Monday, October 21, 2019

Finding Something Nice To Say: Tulsi Gabbard Edition

My position on the 2020 Democratic primary, and all the diverse candidates running -- from Kamala Harris to Elizabeth Warren to Pete Buttigieg to Bernie Sanders -- has always been "There are many great candidates running for the Democratic nomination, and also Tulsi Gabbard."

That hasn't changed. But you should always find something nice to say about everyone, and here's mine for her.

Nobody should disrespect Tulsi Gabbard's military service. That principle I think is pretty well adhered-to, and obviously it doesn't mean that she's immune from critique due to her military service. But in particular, I do not think it is wrong or hypocritical for Rep. Gabbard to take the positions that she does on international affairs given her military service. That is something I have seen people do -- calling her out for opposing "regime-change" wars in the Middle East given that she effectively participated in such wars herself.

But military veterans are allowed to come to the conclusion that the wars they've fought in were ill-advised or unjust. It is wrong (and foolhardy) to insist that all veterans, to the extent that they rely upon their combat service in public affairs, can only speak out in favor of more interventions or operations of the sorts they participated in.

Rep. Gabbard's foreign policy positions are abysmal (here ends the "nice" part). But they're not more abysmal because of her military service. On that score, she deserves the same respect accorded to any other veteran -- including respecting her right to come to her own conclusion that the military operations she participated in reflected bad American policy.

Anyway, having said all that -- Rep. Gabbard's campaign continues to get no traction, and it is to the Democratic electorate's great credit that they have  shown no evidence of even being slightly tempted by her brand of Assadist-apologizing faux "anti-imperialism".

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Former Student Arrested in Antisemitic, Racist Graffiti Case

Burlingame Police have arrested a suspect in a vandalism case where racist and antisemitic graffiti was sprayed outside a Bay Area high school. Logan Stone, age 20, was apparently a recent graduate of the high school.

This is being reported in the Jewish press, though it isn't really getting national attention. Which doesn't really surprise or even bother me. Most local crime stories -- even those which have a racism and antisemitism hook to them -- don't make national news.

But I mention because I more-than-infrequently hear this plaintive whine from conservatives that basically says "any time a White person does something bad its an instant national news story, but if a Black person does it nobody cares!" This isn't really based on anything -- again, the vast majority of local crime stories remain nothing but local crime stories -- but it is a central feature of contemporary White grievance politics.

And so while I won't be so bold as to venture a guess as to the racial identity of "Logan Stone", I'd just note that Logan Stone's racism and antisemitism case has, unsurprisingly, not become a national news story.

Overriding Veto, Maryland Expands Voting Rights to Released Felons

The Maryland legislature, overriding a veto from Republican Governor Larry Hogan, has voted to restore voting rights to convicted felons upon their release from prison. Under prior law, voting rights would only be restored after parole and probation were completed.

I'm a bit of a fundamentalist on this issue -- I'm dubious that it's justifiable to remove the vote even from prisoners -- so I obviously support this move in Maryland. Our system of criminal justice needs to and should focus far more than it does now on how to reintegrate convicted criminals into society. Voting -- and participating in civic institutions more broadly -- is a powerful lever to do that.

This is the sixth veto Governor Hogan has laid down against bills passed in the Maryland legislature last session, and the sixth to be overriden. While it remains deeply embarrassing that Maryland has a Republican Governor in the first place, at least the legislature is doing what it can to ensure he remains an irrelevant speed bump.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

AOC, Tlaib, Omar Endorse Sanders

Reports are that three of the four "squad" members -- Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) -- are set to endorse Bernie Sanders for President. The fourth "squad" member, Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), is both more moderate (or at least more "establishment"-friendly) than the other three and is from Massachusetts, so it's unsurprising she's not joining them.

Anyway, what to make of this news?

Well first, it's obviously a great get for Sen. Sanders, whose campaign really could use a shot in the arm after losing a lot of ground to Elizabeth Warren over the past few weeks. AOC, Omar, and Tlaib are very well liked among the insurgent progressive left, and their backing can certainly help him make the case that he is materially distinct from Warren as the "true" left-wing candidate in the race.

That said -- how much will it help him? And what does this bode for the careers of AOC et al?

I suspect there was already a fair bit of overlap between Squad stans and Bernie fans. On one level, that means this endorsement makes sense -- the Squad is backing the candidate who is most well-liked by their base. Indeed, in some ways it might be not just a sensible but a politically necessary move -- I remember a few months back some of AOC's erstwhile backers had their knives already out at the prospect she might endorse Warren. On another level, though, it limits how much this endorsement moves the needle, insofar as their most enthusiastic backers were also already Bernie diehards.

Could the endorsement even turn out to be a negative for Bernie? I don't think so. Certainly, there certainly is a segment of Democrats who actively dislike the Squad. But I think that cadre generally consists of people who also loathe Bernie, so they weren't ever in reach to begin with. The real question is whether, of Democratic primary voters who have an amenable but not fannish outlook towards the squad, does this endorsement do much to push them into Bernie's arms? My gut says no. But we'll see.

This also raises the question about what this means for the influence of the Squad going forward. Rightly or not, AOC, Omar, and Tlaib have cultivated (or had thrust upon them) a particular image -- "giantkillers", "the future of the party", "voice of a generation", and so on. Much of this was exaggerated, and frankly a lot to place upon a group of first-year Congresswomen. But nonetheless, the image is in place. What happens, then, if they back Sanders and ... it has virtually no impact? They'll be viewed as paper tigers. Now again, really that'd mostly be a case of wildly unrealistic expectations coming back down to earth. The sense that AOC, Omar, or Tlaib were transcendent political figures who were going to immediately revolutionize progressive politics was always a hype job (and one that didn't just emanate from their own campaigns).

But to have it so clearly falsified -- endorsing Bernie and barely moving the needle -- still might be a painful process both for the Squad, and for their most passionate backers. It would represent a pretty decisive demonstration that the Democratic party and progressive movement still is moving to its own beat, and that far from representing the wave of the future, the Squad will have to put in a lot of work if they want their brand of progressive politics to stretch beyond the deepest blue U.S. House districts.

(The flip side of this, of course, is that if the 3/4 Squad endorsement ends up reviving Bernie's campaign -- much less propels him to victory -- then I think that's a pretty hefty datapoint in favor of the claim that there is a seachange and the Squad is leading it.)

Oh, and one more thing. Because this story involves Ilhan Omar and a Jew, we're seeing the usual frenzy of terrible takes on the subject of Omar and the Jews. On the one hand, no, simply endorsing a Jew does not itself falsify any antisemitism issues Omar might have. That's sophomoric; it's just another iteration of the "I have Jewish friends" defense. On the other hand, neither is it the case that Omar endorsing Sanders is a case of tokenism or a cynical act of pandering. Everything about Omar and Sanders' politics suggest they'd be natural political allies, and nothing in Omar's record suggests she'd refrain or even have second-thoughts about endorsing a natural ally simply because he's Jewish. Indeed, I bet that if Omar had endorsed, say, Elizabeth Warren instead, her most incorrigible critics would use that against her too ("Why didn't she endorse Sanders, who shares her far-left vision? It must be because he's a Jew!").

Ironically, both of these are opposing sides of the same coin: that antisemitism can only come in the form of frothing, undifferentiated hatred. If that's what it means, then a Sanders endorsement falsifies the case; save that the "it's a cynical tokenization play" is an attempt to salvage it. Both sides are wrong. The case that Ilhan Omar is that sort of antisemite is impossibly weak; the case that this sort of antisemitism is the only kind is theoretically bankrupt; the case that the kind of antisemitism that can plausibly be attributed to Omar is unique to her (as opposed to apparently being absolutely epidemic in Minnesota state politics and running riot through the Minnesota GOP in particular) is shot through with anti-Black and Islamophobic over-policing.

The simple, boring story is that Omar almost certainly endorsed Sanders because Sanders best maps onto Omar's vision of progressive politics. Nothing more complex than that.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

What I Did Over My Yom Kippur Break

I was home this year for the high holidays, which is always nice -- I got to see old friends, and my family hosts a Rosh Hashanah luncheon which is a highlight of the Bethesda social season.

Each year at Yom Kippur, between the morning and the afternoon services, my synagogue hosts a panel discussion with some foreign policy luminaries (it is a DC-area congregation) who give their thoughts on various international issues afflicting the world today. Israel is obviously typically discussed, but it's not the only topic -- the Kurds, Russia, and China were high on the agenda this year as well. It's mostly a way to keep our minds distracted from our stomachs as the fast rolls on, but it's still interesting nonetheless.

Anyway, this year I got to ask a question to the panel, and here's what I said (paraphrased -- I don't remember the exact words):
When I was growing up (and well into my adulthood) it was an article of faith in the Jewish community that if a fair deal between the Israelis and Palestinians was put on the table -- one that created a viable, democratic state with reasonable borders for both an Israel and a Palestine -- Israel would accept it, while Palestine would have to be induced or pressured into accepting it. Today, I don't think that assumption can be taken for granted, and we need to reckon with the possibility that Israel will have to be induced or pressured into accepting a fair deal as well.
My question is what sorts of inducements or pressures on the Israeli government are viable and appropriate to achieve this end? It seems boycotts are out -- fine. But when I talk to my students at Berkeley about BDS, many of them are receptive to the concerns the Jewish community has about boycotts, but then they ask me "okay, I hear you, but if not that, then what?" What are the alternative modes of pressure or inducement -- either from the U.S. government, or from American Jewish institutions -- that should be on the table?
I asked this question because it's one I'm genuinely curious about. I tell all of you that I asked this question because I think there is a lesson in how it was received, when asked at a synagogue, on the high holidays.

On the one hand, pages and pages of internet analysis tell me that asking this question, at a synagogue, on the high holidays!, should have gotten me run out of my congregation on a rail. But I would have been very surprised had that happen, and indeed that didn't happen. To the contrary, the question was appreciated; several congregants (including one staffer at the Israeli embassy -- again, DC-area congregation) came up to me afterwards to say they thought it was an important question and they were glad I asked it.

Not for the first time, I'm left wondering whether my home congregation is just very, very atypical in the Jewish community. Because as much as I read about "unquestioning support" this and "silencing" that, my experience continues to be that so long as you're not a gratuitous provocateur people in my Jewish spaces -- growing up and today -- are receptive to and willing to grapple with hard, probing, and challenge questions on matters that are often portrayed as communal third rails. So either my circle of Jewish community is highly anomalous -- or maybe we should think twice about some of the narratives we spread about collective Jewish intransigence around these issues.

On the other hand, and lest I brag too much about my community's willingness to dive into the hardest questions fearlessly and without flinching -- well, the panelists didn't give a straight answer to the actual question I asked. They were quite explicit that Israel is rolling down a one-state annexationist path and that this is not acceptable, that it's sort of all hands on deck in insisting that this isn't acceptable, and that we in the Jewish community need to emphasize the dangers of one-stateism at every available opportunity -- which was a bracing and important message, to be sure. But that litany, welcome as it was, didn't actually answer my question about "viable/valid forms of inducement and pressure on the Israeli government."

On the other, other hand, the congregants I talked to later had no trouble coming up with ideas on that score -- ranging from conditioning American aid to Israel to supporting more pointed UN security council resolutions on issues like the settlements and occupations. This conversation came with no fulminations, no recriminations, no screaming about how I was a self-hating Jew. Just a thoughtful, considered discussion.

So take from all of that what you will.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

How We Won't Respond to the German Synagogue Shooting

As many of you already know, there was a synagogue shooting in Germany yesterday, during Yom Kippur (the holiest day of the Jewish calendar). The perpetrator live-streamed the attack on Twitch, and may also have targeted a neighboring kebab shop. Two died; more no doubt would have had the synagogue's doors not been locked.

The killer (who has been arrested) appears to be a far-right German extremist. As we endure yet another act of horrific violence in our holy places, it has become all the more imperative that we mobilize together to figure out how to stop this. What policies, what practices, what interventions can keep the Jewish community safe -- in Germany, in America, and around the world?

On that score, here are a few things we will not be considering -- and thankfully so:

  • We will not suggest that the solution lies in a complete and total shutdown on Germans entering the United States, or efforts to restrict German or European migration more broadly;
  • We will not suggest that this is the inevitable byproduct of Europe being "overrun" by European men;
  • We will not insist on crackdowns or government surveillance targeting White, European men writ large;
  • We will not -- despite a ton of history to draw upon -- suggest that attempted mass murders of Jews simply is the full and faithful expression of authentic German-ness, European-ness, or Christianity.
We understand that such inquiries are ludicrously overbroad -- and more than that, would interfere with the real political and social alterations necessary to tackle the sort of violent antisemitic extremism embodied in this attack.

That is a lesson. It is a lesson that goes hand in hand with taking seriously -- deadly seriously -- the ideologies and hatefulness that produces violent antisemitism, no matter where it comes from. Tackling these awful ideologies -- whether they arise from the left or the right, from Islam or Christianity or some mutant form of neo-paganism, from elites or from the disaffected -- can and must be done. Antisemitic or otherwise bigoted ideologies can stem from all these sources, and they cannot go unchallenged. Things have gotten too seriously to ignore them.

But let's be clear: doing it seriously means avoiding profoundly unserious modes of explanation or critique. Sweeping dismissals of entire cultural, religious, or ethnic groups? That's not serious. That is the act of someone who, fundamentally, does not take this threat seriously.

We all intuitively know that in the case of the Halle shooting. But it is a lesson worth internalizing across the board.

Monday, October 07, 2019

Very Much Alive

Hey guys -- I just want everyone to know I'm not dead or anything like that, I'm just super busy. It's the middle of hiring season, and I, like an idiot, also scheduled two conferences over the next month.

So it's been a bit quiet here, and that might persist for the next few weeks. But I haven't abandoned this blog by any stretch, and with luck I might have some exciting news to announce in the near future!

Thursday, October 03, 2019

(Not) Rickey on Behalf of Rickey

I was somewhat of a Rickey Henderson fan when he played, but since his retirement his stock has only grown in my estimation. He really is one of the all-time greats to have ever played. Obviously, nobody disputes that Henderson is an obvious HOFer, but I still feel he's somewhat underrated only because his greatness wasn't a matter of big power (though he had real pop) but rather getting on (and then, obviously, advancing on) bases.

Anyway, I love these quotes from pitchers about the nightmare that it was to face Rickey Henderson at the plate:
"He was, by far, the most dynamic leadoff hitter I've ever seen," former Orioles pitcher Mike Flanagan said. "If you got 2-0 on him, you were fearful of throwing it down the middle because he could hit a home run. But if you threw ball three, he was going to walk, and then he's on second base. We had many, many long discussions on our pitching staff about how we could control this guy. He was irritating, infuriating and great."
"There was no one else like him," former pitcher Tom Candiotti said. "I hated Rickey. Really, I couldn't stand him. He never swung at my knuckleball, he never swung at my curveball. He never swung until he got two strikes. He had the strike zone the size of a coffee can. If you threw him a fastball, he would hit it for a home run. If you walked him, it was a triple. It was ridiculous. It was like, 'Good gosh, what are we going to do with this guy?'"
There wasn't much anyone could do. "We threw the kitchen sink at him to try to keep him close to first, which we couldn't, but once he got to second, forget about it," Flanagan said. "If you paid attention to him there, invariably [Carney] Lansford would hit a double, [Jose] Canseco or [Mark] McGwire would go deep. If you tried to hold him on all the way around the bases, it was so distracting, before you knew it, you were down five runs."