Saturday, April 27, 2013

Real Time With Bill Maher: Counterpoints (4/26/13)

This has gotta be short and sweet, as I've got some stuff to take care of this weekend. We had a good show and some good talking points. Let's hash them out.

Bill Maher 1: Isn't the fertilizer plant explosion in Texas just a wake up call to all these crazy deregulation nuts?

This is one of the perennially sore topics for libertarians. A terrible tragedy happens somewhere. The postmortem reveals that something went wrong and that the government should have investigated the issue beforehand. Cue the calls from the progressive peanut gallery for more regulation.

There are multiple problem with defending the status quo. Counterfactuals are always hard to prove: is there evidence that an investigation prior to the event would have prevented it? Opportunity costs are almost never considered: what does it cost the economy and the business to have tighter regulation/more government oversight? The emotional overrides the logical: how dare you try and trivialize the matter when the sky fell on these poor souls!

This is genuinely an ideological argument. It's next to impossible to prove the counterfactual, and the argument is never convincing unless the other party is already sympathetic to your camp. All I will say is that in the aftermath of the financial crisis, everybody supported tighter regulation on the banks. What nobody ever mentions is that there are teams of government auditors who are permanently stationed at our largest financial institutions and none of them were able to prevent the financial crisis. Giving them the power to do so effectively erodes the concept of property rights, and that is what we must keep in mind when we discuss further regulation in any matter.

Bill Maher 2: Why do chemical weapons matter? More people have died in conventional warfare but as soon as these WMDs come into play we're supposed to give a shit?

John Avlon had a very good rebuttal. The reason why conventional warfare kills more people is because we accept conventional warfare as an acceptable means to kill people. The minute we accept WMDs as an acceptable means to kill people, we will see casualties mount up at a frightening clip. It took a fleet of bombers to firebomb Dresden, but only two bombers to wipe out Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Using chemical weapons on your own countrymen should be a red flag to anybody in the mythical international community. It is up to the powers that be (the countries with expeditionary capability)  to see that such murderous regimes are proscribed and eliminated without delay. Sending a signal that these weapons are acceptable for use will only make future casualties more numerous and horrific.

Robert Traynham: We need to see the more aggressive Obama more often. When he gave that Rose Garden speech on gun control, he was visibly angry and it was effective. He needs to do that for sequestration, immigration, and other important topics.

Wrong. This is the problem with pundits in the media. Fiery speeches rile the base but backroom dealings get things done. President Obama has nothing to show for his stern lecturing on gun control in the Rose Garden. And it's doubtful that impassioned or angry pleas for change and reform will make any progress on such contentious issues such as immigration or spending.

Speeches are for actual campaign season to fire up your supporters and getting them to the ballot box. Once the election dust settles, you need to start mending fences and normalizing relationships across the aisle in order to get the business of the Federal government done.

Anna Deavere Smith and the rest of the panel: We need to have a serious discussion as to whether our civil liberties are being eroded in favor of a police state.

This point isn't going to be countered. I just want to reveal my own thoughts on the issue.

Your position on "stop and frisk" can reveal who you are very quickly. Those who see no problem with it are mostly white and middle class or higher (who are, statistically, the least likely to be stopped and frisked) and a small subset of poor, law abiding minorities trapped in bad neighborhoods. Those who have a problem with it are a more diverse set. One group opposes it on principle: it's an infringement of our civil rights to be searched on a flimsy basis of "reasonable suspicion". Another group resents it very much, because those who are stopped and frisked are most likely going to be black or brown skinned, which feeds racial emotions.

Both groups have reasonable arguments. And it reveals your priorities. There is a good deal of evidence that stop and frisk does discourage criminals from loitering and carrying contraband on the street. The real issue is how you view the false positives (those deemed worthy to be stopped and frisked and turned out to be harmless). Is it a price we pay for safer streets or an unacceptable breach of freedom?

Life is full of tradeoffs. Unlike the dreams of many upper middle class white women, you simply cannot have it all. And the security-freedom argument is arguably the most important debate to have when it comes to defining the relationship between citizens and the state.

At a state and local level, I am adamantly against such policies. Nationwide, we have seen precipitous declines in violent crimes and homicide without any major national policing initiative to take credit for it.While crime will always exist and certain areas will be more dangerous than others, the aggressive/active strategy of policing probably is only marginally more effective than simply having a decent, passive police presence.

At a national level, I am less sure of what the proper role of government is. I have almost no qualms about the aggressive use of American power abroad to police and monitor those who wish to incite terror or fear in the US, but when they actually come to our country, I am less sure of what the proper limits of policing are.

In this manner, I am probably like the rest of the panel. There should be a discussion on the security/freedom tradeoff. But, also like the rest of the panel, I have no concrete answer for policy at the Federal level.

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