Tuesday, November 8, 2016

This Election Makes A Difference

Most people know about Chobani yogurt. Few know that it represents a remarkable story of immigrant success in America. Hamdi Ulukaya is a Turkish immigrant with Kurdish heritage, who arrived in upstate New York in the 1990s. He used a family recipe to make feta cheese. With a $800,000 loan from the Small Business Administration, he bought a local yogurt factory and started selling Chobani yogurt 9 years ago. He opened the world’s largest yogurt manufacturing plant in Twin Falls, Idaho, in 2012.

Chobani is now the number one selling yogurt in the US. Ulukaya offers his 2000 employees 6 weeks of fully-paid family leave for new parents and recently gave them shares in the company, which could make some of them millionaires. He sponsors the US Olympic team.

But Ulukaya and the Chobani brand are a new target of a right-wing campaign of disinformation, led by Breitbart News, home of Donald Trump’s campaign CEO Stephen Bannon. Ulukaya employs more than 300 Iraqi, Afghan and Turkish refugees in his factories. He has created a foundation to assist refugees, gaining direct support from IBM and other giant corporations. Breitbart began publishing stories which falsely linked his company with tuberculosis cases in Idaho and a sexual assault case in Twin Falls. This spawned online calls to boycott Chobani and online death threats to the Twin Falls mayor and his wife. Many of these threats come from Trump supporters. Helping refugees become productive citizens in America is a crime in the eyes of those who love Trump.

Certainly this election will make a difference in government and laws. Here’s a big example – the health of our planet. If Trump is elected, we can expect no action to slow global heating. His repeated insistence that climate change is a hoax might mean that his policies, backed by a Republican Congress, would make temperature rise faster. We would lose four crucial years in the race to save our planet for the next generations.

How our laws are interpreted by the Supreme Court would also be starkly different, depending on who wins. Trump promises to appoint very conservative justices, which could mean an end to legal abortion and to our progress toward equal treatment for gay Americans.

But the difference this election makes will not only be in concrete actions of government. If Trump wins, then women who are sexually harassed will have a harder time gaining justice. A Trump victory would be victory for “locker room talk” and worse, sexual assault. Bragging about sexual predation and getting away with it would be confirmed as winning male behavior.

A Trump victory would be a victory for discrimination against Muslims, not only foreign Muslims, but American Muslims, too. Even if he couldn’t pass the discriminatory laws he promises, a hater of Islam in the White House would mean encouragement for haters of Islam all over America.

A Trump victory would be a victory for white racism. About half of Trump supporters hold racist views of American blacks and Hispanics. They attack “political correctness”, because it prevents them from openly espousing their racist ideas. The “great” America they seek is a white America.

A Trump victory would be a victory for the politics of insults and lies. Having the Insulter-in-Chief leading our country would encourage every jerk in America to unleash his nastiness, to spew hatred, to try to win in life by making everyone else small. We see that happen at his rallies, where verbal attacks on reporters are now common.

The people who concoct the wildest stories about evil refugees, terrorist Muslims, lazy blacks and whining women will be able to look at President Trump as their role model. A country in which the President’s closest advisor tells racist lies about a good man, a good employer, and a good yogurt maker is not a great country.

Steve Hochstadt
Jacksonville IL
Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, November 8, 2016

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Walking With Dogs

This crazy election is only a week away. I need relief and find that my dogs ease political stress. Their simpler lives are not affected by politics and they help me recognize what is important in this life.

I like to let my dogs, two Boston terriers, run free. Dogs on leashes are terribly constrained to go where their owners go, to walk a narrow path through their lives. Modern extension leashes give them a bit more latitude, but not any more freedom. I don’t like them, because dogs don’t learn how to heel, one of the most important disciplines for our canine friends.

I believe in a combination of strict training and free running. I want my dogs to come when called, to behave around other people, to sit or stay or lie down when I tell them. I have trained a series of Bostons to walk with me (heeling) without a leash. That effort has not been so successful now that I have two brothers, because they distract each other, so I have to use leashes when we are around other people.

What happens when dogs run free? I don’t go to the tiny “dog parks” which have recently proliferated, because they usually provide little room for exercise. Wherever I live, I find places where I can walk and dogs can run.
Every breed is different. Boston terriers like to stay relatively close to their human companions, so Homer and Hector stay within sight as I walk, but run backwards and forwards, stop when and where they want, and chase each other. They make their own decisions about what to do and where to go, but we can walk for 10 minutes without my saying a word. I get to observe dogs doing their own thing.

My dogs listen to me, but think mostly about each other. Homer and Hector have been together since the day they were born and they pay close attention to what the other is doing. When one stops at an interesting spot, usually marked by another dog, the other comes running and their heads come together to smell the fine aromas. But they have their own personalities. When Homer rounds a corner, he stops and stares ahead, searching the landscape for prey ( I think). When I let him out the back door of our house, he insists on going through the door first, but then stops immediately to survey the back yard. Hector just runs past him, less interested in other animals, following his own path. He tends to wander further afield, so I have to call him occasionally to come closer. They sleep next to each other or on top of each other, keeping warm contact since they were puppies.

People often assume that the way they do things is the only possible way. German dogs and dog owners behave differently, at least what I have observed in cities. Leashes are unusual. People walk crowded streets with dogs nearby, following the same general path, but their own way. Dogs accompany diners in restaurants, sitting quietly at their feet.

I think we underestimate canine intelligence. As I watch my dogs running around, I wonder what they are thinking about, what is important to them. We often say that dogs are smart when they obey commands. That’s a human perspective on dogs. More interesting to me are dog decisions. We know little about how dogs make decisions – go left or right, stop and smell, run or walk, pee here or there.

Dog researchers believe that our best friends are particularly good at figuring out what we mean by our communicative gestures. I have seen my dogs figure out what I mean by various gestures that I repeat in similar situations. They want to know what I am doing and going to do, and the gestures help them make sense of their world. I had to be disciplined about using particular gestures to mean always only one thing and to reward the dogs for figuring out what they mean.

This communication goes the other way. Hector and Homer try to tell me what they want, because I control so much of their lives – let me out, feed me, pet me. I need to figure out what they want and respond, even if it’s not what I want, because that encourages their efforts at communication.

The more we observe our animals, the more freedom we give them to make choices, the deeper our relationships. Dogs are not just pets. They can be our partners in life.

Steve Hochstadt
Jacksonville IL
Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, November 1, 2016

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

This Is What I Know

I know that this is scariest American election I have ever seen. When I am not distracted by something that needs my attention, I think about the election all the time. As nearly everyone has said, this is an extraordinarily nasty campaign that tarnishes everyone in America, except the tiny number who love and provoke the nastiness.

I know that some of these provocateurs live among Democrats, work in or for various Democratic campaigns, not just Hillary Clinton’s. But a video of two such men talking about fomenting chaos, which never happened, is the worst evidence anyone has found about Democrats’ role in making this such a nasty campaign.

I know that the nastiness has mostly come from the Republican side. I don’t blame all of it on Donald Trump. He is a nasty man in all respects, who can’t help acting like a jerk when he confronts the daily setbacks of modern life, much less the criticism directed at Presidential candidates. Trump’s uncontrolled instinct to denigrate and demean anyone who challenges him meant that this campaign was already in the gutter during primary season. With only one opponent left and the whole world watching, Trump has outdone himself in spreading the stink of fear and the contagion of insult.

But I know Trump was not alone. More professional, more knowledgeable, and equally unscrupulous men have latched onto Trump to achieve the biggest audiences of their lives. Trump’s choice to put his campaign and himself in the hands of Roger Stone and Stephen Bannon is a testament to his judgment and his preferences.

Roger Stone has been a campaign dirty trickster for decades. In the service of Trump, he has repeatedly appeared on a white nationalist radio show. His idea of campaign strategy is to claim that Khizr Khan is a terrorist from the Muslim Brotherhood.

Bannon is Trump’s campaign CEO. At Breitbart News, Bannon has tried to destroy our system with misinformation. He told Ronald Radosh of The Daily Beast, “I’m a Leninist. Lenin wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal, too. I want to bring everything crashing down and destroy all of today’s establishment.” That’s a Republican campaign leader?

I know that Hillary Clinton is not the “most corrupt candidate ever to run for President”, a punch-line used by Trump, by conservative media, and by many other Republicans. She certainly is not close to the most ethical candidate. But Republicans have put in decades of work to smear her reputation, and have largely been successful. But they have not succeeded in actually proving their case. Benghazi is a perfect example: Republicans on the campaign trail continue to scream about “criminal behavior” in connection with Benghazi, but the exhaustive and expensive 800-page report by the Republicans of the House Benghazi Committee released in June could find no wrong-doing on her part.

I know that if Hillary Clinton is elected President, she will face a Republican Party determined to prevent her from governing. It’s not just Trump and his most excitable supporters who would make it difficult to govern. They are only the extreme tip of the much bigger Republican Party monolith that refused to work with President Obama and appears to be poised to do the same for another 4 years. John McCain recently said, “I promise you that we will be united against any Supreme Court nominee that Hillary Clinton, if she were president, would put up.” I don’t know why: either they are not willing to absorb that they only represent a minority of Americans or they believe that as a minority all they can do is block everything.

I know that Trump isn’t as smart as he thinks. No matter how you interpret his business history, he has made some colossal financial blunders to go along with his outsized successes. But in politics at the highest level, success requires calm in constant crisis, broad knowledge, ability to adapt to unpredictability in front of the national media. Trump can’t do any of that. His speeches, whether at his rallies or on Twitter or in formal debates, do not show any more understanding of political complexities than what he said 10 years ago. He couldn’t stay on one topic for more than a few moments in the debates, because he quickly exhausted everything he knew.

I know that one loudmouth who disdains every aspect of military reality, yet believes himself a military genius, would not know how to lead a real opposition movement. Trump is the opposite of a charismatic leader, an egotist who pushes people near him away in the most brutal manner.

I know that America will survive this campaign. We have all heard the dire predictions of chaos after November 8, but I don’t believe in them. Democracies have fallen when clever demagogues appeared, but not in any of the advanced, long-standing democracies of the world. In almost every case, deep economic problems lay behind the weakness of the democratic government. The US has experienced more troubled times in our past, notably during the 1930s, and today’s situation is nothing like that. Public life has been getting uncomfortable over many years, and this may not be worst it gets. But we will survive.

I don’t know whether we will be a better America after Election Day. The discussions of sexual assault, of the value of immigration, and of the strength of white racism that this campaign has opened up will be difficult. The most we can hope for is that the younger generations learn from our failures.

Steve Hochstadt
Jacksonville IL
Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, October 25, 2016