Saturday, August 27, 2022

Are States Allowed to Murder Pregnant Women? Views Differ!

One of the Biden Administration's responses to the Dobbs decision was to issue an interpretation of the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA) that basically says doctors have to provide necessary medical care to pregnant persons in emergency situations -- including abortion care, if that is necessary to protect the mother's life or health. Since EMTALA is a federal law, it would preempt state laws which purport to prohibit abortion care in those circumstances.

Consequently, various red states have sued to vindicate their sovereign entitlement to require by law that hospitalized pregnant patients be left to die even when their life could easily be saved by surgical intervention. Two courts, one in Texas and the other in Idaho, have now opined on the Biden executive order. They've split in their decision -- the former striking down the new guidance, the latter upholding it and preempting Idaho law to the extent it conflicts with the guidance.

The belief that Dobbs would remove the judiciary from the thicket of deciding abortion cases was always a mirage (if it was believed at all). It just changes what courts will have to decide. Right now, they're deciding whether states are allowed to require, under pain of criminal penalty, that pregnant women and girls be maimed or killed when their bodies and lives could be easily saved. And as we're seeing, on that novel legal question, "views differ". Such is the burden of having a uterus in the post-Dobbs world.

Thursday, August 25, 2022

Republicans Now Standing Up To the Jewish "Thought Police"

It's so nice to see Republicans finally showing the courage of their convictions, by not just making spurious Holocaust comparisons, but refusing to back down when the Jewish "thought police" cry foul:

“I want to speak to a little bit of a hubbub that’s been in the media lately about whether or not I was insensitive in regards to the Holocaust. I don’t believe I was,” [Scott] Jensen said in a Facebook video. “When I make a comparison that says that I saw government policies intruding on American freedoms incrementally, one piece at a time, and compare that to what happened in the 1930s, I think it’s a legitimate comparison.”

“It may not strike your fancy — that’s fine. But this is how I think, and you don’t get to be my thought police person.” 

For those unaware, Jensen is the GOP candidate for Governor in Minnesota this cycle.

Holocaust trivialization -- what antisemitism monitor Deborah Lipstadt calls "softcore Holocaust denial" --- is becoming epidemic in the Republican Party. That's not especially new, but what is at least newer (and reflective of the GOP's Corbynization problem) is that increasingly GOP politicos aren't even pretending to apologize when Jews call them out. Instead, they're rallying around the notion that their grotesque and inaccurate Holocaust comparisons are only being attacked by censorial PC thought police who can't stand free dialogue. Such a heartening development.

Is Anyone "Criticizing George Soros"?

It has been darkly amusing to witness how the mainstreaming of anti-George Soros conspiracy mongering has prompted the American right to go full Corbynista in dismissing the antisemitism of it all. "Criticizing George Soros is not antisemitism!", they holler, heedless of the irony. The internets are replete with sneering dismissals of Jewish complaints regarding how Soros discourse can and has served as an antisemitic accelerant -- a perfect echo of how Corbynistas attacked antisemitism allegations as fictious, politically-motivated, and made in bad faith. It is antisemitic when it comes from the left, and it is antisemitic when it comes from the right. It perhaps shouldn't surprise that it would be the American right that would Corbynize first -- a cult of personality around a Dear Leader who is perpetually victimized by the biased media and whose rise to power was supercharged by an online contingent of hyper-vicious trolls targeting (among others) Jews for harassment is not exactly unfamiliar terrain here -- but I suppose there's no harm in basking in the irony a little bit.

Yet I've been thinking that this whole line of argument about how the right is being suppressed because are you saying we can't criticize George Soros is a misfire. It doesn't make sense even on its own terms. Why not? Because virtually none of the right's Soros discourse is "criticism of George Soros" is any meaningful sense.

Let's take it back to Israel for a second. Consider the following two statements:

  1. Israel's occupation of the West Bank is intolerable, and must end.
  2. BigCorp's investment in Israel is intolerable, and must end.
Colloquially speaking, both of these statements are likely to be considered "criticism of Israel". But really, only the first is. The second is not a criticism of Israel directly, it's a criticism of BigCorp for being associated with Israel. BigCorp is the actor who is being castigated, and they are the actor who is most directly being asked to change their behavior. It's not always wrong to criticize X for associating with Y, though I've noted that it can easily become a form of antisemitism via a contagion theory where merely being in Israel's presence is assumed to generate any and all manner of social ills that otherwise would not exist. But again: criticizing X for associating with Y is primarily a criticism of X, not Y. Y's badness is more-or-less taken for granted; X is the entity whom one is trying to discredit, undermine, or alter the behavior of.

Virtually none of the conservative attacks on Soros are actually on George Soros. They're attacks on some other social actor or phenomenon for allegedly being associated with George Soros. Sometimes Soros really is associated with them (as in his funding of J Street), sometimes it's a complete myth (as in the "immigrant caravans"). Regardless, the target of the fusillade is not Soros, it's J Street or the immigrants. They are meant to be discredited because of their association with Soros. By their association with George Soros, we now know that they are contaminated, and should be a subject of hatred and scorn.

The right, after all, doesn't really care where George Soros spends his money. They're not trying to get George Soros to change (at least, in all but the most tertiary sense). Much as the most inveterate Israel-haters have moved beyond demanding Israel change and instead view Israel's evil as an immutable fact of its existence, Soros-haters are not hoping for a different George Soros, they view George Soros as a stand-in for inherent evil. If George Soros tomorrow announced a donation to the local homeless shelter, the right would not say "hey -- our criticism worked! Instead of donating to these terrible left-wing charities, he's donating to a nice, acceptable one. Mission accomplished!" No -- if George Soros donated to the local homeless shelter, the result would be that the shelter would suddenly become a "Soros-funded shelter" and be subject to all the suspicion and vitriol that accompanies anything associated with George Soros.

What Soros does doesn't matter. It's Soros' existence that matters -- he is a stand-in for inherent evil, whose presence corrupts anything it touches. The evocation of Soros (whether based in reality or not) is not about "criticizing Soros", it is meant to leverage this imagery of Soros the puppetmaster, the paragon of evil, the ultimate conspirator. That's why it's so frequently antisemitic. The only reason Republicans care about George Soros is because invoking his name enables access to this association of pure malice as a means of criticizing something else. But Soros fills that role less because of his own choices, and more because of surrounding currents of antisemitism, which (this is from my "contagion" post) "give[] a smoother cognitive ride down -- it makes little connections look huge, and implausible leaps seem manageable."

Of course, once we recognize that the true target is not Soros at all, but immigrants or J Street or "defund the police", then the "are you saying I can't criticize ...?" whine becomes farcical. Obviously there are all sorts of ways conservatives can and do criticize any of these things. The centrality of George Soros to their "criticisms", though, is not about seeking to alter George Soros' behavior (not least because often Soros isn't actually involved). It's about leveraging what George Soros represents in the public imagination to "make the implausible plausible".

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

AIPAC's Gutlessness

A few weeks ago, following the victory of Rep. Haley Stevens in her D-on-D matchup against Andy Levin, I wrote a sum-up post regarding what we can derive from AIPAC's relatively successful set of Democratic primary interventions. One point I made there is that, because AIPAC's interventions (in the forms of ads, mailers, and the like) have not typically concentrated on Israel-related issues, its hard for AIPAC to claim vindication that the victories for its candidates represent endorsement of its particular vision of pro-Israel. AIPAC, it seems, lacks confidence that its actual message will resonate with voters. It's pouring money into races, but it's doing so in a way that betrays its own skittishness.

Consider now AIPAC's belated brag that it was behind late money spent to tank the candidacy of Yuh-Line Niou, who narrowly trails Dan Goldman in the wide open NY-10 race. AIPAC hid its involvement in the race altogether until after Goldman prevailed, at which point it loudly sought to claim credit for the victory. My guess is that AIPAC was not confident Goldman would win (he only ended up claiming victory by a 2 point margin) and didn't want the embarrassment of a potential high profile loss. Once victory was assured, though, well, victory has a thousand fathers. As I said: gutless.

Meanwhile, AIPAC's increasingly bitter set of attacks on J Street (which had a decent night itself what with Jerry Nadler and Jamaal Bowman prevailing) have now taken to including hitting the latter for accepting money from George Soros -- a rather alarming development given the degree to which anti-Soros rabble rousing has come to occupy a central place in contemporary antisemitic conspiracy theorizing.

It's hard not to see this as AIPAC full-heartedly embracing a new, right-wing identity. There is no constituency even amongst moderate Dems for anti-Soros attacks. The only people who "enjoy" this sort of line are right-wingers who've already imbibed a deep draught of conspiracy about Soros as the evil puppet master pulling the strings. And, of course, right-wingers will most certainly use AIPAC's indulgence in this line to justify their own, even more grotesque, Soros smears.

Leveraging the far-right's favorite antisemitic conspiracy for transient political gain? Again: gutless.

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

How Do Diversity Statements Threaten Academic Freedom?

The Academic Freedom Alliance has come out in opposition to the use of "diversity" or "DEI" statements as part of the academic hiring or promotion process, labeling them threats to academic freedom.

Academics seeking employment or promotion will almost inescapably feel pressured to say things that accommodate the perceived ideological preferences of an institution demanding a diversity statement, notwithstanding the actual beliefs or commitments of those forced to speak. This scenario is inimical to fundamental values that should govern academic life. The demand for diversity statements enlists academics into a political movement, erasing the distinction between academic expertise and ideological conformity. It encourages cynicism and dishonesty. An industry of diversity statement “counselling” has already emerged--and could easily have been predicted. There are prevalent and reasonable suspicions that beneath the stated rationales for diversity statements lurk unstated motives that include providing a way to screen out candidates who express ambivalence about DEI programming.

I'm honestly not sure I see the academic freedom issue here, even taken on AFA's own terms.

For starters, it's somewhat difficult to situate academic freedom concerns into either the promotion or (especially) hiring context. Academic freedom, as I've written, is a constraint on remedies. It takes certain consequences -- most notably, termination -- off the table as responses to even admittedly terrible speech (as well as, of course, perfectly legitimate but nonetheless controversial speech). But while a tenured professor is entitled as a default to continue his employment, a job applicant has no baseline entitlement to be hired, nor does a faculty member seeking promotion have a default entitlement to move from associate to full professor. It is hard for me to imagine a case where a job applicant has their academic freedom violated because they weren't hired -- at least, outside of cases where the hiring was already approved by the appropriate stakeholders and was only reversed via abnormal intervention from upper administration. 

Most job applicants aren't hired, and they aren't hired for all sorts of reasons. Importantly, those reasons include normative appraisals of the quality of their "materials" -- both in terms of scholarship and in terms of teaching. Academic freedom says you can't fire John Doe because you think his scholarship is bad. But academic freedom obviously does not mean you must hire John Doe even though you think his scholarship is bad. The two circumstances are not comparable, and academic freedom concerns map poorly onto the latter. If a hiring committee can say "we don't want to proceed with John's candidacy because we think his scholarship is poor", why can't they say "we don't want to proceed with John's candidacy because we think he'll do a bad job at teaching students of diverse backgrounds"?

The AFA cannot and I think does not take the position that it is conceptually inappropriate for a hiring committee to value a prospective applicant's ability to teach, mentor, and support students of diverse backgrounds. And if that is a valid criteria for a committee to consider, there must be some way for the committee to elicit a candidate's perspective on how they'd approach the issue. At root, a DEI statement is a means to provide that information. The AFA statement concentrates instead on the instinct -- which I share -- that dismissal of a given job candidate based on pure ideological disagreement is inappropriate. It's fine to say "this scholarship is bad, therefore, it's a no", but one shouldn't say "this scholarship is bad for no other reason than that I disagree with it, therefore, it's a no." And the same would be true for a DEI statement. The AFA's worry is that DEI statements in practice are not subject to the normal normative appraisals that, say, a scholarly research portfolio are. Rather, they are subject to rigid ideological litmus tests where anyone who fails to mouth the preferred shibboleths is instantly dismissed from consideration.

Granting the conceptual validity of those concerns, though, the AFA's position still goes too far. Because the statement is at best unclear on what, if anything, could replace the DEI statement, it runs the risk of interfering with the academic freedom of existing faculty, who are deprived of information they think would be valuable in determining what constitutes a meritorious candidate and who will be a productive and sociable colleague. Again, it cannot be the case that hiring committees are simply not permitted to elicit information on this subject. And while there are no doubt diverse views on how best to actualize the value of being a good teacher and mentor to students of all backgrounds, we should not confuse that diversity for a job candidate's entitlement to simply not care about the question. It is one thing to take a minority view on the best way to support DEI values. It's another thing to take one's own indifference to facilitating an inclusive academic environment and elevate that apathy to a political principle. In my experience, dissidents who show they've thought about the question seriously and have a gameplan for addressing DEI issues will be given due consideration even if their proposals aren't in line with the de rigueur set of proposals. But very often, what one encounters instead are people who feel aggrieved at being asked to think about the question at all, or who project onto their peers a claimed reflexive dismissal in order to rationalize their own unwillingness to actually robustly defend their positions.

Given this, the problem cannot be with DEI statements themselves, but rather the potential for abusing such statements to enforce a narrow orthodoxy. Yet the AFA statement does not actually provide any evidence that such abuse is occurring at such high rates that DEI statements must be killed off entirely -- a showing that I believe would be necessary given the more obvious and immediate academic threat that exists from banning such statements. Such evidence would be hard to muster in any case, because it is quite difficult to distinguish between simple reflexive ideological dismissal, versus a considered professional judgment that a given articulation of how to best serve a diverse community and student body is poorly conceived.

In reality, the abuse-risk of evaluating a faculty candidate's DEI statement is little different than the abuse-risk of evaluating a faculty candidate's scholarship. There, too, there is the risk of ideologically-motivated dismissal. There, too, that admittedly abusive practice can be hard to distinguish from legitimate evaluative appraisals. There, too, it probably is the case that persons proffering dissident, provocative, or counter-cultural perspectives probably are at a comparative disadvantage. There, too, many candidates have long since learned to disguise their true scholarly agenda until they gain tenure; and there, too, there is a cottage industry of advice and mentoring centered around how to present one's portfolio in a manner most likely to be deemed attractive. Nothing is new under the sun.

But we do not throw the baby out with the bathwater on the scholarship side, and say that just because there's the potential for ideological abuse, it is fundamentally illegitimate for faculty candidates to provide a research agenda. Nor do we claim that the disappointed job candidate had an academic freedom entitlement to be hired to a given position, notwithstanding the presumably negative assessment his materials garnered from the hiring committee. If this is true on the research side, I don't see why it's any less true on the teaching side.

It is legitimate -- and dare I say, a prerogative of academic freedom -- for faculty members to want future colleagues and leaders to have thought hard about how they'll teach, mentor, and support a diverse student body. There's nothing shady about asking prospective applicants to share their views on that subject. It's probably the case that those with dissident views may have to overcome more skepticism, but that's an evergreen fact of applying to any job in any field at any time. The risk to academic freedom, if it exists at all, is no more extensive for diversity statements than it is for any other element of an academic applicant's portfolio.

New York Primary Predictions

It's primary day in New York (and Florida), and there are quite a few interesting races on tap. I'm not going to predict all of them, but I figure I'd lay a marker down on a few Democratic races.

NY-10: This is a complete free-for-all with at least six candidates still in at least plausible contention, none of whom have broken beyond the high teens or low twenties in polling. That said, Dan Goldman, a relative moderate, does seem to be very slightly pulling ahead, and he might be benefiting from the inability of the field to unite behind a single alternative. Carlina Rivera might have been the mild front-runner at one point, but seems to be fading down the stretch. Yuh-Line Niou is the progressive darling in the race who strikes me as having a very Bernie-like high floor/low ceiling profile, but that could actually work to her advantage in a highly fragmented field. Rep. Mondaire Jones is probably my favorite candidate, but he doesn't seem to quite be able to get out of traffic.

Ultimately, I think Goldman probably will win a very, very divided vote (I'm guessing Niou will poll second). I'm not super confident in that prediction. But I'm far more confident that if Goldman does win, he will not lose to Niou in a hypothetical general election rematch where the latter runs on the Working Families Party ticket -- some extremely wishful thinking from lefty commentators notwithstanding.

NY-12: A slugfest between two thirty-year veterans in Reps. Jerry Nadler and Carolyn Maloney, with newcomer Suraj Patel trying to sneak in between the two. Though Maloney represents more turf, she's been notably vulnerable in recent primaries (Patel held her to a tight race last cycle), and Nadler seems to be pulling away. I don't see Patel able to pull the upset, and I do think Nadler is going to end up prevailing.

NY-16: Rep. Jamaal Bowman has shown a bit of vulnerability in late polling, but he may benefit from a split in the anti-incumbent vote as both Vedat Gashi and Catherine Parker are waging credible campaigns. Gashi has gotten far more attention, but the only poll I've seen has Parker in the lead. For my part, I think Bowman will end up surviving, albeit with less than 50%.

NY-17: Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney pushed Rep. Mondaire Jones out of his seat, but then encountered an energetic primary challenge from State Sen. Alessandra Biaggi. Biaggi took down one of the IDC schmucks a few years back, so I have residual goodwill for that. But I also don't think she has the firepower or local base to take out the well-resourced Maloney. She also made what I consider to be a truly boneheaded decision to embrace the view that women past "childbearing age" won't care about reproductive rights, which seems outright suicidal in a contested primary.

As to the Florida race, I won't venture predictions on any of them, but I do want to keep an eye on the Republican contest in the FL-11, where incumbent Rep. Daniel Webster is facing a challenge from certified crank and absolute shonda Laura Loomer. It would be a tremendous embarrassment if Loomer wins (and if she wins, she's absolutely entering Congress in this strongly GOP district). But what is the GOP today, if not embarrassment persevering?

Monday, August 22, 2022

The Infantilization of the American Right Continues

Scott Lemieux has a good post overviewing and refuting claims that Democrats are responsible for Republicans nominating neo-fascist extremists like Doug Mastriano in Pennsylvania. The argument in favor is that some Democrats have spent money on ads which supposedly "boosted" Mastriano over his primary foes. This, critics continue, is recklessly irresponsible insofar as Mastriano is, again, a far-right lunatic whose presence within a country mile of levers of power would be an existential threat to democracy. 

The problem with this argument is that the ads in question are attack ads against Mastriano. They are clear and forthright that Mastriano is a neo-fascist extremist who represents an existential threat to democracy. They nonetheless "boost" him because Republicans like all of these things. But that's a problem with Republicans, not Democrats. As one commentator pointed out, it's one thing to run an ad that lies about the health benefits of poison -- if people ingest the poison, that's on you. It's another thing to run an ad that says "poison is dangerous!" only to witness scores of people say "actually, I love poison, I'm going to take a double dose!" That's on them.

The fact of the matter is that anti-democratic fascist flirtations are an overwhelmingly popular position amongst the GOP primary electorate. Mastriano's closest contender in the GOP primary was Lou Barletta, who is himself a far-right figure with a history of White supremacy. There was no constituency amongst Republicans for a non-poisonous figure, so Democrats hardly committed some foul by trying to inform the general electorate of who Doug Mastriano is.

Lemieux's post covers pretty much all I want to say. All I'll add is that we're just seeing the extension of the infantilization of the American right; perhaps the defining feature of American conservatism over the past six years. Republicans make terrible choices and then whine that Democrats aren't better babysitters. But that's not the job of Democrats. Republicans are adults, they can make their own choices, and they are consciously choosing to promote candidates with Nazi ties and fascist sympathies. That's bad. That's also their own decision, and trying to fob responsibility off onto Democrats is pathetic.