Friday
May172019

Thinking with Your Heart vs. Your Pocketbook

This week has seen a number policies debated, three of which represent extremely important issues affecting Californians and, in some cases the whole nation. First there is President Trump’s proposal to end family and diversity based immigration in favor of employment based, with green cards awarded on the basis of a point system based on work skills, education, a job offer, English proficiency and the ability to pass a U.S. civics exam. The idea is that our country should be allowing in immigrants who will help our economy by being employed at substantial wages, paying taxes and filling vacant slots in our tech industries. Approximately four million people who are currently on waiting lists for green cards because of family ties would lose their places and have to reapply based on their requisite job skills and other proficiencies.

The second policy issue is one that has arisen in California and involves eligibility for MediCal (California’s version of Medicaid) for undocumented immigrants. In 2016, undocumented children in low-income families in California became eligible for MediCal until they turned 18 (five other states have similar policies). Governor Gavin Newsom has proposed expanding that age to 26. Other proposals have suggested adding elderly undocumented adults and even gradually raising the age for poor undocumented children so that eventually all undocumented immigrants below a certain level of income were covered. Newsom claims the California budget has enough surplus to fund his proposal, but probably not the others.

The third policy issue, again a California one, involves a proposed state law overriding local zoning restrictions so that high rise apartments and condominiums could be built in areas zoned for lower storied buildings or expanding the number of single family homes allowed on a plot of land are near transit routes. The aim of the bill was to increase housing in order to bring escalating housing costs in the state, particularly in cities and their suburbs, down. The bill failed for a second straight year.

What all three of these policy proposals have in common is that they seem to pit those who want to take care of the least well off of our citizen and non-citizen residents against those who are concerned about their tax burdens or their middle to upper class quality of life. 

The facts are that, in California, millions of undocumented immigrants go without health insurance. A large proportion of our legal immigrants are family members of U.S. citizens and entered into this country, legally, on the basis of that family relationship, and many California families are anxiously awaiting for a brother or sister, a parent, or an adult child to make it through the long and involved wait to gain entry to the U.S. California’s housing costs are among the highest in the nation, with a median home price two and a half times the national average and over half of renters paying more than a third of their monthly income to cover rent.

Those who suffer from the current situation are those with low incomes—the poor and the lower half of the middle class. The plain truth is that if these people are going to have their burden eased, it will be by those more fortunate giving something up: taxes to pay for public health insurance for those who don’t have it, or their pristine neighborhood of well-spaced single family houses devoid of apartment buildings or high rises. 

Soft-hearted people tend to favor such programs while those who believe that they've earned everything they have and they should not have to give part of it up for those who haven’t done the same, oppose the programs.

There are of course limits on what a country or state or city can do in terms of how far its means will stretch. But those means are dependent upon income derived through taxes and if people paid more taxes, then the government would have greater means. Since taxing the lower middle class or the poor would defeat the idea of helping them, that means taxing the well-to-do and rich at higher rates. In terms of immigration, we have to decide whether immigration is a tool for growing our national prosperity or a means of providing haven for the poor and allowing families to be reunited. Those who provide services in our restaurants, hotels, our homes and our commercial buildings or make low wages at McDonalds, Walmart, doing landscaping, or working in virtually any restaurant you can think of, need to have a place to live, and, if their families and their children are to move up the socioeconomic ladder, the more often they live in an adequate, safe residence, the more likely they are to move up.

Illegal immigration needs to be controlled, but those illegal immigrants who are residing in our country, working in our yards, sending their kids to our kids schools, and getting sick and injured along with rest of us, need to enjoy enough public benefits to insure the safety and health of their lives. It’s fine to have some aims for our immigration system beyond uniting families and taking in refugees. But completely abandoning those goals in favor of ones that are aimed solely at improving the economic outlook of the country, ignores the human purpose of immigration inscribed on the statue of liberty: “give me your tired, your poor…” I don’t want America to become so stratified in terms of wealth that it resembles a feudal nation where the rich live opulent lives of extravagance and ease in beautiful green and spacious neighborhoods while the majority lives in crowded, unhealthy, unsafe garages and deteriorating apartments.

I favor more thinking with our hearts than our pocketbooks and that means me and most of those reading this giving up some of what we have so that others, less fortunate, can have more.

Thursday
May162019

On Iran: Here We Go Again

The U.S. is considering sending 120,000 troops to the Middle East; we have already ordered an aircraft carrier and warplanes to the area. American personnel have been evacuated from our embassy in Iraq. All of these moves signal that the U.S. is either preparing for an attack on our forces by Iran or preparing to launch an attack of its own.

National Security Advisor, John Bolton, and Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, have both claimed that recent intelligence data, recently revealed as photographs of Iranian Revolutionary Guards loading missiles onto Iranian fishing vessels, is evidence of Iran preparing to attack either commercial or U.S. military vessels in the Persian Gulf. They also claimed to have intercepted messages urging Iranian-backed Arab militias in Iraq to attack American troops.

President Trump has demonized Iran since the beginning of his presidency. He fulfilled a campaign pledge by withdrawing the U.S. from the nuclear agreement with Iran, although other European countries, the U.K, China and Russia remain in the agreement and the EU has worked to oppose U.S. sanctions that were resumed after the Trump pulled out of the deal. John Bolton is a notorious hawk when it comes to Iran, and he appears to be instrumental in recent decisions. British, European and even Iraqi officials disagree with the U.S. on whether recent actions by Iran signal an increased threat.

Iran may or may not be increasing its preparedness for war with the U.S., but, if they are, that may well be because they are wary of U.S. intentions, which have gotten increasingly hostile toward their country under President Trump. Outside of the Trump administration and some U.S. congressmen, almost no Middle East experts believe that Iran will attack the United States, since that would be a no-win situation for Iran. The U.S. is much more powerful militarily than Iran is. 

We’ve been down this road before with Iraq. In that instance, our intelligence was flawed and misinterpreted, our military strategy brought immediate victory but long-term disaster as the problem of occupying and pacifying a hostile country led to further insurgencies, the build up of terrorist forces such as al Qaeda in Iraq and ISIS, and sectarian civil war between Sunni and Shia Muslims. The situation in Iraq is still volatile and unsettled. 

War is seldom the answer to a political disagreement. Look at Afghanistan. It is the longest-running war in U.S. history and it is far from settled. Every year the situation in Afghanistan worsens. If we finally settle the war it appears as if it will require giving the Taliban, whom we saw as the enemy, a role in the country’s government, which they were running when we first became involved. 18 years of warfare to get us back to where we started.

A war with Iran is a dead end. It may not be winnable by Iran, but it is not winnable by the United States either, since there is the always nagging question of what to do after the fighting stops (assuming it does). The Iranian government is not stupid or suicidal. If it’s stepping up its military preparedness, that’s because it feels threatened by U.S. actions and rhetoric. The Iranian people don't want war. Most of the population outside of the government are friendly to Americans, although they hate our government and its actions and the only thing that will rally them against the U.S. is if we push them into warfare.

We need to learn from our mistakes in the Middle East and follow a sane policy with regard to Iran. John Bolton and Mike Pompeo have advocated for “regime change” as our long-term goal. Who runs Iran is the business of Iranians, not of the United States. We advocated for regime change in Syria and look where that got us: a devastated country, ISIS controlled areas, millions of refugees, increased influence of Iran and Russia on the country, and its leader, Assad, still in power.

Haven’t we learned anything yet? 

Monday
Apr292019

The End of Hate

Written in response to another deadly synagogue shooting only days ago.

I first began leading my peers when I was elected student body president in elementary school. In the following years, I held several more school offices before I went off to college. In graduate school I was the president of the psychology graduate student organization at my university. As a psychologist in public service I was a department head and a manager of several large programs. When I taught at the university, I became Dean of my school. I have had lots of experience seeing what works and what doesn’t work in organizing people to get things done. Anger has never been the driving force behind any positive changes in the environments in which I worked.

When I look at our current society, I see mostly outrage, anger and self-righteous demands as the tenor of our social and political systems. Politicians compete for who can denounce his or her opponent most vociferously, and their critics focus on statements and faux pas for which they must apologize. Cooperation with opponents is seen as traitorous, and compromise as weakness. In the society at large, the internet is filled with trolls and the online conversations of ordinary people are filled with anger, debasement, name-calling and even threats. Every several weeks we experience another hate-filled individual taking up arms to wreak death and harm to those he or she has become convinced are evil or have to pay for some imagined misbehavior. When people take to the streets, many peaceful demonstrations turn violent, with attacks on opposing protesters or destruction of cars and buildings. 

Our public opinion leaders either locally or nationally appear to encourage anger and noncompromise as the honorable way to approach problems. Since the days of Barack Obama we have seen our congress and our presidents work without the cooperation of the opposing party’s members. Whoever is in the majority rams through their own agenda and holds hearings investigating the leaders of the opposition. When congress becomes deadlocked and impotent, as it has been for years, the president (both Obama and Trump) enact policies through presidential directives, policies that have been and in the future will be reversed with that president’s successor.

In a society in which many different ideas, beliefs and backgrounds are represented, the only way to move the society forward on a constructive path is by people with different opinions working together to achieve shared outcomes. Leaders, if they want our society to grow and prosper, must realize this and work toward solving problems and making progress, instead of toward their side winning and the other side losing. Leaders need to be acutely aware of the depth of fear, anger, suspicion, and prejudice in their and others’ constituents and the destructiveness of holding those attitudes and particularly of fueling them with their own rhetoric. Distrust and hatred of one’s fellow citizens has become a national epidemic, which has resulted in mass shootings, bombings, assaults and a growing sense of fear of one’s neighbors. Anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim acts of violence as well as the daily discrimination against members of racial and sexual-orientation minorities are poisonous and tragic daily aspects of our society that are based upon fear, hatred, prejudice and ignorance. Leaders need to address these issues as major societal problems. 

I’m tired of the tenor of hate that characterizes our society. I can’t see how we can address real issues in an attempt to improve our country if we focus on hate and anger instead of inclusion, trust, hope, and progress. Citizens at every level need to stop stoking the fires of hate and to understand their own role in preventing the kind of cooperative efforts needed to achieve the ends we probably all want. I hope this happens, but I don’t see evidence of it right now.

Casey Dorman, editor

Friday
Apr262019

Give Joe a Chance

I haven’t paid much attention to Joe Biden’s presidential ambitions. This is mostly because he’s not a source for new ideas, bold transformations of society, or a break from politics as usual. How can he be? He’s been a U.S. Senator for 36 years, a Vice President for two terms, and he’s my age, 76 years old. Well maybe his age doesn’t matter. Look at Bernie Sanders; he’s full of new ideas. But now Joe Biden has announced his candidacy for president, and an op-ed piece in the New York Times by David Brooks has made me give Biden more serious consideration.

David Brooks is a conservative columnist, or least he used to be, but he is intelligent and rational and I always pay attention to what he says. He has a tendency to go off on emotional tangents, which represent his longing for community, morals, and people caring for one another. It was those aspects of Joe Biden’s life that Brooks emphasized in his column. He ended his article by saying the following:

“Here is what is subtly different about Biden. He’s not an individualist. He is a member. He belongs to his family; his hometown, Scranton; his Democratic Party; his Senate; his nation, and is inexplicable without those roots. He used the word “we” 16 times in his short video announcing his candidacy.

Some candidates will run promising transformational change. Biden offers a restoration of the values that bind us as a collective.”

As I read these words about Biden, I realized that, although we have a surfeit of urgent problems confronting our nation—climate change, income inequality, a dysfunctional healthcare system, a dysfunctional immigration system, racism in our criminal justice system, eroding international standing, gun violence, and persistent bias and discrimination across the society based on race, gender and sexual orientation—it isn’t the presence of these problems that defines the gravest issue of our times, it is our inability to fix them or even to mount a credible attempt to fix them. 

The most serious problem in our country is the inability of our citizens and the politicians who represent them to share a common vision of what our country should be and to work together to achieve that. We are stuck in an “Us vs. Them” mentality in which self-righteous anger and suspicion about each other are the dominant attitudes among our people. Morality is being defined as the willingness to attack those we oppose, whether it is progressives who want to expose bigotry or greed or to impeach our president, or right-wingers who want to stem the advance of what they consider godless ideology such as acceptance of LBGT people, women’s rights to make a choice about abortion, or anti-capitalistic wealth redistribution.  Neither side talks to each other except to make accusations. Members of both camps watch, listen, and read their favorite partisan media sources, which reinforce their biases. People seem more concerned with asserting their position than with solving problems. And no problems get solved.

Joe Biden is an old-style liberal who values equality, fairness, and believes in the goodness of people and the strength of a united country. He is well-schooled in foreign policy and supports a leadership role for the United States in a coalition of Western and Democratic countries. He has been a leader in favoring gay rights (remember when he forced Obama’s hand by supporting gay marriage?), and racial equality.  He is often visibly distressed by discord that stops the country from acting and he can become angry at bigoted actions and views. Most of all, he wants America to return to a state where we all feel as if we’re fellow citizens, grappling with our problems together for a common, shared goal. That ambition is what is needed to cure our biggest problem, which is our inability to see the humanity in one another and to work together. 

Biden is part of our establishment political system and that system is woefully subservient to powerful moneyed interests, so much so, that the policies we continue to put forth from our government and its elected branches further cement income inequality and preservation of the rights of industry at the expense of the good of the people. Will Biden just further these establishment practices, which are the very ones that progressives such as Sanders and Warren are determined to end? I don’t know. But I’m willing to wait and watch and listen to the policies he makes central to his campaign.  In the meantime, his message of unity, of mutual respect, of elevating our country’s moral level and bringing us all together is hugely important, because without those things happening, no progressive is going to be able to reach any of his or her goals or turn our system around.  We have to stop hating each other before we can work together to solve anything. Biden may be able to bring us together so we can do that.

I may not end up voting for him, but I'm willing to listen and to learn. I’m willing to give Joe a chance.

Casey Dorman, Editor 

Saturday
Apr202019

I'm with Nancy

Democrats and Progressives are split on whether to use the findings of the Mueller Report to pursue impeachment proceedings against the president. There are certainly enough mentions of unethical and potentially illegal behavior (often thwarted by ineptitude or reluctance on the part of administration officials to obey President Trump’s orders) to warrant an attempt at impeachment. On the other hand, the eventual success of such a process, which is initiated in the House but finalized in the Senate, is slim to none. 

The Mueller Report contains material that is embarrassing to the president and reveals his disregard for ethics and the constitution. Most Americans are and will be only vaguely aware of this material unless congressional hearings focus upon it. What Nancy Pelosi is urging is that congress go ahead with such hearings and bring forth the words of the report and testimony from those people mentioned in it, and from Robert Mueller himself, and allow this information to become a news focus, which will undermine the president’s stature and credibility. She does not favor impeachment hearings and much prefers to let the voters decide how damaging the Mueller Report information is and demonstrate their opinions in the 2020 election. 

Nancy Pelosi is right. The Democrats control the House of Representatives and they need to use their time as the majority wisely in order to show that they are serious about addressing issues such as health care, the environment, poverty, election integrity, and the control of big business over our political policies. The hearings on the Mueller Report can be a sideshow, but they can’t be center stage or the Democrats will appear to be a party more concerned with vengeance, payback, and innuendo than with governing. 

If Mueller had found the president guilty of a crime, impeachment might be warranted. But Mueller stopped short of charging the president with breaking the law. We can make sure everyone knows about the content of the full Mueller Report and the unethical conduct of the president, but there’s no need to beat a dead horse and solidify a public perception of the Democratic Party as concerned with nothing but defeating Trump (as the Republicans were with Obama). Democrats need to move forward with showing how they intend to fix our country. Impeachment isn’t the way to do that. Constructive policy proposals are. 

Monday
Apr152019

We Can’t Let the Bigots Win!

We all must remember the Holocaust because of the tragedy that was thrust upon European Jews. But the lesson of the Holocaust is not just about the tragedy to a certain religious or ethnic group, it is about man’s capability of evil toward his fellow man and the danger of bigotry, prejudice, a herd mentality, and the cowardice of not objecting when all of these things destroy the lives of people around us. The Holocaust could not have happened if millions of ordinary citizens had not stood by and passively participated in or even actively supported it. Bigotry and prejudice and violence have plagued people of color who live among White people since the beginning of our nation and for much of human history. Jews have been targets of hate in nearly every European and Western nation for centuries. Muslims were labeled infidels by Christians and were the target of Crusades during the Middle Ages and are once again the target of Western prejudice and fear. Immigrants, especially immigrants with darker skin, have always suffered discrimination in the United States and are once again being demonized.

President Trump is leading a campaign to make anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim fear and hatred a centerpiece of his bid for reelection. His inflammatory speeches about the dangers of Mexican and Central American immigrants who are “criminals and rapists” are fanning flames of anger and fear among his followers and among those who obtain their world view from Fox News, which echoes and stokes the president’s angry language about the dangers of asylum seekers, refugees and illegal immigrants. 

Congresswoman Ilhan Omar from Minnesota has become President Trump’s latest Muslim target. His recent posting of a video of the 9/11 attacks, superimposed on Representative Omar’s remarks made at a rally, created a clear association between the Democratic representative and the Twin Towers terrorists and, by implication, any Muslim and the forces of terrorism. 

The president states opinions and makes insinuations that are on the fringes of mainstream fears. As they get echoed by his faithful press and supporters and he repeats them to cheering crowds, these opinions and insinuations become more mainstream and attract more and more followers, who are eager to pin the blame for their misfortunes and anxieties on concrete enemies toward whom they can direct their hate. 

Fearful and hateful prejudice, built upon more subtle but persistent stereotypes that lurk just below the surface in the consciousness of many Americans, can gain strength when it is repeated and when leaders, such as the president, encourage it by pointing their fingers at people who can serve to represent those fears. Human nature, as revealed not just by the events of the Holocaust and the Crusades, but by classic psychological experiments such as those by Stanley Milgram and Philip Zimbardo, is strongly susceptible to the tendency to vilify our neighbors and direct lethal aggression at them at the direction of authority figures. Most people go along with the crowd. Everyone feels he or she would resist such groupthink prejudicial behaviors, but, in reality, few do. The tendency to fasten upon differences between us, and use them as targets of our anger and aggression is one of our species’ most dangerous qualities.

Our president is leading the movement to base our politics on fear and prejudice directed at our fellow citizens and at immigrants and strangers. This is the same pattern of politics that ended in the Holocaust and we—every one of us—cannot put our heads in the sand and ignore it when it happens. We must stand up and object to every racial, anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant slander and meme that appears and especially combat it being used as a rallying cry to attract more of our fellow citizens to its insidious message of hatred. If we don’t, our moral character is in danger.

Tuesday
Mar262019

Stop the Kindergarten Fighting

For two years the politically-oriented America public awaited the Mueller Special Counsel Report on Russian interference in the 2016 election and the charge of collusion with Russia by the Trump campaign. On Sunday a summary of the report was delivered to congress. Robert Mueller found no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. On the question of the charge that Trump obstructed the investigation, the report was noncommittal and turned the evidence over to the Justice Department. Attorney General, William Barr and Assistant Attorney General Rod Rosenstein promptly declared that there was not enough evidence to justify a charge of obstruction.

Reactions to Attorney General Barr’s summary of the Mueller Report have been swift and partisan. Both sides are in agreement only on the issue of their mutual desire to release as much of the original report as possible. Otherwise, Democrats and left-leaning media pundits provided no admission that they had been laboring under a false assumption for two years and quickly jumped to the fact that Mueller did not “exonerate” Trump on obstruction, and they accused Barr and Rosenstein of burying the evidence in a partisan decision to dismiss the charges and demanded that all the evidence be made public. Social media anti-Trumpers continued to believe Trump colluded with Russia, accused Mueller of burying the evidence to avoid provoking a civil war within the country, and declared that obstruction by Trump was a fact. The president has reacted by claiming that some of those who demanded the investigation and pursued leads such as the Steele dossier were traitors and should be charged with treason. Some senate Republicans have demanded another special prosecutor investigation of the FBI and the Justice Department (and perhaps Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party) who instigated the investigation.

Robert Mueller and his team were the ultimate arbiters on the question of Trump’s collusion with Russia. They found enough suggestive evidence to justify a thorough investigation, and they found no evidence that collusion happened. No one else will have the tools or expertise to investigate this question as well as Mueller did. It should be regarded as settled. With regard to obstruction, the evidence was not decisive either way and Mueller handed the final decision on whether to prosecute a case to the Justice Department, where it should be. Yes, they are Trump appointees, but that’s the system. Their decision stands. 

The Mueller Report may have found much other information about the activities of President Trump and his associates. Some of that they have forwarded to other federal or state prosecutors. It’s not clear how much of what was found, but did not lead to an indictment, is included in the report Mueller gave to Barr. It might be useful to see it, but a line-by-line examination of the raw report, especially one that is designed to embarrass the president or search for grounds for impeachment, will only prolong the vituperative war of accusations that now characterizes our congress and our entire political scene. 

It’s time for both sides to move on. It’s time for the media to move on. Our country badly needs a functioning congress and we need to heal some of the gaping wounds that keep our citizens from feeling any sense of unity with one another. Further bludgeoning of the issues examined by Mueller and further sowing of suspicion and distrust of one another while demonizing the other political party and its supporters will only undermine our country. We have real issues to face—healthcare,  a drug epidemic, global warming, the rise of bigotry, immigration, Korea, Russia and China, world trade, Jihadist terrorism, etc. We need a functioning government and a focused and informed citizenry who can express coherent opinions on these issues.

Enough with the playground fighting.

Wednesday
Mar202019

We Need a More Civil Union as Much as We Need Better Policies

Political fervor is rising as we approach the early beginnings of the 2020 presidential race. Among Republicans, President Trump is a shoo-in as the candidate for re-election unless a major revelation from the Mueller investigation leads either to a successful impeachment or blanket disavowal by his fellow Republicans, neither of which is likely. On the Democratic side there are already at least ten candidates either officially or unofficially running for the nomination. The nation has less than a year and a half to come to decisions on its nominees.

Putting aside the Republican decision, which, as I said, is already made, barring some new major development, the question is what kind of candidate is most likely both to beat Donald Trump and to make our country better.  In terms of the first question, to beat Trump means to attract not just dyed-in-the-wool Democrats but also independents and disaffected Republicans who see Trump and the current party leaders as not representing their values. To answer the second question, to determine who could make our country better, means defining what needs to be fixed in our country and deciding who could best fix it.

In my opinion, the biggest problem our country faces at the moment is a cultural split between those for whom issues such as global warming,  racial, gender, and religious inclusion and justice, income disparity and the power of big money, and a humane approach to immigration and refugee issues are the most serious problems needing to be fixed, and those for whom a strong and proud America, working class jobs, religiously-based values, affirmation of old-style gender identifications and sexual orientations, and unfettered freedom for business interests to pursue their goals without government interference are the crucial issues that need attention. Both sides of this split have their own sources of news and opinions that they listen to, their own social media and friendship circles, and often live in geographically different communities. 

Most polls and surveys indicate that the majority of Americans don’t fall into the extremes of either of the poles of the cultural split that I’m talking about. Most Americans are somewhere in the middle, although they may become activists on one or another specific issue that is important for them. At a national political level, the need for our elected representatives to be responsive to the extremists in their respective bases has led both houses of our congress to be ineffective. Instead of dealing with the real issues facing our country and coming up with bipartisan solutions, we usually get mutual backbiting and insults paired with ineffective or no legislation, leaving most decision making to the executive branch by way of presidential rulings. This was true under Barack Obama as well as under Donald Trump.

I align with one pole of the cultural split, and I believe that issues such as climate change, income inequality, racial injustice, the plight of the poor, homelessness, and the need for international cooperation to prevent more wars, are of paramount concern. But I also believe that to refuse to cooperate or compromise with those who disagree with me, to engage in demonization of those who differ in their values from me or who have made mistakes in their past, and to live in a society where one-half refuses to talk to, listen to, or engage in cooperation with the other half is a grave danger to our democratic society. It allows fear and hate-mongers on both sides to become the voices that preach the loudest. It allows violence to be used in the so-called pursuit of justice by both sides (who define justice differently). It allows adherence to the “party-line” to be more important than adherence to fact and broad humanitarian principles.

I would like to see a presidential candidate who agrees with my liberal values and has the skills and personality to be able to turn those values into policies. But I don’t want that person to represent only the extreme of one half of Americans. I want to see a candidate who can truly heal our cultural divisions and get us to think as a nation again. I don’t believe that our government can enact legislation or policies that move us forward unless this cultural split is mended or at least lessened so that we all ending up agreeing on a shared vision of what our country is supposed to be.

Casey Dorman is the author of 2020, a political thriller, which can be found under Casey Dorman on Amazon

 

Wednesday
Mar062019

A Community's Response to Anti-Semitism

Two days ago my wife and I attended a Community Forum at Newport Harbor High School, in Newport Beach, the school that has recently attracted negative attention when photos surfaced of a off-school grounds weekend party where students from that school and two others played “Nazi beer pong,” which involved a Swastika symbol, and some gave a Nazi salute. The students also were reported to be drinking alcohol. The forum was convened in order to discuss the behavior at the student party. My wife and I attended the forum for two reasons: we live in Newport Beach and our niece goes to that high school (as did her older sister), and my grandson goes to another Newport Beach high school, and we wanted to show support for the Jewish community. The meeting was attended by the mayors of Newport Beach and Costa Mesa, the two cities from which the students at the party came, principals from each of the high schools involved, school board members, and representatives of the Jewish community, as well as student leaders.

We expected a small crowd and that the attendees at the meeting might include many who defended the students in the photo. Neither of those expectations proved true. The auditorium, which holds 500 people, was packed, with people standing along the sides and flowing out into the lobby. The crowd appeared 100% in support of the Jewish community and of the need to rid the city of the kind of hateful gesture that the students at the party made. There were standing ovations for student speakers, several of them Jewish students at Newport Harbor High School. There was a standing ovation for the two Holocaust survivors in the audience. 

The OC Register ran an article about the meeting that was headlined “Swastika sparks outrage—including from a Holocaust survivor—at meeting in Newport Beach.” The headline implied that the chief reaction to the incident was anger. That was not the case. The behavior was roundly condemned and every speaker, from the school principle, to a local Rabbi to the school student body president said that it did not represent “who we are.” The student speeches were particularly moving. Jewish students recounted incidents of anti-Semitic jokes and comments at their expense, and swastikas carved into desks and in lavatories. One Jewish student also brought up the social separation between Mexican-American and White students at the school and said that such behavior, based on prejudice, also “has to stop.” Another Jewish student, whose grandmother is a Holocaust survivor and was in the audience, gave a particularly impassioned and thoughtful commentary. He said the partygoers “should not be condemned or harassed,” because their behavior represented ignorance more than malice. Their behavior should be condemned however, and the students needed to learn how it hurt others. It brought back frightening memories for his grandmother.

There is anti-Semitism in Newport Beach, as there is nearly every place else in the U.S., The city is mostly White, very wealthy, and its students are privileged. I used to have a tutoring business and the students I tutored were mostly from Newport Beach high schools, including Newport Harbor High School. Yes, many of them felt entitled, and had little insight into the lives of others who weren’t like them. It is a situation in which all types of prejudice can take hold. But the schools themselves do a wonderful job of educating their students about racism, anti-Semitism, bullying, and the history of the Holocaust and the American Civil Rights Movement. Students read The Diary of Anne Frank and To Kill a Mockingbird and write essays about them. Obviously some students don’t get the message, and out of prejudice, ignorance, or just following along with the crowd, engage in anti-Semitic as well as other types of discriminatory behavior.

The community surprised and pleased me with its overwhelming response and its determination not to allow such anti-Semitic behavior to go unnoticed and uncorrected. Nine students who attended the party met with a Rabbi and issued an apology, after discussing the situation and the harm it caused with him. An equal number refused to do so, so not everyone was contrite or learned a lesson. It was a good learning experience for my 14-year-old niece, who spent her history class with the teacher leading a discussion of the Holocaust on Monday. Her other teachers also brought up the subject, and it led to a thorough discussion of Nazism, anti-Semitism, and the Holocaust at home between her and my wife and me.

The Newport Beach community and the school district, as well as each of the high schools that the students at the party attend immediately seized the incident to come together, highlight the harm such behavior can cause and develop more plans to continue to educate their students about anti-Semitism in particular and prejudice and hate in general. Another community forum at another Newport Beach high school is scheduled for tomorrow night and this weekend there will be an interfaith forum to discuss the incident in nearby Irvine. No one has let the incident slide. Everyone agreed that what begins as a racial or anti-Semitic joke can turn into a normalization of prejudiced behavior, which in turn leads to discrimination and hateful behavior. Nipping such behavior in the bud is necessary. 

The Newport Beach community’s response is a step in the right direction.

Thursday
Feb142019

The Green New Deal is a Good Deal

There is a lot of controversy about the Green New Deal proposed by Senator Edward Markey and Representative Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez. Is it the only answer for our country and perhaps our planet? Is it socialism in disguise? Is it affordable?

First of all, the Green New Deal is a nonbinding resolution in both houses of congress, so it is not a bill that commits anyone to anything. It is aspirational: a vision for the direction the country should take if we want to reduce greenhouse gases, rebuild our infrastructure in a way that doesn’t produce more environmental degradation, and solve several of the problems our economy has created for those with limited means. It is both Green, in the sense of aiming to stem global warming, and a New Deal, in proposing to use government interventions to solve problems associated with healthcare, housing, education and infrastructure that plague many citizens of our country, particularly those with lower incomes. 

The Green New Deal asks for a ten-year “national Green New Deal mobilization” to achieve its goals and projects. That’s where the “by 2030” wording has come in when the resolution is analyzed by critics, although such a phrase does not occur in the actual proposal. Some of its goals are phrased in terms that imply total achievement, e.g., “meeting 100 percent of the power demand in the United States through clean, renewable, zero-emissions energy sources.” Many goals are phrased more tentatively by employing the wording, “as much as is technologically feasible” or saying “working to ensure,” rather than “achieve” some of the goals. The Green New Deal is a blueprint for a direction to follow, not a mandate for accomplishments.

The resolution does mix some provisions into its goals that are favorites of the left, but not the right, such as creating “high quality union jobs” and protecting unionization and collective bargaining, or obtaining “the consent of indigenous people for all decisions that affect indigenous people and their traditional territories.” The latter reflects some of the issues that surfaced at Standing Rock Indian Reservation with the Dakota Access Pipeline. Healthcare for everyone, a sustainable income, and “retirement security” for everyone, and "providing resources, training, and high-quality education, including higher education, to all people of the United States,” which may or may not mean free higher education, depending upon one’s interpretation, are mainstream progressive goals. There is a paragraph that refers to "providing and leveraging, in a way that ensures that the public receives appropriate ownership stakes and returns on investment,” which many have interpreted as meaning increasing at least partial public ownership of industries involved in achieving the goals of the Deal, but could mean payback on government investments, such as Obama achieved with the auto and banking industries federal bailout loans.

The majority of the goals in the Green New Deal reflect what scientists and experts have said are necessary if we are to avert a climate disaster, and protect our most vulnerable citizens from the disasters that are already happening. They are not revolutionary in terms of ideas, but it would be revolutionary to actually try to achieve them by the time most climate scientists say we need to. Unfortunately, our political processes and our private industry, left to its own goals and priorities, have almost no chance of halting or even reducing the march of climate change unless goals such as those included in the Green New Deal are taken seriously and given shorter timelines. Government leadership is necessary for this to occur. The first step is to agree on the goals, which is what the Green New Deal tries to do. 

I hope that congress affirms the resolution.

Wednesday
Feb132019

Don't Blow the Next Election

A common mantra of Democrats and liberals is that Donald Trump’s policies and messages have been directed almost exclusively toward his base, and that that base has remained loyal, but not grown during his presidency. Because of this, the president’s support during the next election will be small, and he will be defeated. This reasoning was proven wrong in the 2016 election, where choosing a vulnerable and divisive candidate undermined Democratic solidarity against Trump, but it’s not clear that Democrats learned a lesson from that experience. None of the present candidates or potential candidates is particularly divisive, although Elizabeth Warren verges on being so, mostly because she has become a target of the president and the conservative media, who have tried to demonize and make fun of her, somewhat as they did to Hillary Clinton (more demonizing than making fun in Hillary’s case).

Between now and the 2020 election, it is the Democratic message that has the potential to be divisive, more so than any particular candidate. In the belief that it is necessary to play to a more extreme electorate during the primary election, potential Democratic presidential candidates are told that they can ignore their need not to alienate the vast (bigger than either base), number of independent voters who will swing the general election results one way or another.

NYT columnist Thomas Edsall recently cited a study by four academic scholars that found “that primary voters are similar to rank and file voters in their party” so that “the composition of primary electorates does not exert a polarizing effect above what might arise from voters in the party as a whole,” countering the perceived wisdom that primary voters are more extreme and the candidate must cater to them to win the nomination. However, there are vocal leaders within both the progressive and centrist divisions of the Democratic Party who loudly proclaim otherwise and warn candidates that either a too lukewarm or too extreme position will alienate primary voters.

Another finding, cited by Edsall, is that what the conservative media calls extreme progressive ideas, are in fact mainstream, both in the Democratic Party and among the larger electorate. The 2016 Cooperative Congressional Election Study produced data indicating that the following so-called progressive policies were favored by an overwhelming majority of Democrats and also by a majority of the electorate at large (voters in a general election): legal status to immigrants, requirements for using at least a minimum amount of renewable energy, a ban on assault rifles, a ban on mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent offenders, raising the minimum wage to $12 per hour. Other research, such as a 2018 Pew survey, found that the majority of Americans (60%) feel that healthcare is the government’s responsibility, although only 31% favor a single national government program, while 25% favor a mix of government and private programs (4% don’t know). Even among Democrats and Democrat-leaning respondents, only 49% favored a single national government program. A 2018 Reuters survey found that 70% of Americans supported Medicare for All, although subsequent studies have found that many people mean different things for this concept (not all see it as eliminating private insurers, some see it as a public option). Free public college and university tuition gets mixed results, although among self-professed liberals and progressives, it is very popular. The general population is more skeptical, mostly with regard to the cost of such a program, but everyone is sympathetic to ways to reduce college costs and the debilitating effects of expensive college loans. With regard to increasing taxes on the wealthy and on corporations, a 2017 Gallup poll found that 63% of Americans thought the wealthy paid too little tax and 67% thought that corporations did also. In contrast, 48% thought lower income people paid too much in taxes, while only 14% thought they paid too little.

Although there is broad support for progressive policies among the general electorate and even more so within Democratic Party voters, it is how such ideas are labeled that causes the problem. President Trump has zeroed in on “socialism” as a threat to the country. In his State of the Union message, he described it as  “government coercion, domination, and control” and the enemy of “liberty and independence.” He vowed that “America will never be a socialist country.” For decades, the label “liberal” was treated as an epithet by the right and by many centrists in both parties. Now liberal is denigrated as too middle-of-the-road by progressives, and “socialist” is a label embraced by many. It’s a confusing label, which people such as Bernie Sanders and Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez (at least some of the time) mean to signify support of more wealth redistribution through a steeper progressive income tax system and a wider social safety net, which includes healthcare, college education, and government intervention to combat global warming, but not government takeover of private industries (except, perhaps, health insurance). Their socialism is modeled on the Nordic countries of Iceland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland, which are usually described as “Social Democracies,” and have systems that are thoroughly capitalistic, but have comprehensive government-funded social welfare programs covering health, education, and unemployment, supported by progressive tax systems. Some other European countries, such as Germany, France, Ireland, the Netherlands, and the UK, have many components of such programs.

Unfortunately, strident progressive voices, some who favor more traditional socialism or a model labeled “Democratic Socialism,” such as in countries such as Venezuela and Brazil, often push for candidates to embrace this model, which curtails private industry in favor of government-administered businesses, something which scares the majority of the American population, especially after watching Venezuela implode in recent years. Other voices have assumed a role of watchdogs over political correctness, searching out candidates’ histories and public statements for evidence of racism, misogyny, or sexual orientation bias, resulting in public figures issuing more apologies than they do policy statements.

Most Americans support policies that will move the country toward greater wealth redistribution through higher taxes on the wealthy, greater government intervention in healthcare and funding of higher education, regulation that protects the environment, greater emphasis on integration of immigrants into our society (even those who may be undocumented), and less onerous treatment of people, especially people of color, in the criminal justice system. Most want to limit the role of money and corporations on our elections and policy-making. Most are tired of treating every politician’s statement as a potential “gotcha” moment. These can be seen as progressive ideas, but they characterize most citizens of our country. Some people want more and their aims and their voices are legitimate, but it’s important that strident voices neither scare away more moderate supporters nor push large numbers of progressive supporters to view both parties as the same, all candidates as the same, and the system as so corrupt and rigged as to not make voting for one of the major candidates worthwhile. What we have now is worse than what might have been and we can do better.

 

 

 

Monday
Jan282019

Has Assimilation Become a Dirty Word?

Tom Brokaw just got into trouble with his comments on Meet the Press that Hispanics in America need to work harder at assimilation and “make sure that all their kids are learning to speak English.”  He was called a “white supremacist;” his words were labeled a “racist rant” and “reprehensible” and an example of “xenophobia in action.”  Some critics claimed that he was ignorant about the degree to which "Latinos absolutely assimilate,” while others claimed that assimilation means "denying one culture for another." Brokaw was quick to apologize for his words.

The media furor over a prominent figure’s use of language that some people found offensive is par for the course in today’s society, where misspeaking and apologies proliferate and navigating what is permissible to say is like walking across a minefield. One media commentator excused Brokaw because “he's probably not up to speed as to where things are today,” presumably because of his age and the generation he represents.

Truth be told, not only Brokaw’s words, but also his critics’ responses represent an unfortunate side of what our media and political spokespeople present us with every day, which is a knee-jerk reaction to trigger words and little knowledge about or motivation to understand the deeper issues related to a subject. “Assimilation” has become one of those trigger words, which evokes totally opposite reactions depending upon to which end of the political spectrum one belongs.  Some conservative pundits were as quick to defend Brokaw’ s words as other commentators were to attack them.

Assimilation needs to be understood, not just attacked or defended. I have discussed this topic before and it’s worthwhile to borrow from my analysis of the subject. Most people still consider assimilation to mean replacing one’s native language with the language of the dominant culture, becoming better educated, increasing income, learning the cultural ways of the dominant culture and moving from ethnic/national enclaves into the broader society. This was the pattern of acculturation that characterized Europeans who came to the United States in the past. But in 1993, Portes and Zhou proposed “segmented immigration theory,” which suggested that new immigrants may take many different paths to assimilation, often to a subculture within the country, rather than explicitly to the dominant culture. Segmented immigration leads to at least three possible outcomes: The first fits the traditional model, in which both the immigrant and his or her descendants begin to use the dominant language, become better educated, move toward the middle class, and completely integrate with the dominant society (which remains European-based, English-speaking). The second pathway is acculturation to a, usually urban, economically challenged subculture where their native language (if not English) is spoken as often as English, educational attainment has a low value, and use of government social safety net programs proliferates. In such subcultures, gang and drug activity may or may not be prominent. A third alternative is acculturation to a economically successful subculture in which education has a high value, traditional language and traditions are valued and maintained, but succeeding generations become English proficient, well-educated, and financially well-off. Members of the succeeding generations may or may not move from the ethnic enclave into the mainstream society in terms of residence, but nearly always do so in terms of work. Each of these pathways is considered a variety of assimilation. 

Studies of Vietnamese, Korean, and Chinese enclaves, as well as some African immigrant enclaves, have shown that the children of immigrants who maintain their culture within the U.S. outperform the children of native-born Americans both educationally and financially, even if their immigrant parents were less educated and less financially well-off than the average native-born American. It is these parents and their children who have fostered the term, “the immigrant paradox” in which immigrants with fewer apparent resources than most native-born Americans produce children who are more successful. A strong subculture, which maintains its cultural roots, is part of this pattern of success.

Many immigrants continue to speak their native language as their first choice, and some never become proficient in English. Asian and African immigrants are more likely to arrive being near-proficient in English. Hispanic immigrants are the most likely to not become proficient in English, but the longer they are in the U.S., the more proficient they become and their children virtually all are English-language proficient, a fact which demonstrates that Brokaw’s factual knowledge of young Hispanics was in error. Furthermore, maintaining proficiency in one’s native language while learning English can be superior to forsaking one’s native language entirely. Studies have shown that those immigrants’ children who are proficient in two languages do better in school than those proficient in English only.

One of the issues in the conversation about assimilation is whether or not maintaining cultural enclaves in which one immigrant ethnicity dominates in terms of residents, businesses, and language (e.g. Little Havana, Little Saigon, Koreatown, Chinatown etc), is helpful to assimilation or harmful. The answer is not simple, but appears to be that if the ethnic culture is close-knit and supports education, civic participation, and lawfulness, the children who grow up in that culture tend to do better than most native-born Americans in terms of education and jobs, even though they are likely to leave the enclave after they are adults.

What about those who assimilate to subcultures that are, by almost any standard, less successful in terms of educational and financial achievement, both among new immigrants themselves and their U.S.-born children? Studies of such communities have shown that the same factors that promote success in other immigrant subcultures promote success in the less successful subcultures, i.e. social cohesion, pressures for civic responsibility, local institutional leadership, and absence of discrimination. If these factors are present, then the next generation of these immigrants will also be successful in the wider society, although at lower rates than from other immigrant communities. 

The community into which one attempts to assimilate makes a tremendous difference, but that community, in turn, is strongly affected by the social, legal and economic policies of the larger society. Assimilation into a subculture that is a product of discrimination, which offers flawed institutions such as schools, banks that discriminate in terms of loans to businesses or for home mortgages, and which are poorly and sometimes prejudicially policed, offers little opportunity and certainly much less than is available to other immigrant groups or the majority of native-born Americans (except those who continue to suffer from ongoing racial prejudice and discrimination, i.e. African-Americans).

Assimilation isn’t a dirty word, but ignorance about the reality that there are different patterns of assimilation is not conducive to having an intelligent conversation about the subject. Assimilation is not simply a choice on the part of the immigrant, it depends both on the nature of the subculture to which one belongs and to the behavior of the larger society toward that subculture, so prejudice against and stereotypes about it can be harmful to those who live within such a subculture. There are as many instances where belonging to a cohesive subculture within the United States, even one in which the elder members continue to speak their native language and where the younger members become multilingual as a result, can produce better educational and financial outcomes for those young people than being from the larger society. There are other instances where remaining in a subculture that is discriminated against and is characterized by crime and poverty can hinder young people’s development. Learning English is crucial for most pathways to economic and educational success in the United States, but virtually all young people who grow up in this country, whether from an ethnic subculture or the larger culture, learn English today.

The words of media figures, such as Tom Brokaw, could provide the basis of an informed discussion and debate about the issue he brought up. Instead, all further discussion was squelched as the debate centered on whether, by bringing up the topic of assimilation, he was branding himself a racist and white supremacist. This kind of reaction is hardly conducive to public enlightenment, and so long as we react to such a wide range of ideas as forbidden topics that trigger accusations rather than discussion, we will remain an ignorant nation.

 

 

 

Friday
Jan252019

What Are We Doing in Venezuela?

By any standard, Venezuela is a mess. People are starving, medicine is unavailable, and millions of people, mostly poor, have fled the country. All this despite Venezuela having been South America’s richest country in the past and with it still having sizeable oil deposits to export and sustain its economy. Having visited Venezuela in the past, I also know that it is a beautiful country, fronting on the Caribbean, with beaches, mountains and forests. In terms of natural resources, it remains a rich country. It’s government, plus an international oil market that has faltered, has ruined it.

Hugo Chavez was popular, particularly among his country’s poor, but his policies weakened his country’s economic state and he allowed corruption to dictate way too much of what went on and how the government operated. Nicolas Maduro is worse than Chavez, despite claiming to be his heir. Maduro came to power by assuming the presidency after Chavez’ death. Maduro had been vice president under Chavez. He then won a close election, which observers say was so filled with fraud that it was illegitimate. As president, he had the country’s constitution rewritten and a new legislative body filled with his supporters installed. Neither the United States nor many South American countries, including the Organization of American States, recognized his election or his claim to be president. 

This week, Juan Guaido, the recently elected head of the Venezuelan National Assembly, its main and legitimately elected legislative body, announced that he was claiming the interim presidency of the country and declared Maduro’s election as illegal. He was immediately recognized by the same groups that declined to recognize Maduro, including the U.S., Canada, and the Organization of American States. Maduro ordered U.S. diplomats out of the country and so far they have refused to leave. President Trump has not ruled out military intervention in Venezuela.

Chavez and Maduro belong to the United Socialist Party of Venezuela and are avowed socialists. They were and are both supported by Russia, China, Cuba and other Communist countries. Many of Chavez’ policies were blatantly socialistic. Anti-Communist and anti-Socialist forces within the U.S. are strong supporters of Maduro’s ouster, as many of them were of forcing out Chavez. 

We should not be confused by Maduro’s socialist label. He is an autocrat who has subverted his country’s democratic processes, fostered corruption, and has been totally inept at managing his country’s economy or infrastructure. He was elected by his people, but the legitimacy of that election is in doubt. His failure has not been because of his philosophy of governance, but his dishonesty, ruthlessness and ineptness. What is going on in Venezuela is not a contest between capitalism and socialism. 

The United States has a deeply marred history of interfering in the internal affairs of South and Central American countries, either overtly or covertly. Most of the governments we have helped to overthrow have been leftist ones and most of those we have helped to install have been right wing dictatorships. Our motivations have been ideological and protectionist for American economic interests—preventing nationalization of industries dominated and controlled by American companies has been a guiding principle of our interventions. This is a historical pattern that all South American leaders are aware of, as are their people, and one that we must be extremely careful of not falling into again in the case of Venezuela.

As Americans, including our elected leaders in congress and in the administration, observe what is happening in Venezuela, we have to be cautious in how we frame the conflict going on in the country and how we see our role in it. We must not absorb what is happening in Venezuela into our own ongoing political contest between progressives who are friendly toward socialist policies and conservatives who defend capitalism at every opportunity and are horrified of anything that has a socialist ring to it. That’s not the issue in Venezuela right now. We also cannot put protection of American economic interests ahead of regard for another country’s sovereignty. We cannot afford to frame this as a contest of influence between America and Russia or China. And a bottom line is that we cannot allow ourselves to be drawn into a military engagement, which decimates another country’s people and infrastructure and brands us as international bullies.

Juan Guaido and the forces he represents may turn out to be a good interim answer in the quest to get Venezuela back on its feet. We can support him if he gains the presidency or if his party succeeds in ousting Maduro. We can’t become the deciding factor in replacing Venezuela’s leader, because that role needs to come from the people inside the country. Our efforts for regime change in Iraq and Syria and Libya ought to have taught us that such a mission is fraught with danger and leads to disaster. Let Venezuela take charge of is own effort to solve its problems. 

 

Thursday
Jan242019

America First in the Era of Cyber Connectivity

Russian and Chinese agents and hackers, intruding into U.S. social media such as Facebook and businesses such as Marriott Hotels, have heightened Americans’ awareness of the vulnerabilities associated with our modern methods of exchanging information. The Internet is a worldwide system. Access to content from outside of one’s country is common and necessary for anyone in business, academia, healthcare, defense and a variety of other fields. The companies that do our business are often international in operation. Undesirable information from outside a country is problematic for countries that restrict freedom to gather or convey information for their citizens. China, Russia, Iran, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia and many other non-democracies attempt to severely restrict Internet access and the types of information available to their people, while their citizens and information providers continually attempt to circumvent such controls. For democracies such as the U.S. and European countries, more open access allows terrorist groups and foreign agents to reach their citizens with information that is potentially dangerous or destabilizing for their countries. 

Democratic countries struggle with how to restrict potentially dangerous information while maintaining freedom of expression, and companies such as Google and Facebook struggle with whether they should agree to restrictions on the types of information they can provide when they operate in countries such as China or Vietnam. They have even been asked to provide information on their users’ activities in those countries, and, as we have seen from Facebook revelations, they have provided information either to the government or to other commercial companies on their users’ activities even in our own country.

The 5G network, which is rapidly coming to most developed markets, will increase most of the problems cited above, with greater opportunities for hackers to enter the system because of its greater number of access points.  Because of its vastly increased transmission speed, cars, medical devices, and almost any type of robotic or data collection device will be connected to the system. The companies that provide the 5G equipment, are also under suspicion, particularly Huawei from China, about installing means for agents, in the case of Huawei, the Chinese government, to use their equipment for spying. 

This week cybersecurity experts from around the world are meeting in Lille, France  at the International Cybersecurity Forum, and at the same time the World Economic Forum is being held in Davos, Switzerland. Both conferences have generated calls for international cooperation and greater international regulation of the use of our new information technology. Not all the recommendations are for common standards or regulatory actions. China is asking for some common regulatory standards but wants to protect its ability to restrict its citizens access to information. France has discussed “cyber defense” as a new type of warfare and announced its intention to use “cyber arms as all other traditional weapons… to respond and attack” its enemies. In other words, hacking and otherwise intruding into the cyberspace of enemies is a legitimate, perhaps necessary form of offensive weaponry. The U.S. notoriously, and successfully, used a cyber offensive to disrupt Iran’s nuclear facility and, according to Edward Snowden, infiltrated Chinese mobile phone providers and Huawei headquarter’s servers. China has been accused of hacking into Google and other U.S. companies to steal intellectual property as well as hacking into the U.S. Office of Personnel Management to steal personnel records of U.S. government employees.

As businesses become more dependent upon super fast networks to conduct their international operations, there will have to be agreed upon rules for how information is delivered and shared or security issues will rapidly get out of control. These same networks, used for news and social media, will increase their disruptiveness of the political and domestic lives within countries. It will be hard to enforce different standards for different regions of the world.

Although repressive governments such as China, Vietnam and Russia may seek to wall themselves off from the worldwide web, the very nature of cybercommunication and the common use of the Internet make this a case where “build a wall” makes even less sense than it does as a method of keeping people out of a country. The alternative is international cooperation and agreed upon regulations, probably as few as are necessary to insure a minimum, but safe level of security. Cyberwarfare, at its worst, can rob a country of its power, its healthcare, its transportation, its financial resources and its ability to defend itself. International rules, such as apply to chemical warfare, need to be enacted to restrict the actions that can be taken using cyber weaponry. Everyone needs to agree to punish a country that violates international regulations and every country needs to agree to punish their own citizens for illegal actions that disrupt other countries or their citizens.

A connected world cannot act as a conglomeration of independent states, each with its own set of rules and regulations, since by its very nature, the new internet and communication technology will not stay within a country’s borders. As we all become even more Internet dependent, this will be true of more and more areas of our lives.

 

Saturday
Jan192019

Does Free Speech Have Territorial Limits?

Recently, demands by foreign governments, such as China, Vietnam, and Saudi Arabia that U.S. owned internet sites, including Google, Twitter, Facebook and Netflix conform to these countries’ laws on censorship have produced a lot of controversy, both within and external to the companies who are deciding how to respond to such demands. Among those making comments, a strong voice is heard for the need for these companies to  “stand up” for the American value of freedom of speech. This raises issues of whether this value is one that is relative to the country in question or whether it should be regarded as a universal value, i.e. an “inalienable right.”

The controversy with regard to internet-based companies is complicated, because it often involves at least two questions: should a media provider follow the laws of the country in which its product is being offered if those laws violate American values? and should a media provider provide information to the government of the country to assist that country in tracking down those who seek or post what they consider subversive material? These are two very different issues.

It is ordinary for companies who do business in countries that are not where they are located to follow the laws of that country. We fully expect foreign countries to comply with our laws in the United States as a condition for them doing business within our borders. Companies that do not do so have been prosecuted and punished by U.S. courts. But United States laws regarding freedom of speech and expression are broader and more permissive than any other country’s.  Hate speech based on race or religion is an example. While hate speech is publicly condemned and often censored by media companies, it is not illegal in the United States, and so we can have websites and media organizations that do post hate speech and are allowed to do so. Hate speech is illegal, however, in most European countries, including notoriously permissive Finland, where both hate speech and blasphemy of any religion are prohibited, France prohibits not only hate speech, but also insulting its flag, its national anthem or any public official, which is similar to Germany, which prohibits disparagement of the Federal President or state symbols and insulting any religion. Many European countries forbid Holocaust Denial. 

In China, Vietnam, Russia, and many Middle Eastern or African countries, freedom of speech is severely restricted, especially with regard to sexual content, criticism of the government, praise for alternative forms of government and, in many countries, especially predominantly Muslim ones, criticism of religion, religious figures or religious organizations (but this is also true in several European countries that are predominantly Christian). Many of these restrictions seem foreign and unnatural to Americans, but should we demand that they not be enforced against American companies that do business in those countries? The arguments that those countries’ governments make can be convincing, for instance when Russia prohibits access to gambling sites, alcohol sales sites and some pornography sites. Insult to Mohammed or the Koran is a serious offense in most Muslim countries and isn’t it their right to enforce laws prohibiting such insults (even some European countries also have similar prohibitions against insulting Christianity or other religions)? It seems to me that pushing our freedom of speech laws onto other countries is both myopic about cultural differences and is not something that commercial internet companies should be expected to do or be criticized if they agree to restrictions that would not apply in the U.S.

Turning over information to another country about those who violate its laws by posting or searching for banned or suspicious content, which China and Vietnam have asked companies to do, is quite another matter. Doing so makes the commercial company that does it complicit in that country’s restriction of freedom and violates what would be allowed in the United States. This is more than foisting our values onto another country; it is becoming a tool of that country’s oppression of its people. It is qualitatively different than not carrying content or allowing searches that violate a country’s laws.

I would welcome further discussion about this topic, which is not clear-cut in terms of the ethics of the situation.

 

Friday
Jan182019

Paying the People Who Teach Our Children

Teachers play a crucial role in American society. For most of our children’s education about science, mathematics, history, government, literature and the arts and even a venue for athletics and social interaction, we depend upon our schools, and at the heart of our schools are the teachers. Watching my children, grandchildren, and now my nieces and nephews go through the public school system, both its mainstream and its special programs, I have mostly been impressed with the quality of the experience and especially the quality and dedication of the teachers. As part of all of these children’s family or extended family, I realize how much I have relied upon teachers to teach all of these family members the things they need to know to thrive in our society. It is not an overstatement to say that our children's teachers are the most important influences on their lives second to family.

The public education system is the best bargain we get in our society, but it is in jeopardy. For the most part, the quality of the education your children are going to receive is dependent upon where you live. Local funding, state funding, neighborhood culture including safety, and donations by parents determine the quality of the education a child receives. America ranks relatively high in most surveys of per pupil expenditures for elementary and secondary education among developed countries—anywhere from second to fifth. Teacher salaries rank nearly the same. However, according to a National Center for Education Studies, in 2016, salaries of 25-29 year old graduates with bachelor’s in education or elementary education were paid less (around 40,000 per year) than 22-26 of the 32 fields of study surveyed, about 8,000/year or 17% below the median, despite their unemployment rate of 2.1% being the lowest, except for nursing, of all the fields. Teacher salaries and per pupil expenditures vary widely across the United States because of education funding being dependent primarily upon local sources, and in Los Angeles, salaries for new teachers (including benefits) are closer to $55,000 per year, about a third higher than the national average. The cost of living in Los Angeles exceeds the national average by almost 50%.

Teachers are exceedingly important for the well-being of our society and their low unemployment numbers suggest that they are in high demand. Their salaries don’t reflect this, and, in Southern California, where the cost of living is very high, they are, by most standards, underpaid. In addition, as numerous teachers and any parent can attest to, teachers spend long hours both in and out of the classroom doing their jobs, paying for many of their classroom supplies, and many offer after and before school help to their students for no extra pay. 

School districts have many sources of funds, most of which are based on average daily attendance, so the number of students is a strong determiner of how much and where the money for education goes. This has led to the argument that charter schools, which have burgeoned from 10 in LA in 2000-2001 to 228 in 2016-2017, are robbing our traditional public schools of funding. Charter schools are public schools, supported by public education funds, are free to their students, but are less regulated and usually not unionized in terms of their staff. Charter schools are not the same as voucher programs, which allow families to choose schools, even private schools, and often remove funds completely from the public school system and put in in the private sector.

Most unionized teachers and many of us who support unions in general and traditional public schools as the backbone of our public educational system, tend to be opposed to the growth of charter schools because of their competition for funds with traditional public schools. Many people also argue that they provide a deficient educational experience, compared to traditional public schools, primarily because they follow fewer regulations. It turns out that this is mostly wrong. The gold standard Stanford University Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO), which uses charter school and traditional public school students matched on relevant variables, in both national, state and local studies, has consistently shown that charter schools outperform traditional public schools (TPS), especially for some types of students. CREDO produced a report in 2014 on Los Angeles Public Schools, comparing student achievement to matched students in traditional public schools  (TPS).

The CREDO study results were striking. Students enrolled in charter schools showed statistically significant growth beyond their TPS matched controls in and this was true of every type of student (White, Asian, Black, Hispanic, in poverty, English language learners) except those who had a history of being retained or were special education students. White, Asian and English language learner children in charter schools exceeded their TPS counterparts only in reading and not in math, while Black and Hispanic students whether or not in poverty, exceeded those in TPS in both reading and math.  The positive gains for charter school attendance held for urban and suburban schools and at elementary, middle and high school levels. The results were substantial, and often reflected a third of more of a year’s progress difference, especially if the students were from families in poverty compared to similar TPS students.

Teachers are underpaid relative to other professions, although California teachers are not particularly underpaid relative to other states’ teachers, although in our urban and some of our suburban areas the high cost of living reduces their effective salaries.  Teachers are in demand and have both low salaries and low unemployment, defying the law of supply and demand, probably because they are limited by requiring public money for their salaries and must compete against many other public interests. That they receive such low salaries compared to other professions may reflect either lack of respect for the profession among the public or simply resistance to public spending and the greater taxes that would be needed to increase their salaries.

Curtailing the growth of charter schools is not an answer to better funding for the TPS system, nor for increasing TPS teachers’ salaries, especially since charter schools have such positive results. It may be that regulations for charter schools need to be strengthened, although that remains to be proven. What definitely is true is that we need to elevate the status and income of teachers and this means we need to invest more money in both our TPS and charter school systems and raise teacher salaries to match their worth in our children’s lives. It is incredible that people who play such an important role in shaping each new generation of Americans are compensated so little, relative to their worth. Such increases in salary and education funding will take changing the public’s willingness to pay more, not just protests against the existing administration of the system.

 

 

Monday
Jan142019

College Education in America: The Facts

Yesterday I read an article in the New York Times describing the plight of a rural Midwestern public university that was eliminating some of its liberal arts and humanities majors and faculty in order to accommodate the more “practical” needs of its students and in response to a shrinking student body, which was partially attributed to falling birth rates and partially to young people leaving the area for the city. The article suggested that this might be a pattern that was becoming typical of other public universities. I decided to do some research to determine if this was a pattern in American post-secondary education.

Is college and university attendance growing or shrinking in the U.S?

Overall college and university graduation has been increasing slightly each year with an increase of about a million students every ten years for the last 25 years and only projected to slow very slightly through 2027 (Statista). Enrollment increased faster between 1965 and 1990 and jumped during 2010 and 2011, probably due to job opportunities falling and young adults choosing college instead of a job during this latter period. About 75% of students are enrolled in public institutions and 25% in private universities or colleges. From 2000-01 to 2015-16, enrollment in associate degree programs increased at a higher rate (74%) than the increase in enrollment in bachelor degree programs (54%) (National Center for Education Statistics, NCES).

Not only are the raw numbers of college graduates continuing to increase, the percentage of young adults with post-secondary degrees is increasing. A higher percentage of females than males obtain associate, bachelor’s and even post-graduate degrees, and this difference has widened between 2000 and 2017 (NCES). In terms of ethnicity, a higher percentage of Asians obtain college degrees, although the percentages for Asians has remained stable between 2000 and 2017, while substantially increasing for all other ethnicities (except Native Americans), narrowing the gap between Asians and all others, but with the gaps between White an Black and White and Hispanic remaining the same, despite all of these ethnicities making substantial increases. In the total population of U.S. people between the ages of 25-29, the percentage with an associate degree or higher increased from 38% to 46% between 2000 and 2017, and the percentage who obtained a bachelor’s degree or higher increased from 29% to 36%. Having a college degree or even just some college education was associated with greater likelihood of employment than just having a high school diploma, and this difference increased between 2000 and 2017 (NCES). For the year 2016, having an associate degree increased average income by 20% over having a high school diploma, and having a bachelor’s degree increased average income by 57% for people in the 25-34 year old age range. These differences narrowed slightly between 2000 and 2016, and at that time all incomes had declined from 2000 levels, reflecting the continuing effects of the recession (NCES), although the recent growth in employment and wages may have brought these levels back up.

How does family income affect obtaining a college degree in the U.S.?

Parents and students themselves in the U.S.still pay for the lion’s share (47%) of college education through income and savings according to a 2018 study by Sallie Mae. Parents’ income and savings covered 34% of the costs and student income and savings covered 13% of the cost. Scholarships and grants covered 28% of college costs and borrowing covered 24%, with parent borrowing covering 10% and student borrowing covering 14%. These figures suggest that family income is a strong factor in determining who obtains a college degree, and a 2016 report from Johns Hopkins University confirmed this. Young people whose families fall in the lowest economic quartile in the U.S. graduated from college at a 14% rate while those from the highest quartile had a 60% college degree rate. Even comparing students with similar high school grade and test score levels, found a 33% differences in college graduation rates between low SES and high SES students, suggesting that differences in academic preparation  is a factor, but not the major factor in determining the effects of SES on college graduation rates. The Johns Hopkins report indicates that major factors affecting college completion rates as a function of income are the cost, the need to balance work and school for low income students, and attendance at institutions with lower graduation rates among low income students. 

What are U.S. students studying and has that changed?

According to NCES, at the bachelor’s degree level, degrees in business have been increasing and represent 19% of degrees awarded in 2015-16, although degrees in health professions and related programs have shown the largest increase and now represent 12% of all degrees conferred. Biological and biomedical sciences and engineering, as well as psychology have all shown an increase in awarded degrees from 2000-01 to 2015-16. Social sciences and history increased degrees from 200-01 to 2011-12, then decreased up to 2015-16, although still representing 8% of all degrees conferred, which remains more than any other field except business or health professions. Overall, 18 % of bachelor’s degrees were awarded in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, mathematics).

Associate degrees show a different picture than bachelor’s degrees with 38% of degrees awarded in liberal arts, sciences, general studies and humanities, which were also the fields showing the greatest increase in degrees conferred between 2000-01 and 2015-16. Health professions and related programs showed a steady increase in degrees from 2000-01 to 2011-12, then a drop that continued through 2015-16. Only 8% of associate degrees were conferred in STEM fields in 2015-16.

While one would think that two-year degrees might be more in technical areas related to, for instance, computer science, the fact that they are often in liberal arts or general studies and seldom in STEM fields is surprising.  Perhaps this reflects students who are planning to transfer taking distributive courses outside of their major while at community colleges, or perhaps community colleges offer fewer STEM courses. It’s not clear to me, but having seen my son obtain a single year of intensive training in IT technology and becoming fully employable and well-paid (better than his Ph.D father), I can’t see why more students wouldn’t obtain a two-year degree in a technical field, and I don’t know what they would do with a two-year liberal arts education if that’s where they stop.

Do ethnicity or gender affect choice of major?

The statistics also show what was, for me, a surprising finding that our stereotypes about race and gender as it relates to higher education are pretty accurate. Compared to men, women predominate in multidisciplinary studies, health professions, liberal arts, and general studies, and psychology, while men predominate in computer science and engineering. Gender numbers are balanced in social sciences and history. In terms of race, Asians are substantially overrepresented in STEM fields, at both the associate degree level and the bachelor’s degree level.

Conclusions

American colleges and universities are not suffering a loss of students, nor are they expected to in the next ten years. Neither are liberal arts, humanities, and social sciences becoming passé as majors, although there has been a slight decline in degrees awarded in these fields since 2012, but they still make up a sizeable share of the student body.

We often hear that college is not for everyone and that a flaw in our American attitudes about education is that it regards a four-year college degree as a qualification for success when other, more technical or practical training programs could better meet the needs of many of our young people. It remains true, however, that obtaining a college degree, particularly a bachelor’s degree or higher has a strong positive effect on likelihood of employment and on income in the U.S. 

College and university education is not changing much, at least in terms of enrollment, degrees and fields of study and who goes to college and obtains a degree, but college is still expensive and family income is a major determinant in who gets a degree. Most U.S. students attend public colleges and universities. Although these may be less costly than private institutions, cost is still a major factor in determining who attends and who graduates from college. The largest source of funds in paying for college remains parental income and savings. Academically strong students from high income families are two times more likely to graduate from college than similarly academically strong students from low income families, and the ability to pay for college as well as choice of college if one does attend college are major factors determining these differences.

What also stands out is that two-year degrees don’t seem to meet the needs of people who stop their education at that point. A “well-rounded” education, which includes a good dose of humanities, social sciences and other liberal studies is still obtained by most graduates, but the failure of our two year institutions to provide STEM related associate degrees to the students who attend them is difficult to understand.

Reducing college costs and/or increasing financial assistance could narrow the gap in college graduation rates between rich and poor families. But it’s also true that in our current system, poorer students who often aim for associate degrees, often major in fields that don’t lead directly to better employment.  Our two-year degree programs are not responding to needs in the  STEM fields, and are mostly providing degrees in non-specific general studies, humanities, and liberal arts.

In my opinion, liberal arts social science and humanities education remain important even if more students, particularly those who attend two-year schools, need to major in STEM fields. I regarded some of my humanities courses in history, literature and philosophy as the most worthwhile parts of my education in terms of enriching the overall quality of my life and sharpening my critical thinking and appreciation of a wide variety of viewpoints.  When our social and political system requires that its citizens be informed about history and learn how to detect their own biases and how to evaluate arguments and data it is still desirable that as many of our citizens as possible receive an education that gives them the background and skills to do these things. Recent surveys by the Pew Research Fund and others, have found that “millennials” are woefully uninformed about history, government, science and even about our American constitution (see my earlier article: “How to Combat Russian [and Others’] Misinformation"). Remember that only a little over a third of Americans of this age have a four-year college degree. A lot of broad education can get done in high school, and this is another reason to not turn high school into purely vocational or technical training and, in our technology dominated society, make at least two-year technical/science education after high school more accessible and more typical.

Many people have their own opinions and goals with regard to our United States post-secondary educational system, but I hope that this essay will provide them with some fact-based information to inform their opinions.

 

 

 

 

Monday
Jan072019

We Have Met the Enemy and...

A recent series of articles in the New York Times has revealed that progressive Democrats, who supported, but were not connected to the Doug Jones campaign against Judge Roy Moore for the Alabama senatorial seat, mounted at least two “false flag” operations to discredit Moore. Both operations, funded for $100,000 each, used social media—Facebook and Twitter— to post fake ads that tried to divide Republican voters in an effort to help Jones’ chances in the election. In one operation, a group of Democratic supporters which included Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn and Jonathan Morgan, CEO of a cybersecurity firm called New Knowledge, which has provided the government with information on Russian meddling in the 2016 election, pretended to be Republicans who supported an alternative candidate to Judge Moore and also managed to get Russian bots to respond to the Moore campaign, giving the impression that he was a favorite of the Russians. The group who mounted the operation claimed it was an “experiment” to see how Russian-style tactics worked in a real election. Hoffman of LinkedIn claimed to have no knowledge that his money was being used in a fake campaign and issued an apology and disavowal of such tactics.

 The second operation, whose funders remain anonymous, according the NYT, employed progressive media consultants, including Matt Osborne and Beth Becker, as well as Evan Coren, whom the NYT identified as an employee of the Information Security Oversight Office of the National Archives. This operation developed a Facebook page and Twitter account called  “Dry Alabama,” which posed as conservative Republicans who wanted to illegalize the sale of alcohol in Alabama. Its aim was to drive a wedge between Republican business interests who opposed alcohol prohibition, and fundamentalist Christian Republicans who favored it, as an effort to split Moore supporters. 

The money for both operations was funneled through an organization called Investing in Us, whose mission is, according to their website, “to bring entrepreneurs and investors to join the resistance in fighting for the American dream.” They say,  “We know from experience how individual liberty and the rule of law can build a prosperous future.” Dmitri Mehlhorn, co-founder and managing partner of Investing in Us and a fellow of the Progressive Policy Institute, who has helped a number of progressive candidates including LA’s mayor Eric Garcetti, may or may not have known how the money that went through his company was spent.

Doug Jones, the Democrat who narrowly won the election, has denounced the fake media operations and called for an investigation and prosecution of the perpetrators. Matt Osborne, who worked on the “Dry Alabama” campaign, told the NYT, that he thinks Republicans use similar methods and, “If you don’t do it, you’re fighting with one hand tied behind your back. You have a moral imperative to do this — to do whatever it takes.”

The revelation that Democrats—not the Party itself, but some of its well-connected progressive supporters—have used the same devious tactics that they accuse Russia of using, and which they say requires a federal investigation, is appalling. The claim that Republicans do the same thing (without evidence of the truth of such claims), so that makes it legitimate to “fight fire with fire” is ludicrous, since the arguments against such tactics are usually phrased as moral and ethical ones and the reason for deploring or even prosecuting them is to preserve the integrity of our election process. What I find as appalling and even more frightening is that the commentary to the Times’ articles has included many who are strongly in favor of such tactics. Typical of such comments are, '”It’s hard to get worked up about dirty tricks "false flag" operations that may or may not have helped defeat a truly heinous candidate for the US Senate,” or “There are thousands of instances of the GOP using these tactics. It’s awful but it’s the system right now: you can’t bring a knife to a gun fight.” The consensus of those who support such tactics seems to be that winning is more important than how you play the game, because the Republican opponents represent enough “evil” to justify using whatever means are necessary. 

You can’t preserve the moral high ground by abandoning it. Progressive values have always included a strong moral component: wealth doesn’t bring happiness if it's accompanied by the poverty of millions; keeping us safe from threat isn’t right if it necessitates keeping those who suffer injustice and danger from finding refuge within our borders. You can’t cheat to assist a candidate with honorable values gain office. Your efforts become tainted by your own dishonesty. The current administration provides an easy target for opponents to point their fingers and say that the ends justify the means in fighting it. But they don’t. Pointing out that our opponent has done as bad or worse is not a justification for our own misbehavior. If we succumb to such tactics and behavior then, in the immortal words of Pogo, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

 

 

 

 

Saturday
Jan052019

Humility is as Good as Self-Righteousness

A provocative opinion column in the New York Times by author Judith Shulevitz about the morality clauses many writers are now being asked to sign before publication of their works struck home with me. She points out that publishers can now often cancel or withdraw book contracts if the writer  “becomes the subject of public disrepute, contempt, complaints or scandals,” in, for instance, the words of a contract with Condé Nast magazines. We've seen the same thing in other areas of art and entertainment, such as the cancellation of Kevin Spacey’s, contract on House of Cards for alleged sexual misconduct, or Roseanne’s removal from her television series after a racist tweet. Louis C.K., Charlie Rose, Neil deGrasse Tyson have suffered similar fates. 

Most of us agree that an entertainment company has the right to fire a public personality who behaves immorally if that person violates the company's own ethical policies, harms his or her fellow employees, or behaves in a way that detracts from the product in which she or she is featured. The current social climate seems to demand that the mere accusation of such behavior requires immediate suspension of the accused, which pushes the limits of intolerance and fairness, since there are bound to be some situations in which the accusations are groundless. 

Artists who are not entertainers and do not have a public persona that portrays them in a certain light, are public figures only by virtue of their works. Numerous of our greatest artists of the past not only violated the social norms of their time but were sometimes jailed because of that. Composers going back to Haydn and forward to Barber, Britten and Bernstein were gay when being gay was not only frowned upon, but also illegal in many places. So were writers such as Wilde, Proust, Baldwin and Capote and artists such as Hockney, Warhol and Haring. Hemingway, London, Fitzgerald, Faulkner, and two of my favorites, Chandler and Hammett, were all chronic alcoholics, and R. L. Stevenson, Philip K. Dick, Aldous Huxley and Baudelaire used drugs. Many writers, such as Algren, O’Henry, Dostoevsky, and London spent time in jail.

The act of producing art, even morally profound art, is not reserved for those who are morally pure themselves. If that were so, we would not only be robbed of some of our greatest art, but perhaps of any art at all. An artist’s life is no more moral than that of any of the rest of us, and we all have moral lapses and make ethical mistakes at some times in our lives. A society that is so self-righteous and intolerant that it demands that anyone who produces something for public consumption be morally above reproach is being hypocritical.

Our modern society no longer punishes homosexuality, at least not officially, and in fact, anti-gay speech may result in harm to a public figure’s career (e.g. Kevin Hart). The changing attitudes toward homosexuality and gender identity, which have taken place in the last few decades, ought to be a warning to all of us that social mores are culturally defined and subject to attitudinal changes. It’s not an exaggeration to say that profound art outlives cultural attitudes and often transcends them across cultures. Our self-righteous indignation and intolerance should not blind us to appreciating the beautiful artistic achievements that can be produced by deeply flawed human beings. Suppressing the art of those who don’t meet our moral standards can have long-term negative consequences for the quality of our society. 

 

 

Thursday
Jan032019

Power Politics and the Border Wall

One quarter of the U.S. government is either shut down or working without pay. These are real people and real services being affected, as are the ordinary citizens who rely on them. Neither the president nor Democratic congressional leaders appear ready to back down from their stated positions. Both blame the other side’s recalcitrance for the government shutdown. 

We’re all hopeful and even optimistic that a compromise will be found that provides a way out of the present stalemate and reopens the government. We’re optimistic because such shutdowns, which have become almost commonplace in recent years, are always solved, eventually.

Everyone is handwringing and blaming the other. Both sides are playing to their bases and accusing the other of doing just that. Many of us are members of one of the other of those bases, and most of us are no more willing to give up our position than are the negotiators who represent us. Many people are convinced of the necessity of a wall and at least an equal number of people are equally convinced that it is unnecessary and a symbol of malignant immigration policies. For either side to give in is regarded as a sign of weakness and ideological insecurity.

Compromise, tradeoffs, horse-trading, and even bluffing are time-honored negotiating strategies in politics. Watch Steven Spielberg’ film, “Lincoln” to see how this worked during the administration of one of our greatest presidents at a time when our nation was truly in a crisis. So, in some sense, the present situation is just par for the course. A minor blip in the course of running the government in a democracy.  Look at the U.K., were the Brexit question has paralyzed the British government. That’s a bigger problem than our current shutdown. But pointing out that other governments are in worse shape than we are doesn’t solve our problem here at home.

How are standoffs resolved? The answer is almost always compromise; a solution that allows both sides to give a little while saving face. Yesterday’s meeting between the president and congressional leaders had none of that. Both sides simply reiterated their earlier positions, with the Democrats also proposing to put forward a bill to reopen the government and postpone the border security question until later. The president rejected that proposal. 

A “no money for the wall” proposal is equally stubborn as a “five billion for a wall or nothing” proposal. Democrats can increase their monetary offer and insist on the money being spent only after a thorough and transparent assessment of the best way to enhance border security, without insisting on ruling out a wall. The president can accept the idea that he will use the appropriated money in the most logical way possible, given the results of such a study. It’s likely that such studies already exist, so we’re not talking about going back to the drawing board. We could get a wall, a better fence, more fence, more border guards—whatever experts have determined will work best for different parts of the border. 

There are a number of ways a compromise could be reached on the border security issue and its funding level. The politicians are playing to their bases and we, who belong to those bases, are being as irrational and stubborn as they are. It’s our wrath they are afraid of. We all need to learn to compromise if we want our government to work.