Saturday, May 31, 2014

Florida Gerrymandering Is Real And The Intent Is There

I mentioned before I'm not a huge fan of the gerrymander.

Following up on an earlier story from December 2013, where I noted the state lege and the redistricting committee were facing a court trial over the questionable 2012 mapping, we've got some current testimony to report via Think Progress:

If Florida’s voters evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, the state’s Republicans could still expect to hold 58 percent of the state’s congressional seats. Indeed, according to California Institute of Technology statistics professor Jonathan Katz, a leading expert on redistricting who testified in a trial challenging these maps as an illegal gerrymander, Florida’s maps are the most biased districts he has ever examined...
The thing that gets my attention is how in a state where there's a slim majority of registered Democrats and the percentage of seating should be near 50-50 (kinda more 52-48 percent), the Republicans are able to hold a solid 62 percent (74 seats out of 120) of state representative districts compared to the Democrats' 38 percent.  The Florida Senate is 65 percent GOP (24 seats of 40), the US districts are 16 out of 27 for roughly 60 percent GOP (one seat currently vacant but it's a "safe" Republican seat).  There's no way the remaining other-affiliated or non-affiliated voters all leaned Republican in the 2012 election... and while there are some uncontested GOP districts, there's uncontested Democrat districts roughly balancing that all out.

There's no science to this viewpoint, I know: for all this, another explanation would be that the Republicans had better candidates at the state and congressional level.  Of course, considering how Far Right most of these GOP candidates tend to be (to where I can't conceive that many Moderate and Left-leaning voters would go there), that itself seems unlikely.

So let's get back to the experts, shall we?  That Think Progress article referred to the Orlando Sentinel report:

Katz is part of a group of political scientists considered among the nation's foremost experts on redistricting -- developing a standard for evaluating the partisan bias of maps known as "partisan symmetry" which has been used for years by scientists and the U.S. Supreme Court to decide whether states were intentionally tilting electoral playing fields to help political parties or incumbents.
The method involves determining how an increase in voter-share translates into an increase in seats in a legislative body like Congress or a state legislature. With a perfectly neutral map, either Republicans or Democrats would gain the same number of seats on average for a given increase in the share of voters they turned out. Seats drawn with partisan intent would disproportionately boost the number of seats for one party over the other...
...His analysis suggested that the pro-GOP bias using 2010 voter-turnout data was 15.9 percent. Intuitively, that means Republicans could expect to capture 58 percent of the congressional seats to Democrats' 42 percent of the seats, even if voter turnout was perfectly balanced at 50 percent GOP and 50 percent Democrat.
Katz said preliminary analysis of the 2012 election results showed the same bias.
“In this case they did a really good job of following the recipe about how to do a partisan gerrymander," Katz testified in the Leon County court room...
The evidence is right in front of us: the Republicans hold a roughly 60-40 percent advantage over Democrats in a state where the voter registration favors Dems 42-37-20 (when you factor in the NPA and Other voters). Even if you give that 20 percent NPA to the Republicans by a 60-40 split, that's 12 percent to the GOP and 8 percent to the Dems, that's still a 50 percent - 49 percent difference, still close to even. And there's no way the NPA voting would go that further Right without the NPA voters pretty much becoming registered Republicans anyway (the remaining independent parties - the very extreme ones - barely have 300,000 voters combined - and I'm not sure if they're Far Right or Far Left - putting them in the statistical hiccup column).

How the hell are the Republicans dominating the representation UNLESS they're cheating via gerrymandering?

My arguments remain the same: we gotta get rid of gerrymandering.  The simplest solution is to boost the number of districts at least at the Congressional level to where it's that much harder to carve up the densely-populated - and more Democratic - cities spread out to the less-dense - and more Republican - remote counties.  And make the districts compact: none of this "spread out over six counties" crap we get for the minority-majority districts (if we go with the increase in districts, the odds favor the creation of minority-populations centers which tend to center on cities and dense-urban locales anyway).  Anything that doesn't stay within two counties of being formed is doomed (and yeah, I know some of the small Panhandle counties are sparsely populated.  We can still keep 'em blocked together, not stretched thin).

For the state-level districts, where expanding the number isn't likely, we need genuine non-partisan map-making: massive oversight of a public forum committee non-beholden to the state legislature or governor, to where the ONLY data they can work with is the basic census population numbers.

There's an even better solution to gerrymandering as well: getting the damn vote out among the Democrats.  The Republicans may have created a majority of districts favoring them, but to do so they had to stretch themselves out to a lot of +1 to +3 districts compared to the +8 to +12 the Democrat-safe districts are.  A massive turnout by Democrats in a Republican-safe district could still overwhelm a normal turnout by Republican voters...  The only real thing keeping those damn GOP-safe districts safe is Democratic voter (and party) apathy.  GET THE DAMN VOTE OUT, DEMS.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Rage: The Long-Term Unemployed Are STILL SCREWED

From Five-Thirty-Eight:
Laurusevage, 52, is one of more than a million Americans who lost payments when Congress allowed the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program to expire at the end of last year. The program, which Congress created in 2008, extended jobless benefits beyond the standard 26 weeks provided by most states; at its peak, the federal government provided an unprecedented 6 million workers with up to 73 weeks of benefits. The Senate earlier this year voted to renew the program, but House Speaker John Boehner (personal note: you sonofabitch!) hasn't allowed the measure to come to a vote in the House.
The case against extending unemployment benefits essentially boils down to two arguments. First, the economy has improved, so the unemployed should no longer need extra time to find a new job. Second, extended benefits could lead job seekers either to not search as hard or to become choosier about the kind of job they will accept, ultimately delaying their return to the workforce.
But the evidence doesn't support either of those arguments. The economy has indeed improved, but not for the long-term unemployed, whose odds of finding a job are barely higher today than when the recession ended nearly five years ago. And the end of extended benefits hasn't spurred the unemployed back to work; if anything, it has pushed them out of the labor force altogether.
Of the roughly 1.3 million Americans whose benefits disappeared with the end of the program, only about a quarter had found jobs as of March, about the same success rate as when the program was still in effect; roughly another quarter had given up searching. The rest, like Laurusevage, were still looking...

With chart from the article:

It's that "Stopped Looking" that should break your heart.  It's more than the ones who found a job in time.  It's the number of people dropping out - despairing - and most likely not coming back.  For bad and for worse.

Regarding Laurusevage:
Laurusevage didn't expect it to be this hard. She had been her family’s primary breadwinner, earning roughly $60,000 as a health and safety officer for a Philadelphia-area heating and air conditioning company. Her husband, David, earns less than $35,000 a year selling truck parts. When her position was outsourced in April of last year, she thought that as a college graduate with a three-plus-decade history of steady work, she would find a job relatively quickly. But in many ways, her experience is typical. The long-term unemployed — typically defined as those out of work more than six months — are slightly more educated on average than the broader population of job seekers. And older workers like Laurusevage face a particularly tough time: The typical job seeker in her 50s has been out of work 26 weeks, versus 17 weeks for the typical 20-something.
There has been, continues to be, massive age discrimination against the unemployed.  Part of it involves the practical issues of re-training someone to new work, part of it the refusal of companies to invest in a worker who'll retire in 10-15 years compared to a worker they can control for 20-30, part of it the irrational fear of hiring someone who lost a job, like as though there was something wrong with that person rather than a problem with the down-sizing company who slashed and cut with haphazard panic.

There's also the problem of the education.  Normally having a college or graduate degree gets you hired right quick.  In this recession, it's two strikes against you.  If you seek a job in a profession unrelated to your degree, your would-be employer is afraid you'll bolt for that other profession the moment you get a chance (this really hurts when you're a graduate-level job-seeker looking for part-time work in anything).  Other would-be employers would fear you would be too experienced, someone less malleable in terms of training and inter-office politicking.

And so, into all of this, we still have a sizable population of the United States struggling to stay afloat, struggling to keep a roof over their heads and food on their tables.  We have a situation that calls on Congress to provide help as they've provided help before: with emergency aid funding, and laws to fix the discriminatory hiring practices against the long-term unemployed.

And Boehner, that coward that crook that SONOFABITCH, refuses to get the House to act.  Because it's against the Far Right ethos of helping "the lazy".  Because it's too Keynesian for their ideological obsession with austerity and "small government".  Because it's not something that will embarrass or impeach Obama.  Because it's not #Benghazi or tax cuts or repealing Obamacare for the 58th time.

Goddamn them.


Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Reparations, History, Justice (With UPDATES)

The Atlantic's cover story in their print magazine is from Ta-Nehisi Coates.

The Case For Reparations.

It is a hard look at the centuries of racism that underpinned the history of the United States.  About how it was hard for Blacks in both the rural South and the urban North to find any kind of economic and social equality.

You need to read it.

These are just samples from Mr. Coates:

Perhaps after a serious discussion and debate—the kind that HR 40 proposes—we may find that the country can never fully repay African Americans. But we stand to discover much about ourselves in such a discussion—and that is perhaps what scares us. The idea of reparations is frightening not simply because we might lack the ability to pay. The idea of reparations threatens something much deeper—America’s heritage, history, and standing in the world...


Won’t reparations divide us? Not any more than we are already divided. The wealth gap merely puts a number on something we feel but cannot say—that American prosperity was ill-gotten and selective in its distribution. What is needed is an airing of family secrets, a settling with old ghosts. What is needed is a healing of the American psyche and the banishment of white guilt.
What I’m talking about is more than recompense for past injustices—more than a handout, a payoff, hush money, or a reluctant bribe. What I’m talking about is a national reckoning that would lead to spiritual renewal. Reparations would mean the end of scarfing hot dogs on the Fourth of July while denying the facts of our heritage. Reparations would mean the end of yelling “patriotism” while waving a Confederate flag. Reparations would mean a revolution of the American consciousness, a reconciling of our self-image as the great democratizer with the facts of our history...

He's asking for a lot: the rot of racism and the fear/ignorance of the hateful are going to be tough to overcome. But isn't that the whole point of America... to make ourselves - not just as individuals but as communities and the nation as a whole - better? To leave a stronger lasting legacy to our posterity, our children?

We can bail out the banks that crash our economy every ten years or so.  But we can't bail out the impoverished?  We can't bail out the families that have lived in poverty for generations?

UPDATE: Coates has followed up with an Open Thread of sorts to handle any comments on the Reparations article (in order to keep the troll-haters off the main article).  Dunno how long that thread will stay open.  He's followed THAT up with a "how I got here" article describing how reparations became an issue for him to investigate.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Trying To Come Up With Replacement Logo For The Horde of the Lost Battalion

Or is that Lost Battalion of the Horde?  I think Lost Battalion of Platonic Conversationalists is too 2008... gotta update, gotta update...

I have dire need of a graphic artist.  I can do font design, but actual artwork is... well... I'm stuck at poorly rendered 2D figures.  Find me an artist, then we can get a 2014 Horde logo up that people will like.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

A Disorganized Party

If the Democrats ever have to blame anybody for their failure to break past such things as gerrymandering, distorted campaign financing, and Far Right extremism, they ought to start pointing at the disjointed crowd of elbow-shovers gathering at the mirror:
Ed Jany, the Marine and former police officer hailed by national and state Democratic leaders as an ideal challenger to newly elected U.S. Rep. David Jolly, dropped out of Pinellas County's 13th Congressional District race Tuesday.
The sudden and surprise announcement came days after a Tampa Bay Times report about him appearing to pad his educational background and resume. (insert /headdesking here)
Jany entered the race at the last minute, after Democrats aggressively moved to keep a prominent African-American minister from St. Petersburg, Manuel Sykes, out of the contest. In a statement, Jany said he realized he does not have the time to run for office...
The 13th Congressional District, which includes much of Pinellas County, is one of the most competitive in the country. But it appears now that Jolly will walk into a second term without a serious challenge.
With the filing deadline passed, the only other name on the ballot will be Libertarian candidate Lucas Overby, who received less than 5 percent of the vote when he ran for the seat in a March special election.
Darryl Paulson, a retired USF St. Petersburg political scientist, said the Jany saga should be a case study on how not to handle candidate recruitment.
"What have the Democrats accomplished?" he asked. "They have alienated their core constituency by assaulting Rev. Sykes and now are left with no candidate to run in what was considered one of the most competitive districts in the nation and a district that Democrats said was a must-win..."
What this looks like from the outside was a bad mix of a national/state group trying to impose its will on the county/city level of activists to dictate who the local voters had to accept as a candidate. Rather than work with the local groups, it seems from here that the Powers That Be either feared the preferred local(s) options, or just didn't care for those choices and went with someone with the shinier-looking resume (which turned out not to be a good idea...).

Where the Republicans have their own internal divisions, those factions still reside on the far side of the political spectrum, and still answer (even the Tea Partiers) to a core set of financial backers and political consultants who can keep them all on-message.  The Democrats aren't so lucky.  The divisions between the national-level Establishment types and the local Progressive types tend to hamper the Dems' ability to field candidates that could challenge the state-level political machines the Republicans have across too many Red states (especially throughout the Southern states).

The recent special election for this very district - FL 13 - is a perfect example.  Where there was a candidate in place in Jessica Ehrlich who ran previously - and almost successfully - against the long-term incumbent Bill Young, the party leaders pushed her aside for Alex Sink, the Democratic candidate who lost to Rick "Medicare Fraud" Scott thinking she was the better campaign draw.  But where the party leaders liked Sink, not enough voters in Pinellas County could: she gave flat speeches and weak public appearances for one thing, but another was that her background in banking was a turn-off to the Far Left voters who feared she would be too pro-business at a time they wanted representatives who would force the banks to play by the rules.  Much in the same way her lackluster governor's campaign failed to turn out the vote, the special election failed - 39 percent?! - and Jolly ended up winning by two percent points.

When Sink refused to run again for the seat in the regular election, you'd think the Democratic Party machine would invite Ehrlich back, as a regular local face who'd bring her fanbase with her.  But they didn't.  They pursued a few other possibilities before settling on Jany, whose military and law enforcement background would seem unimpeachable going against a Republican (never mind the fact Republicans routinely go after Democratic candidates with solid military careers all the fracking time).  Too bad in Jany's case they didn't take a closer look at that resume before the Times did...

Making this worse is how the party leadership went after Sykes to knee-cap him before he could even pose as a primary challenge to whoever the Dems could prop up:

When Sykes prepared to run, Democratic officials from Washington to Pinellas sought to discourage him. Pinellas Democratic chairman Mark Hanisee left a voice mail for Sykes promising the respected minister he would be "persona non grata" among political leaders if he ran.
The Democrats' preferred candidate: Jany, a Marine Corps Reserve colonel and first-time candidate who lives outside the district in Tampa. While embraced by the state and national Democratic party, Jany would have been listed on the ballot with no party affiliation because he had not been registered as a Democratic long enough under state law...

That's right: the Dems were trying to prop up a guy who wasn't even a registered Dem... /headdesk

And why was that?  It couldn't be because Sykes was a local Baptist minister (while Republicans would go after religious leaders the same as military types, it would be very awkward for them...). It could have something to do with Sykes being the president of the local NAACP chapter, which gets hit with the "librul" label in the regular media just as much on the Fox Not-News channel.

And so the Democrats problem comes into full view.  Where the Republicans have a problem with local extremist candidates challenging them in primaries (and winning enough of them to ruin their chances at the general elections), the Democrats have a problem finding any local candidates at all who would appeal to the actual voters.  And it has less to do with finding volunteers - why not ask Ehrlich? why not chat up Sykes to keep him in the loop rather than on the outs? - than with the Democratic leadership running scared from any candidate who's gonna make the wingnut media scream "SOCIALIST!"

Like that has even stopped the wingnut media from screaming "SOCIALIST!" at every Democratic candidate anyway.  It's a losing battle for the Democrats at the national level if they keep f-cking jumping at the shadow of the New Deal at every turn of the corner...

And now FL-13 has no Democratic option against Jolly (or the Libertarian candidate, who I now want to win just out of pure spite).  And now we're wondering why the Democrats in Florida don't put up more candidates at the state level to try and win back Tallahassee (how many GOP seats are unchallenged this election cycle?  I counted 40 state house seats either unchallenged or just primary-ing between Republicans, out of 120 seats.  That's a full third of the elections!).

And now it's left to the voters to try and stir up some positive encouragement to even get out the vote for the districts being competitive, for any of the elections at all.  I don't want to think it's because the Democratic Party at the state level is just that lazy.  I'm terrified to think it's because the Democrats are scared.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Anniversary: North Regional Libraries, Where I Began...

cross-posted with my librarianship/writing blog:

Twenty years ago, on May 9th, I started my first full-time job.

It was a new library building in a new type of library: a hybrid large-public/community college library that supported the public reading (popular titles) and the academic (research books and journals).

It started just as the Internet exploded on the scene, before emailing took off and the demands for computer use increased.  Back then the job was answering questions and finding articles off these newly networked online databases and making sure nobody was looking at porn in the far corners of the second floor.

It was my first full-time job.  I had a workdesk and a staff lounge with new furniture and carpeting and chairs with rollers and everything (except a computer at each workdesk: computers back then were expensive, we had to share a staff computer to get work done).

So much has changed over those twenty years.  Nowadays I suspect most of the college students and the public will come in with their own laptops and tablets to use instead of the public machines.  I'd like to think the circulation numbers at North Regional has kept up (there *is* a nice-sized retirement community across the street so...), although Northwest Regional *was* the circ-checkout king of the system when I left Broward Libraries in 2003...

I hope to go back this year to the library's 20th anniversary.  It started when I did.  I'd like to go back and see who's left, who's coming back like I am, who's saying farewells and all...

Monday, May 05, 2014

The Day Is Just Packed

Personally, a very busy day for me both at home and work (it's so busy I had to drag dad across the state to help at home).

But it's also CINCO DE MAYO!

But wait!  It's also - because yesterday just happened to be Star Wars Day - The Revenge of The Fifth!

Are we having fun yet, kids?

Sunday, May 04, 2014

Trying to Rank Scandals, Phase Four: When It's More About Humiliation Than About Justice...

It's been awhile since I've written about scandals - and how we need to form an unbiased effective means of determining which scandals need investigating and which deserve to get ignored - but an update with one of the events talked about - the GOP obsession with Benghazi - has taken place:

It is by sheer coincidence that just as Obamacare recedes as an issue, House GOP leaders have announced their intent to create a Select Committee on Benghazi—something they've long resisted—and that Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, perhaps overcome by zeal to maintain control over the issue, subpoenas Secretary of State John Kerry to testify about the 2012 attack—despite the fact that Kerry was a senator at the time, and hasn't been invited to testify, and is currently visiting Sudan.
The pretext for all this is the release of an email from White House adviser Ben Rhodes, which includes as a bullet point the goal that in speaking about the attack, then-U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice should "reinforce the President and Administration's strength and steadiness in dealing with difficult challenges."
Slate's Dave Weigel did a great job earlier this week of placing the email in chronological context, to discredit the argument that the email represents evidence of a "cover-up." And while it might appear a bit unseemly for administration officials to be concerning themselves with the president's image and the administration's competence in the midst a crisis… this is actually completely uncontroversial. Would John Boehner and Darrell Issa have preferred it if Susan Rice went on TV that week and granted that the administration was in complete disarray? Or had refused to take a position on the administration's handling of the situation?...

The early responses from the left side of the aisle has been "Oh great, they're finally going there" alongside analysis that the Republicans are desperate to re-stage another round of Benghazi investigations because their 2014 Midterms talking point of "ObamaCare is broken and must be repealed" is falling apart as enough voters don't believe it's broken and are seeing enough benefits out of it.

But it's problematic to just dismiss the Republican obsession with Benghazi off-hand.

The reason the Republicans keep jumping on Benghazi is because it is a legitimate tragedy: four people died due to errors in security.  This isn't like the Far Right harping on Obama's birth certificate, or mocking whether or not Obama uses a teleprompter, or whether Obama ties his shoelaces in a proper American fashion.  This isn't even the matter where an IRS office in Ohio investigated Tea Party SuperPACs (the other big scandal the wingnuts obsess over, but which is meaningless because the IRS office investigated a lot of other SuperPAC 501s as well).  Benghazi is a real problem because people died.

But the Republicans have to realize they're pushing a scandal well out-of-proportion to the facts, and pushing it in such a way that all other outside observers will view it as insanity.  The Republicans seem to focus on how the Obama White House was handling the "messaging" in the wake of the attack, as though that was a cover-up worth having (or that the messaging would reveal malign intent of some kind).  The GOP House is looking into the standard back-and-forth of interoffice communications rather than focus on the real scandal: how the security systems for our overseas consulates broke down (and what can be done to re-enforce that security).

But I doubt the Republicans will want to dig too deep into the real scandal of Benghazi: that's the problem behind the GOP's All-Benghazi mission.  The Republicans' objective isn't to fix the problems: the Republicans' objective is to make Obama look like a failed President (and the Democrats all look like librul un-American incompetents).  At all costs.

The other reason the GOP is hitting hard on Benghazi is that it's also a way to attack the supposed front-runner for the Democratic Presidential primaries for 2016.  As Secretary of State at the time, Hillary Clinton is someone the Republicans want to have held accountable: they want to drop the four dead State employees around her neck like a millstone.  The Republicans want to turn this tragedy into another Chappaquiddick, another Willie Horton.

It's as TBogg writes over on Raw Story: Benghazi is all they got (remember Solyandra?  Remember the Birth Certificate?  Remember Rev. Wright's radical Christianity and Obama Still being a Secret Muslim on the side?  Remember Death Panels?  Remember a failed website rollout?  Remember nationalizing the auto industry?  Remember how Obama ties his shoes, even when he wears loafers?).   Just like pursuing Bill Clinton over Whitewater and Vince Foster led to getting impeached over blowjobs: the Republicans do not care about the facts or about justice, they only care about purging anybody who stands in their way of achieving their "permanent majority rule" of their 100-year Pax Reaganicus.

Someone tweeted or blogged a quip that ended up in the recent Balloon Juice take on the Benghazi obsession: Who could’ve predicted that when the GOP establishment handed Nixon the pearl handled revolver in the parlor, we would have to impeach every Democratic President for the next forty years to balance things out? It seems that way, doesn't it?  I mean, granted they never impeached Carter, but that's because Democrats controlled Congress his term of office (and Carter still angered Congress enough to hover on the edge of impeachment).  It's been noted before how it's gotten to where it's expected for the Republicans to impeach a Democratic President because they can't handle the idea of a Democrat sitting in the Oval Office... the current GOP can't seem to handle the idea of honest bipartisanship... the Far Right can't accept the possibility of making political deals and compromises of any kind, and there's no moderate faction (hello, RINO purity purge) to make those deals anymore...

So we get this: a partisan response to investigating a scandal.  What happened in Benghazi does deserve investigation... but not as a political attack aimed to humiliate Obama or Hillary.  That way lies madness, and a refusal to make things work in government while the powers-that-be pursue a bullsh-t political agenda.

This is not how we should fix the nation's woes.