Friday, March 20, 2015

2014 2015 Will Be The Year

Rep. Steve King (R-IA), Congress' most trusted source on voting rights work ethic basic English vocabulary the Jewish people, sounds off on inexplicable American Jewish voting habits:
"Here is what I don't understand, I don't understand how Jews in America can be Democrats first and Jewish second and support Israel along the line of just following their President," King, a hardline conservative from Iowa, said Friday on Boston Herald Radio,

"It says this, they're knee-jerk supporters of the President's policy," King said.
Here's what I don't understand: How so many Republicans can within the space of a single sentence call Jews mindless delusional robots and then wonder why they don't vote for their party. Pro tip: this is not how you persuade an out-group that you're their friend.

Called It!

Hey remember that time when, right after the Israeli elections, I insisted that Moshe Kahlon's Kulanu Party wouldn't be a water-carrier for the far-right? I believe my precise words were "I am extremely skeptical that he wants to be the furthest left member of the government coalition." Kahlon has the leverage to make a lot of demands, since any coalition (really for either left or right) has to go through his party. And lo and behold, look at the news today:
Fancy that! There are a couple of ways this might play out. Bibi might hold his ground and Kahlon might blink first -- nobody wants to go through another round of elections. But assuming that Kahlon is insistent, this might knock the religious parties out of the coalition (they hate Lapid and his Yesh Atid party with a passion). With Yesh Atid in, they're not necessary to reach 61 MKs (the right bloc plus Kulanu and Yesh Atid equals 65 seats). And while the religious parties aren't superhawks on Israel-Palestine or other foreign affairs issues, it is definitely the case that subbing in Yesh Atid for them is a shift for the better. It's hard to see how a coalition that includes both the religious parties and Yesh Atid lasts very long.

In other fun news for Bibi, Naftali Bennett's Jewish Home party is demanding that any coalition agreement include a statement opposing a Palestinian state. Given that Bibi spent most of this week walking back his opposition to a two-state solution, earning (to my mind undeserved) plaudits from many pro-Israel organizations who desparately want to believe Bibi is and portray him as on the side of a Palestinian state, this is going to be a fun needle for him to thread. Assuming Yesh Atid and the religious parties can't sit together, Bibi needs Bennett as part of his coalition -- but it is unclear if Lapid (or Kahlon, for that matter) would sign on to any anti-Palestinian-state position that would be satisfactory to Bennett.

The drama never stops.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Look Who's Talking

This is one of those posts that's really about saving a link for myself, but I am interested in these poll results asking Whites and Blacks about the amount of time we spend talking about race. The results aren't really surprising -- most Whites think we talk about race too much, most Blacks think we don't talk about it enough. The reason I'm interested is because I've noticed in several contexts a disjuncture between how different groups view how much time we devote to different issues. For example, in the sexual assault context, there is a "left" narrative that says we undersell the problem -- we need to "break the silence", we need to bring the problem to the surface -- and there is a "right" narrative that suggests that talk about sexual assault is ever-present to the point of absurdity -- everything is being called sexual assault, sexual assault talk is crowding out other related but important issues. Racism seems to also fit inside this mold; I suspect anti-Semitism does as well.

Nasty, Brutish, and Short

Blogger legend Kevin Drum explains why the 2016 election is so personal to him. Simply put, he was recently diagnosed with cancer, and Obamacare guarantees that he will remain insured regardless of what happens to his job at Mother Jones. If Republicans are elected and repeal Obamacare, he'll be left in the cold -- "And I feel quite certain that Republicans will do nothing to help me out." Sayeth Richard Mayhew:
Cancer can hit anyone, and under the Republican plan, a one time cancer diagnosis and recovery screws a person for life. Under the Democratic current law and future policy plans, that person is not screwed for life.
Yeah, but in defense of the GOP, under their proposal that screwed life will be a hell of a lot shorter.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Israeli Electoral Endowment

My Israeli electoral quick reactions are already somewhat obsolete, as they were based on exit polling which turned out to underestimate Likud's performance dramatically. Nonetheless, some of the observations still hold, and I think there is an interesting psychological effect going on here in which perceptions about how the election will go (days or hours before the polls close) are affecting perceptions about how the election did go.

Let's be clear -- I'm not happy about the outcome of this election. The parties I support didn't do as well as I would have liked, by a considerable stretch. And it looks almost assured that Bibi will remain Prime Minister, which is a burgeoning disaster for Israel's international image, its relationship with America, and its long-term viability as a Jewish, democratic state. It feels like the right-wing won big last night.

But if one looks at the actual results, something odd emerges that conflicts with the narrative of a "crushing conservative victory." Let's divide the Knesset into five blocs: conservative, centrist, liberal, Arab, and religious. The conservative bloc in the last Knesset had 43 seats (20 for Likud, 12 for Jewish Home, and 11 for Yisrael Beitanu). The conservative bloc in the next Knesset will have ... 44 seats. 30 will be for Likud, 8 for Jewish Home, and 6 for Yisrael Beiteinu. Even from a progressive standpoint, it is more than a bit weird to think that an election where the right basically tread water, but individual seats shift from the far-right parties to the (relatively) mainstream right is a bad thing.

So if the right didn't increase its seat count, who did? The centrist bloc (Yesh Atid and Kadima) entered with 21 seats. It emerged the exact same -- 21 seats split between the newcomer Kulanu and Yesh Atid. The religious parties (Shas and UTJ) dropped from a combined 18 to a combined 13 -- a five seat dip. The liberal camp -- the seeming clear losers -- entered with 27 seats and left with 28; ZU gaining 3 seats while Meretz lost 2 (so a shift from the left to the center-left). The real winner was the Arab bloc, which pulled in 14 MKs (a gain of 3) to become the third largest party in the Knesset.

So basically, the election left us in a similar position to where we started, except that the Arab political parties gained at the expense of the Ultra-Orthodox Jewish religious parties. Why all the long faces?

One answer is that staying in a "similar position" is not exactly good news for people who think Israel's current position is all too precarious. To the extent this was an opportunity to reverse Israel's eroding global standing, it is a dramatic missed opportunity. Abba Eban would be rolling in his grave. Another possibility is that others don't view Kulanu the way that I do, basically viewing it as part of the right-wing camp. If one takes that perspective, then this was a landslide conservative victory. As noted, I don't take that position -- but the proof will soon be in the pudding.

But I think the bigger issue is that many people really believed that this election would be different -- not just based on idle hopes, but based on polling data. The last few days of polling all pointed to a big Zionist Union victory, and so that became the baseline of what "success" was. When the exit polls came out and showed a neck and neck race, that was a big comedown even though a few weeks prior "neck and neck" was the watchword of the entire race. And when the actual results started to come in and demonstrated that the right had done even better than the exit polls predicted, it felt like a calamity -- not because it objectively was one, but because we had sufficiently altered our expectations and then seen them dashed.

Maybe this is putting on a brave face. Not too brave -- I'm very pessimistic about the next few years for Israel -- but "brave" in the sense that I'm resisting a narrative of a right-wing groundswell emerging out of this election. But I honestly, truly don't believe its accurate. More than half of Israelis, now-represented by 62 MKs, voted for parties that reject both right-wing nationalism and ultra-Orthodox religious conservatism. This is not the worst thing. This is not a catastrophe.

It's just the regular type of bad.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Israeli Election Quick Reactions

Confused about the Israeli election outcome? I guarantee you you're not alone. And while my knowledge is highly partial and Americanized, I'd still like to think I'm decidedly above median. In any event, take what I'm saying with a grain of salt. And what I'm saying can be boiled down to, "things are probably going to be okay, but with a non-negligible chance of catastrophe."

Note: For numbers, I'm going to rely on this average of exit polls, though of course final allocation of MKs may vary. Those results are as follows (parenthetical indicates current seats):
Zionist Union: 27 (21 -- Labor 15, Hatnuah 6)

Likud: 27 (18 [previously in coalition with Yisrael Beiteinu which added another 13 MKs])

United Arab List: 13 (11 across three parties)

Yesh Atid: 12 (19)

Kulanu: 10 (N/A)

Jewish Home: 8 (12)

Shas: 7 (11)

United Torah Judaism: 6 (7)

Meretz: 5 (6)

Yisrael Beitenu: 5 (13)
The main potential shake-up at this stage is if the far-right Yahud party squeaks over threshold and takes four seats. If it does, those seats would likely come at the expense of one each from Zionist Union, Kulanu, Yesh Atid, and the United Arab List -- in other words, a pretty substantial right-ward swing.

Okay, without further delay, here are the highlights as I understand them.

Bibi the Cannibal. The main headlines you're reading now talk about Likud's late-breaking surge to either tie or exceed the vote count for the left-of-center Zionist Union. And while that's true, it's also misleading -- the question is where those votes came from. It appears that for the most part, Bibi cannibalized votes from other, further right-wing parties. Naftali Bennett's Jewish Home is at 8 seats and Yisrael Beytanu is down to a mere 5. The upshot is that those three parties dropped from 43 to 40 MKs.

Many attribute Likud's late turnaround to him taking a hard right turn in the final days of the campaign -- capped off by his best Paul Revere cum Pam Geller cry of "the Arabs are coming!" Now that the immediate danger of a liberal landslide has dissipated, he's sounding more conciliatory notes by promising to promote the welfare of "all of Israel's Jewish and non-Jewish citizens."

The Arabs are coming. Racist though its intent and effect may have been, Bibi was at least descriptively accurate -- this was an election where the Israeli Arab community flexed its political muscle. Two additional seats in the Knesset may not seem like a ton, but becoming the third biggest party (behind traditional powerhouses Likud and Labor) is no small thing. And having united under a single banner, the UAL is poised to wield unprecedented influence in the next Knesset. Indeed, the big question now is whether the Arab parties will break their long-standing policy of refusing to join the government. Of the constituent elements of the UAL, only Balad (a pan-Arab nationalist party) seems absolutely implacably opposed to such an arrangement. Sufficient incentives from Labor could encourage a UAL split and a landmark moment in Israeli political history.

Whose coalition is it, anyway? People keep talking about the right-wing having an easier path to forming a government than the left. And, well, maybe ... but it isn't really as straightforward as that. Canvassing the results, the right bloc starts with 40 MKs (from Likud, Jewish Home, and Yisrael Beiteinu). Add another 13 from the religious UTJ and Shas and they're up to 53. To get over that 61 vote hump, they need somebody else -- and pretty much the only plausible "somebody else" is Moshe Kahlon's Kulanu party. Though running an avowedly centrist campaign, Kulanu's conservative roots have caused many to slot them into the right-wing camp. This is an evaluation I continue to pushback against. Kahlon is, to put it mildly, no fan of Bibi's. And I am extremely skeptical that he wants to be the furthest left member of the government coalition. The political positions he's run on bear a lot in common with the Zionist Union. Moreover, Kulanu's highest-profile member, former US Ambassador Michael Oren, has expressed significant concern over the deterioration of the US/Israel relationship, and he has to know that this would accelerate in dramatic fashion under a purely right-wing government.

So what about a left-wing government? They start with 44 MKs via Zionist Union, Yesh Atid, and Meretz -- with another 13 if UAL was in the picture. In that case, Kulanu's additional 10 MKs puts them over the top, and one has to think Herzog will pull out every stop to make that happen. But assuming that isn't in the cards, Isaac Herzog's path to the Prime Minister's office becomes much harder. Adding in Kulanu puts the center-left camp to 54, but it would be well-nigh impossible for him to get above that because the religious parties and Yesh Atid are mortal enemies. Perhaps he could buy them off, but it seems more likely that they'd be able to fit into a right-wing government without as much trouble.

The final alternative is a unity government combining Likud and the Zionist Union with Kulanu. Those three parties alone carry more than 60 MKs (and that coalition could probably bring in Yesh Atid too). It's not clear whether ZU or Likud really would like that (though it might be the best option available to ZU). But I have to think Kulanu would really like that -- it'd be a centrist party in a centrist government. The other party which would be a big winner in this arrangement would be none other than the UAL. It would become leader of the opposition as the largest party outside of government -- arguably the best possible outcome for the Arab list because being head of opposition means they are incorporated into many high level security and policy decisions. It's a way to "enter government" without actually entering government.

Kahlon the Kingmaker. Ultimately, the results of this election really boil down to Kulanu and what it wants. Does it want a pure right-wing government? It can easily make that happen. Does it want a left-wing government? Harder, but potentially still doable with the right suasion. Does it want a centrist government? If it holds out for one, it's hard to see how either of the big parties can avoid it. All roads lead through Moshe Kahlon. And since my gut tells me he doesn't want to be part of a hard-right, anti-Arab, and internationally isolated coalition, my sense is that he'll be able to force an outcome that isn't great, but isn't catastrophic either.

UPDATE: ...or the exit polling could be entirely off and Likud has a five seat advantage over Labor. Incredibly, this doesn't change the above analysis that much -- the right core now sits at 44 MKs, with another 14 from the religious bloc. So it'd still need Kulanu. But with these results it is easier for Netanyahu to claim a mandate.

If I'm trying to salvage anything, it's that (a) it looks like Yahud is still out in the cold, and (b) a very thin majority of voters voted for non-right-wing, non-religious parties. The center, left, and UAL together combine for 62 seats.

Revolutionary Fervor

One of the more stressful things about being a graduate student, or other aspiring academic, is the constant refrain that there isn't necessarily a job waiting for you at the end. It's an exceptionally tight market right now, and many extremely smart and qualified candidates won't end up with a position. It can get a bit wearying. And it can get a bit infuriating when you see who has gotten these oh-so-rare positions:
An American college professor was arrested by Miami-Dade police on Saturday for launching into an extended rant about Venezula and smoking on an airplane, all of which was captured on video.

Karen Halnon, identified as an associate professor of sociology at Penn State, was on an American Airlines flight from Nicaragua to Miami, according to television station WFOR.

“The United States has declared war on Venezuela,” Halnon repeated throughout the video, which was posted to YouTube as a clip titled "Crazy woman on a plane."

“Venezuela has been declared a national security threat," she repeated on the video.

"You're a national security threat," another passenger shot back.

Halnon later told WFOR that she was returning from a trip to Nicaragua working with single mothers and felt the need to talk to people about the destructiveness of U.S. imperialism.

On the tape, she eventually unbuckled her seatbelt as passengers around her groaned.

"My great hero Hugo Chavez nationalized the oil supply," she said. Halnon was then informed by a flight attendant that the police would be arresting her shortly.
Oh lord. You "felt the need" to go on a bender about the joys of your favorite autocrat? Which do you prefer -- his paeons to Carlos the Jackal and Idi Amin, or his penchant for jailing judges he dislikes? To quote Ron White, "next time you have a thought, just let it go."

Oh, but it gets better:
At one point, Halnon calmly lit a cigarette as the passenger next to her got up and left.

"This girl's a gangster," another onlooker said.

Hanlon confirmed to WFOR that she indeed lit a cigarette on the plane.

“I took a few puffs out of it," she said. "Every other revolutionary smokes. Fidel. Daniel Ortega. Tomás Borge. Che Guevara."
"Every other revolutionary smokes"? What are you, twelve years old? This is a joke.

In any event, if you're a sociology graduate student wondering who's getting the job you so desperately want, here's your answer. Blergh.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Everybody Knows Nothing

It is a long-standing piece of advice on this blog to never listen to journalists talking about a legal issue, because they will butcher it. Badly. I would like to be able to say that this is contradistinction to listening to someone who (a) is a member of Congress and (b) has written the legal provision in question. Alas, that isn't always the case either, as the latest fiasco surrounding Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) demonstrates.

For those of you who missed out on the latest, there is a media narrative that Senator Cotton (while a House member) introduced langauge that "would 'automatically' punish family members of people who violate U.S. sanctions against Iran, levying sentences of up to 20 years in prison." In other words, the claim is that if I violated Iranian sanctions policy, Cotton's amendment would allow for my mom to be tossed in jail for 20 years ("automatically").

The Popehat link above pretty conclusively demonstrates that this is untrue: the law prohibits trade with certain high-ranking Iranian officials; Cotton's amendment would have similarly prohibited trade with close relatives of these officials (so, for example, one could not evade the sanctions by giving a fat contract to the prohibited-person's wife). This is a policy that can be supported or opposed on the merits (it does close a loophole for getting around the sanctions program, but it also arguably punishes innocent people if the bad guy's grandson has no real connection to the human rights violations). But no matter what you think of it, it is not (and is a far cry from) what is described in the preceding paragraph -- jail terms for family members of those who violate the sanctions law.

The problem is that Cotton, Harvard J.D. '02, doesn't seem to know what his own law would do. In a colloquy with then-Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) (Harvard J.D., '83 -- Harvard Law really is coming out poorly here), it is evident that neither one understands how this law interacts with a mens rea requirement. Honestly, Grayson seems more confused here than Cotton does -- but since it's Cotton's language, it would be nice if had cleared things up rather than engaging in irrelevant blather about the constitutional rights of Iranian citizens. Instead we got much confusion in Congress, which, naturally, the media made far worse by conflating who can and can't be traded with with who will be punished.

In conclusion, never trust anyone about anything, because everyone is a moron.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

An Eruv in the Hamptons

Lest you thought that the "Jews call everything anti-Semitic" defense of obvious anti-Semitism was limited to the Israel context, check out these remarks by an activist opposing the construction of an eruv in the Hamptons:
The Forward felt compelled to ask whether [anti-eruv activist Jack] O'Dwyer thought some of his more inflammatory comments might get construed as anti-Semitic.

“I’m not going to fall for that,” he said. “I don’t feel like answering questions about whether I’m a bigot against Jews. That’s like asking, ‘When did you stop beating your wife?’ They throw it [the anti-Semitic charge] around too much. Nobody believes it anymore.”

With that in mind, Jack, any final words for your Orthodox Jewish neighbors?

“This is America. This is not Israel. This is a rotten thing, for religion to lie its head off and sue a town. Get that stuff off our telephone poles. Go back to where you belong. You don’t belong in the Hamptons with that illogical superstition. That’s my message.”
Also, while I have often joked that half of Orthodox Jewish scholarship is imposing atextual onerous burdens on the community and the other coming up with increasingly clever loopholes to get around them, it really doesn't make sense to me this narrative that the eruv allows Orthodox Jews to "break" Jewish law. Obviously it doesn't -- Jewish law restricts certain activities (on the Sabbath) in locations which are not enclosed by the eruv. It's part of the law, it's not a breach of it (which is why it's probably a good idea for non-Jews not to tell Jews what their religious obligations are, but that ship has long since sailed).