Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Two facts

FBI Director James Comey testified before Congress, revealing the second of these two facts. The first we already knew. Both were important in the couple weeks before the election.

* Comey told the public about Hillary Clinton’s emails and implied she was under criminal investigation.

* Comey did not tell the public that Donald Trump actually was under criminal investigation.

My personal dictionary doesn’t have enough swear words.

With that reveal by Comey there is now a stronger push to delay Supreme nominee Neil Gorsuch. Merick Garland was not considered because he was nominated in the last year of Obama’s year in office. It is much more severe to be nominated while the nasty guy is under criminal investigation. The GOP is beginning to say it is urgent the seat be filled quickly. Sorry, guys, that phrase means nothing after you refused to fill the seat for 9 months. Contact your senators.

Melissa McEwan of Shakesville has no patience for the endless stories of white dudes who voted for the nasty guy and now have buyer’s remorse. She is especially annoyed with the dude who is so upset he stays away from the news.

So, dude, you failed in your civic responsibility because you did not take the time to understand who Clinton is and who the nasty guy is. Both of them displayed their intentions from the start. And for the guy who wants to bury his head in the sand, glad you have enough privilege to be able to do that while the marginalized people around you are being hurt.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Redistricting may be on the ballot

I went into Detroit this afternoon for a presentation by Voters Not Politicians. This is the group that is trying to get a proposal on the ballot in Michigan to have Congressional and state legislature districts drawn up by an independent commission. This would end gerrymandering in the state.

Before the program started I counted 80 people in the room. I looked around later and saw more heads. My rough guess is about 100 people showed up. Delightful news!

After introductions a local woman spoke for a few minutes. She concluded by saying gerrymandering is another form of oppression.

This effort in Michigan was started as the online group Count MI Vote. They discussed issues related to gerrymandering. It now has 2500 members. The official ballot committee grew out of that group and has the name Voters Not Politicians.

The main speaker was Kevin Cross (I think), who is a political science professor of WSU (his office is about a thousand feet from where we were sitting). He is very good at explaining gerrymandering. I’ll repeat some of his lessons, though I’ve written about it before.

Definition: A district is a geographical area marking which residents vote for one member of the House or a body of the state legislature. One district, one member.

Gerrymandering is quite old in America. It started about the first time districts were drawn. The earliest cases we heard about today were after the 1800 census. It is a natural political game. But extremely fine census data and computers allow the effects to be much more severe and no longer a game.

Do you think gerrymandering is good for Michigan? Does it keep your preferred policies in place? Then consider Maryland, severely gerrymandered by and for Democrats. Still think it is a good idea? If it is wrong in Maryland it is wrong in Michigan.

When the professor teaches gerrymandering in his classes he displays a grid of red and blue squares seemingly jumbled together. There are 49 squares, 24 blue and 25 red. The assignment is to draw seven districts, each with seven squares. He showed it was possible to draw one district entirely of red, then draw all the rest with four blue squares and three red. Blue wins 6 districts, red wins 1. He showed another division that gave red 6 and blue 1.

This example shows two concepts – yeah the ideas have been around long enough they have been named: Packing puts as many of your opponents as possible into a small number of districts. That’s the district of all red. Cracking is spreading the remainder of your opponents into as many districts as possible. Those are the other districts where each of the three red were matched by four blue. There is also kidnapping – a rising red politician able to appeal to blue voters has his residence shoved into a red district. And hijacking – two prominent politicians of one party are pushed into the same district.

We were handed another example:

He showed a few examples from the 2011 redistricting in Michigan – made out of Legos! He hasn’t made a couple of the examples out of Legos because they are so spidery they would be too fragile.

This is why all that is bad:
* It deeply affects which party is in power in Washington and in state capitols.
* But you like them in power? It is a fairness issue: If it is bad for Dems in Maryland it is bad for the GOP in Michigan.
* Demographics change. The Greatest Generation is dying out and Millennials are voting. Both parties are beginning to see it is better to have a truce now than be on the other side of vengeance later.
* Manageability and Community. In highly gerrymandered areas your neighbors might not be in your district. Those who are in your district may be a long way away. Your neighbors need to be in the same community of voters.
* Responsiveness. If a district is safe, who do the politicians listen to? Usually not the voters. If they do listen it is to the extreme voters who show up for primary elections. If a district is safe, no need for a candidate to say he is more moderate and able to attract voters from the other party.

What are possible solutions to the problem?

* Court battles. They are proceeding. The Wisconsin case based on partisan (not racial) gerrymandering may reach the Supremes this term on next. In this case the court might accept the mathematical formula now used to show gerrymandering.

In racial gerrymandering cases the courts have demanded maps be redrawn. Strangely, the new districts produce the same lopsided split. In addition, courts can’t prevent bad districts, they can only demand they be changed – usually after an election or two.

* Nicely asking our legislature to pass redistricting laws. That got a laugh in this crowd.

* Ballot resolution. Michigan allows it. But only a constitution amendment prevents the legislature from overriding or tinkering with what the voters say (there are many examples of that in the last decade). Yes, the process is arduous and expensive (as a change to the constitution should be).

The Voters Not Politicians group has filed their intention to start the process. They are an official ballot committee. They have not yet filed the chosen ballot language, which is then displayed on the forms to gather signatures. This group intends to be transparent every step of the way. That includes disclosing donors.

It also means turning to us to help craft the ballot language. There are several open questions.

* Does the proposal say a little or a lot? Long and confusing proposals tend to not get passed. Proposals that cover the minimum tend to get tweaked by the legislature in bad ways.

* Who should serve on the redistricting commission? Michigan does not require voters to list party affiliation, so there is no reliable way to get a balance between parties. Do we allow current or former lawmakers? How about those who have contributed $2,000 or more to a party or campaign in the last five years? Do we choose professors of political science or law? Do we ban lobbyists? How about appointing any registered voter, choosing them in a manner similar to jury duty? Do we balance different regions of Michigan, different races and ethnic groups, or different economic groups? Do we accept applicants and have them write an essay?

* What is the criteria for constructing districts? Compactness? Our professor showed a case where compact districts were still gerrymandered. Consider geographic features? Do we try to keep cities/townships/counties intact? Do we try to make districts competitive? That might require all Detroit districts to be half in the city and half in the suburbs.

Do we try to keep affinity groups together? Do we make sure eastern Dearborn, home to many Arabs, is entirely in one district? How do we define affinity – race, ethnicity, economic group, profession, or religion?

Because I attended I was given a survey to help answer those questions. I was told I shouldn’t share it because they want it filled out only by people who understand gerrymandering, which is available at their presentations. There are still many presentations, including Saginaw on the 21st, Ann Arbor on 23rd, Traverse City on the 24th, Fenton on the 29th, etc. Sometime soon they will do an online presentation.

There are other ways to help. You could donate. They figure $1.5 to $2 million to handle all the legal issues (such as a team to make sure the eventual text doesn’t have any legal holes). They estimate 3,000 volunteers collecting signatures – with that many people each person needs to collect only 10 per week. There are also various committees, such as the one to write the text.

Even if we win this ballot, it won’t quite be then end. The leaders know it will be challenged in court.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Need to strengthen it

I finally saw the movie Rogue One this afternoon. It’s a pretty good addition to the Star Wars saga. There are plenty of action scenes and lots of things get shot at and blown up. It is, at its core, a story about ranking, about the Empire imposing its will on everyone else and backing it up with violence, including violence against whole planets (just don’t get me started on the impossibility of that – why ruin a story?).

I’ve got a few items related to ranking that are an addition to what I wrote yesterday in my long post about how the federal government has entire Cabinet level departments devoted to resisting ranking:

One item slated for the nasty guy’s chopping block is the Community Development Block Grants. Part of that money goes to Meals on Wheels, which delivers meals to homebound seniors. Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget at the White House, said he wants to get rid of programs that don’t work. Meals on Wheels is one that doesn’t work.

Kali Thomas fired back. She is a researcher who did a top quality study in 2015 on Meals on Wheels. She found a statistically significant and better difference in the seniors who had personal contact with someone delivering meals. The program allows seniors to stay in their houses, costing the government far less than housing these seniors in care facilities.

Thomas is one of many people and organizations resisting the nasty guy’s nasty budget.

Brian Kline is a cancer survivor and says Medicaid and its expansion saved his life. He pleaded don’t kick me off. Tom Price, the new Secretary for HHS, said glad to hear Medicaid worked for you, but it is having extreme difficulty meeting everyone’s needs. We need to strengthen the program.

So kicking Kline off Medicaid will “strengthen” it.

My friend and debate partner’s phrase is appropriate here: President Pants-on-Fire.

To with that Medicaid lie, Melissa McEwan of Shakesville asked her readers what healthcare lies are the most annoying.

Her choice: “patient-centered healthcare,” a meaningless phrase, certainly as long as there is a for-profit company in the mix.

Another of her choices: Comparisons of health insurance to things that aren’t health insurance. Do they not know what insurance is?

Themadkansan: None of these guys ever had to choose between gas in the car and getting those stomach pains to a doctor.

Speedbudget: If I just didn’t buy a cell phone I could afford insurance.

Aeryl: They say they don’t want to get between you and your doctor, while legislating all the things a doctor can’t do.

Moseyalong: the ACA is imploding.

RachelB offers a couple: (1) More choices = better choices. (2) Anyone who can’t pay for healthcare probably doesn’t want it very much.

Calinaponisle7: It’s a good plan because it will reduce the deficit.

Rana: If we all did the right thing and were responsible, we’d never need help.

Aqf: Buying insurance across state lines is a good thing. How will a Georgia policy help me if I’m in Connecticut and need surgery?

Tamara Keith of NPR did a piece for All Things Considered pointing out that presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton tried to eliminate Cabinet departments and didn’t succeed. Each department has developed its own constituencies. When their department is threatened they are very good at letting their Congresscritters know exactly what is at stake in their state. That means we should resist the nasty guy’s efforts all the more strongly.