Our Contradictory American Values

Some years ago, a family friend from China asked me to explain various aspects of the American political structure and ideology. Hearing of separation of powers, individual rights vs. collective rights and rights of minorities, and so on, her view was that the situation is riddled with 矛盾, contradictions. Who can blame her? After well over 200 years of nationhood, we are still struggling with these 矛盾. The recent events in Charlottesville have brought matters to a head as they dramatically illustrate the tensions between various competing goals in American values.

As I reported recently regarding PayPal, and has now been seen for companies such as Google, some social network and online commerce companies have started to refuse service to right-wing extremist “hate” groups. In principle I applaud such policies. But as many have pointed out, there are very serious questions as to “where to draw the line.”

Putting aside the obvious inconsistencies —  last I heard, PayPal continues to serve the violent leftist group Antifa — Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies writes that Twitter has been censoring any tweet of his that mentions the term illegal immigration.

A few days ago, I made a blog post regarding a high school boy who apparently had been severely bullied by classmates over his support of President Trump. At the request of a concerned reader, I later deleted the post, which is yet another example of our competing goals.  On the one hand, the reader’s concern for the victim’s family is understandable, but on the other hand, hopefully society will learn from the incident and do its best to prevent such tragedies in the future.

This is highlighted by the report that a student — a Latino student, in fact — has withdrawn from Boston University, due to death threats stemming from his conservative views.

As a liberal Democrat, I have long pointed to the fact that my fellow liberals in the ACLU have defended the right of organizations on the other side of the political spectrum to demonstrate. As a person of Jewish background, I have often noted to friends the incident in Skokie IL, in which the ACLU, with a number of Jews in their leadership over the years, defended the rights of neo-Nazis to demonstrate in a heavily Jewish Chicago suburb.

Indeed, in the Charlottesville case, the ACLU went to court to demonstrate the right of the United the Right group to demonstrate. The tragic outcome has now prompted the ACLU to change its stance — but only in a measured, thoughtful manner. The organization now says it will not defend groups that carry guns or otherwise appear to be bent on violence.

In other words, the ACLU is giving careful (though likely painful) thought to this central question of “Where do we draw the line?”, and has chosen a reasonable place to draw it. Clearly, Twitter and others are not giving anything like careful thought to the matter. Krikorian’s mere usage of the term illegal immigration is swooped down upon and excised.

In addition, even if debate, say on the key issue of immigration, is not explicitly stifled, the dissemination of information — obviously a central ingredient to constructive discussion — is being suppressed. Take the two reports by the august National Academies of Science (NAS), for instance. The 1997 commission found that “[in] California, each native household now pays an additional $1,200 a year [in taxes] because of immigration.” 

Actually, it is my view that the fiscal effects of immigration are essentially impossible to measure (lack of good data, too many indirect effects to consider, etc.), but my point is the marked contrast between past and present. This year’s NAS report papered over the problems brought up by some commission members, and outright ignored some big ones (I would cite the severe loss in political clout by African-Americans). At least to me, it was clearly a case of “the fix is in.”

The liberal magazine The Atlantic ran an article recently discussing the self-censorship that has evolved among liberals in the last decade or two on immigration. Author Peter Beinart even mentioned the fact that my pro-H-1B UCD colleague Giovanni Peri has been funded by the industry and its allies. Good for the magazine for actually running the piece, but it certainly illustrates the fact that the Powers That Be are actively obstructing constructive discussion on the immigration issue.

In such a climate, it should be noted that the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has become to go-to “expert” on such topics by those same Powers. The SPLC maintains their own “official” list of hate groups that is often cited by the press, and the Boston mayor has asked the SPLC for guidance regarding demonstrations. It may well be that this is in fact very valuable and fair guidance, but at the same time the SPLC describes in the general “hate” realm (if not actually on the official “hate” list) Mark Krikorian and Roy Beck, two highly decent people who don’t have a racist bone in their bodies. The press takes the SPLC claims as factual, without any proper skepticism.

Finally, the press is exacerbating the problem, all in order to sell newspapers and air time. As I mentioned the other day, in a nation of 325 million people, statistically there are bound to be a few with warped minds. So why are such people newsworthy? The press never used to give interviews to such people in the past, and now they do so routinely, making them household names. The true hate groups are feeding on this, and CNN et al have become the enablers. At the same time they are giving inadequate voice to sincere analysis of issues such as immigration, the press is willingly handing the real haters a huge platform.

Ironic and scary.

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25 thoughts on “Our Contradictory American Values

  1. Ironic and scary, indeed. In my opinion, it was wrong for protesters to violently react against Milo Yiannopoulos’ planned visit to UCB; another example of the slippery slope you refer to. At the time many at Brown University did not want Malcolm X to give a speech, but thankfully he was allowed to deliver his controversial ideas. Free speech must be respected and all sides, no matter how hard on the ears.

    http://www.npr.org/2012/02/04/146373796/lost-malcolm-x-speech-heard-again-50-years-later

    Liked by 1 person

      • Great article indeed. Mr. Shabazz (his real last name) was a fine speaker and certainly matured in his perspectives over time. The point about *voluntary* association reminds me of some of MLK’s ideas. Look at films of the old MLK protest marches. They were fully integrated. Today’s rabble-rousers seem to want to write off such a possibility, even perhaps considering it a sell-out position or a watering-down of their “righteous anger”. I think America lost a great deal more than a few good men in the 1960’s…. We lost the leadership in the Center. And we have seen the divide grow ever wider since then.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve ALWAYS considered the SPLC as a hate group. They are nasty people who go far out of their way to attack any and all who don’t toe their line 100%.

    They dunt care if you’re Liberal or Conservative, if you don’t believe in their propaganda 100%, you’re an enemy.

    Very much Goebbels’ kind of “people.”

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Norm: I appreciate your thoughtful commentary on the issue of freedom of speech. I appreciate that Cal Poly San Luis Obispo (Cal Poly – SLO) supported academic freedom last year when they hosted a Milo Yiannopoulos talk. Cal Poly – SLO did not permit a vocal minority from censoring what students heard from Milo. Instead, students could make up their own minds after they heard Milo!

    I have concerns with the self-appointed censors that feel entitled to censor moderate voices, such as the example you cite regarding Twitter and our mutual friend Mark Krikorian. BTW, I’m also glad that I archive your posts – and the responses – when I make a comment in response to your essays. .

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Norm,

    I take issue with your comments about, “Hearing of separation of powers, individual rights vs. collective rights and rights of minorities, and so on, her view was that the situation is riddled with 矛盾, contradictions,” and “As I reported recently regarding PayPal, and has now been seen for companies such as Google, some social network and online commerce companies have *started* {emphasis added} to refuse service to right-wing extremist “hate” groups.”

    I am also a Democrat voter and concerned that Hate Groups across the social spectrum are gaming Federal laws, rules, and regulations for that Hate Group’s benefit, as they abuse their “freedom of speech” rights to cause illegal public disruption and/or public fights with violence.

    In a perfect World, all people and social groups should be allowed “freedom of speech” with equal access to public or Community-funded resources. Any public Laws or Regulations that are supposedly broken by alleged Hate Groups should be regularly reviewed for accuracy, consistency, completeness and thoroughness by designated Administrators or elected officials. Hate Groups are not a “protected class” of people entitled to extra legal or financial protections above other citizens or businesses.

    However there are no “contradictions”… Paypal is a private company with Stocks and Bonds sold to private Investors and Paypal’s business operations are frequently reviewed/regulated by the Federal Government. Paypal remains a for-profit business that has always evaluated and chosen which of its current or potential customers or business clients are a credit or profit risk to Paypa and take action that Paypal deems appropriate within Federal law.

    As a result, Paypal is under no obligation or government requirement to automatically provide its services to people, companies, or even Hate Groups. In fact, Paypal always performs credit assessments, validates those results, and re-checks customer account information to be sure the Client Account is correct and to reduce any financial or legal risk to Paypal or its Employee Staff. If there are documented financial or legal concerns with a current or future Client/Customer, Paypal is allowed to choose to reduce or refuse doing business – including removing existing Paypal accounts with that Customer – if that client may jeopardize Paypal’s employees, staff,and Paypal business reputation or if that Client is possibly violating Federal laws through the use of.Paypal services.

    If a Hate Group’s members abuse their “freedom of speech” rights through “fighting words” that cause public violence, IMHO they forfeit any legal protections – including Client Banking Agreements being refused or cancelled with Paypal, Mastercard, VISA, and AMEX etc.

    Some people may argue that specific Hate Groups are legally protected by “freedom of speech” rights until they are convicted of violating of local, state, or Federal law(s) by a Judicial Court. However, many Hate Groups and/or some of their Members have past arrest records with Court Convictions for violating criminal and/or civil laws that enables Paypal to refuse to do business with them.

    The problem is that these Hate Groups often file articles of incorporation under a business legal name for government taxation, get cited and/or convicted in Court of crimes or misdemeanors, and then these Hate Groups incorporate as another “new” group under a different legal name/Club Officers to avoid immediate public or government scrutiny. Once the Hate Group’s legal name has changed, is Paypal supposed to automatically grant the Hate Group “carte blanche” and full access to open a new account until the Hate Groups’ next Court Conviction?

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    • The problem of your generic use of the term Hate Group is that it assumes the targeted group has been properly assigned the label. I’m a Latina and consider La Raza to be as anti American as they come, you may not agree. Who gets to settle the dispute, you?

      As far as private companies using their product or service in a political way, it’s a free market. I don’t use FB, Twitter, or Paypal anyway. Because of the H1B issue I now avoid Disney and its products.

      The left thinks they can control the political sphere using “market agendas” such as the soda tax or climate change. I would like to point out that the liberal soda tax idea backfired big time in Philadelphia. Philadelphia imposed a soda tax because liberals decide that people shouldn’t drink soda. The tax overwhelming fell on the poor who cannot travel out of the city to shop. Those poor pissed off democrat voters voted overwhelming against Hillary. The democrats lost Philadelphia for the first time in a long time and they are still trying to figure it out too.

      Liked by 1 person

      • People convicted of crimes do indeed lose their civil rights. They can’t vote, they can’t get most state licenses, they lose federal aide, they become unemployable. All of these things are what constitutes rights in our country.

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  5. Norm, it’s certainly a case of selling news. Who would pay for a newspaper or a newscast that reported the number of SAFE airplane landings each day — which is 99.9% or so? No, they will report the *exceptions* because they are newsworthy. It’s much like the situation in statistics, where the outlier is more interesting than the “norm” (no pun intended).

    But the problem with what the media is doing today is that they have gone a BIG step further. The Mudstream Media wants to take the *outlier* and paint it as the *norm* for whole classes of people.

    Example: an African-American has huge success in a business venture. So the MM paints it as a case of “this is how all blacks could do, if only we could find a way to beat down the racist System.” The exception (great success) is painted as a normative condition, that is merely being held back by the norm (racism) — yet racism is not the norm, it’s the exception also! So two exceptions are branded as two norms, and a false narrative is created.

    Example: a gay person is beaten in a robbery attempt. The MM paints it as a case of “pity the poor gays, who must endure this threat daily.” In the meantime, hundreds of non-gays are beaten nationwide in robberies and attempted robberies, but this “norm” is ignored, and the exception (the victim being gay) is painted as the norm.

    After decades of this “slippery slope” in reporting, I’ve come to expect this reversal of norms and outliers when I hear or read a news item.

    BTW, a few decades ago, a print newspaper called “The Good News Paper” went out of business. They only reported positive news stories. They just couldn’t find enough people who were not entertained by threats and dangers (real or imagined).

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  6. Norm,
    Our society is absolutely in constant contradiction. In reference to your post about the tragic suicide that you were encouraged to delete, it is unfortunate. I completely empathize and agree with the family’s right to privacy and respect. A parent should never have to experience such a tragedy. However, this is exactly why institutions such as high school districts and mental health agencies must be called out when their politics interfere with our students mental/emotional health. School bullying does very much exist in affluent communities. It’s just done in a more passive-aggressive way that can be disregarded as an expression of views. I hope once this family has had time to grieve, they will speak out and give a voice to their son’s struggles. As someone that works in mental health in Silicon Valley (which is why I have to maintain a sense of vagueness and discretion), my view is we must speak for those voices that cannot, especially our youth. If in fact a loss of a teen’s precious life is a result of bullying, we cannot let their death be in vain and make more efforts to raise awareness to avoid tragedies such as teen suicide. This is not how this young man’s story should have ended. I hope the “concerned reader” that asked you to delete that post will read this and at an appropriate time, encourage the family or a family representative to give voice to their son’s tragic story. Trust me, many of us in the mental health field are fed up with red tape and politics and would lend our voices if given permission.

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    • Thanks for much for your compassionate and insightful remarks.

      Since you are in the Silicon Valley, I wish to ask you, Why the rash of suicides there at Gunn and Paly? There are other well-off academic pressure cooker schools in the area, e.g. Monta Vista and Mission SJ, not to mention ritzy private schools like Casteleja, but to my knowledge they do not have a suicide problem.

      By the way, the “concerned reader” (sounds like you may know who it is) suggested that I withhold the post for a couple of weeks, but I am just going to keep it deleted.

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  7. I hear what you’re saying. High achievement standards and focus on success is not solely a Palo Alto culture. There are many varying and conflicting views of what is occurring in Palo Alto. As many now, this is why the CDC was asked to investigate these “suicide clusters”. I wish there was a simple answer, but is it so much more complex. There is no denying the presence of a suicide contagion, it is a real phenomenon. This is why how we speak about it and cover it in the media is so crucial. However, there are so many other underlying factors that make one even more vulnerable. Underlying mental health issues, lack of effective coping skills, lack of proper support system that goes beyond the family, social and environmental issues, the list goes on. Yes, one will argue that these problems exist in every community. My point is, when you have a community that has been affected by a suicide contagion, there must be added efforts to ensure the “protective factors outweigh the risk factors”. That is the basis of how we assess for risk. This is why I mentioned it falls on the School-districts and community to work collaboratively with effective mental health professionals. Unfortunately, I have seen how these collaborations turn in to self-interests and become caught up in funding and politics. Meanwhile, our students are struggling emotionally and psychologically and people like me just want to counsel these students and be available for them on campus. I can only speak to my own experience in “the system”. But I do always wonder how other school districts approach these same issues, because apparently whatever their doing may be working better. It’s time for pausd to alter their approach.

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    • I live in the East Bay (Walnut Creek), and my daughter’s high school just wasn’t like that. (She graduated in 2009.)

      Before I deleted the post, a mother had posted a reader comment (with her name), which then got automatically deleted as well (since it had become a comment on a non-post) She wrote as follows: “My kid went to Gunn and his ‘friends’ bullied him and one another about everything. Most of them are incredibly insecure and unhealthy: they go online and bully each other all night. I have been shocked by some of the things these kids say to each other. Sometimes it is political, sometimes racist, academic, most often homophobic…They are exposed to too much cruelty online and they copy it. They rank and rate each other sexually, academically, socially. If you look at these kids online you will see all the signs of discontent. Many are depressed, anxious, left inside too much. Gunn is a hellhole of anxiety and over-stimulation, and too little childhood.”

      Quite frank, and I hope unrepresentative, but scary. I have several friends and one relative whose kids went to Gunn and Paly, and I never suspected anything like this, though I knew about the CDC etc.

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  8. The Atlantic article does go over the Left’s swift move to pro-immigration at any cost and denial of impacts, but stops short of eval of their particularly nasty turn toward weaponizing – if you don’t vote Hillary, your a misogynistic, racist, xenophobic, gay basher. As such, as it was pivoting, I recognized it as race baiting, and as other D friends noted, decidedly misandry of white men.

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    • I’d really like to see a detailed timeline. I would guess that the turning point would be 1996.

      In that year, there was bipartisan support for an overall retrenching of immigration policy. Illegal immigration had come to a head in CA in 1994, with CA Democrats such as Feinstein and Pelosi leaning in that direction. Bill Clinton was definitely unboard. The head of one prominent immigration reform group actually worried that he would soon be out of a job, nothing left to advocate for.

      But then suddenly Clinton was hit by a barrage of special-interest groups, such as the Christian Coaltion, Silicon Valley etc., and especially some rich non-US Asians who illegally gave him campaign donations. Immigration reform was dead in its tracks, and even though the illegal donations caused a scandal, it became clear that there was great political advantage to supporting high levels of immigration.

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  9. Look at the 990 tax returns for the SPLC (Guidestar is your friend). Look especially at number of employees, salaries, fundraising expenses and lobbying payments.

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  10. 2 points here, first; I don’t agree with most “alt” groups, they are the exception not the norm and I feel that in general they do more harm to their causes than good, but I do agree with free speech and their right to their beliefs, as long as it lawful and doesn’t insight violence. Censorship of any group is a slippery slope, there was a time when individuals like Martin Luther King would be considered by a majority to be censor worthy.

    Second; groups like the neo-nazi aren’t the ones I worry about, they’re generally a bunch of bullies on the fringes with a message that’s revolting to most people, it’s the ones who have these deep dark beliefs, right or left, but are smart enough not to telegraph it I worry about.

    The cost of what Bill Clinton did, far exceeds the damage done by any alt group; an argument could be made that the stress put on the American public as a result of his decision to sell out the American middle class so long ago has lead to the growth of alt groups.

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    • The Clinton Cult scares the hell out of me. The Russia investigation should be pointed at them, going all the way back to when Bill was a student visiting Russia.

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  11. “Finally, the press is exacerbating the problem, all in order to sell newspapers and air time. As I mentioned the other day, in a nation of 325 million people, statistically there are bound to be a few with warped minds. So why are such people newsworthy? The press never used to give interviews to such people in the past, and now they do so routinely, making them household names. The true hate groups are feeding on this, and CNN et al have become the enablers…”

    Yes.

    The above all just echos what I had said in a comment on one of your other recent blog posts.

    The stuff that passes for cable “news” channels these days is really about 90% “non-meat filler”. The public, by and large, hasn’t even noticed this slow but steady transition away from actually reporting actual news, and towards filling up air time with a lot of (relatively inexpensive) talking heads discussing their -views- about the paltry tiny tidbits of news that actually get reported on.

    Watch any one of FOX, CNN, or MSNBC for an hour and then go and watch a hour’s worth of al jazeera English. The contrast couldn’t be more striking. Unlike their American counterparts, al jazeera English actually is still mostly actual news, with one hell of a lot less yapping about various people’s personal opinions about the news, whereas on the American cable “news” channels, it is like 90% useless and uninformative yapping and very little that could be called news. And also, unlike the American “news” channles, al jazeera still spends the money to employ actual correspondants in the field. The reason the American channels have been reduced to filling 90% their daily schedule with the (mostly worthless) opinions and interminable yapping of talking heads is because their correspondant networks have been repeatedly decimated by ruthless cost cutting.

    The resulting “pablum for the mind” is perfectly acceptable, of course, if the only goal is to have something that looks like it isn’t quite 100% commercials (yet) and which can be left on in the backgound in airport terminals and other waiting rooms.

    This is what “free market” forces applied to the “news” business gets you. I wouldn’t mind so much if it wern’t for the grotesque hypocrisy. CNN should be renamed CON… Cable Opinion Network.

    Like

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