Politics Archive

Monday, November 7, 2016

XKCD Endorses Hillary Clinton

For the most part, XKCD steers clear of politics. Randal Monroe did endorse Obama on his blog back in 2008, but I can't recall ever having seen a political endorsement in the comic itself. Until now, that is (click to go to original):

I'm With Her

It seems like lots of people who normally stay out of politics are speaking up this election in an effort to keep Trump out of the office.

On an election related note, while I've been following 538 like probably everybody else, I've also started checking out some of the other election 'prophets', and 538 seems like an outlier this year. I hope so, but hope doesn't change reality. It'll be interesting to see how things play out tomorrow and which predictions were the most accurate. Here's a short summary of different sites and their odds on both the presidency and the Democrats taking control of the Senate.

Site Chance Clinton Wins Chance Dems Win Senate
538 69.4% 49.2%
PredictWise 89% 67%
Huffington Post 98.1% 66%
Princeton Election Consortium >99% 79%

I'll still be biting my nails until the official results start coming in.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Get Out and Vote, 2016

I Voted Today
Image Source: WPClipArt.com

This year, I didn't wait around for election Tuesday like normal. I went to the polls for early voting on Friday, the first time I've done so (and for the record, it's the longest line I've ever had to wait in to vote - 45 minutes vs. my normal 5 minutes). So, I've completed my civic duty, and all I can do now is wait to see how the election turns out. Well, I suppose I could go making tons of posts on Facebook, or making more entries on this blog, but I think I've already written as much as I can expect to be read.

If you follow this blog at all, you'll know I lean liberal. I had an entire series critiquing the latest Texas Republican Party Platform. But, I've always said that I evaluate each candidate independently, and have never voted a straight party ticket. This year was no exception. Granted, with as conservative as this area of Texas is, there were plenty of 'races' that weren't races at all - a Republican was the only candidate running. But even in races where there was competition (national congressman, railroad commissioner, state justices & judges, county commissioners, city mayor, and local school district trustees), I looked at each candidate individually, not just their party affiliation.

I actually surprised myself somewhat, voting for more Republicans than any other party - and not just because of all the uncontested races. Other than the president, in the races where there was competition and where I could determine party affiliation (it wasn't listed on the ballot for some of the local races, even if candidates themselves identified with a party), my votes went to 6 Republicans, 4 Democrats, 1 Green Party candidate, and 1 Libertarian. For one thing, many of the philosophical differences between the parties just don't play out at certain levels of government, especially considering that candidates aren't slaves to their party's platforms. And, like I've written many times before, relevant experience to a job is important. So, even if all other things being equal I might prefer a well-qualified Democrat to a well-qualified Republican, a well-qualified anybody is better than an unqualified candidate. Given the relative weakness of the Democratic party in Texas, they just didn't put up good candidates for all of the races.

I've written a few political entries leading up to this election. So, go check these out:

I really can't stress that last one enough. Donald Trump is manifestly and absolutely unfit to be President of the U.S. Even if you normally vote Republican, vote for somebody else for President besides Trump, preferably Clinton to give Trump the least chance of winning. And I'm not just saying that to try to sway you to vote Democratic because I'm a Democrat. I practice what I preach. Like I wrote above, I actually voted for more Republicans this election because in most races I could vote for, the Republicans were the more qualified candidates (and technically, I'm an independent, even if I do lean liberal). But when it comes to President, the choice is clear. Hillary Clinton may not be perfect, but she's experienced, competent, level-headed, and would do an admirable job as president. Donald Trump is a proto-fascist demagogue with no relevant skills for the position, a frightening lack of foreign policy knowledge, a poor track record in business, an abysmal history of scandal and alleged criminal conduct, a complete lack of regard for truth and honesty, and a demeanor wholly unbefitting of the oval office. He would be a disaster for the country.

Finally, here are some useful resources for voting in Texas:

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Texas State Board of Education Election, 2016

TEA LogoAlthough the presidential race is receiving most of the attention for this year's election, there are other races, as well. Here in Texas, several seats on the State Board of Education are up for the vote. I've written about the SBOE many times. To quote myself from a few years ago, "An extreme right-wing faction has pulled some sleazy and dishonest stunts over the past few years, from last minute back door dealings that not all board members were privy to, to trying to inject creationism into science, to trying to change history standards to some alternative reality." While all members of that faction have been Republicans, not all Republicans have been members of that faction. So, make sure you check who's actually running in your district, and don't necessarily just vote for the party.

To see which SBOE district you're in (as well as other state districts), you can look it up on the Texas website, Who Represents Me?

While the right-wing faction has been reduced from its peak strength a few years ago, that hasn't stopped them from embroiling the SBOE in controversy. Here are two articles from this past September over the board's handling of science standards, Star Telegram - State Board of Education targets evolution and NCSE - Shenanigans in Texas, and another from two years ago over their approval of questionable history books, New York Times - Texas Approves Disputed History Texts for Schools.

The Texas Feedom Network and iVoterGuide both sent out surveys to all of the candidates (oddly, the iVoterGuide survey included questions about a whole host of issues unrelated to education). Only some of the candidates responded, and usually only to one survey or the other. You can find the candidates answers to those surveys, as well as the TFN's official endorsements, through the links below.


Here's a summary of who's running, along with my own personal endorsements. If I could find their personal websites, I linked through their name. If they're sitting board members, I marked their name with an asterisk (*), and also added a link to their official SBOE page.


District 1

Candidates:
D - Georgina Perez
G - Hugo Noyola Jr.

Endorsement: Georgina Perez, I guess

Neither candidate responded to TFN or iVoterGuide, so it's hard to see exactly where they stand on the issues. Perez at least has a website, showing at least that level of commitment to campaigning. She also has some decent endorsements, including the American Federation of Teachers.


District 5

Candidates:
D - Rebecca Bell-Metereau
R - Ken Mercer* (SBOE)
L - Ricardo Perkins

Endorsement: Rebecca Bell-Metereau

Per the TFN survey, Perkins disagreed with teaching students about the scientific consensus over anthropogenic global warming. He also supports school vouchers. The iVoterGuide question is a little poorly worded, but he seems to agree that biology textbooks should "teach both the scientific strengths and weaknesses of the theory of evolution".

Mercer has been a part of the extreme right wing faction for years, now, doing plenty of damage to our children's education. Per the iVoterGuide survey, Mercer disagrees with comprehensive sex ed, thnks the 10 Commandments should be displayed in public schools, and thinks Intelligent Design should be taught in science classes.


District 6

Candidates:
D - R. Dakota Carter
R - Donna Bahorich* (SBOE)
L - Whitney Bilyeu
G - Laura Palmer

Endorsement: R. Dakota Carter

Bahorich, despite being on the SBOE, and in conflict with the Texas Constitution, doesn't believe "It is the government's responsibility to be sure children are properly educated." She's also opposed to comprehensive sex ed, opposed to properly teaching evolution and wants to see Intelligent Design taught along with it, and wants to see the 10 Commandments should be displayed in public schools. She was also part of the recent conflict over AP History standards.

Neither Bilyeu nor Palmer responded to either the TFN or iVoterGuide surveys.


District 8

Candidates:
R - Barbara Cargill* (SBOE)

Endorsement: Write-in

Cargill is part of the extreme right wing faction that has caused so much trouble in the past, including trying to put creationists on the panel to review biology standards.


District 9

Candidates:
D - Amanda M. Rudolph
R - Keven M. Ellis
L - Anastasia Wilford

Endorsement: Amanda M. Rudolph

Per the TFN survey, Ellis is opposed to teaching the separation of church and state, is opposed to teaching the scientific consensus on anthropogenic global warming, and wouldn't take a position on teaching creationism and Intelligent Design in science class.

Wilford didn't respond to either the TFN or iVoterGuide surveys.


District 10

Candidates:
D - Judy Jennings
R - Tom Maynard* (SBOE)

Endorsement: Judy Jennings

Maynard is opposed to comprehensive sex ed, was neutral on whether biology textbooks should "teach both the scientific strengths and weaknesses of the theory of evolution", believed that Intelligent Design should be taught, and thought the 10 Commandments should be displayed in public schools. However, unlike most of the Republicans running, he at least thinks it's the government's responsibility to ensure that children are properly educated.


District 14

Candidates:
R - Sue Melton-Malone* (SBOE)

Endorsement: Sue Melton-Malone

Melton-Malone didn't respond to either the TFN or iVoterGuide surveys, but she has been a support of sound science education in the past (NCSE - Texas Creationists Beware: The Posse's Comin').


District 15

Candidates:
R - Marty Rowley* (SBOE)

Endorsement: Write-in

Rowley is against comprehensive sex-ed, is in favor of biology textbooks teaching "both the scientific strengths and weaknesses of the theory of evolution", is in favor of teaching intelligent design, and thinks the 10 Commandments should be displayed in public schools.

I'll add that it's especially frustrating to me that no one is running against Rowley, since he represents my district.


Previous SBOE Entries:

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Donald Trump Unfit to Be President - Vote for Hillary Clinton

Trump vs. Clinton

The election is a week away, and Donald Trump is gaining in the polls. Please, fellow Americans, come to your senses and don't cast a single vote for this man. Cast your vote for the only candidate with a realistic chance of defeating him, Hillary Clinton. While she may not be perfect, she's experienced, competent, level-headed, and far, far more truthful than Trump.

Donald Trump is manifestly unfit to be president. He is a proto-fascist demagogue with no relevant skills for the position, a frightening lack of foreign policy knowledge, a poor track record in business, an abysmal history of scandal and alleged criminal conduct, a complete lack of regard for truth and honesty, and a demeanor wholly unbefitting of the oval office. He would be a disaster for the country.

Contents


What Others Have Said

As the Atlantic put it in their endorsement of Clinton (only their third presidential endorsement in their 159 year history):

Donald Trump, on the other hand, has no record of public service and no qualifications for public office. His affect is that of an infomercial huckster; he traffics in conspiracy theories and racist invective; he is appallingly sexist; he is erratic, secretive, and xenophobic; he expresses admiration for authoritarian rulers, and evinces authoritarian tendencies himself. He is easily goaded, a poor quality for someone seeking control of America's nuclear arsenal. He is an enemy of fact-based discourse; he is ignorant of, and indifferent to, the Constitution; he appears not to read.

To quote the Foreign Policy Journal's endorsement of Clinton (their first presidential endorsement in their entire 50 year history):

Beyond this, however, in the areas in which we at FP specialize, he has repeatedly demonstrated his ignorance of the most basic facts of international affairs, let alone the nuances so crucial to the responsibilities of diplomacy inherent in the U.S. president's daily responsibilities. Trump has not only promoted the leadership of a tyrant and menace like Vladimir Putin, but he has welcomed Russian meddling in the current U.S. election. He has alternatively forgiven then defended Russia's invasion of Crimea and employed advisors with close ties to the Russian president and his cronies. Trump has spoken so cavalierly about the use of nuclear weapons, including a repeated willingness to use them against terrorists, that it has become clear he understands little if anything about America's nuclear policies -- not to mention the moral, legal, and human consequences of such actions. He has embraced the use of torture and the violation of international law against it. He has suggested he would ignore America's treaty obligations and would only conditionally support allies in need. He has repeatedly insulted Mexico and proposed policies that would inflame and damage one of America's most vital trading relationships with that country.

They go on for several more paragraphs listing the disqualifying qualities and actions of Trump, then add their endorsement for Clinton:

Fortunately, not only is Trump opposed by a worthy candidate, but his opponent is, on foreign-policy and national security issues -- all of the areas we cover here at FP -- one of the best qualified candidates this country has produced since World War II. As first lady, New York senator, and secretary of state, Hillary Clinton regularly distinguished herself by her intelligence, dogged work ethic, ability to work across the political aisle, and leadership on difficult issues. She has devoted her entire life to public service and has been a powerful and effective advocate for women, children, and those in need at home and abroad. Whether you agree with all the policy stances of her campaign or not, impartial eyes will conclude that her proposals on climate change, combating terrorism, and human rights are thoughtful and comprehensive -- and ultimately worthy of consideration.

Trump is the worst presidential candidate in modern history, possibly in all of U.S. history. Even publications that don't normally endorse any candidate, or who normally endorse conservative candidates, have come out in support of Clinton, or at the very least in opposition to Trump. An unprecedented number of high ranking Republicans have broken ranks to either endorse Clinton, or dis-endorse Trump. Even if you normally vote Republican, please don't let party loyalty blind you to the danger Trump presents to the nation and the world.


Climate Change

Climate change is perhaps the biggest issue facing the world right now (at the very least hugely important). Trump has said that he thinks climate change is a hoax, and that he would undo the Paris agreement. That's a truly awful position, with negative effects in our own lifetimes, but absolutely disastrous effects for our children. We need to take responsibility and take action now, not bury our heads in the sand and ignore the problem. (more info: N.Y. Times - For Clinton and Trump, There's Little Debating a Climate Change Divide and Trump's Stance on the Paris Climate Agreement is Criticized by 375 Scientists).

I'm not going to use this entry itself to go into the evidence for climate change, other than to provide a few links:


Honesty and Integrity

Trump is unprecedented in the amount he lies during campaigning. Here's a recent article, One Chart Addresses a Misconception About Hillary Clinton, which reprinted a graphic where someone had compiled various candidates' statements from Politifact and graphed them, as shown below.

Who Lies More: A Comparison: Politifact, an independent fact-checking website, has graded more than 50 statements since 2007 from each of these candidates.  Here is how they rank.
More than 3/4 of Trump's claims have been rated Mostly False, False, or Pants on Fire. Less than 10% of his statements have been either True or Mostly True. And some of his lies, no matter how many times he gets called out on them, he continues to just repeat over and over (e.g. opposing the Iraq War, seeing Muslims celebrating the 9/11 attacks, etc.). Compare that to Clinton, who was rated Mostly False, False, or Pants on Fire less than 30% of the time, and True or Mostly True more than half the time - actually the second most honest out of the politicians they compared. Here's another article discussing Trump's brazen lying, Washington Post - All of Donald Trump's Four-Pinocchio ratings, in one place, which opened with the line, "There's never been a presidential candidate like Donald Trump -- someone so cavalier about the facts and so unwilling to ever admit error, even in the face of overwhelming evidence."

And those articles were written before Trump starting going full-bore into conspiracy theories of rigged elections and global cabals working with international banks to undermine U.S. sovereignty (though he was already well into conspiracy theory territory with his earlier birther nonsense). Trump appears to be a man who will say or do anything to try to gain power. (more info: Vox - It's time to acknowledge reality: Donald Trump talks like an anti-Semite)


Sexual Assault & Alleged Child Sex Trafficking

Too many people have tried to dismiss Trump's deplorable comments in the Access Hollywood tape as mere 'locker room talk'. Using crude language may be 'locker room talk'. Bragging about hookups may be 'locker room talk'. Bragging about sexual assault is NOT 'locker room talk'. It's bragging about a crime.

And now that so many women are coming forward accusing Trump of sexual assault, it's even harder to dismiss those comments. I've seen far too many people try to defend Trump by accusing these women of lying. But it's not as if it's only one or two women. It's multiple women, and these alleged actions fit with statements Trump has made in the past. And with so many people now accusing the victims of lying, is it any wonder why these women were so reluctant to come forward earlier (related: Rolling Stone - It's No Mystery Why Trump's Accusers Waited to Come Forward and Vox - 6 people went on the record to back up a reporter who says Trump assaulted her)?

Even more shocking and disgusting is an article that came out last week in the Daily Beast, Inside Donald Trump's One-Stop Parties: Attendees Recall Cocaine and Very Young Models. Personally, the cocaine portion of that doesn't bother me much (and an interviewee claims Trump didn't do any coke, himself). It's the underage girls that's disgusting.

But did he have sex with his female party guests? "So, he's a man with a woman," Lucchesi says vaguely. How old were they? "A lot of girls, 14, look 24. That's as juicy as I can get. I never asked how old they were; I just partook. I did partake in activities that would be controversial, too."


Other Scandals and Alleged Criminal Activity

Trump's list of scandals and alleged criminal activity is almost too long to list. For a primer, here's an article from The Atlantic, The Atlantic - The Many Scandals of Donald Trump: A Cheat Sheet. Here's another from the Washington Post, discussing both the amount of scandal in Trump's past, and the uneven coverage the media gives to Clinton's scandals vs. Trump's, Trump's history of corruption is mind-boggling. So why is Clinton supposedly the corrupt one?.

Here's a brief summary of just some of these accusations (the articles list a lot more), along with a few sources in addition to the two articles above:

  • History of destroying records pertinent to court cases (Newsweek - Donald Trump's Companies Destroyed Emails in Defiance of Court Orders)
  • Racial housing discrimination
  • Mafia ties (including inviting mob associates onto his yacht and giving mob associates special favors at his casino)
  • Fraud with Trump University
  • Bribing politicians to escape prosecution over the Trump University fraud (The Atlantic - Was Trump Fibbing About Buying Politicians Then or Now?)
  • Hiring illegal Polish immigrants for a construction site, then paying them a pittance and threatening them with deportation when they asked for more money
  • Long record of workers and contractors that he's stiffed over the years
  • Trafficking illegal immigrants to work as models (he might actually get criminally investigated over that one)
  • Illegal loan from his father and other violations of gambling regulations
  • The Trump Foundation improperly spending funds (and not really being financed by Trump)
  • Illegal business dealings in Cuba violating the trade embargo

The list goes on. For another perspective, consider Jon Oliver's take. You can read highlights on Vox, John Oliver: Clinton's scandals may upset you, but "you should then be f*cking outraged by Trump's", or watch the clip below.

As Oliver stated in reference to Clinton, "We've spent several frustrating weeks trolling through all the innuendo and exaggeration surrounding her email and foundation scandals. And the worst thing you can say is they both look bad, but the harder you actually look, the less you actually find." Whereas in reference to Trump, he said, "He is ethically compromised to an almost unprecedented degree." To put them in comparison, he said, "This campaign has been dominated by scandals, but it is dangerous to think that there is an equal number on both sides. And you can be irritated by some of Hillary's ― that is understandable ― but you should then be f*cking outraged by Trump's."


Racism, Xenophobia, and War Crimes

Those scandals above don't even count some of the outlandish and disgusting things Trump has said while campaigning.

And that's just a sampling of things he's said.


Income Taxes

Regarding Trump's taxes, the main issue isn't how much or little he's paid, but the fact that he's refusing to release his tax returns, breaking with precedent going back to Nixon, and then lying about the reason. The IRS has said that Trump is free to release his returns even while he is under audit. We usually demand transparency in our politicians, but here's a candidate opting for opacity before he's even been elected. What is he hiding? (more info: Fortune - 5 Things You Need to Know About Donald Trump's Tax Returns)


Threat to Global Economy

The Economist, hardly a liberal rag, keeps a monthly list of the top 10 threats to the global economy. For the past several months, they've included the possibility of a Trump presidency in that list. Currently, they rank him as dangerous to the world economy as 'The rising threat of jihadi terrorism destabilises the global economy'. Their latest analysis, updated October 19th, warns of a potential "trade war", that "His militaristic tendencies towards the Middle East (and proposed ban on all Muslim travel to the US) would be a potent recruitment tool for jihadi groups", "his vocal scepticism towards NATO would weaken efforts to contain Russia's expansionist tendencies", and that "even more alarmingly, his stated indifference towards nuclear proliferation in Asia raises the prospect of a nuclear arms race in the world's most heavily populated continent". (more info - The Economist - 'President Trump' as big a threat as jihadi terror to global economy - EIU and The Economist Global Forecasting Service - Global risk)


Business Experience

One of Trump's main claimed qualifications for the presidency is that he's a successful businessman. There are two sides to this - does success in business translate to politics? And how successful is Trump, anyway?

Business experience doesn't necessarily translate to governing. Here's an article from U.S. News & World Report, Businessman in Chief? It notes that past presidents with business experience include both Bushes, Herbert Hoover, Warren G. Harding, Jimmy Carter, Andrew Johnson and Calvin Coolidge, and then quotes history professor, Peter Kastor, stating, that "they all struggled in one way or another." It quoted another professor, Bruce Mirnoff, "Historically, those people who have been in business have not done very well. The people who have been our best presidents have mainly been the much despised career politicians like FDR." The article then went on to explain why the skills needed to be successful in business don't necessarily translate to being successful in politics or government. To be thorough, it did note that if you blur the lines between businessman and politician, for example Washington's and Jefferson's experiences as planters, that those politicians have been able to successfully use their managerial skills in the White House. But the larger point is that based on the actual history of men who have been presidents, "Being a successful businessman is not necessarily indicative of being a successful president."

In truth, Trump's busienss record is actually rather spotty, and in his early career he relied heavily on the wealth and reputation of his father. To quote Michael d'Antonio who wrote a biography of Trump, "I think he's very good at real estate, I don't think he's very good at other things. He tried to run an airline and failed at that. He tried to run casinos and failed four times. That's not evidence of brilliance when it comes to operating a complex business." (more info: Washington Post - The myth and the reality of Donald Trump's business empire)

Here's an article that goes into much more depth, Quora - William Murphy's Answer to Why do people forget that Donald Trump is a successful businessman?.

Basically, Trump got lucky. With $20 million worth of capital thanks to his father, he invested in N.Y. real estate at a time when prices happened to be low. He was losing money on all his properties, but when the market boomed in the '80s, he was able to borrow against the value of those properties. When the bubble burst in the late '80s, his huge debts and negative cash flow forced him into bankruptcy, but he had managed to separate his business from his personal wealth, so he didn't lose his own money. He went on to declare bankruptcy 5 more times over the next 20 years - always leaving his investors holding the bag while protecting himself. And it's not as if he's even made brilliant or savvy investments for himself - the S&P 500 grew 4 ½ times more than Trump's wealth since 1987. He'd be worth more if he'd simply invested in index funds.

If Trump manages to become President and tries to run the country the same way he's run his businesses, he'll be damn sure to protect his own personal wealth, while we the taxpayers will be left footing the bill for the mess he leaves. We're just now recovering from the recession left behind by the Bush administration. I don't particularly want to go through all that again.


Constitutional Rights

Trump doesn't seem to be a fan of Constitutional rights. In the third debate, he came out in opposition to the Fourth Amendment, supporting Stop and Frisk, even after it's been ruled unconstitutional (not to mention that policy's disregard for the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause). And even that's after Stop and Frisk was shown to be ineffective, when crime rates continued to drop in NYC even after Stop and Frisk was discontinued. So he's supporting a discriminatory, unconstitutional policy, that doesn't even accomplish what it's supposed to. (more info: Vox - Trump wants to recreate New York's unconstitutional, ineffective stop-and-frisk program)

Trump's threats and rhetoric against the press have led to increased security of the press at his rallies to protect them from increasingly agitated crowds who have confronted and shouted threats at the press. To quote a New York Times article, Partisan Crowds at Trump Rallies Menace and Frighten News Media, it's gotten so bad that "the Committee to Protect Journalists, a nonprofit group often focused on defending press freedoms in war-torn and totalitarian countries, made a rare statement regarding American elections. 'Donald Trump, through his words and actions as a candidate for president of the United States, has consistently betrayed First Amendment values,' Sandra Mims Rowe, the chairwoman for the group, said in a statement Thursday night, announcing that the group had 'passed a resolution declaring Trump an unprecedented threat to the rights of journalists and to C.P.J.'s ability to advocate for press freedom around the world.' "


Building a Wall

Trump's position on securing the border is ludicrous. The centerpiece of his border security plan is to build a wall, and have Mexico pay for it. Here's an article from the Wall Street Journal, hardly known for liberal bias, pointing out the many problems with this plan, Some Big Holes in Trump's Wall. Here are a couple more articles describing the follies of this proposal, BBC - How realistic is Donald Trump's Mexico wall? and Brookings Institute - Donald Trump's plan to build a wall is really dangerous. Even the Center for Immigration Studies, described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as "the anti-immigrant movement's leading think tank", and in other articles as having "never found any aspect of immigration that it liked", has an article, Border Fencing: One Tool among Many, describing why a fence along the whole U.S. - Mexico border isn't a practical approach to border security.

It's not a serious proposal at all, and just further emphasizes Trump's ignorance on foreign policy issues. (See also the Foreign Policy Journal link already mentioned above for a much more thorough assessment of his foreign policy inadequacies.)


Tax Plan

Trump's tax plan is massive tax cuts for the wealthy, in the hopes that this will increase GDP growth so 'bigley' that the government won't have problems raising tax revenues without having to raise tax rates. But this plan, like so many other of Trump's proposals, would be disastrous. I'm actually going to go into a little more detail on this than some of the other sections of this entry, so skip ahead if you're not particularly interested.

Here's an article in the Atlantic, Tax Cuts Don't Lead to Economic Growth, a New 65-Year Study Finds. Here's one figure from the article:

Economic Growth Plotted with Tax Hikes and Cuts

As the article is quick to point out, even though the correlations in this figure are tax hikes prior to periods of economic growth and tax cuts prior to periods of economic decline, they don't prove that the correlation is causation. But they do demonstrate that the opposite is not true either - tax cuts don't automatically improve the economy, and tax hikes don't automatically harm it.

Here's another article, this one from NPR, FACT CHECK: Do Tax Cuts Grow The Economy? They also make the point that it's complicated. They state that well defined tax plans can boost the economy, but that the devil's in the details. For example, "According to a 2012 report from the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service (referenced by the New York Times' David Leonhardt in a 2012 column), top marginal tax rates and economic growth have not appeared correlated over the past 60 years." They also made the point that tax cuts to lower income individuals can create more of a boost than tax cuts to wealthy individuals, because lower income people are more likely to go out and spend their extra money. It's a myth that the wealthy will pour their tax savings back into the economy through investment. If there's anything that trickle-down economics has achieved, it's the growing wealth and income inequality in the nation as the wealthy have consolidated their wealth. Here's a graph from the Pacific Standard article, The IMF Confirms That 'Trickle-Down' Economics Is, Indeed, a Joke showing how trickle-down economics has disproportionately benefited the wealthy (there are plenty of other sources, as well, such as Slate - The Shocking Rise of Wealth Inequality: Is it Worse Than We Thought?). That article also cites an IMF study confirming that tax cuts to lower income individuals improve GDP growth more than tax cuts to the wealthy, and that tax cuts to the wealthy can even hurt GDP growth.

U.S. Distribution of Average Income Growth During Expansion
The NPR article also points out that tax cuts come at a cost to revenue - one that's not made up for by any potential growth they might cause. "In that Chicago survey of economists, 71 percent either disagreed or strongly disagreed that tax cuts would lead to higher revenue in the next five years. Meanwhile, zero percent agreed that cutting taxes would raise revenue in the next five years." In reference to Trump's plan in particular, they cited an estimate by the Tax Foundation, a "a right-leaning tax policy think tank in Washington, D.C." The Tax Foundation found that "Trump's plan, by this math, cuts revenue by $10 trillion over 10 years."

If you're really concerned with trying to balance the budget and reduce the deficit and debt (which we all should be), Trump's tax plan would be a disaster. The cuts to revenue would cripple our nation's ability to pay its bills, causing the deficit and debt to skyrocket. I know nobody particularly likes to pay taxes, but as former Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. once wrote, "Taxes are what we pay for civilized society". We have to be adults about it and recognize that the necessary services and infrastructure that government provide come at a cost that all responsible citizens should help pay for.

And if you want to get into the history of tax rates on the wealthy and on businesses, right now we're at historic lows. Here are two graphs from Wikipedia. The top marginal tax rate right now is 40% - not the absolute lowest it's been in the past century, but not too far off. Compare that to what it was just subsequent to WWII - over 90%, which didn't seem to put a damper on Post-World War II economic expansion. Even throughout the '60s and '70s, the top marginal tax rate was 70%. And take a look at the effective corporate tax rates. We're at historic lows there, as well.

Historical Marginal Tax Rate for Highest and Lowest Wage Earners
U.S. Effective Corporate Tax Rate 1947-2011
Here's another graph to put spending and revenue in perspective. It shows total federal income as a percentage of GDP, along with total federal spending (data from USGovernmentRevenue.com and USGovernmentSpending.com). Yes, in 2009, spending peaked while revenues hit their lowest. But that's just what you expect from a recession - the tax base is lower, so revenue goes down, while welfare and stimulus spending increase. And in this past recession, the spending was compounded by the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. But now that the economy is recovering, look at those trends. Total spending is decreasing, while revenues are coming back up to historical levels. Spending is still a little high compared to what it's been in the past, so we do need to take a hard look at cutting unnecessary spending, but there's no need to do anything drastic. If we're going to be responsible about it, balancing the budget needs to be a combination of spending cuts and maintaining revenue at required levels, not some pie in the sky fantasy about unrealistic economic growth.
Federal Revenue and Spending, 1940-2015


Clinton's E-mail Scandal

I know that some people plan to vote for Trump not because they particularly like him, but because they don't like Clinton, and the email scandal seems to be one of the big reasons. The email scandal has plagued Clinton this entire campaign, and now it appears that it may be the issue costing her the most support as election day draws near. It is a legitimate scandal, but it also highlights how harshly Clinton gets treated compared to other politicians. Not that it excuses her behavior, but compare how the press has responded to Clinton's use of a private email server and subsequent deletion of emails to the Bush administration's use of a private email server and subsequent deletion of emails - millions of emails, in fact: Media Matters - FLASHBACK: When Millions Of Lost Bush White House Emails (From Private Accounts) Triggered A Media Shrug.

The supposedly 'liberal media' spent a day or two and little ink covering the Bush administration email scandal (a Fox co-host even went so far as to say, "I mean, deleted e-mails, who cares?"), then goes crazy over pretty much the same thing when it's Hillary Clinton. Like I said, it doesn't excuse her actions, and I honestly would have liked to have seen far more coverage on the Bush administration, but it is indicative of lopsided coverage.

Even when the FBI thoroughly investigated the matter of her emails previously, and Comey recommended that the case be closed without charges, some people didn't drop the e-mail issue, and continued insisting that Clinton must have committed a crime. Now, a new possible source of emails have been found, but the FBI doesn't even know what's on them. They're investigating to be thorough, not because they have any smoking gun. In fact, when Comey sent the letter to Congress on Friday (possibly in violation of the Hatch Act), the FBI didn't even yet have a warrant, and had absolutely no idea what was contained in these new Anthony Weiner emails. They certainly do not have any known significant evidence of her wrong doing. (more info: FBI has obtained warrant to search newly discovered emails potentially relevant to Clinton probe.)

I think it's pretty safe to say, though, that even if this new batch of emails doesn't change anything with the investigation (which is what I fully expect to be the case), there will still be people claiming that Clinton should be charged with something, even after the FBI makes their recommendations. But that shouldn't be the case. The previous FBI investigation cleared her, and as of right now, there's no reason to think that there will be incriminating evidence in this new investigation.

[Update 2016-11-08: The FBI has finished looking through these latest e-mails, and found nothing to change their previous conclusions, as reported by CNN in FBI clears Clinton -- again. But, just as I suspected, this hasn't put the matter to rest like it should have. Trump himself claimed, "You can't review 650,000 emails in eight days. You can't do it, folks. Hillary Clinton is guilty," and many of his supporters seem to be echoing similar sentiments. Of course, as explained in the Wired article, Yes, Donald Trump, the FBI Can Vet 650,000 Emails in Eight Days, the FBI certainly does have the resources and technology to do this. But it seems like no matter how many investigations clear Clinton, there's a certain group of people who will refuse to accept the findings, and go on to new accusations or conspiracy theories about why she must be guilty. It's a mindset discussed in another article, Clinton's critics know she's guilty, they're just trying to decide what she's guilty of: The Prime Directive driving bad Clinton coverage. Don't be one of those people. Clinton has been thoroughly investigated over the email issue, and the FBI has found nothing to charge her over.]


Benghazi

Outside of the e-mail scandal, Benghazi seems to be what I see brought up the most in opposition to Clinton. But it really seems like a mostly manufactured controversy. There have already been 10 congressional committees, 33 public hearings, 4 public hearings, and 13 reports investigating what happened in Benghazi (source), none of which found any major wrongdoing on Clinton's part. Shouldn't that be enough already?

To borrow from something I wrote previously, here's one of the better discussions of Benghazi I've read, Christopher Knox's Quora Answer to Why is Hillary Clinton blamed for Benghazi attacks? Is she responsible for the security failure and the deaths?. It really covers the whole thing quite well, putting the attack into perspective without trivializing it. Here's one of the more interesting graphs he used.

Attacks on U.S. Diplomatic Targets

Again, this isn't to trivialize what happened, nor say that Secretary Clinton and the Obama administration didn't make any mistakes in Benghazi. I'm just saying to keep it in perspective. Attacks on U.S. diplomatic targets are, unfortunately, a reality. There were 13 similar attacks under the Bush administration without anywhere near the uproar this attack has caused (not to mention the vastly more deadly 9/11 attacks on American soil). This incident has already been investigated extensively, without finding any egregious mistakes. And while the nation should try to learn from each of these attacks to improve safety in the future, it seems wildly out of proportion to spend so much time and expend so much effort on this one attack, in particular. It seems much more like a witch hunt than a sincere effort to learn any lessons. It's time to quit politicizing this attack, take what legitimate lessons could be learned from it, and try to minimize the risk of similar attacks in the future.

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I'll admit that Clinton wasn't my top pick at the start of the primary season. But at this point, it's not even a close contest as to who is the better option. Donald Trump is unhinged, uninformed, incompetent, racist, and a compulsive liar. He would make a horrible, horrible president, and would be a disaster for both the U.S. and the rest of the world. This man absolutely must not become the next President of the United States. To quote from The Atlantic one final time:

If Hillary Clinton were facing Mitt Romney, or John McCain, or George W. Bush, or, for that matter, any of the leading candidates Trump vanquished in the Republican primaries, we would not have contemplated making this endorsement. We believe in American democracy, in which individuals from various parties of different ideological stripes can advance their ideas and compete for the affection of voters. But Trump is not a man of ideas. He is a demagogue, a xenophobe, a sexist, a know-nothing, and a liar. He is spectacularly unfit for office, and voters--the statesmen and thinkers of the ballot box--should act in defense of American democracy and elect his opponent.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

2016 Texas Republican Platform - Part 14, Foreign Policy, Xenophobia, & Isolationism

Republican ElephantThis entry is part of a series taking a look at the latest Texas Republican Party Platform. For a list of all entries in this series, go to the Introduction. This entry is going to cover foreign policy, in particular the xenophobia and isolationism evident in the platform.

Border Wall- We support building a high wall with a wide gate in order to prevent illicit border crossings without preventing legal border crossings as one part of a complete border security plan. The wall will only be built where it is deemed effective and cost-efficient.

Of course, this being the year of Donald Trump, a border security wall has to be discussed in this platform. At least, though, the Texas Republicans are a little more realistic than Trump, saying that the wall will only go where it would be "effective and cost-efficient".

Here's a decent article from the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), Border Fencing: One Tool among Many. CIS has been described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as "the anti-immigrant movement's leading think tank", and in other articles has stated, "the reality is that CIS has never found any aspect of immigration that it liked". Clearly, the CIS is not an organization easy on immigration. Here's what he had to say about one particular area, illustrating why a fence along the whole border isn't practical:

But the isolated and inhospitable nature of the area means there aren't many people walking across Big Bend. The border patrol's Big Bend sector records the fewest arrests of any part of the border, less than 1 percent of the nationwide total, fewer than 4,000 illegal aliens last year. It's safe to say that if the Border Patrol is arresting an average of only about ten people a day along a 500-mile stretch of border, we probably don't need fencing there.

Building a wall or a fence along the majority of the U.S. - Mexico border is not a practical solution to illegal immigration.


Citizenship- We call on the United States Congress to pass a constitutional amendment that defines citizenship as those born to a citizen of the United States or through naturalization.

I typically don't like linking to Huffington Post, but here's a good article on their site, These Countries Show Why Losing Birthright Citizenship Could Be A Disaster. One of the biggest dangers is in creating an underclass of stateless people who have no home country, as has happened in many of the countries that don't confer birthright citizenship like most of the New World. There are second and third generation immigrants in countries being denied some of the basic protections that citizens receive, but they've known no home other than the nations refusing them citizenship.

If the intent is to punish illegal immigration in the U.S., doing away with birthright citizenship punishes the wrong people. It was the parents who broke the law to enter this country, not their children who had no choice in where they were born and raised. And after those children have grown up, having lived their whole lives in the U.S., what realistic options are there for them once they become adults. This is their country.


Take these next two together.

United Nations- The United Nations is a detriment to the sovereignty of the United States and other countries, and because of this we support:
  • Our withdrawal from the United Nations
  • The removal of the United Nations from United States soil
  • The rejection of all Agenda 21 and Agenda 2030 policies and programs
  • The rejection of all related NGO's, Councils, and Environmental Programs
  • A zero budget allotment of American tax dollars to any United Nations programs
  • The opposition of any designation of World Heritage Sites in the United States and especially in Texas.
International Organizations- We support United States withdrawal from the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization, and the World Bank.

I'm not going to comment on these other than to point out just how isolationist they reveal the Texas Republicans to be. It's unthinkable to withdraw from these types of organizations in an increasingly interconnected world. They're the primary means for all the world's nations to work together.


...We support free market enterprise, private humanitarian aid to developing countries, continued favorable treatment of proven allies, censure of adversarial entities that seek destruction of other countries and strong policy on confronting terrorists...

Foreign Aid- We support foreign aid only to our allies in cases of national defense or catastrophic disasters, with Congressional approval.

I'm just going to repeat what I wrote last time - Wow. I'm not even sure how to respond to that. They're advocating doing away with things like Fighting Malaria, Food Security, and Ending Extreme Poverty. That's just unconscionable.


...Our policy is inspired by God's biblical promise to bless those who bless Israel and curse those who curse Israel and we further invite other nations and organizations to enjoy the benefits of that promise...

This is another one I've brought up in all their previous platforms. They're basing foreign policy on Bible verses! And keep in mind what I mentioned in introduction to this series - all of the planks of this platform were approved on an individual basis. That's a completely absurd position, and should be an embarrassment.


Refugee Resettlement Program-We urge the Governor to immediately notify the United States Department of Health and Human Services Secretary that Texas is withdrawing from the Refugee Resettlement Program joining twelve other states that have also and will no longer provide state funds toward the Refugee Resettlement Program.

There's a poem hanging inside a certain statue in New York City, the end of which reads:

Statue of Liberty Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

I like to think that statue and the words hung inside of it mean something. They're a symbol that America is welcoming, is the land of opportunity, and that we will take in victims of oppression and give them the chance for a new life here. They are not symbols of cowardice, of refusing to help the downtrodden and refugees because of some miniscule chance of danger.

To put this danger in perspective, chances of being killed by a terrorist in any given year are roughly 1:20,000,000 (source). That compares to the following risks (all taken from Mongabay.com - The most common causes of death due to injury in the United States):

1:18,585 Car Crash
1:21,581 Accidental poisoning by and exposure to noxious substances
1:354,776 Firearms discharge
1:423,548 Fall involving bed, chair, other furniture
1:485,549 Drowning and submersion while in or falling into swimming-pool
1:668,218 Fall on and from ladder or scaffolding
1:807,349 Drowning and submersion while in or falling into bath-tub
1:841,914 Accidental suffocation and strangulation in bed
1:911,609 Alcohol
1:2,780,869 Electric transmission lines
1:3,441,325 Legal execution
1:5,005,564 Contact with hot tap-water
1:5,098,259 Contact with hornets, wasps and bees
1:5,506,120 Lightning
1:9,176,867 Explosion and rupture of pressurized devices
1:10,588,692 Bitten or struck by dog
1:20,000,000 Terrorist Attack

Now, I certainly don't intend that to mean that we should ignore the risk of terrorism. But this certainly puts it in perspective. Terrorism is not the huge risk that fearmongers make it out to be. You're far more likely to drown in a swimming pool or suffocate in your own bed than you are to be killed in a terrorist attack.

And who are we turning away to protect ourselves from this tiny threat?

Syrian Reguee CrisisImage source: CBC News
 
Syrian Reguee CrisisImage Source: News Deeply
 
Syrian Reguee CrisisImage source: Raven Foundation
 
Syrian Reguee CrisisImage source: N.Y. TImes

If those pictures make you uncomfortable, they damn well should. That is the human cost of refusing to help these refugees. Hundreds of thousands of people have already been killed in Syria or trying to flee. And we have cowards like these Texas Republicans refusing to help them because of a threat less dangerous than sleeping in your own bed at night.

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And that completes my review of the 2016 Texas Republican Party Platform. It really is a truly awful platform, full of misunderstandings of government and the Constitution, bigotry, xenophobia, fear-mongering, paranoid conspiracy theories, and other positions that would just plain harm the State of Texas and the United States of America. Like I've mentioned in previous years, it's more what you expect from your crazy racist uncle after he's had a bit too much to drink at family reunions, instead of the official platform of the most powerful political party in the State of Texas. It's an embarrassment to the state, and should be an embarrassment to Republicans.

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