Friday, February 03, 2006

Bad Argumentation Makes Me :(

If you look at the very top of this site, you'll note that it's titled "The Debate Link." Many of you also probably know this is a homage to my debate background--I come from an environment where good arguments and analysis are actually valued and respected (what a difference from modern politics). In any event, this gives me a reduced tolerance for poor argumentation. And a response from Kip Esquire to my D.C. Olympics post is emblematic of just really shoddy reasoning.

Basically, I used the prospect of a D.C. Olympic curling team to note my support for D.C. statehood and/or voting rights. In response, I get trackbacked by this oh-so-clever rejoinder [UPDATE: Kip wants me to know that he wrote his post first, and then linked to mine later. Okay, fair enough--but his post remains really, really, really wrong--and it shouldn't have taken a college Sophomore to point it out]:
Okay, humor aside - the subject of (voting) congressional representation for residents of the District of Columbia?

It's quite simple really: too bad, so sad. You don't like it? Then either move or amend the Constitution.

The question of "one person, one vote" came up during the Alito confirmation hearings. It's an important constitutional principle. But so is the concept that the District of Columbia is not a state and therefore is simply not entitled to (voting) congressional representation.
So okay, fine, disenfranchisement of D.C. residents stinks. Point conceded.

But it's what the Constitution calls for. Don't like it? Amend it. It wouldn't be the first time.

My immediate first thought was "wait a minute--where in the constitution does it mandate that D.C. residents not be allowed to vote?" The closest thing on point is Article I, Section 8, Clause 17, which reads as follows:
[Congress has the power] To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and the acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States....

This in no way precludes D.C. voting rights. For one, it's a grant of power, not a mandate. Congress can choose to exercise it in anyway it wishes. It doesn't have to exercise it in a manner which deprives U.S. citizens of representation. Hell, it doesn't even have to exercise it at all if it doesn't want to. Moreover, there is no plausible way to interpret said clause to prevent many of the forwarded plans to restore D.C. voting rights--retro-ceding of most or all of the territory to Maryland, or simply declaring it another state (as Congress is empowered to do under Article IV Section 3). Kip tries to argue in comments that this would violate "the constitutional provision for the 'seat of government,'" but as I pointed out above, there is no such provision in terms of it being an inviolable mandate (only an option that Congress can decide to or not to exercise). But even if there needs to be some minimum territory given to the federal government for their use alone, I don't think most D.C. residents would object if the bare "core" of the federal government (White House, Capitol Building, maybe the Mall) were considered federal territory as long as Georgetown and Mt. Pleasant and Anacostia were granted full representation. The constitutional argument is wildly off the mark.

My next thought was that it's a bit cruel to tell DCers that they should just "amend the constitution." Amending the constitution is a democratic process that (almost always) begins with a congressional vote. The problem we're trying to rectify here is that...Washingtonians don't have congressional votes. So in effect, you're telling D.C. residents that they should resort to a process that they don't have access to. Ouch. Sure, it's not an insurmountable hurdle (see Amendment 23), but even still: doesn't it sound more like something Catbert would do than a real, breathing, ensouled human being? Even in normal cases, the "just amend the constitution" argument doesn't do much for me, as (like in this case) it's usually a shield for absurdly narrow readings of the constitutional text, but in this case, it's especially ridiculous. It's like telling a black slave in 1820 that if doesn't like slavery, he should just amend the constitution. To amend the constitution, you got to stop being a slave, to stop being a slave, you got to amend the constitution--oh the pain!

But the final thing, and the part that really got to me, was this: why not amend the constitution? This is what really makes his argument non-sensical, because distilled down it makes his post into this:
(1) A group of Washingtonians are trying to form an Olympic squad to draw attention to their lack of representation

(2) Giving them representation would require a constitutional amendment, therefore

(3) The Washingtonians are stupid

Nothing in my post, or the D.C. statehood movement, or using an Olympic team to draw attention to said movement, would preclude the constitutional option. It is completely and utterly irrelevant to our advocacy at this level. So why all the snark? Given that Kip concedes that Washington disenfranchisement "stinks," it would seem plausible that he would support such an amendment. And in building up political capital to get said amendment passed, the D.C. team could be invaluable--or at least, as likely to be valuable as any other stunt pulled by citizens deprived of their right to vote (maybe they could initiate a bus boycott? Worked for Dr. King). Now, Kip and I disagree about whether an amendment is constitutionally necessary to achieve this (and by "disagree" I mean he's inarguably wrong about it). But at the end of the day, all that should result in is a post from Kip that supports D.C. enfranchisement, but caveating that he thinks a constitutional amendment is required to do it. And perhaps he could argue that the Olympic stunt is likely to backfire, or won't work, or otherwise would harm the movement (I don't know). But ultimately, his post as stands is the most naked straw-man argument I've seen in ages.

Too bad, too sad.

Across the Border

Living approximately five minutes from the D.C. border, I am a firm advocate for D.C. statehood, or barring that, at least full voting rights. As such, I will be cheering full-throat for the D.C. Olympic team!

Sure, they only have a Curling squad. And sure, it probably isn't very good. And sure, they're not formally recognized yet. But you can change that (or at least, the last part of it), by going to their official site and writing to the IOC to allow the DC team to join. After all, if Guam gets a team, and Puerto Rico gets a team, and American Samoa gets a team--why not D.C.? At the very least, it would be a great way to raise awareness about this travesty of American democracy.

Makes me almost sad that I don't live 5 minutes further Southeast...

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Blah Blah Blah...I Mean Do You Really Think Blah?

I'm so using some of these in my Constitutional Law class. I share Heidi Bond's favorite:
Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Haven't Read

Answer the prof's question with another question. If he fires back with yet another question, it's on. If not, he loses, and you should tell him so.

Bring it.

Pet Peeve of the Day: Professors who write that they are not "persuaded" by the key argument in your paper, but give absolutely no indictment of the analysis there-in. Especially when they spell it "pursuaded."

Happy Moment of the Day: Duke holding on to beat BC. Though they gave me a heart attack in the process. Or specifically, one continuous heart attack throughout the second half, coupled with several minor ones whenever Greg Paulus tried to drive the basket.

Bang My Head Against The Wall Moment of the Day: Jimmy Carter telling me to "give Hamas a chance." "Just give peace a chance" was at least idealistically sensical. This is just idiotic.

Excuses Excuses

Sorry for the weak blogging recently (I feel like I'm always apologizing for that. Maybe I should start writing posts congratulating myself for good blogging). This has been a heavy work week. Or so it is from my perspective. But I always wonder how this sounds to the many professionals who blog far more frequently than I do even on a good day, and yet have far more work than I do on my worst days. I mean, are my (innumerably huge amount of) law professor readers chuckling when I claim to be swamped by an annotated bibliography and a 5 page Hebrew essay, when they're busy polishing off another 50 page law review article like they were born with it? I have to say, it's kind of a scary thought.

In my defense, these people are doing a job they love (or at least in a field they love). I could probably tolerate an indefinite amount of Constitutional Law homework without it affecting my blogging. I like Law assignments. It's Science & Society work that seems to be difficult all out of proportion to it's quantity (Science & Society is a 3:15 class which, after two hours of lecture and discussion, one looks at the clock to see that it is still only 3:30). It's not like law professors have to spend hours each day working on Biology labs. So of course it's easier for them.

Or perhaps I'm just rationalizing.

In any event, 5 minutes of my time was just spent watching Keith Olbermann viciously smack down Bill O'Reilly on-air. Oh it's a beautiful sight to behold.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Alas, A Debate

So Ampersand has issued a lengthy and interesting response to my series of posts regarding the link between anti-Semitism and assaults on Israel. I want to briefly respond to a few points here.

The first thing I want to observe is just a generic difficulty in argumentation. Most people (myself included) argue by analogy--X is like Y, so X should be treated like Y is treated. The problem is that X and Y are never exactly alike, so many debates become an indefinite spiral of distinction-drawing between the various Xs and Ys put out on the argumentative table. And I think we're seeing a bunch of that here.

Consider, for example, Amp's claim that by indicting Chomsky solely on "mixed signals", I'm being unfair and unjust to him.
To answer David, yes, we should require more than "mix signals" before we slander someone with this most serious of accusations. Ticking-bomb scenarios aside, there is no reasonable standard that says "the more serious the accusation, the less important it is to find clear evidence." We do not, for instance, require less evidence to find someone guilty of murder than of jaywalking, on the grounds that murder is so important an issue that even mixed evidence should be enough.

This confuses the standards we apply for legal versus social sanction. If Chomsky were on trial for "anti-semitism" or whatever, then clearly "mixed signals" shouldn't be enough to convict. The standard is "guilty beyond a reasonable doubt", and that's true regardless of the crime. Fair enough--but I don't make my social decisions of who to interact with and who to avoid using the "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard, and I don't think anyone else does either. If I reasonably suspect that someone I know is either ambivalent toward the Holocaust's existence, or denies that it has meaning, or is perfectly comfortable associating herself with those who deny the Holocaust's existence/meaning, then I feel perfectly justified no longer associating with that person. Just because he wasn't convicted at trial doesn't mean I have to be friends with O.J. Simpson. Furthermore, I do think that in social matters it's okay if we have sliding scale for "crimes" of differing magnitudes. Reasonable suspicion that someone is a drug user probably won't make me abandon my friendship, reasonable suspicion that they are a murderer probably will. The standards we use in public law versus private conduct are and should be very distinct.

Similarly, Amp analogizes my description of Chomsky and Pappe as being the Jewish versions of Clarence Thomas and Ward Connerly with my previous denunciation of Black critics who try and strip conservative Blacks of their "Black status." I say specifically in my post that this isn't my goal with Chomsky or Pappe--but Amp just says that there is no logical distinction between the two cases. I think the fact that I specifically disclaim the intention to strip Chomsky of his "Jewishness" is a major distinction that has great relevance, especially given the point I was trying to make:
That doesn't mean that they don't have the right to express their opinions, or that they should be expelled from the Jewish/Black community, I advocate neither. But it does mean that if we, as progressives, are going to address anti-semitism in the same manner as we do racism, as a structural matter deeply ingrained in the fabric of global society, then we can't be side-tracked simply because a few reactionaries have decided to join forces with those who'd deny or minimize the presence/importance of these ills in the modern world.

That strikes me as a fair compromise between abandoning identity politics entirely (because it's impossible to ever group everyone into one position), and exiling any speaker who doesn't conform to the prefigured determination of what their identity ought be.

I also want to point out that I don't oppose all criticisms of Israel (I've done it too), as Amp implies, but I am indicting people who think Israel shouldn't exist as a Jewish state, and think that given the global history of anti-Semitism it is important to subject general critiques to critical analysis to see how, if at all, they are undergirded by anti-Semitic myths, mentalities, or practices.

I think at this point it would be useful to clarify just how one can be anti-Semitic with regards to Israel. This tends to defy easy delineation, but I'll try anyway.

1) Explicitly or implicitly linking anti-Semitic stereotypes or sentiments to the critique (regardless of what the substance of the critique is). I think everyone agrees that the statement "The Kikes need to take down the Security Wall" is anti-Semitic (even if one thinks the wall should be taken down). That's explicit. Implicit means absorbing the anti-Semitic aura of society and applying to Israel subconsciously (I talked in my last post about the "mark of Cain" myth and how I think it's applicable). Subconscious racism/anti-Semitism, basically.

2) Criticizing Israel disproportionately or hypocritically with respect to other states. For example, since 2003 the UN has taken 351 Human Rights Actions with regards to Israel--more than any other state. Second place, with 141 (I.E., less than half as many) is Sudan, which, you may recall, is currently in the middle of a genocide. When Israel is critiqued by a global body 2.5x more frequently than is another country in the midst of a mass slaughter, I think it's fair to accuse said body of anti-Semitism. Obviously, there are other factors that go into play beyond a simple "criticize equal offenders equally" equation. Amp argues that disproportionate American criticism of Israel is justified on several grounds: That we provide loads of funding to them, and that Israel was founded by White Westerners in a non-White Western region. I'd first note that there are other factors Amp isn't recognizing that I think play in rather strongly here--most importantly gravity of the offense. Yes, all else being equal I care more about what happens in places where my money is being spent than where it isn't--but the world isn't 'ceteris paribus.' I think it is fair for me to be more concerned about Sudanese Janjaweed systematically raping and butchering black Africans than Israel bulldozers knocking down a house owned by terrorists, even if more of my money went to the latter than the former. But let's take them at face value. If the "money" justification was all that was at work here, we'd see the second highest level of protest against Egypt, which is our second largest aid recipient. But I don't think anti-Egypt protests are all that prevalent. Furthermore, it doesn't explain the asymmetry at the UN--they focus on Israel even though they give them almost no money. As to the second, I reject the framing. Israel was hardly "founded" by White Europeans--the UK almost immediately withdraw its support under heavy Arab pressure, and was pretty much an outright opponent of a Jewish State in Israel by the 1930s. Jews themselves I don't think can be called "White Westerners," even the ones who are from Europe, and certainly not the Sephardic Jews who come from Africa and the Middle East (and who, contrary to Amp's assertion, occupy top positions in the Israeli government at a far higher rate than any other 1st world country).

This second one goes beyond that though, and in my opinion for the most part encompasses critiques of Israel "as a Jewish state." Like Amp, I don't think that Israel should be a religious state (and I should note that there are political parties in Israel, most prominently Shinui, that espouse this precise position). But I still believe it should be a Jewish state, in that it should act as a homeland for the Jewish people. There are certain people who critique nation-states in all forms--that's fine, but also very rare--as I said in my last post, these folks better also be criticizing France, China, Palestine, and basically every other state in the world today. Using Israel (IE, the Jewish State) as the poster child for critiquing the nation-state writ large is discriminatory and wholly unwarranted.

I also think it's very plausible that the anti-Western Westerners might not be focusing on Israel for wholly innocent reasons. Here's something I wrote in an (off-blog) paper I was working on:
Opposing Israel also offers powerful psychological guilt release for leftist liberationists who nominally oppose the hegemonic aspirations of the imperialist West, but are all too painfully aware that true opposition would mean giving up their own, privileged state. The conflation of Israel/Jews with the West/Westerners (and the corresponding opposition that goes along with being labeled "Western") neatly solves this dilemma: All of the fun of opposing hegemony, without the unpleasantness of sacrificing ones own, privileged position. Anti-Semitism is a "convenient way of attacking the existing order without demanding its total overthrow and without having to offer a comprehensive alternative." Since few of the anti-Israel leftists are Jewish themselves (with some notable exceptions), the opposition to Israel is a cost-free endeavor, posing as a legitimate self-critique. As for the Jewish critics, such as Noam Chomsky, opposition to Israel is often a litmus test to prove their leftwing bona fides. [Alan] Dershowitz notes that:
There are also some Jews for whom Israel's growing unpopularity among the radical left is something of an embarrassment. These Jews want to be liked by those whose politics they support on other issues. Accordingly, they tend to distance themselves from Israel and often support the Palestinian side without much thought about the merits of the case. Opposing Israel and supporting the Palestinians is, for some Jews, a way of establishing their left-wing credentials and proving that their political correctness trumps any ethnic solidarity.

But furthermore, I think that a Jewish state can be justified even within a general paradigm that frowns upon ethnic or national-based states, and it's Amp who explains why. When trying to reconcile his support for Affirmative Action with his opposition to "giv[ing] special legal rights to any group based solely on race, ethnicity, religion, or cultural background," he says that:
Affirmative action is not motivated by racism per se, but by the desire to remove the effects of historic and ongoing racism; just as a surgeon cutting open a stabbing victim is distinct from the criminal who stabbed the victim, affirmative action is distinct from racism.

First of all, I'd note that one can concede that AA isn't "motivated by racism per se" and still believe as a factual matter that it does "give special legal rights to [a] group based...on race." So the footnote really doesn't distinguish the principle. But second, and more importantly, I think that same justification in the footnote applies equally to justify a Jewish state, IE:
[A Jewish state in Israel] is not motivated by [Jewish nationalism] per se, but by the desire to remove the effects of historic and ongoing [anti-Semitism]; just as a surgeon cutting open a stabbing victim is distinct from the criminal who stabbed the victim, [a Jewish state in Israel] is distinct from [other ethnically-based states].

In other words, given the past and ongoing truth that Jews living in gentile states have a disturbing tendency to get robbed, raped, killed, or exiled, we can rationally conclude that the only way to remedy that state of affairs is for them to have a state where they know they'll be protected. As a result, I think that Amp is being unfair to Jews here, because he's randomly carving them out from his general principle that targeted remedial actions that may mirror the historical wrong they address don't have similar levels of culpability.

Nor can Amp save himself by arguing that anti-Semitism has fallen. For one, he only makes the case in America--in Europe, anti-Semitism has been on the rise for some time now--why can't Israel be justified for their sakes then? And of course, recall what sparked this whole conversation: Iran's call for a conference on the Holocaust (which anybody with a pulse can predict will become a forum to bash Jews and Israel). Second, all Amp does is show that (in America) anti-Semitic violence and overt anti-Semitic stereotypes are falling. Well, yes, I'm delighted that I can walk the streets of Northfield without getting beaten, and I won't minimize the importance of it. But I think its a bit triumphantalist to limit "anti-Semitism" simply to cases of "rabid hate...and/or violence" (to paraphrase from a well-known anti-racism scholar). I'm sure American blacks are delighted that lynch mobs have fallen out of fashion, but we'd be deluding ourselves if we said that racism was no longer a problem. I think that the "diminishment" of racism and anti-Semitism has occurred in exactly the same way, and needs to be addressed via exactly the same paradigm. Racism in America today also is not predominantly expressed via overt hate or violence--the structures of racism are kept intact via the insistence that Black Americans are situated in the exact same position as White Americans and thus need no distinct accommodations to succeed in the modern world. Jews suffer from the same thing (what Amp calls "gentile-centrism")--Jews are Christians wearing a Star of David, and thus need no accommodations or privileges in order to be equal in the world today. I just don't think that's true, and I think that even in America this isn't hard case to make, much less the rest of the world (I'm a law guy, so I'll just throw out a few cases that I think buttress this: Gallagher v. Crown Kosher Supermarket, Goldman v. Weinburger, Kiryas Joel v. Grumet, Estate of Caldor v. Thorton, and Commack Self-Service Kosher Meats Inc. v. Rubin). I concur with Richard's comment: I don't think Amp would use this same type of evidence to draw these same impacts were the topic racism as opposed to anti-Semitism. This isn't a "gotcha" thing--nobody treats them the same. But that split is irrational and is precisely what I'm attacking.

This is all a lot of ink (pixels?) spilled over what really is a very simple critique: I don't think the left is behaving honestly when it addresses Israel or Jews. I very simply want them to use the same analytical tools ("looking to the bottom", critical analysis, deconstruction, challenging stories) that they use in looking at every other oppressive hierarchy to look at global anti-Semitism. This rather clearly includes the Israel issue. Right now, such analysis is lacking, and I think it is grossly unfair to exclude Jewishness from the same critical examination that racism, sexism, heterosexism, etc., receives.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Bad Prediction

He's not going to make this mistake again. Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said that Hamas was acting "responsibly" in the aftermath of their victory in the Palestinian elections. Almost immediately thereafter, Hamas issued the following statement:
Shortly after making his comments about the Hamas, Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar said from Gaza that Israel must change its flag. "Israel must remove the two blue stripes from its national flag", said Zahar. "The stripes on the flag are symbols of occupation....

"Oh no," I groaned. Now Zahar is going to argue that the "blue stripes" represent the Mediterranean Sea, and the Jordan River, implying that both the West Bank and Gaza Strip are part of Israel.
....They signify Israel's borders stretching from the River Euphrates to the River Nile."

Umm...What? Is he freaking stoned? I mean, at least Mediterranean to Jordan has some backing in the current status of the historical conflict. Nile to the Euphrates can only be explained by a sudden and severe bout of paranoid schizophrenia. And just goes to show how crazy Hamas really is.

Oh, and in case you were wondering:
Israel's national flag, a blue Star of David set between two blue stripes, was designed to resemble a Jewish prayer shawl which traditionally has stripes.

Other commentary: Mark in Mexico, American Thinker.

Meanwhile, I've been looking for an excuse to link to Elie Wiesel's statement that Hamas should be forgiven if it "repents." I suppose that yes, I technically agree with that, but in what world is Hamas going to "repent"? None that I know. But while we're waiting, I'm perfectly content to slash their funding until they come to their senses. "Caution" is fine, as far as it goes--but in this case Hamas does seem to be a Devil we know. Make them earn their funding. Saying that Israel has a right to exist, cracking down on terrorism (both from their own ranks and from external groups like Fatah and Islamic Jihad), and generally not being insane don't strike me as unreasonable threshold requests.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Obama on the Filibuster

Hmm...not sure what I think of this yet. Obama criticizes the filibuster, but also says he'll support it--at least through one vote.

Basically, Obama's critique is that filibusters can only get you so far--and that ultimately, if you want to keep bad judges off the Court, you need to win elections. That's true. And furthermore, I can see why it is perfectly consistent with a vote against cloture--chiding Democrats for over-reliance on a given tactic doesn't necessarily require opposition to said tactic in every case. But...still. It smacks of politics. And I don't like politics.

Of course, there's the interesting question of whether the politics will work the way he wants them to, and that's up in the air. My TMV host Joe Gandelman thinks that it's smart politics in the short term, but could become a Bill Frist moment in the future. On the other hand, here's one liberal who is apoplectic with Obama--the type of rage I've almost never seen directed his way from the left. Josh Marshall and Atrios hit more moderate notes, but still aren't happy about it. So this could be a rare miscalculation by the golden boy--though given his sky-high status amongst nearly every stripe of liberal, I don't think it will do that much to tarnish his image over the long term.

Oh, and one more thing. Any malice I may have had toward Obama over this issue completely evaporated upon reading this:
And on the recent Hamas (hah-MAHS') victory in Palestinian elections, Obama says the United States should cut off aid to the Palestinian Authority unless Hamas recognizes Israel's right to exist.

That's a pretty ballsy call coming from an unabashed progressive. One commenter in my last TMV post about Obama said that he seemed good, but wanted to be sure he'd be strong on Middle East issues (Iran, Israel, terrorism, et al). This should go a ways in showing that he's got some fire behind him. Kudos for taking a stand.