Friday, August 18, 2017

Blueprint For America: Immigration

In this installment I want to talk about immigration. This has been a hot-button issue for many years1 with many on both sides of the debate becoming more and more shrill and unreasonable with each election cycle. The newest development in this is the latest edict from donald trump in which he announced that he wants to cut legal immigration by 50%.

Before we begin, though, we have to get an idea of what is actually happening, immigration-wise. To do this, we consulted the Yearbook of Immigration Statistics from the Department of Homeland Security2. A discussion of these data is included here (this was done because, let's face it, reading statistics can be roughly as exciting as watching Harry Reid saying -- well, anything).

As it turns out, President Obama was not quite the anti-immigration demon the Republicans say he was, nor was he the "Deporter-In-Chief" calimed by many immigrants rights groups. Based on the number of people granted Legal Permanent Resident status, his numbers were roughly the same as the previous administration. The number of refugees/asylum-seeking arrivals increased slightly, while the total number of deportations actually decreased fairly steadily over both the Obama and Bush 43 administrations, as did the number of apprehensions of illegals. So why all the hue and cry from the Republicans over the supposed surge in illegal immigration under President Obama?

The obvious answer, of course, is electoral politics. Republicans used the issue as a xenophobic and racist dog whistle to appeal to that sector of their base that doesn't concern itself with things like subtlety, nuance, or facts3. And while I could happily while away the hours listing all of the ways in which the Republicans engage in dumbassery, I am actually trying for something a bit more productive here.

The underlying problem is the notion that "illegal immigrants take American jobs." Like many Republican statements, this makes sense on the surface ... but it doesn't take much digging to discredit this line of reasoning. To begin with, yes, the "first order" effects of immigration are that immigrants take American jobs. However, not to put too fine a point on it, but duh. American jobs are why they came here in the first place in many cases4.

It is also important to look at the other side of this coin (which is something the GOP often omits). The number of jobs is directly related to the demand for those workers in the overall economy. Every immigrant that comes here and starts working -- whether it is a migrant worker picking crops in the fields in California's Central Valley, or a computer programmer with a university degree -- generates economic activity, which increases demand for -- say it with me now -- more workers. Sure, some of these will be more immigrants, but some will be American citizens. Reducing the number of immigrants may actually hurt the economy by reducing overall economic activity.

The way to address the immigration issue is not to demonize immigrants, nor is the answer to make it more difficult for people to enter the country legally. Any immigration reform must address the following points:
  • Creating clear, simple (in the sense of "easy to understand and follow") paths to citizenship.
  • Applying consistent rules to deportations.
  • Relaxing of quotas.
  • Allowing for refugees and asylum-seekers to receive timely treatment and determination of status.
  • Temporary provisions for those refugees who are unable to return to their homeland.
  • Incorporation of a new class of refugees that we will be seeing soon: climate refugees (more on this in a bit).
Path to citizenship
There are currently several paths to citizenship for immigrants, including work visas, student visas, fiancé(e) and spousal visas, etc. All of these involve lengthy procedures including interviews, background checks, and so on. We need to make these processes more efficient so that people don't have to wait years, sometimes decades, for a decision on their case.

In addition, there is a rule in place that requires anyone seeking Legal Permanent Resident (LPR) status to return to their home country and apply through the consulate, and it includes a proviso that if the application is denied then that person must wait anywhere from three to ten years before applying again. This rule needs to be modified to allow for legal immigrants to apply without leaving the country. As far as illegal immigrants, we should allow them to apply for LPR status from within the United States, provided they accept the equivalent of house arrest while the process is underway, with immediate deportation if the application is denied.

Consistency in deportation
A common complaint from the immigrant community is that the rules governing whether and when a person is deported are vague and not well-publicized. This, combined with some states taking matters into their own hands and independently enforcing immigration laws that may or may not be on the books (Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Arizona being a leading example of this), makes it very difficult for immigrants to follow the law in the first place -- in some cases they have acted with the best of intentions but have been tripped up by hidden gotchas.

I am not advocating for relaxing the rules, only making them more well-known, enforcing them even-handedly across the board, and explicitly forbidding states from enforcing Federal immigration laws unless a formal deputization has taken place.

Relaxing of quotas
As it stands now, we have a system in place that allows the United States to specify which type of people will be allowed to immigrate. Doctors, for example, or computer programmers, or farm workers ... categories will be given preferential treatment if there is a perceived need for them. For example, in the nineties the number of computer programmers immigrating from India under the H1B visa skyrocketed in direct response to the tech bubble.

I propose that we not eliminate quotas entirely but that we place far less emphasis on them and instead use this simple criterion: will this person contribute more to society, in the long term, than he or she will take out of it? This way it doesn't matter if they are a doctor, a programmer, a dishwasher, an auto mechanic ... as long as they contribute and don't create a net draw on public institutions, then I say by all means ... let 'em in.

Timely and fair treatment
Current immigration procedures are long and arduous. Some say this is by design to prevent it from being too easy and thus attracting a flood of immigrants. I say making the process difficult serves nobody except the people who work in immigration, who have a nice, relaxed case load as a result.

The current procedure is to have someone apply for Legal Permanent resident status, then for citizenship after that. This is a process that can take years or decades, during which the prospective immigrant is in kind of a state of limbo. In addition, there are situations where a person's life may be in danger due to the delay, for example, if they are fleeing a civil war, terrorism, or a natural disaster.

Given modern technology, it should not be at all difficult to strike up partnerships with other nations so that we can easily conduct background checks on individuals in their country of origin and thus render a decision more quickly.

Temporary status
We also need to amend our procedures for temporary status. People fleeing from the civil war in Syria, for example, sometimes have to undergo years of intense scrutiny before they are allowed in. While I am not advocating that we lessen the stringency of these background investigations, we can at least amend Temporary Protected Status (TPS) so that it encompasses all people without having to have their home country on a list maintained by the Department of Homeland Security. People should be able to receive a TPS designation based solely on whether or not the conditions in their country of origin warrant it.

Climate refugees
Current Temporary Protected Status includes people who were the victim of a natural disaster (the Haiti earthquake, for example). The problem with these environmental provisions is that they are designed for short-term relief -- people are granted TPS for the duration of the emergency, then are required to either complete formal immigration procedures or return to their home country.

The problem we now face is that, thanks to inaction on climate change, we are facing an entirely new and unprecedented class of refugees. Climate refugees are people who are unable to return to their home country -- forever -- because of the devastation wrought upon it by climate change. For example, the Maldives are expected to be entirely submerged by 2050, which creates an entire population of displaced people with nowhere to go. We will see similar effects from Bangladesh and many places in the Caribbean and South Pacific.

Our immigration procedures need to be updated to accommodate this new class of people. This can done quite simply by removing the words "short-term" from the description of refugees due to natural disasters. Existing processes can remain in place; we are simply expanding the definition of environmental refugee to include those for whom environmental degradation has caused a permanent loss of their homes.

None of these measures are exceedingly difficult; the only thing lacking is political will. By implementing these measures, we can return the United States to its place it held for so long as the beacon of promise, the "shining city on the hill," as President Ronald Reagan put it, and we can demonstrate our fundamental humanity to the rest of the world in a meaningful way.

I gotta lie down.

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1It should be noted that part of the reason for all the media hysteria is that the Republican Party often intentionally fans the flames of anti-immigration sentiment as a campaign tactic.

2 Data are current up to October 2015. The yearbook itself contains data back to the nineteenth century; however, we are only concerning ourselves with data from this century (2001 through 2015).

3Obviously, not all Republicans are racist or xenophobic. However, for decades the GOP has used racism and xenophobia in their messaging as a tool to rile up the reactionary members of their party; this partly explains why the Republican Party has such an effective Get Out The Vote machine.

4Granted, there are significant numbers who arrive at our shores for other reasons, but the majority come looking for work.

In terms of lawful immigration, the United States granted Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) status to roughly one million individuals per year from 2001 through 2015 (see Table 1). There was a slight dip to just over 700,000 in 2003, but on the whole the numbers held steady, ranging from a low of 957,883 on 2013 to 1,266,129 in 2006 (given trump's obsession with Mexican immigrants, of these people granted LPR status, less than 150,000 came from Mexico).

The granting of LPR status is an early step in the naturalization process. When we look at the petitions for naturalization, we see that the percentage of these petitions that are being denied fell steadily from 2001 through 2011 (see Table 2), from a high of 26.48% (of the total number of petitions for Legal Permanent Resident status) to a low of 7.6%. This rate of declined petitions has been slowly increasing in the past few years to 9.4% in 2015.

In addition, the number of refugees/asylum seekers granted entry to the United States during this period averaged around 57,000 per year (see Table 3), with unusually low numbers in 2002 (26,875) and 2003 (28,266). If we remove these two outlier years, the average jumps to a little over 61,000 per year.

When we look at the number of deportations, we can see that this actually comes in two flavors: removals and returns (see Table 4). Although the ratio between these two categories fluctuates fairly dramatically year to year, the overall numbers have been  on a steady decline, from a high of 1,538,397 in 2001 to 462,463 in 2015.

Finally, when we look at alien apprehensions from this time period, we see a steady decline in the number apprehended (see Table 5). The most precipitous drop in apprehensions -- 325,216, or 23.44% -- occurred in 2003, followed by 2004 (217,810, 20.81%), and 2007 (245,735, 20.37%). The smallest drops came in 2012 (7,297, 1.07%) and 2013 (8,844, 1.32%). The number of apprehensions actually increased in 2008 (83,086, 8.65%), 2005 (26,833, 2.12%) and 2014 (17,513, 2.64%).

Table 1: Persons Obtaining Legal Permanent Resident Status, 2001 TO 2015
2001 68,920
2002 26,785
2003 28,286
2004 52,840
2005 53,738
2006 41,094
2007 48,218
2008 60,107
2009 74,602
2010 73,296
2011 56,384
2012 58,179
2013 69,909
2014 69,975
2015 69,920

Table 2: Petitions for Naturalization, 2001 through 2015
Year Total Civilian Military Not reported Denied Denial %
2001 606,259 575,030 758 30,471 218,326 26.48%
2002 572,646 550,835 1,053 20,758 139,779 19.62%
2003 462,435 449,123 3,865 9,447 91,599 16.53%
2004 537,151 520,771 4,668 11,712 103,339 16.13%
2005 604,280 589,269 4,614 10,397 108,247 15.19%
2006 702,589 684,484 6,259 11,846 120,722 14.66%
2007 660,477 648,005 3,808 8,664 89,683 11.96%
2008 1,046,539 1,032,281 4,342 9,916 121,283 10.39%
2009 743,715 726,043 7,100 10,572 109,832 12.87%
2010 619,913 604,410 9,122 6,381 56,994 8.42%
2011 694,193 677,385 8,373 8,435 57,065 7.60%
2012 757,434 745,932 7,257 4,245 65,874 8.00%
2013 779,929 769,073 6,652 4,204 83,112 9.63%
2014 653,416 642,431 7,468 3,517 66,767 9.27%
2015 730,259 720,645 7,234 2,380 75,810 9.40%

Table 3: Refugee arrivals, 2001 through 2015
2001 68,920
2002 26,785
2003 28,286
2004 52,840
2005 53,738
2006 41,094
2007 48,218
2008 60,107
2009 74,602
2010 73,296
2011 56,384
2012 58,179
2013 69,909
2014 69,975
2015 69,920

Table 4: Aliens Removed or Returned: 2001 through 2015
Year Removalsa Returnsb Total
2001 189,026 1,349,371 1,538,397
2002 165,168 1,012,116 1,177,284
2003 211,098 945,294 1,156,392
2004 240,665 1,166,576 1,407,241
2005 246,431 1,096,920 1,343,351
2006 280,974 1,043,381 1,324,355
2007 319,382 891,390 1,210,772
2008 359,795 811,263 1,171,058
2009 391,341 582,596 973,937
2010 381,738 474,195 855,933
2011 386,020 322,098 708,118
2012 416,324 230,360 646,684
2013 434,015 178,691 612,706
2014 407,075 163,245 570,320
2015 333,341 129,122 462,463

aRemovals are the compulsory and confirmed movement of an inadmissible or deportable alien out of the United States based on an order of removal. An alien who is removed has administrative or criminal consequences placed on subsequent reentry owing to the fact of the removal.
bReturns are the confirmed movement of an inadmissible or deportable alien out of the United States not based on an order of removal.

Table 5: Aliens Apprehended: 2001 through 2015
2001 1,387,486
2002 1,062,270
2003 1,046,422
2004 1,264,232
2005 1,291,065
2006 1,206,408
2007 960,673
2008a 1,043,759
2009b 889,212
2010 796,587
2011 678,606
2012 671,327
2013 662,483
2014 679,996
2015 462,388

aBeginning in 2008, includes all administrative arrests conducted by ICE ERO (Enforcement and Removal Operations).
bBeginning in 2009, data include administrative arrests conducted by ICE ERO and administrative arrests conducted under the 287(g) program (authorizes the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to deputize selected state and local law enforcement officers to enforce federal immigration law).

Why We Need To Talk About Racism

There has always been an uneasy relationship between the United States and discussions about race. In the wake of the Charlottesville attack, racism has been a "trending topic," at the risk of making it sound trivial. Normally I would post an article dealing with racism in a present-day context, drawing parallels between Charlottesville, Charleston, the current administration, the previous administration, and politicos of various stripes, but I wish to step away from the madness for a moment.

In the summer of 1972 I was seven-almost-eight years old. I loved Froot Loops, Hot Wheels, and Spiderman, in that order. My father was a Lieutenant Commander in the Coast Guard, my mom stayed at home. I was preparing for third grade, my brother was going into second grade.

We lived in suburban Maryland, not far from Andrews Air Force Base, so many of the families in our neighborhood were Air Force families. It was a nice, quiet, middle-class neighborhood that retained a small-town feel ... my PE teacher lived four houses down from us, and when our house caught fire in 1974 the entire neighborhood rallied to take us in that night, give us the basic needs (clothing, primarily) the next day, and so on.

It was also, although I didn't fully understand this at the time, the center of a hotly debated racial controversy: busing. For anyone who doesn't know, "busing" was the practice of putting kids from school districts that served primarily poor communities -- usually African-American (the acceptable term at the time was "Negro") -- on a bus and having them go to school in wealthier communities, usually white.

Being southern Maryland in the early 1970s, there was significant resistance to this idea. The poor communities weren't crazy about the idea of their kids being on a school bus for up to 90 minutes each way just to be looked down upon by their peers, and the middle-class areas weren't fond of all these poor black kids hanging around. In my neighborhood -- again, I wasn't aware of this at the time -- Jim Crow was unfortunately alive and well. Parents up and down our street would sometimes complain, in earshot of their children, about the schools' busing efforts, and would make no bones about opposing it on racial grounds.

However, for me, my brother, and the other kids, that summer was about climbing trees, riding our bikes, catching frogs in the creek across the street during the day and fireflies in the yard at night, and going to the neighborhood pool and trying not to get yelled at for running.

One day, I was at the end of my driveway with my friends piloting my Hot Wheels through the dangerous African jungle that was the lawn by the curb as I hunted for the lost gold of the Unga Bunga. My mom was on the front porch doing something, I don't know what -- I didn't have time to find out, because of the Unga Bunga gold. I was kinda wrapped up in my quest, so I was a little surprised when a kid we didn't recognize walked up to us and said hi.

He said his name was Horace but that everyone called him Tanker, and it fit. He was only a few weeks older than me, but he was bigger than some FOURTH GRADERS, for pete's sake.

He was also African-American, something I had never seen before in my life, so I was nervous. I had heard some of the other kids echoing things their parents said, as kids do, and being completely innocent and ignorant of such things, I very matter-of-factly asked him, "Are you a nigger?" There was no malice, no hatred, no disrespect. I was seven years old, and, because I had heard it so frequently from the adults on the block, I just thought that was the accepted term.

I quickly discovered that it wasn't.

My mother moved faster than I had ever seen her move, before or since. She grabbed my arm and dragged me into the house so fast that I don't think I actually touched ground again until we were inside ... but not so fast that I couldn't see Tanker looking like I had kicked him in the stomach.

My mom was furious, and I couldn't understand why. She finally calmed down enough to tell me to go to my room and wait for my father to get home.

So I went, visions of impending doom filling my head. In front of all of these, though, was the image of Tanker's face ... the hurt, the utter defeat. I watched from my window as he walked back up the street toward his house, head down, sneakers shuffling on the pavement.

Back then, my mom was very excitable and easily irritated, and I was a master at yanking every possible chain she had. I honestly think she could have dropped me off on the side of the road and no jury would convict her -- I was that horrible.

My father was the complete opposite. I can only remember three or four instances during which he raised his voice. This was not one of them.

Not that he wasn't upset. He was, very. But I think he felt it was more important to turn this into a "teachable moment," even though I don't think that phrase had ever been used at that point, and took the time to explain to me exactly what had happened, and exactly what I had said meant, and that I was going to be staying in my room until school started, nearly three weeks away.

So sit I did. I read books, I was allowed to go outside once to collect my Hot Wheels from the yard, and that's it. Wake at 7. Breakfast. Back to my room. Lunch at 12. Back to my room. Dinner at 5. Back to my room. Lights out at 8. All I needed was a tin cup and some bars on the door to complete the picture.

After a couple of days I couldn't take it any more. Not only was I bored out of my skull, I couldn't get Tanker's face out of my mind, so during dinner I asked my parents if I could go over to his house to apologize. I said I wanted to do it by myself, and it took some cajoling, but they relented and said I could go after dinner.

So I went.

Tanker's father answered the door, and when he saw who it was he got a look on his face that made me think this wasn't such a great plan ... but in for a dime, in for a dollar.

I told him I was there to say I was sorry. I was managing to hold it together, but it was difficult ... and when Tanker came down the stairs, his face cold and hard, I couldn't keep it in any more and just started crying. I was sobbing, actually, while trying to get the words out -- not very successfully -- until I guess his mom couldn't take it any more and told me to sit down at the table, at which point she gave me a glass of milk and patted my head and said she was going to call my folks and let them know I was going to be there for a while.

I finally calmed down enough to get my apology out. I made it almost all the way through before I started crying again, and then I excused myself and went home.

Tanker and I ended up being best friends until my family moved away in 1975. We stayed in touch for a while, then not as much, then we moved on to other things: junior high, girls, high school, more girls, getting a driver's license, getting the first car, wrecking the first car ... but if he needed anything all he would have to do is call and I would be there in an instant, and it's a safe bet he would do the same for me.

I caught up with him briefly the summer after high school graduation, and again a little over twenty five years later. He still lives in the same neighborhood and has a lovely family of his own. The demographics of the neighborhood have changed ... when I was a kid it was mostly white; now it is almost completely black middle class. The streets have grown narrower and the yards smaller, and some of the woods we used to play in are now housing developments.

That day in August, 1972 did more to shape my attitude regarding race than anything else. Yes, there are the rational arguments against racism -- the lack of substantive physiological differences between races, for example -- as well as the moral ones, but the thing that has stuck with me through the years is the look of utter humiliation, pain, and betrayal on the face of a seven year boy when another kid asked him "Are you a nigger?"

No, he is not. He is my friend.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Republican Party Cannot Govern Anymore: Part 4

For a long time now I have maintained that the Republican Party is unfit to govern. I have presented arguments that Republican legislators are too caught up in their greed and their zeal for partisan victory that they are losing sight of a fundamental truth: country first, not party.

After the events in Charlottesville, and after hearing and reading comments from Republicans of all stripes who are not in government, it struck me that part of the reason that Republicans should not be allowed to govern is that they have an unusually large number of followers who, not to put too fine a point on it, are as dumb as a box of hammers.

This was brought home to me rather stridently when a Republican of my acquaintance, who shall remain nameless but they know who they are and whom we will call Ahmed, was trying to explain away the attack in Charlottesville as being the result of "antifag" demonstrators hitting James Fields' car with baseball bats while he was driving slowly down the street, causing him to accelerate in panic and run into the crowd. And this is a barely plausible story ... at least, until you start looking at pesky little things called "facts," with which many on the right seem to be completely unacquainted.

First, the car was undamaged when it began its run. I have seen video from multiple angles, and if the car had been hit with baseball bats, as this person claims, then there should have been dents or broken glass. There were neither. I suppose the hits could have been on the parts of the car that were not visible in the videos, and it is highly probably that the car was hit with baseball bats after it began accelerating in a futile attempt to stop it.

Second, he was not "driving slowly" as Ahmed claims. In a video taken from a side street you can see to car go by -- fast -- as it speeds toward the crowd. He was not going slowly and panicking later; this was clearly a deliberate act.

Third, the brake lights never came on. Either a) they weren't working, or b) they were never used. Given that the car is a 2010 and Chrysler electrical systems are generally very reliable, option A seems unlikely. The more likely explanation is that they were never used. But let's say Ahmed's hypothesis is true, that Fields was driving slowly and panicked. Anyone in that situation, when they saw themselves headed straight for a crowd, would instinctively hit the brakes. Fields never did, which implies intent.

Finally, Fields had been taking part in the white nationalist marches the previous night and that day, being caught on camera multiple times.

The current thinking is that he intended to barrel all the way through the crowd and make his escape along the main street at the other end, and that he simply didn't know there were vehicles blocking his way (obviously, a crowd of people standing between him and the vehicles would make it impossible for him to see them). Logic dictates that he had no intention of ramming another vehicle as this would risk completely disabling his, leaving him at the mercy of the angry mob he just tried to kill.

Because of this instinct for apologia, this willingness to rationalize heinous acts, I submit that not only are Republicans unfit to govern, many of them should not be allowed to use kitchen utensils unsupervised. My suggestion is that they go for remedial civics classes so they can relearn what "being a citizen" actually means.

I gotta lie down.

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Hey, Donnie, We Don't Like You

There has been a spate of new polls released over the past week that show donald trump's support is eroding. The Huffington Post published an article here that aggregates the results of a bunch of different polls, spanning the political spectrum and covering dates from the inauguration until August 15, 2017.

I have taken the raw polling data and crunched it a bunch of different ways (because I'm a data geek and that's what I do), and the results are in. Fewer people approve of the job donald trump is doing as president than disapprove, and the longer we see him in action the less we like him.

I know. I was so shocked as by this.

A couple of notes on methodology, just to show the basis for analysis (I can't speak to the original polling data).
  • Polls cover dates from January 20, 2017 through August 15, 2017.
  • Polls were conducted over periods ranging from one to twelve days each, with the majority (145) being conducted over a two day span.
  • Rounding is to two decimal places for averages.
  • For purposes of this article, any poll with fewer than six instances of being conducted is omitted so as to prevent skewing of averages. So, for example, polls by ABC/Washington post are omitted because they were only conducted twice during the January - August time period.
  • Since these are sampled polls and not complete data sets, there is a margin for error assumed with all polls1.
As we can see from the data2, trump's average approval rating is underwater across the board. However, because these are averages, they only present a 50,000 foot view ... we need to take a closer look at the sources. For example, the Politico/Morning Consult polls had trump's approval ratings at 52% in a poll conducted among 1,983 registered voters from March 9 through March 13, 2017, while that same poll conducted from August 3 through August 6 among 1,992 registered voters pegged his approval rating at 40%.

Another thing we need to consider is that something less than 50% may still represent an overall positive approval picture. Again, using the Politico/Morning Consult polls, we can see that trump had a 46% approval rating in a poll conducted immediately following the inauguration (1/20 through 1/22) among 1,992 registered voters. This represented an overall positive image of him, though, because only 37% disapproved and 17% were undecided. The problem for him is that, of the 335 polls conducted since the inauguration, only 29 show him as having a higher approval rating than disapproval, and of those none were conducted later than April 27.

Moving right along ...

When we start looking at how his approval has tracked over time, we can see -- and this probably comes as a surprise to pretty much nobody -- that his approval has been on a steady decline3. Looking at the data we can see that his approval rating dropped in all but one poll from the earliest to the latest poll, and that one poll had the approval rating holding steady. However, when we dig a little deeper, we can see that trump's disapproval ratings have been climbing with the smallest increase being the SurveyMonkey poll (5%) and the largest being the Quinnipiac poll (17%).

So what does this tell us? Nothing people don't already know: that donald trump is disliked by more people than liked, that his behavior over the past seven months is alienating more people than not, and that he's a giant douche nozzle4.

This is a sad state of affairs for out country. Part of the job of being President is to be the embodiment in the flesh of what we deem to be great about the United States: that we hold every person in equal esteem, regardless of their race, skin color, religion, or any other measure, that we, as a people are above hate and divisiveness, and to exemplify a higher standard to which all of us can aspire. Granted, no President is ever perfect, but when you start walking down the halls of history the difference between donald trump and those who came before him is stark:

“And let us reflect that having banished from our land that religious intolerance under which mankind so long bled and suffered, we have yet gained little if we countenance a political intolerance, as despotic, as wicked, and capable of as bitter and bloody persecutions.” -- Thomas Jefferson, First Inaugural Address, 3/1/1801

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.” -- Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address, 3/4/1865

“Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” -- John F. Kennedy, First Inaugural Address, 1/20/1961

“Freedom and the dignity of the individual have been more available and assured here than
in any other place on earth. The price for this freedom at times has been high, but we have never
been unwilling to pay that price.” -- Ronald Reagan, First Inaugural Address, 1/20/1981

“Let us let our own children know that we will stand against the forces of fear. When there is talk of hatred, let us stand up and talk against it. When there is talk of violence, let us stand up and talk against it. In the face of death, let us honor life.” -- Bill Clinton, speaking after the Oklahoma City bombing, 4/23/1995

“We are in a fight for our principles, and our first responsibility is to live by them. No one should be singled out for unfair treatment or unkind words because of their ethnic background or religious faith.” -- George W. Bush, Address to a Joint Session of Congress, 9/21/2001.

“It would be a refutation of the forgiveness expressed by those families if we merely slipped into old habits, whereby those who disagree with us are not merely wrong but bad; where we shout instead of listen; where we barricade ourselves behind preconceived notions or well-practiced cynicism.” -- Barack Obama, Eulogy for Clementa Pinckney, Charleston, SC, 6/26/2015

Compare this with his own comments:

“You know, it really doesn’t matter what the media write as long as you’ve got a young, and beautiful, piece of ass.” -- Esquire, May 1991, p. 24

“I think the only difference between me and the other candidates is that I’m more honest and my women are more beautiful.” -- interview with the New York Times, 11/17/1999

“The beauty of me is that I’m very rich.” -- musing about a Presidential run in 2012.

“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending the best. They’re not sending you, they’re sending people that have lots of problems and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bring crime. They’re rapists… And some, I assume, are good people.” -- announcement of his candidacy for President.

“This American carnage stops right here and stops right now. ... From this moment on, it’s going to be America First.” -- Inaugural Address, 1/20/2017

“I loved my previous life. I had so many things going. This is more work than in my previous life. I thought it would be easier.” -- speaking to Reuters on his first 100 days.

Clearly this is a man in over his head and supremely unqualified to operate a microwave oven, much less serve as President.

I gotta lie down.

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1This margin for error is generally within the 2%-3% range. Space limitations prevent listing the margin for error for all 335 polls considered in this aggregate. However, these margins for error combined with rounding errors account for individual polls not adding up to 100%.

2Averages for the seven polls with the largest number of instances:
Poll # of polls Approve % Disapprove % Undecided % Span %
Rasmussen 49 46.67 53.16 -- (6.49)
Politico/Morning Consult 30 46.40 47.80 6.07 (1.40)
SurveyMonkey 25 42.96 54.96 2.04 (12.00)
Ipsos/Reuters 28 41.21 53.36 5.61 (12.14)
YouGov/Economist 30 40.03 49.37 10.83 (9.33)
Gallup 68 39.65 54.68 -- (15.03)
Quinnipiac 12 37.42 54.75 7.58 (17.33)
42.05 52.58 4.59 (10.53)

Change in approval rating from the earliest to the latest poll for the seven polls with the largest number of instances.

First poll Last poll Change
Poll First poll Last poll App. Dis. Und. Span App. Dis. Und. Span App. Dis.
Rasmussen 1/22/2017 8/13/2017 57 43 0 14 40 58 0 (18) (17) 15
Politico/Morning Consult 1/20/2017 8/10/2017 46 37 17 9 46 52 5 (6) 0 15
SurveyMonkey 1/30/2017 8/4/2017 46 52 2 (6) 41 57 2 (16) (5) 5
Ipsos/Reuters 1/20/2017 8/11/2017 43 45 13 (2) 35 58 7 (23) (8) 13
YouGov/Economist 1/23/2017 8/13/2017 41 35 24 6 39 51 10 (12) (2) 16
Gallup 1/21/2017 8/13/2017 45 46 0 (1) 36 58 0 (22) (9) 12
Quinnipiac 1/20/2017 7/27/2017 36 44 19 (8) 33 61 5 (28) (3) 17

44.86 43.14 10.71 1.71 38.57 56.43 4.14 (17.86) (6.29) 13.29

4Okay, so maybe this isn't explicitly stated in the poll results. I'm extrapolating. Sure me.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

A Solution To The Trump Problem

Okay, so I have been accused of being partisan, biased, and for refusing to give equal time to the conservative point of view. Therefore, I will be devoting all of today's column to the current administration and the people who make it up.

What follows is a collection of images depicting trump's advisers and cabinet, along with a blurb about who each person is and how they can improve things. Let's get started, shall we?

Alex Acosta is donald trump's Secretary of Labor. He was selected after Andrew Puzder was hounded out of contention for the role. Puzder was tossed because, basically, his approach to labor was "screw the workers, and screw them hard, because that's where the money is." Acosta is not quite as bad as Puzder would have been, but still pretty horrible. Fuck this guy.

Y'all know this guy. Dr. Ben Carson, noted neurosurgeon (from all accounts a brilliant one) and current Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Apparently he is also an expert in the long-term storage of raw foodstuffs; after all, who knew that the Great Pyramids in Egypt were actually grain silos? Fuck this guy.

Betsy deVos, Secretary of Education and noted evangelical tightass. Her conflict of interests run almost as deep as her boss's. Fuck her.

Jefferson Beaure-- dammit, hold on a second ...

Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, Attorney General. He said during his confirmation hearings that "I never had meetings with Russian operatives or Russian intermediaries about the [Donald] Trump campaign," although it turned out later he was only kidding. Fuck him.

Kellyanne Conway, Counselor to the President. Her name has become synonymous with "truthfulness," "integrity," and "sincerity" in much the same way that the name "Wile E. Coyote" has become synonymous with "excellence in engineering." Fuck her.

Mick Mulvaney, Director of the Office of Management and Budget. He has said that cutting funding to Meals on Wheels and Head Start were "compassionate" moves because .... well, we were never able to get anything concrete out of the guy on this one. Fuck him.

Mike Pence, Vice-President of the United States. Virulently homophobic, this evangelical has said that "I'm a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican, in that order." What he failed to mention is that he is ridiculously repressed, nobody likes him, and it's exceedingly creepy that he refers to his wife as "Mommy." Fuck this guy, although to be fair he may enjoy it.

Paul Ryan (R-WI 1), Speaker of the House. The guy who read "Atlas Shrugged" in high school and proceeded to pester everybody wanting to talk about it until the football team jammed him in his locker and shut the door. Send this lost puppy to the pound.

Rex Tillerson, Secretary of State. Apparently he is passing something in this photo. After he cleans himself up, fuck this guy.

Rick Perry, former "Dancing With The Stars" contestant and current Secretary of Energy. Noted for not knowing what the Energy Department actually does. Fuck dieser Kerl ("fuck this guy" in German).

Roger Stone, Republican consultant and controversy escape artist. He is able to start fires and walk away unscathed in a way that would make Houdini's jaw drop, and has what must be the most sharply angled forehead in politics. Fuck this slope-headed dick.

Sebasitan Gorka, Deputy Assistant to the President. Highly educated, yet somehow still dumb as a box of hammers. Fuck this guy with his pompous British accent.

Sonny Perdue, Secretary of Agriculture. Nothing more needs to be said except fuck this guy for ruining Ed Asner for everyone.

Stephen Miller, Senior Policy Adviser. Once ran for class president (this is true) on the issue of "Why should we pick up our trash? That's what janitors are for." Fuck this dead-eyed sociopath and his white nationalist hand signals.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Press Secretary. She took over for Sean Spicer, who was ousted by Scaramucci during his tenure that lasted ... oh, eight minutes, or something ... and has the ability to spout falsehoods at an astounding pace without even breaking a sweat. Fuck this pathological liar.

Stephen Mnuchin, Secretary of the Treasury. You just know that he was called "Munchkin" in school, and the residual anger has never left him. Fuck him.

Tom Price, Secretary of Health and Human Services. Considering he is not the least bit interested in either health or humans, he's a perfect fit for his gig in trumpistan. Fuck this guy.

Scott Pruitt, Director of the Environmental Protection Agency. His claim to fame was that, as Oklahoma Attorney General, he sued the EPA, like, 78,000 times, or something.  Fuck this guy.

Hey, how did you get here? I thought we told you already ... moving right along ...

Wilbur Ross, Secretary of Commerce. Little known fact that I just made up: he also played the dad in "Mork and Mindy." Fuck him after he yells at you to get off his lawn.

Steve Bannon, White House Chief Strategist. Of course he's not a white supremacist intent on dismantling the government in an attempt to further his alt-right agenda. Where would you get that idea? Oh, right ... everything he has said and done for the last twenty years or so. Definitely fuck this guy.

donald trump, semi-literate knuckle-dragging egomaniacal -- I mean, President of the Uni --

President of th--


Please don't make me say it.

Fuck this guy, beat him senseless with dirty hammers, then launch him to the asteroid belt ... and it still won't be far enough.

I gotta lie down.

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Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Dear Conservatives: Enough Of The Victim-Blaming, Already

There is a lot of back and forth going on these days about freedom of speech, even when the message that is being offered is a vile, despicable one. Conservatives and liberals generally agree that freedom of expression is more or less an absolute right, as long it falls within the commonly accepted bounds: no advocating for illegal acts (sedition, treason, and so on); keep it nonviolent; don't violate local, state, or Federal laws (a march that trespasses on private property, for example) ... the usual accepted restrictions. And if there is anything positive to be taken from the events in Charlottesville, it is this public unanimity of opinion.

The problem that is developing, as it usually does after events like this, is that less-informed members of the public -- and some prominent leaders, who should definitely know better -- attempt to lay blame at the feet of people or organizations with which they disagree. Since I'm a liberal, I will be focusing on the conservative arguments and showing why they are wrong. Again.

Bear in mind, these are not direct quotes from any one source; they are merely distillations of sentiments openly expressed by some conservatives. A few of the conservatives I have heard from are closeted (or openly) racist; the vast majority are not.

Again, and this is crucially important, the vast majority of conservatives are not racist. However, in their zeal to demonize the left, they have a tendency to skate blithely past the racism on their way to triumphantly painting liberals as "hate filled bigots," in the words on one of my conservative acquaintances.

It's Obama's fault.

A member of the Rainy Day Tea Party Patriots Party in Alabama maintains that President Obama "set back race relations 100 years with his divisional rhetoric." To begin with, President Obama did not employ "divisional rhetoric;" his message was generally one of inclusion. It was Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan (and before him John Boehner), and the Republican Party who have espoused views that have engendered division by making false claims -- Obama is going to take everyone's guns; the Affordable Care Act is going to institute "death panels;" and other, similar, nonsense.

These divisions were also the result of things like the birther movement started and promulgated by donald trump that, for years, tried to cast doubts on the legitimacy of the Obama presidency despite ample proof to the contrary.

What about the Black Lives Matter movement killing police in Dallas?

On  July 7, 2016, Black Lives Matter organized a demonstration to protest the shooting and killing by police of two African-American men: Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minnesota. Dallas police were on the scene of the march to provide traffic control, to keep order, and to make sure the march stayed within the bounds of agreed-upon borders.

A man named Micah Xavier Johnson ambushed the police and opened fire, killing five police officers.

Many conservatives have seized upon this as evidence that BLM is a violent movement and have placed the murder of these police officers at their feet. This is a false narrative, plain and simple. The facts are these.
  1. Micah Xavier Johnson was not a member of Black Lives Matter. While he may have sympathized with them on any number of issues, he was not a member of the movement and was not involved with it.
  2. Johnson had been a member of the New Black Panther Party (NBPP) chapter in Houston several years prior to the shooting, but had been asked to leave for "violating the chain of command" and promoting dangerous rhetoric such as killing black preachers because they were more interested in money than they were in God.
  3. In addition to the NBPP, Johnson had also expressed sympathy for organizations such as the Nation of Islam, the Black Riders Liberation Army (both of which were classified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as hate groups), and the African American Defense League, an organization whose leader, Mauricelm-Lei Millere, publicly called for the murder of police officers in the wake of the shooting by police of Laquan MacDonald in 2014.
Again, for those in the back who didn't hear it the first time, Black Lives Matter had nothing to do with the ambush of Dallas police officers. The attack was carried out by Micah Xavier Johnson, acting independently.

Constant conservative drumbeats that the BLM is as much to blame for Charlottesville as white nationalists and Nazis is nothing more than an attempt to rationalize hatred. Period.

It's the fault of the Antifa movement. They were stirring up trouble, as leftists do.

Again, this is nothing more than an attempt to release the alt-right from responsibility. Are the Antifa protestors violent? Yes. Do they commit despicable acts? Yes. Yet they do not represent the mainstream left any more than the Nazis represent the mainstream right. However, all too often rank-and-file conservatives engage in a bit of intellectual dishonesty on this issue by making the claim that liberals and the alt-left are the same thing while simultaneously trying to distance themselves from the alt-right.

As an example of this, I myself have been called a "full blown propaganda tool of the alt-left (and a shitty one)" by a conservative of my acquaintance. Granted, this guy has a personal gripe against me for some reason and his perceptions are colored by this animus, but I much prefer being accused of being a shitty representative of the alt-left than an effective one. Not that I am actually either, but you get my point.

Black Lives Matter people were throwing bricks at the car that drove into the crowd.

There are a couple of big problems with this. First, I have seen the video of the car that drove into the crowd, and when it first appeared there was no evidence that it had been hit by bricks -- or anything else, for that matter. My car has a dent from when my lawnmower picked up a dime-sized piece of gravel and tossed it at the right rear door ... a brick, which weighs about 10 gazillion times more than that piece of gravel, has sharp edges, and was probably traveling at a similar speed to the gravel, would have left definite marks on the vehicle ... and if it had hit a window, the window probably wouldn't be there any more. Yet in the video recording of the car plowing into the crowd, it looked pretty much brand new.

Second, the subtext here is that this is an attempt to somehow justify the actions of James Fields (the driver of the car that killed one and injured nineteen). Kinda like a schoolyard bully, when asked why he was beating up a smaller kid, replies with "Just look at him! With a stupid face like that he deserved it!" Based on this "logic," protesters pissed Fields off, so he was justified in reacting violently.

Finally, what does it matter? No jury in the world would accept the argument that "someone threw a brick at my car" as reasonable justification for a terrorist attack resulting in murder.

And this was definitely an act of terrorism.

These arguments from some conservatives are nothing more than an effort to smear Democrats/liberals and somehow minimize the culpability of the right in fostering an atmosphere that allows these hate groups to emerge from the shadows. Claiming anything less than that is simply disingenuous at best, and most likely a blatant lie.

I gotta lie down.

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Oh, Fer Cryin' Out Loud ...

Republicans have taken up a new battle cry, that Bernie Sanders was screwed out of the election in '16 by the DNC. This apparently i...