Specter of Reason

Philosophy, Science, Art, Politics, Society.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Did Clinton Flip-Flop On The Minimum Wage?

In the Brooklyn debate, Hillary Clinton was asked: "As president, if a Democratic Congress put a $15 minimum wage bill on your desk, would you sign it?" She said yes, and Bernie acted like it was a shock. She had said she supported a $12 federal minimum wage before, and now she is saying she would support a $15 minimum wage? What happened?

First, we need a clear understanding of Clinton's position before the Brooklyn debate.  Let's look at three key moments in 2015.

  1. In April, the "Fight for $15" made headlines with New York City protests.  Clinton backed them.
  2. In June, Clinton called in to a low-wage workers convention in Michigan, endorsing their fight for a $15 minimum wage.
  3. In November, Clinton explained her views in the Iowa debate.  She said she supported going to $15 at the local level, but not at the federal level.  She said, "if we went to $15, there are no international comparisons.That is why I support a $12 national federal minimum wage. That is what the Democrats in the Senate have put forward as a proposal. But I do believe that is a minimum. And places like Seattle, like Los Angeles, like New York City, they can go higher." Clinton was referring to a New York Times opinion piece by Princeton economist Alan Krueger, who said that a $12 federal minimum wage would be safe, but a $15 federal minimum was too far beyond known international models, and would therefore "risk undesirable and unintended consequences."
Before Brooklyn, Clinton's position was clear:  Push for $15 in places that are ready for it and need it, but don't force those standards on every city, town and village in the country too quickly. Instead, push for a safer and smaller (but still very large) step to $12 as a federal minimum. She wasn't going out on a limb. She was explicitly saying she wanted to support the Democratic leadership's position.

That brings us to Wolf Blitzer's question. Yes, if the Dems put a bill for $15 in front of her, why would she oppose it? Sure, it seems too risky now, and $12 looks like a safer progressive step for the time being, but why would she become a maverick on the issue and go against a Democratic Congress? Her "yes" to Blitzer was the obvious answer, and it is consistent with her previous position.

Yet, Sanders acted like it was shocking. Things got heated. Pushed to defend the consistency of her position, she explained:
I have supported the fight for 15. I am proud to have the endorsement of most of the unions that have led the fight for 15. I was proud to stand on the stage with Governor Cuomo, with SEIU and others who have been leading this battle and I will work as hard as I can to raise the minimum wage. I always have. I supported that when I was in the Senate. 
But what I have also said is that we've got to be smart about it, just the way Governor Cuomo was here in New York. If you look at it, we moved more quickly to $15 in New York City, more deliberately toward $12, $12.50 upstate then to $15. That is exactly my position. It's a model for the nation and that's what I will do as president.
Then there was yelling. She tried to explain that she has always distinguished between the federal and local wage laws, and that she has supported going to $15 in some localities, but she and Bernie were basically shouting over each other, so that part didn't make it into the official transcript. However, as we can see in the transcript, she continued after the calm settled. She finally said:
The minimum wage at the national level right now is $7.25, right? We want to raise it higher than it ever has been, but we also have to recognize some states and some cities will go higher, and I support that. I have taken my cue from the Democrats in the Senate, led by Senator Patty Murray and others, like my good friend Kirsten Gillibrand, who has said we will set a national level of $12 and then urge any place that can go above it to go above it. 
Going from $7.25 to $12 is a huge difference. Thirty-five million people will get a raise. One in four working mothers will get a raise. I want to get something done. And I think setting the goal to get to $12 is the way to go, encouraging others to get to $15. But, of course, if we have a Democratic Congress, we will go to $15.
Most of this is plainly consistent with the facts and her previous comments about the minimum wage. She doesn't say "safer" this time. She says "smarter," but the point is the same. Everything makes sense, but then we get to that last sentence: "But, of course, if we have a Democratic Congress, we will go to $15." That's the line that has legitimately raised eyebrows. Does she mean she now thinks that a $15 federal minimum is the way to go? Huh?

On the one hand, we could take that last sentence to mean that a $15 federal minimum is the obvious choice for a Democratic Congress.  However, she had just said that Democrats in Congress prefer $12.  She had also just said that $12 is smarter. If she is suddenly saying a Democratic Congress will "of course" go for $15, she would seem to be contradicting herself.  This isn't just about flip-flopping. It's about logic and sense.

It would be absurd to think that, after laying out a detailed explanation of her position, Clinton suddenly took it all back and enthusiastically supported an entirely different position. We may as well regard her last sentence as nonsense: something she spontaneously threw out there because she thought that it sounded good and would be well-received. However, I think a more reasonable and charitable interpretation is available. I think she meant,"But, of course, if we have a Democratic Congress [that wants to go to $15], we will go to $15."

Wolf Blitzer's question was about whether she would sign if a Democratic Congress passed a bill going to $15. Rather than assume she was suddenly contradicting herself or speaking nonsense, why not assume that she was referring back to Blitzer's original question?

Hillary is following Democratic leadership and progressive economics in supporting the idea that $12 is safer and smarter.  If the Democratic leadership changed its position and a $15 federal minimum wage was no longer considered too risky, of course she would support it. Why wouldn't she?

The verdict: Clinton might not have chosen the clearest way to express her position, but she has been consistent.

New York Math

A lot of Bernie's supporters are responding to his loss in New York with outrage. They deny the fact that Bernie lost and claim that Hillary stole the election. This is what Bernie and his campaign managers want, of course. It's the narrative that can convince Bernie's supporters to keep funneling money into his campaign and to try to pressure superdelegates to hand Bernie the nomination.

Michael Moore has fueled the flames with a tweet, suggesting that Bernie would have won if it were an open primary:

However, Michael Moore's numbers are way off. A look a the math shows there is no reason to think Bernie would have won New York in an open primary. In fact, the numbers show that Clinton would probably still have won in an open primary, and even if the registration deadline wasn't so early.

First of all, a hell of a lot more than 1.6 million registered Democrats in New York were allowed to vote. Moore got that number because that is how many Democrats actually voted, but it's only about a quarter of the number of those allowed to vote. As of April 1, 2016, there were almost 6 million registered Democrats in the state of New York. The vast majority of them were allowed to vote, because almost all of them registered before November, 2015. Less than 15,000 people registered for the Democratic Party in New York between the end of October and the beginning of April. (There were 5.778 million registered on November 1, 2015, and 5.792 million registered on April 1.) Perhaps a lot of people registered after April 1, but they had waited until the last minute and have little cause for complaint. The point is, even if the registration deadline were April 1, there would have been virtually the same number of Democrats eligible to vote in the primary.

Now, there are about 3.2 million registered New York voters who are neither Republican nor Democrat. Of those, how many do you think would have voted at all, if given the chance? Michael Moore says at least 65 percent of them would probably have voted for Bernie. That is wrong. Bernie does not get 65-70 percent of all Independents in open primaries. Moore is thinking of the breakdown of independents who have been voting Democrat.  However, a lot of Independents vote Republican, and still more don't vote at all in open primaries. Perhaps Bernie does often get between 65 and 70 percent of the Independents who vote for one of the Democratic candidates. He even managed 73 percent in New Hampshire. However, in Texas, Bernie only got 52 percent of the Independents who voted for a Democrat. Demographics have a lot to do with it. In a state as diverse as New York, we can expect the numbers to be more favorable to Clinton.

So how many of those 3.2 million voters would have voted for Bernie? Let's say thirty percent of them made it to the polls: That's 960,000 voters. And let's say sixty percent of those voted Democrat (since it is a left-leaning state).  That's 576,000 votes to divide up between Bernie and Hillary. Let's say Bernie got 60 percent of those (which is generous, considering it is such a diverse state). That would mean (rounding up) about 346,000 votes for Bernie and 231,000 for Clinton. Bernie would have closed the gap by about 115,000 votes. Yet, Hillary won by about 250,000 votes. So, if it had been an open primary, she might have ONLY won by about 135,000 votes.  If you want to be even more generous, and say that Bernie got a full seventy percent of those 576,000 votes, he still would have lost by about 20,000 votes.

We can't be sure, but the odds strongly suggest that Bernie would not have won. The numbers don't add up in his favor. This is not surprising. He does not do as well in demographically diverse states or in primaries--and he actually does better in closed primaries than in open ones. He's lost eleven of the eighteen open primaries against Clinton so far!  The idea that he would have won had it been an open primary is wishful thinking.

Now, whatever issues with polling stations and machines and whatnot--those issues need to be addressed. However, the complaints about Brooklyn "purges"? That's most likely a coordinated effort to oppose the early registration rules, and not a sign of illegality or corruption in the voting system..

Of course, there are legitimate complaints about the voting system, but this is true across the nation. The DNC has already filed a lawsuit in Arizona to oppose disenfranchisement. Lawsuits may also be necessary in other states. But to view that as evidence of a conspiracy against Bernie, or as evidence that he has been robbed, or as evidence that he *should have won* . . . . Well, that's just not in line with the facts.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Open Or Closed Primaries?

It's fashionable to have an opinion about open-versus-closed primaries today, but I'm going to share mine anyway. I'm okay with open primaries, but I prefer a closed primary system.

Open primaries give the party a wider pool of potential members. If a lot of non-members see hope for your party, but are only willing to join on condition that a particular candidate becomes the representative, then your party has an opportunity to attract a lot of new members by letting those non-members participate. That's good for the party.

The drawback, of course, is that non-members are not invested in the party and are not as likely to look out for its best interests. If you have a club at school, say--an official club, sponsored by the school--you're not going to want the whole school to participate in the club's election process. It's your club, and there could be people in other clubs who would actually benefit from messing with your club. So it makes sense to only let members vote for who represents the club.

Voting for a party representative is not the same as voting for President. You are not electing a public official. You are electing a club representative. So when non-members complain that they are being "disenfranchised," they are insulting people who actually are disenfranchised. The right to vote is not the right to vote for somebody else's party's representative in an election.

If you think Bernie would have won New York had it been an open primary, you should check your assumptions. True, Bernie could draw more independents. I would bet he would have done *better* had it been an open primary. But I would not bet he would have won. The fact is, Clinton has won 11 of the 18 open primaries so far. She wins more open primaries than closed ones.

For one thing, I imagine she does attract a lot of independents. She may also be attracting a lot of Republicans. You don't need to be a registered Democrat to believe that Hillary is the best candidate out there.

I'm all for people voicing their complaints about how the system works. It would be great if issues raised during the present campaign lead to systemic improvements and greater participation and turnout in future elections. I just hope the criticism of the system is as constructive as possible, and not irrational anti-establishment sentiment.

For example, Sanders supporters and surrogates include the superdelegates in their list of problems with the current Democratic Party primary system. And yet, many of them also argues that Bernie's supporters should hold out hope that the superdelegates might hand Bernie the nomination even if he loses in the voting process. It is impossible to take criticism of the system seriously if you claim we should happy if it works in your candidate's favor.

If you don't like how the system works, fine. If you only like how the system works when you win, then you might want to reconsider your argument. I have a problem with "anything goes, so long as we win."

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Other Demagogue

We're past the point of wallowing in our collective ability to expose Donald Trump's demagoguery. Now it's time to acknowledge the other demagogue in the primary campaigns.

Check out this Rachel Maddow segment.  First, she shows us how Bernie is pumping up extremely large crowds with hope that he is going to win NY, despite the fact that his performance in polls is consistently at least ten points behind Clinton. Maddow raises a good question: If you know the odds are stacked against you, why raise unrealistic expectations? Why set your supporters up for disappointment? Maddow offers an answer: It creates drama leading up to the NY primary.

I think there's a better answer. If Bernie loses NY, a significant portion of his voters will say it is because the system is rigged. They will not say Bernie was wrong. They will say he was cheated. By raising expectations, he is not setting up his supporters for disappointment. He is setting them up for outrage, a tactic which has obvious goals. One is to increase hostility towards your opposition. Another is to increase devotion to yourself.

This is not honest campaigning, but it is nothing new for the Sanders campaign. It's the same reason why he's floating false accusations about Hillary's campaign financing (which is also covered in the Maddow segment). He doesn't care if it's an obvious lie. The more people report that his accusations are false, the more his most fervent supporters will believe him. That's because anyone who is against Sanders is part of the establishment, and that means they cannot be trusted.


This is demagoguery. There is no better word for it.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Bias in the New York Times?

Several days ago, an Op-Ed appeared in the New York Times asking the question, "Did Blacks Really Endorse the 1994 Crime Bill?"  They claim that Hillary Clinton is suffering from selective perception of history.  They present her argument as follows:

"When confronted about her husband’s pivotal support for the [1994 crime] bill, Hillary Clinton argued, even as she admitted the legislation’s shortcomings, that the bill was a response to “great demand, not just from America writ large, but from the black community, to get tougher on crime.”
However, Clinton was not presenting her own argument with those words. She was paraphrasing something said to her by Al Sharpton. The full Clinton quote is from a Buzzfeed interview:
 "I was interviewed by Al Sharpton the other day, and I’ve known him a long time, because I represented New York, and he said, and I think it’s good to be reminded of this, that in the ‘90s, and particularly when my husband became president, there was a great demand, not just from America at large, but from the black community, to get tougher on crime."
The NYT Op-Ed presents the paraphrase of Al Sharpton's argument as if it were Clinton's, and fails to even mention Sharpton at all. That is odd.  As an influential voice for Black America (then and now) who has made some pointed criticisms of the 1994 crime bill, Al Sharpton's perception is a valuable addition to the debate. It is hard to see why the authors would not mention him, unless their goal was to tarnish Hillary Clinton's reputation and injure her relationship with voters by making her seem more racist than she may actually be.  In any case, it is highly questionable journalism, and the fact that the NYT editorial board did not catch it (or caught it but did not correct it) is also suspicious.

The context was this: Hillary was asked about her and her husband's responsibility for the currently broken state of criminal justice. She pointed out that her husband has already taken responsibility for the bill, emphasizing that they were doing their best to respond to a need from the American people, including African-Americans. Nothing in the NYT article shows that she was wrong.

Indeed, even though there were many objections to the overly punitive aspects of the bill, and even though it was not an easy sell for some members of the Congressional Black Caucus, it was ultimately endorsed because it was the best crime bill they could get and because most legislators (including members of the CBC) did not want to be seen as soft on crime.  The NYT Op-Ed emphasizes the widespread criticism of the bill within black communities in general, and the CBC in particular. That is fair.  However, the answer to the NYT Op-Ed's question is, Yes, blacks really endorsed the crime bill, though there were major reservations and some compromises.

The point, perhaps, is that the whole story was complicated, and sensitivity to the historical facts is needed.  This does not disprove the point Clinton (following Al Sharpton) made. It only shows that her point was not enough, if you want to fully understand the history of the bill. That is a fair observation, generally speaking, but there are two curious questions I am left with.  First, considering that Joe Biden actually wrote the 1994 crime bill and introduced it to the Senate, why is he not playing a bigger role in this debate? As he is the Vice President in the administration of the first African-American President, you would think more people would be pressing him for comments. Compared to Biden, the heat Hillary Clinton is getting is extreme. considering that she was not involved in the passing of the bill at all (she was focusing on trying to get universal health care in 1994). She is only indirectly implicated in the matter because she was First Lady and because of brief comments she made in support of the bill years later. The second quetion, then, is: Why is it considered appropriate to hold her ultimately responsible, and use that as an excuse to interfere with her campaign?

If Hillary is directly responsible for anything, it the use of dehumanizing rhetoric about bringing "super-predators . . . to heel" in 1996.  That might have promoted systemic racism in the implementation of the crime bill, even though her words were presumably not intended to have such an effect.  Indeed, it would be outlandish to suggest that Hillary intentionally used racist, dehumanizing language. For one thing, Hillary Clinton is not stupid. Why would she intentionally make racist comments against African-Americans, a significant portion of her husband's voter base?  And in an election year, no less? As it turns out, in the months following Hillary's comment, Bill Clinton benefited from enormous support from African-American voters in his re-election campaign.   There was no public outcry against her rhetoric at the time. Indeed, the term "super-predator" was not widely thought to be racist until much later.

Fortunately, Hillary Clinton does not stand by the language she used in 1996. Clinton has evolved, yet, like everybody else, she is most certainly capable of bias when it comes to racial issues.  It would be absurd to suggest otherwise. I think she would be the first to admit it, too. There is no need for a NYT Op-Ed to prove that.

The NYT piece ends by emphasizing that the voices of the oppressed must be heard. Without qualification, I appreciate the need for Black Lives Matter and other protesters to continue to demand more awareness of historical and cultural issues.  Hillary says she is paying attention and wants to listen. I think we should take her at her word.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Understanding the Democrat's Delegate System

I saw this video on a pro-Bernie Facebook page.  It shows Morning Joe trying to further the "Bernie or Bust" movement by arguing that if Hillary wins, it will because Democratic voters were disenfranchised:


When a former Republican congressman tells Democrats they shouldn't vote, you gotta figure something is up.

It's not hard to see what is going on with the delegate system and why, in fact, Democrats should continue to vote.  If you look past the "rigged system" spin, you will find that the delegate system is not hurting Bernie. In fact, it's helping him.

First of all, the thing about superdelegates is, they can (and most surely will) choose the election in favor of whomever wins the popular vote. They are not beholden to pledged delegates. If Bernie were to win the popular vote by a significant margin and it looked like he was the most likely to win in a general election, then it wouldn't matter if he were a bit behind in pledged delegates. The superdelegates would choose him.

Superdelegates are not the issue here. The bigger confusion is about Wyoming's pledged delegates and how Hillary and Bernie could win the same number of them when Bernie won more votes. It looks like his voters are not getting fair representation, and that is a fair concern.  On the whole, however, the opposite is the case. Overall, Hillary's voters are getting less representation in the pledged delegate count.

The fact is, as far behind as he is in the pledged delegate count, Bernie is trailing by an even bigger margin in the popular vote.  Bernie has won slightly less than 46% of the pledged delegates (1,097 out of 2,404.)  However, he has won less than 43% of the popular vote (approximately 7,024,933 out of 16,423,894 votes).  If we were to award delegates by popular vote, Bernie would actually have fewer delegates.  If anyone is disadvantaged by unfair representation, it is Hillary's voters.

If you are wondering how this can happen, the answer is one word:  turnout.  Pledged delegates are not only determined by how many votes you've won, but also how many states and districts. Even if a small number of voters show up in a state and/or district, the same number of delegates get to vote in the national convention. Thus, if you have different turnouts in different states and districts, then you will see a difference in your delegate-to-voter ratios.

Hillary has won more primaries, and the turnout in primaries is much larger than in caucuses. In Florida, for example, Clinton won almost twice as many pledged delegates, and they represent around 7,000 votes each. She won Texas by a similar margin, and the delegates she won there represent 6,361 votes each, on average. In contrast, Bernie won Idaho by a big margin, but the delegates he won there only represent about 1,000 votes each.  In Hawaii, where Bernie won about twice as many pledged delegates as Clinton, those delegates represent about 1,384 votes each.  On average, each of Bernie's delegates represents 6,404 voters.  In contrast, Hillary's represent 7,191 each.

The delegate system is helping Bernie in two ways. First, it is giving him more pledged delegate at the national convention than he would get if the allotment were more proportional to the number of actual votes; second, it is making it look like he's not as far behind as he actually is. Thus, if anyone is being disenfranchised because of this system, it is Hillary's voters.

So why aren't Hillary's voters complaining?  Maybe it's because they're confident she will win anyway.  Given her enormous lead and polling in upcoming primaries, they are right to be so confident.  On the other hand, maybe they like the way the system works, even if they lose. However, we should also remember that the majority of African-American voters are voting for Hillary.  If Hillary's voters are disenfranchised, that means African-American voters are disenfranchised. So maybe Hillary's voters should be complaining.

Monday, April 11, 2016

The Hypocrisy of Bernie Sanders & Co.

Bernie and his supporters have very high standards of purity--at least, when anybody but Bernie is on the line.  When it comes to Bernie, the standards seem rather low.  There are many examples, but some recent issues are particularly striking. They involve campaign financing, personal finances and foreign policy.

Bernie's campaign is currently under fire from the FEC for failing to report $10 million in donations.  He has until early May to account for the discrepancy.  It's either extremely sloppy accounting or outright fraud.  Either way, we have to wonder how Bernie's camp would respond if Clinton were in the same situation.

Bernie falls remarkably short when it comes to sharing his tax returns, and is on record lying about it. This is not just a lie from Sanders. It is a significant lack of transparency. You do not need to hold candidates to a high standard to see a big problem here. If you do hold candidates to a high standard and don't see a big problem, then . . . well, that would be odd, wouldn't it?

It's worth noting that Sanders' excuse for not sharing his tax returns is that his wife, Jane, does them. She can't be trusted to keep accessible tax records? She was the President of Burlington College. She was pressured to resign in the middle of a controversy involving bank loans and land deals in 2011, and there are still calls to investigate her for fraud.