Sunday, September 27, 2020

How Leila Khaled's Second Hijacking Attempt Was Foiled

This is a gripping account from the pilot of El Al flight 219, which Leila Khaled and a partner tried to hijack in 1970. Khaled had already successfully hijacked an Israel-bound plane in 1969, and in this attempt they shot and severely wounded a flight attendant and pulled the pin on two hand grenades, seriously threatening the lives of remaining passengers and crew. The pilot's quick thinking (he had previously served in the Israeli air force) managed to allow Israeli security officers to regain control of the plane (though they were aided by a stroke of pure luck -- Khaled's grenades never went off).

Incredibly, I found out recently that a professional colleague of mine was on this very flight, along with her daughter. As she tells it, they were sitting a row behind Khaled when the hijacking began.

It's worth noting that Khaled not only has never repudiated her prior acts of terrorism, but she continues to extol them as the epitome of virtuous resistance. There are, in history generally and the Middle East specifically, plenty of people with dim chapters in their past who've gone on to do salutary or even heroic things. Khaled, though, as best I can tell, is remembered primarily -- by both her admirers and detractors -- for her role in terrorizing innocents, and has never really evolved politically beyond that.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

AOC Lookalikes

It's a good time to be an actress who looks like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. A bunch of shows have created characters that seemed like obvious plays on the prominent New York congressman. Ana Villafañe was a dead ringer for the congresswoman as a newly-elected councilwoman who ousted Kal Penn's out-of-touch incumbent on the ill-fated NBC sitcom Sunnyside. Ginger Gonzaga played a House Representative whose initials were "AYC" (and who had the sobriquet "Angry Young Congresswoman") on Netflix's Space Force. AOC has become more than an icon, she's become a character -- a contemporary show on politics seems to need someone like her on cast.

Given this development, it's interesting to see just what sort of character the AOC clones are generally portrayed as. From what I've seen, they tend to be:

  • Smart
  • Conscientious and hard-working
  • Idealistic
  • Aggressive and hard-charging
  • Somewhat prone to grandstanding
  • A little naive as to how politics actually works
Whether or not these represent an accurate portrayal of the real AOC is immaterial. It's interesting that this is part of what TV writers think viewers will recognize when they see a character who is clearly a riff on AOC.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

The Supreme Court Fight Probably Helps Trump

It depresses me (if it is even possible for me to become more depressed -- yup, turns out it is) that we have to immediately turn to the political implications of Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death and the ensuing confirmation fight over her replacement. But we do. And, more depressing still, I think the beneficiary of this development on a political level is Donald Trump. Why? Three reasons:

  1. Historically, Republicans are more motivated by judicial battles than are Democrats. That gap might be narrowing, but it's not clear it's disappeared. But while this is the factor everyone cites, it's actually the smallest factor in my analysis.
  2. A Supreme Court fight is a "normal" political controversy, and Trump is helped any time politics feels like a "normal" Democrat vs. Republican fight compared to extraordinary events that are unique to him and/or 2020 -- most notably, the coronavirus debacle. Ginsburg's death is one of the few things that can muscle coronavirus out of the headlines not just for a day but for a sustained period of time.
  3. Ginsburg's death is a political shock, and that automatically benefits Trump given that he's ran consistently behind in the polls. Why? Think of it this way: suppose the Supreme Court fight has an equal chance of either causing Trump to gain or lose five points in the polls. The former puts him ahead of Biden. The latter -- well, a loss is a loss: there's no tangible difference between Trump losing by a small margin and him losing by a large margin. So really, it's a 50% chance of it helping Trump and a 50% chance of it making no difference -- which is to say, it averages out to helping Trump. Given the remarkable stability in Trump's polling averages, he might be willing to take the chance on a shock even if the odds it benefited him were less than 50% (this is why I briefly contemplated the possibility of Trump doing something truly wild to shake up the polls if he was lagging far behind, like tapping Tulsi Gabbard as his new VP). And again, I think the baseline odds that this benefits Trump are at least 50% if not higher.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg Should Rest in Peace. The Rest of Us Have To Gear Up.

 Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has passed away after a long battle with pancreatic cancer.

Surprising absolutely nobody, Mitch McConnell has already promised to fill the seat weeks before the election notwithstanding his own months-long obstruction of Merrick Garland's nomination in the last year of Barack Obama's presidency.

It's possible he won't be able to do it. A few Republicans have hinted they won't go along with the move -- Lisa Murkowski being the most vocal, but potentially also Susan Collins and Mitt Romney. I have to assume Martha McSally has already decided she's toast in November and is just deciding to do as much damage as possible in her remaining time in office, because she waited scarcely five minutes to come out in favor of a pre-election vote. The list of Republicans who are going to publicly and unapologetically flip-flop on "filling a SCOTUS seat in an election year" is quite lengthy, but Lindsey Graham stands out for especial brazenness as he has a clip where he specifically states to the camera "I want you to use my words against me" if Republicans try to fill a seat in election year 2020.

Hypocrisy charges likely won't matter. That doesn't mean you don't fight, but it does mean that victory or defeat has little to do with how hard Chuck Schumer fights. There's no magic bullet, no secret parliamentary trick that can defeat a determined GOP majority that wants to slam through Ginsburg's replacement on short notice ahead of the next election.

What we can do is change the personnel after the election.

I've been opposed to court packing for a long time. Even after Garland, where I thought there had to be some retaliation, I thought court packing was a bad idea -- it promises a cycle of retaliation that has no logical stopping point.

I'm having trouble holding that position now, and I can't imagine cleaving to it if the GOP replaces Ginsberg before inauguration day. The Republican has announced that the new rule is that anything that is formally within the rules is permissible, regardless of how many norms it shatters or double-standards it creates. Well, confirming a new Supreme Court Justice just weeks before election day is exactly as within the rules as court packing is.

All that notwithstanding, I think the real necessary move is adding new states. DC is the obvious one, Puerto Rico ranks up there too. My stance on this is well-known. What I like most about adding new states is that, unlike court packing, it is both political hardball and unquestionably correct as a matter of non-partisan political ethics. The idea that certain American territories should be completely and permanently disenfranchised from effective political representation is an anathema to any semblance of democratic legitimacy. And the fact that the Republican argument against statehood is "but we can't win places non-White people live in" does not deserve the dignity of a response.

But all of this depends on Joe Biden winning the Oval Office, and Democrats retaking the Senate. I don't have a ton of spare income, but I sent a few dollars over to Theresa Greenfield in Iowa (it struck me as right at the line of winnable but needing an extra push). Support whoever you can with whatever you can; it doesn't have to be money either. Bear down and get the vote out however you can.

Ginsburg can rest in peace. She's earned it. The rest of us, unfortunately, can't rest at all. It's time to gear up.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Involuntary Hysterectomies Reported in ICE Facilities

Two years ago, I wrote that the natural conclusion of the White nationalist fanaticism coursing through the Republican Party is forcing immigrant women to have involuntary abortions. With raging anti-immigrant sentiment going on about "demographics are destiny" and "anchor babies", there was little doubt that at some point this politics would arrive at its natural conclusion -- a full-out assault on the reproductive capacities of the immigrants who arrive on our shores.

Today, news dropped of a whistleblower report alleging mass hysterectomies -- without informed consent -- of immigrant women held in ICE detention. It's not precisely forced abortions. But it is a hair's-breadth of distance away. And the logic carries.

Roe, nominally at least, should protect women against this -- after all, Roe does not guarantee a woman's right to an abortion but rather a woman's right to choose. But we know how the right feels about Roe. And without respecting Roe as a safeguard, it is not clear what constitutional basis there is for a woman under the custodial authority of the state (such as prisoners or immigrants held in detention) to refuse a medical procedure if her wardens demand she endure it. When choice is taken away in one direction, it can be taken away in the other.


What Makes These Protests Different From All Other Protests?

I'm trying to figure out why this round of protests against police violence feels different, in terms of the public resonance it's having, than what came before. It seems every few days we get a new wave of breathless commentary about how the backlash is coming among White suburbanites in Wisconsin and ... so far, it hasn't manifested. It'd be wrong, obviously, to act as if the entirety of America is behind the protesters or anything like that, or if there aren't important divisions and controversies among people who generally do count themselves as supporters. But in the broad sweep of things, support has been far more robust than one might have predicted based on past history.

One candidate that stands out in my mind is that the latest round of protests, sparked by the police killing of George Floyd, occurred basically immediately after a different round of protests by mostly White right-wingers angry about mask-requirements and coronavirus lockdowns. Americans had just been swamped with pictures of heavily armed and kitted-out protesters getting right up in the face of police officers and screaming at them, as the officers stoically endured the assault. A lot of people remarked that the police would be a lot less stoic about this sort of thing if non-White people tried to pull it. And then, wouldn't you know it, we immediately got confirmation.

The response to the anti-lockdown protests was tangible proof that the police could, if they wanted to, respond to high-emotion and fraught protest situations without significantly escalating the situation. So when we saw how they responded to the Black Lives Matter protests occurring essentially at the same time -- indiscriminately using force, arresting journalists and lying about it, and more -- it really underscored that these were choices the police were making that were not inevitable byproducts of having a tough job and being in a difficult situation.

Of course, the differences in how some protests are treated compared to others is nothing that new under the sun when one takes the macrolens out. But the direct juxtaposition -- where one protest immediately followed the other, and the differences in the police response was so drastic and so visceral -- I think made a serious impact. Watching the police act like basically like a type of gang caused a lot of White observers who maybe had a basic faith in the general professionalism of the police to reassess their views. And that reassessment is proving stickier than I think many anticipated.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Why Is Minnesota Reddening?

In several places, I've seen folks say that Minnesota is state must likely to flip from Clinton to Trump in 2020.

Even for someone like me, who's generally confident about Biden's chance in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, it's hard to argue for an alternative (New Hampshire, maybe?). And Minnesota has hardly been some Democratic bastion over the past few years. It's had recent Republican Governors and Senators; in 2018 it was the only state where the GOP picked up Democratic-held House seats (two of them, in fact; off-set by two losses elsewhere in the state).

Yet for some reason, it still feels odd to me that Minnesota seems to be reddening. The Twin Cities are a redoubt of highly-educated urban professionals -- a demographic that ha turned sharply to the left in recent years. This doesn't mean it is a perfect progressive paradise (recall George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis), but to the extent that Minnesota's population is anchored around the Twin Cities and its suburbs, those are areas where Democrats should be performing better, not worse.

The answer to the riddle, I suspect, is that rural Minnesota took longer to go Republican than other rural areas. Collin Peterson has for 30 years held down a western Minnesota seat that is, by far, the Trumpiest in the country occupied by a Democrat. Until recently, Democrats were dominant in the "iron range" of northern Minnesota -- that region was where one of the two seats the GOP took in 2018 sat. It remains the case that Democrats remain solid in Minnesota's cities and are improving in the suburbs. But Minnesota's long tradition of prairie populism may finally be fading out, and that's made a bunch of historically blue voters finally swap to the GOP.

I don't, to be clear, think it will be enough for the GOP to win the state in 2020 (either at the presidential level, or in Jason Lewis' challenge to incumbent Democratic Senator Tina Smith). I do think that Collin Peterson's luck likely will run-out -- he's got a top-tier opponent and Trump's coattails are just too long to resist in a presidential year. And it's possible that Democratic gains in the suburbs will offset losses in rural locales.

But that's all just hypothesis at this point. Any other candidates for the apparent trend are welcome.

Monday, September 07, 2020

Leila Khaled, Academic Freedom, and Hypocrisy Traps

Some of you may have heard that Leila Khaled, a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine who became (in)famous for a series of plane hijackings, was invited to speak at a roundtable event hosted by San Francisco State University (lest one think "roundtable" implies that Khaled represents one edge of a wide spectrum of views being aired -- no, that's not what is happening here). Unsurprisingly, inviting a known terrorist to speak at a university which only a few years ago settled a discrimination lawsuit filed by Jewish students is proving controversial. The University has stood behind the invitation, cited norms of free speech while emphasizing that permitting a speech to occur does not entail endorsing its content.

I'm a pretty staunch academic freedom absolutist, so in one sense this is not a difficult issue for me. Khaled was invited by a member of the university community in good standing, hence, she has the right to speak. I'd say the same thing about an invitation extended to anyone else. That doesn't mean the invitation is a good idea or even defensible one; it is entirely appropriate to subject it to withering criticism (there might be a narrow range of circumstances where it would be academically appropriate to converse with someone like Khaled -- a seminar on terrorism, or a history on Palestinian terror activities in the mid-20th century -- but again, this roundtable isn't that). There is a difference between what one has a right to do and what it is ethically proper to do; that distinction is essential to any notion of academic freedom, and is one I laid out and defended in my short essay "Academic Freedom vs. Academic Legitimacy".

Nonetheless, a skeptic might wonder whether this absolutist stance on free speech and academic freedom really would apply if a different faculty member or student group did invite, say, a "price tag" terrorist who had attacked Palestinian persons or property in the West Bank. How can we be sure that this alleged principle is being applied even-handedly?

The easiest way to do it would be to invite such a speaker to campus, and see what happens. But the problem with that is twofold. First, I don't want to invite someone like that to campus. I think it would be an abuse; an abdication of my responsibilities as a member of the academic community. Second, if I did invite them to speak, it would open me up to a hypocrisy charge insofar as I've publicly stated inviting someone like this to speak is contemptible and an abdication of one's duties as an academic leader. The consistency on the axis of legal right would be paired with a seeming inconsistency on the axis of moral responsibility.

So there's a trap. One wants to drive home the point that Leila Khaled's presence on campus as an academic speaker is exactly as legitimate as Meir Kahane's would be -- no more, no less. But one can't invite the likes of Kahane to campus -- it would be hypocritical, and one has no interest in presenting Kahane as a legitimate academic voice. But the sorts of speakers one does want to invite wouldn't present a parallel case to that of Khaled. Worse, to the extent they were presented as the "anti-Khaled", it might suggest that the spectrum of "legitimate" opinion runs from "pro-Palestinian terror" on one side all the way to "moderate Israeli" on the other.

It is possible that the only way to drive home the irresponsibility of hosting a Leila Khaled is to host another speaker who is as objectively indefensible and as alienating to students on "the other side" -- a potential detente via mutually assured destruction. But engaging in that sort of brinkmanship isn't really compatible with having a principled objection to inviting terrible speakers to campus. It's also not exactly a pathway of dispute resolution that's likely to yield a healthy university environment.

What can one do instead? I'm not sure. Ideally, one would see university-level condemnation (that, again, comes alongside recognition of the "right" to invite the speaker). There's also the possibility of being more creative in come up with responsive events. For example, many of the victims who were on the planes hijacked by Khaled and other members of the PFLP are still around -- a roundtable detailing their experiences would be very stimulating and offer a potent counternarrative to the Khaled event (I actually am part of a discussion group with one such survivor who had been on the plane Khaled hijacked along with her six-year old daughter. I won't repeat her story -- it's not mine to tell -- but it was absolutely gripping).

Ultimately, though, this is one of the problems with relying on norms. When they're abused or exploited, it's really hard to respond without setting off a runaway train in motion. There's little that can or should be done to stop the event at SFSU from occurring. All we can do, and should do, is be crystal clear at just how inappropriate it is.

Wednesday, September 02, 2020

Massachusetts Primary Results and Lessons

Massachusetts had its congressional primaries yesterday. I put down some predictions, and I'm decently pleased with my performance. I nailed Markey/Kennedy (I said Markey would win by around 10 points, and he won by a 55/45 margin). I got the winners right in the MA-01 and -08 races, but I thought both might be closer than they were. Rep. Richard Neal beat Alex Morse by a 59-41 margin (essentially the same spread as Ilhan Omar over Antoine Melton-Meaux a few weeks ago), and Rep. Stephen Lynch beat challenger Robbie Goldstein 67-33.

So what did we learn?

Begin with the Senate race. From what I saw, Markey overperformed in college-educated, relatively affluent and disproportionately White suburban centers while Kennedy's base was in working class and minority areas of the state. That actually isn't that surprising, given how progressive politics has been playing out over the past few years, but it does clash with some of the self-image of the progressive left which very much sees itself as being the voice of the most down-trodden. Take from that what you will.

Likewise, I'm beginning to see at least a few progressive activists say that their support of Ed Markey is proof that they're not purity-obsessed compromise-averse zealots, since, after all, Markey had his share of heresies in his history (the Iraq War vote being a major one). But he was improving, and he courted their support, and it was important that this sort of behavior be rewarded even if wasn't perfect. And I agree! That's a great lesson and one I hope the left internalizes!

But for now, it still seems to be a lesson that is at best inconsistently applied. There's an alternative universe, after all, where Ed Markey -- forty year congressional veteran, Iraq War supporter, backed by Chuck Schumer, Mike Bloomberg, and the DSCC -- is very much viewed as the quintessential "establishment" candidate who leveraged his insider advantages against the youthful upstart promising to shake things up and harken back to old school Great Society liberalism. Indeed, at the very start of the race that was the narrative Joe Kennedy was very much trying to push. It is to Markey's credit as a campaigner that he managed to turn this story on its head. But the fact is that Kennedy and Markey really don't have that different voting records from one another; and there are countless examples where "voting history akin to Ed Markey's" + "support from Michael Bloomberg" = "irrefutable proof of being part of the Deep Establishment". There's more than a bit of arbitrariness that Markey managed to avoid that label.

Perhaps the best thing Markey had going for him was that, orthodox Democratic voting record notwithstanding, he was warm and welcoming of the progressive wing of the party. There's a good lesson there too: being nice works! People like it when you're nice to them. That may seem banal, but there's a branch of progressive political activism that is very committed to the view that the only way to gain and wield political power is via incessant attacks and ruthless "shoot the hostage" bargaining ("the corrupt neoliberal Democratic Party won't listen to us unless we stop voting for them"). In reality, another good way to curry influence is to build good relationships with those you want to influence; and a good way to lose influence is to be openly antipathic to your nominal targets. This is why the Sanders strategy of "running against the Democratic Party in a Democratic primary" was doomed to fail. Markey, by contrast, built positive relationships both with the Green New Deal and "Squad" types, as well as plenty of more "establishment" oriented politicians. That paid off, big time. But once again, the lesson isn't being internalized -- check out the replies to Elizabeth Warren (who endorsed Markey) uttering some generic boilerplate niceties to Joe Kennedy after his defeat. One would think "having already won, there's no reason to actively antagonize a perfectly decent politician who just got 45% in her own state's primary" wouldn't be controversial. But you'd be wrong.

Finally, with respect to Kennedy himself, I stand by my initial assessment that his challenge was needless fratricide. Kennedy isn't a bad guy, and his record as a congressperson is perfectly solid. But there wasn't any clear reason for his campaign other than "I want to be a bigger deal than I am now", and that's not a good basis for a primary challenge. Once again, there should be a very strong presumption that Democratic Party energies are better spent fighting Republicans than other Democrats. Kennedy violated that presumption and so I'm glad he lost.

Over on the House side, I said that I thought Morse's "scandal" probably helped him more than it hurt him, but that this prediction wasn't really falsifiable. That remains true, but I think his wider-than-anticipated defeat does emphasize that the progressive-insurgent model really is struggling to gain traction outside dense urban districts. There's a good case that Stephen Lynch -- who's probably more conservative than Richard Neal and represents a far more urbanized district -- would make for a better target of progressive energies. The fact that Lynch didn't do that much better than Neal (taking 67% versus 59%) despite facing a far lower-profile candidate suggests there might be more room to run in the former district.

Lastly, there was one race, the 4th district primary (to replace Joe Kennedy) where I didn't venture a prediction because the field was a giant 9-way cluster**** and I didn't have time to even try to figure out what's going on. Election day verified that impulse -- the race hasn't been called, five candidates are in double-digits, and at the moment less than 1,500 votes separate first place (Jake Auchincloss, 22.4%) from second place (Jesse Mermell, 21.4%). Still, while the race hasn't been officially called, most observers seem to think Auchincloss -- who ran as a moderate and used to work for Republican Governor Charlie Baker -- will hold onto his lead and become the Democratic nominee.

Of course, a race this close immediately raises questions about what will happen come 2022. On the one hand, next cycle Auchincloss almost certainly won't benefit from a wildly fractured field splitting the progressive vote. On the other hand, he will benefit from being an incumbent. As Rashida Tlaib just showed, the entrenching effect of the latter can easily wipe away apparent vulnerability implied by the former even after a single election cycle. I suspect that once in Congress Auchincloss will work to lock down his progressive bona fides and will be able to hold onto his seat for awhile. But it is well within the realm of possibility that Joe Kennedy's ill-fated Senate run meant that a safe Democratic seat just got a much more conservative representative.