Why is it called a “Muslim Ban”?

There’s several reasons why the “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States” executive order has been given the nickname of “muslim ban”.

1. There is language in the order specifically stating that once the refugee admissions program is reinstated, that cases based on religious persecution are to be prioritized, IF the applicant is from a minority religion in their country. As all countries listed in the order are muslim-majority nations; this means that non-muslims will take priority when refugee admission begins again, rather than all applicants being on equal footing.

2. The order does not include Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt, or the United Arab Emirates; nationals from all of those countries carried out terror attacks in the US (including 9/11) that killed Americans. On that same token, none of the countries in the ban have actually produced successful terror attacks on the US. According to data from Bloomberg, the other thing those 4 countries have in common is that Trump has business ties there. He does not have known ties to the countries that ARE listed. If this were a serious attempt to curb terror attacks, then the higher-risk countries would have been included regardless of potential personal consequences for the president.

3. The order includes ALL non-citizens except for diplomats, which means that students, legal residents, etc are all barred from entering or re-entering the country regardless of whether they have valid visas, green cards, or other paperwork. Protests have sparked in no small part due to the fact that students returning home from visiting their families have been detained, as have Iraqi soldiers & interpreters who fought alongside our military for years. Additionally, the order also applies to dual citizens, meaning that we have now barred tens of thousands of people from close allies like Canada, the UK, etc if they happened to have been born in one of the banned countries.

Comparison to previous travel/refugee bans show these differences fairly clearly as well. Presidents Carter and Obama implemented temporary bans on Iran & Iraq, respectively; however, there are some important differences:

  1. Both cases were due to active problems or actionable intelligence; Carter’s ban was during the Iran Hostage Crisis, and Obama’s was due to intelligence indicating an imminent large-scale attack from Iraq.
  2. Both cases affected only new applications, and did not affect current valid visas, green cards, or dual citizenships. During Obama’s “ban”, refugees were still admitted but at a slower rate.

The new order is also compared to a 2015 measure by Obama adding restrictions to the same countries. However, that measure removed those countries from the “visa-waiver” program, in which travelers from those countries did not need to apply for a visa. Additionally, it required a visa for travelers who went to one of those countries after 2011.

Compared to the new order, the 2015 measure was much less restrictive, applied to all non-US citizens, and did not include any religion-based rules – in other words, a location-based travel “ban” that implemented additional processes, but did not actually bar travelers.

Given the components of the new order, and how it compares to measures taken by previous presidents, it is reasonable to characterize it as an attempt to bar muslims of arab descent from the country, not protect anyone from terrorism.

Full text of this Executive Order is available at: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=122529


Summary: WHO Report on United States aid policy and induced abortion in sub-Saharan Africa

The following is a summary of the World Health Organization’s study “United States aid policy and induced abortion in sub-Saharan Africa”. The full study is available here.

While the subject of abortion is one of the most hotly debated issues in American politics, citizens on all sides generally agree on an overall goal of reducing the total number of abortions, though favored methods vary widely.

In light of the recent re-instatement of the Mexico City Policy, it’s worth looking at some data to gauge its effectiveness at the shared goal of abortion reduction.

The Mexico City policy is a United States government policy that requires all global health organizations that receive federal funding to refrain from performing or promoting (mentioning) abortion as a method of family planning in other countries.

via Mexico City policy – Wikipedia

In other words, even though US federal funds cannot be used for abortions, if an organization provides abortion or abortion-related services (such as including it as an option in counseling) using any other funds, then that organization is ineligible for US funds.

This policy was originally implemented by Reagan, and has been removed & re-instated with every party change in the White House.

In 2011, the WHO released a study examining abortion rates in sub-saharan Africa from 1994 to 2008. From 1994-2000 the policy was not in place under Clinton, then was put in place under Bush in 2001.

Here is a chart showing results from this study. The “high exposure” vs “low exposure” was classified based on whether US financial assistance was above or below the median for that country.


Rates remained fairly steady during the first few years, and then began to climb after the re-instatement of the policy (indicated by the dotted line). Countries with high exposure – who were more dependent upon US funds for family planning – saw the rate of abortions increase at a much higher rate.

Inauguration Crowd Sizes

The inauguration of a new president always brings excitement to at least some of the American public; enthusiasm which is demonstrated in part by citizens attending the inauguration itself.

Beyond the tickets available for sections close to the podium, it can be difficult to estimate the crowd in the area going all the way back to the Washington monument, and in the streets on either side.

It’s technically possible to take an extremely-high-resolution picture of a crowd and then count heads, but that’s generally not done given that it’s a huge task. Instead, estimates are made by visually gauging the crowd density over the area(s) that the crowd covers. Even then, estimates can vary widely – some estimates from inauguration day put the estimate at 250k, others as high as 600k. Until further analysis is done by crowd scientists, we likely won’t see an “official” count for a while.

However, the specific crowd count is not the metric the president has espoused; prior to the inauguration, Trump stated that people were coming “in record numbers”. In a statement to the press, White House press secretary Sean Spicer stated “That was the largest audience to witness an inauguration, period. Both in person and around the globe.” This was later re-iterated in a press conference, and by the President himself in an interview.

Determining whether this was the largest inauguration crowd ever is considerably easier to gauge than the crowd count, given that we can simply compare visually to past inaugurations.

Here are pictures from Obama’s 2009 inauguration, vs Trump’s:

Trump Inauguration

Getty / 58th Presidential Inaugural Committee

Trump’s is on the bottom; this was taken at 11:15 EST, near the start of his speech, when the crowd was the largest. It is unknown when exactly the picture from the 2009 inauguration was taken, so it could be at peak capacity or it could not be. This comparison easily shows that there were less people at the 2017 inauguration vs 2009.

It’s important to note that angles play a part in estimating crowd size. Trump stated that the audience “went all the way back to the Washington Monument”, and if one were standing where he was it’s easy to think that:

Donald Trump Is Sworn In As 45th President Of The United States

Scott Olson via Getty

The large white spaces from the previous photos are visible in this one too, but only barely. This is why aerial views are integral to estimating a crowd. Trump stated that there were between 1 and 1.5 million people present; even with the inherent inaccuracy with crowd size reporting, that estimate is definitely far higher than the actual count. From a low angle at one end of a crowd, trying to estimate with any accuracy at all is essentially impossible once the crowd reaches a large size.

Apart from the photo comparison, D.C. Metro statistics also indicate far less activity in 2017 compared to 2009. While not all people attending the inauguration used the metro, the total usage helps illustrate how much activity there was. In 2009, the metro ridership by 11 a.m. was 513,000. In 2017, the ridership by 11 a.m. was 193,000.

While there are certainly some inaccurate estimates for this inauguration’s crowd size floating around out there, to state that it was the largest ever is clearly incorrect.

Spicer also mentioned that the viewership for this inauguration was the largest ever worldwide. For broadcast TV, this was definitely not the case; Nielsen numbers show that 30.6 million people watched the inauguration on TV, compared to 37.8 million in 2009 and the current record of 41.8 million in 1981.

Online viewer records for the 2009 inauguration are scarce, but in 2017 the official White House youtube channel stream had 1.2 million viewers at the time of this writing, while major news outlets had additional viewers (NBC’s had 9.5 million at the time of this writing, the largest I found). Of course, these video’s current counts indicate total watchers, not necessarily those who were watching at the time of the inauguration, nor viewers who watched multiple times.

It is possible that the total viewership for Trump’s inauguration was higher than Obama’s in 2009, but impossible to prove given the unreliability of internet viewer counts & unavailability of such counts from 2009. However, it can be stated with certainty that in-person attendance and TV viewership were not the largest ever for an inauguration.

2016 Voter Participation

2016 had a voter-eligible participation rate of 56.9% – only fifty-seven of every hundred people eligible to vote (regardless of actual registration status) cast a ballot.

This is the lowest rate since 2000, which had a VEP rate of 55.3%. The highest rate since then was 62.2% in 2008.

Looking at the state results, and there appears to be a trend between the margin of victory and the VEP rate for that state – i.e. the “safer” a state is for a particular party, the lower the participation rate is likely to be.14976778_10154622783832381_1800353856199337506_o

For the five states with the lowest VEP, all but one had a margin above 25%. The average margin was 29.56. Those states were Hawaii, California, Utah, Tennessee, and West Virginia; all traditional “safe states”.

For the five states with the highest VEP, all but one had a margin under 3%. The average margin was 3.02. Those states were Iowa, Wisconsin, Maine, New Hampshire, and Minnesota; two classic “swing states” and several states which  were considered toss-ups in RCP leading up to the election.

While the larger trend is clear on the chart, there is a lot of variance. A number of factors could be affecting this; ease/availability of early voting, voting culture, population demographics, etc.

Source: http://www.electproject.org/2016g

Note: this post was originally written just after the election, so vote counts were not quite final in all states. Final numbers are just a bit different from the above.

Voter Weight in Presidential Elections

The Electoral College allocates electors to states based on representation in Congress, so a vote for president in a less-populated state is “weighted more” than a vote in a more-populated state; the less populated a state is, the less individual votes are needed to swing a single electoral vote. This has always been the case, but the gap today is larger than it was in the early history of the country.

In the 1796 election (when Washington left office), a vote from the least-populated state (Delaware) was weighted 1.75 times that in the most-populated state (Virginia). In other words, the votes of a Delawarean was nearly powerful as two Virginians.

In the 2016 election, a vote from the least-populated state (Wyoming) was weighted 3.6 times that in the most-populated state (California). A vote in the smallest state compared to the largest has roughly doubled in power since 1796, where a single Wyomingite’s vote is nearly four times as powerful as the vote of a Texan.


This widening gap can largely be attributed to the Apportionment Act of 1911, which capped the House of Representatives at 435 members. Constitutionally, the number of presidential Electors must match the number of representatives in the House.

If the House had continued growing in accordance with population, then we would have several hundred more representatives. With larger-populated states – California, Texas, New York, Florida, etc – having more representatives (and therefore more electors), the vote-weight gap would look more like it did in 1796.

Picture is weights for the 2016 election. My population numbers are based on the 1790 & 2010 census data.