Monday, March 25, 2019

Well That's One Way To Put It

Mississippi is currently engaged in litigation over whether its State Senate district boundaries diluted the voting power of Black residents. Shocking, I know. A district court found that Mississippi had acted illegally, and the Fifth Circuit refused to stay the decision pending appeal.

Judge Edith Clement dissented from that decision. And she chose an interesting descriptor for the panel majority, whose opinion she believed was out-of-step with what the majority of active Fifth Circuit judges would have decided:
This case presents several extraordinary issues. Unfortunately, this court’s usual procedures do not appear to permit en banc review of this denial of a stay even if a majority of the active judges would otherwise grant it. I am afraid defendants have simply had the poor luck of drawing a majority-minority panel.
Now, to be clear, all three judges on the panel were White. Judge Clement is literally referring to the fact that the majority on the panel on the issue of a stay would have likely been a minority on this issue were it to go to the full court (while she doesn't say so directly, the logic is almost certainly that the case would break down on partisan lines and the Fifth Circuit currently has a GOP-appointed majority).

Nonetheless: this is certainly a striking phrase to use in a race discrimination/voting rights case. "Majority-minority" is not an esoteric term in this context; Judge Clement is well aware that it is almost exclusively used to refer to districts whose population is predominantly made up of racial minorities (literally: it is majority-minority). That is the evocation that any reader -- certainly any reader familiar with voting rights cases -- will hear.

And so its use here -- as part of a dissent where Judge Clement thinks the panel majority is being too solicitous towards minority voters in Mississippi -- does not feel accidental. It feels much more dog-whistle-y, and those whistles have been getting much more audible as of late.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Honeymoon Highlights

Greetings from Berkeley!

We're back from our honeymoon, feeling relaxed, refreshed, and (thanks to the miracle of time zones) actually waking up at a reasonable hour of the morning. Here are some of the highlights:

Hot dogs eaten: 5 (each). One of the selling points for this particular resort (the Sheraton Maui) was that there was a poolside hot dog stand. Even as we booked it, I remember thinking to myself "sure, a poolside hot dog stand sounds awesome in concept, but how much of a role will it really play in a honeymoon?" Answer: a massive one. Eating hot dogs and fries in a poolside cabana while watching March Madness on the iPad was the best way I can think of to spend an afternoon.

Fish eaten: 2. Jill and I don't really like fish, but we were on an island and figured why not try something a bit new? The Mahi Mahi tacos weren't really to our taste, but the Ahi Poke bowl was absolutely delicious -- I'd totally eat that again.

Fish seen: countless. We went snorkling! This is actually a big deal, as Jill has for as long as I've known her been deathly afraid of fish (this is independent of her not liking the taste of fish). But she was a very brave girl, and we actually both had a really nice time! The beach by the hotel was amazing for this, incidentally -- ten feet from the shore, and suddenly there are fish everywhere in all the colors of the rainbow.

Sunglasses purchased: 1. I should be wearing sunglasses all the time -- I have an eye condition that makes me very sensitive to sunlight -- but I've never really gotten into the habit. But our poolside cabana came with a free trial pair of Maui Jims and whoa. It was like I was seeing colors for the first time. It was actually almost unnerving how much more vibrant the world was. So I bought a pair, furthering the inevitable convergence of my own sartorial style into my father's.

Waters submersed in: 4. Ocean, pool/lazy river, hot tub, and spa bath ritual. The last one might have sold me on baths, where those baths are in jacuzzis with perfect temperature regulation and some sort of magic passionfruit powder that made my skin super soft and not at all wrinkly.

Private dinners: 1. The most classically "romantic" thing we did -- other than perhaps the spa bath ritual -- was a private dinner on the lawn for just the two of us, looking out over the beach and cliff rocks. It was a really nice experience. They had four menus to choose from, and we kind of had to hack all four of them together to come up with a four-course meal that didn't include pork or shellfish, but it all worked out -- and that's what got us to try the Poke bowl.

New breakfast sensations: 1. Loco Moco! I'd heard of it before -- it's a ground beef patty over eggs and fried rice, with onion gravy -- but I hadn't tried it or even seen it served anywhere until we got to the hotel. But it is so good. And it doesn't seem like it requires any particular ingredients local to Hawaii, so how has this not made the jump to the mainland yet?

Bird alarm clock: 1. There are many birds fluttering around Maui, singing their sweet little songs. There was also one particular bird who, from roughly 6:00 AM to 6:30 AM each morning, would just start shrieking at the top of its lungs like it just stumbled across the murder room in a horror movie. Thankfully, 6:00 AM Hawaii is 9:00 AM Pacific, so this was about the time we were getting up anyway. But still -- somebody get that bird to therapy. It's clearly seen some stuff.

Lizards in room: 1. Girls like swarms of lizards, right?

Hours spent off the resort: 0. We kept thinking about it. "Maybe we'll do an ATV tour of a neighboring island" (they never got back to us). "Maybe we'll go shopping in town" (we're spending enough here, thank you). "Maybe we'll go whalewatching" (the booking hut seems awfully far away when we're nice and comfy in our cabana). Ultimately, I'm content with our choice here.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Gap Day Predictions

I'm in the aforementioned gap day between my friends' wedding (it was great!) and my honeymoon (leave tomorrow!).

But I've been wanting to lay down my current take/prediction on the 2020 Democratic primary. Because it's never too early, and if I get it right now I will be seen as a God.

In short: I think the field will winnow down to Harris versus Sanders and I think Harris wins that head-to-head.

More specifically, and including potentials as well as the already-announced:

Joe Biden: I didn't think he'd run, frankly. There are two stories to his lofty status in the polls. One is that it's pure name recognition and that, much like all his other presidential campaigns, he'll crater once the race actually gets under way. The other is that Biden is widely liked, is viewed (rightly or not) as very electable, and will lock down the hefty portion of the Democratic primary electorate which misses the Obama years. I think story one will end up beating story two.

Bernie Sanders: I actually also didn't think he'd run (I'm off to a great start). Sanders is helped by a fractured field, because I think he has the largest core of support (though like Biden some of his backing right now is a name recognition thing), but I don't know how much growth he has once other candidates drop out. Twitter I think exaggerates both how much Sanders is loved and how much he is loathed among Democrats, but other than Warren, I'm not sure which other major candidates' voters would go to Sanders once they drop out.

Elizabeth Warren: Her oxygen seems to have been sucked up by Sanders, which I think is unfortunate. I'm also surprised by how much the Cherokee DNA test thing seems to be sticking to her -- not saying it's unimportant, but we have like nine million political scandals each week and this one doesn't immediately jump out as the one that matters. If Sanders wasn't in the race I'd have her as one of the front-runners because she straddles the establishment/insurgent divide very well. But I don't see a lot of Bernie backers jumping ship to her, and that will do her in.

Kamala Harris: I think she's the strongest of the more "establishment" flavored Democratic candidates. The left is hitting her on criminal justice issues, which isn't surprising, but I think she can and will cover that flank pretty well. And other than that, she has a lot of strengths and very few weaknesses. Like Biden, she scratches the "I miss Obama" itch very well without, you know, being Joe Biden.

Amy Klobuchar: The "mean boss" thing doesn't matter as much as the fact that she seems to be trying to position herself as the "moderate" in the race. That's going to be a mistake this time around.

Cory Booker: I always liked Booker, but Harris seems to be occupying his lane of "smart, wonkish mainstream POC liberal who kind of reminds us of Obama". In a large field, I'm not sure he'll have enough space to distinguish himself fast enough to make a real go of it.

Kirsten Gillibrand: I'm honestly not sure why she's not getting any traction. And to the extent it's "because of what she did to Al Franken", I'm outright angry that anyone is holding that against her. She might fare better if/when Klobuchar drops.

Beto O'Rourke: I don't think he should be running for President. If you'd asked me yesterday I'd have said his campaign is DOA, but the $6.1 million initial haul at least raised my eyebrow.

Stacey Abrams: The real wild card. Of all the unannounced candidates this side of Joe Biden, she has the largest potential upside in terms of generating real enthusiasm--in part because she seems well-liked by both establishment and insurgent sorts. But I can also see her ultimately petering out. It's hard to see Democrats, desperate to win in 2020, nominating anyone who lost her last race--no matter how inspiring the campaign was (that goes for O'Rourke as well).

John Hickenlooper: Even more annoyed he's running than I am at Beto. He should be taking a Senate seat from Cory Gardner.

Pete Buttigieg: I'm sure he's very smart, but mayor of South Bend, Indiana (smaller than Miramar, Florida, but you don't see me covering Wayne Messam) is a pretty big leap to President. Maybe try boosting Democratic fortunes in the Hoosier State first?

Julian Castro: Another rising star who probably should've found a different office to pursue before "President". Though, like Indiana, Texas is tough territory for Democrats to win high-profile office, so maybe this is his best option. Still don't see much of a route forward for him. It's a bad sign he's getting even less attention than Buttigieg.

Jay Inslee: In a sense he doesn't count since he obviously isn't running to win, but just to draw attention to climate change. A noble goal. And since there's no Senate race he should be focusing on instead, I'm okay with it--so long as he doesn't pull any sore loser routine or distract from the ultimate nominee.

Tulsi Gabbard: "There are many great candidates running for the Democratic nomination, and also Tulsi Gabbard."

John Delaney: Will never, ever break out of "who?" status with most Americans.

Andrew Yang: I refuse to find out who this person is.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

The Honeymooners

I'm headed off to my honeymoon!

Technically, I'm leaving tomorrow for my friends' wedding in Durham, North Carolina (at 7 AM, since our original flight was grounded). We get back Sunday, and then Tuesday we fly out to Maui for the actual honeymoon!

But brief stop back home aside, it makes sense to view it as one continuous period where I'm out of commission. And while I don't plan to wholly detach myself from the world, I am going to try to make a conscious effort to unplug a little bit. It's a rare thing for me, but it'll probably be healthy.

I get back home -- for good -- Sunday, March 24. See you all then!

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

"Nah, You're Not Worth It"

The DOJ just announced 50 indictments in a massive bribery ring where wealthy parents paid to give their children an illicit boost in the college admissions process. The unlawful assistance included everything from falsely being "placed" on college sports teams (in sports they did not play), to falsification of test scores (or simply getting a smarter student to take the test instead). None of the students themselves are being charged, as the complaint alleges the parents were the primary actors.

Among those charged is Desperate Housewives star Felicity Huffman, and that led to this interesting little part of the story:
Huffman is accused of paying $15,000 — disguised as a charitable donation — to the Key Worldwide Foundation so her oldest daughter could participate in the scam. A confidential informant told investigators that he advised Huffman he could arrange for a third party to correct her daughter’s answers on the SAT after she took it. She ended up scoring a 1420 — 400 points higher than she had gotten on a PSAT taken a year earlier, according to court documents.
Huffman also contemplated running a similar scam to help her younger daughter but ultimately did not pursue it, the complaint alleges.
So I have to ask -- who comes out feel worse here? The older daughter, who now everyone knows had her college admission purchased by mommy and daddy? Or the younger daughter, who mom and dad considered "helping" in the same way but ultimately decided she wasn't worth the effort (hopefully -- hopefully -- because she was smart and talented enough on her own to not need it)?

Anyway, this is a massive abuse of the educational system by people already incredibly advantaged by their wealth and privilege, and I look forward to the results of the criminal process here.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Greetings, Fellow Jewish Youth!

A new organization has emerged, Jexodus, for Jewish millennials who want to "liberate" themselves from the Democratic Party. How exciting! To paraphrase one wag, now the "the grift of 'we speak for Millennial Jews'" has officially gone bipartisan. Watch, as they bask in the adulation of predominantly old conservatives (Jewish and non-) desperate to believe that the authentic wave of the Jewish future is exactly what they already believe, and delighted to find Jewish voices who will validate their decision to ignore the perspective of the Jewish community writ large.

But if you're going to start a conservative millennial Jewish liberation front, you have to start it right. So let me present the most on-brand fact about Jexodus you'll ever see:
Jexodus is the brainchild of Jeff Ballabon — a longstanding fixture in Republican Jewish circles — and an assortment of like-minded activists like Bruce Abramson, Ballabon's frequent op-ed coauthor. 
Yes, this voice of millennial Jewry was founded by Jeff Ballabon, age 57, and Bruce Abramson, age 55. Greetings, fellow youth indeed.

In the tradition of "Blexit", I'm sure this will gain a ton of media attention and maybe even some support from Russian bots, along side approximately zero support from young Jews who weren't already Republicans.

I can't wait.

Thursday, March 07, 2019

The Trouble with (Jewish) Anger

If you read contemporary political theory publications, you've probably seen that "anger" is having quite the moment as a political emotion right now. As against a skeptical literature where anger is viewed as necessarily destructive or reactionary, a bunch of theorists have sought to identify and promote the uses of anger as a tool of public mobilization, asking what anger can do or promote under appropriate circumstances.

Whenever I go to talks or read articles on that subject, though, I always find myself a bit perplexed. The authors seem to concentrate on defending the thesis that anger is powerful -- they suggest that anger (again, in the right circumstances) can accomplish things that might otherwise be out of reach. But it seems to me that the classical knock on anger isn't that it isn't powerful -- virtually everyone concedes that (how many fantasy novels tie anger to a powerful dark side that allows access to eldritch magic?). The problem with anger is that it's hard to control. Anger is difficult to contain and difficult to cabin. Once it is unleashed, it is hard to bottle back up. It ends up hurting those one doesn't intend to hurt, it lashes out in unpredictable and uncontrollable directions. And, of course, anger has the difficult property of being self-generating against critique -- trying to persuade someone that they should be less angry only makes them more angry (convenient, that!).

The Jewish community in America is, I think it is fair to say, getting angry. What are we angry about? Well, a few different things, I suspect:

  • We're angry that a community and a politics that we've long called our own seems to be increasingly comfortable with the promotion of antisemitic stereotypes, and is indifferent, at best, to our feelings of hurt and fear at that fact;
  • We're angry that we've been unable to muster any significant public attention towards or mobilization against antisemitism from the mainstream political right, no matter how much effort we expend trying to raise it, and we're angry that media sources who are utterly indifferent when we try to talk about right-wing antisemitism only perk up when we talk about left-wing antisemitism;
  • We're angry at left-wing antisemitism because we're angry about antisemitism generally but this antisemitism is in our home, and also because this is the antisemitism where we actually seem able to touch it and make people pay attention to it and make its perpetrators take notice of us, and so all the anger over the antisemitism where we can't make anyone care about it gets displaced and funneled into this one social arena where somebody will pay attention to it, even as we realize how unfair that is and we're angry about that too;
  • We're angry that we're blamed for how other people talk or don't talk about antisemitism, and we're angry that people seem less interested in hearing what Jews have to say than in cherry-picking the Jews whose views are consonant with the narrative they want to draw and trumpeting to high heaven;
  • We're angry that any time we try to talk about antisemitism in a case that's within a half-mile of "Israel", we're accused of being unable to tolerate "any" (any!) criticism of Israel, or of being in the bag for Likud, or of proving the point that maybe our loyalties are in doubt;
  • And, I think, we're angry that the Israeli government has been racing off to the right, busily making some -- some -- arguments that once were outlandish now plausible, and putting us in increasingly difficult positions. We're angry that we've been basically powerless to stop this decay of liberal democracy in Israel, we're angry that a community and a place that we care deeply about seems not to care about us in return and is mutating into something unrecognizable to us, and we're displacing that anger a bit.
That's a lot to be angry about. It's not unreasonable to be angry, about any or all of that. And I think it's the case that to some degree, anger has fueled some genuine counterattacks against all of these things. Jewish anger has, certainly, prompted some people to issue apologies who otherwise would've continued about their business, engendered some discussions that otherwise wouldn't have have begun, prompted some solidaristic bonding that might not have otherwise occurred. One could, I think, fairly say that Jewish anger has greased the path towards some accomplishments for the American Jewish community.

But anger, as powerful as it is, is also difficult to control. I don't like the political-me when I'm angry -- and more than that, I don't trust the political-me when I'm angry. My tactical choices are often unwise. And when I look out and say how angry we're getting, I worry. I worry that we're not going to be able to bottle it back up. I worry that it is going to burst it's bounds and rage beyond control.

People have been making a lot of (premature, in my view) comparisons between the Democratic Party and UK Labour. But this is one parallel that concerns me right now. British Jews are angry at Labour, and they're by no means unreasonable to feel that way -- I've been quite vocal in calling out the disgusting cesspool of antisemitism that has taken over the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn's watch. That's legitimately anger-inducing. And one could even argue that Jewish anger about this has played a significant role in forcing Labour to come to the table and take what (meager) steps it has taken to tackle antisemitism in its ranks.

But I also worry that this anger and bitterness has gotten so deep that it's almost impossible to imagine any set of steps by which Jews and Labour might reconcile. Even when Labour officials do issue statements or take steps that seem genuinely positive as expressions of the importance of tackling antisemitism, the mistrust runs so thick that they're often immediately rejected -- "what good is this statement or that commitment coming from so-and-so, who's been so terrible to us in the past?"

I'm not saying that these statements or commitments will always be followed through on or even that they're always offered in good faith. I'm saying it almost doesn't seem to matter any more, the efforts that are offered in good faith and would be followed through on are swept away just as decisively by the omnipresent feeling of woundedness and mistrust. At a certain level, what Jewish anger wants out of Labour is for it to have never done such awful things in the first place. But there's nothing Labour can promise to satisfy that demand -- and so the anger can never be placated. And that, ultimately, can only lead us to a destructive place, where Jews and the left must be enemies, because there is no longer anything that can be said or done that is interpreted to be a gesture of friendship (even the most perfectly worded statement can be dismissed as a front or a guise, or insufficient given past sins).

American Jewish anger, I worry, is pushing us towards a similar precipice -- one where we can't stop being angry, where there's no plausible pathway through which our anger can sated. 

Consider reactions to the Democratic leadership delaying a proposed antisemitism resolution, with the suggestion that it be redrafted to more explicitly tie the fight against antisemitism to other forms of bigotry. 

One interpretation of this move is that it helps dissipate the notion that Ilhan Omar is being unfairly singled out, and sends a decisive message that the fights against antisemitism, racism, and Islamophobia are united struggles -- they are not in competition with one another. Another interpretation is that it "All Lives Matters" antisemitism, implies that antisemitism cannot be opposed for its own sake but must be laundered through other oppressions in order to matter, and overall represents a capitulation to those who are upset that Democrats are acknowledging the existence of left-wing antisemitism at all.

Which interpretation is right? Well, one would have to see the newly-drafted language, first of all. But I suspect that the answer will be that there is no one right answer. Either interpretation will be plausible. 

So it's up to us to choose which hermeneutic world we want to live in. We could declare, decisively, that we view such a resolution as not excusing left-wing antisemitism but also not singling it out; not suggesting that antisemitism only matters insofar as it can be tied to racism and other bigotry but rather rejecting the claim that vigorous opposition to antisemitism in any way, shape, or form is hostile to opposing these other hatreds. 

And to some extent, our declaration of interpretation will generate its reality. If we choose to believe that this is what the resolution means, that it is an expression of solidarity and of unity, then that is what it will come to mean. If we choose to believe that it means something else, that it is an insult and a capitulation, then it will mean that instead. It is both weird and, when you think about it, not so weird that it is fundamentally up to us whether any such resolution is an act of solidarity or not.

Viewed that way, the right answer is clear. But I think anger is pushing us toward the wrong choice. Yet know this: there is no resolution the Democratic leadership could write that would make it so that we weren't in this anger-inducing reality where such a resolution felt necessary to begin with. If that is our standard, we will never be placated. So the question is how do we move forward in a damaged world? Does anger get us there?

I think not. Anger doesn't look for common ground. It doesn't look for the positive or the best in people, it doesn't offer much foothold for rebuilding. It hurts those we don't actually want to hurt. Like a fire, it rages past borders and over barriers. Even when anger does do its "job" of mobilizing or organizing or signaling the degree of woundedness a given practice is generating, it doesn't easily return to its cage. Often, anger slaps at hands that really are just trying to reach out, really are trying to figure out how to do better. Which, of course, generates anger of its own. And so a cycle emerges, that is very hard to escape from.

As I mentioned above, one of the most difficult aspects of anger as a political emotion is that telling people to be less angry only makes them more angry. Even still, and even recognizing that we have grounds to be angry, I still find myself imploring my community that we need to let go of our anger here. It's rapidly losing whatever productive attributes it has, and I fear that if we don't bottle it back up now, we will completely lose control over it. 

And that thought terrifies me, because I cannot imagine that a Jewish community that is uncontrollably angry at the political community we've long called home will be a healthy, or happy, or productive place to live.