Specter of Reason

Philosophy, Film, Politics, Etc.

Friday, May 27, 2016

US Tax Center Infographic

The US Tax Center is promoting an infographic comparing the effects of Clinton's and Trump's tax policies on income. As you might expect, it has an angle.

It's "PLANS vs. PAY", and the emphasis is personal.  It's about "your take-home pay." Apparently, we are supposed to think that that is all there is to how these plans will "affect you."

This appeals to a very limited set of values. It is as if the US Tax Center doesn't want people to think about income inequality or policy in any detail at all. It's just, "which candidate is going to help put some extra cash in your pocket at the end of the month?"

Of course, the answer is the Republican candidate. If all you care about is getting some extra cash at the end of the month, then Trump is going to appeal to you.

The infographic does at least acknowledge that Trump's policies "would require cuts in a lot of services and spending."  What cuts? How will those affect us?

And shouldn't the average American care that Trump wants to lower taxes on the upper class by almost twice as much on the dollar?  According to these numbers, Trump wants to cut everyone's taxes, but he wants to cut them on the rich and powerful in particular.

Clinton wants to do the opposite. She wants to protect the income of lower and middle class Americans, and moderately raise taxes on the upper and upper middle classes. You can call her a moderate, but her bent is clearly progressive.

For what it's worth, I asked for comparative information about Bernie Sanders, and here is what they sent me:
Bernie Sanders:
The most aggressive tax plan, which establishes new brackets for the highest-income individuals. Will increase tax rates on all the existing brackets as well. 
Annual Income | Change to paycheck (bi-weekly)
$20,000 | -$8.81
$35,000 | -$59.21
$55,000 | -$148.16
$100,000 | -$293.80
$250,000 | -$683.00
As would be expected, this shows everyone paying significantly more per month.

Bernie is all but out of the race, but this is still worth considering. In terms of numbers, Clinton is very much in the middle between Trump and Bernie. However, in terms of values and principles, her approach is much closer to Bernie's. In contrast to Trump, they both want to raise, rather than lower, taxes. Also, whereas Trump wants to lower taxes on the rich by a higher percentage, Clinton and Sanders both want to raise taxes on the rich by a higher percentage. (As it happens, it looks like Clinton wants to raise taxes on the rich by a proportionally higher percentage than Bernie does.) Again, Clinton's plan might be more moderate, but it is clearly progressive.

There is one more element which distinguishes Clinton, but which you can't see in these numbers.  It is that, of the three, she is the only one whose proposals have not been criticized by experts for "magical thinking."

Thursday, May 26, 2016

More Circus

News flash: A male television personality who owes his success to misogynistic comedy (via "The Man Show") has helped two male candidates pretend they aren't losing to a woman. There's no question who Donald would rather run against, is there?

And in case you missed it, Kimmel was doing Bernie's bidding. CNN reports: "Michael Briggs, a Sanders spokesman, said that Kimmel allowed the Sanders campaign to submit a question to Trump to be asked during the taping -- so they asked about a potential debate."

Then, doubling down on the challenge with Wolf Blitzer, Jeff Weaver said he hoped The Donald wouldn't "chicken out."  Yes, "chicken out." Just to make sure nobody was mistaking Jeff Weaver for a mature adult.

Apparently, Bernie is hoping to bully his way to the nomination by challenging Trump in the most childish way possible and by pretending that Clinton is no longer in the race at all. I guess the next couple of weeks are going to be a doozy.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Why Did Bernie Lose?

Technically Bernie hasn't lost yet, but let's face it. He's not going to win over hundreds of Clinton's superdelegates without winning the majority of pledged delegates, and he needs over two-thirds of the remaining pledged delegates to do that. With Clinton still way ahead in California and New Jersey, that just ain't gonna happen. Bernie has every right to stay in the race and amass as many delegates as he can, but the fact is plain: Bernie lost.

The question is, why?

Bernie says the election process was rigged. One claim is that independents were unfairly excluded. While independents are excluded from closed primaries and caucuses, whether or not that is fair is open to debate. It seems fair to require a simple and free registration process before you are allowed to vote in a primary. In any case, yes, there were some closed primaries, and Bernie lost most of those; however, he lost most of the open primaries, too. The other claim is that there was electoral fraud; however, there is no evidence that Clinton benefited from anything like that. In short, there's no reason to think that the voting process was rigged.

So why did Bernie lose?

A recent article at Vox attempts to shed some light on the answer. They say the system was rigged, but not in the way Bernie means. They mean that Hillary won some advantages from the system. They identify two ways that Bernie was disadvantaged:  First, some voters take their cues from party elites, and the party elites were strongly in favor of Clinton from the start. Second, the system's approved policy experts were lining up to work for Clinton, leading to a "wonk gap."

Those are interesting points, but it leaves a lot to be said. For one thing, we must remember that Hillary Clinton did exceptionally well against Barack Obama in 2008. She and Obama each received record-breaking numbers of votes. For that reason, there had been buzz about Clinton's 2016 campaign for almost eight years before the current primary began. Many, many millions of voters have been waiting for another chance to vote for her. When it was clear she was going to run again, everyone knew that she was going to be one of the most formidable opponents in modern political history. It would have taken another Obama to stand a chance against her.  This was not because the system was unfair, but because Clinton had established a prominent place for herself within it.

The Vox article insinuates that Clinton established that position by instilling fear: Powerful people supported her because they were afraid she would hurt them if they didn't. It's the line about how the Clintons are "notorious" for punishing disloyalty and rewarding loyalty. It would be nice to see some substantiation of that, because it sounds an awful lot like propaganda. This is Bernie's line: We should not listen to individuals or organizations (not even Planned Parenthood) who have endorsed Clinton, because they are just part of "the establishment."

It is most certainly true that Clinton has received numerous advantages because of her position in the Democratic Party. This is how it should be.  If a person establishes strong relationships with policy makers and party officials, and appeals to a broad swath of the party's base, then of course they will be advantaged in the nomination process.  This doesn't mean the party is closed to new faces or ideas. It only means that the strength of the party is found in the partnerships between its members and officials, and not despite them.

Winning support in an election is winning trust, and trust has to be earned. Bernie failed to win over the trust of the majority of Clinton's supporters. The question is still, why?

I think tone is a big part of it. From the start of the campaign, Bernie presented himself as an exception to the rule. He denied being a "career politician," despite the fact that he was one. He accused everyone who disagreed with him of being corrupted by "the establishment." He seemed more intent on propping himself up than he was on listening to what other people had to say. He suggested that Democrats in the South don't matter. He said superdelegates were going to steal the election from him, until he realized he needed them to win. He said he would never ask anyone to vote for him because he was a man--showing that he did not understand how being a man was an advantage in political elections. I could go on.

There's also policy. His promises rarely rang true.  Like, for example, the promise that all he needed to do was overturn Citizens United and we would somehow get money out of politics. Also, he often questioned people who asked difficult policy questions, as if it had not been his job to give us a clear picture of what future he was selling. If we dared to question his vision, we would be dismissed as pessimists shilling for the status-quo. Bernie was selling the blind hope that somehow all would be well once the revolution saved us from Evil. It was the magical thinking that, I believe, turned a lot of us off.

Bernie always excelled at showing anger and at pointing fingers. He did make many respectable policy proposals, but he was also an effective demagogue, and his intransigent posturing inspired many people. He made it clear with every breath that he was not going to put up with fraud or corruption, and that he would not budge on matters of principle. Then we saw his campaign profit from corruption and abandon its principles. The doubters among us have been vindicated.

I don't begrudge anyone for voting for Bernie or for believing in what he stands for.  I have close friends and family who supported Bernie, and some who still refuse to accept that he has lost. The important thing to remember is that this populist movement, this progressive revolution, started before Bernie entered the primary campaign, and it will continue after the trials and tribulations of his campaign are forgotten. Bernie was never the heart or the mind of the revolution. I don't think any single politician deserves that title, but if anyone did, it would be Elizabeth Warren, and her refusal to endorse Bernie speaks volumes. For a short spell, Bernie was the movement's most prominent champion. He may have helped build the movement, though I'm not sure he did so in entirely positive ways. I hope future champions learn from his mistakes. Perhaps the biggest lesson is, don't insult the people whose party you are trying to win.

Monday, May 23, 2016

A Cynical Observer

I don't see any reason why Bernie should drop out of the race before California and New Jersey have had a chance to vote. I think most people agree. Hillary Clinton has clearly said she supports his decision to remain in the race, reminding us that she did the same thing back in 2008. So I don't know why there's this idea going around that Clinton and her supporters want Bernie out of the race immediately. The problem with Bernie's plan isn't that he wants to stay in until the June 7 votes are tallied. The problem is that he wants to bring a fight to the national convention in July even if (or, rather, when) he fails to win the majority of votes and pledged delegates.

This is a dangerous strategy, as Jamelle Boule argues at Slate: "A cynical observer might say that Sanders isn’t angry with the lack of democracy as much as he’s angry at losing."

Well color me cynical.

It's not just that Bernie wants to disrupt the convention. It's that he wants to ignore the will of the voters.  As he told Jake Tapper on CNN, he thinks the superdelegates "have a job to do." He says their job is to elect the candidate who has the best chances of winning in November. He says that might mean going for the candidate who has fewer votes and fewer pledged delegates. Seriously, he literally said that. He said that superdelegates should choose who is "objectively" more likely to win in November, and when pressed on whether or not that meant going against the will of the voters, he said, "we'll see."  Watch the video. Tapper raises the question at the 5-minute mark, and asks it several more times before we get a clear view of Bernie's position:

The problem with this was recently explained by Markos "kos" Moulitsas on DailyKos:
"Fact is, Clinton won people of color by massive margins. Sanders won white people. Sanders thinks the election results should be tossed aside in his favor. Whose votes would be disenfranchised in that scenario? This is simple extrapolation, and don’t think us people of color aren’t noticing."
Bernie is arguing for the disenfranchisement of voters--minority voters, especially--in the name of Democracy. This is the face of America's progressive movement?

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Sanders Complains, But Without A Good Argument

It's hard to respect the complaints Bernie Sanders is making. Apart from repeating his campaign's position that Debbie Wasserman Schulz is the embodiment of everything that is unholy about the establishment, CNN recently reported the following:
Sanders also said it is "absurd" that superdelegates began supporting Clinton even before she had a competitor.
"There's something absurd that I get 46% of the delegates that come from real contests, real elections, and 7% of the superdelegates," he told Tapper. "Some 400 of Hillary Clinton's superdelegates came on board her campaign before anybody else announced. It was anointment. And that is bad for the process." 
Sanders, who has frequently cited polls saying he does better than Clinton in a matchup against Trump, also said there's "a good chance" the former secretary of state can beat the presumptive Republican nominee. 
"I'm not saying she cannot beat Donald Trump. I think she can. I think there's a good chance she can," the Vermont senator said. "(But) I am the stronger candidate because we appeal to independents -- people who are not in love with either the Democratic or the Republican Party, often for very good reasons."
There are two main points here.  First, he says superdelegates shouldn't endorse candidates before the competition has officially presented itself.  Second, he says he is a better candidate in a general election because he appeals to independents who "are not in love with" either party.

Why shouldn't superdelegates endorse candidates as early as they want? They know the playing field. They're not guessing blind. Furthermore, and most importantly, they can always change their minds. At no point have any superdelegates been prevented from endorsing Bernie. None are nor have ever been bound to Hillary. There was no "annointment."  There was support, and Bernie hasn't shown why anybody should have a problem with that. Bernie might say that it gives the impression that one candidate is better than another. If "better" means "has a better relationship with the party's leadership," then the impression would be entirely accurate. What is wrong with that? If "better" means something else, then I think Bernie is wrong. Voters are not stupid. They know what a political endorsement is.

Second, there's the line about independents.  Here Bernie talks about "love," insinuating that registered Republicans and Democrats are driven more by emotional attachment than rational argument. Bernie, in contrast, appeals to the cautious and rational independents.  Surprising, then, that independents seem to be the ones most responsive to demagoguery.  And I am sure Bernie is aware that many people register for a political party because they want to influence the primary process, and not because they feel any deep sense of devotion to that party. In any case, the question remains as to whether Bernie is a better candidate because he appeals to independents.

According to the most recent Gallup data, 44 percent of the electorate are independent, but 49 percent of the electorate are or lean towards Democrat, while 41 percent of the electorate are or lean towards Republican. Hillary Clinton presumably appeals to the 49 percent of voters who are or lean Democrat, and she probably appeals to a good number of the 41 percent who are or lean Republican, too, since we know there are many on the right who prefer her to Trump.

Bernie has won more independent voters in the Democratic primary, and polls currently show him doing slightly better than Clinton against Trump. However, neither of these mean mean that would win more independent voters than Clinton would against Trump. It does not mean that his support among independents makes him a better candidate in the general election. It doesn't mean he's a better candidate in the general election at all.

For one thing, as is often observed, Bernie has not been the target of a massive hit campaign yet. We cannot predict how he will fare after months and months (and billions of dollars) spent assassinating his character, his policies and his record.

Additionally, polls will most certainly change once the primary is over and Bernie is out of the race. It is very possible that a lot of people who take the "Bernie or Bust" sentiment to heart are driving up Trump's performance in polls against Clinton, but will change their tune once Bernie is out of the race. Clinton's performance in the polls will most likely improve once the primary is over.

Finally, Bernie is assuming that registered Democrats will come out to support him in droves. The reality is that many, many Democrats have lost respect for him and his campaign. (It doesn't help that he accuses Clinton supporters of being irrational or deluded.)  Many, many Democrats are very enthusiastic about Hillary Clinton.  If superdelegates were to go against the vote, ignore the primary voting process altogether, and anoint--yes, anoint--Bernie Sanders, then a great number of Hillary's supporters will be pissed the hell off. They will prefer Bernie to Trump, but they will not do so with enthusiasm. The Democratic Party will be damaged, and that could depress voter turnout in November.

In sum, there is no reason why superdelegates should abandon Clinton, whose performance in the primary has been phenomenal. Turning on Hillary at this point would be shooting themselves in the foot.

What Bernie Wants

Bernie Sanders says he wants to win the nomination. He says he can win.  The question is, how?

Bernie Sanders says he wants to win as many pledged delegates as possible in the remaining states. He says he can win enough to go to the national convention with a majority, though this is very close to impossible, and gets even closer to impossible every day.

Bernie also says that with or without a majority, he will win by convincing hundreds of superdelegates who are backing Clinton to switch to his side. Again, the question is, how?

Bernie knows he cannot win the support he needs by arguing policy. He knows he cannot win by repeating his stump speech and accusing the Democratic Party in general, and Hillary Clinton in particular, of being untrustworthy and corrupt. His rhetoric has taken him far, but he knows it's not enough to win him the nomination.

The only way he can hope to win is if he can convince the establishment that he is the only person who can carry the Democratic Party to victory in November.  That's it.  Bernie must convince the overwhelming majority of superdelegates nationwide that he alone can beat Trump. He must convince them that the only way to save the establishment is to put Bernie, the anti-establishment candidate, in charge.

That is what Bernie wants. To achieve that goal, Bernie is promoting two main claims.

First, he claims that he has more support than Clinton.  Since he has won several million votes fewer than Clinton, and since he has won fewer swing states, it is unlikely that this claim will ring true for enough people to make a difference. However, he continues to sell the idea that his supporters are being silenced by the Democratic Party. His supporters would have us believe that Clinton is not winning fair and square. The system is rigged, he says. And while millions of his supporters might agree, that is not going to convince hundreds of Hillary's superdelegates. As a result, this claim is obviously not enough.

Second, he claims that an enormous portion of his supporters will not vote for Clinton in November. Bernie wants to strike fear in the heart of the superdelegates, fear that millions of Americans will revolt if Clinton wins the nomination, and that they would rather vote against Clinton than for her. He creates this fear by suggesting, for example, that the outrageous behavior exhibited by some of his supporters in (and in the wake of) the recent Nevada Convention is the natural result of the Democratic Party's corruption. We are supposed to believe that the Democratic Party conspired to award Hillary Clinton one whole delegate more than Bernie in Nevada, as if they felt her lead in the delegate count were hanging by a thread. We are supposed to believe that the Party's behavior and policies breed chaos, and that it will show up at the national convention if they don't give Bernie what he wants. Bernie creates fear by threatening to mobilize his delegates to create a fight in July. He creates fear by placing demands on the Democratic Party, as if his voters were his leverage to wield as he saw fit.

For this threat to work, the superdelegates would have to believe that the overwhelming majority of Bernie's supporters are so anti-Hillary Clinton that they would rather vote against her than vote for her. They would have to believe that the Democratic Party is politically bankrupt.  They would have to believe that Bernie's supporters, by and large, prefer Trump over Hillary.

Do superdelegates want to give in to demands from a person whose supporters actually think Trump is a better candidate than Clinton?  Why would the Democratic Party want to cater to voters like that?  Is Bernie actually saying that the Democratic Party would be better off if it were more like Trump, and less like Clinton? Because that is the logical result of the argument.  If you tell the Democratic Party that you represent people who prefer Trump to Clinton, and you want the Party to cater more towards those people, then you are literally saying that you want the party to be more like Trump.  That is, possibly literally, insane.

Bernie is not banking on rational thinking.  He's banking on fear. He wants to sell himself as the Democratic Party's savior, but you can't have a savior if you don't have a crisis, and you can't have a crisis without desperation. Bernie's hope is that, if the superdelegates panic, they will give him whatever he wants. He is trying to create an atmosphere of crisis and chaos. What Bernie wants is fear.

It is vital to this strategy that Bernie does not make Hillary Clinton the primary target of his campaign. He's not trying to defeat Clinton anymore, because he's figured out that he can't.  He's trying to defeat the Democratic Party. This was probably always his plan. He knew from the start that he would have a hard time getting more support than Hillary, so he's been positioning himself against the establishment from the start. He has thus been targeting Debbie Wasserman Schulz for months, and now more than ever.  She stands for all the corruption and evil that, Bernie says, is standing between him and the nomination.  She is the bogeyman.

Since January, there have been several petitions calling for Debbie Wasserman Schulz to step down. The calls are getting louder, evidence by Bill Moyers popular piece falsely denouncing DWS as a Clinton surrogate, among other misrepresentations. One popular misrepresentation is that she told CNN's Jake Tapper that superdelegates exist to protect the establishment from grassroots activists. Here's the video, in case you forgot:

She was explaining why party officials are unpledged delegates, as opposed to pledged delegates:  If they were pledged, then they would be bound to vote for whichever candidate they had supported from the start.  Since they are unpledged, they are able to change their mind. They are able to listen to and work with grassroots activists, and not be bound to vote against them because of decisions made early on in the primary season.  She was very clear that she wants the Democratic Party to be open to grassroots activism, and that she didn't want party officials and leaders to be forced to fight against them. Yet, Moyers twists her words to make it sound like she is saying the opposite.

She has also been vilified for suspending Bernie's access to the Democratic Voter Database, after his campaign was caught illegally accessing the Clinton campaign's data--as if no strong measures were needed to ensure that Bernie's campaign was acting appropriately.

Now the calls to oust DWS are echoing again because she has called out Bernie's weak reaction to what happened in Nevada. She was speaking for the majority of Democrats, who strongly feel that his response to Nevada was inadequate. There are no leaders in the Democratic Party who are against her on this. They're all against Bernie.

If Debbie Wasserman Schulz were to step down or if the Democratic leadership decided to give in to the pressure Bernie is trying to put on them, it would send a message. It would say that Bernie was right: The Party had not acted fairly or responsibly. Bernie had not had a fair shot at winning this nomination. The system was corrupt, and Bernie deserved more respect than he'd received. It would also say that the Party was scared of Bernie and would do whatever he wanted in order to make him happy.

Bernie's supporters are in favor of that.  I am not. The way Bernie's been campaigning, I think he gets way more respect than he deserves. If anybody needs to be taken to task for corrupt and irresponsible behavior, it is him and his campaign staff, not Debbie Wasserman Schulz.

Bernie says he's not into regime change, but he wants to cut off the head of the Democratic Party and replace it with a figure of his choosing.  He is aiming for a coup, plain and simple.

Unfortunately for Bernie, it's not going to work.  The Democratic Party is not in crisis mode. There are those who want you to believe that Clinton is a weak candidate, but it just ain't so. The weakest candidate in the race is Bernie Sanders. You only need to look at his campaign strategy to see why.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Monetizing Specter Of Reason

I've decided to monetize Specter of Reason. According to Blogger, Specter Of Reason has received 200,599 page views since its inception on October 28, 2007. For the past year or so, it was averaging around 100 to 150 views per day. This year, the numbers are going up rapidly. For the past week or so, it's been getting around 600/day. Yesterday, the blog received over one thousand page views.

I've been blogging for almost nine years, and never wanted to earn money from it. It's always been primarily about two things: (1) developing my writing and critical reasoning skills and (2) influencing philosophical debates (both academic and popular).  It's hasn't only been about philosophy. I've used the blog to pursue some other interests, as well. I've been writing a lot about politics lately. I also write film criticism and reviews, and I incorporate musical interludes from time to time, too. However, philosophy has always been the focus, and I thought monetizing would be counterproductive.  I was afraid that if I monetized, people wouldn't take my arguments seriously.

Monetizing does open me up to a certain line of criticism:  If somebody thinks one of my arguments is weak or superficial, they can accuse me of posting garbage just to increase my income. It's an easy way to dismiss an argument. However, if somebody wants to dismiss an argument, they will find a way to do it. The ads might give them an easy tool, but it won't give them the motivation to dismiss me in the first place. If somebody wants to take me seriously, the ads won't stop them.

The only issue for me, therefore, is whether I want to participate in online advertising at all. I don't have strong feelings about it yet, so I'm giving it a shot.

I'm not sure how this will influence my posting habits. I will, as always, try to develop a more accessible writing style. I will probably also try to include images and other elements to grab attention, but always in a way that is both relevant and interesting. I might try to post more regularly. I might try to post on topics that I think will be more popular.  You might think politics, film and music are likely to generate more page views than philosophy.  It could be that I'm getting a lot more hits now because I'm writing more about film and politics. However, I'm not sure.

Most hits go directly to my home page. None of my specific posts from 2015 or 2016 have received a huge number of views, though the most successful are indeed about film and politics.

The most successful from 2016 are:
From 2015:
If we look at my most successful posts overall, however, philosophy takes center stage.  The posts that seem to be getting the most attention lately are from 2013, and they are all related to philosophy (with one--on the Ball State controversy--related to the intersection of philosophy and politics):

I'm glad to say I'm happy with all of those posts.  Most of them have received over 1,000 views since their original publication, but three of them have not:
For the adventurous and bizarrely curious reader, here are all of my posts which have received over 1,000 views so far. Most are related to either popular or academic philosophy:
I'm not sure what lesson, if any, can be learned from these numbers, so I'll just try to produce more of the same and see how it goes.