Category Archives: Editorials

021 – Gerrymandering for dummies! (An editorial, and possibly a tutorial as well.)

A good friend recently reminded me of the importance of this gerrymandering case in Wisconsin that is coming up for adjudication by the Supreme Court.  While I was familiar with the case, I must admit I was not even aware whether it was to be adjudicated by the Wisconsin Supreme Court, or by the U.S. Supreme Court.  It is the U.S. Supreme Court that will be deciding this case on appeal and that process began this week.

The case is named Gill v Whitford.  William Whitford is a University of Wisconsin professor and the lead plaintiff in this case.  Beverly Gill is the Wisconsin state elections board chairperson.

I have now done some more research which I would like to share.  I freely admit to being no kind of political scientist or expert on gerrymandering.  However, that may work in my favor in that I may be able to explain the basics of gerrymandering in more layman’s terms, and thereby perhaps make it less mysterious.  That is my hope anyway.

While the term gerrymandering may be familiar to some, it may only be understood in the abstract.  Currently, my guess is that when many hear the term, their immediate reaction may be that it is just Democrats complaining because they do not have a current majority in most state Houses, and also in the U.S. House of Representatives.

First, here’s a bit of likely useless trivia.  Where does the word “gerrymander” come from? 

  • It was coined by a newspaper in Boston way back in 1812. Massachusetts redrew its district lines and their governor at the time was a man by the name of Elbridge Gerry.  One of the districts that was redrawn was said to look something like a salamander.  So, the two were joined by the newspaper and the term gerrymander was first coined.

The practice of gerrymandering has been around since the formation of the first U.S. Congress.  It has been used and abused over the past two centuries to benefit whichever party happened to be in power at the time when districts were mandatorily redrawn every ten years after each new census.

It was Republican gerrymandering back in 2010 that predominantly gave us the district maps we have had for the past seven plus years.  The Republicans dominated the mid-term elections after Obama’s election in 2008 and, after the 2010 census, they were the party which was able to control much of redistricting around the United States.

But gerrymandering is by no means uniquely Republican.  However, what was unique to the last redistricting was the use of sophisticated computer programs that were used to draw very specific lines (but hardly straight ones) that benefited the Republican party to the max, or at least so says the plaintiff in Gill v Whitford.  One can only imagine that those sophisticated programs have grown even more so over the past decade.

When does the next redistricting occur?

Since the next redistricting is coming up after the 2020 census, these upcoming elections are crucial in how those districts will be drawn.  If the Republicans have the great advantage now that is claimed by the Democrats, then it will only get worse unless the Supreme Court throws out the current Wisconsin district lines and makes them redistrict using some sort of more “fair” formula.

Even if the Supreme Court rules in the plaintiff’s favor, which would certainly favor the Democrats, the decisions as to how to enforce “fair” redistricting will be crucial.  Ideally, neither party should be able to draw districts with the sole intent of giving them a completely unfair advantage.

While there are various rules that apply to redistricting, there are basically two big ones.

  1. The population of each district must be as “nearly equal as practicable”.
  2. Each district must be contiguous. All areas within the same district must connect in some way.

Gerrymandering – Before and After

I created the following two slides to visually demonstrate how even if the number of Democratic and Republican voters in a given area is relatively equal, the drawing of district lines can greatly affect the likelihood of a district voting one way or the other.

In this first slide, I have created a pretty basic, rather clean-cut example.  In the four districts on the left, the lines are drawn so that each of the four districts has about the same amount of Democrats and Republicans.  One would expect the elections to be fairly competitive in the four districts as they are drawn on the left.

However, the right shows an example of how that same area can be redrawn, also into four districts, but now where three of the districts will be predominantly Republican while only one will be predominantly Democratic.

 

021 - Gerrymandering before and after

Do you think that is an absurd example?

Let me show you a couple examples of actual, gerrymandered districts in the United States today.

021 - Gerrynmander actual

 

Note how zig-zag and finely drawn those lines are, and particularly how crazy the Illinois district looks.  That district was actually drawn by Democrats in order to create a predominantly Latino district.  Only, in order to get enough population, they had to somehow join two separate, Latino areas – the one on the north being Puerto Rican and the one on the south being Mexican.  They are joined together literally by only a grassy strip on the west that separates two expressways.

These type of finely redrawn lines are most often based upon the use of computer programs which factor in total population, and also know the ethnicity, voting history, income level, education level and addresses for the people living in those areas.  So by putting in the right parameters, the computer program can design lines which effectively segregate very similar potential voters into the same, specific district.  Not pretty, is it – particularly if you happen to be in the party that is being disadvantaged.

In Gill v Whitford, the plaintiff contends that the way the districts are currently drawn in Wisconsin, even in a 50/50 election, Republicans would almost always win at least 60 of the 99 state Assembly districts.  The plaintiff is contending that the way the districts are drawn is negating the value of a person’s vote in those districts.  In 2016, Trump barely won the popular vote in the state of Wisconsin and the amount of Democratic and Republican votes in Wisconsin statewide elections was essentially the same as well.  However, Republicans won 64 of the 99 Assembly districts (64%).  63 of those same districts were also won by Trump.

Arguments have begun

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts said during initial arguments on Oct 3rd, that he is wondering aloud that if the Supreme Court rules in favor of the plaintiff (Wisconsin Democrats), the Democrats will benefit in the upcoming elections and then the Supreme Court will be blamed for favoring the Democrats.

Paul Smith is the lead attorney for the plaintiff.  If I were him, “on the inside”, I’m thinking,

“Justice Roberts, you’re worried about this court being accused of favoring the Democrats?  Give me a damn break.”

But “on the outside”, I would like Attorney Smith to at least say,

“Justice Roberts, is your concern to judge this case based upon the law, and upon what is right or wrong in regard to the U.S. Constitution?  Or is your concern to not make a ruling that may be considered to favor one side or the other?  Also, if I may add, regardless of any individual ruling this court may make, I think you may rest assured that this current court will never  be in danger of being accused of favoring the Democrats.”

Justice Anthony Kennedy, appointed to the court by Ronald Reagan in 1987, is a conservative but he is the closest thing that there is to a “swing” vote on the court.  Typically, but not always, he sides with the conservatives on more fiscal issues but sides with the liberals on more social issues.  That is the main reason why there was so much concern by Democrats that he might retire when the Supreme Court recessed at the end of June, and relief when he did not.

In this current court case, early indications may be that Kennedy is siding with the plaintiff against the current gerrymandered assembly districts in Wisconsin.  However, it is very early, and reading those types of tea leaves at this point is always a dangerous proposition.

If Gill v Whitford  is decided in favor of the plaintiff, against the current Wisconsin districts, it is likely that there will be many more challenges to the district maps in other states around America.

My personal hope is that if this case is decided upon in favor of the plaintiff, a system of rules governing redistricting will be created that seeks to ensure that elections are decided upon by voter turnout, and by the differences between the candidates – not by how ridiculously rigged the districts are set up.

Keep an eye on Gill v Whitford.

Update:  10/4/2017

I have been informed by one of my readers that California voters approved back in 2008, a method to address gerrymandering concerns.

Rather than have elected legislators in charge of redrawing the districts, which inherently will be very political, California has created a bipartisan commission which is responsible for doing the redistricting. That commission is made up of an equal number of Democrats, Republicans and non-affiliated members, which have been chosen by lottery from a pool of qualified applicants. Their recommendations for redistricting are then subject to final approval by, once again, a bi-partisan commission of 3 Democrats, 3 Republicans and 3 from neither party.

What a concept, huh?  It’s almost like not allowing legislators to vote on their own pay raises.  Wait, they can do that?  Uh huh.

Here is a brief explanation of Proposition 11 in California …

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020 – Oh, what the Hell. Let’s just require that everyone owns an Uzi! (An editorial)

I CERTAINLY don’t mean that either literally or figuratively.

But it is at least a way to try and first, get your attention and second, make a point about an entirely absurd, masochistic situation that just continues, and continues, and continues here in the United States.

Every time something happens, like what just happened in Las Vegas, you can absolutely predict the responses we are certain to hear.  I’m sure that the NRA had their publicity machine in action before the first body got to a Las Vegas hospital.

Republican congressmen have gone back to their cliff notes about gun control to make sure that they are prepared to answer the same questions they have received, and deflected, and obfuscated over, again and again and again.

Democratic congressmen also have gone back to their prepared responses even though they know that nothing will change, and some of them are likely privately glad that it won’t.  (Oh, I know.  How naive of me to even consider that some Democrats may be in the pockets of the NRA as well.  That could not possibly be true.   Yeah, right.)

  • It’s people who kill people, not guns.
  • We have more than enough gun laws on the books already. We just have to enforce them.
  • The bleeding heart liberals are just out to repeal the 2nd Amendment
  • Bringing up gun control every time there is a mass shooting is simply using a tragedy to further the liberal agenda.
  • Now is the time to unite as a country, and not the time for political debate.  (We have already heard that one from the Trump administration.)
  • The Right to Bear Arms is guaranteed by the Constitution. If we give that up, then we give up our freedom.
  • Any further infringement on the right to own a gun is a slippery slope that will inevitably lead to the complete repeal of the 2nd Amendment.
  • Yadda, yadda, yadda, f@#$%ing yadda

Statistics are not going to convince anyone, or at least convince those who need to be convinced.  Statistics alone certainly have had no effect so far.  The gun lobby is as much entrenched in the unrestricted gun ownership dogma as are Trump supporters who will continue to support him regardless of what he says and does, day after day.

I could shoot someone in the middle of the street, and my supporters would still vote for me.”  He could easily have added, “And if I do, I damn well better have the right to own whatever type of weapon I choose to accomplish the shooting.”

I am not a huge fan of all Democrats, and I am anything but some bleeding heart liberal.  But there is no path that I see to the removal of Trump, or to the removal of the threat of the sadistic, self-serving Republican agenda, that does not involve kicking the Republicans out of Congress and replacing them with Democrats – warts and all.  That also includes any possibility of ever enacting any type of common sense controls on – NOT the elimination of – the right to own a gun.

020 - body

Could any type of legislation have stopped what occurred in Las Vegas, or in Newtown, or in Columbine, or in place, after place, after place, after place?  No.

It is way too late to have prevented those from taking place, and it is likely too late to prevent similar things from occurring for many years to come.

But just because we can’t stop the carnage right now, and for our generation, does not mean that there is a real chance that if we take action now, our grandchildren, or perhaps our great grandchildren might, just might, live in a country where this type of thing is incredibly rare … and not simply commonplace and accepted.

Everyone knows what the problem is.  The trick is coming up with a solution, selling that solution to the majority of the American public (most of whom already agree that common sense gun restriction is needed now), and most importantly, steeling the public to the need to once and for all stop fearing and bowing to the gun lobby.

Here are my two suggestions.

  1. First, make it clear that this has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with repealing the 2nd Amendment.  For those who do believe that repeal is the only answer, they just have to shut the Hell up.
    • If it takes agreeing to some sort of legislation, or making some sort of formal declaration by Democrats that they guarantee that no effort will be taken to repeal the 2nd Amendment, then go ahead and do it.
    • This should NOT be about the 2nd Amendment.
    • Besides, “that hay is already in the barn”, “that train has long since left the station” … insert whatever clichéd metaphor you want. There are so many millions and millions of guns already owned and in circulation, removing them all will never be an achievable solution.
  1. Second, make it equally clear that the single goal is to make the possession, purchase and sale of any weapon of mass destruction a federal crime in the United States.
    • If you guarantee the right to own a gun for personal protection, or for personal recreation, then there is absolutely no legitimate reason whatsoever why the right to own weapons like those used in Las Vegas and elsewhere cannot be eliminated entirely.

This will most certainly not prevent the vast majority of gun deaths.  People will continue to shoot each other because they feel that they have a right to do so.  Hey, it’s what makes us Americans, right?  I demand to have the right to blow your ass away, if I feel like it.

However, what it will eventually do, not this year, nor the next, nor perhaps even for our generation or for the next, but eventually, it will mean that most people will be limited to only being able to kill a few people at a time.  It will also make it incredibly more difficult, and far more expensive, for criminals to use automatic weapons during the commission of crimes, and to use those weapons against law enforcement.

What this would also do would be to take automatic weapons completely out of the gun control discussion.  It has no business being any part of that discussion.  Then let people continue to debate about how to reduce the ridiculous amount of individual gun deaths that occur every day, because that discussion certainly needs to continue.

It’s sad to say that is the best we can hope for, but it IS something that nonetheless can be achieved … and it can start now.  We may not prevent another Las Vegas, or Orlando, or Fort Hood for years to come.   But we can lay the groundwork so that there is a realistic chance that these tragedies become so isolated in the future that, if and when they do occur, the outrage felt will be so real, and so visceral, and most importantly so lasting … not something to just blindly accept as a being part of the American experience, and to then just wait for the inevitable next time to happen.

019 – Just a bunch of lazy Puerto Ricans looking for a handout (An editorial)

019 - gtrump tweet about lazy Puerto Ricans

“I’m getting very high marks on the Puerto Rico response” he says.  You pathetic clown.  The absolutely only one giving you high marks is YOU – you idiot.

At least the fool is consistent.  The response to Texas and Florida seems to have been sufficient.  Certainly, they have not been in the news at all over the past few weeks so we can only hope that they are recovering.  But then again, Florida in particular was hit nowhere near as badly as was Puerto Rico.

So for Texas and Florida … a generally good response.  For Puerto Rico, they are U.S. citizens, but are not a U.S. state, and they are non-white minorities to boot.  Not only that, but Puerto Rico is obviously a predominantly Democratic/Progressive island – no surprise there.  For them, the response has been totally unacceptable even though Trump and his administration continue to shamelessly pat themselves on the back.

As of today, Saturday, Sept 30th, it has been 10 days since hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico.  Finally, it seems that there is beginning to be some progress on organizing the relief effort.  Those hundreds of shipping containers have just sat there on the docks for days while people have gone without basic necessities for well over a week.  Apparently the FEMA “command” post is well air-conditioned, while there are still hospitals in San Juan in desperate need of generators.

019- standing in line

The Puerto Rican people stand in line in sweltering heat for hours just to try and get water, and then they stand in line again to get gas, and then again to get food.   Then the next day, they have to repeat the same thing.  Oh, and as if that were not way more than enough, a large percentage of them have no home or job to even go back to – at least one that wasn’t ripped apart by the hurricane.

Oh yeah.  You deserve tremendous praise for your response, you total jerk.

Donald Trump has never been wanting for anything in his life, except for even a shred of human dignity.  He has no clue what it means to be without power, food, water and fuel for even a minute … much less for ten damn days.

The Mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulin Cruz, has been tirelessly working for the people of her city, and for the people of all of Puerto Rico.  The apparently clueless Puerto Rican governor, Ricardo Rossello, has certainly not been anywhere near as adamant in his response to the … non-response.

So, predictably, what was the response of His Orangeness?  Why to attack Mayor Cruz – what else?

019 - trump tweet about Mayor Cruz

One might only hope that the leaders of Puerto Rico, on behalf of their people, tell the Donald that they want nothing to do with his half-hearted and way belated photo op that is planned for this coming Tuesday.  If only someone would tell him to stick that photo op where the sun don’t shine.

If you are reading this, then more likely than not, you and I are like minded in our opinion of Trump.  The people who could benefit from a reality check would not recognize, much less accept, a Trump reality check if it bit them squarely in the ass.

When the Hell will people wake up and acknowledge the non-stop disgrace that is foisted upon our country every day?

The “base” to which Trump caters ad nauseum, will never admit they have been duped.  However, many of them have not even been duped.  They see Trump exactly for what he is … and to them that is a good thing.

We cannot even count on the Mueller investigation removing Trump from office.  With Republicans in any type of Congressional authority, it is highly doubtful they will act decisively on anything that Mueller recommends.

The vote is the only option.  Democrats are most certainly not blameless in our current circumstance.  Their failure to present a coherent response to the Trump abomination is what in large part allowed this farce to become reality in the first place.

But a Democratic vote is the only thing now that will most assuredly end the Trump phenomenon once and forever.  The Republicans have proven feckless and spineless all in the cause of stealing the Supreme Court nomination of Neal Gorsuch.  Thank Heavens they are so internally divided that they have not yet been able to push through the main elements of their Draconian legislative agenda.

Your vote is our only real option.  Do NOT sit on the sidelines when the next opportunity arises.

019 - a very big ocean

018 – Unbelievable … but then again, so what else is new? (An editorial)

Ahhh, I’m sentimentally reminded of the time during the Cuban Missile Crisis when President John F. Kennedy famously stood before the United Nations and called Nikita Khrushchev  “La Femme Nikita”.

Oh, wait.  That never happened, did it?  I must be thinking of something else … like perhaps earlier today when the criminally pathetic, monumentally narcissistic, Imbecile-in-Chief embarrassed himself and the rest of the United States in front of the United Nations.

Besides, Trump is not literate enough, or intellectually aware enough to be able to use, much less come up with on his own, a mocking epithet like “La Femme Nikita”.  His clever repartee stopped developing during the fifth grade, if not before.  “Lyin’ Ted”, “Little Marco”, “Crooked Hillary” and now “the Rocket Man” clearly demonstrate the intellectual and emotional depth of that moron.

Just so everyone is clear on this.  Our Presidential asshole is blithely goading an equally narcissistic North Korean asshole into doing something that will, in Trump’s mind only, justify the potential extinction of 35 million or more people (including both North and South Korea).  Remember during the campaign when so many warned of the totally frightening proposition of having the nuclear codes in the hands of Trump?  Well, here we are folks, and let no one dare say that they are surprised.

When the time comes, make absolutely no mistake about it.  Trump will gleefully pull the trigger that will extinguish 35 million or more lives because he knows, or at least hopes, that his life and the lives of his family will not be among those 35 million.  He will do so because this is all about Trump, as everything else in his demonically insulated world has always been.  He thinks that this will somehow make people finally realize what an incredibly strong and historical figure he is, and how he was the only one who could have possibly ended the threat of North Korea – regardless of the human cost.

Hell, he will probably expect to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for doing it.

I seriously do not now see how this can be avoided, short of Kim Jong Un acting with some kind of totally uncharacteristic restraint.

I wish more Trump supporters would read this, but I somehow doubt that my political editorials are high on their reading list.  When 35 million or more lives are lost, and the world financial markets collapse, I wonder how they will be feeling then about how their damn 401K’s are doing?

Regardless of how important so many other issues are, whether they be the climate catastrophes – both hurricanes and Earthquakes, the Russia investigations, the rejuvenated Machiavellian attempt by the Republican Congress to yet again repeal (And replace?  Get real!) the Affordable Care Act just so they can claim an imaginary “win” for themselves and for their otherwise totally disloyal President … you name it.

Everything else takes a back seat to the fate of the Korean Peninsula.

017 – Back the F$%# Off, You Creep! (An editorial)

Although I have never had the opportunity to see him perform in person, one of my favorite standup comedians is a guy named Bobby Collins.  He’s very much a New York City kind of guy … from the neighborhood … and his comedy style has always been appealing to me.  One of Bobby’s signature routines is what he calls On the Inside.

On the Inside  goes something like this.  Your spouse reminds you to do something, like to take out the garbage.  You turn to your spouse and say, “HEY.  Wait just a damn minute.  I’ll do it whenever I feel like it.”  … On the Inside.  But on the outside, what you really say to your spouse is something like “Okay, darling.  I’m sorry I forgot.  I’ll do it right away.  Just please don’t get angry with me.”

If there ever was one of those On the Inside  moments, it would have been when The Donald was stalking the stage right behind Hillary during the second debate.  She has said as much in the excerpts from her book that came out this past week.  In retrospect, she has said how really creepy that felt – how it made her skin crawl – but also how conflicted she was as how to best handle it.  But at the time, she decided to take the high road as she had, and as have many other women, when previously confronted with such boorish behavior by men.

Now who knows what the effect might have been if Hillary had indeed confronted him right there during the second debate.  Oh, she would have taken flack from some, I’m sure, for acting like a bitch.  But she was going to take that flack anyway.  I think that had she put him in his place right there, that just might have been enough for a lot of women (and men) to think, “You go girl.  That miserable jerk really deserved to be put in his place, and you just gave him exactly what he deserved.”  Who knows, with an election that had such a razor thin margin, and where turnout did play a factor, that might have energized enough people who otherwise just couldn’t muster enough motivation to go out and vote for Hillary.

017 - Back Off - text

Here is what I might have envisioned Hillary saying at that point in the debate.  The first time he stalks her, she turns right around and says to him …

“What on Earth do you think you’re doing, Donald?  You think you intimidate me by stalking me?  No way, that’s just plain disgusting.  What’s the matter?  You don’t have the stones to just try and grab me by my genitals?” (Editor’s note:  The Access Hollywood tape came out just two days before this debate.)

“Oh, that’s right.  I’m probably not young enough, or pretty enough for you to consider me worthy  of your sexual assault.  Now back the F%$# off, you lousy creep.”

It’s interesting at least to consider what the reactions might have been.

Now frankly, I’m not even so sure that it would have necessarily been a good thing … in the long run … if Hillary had pulled out that election.  As I have said in a previous editorial, we would likely have just been delaying the inevitable.

Had Hillary won, Donald and his sycophants would have just spent the next four years whining about how he was robbed, how the election was fixed, and we would have had to start going through this all over again in just another 2-3 years.

Think about it.  I think it is safe to say that the first black President was not given a fair shake, even with his personal character and dignity, and with his wonderful family, including a First Lady who brought such class and intelligence to that role like almost no one who preceded her.

What would it have been like for Hillary?  We would almost certainly have seen much more of Trey Goudy conducting Congressional hearings than we would have seen of Mitch McConnell.  (OK, maybe seeing less of McConnell would not have been such a bad thing.)  Also, who would we have had as the First Gentleman?  Why who else but good old Bill – loved and respected by all.  What a circus that would have been.  You can almost guarantee that the Donald would have been around in even greater force for the next election.

As bad it has been, and as bad as it is likely yet to be, at least we are getting this over with now.  It’s like needing to have an excruciatingly painful operation.  You don’t want to.  You keep putting it off.  But if you don’t do it, sooner or later you are going to have to do it anyway, and it is likely to be even more painful when you do.

Donald has thoroughly disgraced himself in these past seven months.  That may or may not be enough to prevent him from lasting an entire four years as President.  But I have to believe that it has completely destroyed any possibility that may have even remotely existed that he would ever get re-elected.

So let’s consider him to be that very painful operation that we know we needed to have, even though we dreaded having it.  Let’s just hope that the recovery doesn’t take too long – the sooner the better.