Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Voter ID?

In his blog post, Zach Turner argues that photo ID should be required to vote. He argues that requiring voters to have an ID would reduce voter fraud, and that everybody should just have some sort of ID, because they aren't very expensive and "would really just make everything easier." This certainly makes sense and seems reasonable. With voter fraud running rampant in both Texas and the United States as a whole, it's about time we buckled down and keep the voter ID requirement. Right?

How big of a problem is voter fraud anyway? It must be pretty darn high if laws are being enacted to stop it. Well, according to the Attorney General himself, "evidence of voter fraud abounds," with over 50 cases in recent years resulting in convictions (though according to PolitiFact, 29 of these alleged convictions weren't really convictions, and resulted in varying resolutions). Since 2002, the total number of voter fraud "convictions" is still only 62. In a state of 25 million people, 62 is completely insignificant. In fact, that means that,  on average, there is only one fraudulent vote for every four counties over the course of ten years. According to the Secretary of State's office, 39,072,039 ballots have been cast since 2004. Depending on which estimate you decide to use, our state's fraudulent voter rate lies somewhere between .00005% and .0001%. This ludicrously small number is hardly worth worrying about, but supporters of voter ID laws continue to shout "fraud!" On top of that, the same report noted that 40 of those 62 cases were found fraudulent people illegally cote using mail in ballots for somebody other than themselves, meaning that voter ID laws wouldn't do anything to stop 2/3 of the fraudulent votes. Voter fraud is simply not anywhere near as huge a problem as supporters of voter ID laws say. Hey, even Mitt Romney does it

Those who are against voter ID laws, primarily supported by Republicans, claim that they are meant to stifle the poor and minority voters, who tend to vote Democratic. This certainly seems to be the case. The law poses a huge disadvantage to the 1.4 million Texans  who are registered to vote but who lack government issued IDs, most of whom are Hispanic or African American. Approved ID's can be difficult to obtain, especially for those in West Texas, where they would have to drive 100 miles to the nearest state office, only to drive 100 miles back. Only 8% of white citizens lack an ID, compared to 25% of black citizens, and Hispanic voters are anywhere from 46% to 120% more likely than a non-Hispanic voter to lack an ID. Assuming every single person who was convicted of voter fraud also didn't have an ID, it still wouldn't justify rendering the other 1,399,938 honest voters ineligible, especially when they happen to be more likely to vote for Democrats. 

Supporters of voter ID laws claim that they are meant to combat the threat of voter fraud, but virtually no threat exists. Instead, essentially disenfranchises as many as 1.4 million honest voters (in the state of Texas alone). All of this data seems to strongly suggest that the whole voter ID scare is just a scam. There is no way that those who create and promote voter ID laws, who happen to be Republicans, genuinely believe that fraudulent voting, with such insignificant numbers, is a legitimate threat to the system, and surely it's just a coincidence that those who would be made ineligible by the law or who would otherwise be negatively affected by it happen to be much more likely to vote Democratic. It sure seems as though the GOP is using voter ID laws to suppress Democratic votes, under the guise of protection against a non-existent threat. But hey, that's just stupid.

Friday, August 10, 2012


The United States has an incredibly high degree of income inequality, one of the worst in the world, and the gap is constantly increasing. This is a serious problem, if the Occupy protesters are to be believed. The average income of the top 20% is 8.5 times larger than the income of the bottom 20%. Things start to get uglier for us when you start to look at inequality by state. Texas is ranked with the 2nd highest level of income inequality in the nation; the wealthiest 5% make 13.8 times as much as the bottom 20%. Our level of inequality is much more severe than that of the country, which itself is already one of the worst. All this data begs the question, does it even matter? Isn't this just the natural order of things - the rich are rich because they worked hard for their money, and the poor are poor because they lacked the ambition of the wealthy?

As it turns out, income inequality does matter, a lot. High levels of income inequality have been shown to have many adverse effects. Countries with higher levels of inequality, like the U.S., have been shown to have higher drug abuse rates, infant mortality rates, levels of obesity, homicide rates, incarceration rates, percentage of the population with some metal illness, and teenage birth rates, as well as lower child well-being (measured by UNICEF), foreign aid spending, trust in others in the community, and socio-economic mobility.  This last part is rather shocking. Socio-economic mobility refers to the relative ease or difficulty associated with moving up in class or status. Low mobility means that people are essentially stuck in the class they're born into, with little chance of moving up in life. The American Dream no longer exists (in America, anyway).

While most of the data observed is international and compares countries, the trends still hold true for the states. Dropout rates tend to be higher in more unequal states, including Texas. Recalling that we're the 2nd most unequal state in the nation, it may be expected that we rank rather poorly in these categories. This is certainly true. Texas has the 2nd highest number of pregnancies in all age ranges of women under 20, as well as the highest number of births in the same age groups (besides 18-19, which we're second by a very small margin). We've also got the 4th highest incarceration rate in the country, as well as the 12th highest percentage of obesity. The list goes on and on, as Texas is continuously ranked poorly in numerous social and economic areas. 

Clearly, the severe degree of inequality within Texas (and in a broader view the United States) is an issue, but can it be fixed? As many already know, Texas has a highly regressive tax system. In fact, a study shows that we've got the 5th most regressive system, which really is not a huge surprise. In Texas, the bottom 20% must pay 12.2% of their income on taxes, while the top 1% only has to pay 3.3%. This is clearly unfair, and it's easy to see how it contributes to our state's level of inequality. If we were to adopt a more progressive tax system, taxing the wealthiest Texans a much higher percentage than the paltry 3% they currently pay, while reducing the disproportionate tax burden on the poor, the benefits would be endless. While regressive taxes certainly contribute a large amount to income inequality, they are not the only  factor, and much more would need to be done to completely fix the issue. Sadly, the state, as well as the country, will continue in its growing inequality, with very little chance of significant reform or correction to the system, because any change to make people more equal would be socialism and socialism is evil.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Forced Sonograms?

In Lauren Campbell's article, The Way I See it, she argues that the Texas law requiring women to have a sonogram 24 hours prior to having an abortion is reasonable. I personally disagree with that, and believe that it is not acceptable. Women should not be manipulated in such a way when faced with an already terribly difficult decision. Lauren argues that the law provides the fetus the right to be seen for what it really is, a baby, that words like "fetus" serve to dehumanize it, and that the law is trying to get women to realize what they are really doing when having an abortion. 

First of all, this is not at all scientifically accurate, as a fetus is not a baby, but an entirely separate stage in human development, and the term is not intended to be dehumanizing, but an accurate description. We might as well start calling each individual sperm or egg a baby now, since it's just as correct. To state that a mandatory sonogram is necessary for a woman to "realize exactly what they are doing" is almost insulting to the entire gender. It seems to imply that women have absolutely no clue how abortions work, like they think some fairy comes and magically makes them un-pregnant. Of course women are aware that terminating their pregnancy means that they are killing the unborn fetus - that's why it's such a difficult decision. 

Lauren goes on to ask, "which do you think would be worse: having a baby as a teen mom, and either keeping it or giving it up for adoption, OR making a ... decision to have an abortion and possibly going on to regret it later in life?" To me, the answer to this question seems entirely obvious - going through 9 months of pregnancy and the mood swings, depression, weight gain, and all the other terrible things that accompany it, only to be followed by a painful, not to mention expensive, childbirth to keep or give the baby for adoption is clearly much worse of an option. Keeping a child is often an irresponsible idea, as it is very unlikely that mothers who would be considering abortions are financially or emotionally capable of adequately taking care of a child. As this article describes in greater depth, adoption, while it may seem like the nobler course of action, is also very difficult. It’s costly, and on top of that quite unsuccessful – thousands of American children are currently being held under state care without being adopted. It’s not as simple as handing your baby to a new family once it’s born.

The choice to have an abortion is an incredibly difficult one, and the new law requiring sonograms while a woman is most emotionally vulnerable only makes the decision harder. The law is not intended to simply allow women to "think twice" about their decision, but to forcibly persuade them to change their mind. It is cruel and manipulative, and should be revoked as soon as possible.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Old People?

Everyone can agree that the government's budget and debt is a huge issue that needs to be dealt with. Talks of budget cuts and tax increases run rampant, but none seem to address the real problem with our government's financial situation: old people. Almost half of our spending is on Medicare and Social Security - programs specifically for the elderly - and it continues to rise. It certainly doesn't help that the population of those over 65 keeps rising - it's expected to more than double by 2050. This creates a huge problem; we can't afford to spend money on these programs at the rate we do now, or there will literally be no room for anything else. We also can't really cut funding in important areas such as defense or education. The only other options would be dramatic tax raises or even greater debt, neither of which are good.

 Funding for these programs desperately needs to be reduced. However, that is very unlikely, as people over 65 are much more likely to vote than any other age group, and would certainly be opposed to reducing their free Ponzi money. People aged 55 to 64, who will soon be eligible for Social Security benefits, also vote more than younger age groups. It also doesn't help that most lawmakers are also old; the average age of Senators is 60, and the average age of members of the House  55. These people, who have the power to change the law, are unlikely to do so, whether it's due to their nearing retirement or general sympathy for people of their generation. Either way, allowing these programs to continue on the route they're headed on neglects the younger generation, and will prove to be extremely detrimental to everyone.

 Changing demographics also amplify the problem. The life expectancy of a 65-year-old has increased from 14 years in 1940 to almost 20 today, and will continue to rise with modern medical advancement. In 1940, in the early years of Social Security, the number of covered workers for eachbeneficiary was 159. Today it’s only 3, and it continues to drop, expected to reach 2 by 2033. Birthrates are also at an all time low, meaning that as the current population continues to age, there will be fewer and fewer people to join the workforce to replace them. The scary thing is that there really isn't much that can be done. We can't really cut the funding, as it would greatly anger the elderly population, nor can we afford to drastically raise taxes or debt, and mass euthanasia is clearly out of the question. All that we can do is sit and wait for everything to come crumbling down. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Will Texas be a Swing State?

In this blog post, Paul Burka addresses Obama's assertion that Texas will be a swing state soon. This statement was based on observing Texas' rapidly changing demographics. The GOP's power is dwindling, as its entire base continues to age. Additionally, the Hispanic population, who are much more likely to be Democrats, is growing drastically, accounting for 65% of Texas' population growth from 2000 to 2010. This, interestingly enough, seems to mirror the Republican Party's rise to power some 40 years ago. Prior to that, Texas had nearly always been a Democratic state, until their base began aging, allowing the growing number of younger Republicans and immigrants who also tended to be Republicans to gain control. Now the newer generation of young people and immigrants is gaining power within the state, only for the opposite party. A graph of the political trends in Texas can be seen below.

This graph clearly illustrates the declining power in the Democratic Party and the rise of the GOP. However, it also appears as though the Republican Population is decreasing, and the Democratic population rising. The Republicans had their highest population in 2005, when they made up 42 % of the electorate, 16% more than the Democrats' 26%, and have since declined, while the Democratic population continues to rise. As of 2010, Republicans make up 39% of the population while Democrats make up 38%, now almost equal in numbers. As Obama said, this change in demographics certainly suggests that Texas will soon be a swing state, though soon is very relative. Burka does think this is destined to happen, but doesn't believe it will be so soon. Whatever will happen, only time can tell. Assuming the current trend continues, when Texas does become a swing state elections will certainly be more interesting.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Obama's Immigration Policy

This past June, Obama signed an executive order which halts the deportation of young illegal immigrants who fulfill the requirements laid out in the DREAM act, and allows them to receive work permits. This will help over 800,000 innocent people living in fear of deportation. Jose Aliseda, with Texas Weekly, believes Obama's immigration policy is wrong. In his article, Aliseda uses an extended metaphor likening immigration to thievery. He asserts that if a family stole a substantial amount of money from you, and used it to help raise their children, it would be wrong for law enforcement to not have your money returned to you because it may harm the children benefitting from their parents’ theft. This statement is true, as in this crime, you have been wronged. However, it is distinctly different from immigration, and the same logic cannot follow.

Illegal immigration is a victimless crime; nobody is wronged in when someone crosses the border. It is therefore a completely different scenario than the thieving family metaphor. If a family brings their child to America illegally, the child is not just benefiting from a crime as with the hypothetical thief family. They are being raised in America, to the point where their "homeland" is just as foreign to them as it is to us. Deporting them to an unfamiliar place because their parents brought them here seems rather cruel, and certainly unjust. Aliseda goes on to list more crimes that the parents of immigrants protected under this policy may have committed, including driving without a license or insurance, working without a social security card/number, unlawfully accessing public services, or taking jobs from legal residents. This is all nonsense, of course, as many of these “crimes” aren’t committed out of malice, but because it is impossible to obtain a valid license, insurance, or social security card as a consequence of their mode of immigration. What’s more, undocumented immigrants, comprising an estimated 8% of Texas’ workforce, actually contribute more to the economy than they receive in state services, and in the long run, immigration has been shown to have positive effects on unemployment for both immigrant and native born workers.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

States Saying No to PPACA Could See Downside

           In an article by the Austin American Statesman, Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar writes about the downsides to Rick Perry's saying "no" to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. By rejecting the Medicaid expansion, Perry will be leaving 1.3 million Texans without health insurance. The current Medicaid program currently provides insurance for low-income children, mothers, and disabled people, and through Obama’s expansion was expected to add 15 million uninsured low-income people. According to “Obamacare,” those who are already eligible for Medicaid will keep their coverage, while those above the poverty line would have subsidized private coverage.

           However, by rejecting the law, millions of people under the poverty line will be left without insurance in a coverage gap now being called the new “doughnut hole,” in reference to the Medicare gap forcing many seniors to pay for drugs out of pocket. What’s worse is that federal tax money from states which reject the law will be going to neighboring states to uphold it, meaning that we’d have still have to pay for it without getting any of the benefits. Many state officials are planning on waiting until the November election to make a decision, while others like Rick Perry are still as adamant as ever. This highly controversial topic will surely continue to capture the media’s attention. Despite this, I still remain rather indifferent about the topic.