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Bigotry + Delusion = The American Studies Association


When the American Studies Association adopted its Israel boycott in February, it was “credited… for giving moment to the boycott campaign.” Now the ASA has significantly reversed its boycott of Israeli scholars – and is indeed trying to claim it never happened.

If the ASA’s original action was important for popularizing such boycotts (at least in the narrow quarters of area studies), its reversal is equally important for showing them to be beyond the pale. It will be extremely hard for other academic groups to now put a good face on adopting a boycott that the ASA has done so much to distance itself from. This is underscored by the ASA’s dodgy and frantic triangulation about its boycott policy. In the past week it has issued what the observers have described as inconsistent statements“uncomfortable clarifications,” and further “clarified clarifications.”

While having the revolutionary vanguard of the boycott movement disclaiming such efforts is welcome, their rewriting history to claim the boycott never happened is less so. When the boycott was being considered earlier this year, some members favored a broad boycott of all Israeli academics, while others were uncomfortable with that. Ultimately the group adopted a watered-down compromise that would exclude only some Israelis – those who are “expressly serving as representatives or ambassadors” of Israeli schools, but not “individual Israeli scholars.” This distinction is not terribly clear (more on this later).

What is clear is tat the ASA decided, in a widely-publicized move, to discriminate against some Israeli academics. Now, the ASA says it will not discriminate against any Israeli academics. The Conference is open to “everyone,” the group says, even, as the ASA’s executive director explained to me, “representatives of Israeli institutions.”

The worst part of the story is, of course, the fact that the boycott was launched in the first place. But almost as bad is the display of the ASA’s utter intellectual cowardice, now that the boycott has been criticized and now that it has failed. Pretending that the ASA never meant to boycott or discriminate is beyond absurd, and the organization shouldn’t be allowed to get away with rewriting history. In related news, maybe this attempt to whitewash the ASA’s efforts to discriminate indicates that being discriminatory and bigoted is a bad idea, one that should not be adopted by others. I realize that this is a revolutionary thought, but it has the virtue of being intellectually defensible.

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Those Nasty Koch Brothers

Look what they’re up to now:

Liberals and conservatives don’t often see eye to eye on matters of constitutional rights, particularly when it comes to the First and Second Amendments.

The Sixth Amendment, and its guarantee of defense counsel, may be at least one patch of common ground.

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers announced this week that it’s getting a “major grant” from Koch Industries Inc. to support the group’s indigent defense training programs and to study how states can do a better job of delivering legal services to the poor.

“We are supportive of the NACDL’s efforts to make the Sixth Amendment’s guarantee of an individual’s right to counsel a reality for all Americans, especially those who are the most disadvantaged in our society,” Charles G. Koch, the chairman and CEO of Koch Industries, said in a statement about the grant, which is believed to be in the six figures.

The grant comes at a time when state spending on legal defense for the poor has slumped, as Law Blog noted earlier.

How very oppressive and terrible. When, oh when will the Koch brothers stop being History’s Greatest Monsters?

Speaking of “Derpy” . . .

Look, I am no fan of Ron Paul’s, and I don’t take his views on monetary policy seriously. But this Paul Krugman hit piece is silly on multiple levels. You can’t criticize the content of a televised presentation when the sound is off, leaving you unable to discuss anything that was said in the presentation. If you are Paul Krugman, you are thoroughly unqualified to denounce others for being “pulled in by affinity fraud” and “liv[ing] in a bubble.” And of course, if Krugman insists on denouncing others for “liv[ing] in a bubble,” he might wish to take his own side to task, which he might learn to do if he bothered to read the content published by his own employer.

These basic facts don’t actually have to be explained to most people. But they have to be explained to Krugman. And if you recall what Daniel Okrent wrote about Krugman–that he “has the disturbing habit of shaping, slicing and selectively citing numbers in a fashion that pleases his acolytes but leaves him open to substantive assaults”–you’ll realize that the explanation will fall on deaf ears. Paul Krugman isn’t interested in being fair, honest, or open-minded. He is interested in being insulting, unfair, hypocritical, and shielded from opposing points of view that might disturb his mindscape. It’s how he makes his living, after all.

Nota bene: If the word “derpy” could be excised from our vocabulary, no one would be more pleased than me.

For Everyone Who Doubts the Threat Hamas Poses to Israel . . .

Be sure to read this article about the tunnels dug by Hamas to allow terrorists to launch surprise attacks on Israelis and kill or kidnap scores of them. The following excerpt provides a good summary of the story, but do read the whole thing:

While Israel, a nuclear power, takes pride in having fielded one of the world’s most technologically advanced armies, its adversaries have charted a decidedly different course. For half a century, the Palestinian resistance has proved to be something of an incubator for the tools of unconventional warfare: hijacking, hostage-taking, suicide bombings—all highly visible terror tactics designed to attract the world’s media outlets. As a result, Israel has repeatedly been forced to adapt to its enemies’ lower-cost, higher-yield methods.

Underground networks are just the latest example. According to the Israeli Security Agency, better known by its Hebrew abbreviation, Shin Bet, Hamas began building tunnels under the Gaza Strip as early as 2000. For the most part, these were crude structures designed for one-off attacks against Israeli forces, which withdrew from Gaza in 2005. A year later, however, Hamas used just such a tunnel to sneak into Israel and kidnap a 19-year-old soldier named Gilad Shalit. “This was one of the most asymmetrical incidents in recent memory,” a senior Israeli intelligence official asserts. “One Israeli soldier was held for five and a half years and traded [in 2011] for 1,027 Palestinian prisoners.” Another top official agreed, “This was a proof of concept for them. Tunnels work.”

The next time that someone tells you that Hamas poses no threat to Israel, or that the threat is exaggerated, or that Hamas does not so much as wish to cause catastrophic damage to Israel, cite this article to them. It may not actually change the minds of those who are committed to the belief that Israel is illegitimate and that efforts to destroy it should not keep us up at night, but it will at the very least force Israel-haters and those who are unconcerned with the country’s fate to contend with actual facts.

In which Socialists Learn a Lesson about Economics

The Freedom Socialist Party (yeah, I’ve never heard of them either) is advocating a $20 per hour minimum wage. But when it comes to trying to get a part-time web designer, the party is only willing to pay $13 per hour.

Asked about the discrepancy between the party’s words and deeds, “Doug Barnes, the party’s national secretary, told The Huffington Post on Saturday that the group relies heavily on donations from low-wage workers and could not afford to pay much to an inexperienced designer.”

And of course, that is entirely understandable. Why, if the minimum wage were actually raised to $20 per hour, in accordance with the party’s demands, the party may not be able to hire anyone new. And you know what? Other organizations and entities whose financial situation is similar to that of the Freedom Socialist Party might not be able to hire anyone new either, if the minimum wage goes to as high as $20 per hour.

All of which would appear to indicate that minimum wage laws can in fact adversely influence employment. Which kind of makes you wonder why there are so many people out there who claim otherwise.

Incidentally, I won’t write much about the hypocrisy being shown by the Freedom Socialist Party, and I trust that I don’t really have to. It’s self-evident, after all, no?

Why Are We Aiding ISIL?

And make no mistake; we are. I understand and appreciate the desire to lend humanitarian aid to innocent civilians, but we have no evidence whatsoever that civilians are actually receiving the aid; rather, it appears that the aid is being diverted to meet ISIL’s needs and interests. Behold:

“The convoys have to be approved by ISIS and you have to pay them: the bribes are disguised and itemized as transportation costs,” says an aid coordinator who spoke to The Daily Beast on the condition he not be identified in this article. The kickbacks are either paid by foreign or local non-governmental organizations tasked with distributing the aid, or by the Turkish or Syrian transportation companies contracted to deliver it.

And there are fears the aid itself isn’t carefully monitored enough, with some sold off on the black market or used by ISIS to win hearts and minds by feeding its fighters and its subjects. At a minimum the aid means ISIS doesn’t have to divert cash from its war budget to help feed the local population or the displaced persons, allowing it to focus its resources exclusively on fighters and war making, say critics of the aid.

The aid is being used to materially assist a group with which the United States is at war. It’s a hard decision to make, but the decision must be made to stop the flow of humanitarian assistance until ISIL’s hold on the territory where the aid is flowing is disrupted.

More Obamacare Failures


Patricia Wanderlich got insurance through the Affordable Care Act this year, and with good reason: She suffered a brain hemorrhage in 2011, spending weeks in a hospital intensive care unit, and has a second, smaller aneurysm that needs monitoring.

But her new plan has a $6,000 annual deductible, meaning that Ms. Wanderlich, who works part time at a landscaping company outside Chicago, has to pay for most of her medical services up to that amount. She is skipping this year’s brain scan and hoping for the best.

“To spend thousands of dollars just making sure it hasn’t grown?” said Ms. Wanderlich, 61. “I don’t have that money.”

About 7.3 million Americans are enrolled in private coverage through the Affordable Care Act marketplaces, and more than 80 percent qualified for federal subsidies to help with the cost of their monthly premiums. But many are still on the hook for deductibles that can top $5,000 for individuals and $10,000 for families — the trade-off, insurers say, for keeping premiums for the marketplace plans relatively low. The result is that some people — no firm data exists on how many — say they hesitate to use their new insurance because of the high out-of-pocket costs.

Gee, maybe if consumers could have the benefit of shopping a national market, rather than merely being restricted to regional ones, they might be able to get better deals regarding deductibles. I hear that market competition does have a way of working out to the benefit of consumers. Perhaps the Affordable Care Act–which really is not affordable–could have been written in such a way as to actually encourage the existence a free marketplace for consumers. Too bad that the bill’s authors decided to go in another direction, and too bad that a former speaker of the House of Representatives decided that we had to pass the health care bill in order to find out what is in it.

So, Ron Klain Will Be the Ebola Czar . . .

And I have something of a problem with it, given the penchant of government in general, and this administration in particular to name czars to handle crises. After all, I would think that given the current bureaucracy in place, and the fact that we already have a national security adviser, secretaries of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services, and a director of the Centers for Disease Control at their desks and working, we really don’t need an additional czar to take care of things. And yes, Ronald Klain was involved in making Solyndra a household word, and that doesn’t speak well of him, or of anyone else involved in making Solyndra a household word.

But in the event that there is someone needed to coordinate the governmental response to the spread of the Ebola virus, and in the event that the national security adviser, secretaries of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services, and director of the Centers for Disease Control have full plates and can’t do anything extra in terms of assisting in that coordination effort, then I am willing to go along with the appointment. Maybe there are people out there who might be better than Ron Klain at handling the crisis, but then again, maybe not. Klein does have a lot of experience at relatively high levels in dealing with the government and the bureaucracy, and that experience may prove to be valuable. We have enough doctors and medical professionals working on dealing with the crisis; to the extent that more people are needed, those people will have to be savvy and clever in bringing governmental resources to bear on the task at hand. While I am not fully convinced that Klain’s presence is necessary, I am willing to keep an open mind about it, and if he proves his worth in dealing with the current crisis, then I will be among the first to tip my hat.

Quote of the Day

To those human beings who are of any concern to me I wish suffering, desolation, sickness, ill-treatment, indignities — I wish that they should not remain unfamiliar with profound self-contempt, the torture of self-mistrust, the wretchedness of the vanquished: I have no pity for them, because I wish them the only thing that can prove today whether one is worth anything or not — that one endures.

Friedrich Nietzsche. Maria Popova’s piece is well worth reading in full.

What Academic Intolerance Looks Like


The email arrived on the last Friday afternoon of the spring term shortly before 5:00 p.m. Anastasia Coleman, Fordham’s Director of Institutional Equity and Compliance, and its Title IX Coordinator, wanted to meet with me. “It has been alleged,” she wrote, “that you may have acted in an inappropriate way and possibly discriminated against another person at the University.”

I was stunned. My wife, kids and friends have been warning me for years that, in these prudish times, my outrageous sense of humor and intellectual irreverence (my last book is about bestiality) could get me in trouble. I imagined myself brought before an academic disciplinary tribunal from Francine Prose’s Blue Angel, where all my past transgressions would be marshaled to prove that I don’t belong in the classroom. My mind raced, recalling the many slips of the tongue I had in three decades of teaching. I perspired profusely and felt the onset of a stomach bug. What would I tell my mother?

“Did it have anything to do with a student?” I shot back anxiously, hoping to get a sense of my predicament before the director left for the weekend. I was lucky. Coleman responded immediately. “This does not involve students and is about your behavior regarding American Studies.”

What a relief. But it was also very odd. The decision of the American Studies Association to boycott Israeli universities in December 2013 had upset me. I wrote emails, circulated articles, and was pleased that my university president quickly declared his opposition to the measure. I joined a national steering committee that set out to fight the boycott and participated in the drafting of a few statements. As an American historian who delivered in 1987 his first paper at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association and served on the executive committee of Fordham’s American Studies program, I wanted Fordham’s program to sever official ties with the national organization until it rescinded the measure. Other programs have taken this courageous symbolic step, and I thought it proper for the Jesuit university of New York to take the moral stand against what most scholars of anti-Semitism consider anti-Semitic bigotry.

It was this stand that led Fordham’s Title IX officer to launch the proceedings. During an emotional meeting convened to discuss the appropriate response to the measure, I stated that should Fordham’s program fail to distance itself from the boycott, I will resign from the program and fight against it until it took a firm stand against bigotry. The program’s director, Michelle McGee, in turn filed a complaint against me with the Title IX office, charging that I threatened to destroy the program. (As if I could? And what does this have to do with Title IX?) This spurious complaint (the meeting’s minutes demonstrated that I did not make such a threat) ushered me into a bruising summer that taught me much about my colleagues, the university, and the price I must be willing to pay for taking on the rising tide of anti-Zionism on American campuses.

(Via InstaPundit.) Stories like this one show why the Israel lobby is needed. Also, I’ll bet that the people who make a fuss about Steven Salaita’s case won’t raise a peep about this case.

How Very Horrifying

If you are going to oppose genetically modified organisms–even though such opposition would make no sense whatsoever from a scientific standpoint–it is incumbent upon you to actually know what genetically modified organisms are. You should certainly know what the acronym GMO stands for

Unfortunately . . . well . . . look:

(Via Bill Bradley, via InstaPundit.) And yes, ignorance is deadly.)


Quote of the Day

The Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) systematically limited the ability of individuals and groups to criticize the people who run the government. It was a Draconian law, severely capping the amount of money that could be contributed to political candidates, spent by candidates and campaigns, and even by individuals and groups totally independent of any candidate. The annual limit of $1,000 on “outside” spending made it a federal crime to sponsor a quarter page ad in The Times criticizing the president of the United States during an election year.

The whole purpose and effect of FECA was inconsistent with the core principle of the First Amendment and of democracy, namely, that we need more discussion and debate about government and politics, not less. The law also included burdensome and intrusive donor disclosure requirements so wide in application and deep in reporting as to threaten recognized rights of associational privacy and undermine the secrecy of the ballot. And FECA provided public financing of presidential elections through a formula effectively designed to benefit only Republicans and Democrats. The final outrage was to put enforcement of these drastic restraints on First Amendment rights in the hands of the very incumbents in Congress who had passed the law in the first place, a built-in constitutional conflict of interest.

Fortunately, the Supreme Court in 1976 struck down the worst excesses of the law, namely, the restrictions on candidate, campaign and independent expenditures. But in an ill-advised Solomon-like compromise, the court upheld the restrictive $1,000 limit on contributions to candidates. This inevitably hurt underfunded challengers and benefited well-heeled incumbents, who could more easily raise money at $1,000-a-plate dinners from special interest groups. It also ensured that groups and individuals, unable to donate more than $1,000 to candidates, would seek other outlets for their political messages. This led over time to the rise of political action committees, the use of soft money by political parties and outside groups and, nowadays, well-funded political activity by Super PACs and nonprofit organizations. While all this First Amendment activity has added to the public debate, without contribution limits the funding might have gone directly to the candidates and the parties to be used in a more transparent and accountable way.

Joel M. Gora. Yes, money is speech, and yes, placing limits on campaign contributions and spending do violate speech. And the violations tend to favor incumbent candidates, as Professor Gora points out.

Are We Finally Going to Close Guantanamo?

Well . . . maybe, if certain noises from the Obama administration are to be believed. But Benjamin Wittes is rightly skeptical:

Let me be blunt about this: I will believe this the day it happens, and not a moment before.

If Obama were serious about using the power of his office to close Guantanamo, he would have done it already. He would have vetoed one of the bills that have carried the transfer restrictions. He would have signaled clearly in one of his earlier signing statements that he reserved the right to defy the relevant provisions—and done so. He would have used his considerable negotiating leverage in his dealings with Congress to work his will at a substantive level on the relevant legislation. He has not done these things, because closing Guantanamo—while a sincere priority, I am sure—has always been a secondary or tertiary priority. It’s a priority that has yielded to health care and to other national security needs and concerns. And so it will yield again to his higher-order priorities.

It is costless for the administration to float to reporters that it is “drafting options” for unilateral action in this area. It signals seriousness about reviving the matter. I wouldn’t be surprised to see more such stories. I will be very surprised, however, to read the one that says the president has actually signed an order to proceed with Guantanamo closure without Congress on board. Yes, I know: political calculations may be different after the mid-terms; the costs to Obama of action will be less. But even after this last election, Obama will still need to get things done—ISIS fight appropriations, for example, or authorization. The question is whether Obama will want to gum up the works on everything over where he stores a small number of people, a matter on which nearly all Republicans and most Democrats will oppose him. He won’t. If he were willing to stick his neck out on this issue, he wouldn’t have spent the last six years protecting it from the axe.

Quite so. I suspect that Guantanamo will not actually be closed down by the time President Obama leaves office, which will, of course, mean that yet another campaign promise from 2008–repeated in 2012–will be broken. What must the president’s supporters think about that?

What Elizabeth Warren Does Not Know about Credit Cards and Borrowing Money

I’m amazed that the following actually has to be explained to a former Harvard Law professor and current United States senator:

Why do people borrow? To hear law professor turned Senator Elizabeth Warren, it is because they are seduced by rapacious lenders and a consumerist culture into living beyond their means, buying big-screen televisions, new cars, and expensive vacations. And before you know it, you are under the thumb of the big banks—or, even worse, of the street corner payday lender.

But as we show in our new book, Consumer Credit and the American Economy, economists have long understood why consumers borrow. Although there are exceptions to any rule, for most it bears little resemblance to Senator Warren’s picture of hapless victims goaded into debt by rapacious credit card issuers. Instead, consumers borrow for essentially the same reasons that businesses borrow: for capital investments and to smooth disruptions in income and expenses. And paternalistic regulations that make credit more expensive and less available typically makes people poorer.

Consider something as mundane as a washing machine. A washing machine is no frivolous bauble; its value is in not having to schlep to the laundry mat every Saturday with a pocket full of quarters. While a washing machine costs much more on the front end to acquire, it generates a stream of benefits over years. In that sense, it is no different from a construction company that borrows money to purchase a backhoe to dig a ditch instead of hiring ten guys with shovels. Whether it is the financing of a car or a financing of a college education (increasing human capital), the bulk of consumer lending goes to acquisition of investment goods. In addition, like retailers that rely on bank loans to ride out quarterly fluctuations in sales and expenses, households use consumer credit to deal with unexpected expenses like a sick child, emergency car repair, or other financial disruption.

But aren’t people today different—more prone to living beyond their means? As then-Professor Warren herself put it in a 2004 interview with PBS, “The [credit card] industry has no evidence that people were being turned down for loans in the early 1980s. What they have is evidence that people more often in the early 1980s preferred to pay cash than to pay on credit.” Yet hand-wringing about how other people use consumer debt is as old as debt itself. For example, the New York Times warned in the 70s that American consumers were “borrowing trouble”—the 1870s, that is.

There are a lot of people who want Warren to run for president because they agree with her views on economic policy. But before Warren makes an attempt to live at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, could she actually bother to learn something about the economy, and how it impacts individuals and families?

Congratulations to Malala Yousafzai

In Pashtun, “Yousafzai” has the same meaning as “Yousefzadeh,” so I am entirely willing to pretend that Malala Yousafzai is my cousin. In that vein, my family is immensely proud that she has won the Nobel Peace Prize, and in a much more serious vein, the prize is entirely deserved. Malala’s work in fighting to ensure that women and girls have access to educational institutions–despite the Taliban’s irrational and lunatic opposition to the education of women and girls–and the courage she displayed in recovering from a Taliban assassination attempt and resuming her work, are nothing short of extraordinary and inspirational. Giving her the Nobel has been just about the best thing that the Nobel committee has done in years. It is wonderful to see that Malala has gotten this award, and it is even more wonderful to consider that recognition from the Nobel committee will help inspire others to take up the cause she has taken up so bravely and so skillfully.


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