Tuesday, November 05, 2019

Israeli Supreme Court Upholds Deportation of Shakir

The Israeli Supreme Court has upheld the Israeli government's move to deport Human Rights Watch activist Omar Shakir from the country, citing his alleged support of BDS. The Court declined to say that HRW was itself a "a boycott organization", and therefore noted "it can request the employment of another representative who is not involved up to his neck in BDS activity."

There are ample reasons why I think Shakir was a poor choice for HRW to send off as its representative in Israel, and plenty of occasions where I think the quality (and neutrality) of his work could be justifiably questioned. Nonetheless, the standard for "expulsion from the country" is not coterminous with "work I think is subpar", and healthy democracies do not fear criticism (even when sometimes ill-formed). This is a dark day for those of us trying to stem the increasingly-rapid erosion of Israel's liberal character.

On that note, here's Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, celebrating:
[A]nyone who works against the state should know that we will not allow him to live or work here.
Tell me that isn't creepy as all get out.

Sunday, November 03, 2019

Things People Blame the Jews For, Volume LV: Chernobyl (and the Titanic, and 9/11)

A Russian television show ran a short film that, well, it mostly just tried to pack this whole "Things People Blame the Jews For" series into one segment:
Jews are responsible for the sinking of the Titanic, the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl and the terrorist attacks in the US on 11 September 2001, according to a short film broadcast recently on REN TV.
The documentary is an updated version of an earlier version broadcast in 2012, in which it was alleged that a group of “300 Jews, Illuminati and Freemasons” was behind the sinking of the British ship 100 years ago in order to cause an international crisis and take over the world.
We've already covered the Titanic here, and if 9/11 hasn't gotten an entry it's only because it was too easy. But I think Chernobyl, we genuinely haven't done before. Fukashima, yes (twice, in fact), but not Chernobyl.

So well done, REN TV, for keeping things at least a little fresh.

(Also, in a sign of the times, the Jewish Chronicle article linked to above was shortly after posting bombarded with social media trolls "thanking" them for their "revelation" about Chernobyl).

Almost Midway Roundup

It's been a hellacious semester for me -- I massively overcommitted, and have been traveling nearly every week for the past month or so. But we're approaching the end of the tunnel. This weekend I'm flying to Chicago for a conference, and then I have one more trip scheduled after that, and then I should be pretty well clear until Winter Break.

In reality, I'm probably past the midway point. But for the Chicago trip I'm flying into and out of Midway airport. Get it? Almost Midway? I know, I'm a riot.

Anyway, roundup time.

* * *

Last year, the University of Oregon Hillel was vandalized with the message "Free Palestine You Fucks". Everybody was appalled by this antisemitic act. But I noted that under certain relatively popular mantras about what antisemitism is, including those backed by groups like Open Hillel, one very easily could deny the antisemitic character of the incident. And lo and behold -- it appears the University of Oregon decided it could get away with not characterizing the event as an antisemitic hate crime.

Right-wing parties in Italy decline to support formation of a commission investigating antisemitism. BuT I ThoUghT aNTi-SeMitiSm iN EUroPe OnlY caMe frOM tHe leFT (and Muslims)!

This is not a parody: children attending the White House Halloween party were told to "build the wall". This is not a parody either: Trump staffer defends the decision by saying "Everyone loses their minds over everything, and nothing can be funny anymore."

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Patterns of Discourse and Omar's "Present" Vote

As you've probably seen, Rep. Ilhan Omar voted "present" on a House resolution recognizing the Armenian Genocide. She contended that the resolution, which passed 405-11 (not including the "present" votes of Omar and two of her colleagues), was a "cudgel in a political fight" and that recognition and accountability for human rights atrocities "should be done based on academic consensus outside the push and pull of geopolitics." She also suggested that the U.S. had no standing to speak out on the Armenian Genocide without recognizing the horrors of the transatlantic slave trade and Native American genocide.

This explanation did not seem to satisfy many people. That includes me -- I think this was a terrible vote paired with a terrible apologia for the vote, and she deserves to be raked over the coals for it.

But since, apparently, a bit of genocide wishy-washiness is less hot and emotionally fraught than a debate over "Benjamins" (seriously: this is The Bad Place), I wonder if we might take this opportunity to reflect -- with cooler heads -- on some patterns that I think are repeating themselves

On the one hand: A great many people otherwise fond of or sympathetic to Ilhan Omar have been very sharply critical of her vote. She does have some defenders, but at the outset they seem to be relatively few and far between. On the other: many of Omar's critics are not people "otherwise fond of or sympathetic to" Ilhan Omar, and are less disappointed than they are elated to have a valid excuse to launch another pile-on.

People in the first category have certainly observed the fact of the second category and are uncomfortable contributing to the "pile-on", which they see as reflecting particular anti-Black and Islamophobic biases. After all, why is there such intense focus on Omar's "present" vote, as compared to the eleven Representatives who actually voted "no" (all Republicans) or even the other two "present" votes (Republican Rep. Paul Gosar and Democratic Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson)? For example, Rep. Johnson, who apparently has gone on the record saying she denies the Armenian Genocide outright, would seemingly deserve an even greater degree of scorn. And of course, those who outright voted against the resolution should face even more intense condemnation.

There is, to be sure, an answer to the "why Omar" question that doesn't boil down to "because of her identity". She has a much higher profile than does Eddie Bernice Johnson or Paul Gosar, she styles herself as a human rights advocate, there are many people who are disappointed in her that probably have no particular interest or hope in what Virginia Foxx does. Nonetheless, it is hard to say with a straight face that Omar's identity is playing no role in the dynamic. And the effect remains that the Black Muslim women makes a mistake and gets obliterated for it even as other, predominantly White colleagues effectively get a free pass for the same or worse conduct.

And here's the real kicker: the genuine, non-prejudicial, fairly-motivated critics of Omar who are speaking out based on sincerely held and non-opportunistic commitments to human rights? I don't think there is anything they could have reasonably done (save not speaking out at all) to prevent their condemnation from contributing to the pile-on effect. Even if that's not what they want, even if it makes them queasy. The dynamics in play here go beyond them; in the current moment there is not a way to in any robust sense speak critically about Omar (including justifiably critically) without carrying the risk that it will be harnessed by more primordial political actors eager to hoist up the pinata again. It would be wrong to say that this outcome was desired by the genuine critics; it would I suspect be equally wrong to say it could have been avoided by those critics.

Do you get it? Do you see the pattern? In l'affaire Benjamins, it was often claimed that Omar's critics were wholly and entirely right-wing smear merchants, and that it was their fault -- or more than that, their desire -- that she be subjected to a completely over-the-top orgy of histrionic condemnations that seem far disproportionate to her offense. This allegation, in turn, infuriated those of her critics who were genuinely motivated by non-opportunistic liberal instincts and concerns about antisemitism, and who wanted to both send a clear message that "this is not okay" but had no desire to endorse a witch-hunt.  Yet Omar's defenders, in effect, viewed that entire posture as disingenuous -- crocodile tears by political arsonists. Omar's critics are her critics -- some just put on a better figleaf of respectability than others.

One might hope that this go-around might offer some critical distance illuminating the pattern. Some of Omar's defenders in the last controversy are among her critics this time; perhaps they can learn to empathize with their peers in recognizing the genuinely uncomfortable position they find themselves in, and the difficulty (if not impossibility) of insulating their valid criticisms from enlistment into more unsavory political projects. And I'd also hope that some of Omar's critics, for those whom this issue has a less immediate pull on their psyche, can see how she really is being singled out in a way that seems anomalous given her degree of offense compared to other wrongdoers (a recognition which by necessity acknowledges there is a degree of offense!). In the history of debates over recognizing the Armenian genocide, after all, she is by no means the only actor to have gotten it wrong.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Booing Trump in Washington: The Appearance isn't the Reality, But the Reality May Become the Appearance

Many of you saw that President Trump, who attended Game Five of the World Series in Washington yesterday, was roundly and loudly booed.
When the president was announced on the public address system after the third inning as part of a tribute to veterans, the crowd roared into sustained booing — hitting almost 100 decibels. Chants of “Lock him up” and “Impeach Trump” then broke out at Nationals Park, where a sellout crowd was watching the game between the Washington Nationals and Houston Astros. 
For many of the folks on my Twitter feed, this was not just a feel-good moment (though it was). It was also highly symbolic -- proof that the President is weak, that he has lost the support of the people, and that maybe his grip on the GOP in the Senate might weaken just enough to make impeachment actually viable.

I remain skeptical. Partially, that's because I don't think congressional Republicans are responsive to anything remotely resembling "the popular will" at this point. But partially, it's because I know the demographics of the areas surrounding Washington DC. Below are the 2016 electoral margins of DC and surrounding counties (all went for Hillary Clinton):
Washington (DC): 91/4
Montgomery County (MD): 75/19
Prince George's County (MD): 88/8
Fairfax County (VA): 64/29
Arlington County (VA): 76/17
Alexandria City (VA): 76/18
This is an area of the country where (to its credit!) Trump has always been despised. And if anything relatively wealthy suburban professional counties have gotten even more sour on Trump since 2016, and I'd suspect relatively wealthy suburban professional counties surrounding DC to be "even more so" on that front. So it maybe doesn't tell us that much about the views of America as a whole if a stadium full of fans from places like DC, Montgomery County, and Fairfax loudly booed Donald Trump.

But if one is looking for a silver lining, here it is: it might not have to.

The appearance of widespread revulsion at Donald Trump doesn't match a reality where Americans, as a whole, are very different from DC metro residents, specifically.

But it is also the case that, as a matter of psychology, the appearance of widespread revulsion at Donald Trump can help move the needle on the reality, even in circumstances where that appearance is in many ways an artifact of local demographics.

Most people don't know the particular political orientation of the metro DC area. Most people just see a crowd full of regular Joes and Josettes who roundly despite the President, and take that as a data point that the President is despised by many, many regular folks. And we know in politics that people often follow herds -- the political positions they take are constrained by the set of political positions they know to be acceptable. Trump appearing weak can easily cascade into Trump being weak. And given that Trump really is weak -- perhaps not as overwhelmingly disliked as he would be at National Park, but certainly sporting consistently mediocre poll ratings -- a high-profile, high-salience event where Americans seemed to unite around thinking Trump is awful may well actually do real political work. Even if the appearance mostly is artificial.

Things People Blame the Jews For, Volume LIV: Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

You may have heard that ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has been killed.

You may not have heard that ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is actually a Jewish Mossad agent by the name of Simon Elliot.

Hopefully, the reason you haven't heard the latter is because it's ridiculous. It's been floating about the more conspiracy-minded portions of the internet for years now, and of course is bubbling back up now that al-Baghdadi has been killed.

And if al-Baghdadi and ISIS really are Israeli/Jewish/Zionist plots, doesn't that mean America has spent the last several years bombing Israeli agents? You'd think that the anti-Israel conspiracy theorists would be thrilled!

In any event, I'll just quote the well-spoken words of a U.S. Congresswoman on the occasion of al-Baghdadi's death:
Abu Bakr al Baghdadi was an evil man and a terrorist, who terrorized the world with violence and a message of hate. 
The world is a safer place without him.
We have deep gratitude for the brave men and women who carried out this dangerous operation.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Working Through Two New Polls on Antisemitism and BDS

Two very interesting surveys have just dropped on the subject of BDS and antisemitism in America.

The first is the AJC's survey of American Jews on the subject of antisemitism in America.

The second, a "Critical Issues" poll out of the University of Maryland, surveys all Americans on various Middle East policy related questions, including BDS.

Both have some intriguing findings that are worth discussing.

Start with the AJC poll. There's a lot of great stuff to unpack in here on how American Jews assess the lay of the antisemitic land. For one, it finally gives me some data on what American Jews think about BDS. Unlike Americans writ large, who've barely heard of BDS (we'll get into that more in the other poll), Jews have definitely heard about the BDS movement (76% are at least a little familiar with it, and 62% of "somewhat" or "very" familiar). There isn't a direct "do you support BDS" question, but they do ask about BDS and antisemitism. 35% say BDS is "mostly" antisemitic, 47% say it has "some antisemitic supporters", and 14% say it is simply "not antisemitic".

Of course, that middle response is vague -- it could mean anything from "BDS is not inherently antisemitic, but it's got a significant antisemitism problem" to "BDS is mostly fine, but sure, obviously it has some antisemitic supporters." Nonetheless, paired with some of the other responses -- such as the 84%(!) who view the statement "Israel has no right to exist" as antisemitic -- I think it is fair to infer that the majority of American Jews are, to say the least, not BDS fans.

In terms of broad assessments on antisemitism in America, things don't look great: 88% of Jews say it is a "very" or "somewhat" serious problem and 84% say it has increased in severity over the past five years. The silver lining is that most Jews have not been victimized by either physical or verbal antisemitic attack and most Jews are not avoiding Jewish spaces or advertising their Jewish status out of fear of antisemitic attacks.

But perhaps the more interesting data comes in terms of where American Jews think antisemitism is coming from, and who is mostly responsible for it. It's no surprise that most Jews are Democrats, most Jews lean liberal, and most Jews have an unfavorable view of Donald Trump (by a 22/76 margin -- whoof!). It might be a little more surprising -- at least given how the issue has been covered by both the Jewish and non-Jewish press -- how Jews assess the threat of antisemitism and the response to it on an ideological level.

Jews strongly disapprove of how Donald Trump is handling the threat of antisemitism in the United States -- literally, 62% "strongly disapprove", the overall approve/disapprove spread is 24/73. In terms of where the threat of antisemitism is strongest in America, the answer is "the extreme right" -- 49% of respondents say it is a "very serious" threat, compared to 15% for "the extreme left" and 27% for "extremism in the name of Islam". Add in the "moderately serious" threat respondents and the extreme right gets 78%, the extreme left 36%, and Islamic extremism 54%.

But that's dealing with "extremists". What about mainstream political parties? Here we see something that I think should blow some doors off. Asked to assess the Democratic and Republican parties' responsibility for contemporary antisemitism on a 1 - 10 scale (where 1 is "no responsibility" and 10 is "total" responsibility), Democrats saw 75% of respondents give them a grade of 5 or below (i.e., the bottom half of the scale), versus 22% at 6 or higher (the modal response was a "1" -- no responsibility -- the second most common response was a "2"). For Republicans, by contrast, just 38% of respondents gave them a 5 or below score, while 61% scored them above a 6. Their modal response was an "8", the second most common response a "10".

The way it's been covered in the press, one would think that Jews are fearful of left antisemitism and furious at the Democratic Party for not tamping down on it. In reality, the consensus position in the Jewish community is that the most dangerous antisemitism remains far-right antisemitism, and that in terms of political responsibility the Republican Party is a far more dangerous actor than the Democratic Party is. That consensus has the added advantage of reflecting reality -- it's obviously true that right-wing antisemitism (the sort that gets Jews killed) in America is more dangerous than other varieties, and it's obviously true that the GOP has been nothing short of abysmal in policing itself and reining in its antisemitic conspiracy mongers (thinking instead that its Israel policies entitle it to a nice fat "get-out-of-antisemitism-free" card).

Now the question is whether Jewish institutions and the Jewish media (or -- dare to dream -- the mainstream media) will follow the lead on this, and start reallocating attention and emphasis accordingly.

Now let's move to the Critical Issues poll. It covers a bunch of ground on Mid-East policy, but it is in particular one of the first I've seen to try and gauge American attitudes towards BDS, so let's focus on that.

Perhaps the most striking finding is being slightly misreported -- the Jerusalem Post says it found that 48% of Democrats support BDS. But that's not right -- the true number is probably around half that.

The survey first asked how much people had heard about BDS -- and for a majority of respondents (including 55% of Democrats), the answer was "nothing". They hadn't heard of BDS at all. The next-most common response was "a little" (29%), while "a good amount" and "a great deal" combined for just 20%. Only those who had heard at least "a little" about BDS were then asked whether they supported it or not. Overall, 26% of respondents supported it ("strongly" or "somewhat"), while 47% opposed it, and 26% were neutral. For Democrats, that split was 48% support (14% "strongly", 34% "somewhat"), 37% neutral, and 15% opposed. So that's where the 48% figure comes from -- but again, it excludes the majority of Democrats who've never heard about BDS at all. Add them in (and assume they'll be at "neither support nor oppose"), and the percentage of Democrats supporting BDS probably falls into the mid-20s.

Now obviously, that's itself noteworthy. But it's hard to know what to make of it, especially given that most of those who have heard about BDS still have only heard "a little" about it. That in itself is worth pointing out -- for all the indigestion this issue is causing the Jewish community, it's barely made an imprint on the polity writ large: 80% of all Americans have heard little or nothing about it. It's hardly some sort of generational wave that's caught the attention of the nation.

Still, it would have been interesting to know if those who had heard more were more or less likely to support the campaign -- my guess is actually it would yield greater polarization (those who've heard a lot about BDS would be more likely to either strongly support or strongly oppose it). But -- probably because the number of respondents who've heard more than "a little" about BDS is so small -- we don't have data at that level of granularity.

In any event: What does seem to be the case is that there is a sizable -- though still minority -- chunk of Democratic voters who (a) haven't heard that much about BDS and (b) say they support it "somewhat" (recall the "somewhats" vastly outstripped the "stronglys"). My suspicion is that this represents a set of voters who (a) are pretty pissed off at Israel and Netanyahu right now, and don't feel particularly inclined to think it is pursuing an end to the occupation in good faith, and (b) view BDS vaguely as a means of exerting pressure on Israel to change course, or if not that, at least signal that they don't endorse its current tack. In practice this probably means only supporting more "moderate" forms of BDS (if you even want to call it that) -- sanctions against settlements yes, full-fledged academic boycotts no -- and as I've written before that is actually a predictable consequence of BDS going "mainstream": it will lose some of its harder edges (much to the consternation of its founding, more radical core).

Basically, these are people who are looking for ways to signal "what Israel is doing is not okay", and while I strongly doubt they are ride-or-die on BDS, absent other avenues for expressing that sentiment they'll at least be open to some form of "BDS" -- albeit probably not the more radical iterations of it that, say, characterize the PACBI guidelines. The challenge for pro-Israel Democrats isn't, I think, that the 2020 Democratic electorate is going to demand that the US treat Israel as a pariah state. The challenge is that these voters are looking for ways to vent their frustration at Israel, and are going to want their candidates to speak in terms of sticks as well as carrots with respect to how Israel is engaged with. We're already seeing a bit of that -- and it's frankly a healthy move.

The survey asks a few more message-based questions about BDS (again, only to those who've heard at least a "little" about it), leading questions of the "is it antisemitism or is it legitimate" variety. I'm very much not a fan of the wording of those questions, and don't think they tell us much other than effective messaging frames to make people more positively disposed towards BDS (including that "Opposing Israeli policy does not equal anti-Semitism" is the salt of Israel discourse -- there's no recipe that isn't tastier with at least a sprinkle of it, so why not just toss it on everything?).

The final question the survey asks on this topic returns back to all respondents (not just those who've heard of BDS) and asks about "laws that penalize people who boycott Israel". One can quibble again about the verbiage here (the laws in question impose no criminal penalties, they just bar government contractors from also boycotting Israel -- but then, wouldn't many naturally view that as "penalty", albeit a non-criminal one?), but the numbers are nonetheless striking: 72% of respondents (including 62% of Republicans) oppose such laws. So that's probably something worth keeping in mind (again, might I recommend replacing those laws with general prohibitions on nationality-based discrimination? I bet that would poll much better).

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."

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

Labour Constituency Schedules Vote of No-Confidence Against Jewish MP for Kol Nidre

I don't want to say this is "peak Labour" because it seems like they're always capable of reaching new, er, heights, but my goodness this might be peak Labour:
A Labour branch in Dame Louise Ellman’s Liverpool Riverside constituency is to debate a motion calling for her resignation – on the evening of Yom Kippur.
The St Michael’s Labour branch is to meet on Tuesday evening - Kol Nidre - to discuss a motion of no confidence in the Jewish MP.
A motion, proposed by a member named Ritchie Hunter, cites a JC article that reported Dame Louise's speech in which she said she “understands why Jews would seriously consider leaving Britain if Corbyn became PM".
The motion says: "We have no confidence that our MP Louise Ellman will carry out the wishes of our CLP and our Riverside constituency or that she will follow Labour Party policy.”
It adds: “This branch therefore call on our Riverside MP, Louise Ellman, to resign.”
I just feel the need to walk through this more slowly, in order to emphasize all the layers here:

The mind boggles. It boggles.

Monday, September 30, 2019

NBC Thursday Comedy Quick Thoughts

NBC really pushed its fall comedy lineup, with veteran battleships The Good Place and Superstore looking to boost newcomers Sunnyside and Perfect Harmony (notably, Brooklyn Nine Nine's seventh season will be coming a bit later). The first two are great shows, and they inspired Jill and I to give the pilots of the latter two a try. So ... quick thoughts on all four!

*Potential Mild Spoilers*


  • I actually don't really have much to say about this show, other than Mateo's ICE detention is heartbreaking and terrible and a really good storyline but also just makes me very sad.

The Good Place

  • Seems like a whole bunch of our favorite guest-stars are going to get return appearances this season. I'm always here for more Marc Evan Jackson in my life. The sexy mailman who's always "going to the gym" shows up, much to Eleanor's side-eyed delight. We haven't seen Vicki yet (though to be honest, Tiya Sircar was much, much better as Real Eleanor). But the real stretch goal is if Trevor (aka Adam Scott) and his crew stage a return.
  • This show has earned a ton of trust, so take what I'm about to say very lightly, but ... if the show is serious about following through on using these random (or "random") four humans as test dummies to see if humans generally can get better in the Fake Good Place, then they're forgetting an important point of their premise. It's not that being in the (Fake) Good Place improves people. It's that particular elements of the original quartet, in conjunction with being in the Good Place, ended up bringing out the best in each other (under conditions of adversity). But that doesn't apply to any random four people, not the least because not all of them will necessarily experience this iteration of the Good Place as "adversity".
Perfect Harmony
  • I've missed Bradley Whitford on my TV screen. Trophy Wife, you were gone too soon. With respect to his probably drunk, deeply embittered character, Jill comments: "Josh Lyman in the Trump years."
  • Somebody identified Whitford as being from "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip," and I almost tossed my computer across the room.
  • I know Anna Camp is from South Carolina, but boy that accent she's putting on feels broad, doesn't it (and yes, I know that South Carolina and Kentucky are different places with different accents, but that's just it -- it feels like a caricature of "backwoods hick")? It's testament to just how gosh darn likable she is that I can look past it.
  • Dwayne's voice -- real, or put on by the actor?
  • That "Eye of the Tiger/Hallelujah" mashup was pretty damn good, I'd say! Seems like a lot for the choir to throw together on a few days notice without their star director, though.
  • The evil megachurch pastor definitely has engaged in some serious sexual misconduct, right?
  • Kal Penn! Remember that time he got a job in the Obama administration and so they just had his character commit suicide out of nowhere on House?
  • I'm glad I'm not the only one who noticed that the actress who plays the councilwoman who took Kal Penn's seat is an AOC looklike. And by "not the only one", I mean "everyone noticed, immediately, it's incredibly on the nose").
  • Man, between Mateo on Superstore and Drazen (a Moldovan immigrant and disco music fan) on Sunnyside, network TV is all of the sudden actually willing to tackle the fact that a bunch of people who are just living their lives in America are at constant risk of being plucked off the street and thrown into detention.
  • I really hope we haven't seen the last of Drazen -- his dynamic with Brady (also from Moldova, but came to America at two years old and doesn't even know where Moldova is) is fabulous. Save Peggy!
  • Best running gag on Sunnyside is Griselda working a job at every single place the group meets. Probably can't carry for a whole season, but it absolutely worked in the pilot.
  • Whoever plays Kal Penn's sister can get it.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Extremist Anti-Zionist Jewish Sect Requests Asylum in Iran

The Lev Tahor sect (really, closer to a cult) of Haredi Orthodox Judaism -- notorious for facing kidnapping and child abuse allegations -- has apparently requested asylum in Iran.

You may remember the Lev Tahor from their time in Guatemala, when Students for Justice in Palestine -- noting that Lev Tahor was (a) Jewish and (b) bad -- concluded that they therefore must be "Zionists". Lev Tahor is in fact extremely aggressively anti-Zionist, which may explain why they think Iran might be a hospitable site for an asylum claim. (As best I can tell, SJP's response to the fact that Lev Tahor is anti-Zionist, not Zionist, was to define the problem out of existence: anti-Zionism is good, Lev Tahor is not good, therefore, Lev Tahor cannot be anti-Zionist).

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Teaching is a Job, in Grad School and Out

The NLRB is gearing up to implement a new rule which would establish that graduate students, even when acting as teaching assistants, are not "employees" of the university and therefore are not entitled to labor law protections (such as the right to unionize). This is the latest swing in an ongoing battle over that issue at the NLRB, which has largely tracked partisan politics: grad students first won the right to unionize under a Clinton-appointee controlled board in 2000, lost it under the Bush administration in 2004, gained it back under Obama in 2016, and are poised to lose it again under Trump in 2019.

The logic of the argument that grad students are not employees is that we are primarily students, and our teaching roles are extensions of our role as students. I'm somewhat uniquely positioned to address this, as I became a graduate student after serving as a (non-permanent) faculty member at two universities, and thus was able to compare whether and to what degree serving as a graduate student instructor (Berkeley's term for a teaching assistant) differed from teaching as a faculty member.

Here's my answer: there's virtually no difference.

There are many things I've done at UC-Berkeley as a "student". Most obviously, I enrolled in classes for credit. I wrote a master's thesis, and will write a dissertation. In these roles, my relationship to the departmental faculty is pedagogical -- they are there to teach and mentor me, and I interact with them in effectively the same way as I did to my teachers as an undergraduate or a secondary school student.

But as far as Berkeley is concerned, I do not teach classes to be taught how to teach. I teach classes because Berkeley needs people to teach classes, and they've decided I'm qualified to do it. As a GSI, both my day-to-day and semester-long routines are effectively the same as when I was a faculty member. I build my own lesson plans, hold office hours, give lectures, grade papers, write letters of recommendation, and often times create assignments. Nothing in how GSI work is structured remotely resembles any pedagogical practice akin to the professor/student relation that exists when I, say, submit a dissertation draft. As a GSI, I receive effectively no mentoring or even oversight by faculty members (indeed, in three of the four classes I've taught as GSI, the lead instructor was another graduate student). The only substantial difference between being a lecturer at the law school and a GSI in the political science department is that in the latter case I do not have control of my class's overall syllabus -- but all this means is that I'm a worker underneath a boss. To the extent that Berkeley has taken an interest in teaching me how to teach, it's done so through a class in pedagogy. It is an accident of structure that my GSI responsibilities come attached to my studies as a PhD student -- they are scarcely different in form than what I would be doing if I was an adjunct instructor.

This ruling will not directly affect me (it only applies to private universities). And I say all of this as someone who has had a sometimes adversarial relationship with my own graduate student union. But that doesn't change the obvious fact that when I teach, I'm engaging in work, not study, and the law should therefore treat me as a worker, not a student. The determination that graduate students serving as teaching assistants are not acting as "employees" but as "students" is patently absurd to anyone who has ever worked as TA.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

What is Up With Minnesota Republicans and Antisemitism?

I know we all prefer to talk about she-who-must-constantly-be-named, but real talk: what is up with Minnesota Republicans and antisemitism?

First, there was 1st District Rep. Jim Hagedorn, who said Joe Lieberman's Iraq War boiled down to "Jew or Arab?" and accused his Democratic opponent of being "owned" by George Soros.

Then NRCC Rep. Tom Emmer, who holds down Minnesota's 6th District, sent out a fundraising letter accusing a triumverate of wealthy Jews (Soros, Michael Bloomberg, and Tom Steyer) of having "BOUGHT control of Congress" (when Minnesota Jews communicated their concerns that this echoed antisemitic verbiage, the response of the NRCC was essentially to tell them to get bent).

Now we have recordings of ex-Rep. Jason Lewis, until late of the 2nd District (and front-runner for the GOP nomination to take on Senator Tina Smith) claiming that Republicans (yes, Republicans) have "dual loyalties" to Israel and insisting that the "Jewish lobby" controls the Republican Party. He also raised concerns about persons who hold dual American and Israeli citizenship, falsely grouping John Bolton -- who's not Jewish -- into that category (gosh, I wonder what caused him to make that mistake?).

It almost makes you pine for the days of Michele Bachmann and her "chootz-pah" -- all she did was accuse American Jews of "selling out" Israel (and call for all Jews to convert to Christianity, though she did eventually apologize for that one).

For what it's worth, I haven't found any antisemitism in the record of the 8th District's Pete Stauber -- the only other Republican (alongside Emmer and Hagedorn) currently holding federal or state-wide elected office in Minnesota. So good on him, I guess (or maybe it's only a matter of time?).

UPDATE: It just. Keeps. Coming. Rep. Hagedorn is now under fire for calling Elizabeth Warren a "national socialist" (aka, a Nazi).

Friday, September 20, 2019

If For Once You Do Succeed, Try Try Try Again

I don't want to say "this is the pathology of the Israeli left in a nutshell", because there are frankly too many pathologies to fit inside any one nutshell, but it absolutely deserves mention:
In April, Arab voters helped push left-wing Meretz over the 3.25 percent electoral threshold, saving it from total collapse. A key Meretz stronghold in the last election was Beit Jann. This Druze village in northern Israel is famous for having one of the country’s top-performing high schools and the former principal of that establishment, Ali Salalha, was No. 5 on the Meretz slate in April when the party won nearly two-thirds of the local vote — its best showing anywhere. But when he was moved down to an unrealistic spot on the Democratic Union list [which Meretz joined with], Salalha quit the party and voters in Beit Jann took their revenge at the ballot box on Tuesday: The Democratic Union barely captured 3 percent of the vote there.
"Hey, we had great success putting this local Druze star high on our ballot list! We probably should learn a lesson from that?"

"Absolutely! Quick -- demote him so far down he quits the party in frustration!"

Maybe lesson learned? Probably not.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Israel's Arab Parties are Kicking the Door Down

The second Israeli election of 2019 is now in the books. Ballots are still being counted, but we can be almost entirely sure that when all is said and done, the Joint List -- a unified bloc of Israel's Arab parties (plus the Israeli communist party, which represents both Jews and Arabs) will be Israel's third largest party. Right now, the JL has won 13 seats in the Knesset (Blue & White is in the lead with 33, followed by Likud with 31; the Sephardic-religious party Shas is in fourth with 8).

This is a superb showing for the Arab bloc, which overcame vicious incitement and suppression efforts, and they have not been hesitant to dunk on Netanyahu in celebration (when Netanyahu asked what ministerial positions Blue & White promised the JL, party leader Ayman Odeh replied "The Minister of Affairs of Sending You Home.").

And I think this is actually even a bigger deal than many are letting on. Historically, Arab parties have not sat in government -- both because they've refused and because the Jewish parties have refused to sit with them. It is unlikely that this will change this time around -- though there remains a chance that JL could support a Blue & White coalition from outside the government.

Yet we are starting to see some cracks. Labor has explicitly urged B&W leader Benny Gantz invite the Arab parties to the negotiating table to potentially join a coalition, and apparently Gantz and Odeh will be having a meeting. Whereas in April the Arab parties didn't recommend anyone for Prime Minister, now there are some indications they may back Gantz -- they've at least put out a list of commitments they want from Blue & White on issues ranging from restarting the Israeli/Palestinian peace process to fighting crime in Arab neighborhoods.

But the most likely outcome of coalition negotiations is probably a "unity government" with both Blue & White and Likud joining a few smaller parties. In that universe, the Joint List -- as the largest party not in government -- would become leader of the opposition; a position which, ironically, would give them unprecedented access and influence within Israel's government.

All of this --  the feting for coalitions, the potential kingmaker status, the position as presumptive leaders of the opposition -- is a result of one thing: Arabs turning out to vote. I've noted for awhile now that the "left" (or at least "not-right") bloc doesn't have a plausible route to power in Israel any more that doesn't go through the Arab community, and results like these will impress that fact on people's minds. Labor is starting to get it, Gantz is starting to get it, and the Arab parties themselves are certainly starting to get it.

And this is how change happens. Forget waiting for the majority feel magnanimous. Kick the door down and make yourself a political force to be reckoned with. Go back and read Carmichael and Hamilton's Black Power -- you make yourself into an indispensable voting bloc whose support is necessary to prevailing in a given election, and you can extract a lot of goods even in the most hostile society.

The Joint List is in a position of real power right now. They've earned it. Time to see how they use it.

Monday, September 16, 2019

The Non-Mismatch of Rich Kids

Paul Tough has a bracing article in the New York Times about how collegiate admissions practices systematically favor underperforming wealthy kids who can afford to pay full tuition, framed around efforts to reverse that trend at Connecticut's Trinity College (via).

The short version is that, outside an incredibly tiny slice of hyper-elite schools like Harvard, most universities need tuition dollars in order to make their budgets work (this would include very good schools like Trinity, ranked in the top 50 of U.S. liberal arts colleges). Poorer students, who need scholarship support, represent a loss of tuition dollars -- in effect, schools need to balance our the low-income students they admit with high-income tuition-payers, even in cases where the poorer student is on merit alone a better candidate.

The way this plays out in practice is usually match-ups between high-GPA/low-SAT poorer students versus low-GPA/high-SAT wealthier students, which are repeatedly resolved in favor of the latter. The high standardized test scores are viewed as at least balancing out the low GPA, so it isn't really a case of taking a less-qualified wealthier kid over a scrappier, smarter, but poorer candidate. But often, it turns out, these test scores are themselves an artifact of wealth -- they reflect nothing more than that the student can afford SAT tutors and knows how to "play the game". Once they get to college, they revert back to high school form -- relative underperformers, unmotivated, and not on the level of their peers.
When Angel Pérez arrived at Trinity and took a close look at the way the admissions office had been making its decisions, what he found left him deeply concerned. “We were taking some students who probably should not have been admitted, but we were taking them because they could pay,” he told me. “They went to good high schools, but they were maybe at the bottom of their class. The motivation wasn’t there. So the academic quality of our student body was dropping.” 
At Trinity, Pérez’s predecessors had been able to capitalize on a pattern that admissions officers say they often see: At expensive prep schools, even students close to the bottom of the class usually have above-average SAT scores, mostly because they have access to high-octane test-prep classes and tutors. 
“O.K., you’re not motivated, you’re doing the minimum at your high school,” Pérez explained, describing the students Trinity used to admit in droves. “You have not worked as hard as your peers. But you did the test prep, and you learned how to play the SAT game.” 
If you work in admissions at a place like Trinity was before Pérez arrived, SAT scores can provide a convenient justification for admitting the kind of students you might feel compelled to accept because they can pay full tuition. It’s hard to feel good about choosing an academically undeserving rich kid over a striving and ambitious poor kid with better high school grades. But if the rich student you’re admitting has a higher SAT score than the poor student you’re rejecting, you can tell yourself that your decision was based on “college readiness” rather than ability to pay. 
The problem is, rich kids who aren’t motivated to work hard and get good grades in high school often aren’t college-ready, however inflated their SAT scores may be. At Trinity, this meant there was a growing number of affluent students on campus who couldn’t keep up in class and weren’t interested in trying. “It had a morale effect on our faculty,” Pérez told me. “They were teaching a very divided campus. The majority of students were really smart and engaged and curious, and then you’ve got these other students” — the affluent group with pumped-up SAT scores and lower G.P.A.s — “who were wondering, How did I get into this school?
The whole article is great, but I highlight this section because it at least gestures at an issue I've been  flagging for years: the potential (but largely unremarked upon) "mismatch" of wealthy students being admitted to universities that they are insufficiently prepared for. The "mismatch" hypothesis was pioneered by Richard Sander as an objection to race-based affirmative action programs which, he contended, systematically place minority students at schools above their intellectual level and thus harm their putative beneficiary. The talented student who would be a great fit for and excel at the University of Maryland instead is admitted to Cornell, where he struggles mightily -- ultimately losing more than he gains.

It was an interesting argument, but I argued then and maintain now that it is one whose logic would apply across many other cases where students are admitted to colleges that are -- at least based purely on academics -- "reach" schools. Athletes are one obvious example, but wealthy students whose case-for-admission relies primarily on (a) their ability to pay and (b) goosed standardized test scores that are also primarily a function of ability to pay would be another. Yet parents, guidance counselors, advisers, employers -- nobody acts as if these students will be hurt if they are admitted to Cornell instead of Maryland. Indeed, the entire structure of the collegiate application system is premised on the opposite -- a mad rush to ensure they do get into the "best" school possible.

Maybe they're all deluded; though it's just as likely that they will instead benefit exactly as they anticipate -- optimistically, from being pushed and forced to find a new gear in themselves, cynically from the value of letterhead. This is the only article I've ever seen even gesture at the possibility that the wealthy admits are themselves being ill-served -- finding themselves in an academic environment they're ill-prepared for, regressing back to their high school mean, and wondering whether they really belong at all (elsewhere in the article, we're told that Pell Grant recipients -- a good proxy for low-income students -- have significantly higher graduation rates than the student body writ large, suggesting that they're on the whole a stronger cadre of students).

But really, the fleeting consideration of this possibility is the exception that tests the rule. Is anybody truly concerned that the wealthy kid who got into Trinity primarily because they could afford to pay full-freight will be damaged for life? We might (and probably do) have sympathy for the meritocracy-based arguments that say he shouldn't have been admitted, but are we really also going to act like the objection to this system is for his own good too? No, obviously. The circumstances where smart, qualified, but poorer students are denied admission to good schools in favor of less-talented, less-qualified, but wealthier candidates is wrong -- but not because it's actually to the disadvantage of the latter group.

If You Can't Blame Omar ... Well, Buckle Up and Try Again

The other day, a thread by a right-wing commentator named Robby Starbuck made its way onto my Twitter feed, whipping up hysteria about "Somalis" beating up and robbing White people in Ilhan Omar's district.

There are several problems with this, starting with the fact that none of the local coverage I've read says that the perpetrators are entirely or even primarily Somali, and moving onward and outward to the incredible allegation local street crime is generally national news and only isn't when the perpetrators are Black (hey, have you heard about the gang of White students who beat up a Black classmate in Florida? No? Somehow it missed out on its entitlement to being the lead story on the Washington Post!).

As it happens, I used to live a few blocks away from the area where these crimes occurred. Crime wasn't rampant, but it wasn't entirely unheard of -- especially crime of the "robbing drunk pedestrians leaving the baseball stadium and/or surrounding bars" variety, which by all accounts appears to be what happened here. It's not a race war, and the neighborhood isn't under siege. It's crime.

In any event, I noted that -- at least at the time of Starbuck's tweet -- most non-Minnesotans probably hadn't yet heard about the arson targeting a synagogue in Duluth,* probably because it occurred in Rep. Pete Stauber's (R) district and thus couldn't be pinned on Ilhan Omar.

Of course, I'm giving people too much credit, because of course now I am seeing folks doing the whole "what about the synagogue fire!" at Rep. Omar -- and yet not, strangely-or-not-strangely enough, Rep. Stauber. For the record, Rep. Omar tweeted about the Duluth arson -- which occurred 150 miles away from her district -- on September 10th, while Rep. Stauber (who, to reiterate, actually represents Duluth) did so on September 12th.

Believe it or not, I don't bring that up as a "gotcha" at Rep. Stauber -- politicians move at different paces and one can always play the "why didn't you speak up on this faster" game. I raise it because it should, by all rights, conclusively falsify the notion that Omar was anything but way out in front on this tragedy, and deserves nothing but credit on it.

But it doesn't matter. Too many people, including too many people in my community, have been driven utterly, completely, unjustifiably bonkers by Ilhan Omar. It's fine to disagree with her on policy -- I disagree with her on (some) policies, most notably her backing of BDS. It's not fine to drop in on her any time something bad happens to a Jew within a 4,000 miles radius and go "Well? Well!?!" You want to talk about "tropes", or "implicit bias", or "double-standards" -- start right there and take a nice long drink from the fountain. It is a constant, ever-present feature of the discourse around Ilhan Omar, and it should sicken us.

* Following an arrest of the suspect, a local homeless man, police say they do not believe it was a hate crime. Of course, it still was a devastating loss for the Duluth Jewish community -- which had ample reason to fear that it was a hate crime, and certainly is following the ongoing investigation with interest.

Israel's Future in an Illiberal World

This essay by Robert Kagan on the current illiberal trajectory of the Israeli state is absolutely outstanding. I can't recommend it highly enough.

Most columns which talk about Israel in conjunction with the rise of global illiberal nationalism basically are exercises in what Marx would've called "bourgeois moralism" -- calling for Israel to resist it (or to stop actively participating in it) because it's wrong. Now, unlike Marx I think there is a perfectly valid place for moralistic appeals. But it certainly opens itself up to a response from a certain sort of fellow, who deems him or herself a hard-headed realist, who knows that such high-minded ethical appeals have no actual purchase in the dog-eat-dog, every-nation-for-itself world of realpolitik. Israel has to do what's best for Israel -- same as every other country. If that means shedding democracy, or liberalism, or egalitarianism, well, boo-hoo for them.

Kagan's contribution is useful because it is expressly addressed to that sort of fellow, and I endorse it not because I agree with this outlook but because I recognize it is an important one that many people -- rightly or not -- hold.

Kagan's essay explores what Israel's status would be -- not what it ought to be, not what it should be if states were fair and just and nice, but what it would be -- in an illiberal world where America and other major powers were motivated primarily by a sort of insular, anti-cosmopolitan nationalism. In this world, bonds between nations would, where they form at all, be based on material concerns and the conveniences of power -- the world Charles de Gaulle imagined when he said "nations don't have friends, only interests." And the answer is that while in the immediate term Israel might find friends in the budding illiberal powers currently popping up -- from Trump to Orban to Modi to Putin -- in the long-term such a world would almost certainly result in an Israel isolated, alone, and -- at best -- abandoned to its own fate.

Historically, Israel viewed its own security and standing as a new and relatively fragile state as being intricately connected to its status as a democratic state and society that would be a member in good-standing of the liberal political order. In a world where Israel's neighbors had more people, more territory, more wealth, and more oil, the main factor that could bind any major power to the Jewish state is a perception of shared values.

But the decline of the post-Cold War liberal order (liberal America and the EU) and the rise of illiberal alternatives (e.g., China and Russia, but also Trumpism in America and right-wing populism in Europe and globally) has given Israel a choice in didn't have before. Today, Israel doesn't have to be liberal in order to gain the support from other global powers. China doesn't care if Israel is democratic. Russia hardly minds if Israel is repressive. And within the traditional seats of international liberalism, one sees rot from the inside -- from Trump's rise to the chaos over Brexit. A right-wing populist like Netanyahu doesn't lack for ideological allies in the international system.

Yet, Kagan warns, Israel is delusional if it thinks that an "America first!" America, no longer concerned with trifling things like "democracy" or "shared liberal values", will be a reliable ally ever outward into the future. Why would it? Insular nationalism by its very nature doesn't lend itself to establishing these sort of enduring, values-based bonds. It is facile to assume that America will simultaneously retreat from seeking to promote a vision of liberal internationalism yet will remain committed to the security and flourishing of small nations halfway across the globe whose very presence seems to alienate much larger and objectively more important countries. If shared values matter, Israel can argue the fact that it's a pariah among some many states is a case of hypocrisy, illiberalism, or outright hate, and that it'd be just plain wrong for America to give into it. But that refrain -- whether fair or not as an ethical matter -- is simply irrelevant if America's foreign policy is "America first!" Only in a world where international ethics matter can Israel appeal to ethics as basis of a stable diplomatic relationship.

Kagan draws a parallel to right-wing Polish nationalists, who somehow think that a US that chooses to abandon NATO will nonetheless maintain a special security commitment to Poland. Those figures are out of their minds: if America ceases to care about the NATO alliance, it will in turn cease to care about Poland -- if not immediately, then shortly thereafter. More broadly: if America is in the game only for itself, playing real power politics, eventually Israel will find itself cut loose as soon as its in the transient American interest to abandon it.
What makes Israelis think if the United States were to cease supporting the liberal world order and began shedding the alliances it created after World War II, that the only ally it would not shed would be Israel? (Amusingly, many Poles these days also seem to believe that if the United States pulled out of NATO, it would still maintain the security relationship with Poland.) And how would Israel fare in the kind of world that would emerge if the United States stopped trying to uphold the liberal order? Such a world would once again be a multipolar struggle for power and advantage, pitting Russia, China, India, Japan, Iran, the stronger European powers and the United States against one another — all with large populations, significant territories and vast economies. What would be the fate of tiny nations such as Israel in such a world, no matter how well they might be armed and no matter how advanced their economies? In today’s world, Israel is strong and successful. It outshines its weaker and less-developed neighbors. But in the world of self-interested sovereign nation-states, a world with no liberal community, Israel is a mouse surrounded by elephants, all clamoring for a piece of the Middle East. Historically, from the Romans to the Ottomans to the British and French, the peoples of the Middle East have enjoyed only such autonomy as the ruling empires granted them. Otherwise, they were pawns and victims in a much larger game in which they were hopelessly outmatched.  
Could Israel, with its few millions of citizens, surrounded by enemies on all sides, and no longer living under the umbrella of the United States’ global hegemony, rely on the support of European nations ruled by right-wing nationalists? 
The answer is simply: no. It cannot rely on the enduring backing of foreign nation's committed to their own brand of domestic ultranationalism (it is frankly bizarre that anyone with a modicum of knowledge about Jewish history could believe otherwise), and a world where Israel has thrown its lot with that crowd is a world that will rapidly become exceptionally dangerous for Israel. Kagan concludes:
The price Israel paid for being born into the liberal world order was that it would have to suffer liberal criticisms and be held to liberal standards. This may have been difficult and even, from Israelis’ perspective, unfair, but Israeli leaders have borne this burden for 70 years because they knew Israel had no choice, that there was no home for Israel except within the liberal world order. That many Israelis now believe they have a choice is a reflection of our times, but it is a dangerous illusion. Those Netanyahu campaign posters showing him shaking hands with Putin, Modi and Trump carry the tagline, “A Different League.” Indeed, it is. Good luck.
Good luck indeed. The world Netanyahu hopes to help build is a world where Israel one day -- and perhaps not a particularly distant day -- will find itself truly alone, truly cut-off, and if the worst comes without America or anyone else interested in bailing it out.

Friday, September 13, 2019

How To Be Honored By Conspiracy Theorists

There's a conspiracy theorist who periodically sends me emails. Today, for example, it was a sustained discussion about "dancing Israelis on 9/11" -- an oldie, but I suppose back at the top of the mind given the recent 10th anniversary.

These emails, though are not sent just to me -- he helpfully doesn't bcc his recipient list, so I can see exactly who else he thinks is worth targeting with messages insisting that the WTC attacks were a Zionist plot!

And what it list it is! It's just 18 people, but they include such eminent figures as Cass Sunstein, Larry Lessig, Mark Tushnet, Adrian Vermeule, Noah Feldman, Stephen Carter, Adam Winkler, Ekow Yankah ... and me! Me! In such august company! To even be included in the same (spit-flecked conspiracy-mongering) sentence as those luminaries -- I can't express what an honor it is. It's right up there with the time I discovered someone had created a troll website just to call me a "disgusting Zionist punk".

Focus on the positive, that's my motto.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

North Carolina Republicans Commemorate 9/11 in the Most NC-Republican Style Imaginable

It is the anniversary of 9/11, a somber occasion where Americans reflect with sadness upon one of the worst terrorist atrocities ever to have impacting our nation -- but perhaps also with a bit of hope, recalling the brief moment of patriotic unity that brought us together as one nation, indivisible.

Meanwhile, in North Carolina:
While many of their Democratic counterparts were attending a 9/11 memorial event, Republicans in the North Carolina House of Representatives took the opportunity Wednesday to override the governor’s veto of the state budget. Rep. Jason Saine (R) made the motion to reconsider the controversial budget, prompting chaos to ensue in the nearly half-empty chamber. House Democratic leader Darren Jackson said he was told by Republicans there would be no recorded votes that morning, leading him to tell his caucus that they did not need to be at the session. Speaker Tim Moore (R) ignored objections from the 12 Democrats—of 55 total—present, and allowed the vote to proceed.
The Democrats in attendance told reporters they did not all have a chance to vote. According to Jackson, their microphones were cut off.
It's no accident that North Carolina was the state where a GOP candidate was literally caught ballot tampering to try and steal a federal election. There probably isn't a state in the union where the Republican Party has grown more openly contemptuous of the democratic process than the Tarheel State (yes, I'd say they even beat Wisconsin).

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Takeaways From the NC-09 Special

Republican Dan Bishop defeated Democrat Dan McCready in a North Carolina special congressional election 51-49, keeping this historically conservative seat red (Trump won it in 2016 by 11 points). The special election occurred because the initial result in 2018, a narrow Republican victory (by a sub-1000 vote margin), was tossed out after massive voter fraud efforts were uncovered in support of the prevailing GOP candidate.

So, what do we make of it?

The highest tide of the "Blue Wave" has receded

2018 was always going to be a high-water mark for the Democratic Party. Just as the 2010 Tea Party backlash didn't presage a GOP victory in 2012, huge Democratic wins in 2018 doesn't necessarily tell us that much about 2020. A narrow Democratic victory in Wisconsin in 2018 translated to a narrow Democratic defeat in 2019, for example, and that bodes extremely ominously for 2020. And so too here: Bishop generally overperformed GOP 2018 numbers all across the district save Mecklenberg County (mostly suburban Charlotte) -- though he still dramatically underperformed Trump's margins. "Losing a Trump +11 district by less than a point" was the Democratic high water mark, and it receded to "losing it by two points."

The big question, then, is not whether Democratic gains would ebb after 2018, but by how much.

There are no moral victories, but there are data points

Commenting on a similar special election race in early 2018, I wrote that while there are no "moral victories" in politics, there are data points, and Democrats overperforming their 2016 margins by approximately 10 points is such a data point even when that still results in a narrow defeat. Some people scuffed because "a loss is a loss", but history vindicated the trend lines.

Since 2018, Democrats in special elections have outperformed Hillary Clinton's performance by approximately 5.5 points. That's not "crushing Blue Wave" territory, but it's certainly good news. It'd be enough to flip North Carolina blue, for example (and a 9 point swing, like we saw in this election, would do so decisively).

Sub/urban vs. rural continues to be the division of note

We sometimes speak lazily of "rural" as a synonym for "White conservative", but places like North Carolina ought remind us that there are plenty of southern locales with significant rural Black populations. McCready won Scotland County (population 36,000, 51% White) and Anson County (population 25,000, 49% White) by double-digit margins. But that's not surprising: Hillary Clinton won both those counties by double-digit margins too. Bishop's best county by far was not rural but exurban Union County, which he took by 20 points.

Nonetheless, when one looks at trend lines the sub/urban vs. rural divide certainly seems to be alive and well. Those blue-ish rural counties? McCready might have won them, but he barely improved on Clinton's numbers and was way behind his 2018 performance. By contrast, Mecklenberg County, which comprises parts of Charlotte and its suburbs, was the one place McCready overperformed: his 13 point margin beat his benchmark indicator by 4 points and obliterated Clinton's 47/50 defeat in 2016.

Meanwhile, a 20 point Republican victory in the exurbs of Union County sounds good until you compare it to Trump's 31 point margin in 2016. It was in rural areas, including those blue-ish leaning ones, that Bishop made up serious ground. Holding McCready to the same margins in Anson County that Hillary Clinton got is a big deal when Clinton lost the district by 11 and McCready lost by just 2.

From a strategic standpoint, there's different conclusions one could draw from this. One conclusion is that well-educated suburban areas are the wave of the Democratic future and liberal organizations should try to consolidate gains there -- if places like Mecklenberg go from light-red swing districts to double-digit Democratic strongholds, that's a disaster for Republicans in North Carolina, Georgia, Texas, and many other states besides. A different conclusion is that these areas aren't enough to win and McCready's failure to mobilize turnout in heavily African-American regions of his district shows that Democrats cannot take these voters for granted anymore. It does no good to run up the score in the suburbs if you lose the entire margin when reliably Democratic Black voters stay home.

Voter fraud works?

In the Atlantic, David Graham makes the provocative point that -- while we don't know if Dan McCready would have won the 2018 election had his Republican opponent not engaged in ballot tampering -- there's no question that it helped GOP chances even though he got caught. Republicans were always going to be better positioned to win here in a 2019 special versus in the 2018 blue wave (see "highest tide has receded", above). And so in that sense, the voter fraud move paid off. Hopefully that lesson isn't internalized.