Friday, October 28, 2011

Israel as Political Issue

There's been a recent spurt of chatter around an ill-fated "civility pledge" promoted by the ADL and AJC that some conservative groups claim is an attempt to stifle criticism of President Obama's policies on Israel. The pledge worries about increased attempts to "politicize" the support of Israel.

Obviously, it is absolutely true that in a deliberative system, there must be free reign to criticize policies one finds disagreeable. Conservatives who have genuine concerns about the President's policies regarding Israel should of course be free to make their case -- if they think Obama is bad for Israel, they're entitled to say so. And of course, by the same token, if I think various conservative political leaders are bad for Israel, I have the right to say that too (this, of course, also goes for judgments on the advisability of Israeli policy positions too -- whether in the form of critiques of the Shalit deal or critiques of settlement expansion).

But there is something else going on here, related to the idea of politicization. In the arena of politics, many issues are taken not because one is firmly attached to a particular stance, but simply because they're the opposite of one's opponent. Say I'm a Democrat running for office against an incumbent Republican, and that incumbent gives a speech on foreign policy. I'm never going to come out and say "That was a really great speech. I think we're more or less on the same page on these issues -- good job, buddy!" That's not my job. My job is to try and defeat my opponent. So of course I'm going to try and create a narrative where the speech was bad and promised bad things for America or our allies.

This sort of politicization, though, is obviously a very bad thing, because it means significant portions of the public debate on Israel are not occurring because of genuine disagreements on the merits of our policies towards Israel, but rather are simply fig leaves for a political campaign against the President. With regards to politicians, it's probably unavoidable. But where we do have the right to vigorously police the line is on ostensibly "pro-Israel" organizations that are really just stalking horses for a given political party. The Emergency Committee for Israel clearly meets this description. When it releases a statement on Israel, it is not because it has made a considered judgment that a given action is in Israel or America's best interests. It makes its statement because it has made a political calculation that it can do damage to the President with it.

The problem with the ECI, in other words, isn't that they have disagreements with the Obama administration on Israel and the temerity to express them. The problem is that, in effect, they don't have disagreements with the Obama administration on Israel because they don't have a stable or coherent position on Israel at all. Israel is a tertiary concern for them; just a useful rhetorical tool for trying to secure a domestic political victory. And using Israel as that sort of political football is something that the Jewish and pro-Israel community absolutely should be opposing, vigorously.

Project Runway Season 9 Finale!

Anya wins! Josh doesn't win! It's the best Project Runway day ever!

Okay, calm down. Yes, part of the reason I'm excited Anya won is that she's just so gosh-darn likeable. And yes, the fact that she may be the single hottest human being on the planet probably didn't hurt either. But I do think that her win was deserved, particularly given what was overall a weak fashion week display by the entire quartet.

Start with Kimberly, who has been very hit-or-miss all season. That gown she closed with was great, and verged on being show-stopping (it fell a little strangely to my eye, which was all that stopped it). But beyond that? The Ivory piece was cool but a little disconnected from the rest of the show. That aquamarine tinfoil piece was just strange, and I didn't see what was cool or sexy about that tiny crafts-project cut-out in the pinkish dress. Most importantly, too many of the pieces just looked a little plain.

Viktor was always the big competition for Anya as far as I was concerned this season. He's one of the best technicians on the show, and he's consistently made pieces that -- while perhaps not as purely elegant as Anya's -- showed a good fashion eye and were always well-made. Unfortunately, he had (maybe his first) major stumble on the show's biggest stage. Those sheer black gowns were ugly. It's such a shame too, because those mirror pieces were great and the prints were wonderful. Jill and I actually disagreed that the first piece was anything to write home about (we both thought the skirt was a little Mad Men), but that gown? Probably the best piece of the entire show, for any designer. Oh, and way to show Josh how it's done with those purple pants.

Speaking of the devil, Josh's collection was better than I thought. I agree with Laura Bennett that when he keeps his color palette under control, he actually makes some very nice clothes. But there were some flops here too. The opening draped outfit made his model look preggers, and don't get me started on those vomit-inducing green bike shorts. Nina was right that they looked better photographed than they did on the runway, but when they walked -- gag me. The plastic pieces were genuinely cool, and he had a couple of outfits early that had a neat vintage vibe to them, but overall -- too much hot pink, too much lime green.

So that leaves us with Anya. And let's focus on the weaknesses first: it was relatively one-note, and it didn't show a lot of range. Against superior competition, I'd be inclined to give that a lot of weight. But the clothes themselves were beautiful. People are saying "Uli did it better", but I thought Uli deserved to win her season too. Her opening outfit set the tone of her show beautifully and mixed colors fantastically. The closing gown in black and white with the fuzzy edges was likewise fabulous. And I agree with the judges that Anya, more than any of the designers (except maybe Viktor) has a brand -- you can see her in every piece, and there is a woman (a particular type of woman with a particular type of body, to be sure) who absolutely wants all those pieces and wants to be her.

One thing I'd say in Anya's defense is that I do think, over the course of the show, she made a genuine effort to push herself as a designer and branch out -- with varying success, but more than you might expect given her relative novice status. Her first stab at Fashion Week was to try and really stretch beyond herself again, and she got nailed by it. So she said "you know what? This show is going to be Anya-being-Anya." And it worked. She makes beautiful clothes, she has a fantastic natural eye for design, and (with some construction lessons), I think she has a future.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Black Support for Obama Remains Strong and Steady

The New York Times can barely contain its astonishment that Blacks aren't fleeing the President in droves:
In a recent Pew Research Center poll, black voters preferred Mr. Obama 95 percent to 3 percent over Mitt Romney, “which is at least the margin he got in 2008,” said Michael Dimock, associate director for research at Pew. “There’s no erosion at all.”

Even more noteworthy, less than 10 percent of black voters in a New York Times/CBS News survey taken last month said that Mr. Obama had failed to meet their expectations as president, while nearly 3 in 10 said he had exceeded expectations. Among nonblack voters, 4 in 10 said he performed worse than expected, while only 5 percent said he had done better.

Blacks are hurting in this economy (even more than other segments of American society). But they don't blame the President. They blame an extremist and unyielding Republican Party that is committed to protecting the rich and soaking the poor, that holds most Black voters in contempt as unthinking and still "on the plantation", and that made it its mission from inauguration day to destroy Barack Obama no matter the cost.

They're smart cookies. They know who to blame.

AZ Governor Threatens Impeachment of Redistricting Comm. After it Refuses to Gerrymander

Shocking news out of Arizona, where Gov. Jan Brewer (R) is threatening impeachment proceedings against the state's non-partisan redistricting commission because it failed to sufficiently gerrymander the maps for Republicans. The map it released has 4 safe GOP seats, 2 safe Democratic seats, and three competitive ones -- hardly something Republicans should be bawling over.

But Arizona politics have of late taken a decided step towards the lawless, with Maricopa County sheriff Joe Arpaio leading the charge by issuing indictments of his political opponents (where "political" here includes judges trying to curb his reckless abuses of power). So far, it hasn't seemed to dampen Sheriff Joe's political popularity amongst Arizona Republicans; so why not take a page from his book by threatening to impeachment independent commissioners as a suasion mechanism?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


I can't stand Jennifer Rubin, but I got to give her credit for the zing:
"You want a Washington Post journalist to comment on an anti-Semitic screed by some blogger?" Rubin asked. "My arms are not long enough to punch down that far."

It helps that the target is Erick Erickson, of course.

Influential Roundup

I had class today, and one of my students remarked that the Derrick Bell piece I assigned (Serving Two Masters: Integration Ideals and Client Interests in School Desegregation Litigation, 85 Yale L.J. 470 (1976)) was one of his favorites of the year. Of course it was -- Bell was a brilliant thinker who will be missed.

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Rush Limbaugh won't apologize to LRA victims after defending the terrorist cult group as simply a group of Christians that Obama wanted to oppress.

Tom Friedman assesses Barack Obama's foreign policy successes and failures.

The momentum to recall Scott Walker may have stalled, but it is still looking like a razor-tight race.

Some people have promoted this attack on nation-states as "the idea that will not die", but I'm supremely unconvinced. It is hardly the case that multi-ethnic states -- even those without weak governmental structures -- have been paragons of stability and harmony. And there are plenty of post-national movements that still have quite their share of blood on their hands.

San Francisco is a very, very strange place.

85-year old state senator releases a Rocky ad. Oh for cute.

Re: Occupy DC: "When the Jews show up, you know it's serious."

The mystery of why Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) is seen as some sort of wonk, rather than a nutjob hack, endures.

Top IDF Officer Calls for Crackdown on "Price Tag" Militants

A top IDF officer is urging Israel to take a stiffer line on violent "price tag" settler activists, who have launched a wave of terrorist attacks on Palestinians (and some dovish Jews) in order to derail peace between Israel and Palestine. Other military figures joined and leveled criticism at high-profile Israeli right-wingers who sided with the extremists over the IDF and Israeli security interests.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Post-Panel Roundup

The last post was originally meant to just be the intro blurb for a roundup, before it got all long and unwieldy. So I spun it off, and now the roundup gets its own post with its own brief, snazzy intro.

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OneVoice brings in some high profile figures encouraging the development of grassroots momentum for a two-state solution.

Alyssa Rosenberg on the politics of Ellen Raskin novels. The Westing Game is one of my favorite books of all time, and one I can't wait to hand off to my kids.

A new paper shows the existence of racial bias in eBay transactions (specifically, baseball cards shown held by a dark-skinned hand sold for less than those held by a light-skinned hand).

This is probably behind a paywall for most of you, but if you have university access, I found this paper critiquing "moral minimalism" interesting (and I speak as someone who generally identifies as a moral minimalist). The cite is David L. Norton, Moral Minimalism and the Development of Moral Character, 13 Midwest Stud. Phil. 180 (1988).

Mah Rabu says something I've often wanted to stress: Defining Orthodox Judaism as "more religious" and other strands as "less religious" is kind of giving away the game. I'm not a Conservative Jew because I'm too lazy or uncommitted to Judaism to be an Orthodox Jew. I'm a Conservative Jew because I think we do Judaism right. If you're Reform or Reconstructionist, you should have the same confidence in your own beliefs. And while it's fine to experiment and figure out what's best for you, experimentation can and should draw from all sectors of the Jewish community.

Ta-Nehisi Coates hosts David Skeel talking about William Stuntz's views on jury nullification, with reference to Paul Butler. It's a good thing.

Post-Panel Recap

I spoke on a panel today. Myself and two other faculty members picked a case before the Supreme Court this term, and talked about it (background, analysis, predictions, etc.). I picked Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC, a fascinating case about the ministerial exception in the First Amendment.

Basically, the ministerial exception allows religious organizations more-or-less free rein in the hiring and firing of clergy -- particularly, as against anti-discrimination law. So, if a synagogue fires its Rabbi, and she alleges sex discrimination, that case is just thrown out irrespective of the facts. The rationale behind the exception is that the Free Exercise clause, if nothing else, requires that religious bodies be allowed to choose who serves as their own minister. The government in effect telling the synagogue "no, you have to hire/keep on this Rabbi to serve as your spiritual leader" is incompatible with First Amendment protections. And while one could make an argument that such logic cannot survive Employment Division of Oregon v. Smith (holding that the Free Exercise clause generally does not require religious exemptions from generally applicable laws), the ministerial exception appears to remain on steady footing.

There is a big caveat to the above, however: the ministerial exception has never been ratified by the Supreme Court. It is a creature of the federal appellate courts, and while every circuit now accepts its existence, until Hosanna-Tabor the Supreme Court never heard a case on the subject. The reason behind that isn't hard to see -- intuitive as the ministerial exception is in principle, it can be devilishly difficult to apply in practice. Who counts as a minister? How deep into the payroll does it extend?

Hosanna-Tabor deals with a teacher at a Christian school who, on the one hand, taught secular subjects and had an almost-exclusively secular job description, but on the other hand was considered a "called" teacher and a "commissioned minister" at the school and church, and did do some religious functions in addition to the school's intended mission as being infused with a spiritual mission from top to bottom. Should her ADA retaliation claim be barred on the exception? Saying yes means potentially excluding huge swaths of employees from the entire thrust of anti-discrimination law protections. Saying no means answering some exceptionally difficult line-drawing problems regarding who does count as a "minister", and risks entangling the court in religious doctrinal disputes that may be the key factual controversies in why a given employee was terminated.

The talk went quite well, though I continue to be unhappy at just how much my public speaking skills have degraded over the years. My fellows spoke on the warrantless GPS tracking case and the notorious fleeting expletives case (as a professor, one relishes the chance to use various swear words in an academically sanctioned setting in front of scores of students). So hopefully, a good time was had by all.

The Bigot Crew and the Chosen Few

Deborah Orr's gratutiously nasty attack on Jews as a "chosen" people -- (deliberately?) misrepresenting the meaning of the concept in Jewish theology in order to present Jews as possessing a sense of communal superiority -- has been taking a ton of flack, and rightly so. It is a vicious piece of work that echoes anti-Semitic tropes of years past (and not so past), and deserves to be called out as such.

Particularly worth noting is a recent screed by a British BDS supporter who went into a "chosen people" tirade immediately following standard bromides about how he's not anti-Semitic, he has nothing against Israelis or Jews, he's really the best friend of Israelis and Jews, and in any event he's an anti-fascist so of course he can't be anti-Semitic. He then proceeded to go on an all-too-common bit about how a Jewish audience member (who I imagine questioned the legitimacy of BDS) "an absolute disgrace to the Jewish people", "a modern-day fascist" and "a modern-day Nazi" whose "friends in the media" are covering up Israeli crimes. And then, after being asked by another Jew in the vicinity whether he "felt better" after saying all that, he replied:
“Better than you, obviously. But then again you’re one of the chosen people so you might feel better than me, huh?”

Yep -- friend of the Jews indeed. But it is worrisome that "chosenness" is now entering the lexicon as an attack on Jews qua Jews. It is a sign that many anti-Semites who make their home in anti-Zionists circles no longer feel the need for fig leafs. They can use identifiably Jewish -- not Israeli -- terms to attack identifiably Jewish -- not Israeli targets. And they can largely do so with impunity.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Perry's Neo-Birtherism

Republican leaders are squirming as Texas Governor and presidential contender Rick Perry (R) once again questioned whether Barack Obama was born in the United States.

Though one would think that the release of Obama's long-form birth certificate would have quelled the "controversy" (indeed, it was what birthers claimed to have wanted all along), conspiracy theories die much harder deaths than that. And, true to form, birthers have regrouped under the simple explanation that the long-form birth certificate, like its short-form peer, is a fake. Perry, after a chat with birther doyen Donald Trump, offers that "I don’t have any idea" whether the document is genuine or not, thus giving perhaps the highest profile endorsement to the canard that there remains legitimate doubts regarding Obama's birthplace.

The irony is that I think at this stage in the game such conspiratorial nonsense hurts the GOP more than it helps (hence the nervousness by top Republican officials when confronted with Perry's comments). The worst case scenario for them, of course, is that Perry's birther flirtations help in the primary but make him toxic amongst the more, shall we say, "reality based community" of the general election electorate.

The Truman Show

Tablet Magazine has a neat profile up on Rachel Kleinfeld, founder of the Truman Project. The Truman Project is a left-of-center national security think tank meant to provide a counterbalance to conservative groups like the Heritage Foundation, and it has quickly established itself as a hot-spot for progressive national security thinkers.

Interestingly, Kleinfeld, an Alaska native, is the daughter of Andrew Kleinfeld, a federal court judge on the 9th Circuit. I know of Judge Kleinfeld, because he is a favorite amongst Federalist Society folk, and is a popular clerkship destination for truly devoted young conservative lawyers willing to spend a year in Fairbanks, Alaska. Judge Kleinfeld is conservative with a libertarian streak, albeit (like most Republican Jews) one whose familial roots are deeply Democratic. And now his daughter has returned to those roots as a doyen of the left's national security establishment. In a sense, it is reminiscent of Catherine MacKinnon, whose father was also a prominent conservative appeals court judge. And (heart-warmingly), in both cases from what I've heard father is quite proud and supportive of daughter, in spite of (presumed) political differences.

Finally, I would be remiss in linking to this profile without offering one of the funniest lines in it, provided by a leftist Truman Project skeptic critiquing their alleged MO: "It's a very testosterone-heavy approach, very, 'Fuck you, I'm a retired general and I have killed people with my bare hands and I will tell you that torture is bad.'" Partial to that type of epistemic credibility myself, I will nonetheless concede it made me smile.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Video Game Night Roundup

I've been on a bit of a gamer kick recently. Borrowed Mass Effect, beat that the other day. Then I pre-ordered the new Assassin's Creed. Then I bought Mass Effect 2, Fight Night Champion, and Super Smash Bros. Brawl. I beat Fight Night just an hour ago.

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Intriguing gambit: US goes to the WTO to argue that China's "great internet firewall" represents a restraint on free trade.

Hey remember when groups like the ZOA were aghast at the prospect of American Jews criticizing Israel? They lost that principle real quick.

Interesting bit on WaPo about Herman Cain's racial background.

Don't see this every day: Libertarian blogger asks whether we should abolish the corporate form.