing wealth, status, connections and unscrupulousness as persuasive arguments. But two things have really changed. The social approval of men which had surrounded them has turned sour. And the willingness of women to tolerate the boors is disappearing.


The species of predatory men is in decline, here and across the globe, because they were defeated culturally and politically. As our attitudes about men and women moved toward equality, laws were passed which attacked the hunting rights of men. The first significant national legislation to reduce violence against women was passed in 1994, the Violence Against Women Act. That law attracted bipartisan support, but the next year conservative Congressmen tried to cut its funding.


Neanderthal Man is not yet extinct. Their species keeps getting infusions of new life, mostly by the fundamentalist wings of the West’s major religions. Conservative politicians give a nod toward traditional male superiority every time they lionize openly misogynist commentators, like Rush Limbaugh.


Men will continue hunting women for the foreseeable future. Changing cultural assumptions developed over millennia is a slow and frustrating business. The ideological argument that women should be equal to men may have won the public debate, but human habits go much deeper than rational discourse. Those who demand gender equality occupy the moral high ground, but below, in the bushes, the struggle goes on. Conservatives still fight rearguard actions against equality in pay, in child care, and in politics itself. One third of Democrats in Congress are women, but only one tenth of Republican legislators.


None of the momentous social-cultural-political shifts of my lifetime are over. Each step toward equality faces obstacles which have been built over centuries. The more that ancient texts are revered, the harder it is to find a path to equality. But the progress during my lifetime has been breath-taking.


Steve Hochstadt

Jacksonville IL

Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, October 13, 2015

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
A Speaker Who Speaks for a Few

This is the blog of Steve Hochstadt,  a writer and a professor of history at Illinois College.

The inability of Republicans in the House to agree on a Speaker has halted the business of governing the country. The media loves the uncertainty, the rumors, the up-and-down candidacies as political theater. The deep politics is more disturbing. 

The Speaker holds great power in the House. The Speaker presides over debate, deciding who may speak and controlling the flow of discussion. The Speaker rules on all points of order, selects most of the members of the Rules Committee, and appoints members of select committees and conference committees. The Speaker determines which committee will consider new bills. 

In 1792, the Second Congress wrote rules about presidential elections and specified that the Senate President pro tempore would become President in the absence of the elected President and Vice President, with the Speaker of the House next in line. This line of succession was changed in 1886, when cabinet members replaced Congressional leaders. After Franklin Roosevelt died in office, a new Presidential Succession Act was passed in 1947, which restored the Congressional leaders as next in line, but switched their places, putting the Speaker next after the Vice President. 

Congress believed that the Speaker in such a national emergency could rise above the politics of his district, of his region, of his party, and lead the whole nation. Speakers have been men, and one woman, Nancy Pelosi, who developed leadership during Congressional careers, faced national issues, and worked with Presidents of both parties. 

Now the so-called House Freedom Caucus, representing the people who made his job so impossible that Speaker John Boehner announced that he was quitting Congress, who were uncertain that Kevin McCarthy of California was conservative enough, are demanding a Speaker for themselves. The Freedom Caucus includes about 40 Republicans, enough to prevent any Republican they vote against from winning the Speakership. 

Who are these few dozen House Republicans? They are nearly all men, who sit on the far right in Congress. They include most of the most conservative Republicans; their center is far to the right of Republicans in the House. Their founding members had belonged to the Republican Study Committee, which since 1973 has operated within the House as a “conservative watchdog” on the right side of the Party. It now has 170 members, about 2/3 of the whole Republican caucus. That was too big a tent for the Freedom Caucus, who did not want to work with Republicans more moderate than themselves. In January, they announced their split from the Republican Study Committee in the midst of a House debate about funding the Department of Homeland Security. The Freedom Caucus threatened to shut down Homeland Security funding if their demands were not met. 

Despite their defeat in that contest, now they are after a bigger goal, the Speakership itself. They prepared a questionnaire for possible Speaker candidates. “Would you ensure that the House-passed appropriations bills do not contain funding for Planned Parenthood, unconstitutional amnesty, the Iran deal and ObamaCare?” was one question. The Freedom Caucus insists on “full repeal of Obamacare” and impeachment of the IRS Commissioner. 

They insured that McCarthy could not win the vote by endorsing Daniel Webster of Florida on Oct. 7, who has been in Congress only 4 years. His reelection is threatened, because a court says his district has been gerrymandered to produce a safe Republican district and must be redrawn

What do other Republicans say about these rebels of the right? During the DHS funding fight, Rep. Peter King, a Republican from New York called them “this self-righteous delusional wing of the party, which leads us over the cliff.” Republican Charlie Dent from Pennsylvania repeated the term “self-delusion”. Trey Gowdy from South Carolina, rated in the middle of the Republican Party, said, “I think the House is bordering on ungovernable right now.” 

California Rep. Tom McClintock, a Republican whom Heritage Action gives a 90 percent conservative rating, much higher than the average Congressional Republican, recently quit the Freedom Caucus. He characterized their politics as “a willingness, indeed, an eagerness, to strip the House Republican majority of its ability to set the House agenda.” 

The so-called Freedom Caucus represents the Republican voters who have put three people with no government experience among them at the top of the polls. They don’t like government, period. With a fervor unmatched in recent American history, they hate everything that our government has done since Barack Obama was elected. They hate anyone who plays any role in governing, even a conservative one. 

Should we allow one of them so near the White House?

Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, October 20, 2015

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
The Great Myth of the Free Market In 1776, in “An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations”, Adam Smith developed a new theory of economics, which we now call the theory of the free market. He wrote that a man should be “free to pursue his own interest his own way.... By directing that industry in such a manner as its produce may be of greatest value, he intends only his own gain, and he is in this ... led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention.” That useful end was economic progress for the whole nation.


Smith was an economic genius who realized that the restrictions placed on their economies by 18th-century European monarchies stifled productivity and the creation of wealth. If people were allowed to seize opportunities that they perceived, to assess risk and seek reward, the larger economy would grow more rapidly than if rulers dictated how commerce should proceed.


The moral superiority of free choice over monarchical fiat was indispensable to Smith’s argument. As a partner to the demand for more political freedom, the promotion of the free market was inherently democratic.


Since then, no economic system has equaled capitalism in creating wealth, for nations and individuals. The “free market” is such a sweet phrase that it has become a magic incantation, a panacea for every economic problem. The free market as an idea appears to have attained religious status. Proponents of an unfettered market invoke their version of God’s will in favor of their political position against any government regulation, for example, laws protecting the environment. The lineup of conservative presidential candidates has nothing good to say about any economic regulation.


The people who raise the unregulated market to a religious commandment support political advocacy with mythical stories, beginning with Adam Smith. Smith did not have absolute faith in the “invisible hand”. He openly preached that governments must play a significant role in the economy.


Governments should provide roads and bridges and other public works which individuals or private enterprises are not likely to build. He praised regulation of the labor market, but only when it supported workers. “When the regulation, therefore, is in favour of the workmen, it is always just and equitable; but it is sometimes otherwise when in favour of the masters.... Masters are always and every where in a sort of tacit, but constant and uniform combination, not to raise the wages of labour above their actual rate.” Smith distrusted the motives of employers, who sought, he believed, to keep wages as low as possible, “always and everywhere”.


He not only supported taxation, but favored a progressive tax system. “The subjects of every state ought to contribute towards the support of the government, as nearly as possible, in proportion to their respective abilities; that is, in proportion to the revenue which they respectively enjoy under the protection of the state.... It is not very unreasonable that the rich should contribute to the public expence, not only in proportion to their revenue, but something more than in that proportion.”


By obscuring these uncomfortable elements of Adam Smith’s theory, free market absolutists offer another myth: regulation has only costs, not benefits. Every regulation increases rather than decreases the costs of doing business, otherwise businesses would undertake these measures themselves. But modern life is dependent on the greater benefits of regulation: food products free of disease, rivers with live fish, air healthy to breathe. Regulations took the lead out of gasoline and paint. Regulations keep harmful drugs, like thalidomide, off the market.


Regulations put seat belts and air bags into cars, saving countless lives, a good example of their value. Every state but one legislates that adult drivers must wear seat belts. That state, New Hampshire, has the lowest usage of seat belts in the country. Live free and die.


Car manufacturers were successful in delaying the deployment of the air bag, costing thousands of lives. In 1983, the Supreme Court ruled 9 to 0 in favor of government-mandated air bags, writing: “For nearly a decade, the automobile industry waged the regulatory equivalent of war against the airbag and lost — the inflatable restraint was proved sufficiently effective.”


The writers of our Constitution, 13 years after Smith published “The Wealth of Nations”, enshrined the mutual necessity of freedom and regulation into Section 8, “The Congress shall have Power ... To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States”.


We can joke about the conservative effort to deregulate our economy. “How many conservatives does it take to screw in a light bulb?” Answer: “None. If the government would just leave it alone, it would screw itself in.”


But saving lives is no joke.


Steve Hochstadt

Jacksonville IL

Published in the Jacksonville Journal-C ourier, October 27, 2015

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
Science, Large and Small Science is unbelievable. Physicists track particles so small that billions of them fit on the head of a pin. In fact, the pin is composed of them. Astronomers describe places in the universe so dense that light cannot escape their gravity – and there are billions of these black holes scattered across a universe so large that light would take 100 billion years to get across. Scientists can’t see either atomic particles or black holes, but they nevertheless can tell us how big they are, how they behave, their births and deaths.


Amazing. Science is a uniquely human invention. My dogs can also learn about the world around them. But they can’t communicate this knowledge to each other, much less build it up over generations.


Humans have been building science for millennia. The architects of Stonehenge in England five thousand years ago knew precisely where the sun would shine at the summer and winter solstice, and preserved that knowledge by transporting enormous stones weighing many tons more than a hundred miles before precisely placing them in a circle. We know much more now about the movements of the sun and earth, but we still haven’t figured out exactly what the Stonehengers were doing. A new scientific tool which can x-ray the deep underground may soon reveal their knowledge and motives.


All of the science I just described includes uncertainty. That goes beyond the so-called “uncertainty principle”, which says that it is not possible to measure with certainty both the position and the movement of tiny particles. The properties of the Higgs boson are not fully known, although its existence is necessary to confirm the theoretical model used by nearly all physicists to describe the atomic structure of the universe. Most astronomers believe that so-called “dark matter” includes most of the matter in the universe, but it has not been actually observed because it is invisible. The very ability of scientists to speculate about things which cannot be directly observed demonstrates the power of science to unravel the unbelievably large and small mysteries of our universe.


Nobody argues that the science of atomic particles or dark matter is a hoax. Nobody claims that the complex computer models needed in astrophysics are just guesswork. Nobody adds up the numbers of the world’s scientists who agree completely on the properties of the Higgs boson. Nobody convenes conferences of dissenting scientists or pseudo-scientists to argue alternative explanations of the observed phenomena. Nobody suggests that these remaining uncertainties demonstrate that physicists and astronomers don’t know what they are talking about.


There is nothing political about dark matter. Whether it makes up 23% or 27% of the total energy content of the universe doesn’t appear to interest American politicians. But as soon as we begin to discuss the earth’s climate, politicians suddenly have very definite scientific opinions. The same kind of scientific inquiry which has produced remarkable advances in our understanding of distant stars and tiny particles is suddenly unbelievable. Political leaders with high school science educations make pronouncements about the value of scientific research whose most basic features they don’t understand.


Why? Because climate science, unlike atomic science, has political implications. New studies show that the Middle East could become too hot for human habitation in this century. Across the world, 100 million people could be driven into extreme poverty by the increasing heat. If political decisions to change the way we produce and consume energy are not made soon, we will bequeath a deadly world to our descendants in two generations. And that prospect has turned some politicians into scientific geniuses.


Donald Trump says warming is a “hoax”. Ted Cruz says scientists are “cooking the books.” Ben Carson, who doesn’t believe in doing anything about climate change, says about scientists, “They are welcome to believe whatever they want to believe. I’m welcome to believe what I want to believe.”


That’s the whole point. Carson and other conservatives don’t want to believe that anything needs to be done about climate change, because it will be expensive and will involve government action. So they argue that science is just what they want to believe, what conveniently fits into their political ideology.


My dogs would make poor scientists, because they can be individual learners at best, unable to profit from the knowledge gained by other members of their species. But they are better scientists than Republican know-nothings, because they learn from the world around them without political filters and ideological blinders. They can’t work with computer models, but they recognize when someone is all wet.


Steve Hochstadt

Jacksonville IL

Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, November 10, 2015

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
Cops Out of Control I just watched a fuzzy video of two policemen beating an unarmed man with batons while he lay on the ground. One cop hit him at least 20 times, the other at least 15 times. They kept on hitting him after other policemen arrived. The most appropriate word in my vocabulary for this scene is sadistic.


This happened on November 12 in San Francisco. The man is a criminal, who had apparently stolen a car, led police on a chase at high speeds, and injured another policeman in attempting to flee. But the beating had nothing to do with arresting him. It was about inflicting pain.


I had seen this video before, but forgotten the particulars. When I searched for it by Googling “police beat man”, I found many similar videos of police brutalizing people they had caught.


In Inkster, MI, in January, Floyd Dent was pulled over on a traffic stop, yanked from his car and punched at least 16 times while being held in a chokehold. He was shocked three times with a taser. At the police station, he was stripped and made fun of, with no attempt to treat his injuries.


In Philadelphia in April, two officers beat an unarmed man who had been riding his bike on the wrong side of the street. Eventually 11 police cars and 26 officers gathered to deal with this one man.


In Salinas, CA, in June, a man who had been fighting with his mother was whacked many times with a billy club by a policeman. He was on the ground, and the policeman was standing over him, waiting for him to move, swinging the club with both hands like a baseball bat, then waiting and whacking again. Another policeman stood by and watched. There was no attempt to handcuff him. This was simply a beat-down. After three other police arrived, he was beaten further with a billy club, still lying on the ground.


In Brooklyn in July, two policemen punched a man suspected of stealing a piece of pizza and hit him with a baton, when he had his hands up in a gesture of surrender. In Chester, PA, that same month, a man who was driving the wrong way on a one-way street was repeatedly punched and shocked with a taser by four policemen while he was lying on the ground. That’s a selection among a longer list of incidents of violence by police this year, that happened to be recorded on video, in San Bernardino, CA, for example, and in a Target store in New York.


In most cases, the victim was doing something illegal. In each case, multiple policemen beat up the victim with weapons or fists while he was unarmed and defenseless. Although one of Floyd Dent’s police assailants was charged with assault, in most cases nothing happened to the violent officers.


None of these victims was killed. Media attention to violent police tactics has become much more intense recently because of a number of deadly incidents in 2014, such as the choking of Eric Garner in New York in July, and the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, in August. The Guardian has tried to list every person killed by police during 2015, tallying 202 unarmed victims.


In May, a 39-year-old woman led police on a high-speed chase in Wyoming. Her tires were deflated by spikes, and she emerged from her car with a knife, confronting five police. She was shot with a taser, but still did not drop the knife. Then she was shot twice and killed. Ten women armed only with knives were shot and killed by police in 2015.


I wonder about shooting to kill in those circumstances. As in the Wyoming case, often more than one officer was involved. How dangerous is a woman with a knife versus several police with batons? What about shooting in the leg?


The violence in these cases appears grossly excessive. It was not necessary to beat Floyd Dent, or any of the other victims mentioned above, before handcuffing them. It was not necessary to kill Michael Brown or Eric Garner. It was not necessary to kill all 10 women or the 125 men armed with knives who were killed in 2015.


Racism means that in all of these situations, African Americans are more likely to be victims of excessive police violence, more than twice as likely to be killed as whites. But twice as many whites were killed as blacks in 2015. The problem is larger than racism. When a group of heavily armed and highly trained police confront a suspect, even one armed with a knife, death should not be the result. Police should never hit someone multiple times with a club when they are down.


Policing is a dangerous business, every day and every night. Excessive police violence, now caught increasingly on camera, does not make it less dangerous. These incidents reduce the trust between police and the people they are paid to protect. The reluctance of police administrators and courts to get rid of violent cops makes policing less effective.


There are about one million police in the US. These incidents do not reflect normal interactions between citizens and police. But if we can watch a new video every month of groups of police brutalizing unarmed citizens, then we have a police problem.


Steve Hochstadt

Jacksonville IL

Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, November 24, 2015

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
It's A Bird! It's A Plane! It's Superman! Superman was the great savior during my childhood, along with a few other heros with seemingly superhuman abilities to dodge bullets and fight evil, like Wyatt Earp and Matt Dillon. It’s thrilling to know that a real, live Superman now flies among us, fighting evil and saving America. Of course, I mean Donald Trump.


The earlier comic Superman hid his vast strength under a meek disguise, but when it came time to rescue us, he boldly displayed his awesome powers. Trump has never toyed with humility, but only recently has he thrown off all disguise to reveal the truly superhuman Trump.


Trump attended a military-style boarding school for 5 years in the early 1960s. He “always felt that I was in the military”. School gave him “more training militarily than a lot of the guys that go into the military.” That explains why he showed no interest in earthly war in Vietnam: he knew everything already. His military experience must have come from other planets. He told an Iowa audience, “I’m good at war. I’ve had a lot of wars of my own. I’m really good at war. I love war, in a certain way.” Doesn’t everybody?


Today he is a military expert without equal. “You know the thing I’ll be great at? And I do very well at it. Military. I am the toughest guy. I will rebuild our military. It will be so strong and so powerful and so great, that we’ll never have to use it. Nobody’s going to mess with us, folks. Nobody. Nobody. Nobody’s going to mess with us.” He said, “I will be so good at the military, your head will spin.” He told Bill O’Reilly, “There’s nobody bigger or better at the military than I am.”


Superman is tougher than anyone, but always fair. So is Trump. In 2011, he said, “I am the least racist person there is.” In November, he reported that he was the “least racist person on Earth”. This month, he told Don Lemon, the black CNN newsman, “I am the least racist person that you have ever met.” That is why “I have a great relationship with the blacks. I’ve always had a great relationship with the blacks.”


Superman had great physical powers. Trump also has great mental power. “I went to the Wharton School of Business. I’m, like, a really smart person.”  “I was a great student.” His memory is other-worldly. He remembered graduating first at Wharton in 1968, when none of his classmates could remember him at all, and the commencement program did not list him as getting any honors.


Trump is really smart, and most of the rest of us are dummies. On Republican Congressional leaders: “These people are babies.... They’re babies. They’re babies.” On other presidential candidates: Jeb Bush is “dumb as a rock” and Marco Rubio is a “clown”. He told it like it is in Fort Dodge, Iowa, when he came in second in an Iowa poll: “How stupid are the people of Iowa? How stupid are the people of the country?”


These intellectual abilities enabled him to write a fantastic book. “I write a book called The Art of the Deal, the No. 1 selling business book of all time, at least I think, but I’m pretty sure it is.” Other business books have sold 10 times as many copies here on Earth, like Stephen Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, but Trump is adding in sales all over the galaxy.


Put those superpowers together and you have an out-of-this-world negotiator. At the 2015 Values Voter Summit in Washington, he guaranteed the audience that after he is elected President, but even before he takes office, the Americans who are prisoners in Iran will be back. “I’ll tell you what, I’ll tell you what, I’ll make this statement, if I get elected President, before I ever get to office, I guarantee you, they will be back, I guarantee you, 100%, 100%.”


That’s just a selection of his superpowers. Everyone is irresistibly attracted. “All of the women on The Apprentice flirted with me, consciously or unconsciously. That’s to be expected.”  “I love beautiful women, and beautiful women love me.”  “Teachers love me, every one of them”.  “The Hispanics love me.” In fact, “People love me. I’ve been very successful. Everybody loves me.”




Add in one more super-power, his invisible shield that protects him from rays of knowledge which he doesn’t like from the outside world.


I think he is super-fooling all of us. Here is what he is using all of his powers for: “It’s very possible that I could be the first presidential candidate to run and make money on it.”


That would be super. For him.


Steve Hochstadt

Jacksonville IL

Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, December 22, 2015

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
Teaching Hate, Learning Hate How do we learn to hate? I don’t mean difficult neighbors or jerky celebrities. How do we learn to hate whole groups of people about whom we know little?


Hatred of the “other”, people who are not like us, has been a constant in human societies since before the Bible was written. Group hatred was the fundamental cause of the genocides which characterized the 20th century, from beginning (mass killing of Herero people in southwestern Africa by the German Army in 1904-07) to end (Serbian mass murder of Muslims in Bosnia 1992-5). In the US we are still dealing with the mass hatreds against natives and blacks which have stained and bloodied our history.


It’s trite, but true to say that babies don’t hate. Children happily play with other children of different races and religions until they are told that it’s wrong. To hate specific groups of people, humans must be taught hatred.


In 21st-century America, mass hatred focuses on three groups: blacks, gays, and Muslims. The ancient hatred of Jews, which was still played out in social exclusion when I was young, has nearly disappeared in the Western world. It took the murder of more than one-third of the world’s Jews to make Christians realize the effects of centuries of Jew-hatred propounded as official religious doctrine. Now the fact that Bernie Sanders is Jewish hardly figures in discussions of his campaign for President.


The hatred of black descendants of African slaves brought to the New World has been much more central to American history. Long after slavery ended, Americans in every state organized to promote hatred of blacks. Recent research by historian John Kneebone of Virginia Commonwealth University has widened our understanding of the primary promoter of race hatred, the Ku Klux Klan. Between the world wars, over 2000 local “klaverns” were organized in every state, including one in Jacksonville. In Indiana in the 1920s, about one-third of white native-born men were Klan members. The KKK was not run by ignorant hicks, but included men prominent in their communities and in politics. Klan preachings of race hatred were reflected in movies, books, newspapers and educational curricula.


Klan membership died out by 1940, as the organizations disbanded. The influence of their messages of hate lived long afterwards. Americans like me who grew up in the postwar years, meaning the people who have held, now hold, and will continue to hold power in this country, were raised with messages of anti-black hatred ringing in our ears. Local laws, police practices, judicial decisions, and social customs reflected the widespread acceptance of the traditions of American racism well into the 1960s. Then it gradually became a social error to openly espouse hatred for African Americans, for the first time in American history. Lee Atwater, the long-time Republican strategist, revealed how Republicans continued to use racism as a political motivation in the more genteel post-civil rights era.


The Pandora’s box of racial hatred was still open, when the election of Barack Obama suddenly lent partisan cover to the recycling of traditional racism.


When I was young, I didn’t know that so many people hated homosexuals. Nobody talked about homosexuality, except to voice popular taunts about effeminate men. Open public discussion about gay sexuality, and a slightly disguised public hatred of gay people, has become a feature of our public life since the 1970s.


But long before, a crusade to teach hatred of homosexuals had been pursued by our government. Beginning in 1937, the FBI organized a systematic campaign to identify gay people, compile “intelligence” about their activities, broadcast this information across government, inject it into the public domain, and get their targets fired from their jobs.


Gay marriage is hardly one of the pressing issues facing our nation today. Yet the Republicans have made their anti-gay position into one of the basic pillars of Party ideology. You can find Republicans who urge the Party to tolerate (that’s the best they offer) the acceptance of homosexuality, but you can’t vote for them.


Today’s Republicans compete with each other to see who can tap into and nurture a popular political fear of radical Islam. They have no scruples about fomenting a more general hatred of all Muslims as a tool to their own political power.


They have joined the international chorus popularizing hate. The American wing of PEGIDA, the Islamophobic fascist movement in Germany, tweeted happily last year, “Donald Trump doubles down on his stand AGAINST TAKING IN MORE SYRIAN MUSLIMS”. They loved Ted Cruz (“Ted Cruz !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”) when he suggested killing the Ayatollah if Iran acquired a nuclear weapon.


PEGIDA Iceland loves Trump and PEGIDA Ireland loves Cruz. The only Republicans who mention PEGIDA are media stars, who wholeheartedly approve. They don’t recognize racism when it comes right of their mouths, as Gov. Paul LePage of Maine demonstrated the other day.


Hatred and anger are powerful political emotions. Republican candidates believe they can employ the politics of hate to win elections and then later control the hatred they encourage. Meanwhile they teach their supporters that social hatred is good for America. Those lessons take a long time to unlearn.


Steve Hochstadt

Jacksonville IL

Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, January 12, 2016

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
Watergate was a Big Deal Every political scandal gets compared to Watergate. But no political scandal since then can compare with a President authorizing burglaries by White House staff in order to win re-election, then lying about his administration’s cover-up.


 Newt Gingrich tweeted in 2012: “No one died at Watergate! The Obama lies about Benghazi and Biden's deliberate lies Thursday night should be a bigger scandal than Nixon”. Senator Jim Imhofe (OK) pledged, “I will say this to my dying day, I know people don’t realize it now, but that's going to go down in history as the greatest cover-up.” He hasn’t died yet, but he isn’t making that overblown claim any more. Rep. Steve King (Iowa) went over the top: “if you link Watergate and Iran-Contra together and multiply it times maybe 10 or so, you're going to get in the zone where Benghazi is”. King shows what Republicans really want to do: erase the stain of their two most significant political scandals.


Even the suicide of Clinton staffer Vince Foster was compared to Watergate. But no political scandal since then can compare with a President authorizing burglaries by White House staff in order to win re-election, then lying about his administration’s cover-up. Nobody died. But Watergate killed the political innocence of many Americans.


Watergate changed me. I was living in Maryland, just over the border from Washington, from 1971 to 1973. My daily paper was the Washington Post. What happened in Congress and the White House was local news.


But the destruction of my faith in American government began even before Watergate. In June 1971, the New York Times began to publish excerpts from the Pentagon Papers, the Defense Department’s own history of our involvement in Vietnam from 1945 to 1967. Daniel Ellsberg, a Defense Department analyst who had worked on this history, photocopied thousands of pages and gave them to a reporter for the Times. After three articles, the Nixon administration got a restraining order against publication, but the Supreme Court ruled within weeks that publication was justified. Soon the Times, the Washington Post and other papers published documents showing that every President since Truman had misled the American public about Vietnam.


As the deep bipartisan dishonesty of our government began to sink in, another scandal began. Nixon had Ellsberg indicted for espionage, but the White House also created a secret investigation team which burglarized the office of his psychiatrist, trying to discredit Ellsberg. This team, who came to be called the Plumbers, went to work for Nixon’s re-election campaign. Their burglaries of the Democratic Party’s campaign headquarters in the Watergate complex in May and June 1972 were only one piece of the extensive illegal operations coordinated out of Nixon’s White House: bugging of political opponents’ offices, use of the FBI, CIA and IRS to harass activist groups, and then a massive cover-up by Nixon and his aides.


The Plumbers were caught at Watergate in June, and from then on, nearly every day brought a new revelation about the corruption at the center of our government. Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, aided by secret revelations of “Deep Throat”, who turned out to be deputy director of the FBI William Mark Felt, gradually uncovered the lies and illegal activities coordinated from the White House and carried out by the leaders of national law enforcement, Attorney General John Mitchell and the FBI. Nixon denied and denied, but his taping system in the Oval Office proved that he was a criminal, trying to subvert our political system.


My attitude toward the government has never been the same. The mistrust of government which is such a prominent feature today began with Watergate. Surveys about public trust in government show high levels through the mid-1960s, then a catastrophic drop during the 1970s, from about three-quarters of the population trusting our government to only one quarter in 1980. Since then, consistently less than half of Americans have trusted our government, with this difference: Democrats and Independents have oscillated mildly from administration to administration, while Republican trust has gone up over 50% under Republican presidents, and dropped under 20% under Democratic presidents.


Even after Ronald Reagan admitted that his administration had sold arms to Iran and used the proceeds to fund rebels in Nicaragua, both of which were explicitly prohibited by law, Republicans maintained their level of trust in government. Republican mistrust of Obama is a continuation of their attitude of only trusting Republican government.


Those high levels of Republican distrust for all recent Democratic presidents, Carter, Clinton and Obama, are behind the occasionally hysterical outbursts of Republican fury, leading them to spend millions of dollars on Congressional investigations of every problem every Democratic president encounters. So-called Filegate and Travelgate spawned Congressional committee investigations and occupied independent counsel Kenneth Starr for years, before he produced a complete exoneration of the Clintons and all their staff.


Starr delayed announcing his findings until after the 1998 Congressional elections. That example of the political use of such investigations shows the other reason why Republicans keep crying “Watergate”. More than one Republican Congressman admitted that the House Select Committee on Benghazi was mainly the House Republican Committee to Get Hillary.


Watergate was a unique moment of presidential corruption. Many Republican figures pleaded or were found guilty. The vote to impeach Nixon in the House Judiciary Committee was bipartisan. There is no point in continuing the Republican cover-up.


Steve Hochstadt

Jacksonville IL

Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, January 19, 2016

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
Western Stand-Off Over three weeks ago, a group of armed men occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon. The armed stand-off between the occupiers of a federal reserve and everyone else turns on a fundamental disagreement about democratic government and public property in America.


Malheur is located in an arid and lightly populated section of the huge Northern Great Basin in the West. Once this area was home to millions of large nesting birds, including egrets and greater sandhill cranes. In the late 19th century, hunters seeking feathers for hats nearly killed off these flocks. In 1908, Teddy Roosevelt established the Lake Malheur Reservation, one of 51 wildlife refuges he created as President. In the 1930s, over 1000 men in the Civilian Conservation Corps built stone buildings, miles of roads, bridges, camping facilities and lookout towers in the Refuge. They connected local communities with telephone lines. Jobs provided to local craftsmen, and purchases of food and supplies for the CCC enriched the economy of Harney County during the deepest Depression.


The Malheur Refuge is part of a nationwide system of wildlife refuges run by the US Fish and Wildlife Service within the Interior Department. Over 560 refuges across the country provide access to wildlife within an hour’s drive of most metropolitan centers. More than 45 million people visit the refuges every year for hunting, fishing, photography, hiking, or just watching. There are seven wildlife refuges in Illinois, including the Emiquon National Wildlife Refuge at the confluence of the Illinois and Spoon Rivers, wetlands for thousands of migratory ducks only 40 miles north of Jacksonville.


The angry men who have taken over the Malheur Refuge don’t care about the democratic public uses of these federally owned lands. The occupiers disdain the idea of public property. They want the US government to give up control of the wildlife refuge to private uses. They asked local people to sign documents repudiating the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's authority.


A list of people who are occupying Malheur perhaps provides a sketch of the militia movement. Most have criminal records. Most went to Cliven Bundy’s ranch when he defied federal officials in 2014. Many have failed economically and owe money to the government they are protesting. Many had participated in another destructive demonstration of their disdain for public use in May 2014, when they drove ATVs through a canyon closed to motorized vehicles because it houses thousand-year-old ruins of dwellings and burial sites of Native Americans.


The occupiers thought local people would welcome them. The opposite is true. The ranchers whom the occupiers claimed they wanted to protect from arrest have criticized them. The Sheriff of Harney County condemned their intimidation of local law enforcement. A group of sportsmen, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, tore down a makeshift sign put up by the occupiers, and denounced their taking of public lands. A few days after the occupation began, the Sheriff asked hundreds of local residents at a public meeting at the Harney County Fairgrounds if the occupiers should leave. Nearly everybody raised their hands.


Like Cliven Bundy, their spiritual and political godfather, they want these lands, improved by a century of public investment, to be used for private economic benefit. In 20124, Bundy had concocted arguments about why the Constitution allowed him to have free grazing rights on public land, which every court rejected. He continued to graze his cattle on public land, but stopped paying. He used the language of the “sovereign citizen” movement to defend his right to ignore all government authorities. Ammon Bundy, his son and one of the stand-off leaders, rejects the authority of the FBI.


It’s not always useful to listen to a movement’s loudest mouths. But the Bundys have rallied this small occupation, and the wider movement of armed opponents of our democratic government, behind their expression of basic ideas.


They all wave the Constitution, along with “history books” that allege some connection between our founding document and their current politics. They reject all forms and manifestations of national government authority. That’s not a Constitutional interpretation that anyone else shares. It doesn’t derive from the document, it precedes it. The basis of this interpretation was made abundantly clear by Ammon Bundy: “I did exactly what the Lord asked me to do.” Cliven and Ammon Bundy in 2014 and now Ammon Bundy again cited passages from the Book of Mormon as justification for their actions.


The sovereign occupier movement is a religious rebellion against the political structure of our country. All the nation’s authorities about that structure, from local law enforcement to state judges to the Supreme Court, plus the accumulated wisdom of generations of historians, reject the occupier movement’s claim to be supported by the Constitution. Leaders in the Church of the Latter Day Saints said they “are deeply troubled by the reports that those who have seized the facility suggest that they are doing so based on scriptural principles.”


In a 2014 survey, law enforcement agencies said sovereign citizen groups pose the greatest threat to their communities, more than radical Islamists.


Economists, on the other hand, might applaud their tactics. If I wave the Bible and the Constitution and my gun and my cowboy hat enough, we won’t have to pay what we owe. So far it’s worked.


Steve Hochstadt

Jacksonville IL

Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, January 26, 2016

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
The Republican Assault on Higher Education Republican politicians are angry about public higher education in America. The ideas they and their conservative supporters cherish are repeatedly demonstrated by academic experts to be false.


While every Republican presidential candidate argues that creationism should be taught, either alone or alongside evolutionary biology, biologists at every state university dismiss creationism as nonsense. While every Republican presidential candidate argues that climate change is a hoax, or a natural occurrence, or anyway nothing to worry about, physical scientists in every field at every state university have overwhelming evidence that human-caused global warming could lead to a global disaster.


These are just the most obvious examples of how unhappy Republicans are with the work of America’s professors. Scientists across the disciplines keep demonstrating that industries create health hazards and that fossil fuels contribute to warming. Social scientists around the country discuss how we should deal with the continuing legacy of racism and sexism. Political scientists cast doubt on the Constitutional interpretations Republicans use to justify their political preferences.


Historians keep digging up incidents in our past which discredit the dreamy illusion of America as God’s country and Americans as God’s people. They put words like “race” and gender” into their book titles and courses, when conservatives would rather not think in those categories. They disparage the publications of Ted Cruz’s favorite historian, David Barton, head of Cruz’s super PAC. Barton claims that it is a myth that the Constitution insists on separation of church and state, and whose “historical” research is devoted to proving that the US was founded as a Christian nation.


How can the collective wisdom and work of the best educated people in American society be dismissed as unworthy of attention? The Republican answer: America’s professors advocate these ideas because we are both liberal and dishonest.


It’s not hard to find statistics that show the great majority of professors to be liberal. There must follow another logical step: we pursue our liberal agenda by ignoring evidence, cooking the numbers, and making things up. Ted Cruz’s father Rafael says that evolution is a communist plot. Donald Trump offers a different political reason why science isn’t scientific, but political: “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” The extraordinary claim that the world’s climate scientists are engaged in an international conspiracy to tell a big lie is one part of their broader argument that academics are liars.


Across the country Republican politicians are attacking public universities. Governor Scott Walker sought to promote his presidential ambitions by trying to cut the funding of the University of Wisconsin and repudiate its fundamental intellectual mission. He proposed to remove the phrases “search for truth” and “improve the human condition” from the University’s charge, replacing them with “meet the state’s workforce needs”. The Republican-dominated Board of Governors of the University of North Carolina voted to close UNC’s Center on Poverty, Work, and Opportunity because it advocates for the poor, and the Institute for Civic Engagement and Social Change at historically black North Carolina Central University, because it promotes voter empowerment.

The Board is hiking tuition and capping financial aid, after years of state cuts to higher education spending.


While attacking public universities, Republicans lavish attention on Liberty University, founded by Jerry Falwell in 1971. Liberty University promotes a “Christian worldview” that “leads people to Jesus Christ as the Lord of the universe and their own personal Savior.” Cruz announced his candidacy there, and Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, and Donald Trump also spoke there.


Another favorite is Bob Jones University, whose ban on interracial dating lasted into the 21st century. Cruz, Carson, Bush, and Marco Rubio appeared there this month, Cruz and Carson for the second time. BJU scientists say that “claims which contradict scripture cannot be true”, such as that the earth is more than a few thousand years old.


Republican politicians deliver to the American public the idea that every field of knowledge is dominated by political interest, that there is no “science”, only advocacy. Republican know-nothingism has contributed to the assault on vaccines, one of the greatest public health triumphs of the 20th century. Trump has repeatedly claimed that vaccines lead to autism. Ben Carson equivocated about vaccination, saying “we are probably giving way too many in too short a period of time”. Carly Fiorina argued against mandatory vaccination, as did Rand Paul, who also claimed that vaccines cause mental disorders.


Public education decreases public ignorance. The Republican attack on institutions of higher learning whose budgets they control, their slandering of our nation’s professors, and their dismissal of the Enlightenment idea that better science means a better society are a comprehensive political strategy to maintain and even increase public ignorance. 


Combined with the much more vicious attack on private and public media as politically biased and unreliable, the Republican Party seeks to rule a dumbed-down America. Are we dumb enough to support that?


Steve Hochstadt

Jacksonville IL

Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, February 16, 2016

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
Jews and Blacks in Germany and America Last week I was telling my class about what the Nazis did to Jews after Hitler became Chancellor in 1933. After becoming nearly equal citizens over a hundred years of gradual emancipation, everything Jews had gained was suddenly taken away.


The Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service took away thousands of jobs. The Nürnberg Laws took away their citizenship and forbade sex and marriage between Jews and other Germans. Thousands of petty local laws prevented Jews from visiting libraries, swimming in pools, or walking through parks. Jews were kicked out of private clubs and associations of all kinds. In the German mind, Jews were physically and morally inferior beings. Every once in a while, a gang of local Nazis would murder a Jew. There were enough individual cases across the country to let Jews know their lives were always threatened.


In 1938 the Nazis pushed much further. They arrested tens of thousands of Jews in November during Kristallnacht. They destroyed or confiscated commercial and personal property worth millions. Hundreds of Jews died that night and hundreds more died soon after arriving in concentration camps. Not yet mass shootings and industrialized murder, but that was only a year away.


My students had already read about those years and seen some documents describing these actions. I wanted them to get a better sense of what this meant, so I asked them to compare the way Jews were treated by Nazis in 1937, before Kristallnacht, and the way blacks were treated by whites in the US at the same time. That was uncomfortable.


Local, state and federal Jim Crow laws and rules denied to blacks entry to public and private places. Blacks were excluded from professional and skilled jobs in government and in the private sector. Most blacks in America could not vote or go to school with whites. Interracial relationships were illegal in most states, based on so-called anti-miscegenation laws. In the white American mind, blacks were physically and morally inferior beings.


The occasional public murder of black men, scattered across the country, served to threaten all black lives. Over 60 African Americans were lynched during the years 1933-1937, similar to the number of Nazi murders of Jews in those years.


Jewish and black paths to these depressing, sometimes deadly situations were different. Just before the Nazis took power, Jews in Germany were freer than ever before. No discriminatory laws in the very democratic Weimar Republic hemmed them in. Most were comfortably middle class, some traveled in elite circles. Then the Nazis took everything away. Jewish life in Germany in the mid-1930s was worse than anything any Jew could remember.


African Americans had a much harder history of slavery, partial emancipation and continued segregation. Only a tiny number could escape generations of poverty. Occasionally, racial hatred boiled over into massive white riots against their black neighbors in which property and lives were destroyed. In 1919, white mobs in 26 cities attacked black people and property across the country from Chicago to Texas, Nebraska to Washington DC, killing over 100 African Americans and destroying thousands of homes and businesses. Nothing like that had happened to Jews in Germany since the Middle Ages.


By 1937, racial violence against black Americans had diminished. But they were no better off than Jews in Nazi Germany. Then the paths diverged. Within a few year most European Jews were dead. American blacks saw some early glimpses of what equality might look like when they arrived in Europe to rescue the few Jewish survivors. But the fact remains, for my students and for all Americans, that the early years of Nazi persecution put Jews into a similar position as blacks in America.


That’s hard to swallow. America, the land of the free, treating its minorities as brutally as the Nazis? Today’s oldest Americans lived through a time when blacks here were treated like the Nazis treated Jews. Long after the world recognized the deadly consequences of racial discrimination and hatred in the wake of the Holocaust, America’s laws and institutions continued to brutalize black citizens.


Despite having been introduced to the Holocaust in high school, my students are still shocked at the depth of Nazi inhumanity. We should all be shocked at the inhumanity of our own history.


Steve Hochstadt

Jacksonville IL

Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, February 23, 2016

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
Donald Trump, the He-Man Who is Donald Trump? Now that Trump has taken a commanding lead in the Republican presidential race, this question is being debated across the country. What kind of person is he? Why does he behave as he does?


Whatever Trump may be like at home, in public he deliberately projects the image of a thoroughly masculine character, a man’s man, as the now outdated saying goes. Here are some traits which are typically associated with masculinity: competitive, forceful, aggressive, independent, willing to take risks, assertive, acts as leader. These are all qualities which Trump displays at every opportunity, which he brags about in interviews and in his books, and which he tries to personify.


Rarely has anyone outside of the sports world talked so much about winning. Trump believes every aspect of life is a contest that he must win. In September, he said at a rally on Capitol Hill: “We will have so much winning if I get elected, that you may get bored with the winning.” After he won in Nevada in February: “We weren't expected to win too much and now we're winning, winning, winning the country. And soon the country is going to start winning, winning, winning.” He admits to no losses in his past and he constantly calls others “losers”: Ted Cruz, editor Graydon Carter of Vanity Fair, columnist S.E. Cupp, Republican consultant Cheri Jacobus, Karl Rove (4 times in the past few months), all of ISIS, the New York Daily News, and Politico.


Trump’s aggressiveness takes his political opponents by surprise. Any criticism of him is met with amplified aggression. His Twitter account is filled with nasty remarks about the incompetence and low intelligence of anyone who has noted his past failures or present prevarications. His debate performances display verbal aggression unprecedented for a presidential candidate.


One traditionally masculine trait is bragging about sexual power. Soon after Princess Diana was killed in an auto accident, Trump said on radio that he could have slept with her. In “Trump: The Art of the Deal”, he repeatedly wrote about his many affairs with “beautiful women”. In “Trump: The Art of the Comeback”: “If I told the real stories of my experiences with women, often seemingly very happily married and important women, this book would be a guaranteed best-seller.” In “Trump: How to Get Rich”: “All the women on The  Apprentice flirted with me — consciously or unconsciously.”


In response to Marco Rubio’s irrelevant and crude remark about his “small hands”, Trump felt it necessary to assure everyone about his genitalia: “I guarantee you there’s no problem. I guarantee you.”


When he criticizes others, he uses the language of inadequate masculinity. “Weak” is one of his favorite taunts, directed at Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Hillary Clinton, Marco Rubio (many times), Barack Obama, European leaders generally, the Democratic Party, the Republican National Committee, and the United States. He thinks of his opponents as “lightweights” – Bush, Rubio, and Megyn Kelly. Most insulting for the super-masculine Trump, he gleefully repeated one of his supporter’s comments about Ted Cruz: “He’s a pussy.”


One quotation that Trump recently retweeted exemplifies this hyper-masculinity: “It is better to live one day as a lion than 100 years as a sheep.” Benito Mussolini was the author, which didn’t seem to bother Trump, perhaps confirming his similarity to a quintessential strong man.


Trump aggressively displays the opposite of the traits which are often described as feminine: sympathetic, sensitive, compassionate, loyal, gentle, understanding.


One stereotypical masculine trait which Trump does not openly display is physical strength. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jesse Ventura used their imposing bodies to attract attention to their political campaigns. But Trump wants us all to know how powerful he is. He released a letter from his family physician in December claiming that his health is “astonishingly excellent” and “extraordinary”. The doctor wrote that Trump would be “the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.”


In December, Fox News host Andrea Tantaros said that American men could “get their masculinity back” by voting for Trump. Trump’s he-man pose, combined with his attacks on women aimed at their sexuality, might well energize some men, especially white men, who feel they have lost their dominance in the modern world. One could suspect, however, that a man who can’t stop touting his masculinity might be less certain than he proclaims.


Steve Hochstadt

Jacksonville IL

Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, March 7, 2016

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
Why Are Some Americans So Angry? Now that Donald Trump’s campaign for President looks likely to win him the Republican nomination, outraged writers both left and right are screaming bloody murder. The screams sound different, though. Liberals worry that Trump is a fascist, with comparisons to Mussolini and Hitler. Establishment Republicans denounce him as an insincere conservative and worry that he’ll lead them to crushing defeat in November. Only late-night comedians appear to be enjoying the spectacle.


Trump loves all the attention. He deliberately provokes the screams and then screams back. Much more important than listening to his wailing is to ask why he has so many followers. Why are millions of Americans so angry that they look to Trump for leadership?


The comparisons of Trumpism to fascism often invoke the history of Germany before Hitler came to power. But that comparison doesn’t work well. Hitler and the Nazis were a fringe party as late as 1928. That year they won 2.6% of the vote and were the ninth largest party. Only after the crash of the Western world’s economy in 1929 did their votes jump to 18.3% in 1930, as unemployment surged to 23%, on its way to over 40% by 1932.


Nothing like that is happening in the US. We see signs of economic distress in America every day, however unemployment has fallen to 4.9%, after peaking at 10% just after Barack Obama took office. But even if the economy may be improving, that is barely noticeable to most people. The proportion of Americans who have “good jobs”, meaning more than 30 hours per week with a steady paycheck, has barely inched up from about 42% five years ago to 44% now. Wages have stagnated for 20 years.


Since 2009, despite the recovery, the percentage of Americans who think economic conditions are “getting worse” has remained over 50%, reaching 56% in the most recent Gallup poll. Republicans are overwhelmingly pessimistic about our future: in January, 88% of Republicans, but only 27% of Democrats told CNN/ORC that things in the country today are going badly.


I don’t think the anger that propels people to Trump is all about the economy. The greatest unemployment and the dimmest economic prospects for the future plague young African Americans: their unemployment reached nearly 50% in late 2009 and 2010, and still hovers around 25%. Overall, black unemployment is twice white unemployment, and Hispanic unemployment is 50% higher than whites.


But this month Hispanics told pollsters how much they disliked Trump: 77% said they had an unfavorable opinion of him. None of the other candidates, Republican or Democrat, had higher than 30%. Another poll was worse: over 70% of Hispanics had a “very unfavorable” view of Trump. Even 60% of Hispanics who are Republicans have an unfavorable opinion, three times as high as the other Republican candidates. African Americans dislike Trump even more.


A poll from July 2015, when many Republicans were still in the race, showed Trump’s appeal to be greatest among whites without a college degree. That advantage grew by the end of 2015. Americans without a college degree are much more likely to have negative ideas about immigration in general and undocumented immigrants in particular.


A February Public Policy poll in South Carolina, before the primary, identifies which Republican voters like Trump best: those who support banning Muslims and homosexuals from entering the US; who support shutting down mosques in the US and making Islam illegal; who support flying the Confederate flag; who think whites are a superior race.


One of Trump’s biggest attractions is his disdain for what he calls political correctness. His supporters recognize that their beliefs in white superiority, the evils of Islam and homosexuality, and the importance of ending immigration are no longer acceptably announced in polite society. What once was politically fine is now incorrect, liable to be criticized. Trump says these things in the crudest way and ironically makes them more respectable. His voters’ idea of a great America may mean a place where they have better jobs, but it also means an America where Christian whites regain their ascendancy, where the world respects our dominance, where traditional hierarchies return.


Trump voters don’t travel in the same circles as establishment Republicans. Powerful Republicans say they don’t know any Trump voters. Surveys in January show that Republican voters consider Trump the most anti-establishment candidate.


Trump the birther gave birth to Trump the candidate. Outrageous racist attacks on a black President provided a base of support: two-thirds of Trump supporters still believe that Obama is a Muslim born outside of the US. Trump exploits the anger about a changing America and stokes it. He repeatedly has encouraged violence against those who protest his message. His white supporters have been waiting for their deliverance. They will be even angrier if he loses or if he wins and can’t turn the clock back.


Steve Hochstadt

Jacksonville IL

Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, March 15, 2106

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
Can We Be a Better Neighbor? Long after the juvenile Republican presidential campaigns and campaigners of 2016 are forgotten, President Barack Obama’s movement toward normalization of relations with Cuba will still be talked about. That overdue effort is another reason why Obama’s practical and cautious foreign policy is superior to the bombastic and outdated belligerency of the Republicans.


The history of American domination of Cuba presents a textbook case of the anti-democratic brutality and stubborn ideological self-interest of 20th-century American foreign policy. After Cuba won its independence from Spain in 1898, the US military repeatedly landed on the island to promote American economic interests against the protests of poor peasants, whose land had been taken by giant landowners, many of whom were US citizens. Repressive dictatorships were put into place and supported by American armed forces against all popular Cuban attempts to create more democratic systems.


Fulgencio Batista represents the essence of 20th-century American policy in Latin America. From his base in the Cuban army, he overthrew the authoritarian government of Gerardo Machado in 1933. Supported by Franklin Roosevelt, Batista encouraged American economic interests in Cuba as he manipulated elections to dominate Cuban politics into the 1950s. After Batista overthrew another government in 1952, President Eisenhower threw full US support behind his corrupt and repressive regime.


Fidel Castro and others tried unsuccessfully to overthrow Batista in 1953, and were captured and jailed until 1955. Castro resumed the struggle from Mexico, and then landed in Cuba in 1956 and created a small guerrilla army in the Sierra Maestra mountains. The US government withdrew its support of Batista and after a three-year struggle, Batista fled the island and Castro’s forces entered Havana in January 1959.


Within two months, the CIA formulated plans to overthrow Castro, fearing the spread of communism in Latin America. CIA clandestine intervention had already been “successful” in the 1954 coup against the elected Guatemalan government of Jacobo Arbenz. Thirty years of dictatorship followed, including the deaths or disappearances of about 250,000 people.


After a series of escalating measures by both sides, the Cuban government nationalized property held by foreigners, mostly Americans, in August 1960. The Eisenhower administration responded by freezing Cuban assets in the US, cutting diplomatic ties, and instituting a commercial, economic, and financial embargo in October 1960. After John F. Kennedy took office, he allowed the Cuban invasion plans to proceed, leading to the disastrous Bay of Pigs fiasco in April 1961.


The Bay of Pigs may have been a failure, but US-sponsored regime change, military intervention, and suppression of democratic opposition as “communist” continued to be basic elements of our Latin American foreign policy. After failing to destabilize the elected government of Joao Goulart in Brazil with a propaganda campaign, the CIA supported a military coup in 1964. The result was the suspension of civil liberties and abolition of political parties for the next 21 years, supported by widespread torture. In 1973, the CIA supported a military coup by General Augusto Pinochet against Chile’s elected government, leading to 17 years of military dictatorship in which thousands were killed or tortured. In 1976, the US supported a coup by Argentina’s military against the elected government, which led to 7 years of “Dirty War”, in which 30,000 people were “disappeared”. After 1968, both Republican and Democratic administrations gave “Operation Condor” technical and military assistance, helping right-wing dictatorships in Latin America to use state-sponsored terror to silence opposition. As many as 60,000 people were killed.


Just before his assassination, President Kennedy had been exploring the possibility of a meeting between Cuban and American representatives. He told French reporter Jean Daniel, who was on his way to Cuba: “I believe that there is no country in the world including any and all the countries under colonial domination, where economic colonization, humiliation and exploitation were worse than in Cuba, in part owing to my country’s policies during the Batista regime. . . . Batista was the incarnation of a number of sins on the part of the United States.”


The embargo Eisenhower initiated was a product of that immoral American foreign policy, which justified smashing democracy in Latin America because it threatened American interests. It has been continued for 55 years with the ironic justification that the Cuban government violated human rights, while we supported far more repressive and deadlier regimes throughout Latin America.


American foreign policy in Latin America surrounding the time when the Cuban embargo was instituted has become an embarrassment. President Obama had to acknowledge American support for the military dictatorship and our role in the Dirty War when he visited Argentina last week.


No balance sheet could possibly justify American encouragement for dictatorship, torture, and mass murder across Latin America. The admission that we, much more than the Castro brothers, are responsible for human rights violations is long overdue. Ending the Cuban embargo is one necessary step in creating a real “good neighbor policy”.


Steve Hochstadt

Jacksonville IL

Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, March 29, 2016

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
Donald Trump Is Done I think Trump is done. Or as my mother-in-law would say, “Done is for meat. Trump is finished.” Everyone who said that before was wrong. But now his run is over.


Trump has been pointing to the polls for a year, but they’re no longer his friends. FOX News began to include his name among Republican candidates last March: Trump got 3%. He stayed in the single digits through June, reached over 20% by late August, and hovered in the high 20's and low 30's into December. By March he reached over 40% in every poll. He has won lots of primaries, but never gotten even half of the Republican vote.


That’s as far as he’ll get. Back in January and February, when there were more candidates, he easily had more than Cruz and Kasich combined.  But since the beginning of March their total has passed his, as the supporters of the dropouts have been absorbed all around.


A nice chart by the Huffington Post combines 126 polls over 11 months to show how Trump gained favor from June to September last year, then stayed in place until February. Even at his best, 15% more people viewed him unfavorably than favorably. In the past 8 weeks that gap has been widening.


The Pew poll from just a week ago is exemplary. Voter interest and knowledge is much higher than previous presidential years: 89%% of Republican registered voters say they have given “quite a lot” of thought to the coming election. As of now, Trump wins 41%, Cruz 32%, Kasich 20%. Only 7% of Republican voters pick someone other than these three. Nearly everyone who is going to support Trump is already there.


The non-Trump voters won’t be drifting his way. His negative ratings are extraordinary. In January he was viewed negatively by 60%. Now the latest Gallup poll shows 70% of women and 58% of men have a negative view of Trump.


After prognosticators stopped predicting his imminent demise, everyone began paying more attention to him. That’s what he wanted, what he seemed best at. His candidacy is a publicist’s dream: everybody sees and hears Donald Trump everywhere. But Trump is such an egotist that he never realized the limits of his appeal, how many people don’t like the character he has been playing for decades.


The media focus on Trump now highlights the ugly and ignorant things he has been saying and doing. An ad by Our Principles PAC strung together what Trump has said about women. When Wolf Blitzer asked him about the ad, Trump said: “I think people understand. I think people, first of all half of that was show business ... Look, these politicians, I know them. They say far worse when they’re in closed doors of where they’re with a group of people that they trust. This, a lot of that is show business stuff.”


Trump hasn’t gotten out of show business. What worked on TV, attracting a large enough slice of American viewers to come back season after season, doesn’t work as politics. People do understand that “these politicians” say appalling things that we rarely hear about. That doesn’t mean they want to hear Trump say them in public.


Show business celebrities are not held accountable for their words. We give them license to act in character and make them famous for it. When Trump and I were growing up, many New York comedians cultivated an unpleasant shtick, like Don Rickles and Rodney Dangerfield, who were good at turning rude into funny. Carroll O’Connor as Archie Bunker played one of the most successful jerks on TV. But most of his dedicated viewers would not have voted for him for dogcatcher, although the fake campaign “Archie Bunker for President” in 1972 was amusing.


That’s Trump’s beef with political correctness: what he said on TV to applause attracts criticism on the campaign trail. Only in the past few months have his words been taken seriously, not as a script for our amusement, but as serious political expression. And that’s the end of Trump. Years of insulting comments about women and bragging about his sexual performance are now supplemented by blithe comments about NATO being obsolete and punishing women who have abortions.


I’m surprised that Trump has not lowered the volume of his sexist and racist rhetoric, now that he seeks more than a good Nielson rating. He might have been a more dangerous candidate if he had copied the tactics of “these politicians”, and kept his most offensive views behind closed doors. Now it’s too late. He can’t run on his past political achievements: he has none and has made that a virtue. All he can point to is this campaign, against respect for women, against non-white and non-Christian Americans, against decency and thoughtfulness.


Trump might win the Republican nomination. I make no predictions about that topsy-turvy race, where the next day’s insults are unpredictable. But he has topped out and is going down.


Early this year, Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski said the plan is to “let Trump be Trump.” Now Lewandowski has been charged with assault. Trump has been assaulting the majority of the American public. On the campaign trail, that’s a losing formula.


Steve Hochstadt

Jacksonville IL

Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, April 5, 2016

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
To White Men Who Like Trump Fellow white men! Listen up, this concerns us. Donald Trump apparently has the most appeal among white men in middle age and beyond. That appeal seems to come from two places.


Some white men appear to be wildly attracted to Trump’s rhetoric about non-whites. People who rally behind the slogan “white power” love Trump, show up at his rallies, call out his name when they take out their rage on innocent non-whites, work in his campaign, and openly urge every upstanding white supremacist to support Trump.


Trump offers just enough tidbits to American racists to keep them happy: calling Mexicans “rapists” as the opening salvo of his campaign, retweeting a message from a racist website, and toying with his response to David Duke’s endorsement for two days.


According to Trump, non-whites here and abroad are the enemy, but they can be beaten back from our borders and held back at home. Nothing new in American political discourse, but harkening back to a past where white men ruled and everything was good.


If you are in that Trump camp, Democrats are certainly your political enemy. They will keep tinkering with American society, trying to reach a promised land of equality and social justice. Despite your objections, they know that we have not gone too far, but rather not far enough. Racial inequalities continue to make America less than it could be. You yourselves are some of the evidence. So vote for the racist of your choice. Even if Trump isn’t on the ballot, many of his Republican colleagues openly or stealthily appeal for your vote by promoting racist ideas.


It’s the white men who like Trump despite his racism who should think again about him. There is no reason to trust him or other Republicans on economic issues.


Listen to what Republicans have said about the economy before and now. In April 2008, presidential candidate Senator John McCain said: “a lot of our problems today, as you know, are psychological — the confidence, trust, the uncertainty about our economic future, ability to keep our own home.” Three months later, his political adviser Phil Gramm said, “You’ve heard of mental depression, this is a mental recession . . . . We may have a recession; we haven’t had one yet. . . . We have sort of become a nation of whiners.” On September 15, the day Lehman Bros. filed for bankruptcy, McCain proclaimed: “I think, still, the fundamentals of our economy are strong.”


By that time, the economy was already in free fall. Employment, the basis of economic well-bring for the majority of Americans, was worse 2008-2009 than it had been since the Depression. The unemployment rate was rising already in March 2008, and kept going up until the end of 2009, when it reached 10%, the worst two years since World War II. The gross domestic product fell in the first quarter of 2008 and after June fell for four consecutive quarters. It did not reach the level of June 2008 until three years later in June 2011.


Republican rhetoric about the economy was deliberately ignorant. They were in charge as the economy tanked, and then lied about it. They offered nothing to American workers and homeowners who were about to fall into economic depression.


Since then Republicans have consistently refused to help average Americans with economic problems. They refused to extend unemployment benefits as the number of long-term unemployed skyrocketed. They cut the food stamp program, which is used mostly by white families. They oppose raising the minimum wage, which has not budged in 7 years. They have tried to obstruct regulations which prevent banks from defrauding home buyers, one of the causes of the 2008 meltdown. And they want to demolish the health care reform which cut the numbers of uninsured Americans to the lowest level in over 20 years, dropping 20% because of the Affordable Care Act.


The economic program Republicans have offered to the American middle class has been remarkably consistent: give more money to the richest Americans by radically cutting their taxes. Here’s the Republican strategy. Appeal to the billionaires who fund their campaigns with the promise of tax cuts. Appeal to the white middle class with coded racism.


Trump, the billionaire who can’t be bought, could be an incorruptible friend of America’s workers. But he’s shown not the slightest sign that he cares about or will do anything for Americans who are struggling. Trump seems to be an opponent of the Republican establishment. But he’s offering the same “you too can be rich” motivational baloney that Republicans have been purveying for decades.


That’s exactly what Trump University proclaimed by using Trump’s face and words in their advertising campaign. It turned out he had nothing to do with those expensive courses taught by people who knew nothing about real estate. Trump University is probably the only institution of “higher learning” ever sued by most of its students.


That same scam is what Trump and the Republicans are offering to Americans who are hurting financially. The last Republican President created economic disaster, and their policies haven’t budged. White men, don’t fall for fake populism. Don’t fall for coded or open racism. Trump got famous for firing people, not hiring them.


Steve Hochstadt

Jacksonville IL

Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, April 12, 2016

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
Women in the Boston Marathon My daughter-in-law ran the 120th Boston Marathon last week. She was one of 13,000 women in the world’s oldest yearly road race.


The very first marathon race, part of the revival of the Olympics in 1896, was won appropriately by unheralded Greek water carrier Spyridon Louis in under 3 hours. Eight of 17 runners finished, seven Greeks and one Hungarian.


The Boston Marathon was initiated the next year, April 19, 1897, to celebrate Patriots’ Day, which had been invented in Massachusetts in 1894 to commemorate the battles of Lexington and Concord in 1775, as well as the first bloodshed of the Civil War in the Baltimore riot of 1861. The Marathon was added to the patriotic holiday to link the American struggle for independence with Athenian ideals of democracy. The newly formed Boston Athletic Association was well organized: alongside each of the 15 runners rode a militiaman on a bicycle with water, lemons, and wet handkerchiefs.


Over the next 70 years, the race was transformed into an international event for men. The field ballooned from its usual 200 before 1960 to nearly 500 in 1965.


But women were banned in Boston. Into the 1960s, athletic authorities claimed women were incapable of running that distance. The longest AAU-sanctioned race for women was 1.5 miles. Women could not compete further than 800 meters in the Olympics.


By that time, Roberta Gibb was in her 20s. Accepted ideas about what women could and couldn’t do were no longer universally believed. Gibb watched the 1964 Boston Marathon and thought she could try it. She trained on her own for two years, including a trip across the US which combined driving and running. By the time she reached the Pacific Ocean, she could run 40 miles. But she couldn’t run Boston in 1966. The race director wrote: “Women aren't allowed, and furthermore are not physiologically able.”


Gibb took a bus from San Diego to Boston, arrived the night before the race, hid behind a forsythia bush near the start, and blended into the crowd of male runners as they passed by. She had worn a hooded sweatshirt to hide her illegal gender, but soon got too hot. She was worried that taking it off would get her in trouble, but the men around her said not to worry. “We won’t let anyone bother you.” The news that a woman was running spread quickly. As the runners passed through Wellesley, thousands of extra spectators cheered her. Fifty years later, Gibb remembered, “The women of Wellesley College knew I was coming and let out an enormous scream. They were jumping in the air, laughing and crying.” Her feet bled in her new boy’s size 6 running shoes. There were no shoes made for women. She finished in 3:21 in the top third of the pack, faster than average finish times for men today.


The press were excited by her story, but unable to understand her motivations. She was asked whether she had some axe to grind against men. Photographers followed her to her parents’ home, where they wanted to take pictures of her cooking. The BAA released an official statement: “There is no such thing as a marathon for women.”


All around her, Gibb had found acceptance and encouragement from runners and spectators. The authorities, the experts, the people in charge said women couldn’t do that. They meant that women, their idea of women, shouldn’t do that. After she did it, they said she was an anomaly, a freak. We won’t let you do that. Roberta Gibb was a freak in a sense – she was willing to reject their thinking and violate their rules.


That wasn’t enough, though. The next year, Gibb ran again unofficially. Jock Semple, the race director, ran into the street to tear the bib number off Kathrine Switzer, who had entered incognito as K.V. Switzer. Switzer’s running partner, a hammer thrower, body-blocked Semple, and other racers protected her.


In the years after Gibb’s first Boston marathon, the idea that women could do it, too, whatever it was, bubbled through American society. It took a movement to crash through the walls authorities had built around women.


Gibb ran again in 1968, beating four other women. In 1972, women were finally allowed to enter – 8 women started and they all finished. Title IX, opening all forms of school sports to women, was passed in 1972. That year women were allowed to run 1500 meters in the Munich Olympics. The first Olympic women’s marathon was held in Los Angeles in 1984.


The 2016 program of the Boston Marathon celebrates 50 years of women in Boston. Gibb was the Grand Marshall of Boston this year. My daughter-in-law did not have to hide or feel alone when she ran. She didn’t have to be an activist or a freak. She just had to be a runner.


Steve Hochstadt

Jacksonville IL

Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, April 26, 2016

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
What Does Retirement Mean? I have given my last course and graded my last paper. I’ve been teaching history for 40 years and now I’m no longer employed. I’m retired. What does that mean?


It doesn’t mean lying on the couch watching the soaps. All the retired people I talk with say they seem busier than they expected. Retirement for me won’t be the end of work or a life of pure leisure, but a different kind of working life. I look forward to more reading about life on Earth, past and present. I hope to keep writing about Jacksonville and America.


My date book is nearly empty. Instead of daily appointments for classes and meetings, whole weeks are blank. I never liked schedules, and retirement offers me their absence. Retirement means getting up in the morning without a day full of activities that must be done today. I’ll have much more spontaneous control over what I do.


But many jobs don’t disappear because we get old. Dinners still have to be cooked, dishes washed, clothes cleaned, and houses maintained. The grass keeps growing, and so do the weeds for those of us who keep gardens. If one person in a household, say the wife, has been responsible for the housework, there is no such thing as retirement. Advice columns are filled with the complaints of housewives whose newly retired husbands are suddenly around all day, getting in the way.


When those of us who now are retiring were first setting up our households, those tasks were assumed to be attached to gender: men mowed the lawn, women made the meals, and so on. Those assumptions are gone. Retirement means the opportunity to reallocate all the tasks required by the modern household: shopping, paying bills, fixing leaky faucets don’t have to be determined by gender.


I should thank Uncle Sam for some of that freedom to choose how to spend each retirement day. If I want to go out for breakfast, get a cup of coffee, or buy a book to read, I’ll have enough money. Without money, there can be no retirement.


We may take the Social Security system for granted, but it is only 80 years old. Before 1935 there was no system of old age pensions for Americans. Either you saved for retirement out of your paychecks, or you had to keep working until you died.


Our most eloquent revolutionary, Thomas Paine, was a “forerunner of modern social insurance”, as the Social Security Administration calls him. In 1796, he advocated a 10% tax on the inheritance of property to create a fund which would pay a yearly pension to everyone over 50, “to enable them to live in Old Age without Wretchedness, and go decently out of the World.”


Nothing happened for decades. America’s military veterans were the first to get a pension system. Disabled veterans of the Civil War, war widows and orphans were granted a pension in 1862.


Confederate veterans were not included, partly as retribution for trying to secede, but mainly because well-off Southerners and Southern politicians, who did not need the money themselves, thought a welfare program was a dishonor to the Lost Cause.


As Americans moved off the farm and began to live longer, elderly poverty became a crisis. Those who couldn’t work starved. When the Depression struck in 1929, a national Social Security program was already standard among European nations. Americans were ready to take public responsibility to support the elderly. Part of FDR’s New Deal was a Social Security program in 1935 based on social insurance rather than “welfare”. Workers would provide for their own financial security by contributing at work and the federal government would use this revenue for the social good, in this case to support Americans who retired. Even before the federal government acted, a majority of states had enacted their own old age pension programs, but they were based on the welfare model and were inadequate. The most generous paid about $1 a day.


Many kinds of workers were excluded from the original Social Security system: agricultural laborers, domestic servants, intermittent workers. That meant that less than half of women and only one-third of African Americans were covered. Our national protection for elderly Americans has really only been fully operational for about 50 years.


The Social Security Administration has kept much better records than I have of what I have earned over my lifetime. I love seeing the table that they send me every year, showing that I earned $1126 in 1966 in my first real summer job after I graduated from high school. My earnings keep going up, but I made more than $50,000 in only one year. Over my lifetime, I and my employers paid about $55,000 each into the Social Security system. Now that I am retired, I can draw about$21,000 a year for the rest of my life, not a bad return on that investment. That puts me in the middle of the national income range, meaning it will pay for an average standard of living.


Not enough for luxury, but more than enough to avoid Wretchedness. So off I go into a new world, with Uncle Sam at my back and unknown adventure ahead of me.


Steve Hochstadt

Jacksonville IL

Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, May 24, 2016

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
The Destruction and Rebuilding of Warsaw

Warsaw destroyed, World War II

Steve Hochstadt is a writer and an emeritus professor of history at Illinois College. 

I have spent the past three weeks in three cities which were destroyed during World War II and then rebuilt: Warsaw, St. Petersburg, and Berlin. Warsaw’s experiences tell us much about what cities and history mean to people. Warsaw, the capital of Poland since 1596, was completely leveled by the German Army. It is hard to picture what those words mean.

Even before the Germans attacked Poland, architects developed a plan to obliterate the city and its 1.3 million people, and then rebuild a model provincial German city one-tenth that size. During the invasion of Poland in September 1939, the Luftwaffe made the largest air raid in history up to that time on Warsaw, a terror attack with incendiary bombs meant to demoralize the Polish people. Thousands of civilians were killed and buildings ruined.

A few years later, after the uprising of the last few thousand Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto in April 1943, that portion of the central city was entirely razed to the ground by the Wehrmacht, by bombing and bulldozers, following an order from Heinrich Himmler.

In August 1944, a second uprising in Warsaw began. As the Soviet Army approached from the east, Polish underground forces attacked the German occupiers, hoping to liberate the city themselves. The Soviets halted their advance, allowing the German Army to overwhelm the rebels and then use a special Annihilation and Incineration Detachment to methodically destroy the whole city, burning libraries and blowing up churches. Hitler’s order was clear: “Warsaw has to be pacified, that is, razed to the ground.”

By the end of the war, about 90% of Warsaw’s buildings had been demolished and most of its population murdered, significantly greater destruction than was caused by the atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Already during the German occupation, Polish architects and city planners risked their lives to document existing historic structures and to plan for rebuilding. After the war’s end, the new Communist leaders of Poland considered moving the capital to another city. No modern city had ever been rebuilt after such complete demolition. Polish patriots who had fought in the resistance argued that the historical architectural substance of Warsaw represented the Polish nation and should be rebuilt.

Over the next 7 years, a replica of old Warsaw was constructed. The destruction of the city center was so complete that 22 paintings of city streets done in the 1770s by the Venetian painter Bernardo Bellotto were used to recreate historic buildings. Bricks from the rubble and fragments of architectural details were reused. Warsaw’s citizens returned by the thousands to help in the reconstruction, following the motto, “The entire nation builds its capital.” Unlike the rebuilding of German cities, no foreign funds were available for Warsaw. The entire reconstruction was paid for by popular donations to the Social Fund for the Rebuilding of the Capital.

Is Warsaw now an architectural Disneyland of fake “old” buildings? No, it is a reborn place of remembrance, a monument to the importance of the past for the present. Warsaw’s tragic history is displayed everywhere in monuments, plaques, sculptures and signs that remind residents and visitors of the two uprisings in 1943 and 1944, of the responsibility of Germans and Russians for the city’s historical agonies, and of the pride of the Polish people in their resurrected capital.

Public historical reminders, as in every country, tell only a partial story. As national politics shift, so does the narrative told by a community’s memorials, usually with a long delay. In June 2016, the Polish government decided to remove 229 monuments across the country to the Soviet “liberation” of Poland. The demoted memorials will be gathered in an open air museum at a former Soviet army base outside of Warsaw. The education director of the Institute of National Remembrance explained that these monuments propagate “what we consider as untruth: gratitude for having given Poland independence.”

The conflicted national Polish reaction to their Jewish fellow citizens, which occasionally included massacres of Jews during and after the German occupation, is not addressed in public monuments. That difficult story is still politically controversial and may require more time to become part of accepted Polish history.

The fateful decision to recover a nation’s history by rebuilding Warsaw, to undo the destruction of war and racism, has implications beyond Poland. The destruction of cities in the Middle East in the Syrian civil war or by the terrorists of ISIS raises similar questions about what will happen in the future – rebuilding the old or constructing the new. On a smaller scale, American towns like Jacksonville have faced similar decisions. The urban renewal craze of the 1960s and 1970s often led to the replacement of historic buildings by ugly new construction, as in Jacksonville’s central square. More recently, considerable funds have been used to remove those architectural mistakes and to invest in the recovery of unique local architectural history. As in Poland and elsewhere, reconstruction of local history means the recovery of local pride. The past lives on in old buildings, physical reminders of the accomplishments of our predecessors.

Steve Hochstadt

Berlin, Germany

Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, August 30, 2016

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
The Architectural Politics of Rebuilding Berlin Berlin, the capital of Nazi Germany, was subjected to one of the longest bombing campaigns in history. From 1940 through 1945, 363 air raids by the British RAF and the American Air Force devastated the city and its inhabitants. The death toll lay between 20,000 and 50,000, probably more than were killed in the fire-bombing of Dresden. Much of the city was reduced to rubble.


As in other European cities where wartime destruction was nearly total, some people suggested in 1945 that Berlin be abandoned. Behind that idea lay a particular architectural and political ideology: old buildings and old cityscapes were outdated and should be replaced with modern architecture and more efficient urban designs. Those who valued locality, who connected their identity with built history, favored recovery of the old. No former cities were abandoned, but the modernizers and the reconstructionists argued for decades, both influencing the eventual rebuilding of European cities.


Discussions about demolition and reconstruction inevitably touched political ideologies of all kinds. Two Berlin sites, one east and one west, show the variety of architectural politics which determined the process of rebuilding.


The City Palace,built in the 15th century, rebuilt and expanded many times for the rulers of Prussia, became the home of the German Emperors after 1871. In February 1945, Allied bombers damaged the walls and burned out the whole interior. When Berlin was divided, the site ended up in the Russian zone, then in East Germany.


Although the Stadtschloss could have been saved, the East German government declared that the building represented hated values of Prussian militarism and monarchical rule, and decided in 1950 to get rid of it. 19 tons of dynamite leveled the walls and created an open space named Marx-Engels-Platz. During the 1970s, the Palace of the Republic was erected in its place, a new modernist building with bronze-mirrored windows, which served as the seat of the East German parliament, but also contained a bowling alley, a discotheque, and 13 restaurants, symbolic of the alleged connection between citizens and their government.


One of the final acts of the East German government after the fall of the Berlin Wall was the closing of the building to the public because of asbestos contamination. Removing the asbestos took more than decade. By that time, a new debate had broken out about whether this symbol of communism should be replaced by a rebuilt Stadtschloss.


Both sides argued that history should not be erased, but disagreed about which history ought to be respected: the more recent and still existing Palace of the Republic or the more distant and now only imaginary City Palace. In 2003, the German parliament decided to tear down the Palace of the Republic and rebuild the outer walls of the City Palace to house a new cultural center. Today construction is underway.


A different kind of symbolism is attached to a church in the center of former West Berlin. The Kaiser-Wilhelm-Kirche was built in the 1890s by Emperor Wilhelm II in honor of his grandfather, Wilhelm I, the first emperor of the newly united Germany.


Gerhard Justus Eduard Jacobi, who had earned two Iron Crosses in World War I and spent a year as a prisoner of war, became the Lutheran pastor of the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Kirche in 1930. He gathered a circle of young pastors around him, which after 1933 became a center of opposition to the Nazi efforts to assert control over the German church and to propagate their racist ideology. Jacobi became the Berlin leader of the newly founded Confessing Church, working closely with Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Niemöller. He was beaten up and hounded by the Nazis, but continued his opposition.


On November 23, 1943, the church was badly damaged during a British air raid, and further devastated by raids in 1945. After the war’s end, little was done to keep the ruins from further collapse. The church represented to some the German nationalism which had ended so badly in the 20th century. The modernist architect Egon Eiermann won the competition to rebuild a church on the site, and decided to tear the remains down and start again. That plan sparked public outrage, which resulted in a compromise: the ruins would remain as a monument for peace, and Eiermann would build the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church next to them.


The very modern Gedächtniskirche was consecrated the same day as the rebuilt Coventry Cathedral, which had been burned out in the German air raid of November 14, 1940. Coventry Cathedral is also a combination of a destroyed and a new building. Three medieval nails from the ruins, fashioned into a cross, have become an international symbol of peace and reconciliation, which is prominently displayed at the Gedächtniskirche. Its prewar and postwar pastor Jacobi was discussed as a candidate for President of West Germany, but declined.


The Gedächtniskirche is an emotionally powerful reminder of the senseless material destruction caused by war. Its pastor Jacobi personifies courageous opposition to evil authority.The Stadtschloss is a monumental reminder of the historic power of German monarchs. These contrasting symbols coexist in modern rebuilt Berlin, representations of its complicated history and its potential lessons.


Steve Hochstadt

Berlin, Germany

Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, September 6, 2016

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
The Paralympics: A History of Inclusion and Inspiration Right after the Nazis took power in 1933, Ludwig Guttman, one of the top neurosurgeons in Germany, was fired from his position at a public hospital, because he was Jewish. In 1939, he and his family fled to England, when they realized their lives were in danger.


Guttman convinced the British government to start a new center for veterans with spinal injuries, and he became the first director of the National Spinal Injuries Centre at Stoke Mandeville Hospital. Guttman wanted to reintegrate his patients into society. Physical rehabilitation was only the first phase of his treatment. One of his patients wrote, “One of the most difficult tasks for a paraplegic is to cheer up his visitors!”


Guttman believed in athletic activity, both to improve a patient’s physical health and to aid in integration into the community, by increasing self-respect and competitive spirit. Some of his paraplegic patients would roll their wheelchairs along the hospital halls and hit objects with sticks. Guttman developed team sports, which became the first Stoke Mandeville Games, when 16 ex-servicemen and -women competed in archery on the day that the 1948 Olympics opened in London. In 1952, a team of Dutch war veterans joined in, creating the first international games for the disabled, with 130 participants.


In 1958, Guttman and the Director of the Spinal Center in Rome, Antonia Maglio, started preparations for the 9th Annual International Stoke Mandeville Games to be held in Rome in 1960. Only athletes with spinal cord injuries competed. The competition took place six days after the Rome Olympic Games, and besides archery included swimming, wheelchair basketball and fencing, and track and field.


The Rome Games were a tremendous step for all athletes with physical impairments. Later that year, an International Working Group on Sport for the Disabled was created to consider sports for other kinds of disabilities: the blind, amputees, and persons with cerebral palsy. In 1961, Guttman founded the British Sports Association for the Disabled, and national organizations began to proliferate. Acceptance for the legitimacy of international games for the disabled grew, and eventually in 1988 in Seoul the word Paralympic came into official use.


The Games have expanded to include 20 different sports and over 4000 participants from nearly every nation in the world. In 1976 in Toronto, different disabilities were included for the first time, expanding the games beyond athletes in wheelchairs. American athletes won the most medals at each meeting until Sydney in 2000. The Chinese made their first significant appearance then, and in the next meeting in Atlanta in 2004 won the most medals, which they have done each time since. In London in 2012, volleyball, cycling, and judo were added. In Rio, athletes will compete for the first time in sailing and triathlon.


Many types of disabilities from birth, disease or accident can distort the normal functioning of the human body: missing limbs, limited range of motion of joints, decreased muscle power, visual or intellectual impairment. The Paralympics movement has developed a complex system of classifications to insure “fair and equal competition”. In order to include as many athletes as possible, there are multiple versions of the same event. In the 100-meter dash, 15 gold medals can be won by women in different classes depending on degree of visual impairment, or whether they are missing legs or arms.


The Rio triathlon exemplifies the complexities of creating inclusivity among athletes with different disabilities. Blind athletes can compete with a guide accompanying them in all phases. Paraplegics use wheelchairs for the run and handcycles instead of bicycles. Race bikes with adaptations are used by those with partial use of their legs. Men and women competed for three gold medals in triathlon in Rio, including 10 blind women in class PT5, each accompanied by a guide.


Looking for inspiration from athletic success? Watch a one-legged high jumper from China clear the bar at 6' 5" at That’s not a world record, though, because the Canadian Arnie Boldt, who lost a leg in a grain augur accident at age 3, jumped 6' 8" outdoors and 6'10" indoors in 1981. Or watch the women’s 100-meter final from London in 2012, when 9 runners with 7 full legs among them competed, and Martina Caironi set a new world record of 15.87 seconds.


Ellen Keane from Ireland used to wear long sleeves to cover up the fact that she was born without a left arm. Now she proudly dons a swimsuit to compete in the 200-meter individual medley, in which she won a bronze medal at the 2015 International Paralympic Committee World Swimming Championships in Glasgow. She says, “Sports taught me to accept my handicap. I now find it okay to have only one arm. I wouldn’t have it any different.”


Dr. Guttman’s vision has been realized on a world scale. The athletic performances of the thousands of Paralympic athletes in Rio, far exceeding what most “normal” athletes could accomplish, make the word handicapped seem inappropriate. None of them can earn a living from professional sports. They have achieved much more: pride in what their bodies can do, rather than shame for what they can’t.


Steve Hochstadt

Berlin, Germany

Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, September 13, 2016

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
Donald Trump Believes in Climate Change In 2014, Donald Trump was negotiating to buy a golf course on the Irish coast in County Clare. He promised to invest up to $50 million to “make it one of the greatest golf courses in the world”. He hoped to bring the Irish Open there. But just before the deal closed, a big storm lashed the coast and eroded up to 25 feet deep of valuable golf course coastline.


Trump bought the property, renaming it Trump International Golf Links & Hotel Ireland. Like a good businessman, he worried about the risks to his investment. So against local rules, he began dumping tons of rocks on the shoreline to protect it from further erosion. Local authorities used an enforcement notice to stop him. His company has now applied to the county council for permission to spend $1.7 million to build a 65-foot wide limestone seawall along two miles of beach.


Trump’s application said that he would not make further investments in the local economy, unless he could address the dangers to his property. “If the predictions of an increase in sea level rise as a result of global warming prove correct, however, it is likely that there will be a corresponding increase in coastal erosion rates not just in Doughmore Bay but around much of the coastline of Ireland. In our view, it could reasonably be expected that the rate of sea level rise might become twice of that presently occurring. … As a result, we would expect the rate of dune recession to increase.”


Following the scientific consensus about how climate change will affect weather patterns during the rest of this century, the application offered this prediction: “Our advice is to assume that the recent average rate of dune recession will not alter greatly in the next few decades, perhaps as far into the future as 2050 ... but that subsequently an increase in this rate is more likely than not.”


Trump anticipated that he would need his neighbors’ support to overcome possible government objections, so his company distributed a brochure to local residents, who hope that Trump’s investments will boost their economic future. The page entitled “Need for Coastal Protection” emphasized the dangers of climate change: “Predicted sea level rise and more frequent storm events will increase the rate of erosion throughout the 21st century.”


Communities as far apart as Alaska and Florida are already suffering from the sea level rise and the storm patterns, that are predicted by virtually all the world’s climate scientists. But Trump’s worries about his Irish golf course might seem surprising, because as a politician he has consistently denied that global warming exists.


In fall 2011, he tweeted, “It snowed over 4 inches this past weekend in New York City. It is still October. So much for Global Warming.” In March 2012, he tweeted, “Global warming has been proven to be a canard repeatedly over and over again.” In November 2012, he wrote, “Global warming is based on faulty science and manipulated data.” That year he made a more precise claim: “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”


By January 2014, Trump had settled on the word “hoax”. That month he tweeted three times that climate change was a hoax, and visited FOX News, where he said, “This whole global warming hoax .... it’s a hoax, I think the scientists are having a lot of fun.”


This January, 4 years after, he said on “Fox and Friends” that he wasn’t serious about the Chinese part. But Trump continued to insist that climate change is a hoax. The Washington Post editorial staff asked him in March, “Don’t good businessmen hedge against risks, not ignore them?” Trump said, “I am not a great believer in man-made climate change. ... they don’t know if they have global warming.”


In the billionaire’s worldwide enterprises, Trump’s Irish Wall is small potatoes. But if you follow the money, you can find out a lot about Trump’s politics. When he considers his financial interests, Trump is a climate change believer. Trump the businessman was arguing with the Irish authorities about allowing him to make an extraordinary investment to protect his property over the course of this century, because “it could reasonably be expected that the rate of sea level rise might become twice of that presently occurring”.


All the while, Trump the politician insisted over and over to the American public that he did not believe in global warming, that the scientists cited in his Irish petition were liars and cheaters, that the whole thing was a hoax. Protecting his property and protecting his votes call for a complicated strategy.


It seems to be working. His supporters cheer for the man in the big suit, because he says in more entertaining fashion what they’ve been told by generations of Republican politicians. They somehow don’t care about the real Donald Trump, when he thinks about his money.


That’s good, because he doesn’t care enough about them and their future to say what he really believes.


Steve Hochstadt

Springbrook, WI

Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, September 27, 2016

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
Women as Second-Class Athletes Women as Second-Class Athletes


The other night I went to see women playing basketball, a sport I love to watch and used to love to play. These were not ordinary women. Most of them were over 6 feet, several over 6'6". Many could dunk, although dunking is not a significant part of the women’s game, as it is for men. They were extraordinarily skilled with the ball, repeatedly hitting shots from beyond the 3-point line, dribbling in traffic between their legs and behind their backs, and controlling the ball with one hand. Their team play was terrific.


The Minnesota Lynx beat the Phoenix Mercury in the second game of their semi-final playoff for the Women’s National Basketball Association championship. About 12,000 fans did the usual professional basketball things: waving little towels, standing up and sitting down, distracting Mercury foul shots, mugging for cameras, and trying to catch T-shirts propelled into the stands with a slingshot. Since then, the Lynx won one more game and will play in the finals.


The average attendance for the men’s basketball team in Minneapolis, the Timberwolves, was 14,500 in 2015-2016. Their record was terrible, 29-53, placing 13th out of 15 teams in the Western conference, and missing the playoffs for the 12th consecutive season. That’s the weakness of women’s sports in America. Fans prefer to see a losing men’s team over a winning women’s team. Average attendance at WNBA games is less than half of NBA games.


For the past 32 years, American women have dominated the basketball world. Since winning Olympic gold for the first time in 1984, the US Women’s Team has won nearly every international game they played. They missed one Olympic gold medal out of eight and two World Championships out of eight, losing a total of three games in 16 championship runs, always to the eventual champion. Their record is 126-3.


But professional opportunities here are limited. The first women’s professional league, the WBL, lasted only from 1978-1981. Salaries barely reached $5000, and were not always paid. The Women's American Basketball Association existed only for the 1984 season, and FOX Sports bought the Women's Basketball Association after a few seasons in the 1990s and disbanded it.


The WNBA is celebrating its 20th year. It was a creation of the NBA, which owned the league for its first years. Only recently have teams gotten individual ownership. For its first 11 years, the WNBA was unable to get a network agreement to pay teams television rights.


Maya Moore dominated the scoring in the game we saw, one of best and best known players in America. Moore has played in the WNBA since she was the first draft pick of 2011. She also won the Euroleague title in 2013 with a Spanish team and has led her Chinese team to league titles since 2013. Moore describes the nature of women’s professional sports in America: “We go from amazing AAU experiences to high school All-American games to the excitement and significant platform of the collegiate level to this. Less coverage. Empty seats. Fewer eyeballs.

Somewhere up the chain of command — in companies that, in many ways, dictate what is “cool” — people are making choices not to celebrate the WNBA and its players.” Moore lays the blame on “engaged and invested cultural influencers and partners in corporate America”.


Women play WNBA ball because they love the game. The economics of women’s sports in America continues the inequality of salaries, press attention, endorsements, and fan excitement.


I rooted against Phoenix’s Diana Taurasi, but I’ve loved watching her play since she led UConn to 3 national championships in 2002-2004. Lucky for me she was playing this year, after sitting out the last WNBA season. Taurasi’s real professional life is in Russia. Phoenix made her the first WNBA draft pick in 2004, but by 2005, she was also playing for Dynamo Moscow. She switched to Spartak Moscow in 2006 and led them to 4 consecutive Euroleague championships, twice winning Finals MVP.


After a couple of years in the Turkish basketball league, she switched to UMMC Ekaterinburg. She earned $1.5 million for a season at UMMC Ekaterinburg, compared to $107,000, the top WNBA salary, in the US. When she broke her hand in 2014 league play, she had to sit out the championships. Wanting her to be in top form for their season, they offered to put her tiny WNBA salary on top of hers, if she skipped the 2015 WNBA season. She took the deal.


Brittney Griner, another number 1 WNBA draftee, made less than $50,000 in her first year, but collected $600,000 from a Chinese team. The men’s first draft NBA pick made over 100 times what a comparable woman makes in the WNBA.


Check your local paper for coverage of women’s sports. Local high school teams might get nearly equivalent coverage, but men’s college teams, and even more, men’s professional teams crowd out stories about women athletes. What happens during the WNBA season can be hard to find out from papers like this one.


Chicken or egg? Will corporate America only change its bottom-line mindset when the real America buys more tickets to see professional women play? Will that only happen when our public media, from the cable giants to our local papers, pay more attention to professional women?


Progress is slow. But if you want to see great ball, check out the WNBA finals coming in a few days.


Steve Hochstadt

Springbrook, WI

Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, October 4, 2016

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
Republican Conspiracy Theories

Wikipedia:  Conspiracy Theories

Steve Hochstadt is a writer and an emeritus professor of history at Illinois College.

Donald Trump is losing the Presidential campaign. Polls indicate he is heading for a landslide defeat. But Trump thinks he is the greatest winner of all times. So he has an explanation. The biggest worldwide conspiracy of all times is stealing the election from him.

Last week in Florida, he said, “Hillary Clinton meets in secret with international banks to plot the destruction of U.S. sovereignty in order to enrich these global financial powers, her special interest friends and her donors .... The political establishment that is trying to stop us is the same group responsible for our disastrous trade deals, massive illegal immigration and economic and foreign policies that have bled our country dry.... The Clinton machine is at the center of this power structure .... This election will determine whether we are a free nation or whether we have only the illusion of democracy, but are in fact controlled by a small handful of global special interests rigging the system.”

Several separate historical lines lie behind Trump’s theory. First is his own belief that he never can lose a vote. When his show “Celebrity Apprentice” did not win Emmy awards in 2012, 2013, and 2014, he claimed the votes were rigged: “I should have many Emmys for the Apprentice if the process were fair”. When Ted Cruz won the Iowa caucus, Trump said: “Ted Cruz didn’t win Iowa, he illegally stole it.” Before the presidential debates, he said the Democrats were “trying to rig the debates” by scheduling them opposite NFL games. Now he claims the biggest election of all will be rigged to deny him victory.

Second, this fits into the broader Trump line of conspiratorial thinking. His claim that Obama was not born in America implied a wide conspiracy to keep his real origins secret. He has said that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was murdered, that Ted Cruz’s father was involved with Kennedy’s assassination, that the 9/11 attackers’ wives and girlfriends were “were put into planes and they were sent back, for the most part, to Saudi Arabia”, that the federal government sends Syrian refugees to Republican states, that the federal government funds illegal immigration, that the number of illegal immigrants is three times as large as is usually reported, that the Center for Disease Control covered up an Ebola crisis in the US in 2014, that the 5% unemployment rate announced in August was “one of the biggest hoaxes in modern American politics”, and on and on.

But several threads in the fabric of American conspiracy-mongering come from other Republicans. Sarah Palin popularized the idea, now a central piece of Trump’s campaign, that the media are not to be trusted. She complained about the media constantly during the 2008 campaign, and popularized the term “lamestream media” in 2009. Republicans have been complaining that the media are biased against them for decades, despite the fact that major newspapers overwhelmingly tilted toward Republican candidates until the 1990s. Trump has simply raised the level of vituperation, so that reporters are now verbally attacked by his supporters at his rallies.

A second Republican conspiracy thread developed around climate change. Many prominent Republicans, notably Senator Jim Inhofe, have said that global warming is a “hoax”. He has variously implicated the United Nations, Hollywood elites and the media in promoting this hoax. Since scientists all over the world and nearly every political party in every country support the idea that human action is causing climate change, believing that this is a hoax means believing in an enormous worldwide conspiracy encompassing politicians, scientists, media, and universities.

Finally, Republicans at the state level have used imaginary concerns about voter fraud to legitimize their efforts to restrict voting. Although only a handful of instances of voter fraud have been found anywhere in the US, Republican-controlled state legislatures have passed voting restrictions, claiming they are needed to prevent fraud. Restrictions in North Carolina, Wisconsin, Kansas, Texas, Ohio and Michigan were all struck down this year by the courts.

Republican voters have been well prepared by their political leaders to believe wild theories which make them victims of vast conspiracies. A significant majority of Republicans said they believed that Obama did not legitimately win the elections of 2008 and 2012. In 2012, half of Republicans were sure that the Democrats had engaged in voter fraud.

Trump has been saying the November election will be rigged for many months. But it’s not just Trump talking. His surrogates have taken up this claim. Rudy Giuliani said on Sunday, “If you want me to tell you that I think the elections of Philadelphia and Chicago are going to be fair, I would have to be a moron to say that.” Newt Gingrich also accused Democrats of cheating, and Senator Jeff Sessions said on Sunday, “They are attempting to rig this election.”

This talk is dangerous for America. When Trump loses, many of his supporters will believe they were cheated. They may follow the predictions of Trump advisors, like Roger Stone, who said in August that there will be a “bloodbath”, and that Trump should promise to shut down the government if Clinton wins. Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke tweeted that it’s “pitchforks and torches time”.

Then the Grand Old Party will be responsible for an American disaster.

Steve Hochstadt

Jacksonville IL

Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, October 18, 2016

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
Get the Lead Out! I have been stripping many layers of paint from the columns on my porch. The most recent layers come off easily, but underneath are more stubborn coatings of old lead-based paints. They take more work and require more care, because lead is one of the most pervasive poisons in our environment. I wear a mask to protect against the lead dust.


Ingesting lead can harm every organ and system in our bodies. It is dangerous for adults, who can suffer from damage to the nervous system, increases in blood pressure, anemia, and weakness in the extremities. Exposure to lead for pregnant women can cause miscarriages. Children are especially vulnerable, because lead can injure their developing minds and bodies permanently.


Problems with lead exposure are of such concern, because lead was a common additive to paint until very recently. Lead speeds up drying and increases durability. Lead was used to make white paint by the ancient Greeks. The dangers of working with lead have been known for hundreds of years. The monthly newsletter of the Sherwin-Williams Co. noted the dangers of lead in white paint in 1904. In 1886, German law prevented women and children from working in factories that processed lead paint, and Australia banned lead paint in 1914.


Yet toys and furniture in the U.S. continued to be painted with lead-based products. Older homes were covered with lead paint. Children put lead into their mouths every day. Public health researchers wrote, “By the 1920s, virtually every item a toddler touched had some amount of lead in or on it. Toy soldiers and dolls, painted toys, bean bags that were tossed around, baseballs, fishing lures, the porcelain, pipes and joints in the sparkling new kitchens and bathrooms of the expanding housing stock—all were made of or contained large amounts of lead.”


Our federal government was slow to prevent continued lead poisoning in America. Baltimore prohibited the use of lead paint in interiors in 1951. In 1955, the paint industry adopted voluntary standards which excluded lead from interior paints. The use of lead paint was already in decline due to health concerns by then. Yet it was not until 1971 that the federal government passed the Lead-Based Paint Poisoning Prevention Act, which prohibited lead paint in new homes.


The Consumer Product Safety Commission finally banned lead paint for consumer use in 1978. That agency was created by the Consumer Product Safety Act of 1972, passed with overwhelming bipartisan support and signed by President Nixon. Congressional Republicans and conservative Democrats had tried to prevent the creation of the independent Commission, and to gut the Act’s enforcement provisions, but narrowly lost.


In 1986, the California legislature said that lead exposure was the state’s greatest childhood environmental health problem. Lead is so dangerous that nobody would allow children to ingest lead. Unless those children are poor inner-city blacks. This impoverished, majority-black city was devastated by the closing of General Motors factories in the 1980s. When the water supply was changed to the Flint River in 2014, residents immediately began complaining about pollution. Less obvious were the elevated levels of lead, which systematically poisoned the city’s population. Michigan state officials, including those in the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, dismissed the residents’ concerns and repeatedly claimed the water was safe. Republicans and Democrats participated in creating and prolonging the crisis, because they didn’t want to spend the money to deal with it. Now several Michigan officials have been convicted of crimes and a generation of Flint children have been poisoned with lead.


The story of lead poisoning of the water supply in Flint, Michigan, is complicated and controversial. Lawsuits will seek to find those to blame for years to come. But the lessons from Flint are obvious now. Bad environmental decisions can damage enormous numbers of people. Regulation of the poisons which abound in our society are necessary for public health. Governments are responsible to protect our lives.


The demonization of “regulations” that has been a hallmark of Republican politics for decades and that was one of Donald Trump’s signature campaign issues means less protection from all kinds of dangers to our lives, from unscrupulous banking practices (Wells Fargo), to outrageous payday loan interest rates, to unsafe foods, to pollution of our air and water.


The story of lead poisoning in America shows government acting too timidly, permitting industry lobbyists to block safety legislation, while adults and children suffer long-term health problems that could have been prevented. Flint is the tip of an iceberg of water supply problems across the nation’s cities. Minority inner city residents are the most likely to suffer.


It will take lots of money to replace the lead in old water pipes around the country. It will take strict government regulations on lead and other environmental hazards to keep Americans healthy. Conservatives say regulations are “job killers”. I say they are life savers.


Steve Hochstadt

Jacksonville IL

Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, November 22, 2016

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
How Government Really Works We own a few acres of scrubby land on a small lake in northern Wisconsin, which includes a cabin and a bit of sandy beach. I love the cool summer nights and frosty winter days of the northern woods. We are miles from the nearest grocery store, but very close to loons, eagles, ducks, and osprey. Sometimes we are too close to bears, but unlike humans, they are more interested in garbage than in killing. This fall, we sat on our beach at sunset and heard only forest and lake noises. There was nothing to buy and nothing to want.


But a lake beach is not forever. Forces of nature and civilization are not kind to expanses of sand at water’s edge. The road gradually crumbles, and pieces of asphalt and stone wash down onto the beach with the rain, often helped by road maintenance crews. Weeds growing up every year in the water and on the shore threaten to overwhelm the empty sandy space. Summer storms drag sand downwards into the lake, some of which is pushed up again by winter ice. Our beach is a constant project, but every sunset makes it worth the labor.


Sitting on the beach this fall was a good escape from our awful electoral politics. But politics also affects our little beach in ways which demonstrate how American politics really works.


The Wisconsin budget bill this year included a provision altering statewide zoning for lakefront properties. As the state of Wisconsin explains the new law: “counties that currently have shoreland zoning ordinance standards that regulate in a more restrictive manner than the standards established in s. 59.692 and NR 115, can no longer enforce those standards”.


The zoning changes were put into the larger budget bill by Republican leaders without giving Democratic legislators more than an hour’s notice. Wisconsin residents had no opportunity to offer input.


Wisconsin has 15,000 lakes scattered across the state, from gigantic Lake Superior to tiny lakes like ours. The circumstances in every county are different, depending on the number and size of lakes, development of shore land, presence of native trout breeding areas and significance of fishing. Many counties, especially those in the north which have more lakes, had adopted more restrictive protective standards than the state, on minimum size of lakefront properties and minimum distance of new buildings from the water. These will now be swept away.


A County Board Supervisor in Washburn County, where our property is located, said, “I’m just madder than hell.” He said the “ugly truth” was that a “major contributor to Gov. Walker” was not allowed to mow his lawn right down to water’s edge, so he complained. The next day the new shoreland zoning rules were put into the state budget. This was not a partisan complaint: Trump won every town, village and city in Washburn County.


Local officials across the state complained. The Wisconsin Counties Association, Wisconsin Land and Water Conservation Association, Wisconsin County Code Administrators and Wisconsin County Planning and Zoning Administrators collaborated on a memo requesting that the zoning changes be removed from the budget bill. They argued that the changes would lead to “a decline in environmental quality in our shoreland areas, and consequently, result in lower property values and a decline in overall economic conditions.” To no avail.


Considered alone, this change to lake shore zoning may seem like a minor issue, concerning only the minority who own lake front property. But it exemplifies the state of politics in America. Rich political donors get preferential treatment for their private interests. Local control is a popular slogan, but in important issues central governments take control. Protection of the environment for the future gives way to current convenience. Those undemocratic practices are shared by both parties.


But Republican politics leans even more toward the interests of the powerful. This lake zoning change is one of hundreds of seemingly minor acts in Wisconsin, since Republicans won control of the state legislature and the governor’s mansion in 2010, which add up to the model Republican political program about protection of the consumer, the safety net for the poorest Americans, environmental protection, and the rights of immigrants and the disabled.


The Republicans have allowed more lead in paint and exempted paint manufacturers from lawsuits about lead; reduced employers’ financial liabilities for their discrimination in employment; reduced regulations about false advertising by the payday loan industry; shielded politicians who violate ethics and elections laws; limited the ability for women to sue about unequal pay; and in hundreds of actions prohibited local governments from passing their own ordinances about the environment, land use, transportation, and construction. In every case, the our common public rights are subordinated to the private rights of the big and powerful.


Everyone appears to be worried that soon-to-be President Trump will make some gigantic blunder, putting us all at risk. More likely is that the Republican Congress and the Republican President will pass hundreds of less notable acts which together will make the rich richer, the powerful more powerful, and the rest of us less able to control our lives.


Steve Hochstadt

Jacksonville IL

Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, December 6, 2016

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
We Need Help Fighting the Banks The other day I got a letter from my credit card bank, Citibank. It began, “We’re replacing your existing Card Agreement with a new version, which is enclosed.” They claimed that “It’s designed with you in mind,” but I doubt that.


The new Agreement is described in detail, without any indication of what is new, so I don’t know what they have changed. What hasn’t changed is the tilt of the Agreement toward Citibank. Interest rates for loans are very low these days. Rates for mortgages range between 2.5% and 4%. Auto loans are even cheaper, between 2% and 3%. My home equity loan from my local bank is 3.5%. When big banks borrow money, they pay close to zero interest.


But don’t borrow money from your credit card bank. My new Agreement, like the old Agreement, lists huge rates for money I “borrow” from Citibank. If I owe money on my card, the rate is 14.24%. If I get a cash advance, the rate is 25.49%, beginning the moment I get the money. There are also fees. A cash advance costs 5% of the amount, in addition to the interest.


These are the costs of having a credit card. We might think they are unreasonable, but getting a card means agreeing to one-sided Agreements like this one. If I didn’t like any of the changes to my Agreement, whatever they were, I could close my account.


But on one new provision in my new Agreement, I was given a choice. Citibank wants any disputes about my account to be subject to arbitration, meaning that the dispute is settled by an arbitrator, without recourse to the courts. Here’s why Citibank and other credit card companies like this idea.


An arbitration is an individual case, so consumers can’t band together in a class action suit. The result is purely monetary, so if the dispute is caused by fraud or other illegal action by the bank, they are not subject to legal penalty. The cost of arbitration is picked up by the bank and they typically select the arbitrator (do you know one?), steering lots of business to arbitrators who deliver verdicts they like. One big arbitration service, the National Arbitration Forum, had to get out of the business of consumer arbitration because it was so cozy with the banks that it was being sued by many city and state attorneys.


Wells Fargo, the current Dishonest Bank of the Year, defrauded countless customers by creating millions of fake accounts in their names. Now it is killing lawsuits filed by its customers by moving the disputes to arbitration. If successful, the bank might have to repay fees they charged to the customers, but would not be liable for penalties due to fraud. Although some judges have ruled that Wells Fargo’s fraud should be adjudicated in court, other judges have forced customers to go to arbitration.


The dishonesty of Wells Fargo over many years, cheating millions of customers for many years, and thus far escaping with no jail time for any employee, shows how insignificant we consumers are when we come up against giant corporations. Even well known people, like the Los Angeles music star Ana Bárbara, get crushed by their power. A Wells Fargo employee created sham accounts and credit lines in her name, took out more than $400,000 of her money, then regularly went to her house to steal her Wells Fargo statements from her mailbox. She had to cancel appearances, costing her hundreds of thousands of dollars. Instead of her day in court, Bárbara will have to go to arbitration.


Protection for the consumer can only come from the government. The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010 takes its name seriously. Dodd-Frank does not let banks force consumers into arbitration for the biggest loans we take out, mortgage and home equity loans. It created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to write regulations to implement that change. It also asked the CFPB to study credit card arbitration agreements and report to Congress.


The government effort to examine credit card “agreements” about arbitration is why my bank offered me the chance to opt out of arbitration. All I had to do was write a letter to them saying I rejected the arbitration provision of my “updated Card Agreement”. I did that. Thank you, Dodd-Frank.


Republicans have fought against Dodd-Frank since it was first discussed in Congress. They tried to prevent the CFPB from ever being formed. Donald Trump has said he would dismantle Dodd-Frank, saying, ““Dodd-Frank has made it impossible for bankers to function.” Trump’s selection for Secretary of the Treasury, who will oversee banking regulations, is Steven Mnuchin. Mnuchin worked for Goldman Sachs, a financial firm that got a $10 billion bailout from the federal government in 2008. He made billions by foreclosing on homeowners during that financial collapse. His main qualifications for running Treasury is that he was Trump’s campaign finance chairman.


Dodd-Frank makes it less possible for the big banks to push us into tilted arbitration when the banks act like Wells Fargo. It’s an equalizer for the little consumer dealing with the big banks. Without it, we’re at their mercy.


Steve Hochstadt

Jacksonville IL

Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, December 13, 2016

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
Marching Around the World A group of local citizens took a bus all the way to Washington DC this weekend. They were a small piece of a worldwide marching movement on Saturday. Will more than a million women marching make a difference?


The day after the inauguration there were women’s marches in all 50 states, in countries around the world, on every continent, even in Antarctica. About three times as many people came out in Washington DC to protest Trump’s inauguration as had celebrated it the day before.


This worldwide demonstration began with one woman’s Facebook post. Rebecca Shook in Hawaii wondered if women could march in favor of women’s rights during the inauguration. She created an event page for the march, and within 24 hours 10,000 people confirmed their participation. Shook was joined by experienced organizers who named the event the Women’s March on Washington, honoring the continuing inspiration of the 1963 civil rights protest.


As the number of anticipated participants ballooned past 100,000, women across the country who could not manage a trip to Washington organized their own local marches. Over 400 Sister Marches took place in every state. There were more on the West Coast, because fewer people could get to DC: 45 in California, 20 in Oregon, 21 in Washington. No place in America was far from a march: there were 8 in Maine, 8 in Idaho, and 18 in Alaska. Over 1000 people gathered at the Old Capitol Plaza in Springfield.


Many protests were very local. The 80- and 90-year-olds at my mother-in-law’s retirement complex braved the Minneapolis cold to wave signs at passing cars.


The worldwide significance of this election was shown by the number of international marches, from Australia to Austria, Botswana to Zimbabwe, 15 in the UK and 20 in Mexico. More than half a million people in the US and another half million around the world gathered in this unprecedented worldwide signal of solidarity.


Right now far more Americans disapprove of Trump than like him. Not only did Clinton win far more votes than Trump, but Democratic Senate candidates won more votes than Republicans. Republican House candidates won 51% of the popular vote, but now have 55% of House members. Neither the Republican Party nor Trump won any “mandate” to remake the nation in their ideological image, but they have the votes to put into place a minority program.


It is possible that Trump will accomplish none of the dangerous, unconstitutional, and frankly stupid things he has threatened: build a wall against Mexico, start a trade war with China, persecute women who have abortions, deport millions of undocumented people, favor Putin’s Russia over NATO, penalize media for printing unflattering but truthful stories, eliminate regulations which keep our food, water and air healthy, repeal the extension of health insurance to millions of Americans. Conservative Republicans are nearly as worried as liberal Democrats about what policies Trump will promote.


Trump is dangerous in his ignorance about the world beyond his narrow circle of experience and in his disdain for reality when it seems to get in the way of his desires. His immediate response to unpleasant reality is to make up lies, as he and his press secretary did in claiming that his inaugural crowd was the largest ever. The new Republican Congress is dangerous in its clearly announced plans to let big business do whatever it wants, to funnel even more money to rich people, and to give away control over public resources to private corporations.


Marching is good, but not enough. Public displays of political passion certainly influence elected officials. The Republican majority in Congress can be moved by protest. That was obvious on the first day of the new Congress, when conservative Republicans tried to do away with the House Ethics Office. Protests by constituents quickly changed their minds, and they began their one-party government by repudiating themselves.


But the high emotions of the inaugural moment will fade, as we all get used to a new normal: Trump in the White House and Republicans running Congress. Pure opposition can only go so far.


Marches alone won’t stop Trump. Real political influence requires continued and widespread popular pressure in favor of positive action. Spreading truth and calling out lies, being vocal about protecting human rights, showing clearly how their policies will affect the least powerful among us, and promoting the idea that politics should support the many, not the few – that’s always been the job anyway.


If the incredible women’s marches are the opening of a historic movement, Trump will have a hard time maintaining his fantasies about his own greatness.


Steve Hochstadt

Jacksonville IL

Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, January 24, 2017

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
Capitalism + Bauhaus = Ikea A visit to Ikea to buy a few household items and on another day to the Bauhaus Museum opened my eyes to another irony of modern history.


Ikea is the largest furniture retailer in the world. It was founded in 1943 by the young Swede Ingvar Kamprad, who named his mail-order company after himself and his family farm. Fifteen years later he opened the first Ikea store. Last year, nearly 400 mostly gigantic stores in 48 countries sold about $40 billion worth of goods. Ikea is one of largest consumers of commercial wood products in the world.


Ikea has been so successful partly because of Kamprad’s use of the techniques of capitalism. Ikea stores are laid out as labyrinths: once you enter, it is nearly impossible not to wind your way along a predetermined path through countless rooms selling furniture and products for every part of a house. Prices are remarkably low, because the products are standardized and simply constructed. They are made in a few giant factories scattered around the world, shipped in pieces in cleverly arranged flat packages, and sold unassembled with clear instruction booklets and a few necessary tools. In big cities in Europe and America, Ikea products can be found in countless apartments.


Ikea has been a world leader in promoting non-traditional family structures. A 1994 ad featured two men shopping for a dining room table, probably the first TV ad in the US with openly gay characters. It was shown only a few times, before conservatives tried to organize boycotts and threatened to bomb Ikea stores. The company has continued to feature non-traditional families in ads and catalogs around the world.


Like many other global concerns, Ikea uses international differences in tax structures to minimize taxes. The stores are owned by a supposedly non-profit foundation seated in Luxembourg and Liechtenstein. Various European organizations have criticized Ikea for its tax avoidance policies. Ikea is a capitalist success story. Kamprad is one of the richest people in the world.


Although Ikea promotional materials like to discuss “the Ikea concept”, the idea of mass-produced, affordable, functional products for everyday use was conceived after the First World War by leftist radicals who rejected conventional ideas about art. In Germany and Russia, revolutionary artists and architects attempted to combine fine arts with practical crafts to produce beautiful and functional products using modern technology and industrial materials. Schools of modern design were founded to develop and teach innovative design techniques to improve the daily lives of average people: Bauhaus (loosely, “House of Construction”) in 1919 in Weimar, Germany, and Vkhutemas (acronym for "Higher Art and Technical Studios") in 1920 in Moscow.


These schools and their staff shared radical political and aesthetic ideas. Their founders were socialists and communists, who focused their energies on improving working-class life by developing well-designed and affordable objects. They rejected the conventional separation between high art for the elite and lowly craft skills, eagerly incorporated new industrial materials like steel tubing into furniture-making, and favored simple geometric constructions. They dreamed of the integration of art and life. This revolutionary aesthetic pleased angered political leaders of the far left and far right. Vkhutemas was closed by Stalin in 1930, and the Bauhaus was raided a few months after Hitler came to power in 1933. The political project of a better life for workers through design was killed by authoritarian governments.


But the Bauhaus concept has been successfully revived by in capitalist nations by capitalist entrepreneurs. Undecorated, geometrically simple, functional yet colorful creations in our modern lives have their origin in these radical artistic projects. Stackable chairs with metal skeletons were pioneered at the Bauhaus.


Former Bauhaus teachers like Mies van der Rohe helped create the rectangular skyscrapers of Chicago and founded the Chicago School of Design, which became the Illinois Institute of Technology. The flat painted cabinet doors of Ikea kitchens look just like the 1920s kitchen displayed at the Bauhaus Museum.


Seeking general lessons in history is a dangerous project, but also a tempting one. The failure and success of the Bauhaus idea might demonstrate that the radical leftists of the early 20th century produced some wonderful ideas for improving daily life, but that their social implementation needed capitalist economic structures. Perhaps in our world, the needs of the majority can only be met if someone becomes a billionaire.


Steve Hochstadt


Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, February 14, 2017

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
The World is Laughing at America On a Sunday at the end of January, a Dutch television program aired a satirical video with a voice-over pretending to be Donald Trump. The TV host, Arjen Lubach, began by showing a clip of Trump saying at his inauguration, “From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first.” Lubach said about Trump, “He had a clear message to the rest of the world: ‘I will screw you over big time.’”


Then he played the video, supposedly an official Dutch government introduction of the Netherlands, in English, to the new American President. “We speak Dutch. It’s the best language in Europe. We’ve got all the best words. All the other languages failed. Danish – total disaster. German is not even a real language. It’s fake.” The video shows a Dutch dike: “This is the Afsluitdijk. It’s a great, great wall, that we built to protect us from all the water from Mexico.” The video made fun of the crowd at Trump’s inauguration, his negative comments about NATO, and his attitudes toward blacks. The Dutch politician Jetta Klijnsma is shown using a walker: “We also have a disabled politician for you to make fun of.”


The video ends, “We totally understand it’s going to be America first. But can we just say, the Netherlands second? Is that okay?” The clip was downloaded 42 million times from the show’s Facebook page.


A German late-night TV host reacted to the viral video about a week later. Jan Böhmermann said he was furious that the Netherlands wanted to be second. “Stop, Holland! We want to be number two. Germany wants to be second, because we are strong, we are big. And who, if not us, deserves a third chance?” So he presented a similar video, saying he wanted to make it as simple as possible for our President, who “reads nothing”. “Mr. President, this is for you.”


The German video is more pointed. There are photos of Hitler, who “made Germany great again. Steve Bannon absolutely loves him.” “Germany hosted two world wars in the last 100 years. They were the best world wars in the world, and we won both of them. Bigly. Anyone who says anything else is fake news.” “We built a great German wall. And we made the Russians pay for it.” The video referenced Trump’s comments about being backstage at the Miss Universe pageant and about grabbing women. It’s very funny.


By that time, similar videos were being produced by late-night shows across Europe. They all poked fun at their own nation’s histories and politics, and at their neighbors, by references to Trump. Most of them are not as funny, perhaps because they are less subtle. Serbia: “Mr. President, just like you, we also like to grab women by the genitals.” Poland: “You want to destroy the EU, we’re already doing it from the inside.” Switzerland said the KKK were Trump’s friends. “We also love to treat our women badly. Love it. We didn’t let them vote until 1971. In some places, even until 1990. We grabbed them by the civil rights. And they let us do it. It was great.” Norway: “We might even award you the Nobel peace prize. You’ve already done more than Obama to bring people of the world together. Against you.”


Soon the viral video craze spread beyond Europe. A version from India said, “We know you love grabbing women by the [cat meows]. We have an ancient manual, the Kamasutra, which lists more than 245 ways to grab someone by their [cat meows].” Mexico: “We build walls. Nobody builds walls better than us.” An Israeli one was very funny, saying that Jews controlled Hollywood, but that Alec Baldwin was not Jewish. It contained frequent references to sexual assault and making fun of the handicapped. The website collecting the videos displays 29 of them, mostly from Europe, but ranging to Australia and Namibia. A bit of web surfing reveals many others.


The idea seemed so good that non-nations got into the act. A video from the 566 sovereign nations of the USA, meaning Native American tribes, said, “We know all about cleansing, immigrants coming in, destroying your communities, taking your water, taking your land, taking your women.” Others came from Mars, Mordor (the evil empire in the Lord of the Rings trilogy), the Galactic Empire, former East Germany, and the North Pole, which stresses all the different white animals there. “Everybody is white for sure.”


These videos typically make fun of insignificant issues, like the size of Trump’s hands or the way he combs his hair. But they all address in a joking way much more serious issues. His most important policy ideas, his demeaning behavior towards the handicapped, and his prejudices about blacks, Mexicans and Muslims are treated in his own words, seemingly in his own voice. Trump’s comments about grabbing women come up in all of these videos.


The whole world is invited to laugh at, and simultaneously disdain, the American President. After showing the video, Böhmermann said in English: “When the whole world is standing up to make fun of you, you really achieved something truly great.”


America has become the laughingstock of the world. That’s not so great.


Steve Hochstadt


Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, February 21, 2017

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
Museums and the Power of Facts A unique collection of museums sits on an island in the center of Berlin. Beginning in 1830, Prussian Kings and German Emperors built four large museums on the so-called Museumsinsel, Museum Island, now designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. A fifth museum was added in 1930.


These great neoclassical buildings displayed the enormous art collections of German monarchs, demonstrating their wealth, power, and cultured taste. Showing off vast collections of painting and sculptures was one means of competing with the other ruling families of Europe, proud of their self-appointed status as god-like rulers of the most civilized human societies.


In the 19th century, Germany was a world leader in scientific research and discovery. The German model of universities as scientific centers of teaching and unbiased research uniting the arts and sciences influenced higher education across Europe and the US. In the first years that Nobel prizes in science were given, from 1901 to the beginning of World War I, Germany won more than any other country.


At this moment of German leadership in the pursuit of knowledge, interest in the long history of human societies developed into new scientific disciplines in the Western world. The study of human history became systematized into the fields of archaeology, ethnography, and anthropology. One of the museums on the Museumsinsel, the Neues Museum (New Museum, opened in 1855), was devoted to organizing and displaying the ethnological and archaeological artifacts that German scientists were busily digging up where ancient cultures had thrived around the eastern Mediterranean.


Heavily damaged during World War II, the Neues Museum was closed for 70 years until it reopened in 2009. Once again, its halls display remarkable objects of human creation during the past 5000 years.


As a teenager, I was fascinated by the story of Heinrich Schliemann (1822-1890), who was determined to find the site of Homer’s Troy on the Turkish coast. His excavations and those of other Europeans contributed to the understanding of the development of human cultures. European scientists in the late 19th century used such artifacts to formulate the so-called Three Age system, dividing human history into the Stone, Bronze and Iron Ages.


The comparative study of thousands of artifacts unearthed on Cyprus from the millennium before Christ’s birth allows us to understand the successive waves of settlers, conquerors, and traders in the eastern Mediterranean,  where the most advanced human societies outside of China developed. The Neues Museum holds one of the world’s most important collections of documents written on papyrus, whose study by linguistic scientists revealed the succession of languages in ancient Egypt.


At the same time, German historians reshaped the writing of history from the glorification of great leaders, powerful nations, and military victories to a scientific investigation of what happened in the past. Leopold von Ranke (1795-1886) moved the historical profession toward the study of archival documents in order to understand “how things actually were”.


The fundamental principle upon which both science and history were founded was the reliance on the understanding and interpretation of empirical information, in short, facts. While there may be disagreement about what data means, scientists of all kinds, physical and social, all over the world, came to base their work on reliable evidence.


After the Nazis took over in 1933, these hard-won scientific insights were rejected. Human history was rewritten to demonstrate the superiority of white northern Europeans. Racist beliefs became state policy, unwelcome science was disparaged as a Jewish conspiracy, and modern art was labeled “degenerate”. Journalism based on real events was branded as lies and replaced with a state propaganda of alternative facts. Eventually the big lies at the heart of Nazi ideology led to their own destruction, but not before they did unprecedented damage to Europe and its people.


There are always those who insist on mythical understandings of history and who reject science if it conflicts with their ideologies. A racist dictatorship must suspend a population’s belief in the value of facts and the primacy of evidence in order to sustain the myths which legitimize its inhumanity. Seekers of illegitimate power always create distorted narratives to justify their dominance. Freedom and justice depend on popular insistence on learning the truth about themselves, their world and their rulers.


Science, history and journalism are the means of discovering those truths, figuring out what they mean, and communicating that to everyone. A society which does not protect these fundamental human tasks from the enemies of truth risks losing its freedom.


Steve Hochstadt


Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, February 28, 2017

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
Democracy Demands Wisdom In Its Citizens I have been working for a few years on a project about the history of race relations in Jacksonville, Illinois. Unlike the surrounding towns, and most of the country, Jacksonville’s residents promoted very progressive ideas about racial equality since the town’s founding in 1825. Jacksonville was nationally known in the 19th century for liberal race relations, for promotion of women’s education, and for its concentration of educational institutions and intellectual achievement. During the 20th century, Jacksonville’s fading significance buried these remarkable achievements in forgetfulness. I hope to rediscover what made this little town on the frontier so unusual.


To support this local historical project, I applied for a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. The NEH is a federal agency that supports humanities projects in every state, meaning projects in history, literature, law, and other fields which fulfill the general guidelines of the law which created it in 1965: “the study and application of the humanities to the human environment with particular attention to reflecting our diverse heritage, traditions, and history”. In that legislation, the National Foundation on the Arts and Humanities Act, which also created the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), Congress offered some basic ideas about the nature of our democracy.


“The Congress hereby finds and declares – (1) that the encouragement and support of national progress and scholarship in the humanities and the arts, while primarily a matter for private and local initiative, is also an appropriate matter of concern to the Federal Government; (2)  that a high civilization must not limit its efforts to science and technology alone but must give full value and support to the other great branches of man’s scholarly and cultural activity; (3) that democracy demands wisdom and vision in its citizens ...; (4) that it is necessary and appropriate for the Federal Government to complement, assist, and add to programs for the advancement of the humanities and the arts by local, state, regional, and private agencies and their organizations; (5) that ... it is necessary and appropriate for the Federal Government to help create and sustain not only a climate encouraging freedom of thought, imagination, and inquiry but also the material conditions facilitating the release of this creative talent”.


The budget of the NEH totals about $150 million per year. Adjusted for inflation, that amount has been stable for the past 20 years, through Democratic and Republican Presidents and Congresses. About $43 million of that total goes yearly to the humanities councils of the 50 states, to distribute as they wish. Spending for the NEH costs each American less than 50 cents a year.


What do we get for that? The NEH website lists the most famous recipients, who won Pulitzer prizes and whose books were published with great fanfare. Most grants go to lesser known people. In Illinois, 14 faculty received grants in 2016 to support their research for one year. Money was given to the Chicago History Museum, the American Institute of Indian Studies, and the Field Museum of Natural History. Like many small and mid-sized museums across the country, the Elmhurst Historical Museum got $1000 to bring a traveling exhibitions to small-town America. The Naperville Heritage Society received support for a local history project.


I once served on a panel to decide NEH awards for history projects. We read many detailed applications, then met to find consensus on the best. That meant those applications for the most interesting projects where applicants appeared most likely to carry them to completion. Politics meant nothing, only quality of application.


The budget proposal made last week by the Trump administration completely eliminates funding for the NEH and the NEA. The Defense Department plans to buy over 2000 new F-35 supersonic warplanes in the coming decades and just announced an agreement with Lockheed Martin for 90 of these jets at $95 million per plane. Just one and half of these planes would pay the entire NEH budget.


The budget proposal foresees a $2 billion down payment on the border wall against Mexico. There are many estimates for total cost of the Wall. Senator Mitch McConnell says $12 to $15 billion, while a Department of Homeland Security internal report puts the cost at over $20 billion. Taking even the conservative estimate, those funds would keep the NEH in business for 100 years.


But this is not really about money. Conservative politicians have opposed using federal funds to support the humanities and the arts since the beginning. In 1965, Democrats overwhelmingly voted to create the NEH and the NEA, with nearly all of the Democratic “no” votes coming from the South. A majority of Republicans voted “no”.


Conservative Republican politicians don’t believe that “democracy demands wisdom and vision in its citizens”. They attack the findings of geology, evolutionary biology, and climate science. They support the spread of fake news and promote alternative facts. They disparage the media in general. There is nothing new about the attacks on truth and knowledge by the Trump administration except its shamelessness.


Let’s go back to the words of the Congress in 1965, a time when Americans also wanted our country to be great. “The world leadership which has come to the United States cannot rest solely upon superior power, wealth, and technology, but must be solidly founded upon worldwide respect and admiration for the Nation’s high qualities as a leader in the realm of ideas and of the spirit”.


Steve Hochstadt


Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, March 21, 2017

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
Europe is Alive and Well On Saturday, 4000 Berliners gathered at the Brandenburg Gate to make a political statement – Happy Birthday, Europe! They let loose blue balloons, carried blue flags with yellow European Union stars, and trampled a “wall” made of cardboard cartons. Saturday was the 60th anniversary of the Rome treaty among 6 nations which created the European Economic Union, the first step towards today’s European Union of 28 nations.


Not long ago, such a celebration would have been unlikely. United Europe has many problems. The economic difficulties of some southern countries, especially Greece, required international financial assistance. Unemployment and sluggish growth persist in many countries. Refugees from northern Africa and the Middle East have put enormous pressure on the more prosperous countries of western Europe.


Nationalist, so-called “populist” politicians and parties have won new popularity and power in the last few years by attacking the EU. The British vote to leave the EU was the heaviest blow against European unity. Marine le Pen of the National Front in France is one of the front-runners in the presidential election next month, whom recent polls give about 26% among four major candidates. Her platform is anti-immigration, anti-Muslim, and anti-EU. Geert Wilders, a Dutch politician who hates Muslims and is against non-white immigration and the EU, appeared on his way to winning their presidential election earlier this month.


Nationalist politicians have recently gained power in Poland and Hungary, and are part of coalition governments in Finland and Denmark. In the April 2016 Austrian presidential election, the Euro-sceptical and anti-immigration Freedom Party won the most votes in the first round.


Alternative fuer Deutschland (AfD) was founded in 2013 as a critic of the pro-European policies of the German government, and has gradually moved further and further right towards opposition to immigration, homophobia, Islamophobia, and denial of climate change. It is the only German party which talks about leaving the EU. The AfD got 4.7% of the national vote in 2013 and 7.1% in 2014. National support in 2016 reached 12-15%, and seemed to be heading higher.


The election of Donald Trump, who made disparaging statements about Europe and selected advisors who have promoted the break-up of the EU, was a turning point in European politics, but not in the direction he favors. His apparent withdrawal of American support for a united Europe pushed Europeans to a more vigorous defense of their unprecedented international alliance and the values it promotes: tolerance, human rights, fluid borders.


Just after Trump’s election, a married couple from Frankfurt, Germany, decided with some friends to demonstrate support for a united Europe. In February, 600 people came to a meeting. On March 5, there were public demonstrations in 35 cities under the name “Pulse of Europe”. The first theme listed on their website is “Europe must not fail.” Their method is also clear: “Let us become louder and more visible!” That is exactly what Europeans have done recently. The Pulse of Europe website now lists 53 German cities and 14 others, where every Sunday a pro-Europe demonstration takes place.


The tide has turned against the right-wing parties. The Austrian Freedom Party lost to a Green politician in the presidential run-off in December 2016. Wilders’ support in the Netherlands peaked and fell, and his second-place finish and lower than expected vote totals have been cheered across Europe. Support for the AfD in Germany has been dropping since January.


A major survey in 2015 of European public opinion shows majority support for the EU: 71% of citizens wanted their country to remain in the Union. Within the 28 nations of the EU, 59% preferred more integration, 16% were satisfied with current levels, and only 24% wanted less.


A few nights ago, I saw a big poster in the center of Berlin: “Only those who don’t value freedom can cast doubt on Europe.” It’s part of new advertising campaign for Berlin called “#FreiheitBerlin” or “Freedom Berlin. ”The quotation comes from Nicol Ljubić, a novelist with Croatian background, who lives in Berlin. Like many people across Europe, he associates freedom with a united Europe.


Of course, everyone has some complaint about the EU, some criticism of policies hammered out among 28 nations. But the threats to European integration, from outsiders like Trump and insiders like Le Pen and Wilders and the AfD, have made people here in Germany and all over Europe more willing to become louder and more visible, saying not only “Europe must not fail,” but also “Europe is good.”


Europe is good. Three times as many Europeans as Americans trust their national legislatures. One-sixth as many Europeans as Americans are in jail, probably related to the fact that one-fifth as many murders occur. Health care is universal and Europeans live longer. According to the “World Happiness Report”, Europeans are the happiest people in the world. Americans do pretty well, too, ranking 14th, about the same as Germans.


Such comparisons are not meant to prove that Europe is better than the US. But they do show that Europe, more and more united over the past 60 years, is not a failure, as American conservatives often assert. United Europe has created peace and prosperity across the continent for 60 years.


Happy Birthday, Europe!


Steve Hochstadt


Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, March 28, 2017

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
What’s Wrong With Iowa? We often drive through eastern Iowa on our way from central Illinois to Minnesota. The landscape is peaceful and prosperous. The farmhouses are well kept, and the roads smooth and wide. When we stop, Iowans are friendly and helpful.


Iowa is doing very well. The Census Bureau ranks Iowa #4 in lowest housing costs relative to income, and that cheap housing is near to the workplace: average commuting time is 19 minutes. Iowa is one of the safest states. The cultural scene is thriving: Forest City’s country music festival is ranked second in the country by Country Living magazine, and Broadway shows go straight to Des Moines. CNBC ranked Iowa 9th among the 50 states in its annual survey “Best States for Business”, with a similar ranking for quality of life.


So why does Iowa send a racist to Congress? Even before he was first elected to Congress in 2002, Steve King was clear about his disdain for immigrants of all kinds. As a state legislator, he proposed a law requiring Iowa students to be taught that the United States is the undisputed greatest nation on Earth. He sued his own Governor for providing ballots in languages other than English, despite the federal law that requires such ballots.


After election, King became known for his nasty characterizations of immigrants. In 2013, he generalized about undocumented immigrants: “For everyone who's a valedictorian, there's another 100 out there who weigh 130 pounds, and they've got calves the size of cantaloupes because they're hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.”


Do immigrants pose a particular problem in Iowa? Iowa has one of the lowest proportions of foreign-born residents, less than 5%, compared to 13% for the US, and only 7% speak a language other than English at home, compared to 21% in the whole country. Iowa is one of the whitest states, with 85% non-Hispanic whites, more than all but 5 other states. King’s district is even whiter: 96% white.


Here is what King has done in this current Congress since January. He proposed to repeal the Sixteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which created the federal income tax. He found one co-sponsor. He proposed a bill to terminate the EB-5 program, part of the Immigration Act of 1990 signed by President George H.W. Bush. That program offers green cards for permanent residence to entrepreneurs and their families, if they invest in a commercial enterprise in the United States and plan to create or preserve 10 permanent full-time jobs for qualified American workers. He found one co-sponsor. He proposed a bill to use federal funds to support private schools, and to repeal federal nutritional standards for school lunch and breakfast programs that increase the availability of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat milk, and reduce sodium, saturated fat, and trans fat. He managed 3 co-sponsors for that. King proposed to end our national policy of giving citizenship to anyone born in the US, even if their parents are not citizens, as he has done in previous years.


Is King perhaps just very conservative? No, some recent comments show that he is a white supremacist. In July, he said about non-whites on a cable news show, “I'd ask you to go back through history and figure out, 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?” Just before the Dutch election, he tweeted about the far-right candidate Geert Wilders, “Wilders understands that culture and demographics are our destiny. We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.” The former KKK leader David Duke understood what King meant, and responded “GOD BLESS STEVE KING!” On CNN, King reaffirmed his idea of a white America: “I meant exactly what I said. I’d like to see an America that's just so homogeneous that we look a lot the same, from that perspective.”


Why do the people of northwestern Iowa keep electing King to Congress? It’s not because he does anything useful there. Since he was elected to Congress in 2003, he has sponsored over 100 bills and not one of them even got out of committee, even though Republicans controlled the House for most of those years. He was named the least effective member of Congress in 2015 by non-partisan InsideGov.


Are most people in Iowa’s 4th district racists? Not necessarily: in 2008, they voted for Obama over McCain for President.


Steve King, along with other politicians who have made openly racist statements, exemplifies an unhappy characteristic of many white American voters. Electing a conservative is more important than not electing a racist. As long as their choice is between a Democrat and Steve King, northwestern Iowans will keep voting for King, no matter how ineffective or prejudiced he is.


That’s how we end up with racists in Congress.


Steve Hochstadt


Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, April 11, 2017

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
Celebrating Power, Celebrating Resistance The museums of Berlin are filled with amazing artifacts of past societies and civilizations, perhaps none more imposing than three exhibits in the Pergamon Museum, each filling enormous rooms. The biggest and heaviest architectural reconstruction in any museum is the Market Gate of Miletus, built 2000 years ago by the Romans as the entrance to the market square of Miletus in present-day Turkey, destroyed in an earthquake 900 years later, then unearthed and reconstructed by German archaeologist Theodor Wiegand. This gate, 100 feet wide and 50 feet tall, represents the power of the Roman emperors extending to the far eastern edge of the Mediterranean.


In a nearby room, the reconstructed Ishtar Gate displays the might of King Nebuchadnezzar II, who had it constructed about 575 BC in Babylon, the capital of his empire and perhaps the largest city in the world at that time. Thousands of brightly glazed bricks with reliefs of lions, dragons and bulls created an imposing sight, which was considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.


The most famous holding of the museum, the Pergamon Altar, won’t be open for view until 2020, because the entire museum is gradually being renovated piece by piece. This monumental place of worship was built about 160 years before Christ’s birth to honor the political and military achievements of the Greek King Eumenes II. Visitors can ascend stone steps 60 feet wide to view a sculpted frieze depicting the battle between the Olympian gods and the giants.


These ancient monuments are the most imposing celebrations of power among hundreds of such displays in Berlin. Similar displays can be found in all European cities, where museums preserve reminders of past dynasties, public statues glorify past rulers, and restored palaces attract millions of visitors.


When we enter a museum, we have learned to expect representations of past authority, power and prestige, constructed of the finest materials by great artists, preserved for the wonder of succeeding generations. We see the most elaborate creations of the past.


There are other artifacts and memorials in Berlin which represent resistance, the opposite of power. Because Berlin was the site of two terrible 20th-century dictatorships, the bravery and foolhardiness of those who resisted power are also celebrated here. The Checkpoint Charlie Museum was built right at the Berlin Wall to memorialize the East Germans who succeeded or failed to escape across the Wall. Instead of finely wrought art objects, the most interesting exhibits are cheap East German cars reconstructed to create tiny hiding places for escapees or rusty tools used to dig under the Wall. The names and faces of those who resisted the Communist government are noted here, but remain unknown elsewhere. Their achievements were not beautiful, but daring and inventive, and often ended in death or prison.


The theme at Checkpoint Charlie is escape. Getting past the Berlin Wall or across the border into West Germany meant freedom. Escaping from the vast territory of Nazi-controlled Europe was much more difficult. Resistance to the Nazis was more likely to be a lonely battle against a murderous regime in favor of human rights, that predictably ended in death. Bernard Lichtenberg, a Catholic priest at St. Hedwig’s Cathedral in the center of Berlin, began to protest the brutalities of concentration camps soon after the Nazis took power, going directly to high Nazi officials to complain of their policies. He protested against the mistreatment of Catholic priests, of Jews and of the handicapped. He prayed publicly every day for deported Jews. He was imprisoned and died as he was being deported to Dachau.


In a small park on the quiet Rosenstrasse, a group of sculptures commemorates a remarkable act of group resistance. Hundreds of Christian wives of Jewish men who had been arrested in 1943 gathered before the building where they were being held to demand their release. They were threatened by SS trucks with machine guns, but did not move. After a week of constant protest, the men were released, the only instance of a successful German protest against the Holocaust. One of the women, Elsa Holzer, later said, “If you had to calculate whether you would do any good by protesting, you wouldn’t have gone.”


Celebrations of power are all around us. We don’t often think about how that power was exercised, about who might have suffered to make that power possible. Those who resist power usually pass into the fog of history because they were not famous and they had little opportunity to create imposing objects to memorialize their actions. Stone palaces and golden objects attract more attention than lonely dissent.


The more we know about the great rulers of the past, the more we realize that the trappings and accomplishments of power rested on the conquest and exploitation of vast numbers of people, some of whom protested. Like the still anonymous Tank Man who stopped a line of tanks at Tiananmen Square in 1989, they could calculate that their actions had little chance of success. They were not counting on their names being recorded in history books. They acted from conviction and desperation.


They deserve statues and museums, too.


Steve Hochstadt


Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, April 18, 2017

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
Better Living Through Chemistry On Earth Day, April 22, a hundred thousand people marched all across the world for science. Tens of thousands demonstrated in Los Angeles and London, while 200 people marched 200 miles north of the Arctic circle in Norway. In 600 cities on every continent, citizens and scientists carried signs like “Fund science, not walls” and “Science trumps alternative facts”.


In Washington, DC, the biggest crowd protested Donald Trump’s proposed budget cuts to scientific research in public health and climate.


Trump is carrying out normal Republican politics. None of the many Republican candidates for President in 2016 thought evolution should be taught in public schools. A majority of Republican voters believe in creationism.


The issue of climate change shows the influence of political ideology on attitudes toward science. A Pew poll found that only 15% of conservative Republicans believe “the earth is warming mostly due to human activity”, 34% of moderate Republicans, 63% of moderate Democrats, and 79% of liberal Democrats. A majority of conservative Republicans believes that climate scientists are influenced by desire to advance their careers and political ideology, not by scientific evidence or public interest.


To put it simply, conservatives don’t believe in science or scientists, if it’s inconvenient.


Here’s how science denial works in real life. Lots of private websites offer their version of science, paid for by private money which they don’t disclose, using clever tactics to pretend to search for truth. An example is the Heartland Institute, which has been denying the existence of warming for decades.


On the other side is “Understanding Science”, a public project of the University of California at Berkeley, funded by the federal National Science Foundation. This step-by-easy-step primer offers a balanced and authentic understanding of “how science REALLY works”. But those who automatically accuse both government and the nation’s best universities of politicized scientific fraud would dismiss this site as propaganda. So they won’t learn from it how our scientific community does a far better job of policing high standards for honesty and frankness than either politicians or corporations.


And they won’t think about who pays for science: “Most scientific research is funded by government grants (e.g., from the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, etc.), companies doing research and development, and non-profit foundations.” Public and private sources have different priorities for funding scientific research. My nephew works on the development of a drug to stop Alzheimer’s for a biotechnology company formed by scientists and venture capitalists. Their research is motivated both to find better medicines for our collective health and to make money. As I approach 70, the prospect of preventing brain degeneration before it hits me is exciting. Their profit might extend my useful life.


Some privately funded scientific research is not in the public interest at all, such as the tobacco companies’ effort to deny the link to cancer, funneled through sciency-sounding propaganda organizations like the Heartland Institute.


The Republicans in Congress are not waging a war on all science; they quote from Heartland’s fake science. They attack government-supported science because it might lead to government spending. For example, the discovery of lead in Flint’s water meant that old pipes must be replaced on 17,000 homes at an estimated cost of $7500 each, totaling $127,500,000. Government-paid scientific research documented how lead affects babies’ brains, supported the creation of regulations which forced industry to stop using lead, compared the levels of lead in Flint’s water to experimental evidence on poisoning, and thus demonstrated the need for federal intervention.


Republicans in the Senate voted overwhelmingly to deny funding to deal with Flint’s crisis, but that effort lost by one vote. Congress authorized $170 million for Flint.


In the words of “Understanding Science”, “Science affects your life everyday in all sorts of different ways.” Good public science saves lives and serves the public interest through government spending and government regulation. But those are Republican curse words. That is the deep secret behind the anti-science policies of Republicans in Congress and the White House. If they want to shrink government, they have to slow down or even stop science. They use tactics of obfuscation and delay. House Science Committee chair Lamar Smith attacked a 2015 NOAA study showing rising global temperatures. He used his old tactics, honed over decades in Congress: he demanded thousands of e-mails and other documents in search of malfeasance, misspent funds, or corruption. He has never found any of those things. But he slowed down science he doesn’t like.


This is not in our national interest. If we don’t prepare for the world’s new climate, if we don’t prevent health crises through regulation of pollutants, if we don’t spend now on inconvenient science, we will have to spend much more later in economic and social costs. Peter Muennig, professor of public health at Columbia University, estimates that the two fewer healthy years of the 8000 Flint children exposed to lead might cost American society $400 million.


The astrophysicist and TV explainer of science Neil deGrasse Tyson said, “The good thing about science is that it’s true, whether or not you believe it.”


The bad thing about Republican science politics is that our children and grandchildren will pay the price. Without science, it’s just fiction.


Steve Hochstadt

Jacksonville IL

Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
Whose Internet Is It? I just watched “The Circle”, a thriller about a computer company which uses internet connectedness to eradicate privacy in the name of “transparency” and “democracy”. The film is fictional, but the conflict between privacy and internet capitalism is real. The giants of the computer world routinely collect as much information as they can about people who use their services, and then employ it to sell us products or sell it to others for that purpose.


An editorial in WIRED warned in 2015, “You aren’t just going to lose your privacy, you’re going to have to watch the very concept of privacy be rewritten under your nose.”


The history of “cookies” exemplifies both sides of the issue of internet privacy. Cookies are data stored on your computer by a website you are visiting, perhaps without your knowledge. They were developed in the 1990s as a way for the Netscape web browser, dominant at the time, to keep track of whether visitors had used the site before. Cookies turned out to be useful in assembling the “shopping carts” that we use to put together a list of online purchases.


Their potential to record and store information about individuals was soon recognized as a window into our personal preferences. When Amazon suggests that you might like to buy a book based on what you have looked at before, or any other advertiser seems to know your browsing history, they are using cookies.


Some cookies disappear when you turn off your computer, but others, called persistent or tracking cookies, are designed to remain on your computer for an indefinite time, monitoring your browsing habits and sending that information to private companies. Cookies are set into your computer not only by the website you are visiting, but by advertisers on that site. A visit to one website can result in 10 or even 100 “third-party cookies” being put on your computer.


Let’s be specific. The phone companies Verizon and AT&T allowed an online advertising clearinghouse named TURN to track customers’ habits on their smartphones and tablets. TURN used a “zombie cookie” which could not be deleted by the customer, even if they opted out of cookie usage. Only after this was reported by ProPublica, did AT&T agree to stop the practice, but Verizon didn’t. So cookies are useful commercial tools that invade what used to be our private spaces.


As Chris Hoofnagle, a lecturer at UC Berkeley Law School, says, “On a macro level, ‘we need to track everyone everywhere for advertising’ translates into ‘the government being able to track everyone everywhere.’”


One of the exciting new developments in computer connectedness is the “internet of things”, the networking among objects we own, like cars, refrigerators, thermostats, and light switches, so they can communicate with us and with each other. In cute ads on TV, a baby turns lights on and off at home by touching a smart phone. In real life, the most basic of your daily actions at home can be monitored and recorded by companies you don’t know about or be hacked by criminals.


Corporations are created to make money, not to be nice, or even fair to consumers. Nest Labs created a $300 device with a “Lifetime Subscription” that allows you to control many of the newly invented home electronics from your phone. Google bought Nest in 2014 and decided in 2016 to remotely disable these devices without notifying customers. Short lifetime.


Cookies were being stored on our computers without our knowledge for several years before the Federal Trade Commission began to question whether this was an invasion of privacy that called for some government oversight. This is the context for the current political argument about “net neutrality”. Should the Federal Communications Commission regulate internet providers, as they do for other utilities?


The idea of net neutrality is that internet service providers, who control what appears on the internet, should treat all reasonable content equally, not allowing companies like Google, Microsoft and Amazon to decide to create fast and slow lanes of transmission, putting their preferred content in the fastest lane and slowing down competitors’ content. Just like the phone companies have to let all calls through, not just the ones they like best.


Ajit Pai, Trump’s newly appointed head of the FCC, says he wants to dismantle regulations like net neutrality that have been placed on internet providers. Republicans in Congress, by party-line votes, are trying to remove regulations which protect our privacy and freedom of choice. If the government steps out of the internet, how much danger are we in?


A few days ago, perhaps 1 million Google accounts across the country, including mine, received fraudulent email messages purporting to be from Google Docs, trying to get us to click on a link so criminals could hijack our accounts.


Who protected me? The IT staff at Illinois College sent out a warning. Google itself noticed the attack very quickly and removed fake web pages. But my government did nothing in this case. Without government oversight we are at the mercy of rapacious corporations and criminal hackers. “The Circle” is a warning: the internet might not be your friend.


Steve Hochstadt

Jacksonville IL

Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, May 9, 2017

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
Antarctica is Melting The news is all Trump. His ill-considered words and constantly shifting explanations for impulsive actions dominate our public consciousness.


In the midst of all that Trump, it is hard to think clearly about the faraway future, beyond our lifetimes. When the future does intrude, it’s in the form of space ships and aliens, imaginary futures in faraway galaxies. But we need to think about the future here and now, because Antarctica is melting.


Actually, it’s more complicated than that. Great swaths of sea ice are breaking off from Antarctica, but that won’t cause the sea level to rise. That ice is already floating on the sea, so when it melts, the level doesn’t change. Try this yourself: fill a glass with water and ice, and watch what happens when the ice melts. The water does not overflow. Sea-level rise is caused when ice on land melts, adding to the volume of sea water. Right now, all over the world, glaciers are melting.


A group of American scientists flew over Antarctica last fall to get more accurate measurements of changes in the massive ice pack at the bottom of the world. If much of the sea ice melts, that could allow continental ice to loosen, flow into the ocean, and raise sea levels. That would be dangerous.


The global sea level has been rising an average of one-tenth of an inch every year. That doesn’t seem like much. That rise has been getting faster at about one-thirtieth of an inch per year, an even smaller number. Who cares about such tiny numbers? 


Over the long term, those numbers are scary. The oceans rose less than 3 inches from 1900 to 1950, 3.5 inches 1950-2000, and 2 inches in the last 15 years. If the acceleration continues, by 2050 the rise would be one inch every year, a foot per decade.


Three-quarters of the world’s largest cities are located on sea coasts. Between 100 million and 200 million people live in places that likely will be underwater or subject to frequent flooding by the year 2100. Some estimates put that number at 650 million, nearly 10% of the world’s population. Mathew Hauer of the University of Georgia estimated that 13 million Americans might be displaced by 2100, mostly in southeastern states.


Rising sea levels will do more damage than flooding coastal cities. Saltwater will contaminate our drinking water and interfere with farming.


There are many kinds of uncertainty in predicting sea-level rise. Not all geographic areas will experience the same rise. Some, like the East Coast of the US, will experience a much greater rise than the global average.


Can anything be done against the rising seas? After Hurricane Sandy, New York expanded its efforts to protect against the next flood. Based on careful geological analysis of the land, the city plans to reinforce beaches and breakwaters, build storm walls and levees, and protect sand dunes that act as natural barriers. That will cost money.


Another way to deal with unpleasant reality is to forbid it from happening, as the North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un did last year when he forbade his population to use sarcasm. After the Science Panel of the North Carolina Coastal Resources Commissioner said it was possible that the sea level could rise more than a yard over the next 100 years, the Republican-dominated legislature in 2012 forbade coastal community managers from considering scientific projections of sea level rise, when they think about roads, bridges, hospitals and other infrastructure. In 2015, the legislature accepted a new report that looked ahead only 30 years, thus with much less dire predictions.


State legislators in Virginia were surveyed about their knowledge of sea level rise. Republican legislators viewed scientists as less credible than Democrats did, and environmental groups not credible at all. Republicans estimated dangerous long-term effects of sea level rise as less likely, and thought that federal and state government should play a lesser role in dealing with them.


Donald Trump’s budget proposal embodies the Republican solution to rising seas: it would eliminate funding for climate research by NASA, the EPA, and the State Department. Mick Mulvaney of the Office of Management and Budget said about funding for climate research: “We're not spending money on that any more. We consider that to be a waste of your money.” That response is cheaper now, and the future is uncertain, so why worry?


Predictions, projections, estimates – these words display uncertainty. Nearly everything about climate change and its consequences contains uncertainty, especially when trying to forecast the future. That is why scientific models include ranges of possibility. One major question mark is how fast Antarctic ice is melting due to the warming of deep ocean currents far underneath the ice pack.


But this is certain – if we don’t get beyond the conservative refusal to think about the consequences of climate change, our grandchildren could face social and economic catastrophe. My daughter is pregnant. Her child might still be alive in 2100, living in a society trying to deal with an unprecedented disaster, the flooding of American coastal cities.


Political decisions, or their absence, will determine how ready America is for that future.


Steve Hochstadt

Jacksonville IL

Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, May 23, 2017

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
The Amazing Mind of Donald Trump An amazing mind says amazing things. Trump says many amazing things, but not because they’re brilliant or clever or funny or heart-stopping. His words are amazing for their ignorance, their cluelessness, and perhaps most of all because he thinks he is profound. His words reveal the real Trump and so they are worth listening to.


Nobody knew health care could be so complicated.” At the bottom of that is “I didn’t know health care could be so complicated.” Political health care discussions have been going on all Trump’s life, from before the creation of Medicare in 1965. But because he didn’t know it, nobody knew it. His amazing ignorance is matched by an amazing assumption of superiority – nobody knows things that he doesn’t know.


For Trump there are no experts whose knowledge would be useful to him. Scientists, historians, intelligence operative, generals, legal scholars, and other politicians have nothing to offer him that he doesn’t already know.


He was widely quoted and widely ridiculed for this amazing statement on a June 2015 Fox News interview: “There’s nobody bigger or better at the military than I am.” He’s better because he knows more, as he said in November 2015: “I know more about ISIS than the generals do. Believe me.”


Trump knows more than scientists about most scientific subjects. He has claimed that scientists are wrong about the dangers of fracking and the lack of danger of vaccines. He finds perils in light bulbs: “Remember, new ‘environment friendly’ lightbulbs can cause cancer. Be careful-- the idiots who came up with this stuff don’t care.” Wind farms are health hazards, too.


How does Trump know what he claims to know? He has said at many times that he doesn’t read books because he is too busy. Tony Schwartz, ghostwriter of “The Art of the Deal”, said that he “never saw a book on Trump’s desk, or elsewhere in his office, or in his apartment” in the 18 months he spent with Trump.


He reads newspapers, even those he constantly labels “fake news”, like the New York Times and the Washington Post. But when he makes speeches, he only cites them to say they are making things up.


His comments about science often reveal how he knows so much: he finds internet articles by cranks and quacks, who advance outlandish ideas that he likes. He doesn’t care whether they are true or false, just that they appear to support ideas he is pushing.


Whom does Trump cite when he wants to back up what he claims? He said that the National Enquirer should win the Pulitzer Prize for reporting. The Enquirer endorsed Trump during the Republican primaries and ran stories which denigrated his opponents. He said they “have a very good record of being right.” He was probably pleased about their stories that Ted Cruz and Mario Rubio were cheating on their wives, and that the Obamas were always about to get a divorce.


He likes Infowars hosted by Alex Jones, one of America’s leading conspiracy theorists, who also supported Trump during the campaign. Jones promoted the “theories” that our government blew up the World Trade Center, that gun control advocates created the “hoax” that 20 children were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, and that the government is poisoning our water with fluoride. Jones strongly pushed the idea that Obama was born in Africa, which Trump used to vault himself to political prominence. He was an early proponent of the claim adopted by Trump that millions of illegal aliens voted for Hillary Clinton.

He claimed that “Obama Surveilled Entire Trump Family For 8 Years”, including Trump’s children, even before he ran for President.


Breitbart might be Trump’s favorite source of “news”. Steve Bannon took over the site when Andrew Breitbart died suddenly in 2012. Bannon became Trump’s chief strategist three months before the 2016 election, encouraging him to see the entire mainstream media as purveyors of “fake news”.


Fact-checkers of Trump’s speeches and tweets constantly discover that he gets facts wrong and tells lies. They don’t go further to figure out where he gets his information. Trump doesn’t mostly make up the untruths he tells the world. He takes them from these professional spreaders of political lies.


Our President spreads nonsense from nonsense sites. Alex Jones has that our government is supporting “homosexuality with chemicals so that people don't have children”. But in court trying to win a custody case against his former wife, Jones’ lawyer said, “He’s playing a character. He is a performance artist.” His lawyer said Jones is as serious about his political claims as Jack Nicholson was when he played the Joker.


But Trump takes his “news” from supermarket tabloids and their internet equivalents. He said, “You can’t knock the National Enquirer. It’s brought many things to light, not all of them pleasant.”


Here’s what is unpleasant. Presidential policy is based on nonsense.


Steve Hochstadt

Jacksonville IL

Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, June 13, 2017

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
Gay Equality is Coming Quickly Usually public opinion on important and emotional subjects shifts gradually. The realization that discrimination against African Americans and women was wrong came very slowly. For more than a century, Americans spoke out against sexism and racism. In the 19th century, they were considered radicals, advocating unpopular political positions against traditional beliefs in white male superiority. By the 20th century, opinion in America was split and some discriminatory laws were changed, but common practices based in prejudice persisted.


Only after World War II did majority public opinion shift away from entrenched discrimination, but even then progress was halting. The two Supreme Court decisions that declared school segregation (1954) and laws against mixed-race marriages (1967) unconstitutional were 13 years apart, and they were just way stations along a much longer journey toward equality. In both cases, defenders of discrimination used religious arguments to oppose equal treatment for blacks and women, citing Biblical verses written thousands of years ago to claim that God had declared the superiority of white men for all time.


Change comes more quickly in modern society, as we can see in the technological innovations which replace each other with bewildering rapidity. In 1999, Ray Kurzweil proposed the “The Law of Accelerating Returns”; he believed that change in a wide variety of evolutionary systems, including technology, would come with accelerated speed. We might see this “law” operating in the third great shift in public opinion about traditional discriminatory practices, the acceptance of homosexual people as normal and deserving of equal rights.


Data from the Pew Research Center shows a dramatic recent shift in American public opinion on same-sex marriage, which may be taken as an indicator of more general attitudes about homosexuality. After years of relative stability, in the last 8 years the proportion of Americans who oppose gay marriage dropped from 54% to 32%, as the number who favor it rose from 37% to 62%. That same amount of opinion shift on inter-racial marriage took about twice as long.


The popular shift has been rapid, but not smooth. After Massachusetts became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage in 2003, 12 states passed constitutional amendments outlawing it in the next year alone, and eventually 30 states passed such backlash legislation. The Supreme Court decision in 2015 that rights guaranteed by the Constitution to all citizens included the right to get married came four years after support for same-sex marriage reached majority status.


Like many shifts in social attitudes, this was led by young people. The latest Pew survey shows 18- to 29-year-olds against discrimination by 79% to 19%, while Americans over 72 remain opposed to this change by 49% to 41%. But every demographic group, whatever their attitudes were a few years ago, has shifted towards acceptance. Opposition remains concentrated among white evangelical Protestants, conservative Republicans, and the oldest Americans, groups which considerably overlap. Those who demonize their neighbors who have a different sexual orientation continue to use arguments derived from Christian tradition as justification.


What caused this rapid shift in public opinion? When Pew asked why people had changed their minds, the most common answer was that they knew someone who is homosexual. Visibility has been a significant factor in the increasing acceptance of gays in America. While race and gender are usually obvious, homosexuality was not.


I grew up in an America where homosexuality was queer, meaning strange and unnatural. It was dangerous for a gay person to reveal their orientation, which could cost them their jobs. Homosexual relations were criminal across the country, until Illinois was the first state to decriminalize same-sex relations in 1962. So I didn’t know any homosexuals. I, like most Americans, had no evidence from life experience that gay people were not as they were portrayed in medical practice (sick), in official propaganda (dangerous), and in common talk (weird).


Over the course of 30 years, the proportion of Americans who said that someone they knew revealed to them that they were gay rose from 24% in 1985 to 75% in 2013. Since it is unlikely that the incidence of homosexuality has changed significantly, what did change was the realization that there are gay people in everyone’s social circle.


The end of discrimination against homosexuality is determined by changing public opinion and political practice, which differ from country to country. Germany, in many ways more officially opposed to discrimination of all kinds than the US, just legalized gay marriage last week. A recent poll showed that 83% of Germans approved of same-sex marriage, much higher than in the US. But the politics of the conservative party, the Christian Democrats, who have led the government since 2005, prevented any vote on the issue until now.


Bigots will keep using religion as a cover for prejudice, as in the so-called religious freedom laws. But the shift toward acceptance of homosexuality will continue, as older opponents are replaced by younger advocates. Because our gay relatives and friends do not fit the prejudicial stereotypes, discriminatory impulses will lose their persuasive power. Happy birthday, America.


Steve Hochstadt

Springbrook, WI

Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, July 4, 2017

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
Why Americans Voted For Trump I have been reading about why so many Americans voted for Trump. Simple ignorance is a partial answer. Many Medicaid recipients who voted for Trump did not know that their benefits were due to the Democrats’ health care legislation that he vowed to repeal.


Some voters just believed Trump’s promises to help Americans who suffered economically, even though there was no evidence in his history or the history of the Republican Party that he actually help cared about them. Many former Obama voters who switched to Trump thought that Democrats were more likely to enact policies that favored the wealthy. Now that we can see what Trump and congressional Republicans want to do about taxes and health care, it’s clear how wrong they were.


But support for Trump is about more than ignorance or deluded hopes. An extensive analysis of white working-class voters, about one-third of Americans and a group who favored Trump by a 2-1 margin, shows their unhappiness with today’s America. About two-thirds of them believe “American culture and way of life has deteriorated since the 1950s.” That time frame coincides with the civil rights and women’s movements that have shifted power away from traditionally dominant white men. They express this idea by saying that the US is losing its identity, that immigrants threaten American culture. They believe that America’s best days are in the past. No wonder Trump’s slogan about making America great again had such resonance.


Perhaps related to this pessimism about their country is a tendency to favor authoritarian leaders. A remarkable 56% of white working-class evangelical Protestants were rated as “high authoritarian”, another explanation for supporting Trump. An earlier survey confirms the authoritarian tendencies of Trump voters. People who wanted to raise their children to be “respectful, obedient, well-behaved and well-mannered” were much more likely to be Trump voters than those who wanted children to be “independent, self-reliant, considerate and curious”.


Although the views of the white working class are often labeled racist, I think this misses the mark. About half of them believe that discrimination against whites is as bad as discrimination against minorities, with older people even more sure of this idea. Nearly half of white working-class seniors believe that Christians face a lot of discrimination. This is nonsense, as shown by every study which actually compares treatment of white versus black. But it has this kernel of truth – black Americans and non-Christians have more power than they did in the 1950s. This may be the source of white belief that America has lost its identity and American culture has deteriorated.


A survey taken more than a year ago during the primaries already showed these characteristics of Trump voters: nearly all of them agreed that “my beliefs and values are under attack in America”. The label of “values voters” for white evangelicals was perhaps never accurate. Their votes for Trump, whose personal life represents a rejection of these values, show they are better named “nostalgia voters”, whose vision of a white-male-dominated America no longer represents reality.


A more complex comparison of presidential votes and moral beliefs shows that Trump voters were likely to be motivated by ideas of group loyalty, respect for authority, male dominance, and traditional social norms than by compassion for those who are suffering and desire for equal justice.


The other side of Trump supporters’ worries about fading white male power is their disparaging attitude about people different from them. The calls at his rallies to lock up Hillary Clinton and attack journalists, the desire to deport millions of immigrants, the anger at the legalization of gay marriage are signs of a meanness of spirit that Trump himself exemplifies.


Here is a local example of meanness. Catholic Bishop Thomas Paprocki in Springfield issued a “Same Sex Marriage” decree in June: people in same-sex marriages may not participate in communion or receive a Catholic funeral. Paprocki’s decree does not punish adulterers, thieves, liars, or those who disobey their parents. His isolation of gay couples is political malice, unique among American bishops. Bishop Patrick McGrath of San Jose explicitly rejected Paprocki’s nasty version of religious intolerance.


It is possible to value self-reliance and hard work without trying to cut food stamp aid to poor families. One can believe in the virtue of raising oneself out of poverty without trying to cut Medicaid for poor people in bad health. Taking a hard line on punishing criminals does not require assuming that all immigrants are law-breakers. We can deplore terrorists without discriminating against Muslims.


Too many Trump supporters take their beliefs in what is right as license to be hateful toward people who are not like them. Combine that with nostalgia for a time when blacks had to defer to whites, men could grope women, and gays stayed in the closet, and you have a Republican Party which cuts health insurance for millions of Americans, which keeps foreign students from returning to their American universities, which cuts federal programs for Americans in need. So far these attempts have failed, but Trump and his allies show no signs of letting up.


That’s what I call mean.


Steve Hochstadt

Springbrook, WI

Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, July 11, 2017

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
The Republican Way of Governing Lately I worry that our political system is threatened. One of the basic ideas of our democracy, pushed especially by conservatives, has been that Americans at the local level should be able to control local issues. Of course this idea has limits. Local school districts should not be allowed to discriminate on the basis of race, because the Constitution says that is illegal. State laws should not discriminate against women, because that is also illegal. But what about trying to deal with plastic shopping bags? Are communities allowed to require that local construction contracts include local workers?


Republican-dominated state legislatures have passed laws preventing communities from controlling these and many other issues as a way of preventing many policies they don’t like: adding gender identity to non-discrimination laws, setting higher minimum wages, restricting the height of cellphone towers. Later this month, a special session of the Texas legislature will consider proposals to block cities from regulating trees on private land and restricting cellphone use while driving. Iowa Republicans want to take away control from local water boards. Many states with Republican majorities are forbidding local control: Michigan, South Dakota, Ohio, New Hampshire, Idaho, and Arizona. The non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau counted 128 measures recently passed by the Republican legislature in Wisconsin that restricted local control. Twenty-five states have passed laws preventing localities from raising their minimum wages.


Republican legislatures have backed up these so-called “preemption laws” with a big stick. If a local government in Arizona is found to have acted against the wishes of the legislature, it could lose all of its state aid. Many states now have laws which personally punish local legislators for not obeying preemption rules.


Both parties have long traditions of abusing our political system for partisan ends. Gerrymandering election districts by creative redrawing of boundaries is a key example of parties subverting democracy. Republicans have gone further than ever before in abusing their power to redraw boundaries based on their dominance in state legislatures. In Pennsylvania in 2012, Republicans lost the popular vote, but won 13 of 18 House seats. Wisconsin’s gerrymandered districts will be reviewed by the Supreme Court, which threw out North Carolina Republicans’ efforts to concentrate minority voters in the fewest number of districts.


The Senate filibuster is another undemocratic method by which a minority tries to rule. Again, both parties have used the filibuster to stifle the majority, but Republicans took this tactic to unprecedented extremes to try to prevent President Obama from nominating judges. Eventually Republicans threatened to filibuster every judicial nomination made by Obama.


In recent years, Republicans have so distorted our government structures that our democracy is threatened. Republican Senators refused to consider Obama’s Supreme Court nominee in 2016. North Carolina Republicans are trying to remove normal powers of their Governor, a Democrat. And now Republican legislatures are forbidding voters in Democratic cities from controlling their local politics.


When Senator Joe McCarthy tried to use hysterical fears of communism to attack all liberals, he was following a playbook used by both Democrats and Republicans. When Richard Nixon tried to corrupt our governmental structures to elect and then protect himself, I didn’t think his dishonesty was especially Republican. But the current “anything we can get away with” method of governing appears to have become standard Republican practice.


Our political system is not perfect. Changes in its structure are certainly worth discussing, such as doing something about the Electoral College. But structural changes should come out of debates about principles of good governance.


For all my life, conservatives have argued for local control, for example when they wanted to preserve segregated schools, as opposed to “big government”. Republicans constantly quote Thomas Jefferson: “Government closest to the people governs best.” Reagan did it in 1967. The Oklahoma Republican Party has those words on its website. Chapters of College Republicans use it as part of a “Republican Oath”. But when local government does something that Republicans don’t like, they forbid it.


Such principles appear to be merely window-dressing, designed to distract us from Republican partisan efforts to invalidate legitimate election results which favored Democrats. Republicans are twisting our Constitution to create the “permanent majority” that they can’t win at the ballot box.


What will Republicans do next? And will enough Americans care as our institutions are subverted from within?


Steve Hochstadt

Springbrook WI

Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, July 18, 2017

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
Conversations About Health Care Everybody’s talking about health care. But it’s not because of the incompetent ideological circus playing in Congress. That offers a fascinating look into the Republican soul, but few of my conversations about health care mention politics. Talk about health care is mostly about the health of my family, my friends, and my friends’ families, and the care they need.


As a healthy youngster, my input to health care discussions at home was usually, “I’m fine.” I probably said that to my mother while I was soaking in a tub full of hot water after playing touch football. She didn’t believe me, so I got on the operating table soon enough to stop the bleeding from my ruptured spleen.


In college, I remember a lot of conversations about whether we should do something that was obviously bad for our health. I leaned toward caution, not popular then, but looking better in retrospect.


Then my parents and my friends’ parents got old. Then we got old. Now most conversations with friends and family begin right after “hello” with talk about health care. “How are you?” is not a meaningless greeting, it’s an earnest question.


There’s no cure for old age, and I don’t care. I do care about how many people close to me are dealing with forgetfulness, blood tests, pain, and walkers; with health problems of mothers and fathers and ourselves; with nurses, doctors, hospitals, and insurance companies.


Longer-lived women are taking care of men who are sinking, along with many but fewer cases the other way around. Baby boomers like me turn into caregivers, managing doctors’ visits and prescription drugs, making nursing homes a second home.


Times have changed, too. The earnest TV commercials for cough medicine, and aspirin and “Preparation H” have turned into ubiquitous ads for medicines that might make you sick or kill you; for lawyers who will sue your doctor; for hospitals that will treat you, and insurance companies that might pay them.


It’s hard not to think constantly about health. Those thoughts can be difficult, sad, perplexing, and inconclusive. Joys are recovery from illness, the kindness of health care professionals, health scares that are false alarms. The sad stuff can last a long time, changing into something different but permanent at the end.


And we talk about money. It costs money to live and maybe more to die. Whose money will pay for the health care of people I love? That’s not the first thing we talk about. It’s not the most important thing most of the time. But it’s one of the most perplexing.


When I get a bill from a doctor, I have no idea who is going to pay what. Will Medicare pick up the tab? Will my insurance company pitch in and for how much? What will I pay at the end? How much of my deductible have I used up?


Should I get long-term care insurance? Or should I have gotten it 10 years ago? Should I save money on insurance premiums by taking a high deductible? Or is that a risky bet?


Nobody can take away such worries. Ignorance doesn’t help, either from those who shouted “Keep your government hands off my Medicare,” or from our President, who says he doesn’t care what happens to the rest of us, now that he didn’t get his way.


I believe that we have a right to get help with our health care from our government. We all need that help, every day, to prevent con artists from lying to us about miracle cures, to prevent the pharmaceutical industry from selling untested drugs, to prevent insurance companies from kicking the sickest off their rolls, to sponsor research which can save lives.


Our government got into the health care business to save lives, and it has been doing that, more or less successfully, for nearly two centuries. In my home town, Jacksonville, the state of Illinois long ago created institutions to care for people with health problems: a school for the deaf in 1839, a school for the blind in 1849, a hospital for the mentally ill in 1851.


Progressives around Teddy Roosevelt advocated for universal health coverage before World War I, at the same time that our government began to try to prevent disease by inspecting meat packing plants, and prohibiting adulterated drugs and false therapeutic claims.


The creators of our nation believed that “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” were the most important universal rights to be protected by government. It’s not clear what led Thomas Jefferson to elevate the pursuit of happiness to an inalienable right. If that phrase means anything, it must include government participation in our efforts to stay healthy. How can anyone be happy who can’t pay for health care they need?


There’s no such thing as a right to good health. But as Americans, we have a right to get collective help, if we need it, to stay healthy. That means government protection from poisons in our food, air, and water (see Flint, Michigan), from false claims by drug producers, and from medical malpractice. In today’s world, it must also mean assistance in paying for medical treatment for those without resources.


So says the Declaration of Independence.


Steve Hochstadt

Springbrook, WI

Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, July 25, 2017

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
I Am An Antifa An unfamiliar word is suddenly appearing in our public conversations – antifa, short for anti-fascist. It’s not a new word – opposition to fascism is as old as fascism itself. And so is the discomfort that the American political establishment feels about people who strongly oppose fascism.


The white supremacy movement that showed itself openly in Charlottesville criticizes anti-fascists for, of all things, violence, always trying to distract attention from their own violence. Now the mainstream is helping to make antifa a cursed label. The “Atlantic” equates antifa with “the violent left” alongside a photo of a burning fire extinguisher, and CNN congratulates itself on “unmasking the leftist Antifa movement”.


The real history of fascism and anti-fascism takes a beating. Fascism as political idea originated in Italy in the early 20th century, and hundreds of fascist movements sprang up across the world in the 1930s. German National Socialism became the most powerful, but fascists also took control in Spain under Franco and in Portugal under Salazar. As Nazi Germany occupied most of Europe after 1939, fascist movements in Hungary, the Netherlands, Norway, and Albania exercised power under German domination. Excited fascists created parties in the oldest democracies in Great Britain and the US.


Fascism is much more than white supremacy, antisemitism, waving swastikas and giving the Hitler salute. It is a theory of society and government that disdains democracy for dictatorship, crushes labor unions in favor of corporate capitalism under full government control of the economy, espouses militant nationalism and male power.


Although the abhorrent qualities of fascism were abundantly clear in the ideas and actions of Mussolini and Hitler in the 1920s, opposing fascism made one suspect in America. Leaders of the American Legion, the Daughters of the American Revolution, and the resurgent KKK, and national leaders like Henry Ford and Charles Lindbergh attacked Jews and sympathized with Nazi ideas.


When Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy attacked democratic Spain in 1936, the US and Great Britain remained neutral. Many Americans did not – thousands, mainly from the left, took up the banner of anti-fascism and volunteered to defend the Spanish Republic. They were then tormented by the American establishment in the anti-communist rage of the 1950s. It was impossible to hate “red” too much, but hating American manifestations of brown racist violence was suspect.


Today there are very few real fascists in the US. Our home-grown far-right fringe movements combine white supremacy with extreme individualism against government control, wild interpretations of America’s founding documents, but not one-man rule.


Unlike the proud fascists of the 1930s, right-wing ideologues today use “fascism” as a pejorative to attack liberals, fantasizing links between Nazis and Americans. When Sean Hannity characterizes the mainstream media as “fascist”, it is clear that the word has lost any clear meaning.


When American racism was confronted in the 1960s, American historians, some of whom went into the streets, too, began to challenge the sanitized version of our bloody and brutal history of white suprematacy that had become official history, universally taught to American schoolchildren, like me. They wrote a better history in the last 50 years, closer to what Americans experienced, freer of partisan politics, more attentive to the lives of average Americans. At the same time, conservatives promoted even more public veneration of Confederate leaders and their slave state, a second wave of Confederate monument building.


This better history corrects the image of American protesters that was so convenient for the conservative establishment. Instead of glorifying the KKK as true, if extreme, Americans, while striking workers, pacifists, and opponents of racism were dangerous law-breakers with foreign beliefs, the responsibility for violence in the service of anti-American ideas is laid where it belongs.


But it took Dylann Roof’s demonstration about the connection among Confederacy, racism, and murder to end the run of Hollywood’s and the FBI’s and conservatives’ Passion Play about the Lost Cause and bring this new history into public discussion. In just two years, universities, cities, organizations, corporations, legislatures, and political leaders have taken big steps toward facing their own histories.


There are 700 monuments and statues to the Confederacy, 100 schools, countless license plates, many military bases, county and city names. North Carolina has built 35 new ones since 2000.


The beginning of real change has brought out the howls of the far right, echoed too often in the mainstream. Some antifas are looking for violence. So are some Republican politicians, like Montana’s Greg Gianforte. But neither Republicans as a whole nor antifas in general promote or participate in violence.


The antifas merely let their principles direct their bodies, stopping normal life to oppose our home-grown version of right-wing extremism, saying as loud as they can that the Lost Cause and the KKK and the defense of slavery were un-American.


It was dangerous when my father and father-in-law and their whole generation went off to fight fascism on opposite sides of the globe. It was dangerous when young Americans volunteered to fight Jim Crow in the South in the 1960s. The defenders of American fascism and their fellow travelers want to make that dangerous now.


But I am proud to stand with the antifas. How about you?


Steve Hochstadt

Springbrook WI

Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, August 22, 2017

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
The Character Test Is Dead In 2016, Donald Trump confounded every informed opinion about his campaign’s chances for success. The same question kept returning: why didn’t this particular outrageous display of personal character sink his ship? Trump was confident that his personal morality would make little difference: “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.” That was in January 2016.


A report on new poll results says “only 73% of Republicans” approve his performance. Why “only”? The great majority approve of what he has done, and presumably are looking forward to more of the same.


This keeps surprising the media. In February, CNN tried to explain what puzzled them: “Why Trump’s supporters still love him.” In April, the Huffington Post asked, “At 100 Days, Why Do Most Of Trump’s Voters Still Love Him?” Now it’s August and little has changed. Trump bet that character doesn’t matter, and he keeps winning.


A sea change has swept over the public consciousness of our country since the 1950s. In the America that Trump’s supporters believe was great, character mattered. You might be a jerk in business, in academia, in politics and get ahead. You might be a jerk in town, and still get elected to important local positions. You might be jerk at home and abuse your family, but still parade as a family man.


But being a jerk didn’t help. Those who got caught cooking the books or cheating their customers or beating weaker people up could lose everything. Failing the character test in a public way meant disaster.


Passing the character test depended a lot on what the media were willing to make public. Dwight Eisenhower’s affair with Kay Summersby and JFK’s liaisons with many women were known, but treated gingerly by the press. Searching for the personal scandals of powerful men was considered sleazy.


Nixon’s enormous character failure, and the long-running national scandal that dominated the media in 1972-1974, changed the character test. Journalists and publishers grew more attuned to the use of character flaws as news. But adultery was not yet enough to sink an important politician. Arkansas Congressman Wilbur Mills was caught with a stripper, Fanne Fox, in 1974, but was reelected the next month. As the media embraced a new sexual ethic of visual exploitation in the 1970s and 1980s, it also embraced the virtues of sensationalized print. Gary Hart’s extramarital affair while he was running for President in 1988 showed that adultery had become a major element in the character test.


Other questions on the character test assumed conservative ideology was moral character. That has long been true. In the postwar decades, made-up accusations of “Communism” were sufficient to attribute severe moral failings to crusaders for labor and civil rights. 1950s gender rules were clearly represented in the character test: gay was sick, dominance was manly, ambition was unwomanly. Blackness was itself considered as a moral failing. The character test often functioned to weed out liberals by turning emotion into a flaw. Ed Muskie failed the character test in 1972 by tearing up in a New Hampshire snowstorm as he defended his wife against scurrilous lies planted by the Nixon White House.


These politicized claims about character have lost their persuasiveness. People, a lot of whom suffered personally from these ideas about character, have changed the test by challenging its premises. Race may always be a failing of our union, but the certainty that black skin is a character flaw is gone. Homosexuality no longer needs to be hidden from view for political success.


I have no statistics, but I believe that Republicans have adopted better to a media hungry for sensationalized scandal and contributed much to its triumph. Republicans tried during Bill Clinton’s entire presidency to make his sex life the key test of character. They impeached him for lying, an almost amusing idea in the Trump era. The character assassination of John Kerry in 2004 became the birther controversy for Obama.


That brings us back to Trump, who demonstrates that the character test is dead. His abuse of women, his cheating of people he hired, his personal nastiness, his lying and bragging, seem to have contributed to rather than hurt his appeal. Trump fails every test of character, but it makes no difference.


Even as personal behavior has become important in the careers of NFL players and TV personalities, it seems to have lost its relevance in politics. The careers of Adrian Peterson and Ray Rice were damaged by evidence of domestic violence, but Mark Sanford could have an affair, lie about it, use public funds to finance his adultery, and then get elected to Congress.


In fact, the character test may have been turned on its head. Trump appeals to a surprisingly large segment of Americans who like nastiness, who applaud insults, who cheer bloodshed, and who hate liberals and liberal ideas. When he grabs women and laughs about it, when he tells lies about good people, when he calls journalists “sick”, when he mocks the handicapped, and when he winks at white supremacists, his supporters are happy. Criticize what look like his character flaws and you’ll get nowhere with them.


But do it anyway. The character test is dead only if we let it die.


Steve Hochstadt

Springbrook WI

Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, August 29, 2017

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
Payng for Big Storms Paying for Big Storms


Hurricane Katrina cost our country, our people, over $100 billion. Hurricane Sandy cost $75 billion. Hurricane Harvey will also be in that range, and may become the most expensive storm in American history. Each one of those storms cost the US more than any storm before.


Between 1980 and 2012 there were 5 storms a year that did $1 billion in damage in the US. From 2013 to 2016, the average was a bit more than 10. Through 8 months this year, there have already been 10. Ten of the 11 costliest Atlantic hurricanes have occurred since 2004. Smaller storms are also becoming much more frequent. Compared to the average for 1900-1960, there were 20% more “heavy precipitation events” in the 1980s, 35% more in the 1990s, and 40% more in the 2000s.


Lives, livelihoods, possessions and homes have been lost. One million housing units were damaged or destroyed by Katrina, 650,000 by Sandy, and at least 100,000 by Harvey. Harvey destroyed about a half a million cars. Most of these losses are not covered by insurance. Standard homeowners policies do not cover damage from rain or flood waters.


You don’t have to be listening very carefully or paying much attention to know that something is changing. Climate scientists have been saying for years that warming will probably mean more and bigger storms. The “probably” is important: they are not as sure as about the fact of warming itself, but the evidence points strongly in that direction. In the case of Harvey, warming has raised sea levels (meaning higher storm surges) and raised air temperature (meaning more water in the air and more rain).


Harvey washed away whole neighborhoods. It is also pushing aside the curtain on the politics of storms. As the costs of big storms have risen sharply, Republicans have been trying to cut federal funds for disaster relief. After Katrina and Sandy, Republicans in Congress were reluctant to send aid to New Orleans and New York. In both cases, they insisted that any new funds for relief be offset by cuts in programs they don’t like, such as Amtrak funding and Medicare. Texas Senators and Representatives opposed legislation to provide relief after Hurricane Sandy, as did current White House budget director Mick Mulvaney, then a Representative from South Carolina, and Paul Ryan, delaying relief funding for months.


Republican leaders in the House have now proposed a budget that cuts FEMA disaster funds by $876 million. This amount is instead intended to begin building Trump’s wall. Trump’s own budget blueprint calls for cuts of $667 million, mostly from the Pre-Disaster Mitigation Grant Program, which spends money now to reduce future expenditures. His budget eliminates the National Flood Insurance Program, which provides affordable flood insurance that private insurers won’t offer.


Trump’s proposed budget makes big cuts to research about the climate changes which are connected to these increasingly big and expensive storms. Budget director Mulvaney said, “We’re not spending money on that any more. We consider that to be a waste of your money.”


In their broad attack on all kinds of “regulations”, the Trump administration just eliminated an Obama-era regulation that required federally funded housing rebuilt after disasters to be able to withstand these critical flood events. For an additional 1% in building costs, many times that would be saved in the future.


At the state level, Republican ideology also makes disaster recovery more difficult for the most vulnerable Americans. A new law passed by Texas Republicans makes it easier for insurance companies to avoid paying off on their policies and harder for homeowners to get paid.


Those are the facts. Not fake: everything above can be found in hundreds of places. Not really news: mostly old stories or back page reports.


Only an ideologically immovable force like the current Republican Party could ignore the mounting crises caused by our changing weather systems. In their rigid insistence that big government is America’s biggest problem, Republicans consistently ignore the human costs of the crises, where only big government can provide solutions. In their refusal to acknowledge the basic facts of climate change, Republicans in Congress and the White House put Americans at risk of losing everything.


Right now, Republicans like Senator Ted Cruz, who didn’t want to pay for the damage done by Sandy, are rushing to promise money for Texans. Let’s see whether they also acknowledge that increasing weather crises are the greatest danger to American life.


Steve Hochstadt

Springbrook WI

Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, September 5, 2017

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
The Health of the Senate The Senate is about to vote on legislation affecting the health and welfare of millions of American families. Even the disastrous hurricanes, which changed the lives of so many people, won’t have the broad impact of the vote to replace the Affordable Care Act with the latest version of Republican health care thinking.


The outcome is uncertain. This new law could stand or fall by one vote. It’s a Republican-only bill, designed without public hearings or Democratic input, and they can spare at most 2 “no” votes. So all the attention is on the possible “no” Senators. What is swaying them one way or the other?


There’s no reason to mention their names. They have gotten enough attention to their political and moral agonies. What about the 50 or 49 other Republican Senators who are all in?


Barely anyone in America likes this legislation outside of Republican politicians. For most of its life, a majority of Americans have expressed opposition to “Obamacare”. Its approval rating has been below 40% since 2011, the year after it passed. But in March, approval reached 49%, finally beating out disapproval. At that time, a majority of Republican respondents approved of its major provisions and favored spending more money on health care.


In June, many polls showed that Americans rejected the “replace and repeal” version passed by the House, called the American Health Care Act (ACHA), by a more than 2-1 margin. Only about one third of Republican voters approved.


Another detailed survey, which informed respondents about current and proposed laws, found that one quarter of Republican adults found the Republican health care bill “unacceptable”. Combined with overwhelming Democratic and Independent rejection of the legislation, a majority of voters even in the most Republican districts said “unacceptable”.


In July, another poll found that people preferred Obamacare to the Republican alternative 2 to 1. Nearly three times as many people preferred that our government “provide coverage for low-income Americans” rather than “cut taxes”.


More directly personal, a poll found that more than half of Arizona voters were less likely to vote for Republican Sen. Jeff Flake because of his support for various Republican plans. A majority approved of the opposition to Republican health care by the other Senator from Arizona, John McCain.


The only poll thus far about public reaction to the latest version, the Graham-Cassidy health care bill, shows less than a quarter of Americans like it. Another way of putting that is that ordinary voters reject it by 2 - 1, with another quarter still unsure. Big majorities understood exactly what Graham-Cassidy would do: costs for most people would rise; fewer people would be covered; protections for people with pre-existing conditions would be scaled back. By 3 - 1, people wanted Congress at least to wait for a detailed analysis by the Congressional Budget Office. By an amazing 5 - 1 margin, Americans agreed to two principles: “no one should be denied lifesaving healthcare coverage for themselves or their families because they can't afford to pay,” and “changes to the health care law should be bipartisan and should include hearings that take into account the views of experts, patients, and providers like doctors.” Even most Trump voters agreed with those ideas.


The unanimous voices of the people who take care of our health have consistently rejected the Republican bills. In March, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Nurses Association and the American Medical Association scorned the AHCA. In June, the AMA, the American Hospital Association, the Association of American Medical Colleges, and the Federation of American Hospitals opposed the Senate bill that later died. Now all major organizations of doctors,the whole health insurance industry, plus organizations of hospitals, the Catholic Health Association, the AARP, and dozens of other organizations oppose Graham-Cassidy.


The health care numbers can be confusing, especially when each side chooses the numbers they talk about. So let’s get specific about my demographic, old people. The CBO explained in May how the AHCA would affect people over 64 who earn $26,500 a year in 2026. That’s the median income of seniors. Instead of paying $1700 a year in insurance premiums under current law, premiums would rise to over $13,500, more than half their income. For a person with an income of $68,000, the numbers are very different: premiums fall from $5100 to under $2000 for a 21-year-old; from $6500 to under $3000 for a 40-year old; and remain about the same for a 64-year-old. Unless you are well off, you would be deeply hurt.


Why don’t most Republicans in Congress worry about voting for such an unpopular policy? It’s not voters who matter, but donors. Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado told his Republican colleagues, “Donors are furious. We haven’t kept our promise.” Big Republican donors are angry that the Republican majorities have accomplished little. Republican politicians are worried about money they could raise for the 2018 elections, not about depriving millions of their health care. Their donors want to slash Medicaid, so that’s what they’ll vote for. Republican senators apparently don’t even know in detail what their bill contains.


The devil is in the details. Will the billionaires win, while the rest of us lose?


Steve Hochstadt

Springbrook WI

Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, September 26, 2017

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
Election 2017: Repudiation of Republicans Several million Americans voted last Tuesday in the first nationwide election since Donald Trump became President. In the 4-year cycle, this year has the fewest significant election results: two governorships (36 next year) and three state legislative chambers (87 next year) were decided. The media repeated constantly the idea that this was a referendum on Trump’s performance, which is true, but only part of the story. Every race concerned local issues and local personalities, yet we can learn much about our national mood from these statewide and local elections.


Most results are easily predictable from previous elections, because fundamental voting patterns remain dominant. The only Congressional election, replacing Utah Republican Jason Chaffetz who had resigned to become a FOX commentator, was won by another Republican with 58% of the vote. In New York, Democrat Bill de Blasio won overwhelming reelection as mayor, but lost Staten Island, typically a Republican stronghold, to his Republican challenger. In elections for NY City Council, 41 of 42 incumbents won and the last incumbent was in a race too close to call. All seven NY big city mayors won re-election, including the Republican mayor of Binghamton.


Only 2 incumbents lost in the 40-seat New Jersey Senate. Democrats picked up one seat in the Senate and one in the NJ House.


Exit polls in Virginia show how demographic differences in voter preference stayed relatively stable. Just as in the Clinton-Trump contest, voters over 45, men, and whites were more Republican, and women, under 45, and voters of color were more Democratic. The western mountainous regions went Republican and the Washington DC suburbs went Democratic.


But small shifts within these groups had major consequences for the outcome. Democrats slightly increased their percentage of votes in all demographic groups over previous years. For example, Trump won 52% among men and 59% of whites, but the Republican candidate for Governor, Ed Gillespie, won 50% and 57%. Clinton won 56% of women’s votes, but the Democrat Ralph Northam won 61%. The biggest shifts toward Democrats were among young voters 18-29 and middle-class voters with incomes of $50-100,000. The movement toward Democrats repositioned the Virginia House of Delegates, where Republicans held a huge 66-34 seat majority and all 100 seats were in play. Democrats defeated 10 Republican incumbents and picked up at least 15 seats, with 3 Republican seats still too close to call. Control of the Virginia legislature remains in doubt.


The deciding factor in this major legislative shift in Virginia may have been turnout. In the 15 districts that Democrats picked up, turnout increased by 26%.


A different sort of small shift occurred in Washington state, where only 5 state Senate seats were up for election. Two Democratic and two Republican incumbents won huge victories in safe districts, but one open seat in a formerly Republican district was won by a Democrat, switching control of the Senate from a one-vote Republican majority to a one-vote Democratic majority. Three other state legislative seats were flipped, all from Republicans to Democrats, in New Hampshire and Georgia.


Dissatisfaction with Trump and Republican politics since his election is certainly one reason for Democratic gains through higher turnout in these local elections. Another change that exhibited renewed liberal energy was the success of new candidates from previously under-represented groups. Trump’s sexism brought out an army of female candidates who won historic victories. In Newton, MA, and Manchester, NH, the first women were elected mayors. Seattle elected its first woman mayor since the 1920s, and the number of female mayors in larger Washington cities rose from 11 to 27. Women increased their numbers on city councils in Massachusetts to nearly half in Boston and Newton, and doubled their numbers in Cambridge, including the first Muslim woman. In Atlantic City, NJ, 32-year-old Ashley Bennett, who had never held public office, defeated 58-year-old John L. Carman, well-known in local politics for 20 years, for county commissioner.


Non-whites won election firsts: the first black female mayor in Charlotte, NC, and a majority of people of color on the Seattle city council. At least 7 cities elected their first black mayor, including Wilmot Collins, a refugee from Liberia, who was elected mayor of Helena, Montana. Elizabeth Guzman, an immigrant from Peru, trounced a retired Army colonel who has served in the Virginia legislature for 15 years in a traditionally Republican-leaning DC suburb.


Openly transgender candidates won unprecedented victories: first to win election to a state legislature – Danica Roem in Virginia; first to win election to city council seat in a major city – Andrea Jenkins in Minneapolis; first to win any election in Pennsylvania – Tyler Titus in Erie school board.


The Washington Post wondered whether “the Trump era will one day be remembered as the last gasp of white male privilege.” That will only happen if Trump continues his descent into national disapproval and the energy of liberal voters can be sustained through more election cycles.


Steve Hochstadt

Boston MA

Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, November 14, 2017

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
This Tax Cut Is Not For You The news is all about tax cuts. For corporations, the news is good – both the Senate and House plans cut corporate taxes by nearly half. For real people, not such good news, unless you are rich. These plans are complicated and subject to change, but one thing is clear. This is not a middle-class tax cut.


It’s not a tax cut for teachers, whose $250 deduction for classroom supplies is eliminated.


It’s not a tax cut for middle-class and working-class families who work for colleges and universities, because the House bill classifies their children’s free tuition as income. They would get a tax increase of thousands of dollars on tuition costs of $10,000 to $40,000 a year.


It’s not a tax cut for middle-class families in states with high taxes, like New York, New Jersey and Illinois. The Senate bill eliminates deductions for property taxes and state income taxes; the House bill allows a deduction for up to $10,000 in property taxes. About 30% of all taxpayers claim these deductions, including half of middle-class taxpayers who make $50 - $100,000 a year.


It’s not a tax cut for families with high medical expenses. People who have to spend more than 10% of their income on health care could no longer deduct that amount, according to the House bill. About 9 million people, with average income of $55,000, take that deduction every year. People in nursing homes and families with disabled children often need that deduction to make ends meet.


This is not a middle-class tax cut. It will only lower some middle-class families’ taxes for a few years. But Republican leaders won’t say that. Two weeks ago, House Speaker Paul Ryan said: “according to the Joint Committee on Taxation – which is the official scorekeeper of these things – every single person, every rate payer, every bracket person gets a rate cut.” But he was doubly lying. First, while every category of taxpayers would see an average reduction of taxes, not everybody in each category gets a cut. If the House version becomes law, 10% of taxpayers in the middle income range would pay $1000 more in taxes next year and every year.


Second, the cuts for the middle class don’t last long. Senate Republicans made the tax cuts for individuals temporary, expiring in 2025, while the tax cut for corporations is permanent. Whatever benefit middle-class families gain disappears in a few years. That is clear from an exhaustive analysis by Ryan’s own scorekeeper, the Joint Committee on Taxation. By 2025, the Senate bill would increase taxes for Americans whose income is under $50,000 and collect about the same from those with incomes between $50,000 and $500,000. Only those making over $500,000 a year will still see a tax cut by then.


President Trump has broken the promises about taxes made by Candidate Trump. Candidate Trump said, “the hedge fund guys, they’re going to be paying up,” meaning they would no longer get a special low rate for their income. He repeated this many times, saying they are “getting away with murder.” Both the Senate and House bills leave that tax break intact. The most important promise Trump made was that the tax cut was for the middle class. Just two months ago, he said his tax plan was “not good for me, believe me” and “there’s very little benefit for people of wealth.” Don’t believe him. This month he urged a cut in the rate for the richest Americans and an end to the estate tax for inheritances over $11 million.


But you can believe that Trump is still trying to kill Obamacare. With his encouragement, Senate Republicans eliminated the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that everyone have health insurance. As we learned during the health care debate, this means insurance premiums will go up for millions of Americans, wiping out any tax cut they might get.


What would a real middle-class tax cut look like? Reduce taxes on Social Security benefits. If you receive other retirement benefits, then you’ll probably pay taxes on some or most of your Social Security income. Only if your total family income is less than $32,000 is your Social Security income free of tax. Millions of middle-class retirees would benefit if that threshold were raised. Pay for that by ending the tax boondoggle for hedge fund managers.


The Republican tax cut is not about economic policy and is certainly not for the middle class. It is political legislation about economic issues: cut corporate taxes to satisfy Republican donors and try again to kill Obamacare. Mainly it is a backwards reduction in the size of government. First create a giant deficit, much larger than the deficit that Republicans have been saying for years would bankrupt the country. Then later start screaming about deficits again and cut government spending to fit reduced revenues by slashing the programs that most Americans need to keep afloat – Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.


Only 25% of Americans approve of the Republican tax bills. The more Republicans know about the details, the less they approve. Trump, Ryan and company are trying to pass this giant bill so fast, that most people won’t realize what is happening to them.


Steve Hochstadt

Jacksonville IL

Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, November 21, 2017]]>
Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
Political Humor, Then and Now From the earliest age, I heard my parents play records by Tom Lehrer, a mathematician who could sing, play the piano, and write devastating verses about current events and ideas. He stopped performing in public in the US after 1960, so few people younger than baby boomers know about him.


He began by writing songs that poked fun at vulnerable elements of culture, such as his first song, composed when he was 17 and an undergraduate at Harvard, which satirized college football fight songs. Those songs were fun to hear and sing along with: “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park” about a program in Boston to control pigeons with strychnine-infused corn kernels; “The Elements” listing all 102 elements known as of 1959; and “Be Prepared”, a salacious version of the Boy Scout creed. Lehrer earned his living as a university professor, and liked to make fun of academics, as in what I think is his greatest song, “Lobachevsky”, about the Russian mathematician Nikolai Ivanovich Lobachevsky, who supposedly taught him the secret of success – plagiarize.


In the early 1960s, Lehrer stopped performing, but continued to write songs that were much more political. His songs were performed by others on the satirical TV program “That Was The Week That Was” between 1963 and 1965. TW3 broke the broadcasting conventions about political neutrality, and paved the way for later political television, such as “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In”, which launched the careers of Goldie Hawn, Lily Tomlin, and other comics.


Lehrer poked fun at serious subjects, such as racism, fascism, pollution and nuclear war. Listening to him skewer racist hypocrites, imagine World War III, and exaggerate the effects of poisons in our air and water certainly contributed to the development of my political views. I wonder if he influenced the burst of anti-establishment protest in the later 1960s among the small segment of record-purchasers and TV viewers who heard his exuberant songs.


It’s comforting to think that listening to some satirical political songs could reduce the polarization in our current politics. But Lehrer himself did not have high hopes for the political effects of his songs. In an interview in 1995, he said about his work, “I don’t think that it would change anybody’s mind. I don’t think humor does that. I think it moves people a little, and softens them up for the hard pitch. By its very nature, as I say, you have to exaggerate, you can’t really make a strong point.” He stopped writing and performing when it was no longer easy to be funny about politics in the mid-1960s. He felt out of touch with the harsher protest politics of the Black Power movement and Vietnam War. He even made fun of political folk songs in “The Folk Song Army”: “If you feel dissatisfaction, Strum your frustrations away. Some people may prefer action, But give me a folk song any old day.”


Some of Lehrer’s subjects are no longer familiar. One of his funniest songs, “Vatican Rag” mocks the Second Vatican Council, the reforms of Catholic practice in the early 1960s: “So get down upon your knees, Fiddle with your rosaries, Bow your head with great respect, And genuflect, genuflect, genuflect!”


Politics today are angrier than in Tom Lehrer’s song-writing heyday, exemplified by our angry President, who seeks conflict wherever he can find it. It is harder to find political humor that doesn’t seem partisan. Johnny Carson has become Stephen Colbert, as each side watches its own form of news and laughs at its own jokes.


The guilty pleasures of Tom Lehrer’s often gross humor seem antiquated in today’s world, where presidential candidates compare the size of their penises and everybody drops F-bombs. His performances in tie and jacket as he plays musical theater piano are quaint. But his intellectual jabs at American culture, political or not, still retain their sharpness.  On the liner notes of a 1997 re-release of some of this songs, Lehrer said of his musical career, “If, after hearing my songs, just one human being is inspired to say something nasty to a friend, or perhaps to strike a loved one, it will all have been worth the while.”


One thing remains the same – the inverted relationship between politics and humor. As Will Rogers once said: “Everything is changing. People are taking their comedians seriously and the politicians as a joke.”



Steve Hochstadt

Jacksonville IL

Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, November 28, 2017

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
Santa’s On His Way Rejoice! Rejoice! Your tax cut is almost here!


All you taxpayers, your standard deduction is going way up! You will be able to deduct thousands more dollars from your income, tax-free! You’ll save big.


Oh, you’re a single filer? Well, you still save, but not big. Although the standard deduction goes up by $5650, the personal exemption of $4050 disappears. That leaves you an extra $1600 sheltered from income tax. If you are an average earner, with an income of about $31,000, you’ll save about $500. A few more cups of coffee every week. But only for a few years, since the individual rate cuts are temporary.


You’re a married couple? Your standard deduction also nearly doubles from $12,700 to $24,000, but you lose two personal exemptions. Say you’re an average household making $51,000 – your savings could be about $700, nothing to sneeze at. Put it away, because the tax cut expires soon.


Your family has children? That’s much more complicated, of course. Now the loss of personal exemptions really hurts. But there’s another wrinkle: the tax credit for each child goes up from $1000 to $1600 in the House bill and to $2000 in the Senate bill. You have two kids and make $75,000? That higher tax credit really helps, bringing your tax bill down more than $1500. Oops, the higher tax credit is also temporary.


Some other goodies in the Republican plan are really sweet. You’ll still only pay a 20% tax on your carried interest earnings, while your neighbors pay up to 39% on their income. You don’t know what carried interest is? Then you probably don’t own a hedge fund, so it’s better not to think about this tax break for the richest Americans.


But congratulations, you don’t have to worry any more about passing on your hard-earned inheritance to your children. The Senate bill doubles the amount to $11 million that you can pass on and the House bill eliminates the estate tax completely. That’s good – but only if you are even richer than most 1%-ers. If not, rejoice for them!


Stop. Let’s get serious. This tax bill is not for you and me, unless we’re among the lucky 1%-ers who are the real beneficiaries of Republican “tax reform”. Just in the final hours before the Senate vote, even more goodies for the very, very wealthy were shoved into the legislation. Although the top rate for income over $500,000 (know anyone like that?) is 39.6%, a few new categories of income will now get a reduced rate of 29.6%: pass-through entities, investments in mortgages held by real estate investment trusts, and certain income from gas and oil operations. That means about $114 billion less revenue. The White House will be rejoicing: much of Trump family income will benefit from these new loopholes.


Have you been hiding billions in off-shore accounts? If so, you can now bring those profits home for less than 15% tax, even lower than the new 20% corporate tax. Good news for those tax cheaters.


But not for you. Those big breaks have to be paid for somehow. Here’s one way: if your employer rewards you a $50 gift card, you’ll have to declare that as income.


There’s not much for us to rejoice about. But wait – if you want smaller government, rejoice, rejoice! Because the new tax bill will cause huge deficits, a law that goes back to the Bush administration mandates automatic cuts in spending in hundreds of government programs. Smaller government, here we come! Isn’t that great?


Unless you want Medicare to pay for some of your health care – the cut is “only” 4%, so just reach more deeply into your pocket for the $25 billion that will be cut. Unless you are a victim of crime – the cut will be $13 billion. Unless you have black lung disease or need Meals on Wheels or care about wildlife restoration, public health, highways, or hundreds of other federal programs, which will all automatically be cut, often to zero, because of this tax bill.


Well, perhaps we just need to postpone our rejoicing. The Republicans say that the best way to help the rest of us is to give billions now to the wealthy and to corporations. They will be so happy that they’ll raise everybody’s wages and create new jobs.


That’s called trickle-down economics. It’s working right now – the economy is booming, big banks are making huge profits, big corporations have trillions of dollars in reserve, and wages are skyrocketing.


Oops, that last part is not true. Average wages have been rising about 2% a year for 7 years, just a bit faster than inflation has eaten those gains up. The rich have been getting a lot richer, corporations have made huge profits, and the middle class has been stuck.


Nothing has been trickling down.


Republicans say this new tax bill will change everything. Trump says about the tax bill, “This is going to cost me a fortune.”


If you believe in Santa Claus, rejoice, rejoice.


What’s next for us? Just take a look at Paul Ryan’s New Year’s resolution – cut Medicare and Social Security.


Steve Hochstadt

Jacksonville IL

Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, December 5, 2017

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
Keeping the Blacks Far Away Steve Hochstadt is a writer, a gardener and a professor of history at Illinois College. 

I grew up in Carle Place, a new suburban town on Long Island, outside of New York City. Young families lived in inexpensive but well-constructed houses in quiet residential neighborhoods with good schools. When I get together with my classmates at reunions, we all agree that our little town offered a wonderful place to grow up.

I never thought about black kids, because I never saw one in my neighborhood or at my schools, right up through high school. I knew black people lived in other towns, and sometimes we faced black kids in athletic contests. I never wondered why they didn’t live near me.

Now I know. I’ve been reading a book titled “The Color Of Law” by Richard Rothstein, who explains how residential segregation happened in America and in my home town.

In response to the government-created Jim Crow discrimination in the South, millions of African Americans moved north in the Great Migration after World War I. At the same time, the nation’s population doubled from 1900 to 1950.

Facing growing population, American cities used zoning laws to direct new construction and to control where people lived. Across the country, zoning was designed to keep black and white apart, to protect white neighborhoods against black people. For example, in St. Louis zoning guided liquor stores, polluting industries, bars, and rooming houses into African American neighborhoods, preserving real estate values in white neighborhoods and creating black slums.

Private business supported segregation. The National Association of Real Estate Brokers adopted a code of ethics in 1924 warning its members that “a realtor should never be instrumental in introducing into a neighborhood members of any race or nationality whose presence would clearly be detrimental to property values.”

In the midst of the Depression, the federal government used its enormous resources to promote home ownership. In 1934, the Federal Housing Administration, part of the New Deal, created affordable mortgages and made loans to encourage home ownership based on color-coded maps of every city, where black neighborhoods were colored red, meaning no help for residents. After World War II, the newly created Veterans Administration offered mortgages to returning servicemen with no down payments and low interest rates, but only for whites.

Collaborating with private developers, banks, and realtors, the federal government helped create the new suburbs which mushroomed around America’s cities. I lived in a suburb built by William Levitt, whose name has become synonymous with suburbanization. His signature project was Levittown, a development with 17,500 mass-produced two-bedroom homes a few miles from where I lived. He repeated this success in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Maryland. Behind him stood the FHA and the VA, which financed Levittown on the condition that it be all white. In 1953, the 70,000 residents of Levittown represented the largest all-white American community.

Carle Place was a microcosm of postwar America. Young white men and women could begin their long climb into affluence, security, and respectability through the American dream of home-ownership. Realtors would guide families into the mushrooming modern neighborhoods. Banks offered more favorable terms than ever before. And everybody depended on governments to allocate local spaces for new construction, advise the new projects, and guarantee the loans that bought the houses.

For white people. Not for black people.

So I grew up with no relationships with black Americans, whom I first met in college during the tumultuous years of the civil rights movement. By that time, for me and my suburban baby-boomer peers, getting to know African Americans was awkward and uncertain. We were all, black and white, deprived of the natural development of friendships across lines of race.

Blacks were deprived of much more than that. As I was growing up, Carle Place and much of Long Island embodied a futuristic landscape of tens of thousands of identical houses in geometric patterns on plowed over, treeless ground. Today shady streets, mature landscaping, and countless home expansions and improvements have transformed the aesthetics. The houses that cost about $10,000 to buy now sell for $400,000 to $700,000. Accounting for inflation, the white families like mine, that bought in the late 1940s and early 1950s, tripled or quadrupled their wealth through home ownership.

Instead, black families were forced to live in urban neighborhoods, where discriminatory zoning rules kept home values down. At least into the 1990s, toxic waste facilities continued to be built in minority neighborhoods. Urban highways were typically built through minority neighborhoods. It is still common in American cities to use zoning laws to place businesses that deal with alcohol, firearms, pornography, and now marijuana into low-income neighborhoods, preventing minorities there from building up equity as fast as in residential white neighborhoods.

The end of slavery in 1865 represented the beginning of other forms of government-enforced discrimination for another century. By helping white families to build up wealth through home ownership and preventing black families from doing the same, federal, state and local governments have contributed to today’s racial disparities in wealth.

As Richard Rothstein wrote, “Government and private industry came together to create a system of residential segregation.” All Americans have suffered from this history of racism.

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
Arcing Toward Equality in 2017 Conservatives might celebrate 2017 as a year of triumph. I’m not sure, because I don’t understand the current American conservative mind. Having a man represent you as President who is a constant liar, an abuser of women, and an incompetent manager of people might outweigh the few conservative pieces of legislation he has signed, even if one is a big tax cut for rich people. But most conservatives rallied around an apparent pedophile in Alabama, so ideology seems to be more important than character on the right wing.


What I do know is that American liberals have been thrown into despair by the new nastiness of American politics, as Republicans have given up the principles they defended for so many years in order to force a few political gains over the objections of the majority of voters. The daily news about Trump’s latest tweet, about the real nature of the tax cut, about the desertion of science in the federal bureaucracy, about the attempts to blind the public to the necessity of an informed media, all make each day’s headlines another affront to liberal values. Even worse, truth seems to have been redefined as a liberal value.


But behind the headlines, our country has been evolving in directions that liberals could find encouraging.


Public disdain for homosexuality and discriminatory behavior against homosexuals have a long history. Opinion surveys show an unchanging and strong majority believing that homosexual sex was “always wrong” until about 1990. Over the past 20 years that disapproval, expressed as opposition to same-sex marriage, has been gradually declining, from about 68% in 1997 to 53% in 2007, until approval finally won out over disapproval in 2012. That trend continued in 2017, as support for gay marriage was expressed by nearly two-thirds of Americans.


There are significant differences among sub-groups, with white evangelical Protestants and older Americans showing the least support. But all groups show increasing acceptance of the right of gay people to fully enjoy their lives, and the jump in 2017 from 27% to 35% among white evangelicals and from 18% to 41% among conservatives (these groups overlap considerably) means that 2018 might continue this trend.


Similarly, public acceptance of transgender Americans is rising, although there have only been surveys over the past few years. Since 2015, the Human Rights Campaign’s surveys show positive feelings about transgender people rising from 44% to 47%. In 2017, the proportion of Americans who said that transgender people should be able to use the bathroom of their choice jumped by 10 percentage points. The Boy Scouts of America both reflected this growing acceptance and pushed it further by announcing in January that transgender boys would be allowed to join. Joe Maldonado, who had been rejected in 2016, became a Boy Scout in February 2017.


The most notable cultural shift of 2017 was the public outrage over male sexual abuse of women, symbolized in December by TIME Magazine making female “silence breakers” the Person of the Year. The public naming and shaming of many egregious abusers was the culmination of the gradual shift in public opinion opened by Anita Hill’s testimony against Clarence Thomas in 1991, and accelerated by the prosecution of Bill Cosby beginning in 2015. 2017 may become known as the year in which sexual harassment became publicly unacceptable.


Discussion of the continuing racism in American society was heated in 2017, but it is harder to discern how much progress was made in the struggle for racial equality. On the positive side, the public glorification of the Confederate defense of slavery, which has been a fundamental feature of the way American history has been told since the late 19th century, may be coming to an end. Controversy over statues was the most conspicuous flashpoint of violence, but the reconsideration of the content of history textbooks and the naming of buildings at prominent universities point to a more lasting shift in the place of our painful racial history in American self-consciousness.


The public protests by black athletes at the beginning of the NFL season caused a significant backlash, as such protests did at the Olympics in 1968 and 1972, and in many less notable moments since then. In most cases, the athletes were severely disciplined, and Colin Kapernick’s 2016 protest was probably the reason for his continued unemployment as a professional football player. But in 2017, the protesters were not punished, perhaps a signal that public protests of racism, while not acceptable to many Americans, are now seen as within everybody’s democratic rights.


All of these long-term transformations in American culture and public opinion were condemned by conservatives, with Donald Trump in the lead. Backlash against the movement toward racial and sexual equality may have helped him win election, but even the power of the presidency has not been sufficient to stop it. 2017 was a difficult year for Americans committed to equality for all, but the long arc of the moral universe still bent toward justice.


May that continue in 2018.


Steve Hochstadt

Boston, MA

Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, January 2, 2017

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
The Biggest Personality of the Year On December 31, the first page of the Berlin newspaper “Tagesspiegel” (Daily Mirror) was covered with drawings of the political personalities of 2017. Most of them were German, but the biggest face in the middle of the page represented Donald Trump. Trump believes he ought to be the center of all attention. He was angry that he was not selected as TIME Magazine’s Person of the Year, and said so.


But he won’t be happy about his big picture: he had a duck bill, transformed into the cartoon buffoon Donald Duck, the only face that was so distorted. Inside, the review of the political year said that he twittered “nonsense” and has no scruples. In October, more than half of Germans surveyed said relations with the US were bad or very bad. The public thinks Trump is a bigger foreign policy problem than the dictators in North Korea and Russia.


No wonder, since Trump insulted the whole country, one of our closest allies in Europe. At a European Union summit in Brussels in May, he said, “The Germans are bad, very bad. Look at the millions of autos that they sell in the USA. Horrible. We’re gonna stop that.”


German auto makers don’t sell “millions” in the US, but they make hundreds of thousands of cars and employ thousands of workers here. The US can’t just “stop” importing German cars, it’s the whole European Union or nothing. German Chancellor Angela Merkel had already explained this to Trump 11 times during their meeting last March, but it had no effect.


Trump has rejected long-standing foreign policy agreements that are important to Germans, such as the Paris climate agreement and the nuclear deal with Iran. After meeting with Trump in May, Merkel felt the need to make the extraordinary statement that Europe must “really take our fate into our own hands. . . . The times in which we could rely fully on others, they are somewhat over. This is what I experienced in the last few days.” The German foreign minister said last month that “relations with the US will never be the same.”


Trump has also severely damaged the bond with our other most important ally, England. After he re-tweeted anti-Muslim videos from a far right British group, and then rebuked Prime Minister Theresa May, British leaders from all parties were outraged. Members of Parliament called him “stupid”, “racist” and “a fascist”. Parliament debated not allowing him to address them in a future visit, the second time that Parliament talked about whether to deny this American President a state visit. The Speaker of the House of Commons said that Trump would not be welcome to speak in Parliament. Half of Britons surveyed want Trump to be disinvited. The videos have nothing to do with immigration to Britain or the US.


Trump began damaging our relationship with Mexico at the start of his candidacy in 2015, by speaking in demeaning terms about all Mexicans in the US and demanding that Mexico pay for his gigantic Wall. Six days after Trump was inaugurated, Mexican President Peña Nieto canceled a trip to Washington, because of Trump’s insistence about the Wall. In a subsequent phone call, Trump threatened to impose tariffs on Mexican goods and demanded that Nieto stop saying that Mexico would not pay for the Wall: “if you are going to say that Mexico is not going to pay for the Wall, then I do not want to meet with you guys anymore, because I cannot live with that.”


Peña Nieto’s attempts to continue cordial relations with the US government sent his approval ratings down under 15%. A poll in July found that 88% of Mexicans viewed Trump unfavorably. With no evidence that Mexico will make any contribution toward the wall, Trump said again on Saturday that Mexico will pay for the Wall, but he asked Congress to appropriate $18 billion for it.


A new Mexican President will be elected in July, and Mexican officials have told Washington that Trump’s behavior might help whoever is the most anti-American candidate win. Duncan Wood, the director of the Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute, part of the Smithsonian Institute, said, “Having worked in international relations for twenty years, I never thought we’d get to the point where one person could come along and blow everything up. But here we are.”


Trump is blowing up our relationships with all our most important foreign friends. He is not the biggest peacemaker, as we have long hoped our Presidents could be. He is not the biggest promoter of democracy, which we have long claimed is our national interest. He is not the best advertisement for America, not the face we wish to show the world. His work is a world-wide disaster.


He just gets the most attention, which he demands and will do anything to keep. Too bad he only succeeds at being the biggest personality, not the best President.


Steve Hochstadt

Jacksonville, IL

Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, January 9, 2018

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
Dangerous Words in the White House It doesn’t bother me that Trump said the word “shithole”. I don’t know if my newspaper will print that word or sanitize it. Many media corporations are shifting their normal rules about what they say or print, because the President’s vulgar words are newsworthy.


“Dirty words”, like the ones George Carlin spelled out in 1972, have one by one been moving inexorably into the popular culture. I’m still always surprised to hear the word “sucks” on TV.


I was even more surprised to see one of the contestants on a prime-time quiz show on German TV, a man named H. P. Baxter, wearing a white T-shirt with big black letters spelling out “Who the FUCK is H.P. Baxxter?” playing on the name of a German musician. Nobody on air seemed to care.


I’ve never liked self-appointed language police. I believe we should all be able to choose our own words to fully express our meanings.


The meaning is what matters. Outraged focus on word choice can obscure the greater significance of meaning. That is happening with Trump’s “salty language”.


What bothers me is Trump’s meaning, when he said he wanted more immigrants from Norway and fewer from Africa. Any white is better than any black immigrant. It is difficult to find a clearer expression of white supremacy than Trump’s words to a gathering of Senators in the Oval Office.


I know some immigrants from Nigeria, Ghana and other black African nations, students I taught at Illinois College and their families. The students were sophisticated, multilingual, well educated and high achievers. They were a delight to have in the classroom. Some have stayed in the US in jobs or graduate school. None of them had lived in “huts”, as Trump characterized Nigerians in a June meeting.


Certainly Trump is not the first racist in the White House. White supremacy was an American principle at the founding and throughout the 19th century. Even Lincoln, the only President that Trump will grant to have been more presidential than himself, did not believe in the full equality of the races. He said in his debates with Stephen Douglas, “I am not, nor have ever been in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races.”


During the 20th century, presidential thinking and action have pushed away from racist policy and language, sometimes leading, sometimes following American society’s increasing rejection of white supremacy. The election of Barack Obama could have been a sign that our national government would never again express white supremacist ideology in practice or speech.


But Donald Trump never accepted Obama’s election as legitimate. He led the most public fight to declare Obama an African and unworthy to be President. Racism in the guise of birtherism was Trump’s main political focus as he prepared his presidential campaign. He has never given up this idea.


Maybe Trump’s word choice is too crude for public and official presidential business. There might be two sides to that question. There shouldn’t be any question about advocating white supremacy in the White House.


Every elected representative of the American people, sworn to uphold the Constitution, should reject both Trump’s words and meanings. Of course, Trump denied using the words everybody heard him use. The most conservative Republicans at the Oval Office meeting pretended not to have heard them. Senators Tom Cotton (AR) and David Perdue (GA) said, “We do not recall the president saying these comments specifically.” No other Republicans who were there admitted publicly that Trump said those words, although Sen. Lindsay Graham told a fellow Senator about them.


Pretending that there is nothing to talk about appeases white supremacy at the highest level of government. Supporting such racist talk is a step in the direction of promoting racist policy.


Let’s not move backwards on racial equality, equal justice for all, support for diversity, and welcoming new Americans from all over the world. And let’s get that racist out of the White House.


Steve Hochstadt

Berlin, Germany

Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, January 16, 2018

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
The Greatest Show on Earth I didn’t expect much more than a bit of diversion from the new film about P.T. Barnum, “The Greatest Showman”. A musical biopic from Hollywood is rarely a source of thoughtful history or powerful emotion. But “Greatest Showman” delivered something unexpected: a morality tale appropriate to 21st-century America.


Phineas Taylor Barnum’s real life was far more interesting than any movie could portray. He dropped out of school at 15, ran a grocery store at 17, started a weekly newspaper in Danbury, Connecticut, at age 19, and sold lottery tickets. As an adult, besides his famous freak shows and traveling circus, he campaigned against slavery, was elected to the Connecticut legislature after the Civil War, and served as the mayor of Bridgeport.


Barnum’s passion was entertainment. He got rich by exploiting the public desire for sensation, often duping his audiences with fraudulently advertised human and animal curiosities. He displayed the “Feejee mermaid” in his American Museum in New York, the torso and head of a monkey sewn on to the body of a fish. He bought Joice Heth, a slave woman in her 70’s who was blind and paralyzed, and exhibited her as “The Greatest Natural and National Curiosity in the World,” the 161-year-old nursemaid to George Washington. She died 7 months later, and Barnum set up a public autopsy before 1500 spectators to prove her age, then rejected the results.


Barnum’s most famous attraction, whom he called General Tom Thumb, was the dwarf Charles Sherwood Stratton, a distant relative, whom Barnum began displaying at age 5. Stratton was a talented performer, whose performances went beyond the usual display of “human curiosities” to be compared by theater critics with other professional singers and dancers. Barnum and Stratton toured Europe, were presented to Queen Victoria, and thrilled audiences across the US. Stratton became wealthy and bailed Barnum out when he went bankrupt in 1856. He married another little person, Mercy Lavinia Warren Bump, in a highly publicized wedding in 1863, and the couple was received by President Lincoln at the White House.


Barnum sought ever more sensational acts. Although the couple did not produce any children, Barnum acquired a succession of babies wherever they performed. His autobiography, “The Life of P.T. Barnum”, was sub-titled “Golden Rules for Money-Making”.


Presenting complex historical characters is not Hollywood’s strength. Barnum’s contradictory qualities as showman, hoaxer, anti-slavery activist and politician are too much to fit into a big budget spectacle, much less a family-oriented musical.


Film critics did not like “Showman”.  In England, the “Telegraph” called it “insane” and “miserable”. Canada’s “Globe and Mail” said it was “empty, moronic, pandering and utterly forgettable”. These critics were expecting history, but “Showman” delivered instead a spectacle. “Showman” is itself a historical hoax, transforming Barnum into a celebrator of human diversity, who freed his “freaks” from the shackles of popular prejudice. The film’s P.T. Barnum is not a historical character, but a vehicle for a moral message not entirely foreign to the real Barnum’s political ideas.


The sacrifice of historical truth for message is the source of the sub-plot of the white-black love affair between Zac Efron as Barnum’s partner and Zendaya as a trapeze artist. Love conquers all, in this case the racial prejudices of the upper class.


Barnum profited from the presentation of freaks, but also helped to transform his unusual collaborators into respected personalities. His historical efforts to abolish the enslavement of some Americans by other Americans are transformed in the film into a broader “celebration of humanity”. Barnum exhibited Annie Jones Elliot, a bearded girl and later woman, paying her $150 a week, an enormous salary at that time.


When the bearded woman in “Showman”, the biracial singer Keala Settle, belts out “This is Me”, she speaks for all human freaks and curiosities. The song won a Golden Globe and became a hit in countries as diverse as South Korea, Sweden and Australia.


 “When the sharpest words wanna cut me down,

Gonna send a flood, gonna drown them out.

I am brave, I am bruised,

I am who I’m meant to be, this is me.”


That’s a simple message we need in 2018.


Steve Hochstadt

Berlin, Germany

Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, January 23, 2018]]>
Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
Justice: Late, But Not Too Late Larry Nassar, former doctor to young female athletes, will spend the rest of his life in prison. As she sentenced him to 40 to 175 years in jail, Judge Rosemarie Aquilina said, “I just signed your death warrant.”

Nassar may have been the most successful serial abuser of young women in history. Judge Aquilina invited 156 women to testify in her courtroom about their assault by the hands of Nassar, beginning in 1992, 25 years ago. Over and over, he penetrated their vaginas with his fingers or his fist as part of his “therapy”. Some were younger than 10.

Nassar earned his medical degree from Michigan State University and worked there as a sports doctor. He became famous as the doctor for USA Gymnastics for nearly 20 years, which is in charge of the Olympic gymnastics team. His life of crime began to unravel when Nassar was first publicly accused in September 2016 by former gymnast Rachael Denhollander. But his sexual abuse had been reported to authorities many times long before that.

In 1997, Larissa Boyce reported what Nassar was doing to the MSU women’s gymnastics coach, Kathie Klages, and another girl confirmed that she too had been “treated”. Both girls were shamed into silence. A women’s track coach was told in 1999. Athletic trainers were told in 2000. In 2004, clinical psychologist Dr. Gary Stollak was told. That same year, Brianne Randall, 17 years old, told the police in Meridian Township, near the Michigan State campus, that Nassar had touched her vagina and breasts. The police never told MSU.

MSU President Lou Anna Simon was told in 2014 that a police report had been filed against a sports doctor. She let her subordinates handle it and never saw the report. The subordinates included 3 other MSU doctors and the athletic trainer, as well as Dr. William Strampel, dean of the College of Osteopathic Medicine, who decided Nassar’s actions were medically appropriate. At least 14 MSU employees were told about Nassar’s actions.

USA Gymnastics paid star gymnast McKayla Maroney over $1 million to keep quiet about Nassar’s abuse. The agreement included a $100,000 fine if she revealed what Nassar had done to her.

The only thing that stopped Nassar’s abuse was the public accusation by Rachael Denhollander last September. She was motivated by a story the month before in the “Indy Star” that USA Gymnastics had a long history of ignoring reports of sexual abuse by coaches.

How do serial abusers manage to continue their criminal activity? One reason is that making such accusations is deeply painful. It is difficult for a teenager to complain about the nature of their treatment by a doctor, especially if he is advertised as a “miracle worker”. At a preliminary hearing, Shannon Smith, one of Nassar’s attorneys, asked Denhollander if she was coming forward for the money. Denhollander explained some of the cost of telling the truth. “My advocacy for sexual assault victims, something I cherished, cost me my church and our closest friends three weeks before I filed my police report. I was left alone and isolated.”

The institutions who protect abusers circle the wagons against accusers. The vice chair of Michigan State’s board of trustees, Joel Ferguson, called victims’ lawyers “folks chasing ambulances” looking for a “payday”. A famous former prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, was hired to by MSU investigate, and President Lou Anna Simon claimed in April that MSU was conducting a “thorough internal review”. In December, Fitzgerald exonerated the University by writing that nobody there knew what Nassar was doing. It turns out that Fitzgerald had been hired to defend the University against lawsuits. His team interviewed none of Nassar’s victims.

The lifelong sexual abusers who have made news were all protected by a cone of silence. Penn State administrators looked the other way when they heard about Jerry Sandusky’s abuse of boys. Reporting about Harvey Weinstein detailed the many people in Hollywood who knew about him and did nothing. Now a scandal has erupted in Germany about the star TV director Dieter Wedel, who was allowed to continue his predatory behavior by state-funded television channel Saarlaendischer Rundfunk, which knew about his abuse in the 1980s.

Denhollander wrote,  “The first step toward changing the culture that led to this atrocity is to hold enablers of abuse accountable.” In Nassar’s case, the enablers are renowned institutions.

Some Americans apparently feel that men are under attack. I disagree – men who abuse women are under attack and it’s about time. But there may be a backlash from defenders of the male-dominated status quo, the patriarchal assumptions which allowed unpunished abuse to be so widespread. Trump was put into office because many white men and women feared that a world was crumbling where white male sexual dominance was a fundamental assumption. They didn’t care that he abused women and bragged about it; in fact, many supported him because he so openly violated new standards of correct behavior.

Eventually he too will get what he deserves.

Steve Hochstadt

Berlin, Germany

Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, January 30, 2018

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
President Trump Versus Trump Voters Donald Trump became President because millions of Americans believed him when he promised to protect their financial health. Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid keep the budgets of most Americans, especially the elderly, above water. Trump promised over and over again not to cut them.


He did this loud and clear, as a way of differentiating himself from other Republicans. Even before he officially announced his candidacy, he told the conservative “Daily Signal” in May 2015: “I’m not going to cut Social Security like every other Republican and I’m not going to cut Medicare or Medicaid. Every other Republican is going to cut, and even if they wouldn’t, they don’t know what to do because they don’t know where the money is. I do.” His announcement that he was a candidate the next month included “Save Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security without cuts. Have to do it.” In July 2015, he said, “The Republicans who want to cut SS & Medicaid are wrong.” In October 2015, he said, “I am going to save Medicare and Medicaid.” In February 2016, he said, “We're gonna save your Social Security without making any cuts. Mark my words.”


Trump’s promise not to cut Social Security included explicit statements that he would not raise the retirement age, as he said in the Republican debate in March 2016. “And it’s my absolute intention to leave Social Security the way it is. Not increase the age and to leave it as is.”


In fact, that was never his intention. In his book “The America We Deserve” in 2000, Trump compared Social Security to a Ponzi scheme and suggested that the retirement age be raised to 70. In a private conversation with Paul Ryan after he won the nomination, Trump responded to Ryan’s plans to cut Social Security: “From a moral standpoint, I believe in it. But you also have to get elected. And there’s no way a Republican is going to beat a Democrat when the Republican is saying, ‘We’re going to cut your Social Security’ and the Democrat is saying, ‘We’re going to keep it and give you more.’”


And that’s what happened. Trump convinced voters he would protect government programs which insured that average Americans would be able to get health care and retire with some financial dignity. Once he was President, he returned to his “moral standpoint”, the exact opposite of what he had promised.


As soon as he was elected, he appointed former Dallas mayor Tom Leppert as his Social Security advisor. Leppert is in favor of privatizing Social Security and Medicare. Trump’s budget director Mick Mulvaney also favors privatization.


In May 2017, Trump’s budget plan for 2018 proposed drastic cuts in Medicaid. In June, he supported the Republican Senate health care bill, which made big cuts to Medicaid.


Now the White House has released a new Trump budget, which makes huge cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Under the heading “Reform disability programs”, Trump proposes cuts in Social Security programs which support poor and disabled Americans, totaling $9 billion over the next four years and $72 billion over the next ten years. On the issue of how people will be affected, nobody could be clearer than budget director Mulvaney. When asked in the White House press room, “Will any of those individuals who receive SSDI receive less from this budget?” Mulvaney replied, “I hope so.”


Funding for Medicare will be cut by $266 billion, mainly for patients who still need care after being discharged from hospitals. Medicaid will be cut by $1.1 trillion over ten years, by putting a cap on how much will be spent on individual patients.


Other cuts in Trump’s budget: Meals on Wheels, home heating assistance, and teacher training. He wants to eliminate the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities.


Every poll shows that most Americans are opposed to cutting Medicaid, Social Security, and the other welfare programs that Trump wants to cut or eliminate. So why is Trump ditching his promises not to cut these programs?


A poll of voters before the 2016 election showed that Republicans, even more than Democrats, said they wanted a leader with honesty, and that was most true for voters with incomes under $50,000 a year. After the election, over 90% of Republican voters believed that Trump was “a strong and decisive leader” who “keeps his promises”.


It is hard to imagine a leader who is less honest than Trump. He has broken his promises about issues which hit Americans right in the wallet and pocketbook. It does take a “strong and decisive” person to repeatedly promise Americans that he will protect their interests in order to get elected, when he had no intention of doing so.


Will Trump’s so-called “base” ever wake up? Does he have to shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue before his supporters recognize who he is? Or was he right that even that won’t hurt him?


Steve Hochstadt                                                                                

Berlin, Germany

Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, February 20, 2018

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
Kids Versus Guns Once again thousands of Americans poured into the streets to express a clear political position. This time it was high school students horrified at the mass murders of other students and at the unwillingness of politicians to do anything about it.


Students lay down in front of the White House last Monday. Survivors of the attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida rallied at the state Capitol and urged legislators to change gun laws. Thousands of students across the country walked out of school last Wednesday to protest gun violence.


A nationwide school walkout is planned for March 14, lasting 17 minutes for the 17 Florida victims. Then come a march in Washington, called March For Our Lives, on March 24, and a National High School Walkout on April 20, the 19th anniversary of the Columbine shooting.


We never know what incident will provoke a mass social movement. Wikipedia conveniently lists all school shootings with 3 or more deaths over the past two centuries. There were 3 in the 19th century, one in the first half of the 20th century, 6 more before 1990. Then there were 9 in the 1990s, 5 in the 2000s, and 11 since 2010, more than one a year. Before Columbine in 1999, only one incident involved more than 7 deaths; since then, six with 10 or more deaths. In the past year, three school shootings have left 26 dead. If we widen our gaze to all shootings at schools, then there was one every other day in January, mostly without deaths.


After Columbine and Sandy Hook there were protests about how easy it is for those who plan mass murders to get powerful weapons, but they didn’t last long enough to force politicians to listen. Will this time be different?


Days after the Florida massacre, Republican state legislators there voted not to consider a bill to ban large-capacity magazines and assault weapons. Instead, as school shootings increase, the Republican response has been “More guns!” Republican state lawmakers recently decided to bring guns onto college campuses in Arkansas, Georgia, Texas, Ohio, Tennessee, Kansas, Wisconsin and other states. Two Republican candidates for Congress, Tyler Tannehill in Kansas and Austin Petersen in Missouri, are giving away an AR-15 as part of their campaigns. Donald Trump’s call to arm teachers and spend millions training them fits neatly into the Republican policy of arming everybody.


It’s useful to stand back and think about whether this idea has even been proposed for other similar situations. Dylann Roof murdered 9 people at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC, on June 17, 2015, with a Glock .45-caliber handgun. On November 5, 2017, Devin Patrick Kelley killed 26 people at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, with an AR-15 pattern Ruger AR-556 semi-automatic rifle. These mass killings are the most horrific of a growing wave of church shootings.


Dallas Drake and his team of researchers at the Center for Homicide Research in Minneapolis counted 136 church shootings between 1980 and 2005, about 5 per year, but 147 from 2006 to 2016, over 13 per year. Should we arm priests and rabbis and ministers?


Right now, the political engagement of young Americans for gun control is very high. Can the kids accomplish politically what generations of adults have not be able to do – prevent further school massacres?


The political protest of youngsters can move national politics in particular circumstances. In May 1963, schoolchildren marched in Brimingham, Alabama, to protest segregation and discrimination. That Children’s Crusade had political effect mainly because of the violent response of Commissioner of Public Safety Bull Connor and his policemen, and the bombing a few months later of the 16th St. Baptist Church, killing four little girls. Politicians learned that attacking children with fire hoses and batons is stupid. Now they politely listen and then ignore the youngsters’ message.


The Australian response to a massacre in 1996 is sometimes brought up as a model for the US. The government not only banned further sales of semiautomatic weapons, but confiscated 650,000 guns. Since then there have been no mass killings. But an Australian gun owner and supporter of restrictions argues persuasively that Australians, with their very different history, don’t like guns and offered no opposition to this revocation of their right to own weapons of mass killing. Too many Americans love guns for this to work here. Our culture accepts, even glorifies gun violence.


But it is not necessary to transform our culture to deal with guns in America. Most of the kids may not be able to vote yet, but persistent political action could shift the small number of votes needed to defeat the small number of state and federal legislators who stand in the way of majority votes for banning assault rifles and large capacity magazines, for tightening rules about who can own guns.


We’ll see if students can keep up the pressure all the way to the elections in November. That would require behavior uncommon among teenagers – long-term political engagement. It may save their lives.


Steve Hochstadt

Berlin, Germany

Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, February 27, 2018

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
Off With Their Heads! The Danger Extremists Pose. Steve Hochstadt is a writer and a professor of history at Illinois College.  This post first appeared in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier.

"The Silent Classroom" Trailer

An historical film is attracting audiences in Berlin. “The Silent Classroom” offers a fictionalized version of a remarkable protest in East Germany and the more remarkable government reaction. In 1956, thousands of Hungarians fought to free their country from Soviet domination and one-party dictatorship. A class of seniors preparing for final exams heard of the revolt from the American radio station in West Berlin, which the East German government had forbidden its citizens to listen to. Hungarians asked people in other countries to stay silent to protest Communist oppression. One student, Dietrich Garstka, told his comrades, “We’ll do that too!” In class, everyone was silent for five minutes.

The government went crazy. The Hungarian revolt of 1956 had installed a democratic socialist government before Soviet tanks crushed the uprising three weeks later. The Soviets and the other Communist governments in eastern Europe defined the revolt as counter-revolution and asserted that Western spies were behind it. The Western news media who reported the Hungarians’ program for freedom and human rights were spreading false propaganda. Students who silently honored the uprising were counter-revolutionaries, too.

Specialists interrogated the students. The Minister of Education insulted and threatened the students: unless they named the ringleaders, the whole class would not be allowed to take the exams which qualified them for university. The class displayed extraordinary solidarity and refused to give in to government pressure. They were all thrown out of school.

Garstka soon crossed the border into West Germany, which was still relatively easy in 1956, and was followed by 15 of the other 19 students in his class. They took their exams there and pursued their careers, cut off from family and friends.

The system that transformed their silence into subversion was a perfectly self-contained organism. All media were monitored and controlled. Information about internal problems, weaknesses, and injustices was propaganda, fake news designed to weaken the system, and thus counter-revolution. Anyone who taught uncomfortable facts about history or politics was labeled an accomplice of Western enemies, a hater of the system, and punished with the weight of the state. Science was not allowed to contradict political ideology.

East German communism had very different intentions and assumptions than the Nazi government which it replaced. But both systems shared this enclosed structure of self-protection, where deviation was treason, where facts were subordinated to rigid ideology, where questioning was punished by exclusion. Both saw only black and white, and jailed people who realized there was gray.

Those structures are the opposite of democracy. But the forces of arrogant ideology, of undoubting righteousness, of hatred for difference can exploit the tolerance of democratic systems to disrupt them from within. The extraordinary democracy of the German Weimar Republic in the 1920s allowed the Nazis to grow strong enough to overthrow it. Or I should say that too many people in Germany, people with power and influence, through weakness, self-interest, and political expediency, let the Nazis come to power by not opposing them strongly enough.

Now in America we saw armed men, who disdain our elected government, take over a public installation at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, threaten government officials and then escape without punishment. We heard a presidential candidate encourage his supporters to beat protesters and disbelieve any news he doesn’t like. We see virtually all leading Republican politicians accept Trump’s vilification of the press, self-enrichment in office, and smearing of the judiciary.

Americans who report on these events are attacked with verbal violence. I have been called seditious, a traitor. Activists for civil rights have been called communists and anarchists, whose political activities are thus illegitimate. The whole progressive movement, whose candidate, Bernie Sanders, almost won the Democratic nomination for President, is identified as hating America. Thousands screamed that the losing candidate in the last election should be put in jail. They say that journalists who report uncomfortable information about politicians they like are spreading lies. Many people have urged this newspaper to stop publishing my articles, because they don’t like the facts I write about.

Listen to the radio, scroll around the internet, or go to rallies for the President, and you’ll find many people with these attitudes. Instead of lurking on the fringes of the American political system, these people are brought into the White House and given press credentials as if they were real journalists. The President has called journalists “sick people” who hate our country and the other party “un-American” and “treasonous”. Telling the truth and defending democracy means being bombarded with insults and threats from the small far right minority, who only see black and white.

What if they had full power in our government? What would they do with me, the traitor? Or our journalists, professors, scientists? Or you?

We must prevent that, to avoid repeating the naive complacency of other peoples who have allowed their freedoms to be taken away. Asserting your right to think and act freely can be dangerous, as the East German students realized. But they demonstrated solidarity, courage, and determination in the face of naked shameless power.

We have to do that, too.

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
Promise and Flaw in Organized Religion Last year was the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s 1517 proclamation of objections to Catholic Church practices. At age 33, Luther, chair of theology at the University of Wittenberg, wrote a scholarly treatise titled “Disputation of Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences”, later called his 95 Theses. He sent it to Archbishop Albrecht of Mainz and Magdeburg.


Luther’s criticisms were well founded. Representatives of the Pope traveled around selling indulgences, the right to confess all sins on the death bed, thereby giving the buyer complete absolution. Some Christians were not confessing their sins in church, because they could buy this right to confess everything at the end. In Wittenberg, indulgences were advertised as paying for the new St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, but the funds were used by Archbishop Albrecht to pay debts from purchasing his archbishopric from the Pope. Luther wrote, “Any Christian who is truly repentant has a right to full remission of all penalty and guilt without any letter of indulgence.”


Luther swiftly broadened his attack on the Catholic Church and the Pope as its head. In his pamphlet “To the Christian Nobles of the German Nation” in 1520, he argued that the Church does not need worldly possessions and that a congregation should select its own priest. He later wrote that a Christian achieves salvation by faith alone, without needing a hierarchical church structure, and that the Pope does not have the exclusive right to interpret scripture.


Luther was forced to defend himself before Papal representatives, who demanded that he recant, and at the Diet of Worms, an assembly of many German states in the Holy Roman Empire. When the Pope issued a papal bull threatening to excommunicate him, Luther publicly burned it. He was excommunicated and forced to hide from arrest.


Unlike others who had challenged the Catholic Church and the power of the Pope, Luther masterfully used the new technology of printing to spread his ideas. Courageous and determined, he successfully appealed to common Christians. Communities across northern Europe and, more important, their local rulers adopted his religious reforms, transforming Europe by splitting the Protestant North from the Catholic South.


Luther’s followers in Wittenberg created a community chest administered jointly by town, church, and congregation to feed the hungry, allow poor students to study, and offer credit to poor artisans. Luther believed that everybody should be educated to read the Bible in their native tongue, so primary schools were expanded, including for girls.


At first, Luther appeared to be sympathetic to Jews. He wrote in 1519, “What Jew would consent to enter our ranks when he sees the cruelty and enmity we wreak on them—that in our behavior towards them we less resemble Christians than beasts?”That behavior was publicly exhibited at Luther’s own City Church St. Mary’s of Wittenberg. High on one outside wall was a “Judensau”, a relief depicting Jews suckling at a pig, with words degrading rabbis and Jewish ideas about God. It had decorated the Church for two hundred years.


Luther was a great reformer of Christian religious practice and social thinking. But the religious community he wished to create was welcoming only for those who followed his lead. Luther condemned in the strongest terms anyone who refused to give up their religion for his. He named the Pope the Antichrist. He pronounced the harshest sentence on Jews who remained true to their beliefs. In “On the Jews and Their Lies” in 1543, Luther advised his followers to burn their synagogues, confiscate their valuables, take away their holy books, forbid them from owning houses, and prevent their rabbis from preaching. That year, Luther wrote a pamphlet defending the Wittenberg Judensau as correctly depicting the source of Jewish holy books in the pig’s anus. Good Christians must prevent Jews from living as Jews.


Many organized religions represent communities of exclusivity, where insiders are promised glorious rewards and outsiders suffer unending torment. For centuries after Luther, Protestants and Catholics warred against each other. Christians only stopped killing Jews a half century ago. Muslim Shia and Muslim Sunni kill each other in the Middle East. Despite powerful moral exhortations about non-violence, Buddhists attack Muslims in south Asia. After suffering near extinction in Europe because of their religion, Jews destroyed Palestinian communities in the 1940s.


A highway billboard near our home in Wisconsin says I will go to hell, because I don’t share a particular form of Christian belief. Orthodox Jews have enough power over Israeli politics to enforce religious rules which exclude me and my children.


Religions are the strongest propagators of peaceful messages, but religious communities have killed millions of people who follow other beliefs. The contradictions in Luther’s teachings eventually forced the world’s Lutheran churches to disavow his writings about Jews, but only after the Nazis had put into genocidal practice his written instructions.


Even such disavowals often come with caveats. The official statement of the Missouri Synod of the Lutheran Church about Jews deplores discrimination, but is mainly concerned that Luther’s words could provoke anti-Lutheranism, and ends with the hope that Jews will finally see the light and convert.


Luther was a great and flawed man. Like all human creations, religions can raise us up or bring us pain.


Steve Hochstadt

Berlin, Germany

Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, March 13, 2018]]>
Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
Who Are The People? “We Are The People” is a powerful phrase often used to support revolution against tyrannical authority. It may first have been employed by the German Georg Büchner in his 1835 play about the French Revolution, “Danton’s Death”, shouted by a revolutionary citizen. The idea that the people are the ultimate political authority was itself revolutionary in the late 18th century. Against the inherited power of kings, who claimed sanction from God, revolutionaries in France and America asserted the right of the people to govern itself.


The men who signed our Declaration of Independence acted “by Authority of the good People of these Colonies”.  “We the People”, written in enormous letters, begins our Constitution. Not all people were part of The People. Our Constitution refers to slaves as “other persons” counted as three-fifths of a full person, most Native Americans did not count at all, and women were not mentioned anywhere.


Since then, the argument that the people are the only legitimate authority has spread across the globe, used both to defend democracy and to justify dictatorship. Extremes of right and left claimed to represent the people, but used exclusive definitions of who the people were. The Nazis said they were creating a “Volksgemeinschaft”, a “people’s community”, which only included genetically healthy “Aryans”. All others should be killed. After World War II, Communist China and most Eastern European Communist states called themselves “People’s Republics”, but the only people who counted were Party members with the correct ideology.


When crowds in Leipzig began demonstrating against the East German version of communism in 1989, they adopted the slogan “Wir sind das Volk” to convince the heavily armed police not to shoot at them. Within a week, the number of protesters in Leipzig reached over 100,000. They and tens of thousands of marchers in other East German cities carried banners saying “Wir sind das Volk”. This claim of ultimate sovereignty, backed up by mass demonstrations, brought down Communist governments in Eastern Europe.


This version of “the people” echoes earlier struggles against authoritarian governments, bringing together people from below to fight the powers above. “We are the people” united classes, genders and ethnicities to collectively look up at rulers and attack their legitimacy. The 21st-century liberal consensus is that unity of all kinds of different people is the correct goal. The people is an expansive and welcoming body in the sense of the verses inscribed on the Statue of Liberty.


Conservatives, on the other hand, argue that the people is a fixed and homogeneous category, defined by nationality, biology, and heritage. Those who don’t belong can never belong. The genocidal methods of 19th-century American governments towards Native Americans, expanded by the Nazis and their allies in Europe, are no longer acceptable. Conservatives these days prefer deportation, which was the Nazis’ favored method in their first few years in power, when hundreds of thousands of Poles and Jews were forced out of Germany.


Under the guise of “populism”, conservatives seem to attack “elites” from below, but actually focus on attacking social groups regarded as different from above. In Trump’s America and in many European countries, right-wing political formations of white Christians attack immigrants, those with darker skin, Muslims and sometimes Jews as not belonging to “the people”. In these cases, “we the people” look down on already subordinated groups, blame them for the ills of society, and try to exclude them.


The far right German group Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West, or PEGIDA, has adopted the slogan “Wir sind das Volk” to support their attacks on Muslims. Their founder, Lutz Bachmann, called immigrants “trash” and “cattle”. The right-wing Alternative for Germany attacks the large Turkish minority. The new conservative German interior minister said that Islam does not belong in Germany.


Closer to home, two women were arrested in Arizona last week after they filmed themselves insulting Islam and stealing items from a mosque. They shouted at a man coming out of the mosque, “We’re coming after you, we the people. That’s right, you guys are on your way out.”


Many Republicans appear to believe that the minority who support them are the only legitimate people. Rick Saccone, candidate for Congress in Pennsylvania, spoke last week about “the other side”, the Democrats: “They have a hatred for our president. And I tell you, many of them have a hatred for our country....They have a hatred for God.”


Saccone lost, but I looked in vain for any Republican politician who rejected Saccone’s comments. No Republican leader has the courage of John McCain, who corrected a supporter who said she couldn’t trust Barack Obama because he was an Arab. McCain said, “No, ma’am.... I want everyone to be respectful ... because that’s the way politics should be conducted in America.” When a man at a Trump rally in 2015 said Muslims were a problem in America and Obama was a Muslim, Trump responded, “Right.”


That’s the way politics are conducted by conservatives in America today. Only we the people can change that.


Steve Hochstadt

Berlin, Germany

Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, March 20, 2018

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
We Are Killing Ourselves But first, we are killing other animals. The recent news that the last male northern white rhinoceros died in Kenya has spread around the world. Who cares? For most people, the rhino is a freakish zoo animal, interesting but unimportant. After white hunters killed most of the rhinos in Africa and southern Asia, the remaining herds have been decimated by poachers seeking their horns, supposedly useful as medicine. At least 6000 rhinos have been killed in Africa over the past ten years.


Extinction is a natural process – witness the dinosaurs. Scientists say that one to five species die off naturally every year. But the Center for Biological Diversity estimates that we are losing dozens of species every day, thousands of times the natural rate. At that pace, by 2050, a third to a half of all species could be gone.


Our attention is attracted by the extinction of mammals, especially primates most closely related to humans. The International Union for Conservation of Nature, a global authority on conserving the natural world, estimates that half of the earth’s primate species are at risk of extinction. Of the 5500 known species of mammals, one-fifth are endangered, especially some marine mammals, including whales and porpoises.


The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services has a long name and an important function. It connects the world’s governments to offer advice on the state of biodiversity. Its conference last week brought together scientists from 100 countries who have been studying the decline of biodiversity and what to do about it. Their reports are frightening.


Since Europeans arrived in America, about one-third of plant and animal species in the Western hemisphere have become extinct. Another quarter are at risk of extinction. Elsa Nickel from the German Environmental Ministry said, “Biological diversity is no longer an exotic idea for environmental activists, who want to save a few orangutans in the rain forest.”


The causes are well known: deforestation, water and air pollution, unsustainable consumption of resources, climate change, decline of coral reefs. Here’s another – convenience. Our advanced society conveniently removes the garbage that our wasteful lives produce and sends it out of our sight. Where does it go? A lot ends up in the biggest garbage dump on earth, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.


Ocean researchers have been aware of a giant floating garbage dump in the Pacific Ocean for a long time. Recently they realized it was much bigger than they had thought – an estimated 87,000 tons of floating debris, covering an area four times the size of California. Half of the mass of human junk in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is fishing nets. Plastics made up about three-quarters of the diet of sea turtles caught near the Patch. “It’s like a ticking time bomb,” said Joost Dubois, a spokesman for the Ocean Cleanup Foundation.


Plastic has been replacing natural materials, which disappear harmlessly into the environment. Fishing nets are increasingly made of plastic because they last longer, which becomes a danger when they are abandoned in the water. More plastic was produced in the last ten years than ever before, about 320 million tons a year. Most of that mass eventually finds its way into landfill or the oceans. Better living through chemistry? Only temporarily.


When I was in graduate school in 1973, a friend and I distracted ourselves from studying by watching the film “Soylent Green”. The melodramatic plot centered on the attempt by a future policeman in 2022, played by Charlton Heston, to solve a murder in New York City, when pollution and global warming have led to food rationing. Surviving several assassination attempts, Heston figures out that the Soylent Green wafers that people are eating are made from human bodies, the only source of protein abundant enough to feed an overpopulated world.


The human race will survive well beyond 2022, but for how long? What will the earth be like 50 years from now, when my children are in their 80s? Despite remarkable advances in science, the earth is much worse off than it was 50 years ago – much more pollution, many more threatened species, disappearing forests and jungles.


Half-hearted efforts at recycling are not enough. Without significant changes in the way we interact with our natural environment, the human future looks frightening. The unwillingness of many in our society to confront the facts of shrinking biodiversity represents cowardice, selfishness, and stupidity. Among 18 countries surveyed by National Geographic, Americans are the most disbelieving about the science of climate change.


We have to change what we eat, how we travel, how we farm, how we consume. That’s especially true for Americans. We stand out in the world for our profligate consumption of resources and our production of garbage. With 5% of the world’s population, we use one quarter of the world’s coal and oil, and we create half of the world’s solid waste.


The only way to figure out what to do is to follow the lead of scientists. They have done their job of warning us that we are ruining our own future. Now we have to stop killing our planet and killing ourselves.


Steve Hochstadt

Berlin, Germany

Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, March 27, 2018

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
Science Isn’t Always Scientific The name Asperger is widely known as a syndrome related to autism. The label honors Johann Friedrich Karl Asperger (1906-1980), an Austrian pediatrician who studied mental disorders in children in the 1930s and early 1940s. His diagnosis of “autistic psychopathy” related to social detachment was eventually given professional approval in the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” (called DSM) in 1994 as Asperger syndrome.


Asperger’s research focused on children who had difficulty making social contact, as in classic autism, but who were also highly intelligent and could lead extraordinarily productive lives. Asperger lauded the later successes of these autistic children, whose “social worth” he promoted. Because many doctors in Austria and Germany believed that genetic abnormalities reduced the worth of a human life, Asperger’s defense of his “Aspies” enabled him to cultivate a lifelong reputation as the friend of the handicapped. He had a long and successful career, eventually becoming chair of pediatrics at the University of Vienna Children’s Hospital and director of children’s clinics.


Asperger’s work was not well known until the 1980s, after he had died. Since then his 1944 discussion of those particular cases of autism has become widely known. His birthday is recognized as “International Asperger’s Day”.


But Asperger had not been so generous with children whose autism was more severe. Like many Nazi doctors, he decided whether handicapped patients were worthy of life, and sent the “unworthy” to their deaths in special institutions of mass murder. In 1942, he was senior pediatrician on a Viennese commission evaluating the status of 210 Austrian children residing in mental hospitals. 35 were judged unfit and were sent to die.


Asperger played a despicable role in a despicable system, participating in murdering children whom he deemed unworthy of life. He deserves no international honor. His name should not be used without an understanding of his deeds.


Does that mean that the condition now called Asperger’s syndrome should also not exist as a medical diagnosis and research subject? The American Psychiatric Association made a purely medical-scientific argument in 2010 that “Asperger’s disorder” no longer be listed as a separate condition in the DSM, which it produces.


Arguments among health professionals about how to diagnose and treat mental illness will probably never end, because there is so much about how our brain works that is unknown. Decisions about how autism functions should be made based on the best science that we can produce today, not on our moral condemnation of Asperger. If he was correct about the nature of his unusual cases, that disorder should have a name, just not his.


His life illustrates how scientific knowledge always has shortcomings: Einstein’s mistakes are legendary, but do not detract from his achievements. The international scientific establishment is designed to improve our understanding of ourselves and our world, by correcting mistakes and oversights in our current knowledge. That is the beauty of science.


But there are many for whom objective scientific inquiry is threatening: producers of ineffective medicines; polluters of air and water; contributors to global warming. Those who do not want to believe the best science use the existence of scientific disagreement to reject science itself. The deniers of evolution and of global warming seek out such disagreements to argue that science itself is wrong and their beliefs are right, despite the evidence.


Right now, the Trump administration is engaged in an unprecedented political attack on science. Scott Pruitt at the Environmental Protection Agency discounts scientists whose findings he doesn’t like. Most scientific research is funded by government grants. Pruitt claims that scientists who receive funding from the government are biased and should be replaced on scientific advisory committees by scientists who are funded by the industries that pollute the environment. He wants the EPA to ignore all research where participants were guaranteed that their personal health data would be kept confidential. That means ignoring virtually all large studies of public health, which show the effects of environmental pollution.


Worse than bad science is no science. There is still no director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, the longest that job has ever been vacant. Without a director, leadership about science in the White House falls to the deputy assistant, Michael Kratsios, a 31-year-old with a bachelor’s in political science, who has studied voting in Greece and has never done scientific work.


Trump’s new budget request included severe cuts to science in disease control, mental health, environment, oil spills, geology, and, of course, climate.


It is hard for most Americans to judge scientific arguments, especially when people of ill will use clever techniques and obscure jargon to call into question good science. But one doesn’t need specialized knowledge to know that private industry pays for science that supports its private interests, that political ideology distorts scientific reasoning, that we need good science to stay healthy and to keep our society functioning.


Asperger let politics rule his science with tragic results. In Washington, politics again threatens to subvert science. That will have tragic consequences for us and our children.


Steve Hochstadt

Jacksonville IL

Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, April 10, 2018

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
The Extremism of NRA Politics For reasons we will puzzle over for decades, the high school shooting in Parkland, Florida, provoked a mass political movement of young Americans, when all the other horrific school massacres did not. Gun politics is, at least now, big news.


Whenever public discussion of guns breaks into our daily lives, the NRA raises its voice, ostensibly to protect its interpretation of the Second Amendment. The NRA leadership must be especially concerned this time, since they are paying for a nationwide TV campaign,  “NRA: Freedom’s Safest Place”. Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre says the NRA’s political ideology “evokes the patriotism, freedom, history, traditions and struggles of ‘we the people’.”


I have no argument with the right of the NRA, or anybody else, to proclaim its interpretation of American law about guns. The only “we the people” who count for LaPierre are the minority who support the NRA.


But gun rights are not the main subject of the NRA’s current political intervention. Below the surface of public statements about gun legislation, the NRA sells its members a disturbing critique of our society. Under the title “Standing Guard | Colleges Spread Anti-Gun Sentiment” on the NRA website, LaPierre says this about American higher education. Every sentence is worth notice.


“American freedom faces no greater threat than from our academic institutions, where the most basic fundamental principles upon which our nation was founded are aggressively attacked by extreme socialists posing as honest professors. Principles upon which America has become the greatest nation in the world—constitutional freedom, free-market capitalism and individual responsibility—have been replaced with Marxism, socialism and a perverse culture of politically correct societal collectivism. We know that, at the end of the day, the wave of socialism we face threatens all of our freedoms and could very well destroy our nation.

Make no mistake. Their goal is not just to create a campus of socialism. They lust for a nation of socialism. They’ll warp every young mind they can get their hands on, to pervert the American values we hold dear to create a brand new, socialist voter to send to the polls. If their socialist takeover is successful, they’ll do everything they can to render Trump ineffective, with an end goal to replace him with a screaming socialist in 2020. And then they’ll come for us … for our freedom and for our guns. That is the tsunami of socialism that threatens every law-abiding gun owner and freedom-loving American in this country.”


In the NRA’s magazine, “American Hunter”, this statement of principle appears under a more threatening title: “Our Colleges are Breeding Grounds for Socialists Who Will Take Our Guns”.


This is not mainly about guns. LaPierre’s America is mortally threatened by organized socialists and brain-washed youth, echoes of Joseph McCarthy in 2018.


During the 1950s, politicians who doubted McCarthy’s crazy charges, but who thought their personal political interests could be served by being quiet, created a federal government that embodied exactly what McCarthy and his ilk supposedly warned about: an ideological state which ignored the Constitution and used the law to punish political opponents. By the time a few courageous politicians raised critical voices, government had damaged the lives of civil rights activists, labor leaders, writers, filmmakers, and teachers.


Are we repeating a terrible history? Our Republican-dominated government takes the NRA’s cash and praises its stance on gun rights. The biggest Congressional recipients of NRA money are all Republicans: 51 Republicans in the Senate and 41 in the House get more NRA dollars than any of their Democratic colleagues.


Politicians who praise the NRA also implicitly endorse LaPierre’s extremist rejection of American society. They support the accusation that college campuses, including those in their districts, teach revolutionary socialism and hatred for American institutions. They believe that “academic elites are brainwashing our youth like never before.” They agree that “every freedom-loving American” is endangered by a home-grown socialist conspiracy. They fear the greatest threat to our freedom: “our academic institutions”.


My congressman, Darin LaHood, is running for reelection this year. He proudly announced that the NRA gave him an A-rating, saying, “I am grateful for the NRA’s support.” He accepted $1000 from them, as did all of the other six Republican congressmen from Illinois. LaHood’s page on gun control on his website is mainly about how much he appreciates the NRA.


Mr. LaHood, please tell the voters in our District whether you support the NRA’s broader political ideology, as announced by its spokesman and published in its official media.


Do you think that socialists have “hijacked” the institutions of higher learning in Illinois? Do you believe that Illinois faculty are promoting communism out of a “lust for a nation of socialism”? Will a “wave of socialism” will “destroy our nation”? Or do you think that NRA propaganda is itself dangerous?


Are you willing to defend the men and women who teach in our state’s and our nation’s colleges and universities from NRA accusations?


Republican and Democratic politicians who oppose restrictions on gun rights, also need to be clear about their stance on NRA political extremism. If your congressman is supported by and supports the NRA, does he (nearly all are “he”) also endorse the NRA’s radical rejection of contemporary American life?


The NRA is not protecting the Second Amendment, it is attacking America. Do they agree?


Steve Hochstadt

Jacksonville IL

Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, April 17, 2018

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
People Keep Asking “Why Trump?” Seventeen months after the 2016 election, people still wonder why Donald Trump won. As in any presidential election, there were many overlapping reasons why Trump won a majority of electoral votes, although he lost the popular vote.


Clinton’s negatives are easy to see. Conservatives had hammered at Hillary for two decades, creating a fictional monster whom some voters hated so much that they wanted to lock her up. James Comey’s decision to announce just before the election that her emails as Secretary of State were again being investigated played into these beliefs that she was unusually dishonest. Her campaign ignored warning signs in key northern states,

choosing to chase votes in solidly Republican states.


The positives for Trump are more puzzling and controversial, and will occupy social scientists for decades. A new study by Diana C. Mutz, a political scientist at the University of Pennsylvania, offers valuable insight. Mutz argues against the idea that has become a commonplace in discussions of 2016: that working-class voters, who had been left behind by economic change, voted for someone who seemed to promise them economic redemption. According to this theory, key voters thought about their “pocketbooks”, to use familiar political jargon.


Instead, Mutz supports a different explanation for Trump’s victory, one that also has been much discussed since the election: groups of Americans with traditionally high status felt threatened and voted for the candidate who seemed to support their continued dominance. White Christian men who were concerned about social changes in recent decades gravitated to Trump, whose rhetoric and behavior consistently prioritized whiteness, maleness, and Christian belief.


Enough voters were pushed into the Trump camp by the efforts to reverse traditional discrimination against blacks and women, by the increasing diversity of American society and a future when whites will be a minority, by the fact that Democrats had produced a black President and a female presidential candidate. Mutz summarizes her findings by noting “a sense that white Americans are under siege”.


Trump said things during the campaign about Mexicans and women and other people whom he did not respect that could raise doubts about his character, but in the overheated atmosphere of a presidential campaign, supporters tend to ignore any negatives about “their” candidate. Since then, however, Trump’s character has been displayed much more clearly: he lies about everything; his ego overwhelms all other considerations; he is ignorant about most areas of public policy; his treatment of women, including his wives, is despicable. Trump’s blundering performance as President brings up the second big question about current American politics: why do his voters keep supporting him?


Gallup weekly polls show little change in approval of Trump for the past year: 38% to 40% approve of him as President, and 56% to 59% disapprove. Among Republicans, his approval rating has bounced around between 81% and 89% for more than a year.


The theory that status threat motivated many of his voters offers a partial explanation. Every day the news about Trump offers support for white men and evangelical Christians who long to regain unchallenged dominance: his criticism of all organized efforts by black and white Americans to identify and resist racism; revelations about his pumped-up masculinity; his continued support for preventing Muslims from entering the US and for the evangelical political agenda. No other politician embodies so publicly the conviction that white Christian men should always be in charge in America.


But doesn’t character count? In particular, how could Trump continue to be so popular among evangelical Christians, who constantly talk about morality?


I have no study, no variables, no surveys to support the following idea, just intuition. I think Trump’s low character is in fact a significant part of his appeal, especially to the “moral minority”.


Nobody need feel morally inferior to Trump. Although he constantly boasts about his genius, nobody need feel intellectually inferior to Trump. As a person, Trump does not further threaten those who already feel their status threatened.


The fact that voters could give Barack Obama two terms as President and then elect Trump has caused no end of hand-wringing and confusion among political commentators. I believe that Obama’s obvious intellect, his high-mindedness, and his success contributed to the sense of siege among some worried Americans. A black man was better than they were at everything. Trump offers no such threat. It is easy to feel superior to Trump, even while supporting his political direction.


For the Trump voters who don’t believe that women, gays, blacks and immigrants deserve the same status as they do, Trump’s personal behavior is irrelevant. All they care about is making America great again, which they define as making white Christian males great again. Three-quarters of white evangelical Protestants believe American culture has changed for the worse since the 1950s, when women and African Americans were rigidly subordinated.


They don’t want to be lectured by a black or female Democrat about the virtues of diversity. They want an old-fashioned white male chauvinist pig to put them back on a pedestal. If that means more pollution, tax windfalls for the rich, and corruption in the Cabinet, so what?


Steve Hochstadt

Jacksonville IL

Published by the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, May 1, 2018

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
Why Do Some People Hate College? I went to a college graduation on Sunday. Graduations are festive events, when everybody dresses up, smiles a lot, and congratulates everyone else. They are called “Commencements” because the ceremony represents the beginning of a new life as an educated person.


A college education in America is expensive, nearly $100,000 for students at public universities in their home states and over $200,000 at smaller private colleges. But as an investment, that expensive education is clearly worth it. College graduates earn on average nearly twice what those with only a high school diploma earn, which adds up to over $1 million in lifetime wages. The unemployment rate for college graduates is about one-third that of high school graduates.


Some Americans sneer at the idea that a college degree is worth anything. They do not argue with these numbers. Instead they criticize the entire American higher education system as fraudulent brain-washing. I doubt that these critics of American universities and colleges have any idea what actually happens on college campuses.


The distrust of political conservatives for intellectuals and higher education has been a feature of our politics for half a century. Before that conservatives had wielded their political power to shape education in their image, to prevent it from challenging the myths which supported their ideology. When I went to school and college in the 1960s, our lessons and instructors supported the status quo. The subject of history, the most politically dangerous of all disciplines, was written and taught to prevent questioning of political traditions.


James Loewen, and many others, have shown how conservative myths dominated history textbooks which were used then in high schools and universities. Slavery, the antecedent of Jim Crow discrimination, was transformed into a humanitarian effort by well-meaning whites to care for inferior blacks, who were happy in their bondage. Women were portrayed as best realizing their limited potential as home-bound caregivers. They, too, were pleased with their limitations. White men taught these myths, assigned textbooks written by white men, in courses selected and organized by white men, and made sure that when one white man retired, another one was found to take his place.


The few men and women who challenged these ideas and the structure that had created and propagated them had been struck down with the powers of the state during the lengthy postwar period of political repression, lasting long after Joseph McCarthy had been repudiated.


The protests of the 1960s targeted not only segregation and the Vietnam War, but also conservative power in American higher education, initiating a fundamental transformation of both knowledge and teaching that have alarmed conservatives.


American conservatives have been infuriated by the gradual dismantling of that whole system since then. The stories that confirmed their historical worldview and their contemporary politics were shown to be whitewash. African Americans and women demonstrated with their bodies that they were not happy with a rigidly subordinated place. The composition of history departments changed and so did their teachings. Studies of race and gender by a gradually diversifying faculty revealed uncomfortable truths about white supremacy and male domination in American history.


Crude conservatives like Wayne LaPierre say this all represents the hostile takeover of our universities by communists. The Heartland Institute, ostensibly embodying loftier intellectual aims, says that college is useless: their “policy advisor for education” Teresa Mull mocks today’s graduates as “ignorant and inept”, because “most college courses . . . are a waste of time.” Revealing what really bothers American conservatives, the example of “brainwashing” she provides concerns teaching about racism.


I don’t know how much experience such people have on American campuses. Their claims are not descriptions, but propaganda in the conservative war against knowledge they don’t like. The majority of conservatives who say that American higher education damages the nation really mean that it damages the propagation of their myths about American racial history, about the proper roles of men and women, about the effects of human society on the natural environment.


Decades of conservative attacks on higher education have succeeded in creating an image of the college teacher as radical, elitist, unpatriotic, and intellectually dictatorial. The students who marched in their robes across the Illinois College campus Sunday, and tens of thousands of students marching across America, know better. They know that no course and no professor is perfect. They know about the flaws and achievements of institutions. But they know that they have been challenged, not brainwashed, encouraged, not repressed, coached and tutored and prepared for useful lives. They say the word “professor” with respect.


The real students I met are thrilled to graduate, because they appreciate how their college years and college teachers have transformed them. They are wiser, more knowledgeable, more skilled, more expressive, and more confident. They know themselves better – what they are good at; what they want; how to use their personal skills to achieve their goals.


At Commencement they’re doubly happy – happy to be done and happy for what they have gained. Good for them and good for us all.


Steve Hochstadt

Jacksonville IL

Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, May 15, 2018

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
Elections Are the Best Surveys Many Americans are concerned about the apparent increase in open expression of racist attitudes since Donald Trump, who has made racist remarks for his entire public career, became the Republican nominee for President. Suddenly white supremacy is no longer a taboo in public. “Trump has unquestionably brought people to our ideas,” said Richard Spencer, the white-nationalist leader.


But less attention has been given to an equally noteworthy opposite trend: what Sean McElwee calls the rising racial liberalism of white Democrats. The proportion of white Democrats who attributed racial inequality to systematic discrimination remained steady for 30 years at below 50%, while more believed inequality was due to blacks’ own behavior. That changed suddenly during the Obama Presidency, and the latest surveys show a striking reversal: 54% say inequality is due to discrimination, while only 28% blame the actions of minorities themselves.


One of the defining partisan differences among voters is that Republicans continue to blame minorities for inequality. A series of Pew surveys, which confirm the shift in liberal beliefs, also show that 75% of Republicans and 79% of conservative Republicans say “blacks who can’t get ahead are mostly responsible for their own condition”. Republicans are less likely than they were 20 years ago to see discrimination as a cause for blacks’ inability to “get ahead”. That is surprising, since younger Americans are more likely to blame discrimination than older ones. Education also plays a significant role: the more educated one is, the more likely to see discrimination as the cause for inequality.


What is happening to racial attitudes in America? McElwee directly compared the responses of white Democrats who had been interviewed in 2011 and in 2016. The shift is startling over such a short time: many gave different answers to questions about whether blacks should just try harder and about the long-term effects of slavery and discrimination. Twice as many agreed in 2016 that “Over the past few years, black people have gotten less than they deserve.” While all age groupings of white Democrats moved away from blaming blacks for inequality, the movement was much stronger among those under 30.


Such surveys help us to understand the beliefs of the American public, but they don’t count. What counts is the special kind of survey called voting, which determines who populates American governments and what policies they enact. Recent primary elections, leading up to the midterms in November 2018, show how these changing partisan attitudes play out in the voting booth.


Stacey Abrams, who won the Democratic primary for Georgia governor, became the first black woman nominated by a major party for governor in any state. She soundly defeated Stacey Evans, a white woman, all across Georgia, including in Forsyth County, a nearly completely white district with a long history of violent racism. Former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez won the Democratic primary for Texas governor, becoming the first Latina woman, as well as the first acknowledged lesbian, to win a major party gubernatorial nomination there. In Illinois, a black woman, Lauren Underwood, won more votes than the six white men in her Congressional primary combined.


This growing racial liberalism among Democrats is matched by increasing gender liberalism. The Democratic nominations in Georgia for both governor and lieutenant governor were contested by two women. The three races for the Democratic nomination for the House of Representatives in which women were candidates were all won by the women. Up to now, Democratic women have been candidates in about half of the 149 Congressional districts that have had primaries. In 65 districts, there was at least one woman and one man in the race with no incumbent, and women were the top vote-getters in 47.


Republicans are not only much less sympathetic to blacks, they are less interested in women holding office. The battle for Georgia governor is symbolic: while two Democratic women competed, the Republican primary featured five men. Across the country, women and men competed in only 14 Republican Congressional primaries with no incumbent, and men won 11.


What will happen when Democratic women, white and non-white, compete against Republican white men in November? Will these newly diverse candidates mobilize new voters? Are independent voters leaning more toward minority and female candidates like Democrats or away from them like Republicans?


Is America heading toward greater equality or back to the past? November will tell.


Steve Hochstadt

Jacksonville IL

Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, May 29, 2018

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
Why Vote Against Equal Rights For Women? “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” That’s pretty simple and quite limited. Nothing about how we have to act in our personal lives. Just a clear statement that our governments cannot discriminate against women or men.


But it’s been controversial for a century, and still is not the law of our land. Most Republicans hate this idea.


This amendment to the US Constitution was just approved by the Illinois legislature. The Senate approved the measure 43-12. Then the House approved 72-45, making Illinois the 37th state to ratify the ERA.


Here’s how the voting went in the Senate: Democrats supported it unanimously, Republicans voted against it 12 to 8. In the House, 62 Democrats and 10 Republicans voted yes, 5 Democrats and 40 Republicans voted no. In committee hearings, Republicans were nearly unanimously opposed – one “yes” vote in the Senate Executive Committee, none in the House Human Services Committee.


Republicans opposed to the ERA talked about toilets in the 1970s, and talk about abortion today. Some Illinois Republican arguments against the ERA are lies, such as Rep. Peter Breen’s assertion: “The only alleged benefit ... that I’ve heard about ... is that it will expand taxpayer funding of abortions. They have no other thing they want to do.” Or the claim by the Illinois Family Institute that it’s about “eradicating sex as a legitimate characteristic on which to base reasonable distinctions.” Denial of equal rights is not “reasonable”.


Some Republicans can’t even imagine equality. Rep. Jeanne Ives doesn’t believe it’s possible: “The fact of the matter is that women will not be protected until men decide to protect them and decide to stop the sexual harassment decide to stop the domestic abuse, decide to stop the sex trafficking, decide in the work places when they are in charge that they will protect the women under their charge.” This is a very different view of how the state should treat gender. Men will decide when and if they wish to “protect” women who are “in their charge”.


Republicans were not forced to vote against the ERA to show Party loyalty. Rep. Steve Andersson said, “I’m glad that the common sense, the recognition that women deserve and are entitled to the same protections as men won the day. What we’re going to do is raise the level of all ships. Men, women, everyone does better because of this.”


I would not have known how my own representative to the Illinois Legislature, C.D. Davidsmeyer, voted on the ERA, so I did some internet research. Davidsmeyer’s home page explains in detail his objections to the budget bill that had just been passed. There’s another big story headlined, “Davidsmeyer’s Back Pay Legislation Passes House”. Some undeserved back-patting here: Davidsmeyer was one of about 50 co-sponsors, a follower, not a leader. Other items he thinks are important to communicate to his constituents: an announcement about Opportunity Zones in our district and a report of his photo-op with FFA students.


Not a word about the ERA. Davidsmeyer voted “no”.


The website of the Illinois General Assembly shows that the ERA bill was filed back in February 2017, passed the Illinois Senate this April, and the bill “Arrived in House” on April 11. Over the next couple of weeks, 41 members of the House signed on as co-sponsors. Davidsmeyer had plenty of time to think about his vote.


Republicans have not always made a special point to be hostile to women. From 1923 to 1990, there were more Republican than Democratic women in the Illinois House every term but 1957-1964. The number of Republican women has fallen since the 1990s, while the number of Democratic women has doubled, lately reaching 3 times the Republican total.


Why did Rep. Davidsmeyer decide to vote no?


He wasn’t yet born when discrimination against women became a national issue in the 1960s, or when the ERA was proposed, ratified quickly by 34 states, then stalled during the 1970s. His generation of men and women, which includes my children, has enjoyed more gender equality than any in American history. The reduction of inequality was a direct result of decades of struggle against the forces of “no”, and the ERA was central to that struggle. Every day we still see the traumas of inequality in the news, partly because the ERA is still not the law of the land. Is Davidsmeyer okay with that? Does he agree with Ives that “women will not be protected until men decide to protect them,” and he’s not going to be one of those men?


Does he think it’s okay when “Equality of rights under the law” are “denied or abridged by the United States or by any State”? Why is that the Illinois Republican consensus?


Doesn’t he have something to say about his vote on an amendment to the US Constitution? Why isn’t he saying it in public?


I think the whole issue makes him uncomfortable. His vote against treating women equally makes me uncomfortable.


Steve Hochstadt

Jacksonville IL

Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, June 5, 2018

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
My Fellow Americans! I have little in common with millions of you. We like different drinks, root for different teams, watch different shows and vote differently. 325 million Americans, and our lives and choices almost never touch.


But we do one important thing together: we vote every two years for people to govern us from Washington. They make laws, conduct foreign negotiations and foreign wars, and enforce policies that affect all of us together, theoretically equally. So at this moment, I care about what all of you do.


I care about your votes, because I want the air I breathe and the water I drink to be safe. That seems like our most basic right. We know that we can’t just trust big corporations to put our health in front of their profits, so we need government to insure that they don’t dump dangerous chemicals into our environment. But the Environmental Protection Agency has now decided to ignore health hazards caused by the presence of the most toxic chemicals in the air, ground or water. For example, when the EPA analyzes the risks of the dry-cleaning solvent perchloroethylene, all it will test are hazards for those who directly handle it. The fact that that chemical occurs in drinking water in 44 states, because of unsafe disposal, will not be evaluated. This EPA decision is a direct result of the national vote in 2016.


I care about your votes, because I want our politicians to be good human beings, thoughtful, knowledgeable, honest people. Some of the candidates on the ballot in November will be nothing like that. Across the country, candidates with despicable views or despicable behavior have been getting hundreds of thousands of votes. In Alabama, Roy Moore, who refused to enforce our laws and had to be removed twice from the Alabama Supreme Court, and who is a despicable person besides, nearly won a US Senate seat. Twenty thousand people in Illinois’ 3rd Congressional District voted in the primary for Arthur Jones, a neo-Nazi and Holocaust denier. Don Blankenship of West Virginia went to jail, because 29 men died in an explosion in one of his company’s mines in 2010, but he got 20% of primary votes. We don’t have to vote for the worst human beings.


I care about your votes, because I depend on professional media to inform me about the world, the same media that many politicians say represents “fake news”. Voting for them means moving our national politics even further away from facts to propaganda. While trust in the mass media has fallen somewhat over the past 20 years, some voters have basically given up entirely on the nation’s most professional sources of news: less than 14% of Republicans have a “fair amount” of trust in the mass media. How else can we decide who is the best candidate?


I care about your votes, because only government can solve some of our most pressing problems: widespread poverty, pollution, continuing discrimination against minorities and women. But government can’t solve our problems if Americans don’t vote for good candidates. If we are just left to individual action, if we have no counterweight to the self-interested decisions of giant corporations or of the richest, most powerful people, our communities will suffer.


But today less than one-third of Americans believe that government officials are credible. Among the 28 countries surveyed by Edelman for its Trust Barometer, the college-educated “informed public” in the US ranks last in trust of our institutions. Just one year ago, the US was among the international leaders in trust for our institutions, with 68% expressing trust; now it’s only 45%. Trust in our institutions dropped from 2017 to 2018 more than in any other country. Only we, the voters, can do something to reverse this trend. Only we can find and vote for trustworthy people who will create a trustworthy government.


It’s more complicated than just avoiding Nazis. We must seek out people who demonstrate compassion for all Americans, who exemplify honesty in their personal and public lives, who seek solutions to conflicts rather than fomenting them.


How do ordinary Americans change the direction of America? The Southern Baptist Convention just showed how: they elected a young pastor as president, who urged his brethren to repent their “failure to honor women and racial minorities”. The SBC is breaking its partisan support of the Republican Party. They will change our politics, because they were willing to change their minds.


My fellow Americans, it’s up to us. We can’t magically make our country healthy again in November, but we can reverse disastrous recent trends. We can make America great again, not by being an ugly neighbor, not by trashing other nations, not by just looking out for ourselves, but by electing great Americans and encouraging them to represent the best in us.


Steve Hochstadt

Jacksonville IL

Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, June 19, 2018

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
How to Uncover Secrets Giant institutions often violate their own rules and our laws, and hurt, or even kill people in the process. They use powerful offices or connections to them, unlimited money, and threats of retaliation to keep us ignorant of their illegal actions. Individuals who get in their way are bought off or crushed.


There are big secrets in America, which we ought to know about, for our own good. Some Americans say they are worried by a “deep state”. But these are the same people who defend Joseph McCarthy and the national witch hunt against people they didn’t like. The same people who disdain today’s FBI, but said nothing when the FBI illegally attacked citizens in the 1960s. The same people who reject the work of those, like Robert Mueller, who now professionally investigate America’s most important secrets. These people propagate stories about big secrets without evidence and assail those who try to reveal and understand them. Their “deep state” stories are vacuous.


The most relentless, most objective, most principled, and most experienced investigator of America’s secrets is our free press. McCarthy’s unmasking was accomplished by Murrey Marder of the Washington Post, whose daily articles recorded his every action for four years. Marder’s reporting brought about the Army-McCarthy hearings, the first Congressional hearings to be televised live nationally.


Newspaper reporting brought us the most significant revelations about our government’s secrets. The Pentagon Papers published by the Washington Post revealed the truth about the Vietnam War. The Watergate stories by Woodward and Bernstein brought down a dishonest President.


Newspaper reporting uncovers the hidden mechanisms which make some people’s lives more difficult. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s 1989 series “The Color of Money” documented the systematic racial discrimination in housing using redlining. Last year, the finalists for the Pulitzer Prize in Investigative Reporting included the exposé of violence and neglect in Florida mental hospitals; a series by Michael J. Berens and Patricia Callahan of the Chicago Tribune documenting official neglect and abuse leading to 42 deaths at Illinois group homes for developmentally disabled adults; and Steve Reilly’s investigation for USA Today Network in Tysons Corner, VA, of 9,000 teachers across the nation who should have been flagged for past disciplinary offenses, but were not. The list of winners of the Pulitzer Prize gives us dozens of examples of how important American newspapers are to our understanding of what goes on around us that we can’t see.


Journalists have used their skills and resources to uncover historical secrets, such as 24-year-old Sara Ganim of the Harrisburg Patriot-News, who disclosed the child molestation allegations against Jerry Sandusky months before other news organizations.


The resistance of secret-keepers can be powerful. The film “Spotlight” shows how difficult it was for the Boston Globe to put together scattered and hidden evidence into the story about widespread child abuse by Catholic priests. The documentary “Fear and Favor in the Newsroom” shows how media owners and board members try to censor stories revealing corporate wrong-doing.


But we need to know stories about the perverse sexual history of Roy Moore, who was running for Senate in Alabama; about Harvey Weinstein’s decades of abusing women in the film industry; and about the large number of children who are killed or injured by guns.


Reporting the news means telling citizens what they would not otherwise know.”


Getting news from newspapers is slower and less exciting than the bombardment of “breaking news” on TV, but more accurate, more objective, and more useful. Commercial TV stations have far fewer news reporters than local newspapers do. Nearly all stories on local news stations reported on accidents, crimes, and scheduled or staged events.


Social media and smart phones have not killed newspapers, but print journalism has been in decline for a long time. The number of newspaper editorial employees has fallen from more than 60,000 in 1992 to around 40,000 in 2009. The number of newspaper staff reporters covering the state capitols full time dropped 30% from 2003 to 2009.


Newspapers are capitalist enterprises run by the richest Americans. But conservatives hate them. Why? Because they are the most dangerous foes of secret-keepers, and today’s conservatives are desperately trying to hide their biggest secret – they are protecting an incompetent, dishonest and dangerous leader.


Steve Hochstadt

Jacksonville IL

Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, June 26, 2018

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
Immigrants, Refugees and Racism My father arrived in the US as a refugee in 1938. But he was the wrong kind, because he was a Jew. Although thousands of Jewish refugees from the Nazis were able to enter the US, official US policy did not welcome them. The State Department put so many barriers in the way of Jews trying to escape from Nazi Germany that the official yearly quota of immigrants from Germany was not filled from 1933 to 1938. That quota itself was part of the long American history of distinguishing between “good” and “bad” immigrants based on race.


There were no immigration restrictions in the new American republic, but only the good kind of people could become citizens – white people. Slaves were excluded from citizenship by the Constitution. In 1790, Congress restricted new citizenship to “any Alien being a free white person”.


Blacks who were already free were barred from entering the Southern slave states. Whites in Illinois, like many northern states, did not want African Americans either, so they not only denied the citizenship rights to blacks already in Illinois, but also discouraged slaveowners from freeing their slaves in Illinois.


A new kind of bad people began to pour into the US in the 1840s, 2 million Irish fleeing the famine. About the same number of Germans immigrated to America in the middle of 19th century, but the Germans were mostly good Protestants and the Irish were bad Catholics. A popular movement developed to fight off the Irish hordes under the banner of patriotism. In 1849, a secret society of Protestant men in New York called the Order of the Star Spangled Banner sought to recreate an America of “Temperance, Liberty and Protestantism”. They grew into the American Party, often called the “Know Nothings”.


In 1857, the Supreme Court pronounced what it hoped was a definitive statement about bad immigrants in the Dred Scott case: descendants of slaves brought to the US could never become citizens, because black people were “so far inferior, that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.” That ruling lasted only until Lincoln promulgated the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 and the states passed the 14th amendment exactly 150 years ago.


Almost immediately another dangerous foreigner threatened white America, Chinese laborers imported to construct the transcontinental railroad in the West. California laws prevented Chinese immigrants from becoming citizens, and popular sentiment was whipped up against the Chinese by labeling them sexual predators taking jobs away from white Americans. Congress in 1882 passed the first immigration act targeting a particular ethnic group, the Chinese Exclusion Act prohibiting all immigration of Chinese laborers.


Racist immigration restrictions are typically fearful reactions to changes in actual immigration. At the end of the 19th century, floods of immigrants from southern and eastern Europe, including millions of Jews, brought a backlash of demands to stop such bad immigrants. Congress eventually responded in 1917 with an “Asiatic Barred Zone” which excluded all Asians, except for Japanese and residents of the US colony of the Philippines. In 1924, a more comprehensive quota system favored good immigrants from western and northern Europe; not-so-good immigrants from southern and eastern Europe were limited, and all Asians were barred. The quotas were designed so that 86% of immigrants came from northwestern Europe and Scandinavia.


The Immigration Act of 1924 remained in force through World War II, although extralegal restrictions had to be employed to prevent too many Jews from Germany from entering the US. This and the entire history of immigration restrictions accurately represented American public opinion, at least among the white majority, where racist stereotypes of dangerous non-white foreigners mixed with fears of job competition. A Gallup poll in November 1938, two weeks after the Nazis destroyed Jewish synagogues, businesses and homes, and sent 30,000 Jews to concentration camps during Kristallnacht, asked Americans: “Should we allow a larger number of Jewish exiles from Germany to come to the United States to live?” 72% said, “No.”


The human disasters of World War II, including but not limited to the Holocaust, changed American opinion about refugees. Jewish refugees were admitted in increasing numbers after 1945, and the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 abolished nationality quotas. For the first time in our history, American laws reflected the sentiments inscribed on the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”. Congress overwhelmingly passed the bipartisan Refugee Act of 1980, declaring the “historic policy of the United States to respond to the urgent needs of persons subject to persecution in their homelands.” Since then the US has taken in 3 out of every 4 refugees resettled across the world.


Donald Trump began his campaign by insulting Mexicans and promising to ban Muslims. He is leading the reversal of American openness and a return to our earlier racially-based immigration. Although we still accepted more refugees than any other country in 2017, for the first time we accepted less than the rest of the world. Canada, Australia, and Norway accepted more than five times as many refugees per capita as the US.


The pulling apart of asylum-seeking families is only the most inhumane aspect of this repudiation of what has made America great. We are retreating to the worst aspects of our history. The richest nation on earth will no longer be the most generous.


Steve Hochstadt

Jacksonville IL

Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, July 17, 2018

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
Sports, Sportsmanship and Life A TV commercial I’ve seen too many times says that sports are more than a game. That was certainly true for the soccer World Cup just played in Russia. Enormous crowds at home in every country watched each game as if national survival depended on victory. Hundreds of thousands of French people crowded the streets of Paris when their team won. It’s hard not to connect national pride with athletic triumph. If the US had a team in Russia, I would have rooted from them over everyone else.


The physical skills of individual players and the intuitive coordination of team play were spectacular to watch. But I was disappointed in an important aspect of these matches. Fighting for control of the ball always involved pushing, grabbing arms and pulling on jerseys, all strictly forbidden by the rules. Everybody appeared to consider this behavior a normal part of the game. Feigning innocence and surprise when they were caught in flagrante delicto was even more blatant than the “who me?” gestures of NBA players called for fouls.


Winning was more important than sportsmanship.


I just spent a weekend in Chicago watching a different sport at a high level with a different sense of fair play. My son’s team was playing in the USA Ultimate Frisbee National Masters Championships, for men over 33 and women over 30. Ultimate is a lot like soccer – playing on a soccer-sized field, passing the disk from one player to another trying to get it into the end zone.


But the spirit of the game is entirely different. Even at these national championships, there were no referees. Players were expected to make their own calls for the slightest infraction of the strict rules against physical contact. Disagreements had to be settled by mutual consent on the field, sometimes with the help of neutral official “observers”, mostly by discussion among the players.


The whole atmosphere of competition was based on mutual respect. Players congratulated the other team on good plays and helped each other up from the ground. After the game, the usual congratulatory line-up of the teams was just the beginning of acknowledgment of opponents. The two teams formed a circle with their arms around each other and presented gifts, usually cans of beer, to athletes on the other side, often selected for their fair play and good spirit.


These were serious competitors. Teams of 15 or 20, which had made it through two levels of regional play, traveled from all over the US for three days of competition.


The dominant sense of fair play and mutual respect is maintained by constant reference to the “spirit of the game”, as in these quotations from the “Official Rules of Ultimate”: “Ultimate relies upon a spirit of sportsmanship that places the responsibility for fair play on the player. Highly competitive play is encouraged, but never at the expense of mutual respect among competitors, adherence to the agreed upon rules, or the basic joy of play.” I watched many games over the weekend, and the number of infractions against this form of sportsmanship was minimal.


The words about the spirit of the game (SOTG) on the website of USA Ultimate are a primer about good behavior more generally: “Treat others as you would want to be treated”; “Be generous with praise”; “Go hard. Play fair. Have fun.” “SOTG is about how you handle yourself under pressure: how you contain your emotionality, tame your temper, and modulate your voice.”


Ultimate frisbee developed as a popular sport in the heady days of youthful rebellion against all forms of convention and authority during the late 1960s. The insistence on sportsmanship without referees was natural to teenagers who disdained what they felt was the heavy hand of the older generation. Yet the determination of ultimate players to prevent their ideals from being distorted by conventional sports culture is remarkable.


Not only has the spirit remained in force for half a century, but ultimate players have fought against the typical gender stereotyping of sports culture. Gender mixing and equality has been taken naturally from the start: like all frisbee tournaments, these Masters Nationals invited men’s, women’s and mixed teams on an equal basis. The players’ organization, USA Ultimate, recognized the bias towards men’s athletics that permeates sports around the world and has determined to counteract it. The players’ organization endorsed “gender equity” in 2008, as a reaction to outside media broadcasters, who preferred to display only men’s games. Knowing that they could not control the broadcast content of third-party media companies, USA Ultimate decided on a policy of encouragement and persuasion. The media companies, including ESPN, are now broadcasting men’s and women’s games equally at the college and club levels. USA Ultimate has instituted programs to specifically encourage more girls and women to play and form teams, since there are still more than twice as many males as females who are members.


By staying true to their countercultural roots, ultimate players have discovered that hard competition does not automatically mean animosity and cheating: “Time and again, great teams and star players have shown that you can bring all your competitive and athletic zeal to a game without sacrificing fair play or respect for your opponent.”


Given the constant lamentations about the end of civility and an epidemic of bad manners in modern life, ultimate’s SOTG might offer a better path. Some sports are more than just games.


Steve Hochstadt

Springbrook, WI

Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, July 31, 2018

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
How to Kill the Free Press Anti-democratic rulers always try to prevent a free press from reporting what they are doing. Authoritarian governments past and present have developed a model for eliminating independent news reporting. Donald Trump and his allies are creating a different model, with disastrous long-term effects for American democracy.


The common model has been to shut down unsupportive newspapers and to create their own “news” outlets spouting official “truth”. When the Bolsheviks took power in Russia in October 1917, they were uncertain about how much press freedom they would allow. During the New Economic Policy period from 1921 to 1928, limited freedom to publish was given to sympathetic non-Communists. After Stalin took power, however, every word published in the Soviet Union had to conform to strict government guidelines.


When the Nazis came to power in 1933, there were 4700 newspapers in Germany, but the Nazis took control over the published word much more quickly than the Soviets had. Leftist parties were outlawed and their newspapers seized. Two Jewish publishing empires owned by the Ullstein and Mosse families were destroyed within a year. Critical journalists fled the country. Joseph Goebbels’ Propaganda Ministry issued detailed daily guidelines about what could be printed, with the threat of arrest and concentration camp for those who disobeyed. By the end of the Nazi regime, there were only about 1000 newspapers, and those owned by the Nazi Party outsold independent organs 5 to 1.


Violent repression, censorship and news written by the government were the hallmarks of the Nazi and Soviet destruction of press freedom. This model has been followed by many repressive regimes since then, and extended to news media on radio and TV.


The connection between control of journalism and development of authoritarian government is demonstrated most clearly today in Recep Erdogan’s Turkey. As Erdogan jailed political opponents and reconstituted the government to consolidate personal power, he initiated a wide crackdown on the press. Turkey has jailed more journalists in the past two years than any other country.


Donald Trump’s war against the free press is often compared to the methods of Hitler, Mussolini, and other dictatorial rulers. But I think these comparisons are misleading. The Republican Party in no way resembles the monolithic parties which violently suppressed opponents. Trump’s administration does not have the broad powers to deploy force against the press. Closing newspapers or arresting journalists would cause a constitutional crisis in the US.


Instead Trump has used another model for reducing the ability of our free press to describe and criticize his government. First, he has spread distrust of the mainstream media, so that their reporting about his words and his administrative actions is not believed by his supporters. He goads those who attend his rallies to shout “CNN sucks”, calls journalists “horrendous people”, and lately uses the phrase “enemy of the people” to describe the mainstream media in general. Attacks on the major national news outlets are part of nearly every speech he gives.


Trump did not initiate conservative attacks on mainstream news reporting. The objective reporting of news was Sarah Palin’s primary political target in the 2008 campaign and afterwards, but she was following an already conventional conservative complaint about media bias against the right. In 2014, before Trump began his campaign, Pew surveys showed that “consistent conservatives” distrusted the major national newspapers, NYTimes, Washington Post and USA Today, and the national TV news organizations, except FOX.


Second, Trump supplements attacks on responsible media with unprecedented support for the irresponsible reporting of pretend journalists. Again, the far right media establishment predates Trump. Already in 1995, FAIR reported on a “right-wing media machine” based on personal attacks, fabricated stories, and thinly disguised white supremacy. But Trump gives respectability to what used to be a lunatic media fringe. His anti-free-press model uses existing right-wing media organizations to circulate the “news” he likes.


Alex Jones disseminates made-up conspiracies on his website Infowars, designed to create distrust of our government: that the mass murders at Sandy Hook, the Boston Marathon, and Oklahoma City were government hoaxes perpetrated. Trump appeared on his program as a presidential candidate, praised him as “amazing”, and repeated many of his wild and untrue ideas. The White House granted Infowars official press credentials in 2017.


Trump’s promotion of Steve Bannon, the director of Breitbart News, to be his campaign director and then special advisor in the White House, put the leading voice of alt-right disinformation at the center of his administration.


Recent polling shows that more than two-thirds of Republicans think traditional major news sources make “fake, false, or purposely misleading” reports “a lot”. That is true for only 42% of independents and 22% of Democrats. Most Republicans think the NYTimes (74%) and the Washington Post (65%) are biased, but only 19% distrust Breitbart.


Trump’s model is designed to subvert democracy from within without violence. Responsible news sources will continue to report Trump’s constant lying and his political failures, while Trump will continue to call these reports “fake news”. Unless FOX decides to start reporting in a “fair and balanced” manner, conservative voters will continue to prefer the fantasyland of right-wing media to the real world of factual journalism.


Steve Hochstadt

Springbrook WI

Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, August 7, 2018

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
Those Crazy Republicans There are some wild candidates out on the trail this election season. I can’t remember a time when so many unusual candidates for political office made headlines through what they say and do.


Maybe it’s the length of the campaign season, underway since the beginning of the year, meaning at least 10 months of constant campaigning for a midterm election. Campaigning for the 2016 presidential election was already in progress when Ted Cruz in March 2015 and Hillary Clinton in April became the first announced candidates for each party. By the time we vote this November, we will have been bombarded with political campaigns for about 30 of 42 months.


Our legislators are able to do less, because they campaign more. Most of their actual work, that we pay them well for, does not involve serious discussions about the problems the rest of us face. The work that many politicians for high office do most of the time is exaggerate their own accomplishments, make promises they can’t keep, and tell lies about their opponents. Campaigning brings out the least reasonable, least forthright, least truthful side of even the most honest politicians.


So it’s no wonder that national politics brings out some wacky people. People who think that having lots of money or shouting on talk radio or running some corporation means they are ready to run our country. People who think they already know it all and don’t mind telling you. But some candidates these days are so ideologically vicious, so impervious to reality, and so incompetent that they are dangerous to themselves and us.


It’s unusual to have an avowed Nazi from a major party running for Congress, but this year we have two. Patrick Little, who calls the Holocaust a “propaganda hoax” and wants to limit the number of Jews in government, ran in California’s June primary and came in 12th. Arthur Jones, a neo-Nazi and Holocaust denier, ran unopposed in the Republican primary in a Chicago congressional district. He got 20,681 votes, even though he raised no money and his long history of Nazi sympathies was known a month before the vote. His district is mainly Democratic.


More likely to end up in Congress, Paul Nehlen, who is running for the seat that Paul Ryan is vacating in Wisconsin, describes himself as a “pro-White Christian American candidate”. He regularly tweets antisemitic comments about “the Jewish media” and says that “Jews will burn in hell.” He has been supported by all the luminaries of the Republican right: Sarah Palin, Ann Coulter, Laura Ingraham, and Sean Hannity.


More competitive and somewhat less distasteful, Corey Stewart is a Republican Senate candidate from Virginia. Last year he called Nehlen “one of my personal heroes” and has appeared together with Jason Kessler, the white nationalist who organized the deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville. Last year he revived the idea that President Obama’s birth certificate was “forged” by Democrats.


Brian Kemp won the Republican primary for governor in Georgia. He made a name for himself as Georgia’s Secretary of State by trying to keep African Americans from voting. After years of heavy-handed investigations of non-existent “voter fraud”, Kemp achieved no charges, no indictments, and no convictions, but successfully kept thousands of newly registered citizens from voting. His TV ads show him with various guns, threatening to use his “big truck” to “round up” undocumented immigrants.


Kris Kobach exemplifies what continual campaigning rather than practical politics brings to a democracy. He has said for years that voter fraud is so rampant in America that we need unprecedented new restrictions on voting. That earned him a new office in Trump’s administration with the power to find out exactly where that fraud is. He found nothing. Don’t hold your breath waiting for him to admit that he has been wrong all this time. He earned big bucks “consulting” with towns which passed new anti-immigration laws. The towns lost big in court. He wrote the Kansas law requiring people who wanted to register to vote to prove their citizenship. A federal judge struck down the law as unconstitutional and rebuked Kobach personally for violating rules of the courtroom: Kobach was held in contempt and required to go back to class for 6 hours of legal education.


How incompetent can you get? But Kobach is very good at riling up Kansas Republicans and he just squeaked by in the Republican primary for governor.


These men are not representative of all Republicans running for election this November. But such far-right ideologues are becoming more numerous, because of the example of Donald Trump. Corey Stewart claimed in 2016, “I was Trump before Trump was Trump.” Trump endorsed Kobach and Kemp in their primaries.


Making wild charges about rigged elections seems to win Republican votes. Failing to prove them doesn’t matter. Playing with racism and hanging around with racists doesn’t matter either. Paying no attention to the real problems in America, like persistent poverty and crumbling infrastructure, doesn’t matter. Maybe the only thing that will matter is if the rest of us vote against them.


Steve Hochstadt

Springbrook WI

Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, August 14, 2018

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
I Love Private Property I would not be happy if I could not own private property. I am glad to possess my own wool shirts, my vehicles and especially my real estate.


I lived as a tenant in other people’s buildings for about 20 years after I graduated from high school. I liked most of my landlords and usually was able to improve their properties while I lived there. But inevitably there were restrictions on what I could do in my home. Disagreements arose from this sharing of responsibility between owner and renter.


When we finally were able to buy our own house, our responsibilities increased enormously, as every homeowner knows. But we could make every choice: where to plant trees; what color to paint; what to fix; how to remodel. Our home could become an expression of our values and tastes.


Homeowners cannot do anything they want. Local ordinances and zoning regulations, as well as the need to keep peace with neighbors, put limits on private property owners. Various state laws about sewage and waterfront limit our freedom to do whatever we want with our property on the outskirts of a tiny village in northern Wisconsin. I’m okay with that.


In fact, I help to enforce some restrictions in my own neighborhood, which is a historic district in Jacksonville, IL. Owners of historic homes need to get permission from the Historical Preservation Commission if they want to change the way their homes appear from the street. The purpose is to preserve the historic character of the neighborhood, so that future owners and future generations can enjoy the increasingly rare sight of streets filled with historic buildings. The job of the HPC is to prevent a current homeowner from making poor decisions which will never be undone.


Exactly where to draw the line between private and public is sometimes contentious. About one-fifth of Americans live in developments where homeowners’ associations can specify paint colors, parking spaces and even the size of pets.


I also love public property. Americans use public property every day. Every time we get into a car, stroll along the sidewalk, cross a bridge, or take public transportation, we benefit from public property. Our national park system, thousands of rivers and streams, picnic areas, bridges, airports, train stations, and roads are owned by us all and are run in our collective interest. One of those interests is affordability. A pass to all 2000 recreation sites owned by the federal government for a full year costs $80. That covers everyone in a car. Compare that to one day at Disney World, where even 3-year-olds pay over $100.


Public property is a political issue: Democrats want to maintain and expand public services and Republicans want to turn public resources and services into private property.


The Republican platform for the 2016 election proposed cutting federal support for transportation projects that were not about cars: bike-share programs, sidewalk improvements, recreational trails, landscaping, historical renovations, ferry boats. Republicans proposed privatizing rail service among northeastern cities. Just before the 2016 election, Trump proposed massive infrastructure projects, which would effectively privatize roads and bridges. Republicans tried to privatize Medicare in their 2018 budget proposals, and introduced a bill to privatize air traffic control.


The Trump administration, led by Betsy DeVos, the Secretary of Education, is reducing the regulation of private, for-profit universities, despite their abysmal record of misleading students about the likelihood of getting jobs after “graduation”. DeVos has long supported using public funds to support private schools through voucher programs. Her family spent millions of dollars in a failed effort to convince Michigan voters to support a voucher program.


The vast resources of the Koch brothers are being used to oppose improvements to public transportation in communities across the country. Republican politicians have been trying for years to force the sale of federal land in Western states. They have been stymied by the organized public outcry of those who use the land for recreation, many of whom are Republican voters.


The economic arguments for privatization don’t stand up against historical experience. When Chicago sold the rights to its parking meters to a private company, the cost of parking jumped. When Vice President Pence was Indiana’s governor, he pushed the privatization of a stretch of Indiana highway I-69 in 2014. The project is years behind, the private company went bankrupt, and the state had to take over the road.


Private property is administered for the good of the owner. Public property is managed for public good, for all of us. I want to be in charge of my own home, where I can make decisions reflecting my personal interests. I want public ownership of facilities which serve the public, so that everyone can have a voice in their administration. Neither private nor public is automatically better than the other – they have different purposes.


The Republican drive against public property and public services would put our fates into the hands of rich companies and rich people who want to make money, not do the public good.


I love both private and public property. The proper mix insures the democratic equality that should be the basis of American society.


Steve Hochstadt

Springbrook WI

Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, August 21, 2018

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
Science is Complicated, but True The discoveries of scientists often provoke political controversy. Galileo Galilei, who was instrumental in the transition of European thought from philosophical speculation to scientific explanation in the 17th century, was persecuted by the Catholic Church for saying that the earth revolved around the sun. Church leaders had forbidden any teaching that the earth was not the center of all creation, based on their interpretation of certain Biblical passages. Galileo was condemned to life imprisonment, although he never went to prison.


Galileo wrote about the scientific method, a way of figuring out what our universe is like, in opposition to the idea of deriving all understanding from the words of the Bible. Despite overwhelming evidence over many centuries that Biblical interpretation about the nature of reality leads to false conclusions, that argument continues today.


Galileo discovered some simple truths about gravity, such as that light and heavy objects fall at the same speed. But his understanding of gravity, of the solar system, and of nearly everything else he studied was incorrect. Not wrong like the notion that the sun revolved around the earth, but wrong in details, which have been gradually discovered since then. For example, Galileo thought the earth retained a rigid orientation on its axis as it traveled around the sun. Nearly a century later, Isaac Newton predicted that the earth actually wobbles slightly. At the beginning of the 20th century, the wobble was first measured accurately. But not perfectly – it turns out that the amount of wobble itself fluctuates. The causes of this fluctuation are not known for certain, but computer models of the atmosphere and oceans have led scientists to hypothesize that changes in temperature and salinity of the oceans cause changes in ocean circulation, which in turn lead to shifts in the wobble.


This brief discussion of one corner of scientific research illustrates how our understanding grows and deepens over centuries from simpler to more complex explanations. Constantly improving instruments make better hypotheses possible, from Galileo’s refinements on the telescope to more powerful computers. At every point, something was not entirely correct in the scientific understanding of the earth’s motion. Scientists disagreed with each other, theories were advanced, rejected, and refined. The story continues.


New discoveries constantly show that what we think we understand about nature is not quite right. Among scientists, there is no argument about the fact that the living organisms on earth gradually evolve into different organisms. Exactly how evolution proceeds is known in quite specific terms, but new discoveries and new interpretations keep changing the details of that knowledge. Evolution had been thought to proceed very slowly, but studies of animal life in constantly changing urban environments show that spiders, lizards, mice and birds can biologically adapt very quickly.


The whole field of evolutionary biology is under reconstruction. Douglas Erwin, a senior scientist at the National Museum of Natural History at the Smithsonian Institution, described in 2007 flaws in the generally accepted version of evolution, a “tumult” among scientists, and the possibility of a new paradigm. Science changes every day.


It is not difficult for an educated person to understand Galileo’s ideas about how the earth revolves around the sun or Darwin’s ideas about how species evolve. But even a PhD in some form of science might not be sufficient to understand the most recent astronomical and biological theories. Scientific discussions of “dark matter”, of the interaction of gravity with the three other “fundamental forces”, or of particles without mass are beyond nearly all of us.


Science is increasingly complicated, and that provides an opening for political ideologues to question particular scientific conclusions and thus the whole scientific enterprise. Every time one scientist questions some element of evolutionary theory, creationists say “evolution is just a theory” and therefore not necessarily true. Our Vice President does not accept evolution. Our President and his entire administration deny climate change, which he has called a hoax.


The skepticism about science promoted by American conservative politicians continues to influence public opinion. More than one-third of Americans do not believe in evolution. More education helps, but still about one-fifth of those with postgraduate degrees are creationists. The most fervent believers in creationism are evangelical Protestants, who also greatly underestimate the complete consensus among scientists about evolution.


It may be encouraging that belief in good science is growing, although slightly. The latest survey shows that 73% of Americans believe there is "solid evidence" of climate change, the highest number yet. Belief in human evolution is also at its highest point, at 62%.


Less encouraging are the beliefs of those who do not accept the scientific unanimity about evolution and climate change. Conservative Republicans do not trust scientists. Only 11% believe that climate scientists understand very well the causes of climate change. Only 9% believe that climate scientists’ findings are influenced by the “best available scientific evidence” “most of the time”. These science deniers are not likely to be convinced: 71% of conservative Republicans think the media do a “bad job” of reporting about climate change by exaggerating the threat.


That’s ignorance backed by a determination to remain ignorant. Galileo would be disappointed that so little has changed.


Steve Hochstadt

Springbrook WI

Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, September 4, 2018

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
Only The Best People No President can govern alone. George Washington picked a few of the most prominent revolutionary leaders for his Cabinet, including Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton. Now the federal government directly employs over 2 million people, and pays millions of others, such as our soldiers.


Candidates tell us they will get the best people. For most of our history, it was assumed that the best meant white men. After Emancipation of the slaves in 1865, black men began to be hired in Washington, encouraged by the early Republican Party. President Woodrow Wilson, a Democrat, reimposed racist criteria on federal hiring early in the 20th century. Only since Lyndon Johnson’s efforts at desegregating American society in the 1960s have African Americans again held important offices in our government.


The first woman to serve in the Cabinet was Frances Perkins, appointed Secretary of Labor by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1933. President Dwight Eisenhower made the next female appointment in 1953, Oveta Culp Hobby as head of the new Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. As the women’s movement intensified in the late 1970s, Jimmy Carter appointed four women to his Cabinet.


Although women have almost as many jobs in the government as men, they are concentrated at lower pay and responsibility. In all departments, the salary pyramid narrows strongly at the top in favor of men. So Mitt Romney talked awkwardly about “binders full of women” in 2012, to show that his version of best included women.


Donald Trump constantly repeated that he would bring in “the best people” or “the best people in the world”. He said, “I know the best people.”  “You’ve got to pick the best people.” He boasted about how good he was at finding the best. Because he rarely mentioned anyone in particular, we never found out what he meant by “best”.


Now we know a lot more.


On August 21, one of his campaign managers was convicted of tax and bank fraud, and his personal attorney of many years pled guilty to similar financial crimes. In Trump’s first 18 months, 8 Cabinet secretaries had to resign, often for spending outrageous amounts of our tax dollars on themselves, a record turnover. The constant changes, including many firings, of Trump’s larger senior staff are “unprecedented”: 4 communications directors, 3 national security advisors, 2 chiefs of staff.


National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and campaign adviser George Papadopoulos both lied to the FBI.


Trump drew people near to him who excelled at defrauding others, private and public. Then he evaluated them with a single criteria: do they love him?


Trump explained his hiring policy in a nutshell, after he got mad at one of his best people. He hired one of his reality television co-stars, Omarosa Manigault, as director of African-American outreach for his campaign. She responded by saying in September 2016: “Every critic, every detractor, will have to bow down to President Trump. It's everyone who's ever doubted Donald, whoever disagreed, whoever challenged him. It is the ultimate revenge to become the most powerful man in the universe.”


Now she’s gone. Trump says that she is a lowlife and a dog, but he hired her “because she only said GREAT things about me.”


Omarosa was one of the small number of women hired for senior positions in the Trump administration. Despite GOP boasts about how many women he has hired, in fact, his administration is “the most male-dominated federal government in nearly a quarter-century”.


Does he care about crime? After Manafort was convicted of stealing money from banks and from the government to support an outrageous lifestyle, Trump called him “a brave man ... a stand-up guy”. All that mattered was that Manafort had not yet cooperated with prosecutors. Not yet, but maybe soon.


Trump is outraged that the first two House members to endorse him both are under indictment for financial crimes. Not outraged at their apparent crimes, but at the fact that their indictments might hurt Republicans in the elections.


Trump does have some of the best people working in his administration. They have proven themselves by long years of accomplishment, doing the work of running our government in the most non-partisan manner they can, serving Presidents of both Parties, and bringing wisdom and ethical behavior to our federal government.


But there aren’t nearly as many as there were just two years ago. Trump and his appointed Cabinet, his version of the best people, have performed so badly, so incompetently, so corruptly, that thousands of career public servants have quit their jobs. More than half of the top-ranking diplomats in the State Department had left by January 2018, and applications to join the foreign service have fallen by half. More than 700 people left the EPA by the end of last year, including 200 scientists.


Trump’s best people are corrupting American government at all levels. It may take a long time for us to recover.


Steve Hochstadt

Springbrook WI

Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, September 11, 2018

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
Innocent Until Proven Guilty? Two neighboring headlines caught my eye last week, proclaiming two prominent social problems.


“‘Robbed’ of His Life by a Wrongful Conviction” tells about the tragedy of Larry McKee. After 20 years in prison, a judge threw out McKee’s conviction for murder, because key evidence had never been given to his defense. Multiple witnesses, including the dying victim, had identified the killer as Hispanic. That evidence had been given to a grand jury, but the prosecutor withheld it from the defense during the jury trial. McKee is black. He is one of thousands of men, most of them minorities, who were put in prison for serious crimes of which they were innocent.


The other story also tells of men who some say are judged “guilty until proven innocent”. Before mocking Christine Blasey Ford at a rally in Mississippi, Donald Trump offered his assessment of the consequences of the #MeToo movement: “It is a very scary time for young men in America, where you can be guilty of something you may not be guilty of.” “You can be somebody that was perfect their entire life, and somebody can accuse you of something, and you’re automatically guilty.”


This is a familiar refrain from Trump, who has himself been accused by multiple women of sexual assault. When his aide Rob Porter was accused of abusing two wives, Trump tweeted, “Peoples lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation.” When it was revealed that Bill O’Reilly had settled five harassment claims against him, Trump said, “I don’t think Bill did anything wrong. He is a good person.” He also called Roger Ailes “a very good person” after he was ousted from FOX News in 2016.


Are these two situations comparable?


The new ability to use tiny traces of DNA to put individuals at a crime scene has greatly increased the possibility of exonerating innocent people. More thorough oversight of some police departments has revealed long-running scandals, where officers railroaded innocent people with coerced confessions, planted evidence and false testimony. The number of exonerations of innocent people has jumped from between 50 and 100 yearly between 2000 and 2010, to over 150 since 2015.


In 2017, 139 convicted people were exonerated. A majority of them, 84, had been convicted due to misconduct by police, prosecutors, or other government officials, as in McKee’s case. Another 96 people were released through “group exonerations” in Baltimore and Chicago, because police officers had been methodically framing them for drug crimes.


Who are the people who are guilty until proven innocent?


I did a search on “men in prison exonerated”. The first two pages of news stories showed 3 men without photo, 1 Hispanic man and 9 black men, including a Detroit man who spent 45 years in prison. That impression is backed up by more serious studies. The Innocence Project shows photos of 362 cases exonerated by DNA evidence since 1992: a majority of the images are black men. An earlier study showed that about 70% of DNA exonerations were men of color.


A thorough study in 2017 about “Race and Wrongful Convictions” found that a majority of innocent defendants who are convicted of crimes are African American. African Americans were the major targets in the series of police scandals that have been uncovered recently.


Are men who were “perfect their entire lives” being unfairly targeted by allegations of sexual misconduct? False accusations of sexual assault and rape are very rare. The FBI estimated that 8% of rape allegations were “unfounded”, which includes cases where there was insufficient evidence to prove a case in court or the victim decided not to go through with a full investigation. A study in 2010 found that the prevalence of false accusations of sexual assault is between 2% and 10%. Very few of those unfounded allegations result in an arrest. False accusations tend to be made by teenage girls trying to get out of trouble, not by adult women describing what happened to them in the past. Over the past two decades, about 15 times as many murder convictions were found to be false as rape convictions.


The problem is the reverse. Women report only a minority of sexual assaults. Various studies have found that between 6% and 38% of men admit in surveys to having sexually assaulted women.


These situations are similar, but not at all in the way claimed by Trump and other critics of #MeToo. In both cases, a privileged segment of American society, white and male, has systematically victimized underprivileged Americans, female and not white, and walked away. The members of the Bronx district attorney’s office, who did not provide “potentially exculpatory evidence” to McKee’s defense, walked away long ago. All of the prominent men who have suddenly found themselves held responsible for their treatment of women, from which they walked away for years, are outraged by their new plight.


The key number is one to remember, especially right now: only about 1 in 20 accusations of sexual assault turns out to be false.


Steve Hochstadt

Jacksonville IL

Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, October 9, 2018

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
A Man For All Men? Suppose you just met a man at a party, in a bar, at a meeting, or at a ball game. He talked only about himself. He told amazing stories about how wonderful and rich he was. He said he was a genius, one of the most successful businessmen in the world, and superior at everything he does. He commented on how attractive or unattractive the women around him were and bragged about his sexual exploits. He laughed about getting away with groping women he encountered. He made fun of the intelligence of well-known people. He made fun of the handicapped. Although flabby and overweight, he puffed up his chest praising men who were “tough” like him.


Then later you found out that his stories about himself were lies. That he cheats at golf. That he had cheated everyone he worked with and conned his customers. That he had cheated on his wives. And that his wealth was not earned, but given to him by his very wealthy father.


What would you say about this man? A man you would not trust with a dollar. A man from whom you would want to protect the women in your life. There’s one word which sums up this personality – asshole.


Even assholes can be nice sometimes. Maybe such a man could show compassion in his interactions with others and empathy for those less fortunate. Maybe with more public responsibility, he could become more responsible. Maybe he would show another side of his personality.


But we have observed Donald Trump for two years since his election, and he has escalated his repellent behavior. His lies have multiplied, even about facts that can be easily checked. He mocks women, their bodies, and their stories of abuse by men. He refuses to believe people who know more than he does. He encourages people to hate the press, to hate his political opponents.


He is now the most famous asshole in the world.


Some people support the political policies Trump pushes and some people don’t. But nobody could argue that Trump the man is anything but an asshole. And that means that it is worth taking a second look at those policies, because such a man cannot be trusted to do what he says. A clear example is secretly using a heartless policy of separating children from their parents as a way of dealing with asylum seekers, then denying it ever happened, then blaming it on Democrats, then imprisoning children in barracks without sufficient facilities, then defying court orders to reunite families, then admitting that they had not kept track of what they were doing.


That’s what it means to have an asshole as President.


American women have recognized how Trump’s true nature contaminates his policies. Nearly two-thirds of women disapprove of Trump. Although 84% of women who identify as Republican say they support Trump, fewer and fewer women identify as Republican now that Trump is President.


What about men? Men split nearly evenly between approval and disapproval of Trump. It’s not black men or Hispanic men, but white men who support Trump.


Men who want to protect the women in their families from guys like Trump, men who believe in honesty, who dislike braggarts, who don’t think worrying about getting venereal disease is comparable to fighting in Vietnam, who don’t accept a draft-dodger’s claims that he knows more about war than our generals – they still applaud Trump.


Conservative white men overwhelmingly support Trump. Don’t conservative values count for anything?


Trump isn’t on the ballot anywhere, but he says over and over again that this election is about him.


White men, what are you doing? Don’t vote for a sleazy liar, for an abuser of women, for a con man. Pay attention to what women around you think. Have some pride in being a man.


Send this message to every man you know. Proclaim it from the rooftops.


Don’t vote for the asshole!


Steve Hochstadt


October 23, 2018

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
The Problem Is Not Civility A man tried to assassinate the former President, the former Vice President, the former Attorney General, the most recent candidate for the Presidency, a Congresswoman and a Senator. Even a partial success would have been the worst political assassination plot in American history. Alert law enforcement agents and postal workers prevented anyone from being hurt.


Before the mad bomber was identified, prominent conservatives asserted without the slightest evidence that the bombs were fakes, planted by Democrats to tarnish Republicans. This “false flag” theory first surfaced at the fringes of right-wing media. That’s not surprising, but soon well-known conservative opinion leaders jumped on this nasty bandwagon. Ann Coulter tweeted, “bombs are a liberal tactic.” Rush Limbaugh said on his program, “What sense does it make for a conservative Republican to gum up the works here by sending a bunch of bombs that are not gonna go off and that are gonna be discovered? It doesn’t make any sense in any way, shape, manner, or form.” Fox TV host Lou Dobbs wrote, “Fake News – Fake Bombs. Who could possibly benefit by so much fakery?” FOX guest “experts” on three different shows echoed this idea. Donald Trump Jr. liked a tweet that asserted “FAKE BOMBS MADE TO SCARE AND PICK UP BLUE SYMPATHY VOTE.”


What did our President do? He never mentioned the names of the victims of this attack or expressed any sympathy with them. He complained about how media coverage of this potential tragedy interfered with coverage of his campaigning, in which he encouraged his supporters to hate the people targeted by the assassin. “We have seen an effort by the media in recent hours to use the sinister actions of one individual to score political points against me and the Republican Party,”


Countless writers have identified a lack of civility as one of our country’s worst problems. They complain about the nasty tone adopted by politicians and pundits of the left and right. They assert that the problem is a national one.


No. The problem is that a few prominent conservative opinion leaders, headed by our President, have gone way beyond incivility to hatred. When the lives of the most prominent Democrats are threatened, they blame the victims. They express no satisfaction that the plot was foiled nor sympathy for the intended victims. They don’t care that lives can be disrupted, even if bombs don’t go off. Days later, none of these commentators has admitted that they were wrong to blame Democrats.


And then they go right back to shouting that liberals are terrorists and encourage terrorists. That liberals are a “mob” which endangers the country. That the very people targeted by the bomber are a danger to the country and must be stopped.


No wonder the gullible Trump supporters echo these stupid ideas, and believe the arrest of a Trump supporter is part of the hoax. They have been bombarded by Republican attacks on the morality and the patriotism of liberals for decades. Their fears have been stoked by conservative lies about liberals since the days of Sen. McCarthy. A FOX producer called it “riling up the crazies”. Now a pathetic march of frightened Central Americans has been turned into an invasion of disease-carrying terrorists.


Let’s put the responsibility where it belongs – the supposedly serious, well known people who propagate these ideas and then take no responsibility for them when they are shown to be lies.


Incivility means rudeness or bad manners. Trump and his prominent acolytes are engaged in hate speech, incitement to violence. On the midterm campaign trail, Trump’s regular speech labels Democrats as a danger to America. They are “arsonists” who “have become too extreme and too dangerous to govern.” They want to “tear down our laws, tear down our institutions in pursuit of power.” They “want to unleash violent predators and ruthless killers.” “The Democrat party has become an angry, ruthless, unhinged mob determined to get power by any means necessary.” “The Democrats are willing to do anything, to hurt anyone, to get the power they so desperately crave. They want to destroy.”


When some Americans believe their President and believe the people who appear on television news, it becomes a reasonable choice to fear and hate all liberals.


Cesar Sayoc may have made his bombs alone. But prominent conservatives from the President on down urged him to believe his targets were enemies of the people. Trump and Coulter and Limbaugh and FOX are unindicted co-conspirators in the biggest political assassination plot in modern American history.


Lock them up.


Steve Hochstadt


October 30, 2018

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
Where Is Our Country Now? On Tuesday, millions of voters selected among thousands of candidates to run our country. Now thousands of people are telling us what these elections mean about America. So it’s easy to find claims that every side won.


Trump won.


Democrats won.


Women won.


Minorities of all kinds won.


It’s important to say over and over again that a person looking for truthful analysis and clear explanation can find them in profusion in American media. The New York Times is a national treasure, but newspapers that I have lived with in Boston, Chicago, Minneapolis, Providence, and Washington make a powerful effort at non-partisanship and objective research. The tiny newspaper I wrote for didn’t cover much and was shrinking before my eyes, but it was reliable and truthful.


TV news, on the other hand, has been taken over by showmanship and bipartisanship, which is displayed by letting people from both camps say whatever they want and calling it news. Television employs countless spin doctors, who only care about reducing the pain for their own partisans. They tailor their claims to the needs of their party at the moment. Tomorrow they’ll say something entirely different. Mingled in are useful commentators, whose biases are subordinated to their professionalism, but they often end up sounding like just like the hacks they appear next to.


FOX News can only be trusted to seek market share by telling its viewers what they most what to hear. What FOX promotes most is the most biased. Its star, Sean Hannity, explained what he does: “I'm not a journalist jackass. I'm a talk host.” FOX put its partisan purposes into practice by blaming liberals and Democrats for sending pipe bombs to themselves.


MSNBC annoys me with their repetitive gleeful reporting of whatever makes conservatives look worst. But they don’t make anything up. Their content is researched, insightful and reliable. They were as good at interpreting the election in real time on Tuesday night as anyone else. I’ve been putting all kinds of sources together to outline the election results and explain what I think about it all.


Who voted last week? The Washington Post delivered a fine graphic overview. Voters in all age groups picked Democrats in House votes at the highest rates in over 10 years, including two-thirds of 18 to 39 year olds. Suburban voters preferred Democrats by a wide margin, except in the South, where the parties were even. 60% of women preferred Democrats, while men narrowly preferred Republicans, better for Democrats among both genders than at any time in the last 10 years. Democrats got more votes from college-educated men and women than at any time since 2006: two-thirds of women who had gone to college voted for Democrats. Many voters who did not go to college had jumped away from Democrats in 2010, but have been coming back since then.


Across America, Democrats received 5 million more votes in House races than Republicans, winning 52% to 47%.


Women did win. There will be over 100 women in the House next year, many more than ever before. The first female Senators from Tennessee and Arizona will take their seats.


Minorities won. In Congress, we’ll see the first two Native American women, the first two Muslim women, the first Hispanic women from Texas. The first openly gay man was elected as Governor, among other LGBT winners.


Trump did not win. He was not on the ballot, although he told his supporters to act as if he were. Of the 75 House and Senate candidates he endorsed, who were in heavily Republican-leaning districts, only 21 won. He made public appearances for 36 House and Senate candidates in heavily Republican-leaning districts, and 21 won. He endorsed 39 other candidates, also in Republican districts, and they didn’t win.


Some combination of Trump’s unpopularity among people who had voted for Republicans in the past, the positive appeal of new candidates, among them many women and people of color, and the desire of most voters to entrust Democrats with taking care of their health and education created a wave of Democratic victories in districts held by Republicans.


Was it a big wave or a little wave or a ripple? Who even knows what those words mean applied to national elections? Numbers are better. The Democrats gained at least 36 seats in the House, flipped 7 governorships, and 8 state legislative chambers.


Here is what did not change and what will continue to animate political controversy. It is hard for many Americans to vote. Republicans profit from suppressing the vote. The numerous court judgments that they have done this unlawfully have not stopped them yet.


Republican gerrymandering has been dented, but not yet defeated. Voting in North Carolina proceeded in districts that were declared unconstitutional twice: although Republicans barely won there in terms of total votes 50.3% to 48.4%, they won 10 of 13 seats in the House. But voters approved ballot measures that would eliminate partisan gerrymandering in 4 states, with 3 of those decisions overwhelming. When they had a chance to register an opinion, voters were in favor of making voting easier.


White men are still in charge in America. Their hold on power has been weakening for decades, and 2018 was an important milestone on the path toward more equality. But everywhere you look, from the White House to Congress to elected officials at every level to company board rooms, white men are mostly in charge.


The Republican Party is the party of white evangelical men. 60% of white men voted Republican and 75% of white evangelical Christians. White men made up 46% of Republican voters, white women 39%, and minorities only 16%. Minorities were 40% of Democratic voters, white men 26% and white women 34%.


Less than half of Democratic Congressional candidates were white men, but 77% of Republican candidates.

White men were 76% of the much more numerous Republican candidates for state legislatures, a proportion that has remained unchanged since 2012.


Americans who think that sexual harassment is not a serious problem, that it is not important to elect more women and racial minorities to office, that Roe v. Wade should be overturned, and that stricter gun control laws are a bad idea are all reliable Republican voters.


Lots of electoral commentators are comparing this “blue wave” with past waves, often to prove that their side did extraordinarily well. It’s more important to think about the future. Will the overwhelming liberalism of young Americans gradually replace the self-interested conservatism of my generation? Will women keep moving in a liberal direction? Will they take the men around them along?


Women didn’t just win races. They shoved American politics to the left by running and donating and voting and winning.


American government has many new faces. We’ll see if they can produce better results.


Steve Hochstadt

Jacksonville IL

November 13, 2018

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
From Birth of a Nation to Silent Sam: What History and Popular Culture Can Teach Us About the Southern "Lost Cause" and Confederate Monuments Today Steve Hochstadt is a writer and a professor of history at Illinois College. 

The thousands of monuments to the Confederacy and its leaders scattered across the South have become a national political controversy that shows no signs of abating. The decision of the City Council of Charlottesville, Virginia, to remove the statue of Robert E. Lee, mounted on his horse on a 20-foot high pedestal in the center of town, prompted three public rallies of white supremacists in 2017. At the Unite the Right rally in August last year, James Alex Fields Jr. drove his car into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing one woman and injuring dozens of people. He has just been convicted of first-degree murder. The statue still stands.


Of the approximately 1700 public memorials to the Confederacy, less than 100 have been removed in the past few years. These visible symbols represent the persistence of a cherished historical myth of American conservatives, the honor of the “Lost Cause” of the Civil War. Developed immediately after the defeat of the South in 1865, the Lost Cause relies on two claims: the War was caused by a conflict over states’ rights, not slavery, and slavery itself was an honorable institution, in which whites and blacks formed contented “families”.

Thus the political and military leaders of the Confederacy were engaged in a righteous struggle and deserve to be honored as American heroes.


This interpretation of the Civil War was a political tool used by Southern whites to fight against Reconstruction and to disenfranchise and discriminate against African Americans. Northern whites generally accepted this mythology as a means to reunite the nation, since that was more comfortable for them than confronting their own racial codes.


During most of the 160 years since the end of the Civil War, the Lost Cause reigned as the official American understanding of our history. The glorification of the Ku Klux Klan in the film “Birth of a Nation” (originally titled “the Clansman”) in 1915 was a landmark in the nationalization of this ideology. The newly formed NAACP protested that the film should be banned, but President Woodrow Wilson brought it into the White House, and the KKK sprang to life again that year in both North and South.


Not as overtly supportive of white supremacy as “Birth of a Nation”, “Gone With The Wind” in 1939 reinforced the Lost Cause stereotypes of honorable plantation owners, contented slaves unable to fend for themselves, and devious Northerners. It broke attendance records everywhere, set a record by winning 8 Academy Awards, and is still considered “one of the most beloved movies of all time”.


Generations of professional historians, overwhelmingly white, transformed the Lost Cause into official historical truth, especially in the South. Textbooks, like the 1908 History of Virginia by Mary Tucker Magill, white-washed slavery: “Generally speaking, the negroes proved a harmless and affectionate race, easily governed, and happy in their condition.” This idea prevailed half a century later in the textbook Virginia: History, Government, Geography, used in seventh-grade classrooms into the 1970s: “Life among the Negroes of Virginia in slavery times was generally happy. The Negroes went about in a cheerful manner making a living for themselves and for those for whom they worked.” A high school text went into more fanciful detail about the slave: “He enjoyed long holidays, especially at Christmas. He did not work as hard as the average free laborer, since he did not have to worry about losing his job. In fact, the slave enjoyed what we might call collective security. Generally speaking, his food was plentiful, his clothing adequate, his cabin warm, his health protected, his leisure carefree. He did not have to worry about hard times, unemployment, or old age.” The texts were produced in cooperation with the Virginia state government.


The Civil Rights struggles of the 1960s not only overturned legal segregation, but they also prompted revision of this discriminatory history. Historians have since thoroughly rejected the tenets of the Lost Cause. All the leaders in the South openly proclaimed that they were fighting to preserve slavery, based on their belief in the inherent inferiority of the black race. Both official and eyewitness sources clearly describe the physical, psychological and social horrors of slavery.


But the defenders of the Lost Cause have fought back against good history with tenacious persistence. In the international context of the Cold War, the local journalists and academic historians and forthright eyewitnesses, who investigated and reported on the real race relations in American society, became potential traitors. These “terrorists” of the 1950s cast doubt on the fiction of a morally superior America, as it battled immoral Communism. The dominance of white Americans in every possible field of American life was also threatened by a factual accounting of slavery before, during, and after the Civil War.


Bad history persists because those in power can enforce it by harassing its critics. It was easy for the FBI and conservative organizations to pinpoint those academics, journalists, and film directors who dissented from the Lost Cause ideology. They could then be attacked for their associations with organizations that could be linked to other organizations that could be linked to Communists. These crimes of identification were made easier to concoct because of the leading role played by American leftists in the fight against racism during the long 20th century of Jim Crow.


Thus did Norman Cazden, an assistant professor of music at the University of Illinois, lose his job in 1953. The FBI had typed an anonymous letter containing what Cazden called “unverified allegations as to my past associations,” and sent it to the University President. Cazden was among 400 high school and university teachers anonymously accused by the FBI between 1951 and 1953.


The defenders of the Lost Cause switched parties in my lifetime. Shocked by the white supremacist violence of the Civil Rights years, popular movements and popular sentiment forced both parties to end Jim Crow, using historical and political facts to attack all facets of white supremacist ideology, including the Lost Cause.


The shift of Dixiecrat Democrats to loyal Republicans is personified in the party shift of Strom Thurmond, Senator from South Carolina and most prominent voice in favor of segregation, from Democrat to Republican in 1964.


It still seemed appropriate in 2002 for the Senate’s Republican leader, Trent Lott, to toast Thurmond on his 100th birthday by saying he was proud to have voted for Thurmond for President in 1948, and “if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have had all these problems over the years, either.” None of the major news outlets, the “liberal media” reported the remark, dwelling instead on the pathos of the old famous rich racist. Only a groundswell of criticism forced the mainstream media to recognize Lott’s words as a hymn to white supremacy.


By then, generations of Americans, both in the South and in the North, had absorbed the bad historical lessons that remain the basis for racist beliefs today. 


The Lost Cause lives on in the South, supported by federal and state tax dollars. An investigative report published in Smithsonian magazine revealed that the official sites and memorials of the history of the Confederacy still “pay homage to a slave-owning society and serve as blunt assertions of dominance over African Americans.” During the past decade, over $40 million in government funds have been spent to preserve these sites, originally created by Jim Crow governments to justify segregation. Schoolchildren continue to be taught Lost Cause legends.


Politics keeps bad history alive, because of the political expediency of the false narratives it tells. American white supremacists have been created and encouraged by this version of American history. 


So the struggle over history goes on. Most recently, several dozen graduate teaching assistants at the University of North Carolina announced a “grade strike” to protest the University’s plan to spend $5 million constructing a new building to house a Confederate monument that protesters had pulled down in August. They are refusing to turn in students’ grades.


The Lost Cause story itself deserves an “F”, but it will persist as long as political leaders find its fictions convenient.

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
The Real National Emergency

Donald Trump appears ready to declare a national emergency at our southern border. The only emergency there is the danger that no wall will be built, despite Trump’s promises to his supporters for the past 3 years that he would build a “beautiful wall”. Trump is elevating a personal political problem into a national crisis.


But a much greater potential national emergency looms in our future: the possibility that Trump and the Republican Party will do damage to our democracy out of fear of the 2020 election.


One of the most frightening developments in American politics has been the increasing disdain of significant portions of the Republican Party for basic democratic norms. An early highlight of Republican disregard for our normal democratic process was their refusal to consider President Obama’s appointment of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court in March 2016. While Mitch McConnell is often linked personally with this unprecedented action, all 11 Republicans on the Judiciary Committee said they would ignore any Obama nominee. Then after the election, Republicans eliminated the filibuster for Supreme Court justices in 2017, enabling them to push through Trump’s nomination of Neil Gorsuch.


The longer history of extreme partisan gerrymandering of state and federal election districts in Republican-dominated states after the 2010 census created disproportionate legislative majorities. In 2012, Democratic candidates for the House won 1.4 million more votes than Republicans, but Republicans took the House 234 to 201.


At the same time, the Republican Party embarked on a nationwide effort to rig elections by disenfranchising voters more likely to vote for Democrats: minorities and the poor. Republican state legislatures have employed demands for special kinds of ID, restrictions on absentee and early voting, purging of voter rolls, and inadequate staffing of certain voting places to target typically Democratic voting groups.


These two sets of anti-democratic strategies created Republican-dominated state legislatures, even where they received fewer votes than Democrats, as in North Carolina. In 2016, Republicans began to use these majorities to invalidate the results of election losses. After Democrat Roy Cooper won election as North Carolina’s Governor in 2016, Republicans in the state legislature convened a special session to transfer many of his powers to themselves. For example, the number of appointments that Cooper was allowed to make was cut from 1500 to 400.


After the 2018 midterms, Republicans in the Wisconsin and Michigan legislatures stripped powers from newly elected Democratic governors. The Wisconsin state legislative races were so blatantly gerrymandered by Republicans that federal judges had overturned them, but they were still in place for the 2018 elections. In December, the Republican legislature voted to limit Governor-elect Tony Evers’ appointments, to restrict early voting, and to restrict the power of Josh Kaul, the Democrat elected as attorney general, and outgoing Governor Scott Walker signed the bills. In both the Wisconsin Senate and House, only one Republican legislator voted against these laws.


Based on one of the most extreme gerrymanders in the country, Michigan’s legislature is dominated by Republicans, although the Democrats won more votes in 2014 and 2018. After losing all the statewide races in 2018, Republicans voted to limit the powers of the new Governor and Attorney General, and to redefine elements of the non-partisan citizens’ commission to oversee future redistricting, that had just been passed by over 60% of Michigan voters. The Promote the Vote ballot initiative allowing voter registration up to Election Day, that had passed 67% to 33%, was altered to add ID requirements. Again nearly all Republican legislators voted for these bills.


The Republican Party has transformed itself into a political force that prioritizes its own power over the sanctity of electoral democracy. The authoritarian tendencies of Trump as President added to this rampant Republican electoral cheating threaten to create a national crisis. Trump has consistently disparaged the results of elections, even his own victory in 2016. He appointed an experienced vote suppressor, Kris Kobach, to oversee a futile federal effort to prove electoral fraud. Trump uses presidential power to promote his personal interests. He employed our armed forces on our southern border as a political stunt. Although the shutdown that Trump gladly took credit for, until he started blaming the Democrats, is rejected by a majority of voters, Republican legislators have remained behind him. Now he is considering using the President’s emergency powers, when our elected Congress thwarts his will.


The election of 2020 presents a critical dilemma for Trump. It may not be possible to indict a sitting president for the campaign finance violations for which Trump is currently an unindicted co-conspirator. If Trump wins in 2020, the statute of limitations of five years for such federal offenses will run out while he is in office. But if he loses, he may face prison time. The many other investigations of his political and business activities that have already begun or will be initiated by the Democratic House will add to his judicial peril. 2020 qualifies as a personal emergency for Trump.


Would Trump’s core supporters accept a coup? Many evangelical leaders and voters believe Trump to be the modern incarnation of King Cyrus of Persia, a nonbeliever chosen by God to accomplish the goals of the faithful. Some of Trump’s most prominent evangelical supporters openly long for a “king” to rule America.


A criminal President, who will do anything to serve his ego and self-interest, threatened with jail. A party willing to fix elections and ignore electoral results that don’t go their way. Cheerleaders on the most popular media network who ignore inconvenient news. A howling base of supporters that believes Trump’s opponents are traitors who belong in jail.


All the elements are in place for a presidential coup against our constitutional democracy. Paul Krugman just wrote about a possible reaction to looming defeat in 2020: “if you aren’t scared about how a cornered Trump might lash out, you haven’t been paying attention.” It will be too late in November 2020 to prevent a national emergency. We must pay attention now.

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
What History Can Teach Us About Capitalism, Socialism, and Inequality



Steve Hochstadt teaches at Illinois College and blogs for HNN.


Capitalism based on the profit motive and private ownership is supposed to provide the best economic outcomes for everybody. As the owners of industry and commerce enrich themselves, they provide employment for the rest of the population. Everyone shares in economic growth, even if owners reap a greater share. The metaphor “a rising tide lifts all boats” describes this explanation of how capitalism should work.


Proponents of socialism argue that only the owners of capital profit from such a system. The great majority of people labor for the profit of a few. They propose an economic system based on social ownership and more equal distribution of profits.


These competing theories tend to leave out the role of government in shaping an economy and influencing the distribution of wealth. In every economic system, the state encourages and restricts economic activity, and funnels economic advantages to selected population groups. 


In all of the real existing systems that have called themselves socialist, social ownership has meant in practice government ownership. In every case since the creation of the Soviet Union, socialist governments have been dominated by a single political party, which have not allowed any challenges to their power. Inevitably, this has led to the corruption of the ideal of popular ownership of the economy. Those in charge of socialist governments have given themselves and their close supporters economic privileges denied to the wider population, from the special access to goods and services enjoyed by members of the Communist Party in the Soviet Union and its Eastern European satellites to the accumulation of wealth by the leading families of Communist China.


The absence of democracy, the brutal repression of critical ideas, and the continuing economic weaknesses of the Soviet systems led to their collapse in 1989. But not all socialist states were so unsuccessful. China, which had one of the world’s poorest populations through the first half of the 20thcentury, has nearly eradicated extreme poverty, according to the World Bank. Although the Cuban economy is one of the most government-controlled in the world, the poverty level is very low, and education and health care rank high.


In the US, capitalism has sometimes worked to make all boats rise. A remarkable study last year of the history of national income, written by the foremost French researchers about income inequality, Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez, and Gabriel Zucman, shows that from 1946 to 1980, real income doubled across the economic spectrum. That was also a period of extraordinary economic growth: gains of over 5% in gross domestic product for most years, and occasionally more than 10%. The top income tax rate for the richest Americans was higher than 85% until 1964, and then 70% until 1980. Nevertheless, the top 0.01% tripled their income after taxes in this period.


But since 1980, the story has been very different. The income of the poorer half of Americans has remained completely stagnant. The upper half has seen its income grow, but most of that growth has been at the very top: incomes of the top 1% have tripled, and that tiny rich slice earns almost twice as much before taxes as the whole bottom half. The few thousand families in the top .001% have multiplied their income 7 times. Our graduated income tax, along with other income-based payments like Medicaid, does redistribute money toward the bottom, but that hardly dents the huge inequality.


That’s due to political choices. The top tax rate has fallen steadily, to 50% in 1982, to 40% in 1993, to 35% in 2003. The tax rate on capital gains from stocks, which nearly all go to the wealthiest Americans, has also fallen from 40% to 20%. After nearly tripling from 1940 to 1970, the real value of the minimum wage has fallen since then. One of the least discussed but most important political policies that contributes to growing inequality is the ability of the very rich to hide their income in international tax shelters. The leak of the so-called Panama Papers brought the illegal use of tax havens into the international spotlight: the anonymous leaker said he was motivated by “income inequality”. It is estimated than 10% of the world’s GDP is held in offshore banks, including about 8% of American GDP.


Corporations have contributed to rising inequality by boosting the incomes of top management. CEO’s earned about 30 times the income of a typical worker in 1980. That ratio has skyrocketed to 300 times average wages.


Political choices continue to widen the economic gulf between the few and the many. The Republican tax reform of 2017 mainly benefitted the rich, notably by doubling the amount of money that can be left in an estate without being taxed, helping only a few thousand families.


Growing inequality is not only an American problem, but a global problem that keeps getting worse. Between 2010 and 2016, the total wealth owned by the poorest half of the world’s population fell by over one-third. At this moment, the world’s top 1% owns more than all the rest of us. The world’s economy keeps growing, but the yachts of the wealthiest are disappearing from view. Since 2000, the bottom half of the world’s population has gotten about 1% of the increase in global wealth. The top 1% took in half of that growth. The 8 richest men in the world now own as much as the poorer half of the global population, 3.6 billion people.


Rising inequality in the US has provoked louder discussion. Conservatives try to derail political discussions about economic inequality by talking about the “politics of envy”. Mitt Romney as presidential candidate in 2012 criticized President Obama’s concern for the poor: “I think it’s about envy. I think it’s about class warfare. When you have a President encouraging the idea of dividing America based on the 99 percent versus 1 percent—and those people who have been most successful will be in the 1 percent—you have opened up a whole new wave of approach in this country which is entirely inconsistent with the concept of one nation under God.” Scary diatribes about the failures of “socialism” are designed to support the status quo.


It’s a common mistake of both left and right to talk about capitalism and socialism as if there were only two choices. One-party socialist systems in less developed countries have not worked well over the past century. Capitalism as practiced in the United States and many other nations has mainly benefitted those who already are wealthy. The nations in which all citizens gain from economic growth have combined elements of market economies, private ownership, and political policies that mitigate inequality. In western Europe, public health care, nearly free university education, stronger progressive taxation, higher minimum wages, and inclusion of trade unions in corporate decision-making result in much lower inequality and much happier populations.


No American politician argues for replacing capitalism. The political choices of the past 40 years have weakened our national economy and our political unity by favoring the wealthy. The rising tide is swamping too many American boats. It’s time for a different politics.

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
Happy Belated Birthday, Jackie Robinson!


January 31 was Jackie Robinson’s 100th birthday. Thinking about him always brings tears to my eyes. Let me try to figure out why.


I was born a Brooklyn Dodgers fan. Like most kids, I didn’t have much choice about whom to root for. My parents were Dodgers fans, and so was I. I was born in Manhattan, spent two years in Queens, then moved out to the Long Island suburbs. I never asked them why they didn’t root for the great Yankees or for the Giants.


Was it my mother’s choice? She grew up in Queens, a girl athlete before girls were allowed to be athletes. She taught me how to throw a ball, play golf and tennis and ping-pong, and shoot pool. I don’t think she ever was allowed to be on a team, until she became captain of adult women’s tennis teams in California in the 1970s. Did she learn to root for the Da Bums, just a couple of miles away at Ebbets Field, who had not won a World Series since 1890 and sometimes presaged the clownish ineptitude of the early Mets, who inherited many of their fans? She never explained her Dodger love.


It might have been my father, who probably had never heard of the Dodgers until he arrived in New York alone at age 18 in 1938, just escaping when the Nazis took over his home in Vienna. He grew up playing soccer and never was able to smoothly throw a baseball. Did my father hear of Jackie’s college exploits when he sold men’s hats in Los Angeles in 1939 and 1940? Jackie led the NCAA in rushing and in punt returns on the undefeated 1939 UCLA football team. He also lettered basketball, baseball, and track, the first athlete to letter in four sports in UCLA history. He won the NCAA championship in the long jump in 1940, and would have gone to the Tokyo Olympics that year if they hadn’t been cancelled due to the outbreak of war.


I was born the year after Jackie played his first game for the Dodgers in 1947. By the time I understood anything about baseball, he was already a superstar with a super team: Rookie of the Year in 1947, MVP in 1949, All-Star every year from 1949 to 1954, leading the Dodgers to six World Series in his ten-year career.


My brother and I have puzzled over many of our parents’ ideas since they died. But I don’t think that their fondness for the Dodgers was about success. Although they never talked about it, I believe race was at the heart of their preference.


I doubt if my father ever met a black person growing up in Vienna. But the Nazis taught him about the evils of white supremacy as he was growing up and later when he returned to Europe with the US Army, interrogating prisoners of war and seeing concentration camps. In our home, Jackie Robinson was a moral hero, as was Branch Rickey, general manager of the Dodgers, for signing him in 1945. We were excited to watch catcher Roy Campanella, who entered the majors in 1948, and pitcher Don Newcombe, who was Rookie of the Year in 1949. When most major league teams were still all white, the Dodgers fielded three black men, all of whom played in the All-Star game in 1949.


I must have seen Jackie play in many games on our little black-and-white TV and listened to Vin Scully’s play-by-play on the radio. But Jackie retired when I was 8. I remember him more vividly in connection with Chock full o’ Nuts, that “heavenly coffee”:  “better coffee a millionaire’s money can’t buy.” Another enlightened white businessman, William Black, hired Robinson as vice president for personnel right after his baseball career ended. Chock full o’ Nuts was the Starbucks of the mid-20th century, with 80 stores in New York, most of whose staff were black. Robinson’s political activism for civil rights was fully supported by Black.


I understood little about the civil rights struggle and was too young for coffee, but I knew about Jackie’s role as business executive.


Jackie Robinson was a Republican. He supported Richard Nixon against John F. Kennedy in 1960 and worked for Nelson Rockefeller’s 1964 presidential campaign. My parents were Democrats and I’ve wandered further to the left since then. But partisanship mattered much less in those days than morality, and Jackie came to represent for me the high moral calling of activism for equality, not just in politics, but in life. I was born into a family that assumed that racial discrimination was immoral. It was immoral in Europe against Jews and immoral in America against blacks.


When I was young, I didn’t know about Jackie Robinson’s life before the Dodgers or about my father’s life before he left Vienna. I didn’t learn in school about either the Holocaust or segregation. I grew up in an antisemitic and anti-black society in the 1950s and 1960s, but barely realized it until I went to college. Even at an Ivy League university in the late 1960s, lessons about American prejudice and discrimination were not a regular part of the curriculum. Over the past 50 years, life and the study of history have taught me the facts behind my family’s moral certainties. Jackie Robinson has accompanied me along the way, as inspiration, role model, hero.


To see 100 photos of Jackie’s life, click HERE. If you’re like me, have a handkerchief ready.


Happy Birthday, Jackie.

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
The Worldwide Problem of Holocaust Ignorance – and The Barriers to Solving It Steve Hochstadt is a writer and an emeritus professor of history at Illinois College.


I am not a Holocaust denier. Of course, the Holocaust happened. It remains one of the most important events of the 20th century, of modern history, perhaps of human history.


But if someone never heard of the Holocaust, doesn’t know that it happened, then history doesn’t matter. The event is wiped out of history, not by denial, but by ignorance.


Some of the most populous states passed laws between 1985 and 1995, covering nearly one-third of the US population, requiring the teaching of the Holocaust in public schools. In each case, the law specified that knowledge about the Holocaust ought to be connected to human rights issues. Prejudice and discrimination must be identified with genocide, leading to an emphasis on “the personal responsibility that each citizen bears to fight racism and hatred whenever and wherever it happens” (New Jersey) and “encouraging tolerance of diversity” (Florida). As the wording of these laws demonstrates, teaching about the Holocaust is a political act. Because encouraging diversity and fighting prejudice are politically controversial, Holocaust education is a partisan political act, and always has been.


Despite such laws, ignorance about the Holocaust is widespread in America, especially among young people. The millennial generation should have been exposed to Holocaust teaching in schools, especially in those states that require it. But they know little about the Holocaust. Two-thirds of millennials do not know what Auschwitz was; half cannot name one concentration camp; about 40% believe that fewer than 2 million Jews were murdered; 20% are not sure if they have ever heard of the Holocaust.


Ignorance about the Holocaust is a worldwide problem, even in Europe where it happened. In a recent poll, one-third of Europeans said they know little or nothing about the Holocaust.


There is overwhelming popular support for more teaching about the Holocaust. The same survey that showed the gaps in knowledge also found that 93% of Americans agreed that “All students should learn about the Holocaust while at school.”


Politicians are responding. Legislatures in Kentucky and Connecticut with unanimous votes recently passed laws to require teaching about the Holocaust in public schools. In 2017, the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect got commitments from legislators in 20 states to introduce bills to mandate Holocaust education, the beginning of its effort to get all 50 states to require Holocaust education.


But there are political problems for some in the implications of Holocaust history. The focus on human rights, the disastrous consequences of racial prejudice, the victimization of other minorities including gays, the hyper-nationalism of fascism and its deadly attacks on all leftists all can lead to a critical stance against typical conservative political positions, and in particular, against current policies of the Republican Party. Absorbing the moral significance of the Holocaust might well lead students to believe that monuments to Confederate white supremacy should be taken down, that denigration of immigrants is wrong, that loud claims that America is the greatest country ever sound like “Deutschland über alles”.


Holocaust deniersavowed Nazis, self-proclaimed antisemites, and supporters of white supremacy appear occasionally on the fringes of the Republican Party, or even among Republican congressmen. Some Republican candidates in the recent midterm elections used antisemitic images against their Jewish opponents. David Duke, former KKK leader and former Republican legislator in Louisiana, said about Trump’s 2016 election, “This is one of the most exciting nights of my life.”


American conservatives sometimes use the Holocaust to spread inappropriate partisan messages. On Holocaust Remembrance Day two weeks ago, the Harris County (Texas) Republican Party posted a Facebook message with a yellow star-shaped badge and these words: “Leftism kills. In memory of the 6 million Jews lost to Nazi hatred in the name of National Socialism. We will never forget.” The Texas Republicans explained that they were connecting the name of the National Socialist Party with “leftism”, even though the extreme right-wing Nazis killed every socialist they could get their hands on.


The use of the Holocaust to argue against restrictions on gun ownership has a long history. Wayne LaPierre, executive director of the NRA, Ben Carson when he was a Republican candidate for President, and the senior Republican in the House have all claimed that Jews were killed because they had not armed themselves.


Some people on the left also have trouble with teaching the Holocaust. Because the Israeli government and many Jews across the world have used the Holocaust as a justification for the existence of Israel, supporters of the rights of Palestinians sometimes claim that there is too much emphasis on the Holocaust.


Sometimes leftists are criticized, because they can be linked with other people who would like to see less attention paid to the Holocaust. For example, the two women who just became the first Muslim women elected to Congress, Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, are often accused by Republicans of being antisemitic, because of their criticisms of Israeli policy. Their comments do sometimes veer towards condemnations of Jews as a group, and Omar just had to apologize for some of her tweets. But their criticisms of Israel are echoed by many Jews. I find such conservative attacks misleading, but I am one of those Jews who is critical of Israeli treatment of Palestinians.


Nevertheless there are some on the left who do not wish to push more Holocaust education, because more sympathy for Jews can lead to support for Israeli occupation policies and discrimination against Palestinians.


But the facts of the Holocaust are clear and they lead inexorably to important moral and political conclusions, which can be discomforting to ideologues of the right and left. Antisemitism has always been based on false ideologies, and it leads to discrimination and eventually murder, like all ethnic hatreds. Extreme nationalism is the twin of ethnic hatred, and leads to war. It is always important to juxtapose the authority of governments or leaders with basic moral precepts, to question authority.


Holocaust education is necessary. The Holocaust is one of the most significant events of our recent global past and was an important determinant of the contemporary European and Middle Eastern world. Its moral implications, lessons if you will, have universal significance. Learning about the Holocaust makes everyone uncomfortable. That is why we must keep teaching it.

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
How Far We Have Yet to Go Steve Hochstadt is a writer and an emeritus professor of history at Illinois College.



The #MeToo movement has revealed deep fault lines in modern society, between those who persist in accepting and engaging in traditional male domination of women and those who reject and condemn those behaviors. It may seem as if this split has suddenly developed, but we have been approaching this moment of reckoning for many years. The current crisis of gender behavior means that the tipping point has at last been reached.


The controversy over whites costuming themselves as black represents the racial side of the same phenomenon. What was once accepted as normal white behavior can now cost prominent people their exalted positions.


It was never okay for men to use their social power to coerce sex from women or for whites to amuse themselves by lampooning the racial subordination of blacks. Sexism and racism have always been moral transgressions. But in the American society in which I grew up, these transgressions were ubiquitous, rarely challenged, and socially accepted. They were wrong, but normal.


The challenge to normality, the recognition that not just individuals, but society itself was immoral, has been a shock to my generation, to anyone who learned how to behave before, say, 1970. The fact that these lessons were long overdue, that they reflect obvious ethical and religious precepts, has not made them easier to absorb.


I excuse no form of racist or sexist behavior, then or now. But I understand the wrenching difficulty of realizing that we were taught to emulate inhumane behavior, to acquiesce in a deeply flawed system, to perpetuate the denigration of our fellow human beings. When I remember the jokes I laughed at, the derogatory names I repeated, the lines of thinking I followed, the attitudes I carried around as I grew up and went to high school and college, I am ashamed. But it was not easy to stand apart from the culture of male superiority and the distinct, but overlapping culture of white supremacy, to see the undeserved privileges they conferred on me and the pain they caused those on the outside.


I believe I was helped toward enlightenment by being Jewish. Not that Jews are smarter or better. But our position as not quite insiders, subject to occasional reminders that we were never safe from racism, helped me perceive other forms of social condescension embedded in daily life. My rejection of normal antisemitism made rejection of sexism and racism easier, more logical. When I realized that there was a profound difference between Jews joking among ourselves about ourselves and Christians laughing at Jewish jokes that they made up, it was an easier step to recognize how male jokes about blondes proclaimed permanent sexual supremacy.


But I could never have made this transition from complicity to awareness by myself. I had to learn hard lessons from female and black friends, from writers, filmmakers, singers, and countless others who have been teaching these truths for years.


It is nevertheless difficult for anyone to give up a learned superiority. The implications of undeserved superiority go beyond language, the so-called “political correctness” that retrograde voices lament, because they don’t want to change. Men still continually interrupt women. Whites still view unfamiliar blacks as potential criminals.


The categories deeply embedded in our subconscious do not dissolve even when we consciously agree that they are inappropriate. I don’t remember how I learned the concepts “woman driver” and “slut”, but they were already firmly planted in my thinking by the time I was 15. Even though I haven’t used those words to explain what happens around me for decades, the concepts still rattle around in my head, unbidden, unwelcome, fundamentally misleading, but impossible to erase.


The consequences of centuries of assumptions about who is superior and who is inferior reach into every corner of our minds and lives. Just one example: there are several recent news stories about how adults, including doctors, take women’s and girls’ pain less seriously than male pain. This can lead to delayed or incorrect diagnoses. This subtle bias may have contributed to the ability of serial abusers like Dr. Larry Nassar to get away with assaulting girls for years after they first began to complain about him.


Right behavior is easy to define, but harder to practice. A right society does not yet exist and its details are not yet fully imagined. We don’t yet know all of the changes we will need to make in our attitudes and actions in order to create full social equality. The work will be difficult, but the goal will be glorious.

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
How Much Do We Care About Our Grandchildren?


I have two one-year-old grandchildren. They are happy and healthy, learning to talk and feed themselves and make their desires known to the adults who control their world. I am lucky, but it wasn’t just luck. Their parents were thoughtful about changing their lifestyles to give the babies the best possible chances at healthy lives – less alcohol, less caffeine, heathy diets, paying attention to doctors’ advice. Good luck and good care.


In 2050, Vera and Leo will be 32. They may just be starting their own families. They might become great parents, but what if the world is collapsing around them?


By that time, unless we make great changes, the earth will be hotter. Where I live in central Illinois, summer temperatures will be 6 degrees warmer than in 2000, and 4 degrees warmer in winter. After 2050, the Central Plains states may suffer from droughts much worse and much longer than the 1930s Dust Bowl. Each year, Chicago will have a month of days when the heat index reaches 105 degrees, compared to four days in 2000. Peoria and St. Louis are among the 25 cities that have warmed up the fastest in recent decades.


Each region in the US will face different combinations of severe hazards due to the warming climate. The greatest hazard on our coasts will be rising sea levels. More and more powerful storms will especially threaten Florida. Some cities in Texas will see the heat index rise over 105 degrees for more than half the year. Droughts in the Southwest and in Indiana, insufficient rainfall in much of the Midwest, but heavier precipitation from Maine to Alabama represent the most significant dangers. Each region will suffer several simultaneous severe climate hazards by 2050.


Climate hazards translate into human suffering. Heat waves cause increased heart and respiratory problems. Drought leads to more intense wildfires. Floods cause contamination of water supply, and thus spread of water-borne diseases. Pregnant women exposed to increased smoke from fires or contaminated water give birth to less healthy children.


Heat waves, floods, fires, droughts and storms also damage agricultural land. Warming oceans harm fisheries. In California, the source of over a third of the country’s vegetables and two-thirds of our fruits and nuts, the severity of summer drought will triple by 2050.


Wealth can protect some humans from the immediate effects of climate hazards. More expensive food, the need to purify water, increased medical attention, even moving away from storm-threatened coasts, dried out forests, or hot cities present little problem for those with extensive personal resources. Economic inequality within the US and across the world will translate even more forcefully into unequal life chances. The infrastructures of poorer countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America are much weaker, meaning that severe climate events have much greater impact. The World Bank predicts that more than 140 million people will be displaced in developing regions of the world by 2050, mostly in Africa. In wealthier countries whose populations will not suffer as much directly, heightened pressure will result from increased immigration, more expensive raw materials, and more violent conflicts.


Our planet is now nearly 2 degrees warmer than in the early 20th century. The economic effects thus far have been staggering: the number of extreme weather events that cost over $1 billion in economic losses has quadrupled since the 1980s. Continued burning of fossil fuels, contributing to warming and air pollution, will cost the US economy $360 billion a year in the 2020s.


My life will barely be affected by climate change. By the time the accumulated results of human activity create disastrous effects in America, I will probably be in a nursing home. But Vera and Leo will not be so lucky. Wherever they live, the climate will be unfriendlier, the infrastructure will be overburdened, the costs of coping with severe hazards will be higher, and the economic inequalities will be deadlier. The future for them and their children will be bleaker. People will be angry.


I am angry now. Angry at the professional liars who have claimed for years that nothing was happening. Angry at the politicians who pretend to believe them. Angry at the corporations who care only about this year’s bottom line.


I’m angry at the self-proclaimed Christians who say they are pro-life, but put the lives of all future generations in danger by denying climate change; who quote the Bible at every turn, but ignore those passages they violate every day: “You shall not defile the land in which you live.”


I am angry at those who want responsibility, but are irresponsible, who not only do nothing to preserve the earth for the future, but do everything to further pollute our planet.


We have already gone past the point of no return. More carbon dioxide was released into the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels in 2018 than ever before. Glaciers are melting, seas are rising, storms are getting stronger. It will take more than recycling, more than a few electric cars and wind turbines, more than the kind of minimal lifestyle changes recommended by trendy columnists.


In order to prevent climate catastrophes by 2050, the nations of the world must cut fossil fuel use in half within the next 15 years and nearly eliminate their use by 2050. That means no more gasoline engines, no more heating homes with oil, complete restructuring of manufacturing plants. No more throwaway economies.


We have to change our lifestyles now. That will be uncomfortable, even scary. Do we care about our grandchildren enough to do that?

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
Can Artists Remake Society?

In Grey (1919) by Kandinsky, exhibited at the 19th State Exhibition, Moscow, 1920


One hundred years ago today, fighting raged in the streets of Berlin. Kaiser Wilhelm II had abdicated in November 1918, and a new socialist government, led by reform-minded members of the German Socialist Party (SPD), had declared a democratic republic. Thousands of workers and sailors, dissatisfied with the moderate stance of the SPD leaders, demanded more radical policies, and revolted in Berlin in January. Not yet demobilized soldiers, the so-called Freikorps, fresh from defeat in World War I, were employed by the new government to destroy the revolt. The Freikorps killed hundreds of workers and assassinated two leaders of the newly founded German Communist Party, Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht.


The radicals tried again in March to overthrow the SPD government – they called a general strike on March 3, which developed into renewed street fighting. Again the much more heavily armed Freikorps were dispatched by the government to put down the revolt. Gustav Noske, the new Defense Minister, issued a fateful order: “Any individual bearing arms against government troops will be summarily shot.” The ruthless Freikorps, led by extreme conservative officers who hated any manifestation of workers’ power, including the SPD government, hardly needed any encouragement. With few losses, they killed over a thousand workers. When several hundred unarmed sailors demanded back pay at a government office on March 11, twenty-nine were selected out and murdered.


Berlin was relatively quiet for a year. On March 12, 1920, the Freikorps, sporting swastikas on their helmets, and other right-wing military formations marched on Berlin in an attempt to create an authoritarian government. Military leaders on the government side refused to fire on fellow soldiers. The SPD government had to flee and a group of extreme conservatives declared themselves rulers of Germany. Adolf Hitler flew into Berlin to support the coup. Across Germany, army commanders and bureaucrats fell into line. This attempt to end the life of the new German democracy finally brought all leftist parties together in a call for a general strike, in which millions of workers paralyzed the country as protest against the so-called Kapp putsch. After four days, the putsch collapsed and the SPD government returned to Berlin.


The conspirators were treated leniently in comparison to the leftist rebels. Kapp and the other leaders were allowed to leave the country. Most participants were given amnesty. The Freikorps were eventually dissolved and many of their members later joined the Nazi Party. 


Its violent birth severely weakened the first German democracy, the Weimar Republic. The far left continued to advocate revolution. The far right was never reconciled to democracy and used violence against its representatives. The Nazi Party, while never gaining a majority among voters, was tolerated and supported by business and military leaders and conservative politicians, and was able to overthrow Weimar democracy bloodlessly in January 1933, and later murder 96 members of the German parliament, the Reichstag.


The city of Berlin is now commemorating the hundredth anniversary of the revolution of 1918-1919 with a broad palette of museum exhibitions, educational events, discussions, and tours under the title “100 Years of Revolution – Berlin 1918-19”.


One of the most striking changes triggered by the November Revolution in Germany, and more generally the revolutions in eastern Europe provoked by the Russian Revolution, was the conquest of the art world by a radically new conception of the nature of visual expression. The political revolution encouraged and was welcomed by young German artists, who sought to overthrow the traditional reliance of visual artists on more or less realistic representations of the material world. Calling themselves the Novembergruppe, an “association of radical fine artists”, they, like their colleagues in the new Soviet Union, rejected most accepted artistic conventions and called for a radical rethinking of what art meant. Breaking out of the stultifying traditionalism of German official art, the Novembergruppe offered artistic “freedom for every pulse”. But their ambitions went beyond aesthetics to seek the “closest possible mingling of the people and art”. “We regard it as our principal duty to dedicate our best energies to the moral construction of this young, free Germany.”


Among the many “pulses” that the Novembergruppe promoted was a rejection of all forms of artistic realism in favor of pure abstraction. Following the lead of Russian innovators like Kazimir Malevich, the painters Wassily KandinskyOtto Freundlich,Walter Dexel and others created non-objective works of color and form. They invited the Dutch abstractionist Piet Mondrian and the Russian Lazar El Lissitzky to exhibit with them in Berlin.


Also exhibiting more recognizably political works challenging the German economic, military, and religious elite, the Novembergruppe caused outrage in the early 1920s. By the later 1920s, they had achieved astounding success. Their paintings, sculptures, and architectural drawings became accepted and copied. The innovative artists of the 1920s revolutionized our conceptions of the nature of art. In nearly every cultural field, forms of creative expression which had been deemed distasteful, even repulsive, by the cultural elite became first acceptable and then dominant. Without the innovations of the 1920s, it is not possible to understand contemporary music, painting, or architecture.


Yet the broader ambitions of the German cultural radicals of the 1920s fell flat. Their radical ideas had little appeal to broader masses of the population, who still sought traditional forms of beautiful art. Art did not transform life. Their radical politics had restricted appeal. After 1933, the Nazis exploited popular preference for traditional art to categorize the Novembergruppe as “degenerate”.


In modern society, we are used to political art. Artists often express political beliefs through artistic creations as a means of influencing popular opinion. Some are individually successful, such as Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale or Norman Rockwell’s painting about school integration “The Problem We All Live With”. But a collective ambition to remake society through art has been absent since the idealism of Russian and German artists of the 1920s ended in disaster in the 1930s. The social vision of the Bauhaus has been subsumed in capitalist commercialism at IKEA. The Novembergruppe’s radical manifestoes are now museum pieces on display at the Berlinische Galerie for 10 Euros.

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
The History of International Women’s Day and the Ongoing Fight for Gender Equality Steve Hochstadt teaches at Illinois College and blogs for HNN.


Theresa Serber Melkiel


Last Friday, March 8, was International Women’s Day. You might not have known that, since little notice is given to this date in the US, even though American women initiated it. Here in Berlin, one could not help but be aware of this special day, because the city government had declared it a holiday, and everything was closed except restaurants and museums.


A “National Women’s Day” was first declared by women in the Socialist Party of America for February 28, 1909. It was proposed by Theresa Serber Malkiel (1874-1949), whose story exemplifies the history of the uneasy connection between leftist politics and women’s rights in Europe and America, and the continued relevance of a “women’s day”.


As part of the emigration of 2 million Jews from the increasingly antisemitic Russian Empire between 1881 and the beginning of World War I, the Serber family moved from Ukraine to New York in 1891. Theresa went to work in a garment factory. At age 18, she organized the Woman’s Infant Cloak Maker’s Union of New York, mostly Jewish women workers, and became its president. Like many trade unionists, she gradually came to believe that socialism was the only path to liberation for workers and for women. She led her union into the Socialist Labor Party, the first socialist party in the US, the next year. Angered at the authoritarian tendencies of the SLP leader, Daniel De Leon, she and others joined with Midwestern socialists Eugene Debs and Victor Berger to form the Socialist Party of America in 1901.


At that time, both in the US and in Europe, socialists were the only political group to openly advocate women’s equality. In contrast to suffragists, socialists argued that gaining the vote was only the first step in creating an egalitarian society. But Theresa Serber almost immediately attacked the tendency of socialist men to say they favored gender equality, but to do nothing to bring it about, even within their own ranks. She formed separate women’s organizations to reach out to women workers and discuss their particular issues. She denounced the relegation of women in the Party to traditional women’s roles: women were “tired of their positions as official cake-bakers and money-collectors.” In 1909 she published an essay, “Where Do We Stand on the Woman Question?” criticizing her socialist “brothers” for their attitude toward female colleagues: “they discourage her activity and are utterly listless towards the outcome of her struggle.”


That year, Serber was elected to the new Women’s National Committee of the Socialist Party, and she promoted the idea of a “National Women’s Day” on February 28. In 1910, she published “The Diary of a Shirtwaist Worker”, a novel about the 3-month strike by about 20,000 mostly Jewish women factory workers in New York, the largest strike by women to that point in American history, which won better pay and shorter hours.


In 1910, German socialist women at the International Socialist Women's Conference in Copenhagen proposed creating an annual Women’s Day to promote equal rights. By 1914, March 8 was established as the day for demonstrations across Europe and America. The importance of this event grew when a women’s strike on March 8, 1917, in St. Petersburg began the Russian Revolution.


Women won the vote across Europe and America over the next few years: Russia 1917, Germany 1918, United States 1920, England 1928, although many individual American states had already given women the vote. Some nations moved slowly toward women’s suffrage: France and Italy only granted women voting rights in 1945.


But as socialist women had argued for decades, neither one celebratory day a year nor the right to vote brought equal rights. March 8 was declared a national holiday in many communist countries, but women continued to occupy secondary social, economic and political roles. Even after feminists in the US began in the 1960s to use the day to protest their continued subordinate status and the United Nations declared International Women’s Day in 1975, equality was still far away.


The socialist origins of a day devoted to women’s rights exemplifies the long-lasting political controversy over gender equality. The idea of equal rights was heretical for conservatives: a German poster calling for the vote for women on March 8, 1914, was banned by the Emperor’s government. Issues of equal rights continue to be marked by partisan political division in the US. The Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was passed in 2009, supported by Democrats in the House 247-5 and in the Senate 56-0, and opposed by Republicans 172-3 in the House and 36-5 in the Senate. Democrats support the #MeToo movement and Republicans mock it. The Republican Party itself, as represented in Congress, is overwhelmingly male: 93% in the House and 85% in the Senate. Democrats are represented by a more equal, but not yet equal gender division: about 62-38 male in both chambers.


The same differences exist in Germany, but with more women overall. From left to right, the percentages of women delegates in the Bundestag, the federal legislature, are: Left 54%, Greens 58%, Social Democrats 43%, Free Democrats 24%, Christian Democrats 21%, and right-wing Alternative for Germany 11%.


A major point of discussion in German politics is the introduction of a gender quota system to insure equal representation in legislative assemblies. The Left Party proposed in November a law that would raise the proportion of women in the Bundestag, but it was voted down by a majority led by the Christian Democrats and Free Democrats. The far right Alternative for Germany was most vehemently against any effort to raise the proportion of women.


In the state of Brandenburg, ruled by a leftist coalition of Social Democrats, Greens and Left Party, the first German law requiring all parties to put forward equal numbers of men and women in their lists of candidates starting in 2020, the Parity Law, was passed this January.


The Social Democrats in Berlin proposed at the end of 2018 that March 8 should be a new holiday, and this was passed in January with the support of the Left and Greens. A coalition of activists used the March 8 holiday as a Kampftag, day of struggle, including a demonstration of about 10,000 people. Their demands included that abortion be fully legalized, pay be equalized, and more action be taken against sexism in daily life, especially violence against women.


International Women’s Day serves to highlight the remaining gender inequality in our society. The #MeToo movement exemplifies the much more vigorous public discussion of how to keep moving toward equality and the need for significant behavioral changes for both men and women to make that possible.


The goal is to make International Women’s Day superfluous.

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
What is Antisemitism? Steve Hochstadt teaches at Illinois College and blogs for HNN.



Antisemitism is alive and well these days. In Europe and America, the number of antisemitic incidents areincreasing every year, according to those who try to keep track.


News about antisemitism has recently wandered from the streets and the internet into the halls of Congress. The presence of two newly elected young Muslim women in the House, who openly advocate for Palestinians against Israel, has upset the strongly pro-Israel consensus that has dominated American politics for decades. Accusations of antisemitism are especially directed at Ilhan Omar from Minneapolis, who has used language that is reminiscent of traditional antisemitic themes in her criticism of Israeli policies. Her case demonstrates that it can be difficult to distinguish between unacceptable antisemitism and political criticism of the Jewish government of Israel and its supporters.


Some incidents seem to be easy to label as antisemitic. For example, when a large group of young people physically attacked Jewish women while they were praying. Many women were injured, including the female rabbi leading the prayers. The attackers carried signs assailing the women’s religious beliefs, and the press reported that the women “were shoved, scratched, spit on and verbally abused”.


An obvious case of antisemitism? No, because the attackers were ultra-Orthodox Jewish girls and boys, bussed to the Western Wall in Jerusalem in order to attack the non-Orthodox Women of the Wall, who were violating misogynist Orthodox traditions about who can pray at the Wall. This incident fulfills every possible definition of antisemitism. For example, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance offers the following description of public acts that are antisemitic: “Calling for, aiding, or justifying the killing or harming of Jews in the name of a radical ideology or an extremist view of religion.” The ultra-Orthodox leaders who encouraged the assault would argue that they were protecting, not attacking Judaism, and that the Women of the Wall were not really Jewish anyway.


Acts of antisemitism are political acts. Accusations of antisemitism are likewise political acts, deployed in the service of the political interests of the accusers. Many, perhaps most accusations of antisemitism are made in good faith for the purpose of calling attention to real religious prejudice. But such accusations are often made for less honest political purposes.


The Republicans in Congress who demand that Democrats denounce Ilhan Omar are cynically using the accusation of antisemitism for political gain. Many Republicans have themselvesmade statements or employed political advertisements that are clearly antisemitic. The rest have stood by in silence while their colleagues and their President made antisemitic statements. But they saw political advantage in attacking a Democrat as antisemitic.


Supporters of the Israeli government’s policies against Palestinians routinely accuse their critics of antisemitism as a means of drawing attention away from Israeli policies and diverting it to the accusers’ motives. Sometimes critics of Israel are at least partially motivated by antisemitism. But the use of this rhetorical tactic also often leads to absurdity: Jews who do not approve of the continued occupation of land in the West Bank or the discrimination against Palestinians in Israel are accused of being “self-hating Jews”.


This linking of antisemitism and criticism of Israeli policy has worked well to shield the Israeli government from reasonable scrutiny of its policies. In fact, there is no necessary connection between the two. Criticism of current Israeli policy is voiced by many Jews and Jewish organizations, both religious and secular.


Supporters of the idea of boycotting Israeli businesses as protest against Israeli treatment of Palestinians, the so-called BDS movement, are sometimes assumed to be antisemitic and thus worthy of attack by extremists. But the pro-Israel but also pro-peace Washington Jewish organization J-Street argues that “Efforts to exclude BDS Movement supporters from public forums and to ban them from conversations are misguided and doomed to fail.” I don’t remember that any of the supporters of boycotting and divesting from South Africa because of its racial policies were called anti-white.


Those who advocate a “one-state solution” to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians are sometimes accused by conservatives of being antisemitic, with the argument that this one state will inevitably eventually have a majority of Muslims. The Washington Examiner calls this equivalent to the “gradual genocide of the Jewish people”.


The absurdity of equating anti-Zionism with antisemitism is personified by the denunciations of Zionism and the existence of Israel by the Orthodox Satmar, one of the largest Hasidic groups in the world.


On the other side, the most vociferous American supporters of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government have been evangelical Christians. Although they claim to be the best friends of Israel, the religious basis of right-wing evangelical Christianity is the antisemitic assertion that Jews will burn in hell forever, if we do not give up our religion. Robert Jeffress, the pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, who spoke at President Trump’s private inaugural prayer service, has frequently said that Jews, and all other non-Christians, will go to hell. The San Antonio televangelist John C. Hagee, who was invited by Trump to give the closing benediction at the opening of the new American Embassy in Jerusalem, has preached that the Holocaust was divine providence, because God sent Hitler to help Jews get to the promised land. Eastern European nationalists, who often employ antisemitic tropes to appeal to voters, are also among the most vociferous supporters of Netanyahu and Israel.


Political calculations have muddied our understanding of antisemitism. Supporters of the most right-wing Israeli policies include many people who don’t like Jews. Hatreds which belonged together in the days of the KKK may now be separated among right-wing white supremacists.


But no matter what they say, purveyors of racial prejudice and defenders of white privilege are in fact enemies of the long-term interests of Jews all over the world, who can only find a safe haven in democratic equality.

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
The Weakness of Democracy


Donald Trump is the most dishonest and most ignorant president in living memory, perhaps in American history. With his disdain for fundamental elements of democratic practice, such as freedom of the press and separation of powers, he is a danger to our American democracy.


But his election and the continued support he receives from a significant minority of voters are themselves symptoms of weaknesses which seem to be inherent in modern democracy itself. When we extend our gaze beyond the US, we can more easily perceive that democracy often works badly. I am not talking about fake democracies, where there is voting but no choice, as in the Soviet Union and the states it controlled. Even in countries where there is real opposition and secret ballots, voting can produce terrible results.


Venezuela, currently suffering a constitutional and humanitarian crisis, appears to have a functioning democracy, but the system has been rigged in favor of Nicolás Maduro, the successor of Hugo Chavez. Physical attacks on and arrests of opposition leaders, banning of opposition parties, sudden changes in the date of the election, and vote buying helped produce a victory for Maduro in 2018.


Algeria is currently experiencing a popular revolt against the elected president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who was first elected in 1999, when the five other candidates withdrew just before the vote. He has been re-elected in 2004, 2009, and 2014, and announced he would run again this year, until massive protests forced him to withdraw as a candidate. He is very ill and has not said a word in public since 2013. His power has been based on military control, corruption, voting manipulation, and extensive use of bribery to create supporters and discourage opposition. The rebels are calling for an overthrow of the whole system.


These two cases are exceptional: the illusion of democracy hid authoritarian reality where democracy had never achieved a foothold. Much more common over the past two decades has been a gradual decline of existing democracies across the world, a process which could be called autocratization. A recent study shows that gradual autocratization has weakened democracies, in places as diverse as Hungary, Turkey and India. By extending government control of media, restricting free association, and weakening official bodies which oversee elections, modern autocrats can undermine democracy without a sudden coup. The authors argue with extensive data that the world has been undergoing a third wave of autocratization covering 47 countries over the last 25 years, after the first two waves in the 1930s and in the 1960s and 1970s.


The efforts of would-be autocrats to maintain their power by restricting democracy discourage trust in democracy itself. Nearly three-quarters of voters in Latin America are dissatisfied with democracy, according to a survey in 18 countries by Latinobarómetro, the highest number since 1995.


This is the context for the current failures of democracy in the United States (Trump) and Great Britain (Brexit). What can explain these failures? Physical coercion of political opponents is nearly non-existent. Corruption and voter suppression certainly play a role, at least in the US, but probably not a decisive one. Voters were overwhelmingly free to choose. Why did so many make such bad choices? I believe that conservative politicians in both countries used carefully chosen political tactics to appeal to widespread voter dissatisfaction. Those tactics are fundamentally dishonest, in that they promised outcomes that were impossible (Brexit) or were not actually going to be pursued (better health care than Obamacare). White voters made uncomfortable by the increasingly equal treatment of women and minorities were persuaded that it was possible and desirable to return to white male supremacy.


Voters made poor choices, even by their own professed desires. There is a dangerous disconnect between the voting preferences of many Americans and their evaluations of American political realities. A survey by the Pew Research Center at the end of 2018 offers some insight into the fundamental weakness of American democracy. A wide bipartisan majority of 73% think the gap between rich and poor will grow over the next 30 years. Two-thirds think the partisan political divide will get wider and 59% believe the environment will be worse. Only 16% believe that Social Security will continue to provide benefits at current levels when they retire, and 42% think there will be no benefits at all. Nearly half say that the average family’s standard of living will decline, and only 20% believe it will improve. These are not just the views of liberals. 68% of Republicans say that no cuts should be made to Social Security in the future. 40% say that the government should be mostly responsible for paying for long-term health care for older Americans in the future.


Yet when asked about their top political priorities, Republicans offer ideas which don’t match their worries about the future. Their three top priorities for improving the quality of life for future generations are reducing the number of undocumented immigrants; reducing the national debt; and avoiding tax increases. The richer that a Republican voter is, the less likely they are to want to spend any money to deal with America’s problems. Republicans with family incomes under $30,000 have a top priority of more spending on affordable health care for all (62%) and on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid (50%), while those with family incomes over $75,000 are give these a much lower priority. 39% of poorer Republicans say a top priority is reducing the income gap, but that is true for only 13% of richer Republicans. Republican politicians follow the preferences of the richest Republican voters, but that doesn’t seem to affect the voting patterns of the rest.


Nostalgia for the “whites only” society of the past also pushes Americans into the Republican Party. About three-quarters of those who think that having a non-white majority in 2050 will be “bad for the country” are Republicans.


A significant problem appears to be ignorance, not just of Trump, but also of his voters. Many are ignorant about the news which swirls around us every day. A poll taken last week by USA Today and Suffolk University shows that 8% of Americans don’t know who Robert Mueller is.


But much of the ignorance on the right is self-willed. Only 19% of self-identified Republicans say the news media will have a positive impact in solving America’s problems. Only 15% are “very worried” about climate change and 22% are not worried at all. Despite the multiple decisions that juries have made about the guilt of Trump’s closest advisors, one-third of Americans have little or no trust in Mueller’s investigation and half agree that the investigation is a “witch hunt”. Despite the avalanche of news about Trump’s lies, frauds, tax evasions, and more lies, 27% “strongly approve” of the job he is doing as President, and another 21% “approve”. 39% would vote for him again in 2020.


Peter Baker of the NY Times reports that “the sheer volume of allegations lodged against Mr. Trump and his circle defies historical parallel.” Yet the percentage of Americans who approve of Trump is nearly exactly the same as it was two years ago.


Ignorance and illogic afflict more than just conservatives. The patriotic halo around the military leads Americans of both parties to political illusions. 72% of adults think the military will have a positive impact on solving our biggest problems, and that rises to 80% of those over 50.


The British writer Sam Byers bemoans his fellow citizens’ retreat into national pride as their political system gives ample demonstration that pride is unwarranted. His wordsapply to our situation as well. He sees around him a “whitewash of poisonous nostalgia”, “a haunted dreamscape of collective dementia”. He believes that “nostalgia, exceptionalism and a xenophobic failure of the collective imagination have undone us”, leading to “a moment of deep and lasting national shame”.


One well-known definition of democracy involves a set of basic characteristics: universal suffrage, officials elected in free and fair elections, freedom of speech, access to sources of information outside of the government, and freedom of association.


We have seen some of these attributes be violated recently in the United States. Republican state governments have tried to reverse electoral losses by reducing the powers of newly elected Democratic governors. Trump, following the lead of many others, has urged Americans to ignore the free press and to substitute information that comes from him. Many states have tried to restrict the suffrage through a variety of tactics.


Across the world, democracy is under attack from within. Winston Churchill wrote, “it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried”. Unless we want to try one of those other forms, we need to fight against autocratization, at home and abroad.

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
American Jews Versus Israeli Politics Steve Hochstadt teaches at Illinois College and blogs for HNN.


Knesset chamber



Benjamin Netanyahu just won a record fifth term as Prime Minister of Israel. He has dominated Israeli politics for ten years. His reelection shows the widening gap between the ideas and politics of American and Israeli Jews.


The Israeli Attorney General announced at the end of February that Netanyahu will be indicted for bribery and fraud. Just days before the election, Netanyahu said that Israel would annex Jewish settlements on land in the West Bank taken in the Arab-Israeli War of 1967. About 400,000 Israelis live in West Bank settlements. He said, “I will impose sovereignty, but I will not distinguish between settlement blocs and isolated settlements. From my perspective, any point of settlement is Israeli, and we have responsibility, as the Israeli government. I will not uproot anyone, and I will not transfer sovereignty to the Palestinians.”


Netanyahu’s electoral opponents were a new coalition of centrist and conservative Israeli politicians. Thus the choice for voters was between a continued hard line against Palestinians and Netanyahu’s even harder line. His victory demonstrates the preference of Israeli voters for an ethically dubious politician, who offers no path toward peace with Palestinians, but continued seizure of formerly Arab land.


In 2009, Netanyahu made the following programmatic statement about the most pressing issue in the Middle East: “I told President Obama in Washington, if we get a guarantee of demilitarization, and if the Palestinians recognize Israel as the Jewish state, we are ready to agree to a real peace agreement, a demilitarized Palestinian state side by side with the Jewish state.” Since then he has gradually been moving away from this so-called two-state solution. In 2015, he employed harsh anti-Arab rhetoric during the last days of the election campaign, for which he apologized after winning. He seemed to move away from support of the two-state idea, but said after the election that this idea was still viable.


The election of Donald Trump pushed Israeli politics further right. Although Trump repeatedly claimed to have a bold plan to create a peace settlement between Israelis and Palestinians, in fact, he has openly supported Netanyahu’s movement away from any possible settlement. A year ago, Trump announced that the US officially recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Trump announced last month that the US recognizes Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, seized from Syria during the 1967 war. Netanyahu used giant billboards showing him shaking hands with Trump.


To support his election bid this time, Netanyahu offered a deal to the most radical anti-Arab Israeli parties, which had thus far failed to win enough votes to be represented in the parliament, the Knesset. He orchestrated the merger of three far right parties into one bloc, the “Union of Right-Wing Parties”, and promised them two cabinet posts if he wins. One of those parties, Jewish Power, advocates the segregation of Jews and Arabs, who make up 20% of Israelis, and economic incentives to rid Israel of its Arab citizens. Jewish Power holds annual memorials for Baruch Goldstein, who murdered 29 Muslims at prayer in 1994. Imagine an American politician allying with a party which celebrates the murderous accomplishments of Dylann Roof.


Netanyahu recently said, “Israel is not a state of all its citizens,” but rather “the nation-state of the Jewish people alone.” That makes a “one-state solution” impossible, because non-Jews would automatically be second-class citizens. Netanyahu’s victory shows that the creation of a Palestinian state is less and less likely, as the land for such a state is increasingly seized by Israel.


While most Israelis also say they support a two-state solution, their real politics makes this support meaningless. A poll of Israelis in 2017 showed Jews leaning heavily to the right and extreme right. A more recent poll showed greatly increasing support for annexation: 16% support full annexation of the West Bank with no rights for Palestinians; 11% support annexation with rights for Palestinians; 15% support annexation of only the part of the West Bank that Israel currently fully controls, about 60% of it. About 30% don’t know and 28% oppose annexation.


Meanwhile, the uprooting of Arabs and confiscation of their land continue as Jewish settlements expand. While the West Bank is highlighted in the news, the Israeli policy of expelling native Arabs from their homes has also been taking place for decades in the Negev desert in southern Israel. Bedouin communities, many of which predate the founding of the Israeli state, have been systematically uprooted as part of an Israeli plan of concentrating all Bedouins into a few towns, in order to use their land for Jewish settlements and planned forests. The Bedouin communities are “unrecognized”, meaning that the Israeli government considers them illegal. Illegal Jewish settlements in that region have been recognized and supported, while much older Bedouin communities have been labeled illegal and demolished or slated for demolition. Essential services, like water and electricity, have been denied to the agricultural Bedouin villages in order to force their citizens to move to the new urban townships.


American Jews are overwhelmingly liberal. Polls since 2010 show over two-thirds supporting Democrats for Congress, rising to 76% in 2018. This long-standing liberalism meant broad support among American Jews for the civil rights struggle during the 20th century. Now the open discrimination against Arabs by the Israeli state, which in some ways resembles the former South African apartheid system, reduces sympathy for Israel.


Surveys of American Jews have demonstrated a consistent support for a two-state solution. Since 2008, about 80% of American Jews support the creation of a Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank. 80% also agree that a “two-state solution is an important national security interest for the United States.” Many factors have been moving American Jews away from support of Israel. The close family connections between Jews in America and Israel after World War II have diminished over the past half-century. The continued dominance of Israeli politics by ultra-Orthodox religious policies has worn out the patience of more secular American Jews in Conservative and Reform congregations.


In fact, the greatest support for hard-line Israeli policies has not been from American Jews, as Ilhan Omar recently implied, but from evangelical Christians who support Trump. After Netanyahu talked about annexing West Bank land, nine major mainstream American Jewish groups wrote to Trump asking him to restrain the Israeli government from annexation, saying that “it will lead to greater conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.”


The drifting apart of American Jews and Israelis is a tragic development, but perhaps an inevitable one. As Jews gradually assimilated into American democracy, they congregated at the liberal end of the political spectrum, feeling kinship with other minorities which experienced discrimination. American Jewish religious politics affirmed the traditional Jewish ethical ideas of justice, truth, peace, and compassion. Israeli Jews have faced a radically different environment. Although many of the early Israeli settlers and leaders came from the leftist European labor tradition, decades of conflict with Arab neighbors, in which both sides perpetrated countless atrocities, have led to hardening attitudes of self-defense and hatred for the other.


Jews in Israel support politicians and policies that I reject as abhorrent. That is a personal tragedy for me. The larger tragedy is that there appears to be no solution at all to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
To His Followers, Trump is a Folk Hero Steve Hochstadt is a professor of history emeritus at Illinois College, who blogs for HNN and LAProgressive, and writes about Jewish refugees in Shanghai.



There is nothing new in trying to figure out Trump. His appeal and his personality have been the subject of countless analyses and speculations since long before he ran for President. Yet the mysteries continue. Why do people like him? Why does he act so badly?


Charles Blow of the New York Times produced a thoughtful explanation of Trump’s popular appeal a couple of weeks ago in an opinion column entitled “Trumpism Extols Its Folk Hero”. Blow believes that Trump has become a “folk hero”, that rare person who “fights the establishment, often in devious, destructive and even deadly ways,” while “those outside that establishment cheer as the folk hero brings the beast to its knees.” Because the folk hero engages in the risky David vs. Goliath struggle against the awesomely powerful “establishment”, his personal sins are forgiven: “his lying, corruption, sexism and grift not only do no damage, they add to his legend.”


Thus the persistent belief among Trump’s critics that exposing his manifest dishonesty will finally awaken his base to reality is mistaken. His ability to get away with every possible form of cheating is part of his appeal, because he is cheating the establishment, the elite, the “deep state”, the “them” that is not “us”.


For his fans, the Mueller report is only the latest example of this extraordinary success. Despite years of investigation, Trump skates. It’s not important whether he was exonerated or not. What matters is that he can claim he was exonerated and go on being President, no matter what the report says, no matter what he actually did.


Wikipedia provides a list of folk heros, every one a familiar name, including Johnny Appleseed, Daniel Boone, Geronimo and Sitting Bull, Nathan Hale and Paul Revere, all people who really were heroic. The key early elements of the Robin Hood folklore, developed hundreds of years ago, are that he fought against the government, personified in the Sheriff of Nottingham, and that he was a commoner, who gave his ill-gotten gains to the poor.


That is one way to become a folk hero, but not the only one. Neither politics nor morality determine whether someone can become a folk hero. Wikipedia also tells us that the “sole salient characteristic” of the folk hero is “the imprinting of his or her name, personality and deeds in the popular consciousness of a people.” It would be hard to find anyone who has done a better job of doing just that for decades than Trump.


Villainy unalloyed by any goodness has also propelled many people, almost all men, into the ranks of folk heroes, like Jesse James, Butch Cassidy, and Bonnie and Clyde. These criminals captured the popular imagination, not despite being bad, but because of it. They were great in their villainy, outlaws in both the legal and social sense, stealing other people’s money for their own benefit, but that does not detract from their appeal. 


Enough people love bad boys that they can achieve legendary status, or even more rarified, a TV series. The popularity of series with villains as heroes demonstrates the broad appeal of bad people. “Breaking Bad” attracted giant audiences and honored by Guinness World Records as the most critically acclaimed show of all time. 


Since he first came into the public eye, Trump has reveled in being the bad boy. He grabbed women at beauty contests and bragged about it. He delights in his own running racist commentary on people who are not white. He lies when he knows he’ll get caught, and then keeps repeating it. He celebrates himself in his chosen role as the bad guy. Meanness was at the heart of his role in “The Apprentice”, where his greatest moments were saying “You’re fired!”


One writer recently asked, “Why does Trump fall in love with bad men?” Trump says nicer things about the world’s most notorious political thugs than would be normal for speaking about the leaders of our closest allies. After meeting North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, Trump told a rally ,“Then we fell in love, okay. No, really. He wrote me beautiful letters. And they’re great letters. We fell in love.” Trump met President Rodrigo Duterteof the Philippines in November. The White House said they had a “warm rapport” and a “very friendly conversation” on the phone. Trump said “We’ve had a great relationship.” Duterte sang the Philippine love ballad “Ikaw” to Trump at a gala dinner.


The prize goes to Trump’s open admiration for Vladimir Putin. During his campaign, Trump said he had met Putin and “he was nice”. Then said, “I never met Putin. I don’t know who Putin is. He said one nice thing about me. He said I’m a genius.” Putin never said that, but for Trump that made Putin “smart”. He claimed a “chemistry” with Putin. Here’s what Trump cares about: “He says great things about me, I’m going to say great things about him.”


Trump’s attraction to this international rogues’ gallery is personal and emotional. He wants the exclusive club of dictators, macho men, tough guys, to love him and to accept him as one of them. Donald Trump’s foreign policy is his attempt to become the leader of the bad boys of the world.


But at the heart of connection between bad boy folk hero Trump and his adulating base is a fundamental misunderstanding. Trump is not fighting the establishment. Trump is not using his powers to help his angry supporters. Trump is screwing them.


He attacks their health by eliminating rules which reduce corporate air and water pollution. He hasn’t stopped his repeated attempts to cut their health insurance by Medicare, Medicaid, and Obamacare. He is dismantling the bank and lending regulations overseen by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Nothing good will come to average Americans from the foreign members of Trump’s club. These are all assaults on the standard of living, present and future, of non-elite America.


The 2017 tax cuts are the best example of how Trump betrays his base. Poor and middle-income Americans got small tax cuts, but also inherit gigantic future deficits to pay for the enormous cuts in corporate and income taxes for the very wealthy.


Trump is good at what he does, but that is bad for everybody else, especially for those who cheer him on.

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 17:21:11 +0000 0
Reduce, reuse, recycle – and a lot more Steve Hochstadt is a professor of history emeritus at Illinois College, who blogs for HNN and LAProgressive, and writes about Jewish refugees in Shanghai.



I am a serious recycler. I find ways to recycle as many of the products I use as I can. Every day I run into some roadblock, which makes my effort more difficult. Those problems are a small part of how modern human society is committing unintended suicide.


Recycling is good. It keeps millions of tons of waste out of landfills. It costs less than half the energy to turn recycled materials into finished products than when raw materials are used, and that includes the energy needed to collect them.


Jacksonville, like many American communities, has arranged for curbside recycling of paper, plastics, and metal. Some grocery stores collect plastic bags for recycling. I can take electronics to a store in town and big pieces of iron or aluminum to a metal recycler.


But questions come up constantly. What do I do with the plastic tops of yogurt containers which have no number? Can the trash company handle little pieces of paper scattered among the other things in their single-stream system? How clean should recycled food packaging be? How about aluminum foil?


My belief that we must do our part to properly deal with the piles of waste we consumers don’t consume is not shared by most institutions. Go into a big box, a restaurant, a little shop – no containers for recycling. At sporting events or in parks or almost any public space, no recycling containers. My grocery store does not stock paper products with recycled content, and you have to ask for paper bags instead of plastic. Most stores offer no alternatives to plastic bags. My own college has scattered containers, but otherwise makes little effort to encourage recycling.


A much bigger question is whether the whole process makes sense. China has been helping the world get rid of its waste, by importing it and producing new goods. For example, over the past 30 years, China has taken in nearly half of the entire world’s plastic waste. In July 2017, the Chinese government notified Western governments that it would stop taking in waste from the production of steel, plastic waste, wool, cotton and other fiber waste, ash contaminated with metals, and paper. In many communities, the collection of recyclables is just buried with the rest of the trash, because nobody wants to process it.


But even if recycling were much more widespread and efficient, it’s not enough to stop global warming. The few well-publicized initiatives to reduce the use of plastic straws, for example, are much too little, much too late. Reducing and reusing the waste stream must be part of a broader societal effort to head off the environmental catastrophe toward which we are headed.


Every year we generate more consumer waste. From 88 million tons in 1960 to 150 million in 1980 to 260 million tons in 2015, and there’s no end in sight. The rate of increase has slowed down since 1990, because the amount of waste produced per person every year has leveled off since then. What drives the total waste up is growing population. Because of the gradual growth of recycling, the amount of waste going to landfills has stayed the same since 1980. Some waste is burned for energy, but that amount has stagnated for 30 years. We’re not doing better and we’re not doing worse. But the status quo leads to disaster.