Category Archives: Politics

Currents events, news, and our own editorial opinions.

Awareness Politics

Can Hip-Hop Change The Style Of Politics? : NPR

NPR asks an interesting question.  One that seems to come up every election season with increasing alacrity.  Can Hip-Hop Change The Style Of Politics?

I have to say that my suspicion is no.  Hip hop, like many other things with a following and with celebrity backing, can have an impact on changing public opinion.  Sure, it’s been crucial at raising awareness of many issues and probably has made a few people start thinking about things in a particularly different manner.  However, it cannot do it alone.

To get a better sense of the issues, NPR interviewed Lester Spence, an associate professor of political science at Johns Hopkins University.  They had him to discuss his book: Stare in the Darkness: The Limits of Hip-hop and Black Politics.

The audio interview is 12 minutes if you can spare it.  Otherwise, there’s also a transcript that will let you scan the interview.  It’s actually a fascinating piece, and if you have the time I strongly suggest you take a read/listen.  Here’s a snippet.

MARTIN: So the idea that hip-hop is a core sort of truth teller, its primary purpose is to say sort of uncomfortable truth. Has that always been a part of its history?

SPENCE: Yes, it has. Hip-hop starts and rap starts as a way, as a vehicle for working class, black and Latino youth to express themselves and, although there is this boastful element to it, where you have MCs talking about how dope they are, etc., etc., people have always made the attempt, at least, to connect them to everyday reality.

MARTIN: What is not in dispute is that hip-hop is associated with a certain generation, or the rise of a certain generation with its own kind of preferences around music and style and a beat and so forth. And it doesn’t seem illogical to think that a generation that grew up with hip-hop as its primary musical form would also kind of take it into the voting booth, you know, as it were, or take it into the world of political activism.

Here’s a moment that crystallizes this for you very clearly, which you talk about in the book. The former Detroit mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick, elected in 2001 at the age of 31 – of course, he comes from a political family. His mother, Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, was the long time congressional representative from the Detroit area.

And you describe one of his inaugural events where he enters the room, but rather than silencing the crowd in the traditional manner to speak, he – finish telling us about that scene and tell us why you found it particularly powerful.

SPENCE: Yeah. I mean, so I was there. There were a number of DJs spinning house hip-hop all night long and he comes in while Biz Markie is DJing and Biz Markie is an old school MC who’s transitioned into being a DJ. And around the time the mayor walks in, Biz starts spinning his own stuff, like "You Got What I Need." Right.

And Kwame comes in and, instead of calming everybody down, you know, he takes up the mic and he starts singing with Biz Markie in the song. And then we all start singing with him. And I remember saying, like, man, this was the most charged political moment of my life. It was like, finally, there was somebody like us in office.

Geek Politics

First Healthcare, Now Twitter. Well Played, Obama.

Proving once again the irresistible allure of Barack Obama, Twitter has announced they will scrap the 140-character tweet limit for the President’s upcoming Twitter town hall.

Now let’s see if he can use that mojo to raise a more important limit: the debt ceiling.

Props: Death + Taxes

Politics

Rolling Stone Exposes What We Already Know: Fox Is Propaganda

Rolling Stone has a slideshow illustrating how the same GOP talking points are repeated throughout the day by hosts and pundits on Fox News. If it wasn’t clear before, it’s undeniable now: Fox News is propaganda.

(Image credit: BlueRobot)

Politics

Nixon’s Crimes Now Legal

This is shocking to me: according to Daniel Ellsberg, the man who leaked the Pentagon Papers, all of Richard Nixon’s crimes against him would be legal if committed today.

That includes burglarizing my former psychoanalyst’s office (for material to blackmail me into silence), warrantless wiretapping, using the CIA against an American citizen in the US, and authorizing a White House hit squad to “incapacitate me totally” (on the steps of the Capitol on May 3, 1971). All the above were to prevent me from exposing guilty secrets of his own administration that went beyond the Pentagon Papers. But under George W. Bush and Barack Obama,with the PATRIOT Act, the FISA Amendment Act, and (for the hit squad) President Obama’s executive orders. they have all become legal.

h/t: Juan Cole

(Image credit: StartAgain)

Politics

Brave Or Stupid?

A little bit of both, probably. But good for her, I guess, for sacrificing her job for something she believes in.

Cool Politics

Grand Rapids Lip Dub

Roger Ebert has called this – Grand Rapids’ response to being named one of America’s dying cities – “the greatest music video ever made”.

It’s hard not to agree.

Music Politics

Gil Scott-Heron, 1949-2011

One of the true greats. Rest in peace.

The real question is: was the revolution televised?

Headline Politics

Pro-Gun Arguments Are Unconvincing

The recent tragedy in Arizona has reignited the debate about the role of guns in American society. Frankly, I don’t understand the pro-gun argument; it seems wrong on several levels. Here are my thoughts on the usual pro-gun talking points, and why I think society would be better off without firearms. If you’re more familiar with this issue than I (and I bet most people are), please let me know where I’m going wrong.

Argument 1: Bad people have guns, therefore we need guns to protect ourselves

This argument is flawed for two reasons, one logical and the other practical. The first flaw is obvious: it’s called begging the question. The argument is saying, essentially, that guns are present in society, and for that reason we need guns to be present in society. Of course, this doesn’t mean the argument is wrong, it just means it’s poorly constructed.

The second flaw, then, is where the argument really falls apart. Whenever a mass shooting occurs, pro-gun people decry the fact that there weren’t more guns present. They wonder aloud about how the incident would’ve played out if only more bystanders had been packing heat. According to this fantasy, the gunman would’ve been shot almost immediately by well-armed civilians, preventing further casualties.

Reality, though, is typically far messier than fantasy. Take the Arizona shootings, which happened outside a busy supermarket with dozens, if not hundreds, of people in the immediate area. Even if only a small percentage of these bystanders had been armed, that’s still tens of people shooting at each other. How would they tell the original shooter from the others? What if an undercover or off-duty police officer was present? Wouldn’t the ensuing chaos provide perfect cover for the original shooter to escape? Friendly fire casualties still occur in modern war zones, even though soldiers wear uniforms and use sophisticated communications equipment; just think of the innocent life that might be lost from dozens of untrained, panicked and isolated civilians shooting at each other. It seems like a recipe for disaster to me.

Argument 2: The right to bear arms is in the Constitution, therefore it’s okay

Another logical flaw: slavery was in the Constitution, too, but that didn’t make it okay (I’m assuming, of course, that you’re just pro-gun and not also a racist). But besides that, my problem with this argument is that it’s inconsistent with other right wing positions (I’m conflating pro-gun people with right wing people – if you consider yourself one of the former but not of the latter, I apologize). Take for example the controversy over so-called ‘anchor babies.’ Some conservatives are pushing for a constitutional amendment to rescind the clause guaranteeing citizenship for anyone born on American soil. Why is the 14th Amendment less sacred than the Second?

Argument 3: We need guns to keep government in check

This is probably the oldest pro-gun argument, and it actually stems from debates that occurred during the writing of the Constitution (the Wikipedia article on the drafting of the Second Amendment is quite good, and well worth a read). While the right to bear arms has been entrenched in common law since the English Bill of Rights of 1689, it was included in the American Constitution for several reasons, most of which are no longer relevant in the 21st century. Nevertheless, some gun supporters argue that the Second Amendment is necessary because a well-armed citizenry is the only way to ensure the continued freedom of the people. To me, this comes across as laughably naive. I’m not saying government tyranny is a good thing, but I am saying that should the government decide to go down that road, civilians wielding guns aren’t going to stop it.

The pro-gun argument just has too many flaws. Until I read something that addresses at least one of these problems, I’m staying firmly in the anti-gun (or, more accurately, pro-gun control) camp.

Image by: esc.ape(d)

Politics

Why All Communists Aren’t Nazis

The website Instapundit, in a recent post, equates communists to Nazis. “Communists are as bad as Nazis,” the post argues, “and their defenders and apologists are as bad as Nazis’ defenders, but far more common. When you meet them, show them no respect. They’re evil, stupid, and dishonest. They should not enjoy the consequences of their behavior.”

The post offers no definition of ‘Communist’. However, its implied definition spans a wide spectrum of philosophies, and includes Marxist academics, the Trotskyite Christopher Hitchens, and Joseph Stalin. The post says, in effect, that all of these people are ‘Communists,’ and therefore equally evil.

I see two flaws with this argument. The first is related to semantics, the second to the logical fallacy of accident.

Semantics

The various people identified above have very different philosophies. A Marxist, strictly speaking, is someone who ascribes to the original writings of Karl Marx.* Interestingly, Marx made very few predictions about what a communist society might look like or how it should be implemented. The bulk of his analysis focused on contemporary economics and the relationship of workers to their labour. Even today, Marx is thought to have made several helpful contributions to the study of capitalism. A Marxist academic, then, typically means a university professor who agrees with Marx’s views on how capitalism operates and how it shapes our society. These people are also called Marxians.

Hitchens and Stalin, on the other hand, are political creatures. Their Marxism is normative, meaning it deals with how society should be organized. Clearly, their concerns are qualitatively different than those of Marxian economists. In addition to that, there is a vast gap between Hitchens’ politics and Stalin’s: Trotsky’s opposition to Stalin is well documented.

Assigning all these people to a single category – Communist – is a serious flaw. It invalidates the Nazi comparison, since a Nazi is someone who holds very specific political and racial beliefs. To say that Stalinists are as morally bankrupt as Nazis is one thing; to say the same about a Marxian is another.

Accident

The Instapundit post says that in all Communist states, “[power] always ends up in the hands of the [elites]” (emphasis mine). In other words, every communist state that ever existed was as awful as Hitler’s Germany; pure evil, basically.** Here, the post commits the fallacy of accident, meaning it ignores obvious exceptions to its assumed rule.

Some Communist regimes – those of Stalin, Mao, etc. – were certainly evil. But others weren’t. The Sandinistas in Nicaragua, for example, lowered illiteracy from 50% to 12% and made important strides in health care, eliminating polio and reducing other diseases. Of course, they were terrible economic managers and are reported to have committed deplorable human rights abuses. But they were not genocidal. The difference between a Sandinista and a National Socialist is enormous.

To add further perspective, consider if this line of argument was deployed against Christianity. The number of Christian states that have committed horrible and inhumane acts is lengthy, yet I assume the Instapundit author would hesitate to equate Christianity to Nazism (Hitchens wouldn’t, though).

Anyways, the point is that it’s both fallacious and meaningless to say that all people who believe in some element of Marxist thought are inherently evil because so too are some Communist regimes.

*And of course Friedrich Engels, too.

** If you think I’m reaching, here’s another excerpt from the Instapundit post: “I’ll repeat: The difference between Communists and Nazis is mostly PR, and the PR is better because more journalists and academics were communists than Nazis.”

Featured Headline Politics

The Truth About Taxes in America

Taxes are a contentious thing in America, seemingly more so than in any other western country. Despite the advice of Oliver Wendell Holmes, who famously described them as the cost of civilization, Americans detest all forms of taxation – especially on income. And the idea that President Obama has raised income taxes seems to be well-entrenched on the right. After all, it fits nicely with the their understanding of Obama as a socialist (a conclusion reached long ago in Tea Party circles).

It’s a testament to the epistemic closure of the current political climate that this notion has gone unchallenged for so long. Because the truth is that Obama has in fact lowered income taxes. According to an article published yesterday on the New York Times website, since 2008, Democrats have cut taxes “by up to $400 a year for individuals and $800 for married couples.”

But no one seems to have noticed:

In a New York Times/CBS News Poll last month, fewer than one in 10 respondents knew that the Obama administration had lowered taxes for most Americans. Half of those polled said they thought that their taxes had stayed the same, a third thought that their taxes had gone up, and about a tenth said they did not know. As Thom Tillis, a Republican state representative, put it as the dinner wound down here, “This was the tax cut that fell in the woods — nobody heard it.

The article offers several reasons for why Americans may be unaware of the cuts, including rising state taxes.

And yet the Obama administration remains unfazed by the confusion. In fact, it may have designed the cuts specifically to go unnoticed (!):

Faced with evidence that people were more likely to save than spend the tax rebate checks they received during the Bush administration, the Obama administration decided to take a different tack: it arranged for less tax money to be withheld from people’s paychecks.They reasoned that people would be more likely to spend a small, recurring extra bit of money that they might not even notice, and that the quicker the money was spent, the faster it would cycle through the economy.

(Ignoring economics for a second, it’s remarkable to consider that an American president would forgo an opportunity for political gain in order to implement the correct fiscal policy.)

It’s also worth considering that income taxes remain low by historical standards. Taxes for the top income bracket are the lowest they’ve been since 1990, and are nearly three times lower than 1953 (the supposed halcyon days of unfettered capitalism and American values that Tea Partiers yearn for). Moreover, income taxes in the U.S. are lower than in most other developed economies, including Germany and the United Kingdom.

Considering this, it seems ridiculous that pundits and politicians are able to claim in all seriousness that the U.S. is slipping towards socialism. The truth is that America remains a decidedly capitalist place.

(Photo by voteprime)