Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.
--Daniel Patrick Moynihan

March 24, 2016

The Problems of Boycotting Israel

By David K. Shipler

            A couple of years ago, a retired Israeli journalist, Yehuda Litani, walked into his favorite local grocery store in Jerusalem and noticed cartons of eggs from a Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank. He had words with the storekeeper. “I asked the grocer to bring eggs from other sources,” Yehuda told me. “He refused, and I stopped buying there since that day.”
            Such settlements are widely considered by the Israeli left—and officially by the U.S. government—as obstacles to the eventual creation of a Palestinian state on West Bank territory, which was captured by Israel from Jordan during the 1967 war. The settlements have spread and grown into commercial enterprises, and leading settlers have risen into the ranks of the parliament and government. For this and other reasons, the door appears to be closing on a two-state solution.
So Yehuda, who speaks Arabic as well as Hebrew, and who covered the West Bank as a reporter, has mounted his tiny, principled boycott. He has no illusions. “Some of my friends in Jerusalem are behaving the same way,” Yehuda emailed, “but I must say that we are but a small minority—most people do not care about the exact source of the agricultural products they are buying.”
            The question of how and whether to use purchasing and investing power to influence Israeli policy has inflamed some campuses in the U.S. and Europe, mobilized several Protestant church assemblies in the U.S., and alarmed the Israeli government and its American supporters. Boycott proponents comprise all sorts of folks: the idealistic, the malicious, the honorable, the anti-Semitic, those who think they are trying to save Israel from an immoral quagmire, and those who care nothing for Israel’s continued existence.

March 15, 2016

"Have You No Sense of Decency?"

By David K. Shipler

            On June 9, 1954, in a highly charged Washington hearing room, the elderly attorney Joseph Welch, a man partial to homespun clarity, put to Senator Joseph McCarthy the stiletto question that has entered American lore. Responding to the Wisconsin Republican’s smear of a young colleague of Welch’s, the lawyer demanded McCarthy’s full attention and began with this:
            “Until this moment, Senator, I think I have never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness.” When McCarthy tried to persist, Welch cut him down: “Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator. You’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”
            In the old black-and-white film, McCarthy has a mean squint, a twisted look something like Donald Trump’s when attacked. Trump’s method is different, but he plays on the same ground of fear and demonization. So Welch’s question is relevant today, and it ought to be directed not only to Trump but also to the American people: Have you no sense of decency?
Or, to make a gesture toward hope: After many months of waiting, when will America’s slumbering decency awake?
            For that is what eventually happened to end McCarthy’s slimy innuendos that ruined so many lives with false implications of communist affiliations, based on scanty rumors, guilt by association, and fabricated evidence. Preceded by Edward R. Murrow’s devastating televised assault on McCarthy three months earlier, Welch’s rhetorical question hit home. Huge numbers of Americans, watching live on national television, knew the answer. Decency stirred.
            This episode remains as my first political memory. I was 11 years old. Coming home from school day after day, I saw my grandmother, a Southern-born, Eisenhower Republican who detested communists, sitting bolt upright in a straight-back chair in front of the TV, appalled by McCarthy’s vile slanders. She loved Joseph Welch. His gentle decency struck a chord with the decency she carried inside herself.
            So it was during the Civil Rights movement as well, as Americans saw in their living rooms the contorted, hateful faces of Southern white girls screaming racist epithets outside integrating schools, the burly white cops swinging truncheons at non-resisting black protesters, the dogs and fire hoses unleashed against peaceful citizens demonstrating for their basic rights. Segregationists played their role in a pageant of brutal injustice vividly enough to stir the decency that resides in most Americans.
            Where is decency now? Is it gone or just marginalized, merely dormant? For a long time, McCarthy got away with his witch-hunt as a sly weasel in an era of exaggerated fears about communist designs on America. Trump gets away with his bullying as a vicious Rottweiler in a time of real and fake fears about insecurity in all its forms. Many of his supporters are legitimately scared of their economic peril, unduly afraid of terrorism, and eager to accept the scapegoats he offers, which include the varieties of people who represent a diversifying America.
Even if Trump does not win the Republican nomination, or even if he wins that but not the White House, his supporters will remain a restive, fulminating force of anger. So he has offered the country a lesson in its failure to remember that tolerance, logic, and the acceptance of difference is not genetic but must be learned anew by each generation.
The society has failed those who accept him as he vilifies and ridicules vast groups of people, a whole religion, all who try to govern, all who disagree. It has failed those who give a Nazi salute outside his rally and shout, “Go to Auschwitz,” as one man did. It has failed those who shout, “Nigger,” and “Go back to Africa.” It has failed those who cheer his invitation to beat up protesters, the empty promises he cannot possibly fulfill, the coarse insults he levels at fellow candidates. It has failed those whose schools have not taught them to check facts, research reality, know history, follow public issues, and make decisions that are carefully informed.
            On his 1954 program, “See It Now,” Ed Murrow read from the script that he and Fred Friendly had written about McCarthy. It is worth listening to today:
“We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine—and remember that we are not descended from fearful men. … We can deny our heritage and our history, but we cannot escape responsibility for the result.
“We cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home. The actions of the junior senator from Wisconsin have caused alarm and dismay amongst our allies abroad and given considerable comfort to our enemies. And whose fault is that? Not really his. He didn’t create this situation of fear. He merely exploited it, and rather successfully. Cassius was right. ‘The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our stars but in ourselves.’”
Murrow concluded with his traditional sign-off: “Good night and good luck.”

Good luck, indeed.

March 8, 2016

The Great Manipulator and the Velcro Candidate

By David K. Shipler

            If Ronald Reagan was the Great Communicator, as his admirers enjoyed saying, then Donald Trump is the Great Manipulator, with an uncanny eye for the voters’ nerves of fear and yearning. If criticisms slid off Reagan as if he were coated with Teflon, every one sticks to Hillary Clinton as if she were covered in Velcro. If Trump gets better at what he does, and if Clinton doesn’t unglue the labels of dishonesty and opportunism, the election could be close.
            Trump is dangerously clever at reading the electorate, at least the part of it whose anti-government anger and economic despair have been energized by Republican radicals who now wail as Trump rides the wave that they produced. Talk-show personality Glenn Beck, who incites furious extremism, compared Trump to Hitler in 1929 and warned Americans against voting in anger. “When you’re really angry, you don’t make good decisions,” Beck told a rally for Ted Cruz. “Don’t drive drunk, don’t vote angry.” That’s sage advice from a model of calm reason.
            But if Trump grabs the nomination, it would not be amazing to see him temper his insults, smooth his sharp edges somewhat, and stress the virtue of “flexibility,” a word he used a few times in the last debate. His bare-knuckled bullying appeals to some but repels others, even those who want a tough-guy act in the White House. If he managed to time his evolution deftly, he might just appeal to the wishful thinking of Republicans who want to beat Clinton at all costs. And costs there would be.

March 4, 2016

The Privacy Problem: Security vs. Security

By David K. Shipler

            We might be approaching a tipping point about privacy, as dramatized by the Apple-FBI dispute over decrypting a terrorist’s iPhone. After years of seeing privacy and safety as opposites in the war on terrorism, important segments of American society seem to be recognizing personal security and national security as parts of the same whole, not as a dichotomy in a zero-sum game. If this evolution continues, it could eventually produce a significant correction to the surveillance state that developed after the trauma of Sept. 11, 2001.
In the meantime, however, the two versions of security are colliding: the government’s rising concern about security from crime and terrorism in an age of digital encryption on the one hand, and, on the other, the public’s heightened interest in security from hackers, identity thieves, cyber-ransom demands, and—yes—government surveillance. Both sets of anxiety are justified. How to resolve the clash intelligently is far from clear.
The FBI’s effort to force Apple to create new software to disable an iPhone’s security features is propelling the courts forward in time at a faster speed than they typically travel. They usually lag well behind technology. But now they and Congress need to catch up quickly. That phone and hundreds of others sit in evidence lockers waiting to be cracked by law enforcement, requiring a creative effort by judges, legislators, prosecutors, and high-tech companies to make it possible—legally and technically—to execute a legitimate search warrant on a particular device without the risk of compromising security on all such devices.