CATEGORY: PoliticsLawGovernment3

Slate’s gerrymandering puzzles

CATEGORY: PoliticsLawGovernment3Earlier this year I got into a debate with one of my fellow Scrogues about how best to stop gerrymandering. While we didn’t come to any agreements as to a solution due to my lack of time to continue, we were in violent agreement that gerrymandering is a problem that simply must be solved.

Today Slate was kind enough to publish a graphic way to learn just how screwed up the entire gerrymandering thing really is. Chris Kirk created six puzzles using actual state Congressional districts as a way to demonstrate how both Democratic and Republican state legislatures are gerrymandering district lines to ensure that the dominant party controls the state’s Congressional Representatives. It takes about 10 minutes to do all six puzzles and read the information that pops up after each puzzle is completed.

Some states (like Iowa, the tutorial puzzle) have strict anti-gerrymandering laws, but most states don’t. Barring such laws, it should be the job of the federal government to step in and prevent gerrymandering. However, both parties benefit from gerrymandering, and so it’s highly unlikely that an anti-gerrymandering federal law could pass out of Congress. And while the courts are more willing to address issues like this, the Supreme Court just overturned the part of the Voting Rights Act that was specifically crafted to prevent minority-based gerrymandering (rather than party-based, although the two are similar in large parts of the South). As such it’s not a foregone conclusion that the courts would be any more receptive to ordering states to stop gerrymandering than Congress would be.

Still, there’s little question that gerrymandering in the modern age is so bad that it’s risen to the level of being unconstitutional according to the “general welfare” standard – having a gridlocked Congress incapable of passing laws isn’t good for the country, however much big business and think tanks might say otherwise.

h/t Alex Palombo

The perils of self rule

Either these elections are getting worse or i’m getting more cynical, or maybe both. Look, i can respect opinions other than my own so i can see a healthy republic that isn’t a model of my political views. But there’s nothing to salvage here. The political system is well and truly fucked. We’ve got two candidates who will gut the social contract to the full extent of their ability. Both will continue solidifying and expanding the imperial presidency. We’re all inside the disposition matrix now. The poor, a healthy economy, the environment, these truths we hold to be self-evident and whatever else gets in the way will be sacrificed for the power and wealth of the few.

And if all that shit wasn’t enough, the answer to a dysfunctional political system appears to be ballot measures. Now i’d be in favor of a little direct democracy, but these ballot measures are even more easily manipulated than our politicians. For example, we’ve got one about building a second bridge to Canada on the ballot. The ballot language is such that if you’re against it, then you have to vote “yes.” Granted, ballot language is always confusing but the new wave of direct democracy seems particularly well designed to confuse the average voter…who is likely to be ignorant, irrational, and willfully misinformed, because that’s what makes us great. These measures are written and fought over in the public square by the dreaded “special interests.” They’re the ones buying the commercials and sending me flyers. We complain about politicians not reading the bills they vote on, but I can’t imagine that my fellow Americans are reading (and understanding) the measures they’re voting on. They’re doing what they’re told by liars, based on whose lies most comport with their personal feelings.

We’ve also got a “collective bargaining” measure that sounds good if you’re for the Platonic ideal of organized labor. But it may only be for public sector unions, admittedly under the gun of our new breed of Randian superheroes and self-made men with public educations collecting a paycheck from the State. See, i haven’t read the amendment either, and i know that i should as well as likely being capable of understanding it … which says nothing about whether my understanding will have anything to do with the implementation of the amendment.

And then there’s one about renewable energy mandates, which if the eyes of the actors in the commercial are to believed, will cause you to have a stroke when you open your electric bill. I like the idea of renewable energy and I get that without significant prodding, the holy market can be slow to react and accomplish what needs to be done. The problem is, do i trust the people writing the measure that we can pass into law to be doing it honestly and without corruption … and well … any more than I trust voting for assholes who think that rape is just all part of god’s plan?

No.

I voted for our medical marijuana amendment four years ago, enthusiastically, and cheered when the results came back showing that dope is significantly more popular than hope and John McCain is a distant third in that popularity contest. I don’t have a card. I just saw an opportunity for the people of my state to end run the colossal stupidity of the war on drugs. But as it turns out, that was a horribly written amendment. It left all sorts of loose ends like not establishing a legal distribution network beyond decriminalizing the black market network. So of course the politicians and cops have attacked that glaring loophole in addition to trying to find a way to overturn the will of the people. The same thing is happening with Arizona’smedical marijuana law. And if Colorado passes its brave decriminalization bill you can bet that all holy hell will break loose. Either of the liars that may win the presidency will come down with the full force of the federal government on Colorado for daring to practice democracy.

We like to think of ourselves as a nation of laws rather than men, but when you go to the polls tomorrow, stop and think about the men you’re electing to write and implement those laws. Think about your fellow men (and take a long look in the mirror) who are crafting and voting on these ballot measures. It is men who will be enforcing the laws. It is men who will take your vote as an enthusiastic acceptance and support for them doing whatever the hell they want to do. And don’t forget that it is men who will look at the results of your experiments in direct democracy and decide whether you’re right, wrong, or incompetent to make those decisions. Unfortunately, we probably are incompetent to make those decisions, and since we vote for politicians based on who we’d like to have a beer with and which church they attend, those assholes are every bit as incompetent as we are.

I’ll go vote. I was raised to view it as an obligation. But it won’t be for Obama or Romney. It won’t be for Stabenow or Hoekstra. It won’t be for McDowell or Benishek. I don’t know what i’ll do with the constitutional amendments on my MI ballot. I should probably abstain, because i’m old, cynical, and apathetic enough to realize that none will be what they seem and most will be the equivalent of voting Democratic or Republican. I won’t vote for a Democrat or a Republican for the rest of my life. i wouldn’t vote for Obama if i knew ahead of time that mine would be the deciding vote. Let it end in a tie and they can fight to the death for it. And more, and more, i’m coming to the conclusion that my compatriots who vote for either of these parties hate America, freedom, Democracy. That you tactical, strategic, and disturbingly ideological voters are what’s wrong with this nation; it’s you that allow the foxes into the henhouse and the chickenhawks to rule the roost.

God Bless America. We’re gonna need it, because the people entrusted with maintaining the Republic sure as shit aren’t up to the task.

On Nov. 6, I'll vote for a liar for president

No matter how I try to rationalize it, I’m going to vote for a liar for president of the United States. And, no matter how I try to ignore history, I realize that I likely have always voted for a liar for virtually any political office.

I do not know anyone who has not told a lie. Size and intent of the lie does not matter; lies are lies. I know that lies come in a variety of shades, some of which have become socially acceptable. Honey, does this dress make my ass look fat? A man who answers no lies to protect the dignity of the woman. Oh, don’t worry about those few extra pounds. You still look hot to me. The woman who says that protects the frail ego of a man. When the pet rabbit dies, mom or dad tells little Bobby I’m sure Hoppy went to heaven.

We lie to protect the feelings of others. But we still lie, because we know absolute truth corrodes relationships.

But politicians lie to manipulatively establish and maintain relationships. Lies fertilize the ground on which campaigns are constructed. Candidates at all levels of politics lie, cheat, and deceive. Google “political lies” and explanations of why they lie abound.

Politicians lie for one seriously egregious reason. The lie: I’m running for office to bring real solutions to the American people. The truth: I want to achieve status and power. Then, if I can help the people — especially those who helped me buy my way to status and power — I’ll do so. A few decades ago, particularly odiferous political lies were usually caught by the press, reported by same, and produced revulsion in the electorate. Ask Richard Nixon.

But not so much now. We longer believe truth is possible in political campaigns. The sheer volume of corporate-supported advertising bearing lies, falsehoods, prevarications, deceptions, and context-free “facts” has inured the electorate. After all, candidates in many deceptive ads say, I approved this message. They have permitted lies in their names. So we expect lies. Lies become Truth-Lite™, what candidates believe we want to hear rather than what we need to hear.

The press has been complicit in fostering the staggering growth in political deceit: As media critics have noted, journalists have often focused on who’s lying more effectively rather than correcting the discursive record distorted by lies — the new post-truth journalism. Add the notion that the electoral audience is now firmly camped in an endless electronic chat room less reliant on “gatekeepers.”

The methods of lying have become the news and the fodder of pundits — not the lies themselves. That’s made lying by politicians easier. It has allowed politicians to lie with far more sophistication and not be corrected on the record. Consider the emergence of false equivalence — the tendency fostered by the political press that “objectivity” is a function of “balance,” that “both sides do it all the time.”

The invention of issues by pundits has created discourse that isn’t grounded in reality in the first place — so lies fill the void, and they’re effective if the pundits have ingratiated themselves with an audience eager to be lied to. It’s called motivating the political base. Lying to the already converted — those resistant to reason and cordoned off by ideological choice from rhetorical reality — is highly effective modern political practice.

The modern media universe of celebrity and “tell all” journalism has not made lying less profitable. No lie is too large to halt the deluge of money from donors. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been raised and given to politicians who lie. Therefore, politicians have permission to lie even more.

If lying has no significant political cost (although Sen. Gary Hart’s lie cost him his chance for the presidency), then lies beget more lies. Information becomes disinformation and misinformation. The public square has no shared factual commitments essential to honest discourse. Lying has eroded our ability to assess the moral compasses of our politicians. Are we now stuck with determining who lies less as the new standard for electability rather than who utters truth?

When it comes to our two presidential candidates, even the fact-checkers, it seems, cannot agree on which man lies most.

They both lie. So no matter which one I support, I will be supporting a liar.

Would someone please explain to me what we gain by having liars in the White House, Congress, and the statehouses of America?

h/t to my fellow Scrogues who allowed me to steal their ideas.

News media failing with blatant bias

by Jane Briggs-Bunting

Just spent the past three days surfing in and out of the GOP’s Isaac-shortened convention. PBS carried it a lot. The commercial networks gave it just an hour a night.

The armchair commentators of the networks, with the exception, of course, of Fox News, was subtly and, at times, blatantly biased against Mitt Romney and Republicans, in general.

For several years a neighbor of mine, who is far to the right, has complained about liberal media bias. As a journalist, I have been a staunch defender of news coverage which on a local, daily basis is often as fair and accurate as can be expected. I know how eyewitnesses can observe vastly different versions of the same event, how politicians can spin a message then deny saying it, how covering sad and gruesome events like plane crashes, tornadoes, hurricanes, car accidents and violence can be difficult and how hard I used to try, and my colleagues, too, to do our jobs with accuracy and thoroughness. Continue reading

America gets divorced: crafting a separation agreement

Part two of a series.

In part one, I offered an overview of why I think the time has come to partition America – shake hands, go our separate ways, and let two (at least) groups of people follow their own paths according to their very different values. Today I want to briefly tackle the hard part and present some initial thoughts on key details – where the lines are drawn, how the divorce might be effected, etc. By no means do I regard this post as being definitive. The issues are complex and, like many divorces, the process of separating is likely to incite as much in the way of negative passion as the end stages of the marriage itself did. At best, perhaps I can provide a framework for discussion and begin a productive conversation that leads us all to a better understanding of what we’re facing.

First: The partition should comprise a five-year, free-passage transition. Continue reading

It's time for America to get a divorce

Part one of a series.

This past week AlterNet published an interview with Chuck Thompson, author of Better Off Without ‘Em: A Northern Manifesto for Southern SecessionIn brief, Thompson argues that the United States has become two very different countries (or perhaps that it was always two very different countries) and that perhaps the time has come to shake hands and go our separate ways.

Thompson makes a compelling argument. Secession is a subject we here at S&R have engaged in the past, primarily within the context of the inequitable distribution of tax revenues (donor states vs. taker states), and it’s perhaps telling that so many of the smartest people I know – rational, clear-headed, educated, progressive-minded, deliberate thinkers all – are more than willing to entertain the idea. Sure, there are plenty of logistical concerns to be considered, but make no mistake – the “South’s gonna do it agin” crowd isn’t the only segment of the population that would be okay parting ways. Continue reading

Filibuster reform and the zombie apocalypse

Once I was a believer in the time-honored Senate filibuster tradition, although by “believer” I don’t necessarily mean that I loved it or revered it, exactly. I was more like a guy worried about a zombie apocalypse stocking up on 12-gauge shells. In case things go to hell, at least the good guys have the filibuster to slow the lumbering herd of dead meat down a little, right? So, I believed in the filibuster the way a B-grade horror flick protagonist might believe in ammunition.

The main difference between the Senate and a zombie apocalypse, of course, is that zombies aren’t real but the Senate is very much upon us. Also, in neither case does it look like we have enough ammo.

The last few years have changed the equation significantly. Continue reading

The Obama Doctrine and Snooki Nation: declaring victory and victory are the same thing

So, it appears campaign season is under way in earnest. Mr. Obama officially kicked off the festivities in Virginia and Ohio yesterday, and we saw our first Mitt-scorcher on Denver TV a couple days ago. I’ve been thinking about the Obama administration’s performance to date for a few months, and perhaps now is as good a time as any to summarize what I think has been the dominant theme of his presidency.

My home state, North Carolina, has a wonderful motto: esse quam videri – to be, rather than to seem. Continue reading

Let the left wing pandering begin

By Robert Becker

Scene: Large Washington hotel room full of Democratic staffers.
Speaker: Savvy PR operative, speaking bluntly.
Message: People vote their prejudices, so public relations rule.

It’s remarkable how many of us harbor the myth that election engage core issues, policies, or programs – once call “content.” Dream on. Style wins elections, though curiously only one half of our political establishment honors this proposition. Simple question: why does Democratic publicity stink, outflanked, outpandered and outwitted by crude, Karl Rove-style schoolyard bullying? Name one snappy zinger from this White House that neutralized fake barrages from Birthers, racists, government-hating know-nothings spewing out “death panels,” or smears against a “food stamp president” with a “phony theology.” Continue reading

Komen hires the wrong PR firm, missing the boat once again (and some thoughts on PR Daily's coverage of the story)

So, the Susan Komen Foundation has hired a big-hitter PR firm. And not just any PR firm, either.

Now, Komen is assessing the damage, and it’s using a consulting firm founded by two former Democratic strategists. Penn Schoen Berland (PSB), the firm Komen hired to help determine how badly the crisis hurt its reputation, is founded by former Democratic strategists Mark Penn and Doug Schoen.

The goal here seems obvious. Komen’s recent bout of ballistic podiatry cost it massive amounts of support among people who believe that women’s health shouldn’t be held captive to a reactionary, partisan social conservative agenda. The foundation has accurately understood that this means it needs people from the center and points left in order to thrive. Or, at this point, survive. So they go out and hire … Mark Penn.

Wait, what? Continue reading

Dems' super PACs, trailing in money race, to coordinate fundraising

The law forbids super PACs — political action committees permitted to raise unlimited funds with little disclosure of donors — from coordinating their activities with those of candidates’ formal campaign committees.

But, it seems, nothing prevents super PACs from coordinating their fundraising activities with each other. And this comes with the blessing of the Democratic fundraiser-in-chief.

From a report by Peter Stone of the Center for Public Integrity comes this tidbit:

Five Democratic super PACs are reaching out to party mega-donors, in a fledgling effort seeking $1 million to $10 million contributions, now that President Barack Obama has blessed the outside spending group working to get him re-elected.

And the reason? Stone reported in January that Democratic super PACs and nonprofits, formed last year, had only raised about $19 million.
Continue reading

Soft power, hard power, election power

by Robert S. Becker

If he wins, risk-averse, calculating Mitt Romney won’t name a firebrand V.P. Not noxious Newt, who’s way too grandiose to play second fiddle to anyone. Thus, short of a Black Swan event, we can expect two safe national tickets, thus reversing the election pyrotechnics the last time around, with its high drama and gaseous eruptions.

Too bad for media frenzy, late-night comics, or pundits amused by theatrics — who all relish barking-mad, headline-grabbing mavericks. On pre-emptive invasions alone, will the two top dogs compete with the bellicose tirades spewing from Bush, Cheney or McCain, let alone Perry or Bachmann? Continue reading

Senate procedure: it's not a three-ring circus, it's full-tilt clown war

I think the educated, informed and politically active electorate on all sides get the three-ring circus metaphor for our government. There just needs to be more of them, on all sides. Let’s see what happens, though, when I look, with beginner’s eyes, at the nuts ‘n’ bolts under the hood of the the Klown Kar in the lead-up to the featured act. For this exercise, I’ll use a bit of legislation currently up for debate, S.1726, Withholding Tax Relief Act of 2011, a bill to repeal the imposition of withholding on certain payments made to vendors by government entities.

I first became aware of this issue by following Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) on Facebook. Continue reading

President Everything To Nearly Everybody ­– the hero with 1000 faces

by Robert S. Becker

Scene: The Oval Office
Time:  Daily briefing with senior staff
Speaker: The President, perplexed, pacing, nodding

Let’s talk politics today and re-election, no holds barred.  I arrive here every morning bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, flush with my perpetual audacity of hope, but lately my dander is up.  Maybe no one could preside over this fragmented country.  But to hover at 40% approval — with our wave of legislative triumphs second in modern times to LBJ — and under greater duress?  Who’d predict a year out our re-election would be in doubt – especially against this gang of has-beens, misfits, clowns, losers and wannabes?  If I didn’t have my formidable self-esteem, I’d feel insulted [smiles, boyishly]. Continue reading

Obama is talking the talk. Must be campaign season…

Yesterday, on Facebook, one of my friends posted a graphic of the president and this recent quote, which is making the rounds:

I reject the idea that asking a hedge fund manager to pay the same tax rate as a plumber or a teacher is class warfare…

And today, over at the Great Orange Satan, msblucow has an interesting poll up aimed at gauging how likely voters are to support Obama’s reelection bid in 2012. More to the point, why they are likely to vote for him (or not)? If you click through to the poll, there’s a series of questions that asks if the president’s actions on a series of issues make you more likely to vote for him, less likely, undecided, or do his actions and policies have no effect. Continue reading

Nota Bene #120: Crazy Ivan

“If you can make a woman laugh, you’re seeing the most beautiful thing on God’s earth.” Who said it? Continue reading

The lesson that bin Laden learned from Reagan

There is a particular narrative about Ronald Reagan and the end of the Cold War that has always struck me as compelling. I bought the argument at the time and I think I still do, to some extent, even though I’m hardly a Reagan fan.

The story goes like this: Reagan was able to finally win the Cold War and drive a stake through the heart of the Evil Empire because he realized that the Soviet economy was already badly overextended trying to prop up the war machine. All he had to do was accelerate the arms race, dramatically increasing military spending (while also amping up the sabre-rattling rhetoric) and that would force the Russkis to bankrupt themselves trying to compete. Continue reading