Monday, November 28, 2011

Speaking for Myself

I want to be sure that everyone who reads my column understands that here I write and speak for myself. I don’t speak for any institution I am associated with, not for the Sino-Judaic Institute, a small faraway educational organization, nor for Illinois College, our own educational institution as old as Jacksonville, nor for Jacksonville itself, from my seat on the Historical Preservation Commission.

I am not trying to market their brands or advertise their virtues. I represent my own party of one, which is what I believe an opinion columnist ought to do. Being published in my own community is a great privilege, which I hope to earn by talking straight with my readers about my own thinking.

Unlike so many of the people who talk and write at us these days, I am not trying to make a buck or get a vote. I am free to tell the truth, as I see it. I don’t have to make up lies about other people, who don’t share my views. I don’t have to pretend that what I know is true is false, and what I know is false is true.

I am also proud to say that I am a part of these institutions, by my choice. I share their values, I wish to see them prosper and grow, and I promote their programs and people with my own time, labor, and money.

That is why I can represent them when they want me to wear a badge with their name. If I meet prospective students on campus, university administrators in Japan, or scholars at a conference, I identify myself with Illinois College. Over my signature on Sino-Judaic Institute letterhead, messages about membership, dues, grants, and finances leave Jacksonville. I am proud to write local homeowners about designating their houses as local landmarks, in the name of the Historical Preservation Commission.

By pledging allegiance to certain institutions with whom we want to identify, we don’t give up our rights to think about, talk about, even preach about contemporary issues. We simply must accept the responsibility to be clear about how, and especially when, we represent those institutions. Inevitably the line between being true to oneself and representing larger institutions gets fuzzy, since we cannot separate our public and private identities, as citizen or employee.

Right now I’m at home, my mother is in the next room, and my music is playing. The responsibility for what gets published here in my name is entirely mine.

If some authority comes after me because they don’t like what I say, no institution will protect me. But I’m still safe, because I am shielded by a power greater than institutions, the First Amendment to our Constitution.

Still the determined efforts of those who don’t want me to talk at all have surprised me. Because the internet offers virtual anonymity and unparalleled access, anyone who speaks out is yelled at, in every violent, disgusting, hateful way. It’s much worse for women who are attacked both for their views, and as unworthy of having any views. They are threatened with graphically violent sexual violation. Maybe that’s because the nastiest people in the blogosphere are angry men.

The freedom which enables me to write is really based on you readers. The First Amendment was adopted in 1791, but many times in our history that freedom did not effectively exist. I was born at the depth of the Cold War political hysteria, whipped up by conservatives of both parties, symbolized by Sen. Joseph McCarthy, but encompassing Presidents and Congress, FBI agents, labor leaders, and newspaper editors. Civil rights leaders, pacifists and feminists, who voiced ideas uncomfortable to the defenders of a racist, sexist, and militaristic status quo, were routinely deprived of this freedom.

The reinvigoration of our constitutional freedoms in my lifetime came from below, from ordinary citizens, from readers who wanted to end censorship by the powerful. I feel the protection of today’s readers, not just the few who agree with me, but the many who believe in my right to write. Surrounded by the shield of a free readership, opinion writers across America can do our work.


Steve Hochstadt
Jacksonville IL
published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, November 29, 2011

Monday, November 21, 2011

Back to the Future?

Washington is a mess. The barriers separating bureaucracy, commercial lobbying, and elected officials are gone, and the same small elite of the rich and well-connected trade jobs and favors and money. Overpaid and coddled federal bureaucrats pretend to manage expensive programs which don’t work. They tell ordinary Americans what to do and how to do it, and don’t care about the cost or what we think.

How did that happen? The conservative answer is very loud and certain: “It’s the Democrats’ fault. We need Republicans, the more conservative the better, to clean up that monumental mess before it overwhelms us.”

That’s the part that seems puzzling. Over the past 30 years, Republicans have controlled the Presidency and both houses of Congress for 6 years, and either the Presidency or both houses of Congress for 20 years. In those 30 years, the only time that more than 2 out of 9 Supreme Court justices were appointed by Democrats has been the past 2 years.

If Washington is a mess, then the Republicans have been making that mess, too, for decades. So how do they avoid taking any responsibility?

Well, when was the last time a politician took responsibility for anything wrong? That’s a bit of bipartisanship we would all like to get rid of.

But blaming the Democrats is not just typical political hypocrisy. What the conservatives hate is mainly due to Democrats, but not entirely. They hate the 1960s.

Republicans avoid talking about their leadership and power in Washington for the past 30 years, because they are fighting to undo the changes in our political system that came earlier, during the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Conservative Republicans want to do away with the environmental protections that have safeguarded our health since the 1960s. The Clean Air Act was passed in 1963,and the Clean Water Act in 1972. The Motor Vehicle Air Pollution Control Act set the first standards for vehicle emissions in 1965. The Environmental Protection Agency, that Rick Perry says is a “jobs cemetery”, was proposed by Richard Nixon and created in 1970.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission, the federal agency that protects citizens from dangerous products, was created in 1972. The Energy Department was created in the 1970s, because the oil crisis of 1973 made us realize the need to consolidate energy policy.

The movements for equality that conservatives are so angry about, the women’s rights and gay rights movements, grew out of the popular recognition in the 1960s that inequality was rooted in American laws and customs. Roe v. Wade affirmed women’s constitutional right to control their own bodies; it was decided by a 7-2 vote, with 5 of the those affirmative votes by justices appointed by Republicans. The Office of Economic Opportunity was created in 1964 to administer new programs designed to reduce poverty in America, such as Head Start, VISTA, and Legal Aid. Republicans are now trying state by state to reverse the expansion of the franchise to poor people that developed out of the voting rights protests of the 1960s.

Conservatives lost the battles in the 1960s to stop these reforms from being put into place. They have tried for decades to obstruct, weaken and defund them. They point to every problem with programs that they have been in charge of for most of the time. Their message is not, “We failed.” It is, “These programs can’t ever work. Let us get rid of them.”

One person symbolizes everything that conservatives hate about the 1960s. Barack Obama, son of a foreigner, community organizer, black, and liberal, could not have become President, if it hadn’t been for what the American people accomplished in the 1960s, over the vocal objections of conservatives.

But they won’t succeed. The revolution in American politics that was won by American voters in the 1960s and 1970s still commands majorities. A September Harris Poll showed that 51% of Americans support same-sex marriage, 56% support stricter gun control laws, 64% support abortion rights, and 75% support stricter environmental protection. Even after the poor and the immigrants are excluded from the polls, even after the relentless bombardment of billionaire-financed TV ads, most Americans want the rights, the freedoms, and the securities for us and our children that the 1960s brought.

Steve Hochstadt
Jacksonville IL
published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, November 22, 2011

Monday, November 14, 2011


Herman Cain said most blacks are dumb. He should know. He’s talking about his own people.

Cain actually used the word “brainwashed”. That makes me think of Frank Sinatra tracking a robotic Laurence Harvey in the “Manchurian Candidate”. We all know that brainwashers are our enemy. In the film, Russian and Chinese intelligence agents and a Commie-loving traitor, Laurence Harvey’s mother, terrifically overplayed by Angela Lansbury, will stop at nothing to attain their evil ends.

Could there be a good brainwasher? Some corporation, or some government, or some alien offers eternal happiness right here on earth, in the form of pills, or surgery, or radiation. Wouldn’t that be nice? No. From “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” back to Orwell’s “1984”, back further to Goethe’s “Faust”, the cultural message is clear. There is always a sinister motive behind this gift of the good life. The bad guys want to rob your freedom in exchange for some fleeting and ultimately worthless promise of fame, fortune, and good-looking playmates. It’s the Devil’s pact. All brainwashing is bad.

Herman Cain wants to be taken seriously. Let’s listen to exactly what he said. “Many African Americans have been brainwashed into not being open-minded, not even considering a conservative point of view. I have received some of that same vitriol, simply because I am running for the Republican nomination as a conservative. So it's just brainwashing and people not being open-minded, pure and simple .... For two-thirds of them that is the case.”

The brainwashers are the usual Republican devils: liberals or Democrats, if there is any difference. According to Cain, most African Americans are unable to escape the mind-control black magic of those long-time political criminals, led by their Brainwasher-in-Chief, Barack Obama.

A slightly different metaphor comes to the lips of another black conservative, Rep. Allen West from Florida. He compares the Democratic Party to a modern-day “plantation.”

West told Laura Ingraham on FOX News that he is the “modern-day Harriet Tubman“ and that he wants to lead fellow African Americans away from the “21st-century plantation.” Only this time, unlike 19th-century slavery, African Americans voted eagerly for their slave masters. Dumb.

Are Cain and West actually trying to appeal to African Americans by calling them dupes? Certainly. That’s no different than the message proclaimed by all the Republican Presidential competitors. The new line, once put out only by celebrity radicals, like Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter, but now standard fare for serious Republican politicians, is that liberals are not simply wrong, not simply bad for the country, but determined to ruin America. Bad for blacks and whites, if only they could see it.

The evil deeds of Obama Democrats, like the hoax of global warming, the death panel threat to Grandma, and the betrayal of Israel, are so obvious, that the only explanation for their legions of avid supporters is brainwashing.

These European-style socialists constantly repeat their big lies through the dishonest liberal media. Using techniques perfected by Joseph Goebbels, the American media bombards the public with so many “facts”, that only conservatives have not been put into a trance.

Sounds like “a conspiracy so immense and an infamy so black as to dwarf any previous venture in the history of man,” as Joseph McCarthy said long ago.

Herman Cain is just repeating normal Republican campaign rhetoric. But there is still a difference. White American is pretty evenly divided, with the edge to the right-thinking conservatives. But Cain’s two-thirds of black America, which is really 90% of black voters in 2010, blindly votes for Democrats.

It seems to me that a better tactic to win black votes might be to offer more than insults, such as jobs (African Americans had 13% unemployment in 2010) or health care (44% of black adults have no health insurance). But not one Republican politician has repudiated Cain’s and West’s characterization of black Americans.

Perry and Romney and all the rest agree that African Americans are less able than whites to resist the clever techniques of the liberal brainwashers. Born that way, I guess.

Steve Hochstadt
Jacksonville IL
published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, November 15, 2011

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A New American Political Morality

This Thursday the Illinois Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability will decide whether to appropriate sufficient funds to keep the Jacksonville Development Center open, or to close it down in a matter of months. That decision will have major implications for our city, but it also represents one case out of hundreds across the country in which reduced government budgets conflict with community interests.

The JDC has played an integral role in the history of Jacksonville. In 1847 the state legislature established the Illinois State Asylum and Hospital for the Insane, which opened exactly 150 years ago this month. This new public hospital was based on an innovative idea: the state would assume the costs of treating and caring for “the insane”.

Since then, this hospital has undergone significant changes in its name and functions. In the 1970s, care for the developmentally disabled was added to the hospital’s mission. Later in-patient treatment for the mentally ill was eliminated, hence the final name change to the Jacksonville Developmental Center.

While the type of patient has changed, the original idea has not: the state, representing all the people, assumes the medical challenge and financial burden of caring for citizens who cannot care for themselves. That is an expensive undertaking. At the public hearing in Illinois College’s Bruner Fitness Center on October 24, administrators from the Illinois Department of Human Services estimated that the annual cost at JDC is about $200,000 per patient. With nearly 200 patients, the total cost is about $40,000,000, or about $3 per Illinois resident per year.

The JDC is in bad shape. It is heated by outdated coal-fired furnaces, several of which no longer function. Years of inadequate budgets have left an estimated $100 million in deferred maintenance of buildings and roads. In 2010 the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the federal agency which administers these programs, nearly decertified JDC due to life safety code violations. Perhaps because of these problems, the JDC is the most expensive among similar Illinois state facilities in per capita cost.

The public hearing revealed conflicts that go beyond budget issues. The Illinois Council for Developmental Disabilities, a state agency which advocates for the developmentally disabled, and the Department of Human Services agreed that institutional care for these patients should be replaced as far as possible with community placement in smaller facilities. They believe this will not only be considerably less expensive, but better for the patients.

The closing of JDC inevitably hurts our local economy. It is one of the largest employers in the area and its 400 staff will not be able to easily find equivalent jobs. The economic ripples of shutting JDC down will extend beyond the employees to businesses which supply food, clothing, materials, and transportation.

The consensus that JDC had outlived its usefulness has developed over many years. This issue has been thoroughly studied, debated, and restudied before the Department of Human Services, following the best medical diagnosis, decided to move its support away from large institutions to smaller facilities.

That is the way we want such momentous decisions about our fellow citizens to be made. Instead the elected leaders of state government, Democrats and Republicans, just wielded an ax to deal with the state budget mess. Jacksonville has to defend our right to survive against hasty partisan decision-making. Closing JDC without sufficient time to allow the staff to prepare the residents for a life-changing move, to allow the community to develop the proper homes to accept so many new residents, to allow staff to find jobs, is incompetent politics.

The crisis at JDC is a small part of a much larger crisis in American political morality. The decision by the young State of Illinois in 1847 is being questioned – should the state, that is, all of us, take care of those who can’t take care of themselves? Or is it too expensive?

On March 15, the New Boston Tea Party was clear about why they want to eliminate most social programs: “The locusts are eating, or should we say devouring, the productive output of the hard working taxpayer.”

At the moment, the developmentally disabled at JDC are the locusts. In other places, it’s the unemployed, the homeless, the immigrants, the poor. Conservatives don’t say that the US isn’t rich enough to care for such people; they say all the time that we are the most prosperous nation ever. They say they don’t want to pay for them. That’s why I’m not a conservative.

Steve Hochstadt
Jacksonville IL
published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, November 8, 2011