Man knows everything he needs to about Muslims

This is going down as one of my all-time favorite Onion stories.  Damn is it good:

SALINA, KS—Local man Scott Gentries told reporters Wednesday that his deliberately limited grasp of Islamic history and culture was still more than sufficient to shape his views of the entire Muslim world.

Gentries, 48, said he had absolutely no interest in exposing himself to further knowledge of Islamic civilization or putting his sweeping opinions into a broader context of any kind, and confirmed he was “perfectly happy” to make a handful of emotionally charged words the basis of his mistrust toward all members of the world’s second-largest religion.

“I learned all that really matters about the Muslim faith on 9/11,” Gentries said in reference to the terrorist attacks on the United States undertaken by 19 of Islam’s approximately 1.6 billion practitioners. “What more do I need to know to stigmatize Muslims everywhere as inherently violent radicals?”

“And now they want to build a mosque at Ground Zero,” continued Gentries, eliminating any distinction between the 9/11 hijackers and Muslims in general. “No, I won’t examine the accuracy of that statement, but yes, I will allow myself to be outraged by it and use it as evidence of these people’s universal callousness toward Americans who lost loved ones when the Twin Towers fell.”

“Even though I am not one of those people,” he added.

When 22% equals 100%

I’ve been talking about electoral systems and how they translate voter preferences into representation in my class this semester.  One of the major problems with our plurality system (whoever gets the most votes, wins) is that somebody can win 100% of the representation with well less than a majority of popular support.  Former Republican Congressman Mickey Edwards has a nice essay in the Atlantic about the absurdity of the fact that Ben Quayle will likely represent Arizona as of next year:

It is clearly not a system that works perfectly — many citizens do not vote and a dutiful legislator will not follow even the most ardent wish of his or her constituents if thought to be contrary to the national interest, but by and large the fundamental idea — legislators are the voice of participating citizens — is generally accepted to be true.

It isn’t…

I served in Congress with Dan Quayle and have no quarrel with his son, but I do have a quarrel with a system that allows for the election of members of Congress (or governors or other officeholders) to whom most voters are opposed. Ben Quayle received 22.7 percent of the votes cast in his congressional primary; more than 77 percent of the Republicans who voted in that primary wanted somebody else to be their congressman. Quayle received just over 14,000 votes; more than 48,000 voted for somebody else, despite the fact that Quayle was the best known and most visible of the candidates. Running in a heavily Republican district, he will almost certainly become a member of Congress in January, representing a community that did not want him in that job.

Of course, Arizona voters–even the Republicans– have the option of not voting for Quayle, but barring huge personal scandal, a Republican will pretty much always win a very Republican district.  Thus, the Republican primary really is where all the action is at.  Thus, it is somewhat disconcerting that Arizona’s newest representative (even if it was one of Quayle’s competitors) will basically have one election by only winning 22% of the vote in the most competitive election he’ll face.

The “I vote for the candidate” self delusion

Most Americans when asked their voting preferences, give some variation on “I vote for the candidate, not the party.”  Not to put too fine a point on it, but for pretty much any federal of state legislative office this is just dumb.  The most important vote any member of the US House takes is for Speaker of the House.  Everything else is just details.  The majority party totally runs the show.  A Democrat that voted for Nancy Pelosi for Speaker and then voted against almost every individual Democratic agenda item is still a net plus for the Democratic party (except for the extraordinarily rare case where a single vote matters).  Yet, we go along fooling ourselves that the “leadership,” “integrity,” “character,” etc., of each individual candidate matters.   Ezra Klein has a post on Charlie Crist that ends in a nice riff on this:

Olympia Snowe is arguably the most independent Republican in the Senate — and she’s stuck with her party on 67.3 percent of votes in this Congress. That is to say, if you knew nothing about Snowe save that she was a Republican, you could predict her vote about 70 percent of the time.

And Snowe is actually uncommonly willing to vote with the other side. Ben Nelson is in Snowe territory, voting with the Democrats 67.6 percent of the time, and so is Susan Collins. But that’s about it. Scott Brown voted with the GOP 82.1 percent of the time. Joe Lieberman was there for the Democrats 90.6 percent of the time. Lindsey Graham showed up for the Republicans more than 92 percent of the time. (You can look up any politician you please here.) The reality is that the single most important thing to know about any politician is which party they’ll caucus with. Full stop.

Campaigns are built to fool us into thinking that we’re voting for individuals. We learn about the candidate’s family, her job, her background — even her dog. But we’re primarily voting for parties. The parties have just learned we’re more likely to vote for them if they disguise themselves as individuals. And American politics would work better if we understood that.

The Koch brothers

Jane Mayer has a great profile in the New Yorker about the Koch brothers, a pair of super-rich libertarians who use their money to fund political causes with the basic purpose of enriching themselves and their business (i.e., lower taxes on their fortune and less regulations for their pollution-prone companies).  You should read it– probably the most talked-about New Yorker article of the past few months– and it’s really stuff you should know (and Jane Mayer pretty much rules).   Obviously, a lot of interesting takes all over the blogosphere, but I most like Jon Chait’s take on how all the money has shaped the conservative agenda:

Conservatives are happy to acknowledge, and even celebrate, the role played by conservative donors in helping conservatives fight ideological battles against liberals. But they are loathe to acknowledge the role that conservative donors play in waging ideological battles within conservatism itself. I’d say conservative donors have made the conservative movement and the Republican Party far more responsive to the interests of corporations and high-income individuals. There is an unusually large supply of capital to finance propaganda extolling the benefits of lower taxes for the rich and casting doubt on proposals to account for the externality cost of carbon dioxide emissions. But you don’t see conservatives admitting that that fnancing has had an effect.

If all you knew about conservatism was its foundational ideological texts, you could just as easily imagine that conservatives would believe that it’s senseless to cut taxes without cutting spending, and that it would make perfect sense for the government to tax carbon emissions rather than something else, once science has established the harmful effects of such emissions beyond a reasonable doubt. That conservatism has evolved in a different direction owes a great deal to the interests of some its its richest donors.

And, if you’re more the auditory type, there was a great interview with Jane Mayer about the article on Fresh Air last week.  Listen.

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