Saturday, February 11, 2017

Happy Birthday To Me!

It's my (actual me, not the blog's) birthday today! Board games and deep dish pizza is the plan for the evening, and I consider that a very good birthday plan.

I was going to write a post about Trump's latest blunder into one solid Israel position (a surprisingly strong critique of settlements) and out of another (the ridiculous decision announcement by Nikki Haley that we'd block former Palestinian PM Salam Fayyad -- possibly the Palestinian leader that is most amenable to Israel and America's final vision for peace in the region -- from an appointment as head of the UN mission to Libya). But one of my presents to me is to be able to ignore such churn for at least a day, and besides Kevin Drum basically gets there anyway.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Hold My Beer

Kevin Drum reads Andrew Stuttaford on Brexit, and the horrors the UK is subjected itself to in the process of trying to negotiate it. Drum concludes:
If there were any real advantage to this, it might be worth it. But just to keep Polish immigrants out? This might be one of the dumbest things any country has ever voluntarily subjected itself to. 
And keep in mind, Drum's writing as an American. So he knows a thing or two about countries voluntarily subjecting themselves to dumb things.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

9th Circuit Declines to Stay Injunction of Trump's Refugee Ban

You can read the per curiam opinion here (the panel included two Democratic appointees and one Republican appointee). It is worth stressing that this is still a very preliminary stage of the litigation. But the 9th Circuit's analysis doesn't bode well for how the ban will fare "on the merits" -- particularly in how it treats the question of a potential religiously discriminatory motivation.

And I have to say, kudos to the judges (and clerks) on the panel for putting out such a thorough and well-reasoned opinion on a very significant time crunch.

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

The Berkeley Kids are Alright

Last term, I taught Introduction to American Politics at the University of California, Berkeley. As you can imagine, teaching "Introduction to American Politics" at the University of California, Berkeley during the Fall of 2016 was an interesting experience. Sometimes instructors eagerly grasp at the rare "teachable moment" that falls into our laps; last fall was one long (long) "teachable moment" when it came to American politics.

This term, I'm teaching "Just Political Participation." And of course, what do we get in our first month of term but a scheduled speech by Milo and ensuing protests -- a fantastic illustration of many of the course themes in a class about "Just Political Participation". The academic spirits have blessed or cursed me to be a current events commentator. So this week, I decided to devote class to discussion of Milo's (canceled) talk, and the respective choices of the Berkeley administration, the Berkeley College Republicans, and the protesters (both violent and non-violent).

Berkeley students, of course, have a bit of a reputation on the national stage -- basically, they are presumed to embody whatever the day's shibboleth for radical leftism is. In the 1960s, it was radical free speech, yesterday, it was safe spaces and trigger warnings, today, it unwillingness to engage with alternative views and an outright endorsement of beating up anyone to the right of Bernie Sanders.

This was not my experience. Whenever current events have been discussed, my students have consistently shown a curiosity about the world around them and a willingness to engage with arguments and positions different from their own, and this week was no different. The students leaned left (as college-attending millennials tend to do), but the predominant position in both my classes was opposition to violent protests coupled with utter contempt for Milo and the politics he represented. Some persons took outlier positions on either of these matters, and their views were given respectful consideration. Nobody's views could be predetermined by their personal "identity" background -- there were students of color who had planned to attend Milo's talk because they were curious to hear what he had to say and there were white students emphatically attacking it as hate speech. On that score, alone, what we saw was a testament to the importance and value of diversity in the Berkeley community.

The conversation was wide-ranging and intellectual. People talked about the tactical benefits and drawbacks of protesting (this post is germane), as well as the dignitary issues when persons targeted by Milo's particularly odious brand of bullying are forced to tailor their responses so that Milo doesn't reap benefits (this post is germane). There were differing views on whether the violent aspects of the protests were exaggerated by the media or genuinely reflective of what was going on; persons with these differences engaged respectfully with one another. Persons concerned about violence conducted by the protesters thoughtfully engaged with those who wondered why other forms of violence (such as that by police suppressing protest, or by Milo's own supporters backing him up, or by his listeners harassing targeted minorities in his wake) got less attention. Nuanced positions that often don't get articulated (such as the view that the UC-Berkeley administration had no business shutting down Milo's talk, but that Berkeley students were nonetheless obligated to get out onto the street and make their own views known) received airing and were debated. We got to talk about comparative rules on hate speech, the benefits and virtues of the American rule, the value and the limits of the "marketplace of ideas" metaphor, and many other things besides. And I got perhaps the most amount of nodding when I urged them to resist simplistic solutions that "make a hard question easy." They wanted complexity, nuance, consideration, and thought.

All and all, I came away very impressed. Perhaps I shouldn't have been so surprised, though. The University of California, Berkeley, is one of the world's great public universities. I tell all of my students, at the start of each term, that the fact that they are at Berkeley means they are among the very brightest and most thoughtful persons of their generation, and that I consequently expect all of them to contribute the rare and valuable perspective they possess to class discussions. This week, my students rose to the occasion in fantastic fashion. Kudos to them. The Berkeley kids are, it turns out, all right.

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Not Anti-Semitic, Just Anti-Rothschild

The latest UK Labour antisemitism controversy comes from Essex Councilor John Clarke, who has some interesting thoughts about the Jews Rothschilds.
The councillor, who is also chair of governors of local Essex primary school White Notley, and the local Parish Council, promoted the tweet, which is headlined “Israel owns the senate, Congress and the Executive” of America… but who owns Israel?”.

The text of the post reads: “The Rothschild Family.. has been creating almost all of the world's money at interest for a couple of hundred years”.

It adds that they “have used usury (money lending) alongside modern Israel as a imperial instrument to take over the world and all of it’s [sic] resources, including you and I… and if you have a problem with that, you’re and anti-Semite.”
Antisemitic? Clarke "assures" you that it isn't!
Challenged by users about the post, Clarke, who is the current chair of Whitham branch of Labour, and was the constituency’s prospective parliamentary candidate, repeatedly denied being anti-Semitic.

After sending the tweet, he was challenged, and replied by saying: “It would appear I am being called Antisemitic… I can assure you I am NOT”.

Probed further he said: “I agree original account probably Antisemitic. I am anti-Rothschild not Antisemitic. End of.”

He added: “Antisemite smear in constant overuse as those who use it expand their power base”, and that he objects to “Rothschild & co. against their greed, monopolistic exploitations & unchecked power.”
You know, it's strange but until today I had no real idea who the Rothschilds were historically or what they were up to today. I actually took the time to wikipedia them, and it looks like nowadays they're pretty ordinary set of quiet rich folks (if you're Clarke, sub "quiet" with "shadowy"), who just happen (for reasons entirely unconnected to antisemitism, naturally) to lie at the center of a host of outlandish conspiracy theories positing their world domination.

In any event, I learned something new. And speaking of new, here's a new permutation on the classic Livingstone Formulation:
[Clarke] concluded by saying he would block those who “accuse me of Antisemitism merely to close down legitimate criticism of Israel &/or Rothschild family. End of.
In any event, I'm sure Labour will treat this issue with all the seriousness of purpose and progressivism that it has characterized its handling of all the other antisemitism complaints that have wracked its membership.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Heads Trump Wins Tails Immigrants Lose

Donald Trump is not happy that courts have enjoined parts of his refugee ban.
To be sure, I don't think it is wrong for a President to express dissatisfaction with a judicial ruling. I don't even think it is wrong for a President to claim that a judicial decision will lead to bad outcomes (I do think it is wrong to impugn the basic legitimacy of the legal system, as Trump has repeatedly done from assailing the "Mexican" judge in the Trump University case to referring to the "so-called" judge who enjoined the refugee ban).

But it is worth unpacking exactly the argument Trump is setting up here. Now that his executive order has been enjoined and refugees and visa holders can enter the United States as they could before, President Trump wants us to hold the judge who issued the injunction (and the entire "court system") responsible if something bad happens. Based on past behavior, we can be pretty confident he would do this regardless of whether his EO would have kept out the perpetrator or not. The fact of a terrorist attack, in a world where Trump's EO isn't in effect, would demand that we impose such an EO.

Imagine, however, that the EO had remained in force unmolested, and we still experienced a terrorist attack. Would the lesson Trump would have us draw is "clearly, my EO wasn't effective in blocking terrorists and should be rescinded"? Of course not. In that circumstance, Trump would say "see -- this attack demonstrates why the ban on refugees and visits from these Muslim countries is essential!" (Undoubtedly, the exact phrasing would be far less comprehensible).

In other words: If the EO is not in effect and we experience a terrorist attack, that would prove we need the EO. If the EO is in effect and we experience a terrorist attack, that would ... still prove we need the EO.

(And, we might add, if the EO is in effect and we don't experience a terrorist attack, that would prove the EO is working and needs to be maintained).

The point is, there's virtually no set of facts wherein, under Trump's logic, we shouldn't be banning Muslims. The game is rigged, it's up to us not to play it.