Posted by David A. Lehrer
Many boomers like me vividly remember events like the 1968 Mexico Olympics when young African Americans expressed their anger and contempt for America and what it represented—-lifting their clenched fists as they stood on the medal podium. One didn’t have to be a Freud to figure out that given the events of the era, there was a pervasive pessimism about the future of Blacks in America that manifested itself in the clenched fists, Black Panthers, riots in major urban centers, and countless other evidences of unalloyed despair and rage.
Given those memories, one has to be dumbstruck by a poll released today that can only be seen as the polar opposite of the late 1960’s attitudes among young African Americans.
The Arthur Levitt Public Affairs Center at Hamilton College released the results of a nationwide survey of nearly one thousand high school students. The study found that African American teens were much more optimistic than white teens: 69% of Black students said they believe they’ll have a higher standard of living than their parents, while only 36% of whites feel the same way. Overall, 39% of those surveyed believe they will be more prosperous than their parents. Young Blacks are nearly twice as optimistic about their economic future as whites.
The survey primarily focused on the level of economic information that young people have (e.g. 34% could correctly identify the national debt, 27% knew the approximate level of the Dow, 49% knew the unemployment rate, etc.). But the datum on optimism is the one that stands out among all the survey answers.
Presumably, the optimism of black youth is related to Barack Obama being president and black students’ enthusiasm for him. Black students give Obama an approval rating at the 70% level, while white students approve of Obama at 21%. Pollsters describe this as the “Obama effect.”
A recent Harvard study of 18-29 year olds concluded that “young African-Americans have this serious afterglow (referring to the Obama election) that is not as strong with whites and Hispanics…and that’s despite (African American youth) having more serious economic concerns.”
In reporting on this study, MSNBC quoted DeQuan Foster, a fifteen year old high school sophomore in Newark, New Jersey, “You’re always told anything is possible—-but when you see it, you believe it. It makes me want to try twice as hard.”
These numbers (however small the sample) offer some genuine optimism about where we are heading as a nation and the progress we are making.
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April 26, 2010 | 2:02 pm
Posted by Joe R. Hicks
Comedy Central’s continuing lack of nerve regarding Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s hit show South Park reached a new low last week when it heavily censored an episode that humorously depicted the Prophet Muhammad, the founder of Islam. The show featured Muhammad disguised in a bear suit.
Corporate executives ordered that all mentions of Muhammad be bleeped from this show, just as some South Park episodes in the past had also been censored. In 2006 a two-part episode that was written as a response to a Dutch newspaper that had censored a comic strip that portrayed Muhammad in a humorous manner was itself edited by the network.
This time episodes “200” and “201” of South Park included a caricature of Muhammad and caught the attention of a radical Islamic website. The website promptly issued warnings that could only be interpreted as thinly-veiled death threats directed at South Park’s authors.
The fundamentalist site sent the threats to Parker and Stone saying the two could face retribution because of their “disrespectful” depictions of Muhammad. The warning of violence was posted on
which also featured a grisly photo of a dead Theo van Gogh. Van Gogh, was the Dutch filmmaker who was brutally butchered by a Muslim radical who was “offended” by the release of a van Gogh’s documentary film which depicted and described Muslim violence against women.
The radical Muslim site claimed “We have to warn Matt and Trey that what they are doing is stupid and they will probably wind up like Theo Van Gogh for airing this show … This is not a threat, but a warning of the reality of what will likely happen to them.”
A spokesman for the website, somebody identifying himself as “Abu Tallah al Amerikee” (actually a Fairfax County resident, Zachary Adam Chesser, who converted to Islam) said the entry was posted to “raise awareness.” He said there was a possibility that Parker and Stone could be killed because of their perceived slight against Muhammad.
To make clear what the ideological leanings of this obscure website are, it also features a sermon by Anwar al-Awlaki, the U.S.-born radical cleric thought to be in hiding somewhere in Yemen.
Comedy Central quickly caved-in to the threats, apparently without even knowing whether or not the site represents anyone beyond this al-Amerikee (Chesser) character.
Parker and Stone clearly disagree with the corporate decision to censor their show. The two issued this statement:
In the 14 years we’ve been doing South Park we have never done a show that we couldn’t stand behind. We delivered our version of the show to Comedy Central and they made a determination to alter the episode. It wasn’t some meta-joke on our part. Comedy Central added the bleeps. In fact, Kyle’s customary final speech was about intimidation and fear. It didn’t mention Muhammad at all but it got bleeped too. We’ll be back next week with a whole new show about something completely different and we’ll see what happens to it.
Beyond the issue of gutless corporate executives censoring a comedy show is the larger question of what is a much greater danger – the growing tendency to knuckle-under to demands of all sorts coming from radical Islamists. This has been the generalized response in Western Europe, and it may become America’s response as well – unless we demand a different approach.
Every slice of the population is routinely skewered by America’s pop culture. Jews, Blacks, “trailer park trash,” bad Asian drivers, gay people, Jesus, and Bible-thumping Christians are consistently the butt of jokes and caricatures. But Muslims are rarely joked about, and the Prophet Muhammad is almost never treated as the subject of jokes.
The reason is obvious. People have lost their lives over depictions of Islam or Muhammad. However, if – as many like to argue - Islam is really the “religion of peace,” then why is “offending Islam” all-too-often something that elicits threats of violence and death. People living in western societies don’t have fears of Christian fundamentalists, Hindu activists, or Buddhist radicals. Only Islam, among the world’s great religions, issues warnings of death to those who “offend.”
I’m not a fan of South Park and I don’t watch the show. I am, however, a staunch advocate and defender of something essential to being an American – the freedom of speech and expression.
While what the bean-counters at Comedy Central did may appear to be the all too predictable weak-kneed and self-serving actions of entertainment industry lawyers, the implications are far-reaching. Giving in to the voices of radical Islam at any level only emboldens those who want to destroy us and our nation.
Hell, even Jon Stewart, the liberal host of the Daily Show gets it. He said, “Comedy Central decided to censor the episode. It’s their right … we all serve at their pleasure.”
But Stewart went on to play extensive clips of past South Park episodes that showed Parker and Stone making fun of every conceivable religion and ethnic group,
April 20, 2010 | 7:54 pm
Posted by David A. Lehrer
On an almost daily basis I receive emails from well-intentioned friends and acquaintances warning, in the most apocalyptic of terms, of the deterioration in the US-Israel relationship. They invariably allege that Israel is being assaulted by an uncaring American president who has put his stock in the Muslim world and its future. The vitriol against the president and the secretary of state are troubling—let alone the frequent misrepresentations and exaggerations.
Some of the emails are so over-the-top that they passionately condemn Obama for following a 60 year old American doctrine that no other American president has veered from, keeping the US embassy in Tel Aviv. One such email self-righteously accuses Obama of violating US law for daring to condemn the planned building program in East Jerusalem.
The common thread among virtually all of these polemics is the notion that Netanyahu’s government is doing everything it can to promote peace and that President Obama is ignoring Netanyahu’s efforts and is freezing Israel out of its special place in American foreign policy.
Amidst the passion and drama of the Middle East situation playing itself out on the American stage—ranging from the kerfuffle about Andrew Sullivan and anti-Semitism to the effort to pass a divestment resolution at UC Berkeley—-it is rare to read a sane and sober analysis that brings some intellectual heft to the discussion. This week’s The New Republic is a breath of fresh air.
In his “Washington Diarist” column entitled,Showdown
, Leon Wieseltier avoids the hyperventilating and exaggeration of the Bibi supporters who demand that America’s president effectively sign up for membership in the Likud party and the Obama loyalists who fail to see that there is a danger in the foreign policy notion that America can mollify the “Muslim world” by some realignment in our Middle East priorities.
Wieseltier succinctly points out the folly of Netanyahu’s course,
I find Netanyahu’s recent behavior incomprehensible…. I insist that it is mad for Netanyahu to think that he can have it all: the strike on Iran, the steadfastness of America, the churlishness about a peace process, the apartments in Ramat Shlomo. In these strategic circumstances, Rabin and Sharon would have damned the apartments, and the small perspective that they represent. For all his lectures on history, Netanyahu lacks their historical amplitude. He cannot tear himself away from his numbers. I concur that Israel has the right to build in Ramat Shlomo: I have the right to jump off my building, which some of my Jewish readers may wish me to do, but it would not be the intelligent course of action…
I observe in the Israeli leadership a rigid and insensible attachment to the status quo, which consists in a prosperous high-tech contentment protected by a wall and a bi-annual war in the north or the south. Some of this status-quo-ism results from the pettiness of Israeli politics, which is what Obama rightly wishes to challenge; but some of it results from a despair of the world, to which Obama is callously indifferent. Netanyahu’s ideal is no good: a normal life does not go with a despair of the world. He seems to regard Israel’s unpopularity as evidence of the justice of its cause, and in this dirty world I half-see his point; but Israel is not an island. It would be a monumental failure of statecraft to lead his country into complete isolation.
Wieseltier then expounds on the shortcomings of the present American attitude,
Yet some intellectual pressure must be put also on Obama’s airs, and on a central assumption behind his policy toward Israel. This assumption—one hears it in Washington all the time—is that our strategic objective must be to restore America’s standing in the Muslim world. This is an article of faith in the anti-Bush catechism, which imputes all foreign enmities to Obama’s predecessor. It contains an important element of truth: the United States has essential interests—and hundreds of thousands of troops—in Muslim lands, and insofar as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict complicates or harms those interests, the United States should desire it to be swiftly resolved.
Which Muslims hate the United States, and which do not? Which of those anti-Americanisms are based upon American actions and alliances, and which are rooted in prior and autonomous beliefs that no American behavior will mollify? Which of those actions and alliances should be abandoned to realism, and which of them should be upheld as a matter of national honor, even if it drives realists crazy? (Driving realists crazy is God’s work.) And there are still more questions. To what extent does the American aim of improving our reputation in various Muslim societies entail American acceptance of the current state of those societies?
I want Israel to make peace with the Palestinians even more than Obama does, because I love the Jewish state and I fear for it; but because I love it and fear for it, Obama’s adamant refusal to open his famously large heart to the depth of Israel’s anxieties, to offer Israel the same “strategic reassurance” that he weirdly offered China, to recognize that his coldness toward Israel has the effect of confirming its delegitimation in many corners of the globe—his unmoved pursuit of perfect impartiality and a middle way, the whole Gautama Obama thing—repels me. It is also bad community organizing.
Whether one agrees with all of Wieseltier’s points or not, his thought provoking analysis and frankness is worth a careful read.
Ignore those chain emails that are designed to inflame and distort, they over- simplify what is, and will remain, a very complex and important relationship.
April 14, 2010 | 5:03 pm
Posted by David A. Lehrer
The numbers are staggering, in fact, overwhelming: the City of Los Angeles’ annual pension and retirement health benefit bills (just for police and fire) will escalate over the next five years from $423 million to $1 billion. That makes the paltry few million dollars shortfall that the city is being tied in knots over today small change.
A few months ago we blogged about the appalling absence of local leadership as the city budget projections kept getting worse and worse and our leaders’ responses ever more inadequate,
Last week, the Council—-to the amazement of most observers of the local scene—-failed to cut the city budget despite the Mayor’s and the city’s Chief Administrative Officer’s (“CAO”) unquestioned warning that financial disaster was imminent. There is a budget gap of $218 million for this fiscal year and a projected $484 deficit for next year.
The CAO urged that 1,000 jobs be cut—-there is virtually no other place to find the savings necessary to keep us solvent. There is no question as to the scope and depth of the crisis—-everyone acknowledges it. There is only a shocking unwillingness on the part of a large majority of the council to demonstrate the political backbone to make very difficult and, possibly, unpopular choices.
The immediate short-term fiscal crisis may have been averted because of new found revenue for this year. But that doesn’t address the structural problems that the pensions present.
Amazingly, there are few voices speaking out about what is going to happen to our city in very short order. Today’s
features a commentary about Community Advocates’ chairman, former Mayor Richard J. Riordan, one of the only leaders willing to talk honestly about what LA’s future looks like if things continue as they are and the pension crisis remains unresolved.
As he told the
, “We need some adults to come alive in the city and talk through how to meet that liability…if that doesn’t happen we shouldn’t rule out bankruptcy.” Riordan warned the
, “the city, the way it is going, is unsustainable. “
I recall a presentation that Riordan sponsored at the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce several years ago with graphs laying out the city, county and state’s pension obligations over the next decade. Those graphs were set against the projected incomes of the governmental entities at a time when 8% annual return on investments didn’t seem irrational. Even then, Riordan warned that the likelihood of these entities not being able to meet their pension obligations and fund their other governmental duties was real and demanded honest talk.
It has been astounding to see how little attention has been paid to the issue until the past few months. In February the Pew Center on the States published a comparative study of the pension obligations of the 50 states set against the funds the states have set aside to pay those bills, their findings don’t inspire confidence—-a trillion dollar gap:
“While the economic crisis and drop in investments helped create it, the trillion dollar gap is primarily the result of states’ inability to save for the future and manage the costs of their public sector retirement benefits,” said Susan Urahn, managing director, Pew Center on the States. “The growing bill coming due to states could have significant consequences for taxpayers—higher taxes, less money for public services and lower state bond ratings. States need to start exploring reforms.”
Clearly, we are not alone.
Whether the answer is bankruptcy, changing the retirement structure going forward, or even discussions with unions to alter the plans presently in place—-the failure to be forthright about the dire circumstances we face is not an option.
Yet the LA City Council dithers. In January it defeated an effort to place a measure on the June ballot to roll back benefits for newly hired city workers and future hires. Mayor Villaraigosa’s spokesman said, “this is not the time to panic.” He and a representative of city council president, Eric Garcetti, said they thought they could achieve more by negotiating directly with the unions that represent civilian city employees. Lots of luck, the city’s unions were even opposed to the January measure that was aimed at future hires.
The time for kicking the can down the road and hoping for some other level of government to take their chestnuts out of the fire is past. Virtually every level of government faces the same stark choices. As the Pew Center wrote, it’s time to “start exploring reforms”—-however painful that may be.
Mayor Riordan may be the only local leader telling it like it is and acting like an “adult.”
April 9, 2010 | 2:02 pm
Posted by David A. Lehrer
Yesterday’s Wall St. Journal had an article by the frequently controversial Dorothy Rabinowitz titled, “What’s Not Happening to American Muslims.” It was prompted by remarks attributed to Tom Hanks in his promotional tour for his epic HBO series, “The Pacific.”
Hanks is reported to have observed that our war with Japan was one of “racism and terror” and “that should remind us of current wars”.
Rabinowitz used the Hanks remark to make some important points about America and how different we are than most of the rest of the world in terms of acceptance of differences, tolerating dissent and respecting minorities. She correctly observes that,
No menacing hordes, then or later, ever threatened American Muslims—and it has been an insult to the nation to have been lectured to the same way after every attempted terror attack, as though wild mobs of citizens might actually run through the streets attacking Muslims. Even as the ruins of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon still smoldered, countless Americans had reached out to their Muslim neighbors to reassure them.
Her theme is not unlike that we raised in a blog last November after the tragedy at Ft. Hood, and which has been documented in poll after poll.
Where Rabinowitz goes further than we did is to seek reasons for Americans’ susceptibility to the view that we are just an admonition away from taking out our anger on minorities here who are related to our enemies abroad. In a hard hitting analysis she refers to the tragedy at Ft. Hood last year,
But, it’s a good bet, few like Maj. Hasan’s superiors—so addled by raised consciousness and worries about appearing insensitive to Muslims in the service that they ignored even the most extreme expressions of his enmity to the United States and its military, his praise of suicide bombers, his jihadi contacts.
Every report of any activity bearing resemblance to anti-Muslim sentiment became, in short order, essential news. Every actual incident, every report of a nasty sign, fitted the all-consuming theme taken up by large sectors of mainstream media: that the country’s Muslims were now hapless targets, not only of the national rage at the atrocities committed by Islamic fundamentalists, but also of racism.
It was a view especially well in accord with those of a generation schooled in colleges and universities where pathological extremes of sensitivity to claims of racial, religious or sexual insult or charges of gender bias are considered perfectly normal and right
As one who, in my previous position at the Anti Defamation League, spent years promoting an “anti-bias” curriculum, the A World of Difference program, and its attendant workshops—-I believe she is on to something.
Although exceptionally well-intentioned, many of these programs do indeed promote a “pathological extreme of sensitivity” as part of an effort to further multi-cultural understanding and diversity. The “sensitivity” engendered has a definite downside. Normal interactions are often perceived through the prism of victimhood and otherwise innocuous statements or acts suddenly become suspect and an innocent individual gets labeled as “insensitive,” or worse, “racist.”
I can recall an A World of Difference conference in Boston almost two decades ago at which the keynote speaker was Jane Elliott, a former school teacher who gained national renown for her classroom exercise (which became an ABC network news special) that ostensibly taught her students what the experience of discrimination was like (“Eye of the Storm”). Unfortunately, the message was bound up with the theme that whites are, by definition, racist or at a minimum, culpable beneficiaries of a racist system.
At the time, I found her presentation simplistic, patronizing, and insulting (I actually left the room because I found her message and demeanor so insufferable).In her workshops she described herself as the “resident BITCH for the day—-Being In Total Control Honey.”
Sadly, Elliott’s pernicious theories have infused many “diversity training” programs—she is, after all, considered the “foremother” of diversity training. Here’s a snippet from an interview where she unabashedly sets forth her worldview:
I think white people aren’t aware that racism isn’t just wearing white hoods and burning crosses. It’s also fixing the system so that black votes don’t get counted. It’s refusing to open the polling places in precincts where most of the eligible voters are people of color. It’s outlawing affirmative action at the state level even though it has proven successful. It’s building more prisons than we build schools and guaranteeing that they will be filled by targeting young men of color with things like the “three strikes” legislation in California, and the DWB—“driving while black.” These are problems encountered by young black men all over this country. It’s the fact that there are more children attending segregated schools in the U.S. today than there were previous to Brown vs. Board of Education. It’s white flight and red-lining by financial institutions. It’s television programming that portrays people of color as villains and white people as their victims. It’s ballot-security systems, which are used to intimidate minority voters and so result in the very activities which they are supposedly designed to prevent.
A black woman at a major corporation here in the Midwest just this past summer, after hearing my presentation, almost beating on the table as she spoke, said, “For the first time in my life I can be me. It’s real; it’s not my imagination.” Because, you see, we have convinced ourselves and tried to convince people of color that they’re imagining the racism they’re experiencing, that they’re paranoid.
Her theories and outlook have permeated “diversity training” programs whose stock in trade has too often become guilt and looking for boogey men to confirm theories about how America operates. Non-minorities are taught that they are the beneficiaries of “white privilege” and should as a result be laden with guilt for having put others down—-intentionally or not. Racism, the participants are told, constantly animates our actions and lurks just below the surface—- it’s often unconscious (we may not even realize that we are animated by bigotry and insensitivity) yet are as guilty as if we were purposeful haters.
Rabinowitz accurately describes this nonsense for what it is—-a skewed unrepresentative distortion of America today. The sooner we shed ourselves of the Jane Elliott-like view of America, the better off we will all be. Hopefully, we will be able to acknowledge where America has come in terms of race and inter-group relations and the real work that we have left before us.
America isn’t perfected, but it surely it is not the dreary place Elliott and her clones would have us believe it is.