Thursday, January 19, 2006

Pre-Game Round-Up

What time is it? It's debating time!!!! I'm off to my first debate tournament of the term this weekend, leaving at 4:30 AM Friday morning. It's in Seward, Nebraska, which kind of sucks, but on the other hand our 6 hour drive takes us through scenic Iowa. I bet the time will fly.

In any event, I'm bringing my computer along (I have some editing I need to do), but I can't guarantee that they have the internet in Nebraska. So the blog may be on hiatus until Monday. But until that happy day, here is a variety of interesting stuff to tide you over.

Terra Nova is a blog exploring issues surrounding online multiplayer games. That may seem geeky to the extreme, and perhaps it is, but the contributors are all legitimate scholars or experts on the subject. Some of the posts are actually quite fascinating, and I speak as someone who has never partook in any sort of online gaming experience whatsoever (well, internet Reversi a few times, but that is IT).

Patrick Belton has a neato post on the upcoming elections in Palestine. Hamas, of course, is the X factor here:
Skulking about the strategic studies centres of their universities, the Israelis seem of two minds when it comes to Hamas's projected strong showing in the polls - either it won't be that bad, as they'll likely moderate and deal cleanly with administration and garbage collection, or it's an end to Oslo and the start of a good bit of jihad; there's also the possibility the lads in green might accidentally win outright, which no one seems to want, least of all possibly Hamas. ('Much easier to keep your virginity when you're not in power,' was how an analyst at the Jaffee Centre put it to me.)

As for me, I have a lot of trouble getting past the fact that the far-and-away most popular candidate in that election is currently serving life in prison for quintuple homicide. But I suppose that's just the cynic in me talking.

A pair of good posts are up over at PrawfsBlawg, one by Tun Ying about the difficulty in applying traditional international law metrics to the current war on terrorism (especially status-of-detainee questions), and another by Rick Garnett about a forthcoming article by two Ivy League Law Professors entitled "Christianity and the Modest Rule of Law." This strikes me as a topic for Mark Olsen to tackle.

Fortunately, I don't have too many flamers in comments, so I don't need to resort to this tactic to get rid of them (yet).

Ian Ayers delves into Alito's professed ignorance about the discriminatory policies of CAP, using it as a springboard to discuss "associational fraud." Ayers wants groups to be more transparent when they deviate from generally applicable anti-discrimination codes (such as the Boy Scouts' anti-gay discrimination). I've previously expressed concern over the proposal, though I'm certainly sympathetic. Also at Balkinzation, Professor Balkin himself gives the best analysis I've seen of the Supreme Court's Ayotte decision.

Daily Kos has a new election toy. It's fun--check it out!

Interesting analysis of Bin Laden's "truce" offer over at Restless Mania. See also Dan Drezner.

Crooked Timber gives UCLA Profs (of which I previously blogged about here) only 1/2 a McCarthy out of 5. How sad. But keep trying folks!

Hilzoy of Obsidian Wings has an absolute must-read post on the Medicare "reforms" and how it could affect her.

The more I read about Paul Hackett, the more I can't decide if he's crazy or a breath of fresh air. Lindsay Beyerstein has his latest foray to the media.

Dan Filler examines the Supermax prison.

Alright! Hopefully, I'll also post this weekend (or even later tonight), but if not, see you Monday!

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The Radicals Exposing UCLA's "Radicals"

Now here is something vaguely disturbing. A segment of the blogosphere is racing on this story about "UCLA Profs", a website dedicated to "exposing UCLA's radical professors."

There are several things disturbing about the site. The most obvious is their policy of soliciting cash donations from students who provide information about so-called "radicals." UCLA Law Professor Jerry Kang (whom I've previously expressed admiration for) notes that this might be illegal.

But really, the big problem is the disconnect between the stated purpose of the site and what it actually does. As the "About" section makes clear, the site nominally is about preventing Professors from incorporating and proselytizing their "radicalness" in the classroom (at least where it isn't topical):
As a large number of the profiles also demonstrate, these professors are actively proselytizing their extreme views in the classroom, whether or not the commentary is relevant to the class topic.
Take a minute to skim several profiles. The need for an academic freedom movement that respects both the professor and the student should become clear.

We believe there is hope for depoliticizing the classroom and emphasizing professional behavior - provided we can count on your support.

By itself, this isn't too objectionable. The idea that professor should limit themselves to their topic area, and not be missionizers in the classroom, is at least a reasonable position to take. But yet, it doesn't seem like they are limiting themselves to that. Instead, they are just targeting professors who take positions in their scholarship which they dislike, or who take public political positions that aren't sufficiently conservative (John Cole predicted this without even reading a word on the site).

Take Professor Kang, who (rather surprisingly, to my eye) made their original list. Their justification is really nothing more than he has written defenses of affirmative action, while at the same time disapproves of racial profiling. I understand that conservatives may not like those positions, but in today's political climate they hardly qualify as radical. Worse is the persistent undertone in the piece that Kang is a traitor to his race. They ask
"Why would this Korean-American, who managed stunning educational achievements in spite of 1980's-era racial preferences, favor a system that so manifestly harms his own ethnic group?"

Later, they get on him for his writings on the grave injustice of the Japanese internment--again, implying that he shouldn't care because he's Korean-American:
[Kang] has internalized the historical tragedies of one group as though they were his own. Thus, we find Kang waving the bloody shirt of Japanese internment every chance he gets.
Kang's strange preoccupation with this historical footnote is in defiance of all reasonable history. Kang was born in South Korea, a country that (in its original undivided form) suffered for 50 years under a harsh imperial Japanese occupation. Moreover, South Korea was a country saved from Communist despotry by the United States not less than a decade after our brief use of Japanese internment camps.

Emphasis added. Of course, calling the Japanese internment a "historical footnote" might be the most radical thing I've read today. But more importantly, the implication that a "good" Korean should just laugh at American injustice toward other Americans (of Japanese descent) is both morally appalling, and gives lie to their self-proclaimed support for treating individuals as individuals, and not markers for their specific ethnic group.

In terms of how they deal with Kang's research, their grasp is laughable at best. They understate his findings, distort his positions, and most importantly don't understand the scholarly context in which it operates inside of--points which would answer many of their objections if they bothered to do the research. But really that's besides the point, because again at the end of the day all they're proving is that Kang disagrees with them, not that Kang is some blight on UCLA's campus. In fact, given their surprising admissions of Kang's rhetorical and argumentative skill, it seems most likely that this group simply wanted to tar an able advocate for progressive causes in California and across the country.

I just went through Kang's profile, because he was the scholar I recognized, but he doesn't seem to be the only one attacked solely for his academic or public positions. UCLA Corporate Law Professor Stephen Bainbridge adds another of his colleagues (see below), and Jennifer Mnookin, another UCLA Prawf (albeit one not on the list) claims that:
Also, while claiming that their concern is about bias in the classroom, when I skimmed through the profiles of a few of my colleagues who made the list, what I saw instead was nasty, vitriolic attacks on their scholarship, their political activities, and nary a word about alleged bias within the actual classroom. In both tone and vehemence, it seemed to me like familiar right-wing radio tactics brought home to the ivory tower, not a pretty sight.

I should note that the two conservative professors I know at UCLA, Stephen Bainbridge and Eugene Volokh, take exactly the right line on this. Bainbridge writes:
My major objection to the BAA project is that they're mixing apples and oranges. In some cases, such as my colleague Jonathan Zasloff, they don't offer a single shred of evidence of in-class bias or other abuses of position. Instead, they object to various political activies in which Zasloff has engaged outside the classroom and on his own time. If that's the standard, than people like me and Eugene Volokh should be on the list too, since our work for conservative causes differs but little from that of Zasloff for liberal causes.

If BAA is going to go forward, a question on which I am firmly agnostic, I should think...they also need to draw a distinction between in-class abuse of position and legitimate political expression outside of class. So far, it would seem, they are falling down on [that] score[].

And Professor Volokh similarly notes the shallowness of their critiques in his own post.

Both Volokh and Bainbridge also further note that as a general matter, fair public criticism professors is not something that is bad. It is a constitutional right, and some might say also a positive boon to our collective academic discourse. If public criticism acts as a deterrent to taking controversial views, Volokh asks, then why do professors have their tenure protections at all? And Bainbridge notes that in the internet age, criticism is something that the powerful are just going to have to have to suck up and accept:
Getting feedback from the proletariat is always unsettling for authority figures, even radical left authority figures who have devoted their lives to deconstructing all authority (except their own). The initial and, perhaps natural, reaction is to decry it as McCarthyism and a danger and so on....

Upon mature reflection, however, we have to realize that the world has changed. Those over whom we have authority now have at their disposal technology that gives them a very loud megaphone. Very public criticism has become the lot of all authority figures, including those within the ivory tower.

All of that is well and good. This sort of free debate is neither bad nor, in today's world anyway, possible to stop. Liberal professors should not be ashamed of their political beliefs or of their public revelation. But this particular site claims to be about revealing the "classroom politics" of the "radicals." And it's not. It's simply a poorly informed smear job performed that doesn't even meet it's own professed reason for existence. It conflates the two very separate issues of radical politics in scholarship or in the "public," and discrimination or missionary activity in the classroom. Play the game straight, or don't play it all. That's not too much to ask.

Quick update: I'm stunned that Devon Carbado didn't make their list. He's certainly a lefty, and an extraordinarily talented one to boot. If I were him, I'd be insulted he wasn't put on. But anyway, he also has an interesting post from an insiders-perspective.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Death Watch

The U.S. Supreme Court has just struck down a federal effort to stop legal assisted suicide in Oregon. Oregonians have twice approved the law for effect in their state, but then-Attorney General John Ashcroft tried to circumvent the law by interpreting that Controlled Substances Act in such a manner as to preclude the Oregon law. By a 6-3 vote, the Court held that this was beyond the scope of what was authorized by the CSA (Roberts, Scalia, and Thomas dissenting). The case was Gonzalez v. Oregon.

There are a couple points to be made here. The first is the most obvious: how this case is an arrow through the heart of conservative claims to support federalism--or strict constructionalism for that matter. Consider this nugget from Scalia's dissent:
The prohibition or deterrence of assisted suicide is certainly not among the enumerated powers conferred on the United States by the Constitution, and it is within the realm of public morality (bonos mores) traditionally addressed by the so-called police power of the States. But....[f]rom an early time in our national history, the Federal Government has used its enumerated powers, such as its power to regulate interstate commerce, for the purpose of protecting public morality....

You got that? Even though it is found nowhere in the constitution, and justified by nothing more than a vague reference to "public morality", and involves an area traditionally left to the states, it's still a perfectly permissible. Oh, and though Scalia says that we've done this "from an early time in our national history," the earliest case he cites is from 1903, a good 110 years beyond the drafting of the Interstate Commerce Clause, and well beyond the time when a good little originalist like Scalia normally considers to be an "early time" for a constitutional clause. Not only that, but as Legal Fiction notes, Scalia isn't even consistent with that formulation--his vote to strike down the Violence Against Women Act seems difficult to square with an opinion that says congress can use interstate commerce to regulate morality (unless, of course, beating women isn't a moral issue at all).

Robert Tsai gives the take-down of Justice Thomas' separate dissent.
An interesting question is why Oregon lost Justice Thomas, who is moved to write separately. Remember, Thomas dissented in Gonzalez v. Raich, in which the Court struck down California's medical marijuana law as interfering with the CSA's regime. The state had an extremely difficult argument because Congress has specifically enacted a law listing marijuana as a schedule I substance. By contrast, the Republican Congress had tried to ban assisted suicide and failed to muster enough votes before Ashcroft issued the interpretive rule.

There are three possible explanations for Justice Thomas' sudden coolness toward federalism. First, he really does believe that Raich decided every possible federal-state question that could arise involving the CSA. I think this is unlikely--not even Scalia would go that far in his devotion to stare decisis--and Justice Thomas has in other federalism cases shown a willingness to narrowly construe inconvenient precedent. Second, he does not particularly believe that life-ending decisions are the kinds of things that implicate core state powers. A third possibility is that he is personally opposed to suicide of any kind, and his willingness to permit the cultivation of national moral standards trumps his sympathy for state sovereignty. In my view, the answer involves some combination of explanations two and three.

Nothing more to add to that--it's the politics, baby.

That's all very interesting, but it's been said by every commentator under the sun. What I'm interested in is what it reveals about our new Chief Justice, John Roberts. His dissenting vote on this case is very interesting. It is difficult to imagine a state's rights advocate like William Rehnquist making this vote. So right there we have a major difference in opinion between the old Chief and the new one--one I don't think reflects well on Roberts.

Because while this case had federalism implications, at its very core, it was actually an executive power case. Did the Attorney General (a member of the Executive Branch), have the authority to interpret a federal statute in this manner, or did it need congressional authorization first? This may seem rather arcane, but look at how Orin Kerr excerpted from Justice Kennedy's majority opinion and you may see what I'm getting at.
[T]he Attorney General claims extraordinary authority. If the Attorney General's argument were correct, his power ... would be unrestrained. It would be anomalous for Congress to have so painstakingly described the Attorney General's limited authority ... but to have given him, just by implication, authority [over] an entire class of activity ....
The Government, in the end, maintains that the [statute] delegates to a single Executive officer the power to effect a radical shift of authority .... The text and structure of the [statute] show that Congress did not have this far-reaching intent to alter the [institutional] balance and the congressional role in maintaining it.

As Kerr notes, this is precisely the type of language one can imagine being used in the NSA wiretapping cases, in opposition to the broad and unrestrained federal power the President claims he has inherently under Article II. And by contrast, Roberts' dissent shows that he is quite comfortable with extraordinarily broad interpretations of executive power with little or no congressional authorization to back it up.

Finally, Professor Bainbridge is "confused" as to why "federal drug law does not preempt state law when it comes to doctors prescribing drugs so their patients can kill themselves, despite the long-standing moral and legal traditions against suicide. But federal drug law does preempt a state law that would allow doctors to alleviate suffering by prescribing a simple joint." The "hyper-technical" explanation you seek, Professor, is that congress authorized the latter but not the former. I don't think that Professor Bainbridge himself subscribes to this theory, but it really is a sad day in America where congressional approval of executive actions really is argued by some to be an irrelevant "hyper-technical."

See also: INDC Journal
John Cole
Baseball Crank
Kevin Drum
Rick Garnett

Another issue I want to hit briefly was a CNN report on a Massachusetts case involving removing an 11 year old girl who is in a permanent vegetative state from life support. Here's the twist: she's currently under the custody of the state. The person suing, and the closest thing she has to a legal guardian, is her step-father--who stands accused of committing the beating that put her in this state. The Court ruled that the state can take her off life support

This is a perfect manifestation of the axiom that "great cases and hard cases make bad law." I'm uncomfortable with giving the state authority to make this decision--but letting her abusive step-father do it seems, if anything worse. Anyway, just though I'd throw that one out there, because it's topical and timely.

UPDATE: So of all the folks accusing Scalia of hypocrisy, Baseball Crank (C/P'd at Redstate) plucks me out of the crowd to set an example with. It's a good post, but I don't come away convinced that Scalia is saved here.

The crux of the argument comes down to two things. The first is the whole nebulous "public morality" justification for legislation. Scalia thinks that this is "settled law," but it's hard to see how in the wake of Romer v. Evans and Lawrence v. Texas. Scalia was indeed apoplectic at how these cases eroded the government's power to make morality based legislation--it's hard for him to turn around two and a half years later and say it's still "settled."

The second is on enumerated "powers" versus enumerated "purposes." Congress must clearly stay within the former, the question is what it has to do with latter. And I think that's a complex issue. For the most part, I don't think congress has to stay within enumerated purposes when enacted legislation. However, there is a significant caveat to this. When we're dealing with areas normally delegated to the states (of which medicine is clearly one), we better be damn sure that congress actually intends to impinge on that authority. It can do it, perhaps, but we shouldn't assume it--the we being either the Courts or Executive Branch interpreters. Absent specific congressional language to the contrary, there is no good reason to assume that "legitimate medicinal purpose" should be removed from being traditionally defined by the states and transported to a federal issue. This seems like a reasonable, conservative way of interpreting statutes (at least in the post-Wickard v. Filburn era)--we should assume them to respect federalism unless they specifically decide not to. There is also a second caveat, that there are illegitimate purposes even granting Article I powers (such as expressing sheer malice), but that isn't pertinent here.

I think a great analogy is to soon-to-be Justice Alito's defense of his opinion striking down a federal ban on Machine Guns. He didn't say that the federal government has no power to do it inherently, he just said if it's going to rely on the ISC clause, it better provide some actual findings to back it up. Scalia's opinion in Lopez also casts problems on his consistency--if the fact that guns usually cross state lines to reach schools doesn't implicate the commerce clause, how does medicinal drugs crossing state lines suddenly bring it back into play?

See also Protein Wisdom
INDC Journal
Political Spectrum

Monday, January 16, 2006

Guilty Parties

It turns out the one of the bigger bloggers on the net, Wizbang, has posted a response to my call for giving the foreign-born children of illegal immigrants who have spent the majority of their educational careers in the states the benefit of in-state tuition. I really wish these people would trackback to me specifically, rather than my pointer posts at TMV. Actually, that goes for comments too. But I digress.

The crux of my argument was that these people came over as children and thus should not be held responsible for "illegal" activities. Wizbang proclaims to "demolish" that argument through the following:
First, let's look at the "punishing the children for the sins of their parents" argument. This is quite easily demolished by pointing out that these "children" are, in nearly all cases, at least 18 years old -- legal adults and responsible for themselves and their actions and decisions. They can try to make right their status, or not -- but either way, they are liable for it.

Second, almost no college student these days pays their own way. It is the parents that scrape, save, and borrow up the skyrocketing costs of college. By giving the students access to the lower rate, that is a de facto benefit to the parents in many of those cases.

The first objection misses the point. If we agree that at age 12, or whenever, they can't be held responsible for being sent to America, then I think it's facile to expect them to deport themselves at age 18. The analysis remains the same as in my previous arguments--they don't have a home to go back to in most cases, they are for all they know Americans. The "they can try to make right their status" is a straw man--the likely result of that is that they'll be deported along with their families. Forcing these kids to play Russian Roulette with their whole families is just as bad as outright barring them from college. The point I'm making is that this whole process is unreasonable and wildly disproportionate to the gravity of the "offense" (which, at root, as that these kids had the temerity to buy into the American dream and the misfortune to be born into families who couldn't secure legal status).

The second point is also pretty far off. Given how poor these families are, I'm not sure that the parents will be paying either. Under most circumstances, these are the income levels whose educations would nearly entirely be paid by loans, grants, and work study. But as has been pointed out, illegal immigrants can't get tuition assistance, so that's out. So it's probably going to be the kid herself who scrapes the money together in all likelihood. But even where that isn't the case, I think it's a bit too glib to act as if the opportunity here is to get half-off on the tuition (which Wizbang says is going to the parents, not the kid). The benefit is that the kid gets to go to college--the financial issues we're dealing with are just instrumental to that end.

Then he proceeds to a series of arguments that argue that the difference in status between illegal immigrants and citizens or legal immigrants creates legal and material justifications beyond mean spiritness that justifies the disparate treatment. But again, this is circular. If we were giving illegal immigrants the right to, say, register for the selective service, and they refused to do it, that would be one thing. But to my knowledge illegal immigrants couldn't register even if they wanted to. At the point where we're barring them from filling a certain requirement on account of immigration status, then prohibiting them from receiving a benefit on account of not meeting that requirement, it's the same as banning them for being illegals. That not persuading you? Well here's a bold proposal: Legalize the status of any illegal immigrant who is admitted to four year college or university in the US. That would incentivize good behavior, insure that we keep our best-and-brightest in the states, stop the blatant waste of potential in the status quo, and would chop off the legality arguments all in one swoop. Wouldn't I love to see a politician with the cajones to pitch that one on the campaign trail.

The discrimination argument is just wrong--the immigrants have the same right as any other US citizen--to be given in-state tuition in the state he or she resides.

The first finite resources argument is absurd if one believes, and I do, that college admissions should be vaguely meritocratic and not some sort of neo-feudalist product of birthright. If they earned a spot at the university, I really don't care that a "red-blooded American" doesn't get in. The second one is operates on shaky assumptions--that the illegals who won't be going to college but would with half-tuition are being replaced by out-of-state, not in-state, students.

The next argument is the only one I find vaguely convincing--that legal residents pay some of the money through taxes and thus get a "rebate" (there isn't any reason to assume that illegal aliens who stay in-state for college are any more likely to leave for work than legals--assuming, that is, the government doesn't step in and deport them). Ultimately, this argument isn't persuasive to me because it seems to trivialize the nature of the program--I view it as assisting residents in pursuing something that will be a communal boon, he seems to see at as souped-up Discover Card bonus program (for every X dollars you spend, we'll throw in $1 of tuition money! It's what we do for loyal customers.). Funding college may be a burden on the state in the short term, it is true. But there's a reason why they do it--over the long run, a highly educated workforce is good for the state and the nation.

At the end, he falls back on the old "it insults people who do it legally." Again, since we aren't talking about adults but children, that argument just doesn't fly with me. I see the two situations as massively and qualitatively different.

Before I go, I just want to briefly address the all-too-common "it's illegal and that's all there is to it" argument. Aside from the fact that people like me would absolutely like these persons to be legalized (and it is the right that frothes up at the barest hint of an amnesty of sorts), again, I don't think the people we're talking about specifically can be held accountable for their law breaking. And in any event, I advocate changing the law, so don't lecture me about "upholding" it.

Update: I'd be remiss if I didn't link to this post by Dan Filler showing what happens when a city (in this case, Birmingham, Alabama), takes the "enforce the law" approach too far:
According to the Birmingham News , "any illegal immigrant who comes in contact with deputies - whether as an offender, a county jail inmate or even a victim - is fair game for the database." The data will be shared with the federal Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. (Local sheriffs apparently don't have jurisdiction to arrest individuals for violation of immigration laws.)

Notwithstanding the need to maintain border control, this expansive policy strikes me as troubling.

First, I worry that it will stifle crime reporting by undocumented crime victims. This is bad all around. The victims cannot rest safe because the culprits are still loose. And since some offenders repeat their crimes, the policy will leave these folks free to target others - documented and undocumented alike. The sheriff's office is apparently aware of this risk, but simply does not care. When asked about the danger of deterring crime reporting, a department spokesman said: "I hope that's not a byproduct of this, and if it is, it's unfortunate. However, we believe the greater good is having information on the people who are in our country illegally."

Chomskites and The Holocaust

My dear pal Ampersand writes a post defending Noam Chomsky and the architects of the Israel Academic boycott from my half-joking claims that they'd hop a plane to Tehran and provide Western legitimacy to the "Holocaust Conference" they plan on having.

Amp claims that it is unfair to group Chomsky with "real" Holocaust deniers like David Irving. To be fair, the evidence seems mixed--but really, is this an issue where there should even be mixed signals? The well-worn quote that he thinks that to even debate the Holocaust is to deny one's humanity appears to be one he no longer holds, if we are to judge from this quote:
I see no anti-Semitic implications in denial of the existence of gas chambers, or even denial of the holocaust. Nor would there be anti-Semitic implications, per se, in the claim that the holocaust (whether one believes it took place or not) is being exploited, viciously so, by apologists for Israeli repression and violence. I see no hint of anti-Semitic implications in Faurisson's work...

Paul Begala once said that George W. Bush didn't have an ounce of racial bigotry in him--but he sure seemed comfortable with those who did. Above all, it really doesn't matter if Chomsky himself denies the Holocaust, because he appears to be perfectly comfortable associating with, providing material support to, and providing intellectual succor to those who do. In fact, he seems more comfortable in those circles than he does with those academics who truly recognize and refuse to downplay the significance of the Shoah.

But the real thing here is to remember what Iran's goal is here. It isn't necessarily to debunk the Holocaust (though I'm sure they wouldn't mind that). The overriding goal is to justify their fanatical quest to obliterate Israel. And that's where Chomsky becomes useful. One can very easily imagine them passing this off as a "both sides agree" deal. They'll put up some David Irving type fellow to say that the Holocaust never happened and thus, Israel has no reason to exist. And then they'll bring up a Chomsky, who will say that yes, the Holocaust happened, but Israel still shouldn't have a right to exist. How fair! And they'll nod their heads and acknowledge the "scholarly controversy" (snort), but note that either way, Israel is an abomination to all mankind and should be annihilated. So I find it perfectly plausible that he'd show up for that project, given that he appears to have no problem with either Israel going bye-bye, or playing intellectual peek-a-boo with real deniers, I'm not sure where he'd lodge his objection ('cause we know it isn't in a moral opposition to supporting oppressive regimes).

There isn't much to say with regards to the British Israel boycott. I am mildly amused that Amp quotes Ilan Pappe to support the view that one can support the boycott without being anti-Semitic or anti-Israel, given that Professor Pappe, does, actually, believe that Israel should cease to exist as a Jewish state. Whoops. Given that Pappe does not buy into the "baseline" of what most people would consider being "pro-Israel" or "pro-Jew", I don't think he's a credible source as to whether the boycott is commensurate with either of those ideals. Pappe and Chomsky are each, in their own way, the Jewish equivalents of a Clarence Thomas or Ward Connerly. I don't really mean it as a slur, though I suspect that both of them would take it as such. Both take positions with regard to Jewish national identity and cultural survival which are wildly at odds with the community at large. Thomas and Connerly operate in a similar fashion with regards to the opinions of the Black community on race and racial discrimination issues. That doesn't mean that they don't have the right to express their opinions, or that they should be expelled from the Jewish/Black community, I advocate neither. But it does mean that if we, as progressives, are going to address anti-semitism in the same manner as we do racism, as a structural matter deeply ingrained in the fabric of global society, then we can't be side-tracked simply because a few reactionaries have decided to join forces with those who'd deny or minimize the presence/importance of these ills in the modern world.

Like with racism, our society is both pervasively and structurally anti-Semitic. 60 years after the Holocaust, one would think this wouldn't need to be established. But yet, there is almost no literature analyzing anti-Semitism as a structural phenomena, as opposed to a particularly long-running aberration or a mere "me too" example to go along with other forms of ethnic hatred. What it means to be "anti-Semitic" from a social or ideological sense is severely under-examined, meaning that anti-Semitism gets defined only as its most extreme manifestations, rabid hate and/or violence. To be fair, there are many such events to choose from. But this doesn't excuse the dearth of scholarship looking at anti-Semitism in more insidious forms. Why, for example, only the Jewish national state is seen as prima facia illegitimate, when no such claims are made of the French state, or the Russian state, or (God forbid) the Palestinian state could very easily be examined through such anti-Semitic constructs like "the Mark of Cain", by which Jews were forever consigned to live in miserable exile for their collective national sins. Progressive scholars jump all over this sort of thing when it comes to every other minority group--with Jews, such analysis is limited, obscure, and hard to find.

I understand the frustration of leftist scholars who believe they have legitimate (if not morally imperative) critiques of Israel who feel like even a whisper will expose them to reflexive attacks of "anti-Semitism." And maybe in some cases it is. More often, however, these complaints ring eerily of conservative scholars who complain of "reflexive" responses of sexism, racism, et al. Anti-semitism is going to be heard often with regards to anti-Israel critics because in the current global schema of anti-Semitism, Israel is the central point of revelation. In Affirmative Action debates, racism will be alleged because the central problem is racism. With regards to Israel, anti-Semitism is alleged because anti-Semitism is the central issue in the Israel/Palestine debate. Anti-Israel speakers know, on the deepest (perhaps sub-conscious) level, that this is the case, which is why they battle so ferociously to keep it out of the discussion. A truly critical examination of how anti-Israel policies are informed, motivated, supported, and legitimated by anti-Semitism would force the left to entirely re-evaluate the entire foundation upon which their critique rests--not to mention undermining the credibility of a whole generation of scholars whose academic currency rests entirely on being able to step outside such ancient oppressions and valiantly assail the oppressive cornerstones we build our life upon. If they themselves are indicted, who is safe? But ultimately, if the left isn't going to examine its own blindspot here, then the movement has no currency. It is a mirage, a facade of a post-modern uprising that is in actuality following very well trodden footsteps--calling for revolution on the backs of the Jews.

If you survived to the end of this post, congratulations! You might also want to read my article, "Jews in Space", published in the inaugural issue of The Lens.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Proving What Exactly?

Jim Lindgren has a very interesting post out on how democracy is likely to play out in the Middle East. Quoting an Egyptian blogger, the thesis is that at this stage, Muslims nations are likely to spend at least some time under Islamist rule, "get it out of their system" so to speak, before making the jump to democracy. I say "mak[e] the jump" as if it's inevitable, but it isn't--as we've seen in Iran, a country can go Islamist, lose the support of its entire population, and stay Islamist anyway off sheer governmental force alone. That, alas, is what good authoritarian states do.

The question is, what does this mean for Iraq? On the one hand, it could buttress support for the US invasion over the long haul, even if the short-term result is an Islamist democracy. If one buys what Lindgren is saying, then such a move is the first step in the democratization process--once the people lose faith in religious theocracy, they'll turn toward liberal democracy. By showing that democracy remains feasible even if the short-term looks bleak, it forces us to look at longer-term metrics of causality. On the other hand, it is far from clear that the transition from oppressive rule is easier when the move is theocracy to democracy as when it is secular dictatorship to democracy. The experiences of Iran and Algeria are not positive here--while Turkey, Indonesia, and the Philippines have all had relatively successful transformations from secular dictatorship to democracy. So perhaps then the US intervention, if it leads to a theocracy (and to be fair, that's far from the clear result), will make liberal democracy less likely. Of course, turning the hand back again, secular dictatorships amongst the Arab world at least have seemed to be far more adept at entrenching themselves than their non-Arab Muslim peers, so perhaps the analogy to the countries I've mentioned (all non-Arab) isn't proper.

Anyway, food for thought.

This Can't Be Good

Oh yippee. Iran is hosting a conference on the Holocaust. Recall, just for review's sake, that this is the country whose president called the Holocaust a "myth" and thinks it was concocted by Jews and Europeans to justify the creation of Israel. So you know that this thing is going to be a fair, comprehensive, and impartial review of the subject.

It doesn't take an oracle to guess that whatever goes down at the event, it will be a mind-bogglingly horrible blend of anti-Semitic lies and Israel-bashing. So my only question is this: which Westerners are going to show up and support one of the world's most despicable ideologies on its home turf? Will we say David Irving? Noam Chomsky? The architects of Great Britain's boycott of Israeli universities? The mind races to know who will place the neon sign over their head: "I'm evil!"