A Philosopher's Blog

Republicans & Rhetorical Explanations

Posted in Law, Philosophy, Politics, Reasoning/Logic by Michael LaBossiere on October 25, 2013

Mitt-Romney (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After a defeat, it is natural for people to try to explain why they were defeated. In some cases, the explanation provided is aimed at doing what an explanation is supposed to do: to provide an illuminating account of how or why something occurred. In other cases, the explanation is aimed primarily at influencing peoples’ attitudes and behavior. Not surprisingly, an explanation that is aimed at achieving these goals is a rhetorical device known as a rhetorical explanation.

This is not to say that a rhetorical explanation need be in error—it could provide an accurate account of how or why something occurred. Being a rhetorical explanation is more a matter of intent—that is, those offering it do so at least in part to cause people to have a positive or negative feeling about a matter.

Back in 2012, the Republicans lost the presidential election and various people endeavored to explain how this happened. Some folks pointed to the demographics of America and how minorities played a critical role in the election. Others claimed that the media’s love for Obama handed him the victory. One of the more interesting explanations was that the Republicans lost because they were not conservative enough.

More recently, the Republicans lost on their bid to get the Democrats to agree to delay or defund Obamacare. After this defeat, various explanations have been offered and among them is the claim that it was the result of the Republicans not conservative enough. In this context, this seems to mean not being will to let the shutdown of the government slide into defaulting on the national debt.

On the face of it, presenting the claim that the Republicans lost because they were not conservative enough seems to be a rhetorical explanation. After all, it seems to be aimed (in part) at chastising the Republicans who are being accused of not being adequately conservative. As such, people are supposed to feel negatively about these Republicans.  It also seems to be aimed (in part) at creating positive feelings towards the conservative Republicans—it is supposed to be believed that they had the winning approach (but were betrayed by the Republicans in Name Only). This explanation might prove to have some bite—many Republicans are taking pains to cast themselves as being very conservative and repudiating the charge that they might be moderates.

While rhetorical explanations such as this are often used to make other people feel a certain way (positively or negatively), people can also use them on themselves. Whether the explanation is inflicted on others or self-inflicted, the problem is that such appealing explanations can make it very easy for a person to buy into an explanation that is not correct, thus leading to obvious problems. As such, it is worth considering whether the explanation about these defeats is correct or not.

If the explanation for the 2012 election was correct, then the prediction that would follow would be that the Republicans would have won if they had been more conservative. In this case, winning is clear—Mitt Romney (or a more conservative Republican like Michelle Bachmann) would have been elected rather than Obama.

For this to happen, more people would have had to vote for the Republican than Obama. Since this did not happen, for the explanation at hand to be correct, there seem to be three main options (and perhaps others).

One is that some conservatives voted for Obama because Romney was not conservative enough.  They would have, however, voted for someone who was conservative enough. It seems reasonable enough to dismiss this option out of hand on the grounds that such people would not vote for Obama. Thus, it seems rather implausible to think that a more conservative Republican would have pulled votes away from Obama.

A second one is that some conservatives voted for someone other than the two main candidates or wrote in someone else rather than voting for Romney, thus allowing Obama to win. This is more plausible than the first option, but is still fairly unlikely. That is, it does not seem likely that enough people to change the election voted in this manner because Romney was not conservative enough.

A third option is that some conservatives decided to not vote at all because they thought Romney was not conservative enough, thus allowing Obama to win. Of the three, this is the most plausible. Elections in the United States have a low turnout and it certainly is possible that some of those who did not vote would have voted if there had been a candidate that was conservative enough. These voters would thus seem to have preferred allowing Obama to win over voting for Romney, but this would assume that the voters were rationally considering the consequences of their failure to vote. It could be a simple matter of motivation—they were not inspired enough by Romney (or their dislike of Obama) to vote.

It is also worth considering that the explanation is in error because a more conservative Republican would have merely increased the votes for Obama. As noted above, a more conservative Republican would not have pulled votes from Obama. What seems more likely is that a more conservative Republican would have lost the more moderate voters who voted for Romney. As such, if the Republican candidate in 2012 had been “conservative enough” Obama would have either still won or would have still won with a larger number of votes. After all, most Americans are not extremely conservative and being “conservative enough” would seem to involve holding views that most Americans do not hold. Thus, the explanation seems to fail.

Jumping ahead to the most recent defeat, the matter is somewhat more complicated in that the victory conditions are not so clearly defined. At the start of the battle, the Republicans wanted to defund or delay Obamacare—that would have been a win. However, as the shutdown continued, the Republicans seemed to become less clear about what they wanted—especially when Obama made it clear that he was not going to negotiate Obamacare.

Interestingly enough, the shutdown was explained by some as being the fault of the Democrats and after the Republican defeat, the more conservative Republicans are using the narrative that they would have won if the Republicans had been conservative enough—thus creating dueling rhetorical explanations.

But, to get back to the main point, the victory conditions were not clear. However, it could be speculated that a win would involve the Republicans getting more of whatever they ended up wanted than the Democrats got of what they wanted. So, I will go with that.

There is also the question of what it meant to be conservative enough. Given the rhetoric, it seems that what this means is being willing to take the United States into default if one does not get what one wants. If so, the Republicans being conservative enough would not seem to have yielded a win—unless what they wanted was a default on the debt and the ensuing economic and political disaster. If this is what counts as a win, then being conservative enough would have led to that “win”—a win that almost everyone else would regard as a disaster.

Most Americans disapproved of what Congress was doing and most blamed the Republicans. Presumably if the Republicans had been more conservative, this would have merely made people more annoyed with them—after all, the view of most people was that what was going on was bad, not that it did not go far enough into this badness. As such, it would seem that the problem was not that the Republicans were not conservative enough. They lost because they had a poor strategy and most Americans did not like what they were doing. The solution is, obviously enough, not being more of that—the result will just be worse for the Republicans.

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Portman & Same-Sex Marriage

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on March 18, 2013
English: Portrait of United States Senator Rob...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Republican senator Rob Portman recently caught the attention of the media with his coming out in support of same-sex marriage. Given his conservative credentials, this has stirred up discussion of the matter.

While I am generally not in favor of marriage, my view has been that consenting adults should be able to engage in that legal contract. If arguments are wanting, see my For Better or Worse Reasoning. As such, I agree with Portman’s new view.

While Portman is well known as a conservative, his social conservatism seems to have been almost a matter of rote. That is, he consistently voted for or against laws in a way consistent with the stock social conservative positions but he was not particularly active in regards to expressing views. His main focus has been on fiscal conservatism rather than social conservatism.

As I have noted in earlier posts, the Republican party faces the challenge of having (crudely put) two main divisions: the social conservatives (which is exemplified by the religious right) and the fiscal/political conservatives. While politician in the party generally have had to appeal to both views, these views are clearly distinct. After all, it is one thing to hold to be opposed to same-sex marriage and quite another to be opposed to big government. In fact, there can be clear conflicts between the views of the political conservatives (most notably the libertarians) and the social conservatives. After all, someone who does not want big government acting as a nanny state should be against having the state intrude into marriage with a ban on same-sex marriage.

In regards to why Portman changed his views and came out in favor of same-sex marriage, his answer is that it is because one of his son’s is gay. Portman claims that he wants his son to have the same right as him in regards to marriage. Some who are more cynical  than I might point out that Portman learned his son was gay a few years ago and note that this change coincides with the need for the Republican party to gain a broader appeal. However, I will accept his claim, namely that he had to work through his view of the matter.

One of the most interesting aspects of the matter is that Portman seems to have been influenced by the family effect, an effect that struck Dick Cheney. The idea is that people sometimes change their views on same-sex marriage when they learn that someone they love (in Cheney’s case, his daughter) is gay. It is one thing to hold a stance on a matter when those it impacts are strangers. It is quite another when it impacts one’s own family. It is also one thing to hold a view about a group when the group is composed of people one does not know. So, for example, it is easier to attribute all sorts of moral defects to gay folks when one does not really know a gay person well. However, when a loving parent finds out that his son or daughter is gay, this makes it much harder to gay people as being morally defective simply because they happen to be gay. This is not to say that being gay makes a person good. Rather, being gay is just like being straight: it does not make a person morally good or bad.

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Very Taxing

Posted in Business, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on February 15, 2013

Taxes (Photo credit: Tax Credits)

In 2012 I made about $6500 selling my 99 cent books through Amazon and Barnes & Noble (I get about 35 cents a book). On the plus side, the extra income offset the effective salary cut provided by Governor Scott of Florida. On the minus side, this royalty income is taxed using the self-employment rate. In 2012, the self employment tax rate was 13.3%. In 2013 it will be 15.3%.  In contrast, Mitt Romney pays taxes at under 15%. If I only got royalties from non-work sources (like copyrights), I’d be paying much less.

Without this income, my tax software reported that I’d get back about $2400. With this income, I’ll be getting back $36. So Uncle Sam gets a nice chunk of my book income.

On the plus side, my modest stock returns were taxed at an incredibly low rate. This is not surprising since capital gains taxes cap out at 15%. Yes, I do endeavor to plow as much money as I can into increasing my capital gains. And into my IRA.

I’m not mentioning this to brag about my modest success as a writer nor to weep about my taxes. Rather, I am bringing this up to explain why I fully accept that the idea that the tax system in the United States needs to be overhauled. I have, of course, had a general commitment to the idea that the tax system is a needlessly complicated mess packed with unfairness. However, really seeing the disparities in the tax system shows there is a problem. After all, I am taxed rather differently for my normal wages, for my self-employed income, for my capital gains, and for my interest income. It seems rather odd to have so many different tax rates based not on the amount of income but where it comes from. After all, income should (in general) be treated as equal-after all, it is all income. It should not matter that a specific dollar came from my writing, my stock, my savings interest or my job.

Not surprisingly, income from work has high tax rates relative to the others (especially capital gains). Of course, this makes sense: congress members and their supporters make most of their money in the areas that enjoy the lower taxes while people who work for a living pay higher rates. However, this disparity in rates is unfair and should be changed.

I do also see the appeal of having lower taxes. When asked how I’ll handle the tax increase for this year, I had to say the obvious: I’ll have to spend less. Of course, I also recognize that there are legitimate expenditures for the state and, as a citizen, I am obligated (and proud) to contribute to the general good. I am not, of course, keen on having my money wasted. I only wish the politicians thought the same way.

While it will cost me more in taxes, I still encourage everyone to buy my books: My Amazon Author Page

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The Cliff

Posted in Business, Ethics, Law, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on December 31, 2012

As I am writing this, the Democrats and Republicans are still driving towards the fiscal cliff. Interestingly, the cliff is a death trap of their own creation, forged to spur them into acting because the consequences of not doing so would be so terrible. We are now in the last hours before the country goes off the cliff, so there is still time for a deal. Or a delay-essentially changing roads to the scenic route towards the cliff.

Crudely put, the main sticking point has been the tax cuts for a tiny percentage of rich Americans. The Republicans, it could be said, would rather take us over the cliff than willingly allow the Bush era tax cuts to expire for the exceptionally rich. The Democrats, it could be said, would rather take us over the cliff than willingly extend the Bush tax cuts for the tiny percentage of Americans that are very wealthy. A few folks actually think that going over the cliff would be a good idea-something that is certainly worth considering.

Since politics is often about placing blame, it is worth assessing whether the Democrats or Republicans are worse in regards to this matter. It is, of course, tempting to simply curse them both for being unwilling to drive away from the cliff months ago. However, the Republicans seem somewhat worse in that they are apparently devoted to protecting a tiny percentage of Americans who are already exceptionally well off. After all, even if the wealthy lost those tax cuts, they would still be taking home vastly more money than the vast majority of Americans. That is, they would still be incredibly well off. I must admit, that I am seeing the matter from the perspective of a person whose yearly salary is about equal to what Mitt Romney makes per day from his passive income. I have, as might be imagined, a hard time worrying that folks like Mitt will be hurt if those tax cuts are allowed to expire. However, I can worry about the folks who make a lot less-after all, many folks are literally just getting by with what they have and hence an increase in taxes will hurt them in meaningful ways. I do not, however, regard the Democrats as virtuous in this matter-just less bad.

One of my main complaints about the matter is the fact that they have left things to the last minute. As a professor, I am accustomed to students doing this. In some cases, students do put things off in one class because they are doing work for another class. However, congress lacks this excuse-they only have this country to run (off the cliff). In other cases, students wait to the last minute because the professor sets the deadline rather than the student. However, congress set its own deadline-they know exactly when it is and what will happen if they do not act (or add an extension). In most cases, students put things off because they would rather not do the work. As long as it is not due right away, a person can always say “I’ll do it latter.” However, there comes a time when there is no latter. We are at this point now.

When a student puts off work to the last minute, the results are generally quite predictable: usually such work is of far lower quality than could have been produced if the work had been started at a reasonable time. If congress hacks out a last second deal, I suspect it will have roughly the same quality as a paper typed out in the last minutes. Unless, of course, they already have most of the work done and are just delaying in regards to a small part.

One rather important difference between a student putting things off and congress putting things off is that the student is putting only herself (her grade) at risk. If a student does not meet the deadline, she does not bring the whole class down with her. In contrast, congress putting things off has already had an effect on the economy-primarily by creating intense and unnecessary uncertainty. If a deal cannot be made, the consequences will obviously be far worse than a student not getting her paper done by the deadline.  Also, we get to pay the cost for congress’ procrastination and apparent inability to do its job.

It could, of course, be argued that we do get some of the blame. After all, we elected the members of congress and they act in ways they believe will get them re-elected. That is, they act in ways they think will please their constituents (which can be distinct from acting in ways that will benefit their constituents). One of the moral pluses of democracy is that we get the government we deserve. So, if our elected officials are driving us towards a cliff, it is because we handed them the keys.

The extreme partisanship is also something that has been fed and watered by others. The politically leaning news media on the left and right has contributed to this situation. The people have also played along, thus helping to get us on the edge of the cliff.

It is also worth noting that many of the Republicans signed Grover Norquist’s pledge. While it is reasonable to point out that elected officials should not make themselves beholding to one man, a person should honor his commitments. As such, the Republicans who are sticking to the pledge and refusing to compromise could be seen as acting in a moral way-assuming they are doing so on the principle that a person keeps his obligations. Those that are sticking to it from fear would not, of course, be acting in a commendable way.


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The Republicans’ Epistemic Problem

Posted in Epistemology, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on November 14, 2012
English: Karl Rove Assistant to the President,...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Epistemology is a branch of philosophy that focuses on knowledge: determining the nature of knowledge, sorting out what we can (and cannot) know and similar concerns. While people often think of epistemology in terms of strange skeptical problems such as the brain–in-the-vat and the Cartesian demon, it actually has rather practical aspects. After all, sorting out what is known from what is merely believed is important for the practical aspects of life. Also a significant portion of critical thinking can be seen in terms of epistemology: determining what justifies believing that a claim as true.

In very rough and ready terms, to know a claim is to believe the claim, for the claim to actually be true and for the belief to be properly justified. As any professional philosopher will tell you, this rough and ready view has been roughly beaten over the years by various clever thinkers. However, for practical purposes this account works fairly well—provided that one takes the proper precautions.

My main purpose is not, however, to do battle over the fine points of an account of knowledge. Rather, my objective is to discuss the Republicans’ epistemic problem to illustrate how politics and epistemology can intersect.

As noted above, a rough account of knowledge involves having a true belief that is properly justified. As might be imagined, the matters of justification and truth can be debated until the cows (if they exist) come home (if it exists). However, a crude view of truth should suffice for my purposes: a claim about the actual world is true when it matches the actual world. As far as justification goes, I will stick with an intuitive notion—that is, that the belief is properly formed and supported. To help give some flesh to this poor definition I will use specific examples where beliefs are not justified.

As I discussed in my essay on politics and alternative reality, political narratives are typically aimed at crafting what amounts to an alternative reality story. This generally involves two types of tales. The first is laying out a negative narrative describing one’s opponents. The second is spinning a positive tale about one’s virtues. While all politicians and pundits play this game, the Republicans seemed to have made the rather serious epistemic error of believing that their fictional narratives expressed justified, true beliefs.

While epistemologists disagree about justification, it seems reasonable to hold that believing a claim because one wants it to be true is not adequate justification. It also seems reasonable to hold that a belief formed by systematically ignoring and misinterpreting available evidence is not justified. That is, it seems reasonable to hold that fallacies do not serve as justification for a claim. Hence, it seems reasonable to hold that beliefs based on such poor reasoning do not meet the standard of knowledge—even if we lack a proper definition of knowledge.

One clear indicator of this was the shock and dismay on the part of conservative pundits such as Laura Ingraham. A bit before the election she said “if you can’t beat Barack Obama with this record, then shut down the party.” Other pundits and spinions expressed incredulity at Obama’s ability to stay ahead of Romney in the polls and they were terribly shocked when Obama won the actual election. This is understandable. On their narrative, Obama is the worst president in history. He has divided the country, brought socialism to America, destroyed jobs, played the race card against all opponents, gone on a worldwide apology tour, weakened America and might be a secret Muslim who was born outside of the United States. Obviously enough, such a terrible person should have been extremely easy to defeat and Americans should have been clamoring if not for Romney, then at least to be rid of Obama. As such, it makes sense why the people who accept the alternative reality in which Obama is all these things (or at least most of them) were so shocked by what actually happened, namely his being re-elected. The Republican epistemic and critical thinking problems in this regard are well presented in Fox’s Megyn Kelly’s question to strategist Karl Rove: “Is this just math that you do as a Republican to make yourself feel better or is it real?”

After Obama’s victory, the conservative politicians, pundits and spinions rushed to provide an explanation for this dire turn of events. Some blame was placed on the Republican party, thus continuing an approach that began long before the election.

Given their epistemic failings, it makes sense that they would believe that the Republican Party is to blame for the failure to beat such an easy opponent. To use an analogy, imagine that fans of a team believe that an opposing team is pathetic but as the game is played, the “pathetic” team gets ahead and stays there. Rather than re-assess the other team, the fans are likely to start blaming their team, the coaches and so on for doing so poorly against such a “pathetic” opponent. However, if the opposing team is not as they imagined, then they have the explanation wrong: they are losing because the other team is better.  Put another way, their team is not playing against the team they think they are playing against—the pathetic team is a product of their minds and not an objective assessment of the actual team.

In the case of Obama, the conservatives and Republicans would be rightfully dismayed if they lost to someone as bad as their idea of Obama. However, they did not run against that alternative Obama. They ran against the actual Obama and he is not as bad as they claim. Hence, it makes sense that they did not do as well as they thought they should.  To be fair, the Democrats also had an Obama narrative that is not an unbiased account of the president.

It also makes sense that they would explain the loss by blaming the voters. As Bill O’Reilly explained things, Obama won because there are not enough white male voters and too many non-white and female voters who want “stuff” from the government. This explanation is hardly surprising. After all Fox News, the main epistemic engine of the Republicans, had been presenting a narrative in which America is divided between the virtuous hard working people and those who just want free stuff. There was also a narrative involving race (as exemplified by the obsessive focus on one Black Panther standing near a Philadelphia polling place) and one involving gender. Rush Limbaugh also contributed significantly to these narratives, especially the gender narrative, with his calling Sandra Fluke a slut. On these narratives, the colored people and women are (or have joined forces with) the people who want free stuff and it is their moral failing that robbed Romney of his rightful victory. However, this narrative fails to be true. While there are some people who want “free stuff”, the reality is rather different from the narrative—as analyzed in some detail by the Baltimore Sun. In response to such actual evidence, the usual reply is to make use of anecdotal evidence in the form of YouTube videos or vague references to someone who just wants free stuff. That is, evidence that is justified is “countered” by unwarranted beliefs based on fallacious reasoning. Ironically, the common reply to the claim that their epistemology is flawed is to simply shovel out more examples of the defective epistemology.

As might be imagined, while the Republicans had a good reason to try to get people to accept their alternative reality as the actual world some of them seem to have truly believed that the alternative is the actual. This had a rather practical impact in that to the degree they believed in this alternative world that isn’t, their strategies and tactics were distorted. After all, when one goes into battle accurate intelligence is vital and distorted information is a major liability. It does seem that some folks became victims of their own distortions and this impacted the election.

People generally tend to want to cling to a beloved narrative, even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. However, there is a very practical reason for the Republicans to work on their epistemology—if they do not, they keep increasing their odds of losing elections.

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Politics & Reality

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on November 2, 2012
English: Governor of New Jersey Chris Christie

English: Governor of New Jersey Chris Christie (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In an earlier post I discussed how politicians and pundits often present alternative realities of the science fiction sort. I also wrote a post about how some commentators were shocked that Romney was doing so poorly against the actual Obama when they believed they should have been easily trouncing the Obama-who-isn’t (that is, their straw man/alternative universe version of Obama).

During the Republican National Convention, New Jersey governor Chris Christie gave a rousing speech against President Obama and accused him of lacking leadership. In a rather clever analogy, he compared Obama to a man blundering in the dark, trying to find a light switch. Christie continued to ably serve in the attack role for his man Mitt Romney after the RNC. Naturally, this sort of political rhetoric is all part of the game and sensible folks know that such speeches are not about presenting the truth but about influencing emotions via presenting a narrative of a world that is not and of a world that probably never will be.

Then Sandy smashed into the east coast of the United States and hammered New Jersey especially hard. People died. Millions of people were left without power. Property was destroyed and damaged on a massive scale.

President Obama did what a president should do-he stepped into the crisis and got things done to help the people of the United States. Governor Christie did exactly what a governor should do-he stepped into the crisis and got things done to help the people of his state.

Reality had savagely slammed into the carefully crafted political narrative of an alternative reality in which government is almost always a problem and Obama is blundering in the dark. To Christie’s credit, he knew when the time to play at political narrative ended and the time to “get real” began. This was, of course, when Sandy hit his state.  Christie also exhibited those rare but laudable traits: sincerity, a sense of moral duty and honesty. He praised Obama for his praiseworthy actions and made it clear that his concern was completely focused on the good of the people of New Jersey.  This is how it should be and both men have done the right thing.

It is, of course, tempting to some to accuse Obama and Christie of playing a subtle political game. That is, their game is to create the illusion they are not playing the political game by doing what they should do rather than obviously playing for political points.  The challenge is, of course, to prove this. After all, the behavior of a clever person playing a political game while skillfully avoiding the appearance of playing the game would look identical to that of a person who was, in fact, not playing a political game but doing what should be done. Naturally, if evidence is available to support the hypothesis that there is political game play going on (and not just the fact that both men are politicians and an election is coming up), then such evidence should be given due consideration. Naturally, even if both men are playing a clever game, at least they are playing it the right way. That is, at least they are acting like leaders.

While I have been pushed ever closer to cynicism, I am taking the words and actions of Obama and Christie as being sincere and not part of a brilliant game within a game. I could be wrong and I am sure there is a well developed narrative for the clever ploys allegedly being played.

While it took a disaster to make it happen, it is good to see leaders working across party lines to get things done. It is also refreshing to hear sincere praise rather than the usual venomous lies and distortions that make up most of contemporary politics.

It would be a good thing if we could maintain this spirit and work together with the real world, rather than retreating ever deeper into the distorted alternative realities that make up much of contemporary politics. It should, of course, always be remembered that these political narratives cannot stand up when reality intrudes, at least when that reality includes a massive storm.

While it is disappointing, it is not surprising that governor Christie is being attacked for his willingness to work with the president. Rush Limbaugh, for example, launched into an attack against Christie-even going so far as to imply that Christie has changed his sexual orientation. To attack leaders because they are willing to set aside petty political bickering to work together for the common good in the face of a major disaster shows moral bankruptcy and meanness of spirit. What we need is more honest cooperation and less ideological blindness.

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Posted in Politics by Michael LaBossiere on October 30, 2012

Sandy has struck the United States, killing several people and doing billions in property damage. As is to be expected, we are now hard at work repairing the damage and getting things back to normal.

I am sorry for the losses and feel for the people directly impacted. I wish everyone the best and hope for a rapid return to normalcy.

The brave people who responded to the disaster to rescue and aid others deserve our thanks for their actions and the good that they have done. The people who are now hard at work setting things right also deserve our appreciation. While this storm will be costly, we have pulled together as a nation and have shown, once again, that we are a strong people when we work together for the general good. For at least a little while, we will think of ourselves as Americans and forget (at least for a moment) the political divisions and bickering. Perhaps this sort of thing should be remembered more often and not just during disasters (natural or man-made).

Be safe and well.





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Predictions about Romney

Posted in Politics by Michael LaBossiere on October 23, 2012

Romney (Photo credit: Talk Radio News Service)

Interestingly, pundits generally make predictions that turn out to be wrong yet this seems to have no impact on their status as pundits. In this spirit, I call on you to make predictions about what Romney will do, should he win the election. The more specific the prediction, the better.

For example, Romney claims that he will create 12 million jobs, so one possible prediction is that he will do so. Another is that he will not.

If he gets elected, we can return to this post and see what predictions were accurate and which were not.

If possible, limit the comments to predictions. No mention should be made of Obama. Naturally, anyone who is physically incapable of resisting the commands of Fox and must type out talking points against Obama will be forgiven.

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Binders Full of Women

Posted in Philosophy, Politics, Reasoning/Logic by Michael LaBossiere on October 19, 2012

Romney (Photo credit: Talk Radio News Service)

During the last debate Romney was asked about rectifying inequalities in the workplace. His awkward response involved the phrase “binders full of women” and this ignited a Facebook frenzy. The Democrat operatives have been busy spinning the story in order to “prove” that Romney doesn’t get women’s issues.

As might be imagined, I do agree that his phrase was rather odd. However, since I speak in front of people for a living, I know full well how easy it is to have a poor phrase or verbal slip during the course of a long event. Talking at length under pressure is not an easy thing. As such, I tend to be more understanding than some folks when it comes to such verbal errors. I also subscribe to a general principle of charity when it comes to interpreting what a person says, especially when it is clearly a verbal error. I held to this in regards to Obama’s “you didn’t build that” and extend the same principle to Romney.

Unfortunately, the idea of being consistently charitable or at least understanding is not one that is accepted in politics. The Republicans willfully misinterpreted Obama’s “you didn’t build that” remark and make it the focus of their convention. The Democrats have grabbed onto Romney’s “binders” remark and are attempting to read all sorts of wickedness into it. This tactic of taking comments and inflating them to monstrous proportions is certainly effective rhetorically. However, such tactics have no logical weight or merit. Of course, throwing out “binders full of women” is far easier than actually examining Romney’s record and policies in a critical manner.

There has, of course, been some analysis of the matter-generally along partisan lines. While such analysis is useful in terms of seeing how the two sides are crafting the narrative, they tend to be rather less useful in making a rational assessment of the facts.

One thing that has come up is that when Romney was elected 30% of the senior positions were held by women but when he left, the percentage was 27%. The next governor increased this to 33%. This has been presented as evidence that Romney did not do well when hiring women.

To be fair to Romney, he did better than the American people. After all, 16% of the members of congress are women and there have been no female presidents. Also, the decline from 30% to 27% should not be assumed to be the result of Romney not trying to hire women. After all, that shift could be due to other factors and it is worth noting that the change was rather small in terms of percentages. While 30% is more than 27%, both still fall rather short of 51% (the percentage of women in the population). So, while Romney can be said to have hired slightly fewer women he was only slightly below an already low number. His successor increased it to 33%, but that number also needs to be assessed. More importantly, 33% still falls short of 51%.

My overall point is that it is unfair to single out Romney for this disparity. After all, the percentage of women in political positions is low (as noted above, congress is only 16% women) and Romney cannot be singled out for special blame in this regard. Naturally, if Romney shows signs of misogyny, then that would be another matter.  However, just pointing out that the number went from 30% to 27% and then 33% hardly seems to prove anything about Romney, other than the percentage of women remained about the same during his tenure. Such variation could also be due to factors other than Romney-after all, to assume that Romney was the cause without due consideration would be an error in causal reasoning.

There are, of course, legitimate grounds for women to be concerned about Romney-however, these concerns need to be grounded in actual evidence and not mere awkward phrases.




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What’s the Plan Mitt?

Posted in Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on October 17, 2012

Like most Americans, the economy is in my list of top concerns and I would prefer if things were going better. Both Romney and Obama claim that they have a plan to swing things around and it is likely that their ability to convince voters in this matter will have a meaningful impact on the election.

Mitt Romney, former governor of Massachusetts,...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the case of Obama, I have a good idea of his plans and the likelihood of success. While there are various straw man attacks against Obama and some conspiracy theories regarding the employment data, the overwhelming evidence shows that the economy has been slowly recovering. At the top, as always, things are rather good. Corporate profits are high, taxes are low, and the stock market has been mostly positive. While the president’s impact on the economy  can be reasonably debated, if there is an impact it would seem that Obama’s has been largely positive. After all, even the Republican narrative has changed from a tale of complete failure to the complaint that the recovery under Obama has not been dramatic enough. Naturally, Romney claims that he will be able to turn things around.

One of Romney’s main plans is to cut taxes by 20%, presumably in the hope that this will help the economy. As might imagined, the causal connection between tax cuts and economic recovery is a rather dubious matter. It mostly seems to be a matter of ideology rather than evidence-conservatives tend to swear by it while liberals tend to reject it. In any case, the economic crash took place after the Bush tax cuts went into effect and, of course, large corporations are very adept at not paying taxes-thus raising clear questions about the efficacy of tax cuts in this matter.  As such, it would be unwise to infer that this plan will jump start the economy.

Romney has also claimed that his tax plan will not change the progressive aspect of the current tax system. The narrative against Romney is, of course, that he intends tax cuts for the wealthy while shifting the cost burden downward. Since the vast majority of voters are not wealthy, Romney needs to convince these voters that he will not be shifting the burden to them. By claiming he will keep the progressive aspect of the current system, he can claim that the burden will not be shifted.   On the face of it, cutting taxes and keeping the progressive system in place seem compatible.

Most importantly, Romney has claimed that his plan will not increase the deficit. Given that his proposed tax cut would (if not offset) increase the deficit by $5 trillion, Romney needs a plan to prevent that from happening.

Romney has, of course, claimed that he will make cuts in spending. One specific example was that he would cut PBS’ federal funding. Since this would only cut spending by about $430 million, Romney would need to come up with much more in the way of cuts. While people are often quick to condemn the entitlements they do not receive, most people receive entitlements that they certainly do not want to lose. As such, it is no surprise that Romney has not laid out a detailed plan of cuts.

Romney has also claimed that he will close loopholes and eliminate deductions to offset the tax cut. He has not, of course, specified what loopholes he will cut or what deductions will be eliminated. This is politically wise of him-as with entitlements, many people have beloved loopholes and deductions (such as the mortgage deduction). Committing to eliminating popular loopholes and deductions, such as the mortgage deduction, would cost him votes and hence he is not committing. Rather, he says that the details will be worked out after he is elected-thus he is comMitting rather than committing. As such, voting for Mitt is voting for something of a mystery.

There is also the factual issue of whether or not closing loopholes and eliminating deductions would suffice to offset the tax cuts. While various scenarios can be considered, without knowing Mitt’s actual plan, the issue cannot be properly  settled. Also of concern is the matter whether or not Mitt would be able to hold his ground against the addition of new deductions and loopholes (and the return of the old ones). As such, much that is important is also a mystery.

A final point of concern is to note that Romney seems to be claiming that his plan will result in no meaningful change. That is, the tax income will remain the same and the system will remain progressive. As such, one might wonder what the plan actually does.

So, what is the plan, Mitt?

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Commence Obama bashing red herrings to switch the issue away from Mitt’s plan in…






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