Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Thinking like a Father

I’m writing this on Father’s Day. I like Father’s Day, despite the commercialism that overwhelms all of our special days. Children should honor their fathers every day, but it’s nice to have a day set aside to think about fathers, just as for mothers.

Although celebrating Father’s Day in June was an American invention, a day honoring fathers has been a Catholic tradition for many centuries. St. Joseph’s Day celebrates the idea of fatherhood.

The first attempt to create a secular day for fathers was the result of a terrible mining disaster, an explosion in the mines of Monongah, West Virginia, on December 6, 1907, which killed at least 360 men, and possibly as many as 500. Grace Golden Clayton, who lived nearby, was at the time mourning the loss of her own father, a preacher, and she suggested honoring the hundreds of dead fathers to her pastor. Another influence was the very recent inauguration of a Mother’s Day celebration in May in another West Virginia town by Anna Jarvis, who wanted to honor her mother, a Civil War peace activist. But it wasn’t until President Lyndon Johnson proclaimed the third Sunday in June as Father’s Day in 1966 that it became official.

Besides inspiring Grace Clayton to honor all fathers, the Monongah mining disaster led to a public clamor for government oversight of the dangerous mines. In 1910, Congress created the U.S. Bureau of Mines to reduce mine explosions with a system of inspections by field officers. Father’s Day and Mother’s Day are linked to peace activism and government regulation.

My children are grown up and ready to have children of their own. My hands-on fathering is intermittent and often long distance. No use in trying to raise my children any more – advice on dealing with life’s challenges is now more appropriate.

But one way I can be a good father is to try to insure that my children, and their children, can achieve their dreams in a healthy world. My generation has not done well in preserving the world, probably being responsible for more pollution of the air, land and sea than any other generation. On the other hand, baby boomers also contributed to the public efforts to control pollution in countless ways, from regulating automobile exhaust, to recycling, to cleaning up our rivers.

Those efforts continue, but a new threat, recognized only within the most recent decades, could make our children’s lives harder, more dangerous, and less enjoyable. Climate change is already creating human problems around the US. In northern Alaska, some villages will have to be moved inland as the sea rises. In the Rocky Mountains, some of the country’s largest forests are dying from heat and drought. In Louisiana, the residents of Isle de Jean Charles are being offered $48 million to move from their homes, because rising seas have already washed away most of their island. In California, the worst drought in a thousand years cost farmers billions in lost income. Western wildfires are expected to expand as temperatures rise.

Thinking like a father means recognizing these threats to our children’s happiness and doing everything we can to protect them. Instead, many men are doing the opposite. They refuse to believe any evidence about the existence of climate change, its causes, and the damage it is doing to human life already. They apply their intelligence to obfuscation, misdirection, and outright lying, because they don’t like the political consequences of global warming. Except for those who have been deluded by this anti-environmental campaign, these men are only hoping for delay.

Five years ago, one of the world’s leading climate scientists appeared before Congress to tell our political leaders that climate change will produce more severe droughts, wider wildfires, bigger storms, and rising sea levels. Republican Senator Jim Inhofe from Oklahoma responded, “The global warming movement has completely collapsed.” Since then, 2014 was the hottest year on record, then 2015 broke that record, then 2016 got even hotter.

But Inhofe, and the others who say they know better, still sing the same tune. They are not thinking like fathers, but like sons. They are rooted in the past, denouncing everything that points to changes in our world, repeating forever that we don’t need to do anything in the face of this unprecedented threat.

When the weatherman forecasts rain, a good father sees that his children wear protective clothing. When the weatherman forecasts a thunderstorm, a good father keeps his children safe inside. When the weatherman forecasts a tornado, a good father leads everyone to the basement.

Now the world’s weathermen and weatherwomen forecast rising seas, more severe storms, more frequent drought and heat waves. Yet those poor fathers ignore their children’s futures. They don’t deserve to be honored on Father’s Day.

Steve Hochstadt
Jacksonville IL
Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, June 20, 2017

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Amazing Mind of Donald Trump

An amazing mind says amazing things. Trump says many amazing things, but not because they’re brilliant or clever or funny or heart-stopping. His words are amazing for their ignorance, their cluelessness, and perhaps most of all because he thinks he is profound. His words reveal the real Trump and so they are worth listening to.

Nobody knew health care could be so complicated.” At the bottom of that is “I didn’t know health care could be so complicated.” Political health care discussions have been going on all Trump’s life, from before the creation of Medicare in 1965. But because he didn’t know it, nobody knew it. His amazing ignorance is matched by an amazing assumption of superiority – nobody knows things that he doesn’t know.

For Trump there are no experts whose knowledge would be useful to him. Scientists, historians, intelligence operative, generals, legal scholars, and other politicians have nothing to offer him that he doesn’t already know.

He was widely quoted and widely ridiculed for this amazing statement on a June 2015 Fox News interview: “There’s nobody bigger or better at the military than I am.” He’s better because he knows more, as he said in November 2015: “I know more about ISIS than the generals do. Believe me.”

Trump knows more than scientists about most scientific subjects. He has claimed that scientists are wrong about the dangers of fracking and the lack of danger of vaccines. He finds perils in light bulbs: “Remember, new ‘environment friendly’ lightbulbs can cause cancer. Be careful-- the idiots who came up with this stuff don’t care.” Wind farms are health hazards, too.

How does Trump know what he claims to know? He has said at many times that he doesn’t read books because he is too busy. Tony Schwartz, ghostwriter of “The Art of the Deal”, said that he “never saw a book on Trump’s desk, or elsewhere in his office, or in his apartment” in the 18 months he spent with Trump.

He reads newspapers, even those he constantly labels “fake news”, like the New York Times and the Washington Post. But when he makes speeches, he only cites them to say they are making things up.

His comments about science often reveal how he knows so much: he finds internet articles by cranks and quacks, who advance outlandish ideas that he likes. He doesn’t care whether they are true or false, just that they appear to support ideas he is pushing.

Whom does Trump cite when he wants to back up what he claims? He said that the National Enquirer should win the Pulitzer Prize for reporting. The Enquirer endorsed Trump during the Republican primaries and ran stories which denigrated his opponents. He said they “have a very good record of being right.” He was probably pleased about their stories that Ted Cruz and Mario Rubio were cheating on their wives, and that the Obamas were always about to get a divorce.

He likes Infowars hosted by Alex Jones, one of America’s leading conspiracy theorists, who also supported Trump during the campaign. Jones promoted the “theories” that our government blew up the World Trade Center, that gun control advocates created the “hoax” that 20 children were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, and that the government is poisoning our water with fluoride. Jones strongly pushed the idea that Obama was born in Africa, which Trump used to vault himself to political prominence. He was an early proponent of the claim adopted by Trump that millions of illegal aliens voted for Hillary Clinton. He claimed that “Obama Surveilled Entire Trump Family For 8 Years”, including Trump’s children, even before he ran for President.

Breitbart might be Trump’s favorite source of “news”. Steve Bannon took over the site when Andrew Breitbart died suddenly in 2012. Bannon became Trump’s chief strategist three months before the 2016 election, encouraging him to see the entire mainstream media as purveyors of “fake news”.

Fact-checkers of Trump’s speeches and tweets constantly discover that he gets facts wrong and tells lies. They don’t go further to figure out where he gets his information. Trump doesn’t mostly make up the untruths he tells the world. He takes them from these professional spreaders of political lies.

Our President spreads nonsense from nonsense sites. Alex Jones has that our government is supporting “homosexuality with chemicals so that people don't have children”. But in court trying to win a custody case against his former wife, Jones’ lawyer said, “He’s playing a character. He is a performance artist.” His lawyer said Jones is as serious about his political claims as Jack Nicholson was when he played the Joker.

But Trump takes his “news” from supermarket tabloids and their internet equivalents. He said, “You can’t knock the National Enquirer. It’s brought many things to light, not all of them pleasant.”

Here’s what is unpleasant. Presidential policy is based on nonsense.

Steve Hochstadt
Jacksonville IL
Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, June 13, 2017

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

How to Think About the Minimum Wage

How could our President, who desperately wants his intellect taken seriously, say “Nobody knew health care could be so complicated”? Easy. Countless people say over and over again that health care is a simple issue and they have the simple solution. At best, their answers are partial truths, puffed up as the whole truth. Usually their one-sided arguments are worthless. One of the causes of our current political crisis is the insistence of so many people, who claim to be well informed, that our big political issues are actually very simple.

The Illinois House and Senate just passed a bill raising the state’s minimum wage from $8.25 to $15 over the next five years. This paper responded on June 1 with an editorial that began with “disaster” in the headline and ended with devastation in the final sentence: “thousands of workers will find themselves unemployed”. It said that hypocrites who advocate increasing the minimum wage are making purely emotional arguments, blindly following “fringe protesters”.

Ignoring the facts makes life so simple. The minimum wage is a complex issue, like most difficult political questions with two serious sides.

Articles against raising the minimum wage inevitably sketch a nightmare scenario of workers being fired. They say to working men and women at the bottom of the pay scale, “Don’t ask for more money. It will be bad for you, take our word for it.” But instead of taking their word, let’s find out what really happened.

A minimum wage has been raised hundreds of times. The Business Insider, the largest business news site on the internet, says flatly, “78 years of minimum-wage hikes have produced zero evidence of the ‘job-killing’ consequences these headline writers want us to fear. If anything, the data suggest that increases in the federal minimum appeared to encourage job growth and hiring.” A successful venture capitalist offered the actual cause-and-effect of raising the minimum wage: “When workers have more money, businesses have more customers and hire more workers. That is the virtuous cycle that has always described the way market economies actually work.” Too simple, but a lot more accurate than the nightmare scenarios we too often read.

This is no secret. Although chambers of commerce attack every attempt to raise the minimum wage, a 2016 survey of 1000 American business executives conducted by a Republican polling organization found that 80% (not a misprint!) supported raising their state’s minimum wage, 12% were neutral, and only 8% opposed it. Fringe protesters indeed.

Besides getting basic facts wrong, screamers about the minimum wage leave out key facts that we taxpayers need to know. The real value of a minimum-wage income has fallen 20%, one-fifth, over the past 35 years, despite periodic increases, because inflation has been much faster. That is part of the broader stagnation in real incomes for most Americans, which haven’t budged over the past 50 years, while the top 1% tripled their household income.

Working full-time all year for the federal minimum wage of $7.25 now qualifies as poverty for any size family bigger than one. Millions of families of minimum wage workers qualify for food stamps, Medicaid, and other taxpayer-financed government anti-poverty programs. Raising the minimum wage would lower government expenditures for public assistance, saving billions of dollars a year. How many billions? Read 10 articles and get 10 different estimates, but agreement that a lot of tax money would be saved.

That’s a double-edged sword, however. If workers in the poorest families make more money, they would then forfeit some benefits. Earning more money from working is better than getting public assistance, in my opinion, but a wage increase of $2 might not mean $2 more total income.

It’s even more complicated, though. If the minimum wage were raised, home health care aides, orderlies and other low-paid medical workers who contract with Medicaid would earn more money, forcing state governments to pay more. Nobody I could find has calculated those costs for Illinois.

When employers say they can’t afford raise the minimum wage, we, the taxpayers, pick up the burden they don’t want. Illinois taxpayers and American taxpayers subsidize employers who don’t pay a living wage. You won’t find a word about these costs to the taxpayer in the arguments against raising the minimum wage.

A minimum wage is a political construction, built by a society to insure that all its members can live decent lives. Because employers seek to pay their workers as little as possible, it has to be created by a popular consensus. These days it seems like the political commentators who try to make it impossible to reach any consensus get the most air time.

What level of wage is too low? Should employers be able to pay workers for a full-time year-round job so little that taxpayers have to support them with food stamps and Medicaid?

Tough question. But the bad things threatened by opponents of the minimum wage won’t happen. Good things they don’t tell us about will happen.

Do I have every detail right here? There are alternative ways of calculating every economic statistic under the sun. But there’s nothing here that is not repeated in countless expert analyses. Will I call my minimum-wage opponents hypocrites? Will I announce “disaster” if my suggestions aren’t followed?

I don’t think that helps anyone.

Steve Hochstadt
Jacksonville IL
Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, June 6, 2017