Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Conservatives No Longer Can Conceive of Non-Partisan Motives

There's something very odd about how conservatives frame calls for investigating Russia's attempted interference in our election. They insist that it is a product of Democratic self-delusion that Russia was the cause of Hillary Clinton's defeat. They crow that this is proof of liberals' inability to accept responsibility for their own policy decisions. They mock Democrats for supposedly believing that Americans will care about Russia in the midterms.

That might all be true. Counterfactuals are hard, and voter attention spans are fickle. But what's strange about this apparently widespread conservative view is that it seems utterly perplexed by the idea that one might want to look into attempted Russian interference into our elections simply because it's a good thing for America to guard against attempts to subvert our democracy from hostile foreign governments -- regardless of whether they redound to the clear benefit or detriment of any particular political party. In fact, "perplexed" isn't even the right word -- it doesn't seem to occur to them that such a motive could possibly exist. They don't respond to it, or even ignore it -- it's just beyond the horizon of their understanding that a political actor might try to do something for no greater reason than the good of the country.

If conservatives are right that the issue of attempted Russian interference isn't a political "winner" for Democrats -- and they may well be -- that should make the case for an investigation easier, not harder. After all -- if it's not something that will make a partisan impact, than it's simply a matter of good governance. But Republicans have lost the ability to understand that as even a theoretical motive for action. As far as they're concerned, once partisan politics falls out the picture, we're left with nothing but a gaping empty void.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Another Tentacle Roundup

The JTA just published my thoughts on the Israel Anti-Boycott bill (adapted from this post). Let's see -- I've done Tablet, Forward, Ha'aretz, and now JTA. We all know the Jews run the media, but what do you call the Jew who's taking over the Jewish media?

Anyway, world domination is distracting, and it's causing my browser to clutter up. Let's deal with that, shall we?

* * *

While the hook for my Israel Anti-Boycott bill is "everyone is going crazy", I should say that I found J Street's statement to be measured and thoughtful.

The Dean of Yale Law remarks on why law schools have largely avoided the anti-free speech hysteria that is (perhaps to an exaggerated degree) encompassing other sectors of academia. Short version: law school relies upon a series of deliberative virtues, like hearing out your opposition and considering both sides of an argument, that encourage people to take arguments seriously. Strongly endorse.

In Fathom (haven't gotten them yet!), John Strawson reviews a new book on Colonialism and the Jews.

Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX) blames "female Senators" for holding up Obamacare repeal, says if they were men he'd challenge them to a duel. Blake Farenthold kind of has a problem with women.

Sarah Ditum: Why Does Labour Have an Abuse Problem? A strong, thought-provoking essay.

Far-left French leader Jean-Luc Melanchon denies that the French (through the Vichy government) have any responsibility for the Holocaust.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

A Non-Hyperbolic, Non-Apologetic Analysis of the Proposed Israel Boycott Law

Some of you may have read a recent Intercept post claiming that Congress is considering banning support for the boycott of Israel (by "some of you", I mean half my twitter feed). Unsurprisingly, this piqued my interest. On the one hand, the Intercept is not exactly an outfit known for letting accuracy get in the way of hyperbole. On the other hand, plenty of bad/regressive/poorly drafted laws are introduced in Congress, and the Israeli/Palestinian conflict in particular tends not to bring out people's sense of care and proportion.

So in my ongoing effort to help reintroduce the endangered species of calm, non-hyperbolic discussion of Israel on the internet, here's my best attempt at a calm, non-hyperbolic analysis of what this bill actually would do. But first, a bit of background.

American law already prohibits the boycotting of a country friendly to the United States where it is done at the behest of a boycott call by a foreign country. This law came about for a very particular reason: the threat of secondary boycotts by Arab countries. Companies which might have no interest in boycotting Israel might do so if, say, Qatar (whose business they value much more) said "you can't do business with us if you do business with Israel." The U.S. law counters by saying "you can't follow the Qatar boycott if you want to stay within American law". Even for companies where Qatar > Israel, the U.S. is > > > Qatar, so the law effectively neutralizes foreign calls for a secondary boycott.

The most anodyne way of describing this new law is to say that it merely extends the preexisting ban on boycotting an ally of the United States at the behest of a foreign country (e.g., Qatar) to include doing so at the behest of an International Governmental Organization (e.g., the EU and UN). If the current law isn't unconstitutional (and it's been upheld against challenge, see Briggs & Stratton Corp. v. Baldrige, 728 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1984)), why would this one be problematic?

One substantial contextual difference is that there's no serious threat that I'm aware of that either the UN or the EU is planning on calling for a secondary boycott. Whereas the current law is reasonably categorized as a protective measure for American corporations, this law really isn't. Does that affect the free speech analysis? Maybe -- that aspect of the law was specifically relied upon by several courts in explaining why the regulation was permissible, see Karen Maritime Ltd. v. Omar Intern., Inc., 322 F. Supp. 2d 224, 227 (E.D. N.Y. 2004). But I can see the argument either way.

Regardless of the legal effects though, the absence of a serious secondary boycott threat does significantly undermine the law's policy rationale. Most of the litigation over the initial law came because companies were providing documentation to Arab countries showing that they were boycotting Israel in order to avoid the former nations' secondary boycott. But if the UN or the EU aren't imposing a secondary boycott, there'd be no occasion to furnish this information and thus virtually no situation where anyone could violate the law unless they were dumb enough to admit "we are boycotting Israel because the UN is telling us to" (even "we are boycotting Israel because PACBI is telling us to" would be fine under this law, as PACBI is neither a foreign country nor an IGO).

For that reason, I find this law to be strange and kind of chest-thumpy. But is it worse than that? Does it ban boycotting Israel, or the request to do so? I do not think it does, though I understand why people thought it did. In fact, this is a good example for all you aspiring lawyers out there about the need for close and careful reading of statutory texts, because I very nearly got tripped up too.

The key language in the law comes in Section 4, subpart (b)(1) (subpart (a) deals with the policy of the Import/Export bank, and surely there's no trouble with the US as a matter of its own policy being opposed to boycotts of Israel; subpart (b)(2) modifies preemption language). This is the part of the law that regulates private business practices. One of the things it purports to prohibit is a "request to impose any boycott by a foreign country [or IGO]". Wow, that sounds bad! After all, whereas the practice of boycotting, or furnishing information proving one has complied with a boycott, is an action, requesting something is pure speech. That matters -- even in upholding the law, the Briggs & Stratton court observed that companies retained their freedom to agree with the boycott call as a matter of political speech. Take that right away, and this provision looks very different as a matter of constitutional law. A similar worry applies to new language: "or support any boycott fostered or imposed by any international governmental organization against Israel" -- to support something is expressive language, there can't constitutionally be a bar on expressing support for an Israel boycott.

So I was all set to chide the drafters for being at best sloppy, and at worst censorial. But then I read the section more closely. One reason it's really hard to properly interpret congressional bills is that they are out of context by design: it's all "insert this phrase" here and "add this sentence" there, without giving much context on what those sentences would do or modify in the context of the already-existing law. So here is how 50 U.S.C. § 4607(a)(1) would read as amended by Section 4(b)(1) of this law (italics/underlines are newly-inserted text, bold is my emphasis):
For the purpose of implementing the policies set forth in subparagraph (A) or (B) of paragraph (5) of section 4602 of this title, the President shall issue regulations prohibiting any United States person, with respect to his activities in the interstate or foreign commerce of the United States, from taking or knowingly agreeing to take any of the following actions with intent to comply with, further, or support any boycott fostered or imposed by a foreign country, or request to impose any boycott by a foreign country, against a country which is friendly to the United States and which is not itself the object of any form of boycott pursuant to United States law or regulation, or support any boycott fostered or imposed by any international governmental organization against Israel or request to impose any boycott by any international governmental organization against Israel:
(A) Refusing, or requiring any other person to refuse, to do business with or in the boycotted country, with any business concern organized under the laws of the boycotted country, with any national or resident of the boycotted country, or with any other person, pursuant to an agreement with, a requirement of, or a request from or on behalf of the boycotting country or international governmental organization (as the case may be). The mere absence of a business relationship with or in the boycotted country with any business concern organized under the laws of the boycotted country, with any national or resident of the boycotted country, or with any other person, does not indicate the existence of the intent required to establish a violation of regulations issued to carry out this subparagraph.
(B) Refusing, or requiring any other person to refuse, to employ or otherwise discriminating against any United States person on the basis of race, religion, sex, or national origin of that person or of any owner, officer, director, or employee of such person.
(C) Furnishing information with respect to the race, religion, sex, or national origin of any United States person or of any owner, officer, director, or employee of such person.
(D) Furnishing information or requesting the furnishing of information about whether any person has, has had, or proposes to have any business relationship (including a relationship by way of sale, purchase, legal or commercial representation, shipping or other transport, insurance, investment, or supply) with or in the boycotted country, with any business concern organized under the laws of the boycotted country, with any national or resident of the boycotted country, or with any other person which is known or believed to be restricted from having any business relationship with or in the boycotting country or with the international governmental organization (as the case may be). Nothing in this paragraph shall prohibit the furnishing of normal business information in a commercial context as defined by the Secretary.
(E) Furnishing information about whether any person is a member of, has made contributions to, or is otherwise associated with or involved in the activities of any charitable or fraternal organization which supports the boycotted country.
(F) Paying, honoring, confirming, or otherwise implementing a letter of credit which contains any condition or requirement compliance with which is prohibited by regulations issued pursuant to this paragraph, and no United States person shall, as a result of the application of this paragraph, be obligated to pay or otherwise honor or implement such letter of credit.
So here's the thing: The law has always been written to prohibit a set of actions taken with a particular motive (that's why that bolded text matters -- the "following actions" are the things laid out in subparts (A-F)). In the original text, that motive was "boycotting Israel at the behest of a foreign country." In the new text, that motive is expanded to include "boycotting Israel at the behest of an IGO." But the set of prohibited actions hasn't materially changed.

The simple way of putting it is that the stuff in subsection (a)(1) prior to subparts (A-F) -- boycotting, requesting to impose a boycott, supporting a boycott -- is not prohibited under the statute. Those are the motives that determine whether the actions listed out in subparts (A-F) become illicit. So, for example, you can't "Furnish[] information with respect to the race, religion, sex, or national origin of any United States person or of any owner, officer, director, or employee of such person"  (subpart C) only if your motive in doing so is "to comply with, further, or support any boycott fostered or imposed by a foreign country [or IGO]." But it is not the case that something not covered in subparts (A-F) is unlawful just because it "compl[ies] with, further[s], or support[s]" a boycott of Israel.

Does this cure the law of censorial implications? Even with the proper context of what the "requesting" language is doing, I still don't like it -- there seems to me still a marked difference between handing over information about whether a person is associated with Israeli charities (subpart F) in order to comply with another country's boycott regulations, and doing so because you yourself believe they should be boycotted -- the latter case being more clearly expressive all-the-way-down.

So, in sum: at the very least I think the "request" language should be eliminated -- it's only causing trouble. And on the whole I find this a strange law because the key rationale for the initial law -- the secondary boycott threat -- doesn't really seem to be at issue here. Consequently, I'm not convinced this new amendment is necessary or worth the tempest it is stirring up. But the more hyperbolic readings -- that it bans the call for a boycott against Israel outright -- seem to be wrong and based on a poor reading of the bill in conjunction with the statute it is modifying.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

A Message on Internalized (and Externalized) Antisemitism from 1982

Evelyn Torton Beck's Nice Jewish Girls: A Lesbian Anthology arrived in the mail today. Originally published in 1982, it remains both wonderfully and infuriatingly relevant today.

Here is an excerpt from Irena Klepfisz's "Anti-Semitism in the Lesbian/Feminist Movement," offering a serious of questions that "both Jewish and non-Jewish women might consider asking in trying to identify in themselves sources of shame, conflict, doubt, and anti-Semitism." (pp. 49-51)
  1. Do I have to check with other Jewish women in order to verify whether something is anti-Semitic? Do I distrust my own judgment on this issue?
  2. When I am certain, am I afraid to speak out?
  3. Am I afraid that by focusing on anti-Semitism I am being divisive?
  4. Do I feel that by asking other women to deal with anti-Semitism I am draining the movement of precious energy that would be better used elsewhere?
  5. Do I feel that anti-Semitism has been discussed too much already and feel embarrassed to bring it up?
  6. Do I feel that the commercial presses and the media are covering the issue of anti-Semitism adequately and that it is unnecessary to bring it up also in the movement? Am I embarrassed by the way anti-Semitism/the Holocaust is presented in the media? Why?
  7. Do I have strong disagreements with and/or am ashamed of Israeli policies and, as a result, don't feel that I can defend Jews whole-heartedly against anti-Semitism? Is it possible for me to disagree with Israeli policy and still oppose anti-Semitism?
  8. Do I feel guilty and/or ashamed of Jewish racism in this country and, as a result, feel I can't defend Jews whole-heartedly against anti-Semitism? Is it possible for me to  acknowledge Jewish racism, struggle against it, and still feel Jewish pride? And still oppose anti-Semitism?
  9. Do I feel that Jews have done well in this country and, therefore, should not complain?
  10. Do I feel that historically, sociologically, and/or psychologically, anti-Semitism is "justified" or "understandable," and  that I am, therefore, willing to tolerate it?
  11. Do I feel that anti-Semitism exists but it is "not so bad" or "not so important"? Why?
  12. Do I believe that by focusing on the problems of anti-Semitism I will make it worse? Why?
  13. Do I feel that Jews draw too much attention to themselves? How?
  14. Do I associate the struggle against anti-Semitism with conservativism? Why?
  15. What Jewish stereotypes am I afraid of being identified with? What do I repress in myself in order to prevent such identification?

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Jennifer Rubin on the GOP's Rot

Holy moly, Jennifer Rubin is speaking sense:
Let me suggest the real problem is not the Trump family, but the GOP. To paraphrase Brooks, “It takes generations to hammer ethical considerations out of a [party’s] mind and to replace them entirely with the ruthless logic of winning and losing.” Again, to borrow from Brooks, beyond partisanship the GOP evidences “no attachment to any external moral truth or ethical code.” 
Let’s dispense with the “Democrats are just as bad” defense. First, I don’t much care; we collectively face a party in charge of virtually the entire federal government and the vast majority of statehouses and governorships. It’s that party’s inner moral rot that must concern us for now. Second, it’s simply not true, and saying so reveals the origin of the problem — a “woe is me” sense of victimhood that grossly exaggerates the opposition’s ills and in turn justifies its own egregious political judgments and rhetoric. If the GOP had not become unhinged about the Clintons, would it have rationalized Trump as the lesser of two evils? Only in the crazed bubble of right-wing hysteria does an ethically challenged, moderate Democrat become a threat to Western civilization and Trump the salvation of America.
Indeed, for decades now, demonization — of gays, immigrants, Democrats, the media, feminists, etc. — has been the animating spirit behind much of the right. It has distorted its assessment of reality, giving us anti-immigrant hysteria, promulgating disrespect for the law (how many “respectable” conservatives suggested disregarding the Supreme Court’s decision on gay marriage?), elevating Fox News hosts’ blatantly false propaganda as the counterweight to liberal media bias and preventing serious policy debate. For seven years, the party vilified Obamacare without an accurate assessment of its faults and feasible alternative plans. “Obama bad” or “Clinton bad” became the only credo — leaving the party, as Brooks said of the Trump clan, with “no attachment to any external moral truth or ethical code” — and no coherent policies for governing.
[...]
Out of its collective sense of victimhood came the GOP’s disdain for not just intellectuals but also intellectualism, science, Economics 101, history and constitutional fidelity. If the Trump children became slaves to money and to their father’s unbridled ego, then the GOP became slaves to its own demons and false narratives. A party that has to deny climate change and insist illegal immigrants are creating a crime wave — because that is what “conservatives” must believe, since liberals do not — is a party that will deny Trump’s complicity in gross misconduct. It’s a party as unfit to govern as Trump is unfit to occupy the White House. It’s not by accident that Trump chose to inhabit the party that has defined itself in opposition to reality and to any “external moral truth or ethical code.”
The cheeky part in me wants to ask if this means Rubin wants to retract her infamous "Jews don't like Sarah Palin because our men are intellectual snobs and our women are frigid bitches" essay. But I'm feeling magnanimous, so I'll just give her credit for taking some personal responsibility and applaud (the uncompromising sections in bold certainly helped brighten my mood towards her).
 
 

Friday, July 14, 2017

Not Knowing "Zio" is a Slur is an Indictment, Not a Defense

The Chicago Dyke March, an alternative to Chicago Pride that is meant to have a more "social justice" orientation, caught a heap of bad press when it expelled several Jewish marchers for carrying rainbow Jewish pride flags featuring a Star of David on them. The march has defiantly resisted any and all calls to apologize, and insisted that it was only being "critical of Israel" (isn't everything?).

Yesterday, it popped back into the antisemitism news beat by posting a tweet: "Zio tears replenish my electrolytes!" "Zio" is an antisemitic slur popularized by David Duke; even the milquetoast Chakrabarti Inquiry into antisemitism in Labour agreed it was a racist term (and St. Jeremy Corbyn himself agreed: "'Zio' is a vile epithet that follows in a long line of earlier such terms that have no place whatsoever in our party.").

The March is defending itself from renewed antisemitism allegations by saying it "Definitely didn't know the violent history of the term."

They mean this as a defense. It's actually an indictment. Let me explain why.

I'll accept, for sake of argument, that the Chicago Dyke March did not "know" the term "Zio" was antisemitic. Nonetheless, the March almost certainly did not stumble across the term "Zio" by accident. It got it from somewhere, from sources it felt confident enough in that it felt comfortable emulating. In other words, one of the ways the Chicago Dyke March learned to speak about matters of Jewish concern was from people who think it is okay to toss around terms like "Zio." The odds that everything else it learned about those matters from this same social network was magically uninfected by this obvious antisemitism is incredibly scant. It's the thirteenth (or in this case fourteenth, or fifteenth, or seventieth) chime that calls into question the other twelve.

There are many places in this country where people grow up hearing racial slurs that they don't "know" are derogatory -- they're "just what people say." When they move into the wider world and use such terms, they sometimes claim ignorance -- and in some sense, they might be right. But the implication of their apologia is that not that they are free from racism -- far from it. It's that they grew up in an environment where racism was so normalized that they didn't even know how to recognize it. Such a situation demands some very hard work of unlearning, of radically questioning one's own presuppositions and acknowledging that one needs to acquire substantial new information before one can feel confident in one's ability to relate to the other group in an ethical manner.

But let's give the Dyke March even further benefit of the doubt. Suppose they somehow magically stumbled upon "Zio" through entirely innocent means -- nobody in their social network was using it, they came up with it all by their creative selves. Even still, all that would demonstrate is that they don't know crucial information about a subject they nonetheless feel fully confident to opine on. Put another way, if they didn't "know" that "Zio" was antisemitic, shouldn't the next question be "what else don't we know?"

I've long thought that the heart of oppression as a discursive practice is a perceived entitlement to talk about a group without knowing about the group. The Chicago Dyke March pleads ignorance about Jews and antisemitism, but that ignorance in no way dissipates their belief that they are absolutely entitled to talk about Jews and Jewish institutions however they want and be treated as credible and legitimate entrants to the discussion. It's not a valid move. If you don't know enough about Jews or antisemitism to know that "Zio" is an antisemitic term, then you don't know enough to be confident that any of your other opinions about Jews or antisemitism are worthwhile.

The Dyke March, in short, wants the innocence of ignorance without the responsibility. It wants to be able to say, on the one hand, "we didn't know that this term we used was a prominent antisemitic slur", while on the other hand it equally wants to say "we do know that in all other cases everything else we've said or done vis-a-vis Jews is entirely above-board and not antisemitic." They can only have the first if they're willing to disturb the second.

The Wasted Potential of Ben Sasse

Last fall, I noted that if there was any hope that Senate Republicans would actually exercise meaningful oversight over the Trump administration, it would almost certainly have to be led by Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE).

Since then, Senator Sasse has talked a good game about being upset by this or that Trump administration action. But in terms of tangible actions, he's done absolutely nothing.

This Slate profile of Sasse says everything I've wanted to say about Sasse and more. It's good not because it's brutal but because it's fair -- it really does recognize that Sasse is in many ways different from other Republicans, and at the same time, it recognizes that "if Nebraskans had elected a cravenly partisan alt-right bozo as their senator in 2014 instead of a genial Ph.D. [Sasse], American public life would be little different today." In terms of actual votes, hearings, procedural practices -- everything but words-of-concern on major media platforms -- Sasse is entirely indistinguishable from a standard-issue Republican flack. That he clearly knows better makes him in many ways worse, not better.

I wonder if the Washington Post or another major media outlet will ever run a story on putatively "moderate" or "reasonable" Republicans' reputations running ahead of their voting record. With a few stray exceptions, after all, a moderate Republican in Congress is one who "talks about voting against Republicans before voting with Republicans."

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Afghan Girls Robotics Team Allowed To Compete in US; Supervillain Origin Story Foiled

When I read that an all-girls robotics team from Afghanistan had been denied a visa to come to the US and participate in a robotics competition, my first thought was to fume about the injustice of it.

My second thought was to be perplexed at the logic. Even if you're a raging Islamophobe, surely you recognize that "six Muslim girls who are experts in robotics and have an ax to grind against America" is the start of a supervillain team, right? Why play with fire?

But the story appears to have a happy ending. Apparently at the intervention of President Trump, consular officials have reversed their decision and the girls will be allowed to come to America for the competition. Which is the right decision, and good news.

Kudos to President Trump (with appropriate discounting for the degree to which President Trump's rabidly anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim policies were responsible for the initial exclusion).

How About We Declare a Moritorium on Concert-Cancellation Calls?

Pink Floyd frontman Roger Waters supports BDS. Consequently, he wants Radiohead to cancel their concert in Israel.

Nassau County, New York has passed legislation opposing BDS. Consequently, some politicians on Long Island want to cancel Pink Floyd's concert at the Nassau Coliseum (the stadium is owned by the county).

While I fully expect 80% of commenters to be delighted by one of these calls while aghast at the censorial suppression of the other, put me in the camp of not supporting cancelling concerts as a means of grinding political axes.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Avi Gabbay Doo!

Avi Gabbay is the new head of Israel's Labor Party, defeating former Labor head and former Defense Minister Amir Peretz in a run-off (both advanced past current Labor chief Isaac Herzog, who placed third in the initial round of voting). Gabbay is a political novice who is not currently in the Knesset, although he did formerly serve as Environmental Protection Minister.

I don't really know a lot about Gabbay's politics, so I won't say anything more there. But I did want to point out that the run-off between Gabbay and Peretz featured two Israelis of Moroccan descent. That's especially noteworthy given Labor's long history as the redoubt of the old Ashkenazi elite in Israeli society -- a feature which is not unrelated to Likud's rise to power starting in the 1970s and to political dominance since the end of Ehud Barak's tenure as Prime Minister in 2001.

So congratulations to Gabbay, and here's hoping that he can help reinvigorated a genuine liberal alternative in Israel.

Nuclear Power: The Macho Man's Manly Path to Global Salvation

I've written a bit about nuclear power before, and how it may be our best hope at achieving deep decarbonization in a reasonable time frame while still meeting our electricity needs. Put simply, nuclear power has three characteristics that make it extremely attractive from a decarbonization perspective:
  1. It's high capacity.
  2. It's zero-emission.
  3. It's dispatchable.
Back in the day, nuclear energy was attractive for a fourth reason -- people thought it would be inexpensive. Nuclear energy would famously be "too cheap to meter". This turned out to be a less than oracle-esque prophecy. Nuclear power plants have long been plagued with cost overruns, and their skyrocketing expense (along with a few very public safety scares) is what caused a long freeze in nuclear construction from which we are only just beginning to see a thaw.

But from my vantage, the issue blocking us from pursuing necessary anti-climate change action isn't monetary. We have the resources to do it. The problem is, for lack of a better word, cultural. Conservatives have gotten it into their heads that fighting climate change and promoting renewable power is something only woolly liberal hippies care about, because they hate capitalism or something. And since Cleek's Law states that "Today’s conservatism is the opposite of what liberals want today, updated daily," that means conservatives oppose pretty much anything on the clean power agenda.

Enter nuclear energy. Nuclear power is not coded as liberal -- if anything, its public valence is probably still more anti-environmental stemming from "nuclear-free zone" politics emerging out of the 70s and 80s (nuclear waste controversies stemmed from whether holding sites designed to last 10,000 years were sufficiently permanent. Given that we're staring down catastrophic climate change by the end of this century, that timeframe looks adorably quaint). It's muscular -- nuclear energy is something big, bad-ass countries produce -- unlike solar power which might turn your calculator on if you're not in a dark room. Sure some people fret about "safety" (although nuclear power is on net actually quite safe), but conservatives actually tend to be less risk-averse when it comes to nuclear energy than liberals. And conservatives actually have no problem expending resources when it comes to things they care about -- like funneling money to really rich people or building jet fighters.

Basically, nuclear energy is culturally coded in a way that makes it acceptable to conservatives in a way that other clean power sources aren't. And so regardless of whether it's theoretically possible to go 100% clean power without resort to nukes, nuclear energy is unique in its ability to not be rejected out of hand by conservatives who hate what renewable energy represents -- limp, paternalistic liberalism that wants to take away American muscle and replace it with some Dutch windmill and hippie solar communes.

Now I want to be 100% clear: This is a profoundly stupid reason to push for nuclear power (there are good reasons, but "nuclear power is manly" is not one). As a human, I'm embarrassed that the argument has come to this -- that we can only convince people to endorse global salvation if we can frame in a way that allows them to feel sufficiently manly about it. But we're past the point where my pride matters. If conservatives need to feel like they're sticking it to liberals and environmentalists by promoting nuclear energy, har-dee-harharhar, I say we indulge them.

So let's go, conservatives. Make electricity great again. Back a big nuclear energy push. That'll show me and my liberal pals what's what. It's the macho, manly way to save the planet.

Saturday, July 08, 2017

The Next Wave of the Net Metering Wars

The New York Times has an article about utility efforts to roll back "net metering"* for solar power.

The article is pretty clearly slanted -- utilities aren't making up the free-riding problem. But it's also evident that utility companies aren't just interested in insuring grid stability but want to kneecap solar outright, because it is a threat to the monopoly utility model. In many of the states, rooftop solar is so nascent that it's almost impossible to imagine it poses any serious immediate threat to utility business models.

The fact that very liberal states like Hawaii have rolled back net metering should suggest that there's more to it than just greedy conservatives hating renewable power and protecting incumbent power producers (recall that Hawaii has actually set a 100% renewable power goal they plan to meet by 2045). But the Trump administration and allied conservative state governments are certainly sympathetic to net metering "reform" proposals which are best characterized as "greedy conservatives hating renewable power and protecting incumbent power producers."

* Net metering is the practice where households with solar panels get paid retail price for any excess power they return to the grid. If my house consumes 1,000 kWh of power, and the panels on my roof produce 1,000 kWh of power, my electricity bill nets out to zero. The reason it's a "net" is that, on a minute-to-minute basis, there will be times when my solar panels are producing more than I'm using (and the excess gets sold onto the grid) and likewise times when the panels aren't covering my usage (e.g., when it's cloudy) and I need to draw from the grid. The reason this aggravates utility companies is that my house is still hooked up to and uses the grid (to sell the excess power, to draw from non-intermittent dispatchable power at night or in the rain), but it isn't paying for any of the costs of maintaining it. As rooftop solar becomes more prominent, this becomes a genuine regulatory puzzle for utility commissions. But in most jurisdictions, we're nowhere near the point where it will make a dent.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Root Beer Taste Test

I love root beer. As a non-alcohol drinker, it's the closest thing I get to experiencing the varieties of real beer. And so, for years, I've had a dream of performing a root beer taste test. And now that dream is coming true.

Over the course of several days, I've drank a variety of different root beers -- both commonplace and artisanal. I've given them all a grade and some brief commentary. It's my gift to you, but more than that, it's my gift to me.

* * *

A&W: I bought a bottle of A&W for sake of completion, because I already knew I didn't like it. But its one of the big names in the root beer business, so I figured I had to give it a shot. And to be honest, I was pleasantly surprised. I always felt like A&W tasted like it had been left out in the sun for too long, but this was sweeter and crisper than I remembered (although a molasses-type sweetness -- the bottle says "aged vanilla" -- which I wasn't a huge fan of). It does depend on it being fully carbonated -- once the carbonation fades, it start to taste like liquified brown sugar -- but again, not terrible. Still not great though. C+.

Barq's: With all this stress on small, artisanal root beers some may be surprised that I fully expected Barq's to do very well in this challenge. Of the "big three" mainstream root beer brands (A&W and Mug being the other two), Barq's is by far my favorite and is the root beer that is always in my fridge. The famous "bite" isn't anything too extreme, but certainly gives it a personality that one wouldn't expect from a Coca-Cola product. The main downside is that there isn't a ton underneath the bite -- once the snap wears off, it goes downhill really quickly -- but as long as you don't linger while drinking it Barq's is very crisp and refreshing. A.

Mug: Good. Generic, but good. Not a lot to say about this. I last got a bottle of Mug when it came with a Dominos Pizza, and that feels entirely appropriate somehow. B+.

Bedford's: Surprisingly watery. I had tried a bunch of "darker" flavors prior to drinking Bedford's, and when I first sipped it I couldn't quite put my finger on what its distinct flavor was. A full bottle later, and I still wasn't sure, and had no recollection about what it was. There's nothing particularly offensive about this drink, but there's nothing remotely memorable about it either. C-.

Dad's: It was difficult for me to place Dad's flavor (mint? No, that's not right), but it was generally quite pleasant. The problem was there was nothing going on underneath it -- in fact, it was pretty watery. I've heard that some people get "Dad's" as a cute Father's Day gift, and I have to say that it's far better than what one would typical expect for a "gimmick-grade" product. B.

Frostie: Frostie has a cartoon Santa on its bottle. And it tastes like Christmas! I can't even describe what that means; hell, I don't even celebrate Christmas. But it tastes exactly like what I imagine Christmas to taste like. It's a very particular sort of sweet that's pleasing and wintery and not too strong. That taste overlays a pretty forgettable base, but overall this is a strong entry. A-.

Henry Weinhard's: This has a flavor that I imagine is a take-it-or-leave-it proposition. For me, it tastes a little like cough syrup. Now, I have to say that if cough syrup tasted like this I'd be really happy -- it'd make a darn tasty cough syrup! But in the root beer category, that's a downgrade. It does foam very impressively though. B-.

IBC: Tastes like a darker version of Barq's. It has a bite as well, though not as distinctive. The flavor is a little richer, and I can imagine people going both ways on it. But I'm a big fan. A.

Sioux City: One taste of this and I was like "we've got a contender." Two tastes and I immediately recanted. This has a dreadful aftertaste -- truly foul. I'm not sure where it comes from, because it has a very nice taste when it hits your tongue. This must be what drug addiction feels like -- a momentary great feeling, followed by awfulness. D+.

O-So Butterscotch Root Beer: As the name describes. This has a very strong -- I'd argue overpowering -- butterscotch flavor that feels incongruous. Like, I can see how someone might think it goes with a root beer base, but they turned out to be wrong. Root beer is sweet enough as it is, this turned it positively sickly. Would not recommend unless you're a true butterscotch fan (which I admittedly am not). C-.

Red Arrow: Like A&W without the sweetness. This is what I imagine dark beer to taste like. Unfortunately, it lacks the smoothness of A&W. In fact, the more I think of it, the more this tastes like my bad memories of A&W. Not a fan. C-.

Monday, July 03, 2017

For the Left, the Kotel Controversy Shouldn't Be Nyah-Nyah Moment

When the Israeli government reneged on its promise to promote equal space for non-Orthodox Jews at the Western Wall -- and moved forward a bill that would further cement the Orthodox movement's stranglehold over conversion in Israel -- liberal Jews in America were very, very upset. They were not shy about denouncing the decision in the sharpest of terms.  The head of the Chicago Jewish Federation said lawmakers who voted for the conversion bill wouldn't be welcome in his city. An AIPAC board member threatened to cut off all philanthropic giving to Israel.  It's fair to say that we haven't seen this much unified fury directed at the Israeli government from mainstream American Jewish organizations in years.

Some anti-occupation activists are rolling their eyes at this -- oh, now you're protesting Israeli government policy. Now, when it's about you, you're suddenly threatening to cut off donations or shun unacceptable Israeli MKs? Where were you when Israel's right-ward tilt was affecting people-not-you -- that is, Palestinians? Where was your consternation and outrage when Israel lets settler violence proceed unchecked or demolishes Palestinian homes for "improper permits" while letting outposts proliferate like wildfire? But now, now you find your voice?

I get this reaction. Really, I do. It's an entirely understandable, visceral response. I even feel it myself, to a degree. I really, really empathize with the cathartic desire to lash out like this.

But being a good activist isn't about doing what feels good or righteous or cathartic. Being a good activist means taking the steps that move the ball forward, even if that means foregoing a good "gotcha" moment. Sometimes you just have to bite your tongue, and this is one of those moments.

For starters, the groups engaging in this nyah-nyah reaction generally purport to agree with their targets on the injustice of the Kotel backtrack and the conversion bill. So right from the get-go, there's the ill-advised look of being angry that people agree with you on an issue.

But there's a larger short-sightedness here, that goes more directly to the issue of the occupation and moving the needle on how American Jewish organizations treat that issue. Let me lay it out in simple terms:
From an anti-occupation perspective, anything that makes clear to mainstream American Jews that Bibi is not your buddy is a good thing.
Simple as that. An American Jewish organization that is annoyed at Netanyahu and his coalition partners is an American Jewish organization that will be less likely to reflexively defer to them the next occupation-related outrage that comes down the pike. An American Jewish organization which doesn't trust Bibi's views on matters of justice or fairness is an American Jewish organization more likely  to follow their own instincts going forward.

I've written before about the importance of social psychology in understanding how views about Israel develop and change. One of the most important considerations in how people form their own beliefs is their sense about how their friends, how the people on their "side", perceive the issue. The Kotel controversy is a moment where many American Jews have suddenly come to the realization that Bibi is not "on their side". They're casting about, looking for new allies in the Jewish community that will validate their feelings about how important this issue is and do understand how objectionable the Israeli government's decision was.

This offers a huge opportunity. American Jews are searching for something to do, a way to vent their anger, at the current Israeli government. Right now it's rather disorganized and inchoate, and as a means of protesting the Kotel decision pulling funding from an Ethiopian-Israeli soccer team seems rather far afield. But you know what could make Netanyahu stand up and take notice? If donors and givers and Jewish support started flowing to liberal organizations within Israel that -- by and large -- want religious pluralism in Israel and an end to the occupation.

But that only works if the door is held open. So, in this particular moment, the decision of the anti-occupation left to wag a finger in these Jews' faces and yell "hypocrites" could not be more profoundly idiotic. It is a sign of the immaturity of these groups and their preference for posturing over effective coalition-building within the Jewish community -- a shortcoming that has bedeviled the Jewish anti-occupation left from its earliest days.

Sunday, July 02, 2017

A Muslim in Rural Minnesota

The Minneapolis Star Tribune has a gripping profile of a Muslim doctor living in Dawson, Minnesota -- why he moved there, how the election shook his faith in his neighbors, and his reluctant efforts to explain not just what Islam is, but why he experienced the widespread support for Donald Trump in his community as a deep and personal betrayal. It is a compelling and necessary read.

I've mentioned that my fiancée is from Owatonna, Minnesota, and that I regularly am out there visiting her family. Owatonna is about three hours from Dawson (it's in the southern part of the state, while Dawson is out west), but they both are in rural areas that swung hard to the right this election. Owatonna, too, had a hateful incident in the immediate aftermath of the election (a middle-aged man followed a Muslim teenager around a Kwik-Trip and asked "Now that Donald Trump's president, why do I still have to see Muslims? Go back to your own country.").

I don't mean to imply this is just a rural phenomenon -- after all, my very suburban elementary school got tagged with swastikas just before the election. This isn't about playing gotcha, or kick the hick.

But in both the Dawson and Owatonna cases, Muslim community members specifically suggest that there is an extra degree of alienation knowing that many, if not most, of their neighbors, classmates, or colleagues voted for Trump. Voted to put him on a registry. Voted to ban them from the country. Voted to demonize them and consider them all terrorists seeking to impose Sharia law on the country.

Now, frequently they'll deny that. It was about insurance premiums, not race or religion or ethnicity. Put aside the ludicrous notion that Donald Trump is going to make insurance more affordable. There's a deeper problem, for it's a less of a defense than one might think to say "demonizing you, rendering you a second-class citizens, labeling you an enemy of the state -- all on account your faith -- these didn't matter to me." There's a sort of negligence at work here, where people look at what Donald Trump said about their fellow Americans and said "that's not important to me. I'm willing to accept that for the sake of demolishing Obamacare."

This is why there's a sense of betrayal here that goes beyond simply one's preferred candidate losing. When we vote, we are making one of the most consequential statements about not just our own priorities, but our vision of care and concern for everyone in our community and country. It is not and should not be thought of as the equivalent of a consumer selecting their preferred brand of grapes. When people reveal their values in this way -- "I'm not saying I like the Muslim ban, but her emails" -- it is not wrong for those persons whose lives and equality are so grossly undervalued to take exception. And it isn't wrong for them to insist that their classmates, colleagues, and neighbors look them in the eye and be made to reckon with what they did.

Saturday, July 01, 2017

How To Be a Non-Antisemitic Anti-Zionist

I've long maintained that is perfectly possible, in concept, to be anti-Zionist without being antisemitic (under reasonable definitions of both "Zionism" and "antisemitic"). The simplest way of doing this is through a sort of principled anarchism which objects to anybody having a state. In that case, "anti-Zionism" is not really a specific identity so much as it is the application of a general principle objecting to the existence of states to a particular state that happens to be Jewish -- and the principle doesn't operate materially differently with respect to Arab, or Japanese, or Mexican states.

Concept doesn't always (or, in my estimation, even often) translate into practice of course. And it is not a form of "censorship" or "cheating" to insist that if one wants to radically oppose the manner in which most Jews believe in their collective liberation, it might actually require hard work and difficult, nuanced judgments demanding deep knowledge of and attentiveness to Jewish histories and experiences. Saying that there can be non-antisemitic anti-Zionism doesn't compel the conclusion that it should be easy to do it.

That said, if you want a sketch on what non-antisemitic anti-Zionism might look like in the wild, you could do worse than reading this post by Jewdas (a British-based Jewish anarchist organization) commenting on the aftermath of the Chicago Dyke March fiasco.

I put this post forward not because I "endorse" it. I'm not an anti-Zionist nor an anarchist, I don't find the existence of Israel to be an embarrassment (though I certainly find a decent chunk of its actions to be so), and I have my share of objections to the "New Diasporism" model they are promoting -- not the least of which is my skepticism that the model adequately accounts for patterns of antisemitism in practice.

But what I can say is that theirs is a principled position that can be argued against on the basis of principled reasons. It is not a ticket good for the Jewish ride only (that brand of anti-Zionism can jump in a lake). It takes Jewish experience and Jewish communal life seriously, and offers a serious accounting of alternatives to collective living through a state. I might not find their alternative compelling or persuasive, but that's a far tamer and more prosaic objection than I'd level at the standard-issue forms of anti-Zionism that, say, justify expelling Jewish marchers because they have a Star of David on their rainbow flag.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Trading Pluralism for Peace

United Torah Judaism is an Israeli political party representing the Ashkenazi ultra-orthodox. It is currently in Netanyahu's coalition, and was a major force in the scuttling of the Western Wall deal that has provoked an unprecedented backlash against Israel from the American Jewish community.

With that in your head, consider this passage
Peace in exchange for Reform Judaism. This was effectively the deal that Moshe Gafni, a veteran ultra-Orthodox politician, proposed earlier this month at the annual Haaretz Conference on Peace. Asked by the newspaper’s editor-in-chief Aluf Benn why, despite his dovish views, he insisted on aligning his party, United Torah Judaism, with the political right, Gafni dropped a political bombshell. “We will join the left when the left breaks its ties with the Reform movement,” he promised.
Like Zachary Braiterman, I just put this up as something to ponder. If the choice really is between insuring Jewish pluralism in Israel such that non-Orthodox Jews no longer face discrimination, and securing a genuine pro-peace majority in the Knesset -- what's the next move?

I don't purport to answer, I just ask (though admittedly one of the reasons I ask is to disturb the easy and comforting presumptions that fighting ultra-Orthodox domination over Israeli religious affairs necessarily goes hand-in-hand with fighting right-wing anti-Palestinian policymaking. That linkage may be broadly correct in the US, but it might not adequately describe Israeli politics).

Court Upholds Masuku Hate Speech Finding

Here's a blast from the past. Back in 2009, I started following the case of one Bongani Masuku, at that time International Secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU). Masuku was under fire for a bevy of antisemitic statements, virtually all of which were in the context of Palestinian solidarity work, but which kicked off when he stated that he wanted to "convey a message to the Jews of [South Africa]." Other highlights included:
  • Referring to Zionists as "belong[ing] to the era of their Friend Hitler"
  • Contending that "every Zionist must be made to drink the bitter medicine they are feeding our broathers (sic) and sisters in Palestine," and
  • Expressing his view that "Jews are arrogant, not from being told by any Palestinian, but from what I saw myself."
Lovely. In any event, various South African Jews complained and received a judgment from the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) that Masuku's comments constituted antisemitic hate speech -- a ruling which caused COSATU to go absolutely ballistic. Since Masuku refused the SAHRC's order that he apologize, the case headed off to Equality Court in December 2009 -- and that was the last I heard of it.

Until today. The Equality Court issued its verdict, and it found against Masuku on all counts (you can read the opinion here). It unequivocally found that its comments were hate speech, were functionally targeted at Jews, and were unprotected by freedom of expression.* It again ordered him to make an unconditional apology, as well as (with COSATU) paying full litigation costs. It even went out of its way to specifically reject the expert testimony offered in support of Masuku as "partisan" in character and unreliable.

From what I can tell, this is probably not the last stage -- there still can be more appeals, and one doubts that COSATU or Masuku have come this far just to give up and apologize to the damn Jews. But right now, this is a major win for the South African Jewish community, and a huge loss for all those who seek to excuse even naked antisemitism by draping it in the cloak of "criticism of Israel."

* As I have observed previously, South Africa has very different standards regarding free speech compared to the US -- the former allows proscriptions against hate speech, the latter does not. In general, I prefer the US model, but insofar as this is a South African court applying South African law that debate is not germane.


Suppose You Said "The Weather in Tel Aviv Was Terrible...."

I write quite a bit on the claim that one "can't criticize Israel without being called anti-Semitic." Among the observations I make is that this statement, as framed, is self-evidently absurd: particular criticisms in particular contexts phrased in particular ways may be called anti-Semitic, but nobody labels all "criticism" anti-Semitic tout court. For example, if someone said "the weather is terrible in Tel Aviv", nobody would characterize that as anti-Semitic.

Consequently, I had to save this tweet by David Ward -- a former LibDem MP who has become rather notorious for anti-Semitic remarks in the past -- giving his cheeky little view on anti-Semitism charges.

Actually, David, you were doing fine until the second half of the sentence. But keep on trying!

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Goodbye, Sitemeter

From almost the beginning of this blog, I had a Sitemeter account to track my visitors.

It was great -- I could see who was coming to my site, and where they were coming from. Often, it was the easiest way of alerting me to somebody linking to my blog. It also gave me a sense of the ebbs and flows of The Debate Link's traffic (it never really recovered from the clerkship hiatus, alas -- though the general slump in the "blog market" didn't help matters). And since I've had it for so long, it provided a steady tick-tick-tick of this blog's progression -- like pencil marks tracking a child's growth.

Sadly, Sitemeter is being permanently shut down July 1st. The tracker was clearly in rough shape -- I couldn't even see the widget on my blog's footer anymore -- but the core of it still did its job until I finally uninstalled it last night. It's being replaced with SiteCounter. We'll see how that goes, but seeing as how I hate all change, I expect to dislike it (Blogger also has an internal stat counter, but I'm also finding it unwieldy. Because again, change).

Even more sadly, there's no way to import the data over to my new tracker. So I'll just put the final tally here for posterity.

Starting from December 13, 2004 (so just six months after The Debate Link launched) through June 27, 2017, The Debate Link has had:

665,042 visitors
961,698 page views

Thanks, Sitemeter. And thanks to all 665,000+ visitors, too.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Travel Ban Case Going to the Supreme Court

The United States Supreme Court has agreed to hear the challenges to President Trump's travel ban memorandum. Lower courts had enjoined the ban, finding (in various cases) that it exceeded authority under the INA and/or it was motivated by impermissible anti-Muslim animus. The Supreme Court has maintained the injunction for those persons who have a significant connection to the United States (i.e., those with family members in America, an employment offer, students at American universities), but stayed the injunction for those who have no such connections. Justices Alito, Thomas, and Gorsuch dissented because they would have lifted the injunction across the board.

In terms of tea-leaf reading, I would characterize myself in the "this is not a great sign" camp. Alito, Thomas, and Gorsuch's votes are pretty well-assured at this point (not that any of them were really up for grabs to begin with). For the rest, the decision to maintain the injunction for those with close family connections could signal that the Court might try to do some fancy footwork on standing to knock out claims by John Q. Random Muslim while otherwise rejecting the ban as applied to those with a significant nexus to America. But maybe not.

On the merits (and I'll focus only on the constitutional issues rather than the INA claims), I've already written quite a bit about the efforts by some to act as if it's somehow unfair to use straightforward evidence of discriminatory intent to prove discriminatory intent (though I will also take this opportunity to link to this excellent post by Leah Litman, Helen Murillo, and Steve Vladeck). With Roberts and Kennedy as the swing vote, this becomes all the more pressing.

Over the years, we've seen a growing trend whereby many people -- including federal judges -- view discrimination claims as basically mean. By that, I'm saying that they view the claim "X law or Y decision unlawfully discriminates against me" as basically saying little more than "X or Y was done by assholes."  At which point the listener thinks: "What a mean thing to say about someone else! How uncivil, to call them an asshole!" "Discrimination", as a concept, ceases to have analytical content which we look over and check against a particular fact pattern. Instead, it is taken as a sort of slur or insult, at the very least bad manners, which should rarely if ever be heard in polite society.

In conjunction with this, the federal judiciary has for years been pushing the burden of proof in discrimination claims towards a singularity where the only way to win such a case is when either (a) the provision specifically says it is targeting group X or (b) the person or organization responsible for the provision admits that it's goal is to target group X. This, conveniently, allows virtually all of those "mean" discrimination cases to be tossed out -- I mean, who could be stupid enough to admit that their goal is to explicitly target a particular outgroup?

Well, the President of the United States, apparently. And so we return to familiar ground: Sure, Donald Trump admitted that his purpose in passing the travel ban was discriminatory. But it's just so rude to act as if that's proof of some sort of illicit discriminatory motive! How could one, in Chief Justice Roberts famous words, "tar [him] with the brush of bigotry", just because his statements and actions give every reason to think that said "brush" is wholly and entirely warranted?

Anyway, I suspect that this will be the operative issue for Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Kennedy -- whether they'll be able to resist their deep, deep instinct that it's just impolite, just too uncivil, too gauche, to say that the President of the United States is a discriminator. My tone might illustrate why I'm in the "this is not a great sign" camp.

I'll say one final thing. If the Supreme Court does uphold the travel ban, I am quite confident as to the historical trajectory of the precedent:
  • In 20 years, the case will stop being cited.
  • In 40 years, the case will be viewed by the legal profession as an embarrassment; a naked capitulation to panicked racism and bigotry.
  • In 60 years, the case will be denounced as an obvious mistake -- so obvious that it scarcely needs mentioning that we'd never, ever repeat it in today's enlightened age.
  • And in 75 years, the courts will do it all over again.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

That's Funny, This Story About Anti-Semitism Keeps Repeating Itself

One more post on the expulsion of Jewish marchers carrying a rainbow flag with a Star of David on it from a "Dyke March" in Chicago. In a statement, the March organizers defended their actions, in part, by saying that the Jews in question "repeatedly expressed support for Zionism during conversations with Chicago Dyke March Collective members." On this, I could not agree more with Jaz Twersky:

But this also made me think of a passage from Steve Cohen's seminal "That's Funny, You Don't Look Anti-Semitic." (this is from the 2005 introduction, recounting reactions to the original publication in 1984):
That's Funny You Don't Look Anti-Semitic did create ripples. It managed to split the JSG [Jewish Socialist Group] whose then dominant leadership thought it might offend the Socialist Workers Party. It resulted in some pretty dreadful correspondence over many weeks in journals like Searchlight and Peace News. A pamphlet was written denouncing me as a "criminal".  
There was a particular review—in Searchlight—one sentence of which I will never forget. Every Jew on the left will know that terrible syndrome whereby, whatever the context and wherever one is, we will be tested by being given the question "what is your position on Zionism?" Wanna support the miners—what's your position on Zionism? Against the bomb—what's your position on Zionism? And want to join our march against the eradication of Baghdad, in particular the eradication of Baghdad—what's your position on Zionism? And we all know what answer is expected in order to pass the test. It is a very strong form of anti-Semitism based on assumptions of collective responsibility. Denounce Zionism, crawl in the gutter, wear a yellow star and we'll let you in the club. Which is one reason why I call myself an Anti-Zionist Zionist—at least that should confuse the bastards.  
Anyhow this particular review, noting that my book actually did attack Zionism, said "It is not enough to trot out platitudes, as he does, about being against Zionism and in support of the Palestinian struggle". So I'm not allowed into the club even though I fulfil the entry requirements. I'm not allowed in because I recognise and oppose the existence of anti-Semitism on the Left—and this therefore renders all support for Palestinians a "platitude". Well it ain't me who's here confusing anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism.
Wanna support the miners--what's your position on Zionism? Want to be a gay person--what's your position on Zionism? There's nothing new under the sun here. The story didn't change from 1984 to 2005, and it didn't change from 2005 to 2017.

As should be obvious, I don't think one should have to "attack Zionism" to be part of the club (though I've always loved Cohen's "Anti-Zionist Zionist" descriptor -- "that should confuse the bastards" indeed!). The point, rather, is that the Zionism or anti-Zionism rarely is the point. The point is the tight regulation of Jewish political activities, under which Jewish access to progressive political spaces is always provisional. Having a Star of David shouldn't be a license for an interrogation on one's views about Zionism, and if the issue does come up Jews should not have to engage in ritual self-abasement to pass the test. When those requirements are in play -- and for Jews, they're always in play -- antisemitism is alive and well.

Who Could Have Known That Characterizing All Jewish Political Agency as a Conspiracy Could Lead To Antisemitism?

I briefly posted last night about the exclusion of queer Jews carrying a rainbow flag with a Star of David on it being excluded from a Chicago gay pride parade. The march was not the main Chicago Pride parade but a smaller "Dyke March" which claimed to be specifically interested in fostering greater inclusion and diversity.

The Windy City Times (a gay periodical in Chicago) now has some more information on the exclusion. While the march organizers have yet to issue a statement, defenders of the expulsion of Jewish marchers have unsurprisingly seized upon the "pinkwashing" claim as their best gambit. Given that one of the expelled marchers is an officer with the LGBT group A Wider Bridge -- an organization often unjustly accused of pinkwashing on the basis of little more evidence than "they work with queer Israelis" -- I expect we'll hear plenty more contentions that a rainbow flag with a Star of David is actually best thought of as a propaganda arm of the Israeli government seeking to downplay the occupation.

I've written quite a bit about why pinkwashing is an absurd charge, and one that is only intelligible through antisemitic notions of Jewish conspiracy whereby any actions Jews take is presumed to be part of some sort of plot. This shows the inevitable endpoint of that analysis: If you're a Jew, and you're open about it, the presumption is you must be an agent of Israeli hasbara unless you engage in public self-flagellation demonstrating the contrary. A Star of David suffices to show you're in on the plot. A Star of David with a rainbow is enough to infer your true objectives. What else could you possibly be doing at a gay pride parade other than serving as an agent of a foreign power?

Simply put, when you can't conceptualize Jewish political action but through the lens of some sort of conspiratorial effort to prop up Israeli policies in the West Bank and Gaza, it's utterly unsurprising that simply carrying a Star of David will become sufficient proof of "pinkwashing". "Pinkwashing", as a concept, merges entirely into a politics of antisemitic exclusion precisely because it is predicated on being unable to hold multiple thoughts in one's head at the same time -- the Star of David is a Jewish symbol and it's on the Israeli flag! Jews may be proud of Israel's relative protections of LGBT rights and sharply critical of its policies towards Palestinians!

One final thing. On twitter, some people questioned if the expulsion of these marchers might be unlawful as a form of anti-Jewish discrimination. I believe that the answer is clearly no, under the precedent set by Hurley v. Irish-American Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Group of Boston. But there is some irony: Hurley allowed an Irish pride parade to exclude gay marchers from the proceedings insofar as the parade organizers disagreed with the "message" of their would-be co-marchers (the message, apparently, being that there were Irish-American gay people who were proud of that identity). And the same rule that permits an Irish pride parade to be homophobic, allows a Gay pride parade to be anti-Semitic.

UPDATE: I've finally seen a statement by a march organizer, Iliana Figueroa:
"Yesterday during the rally we saw three individuals carrying Israeli flags super imposed on rainbow flags. Some folks say they are Jewish Pride flags. But as a Collective we are very much pro-Palestine, and when we see these flags we know a lot of folks who are under attack by Israel see the visuals of the flag as a threat, so we don't want anything in the [Dyke March] space that can inadvertently or advertently express Zionism," she said. "So we asked the folks to please leave. We told them people in the space were feeling threatened."
First of all, these flags were not "Israeli flags super imposed on rainbow flags." They had a Star of David on a Rainbow background. This is an "everything is critical of Israel" move, where an antisemitic action is reformulated as anti-Israel expression, which then will be lobbed back at Jews accused of being unable to tolerate "criticism of Israel" and/or (ironically enough) unwilling to cease "conflating" Israel and Jewishness.

Second, the "we don't want anything in the space that can inadvertently or advertently express Zionism" -- as applied against a visible Star of David -- couldn't illustrate my above points better if I had written it. The point of "pinkwashing", as an accusation, is to render any organized act of queer Jewish agency that is not torch-and-pitchfork anti-Zionist into the equivalent of an Israeli governmental press release. Once that's the standard, it is unsurprising and predictable that basic expressions of Jewish identity will become illicit as "inadvertently express[ing] Zionism," and the upshot is that Jews are excluded virtually in toto.

Figueroa said that a full statement will be forthcoming "after it finishes crafting one, and that members have asked pro-Palestinian organizations and others to release statements of solidarity with Dyke March as well." Again, note how the easiest move for many groups, when faced with Jewish claims of marginalization, is to shift as quickly as possible onto the "Israel" terrain as a means of delegitimizing the Jewish narrative. This response doesn't remedy the anti-Semitism (indeed, it scarcely seeks to address it) -- it doubles-down on it.

UPDATE 2x: Statement is out, and as predicted "A Wider Bridge" gets exactly the treatment I anticipated. On the other hand, the Human Rights Campaign issued a statement of condemnation.

UPDATE 3x: I wrote a follow-up post: "That's Funny, This Story About Anti-Semitism Keeps Repeating Itself."

Stiff Competition in the Gross Sweepstakes

Which is grosser? Ha'aretz saying the Maccabi Games "make 1936 Berlin Olympics seem liberal"?

Or a Chicago gay pride parade that was specifically presented as being extra-concerned with inclusion kicking out Jewish marchers for having a Rainbow flag adorned with a Star of David?

Man, tough call.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

How To Tokenize with Proportions

13% of American Muslims voted for Donald Trump.

That's a minuscule proportion. It is around half the proportion that Hillary Clinton got in Idaho. It is fair to say that Muslims overwhelmingly voted against Trump, just like it is fair to say that Idahoans voted overwhelmingly against Clinton.

13% also translates, roughly, into "1 in 8". And when you think of that way, it shouldn't be that hard to find a Muslim Trump supporter. Statistically, all you'd need to do is know eight American Muslims, and one of them is probably a Trump voter. And across a population of roughly 3.3 million Muslims, that means there are roughly 412,500 American Muslims who support Trump -- a lot of people! Yet it would be clearly, obviously wrong to use those "lot of people" to try and argue against the above conclusion that "Muslims overwhelmingly voted against Trump."

In short, it is simultaneously true that "Muslims overwhelmingly dislike Trump" and "it is not hard to find Muslims who do like Trump." Likewise, we can simultaneously know that Idaho is exceptionally conservative and know that finding liberals Idahoans doesn't take any herculean effort.

When one doesn't keep those two thoughts in mind, it is very easy to mislead oneself. I've noted that 13% is also the percentage of UK Jews who planned to vote Labour last election, but that still means it should not be remotely hard to find Jews -- quite a few Jews -- who are loud-and-proud for Jeremy Corbyn. If one is a Corbyn fan, one can (accurately!) think "look at all the Jews I know who support Corbyn" and then (inaccurately) conclude that the stories of widespread Jewish consternation over Corbyn are ginned-up nonsense. Same with Black Republicans -- they're simultaneously rare and not that difficult to find, and so it is easy for conservatives to dupe themselves into thinking they have no race problem by pointing out all the Black Republicans out there.

Ditto when one sees big crowds of angry constituents in a deeply conservative or liberal representative's town hall meeting. One can see those and think "wow -- even here people are turning against [Insert Party]!" But even in the most electorally lopsided districts, there are still going to be quite a few members of the other side -- certainly enough to pack an auditorium, if they're feeling motivated.

Or take this article, "To Understand White Liberal Racism, Read These Emails." It is about angry emails sent to school administrators regarding the decision by Seattle school teachers to wear "Black Lives Matter" t-shirts. The article observes that these emails came from one of the whitest, most affluent" and "staunchly liberal neighborhoods" in the city, places "dotted with rainbow yard signs that say 'All are welcome.'"

Applying the "staunchly liberal" label to these neighborhoods is entirely justified. The (Democratic) state senator in this part of Seattle was last re-elected with 80% of the vote. That's a crushing margin! But it still means that 1 in 5 voters in the district cast their ballot for Republicans. On the one hand, that's not a lot of people. On the other, that's a lot of people! Certainly, if 1-in-5 school parents have retrogressively conservative views on  race, that'd be enough to make their voices known in a letter-writing campaign.

Now, to be clear, it is entirely possible -- plausible even -- that these emails didn't come from the 1-in-5 Republicans but from the 4-in-5 Democrats. "Democrats" are a wide tent, and there are, indeed, plenty of putative progressives who are on a hair-trigger about race issues and would be prime candidates to send out letters like these. I'm not saying that because these emails were racist, they couldn't have come from liberals. They very much could have.

What I am saying is that we can't say "because this neighborhood is staunchly liberal, these emails must have come from liberals." That's because that conclusion entails a shift from the accurate observation that this part of Seattle is overwhelmingly liberal, to the inaccurate observation that any political or social activity substantial enough to make it onto the social radar screen must be emerging from liberals. It's quite possible for conservatives in a place like Northeast Seattle to be simultaneously a marginal presence and a visible one, under the right circumstances. Ditto liberals in a place like Idaho.

More broadly, this is just a particular example of an obvious point: words with the same meaning can nonetheless communicate very different messages. When we want to erase the minority presence, we talk in percentages (20% is teensy-tiny!). When we want to elevate it, we talk in ratios (1:5 is really common!). Both are right, and in fact both connotations are right: a minority of 20% is a very small minority (as against an 80% majority), but 1:5 people is very common. Keeping both connotations in mind is good deliberative practice. Jumping from one to the other as argumentatively-necessary is very bad practice.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

No Lessons Tonight

I have no lessons to offer from the results of tonight's Georgia special election. Mostly, this is because any "lessons" you'll hear tonight will almost invariably be "Democrats should do the thing I already thought Democrats should do", and I doubt I'm so dispassionate as to be able to resist that inflection in my analysis.

To the extent I have a takeaway, well, I get -- and basically agree with -- the argument that these results still show a huge swing in the Democratic direction compared to previous House results. Taking a district where Republicans were winning over 60% of the vote and making it nip-and-tuck is a big deal.

At the same time, Jon Ossoff got roughly the same percentage of the vote in the GA-06 as Hillary Clinton did. By and large, the people who vote for Trump are and continue to be fundamentally fine with Trump. All that's happened, all he represents -- they're okay with it. They like it even. I suspect they revel in it.

So mostly right now I'm just sad. I'm sad because I get the sense that if the median Georgia Trump voter knew that I -- Berkeley-residing, academically-employed, advanced-degree-holding, Jewish David -- was sad, they'd be happy. They like that I'm sad. They like that I'm scared. It's high-time people "like me" (whatever that means) were a bit antsy. It's long past due that I recognized that this isn't my country, it's their country. If I'm unhappy, that isn't a regrettable byproduct of important policy reforms they deeply believe in, and it's not a challenge to try to reach out and make me believe that these reforms can speak to me too. It's not the means, it's the end. It's not part of the job, it's why they took the job.

Maybe I'm wrong. But I certainly don't get the sense that they care. One never sees the "middle-income conservative white Christians need to reach out and heal a divided country" take out of the right-wing press.

So I'm sad. And to be clear: Being sad doesn't mean you stop working. And it doesn't mean you stop believing in other people, or assume there's no hope for change. But you're allowed to be sad. You're allowed your sensibilities.

Epistemic Antisemitism

On Twitter, I flagged this great article on antisemitism in left spaces by Spencer Sunshine and promised to write more about it. Then I got distracted. But it really does deserve at least a little additional comment, because there was a particular passage I wanted to highlight:
It’s almost always deeply frustrating to convince Leftists to sever these ties [to antisemitic actors] — but often it’s achievable. Leftists know these people taint their movement, even though they are often hesitant to be drawn into what seem like endless controversies about anti-Semitism. There is almost always disbelief when you broach the topic, and a tendency to dismiss any documentation that comes from the normal watchdog organizations. And it can also make you the center of unwanted attention; Barrett is running a smear campaign against me in retaliation for exposing him. But Leftists usually change their mind once they understand that these unsavory alliances generate critical media attention. 
Leftist Jews often come to me privately and complain about anti-Semitism they’ve experienced, but feel cowed into being silent about it. But the more people speak out against this from within the Left, the less likely the antisemitic conspiracy theorists are to find a welcoming platform.
The emphasized portion (emphasis my own) is what I wanted to highlight. It goes to what I want to call "epistemic antisemitism". Epistemic antisemitism is the process and practices which discredit Jews as knowers, particularly as knowers of their own experience (e.g., their experiences as victims of antisemitism). The default "disbelief" that comes when Jews say "that's antisemitic" -- and Sunshine soft-pedals here, since it is not usually just "disbelief" but a far more aggressive assumption that the antisemitism claim is (as usual) being made it bad faith -- is a particularly dangerous case. Prejudice yields the injustice, and then insulates said prejudice from critical review. In this way, antisemitism claims can be routinely dismissed across the board.

To be clear: "epistemic antisemitism" is not solely or, I'd suggest, even primarily a "left" phenomenon. The right is no more willing to credit antisemitism charges when it implicates them and theirs. To the extent "left" antisemitsm gets more attention, it is because most Jews are part of the (broadly defined) left and so exclusion there hits closer to home. It's also because of a sense that the left has the methodological tools that render it theoretically capable of addressing this wrong in a way the right does not (the right doesn't even purport to believe in things like "be appropriately deferential to marginalized groups when they articulate their own experiences).

In any event, if we are to root out antisemitism in our movements, I firmly believe that tackling epistemic antisemitism has to a top priority -- it stands as the guardian shielding all the other forms from challenge. And so it needs to be made crystal-clear that one cannot hold oneself out as an ally of the Jews if one is not willing to listen attentively, respectfully, and open-mindedly when they proffer critiques -- even when those critiques sting, even when they challenge deeply-felt commitments.

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Joys of Social Tragedy

There's perhaps no type of person I'm more contemptuous of than those whose first response to a major social tragedy -- a terrorist attack, a mass shooting, a violent attack on a politician or political activist, and so on -- is gleeful musing on who they're now allowed to hate (or, typically, hate more than usual).

These are the people who get excited about what a suicide bombing "tells us about the Palestinians". They're amped about what a case of "price tag" settle violence "reveals about Zionists." They're positively giddy about what the shooting of Steve Scalise "illustrates about progressives". They can't wait to regale us about what the Manchester bombing "proves about Muslims."

Sometimes there are important social messages that are excavated by a major tragedy. They have real consequences after all, and they can be genuinely illustrative about certain threats various groups face or certain ideologies which have purchase.

My objection isn't to genuine and careful attempts to work through those meanings. Again -- it's to the giddiness that often accompanies it. They're more excited that their prejudices have been (in their minds) verified than they are that something terrible has happened. Their response is virtually never a "genuine and careful attempt" to craft a warranted conclusion from the full body of evidence. It is rather an expression of ideological ecstasy that dances upon graves even as it cloaks itself in the barest veil of solidarity.

It's a sick instinct. It's also an alarmingly commonplace one. I wish people would knock it off.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Blog Bar Mitzvah

The Debate Link turned 13 years old yesterday. It is now, officially, a Jewish adult (in blogosphere years, by contrast, it is a hobbling old man).

As always, thanks to all my loyal readers. Whether you've been around since the beginning or are a new arrival, I appreciate you spending some time in my little corner of the internet.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Haredi, Mizrahi, Feminist ... Labor Prime Minister?

An interesting profile of Dina Dayan, who is running an outsider campaign to be Labor's new leader (more realistically, she's aiming for a seat in the next Knesset).
“I am your fears,” says Dayan, thrusting a finger into the camera as she rips into the Labor Party for “talking about the periphery, instead of letting the periphery talk.” Describing herself as a “Haredi, Mizrahi, un-photogenic woman,” Dayan is explicitly staking her claim as an outsider who represents the disadvantaged groups who Labor elites fear will steal “their” country. To restore the left to power, Dayan says it is time to put the needs of the country’s social periphery into focus, instead of “more of the same for 40 years.”
It's part of an ongoing revitalization of Mizrahi identity in Israel (as well as outside).

Dayan also presents challenges for Ashkenazi Jews such as myself regarding how to relate to particular sort of subaltern challenge. There are, unfortunately, some aspects of her candidacy that should make lefty Jews like myself twitchy:
Dayan says she wants to win the votes of traditional, Mizrahi Israelis who vote Likud—and to do this, has stepped outside of party consensus. She has hired as her campaign team the political strategists behind the infamous text messages sent by the Likud in the 2015 election, warning that “Arab voters are going en masse to the polls.” And her campaign video sympathetically features a picture of the parents of Elor Azaria, the IDF soldier convicted of shooting dead a disarmed Palestinian terrorist in Hebron last year. She later explained: “[Azaria] is the result of a system that abandoned the periphery. His action was a result of distress, ignorance, and neglect, which causes political radicalization. And the left, instead of understanding the problem in depth, prefers to lock itself in its ivory tower.”
The use of the "Arab voters" strategists is, in my view, rather straight-forwardly gross. But with respect to the Azaria bit, I think there are choices in how you read it. Is it an apologia for a man who breached the laws of war (and IDF rules) in gunning down a disarmed combatant? One can say so, and then call it day -- we should have nothing to do with her. But the comment at the bottom suggests something more complicated -- a call to look at disparities in Israeli society that produce figures like Azaria, and a "left" that prefers simple morality plays to actually tackling these problems in depth.

It is not infrequent, when reading the words or views of communities-not-ours, that we encounter such ambiguities -- passages or positions which can be read in a  narrow and self-validating way or which serve as an invitation to imagine a more nuanced or complex orientation. If we don't like the group, our temptation is to choose the former -- a reading which enables us to preserve our pre-existing biases and confirm our instinct that they need not be engaged with further. By contrast, when we like or are sympathetic to the group in question, go the latter route -- demanding context and issuing a plea for understanding.

It seems to me that the latter instinct is a better one -- and one, I hasten to add, that does not close off avenues for critique. I can think that Dayan is too soft towards the violence enacted by persons like Azaria (and the use of the "Arab voters" strategists is suggestive here as well), without going that next step and constructed her as an unmediated apologist for it. It is a symptom of our deliberative degradation that declining to make a complicated question simple along one dimension is frequently presumed to mean that we're committed to simplifying it along another.