Saturday, October 15, 2011

And The Award Goes To....

Rush Limbaugh, to my knowledge, is the first conservative to rise to the defense of the LRA on the grounds that they're "Christian". Hey, if you guys want to claim them -- more's the worse for you. But if I were Christian, I'd be extra motivated to ensure Joseph Kony either spends the rest of his life in prison or takes two to the head. Just sayin'.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Peretz Parody Alert

Marty Peretz lobs up a basically unsubstantiated hit piece on Elizabeth Warren, which argues ... well, it's difficult to figure out what it's arguing. It claims she made a mistake in bringing up Scott Brown's nude photoshoot, to which I say, yeah, probably. Then it kind of idly muses about whether Elizabeth Warren is or isn't attractive, and whether men do or don't like her. Buried three paragraphs from the end is the claim that Warren "say[s] obvious things" (such as? Alas, we have a whole political party predicated on the notion that asking a factory owner to contribute his fair share is Bolshevik, so I have no idea what is and isn't "obvious" to this polity).

And then finally, two paragraphs from the end, we are asked to wonder whether Warren knows anything about foreign policy. "Ask her about the Arab Spring, Israel, and the peace process, human rights and Africa, the American relationship with Venezuela." Hey, here's an idea Marty: Ask her about China! That will turn out well for you.

Now, I have to say, so far this is a pretty standard entry in the genre of intellectually vapid beltway punditry -- a mix of story-of-the-day (the Brown/Warren barbs over the nude shoot), smart-women-make-the-boys-cry (Hillary Clinton! Nancy Pelosi!), and unsupported babbling about whether Harvard Law Professors are really "qualified" to serve alongside the likes of Jeff Sessions in the US Senate.

But what puts it over the top is the final paragraph. Remember, this elephant of a non-sequitur comes right after Peretz complains about Warren's alleged lack of foreign policy chops:
And then there’s one of the Republican candidates for president, Herman Cain. “When the moon hits your eye … Like a big pizza pie. That’s amore.” He’s running second among all the professional politicians in the Republican race for president. Oh, yes, and he’s a black man. It can’t be. Republicans favoring a … a … a black man? Wow. There’s been very little about this phenomenon in the press. I’ve found no pretense in the man. He’s got common sense. He tells it like it is. Will someone write something serious about him?

Herman Cain. You just finished talking about the need to have thunk deep thoughts about foreign policy, and now you're waxing lyrical about Herman "Palestinian right of return" Cain? A guy who openly brags about his lack of knowledge on foreign affairs? Color me crazy, but I think there's a tension here.

Oh but yes, Cain "tells it like it is". He's bold enough to bravely tell largely White audiences that most Blacks are idiots who can't think for themselves. Surely, it is a minor miracle that the Republican Party finds that sort of Black man appealing (unless he displays the slightest bit of discomfort with the word "niggerhead". Then he's a race-baiter like all the rest).

Elected Officials FTW

The proposed "eviction" of Occupy Wall Street from Zuccotti Park (which -- and I didn't know this -- is apparently privately owned by a company called Brookfield Office Properties) is off after a change of heart from the company. And what caused this change of heart? Pressure from elected officials:
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said earlier Friday morning that Brookfield Office Properties -- the real-estate firm that owns Zuccotti Park, considered a home-base for protesters -- made the decision not to clear them out after the company was "inundated" with threatening calls from elected city officials.

The mayor said during his weekly commentary on New York's WOR Radio that he didn't know which officials allegedly made the threats, but that the company decided to work out some form of a negotiated settlement with protesters in the coming days.

Bloomberg added that while he lacked first-hand knowledge of the conversations, he was told the officials generally threatened to "make life more difficult" for the real-estate company.

"Threatening" seems a bit hyperbolic -- when I think "threatening phone calls", I think bomb threats -- but the point is that elected officials stepped up to exercise leverage over a corporate actor on behalf of OWS. Which is a signal that OWS is recognized as an at least potentially powerful voting bloc, of the sort elected officials have to pay attention to. And thus OWS gets a victory.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is how the game is played. It's Stokely Carmichael and Charles Hamilton's basic story about how to move from the margins to the mainstream of political society. Show you've got some muscle behind you, and the politicos will listen. OWS is starting to show that and, lo and behold, folks are listening.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

A Spoonful of Sugar

Seriously, what is wrong with these people?
Aside from debating whether or not to vote for a prisoner exchange deal that would set Gilad Shalit free, several members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's cabinet offered several lines of action Israel could take following the deal's execution.

Standing head and shoulders above most were Interior Minister Eli Yishai of Shas and his party member Meshulam Nahari, who said Israel should consider releasing Jewish terrorists who carried out attacks against Palestinians.

"It's the right thing to do as part of the balances in Israel's society," Yishai said, adding that such a move would not "undo the releasing of hundreds of [Palestinian] prisoners, but it may sweeten the bitter pill."

Jewish terrorists pose a threat to Israeli security as much as they do to Palestine's. It's cutting off your nose to spite someone else's face. And the idea that releasing terrorists makes the pill "sweeter" -- ugh. It's pathological. Jewish Hamasniks.

Thankfully, the proposal appeared to get no traction, because even amongst the Keystone Kops that comprise the current Israeli government, there are indeed depths of idiocy they won't sink to. Still, Shas, what do we do with you?

Meanwhile, FM Avigdor Lieberman did something useful at the meeting -- he walked out (after voting no). I highly approve of this act, and hope he continues to absent himself from cabinet deliberations.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Of Restrictions Actual and Desired

Clark Neily of the Institute for Justice is guest-blogging at the VC on the subject of "judicial engagement", which is one of those words conservatives use when they want to strike down disagreeable legislation while still keeping the term "activist" in their back pocket. Anyway, Neily's argument is that the court should as aggressively scrutinize whether a congressional act is sanctioned under a constitutional grant of power as they do when an act is said to violate a constitutional restriction on it.

For example, "[i]n cases involving favored constitutional values like free speech and avoiding suspect classifications, judges determine the government’s actual objectives and then evaluate the “fit” between those objectives and the means chosen to advance them." By contrast, Neily complains, in cases involving more general police power claims (interestingly, Neily does not appear to limit his case to federal enactments), courts are far more deferential, engaging only in a bare-bones "rational basis review". "Judicial engagement simply proposes that there should not be a category of cases in which courts totally abandon those inquiries — and the underlying jurisprudential convictions they reflect — as they often do." "[B]asic ... analytical consistency" demands it.

This is impressively atextual. "Free speech" is not just a "favored constitutional value". It is a constitutional restriction -- a thou shalt not right in the text. When courts apply strict standards of review to laws which seem to impinge on it, what they are in effect saying is that "this law appears to breach a constitutional proscription. So if it's going to fly in spite of that restriction, you better have a damn good reason for it." In effect, it is asking when we'll allow overriding social need to trump textual bars.

By contrast, constitutional clauses like the Commerce Clause are grant of power. It makes no sense to apply the same level of scrutiny to laws which facially violate the constitution to those that don't (of course, if the Court doesn't think a law impinges on free speech norms, we never get to strict review in the first place. The finding of a constitutional tension is a prerequisite to heightened judicial scrutiny). Neily is essentially importing in the key facet of the First and Fourteenth Amendments (their status as legal restrictions on governmental authority) into every constitutional clause by abstracting away from the text and calling everything a constitutional "value". While Neily might wish that constitutional grants of power were circumscribed more sharply than they are, the fact is that (particularly with respect to state governments) there is a presumed residual authority to act unless a law violates a particular block on power.

Exodus Origins: The Making and Unmaking of a Myth

There is a Jewish proverb about a man who had been spreading malicious lies about one of his neighbors. Feeling guilty about it, he went to his Rabbi and asked what he could do for penance. The Rabbi told him:

"Take three pillows outside, and tear them open so the feathers are cast to the wind."

The man did so, and returned to the Rabbi. The Rabbi then instructed him to go out and collect all the feathers.

"But that's impossible! The feathers have been scattered; it would be impossible to track them all down."

The Rabbi nodded sadly, and remarked that this is the danger of telling lies -- even if one feels genuinely guilty and wishes to recant, it is unlikely that they every can be truly returned to their box.

Columbia Professor Rashid Khalidi has taken to delivering a speech where he purports to tell the true story behind Leon Uris' famous novel Exodus. Khalidi claims that the novel was "commissioned" by "Edward Gottleib ... one of the founders of the modern public relations industry" and "father of the American iteration of Zionism." Gottlieb hired Uris to write the book and sent him off to Israel to do so.

By all appearances, Khalidi's claim is a complete fabrication. Martin Kramer thoroughly breaks it down -- indeed, I have to say I've rarely read a more systematic rib-cracking than the one Kramer delivers to Khalidi on this point. The supposed connection between Gottlieb (who was, at most, a middling figure in the public relations industry and had little to do with the broader American Zionist movement) and Uris can now be found in several books, including one published by the University of California Press. My guess is that Khalidi was relying on these sources when making his claim. But all the claims trace back to a 1985 (several decades after Exodus was published) PR advice book which recounts the story in similar terms, as an anecdote to aspiring young PR professionals.

In terms of historical evidence, this is a very thin reed. And it stands alone: Gottlieb's name does not show up in Uris' papers, he is unknown to either of Uris' biographers, there is no contemporaneous evidence or documentation relating any connection between Gottlieb and Uris whatsoever. The author of the 1985 anecdote says that it was recounted to him by Gottlieb himself, but -- given the time lag, lack of corroboration, and the tendency for PR professionals to perhaps slightly exaggerate while self-promoting -- he admits that he cannot vouch for its accuracy. In fact, Gottlieb's chief assistant on matters related to Israel claims to have no knowledge of such a link between her boss and Uris, and firmly concludes that none exists. The odds that this story is true, in sum, is almost infinitesimally small.

So Khalidi is engaging in abysmal history to weave a typical narrative of Zionist perfidy and malignancy, and now it has been debunked. Which is good. And Khalidi is a trained historian, so that makes his terrible methodology all the more scandalous. But unfortunately, the genie probably still won't be returned to the bottle.

True historical research -- digging up primary source documents and interviewing surviving subjects -- is hard work, and work I personally find breathtakingly boring. It's one reason why going into the field of History never interested me. I know what good historical methodology is, but I don't practice it -- I'm reliant on actual historians to do their job right the first time. I assume that when someone like Khalidi tells a tale like this, that he got his information via true historical exploration (or at least relies on others who did) -- not simply taking a trade paperback at face value. The problem, though, is that every time such a story -- even if false -- is recounted by people with impressive-sounding Columbia University titles or prestigious university presses -- it provides another secondary source which the average person (myself included) generally relies upon in order to understand history.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The New Peasant Class

One of the major questions that has floated around the "Occupy Wall Street" movement is the simple "what do they want?" Obviously, we can answer this in abstract terms: economic justice, easing of burdens on the lower and working classes, and (slightly more concretely) accountability for the people who got us into this mess in the first place (namely, Wall Street). But there has been very little in the way of specific policy proposals. Indeed, even the overall ideology is fuzzy -- supporters range from Ron Paulites (they are everywhere, aren't they) to socialists and communists, to mainstream unions, to some Democratic politicians, to relatively apolitical Americans who are simply overcome with frustration. My friend Matt Cole makes a decent defense of this mode of operation -- not making "demands" of the system but rather expressing itself in a more "aesthetic" or expressivist sense.

But Rorty Bomb has done some interesting work parsing the "We are the 99%" tumblr to try and figure out what the movement wants. And the results are sobering. OWS is not about mid-twentieth century liberalism -- increasing unionization leading to the suburban house and the two-car garage. Nor is it about socialist revolution -- smashing the capitalist state and redistributing power and dignity to the workers. What the 99% want, RB argues, is decidedly pre-modern -- bearing most in common with historical peasant revolts. They want to be free from the burden of crushing debt, have access to enough resources so they're not consistently living hand-to-mouth. That's it.

To people who think OWS is the first step to the opening a new horizon, this is profoundly demoralizing. There is nothing bold about these desires. They are ancient and basic; if anything, they are the result of people too downtrodden to dream of anything more.

But at the same time, the very simplicity of what is being asked for here also gives it greater moral punch. Surely, in a country as rich as ours, with the bounty we possess, we can give them this much.

Monday, October 10, 2011

It's Judeo-Christian!

For my own health, I try to avoid paying attention to the Christian Right. This means that I didn't notice they had their big "value voters" summit this week, which in turn means I didn't notice it overlapped with Yom Kippur.

And Back Atcha!

The Chinese Restaurant Association sends thanks to the Jewish people for our Christmas-day patronage. We, in turn, thank the Chinese Restaurant community for being open that day and welcoming us with open arms.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Project Runway PSA

If you're a Project Runway fan, I assume you've already discovered this, but in case you're like me and are late to the party ....

Laura Bennett has a Project Runway blog. It is incredible.

That is all.