Friday, August 16, 2019

Collected Thoughts on Excluding Omar and Tlaib

I've got another kidney stone. It struck on Monday, and then I felt pain Tuesday, Wednesday, and today. Thursday was my only pain-free day this week, and I have to assume that was the universe balancing the scales and recognizing that the Israeli government's truly terrible decision to exclude Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) from the country was plenty enough aggravation on its own.

I went on a pretty vigorous tweet storm all through yesterday. Below I bullet point most of what I expressed on that site (which, as you may know, I've taken "private"), but my main takeaway is this:

There's no serious case that either Rep. Omar or Rep. Tlaib presents a security threat to Israel (I've seen some people insinuate that they might incite a riot at the Temple Mount which -- I'm not sure I can physically roll my eyes hard enough). In practice, the "risk" Omar and Tlaib present is simply that they will hear  mean things about Israel and then say their own mean things about Israel. That's the locus of the complaint about the "balance" of the trip; that's the locus of the accusation that they merely want to rabble-rouse. What people are concerned about is they will go to the West Bank, hear people saying mean things about Israel, and repeat those mean things back to American audiences.

But -- and I mean this in all earnestness -- so what? So what if that's what happens? To be clear: I don't think Omar and Tlaib were coming just to say mean things about Israel. But even if they were -- there's no security threat. The state will survive (how pathetic would it be if it crumbled?). It'd be speech. It'd be discourse. That's the price of living in a liberal, free society. Sometimes people say mean things about you. Sometimes those mean things are unfair. Sometimes those mean things are entirely fair. Whatever. It comes with the territory (pun initially not intended, but I'll own it now). It's not a valid basis for a travel ban.

It used to be that Israel was emphatic that "come see us and you'll think better of us". Now Israel is terrified that if people come see them--at least, see them unchaperoned, without a constant guiding hand ensuring they see only the choice parts--they'll think of worse of them. That's the sign of a society in decay. To be sure, I think Omar and Tlaib probably would come away from their visit with a rather grim appraisal of Israel's treatment of Palestinians. But then, there's ample basis to appraise that treatment grimly--there's no inherent foul there. People can come to the West Bank and be honestly appalled by what they see.

Only police states confuse "people saying mean things" with security threats. A free society can survive--and perhaps even learn from--critics giving it grim appraisals. People talk a huge game about how Omar and Tlaib could "learn" from their trip to Israel and Palestine -- and no doubt they could. But the flip side is that Israel, too, can learn from the testimony of Palestinians laboring under occupation, and from efforts to bring that testimony to the fore. It is wrong -- not to mention insulting -- to treat discourse about Israel/Palestine as if it were a one-way street, where wise, omniscient Israeli/Jewish teachers dribble knowledge onto benighted, ignorant Muslims and Arabs.

Below is a recap of my other collected thoughts on the matter (many but not all of which were on Twitter):

  • This was a terrible and unjustified decision. Let's lead off with that and give it its own bullet point all to itself.
  • There is no reason to think that this decision was "what Omar and Tlaib wanted" since it made Israel look authoritarian and repressive. That is projection, to avoid speaking the more uncomfortable conclusion that "Omar and Tlaib might have had a point" in suggesting Israel acts in an authoritarian and repressive fashion.
  • I neither think this decision was solely Trump's doing -- Israel "caving" to his pressure -- nor do I think he played no role in the decision. I think he successfully convinced Netanyahu to do something that he already kind of wanted to do in the first place, even knowing it probably was a bad idea. Trump was like the frat boy friend egging his buddy into doing another shot flight. That Bibi was probably dimly aware it wasn't the wisest decision in the world doesn't mean that he wasn't ultimately fulfilling his own desires. Ultimately, this was a decision of Israel's right-wing government and they deserve to take the full brunt of punishment for it.
  • I understand why everyone is calling this "counterproductive" from Israel, since it will undoubtedly give a huge boost to the BDS movement. But, as I wrote in the Lara Alqasem case, that really depends on what Israel is trying to "produce". In many ways, Bibi benefits from an ascendant BDS movement, just as they benefit from him; and he likewise benefits from a world divided between conservatives who love everything he does and liberals who loathe him. So the fact that this decision puts wind in the sails of BDS, while further lashing Israel to a purely right-wing mast and alienating it from erstwhile progressive allies, is not necessarily a miscalculation -- it's the intended and desired effect.
  • On that note, remember the other day when 21 Israeli MKs wrote to Congress and said that a two-state solution was "more dangerous" than BDS? Well, if you ever wanted an example of what it looks like to trade "increased BDS support" for "kneecapping two-state solution support", this was it (even though Tlaib isn't a two-stater -- Omar is -- this act was aimed like a laser at the most prominent base of support for two-stateism in America: that is, Democrats).
  • On the other hand, shouldn't these right-wing Israelis be more excited to welcome Tlaib than most other Congresspeople? After all, she opposes the "dangerous" two-state solution! Oh wait, I forgot: in her one-state world, everyone gets to vote. That won't do at all, will it?
  • I love Emma Goldberg description of how Israel will slide away from liberal democracy via Hemingway's description of how he went bankrupt: "Two ways. Gradually, then suddenly." And by love, I mean it gives me a sick feeling of recognition in my stomach.
  • Justifying the ban on the grounds that Omar and Tlaib's visit wasn't "balanced" because they weren't meeting with Israeli or Palestinian government figures, only NGOs, and these are bad NGOs -- spare me. To tell visiting U.S. politicians "you can come, but only if you speak with the 'right' people/visit the 'right' sites/speak the 'correct' words" sounds like something you'd hear from the North Korean embassy. Omar and Tlaib should be entitled to visit with whomever they want to visit, and come to whatever conclusions they end up coming to. If those conclusions are unfair, we should trust the ability to defeat them with more speech, not enforced silence. But again: we can't conflate "unfair" with "critical". It's entirely feasible that a fair-minded individual hearing testimony from West Bank Palestinians will come to a sharply critical conclusion.
  • Some of the attacks on the NGOs Omar and Tlaib were scheduled to meet with are the usual chad gadya (has a leader who's linked to a group which kicked the dog ....) nonsense, but there are some groups with some genuinely bad history. I've consequently seen people suggest that we need to also hold Omar and Tlaib accountable for their part in this fiasco for meeting with members of those groups. Fair enough: I'm happy to hold them accountable, weighted and prioritized in proportion to their relative culpability. In keeping with that metric, I might get around to returning to criticizing their draft itinerary sometime in 2035.
  • Fine, one more thing on the itinerary: Am I correct in reading it as taking Omar and  Tlaib either solely or primarily to the West Bank and East Jerusalem? If so, it's entirely understandable why they'd refer to those locales as "Palestine".
  • Rep. Tlaib initially applied for a humanitarian waiver to visit her family, which was approved, but then she backed out given the conditions the Israeli government was going to impose on the visit (basically, not engaging in "boycott activities"). The usual suspects are crowing: she cares less about her family than she does about boycotting! I say (a) Rep. Tlaib is well within her rights to not prostrate herself to the dictates of a foreign government seeking to humiliate her, and (b) what about the past few days gives anyone the confidence in the Israeli government's ability to fairly adjudge what qualifies as a "boycott activity"?
  • The argument that Israel, as a sovereign state, has a "right" to exclude whomever it wants substitutes a juridical argument for an ethical (and practical) one. Sovereign states are formally empowered to do all sorts of terrible and/or stupid things. This was one of them. Hearing nominal anti-BDS folks make this claim -- which could as easily be applied to "universities and academics have the right to collaborate (or not) with whomever they want to" is probably causing another kidney stone to develop as we speak.
  • The other thing is that Israel is proving itself completely incapable of exercising this "right" in a reasonable manner that distinguishes between genuine threats to national security and unhappiness that people sometimes come to Israel and then say mean things. One of the reasons we liberals seek to limit unchecked government power is precisely because of the suspicion that it won't be exercised responsibly or non-arbitrarily.
  • Of course, the fact that Israel also exercises the practical authority to exclude people not just from Israel-proper, but the West Bank as well, gives lie to the notion that Palestinians even conceptually could have their right to self-determination vindicated solely by voting in PA elections.
  • Silver lining: pretty much the entirety of the American Jewish establishment -- AIPAC, AJC, ADL, J Street, Simon Wiesenthal Center -- came out against this decision. Huzzah for that.
  • Tarnish on even that silver lining: the Conference of President's weak-sauce statement on the matter. "Many of the organizations expressed disagreement with the government’s decision", but "Ultimately, the government of Israel made its assessment of the countervailing arguments and acted upon their conclusion." Really, that's what you're giving us? It's amazing how the Conference doesn't care about the "consensus" of the Jewish community when that consensus is a progressive one.
  • When a prominent member of or institution associated with an outgroup does something awful, it is natural for members of that outgroup to feel acutely vulnerable. In part, that's because they know that this awfulness will be wielded against them; in part, that's because frequently they have feelings for or connections to the target person and institution, and it is painful to see them act in such a terrible fashion. Of course, that feeling of vulnerability needn't and shouldn't be the primary story as compared to those directly victimized by the awful behavior. But it is not per se wrong, or "centering", to acknowledge and validate the existence of the sentiment; nor is such an acknowledgment necessarily one that stands in competition with recognizing the direct damage of the instigating act.
  • The next time a Democrat occupies the Oval Office, I have to wonder what sort of penance is going to be demanded from the Israeli government for years upon years of insult and humiliation. It's not going to be back to as it was before. It's not even going to back as it was in the Obama administration. Democrats will -- rightfully -- insist that Israel pay a price for what it's been doing these past four (if not twelve) years. The flipside of recognizing the importance of preserving Israel as a bipartisan issue is that Israel aligning itself fully and completely with the Republican Party is going to come at a cost. It will be interesting to consider what that cost will be.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

How Much Destruction Has Pearson v. Callahan Wrought?

Today, the Eighth Circuit ruled en banc, in Kelsay v. Ernst, that a police officer violently tackling a non-violent, non-threatening, non-resistant 5'0 130 lbs woman suspected of a misdemeanor, breaking her collarbone, did not violate anyone's clearly established right to be free from the use excessive force. To add insult to injury, the woman the police assaulted was the nominal victim that brought them to the scene -- a friend of hers had tried to toss her into a public swimming pool, someone thought he was assaulting her and called the cops, she tried to tell the police that it was just horseplay and they shouldn't arrest him, and so they naturally responded to this innocent misunderstanding by breaking her bones and arresting her too (for obstruction of justice).

The vote was 8-4, Judge Colloton writing for the majority, with Chief Judge Smith and Judges Kelly, Grasz, and Erickson dissenting.

Sadly, "Eighth Circuit is fine with police officers violently assaulting unarmed, non-violent individuals" is scarcely even news at this point. But Judge Grasz -- dissenting separately (he also joined the main dissent from Chief Judge Smith) -- also made a point to call out the majority for declining to decide whether, going forward, it is indeed unconstitutional to violently tackle a non-violent, non-threatening, non-resistant suspected misdemeanant. This refusal is permissible thanks to a 2009 case called Pearson v. Callahan -- where the Supreme Court said that lower courts could toss civil rights lawsuits solely upon finding that the alleged constitutional violation's unlawfulness was not "clearly established" at the time of the injury, without ever deciding whether the violation actually was unconstitutional. The paradox is that, by refusing to make the latter decision, the law remains not "clearly established", and the government conduct -- even, it must be stressed, conduct that actually is unconstitutional -- is permitted without consequence indefinitely into the future. Even if (and I know this sounds crazy) it is true that violently tackling non-resistant, non-threatening suspects is unconstitutional, the effect of Pearson is that courts never will be compelled to declare it so, and so this unconstitutional abuse can go on in perpetuity.

I'm honestly not sure if any case has a worse ratio of destructiveness-to-public-profile than Pearson. Qualified immunity jurisprudence -- and in particular, the incredible stinginess through which the courts assess whether a given right is "clearly established" -- would still be a disaster without it, but Pearson has turned it into a farce. As Judge Grasz (and several others, including other right-wing stalwarts like Judge Don Willett on the 5th Circuit) have observed, Pearson has locked victims of excessive force into a prison of the court's own jurisprudence, and then allows judges to toss away the key.

If there's anything positive to say here, it's the continued good work from Judge Grasz, who is rapidly becoming one of the great surprises on the Eighth Circuit since his confirmation in 2017 (he had been rated "not qualified" by the ABA after his nomination by President Trump, but was confirmed anyway by a 50-48 vote).

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Things People Blame the Jews For, Volume LIII: The Suicide of Jeffrey Epstein

Accused pedophile and sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein has died in prison of an apparent suicide.

Given how connected Epstein was to a huge array of powerful political, economic, and cultural figures, this obviously was going to raise eyebrows. And since Epstein was Jewish, well ... let's let the Nation of Islam kick us off:

Image


Meanwhile, a "satire" account that supposedly is imitating "SJW" leftists posted and then eventually deleted a tweet about how the Epstein's suicide was orchestrated by "other '-steins' and '-bergs' dispensing justice." Ironic antisemitism is still antisemitism. And of course, the neo-Nazi right is having a field day (this thread is sickening).

Indeed, almost immediately on Epstein's arrest one already was seeing folks salivating at the chance to tie him to the Jews. Steven Salaita, for example, rushed to get on the train:
Image may contain: text that says 'Steven Salaita @stevesalaita Jul 10 This seems like a good time to mention that Jeffrey Epstein (along with Leslie Wexner) funded Rosovsky Hall, the building that houses Harvard Hillel. It's named for a former FAS dean with deep ties to Epstein. 4 42 127'

I bet it does seem like a good time, Steven.

He was joined by journalist Sarah Abdallah ...



 ... and of course the cranks at MintPressNews:
Fortunately, President Trump -- ever the friend of the Jews -- has not endorsed this conspiracy theory, favoring instead the other conspiracy theory that the Clintons took him out.

Wednesday, August 07, 2019

A Galaxy FAR, FAR Away Roundup

In my last roundup, I noted that I was going on the law school job market this year -- a process that commences with the charmingly named "meat market" in Washington this fall. The first thing that law schools receive from potential candidates, however, is the "FAR form" -- a one page document that's basically the back of your law professor baseball card: all your key stats, from degrees to teaching interests to publications. The FAR form gets distributed to law schools tomorrow, and once it's out the hiring season has officially kicked off.

Though if you like, this roundup also can be sponsored by this video about Star Wars.

* * *

Lyft is going to buy carbon-offsets for its rides. Nice.

Famed Holocaust and antisemitism expert Deborah Lipstadt: Trump didn't go far enough in condemning White nationalism.

What happened when a Labour MP tried to intervene with the Israeli government on behalf of sick Palestinian children? She faced a torrent of antisemitic abuse, that's what. Shocking story, but it's the wages of anti-normalization.

I thought this was a really thoughtful discussion between Ken White and Elie Mystal on whether things like the North Carolina gun store billboard targeting "the squad" should be protected as free speech (both -- accurately -- observe at the outset that it is protected; the discussion is about whether that doctrine is correct).

The "Word Crimes" special issue of Israel Studies continues to generate controversy: the editors of the journal issued an apology acknowledging that "the special issue and our decision-making process regarding the publication were flawed", but also defending themselves against some of the more histrionic critiquesThe editors of the special issue in turn replied to the journal editor's apology, as well as addressing the wider controversy, here.

In California, locally-assessed fees sometimes make new housing construction cost-prohibitive. Locally-assessed fees are assessed, however, because Prop. 13 took a chainsaw to localities ability to raise revenue via property taxes, and so they have to get creative if they're to bring money in.

RIP Toni Morrison.

Tuesday, August 06, 2019

Islamophobe Walks Out of Anti-Omar Protest Because Muslim Speaker Joined Protesters

The opening to this story, about a protest against Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) organized by the newly-formed Minnesota Jewish Coalition, is absolutely wild:
An estimated 100 people showed up Thursday afternoon for a Minnesota Jewish Coalition-organized rally on the steps of the State Capitol in St. Paul, but a vocal few were very disappointed with the direction the event took.
Marni Hockenberg, a Republican activist who live-streamed to her Facebook account that she was outraged that Somali activist Omar Jamal was one of the speakers of the event, “Stand Against Ilhan Omar’s Antisemitic Ideas & Support For BDS!”
“What the hell are they having a Somali speaker for?” Hockenberg said on her Facebook video posted to her account under the pseudonym Marnie Mockenberg. “This is wrong. I knew there was something wrong with this rally. I’m out of here.”
Again, just so we're clear: the Somali speaker (Omar Jamal, Director of the Somali Justice Advocacy Center) was part of the protest against Omar's' "Antisemitic Ideas & Support for BDS". Hockenberg is so intolerant of Muslims she can't even tolerate them agreeing with her on other Muslims. That's the friction point in the anti-Omar movement these days, apparently.

Anyway. Now that this rally is concluded, I'm sure the MJC will be organizing a similar rally targeting Rep. Tom Emmer and then another aimed at a Rep. Jim Hagedorn.

Any day now. Any day.

Monday, August 05, 2019

On the California Ethnic Studies Controversy

Soon, if you haven't already, you will likely hear of controversies relating to the draft model ethnic curriculum guidelines recently promulgated by the California Department of Education. The LA Times recently editorialized against them as a jargon-laden PC smorgasbord, and much of the Jewish community has also rallied against the curriculum's almost complete exclusion and erasure of Jews, Jewishness, and antisemitism (alongside its promotion of BDS). The California Legislative Jewish Caucus released a letter expressing its deep concerns with the curriculum, including the somewhat explosive allegation that the omission of Jews was not a mere oversight but rather was "intentional" on the part of the curriculum drafters and reflective of their particular "political bias".

There's also a related movement by the California Middle Eastern Jewish community, led by JIMENA, that is protesting against the specific omission of Middle Eastern/Mizrahi Jews from the "Arab American Studies" curriculum (see their "call to action").

The public comment period remains open; I actually submitted comments several days ago. Mine focused on the Mizrahi Jewish issue; while I was in conversation with JIMENA on this question, my comments were my own and submitted in my personal capacity.

Anyway. In an undoubtedly futile effort to contextualize this controversy, which I am sure will soon explode into the press as "the Jews vs. Ethnic Studies!", I offer the following quick thoughts:

  • None of the major interventions I've seen from the Jewish community have opposed the Ethnic Studies mandate passed by the California legislature. This is not a case of Jews opposing Ethnic Studies; "the Jews vs. Ethnic Studies" frame, tempting as it is, is incorrect. 
  • If anything, this is a case of Jews seeking inclusion within Ethnic Studies. Their objection is rather that the draft curriculum erases Jews from the Ethnic Studies pantheon -- an erasure that, if the CLJC letter is correct, was not an oversight but rather malicious in character. 
  • The most unifying "ask" by the Jewish intervenors has been to ensure that antisemitism and Jewish ethnic identity gets its fair share of attention within the Ethnic Studies curriculum, whether it is in a model course of its own or at the very least due attention in the draft "survey" course.
  • That this is a call for inclusion, not exclusion, is even more important to stress in the Mizrahi Jewish case. Jews from places like Iraq, Morocco, Tunisia, and Egypt have every right to be included in an "Arab American Studies" curriculum; that curriculum is as much theirs as it is anyone else's. The assumption that their objections come "from the outside" is a form of antisemitic otherization, nothing more.
  • In the wake of the debate over H. Res. 246, I have a sneaking suspicion that we're going to see some quick pivots from "if government is allowed to express its negative opinion of BDS in a non-binding resolution, free speech in America is dead!" to "if government doesn't explicitly endorse BDS in its K-12 model curriculum, free speech in America is dead!" Maybe I'm too cynical. But we'll see.
If you want to offer your own comments, you can download the form here. I suggest reading JIMENA's call to action for some suggested do/don'ts so you can understand what the community does and does not want from its allies on this issue (DO: "Be respectful – no bashing Ethnic Studies"; "Share how the Model Curriculum personally impacts you as a student, parent, educator, or concerned Jewish resident of California." DON'T: "Attack the State of California or the Board of Education for passing legislation requiring the State to implement Ethnic Studies Curriculum";
"Attack state officials or communities referenced in the curriculum – such as Palestinians, Arabs or Muslims.").

Sunday, August 04, 2019

Institutional Jewish Responses To GOP Anti-Semitism: A Minnesota Play

Allow me to present to you a one act play on how the institutional Jewish community responds to antisemitic discourse emanating from the mainstream Republican party. The players are:

  • Rep. Tom Emmer, Minnesota Republican and Chair of the NRCC.
  • Steve Hunegs, Executive Director of the JCRC for Minnesota and the Dakotas.
  • NRCC Spokesperson

Ready?
Emmer: "Republican donors! Here is the trio of evil Jewish communist billionaires who BOUGHT control of Congress!"
Hunegs: "Hey, Tom, that rhetoric has some incendiary antisemitic connotations. Maybe don't use it?"
NRCC spokesperson: "LOL, get bent."
Hunegs: "Yes sir. And let me just reiterate that Tom Emmer is a true friend of the Jewish people."
And scene.

Ideally, this little play might get placed in conversation with the current box office smash "Everything Ilhan Omar Says is Sharia -- A Ninety-Six Part Epic". Yet, despite the fact that Emmer's dalliances in this sort of antisemitism are actually a bit of a trend when it comes to Minnesota Republicans (paging Jim Hagedorn!), I somehow doubt that will be so.

Thursday, August 01, 2019

Preparing the Meat Roundup

I'm going on the law school job market this fall. That process began this week, when I sent in my application to the "Faculty Recruitment Conference" in Washington, DC, charmingly nicknamed the "meat market". But possibly inappropriate name aside, it actually is a relatively humane way of organizing academic hiring: all the law schools come to DC for their first round interviews, which take place over one weekend at a single hotel. Makes for a rather frenetic weekend, but the centralized process does cut down on applicant labor time.

* * *

And then there were none: the last African-American GOP Representative in the House, Rep. Will Hurd of Texas, will not run for re-election in 2020. Hurd barely squeaked by Gina Ortiz Jones in 2018; Jones had already jumped into the race for 2020.

LibDem wave! LibDems picked up a parliamentary seat in the Wales constituency of Brecon and Radnorshire. The seat had been held by the Tories, and their defeat cuts Boris Johnson's parliamentary majority (which already depends on the support of a third party) to a single vote.

The Poway synagogue shooter was inspired by the Christchurch mosque shooter. That's because extreme-right Islamophobia feeds into extreme-right antisemitism, and vice versa.

Despite the efforts by some on the right that reflexively label the entire "squad" as antisemitic, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez actually hasn't said all that much on Israel or Jews. A recent interview changed that -- and revealed that her positions are for the most part wholly harmonious with those of liberal Jews across the country (absent, perhaps, her fondness for IfNotNow). "The same way that me criticizing Trump doesn’t make me anti-American, criticizing the occupation doesn’t make you anti-Israel, frankly. It doesn’t mean you are against the existence of a nation." Well spoken.

Long-time Baltimore-area Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) -- in the news after Trump attacked him by declaring all of Baltimore a place "no human" would want to live -- has long quietly promoted an exchange program bringing young Black Americans to Israel. JTA interviewed several of the trip's alumni -- they offer a great endorsement of what seems to be a wonderful program.

NPR interviews Wanda Sykes. Who knew she used to work at the NSA?

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

What's the Insurgent Democratic Map to 270?

Periodically, I hear calls from the leftier edge of the Democratic Party that basically say that in the 2020 presidential election Democrats shouldn't try to pander to working class whites or "swing-y" affluent suburbs. Their path to victory is instead goosing turn out by their base -- urban progressives and people of color. Stop trying to win Ohio, and instead pick up Georgia.

Now, I'm decisively of the view that the strategy Democrats should adopt in the 2020 election is the one that wins them the presidency. That doesn't mean I'm adverse to this strategy, I just want to hear how it's supposed to work in practice. What route do these advocates had in mind to get Democrats to 270?

Let's stipulate that Democrats will keep all of Clinton's wins next time around. That's 232 electoral votes, so they need to gain another 38. Here is my list of all the states that I can imagine as even plausibly competitive:

Arizona - 11 EVs
Florida - 29 EVs
Georgia - 16 EVs
Indiana - 11 EVs
Iowa - 6 EVs
Maine (2nd District) - 1 EV
Michigan - 16 EVs
Nebraska (2nd District) - 1 EV
North Carolina - 15 EVs
Ohio - 18 EVs
Pennsylvania - 20 EVs
Texas - 38 EVs
Wisconsin - 11 EVs

The most traditional Democratic path to 270 is the "blue wall" that failed the last time around: Michigan (16), Pennsylvania (20), and Wisconsin (11). These all have the reputation of being kind of rust beltish, working class old-guard union states, and so presumably going after that trifecta is the strategy that's being criticized. And I think the critics have a point: you need all three to get to 38, and I'm on the record as being very bearish on Democrats' chances of taking Wisconsin back. So even if Democrats take Michigan and Pennsylvania, they need another three votes from somewhere.

So the question is -- is the strategy "Michigan + Pennsylvania + [somewhere else]" -- if so, what somewhere else? I can see either North Carolina or Arizona as the next most viable targets, but while neither is traditionally liberal turf, both are very different in terms of how Democrats might appeal.

Or is it a more radical departure? The "new southern" strategy, gets Democrats there via Florida + either North Carolina or Georgia. But I'm bearish on Florida too, and Georgia I think is still a pipe dream (let's remember that Stacey Abrams lost, and even if you think the reason she lost was because Kemp stole it, why would Kemp be less able to effectuate a theft now that he's in the governor's mansion?). Texas would win it for Democrats in one fell swoop, but I hardly want to put all my eggs in that basket.

But anyway, I'm digressing. If you're a proponent of the more "insurgent-style" Democratic brand of politics, what states do you think are the prime targets to flip in 2020? Even if you think you can put a huge amount of red turf into play, what, in your mind, are the juiciest targets? Is it still the "traditional" purple states like Wisconsin? Or is it a new path?

Friday, July 26, 2019

Ubaidullah Abdulrashid Radiowala: Another One We Betrayed

This case brings back some bad memories. A rickshaw driver in his native India, Ubaidullah Abdulrashid Radiowala came to the United States on a visitor's visa in 1998. He stayed, as he was fleeing an Indian mobster whom he had informed on to the police.

In his time in the U.S., he built his own successful business and served as sole provider for his wife and four children (two whom immigrated to the US with him and are under DACA protection, two of whom were born in America). Three of his children are now in college, the fourth in high school. His earnings account for the entirety of his household's expenses -- food, tuition, rent, everything.

Radiowala was arrested in 2017 on a traffic stop, and was ordered deported. Although there was some evidence that the mobster he had informed on might try to hurt him in India, it was too late for Radiowala to request asylum. And while the U.S. has the power to cancel removal for persons in his position, the IJ concluded that removing Radiowala would not cause "exceptional and extremely unusual hardship to his spouse, parent, or child, who is a United States citizen" (in this case, his two U.S. citizen children). Although his children would no doubt suffer, the IJ and Board of Immigration Appeals decided that their suffering was not exceptional compared to any other family with a parent or spouse facing removal.

The Third Circuit affirmed. And the reason this case brings back some bad memories isn't because I think the decision was wrong. It's because it was probably right. The bad memories I have stem from the near-impossible standard of review that we were faced with when overseeing the immigration docket. The needless cruelty and trifling pettiness of the immigration system was entirely out of our hands to check. It didn't matter. Where it might matter was in the chambers of immigration judges -- who were wildly overworked and may or may not care -- and, of course, in the initial decision of immigration officials to make commonsense decisions about which cases to prioritize and which to let slide. But by the time the case gets up to the appellate court level, the immigrant is pretty well doomed -- no matter how cruel or manifestly unjust their case is.

So let's be clear: deporting Ubaidullah Abdulrashid Radiowala is needlessly cruel and manifestly unjust. There's no point to it other than the cruelty. He had been living in the United States for almost twenty years. He had raised a family here. He had sent his kids to college. He had built a successful business. He hadn't hurt anybody. He came to immigration authority's attention based on a traffic stop. A traffic stop!

But of course, today the cruelty is the point.

Radiowala has already been deported back to India. I hope he's safe. And I hope his family is getting by. But goodness, what a terrible thing we've done. What a terrible, terrible betrayal of the American ethos this is.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Some Libertarians Are REAL Easy to "Coerce"

John Ziegler is a "conservative/libertarian" columnist who has views on race and how our current surge in racism came to be. Specifically, he thinks that "The left forced non urban/liberal whites (even those who were not overtly racist) to start thinking tribally."

Wow, forced, you say? That's strong language, and some people reasonably wanted to some clarification as to what "forcing" Ziegler had in mind. It must have been pretty intense, to force good White people (even the not overtly racist ones!) into "tribal" thinking.

Or, well, it could be this:
Okay then. I guess I just have a different view on what counts as "force". But then, I'm not a libertarian, with their deep respect for human agency and liberty, nor a conservative, with their strong commitment to personal responsibility.

H/T: Hilzoy, who also spotted the "one for English" example (this post emerged because I had to dig that one out myself -- I couldn't believe it just from reading it).

Monday, July 22, 2019

Mark Sanford's Proposed Primary Challenge Against Trump

Mark Sanford has had an interesting career.

The former Governor of South Carolina penned a beautiful editorial about what it meant for Barack Obama to compete in his state's primary in 2008. Of course, his tenure as Governor is most renowned when he went missing -- "hiking the Appalachian Trail", his staff claimed -- in order to visit a mistress in Buenos Aires.

An improbable comeback saw him elected to the House, only to lose a primary challenge from far-right Republican Katie Arrington, who in turn improbably lost the general election in a deep red seat to Democrat Joe Cunningham.

And now Sanford is mulling challenging Donald Trump in the Republican primary.

What's interesting is that while Sanford is at least decently positioned to tackle Trump on his racism and bigotry (Sanford was one of the more vocal Republicans calling him out on that while in Congress), that doesn't sound like it will be the focus of his proposed primary:
But notably, Sanford, who has been a vocal critic of Trump in the past, isn’t here to reclaim morality, or stand against Trump’s racist rhetoric. Trump’s racism is all distraction, Sanford says, from what he sees as the true problem facing America: bloated Social Security and Medicare programs raising the national debt.
“It’s this sort of nuclear swirl with Trump in the center of it in Republican circles, and in the process, we’re not talking about issues like the debt and the deficit that I think really are going to impact people’s lives in profound ways,” he said. “I would rather you get a little more excited about debt, deficit, and government spending than the tone I hear in your voice. I want passion. I want passion on this subject.”
Now, to be sure -- a GOP primary against Trump for his racism would be doomed to fail for the simple reason that Trump's racism is overwhelmingly popular among Republicans. But at least it'd provide a stark moral narrative. A campaign centered around the scintillating subject of the national debt is both doomed to fail and pointless.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Is Hockey the Hardest Sport To Announce?

One thing I've often suspected, but have no way of verifying, is that ice hockey is the hardest sport to announce (that is, do play-by-play) on television. It's fast, chaotic, and the players are swathed in padding that makes them all look identical. Sometimes watching a hockey game I'm blown away at the ability of the announcers to even keep up with the action, much less give informative commentary.

Am I right? On the one hand, I have absolutely no experience broadcasting anything and thus all of my opinions are ignorant. On the other hand, this is the internet -- so why should lack of experience and utter ignorance stop me?

So, with all that in mind, I've created a four-part rubric to gauge announcing difficulty (each element on a five point scale).

1) Chaos: How fast does the action happen? How ordered or disordered is it? Sports which are highly position-oriented might be fast-paced but you pretty much know where everyone is going to be (i.e., the quarterback will, for the most part, always be doing quarterback-y things). Other sports are more free-for-all.

2) Density: How many "announceable actions per minute" are there? Some sports are densely-packed with "things" that need to be announced (i.e., each time there's a pass, you pretty much need to say who the pass was to and from). Others are more leisurely.

3) Spread: How many different things are happening at the same time? In a boxing match, you can pretty much concentrate on what's going on in one spot -- where the boxers are fighting (note how there might be very dense action in a boxing match that's not at all spread out). In a football game, different announceable things may be happening all across the field simultaneously.

4) Opaqueness: How much of what's going on is pretty much intuitive to anyone with a basic understanding of the game, and how much needs explanation? Are there deep rule interpretations that need to be explained on the fly, or is everything pretty much as it appears on face?

I'm not including in my metric difficulties associated with making the sport interesting. Perhaps it's really hard to craft a gripping narrative about golf, but if that was part of the criteria then the most boring sport would be the hardest. I also assume that the announcer has a solid grasp of the sport he or she is broadcasting, and an audience which has basic familiarity with the rules of the game.

Okay -- without further delay:

Hockey
The reason I think hockey is the most difficult is because the game moves so damn fast. Players are constantly passing and checking and shooting and crashing into each other. And while hockey has positions, outside the goalie any player can pretty much be anywhere at any time. To be able to pick up (underneath layers of padding) that it was Jon Smith who leveled that check in the corner in the approximately .5 seconds you have to react before having to announce who retrieved the loose puck and centered it.... is a task that seems positively titanic.

Chaos: 5, Density: 5, Spread: 3.5, Opaqueness: 2.5. Total: 16

Football
The rules in football are often pretty hard to follow (what makes "holding" different from anything else the defense does?). It's a relatively spread out game, and as the play develops there's a lot to call, but soon the action pretty much converges and it gets a lot simpler. Plus you get lots of long breaks between plays.

Chaos: 2.5, Density: 2.5, Spread: 4, Opaqueness, 3. Total: 12

Soccer
From an announcing standpoint, it's like slower hockey. Plenty of passing and movement, but not done with the rapidity of a hockey game (and you can see everyone's faces, which helps). Hard to truly appraise penalties when everyone is flopping all the time.

Chaos: 2.5, Density: 2.5, Spread: 3.5, Opaqueness: 2.5. Total: 11

Basketball
Very similar to soccer. It's a little faster, but also a bit more compact (the larger field size in soccer means you have to keep an eye on more things).

Chaos: 2.5, Density: 3, Spread: 3, Opaqueness: 2. Total: 10.5

Boxing
One thing to focus on, but that thing can get hectic in a hurry. Boxing also seems to have more than its share of bizarre moments, though for the most part it's pretty intuitive that the person getting beaten up is losing.

Chaos: 2, Density: 3, Spread: 1, Opaqueness: 2. Total: 8

Gymnastics and Figure Skating
I think these have the exact same issues for an announcer. They're pretty slow, you've got time to breathe between announceable actions, but the major problem is that outside blatantly obvious falls and flops no lay person can tell what's intentional and what's a mistake. A figure skating announcer could tell me literally anything about the average routine -- from "it's the most dazzling performance the Olympics has seen in decades" to "most middle schoolers could handle this" -- and I'd believe them.

Chaos: 1, Density: 1.5, Spread: 1, Opaqueness: 4.5. Total: 8

Tennis
Another relatively straight-forward sport, albeit one that moves pretty fast.

Chaos: 2, Density: 2, Spread: 1, Opaqueness: 1.5. Total: 6.5

Baseball
Slow-paced, rigidly position-oriented -- people are always pretty much where you expect them to be -- and only occasional need to pay attention to more than one thing at a time (tagging up runners, stolen bases). Baseball also has a couple truly weird rules that come up more than you'd think (infield fly rule, balks).

Chaos: 1, Density: 1, Spread: 1.5, Opaqueness: 1.5. Total: 5

Golf
One thing happens: a player hits a shot. You talk about it as it soars through the air, until it lands. If it's closer to the hole, that's usually good. Further, bad. Some very obvious traps are also bad. Repeat.

Chaos: 1, Density: 1, Spread: 1, Opaqueness: 1. Total: 4

Not rated: Rugby, Lacrosse. These are two sports that in particular I can imagine being quite difficult to announce, but I don't know enough about them to say for sure.

I Want To Like Soccer

I want to like soccer.

Like most of my generation, I played soccer as a kid (for far longer than Little League or any other sport). I like its international character, especially how even relatively obscure teams always seem to have a few players from some random nation halfway across the world. I like how every country has approximately twenty six leagues, and I like the promotion/relegation system where entire teams can move to more or less prestigious leagues based on their performance. Wikipedia tells me there is a Bethesda Athletic FC the plays in some fifth-level league in Wales, and I'd love a jersey from them (for those of you who don't know, I grew up in Bethesda -- Maryland, not Wales).

But my goodness is the sport boring to watch.

I don't know how people do it. Occasionally, I can get into a match when there's some serious big-game atmosphere. And I appreciate the World Cup as another opportunity to apply my Olympics-rooting-rules (in essence: always root for formerly colonized nations to crush their erstwhile colonial overlords). When Team USA performs well, or there's some other good narrative (I'm a sucker for underdog tales) I can enjoy the story.

Yet by and large, it's just not that interesting a sport to watch. Nothing happens -- nothing even really threatens to happen -- for 95% of the time. The most common "action" is players faking injuries. Fans are so starved for action that they roar in anticipation if the ball even arcs towards the net.

As a spectator sport, I just don't get it.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

The Rules of Racial Standing Hit Ayanna Pressley

In the wake of the latest Trump racism scandal, which targeted Rep. Ayanna Pressley alongside Reps. Omar, Ocasio-Cortez, and Tlaib, one particularly depressing thing to witness is the simple rote reflexive declaration that they're antisemitic, anti-Jewish, anti-Israel, and therefore have it coming.

To be clear: None of the women deserve to be targeted by racist vitriol. That remains true even granted insensitive things some of these women have said (though even the worst offender -- Rep. Omar with her "hypnotize" quote -- still hasn't done anything approaching singling out prominent women of color and saying they should remove themselves from America). You'd think that go without saying, though it apparently needs to be said and said again to all but four members of the GOP caucus. I suppose also if it went "without saying", we wouldn't have a racist President saying them.

Yet there also must be made mention of the particular way this discourse is playing out with respect to Rep. Pressley. Pressley has no history of antisemitism, or anti-Israel advocacy, or anything else. Yet in fulminations about the evils of the "squad", and newly-elected progressive women of color, she's treated as an equally valid target of indiscriminate fulminations about left-wing antisemitism.

This is nothing new for Pressley. But, confronted with the evidence that Pressley has never said, done, or implied anything that gives rise to any inference of antisemitic animus whatsoever, those spitting fire at her seem unbowed. They argue that the fact that Pressley is so proximate to Omar, Tlaib, and Ocasio-Cortez means it is incumbent on her to condemn them -- and if she doesn't, she must be endorsing them (it has to be said here that the evidence of antisemitism from AOC is also needle-thin -- from what I can see, it primarily hinges on (a) calling Israel's response to the Gaza protests a "massacre" and (b) a phone call to Jeremy Corbyn).

That argument -- that if Pressley is not vocally denouncing alleged antisemitism by other Congresswomen, she must be endorsing the sentiments -- reminded me of one of Derrick Bell's famous "Rules of Racial Standing", which he published in his 1992 book Faces at the Bottom of the Well. The fourth rule ran as follows:
When a black person or group makes a statement or takes an action that the white community or vocal components thereof deem "outrageous," the latter will actively recruit blacks willing to refute the statement or condemn the action. Blacks who respond to this call for condemnation will receive superstanding status. Those blacks who refuse to be recruited will be interpreted as endorsing the statements and action and may suffer political consequences (118).
I referenced this dynamic a bit in this post, but the point is the manner in which Pressley is being treated -- guilty-until-proven-innocent, on the hook to constantly condemn (to our satisfaction) this or that "outrageous" thing said by her fellow congresswomen, despite no evidence that she shares any such problematic views -- is nothing new. It is a phenomenon of long standing, and it is noticed.

And let's be clear: this is how Pressley is being treated. She's young(-ish), Black, progressive, and so therefore just defaulted to be a threat. The absence of evidence doesn't deter this assessment in the slightest -- it just causes a slight fallback: now if she isn't spending her days railing against AOC, that counts as evidence of endorsement.

Of course, noticing it does little good. Again, it's not like this phenomenon has gone unremarked upon; it's constantly remarked upon and yet repeats itself over and over again. And so Bell's fifth Rule of Racial Standing tells us that while understanding the rules can give one prophetic power of how racism will operate, "[t]he price of this knowledge is the frustration that follows recognition that no amount of public prophecy, no matter its accuracy, can either repeal the Rules of Racial Standing or prevent their operation" (125).

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Calling Something Racist is Worse Than Being Racist, House Edition

Today, the House of Representatives voted 240-187 to condemn "President Trump’s racist comments directed at Members of Congress." A grand total of four Republicans -- Reps. Susan Brooks (IN), Brian Fitzpatrick (MI), Will Hurd (TX), Fred Upton (MI), along with newly-independent Rep. Justin Amash (MI) -- joined every Democrat in voting for the resolution. In case you're curious, Brooks already announced she's retiring, Upton is a major Democratic target in 2020 (and on the retirement watchlist), Hurd -- the sole Black Republican in the House -- is a major 2020 target, and Fitzpatrick is  -- you guessed it -- a major Democratic target in 2020.

In any event, in the course the debate over the resolution, chaos erupted when Speaker Pelosi referred to Trump's racist comments as "racist". Republicans sought to strike that from the record, citing parliamentary rules which forbid calling the President "racist" (see page 190). The rulings against calling the President racist, or saying he's made racist or bigoted comments, or of having run a prejudiced campaign, started popping up in 2016 and 2017 (no such rule can be found in the manual for the 114th Congress). How mysterious. Can't imagine what Paul Ryan and company were thinking when they slotted those in.

We now return to our regularly scheduled political commentary about how liberal snowflakes need to be protected from hurtful speech that damages their feelings and will resort to outright censorship in order to accomplish it.

Monday, July 15, 2019

"Jewish" is an Identity

Donald Trump said some racist things the other day, telling a group of non-White female congresswoman to "go back" to the countries where they "came from" (three of the four targeted women are US-born, the fourth is a naturalized citizen).

I know -- Trump, racism, quelle surprise -- but this time it's actually being called out by name. CNN even showed some actual mettle in doubling-down on the label, running the headline: "Trump denies racist tweets were racist". Kudos to them.

Unsurprisingly, quite a few Jewish politicians and organizations have weighed in on the controversy -- in part because we, too, often are targeted with "go back to .... " bigotry, and in part because Trump decided to rope in Israel into his defense of his racist tirade.

Mostly, the Jewish organizations performed as you'd expect. The conservative ones basically backed Trump. The liberal and centrist ones (that's everybody from the ADL to Bend the Arc, Bernie Sanders to Chuck Schumer) were withering and unsparing. The AJC's statement stood out for its limpness, which is entirely on brand for them at this point ("potshots"?). But I want to take just a second to reflect on the statement of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which wrote the following:
“Every American came from somewhere. Time for everyone in #WashingtonDC to drop the identity politics #racism.”
Put aside the false equivalency -- that this sort of racism Trump is espousing is something that "everyone" in Washington is doing, as opposed to being the virtual sole province of Trump and his backers. What's up with the gratuitous -- dare I say "potshot" -- at "identity politics"?

Here's a news flash: the Simon Wiesenthal Center is a self-consciously Jewish organization (as are all the other groups on the JTA list). Which is fine. But Jewish is an identity! When Jews organize around Jewishness to engage in political action -- whether it's to fight antisemitism, advocate for Israel, defend immigrants, combat White supremacy, urge Holocaust education, or what have you -- that's identity politics! It can be done well or poorly, or in service of good objectives or bad, but there's nothing wrong with it in concept. The Simon Wiesenthal Center is one big tribute to the power of identity politics!

I know the Simon Wiesenthal Center hasn't exactly been covering itself with glory during the Trump administration, but this is ridiculous. The problem with what Trump said is that it's racist -- full stop. "Identity politics" has nothing to do with it.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Holding Mussolini's Jacket

I have to give Ted Cruz a little credit for coming up with a pithy description of his own historical legacy:
“[Cruz] told confidantes there was ‘no way in hell’ he was prepared to subjugate himself to Trump in front of tens of millions of viewers,” Alberta writes. “ ‘History isn't kind to the man who holds Mussolini's jacket,’ Cruz told friends in 2016.”
No, I imagine it isn't. And don't think we'll forget it.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

"Navigating Intersectional Landscapes" for Jews: Half Bad, Half Good, Sadly Incoherent

The Reut Group, in partnership with the JCPA, has written a new set of guidelines for Jewish community professionals seeking to deal with the "challenge of intersectionality" to Jewish engagement on Israel.

It's a fascinating piece, in that I disagree with much of the diagnosis but agree almost entirely with the prescriptions. Normally one sees the opposite -- agreeing with the problem but disagreeing on how to solve it. Here, I think the guidelines do an exceedingly poor job in identifying the issues but -- miraculously -- ends up urging action-items that are very close to what I'd propose anyway. It creates a whiplash document which is myopic in the first half and insightful in the second half. It's a 43-page document that should be started at page 23.

Start with the positive. The guidelines decisively reject uncompromising approaches that effectively write-off huge swaths of the Israel-critical Jewish community unless they agree to become Bibi-cheerleaders. It says that communal "redlines" and definitions of Israel "delegitimization" should be drawn narrowly and with an eye toward a big tent, and suggests that this tent should include even harsh Israel critics (the "wedge" point, the guidelines suggest, should be peeling off "harsh critics" from outright radical anti-Zionists -- the former kosher, the latter not). It notes that many Jewish youth express feelings of "betrayal" when their only pre-collegiate education on Israel consists of simplistic cheerleader narratives, and thus insists we'll need to prepare them for tough conversations. It speaks out against the propensity of some Jewish writers and organizations to effectively carpet bomb the slightest whisper of "anti-Israel" activity from progressive writers and political figures, especially from racial minorities, and says that we should be more willing to unite around issues of common concern even when there are sharp disagreements over Israel. Critics of Israel should be encouraged to structure their concerns in ways that manifest continued engagement (e.g., BLM-sympathizers should aid Ethiopian Jews protesting police violence; immigration activists should work on behalf of Eritrean asylum-seekers, all in ways that try to shore up and bolster humanitarian and liberal institutions currently operating in Israel).

Overall, the document preaches a message of engagement and putting in the work, and understands that overreaction can be as damaging as the initial blow. Finally, while framed around the "challenge of intersectionality", the article doesn't present intersectionality as solely an enemy to be destroyed but rather a resource to be harnessed -- you beat bad intersectionality with better intersectionality (though I might suggest here that part of that project is starting to wean ourselves off the reflexive treatment of intersectionality as a "challenge").

All of these are things that I like. But it's weirdly difficult to see how they got to this fabulous destination given the route that they took in identifying the problems they purport to tackle. The first, diagnostic half of the document almost entirely fails to recognize the fact that Jewish anxiety around Israel stems from tensions emanating from two sides, not one. Yes, there's the problem of people on the far-left demanding Jews "check their Zionism at the door", or submit to humiliating ideological litmus tests before being acknowledged as one of the good Jews. But there's the equal problem of people in the pro-Israel community demanding Jews "check their progressivism at the door", insisting that they are traitors to the Jewish people if they insist on applying progressive values to issues surrounding Israel or even, sometimes, just for being progressives generally. Both sides of this are troublesome, and both sides contribute to the problem.

I suppose the authors might argue that the goal of this document is simply to focus on the "intersectional" aspect of the challenge, and grappling with the challenge of rigid and uncompromising pro-Israel fanaticism is best given its own treatment. One problem with this apologia is that I've never seen a document of this sort written by a body like the JCPA which takes as its "challenge" the way rigid and uncompromising pro-Israel fanaticism prompts American Jewish disengagement. You can't argue for division of labor if you never actually assign anyone to cover the other half of the work. Moreover, the very topography of the document seems to make this problem incognizable: its taxonomy of "American Jewish tribes" re: Israel -- "aligners", "moderate critics", "harsh critics", and "radicals" -- is presented as a continuum from most safe to most threatening. "Aligners" -- those who "consider Israel to be an integral part of their Jewish identity and generally support the State of Israel" -- lock down one side of the spectrum and are presented as wholly unproblematic and uncomplicated figures, as against the "critics" who, though not portrayed as "enemies", are viewed as at-risk.

Yet pretty much any of us in the "moderate" or "harsh critic" camp have a lot of experience with an unnamed and unmarked fifth tribe -- the "zealots". These are the people who radically identify not just with "Israel" but with its most extreme, irredentist settler right, and who actively seek to sabotage or demolish any Israel discourse -- in the Jewish community or outside -- that is viewed as a threat to the Greater Israel project. It is a problem, and an increasingly unforgivable problem, that we refuse to call this group out or treat it as if it isn't a meaningful player. Is it representative of the majority of "pro-Israel" Jews? No. Is it at least as prominent, toxic, and destructive as the anti-Zionist "radicals" that are the "bad guy" focus of documents like this? Yes.

For many Jews, then, the forces which end up yielding disengagement from Israel aren't (just) looming pressures from the far-left, which they may be closer to or more distant from as they traverse from "aligner" to "moderate critic" to "harsh critic". Rather, it's bidirectional -- the left-radicals tug us from one side and the zealots from the other, and (pinching towards the center of the continuum, if not necessarily the political spectrum) we see ambivalence or apathy from the "aligners" or the "harsh critics" who seem unwilling to challenge the bad behavior of their neighboring extremists.

The result is a feeling of being "pulled apart" on the issue of Israel -- "engaging" with Israel means choosing between two equally unappealing forms of zealotry. This was a major theme of the "safe and on the sidelines" study on Jewish student disengagement that came out of Stanford a few years ago: simply put, students felt like Jewish life on campus meant enlisting in a war. Go to the various social justice groups, and they were asked to join a war on Israel. Go to Hillel, and they're called to join a war for Israel. But these students didn't come to college to fight a war, they came take some classes, have some beers, make some friends, and get their psychology degree. They aren't averse to Israel being part of their Jewish lives per se, but they are averse to becoming ideological soldiers in a brutal trench war, and they felt that both "sides" of the fight refused to leave room for anything but fanaticism. So they disengage.

If you want to write about why some Jews are disengaging from Israel, approximately half the story hence has to target overly zealous and uncompromising efforts by putative "Israel supporters" to impose a "my way or the highway" approach that should be and will be flatly unacceptable to huge swaths of contemporary American Jews. The prescription section gestures at this by insisting that "red lines" and "Israel delegitimization" be drawn narrowly. But the failure to explicitly grapple with the far side of the problem comes at cost -- the document is notably vague in actually laying out what is and isn't a legitimate operating case of "delegitimization", and offers virtually no guidance as to how to respond to those forces in the Jewish community which have recklessly and harmfully expanded the in a bid to exclude giant swaths of the Jewish community (consider the mostly successful efforts to bar J Street from the "communal circle" at the institutional level). Likewise, the document commits one of my cardinal sins in that it does not even acknowledge, much less explore, the possibility that there ought to be right-ward "redlines" -- positions associated with the "pro-Israel" right that, if taken, preclude them from being considered members-in-good-standing of the Jewish communal world. It's not an accident that our redlines are only applied to JVP and not ZOA.

If you only read the diagnostic part of document, you'd come away with the impression that the only reason Jews (and non-Jews) are drifting from Israel engagement is because of unreasonable haranguing from an ideological left that thinks Israel can do no right. The idea that the right side of the political spectrum bears any responsibility for the problem -- including the erosion of Israel as a "bipartisan" issue -- is scarcely even gestured at. The simple reality that a deeply conservative government imposing deeply conservative policies and which has deeply entrenched itself as the dominant force in Israeli politics is going to eventually become deeply unpopular with progressives is not even acknowledged. At some point, asking progressives "why don't you like Israel?" is like asking them "why don't you like Mississippi?" It's not some mysterious-cum-mystical antagonism -- it's because they're both conservative places enacting conservative policies which progressives aren't going to like! There's no strategy for arresting that trend that doesn't entail, at least in part, trying to insist on more progressive policies in those locales.

The astounding lack of attention to the way right-wing forces have their share of responsibility for undermining American Jewish engagement with Israel is only underlined by perhaps its only exception. Buried in footnote 21 (in approximately 3 point font) we see this doozy: "Israel’s lack of a credible and persistent commitment to the two state-solution has become a significant stumbling block in Israel’s relations with World Jewry. Any form of annexation in the West Bank would dramatically and potentially irreversibly accelerate that trend." Yeah, no kidding! Talk about hiding elephants in mouseholes! But taking that seriously means that, if your goal is reversing the disengagement of world Jewry from Israel, you need in part to tackle "Israel's lack of a credible and persistent commitment to the two-state solution" -- and that includes taking on the members of the pro-Israel community who outright oppose a two-state solution and are seeking to affirmatively undermine it at every turn. Yet even as one-stateism has become Republican Party dogma, it gets virtually no attention in favor of an entire section on the "Corbynization" of progressive politics -- a serious problem in the UK, but utterly marginal as a feature of American politics. This sort of abject failure of perspective has long since passed the point of indefensibility.

In essence, prescriptively the document seems to tacitly acknowledge that there are a host of bad practices, most of which generate from overzealous efforts to defend a "pro-Israel" position, which end up backfiring and driving Jews and non-Jews away from even a complicated respect for Israel as a state. But it refuses to actually come out and name the problem in the diagnostic section, instead presenting the challenges as emanating almost univocally from the intersectional left. The result is a document that is functionally incoherent -- and I fear that the generally salutary actions it recommends will end up being corrupted and perverted because of an inability to honestly reckon with the full scope of the problem.

At the meta-level, one of the biggest challenges facing Jewish communal cohesion, unity, and engagement -- on Israel or anything else -- is our ongoing practice of giving destructive right-wing forces free passes. We dedicate pages upon pages of agonizing over every fringe-left march or protest or chant, but when the time comes to apply that same discerning analysis to our right-ward colleagues, we clam up. As many good ideas are contained in the prescriptive sections of this guideline, for me it stands out as embodying that trend, and it's one we just can't tolerate anymore.

This doesn't mean suddenly letting bad behavior on the left go unchallenged. But it does mean we need to start developing principles and guidelines that clearly and unambiguously dictate what sort of behavior from the Jewish right crosses the line, just as we already do with the Jewish left. And when the Jewish right does go past its red lines, we need to simply get over our sniveling fear of calling it out by name.

The Terrible Need for "Bad Cops" in Politics

There is one aspect of politics that might stress me out more than any other. It's the necessity of "bad cops".

By "bad cops", I mean hacks that make tendentious arguments that nonetheless serve to push the Overton Window in a desirable direction. I mean flamethrowers who make unreasonable demands out of their party which nonetheless provide countervailing pressure against pushes from one's political opponents. I mean primary challengers against okay-ish incumbents by novices who'd have no idea what they'd do with the car if they caught it, but who manage to put a little healthy fear in entrenched politicians.

I'll give an example: I think the New York gubernatorial race last cycle went about as well as possible. Andrew Cuomo is a talented politician, but his first two terms as governor were spent undermining progressive priorities in a way that really shouldn't be happening in as a blue a state as New York. Cynthia Nixon has no political experience and probably would not make a good governor, but by mounting a credible primary challenge from the left she put enough of a scare into Cuomo that he's been far, far better in his third term. So for me, the ideal outcome is exactly what happened: Nixon runs a credible campaign but loses. Scared Gov. Cuomo > Gov. Nixon > Complacent Gov. Cuomo.

But there isn't any real way to "support" a primary by a candidate who you don't want to win, you just want to be "credible". You can't vote for someone unless they get more than 40% of the vote. And sometimes these things backfire -- Jeremy Corbyn's initial nomination into the UK Labour leadership race, after all, was made by MPs who didn't really want him to win but thought his presence would generate a healthy "debate". Oops. The point is, these things are unstable. You never know when the hack arguments suddenly start being taken seriously as policy (or law) or when the flamethrowers will suddenly seize control of the ship.

Now to be clear, I'm not saying every controversy stemming from the wing to the center is "bad copping". For starters, the center can also "bad cop" towards the wings ("hippie-punching" is a good example).  More to the point, there are obviously perfectly good objections that can made to established practices (and, for that matter, perfectly good primary challenges against incumbents).

But certainly there are cases where we know what's going on is theater -- where the leadership really got the best deal that's feasible, but nonetheless it is beneficial in the long term for some people to yell "sell outs!" because it ends up improving the negotiating position the next time around.

And that's what drives me up the wall: it can and likely is simultaneously true that this sort of agitation is both objectively unreasonable (on occasion, conspiratorial) and that it is politically efficacious towards collective party goals. Even if you don't think that Pelosi is a sellout for not having impeached Trump within her first three months, it's probably useful for Democrats to have a loud and raucous contingent saying Pelosi is a sellout for not impeaching Trump in her first three months -- in spite, not because, of the fact that this is a clearly unreasonable demand. Again, it's healthy for Pelosi to have a little fear bit in her from her left flank. But it'd be supremely unhealthy for the dog to actually catch the car. The mainstream Republican Party certainly benefited from Tea Party extremism. Maybe they thought they were using it cynically, just as their bad cop. But it turned out, they couldn't actually control it, and the damage it's done to the country may well be irreparable.

Again, using the bad cops deeply unstable and risky (as the Corbyn example shows as well). Whether it's a posture taken cynically or earnestly, fraying norms around factual argumentation and reasonable expectations about political behavior are not easily mended once their tactical value has been exhausted.

Monday, July 08, 2019

Who Wants This?

Reports are that Tom Steyer, a billionaire famous for pushing the impeach Trump movement (and for being part of the triumvirate of Jewish-descended financiers -- alongside George Soros and Michael Bloomberg -- that Republicans love to portray as the mysterious cabal of greedy rich-os bringing down America and all we hold dear), is going to announce a run at the Democratic nomination for President.

Why? Why?

Every time I see a new announcement of a Presidential campaign, that's all I can ask. Why? But in particular:

(1) Why does Steyer think that there is a lane for him? What niche is he filling that isn't present in the 25(!) other candidate already running?

(2) Why does Steyer think there will be any enthusiasm for him? What makes him think that there is any non-trivial number of Democratic voters thirsting for an as-yet-not-present option in this race?

That second question is what really baffles me. It'd be one thing if there was some sense in the primary electorate that all the choices are mediocre and a desire for a titanic savior figure. But from what I've seen, if anything the mood runs in the opposite direction -- most Democratic primary voters like too many candidates. They're for Biden right now, but they're also warm on Booker and Harris. Or they like Warren, but also Sanders and Castro. Or they're torn between Buttigieg, Harris, and Inslee. Even the Sanders voters -- perhaps thought to be the most personally wedded to him specifically -- seem to be warming up to Warren (and, in more bizarre cases, Gabbard and/or Gravel of all people).

And at the same time as they're "suffering" from a glut of choices, the prevailing sentiment I've seen is eye-rolling at the ridiculous number of people in the race. Even Steyer had some unique characteristic that could otherwise make him standout, it's going to be virtually impossible for his announcement to be greeting with anything other than "oh God, another one?" At this point I almost want to give props to Mark Zuckerberg of all people, who at least had the good grace to listen when it became apparent nobody was interested in him running for President. So far, anyway.

This all seems so obvious to me that I don't understand how it isn't obvious to Steyer, or Bullock, or Moulton, or Bennet, or Hickenlooper, or Ryan, or any of the obviously-not-going-to-come-close-to-winning candidates who are or are considering running for the nomination. Who do they think wants them? Who do they think wants more candidates?

Tuesday, July 02, 2019

Harris, Warren the Big Winners from the First Debate Round

The polls are in, and the big winners from the first Democratic debate(s) are Elizabeth Warren and especially Kamala Harris (as I said -- don't listen to me).

Of course, it's still very early. But right now there's a four person race between Biden, Sanders, Warren, and Harris -- and a pretty steep drop-off after that.

For me, that means that the biggest loser from the first debate was not actually Joe Biden, but Pete Buttigieg. Buttigieg had been right up there in the front-runner conversation, and now he's on the outside looking in. Beto O'Rourke was in a similar circumstance, although he had already seemingly started to fade -- a lackluster debate performance only confirmed the trend. But that Buttigieg, who did not seem to perform particularly poorly (though hardly scintillating either), got separated out from the top-tier of candidates is much more of a problem.

While Sanders is still part of the Big Four, I'm not sure that this is good news for him either. He's already at near-maximum name recognition, and it's far from clear from whom he'll draw supporters as other candidates drop out. The most promising target is Warren -- but now it's more likely that Warren will last to the end, and maybe Sanders will start bleeding his support to her.

The other big mover people have mentioned coming out of the first debate was Julian Castro, but it mostly looks like he went from "complete non-entity" to part of that mid-tier group that's outside-looking-in (like Booker, O'Rourke, and now Buttigieg). Definitely an improvement for him, but not the surge we saw out of Harris.

As for Biden, I agree with Paul Campos that he's in the position of having a massive early lead that you know is going to get eaten away -- the only question is how fast. I don't think he's going to be able to hold it. But he's actually in a fundamentally different position and I'd say better position than Sanders, who affirmatively needs to grow and doesn't have a clear route to doing it. Biden just has to stem the bleeding for long enough that the clock runs out -- though I have to say, that isn't the most inspiring way to limp into a general election.

Monday, July 01, 2019

Should the University of Alaska Go On "Strike"

The University of Alaska system is facing a massive crisis as Republican Governor Mike Dunleavy just vetoed $130 million dollars in state funding (this was part of a much broader ax Dunleavy took to the state budget as he seeks to divert money away from public services and towards the cash payout Alaskans receive from the state each year). Along with a $5 million cut the university had already absorbed, this amounts to a cut of over 40% of its state funding.

You can read the letter the university President sent out here; it paints a pretty grim picture. It's well beyond a hiring freeze or furloughs -- the president is indicating the university might have to declare a state of financial exigency, discontinuing entire programs and laying off tenured faculty members. It's the type of body blow a university might never recover from.

Given the increased hostility the GOP has directed towards the entire idea of higher education, one suspects that might be the point. But I'm wondering whether it might be worthwhile to call the bluff. Instead of furloughs or firings or program terminations, the hot take play for the university leadership might be to vote to suspend operations outright. Announce the university is not a viable academic entity at the level of funding the Governor has deigned to allocate, and shut down the university until a more reasonable budget is restored.

In essence, it's a strike -- but a strike implemented and approved by the university leadership (so arguably more of a lock-out, but really the entire idea is pretty sui generis, as far as I know).

This is a spitball idea -- I'm not wedded to it, and I can imagine any number of details I don't know which might suggest it's a bad idea. Certainly, it'd be a deeply painful move that would ask for immense sacrifice from university students, staff, and faculty. But then, so would capitulating. It's a high-stakes gamble, but it might be worth the risk. If it wants to remain a viable institution of higher education, the University is more likely to survive a temporary cessation of operation than it is wholesale destruction of entire departments, programs, academic and career support services, and the tenure system. The latter would represent the obliteration of the university in all but name. But if Alaska politicians want to destroy the University of Alaska, they should be forced to face that consequence outright.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

SCOTUS Strikes Down Economic Protectionism in Tennessee

This week, in Tennessee Wine and Spirits Retailers v. Thomas, the Supreme Court struck down a Tennessee ordinance which prohibited new residents from obtaining a liquor store license until they had resided in the state for two years (in a particularly galling twist, they can't renew the license until they have ten years of residency -- even though liquor store licenses have to be renewed annually. Yes, that means there is a seven year no man's land in between.). The vote was 7-2, with Justices Gorsuch and Thomas in dissent.

I want to flag this briefly, and particularly the dissents of Gorsuch and Thomas. To be clear: I firmly believe that good policy and proper legal interpretation are not coterminous categories. The question before the Court was (a) whether laws like this violate the "dormant commerce clause" and (b) whether the special legal regime the Constitution provides for alcohol regulation in the 21st Amendment alters that analysis. I'd have to read the case more carefully to decide where I come down on it, though in my extremely brief browse I think the majority has the better of the argument.

But this nonetheless serves as a good example of a simple point: there is no straight line connection between conservative jurisprudence and economic liberty. In many circumstances, there is a more straightforward left-libertarian alliance against unnecessary government licensing regimes which serve only to obstruct disfavored classes from economic opportunity. Sometimes, conservatives will join them (the majority opinion here was written by Justice Alito); in the right circumstances sometimes one sees a massive cross-party consensus on these issues. But there remain plenty of cases where conservative politics and conservative legal analysis implies propping up economic protectionism and government red tape. Any assumption of a natural alliance between economic freedom and conservatism is a myth.

The UK's Wild Corbyn-Loss Labour-Win Scenario

A new poll-projection suggests the LibDems may well take the Islington North constituency off Labour.

Why is that worth mentioning?

Because Islington North would be Jeremy Corbyn's district.

It's hard to assess the reliability of this source, which apparently is a projection off of larger data, rather than a direct poll of the district. But it's far from beyond the realm of possibility. Islington, like much of the London environs, broke hard for the LibDems in May's European Parliamentary elections, as frustration with Labour's tepid response to Brexit (itself a function of Corbyn's barely disguised pro-Brexit preferences) boiled over. Indeed, the LibDems actually won Islington.

One would think that losing the party leader's historically-safe seat would only happen as part of a historic anti-Labour wave. This instinct would seemingly be buttressed by Corbyn's record-setting public unpopularity (which manages to plummet past Theresa May's own disastrously appalling favorability ratings).

But things are a bit wilder than that.

Like most of the U.S., UK parliamentary elections occur on a "first past the post" basis -- basically, whoever gets a plurality wins (even if they fail to get 50%). And if you look at recent polling of Westminster voting intentions, what one sees is an almost ludicrously tight four-way race between Labour, Conservatives, LibDems, and the Brexit Party, each of whom is hovering at a +/- 20% vote share. In such an environment, it's almost anyone's guess who will emerge on top. Labour (or any other party) could slip into office with barely 30% of the vote, even if it is reviled by most of the electorate even in the districts it wins.  And for Labour, in particular, it's probably best positioned to pull off this little trick in swingish districts outside London where its Brexit-ish stance isn't utterly toxic (i.e., the opposite of Islington). It's entirely possible that Labour could perform "well" nationwide (by which I mean, it manages to hold its core support group together against a LibDem challenge while Brexit and Tories rip each other to shreds) while still losing seats in London -- including Corbyn's.

Indeed, if the dominoes fall right this could even result in a bizarre "minority rout" election, especially if the Labour/LibDem fight yields a clear winner and the Tory/Brexit party fight doesn't (or vice versa). Then we can imagine one party scoring massive gains even as it is actually wildly unpopular with the very electorate it is "winning". While that's less likely, one can easily manage a series of bizarre outcomes that seem to lack any sort of rhyme or reason as huge numbers of seats are decided by whoever manages to eke out a plurality in a four-way contest.

Honestly, the sheer uncertainty of it all makes me kind of wish the UK would adopt proportional representation, if only out of a sense of self-preservation. The way things are set up now is not built for a four-party race -- it's massively volatile.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

I Watched a Debate! Part 2

I watched the first debate, so I kind of felt obligated to watch the second as well. Fair is fair (though I did miss the first half hour). Tonight certainly felt a little more eventful and punchy than last night -- in part because Biden was such an inviting target. It was a bit surprising to Harris take the lead on the Biden pile-on, though. I would also say there was a wider range of views expressed on stage than there were last night, where it really was a near-universal convergence on a broadly progressive vision.

Most importantly, I think there was more of a "shake-up" tonight compared to last night, where for the most part everyone just treaded water. Here we saw a candidate who had struggled to gain traction really shine (Gillibrand) and two who had been near the top really stumble (Harris and especially Biden).

Now for individual assessments:
  • Joe Biden: Not a good night for him. True, he was in a tough spot, as he clearly had a target on his back and was taking a lot of heat from other candidates. But he didn't do himself any favors, either. He was garbled, he had little narrative other than "I was next to Obama when he did a bunch of great things", and his exchange with Harris on school busing was the worst moment in the debate that didn't involve Marianne Williamson speaking. This is the sort of performance that a lot of us feared would start his inevitable unraveling. C
  • Bernie Sanders: While not exactly scintillating, I'd say this was a successful night for Sanders. Somebody drilled into him that he needed to not be overtly antagonistic to the other Democrats on stage, and he for the most part stayed disciplined on that score. The ending bit where he specifically complimented the other "good ideas on stage", before pivoting to his need for a political revolution, was the right frame. And while I don't think he really stood out, he didn't need to stand out -- he just needed to stand back and watch Biden go into free-fall. A-
  • Kamala Harris: One of my early favorites, but I have to say I was not impressed. She seemed shaky and unsure of herself, like her nerves had gotten to her. She improved as the night went on, and got lucky that Biden's truly terrible answer on busing bailed her out at one point, but overall she did not seem ready for primetime and that surprised me. C+
  • Pete Buttigieg: He's a good speaker, but not a lot else was going on. He'd clearly prepped the hell out of the question on the shooting in South Bend, and the answer wasn't bad, but he got baited into being defensive in an exchange with someone (Bennett?) that did not go in his favor. Still, on the whole, he probably held steady. B
  • Kirsten Gillibrand: She was, in my view, the breakout winner. She was smart, composed, and substantive, and had a clear narrative around protecting women and families. I liked Gillibrand before, but had kind of written her off because she wasn't getting any traction in the polls. I wonder if she might see a bump after tonight. I thought she was really strong. A+
  • Michael Bennet: Seemed like a fine, basically progressive generic White guy, which isn't good enough for a guy like him in a field like this. C+
  • Eric Swalwell: Had a bunch of smirky little lines that weren't as clever as he thought. Otherwise unremarkable. C
  • John Hickenlooper: He really seemed committed to red-baiting, and I do not think it's a winning strategy. He's, at best, third on the depth chart for the "moderate" lane behind Biden and Klobuchar, and Klobuchar in particular would wipe the floor with him (possibly literally, if he forgets to bring a salad fork). D+
  • Andrew Yang: He's at his best when talking about the freedom dividend, which makes sense since that's his signature. On any other issue he sounds like a tech bro who thinks doing well in Silicon Valley qualifies him to run the world. Do you remember when we were all aghast at Mark Zuckerberg running for President? This is the same thing, except less interesting. I do not think drawing a straight line from "enthusiasm on Reddit boards" to "Democratic debate stage" is proof that our democracy still works. C
  • Marianne Williamson: Who is this women? What is that accent? Why is her first call as President to the Prime Minister of New Zealand (to say "nuh-uh -- we're the best place to raise a child!")? It was physically uncomfortable listening to her tonight. I don't know what specific conspiracy theories she believes in, but I have no doubt she believes in some. F
At this stage in the game, I'm mostly concerned with winnowing the field down to something manageable so we can actually have a reasonable nominating contest. So here's my take on who (from both evening's debates) should drop out (or at least be cut from future debates), based on their performance and my assessment of whether there's any plausible route for them to make a serious play in the contest.
  • Drop-outs: Williamson, Swalwell, Hickenlooper, Ryan, Delaney.
  • Bubble (they should probably all drop out too, but it's early and I'm feeling nice): Yang, Bennet, Gabbard, Inslee, De Blasio.
UPDATE: Reading through others reactions, wow am I ever in the minority re: Harris (and again -- I'm a Harris fan! She was my off-the-blocks favorite! So this isn't anti-Harris hostility). And obviously it matters more what others think than what I think. Likewise, nobody else seems to have even noticed Gillibrand, let alone given her the sort of breakaway credit I did.

Yesterday I think my views aligned with the CW, today clearly they don't. But since most of my appraisals were based on my assessment of "will this appeal to people", you should take the crowd's wisdom over mine. Harris surge!