Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Republican Conspiracy Theories

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

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Trump’s Sex Tape is No News

The big news on Friday was Donald Trump’s sex tape. But there was nothing new on it.

Trump said dirty words. He talked about gleefully pursuing adultery. He bragged to a TV journalist about an unending series of sexual conquests with beautiful women. He explained the method he was so proud of: “When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab them by the pussy. I just start kissing them. I don’t even wait.”

The tape tells us nothing that we didn’t know before. From lawsuits, from interviews with women, from other recordings he made with other crude men. From his own books and public statements.

Why the fuss now? Despite his brazen display of precisely the character he said “wasn’t him”, it has taken a long time for Americans to realize what his character is. Of course, liberals like me were opposed to Trump from the start. Until he leaped on the birther story, I never knew much about him. Just as every slip-up from Hillary Clinton is noticed and magnified by conservatives, like turning a cold into a character flaw, I then noticed the displays of juvenile machismo, nasty attitudes, deliberately malicious attacks, and psychological sickness.

Those who agreed with the political ideas he advanced have been much less willing to see his long string of “unacceptable” behaviors as a window into his soul. In Republican debates over the past year, against all those other men in suits, several of whom descended to his level, he was able to win over millions of people who did not know much about him. Maybe those other guys weren’t so hot, either. Right up to his debate with Clinton, his supporters argued away every awful comment, every fraudulent Trump Foundation transaction, every bit of evidence of his abhorrent personality.

Republican office-holders kept trying to avoid commitment, either to Trump or to the values they have been proclaiming all these years. At every crucial moment, they would repeat their mantra: “That action is unacceptable.” And then they did nothing.

Recently, especially before the first debate with Clinton, stories about Trump have piled up. Newspapers and media who felt a responsibility to inform the public had launched investigations of his business life, his education, his legal troubles, and his past statements about everything. People who had personal or professional experiences with Trump have gradually been coming forward. His lies added up, so that many newspapers decided to be more open about calling a lie a lie.

Trump didn’t come apart in that first presidential debate two weeks ago, nor did he “lose control” over the next few days. In his performance on the biggest stage, he did what he has always done in his relationships with women, with the truth, and with people he doesn’t like. In the second debate this weekend, Trump was unable to do anything more than pretend he was just like any other guy in a locker room.

The sex talk tape is exactly Trump, just cruder, more explicit, more revealing than what we have seen and heard already.

The Republican Party and its leaders have known much more about Trump than we have. Some of the harshest criticisms and the most damaging revelations about Trump have come from conservatives who are not seeking votes for themselves, but a future for their Party. Trump likes to think of himself as Midas, who can turn everything into gold. Instead, he has tainted every Republican politician who allowed him to get near them. They were willing to let this man become President in order to save their political careers.

It will be interesting, but not fun, to watch Republican politicians dance around Trump and their own responses these next few weeks.

It’s too late to change the ticket. Mike Pence is not exactly a profile in courage, either. The best that could be said for him is that he was a kind man who became a blind dupe, who hitched his future to Trump when other Republicans were unwilling, who learned how to repeat Trump’s lies.

This campaign has shown the prejudices lurking deep in our society, ready to be exploited by a shameless demagogue. I’m sad that so many of my fellow Americans liked Trump’s rantings about Mexicans, about African Americans, about Muslims so much that they were willing to ignore his sleaziness. I hope some of them reconsider those ideas, now that they see their main promoter as a charlatan and a pig.

I’ll be even sadder if they vote for him, now that excuses for his character are no longer tenable.

There is no other Trump, no improved Trump, no more mature and less hateful Trump. He would like to be Mr. America, but he’s just a colossal jerk.

Steve Hochstadt
Springbrook, WI
Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, October 11, 2016

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

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