Posted by David A. Lehrer
Twenty five years ago, I wrote an op/ed in the Los Angeles Times about the failure of a political leader to speak up unequivocally in the face of bigotry and hate; I do the same today with virtually the same message.
The political leader is different and placement on the political spectrum has switched.
In 1985, Minister Louis Farrakhan came to Los Angeles trailing a long record of anti-Semitic rabble rousing; nearly every speech of his contained his trademark attack on Jews and a message of ostensible “self-empowerment” for the Black community. Mayor Tom Bradley chose not to speak out about Farrakhan’s impending speech thinking he had a commitment from the Farrakhan camp to stick to an economic message and eschew anti-Semitism. A large group of local Jewish leaders had urged Bradley to speak out to try and pre-empt the appearance becoming a hate-fest.
Bradley’s hope of moderation by the minister was not to be. A Farrakhan show without anti-Semitism isn’t a Farrakhan show. Ultimately, after the fact, Bradley condemned what Farrakhan said and even wrote to then New York mayor Ed Koch to warn that “Farrakhan divides people into warring factions.”
My op/ed was directed to those in our community who thought that they could parse Farrakhan’s message of hate from his economic prescriptions—essentially, that one had to consider his bigotry “in a broader context.” Indeed, I was told by a then editor at the Times, that “the Jews may just have to put up with some anti-Semitism because Farrakhan’s message of self-empowerment is so important.”
I responded to the editor and wrote that no one had to put up with hate for any reason; it was a devil’s bargain. There could be no temporizing with hate; no passing condemnations followed by post hoc justifications as to the source of the extremist’s anger and venom.
We couldn’t “parse the messenger from the message” then, nor should we now.
I was reminded of that quarter-of-a-century-ago incident by the events of the past week. The hyperbolic denunciations of President Obama’s healthcare plan which predict impending doom have infused the rhetoric of the past ten days with an unsettling ugliness that is troubling. Rush Limbaugh saying that, “we have to defeat these bastards…we need to wipe them out…defeat the Democrats, every one of them that voted for this bill.” Sarah Palin tweeting, “Don’t retreat, instead RELOAD!” Glenn Beck querying, “Whether you are an American or are you a mouse? Are you an American or a European?”
One can be generous and ascribe such heated rhetoric to “politics as usual,” even if many of the remarks border on the incendiary. I am loathe to draw a causal link between exaggerated rhetoric, however irresponsible, and illegal activities—it’s easy yet too hard to prove.
Causal link or no, what can’t be excused is a response to the violence that is qualified and ambiguous. When Sarah Palin was on the Beck show she noted that “No, violence is not the answer”….BUT “there is understandable, there is legitimate frustration with our government today…..violence is not the answer though.”
Equivocation and a “blink and a nod” in the face of violent conduct is simply unacceptable. The whys and wherefores (the “context”) of out of control anger and violence is irrelevant.
In 1985, my analysis of why so many otherwise responsible leaders (all on the left at that time) were reluctant to condemn Farrakhan unequivocally was that,
many of the leaders who sidestepped speaking out against Farrakhan must have felt that doing so would have exacted an unacceptably high price among their constituents….If the assessment of these leaders is accurate…
then both they and we have much work to do
The tables have been turned. Palin and others qualify their condemnations of the crazies because they must assume that there is a meaningful political price to pay for clarity and forthrightness—simply saying that there is no excuse for violence without qualification or explanation is, seemingly, politically risky.
Those who feel passionately about the Obama healthcare plan and are political leaders must
separate themselves from those who think and act as if extreme means are justified.
If they are reluctant to speak out without hesitation or qualification—then, truly,
they and we have much work to do
Twenty five years ago I noted that the tragedy of whole affair was that “people who should have led followed and leaders who should have spoken out, remained silent.” Not too much has changed.
12.12.13 at 3:52 pm | When two heroic Prisoners of Conscience met
11.5.13 at 2:23 pm | America’s energy revolution has the potential. . .
11.4.13 at 11:26 am | Visit the Getty Villa to see the Cyrus. . .
10.24.13 at 2:01 pm | The Los Angeles City Council, in the wake of. . .
8.30.13 at 9:35 am | Intolerance, no matter its motivation, is. . .
8.28.13 at 10:54 am | America is not a racial Nirvana. However, a few. . .
March 24, 2010 | 4:47 pm
Posted by David A. Lehrer
Sheriff Lee Baca is a friend. We have known him for decades, long before he was elected sheriff we worked with him as he dedicated himself to improving inter-group relations in Los Angeles County. We don’t doubt his commitment, sincerity and genuineness in seeking to reach out to diverse communities throughout the county.
But even good guys can be wrong.
Last week Lee testified before US House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security. During the course of his testimony, Lee was confronted by Rep. Mark Souder regarding Lee’s attendance at fund-raising events on behalf of the Council on American Islamic Relations (“CAIR”), a national non-profit that claims to “enhance understanding of Islam, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.” Souder told Baca that CAIR, in fact, has veered from its proclaimed mission and espouses “radical speech” and is an organization “which even the FBI has separated themselves from.”
Lee took umbrage and condemned the “circuitous attack on CAIR…it is un-American.” Upon his return to LA, Lee defended CAIR even more passionately. In attending a meeting of the Muslim American Homeland Security Congress yesterday, he decried the congressman’s comments and termed them an affront to all Muslim Americans, “when you attack CAIR, you attack virtually every Muslim in America.”
Unfortunately, what Congressman Souder observed, understated the problem with CAIR, it doesn’t just espouse “speech that is radical.” In fact, last year the FBI disclosed that it was limiting its contacts with CAIR, “until we resolve whether there continues to be a connection between CAIR or its executives and Hamas, the FBI does not view CAIR as an appropriate liaison partner.”
There are exhaustive studies of CAIR which recount its links to the Holy Land Foundation, an organization whose leaders were convicted in 2008 of funneling over $12 million to Hamas, its ambiguity in condemning terror, and much more. But they aren’t needed to realize that what Congressman Souder observed was accurate. The organization has veered from its proclaimed mission; in fact, “espousing radical speech” may be among the least of its transgressions.
Hopefully, Lee is wrong when he claims that if you attack CAIR “you attack every Muslim in America.” We have more confidence in American Muslims than that.
March 16, 2010 | 1:52 pm
Posted by Joe R. Hicks
Now being pushed through the House by Speaker Nancy Pelosi is President Obama’s healthcare bill. It’s a 1,018-page-long document that has all sorts of interesting little gems, or toad stools, depending on one’s perspective.
The massive plan is something that few members of Congress have actually read completely. Even Madam Speaker tells us “… We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it, away from the fog of controversy.” Excuse me, but shouldn’t we know what the bill entails, in fairly concise terms, before this thing becomes law?
The public remains skeptical of Obama’s plan, even though he’s given more than fifty speeches about it, the mainstream media has been supportive and sympathetic, and Democratic Party leadership has had more than a year to fully explain why the legislation is something that’s good for the nation’s people. Still, according to a recent Rasmussen poll, more than 81 percent of Americans polled believe that, if passed, the bill would cost far more than being claimed by the President and his political allies.
A quick look at the history of government-funded entitlements, like Medicare and Medicaid, shows why there are good reasons for this perception. The House Ways and Means Committee is notorious for inaccurate predictions of government programs’ eventual costs. It estimated that Medicare would cost the taxpayers about $12 billion by 1990 – the public’s tab that year was … $107 billion. The same is true for Medicaid. Congress estimated that it would cost $1 billion in 1992 … the real cost was $17 billion.
As we know from past history, there is always room for all sorts of mischief inside a document as massive and complex as this healthcare bill has become, after a year of political maneuvering and back-room dealings.
And while there plenty to argue over regarding this bill – something new caught my eye.
There it was, beginning on page 879. This healthcare bill, as currently constructed, literally enshrines racial preferences. The bill specifies that the Secretary of Health and Human Services, “In awarding grants or contracts under this section … shall give preferences to entities that have a demonstrated record of … training individuals who are from
The bill doesn’t say what would qualify as a “demonstrated record.” If the bill passes you can expect that medical schools and other training institutions will do whatever they think they can get away with to train as many individuals as they can from “
Why would they do this? Because the more “underrepresented” minorities they train the better their “demonstrated record” will be. This will help insure they’ll be on the fast track for government contracts and grants.
If you are Jewish, poor and white, or Asian, don’t expect to receive any advantage under this plan. The word “underrepresented” is inserted into the bill’s language to make it clear that the preferences are aimed at advantaging blacks and Latinos.
What’s the rationale behind this? Due to the disproportionately poorer health among poor blacks and Hispanics, the assumption is that the cause is somehow healthcare discrimination. But alleging racism is always the default position among those with a well-known ideological axe to grind, which blinds them to other contributing factors like bad eating habits, heredity, and levels of fitness, among others.
To be sure, institutionalized racial preferences at nursing, dental and medical schools are nothing new. What this healthcare bill language does—that is new – is to insure that race, sex and ethnic quotes will be institutionalized in perpetuity.
In 2003, now-retired U.S. Supreme Court associate justice Sandra Day O’Conner wrote in her opinion regarding the University of Michigan affirmative action case that she believed race-conscious college admissions policies would be unnecessary 25 years down the road.
Receiving a preference simply because of skin color is something many believe was outlawed under the 1964 Civil Rights Act that made it unlawful to discriminate against any individual because of race, color, religion, sex or national origin.
To be sure, outstanding and highly-qualified black and Latino students are studying at the nation’s best medical training schools today. However, race preferences have allowed others who are less-than-qualified into these same schools. This has led to high drop-out rates and the failure to pass critical licensing exams at rates that are far higher than their classmates.
Language about racial preferences has alarmed members of the United States Commission on Civil Rights. In the spirit of full disclosure, I am a California State advisor to this Commission.
The Commissioners recently sent a letter to President Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (among other key House and Senate members). They said that “Racial preferences in the Senate Healthcare Bill, in addition to being unconstitutional, will not improve health care outcomes for minority patients.”
Some would argue that life is a game of winners and losers. This may be true, however I don’t believe that legislation described as “reform” should, in part, be selecting the people who win or lose based on skin color or surname.
March 11, 2010 | 12:15 pm
Posted by David A. Lehrer
An often heard complaint about the broadcast media is that important subjects are dealt with in a cursory and superficial way. Profound subjects are packaged in 90 second segments and the various advocates of differing positions are given a few precious seconds to make what are often complex and nuanced arguments.
If you are tired of media superficiality, you have a chance to participate in one answer to the problem—our Critical Issues Seminars.
Next Wednesday, March 17th, we are hosting, in partnership with NPR station KPCC and the National Center for the Preservation of Democracy, a 90 minute panel on Combating Terror in the Skies—Balancing Privacy and Security.
The distinguished panel includes University of California, Irvine Law School dean and noted constitutional scholar, Erwin Chemerinsky, former Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security and counsel of the National Security Agency, Stewart A. Baker, and Prof. Erroll Southers, President Obama’s choice as Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security. The program will be moderated by Airtalk’s award-winning host, Larry Mantle.
The program takes place next Wednesday, March 17th at 7:00PM at the National Center for the Preservation of Democracy in Little Tokyo (111 North Central Avenue, Los Angeles). Refreshments will be served.
This will be a full-bodied exploration of a complex and challenging issue with ramifications in areas as diverse as racial profiling, security, terror and constitutional rights. You will have the opportunity to pose questions to the panel.
March 8, 2010 | 3:55 pm
Posted by David A. Lehrer
Friday’s Los Angeles Times had three articles, the interconnections of which weren’t clear, but ought to have been.
One reported on the state-wide “Day of Action” by students, faculty and parents protesting cuts in education funding in California. The second article detailed the refusal of the US Department of Education to award California a single dollar of the $4.35 billion to be given to states in the first round of grants under the administration’s “Race to the Top” reform program. The third item was an editorial by the Times decrying the failure of California to get the federal money and noting the “lack of coherence” in the legislation passed by the state in its vain (and half-hearted) effort to win the federal funding.
The Times failed to connect the events or highlight the tragic irony of a good deal of Thursday’s theatre.
The “Day of Action” was led, in good measure, by the state’s teachers’ unions. They decried the cuts that have “shredded this year’s budget.” So far so good—-we lack money, the budgets have been cut—-the teachers are, understandably, upset.
But as one reads the Times’ article about why California didn’t receive what might have been some $700 million in “Race to the Top” funds, it appears that one of the critical reasons was that the very same teachers’ unions were unwilling to support the reforms that the federal government explicitly required be undertaken as a condition of receiving the monies.
Over half of California’s districts did NOT get their unions to sign on to the necessary reforms. The California Federation of Teachers and the California Teachers Association openly opposed receiving the federal dollars. Yet they had no qualms or sense of shame in vocally sponsoring Thursday’s protests about how students will be hurt by budget cuts.
There is more than a little irony in the teachers’ union leading parents and kids in protest about the budget woes facing California education while they were actively opposing the $700 million in federal money that would, at least partially, have eased those woes.
One California Federation of Teachers official is anonymously (wisely so) quoted as describing the $700 million potential federal dollars as “peanuts
” which would do harm to the “quality of teachers’ jobs.”
Some teachers’ union leaders would like more money, but seemingly only ontheir
terms. They are averse to reforms that offer, as the Times suggested, “meaningful help for the students who most need it.” What a sorry state of affairs.
March 5, 2010 | 4:51 pm
Posted by Joe R. Hicks
Yesterday, in what’s been called a “Day of Action,” groups of students, teachers, and their allies staged walk-outs, sit-ins and demonstrations across California. In Oakland, protesters marched onto and shut down an Interstate freeway. Activists at UCLA occupied administration offices at Murphy Hall, and at UC Santa Cruz, demonstrators smashed the windows of a car. What’s the issue? Budget cuts to education and increased student tuition costs.
In other recent protests a local event was decried. An off-campus fraternity party near UC San Diego (“UCSD”) featured a “Compton cookout” that lured partiers with the promise that it would be a slice of “life in the ghetto.” Black students and campus activists organized, protested the “party,” demanded that more black faculty be hired and that Proposition 209 be rolled back so that more black students would be admitted.
To compound these developments, some clueless idiot left a noose hanging in the school library at UCSD, followed by copy-cat incidents a few days later. The university’s chancellor has condemned the fraternity’s “ghetto” party, and quickly condemned the noose incidents. However, she has acted indecisively in the face of non-stop black students demands, in effect enabling the protesters. Has bucolic UC San Diego really become some sort of stronghold of white supremacists?
As someone who grew into political maturity during the Sixties when the politics of protest defined that era, I have been struck by the infantile nature of these and other recent “protests.”
One student taking part in the so-called “Day of Action” said “they’re cutting the future.” A student at the UCLA sit-in seemed to just be along for the party – if one developed—she said she was there “until something happened.”
Another (wearing a Che Guevara T-shirt!), who self-identified herself as a teacher, demanded that taxes be raised to prevent the budget cuts.
Okay … does she realize that we are in the midst of a national economic crisis, that California’s unemployment rate has now topped12 percent, and – despite populist antipathy toward the rich - that there’s a limit to how much we can continue to gouge the wealthy for taxes?
The awful fact is the State of California is broke and facing potential bankruptcy. It has been driven over the side of a cliff by inept leadership in Sacramento that has rolled over at every opportunity for teachers unions and other big labor demands; they have bloated the size of public sector employment to the point of explosion, making the state nearly ungovernable and fiscally unsound.
Where’s the anger at this ideology and the ineptitude that is manifest in our state capital?
Naively striking a stance that argues that education should somehow be exempt from the economic pain being felt in virtually every sector of society seems to me oddly spoiled – an “anybody but us” viewpoint. But this sense of entitlement and self-indulgence seems to characterize many of today’s walk-outs, protests, and sit-ins.
Self-indulgence seemed to be firmly in control during the UC San Diego protests as well. To be clear, those engaging in “Compton cookout” parties and individuals who think that hanging a noose in a public place is somehow a fun thing to do are, without a single doubt, idiots, boneheads and fools. However, to hysterically argue, as the UCSD protest leaders have done, that the actions of a few stupid individuals somehow represent a dangerous, pervasively hostile racial climate at one of the nation’s most liberal college campuses is frankly ludicrous.
We’ve seen this kind of over-the-top political theatre before.
In 2006, several nooses were found hanging in a tree in the courtyard of the high school in Jena, Louisiana. Subsequently, six black youths were arrested for assaulting a white teenager. These six were dubbed the Jena Six. The events drew the attention of national civil rights figures that converged on the small southern town, along with upwards of 20,000 angry activists and protester. After all the dust settled, it was widely believed that racism played no role in the original noose hanging incident. This was long after the incident had spurred the charge that Jena was symbolic of a resurgent American racism.
Two years later, at Columbia University a black female professor claimed she discovered a noose hanging on her office door. The school convulsed with protests that, like at UC San Diego, claimed the noose was symbolic of an oppressive atmosphere for women and minorities at Columbia. It must be grasped that Columbia is widely understood to be perhaps one of the most left-leaning and liberal universities in the nation. Nonetheless, students and off-campus radicals argued differently – it was, they claimed, a racist institution. In an unrelated investigation, and with much embarrassment, Dr. Madonna Constantine, the same black professor who said she found the noose, was fired after it was revealed that she had plagiarized the work of former students as well as the work of a colleague.
But why engage in street theatre and play up racial hysterics? Despite all the self-serving rhetoric, today race actually plays a remarkably insignificant role in the lives of blacks and other ethnic minorities. Yet, it’s almost as if these young activists are yearning for the days when someone could really sink their teeth into a “movement.” Are we witnessing the romanticizing of racial struggle?
One year before the 1964 Civil Rights Act was made law, President John F. Kennedy said in his report to the American people on civil rights that “… race has no place in American life or law.” How ironic that today the enemies of this simple premise are not primarily the stereotypical white bigots - but “progressive” racial activists who have hijacked the bully pulpit of civil rights.
March 4, 2010 | 4:56 pm
Posted by David A. Lehrer
Exploiting the Holocaust and what led to it is reprehensible. It cheapens the tragedy and demeans its meaning and import.
Recently, there was a troubling example of that particularly egregious misuse of history in a local issue that has been fought in the courts for over a decade, the status of Congregation Etz Chaim, the synagogue at Third and Highland.
The dispute between the rabbi of Etz Chaim, Rabbi Rubin, his congregation and various neighbors and neighborhood groups has been written about extensively both in the Jewish Journal and the Los Angeles Times. It has been a long and contentious battle that has seen the case go up and down through the federal courts with the most recent opinion of the US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals voiding a settlement agreement between the congregation and the City of Los Angeles.
In late February, at an administrative hearing, the Congregation appealed a Zoning Administrator’s denial of a Conditional Use Permit. That appeal was denied.
I am not about to recount the heated history of this dispute, the above links to the Journal and the Times offer ample background.
However, I feel compelled to write about a particularly troubling allegation which surfaced in the documents surrounding the last legal altercation.
In a letter to the Central Area Planning Commission, the attorney for the congregation recounts the background of the institution’s founders, their roots in Europe and their escape from destruction during the Holocaust. He concludes his recitation with the following,
The few survivors found their way to Los Angeles and commenced their Congregation again some 50 years ago, believing that in the United States there would be religious freedom. Now, they fear that the same Nuremberg Laws passed during the Nazi era, are taking hold in Los Angeles. (emphasis added)
Whatever side one may come down on in the interpretation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (the statute at the heart of this dispute) or the nature of the opposition to the uses of the rebuilt structure at Third and Highland—-there can be nothing but abhorrence at the suggestion that the legal system in the United States resembles in any way, shape or form what resulted from the Nuremberg Laws adopted in Nazi Germany in 1935.
The Nuremberg Laws formalized the stripping of citizenship rights of German Jews in order to secure the “purity of German blood.” Jews were in one moment transformed from German citizens to “nationals” with virtually no legal rights.
It is dangerous, irresponsible and incendiary to analogize laws that led to the slaughter of six million human beings to America and Los Angeles in 2010. It is wrong and has rightfully infuriated many of Etz Chaim’s neighbors, some of whom are Jewish themselves.
It is likely that this case will be litigated for months and years to come. Cheapening Jewish history and the meaning of the Holocaust by this kind of irresponsible hyperbole serves no purpose—it is inappropriate and wrong.
March 2, 2010 | 4:31 pm
Posted by David A. Lehrer
Sunday’s Los Angeles Times reported on a speech given by Nation of Islam (“NOI”) leader, Louis Farrakhan in honor of the NOI’s annual Saviors’ Day. Some 20,000 Chicagoans attended his nearly four hour oration.
Though he is reportedly ill, his virulence, if anything, has increased.
For decades, Farrakhan has blamed Jews and whites for our nation’s and the world’s ills—-that’s nothing new. His racist/anti-Semitic/extremist views have been rationalized and tolerated by far too many for far too long. But now he seems to be willing to reveal more of the nutty theology that underlies his hateful view of the world.
There has always been a raft of crazy notions at the heart of NOI theology that he either kept from broad public view or the media chose to ignore. His theology (that bears no resemblance to mainstream Islam) includes, among other notions, that whites are the creation 6,600 years ago of a mad scientist named Yakoub. The topper though are his assertions about a “space wheel” (the size of two aircraft carriers) from which attacks on America’s whites, and blacks who do not embrace the Nation of Islam, will emanate.
On Sunday, he reported on the vision he had after having been on that “space wheel” to meet with the late Elijah Muhammed. That meeting imbued him with divine knowledge—-including prophesying the recent earthquake in Chile, (“It’s not an accident that a great earthquake took place in Chile…it was a precipitate of what I have to tell you today of what’s coming to America. You will not escape”). The wheel, he noted, had technology “1 million years ahead” of America’s. He also asserted that the spaceship contains 1,500 airplanes, each equipped with three bombs and the “angels on that human-built planet can build a wall out of air ... wall America in and start a fire.”
His immodesty was on display as well; it was “too cheap” to call him just a prophet—- he said. “I’m very humble…..I’m a light in the midst of darkness.”
There have been reports for years that Farrakhan is sick and his activity level diminished. Maybe that explains his willingness to make more of his delusionary musings public. The sorry fact is that no matter how nutty Farrakhan’s rants, he managed to fill up an arena with 20,000 adoring fans and he is still national news (nearly 40,000 Google results).
While he hasn’t often trumpeted his more off-beat theories on religion and “space wheels” when he entertains the media, he has betrayed them often enough so that thinking reporters should have written him off years ago as delusional. Instead of being ignored, he continues to be treated as an off-beat leader who promotes his anti-Semitic and racist views as if he were sane. Years ago, an editor at the Times told me that the Jewish community had to put up with his anti-Semitism, “because his message of self-empowerment is so important.”
The archetypal example of this strange phenomenon of giving the minister’s theology a pass while according his political views a hearing was an interview of Farrakhan conducted by Ted Koppel on Nightline on the eve of the Million Man March in 1995. Koppel asked Farrakhan about the “space wheel” and appropriately prefaced his query by noting that “it sounds like gibberish.” Farrakhan hardly skipped a beat and proceeded to describe the huge space wheel and the “above top secret” government reports on UFO’s that confirm its existence. He also cited the movie “Independence Day” (Koppel felt compelled to remind Farrakhan that the film was science fiction) as further confirmation of his assertions.
In watching that interview 14 years ago, I distinctly remember wondering why Koppel didn’t say, “Minister Farrakhan, you are delusional. I have too much respect for my audience to continue this conversation; we have better things to talk about on Nightline.” But that’s not what happened in 1996 or subsequently. Koppel came back from a commercial break and continued his dialogue as if nothing astoundingly bizarre had been said. And if that’s what Ted Koppel did, what can we expect of less competent interviewers?
Farrakhan seems more willing than ever to publicly unburden himself of his nutty and insidious theories—-not just his hate of Jews and whites. The question going forward will be how tolerant of his now irrefutable craziness will the media be?