Monday, April 22, 2019

The Mueller Report (with redactions)

Here is a link to a searchable on-line version of the Mueller Report, released (with redactions) on Thursday, April 18, 2019.

Report On The Investigation Into Russian Interference In The 2016 Presidential Election

https://cdn.cnn.com/cnn/2019/images/04/18/mueller-report-searchable.pdf?fbclid=IwAR35fzpmESjvsAmnselLGl9csHeR-cLPkGfJXiG1uMOpOke4VJg6sep9Lqc

—Jeff Weintraub

Monday, July 02, 2018

Andy Markovits & Heiko Beyer on "The long-standing interaction between anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism"

In 2007 Andy Markovits published a valuable book on the historical traditions and contemporary forms of European anti-Americanism, Uncouth Nation: Why Europe Dislikes America.  As I said at the time:
My good friend Andy Markovits has written an important, engaging, and eye-opening book on the complex and tricky subject of European anti-Americanism. The main focus is on its current forms and transformations, but he also puts these in a larger historical perspective.  [....]  The book is valuable and illuminating as well as absorbing (and highly readable), and I recommend it to everyone.

Markovits's arguments are also likely to be controversialbut many of the reasons only help to explain why this is a book that needed to be written. [....]
=> One of subjects explored in Uncouth Nation is the frequent tendency for various types of anti-Americanism, ranging from "right" to "left" and along various cultural and ideological tangents, to be linked to various types of anti-semitism.  (Over the past half-century, that has often involved links to both anti-Zionism and anti-semitism, two phenomena that I would describe as not precisely identical but obviously overlapping and interwoven.)

Unfortunately, that subject remains timely and important.  It is further explored and updated in an excellent piece that Andy Markovits and Heiko Beyer just published in Tablet Magazine.  Their analysis is sufficiently wide-ranging, substantial, and illuminating that I won't try to summarize it.  But here is their concluding paragraph::
The myth that Jews, helped by their American masters or servants, rule the world never disappeared. It merely lay dormant for a few decades in the aftermath of the Holocaust, thus deviating from the norm of having anti-Semitism be an integral and accepted part of public discourse. Alas, there are many signs that the threshold of shame concerning anti-Semitism has been substantially lowered. And its consistent link to anti-Americanism makes this lowering so much easier and more socially acceptable. Anti-Semitism’s association with America and thus to ultimate power, makes invoking it an antinomian act of speaking truth to power, which, in many circles on both sides of the Atlantic, is inherently a good thing.
(For one classic non-European example of that last point, which helps illustrate the ways in which anti-semitic conspiracy theories originally developed in Europe have gone world-wide, see here.)

Read the whole piece.

Jeff Weintraub

==================================
Tablet Magazine
July 1, 2018
Jews and Americans as Supervillains
The long-standing interaction between anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism

By Andrei S. Markovits & Heiko Beyer

Andrei S. Markovits, Arthur Thurnau Professor and the Karl W. Deutsch Collegiate Professor in the Department of Political Science and the Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures at the University of Michigan, is the author of Uncouth Nation: Why Europe Dislikes America and, most recently, Hillel at Michigan 1926/27–1945: Struggles of Jewish Identity in a Pivotal Era. Heiko Beyer, an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the Heinrich-Heine-Universität in Düsseldorf, Germany, is the author of Soziologie des Antiamerikanismus.

Graffito like the one appearing one morning just across the street from the apartment in a left-leaning so-called alternative neighborhood in Leipzig, “Fick Israel—Fick die U.S.A” is certainly no surprise for those who consider themselves part of the left. Anti-Zionism has been an endemic marker for the global left since 1967 as has its ideological companion, anti-Americanism. Both sentiments have become core characteristics of what it means to be left in liberal advanced capitalist democracies.

Unlike other prejudices, anti-Americanism and anti-Zionism are considered not only acceptable but in fact de rigueur for large parts of the global left because both denounce the rich and mighty, with Israel represented as the main satellite of U.S. imperialism. Both of these beliefs are positioned as speaking truth to power. In her important book Das unsichtbare Vorurteil (The Invisible Prejudice) which deals with anti-Semitism among the U.S. left after Sept. 11, Sina Arnold demonstrates that this is not just a narrative popular in Europe but also widespread among American progressives—which is not surprising since the latter almost by definition are highly critical of U.S. foreign policy.

Lest there be any misunderstandings: Being anti-Trump is not being anti-American! When we use the term anti-Americanism we mean an all-encompassing resentment not a mere opposition to a specific administration or policy. Opposing Trump’s very being, resisting his policies every step of the way is not anti-American. Indeed, it often in fact is based on the same American values that anti-Americanism denounces: plurality, minority rights, and public liberty.

Opposing American policies does not constitute anti-Americanism. Disliking what America does is not anti-American. But having an all-encompassing antipathy for what America is, does in fact represent anti-Americanism.

Anti-Americanism refers to a deeper presence of negative attitudes against all things American, a point of view, a state of mind that though occasionally dormant has never been moribund in European opinion of America and Americans since its first manifestations among 18th century naturalists. Paul Hollander’s definition of anti-Americanism appears quite useful to clarify our approach: “Anti-Americanism is a predisposition to hostility [emphasis in the original] toward the United States and American society, a relentless critical impulse toward American social, economic, and political institutions, traditions, and values; it entails an aversion to American culture in particular and its influence abroad, often also contempt for the American national character … and dislike of American people, manners, behavior, dress …; a firm belief in the malignity of American influence and presence anywhere in the world.”

Take the German word Amerikanisierung for example, which was introduced into the German dictionary during the heydays of the intelligentsia’s culturally pessimistic anti-Americanism at the turn from the 19th to the 20th century, as was its French counterpart américanisation. Until today, whenever used, in the most varied of contexts (sports, language, education, criminality, culture, etc.) terms like Amerikanisierung and américanisation invariably imply a phenomenon’s cheapening and loss of authenticity as in the Amerikanisierung of soccer, of food, of music, of language, of whatever. Américanisation also entails a corrosive dimension, something that ruins an item’s and context’s original bliss and genuineness. In addition, there is a sense of inevitability to this process, a kind of helplessness befalling the victims of Americanization, a loss of agency in the face of this all-powerful onslaught that breeds resentment. This same mindset pertains to anti-Semitism as well. Jews, just like Americans, are also seen as corrosive, as undermining an entity’s authenticity, as subverting its original purity. Both Jews and Americans are deemed to be particularly powerful even though they are almost always considered culturally inferior and somehow artificial, most assuredly inauthentic.

The attribution of an almost-limitless power to the United States constitutes one of the key links between anti-Americanism and anti-Zionism. Israel is perceived as an American outpost, the sole Goliath in the Middle East (somehow other regional powers like Iran and Saudi Arabia have never been subjected to anywhere near the opprobrium that Israel has received in the past 50 years), against whom the Palestinian David is desperately and honorably taking a stand. At the same time, the notion of unlimited power attributed to the United States reveals another dimension: the affinity of anti-American conspiracy theories with anti-Semitic narratives.

***

Although it is hard to tell whether today’s anti-Americanism in some parts of the world derives from anti-Semitic beliefs or the other way around, it is obvious that the tale of Jewish power and conspiracy has been around both before the United States attained its global power that it has wielded since the end of World War II, and before Israel was founded. Well before Wilhelm Marr’s coinage of the term anti-Semitism in 1879, the view of the almighty, evil, devious Jew whose ways, indeed whose very being, comprises the essence of corrosion, had been alive and well in European discourse for centuries. Jews have long been viewed as corrosive agents that stealthily but all the more successfully dissolve the authentic fabric of a traditional collective, most eminently that of a nation since the 19th century, or in its much more primordial and ethnocentric manifestation the Volk.

European intellectuals of the right and the left have accorded America a similarly corrosive power that, not by chance, they see as strongly related to that of the Jews, as depicted in conspiracy theories like the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. In Egypt, for example, the 41 episodes of the show “Horseman Without a Horse” in which the hero discovers a secret document written in Russian and describing a Jewish world conspiracy, were shown during Ramadan in 2002 by various television stations. Right-wing extremists in Russia, Europe, and America have reprinted the Protocols repeatedly, and the boom of esoteric and populist conspiracy theories has been accompanied by many articles and books featuring variations on the Protocols’ leitmotif.

Neo-Nazi views still represent perhaps the most overt manifestations of anti-Semitism as well as its relationship with anti-Americanism. In a recent article the University of Cambridge historian Brendan Simms showed that Hitler’s anti-Americanism was sharpened by his experience of American troops being the decisive force in defeating Wilhelmine Germany in WWI. Simms argues that this deep-seated anti-American resentment propelled Hitler to become the lethal anti-Semite that he turned out to be. It was therefore Hitler’s anti-Americanism that led to his anti-Semitism, rather than his days in fin de siècle Vienna in which he first encountered real live Jews and where he also failed to gain entrance to that city’s arts academy.

While we are swayed by Simms’ impressive evidence and novel interpretation, we still believe that it remains unclear, even in Hitler’s case, whether anti-Americanism constitutes the source for anti-Semitism or whether it is vice versa. In fact both narratives—“the Jews use America to rule the world,” and “America uses the Jews and Israel” to do the same—have been manifest for a long time, and complement each other. Symptomatic on the extreme right is the Nazi ideologist Giselher Wirsing’s 1941 elaboration in Der maßlose Kontinent (The Excessive Continent) that “The lodges [were] the collecting tank of Jewish power within the U.S. gradually growing beneath the surface.”

The belief that it is the other way around, and that the United States uses Israel to secure and expand its global domination, is a core element of the Marxist-Leninist catechism as Thomas Haury in his 2002 book Antisemitismus von links (Anti-Semitism From Left) argues so convincingly. However, often this anti-American anti-Zionism backfires when leftist groups find themselves in uncomfortably full agreement with the far right in arguing that Jews have “too much power” in the United States. Then again, it is particularly on issues of America and Jews/Israel in which the antipathies of the far left and far right often meet each other in happy harmony.

Yet the alignment of anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism, in its varied manifestations, is much older than Nazism or theories of imperialism. It can be found as early as the second half of the 19th century when anti-Semitism became a social movement in Europe. Just think of the Dreyfus Affair in France or the rise of political anti-Semitism in Karl Lueger’s Vienna: It was during that time when Jewishness and Americanism became synonyms of modernity and liberalism which, as many feared, would destroy Europe’s authenticity.

Jews and America back then were already identified with essential economic, political, and cultural institutions and ingredients that constituted the essence of capitalist modernity. Money, commerce, banks, stock markets, and materialism came to be associated with an almighty Jewish and/or American influence. The complexity of modernity is here reduced through a personification of capitalism and facile conspiracy theories. In a way both resentments fulfill a shared function: to rationalize an increasingly complex world by denouncing a small group of people working behind the scenes to design the world at their will. Until today the combination of anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism offers a much-needed and seemingly robust explanation of such abstract, complex and scary phenomena as modernization, urbanization, globalization, or (neo)liberalism first by declaring Washington, Wall Street, and Hollywood as the control centers of the world only to add that the Jews call the shots in these places often using the code word East Coast (oddly never West Coast) in this context.

Rather than dealing with capitalism as a profoundly international—indeed a-national—construct which it so clearly is, it is commonplace for many on the German left (not least important voices in the Social Democratic Party and the country’s most powerful trade union, IG Metall) to mitigate capitalism’s ills by assigning its particularly rapacious characteristics solely to an Anglo-American (sotto voce Jewish) casino version that operates in stark contrast to the more humane and local German one often labelled Rhenish capitalism.

Jesper Gulddal has collected many expressions of anti-Americanism in 19th-century European literature in which a diversity of authors from France, Britain, and Germany (Gulddal’s countries of analysis) argued emphatically that America’s lack of tradition and culture, as well as its materialism, vulgarity, religious bigotry, and political immaturity constituted not only the essence of this country’s very being but that they would also somehow infest Europe. Gulddal’s work confirms the finding that conceptually speaking, there exists no country-specific anti-Americanism but that this phenomenon’s characteristics exist in identical forms in all European countries. To be sure, Tory anti-Americanism in Britain of the 1930s and 1940s was clearly a lot less pronounced and acute than that of the Nazis in Germany at the same time; but the constituent characteristics of the beliefs in both places were virtually identical. Indeed, even a cursory reading of Philippe Roger’s superb book  The American Enemy: The History of French Anti-Americanism demonstrates how all the tropes identifying anti-Americanism in Germany play an equally crucial role in its French variant. Parallel scholarship on anti-Americanism in Spain such as Alessandro Seregni’s excellent El antiamericanismo español confirms this continent-wide pattern.

Though not part of Gulddal’s work, the same shared intercountry characteristics pertain also to anti-Semitism where the acuity of its manifestation varies by geographic location and era but where its essential characteristics are identical over time and place. The negative traits associated with Americans that Gulddal’s study brings to light have similarly been ascribed to Jews who have long been depicted as greedy, money-obsessed, urban, rootless, devious and culture-deprived. Plus, Jews were already considered to rule America and to be responsible for the vulgarity of American culture and the ruthlessness of its policies. If there were such a thing as a Jewish state in the 19th century, for many Europeans this was the United States. This impression persisted in Germany as well as France throughout the 1920s when President Woodrow Wilson, a Presbyterian, was portrayed as an agent of Jewish capital. And the widely used term Jew York hardly needs much explanation. Ditto the commonplace in much European right-wing discourse of Franklin Delano Roosevelt being a Jew by dint of his name’s similarity to Rosenfeld. The Norwegian writer Knut Hamsun, winner of the Nobel Prize in literature in 1920, firmly believed that the linkage of Jews and America constituted the prime evil of the modern world.

After the Holocaust, the overt articulation of anti-Semitism became unacceptable in Western societies, thus marginalizing the ideological amalgam of anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism as a marker of the equally unacceptable far right. But the Six-Day War of 1967 changed everything. Jews were no longer perceived as victims of the Holocaust but as victimizers of the Palestinians.

In an otherwise immensely commendable, because profoundly democratizing, growth of the discourse of compassion for the disempowered that came to dominate liberal culture in the West, especially since the late 1960s, Israel’s and America’s power became the two main enemies of world peace. Worse, they mutated into fascist states not only for the radical left but also for the bourgeois antiwar movements throughout Europe. Denouncing Israel and America became bon ton around Europe’s left-liberal dinner tables. In a 2007 review of Markovits’ Uncouth Nation titled “Love to Hate You,” Mary Fitzgerald commences her piece with a lengthy quote of the well-known British writer Margaret Drabble: “‘My anti-Americanism has become almost uncontrollable,’ wrote Margaret Drabble in May 2003, two months after the invasion of Iraq. ‘It has possessed me like a disease. It rises in my throat like acid reflux. … I can’t keep it down any longer. I detest Disneyfication. I detest Coca-Cola. I detest burgers. I detest sentimental and violent Hollywood movies that tell lies about history.’” Fitzgerald continues: “Europeans (I use the term loosely) see themselves as vastly different from Americans, yet in some parts of the world we are indistinguishable. It seems perverse, then, that anti-Americanism is the only face of xenophobia still broadly accepted in Europe. If, at a dinner party, you imitated the way Chinese people speak, laughed about their stupidity, their ‘slitty eyes’ and their lack of grace, you could safely expect never to be invited back. But no one thinks twice about calling Americans dumb, fat and uncultured. How is it acceptable for one superpower, but not the other, to be the object of such derision?”

Of course it is acceptable because in China’s case, we are dealing with a nonwhite, in many ways still-developing country that suffered at times from Western colonialism; whereas in the American case, we have the absolute core of all evils: Western, white, developed, (neo) colonial. Add to this collection of negatives the fact that in contrast to its West European counterparts (the dowagers Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Spain who at least have the cultural panache and historical legitimacy that somehow mitigate their colonial crimes) America is perceived as a cultural parvenu, a crude newcomer, an unoriginal usurper, an uncouth imitator. How often have both of us heard in our daily conversations in the German-speaking world, uttered even by admirers of the United States with no traces of any anti-American feelings or attitudes, that America, fine place that it might be, was simply not a Kulturnation or Kulturvolk and could never attain such august status no matter how hard it tried, though perhaps eminent in matters relating to technology. Simply put, America could never attain any authenticity worthy of the name. Never having had any nobility it could never attain being noble in the arts, tastes, manners, always relegated to being commercial at best. “American culture” was an oxymoron.

To be so reviled by left-liberal intellectuals, one needs to be both politically and militarily powerful, but judged to be culturally inferior, all of which the United States fulfils perfectly. Ditto with Israel. By constructing the former as an all-powerful white colonizer, it thus has become an acceptable object of derision and hatred at left-liberal dinner parties. Not so for Jews—yet—who, by dint of the Holocaust are still perceived as victims. Yet this “Holocaust pass” has begun to fade as David Hirsh’s book Contemporary Left Antisemitism so emphatically demonstrates. The fashionable anti-Zionist discourse that has become de rigueur among trade unions, churches, left-liberal parties, and social gatherings has entered a slippery slope towards anti-Semitism which, of course, all its practitioners deny with vehemence by accusing those holding this view as acting in open bad faith, driven by their maniacal desire to cover up the magnitude of Israel’s crimes, which must be enormous to merit such opprobrium.

Today the old 19th- and early-20th-century notion of Jewish power pulling strings stealthily in America’s politics (Washington), its economy and business (Wall Street) and its culture (Hollywood and the East Coast intelligentsia) is widely shared well beyond extremes of the left and the right. Add to this the postwar “Israel lobby,” and the inextricable linkage between Israel/Jews and America becomes an inevitable one.

Let us briefly look at some relevant data on this phenomenon by mentioning some polls conducted by the Pew Research Center, which asks its respondents on a regular basis whether they have favorable or unfavorable views of the United States and of Jews. Although these items do not comprise optimal measurements of anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism since they do not cover the whole spectrum of relevant resentments, they allow us to see rough estimates as to how closely anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism are intertwined. In 2016, for example, the polls show that 53 percent of the French respondents who had unfavorable views of Jews also had unfavorable views of the United States. Negative attitudes toward the United States were also found among 57 percent of the Germans who had reported unfavorable views of Jews. The respective number for Greece was 68 percent, for Hungary 40 percent, for Italy 34 percent, for the Netherlands 50 percent, for Poland 33 percent, for Spain 49 percent, for Sweden 51 percent, and for Britain 41 percent. These numbers are even higher for countries like Egypt (80 percent), Jordan (88 percent), Turkey (91 percent) Pakistan (87 percent) or the Palestinian territories (82 percent) as a poll conducted in 2011 shows. Since these are also countries in which Jews are generally disliked (unfavorable ratings for Jews in these countries reach over 95 percent) the prevalence of an anti-Semitic anti-Americanism (or anti-American anti-Semitism) seems the rule rather than the exception there.

In a study Beyer conducted together with Ulf Liebe he found that the strong correlation between anti-Semitic and anti-American resentments apparent in their German sample emanated from “functional similarities” of the two objects of resentment: Both fulfill the function to “rationalize social change.” Concretely, respondents feeling “uncertain” about what the future will bring and resentful of the world “changing too fast” as well as having generally negative views of “globalization” reported higher anti-Semitic and anti-American attitudes than did the rest of the sample. In yet another large-scale comparative study, Beyer looked at the contemporary presence of anti-Semitism in 18 countries (Brazil, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Jordan, Kenya, Lebanon, Lithuania, Mexico, Pakistan, Poland, Russia, Spain, Turkey, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, and the United States). While widely varied in its respective country-specific manifestations, texture and intensities, Beyer found that bringing to bear three of his many “independent variables”—anti-Americanism, anti-globalization, and nationalism—the impact of the anti-Americanism variable on anti-Semitism in each of these countries was much higher and statistically significant than that of anti-globalization and nationalism. Concretely: Anti-Semitic attitudes were compellingly linked to anti-American ones.

In contrast to poll results, graffiti certainly do not allow us to draw deep conclusions about the political zeitgeist and its ideological peculiarities. Nonetheless, graffiti represent traces of public opinion and mark a consciousness which might often still be unacceptable being verbalized in public or to a researcher asking questions for a survey. In a way, graffiti serve the same function as the anonymity of the internet. They provide an unfiltered medium to voice what one harbors in one’s heart and not what proper society expects one to say. The presence of a graffito during the Iraq war in April 2004 at a Hamburg subway station read Kerry ist auch Jude! (Kerry, too, is Jewish) written over a Star of David in the middle of which the letters USA appeared, omitted the anti-Israelism accompanying the anti-Americanism of the graffito in Leipzig mentioned at the outset of our presentation. (Kerry, of course, refers to John Kerry, the former secretary of state, at the time U.S. senator from Massachusetts and a contestant for becoming the Democratic Party’s candidate for the election to the presidency of the United States later that fall.) The oft-invoked cover of legitimate anti-Zionism for actual anti-Semitism was no longer needed in this case. It was not for the first time that an American politician had conveniently mutated into a Jew.

The myth that Jews, helped by their American masters or servants, rule the world never disappeared. It merely lay dormant for a few decades in the aftermath of the Holocaust, thus deviating from the norm of having anti-Semitism be an integral and accepted part of public discourse. Alas, there are many signs that the threshold of shame concerning anti-Semitism has been substantially lowered. And its consistent link to anti-Americanism makes this lowering so much easier and more socially acceptable. Anti-Semitism’s association with America and thus to ultimate power, makes invoking it an antinomian act of speaking truth to power, which, in many circles on both sides of the Atlantic, is inherently a good thing.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmastime for the Jews – A seasonal collection

These will be new for some of you, re-runs for others, but timely for all (or so I hope). With good will for Jews and goyim alike.   —Jeff Weintraub

Jewish Christmas - The Chinese connection

Christmastime for the Jews (contd.)

All I want for Christmas is ... Jews (Pseudo-Mariah Carey)





 (If you get a pop-up ad while the video is running, just click the X in the upper-right-hand corner of the pop-up.)

=>  And here's a little tidbit (parody! parody!) by David Mamet:

Sunday, November 06, 2016

"The real Clinton email scandal is that a bullshit story has dominated the campaign" (Matthew Yglesias)

If we wind up electing a dangerous and manifestly unfit authoritarian xenophobic demagogue—who also happens to be a shameless pathological liar with a flamboyantly corrupt and sleazy record as an entrepreneur and entertainment figure—to be President of the United States, one factor contributing to that outcome will be the impact of an endlessly ramifying pseudo-scandal concerning Hillary Clinton's use of a non-governmental e-mail server while she was Secretary of State.  As Matt Yglesias and others have noted, "In total, network newscasts have, remarkably, dedicated more airtime to coverage of Clinton’s emails than to all policy issues combined."

Although most people have only a vague grasp of what this whole business is supposed to be about, many of them—including otherwise informed and intelligent people who lean both to the right and to the left—have the impression that this is somehow a Very Big Deal.  That is, they think that Clinton didn't just make a politically unfortunate but substantively not very important error of judgment, acting in ways that weren't very different from practices by other public officials in other administrations, but committed an exceptionally serious or even criminal offense.

But people who feel that way are wrong.  They've been conned.  In reality, "Emailgate" is a fundamentally bogus pseudo-scandal that has gotten blown grotesquely out of proportion, cynically and effectively, by a combination of Republican Congressional witch-hunters and the larger right-wing propaganda machinery, abetted by a remarkably gullible and easily manipulated mainstream media.

=>  Since this pseudo-scandal has so thoroughly distorted and poisoned the 2016 presidential election campaign, and since the right-wing attack machine will certainly keep pushing it after November 8 if Clinton is elected president (along with other phony Clinton "scandals"), it is important to understand that this is, indeed, a bogus and over-hyped pseudo-scandal.  If you're not sure whether "emailgate, like so many Clinton pseudo-scandals before it, is bullshit", and even if you are, I strongly recommend reading this usefully clarifying—and justifiably irate—analysis by Matthew Yglesias.  Titles and headlines are sometimes misleading, but this one is very much on-target:

"The real Clinton email scandal is that a bullshit story has dominated the campaign"

Some highlights:
[E]mail-related talk has dogged Clinton throughout the election and it has influenced public perceptions of her in an overwhelmingly negative way. July polling showed 56 percent of Americans believed Clinton broke the law by relying on a personal email address with another 36 percent piling on to say the episode showed “bad judgments” albeit not criminality.

Because Clinton herself apologized for it and because it does not appear to be in any way important, Clinton allies, surrogates, and co-partisans have largely not familiarized themselves with the details of the matter, instead saying vaguely that it was an error of judgment and she apologized and America has bigger fish to fry.

This has had the effect of further inscribing and reinscribing the notion that Clinton did something wrong, meaning that every bit of micro-news that puts the scandal back on cable amounts to reminding people of something bad that Clinton did. In total, network newscasts have, remarkably, dedicated more airtime to coverage of Clinton’s emails than to all policy issues combined.

This is unfortunate because emailgate, like so many Clinton pseudo-scandals before it, is bullshit. The real scandal here is the way a story that was at best of modest significance came to dominate the US presidential election — overwhelming stories of much more importance, giving the American people a completely skewed impression of one of the two nominees, and creating space for the FBI to intervene in the election in favor of its apparently preferred candidate in a dangerous way. [....]
The following point is so bizarre, and so telling, that Yglesias reiterates it at the beginning of his concluding section:
Network newscasts have, remarkably, dedicated more airtime to coverage of Clinton’s emails than to all policy issues combined. Cable news has been, if anything, worse, and many prestige outlets have joined the pileup. One malign result of obsessive email coverage is that the public is left totally unaware of the policy stakes in the election. Another is that the constant vague recitations of the phrase ‘‘Clinton email scandal’’ have firmly implanted the notion that there is something scandalous about anything involving Hillary Clinton and email, including her campaign manager getting hacked or the revelation that one of her aides sometimes checked mail on her husband’s computer.

But none of this is true. Clinton broke no laws according to the FBI itself. Her setup gave her no power to evade federal transparency laws beyond what anyone who has a personal email account of any kind has. Her stated explanation for her conduct is entirely believable, fits the facts perfectly, and is entirely plausible to anyone who doesn't simply start with the assumption that she's guilty of something.

Given [Colin] Powell’s conduct, Clinton wasn't even breaking with an informal precedent. The very worst you can say is that, faced with an annoying government IT policy, she used her stature to find a personal workaround rather than a systemic fix that would work for everyone. To spend so much time on such a trivial matter would be absurd in a city council race, much less a presidential election. To do so in circumstances when it advances the electoral prospects of a rival who has shattered all precedents in terms of lacking transparency or basic honesty is infinitely more scandalous than anything related to the server itself.
But read the whole thing.  And if you read just one piece about "Emailgate", be sure to read this one.

—Jeff Weintraub

Friday, November 04, 2016

Slavoj Žižek would vote for Trump

As we approach our extremely serious political moment of truth on November 8, here's a bit of comic relief (of the "grimly amusing" variety):

Some characteristically pseudo-sophisticated, pseudo-radical, under-informed, and deeply irresponsible commentary on the US presidential election from the clever, sometimes stimulating, sometimes entertaining, occasionally even perceptive, but almost always wrong-headed philosophical/political provocateur and celebrity public intellectual Slavoj Žižek.



=> I think Alan Johnson's comment on this video clip in a Facebook post got it right:
I have been writing critical pieces about Zizek for about 6 years now. (He is an authoritarian communist, basically.) In response he called me "a jerk" in the New Statesman. I think it's pretty clear who the jerk is now. (By the way his nonsense is a reprise of the catastrophic decision of the German Stalinists in the 1930s to say "After Hitler, Us!" and so refuse to ally with the Social Democrats against the Nazis. Zizek says, in effect, "After Trump, Us!" My God, the state of our intellectual culture. (Oh, and leave your fucking nose alone!)
=>  For some further elaboration, see this Guardian piece:  "'Slavoj Žižek: Trump is really a centrist liberal'

=>  The fact that Žižek is an extremely famous public intellectual, and that a number of people take him seriously, may make all this a little less funny.

—Jeff Weintraub

Monday, August 01, 2016

Obama sticks to his central vision (continued)

This is a follow-up to my post last Friday, "Obama sticks to his central vision".  One of the responses I got came from my friend Bob Bell, who explored further some of the issues I touched on in the closing remarks of my post.  I think the issues raised by Bob in his own remarks are important, and what he has to say about them is perceptive and usefully thought-provoking.  So with his permission, I'm sharing his message below.

Here's the last paragraph of my Friday post:
OK, a full assessment would have to take into account some of the disappointments and shortcomings of Obama's actual presidency, and consider whether and to what extent they might have been linked to the ways that Obama tried to implement this orienting vision in practice. Among other things, it's clear that for a while Obama had unrealistic hopes about the prospects for working out constructive compromises with the Congressional Republicans. He underestimated the extent to which they would respond to his presidency with a strategy of unrelenting, indiscriminate, monolithic obstructionism and intensified partisan polarization, and did not foresee the political effectiveness of that strategy in terms of partisan advantage for the Republicans, damage to the country notwithstanding. (That strategy also, by the way, had the unintended side-effect of helping deliver the Republican Party to Trump.) But one can't do everything at once. And those errors and setbacks do not, in my view, undermine the validity and value of Obama's central message.
Bob Bell's response follows.  I've taken the liberty of bolding one set of points that I think are absolutely on-target and deserve special attention.

—Jeff Weintraub

---------------------------------------------------
This is a nice and timely message.

I would elaborate on your closing comment. A central problem in Obama’s politics, which will be even worse in another Clinton presidency, is the failure of the Democrats to mount a clear and sustained attack on the incivility of the Republican party. Obama, trying to build a working relationship with Republicans in Congress early in his first term, missed the opportunity to call out the obstructionism that undermined political compromise and frustrated majority rule.

Hillary, who is too flawed a character and too much the maneuvering tactical politician to articulate and stick to a civic vision that Americans can take seriously or even grasp, is running against Trump and his character, since she figures that will enable her to win. She needs to emphasize her opposition to the party that cultivates authoritarian and scorched earth politics and offers only the empty, hopeful, and failed free market fantasies of Paul Ryan and his friends. Only by running against that party, and not just its extraordinary candidate, will she be able to govern, which, surely, is the reason to run for office.

In a rational world, major themes of the Democratic primaries and convention would be (1) that the “brokenness” and “rigging” of the political system is a direct result of a Republican party that has largely abandoned the civil norms that enable American government to function and majorities to work their will and (2) that Democrats need to propose ways to make government work despite the influence of demagogues like Trump and uncivil, irresponsible ideologues like Cruz, who now dominate the opposition party. It is testament to the desperate state of our politics that Democrats have engaged in essentially no realistic discussion of how their party proposes to make government more functional—instead, we get candidates debating the relative merits of different plans (for college, for climate change, for inequality, etc.) and ignoring the reality that neither plan has any chance of being enacted into law.

[JW: To fill in some of the background to this dangerously dysfunctional situation, read this recent piece by Norman Ornstein & Thomas Mann, who correctly diagnosed the underlying problem years ago:  "The Republicans waged a 3-decade war on government. They got Trump.]

One other disillusioned comment. Trump has succeeded via attacks on two cardinal and consensual ideas of the American elite—that free trade produces economic growth and prosperity and that a broad and humane version of U.S. international leadership will help both our country and the world at large. Our elites have been remarkably silent as these bipartisan notions have come under attack and have offered very little rationale for why they hold these views. Countries are in bad trouble when their elites stop understanding or believing in the system for which they are responsible and from which they benefit (the Soviet Union is a case in point). We are in bad trouble.

—Robert Bell

Friday, July 29, 2016

Obama sticks to his central vision

One of the things that Barack Obama delivered in his speech at the Democratic National Convention, which has to rank among his truly great speeches, was a powerful restatement of his central orienting vision of political community and democratic citizenship, which he first presented during his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2007-2008. After all the trials and tribulations of his presidency, it's clear that he still remains committed to that vision, like it or not. In fact, anyone who follows Obama's speech closely and compares it with some key speeches he gave in 2008 will notice that he went out of his way to emphasize some of the continuities.

As I listened to Obama's speech, I was reminded of a piece that my friend Andy Markovits and I wrote way back in 2008 titled "Obama and the Progressives: A Curious Paradox". I think the points we were making there remain timely and relevant—especially in the context of an election contest against the threat posed by Trump and Trumpism.  So I offer some highlights as food for thought.  (Anyone who's interested can find the rest here.)

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[....]  People often talk about Obama's soaring rhetoric, but what's the content of that rhetoric? To put it in terms that the Founders would have understood immediately, Obama has made civic patriotism and republican virtue central to the message of his whole campaign. He has consistently championed a politics of solidarity, active citizenship, national community, and the common good. Like Lincoln, Obama portrays the United States as a nation defined by certain constitutive ideals and charged with the project of imperfectly but continually striving to achieve, extend, and enrich these ideals in concrete ways ("in order to form a more perfect union"). Furthermore, Obama affirms and celebrates "the promise of America" (adding that "I know the promise of America because I have lived it"), while insisting that to fulfill that promise requires constant effort, civic engagement, shared sacrifices, and conflict as well as cooperation.

The most crucial requirement ("the great need of the hour," in a formulation borrowed from Martin Luther King) is active moral and political solidarity -- not only to empower oppressed and underprivileged groups, but to bind together and revitalize a more comprehensive national community.

(Obama is popular around the world, but it's no accident that he drives some hard-core anti-Americans up the wall. For example, the Australian/British journalist John Pilger dismissed Obama as "a glossy Uncle Tom" who believes, along with Clinton and McCain, that "the US is not subject to the rules of human behaviour, because it is 'a city upon a hill'"--whereas in reality it is just "a monstrous bully.") [Update: In 2016, Pilger prefers Trump to Clinton or Sanders.]

Historically, those themes have often been prominent in American politics, including progressive, reformist, and radical politics. (Let's not forget that the Pledge of Allegiance, which Obama has pointedly quoted, was originally written by a Christian socialist.) But in recent decades they have become increasingly unfashionable in some quarters--including those that have produced many of Obama's most passionate supporters.

Nowadays many (not all) self-styled progressives distrust any patriotic talk and regard appeals to solidarity and the common good as mystifying bunk or dangerous propaganda. Instead, serious discussion of politics is supposed to focus exclusively on competing interests, and much allegedly progressive discourse has gone beyond valuing diversity to supporting an irreducibly fragmented "identity politics" based on fetishizing "difference." (The main alternatives to balkanizing ultra-"multiculturalism"--more accurately termed "plural monoculturalism," as Amartya Sen points out--are often varieties of abstract legalism or cosmopolitanism equally allergic to the notion of national community.) From this perspective, Obama's invocations of "the American people's desire to no longer be defined by our differences," and his expressed conviction that "this nation is more than the sum of its parts--that out of many, we are truly one," should sound heretical. Ditto for his insistence that we have and must pursue "common hopes" that reach across our differences, aiming for more inclusive solidarity and effective recognition of the "larger responsibility we have to one another as Americans."

Put bluntly, the core of Obama's message would appear to be completely incompatible with the proclaimed beliefs of many of his most ardent progressive supporters. (And we haven't even mentioned the religious imagery of compassion, covenant, and redemption--analyzed thoughtfully and provocatively by Philip Gorski--with which Obama sometimes links his political message.) So what gives?

Three partial explanations, not mutually exclusive, strike us as plausible. First, the fact that Obama is African-American probably helps to make his appeals to American civic patriotism (along with his religious imagery) more acceptable in progressive circles than they would be coming from a white candidate. Second, some of Obama's supporters--and critics--probably assume that all this stuff is just empty campaign rhetoric that Obama doesn't really believe himself. We suspect they're wrong about that.

But the most interesting fact is that many of Obama's progressive supporters don't simply accept or tolerate his message. They are moved, thrilled, and inspired by it. As Gorski perceptively noted, this response suggests that Obama's message speaks to profound hopes, concerns, and emotions that--for good or ill--run deeper than explicit beliefs and positions. We hope so. For decades progressive politics in America has too often crippled itself by unilaterally surrendering the discourse of national community and the common good--and, with it, some of the key animating principles of active democratic citizenship. (Todd Gitlin and others have rightly decried this folly.) If Obama can help make these notions respectable again for self-styled progressives, that alone would be a valuable contribution.
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=> OK, a full assessment would have to take into account some of the disappointments and shortcomings of Obama's actual presidency, and consider whether and to what extent they might have been linked to the ways that Obama tried to implement this orienting vision in practice. Among other things, it's clear that for a while Obama had unrealistic hopes about the prospects for working out constructive compromises with the Congressional Republicans. He underestimated the extent to which they would respond to his presidency with a strategy of unrelenting, indiscriminate, monolithic obstructionism and intensified partisan polarization, and did not foresee the political effectiveness of that strategy in terms of gaining partisan advantage for the Republicans, damage to the country notwithstanding. (That strategy also, by the way, had the unintended side-effect of helping deliver the Republican Party to Trump.) But one can't do everything at once. And those errors and setbacks do not, in my view, undermine the validity and value of Obama's central message.

—Jeff Weintraub

[Update 8/5/2016:  Andy Markovits and I have also published a slightly revised version of this post in Public Seminar titled "At DNC Obama Reaffirmed His Central Vision: Why It Matters for Democratic Politics Today".]

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Vote for the wolf ... to send them a message

This cartoon, which seems to be doing the rounds in Europe, brilliantly captures one element in the current political mood on both sides of the Atlantic. (Thanks to Suzanne Berger for the tip.)

It's clear that this was originally a Greek cartoon, since the Greek writing at the bottom of the campaign poster identifies the wolf with the swastika armband as a candidate for the Greek neo-fascist Golden Dawn party. Then someone translated the caption into French, possibly adapting it in the process.

For readers whose French is even weaker than mine ... what the sheep in the cartoon is saying can be roughly (though not literally) translated into English as: "I think I'll vote for the wolf. That will send the shepherd a message!" (borrowing a formulation from George Wallace). Protest voting, in other words.

—Jeff Weintraub

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Did Antonin Scalia just die in Texas?

If the reports of Scalia's death are correct, which they seem to be, this is a Very Big Deal.  [Update: Those reports have been confirmed.]

There is absolutely no chance that the Republican-controlled Senate would confirm anyone that President Obama nominated to replace Scalia. (Mitch McConnell has already confirmed this.)  So this will almost certainly mean a vacant seat on the Supreme Court between now and the inauguration of the next President ... which will, among other things, help to underline the exceptionally high stakes involved in the 2016 election.

In the meantime, Scalia's absence means that, all of a sudden, there is no longer a 5-4 right-wing majority on the Supreme Court. That is likely to affect the outcome of some extremely important upcoming cases. At the very least, it will probably interrupt the Robert Court's escalating campaign of right-wing judicial activism.  It may also produce extended gridlock on certain key issues.

This is a bombshell.  And the aftershocks are likely to be very messy and prolonged.

—Jeff Weintraub

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Slate
February 13, 2016  -  5:06 p.m.
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia Dies at 79
By Daniel Politi

Associate Justice Antonin Scalia was found dead in a luxury resort in West Texas on Saturday morning, according to multiple reports. The San Antonio Express-News says Scalia was found dead “of apparent natural causes” while at the Cibolo Creek Ranch. Someone apparently went looking for Scalia Saturday morning after the 79-year-old Supreme Court justice failed to show up for breakfast and found him dead in his room. There was no immediate evidence of foul play, according to a federal official cited anonymously by the Express-News.

Local ABC affiliate KVIA is also reporting the news, claiming it received confirmation that Scalia “died in his sleep … after a day of quail hunting.”

Ted Cruz appears to be the first Republican presidential hopeful to come out with a statement mourning Scalia. “A champion of our liberties and a stalwart defender of the Constitution, he will go down as one of the few Justices who single-handedly changed the course of legal history,” Cruz said.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott released a statement shortly after the news broke, calling Scalia "a man of God, a patriot, and an unwavering defender of the written Constitution and the Rule of Law."

[....]

Scalia had been on the Supreme Court since 1986, when he was nominated by President Ronald Reagan.

*This post has been updated since it was first published.

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the "Today's Papers" column from 2006 to 2009. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoliti.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Pope Francis says that anti-Zionism is anti-semitism

The irrepressibly outspoken Pope Francis, who has repeatedly shown that he's not afraid to make unexpected and controversial statements about difficult subjects, has done it again:
Jewish leaders met with Pope Francis in Rome on the 50th anniversary of the Nostra Aetate, the declaration promulgated by Pope Paul VI that led to improved relations between Jews and Catholics.

“Yes to the rediscovery of the Jewish roots of Christianity. No to anti-Semitism,” the pope said Wednesday morning during the public audience on St. Peter’s Square.  [....]

The Jewish leaders were part of a delegation of representatives of the World Jewish Congress in Rome for a meeting of its governing board. The meeting focused on the situation of Jews around the world, as well as the current tensions in the Middle East, the refugee crisis in Europe and the Iranian threat.

“To attack Jews is anti-Semitism, but an outright attack on the State of Israel is also anti-Semitism. There may be political disagreements between governments and on political issues, but the State of Israel has every right to exist in safety and prosperity,” Pope Francis told Lauder and his delegation. [....]
In case anyone wonders whether the Pope's Jewish interlocutors made up or exaggerated that last quotation, it has also been been reported in Catholic publications like the UK Catholic Herald:
Pope Francis told Jewish leaders an outright attack on the State of Israel is just as ‘anti-semitic’ as attacks against Jews.

The Pope made clear that attacks on the State of Israel are a form of anti-Semitism in a private audience with World Jewish Congress president Ronald S. Lauder and delegates.

“To attack Jews is anti-Semitism, but an outright attack on the State of Israel is also anti-Semitism,” Pope Francis told Lauder and his delegation. “There may be political disagreements between governments and on political issues, but the State of Israel has every right to exist in safety and prosperity.”[....]
If I were in Pope Francis's place, I might have formulated that a little differently. As some of you reading this may be aware, I have argued for a while that, strictly speaking, anti-semitism and anti-Zionism  should be analytically distinguished. That's not because anti-Zionism is OK, but because the relationship between anti-semitism and anti-Zionism is actually complex. One of the peculiar features of our era is that, over the past half-century or so, anti-Zionism (by which I mean systematic bias and hostility against Israel, Israelis, and supporters of Israel, shading off into obsessive hatred and demonization that is often accompanied by conspiracy theories about real or imaginary "Zionists") has emerged as an important and complex ideological formation in its own right, with some of its own distinctive roots and motivations, that is not always a direct product or expression of anti-semitism. (Though sometimes it is, of course.) Indeed, it sometimes happens that anti-Zionism helps promote anti-semitism almost as much as the other way around. (For some further elaboration, see here.)

But it's certainly true that the two are very often intertwined or indistinguishable in practice ... and, anyway, anti-Zionist bias and bigotry is morally reprehensible and dangerously pernicious in its own right, whether or not it stems from (or is a coded expression of) anti-semitism. And the claim that Israel has no legitimate right to exist is, of course, a paradigm expression of anti-Zionism. So I think the Holy Father is fundamentally on the right track here, and his statement is welcome and important.

=> At first I wondered whether the Vatican bureaucracy would try to walk back, tone down, or explain away this statement by Pope Francis. Some of them must be quite unhappy and alarmed about it—along with many Catholic clergy & other leaders of Catholic minorities in the Muslim world, who have worried for several decades that papal condemnations of anti-semitism, let alone of anti-Zionism, put their communities at risk.

But so far the Church has not, in fact, repudiated the Pope's straightforward condemnation of anti-Zionism. Walter Russel Mead correctly emphasizes why this stance is significant and deserves attention:
[....] A Vatican spokesman confirmed the gist of the Pope’s remarks to CNN. His Holiness had previously told a journalist in June that, “Whoever does not recognize the Jewish People and the State of Israel falls in anti-Semitism.”

It is this stance, and not the Vatican’s controversial recognition of Palestine this summer, that is the break from the historical norm. The Pope was speaking on the 50th anniversary—a blink of an eye in the history of the church—of Nostra Aetate, the Vatican II document that repositioned the Catholic relationship with Judaism from one of antagonism to respect for the “people to whom God spoke first.” And for much of Israel’s history, Vatican-Israeli relations were poor: the Holy See did not recognize Israel diplomatically until 1993.

So while Pope Francis is often painted as pro-Palestinian, he’s actually very pro-Israel by historic standards. But now, in a time of increased anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism in Europe, Pope Francis’ comments are a welcome ray of light.
Amen.

—Jeff Weintraub

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Tablet
October 29, 2015
Pope Francis: Anti-Zionism is Anti-Semitism
On the 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate, the Pontiff joined President Obama and other world leaders in calling out those who deny Israel’s right to exist

By Yair Rosenberg

On Wednesday, Pope Francis met with Jewish leaders to mark the 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate, a crucial Vatican II declaration that revolutionized Jewish-Catholic relations by absolving Jews of collective responsibility for Christ’s death and denouncing anti-Semitism. At the gathering, Francis decided to continue in the spirit of that document by condemning what he described as a modern form of anti-Semitism: the denial of the Jewish state’s right to exist.

“To attack Jews is anti-Semitism, but an outright attack on the State of Israel is also anti-Semitism,” the Pope told a World Jewish Congress delegation. “There may be political disagreements between governments and on political issues, but the State of Israel has every right to exist in safety and prosperity.”

Francis’s statement is noteworthy because the pontiff is far from an unconditional backer of Israel. He has criticized both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and been willing to make powerful symbolic gestures in support of the Palestinian cause. Indeed, as veteran Vatican reporter John Allen has noted, this Church stance predates the current pope. But with his words on Wednesday, Francis drew a bright red line between critiquing Israeli policies and critiquing Israel’s existence. The former, he said, is legitimate and sometimes necessary; the latter is bigotry.

With this declaration, Francis joined an illustrious group of global leaders who have asserted the same in recent months. In May, President Obama told The Atlantic‘s Jeffrey Goldberg that denying Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish homeland represented a failure to learn the lessons of history, and ultimately an expression of anti-Semitism. Prior to that, British Prime Minister David Cameron and French Prime Minister Manuel Valls had similarly stated that anti-Zionism—as opposed to criticism of Israel’s policies—constituted anti-Semitism.

Notably, the vast majority of the leadership of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement against Israel opposes the Jewish state’s right to exist. As BDS leader Omar Barghouti famously put it, Israel “was Palestine, and there is no reason why it should not be renamed Palestine.” Ahmed Moor, another BDS leading light and editor of After Zionism: One State for Israel and Palestine, has been even more blunt: “BDS does mean the end of the Jewish state.” Likewise, California State University professor >As’ad Abu Khalil has similarly stated, “Justice and freedom for the Palestinians are incompatible with the existence of the State of Israel.” The Pope was doubtless aware of this activism, which is particularly prevalent in Europe, and acted to address it unambiguously.

At a time, then, when college campuses are debating whether BDS constitutes constructive discourse on Israel, and local Hillel Houses are considering which sorts of critics of the Jewish state to lend a platform to, Francis’s and Obama’s guidance could not be more timely.

(Previous: Obama: Denying Israel’s Right to Exist as a Jewish Homeland is Anti-Semitic)

Yair Rosenberg is a senior writer at Tablet and the editor of the English-language blog of the Israeli National Archives. Follow him on Twitter @Yair_Rosenberg.