Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The simple trick allowing citizens to bypass gerrymandering

Here is my personal posting of the article that Salon Magazine recently featured: A Modest Proposal to Neutralize Gerrymandering, on how U.S. citizens might, one at a time and each of us, strike a blow against the worst political criminals since the American Civil War, neutralizing (if not ending) a travesty that has long been banned in most civilized nations, called gerrymandering. This also lets me follow up with some addenda remarks.
Neutralize-Gerrymandering---
The death spiral of U.S. political life has yet to see bottom. While most factual indicators suggest optimism, our public addiction to dudgeon and fury intensifies daily. Words like “negotiation,” “deliberation,” and “discourse” sink into quaint anachronism alongside “phlogiston.”
The illness has many causes. Tsunamis of money in politics.  Cable “news” networks push one side, denying loyal viewers any hint of refutation. Glancing at the red-state/blue-state map suggests that “deep culture” is reigniting the American Civil War. These factors aren’t easy to solve.
However, one malignant force could be staunched almost overnight, with a simple trick. It requires no legislation, court action, or leadership from our sclerotic political caste.  Mere citizens – one at a time -- could neutralize gerrymandering.
Illinois_District_4_2004We all know the scam, inflicted on U.S. voters by both parties, often in collusion. Cynical manipulators have made a high art of crafting bizarrely-shaped, convoluted districts for Congress and state legislatures. We’re told it’s meant to advantage the majority party in a state, letting it eke out extra seats by cramming minority party voters into rigged ghettos of Democrats in (say) Texas or Republicans in Illinois. (See illustrated example.)

But that’s not the real purpose, at all!
Proof came in 2010 when California voters rebelled. Via ballot proposition, they handed district-drawing to nonpartisan commissions. California’s Democratic Party begged the mostly-Democratic populace not to, fearing the GOP might benefit. But lo, post- gerrymandering, Democrats surged to win more statehouse seats.
Democratic politicians still fretted, because many of their personal districts were now more evenly balanced. On average, each might see only a 55% or 60% Democratic majority – an advantage, but not safety.
The California experiment –including open primaries and top-two runoffs – was hugely successful. In heavily Democratic districts, the run-off between two Democrats produced a weird epiphany: “Hey, this district consists 1/3 of Republicans who could tip the balance. Let’s reach out to them!” Minority-party voters got leverage. Their calls were answered. No one expected this.
Voter uprisings against gerrymandering have happened in half a dozen blue states, but not once in a red state, like Texas, where Democrats feel herded and disenfranchised, where gerrymandering has its Michaelangelos. Indeed, political handicapper Stuart Rothenberg says 211 of 234 Republican seats in the House are “safe,” leaving only 23 competitive.
In fairness, some Democratic states like Maryland and Illinois have their own gerrymandering daVincis.
Unforeseen Consequences
Primary-electionNow the iron law of unexpected outcomes takes hold, for gerrymandering’s top malignant effect has been radicalization of U.S. politics. Having engineered for themselves safe districts where the minority party has no chance, cynical politicians have rendered each November general election moot, (except for state-wide or national offices). Yet, safety eluded them, as this only shifted tension earlier, to the party primary; Recent Tea Party insurrections show how a district’s most vociferous five percent can use primary challenges to oust established representatives or bully them into cartoonish agendas.
Now consider: Gerrymandering lumps birds-of-a-feather till each district is “owned” by one party or another. Democratic voters in a Republican-owned district - or Republicans in a Democratic-owned district – will never cast a vote for the legislature in the only election that matters: the majority party’s primary.
Unless…
unless you hold your nose and re-register with whatever party owns your district.
This holds true, whether you’re a Democrat in a Republican district, or vice versa.
If your district is gerried to contain mostly Republicans, then it should be represented by a conservative person. But, as someone living in the district, you deserve to have some say in which conservative it will be! A Tea Party radical? Or a genteel negotiator, like Goldwater or Buckley?
Conservative radicals will scream that Democrats who attempt this kind of judo must be aiming to sabotage the Republican primary! But any large numbers who switch will have one goal: to recover a meaningful say in a district that had disenfranchised them. They want to vote for candidates they disagree with less; this is a reasonable criterion.
Does a label change a voter’s principles? Remember Republicans of yore: Abe Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower -- and sign the card! 

Then, next spring, you’ll vote when it matters, in the primary between Republican candidates.
The same advice applies to Republicans in Democratic-owned districts! In fact, this tactic has precedence -- generations of Republicans registered as Democrats in the old-time “solid south.” They can hardly complain now.
Reclaim our sovereignty
Picture the majority party primary in each gerrymandered district becoming the de facto general election, with all voters participating. Screaming talking heads would lose their potency overnight. Representatives could no longer pick which citizens to ignore by their party registration. Moreover, their computerized gerrymandering programs would go haywire! That, alone, will be a form of citizen revenge upon a cynical political caste.

Can’t stomach registering as a (pick your poison) Democrat/Republican? Get over it. Partisan labels made this mess. Grin at your friends’ shocked reactions. Then recruit them, rebelling against a political scam.
Citizen-PowerIf fifty million Americans do this, we’ll show the politicians: “you can’t take us for granted, nor fool all the people, all the time.”

-  Follow-up after the Salon article -
First See  my earlier, more extensive appraisal-in-depth of gerrymandering: American Democracy: More Fragile Than We Think. 
AFTERWORD NUMBER ONE:
Sam Wang in the New York Times Sunday Review used a seat-discrepancy criterion to find which 10 states are the most “out of whack. Arizona, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin were worst, plus Virginia, Ohio, Florida, Illinois and Texas. Of this ten worst gerrymandered states, Arizona was redistricted by an independent commission, with Republicans the beneficiaries of all distortions. Texas was a combination of Republican and federal court efforts, but with a notoriously pro GOP warp. Illinois was controlled by Democrats, who benefited. Republicans designed the other seven maps.
NeutralizeGerrmanderingNine out of ten were home runs for the Republican Party, helping to explain why, despite winning 1.4 million fewer votes for Congress in 2012, the GOP still controls the House of Representatives by a comfortable margin.  As Mr. Wang put it: “Both sides may do it, but one side does it more often.”
An interesting note: Arizona had supposedly joined the ranks of states that eliminated gerrymandering in favor of design by neutral commission, making it the one Red State to do so. Yet its districts wound up so twisted in the GOP’s favor that it became a laughable embarrassment.  One excuse offered, that large Native American reservations had to be given special treatment and that the Hopi and Navajo wanted to be kept separate.  Um, right. How about an alternative hypothesis.  That the "neutral" commission simply isn't.
ADDENDUM NUMBER TWO
After the Supreme Court struck down parts of the Voting Rights Act, certain states are no longer bound by the Act’s requirement that they pass new voting regulations by the federal government. As a result, Republican legislators in these states are moving forward with new voter ID laws.  Attorney General Greg Abbott announced that Texas will proceed with a law requiring photo ID before voting. since it is no longer required to obtain pre-clearance from the Department of Justice.
This is about more than just racism and turning away young people. It gets even better, keeping aware that American women have been swinging ever more strongly toward the Democratic Party Think Progress reports that as of November 5, Texans must show a photo ID with their up-to-date legal name. It sounds like a small detail, but according to the Brennan Center for Justice, only 66% of voting age women have ready access to a photo document that will attest to proof of citizenship. This is largely because young women have not updated their documents with their married names, a circumstance that doesn’t affect male voters in any significant way. Suddenly 34% of women voters are scrambling for an acceptable ID, while 99% of men are home free.
Voter-SuppressionNow let me surprise you! In fact, I would have nothing against gradually rising voter ID requirements, even though almost no Election Day false voter fraud has been reported in 30 years. When you approach it logically, there is no reason why proof of ID should not IN PRINCIPLE be part of the process of exercising a right as valuable as voting.
There is only one test to see if it is a "reform" or if it is blatantly partisan voter suppression:
"Has the state accompanied the new voter ID law with substantial funding to help under-documented but legal US citizens to get the ID they need, and to become registered? Is the state effectively helping people to meet the new burden that it has required?"  

If a state has sincerely done that, then I will admit that the demand for voter ID might be honest and due to the rationalized and declared reasons.
Alas, not one red state that has passed such laws has gone on to allocate a single penny to help poor citizens of the state, or the elderly or the young or women, to comply with onerous new restrictions on their franchise. Let me repeat that. Not one has done so. Not even fig-leaf funding.
In other words, they are exposed as lying-hypocritical, outright-cheating election thieves. And the same goes for anyone who defends this foul crime against democracy.  When you make excuses for cheating, well, we all know what you were like on the playground, as a kid. A cheater and a bully.  Character. It all-too often continues into adulthood, unchanged. Alas.


Addendum #3:  See this variation on my theme, by Morgan Draper Kauffman, whose Interlock Project might also be of interest to you centrist policy wonks out there, sifting to prepare a chart of how our myriad modern issues are tied together in vexing ways.  

David Brin  Website
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51 comments:

sociotard said...

Of this ten worst gerrymandered states, Arizona was redistricted by an independent commission, with Republicans the beneficiaries of all distortions.

1) Arizona is heavily redistricted to appease the Navajo and the Hopi. I would very much like to hear how you would address the concerns of these two First Nations. Not that you have been especially considerate of Tribal Sovereignty in the past, but it should be interesting.

2) Arizona districting did not benefit Republicans. You are wrong. Reading the Sam Wang article:

start with the naïve standard that the party that wins more than half the votes should get at least half the seats.

We go look at Arizona. Republicans got 52% of the votes and 4 seats. Democrats got 44% of the votes and 5 seats. Republicans got more than half of the votes while Democrats got more than half of the seats.

I really fail to see how republicans benefited by Sam Wang's standard. Maybe they got safer seats? 1, 2, and 9 are swing districts, the rest are safe one way or another.

Having 1/3 of the districts competitive seems about on par with California.

David Spiva said...

The original Modest Proposal suggested eating children.

david.j.mercer said...

Having never previously registered as a Democrat OR Republican, I'm now going to hold my nose and register as a Dem before the next major primaries, as I now live in Oregon.

My family has since the 1700's traditionally not joined political parties, being firmly in agreement with George Washington's sentiment about the "common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party." But as you point out, you have little to no influence in you don't register as a member of your District's gerrymandered Masters.

David Brin said...

Note that my suggestion is moot in many states. In Washington and California, your registration of party barely matters anymore as we have open primaries and top-two runoffs. In WA you don't even name a party.

That these voter revolts have happened in (some not all) blue states but no red states is a reflection of personality and character. But it also offers hope. If just a few more blue electorates do this, then it will stop being in Demo politicians' interests to defend gerrymandering and it will become an issue BETWEEN the parties, and a winning issue for election campaigns.

kumoyuki said...

You can get anything you want, at Alice's Restaurant...

You've created a new movement!

Keith Halperin said...

Hmmm. I wonder: if anti-gerrymandering efforts begin to take off, will there be increasing pressure to maintain the status quo through the Voter ID efforts mentioned? ISTM that most of theses efforts to restrict and minimize the vote may be able to slow (but not stop)the effects of the demographic shift toward the increase in likely-Democratic voters.

Anonymous said...

During the Caucus phase of the "Texas Two-step" primary of 2008, I attended the Democrats' Caucus in Collin County, TX (where I normally vote in the Republican primary, as that IS the election).

I struck up conversations with random participants and discovered that about half of them were Republicans who were there to try to either help or hinder one of the candidates for President. About half of these were "anybody but Clinton" and the rest were "anybody but Obama".

Tacitus2 said...

Open primaries in Wisconsin....vote for whomever you choose.

Don't underestimate the degree of resistance to voter ID laws not (just) from lack of funding but from lack of cooperation on the part of public employees...who vote heavily Democratic at least in my neck of the woods. Lots of passive resistance imho. A speedy and streamlined system to issue the required IDs would not be in the interests of said functionaries. Nor, if the DMV is a template, would it be in their usual skill set.

Tacitus
ps like the captcha on a vote related issue "peekmark 139a"!

LarryHart said...

Tacitus2,

It's late and I'm tired and maybe not thinking straight, so I acknowledge that I may be misinterpreting, but it seems to me that you're asserting that the reason Democrats oppose voter-id laws is because they've got union jobs administering the polling places.

Isn't it as obvious to all as it is to me that the way Republicans themselves talk about voter-id indicates that they are designed to suppress Democratic turnout? And maybe that is why Democrats generally oppose such laws?

I know that in Texas, a firearms-ownership card is considered a valid id, whereas a student id is not. Can you cite a single example of an equal/opposite restriction designed to suppress Republican votes in blue states with Democratic governors, say Illinois or California?

CP said...

Mandating a photo ID requirement for voting is clearly a "solution in search of a problem" considering the virtual nonexistence of in-person voter fraud. However, requiring a photo ID for voting is unlikely to be successfully challenged--adding a requirement that is already used for boarding a plane or using a credit card just seems too reasonable. However, the lack of monetary and other support to help voters obtain a valid ID seems like a more fertile target. Couldn't it be argued that it constitutes a de facto poll tax and challenged on 14th and 24th amendment grounds? If courts required states to notify all eligible voters of the requirements and reimburse them for costs incurred in meeting them, it would go a long way toward mitigating the obviously intended consequences.

locumranch said...

As if two wrongs make a right, sabotaging the primary election of the political opposition fails to address the corrupting influence of gerrymandering and attacks the very foundation of our democratic system.

But, for the sake of argument, let's say that some liberals infiltrate the conservative ranks & select the most unelectable conservative party candidate imaginable, all in order to discredit the opposition & ensure a liberal political victory. What's to stop the conservatives from pulling the same gag, leaving the voting citizen with either a choice of losers or no real choice at all, which some say is 'fait accompli' (a done deal) already?

Gerrymandering is not the real issue. It is merely a symptom visible. The real issue here is the failure of US representative government, brought about by the creation of a professional political class (a ruling caste), oligarchic in nature, self-selected on the basis of a legal education, dedicated to reelection & self-perpetuation, so much so that that our designated representatives are no longer 'representative' of the electorate.

We see & recreate this same pattern, time & again, and we are all culturally complicit: We desire expertise so we train experts; we allow these experts to reproduce & self-perpetuate; we allow these experts to become the sole arbiters as to what constitutes 'expertise'; we (then) cede personal authority to those with expertise; and the pattern becomes culturally entrenched & self-perpetuating.

The FACT that our elected representatives are non-representative should come as no surprise to anyone. After all, we have successfully replaced our citizen military with professional soldiery (a military caste) that represents less than 1% of citizenry. We have replaced our citizen educators with professional educators who are not directly answerable to the needs of society; we have entrusted our financial fortunes to an unregulated assortment of professional bankers, traders & privateers; and we have replaced our citizen intellectuals with a non-reproachable & unquestionable academic caste.

Providing proof positive that Greatest 'jack-of-all-trades' Generation is well & truly dead...

Providing proof positive that our (subsequent) generation is well & truly screwed ...



Best.

Doug S. said...

There's only one problem with the "vote in the primary" plan: Candidates in primaries often run unopposed. What do you do then?

Kevin Doyle said...

Colorado also outlawed gerrymandering before the last census (2010) and the new and fairly drawn districts (non-partisan commission created) were in place for the 2012 election. There may have been many factors involved but eliminating gerrymandering certainly helped in the state races as both the Colorado House and Senate went Democrat. The state went from reliably red to purple-trending-blue.

Another benefit is how the national tea party republican congressmen have toned down their rhetoric (if not altered their votes). Two barely squeeked by in the 2012 election where before their elections were shoe-ins. Now they worry about the primary in a far more moderate atmosphere.

Eliminating gerrymandering should be a no-brainer, no matter the party that benefits. I'm shocked that it isn't part of the Voting Rights Act, even as picked apart as that law has become.

Cesar A. Santos said...

I live in Brazil.

Here there's a single, separated document with photo that allows you to vote.

If the law changes you go to the legal branch that takes care of the electoral process and they'll give you an updated one for free. That's once a decade if so.

There's a lot to say about Brazil's bureaucracy, forced voting for everyone older than 18 and other problems but at least it does not have this mess of an electoral system the US has.

It's unbelievable how interested parties can simple invent some stupid law to try to stop entire groups from voting.

SteveO said...


locumranch, I believe you missed the point. You don't register with the party in control to be a spoiler, you register to pick the best that party has to offer.

This proposal attempts to mitigate the fact that mainly party extremists participate in the primary process, leading to extremist candidates in the general election. These individuals only need to appeal to a vocal minority to get the nod the next primary, and general election voters who stick with their party affiliation vote for an extremist since that is all they have to choose from.

This in turn leads to unelectable candidates for national offices. In order to get the nod, they place themselves so firmly out of the mainstream they might even lose in a district that has been Gerrymandered for them.

Instead, by registering for the party that has nominal majority, you would have a voice in who the person presented during the general election might be, and the smart way to do that is to advocate for, and vote for, reasonable folks who would do a good job, as opposed to folks who have no reason to appeal to anyone but the fringiest of the fringe of their party.

That said, I give it a low probability of success since I think it underestimates the atavistic attraction of team affiliation, but that is no reason not to try and is in fact why I changed my affiliation when Dr. Brin proposed it some years ago.

David Brin said...

SteveO, if only this were true: "This in turn leads to unelectable candidates for national offices. In order to get the nod, they place themselves so firmly out of the mainstream they might even lose in a district that has been Gerrymandered for them."

Oh sure, we can hope that it proves true in a few dozen cases in 2014.

But in hundreds and hundreds of cases the effect is that gerrymandering works and the flaming screeching harpy enters public office.

Gator said...

sociotard,
the redistricting in AZ left four districts safely republican and only two safely democrat (>5% margin.) Democrats won an additional three seats, but by slim margins. These could go either way.

I dunno what distortions might have happened during redistricting... but the election could very easily have gone at least 6-3 for repubs.

SteveO said...

Dr. Brin, no argument. I was trying to frame why crossing party lines could be helpful to that party, and not necessarily a spoiler as locumranch interpreted it.

Clearly Gerrymandering is part of the extremism we see nationally.

Tacitus2 said...

LarryHart
Sorry for the slow reply, very hard day. You are a gentleman and I do try to answer whenever possible.

I seem to recall reading about an analysis of the last Presidential election that showed some very, very blue precincts in IL that voted 100% Democratic. Voters who showed up and asked for a Republican ballot got blank stares. Since the electoral votes were really not in play nobody looked to hard at this, but a few curmudeons in the bluest or reddest of districts should be expected to break from the herd!

http://www.nbcchicago.com/blogs/ward-room/In-37-Chicago-Precincts-Romney-Received-No-Votes-179135891.html

I am btw in favor of banning the gerrymander. No congressional district should be more than 1 standard deviation off in its NS or EW dimensions as compared to its state. Big square states have big square districts with equal populations. Of necessity long squiggly states will have other shapes.

Tacitus

sociotard said...

The Senate just used the nuclear option: All presidential appointments will now be free from filibuster.

I hope that they will revisit this and make it a bit less drastic. Perhaps force an actual filibuster to block a nomination or something. We all recall the Bush II appointments that Dems blocked because they were poor choices. Remember this classic essay about Majority rule vs. Minority Veto?

locumranch said...

Replete with Fear & Loathing in Winnemucca, I heard almost the same argument from Central Nevada Red Staters recently who accused the DEM party of engineering the primary election of a GOP 'nutjob' (their word) candidate Sharron Angle, all in order to destroy the GOP from within & ensure the reelection the much loathed DEM Harry Reid.

So, even though SteveO says he switched political party affiliations a few years ago so he could have a 'positive' effect on the selection of the opposition candidate, he is fooling only himself. He is just another spoiler. He neglects to mention that he has forfeited his right to select the best party candidate of his prior affiliation, meaning that he can still vote his conscience only if he is willing to vote for a poor candidate not of his own choosing.

Sounds like a recipe for non-representative political representation to me, and the plot sickens.


Best.

David Brin said...

The decision to quash the tradition of the filibuster (for presidential appointments) was long overdue… and kind of sad. It did not have to come to this. As shown in this article, 90% of the filibusters in the entire history of the United States were pulled against President Obama, as part of the vow first made by Speaker DeLay, that the New Republicans would never, ever cooperate with a democratic president, on any issue. Ever.

"Republicans take a lot of the blame here. They've used the filibuster more aggressively than Democrats, by a wide margin. They've also been less willing to cooperate with Democrats on general legislative efforts, making the presence of the filibuster more costly to the Democratic Party. And they've been so unwilling to work with Democrats this year that they essentially removed all reason for Democrats to stay their hand."

The Dems were reluctant! They knew they would face a Republican president some time and wanted to keep the filibusters for emergencies. But it was no longer a recourse for urgency, but the normal state of affairs. A schoolyard tantrum-technique. And its death from spectacular over-use was overdue.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/11/21/9-reasons-the-filibuster-change-is-a-huge-deal/

Tony Fisk said...

Fillibusted!

Meanwhile, our newly elected (Aus) govt gagged debate on the carbon tax repeal bill, allowed no discussion of changes (ie replace with emissions trading) and sledged it through (also raising questions about the impartiality of the House Speaker).

Now, given the numbers, I suppose this is only what was going to happen anyway, but it does smack of desperation on the part of Abbott. What's the rush? It won't be passed by the senate until July, at least.

Another bizarre move is to threaten a govt shutdown in December if a doubling of the lending limit isn't passed. The ALP is dubious, given that the LNP campaigned on a platform of economic spendthriftiness. They've offered an interim increase while the LNP shows why the bigger increase is necessary. but, no.. they're obstructionists!

I suspect the LNP are setting themselves up to call a double dissolution and run it on the ALP's tea party like intransigence on blocking supply.

Assuming they gain control of both houses, they can then spin on a dime and pass that *other* blocked bill, claiming that that's what it was all about afterward. (The point being that it is doubtful they'd win if they ran on just repealing the tax: they didn't run very hard with it at the last election, and the popular support for carbon pricing is substantial)

It has the standard 'projection' feel to it. It's a trap! We've got to warn Bill (Shorten)! And FAST!!

...

LarryHart said...

locumranch:

As if two wrongs make a right, sabotaging the primary election of the political opposition ...

But, for the sake of argument, let's say that some liberals infiltrate the conservative ranks & select the most unelectable conservative party candidate imaginable, all in order to discredit the opposition & ensure a liberal political victory


I think you're totally missing Dr Brin's point, which is not to sabotage the other party, but to treat their primary as the defacto general election. If whoever wins the Republican primary is going to win the election (thanks to gerrymandering), then everyone should vote in the Republican primary. As if it were the general election.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

The Dems were reluctant! They knew they would face a Republican president some time and wanted to keep the filibusters for emergencies. But it was no longer a recourse for urgency, but the normal state of affairs. A schoolyard tantrum-technique. And its death from spectacular over-use was overdue.


The thing is, there's no point for Democrats to hold onto the tactic for use against a Republican majority, because you just KNOW that the Republicans themselves would blow up the filibuster the next time it was used against them.

Tacitus:

I seem to recall reading about an analysis of the last Presidential election that showed some very, very blue precincts in IL that voted 100% Democratic. Voters who showed up and asked for a Republican ballot got blank stares.


You seem to be describing a primary. It sounds weird, sure, but at all what I was asking about. In a general election, you don't ask for a Republican ballot, you just mark an X next to "Willard (Mitt) Romney" instead of "Barack Hussein Obama".

What I asked was whether there is any equivalent in Illinois or California or any other heavily-blue state to the Republican tactic of suppressing likely-Democratic voters. And while I'll let you answer for yourself, my guess is that there is not. Democrats gain advantage when it's easier for people (in general) to vote, where Republicans gain advantage when it's harder for people to vote. And while I grant each side its wishes, I do not grant that each side has an equal right to the means to their respective ends. Voter suppression is bad, full stop. One cannot claim to be a "democracy" or even a "republic" while intentionally making it difficult for citizens to vote. If by saying that I sound partisan, it's only that well known liberal bias of reality at work.

LarryHart said...

above:
It sounds weird, sure, but NOT at all what I was asking about

LarryHart said...

From the Washington Post article:

With the Senate majority very much up for grabs in midterm elections next year, Democrats placed a big bet on maintaining control of the chamber. GOP leaders have suggested that, if given the Senate majority back, they might further strip filibuster rules so they could dismantle Obama’s landmark domestic achievement, the Affordable Care Act, on a simple majority vote.

In his remarks, McConnell finally turned to Democrats and said that a majority of them had never served in the minority and then lectured the longtime members who knew what it was like to be on the other side.


Again, the argument against the move seems to be "Just wait until YOU'RE the minority again, and you'll wish the filibuster was still in place." As if the Republicans would think twice about abolishing it themselves at the first opportunity. In fact, what they seem to be threatening is "Well, when we're back in power, then WE'LL blow it up TOO!"

"But Larry", I hear Tacitus and others say, "What about all those decades when the Republicans DID allow Democrats to filibuster?" Well, I say, that was back when they still had some respect for the institution and protocol. Today's Republicans are about nothing BUT political considerations. The GOP who filibusters 480 times (or whatever god-awful number it really is) is not the GOP of the Nixon or Reagan years.

Robert said...

Again, I say there is a simple solution to disrupt gerrymandering and in doing so reestablish some balance in both Blue and Red states: increase the number of Representatives by at least 100 so that Representatives are based on population instead of percentages of populations.

These Representatives will work remotely using secured computer systems that lack any connectivity outside the direct House Chamber/State Office building. Without any USB ports or the like, the computers can't be infested with Malware by idiots who don't understand basic system security.

Further, having an extra 100 (or 200! However many really you're willing to pay for!) Representatives will force Lobbyist groups to increase their money and expand their efforts so they're in all 50 states. It will weaken Lobbying efforts and thus increase the power of the people.

And it disrupts gerrymandering because the redrawing of districts in at least 46 U.S. States will result in "safe" districts being cut into smaller units which may very well not be as safe.

Rob H.

matthew said...

The Dems aren't giving up much with the new filibuster rules - they never used the rules in the way that the Repubs have. If you give away a weapon that you do not wish to use (often) for another benefit, what have you lost?

And what did the Dems gain? They gained control of the DC Circuit Court of Appeals. The second highest court in the land. The court that hears IRS cases. EPA cases. Most importantly, DoJ cases. The DC Circuit will be in a position to severely hamper voter suppression tactics. And *that* is what this fight was all about.

Obama needed to put his nominees into the DC Circuit before the 2014 elections could change the balance of power in the Senate. Once the DC Circuit has a centrist bent, all those pesky ways that the Repubs are staying in power when in the minority get much, much harder to carry out. This filibuster change will not change the makeup of the 2014 Congress much. But the 2016 Congress will be radically altered because of the rule change.

Tacitus2 said...

Larry

Regards IL I think I was mixing a couple of stories. True voter suppression by Democrats? I suppose the Deep South long ago. R used to be the party of Lincoln and various poll taxes and such presumably the work of D, but that was long ago and the world has changed.

You of course are not putting words in my mouth regards the filibuster. Time will tell what this change will mean for good or ill.

Tacitus

LarryHart said...

Tacitus,

Yes, all freely conceded that the Democrats were once the party of the Confederacy and its oligarchs. Had I been an Illinoisan in 1860, I would have voted for the Republican candidate.

A few years ago, I was a regular on another internet group that discussed comics. Like this group, we prided ourselves on a high level of discourse and tolerance for differing points of view. The group was adamantly opposed to banning. Well, for whatever reason, one guy started almost-literally begging to BE banned from the list. He spammed the list with nonsensical comments until it was almost un-readable. The moderators still refused to ban him until he started sending actual death threats to members' private e-mail. Finally, RELUCTANTLY, the moderators (for the first time) put in the infrastructure to actually ban a member, just so that they could do it for this one guy.

No one was happy about it, but we all understood the necessity. I was one of the last holdouts arguing against banning in principle, but in the end, I saw no other choice, and I agreed with the moderators' final action.

Today, I know how Harry Reid feels.

LarryHart said...

matthew:

The Dems aren't giving up much with the new filibuster rules - they never used the rules in the way that the Repubs have. If you give away a weapon that you do not wish to use (often) for another benefit, what have you lost?


The "talking" filibuster as originally practiced is a delaying tactic while one presuably gathers support for the minority position. It is not supposed to work as a de-facto veto. If the Democrats gave up their right to the delaying tactic, it's only because it had morphed into something evil instead.


And what did the Dems gain? They gained control of the DC Circuit Court of Appeals. The second highest court in the land. The court that hears IRS cases. EPA cases. Most importantly, DoJ cases. The DC Circuit will be in a position to severely hamper voter suppression tactics. And *that* is what this fight was all about.


Republicans have been stacking the federal courts for decades with conservatives, all perfectly legally, btw. Now that a Democrat is presdient, they can't stomach him getting his own (perfectly legal) turn? Suddenly it's an outrage that only Republican filibusters stand in the way of? They're whining like babies over what? "WE'RE the only ones who get to stack the court?"

Tacitus2 said...

But briefly on the "long term" regards ending the filibuster option.

This speaks to the balance of power between the three branches of government. If, and some people feel this to be so, the US is now too big and complex for the legislative branch to write effective laws, then the other two branches will be pressed to take up some of those functions. Executive orders. Selective enforcement of laws. Court rulings to effectively enact laws and court injunctions to block them.

This is an unsettling prospect on the face of it. And if you further consider the realities of it it gets worse.

The legal profession leans heavily towards the Democrats. The civil service generally and government workers specifically do likewise. These entities are entirely justified in adopting whatever views they hold to be dear, but it makes the dwindling of the legislative branch a matter of concern.

We now have a population that trends towards centerist/conservative views and regards Congress with contempt. We may end up with a Congress that becomes irrelevant and a government by apparatchik. It is hard to vote out an Assistant Under Secretary. Or a Federal Judge.

In this light the various kerfuffles that Progressives dismiss as non-scandals (IRS for instance) should chill to the bone anyone who loves freedom more than any specific party.

Or maybe not. Punditry is not a particularly useful occupation. We all worry about our children's futures but our worries have different flavors.

Tacitus

matthew said...

Tacitus, a majority of Americans self-identify as conservative. When asked their opinions on specific issues and aggregated Americans are overwhelmingly liberal. Conservatism exists as a brand. As an actual set of principles for governing, not so much. Polling shows a majority of those same self-identified conservatives support single payer healthcare, mandatory background checks for gun buyers, increased taxes on the wealthy, and sensible steps to fight climate change. The population regards Congress with contempt because they disagree with them, yet cannot vote the obstructionists out of office.

Paul451 said...

Tacitus,
Re: Banning Gerrymandering via cartographic rules.

I'm not sure that will work. At home, the electoral commission redistricts after every election based on maths, not shapes. The rule is that if the next election produced the same exact vote at each ballot place, the results after redistricting should match the overall state result. So if Party A gets 49% of the state vote but wins half-plus-one districts, then the new districts are created so that in theory Party B would win half plus one one seats if the next election had exactly the same vote. The result is that at least one district become hostile to the sitting Party A member and must be genuinely won in the next election. That way, any changes in the next election should be due to actual demographic and voting intention changes, not boundaries.

Matthew,
"Polling shows a majority of those same self-identified conservatives support single payer healthcare, mandatory background checks for gun buyers, increased taxes on the wealthy, and sensible steps to fight climate change."

Well, that seems pretty conservative to me.

Paul451 said...

SteveO said...
"You don't register with the party in control to be a spoiler, you register to pick the best that party has to offer."

However, it can serve both goals. If you select a moderate, you may suppress the deep (and crazy) base. Reducing voter turn-out in the major, giving the your preferred side a fighting chance. Worse case, you add a moderate voice to your enemy's congressional ranks.

The worst possible "spoiler" tactic is to vote for the most insane other-party candidate, believing them to be unelectable. If you fail, you get more nutters elected.

Locumranch,
The anti-gerrymandering tactic is intended for districts which are... wait for it... gerrymandered. Therefore SteveO's preferred candidate of his preferred party has no chance of being elected anyway. Failing to vote in the minority party's primary has as much effect on the general election as would failing to vote on American Idol.

Caesar A Santos,
Re: Brazil and compulsory voting.

The US could also try an anti-poll tax. Pay a modest fee to be permitted not to vote.

Paul451 said...

In a previous thread, Rob H asked for
" a new Lunar Program building a base on the Moon and a permanent scientific settlement on the edge of the Moon so we can send people and rovers (and a radio telescope) into the Far Side...) and make people PROUD to be Americans and proud to be part of this united nation."

I'd suggest a different tack. According to online inflation calculators, Apollo/Gemini cost the equivalent of $230 billion in inflation corrected modern dollars, and at the time it consumed up to 4% of the US budget. 2019 happens the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing. And today, so-called "New Space" seems to be delivering the most bang for the NASA buck compared to any other NASA funding model, and the most interest in space from the public and media.

So, putting all those things together...

Have Obama call for a National Prize of $2.3 billion for the first private US company which... "before this decade is out, succeeds in landing a person on the moon and returning them safely to Earth". An actual moon landing, 50 years after Apollo 11 and reproduced by a private company for just 1% of the original's budget. And giving them just 6 years makes it hard. A challenge worthy of a great nation. But I believe it's possible. And energising. And dangerous, therefore interesting.

[For comparison, NASA is spending about $2.7b/yr developing SLS and Orion. So far over $10b with very little to show for it.]

Tacitus2 said...

Paul 451.

Point taken. Counter point. What we are doing now really does not work in most cases either.

Matthew
Polling is far from science. So much is in the details and at best it can give surface info. I for instance am a conservative in almost all respects. I think the only sane healthcare system is a basic single payer system that is intelligently run. You want frills (Harley Street to my Brit friends) buy a supplement. This concept breaks up on the rocks of "intelligently run". Other examples could be given but I strongly suspect that in a focused format, say a one hour interview, most Americans would express views that would be considered center/conservative. Why not? Faults and all this is the greatest country on earth. We as a society have a great thing going. Don't mess it up unless you know exactly what you are doing.

(cough, Obamacare).

Sorry for that particle of snark that escaped my civility shield.

Tacitus

locumranch said...

Many of the above comments show a poor grasp of the concept of 'gerrymandering' (aka 'political redistricting') because citizens, regardless of their political affiliation, cannot even cast a primary vote for a district candidate unless they actually reside in the gerrymandered district in question.

Of course, it could invalidate future attempts to gerrymander by party affiliation. We could then become a non-transparent nation of non-aligned political liars, who say one thing but vote another, all in effort to become politically fair & balanced.

We could then spread political misinformation about our neighbors, turning one against the other by 'outing' them as being LGBT sympathizers, Pro-Life Communists or some such rot, until the very fabric of organized society breaks down into political & culture anarchy, allowing us to reap the wages of Cain.

Sounds good.

Death to Gerrymandering !!


Best.

Tim H. said...

Tacitus, snark's fun, if not overdone. I was able to vote for John McCain in the 2000 primary in Missouri without any problem (shrub seemed much too risky for my taste.) don't know if such a thing's as easily doable these days. Would like to see a Presidential election where the choices weren't conservative and even more conservative (I voted Kucinich in the '08 primary.).

David Brin said...

Tacitus, it's always good when you rejoin us.

True, by European standards Obama is a center right politician and the vast majority of "liberals" in America are pro-market and pro-competition. They work harder than Europeans and believe in lots of individual responsibility and take few vacation days. Which is one more reason that Sean Hannity is just about the most evil man in the country, for nightly calling such people "socialists and lefty flakes."

But those are not the fault lines at issue here. By the hoary, lobotomizing "left-right axis" Americans may be slightly right of center - on average.

But by the Blue vs Red axis, the future vs past axis, the sane vs stark-jibbering-loony axis… by all of those axes there is no question that a majority of Americans want the cult of Rupert and his Sa'udi co-owners to go to hell.

You claim that lawyers and civil servants lean blue. Of course they do! Name one profession of skill and knowledge (including your own) that doesn't! Thirty years ago, maybe 40% of scientists and 60% of medical doctors called themselves Republican. Now it's maybe 5% and 20% each. The smarty -pants types are voting with their feet, as Fox assails every non-oligarch elite.

You citation of the IRS "scandal" -- using some trigger words to commence entirely legal vetting processes -- is justified outrage at a minor power abuse that was caught and the idiots fired. To compare that to -- say -- flying twelve BILLION dollars in raw cash into Baghdad, handing it over to Bush family contractors -- and never seeing a dime of it, ever again? Disproportionate is not a useful word here. we need another.

===
Paul451 I like your return to the moon challenge! But it should be ENTIRELY done privately. No govt help before the prize. I don't want NASA's slender budget impinged by going back to that sterile, useless rock.

===
PS… Tacitus you are a gentleman and need apologize to no one. Hang around!

Tacitus2 said...

David

I find myself with a little more time just now, so hang around I shall.

I think we should just quit talking about Republican and Democrat labels. I think conservative and progressive are more apt and useful. Glad you concur with my general statement that center-right applies to America on average. I suppose in the UK it is centre-right.

Progress versus...what? Nobody but strawmen is proposing a return to some bygone era. It is a question of headlong progress versus slower, evolutionary change. The potential catastrophe of Obamacare may in the long run cost as much as W's Iraqi adventures. (Or not, just musing here.) It apparently looks to a steady majority of Americans as if it was an ill considered, ill planned, poorly executed endevour. I will not address the issue of whether it is a well intended mess or something else.

Again, stop doing five minute surveys. Ask deeper questions. Your oft quoted factoids on party affiliation may well be superficial fluff. (Or not I suppose, who knows?)

Perhaps an example. I am typing on the fly and so may tick people off by this.

Let's say that Army officers are 90% in favor of affirmative action. Fair enough, I think you could get a similar result on a quickie survey generally.

Now, ask if they would be in favor of a member of an under represented class with equal qualifications should be promoted over them.

Then ask if a less qualified officer (test scores, seniority, participation in various combat schools) should be promoted over them and asked to lead them into battle.

And would they feel the same way if it were their son or daughter wearing the PFC stripe?

I am not casting any aspersions or indicating how I, you, or they would answer these questions. I am simply making my point that the world is a complicated, complicated place. Chucking out dusty factoids is more what I expect of Fox News.

Hey, lets lighten up. A link to the future of tech ed...

http://www.wqow.com/story/23989417/2013/11/16/robots-battle-it-out-at-area-school

Tacitus

David Brin said...

TAcitus, alas, your recommendation that we drop labels is not useful when labels are ALL that Fox and its wholly-owned party will talk about. Labels and anecdotes and NEVER problem-solving, bipartisan negotiation. When Sean Hannity is watched as little (by noding dittoheads talked into rage) as the ranters at MSNBC are watched, then I will know that Civil War is over and we can talk turkey.

But Fox is hugely profitable because it has close to a hundred million nodding enraged, driven-loony viewers. And MSNBC teeters on bankruptcy because liberals don't like Nuremberg Rallies.

Your questions about affirmative action are valid… and left over from the 1980s, back when forced bussing and REAL racial selection bias were very very legitimate conservative complaints. Indeed, the bussing thing was so starkly insane that I said so in the then existing equivalent of a blog! (Saying so to leftists, face to face.) I have NEVER said insanity is a monopoly of the right.

But at THIS moment in time, there is no comparison. Liberals are pragmatic, calm, willing to negotiate. God help us if they radicalize to match the insanity in Red America!

Oh, and that could happen, if wealth disparities get worse and torment the middle class.

Tacitus2 said...

"Liberals are pragmatic, calm, willing to negotiate."

Dude, you do realize you used five ALL CAPS and one semi Godwin in that response?


Time to sleep now, night shift a'coming.

Tacitus

SteveO said...

Not sure why locumranch is having a hard time understanding, but maybe some specifics will help.

I am centrist by nature, I used to moslty vote Republican but the problem is that the party left me behind during its rush off the cliff to the right over there.

Then my district elected Betsy Markey, who held some plain loathsome views and I wondered what I could have done to be more effective at preventing her election. (I met her once too, and let us say came away with a consistent impression of her.)

Anyway, it was around that time I ran across Dr. Brin's idea of joining the dominant party in order to have a voice in the primary, aka in my district, the "real" election. My district hadn't elected a blue for as long as I knew about.

I didn't do it to be a spoiler, but to try to inject some rationality back into the party and end up with more centrist candidates.

Pretty soon after that, my district has turned deep purple, with tax measures passing and failing, politicians of all parties at all levels getting elected. So now politicians know they have to appeal to a broad and diverse base, and we have had some really good ones recently too. And a bad one (our mayor) who lost because he had eliminated all civility in the City Council. He tried to run again this season, but lost again, even though he had some big outside money and a new set of TEA party talking points. Some of the more conservative council members did win.

I doubt I had much if any role in all that, but it is an instructive anecdote I think. Now I keep my affiliation so that I get the Republican mailings.

Alas, they don't seem to be getting any saner nationally. We have some good ones locally though.

Duncan Cairncross said...

SteveO said

Alas, they don't seem to be getting any saner nationally. We have some good ones locally though.

This is one of the things I have most difficulty with - how can the "good ones locally" continue to operate under the banner of the loonies Nationally?????

I suspect anybody who is capable of that level of doublethink should NOT be elected to any public office

LarryHart said...

Tacitus,

I know you have a personal thing about all-caps, and I have in fact checked myself from using them many times in responses to you. But understand, most people who type a single word of a sentence in all caps (as opposed to whole sentences or paragraphs) are simply indicating emphasis, which often is necessary to understand the sense of the sentence.

It's not meant as an insult.

LarryHart said...

Tacitus and Dr Brin seem to agree that the IRS "scandal" really is a scandal. I'm not so sure.

From what I understand came out months later, Congressman Issa's committee went to the IRS and subpeonaed documents about their vetting of whehter groups are political or not (relevant to tax-exempt status) but specifically asked ONLY (that's emphasis, not shouting) for such documentation about the Tea Party. No surprise then that that particular batch of evidence made it appear that the IRS was focusing on one particular group.

It turned out later that the IRS was really doing its job--weeding out political groups from those eligible for tax-exemption. Greenpeace was targeted just as the Tea Party was.

The elephant in the room is that the Tea Party IS (emphasis again) a political group? What is scandalous about the IRS identifying them as such. I'm slowly getting the idea, whether it's this IRS "scandal" or charges of "judicial activism" or "legislative overreach", that the Republican complaint amounts to "WE'RE the real Americans and OUR values are the true American values, so extremism in defense of OUR side is justified, but when THEY do it, it's illegal/treasonous/reprehensible, a threat to the nation, and must be stopped at all costs."

If I was still on a comics-specific list, I could be sure I'd be understood by quoting Adam Warlock saying to the his enemy, "I reject your truth, Magus!"

LarryHart said...

Tacitus2,

I just read through your rant about progressives about to take over all of society by judicial fiat, executive orders, and functioning as civil servants, and I'm getting worried about you.

Really, I used to have a friend on the old comics-related list I talk about (and not just an "internet friend", we met in person at conventions) who was as conservative as they come, but we could have intelligent conversations and debates...until November 5, 2008. Somehow, Obama's election unhinged him. He started repeating FOX talking points as settled fact...all the things this president-elect was going to do to destroy America. I tried to say "Let's see what actually happens when he's president--it can't possibly be as bad as you are afraid of," but he was having none of it. I couldn't debate rationally with the guy any more, and when he accused me of being a danger to my child because of my political beliefs, I stopped trying.

I'm hearing echoes of the beginning stages of that time in your speculations on what is coming next. There's no harm (and great good actually) in letting the imagination come up with thought experiments--I do it all the time--but for gosh sakes if the castles you build in the clouds are that scary, don't move into them.

LarryHart said...

Tacitus2:


If, and some people feel this to be so, the US is now too big and complex for the legislative branch to write effective laws, then the other two branches will be pressed to take up some of those functions. Executive orders. Selective enforcement of laws. Court rulings to effectively enact laws and court injunctions to block them.


The removal of the filibuster will make it easier for the legislature to function, not harder. And even if your concerns are correct, aren't executive orders to get around restrictions on the executive (well, signing statements anyway) more of a Republican thing? These days, even judicial activism is no longer specifically the realm of the Dems. So if you're worried about those things on purely partisan grounds, I'd say don't worry, your team is winning.

If you're worrying about them on non-partisan principle, then just as I told my old friend, it might not be nearly as bad as your imagination is running away with. Meannwhile, where were you during the Bush administration when the exectutive really WAS flaunting the law? I wanted Presient Obama to sign the law de-funding Obamacare to raise the debt ceiling and then issue a signing statement saying "I'm not considering myself bound by that de-funding part," the way W used to, but the difference is Obama doesn't actually do stuff like that.


This is an unsettling prospect on the face of it. And if you further consider the realities of it it gets worse.

The legal profession leans heavily towards the Democrats. The civil service generally and government workers specifically do likewise. These entities are entirely justified in adopting whatever views they hold to be dear, but it makes the dwindling of the legislative branch a matter of concern.


Again, I see more executive and judicial power-grabbing on the right than on the left.


We now have a population that trends towards centerist/conservative views and regards Congress with contempt.


So doesn't that tell you something? Or are you buying into the meme I've heard for 30 years now, that Republicans lose elections because they're not pure enough in their right-wingedness?


We may end up with a Congress that becomes irrelevant and a government by apparatchik. It is hard to vote out an Assistant Under Secretary. Or a Federal Judge.


I can't believe you're mentioning federal judges in this context. Conservatives have stacked the federal courts for decades now.


In this light the various kerfuffles that Progressives dismiss as non-scandals (IRS for instance) should chill to the bone anyone who loves freedom more than any specific party.


I already explained why I don't consider the IRS "scandal" a real one in a separate post.

Anyone who loves freedom has to mean more than "the freedom to willingly enslave yourself to a corporation in exchange for the necessities of life." I saw a bit further down that you'd favor a single-payer health system (so would I). So what are you blaming Obamacare for? Not being progressive ENOUGH?

David Sugar said...

Even without gerrymandering, the very concept of first past the post voting assures that the strongest minority, however defined, will have a political monopoly. That there was separation of powers at one time respected, and that the different branches of government happen to monopolize separately on different schedules tended to give some balance.

Clearly throughout the federalist papers, they were afraid of the kind of factionalism and indeciveness that they felt doomed the Roman republic, but such political monopolization can already be extremely disenfranchising, even before we get to preset circumstances.

In many countries a political party or viewpoint that polls 10-20% of the electorate would likely end up with at least some representation in a parliament. Perhaps even holding at least a minor cabinet post/ministry. In the US it is very possible to do so and yet have no representation whatsoever in the government. This pretty much makes it impossible for even strong political movements to emerge over time into a majority party.

The consequence of gerrymandering simply moves this problem further down the chain, where the strongest single faction in both the now stagnant two parties can monopolize each. Too often "strongest" faction is synonymous with best financed, especially at the primary level, and the end result is truly dollar democracy.