Why the Economy Can Still Take a Backseat to Social Issues

This election season has many voters focusing on job creation and economic recovery. Despite the candidates’ vastly differing stances on social issues, the public seems deaf to any reasoning that doesn’t include the words, “debt,” “jobs,” or “budget.” Here’s why my vote is not being decided by fiscal policy.

Same-Sex Marriage
The US Supreme Court declared in the decision of Loving v. Virginia that marriage is a right. The Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment guarantees that laws must be evenly applied to all citizens. So, given marriage, a man may marry a woman; while, any law preventing a woman from doing the same (marrying a woman) is denying that woman equal protection under the law. A law that prevents a man from marrying a man denies that man the fundamental human right of marriage, protected by the Constitution of the United States. Those who argue that the phrasing “marriage to the opposite sex” is not a violation of the Equal Protection Clause would do well to read up on the unconstitutionality of anti-miscegenation laws decided in the above, Loving v. Virginia.

Coverage of Women’s Preventative Health
While our Constitution has an Equal Protection Clause, health concerns do not. Diseases frequently disproportionally affect individuals based on their ethnicity or sex. An employer who offers a healthcare plan that neglects women’s health is in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits workplace discrimination based on sex (and reproductive health issues), including compensation and terms/privileges of employment.

Social Vs. Fiscal
Above are just two examples of modern civil rights battles that have clear answers entrenched in hundreds of years of constitutional law. I may enjoy debate on the pros and cons of the 2008 bailouts and see truths on both sides, but America can have only one stance on the equality of all humans. Most economic plans have some shred of validity to them, and maybe we’ll be surprised by some positive effects even in the worst plan. Even if a politician’s economic plan is sure to bring the economy to its knees, people will persevere, and our economic landscape will evolve. Civil Rights, however, cannot be compromised, and anyone who claims otherwise is not worth a vote.

Presidential Debate Candidate Selection Criteria

I have very much enjoyed watching the first three debates this year.  I believe debates are essential for the electorate to make an informed decision for the betterment of the nation.  Unfortunately, one specific aspect of the Commission on Presidential Debates Candidate Selection Criteria is presenting a barrier to a fully informed electorate: the requirement of 15% support in the polls.
I eagerly watched all the debates in 2008 and made my decision between the two candidates running for president.  Imagine my surprise when I found that my ballot had at least 6 names in the “President” category.  Confidence in my decision plummeted.  How can I just assume that there’s no one better than the nominees from the Democratic and Republican parties?  It’s not right, so I made it a point in 2012 to look into everyone on my ballot.
Selecting candidates for national debates can be no easy task, and the CPD nonpartisan criteria start off strong.  Obviously, the only individuals in the debate should be those who are legally able to become president in this election.  It also makes sense to require that candidates have made a sufficient enough effort to have the ballot access necessary to win the electoral college.  So far, four candidates meet the requirements for 2012: Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, Dr. Jill Stein, and Gary Johnson.  Let’s talk about the third and final qualification that knocked the last two individuals off that list.
The CPD looks at polls and only picks the names that it sees.  This is the only criterion that relies on input from private organizations.  This is the only criterion based on an arbitrary metric (15%?  Why not 30? 5?).  This is the only criterion that uses statistics with sampling errors and selection bias.  This is the only criterion that is a partisan requirement.  Effective polling is based on a limited number of closed-ended responses for each question.  When asked, “If the elections were held today, for whom would you vote for President?” the available responses are limited to the two major party candidates.  If a respondent gives any other answer, their preference is determined from just between those two candidates, and anything other than “Undecided” gets counted toward one of those two parties.  So, if it’s impossible for a third party to even show up in the polling results, let alone with 15% of the support, how can these criteria be nonpartisan?  An awful lot of trust is being placed in the polling institutions to determine the political landscape, when their position is only meant to report on opinions.  Only a candidate who is being treated as a candidate will achieve the recognition requisite for public support, but they’re only treated as a candidate if they’ve shown mass public support.  This process results in a vicious circle of third parties being disregarded and discredited, perpetuating the political monopoly of the two major parties.
I hope the CPD will think about what it means to be nonpartisan and consider removing any criteria that use opinion polling.  We need fully informed voters, and the current system isn’t accomplishing that.

Ban Distractions: People, Cars

Pennsylvania Representative Joseph Markosek intends to propose on ban on using a cell phone while driving.  I must urge everyone to oppose such a law, which is a misguided (if well-meaning) restriction on the rights of free American people.  Lawmakers across the country are knocking down straw men in the name of our safety, and it’s time to send a message that we won’t stand for illogical, ineffective legislation.

This quote from the Times Herald indicates that this law is being proposed to fix the enforcement limitations on the recent texting ban.

Barry Ciccocioppo, Markosek’s communications director, said the ban is being introduced to help police enforce the current ban on texting while driving.
“Somebody can have a phone in their hand and say they weren’t texting, they were dialing a number,” he said. – http://www.timesherald.com/article/20120917/NEWS03/120919610/pa-lawmakers-to-consider-phone-ban-for-drivers&pager=full_story

And yet, according to the press release, “Exceptions to the prohibitions would include… when initiating a phone call,” so Ciccocioppo’s hypothetical situation would persist.  Also in the Times Herald article, it was noted that there is no evidence showing that laws against cell phone use actually result in fewer traffic accidents.  Additionally, reading a text message on a phone is no different from reading a billboard, your GPS, a construction sign, or the display on your radio, yet every effort is being made to protect the legality of everything that doesn’t involve a phone.

The press release highlights the main public concerns. Amidst the rhetoric of appeals to children’s welfare, Markosek said, “People should have their hands on the wheel and be focused on the road when they are driving.”  This offhanded conflation of focused drivers with hands-free drivers is the most glaring fallacy.  With no other laws about where a driver’s hands can be, or what they can be touching, singling out cell phone use raises a red flag.  If the purpose of the proposed law is to keep drivers’ hands on the wheel and eyes on the road, we expect to gain nothing by specifying an individual item that is not allowed to be in a driver’s hand, especially when there are several exceptions to that rule.

“I have been an active proponent of legislation to eliminate distracted drivers to help make Pennsylvania a safer place,” said Rep. Eugene DePasquale, D-York County. “I sincerely believe the texting ban was an important first step toward eliminating the dangerous practice of distracted driving on our roadways. Now it is time to take another step toward safety.” – http://www.pahouse.com/PR/025090512.asp

Echoed in all three of the quotes above is the fallacy that banning a single source of distraction will prevent distracted driving.  This last quote perhaps recognizes that more needs to be done, but no further plan is discussed.  The disconnect between intended goals and proposed legislation is growing enormously across the nation, and we’re paying for it with our liberties.  In an era when large sodas are being banned in NYC to fight obesity, photo ID is being required in PA to fight non-existent voter fraud, and Americans are being terrified by the TSA to fight terrorism, our ability to be secure in our persons is being infringed upon by legislators’ quixotic and ineffective crusades, stemming from a lack of logic and critical thought.

Examine the goals, and work to meet them in a consistent manner.  The fervor is over cell phones, but the justification is being cited as “distracted driving”.  With distracted driving playing a part (not necessarily being the cause) in just 10% of all PA traffic accidents, perhaps the real target should be reducing overall accidents.  Impose strict enforcement on noticeably unsafe actions (e.g. drifting out of your lane, turning without signaling, and maintaining short following distances) to help get unsafe drivers off the road, and host additional classes and driving instruction to help get safe drivers on the road.  Decrease volume and congestion by increasing investment in public transportation and infrastructure.  Reduce traffic volume even further by fostering growth of internet and computers into every home and giving business incentives for allowing employees to work from home.  Decrease traffic deaths and injuries by providing incentives for driving cars with high safety ratings.  In addition to being more likely to achieve the intended effects, many of these proposals will add value to the state.
This isn’t about whether you think people should be able to talk on the phone while they’re driving.  This is about demanding sanity and consistency in our laws and lawmakers.  This is about having meaningful, enforceable laws, instead of showpieces that vilify scapegoats with the sole intended gain of reelection.  Our laws must make sense, and this one does not.

Pennsylvania’s 6th Congressional District

I’ve been perusing Wikipedia and government sites for information.  I’d like to share some things, mostly as notes for myself.  Please note that I’m referring only to the federal government.

A 34-year-old cannot become President; a 35-year-old can.  Our current president is 50 years old.  The median age at inauguration is nearly 55.  The youngest president in history was Teddy Roosevelt, who was almost 43 at inauguration.

A 29-year-old cannot become Senator; a 30-year-old can.  Currently, the median age of Senators in 62 years.  The youngest Senator is more than 40 years old.

A 24-year-old cannot become Representative; a 25-year-old can.  Currently, the median age of members of the House is 58.  The youngest member of the House is more than 30 years old.

According to data from the 2010 census, the median age of people in the US is 37.2.  Almost half of the nation’s population (40.8%) is under the age of 30.  If you’re in the habit of excluding people from the counts for being under 18, the country is almost 17% within the ages of 18-29.  If you’re in favor of the age requirements for US House of Representatives, 6.8% of the population is 25-29 years old.  With a total of 435 members, 6.8% of the House equates to 30 Representatives.  That’s 30 representatives under 30 years old that don’t currently exist.  It’s representation of 40.8% of our nation’s population neglected.