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Jeff Maurer's Politics Blog
Tuesday, 2 November 2010
From the Onion: "Democrats: 'If We're Gonna Lose, Let's Go Down Running Away From Every Legislative Accomplishment We've Made'"
Topic: News

The Onion gets it right probably more than any news outlet outside of the Washington Post or the New York Times (and even then it's debatable), but man...they really hit this one right on the screws: 

Democrats: 'If We're Gonna Lose, Let's Go Down Running Away From Every Legislative Accomplishment We've Made'


Posted by jeffmaurer1980 at 10:22 PM EDT
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Tuesday, 17 August 2010
Do You Have Even the VAGUEST Idea What You're Talking About?
Topic: News

From Glen Beck, quoted in the Washington Post today:

 "To many have forgotten Abraham Lincoln's ideas..."

 So said the man who wants to repeal the 14th Amendment. 

 He also implied that Lincoln was a founding father. 

 And he said "...far too many have either just gotten lazy...". I wonder who he was talking about.

All of this was accomplished in two sentences. He is a can of concentrated stupid.


Posted by jeffmaurer1980 at 1:36 PM EDT
Updated: Tuesday, 17 August 2010 1:40 PM EDT
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Friday, 8 September 2006
Wayne Rooney: Vanguard of Racial Understanding
Topic: News

  Even people who love sports also love to complain about how spoiled and bratty many professional atheletes are. We complain that they're selfish, egomaniacal, that they're only interested in money, and sometimes that they're just generally piece-of-shit human beings. And, often, they are.


  At times, this complaining carries racial undertones, even if those undertones are only presumed or unintentional. For example, it's hard to complain about the U.S. Men's Basketball team's lack of work ethic without wandering into an area where it can be perceived that you're actually complaining about African-Americans' work ethic. And, of course, sometimes this criticism will be born of genuine racism. Legitimate criticism of individuals and bigoted criticism of an individual because of his race are often difficult to separate.


  The racism issue here stems from two parallel facts: 1) We frequently witness atheletes exhibiting selfishness, greed, and criminal behavior, and it certainly seems that they exhibit these traits more than the general population, and 2) Atheletes are disproportionately African-American. When people witness these two things at the same time, they sometimes assume that one caused the other.


  That erroneous leap of logic is the problem; in fact, correlation does not prove causation. This is, I believe, the source of most modern racism: we witness a behavior correlating with a race, and we assume that the race caused the behavior (I'll leave the fallacy of "races" for another blog). In this case, we see that atheletes are greedy, spoiled and egoistic, we see that most of them are black, and some of us assume that they are greedy, spoiled and egoistic because they are black. Wrong.


  Supporting my case is this article: Rooney and Grey in Restaraunt Scuffle. It's about two English soccer players getting in a fight in a restaraunt. This isn't an isolated incident; this is pretty typical of the type of thing that English soccer players (especially Wayne Rooney) do all the time. Since I've been following the English Premiere League, I've learned that the traits we see in the big American sports leagues - selfishness, whining, money-grubbing, and general thuggishness - are present in the EPL as well. And this is a league in which the majority of the players are white.


  So, in this instance, we see a behavior that correlates with race, but it also seems clear that race isn't the cause. What is the cause? No one knows for sure, but I feel pretty confident in guessing that atheletes (like everyone else) are shaped by the world around them. Specifically, my thesis is this: People surrounded by fame, money, and adulation at an early age stand an excellent chance of becoming complete assholes.


  Of course, the point I'm trying to make isn't about what turns atheletes into assholes, it's about what causes racism and why it's a bad way of viewing the world. I'm trying to make this more than an anti-racism blog (it doesn't take much to come out and say "hey, racism is bad"); I'm trying to point out that racism is sometimes (usually, I would argue) the outcome of making casual, often subconscious, links between observed phenomena. Drawing these connections is a natural (though flawed) process, and it happens to all of us.


  I think that this is an important distinction. Often, the argument against stereotyping is that the stereotype isn't true. Sometimes that's correct, but sometimes it's not. African-American men do, for example, commit more violent crimes per capita than white American men. That's hard to hear, and it's a fact that most of us don't like, but it's simply a fact; there's no getting around it. To try to deny that that fact exists would be ridiculous, but it's often where people go when arguing against the "black men are criminals" stereotype. The correct argument against the "black men are criminals" stereotype is this: Though it is true that African-American men commit more violent crimes per capita than white American men, they don't commit those crimes because they are African-American. The cause of the action lies somewhere else. Specifically, a person is more likely to commit a violent crime if they are from a broken home, if they are poor, or if they live in an area with a high crime rate, and African-Americans are more likely to live in those circumstances than white Americans (this is also a verifiable fact). And African-Americans are more likely to live in those circumstances because of this counrty's history of slavery and discrimination, especially discrimination in education and housing (that's not a fact, but it's a point that I doubt most people would argue).


  I think that this understanding helps us get away from the idea of race as an explanatory variable; I personally believe that race can never be an explanatory variable. It also helps us understand where racism comes from and how we can best go about getting rid of it. I often feel that many of the anti-racism sentiments you encounter are well-meaning, but also simplistic and incorrect. In this instance, it does matter what logic you use to reach the correct conclusion.

On another topic: I am the worst comedian-blogger ever. Roughly 80 percent of my blogs are not funny at all, and at least 50 percent (including this one) are dense and sober. I am essentially trying to publish lightweight academic papers on MySpace. I'm sorry.


Posted by jeffmaurer1980 at 1:38 PM EDT
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Friday, 28 July 2006
Eight Outcomes that will Determine the Outcomes
Topic: News

  On the front page of today's Washington Post is an article entitled Eight Issues that Will Shape the 2006 Elections. The eight issues are: Bush, the economy, corruption, immigration, Iraq, turnout, the Northeast, and Red States. I'd like to point out that the last three of these are not issues. They are outcomes. That's like a football coach telling his team that the keys to winning are touchdowns, points, and winning.


  This is emblematic of one of my greatest frustrations with modern politics: the focus is almost entirely on the "horserace," not the issues. Watch any cable news network (check that: don't watch Fox News for any reason) and they won't be debating, say, the pros and cons of various immigration reform proposals; they'll be debating the political implications of those proposals. It's as if the deliberative process behind all issues has reached a finite conclusion, and the only question remaining is which policy voters will think is better. We expend almost no effort trying to determine which policy is actually better. This encourages the polarization of politics, as the only thing that differentiates one party's followers from the other's is their chosen group identity.


  Though I'm interested in politics, I hate the horserace element of politics with every bone in my body. Yes, I pay attention to it a bit, because I have to, but that element of politics is so Machiavellian and ethics-averse that I can't pay attention to it for long without wanting to blow my brains out. I know it's a necessary evil, but if a candidate wins by adopting positions that he or she believes to be suboptimal and panders to voters' sentiments no matter how selfish or backwards those sentiments might be, is that really a victory? Of course, the counterargument is a good one: how could losing to someone making even worse promises and being even more of a panderer be considered a victory? Its a maddening, maddening thing. I just wish that we could focus on issues more and the "game" of politics less.


Posted by jeffmaurer1980 at 1:41 PM EDT
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Tuesday, 28 February 2006
More Principled/Unprincipled
Topic: News
  More commentators have fallen on one side or the other of the principled/unprincipled divide created by the ports deal that I mentioned two posts back:

Principled: Richard Cohen, David Ignatius, Nicholas D. Kristof, Thomas L. Friedman, Jon Stewart (with a small caveat: on Larry King last night, he agreed with the basic principle of the deal, saying "the more you look into it the more you realize there's no story there," but then digressed into criticizing Bush on tangentially related issues)

Unprincipled (liberal) or xenophobic (conservative): Harold Meyerson, Paul Krugman, Charles Krauthammer

  In my opinion, there aren't any surprises on these lists, though it breaks my heart to place Paul Krugman on the "unprincipled" list.  Krugman is a brilliant economist, and I'm saddened by the fact that he has largely abandoned his insightful, pointed, intellectually honest economic analysis for the scatterbrained Bush-bashing that has become his trademark.

Posted by jeffmaurer1980 at 1:46 PM EST
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Friday, 24 February 2006
More on Ports
Topic: News
In yesterday's blog I mentioned that it would be interesting to see which commentators (especially liberal commentators) would stand by the principle that you shouldn't assume things about people because of their ethnicity/nationality, and which would abandon that principle in order to seize an opportunity to bash Bush.  Some early results are in.  Michael Moore is unprincipled, but that's not news.  The New York Times ran a very strange editorial (sorry, I can't link to it) that supported the basic concept of the deal but criticized Bush for his previous dealings with Congress.  Most of those criticisms are valid, but irrelevant; I'll call their response "ambiguous".  The Washington Times has joined the chorus of conservative commentators whose fear of A-rabs has proved greater than their sycophantic hero worship of President Bush.  It's always dodgy trying to discern political views from a comedy show (sometimes jokes are just jokes), but last night's Colbert Report interview made it pretty clear that Stephen Colbert agrees with the policy, as does his guest, charmingly-old-school-conservative and internally-conflicted-on-a-Shakespearean-level New York Times Columnist David Brooks.

Posted by jeffmaurer1980 at 1:46 PM EST
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Thursday, 23 February 2006
Bigotry Disguised as Responsibility
Topic: News

  Congress is in an uproar over a company from the United Arab Emirates assuming management of six U.S. ports.  This story has been around for about a week now, so I've had plenty of time to think about it.  And I've come to this conclusion: this uproar is nothing but naked xenophobia mixed with political pandering.


  Security is a bipartisan issue; it's a priority for everybody.  And, at first glance, this development appears to raise some legitimate security concerns.  After all, ports are a vulnerable point of entry into this country, and UAE citizens have committed acts of terrorism in the past.  But a closer look reveals that there are no real security concerns associated with this issue.


  First of all, the company was never going to be in charge of port security; the U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Customs Service control the security of our ports.  Second, these ports are currently managed by a British firm, so it can't credibly be argued that it is truly foreign - as opposed to Arab - control of our ports to which people are opposed.  Third, this transaction completed a review process that included members of the Departments of State, Commerce, Treasury, and Homeland Security.  Fourth, the fact that terrorists have come from and operated within the UAE is irrelevant; terrorists have come from and operated within practically every country in the world, including this one, and the UAE's government has been a reliable ally in our anti-terrorism operations (I refuse to use the phrase "War on Terror").  So, upon closer inspection, there appear to be no tangible security concerns raised by this issue.  Why, then, are people so incensed by this buyout?  I think the answer is obvious: they associate Arabs with terrorism.


  President Bush has aggressively defended his approval of this transaction.  You won't hear me say this too often, but I agree with the President 100 percent.  It is embarrassing that some in this country would view this as giving "them" control of our ports, as if terrorists are an ethnic group or a country.   It is the same (if decidedly less fervent) mentality that ultimately led to Japanese internment during World War II - that is, there's a "they", and we don't need evidence to know that they can't be trusted.  Americans are ashamed of the way we treated Japanese-Americans during World War II, and while denying a port contract is nowhere near the equivalent of internment, I have to think that we'll look back at a lot of the rhetoric surrounding this development with embarrassment.


  Though this is pure conjecture, it's almost certainly true that Members of Congress are actively opposing the president on this because they have to run for re-election.  No politician wants to have an add run against them saying: "He gave control of our ports to a company from the United Arab Emirates!"  That's a killer.  Any politician supporting this deal either 1) Isn't up for re-election, or 2) Is demonstrating incredible commitment to principle (though the principle itself may or may not be an admirable one).  The rest are almost definitely pandering to the uninformed and/or blatantly xenophobic segment of our (disproportionately elderly) electorate.


  Most politicians' first priority is to get re-elected; that's old news.  What will be interesting to see is which non-politicians - especially liberal activists - support the deal and which oppose it.  It should be a telling separation: most of those who support it are dedicated to principle (in this case, the principle that we shouldn't make assumptions based on ethnicity or national origin), and most of those who oppose it are dedicated to bashing Bush with whatever stick they can find.  The Washington Post has already got it right; chalk one up for principle.


  I also think that it's ironic that Bush is now being bitten by the anti-intellectualism that he has done so much to create.  Everyone knows: Bush doesn't do nuance.  This was never more evident than during the 2004 election, in which John Kerry was mocked for holding a complicated position on the very complicated issue of Iraq.  This port security issue is also complicated, and the decision to approve the transaction really only makes sense if given time to explain.  The sound bite, however, is devastating: "He gave control of our ports to a company from the United Arab Emirates!"  Most people won't even hear the "a company from" in that sentence, and fewer still will do the research necessary to determine whether or not that statement is actually true.  Modern American politics provides no opportunity to effectively refute that sound bite, and there's some unfortunate justice in the fact that a man who did so much to create that reality is now its victim.  The penultimate realization of this irony: people are stating that the UAE is now "linked" to Al Qaeda, just as Bush claimed that Al Qaeda was "linked" to Iraq.


Posted by jeffmaurer1980 at 1:47 PM EST
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Tuesday, 31 January 2006
Random Political Stuff
Topic: News
  There are a couple things I'd like to talk about, so I'll address them briefly:

Thing #1: Congrats to Hamas for proving that when the Bush administration spoke about democracy transforming the Middle East, they were really talking about liberalism (lower-case "l") transforming the Middle East.  Democracy is a system of government in which elections ensure that the government reflects the will of the people.  Therefore, when the people are anti-Semitic, pro-terrorist extremists, you can expect an anti-Semitic, pro-terrorist, extremist government.  Democratic Peace Theory (a theory that I feel makes some good points) has some explaining to do.

Thing #2: In case you haven't been listening to Thomas L. Friedman or Danny Rouhier complain (rightly) about the ways in which our dependence on foreign oil affects our foreign policy, check out this quote from an Iranian senior government official in an excerpt from yesterday's NY Times:

While the top leadership had decided to take a more confrontational approach with the West even before Mr. Ahmadinejad was elected, the new president began with such a harsh style that many officials were initially unnerved. But when the West failed to stop Iran from defiantly restarting its nuclear program, or to punish it, some opponents reluctantly accepted that Mr. Ahmadinejad was right and they were wrong.

''First we thought he is not right,'' said a senior government official who consults frequently with the ruling clergy. ''Now we understand he is right. You need us more than we need you,'' he said of the West.


 
Scary.  Also, for the Europhiles out there, please note that Iran does notice when they are allowed to act with complete impunity.

Thing #3: To those who believe that the U.N. Security Council is a pantheon of enlightened negotiation and noble intentions, I ask: Would any body seriously concerned with protecting peace and human rights give China, Russia, and even the U.S. (with our ambiguous position on torture) veto power?  Really, no matter what you're political ideology, you can't be too excited about Iran having a nuclear weapon.  And yet any action taken by any coalition of nations will be viewed by many as illegitimate unless Russia - who have numerous investments in Iran as well as a considerable interest in the price oil - and China - who are determined to stem U.S. influence at all possible junctures - approve.  Meanwhile, the opinions of many gigantic countries with no veto power - among them India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Germany, Brazil, and Japan - barely matter.  I'm not saying that the U.N. is useless, but does anyone really think that the opinion of that body should confer any type of legitimacy on decisions?

Thing #4: A hilarious article mentioned on Ryan Conner's blog once again making the point that you are far more likely to kill yourself or a family member with your gun than an attacker.  My favorite nugget of outstanding logic in this article comes from Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-8th): "The truth is you're more likely to get hurt in a car accident than by a gun, so why restrict people's freedoms?" 

Thing #5: Foreign policy involves no numbers and very few absolute truths, and is therfore almost always debatable.  I am generally not a fan of the Bush foreign policy, but there have been some aspects of it that I like (e.g., negotiating an end to the war in Southern Sudan - though not the genocidal one in the West), and I feel that most of the issues involved are, at least, debatable.  The budget, however, does involve numbers, and I feel that the following point is not debatable: the way that Bush and Congress (mostly Republicans in Congress) have handled the budget is an unmitigated disaster.  For evidence, see the Congressional Budget Office's Economic Outlook, 2007-2016.  I'll sum it up for you: we will be buried in piles of debt for the foreseeable future.  And this is true in spite of the fact that we have cut many programs that primarily benefit the poor.  Fuck you, Art Laffer.  Unbelievable.

Thing #6: In his state of the Union speech tonight, President Bush will likely propose a tax write-off for out of pocket medical expenses.  That is a stupid, ineffective idea.  If you'd like to read why, check out the Washington Post from yesterday.

Posted by jeffmaurer1980 at 1:48 PM EST
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Tuesday, 27 December 2005
Fascist Salutes/Confederate Flags
Topic: News

  Paolo Di Canio, a striker for Italian club Lazio, has been suspended for making a fascist salue to fans after a match.  There is a little more grey area here than first meets the eye, in that: 1) In Italy, the fascist solute - which is identical to the "heil Hitler" salute - is associated more with Mussolini than Hitler, and 2) European clubs occasionally adopt symbols that then take on a meaning separate from their traditional one (in Holland, for example, Ajax fans call themselves the "Jews" and wave Israeli flags in support of their team.  I'm not saying that's okay, but that's what they do).  Lazio fans have adopted the swastika as one of their unofficial symbols, and they claim that they use it independently of its original meaning.  Di Canio, who is an admitted admirer of Mussolini, said: "I'm a fascist, not a racist." 


  If you think the line between fascist and racist seems too fine to parse, I agree with you.  If someone is giving fascist salutes, praising Mussolini, and encouraging fans to bring swastikas to matches, it is reasonable for people to assume that person is a racist.  That may not be the case: Di Canio is pro-immigration (a position that is much more liberal in Europe than it is in the US) and claims only to admire the populist and unifying characteristics of fascism.  But that doesn't negate a more important point: no matter what a symbol means to you, you can't simply ignore what it represents to reasonable people.


  This is the same point that I try to make to people who argue that the Confederate flag is not a racist symbol.  This issue hits home to me because I am a half southerner (I lived in Kentucky and southern Virginia for about 10 years growing up) and get embarrassed when I see southerners flying the Confederate flag.  People who do so usually argue that the flag represents southern heritage, not racism ("Heritage, not hate" is a popular bumper sticker in the South). 


  I've always felt that that argument is bullshit.  First, no matter how much revisionist historians may try to obscure this fact, slavery was the primary cause of the Civil War.  Of course, it's more complex than that, and I'm not saying that most Northerners were crusading against slavery, but the bottom line is: no slavery, no Civil War.  Second, the flag in question was resurrected specifically to protest the civil rights movement.  Most proponents of the confederate flag don't know this, but the flag that we generally recognize as the "Confederate flag" was actually the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia.  The actual Confederate flag was different; pollsters concluded that Georgia voters did not recognize it when they rejected incorporating it into their state flag in a 2003 referendum.  The red square with the blue "X" only gained prominence due to two post-Civil War events: 1) It became the unofficial flag of the KKK, 2) In 1962, South Carolina began flying it over the state capitol to protest the civil rights movement.  Because these are the primary events with which the Confederate flag is associated, I've always considered it a racist symbol, and I think it is entirely reasonable for me to do so.


  My point: it is impossible to disassociate the Confederate flag with racism.  People who fly it might not be racist, but they are ignorant if they don't realize that reasonable people will conclude that its display constitutes a racist statement.  The same goes for Paolo Di Canio's fascist salute: even if he is actually just a really big fan of trains running on time, you can't simply ignore the violence, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, and war-mongering that that salute came to represent.  If you want to be proud of your heritage, educate someone about Mark Twain or Michelangelo; the racist symbols don't paint you in a good light.


Posted by jeffmaurer1980 at 1:49 PM EST
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