by David Lehrer and Joe Hicks
We recently received a press release that caught our eye, it was an unusual announcement from a government agency.
The Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission, author of the document, is an over 50 year old agency that has as its mission, “fostering harmonious and equitable inter-group relations; empowering communities and institutions; and promoting an informed and inclusive multicultural society.” Most of the Commission’s programs revolve around hate crimes—-tallying them, seeking to counter them, reporting about them, etc.
Interestingly, their press release announces a new wrinkle in the Commission’s anti-hate crime efforts—-
pre-empting speech that the Commission suggests “triggers” hate crimes
As individuals who have spent our professional careers dealing with haters, extremists and the organizations they create, we were surprised to find that the Human Relations Commission is staging a program on a very sensitive topic that governmental entities should only approach with extreme caution—-the role of government in impacting free speech and the rights of broadcasters.
The Commission promotes this Thursday’s program with the provocative title “When does FREE SPEECH in the Media turn into HATE SPEECH….triggering HATE CRIMES?” (sic). It implies that it has discovered a link that no academics, advocates of anti-bias laws or anyone else has yet been able to document—-“many see a clear link between the coverage a particular community receives in the media and potential spikes in hate crimes.”
It doesn’t make sense.
The panel consists of minority activists (Latino, African American, Muslim, South Asian, Gay/Lesbian and “Multi-Ethnics”) and the Commission’s director, Robin Toma. The moderator is an occasional radio host whose primary job is as an instructor of journalism at Cal State LA. There is no ACLU or First Amendment advocate to argue that however objectionable many of these talk show hosts may be, the way to deal with their bloviating is in the free marketplace of ideas, not by government censorship.
The thrust of the discussion is all too predictable and will more than likely follow the reasoning of the Commission’s announcement——the irritating voices on talk radio are purveyors of hate and that hate results in hate crimes. The conclusion will undoubtedly be that “something needs to be done!” Conveniently, there is a petition before the Federal Communications Commission requesting an investigation into the link between media broadcasters, hate speech and hate crimes.
We are not defenders of the crude and vulgar talk show hosts on radio and tv who mask inflammatory posturing as political commentary. But those who pander to the lowest common denominator of America’s listening audience ought to be challenged and taken on because of the bankruptcy of their ideas, not because a governmental agency thinks that their outrageous talk leads to criminal activity.
In fact, we are aware of no academic research that documents a connection between media jabber, however pernicious, and the commission of hate crimes. The single academic who is on the panel (Dr. Chon Noriega) has authored a study on point about “hate speech on commercial radio” which specifically warns that “
the study does not attempt to determine a causal relationship between hate speech in the media and the commission of hate crimes.”
What makes this program so troubling is that a governmental entity, the Human Relations Commission, is involving itself in a tilted discussion that implicates the First Amendment and the rights of broadcasters.
If the various participants on the panel and their organizations were to chose to have this debate under private, non-governmental auspices, it might be skewed and lightweight, but it would be their affair and their conclusions would be their own.
When a governmental agency sponsors this kind of event, we are all implicated and their conclusions become our conclusions.
We hope that the Human Relations Commission will rethink their role in a presenting an unbalanced program that looks like it will offer remedies on a very sensitive issue that touches on the First Amendment and the rights of our nation’s broadcasters.
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January 21, 2010 | 9:49 pm
Posted by David A. Lehrer
Between IPods, rovers on Mars and gene specific cures for various ailments it’s easy to think that we are at the pinnacle of human history. We can easily be convinced that all that preceded us was mere prelude to our incomparable achievements….and then you have an epiphany where you realize we aren’t all that innovative or exceptional.
Read yesterday’s New York Times’ article about a map on display at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. It was created by a Jesuit priest, Matteo Ricci, who lived in China in 1602—-a mere 110 years after Columbus
The map he created for the Chinese Emperor is of the world, but you need only see the cartography of North America. It’s uncanny. Baja California, Florida, the Great Lakes, the Yucatan, Cuba are all in the right place in very much the right relative proportions.
Father Ricci didn’t have satellites, radar, or photos—-just the recollections and information provided by explorers of the New World—- and some genius. He did an amazing job. It’s quite extraordinary and humbling...could we come close to understanding the world around us stripped of virtually all of our fancy gadgets and tools?
January 21, 2010 | 9:02 pm
Posted by David A. Lehrer
This past weekend I participated in the Annual Leadership Educational Forum (“ALEF”). Sponsored by the American Friends of the Hebrew University in Los Angeles, it’s a once a year gathering of Hebrew University leaders from around the country to discuss the state of the university and to tap into the intellectual riches of HU.
Sunday’s panels at the Beverly Hills Hotel covered a fascinating array of topics—-neuroscience, anti-Semitism, and Islam’s relations with the United States and Israel. The presenters were an impressive group of experts (from Israel and LA) in their fields who offered sane, sober and thoughtful analyses.
What struck me most about the presentations was the moderation and avoidance of hyperbole that too often infects talks to Jewish groups on topics such as Israel and anti-Semitism.
The panel on Islam included Ambassador Efraim Halevy, former head of the Mossad and former national security advisor to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon(not to Shimon Peres, but to Sharon
, i.e. not a bleeding heart).
Halevy’s message, amplified by his colleague Prof. Moshe Maoz, an expert on Arab and Middle East affairs, and Dr. Omar Kader, an American and former head of the national Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee, was that there is much that is positive that is going on in the diverse and complex Muslim world and that we should not succumb to a simplistic and myopic view of that difficult and challenging problem.
It was, to say the least, a refreshing and uplifting message; urging thoughtful analysis while also admitting the complexity of the topic was instructive. That it came from, among others, one of the historic figures of the Mossad made it even more compelling.
The panel I moderated similarly reaffirmed a nuanced and thoughtful approach to a tough problem. This time the issue was anti-Semitism. Instead of the all too common “gevalt, the sky is falling” message, Prof. Robert Wistrich, author of the just published tome,A Lethal Obsession: Anti-Semitism from Antiquity to the Global Jihad
, offered a historical analysis of anti-Semitism and, along with Prof. Michael Berenbaum, former director of the United States Holocaust Research Institute at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum and me, agreed that the United States is unique in its acceptance of Jews. We concurred on the absence of serious anti-Semitism here and explored the reasons why that is so.
This message—- of a tempered and reasoned approach to volatile issues—- and the admonition to not succumb to simplistic fear-mongering (from no less than one of the Mossad’s heroic former heads) was a valuable one that seemed to be heard by the several hundred folks present; it ought to have resonance far beyond those gathered at ALEF.
January 15, 2010 | 6:44 pm
Posted by Joe R. Hicks
As someone who views politics from a well-defined conservative perspective, I found it unsettling to hear Republicans engage in the same old game of
, something they’ve accused Democrats of for decades. A new book “Game Change,” written by John Heilman and Mark Halperin about the 2008 presidential race, reveals that Senate Leader Harry Reid made comments about President Obama that have been interpreted by some as controversial.
As most now know, in private comments about Barack Obama’s chances of winning the White House, Reid commented that he thought Obama could win because “the country was ready to embrace a black presidential candidate, especially one such as Obama – a ‘light-skinned’ African-American with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.” Republicans wasted little time in jumping on the comments, with some prominent figures arguing that Reid should step down as the Democrat’s Senate Leader.
Of course, this had the same chance of happening as a snowball not melting in hell. No matter how the president actually felt about Reid’s comments, Obama desperately needs his healthcare plan to succeed, and for this he needs Reid to help usher his healthcare bill through the painful process.
Reid immediately prostrated himself before all who would listen, calling the president, as well as almost every black leader he could find, to apologize. For what, I’m not exactly clear. When did the word “Negro” become offensive, and to whom? Reid’s casual reference to Obama’s “light skin” may reveal an odd and lame foray into the world of color and caste consciousness circa the 1940s, but falls significantly short of being offensive.
Leading the charge to label Reid a racist was Michael Steele, the chair of the Republican National Committee. Steele correctly pointed out there is a prevailing double-standard in place; virtually any Republican who made comments similar to those of Reid would have been vilified as a knuckle-dragging racist by the very same groups and political figures that have rallied to Reid’s defense.
Steele should have simply stopped at pointing out this political double standard. Instead, he appeared on seemingly endless Sunday morning news/talk shows to accuse Reid of racism. Other prominent conservatives, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and commentator, Liz Chaney, joined in the charges of racism against Reid.
When did Republicans jump on the bandwagon of political correctness and racial sensitivity that essentially validates the left’s long-standing pernicious smear that virtually any comment about race or skin color can be spun into an act of racism. The rules of the game are that anyone who violates the “conventional wisdom” of what’s appropriate is expected to prostrate themselves before the arbiters of “race legitimacy” or face punishment in the form of banishment from the public square.
This “PC” game playing is short-sighted on the part of Republicans. If it was intended to damage Reid in his Senate re-election bid, the potential damage to an already shaky Republican Party image was hardly worth it.
So, what was the point? Reid was already badly trailing his Republican opponents in Nevada polling. This is “gotcha” politics at its worst. Reid deserved to be excoriated for his angry, outrageous – and, yes, bigoted comments – when he compared Republicans who dared to oppose the Democrats healthcare bill as being like lawmakers who clung to slavery more than a century and a half ago. Reid is clearly not a scholar of American history, or the history of his own party, regarding slavery and civil rights.
However, by engaging in this sort of gotcha, Republicans take the nasty, offensive and cynical game of identity politics and political correctness to new lows and make it truly bipartisan silliness.
All of this angst by Democrats and Republicans over the use of words makes clear that America has lurched into a post-racial world. The kind of racism that America’s black population was forced to endure for centuries has been almost entirely eliminated.
How can we tell? The accusations of racism these days mostly arise from the use of certain phrases, the stating of uncomfortable truths, or legitimate policy disagreements. This means the charges of racism have become mostly a handy political tool to be used against an opponent.
Exhibit “A”: Harry Reid.
January 8, 2010 | 7:59 pm
Posted by Joe R. Hicks
When the son of a wealthy Nigerian banking official tried to blow up a Detroit-bound aircraft, there was much that was new or unique about him – other than the explosive underwear he wore. This was an updated version of the shoe-bomb method employed by Richard Reid in 2001. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab seems to have been driven by the same religious and political demons that have propelled virtually every terrorist from Ramzi Yousef to Osama bin Laden.
Abdumutallab’s socially advantaged status was not unique – the vast majority of international terrorists have not been poor, ignorant or disadvantaged. All of the nineteen 9/11 terrorist were educated and came from the ranks of the middle-class and the well-to-do. A review of the education levels and income status of many terrorists quickly destroys the long-held belief that poverty and political neglect, like weeds, grow terrorists.
His skin color wasn’t noteworthy either. Africans from various nations have played major roles in international terrorism. If there is any doubt, a brief scan of the images from the prison at Guantanamo Bay will confirm this fact.
But try telling that to Yvonne Davis whose recent posting at the Huffington Post makes an “interesting” observation. The title of her article is “America’s New Face of Terrorism.” That “new” face of terrorism, she claims, is “the young black man.” Abdulmutallab, she argues, “looks no differently than your son” - if you happen to be black that is. “Black men,” she laments, “are now officially lumped in with Arabs and Muslim men around the world as potential terrorists and dangers to the west.”
Where has this woman been?
African nationals have long been involved in terrorist plots, as have black home grown-terrorists. Terrorists from several African nations were involved in the Al Qaeda bombing of America’s embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salam, Tanzania, in 1998. Five young Muslim men from suburban Virginia are currently being held in Pakistan on suspicion of trying to join Al Qaeda to engage in jihad. All are the children of immigrant families from Pakistan, Egypt and East Africa.
This past November, the United States Attorney’s office in Minnesota and the FBI reported that young Islamic men from Minneapolis were being recruited and sent to Somali to fight for Al Shabaab, a terrorist organization with close ties to Al Qaeda. All of the young African-American men are the children of immigrant families from Somalia – and, yes, many feature appearances closely approximating a black American kid from Baltimore.
And yes, there have also been home-grown “African-American” terrorists. This past October, Luqman Ameen Abdullah was killed in a shoot-out with Detroit police. Formerly known as Christopher Thomas, Abdullah stated that his mission was to establish an Islamic state in the U.S. This gentleman appears to be a disciple of Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin, formerly known as H. Rap Brown, now serving a life sentence for shooting two police officers in Georgia in 2000.
Other examples abound. The so-called “D.C. sniper,” John Muhammed was black, as is Clement Rodney Hampton-el, a New Jersey hospital technician. He returned from the war in Afghanistan against the Russians to help set off the February 1993 explosion at the World Trade Center in New York.
Certainly not all, but many, conversions to Islam among blacks have come via a stay in state or federal prison which offers a particularly angry, virulent and violent form of Islam to vulnerable black inmates who are susceptible to the message that they’ve been victims of white America - as well as Christianity. It was while in prison that Malcolm X was introduced to the Nation of Islam’s unique form of Islam, a conversion that ultimately cost him his life.
Nonetheless, Davis, the Huff Post writer, seems to believe that black Americans will collectively shoulder some collective guilt due to the skin color of Abdulmutallab and other “black” terrorists. She asserts that the “African American community” is cringing “every time a new terrorist plot is foiled and shows a black male face.” That may be her reaction, but I think otherwise. I believe that when arrests occur, all Americans, no matter their skin color or ethnicity, collectively breathe a sigh of relief that once again the nation dodged the bullet of violent Islamic extremism.
Even Davis inadvertently admits the accuracy of this position by way of quoting Peter Siggins, Associate Justice of the California Court of Appeals. In a 2002 speech he cited a surey which revealed that 66 percent of whites supported the ethnic profiling of people of Middle-Eastern descent. More interesting perhaps is that
77 percent of blacks also suppored this sort of profiling
. It doesn’t sound as if blacks are “cringing” in the face of terrorist threats. Like other Americans, blacks want to employ every measure possible to help insure our safety.
No matter the loss of privacy or potential for misuse, most Americans understand that we live in difficult times and that we are at war with forces that would willfully slit every Americans throat given half a chance. “Profiling” is but one weapon at our disposal in this war with ideologically-driven killers like Khalid Sheik Muhammad, last seen on video demonically decapitating an innocent journalist whose crime was being American and Jewish – Daniel Pearl.
There is no “new” face of terrorism. It’s the same old face that assumes many forms – all wanting to destroy this country and its people.
January 8, 2010 | 6:42 pm
Posted by David A. Lehrer
Watching President Obama yesterday and listening to the predictable posturing by the interest groups who have a stake in the security debate gets a bit depressing. It’s a bit like a Greek tragedy where the ending is obvious yet the various roles are being played out with no chance that any of the players will diverge from their prescribed roles and paths.
The ACLU, predictably, decries the president’s efforts. They condemn the “no fly” lists for failing “to identify true terrorist threats.” They vociferously object to the administration’s decision to intensify screening of nationals from fourteen nations that have poor track records in dealing with terrorism as being, “ineffective, unconstitutional and counter to American values.” They assert that “using national origin or religion as proxies for suspicion is nothing less than racial profiling.”
How carefully scrutinizing passengers from foreign ports who want to enter our country is unconstitutional is just silly. Our constitution is far reaching, but it doesn’t protect a foreign national overseas.
The ACLU makes but one concession to the reality of the dangers that exist in today’s world, “developing competent intelligence and law enforcement agencies” is what they support. Knowing of the group’s objections to intelligence gathering in years past, one wonders what their notion of “competent intelligence gathering” is.
The ACLU would focus all the “security resources” to “stop terrorists before they get to the airport;” a fine prescription, but one that clearly can’t be relied on by itself—there is simply too much data that floods our intelligence agencies. We can’t always separate the wheat from the chaff as the Christmas bomber made transparently clear. We need to supplement and complement the data we receive with layers of security—-applied where needed (e.g. to passengers from countries from which terrorists have come and not to 80 year old senior citizens from Luxembourg).
The ACLU isn’t alone in objecting to the rational, limited and common-sensical steps that the administration has taken. Salaam al Marayati, the Los Angeles-based head of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, complained in the New York Times about the administration’s selection of fourteen countries for extra security scrutiny—-because “profiling communities” is “ineffective.” However ineffective it might be, it’s a lot more effective than spreading limited resources across all travelers from all countries and acting as if we have collective amnesia as to where virtually all the world’s air terrorists have come from and what their common ideology is.
Finally, an all too frequent voice in the media, Prof. Juan Cole of the University of Michigan, offered his unequivocal analysis on Public Radio International’s The World. One of his main objections to the administration’s actions is not a principled one, but rather a financial one. He concludes that what Obama has undertaken is “a huge step backwards” and will result in economic loss to our economy: “there are large numbers of peoples in Saudi Arabia with a lot of capital who like to invest in the United States, and who simply won’t because they won’t subject themselves to this procedure every time they come in.”
So, the risk of a rich oil sheik being upset because he has to answer extra questions and wait longer in line before he boards a plane to the United States is offered as a compelling reason for not taking extra security steps to protect airline passengers from being blown out of the air. These folks come from countries known to have lax security safeguards and to be the home of far too many terrorists—-some costs are worth it, including an angry sheik or two and few less recycled petro-dollars.
The most compelling and sober analyses of the issues we are facing come from Heather MacDonald and David Brooks. MacDonald logically refutes most of the arguments against selective screening and explains the reasons for the administration’s actions in an article in National Review On-line.
Brooks, in his usual, thoughtful way, reminds us in The New York Times that no matter what we do, institutions and people are fallible and bad things will probably happen.
…we shouldn’t imagine that these centralized institutions are going to work perfectly or even well most of the time. It would be nice if we reacted to their inevitable failures not with rabid denunciation and cynicism, but with a little resiliency, an awareness that human systems fail and bad things will happen and we don’t have to lose our heads every time they do.
The “experts” ought to be less self righteous and less convinced of their own certainty and rectitude. They need to acknowledge that the administration is trying its best to balance security needs with our exceptionally open and free society, it isn’t easy and anyone who thinks it is or questions the genuineness of the administration’s efforts should be ignored.
January 7, 2010 | 7:36 pm
Posted by David A. Lehrer
After a brief vacation break,
The Wide Angle
While we were away, there was lots of activity on our blog site related to our December 16th blog on Russell Means (“A Vile Character Performs at the Taper”) and his long record of bizarre and bigoted comments. There were nearly two dozen comments on the blog and several more sent to me at my Community Advocates’ email address.
A good number of the comments were ad hominem asides directed at me by Means and his acolytes.There were no refutations or denials of the accuracy of my observations (the only slight correction is that on the blog I cited the lead comment on Means’ homepage that he was “the most famous American Indian since Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse;” it is the opening line but, to be punctiliously accurate, the puffery’s source is the Los Angeles Times. As immodest as it may be to have that as the opening on one’s homepage, Means
attribute the quote to the Times).
The truth of what I wrote about Means and his political positions is still on target; the effort to offer a “context” that mitigates incendiary comments is pointless—-extremism is extremism whether candy-coated or offered straight.
I still have no intention to frequent the Taper in the next two and a half weeks.
December 18, 2009 | 6:28 pm
Posted by David A. Lehrer
This past weekend I had it. I’ve given up watching the time-killing Sunday morning talk shows and their endless supply of “all-knowing” pundits.
Last weekend I suffered through the bloviating of Arianna Huffington on George Stephanopolous’ This Week where every one of her opinions was delivered with the certainty usually reserved for the sciences where facts are indisputable (2+2=4, no ifs, and, or buts) not for choices involving countless variables, human beings and the vagaries of real life. Although this decade finds her on the left side of the political spectrum along with one of my least favorite windbags, Katrina vanden Heuvel, she has equals on the right—- from Ann Coulter to Laura Ingraham. (Lest I be accused of sexism, there is no shortage among the male of the species—Dick Morris, et al.)
They and countless others share an immodesty that is truly breathtaking.
Last Sunday, in discussing President Obama’s speech at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony and his decision to increase troops in Afghanistan, Arianna offered her conclusions on the impact of Obama’s decision as if she had the powers of a prophet—-
no military solution in Afghanistan is possible
. No qualifications, no ambiguity, no “I think” or “I believe”—-simply bald assertions that are meant to make it sound as if she possesses information and divining skills denied to the rest of us.
Well, I’ve had it with her and most of the other Sunday morning mavens; no more of being a patsy for their self righteous baloney. We should all know better.
Or look at political experts. In the early 1980s, Philip Tetlock at UC Berkeley picked two hundred and eighty-four people who made their living “commenting or offering advice on political and economic trends” and began asking them to make predictions about future events. He had a long list of pertinent questions. Would George Bush be re-elected? Would there be a peaceful end to apartheid in South Africa? Would Quebec secede from Canada? Would the dot-com bubble burst? In each case, the pundits were asked to rate the probability of several possible outcomes. Tetlock then interrogated the pundits about their thought process, so that he could better understand how they made up their minds. By the end of the study, Tetlock had quantified 82,361 different predictions.
After Tetlock tallied up the data,
the predictive failures of the pundits became obvious. Although they were paid for their keen insights into world affairs, they tended to perform worse than random chance.
Most of Tetlock’s questions had three possible answers; the pundits, on average, selected the right answer less than 33 percent of the time. In other words, a dart-throwing chimp would have beaten the vast majority of professionals.
Tetlock also found that the most famous pundits in Tetlock’s study tended to be the least accurate, consistently churning out overblown and overconfident forecasts. Eminence was a handicap
But it’s not just that these BS artists are frequently wrong; what’s worse is that in their bravado they negatively impact us and our being thoughtful consumers of news: But here’s the worst part: even terrible expert advice can reliably tamp down activity in brain regions (like the anterior cingulate cortex) that are supposed to monitor mistakes and errors. It’s as if the brain is intimidated by credentials, bullied by bravado.
I’m not sure how to protect my “anterior cingulate cortex” so I am just not going to watch these windbags anymore—-as my son noted, watching four chimps throwing darts at various policy options would be as informative and predictive.
PS There are a few pundits on the right (e.g. David Brooks) and left (e.g. Tom Friedman) who qualify their analysis by acknowledging the complexity of the issues, the lack of simple, clear choices and the legitimacy of the views that may differ from theirs. I can watch and read them on Sunday, or any other day.