Trump’s State of the Union: Partisan Misinformation

Trump’s State of the Union speech was just what we’ve come to expect from him. He was emphatic, boastful, and partisan. Unfortunately, it was saturated with false and misleading statements.

Donald Trump said: “Year after year, countless Americans are murdered by criminal illegal aliens.” Trump has consistently tried to turn migrants into villains in his narrative of fear. We mentioned the study by the libertarian Cato Institute that contradicts this narrative in a previous blog entry. The study looked at criminal conviction statistics from the Texas Department of Public Safety and determined that immigrants are less likely than native-born Americans to be convicted of a crime. The study says:

In 2015, Texas police made 815,689 arrests of native-born Americans, 37,776 arrests of illegal immigrants, and 20,323 arrests of legal immigrants. For every 100,000 people in each subgroup, there were 3,578 arrests of natives, 2,149 arrests of illegal immigrants, and 698 arrests of legal immigrants. The arrest rate for illegal immigrants was 40 percent below that of native-born Americans. The arrest rate for all immigrants and legal immigrants was 65 percent and 81 percent below that of native-born Americans, respectively. The homicide arrest rate for native-born Americans was about 5.4 per 100,000 natives, about 46 percent higher than the illegal immigrant homicide arrest rate of 3.7 per 100,000.

Trump continues to rally his base by acting as if immigrants are inherently criminal.

Trump touted the barrier at El Paso, Texas by saying: “The border city of El Paso, Texas, used to have extremely high rates of violent crime — one of the highest in the country, and considered one of our nation’s most dangerous cities. Now, with a powerful barrier in place, El Paso is one of our safest cities.”

CNN fact-checked this statement and it came up short:

According to an analysis of FBI crimes data and city law enforcement data analyzed by the El Paso Times, violent crime in El Paso peaked in 1993. Border fence construction didn’t begin until 2008, and was completed in 2009. But violent crime fell long before the wall was built in El Paso, with violent crime falling 34% between 1993 and 2006 in the city.

And according to the El Paso Times, from 2006 to 2011, violent crime in El Paso actually increased by 17 percent.

Why does Trump insist on making false statements to advance his agenda?

Trump also said: “Wages are rising at the fastest pace in decades and growing for blue collar workers, who I promised to fight for. They’re growing faster than anyone else thought possible.”

In fact, wages are not growing “at their fastest pace in decades” according to Danielle Kurtzleben with NPR. Kurtzleben acknowledges an hourly wage hike of 3.4 percent from last year for nonsupervisory employees, but median hourly wage growth is not at pre-recession levels and growth is far lower than it was before the 2001 recession.

It seems apparent that Trump has a fundamental misunderstanding of how tariffs work. He seems to think tariffs are paid by the country they are imposed upon. Money from tariffs comes from businesses in America and consumers who pay higher prices as a result of those tariffs. China didn’t send money or a check to the US.

Trump also said: “All Americans can be proud that we have more women in the workforce than ever before.”

PolitiFact dashes these claims against the stone of the hard truth:

This is wrong. It’s also not very meaningful: Just counting the number of women (or men, or both) who are in working, or are in the labor force, is driven by the size of the population, which is typically growing over time.

A better measure is the civilian labor force participation rate for women, which refers to the percentage of women who are either working or looking for work. The rate has been rising since late 2015, but the level for that today — 57.5 percent — is below what it was from about 1995 to the Great Recession, when it was typically in the 59 percent to 60 percent range.

Looking at sheer numbers, both the number of women who are employed and the number of women who are in the labor force (meaning they’re working or looking for work) dropped modestly during the most recent month for which data is available — December 2018 to January 2019. Women’s employment fell from 73.9 million to 73.6 million, while women in the labor force fell from 76.8 million to 76.7 million.

Trump said 5 million people were taken off of food stamps when the number is actually around 3,895,000.

He also claimed his administration “unleashed a revolution in American energy.” This is not an “accomplishment” unique to the Trump administration. The US was the leading producer of oil and gas in the middle of the Obama administration as well.

In many areas, the truth is worse than fiction. This is the state of our union.

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Build a Border Wall?

I will interrupt our current series to comment on the border wall and immigration. I’ve written on this issue in the past, so I will offer a few comments here. (See previous posts here, here, here, here, and here)

Israel

Many people like to use Israel’s border wall along the Gaza Strip as an example of an effective wall. There are many crucial differences between the Gaza Strip wall and the US-Mexico wall according to the Harvard International Review:

1. The area around the Israeli wall is surrounded by a large desert. The US-Mexico border cuts through very diverse terrain.
2. Human strugglers in Mexico use power tools to cut through the existing fencing. Trump is not pushing to replace the entire border barrier.

If this is not enough, Trump has the difficult legal challenge of getting people to “voluntarily” give up their land. The wall would have to be built on state land, Native American lands, and private property owned by individuals.

Republican Senator Ron Johnson said the Israeli border wall “cut illegal immigration by 99 percent.” Johnson is referring to the Israeli-Egyptian border. The success of this wall is because the wall is heavily guarded. This is only part of the story according to political geography professor Reece Jones. Most of the Israeli fence goes through open, arid terrain, according to Jones, the border wall in Israel is “Easy to access, easy to build, easy to monitor with agents,” according to Jones.

Jones confirms the obstacles listed above.

The Wall’s Building Material will Fail

The CATO Institute is no liberal organization and it says a border wall will not work:

Fences or walls obstruct crossers’ paths, cutting off a straight shot into the interior of the country. But a barrier is not the permanent object that some people imagine. Natural events can knock down parts of a border fence. One storm in Texas left a hole for months. Fences and walls can also erode near rivers or beaches, as the one in San Diego did. And they can be penetrated: Some fencing can be cut in minutes, and the Border Patrol reported repairing more than 4,000 holes in one year alone. They neglected to mention whether that number equaled that year’s number of breaches.

The same article even included this comment by a border agent on FOX News:

Border Patrol agents have told Fox News that a border wall would still “have to allow water to pass through, or the sheer force of raging water could damage its integrity, not to mention the legal rights of both the U.S. and Mexico to seasonal rains.” In 2011, for example, a flood in Arizona washed away 40 feet of steel fence.

One more quote from the CATO Institute:

A 2016 Migration Policy Institute review of the impact of walls and fences around the world turned up no academic literature specifically on the deterrent effect of physical barriers relative to other technologies or strategies, and concluded somewhat vaguely that walls appear to be “relatively ineffective.”

Fences can have strong local effects, and the case for more fencing often relies completely on these regional outcomes. Take the San Diego border sector, probably the most commonly cited success story in this debate.

From 1990 to 1993, it replaced a “totally ineffective” fence with a taller, opaque landing mat fence along 14 miles of the border. This had little impact on the number of border crossers. “The primary fence, by itself, did not have a discernible impact on the influx of unauthorized aliens coming across the border in San Diego,” the Congressional Research Service concluded.

The Real Problem

USA Today emphatically says most illegal immigrants did enter the US by walking across the border:

The majority of immigrants in the USA without authorization first entered the country legally, and then overstayed their visas. The Center for Migration Studies said in a 2017 report that crossing the border is not the way “the large majority of persons now becoming undocumented.” It reported that two-thirds of undocumented immigrants entered the U.S. legally and then simply overstayed their visas. If you legitimately are concerned about the issue of undocumented immigrants, as opposed to just exacerbating and exploiting fearmongering for political gain, then this is where you would focus — not the border.

The same article provides evidence for the following points as well:

1. Illegal border crossings are down. Significantly.
2. The counties along the southern border are among the safest in the United States.
3. The White House is lying about terrorists crossing the southern border.
4. Migrant caravans aren’t “sneaking” across the border, either.
5. Drugs entering the USA across the southern border are most often hidden in legal shipments.
6. Conservative political figures and think tanks think Trump’s wall is pointless.

Here are helpful videos on the subject:

CNN

Al Jazeera

Here is a possible solution in my view (CNBC):

Trump should give up on the wall and terminate the government shutdown.

Bold Solutions Series (Part 1)

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It is easy to think our future is bleak given the rhetoric found in almost every sector of news these days. We miss the oasis of ideas and solutions when we only listen to pundits and popular commentators.

We begin this New Year with a new series. This blog series is intended to raise our political discourse above raucous commentaries and vapid exchanges that characterize Washington politics.

We will feature the work of thoughtful visionaries who present new ways to think about our most pressing problems.

“Collusion is not a Crime”

We have heard Trump supporters say collusion is not a crime. This claim is true. Unfortunately, this is a cheap win for those trying to protect the president. Conspiracy to commit offense or to defraud the United States (18 U.S. Code § 371) is a crime and it has at least two manifestations:

1. If two or more persons conspire either to commit any offense against the United States
2. or to defraud the United States, or any agency thereof in any manner or for any purpose, and one or more of such persons do any act to effect the object of the conspiracy, each shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.

An offender does have not to be successful in executing the crime in order to be held liable for this crime. Special Counsel Robert Mueller has charged people for these crimes in the Russia probe.

The Washington Post enlisted the help of George Washington Univerity Law Lecturer Randall D. Eliason to create a video to help people distinguish the two crimes:

What is Happening?

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Conflict over Syria

The Trump White House has caused a whirlwind of news and it is difficult to keep up. Defense Secretary James Mattis resigned and he gave the reasons for his resignation in a letter addressed to Trump. The heart of the letter of resignation reads:

One core belief I have always held is that our strength as a nation is inextricably linked to the strength of our unique and comprehensive system of alliances and partnerships. While the US remains the indispensable nation in the free world, we cannot protect our interests or serve that role effectively without maintaining strong alliances and showing respect to those allies. Like you, I have said from the beginning that the armed forces of the United States should not be the policeman of the world. Instead, we must use all tools of American power to provide for the common defense, including providing effective leadership to our alliances. NATO’s 29 democracies demonstrated that strength in their commitment to fighting alongside us following the 9-11 attack on America. The Defeat-ISIS coalition of 74 nations is further proof.

Similarly, I believe we must be resolute and unambiguous in our approach to those countries whose strategic interests are increasingly in tension with ours. It is clear that China and Russia, for example, want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model – gaining veto authority over other nations’ economic, diplomatic, and security decisions – to promote their own interests at the expense of their neighbors, America and our allies. That is why we must use all the tools of American power to provide for the common defense.

My views on treating allies with respect and also being clear-eyed about both malign actors and strategic competitors are strongly held and informed by over four decades of immersion in these issues. We must do everything possible to advance an international order that is most conducive to our security, prosperity and values, and we are strengthened in this effort by the solidarity of our alliances.

Mattis’ objections are clearly articulated and they are serious. What does this mean for international relations? Will Trump replace Mattis with someone who doesn’t share these views? We may witness the appointment of someone who will disturb the international equilibrium.

It is difficult to stress the importance of this resignation.

Stage Setting for Injustice

In other news, Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker officially registered his refusal to recuse himself regarding the Mueller investigation. Whitaker made this move against the recommendation of a senior ethics official.

This is a significant acceleration of the steady descent of the Trump administration.

Government Shutdown

We are looking down the barrel of a government shutdown. CBS News:

Hoping to avert a government shutdown, House Republicans on Thursday passed a stopgap spending measure that included $5 billion for a southern border wall, putting it at odds with the Senate and increasing the likelihood of a government shutdown. No Democrats supported the measure.

The Senate bill that passed Wednesday did not include the money for the border wall funding. The bill is considered dead on arrival in the Senate, which requires a 60-vote majority for passage. If it fails in the Senate, House leadership will have to decide whether they want to vote on a clean short-term funding bill on the floor — one without additional border wall or disaster funding. That would probably pass with almost entirely Democratic votes and a few Republican votes, sending it to the president’s desk.

Will Trump fold on the border wall? Will Democrats surrender on their resistance to the border wall?

Our government is in chaos.

Fast Moving News

This week has become an historic week.

Robert Mueller recommended no jail time for Trump’s former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn.

Senators from both parties were given an intelligence briefing on the murder of Jamal Khashoggi and their responses were explosive. Senator Lindsey Graham (R) said “[t]here is not a smoking gun – there is a smoking saw.” This is perhaps the soundbite of the week so far. Senator Bob Corker (R) said “I have zero question on my mind that the crown prince MBS [Mohammed bin Salman] ordered the killing.”

Watch the following video for analysis:

President George H. W. Bush’s funeral will be today.

May his memory be eternal.