Monday, June 17, 2019

L'Étoile du Nord Roundup

Greetings from Owatonna, Minnesota. I'm here at my in-laws house in the interregnum between a family wedding on the north shore last weekend and a Carleton Reunion next weekend. The former represented my first trek to the far north of Minnesota, and it was truly gorgeous -- really embodying my favorite type of nature (to wit: very green and very forested).

* * *

Everybody seems to hate the "electability" argument for Joe Biden, but Kevin Drum asks whether anyone is actually making it. My hypothesis is that Biden's stance atop the polls baffles a lot of political observers -- how is he so seemingly popular with Democratic primary electorate, given his many weaknesses -- and so they infer that many of his supporters back him reluctantly as the safe, "electable" choice (for my part, I think it's still name-recognition, and he'll fade as the primary season moves forward).

Corey Robin has interesting-looking book coming out on Clarence Thomas as an Afro-Pessimist -- an outlook which very much coheres with my own.

Fascinating dialogue between Yossi Klein Halevi, author of "‘Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor," and Mohammed Dajani, who decided to respond. It's long but very much worth your time.

Jonathan Adler tracks some non-standard splits in the recent SCOTUS decisions and wonders if a new "pragmatist" axis is emerging.

Lest we were worried that the DC Dyke March's ban on Jewish Pride flags was the start of a trend -- looks like that isn't happening. Most Dyke Marches around the nation are not following their lead.

There's No Wrong Way To Terrorize a Black Guy in the Eighth Circuit

Last week, the Eighth Circuit released an opinion in Clark v. Clark, a case involving a law-abiding Black gun owner in Missouri. Police responded to claims of gunshots in the vicinity of a Missouri rest stop. On arrival, they encountered Gregory Clark, a Black man sitting a table outside the building. Seeing they were officers, Clark immediately handed over his driver's license, retired military ID, and concealed carry permit, and also informed them he was armed. He was questioned if he had heard any gunfire (he hadn't) and where he was going (Chicago).

Then the police ran his identification (which came back clean). Clark was apparently not wild that the police ran his ID, which he thought was potentially a case of racial profile, and asked a question gesturing in that direction ("[would you] have done that to anyone else?"). The officer responded poorly, angrily replying "don’t play the race card with me", and returned the identification cards back to Clark.

The police then left Clark, and Clark in turn returned to his vehicle and drove away in the direction of Chicago. The police trailed him, and Clark began to fear for his life. He made a U-turn, and officers continued to follow. After more cop cars began to arrive on the scene, he pulled over to the side of the road and placed both hands outside of the window to show he wasn't holding his gun. Officers nonetheless approached the car with weapons drawn, one pointing his gun at Clark while ordering him out of the car. After a bit more confusion and discussion, it was eventually determined that Clark had committed no crime and done nothing wrong, and he was allowed to leave once more.

The Eighth Circuit, in an opinion by Judge Erickson joined by Judge Colloton, concluded that the entirety of the police conduct -- which culminated, let's recall, in the police pointing their weapon at a Black man who had done absolutely nothing wrong and had seemingly taken every conceivable step to scream out "I am not a threat" -- was wholly lawful.

And that's why I flag this case. In an alarming number of circumstances, there is nothing a Black man can realistically do to avoid having a gun pulled on him by police. He can be entirely law-abiding, forthright about his (legal) gun ownership), compliant with police demands, going out of his way to and keep his hands clear -- doesn't matter. And likewise, he cannot seek to avoid police interactions -- even knowing (apparently accurately) that they put him at risk of having a gun pulled on him for no reason whatsoever. Judge Erickson, for example, argued that both Clark's highway U-turn to avoid the police, and his affirmative decision to put his hands out the window to show that he wasn't holding his gun, were "unusual and may be indicative of guilty conduct."

Chief Judge Smith disagreed -- and it is perhaps not coincidental that Judge Smith is the only African-American Judge on the Eighth Circuit. In his view, while the initial encounter at the rest stop was lawful (and I agree -- while I understand why Clark might have felt aggrieved, he was the only person in the vicinity where gunshots had been reported and he admitted he was carrying a gun), the police response to Clark on the highway was not (Judge Smith ultimately would have found that the officer nonetheless enjoyed qualified immunity).

Put simply, Clark is allowed to not want to interact with the police. African-American men have excellent reason to try to avoid police encounters for fully innocent reasons like "wanting to avoid an elevated chance of having a gun pulled on you" -- as this case well demonstrates. But there's really nothing they can do to avoid it -- including "literally trying to avoid it".

Meanwhile, today the Eighth Circuit en banc dismissed, by 5-4 vote, Dorian Johnson's claims against Ferguson, Missouri and Office Michael Brown for conduct stemming from the infamous shooting of Michael Brown (Johnson was walking beside Brown during the incident). Johnson alleged that Wilson ordered the pair to "get on the fucking sidewalk", then abruptly parked his car in front of the duo, blocking their path, struck Brown with the car door, got into a scuffle with Brown, and ended up firing his weapon at the pair (missing Johnson but striking and killing Brown). Nonetheless, the Court concluded that the pair had not been seized because (a) Johnson did not need to "remain by Brown's side" while Wilson and Brown fought and (b) the position of Wilson's police car did not literally block them entirely from fleeing the area.

The dissenters (Judge Melloy writing for Chief Judge Smith and Judges Erickson and Kelly) simply make mince-meat of this argument. The touchstone question for a seizure is whether the officer's actions would "have communicated to a reasonable person that he was not at liberty to ignore the police presence and go about his business". There might not be a single area of constitutional law with more ludicrous precedents than this -- the sorts of scenarios where courts say, with apparent straight faces, that people would feel free "to ignore the police presence" are beyond absurd (to take one example, cited in the dissent: in United States v. Hayden, we were told that any reasonable person would feel free to ignore the police when the officer pulled up alongside the defendant, shined a flashlight on him, and screamed “Police!”). Yet even here, the facts clearly "communicated an intent to use a roadblock to stop Johnson’s movement," and therefore a seizure.

The argument that the roadblock did not literally prevent all modes of escape from the area should be too ludicrous to reply to if the majority did not rely on it. Not only is that unrealistic in practice -- just how tight must the dragnet be, then, before it is conceded to be impossible to escape? Must the officers all lock arms in a circle? -- it has nothing to do with the legal inquiry, which is whether a reasonable person would understand the officers as trying to communicate an order to stop. Abruptly driving your police car to place it directly in front of your quarry's path does that, and it's not close. There's virtually no question that had Johnson attempted to "simply ignore" Wilson's directives the officer would not have thought "well, that's perfectly innocent conduct reflecting his right to ignore me under the Constitution" (look what happened to Clark!).

Of course, it's possible that in this case the extremely high-profile and heavily-reported nature of the controversy might have influenced the court's decision -- in particular, they might believe that the facts might not have been as Johnson alleged. But it is hornbook law that at this stage in the proceeding judges must accept Johnson's factual allegations as true -- disputes of fact are addressed at a later stage. And that matters because this case sets a precedent, which in turn applies to other cases down the line where the facts haven't been as thoroughly hashed out in the media as here. It is not just Dorian Johnson but any person who finds a police car screeching to halt inches in front of them after being screamed at by the officer who now will find that -- contrary to any actual "reasonable person's" perspective -- it would wholly unreasonable for them to believe that the police were communicating that they needed to submit.

I'd say that the majority might have allowed itself to be swayed by the public nature of the controversy, except that gives them far too much credit. The fact is, the Eighth Circuit has near-infinite tolerance for police excesses directed against the citizens in its jurisdiction, in cases of any degree of public prominence. Clark is a low-profile case and Johnson is a very high-profile one, but they're tied together by the unifying cord of all the Eighth Circuit's jurisprudence in this area: extreme, complete, and unshakable deference to the police over and against ordinary citizens.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

On the Oberlin Verdict

You might have seen the news that a bakery won a $44 million dollar judgment ($11 million in compensatory damages, plus $33 million in punitive damages) against Oberlin College (under Ohio law, the punitive damages are capped at $22 million, so that will likely be reduced).

The short background is this: An Oberlin student tried to buy alcohol at the bakery with a fake ID. The ID was rejected, and he tried to leave with the bottle anyway. A store employee gave chase, a scuffle ensued, and the student and two friends (all who were Black) were arrested. Many on campus believed the incident was one of racial profiling, and protests by Oberlin students against the bakery quickly ensued. The bakery was labeled a "racist" institution, and the college briefly suspended its contracts with the bakery.

Ultimately, the students plead guilty to a crime; and follow-up investigations suggested that there was no pattern of profiling by the bakery.

Under these facts, it seems pretty clear that the bakery was treated poorly by the Oberlin community. That said, a damage reward of this magnitude poses a massive threat to free speech on campus -- a concern that many of those crowing over the verdict seem worryingly unconcerned about.

The evidence that Oberlin, as an institution, was responsible for the allegedly libelous statements by the students (and we should wonder whether claims of racism--an evaluative opinion--can qualify as libelous, though in context it's arguable that here it was an opinion based on undisclosed facts) is quite thin. Not non-existent, but thin. The administration let students use the copiers. They didn't censor the student government (an independent body) which issued a condemnation of the bakery. Administrators were "present" at the protests and didn't try to shut them down. One reportedly helped pass out fliers, and then wrote a remarkably bratty message considering "sic[cing] the students" on a dissenting professor before deciding that the college needed to "put the matter behind us."

Some of this -- like the "sic" message -- is genuinely bad behavior. Some of it is the college not proactively censoring its students. None of it comes close to justifying an eight-figure damage verdict.

But if the idea is that this verdict "sends a message" to colleges, what is the message they're likely to receive? Put differently, what is the compliance takeaway here, if you're a college administrator?

Here's a hint: it isn't "don't libel local businesses". It's "don't do anything -- whether in the form of action or inaction -- which could even hint at tolerating speech that the most hostile possible jury could consider to be libelous towards a sympathetic plaintiff." The latter is quite different from the former.

One thing I've learned from spending some time in "free speech" oriented social movements is that free speech has a lot of fair-weather friends. There are some principled actors. There are many more whose avowed commitment to free speech is in fact wholly one-sided, and in fact are eagerly insistent that colleges and universities in particular act against student or faculty speech that they dislike. They want faculty to be fired and students to be punished, suspended, or expelled; they want their clubs defunded and their newspapers pulled from the shelves; they harbor a deep populist resentment towards the entire modern educational system which yearns for an outlet.

That doesn't describe everyone, but it describes enough potential jurors that -- when tens of millions of dollars are on the line -- colleges are pretty much going to be forced to accommodate them. All the more so in communities where town-gown relations are frayed. I've heard that was already true in Oberlin. Certainly, the decision by a local judge to disallow the students what seemed to be a perfectly normal plea deal because doing so would supposedly validate the student protests -- something that I've mostly seen to underscore the community "standing up" to campus bullies -- to me instead underlines a deep-felt hostility and antipathy towards Oberlin, a desire to show those snooty hippies what's what.

(Likewise, if my alma mater of Carleton College -- which in many ways has a similar profile to Oberlin as a rural, highly-ranked national school with a liberal student body, an elite reputation, and iffy town-gown relations -- got sued by a local business, I imagine any trial attorney they'd hire would try to do anything and everything to keep the case away from a local jury).

And when you're trying to comply with that juror in mind, the need not to just avoid bad actions, but also avoid anything that the most negative possible factfinder could stretch to interpret as bad, ends up encompassing a lot of wholly innocent (or even laudatory) conduct. For example, having administrators observe student protests without interceding might seem to be a responsible, mature decision -- unless a hostile jury views it as a tacit endorsement and wonders why the administrators didn't try to proactively tamp down on the student speech. Which, in many circumstances, would itself be a free speech violation -- a fact which in turn emphasizes the impossible situation colleges will find themselves in.

Or another: in a bid to reduce tensions, Oberlin tried to cut a deal with the bakery where it wouldn't push to criminally prosecute first-time shoplifters. The bakery refused, saying shoplifting was a major source of lost revenue. They had every right to give this answer, but again, I've seen Oberlin's gesture interpreted in the most hostile possible light -- as granting all of its students a "get out of shoplifting free" card -- as if nobody had ever heard of alternatives to prosecution for first-time, low-level, non-violent offenses (let's not forgot the other side of the coin of bringing the full hammer of criminal law down upon every single shoplifting case).

I actually suspect that at least some, if not all, of the verdict won't survive an appeal. The damages are just so wildly out of sync with the college-qua-college's bad conduct, and the line between what the college did and the alleged libel so attenuated, that it seems very vulnerable. Plus, the conservative lawyers who've been backing the bakers have already got their headline, so I think they'll be more amenable to settlement than they had been before.

All of this is fully recognizing that the bakery was -- again, to reiterate -- treated poorly by the Oberlin community. The sort of conduct that many Oberlin students engaged in isn't just righteous anger or blowing off steam -- it hurts real people and impacts their real livelihood. But this verdict isn't about making a wronged bakery whole. It's a shot across the bow at institutes of higher education which many people simply loathe -- loathe for censoring speech and loathe for tolerating it, loathe for strangling student freedom and loathe for letting students run wild, loathe for their liberal uniformity and loathe for their diverse students bodies, loathe for thinking they're special and loathe for not making their specialness sufficiently accessible. That sort of loathing isn't healthy. And when it can get its hands on massive tort verdicts, it's positively dangerous.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Off To Minnesota

It's double-Minnesota-trouble!

I'm heading off to Minnesota tomorrow. First item on the agenda: a wedding in Lutsen (way in the northeastern corner of the state). That's this weekend. But next weekend is my college reunion, down in Northfield (pretty far south, relatively speaking). We'll be staying with my in-laws in Owatonna (as featured in the New York Times!) for the interim.

So I'll be pretty busy. Looking forward to the trip, but not looking forward to the long flight or equally long car rides. Minnesota is actually pretty big, especially once you stop ignoring the northern two-thirds of it!

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

What Do Holocaust Museums Do?

I thought this was a very powerful line from Dara Horn's criticism of Holocaust museums as a presumed panacea for curing antisemitism:
That the Holocaust drives home the importance of love is an idea, like the idea that Holocaust education prevents anti-Semitism, that seems entirely unobjectionable. It is entirely objectionable. The Holocaust didn’t happen because of a lack of love. It happened because entire societies abdicated responsibility for their own problems, and instead blamed them on the people who represented—have always represented, since they first introduced the idea of commandedness to the world—the thing they were most afraid of: responsibility.
Then as now, Jews were cast in the role of civilization’s nagging mothers, loathed in life and loved only once they are safely dead. In the years since I walked through Auschwitz at 15, I have become a nagging mother. And I find myself furious, being lectured by this exhibition about love—as if the murder of millions of people was actually a morality play, a bumper sticker, a metaphor. I do not want my children to be someone else’s metaphor. (Of course, they already are.) 

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Arkansas Anti-BDS Law Exposes Rifts in the First Amendment -- and Anti-Discrimination -- World

Arkansas is one of several states to have passed laws restricting state contractors from engaging in BDS (its law is, I think, unique in that it doesn't prohibit such contracts outright, but instead requires that the contractor give the state government a substantial discount). It is unique in that it is, to my knowledge, the only state that has so far prevailed in litigation -- a decision that now goes up to my old court, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.

Aside from its juicy public salience, the case is interesting for how much it has divided First Amendment scholars -- and not along "typical" lines. The Knight Institute for First Amendment Law at Columbia filed an amicus brief urging that the Arkansas law is unconstitutional, signed by some major First Amendment luminaries. These include Katherine Franke -- a prominent BDS supporter -- but also Geoff Stone, who was keynote speaker at the annual conference of the anti-BDS Academic Engagement Network a few years back, as well as UC-Berkeley Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky, another high-profile boycott opponent.

Meanwhile, another smaller group of First Amendment scholars filed their own brief defending the constitutionality of the law. While it's only signed by three people, they're quite serious names in their own right: Eugene Volokh (UCLA), Andrew Koppelman (Northwestern), and Michael Dorf (Cornell). Volokh is a libertarian-conservative, but Koppelman and Dorf are high-profile liberals -- and Koppelman in particular is a major figure in anti-discrimination law.

And the threat to anti-discrimination and public accommodations law is the major theme of their brief (in this, it is actually Volokh's sign-on to the brief that is most intriguing, as he has long been concerned that anti-discrimination laws intrude on First Amendment-protected speech). Dorf wrote an explanatory post that he opposes laws like Arkansas as policy, but crafting a doctrine that renders them susceptible to First Amendment challenge but doesn't open a wide door to challenging a raft of anti-discrimination law is hard -- and harder still with a Supreme Court that seems very thirsty in the latter regard. Says Dorf:
I agree that there is no compelling interest justifying the Arkansas law or others like it. Indeed, I think such laws are unwarranted. I oppose them on policy grounds. I also agree that there is a compelling interest in public accommodations laws. However, one must think strategically about such issues. The question is not what some liberal law professors regard as a compelling interest but what a majority of the Supreme Court will ultimately regard as compelling. I have no confidence that the Court would find a compelling interest in forbidding discrimination on the basis of LGBT status.
This dovetails with a more general worry about the Lochnerization of the First Amendment -- something I've written about as well -- which ought give pause about expanding the sorts of expressive-refusals which qualify for First Amendment protection. The more we're willing to code conduct as speech because it's done for expressive purposes -- well, can refuse to care for a trans patient for expressive reasons; one can refuse to enroll in Obamacare for expressive reasons; one can refuse to offer contraceptive coverage to one's employees for expressive reasons; one can refuse to transport a Muslim or Jew or Christian in your taxi for expressive reasons ... it goes on. Some of these we already are seeing, and seeing ratified by the conservative judiciary. If that's a trend that alarms you, one might hesitate about creating new doctrine that appears to accelerate it.

This is a risk I think that the anti-anti-BDS campaign simply has not paid sufficient attention to, in part because it bristles at the suggestion that it is defending a form of "discrimination". But the fact that it's been generally overlooked is precisely why it's so important that it be expressly grappled with as the doctrine starts to settle. There are, after all, elements of BDS campaigns which in my view represent quite straightforward cases of national origin discrimination, and to the extent that people are starting to reflexively cry "First Amendment" because the discrimination is expressively-motivated, that's a big problem.

To be sure, I'm not fully convinced by the Volokh/Koppelman/Dorf argument (and there's a serious problem with the "dueling hypocrisy" issue surrounding Masterpiece Cakeshop). There clearly seems to be something different about applying an "anti-boycott" law to a consumer buyer versus demanding a business be neutral in who it sells to (much less hires). How does one even police a consumer boycott (people don't buy Sodastreams every day!)? Perhaps the issue is that the laws targeting a consumer boycott takes otherwise clearly lawful conduct (not buying a Sodastream) and subjects it to civil sanctions solely based on the surrounding expression (I'm not buying a Sodastream because I'm anti-Israel, versus because I don't like carbonated beverages).

Yet as I've previously observed, this actually isn't that far off what discrimination law does on a daily basis: it's legal fire someone, but not legal to fire someone if one's doing it to "express the message" that "I hate Latinos". The latter, too converts conduct from licit to illicit based on something that very easily could be described as "expressive". This is why I find this issue to be genuinely nettlesome.

Of course, Dorf himself notes there might be a valid First Amendment claim against these laws "if the record contained evidence of censorial motivation on the part of the [state] legislature," namely, if the law was passed "for the purpose of suppressing the message sent by boycotts of Israel rather than because of what they regarded as the economic impact of boycotts of Israel." I think the evidence of such an expression-based motive is pretty strong in many of these cases (note how easily it could be avoided if legislators took my advice in crafting these bills!). So perhaps that's our out.

But the crux of the issue, for me, is that however this gets resolved, the resolution better take an eyes-wide-open approach to how the new doctrinal rules interrelate with anti-discrimination law, especially in the context of the ascendant conservative judiciary. So I am very glad that we are seeing someone raise the issue of how the anti-anti-BDS argument might threaten anti-discrimination law.

There are very good reasons why we intuitively think of boycotting as an expressive act that should be protected. There are also very good reasons why "boycott = expressive" runs the risk of taking a torch through important areas of anti-discrimination and public accommodations law. It is hence very important -- especially if we end up taking the boycott-protective position -- that we do so in a way that is careful and conscientious of the discrimination issue.

Botswana Court Decriminalizes Homosexuality

The law, a relic of British colonialism which carried a prison sentence of up to seven years, was tossed by the high court as a violation of the dignity, privacy, equality, and liberty to gay and lesbian:
"A democratic society is one that embraces tolerance, diversity and open-mindedness," Justice Michael Leburu said, according to CNN. Discussing the broad costs of discrimination, he added, "Societal inclusion is central to ending poverty and fostering shared prosperity."
Botswana is Africa's oldest continuous democracy.

Is Biden Lying About Bipartisanship?

Kevin Drum makes an interesting point, regarding Joe Biden's oft-mocked paeans to bipartisanship and the supposed willingness of Republicans to "work with him" once the Trump era has passed.
I have no idea what Joe Biden “really” believes about working with Republicans. But I will say this: he’s a politician. There’s zero reason to think he truly believes what he’s saying here. There’s also zero reason to think he doesn’t believe it. The fact that he said it is simply a null input. 
At the same time, Biden isn’t an idiot. Of course he knows what the modern Republican Party is like. But like Obama before him, he also knows that lots of people really like to hear paeans to bipartisanship. We political junkies may hate it, but ordinary people who don’t inhale cable news are suckers for the idea that we can all get along if we just give it a try—and there are way more of them than there are of us. Biden knows this, so that’s what he tells people. Whether he really believes it or not matters not a whit.
It is strange, when one thinks of it, that the possibility that Biden is simply mouthing a platitude that appeals to Joe Average Voter but which he knows full well is probably BS doesn't even occur to us. After all, I myself have talked a bit about the importance of being earnest -- of keeping a straight face and talking about bipartisanship and norms and neutral rules of procedure, even if one really is planning to string the opposition up by its entrails.

I'm not saying Biden is making this play. He's certainly the sort of beltway lifer that could be convinced that the modern GOP can be bargained with. But he also might be the sort of savvy inside player who understands that's now impossible. The whole problem is that either possibility should observationally yield Joe Biden singing the praises of bipartisanship.

Monday, June 10, 2019

The Role of Jewish Activists at the DC Dyke March

One thing that's been bandied about in the controversy about the DC Dyke March's decision to ban Jewish Pride flags (for being allegedly too similar to an Israeli flag) is the role that Jewish members of the DCDM played in proposing the policy, defending it public, and later in enforcing it, as part of the group of bouncers seeking to keep Jewish counterprotesters outside of the event.

But "role" is a vague term, and I'm curious about the specifics. Specifically, I can imagine three potential roles the Jewish members could have played in bringing about the Jewish Pride flag.

  1. The policy banning Jewish Pride flags was proposed by other members, and the Jewish members agreed to it, ratified it, or otherwise signaled it was permissible.
  2. Some policy regarding Jewish symbols was proposed by other members, and the Jewish members modified or modulated it -- possibly to make it more limited (i.e., initially it was a ban on all Jewish symbols), or possibly to make it more expansive (i.e. initially it was solely a ban on the Israeli flag, as such).
  3. The Jewish members proposed this policy sua sponte -- it was their idea to have a policy whereby Jewish Pride flags were banned; DCDM wasn't really considering having a policy regarding Jewish Pride flags until the Jewish members brought it up.
In all of these, to one extent or another, the Jewish members might be thought of as having "set up" the DCDM, at least to the extent they presented the policy as a valid compromise that would be viewed as permissible within the Jewish community when anyone could have known it would provoke a furious backlash. But in some they have considerably more agency than others.

On that note, though, the third possibility -- or the "more expansive" iteration of the second -- is the most interesting, because it raises the possibility that the DCDM as a whole viewed itself as deferring to its Jewish members and might have even been taken aback by the strength of the broader communal response. That's hard to process because it's so obvious to us the way in which a policy like this is harmful to Jews, polices Jews, and gatekeeps Jews. But I have to remind myself that most non-Jews don't know that much about Jews, and in particular don't know enough to necessarily realize that the Jews in their little circle who are assuring them "this is fine, this is okay, if anyone gets upset it's just the usual right-wing rabble-rousers" aren't actually representative.

And likewise, remembering that Jews generally pay more attention to Jewish issues than non-Jews means the Jewish DCDM members were among the most likely to have vivid memories of Chicago, and most likely to have strong opinions about what the Jewish Pride flag represents. It strikes me as entirely plausible that they leveraged their "insider knowledge" to present a narrative where this flag was the banner of the infiltrators and the pinkwashers -- a threat that they knew of and were doing the service of warning DCDM about in advance. From their vantage, they were dissipating a threat to Palestinian or Arab safety at the march that otherwise might have gone unnoticed -- like someone who knows a subtle "insider" gesture of White supremacy that, precisely because of its superficial banality, can normally be made in public settings without challenge.

Or maybe not. The Jewish members could have been in reactive role, agreeing with a proposal made by others, and had little to do with placing this issue on their agenda. Most obviously, this could have been a position spearheaded by Palestinian members (or people who identify strongly as "pro-Palestinian" -- though the latter group, of course, overlaps significantly with the Jewish members). As I said, the particular role that the Jewish members played in promulgating this policy is opaque -- other than that they stood (literally) on the front lines to defend it.

But I don't think that it's implausible that their role was a relatively active one -- that at least in part this happened because they wanted it to happen. It is an interesting fact about what I call "dissident minorities" that they often have a material interest in not making the spaces they occupy inclusive to the broader membership of their minority group. A DCDM where more Jews feel comfortable marching is a DCDM where these Jews, in particular, are less influential and less powerful. And so, far from being the brake that prevents the space from going to far, often times they're the accelerator pushing it forward and the bouncers standing between their "compatriots" at the entrance (as was quite literally the case here).

So it's reasonable to wonder if that's what was going on here -- anti-Zionist Jews, in a sense, egging the march on, trying to maneuver it into an antagonistic position towards the broader Jewish community while simultaneously using their own identities to ratify the legitimacy of the posture.

Sunday, June 09, 2019

I'm Taking A Break

I just took my Twitter account private (thread here) and announced that I'm taking a break from that site for an indeterminate period of time.

I do not intend for that break to apply to the blog -- though since virtually everyone who reads my blog nowadays gets to it via Twitter, it may be a bit of a moot point (ironically, since the blog auto-posts to Twitter, anything I write here becomes the exception to the general "Twitter break").

In any event, I wrote a long (like, 3,500 words long) essay explaining exactly why I was departing -- but it's sitting in my draft folder for now. Maybe I'll publish it later. Maybe not. Maybe I'll do it with some deep editing. Depends on how I feel.

I am going on vacation later this week -- a wedding in (far) northern Minnesota (like, way-past-Duluth-northern-Minnesota), followed by Carleton reunion. So even absent this formal break, I might have been quieter anyway.

I mentioned in the thread that I was -- in large part due to how I was relating to Twitter -- feeling sad, and that's true, but I do want to stress that I'm not in any serious emotional crisis or anything like that. So, while I would appreciate any nice thoughts that might be sent my way, I don't want any of y'all to worry on that front.

Friday, June 07, 2019

When It Comes to Demographic Doom, Conservative Pundits Really ARE Whistling Dixie

Responding to David Brooks' fear of an upcoming GOP apocalypse, Daniella Greenbaum Davis might have written the least self-aware pollyanna account of Republican prospects I've ever read. It's almost -- not quite, but almost -- Liel Leibovitz-level bad.

Brooks' argument is simple: young people hate the Republican Party. And as this generation becomes the dominant force in American politics, it becomes a bigger and bigger problem if they hate the Republican Party. If there is to be a conservative appeal to this generation, it has to be one that can speak in the language of pluralism and diversity -- a project that the contemporary Republican Party is racing away from at top speed.

Davis is not convinced. First of all, we get the standard chestnut that even if Trump alienates the youth, he doesn't count because he isn't really "conservative". Specifically:
Trump is not conservative in the strict sense of the word; he’s a libertarian and a libertine.
Trump is a libertarian? Are you kidding me? Trump represents conservativism at roughly its furthest possible distance from libertarianism. His signature policy is a massive increase of state repression at the border. Most recently, he's wreaking havoc on the economy with a threatened tariff war. He pairs a massive ramp up of the security apparatus with targeted economic bailouts and distortions aimed to assist politically-connected and favored industries (like coal). This is the least libertarian posture imaginable.

Moving on:
We don’t need data to show us that young Americans are over-represented on the left. But it was a wise someone — not Winston Churchill, who usually gets credited, but the French historian and prime minister François Guizot — who coined the Burkean insight that anyone who is not a liberal at 20 years of age had no heart, and anyone who is still a liberal at 40 has no head.
Well, I'm glad we got it straight that it wasn't Churchill who said it! What's amazing about this is that Brooks directly addresses this point: He specifically observes that the popular belief that young are always more liberal is actually a myth (see: Israel). Instead, the first few elections a person votes in tends to calcify their political affiliation for the rest of their life -- so if young people learn early on to vote Democrat, it becomes much harder to dislodge them from Democratic affiliation later on.

So the GOP can't just wait for the kids to grow up and get more conservative. Indeed, the reason the younger generation is more liberal is because it is (a) more diverse and (b) more likely to have personal encounters with people of other backgrounds, races, etc. on a regular basis. But that's not going to change over time -- the youth might be older in fifteen years, but they're not going to become Whiter.

In any event, Davis thinks that the growing progressive bent among the youth will eventually implode on itself because it will be too socialist and, as time goes by, will eventually "consume its young". Of course, this directly contradicts the "young people will mellow out as they age" hypothesis, which would instead suggest that the harder edges of Millennial politics will instead get filed off as time goes by -- a more sustainable progressivism replacing certain youthful idealisms. It also has the convenient property of not necessitating a GOP response, since the failure of the progressive wave is axiomatically assured. So no need to tamp down on nativist or flatly racist elements in the GOP coalition -- which one would think would be a necessity of they're ever going to appeal to a generation that either is or is friendly with immigrants and either is or is friendly with non-White people. Instead, it allows the GOP to continue to respond to growing diversity in America by literally whistling Dixie.

Regardless, Davis foresees a purge where the radicals oust the moderates, who are left looking for someone -- anyone -- to carry the torch of classical liberal values. And enter the GOP!
Those exiles might abhor social conservatism, but they would be wrong to define conservatism purely by a handful of socio-religious issues, some of which exercise only the GOP’s powerful but numerically small Evangelical wing. It’s those other conservative specialties — defending free speech, championing a diversity of opinion and faith, defending free-market capitalism — that are the issues that can win back the voters.
This might have some plausibility except that the contemporary Republican Party has never been less well positioned to attract an "exile" interested in these values. We already noted that Trump -- with eager buy-in from the GOP caucus -- has pursued an economic policy of crony capitalism and a social policy of big government repression. And now we see a growing faction of conservative voices -- like Sohrab Ahmari and  Liel Leibovitz -- just openly declaring war against whatever remains of classical liberal conservatism. The ideology that wants to upend libel laws, ban entire academic disciplines, and wreck energy markets to protect polluters can no longer claim to "specialize" in free speech, diversity of thought, or even free markets.

Davis does allow that, eventually, Republicans will have to offer an agenda beyond opposing progressive "nihilism". But it speaks volumes that her survival plan for the GOP depends less on anything they might do, and instead relies on the unshakable faith that eventually Democrats will destroy themselves. Growing progressivism won't last because it can't last. That sort of outlook, ironically, is exactly the sort of docile quiescence that's allowed modern conservatism to decay into the shell of an ideology that it is today. Not free markets, not free speech, not free movement, and not free people. Just Cleek's Law, in ever-purer forms.

The Constructed Semiotics of Flags

Some Jews are uncomfortable when they see a Palestinian flag.

For some, that's due to naught but raw prejudice.

But there are some Jews -- queer and not -- who have directly experienced violence, harassment, displacement, and even death that has occurred under the auspices of the Palestinian flag, whether literally or, as a stand-in for anti-Zionism, symbolically.

For these Jews, I can imagine how seeing a Palestinian flag might be triggering or traumatic. They see people wave it, and they interpret it as a threat.

And to them, in the interest of sensitivity, I have a simple message:

Suck it up.

I'm not saying your trauma isn't real. But the Palestinian flag is much more than, and means much more than, your particular narrow experience, and there isn't any justifiable way to ban Palestinian flags in deference to these "sensitivities" that is compatible with allowing Palestinians to take pride in their identity and peoplehood. So suck it up.

This, of course, is also my posture towards those who see a Magen David and can only imagine it as a symbol of Israeli state repression. It's not that these associations aren't real. But they also by no means represent the totality of what the Magen David represents, and allowing this particular and narrow interpretation of the symbol to occupy the entire field is incompatible with allowing Jews to take pride in our identity and peoplehood. So suck it up.

The point is, we can say that these negative meanings are extant and say there is no need to privilege this particular, negative interpretation. And so one of the great sins of the DC Dyke March's position on the Jewish Pride flag is that it helps construct and bolster a semiotic meaning of the Jewish Star of David and the Jewish Pride flag as a form of aggression against Palestinians and Arabs. I'm not saying that potential meaning was wholly absent before -- obviously, there are people who really have experienced violence, harassment, displacement, and death under (literally or symbolically) a Magen David.

But in privileging that semiotic interpretation, the DC Dyke March enhances its power. It makes it so that more people are more likely to see this flag as more intensely expressing that message. And it won't just be in the eyes of the beholder. No doubt some people who bring a Star of David pride flag to a LGBT rally now do so not simply to express Jewish Pride, but also as a point of defiance -- "you hate this flag? Well nyah nyah nyah."

In a sense, it's like that time a Texas Republican put out an Israeli flag on her desk to ward off Muslim community members coming to visit her office. The sheer pettiness of the action -- as if an Israeli flag scatters Muslims like Vampires and the cross -- masked a deeper evil: the politician, by using the Israeli flag in this way, was constructing a meaning of the flag where one of its uses is to signal "I don't want Muslims to be comfortable here". That's terrible. But it is not, at the end of the day, much different from what the DC Dyke March is doing -- entrenching and congealing a meaning of the Jewish Pride flag whereby its symbolism is "aggression towards Muslims, Palestinians, and Arabs."

And as it generates this semiotic meaning for the Magen David, it does something similar to the semiotic meaning of a Palestinian flag. It bolsters its symbolic meaning as a gesture of defiance against the Jews, against those who would proudly carry a Star of David. If -- as I suspect is likely -- more Dyke Marchers carried Palestinian flags upon hearing that Jewish marchers were going to insist on carrying a Jewish Pride flag, part of the reason they're doing so is to communicate this reactive, aggressive posture: "You're coming in, with that flag? Well I've got my own flag for you right here!" Again, it's not that these meanings were wholly absent before. But actions like that taken by the DC Dyke March help congeal and entrench them, they create a world where they may well be the primary meaning -- and that's destructive.

Each time this happens, this antagonistic, deleterious meaning gets further amplified, and so each time it becomes harder and harder to say "suck it up".

But that's all the more reason why we have to hold the line now. The more controversies we have like the DC Dyke March, the more difficult it will be to ever extract ourselves and our symbols from these horrible semiotics.

Tuesday, June 04, 2019

Manny's: The Go-To Spot for Democratic Presidential Candidates in San Francisco

Even if you don't live in San Francisco, some of you might have heard of Manny's. It is a social justice oriented cafe and civic gathering space in the San Francisco Mission whose owner (the eponymous Manny, an Afghan-American Jew) committed the terrible sin of wishing Israel a happy birthday. For this, his establishment has been the subject of protests by an extreme-left fringe.

The protests are not exactly big, and they haven't stopped Manny's from thriving. Nonetheless, the story made the national Jewish press, as tales like this are wont to do. A progressive Mizrahi Jewish social activist creating an affordable cafe that employs formerly homeless individuals being set upon by far-left protesters as a "Zionist gentrifier"? I know click-bait when I see it.

But today, I saw another story about Manny's, one not reported in the Jewish press but just the local San Francisco CBS affiliate: Manny's is, by far, the biggest go-to venue in the city for prospective Democratic presidential candidates. He's already hosted or scheduled to host Pete Buttigieg, Julian Castro, Kirsten Gillibrand, John Hickenlooper, Jay Inslee, Amy Klobuchar, Seth Moulton, Beto O'Rourke, Eric Swalwell, Cory Booker, Steve Bullock, and Kamala Harris. It's a roster that apparently dwarfs any other similar venue in the city. If you're a Democrat and you've got national ambitions, Manny's is the hot spot in San Francisco.

The thing is -- I don't even view this as Democratic candidates bravely defying the hard left which sought to marginalize and degrade Manny's. Why? Because I doubt their protest frankly even hit the radar screen of your average Democratic presidential campaign. There's a version of this narrative where the Democrats are visiting Manny's in "solidarity" against the protesters, but I doubt this is even a case of that. The protest movement against Manny's, in terms of its ability to exert influence on mainstream Democratic politicians, is almost certainly so marginal as to be utterly irrelevant. The CBS story didn't even mention the boycott movement (which, to be honest, may have petered out anyway). It was literally a non-story in this story.

When we talk about the supposed creeping influence of the extreme anti-Israel left on Democratic Party politics, this really needs to be kept in mind. There are chicken littles who view every crank carrying a "Zio-Nazi" poster or campus activist calling Hillel an instrument of Zionist repression as the next head of the DNC. And then there's my position is that fringe is fringe, and that the breathless coverage such groups get by the Jewish press massively overstates their influence on anything that remotely approaches a mainstream liberal institution. The popularity of Manny's among visiting Democratic luminaries certainly seems to be powerful evidence in favor of the latter posture. This big scary far-left protest that got coverage across the national Jewish press? Turns out, it didn't even register as a blip in terms of Manny's viability as a Democratic organizing space.

I can't say I blame the extreme-left protesters for trying to portray themselves as bigger than they are -- the voice of the people! (What's the alternative: "We're a tiny fringe that has no real constituency but nonetheless ought to be viewed as the sole authentic representative of the people, because something-something-revolutionary-vanguard!"?). But we certainly don't have to indulge them.

We should struggle against the availability heuristic on our own time. Fringe remains fringe.

Monday, June 03, 2019

New Congressional Black-Jewish Caucus Announced: Will It Go Anywhere?

Apparently brokered by the AJC, Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-MI) announced the creation of a new bipartisan Congressional Black-Jewish Caucus. The other co-founding members are Reps. John Lewis (D-GA), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), Will Hurd (R-TX), and Lee Zeldin (R-NY). Its stated goals are to:

  • Raise awareness of each community's sensitivities and needs, in Congress and around the country.
  • Provide resources to members of Congress to empower them to bring African-American and Jewish communities together, combating stereotypes and hate and showcasing commonalities.
  • Support stronger hate crimes legislation and advocate for increased government resources to confront the threat of white supremacist ideology.
  • Support legislation and work to expand access to democracy and protect election integrity.
To be honest, I'm not entirely sure what to make of this. The concept is great, but I have to wonder whether initiatives like this ever do anything substantive beyond the press release.

I also find the list of founding congressmen and women to be interesting (are they seeking out additional members?). The list includes two Black Democrats (Lawrence and Lewis), one Black Republican (Hurd), one White Jewish Democrat (Wasserman-Schultz), and one White Jewish Republican (Zeldin).  Let's quickly run through who they are:

Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-MI)

Lawrence is a third-term congresswoman from Michigan; holding the seat previously occupied by now-U.S. Senator Gary Peters. Prior to entering Congress, she was the first African-American woman to serve as mayor of Southfield. She also was a member of the unsuccessful Democratic gubernatorial ticket in 2010, serving as Virg Bernero's running mate. 

In Congress, she's a member of the Congressional Black Caucus and Congressional Progressive Caucus. I honestly don't know much about her, and don't think of her as a particularly high-profile member of Congress. But Lawrence's district has both a large Black and Jewish population, so it makes sense for her to try and take a leadership position on this question.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL)

Former head of the DNC, Wasserman Schultz is probably best known as the favored target of 2016 Bernie dead-enders after they level up. That made her a target for a primary challenge from Sanders-backed Tim Canova, which got pretty nasty actually, but she ended up prevailing with 57% of the vote. She is one of the most high-profile Jewish Democrats in the House, and has what I consider to be a pretty standard political posture for a Jewish Democratic politician -- generally progressive voting record, while also being "establishment-friendly". Unfortunately, the 2016 election history means she is positively despised by the insurgent wing of the Democratic Party.

Rep. John Lewis (D-GA)

One of the legends of American politics and a civil rights hero, John Lewis has massive respect within the Democratic caucus and within the CBC in particular. He's also, throughout his career, been a stalwart friend of the Jewish people -- there's probably no more common "go-to" in Congress for Jewish-Black relations than Rep. Lewis. If anyone was going to join a cause like this, it'd be him. Unfortunately, that cuts both ways -- it is in many respects less interesting that John Lewis joined this caucus, because "of course he would". It doesn't actually signal the sort of broader buy-in one would hope for.

Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY)

I was honestly surprised to see he was onboard with this, as Lee Zeldin is -- how to put this gently -- a monster whose spent the past year gleefully tossing molotov cocktails all over the "Black-Jewish relationship". Ideally, being part of an initiative like this will tame Zeldin's wilder instincts -- someone can perhaps explain to him why taking an antisemitic voicemail left at his office and randomly demanding Ilhan Omar (who is never cited, mentioned, or alluded to in the message) denounce it is not how we play nicely with others. More likely, Zeldin will simply end up blowing this thing up from the inside.

What's really going on here, I imagine, is a stark example of the limits of trying to form a bipartisan caucus of Blacks and Jews. If one is simply looking to foster healthy relations between the Black and Jewish community in Congress, Republicans are, with all due respect, kind of irrelevant. But if you absolutely insist on having a Jewish Republican in the mix, Zeldin has the almost singular virtue of, well, being one (the only other Jewish Republican in Congress is Tennessee Rep. David Kustoff. He's a right-wing extremist too, though I still suspect he'd have been a better choice).

Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX)

Speaking of slim pickings, Hurd is who you get when you decide you also need a Black Republican -- he's the only one in the House (swing over to the Senate and you've got South Carolina's Tim Scott as well). He is, to be fair, a much less offensive figure than Zeldin. He also barely squeaked out re-election last cycle against Gina Ortiz Jones, whose already gunning for a rematch, so he might not be around Congress next cycle.

* * *

What do we make of this set? Leave Hurd and Zeldin aside -- they're there for obvious reasons but otherwise are non-important. We'll even assume for sake of argument that Zeldin doesn't torpedo the whole deal.

Well, Wasserman Schultz is well respected in the Jewish community but also is a lightning rod for the Bernie-supporting wing of the party. With all due respect to the Florida Congresswoman, whom I actually rather like, she's carrying a lot of weight as the only Jewish Democratic Representative in the group, and I'm skeptical of the vitality of representing the "Jewish" side of Congress through her and Zeldin. Meanwhile, Lawrence is not high-profile, and I don't think really will do much to bring in more support from the CBC more broadly. Lewis is, of course, very high-profile, but he's also in some ways uniquely ill-positioned to signal buy-in from the CBC writ large for the reasons given above.

What's more interesting, then, is who isn't in the caucus. Now again, this was just launched, and so it's entirely possible more people will join. But the question is, who are the sorts of people who, if they did join, would signal that there might be a potential for success here?

On the Jewish side of the equation, you'd want to see both someone from new generation -- say, Elissa Slotkin or Max Rose, or perhaps Jamie Raskin -- and/or a less polarizing member of the old guard (like Jerry Nadler or Jan Schakowsky). Andy Levin -- newly-elected, but part of the Levin political dynasty in Michigan -- would be a great bridging figure here too. Another obvious name to look out for is Rep. Steve Cohen of Tennessee, who actually represents a majority-Black district. If he joins, it suggests that this sort of initiative is actually being viewed as a positive. If he doesn't, well, it sends a different signal.

With respect to prospective Black members, you'd want to see something similar: someone from the old guard beyond Lewis, and then someone from the new wave. On the latter, I won't even bother mentioning she-who-must-not-be-named (though again, what does it say that Zeldin can be a member but she can't). But Lauren Underwood, Lucy McBath, or (dare to dream) Ayanna Pressley would be outstanding additions. With respect to more senior figures, Karen Bass or Elijah Cummings or even my own Congresswoman Barbara Lee would be great. There's also a "middle seniority" group that contains some promising figures, like Andre Carson (he'd be a fantastic pick-up, as the other Black Muslim serving in Congress right now) and Hakeem Jeffries (Jeffries, sadly, seems to be at risk of becoming a new Wasserman Schultz or Tom Perez -- which is to say, someone with a solidly progressive voting record who gets identified as a barrier to the advancement of some further-left hero and therefore is transmogrified into a tool of the neoliberal neoliberalist's neoliberalism).

In particular: I see the point of a caucus like this as not just comprising of itself of people who already agree on everything, but also ones who can fairly and effectively communicate their respective community's "sensitivities and needs" -- a project which often will involve explaining why practices by the other community which might internally seem innocuous are actually hurtful. In the Omar dialogues, for example, this is where we get Jewish members explaining why Omar's comments -- perhaps seen as just making the anodyne point that "AIPAC has influence in Washington" -- were harmful and seemed to leverage antisemitic tropes; and also where we get Black members explaining why the unyielding fury of the backlash -- perhaps seen as just "calling out antisemitism" --  were harmful and seemed to reflect a minute policing of Black politicians.

In other words, if you're running through potential members of the caucus with a red pen and looking for all the heresies that should bar them from membership, I'd urge you to stop. Yes, some level of overt antagonism is probably incompatible with productively participating in a project like this (but then: see Zeldin, apparently). But not all disagreements are akin to "overt antagonism", and I don't think any of the names I've listed stand outside the realm of regular disagreement. A functioning caucus that is designed to be a space where both community's can communicate their respective concerns and sensitivities can and probably should have some people who do not start out on precisely the same page. Speaking from the Jewish angle, it is in particular not reasonable to expect this caucus be "Black politicians come into the room and agree that everything the Jewish community has been saying and doing vis-a-vis the Black community is correct and laudatory" (and, of course, neither vice versa).

Finally, I don't want to say any of the people I mentioned above are obligated to join this caucus, or that it reflects badly on them or signals they "don't care about Black-Jewish relationships" if they don't. Congress is a busy place, and these people have things to do. This is one cause among many -- it's one I happen to think is important, but there are lots of issues lots of people think are important. And of course, these Congressmen and women are almost certainly better positioned than I am to see if this caucus has even the potential to turn into something "real" beyond the press release. If it's going to be a waste of time anyway, there's no need for them to cede their limited time to be wasted.

All I am suggesting is that, for a caucus like this to actually succeed, it needs to gain a membership that signifies buy-in from a solid cross-sample of the relevant communities. I don't think the initial membership group does that on its own.

Sunday, June 02, 2019

Boxing Roundup: June 1, 2019

Haven't done one of these in awhile! But it was a big night of fights, even though I missed the PBC show on FS1. Oh, I recorded it -- it's just that virtually all of it ended up airing on FS2 because some college baseball game ran long, and then the main event came out after the bloc was already scheduled to have concluded. So quickly, before moving on to the far more interesting DAZN card....

Willie Monroe Jr. (24-3, 6 KOs) UD10 Hugo Centeno Jr. (27-3, 14 KOs)

We knew a lot more about Monroe coming in than we did Centeno. Monroe is a slickster who can generally outbox anyone on the B-level of the division, but really can't hang with the top dogs. Centeno was someone whose only losses came to some pretty elite fighters -- Maciej Sulecki and Jermall Charlo -- and so the question was whether he was an A-level fighter who happened to lose when matched at the very top, or was a B-level fighter who'd already seen his peak exposed. Looks like it's Door #2. This is a good win for Monroe, but it doesn't really change his position -- someone with basically zero chance to beat a Canelo or a Golovkin (who already smoked him), but might get the call to step-in as a semi-credible tune-up during a lull period.

Ivan Redkach (23-4-1, 18 KOs) KO6 Devon Alexander (27-6-1, 14 KOs)

Mild upset here. Alexander actually looked to be on the rebound after a long layoff battling painkiller addiction, which is an odd thing to say about a guy who was 0-1-1 in his last two fights, but most people thought he deserved the W against both Victor Ortiz and Andre Berto. Redkach was a one-time prospect who already seemed to have hit a ceiling and was seem more as a fun but limited action guy. But he caught Alexander good in round six, putting him down three times and earning the knockout. This probably ends Alexander's career at anything close to the top level, but it honestly doesn't make me feel ready to reevaluate Redkach just yet.

Okay, with that out of the way, onto ... DAZN!

Joshua Buatsi (11-0, 9 KOs) TKO4 Marco Antonio Periban (25-5-1, 16 KOs)

A good step up for Buatsi against a former title challenger, albeit one who hadn't fought in two years. Periban tried, but he Buatsi was way too big and probably always too skilled to really ever be threatened. Periban is probably a permanent gatekeeper now, assuming he even decides to step back into the ring, which is far from clear. Buatsi is by no means a finished product, but he's got a lot of upside.

Chris Algeri (24-3, 9 KOs) RTD8  Tommy Coyle (25-5, 12 KOs)

Well, well. Someone finally let Chris Algeri out of the cage. After a long retirement lay-off following a beatdown from Errol Spence, Algeri looks rested, refreshed, and maybe a little more powerful than he did during his spotlight years following his upset win over Ruslan Provodnikov in 2014. He survived a bit of a scare in round two, and the body shot he put Coyle down with in round four was positively wicked. A fun action fight while it lasted, but Algeri definitely put his stamp on it. Can he compete with the top welterweights. No, it'd be the same slaughter we've already seen. Would, say, a fight against fellow Long Islander Cletus Seldin (assuming he gets past Zab Judah -- yep, that Zab Judah) be a fun time for all? I think so.

Coyle was already sounding like he had one foot out the door on his career, and this loss probably will hasten that process. He might do a farewell fight back home in the UK, but I suspect that'll do it.

Josh Kelly (9-0-1, 6 KOs) D10 Ray Robinson (24-3-2, 12 KOs)

Robinson spoils an up-and-comer for the second straight fight, and comes out of it with a draw for the second straight fight. Kelly seems like one of those dime-a-dozen Prince Naseem Hamed wannabes that always seem to be coming up the ranks. It's not that he has no skill (he does) or no athleticism (he does). But he's just not as good as he thinks he is, and it showed against Robinson. I wasn't judging too closely, but I might have thought Kelly nonetheless deserved the edge even as he clearly faded late. But I have no quarrels with a draw (and I know many other observers thought it was Kelly who got lucky here).

Callum Smith (26-0, 19 KOs) TKO3 Hassan N'Dam N'Jikam (37-4, 21 KOs)

Callum Smith is widely considered the best of the "fighting Smith brothers" (that'd be Callum, Liam, Paul, and Stephen). He certainly impressed here, although I'd say he pretty much did as expected. N'Dam -- who lacks a nickname as a fighter, which to this day baffles me since he should obviously be dubbed Hassan "Bam Bam" N'Dam N'Jikam -- is the real-boy equivalent of one of those punch-a-clown dummies. He goes down easy, but he always gets back up. He went down six times against Peter Quillin, was quite competitive during the rounds he stayed on his feet (I remember quipped at the time that "he's doing pretty well except for the times he's getting his ass kicked").

Anyway, Smith -- who had size and skill advantages over N'Dam -- put him down in each of the first three rounds. The third knockdown was particularly vicious, and while N'Dam naturally got to his feet, the referee waved it off. Unlike Willie Monroe, I think Callum Smith would make a genuinely interesting match-up against Canelo Alvarez if the latter felt like fully moving up.

Katie Taylor (14-0, 6 KOs) MD10 Delfine Persoon (43-2, 18 KOs)

There is an emergent narrative about women's boxing today, one I largely subscribe to. Basically, it holds that the women's amateur game right now is leaps and bounds ahead of where it was even a decade ago. Hence, the incoming crop of "prospects" coming out of the amateurs -- folks like Katie Taylor and Claressa Shields -- are just on a different level than even the "experienced" champions in the professional game. They're better schooled, they're stronger technically, and they've fought more consistent high-level opposition. We saw the difference when, in a highly-anticipated unification matchup, Claressa Shields ended up just running over long-time champion Christina Hammer. Yes, Shields is that good. But also her generation of fighter is just better than the one that came before, and that, as much as anything else, was what was on display in Hammer vs. Shields.

That narrative explains why Katie Taylor came in as a huge favorite against Delfine Persoon, despite the latter's glittering record and near-decade long title reign. Yes, Persoon was undefeated for the past nine years. But as Teddy Atlas would put it -- against who? Against who? There was probably nobody on Persoon's resume with skills anywhere close to the top amateurs Taylor had fought regularly.

Yet Persoon did her darndest to upset the story. And most observers -- myself included -- thought she ultimately deserved the nod, or at least a draw. Katie Taylor was very lucky to come away with a victory. And Delfine Persoon showed that she was every bit on the level of the very top, elite women fighting today.

To be sure, it was clear that Taylor was the more skilled and well-schooled fighter in the ring. But Persoon came in with an aggressive, gritty gameplan that sought to disrupt Taylor's rhythm and turn the fight into a brawl -- which she was successful at over large periods. Taylor was most effective when she could keep distance and run Persoon into check hooks on her way inside. But Persoon, though a bit dirty and more than a bit awkward, wasn't some mindless aggressor either -- she made adjustments, and by the end of the fight really had Taylor hanging for dear life. There's a fair case that, if this was a 12 round fight over 3 minute rounds, Persoon could have gotten a stoppage (side bar: women's boxing should have 3 minute rounds and the same number of rounds as the men's game. Full stop. The 2 minute round set-up is just the most prominent example of patronizing sexism that afflicts the women's game).

But let's not mislead: this wasn't the story of the talented but inexperienced starlet looking lost against the cagey, grizzled veteran and then getting gifted a decision. Taylor had a gameplan too, and had more than her share of moments. What we had was simply a great fight, perhaps the best fight we've seen to date in high-level women's boxing.

Persoon was absolutely crushed when the scores were announced, and left the ring almost immediately in tears. It was hard not to feel for her -- she had been toiling in obscurity for years, ignored while fighters like Katie Taylor got all the accolades and fortune. This was her big chance, and from her vantage (and many others) this should have been her night. She put on a hell of a performance, only to have it torn away from her by the judges. I'm not going to say it was a flat robbery, but the consensus view definitely saw more observers giving Persoon the win. I've seen plenty of draw cards as well, but very few folks (other than the two judges) score it for Taylor.

The good news is there's a strong case for a rematch. It was a great fight, a close fight, and one where there's still definitely unfinished business. There also aren't so many big money opportunities in women's boxing that a fight like this -- which now is pretty easy to market -- should be muscled out, though Taylor did mention a potential fight with Amanda Serrano instead. No disrespect to Serrano -- who is a great fighter in her own right -- but I hope she waits her turn. Persoon absolutely deserves a rematch, and it should come next.

Andy Ruiz Jr. (33-1, 22 KOs) TKO7 Anthony Joshua (22-1, 21 KOs)

A monster upset, as Ruiz becomes the first Mexican or Mexican-American fighter to win a heavyweight championship. Was it as big as Douglas over Tyson, as some commentators were breathlessly exclaiming after the fight? No. Joshua was very good but not viewed as an invincible destroyer as Tyson was at his peak, and Ruiz was more of a known quantity than Douglas was. But putting that unreachable height aside, this was a giant upset -- assuredly 2019's upset of the year.

Ruiz was a substitute for Jarrell Miller, who failed a drug test and thus lost his big break, but he still got a decent amount of time to train. Of course, with Ruiz it's always "who can tell?", as the guy just comes into every fight fat. I don't mean that as an insult or anything, and he'd be the first to agree -- Andy Ruiz is chubby around the middle. For pretty much any other fighter -- no matter how much they talk about being "comfortable at the weight" or whatever -- that's a big problem. Chris Arreola, the last Mexican-American to make a run at heavyweight glory, always made light of his weight, but it really did hold him back.

But for some reason Andy Ruiz is different. He's got genuinely fast hands for a heavyweight -- like, not just in the "you'd think as a fat guy he'd be a plodder, but he's actually deceptively quick", but objectively fast hands measured against any heavyweight you can think of. Ruiz throws really good combinations, quickly and accurately, and that was known coming into the fight.

Of course, we knew Joshua pretty well too -- a powerful guy who'd shown both skill and resilience in his breakout fight against Wladimir Klitschko, coming off the deck to knockout the aging legend in 11 rounds. I did not think the fight against Ruiz was quite the afterthought that most were making it out to be -- yet another detour from the Joshua-Fury-Wilder merry-go-round -- but I certainly thought Joshua would win it. I was prepared to be proud of myself when Ruiz made a better accounting of himself than expected.

Instead, we got a really impressive performance that included a strong round-of-the-year contender in round three. That's when Joshua dropped Ruiz and most people thought he was about to move in for the kill. Instead, Ruiz caught Joshua swinging wide and almost immediately returned the knockdown favor. A second knockdown towards the end of the round had Ruiz firmly in control and Joshua looking wobbly, fortunate to hear the bell ring.

Ruiz left Joshua off the hook, it seemed, in round four, and the question was whether he had missed his chance. But instead, Ruiz knocked down Joshua twice more in the seventh -- again, precipitated by Joshua landing a decent shot and then being countered in-between when he got a little too free going for the finish. The last knockdown saw Joshua's mouthpiece go flying, and Joshua retreated to his corner clearly expecting time to be called to replace it. The referee was not obliging, insisting that Joshua come out to fight with no mouthpiece, and I do think that resulted in some confusion as to why Joshua didn't "come forward" to make crystal clear he wanted to continue. But nonetheless, that's on Joshua, who had his arms draped over the ropes and wasn't making any motions towards stepping back into the fight. He was clearly surprised by the stoppage, but not too upset by it.

And on that score: I'm not wild about how Joshua reacted to the end of the fight. Yes, he was very classy in defeat, making no excuses and giving all due credit to Ruiz. Which is great, I like class. But it was a bit weird to see just how little Joshua seemed to be bothered by losing. It's not like I wanted to see a meltdown or anything, but there was a sense as the fight's tide turned in Ruiz's favor that Joshua kind of lost interest once it started to get hard in there. That doesn't really jibe with the heart he showed in the Klitschko fight, but it's something to keep an eye on going forward. Boxing is a tough business under the best of circumstances; it tends to chew up guys who -- however much natural talent they might possess -- have lost that inner drive to press back against adversity in the ring.

Anyway, Joshua losing actually simplifies things in the heavyweight division going forward. His next fight will be a rematch against Ruiz, and meanwhile Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury are scheduled to fight each other assuming both get by their next opponent -- Luis Ortiz and Tom Schwarz, respectively. But a note of warning should be sounded there as well. I don't know anything about Schwarz, and frankly I expect Fury to truck him. But the Ortiz fight -- which got a lot of moans and groans because it wasn't Wilder facing Joshua or Fury -- is very much a real fight.

People forget that the first fight between Wilder and Ortiz was really good and, more importantly, really competitive. It wasn't controversial, because Wilder ended up winning in a knockout, but Ortiz very easily could have taken it. He had Wilder badly hurt and nearly ready to go. For me, I saw a fight where, if you ran it back again, I could very easily see a different man end up on top. So I wouldn't be too blase about Wilder necessarily coming out on top in the rematch. He'll be the favorite, and deservedly so, but Ortiz is a very live dog in there. Wilder/Ortiz is not just some medicine we have to take until we get to the good stuff, and the outcome of tonight's fight should give us all pause before writing the conclusion as foreordained.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Multicultural White Supremacy

Buzzfeed has an interesting piece up on the 4chan/ex-MAGA/reddit trolls who have been flocking to Andrew Yang's presidential campaign. Of course, being 4chan/MAGA/reddit trolls, they're also engaging in vicious harassment of a Yang staffer they've come to dislike.

But that's not what I want to talk about. Buzzfeed reports that Yang has gotten enthusiastic backing from some luminaries of the White supremacist right -- folks like Richard Spencer or the Daily Stormer. Despite, you know, clearly not being White.

And he's not the only one. Tulsi Gabbard already picked up an endorsement from none other than David Duke, who also infamously praised Ilhan Omar for supposedly being willing to tackle the "Israel lobby". Several far-right figures have reported being inspired by Ben Shapiro. The self-described "Imam of Peace" Mohammad Tawhidi garners endorsements from notorious Islamophobes like Tommy Robinson and Paul Joseph Watson. In his "Skin in the Game" article, Eric Ward recounted how he -- a Black man -- was able to be accepted in far-right White nationalist circles based on a presumed anti-Jewish alliance. And it cuts both ways: last year Arun Gupta had a fascinating article on young men of color outright joining far-right, White supremacist organizations.

I'm not saying in any of these cases that the White supremacist praise was invited by its recipients. There's no reason to think Yang or Gabbard or Omar or Shapiro are anything other than repelled by the prospect of being "endorsed" by White supremacists (Tawhidi is actually a potential exception). And often what one White supremacist hand giveth, another taketh away: the Yang story, after all, is about this same quadrant of "support" turning on his campaign with a misogynist vengeance. Omar is regularly targeted with death threats from the far-right, and Shapiro is the most harassed Jewish journalist online by some measures. So I'm also not saying that any of these figures are simply and without qualification beneficiaries of White supremacist grace.

But that's not the point. The point is that this sort of affinity -- in any form -- wasn't supposed to be even possible. White supremacists aren't supposed to be enthusiastic about non-White public figures. That's kind of their whole shtick. So what do we make of this seemingly bizarre phenomenon: multicultural White supremacy?

I am not the first to come up with that term -- as best I can tell, it was coined by Dylan Rodriguez at the cusp of the Obama presidency. But we are using it slightly differently. Rodriguez is speaking of how, in his view, the standard liberal multicultural political arrangement -- exemplified by someone like Obama -- nonetheless can uphold a broader structure of White supremacy. My focus, by contrast, is on "traditional" White supremacists who nonetheless come to praise and work with non-White public figures.

So what gives?

One answer is that it's all a form of trolling -- a way of leveraging their own toxicity against groups who they otherwise hate (think Richard Spencer calling his ideology "White Zionism"). There might be something to that -- I think something like that probably was in play when he "praised" Omar, for example -- but I don't think it's the whole story. The outright endorsement of Gabbard goes well beyond what can be explained by mere "trolling", for example. Likewise the favor with which many on the far-right hold Shapiro.

Another answer is that it falsifies the idea that the figures in question are truly "White supremacist".  Literally: how could they be White Supremacist if they're praising those whom are deemed non-White! Under this view, the fact that these supposed "White supremacists" sometimes praise and endorse non-Whites is a great big gotcha to the liberals tarring everyone they disagree with as bigots and cheapening the term "White supremacist" beyond recognition (hello, Laura Ingraham!). The problem here is that a good chunk of the figures I'm talking about describe themselves as "White supremacists" or use synonymous terms that are quite clear that they think specifically racial advocacy on behalf of Whites is an important part of their politics. If the Daily Stormer isn't "White supremacist", then nothing is.

My take is that this is best understood as a further disintegration of a Platonic Ideal of "White supremacy" which no longer (if it ever did) exists. The vision of the White supremacist as someone who simply, blindly, and uncritically hates all members of the racial outgroups, for no other reason than that they are members of that outgroup, is collapsing. In its place is someone who certainly sees inter-group conflict as central to their ideology, and views certain despised outgroups as avatars of that which they loathe in contemporary politics or society. But it's overlaid onto more complex set of political commitments (which could be anything, but often centers around a sort of paleo-conservative vision of isolationism and insularity), and so there's always the possibility that some individual member of the group will have (or be perceived as having) an aligned ideology. Such persons will be accepted as (literally) "exceptional" -- they may even be trotted out as proof that the supposedly blind hater are actually discerning and "meritocratic".

In reality, they prove the opposite: they demonstrate that occasional acceptance of certain "exceptional" outgroup members who meet highly specified criteria is perfectly compatible with even "traditional" White supremacy (let alone more subtle or ambivalent forms of racial inequity). If, as Bernard Williams reminded us, even the Nazis "pa[id], in very poor coin, the homage of irrationality to reason," this is the contemporary version of that. The Nazi anthropologists were speaking a particular language of an era that sought to warrant their hatred based on prevailing ideologies of the time. Today, the relevant ideologies have changed and thus so does the attempted payment.

There's something faintly inspiring about this -- that today even the most inveterate White supremacists nonetheless must concede some possibility of connection to or alliance with those they supposedly hate. Nonetheless, it hardly dissipates the danger. An antisemite who likes Ben Shapiro is still an antisemite. An Islamophobe who likes Mohammad Tawhidi is still an Islamophobe. A racist who likes Andrew Yang or Tulsi Gabbard is still a racist. It might be a little weird that White Supremacy could go multicultural. But such is the era we live in.

They Can't Be Trying, Because We Tried, and We're Amazing

There's a new women's organization out there -- Supermajority -- that's trying to succeed where the Women's March fragmented. And Linda Sarsour has some thoughts on them:
Sarsour says the Women’s March tried to be a space for all women, to be intersectional, but that “this never worked before” because when issues arose outside of gender equality, like racism or immigration, it made people uneasy.
“If another group wants to attempt it,” said Sarsour, “that must mean that they don’t want to have the hard conversations, because when we had the hard conversations, it was really uncomfortable and difficult for people.”
Is it just me, or does this come off as almost unbelievably petty?

Which isn't to say Sarsour doesn't feel good about her impact with the Women's March:
The formation of the Women’s March, said Sarsour, is a “very simple story.” After Donald Trump won the 2016 election, “white women started a Facebook page, and they called it the Million Women’s March.”
“These women started this Facebook page, but in order for this Facebook page to be translated into tangible, actual organizing, into actual marches, it required women of color leadership,” said Sarsour. “That’s when me, Carmen [Perez] and Tamika [Mallory] were called to come to the Women’s March. We were the only organizers, like actual seasoned organizers. Everyone else was a fashion entrepreneur. They worked in tech. They were yoga teachers. We had a woman who was a chef. Everyone had a different profession, and we were the ones that came in with the organizing background.”
The first Women’s March was a day after Trump’s inauguration. Sarsour and her co-chairs set out an agenda to harness the energy of the millions of women who took to the streets and turn it into political power. They, along with local, grassroots chapters, organized events to get women into office and voters to the polls.
“We watched the impact of activism of people who’ve never once went to a march, never called their member of Congress, all of a sudden engaging in activism at a level that we hadn’t seen in at least the last 20 years,” recounted Sarsour. “And then seeing in 2018 us winning back the House, putting over 110 women in Congress. I’m not saying that’s all Women’s March, but absolutely the Women’s March set the foundation for all of these things to happen.”
You know, I've long been content with my view on Sarsour, which is that while she doesn't deserve the frankly insane amount of attention and vitriol she receives from the American Jewish community, she's also just ... not that impressive. She's a decent rabble-rouser, but really more of a glory-hound -- everything is her her her. Thank goodness those fashion designers and yoga teachers had her to lead them! But there's not a lot going on past that.

The Washington Post just did a piece on the fractured friendship of Cory Booker and Shmuley Boteach and ... Boteach actually strikes me as a decent parallel to Sarsour. Boteach is a mediocrity who had his moment but now is seen mostly as a "he's still here?" sort of figure. He'll probably keep on getting media coverage because he has a natural knack for drawing attention to himself, but his time is past, and everyone knows it. And so too, I suspect, with Sarsour. She'll always have a cadre of folks who think she's the cat's meow, and her sheer status as a lightning rod will ensure that she can always get some amount of attention to herself (Sarsour exists in symbiotic relationship with her most inveterate haters, who also are marginal figures in the Jewish community that know the fastest way to get prime column placement if her name is in the title). But more and more, I think she'll be seen as of the past.

Who knows whether Supermajority will go anywhere. But I think Sarsour's star has faded, and she's going to be increasingly irrelevant from here on out. Just like Shmuley.

More Fun With Anti-Discrimination Rules!

Some Jewish women were kicked out of an Uber after their Palestinian driver found out they were coming from an Israel Independence Day celebration. Uber has since terminated the driver and insisted they don't tolerate "any form of discrimination."

I doubt this will become anyone's cause celebre. That's mostly because taxis (or their replacements) are an arena where norms about serving as a common carrier -- which include broad non-discrimination requirements, far beyond what we think of normally by "non-discrimination". There are excellent reasons why we have pretty sweeping requirements on airlines, taxis, buses, and so on that they can't pick and choose the customers they serve.

But one can certainly imagine how the case for the driver would go. The "speech" argument is already pretty familiar -- after all, he didn't object to "Jews", he objected to "people leaving an Israel Independence day celebration", which is not the same thing. Resurrect some gilded-age 19th century principles about free labor -- where the cab driver and the customer are just free contractors, both responsible for their own affairs and capable of entering into or cancelling a relationship at will --  and suddenly it sounds downright illiberal to "force" the Uber driver to transport customers when his conscience demands otherwise.

And remember: we have a judiciary that is probably more sympathetic to that outlook than at any point in the last century or so. These arguments are not as outlandish as one might think. The "New Lochnerism" already uses free speech as a wedge against huge swaths of the regulatory structure. And much of contemporary labor law -- discrimination or otherwise -- in particular involves not viewing employment as simply the atomistic interaction of free contractors who are at equal liberty to do or not do as they please. Pull that thread, and more might unravel than one intends.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Strange Flag-Bearers (and Burners) in Dayton

One thing that happened at the anti-KKK counterprotest in Dayton was that an Israeli flag was ripped to shreads and stomped on (after an unsuccessful attempt to burn it). How did this happen? Well, it's a weird story:
In an interview with The Observer, [Jen] Mendoza [of the Cincinnati Palestine Solidarity Coalition] said the incident occurred after she saw three young men with an Israeli flag and entered into what she described as a confusing discussion with them.
“And so recognizing the state of Israel as being of the same ideology (as) American capitalist imperialist settler colonialism, and seeing that flag on our side (counterprotesters area) was jolting,” Mendoza said of her reaction at the sight of the Israeli flag.
“One of them said that he was from Israel. And then the other two boys looked Arab,” she added. “The other kid, he was the one doing a lot of the talking, he made comments about God giving them the land, and at that point I was like, ‘Well, you’re on the wrong side of this fence if that’s what you believe.’”
Mendoza said that after the conversation went on and he said “some extremely Zionist, racist things,” he asked her if he should throw it on the ground and stomp on it.
She told him she’d be happy to burn it for him.
“And then he flipped and was like, ‘Yeah, let’s burn this flag right now,’” Mendoza added, “and he helped tear it apart — and then he told us that he was doing a social experiment to find out where people really stood on fascism. And then he began chanting ‘Free Palestine.’” 
So basically, somebody comes to an anti-KKK flag rally holding an Israeli flag and starts making racist comments wrapped in a Zionist guise. But wait: it turns out, he doesn't actually believe what he's saying -- he's impersonating an Israeli, enacting a stereotype designed to present Israelis as racist (though it's actually his words), in an effort to rile the crowd up and convince them to burn or mutilate the Israeli flag. Which the crowd then happily obliges. It's like a meat-world version of the Jewish impersonators Yair Rosenberg used to bust: "racists who pretend to be Jews—and other minorities—in order to defame them."

All at a rally that nominally was counterprotesting the KKK, which in turn was in large part targeting Dayton's Jewish community. Who then had to see a burning Israeli flag by people supposedly there to "protect" them; instigated by a person who (it seems falsely?) claimed to be Israeli in order to tar actual Israelis with his own racist performance. How lovely.