Saturday, October 02, 2010

Sarah Palin Invented the Internet Change

Sarah Palin apparently has a beef with new Obama chief of staff Pete Rouse.
Palin appears to have been no fan of Rouse for a long time. In her 2009 memoir, she accuses him of being among those in the Obama presidential campaign who allegedly tried to smear her when she was named McCain's vice presidential nominee.

She also accuses him of lifting Obama's "change" slogan from her own gubernatorial campaign in 2006.

"Every part of our campaign shouted 'Change!'" she wrote. "We were amused a couple of years later when Barack Obama, one of whose senior advisers (come to think of it) had roots in Alaska– adopted the same theme," she wrote in reference to Rouse.

As Kevin Drum put it:
I don't know whether Rouse tried to smear Palin or not. Given Palin's expansive understanding of the word "smear," I wouldn't be surprised. But does she really think that she's the first politician to ever run on the theme of "change"? And that Obama via Rouse stole it from her? Holy cow.

It's unreal, the world that woman inhabits.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Shadowy Financiers, and, J Street as Israel

When the story first broke that J Street had, in fact, taken substantial amounts of money from George Soros (after previously heavily implying that they had no such funds), I left a comment over at the Z-Word that captured my views rather succinctly:
I have to say, there is something definitively creepy about how keen folks are to echo the “shadowy Jewish financier” trope when it comes to Mr. Soros. It is obviously disconcerting that J Street has not been entirely forthcoming about its relationship with Mr. Soros. But I remain deeply distressed at the all-too-common anti-Semitism that is directed at Mr. Soros for daring to be a Jew with money who backs causes. It’s very “J Street, backed by the Jewish money it didn’t tell you about ….”

One should not have to agree with Mr. Soros or J Street on everything -- indeed, on anything -- to find the position Mr. Soros has been cast into in our society to be profoundly disconcerting. I don't begrudge J Street's opponents for seizing on this misstep to try and score points against it. That's how politics works. But they do, I think, have an obligation not to contribute to what is by all lights classic anti-Semitic imagery of Mr. Soros' role in society. I find the "shadowy Jewish financier" narrative considerably more creepy than I do J Street's financial misstatements.

That being said, let's be clear: J Street misled us here, and that's a problem. And I'm not convinced that the statement Mr. Ben-Ami put out shows that he gets it. While purporting to "take responsibility" for misleading the public, Ben-Ami rapidly pivots to allege that the folks attacking J Street are "not good government watchdogs concerned about the state of non-profit financing in the United States," but simply opposing partisans seizing the opportunity for a some cheap points.

To which I say, so what? Yes, J Street has some powerful enemies, who will take non-existent crimes (much less real mistakes, as here) and blow them up into epic crimes against humanity. In this, J Street is reminiscent of another rather prominent Jewish institution that also complains, not without justification, of unfair treatment from the surrounding community. But guess what -- they knew they lived in that world, and I expected them to behave accordingly. You can either cry about the refs being biased, or you can raise your game. Just because the rules aren't fair doesn't give you an excuse to make it amateur hour. Obvious errors like this betray a fundamental lack of seriousness ill-befitting of the gravity of the problems J Street is trying to solve.

I still support J Street because I still think they fundamentally have the right idea for what will make Israel and Palestine safe and secure now and in the future. But today, they've embarrassed all of those -- myself included (and I don't have a problem associated with Mr. Soros) -- who stood up for them and have worked to make them a viable player in the American pro-Israel community.

The Forward's excellent editorial on the matter is also worth reading.

NOTE: Folks whose comments I've previously identified as choking off the oxygen of my comments section will refrain from posting in this thread.


It looks like the bank bailout will end up paying for itself. The cost of saving the economy apparently really is priceless.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

On the Need To Know More

I took the Pew U.S. Religious Knowledge quiz and scored a perfect 15/15. What can I say? I'm good at standardized tests. I'm also Jewish, and the Tribe (along with atheists/agnostics and Mormons) apparently outperformed the field on this thing.

Matt Yglesias and Jamelle Bouie attribute this to the hypothesis that minorities simply need a working knowledge of the majority as a "survival skill":
All that said, let me speculate a bit. To me, it’s no surprise that the highest scorers — after controlling for everything — were religious minorities: atheists, agnostics, Jews and Mormons. As a matter of simple survival, minorities tend to know more about the dominant group than vice versa. To use a familiar example, blacks — and especially those with middle-class lives — tend to know a lot about whites, by virtue of the fact that they couldn’t succeed otherwise; the professional world is dominated by middle-class whites, and to move upward, African Americans must understand their mores and norms. By contrast, whites don’t need to know much about African Americans, and so they don’t.

Likewise, religious minorities — while not under much threat of persecution — are well-served by a working knowledge of religion, for similar reasons; the United States is culturally Christian, and for religious minorities, getting along means understanding those reference points. That those religious minorities can also answer questions about other religious traditions is a sign of broader religious education that isn’t necessary when you’re in the majority. Put another way, there’s a strong chance that religious privilege explains the difference in knowledge between Christians and everyone else.

Ilya Somin isn't sure. He says that, were this the case, we'd expect the primary advantage of these groups over Christians to be regarding questions about Christianity. But while we do, in fact, hold a slight advantage in that category, the area we really clean up in is questions about "world religions" (Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism), etc.. He says this is indicative that it is great "cosmopolitanism" amongst these religious groups that accounts for the difference.

But I think Somin's test is ill-conceived. Aside from the fact that I can think of at least a few reasons why knowledge of certain "world religions" would fall in the "survival skill" category for Jews, Atheists, and Mormons, the baseline expectation would be that each group should do well in their own category and poorly in all the others. For the Bouie/Yglesias hypothesis to hold, Jews don't have to outperform Christians on Christianity -- they only need to be close to them so as to demonstrate they've attained a working knowledge of the group. The point isn't that Jews know more about Christianity than Christians (though apparently we do), it's that Jews know more about Christianity than Christians know about Jews.

Admittedly, this is somewhat difficult to test, because a lot of the questions are overlapping of Judaism and Christianity -- the only question I recall that is specific to Jews asks when our Sabbath starts (Friday, Saturday, or Sunday). It would be interesting to see if Christians did as well on that questions as Jews did on specifically-Christian questions (e.g., who founded the Protestant Reformation or what Catholic views on transubstantiation are).

But in any event, I think the results still, on face, bear out the hypothesis rather well. When you're a small, vulnerable minority, you simply have to be curious about the world around you. When you're the biggest fish in the pond, you don't. Cosmopolitanism is a survival skill.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

One State --> Two State?

Robert Wright puts forward the argument that strong, non-violent Palestinian agitation for one-state could actually pave the path to two-states by shaking Israeli moderates out of their apathy and breaking the hold that the Israeli far-right has over Israeli peace initiatives. In the post-script, he acknowledges some of the reasons why it won't work -- chief among them that the Palestinian Authority has no interest in a one-state solution where it will likely lose significant amounts of power. But I think even in his "best-case" layout -- where Palestinians do manage to create a massive grassroots non-violent protest for simple voting rights, and Hamas is somehow deterred from participating -- I'm highly doubtful that it will end up leading to two states rather than one.

The core observation Wright makes -- that it will be incredibly difficult for either Israel or the international community to resist a non-violent Palestinian campaign for voting rights in the polity that currently controls their lands, and that such a campaign poses the most serious and immediate existential threat to Israel's existence as a Jewish state -- is one I already agree with. I also agree that it may well shake Israeli moderates out of their torpor and put them in control over their more right-wing fellows.

But so what? It's not a given that, in a world where there is widespread international popular support for Palestinian demands, that the Palestinians would have any reason to accept two-states, or that the international community would suddenly withdraw their support if Palestinians did hold out for one state in the face of even a credible Israeli offer for a two-state solution. After all, many still believe (though I disagree, strongly) that a one-state solution is the first-best outcome -- they oppose the state of Israel on principle, not merely instrumentally insofar as it is a putative block to the existence of Palestinian nationhood. When the dream is in sight, why settle for the compromise?

Of course, this simply reinforces the fact that, regardless of whether it leads to a fair and just outcome for all parties, Wright's proposal is rather obviously the best practice for the Palestinians. It is virtually guaranteed to give them the minimum of what they want, and stands a good chance of giving them absolutely everything. Of course, groups often do not take the wisest of paths (witness the end of the settlement freeze), but there is a limit to how long Israel can count on the Palestinians being idiots. More than Iran, more than Hamas, this is the most dire threat to Israel's existence in the world today.


The latest James O'Keefe scandal -- where he tried to trick a CNN reporter into boarding a boat loaded with sex props in order to "seduce her" on camera and then embarrass her publicly -- is, in addition to being frankly bizarre, creepy as all get out.
According to the document, O'Keefe was to record a video of the following script before Boudreau arrived: "My name is James. I work in video activism and journalism. I've been approached by CNN for an interview where I know what their angle is: they want to portray me and my friends as crazies, as non-journalists, as unprofessional and likely as homophobes, racists or bigots of some sort....

"Instead, I've decided to have a little fun. Instead of giving her a serious interview, I'm going to punk CNN. Abbie has been trying to seduce me to use me, in order to spin a lie about me. So, I'm going to seduce her, on camera, to use her for a video. This bubble-headed-bleach-blonde who comes on at five will get a taste of her own medicine, she'll get seduced on camera and you'll get to see the awkwardness and the aftermath.
"If they pursue this as you are a creep, you should play it up with them initially only to reveal that the tape was made beforehand confirming this was a gag," the document states. "If they [CNN] admit it was a gag, you should release the footage and focus on the fact they got punked, and make sure to emphasize Abbie's name and overall status to help burden her career with this video, incident and her bad judgment in pursuing you so aggressively."

Finally, "if they go on the attack, you should point out the hypocrisy in CNN using the inherent sexuality of these women to sell viewers and for ratings, passing up more esteemed and respectable journalists who aren't bubble-headed bleach blondes and keep the focus on CNN."

Oh, and sexist too.

I'm so glad that he was the assignments editor for the much of the media on the ACORN faux-scandal.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

My Replacement

Too busy to post today. So just read Jon Chait instead. Though I will defend, perhaps irrationally, Walt Whitman HS against private school competitors.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Let Him Breathe

J.J. Goldberg on President Abbas' recent charm offensive towards the American Jewish community:
Abbas’ dinner was the climax of a day jam-packed with heated appeals to American Jews to show enthusiasm for Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. The floating pep rally might have been a product of timing, given all the international leaders gathered in New York for the opening of the United Nations General Assembly. Perhaps it was inspired by the approaching Sukkot holiday with its tradition of inviting strangers to dine — or, alternatively, its pointed evocation of a homeless, stateless people lost in the desert.

It also reflected the growing sense in Israel and the West Bank that negotiations can’t succeed without President Obama’s involvement, and that Obama can’t get in and stay in unless American Jews back off and give him some running room.