America: Politically Correct, and Politically Free


Pew research looks at the level of support for free speech across the globe and finds that it's highest (according to their measure) in the U.S.:

Enshrined in the Bill of Rights, free expression is a bedrock American principle, and Americans tend to express stronger support for free expression than many others around the world. A 38-nation Pew Research Center survey conducted in 2015 found that Americans were among the most supportive of free speech, freedom of the press and the right to use the internet without government censorship.

Moreover, Americans are much more tolerant of offensive speech than people in other nations. For instance, 77% in the U.S. support the right of others to make statements that are offensive to their own religious beliefs, the highest percentage among the nations in the study. Fully 67% think people should be allowed to make public statements that are offensive to minority groups, again the highest percentage in the poll. And the U.S. was one of only three nations where at least half endorse the right to sexually explicit speech. Americans don’t necessarily like offensive speech more than others, but they are much less inclined to outlaw it.

To get a summary measure of support for free expression around the world, we built an index based on five survey questions about free speech and three about free media. Using this measure, Americans emerge as the biggest supporters of free expression among the 38 nations studied. And unlike so many other issues in the U.S., wide open, free-ranging public debate has an appeal across party lines. There are relatively few differences between Democrats, Republicans and independents when it comes to free expression.

However, there are some important generational differences on this issue. For instance, 40% of U.S. Millennials think the government should be able to prevent people from making statements that are offensive to minority groups, compared with 27% of those in Generation X, 24% of Baby Boomers, and just 12% of Silent Generation Americans. Nonwhite respondents (38%) are also more likely to hold this view than whites (23%).

Apart from debates over whether offensive language should be legal, most Americans believe people are just too easily offended nowadays. In a 2016 Pew Research Center survey, 59% agreed with the statement “Too many people are easily offended these days over the language that others use,” while only 39% said “people need to be more careful about the language they use to avoid offending people with different backgrounds.”

Yet another stereotype of American society down the drain. Germans consider America to be the homeland of political correctness, the dastardly censorship of controversial views which is spreading like a virus into German society. This impression, like so many others, is created by selective German news coverage. Most Germans still unthinkingly rely on the mainstream media to decide what it's important to know about the United States.

Which they do, according to their own narrow, nearly-identical criteria, determined by the tastes and preferences of educated urban haute-bourgeois Germans. And they have decided, for reasons which would be interesting to know, that Americans are afflicted by the worst case of political correctness on the globe. Journos pounce on every story showing the excesses of politically-correct scolding in the United States. 

Yet what Pew shows us is that Americans likely have the highest tolerance for offensive speech of anyone in the world.

The problem here is one of definition. Political correctness as a tendency of private persons in civil society to denounce someone's remarks, or Halloween costume, or state flag as offensive. There is a lot of that sort of thing in the United States. And there is certainly some chilling effect on college campuses, which are full of people whose job is essentially to have opinions.

Yet in another way, America is much more free than all other nations on earth. The Constitution and American culture prevent the government from punishing offensive speech to a greater degree than anywhere else. In America, the government cannot pre-emptively stop a newspaper from printing offensive speech, or stolen secret documents. Publications generally cannot be seized after they're printed. Ordinary citizens may advocate violence, deny the Holocaust, use ethnic slurs, and espouse racism without fear of government intervention. (As long as these are words alone -- you can still be punished for actions such as workplace discrimination or bias-motivated hate crimes). You can neither be punished by the government nor sued for money by a private citizen for an insult, not matter how vicious or crude it is. You can protest at the funeral of a soldier with signs which insult "fags" and say "Thank God for Dead Soldiers".


In almost all other countries on earth, any one of these actions or statements could expose you to criminal prosecution by the government or an order to compensate victims with money damages in civil court. Not in the U.S. And, as the Pew survey shows, the majority of Americans approve of this state of affairs. Even millennials, the most PC group of them all, are not clamoring for restrictions on free speech.

So in the United States, if you say something quite rude and non-PC, you may be castigated on Twitter and denounced by your audience.

If you say the same thing in many other countries, you could be hit with a government-imposed fine or civil damages verdict. Perhaps even a prison sentence.

The amount of politically-correct scolding in a country has no relation to the level of genuine freedom of expression. After all, politically-correct scolding is freedom of expression. The U.S. is a hotbed both of political correctness and of free speech.

After Hillary Wins

For those of you interested in the current election, Kevin Drum maps out what will happen after Clinton wins in November, which is now all but a certainty:

  • The Republican Party will completely disown and repudiate Donald Trump....
  • With few other choices around, Paul Ryan becomes the undisputed leader of the Republican Party.
  • After the election Republicans will do their usual "autopsy," and it will say the usual thing: Demographic trends are working against them, and they have to reach out to non-white, non-male voters if they don't want to fade slowly into irrelevance. In the last 25 years, they've won two presidential elections by the barest hair's breadth and lost the other five—and this is only going to get worse in the future.
  • Hillary Clinton will remain the pragmatic dealmaker she is. And despite the current bucketloads of anti-Hillary red meat that Republicans are tossing around right now, most of them trust her to deal honestly when it comes to political bargains.

This means that the next four years depend entirely on Paul Ryan. So what will he do? I maintain that this is a very open, very interesting question.

I've gotten some pushback lately for a couple of posts where I've gone soft on Ryan. But here's the thing: when it comes to Ryan's budget policies, I have nothing but contempt for him. Here's a typical post of mine from a few years ago, and there are plenty more just like it. But it's foolish to insist that simply because someone disagrees with my politics they're either stupid or irredeemably evil. Ryan is neither.

So what will Ryan do? One possibility, of course, is that he'll take the simplest route: endless obstruction, just like 2009. Republicans may be a divided party, but one thing they all agree on is that they hate Hillary Clinton and they want to prevent her from doing anything.

But there's another possibility. Ryan is not a racial fearmonger. He's always been open to immigration reform. He's consistently shown genuine disgust for Donald Trump. He's been open to making low-key deals in the past. He's smart enough to know precisely the depth of the demographic hole Republicans are in. And despite being conservative himself, he may well realize that the GOP simply can't stay in thrall to the tea party caucus forever if it wants to survive....

It's also possible that he wants to run for president in 2020, and if that's the case he'll do better if he has some real accomplishments to show over the next four years. Running on a platform of scorched-earth obstruction might get the tea partiers excited, but that's not enough to win the presidency.

So maybe Ryan decides that now is the time to try to reform the Republican Party. Once he wins the speakership again, he makes clear to the tea partiers that they're finished as power brokers: he's going to pass bills even if it means depending on Democratic support to do it. He reaches out to women and minorities. He passes immigration reform. He makes sure that budgets get passed and we don't default on the national debt. He works behind the scenes with Hillary Clinton in standard horsetrading mode: she gets some things she wants, but only in return for some things conservatives want.

This could go a long way toward making him the next president of the United States. If he plays his cards right, Clinton might suffer with her base for selling them out on some of the deals she makes. Ryan will get the tea partiers under control and have some accomplishments to run on. He'll soften the nonwhite disgust with the party enough to pick up some minority votes. Maybe the economy helps him out by going soft in 2019. And he's already got good looks, youth, and an agreeable speaking style going for him.

So which Paul Ryan will we get in 2017? The movement conservative who breathes fire and insists that Hillary Clinton will never get one red cent for any of her satanic priorities? Or a conservative but realistic leader who's willing to make deals as a way of bringing the Republican Party back from the brink of destruction that Donald Trump has led them to?

The one thing Drum leaves out is that if Ryan takes the pragmatic approach, the Republican party could split into the Chamber of Commerce and Trump/Tea Party factions. The odds against this are still very heavy, since everyone knows that splinter parties quickly fade into irrelevance in America's two-party, first-past-the-post system.

But if each splinter party believes it has a genuine chance of winning (i.e., taking over a 'reconstituted' Republic Party after the civil war), they might just do it. And if that happens, all bets are off. There would surely be a push to change the American political system to make it more friendly to smaller parties.

However, this would be considered a radical change. Further, the American constitutional system would have to be changed to create a genuine Parliamentary system, and there's zero support for that. But the US system could easily be made more flexible right now, as 2004 candidate Howard Dean explained in a recent New York Times editorial:

It’s as easy as 1-2-3. Voters have the option to rank the candidates from first to last, and any candidate with a majority of first choices wins, just as in any other election. But if no candidate has a majority, you hold an “instant runoff” tally in order to compare the top two candidates head to head. Candidates in last place are eliminated, and their backers’ votes are counted for their next choice. When it’s down to two, the winner earns a majority of the vote.

.... Ranked-choice voting represents the latter — and better — approach. Voters can support their favorites while still voting effectively against their least favorite. Having more competition encourages better dialogue on issues. Civility is substantially improved. Needing to reach out to more voters leads candidates to reduce personal attacks and govern more inclusively.

Some critics suggest it’s a crutch for independents and minor parties because they can compete without being spoilers and may earn invitations to more debates. Others suggest it’s a trick to make it harder for third parties to win. But the reality is that everyone would need to accept the challenge of being responsive to more voters. That’s a challenge that many major party backers like me are eager to embrace.

This would enable a kind of strategic voting in American elections. It would also foster a sort of coalition-building process during the election, as candidates who can't get a majority of first-place votes reach out to other parties for second-place votes. Whether this would genuinely improve civility remains to be seen. I actually think it might, and would support it.

There's More Routine Political Violence In Germany than in the USA

A Republican Party office in Orange County, North Carolina, was firebombed, and the attackers sprayed graffiti calling on 'Nazi Republicans' to leave. This was considered so unusual and ominous in the USA that it made national headlines. And it comes during what is unquestionably the most divisive and emotional Presidential campaign in modern history. Hillary Clinton responded:

Yet political violence of this sort of thing happens every single day in Germany. Members and employees of the right-wing AfD have been shot at (g), beaten (g), and targeted with demonstrations blockading the entrance to their own homes "mourning" their deaths (g). The AfD has created a central registry (g) of criminal attacks against its members and employees. The car owned by the chairwoman of the AfD was destroyed in an arson attack (g). Both right-wing (g, in Dresden) and left-wing (g, in Berlin) hooligans rampage through the center of large German cities, attacking people and things they associate with their political enemies, causing millions of Euros in damage. The offices of the left-wing Die Linke party have been attacked hundreds of times (g). Attacks on police officers in Germany are rising steadily (g) and becoming a problem for recruitment (g).

Of course, there have been riots, looting, and fatal shootings in the US related to protests against police violence. Once again, the disastrous consequences of the large number of guns circulating in the US can be seen. But aside from these spectacular incidents, the level of routine politically-motivated property damage and physical attacks is probably higher in Germany than in the United States. Just as the overall level of violent crime in Germany is higher than in the US.

Germany is not on the brink of collapse, and serious injury or death from these events is extremely rare. But the notion that Germany is an Arcadia of reasoned discourse while the US is a Wild West nightmare of flying bullets -- an assumption that underpins much German reporting -- is false.

UPDATE -- A Massachusetts Democrat started a Gofundme page to repair the burned Republican field office and raised $13,000 from fellow Democrats within hours.

Germany's Extreme Refugee Masochism, Part XXIV

In the New Haven Independent, the outreach director of a refugee resettlement charity in the United States takes issue with Donald Trump:

When asked in the most recent presidential debate about the Syrian refugee crisis, Donald Trump Jr. said his proposed ban on Muslim immigration to the U.S. has become a plan of “extreme vetting … because we don’t even know who they are.”

But we do know who they are.

The U.S. vetting process for refugees is already the most rigorous in the world. Refugees who are being considered for resettlement to the U.S. undergo seven background checks by national security agencies and in-person interviews with Department of Homeland Security personnel. But refugees are not just threats we need to vet, nor are they simply victims we need to save.

I have the privilege of knowing who refugees are. Through my work at IRIS — Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services, a not-for-profit that is resettling almost 500 refugees to Connecticut this year, I interact with refugees every day.  The refugees I know are not terrorists or just victims. They’re the gay man from Baghdad who shows me pictures of his cat, the Afghan single mom who does YouTube yoga, the Congolese toddler who’s learning to wink, the fisherman who Skypes with his parrot back in Iraq, the Syrian teens who text while they ride their bikes.

Two things. First, note that the refugees mentioned here are almost all women and children, or people who, like the gay man from Baghdad, obviously appear to have grounds for refugee status. This is what happens when you screen migrants before you let them into your country.

Second, note that the woman who wrote this anti-Trump article, a proud liberal who actually helps run a refugee charity, does not complain about the background checks. She even seems proud of the fact that the U.S. vetting process is "rigorous". That is, even as a liberal who is intimately familiar with the problems of refugees, she accepts that every single asylum applicant will be exhaustively screened by "national security agencies".

Contrast this with the reaction to the latest bomb-maker migrant in Germany, an ISIS terrorist named Jaber Al-Bakr who entered Germany as a "refugee". This case is worth a short digression. Albakr had already prepared 1.5 kilograms of the high-explosive TATP in an ordinary apartment building in Chemnitz, Germany. Watch what just 10 grams of that stuff can do here. If this notoriously unstable compound had exploded, dozens of his neighbors would have been killed and injured. The police, acting on information given to them by the American NSA (g), which had gathered it through phone surveillance, found out about his activities. But Albakr escaped blanket surveillance (g) by elite German security services, was on the loose for days, and was only captured by fellow Syrians who recognized his wanted photo and tied him up while he was sleeping

His capture was celebrated by the German mainstream press as a victory for Germany's intelligence services, despite the fact that German intelligence would never have known of him had it not been for the NSA, and that he was literally allowed to walk right past German cops and escape from surveillance, and that Germany was on edge for days with a known terrorist free in their midst, and that police were unable to catch him on their own.

I'd say celebrating this train-wreck as effective intelligence work shows how low standards are in the German mainstream press, who are desperate to reassure readers that everything's fine with the refugees, move along here, nothing to see.

But then something else happened. Albakr was allowed to hang himself in his prison cell. There is no video surveillance in the cell where this experienced bomb-maker was being held, and authorities, after initially ordering checks every 15 minutes, decided there was no need for such precautions and reduced the suicide checks to once only every 30 minutes. He seemed "calm" in interviews, you see.

After this orgy of SNAFUs, the conservative CSU party demanded background checks for all refugees and that German intelligence services be given full access to the database of information on migrants (which, surprisingly enough, they don't have now). The reaction from left-wing German politicians was a litany of the same old cliches: More surveillance won't help (g), we shouldn't put all refugees under blanket suspicion (g), there's no reason to act (g).

The contrast is clear again: the liberal American friend to refugees accepts that background checks are necessary and uses that fact to reassure Americans that it's appropriate to take more refugees. Humanitarian relief must be balanced by legitimate security interests.

The German center-left political mainstream, despite several attacks and many more close calls, continues to resist universal background checks on refugees prior to entry, the policy of just about every other nation on the planet.

Who are the extremists here?

German Immigration Policy is Extreme, Vol. XXII

The point can't be made often enough: Germany's immigration policy is extreme and irresponsible. 

Letting hundreds of thousands of able-bodied young males from the world's most violent and unstable areas into your country is extreme and irresponsible.

Not subjecting them to background or security checks is extreme and irresponsible.

Allowing thousands people with obviously fraudulent passports (g) to enter your country is extreme and irresponsible. Over 2200 people entered Germany with fraudulent passports. Although this is a crime with a sentence of up to 5 years in Germany and presumptively disqualifies you from claiming asylum, nothing was done.

And now for a look at a non-extreme policy. Here's an excerpt from the second US Presidential debate in which Hillary Clinton explains her proposal to permit 65,000 refugees from the Syrian civil war to relocate to the US:

Well, first of all I will not let anyone into our country that I think poses a risk to us. But there are a lot of refugees - women and children - think of that picture we also that four-year-old boy with the blood on his forehead because he'd been bombed by the Russian and Syrian air forces. There are children suffering in this catastrophic war, largely I believe, because of Russian aggression. And we need to do our part. We by no means are carrying anywhere near the load that Europe and others are.

But we will have vetting that is as tough as it needs to be from our professionals, our intelligence experts, and others.

The point is not whether you agree with this plan, or whether you think Clinton will do it right. The point is that this is the center-left position on refugee relocation -- women and children first, and strict security checks. A policy that balances humanitarian refuge with the legitimate interest in protecting domestic security.

The German government, by contrast, followed (and is still somewhat following) a kind of extreme left, open-borders, masochistic policy. It has intentionally refused to balance security with humanitarian imperatives, instead deciding to allow hundreds of thousands of random strangers into its country with no background checks at all, despite blatant evidence of fraud and concealment. The recent revelation that a 22-year-old Syrian male "refugee" was an ISIS operative who planned to bomb a German airport is only the latest evidence of how this policy has increased risks for ordinary Germans.

This is the necessary context to understanding why support for Merkel's party is dropping and the right-wing AfD party is increasing. Merkel, for reasons historians will speculate about forever, abandoned the sensible center-left consensus on this issue embodied by Clinton and instead chose an extreme-left policy which no other nation on earth thinks is responsible.

Operation Glasshole™ Concluded

Yesterday, I donned protective gloves and wading boots, and finally finished cleaning up one short stretch of the Düssel river. Here's the video: 

As you can see, another 100 or so bottles, to add to the 100 or so I had fished out before. Plus, this round brought us:

  • A steak knife
  • 7 more bicycle locks
  • a pair of sunglasses
  • one (1) women's boot
  • a 1.5- meter length of rusting steel re-bar
  • a disc-shaped battery-operated IKEA light fixture, complete with rotting batteries
  • 5 plastic bags or pieces of plastic sheeting
  • 1 more umbrella
  • 1 section of metal grille
  • several plastic cups
  • three metal rods and/or picture frame elements
  • one laminated official notice on white A4 paper from the City of Düsseldorf which was formerly attached to the bridge, warning people not to lock their bikes to it until 16 October 2016 because of bridge maintenance.
  • what appeared to be one-half of a foam soccer ball
  • a still-stoppered fake mother-of-pearl perfume bottle
  • several parts of an ironing board
  • a few unclassifiable pieces of metal and plastic which looked like auto or machine parts

I displaced at least 10 juvenile and 2 adult spiny-cheeked crayfish from inside various bottles.

At the end of the day after making several tours of inspection, I could see no more junk. There were still hundreds of bottle caps, but I have my limits. One couple passing by asked me whether I was fishing for eels. After I was done, I had a chat with the Slavic woman who runs the convenience store next to the bridge. She called me "poor guy", and apparently assumed my clean-up operation was a form of punishment. I informed her that I had just gotten fed up and decided to clean up the river. She said "Well, that's nice of you, but let me tell you, people are just going to keep throwing stuff into it. I sit here all day and watch them."

I said that almost all the stuff was covered in silt, which made it seem as if it had been there a long time. She said that, on second thought, that she hadn't seen much littering lately: "There was a group of people who were doing most of it who moved away." She made a certain gesture indicating what sort of people they were, but I couldn't really decipher it. It sort of looked like a mixture of air-bottle glug-glug (drunks) mixed with some kind of arm-waving. Possibly a Nazi salute. But I can't be sure.

This gives me some hope that most of the garbage came from short bursts of antisocial behavior years ago; possibly a gaggle of winos colonizing the riverbank for a few days, throwing their empties (mostly 200 ml flasks of Stepanoff vodka) into the stream. And then, of course, the garbage was passively tolerated by thousands of local residents who crossed the bridge over the years, wrinkling their noses in disapproval but doing nothing about it.

One mystery that's provoked plenty of discussion on my Facebook page is the bicycle locks. A few of them had obviously been cut, but most of them seemed to be intact. Which raises the question of why anyone would throw what appears to be an intact bicycle lock into the stream? My only guess is that some people steal bikes by picking the locks. Then they reattach the lock and throw it in the river, presumably to get rid of evidence. It seems like a fairly ludicrous precaution, given that local police don't even try to solve individual bike thefts. But who knows?

Any guesses about this mystery?

The Disgusting Things I Found in the Düssel

Yesterday I took advantage of the nice weather and went fishing for garbage in the local stream that runs through my neighborhood, the Düssel.

The main find was bottles. At least 100 of them. Everything from small schnapps bottles to beer bottles to hip flasks of cheap vodka to actual wine bottles. All covered in and/or filled with nasty blackish gunk. Here are three of them, and what looks like a decaying can of Red Bull, just to give you an idea:


But wait! That's not all! Once I actually got into the middle of the river, I found all sorts of other garbage, including 7-8 bike locks, an umbrella, various metal rods, a lightbulb, a pair of scissors, clothes, and rotten plastic bags. Here's just a selection:


Finally, exhausted, I had to give up. It's pretty tiring wading through mud and hauling heavy sacks of garbage up the riverbank. And I found all of this in only a 10-meter-long section of the river south of a well-traveled bridge.

There's still a bunch of junk in only this section of the river. So I'm going to go back today, and hope to at least get this section cleaned up.

Düsseldorfers, you should be ashamed of yourselves. Really, light bulbs? Umbrellas?

On a cheerier note, it turns out that rubber boots are surprisingly comfortable! Also, it seems that at least some life forms can survive in this filth. The ducks stay away from this part of the river, probably having cut their feet on broken glass. But I did one adult and a few juvenile Kamberkrebs, the spiny-cheeked crayfish. Unfortunately, this is an invasive species from America which is an asymptomatic carrier of crayfish plague, which has devastated native European crayfish populations. I probably should have ended them, but I didn't have the heart.

And now, off to start Phase 3 of Operation Glasshole™. I should get some kind of medal for this.

Operation Glasshole™ Phase II Preparation Intermediate Status Report

Both here and on Facebook, where I post much more interesting stuff much more frequently, the question has been raised: what happened to the bottles I removed?

The answer is I dumped them all in a nearby recycling box.

Germans, notorious as among the stingiest penny-pinching races on earth (sorry guys, you know I love you but it's true), are now collectively spit-taking in a combination of intense disapproval, anguish, and Angstlust: "Dear God!! You mean you just threw away bottles worth €1.78?!??! Typical wasteful American."

Allow me to explain. The bottles were, as I earlier remarked, all covered in some sort of black slime, inside and out. Probably some combination of tannin from rotting tree leaves and fine particulates from automobile exhaust. It would have taken 2 or 3 minutes of hand-washing to clean each one.

Further, the labels had all long since rotted off the bottles. Nowadays, it is the label on the bottle that contains the all-important bar code which machines use to calculate the deposit. Without a label, you're done for.

Now I hear many Germans saying: "So what? Technically, stores are still required to give you the deposit back if you present them with a bottle, even if it doesn't have a label. After all, it's the glass that's important for recycling, not the label. I once saw a rail thin, boil-covered man with mushrooms growing in his beard actually manage to convince a supermarket manager to give him an 8-cent deposit on an unlabeled beer bottle after a 5-minute argument. See, it can be done!"

I've seen that man, too. But I don't want to be that man. So no, I am not earning anything on the bottles.

On another note, it turns out that wading boots are quite cheap. I thought they might be kind of expensive, but that's only because I live near a Sack & Pack luxury camping-supplies store, which has wading boots hand-crafted by transgendered Tibetan orphans selling for €170 per boot. Online, you can get cheap rubber boots for 7 Euros, so that's what I bought.

Once Phase II is complete, I will furnish a thorough report.