Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Jews and Blacks

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 N├╝rnberg 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

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

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

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Range Wars

Christian conservatives constantly complain that they suffer from a double whammy of bad press and discriminatory treatment in today’s America. According to them, the war on Christmas is part of a bigger war on Christianity, directed by a President who treats Muslims better than Christians and by the media who kowtow to political correctness. That same media treats conservatives with disdain and twists the truth to unfairly portray them. It’s a wonder that both conservatism and Christianity have survived such social and political repression.

That’s a nice argument. All that grousing has convinced many Americans that the government and press lean away from them. Nobody who has really experienced persecution gives these claims any credit except as the laments of the ruling class. It’s never been true, but reality-based evidence tends to be scorned in contemporary conservative politics, in favor of imaginary evidence.

Well, here’s some imaginary evidence. Imagine a group of armed men taking over a government facility, and calling for armed supporters to come join them. Imagine them appropriating government property for their own uses. Imagine them threatening local authorities and ignoring public outcry to get out. Imagine them proclaiming a religious war on our entire governmental system, including our state and national law enforcement authorities. Imagine them Muslim.

The Constitution-quoting, Bible-toting band at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge was treated with exactly the diffidence and conflict avoidance that they criticize government for. It is hard to imagine another group of rebels who would be so coddled by political authorities and so uncritically lionized by the media. When Ammon Bundy wanted to explain why he can ignore the laws of the land, every reporter west of the Mississippi slogged out to his “headquarters” to hear and film him. Even in jail, he’s a celebrity member of the sovereign citizens movement, a religious rebellion against our entire political structure.

Despite being armed and threatening, Bundy and his band had been treated so kindly that they thought they could just drive off to the town of John Day to give a speech and then return to their conquered territory. How dangerous they actually were was demonstrated by LaVoy Finicum’s last stand.

Government, law enforcement and media are in fact tilted in exactly the opposite way than conservative whining would have us believe.

Imagine the occupiers as anything but white. When armed Native American activists occupied the town of Wounded Knee in 1973, they were surrounded by roadblocks, armored vehicles, federal marshals and FBI within days. After 30 days, water, electricity and food supplies were cut off. Armed Black Panthers were consistently met with deadly police force.

Even if we imagine that the occupiers had been Occupy Oregon, an offshoot of the unarmed, peaceful Occupy Wall St movement criticizing our economic system from the left, it is unlikely that nothing would have been done for more than three weeks. Occupy Cincinnati was forcefully dispersed after 14 days, Occupy Atlanta after 20, Occupy Austin after 24; Occupy LA lasted 2 months before being attacked by 1300 police.

The National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, under the auspices of Homeland Security, surveyed state, local, and tribal law enforcement professionals about terrorist threats two years ago. Most respondents had over 15 years experience in their agencies, and had been specially trained in anti-terrorism intelligence and practices. They rated the sovereign citizens movement as more threatening than Islamic extremists. Over half agreed that sovereign citizens were a “serious terrorist threat” and one-third strongly agreed.

I would never advocate going into Malheur with guns blazing. I agree with official tactics thus far, which allowed everyone to see how little support the occupiers have. Malheur exists for public use and the people who have legitimate interests in being there should have been able to re-occupy it. I think that the occupiers wouldn’t have harmed birders and fly fishers who come to use their occupied buildings or unarmed park rangers who went  back to their jobs.

But we can’t be sure. There is no war on Christmas. But there is a war against our government, and this is an early skirmish.

Steve Hochstadt
Jacksonville IL
Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, February 2, 2016