Saturday, July 27, 2013

Real Time With Bill Maher: Counterpoints and Retrospective (7/26/13)

Tonight we had a great show with good panelists. Although the mid-show guest slowed it down a little, tonight was one of the better episodes. A lot of things were discussed, so it's time to get right to it:

Sarah Slamen: Conservative Republicans in Texas don't seem to be very pro-life when it comes to their stance on the death penalty. They're waging a war on women and only care about babies when they're in the womb. If they cared about kids growing up, there wouldn't be over 13,000 kids under state foster care.

Slamen recycled one well worn liberal/progressive trope regarding abortion rights and capital punishment. But it's one of those lines that can only be used to pump up your base. Obviously there is a huge difference between a baby in a uterus, which has done nothing of its own free will, and a convicted felon who did something so heinous that a prosecutor has seen fit to punish with execution. She knew she was speaking in front of a friendly crowd, which is why she got away with it. But you can't conflate the two issues together.

The point about kids growing up in foster care is much murkier. I'm not sure how she crafted that argument. Is she suggesting that most wards of the state are the children of pro-life Texas conservatives who abandoned them? Or the fact that 13,000 kids in foster care is a travesty in and of itself? I'm not sure. If it's the former, it's completely spurious. If it's the latter, it's just a confusing argument with no real rebuttal because there's no real argument, just confidently delivered word diarrhea.

My overall impression of Slamen is that she is trying her hardest to enjoy her 15 minutes of fame. Obviously when you testify in front of a government body, you are supposed to do so in a composed, courteous way. Her outburst was undignified and can only appeal to people who already agree with her point of view. She was just making a scene.

Bill Maher 1: It baffles me how inconsistent talking heads are when it comes to publicly shaming politicians who like to cheat on their spouses.


Eliot Spitzer: The Republicans don't know what they're talking about when it comes to the stimulus bill. Obama brought us out of the recession with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

This couldn't be further from the truth. The vast majority of stimulus money was spent in the latter half of 2009 and 2010. The market bottomed in March and then began a rapid recovery as firms were propped up by TARP (a stabilization program begun under the Bush Administration and then Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson) and, more importantly, by the extraordinary actions of the Federal Reserve, which pumped trillions of dollars of easy money into the banks at the time.

While it is impossible to know how important the stimulus was to the economic recovery, one thing we do know is that the economic recovery we've experience has been the slowest in American economic history. A lot of this has to do with forces outside of the Federal government's control. Things like globalization, the profligate spending of the average American, and municipal governments who couldn't care less about providing fundamental public goods at a reasonable cost conspired decades before and when the latest boom/bust cycle happened, it finally revealed the fundamental flaws in the American balance sheet.

Politicians and the pundits who support them need to stop kidding themselves when they state that the US government bailed us out of some new Great Depression. All they did was ameliorate the effects at great financial cost that must be borne by future generations.

Reza Aslan 1: The laws of this country are geared towards keeping the rich rich and keeping the poor poor. Only accredited investors benefit from the Federal statutory and regulatory codes when it comes to finance.

While it is true that accredited investors have more choices when it comes to investing (only accredited investors can invest in hedge funds, for example), those extra choices carry a lot more risk. It is extraordinarily easy to become rich the boring way: investing in stocks. Given the fact that most Americans have shown zero propensity to save and invest their wage income, assets are trading at a structural deficit. Those who do show the patience and discipline to set aside a portion of their wages to invest will reap the rewards.

The fact of the matter is that the vast majority of the American public has no interest in investing. That's why the recovery has really been a recovery of the rich. Because the rich are the only people with any real wealth to recover.

Jim Wallis: Words about the Bible, Jesus, and immigration.

Maher always treats his religious guests with a generous heaping of condescension, but Wallis' halting, slow speech does not translate well to a rather fast paced debate panel. Even though it annoys me when Maher expects a direct answer from the first answer and cuts people off when they try to answer in a roundabout (and sometimes evasive) manner, at this point it needs to be expected. Be direct, concise, and don't take 20 words to say something that could have been said with 5.

Bill Maher 2: I tell my religious friends this all the time: if there's even one turd in the pool, do you jump in?

Life is messy and nothing is perfect. It is unrealistic to expect religion to be any different. Reza Aslan made a very good point when he said that the Bible isn't about the words within it, it's about the people interpreting it. It really is a mirror reflecting the values and beliefs of the person who reads it at the time. Maher reads it to find contradictory/embarrassing stuff to throw at religious people's faces. Conservatives read it to find support for their beliefs, as do many liberals. Abolitionists read it and so did slave owners.

People, naturally are going to gravitate towards the data that supports their predefined belief system. It is only when their personal experiences disabuse them of their preconceived notions repeatedly and in a substantive way do they have a change of heart. Even self described literalists, as Aslan stated, aren't actually literalists.

Reza Aslan 2: I've been in this country a long time. Had to pretend to be Mexican because being an Iranian in the 80s was even worse, if you can believe it. And I was an illegal immigrant for 10 years. From my personal experience, I can tell you that the reason why immigration is so prohibitive in this country is because of racism.

Racism isn't the right word for this. It's actually xenophobia. Jim Wallis actually had a point when he was talking about immigration. It's about fear of the foreigner. Humans have a natural tribal tendency. There's a reason why international trade deficits can be used to demagogue an issue but nobody worries about the trade between California and Nevada.

My own personal experience is that people are distrusting of people who are not similar to them. People are always going to be suspicious of people who are different from them. The most obvious difference is in physical appearance (skin color). But when we get to know people a bit more, we slowly learn that we are not so much different from one another. I've had many friends and colleagues say to me, after they've known me for a while, that I'm more American than they are. The implicit statement was that before, they saw me as some perpetual foreigner because I'm ethnically Chinese.

When it comes to immigration, many people are close minded about it because they have an idea in their head that immigrants are foreigners. And you know what? We're not too crazy about foreigners. I'd rather be in contact with Americans. When communities and people have more exposure with immigrants, they usually turn around but only towards those specific immigrants. Sure, Jay Sun is an example of an immigrant coming to America who rapidly Americanizes and becomes a successful person, but not all immigrants are like him. When people who are against immigration reform think about the immigrants who want to come in, they immediately default to some unlikable stereotype, probably of a dirty, smelly, uneducated Mexican male who wants to commit crime.

That stereotype is something rooted in racial prejudice, but that doesn't mean that the person who believes in that stereotype can't view a Mexican in a positive light. They'll simply say "oh, that guy's the exception that proves the rule." This is why so many Americans can have strong racial prejudice and still say with absolute conviction that they're not racists/bigots. Because they can judge individuals after they get to know them, but the group that those individuals happen to be classified under don't get the benefit of the doubt.

It's not racism. It's tribalism.

1 comment:

  1. if there's even one turd in the pool, do you jump in?

    That depends on how many turds there are in the other possible directions.