Home of the Free?

From Mark Steyn:

Three years ago, I wrote in National Review:

Let us accept for the sake of argument that racism is bad, that homophobia is bad, that Islamophobia is bad, that offensive utterances are bad, that mean-spirited thoughts are bad. So what?

As bad as they are, the government’s criminalizing all of them and setting up an enforcement regime in the interests of micro-regulating us into compliance is a thousand times worse.

Likewise, as bad as Donald Sterling is, what the NBA is doing is a thousand times worse:

“The views expressed by Mr. Sterling are deeply offensive and harmful. That they came from an NBA owner only heightens the damage and my personal outrage,” [Commissioner Adam] Silver said. “I am banning Mr. Sterling for life from any association with the Clippers association or the NBA. Mr. Sterling may not attend any NBA games or practices, he may not be present at any Clippers facility, and he may not participate in any business or decisions involving the team.”

Everyone seems to agree that Sterling is a racist and always has been: He said he wouldn’t rent apartments to blacks because they smell; and he has referred to the players of his Los Angeles Clippers as “niggers”. All this has apparently been widely known for years, although not so well known that the NAACP hasn’t lavished multiple awards on him, including his now hastily canceled Lifetime Achievement Award. Which seems odd.

But Mr Sterling’s peerless record for Extraordinary Achievement in Racism is not the reason he has been banned for life by Commissioner Silver. Mr Silver is exiling Sterling only because of what he said in a private shouting-match with his mistress recorded without his knowledge and leaked to the press. As I understand it, owning an NBA franchise is roughly analogous to owning a home in a gated community, and Commissioner Silver is the enforcer from the homeowners’ association. Even so, it is disturbing to see (as Bill Quick put it) “the use of a man’s property be taken from him because of the way he expressed himself“. And not just any property but a billion-dollar property the man has owned for a third of a century. Solely over views expressed in the course of a two-minute rant at his mistress about the other guys she pals around with.

Before the decision, Bill Maher Tweeted:

Sterling def. a racist,but take away his team? Clippers shldn’t have played yesterday? Calm down,being an asshole is still legal in America

I’m not so sure being an asshole is still legal in America. Mr Silver has also fined Sterling $2.5 million – for something he said in his own home recorded without his knowledge. In a free society you should be able to make racist remarks in private without being fined and losing your property rights. Because the alternative is worse.

~Years ago, I met with a Russian oligarch, which is to say a man far richer than Donald Sterling, and with plenty of enemies. At the start of the meeting, everyone switched off their mobile phones and put them on the table. So I did, too. Then everyone removed the SIM cards. Which I’d never seen anyone do before, but evidently was routine to these chaps. So I fumbled with the back of my phone, and got mine out, too. And afterwards I did something wrong trying to jam the card back in, and the thing never worked again. Which didn’t really bother me, as I barely make one cell phone call a month. But I was struck by the way these Russkie fellows lived their lives on the assumption that, wherever you were, whatever you were doing, there was always someone trying to record you, trying to get the goods on you.

Professional bodies in civilized societies should not be lending respectability to this practice. Technology is moving us inexorably into a world with less privacy. A world with no privacy at all – no privacy even to bawl out a lover – will change human behavior, and not in a good way. Donald Sterling’s weirdly refined sense of propriety – he’s happy to sleep with a black mistress, and he’s happy for his black mistress to sleep with black men, but he doesn’t want his black mistress Instagramming with her black men – derives in part from the bubble in which extremely rich men live, especially in America. The cautionary tale of his downfall will serve to drive the rich, simply out of self-protection, into even deeper insulation from ordinary life. That’s not a good thing.

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Anything You Say Will Be Used Against You

From Bernard Goldberg:

So Donald Sterling got what amounts to the death sentence. Banned for life by the NBA. His ugly remarks are proof, as I’ve said before, not that racism is alive and well in America, but rather that racism is on its last leg. The man has been publicly branded a pariah. The American people have made him an outcast. You think any of that would have happened if we really were a racist nation, as some would have us believe?

But now that he’s gone, I’m wondering who else among us has said things in the privacy of our homes that would get us in trouble if somebody recorded them and made our remarks public.

Rest assured, I’ve never ever said anything that might even vaguely be construed as politically incorrect. But I’ll bet you have.

And I’ll bet a lot of players in the NBA have.

I’ll bet a lot of politicians have, too.

I’ll bet white people have and black people have and Latino people have and straight people have and gay people have.

So what lesson should we take of the public flogging of Donald Sterling, as deserved as it was?

How about this: If anyone – an accountant, a garbage man, an MSNBC host, a college professor, an attorney general, a president, a truck driver … anyone! … says something racist in the privacy of his or her home, and if it somehow becomes public information, that person should lose his or her job and his or her livelihood – because racist words cannot be tolerated in America, not in 2014.

I understand that Sterling had a high-profile job and that the NBA is pretty much a black league. So his dumb remarks were especially hurtful. But if we want to stamp out racism, what better way than to hold everybody accountable for what they say – no matter where they say it!

I am confused, however, about why there is no universal condemnation of athletes who father children in every city in the league. Or of athletes who beat up their girlfriends. Or of athletes who drive drunk and kill people. I guess none of those things warrant the moral outrage that bigoted words uttered by a foolish old man in private warrant.

But let me be clear: I’m outraged over what Donald Sterling said. Really, really outraged. I say this because if anyone thinks I’m less than really, really outraged because of anything I’ve written here, I might get in really, really big trouble.

One more thing: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wrote a piece for Time magazine about Sterling and racism. After making clear his disgust with the now-banned owner of the Clippers, Abdul-Jabbar writes this:

“Shouldn’t we be equally angered by the fact that his private, intimate conversation was taped and then leaked to the media? Didn’t we just call to task the NSA for intruding into American citizen’s privacy in such an un-American way? Although the impact is similar to Mitt Romney’s comments that were secretly taped, the difference is that Romney was giving a public speech. The making and release of this tape is so sleazy that just listening to it makes me feel like an accomplice to the crime. We didn’t steal the cake but we’re all gorging ourselves on it.”

Nicely put, Kareem!

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A Vital Distinction

As Jonah Goldberg explains, the distinction between public and private is vitally important:

I hold no brief for Donald Sterling. My storehouse of sympathy runs bare long before I get to billionaire bigots and loudmouths. But it’s worth pondering the fact that Sterling’s loudmouthery was in a private conversation (unlike, say, Jesse Jackson’s “hymietown” remark which was made to a black reporter he just assumed he could speak freely to without being exposed). Mel Gibson’s damning remarks were made during a drunken rant. The Reverend Billy Graham, pretty much a moral hero and a great champion of religious tolerance in public life, said some awful things about Jews in a recorded conversation with Richard Nixon. Anthony Weiner, neither a hero nor a champion of much other than his own interests, never said anything bigoted, but he sent lewd pictures of himself to young women who were not his wife. Tiger Woods . . . well, you remember all that.

I’m reminded of a wonderful op-ed the (wonderful) late Leonard Garment wrote in 1999 as then-new transcripts of Richard Nixon’s taped conversations were being released. Garment recounted how Nixon appointed numerous Jews in his administration and then concluded:

Thus we must face the Nixon Paradox. His anti-Semitic outbursts in the private conversations found virtually no correspondence in his speech or actions outside those explosions.

At this point in our politics we should find this juxtaposition less implausible than we once might have. President Clinton was impeached, partly for reasons having to do with the administration of justice, but largely because of his private actions. Yet the country, with unmistakable clarity, declared that his private failings were not to determine our judgment of his public character.

Those who consider this verdict reasonable should consider how much more forcefully its logic applies to the private conversations of public persons. The best expression I have found of this logic comes from Milan Kundera, the Czech novelist whose country under Communism learned some lessons about the consequences of trampling the distinction between public and private.

”In private,” Mr. Kundera wrote in an essay, ”a person says all sorts of things, slurs friends, uses coarse language . . . makes a companion laugh by shocking him with outrageous talk, floats heretical ideas he’d never admit in public.”

Mr. Kundera argues that this difference is not a mere curiosity but a fundamental fact: ”That we act different in private than in public is everyone’s most conspicuous experience, it is the very ground of the life of the individual. Yet curiously this obvious fact remains unconscious, unacknowledged . . . ”

Mr. Kundera worries about this obliviousness, as we should, because an understanding of the distinction between public and private speech is indispensable to a decent politics — one built upon respect for individual privacy, a fundamental ingredient of freedom. What is on the Nixon tapes is undeniably ugly. It is for us to decide, however, what effect this private talk should have on our evaluation of Nixon’s public life.

It says something about Sterling that you cannot offer the same defense of him. There is far more congruity between the public and private Sterlings than the public and private Nixons. Similarly, it’s interesting and even significant to note that Lyndon Johnson said some terrible things about blacks, but they hardly have any weight on the scales when put alongside his efforts to pass the Civil Rights Act.

One last point. A common expression goes something like “character is what you do when no one is watching,” though I always preferred “character is what you do when only God is watching.” Neither aphorism is entirely fitting since all of these instances involved at least one other person. But it’s worth noting and pondering the fact that in an era of ubiquitous cell-phone cameras, recording devices, big data trawling, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter etc. the realm of what is truly private is shrinking by the hour and will likely continue to shrink in one way or another for the rest of our lives. Character may remain what we do when we think no one is watching — or listening or taking notes — but the likelihood no one is watching is increasingly remote. What that means for decent politics is anyone’s guess.

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Brandeis University Hates Black People

From Jay Nordlinger:

If we were like the Left, we would say that Brandeis revoked Hirsi Ali’s honorary degree because they hate black people. Especially black women.

See how nice it is to be on the left? Everything is black and white (so to speak).

Let’s keep going. Why have faculty at Rutgers and Minnesota reacted angrily to speaking invitations to Condoleezza Rice? They hate black women!

Ah, life on the left. Easy.

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Incumbent Protection Act

From Thomas Sowell:

The recent Supreme Court decision over-ruling some Federal Election Commission restrictions on political campaign contributions has provoked angry reactions on the left. That is what often happens whenever the High Court rules that the First Amendment means what it says — free speech for everybody.

When the Supreme Court declared in 2010 that both unions and corporations had a right to buy political ads, that was considered outrageous by the left. President Obama called the decision “devastating” and said it “will open the floodgates for special interests.”

Those unfamiliar with political rhetoric may not know that “special interests” mean people who support your opponents. One’s own organized supporters — such as labor unions supporting President Obama — are never called “special interests.”

All politicians are against “special interests,” by definition. They all want their own supporters to have the right to free speech, but not those individuals and groups so benighted as to support their opponents.

Even in an age of polarization and gridlock, the one area in which it is easy to get bipartisan support in Congress is in passing campaign finance laws, restricting how much money can be spent publicizing political candidates. What Congressional Democrats and Republicans have in common is that they are all incumbents, and they all want to keep their jobs.

Publicity is necessary to win elections, and incumbents get millions of dollars’ worth of free publicity from the media. Incumbents can all pontificate in Congress and be covered by C-SPAN. They can get interviewed on network television, have their pictures in the newspapers, and send out mail to their constituents back home — and none of this costs them a dime.

Congressional staffs, paid by the taxpayers, are supposed to help members of Congress with the burdens of their office, but a major part of their staff’s work is to help get them re-elected.

That’s not just during campaign years. Everything members of Congress do is done with an eye toward re-election.

Any outsider who wants to challenge an incumbent at the next Congressional election has to pay hard cash to buy ads and arrange other forms of publicity, in order just to get some comparable amount of name-recognition, so as to have any serious chance of winning an election against an incumbent.

Few people have the kind of money it takes for such a campaign, so they have to raise money — in the millions of dollars — to pay for what incumbents get free of charge.

Campaign finance laws that restrict who can contribute how much money, who can run political ads, etc., are all restrictions on political challengers who have to buy their own publicity.

If truth-in-packaging laws applied to Congress, a campaign finance law would have to be labeled an “Incumbents Protection Act.”

The very high rate of incumbent re-elections, even while polls show the public disgusted with Congress in general, shows how well incumbents are protected.

The media are accessories to this scam. So long as the information and opinions that reach the public are selected by mainstream media people, whom polls show to be overwhelmingly on the left, the left’s view of the world prevails.

Hence the great alarm in the media, and in equally one-sided academia, over the emergence of conservative talk radio programs and the Fox News Channel on television.

No longer can the three big broadcast television networks determine what the public will and will not see, nor two or three leading newspapers determine what is and is not news. Nobody wants to give up that kind of power.

When businesses that are demonized in the mainstream media, and in academia, can buy ads to present their side of the story, that is regarded in both the media and academia as distortion. At the very least, it can cost the left their self-awarded halo.

It is fascinating to see how some people — in both politics and the media — can depict their own narrow self-interest as a holy crusade for the greater good of society. The ability of the human mind to rationalize is one of the wonders of the world.

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Number One

From VDH:

There is a pastime among liberal pundits — the latest is Nicholas Kristof — to quote a new center left global ranking (with unbiased titles such as “The Social Progress Imperative”) and then to decry that the United States is behind its major industrial competitors in things like “Internet Access” and “Ecosystem sustainability.” The subtext of these rants is that an illiberal, reactionary U.S. does not spend enough on government entitlements to promote parity, equality and social justice among its citizenry. These pessimistic rankings increase the angst about the American condition when viewed from scowling perches in Washington or New York.

Not surprisingly, the winners in these periodic gloomy assessments are usually smaller or intermediate quasi-socialist nations, with mostly homogeneous ethnic and religious populations (e.g., Switzerland, New Zealand, Iceland, Denmark, etc.). And the result is that Americans are scolded to tone down their pride at being exceptional and to begin to emulate such supposedly more livable societies.

Yet I suppose that if you were to assess, say, the mostly 5.6 million homogenously well off Californians, who lived within 10 miles of the coast, from San Diego to Berkeley, they would compare quite nicely with Denmark. Or for that matter, should the Danish system be applied to 300 million in Eastern Europe and the Balkans, I also think that they would sink a bit in terms of social progress.

The criteria by which America is to be judged are often both biased and historically ignorant. Why not rank the United States in comparison with other similarly huge countries that span three time zones, and include in their enormous populations radically different ethnic and religious groups?

How about comparing America to countries that, like the U.S., have vast territories and diverse populations over 200 million — China, India, Indonesia, and Brazil? How would such nations stack up to the U.S, in terms of corruption, health care, pollution, freedom of the individual, treatment of women and gays, religious tolerance, or other criteria of “social progress?” Is there a global assessment of coups and revolutions per nation, or contrarily the longest sustained democracy?

Most such rankings rely on statistics that rarely weigh in factors that non-elites take for granted as part of the good life. How about the number of cars a family household on average owns, the relative percentage of the household budget spent on food, the price of gas that allows them mobility, the average square footage of living space, or the number of electronic appurtenances that make life easier and enjoyable, such as microwaves or televisions? In all such categories, the United States ranks at or among the top nations in the world. I suppose those in Manhattan or at Harvard would not interpret the fact that a poor Mexican illegal immigrant can buy a used Yukon relatively cheaply and fuel it with $3.50 gallon gasoline as progress. But in terms of global assessment, he still has a safer, roomier, and cheaper automobile experience than the French or Italian driver of a tiny European Fiat that requires $9 a gallon fuel.

Nor do such pessimistic assessments consider intangibles such as global politics. Globalization itself is a product of U.S. innovation and technology and the U.S. military. The latter not only subsidizes the safety of the European Union and many of China’s immediate neighbors, but also generally has kept the Western world safe and the global sea-lanes and methods of commerce and communication free from disruption. That was not cheap, which is why the European Union, for all its advocacy, does not attempt it. If Russia goes into Estonia, it will not be the Dutch or Danish army that is called upon to ask Putin to leave.

The U.S. not only created the landscape that allowed, for example, a South Korea, Japan, or Germany to thrive over the last 70 years without substantial military investments, but presently allows such countries — among them also Australia, Canada, Taiwan, and much of Europe itself — not to worry about developing a nuclear deterrent and the costly and risky politics which that entails. Should we retreat from the world stage, in the next twenty years, then we might appreciate differences in the “social progress index” of a Japan, South Korea, or Taiwan, or for that matter a Germany or Iceland that will have to vastly increase defense expenditures to survive.

Homogenous South Korean eighth graders may test higher in math than do Americans, but then again Americans are not looking up to the skies to see whether a North Korean artillery shell or gas-laden missile is on its way down. Is there a global “security anxiety” index? Nor are there thousands of South Koreans posted on our shores to protect us from belligerent neighbors.

Speaking of social progress, the United States lets in the largest number of legal and illegal immigrants in the world. Currently 45 million or more residents were not born in the U.S. — a number four times larger than any other nation. Ethnic, religious, and cultural homogeneity promotes some of the values (such as Internet access) that social progress indices usually value.

Yet in my hometown, which has been overwhelmed by illegal immigration over the last two decades, I can see why recent arrivals from Oaxaca have some difficulty in getting online free at the local Starbucks. The problem is not that they do not have cell phones with Internet service or that Starbucks and other franchises don’t offer free Internet services, but that the language, past experience, and culture of central Mexico are not quite the same as those in the United States. Speaking Mixtecan languages and not being able to read Spanish in an English-speaking country makes it hard to surf the net.

One reason why the U.S. is volatile, influential, dynamic, and by far the most culturally influential society in the world are the number and variety of its legal immigrants. No one wants to move to Russia. Switzerland does not want any new immigrants. France and Germany don’t quite know what to do with those already residing in their countries. China and Japan could never consider an African, Swedish, or Mexican immigrant fully Chinese or Japanese. The Arab World would not let in Jews and in many places is driving out Christians. Building a large new Church anywhere in the Islamic world is for all practical purposes now impossible.

In short, people vote with their feet, and by huge margins prefer the greater freedom, economic opportunity, and security of the U.S., not to mention its meritocracy that assesses talent far less than elsewhere on class, racial, tribal, or religious criteria. Because the U.S., also unlike other countries, strangely does not value that much education, capital, or skills in assessing potential immigrants (family ties and the fact of reaching U.S. soil being the more influential criteria), and because it hosts somewhere between 11 and 20 million illegal immigrants, it naturally has ongoing challenges to provide near instant parity to millions who arrive here poor, uneducated, and without money.

To suggest that we are at fault because our healthcare or primary education system is somehow not up to Danish or Icelandic standard is laughable, when 13% of the present population is foreign born — and probably far more had we accurate numbers of illegal aliens currently residing in the American southwest. The source of immigration makes assimilation also more difficult. Switzerland became culturally and psychologically incapable of accepting more immigrants, despite the fact that they are largely from elsewhere in Europe. In contrast, most of the current immigrants to the U.S. arrive from an impoverished Mexico and Latin America, not Canada, and thus come with far greater disparities than other North American citizens.

Assessments can be rigged anyway that one wishes — if the point is to advance preconceived and ideological aims. The relative price of food, fuel, and cars, or the number of air conditioners per capita, or the global rankings of universities, or comparative population growth, or the rate of and age at marriage, the ability to defend one’s nation without alliances and outside subsidies, or religious observance, or rubrics about assimilation, integration, and intermarriage of newcomers could all be massaged to make Europe look quite pathological in terms of aristocratic bias, class impediments, ossified attitudes from defense to entrepreneurship, atheism, and the loss of freedom resulting from massive regulations and high taxes.

In short, if you want to prove that the U.S. is not number one, you can — usually to reflect the particular agenda you wish to advance.

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