Sunday, March 2, 2014

SB 1062 and The Human Nature of Hate

I've tried to let the veto of SB 1062 percolate in my mind for a bit and settle on its meaning.  Some, like Brian Beutler, have argued that the veto of SB 1062 has ended the use of "religious freedom" as a pretext for anti-gay discrimination.  I think the veto is even more significant than that, as it assures the end to formal anti-gay discrimination in the US.  To see why, it is important to place the veto not in the context of politics, but in the context of our conflicted human nature.

Human beings are of two natures with respect to tolerance and prejudice.  On the one hand tribalism, prejudice and fear of "the other" seems to be endemic to all humanity.  I am not aware of a single culture or context in the world where such ugliness does not appear.  Americans are no exception, and the struggles to liberate ourselves from prejudice and bigotry are part of our national identity.

And though hatred, tribalism and prejudice seem baked into our DNA as people, humans still feel a discomfort with hateful feelings.  Even to the bigots, hateful feelings are like dirty thoughts and acts, vulgar things which must be made respectable and sterile to be discussed in public.  All hate craves respectability.  Whether it is in pseudoscience, religious doctrine or arguments that an unjust system actually benefits the oppressed, all hate craves respectability.  It is only by a psychological and moral alchemy that turns the vulgar and distasteful into something that can be written in newspapers and discussed among polite company that prejudice and hate can survive.

Consider two examples from recent American History.  The great cultural victory of the Civil Rights movement was making segregation known to all Americans to be the ugly and oppressive system that it was.  Segregation could not maintain its respectable and genteel facade after the nation was exposed to the juxtaposed images of dignified peaceful protesters and police officers with hoses and dogs.  Denuded of its respectability, the demise of formal segregation was assured.  Similarly, after World War II, antisemitism in the US did not suddenly vanish.  There was no sudden change of heart among the American establishment or rush to embrace religious pluralism.  The Nazis robbed antisemitism of any respectability it might have had and thus starved antisemitism of the essential oxygen it needed to perpetuate itself in the way it had prior to World War II.

And so it is with anti-gay hatred.  Those that are bigoted seek to make their hate respectable by codifying it in law and justifying it with religion.  The true victory of the veto of SB 1062 is that it denied anti-gay forces the refuge of respectability that the law and religion can provide.  Without the color of law or the the ability to claim religious justification for biased policies anti-gay forces must either accept the vulgar nature of what they are proposing, or surrender it to remain a part of respectable society.

If American history is a guide, prejudice goes underground before it is eliminated.  There will be no quick fix for anti-gay prejudice and the end of formal discrimination will be far from the end of the battle.  However, it is the first step, and the veto of SB 1062 signals the beginning of the end of the first stage of the battle.

You can follow me on Twitter @ira_steinberg.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Finally, Something Sen. Cruz and I Agree On

We are approaching two years since Sen. Ted Cruz and I have finally found something he and I can agree on.  No, it's not that the UN is involved in a sinister plot to rid the US of guns and golf courses, but that the vote to increase the debt limit should require 60 votes.

I don't agree with him on this because I am against raising the debt ceiling.  Quite to the contrary, I would prefer to just eliminate it, and in the absence of that I support President Obama's position that there can be no negotiation over the debt limit.  I agree with him because his insistence on 60 votes to raise the debt ceiling forced Republican leaders in the Senate to own their own deceptive tactics of the last 4 years concerning the debt limit.

Since 2010 Republican leaders have been telling their supporters a lie.  The lie is that raising the debt ceiling is an optional act which they should only do if they obtained concessions from the President.  At heart, Republican leaders such as John Boehner, Mitch McConnell and John Cornyn falsely claimed that the debt limit was a hostage they could shoot when they in fact had to know that the debt limit would ultimately have to be raised.  For some time this was a useful political tactic and persisted because of fig leaf concessions (except for 2011 when the concessions were real) and because the Republicans knew they could rely on Democrats to raise the limit while they "opposed it."  The base thus came to expect debt ceiling confrontations as a necessary show of strength against the President.

Ultimately, McConnell, Cornyn, etc. created a debt ceiling monster among their base that they could not contain.  What Ted Cruz did was bring the situation to a head and make McConnell, Cornyn, etc. own the deceptive monster they created.  Republican leaders now have blood on their hands with the debt limit and will have a much harder time keeping up the facade of opposing any increases while simultaneously (and privately) trying to ensure that the increase ultimately happens.  The ability of McConnell and others to play debt limit Russian Roulette has therefore been substantially degraded, something we can all be grateful to Sen. Cruz for.

You can follow me on Twitter at @ira_steinberg.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Unskewed Minds (Now with more Bayes!)

At the risk of feeding the troll at and (both run by Dean Chambers) or legitimizing its claims of voter fraud which journalists are thoroughly debunking, let me add one more reason why the claim that voter fraud flipped the results of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia and Florida is absurd.

If the claims of fraud are right, Obama would have won Nevada, Colorado, Michigan, Wisconsin and New Hampshire but lost Pennsylvania, Ohio and Virginia.  You don't have to be Nate Silver to know that the odds that Obama would win close swing states like Colorado, Nevada and Virginia, and at the same time lose a reliable Democratic state like Pennsylvania and other close swing states like Ohio and Virginia are very low.  That's just not a plausible electoral result.  If Obama is doing well enough to win swing states like New Hampshire and Nevada it's just absurd to think he would really lose a state like Pennsylvania.  Chambers' "map" belongs in the realm of unicorns and birtherism.

Moreover, for Chambers to be right, the polls, which were reasonably accurate nationwide, would have to be (for some unexplained reason) wrong for only those four states.  The whole thing is just nuts.

If you want to get nerdy, this comes down to Bayes theorem, which in very simple terms says that when judging the likelihood that something is true, we have to consider the evidence of its truth or falsity in the context of the baseline probability that that thing is true.  If you say the sky is purple, I should be very hesitant to agree based on your anecdotal evidence because I already know as an initial matter that the odds that the sky is purple are extremely extremely low.

As applied the voter fraud claims, before we even consider Chambers' anecdotal (and highly suspect) evidence of voter fraud, consider it in the context that the map he is proposing is highly highly implausible.  As a result, there is very little evidence that should convince anyone (thinking clearly) that voter fraud really caused the outcome he claims since that outcome to so unlikely.  Yet, hope springs eternal.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Earth to Rubio...

I think people miss the point a little bit when they look at Rubio's response to the question about the age of the earth in the context of Iowa.  The real state to watch for with Rubio is New Hampshire.  Right now Huckabee is leading the polls Iowa.  Let that sink in a bit, Huckabee.  Rubio's better path to the nomination, should he choose to accept it, would be to follow the McCain strategy and do well in New Hampshire, where a more moderate, independent Republican can do well, and then dominate the Republican primaries in the large blue states.  For two cycles now Iowa has nominated an unelectable fundamentalist and has diminished its importance in the process.  Rubio is better off skipping it and scoring a decisive win in New Hampshire, where an ambiguous answer on creationism is more useful than the definitive response that would play well in Iowa.

Personally, when I heard Rubio's waffling answer I got the sense that the answer in his mind was no, but that he had to be non-committal to offending his base.  Young earth creationists, as a group, tend not to be shy about their belief, and if he really thought the earth was less than 10,000 years old I imagine he probably would have said so.  This isn't an issue like abortion or rape where saying your fundamentalist beliefs out loud can sink your candidacy.  A substantial portion of Americans, and nearly all Republicans are still skeptical of evolution.  I embrace evolution, but am skeptical that there is a real downside to him embracing biblical geology as a Republican candidate as long as he really believed it. The fact that he gave such a non-committal response to me suggests that he isn't a true fundamentalist at heart and/or he won't be making a genuine play in Iowa.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Too Little, Too Late.

Watching Bobby Jindal decry the anti-intellectual trend of the Republican party reminds of when Jeb Bush spoke up a few months ago to say that he was very disappointed in the lack of bipartisan cooperation between Obama and Congressional Republicans.  Yes, I guess it's better that they say these things, but where were they the last four years?  Jeb Bush's point about compromise and cooperation would actually have been useful during the debt ceiling and health care debates, and Jindal's new-found voice of reason would have been nice before he had signed bills to permit and fund the teaching of creationism in Louisiana.

Forgive my eye rolling, but if they really wanted to get serious, they should have said so back when it would have mattered.  That they lacked the courage to do so then and only do so now says enough about them.

It's not a gift if you are entitled to it.

Isn't the whole "gifts" thing a perfect example of the sense of entitlement that has come over the American right.  When they explicitly vote for the candidate who will give them a tax cut, that's not a gift, it's a matter of patriotism.  When Democrats vote for candidates who propose programs they benefit from, it's a gift and bribery.  It's like the right thinks the largess they receive isn't a gift because they are entitled to it, but Democrats are entitled to nothing and therefore receive only "gifts."

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

How the Republican Primary Proves Money Still Can Buy You an Election

There has been this idea floating around for a few weeks that Romney's inability to trounce his opponents despite vastly outspending them proves money can't buy elections.  Some Republicans have been running with this to try and make the point that this proves that concerns over Citizens United are overblown.  I'd like to take a minute to show why that is nonsense.

The easiest way to make this point is by way of example, so here is one that has frustrated Democrats for three years.  After the stimulus bill was passed unemployment increased.  Fact.  Some Republicans argued that this proves that the stimulus increased unemployment.  This is obviously bad thinking, since the only way to measure the impact of the stimulus is to compare it to what unemployement would have been if there was no stimulus at all or if the stimulus was bigger.  If unemployment would have been higher without the stimulus, then the stimulus did not increase unemployment, even if unemployment increased after the stimulus was passed.

The same applies to spending by a candidate.  The way to judge the impact of money (and Citizens United) on a campaign is not whether the best funded candidate wins or loses, but by how the race would be different if a candidate had more or less money.  Does anyone think Gingrich would still be in the race except for his Super-Pac?  I doubt it.  Romney has fended off challengers by carpet-bombing them with massive ad campaigns, and even then only barely Santorum in his home state.  Does anyone think that Romney would have done just as fine without the money to destroy his opponents?  I am skeptical.

Saying Romney's money proves money doesn't buy elections is like saying Romney nomination proves that supporting an individual mandate will win you the Republican nomination.  I will have more to say about the state of the race tomorrow, but it should suffice to say now that this is an example of the sloppy and/or deceptive thinking being used by some to undermine criticism of Citizens United.

Citizens United is a major problem and needs to be addressed.  This primary season only proves further how small groups of undisclosed donors can vastly distort campaigns and politics.  Don't let sloppy thinking invade this discussion.