Saturday, May 11, 2013

Real Time With Bill Maher: Counterpoints (5/10/13)

 Excellent show tonight. Let's go beyond the talking points and deconstruct some arguments.

Mark Bittman 1 (on Bloomberg's > 16oz soda ban): It's not nanny state hijinks. You have to start somewhere.

You have to start somewhere is the justification we tell ourselves when we're looking for something so much more than what we have. Unfortunately, once things get on the government books, it takes a Herculean effort to get them off, which is why we have websites like Dumb Laws. Bloomberg believes in the power of government curtailing individual agency if it doesn't fit his vision of how society should conduct itself. If he could appoint himself dictator of New York, he would. But he has elections and other ambitions to consider, so all he can get away with is this incredibly stupid soda container ban.

Mark Bittman 2 (on Bloomberg's > 16oz soda ban): Many theaters don't even carry sodas smaller than 32 ounces so the ban is actually giving consumers more choices.

The mental gymnastics needed to square away this bit is impressive. Taking away a choice can lead to more choices (if mandated by the government), but the city isn't mandating more choices. It's eliminating a choice. And that doesn't mean consumers are getting more choices. They certainly aren't getting better choices.

Bill Maher 1: I'm bored talking about this non-controversy about Libya. 

The one infuriating aspect of Maher (and many progressives in general) is that they are convinced that their arguments are perfect and the only rational way of looking at things. When two panelists challenged him on the Libya testimony, he just changed the subject.

Maher is correct in the sense that there was no crime committed by the government. But the problem the panelists were trying to point out is that the credibility of the US government is being sacrificed on the altar of politics. The testimony of Greg Hicks coincides with a formal admission by the IRS that some "low level" workers had targeted tea party organizations for review of their tax-exempt status.

In all likelihood, these incidents were probably just low to mid level bureaucrats trying to curry favor upstairs (not at the top, just to the next layer of authority) by being idiots. Unfortunately, wars  have been started by an inability of leadership to keep their unruly troops in line. And this is a similar situation. The more incidents that come out that cast suspicion on the ability of the Federal government to operate without partisanship, it loses more and more legitimacy.

Bill Maher 2: Islam is a religion of oppression and war. And when these US backed dictators fall, we see the proles being proles (and instituting oppressive oligarchical theocracies). Not all religions are the same. And at least the religion in the US is much more benevolent.

People are people. I'm glad Greenwald called him out on this because people are capable of doing terrible, awful things. And the US has its fair share of military adventurism, and has constantly involved itself in the affairs of the Middle East since the end of WWII. While I don't think we have the most culpability when it comes to assigning blame for the instability of the region, it's still impossible to rule out US policy as a significant factor.

Bill Maher 3: 3D printing of guns is a terrible, terrible thing.

There are definitely concerns to be made about guns that could potentially be smuggled through secure checkpoints. But, to be perfectly honest, a very tiny minority of people would actually try to stir something up with these weapons. Modern government authority is capable of suppressing and recovering from these isolated, individual threats, and we should just let it lie.

In all honesty, these guns are much less durable and effective compared to a real, mass manufactured firearm. You can get ceramic knives that can easily pass a metal detector. And if the name of the game is assassination, it doesn't take much to kill any single individual if the perpetrator doesn't care about their own well being. Sometimes we simply have to accept the fact that there is no such thing as complete security from any and all threats.

Bill Maher 4: I thought the problem of sexual assault in the military was getting better. But reported incidents have gone up significantly since we first started addressing the issue.

This is a classic logical fallacy. An increase in the number of reported cases of sexual assault does not necessarily mean that the military has a worse problem than before. The vast majority of sexual assault (whether in the military or in civilian life) goes unreported. A marked increase in reports in a short period of time means that authorities are doing a better job of creating an environment where women are more comfortable with coming forward with accusations. That's obviously better than an environment where rapes go unreported for fears of stigmatization and career suicide.

Bill Maher 5: Wealth inequality is out of control. The wealthy should want to have their wealth redistributed, because it beats having the mob go populist on you.

There was some wealthy dude in the 60s who, when asked about his support for the obscenely high tax rates on the wealthy, remarked that he'd rather have half of his money than none of it. This is the type of thinking that people like Maher can get behind.

And why wouldn't he? He's rich because he had some success as a standup comedian and news show host. It's not much to hang your hat on. And when wealthy people feel guilty about their wealth, they are more comfortable with having some of it taken away if it means they can still be wealthy.

Wealth inequality is a huge issue. But this issue is not going to go away by government facilitated redistribution of wealth. It is an issue of education and the denial of base instinct. The fact of the matter is that wealth is simply unspent money. There will always be huge gaps in wealth if we keep treating the symptom and not the underlying cause.

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