Friday Reads: America, Land of Democracy Deserts

Salvador Dalí, Soft Construction with Boiled Beans (Premonition of Civil War), 1936, Philadelphia Museum of Art

Good Day Sky Dancers!

The title is shocking, isn’t it? That’s what caught my eye when I went to read this article in The Guardian with the lede “America is full of ‘democracy deserts.’ Wisconsin rivals Congo on some metrics written by David Daley and Gaby Goldstein, who shows how “gerrymandering allows legislators to ignore what voters really want.”  They also indicate that  “experts fear it’s about to get a lot worse.”  I’ve been watching all the voter suppression laws passing in many red states.  However, gerrymandering could bring a few of those purple states into the lost cause category.

I was thinking a lot about the Spanish Civil War because BB has been reading a book on it.  So, I chose these pictures today that are from that period about the event.  They are mostly Modernist and Avant-Garde. Some, as you may see at this link, are propaganda. I think it’s important to remember that history has lessons for us if we’re really to listen.

From The Guardian story:

The United States is becoming a land filled with “democracy deserts”, where gerrymandering and voting restrictions are making voters powerless to make change. And this round of redistricting could make things even worse.

Since 2012, the Electoral Integrity Project at Harvard University has studied the quality of elections worldwide. It has also issued bi-annual reports that grade US states, on a scale of 1 through 100. In its most recent study of the 2020 elections, the integrity of Wisconsin’s electoral boundaries earned a 23 – worst in the nation, on par with Jordan, Bahrain and the Congo.

Why is Wisconsin so bad? Consider that, among other things, its a swing-state that helped decide the 2016 election. Control the outcome in Wisconsin, and you could control the nation. But Wisconsin isn’t the only democracy desert. Alabama (31), North Carolina (32), Michigan (37), Ohio (33), Texas (35), Florida (37) and Georgia (39) scored only nominally higher. Nations that join them in the 30s include Hungary, Turkey and Syria.

Representative democracy has been broken for the past decade in places like WisconsinNorth Carolina, OhioPennsylvaniaMichiganFlorida. When Republican lawmakers redistricted these states after the 2010 census, with the benefit of precise, granular voting data and the most sophisticated mapping software ever, they gerrymandered themselves into advantages that have held firm for the last decade – even when Democratic candidates win hundreds of thousands more statewide votes.

In Wisconsin, for example, voters handed Democrats every statewide race in 2018 and 203,000 more votes for the state Assembly – but the tilted Republican map handed Republicans 63 of the 99 seats nevertheless. Democratic candidates have won more or nearly the same number of votes for Michigan’s state house for the last decade – but never once captured a majority of seats.

Now redistricting is upon us again. This week, the US Census Bureau will release the first round of population data to the states, and the decennial gerrymandering Olympics will begin in state capitols nationwide. And while there has been much coverage of the national stakes – Republicans could win more than the five seats they need to control of Congress next fall through redrawing Texas, Georgia, North Carolina and Florida alone, and they’ve made clear that’s their plan – much less alarm has been raised about the long-term consequences of entrenched Republican minority rule in the states.

Joan Miró, Help Spain, 1937, Museum of Modern Art, New York

The peril we face as a democratic Republic is great. John Nichols writes this for The Nation: “The Next Gerrymandering Nightmare Has Begun. With the release of 2020 Census data, GOP legislators will rush to draw new maps. If they get their way, they’re likely to flip the US House.”

It may not be too late to prevent the partisan gerrymandering of electoral maps that Republicans believe will deliver them control of the US House of Representatives in 2022—as well as a tighter grip on the statehouses that will set so many of the rules for the 2024 presidential election. But it is almost too late.

Ten years ago, Republican governors and legislators used the redistricting process that extended from the 2010 Census to gain dramatic political advantages. Now, with the release of fresh Census data, they are poised to do so again. No one should doubt what is at stake. If the supporters of voter suppression succeed, they could deny Americans representation based on the racial and ethnic diversity that the new data reveals.

“States have long been preparing for this moment, and they now have the green light to start gerrymandering. If left unchecked, this year’s redistricting cycle represents a severe threat to our democracy,” explains Josh Silver, who heads the nonpartisan reform group RepresentUs. “Gerrymandering is one of the worst forms of political corruption, and leads to extremism and partisan gridlock. The maps drawn this year will shape American politics and policy for the next decade.”

The best scenario for American democracy would have been for Senate Democrats to scrap the filibuster and enact the For the People Act before Thursday’s release of the Census data. That legislation seeks to ban partisan gerrymandering and strengthen the position of advocates for communities of color in the redistricting process. “It would also,” notes the Brennan Center for Justice, “enhance the ability of voters to challenge racially or politically discriminatory maps in court, require meaningful transparency in the map-drawing process, and mandate the use of independent commissions to draw maps.”

When senators failed to pass the For the People Act before the August recess, they left an opening for partisans to warp district lines in the 35 states where maps will be drawn by legislators, as opposed to nonpartisan commissions. That gives Republicans a substantial advantage. As Drew DeSilver of the Pew Research Center reminds us, “Republicans will drive that process in 20 states, versus 11 for Democrats.” In four states, divided government makes it most likely that the final decision could be made in the state courts.

Republicans are in full control of states that will be adding seats based on patterns of population growth confirmed by the Census data, such as Texas and Florida. They also control several large states, such as Georgia, where seats will not be added but where a redrawing of lines could be used to tip existing seats to the GOP candidates. In contrast, a number of states where Democrats are in charge, such as New York and Illinois, will lose congressional seats. So, too, will heavily Democratic California, where lines are drawn by a nonpartisan commission.

The Party Road Painting Aurelio Arteta

This discussion has yet to reach the level of coverage it deserves. Here’s an interesting article on the role of Math and stopping gerrymandering from The MIT Technology Review. Basically, there’s an algorithm for that!

The maps for US congressional and state legislative races often resemble electoral bestiaries, with bizarrely shaped districts emerging from wonky hybrids of counties, precincts, and census blocks.

It’s the drawing of these maps, more than anything—more than voter suppression laws, more than voter fraud—that determines how votes translate into who gets elected. “You can take the same set of votes, with different district maps, and get very different outcomes,” says Jonathan Mattingly, a mathematician at Duke University in the purple state of North Carolina. “The question is, if the choice of maps is so important to how we interpret these votes, which map should we choose, and how should we decide if someone has done a good job in choosing that map?”

Over recent months, Mattingly and like-minded mathematicians have been busy in anticipation of a data release expected today, August 12, from the US Census Bureau. Every decade, new census data launches the decennial redistricting cycle—state legislators (or sometimes appointed commissions) draw new maps, moving district lines to account for demographic shifts.

In preparation, mathematicians are sharpening new algorithms—open-source tools, developed over recent years—that detect and counter gerrymandering, the egregious practice giving rise to those bestiaries, whereby politicians rig the maps and skew the results to favor one political party over another. Republicans have openly declared that with this redistricting cycle they intend to gerrymander a path to retaking the US House of Representatives in 2022.

Francis Picabia. La Révolution espagnole (The Spanish Revolution). 1937

The Washington Post has some details from the 2020 census. “Census data shows Maryland is now the East Coast’s most diverse state, while D.C. is Whiter.”

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s diversity index — which measures the likelihood that two people chosen at random would be from different racial and ethnic groups — Maryland is now one of the most diverse states in the nation, surpassed only by Nevada, California and Hawaii.

Nevada also was the only other state in the country to become majority non-White over the last decade.

The change in Maryland’s demographic makeup was driven by growing Asian and Latino populations in the District’s inner suburbs and areas around Baltimore.

The article primarily focuses on the states surround the District.   The New York Times provides information on what you need to know when the data is released. It was released on Thursday, but we still are waiting for the major slice and dice to come.  This is written by Nick Corasaniti.

With Democrats clinging to a slim margin in the House of Representatives, control of the chamber in 2022 could be decided through congressional redistricting alone: Republican-leaning states like Texas and Florida are adding new seats through reapportionment, and G.O.P.-dominated state legislatures will steer much more of the redistricting process, allowing them to draw more maps than Democrats.

In a matter of days — if history is any guide — as soon as state officials can crunch census data files into their more modern formats, an intense process of mapmaking, political contention, legal wrangling, well-financed opinion-shaping and ornery public feedback will unfold in statehouses, courthouses, on the air and even on the streets in regions of special contention.

The redistricting fight arrives amid one of the most protracted assaults on voting access since the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965, an effort that has made the right to vote among the most divisive issues in American politics. And redistricting will take place this fall without critical guardrails that the Voting Rights Act had erected: a process known as preclearance that ensured oversight of states with a history of discrimination. The Supreme Court effectively neutered that provision in a 2013 ruling, meaning that it could take lawsuits — and years — to force the redrawing of districts that dilute the voting power of minority communities.

Martyred Spain 1937 André Fougeron 1913-1998 Presented by the Friends of the Tate Gallery 2001 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T07703

The worst-case scenarios may occur without the original protection of the Voting Rights Act.  You may visit this link at the Brennan Center for Justice to find out more basic information about gerrymandering.

Every 10 years, states redraw their legislative and congressional district lines following the census. Because communities change, redistricting is critical to our democracy: maps must be redrawn to ensure that districts are equally populated, comply with laws such as the Voting Rights Act, and are otherwise representative of a state’s population. Done right, redistricting is a chance to create maps that, in the words of John Adams, are an “exact portrait, a miniature” of the people as a whole.

But sometimes the process is used to draw maps that put a thumb on the scale to manufacture election outcomes that are detached from the preferences of voters. Rather than voters choosing their representatives, gerrymandering empowers politicians to choose their voters. This tends to occur especially when linedrawing is left to legislatures and one political party controls the process, as has become increasingly common. When that happens, partisan concerns almost invariably take precedence over all else. That produces maps where electoral results are virtually guaranteed even in years where the party drawing maps has a bad year.

There are multiple ways to gerrymander.

While legislative and congressional district shapes may look wildly different from state to state, most attempts to gerrymander can best be understood through the lens of two basic techniques: cracking and packing.

Cracking splits groups of people with similar characteristics, such as voters of the same party affiliation, across multiple districts. With their voting strength divided, these groups struggle to elect their preferred candidates in any of the districts.

Packing is the opposite of cracking: map drawers cram certain groups of voters into as few districts as possible. In these few districts, the “packed” groups are likely to elect their preferred candidates, but the groups’ voting strength is weakened everywhere else.

The Politico link has good coverage of the broader population trends released in April. It follows up describing the “mad-dash to redistricting.

Broadly, the data released on Thursday shows a country that has become more urbanized” and more diverse over the last decade. Metro areas across the country grew by 9 percent, and all ten of America’s largest cities have over 1 million people for the first time in U.S. history.

The country has also become less white over the last decade. White Americans still make up the largest demographic in the country, but decreased by 8.6 percent over the last decade.

The dataset could also give an indication of whether the Census undercounted people of color in certain regions, and a state-by-state review will revealwhether individual states need to add additional opportunity districts for Blacks and Latinos, as required by the Voting Rights Act. That officially sets the stage for a wave of lawsuits expected from both parties as redistricting moves forward.

The process is also at the center of the battle for control of Congress. Redistricting decisions made in the coming months will be perhaps the largest determining factor in whether Democrats can hang onto to their razor-thin House majority.

“These data play an important role in our democracy, and also begin to illuminate how the local and demographic makeup of our nation has changed over the last decade,” said Ron Jarmin, the acting director of the Census Bureau, during a presentation Thursday.

So, this will be something we must continue to watch over the next two months.  It’s vital to our democracy that we minimize gerrymandering. Gerrymandering is the basic tool of voter disenfranchisement.  It happens even if the worst voter suppression measures are defeated.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Friday Reads: Revolutionary War Airport Stories

It’s Friday Sky Dancers!

My Dad was a First Lieutenant in the US Army Air Corps when, we all mistakenly thought, the Air Force branch of the military was in its naissance.  We hear so many brave stories about the Tuskegee Air Men and Women Fly Girls that my family must’ve have overlooked all the stories of American’s Revolutionary Airports and the Battles my brave ancestors saw.

Here, I thought my ancestor–who was a surgeon under George Washington during Valley Forge or the Six that signed the Declaration of Independence then went back to their newly formed states to begin things like living through the “shot heard ’round the world”.  I thought that we could find nothing new about the revolution they started.  I must’ve missed the family dinner conversation about Revolutionary War Airports or slept through the lectures at university.

Now I can learn about the role of airports in the Revolutionary War just by listening to the Russian Potted Planted in the White House during his speech at the Dictator Parade on what usually passes as a splendid celebration of Independence Day on the Mall.  Well, I would but having been a student of history since forever and even majoring in it at University I can tell you I’m not that gullible or stupid.  And, you know me, I couldn’t let this one go.

President Donald Trump read most of his Independence Day speech from a prepared text, but stumbled on his history at one point: He talked about airports during the American Revolution.

“Our Army manned the air, it rammed the ramparts, it took over airports,” Trump said of the fighting force created by the Continental Congress in 1775.

There was no air travel in 18th Century America.

Well, D’oh!!!!!

Of course the Twitterati had fun with it!!!  We’re all such sticklers for things like actual facts and data.  Perhaps these words will live in history and all of our children will learn about that brave Continental Army “ramming ramparts’ and  taking over airports. Who knew that Continental Airlines was undoubtedly part of that fray?

I’ve only seen parts of his speech but honestly, a third grader could do a better history report and presentation.  The weird teeth thing and finger wagging just isn’t in the holiday spirit.  And, I have to go there but WTF was with the Mail Order First Bride’s dress?  She couldn’t afford one with both sleeves?  Soft Porn not paying that well these days? At least we got to see the tit job we paid for because when it rained, Melania became a participant in nature’s wet whatever that was.  The first pair were on full display; nipples and all.  I guess Mother Nature prefers mammary glands au naturale.  Does C-SPAN or CNN or FOX have to follow those nudity guidelines any more?

The Internet went crazy with jokes and memes about what the Revolutionary War would have been like with airports after President Donald Trump made a confusing reference to Revolutionary-era soldiers seizing airports in his 4th of July speech in Washington.

“Our Army manned the air, it rammed the ramparts, it took over the airports, it did everything it had to do, and at Fort McHenry, under the rockets’ red glare, it had nothing but victory. And when dawn came, their star-spangled banner waved defiant,” Trump said during a speech on the National Mall.

I could post these all day.  Since I’m basically off this week I just might.  Meanwhile, back in the country that is Trumpfuckistan we have other headlines.  Oh, wait, this is about Evangelical Christians who are basically the foot soldiers of Trumpfuckistan.  Maybe we should call them Evangelical Trumpians.  This is from The Atlantic and the keyboard of Peter Wehner. “The Deepening Crisis in Evangelical Christianity. Support for Trump comes at a high cost for Christian witness.”  Maybe we can finally put an end to this entire Zombie cult and its place in US History as the American Inquisition.

I recently exchanged emails with a pro-Trump figure who attended the president’s reelection rally in Orlando, Florida, on June 18. (He spoke to me on the condition of anonymity, so as to avoid personal or professional repercussions.) He had interviewed scores of people, many of them evangelical Christians. “I have never witnessed the kind of excitement and enthusiasm for a political figure in my life,” he told me. “I honestly couldn’t believe the unwavering support they have. And to a person, it was all about ‘the fight.’ There is a very strong sense (I believe justified, you disagree) that he has been wronged. Wronged by Mueller, wronged by the media, wronged by the anti-Trump forces. A passionate belief that he never gets credit for anything.”

The rallygoers, he said, told him that Trump’s era “is spiritually driven.” When I asked whether he meant by this that Trump’s supporters believe God’s hand is on Trump, this moment and at the election—that Donald Trump is God’s man, in effect—he told me, “Yes—a number of people said they believe there is no other way to explain his victories. Starting with the election and continuing with the conclusion of the Mueller report. Many said God has chosen him and is protecting him.

The data seem to bear this out. Approval for President Trump among white evangelical Protestants is 25 points higher than the national average. And according to a Pew Research Center survey, “White evangelical Protestants who regularly attend church (that is, once a week or more) approve of Trump at rates matching or exceeding those of white evangelicals who attend church less often.” Indeed, during the period from July 2018 to January 2019, 70 percent of white evangelicals who attend church at least once a week approved of Trump, versus 65 percent of those who attend religious services less often.

The enthusiastic, uncritical embrace of President Trump by white evangelicals is among the most mind-blowing development of the Trump era. How can a group that for decades—and especially during the Bill Clinton presidency—insisted that character counts and that personal integrity is an essential component of presidential leadership not only turn a blind eye to the ethical and moral transgressions of Donald Trump, but also constantly defend him? Why are those who have been on the vanguard of “family values” so eager to give a man with a sordid personal and sexual history a mulligan?

Part of the answer is their belief that they are engaged in an existential struggle against a wicked enemy—not Russia, not North Korea, not Iran, but rather American liberals and the left. If you listen to Trump supporters who are evangelical (and non-evangelicals, like the radio talk-show host Mark Levin), you will hear adjectives applied to those on the left that could easily be used to describe a Stalinist regime. (Ask yourself how many evangelicals have publicly criticized Trump for his lavish praise of Kim Jong Un, the leader of perhaps the most savage regime in the world and the worst persecutor of Christians in the world.)

These people embrace so many lies and myths as truth that it’s no wonder their minds don’t blow up from the contradictions.  There are few people I actually run away from but this is the group I will cross the street to avoid.  I just can’t deal with people that sick, twisted, angry, and delusional at all.

The Equity Markets and some of our traditional measures of the economy continue to ignore some underlying bad fundamentals like this from WAPO: “‘This doesn’t look like the best economy ever’: 40% of Americans say they still struggle to pay bills”.  Of course I’m interested in why this expansion isn’t like the rest even though it’s long and looks fairly good at the high level stylized facts.

The stock market is at record levels, with the Dow Jones industrial average closing at a new high Wednesday ahead of the July 4 holiday, and President Trump has made the economy’s strong performance a centerpiece of his reelection campaign.

But this expansion has been weaker and its benefits distributed far more unevenly than in previous growth cycles, leaving many Americans in a vulnerable position.

This is a “two-tier recovery,” said Matthew Mish, head of credit strategy at the investment bank UBS. About 60 percent of Americans have benefited financially, he said, while 40 percent have not.

The 40 percent — which Mish calls the “lower tier” — have seen paltry or volatile wage growth, rising expenses for housing, health care and education, and increased levels of personal debt. They tend not to own homes or many stocks.

In discussions with 30 Americans unable to pay all of their bills, a clear pattern emerged: Most were able to eke by until they faced an unexpected crisis such as a job loss, cancer, car trouble or storm damage.

The extra expense caused them to get behind on their bills, and they never fully rebounded.

Economists fear such precarious financial situations put many Americans at risk if there is even a mild setback in the economy, potentially setting up the next recession to be worse than anything in recent history except the Great Recession.

“So many Americans are living paycheck to paycheck,” said Signe-Mary McKernan, vice president of the Center on Labor, Human Services and Population at the Urban Institute. “We are headed toward a political crisis, if not an economic one.”

The Enumeration Clause of the Constitution is pretty clear about the purpose of the Census but then, when did rule of law stop KKKremlin Caligula?  From WAPO, we get the latest on how the Trump Administration is trying to do an end run around the Constitution and a SCOTUS decision.  We have another few hours (2 p.m edt today) to see what the end run will be and if they can further bemuse a Federal Judge.

The question had seemed settled after the Supreme Court ruled last week against the Trump administration. As late as Tuesday evening, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who oversees the census, said the administration was dropping its effort and was printing the census forms without the citizenship question.

But Trump, in tweets Wednesday and Thursday, said he was not giving up. He tweeted Thursday morning: “So important for our Country that the very simple and basic ‘Are you a Citizen of the United States?’ question be allowed to be asked in the 2020 Census. Department of Commerce and the Department of Justice are working very hard on this, even on the 4th of July!”

The reversal came after Trump talked by phone with conservative allies who urged him not to give up the fight, according to a senior White House official and a Trump adviser, who both spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Trump was furious and thought the Commerce Department and the Justice Department — which has been arguing the case — had given up the fight too easily. He complained about Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.,who he said he thinks is lined up against him, the adviser and senior officials said. Trump also complained about Ross.

Before Trump’s tweets plunged their week into chaos, Justice officials thought the president understood how few legal options remained, according to people familiar with the matter. They had earlier told the White House that the case was a dead-end and that pursuing it would be a waste of time.

Those people said that Attorney General William P. Barr had talked to Trump and had tried to explain his limited options after the Supreme Court’s ruling.

After the Supreme Court called the government’s reason for the question “contrived,” many wondered how the government could suddenly come up with a new rationale.

“What were they going to say?” said Dale Ho, director of the Voting Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union and a lead attorney for plaintiffs in the New York lawsuit. “ ‘Here’s our real reason? Or here’s a new reason?’ Well, that’s kind of reverse engineering on a decision that’s already been made, which was the very definition of pretextual. . . . We had them in an inevitable checkmate.”

Well, there’s a lot more out there and I hope you share it.  Meanwhile, I’m trying to decide if I’m going to go visit with the Warren Campaign staff at a cocktail party event down the street.  That should be interesting at the very least.

Just remember though, we should all be thankful that those first patriots did what they needed to do to secure those airports! so very long ago!!

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?