Friday, November 18, 2011

Thanksgiving Starts Early Roundup

The law school is already starting to empty out in anticipation of Thanksgiving.

* * *

Martin Luther King, Jr., was no fan of anti-Zionism. While some quotes to this effect have been fabricated, the famous one ("When people criticize Zionists, they mean Jews. You're talking anti-Semitism.") is quite real.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) defends the traditional definition of vegetable.

New Mexico Secretary of State becomes the latest pol to wildly inflate the existence of voter fraud, only to find that it remains a minuscule problem. Unfortunately, rather than conceding error, she just retreats into ever-more ludicrous bluster about how her opponents are "partisan" and how even one instance of fraud is too many. Can't somebody teach conservatives the meaning of efficiency?

The Harvard Law Review's Supreme Court Foreword -- this year by Dan Kahan -- is up. It focuses on motivated cognition as a barrier to "neutral" constitutional decisionmaking, looks very interesting.

Gaddafi helps sow a society-wide ethos of anti-Semitism in Libya. Gaddafi is overthrown. People throw off anti-Semitism? Nope -- people call Gaddafi a Jew. Sigh.

Party of Lincoln!

PPP just did a polling grab bag in Mississippi, but their most interesting question was a hypothetical presidential match-up between Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis. Lincoln prevails by a 55/28 margin -- buoyed by a sterling 76/10 showing margin amongst Democrats. Republicans are somewhat less keen to support the founder of their own party against the man who led a treasonous government in defense of slavery, giving Lincoln only a narrow 45/36 plurality (independents actually split even 44/44). Oddly, this is not paired with any noticeable desire to actually secede -- only 10% of all voters wish to leave the union, 4 points lower than those in Hawaii and Texas (both formerly independent countries).

On the other hand, Mississippi GOP voters have finally cracked 50% support for legal interracial marriage, jumping to 52% from a poll earlier in the year finding only 40% support (overall Mississippi breaks down 60/23 in favor of keeping interracial marriage legal). So things are looking up, albeit slowly.

Progress is Progress

Making a movie out of Ender's Game has always a little like the cinematic version of Duke Nukem Forever -- it has been "in the pipeline" basically for as long as I can remember, without any noticeable progress. On the one hand, DNF did eventually come out; on the other hand, it was apparently terrible. So there's room for optimism and pessimism.

On the optimistic side, apparently the name of the actor playing Ender has been released, which seems like an important first step. On the pessimistic side, the article describes the "game" the children play as "a cross between the Quidditch matches of Harry Potter and the Jedi light saber battles from Star Wars." Umm, only in the sense that it has nothing to do with either. The game is essentially zero-g laser tag, where the laser's actually can freeze you in place. Nothing like Quidditch, nothing like light sabers.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

AZ Sup. Ct. Reinstates Redistricting Chair

I mentioned earlier that Arizona Governor Jan Brewer (R) had threatened to impeach Colleen Mathis, the chair of the state's independent redistricting committee, nominally for relatively non-specified malfeasance, in reality because the commission produced a map that was "only" slanted 4-2 in favor of Republican safe seats over Democratic ones (with another 3 seats competitive). Well, she followed through with their threat and the Republican-controlled state senate impeached Mathis. Mathis and the commissioned then sued, and today the Arizona Supreme Court just ordered her reinstated. The order is here, with a fuller opinion to follow.

Like David Nir, I am a bit surprised by this decision -- not because I didn't think the move by the Arizona state senate was a reckless abuse of power (it was), but because I thought this could easily be considered a non-justiciable political question. The Court concluded that it was not (not being particularly knowledgeable about Arizona state law, I have no idea whether they are correct or not), and found that the letter Brewer sent to Mathis spelling out her "allegations" did not rise to the level of offenses warranting impeachment.

A Chink in their Armor

Not to put too fine a point on it, but this seems like it would create a rather severe weakness in the IDF, no?
Israel Defense Forces soldiers should choose death before they remain at army events which include women's singing, a top settler religious leader said in an interview on Thursday.
[I]n a radio interview on Thursday, Rabbi Levanon criticized a possible ruling that would forbid religious soldiers from leaving events over women's singing, saying that IDF soldier should choose death before complying with such an order.

"[The IDF] is bringing close the day in which rabbis will have to say to soldiers 'you have to leave those events even if there's a firing squad outside, and you'll be shot to death," Levanin said.

I have to say that a soldier who can be driven to suicide by the sound of a woman singing probably isn't that useful to a modern military. Or perhaps Palestinian militants can just replace rockets with boomboxes of Lady Gaga.

Reflecting on the Race Card

In class yesterday, we discussed "the race card" and its counterpart, "the 'race card' card". To say that someone played "the race card" is to say they made an accusation that something or someone is racist maliciously, in bad faith, or (perhaps) with insufficient evidence. "The 'race card' card", then, is complaining that a statement which allegedly makes an accusation of racism is illegitimate or out-of-bounds as a tool for shunting the discussion away from the merits of the claim.

We talked in class about how the fears which undergird the race card were legitimate. Given (a) the widespread belief that racism is deeply, gravely wrong, and (b) the lack of widespread agreement on what racism is, being tagged with the charge of "racist" has the twin properties of being potentially career-ending and extremely unpredictable. I analogized it to how the death penalty was described in Furman v. Georgia -- akin to being struck by lightning. It is no wonder that people are very anxious around the subject. "The 'race card' card" is an attempt to defuse this seemingly dangerous power.

On the other hand, the attempt to silence "the race card" via "the 'race card' card" is severely problematic on its own. Most obviously, questions about whether something is racist or supports racial inequality are really important, and it is a discussion that needs to be had. We can't say we're trying to build the best, most just country America can be while effectively exiling a huge area of moral dispute from critical inquiry. And while there are legitimate reasons why people are wary of that conversations (see above), there are also illegitimate ones -- namely, people content with the status quo who would rather not see it challenged, rightly or not. The potency of "the 'race card' cad" allows them the ability to permanently defer and thus suppress that discussion.

One bit of evidence for the latter effect is that "the 'race card' card" is deployed exceptionally broadly, even in situations where nobody is being called a racist, even in situations where the prospect of racial injustice isn't on the table. I thought of this while reading this analysis of President Obama's recent polling. The poll notes that Obama's approval ratings are quite low amongst Whites (36/61), while still being relatively high amongst non-Whites (67/32). The piece doesn't say "thus, Whites are racist." It doesn't even really say anything about racial justice issues at all. The only normative conclusion it draws is that, in a country that has a lot of White people, losing Whites badly is not a good sign for one's re-election prospect.

And yet, what was the first response that got broadcast on CNN?
Well, Jack, it’s nice to see CNN is still a valued member of the president’s re-election campaign. Let’s just further divide an already divided country by trying to make this about race. The president is in over his head and people are beginning to realize this administration has only made a bad economy worse.

In effect, this is accusing CNN of playing the "race card" for Obama, simply by virtue of the article making note of a demographic split. That is less indicative of someone genuinely worried about being "hit by lightning", and more someone who wants to shut down a discussion before it starts.

My own views on this topic are close to those expressed by Professor Hirsch, encouraging a default towards discussion and a presumption of good faith. That cuts both ways -- we should assume that a person advocating a policy we believe to have racially unjust effects does not consciously harbor malicious thoughts towards the group in question, but we should also assume that the person making the accusation of potential racial problems is doing so honestly and because the legitimately believe there is a problem that needs addressing.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Our Eyes Turn Eastward....

Occupy Judaism bigwig Daniel Sieradski analogizes the eviction of Occupy Wall Street to Jewish exile, noting, of course, that "As Jews we know: Exile is not nearly the end." Yet all I could think of was that, having been exiled, perhaps Occupy Wall Street will share too in the Jewish experience of having many folks believe that exile was just, proper, and should be permanent, and express outrage and fury if Occupy Wall Street ever tries to return to New York or, indeed, exert any sort of political influence whatsoever.

In related news, the JTA has a good piece up on the continued marginalization of anti-Zionist groups as they attempt to hijack Occupy Wall Street for their own agenda. You can sense their frustration: one anti-Israel OWS member was furious that Stuart Appelbaum (president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union and of the Jewish Labor Committee) was coordinating efforts to connect OWS with organized labor, and another complained of how "[v]ocal members of what many know as the 'progressive except Palestine'* demographic take over and obstruct expressions of solidarity with the Palestinians even when the majority in the larger group supports it."

This, of course, is simply self-aggrandizing -- Americans of all political stripes tend to consider themselves supporters of Israel, and the more radical one gets in opposing the Jewish state, the more one's positions tend to approximate those held by, well, about 1% of the population. When the claims are more modest (e.g., supporting the creation of a Palestinian state side-by-side Israel), they maintain much greater support -- but that includes the very mainline Jewish organizations these groups claim to be acting against (like the AJC). It is a bit of a shell game -- redefine radically polarized and fringe positions (like one-stateism, or support for BDS, or belief that the entirety of the present conflict is Israel's fault) as generic "criticism of Israeli policies", and use that to try and claim sweeping popular support. In reality, the third camp still dominates amongst Jews, and is disinclined to support the agendas of, much less be co-opted by, those inhabiting the radical left or right.

Obviously, the entire "99%" mantra is somewhat of a fiction, but OWS has done a decently good job of keeping its focus on issues that are directly related to the massive wealth disparities in this country and the effects that has on equal opportunity and achievement (the metric by which "the 99%" is measured), which carry with them consensus in the movement. There is no such consensus around the notion that Jewish self-determination is a radical injustice, nor is it clear that the 99% are particularly interested in obstructing that project, which diminishes any argument that either OWS or its Jewish subset should feel compelled to step aside on these issues.

* I really do love this term, mostly because I think the same thing about the speakers as they of me. Since we agree on things like "Palestinians deserve a state of their own", my so-called heresies are things like thinking that there should be both a state where Jews are the majority and one where Palestinians are, and that unique (and uniquely strident) opposition to Jewish self-determination (or even wrongs committed by Jewish institution) can be signs of anti-Semitism. In all other cases but Israel/Palestine, they recognize such standard anti-racist tropes like "letting historically marginalized groups define their own experience" and "minority groups can rightfully claim spaces of their own where they're in charge of their own destiny." When the topic turns to Jews, though, that progressive understanding magically evaporates.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

New Paper Posted: Post-Racialism and the End of Strict Scrutiny

I've just put a new paper up on SSRN, "Post-Racialism and the End of Strict Scrutiny". The paper is, obviously, still a draft, but of course I'd love to hear your comments if you have time to read it. The abstract is below:
In recent years, a growing social consensus has emerged around the aspiration of a “post-racial” America: one where race is no longer a fault line for social strife or, perhaps, a morally significant trait whatsoever. This ambition, however, lies in tension with the most basic constitutional principle governing our treatment of race in the public sphere: that of “strict scrutiny.” Post-racialism seeks to diminish the salience of race to near-negligibility. The strict scrutiny of racial classifications, by contrast, significantly enhances the salience of race by treating it differently from virtually every other personal attribute or characteristic—including hair or eye color—extant in our society.

This article examines both the emergence of post-racialism and the development of the strict scrutiny doctrine in an attempt to resolve the underlying conflict. It concludes that the motivator behind both post-racialism and strict scrutiny is to remove the fear that race carries with it as a concept—fear that it any time race appears in our society it necessarily is the harbinger of ethnic strife or the resurrection of Jim Crow. The model for race should follow that of religion or indigenous status. In both cases, the identity axis has been the subject of severe conflict and oppression. Yet the effort to get “beyond” religion or indigeneity does not focus on, or even countenance, permanent suppression of these identities. Rather it seeks to remove the fear that when we do use these elements of our identity, we are necessarily inviting catastrophe.

As the saying goes, "download it while it's hot!"

Monday, November 14, 2011

Problem Solved

When Hillary Clinton was cropped out of a photo in an orthodox Jewish newspaper, I tweeted the following:
Problem: Hasidic men cant see pics of women w/out it being "sexually suggestive". Solution: Dont let Hasidic men read newspapers #thatwaseasy

As Haredi influence in Israel is growing, they're beginning to press such reactionary gender norms on the entirety of Israeli society. It is a huge problem, and quite scary actually, to see Israel starting to degrade from its pole position in terms of protecting liberal egalitarian values (on a different topic, see also).

Jewlicious just launched a "women's voice" movement, which encourages women in Israel to sing and hum in public, directly as a challenge to Orthodox groups who wish to see them (literally) silenced. And while I sign onto that project (the women's project, not the Orthodox silencing one), I'd add what I wrote in the comments over there, to wit:
If the problem is that Orthodox Jewish men can't hear or see women without being plagued by impure thoughts, then the solution is that Orthodox Jewish men shouldn't be allowed to leave the house.

Problem solved.

UPDATE: And now the problem is crossing over to the IDF, where members of the military's old guard are urging the Israeli armed forces to check forces that threaten women's equal stance in the military.