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Archive for the ‘Politics and race’ Category

America the ‘unaffiliated’

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Three observations from this new report on religion in the United States:

  • The ranks of the “unaffiliated” were at 22 percent and the most populated group in 13 states. Predictably, most of the “unaffiliated” people reside in the Pacific Northwest and New England, the de facto centers of progress and enlightenment in the United States, in addition to parts of California and Massachusetts, which no doubt came in with slightly higher numbers of religious people because of the Catholic demographic in both states (see map 1).


  • White evangelical Protestants still dominate the Southeast and parts of the Midwest. Although the white Protestant leaders and lawmakers in the South have rarely had their best interests at heart down through the generations, black Protestants also are still mainly prevalent in the Southeast, with both groups still under the delusion that god is on their side, even though the two “sides” have been, nearly at all times, mutually exclusive.
  • White Catholics have been for decades and still are mostly pervasive in the Midwest and the Northeast (and California, due largely to the Hispanic population). Among their number are so-called religious moderates and social liberals. In contrast to evangelicals in the South, these are supposedly the more humanitarian-minded, learned religious folks in America, although among their number are people who believe in the literal transubstantiation of the Eucharist into the body of Christ, the sainthood of Mary, the divinely inspired word and authority of the Pope and a whole host of rituals, all of which have not led to any kind of meaningful change in the U.S. or the world for centuries.

Written by Jeremy

February 28th, 2015 at 1:55 pm

Why not more conservative satire?

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This article from The Atlantic is certainly worth a read, but without any hard data, I think I can offer some quick answers as to why America doesn’t have more conservative satire. In short:

Reason 1 − Conservatives by and large don’t “get” or appreciate irony in quite the same way as their liberal counterparts.

Reason 2 − Liberals and progressives tend to be more irreverent, even toward leaders in their own camp. This itself is ironic because conservatives, who spend a lot of time railing against government overreach and corruption, should be the ones giving leaders the hardest time.

Reason 3 − Conservatives take themselves and their party and politics and life too seriously.

Reason 4 − Even when conservatives try to “do” comedy, it just comes off as preachy and forced for reasons inherent number three.

Written by Jeremy

February 16th, 2015 at 2:21 pm

In defense of ‘The Daily Show’

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Perhaps Jon Stewart was partially responding to Jamelle Bouie’s recent article in Slate, “Why Jon Stewart Was Bad for the Liberals Who Loved Him,” which referred to Stewart and his show as if he didn’t have months left to go as the 17-year host of “The Daily Show,” when, during the episode after the announcement that he was stepping down, Stewart asked, “Did I die“?

In any case, as someone who says he “grew up with” “The Daily Show,” attended Stewart’s Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear and watched the show on a “semi-regular” basis for the better part of a decade, Bouie speaks as someone who has a profound misunderstanding of Stewart, his shtick and, indeed, for political satire in general and the continued need for heavy doses of it in modern political America.

Bouie’s main gripe about Stewart seems to be this:

The emblematic Stewart posture isn’t a joke or a witticism, it’s a sneer—or if we’re feeling kind, a gentle barb—coupled with a protest: I’m just a comedian.

… His protests to the contrary, Stewart is a pundit, and like many pundits, he’s wed to a kind of anti-politics, where genuine difference doesn’t exist (or isn’t as relevant as we think) and political problem-solving is mostly a matter of will, knowledge, and technocratic know-how.

Bouie here is replying to Stewart’s assertion that he is not, as some would label him, an influential political thinker, but “just a comedian” who is, at the end of the day, solely interested in making people laugh and not being, well, influential. When pressed, this has often been the answer Stewart himself has given whenever he runs the risk of being cast as something more than a comedian, and it may sound like he is failing to own up to what he really is — a comedian and a political satirist — but what other answer could he really give? His show is on a comedy network that is, in its most basic form, geared to generate laughter.

That said, no serious person who has actually paid attention to “The Daily Show” can conclude that Stewart completely separates his comedy on the show from ideology, that he just cracks jokes and “throws spitballs,” as he once said, in a vacuum, or that the show conveys the message that “government is only hypocrisy and dysfunction,” as Bouie contends. The latter is a job and a message for members of the far right, not a left of center liberal like Stewart, who, I would guess, thinks government has a role to play in people’s lives, and as such, it should function as efficiency and logically as possible. That it does not is deeply troubling, and this no doubt provides plenty of fodder for the show.

Bouie also argues that Stewart’s brand of liberalism, or at least the one he conveys on the air, is cynical all the way to the core and has no real substance, and is thus, a bad example for fellow liberals. Bouie’s example of this, his only example, comes not from Stewart’s own show, but from Stewart’s famous interview on “Crossfire” from 2004:

Take his Crossfire appearance. Lurking in his media criticism was a larger idea about the pointlessness of ideological combat. “To do a debate would be great,” he said, responding to protests from the hosts. “But that’s like saying pro wrestling is a show about athletic competition.” In the context of Begala and Carlson, this was a fair point. But in the larger world, it’s off. No, you’re not going to find sophisticated arguments on cable news, and to the extent that places like CNN are vehicles for nonsense and quasi-dadaist performance art, Stewart is right to mock and ridicule.

Cable, however, isn’t the only forum for debate, and most political conversations aren’t as shallow as the ones you see on TV. On op-ed pages and around dinner tables, Americans have substantive conversations about politics. And while the facts aren’t always right, the discussion is often valuable. Stewart gives short shrift to that kind of talk. Instead, in the world of The Daily Show, the only politics is cable politics, where venality rules, serious disputes are obscured, and cynicism is the only response that works.

Again, to say such a thing about Stewart’s show indicates that either Bouie has actually not watched much of “The Daily Show” — by his own admission, he was finishing up high school in 2004 — or he either does not appreciate or understand Stewart’s brand of satire. Although Bouie didn’t think it was important to provide any actual examples from “The Daily Show” to support his case, I’ll point out some segments from Stewart’s show — out of scores that I could select — that demonstrate that Stewart’s show goes beyond just sneering cynicism.

Sure, Stewart spends a lot of time mocking public officials and cable news channels, since there is so much idiocy that’s worthy of mocking, but to say that is all “The Daily Show” is, is just as short-sighted as the legions of lawmakers and pundits Stewart has hacked up these last 17 years.

In this clip, Stewart takes Obama to task and makes the point that although the president’s campaign was a well-oiled machine, Obama couldn’t seem to bring that level of efficiency to solving real problems after he entered the White House, namely streamlining the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs:

Here is Stewart speaking candidly about the Eric Garner injustice, which belies Stewart’s supposed choking cynicism:

And then there’s this:

The above clips show Stewart at his most sharp, most critical and decidedly least anticynical.

Bouie concludes with this:

The natural response to all of this is a version of Stewart’s protest—He’s just a comedian—and a refrain from The Dark Knight: Why so serious? The answer is easy: He’s influential. And for a generation of young liberals, his chief influence has been to make outrage, cynicism, and condescension the language of the left. As a comedian and talk show host, Jon Stewart has been pretty funny. But as a pundit and player in our politics, he’s been a problem. And while I wish him luck in his next move, I’m glad he’s stepping from the stage.

How exactly has Stewart been a problem? We don’t really know since Bouie didn’t give us any concrete examples, other than to say the show is too harsh on government and expound on “The Daily Show’s” overt cynicism in somehow not engendering political discussion around the dinner table and in the op-ed pages. Would Bouie have felt better about the show if The Washington Post and The New York Times were buzzing every week with opinion pieces on Stewart’s latest shot across the bow? Probably not, but what “The Daily Show” has given us was an unrelenting and fearless critique of the people who are charged with leading this nation, both in theory and in practice, and commentary on the farce that is TV “journalism,” all by cutting through the dishonesty, disigenuity and obscurantism that is pervasive in both. And for these contributions alone Stewart, whenever he decides to vacate the chair, will leave an indelible gap in the national discourse, one that his successor will not easily fill.

Written by Jeremy

February 14th, 2015 at 5:44 pm

Is this story about a red light system or the Chicago Tribune?

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In the 2014 story, Tribune study: Chicago red light cameras provide few safety benefits, readers first hear about the Tribune’s “state-of-the-art” study — whatever that means — to examine the city’s red light system, and then the writers of the story insert “the Tribune” and the paper itself into the report so many times (“the Tribune” gets not less than 23 mentions) that one can easily forget what the story is actually supposed to be about. Not to mention it’s more than a little distracting.

This seems like a running theme with the Tribune. I’ve always thought that newspapers should not become part of the stories they cover. A newspaper’s job is to report information, and of course, tell readers about any interference public officials give about handing over public documents, but newspaper should not be so presumptuous as to think that the paper’s plight is more important than informing readers.

In any case, and despite all that hard-hitting journalism pitting the city of Chicago and the Tribune’s lion-hearted reporting staff, the Tribune still endorsed Rahm Emanuel for mayor. Go figure.

Written by Jeremy

February 7th, 2015 at 2:45 pm

Corruption central

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Gov. Chris Christie’s taste for extravagance seems only rivaled by his taste for corruption:

Letting the king pay for his three-day weekend in Jordan back in 2012 would not have been allowed if Mr. Christie were, say, president or a United States senator; it is illegal for federal employees to accept gifts of more than nominal value from agents of foreign governments. An executive order Mr. Christie signed in 2010 allows New Jersey governors to have travel and related expenses paid by foreign governments; it does not specifically address gifts such as the parties the king held for him, but the governor’s staff said it was covered under a provision that allowed gifts from personal friends.

Mr. Christie has described it as a matter of opportunity. “I relish these experiences and exposures, especially for my kids,” he told a reporter for The Times last summer. “I try to squeeze all the juice out of the orange that I can.”

Thank god he would not be allowed to carry on like this as president, but even if New Jersey law technically allows governors to accept trips from foreign administrations, shouldn’t an elected official with any ethical integrity whatsoever respectively have declined such displays of blatant lavishness, even as members of his own constituency grind away in poverty? Indeed, the more I read about Christie’s various activities, the sicker to my stomach I become.

I would like to say that Christie doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of coming within a sniff of the presidency, but he is one of the two remaining “establishment” Republicans at this point after Mitt Romney announced that he would not run.

Written by Jeremy

February 7th, 2015 at 12:41 pm

Politics of ‘radical Islam’

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Peter Beinhart, a contributing editor with The Atlantic, argues that while the United States is not at war with “radical Islam” anywhere and everywhere, as people like Ted Cruz and Lindsey Graham might have us believe, citing allies like the radically religious states of Saudi Arabia and Egypt, we do seem to be struggling with semantics in ways that Ronald Reagan in the Cold War did not. Some Republicans today, of course, just want to dispense with political correctness and simply declare that we are indeed in a spiritual battle, as Graham recently told Fox News:

We are in a religious war with radical Islamists. When I hear the President of the United States and his chief spokesperson failing to admit that we’re in a religious war, it really bothers me.

And as Cruz said during the Iowa Freedom Summit last month:

You cannot fight and win a war on radical Islamic terrorism if you’re unwilling to utter the words ‘radical Islamic terrorism.’

But on the other side of that point, neither should the U.S. be “ideologically agnostic,” as Beinhart points out:

American presidents should say they believe liberal democracy is morally superior to Islamic theocracy, just as it was preferable to fascism and communism. But that’s a far cry from declaring war on every regime based upon an -ism we don’t like. For much of the cold war, the United States battled the Soviet Union but not communist China. In the 1940s, the United States went to war against Germany, Italy and Japan but not fascist Spain. And today, the United States is at war with those “radical Muslim” organizations that actively seek to kill Americans while allying ourselves with other “radical Muslim” regimes that don’t. Why is that so hard for Ted Cruz to understand?

Either it really is that hard for Cruz to understand and he is intellectually ill-equipped to speak on any subject of consequence, much less to make a run for the presidency, or he is lazy and does not want to put in the effort to learn about nuances of present and past American foreign policy or he is willfully ignorant about the state of the world. Of course, the latter two options put him right at home with a significant portion, perhaps even a majority, of the voting demographic, so it’s no wonder that he still has a sizable influence and voice in American politics.

Written by Jeremy

February 7th, 2015 at 12:06 pm

What happened to Sarah Palin?

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I’m sure you are probably ready with the easy answer: Nothing has changed. She has been giving half-cocked, barely coherent speeches for years, and this year, just a few days removed from the grand oratorical opus she delivered at the 2015 Iowa Freedom Summit, she’s still offering up the same rambling diatribes — with or without a teleprompter, it makes little difference — consisting of a strange mix of middle-America colloquialisms and a tinge of bitterness that comes from losing badly in 2008 and being relegated to the hinterlands of reality television ever since.

But Matt Lewis with The Daily Beast has touched on something that I don’t think most people have pointed out, at least not recently. After 2008, Palin actually had a chance to dust herself off and hit the reset button on her political career. He lays out the scenario thusly:

In fairness, Palin was once a reform-minded governor who enjoyed an 88 percent approval rating. But something happened on the way to Des Moines. I suspect the most vicious attacks (especially the “Trig Truther” stuff) radicalized her and embittered her, but I also suspect she also took the easy way out. Instead of going back to Alaska after the 2008 defeat, boning up on the issues, continuing her work as governor, and forging a national political comeback, she cashed in with reality-TV shows and paid speaking gigs.

This isn’t an original or new observation, In fact, back in July 2009, I wrote: “The tragedy of Sarah Palin’s recent press conference announcing her resignation as governor of Alaska flows from the sense that so much potential has been wasted.”

The trouble with taking the easy way out is that it doesn’t last forever. The people who truly last in this business don’t rely on shortcuts or good looks or gimmicks; they survive on work ethic, wit, and intellect. (That’s why, no matter how grandiose he gets, Newt Gingrich will always have a gig. Newt will always be interesting, because he will always have something to say—something to contribute.)

This is why — and it seems many conservative writers are now ready to concede this point — that Palin never really had any staying power or substance in the first place, without laboriously going back to Alaska to study up, and when she is left to her devices, especially without the teleprompter, this is what we get in raw form, which is a shell of someone like Gingrich or John McCain, who are, however much I might disagree with them on specific points, at least capable of manufacturing interesting ideas independent of anyone else.

Written by Jeremy

January 28th, 2015 at 5:50 pm

Bobby Jindal’s abortive first ‘election’ appearance

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At the same time that a slew of potential Republican presidential candidates, none of whom will likely be in contention for the presidency, were courting far-right voters this past week at the Iowa Freedom Summit in Des Moines, Gov. Bobby Jindal was off crusading in Baton Rouge, La., at The Response prayer meeting held by the American Family Association, as he joined about 3,000 fellow evangelicals — and I don’t think this language is an exaggeration — “to save America, through prayer and fasting, from the threats of Sharia, homosexuality, pornography, and abortion.” Indeed, according to Slate’s report:

Materials promoting the event described natural disasters including Hurricane Katrina, as well as the national debt, as the just result of America’s sins, punishments akin to the biblical wave of locusts.

Despite claims to the contrary, and despite federal tax law stipulating that preachers and religious organizations can’t take political positions or endorse candidates lest they run the risk of losing their tax-exempt status (Section 501(c)(3) of the IRS tax code), The Response gathering contained numerous political elements:

Jindal and other speakers prayed for the different branches of government and for President Obama. Louisiana state Sen. Jonathan Perry called for more “born-again Christians” to be elected to political office. Another speaker said, “When our government sanctions [abortion], it brings reproach upon our land.” She insisted that “the right to abort will be overturned,” but in the meantime, the “payment for bloodshed is blood.” Pastor Bob Phillips announced that a group of pastors was “rising up” against “America’s pestilence” and fighting against people who wanted to “silence the voice of those who would make biblical application” to politics. He said that pastors were ignoring requirements of their churches’ tax-exempt status that they not make political speeches from the pulpit, and they were sending the IRS videos of themselves endorsing political candidates in their sermons.

The event was so political that the Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops, despite participating in a pro-life march nearby, declined to take part. Rob Tasman, the LCCB director, said, “The event was viewed more as an evangelical event with a political tone to it, and the bishops don’t participate in such events.”

Kudos to the bishops. Needless to say, the nation apparently didn’t miss much, as a significant amount of attendees had already cleared out by the time Jindal got up to talk about his religious conversion:

The Response kept reminding me of high school. Jindal’s story of his conversion was couched entirely in his high school experience, including a pivotal moment in which he talks with a “pretty girl,” whom he had a crush on, about her dream of becoming a Supreme Court justice and overturning Roe v. Wade. Everything was superficial and black and white, in the way adolescents see the world. Jindal didn’t want to look deeper than this: “In the end, our God wins.”

Jindal might have been better served, politically, by casting lots with the sea of crazies up the road in Des Moines. At least then he couldn’t be accused of trying to conflate politics and religion. As a Slate commentator named Stafford opined:

Wasn’t Jindal the one who, only a few years back, called on the GOP to stop being so stupid? He should have stuck with that.

Written by Jeremy

January 28th, 2015 at 5:45 pm

That about covers it

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Richard Haynes, with Brother Richard’s Life Without Faith blog, has called the likes of MSNBC, Sky News and CNN “cowards” and “hypocrites” for failing to have the balls to show the Charlie Hebdo cartoons.

That about sums it up.

As you can see from the video below, even as the woman is railing against the media’s decision not to show the images they say we should be offended by, Sky News’ cameraman angles the screen away from the main part of the magazine cover, and the segment is then interrupted by the anchorwoman, who apologizes to anyone who may have been offended, thus proving the woman’s point:

Perhaps the levels of disgrace approached these heights back during the Danish cartoon controversy from 2005, but the media’s response to the Charlie Hebdo cartoons, namely that of MSNBC, NPR, the New York Times and CNN, all of whom have refused to show even the most recent, less controversial cover of Muhammad shedding a tear, has been nothing short of pathetic.

To those outlets, Joe Concha has this unapologetic message:

You just rewarded the objective of terrorists everywhere: Intimidation wins, Sharia Law rules, First Amendment loses, expression is silenced.

Charlie Hebdo

Red-blue state divide

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This piece by Richard Florida explains a lot about the current blue- and red-state divide in America. In general, blue state economies in the Northeast and on the West Coast offer more technology, engineering, cutting-edge jobs at the forefront of innovation and finance at the expense of a more expensive standard of living and more costly housing, while the South and parts of the Midwest and Southwest, predominantly churn out more jobs in energy, production and agriculture with more affordable housing and standards of living. That said, economic inequality, surprisingly enough, has grown the most during the last three decades in predominantly blue states like Connecticut, New York, Massachusetts and California.

As Florida points out, while metro areas like San Francisco and New York:

are booming … they are hampered by potholes and crumbling infrastructure, troubled public school systems, growing inequality and housing unaffordability, and entrenched poor populations, all of which mean higher public costs and higher tax burdens.

And yet for all that, they are pioneering the new economic order that will determine our future — one that turns on innovation and knowledge rather than the raw production of goods.

Despite their longstanding divisions, red state and blue state economies depend crucially on one another. Just as Alexander Hamilton’s merchant cities ate and exported the harvests of Thomas Jefferson’s yeomen farmers, and New England textile mills wove slave-harvested cotton, blue state knowledge economies run on red state energy. Red state energy economies in their turn depend on dense coastal cities and metro areas, not just as markets and sources of migrants, but for the technology and talent they supply.

Of course, while Massachusetts and Mississippi represent the extremes of America’s politico-economic divide, there are many red states like Utah, Arizona and Texas that are growing their tech and knowledge economies, and a number of historically blue states like Pennsylvania that have benefited from the fracking boom. But in our increasingly competitive global economy, long-term prosperity turns on knowledge, education and innovation. The idea that the red states can enjoy the benefits provided by the blue states without helping to pay for them (and while poaching their industries with the promise of low taxes and regulations) is as irresponsible and destructive of our national future as it is hypocritical.

But that is exactly the mantra of the growing ranks of red state politicos. Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, a likely 2016 G.O.P. presidential candidate, has taken to bragging that his state’s low-frills development strategy provides a model for the nation as a whole. But fracking and sprawling your way to growth aren’t a sustainable national economic strategy.

The Republican strategy is one that has, so far, worked to persuade conservative voters who are unable or unwilling to see the big picture, and the big picture is that while an economy that is focused on agriculture, production and labor-intensive industries may be able to foster a cheaper standard of living in the short term, it is not sustainable as a long-term model to lead American into 2016 and beyond. And this is Florida’s central point. The basic conservative model has subsisted in conservative American politics for centuries going back to Jefferson’s yeoman farmer. The conservative vision for this nation has, historically, been far too shortsighted and dare I say, naive to do America’s economy any favors, although it’s this willful naivety that has handed the conservative party many a victory through the years, and more times than not at the expense, ironically, of the very people who support it.

The allure of cheap growth has handed the red states a distinct political advantage. Their economic system may be outmoded and obsolete, but it is strong enough to blight the future. The Democrats may be able to draw on the country’s growing demographic diversity and the liberal leanings of younger voters to win the presidency from time to time, but the real power dynamic is red.

As long as the highly gerrymandered red states can keep on delivering the economic goods to their voters, concerted federal action on transportation, infrastructure, sustainability, education, a rational immigration policy and a strengthened social safety net will remain out of reach. These are investments that the future prosperity of the nation, in red states and blue states alike, requires.

Heightened partisan rancor is the least of our problems. The red state-blue state divide threatens to kill the real American dream.

Written by Jeremy

January 9th, 2015 at 5:50 pm

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