Two Ways of Looking at Gerrymandering – by Linda Greenhouse – NYT

“Even though Doug Jones won a famous statewide victory in last month’s Alabama Senate race, he actually lost — less famously — to Roy Moore in six of the state’s seven congressional districts. That’s right: He carried only the heavily black Seventh Congressional District, into which the Alabama Legislature has jammed almost a third of the state’s African-American population while making sure that the rest of the districts remain safely white and Republican.

That’s gerrymandering in the raw. Something equally raw, although less overtly racial, happened in Maryland back in 2011, when the overwhelmingly Democratic State Legislature decided that one Republican out of Maryland’s eight-member congressional delegation was one Republican too many. The 2010 census required the state to shrink the majority-Republican Sixth District by 10,000 people in order to restore one-person, one-vote equality among the districts. Seeing its opportunity for some major new line-drawing, the Legislature conducted a population transfer. It moved 66,417 Republican voters out of the district while moving into it 24,460 Democratic voters from safely Democratic adjoining districts, a swing of more than 90,000 votes. And guess what? The 20-year Republican incumbent, Roscoe Bartlett, lost the 2012 election to the Democratic candidate, John Delaney, who has won re-election ever since.”

Yes. Here is the top comment I endorsed:


is a trusted commenter San Diego County, California 5 hours ago

Every time I read about the problem of gerrymandering and how districts are drawn to favor one party or another I keep thinking about conversations with Europeans about how they deal with gerrymandering.

One approach is not to have small electoral districts but rather have multiple seats open in a single state. A parliamentary style election in which party has a list of candidates allows proportional representation. If 40% of voters vote for a Republican, 35% for a Democrat, 15% for Libertarians and 10% for the Greens, those percentages determine the allocation of seats.

Alternatively is to have non-partisan “boundary commissions” as they are called in Great Britain. A similar approach is used in California and Arizona.

Gerrymandering – combined with corporate funding of candidates – has corroded American political system.



Justice Shouldn’t Come With a $250 Fine – The New York Times

“Too often, this is the case. The fine for a misdemeanor is typically about $1,000, which can be unmanageable for a low-income person. This comes on top of many other costs. The application fee a defendant must pay to hire a public defender (appointed because a person charged with a crime cannot afford to pay for an attorney) can be as high as $400. Jail booking fees range from $10 to $100. In some states, defendants can be made to pay fees upward of $200 for the juries who hear their cases. After conviction, victim’s panel classes, where some defendants are mandated to hear about victims’ experiences and loss, can cost up to $75. Drug courts can and often do make people pay for their own assessment, treatment and frequent drug testing.”

DL: Yes. Jim Crow is alive and well, and for poor whites as well.
Here is the top comment, I endorse:

Mark Thomason is a trusted commenter Clawson, MI 14 hours ago
A family member was wrongly accused of shoplifting. There was video. It clearly showed no shoplifting. She won.

Then she got the bill from the court for the assigned public defender — four times more than the fine would have been, over a thousand dollars.

The fine print in Michigan says that the public defender “provided” as required by the US Supreme Court “if you can’t afford one” will bill you after the case, even if you win, and that becomes a court judgment against you.

You can be jailed for non-payment of the defense attorney bill for a case you won, or so the judge threatened her.

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For Native Americans- a ‘Historic Moment’ on the Path to Power at the Ballot Box – The New York Times

“SAN JUAN COUNTY, Utah — In this county of desert and sagebrush, Wilfred Jones has spent a lifetime angered by what his people are missing. Running water, for one. Electricity, for another. But worst of all, in his view, is that the Navajo people here lack adequate political representation.

So Mr. Jones sued, and in late December, after a federal judge ruled that San Juan County’s longtime practice of packing Navajo voters into one voting district violated the United States Constitution, the county was ordered to draw new district lines for local elections.The move could allow Navajo people to win two of three county commission seats for the first time, overturning more than a century of political domination by white residents. And the shift here is part of an escalating battle over Native American enfranchisement, one that comes amid a larger wave of voting rights movements spreading across the country.“It’s a historic moment for us,” said Mr. Jones, during a drive on the county’s roller coaster dirt roads. “We look at what happened with the Deep South,” he went on, “how they accomplished what they have. We can do the same thing.” ”

Bravo. Here is a comment I endorse:

DW In the shadow of Monticello 38 minutes ago
it’s about time that the Native American citizens have an equal opportunity to have a proportional vote and to equalize the use of government resources (i.e., tax income) for all – not just for those who control the boundaries of voting districts in their favor.

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States Pay the Price When You Buy Online – The New York Times

“Can online retailers be compelled by law to collect a sales tax? According to the Supreme Court, no — but that could change if, in the next few weeks, it decides to take up a case challenging the current rule.The court should reconsider the prohibition, because the law takes a hammer to the fiscal health of states, which lose out on millions, if not billions, of dollars in sales tax revenue. Staggering amounts of digital transactions occurred this year: an estimated $6.59 billion in digital transactions on Cyber Monday (which would be a record), and an estimated $100 billion for the holiday season.Customers may be confused: Some online retailers do collect sales taxes, at least sometimes. Amazon, for example, collects them on Amazon transactions, but not on third-party-vendor transactions sold through Amazon.”

DL: Yes, yes, yes. It is crazy not to make all on line retailers pay sales tax, since they are gutting our retail stores where we work and live.

Here is a good comment I endorsed:
Joe Sparks Rockville, MD 14 hours ago
I agree that online retailers should be required to collect sales taxes.

I also think sales taxes should be abolished because they are regressive. Instead of having a bunch of taxes, sales, income, tolls, etc., I would only have progressive income taxes. (Loopholes would need to be eliminated.) These taxes would be based only on amount of income, not source of income. That means dividends, wages, capital gains, etc. would all be taxed the same. Unfair differences, such as carried interest would be eliminated. This would make the tax code simpler, better, and fairer.

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The Retreat to Tribalism – by David Brooks – NYT

“Imagine three kids running around a maypole, forming a chain with their arms. The innermost kid is holding the pole with one hand. The faster they run, the more centrifugal force there is tearing the chain apart. The tighter they grip, the more centripetal force there is holding the chain together. Eventually centrifugal force exceeds centripetal force and the chain breaks.

That’s essentially what is happening in this country, N.Y.U.’s Jonathan Haidt argued in a lecture delivered to the Manhattan Institute in November. He listed some of the reasons centrifugal forces may now exceed centripetal: the loss of the common enemies we had in World War II and the Cold War, an increasingly fragmented media, the radicalization of the Republican Party, and a new form of identity politics, especially on campus.

Haidt made the interesting point that identity politics per se is not the problem. Identity politics is just political mobilization around group characteristics. The problem is that identity politics has dropped its centripetal elements and become entirely centrifugal.Martin Luther King described segregation and injustice as forces tearing us apart. He appealed to universal principles and our common humanity as ways to heal prejudice and unite the nation. He appealed to common religious principles, the creed of our founding fathers and a common language of love to drive out prejudice. King “framed our greatest moral failing as an opportunity for centripetal redemption,” Haidt observed.”

DL: David Brooks has written a challenging piece, and it is full of great points, but it is so abstract as to be almost meaningless. Does he really mean that college professors and their students are as responsible as Donald Trump and the GOP for centrifugal forces tearing apart America? A second, careful reading suggests that Brooks is in fact aiming most of his barbs at Trump and the GOP, but so abstactly, that he maintains a distance, even deniability. Many of the commenters point out that it is mostly the GOP that is doing many things to undermine our democracy and its principles, as they cater to the desires of the billionaire donors.

Here is a comment, that though it fails to recognize that a few Republicans are not pleased with GOP radicalism, I endorse:
B. USA 3 hours ago
The right spends a significant amount of its time and effort to make it harder for individuals to participate politically, while making it easier for corporations and organizations with vast sums of untraceable money to be included in the political process.

The right has been driving wedges and creating an us-vs-them atmosphere since Reagan declared “government is the problem” and demonized freedom of association by attacking unions which work for the common good.

The right has abandoned the notion of truth, has abandoned education for all, and has abandoned traditional moral values in favor of dogmatism, science denial, exclusivity, and power-grabbing at any cost. The current leader of the right now sitting at 1600 Pennsylvania is the embodiment of GOP beliefs and practices brought to life.

After 30 years of attacks on American values and decency, the left has finally said “Enough!” and have started to speak out. Suddenly Brooks think the nation has become divided as never before.

The nation has been divided for a long time; it’s only recently that the left has decided things have gone too far in the wrong direction and it’s time to fight back, to fight for American values of honesty, decency, and inclusion. There is a big blue wave just over the horizon, and it’s going to sweep away anyone who is not willing to stand up for traditional American values of honesty, decency, inclusion, and a fair deal for all.

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Tom Brokaw: You Can Find the Entire World Inside Your Hospital – The New York Times

“President Trump is vowing to return to two of his favorite goals in 2018: a crackdown on immigration and the dissolution of the Affordable Care Act.

When congressional Republicans passed the sweeping tax bill in December, they eliminated the A.C.A.’s health care mandate. But President Trump wants to knock out the entire program.As I have learned in the past four years, immigration and health care in America have an organic relationship that may escape the president and his supporters if they experience health care only from the outside looking in.”

7 Wishes for 2018 – by David Leonhardt – NYT

“Well, at least it’s not 2017 anymore.

I expect that future historians will look back on it as one of the darker non-war years in the country’s history — a year when the president lied constantly, America’s global influence suffered and Congress used its mighty powers to enrich the rich. Yet the long view of American history still offers reason for optimism. We usually figure out how to emerge from our darker periods.In the hope that 2018 represents at least the start of a turning point, I offer seven New Year’s wishes:Republicans stand up for the rule of law. The country’s most urgent problem is the possibility that the president will impede an investigation into illegal behavior by his aides and possibly himself.

President Trump clearly wants to do so. His allies are defaming Robert Mueller even though Mueller is a longtime Republican, a successful F.B.I. director and a decorated Marine who’s now pursuing matters of national interest, such as: Does a hostile foreign power have influence over American officials? And did the president use illegal tactics in his campaign?Republicans in Congress can make sure that the country gets answers. They can refuse to tolerate any disruption of Mueller’s investigation, including the firing of him or his boss, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. If Trump tries to go there, his fellow Republicans can tell him that his presidency would effectively be over. Privately and publicly, they should be saying so now.”

Yes, and here is a top commeent I endorsed:
ChristineMcM is a trusted commenter Massachusetts 13 hours ago
It’s still 2017 by my clock, here in MA at 10:25. I hope the next 1.5 hours pass as slowly as 2017 seemed to.

David Leonhardt, I like your list of wishes for 2018, particularly your first priority: that the Mueller investigation proceed unimpeded. Never before has democracy seemed under such a dark cloud, not even during Watergate when the nation wasn’t as polarized, and most recognized right from wrong.

In your next to last wish, towards the tail end of “creeping” authoritarianism, you cast a personal call for higher voter turnout.

The figures you cite are appalling–“It was only 42 percent in the last midterm, in 2014, compared with more than 60 percent in recent presidential elections…..groups with the potential to increase their political say are 18- to 24-year olds (17 percent citizen turnout in 2014); Asian-Americans (27 percent); and Latinos (also 27 percent).”

To preserve the world’s oldest continuous democracy, we must do better, if only to provide a good example to the next generation.

But hand in hand with higher voter rates is education–informed voters not only make more informed choices, but also better citizens.

Because without a shared understanding of our past, as well as a consensus regarding our obligations and rights as citizens, how can we preserve our freedoms from hostile forces right here at home?

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Related to the 7th point, hoping we all manage to escape and stay centered, last night for New Year’s Eve I went to White Plains NY to an English Country dance which was marvelous. Like the Morris and Sword Team I started and still dance with in New Haven, The Country Dancers of Westchester seem like a group in danger of extinction, if they do not figure out how to attract new and younger participants.

America Is Not Yet Lost – by Paul Krugman – NYT

“Many of us came into 2017 expecting the worst. And in many ways, the worst is what we got.Donald Trump has been every bit as horrible as one might have expected; he continues, day after day, to prove himself utterly unfit for office, morally and intellectually. And the Republican Party — including so-called moderates — turns out, if anything, to be even worse than one might have expected. At this point it’s evidently composed entirely of cynical apparatchiks, willing to sell out every principle — and every shred of their own dignity — as long as their donors get big tax cuts.

Meanwhile, conservative media have given up even the pretense of doing real reporting, and become blatant organs of ruling-party propaganda.Yet I’m ending this year with a feeling of hope, because tens of millions of Americans have risen to the occasion. The U.S. may yet become another Turkey or Hungary — a state that preserves the forms of democracy but has become an authoritarian regime in practice. But it won’t happen as easily or as quickly as many of us had feared.”

Yes. Thank you Paul Krugman. Here are two top comments I ed=ndorsed.

R. Law

is a trusted commenter Texas 15 hours ago

Dr. K., we trust in the American people, but with McConnell, McCain, Graham, and other GOP’ers having all taken $7+ million$ from a Russian oligarch connected not just to Putin but to one of the sanctioned Russian banks in the 2016 cycle according to the Dallas Morning News:…

it appears the entire GOP will fall in lockstep behind Putin’s Poodle POTUS, to conceal the nefariousness that tars their party.

It is an additional reason GOP’ers are trying to throw up dust by investigating the uranium deal with Russia that occurred under Obama.

We find the quote from David Frum (speechwriter for Dubya) in his new book ‘Trumpocracy’ to be chillingly believable, from what we’ve observed:

” If Republicans become convinced that they cannot win democratically, they will not abandon conservatism, they will reject democracy. ”

From here, it looks like Winter is upon us, in the form of GOP’er vultures.

At least in Tibet, people are dead before they are fed to the buzzards:…

Ralph Averill

New Preston, Ct 13 hours ago

I am optimistic as well. The Trump phenomena has awaken many sleepy Democrats and perhaps inspired a lot of independents who no longer have Hillary Clinton to kick around any more.
I think many Americans have come to realize that it really can happen here; we can lose this great experiment. We are only two or three elections away from giving it all away. The 2018 mid-term elections will be the most critical elections since just before the Civil War.

The Built-In Instability of the G.O.P.’s Tax Bill – By REBECCA KYSAR and LINDA SUGIN – NYT

“Republicans are on the verge of achieving their decades-long goal: an overhaul of the tax code. But the system they have built will not last.The plan’s instability is partly a result of the process Republican Party leaders chose to make it happen. Reconciliation, which allows escape from the Senate filibuster, means that Republicans did not have to reach across the aisle. Not a single Democrat supported the legislation.

This choice has consequences. For one, the exclusion of Democrats means that there is no buy-in from the minority party that will one day, perhaps soon, be in the majority again. This dynamic is worsened by the fact that the tax legislation pits blue states against red through the limitation of the state and local tax deductions. In the end, Republicans have chosen policies that are more extreme than they would have if they had worked with Democrats.”

DL:  Well done. Here are the top comments which I endorse:

mancuroc is a trusted commenter rochester 12 hours ago

“Republicans are on the verge of achieving their decades-long goal: an overhaul of the tax code.”

Yes it is a decades-long goal. No it isn’t an overhaul – it’s a heist that moves massive amounts of wealth to the top.

Reply 376 Recommended

ChristineMcM is a trusted commenter Massachusetts 10 hours ago

“These policies not only face the risk of being undone by a future Democratic majority, but also could indeed prove to be so lopsided as to alienate the more centrist of Republicans. Worse, Republicans now aim to take advantage of the instability they’ve created by cutting so-called entitlements like Medicare down the line, burdening the poor and the middle class.”

Actually, they kick the middle and lower classes three ways: first by raising taxes on those who might have itemized deductions in high tax states; second, making them pay the penalty for fixing deficits the GOP created in the first place; and third, making sure their “cuts” such as they are are temporary.

Once the understaffed, underfunded IRS sets these 1000 pages into rules and regulations, I believe they’ll find a ton of stuff that sets off unintended consequences.

By then of course, Democrats may take back the house and face the dirty job of fixing the GOP’s messes (which they always do).

But now, at least, Republicans can’t call Democrats the “tax and spend” party. No, the real truth is more like the “clean up party, ” fixing the messes created by the “Cut and spend” Republicans, who are gambling that the Dems will be blamed once the economy tanks.

It might be hard to prove given how this unilateral bill was rammed through without Democrat participation or votes.

And if Congress thinks all will be fogotten, I can assure them, we won’t let the public forget.

Reply 346 Recommended

Bruce Rozenblit is a trusted commenter Kansas City, MO 11 hours ago

The line being touted by the Republicans is that the temporary nature of the individual tax cuts exists only because of the rules of reconciliation. They are laying the groundwork for blaming the tax cut expiration on the Democrats if they don’t make them permanent next year.

How stupid do they think we are? If these cuts are made permanent, then the deficit will be much larger than the forecasted 1.5 trillion. Why don’t they increase the corporate rates in 2025 and then make the individual rates permanent? By then, if their supply side magic works, corporations will be so wealthy, they can afford to pay more in taxes. The public will have financed their growth with debt and deserves to be paid back.

But no. The deficit most likely explode under this bill. It will be much higher than forecast. That is because of the many new loopholes they opened up that are yet to be fully exploited. Give the accountants six months to launch their plans.

They also keep saying that the increased profits will be reinvested which will grow businesses. Here we go again. It is demand that grows business, not supply. Investments are always made in response to demand. All the GOP did was to dramatically boost profits with the stroke of a pen. You don’t make more widgets if you can’t sell them. If you make more money on the widgets you sell, you stick the money in your pocket.

This is going to blow up. The Democrats should prepare to assess blame on where it belongs, the GOP.

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