Politics Archive

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.


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.]


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.


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.


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.

Monday, October 24, 2016

2016 Texas Republican Platform - Part 13, Misc / Weird

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 covers weird and other miscellaneous planks that didn't fit in any of the other categories I discussed.

Texas Electric Grid - We urge that the Texas Legislature pass legislation to harden the Texas Electric Grid against: 1. Cyber attacks on the grid's computerized command and control system. 2. Physical attacks on substations and major high voltage transformers. 3. Geomagnetic storms created by solar flares from the sun. 4. Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP)

Wow. That's a really good one that I'm surprised to see. Here are two articles from Bad Astronomy about solar flares and coronal mass ejections, The 2012 Solar Disaster That Almost Was and When the Sun Went Medieval on Our Planet. A 'small' solar storm in 1989 caused a blackout in Quebec. A huge coronal mass ejection 2012 went off in a direction from the Sun away from Earth, but it would have been really bad if it had hit us - probably causing somewhere around $2 trillion in damage, and putting some regions into power blackouts for months until all the equipment could be repaired, not to mention knocking out a bunch of communication and other satellites. The White House at least has a plan for a warning system that would give us a few hours to prepare and start shutting down certain systems to protect them in such an event in the future, but upgrading all the hardware to protect against that type of event is a good idea (ScienceAlert.com - The White House is prepping for a huge solar storm that could kick us back into the Dark Ages).

Smart Meters- The Republican Party of Texas supports a no-cost opt out for all Texas PUC customers and the phase out of Smart Meters aka Advanced Meter Infrastructure to be replaced with mechanical, non-transmitting analog meters when software upgrades are required or the computer smart meters require replacement due to mechanical failure or model upgrade requirements.

This plank may seem merely odd at first blush, but it's really strange if you remember the platform from two years ago. In 2014, they said "Our opposition [to smart meters] is based upon security, property damage, energy inefficiencies, privacy, health issues, and the use of Smart Meters to ration electricity." And if you browse around the site, TexansAgainstSmartMeters.com, you'll find concerns like "harmful and illegal programs which attempt to force you to accept dangerous policies such as vaccinations and spying/transmitting utility meters". The motivation for this planks is well into conspiracy theory territory.

Except for non-citizens, we further oppose any national ID program, including the Real ID Act and the use of Radio Frequency Identification Chips (RFID) on humans.

I'm not shocked by this now only because I've seen it in their past platforms. To repeat what I've written previously - Is it something to do with the urban legend about the Affordable Care Act requiring RFID chips, or some crazy Mark of the Beast conspiracy theory? It seems like the type of warning you'd get from a crazy street corner preacher.

Raw Milk and Dairy Products- We support legislation confirming local dairy farmers' rights to produce and sell natural milk and dairy products within the State of Texas.

I have mixed feelings on this. On the one hand, I think people should be able to engage in any risky behaviors they want, so long as they understand the risks. We let people play football, go skydiving, go rock climbing, drive motorcycles, etc. Why should risky eating be any different? On the other hand, food is much more universal. I like being able to go into a grocery store and know that whatever I buy there is safe to consume, free from pathogens and poisons. I also worry about parents buying unprocessed milk and feeding it to their children, exposing their children to Listeria or other pathogens. Like I've said before, children shouldn't suffer because of the recklessness of their parents.

I guess I could compromise on this. If dairy farmers tested every batch of raw milk for contamination before selling it, that would probably be okay. Or, if they sold raw milk without testing, maybe put warning labels on the bottles and only sell to people over 18 (kind of like tobacco).

Direct Sales- We support allowing consumers in Texas to be able to purchase cars directly from manufacturers.

Is this really a thing? Oh, I guess it is - Car and Driver - Why Do We Keep Buying Vehicles at Dealerships?. So, I guess thanks, Texas Republicans, for actually teaching me something.

Benghazi- We call upon the United States House of Representatives to continue the select committee and appoint a special prosecutor in order to subpoena testimony to fully investigate all aspects of the Benghazi debacle.

Because 10 congressional committees, 33 public hearings, 4 public hearings, and 13 reports just wasn't enough (source). I mean, she just must be guilty of something, right? It's not like this is a witch hunt or anything.

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, but to put it in perspective. Attacks on U.S. diplomatic targets are, unfortunately, a reality. And while the nation should try to learn from each of them 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. Like I already wrote, it seems much more like a witch hunt than a sincere effort to learn any lessons.

Social Security- We support an immediate and orderly transition, with minimal or no impact to those at or near retirement, to a system of private pensions based on the concept of individual retirement accounts, and gradually phasing out the Social Security tax.

I'm not going to go into detail on this one other than to reference this report by the Brookings Institution, Privatizing Social Security: The Troubling Trade-Offs.

Continue to Part 14, Xenophobia / Isolationism


Friday, October 21, 2016

2016 Texas Republican Platform - Part 12, Crippling the Federal Government / Taxes

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 covers planks that if enacted would cripple the federal government, as well as planks having to do with taxes.

Unelected Bureaucrats- We oppose the appointment of unelected bureaucrats and we support defunding and abolishing the departments or agencies of the Internal Revenue Service, Education, Energy, Housing and Urban Development, Commerce, Health and Human Services, Labor, and Interior (specifically, the Bureau of Land Management), Transportation Security Administration, Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and National Labor Relations Board. In the interim, executive decisions by departments or agencies must be reviewed and approved by Congress before taking effect.

Okay, I can agree on the TSA, but man do they hate the federal government. And it's not like some of these things even make sense to want to defund. I mean, their very first example is the IRS. Maybe they don't like the IRS and would like to see it overhauled or restructured, but taxes are a fact of life. It's how government generates revenue. And when you have revenue coming into the government, you need some government agency coordinating it, and making sure people aren't trying to cheat the government or commit fraud to get out of paying their fair share of the taxes. We need an agency with the role currently fulfilled by the IRS. Even if you did away with the IRS, you'd need a new agency to do the same thing.

And why are they so opposed to unelected bureaucrats. Do they realize how many bureaucrats there are in government? I mean, even if we severely cut funding, there would still be thousands and thousands of bureaucrats working for the government. Are we supposed to hold elections for each and every one of these positions? The Library of Congress employs over 3,000 people. The FAA employs over 47,000 (source). It's just not practical at all to try to hold elections for each of those employees. And it certainly wouldn't improve efficiency, taking away the hiring and promotion process from supervisors and management. It's a rather silly plank.

We, the delegates of the 2016 Republican Party of Texas State Convention, call upon the 85th Texas
Legislature to: ... And to replace the property tax system with an alternative other than the income tax and require voter
approval to increase the overall tax burden.

Well, even a broken clock is right twice a day, at least sort of. I absolutely hate property taxes. I own my land. I don't rent it from the government. And I think property taxes can be especially unfair in areas where property values go up to where long time residents can no longer afford to stay. But I agree with what former Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. once wrote, "Taxes are what we pay for civilized society". I don't particularly like paying taxes, but there are a lot of things I don't particularly like doing but still do because I'm an adult and it's the responsible thing to do. Personally, I think income taxes are a fair way to go about supplying the state with the revenue it needs, certainly more fair than property tax.

Bailouts and Subsidies- We encourage government to divest its ownership of all business that should be run in the private sector and allow the free market to prevail. We oppose all bailouts of domestic and foreign government entities, states and all businesses, public and private. We oppose local government handouts to businesses and other private entities in the name of economic development.

Nobody particularly likes bailouts, either, but sometimes, they really are essential to preserve the greater health of the economy. With that said, when it does get to the point that they're required, it means there was some other failure earlier on. Those businesses should have been broken up by anti-trust laws or reigned in by regulation before it got to the point where the government had to bail them out. But letting them fail and take out the rest of the economy is no better than cutting off your nose to spite your face.

Tax Burden- We in the Republican Party of Texas believe in the principles of constitutionally limited government based on Federalist principles. To this end we encourage our elected officials at all levels of government to work to reverse the current trend of expanding government and the growing tax and debt burdens this places on we the people. We believe the most equitable system of taxation is one based on consumption and wish to see reforms towards that end at all levels of government Furthermore, we believe that the borrower truly is a slave to the lender, and so long as we continue to increase our tax and debt burdens we will never be a truly free people. Towards these ends, we support the reformation of the current systems of taxation at all levels of government: federal, state, and local. Examples of these reforms include the following:

1. Eliminating the Internal Revenue Service (IRS)
2. The "Fair Tax" system
3. A Flat Tax
4. The 1-2-3 No Federal Tax
5. Abolishing property taxes, but in the interim, property taxes should be paid on the price of the property when it was initially purchased.
6. Electing appraisal boards
7. Exempting inventories from property taxes
8. Abolishing estate taxes or the "Death Tax" as it's more commonly known
9. Abolishing capital gains taxes
10. Abolishing franchise and business income taxes
11. Abolishing the gift tax.
12. Discontinuing revenue generating licensing fee

Let's get one thing clear, first. There is no growing tax burden on U.S. citizens or companies. There are multiple ways to look at this. For example, here's a graph of effective federal taxes. It includes all taxes paid to the federal government - income, payroll, and anything else (source: The Atlantic - How We Pay Taxes: 11 Charts).

Effective Federal Tax Rates

Notice how the effective tax rate has dropped for all income groups.

Here's a graph of effective corporate tax rates, from Wikipedia. Again, notice how the tax rates have decreased.

U.S. Effective Corporate Tax Rate, 1947-2011

And since I'm already on the topic of taxes, here are two more graphs, made with data from USGovernmentSpending.com and USGovernmentRevenue.com. These show government revenues and spending.

Federal Revenue by Source
Federal Revenue and Spending

Notice how current revenues are inline with what they've been for the past half century, so even from a big picture view, it's clear that the government hasn't drastically increased the tax burden. And if you look at the spending, it's also roughly in line with what it's been for the past half century, so it's not like there's been drastic government expansion. Pay attention to the trends at the end of the spending vs. revenue graph, as well. Now that the country is recovering from the recession, spending and revenue are coming back into closer alignment. Granted, there's still some work left to do on balancing the budget, and it probably will require spending cuts, but there's no need to panic or do anything drastic.

Moving on, I already commented above on the necessity of the IRS. Since the government is necessarily going to have revenue, there needs to be an agency to handle it. The rest is just a mish mash of ideas - some decent, some horrible. But it's not really a well thought out section of the platform.

Federal Reserve System- We believe Congress should repeal the Federal Reserve Act of 1913 thereby abolishing the Federal Reserve Banking System. In the interim, we call for a complete audit of the Federal Reserve System and its Board of Governors followed by an immediate report to the American people.

You can read all about the Federal Reserve, how it works, and why we need it at How Stuff Works - How the Fed Works, or even on Wikipedia. There were plenty of financial crises, recessions, depressions, and periods of inflation early in our nation's history. And something I hadn't known before but learned from the second page of the How Stuff Works feature, there were over 30,000 currencies in the U.S. prior to the Federal Reserve Act, because even though the federal government printed currency, different banks had their own currencies floating around, as well. The Federal Reserve Act standardized currency across the nation, and stabilized the economy. Yes, there have still been recessions and depressions, but they'd have been even worse with no central bank to manage the economy.

Sound Money- We support the return to the precious metal standard for the United States dollar.

I'm going to repeat verbatim what I wrote in 2014. There are very good reasons why no first world countries use the gold standard. To quote an article on About.com, "The stability caused by the gold standard is also the biggest drawback in having one. Exchange rates are not allowed to respond to changing circumstances in countries. A gold standard severely limits the stabilization policies the Federal Reserve can use." The article went on to cite an economist explaining how these limitations of the gold standard lead to higher short-term price instability, 'real output' variability, and even higher unemployment.

United States Department of Education- Since education is not an enumerated power of the federal government, we believe the Department of Education (DOE) should be abolished, and prohibit the transfer of any of its functions to any other federal agency.

Not a lot of commentary on this one - just pointing out another plank wanting to gut the federal government (as well as contempt for education).

Restrictions by Government Agencies- We oppose any restrictions by any government agency on individual taxpayer contributions to churches, faith-based charities and other non-profit organizations.

Not a lot of commentary on this one either - just pointing out their desire to deregulate to the point of anarchy. I would agree that regulations on charitable contributions shouldn't be too strict, but I wouldn't want to do away with them entirely.

Preserving Private Enterprise- We believe that goods and services which are not transported across state lines should not be subject to federal regulations, or regulated by any other level of government other than the minimum necessary to prevent disease, fraud, injury to others, or other infringement of citizens' unalienable rights.

This makes me wonder what these Texas Republicans think existing regulations are for. They say they don't wany any regulations "other than the minimum necessary to prevent disease, fraud, injury to others, or other infringement of citizens' unalienable rights." What do they think politicians are doing now? Passing regulations just for the sake of having regulations? The whole point of existing regulations is exactly what the Texas Republicans have put in this plank. No mainstream politicians want more regulation than is necessary.

Continue to Part 13, Misc / Weird


Thursday, October 20, 2016

Voter ID Laws and Voter Fraud - A Cure Worse Than the Disease

The other day, I received a link to the following video on the National Review:

The YouTube description states, "Democrats like to pretend voter fraud isn't a problem -- but it is. This video proves it." In truth, the video does nothing of the sort. The video itself is merely a series of claims with absolutely no references to back them up, with ominous music playing in the background, and graphics somewhat related to the claims. And the claims themselves don't support the case for voter fraud being a major problem.

Before getting to the actual claims from the video, I'm going to start off with a big picture view of voter fraud, voter ID laws, and how this video misses the mark.

Video Doesn't Actually Demonstrate Voter Fraud to Be a Problem

The big problem is that many of the claims in the video are a kind of bait and switch. They don't show how big of a problem voter fraud is, just how easy it would be to commit the crime (and on a small scale, at that - not the large scale fraud required to influence most elections). That may seem like splitting hairs, but it's not. I'll use an example. With Halloween coming up, the yearly scare about pins & needles & razor blades in candy and apples is going to be brought up again. That would be an extremely easy crime to commit - just shove those things into food. And particularly industrious misanthropes could open & reseal wrappers to disguise their sabotage. But in truth, this is a very rare crime, with basically only 1 case since 1959 where it was a stranger giving out treats to kids (the handful of other times that weren't hoaxes were friends & siblings playing pranks on each other - Snopes). So, even though this would be an extremely easy crime to commit, we don't pass onerous trick or treating regulations to deal with it, because in practice, it's just not a big issue.

When it comes to voter fraud, the Democrats aren't saying it would be impossible to commit, especially on an individual scale. They're saying that the vast majority of reputable studies that have looked into it haven't found evidence of it actually happening very often. So, there's no need to panic and rush laws into place that haven't been thought through, and especially not to put laws into place that cause more harm than they prevent, disenfranchising certain segments of the population.

Here's an article in the New York Times with links to several of the studies looking at how prevalent voter fraud actually is, The Success of the Voter Fraud Myth. And here's an article from NBC News that discusses the issue in some detail, Study Finds No Evidence of Widespread Voter Fraud. All these studies find that fraud, intentionally trying to game the system and not just making mistakes, is very rare - somewhere on the order of hundreds of votes out of the billion votes in all American elections between 2000 and 2014. Even if you grant very generous assumptions and increase the estimate to 10,000 (a couple orders of magnitude greater than what the studies have found), that's less than 0.001% of all votes. Plus, most of the types of fraud that were committed wouldn't have been caught by photo ID, anyway (such as voting in multiple polling locations).

Discriminatory Effects of Existing Voter ID Laws

On the flip side, overly strict voter ID laws have reduced voter turnout by far greater numbers. A study by the Government Accountability Office (Washington Post - Voter ID laws in Kansas and Tennessee dropped 2012 turnout by over 100,000 votes) found that overly strict voter ID laws reduced voter turnout by roughly 2% in 2012 in the two states they studied, Kansas and Tennessee - meaning ~120,000 disenfranchised voters in just those two states in just that one year, compared to the mere hundreds of cases of voter fraud nationwide over more than a decade.

Here's another story from the L.A. Times detailing the results of overly strict voter ID laws, and specifically how they disproportionately affect minorities, The results on voter ID laws are in -- and it's bad news for ethnic and racial minorities. The study found that these laws disproportionately affect latinos, blacks, Asian Americans, and multi-racial Americans, and that "the racial turnout gap doubles or triples in states that enact strict ID laws."

Actual Democratic Position on Voter ID Laws

According to a Gallup poll from last month (Four in Five Americans Support Voter ID Laws, Early Voting), a majority of Democrats, 63%, actually do favor a Photo ID requirement. So it's not voter ID laws per se that Democrats are opposed to, but the way many Republicans have tried to use unfair implementations of those laws to disenfranchise voters more likely to vote Democratic, or to sway elections in favor of Republican candidates. (Although a substantial minority of Democrats are opposed to voter ID laws in general because of the potential for voter disenfranchisement.)

Examples of Political Motivations from Republican Politicians & Leadership

I mentioned the actual stats up above, but here's an article from the New York Times discussing leaked documents and unguarded moments where certain members of Republican leadership have admitted/explained their less honorable motivations behind many of these laws, Some Republicans Acknowledge Leveraging Voter ID Laws for Political Gain.

Here's perhaps the most explicit and damning admission from the article, from Todd Allbaugh, a former staff aide to a Republican state legislator:

I was in the closed Senate Republican Caucus when the final round of multiple Voter ID bills were being discussed. A handful of the GOP Senators were giddy about the ramifications and literally singled out the prospects of suppressing minority and college voters. Think about that for a minute. Elected officials planning and happy to help deny a fellow American's constitutional right to vote in order to increase their own chances to hang onto power.

Here's a striking example from Alabama. After putting their voter ID laws in place, they went and shut down over 30 of their DMV offices, mostly in poor or predominantly black areas, making it even harder for those people to get photo IDs. Thankfully, there was enough outcry and political pressure that the offices were re-opened, but it certainly seems to indicate their motivations (though of course, the governor and others don't admit to deliberate disenfranchisement, and have claimed budgetary reasons for the closures). Here's a ThinkProgress article on the original closings, After Alabama Enforces Voter ID, Shuts Down DMVs In Black Communities, Lawmaker Wants Investigation, and a Governing.com article article on the reopenings, Alabama Will Reopen Closed DMV Offices in Black Counties.

Here's a particularly damning example from North Carolina, as explained in this article from the Washington Post, The 'smoking gun' proving North Carolina Republicans tried to disenfranchise black voters. I'm just going to quote directly from the article:

The federal court in Richmond found that the primary purpose of North Carolina's wasn't to stop voter fraud, but rather to disenfranchise minority voters. The judges found that the provisions "target African Americans with almost surgical precision."

In particular, the court found that North Carolina lawmakers requested data on racial differences in voting behaviors in the state. "This data showed that African Americans disproportionately lacked the most common kind of photo ID, those issued by the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV)," the judges wrote.

So the legislators made it so that the only acceptable forms of voter identification were the ones disproportionately used by white people. "With race data in hand, the legislature amended the bill to exclude many of the alternative photo IDs used by African Americans," the judges wrote. "The bill retained only the kinds of IDs that white North Carolinians were more likely to possess." [emphasis mine]

And from later in the article:

Most strikingly, the judges point to a "smoking gun" in North Carolina's justification for the law, proving discriminatory intent. The state argued in court that "counties with Sunday voting in 2014 were disproportionately black" and "disproportionately Democratic," and said it did away with Sunday voting as a result.

"Thus, in what comes as close to a smoking gun as we are likely to see in modern times, the State's very justification for a challenged statute hinges explicitly on race -- specifically its concern that African Americans, who had overwhelmingly voted for Democrats, had too much access to the franchise," the judges write in their decision.

And for the last passage from that article I'm going to quote:

"Faced with this record," the federal court concludes, "we can only conclude that the North Carolina General Assembly enacted the challenged provisions of the law with discriminatory intent."

Here's a Washington Post article, focused on Texas specifically (since I live here), Getting a photo ID so you can vote is easy. Unless you're poor, black, Latino or elderly. It mentions the oft-cited fact that the Texas voter ID law allowed concealed carry permits as a valid form of ID, but not state issued university IDs. That reeks of political bias - allowing a form of ID for a group more likely to be conservative while not allowing an equally valid form of ID for a group more likely to be liberal. That's exactly the type of reason why Democrats are so suspicious of Republican sponsored voter ID laws. The article also has a few real-life examples of people trying to get the state-issued IDs, and the onerous hassles some of them have had to go through.

And as one last example, here's an article from MSNBC, Former Fla. Republican chair: GOP discussed reducing black turnout; voter fraud is just a 'marketing tool'. Jim Greer, former chair of the Florida Republican party, stated, "Never one time did we have any discussions where voter fraud was a real issue," and that the real reasons for their voter ID laws were "to make sure that what happened in 2008, when President Obama brought out the college-age voters, the minority voters, never happened again". He also said, "They talked about making voter registration much more difficult for third party organizations like the League of Women Voters." There's more, but that's enough to show the Florida Republicans leadership's true motivation.


So, just to sum up - studies don't find voter fraud to be a big issue, and the majority of the few cases that do occur wouldn't be stopped by voter ID laws. Leaked documents, unguarded statements, and other examples make it clear that many Republican politicians intentionally mean to disenfranchise certain voters with these laws. And the measured effect is that these Republican led voter ID laws have reduced voter turnout, especially among minorities and others more likely to vote Democratic, with the reduced turnout dwarfing the number of fraud cases they were meant to stop. As one judge in Wisconsin put it, the "strict version of voter ID law is a cure worse than the disease." Finally, a majority of Democrats are in favor of voter ID laws and other reforms to guarantee election integrity, as long as they're implemented properly and fairly, and not used as a tool to disenfranchise voters and try to swing elections in favor of the Republicans.


Fraudulent Claims of Fraud

As one last note before getting to the video's specific claims, I have seen a few allegations of voter fraud popping up on the Internet. They almost always turn out to be hoaxes. Here are a couple examples from the last few weeks:

Now, I'm sure a handful of legitimate examples will turn up, as they have in the past. But they'll almost surely be isolated, small scale crimes, not anything on a scale necessary to influence elections, and certainly not as bad as the harm caused by overly strict voter ID laws.


Detailed Examination of Video Claims

With all that background information above, for anyone interested, I'll now go through the actual claims from the video.

Voter fraud is a huge problem.
Democrats pretend it doesn't exist
They vehemently oppose requiring ID at polling stations

Covered above - Voter fraud is not a well documented problem, so Democrats are just following the evidence, not pretending. Further, the majority of Democrats do favor ID. They're just wary of the details of how Republicans try to implement it.

But undercover agents were able to vote as dead people
Filmmaker James O'Keefe obtained former attorney general Eric Holder's ballot
He also claimed to be Eminem
...and the mayor of Detroit
A 24-year undercover agent gave the name of someone who had died in 2012 at age 87
All of them were going to be allowed to vote

Covered above - These videos don't show how often voter fraud occurs, only how easy it is to commit on a small scale, and not even the large scale that would be required to sway all but the tightest elections.

A Pew survey says 1 of 8 voter registrations is inaccurate
2.8 million people are registered in 2 or more states
1.8 million registered voters are dead

I assume they're referring to this study, Inaccurate, Costly, and Inefficient: Evidence That America's Voter Registration System Needs an Upgrade. Again, these aren't evidence of fraud, but they are evidence that the voter registration system should be improved. And that Pew study suggested several means of doing so (none of which, by the way, included voter ID).

6.4% of non-citizens voted in 2008

This is not an actual measurement, but an estimate from a questionable study, addressed in more detail here: Washington Post blog - Methodological challenges affect study of non-citizens' voting. Basically, it was a survey with a lot of questionable assumptions and methodologies, that extrapolated the 6.4% number from the basis of those questionable assumptions combined with a very small sample size. And as noted by at least one researcher who studies this, Rick Hasen, it's a much higher estimate than other studies that have looked at the same issue (Election Law Blog). And finally, most non-citizens actually do have drivers licenses, so checking ID wouldn't have stopped them from voting, anyway.

Undercover agents claimed names of dead, jailed or former residents at 63 polling places -- and got ballots

Same issues as above - not evidence that fraud is happening on a large scale.

I also have to mention that given the history of these kinds of undercover right wing videos I've seen in the past, such as O'Keefe's ACORN video and the more recent Planned Parenthood video, which both used misleading editing to completely misrepresent what was actually going on, you have to have an extra dose of skepticism when viewing them. For example, in the few undercover voting videos I did watch, some of them did appear as if the 'agent' was going to get a normal ballot to vote with, but in others, it seemed pretty clear that they were going to get a provisional ballot - that the election officials recognized that something was out of the ordinary with the agents, and so were only giving them a provisional ballot which would be reviewed later to see if they were eligible to vote or not.

In 2008, illegal felon voters appear to have swung the outcome of a critical Senate election

Since they're not very specific and don't give any references, I can only assume they mean Al Franken's election to the Senate, since there is some controversy on that. Here's an article from Alternet dealing with the claim, GOP Voter Fraud Hucksters Latest Lie: Felons Made Franken U.S. Senator. Needless to say, illegal felons did not swing the election in Franken's favor. The biggest issue was ex-felons voting before they'd had their voting rights restored, usually out of ignorance of the process, when most of them would have been eligible to vote if they'd filed the proper paper work. In other words, it was more of a paperwork issue than people intentionally trying to cheat the system. Additionally, the election was decided by 312 votes, while the combined number of accused & convicted voter fraud cases is only 243 (so actual convictions will be lower than that - probably far lower given the other studies on fraud referenced above) - not enough to sway the election even if they all voted as a bloc in favor of Franken, which is a pretty big assumption in itself. And to be clear, all but one of those fraud accusations were ex-felons who hadn't filed the appropriate paperwork - not, to quote the alternet article, "double voting, underage voting, voter impersonation, coercion of elderly or disabled voters, or non-citizen voting". And just like with several of the other examples discussed, many of those ex-felons had drivers licenses, so voter ID wouldn't have stopped them from voting, anyway.

It's time to require ID and more vigilance at all polling locations

Again, this general conclusion isn't opposed by most Democrats. It's the details of implementing the laws in such a way as to try to disenfranchise voters or sway elections to Republicans that most Democrats are opposed to. The laws should not cause more harm than they prevent.


Selling Out