Thursday, December 27, 2012

Dead Man Tell No Tales

The big Senate news is Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie's (D) selection to replace Sen. Daniel Inouye (D), who recently passed away. Inouye -- a legendary figure in Hawaiian politics -- released a deathbed letter saying his "one and only choice" for a successor was Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D). But Abercrombie rocked the boat by instead picking Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz to take the seat. Schatz will serve two years until a 2014 special election; the winner of that will have to run for reelection in 2016.

So the question on everyone's mind is why Abercrombie decided to spurn Inouye's dying wish? The line I've heard is that Abercrombie wanted to demonstrate "independence" from Inouye's giant shadow. If so, it strikes me as a bit weak -- it seems less like a bold stroke and more like, well, kicking a dead guy.

I'm not saying that Abercrombie was obligated to pick Hanabusa. I'm saying that one would hope that there are substantive differences between her and Schatz that motivated the pick, because if it was more of an inside-baseball sort of deal then I can't imagine that it will really turn out well for Abercrombie.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Ever-Shifting Influence of AIPAC

Last week, Open Zion (through Peter Beinart) was predicting that AIPAC would not "publicly oppose" the nomination of Chuck Hagel to be Secretary of Defense, because it would be a fight it "can't win." This week, Open Zion (through Bernard Avishai) accuses a who's who of Jewish organizations (including, but not limited to, AIPAC) of being "Neo-McCarthyites" due to their alleged role in sinking Hagel's as-yet-unannounced nomination.

Maybe all this shows is that the political instincts of Open Zion just aren't that good. Or maybe it shows that Open Zion treats AIPAC more as a phantom to project their own distaste for how American and Jewish politics operates than as an actual organization that does actual things. There is a lot of fulmination about AIPAC's "intimidation", but very little about what AIPAC has actually done in this controversy, and there's whining that Jewish organizations are haphazardly "branding" anyone who opposes them as an anti-Semite without noting that this charge has been explicitly disavowed with respect to Hagel (oh, but they don't have to say it, because the things they are attacking Hagel for are "things only an anti-Semite would do." How conveniently unfalsifiable, that saying you're not calling someone anti-Semitic isn't even relevant evidence to whether one is trying to "cow" them into submission by calling them anti-Semitic).

Finally, I'd note that we have a bit of Chas Freeman syndrome all over again here -- the Jews are only after that one thing. Senator Hagel hails from the realist wing of the foreign policy community. And there are plenty of Americans who are not foreign policy realists, for a variety of reasons that often have nothing to do with Israel and which can be held independent of any political beliefs on Israel. Chinese dissidents, for example, had plenty of reason to be skeptical of Freeman without taking any positions whatsoever on Israel. And so it is with Hagel -- if one is not a fan of his particular intellectual orientation to foreign policy, one can be skeptical of his nomination without it being Israel-or-bust.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Probably Just a Massive Welfare Operation

LGM has some stories from the failed Romney campaign:
Rich Beeson, the Romney political director who co­authored the now-discredited Ohio memo, said that only after the election did he realize what Obama was doing with so much manpower on the ground. Obama had more than 3,000 paid workers nationwide, compared with 500 for Romney, and hundreds of thousands of volunteers.

“Now I know what they were doing with all the staffs and ­offices,” Beeson said. “They were literally creating a one-to-one contact with voters,” something that Romney did not have the staff to match.
Like the LGM guys, I too am curious what Beeson thought the Obama campaign was doing with all those workers. Did they think it was just a handout to layabouts -- "walking around money", as I believe the conservative conspiracy goes?

Anyway, the good news is that the corporate-style campaign Romney run is both (a) a terrible model and (b) culturally ingrained within the modern Republican Party. So I look forward to many more electoral spankings coming their way.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Making Lemons out of Lemonade

This is a very interesting and, in its way, very tragic column by Peter Beinart on the potential nomination of former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) as Secretary of State. Beinart starts off by observing that AIPAC is not exactly VP of the Chuck Hagel fan club, which is probably true enough. He then predicts that AIPAC will not publicly oppose Hagel's nomination. Why? Because they "can't win." Hagel has too much support amongst both Democrats and Republicans. Well, ring up another for the supposedly indomitable Israel Lobby. And of course, it's possible that AIPAC won't oppose Hagel because they don't think he's worth opposing.

But moving on -- Beinart does predict that some folks will be pretty vociferously anti-Hagel: the putatively "pro-Israel" groups to AIPAC's right. Groups like the Emergency Committee for Israel, or the Republican Jewish Coalition, or the Washington Free Beacon, will hardly share AIPAC's sense of prudence.

Now, what does Beinart take from this? That AIPAC will have been "outflanked", "look[ing] like the loser in a fight it didn’t want to have." Which is strange, because I see it as "AIPAC consciously putting distance between itself and groups to its right," which is an unabashed gain for the good guys. Indeed, the more that AIPAC views entities like the ECI and company as obstacles to its continued influence and Israel's continued security, the better, since AIPAC still does have plenty of influence and I'd love for some of that clout to go towards taking Noah Pollak down a peg.

But Beinart is too excited at seeing AIPAC in a bind that he's missing an opportunity to take back the center. The way Beinart puts it, any time AIPAC doesn't join the far-right on something Israel-related, it's because it can't, not because it doesn't want to. The group is as right-wing as it possibly can be, and any act that seems more centrist is to be cheered not because it signifies that the lodestone of pro-Israel is tacking center, but because it purportedly signifies that the lodestone of pro-Israel is losing its grip.

And I think that's a mistake. The pro-Israel left may not be best buddies with AIPAC, but they're not preordained to be our adversary either. It is those right-wing groups like the ECI that are the real threat from within the "pro-Israel" camp, and if they're dumb enough to actively marginalize themselves from mainstream organization, you have to take that and run with it.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore Meets Tommy Hilfiger

Gaza manufactuers have created a new perfume scent named "M-75", after the rockets Hamas shot into Israel during the last flare-up of violence. The director of the manufacturing company says it serves as the "smell of victory" over Israel, and customers seem to agree. One tourist from neighboring Egypt bought thirty vials and said "I hope the smell is strong enough for them to whiff in Tel Aviv and remind the Jews of the Palestinian victory." Charming.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Populace of No

McClatchey polls America on the fiscal cliff. And it turns out, we're quite worried about it. 70% say it matters if we make a deal. 74% say that the parties should compromise rather than stay steadfast on principle.

And then voters are asked whether they support various plans for reducing the deficit.

Democrats oppose every option except raising taxes on the rich. Republicans oppose every option, period.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Only More So

There are some people who think a two-state solution is out of reach. I myself have varying degrees of cynicism about it. This mapping tool made me feel optimistic Other times, I feel pessimistic. My mood swings.

But the thing is, no matter how cynical I get about a two-state solution, I never become less cynical about one-state. That's because they're joined at the hip -- essentially all the barriers and problems and obstacles that make a two-state solution elusive, also make a one-state solution impossible. Whether you fault Israeli intransigence or Palestinian maximalism, settlement expansion or "right of return", price tag militants or Hamas rocketry, the same problems in mostly the same form also poison the one-state well.
Gershom Gorenberg, in his new book, “The Unmaking of Israel,” a jeremiad directed at the Jewish settlement movement, writes at length about the absurdity at the heart of the proposal.

“Palestinians will demand the return of property lost in 1948 and perhaps the rebuilding of destroyed villages. Except for the drawing of borders, virtually every question that bedevils Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations will become a domestic problem setting the new political entity aflame.”

Gorenberg predicts that Israelis of means would flee this new state, leaving it economically crippled. “Financing development in majority-Palestinian areas and bringing Palestinians into Israel’s social welfare network would require Jews to pay higher taxes or receive fewer services. But the engine of the Israeli economy is high-tech, an entirely portable industry. Both individuals and companies will leave.”

In the best case, this new dystopia by the sea would be paralyzed by endless argument: “Two nationalities who have desperately sought a political frame for cultural and social independence would wrestle over control of language, art, street names, and schools.” In the worst case, Gorenberg writes, political tensions “would ignite as violence.”
In the worst, worst case, said violence will turn into a regional nuclear war.

When one listen's to one-staters, there is often lip service to the claim that they simply think a two-state solution is "dead" (for whatever reason). What's left unsaid is how that brings a one-state solution to life. The reason why that analysis is missing is because the pragmatics aren't actually doing any of the work. One-staters support one-state not because it's more feasible than two-states, but because they think it is normatively superior to two-states. A world in which there are zero majority-Jewish states is qualitatively better than one in which there is one majority-Jewish state.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Beautiful Scenic Vistas are Just the Gift-Wrapping

This might actually be the dumbest thing I ever read:
Bryan Fischer, the director of issues analysis of the conservative fundamentalist American Family Association, on Thursday told a so-called “expert” who denies climate change that not using God’s fossil fuels would be like “crushing” someone’s feelings by rejecting their birthday present.

The Cornwall Alliance’s Calvin Beisner, who has previously said that believing in climate change “is an insult to God,” explained on Thursday that the Bible said it was also very rude to not use oil, coal and natural gas.

Fischer likened the situation to a birthday present he was given at the age of six. “I opened up a birthday present that I didn’t like, and I said it right out, ‘Oh, I don’t like those,’” the radio host recalled. “And it just crushed — and the person that gave me gift was there. You know, I just kind of blurted it out, ‘I don’t like those.’ And it just crushed that person. It was enormously insensitive of me to do that.”

“And you think, that’s kind of how we’re treating God when he’s given us these gifts of abundant and inexpensive and effective fuel sources,” Fischer added. “And we don’t thank him for it and we don’t use it.”

“You know, God has buried those treasures there because he loves to see us find them.”
Oh my goodness. Although I have to say if you had asked me to predict who would say the dumbest thing I'd ever read, Bryan Fischer would have been a top candidate, right alongside Steve King.

Friday, November 30, 2012

"Central [If Unstated]...."

Edward Goldstein opens his column on the UNGA Palestine vote by asserting that:
A central component of Israeli diplomacy and Jewish thinking has long been the assumption, asserted as necessary, that the Holocaust confers permanent, unassailable virtue on Israel and Jews. In light of the Holocaust, whatever Israel does is justified, especially if declared to be security related. Whatever and however Jews argue in support of Israel is correct. The obverse is also assumed and frequently asserted: in light of the Holocaust, no one has the right to criticize Israel, especially Europeans, and anyone who does may be suspected of anti-Semitism.
This is, of course, a rather gross statement to make. But what can be said in respond to it? Obviously, I could say that nobody (much less the entirety of "Jewish thinking"), in fact, claims that "the Holocaust confers permanent, unassailable virtue on Israel and Jews." Nor does anyone assert that everything Israel does is inherently justified, nor that all criticism of Israel is verboten and signifies anti-Semitism. But if I made that obviously true retort, Goldstein would just say "sure, nobody comes out and says those precise words, but it is the clear implication" -- a counter-argument with the convenient advantage of being completely unfalsifiable.

Indeed, I think this paradigm of moral purity is far more likely to be imposed on Jews from without than claimed from within. The fact of the Holocaust and other acts of anti-Semitism doesn't establish that Jews are unassailably virtuous. Why would it? There's nothing about oppression that purifies its victims -- imperfect people can be victims too. What it establishes is that non-Jews are not perfect; it destabilizes the hegemonic presence of non-Jewish voices and thus creates space for Jewish voices to be heard. To the casual observer that looks like a claim that Jews are "perfect", but that's only because Jews are claiming the right to speak on equal terms with a non-Jewish presence that had previously arrogated to itself a label of universal transcendence.

The frame that oppression makes the oppressed "perfect" is really more of a reactionary step. The framework sets up for Jews (and other minorities) a standard they can't possibly meet. And once they fail to meet it, it justifies stripping the label of "victim" and returning to the status quo where they can safely be ignored. It obviates the need to problematize the non-Jew in favor of providing a temporary elevation of the Jew to non-Jew status, contingent on the Jew maintaining a standard of conduct that nobody else can or is expected to meet. "From now on, Israel's cause will have to stand strictly on its merits"--"merits", here, defined wholly from a non-Jewish perspective and free from the distortive effect of a Jewish presence.

Goldstein is a Jewish writer, and he has the right to say what he wants. But this is really just evidence of how Jewish people can present anti-Semitic themes. I don't claim to know what is in Goldstein's heart, but the way he presents Jewish agency and Jewish contributions bears far less in common with how Jews typically conceive of ourselves, and more in common with what others typically say about us.

Maybe Try Zigging When They Expect You To Zag?

Yesterday, the UN General Assembly voted 138-9-41 to grant Palestine status as a non-member observer state. Israel and the United States were among the nine "no" votes, arguing that it was a symbolic distraction from the necessity of bilateral negotiations.

On the merits of this vote, I'm indifferent. I don't think UN votes accomplish anything useful, and it is already pretty well-known that the UN will happily pass any resolution that comes before it that is framed as pro-Palestine and/or anti-Israel. This resolution could have stated that Israel killed Roger Rabbit and the vote tally wouldn't have meaningfully differed. As for the ICC, I do think this is probably a red herring. The prosecutor would be exceptionally unlikely to take these cases, and if it did it may well start with prosecuting Hamas terrorism. I'd add that if the prosecutor (quite plausibly) declines to open a case on the grounds of complementarity (that Israeli courts can and do investigate these sorts of allegations effectively), that would actually be a pretty rare endorsement of Israel from an international legal body.

But nonetheless, I don't really fault Palestine for seeking even symbolic victories that antagonize their Israeli adversary. I don't like it either, but that's what happens when you're in an antagonistic relationship -- you seize opportunities to humiliate and piss off your opponent. Neither side is really innocent of this sort of behavior, and here at least I can respect why the symbolism is genuinely meaningful. And hey, if it allows Abbas to return to negotiations on the claim that he's now in a position of strength, so much the better.

My real question is why Israel didn't just go ahead and support the bid on purely tactical grounds. Look, Israel knew this resolution was going to pass. There was no doubt about that, which is why Israel began dialing back its threats of diplomatic retaliation and instead began mumbling about how this was all symbolic and didn't mean anything. Which -- maybe! But -- aside from the fact that if Israel had endorsed the bid I'd have given greater than 50/50 odds that Palestine would have pulled it -- if passage is inevitable and the substantive effect is negligible, why not vote in favor and gain some free credibility?

The answer, as usual, is probably nothing more than that the current Israeli government is comprised of idiots. Oh well.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Sanctified Institution

Immigrant to America? Want citizenship? Forget things like the pesky DREAM Act! Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) has a better recommendation: just marry an American! After all, if marriage is kind of like buying a cow (which I'm given to understand that it is), why not buy American?

In reality, Jezebel pretty much says what I want to say:
if Kyl actually encouraging marriages for citizenship someone should let him know that's a Federal felony. So much for the sanctity of marriage, hypocrites. And even if marriage is a good option for someone, it isn't a totally safe bet, anyway — there are plenty of couples where one of the partners is found guilty of something like an expired visa and are given penalties that range from years to a lifetime. There are just so many issues here, and I have a feeling I'm not even scratching the surface.
I would add that -- criminal liability aside -- there is something rather bloodless about telling someone they should marry, not for love, not because of true connection, but in order to access a legislative privilege. If this is the GOP's big plan to win back Latinos, well, best of luck.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Record Skip

It was said by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) about Susan Rice's handling of Benghazi, but it might as well be any Republican on any issue: "I blame the president above all others."

The electoral honeymoon is over, I see.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Who is Who?

Mondoweiss (link warning) reposts Winona LaDuke:
"...euro-americans in the United States can't talk about Gaza, because we can't talk about Israel. Because we can't talk about the fact that the world is not suffering from a Israeli/Palestinian conflict, but that the world is suffering from the fact that Europe has never been able to deal with it's 'Jewish Question' without some sort of intense barbarity and horror from the Inquisition to the Holocaust. And that Europe, in particular 'Great' Britain, the masters of divide an conquer 'solved' the problem by supporting the radical, terrorist, extremist Zionists and their mad plan to resettle the 'homeland.' We can't talk about Israel because we can't talk about Wounded Knee. Because we can't talk about Sand Creek or Carlisle 'Boarding School.' Because we can't talk about forced sterilization or small pox blankets or Kit Carson and his scorched earth policy in the Southwest. Because we have Andrew Jackson on our twenty dollar bill. Because we are one huge settlement on stolen land. We can't talk about Israel because we are Israel."
We need to start with the racist exclusion of Sephardic and Mizrachi Jews from this story, since that exclusion is rampant in virtually all discourse about Israel and particularly shines through here. Israel exists in part because "Europe has never been able to deal with it's [sic] 'Jewish Question' without some sort of intense barbarity and horror," but also in part because the Arab world has been equally fruitless in its effort to resolve its "Jewish Question" without resorting to same. To reiterate: a plurality Israel's Jewish population is of non-White European descent. The median Israeli Jew is in Israel not because Europe couldn't resolve its Jewish problem, but because the Arab world couldn't resolve theirs. We can fairly say that the Arab world had historically been better than Europe in its treatment of Jews, we can also note that isn't a particularly high bar to clear. The important point is that the "Jewish question" is not solely a European phenomenon, and pretending that it is erases both the lives and life experiences of Israel's considerable non-White European population.

But put that aside, and let us unpack. LaDuke observes that the history of Jews in Europe is of Europeans slaughtering Jews. She accurately identifies the conditions Jews were facing in Europe that presaged the Zionist movement. Under normal circumstances if one is caught in an abusive relationship the right rational response to get the hell out of there, which is of course what Jews tried to do. But this response -- not sticking around to be slaughtered -- is labeled by LaDuke as "radical, terrorist, extremist [and] mad." Which just goes to show how upset people are, how jarring they find it to their expectations of what should be, when Jews don't die. Within the space of a single sentence LaDuke concedes that Jews in Europe were subjects of brutality and horror, then presumes that their desire to get out from under that thumb and go somewhere else to govern their own lives is naught but some sort of dominationist psychosis.

Even if one didn't think rebuilding a Jewish state in Israel was a legitimate response to European brutality (which lays upon LaDuke the obligation of proffering an alternative program for Jews beyond "sit around and hope Europe figures out a 'solution' to its 'Jewish question' before the next killing spree"), this is still a rather amazing explication of the mindset surrounding Zionism from the Jewish vantage point. But of course, the "Jewish vantage point" is precisely what's excluded from LaDuke's discussion. What we have instead is a substitution of foreign ideologies and symbolic interpretations of Jewish political action for what Jews said about themselves and perceived their own situation to be. In form, to be sure, this isn't a particularly uncommon form of anti-Semitism, but it is still worth pointing out. And I borrow again, as I love to do, from Christine Littleton: the heart of non-anti-Semitic method begins "with the very radical act of taking [Jews] seriously, believing that what we say about ourselves and our experience is important and valid, even when (or perhaps especially when) it has little or no relationship to what has been or is being said about us."

All that being said, there is a link here between how we talk about Israel and our inability to reckon with our own colonialist history, which can actually fairly be closely tied to colonialist and dominationist impulses. There is amongst the European West a deep desire for absolution from a history of racist sins -- a history of colonialism being only but one. This desire is genuine, but it is also typically "cheap" (as in Bonhoeffer's "cheap grace") -- we want the absolution, but don't want to pay the penance.

Israel is valuable because it serves as a useful point of projection for our own sense of moral inadequacy. Opposing Israel offers psychological guilt-release. It is a scapegoat in the literal sense -- we can place our sins upon it and, through sacrifice, gain absolution (the goat, of course, actually pays the penalty). Moreover, unlike more plausible targets for absolving Western sins (e.g., the European states themselves), Israel is relatively marginal, relatively weak, and relatively isolated. One cannot express rabid anti-Americanism of this sort without incurring significant costs. The US isn't going anywhere, and if it did, it would entail severe costs on the people seeking absolution. Israel could plausibly be thrown down, and if it did it would entail virtually no costs on those "repenting". As I remarked once before: "all the joy of liberal guilt-induced self-flagellation, except the wounds show up on someone else's body." For all the talk about Israel's terrifying power, it's Israel's relative marginality and weakness (compared to Europe or America or England) that renders it an attractive target.

The framework of "we are Israel" is very interesting from this standpoint. Wouldn't it make more sense to say "Israel is us"? After all, even if we thought that Israel was a valid case of colonialism (which it isn't), surely it isn't the paradigm case. When the United States distributed smallpox blankets or massacred Native Americans, we weren't emulating the Israeli example. The absolute worst you can say about Zionism -- ignoring, as LaDuke does, the massive difference in motivations and circumstances, and erasing non-European Jews entirely, and making a ton of other concessions to unreality -- is that it was emulating the European example. If that's the case, Israel is flawed as we are, but also as complex as we are and as redeemable as we are.

But note the subtle shift of responsibility here -- our misdeeds are characterized as following another's evil example. Israel stands in for our own misdeeds -- it is the platonic ideal of our own wrongs. We are not intrinsically bad, we're only bad insofar as we're "Israel". Our absolution comes when we're no longer Israel. It offers a way to maintain a sense of moral growth and possibility by externalizing the source of the sins onto another body deemed irredeemably corrupt.

This move only works effectively when "we" and "Israel" are unified as a single entity -- it would not be penance to oppose somebody else's wrong, after all. And so Israel must be refolded into the very European community whose brutal anti-Semitism caused (in part) its formation in the first place. This is why adopting an independent Jewish narrative of Zionism is so dangerous -- acknowledging there is such a narrative and that it runs independent from (and often orthogonal to) the story of European depravity would threaten the fictive unity between Israel and "us", essential for the vitality of the repentance project. And so it is that the Jewish perspective is squeezed out and replaced with a foreign entity; our own evil spirits personified. That, of course, is something very useful. But it is cheap grace.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Talking About Israel When Israel's at War

This exchange between Jeremy Ben-Ami (J Street) and Yossi Klein Halevi (Shalom Hartman Institute) is a model for how intelligent, civil discussion (and disagreement!) can occur within the Jewish community on Israel. Needless to say, on the merits I agree with Ben-Ami on the propriety of criticizing Israeli policies while Israel is at war -- as both participants agree, being at war is not exactly a conducive scenario for thinking clearly, and Ben-Ami is quite right that a default of silence is a "dangerous gift of unquestioned power to those choose to engage in hostilities."

I also note that Halevi's position isn't entirely clear -- his "head" seems to agree with Ben-Ami on all points, but he is worried about issues of "tone" and the pragmatic effects of making such critiques in the middle of wartime hostilities. Both of these concerns are legitimate, but both also are compatible with well-taken criticism. The issues, and the lack of resolution, Halevi raises are also implied from Phoebe's post here, which likewise tries to grapple with the tensions between being an honest critics who care about Israel while swimming in a pool that contains many dishonest critics who don't. There's no question there are difficulties there, but we have to be attentive to both sides of the problem: those who criticize Israel from a vantage point of caring about Jewish rights, equality, and security have to be attentive to the broader environment where many do not care about these things, but we can't let the presence of these people act to sabotage actually taking necessary steps required to preserve Jewish equality and self-determination either.

In news unrelated except in that it signals a probable improvement in the tone of the Israel debate -- ZOA appears to be in chaos. Is there some irony in applauding the demise of a Israel-related Jewish group while also extolling the importance of tone? Sure is -- but I think ZOA has been such an unabashedly negative influence on these questions and such a prominent contributor to rendering the debate toxic that I'm willing to swallow it.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Do Accusations of Racism Alter Expressed Racial Views?

This is an idea for a study I have, and I wanted to get it down on "paper" before I forgot about it and it went away.

Basically, the question is how telling somebody something is "racist" (or sexist, or anti-Semitic, or whatever) impacts their subsequent expressions on racial issues. This interests me, because (assuming that most Americans don't like thinking of themselves or being thought of as racist) one can imagine two very distinct response types.

One hypothesis is that people will moderate their previously held views, or otherwise act in a more minority-friendly manner following the charge. This theory flows somewhat out of (is kind of the reverse, actually) the idea of "moral credentialing". The moral credentialing literature establishes that when people act in a friendly manner towards an outgroup, they gain a "credit" which they can cash-in later to justify subsequent unfriendly acts without damaging their self-image as non-prejudiced. It would stand to reason that calling someone "racist" might create in their minds a moral "deficit", which they would then try to settle by engaging in subsequent friendly acts (so I'll call this the "deficit reduction" hypothesis).

Another hypothesis is that people will "double down" on these views, or otherwise act in a more minority-hostile manner following the charge (the "double down" hypothesis). Once again, we start from the premise that the charge of racism is disturbing to their self-image. But under this hypothesis, this results in either (a) a need to deny the charge and not take actions which seem to implicitly concede the charge is legitimate (which altering one's view might do) and/or (b) increased hostility towards the person rendering the charge, resulting in greater antipathy towards that group (this would presumably vary based on the identity of the person making the charge).

In my experience, I've seen both. Certainly, the premise behind the first hypothesis is pretty deeply inlaid in the entire structure of anti-racist practice: that "calling out" things as racist shames perpetrators and alters their behavior for the better. But the alternate hypothesis I've observed as well -- some people seem to respond even more aggressively when they feel like they are being called racist for taking certain positions. Some seem to revel in this -- they genuinely seem to enjoy "tweaking" their critics -- but for others it seems considerably more defensive and better explained by a desire to preserve their self-image as non-prejudiced.

I envision two separate experiments (the methodology is tentative -- I don't really know methodology). I also envision doing some survey work to help subdivide participants into, for example, "high-prejudice" and "low-prejudice" -- I gather this is something that is regularly done in these sorts of studies and there are established practices):
(1) A subject is asked to give their opinion on a racially-salient topic (say, affirmative action). When they are finished, a researcher tells them that they believe that what they said is racist (it doesn't matter what they actually said). Then they are taken to a different room, with a different researcher, and asked the same question. Their answers to the first and second questions will be coded to see if they become more extreme, less extreme, or stay the same.

(2) The study begins exactly the same way, with the researcher telling the person that they believe their response is racist. In the second part of the study, however, the participant will be given a non-political opportunity to render assistance to a minority in an ambiguous situation (or select between similarly-qualified minority and non-minority candidates for a mock job position).
We would thus be measuring the "double down" effect in two ways. The first study would be more directly political and is thus open to the possibility that the person strongly feels that their original position is pro-minority. The second study resolves that by removing the subjectivity in what decision is pro-minority. It relies on the well-established literature that prejudice manifests in situations of ambiguity.

I make two intersecting predictions. First, I predict that low-prejudice persons will generally be more inclined to engage in deficit-reduction, and high-prejudice persons will generally be more inclined to engage in doubling down. The non-racist self-image of the latter group is more precarious and thus more threatened by assertions of racism. Moreover, the hostility they feel towards the charge will reinforce their extant negative feelings towards the charger. Meanwhile low-prejudiced persons, because they are more secure in their egalitarian self-image, will paradoxically be more willing to contemplate that their views might need to be altered in response to critiques from minority perspectives.

Second, I predict you will see more doubling down across the board in the first experiment compared to the second. This plays off (but somewhat inverts) the observations of ambiguity. Altering one's views after being told one's prior views were racist relatively unambiguously communicates at least a partial concession that the charge was true and legitimate, which people will be reticent to admit. By contrast, the second study does not overtly communicate any message that the subject is recanting their prior beliefs, and thus allows for a restoration of a non-racist self-image without any implied concession that they were previously acting in a racist manner.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

There's Nothing More Terrifying Than a Jew Who Won't Die Quietly

I still think Anna Breslaw will hold the honor, but John Cook is making a late season run for the coveted "most anti-Semitic article published in a mainstream outlet" award. The piece is titled "Israel Names Its New War After Biblical Story About God Terrorizing Egyptians," referring to the Israeli operation "Pillar of Cloud" (translated into English as "Pillar of Defense").

The reference is to a Biblical story where God protects Israelites fleeing Egyptian slavery via a "pillar of cloud" which deflects Egyptian arrows and stones. Or, as Cook calls it, "God terrorizing Egyptians." Because nothing is more terrible than Jews not being enslaved.

That's what's truly bizarre -- of all the objectionable Bible stories (and there are many) -- freeing Jews from slavery isn't typically considered one. And this particular story, which is nonviolent and defensive (the cloud blocks enemy projectiles) is especially unobjectionable. Yet Cook not only slots it into "angry Old Testament God" territory, he actually views Jewish emancipation as an example of injustice to the Egyptians.

This doesn't even go into the dark murmurings that Israel's campaign is part of "a broader agenda rooted in ancient mysticism." I mean, come on. And Cook only digs in deeper on twitter, where he's basically delivering a live lecture on why you shouldn't opine on the meaning of another culture's stories without any actual knowledge.

Of course, I saw the link from someone who was telling Cook to rock on, so there's still work to be done. If you want the actual Biblical meaning of "pillar of cloud", this Tablet Mag article is a good primer.

Great Moments in Juxtaposition: Bobby Jindal Edition

Bobby Jindal tells the GOP they need to "stop being the stupid party":
"It is no secret we had a number of Republicans damage our brand this year with offensive, bizarre comments - enough of that," he said, according to Politico. "It's not going to be the last time anyone says something stupid within our party, but it can't be tolerated within our party. We've also had enough of this dumbed-down conservatism. We need to stop being simplistic, we need to trust the intelligence of the American people and we need to stop insulting the intelligence of the voters."
Sound advice, Governor! But look at the next paragraph:
Jindal initially backed the presidential bid of his western neighbor Gov. Rick Perry, then campaigned for and alongside Mitt Romney.
Ah, Rick Perry -- the man who actually managed to prove you could be too dumb to win the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.

Specks and logs, Governor Jindal. Specks and logs.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Free Speech as Good Speech

I'm less interested in the particular story that Spanish Jews are pushing for stronger "hate speech" laws (though anti-Semitism in Spain is rampant, including mainstream embrace of the vicious extremist Gilad Atzmon) than I am in this accompanying anecdote:
In 2009, the Spanish daily El Mundo interviewed Holocaust denier David Irving, listing him as an “expert” on World War II. The paper’s editors said the interview was constitutionally protected free speech. The Anti-Defamation League called the interview “an embarrassment to Spain.”
I read that paragraph and think to myself "people, people: it can very easily be both."

But the point is that "it's free speech!" has come to mean "it's good, salutary (or at least unobjectionable) speech." I suppose one could blame the passage of "hate speech" laws for this phenomenon on the grounds that they imply that "bad" speech will be censored, so speech that is outside the purview of the hate speech statute presumably carries the implied sanction of the polity, but the problem is that this same rhetoric occurs in the US too. A person who is being criticized for saying hateful or bigoted things will almost invariably cry "free speech!" This displays not only a colossal misunderstanding of First Amendment doctrine, but is a complete non-sequitur to boot. Something can very much be "free speech" and still an awful, awful thought. It's like an even more sophomoric version of Tablet's defense of Anna Breslaw, if one can imagine such a thing.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

That Can Be Arranged

From White People Mourning Romney, we get this poor fellow:
I shouldn't laugh. And I shouldn't make fun. But all I could think of when I saw this was "have we got a health care mandate for you!"

Contraception and reproductive health: it's not just for liberals!

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Four More Years! The Post-Election Recap

Nowadays, virtually nobody gets to read this. But I still like writing it. So here goes.

* Obviously, congratulations to newly re-elected President Barack Obama, who ended up winning by a decently comfortable electoral vote margin. I'm pretty confident he will win Florida, thus giving a final electoral tally of 332 to 206 for Romney. Not half bad (and a perfect call by Nate Silver, incidentally). After all this rigmarole, only two states changed sides (both blue-to-red): Indiana and North Carolina. Coming down from a pretty high tide in 2008, that's impressive work.

* Laura Ingraham thinks the problem here was that the GOP didn't nominate "a conservative". Interesting theory! Let's compare Mitt Romney's performance in Minnesota to that of no-questions-asked conservative Rep. Michele Bachmann. Bachmann represents Minnesota's reddest seat, but barely squeaked out a victory over Jim Graves. In suburban Anoka County -- Bachmann's base -- she ran 2 points behind Romney. Benton County, 10 points behind. Carver County, 8 points back. Sherbourne county, 12 points back. In Wright County, Bachmann was 14 points behind Romney's base. Romney won Stearns County by 12 and Bachmann lost by 12 -- a 24 point swing. By all means, run a Bachmann in a swing state and see what happens.

* The real impressive story for me tonight was superb Democratic defense in the Senate. Democrats were defending more than twice as many seats as Republicans, many won during the 2006 Democratic wave year. And yet, big blue is going to come out in the Senate ahead of where they started: picking up Indiana, Massachusetts, and Maine (assuming, as I believe very likely, that King will caucus with Democrats) while only losing Nebraska. Some of this comes down to Republicans shooting themselves in the foot with awful candidates (Indiana, Missouri, Michigan, Florida), but not all. Scott Brown ran a very good campaign in Massachusetts, but Elizabeth Warren is no Martha Coakley, and that state's blue roots shone through. Rick Berg was a fine candidate in North Dakota, but Heidi Heitkamp was absolutely stellar and scored a huge upset. Montana was an even-odds fight between two candidates with state-wide recognition, in which incumbent Democrat Jon Tester prevailed.

* Both Nevada and Arizona ended up being tantalizing close, but I have different views on them. In Nevada, the Democratic candidate (Shelley Berkley) underperformed -- this is a state where Democrats can and should be competing in right now, so that was a disappointment. In Arizona, though, Richard Carmona wildly overperformed expectations for a novice candidate. I think Arizona has only a cycle, maybe two, before it is a true swing state. The Latino charge there is going to overwhelm Republicans.

* Speaking of Latinos, man, that is really going to be a problem for Republicans in coming years. Give Bush and Rove credit -- they saw this coming and really tried to neutralize the demographic threat by trying to make their party the one of immigration reform and thus a viable choice for Latino voters. But they couldn't get it through Congress, and now they're reaping the rewards. Each year, it becomes harder and harder for Republicans to win with a virtually all-White base -- they need to make inroads with non-White voters to even have a prayer. And each year, the Republican base contracts into a more and more pure angry White core which will flip out and any non-trivial gesture in that direction. It will be interesting to see how that shakes out.

* Speaking of Latinos, part II: Puerto Ricans voted in favor of statehood yesterday! This has been a long controversy on the island, as residents have been divided as to whether they want independence, statehood, the status quo, or "sovereign free association" (basically, more autonomy). Statehood had never gotten more than 50% of the vote until today. I don't know the precise procedures that come next, but assuming they go and formally apply for statehood, this has the potential to be a massive headache for the GOP. My understanding is that the island of Puerto Rico isn't as "blue" as mainland Puerto Ricans are (from 2005-2009 their non-voting resident commissioner in Congress was a Republican, for example), but it still definitely would lean left. If I'm the Democratic Party, I immediately welcome them with open arms, and then watch as the GOP commits fratricide between the section that screams "brown brown Spanish-speaking brown!" and the section that understands exactly what message that sends to Latinos nationwide.

* House-wise, the story here is excellent redistricting work by Republicans that basically made this election a wash -- pretty amazing, given the big GOP gains last time around. For all the great recruiting they did Senate-side, Democrats often were a little more scattershot with their House work, and it showed.

* Still, there were some excellent scalps taken last night. By far my favorite was the throttling of (soon-to-be-ex-!) Rep. Joe Walsh (R-IL) at the hands of Tammy Duckworth. Among his many, many sins, Walsh's support for a one-state solution makes him, in my view, the automatic most anti-Israel member of Congress. So I'm thrilled. Also, war criminal Allen West is down in the FL-18, though that looks to be headed to recount land.

* Gubernatorial races were basically a wash -- Republicans netted one in North Carolina, and that was it. I have to say, statewide Democratic candidates in the upper plains (Dakotas and Montana) are showing impressive resiliency.

* The state legislative picture also sounds good for Democrats, though things are a bit spottier there. The DFL has taken over both chambers in Minnesota, giving them the trifecta. They also took over both houses in Maine, and, in a pretty sizable upset given the ferocious gerrymander they were up against, the New York State Senate. Democrats also made some critical holds onto razor-thin margins in the Iowa Senate and the Nevada Senate, among others. I'll want to look into the full lay of the land a bit more, but it seems downballot this was a very, very good day.

* In 2008, I noted that there was something especially wounding about the losses we incurred on the gay marriage front that year, given that voters were primed to see it as a "historic" election and yet still made a conscious decision to exclude gay and lesbian citizens from that promise. Today, at least some of the demons have been exorcised. Gay marriage votes ran the table nationwide, with it earning legalization in Maine, Maryland, and Washington, and defeating an anti-gay marriage amendment in Minnesota. And, to be blunt, every year more of their voters die, and more of ours come of age. This is a battle where the tide might have finally turned for good.

* Beyond the gay marriage front, it was a pretty good ballot measure day too. Maryland also passed a state level DREAM act giving in-state tuition to resident illegal alien children. That's the first time one of those laws has passed through a popular ballot. Meanwhile, Minnesota somewhat surprisingly rejected the voter ID amendment -- I'd basically resigned myself to the idea that voter ID was a terrible policy idea that was too intuitively appealing to ever be defeated, so truly stellar work by the "no" campaign there to knock it down.

* And that's a wrap, everyone! Still a few outstanding races to decide, probably some recounts to manage, but we're done for another two years. Best of luck to the President on his second term!

Thursday, November 01, 2012

This is not Jewish (but it kinda is. Awesomely)

It's a shame this blog isn't public right now, because I'd love to give a more public shout out to This is Not Jewish. Tagline: "Calling out ignorance, appropriation, stereotyping, and general anti-Semitic bullshit since 5773."

It looks quite good. Every time I see a list titled something like How to Criticize Israel without Being Anti-Semitic my heart skips a beat, because I'm worried I'll get something like "Even though Israel is a raging hellbeast of demonic satanism, referencing the Holocaust is only sometimes permissible." But this one actually seemed to impose serious obligations on people, while not remotely closing the door on legitimate criticism of Israel. So hurray! And hurray for the blog, generally!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Project Lemonade

Sharia law meets abstinence-only education:
. A new study in the American Sociological Review found that evangelical virginity-pledgers could learn a thing or two from Muslims and Hindus, who are the most likely to actually abstain from premarital and extramarital sex instead of just lying about what went down in the basement over the weekend. What's their secret? Really pretty "True Love Waits" t-shirts? Nope: legal and religious coercion, gender segregation, and never showing any lady skin, ever.
Those looking for casual sex partners online should try "advanced search"ing for Chosen Ones: a whopping 94 percent of Jews who participated in the study reported having premarital sex, followed by 79 percent of Christians, 65 percent of Buddhists, 43 percent of Muslims and 19 percent of Hindus.
So rather than complaining about how Islamic law is taking over, why not get on that action to actually make a tent on premarital sex rates?

(Actually, the study -- at least as reported in Jezebel which, in fairness, is a considerable caveat -- doesn't seem to have a great answer for why the rate for Hindus is so much lower than the rate for Muslims. As for its Jewish findings -- well, it's good to be a Chosen One sometimes).

Friday, October 26, 2012

Project Runway All-Stars (Season 2)!

Fresh off the heels of a Project Runway, season 10, we get Project Runway All-Stars, Season 2! Looking over the cast, it's not immediately apparent that every competitor on here meets the definition of an "all-star". I'm not saying they're all losers, but the ratio of Elisas to Mondos is not what one would hope. But hey -- people change, and underdogs emerge, and I'll have plenty of opportunities to snipe at these poor souls based on their work over the next few weeks.

So let's use the first episode to give a bit of a preview! The theme of last night's episode was people claiming they have more range than the one signature thing they're known for (e.g., Uli's flowing print dresses, Kayne's pageant wear), and then doing something that is scarcely different at all. The results were decidedly mixed, but some people definitely inspired more confidence than others.

Althea: Althea manages to beat even Wendy Pepper in the "bears no physical resemblance to her original appearance" competition. Based on past performance she is one of the stronger designers, and I think this look bore that out -- it was interesting, unique, and very sexy. Front was much better than the back, though.

Andrae: So, what's been happening to Andrae? I actually didn't hate this look -- it was a little garbled and sloppy, but there was a neat concept in there. I liked the crossing blue sashes, both on their own and as a cohesive tie to the rest of the collection. I would have been sad if he had gone home.

Anthony Ryan: A sleeper this season, I think. He made some beautiful clothes his season, and really I think left before his moment. This piece was very well-done -- simple and classic in the front, with a unexpected sexy pop in the back. I really liked it a lot, and have no complaints of it being given the win.

Casanova: Playing with fire, I think. Casanova was known on his season for extremely tight, often tacky pieces. This was an extremely tight leather dress that wasn't tacky at all and was actually quite nice. So good job! But it still raises a big alarm bell for me going forward. I don't have the confidence that if he keeps using those materials and that shape, he'll be able to thread the needle again.

Emilio: Another front-runner (I thought he should have won his season). I thought his dress was very cool. The bare midriff thing is a bit played out, but I thought the way he did it was novel and unexpected, which is doubly impressive given (a) the dress is pretty simple and (b) bra + sheer fabric over model's stomach = all of Season 10's Dmitry's fashion week collection.

Ivy: She's poised for a redemption arc. We'll see if that lasts. I thought the concept behind Ivy's look was really cool, which is fortunate for her, because an off-white base and dark circular splotches is universal language for "cow". It's forgiven this time because it was cool and innovative, but be more careful.

Joshua: I remember liking this look more on the runway. Looking at the photos -- I don't know. It looks pretty messy and I'm not sure what the idea is behind it. Fabric just seems gushing out from random spots without thought. The more I see of it, the less I like. And I thought Joshua was pretty hit-or-miss on his own season too. This makes me think he'll be exiting earlier than one might expect.

Kayne: Kayne wanted us to know that he doesn't just do pageant wear. He also can do swimsuits, and jewelry, and apparently he can do Goth pageant wear too. The lace top and the trailing gown and the pants and the neck -- if there were ever a time we needed Michael Kors on the show instead of Isaac Mizrahi to exclaim "it's a lot of look", this was it. Of course, we'd always be far better off if Isaac Mizrahi was replaced as a judge by Michael Kors. Or Michael Costello. Or Michael Vick.

Laura Kathleen: I didn't see what the judges saw in her in her season. I don't see it this time either. A boring top that maybe has a bit of architecture to it, mixed with a boring dress that has no interesting qualities at all. Best of the worst collection? Really? I guess I'm in for another 8 weeks of being utterly baffled by her continued success.

Peach: No, Peach doesn't got it. Look, Peach seems really nice. Everyone seems to like Peach. I like Peach. But I never saw anything in her own season that remotely impressed me. She finished 11th -- that's in the bottom half, not "all-star". This piece was sloppily made and not remotely bold. It also wasn't really ambitious -- if a garment like this is going to overwhelm you ... I mean, just how narrow is your range? She had to go after this.

Suede: This didn't look quite as wretched on the runway as it did in the workroom. I'm not saying it was good, but the skirt at least read a little more interesting as it walked, though I still wasn't wild about how it moved. Maybe it was interesting in how it didn't move? Anyway, the most interesting thing about Suede is the evolution of his signature third-person speech. When he talks to the camera, it's all "Suede is doing...." When he talks to Joanna Coles, or the judges? "I" "I" "I". Heh.

Uli: Uli, famous for flowing dresses with great prints, takes a step in a completely new direction by giving us a flowing dress without any print at all. Bold (or was it confident?)! Anyway, the dress was nice enough, and the stuff around the neck (well, really around the chest -- the stuff holding the dress up) was kind of interesting, but if the goal was demonstrate range or creativity, it did neither. Still, Uli is capable of such gorgeous clothes that I still think she has a great shot this season.

Wendy: "The word that springs to mind is hooker." I don't remember if it was Wendy to whom Joanna said that, but if not, it fits. Yikes.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

I'm Your Wing, Vector One

One of the stranger things about my time in Champaign was the phonecalls I'd receive aimed at former denizens of my office. One of my colleagues, for example, had an apartment in Chicago, and so ADT was constantly calling me to say the alarm had gone off.

I'm not in Champaign anymore, but my voicemail is still linked to my email address and so I'm still forwarded the messages. Only now these emails come with an attempt to transcribe the message into text. The results are glorious.
Good afternoon this is ADT SECURITY everything is in regards to berg alarm we received only room ocean front [name, almost gotten right!] residents [phone number] yeah I got that they have provided to be sunset divide it up 40 they've and I wanted 3 foot notified them if you have any question please and take it easy vector one.
"Take it easy, Vector One" is my new AALS motto. It makes me feel like an X-Wing pilot going off on a mission.

Monday, October 08, 2012

Making Race an Issue

The Star-Tribune today reported on the election contest in my new district with the headline Fifth District rival makes race an issue. The incumbent is Rep. Keith Ellison (D), an African-American and the first Muslim elected to Congress. His opponent, Chris Fields, is also Black and is trying to argue that Ellison has failed his Black constituents (the 5th district is the most diverse in Minnesota, encompassing much of Minneapolis, ranging from urban professionals to impoverished slums).

Now, there is a large sense in which this is futile -- the 5th District is one of the most liberal in the country, and nobody thinks Fields has a prayer of unseating Ellison. But I don't object to Fields effort in theory. This, of course, is how politics works -- one tries to win by seeking to persuade key constituencies that your policies are better than your opponent's. There is nothing I find intrinsically objectionable about politicians seeking to appeal to Black voters, compared to the status quo amongst Republicans wherein it seems they think there is something illegitimate in a politician being liked by racial minorities.

To be sure, it hardly seems like Fields is making a particularly sophisticated appeal to Black voters (at least, the Strib doesn't give any examples of what his argument is other than a generic "he doesn't care about you"). If Republicans are going to appeal to Blacks, they'll have to do better than run Black candidates and make bare assertions that they care. It takes real legwork. But the ambition, itself, is a positive sign.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

You Shell Me and I Shell You Back

Turkey struck at Syrian targets today in retaliation for Syria shelling a Turkish border town. The Syrian attack killed five civilians.

Honestly, how could Syria have known Turkey would be so barbaric as to fire back at an entity engaging in cross-border shelling? Who do they think they are -- Israelis?

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Ethics Before Ethnics

This is an interesting, if banal, sum up of Ohio GOP Senate candidate Josh Mandel's utter failure to appeal to the Jewish vote. What it boils down to is that Jews, being liberal, ended up being none-too-keen about voting for Mandel, who is very conservative. Add on to that Mandel's reputation for being a bit of a skeeze on the campaign trail, and, well, why would you expect Jews to vote for him?

The presumed answer, as it always is, is "Mandel is Jewish". But ethnic affinity simply has not been demonstrated to trump ideological affiliation in the voting behavior of minority or other marginal groups. Women didn't flock to Sarah Palin despite their shared possession of breasts. Steve Cohen keeps easily turning back challenges in his majority-minority district because his opponents continue to assume that the only thing they need to do to win is remind voters that they're Black and Cohen is a White Jew.

It just doesn't work that way. If anything, it's White men who have historically displayed more ... reticence at casting a ballot for candidates outside their own group.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Dershowitz the Honest Broker

Some would find it laughable. But if this Ha'aretz report is to be believed, Dershowitz has just scored a major breakthrough with Palestinian PM Mahmoud Abbas: an agreement on a settlement freeze formula that would bring the PA back to the table. The agreement is based on Dershowitz's proposal in the Wall Street Journal back in June, so it's good that he's actually following up on that. Kudos there.

Of course, the next question is whether the Israeli government will agree. One hopes that Dershowitz still has enough sway with the current right-wing government to get them to listen; but given Bibi's track record one worries. To turn a phrase from Abba Eban, now it seems that he is the one who never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity. Dershowitz says his next stop is to pitch the proposal to the Israeli government. Obviously, I hope they say yes -- but I'm curious how Dershowitz will react if they say no.

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Right Argument for the Wrong Reason (and vice versa)

Hussein Ibish has an interesting piece up castigating the way in which the issue of Jewish refugees from Arab lands has recently emerged. Ibish does not deny that these people have valid claims, but he says that the Israeli government's recent embrace of the issue is being done in bad faith -- it isn't really about protecting these person's interests, but rather about neutralizing the potency of Palestinian refugees ("I'll see your refugee claims with one of my own!").

There isn't really any doubt that much of the Israeli usage of this issue has this tactical, political component. This is not really surprising: this is an issue that Mizrachi and Sephardic Jews have been trying to raise for years with little success, so it's hardly the case that the largely Ashkenazi Israeli political elite can claim to have always been possessed with a burning indignation over the issue. And Ibish is only helped by framing his piece in response to a Ben Cohen column which, as Ibish puts it, "systematically proves every point I make."

Nonetheless, I can't help but read Ibish's article and think "so what?" Ibish concedes that the Jewish refugees have valid claims; he only argues that the way the Israeli political elite is currently deploying these claims is cynical and not really calculated to actually vindicate these refugee's legitimate interests. The problem is that if one takes the set of legitimate issues Israelis and Palestinians might have, then subtract those which are deployed in a tactical fashion aimed primarily at scoring transient political advantage or otherwise making the other side look bad, you're left with ... zero issues. Every issue in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is deployed cynically for short-term tactical purposes. Does Ibish really think that most of the people talking about Palestinian refugee rights are primarily concerned with what rhetoric and stylings are most likely to actually give them some degree of recompense in their lifetime? Of course not. If we're going to commit ourselves to try and facilitate just outcomes to plethora of issues dissecting Israel and Palestine, the fact that these issues are often used by political elites in a cynical fashion simply can't be disqualifying. We'd be left with absolutely nothing. And what ends up happening is that arguments like this become ways of indefinitely shunting aside any discussion of these peoples' claims as "political".

But I'd tentatively go even a step further. I'm inclined to think that decision to use Jewish refugees as a counterweight to Palestinian refugees is not per se wrong. Part of compromise is recognizing that one's adversary, like oneself, has legitimate interests that deserve consideration and accommodation. If one doesn't believe that, the only reason one would compromise is because one is over the barrel. The issue of Palestinian refugees, for example, is important in part because of the tangible things they lost, but also in part because it cuts against the narrative of 1948 being about nothing more than a genocidal Arab pogrom that fortunately failed. Likewise, elevating the stature of Jewish refugees matters in part because they deserve compensation, but also because it checks the narrative of 1948 being about marauding Jews seizing land that previously was held in harmony by the indigenous people. In this way, the narrative of the underlying conflict is enriched and parties are less inclined to view compromise as akin to capitulation or an implicit guilty plea to the charge of being the villain.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Millionaire Quality Work

Jewish groups are, rightfully, upset at early credulous media reports claiming that the anti-Islam movie "Innocence of Muslims" was financed by Jewish donors (it turns out the chief producer appears to be Coptic Christian). But I had to smile when I read that its amateur stylings proved it "could not be backed by millionaires of any faith."

I'm sorry, but having seen ads trying to get Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA) reelected has permanently barred me from asserting a necessary connection between "lots of money to draw on" and "high quality production values."

Thursday, September 13, 2012

No Daylight

Remember that whole thing about how, if Israel and America have differences, they should be expressed privately? Bibi doesn't. As Jeffrey Goldberg puts it "You just don't do that. Which is to say, you do it privately."

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Building the Shining City

Honduras appears set to create a series of privately-run cities, complete with their own police, laws, government, tax systems, and immigration policy. They'll even be empowered to sign their own international economic agreements. Todd Zywicki is elated. I'm terrified.

It's not entirely clear who will be establishing and overseeing these new governmental institution but, if as appears likely, they are either formally or de facto under the control of the cities' investors, the possibility of abuse appears rampant. The body of government not only will be entirely unaccountable to the majority of its constituents (the persons working in the cities), but may have a duty of loyalty to the outside investors. Meanwhile, if anyone is expecting the project to refrain from abusing the little guy, it's off to a rough start -- local indigenous tribes are already alleging that the project is taking their land without their consent.

Monday, September 03, 2012

Akin's Return

Like Kevin Drum, when Todd Akin's "legitimate rape" brouhaha broke, I was of the opinion that it would eventually blow over and Akin would continue to be favored to win his Senate race in red-leaning Missouri. Simply put, between the folks who secretly (or not-so-secretly) agreed with Akin, and the folks who are just really good at rationalizing, Akin would undoubtedly suffer a short-term dip and eventually recover as Republicans rallied back to his side.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that, at first blush, the GOP seemed to be coming down much harder on Akin than I had anticipated. Maybe my cynicism was unwarranted?

Unfortunately, Akin appears to be making a comeback, and along precisely the lines Drum and I predicted. He'd ride the storm, Republicans would eventually start returning to him, and the state's red lean would assert itself. And now,, less than a month later, Missouri is back in toss-up territory.

Of course, there is still time to prove me wrong. So get on that, Missouri! Show me that I'm far, far too cynical for my own good.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Posner on Scalia's "Textualism"

This is a devastating review of Justice Scalia's rather inconsistent and meandering commitment to "textualism" (whatever that means -- and it appears to mean, "whatever Justice Scalia feels like").

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Ban Ki-Moon Rebukes Iranian Leadership

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon sharply rebuked the Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei for delivering a speech at the non-Aligned Movement conference that lambasted Israel, the UN, the US, and the west. Ban, who was in attendance at the Tehran-hosted conference, accused Khamenei of describing Israel "in racist terms" after Khamenei, among other tidbits, said Israel was comprised of "bloodthirsty wolves".

Depending on one's view of things, folks are happy that Ban made the statement or unforgiving that he attended the conference in the first place (or, I suppose, angry that he dared criticize those who want to see Israel obliterated). As for me, I don't envy the sort of balancing that Ban has to do as part of his role as UN Secretary General, and I guess he does it about as well as one might hope. On the other hand, I don't actually find the UN as an institution to be all that useful except as a convenient forum for hearing the collective views of the community of nations. These views, more often than not, turn out to be repellant, but it's still useful information to know I guess -- so long as one does not make the mistake of actually according them normative weight as well.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Your Suffrage is Bad and You Should Feel Bad

That the GOP officially wants to keep DC a colony is unsurprising. What's more surprising is that they want Congress to mandate that DC "elect" Republicans. They say it's important to effectuate better governance in the district. And hey, maybe it is? You know how one does that in a democracy? By convincing the voters you're worth voting for! Or, apparently, by rigging the game so you have to win -- something that, more and more, is becoming the Republican modus operandi.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Body Swappers, Part II

Former Obama supporter ex-Rep. Artur Davis' (D-AL, though he's since switched parties) turn to Mitt Romney is well known. I noted at the time he seemed to be crossing the opposite path of former Florida Governor Charlie Crist (R, now I). And wouldn't you know it if Crist has just come out and endorsed Obama for re-election.

The switch is pretty much complete at this point, I'd say.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

"And 100 Stood By and Watched"

Today's pet peeve comes in reporting of public acts of violence, and bystanders not intervening. Generally, some horrible act occurs in the public square, and the news accounts inform us that "one hundred people looked on but did not intervene" or something like that. The Kitty Genovese murder is the archetypical case, but you hear it pretty frequently. The implication is amazement at how many people could be so callous and uncaring -- could not one of them have the decency to stop the atrocity?

Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce you to a social psychology phenomenon known, conveniently enough, as the Bystander Effect. The Bystander Effect tells us that people are less likely to render aid to those in need when there are many other people around than when they are alone, and the effect is compounded based on how many bystanders are present. So, if C observes A beating up B and C is the only other person present, C is far more likely to intercede than if C is there with a dozen other people present (and even more likely than that if there are a hundred witnesses). There are several reasons for the effect, mostly having to do with issues of conformity, but it is a pretty robust finding.

So the next time you see a story like this and conclude that "wow, one hundred people and not a halfway decent human among them", remember your psychology and think for a moment. Now you're more educated.

We've Got Spirit, Yes We Do!

Oklahoma City apparently bans wearing clothing that is not supportive of their state's college sports teams.
On the list of banned items, non-Oklahoma college dress falls directly in between gang symbol haircuts and "satanic cult dress, witchcraft and related symbols."

Monday, August 20, 2012

Akin's Remaining Friends

In the wake of Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin's (R) comments that women who are victims of "legitimate" rape don't get pregnant, it's been gratifying to see a large number of GOPers looking to cut Akin loose (e.g., Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA), and Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX)). Sure a goodly portion of it is the belief that Akin's about to cost them a likely Senate pick-up in Missouri, but the bare recognition of the fact that sometimes lunatic craziness has electoral consequences is a big step for the GOP compared to 2010.

But don't shed too many tears for Akin. It's not like he's wholly without friends. The Family Research Council released a statement saying that while they "don’t know anything about the science" (... but I repeat myself), Akin is assuredly the real victim here of the dreaded "gotcha politics". Meanwhile, across the pond George Galloway wants you to know that even if Julian Assange is guilty of everything he's alleged to have done, it's clearly nothing more than "bad sexual etiquette." To call it "rape", Galloway claims, would " bankrupt the term rape of all meaning."

I sense a new group of besties forming....

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Settler Terrorism is Terrorism

The US State Department has begun grouping in settler "price tag" attacks as a form of terrorism committed in Israel and Palestine. This is, of course, exactly right. And furthermore, when someone -- I don't care who -- commits a terrorist strike in territory under Israeli jurisdiction -- I don't care against whom -- they're threatening the security and stability of the Israeli state. They are threats to Israeli national security, and ought properly be seen as such.

In related news, a 19-year old suspect has been arrested in the "lynch" attack in Jerusalem that injured four Palestinians, one critically.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Lie Extermination

Garance Franke-Ruta has three suggestions for how the media can handle repeated campaign lies (such as Mitt Romney's claim that Obama has eliminated the work requirements from welfare).

1) Add boilerplate to every story indicating it is a lie (similar to how stories about "Obama is a Muslim" always included language informing the reader that this was false).

2) Always attribute the charge to campaign partisans, and immediately quote rebuttal from opposing partisans.

3) Turn repeated lying into its own story.

Of these, I dislike the second, because it's identical to he said/she said journalism, which actually allows the lie to get traction because independents will assume the truth lies somewhere in the middle. But the other two proposals are spot on. Franke-Ruta expects us to start seeing "repeated liar" stories, which would surprise me. It's hardly unprecedented -- remember Election 2000? -- but it seems like it takes balls the media tends to lack.

I'd be particularly intrigued if such a story didn't just attack the credibility of the instigating campaign, but also took on the think tanks providing a "source" for the charge (in the case of the "Obama gutted work requirements" lie, that would be the Heritage Foundation). Such organizations depend, in large part, on their ability to be taken as credible currency by the media -- providing an "independent" veneer to whatever claim they're making. I'd love to see some consequences when they abuse that privilege and act as simple hacks.

Sacramento Makes Ashkelon a "Sister City"

The Sacramento City Council unanimously voted to make Ashkelon, Israel one of its "sister cities". Ashkelon joins nine other Sacramento sister cities, including Bethlehem in the Palestinian Authority (Bethlehem was added in 2009, under a deal that would see an Israeli city added later).

There was some controversy from the usual suspects (including Jewish Voice for Peace, which totally opposes only the occupation and not Israel-qua-Israel). The claim was that adding Ashkelon was unfair given Israeli human rights violations against Palestinians; some argued against Ashkelon specifically because it has a jail which holds Palestinian prisoners and because Ashkelon was formerly the site of a Palestinian village (the village had been the site of fierce fighting between Israeli and Egyptian forces during Israel's war of independence, forcing many of its residents to flee). Today, Ashkelon's most well-known relationship to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is its status as a constant target for Palestinian shelling emanating from the Gaza Strip.

I'm disinclined to credit the claim that the opposition's problem is with Ashkleon, rather than with Israel -- the arguments they make against Ashkelon are exceptionally thin and could, with minor shifts, be applied against virtually any city in the world). Which inspired me to take a look at the other cities Sacramento has partnered with.

* Manila: Capital of the Philippines, which is currently engaged in a brutal counter-insurgency against Islamic separatists in the southern parts of the country. The Philippines has resorted to extrajudicial killings, vigilantism, disappearances, torture, and arbitrary arrest and detention.

* Matsuyama, Japan: Japan has a long-standing practice of discrimination against the indigenous Ainu people, with de jure discriminatory laws repealed only in 1997.

* Jinan, China: Yeah, I'm not even going to bother with this one. From the occupation of Tibet to one-party rule to government censorship and crackdowns on dissent, this is too easy.

* Hamilton, New Zealand: Built on the site of Maori villages prior to British colonization. New Zealand's treatment of its indigenous minority continues to be of concern.

* Liestel, Switzerland: Switzerland has recently come under fire for banning the building of minarets in Mosques. Liestal is the seat of Basel County, where over 55% of voters approved the ban.

* Chisinau: The capital of Moldova, another country with a spotty human rights record, including many restrictions on independent media and reports of widespread torture by police forces.

* Yongsan-gu, South Korea: Imperialist swine. In all seriousness, though, non-Korean minorities face considerable discrimination, particularly among non-documented workers from elsewhere in Asia. The country also has many anti-gay discriminatory laws.

* San Juan de Oriente, Nicarauga: Also built in the vicinity of native villages by European colonizers, Nicaragua has also experienced significant problems with police abuse, and President Ortega has been accused of using state apparatuses to squelch dissent while enabling regime-friendly groups free reign to violently terrorize opponents.

* Bethlehem: Palestinian security forces stand accused of violence against Christian residents, who have accelerated emigration from the city. Israeli citizens are forbidden from entering Bethlehem, including the Solomon's Pools, while Palestinians require a permit to enter Rachel's Tomb, a Jewish holy site. Military and paramilitary forces linked to the Palestinian Authority have been implicated in numerous terrorist attacks against Jewish targets.

The point isn't that any of these cities shouldn't be "sister cities". The point is that the claim that Ashkelon or Israel is somehow distinct in form from other cities that Sacramento has paired with (or indeed, most cities around the world) are essentially spurious. They're cover for a fundamental objection that Israel is there and doesn't roll over and die.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Suppressive Cycles

I confess to having similar thoughts to Harold Meyerson:
If voter suppression goes forward and Romney narrowly prevails, consider the consequences. An overwhelmingly and increasingly white Republican Party, based in the South, will owe its power to discrimination against black and Latino voters, much like the old segregationist Dixiecrats. It’s not that Republicans haven’t run voter suppression operations before, but they’ve been under-the-table dirty tricks, such as calling minority voters with misinformation about polling-place locations and hours. By contrast, this year’s suppression would be the intended outcome of laws that Republicans publicly supported, just as the denial of the franchise to Southern blacks before 1965 was the intended result of laws such as poll taxes. More ominous still, by further estranging minority voters, even as minorities constitute a steadily larger share of the electorate, Republicans will be putting themselves in a position where they increasingly rely on only white voters and where their only path to victory will be the continued suppression of minority votes. A cycle more vicious is hard to imagine.

This does not strike me as a negligible risk. The voter suppression tactics of today are "justified" by reference to a non-existent phenomenon, so its not like Republicans have to worry about a fig leaf jarring loose. And if GOP's only path to competitiveness is in each year blocking more and more minority voters from reaching the polls, there's a real chance that's the strategy that they'll adopt.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Ryan Effect

There are different schools of thought when it comes to choosing a Vice President. One can pick to reinforce a narrative ("this election is all about the economy"), or to balance the ticket (the nominee is strong on domestic issues but has little foreign policy experience, so pick a VP who is know to be an IR maven). One can pick based on electoral calculation or based on who is ready to take the reins of the presidency if disaster strikes. One can go for geographic diversity, or break barriers by selecting a woman or sexual minority.

But the selection of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) as Mitt Romney's VP nominee has raised a new criteria -- effectively shifting blame for a loss. Already I'm seeing a bunch of different reports arguing over whether and how Ryan reallocates blame for a Republican defeat in November. Some say Ryan's presence on the ticket pins the loss on the far-right slash-and-burners that Ryan represents. Others vehemently disagree, saying this is still the "moderate" Mitt Romney's baby.

I'm not really sure what I believe. But I do know that if the first reaction to the VP pick by one's base is "how does this impact our upcoming November defeat", well, that's not exactly the sign of a healthy and confident campaign.

This is a Secret Message

Testing from behind the wall. If you aren't an approved reader, you shouldn't be able to see this. If you can see this, either the wall isn't working or welcome to the club!

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

The End, For Now

You all gonna be here when I wake up?

I was planning on waiting a few more days to write this. It was not something I was looking forward to, to say the least. But I hit a natural lull in my blogging and, well, it didn't seem smart to try and get back in the groove given what was looming on the horizon.

Eight years and two months after I launched it shortly after my high school graduation, The Debate Link is going on public hiatus.

I mean "hiatus" seriously -- this is a required break for the duration of my clerkship, where various rules of judicial ethics effectively prevent me from having a high-profile public platform for launching all my half-formed opinions onto the world. Everyone raves about how wonderful clerking is, and I'm excited about it too, but this is one major sacrifice I'm being asked to make. But it's only for a year, I hope. The plan is that once that clerkship ends a year from now, the blog will resume as well.

Still, this is a scary thing for me. The Debate Link has been my baby for nearly my entire adult life. I created it from scratch and since then it has become a really important part of me. It's a space for me to let off steam, incubate new ideas, or just shoot the breeze about random interesting events. It has more or less served as my mind's external hard-drive for years. And, of course, it has sparked innumerable great conversations with friends and colleagues off-line, all of which I treasure.

Some of these things I can still do -- just not in a public setting. I'll move the blog behind a password wall, and I can still write to my heart's content. So in that sense it isn't really a "hiatus", since I'll still be doing some writing (albeit probably at a reduced pace). But taking the blog out of the public eye means giving up one of the most important things of all -- the blogging community. I'm still small-ball enough that getting links from any blog (big or little) tickles me pink. And even more important than inbound links, I've been blessed with some wonderful commenters and met some wonderful people through The Debate Link. It is difficult to let that go -- even temporarily. While I may end up sharing the password with a limited audience, there's no getting around the fact that I'm essentially disconnecting the blog from its larger ecosphere, and that's going to hurt.

But so it is. I'm going to leave this post up on top as my formal farewell until I get back from my vacation in Maryland later this month, and then The Debate Link will officially become password protected.

Again, I want to thank everybody who's been reading me -- those of you who have been around almost since the beginning, and those of you who are relatively new. You've been fantastic.

Just promise me you'll be here when I get back.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Concern Trolling, Thy Name Is Lara

I think Americans for Peace Now is generally a good organization, but this piece by Lara Friedman on the "exploitation" of Jewish refugees is just awful. The instigation for the column is various moves in both Israel and the United States to place the issue of Jewish refugees from Arab countries -- many of whom were forced to flee anti-Semitic discrimination and violence and watched as their property was confiscated -- on the agenda of the broader Israeli/Arab peace process. "Exploitation", here, appears to be defined as "making sure these persons are not completely overlooked".

The basic problem with Friedman's article is that, while it purports to recognize that there are unresolved issues of justice with respect to the departure of Jews from Arab nations, she effectively labels any efforts to make it an agenda item an example of illegitimate political gamesmanship meant to neutralize claims by Palestinian refugees. For starters, even on face this isn't really correct -- the congressional bill she cites, for example, specifically suggests that Israeli and Palestinian refugee claims ought to be paired. So she twists a bit and says, no, the problem is that discussion of Israeli refugees as a parallel to Palestinian refugees is wrongheaded because they're separate issues. Which they are, but it's not clear why that's relevant -- if they're both issues of concern, both should be on the agenda, and one set of refugees currently is being largely ignored. Jewish refugees and their descendants have every right to wonder about the asymmetry as compared to the most analogous event. None of these bills do much more than urge that Arab Jewish claims become part of the agenda -- which right now they are not. If even that relatively modest call is illegitimate politicization, then Friedman is effectively saying that Arab Jews should permanently shut up.

Is part of the impetus for this discussion an attempt to fight back against the notion of Israel as the sole wrongdoer victimizing Palestinians, while Jews had it made in the shade? Sure. But so what? Aside from the fact that if we're going to get all high-groundy over disputants' attempts at framing we'll be here all day, Israel wasn't the sole wrongdoer and not all Jews did have it made in the shade. The fact of the matter is that this is an issue which has been grossly overlooked for decades for a variety of factors -- racism against non-White Jews ranking high among them -- and now is finally getting some attention. While Friedman says that these claims are "tarnished" because they also have political valence, I doubt the men and women in question will lose much sleep over it, given that everything in this region has a political valence. If that's Friedman's standard -- and it really isn't, because it's impossible for it to be one she applies to every Israeli/Palestinian issue -- what she's actually saying is that any discussion of Arab Jewish claims is a distraction from real-people issues.

Frankly, this is a class of persons that's been silenced for long enough, and deserves to have their grievances aired. Friedman may sigh about how she feels for Arab Jews, but without any indication of how a conversation about them can proceed in an "acceptable" fashion, it rings quite hollow indeed.

UC's Misguided Flirtation with Hate Speech Ban

The Forward has an interesting story up about a proposal by a University of California community to regulate hate speech -- in part because of alleged anti-Semitism as part and parcel of various anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian protests.

While I'm perhaps a little more ambivalent than most on this issue, I still lean towards skepticism. There's just too much room for manipulation with regard to what counts and what doesn't. One of the co-directors of the panel, when asked about whether calling Israel an "apartheid state" would count as hate speech, replied "I couldn't give you an answer without looking at the definition of how courts define hate speech." Bzzt. American courts don't have a definition of hate speech, because hate speech isn't a legally cognizable concept in American law at the moment. The panel grandstands about the inevitable legal challenge (urging the university to "accept the challenge."), but it isn't altogether clear they know just how shaky their position is.

And furthermore, it seems like a ban is the easy way out. Banning hate speech is a sign not just that one's community has racist, sexist, or anti-Semitic members. It's a sign that the community as a whole does not have a strong enough commitment to liberal ideals to defeat them by normal means. It is easy to sign an order barring a racist protest. It is considerably harder to mobilize the community to counterprotest, to flood the newspapers with condemnatory editorials, and to otherwise make it known that the fringe is a fringe. It strikes me that UC's flirtation with this move is done with the knowledge that the fringe isn't so fringe at all, and a corresponding lack of confidence that, left to their own devices, the Cal community really can be counted on to stand against bigotry. There is irony in the report chiding UC President Mark Yudof for condemning a protest of a pro-Israel event, for in a sense that's precisely the right tactic -- people can protest however they want, and we hope that the university leadership and student rank-and-file makes known their contempt for the protesters. That's how one reconciles free speech with combating hate speech -- "more speech, not enforced silence."

None of this is to say that issues of racism and anti-Semitism aren't problems on California campuses. The JVP, for example, is complaining about a co-director of the panel who apparently is biased because he's (*gasp*) pro-Israel. They're also making the banal and irrelevant point that Jews have a variety of positions on Israel, though it is altogether unclear why that would make it impossible for any particular statement or protest against Israel to be anti-Semitic (as usual, the JVP's main contribution is to act as Jewish voice for what non-Jews want to say about Jews with impunity). But that the JVP has an institutional hostility to the belief that anti-Semitism exists does not mean that any policy geared at combating it is appropriate. I'm skeptical of Cal's ability to manage an anti-hate speech program, and I'm worried about such a policy serving as a short-cut against what needs to be done -- an actual, concrete, substantive, broad-based commitment by the entire university community that bigotry is unacceptable and does not represent California values.