Link Roundup, 3/10/2017

From Harper’s Magazine: Lost amid the shock from the 2016 results was an astonishing fact – Democrats swept the Houston area for the first time since the Dixiecrat party-flip. This long read examines that election win in detail.

From Business Insider: An excellent multi-media series on the declining fortunes of American suburbs.

From Nautilus: How genetic mutations turn dangerous in late-life.

From Vanity Fair: How America became a colonial occupation force in its own cities.

From the Washington Post: Avik Roy’s takedown of the Republican right over its sleazy ACA repeal dodge.

Chris Thomas King: Death Letter Blues

 

24 Comments

    1. Here’s an anti-off season gerrymandering editorial from 2003 that I saved to my files- the author makes some great point about why it was so wrong.

      Why the Texas redistricting was wrong

      James W. Collins
      Redistricting in Texas
      Saturday, 23 August 2003
      Texas is currently embroiled in an attempt by the Republican majority in the Texas legislature to redistrict the U.S. Congressional districts in Texas.

      Redistricting of U.S. Congressional districts is required by law only once every ten years, immediately after the decennial U.S. census. While there is no law that says it can’t be, it has never – never – been done except once every ten years in response to the U.S. census. It is done in order to keep adjust for differences in population increases in different congressional districts and keep all the congressional districts approximately the same size population. This insures the concept of “one man, one vote.” Without periodic redistricting, the population of the districts would vary dramatically, with some congresspeople representing many more citizens than others. Redistricting of U.S. congressional districts is the job of the state legislatures.

      The Texas congressional districts were redistricted during the first Texas legislative session after the 2000 U.S. census, in 2001. The Texas legislature considered a redistricting plan and could not reach agreement before they adjourned for two years. According to Texas law, the job of redistricting then went to a board of state officials, the majority of whom were Republicans. The board couldn’t reach agreement on a plan, either, so the job of redistricting then went, by law, to a panel of U.S. judges. The panel of judges produced a redistricting plan. Any Texas resident who believed it was illegal had an opportunity to file suit challenging the plan. No one did and the plan became law.

      Elections were held in the new U.S. congressional districts and, somewhat surprisingly and in contrast to the fact that Republicans hold every statewide office in Texas and majorities in both houses of the Texas legislature, more of the congressional seats were won by Democrats than by Republicans. One of the Democratic winners was Lloyd Doggett, a congressman from central Texas who is a particularly sharp thorn in the side of congressional Republicans because he keeps speaking what he believes to be the truth about the Bush administrations’ policies on the floor of the U.S. House and what he believes to be the truth isn’t very flattering.

      Then, during the 2003 session of the Texas legislature, U.S. Representative Dick Armey, a Republican, asked the leadership of the Texas legislature, now more solidly Republican than in 2001, to redistrict again. Rep. Armey made no effort to conceal the reason for his request. He wanted to create more solidly Republican congressional districts in Texas so that the Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives could be increased after the next congressional elections. Many suspected that an unstated goal of Rep. Armey’s request was to get rid of Rep. Doggett.

      In response to Rep. Armey’s request, the Republicans introduced a bill to redistrict the Texas congressional districts using a plan that would create even more solidly Republican districts than the 2001 plan did. Faced with certain passage of the plan, enough Democrats in the Texas House left the state to break a quorum and remained out of the state until it was too late to pass a redistricting plan before the end of the legislative session.

      At the end of the regular session, Governor Rick Perry, a Republican, called a special 30-day session to consider the Armey redisticting request again. This time, 11 Texas senators, including one Republican, used a Texas Senate rule requiring a 2/3 majority to bring any bill to the floor for debate to prevent the redistricting plan from being considered in the Senate and the special session expired without the passage of a redistricting plan. The rule is one which has existed in the Texas Senate for decades.

      At the end of the first special session, Gov. Perry called another 30-day special session, again to consider the Armey-requested redistricting plan. He vowed that he would keep calling special sessions until the Texas legislature passed a redistricting plan.

      This time, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, a Republican who presides over the Senate, announced that he would not honor the 2/3 rule for bringing bills to the floor of the Senate. Interestingly, he kept the rule in place for all other Senate business, but abrogated it – on his own motion without a vote of the Texas Senate – for the redistricting plan alone. In response, 11 Democratic Texas senators left the state, breaking the Constitutionally required 2/3 quorum for the Senate to transact any business. Even Lt. Gov. Dewhurst didn’t think himself qualified to abrogate the Texas Constitution and the second special session will end in a few days, again without a redistricting plan. Gov. Perry has announced that he will immediately call another special session. In the meantime, the Republican Senators have in fact conducted business. They have voted to levy fines and revoke privileges of the absent Democratic Senators, even though they don’t have the constitutionally-required quorum to conduct business. Litigation pends on both sides.

      The decennial redistricting process required by U.S. law is always politically divisive. It always involves attempts by the party in power to secure and expand their power. However, in the past, it has only happened once every ten years and it has happened because it was required by law. Even though it involved an opportunity – always taken – for one party or the other to strengthen their position, it has never been done just to strengthen one party’s position. The Republicans involved in this attempt to redistrict Texas congressional districts make no attempt to conceal the fact that it is being done just to strengthen the Republican party’s hold on Texas.

      While redistricting is always divisive, the divisiveness at least has an end. We redistrict once every ten years and it’s over. We get through it. We have a chance to recover. We have a chance to heal. We have a chance to stabilize.

      One problem with this redistricting effort is that the divisiveness has no end. If the Republicans can redistrict this year to increase their political power, then they can redistrict again in two years. If they can redistrict U.S. congressional districts whenever they want to, they can redistrict state senatorial and house districts whenever they want to. County Commissioners Courts can redistrict commissioners, justice of the peace, and constable precincts between every election. City councils can redistrict city council districts every time there is the slightest power shift. Nothing ever stabilizes. There is never a time for a political and social catching of the breath. The divisiveness never ends.

      One problem with incessant redistricting is the fear that it will accomplish its stated goal – that it will increase the Republican hold on Texas. Obviously, that will be a bigger concern for Democrats than for Republicans, but it ought to be a concern for all of us. The logical end of all this is the elimination of all representation of any but those whose views comport with those of the party in power. It eliminates not only opposition, but opposition voices. There will no longer be any elected representatives who stand up in the halls of power and say to the nation’s leaders in a clear and unmistakable voice – as Rep. Doggett does – “Fellows, you’re just wrong.”

      Even if there are minority party candidates who still manage to get elected, they won’t dare to speak out against the party in power because they will have been taught, by this redistricting attempt in Texas, that if they do, the next thing that will happen is that their district will get redistricted so that they won’t be elected again.

      For someone who believes that the party in power has all the answers and the other party has nothing beneficial to offer, for someone who believes that the party in power will never attempt to exceed the appropriate bounds of their power, for somone who trusts one group of men and women to lead the nation without any significant opposition, this redisticting effort should be fine.

      For those who believe that free and open debate is essential to the health of a representative democracy, for those who believe that it is the natural tendency of mankind to seek more power unless checked in that search, for those who believe that having opposition members in government to keep an eye on those in power is a healthy thing, this redistricting effort should be terribly frightening.

      ========================================

      A bonus take from Molly Ivins:

      “They just went too far, that’s all. This session of the legislature has been as brutal, callous and indifferent to the welfare of the weakest, the most frail, youngest and oldest Texans as it is possible to get. The level of pure meanness is stunning. They have just gone too damn far.

      The session was pretty well summed up by Rep. Senfronia Thompson when she illustrated what was going on by taking the House rulebook to the podium with her and dropping it on the floor. There is no rule of procedure, fairness, common sense or decency that has been observed by the Republican majority in the Texas House.

      This is not about partisan politics — although that has certainly reared its ugly head. In case you hadn’t noticed, every major newspaper in this state has criticized the plans and performance of the legislature this session, often in harsh language. Those wild-eyed radicals at the Dallas Morning News and Houston Chronicle are just disgusted with the tacky display these people have been putting on.

      There is no excuse for this, and blaming it on the deficit will not wash. We all knew going in that some terribly hard choices would have to be made, but what in the name of heaven was the governor thinking when he had handicapped people arrested? These were citizens who came to their capital to protest budget cuts affecting them, and they get arrested. Maybe it was because they were in wheelchairs — don’t even have to be hauled away, they can just be rolled away.

      Most of us thought it was pretty funny when Rep. Debbie Riddle popped out with her now-classic statement: “Where did this idea come from that everybody deserves free education, free medical care, free whatever? It comes from Moscow, from Russia. It comes straight out of the pit of hell.”

      Amusing as that was, the House has been doing its dead-level best to destroy both public education and public health. They’ve taken 250,000 poor children off the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and the schools are in dire straits. As the Austin American-Statesman pointed out in an editorial, these same fine thinkers did manage to find $10 million to appropriate for cow research and $300 million for Gov. Perry to woo companies to Texas.

      Of course, there have been some lovely moments we can celebrate, like the day Speaker Tom Craddick decided that the new ethics reform law should be debated in a backroom, closed-door session. Amazingly enough, the proposed ethics law was weakened and watered down behind the closed doors.

      I think a special salute for clear thinking should go to the House for its amazing decision to cut the program that pays for medications for mentally ill people who are out of prison on probation or parole. Is this brilliant? Now these people will be wandering around the state without their meds.

      The latest flap is over a congressional redistricting map that is so bad it’s actually funny. Of course, the thing was passed without public hearings, because as Rep. Joe Crabb explained, “The rest of us would have a very difficult time if we were out in an area — other than Austin or other English-speaking areas — to be able to have committee hearings or to be able to converse with people that did not speak English.” Sometimes you have to wonder what planet these people are from.

      That was the proverbial straw for the Democrats, 53 of whom left the state or went into hiding Sunday to break the quorum, thus bringing legislative business to a halt. They’ve already been dubbed the Killer D’s, after the tradition of the Killer Bees in 1979. Believe me, stopping the legislature from functioning at this point is high public service.

      Speaker Craddick called it a “stunt.” The R’s have been pulling stunts every day of this session, and don’t write it off as payback for heavy-handed Democratic rule. Speaker Pete Laney ran a fair House, and everyone knew it — these people are disgracing themselves and the state.

      The way things got to such a sorry pass is that the R’s have been running on rote, lockstep voting. No Democratic amendment gets considered on its merits, no matter how sensible it is. Shell bills get introduced, and then whole sections are amended on the floor, in a parody of legislative process. Much time has been spent on gay-bashing and trying to take away abortions rights. I’m starting to think right-wing Republicans all have an unhealthy fixation on sexual behavior.

      The choices on how to spend money couldn’t possibly make Republican “values” any clearer. We can spend money on corporate welfare, but not on people’s welfare. We can’t cover health insurance for our teachers, but we must have brush control.

      The creepy thing about the far-right Republicans, who are definitely in the majority in the House, is not that they are dismantling government because they won’t raise taxes, they’re dismantling government because they think it shouldn’t help people. They really think health and human services should not be provided. It’s an old line among liberals that anti-choice people care more about the unborn than they do about the born, but I’m telling you that it’s not just some clever line — these people are writing it into the state budget.”

  1. I just saw Get Out. Highly recommended. Lived up to my expectation of being The Stepford Wives for black people.

    About that. The Stepford Wives definitely falls into that era where horror movies were horrifying because you knew the underlying cause of terror from frame one, rather than skirting around or coyly abstracting the thematic elements. Such a blunt tactic usually fails unless, well, you go in already scared about the concept in general.

    Comedy and horror are very similar. They both have build-ups of tension ending in punchlines. They both subvert normalcy patterns for reactive effect.

    And they’re both far more effective when they are honest about something that actually hurts.

    What I am saying here is that horror and comedy are having their comeback days.

  2. The Harper’s article on turning TX blue was most interesting. Grassroots activism at its core. That is what I am witnessing now in resistance to the GOP agenda. People who have never been involved in political activism (although in my area, most had likely voted) are now calling their MoC, going to political meetings, attending seminars to learn how to effectively work within the political process, and they are beginning to understand how politics works. That, to me, is critically important. The TOP program appears disciplined, efficient, and people-oriented. In the absence of leadership from the Democratic Party, the momentum will have to emerge within families, neighborhoods, communities. One person at a time. GOP lawmakers have derided the raucus behavior at some of the Town Halls, but they should be cautious about discounting the fervor and commitment of those within them. Bravo TOP. This will be a good place to invest the few dollars I have for local races.

  3. More and more winning.

    After 8 years of phony jobs reports that hid how horrible Obama was running the country, we now have our first real and honest jobs reports showing the U.S. economy added 235,000 jobs in February.

    The Obama administration consistently fudged their numbers upwards in fancy “revisions”, but this time, the January number was accurately and appropriately revised upwards to show payrolls rose 238,000 in January.

    Obama, when he wasn’t busy wiretapping Trump, would release false and outright lying reports that the unemployment rate was falling month after month. This time, we have a real and true report of unemployment dropping to 4.7%.

    Companies are responding to the beautiful new agenda for our country and putting Americans to work again.

    The stock market, which was a poor indicator of how the average American was doing under terrible Obama, has soared to close to 21,000, a record number under Trump, and now it accurately reflects prosperity in the lives of average Americans.

    Now you might say, “Wait a minute, aren’t those calculations done the same way now that they were when Obama was President? Isn’t it kind off insane or at least hypocritical for the administration to now be promoting those results?”, and to that I would tell you to check twitter and see, “Arnold Schwarzenegger was fired because he couldn’t fill my shoes on The Apprentice”.

    Additionally, I think we should all note that thanks to President Trump, there have been no terrorist attacks by Syrian babies on US soil.

    #MAGA #WinningAgain #IheartVlad

  4. RE: Avik Roy’s response to Rand Paul’s mixed message regarding subsidizing health care….Redistribution of wealth to benefit those who lack it whether through health care or other programs is what civilized nations do for their people. It shouldn’t be abused but it should be done. Paul’s trying to have it both ways – denounce susbsidies for the poor while encouraging them for the wealthy – his base. What Roy doesn’t address is what will happen under the AHCA in 2020 when medicaid stops taking new people into the program. Their assumption that the numbers will “balance out” is at best a hope. America’s population has been growing every year just as the wealth divide has. Using simple logic, that means that by 2020, the magic year when medicaid freezes it membership, it is not a stretch to envision (with this GOP dominance) that the wealth divide will be larger and more people, poorer. Yet medicaid will take no more people.

    This is an even bigger problem than Paul’s argument against redistribution. And, it’s part of the AHCA.

  5. Re: the dimise of the McMansion- I can only hope so! I’ve seen many of them under construction- substandard material, build them quickly, sometimes ever bofore the ground properly settles. Would not buy. Chez Fly is a humble abode, but solidly built, with the builders’ mistakes corrected. And the location is good! And it is 100% paid off!

  6. The Harper’s article about Houston focuses on Texas Organizing Project.

    But google says it’s barely mentioned on both houstonchronicle.com and chron.com.

    houstonchronicle.com mentions it in an October 2016 story. chron.com mentions it in a November 2013 story.

    Both are might be thought of as traditional media (although chron.com is way into click bait)

    To me, that means the TPO organizational efforts took place outside the eye of traditional media. Yet, Harper’s give them a lot of credit for turning Harris County blue.

    Interesting.

    1. A really effective organizing campaign will be approaching its peak effectiveness before it’s visible. When Stephen Hotze and his army of religious nutjobs took over the Harris County GOP, no one in the media wrote a single story about it until it was over. And then, the best coverage was in the Houston Press. To my knowledge, the Chronicle ran 2-3 stories about the entire thing in the seven years it was playing out. None of those stories offered any background. Just dry reports that there are now two completely separate organizations claiming to be the Harris County Republican Party.

      It is very rare to get really interesting coverage of local politics. The best you can do is pick some good local blogs to follow, then try to triangulate between them.

      1. I want to learn more about this organization. Many of the resistance groups are modeling after the Tea Party which I think has limited application to groups who lack big funding donors like Koch etc. I admire “how” they are achieving success…very patient, very focused, and very, very individual. It’s a long-game approach but it is correct, IMHO.

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