Islam = terrorism?

A friend posted a link to this all-too-familiar idiocy from an NC legislator:

An N.C. House lawmaker is equating any prayer to the Islamic God with terrorism.

In an email exchange with a constituent, Republican state Rep. Michele Presnell of Burnsville was asked whether she was comfortable with a prayer to Allah before a legislative meeting. Presnell responded: “No, I do not condone terrorism.”

The first-year lawmaker who represents a district in the North Carolina mountains is a co-sponsor of House resolution 494, a measure asserting that North Carolina can establish a state religion. She did not return a call for comment Monday about the string of emails obtained by Dome.

“The famed ACLU is telling Rowan County they may not pray before commissioners meetings,” Presnell wrote to Britt Kaufmann, a constituent. “We pray in Raleigh before our legislative meetings, U.S. Congress prays in Washington DC, why can they not pray?”

Kaufmann replied: “Yes, I do understand that the ACLU is suing Rowan County and I think they have clearly articulated why they are not comfortable with prayer before the commissioners meetings. I wanted you, as my representative, to know that I do not think the proposed bill is a good solution to that problem. … Would you be comfortable with a public prayer to Allah before a legislative meeting in Raleigh?”

Presnell equated Islam to terrorism and added, “We just need to start taking a stand on our religious freedom or it will be whisked away from us.”

The email exchange ends with Presnell telling her constituent: “No, you are wrong. Have a good day.”

Her stance appears to differ from that of the primary sponsor of the bill, Rep. Harry Warren, a Salisbury Republican, who later apologized for the resolution’s poor wording and how it embarrassed the state.

What grabbed my attention about this one is that I actually know Michelle Presnell.  When not state legislating, she does a fabulous job doing custom framing (at great prices) in my wife’s hometown of Burnsville, NC.   Much of the art on the walls of our home was actually framed by her.

Waiting to vote

Amidst North Carolina looking to cut back on its very successful early voting, how’s this chart via Steve Benen:

Now, as Drum points out, a lot of this is about population density and Southern states, but the final results are what they are:

Of the ten states with the longest waits, nine are in southern or
border states.1 And within states, areas with dense populations have the highest wait times. Here’s the net result:

At the individual level, the factor that stands out is race. Viewed nationally, African Americans waited an average of 23 minutes to vote, compared to 12 minutes for whites; Hispanics waited 19 minutes.

While there are other individual-level demographic difference present in the responses, none stands out as much as race. For instance, the average wait time among those with household incomes less than $30,000 was 12 minutes, compared to 14 minutes for those in households with incomes greater than $100,000. Strong Democrats waited an average of 16 minutes, compared to an average of 11 minutes for strong Republicans.

Is this racial disparity deliberate? It’s impossible to say. But it’s there; it’s been there for a long time; and no one seems to be in much of hurry to fix it. I report, you decide.

1Tennessee, Louisiana, Georgia, Oklahoma, Michigan, South Carolina, Virginia, Washington DC, Maryland, and Florida

Now, is the racial disparity just an unintended side effect?  Possibly.  But even so, I would argue that in a country with our history when it comes to race and voting, this is decidedly unacceptable.

Photo of the day

From the Telegraph’s photos of the day:

Game park ranger Chad Cocking took this photograph of a young leopard resting its paw on an impala it had just caught in Kruger National Park, SA. Unfortunately the friendship was not to last and the leopard eventually got bored with its own game and ate the impala.
Game park ranger Chad Cocking took this photograph of a young leopard resting its paw on an impala it had just caught in Kruger National Park, SA. Unfortunately the friendship was not to last and the leopard eventually got bored with its own game and ate the impala.Picture: Chad Cocking/Barcroft Media

What makes legislation happen

Great into to Wonkbook today.  I tell my classes every semester, “an intense majority beats an apathetic majority every time.”  I then illustrate the point with Charlton Heston’s “out of my cold, dead hands.”  Alas, we are very much seeing this dynamic play out with gun control.  Ezra presents a very useful primer to what actually makes (or prevents) legislation from happening in the contemporary Congress:

“If our democracy’s working the way it’s supposed to,” President Obama said in West Hartford, CT, “and 90 percent of the American people agree on something, in the wake of a tragedy, you’d think this would not be a heavy lift.”

Gun control has emerged as an unusually clarifying test case for how Congress really works. On one side of the ledger is most everything that we think moves Congress: Public opinion, a national tragedy, the president’s bully pulpit, elite opinion. On the other side is everything we wish didn’t move Congress: a powerful but increasingly controversial interest group and, arguably, the minority’s natural incentive to foil the majority’s agenda.

Guess which side is winning?

A comforting explanation for this is that public opinion isn’t failing so much as it’s simply uninformed, and thus unable to pressure Congress. Pollster Joel Benenson, alongside Katie Connolly, wrote as much in Saturday’s New York Times:

“Of the 50 percent of people who prefer enforcement over new laws — over half of whom are gun owners — 48 percent told us that federal laws prohibit the purchase of a weapon privately or at a gun show without a background check, while 10 percent simply admitted not knowing the rules. In other words, about 6 out of 10 people who believe we just need to do a better job of enforcing existing laws don’t realize that those laws are far weaker than they think. And just under half of those who want better enforcement don’t know that military-style assault weapons are, in fact, legal.”

But this is just a way of restating the same problem: If public opinion remains this uninformed despite overwhelming media coverage of the issue, the president’s aggressive use of the bully pulpit, and the focusing power of a national tragedy, then that suggests public opinion can’t effectively be leveraged even in extremely favorable circumstances. These results don’t explain the fluke status of gun control. They explain why majority support is a reliably weak predictor of congressional action.

Little of this should be a surprise to anyone tuned into politics in recent years. Gun control is hardly the first issue where public opinion, the bully pulpit, and external forcing mechanisms failed to move Congress. A look at what’s passed and what’s failed since 2009 would show little correlation with what was popular and what wasn’t. For instance: The Affordable Care Act, despite sagging in the polls, made it through Congress. The public option, one of the most popular parts of the bill, didn’t. Income tax increases on the wealthy, despite being overwhelmingly popular, were blocked until 2013. Banks bailouts, despite being political poison, passed. Short-term Medicare and Social Security cuts, despite being wildly unpopular and opposed by both parties during the last election, are now central to the budget discussion, and will be part of any grand bargain that passes.

Congress, today, is driven more by intense minorities than checked-out majorities. It is probably rational for a Senate Republican to believe he has more to fear from the conservative activists who would be furious that he went along with the president’s gun-control agenda than from the broad mass of the public who would be vaguely pleased, but mostly unaware, and in either case, not all that interested. It is time for those of us who cover Washington to stop being surprised that this is how it works. It’s been working like this for years now.

Short version: yes, it’s hopeless.  

Gender, physical attractiveness, and political campaigns

Drum summarizes the latest depressing findings on the topic:

 Today, the Name It, Change It campaign released a survey conducted earlier this year on exactly this subject. In the survey, Jane Smith and Dan Jones are pitted against each other in a race for Congress. Both have similar backgrounds, and after reading their bios the survey respondents prefer Jane slightly, 49-48.

Then they read a second story. In one version of the story, there’s no physical description of either candidate, and Jane’s lead stays pretty much the same. In a second version, there’s a neutral description of Jane’s appearance. Suddenly she’s 5 points behind Dan. In a third version, there’s a positive description of her appearance. Now she’s 13 points behind Dan. A fourth version that contains a negative description has about the same effect.

In other words, any description hurts Jane. And any non-neutral description, even a positive one, just kills her. This is why even a complimentary comment like Obama’s is both inappropriate and damaging in a professional setting. It primes people to think of a woman’s appearance, and that’s apparently enough to keep them from thinking about her actual qualifications. You will be unsurprised to learn that this effect is strongest among men. The full report is here. (Via ThinkProgress.)

Yowza.  Those are just depressing results.  I’m definitely going to have to check out the full research and consider assigning it to my Gender & Politics class in the fall.

I do wonder about the written description, though.  In the real world, that’s not how we experience political candidates.  Why not just show photos of candidates of varying attractiveness (which you can pre-test beforehand)?  Reminds me of a finding years ago when my colleague Mike Cobb actually had some student do a project where they photoshop manipulated breast size of candidate photos.  And yup, large breasts made female candidates less electable.  Now, we all know that throughout all things in life, appearance matters– including for male politicians– but it is a real problem to have women judged on their appearance so much more so than men.

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