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Further thoughts on Eich’s resignation

[ 235 ] April 6, 2014 |

Scott posting while I was in the process of composing this post will make it shorter, because “What Scott said” covers some of what I was going to say, in particular with respect to the importance of Eich’s leadership position. I rarely hold a more expansive view of the rights of corporations than conservatives do, but I can’t begrudge them the right to manage their reputation in this manner.

A few further thoughts. First, making this about Eich exercising free speech in favor the passage of Proposition 8 minimizes his critics’ complaint in two important ways.

The initiative process takes legislation out of the hands of the legislature and into the hands of citizens. Material support for an initiative may be construed as speech, but it’s much much more than that: it’s a direct attempt to use the coercive power of the state to remove other people’s rights. This distinction matters, it seems to me, when determining how we think about the speech/action boundary.

Second, he gave material support to a campaign whose central strategy was to dishonestly and maliciously promote the idea that LGBT people living their lives openly and as full citizens constituted nothing less than a clear and present danger to the welfare of children. (See Mark Stern for a depressing reminder of that profoundly odious and illiberal campaign). If he doesn’t share the views advocated in those ads, but merely thought they were a useful means to an end, that doesn’t do him any favors. It’s very easy to be optimistic about LGBT rights in the current environment, and I am indeed optimistic that in the short and medium term, they are going to lose. But in the long run, rollback is not impossible. And from Russia to Uganda to Nigeria, we see this belief—that LGBT rights and freedoms pose a threat to the well-being of children—seems to be, if not a necessary or sufficient ingredient for rollback, certainly a feature that promotes it.  As long as the believe Eich was promoting is widespread, the rights of LGBT people, even when achieved, will not be secure. The toxic nature of the message he paid to promote shouldn’t be lost in the shorthand of how we discuss this.

Some of the other the top reactions to Eich’s resignation (usual suspects: Dreher, Sullivan, Friedersdorf) are treating this case as an example of society wading into new, unprecedented illiberal territory. This seems clearly wrong to me. It’s worth keeping two issues separate:

1) Should the political activity of CEOs and other prominent, “public face of”-type employees for major corporations, be associated with the companies they represent?

2) Should promoting the view, as Eich did, that permitting LGBT people to live openly as full and equal citizens constitutes a clear and present danger to the welfare of children be on the list of political activity which we ought to consider shameful and embarrassing?

Insofar as what happened to Eich is demonstrative of a recent social change, the change is about how our society answers question 2, not question 1. CEOs’ political views harming their company’s reputation is old news, going back to  public pressure on, and a boycott of Ford Motors in the 20′s over his public promotion of anti-semitic views (Ford wasn’t forced to resign, but he was pressured to issue a public apology and repudiation and cease publication of his anti-semitic newspaper, The Dearborn Independent). The only change we’re seeing here is a minor modification to the list of embarrassing political views. I’m broadly supportive of the argument that we’d be better off focusing our critical attention on corporate policies and behaviors, rather than the ideology of their CEO. But I’m also supportive of the argument appalling attacks on legally and socially vulnerable minorities, when made by powerful, wealthy, and highly respected figures, come with serious reputational consequences. So I’m somewhat conflicted about how to answer question #1. But however it should be answered, our society has been answering it in the same way for a century; the only thing new here is the inclusion of LGBT into the category of minorities for whom public attacks are no longer considered consequence-free.


In general, I do think this line of activism should be focused primarily, if not exclusively, on powerful public figures. In presumption that that our jobs should not be contingent on our politics should be stronger than the degree to which it is currently protected by law. In addition to the distinction between CEO and ordinary employee, I’d also suggest a distinction between CEOs of large companies and small business owners, who lie in a space between the two (assuming we’re only talking about public views, not political actions). So I don’t see much value in a boycott campaign of a farmer’s organic foods store (and a threatened secondary boycott of a pro-gay rights restaurant owner who spoke out against the proposed boycott is even more ridiculous). The injunction to fight actual discrimination, rather than words, seems important here: down the road there’s a college that just kicked a transgender student out of campus housing. And, of course, the state of Oregon is still practicing marriage discrimination! These seem like far more appropriate targets.


Focus Group

[ 4 ] April 6, 2014 |


The Case of Brendan Eich

[ 232 ] April 6, 2014 |

James Taranto believes that the briefly tenured CEO of Firefox has an unspecified right to continue to be a CEO, and that political donations should remain private:

But California’s disclosure law turns out to have been a grievous violation of Eich’s rights and the rights of others.

Prominent intarwebs hack Glenn Reynolds, whose interest in gay and lesbian rights begins and ends with opportunities to play various forms of poetic-justice-as-fairness with liberals, inevitably invokes fascism:

GLEICHSCHALTUNG! Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich forced to resign for supporting traditional marriage laws. To be clear, for holding, in 2009, the view of gay marriage that Barack Obama held, instead of the view that Dick Cheney held.

As someone who was publicly supporting gay marriage even before Dick Cheney, I find this degree of bullying and blacklisting repellent. I’m beginning to think that the only thing the left found wrong with the 1950s blacklists was that they were aimed at . . . the left.

Let’s try apply some actual thought to this question:

  • As an aside, Eich didn’t hold the “same view” of gay marriage that Barack Obama did in 2009.  Obama opposed Prop 8 at the time, and also supported constitutional efforts to have it overturned.  Dick Cheney, conversely, refused to oppose the George W. Bush-supported Federal Marriage Amendment, although he was willing to be open about his Miss America conservatism when it was no longer politically consequential.
  • The rather obvious difference between Eich resigning and the blacklist of the 50s is that the blacklist was generally directed at ordinary employees, not top-decision makers.  If an ordinary employee was fired for supporting Prop 8, I would actually be inclined to agree with Taranto and Reynolds.   But a CEO, or anyone else who publicly represents an organization and has discretion over employment decisions — that’s a different question.  A single past donation to an anti-LBGT cause is not necessarily disqualifying in itself, but it’s fair to ask questions about whether someone’s bias on these questions might affect their decisions or reflect badly on the company.
  • The fact that has was CEO is relevant for another reason as well: he wasn’t fired, he resigned.  Nobody was in the position to “demand”  that he do anything.   He decided that he didn’t want to say and defend his various odious reactionary political views as head of a progressive non-profit rather than make his commitment to equality clear.   This isn’t much of a “blacklist.”
  • I must have missed Reynolds, Taranto et al. foaming at the mouth over, say World Vision pledging to maintain a refusal to hire employees in same-sex relationships after facing pressure from evangelical groups far more intense than anything Mozilla faced.  Again, if you actually cared about outside pressure restricting the free speech rights of employees, this is a much more pressing concern.  But obviously Reynolds and Taranto don’t care in the slightest about the pressure faced by ordinary employees; they care about saying nyah-nyah to liberals.

…As runsinbackground (following up on ChrisTS) notes in comments about the specious comparison to the 50s blacklist: “in this retelling there’s no McCarthy, and no HUAC either, unless you want to count a popular free dating website.”  Another commenter notes this from Josh Marshall, which is indeed excellent on the crucial difference between a CEO and an ordinary employee.



[ 47 ] April 6, 2014 |



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Is multicultural accommodation inherently “irrational”?

[ 153 ] April 6, 2014 |

I’ve been teaching a course semi-regularly on multiculturalism and political theory since graduate school, so when I saw Erik’s post below I anticipated some likely responses. Karen does not disappoint:

So how long until all the pro-Hobby Lobby trolls show up and accuse you of hypocrisy?

Seriously, assume for a minute that this issue came up because the town’s school board couldn’t find a source for Halal food that charged prices within the school’s budget? Will the school now need to offer meals for Catholics who avoid meat on Friday? Does it already? If the hijab is okay, what about the niqab? (That’s the burqa.) Is it even possible to have this debate in a rational manner?

It is indeed possible to have this debate in a rational manner, but in order to do so we need to not jump straight to slippery slope fallacies. IB’s response, in particular this: “Muslims in France who want halal food in schools are natural people with good-faith, internally consistent religious practices with which the state is actually interfering” is spot-on. Following up on that:

When it comes to multicultural accommodation, without endorsing his approach unreservedly I think Will Kymlicka is on to something when he suggests we make a stark distinction between the demand for external protections (efforts to reduce to vulnerability of minority groups to pressures from some economic, cultural, and/or political forces), as opposed to the demand for internal restrictions (restrictions a group places on its own members’ liberties). The former can and should be accommodated in a liberal society in many cases, and the latter should be met with skepticism in virtually all cases. It is a commitment to individual rights that motivates this  To offer some options consistent with a group’s dietary restrictions fits easily within that category. The Hobby Lobby case is in some ways worse than many minority group internal restrictions, as it imposes those restrictions on non-members (employees). And they were offered an accommodation anyway, which they reject, because apparently their religion prohibits filling out paperwork. The cases are easily distinguishable on these grounds.

This case also serves as a reminder that in many important ways the goal of state neutrality is a dream that we need to let die. All too often, what is perceived as neutral is, in fact, reflective of the preferences of the majority culture. This is most obvious and uncontroversial when we think about a government’s language policy. Naturally, the language of the state is most likely to be the language spoken by the majority culture. Hiring translators and printing government documents and ballots in a variety of languages in a multi-linguistic society could prove expensive indeed; it could well exceed existing budgets. But that’s not a reason it shouldn’t be done. The preferences and values of the majority culture get encoded into public policy in all manner of ways that are rarely question until a minority group speaks up and forces them to do so. What is a “neutral” lunch menu? Does anyone think the preferences, practices and habits of the majority were not considered when choosing the lunch menu?

And to be clear: this is not, inherently, a bad thing. I don’t think any useful purpose would be served, for example, by the US government rescinding recognition of December 25th as a federal holiday. (Note, too, that even French laicite fails this neutrality test). That would be a crappy outcome for millions of workers and their families. Nor do I think government business should be conducted in Esperanto, even as the language government chooses clearly benefits the majority culture. Once we recognize that in all sorts of mundane but non-neutral ways the government privileges the majority culture, making accommodations for minority groups a straightforward fairness demand. I treat students’ absences for non-Christian holidays as excused and demanding accommodation on my part in a way other absences do not in large part because it’s necessary to treat them fairly at a University in which classes do not meet on the majority religion’s major holidays.

A bit more philosophically, I think we have good reason to resist the tendency of the state to interact with its population as it wishes to see them–as the kind of abstract ideal ‘citizen’ it imagines they ought to be, rather than the particular peoples who actually make up the citizenry. Treating people as they are, rather than as the state imagines they should be, may require spending more resources on fair and equal treatment in some cases. We must get past the hope that treating everyone fairly and equally is not the same as treating them as if they were identical. “Our official ideology tells us our citizens should be like *this* so we’re going to disregard their actual identities and treat them as if they already are” is a dangerous path for States to adopt (see James Scott for more).

As Kymlicka would readily admit, the above doesn’t give us clear, bright-line principles to adjudicate every case; a fair amount of muddling through will remain necessary. But it’s not hopeless and it’s not inherently “irrational.” It inevitably involves balancing tests and making difficult distinctions, but I see no reason to characterize such efforts as irrational. That’s just part of politics.

Others in the thread point out that French Republicanism has a particular history that makes French political culture resistant to the line or argument offered here, well beyond the White Nationalism party featured in this particular example. And this is true, although I suspect some of the mainstream French politics jumping on the laicite-against-Muslims bandwagon partly out of a defensive reaction to the rise of Front National. (Marine’s father making it through the first round of voting in the 2002 presidential election was a moment of profound embarrassment the French left in particular and mainstream French politics more generally). This certainly complicates matter, but it should hardly be treated as dispositive in how we evaluate French policy here. The particular history from which US political culture emerges certainly contains some pretty huge and illiberal blind spots, but we rightly don’t treat that as an excuse to continue to indulge them. Nor should we do so on behalf of the French.

A Cultural Politics That Might Make Even Republicans Blanch

[ 396 ] April 6, 2014 |

Well, maybe not. But anyway, this is pretty gross:

Far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen said on Friday it would prevent schools from offering special lunches to Muslim pupils in the 11 towns it won in local elections, saying such arrangements were contrary to France’s secular values.

France’s republic has a strict secular tradition enforceable by law, but faith-related demands have risen in recent years, especially from the country’s five-million-strong Muslim minority, the largest in Europe.

“We will not accept any religious demands in school menus,” Le Pen told RTL radio. “There is no reason for religion to enter the public sphere, that’s the law.”

The anti-immigrant National Front has consistently bemoaned the rising influence of Islam in French public life.

France has seen periodic controversies over schools that substitute beef or chicken for pork from menus to cater to Muslim children. Some of the FN’s new mayors have complained there are too many halal shops in their towns.

Nothing freaks me out like Muslims eating meat butchered in a fashion that affects me in no demonstrative way. I haven’t been that scared since I noted the lack of bacon at my town’s Jewish deli. What’s the deal with that? My entire identity is no more. I’m now voting for the most racist politicians I can find.

Also, I’m glad the French are so much more culturally and socially advanced than we Americans. I’m sure I won’t mention this the next time someone from France talks to me about how screwed up the U.S. is.

VD is for Everybody

[ 28 ] April 5, 2014 |

In 1969, the Ad Council provided a very important message about venereal disease with a tune as catchy as the clap. Remember friends, VD is for everybody.

Tonight’s Art Brought to You by Major Kong

[ 52 ] April 5, 2014 |

Thank you to our own Major Kong for introducing me to this artist, who photographs models with wild animals. I find these so haunting and whimsical:

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It’s Hard Out There for Confederate Apologists

[ 134 ] April 5, 2014 |

Poor Natchez. It turns out that people in 2014 may not be so interested in Confederate nostalgia tourism. It has no idea what to do, like you

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know, talking honestly about slavery.

Smooth Jazz Fridays

[ 42 ] April 4, 2014 |

Because I like soulless music I don’t have to think about, I love smooth jazz. Those relaxing vapid sounds really sum up a Friday night. And nothing screams relaxing

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and smooth like Charles Gayle.

The Republican Offer On Health Care Remains Worse Than Nothing

[ 142 ] April 4, 2014 |

Paul Ryan would repeal the ACA and not even replace its most popular provisions, using logic that makes clear that he opposes doing anything for the many millions of uninsured this would create:

Democrats are jumping all over Paul Ryan for telling Bloomberg TV that if Republicans repeal the Affordable Care Act, they won’t reimplement Obamacare’s popular requirement that children can stay on their parents’ health insurance plans until they’re 26.

I don’t have a full transcript, but the quote in this Washington Post story actually reveals a great deal more about Republicans’ post-Obamacare health policy than their possible opposition to insuring young adults.

“If you look at these kinds of reforms, where they’ve been tried before — say the state of Kentucky, for example — you basically make it impossible to underwrite insurance. You dramatically crank up the cost. And

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you make it hard for people to get affordable health care.”

People who follow health care reform closely will correctly note that there’s nothing new here. But for those who don’t, Ryan’s focus on underwriting, not an allusion to so-called “young invincibles” is the key tell. Because underwriting is the main mechanism insurers used to practice price and coverage discrimination against people with pre-existing conditions.

Bobby Jindal makes no pretense of caring about the millions of people he would deny insurance to:

To be sure, there is more to Jindal’s plan than to repeal Obamacare and then drink cocktails made from the tears of the uninsured. But there isn’t much more. Jindal proposes to tinker with the tax treatment of health benefits, but without going far enough to either provide real funds to purchase insurance to individuals or to disrupt employer-based insurance. There’s the usual bit about letting insurers sell plans across state lines, which means letting the state most willing to allow insurers to cherry-pick healthy customers set national regulatory standards. He urges a focus on cost containment, which was a mantra of Republican opposition to the bill in 2009 and 2010, and had faded since

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health-care inflation has fallen to a 50-year low. Citing cost containment as the rationale to repeal a law that has at best created, and at worst coincided with, the most positive cost containment news in modern history is more than a bit perverse.

Having said that, I’m not sure that we should consider the most recent Republican candidate for vice-president and a current Republican governor looking to run for president to be representative of Republican positions on health care reform. Perhaps more relevant are dead senators from Rhode Island, governors in states with huge Democratic supermajorities, stuff like that there.

I’m now a fashion icon

[ 69 ] April 4, 2014 |

Sometimes, people sometimes wear nondescript, ordinary, cheap and comfortable clothing. Particularly shocking is news that this strange behavior has spread to New Yorkers and celebrities! Whatever could this possibly mean? In an article that would have been a hell of a lot easier to swallow had it been published one day

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earlier, The New York Times Style section once again brilliantly trolls the world with an investigation this apparently baffling phenomena.

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