Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Politicians Who Hate Government

Cliven Bundy is a thief who steals from the public. He is a wealthy rancher, but his own lands are not enough for him. He also grazes his cattle on public lands in Nevada. Until 1993, Bundy paid the proper fees for grazing rights. But then those lands were designated protected habitat for the desert tortoise, and Bundy declared that he did not recognize federal jurisdiction. Since 1998, a series of judges have ruled that he must remove his cattle. Bundy’s reply was, “I abide by almost zero federal laws.” Last year, a federal court warned Bundy that if he did not comply, the Bureau of Land Management would remove his cattle.

Early this month, the BLM sent federal agents to round up the trespassing cattle. Bundy called for armed rebellion. He sent out for support from the militia movement, who reject the authority of the US government. Dozens of armed men arrived at his ranch to confront federal officials.

“We're about ready to take the country over with force!” Bundy said. Armed Bundy supporters shut down nearby Interstate 15, backing up traffic for three miles in both directions. In a radio interview, Bundy said, “I don’t recognize the United States government as even existing.”

Then a surprising thing happened. Elected officials from Nevada and all over the country openly sided with the man who denounced the government they work for. And they’re all Republicans.

First came Nevada politicians. Governor Brian Sandoval said, “No cow justifies the atmosphere of intimidation which currently exists nor the limitation of constitutional rights that are sacred to all Nevadans.” Nevada Senator Dean Heller called Bundy and his supporters “patriots”.

Then other faraway Republicans, especially those with big ambitions, joined in. Texas Governor Rick Perry told FOX News, “I have a problem with the federal government putting citizens in the position of having to feel like they have to use force to deal with their own government.” Texas Senator Ted Cruz characterized the armed standoff as “the unfortunate and tragic culmination of the path that President Obama has set the federal government on. . . . we have seen our constitutional liberties eroded under the Obama administration.” Kentucky Senator Rand Paul completely misunderstood the legal background of the case and asserted that “the federal government shouldn’t violate the law” by taking away Bundy’s rights. Mike Huckabee, on the early presidential campaign trail in New Hampshire, said, “There is something incredibly wrong when a government believes that some blades of grass that a cow is eating is so an egregious affront to the government of the United States that we would literally put a gun in a citizen’s face and threaten to shoot him over it.”

The stars of the Republican Party lined up on the side of a man who owes us $1 million, illegally grazes his cattle, disdains the whole federal government, and invites armed militiamen to disrupt people’s lives in Nevada. Apparently armed rebellion against the federal government is okay, if the rebels are conservatives.

Then Cliven Bundy opened his mouth again. “I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro. They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy?”

Suddenly his Republican supporters jumped ship. Heller condemned “Bundy’s appalling and racist statements”. Paul said, “His remarks on race are offensive.” Cruz agreed: “Those comments are completely unacceptable.”

Embarrassing. But even more embarrassing is the hypocrisy of the Republican politicians who tied themselves to Bundy’s disdain for the rule of law. All they knew about him was that he offered armed resistance to the government of which they are a part, the powers of which they swore to uphold. Have they gone to the other side?

No. These same Republican politicians are praying for victory in the next election. They want to take over Congress in 2014, and then the Presidency in 2016. What then? Will they line up behind those who resist their powers?

Never. These fair weather friends of Cliven Bundy don’t hate government – they only hate liberal government, government in the hands of their Democratic opponents, who have won recent elections. But they are playing a dangerous game by attacking “government” in general and supporting armed rebels who reject federal authority. Those rebels aren’t conservative. They are racist militants who recognize no law and order except their own. Politicians who support them are as dangerous to our constitutional way of life as Cliven Bundy and his militia buddies.

Steve Hochstadt
Jacksonville, IL
Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, April 29, 2014

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Going to War in Ignorance

Some people want the United States to intervene forcefully in Ukraine. Most of them don’t know where Ukraine is.

A recent survey compared what Americans wanted to do about the situation in Ukraine with their ability to locate Ukraine on a map. Only one in six placed Ukraine properly in southeastern Europe. Respondents put Ukraine all over Africa and Asia, even in Canada and in the U.S. The average answer was about 1800 miles off. Partisan voters on both sides did poorly compared to independents.

Geographical ignorance is unfortunate, but it’s a serious problem when it leads to dangerous foreign policy. The survey’s authors concluded, “The farther their guesses were from Ukraine’s actual location, the more they wanted the U.S. to intervene with military force.”

In our recent history, ignorance and war have formed a grievous mixture. We know how the Bush administration’s highest officials, including the President himself, misled Americans, from Congress to the broader public, about the danger that Iraq and Saddam Hussein posed to us. If they had not been so busy drumming up support for a war they had long intended to start, we could have avoided the invasion of Iraq in 2003, almost nine years of fighting, and 4500 deaths of American soldiers.

The escalation of American involvement in Vietnam a generation earlier was prompted by President Lyndon Johnson’s assertion in August 1964 that the North Vietnamese had attacked an American ship in the Gulf of Tonkin. Within a week, Congress passed a resolution authorizing him “to take all necessary steps, including the use of armed force” in Southeast Asia, without a declaration of war. By early 1965, American planes were bombing North Vietnam and American combat troops poured into South Vietnam.

In those two horrific cases, American political leaders drove us into wars of their own making by telling us lies, both about what happened in other parts of the world and about what they really wanted to do and why. We will probably never be able to penetrate the deceitful statements of our political leaders. But we can as a people learn more about the world.

Americans who have no idea where Ukraine is certainly don’t know that Ukraine was one of the most advanced regions of the Soviet Union, and that Russian political leaders and many ordinary Russians fear what will happen to their dreams of greatness if Ukraine becomes a Western ally. Not knowing where Ukraine is means not having any idea about what we should do in and after the current crisis.

There are many others who know exactly where Ukraine is, who understand Ukraine’s history and strategic significance, but who ignore what they know in favor of seeking partisan political advantage. Because President Obama can never do anything right on any issue, Republican leaders are gambling with war, more concerned with their own political power than with our national security.

In March, Obama clearly stated the basis of his policy: “We are not going to be getting into a military excursion in Ukraine.” Since that moment, Republicans in Congress have advocated military intervention. Senator John McCain immediately responded with his party’s favorite characterization: “This is the ultimate result of a feckless foreign policy in which nobody believes in America's strength any more.” McCain wants to send small arms and ammunition to Kiev. “The United States should not be imposing an arms embargo on a victim of aggression.”

Senator Marco Rubio, a much younger man with presidential ambitions, agrees. In an op-ed piece in the Washington Post, Rubio wrote that the Obama administration’s refusal to send weapons to Ukraine is “shameful”. Making Crimea the most important issue on the world stage, he wants to send military aid to Ukraine and stop working with Russia on negotiations with Iran. He also wants to send US “military assets”, including personnel, to Poland and the Baltic states, where we currently have none.

House Intelligence Committee Chair Mike Rogers responded to the Russian annexation of Crimea by advocating “non-combatant military aid”, by which he meant medical supplies, radio equipment, and “defensive posture weapons systems.” Senator Bob Corker took an apparently more moderate approach: only after this crisis is over, the US should create a military relationship with Ukraine. McCain wants that to happen sooner rather than later, bringing Ukraine into a relationship with NATO.

The most radical war-mongers are not in Congress, but in the conservative media. William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, told CNN that “deploying ground troops … should not be ruled out.”

What do we get from this kind of military adventurism in places where Americans have never been and know little about? Our ignorant entry into Vietnam was a disaster. We have left Iraq in a state of disintegration. After nearly 13 years of fighting and dying in Afghanistan, our man in Kabul since we invaded in 2001, Hamid Karzai, just joined the tiny group of world leaders who recognize the Russian annexation of Crimea, along with Syria, Venezuela, Cuba, and Sudan.

The genuine ignorance of the American public about world affairs is troubling. The willful ignorance of our political leaders about the consequences of their political posturing is deadly.

Steve Hochstadt
Jacksonville IL
Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, April 15, 2014

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Making Girls Into Women

This is an important, but complicated story. Sunnie Kahle was adopted by her great-grandparents, Doris and Carroll Thompson, because her mother was unable to raise her. Doris Thompson said, “I wanted Sunnie to have a Christian education,” so they sent her to Timberlake Christian Schools. Sunnie began to have trouble when she decided to cut her waist-length hair short and donate it to cancer patients. Her pre-K teacher raised concerns about Sunnie’s gender identity. In kindergarten, another girl thought Sunnie was a boy. That led the teacher to again raise the issue of Sunnie’s identity. In second grade, some boys tried to pull Sunnie into the boys’ bathroom. Again school staff questioned Sunnie’s behavior.

A few months later, Principal Becky Bowman sent a letter to the Thompsons. It’s worth quoting. Bowman emphasized that the School’s role is “to mold students to be Christlike,” and then reserved the right to “discontinue enrollment of a student” when “the atmosphere or conduct within particular home is counter to or in opposition to the biblical lifestyle.” To be sure that the Thompsons understood what she meant, Bowman specified that the issue was “condoning or supporting sexual immorality; practicing homosexual lifestyle or alternative gender identity.” Bowman then wrote that “unless Sunnie clearly understands that god has made her female and her dress and behavior need to follow suit with her God-ordained identity, that TCS is not the best place for her future education.”

To Principal Bowman, some teachers, and some boys and girls at Timberlake, Sunnie’s “dress and behavior” did not follow their ideas about “her God-ordained identity”. They were so sure that her short hair and her preference for jeans over dresses were evidence of immorality in her home, that they singled her out for humiliation and exclusion. Perhaps we could excuse the boys and girls, who need not take responsibility for what they were taught about proper gender behavior.

Sunnie was heartbroken about leaving her school, and the Timberlake authorities have shunned all responsibility for their behavior. Their subsequent open letter is clear that they stand behind “traditional values”, and that their mission is to “instill Christian values”.  They hired some lawyers, who then blamed the Thompson family, saying “the facts are not as S.K.'s great-grandparents have portrayed them”. Their lawyer then claimed, “This is not at all about how she is dressing.”

To those who want to mold little girls into their narrow vision of what women should be, who anxiously search for any signs of “immorality”, it’s never too early to wield the sword of discipline on deviators.

I don’t think this is just about Christianity. The gender identity guardians at Timberlake Christian Schools are more concerned with “traditional values” than with modeling Christlike behavior. They are joined by many others who wish to impart a particular vision of what a girl should be. On Sunday, March 30, the rules for the Princess Contest of our local Morgan County Fair Pageant were published, outlining a vision of the perfect girl. They specify that girls between 5 and 7 will be judged on beauty, personality and charm, to be determined by how they look and act in a party dress and a swimsuit.

What does a 5-year old learn when she is judged by her appearance in a swimsuit? What does an 8-year old learn when her teacher and her principal take the side of the boys who try to humiliate her by dragging her into the boys’ bathroom? Why can’t girls wear pants? Why must they have long hair?

Timberlake Christian Schools says it’s about following Christ. The Morgan County Fair Pageant seems to be about beauty. I say it’s about indoctrination into a narrow definition of gender that ranks girls and women by their appearance, that demands their subservience to male ideals and men’s authority, that demonizes any deviation from heterosexuality.

Even the most liberal people appear to have trouble abandoning traditional sexist values and the social practices that support them. Just this year, the Miss Southern California Cities and Miss Long Beach competition stopped making their “little Miss” competitors aged 6 to 10 wear swimsuits. The “Mrs.” contestants (must be over 21) also won’t wear swimsuits, but the Teen (13-18) and Miss (19-30) will. You are only allowed to ogle unmarried girls, apparently. Yet this pageant welcomes same-sex couples and pregnant Mrs. contestants.

Sunnie said, “I should just be able to be me and not let them worry about it.” But despite her 4.0 average, some people will never let Sunnie be herself, if that conflicts with their ideas of what a girl should be.

Steve Hochstadt
Jacksonville IL
Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, April 10, 2014