The League of Extraordinarily Awful Gentlemen

A White House phone call reveals all!

 

Leaked from a recording on the president’s phone:

(Dial tone): Uh, hey sweetie, get me all the guys on the line. Start with Putin, Will ya?

Putin: Hyello?

Trump: Vlad? listen, I want to get the gang together for a really big, beautiful, party. It’s for my one-year anniversary–you know, since the American people begged me to become their leader. Anyway, I was wondering if you could help me out with the invitations. I know some of the guys don’t like to be seen together–I mean, they all think the world of me, but you know, Assad and Bibi are like two ex-wives at the same dance, am I right? Continue reading “The League of Extraordinarily Awful Gentlemen”

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More Advice to Republicans

Really, I want to help.

Republican reactions to yesterday’s Elections that Almost Nobody Had are ranging from philosophical to hair-on-fire. But the most pragmatic was speaker Paul Ryan’s assessment that his party needs more than ever to pass something through Congress and get it signed into law. Ignoring for now whether the president would even sign a bill presented to him, given his unpredictability and penchant for drama, the Republicans’ effectiveness as a governing party is now staked on the passage of a reform of the tax code. You couldn’t pick a more complex aspect of governance. Or, as the Dear Leader might say, “Who knew this could be so complicated?” Continue reading “More Advice to Republicans”

They Did It to Themselves

But the Republicans can fix their party whenever they get the guts.

Everybody’s talking these days about the disarray bedeviling both major political parties. The Democrats are at war with themselves over whether to double down on identity politics and progressive morality or to reclaim their role as champion of the working class. Will they campaign on abortion, transgender rights, and cultural diversity or on fairer taxation and better funding of public services?

The Republicans have their own problem: they’re led by Donald Trump. Continue reading “They Did It to Themselves”

A Modest Proposal on Gerrymandering

Focus on the solution, not the problem.

The Supreme Court is finally hearing a creditable case against gerrymandering, and the consensus seems to be that it just might be sympathetic to the plaintiffs. The problem is that while the court seems to agree that gerrymandering is bad, the solutions to it are all questionable. How do you prove that a district is gerrymandered? What test could be applied that would hold up in court?

The current case relies on a statistical test of “wasted votes.” These are votes that are cast either in a losing campaign or in excess of what was needed in a winning campaign. When a candidate wins in a landslide, any votes beyond what was needed to win are effectively “wasted.” And of course, all the loser’s votes wee wasted as well. Thus in a gerrymandered district a lot of votes are wasted because the district was designed to over- or under represent voters of one party.

This means that in any election, there are a lot of wasted votes, so the question becomes: how many wasted votes are tolerable? Chief Justice Roberts considers the whole logic of the case to be a bunch of statistical mumbo-jumbo, and I think he’s got a point, especially since there are  many instances of “natural” gerrymandering, as when Democrats tend to settle in urban areas. What would a plaintiff do to enforce an anti-gerrymandering law then? Prove intent?

There is a simple solution to this problem: ignore the issue of proving that gerrymandering exists, and focus solely on preventing it. The court could impose a rule that makes it impossible, or at least more difficult, to gerrymander a district. One easy way would be to mandate that a district’s perimeter in miles must be less than some certain proportion of its area in square miles. There are many districts that have such convoluted shapes that their perimeters are hundreds of miles long even as their areas are relatively small. This perimeter-to-area system would make that impossible.

It would also obviate any disputes over intent, as partisan intent would be thwarted by the rule. And although it wouldn’t eliminate wasted votes, it would at least make them easier to tolerate by either side.

 

The Guns of September

Some years ago I traveled to Prague to attend a conference on “Evil and Human Wickedness.” The conference organizers had arranged an excursion on our off day, to Terezin, a former military fortress which the Nazis renamed Theresienstadt and turned into a concentration camp for Czech Jews. This particular camp was distinctive in many ways, one of which was that it had earlier served as a prison and had housed Gavrilo Princip, the Serbian nationalist who assassinated the Austrian Archduke and lit the spark that exploded into the Great War. I have a photo of my wife standing in that very cell. Okay, I’m not proud of it, but it does have a sort of Diane Arbus vibe. Continue reading “The Guns of September”

What Does a “Police State” Look Like?

Deep trouble in the Gateway City.

It’s not uncommon to hear the phrase “police state” tossed around whenever big crowds demonstrate resistance to what the state is doing. Large, noisy crowds can be a threat to public order and safety, and police departments have learned over many decades that a show of force, replete with all sorts of riot gear and quasi-military tactics, can prevent a situation from getting out of hand. Still, observers can see these displays as oppression of free speech, gun rights, black America, white America, or whatever the noisy crowd represents.

Such claims are often part of the soundtrack that plays beneath the us-against-the-man drama of social movements, and most of the time we take them as such. But what happens when the police themselves become not The Man, symbol of the state’s power, but an aggrieved party themselves? What happens when The Man protests against us? Continue reading “What Does a “Police State” Look Like?”

Race Hysteria in St. Louis!

I showed up Friday at the gym to learn that a verdict had been rendered in the case of Jason Stockley, a former police officer who had shot a black suspect to death after a high-speed chase during which he told his partner (recorded on dash cam) that he was going to kill the guy. The verdict being “not guilty,” the others in the group were concerned—but not about the questionable balance of the scales of justice. Rather, most folks were worried about the backlash that might result, cautioning each other to stay out of downtown because there could be riots. Later in the day my dentist expressed the hope that the suburb of Clayton would be safe that evening, as he had a banquet to attend. My response, of course, was “Ghgrrlth.” Continue reading “Race Hysteria in St. Louis!”