Saturday, August 02, 2008

Temper Tantrum

Florida police arrest six-year old Black Kindergartner for throwing a temper tantrum -- including a "resisting arrest" charge when she hid from the police under a desk.
Shocking as it may seem, similar arrests of small children, many Black, are happening nationwide. "There is a trend to criminalize minority children rather than send them to counseling or bring in their parents," says Nayyera Haq, press secretary for the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF), which investigated the issue.

In March, a 7-year-old boy, Gerard Mungo, Jr., was hauled off to a Baltimore police station for allegedly riding a dirt bike on a sidewalk. Police wouldn’t discuss the case because of a pending lawsuit against the department by the boy's mother. A 2006 study of Florida public schools, conducted by civil rights organizations, found a reliance on police to manage even minor transgressions by children.

Research from the CDF cites racial prejudice as a factor contributing to the arrest of Black youngsters. And in areas like Pinellas County, Florida, Black middle and high school children accounted for more than half of the 688 school arrests made during the first semester of the 2004–2005 school year.

Then there are the long-term effects of arresting children. "If a 7-year-old is picked up off the street because he's on a bike, he comes to distrust the government," says Haq, referring to Gerard.

And if there is one thing America has a surfeit of, it's trust in government amongst inner-city minority youth.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Evil Smiley

Regarding Wal-Mart's extremely aggressive efforts to hamper union organizations in its shops (in this case, insinuating that its employees better not vote Democrat if they want the company to stay in business), this post has the greatest visual representation of Wal-Mart I've seen yet.

McDonald's Exposed!

I read this from the FRC on McDonald's support for gay rights, and my suspicion sensor immediately started ringing:
When asked by our friend Don Wildmon, President of the American Family Association, to remain neutral in the debate, McDonald's said, "[we] will continue to support the gay agenda including same-sex marriage."

Nobody describes themselves as supporting "the gay agenda" -- its rhetoric only used by homophobic bigots groups like the FRC. And sure enough, it appears that the "quote" is actually a paraphrase from the AFA.

A stupid typo. Perhaps -- although the FRC's purposeful modification of "they" to "we" at the start indicates that it wasn't entirely an innocent oversight.

At worst, really sleazy, at best, just another indicator of the "quality" of the FRC's operation.

Civil Rights Roundup: 08/01/08

Your daily dose of civil rights and related news

The House of Representatives just passed a gender pay equity law, responding (I presume) to the widely derided Ledbetter decision of last year.

The Montgomery County police union is blocking the placement of audio recording devices in squad cars -- a key step in enacted accountability for cops (not to mention protecting them against bogus charges of abuse).

Gay couples are thrilled that Massachusetts has lifted the last barrier to gay marriages in its state.

Colorado prosecutors are treating the recent murder of a transgender woman as a hate crime.

The Boston Globe editorializes against inhumane practices foisted upon illegal immigrant woman who are pregnant or just recently gave birth.

UT-Brownsville has staved off an attempt by the border patrol to erect a fence slicing through the middle of their campus.

Election law experts are very nervous about voter suppression tactics being directed at Black voters.

Texas is number one when it comes to sexual abuse in its juvenile justice system.

The ICE self-deportation plan continues to shine: now they say they want to use ankle bracelets to track the volunteers.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney: "Let's Call 'Sex Tourism' What It Really Is: Slavery."

California unlawfully and involuntarily transfers some of its prisoners to out-of-state facilities.

New Mexico district court rules against the retaliation claim of two people who Wal-Mart refused to hire, allegedly because their parent had previously filed a discrimination charge against the company. The case is EEOC v. Wal-Mart.

Grand Junction, Colorado residents can file civil rights claims again. The satellite office of the state's civil rights division, previously closed due to budget cuts, has been reopened.

Gov. Charlie Crist (R-FL) continues to show leadership on voter reenfranchisement, but more work remains to be done in the Sunshine State.

A police officer pulled over a legal immigrant, accused him of operating a commercial vehicle without a license because it had a ladder on top of it (he was painting his house with some friends), and then "unleashed a torrent of profanity-laced, anti-immigrant abuse." Unsurprisingly, the man is suing.

The "race card" flap between McCain and Obama has unintentionally put McCain's new support for the Arizona anti-affirmative action initiative back in the public eye.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

It's Tougher in Alaska

Listening to Alaskans fret about how their state will survive without Senator Ted Stevens' (R-AK) largess is ridiculously amusing to me. If your state can't survive without corruption-tainted pork, you have issues.

Wardle is Back!

A few years ago, I wrote a post examining and critiquing an anti-gay law review article by Professor Lynn Wardle of BYU. I'd like to think it was one of my better pieces of work. Although Wardle had a few legitimate points about the state of the methodological research, many of his objections were just bad -- most particularly in his incessant comparison of gay relationships to adultery. It made for an overall poor piece of scholarship.

In any event, the North Dakota Law Review just hosted a symposium focusing on gay marriage, and, unfortunately, basically all the attendees were virulently opposed. And who was among the writers? Professor Wardle. Which, by itself, isn't worthy of note. But the Fargo Forum gives a little peek about what Wardle's article said:
In ... "The Attack on Marriage As the Union of a Man and a Woman," author Lynn D. Wardle compares himself and his defense of traditional marriage to a Hungarian Jew who warned Elie Wiesel's hometown of the coming Nazi Holocaust. Wardle is a professor at Brigham Young University.

Yikes. Seems like ridiculous analogies are still paying off for radical right academics.

Time To Go

I speak as a long-time reader and subscriber to The New Republic. It was the first real political magazine I read. It was highly influential in my intellectual development. I've stood by it when it was under attack.

It is long since past time this magazine fired Jamie Kirchik. He is an embarrassment to the magazine, and to whatever political and social affiliations he identifies with. Show him the door, and don't look back.

Civil Rights Roundup: 07/31/08

Your daily dose of civil rights and related news

The Bush administration proposal to force hospitals and clinics to exempt employees who don't want to dispense birth control is gearing up to be a huge fight.

A report by the anti-immigrant Center for Immigration Studies credits the drop in illegal immigration population to stepped up enforcement.

The WaPo urges that Texas hold off on executing a Mexican citizen until Congress has time to address the international treaty concerns that made his case controversial in the first place.

ICE has released more information about its can't miss self-deportation program.

A Colorado man has been arrested for killing a transgender woman. Look for the trans-panic defense coming soon.

The Boston Globe has an editorial urging Congress to dig deeper into what went wrong with the Bush administration's Justice Department.

Should we make the right to vote explicit in the constitution?

CNN quoting Steve Sailer in the "Black in America" series (for any other proposition other than "there are still White racists around") may not have been the wisest choice.

Activists protesting public housing demolitions in New Orleans are being held on criminal charges, including (originally) terrorism. That charge has been dropped, others are still pending.

The 11th Circuit holds that, notwithstanding its anti-discrimination rules, the University of Florida must recognize a fraternity that requires its members to be Christian.

Florida Hispanics continue to protest racial profiling in their communities.

Anti-affirmative action proposals are on the ballot in Colorado, Arizona, and Nebraska.

The Deseret News reports on a election reform hearing (the very one that made yesterday's roundup late, as it happens) that got good reviews from voter advocates and civil rights groups.

The SCLC: New Orleans is "one of the most racist communities in this country."

Finally, condolences to the family of Sammy Davis, Jr., who just died. DUH! He died in 1990. I don't know why it came up in my search of daily news sources. Bizarre. Way to make me look like expose me as a moron, Google News.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Shout Out To Steve Cohen

Jack and Jill politics gives a well deserved shout-out to Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN), who spearheaded the House apology for slavery and Jim Crow. Cohen is a Jewish progressive in a predominantly Black district formerly represented by Harold Ford (D). Cohen is facing a primary challenge geared by some folks who don't like that a majority Black district is being represented by a White man (and, it must be said, some aren't happy that Cohen is Jewish). The J&J writer, though, notes that Cohen -- far more than Ford and far more than his Black primary opponent -- has been a strong voice for the concerns of the people of his district, and is precisely the type of leader people of all races need in Congress.

So here's to you, Rep. Cohen -- for getting this long overdue resolution passed, and for doing an overall great job in the US Congress.

Civil Rights Roundup: 07/30/08

Your daily dose of civil rights and related news

Sorry for the delay folks, I was on the Hill this morning.

In a resolution offered by Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN), the House of Representatives has formally apologized for slavery and Jim Crow.

There is much to criticize with regards to the efforts against AIDS in the Black community.

In a related story, if Black Americans were a country, they'd rank 16th in the world in AIDS infections.

ICE has got a fool-proof new immigration strategy: Deport yourself!

The US will finally and belatedly end its ban on HIV-positive travelers.

The Catholic community is registering its concern with stepped up immigration raids.

The Houston Chronicle: If Hispanics don't succeed, Houston doesn't succeed.

Californians may soon be able to register to vote online.

The Federal government has gotten involved in the case of a racially-tinged fatal beating of a Hispanic immigrant.

Hispanics in West Palm Beach, Florida are complaining that immigration authorities are racially profiling them.

Three men who were assaulted in a scrap yard are filing a federal civil rights claim against their attackers.

Backers of the ballot initiative which would strip gay couples of their right to marry in California are pissed that voters will be told that their initiative will tell voters... it would strip gay couples of their right to marry in California.

The House once again is looking to circumvent DC's right to home rule by getting rid of its revised gun registration rules.

The Massachusetts legislature passed a bill repealing a 1913 law which prohibited out of state gay couples from marrying. The bill was originally targeted at inter-racial marriage.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

One More Quote of the Day

Same source as the last one:
Legal scholars can perform an edifying role by broadening the perceived scope of legitimate institutional alternatives. One way to do this is to demonstrate the contingent and malleable nature of legal reasoning and legal institutions. The greatest service that legal theorists can provide is active criticism of the legal system. Criticism is initially reactive and destructive, rather than constructive. But out mistaken belief that our current ways of doing things are somehow natural or necessary hinders us from envisioning radical alternatives to what exists. To exercise our utopian imagination, it is helpful first to expose the structures of thought that limit our perception of what is possible. Judges rationalize their decisions as the results of reasoned elaboration of principles inherent in the legal system. Instead of choosing among available descriptions, theories, vocabularies, and course of action, the official who feels "bound" reasons from nonexistent "grounds" and hides from herself the fact that she is exercising power. By systematically and constantly criticizing the rationalizations [*59] of traditional legal reasoning, we can demonstrate, again and again, that a wider range of alternatives is available to us.

Joseph Singer, The Player and the Cards: Nihilism and Legal Theory, 94 Yale L.J. 1, 58-59 (1984).

Fear the Voter

So a non-profit voter registration group in Virginia found that three of its employees were falsifying names in order to meet daily quotas. The group turned in these employees to the authorities. And the chair of the state Republican Party is now urging people to not register to vote at all:
[GOP State Party chairman Jeffrey] Frederick is calling on Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) and Attorney General Robert F. McDonnell (R) to launch an investigation. Frederick is also urging residents to avoid giving their names or social security numbers to canvassers seeking to register voters.

"Identity theft is widespread problem in Virginia," Frederick said. "Today, I am encouraging voters who have filed out any of these voter registration forms to immediately contact their registrars, and Virginians should exercise caution when approached by a stranger who asks them for their information."

Fredrick also says "There appears to be a coordinated and widespread effort in Virginia to commit voter fraud...a widespread problem across Virginia." He did not, to my knowledge however, cite any substantial on either the "coordinated" or "widespread" claims, limiting himself to this one story and a single other affidavit where a resident claims her social security number was fradulently used to register someone else to vote.

Can you spell "pretext"?

Stevens Indicted

Ted Stevens (R-AK), the senior Republican in the US Senate, has been indicted for making false statements on his Senate Financial Disclosure forms related to gifts received from the VECO corporation (resulting in the steering of millions in federal contracts to the company).

As The Plank notes, this could actually be good for GOP Senate prospects in Alaska, as Stevens was trailing Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich (D) in early polling, and anything that might assist in knocking him off the ballot in favor of another candidate makes it easier to hold the seat. On the other hand, putting Republican corruption back in the spotlight hardly is the gift conservatives were looking for, either in Alaska or on the national stage.

Quote of the Day

I distinguish nihilism both from what I call rationalism and from my own position, which I prefer not to label but which for clarity's sake I will here call irrationalism.... Rationalism encompasses two fundamental assumptions, neither of which I accept. The rationalist believes that a rational foundation and method are necessary, both epistemologically and psychologically, to develop legitimate commitment to moral values; she also believes that such a rational foundation and method either already exist or can be discovered or invented. Nihilism is only a partial rejection of rationalism: The nihilist rejects the second assumption, but not the first. Thus a nihilist would argue that a rational foundation is necessary to sustain values but that no such foundation exists or can be identified. This sort of nihilism leads directly to psychological feelings of impotence and despair, and to the sense that nothing matters, because what we desperately require to make our lives meaningful is impossible to achieve. My position rejects both assumptions. We do not have a rational foundation and method for legal or moral reasoning (in the sense that traditional legal theorists imagine such rational foundations to be possible); we do not, however, need such a foundation or method to develop passionate commitments and to make our lives meaningful. This formulation removes the dilemma that is the basis for the despair of the middle position. I prefer not to describe my position as "irrationalism" ... for the same reason I decline to adopt nihilism as a way to describe myself. It would be misleading and confusing to appear to be advocating that decisions be made "irrationally" -- without connection with discernable goals. A better term might be pragmatism. I would prefer, as would Mark Tushnet and Richard Bernstein and Gerald Frug, that we stop thinking about moral, political, and legal choice in terms of the dichotomies between reason and emotion, law and politics, rationality and irrationality, objectivism and relativism. These dichotomies are inadequate to express the dilemmas of social life.

Joseph Singer, The Player and the Cards: Nihilism and Legal Theory, 94 Yale L.J. 1, 4 n.8 (1984).

A friend once asked me a question that was premised on this very dilemma -- she feared that without rational foundations everything ceases to have meaning. The premise, as Singer shows, is not necessarily correct: we don't need objective foundations to engage in meaningful lives. Hence, his epigraph, which I offer as a bonus quote:
After they had explored all the suns in the universe, and all the planets of all the suns, they realized that there was no other life in the universe, and that they were alone. And they were very happy, because then they knew it was up to them to become all the things they had imagined they would find.

Lanford Wilson, 5th of July 127 (1978)

Old and New

That Jonah Goldberg is a moron and a hack is nothing new. And perhaps this piece attacking the new found respect for the 1968 "Black Power" Olympic salute is not actually particularly dumb so much as it is dumb in an area of particular interest to me.

But my God, is he ever an idiot.

Put aside the ridiculous demagoguery that these two athletes inspired the Munich massacre, and the patronizing tripe that Black people had nothing to protest because "this was 1968, not 1938." No, what really gets me wound up is that Goldberg has absolutely no idea about what Black Power is, mixing and matching two entirely separate ideological orientations:
In today's culture, is it even worth trying to remind people that the black power salute was, for those who brandished it most seriously, a symbol of violence -- rhetorical, political and literal -- against the United States? It was the high-sign for a racist militia, the Black Panthers, which orchestrated the murder of innocents and allied itself with America's enemies. (The Cuban 400-meter men's relay team gave its 1968 silver medal to Black Panther leader Stokely Carmichael in the name of "Black America.") In today's lingo, you might even say black power was "divisive."

Stokely Carmichael was the founder of "Black Power", but he never formed a militia. The Black Panther militia Goldberg is referring to was Huey P. Newton's outfit. Carmichael did form the Lowndes County Freedom Organization (LCFO), popularly known as the Black Panther Party (due to its mascot), but it was totally separate and unrelated to Newton's group (except that Newton took it as an inspiration), a point Carmichael was quite clear about it.

And this makes sense, given that Newton was communist and Carmichael wasn't, and given that Carmichael wanted to work from within the system while Newton wanted to overthrow it. Carmichael cast his entire project as increasing Black participation in democracy -- albeit with the caveat that insofar as Whites continued to engage in terrorist violence against Blacks, he saw no need to respond with non-violence. So in that sense, I guess Carmichael is a symbol of violence "against the United States", assuming that the Goldberg thinks "the United States" is fairly represented by the Ku Klux Klan.

I wouldn't expect Goldberg to grasp such subtleties, but only because I wouldn't credit Goldberg with having the intelligence of a pet rock. But certainly the LA Times can do better than to publish this tripe, and I'd hope that the conservative movement can find someone more erudite and attuned to the facts to represent itself on the public stage.

Civil Rights Roundup: 07/29/08

Your daily dose of civil rights and related news

Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) gave a major speech on inter-faith relations: "Somehow, we have to find a way to agree that faith may be worth dying for, but it cannot be worth killing for."

In related news, police are speculating that hate may have motivated an unemployed man to open fire in a Unitarian Church, killing five. The local press reports that the man professed a hatred of "liberals", and had books by Bill O'Reilly, Michael Savage, and Sean Hannity on his desk.

The drumbeat continues for the military to revisit don't ask don't tell.

Civil rights groups, such as, well, mine, are not happy with McCain's affirmative action flip.

The Kansas City Star says that closure in the Emmett Till case might help bring closure to the wounds of the civil rights era as a whole.

The city of Chula Vista, California (near San Diego) has settled a lawsuit filed by a teenager who was mistaken for thief and beaten into unconsciousness by a police officer.

The Illinois governor has vetoed funding that would help fight wrongful convictions and implement important death penalty reforms.

An American Indian prison employee in New York is suing Albany County, alleging systematic discrimination over a three year period.

The first Black justice on the Louisiana Supreme Court has died.

Time is running short for Virginia residents with criminal convictions to get their voting rights restored.

Though Obama is polling well in the Latino and Asian communities, it's still probably true that there are some danger zones.

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Fake Sound of Policy

My dearest friend Matt left a set of two comments on this post arguing that my demand for a "critical" look at anti-Semitism in the context of Israel and Palestine is just so much obstructionist hand-waving. I reprint them in full before I give my response (sneak preview: he's wrong):

I think one reason why few of your peers have taken to heart your argument about the lack of serious Leftist engagement with anti-Semitism is that your "critique" of what you see as the dominant discourse never actually acquires a critical thrust. And I think this is chiefly because, whether you want to own up to this or not, in the status quo your side holds nearly all of the relevant chips. The US policy toward Israel makes the security of "Jewish bodies" (as you like to say, I have never understood why adding the word 'bodies' in to the mix makes your argument more critical, I guess it's the new 'erased') it's number one concern, and while it may at the end of the day have little to do with a cognizance of anti-Semitism and a whole lot to do with power politics, we have seen that if Israel claims that a whole bunch of Palestinian casualties is the cost of Jewish security, the US will nod along politely.

So question: what does it look like when the Left does take up your oft-issued challenge?

Let's take the bill at hand. If your interlocutor argues that we ought not support Israeli military activities because they are (a) extra-legal occupations and/or (b) involve killing innocent civilians which is an unjustifiable activity then you say... what?

Even if your interlocutor accepts that anti-Semitism is real, and tangible, and very very bad for Jews, how does this change the policy discussion? Your interlocutor is either right or wrong on the matter of international law, and increasing or decreasing their attentiveness to anti-Semitism does little to change that. And even a very robust appreciation for the precarious position of Jews should hopefully not lead an interlocutor who categorically rejects military justifications for civilian casualties to make an exception - Jews are oppressed enough that they get to kill civilians. Rebutting this position would probably require a tact that generally makes allowable some amount of civilian death, not one that specifically greenlights it with reference to the history of anti-Semitism.

What I'm getting at here, David, is that you have never, and never deign, to discuss what you expect would change in matters of policy debate if anti-Semitism were better recognized by the Left. Your arguments against policies favored by the pro-Palestine or anti-Israel or whatever you like to call them forces in the Left don't just depend on such a recognition, they depend on the reversal of many other positions. What you want isn't a heart-to-heart about oppression as a preface to policy talk -- and why should you, it would gain you nothing -- what you want is for people to support the policies you think are better for Israel. But you don't ever link such policies to your "critical" discussion of anti-Semitism. You just continually assert that anti-Semitism is real and people need to accept that.

I think the reason for this is, again, that you couldn't ask for a better policy situation for Israel in the US. All of your talk about "getting critical" comes up to smoke-and-mirrors because at the end of the day you ARE deploying this argument not to advocate for a substantive change in the status quo but to deflect arguments by people who do want to change policies.

To make your argument less of a waste of everybody's time, I would recommend:

1) Some rules of thumb for delineating anti-Semitism "fake outs" from real, structuralized anti-Semitism in Leftist dialog

2) Some considerations on how Leftist politics should change once anti-Semitism is better recognized. What does a pacifist opponent of Israel military policy do with a more profound appreciation for the history of anti-Jewish violence? Does appreciation HAVE to mean they renounce their pacifism? And if it doesn't then on what grounds CAN you assert that pro-divestment forces are actively anti-Semitic? Or are you making a claim that pacifism is totally wacky and we would only ever expect Jews to adhere to it because of structural anti-Semitism? And if that is your claim would you care to warrant it?

There's so little going on here, and that comes a little as a surprise to me as I think about this because you've been shopping this argument around for some time. But it never goes past: "Your critiques fail to take anti-Semitism seriously, so no dice." If the end result of your critical perspective is: discussion terminated, then I think it is valid to say you are curtailing discourse by using anti-Semitism as a rhetorical cudgel.

But prove me wrong: tell me where someone like me, who rejects the right of a state to kill civilians in the name of security, goes in his critique of a state that kills dozens every single year. You have indicated before that we "aren't that far apart" on this issue, but I feel that just about every time a critical move against current US support for Israel comes up, you break for and I against. So as someone who does take anti-Semitism seriously, what should I be re-thinking?

Or is this really just smoke and mirrors?

[Comment #2]

Okay, I've already written way too much, but I think an exchange you had with PG clarifies exactly why I am beginning to suspect that your pet argument is exactly the type of conversation-ending cop-out you say it isn't.

You say: We need a deep understanding of anti-Semitism when we talk about Israel and Palestine. Your examples include not calling Jews Nazis.

PG says: Can you give me an example of what would be against Israel but not anti-Semitic.

You: No. The whole discourse is fucked.

Problem - in this post, as in many others, you are defending the propriety of pro-Israel forces in responding to SPECIFIC POLICY ARGUMENTS (such as: we ought to divest from Israel) as being anti-Semitic. But when called out on how the discourse would look if people did critically engage anti-Semitism, you decline.

IF the point really is, we need to re-think the whole discourse, fine. But that can't serve to shut down specific arguments about policy. It is a very different think to say, "The issue of anti-Semitism is at hand here, and we need to make sure we're considering it," then to say, "Those who want to divest are pushing an anti-Semitic policy." Rejecting specific measures with a justification based on your dissatisfaction with the discourse in which they operate is total bait-and-switch.

For your argument to have a critical thrust it needs to follow like: X proposal is rooted in anti-Semitic idea that Y, therefore we don't cede to it. (And I think, also: a deep consideration of Y actually leads us to proposal Z). Just saying, "The tentacles of anti-Semitism have tainted this discourse! Boo, divestment!" Does nothing of the kind.

These were, in fact, long comments, and unsurprisingly I have a lot to say about them, the first of which has to do with burdens. The thrust of Matt's post starts by alleging, basically, that he doesn't understand the practical upshot of my call for a critical engagement with the issue of anti-Semitism vis-a-vis Israel/Palestine. Which, by itself, isn't the worst thing in the world: understanding the view of alternate perspectives doesn't come naturally, and I don't think it is unreasonable to ask for clarification when one isn't catching on to the point.

But Matt's argument really goes further and seriously crosses into "bridge over my back" territory, because he essentially alleges that until I provide some crystal-clear distillation of how in specific policy instances my theory plays out (naturally, in a manner satisfactory to him -- who holds the cards now?), not only is he going to maintain the discourse that he knows Jews loathe, but he's going indict us for "curtailing discussion" with our "rhetorical cudgel". I don't think Jews are obligated to make the first move here though. Once we give notice that we have a problem with how we and our history and experience is being treated, the burden is on the gentile community to reach out to us and try and engage with our community in a good faith way as to how to overcome the problem. But by forcing us to deal with these issues in isolation and aggressively suppressing talk about the surrounding structure, what really will happen, I suspect, is a never-ending game of whack-a-mole where we have to specifically knockdown every anti-Semitic manifestation of anti-Israel policy that pops up prior to anyone even giving us a hearing about the broader issues. The more fruitful endeavor, I'd forward, would be to get to the roots about what causes these arguments to show themselves in the first place, and to explore how a radical reorientation of our mindset towards one that keeps the issue of anti-Semitism at the center might likewise shift the terrain of how we talk about this issue. Speaking generously, Matt wants the shift to come second, I want it to come first.

But whatever. Matt's thrown the gauntlet down and I guess it's my duty to respond. But his frame of discussion -- specific implementations in specific policy contexts -- is too narrow. I already indicated that I view anti-Semitism as structural rather than episodic; the "explain how in this particular fact pattern anti-Semitism is operating" approach risks missing the forest for the trees. But also, Matt impermissibly restricts the field by defining the only "relevant" actor for the discussion as the US federal government. That's an odd choice not only because the policy context here is a divestment campaign in Seattle -- and neither Matt nor I really know, I wager, whether the city or population of Seattle has demonstrated a particular slant one way or the other on this issue -- but because when it comes to the policy of the federal government towards Israel I have actually been more skeptical of what passes for "pro-Israel". This past Friday I urged the Bush administration to take a hard line against Israel constructing a new settlement. And in perhaps the most radically critical post I've written on the subject was basically a prolonged attack about how the dominant "pro-Israel" narrative used by (among others) most federal governmental actors really was not to the benefit of Jews or Israel, in part because it did not leave room to critique it.

Most of my anti-anti-Israel discourse has not been waged against what Matt considers to be the "relevant" player, but rather has focused on how Israel is treated in leftist circles, or at the UN, or at colleges and universities, or in specific localities (such as Seattle). And I think that's quite okay. The US Federal Government is not the only community I reside in, and is not the only one that matters to me. By defining only what the US Federal Government is doing as "relevant", Matt would have me look past the localized context even when I'm not addressing the USFG but the city of Seattle, or the commenters on Feministe. That's just argumentative hegemony. Saying that I can't critique leftists being too anti-Israel because the US federal government is too pro-Israel (or, as I'd argue, pro-Israel in all the wrong ways) fundamentally misunderstands how we conceptualize ourselves in relation to communities beyond the state. I've said this before: this ground matters to me, and it's not Matt's prerogative to tell me which forums are important and which ones are not in our struggle to create the community, policy, and nomos that is most just to all peoples. Even under the most cynical interpretation, surely Matt would not argue with me if I said that I thought the progressive community holds the most fertile terrain for coming up with just solutions to the conflict, and thus it is important for me to work in that community to make sure it actually is representing the needs and interests of all parties?

But again, let's play Matt's game here. And again, the choice of divestment manifests itself as an odd place for Matt to make his stand, because it's a case where I think pro-Israel folks have been very clear about what makes it (and its cousin, boycotts) anti-Semitic. Namely, that if the motivating force behind the divestment campaign is an ideological commitment to pacifism ("categorically reject[ing] military justifications for civilian casualties"), there are a lot of countries that need to be grouped into that campaign. Matt cannot have not heard this response ("What about Zimbabwe? What about Syria? What about Iran? What about Burma? What about China?"), and I think it is a legitimate one. The two rejoinders I've heard to it are (a) Israel is a Nazi-like state that is genuinely the worst of the worst (and I'm sure Matt can understand why we don't find that a compelling disclaimer against anti-Semitism) and (b) the complete opposite claim, that Israel as a relatively liberal democracy is more likely to be persuadable than Saudi Arabia is. Of course, sanctions are objectively less a form of "persuasion" than "coercion", but even granting the point, it isn't empirically warranted that divestment is the best way to convince Israel to do anything, if it's about "making a statement" then the justification for not making similar "statements" towards China falls off the map, and (to be blunt) it feels totally pretextual. And of course, given the not insignificant numbers in camp "a", I think that camp "b" at the very least has an obligation to denounce their compatriots in far harsher terms than I've yet to hear, rather than relying on them for mobilization and support.

To turn a full circle, though, I'd like to address how my call for a "radical reorientation" of the discourse might affect Matt's pacifist community. He asks if they'd be required to give up their pacifism. Well...I don't know. Gandhi's pacifism led him to urge that Jews go willingly to their mass extermination in the Holocaust. Understandably, Jews were less than keen upon this course of action. The implied critique of those who engaged in the Warsaw uprising is an implication that I think pacifists have to grapple with. The legacy of mass extermination and genocide that the Jews have faced, and continue to face, needs to be faced forthrightly by pacifists. Richard Rubenstein's post-Holocaust writings cannot be dismissed as barbarism or belligerence. And if pacifists look at the Holocaust, imagine if Hitler hadn't invaded Poland, and still come back to Gandhi's conclusion, then I would submit that we have reached a rupture upon which Jews and pacifists cannot cross. And at that point, I would say that pacifists can no longer lay claim to anything approaching a serious commitment to the liberation of all peoples, in which case I'd say it's they who must set sail from the progressive movement.

So I would say a re-centering of our discourse in a way that takes seriously Jewish experience and history would require pacifists, when making their claim, to say "yes, Gandhi was right" or "yes, we should not have rescued the Jews in the camps (or at least prolonged the war to do it)" or "yes, Jews should submit to a barrage of rocket attacks without response." Or (preferably) re-evaluate their stance in the light of the Jewish counter-narrative. But if they do maintain their current stance, then they can't act all shocked when Jews consider themselves to be irredeemably at odds.

Matt doesn't want to have this discussion, because it'd be awkward. He'd rather pretend that there is nothing in Jewish experience that his community needs to engage with -- that might require a reversal or shift or a hard bit of self-reflection. I'd submit the opposite -- that it doesn't make sense to have a conversation about issues related to Jews without bringing the issue of anti-Semitism into it (anymore than we could rationally talk about affirmative action without talking about race). Without that really basic step, the discourse is fucked. So, to reiterate: step one is for y'alls to stop fucking the discourse, not for me to absolve you of your obligation to talk about anti-Semitism by assuring you you're a good person.

Note to CNN


Could you find it in you to mention that once in your story?

Racial quotas have not been allowed since Bakke. The myth that they still are a relevant part of the debate is a huge barrier to actual public deliberation on the subject.

So DO YOUR F*@#%ING JOB, and let your readers know that.



The Intelligent Terrorist and the Obama Administration

American political discourse casts terrorists as hateful, bigoted, crazy automatons who are blinded by rage, have no reason, and no capacity for rational thought.

This is a myth. Not because terrorists aren't evil, hateful, bigoted, or immoral. But one can be all of those things and still be quite rational: hateful and intelligent are not mutually exclusive.

Now take a few premises. First, in status quo America, a small-scale (by which I mean, bombing a supermarket or shopping mall) would not be particularly difficult to pull off, logistically speaking. Israel has those sorts of attacks on it regularly, and we don't have a fraction of the security precautions erected that they do.

Second, take the standard Democratic refrain that the policies of the Bush administration (that would be continued by McCain or other Republicans) are actually beneficial to the cause of terrorists -- by keeping us bogged down in Iraq, fostering resentment and hatred towards the United States and serving as a recruiting tool for terrorist organizations. Assume that these terrorist organizations agree with this assessment.

Would not the intelligent terrorist launch a flurry of "small scale" attacks on America during an Obama administration? Doing so would seem to have at least one of two effects. First, for political reasons it would demand that Obama adopt a harsh response -- one that is closer to the Republican tactics that we believe aid and sustain terrorists than those he'd otherwise pursue. Second, it would discredit the Obama administration, making him an easy target for Republican campaign ads and thus making it more likely that the GOP will return to power -- which, again, would restore those anti-terrorism strategies that end up redounding to the benefit of al-Qaeda and like groups.

It is, I admit, a prospect that worries me. And assuming that the premises I put forth above are true (big ifs, I admit), it strikes me as a very difficult dynamic to check against.

Civil Rights Roundup: 7/28/08

Your daily dose of civil rights and related news

An Iowa town has become "a flashpoint" for immigration protests after a raid on a meat processing plants. One anti-immigrant protester held a sign saying "What would Jesus do? Obey the law!" Christian theology isn't great, but I'm not sure that's strictly accurate.

Maryland might finally be recognized as having eliminated the last vestiges of segregation in its public college system.

McCain flips on affirmative action, announces support of Arizona plan which would ban the program.

On the above issue, though, CNN reports that "McCain's own campaign refused to say whether it stands by the candidate's announcement that he supports the ballot initiative." I wasn't aware that "the McCain campaign" had the authority to trump John McCain as to his own position.

An ex-felon in Florida has founded a group to help other released felons reintegrate into society.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court struck down an expansion of that state's hate crimes laws, ruling that they were unconstitutionally inserted into an unrelated bill.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette asks: Should sex offenders be tracked?

A California attorney representing a man shot by a Oakland police officer said he is going to press the state to bring homicide charges against the cop.

Reps. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) have an op-ed out calling for the expansion of the ADA.

A new Virginia law requires that all foreign-born inmates be reported to federal authorities. I can't imagine that's constitutional as applied to foreign born U.S. citizens.

Two Muslim women are suing McDonalds, claiming that they were denied positions with the company because they wore the hijab (Muslim headscarf).

Racism slithers in to the campaign Obama runs, the Wichita Eagle reports.

The simmering split between the gay and transgender rights community continues to fester, with LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa pulling out of a gay rights rally under heavy pressure from transgender groups angry about the former community's stance on federal anti-discrimination legislation.

Supporters and opponents of flying the Confederate flag near Tampa met to have some "dialogue." It didn't sound very successful.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

It's Okay, There's a Jew Involved!

This is a really great post at Ignoblus about a divestment plan being put on the ballot in Seattle. Start with the fact that the organizers are being more than a little underhanded, roping together an anti-Iraq war measure with a divest from Israel measure under the moniker of "Divest from War and Occupation." To my knowledge, it only targets the Iraq war and Israel (with an option for expansion to "any similar unjustified attack" -- presumably by the United States, as a hedge in case we attack Iran).

But the post focuses on something else -- namely, the use of a few Jewish organizers to deflect attention from the fact that the vast majority of Jews find these sorts of proposals to be severely problematic. One sees this all the time with regards to minority politics: Ward Connerly and Shelby Steele get trotted out to take the contrarian point of view on issues of importance to the Black community, and, having done so, it is no longer necessary to account for the fact that one side has the overwhelming support of their community. I'm not saying that Connerly and Steele don't have the right to express their opinions (nor do I deny the right of their Jewish comrades to do likewise), but it has to come with the context that most of their peers find their position to be outright hostile to their own community.

But what happens instead is that
if one can find a single, contrarian Jew, then there is no need to wrestle with the fact that an overwhelming majority of Jews hold any particular opinion.... the collective voice of Jews need never be taken seriously, even when the audience is insignificantly gentile.

I also like how Ignoblus discusses the classic "it's basically a crime to criticize Israel" tripe. That critique is deployed to make any defense of Israel that asks "progressives" to take critical account of their position and the continuing significance of anti-Semitism as (in the immortal words of Jerome McCristal Culp) "a type of shrill craziness". It derails the discussion from the start by making the baseline regarding discussion of Israel the "fact" that Jews are neurotic.

There's a lot of talk about how any critique of Israel is anti-Semitic. What isn't discussed is that our complaints keep coming because there has been virtually no critical engagement by the progressive community about how anti-Semitism does interact with the Israel/Palestine conflict. They'd much rather deploy their Clarence Thomases and Ward Connerlys as a shield to wave away the vast majority of Jews (and our account of our experience and reality) as insignificant insanity.