A Legitimate Reason to Vote for Donald Trump (and Admitting that Each of Us Sometimes Vote for Terrible People)

Posted in Uncategorized on November 6, 2016 by thebluebros

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I can understand the thinking behind a non-racist person voting for Trump. I really can. It would go something like this:

“It is very unlikely that either a President Trump or a President Clinton will be able to accomplish anything meaningful from a legislative perspective. This election, therefore, is about the Supreme Court for me, and nothing else. Trump has already provided me a list of potential Supreme Court justices, and it is a who’s who of super conservative guys who will do what I want done—e.g., overturn Roe v. Wade; overturn any gun safety legislation; allow state-sanctioned Christianity; step on the neck of labor unions; and deal harshly with the criminally accused. While I understand Trump is prone to erratic behavior, I think the chances of him starting a major war is low enough that I will take that risk to get the Supreme Court I want.”

That argument is not without merit. I see in myself a similar calculus being made. There are unpleasant features of Hillary Clinton that I am willing to overlook so that I can vote for someone who will fill the federal judiciary with liberals. So let’s get real for a minute. If I am being honest, I would, if necessary, be willing to overlook a whole lot more than some shady emails. For example, if it became known that Ms. Clinton cheated on her taxes, was involved in a dog-fighting business, whipped Chelsea with a belt as a child, and cold-called children to tell them there was no Santa Clause, I would still vote for her. I would not be putting up lawn signs or giving Ms. Clinton my money, but she would have my vote. Having said that, there is nothing significant with Ms. Clinton I need to overlook (e.g., she has never admitted on tape to being a sexual predator), and I expect she will be a good (not great) president.

But here’s the thing. I don’t hear ANY Trump supporters making the argument set out above. Rather, I hear a lot of terrible reasons that are not supported by reason, evidence, or sense (and this support is given with perplexingly high levels of enthusiasm!). As an illustration, here are the most common reasons one regularly hears for voting for Donald Trump:

  • You can’t vote for Hillary. She is just too dishonest.
    • Response: This of course is total nonsense as Donald Trump, by any objective measure, lies significantly more often than Hillary Clinton.
  • You can’t vote for Hillary. She is too corrupt.
    • Response: Reasonable minds can disagree as to whether Hillary Clinton is “corrupt.” Those who make this statement with unequivocal certainty do so by relying on assumptions and innuendo. And to the extent Clinton is corrupt, there overwhelming evidence demonstrating that Trump is “mind-bogglingly” more corrupt than Clinton.
  • Trump is a doer who will solve problems.
    • Response: The problem of course with this statement is that Trump has provided almost no specific policy proposals (except for building a wall and providing huge tax cuts for the rich), and Trump brags about his lack of policy specifics. Further, it is difficult to foresee how a person will be able to solve problems when he: knows almost nothing about foreign policy; knows almost nothing about domestic policy; and doesn’t even understand the basic workings of our government.
  • Trump will solve the illegal immigration problem.
    • Response: Trump’s only “plan” to end the illegal immigration problem is to build a wall that is cost-prohibitive and cannot and will not work. If you want to see Trump himself explain one way the wall will fail to work, go to 13:24 in this video.
  • Trump is a successful
    • Response: Putting aside the very real question of just how much value there is in having a business background prior to being president, there are serious questions about just how successful Trump has been. We know he has filed bankruptcy six times. And while he is richer than he was 40 years ago, he would be even richer if he had simply put all of the $40 million his father gave him into an index fund.
  • Hillary will likely face legal problems after she is elected relating to her email.
    • Response: One may not know this based on the media’s wall-to-wall coverage of Hillary’s emails, but Trump is currently embroiled in 75 legal battles (another publication has located 169 lawsuits in which Trump is a named defendant), including one in which Trump faces allegations of raping a 13-year old girl, and others alleging fraud involving Trump University. These may all go nowhere, but so may the single investigation into Hillary’s emails (which Mr. Comey’s letter released today indicates is the case).
  • Hillary is a flip-flopper.
    • Response: While Hillary has unquestionably changed her position on key issues without good explanation, Trump may be the all-time king of flip-floppers. Trump has completely reversed positions on the Iraq War, abortion, torture, immigration, gun control, and on and on.

This list is not provided as a defense of Hillary Clinton, or an attempt to convince others to vote for Hillary. Rather, the list is an attempt to demonstrate that the reasons given by most Trump supporters for voting for Trump are dishonest or very poorly considered. The shortcomings shared by Hillary (prone to untrue statements; secretive; flip-flopping; potential legal problems) are all shortcomings shared by Donald Trump to the same or much greater extent.

The larger and more disturbing point in all of this is that people on both sides of the aisle shamelessly support their side’s candidate and lie about why they are doing it. A great example of this is the Republican Party in 2008 running ads attacking Barack Obama for being a “celebrity.” Eight years later, we have conservatives arguing that Trump’s celebrity is a “huge plus.” There should be a political cost for such blatant hypocrisy, and our electorate should demand better.

The first step in bringing some amount of civility back to our political discourse is for people to start being honest with themselves, and that begins with most people admitting that their vote is entirely based on the letter after a person’s name (D or R), and that everything else (convictions, investigations, secrecy, demeanor, character) is just background noise. Additionally, for most voters, elected leaders are held to a stunning double-standard—i.e., if my guy does it, we’re cool; but if your guy does it, they are Satan. So as I alluded to above, I am willing to take the first step. Here goes.

I am voting for Hillary Clinton primarily because she is a member of the Democratic Party and adopts most of the planks of its platform. Although Trump is as detestable of a human being as I have ever had the misfortunate of seeing, there is no Republican governor or member of Congress whom I would support over Ms. Clinton. Further, my own bias means that despite my best efforts, I can’t help but be drawn to sources of information that support my worldview; I recall every wrong committed by Republicans; and I am too quick to forgive my Democratic brethren for their sins. Who’s ready to go next?

– Dylan

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Understanding Trump’s Rise to the Top: The Lowest-Hanging Fruit Meets the Lowest Common Denominator

Posted in Uncategorized on November 1, 2016 by thebluebros

I routinely run into people who express disbelief that someone like Donald Trump could ascend to the top of the political world, become the nominee of a major political party, and be put in a position where he has a real shot of becoming the next leader of the free world. Sure enough, with just one week to Election Day, we are faced with the possibility that he could win. How could this have happened?

Trump’s political strategy has combined two tactics: (1) Identify the lowest-hanging political fruit and (2) Use that “fruit” to appeal to the lowest common denominator of the voting public. That is, you create the simplest message possible, which is designed to appeal to the least educated and least informed among us. And we see this at every Trump rally on an almost daily basis. Trump delivers uniquely-simple stump speeches to throngs of uneducated white people. We have yet to see if this strategy is enough to get Trump to the Oval Office; but even if he loses; his strategy has been a frighteningly-effective one.

At the root of Trump’s political strategy lies a very simple tactic: Look at the world and point out the imperfect. That’s the Trump strategy in a nutshell. We hear this strategy verbalized at all of his rallies. He routinely says things like, “Look around…,” “Just look…,” “Everyone can see…,” “Everyone knows…,” etc.

In a world chalk full of challenges, it does not take an intellectual giant to identify problems, especially as they pertain to the lives of everyday Americans. In a country where people have inflated senses of self-worth and where they are taught that they deserve happiness, it’s gratifying for them to identify scapegoats for their imperfect lives. Rather than approach problems in a thoughtful way and identify the multifactorial nature of an imperfect system, it’s easier to imagine that someone larger than life will swoop down, save them from their troubled realities, and offer up the American Dream that always seems to elude them.

People could invest the energy to learn and understand how various business interests, geopolitical interests, and big money interests have helped mold a political landscape that largely works against the American middle class. Unfortunately, learning takes effort—a resource Americans are too often reticent to use. So what’s an easier way? What’s the path of least resistance for a collectively-lazy electorate? Answer: Identify problems and point fingers.

Think about the tiny amount of intellectual prowess it takes to implement this political strategy. Looking out any window in America, any person is likely to see something that could be improved upon. Finding a scapegoat for these problems is even easier. Can’t find work? Blame illegal immigrants. Increased racial tension? Blame liberals for not

honoring our police officers. Increased global terrorism? Blame Obama’s soft spot for Muslims and his inability to say the words “Islamic terrorism.” Poor schools? Blame Common Core and the teachers’ union. Low GDP? Blame overregulation and high business taxes. Shrinking middle class? Blame illegal immigrants for taking jobs (a common theme) and blame taxes for being too high (another common theme). Degradation of society? Blame liberal activist judges. The loss of American values? Liberals again. Christmas under attack? Liberals hate God. Government not honest or trustworthy? Blame Hillary.

You see how this works. Every complex problem in America, real or manufactured, can be boiled down to a simple bumper sticker-sized sentence where blame inevitably falls on liberals.

Identifying problems is fine, but one of the things political candidates are supposed to do is offer us ideas for a different direction. There are no real solutions posited by Team Trump, only vague promises to enforce law and order, improve the economy, fix the healthcare system, repair our schools, strengthen the military, etc. When pressed on anything resembling a detail, Trump lets a plan slip that is so ridiculous, if any other person was to say it, it would be taken as an obvious joke (e.g. build a giant wall and have Mexico pay for it; locate, apprehend, and export millions of illegal immigrants; ban Muslims from entering the country; prosecute women for getting abortions; etc.).

On a side note, if conservatives want to blame Obama and Hillary Clinton for destroying this once-great country, they’re going to have to explain what role Republicans played in our nation’s demise. For the last six years, we’ve had a Democratic president, but we’ve also had a Republican-controlled US House, a Republican-controlled US Senate, a large majority of governorships belonging to Republicans, a majority of state senates controlled by Republicans, a majority of state houses controlled by Republicans, and until the death of Antonin Scalia earlier this year, a Republican-controlled U.S. Supreme Court.

For people struggling to achieve the American dream, I understand the allure of Trump, and I can appreciate the temptation to blame others. However, the irony is not lost on me that the Party of personal responsibility can’t seem to stop blaming others for all of their problems.

The problem we have before us is that we have a significant portion of Americans who are angry, uninformed, and hungry for a leader to tell them who to blame for their problems. The long-term solution is to create a more informed and more educated electorate. The short-term solution is ensure that we don’t encourage, endorse, or elect Donald Trump (or anyone like him) to any public office. Don’t forget to vote!

– Nathan

If You Think this Meme is the Cat’s Pajamas, This Article is For You

Posted in Uncategorized on October 13, 2016 by thebluebros

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If you are looking to expose yourself as an individual devoid of complex thought or as a person who seeks cheap applause by grasping at the lowest of hanging fruit, feel free to utter one of these choice phrases:

  • The Westboro Baptist Church is just wrong;
  • Support our troops; or
  • This presidential election is between Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum.

Excuse me for a minute. That last one was a real knee slapper.

OK, I’m back.

The three phrases above are each ridiculous and essentially meaningless. I mean, good luck finding a human being who thinks the Westboro Baptist Church rocks. Or that our troops should not be supported. Or that it is a real struggle choosing between Hillary and Trump because both are so awesome. The pointless and vacuous nature of these statements does not, however, prevent millions of people from repeating them day-in and day-out, and usually with a disturbing air of cleverness.

But let’s focus on the third of these three statements—i.e., that Trump and Clinton are the two worst choices for president, and since they are equally bad, you cannot be expected to choose between them.

Isn’t It Odd that Every Leader of the Democratic Party is a Craven Sociopath?

Too many people buy into the idea that 2016 is some type of strange year because we had the misfortune of nominating the two most unpopular choices for president ever, and if only we had selected better choices, all would be well.

Do we all have amnesia?

Do you remember how the Republican Party has treated Obama for the past eight years? Republicans have called him a Communist, a secret Muslim, a terrorist, and the anti-Christ. Before that, it was John Kerry who the Republicans “swift-boated” and attacked as being a traitor. Before that it was Al Gore who conservatives vilified as a pathological liar. Bill Clinton was (and still is) called a rapist and a murderer. And it’s not just the presidential candidates. Feel free to do a quick Google search to see just how keen the conservative media is on Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid.

Do you really believe the 100 million Democrats in this country keep selecting as their leaders murderers, sociopaths, and anti-Christs, or is it more likely that the Republican hate machine is designed to viciously knock down ANY Democrat that gets into a leadership position?

Consider this. Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State from 2009 to 2012. During this time, when she posed no electoral threat to Republicans, her approval rating with American voters stayed between 62% and 66%. It now sits at 41%. What changed? Oh yeah, the Republican hate machine spent the last four years fomenting anger and rage towards Clinton with the heat of a thousand suns. Do not be fooled into believing that the Democratic Party could have nominated any person that would not have been turned into a cartoon character of evil and depravity.

Hillary Clinton is a Mediocre Candidate with Pretty Typical Political Baggage

Despite Donald Trump’s assertion that Ms. Clinton is “the devil,” Ms. Clinton, as a candidate, is a pretty typical presidential candidate with her share of minor and medium-level scandals. Reagan illegally sold arms to Iran. Bill Clinton had a long string of adulterous relationships haunting him. George W. Bush had the DUI and that dubious Texas Air National Guard service. Al Gore had a penchant for exaggerating and being a smug jerk. And Hillary has a tendency to be secretive, and shifts many of her positions with the political winds, and then denies it. No candidate will ever be scandal-free, and Hillary is no exception.

Having said that, put…Hillary’s…scandals…into…context. Hillary Clinton has been under investigation by the Republican Party for the better part of 30 years, and the best they can come up with is a private email server. Conservatives want to say Clinton is benefiting from a rigged system, but that assertion defies reality. Hillary has been investigated by Republicans hell-bent on destroying her along with the help of numerous Republican-appointed prosecutors. No one took it easy on Clinton. These conservative-led witch hunts have never found anything more than decisions that, in hindsight, were regrettable. No evidence of criminal intent has ever been unearthed, and accordingly, no criminal charges have ever been filed.

The only way the Hillary haters can portray her as a demon, which Alex Jones said this week, is to buy into repeatedly debunked conspiracy theories such as Hillary letting people die in Benghazi, laughing at a 12-year old rape victim, Travelgate, Whitewater, and on and on. If you are gullible enough to believe every conspiracy theory, it makes sense to hate Hillary Clinton. If, on the other hand, you rely on objective evidence, Hillary Clinton’s skeletons are on par (or better) than most any other presidential nominee of the past 30 years.

Voting Isn’t About Getting Everything You Want

I understand and respect people who feel disappointed that neither candidate inspires them or gets them excited. I feel the same way. That disappointment sits with me as I write this, and it sat with me in 2012 (Obama v. Romney) and in 2000 (Bush v. Gore). But that disappointment is not an excuse for inaction. Sometimes touch choices have to be made. And sometimes an uninspiring choice is actually an easy choice because the other option is so bad.

My brother likes to compare the choice of Hillary versus Trump to the choice of eating dog food for dinner (Hillary) versus eating dog shit for dinner (Trump). As much as I may find the idea of eating dog food unpleasant, this is not a tough choice.

And for those who are choosing to vote third-party, well, I’ve already covered that here. I would advise third-party voters to recognize that we live in an electoral system (first-past-the-post) that will only allow two parties to exist. This is called Duverger’s Law. While it is of course each person’s right to vote for anyone they want, it also each person’s right to wear a chicken costume when voting. Both acts carry the same political relevancy, but at least wearing a chicken costume would not negatively impact the things you profess to care about. I very much wish we lived in a multi-party system, but we do not, and we cannot without first amending every state’s election laws, and amending the Constitution to eliminate the Electoral College.

Nothing is Equal

Related to the above point, nothing is equal. I have been saying for quite some time that the only way Donald Trump becomes president is by way of false equivalencies—i.e., “Both candidates suck,” or “I don’t trust either one of them,” or “Giant Meteor 2016.”

Real scandals are not the same thing as made-up scandals, and not all scandals are equal. Lying about how many emails a person received that were marked with a “c” is not equivalent to stating that you enjoy sexually assaulting women and trying to “fuck” married women. If you would like a comparison of Hillary’s scandals vs. Trump’s scandals that is portrayed in a thoughtful and funny way, I would encourage you to watch John Oliver’s brilliant comparison here. As you will see, there is no comparison.

American voters need to get over their need to be inspired, and absolve themselves of the natural inclination to throw up our hands and say, “They’re both bad.” The analysis must go on. Dog food and dog shit are both bad, but they are not equal.

When voting for president, one should consider a multitude of factors including: temperament, knowledge, record of service, policy positions, work ethic, and the kinds of people they place in their inner circle. When considering these factors, it may be true that neither Trump nor Hillary blow you away, but there can be no question who deserves your vote regardless of ideology. Hillary Clinton needs to be our 45th president. Or to put it another way that may be more palatable to you, Donald Trump CANNOT be our next president, and the only way to prevent that outcome is for about 65 million of us to vote for Hillary. Let’s do this, people!

– Dylan

Having the Courage to Bring Facts and Reason to Discussions of the “Black Lives Matter” Movement

Posted in Uncategorized on July 25, 2016 by thebluebros

 

It is sad that the issue of police and the Black Lives Matter (“BLM”) movement has gone the way of guns in that those on the political right have abandoned any pretense of thought or rationality. Instead, opponents to the Black Lives Matter movement cling to the same handful of silly arguments that get repeated ad nauseum in the media and on social media. Perhaps more aggravating than the stupidity of these arguments is the countenance of those who speak them. When these baseless assertions are repeated, one can hear the pompous and grandiose manner in which they are delivered as if this mindless drivel is impervious to attack. That is far from the case. In fact, if you hear any of the anti-BLM arguments discussed in this piece, you know you are dealing with a person of questionable intellect or a person who has somehow suspended their brain’s ability to engage in critical thinking.

Below is my attempt to identify the most common attacks against the BLM movement, and provide a cogent and thoughtful response to each. 

  1. Black Lives Matters is hypocritical. Why don’t they speak out about the number of blacks killed by other blacks? 

This is perhaps the most widespread and insidious argument against the Black Live Matter movement. It is a completely baseless argument for the following reasons.

First, black-on-black crime has actually gotten much better. Over the past 25 years, the murder of rate of blacks against other blacks has been cut in half. This is part of the larger trend of significantly decreased violence we have seen nationwide since the start of Bill Clinton’s administration. So let’s not pretend that nothing is being done about black-on-black crime.

Second, blacks do care about the issue of black-on-black crime and they do speak out about it. In a Slate article from a year ago, author Jamelle Bouie said the following on the topic:

“[I]t’s easy to find examples of marches and demonstrations against crime. In the last four years, blacks have held community protests against violence in Chicago; New York; Newark, New Jersey; Pittsburgh; Saginaw, Michigan; and Gary, Indiana. Indeed, there’s a whole catalog of movies, albums, and sermons from a generation of directors, musicians, and religious leaders, each urging peace and order. You may not have noticed black protests against crime and violence, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t happened. Black Americans—like everyone else—are concerned with what happens in their communities, and at a certain point, pundits who insist otherwise are either lying or willfully ignorant.” (Emphasis added).

Third, the BLM movement is one that is focused on the treatment of blacks at the hands of police. The fact that the movement does not address every ill in the black community does not in any way undermine its message. Similarly, I give most of my charity dollars to organizations that support abused children, and I give no money to The Humane Society. This does not mean I condone animal abuse or that I am a hypocrite. It simply means I recognize that I have limited resources, and that my charitable donations are best utilized by focusing my efforts.

Fourth, and most important, the fact that criminals exist in the black community has nothing to do with the question of how police treat blacks. Citizens do not waive their right to be treated fairly by police because they live in a neighborhood or community with higher rates of crime. Even if one believed the BLM movement to be hypocritical or inconsistent, so what? Do hypocrites and fools not have the right to be treated fairly and equitably by police regardless of the color of their skin? 

  1. Police kill more whites than blacks. Why don’t Black Lives Matter ever mention that? 

This is true, but for any person who has even the most rudimentary understanding of math and U.S. demographics, it should be very obvious why this fact, while true, is completely meaningless.

In the past 18 months, police have shot and killed 1,502 people—732 of the victims were white and 381 were black (and 382 were of another race or the race of the decedent was not recorded). But as most of you probably know, that is only half of the equation. The other half is population. In the United States, there are about 196.8 million white people (or 64% of the population); and there are about 37.7 million black people (or about 12% of the population). Therefore, when population is accounted for, it demonstrates that black people are 2.5 times more likely to be shot by police than white people.

That number goes even higher when you examine the number of people shot and killed by the police when they were unarmed. Police shot the same number—50 unarmed blacks and 50 unarmed whites. When you account for population, you see that unarmed blacks are more than 5 times more likely to be killed by police than whites.

  1. Minority cops are more violent than white cops. 

I have heard this argument before, but I can find no evidence to support it. Even if true, however, the fact would have no relevance to the discussion of the BLM movement. The movement is geared towards equal treatment under the law, and putting systems into place that train police officers to de-escalate situations rather than escalate them. Whether a police officer is white, black, brown, purple, or green has no bearing on this discussion. A person who raises such a point either has a very poor understanding of the purpose of the BLM movement, or he is just a racist asshole looking to poke his fat white finger in the collective eye of the African-American community. I tend to think it’s both. 

  1. 37% of all violent crimes are committed by blacks. Pesky facts. 

The 37% number is problematic for a great many reasons, such as: (1) different organizations come up with widely different numbers of what percentage of violent crimes are committed by blacks; (2) many police agencies do not track the race of violent offenders; (3) the 37% number is arrived at by counting arrests, not convictions; (4) higher arrest rates of blacks could be accounted for by the very problem the BLM movement is seeking to address—racism; and (5) black neighborhoods are patrolled at a greater rate than white neighborhoods. I do not want to split hairs though. We know that while blacks make up 12% of the United States, they are responsible for more than 12% of violent crime.

The larger point though is this: So what? I encourage you to follow this argument to its obvious and unstated conclusion, which is: “Because black people are more likely to be violent, police get to treat all black people differently.” Putting aside the merit of such a law enforcement strategy, this is the very definition of racial profiling, which is unconstitutional as it is a violation of the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.

Putting the constitutionality of racial profiling aside, let’s look at a few facts:

  • Among the African-American population, the instances of murders and assaults are rare (less than 1 per 1,000 people);
  • When black people do commit violent acts, they are rarely committed against white people or police officers. Rather, the violent acts are usually committed against other blacks. In the case of homicides, 90% of all black homicides were committed by other blacks (and 82% of all white homicides were committed by other whites).
  • Very few police officers are killed in the line-of-duty. There are currently more than 900,000 police officers in the United States. In 2015, 42 officers were murdered (39 by shooting; 3 by assault). While each of these 42 deaths was an unquestionable tragedy for the families of these officers and their communities, 42 deaths out of more than 900,000 officers indicates police officers face a very low chance of being murdered while on the job. In fact, the murder rate of taxi cab drivers is more than double that of police officers, and one’s chances of dying while logging is 10 times greater than dying while policing.

What these facts show is that even if we ignored the constitutionality of racial profiling, it is nearly impossible for police to justify killing black people at a higher rate because the police fear for their lives. These numbers demonstrate that more than 99% of blacks do not commit violent crimes; those blacks who do commit violent crimes are much more likely to hurt other black people than police; and the number of police officers murdered in the line of duty each year is just slightly higher than the number of Americans crushed each year by their own furniture (about 30 people per year).

  1. The most violent cities are run by Democrats. 

Conservatives oftentimes cannot help themselves. If an opportunity arises to attack Democrats, it will not be missed. Here, we see an attack on Democrats that is wholly unrelated to the issue of police brutality or the Black Lives Matters movement. The BLM movement is not affiliated with a political party.

As an aside, it is true that America’s most violent cities are usually governed at the local level by Democrats, and a combination of Democrats and Republicans at the state and federal levels. What exactly are we supposed to extrapolate from this fact? That Democrats cause people to be violent? The fact is, the most violent cities are also the poorest cities. That is no coincidence. Poverty breeds many of the social ills that plague us. Poor minorities tend to vote Democratic because they see Democrats trying to do something about poverty (even if often ineffectual) while Republicans do not even attempt to pay lip service to helping the poor.

If I wanted to match this argument with one of equal logic, I would state that the highest rates of pornography use are in the most Republican states in the country (1. Utah  2. Alaska  3. Mississippi). Therefore, Republicans are responsible for widespread use of pornography.

 

The Black Lives Matter movement is about the simple goal of raising awareness that too many police officers and police forces treat black people differently than white people. This is a complex discussion, and one where reasonable minds can disagree about the scope of the problem and the best solutions. Unfortunately, productive conversations on the topic have largely become impossible due to the right’s oft-repeated practice of latching on to brainless rhetorical devices that allow them to continue putting their collective heads in the sand; avoid listening to anyone who disagrees with them; and not devise any solutions to the problem before us. I suspect the primary purpose of these right-wing “arguments” is to distract people from the issue long enough that we lose interest, and go back to the way things have always been. If you are white, that is fine. If you are black, that is a tragedy.

  • Dylan

Something Rarer Than a Unicorn: An Even-Handed Examination of Hillary Clinton

Posted in Uncategorized on July 7, 2016 by thebluebros

What if you had a neighbor kid who woke you up every Saturday morning at 7:00 a.m. by playing his drum kit just outside your bedroom window, but by 9:00 a.m., he was over mowing your lawn free-of-charge. Would you love this kid or hate him? Probably neither. I expect you would feel somewhat torn, and understandably so. This neighbor kid is not unlike Hillary Clinton.

While Clinton would unquestionably bring a lot of admirable qualities and an impressive resume to the White House, she also brings with her a lot of baggage that would concern most any voter of any political stripe. For these reasons, when I hear a person extol the near angelic nature of Hillary Clinton or hear someone else yell, “Hillary for Prison,” I think to myself, “These two people have a lot more in common than they think.” Both people are drawn to hyperbole and both struggle mightily with confirmation bias.

When reading articles on Hillary Clinton or listening to pundits, it is difficult to find someone who is not on one of these two extremes—i.e., Hillary is a hybrid of FDR and Mother Teresa, or the “Benghazi Bitch” needs to die or go to prison.

This piece will attempt to briefly lay out some of the key reasons for and against a Hillary presidency in a manner that is based on demonstrable facts and a good-faith effort to educate people who really are looking to cut through the tribalistic crap that makes it so hard to learn anything.

The Case Against Hillary Clinton

  • Hillary has a bit of Richard Nixon in her in that she is drawn towards secrecy. Using an email server in her own home was almost certainly done as a way to avoid disclosing her official email communications to the public. While one can understand Hillary’s reluctance to be open after 25 years of constant attack from the right, understanding her preference for secrecy does not excuse it. And her desire for secrecy is not limited to her emails. This is a politician who appears to believe the American people are on a need-to-know basis.
  • By the FBI’s account, even though Hillary was not indicted for her email practices, they still characterized her actions as “extremely careless” and she oversaw a department that inadequately protected classified information. While her actions may have been largely customary by State Department standards when she arrived, rather than improving a system failing to protect State secrets, she actually made it worse.
  • Hillary Clinton voted for the Iraq War—an event many people believe to be the greatest foreign policy mistake in our nation’s history.
  • Hillary seems to lack core convictions on many issues, and sometimes her positions seems to change based on political calculations. For example, she was vocally for the Trans-Pacific Partnership before she was against it. Hillary will also sometimes avoid taking a position on key issues until it is clear which way public sentiment is leaning. For example, she may have been the last presidential candidate to take a position on the Keystone pipeline. Hillary was also one of the last leaders of the Democratic Party to support gay marriage. While Hillary has eventually come down on the correct side of these issues (from a Democrat’s perspective), her refusal to stake out a strong position from the beginning demonstrates a lack of leadership and/or convictions.
  • Hillary spends a large amount of time around really rich people, and accepts a tremendous amount of money from the mega-wealthy. I believe Hillary is sincere when she states these things do not influence her decision-making, but she is human. It is unreasonable to believe that the company one chooses to keep will not influence his or her thought-process and decision-making. The rich, powerful, and entrenched power centers unquestionably have Hillary’s ear.

The Case for Hillary Clinton

  • Barack Obama is correct to say that no human being has ever run for president better prepared to be president than Hillary Clinton. Look at this resume: first lady for eight years; secretary of state for four years; U.S. senator for eight years; and a Yale law degree. One of the biggest problems with past presidents such as Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton is that they arrived on the job with little idea of what they were in for. Hillary would have no such problem.
  • The thing I most respect about Hillary is her work ethic and intelligence. This is a person who clearly takes her job seriously, and studies up to learn everything she can before making a decision. In a time of so many blowhard politicians who have no idea what they are talking about, it is immensely refreshing to hear a politician that can knowledgably speak on any issue. This tells me Hillary respects the position she is running for. In sharp contrast, I look to someone like Jeb Bush whose only job for the past nine years has been to prepare for running for president, and the guy showed up on the scene unable to answer the most basic and predicable questions. That would never happen with Hillary.
  • Hillary has been a leader on some great issues. For example, she has been a champion for expanding health care, especially to children. She played an integral role in passing federal SCHIP legislation (expanding health care to poor children). Hillary has also been a tireless advocate for expanding women’s rights abroad, even in places where such a message was not welcome. As Secretary of State, Hillary played a critical role in getting Osama bin Laden, and implementing tougher sanctions on Iran. Over the past 25 years, Hillary has actually done a lot of things. Most any person could find at least a few they agree with and are grateful for.
  • Hillary is contemplative and steady. I trust Hillary to avoid making rash decisions, and to seek out the counsel of the smartest people on Earth. This is an important quality in a person who will have access to the largest nuclear arsenal in the world.
  • Hillary Clinton believes in science. It is sad that this has to be listed as a qualification for president, but those are the times in which we live.
  • By most measures, Hillary is a moderate. As a liberal, this disappoints me, but if looking at this from national perspective rather than my own, Hillary would be an effective representative for the beliefs of most Americans.

After going through this list, I find myself going back to the analogy of the drum-playing, lawn-mowing neighbor kid. It is difficult to understand how a person can consider both sides of the Hillary equation, and conclude she is worthy of either adoration or hate. Hillary is a complex person with much to like and dislike. And because Hillary is such a mixed bag, I chose not to support her in the primaries, but can understand why others did. If you love or hate Hillary Clinton or your neighbor kid, I think it says a lot more about you than it does Ms. Clinton or the neighbor kid.

Finally, I want to make crystal clear that this article should not be mistaken as an attempt by me to demonstrate my personal struggles over who to support in November. I am having no internal struggle when being asked to choose between the mixed-bag of Hillary Clinton versus Donald Trump—a volatile, racist, thin-skinned man whose understanding of domestic and world affairs could fit into a thimble, and who has devoted his life solely to the enrichment of himself. Faced with such a choice, there is no choice. Despite it being thought pithy and fashionable these days to say so, I am having no difficulty choosing who to support for president.

Perhaps if this was 2008 or 2012, and voters had the options of thoughtful Republicans like John McCain or Mitt Romney, the careful weighing of Hillary Clinton’s strengths and weaknesses would be important. But this isn’t 2008 or 2012, and with Trump drooling on the other side, such an exercise is purely academic. Although it would be nice if more people engaged in this kind of thoughtful examination of Hillary Clinton so we could have a meaningful conversation about our next president rather than yelling insults from across the room.

– Dylan

The Controversial Case for Spanking a Child

Posted in Uncategorized on May 19, 2016 by thebluebros

Another anti-spanking article is making the rounds on Facebook, and people are again lining up to decry the abominable act of spanking a child.

Like similar articles before it, this article goes out of its way to sensationalize the issue. Even in the picture right under the headline, we see what appears to be the biggest burliest mother on the planet with soulless eyes, spanking a completely naked infant. The infant is of course horrified, in agony, and donning a flaming-red backside.

Researching the spanking issue is a frustrating act because you tend to come across two extreme responses. On one end of the spectrum you get the mommy blogs and secondary sources that very loosely tie in with the research that claim any form of corporal punishment constitutes abuse and is never okay. On the other end of the spectrum, you get the religious right, and often the willfully ignorant parents who make the case that because they were spanked and turned out okay, the practice of spanking must be a good thing.

On the surface, this is an easy issue. After all, how could anyone justify a grown adult hitting a defenseless child? It just sounds wrong. But in this blog post, I will try to add nuance to this complex issue.

I believe spankings, with the proper guidelines in place, can be a useful parenting tool and one that does not put children at an increased risk of developing future emotional problems, but it must be done appropriately. Here are my 8 rules for spanking: (1) Never spank a child in anger; (2) A spanking should happen in private (public humiliation should not be part of the punishment); (3) Spanking should never be done with an instrument (e.g. belt, coat hanger, paddle, etc.); (4) A spanking should never cause bruising or injury; (5) Spanking should be rare and not the go to punishment; (6) No one should spank a child other than a parent or legal guardian; (7) The child should know the reason for the spanking; and (8) Following the spanking, the parent and child should discuss what happened and why.

In my house, spankings are very rare. I have four kids. My 14-month old daughter has obviously never been spanked, but my three sons (7, 5, and almost 3) have all had swats. Again, this is rare, with each child receiving maybe one spanking a year. And when a spanking does happen, it’s because I want my child to know immediately that what he did cannot happen again. For example, I spanked my 5-year old once for pulling away from me, running into the street, and almost getting hit by a car. I wanted the message to be swift, powerful, and effective. I didn’t think it would be as effective to wait until we were home 30 minutes later to give him a timeout.

Perhaps a more controversial view is that I believe it’s good for kids to have a healthy fear of their parents. Children shouldn’t fear abuse, but they should fear consequences to their actions. As a personal example, my father is, and has always been, a very gentle and loving man; but I remember having the fear of his spankings when I was a kid. Even though his spankings were rare (happening less than once a year) and always delivered with an open hand, I knew a spanking was on the list of possible punishments. That alone was a very effective deterrent to my less-than virtuous behavior. I certainly do not regard my father as a child abuser. I know that he did not enjoy spanking his children, and I do not believe that he taught me to use violence and aggression to solve my problems.

But how can I disregard the mountain of research and empirical data that rails against spanking in favor of some anecdotal information from my own childhood (the nadir of scientific evidence)?

The anti-spanking literature is not all it’s cracked up to be. Part of the reason for this is that when researchers investigate spanking, they don’t ask whether or not some types of spanking can be effective in specific situations, but rather they treat it as an all or none issue (i.e. is spanking good or bad). This overly-simplistic approach appeals to those for whom spanking is an emotionally-charged issue, but it avoids answering the more useful question of whether there exists a manner in which spankings can be administered to assist with child-rearing and that does no long-term emotional damage to the child.

A second reason the research falls short is because it’s difficult to study spanking due to it occurring at home and not in a laboratory. For this reason, it is impossible to control for important factors such as: Was the spanking done in anger; did it cause bruising and/or was it abusive; was an instrument used; did it violate any of the eight rules outlined above; etc.? It’s also difficult to study spanking because researchers do not know when spankings will occur. It’s obviously not ethical to tell a parent to hit a child at a specific time for the sake of research. Because of the major challenges surrounding the issue of data collection, the validity of spanking studies are suspect.

Furthermore, some of the most often-cited spanking articles from the past have huge flaws in the research design. For example, many of the spanking studies are correlational, and confounding variables are often not controlled for (e.g. income level, education, family makeup, etc.).

Despite the clear limitations in the data and research design, there are many faulty conclusions drawn from the spanking research. For example, one popular talking point is that spanking is bad because it teaches children that violence is an effective way to solve problems. Another popular opinion is that spanking makes children fearful, which is not conducive to moral learning. And another problematic belief drawn from the research is that spanking confuses children about whether the parent is a source of comfort or a source of pain. These conclusions are interesting and worthy of discussion, but they are not borne out by the data.

The recent article cited above tries to deliver a death blow to spanking by citing the negative effects of spanking. But the article acknowledges that, “The size of the negative effects are small… and there’s no proof that spanking specifically caused these [negative] behaviors later in life.” So at best, the research is inconclusive; and although some of the results may be statistically significant, the effect size is so small that it has virtually no impact in a real-world sort of way. Even if we were to believe and accept the implications of these results, my guess would be that much of the data used to make these conclusions came from households that violated one or more of my spanking rules (outlined above).

The author further undermines her research by describing the ethical challenges in studying spanking and the limitations of the research: “Researchers can’t conduct spanking experiments where they randomly assign children to be hit. And it’s also possible that “bad” children are just spanked more, and are also generally more aggressive and anti-social throughout their lives.”

Again, the results from these studies are certainly worthy of our attention, and they should not be dismissed. That being said, the wild conclusions drawn from these studies are not based in science and not supported by the data. For example, I take issue with the popular talking point repeated in this article by developmental psychologist Elizabeth Gershoff. She states that when you hit a child, it “makes it clear to the child that you can hit somebody if you have power,” and that “Children learn you can hit to get what you want…so those kids, not surprisingly…are using aggression to do what they want.” Let’s give kids a little more credit. If a child receives a swat on the backside for misbehaving, I don’t think children extrapolate that to mean that it’s okay to punch kids on the playground. Kids understand that different types of relationships exist, and when so-called experts claim that kids can’t make this distinction, it makes me think the researchers have spent too much time in a laboratory and not enough time with actual kids.

And how far do we want to take this theory proposed by Dr. Gershoff? If we believe spanking will encourage children to use violence to solve problems, why is the argument not extrapolated to other punishments? For example, if we teach a child that bad behavior can result in the loss of privileges (e.g. reduced access to video games, TV, cell phones, etc.), are we to believe that the child will think it’s appropriate to take electronics from his peers at school to get what he wants?

I also take issue with the premise that parents spank their kids because it brings them a sense of satisfaction (another claim made by Dr. Gershoff). There is simply no empirical evidence to substantiate this claim.

Dr. Gershoff states that, “I don’t think we learn to be good people who care about others by being hit.” I don’t think so either, but that’s not why parents spank their children. Spanking is usually done in an effort to stop a specific behavior. If the goal is to help children be good people, it is of course better to talk to them. But spanking a child and talking to a child can both occur.

As a psychologist, I see clients every day who are the products of physically-abusive homes. Domestic violence and physical abuse are of course strong predictors of mental health issues later in life, and a large percentage of my clientele come to therapy because of unresolved issues surrounding this violence in their early life. But in my 10 years of delivering clinical care, I have never had a person come to my office with the complaint that they were spanked as a child. Virtually every person I know who was spanked (without the presence of abuse) disregard this as a normal part of childhood that had little to no impact on their lives.

So I have a lot of problems with how these anti-spanking articles are spun. They create a false choice where you can either be a violent monster who enjoys abusing children, or you can be a good parent who teaches his/her child morality with calm dialogue. This is of course a false choice. The obvious response is that parents can choose to spank appropriately AND teach life lessons with healthy dialogue.

All of us want to do what’s best for our children, and I believe that if spanking is done according to the eight rules I outlined above, it can result in positive outcomes for children and their respective families. I’m not saying parents have to spank their children, or even that they should. However, I believe spanking can be an effective and beneficial tool if used appropriately. Despite what some experts claim, the research has a long way to go to discredit that idea.

– Nathan

As Goes Alabama, So Goes the Nation: Our Broken Primary Calendar

Posted in Uncategorized on March 10, 2016 by thebluebros

Of the 12 states won by Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump has won 11 of those states. The only exception comes in Iowa, where Hillary Clinton edged out Sanders by 0.3%. If we remove Iowa from the equation due to it essentially being a tie, we see that in all of the 11 states won by Hillary, Trump has also won.

I know what you’re thinking: Trump and Hillary have won the vast majority of the states up for grabs, therefore we’d expect to see a lot of overlap between their victories. But let’s test that theory.

First, it’s not true that Clinton and Trump have won a vast majority of the states. On the Democratic side, Clinton has won 13 states, and Sanders has won 9. Similar story on the Republican side: Trump has won 15 contests, and Cruz and Rubio have combined to win 10. This means that Clinton and Trump have won 59% and 60% of their respective primary contests thus far. So we wouldn’t expect to see complete overlap in their winning states.

In the nine states won by Sanders, only three are shared with Trump (Michigan, New Hampshire, and Vermont).

So Clinton and Trump are winning the same states. Interesting, but who cares?

The important point here is that Clinton’s appeal (and to a lesser degree, Trump’s appeal) is largely regional. Southerners love Trump, and southerners (particularly African American southerners) love Clinton. The Clinton campaign scoffs at the assertion that Clinton is a regional candidate, but look at the numbers. In the South, Clinton is 9-1 (losing only Oklahoma), and everywhere else in the country she has a 3-8 record, with all three of her wins coming by narrow margins. In fact, two of those wins were so close they were virtual ties. If we disregard the two states where Clinton won by a single percentage point or less, she has only a single win in a non-southern state (Nevada). So if Clinton is merely a regional candidate, it begs the question how she has such a large delegate lead over Sanders.

Here’s how: The early primary states are heavily focused on the east, particularly the southeast. By March 15th, 12 of the 13 southern states (the only exception being Kentucky) will have voted in their respective Democratic primaries. That means 95.7% of southern Democrats will have had a chance to vote by March 15. As stated above, the south is Hillary Clinton’s strongest region.

And what about the rest of the country? In the 13 states that make up the west (arguably Bernie’s strongest region of support), only two states will have voted by the 15th of March. These two states make up only 11.5% of Democrats in the west. The other 88.5% of western Democrats have yet to cast a ballot. In the 11 northeast states, only four states will have voted by March 15, representing just 20.4% of Democrats in that region. Midwestern Americans do better in that 67.6% of Democrats will have had a chance to vote by March 15, but nothing comes close to the 95.7% of voter representation seen in the South. When the votes are counted up on March 15th, 2,120 delegates will have been assigned; and despite only making up 27.9% of the Democratic electorate, the south will represent 56.2% of the delegates counted by March 15.

The four regions of the country (West, Midwest, South, and Northeast) have roughly the same populations (between 22-28%). That’s a stark contrast between how the regions are represented in the delegate math. As we can clearly see, the South is way over-represented while the West and the Northeast are profoundly underrepresented.

Chart 1 (nathan)

Chart 2 (nathan)

So why does this matter? It matters because it provides a false narrative about the strength and momentum of Clinton’s campaign. The delegate math on March 15 will clearly give the advantage to Hillary Clinton, but only for the reason that her strength in the South has been overrepresented and her weaknesses in other parts of the country have been underrepresented. This means Clinton can establish herself as a winning brand early in the race, and Sanders is immediately pegged as the guy with a pattern of losing; a candidate who can’t come back from the delegate math; a candidate who has trouble winning states; and a fringe politician who never really had a chance anyway. Sure enough, we’ve been hearing for weeks that Sanders has no chance and that the delegate math is too much for him to overcome.

Data strongly suggests this may be a false narrative and that the race is closer than described. Keep in mind that two of Clinton’s wins have been by razor-thin margins. Her win in Iowa of 0.3% was the closest in the state’s Democratic caucus history; and she won Massachusetts by a single percentage point (50% to 49%). Had these states teetered in the other direction, Clinton and Sanders would be tied at 11 states apiece right now. Clinton also won a close race in Nevada, where she beat Sanders by five points. On the other hand, in all nine of the states where Sanders emerged victorious, only Michigan was close. In every other state, he won by large margins (his smallest victory coming by 10 points in Oklahoma). So it’s not like Sanders is getting lucky and pulling out some close races in small states. He’s winning a lot of states and by large margins. But this isn’t the story being told because Clinton’s large victories in the South have bolstered her status as the frontrunner. So the order that states have their primaries makes a big difference. Candidates who lose states early in the primary process find it more difficult to raise money and constantly have to fight the narrative that they can’t win.

Had the tables been turned, and the primaries started on the West Coast, this election would likely look very different. Bernie could have potentially steamrolled across the west. Then Hillary Clinton would be on the defensive, trying to resuscitate her campaign and trying to prove to the American people that she can actually win some primary states. But that’s not how the calendar worked out.

The inequity of overvaluing the South in 2016 is magnified by the existence of superdelegates—i.e., those delegates that are not assigned democratically through primary or caucuses, but by high ranking party officials. When the media covers the Democratic primary race and gives us the most up to date delegate count, they routinely combine the superdelegates with the democratically won delegates. This provides a skewed representation of the race and makes Clinton’s lead look humongous.

When we combine the actual won delegates with the superdelegates, Clinton leads Sanders 1,223 to 574, more than double the number of Sanders delegates, making it look to the casual observer that the primary race is essentially over and Bernie is simply holding onto a pipe dream. However, when we look only at only the won delegates, the math tells a very different story. Clinton still leads but by a much smaller margin: 748-542. This shows us that the race is much closer than advertised. This is particularly noteworthy when we take into account the fact that over 95% of Clinton’s stronghold in the South has already voted while the majority of Sanders-friendly states have yet to cast a ballot.

Chart 3 (nathan)

Chart 4 (nathan)

But don’t the superdelegates matter? Yes and no. Remember that these superdelegates are not bound by law to vote for Clinton at the convention, even if they have already expressed support for her in the past. If Sanders wins the majority of the votes, the majority of the delegates, and the majority of the states, those superdelegates will be in a position where they more or less have to vote for Sanders at the convention. If they don’t, there will be a revolt in the Party.

Whether by design or not, what we now have is a primary calendar that gives near-total control of the selection of each party’s presidential candidate to the South. While the first two states in the process (Iowa and New Hampshire) are admittedly not in the South, the past few decades have shown us that presidential contests are not decided in New Hampshire and Iowa, but over the next 10 to 20 states. And the current primary calendar is overwhelming southern, conservative, and unreflective of the United States as a whole.

This recent change in the primary calendar appears to have been a quiet and clever coup by conservatives to dramatically push our options for president, and with it, the future of our country, in a rightward direction. Anyone whose values look different from those of Alabama, Mississippi, and Arkansas had better start demanding that we diversify the order of our primaries, or we will end up with more general election candidates like Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. That is, candidates that have little appeal outside of the South.

– Nathan