Bill Maher Confuses Religion and Politics

Bill MaherRemember the good old days when Bill Maher would caution his audience, “It’s not a political rally”? To some extent, it was always disingenuous. But when it comes to the issue of Islam and what it is and is not, Maher has really lost his way. What I see in him is something I’ve seen in many people. He has a cocky self-assuredness that screams, “I know that you all think I’m a bigot, but I know the truth.” And I’m well aware that I’m tilting at windmills with Maher, but I have to try. He’s a bigot, but a smart one. And one day I hope he will see the light.

On his show this last week, he started out lambasting Christian conservatives for failing to see that they have lost the marriage equality war. But he spends surprisingly little time on that issue. He quickly moves to his real issue, which is that Muslims are so much worse than Christians. And how does he know? Well, he refers to a recent article in The Washington Post, Here Are the 10 Countries Where Homosexuality May Be Punished by Death. You see: all our Christians want to do is refuse wedding cake to homosexuals whereas their Muslims want to kill them.

If Maher had read the article, he might have noticed that it starts by discussing Uganda — a Christian country where homosexuality can get you life in prison and many have been pushing for the death penalty. And Uganda’s hard-line stance on homosexuality has been a cause célèbre among American conservative Christians for years. The only country in the Americas where homosexual acts are illegal is a Christian country, Guyana. The biggest Muslim country in the world, Indonesia, has no laws about homosexuality at all. In fact, if you look at the handy map in the article, what you will see is that the criminalization of homosexuality seems to be a regional disease, not a religious one.

Matthew ShepardAccording to Maher, conservative Christians in the United States are “moderate” because Christianity is somehow less vile a religion than Islam. If given the opportunity, these Christians would be pushing for laws making homosexuality illegal. How do we know? Well, there are still sodomy laws on the books all over the nation — residuals of what these people really think. And there are still horrific crimes committed against LGBT people. Consider Matthew Shepard as just one of countless terrifying examples.

Bill Maher certainly understands that correlation does not imply causation — at least when it comes to things like the economy. But when it comes to Islam, he is shockingly clueless. There are all kinds of Muslim countries that don’t allow their extremists to rule. But the fact that America supposedly doesn’t do something proves something that proves, “Islam baaad!” In Ireland, a woman died because of their medieval abortion laws, which are based on the country being Catholic. Why doesn’t that make Christianity just as bad as Islam?

Here in the United States, the fundamentalist Christians do not have the power to enact laws to “kill the gays.” But they do have the power to enact laws limiting the right to vote. They do have the power to limit access to healthcare. They do have the power to limit aid to the poor while giving the rich tax cuts. All of these have the ultimate effect that those in the top half of the income distribution in the United States live five years longer than those in the bottom half of the income distribution. That includes a whole lot of LGBT people.

I’m not a fan of the Muslim religion. I generally lump it in with the other Abrahamic religions, which are mostly pretty vile. But this fixation on tragedies that happening “over there” while patting ourselves on the back is just the modern form of nationalism. And attributing those problems to a particular religion is not just bigoted; it is ignorant. There are liberal approaches to deal with illiberal behavior. Blaming it all on religion is itself illiberal and, more important, ineffective.

Cops Lie and Are Believed Without Video

Matt TaibbiFormer North Charleston police officer Michael Slager has already been fired and charged for the murder of Walter Scott. Still, one has to wonder: “Would this guy have gotten away with this without the video?”

Nonwhite America has watched police lie compulsively about incidents like this for as long as there have been police. You can open the law books and find cases like the Scott murder in almost any state of the union, in almost every year, going back decades and decades.

The only difference is that in the past, before everyone above the age of two had a cell phone, the insultingly lame explanations of the police (“The gun just went off”; “The suspect suddenly took a swing at me”) were almost always swallowed whole, by juries and the media alike.

—Matt Taibbi
Are Cell Phones Changing the Narrative on Police Shootings?

Why Libertarianism Is a Moving Target

Elizabeth Stoker BruenigI understand why libertarians get upset when people attack them. When I was one, I was something of a singularity. For example, although I know of libertarians who support labor unions, in all my time as an active libertarian, I never met a fellow traveler who agreed with my position. So usually, when I argued with people about libertarianism, I would agree with their criticisms — but it didn’t reflect on the libertarianism that I practiced. Of course, I was being silly. I didn’t define libertarianism. I called myself a libertarian, but really I was just a political eccentric with libertarian tendencies.

Matt Bruenig wrote about this recently, #NotAllLibertarians: an Illustration. It’s about how it is pretty much impossible to argue with libertarians because they always comes back with, “But that’s not what libertarianism is.” It is in reference to an article by Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig, Porn Star Belle Knox Doesn’t Know What Libertarianism Is. Neither Do Libertarians. It is based on a Pew poll that I had wanted to write about, In Search of Libertarians. Because what it shows is that people who call themselves libertarians are not what I would ever have called libertarian.

Let’s just start with the fact that twice as many Republicans call themselves libertarians as Democrats. The first thing that I noticed when I started going to libertarian meetings was that almost everyone was a disaffected Republican. One of the big topics of conversation was what Rush Limbaugh had been talking about on the radio that week. At best, these were people who fully embraced economic conservatism and held their nose about social liberalism — the two pillars of what libertarianism is supposed to be. And indeed, the Pew poll bears this out. On most social issues, libertarians are distinctly more conservative than liberals.

Let’s take another issue that isn’t discussed in the poll. Libertarians, almost to a person, believe that local control is better than federal control. Yet it is almost always state and local governments who infringe on the rights of individuals. This is why libertarianism is so associated with racism and the neo-confederacy. A sizable portion of libertarians just want to be “free” to discriminate. Rand Paul might say that he would never discriminate against African Americans, but the fact that he thinks people ought to be able to do it is a big part of his appeal.

On foreign affairs, libertarians are more bellicose than the country as a whole. About the only place where libertarians deviate from the Republican script is that they are slightly more in favor of legalizing cannabis. But I don’t think that means anything. A lot of young people consider themselves “libertarian” for the single reason that candidates like Rand Paul are for legalization. And again, that isn’t even a libertarian position. Saying that people ought to be able to do drugs that the government thinks aren’t harmful is what we have now. The argument is simply about which drugs should fall in that category.

The Early Ayn RandI understand why more serious libertarians would bristle when we point out that most libertarians are nothing more than Republicans who are slightly less hostile to the LGBT community and slightly more in favor of cannabis legalization. The problem comes in with a general belief among serious libertarians that if only people knew what libertarianism was, they would sign up. And certainly, the Libertarian Party was attending Tea Party meetings and talking up the rise in “libertarianism” in the country. Well, they can’t have it both ways. Either roughly 10% of the country is libertarian, and by that definition, libertarianism is just a minor variation on the Republican Party; or almost no one in the country is libertarian, and it actually means what these defenders of libertarianism claim it means.

Of course, even among the more serious libertarians, there is fierce disagreement about what a libertarian is. Anti-Libertarian Criticism provides a Critical Map of the American Libertarian Movement, in which they list eight different kinds of libertarianism. But ultimately, libertarianism is a utopian philosophy. And it ought to be dealt with on that level. The question is simply if the world would be a better place if we moved in that direction. And we’ve seen over the last forty years that the answer to that is a resounding no.

But this is all part of the same thing. The truth is that libertarianism is not a serious philosophy. Although proponents claim that they come to it from first principles, they actually come to it because it gives them something: tax cuts, legal drugs, “states’ rights,” whatever. And as I’ve noted, proponents always start by arguing from a practical standpoint. When they find those arguments untenable, they change to theoretical arguments. But ultimately, there is really nothing supporting libertarianism. So it isn’t at all surprising that libertarians constantly change their arguments. Because the real arguments are much like the essays in The Early Ayn Rand.

Megan McArdle’s Social Security Double Bind

Megan McArdleDean Baker has been having an ongoing argument with libertarian columnist Megan McArdle for the last week. It’s always interesting to listen to libertarians make their arguments, because they are so certain that they are all evidence based. But in fact, libertarians are the most ideologically constrained thinkers around. I’ve written a lot around here about how libertarians start with practical arguments like, “The minimum wage kills jobs.” But when those arguments fall apart, the libertarians retreat to theoretical arguments, “People should be able to enter into any contracts they want.” That’s because all they had to start with was their ideology. And as Baker has noted again and again, McArdle makes a lot of different arguments against Social Security, but all she really means is that that she hates the program.

Baker caught her most recently using one of the classic disingenuous arguments against Social Security. You see, people arguing against the program want to have it both ways. On the one hand, they argue that the there is no way to separate taxes for Social Security and the general fund. Thus, the idea that Social Security has a huge trust fund is meaningless. Then, on the other hand, they argue that if Social Security spends more than is brought in with payroll taxes, it is bankrupt because it can’t take money from the general fund.

Dean BakerSo Social Security is damned either way. When it is bad for the program to be just another part of the general fund, it is just part of the general fund. When it is bad for it to be a separate program, it is not part of the general fund. And these claims are not always made at different times. They are made inside the very same arguments. In McArdle’s article on Friday, she uses this trick. Basically, she argues that we can’t increase Social Security payments because we don’t have the money — as though we don’t have the trust fund. But at the same time, the money can’t be taken from the general fund.

I discussed the basic issue before, Reagan’s Legacy: Tax Cuts for Rich, Tax Hikes for the Rest. Those big tax hikes on the non-rich were intended to create a huge trust fund — to tax more for Social Security than was being spent at that time. But people like McArdle want to brush that all aside and claim that the government just spent that extra money and it is gone. This was part of Baker’s longer argument with her.

It is true that the federal government has borrowed from the Social Security trust fund. But it is never clear why people like McArdle think this is different from the federal government borrowing from bond holders. In her most recent article, she argues that this is because the bond holders exist outside the government, but the government could just end the Social Security program and pocket the cash. That strikes me as disingenuous because the government could also decide to default on its debts. Governments have done that before. Of course, the government is not going to eliminate the Social Security program, although people like McArdle want to do just that.

It would be a whole lot better Megan McArdle would just admit that she doesn’t like Social Security. It goes against her ideology. It just wastes everyone’s time to write endless articles about accounting and how it all proves that retired Americans are just living too high.

See Also

Megan McArdle Ridiculous Anti-Filibuster-Reform Argument
Megan McArdle Humiliates Eric Alterman
Mitch McConnell’s Cunning Plan

Morning Music: Wild Cherry

Wild CherryWhen I was 12 years old, Wild Cherry had a huge hit with “Play That Funky Music.” Like a lot of people, I did not think that they were saying “funky” — and that was doubtless part of the song’s appeal: the secret feeling that something not entirely reputable was going on. That isn’t to say that it isn’t a great song. It is, in fact, about as funky a song as there is. And I was surprised to learn that it was, in fact, a bunch of white boys playing such a funky song.

Wild Cherry is considered a “one hit wonder.” But I think that term should be reserved for bands that really only had one song to offer. Wild Cherry was a great band that put out four solid albums. What they lacked during the four years following “Play That Funky Music” was another strong single. I am surprised that the band didn’t do better on the R&B charts; they produced a lot of great music. But this is all they will be remembered for, although it is more than enough:

Anniversary Post: Eugene V Debs’s Prison Stay

Eugene DebsOn this day in 1919, Eugene V Debs started his ten year prison sentence for the crime of encouraging people to resist the draft for that great moral cause World War I. He would eventually spend just short of five years. He was prosecuted under the Espionage Act of 1917. You might be aware of that law because it was basically never used until that great civil libertarian Barack Obama became president. Obama really is a great example of why the Democratic Party is nothing more than “not quite as bad as the Republican Party.”

Debs was 63 years old when he was sent off to jail. If he had served out his entire term, he would have died in jail. His case is an excellent reminder that there really isn’t that much difference between the United States and other countries. I remember as a kid hearing all the horror stories about life in the Soviet Union. But for most people, it really wasn’t any different — except that the United States was a richer country.

I remember during the Reagan administration, a young girl being praised for turning in her parents to the authorities. It seems that her parents were cocaine dealers. That was the kind of thing I had been told about the Soviet Union: kids turned in their parents for political crimes. What I didn’t realize until I heard the story of the little girl was that countries never call their own crimes “political.” They call them crimes against society — like the terrible crime of selling cocaine to willing buyers.

They say that the truth is the first casualty of war. But Debs wasn’t first imprisoned during war. He was imprisoned for labor organizing. He was imprisoned for standing up to the powerful. And the powerful act the same way wherever you go. America isn’t exceptional in that way. In the control that the rich have over our government, we are pathetically typical.

We mark this one of millions of injustices that the United States government has committed against its people.