To My Pen Pal About Poverty in America

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To My Pen Pal About Poverty in America

By Frank Fear

A Review of $2.00 a Day:

Living on Almost Nothing In America

By Kathryn J. Edin and H. Luke Shaefer

My critiques of America are misguided, so my pen pal tells me. I underestimate America’s greatness and overplay its challenges. He is dedicated to helping me “understand.”

Yet another of his missives arrived a few weeks ago. It came at a time when I was reading, $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America (by Kathryn J. Edin and H. 836ad-2-a-dayLuke Shaefer. Boston: Mariner Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015).

It made me think about an omission in our discourse. My pen pal has never brought up the topic of poverty in America, not even once. Perhaps he thinks we’ve solved it. Maybe it’s not a priority for keeping America great.

Either way, he’s not alone in looking elsewhere. Poverty has fallen off America’s radar screen. We hardly even use the word these days. We prefer talking about tax cuts or referring to “working Americans.”

What a difference from the days of my youth! In 1964, President Johnson Lyndon made his intent clear and expressed it directly. He declared “A War on Poverty.”

What changed? Starting in the 1970’s, Governor (later president) Reagan had a bee under his bonnet for the “evils of welfare.” He promulgated his angst visually with the image of “The Welfare Queen.” Later, President Clinton signed a bill ‘reforming’ the welfare system.

Well, America got reform. And it American changed … for the worse.

“How so?” my pen pan will certainly ask. I’ll respond by quoting $2.00 a Day (p. xxiii).

“America’s cash welfare program that caught people when they fell—was not merely replaced with the 1996 welfare reform (note: Clinton’s reform); it was very nearly destroyed. In its place arose a different kind of safety net, one that provides a powerful hand up to some—the working poor—but offers much less to others, that is, those who can’t manage to find or keep a job. This book is based on what happens when a government safety net is built on the assumption of full-time, stable employment at a living wage combines with a low-wage labor market that fails to deliver on any of the above. It is this toxic alchemy…that is spurring the increasing numbers of $2-a-day poor in America.” 

That’s why (I’ll tell my pen pal) it’s precisely the right time for poverty to re-emerge as a public policy priority. $2 a Day should be the rallying call for that movement. “There can be no exceptional America (an image that my friend believes in so thoroughly) if that circumstance remains a reality,” I’ll write.

Misguided public policies need to be corrected, I’ll continue. We need to name, and then proclaim, those policies for exactly what they are … heartless. What we need today, I’ll write, is for American patriots to step forward—just as Marian Wright Edelman did in 1995 when she chastised President Clinton in an “open letter” published in The Washington Post. In that letter, Edelman quoted Franklin D. Roosevelt’s powerful admonition: “Better the occasional faults of a government that lives in a spirit of charity than the constant omission of a government frozen in the ice of its own indifference.”

I’d then remind my pen pal of a conversation that I had with another colleague nearly thirty years ago. The colleague had been invited by then-President George H.W. Bush to serve on the commission to plan the Points of Light Foundation. “Points of Light?” I asked emphatically over dinner one night. “It sounds like a bait-and-switch, a flowery label used as a ploy – a ploy to reduce government support for those who need it most–to get people “off the government dole.”

My pen pal will bristle at that assertion, just as my other colleague did that night. But I’ll be prepared to bolster my argument by drawing on another passage from $2.00 a Day (p. 102).

“Private charity in America is often viewed as the little engine that could. It chugs along admirably, providing billions of dollars in aid to the poor each year…. Yet, even in America—and even for those who are adept at gleaning all that private charity has to offer—it can’t even begin to replicate, much less replace, what the government does. Private charity is a complement to government action, something that bolsters the government safety net.”

Charity is important. Self-help efforts are vital. But government support is the cornerstone. It’s not the cornerstone now – and that needs to change in a responsible, progressive way.

How so?” my pen pal will certainly ask. In response, I’ll offer three steps as proposed in $2.00 a Day (see Conclusion: Where, Then, From Here? Pp. 157-174).

The first step is to scrap the term, “reform.’ Welfare needs to be replaced. That’s not a new idea, I’ll tell my pen pal. It was the cornerstone of David Ellwood’s influential thinking from twenty years ago. It needs to be resurrected.

The second step is to ground a replacement strategy in four American values: 1) autonomy of the individual, 2) the virtue of work, 3) the primacy of the family, and 4) a desire for community. Basing policies on those pillars will go a long way toward integrating the poor in society, rather than separating them from society – the unfortunate reality that exists today.

The third step is to put in place policies that accomplish three outcomes: 1) provide opportunities for all to work, 2) enable parents to raise kids in a place of their own, and 3) strengthen the financial safety net so that people never go without.

I have faith in what Eden and Shaffer propose, I’ll say, because I believe it’s the foundation of good public policy.

He’ll scoff at that declaration! I know he will. Why do I think so? One reason is what I learned from reading a provocative article written recently by Kevin Quealy, published in The New York Times. Quealy talks about how political elites influence public opinion, especially with regard to topics that are complex, technical, or off-the-radar screen.

The political elites to whom my friend pays attention don’t talk about poverty. They talk about cutting taxes, bolstering corporate America, reducing government regulations, managing budget deficits, correcting trade imbalances, curbing terrorism, bolstering defense … but never, ever about poverty.

Poverty has been handled. It’s being dealt with by non-profits, churches, and philanthropists. “We in America are nearer to the final triumph over poverty than ever before in the history of any land. The poor-house is vanishing among us.” Herbert Hoover, August 11, 1928.

I’ll tell my friend that he’s misguided, that America needs to respond in a prudent, humane way. America can’t possibly be great if people are living on $2 a day.

Don’t you agree?

Frank A. Fear is professor emeritus, Michigan State University. Frank is a frequent contributor to the LA Progressive and also writes about issues that intersect sport and society. You can read him at The Sports Column at http://www.thesportscol.com/category/frank-fear/  He is a long time independent and active with Independent Voting.

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A Letter from a Friend in Response

Hi Frank,

What can I say?

I think your article is brilliantly written in the most honest, clear and down to earth way. A humane and compelling format/conversation with “the other”. No demonization. No negating. Very intimate and political, touching and smart-a powerful personal/political organizing piece!

You locate poverty (the unspoken and criminally ignored white elephant in our country and in the world) structurally and not as a new phenomenon that we can just blame on one party – or the other – or on one leader or the other.  Poverty is institutionally located within a quagmire of ongoing unjust, inhumane policies that have and are destroying millions of lives, families, children, every day. And as you say, which must be thrown out and replaced-not reformed.

As a longtime political activist, I see the – up from the ground -National Independent Political Movement (IV.org) -working in concert with the many groups and individuals nationwide to build together to bring about this change!

Between your distribution networks and ours, I hope your piece reaches endless numbers of people hungry for a humane and sane direction to follow in this period.

Thank you Frank.

Kindest regards,

June

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June Hirsh is an organizer with IndependentVoting.org. She lives in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village.

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 Please Join the Politics for the People Conference Call

With Kathyrn Edin

We will be discussing:

$2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America

Sunday, December 3rd at 7 pm EST

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Reader’s Forum: Lou Hinman

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Lou Hinman on $2.00 A Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America

I love Kathryn Edin’s book $2.00 a Day. It gives a clear, concise account of the welfare reforms that were produced by the Clinton administration. It shows how the work of academics are used by politicians.

It also gives us a vivid, unforgettable narrative that exposes the human consequences of these reforms.  Poverty has long been hidden in America.  But $2.00 a Day shows us how poverty has become deeper and even more hidden .  Along with the super-rich, along with the growing gap between haves and have-nots, along with the destruction of families and wealth by the bank-fraud of the sub-prime mortgage disaster, there has grown an under-underclass of the super-poor — the destitute who try to survive in the wealthiest country in the history of the world on almost no money at all.

Those of us who have never missed a meal cannot know what this is like the way that the super-poor know it.  But Kathryn Edin makes us look at it.  She makes us look at fellow Americans whose main source of cash is selling their own plasma.  At mothers of children who are forced into prostitution the pay the electrical bill.   At teenagers who submit to sexual abuse to get something to eat.  At young children who say they want to be dead.

What are we going to do about this?  More of the Clintons (or the next generation of Democratic Party triangulators) will not fix this.  The Democratic Party is not reformable.  To  address poverty, super-poverty, the destruction of the middle class, and the future of our children and our children’s children, there must be structural reform of our political process so that all our voices can be heard.

Lou Hinman lives in New York City and is an activist with IndependentVoting.org and the New York City Independence Clubs.

Please Join the Politics for the People Conference Call

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Kathyrn Edin Speaks at All Stars Project

On October 28th, I attended the All Stars Project President’s Roundtable hosted by Gabrielle Kurlander.  Kathryn Edin, one of the authors of our current selection, $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America was the the guest speaker for “A New Conversation About Poverty” with discussants Dr. Lenora Fulani and Dr. Bonny Gildin.

President's Roundtable

Bonny Gildin, Kathryn Edin, Cathy Stewart, Lenora Fulani and Gabrielle Kurlander at ASP President’s Roundtable.

Dr. Edin gave an opening presentation on her ongoing research in Baltimore, following the young people of families that were given the opportunity to move from the highest poverty neighborhood to an average neighborhood in the city.  She has been interviewing and visiting with these young people over many years.  She outlines the “developmental effect” — when young people were given a broader exposure to a range of opportunities…  She commented that as a poverty researcher, she had been “blind to the role and importance” of the arts to kids lives until this project.

Dr. Edin’s presentation was followed by a very rich conversation amongst the panelists and audience.  Kathryn spoke about how we have moralized poverty and see it as a moral failing.  Our public policy, Edin says relates to the poor “in the meanest possible way.”  She talked about the work of the All Stars Project as bringing dignity and a voice to the poor and how she is working to establish the power of the “dignity effect” in her research.

At the end of the conversation, Dr. Lenora Fulani shared her view that we have to teach people to love the poor. I could not agree more!

You can watch Dr. Edin’s opening presentation at the All Stars Project President’s Roundtable here or below:

 

Please Join the Politics for the People Conference Call

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We will be discussing:

$2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America

Sunday, December 3rd at 7 pm EST

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New Selection–Chosen by You

Thanks for voting and selecting our next book club selection.

AMAZON | BARNES & NOBLE | BOOKS-A-MILLION | INDIEBOUND | APPLE | KOBO | SONY

Written by Kathryn J. Edin and H. Luke Shaefer

 

From the $2.00 A Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America website:

“Jessica Compton’s family of four would have no income if she didn’t donate plasma twice a week at her local donation center in Tennessee. Modonna Harris and her teenage daughter Brianna, in Chicago, have gone for days with nothing to eat other than spoiled milk.

After two decades of groundbreaking research on American poverty, Kathryn Edin noticed something she hadn’t seen before — households surviving on virtually no cash income. Edin, whose deep examination of her subjects’ lives has “turned sociology upside down” (Mother Jones), teamed with Luke Shaefer, an expert on surveys of the incomes of the poor. The two made a surprising discovery: the number of American families living on $2.00 per person, per day, has skyrocketed to one and a half million American households, including about three million children.

But the fuller story remained to be told. Where do these families live? How did they get so desperately poor? What do they do to survive? In search of answers, Edin and Shaefer traveled across the country to speak with families living in this extreme poverty. Through the book’s many compelling profiles, moving and startling answers emerge: a low-wage labor market that increasingly fails to deliver a living wage, and a growing but hidden landscape of survival strategies among America’s extreme poor. Not just a powerful exposé, $2.00 a Day delivers new evidence and new ideas to our national debate on income inequality.”

You can get your copy at Amazon, your local bookseller or library.

The book is riveting and paints the disturbing picture of growing poverty in American post the “welfare reforms” that started in the Clinton era.

Join in our conversation on line…

And join us when we welcome Kathryn Edin

To our Politics for the People Conference Call       

Sunday, December 3rd at 7 pm EST

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Kathryn J. Edin

 

Reader’s Forum–Dave Franklin and Call Tonight

This is our last Reader’s Forum before we go live tonight at 7 pm EST in conversation with David Daley, the author of RATF**KED: The True Story Behind the Secret Plan to Steal America’s Democracy.  All the call in details are below.

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My introduction to independent politics began in 1992 with Dr. Lenora Fulani’s independent Presidential campaign. I worked on the campaign and was asked to run for Congress here in California.  I ran on the “Peace and Freedom” party ticket. This party was basically an old style left party that didn’t do much. They were pretty upset with me for running.  The only thing they liked about me was the fact I was a union members and shop steward. Otherwise, I was persona non grata. Before this, I was a democrat who realized that the party didn’t really respond to  working people’s issues.

Dr. Fulani’s campaign raised the lack of fairness in our elections. Throughout the years I have continued to support independent politics and Independent Voting’s various initiatives.  Here is CA, I have been active with Independent Voice, an association of independent voters focused on moving control of our elections from the political parties to the voters.  We were part of the coalitions that worked to pass nonpartisan elections in 2010 and nonpartisan redistricting reform. There twin reforms have been critical in giving all of CA’s 4.7 million independent voters the opportunity to vote in the primaries, creating more competitive elections and a far more functional state legislature.   It is not sufficient to have fair redistricting unless we have fair elections where all voters can participate.

I found the story of RATF**KED very insightful, but perhaps with too many statistics.

The current use of computer software to create new districts is interesting. The Republican Party’s plan to use redistricting to take over is amazing in that it worked and was successful.Redistricting as a strategy has been around for a long time. Both parties used it to their advantage.It’s only with the invention of new software that has created an easier path for the strategy. It only makes stealing elections and stealing democracy a click or two away. If you can’t win an election outright, then redistrict your way to a win. Corruption still looks like corruption, in both parties.

Our current strategy at Independent Voting looks promising. Organizing independents who are ignored by both parties and the media and working for truly nonpartisan reforms that focus on empowering all voters.

Speaking of strategy, I highly recommend reading the new book, Refinery Town: Big Oil,  Big Money, and the Remaking of an American City, by Steve Early. This is the story of my town where I have lived for almost 40 years. The Green Party came to Richmond California in the early 2000’s. They organized the old fashioned way. Door-to door. Person-by person. The city of 100,000 is one the poorest in the bay area. Also the most diverse. Chevron, on the biggest oil companies has run the town for almost 100 years. The local politicians,mostly democrat’s have been paid off by Chevron for almost the same amount of time.

After 2-3 years of serious grass-roots organizing the Green Party ran a slate for mayor and city council that was elected. The new mayor, Gayle McLaughlin cleaned house and brought new and progressive leadership to our city. It was a deeply entrenched, deeply corrupted city. Bought and paid for by Chevron. Gayle brought in a new police chief from Fargo North Dakota , who also cleaned house. With the city near bankruptcy, she hired an new city manager. Now, 10 years later, Richmond has a experienced a turn-around. Poverty is still here, as is crime. But, now there are serious programs addressing these issues. Chevron is now ponying up it’s fair share to maintain these programs and the city of Richmond. For years they were able to find tax loopholes in the local taxes and exploit them

I am looking forward to our conversation with David Daley tonight.

Dave Franklin lives in CA and is a long time independent activist.

 

*Reminder*

Conference Call with David Daley

Author of RATF**KED

TONIGHT

Sunday, June 4th at 7 pm EST

Call: 641-715-3605
Pass code: 767775#

 

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An Independent Reviews RATF**KED

The True Story Behind the Secret Plan to Steal America’s Democracy

By Dr. Jessie Fields 

Jessie Fields

Dr. Jessie Fields at the 2107 National Conference of Independents

 

David Daley does a fine job of exploring the politics of redistricting and the current escalation of gerrymandering, a very old corrupt standard practice of elected officials determining the electoral districts from which they are elected, drawing the lines of state legislative and congressional districts. The author examines in detail the resulting high level of voter disenfranchisement at the state and national level, the effective takeover of our political process by party operatives who determine the outcome of elections by packing Democratic leaning minority voters into dense urban districts and spreading so called Republican leaning voters over more districts which Republican legislators can be assured to win though by smaller margins. Throughout the book Daley touches on the racial and economic divisions this practice perpetuates.

The book pivots through the years of the Obama presidency and examines the 2010 Republican Party escalation of partisan gerrymandering that targeted districts in key states to successfully control the state redistricting process which resulted in unprecedented victories for the Republican Party and their domination of a majority of state legislatures and of Congress.  The author also points out the complacency of the Democratic Party, its focus on presidential elections and the Democratic Party’s reliance on demographics to win elections.

A solution to gerrymandering is unlikely to come from either of the two parties. The Republicans may have perfected it in 2010, but both sides have had a long, successful history of manipulating redistricting for their own advantage. A political party is built to win elections, after all – as well as to raise money and employ consultants and operatives. Their leaders always believe they can win the next one, and that reformers will stop howling once their side regains power. Too often, sadly, that’s true.”

Independent voters have been and remain committed to nonpartisan political reform including redistricting reform. The source for reform has come primarily from voter ballot initiatives and the book highlights the fights to maintain such initiatives in states like Arizona, where the case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme court and the voter initiative was upheld by a 5-4 vote of the court.

Other examples of the passage of redistricting reforms by popular vote are Florida’s “nonpartisan Fair Districts Now coalition” which in 2010 passed two reform initiatives with 62 percent support. In 2015 Ohio voters by 71% passed a ballot initiative that, though limited, established a less partisan plan for drawing state legislative districts.

However California, in my estimate the state that has led the country in electoral reform victories with its redistricting commission and nonpartisan top two elections initiatives, passed by the voters in 2010, is not mentioned except in a quote in the chapter, “Democrats” from Martin Frost, a former Texas Congressman who was gerrymandered out of office.  

“When Democrats controlled the House for the four decades before the 1994 Gingrich revolution, redistricting worked with a wink, he said; it was an incumbent protection racket on both sides. .. “That’s why prior to the referendum in California – prior to the commission – everyone got reelected.” “The numbers back that up.”

The overarching theme of the book is in the subtitle, “The True Story Behind The Secret Plan To Steal America’s Democracy”.  It expresses the stealth aspect of the reality of what is happening to American democracy. A centerpiece of the theft and destruction of democracy is partisan gerrymandering in conjunction with closed partisan primaries. If the primaries locally and nationally were open and every voter, no matter party affiliation or non-affiliation, including independent voters could vote the threat of being “primaried” by a far right wing Republican would not exist.

The relationship of opening the primaries to all voters along with redistricting reform is underestimated, both are needed. Partisan gerrymandering hinges on the district being dominated by identification with one political party, so that whoever wins that party primary wins the general election. If the primary is open to all voters the candidates who are successful are more likely those that appeal to a cross section of voters. This phenomenon has been demonstrated in states with nonpartisan open primaries. A massive continuous infusion of systemic democracy reforms and initiatives that take power from the parties and put it in the hands of the voters are needed to save our democracy. I could not agree more with Daley that “.., it will require creative state and local solutions, inventive uses of the referendum and initiative process, and new alliances of frustrated citizens which defy party boundaries, rooted in the belief that fair elections which reflect an honest majority are as important as which side wins. It will take people to stand up and say that our democratic values matter too deeply to ratfuck.”

The book was completed before the end of the 2016 presidential election, and in it Rob Richie, executive director of FairVote, postulates alternative scenarios if the election was won by Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders or “a Republican” given that gerrymandering has given the Republican Party a congressional majority for the rest of this decade. Donald Trump is now president. He was elected because large segments of the American people are in revolt against the establishment and are looking for ways to change politics. This popular revolt was also expressed in the campaign of Senator Bernie Sanders.

The gerrymander is yet another example of a political barrier that must be overcome. Voters are becoming more independent and less easily sorted by party identification. Independents say strongly “do not put me in that box”, 43% of Americans now identify as independents, they are the hoped for bridge to a new and more inclusive American democracy.

~Dr. Jessie Fields is a physician practising in Harlem, a leader in the New York City Independence Clubs, and a board member of the All Stars Project and Open Primaries.

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Conference Call with David Daley

Author of RATF**KED

Sunday, June 4th at 7 pm EST

Call: 641-715-3605
Pass code: 767775#

Gerrymandering heads to the Supreme Court

As we begin our reading of RATF**KED: The True Story Behind The Secret Plan To Steal America’s Democracy,  you will also want to read the The New York Times  piece on April 21st outlining the current status of the legal fights around gerrymandering.

 The Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison. A panel of judges agreed that the State Assembly’s electoral districts had been gerrymandered before the 2012 election, favoring Republicans.CreditMichael P. King/Wisconsin State Journal, via Associated Press

The hand-to-hand political combat in House elections on Tuesday in Georgia and last week in Kansas had the feel of the first rounds of an epic battle next year for control of the House of Representatives and the direction of national politics as the Trump presidency unfolds.

But for all the zeal on the ground, none of it may matter as much as a case heading to the Supreme Court, one that could transform political maps from City Hall to Congress — often to Democrats’ benefit.

A bipartisan group of voting rights advocates says the lower house of the Wisconsin Legislature, the State Assembly, was gerrymandered by its Republican majority before the 2012 election — so artfully, in fact, that Democrats won a third fewer Assembly seats than Republicans despite prevailing in the popular vote. In November, in a 2-to-1 ruling, a panel of federal judges agreed.

Now the Wisconsin case is headed to a Supreme Court that has repeatedly said that extreme partisan gerrymanders are unconstitutional, but has never found a way to decide which ones cross the line.

Some legal scholars believe this could be the year that changes that. If that happens, they say, an emphatic ruling against partisan gerrymanders would rank with another redistricting decision: Baker v. Carr, the historic 1962 case that led to the principle of one person, one vote.

 “My feeling is that there is increasing concern within the court about the extent of partisan gerrymandering over the last 10 or 15 years,” said Richard H. Pildes, a constitutional law professor at the New York University School of Law. “I do think this is a pivotal moment — a big, big moment.”

Gerrymandering has always been contentious. But the extraordinary success of a Republican strategy to control redistricting by capturing majorities in state legislatures in the 2010 elections has lent urgency to the debate.

Today, at a time of hyperpartisan politics and computer technology that can measure political leanings almost house by house, Republicans control legislatures in 33 states, 25 with Republican governors. They have unfettered command over the boundaries of at least 204 congressional districts — amounting to nearly half the 435-seat House.

In contrast, Democrats’ share of state legislature seats has shrunk to a level not seen since Warren G. Harding was president, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. And in recent years, their numbers in the House of Representatives have hovered near levels last seen during the Truman administration.

Partly because of the Voting Rights Act, gerrymanders based on race are flatly illegal, but ones based on partisan intent remain in limbo.

The Wisconsin case heads four legal actions on partisan gerrymanders that the Supreme Court could consider and, perhaps, consolidate. In Maryland, another three-judge panel will hear arguments over whether a Democratic legislature gerrymandered House districts in 2011 to oust a 10-term Republican congressman.

In North Carolina, a June hearing is scheduled in a suit over the unabashedly partisan carving of the state into 10 Republican and three Democratic House seats — this in a state with more registered Democrats than Republicans.

The state representative who drew that map said he had engineered 10 safely Republican seats only “because I do not believe it’s possible to draw a map with 11 Republicans and two Democrats.”

Experts disagree over how much gerrymandering has hurt Democrats. One prominent 2013 study mostly blamed geography, not partisanship, because Democrats tend to cluster in cities. But the most recent study, by a Princeton professor, Samuel S. H. Wang, concluded that gerrymanders had cost Democrats as many as 22 House seats in the 2012 election — nearly enough to flip the chamber’s control.

Politicians, on the other hand, appear certain of their electoral potency. Former President Barack Obama and his attorney general, Eric H. Holder Jr., are spearheading an initiative to undo Republicans’ redistricting triumphs. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican and the former governor of California, is leading a movement to outlaw gerrymanders of any political stripe.

Wisconsin Republican leaders say they dominate the Legislature because they have both a better strategy and vision of governing, not because of illegal gerrymandering.

“In a year when people want change, even in a district that favors one party over another, a good candidate with a good message wins,” said Robin Vos, Wisconsin’s Assembly speaker.

But the court said in November that the redistricting clearly aimed to entrench Republican control of the Assembly. The party took 60 of the Assembly’s 99 seats in 2012 despite losing the popular vote, and has since added three more.

As in all gerrymanders, Wisconsin’s mapmakers hobbled their opponents in two ways. One was to pack as many Democrats as possible into a few districts, leaving fewer Democrats for potentially competitive ones. In 2012, 21 of the 39 Assembly districts that Democrats won were so lopsided that Republicans did not even field candidates. In two more, Democrats captured at least 94 percent of the vote.

The other method was to fracture unwinnable Democratic districts, salting their Democrats among Republican-majority districts so that races there became closer yet remained out of Democrats’ reach.

“They just busted my district and put it into four or five others,” said Mark Radcliffe, a 45-year-old Democrat and former state representative, whose district encompassed Alma Center, in rural western Wisconsin. Mr. Radcliffe, who wound up in the district of another Democrat, chose to resign rather than run against a popular member of his own party.

John Steinbrink at his home in Pleasant Prairie, Wis. Mr. Steinbrink, a Democrat, had represented a district in far southeastern Wisconsin since 1996, but after redistricting, lost to a Republican who won 55 percent of the vote in 2012. Credit Taylor Glascock for The New York Times

John Steinbrink, another Democrat, had represented southeastern Wisconsin in the Assembly since 1996, supported by a Democratic base in Kenosha, six miles from where he farms corn and soybeans. After redistricting, Kenosha became a safe Democratic district, and Mr. Steinbrink was exiled to an adjoining district populated by rural conservatives. In 2012, his Republican opponent won with 55 percent of the vote.

“I could have moved to Kenosha” and sought re-election there, Mr. Steinbrink said. “But I don’t know how you farm in the city.”

The legal argument against such maps is akin to the one used for decades to outlaw ethnic and racial gerrymanders. Gerrymanders dilute a minority group’s votes, muffling its voice in the political process. The Wisconsin plaintiffs argue that whether the minority group is African-Americans or members of a political party makes no difference.

“When you’re talking about the opportunity to turn your vote into a policy or change, the 14th Amendment says you should have an equal chance, whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican,” said Ruth Greenwood, the deputy director for redistricting at the Campaign Legal Center, which is representing plaintiffs in Wisconsin and North Carolina. “But if you’re a Republican in Wisconsin, you get an outsized say with your vote. And if you’re a Democrat in Rhode Island, you get an outsized say.’’

But while racial or ethnic gerrymanders can be statistically measured — a Latino remains a Latino from election to election — judges have struggled to identify overly partisan districts, knowing voter sentiments can quickly change.

In Supreme Court cases in 1986, 2004 and 2006, justices variously called partisan gerrymanders illegitimate, seriously harmful, incompatible with democratic principles and “manipulation of the electorate.” But they have never struck one down. And in 2004, they came within a single vote of ruling them impossible to judge, because nobody could draw the line between unavoidable political influence in redistricting and an unconstitutional rigging of the vote.

The Maryland lawsuit proposes a solution that some justices have pondered: an argument that gerrymanders violate the First Amendment, not the 14th, by retaliating against opponents who express contrary views. Under that standard, any partisanship-inspired district would be unconstitutional if it hobbled a minority party.

The Wisconsin plaintiffs’ attempt to break the logjam is a new standard, the efficiency gap. It is a numerical rating of parties’ “wasted” votes: those above the 50-percent-plus-1 needed to win a seat, and all votes cast in a loss. When the gap between the parties’ ratings exceeds a limit based on ratings from hundreds of past elections, the plaintiffs argue, the majority party should have to justify the boundaries it drew. Even then, plaintiffs would have to prove the party aimed to weaken the opposition.

 Nicholas O. Stephanopoulos, a University of Chicago law professor and lawyer for the plaintiffs, said four of the five most partisan state legislature maps in the last 45 years were drawn after 2010. CreditTaylor Glascock for The New York Times

The Wisconsin case underscores how modern gerrymanders, using computers and political and behavioral data, have become increasingly effective. Measured by the efficiency gap, four of the five most partisan state legislature maps in the last 45 years were drawn after 2010, said Nicholas O. Stephanopoulos, a University of Chicago law professor and lawyer for the plaintiffs.

In the House of Representatives, eight of the 10 most partisan maps were created after 2010, including Wisconsin’s and two in North Carolina.

One participant in the 2004 decision, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, may prove the fulcrum in the court’s deliberations. In that case, he held out hope that the court could find a solution to extreme gerrymanders that political leaders were unable or unwilling to address.

“The ordered working of our Republic, and of the democratic process, depends on a sense of decorum and restraint in all branches of government, and in the citizenry itself,” he wrote then.

At a time of soaring concern over hyperpartisanship, those words could resonate. That sentence “is the most important line” in the court’s decision, said Edward B. Foley, director of the Election Law Project at the Ohio State University Moritz College of Law.

If the Wisconsin statistical standards do not persuade the justices, other proposals are waiting in the wings. But some worry that the debate may be close to hitting the brick wall it avoided in 2004.

“If the court doesn’t endorse some version of what the three-judge panel decided” in Wisconsin, said Ellen D. Katz, a University of Michigan scholar of election law, “then it may be they’re never going to find a standard they’re comfortable applying.”

***

Conference Call with David Daley

Author of RATF**KED

Sunday, June 4th at 7 pm EST

Call: 641-715-3605
Pass code: 767775#

 

A Poem and A Song

Today we wrap our celebration of National Poetry Month with two selections: a poem chosen by Alice Rydel and an original song by Joe Pickering, Jr.

Alice-pic-Florida

In selecting Before the Scales, Tomorrow, Alice shares:

Here’s to memories, friendships, audaciousness, love, activism, prickliness, differences, agreements, forward-thinkingness, organizing, fighting for a world of humanity in such an inhumane time.”


Before the Scales, Tomorrow

By: Otto Rene Castillo

And when the enthusiastic
story of our time
is told,
who are yet to be born
but announce themselves
with more generous face,
we will come out ahead
–those who have suffered most from it.

And that
being ahead of your time
means much suffering from it.
But it’s beautiful to love the world
with eyes
that have not yet
been born.

And splendid
to know yourself victorious
when all around you
it’s all still so cold,
so dark.

Alice Rydel is a builder of the All Stars Project’s Castillo Theatre and long-time activist with the independent political community.

***

Joe Pickering, Jr. shares his original Song, More American Then Plymouth Rock.

Give a listen, and the full lyrics are below.

MORE AMERICAN  THAN  PLYMOUTH ROCK

CHORUS

MORE AMERICAN  THAN  PLYMOUTH ROCK
THE STATUE OF LIBERTY CRIES  FOR NEW YORK
MILLIONS FIRST CAME ASHORE TO BE FREE
NOW NEW YORK’S JAILED IN A CLOSED PRIMARY 

VOTERS MUST CHOSE FROM THE PARTY SELECTION 
PARTY CANDIDATES FOR THE PARTYS PROTECTION
SAVE AMERICA SENATOR SCHUMER ONCE WROTE
SAVE NEW YORK FIRST ! LET INDEPENDENTS VOTE !

REPEAT CHORUS

END THE PARTISAN PRMARY SCHUMER PROPOSED
YEARS LATER, THEIR PRIMARY REMAINS CLOSED
POLITICIANS HEED THE STATUE OF LIBERTY
ALL YEARN TO BE FREE ! HELP VOTERS VOTE FREE

REPEAT CHORUS

INDEPENDENT VOTERS  STAND AND FIGHT 
HOUND THE LEGISLATURE ‘TIL THEY VOTE RIGHT
NEW YORKERS THE STATUE CRIES FOR THEE
DRY HER TEARS DEMAND THE OPEN PRIMARY

(repeat last line in last verse several times and fade.)

Joe Pickering Jr.. Songwriter  Harry King artist and producer  King of the Road Music BMI  C 2017

 Joe Pickering, Jr is the President of Mainers for Open Elections.

You can listen to More American Than Plymouth Rock here.
https://youtu.be/fCSQma7xz5c

 

***

OUR NEXT SELECTION:

 RATF**KED:

The True Story Behind The Secret Plan To Steal America’s Democracy 

By David Daley

Will kick off on Monday.

Our conference call with the author will be on Sunday, June 4th at 7 pm EST.

Beijing by Jan Wootten

 

 

 

I wrote this poem in Feb. 2008, after the NY Philharmonic’s historic concert at the newly opened Performing Arts Center in Beijing. The musician’s bus travelled through Tiananmen Square, past Mao’s tomb.

Tour bus hums through the empty square
shrouded in shadows
Mao’s crypt sits forlornly in the night.
Motionless among the delirious eruptions of Capital that criss-cross the skyline
he silently bears witness to a surreal mix of the forbidden city and equity markets.

(A sadness grips me knowing he lies alone.
I wonder if he turns over, shakes off his red cover,
if his rouged cheeks blush harder with the confusion and absurdity of the moment.)

By day, peasants from across the land wrap round and round his resting place
a simple people, hard working and humble
toiling for little, investing everything for a better future
they mingle in the mall with tourists from Omaha and Waco.

Tonight the people crowd into the tiny concert hall
a titanium space ship landed on Tiananmen
a beautiful, alien cultural machine settling in, beckoning with free tickets for all

Quiet men in sweaters and zippered jackets clap politely, then warming to the music, smile broadly;
small children wave at the stage,
the timpani’s energetic wands signal back a western hello.

later, bundled onto their tour bus, oboists, strings and percussion wind through cavernous, empty streets;
a young thin man in uniform presses against his epaulets, standing watch under a red star

And Mr. Mao, I imagine,
strains to the sounds of Ravel and Brahms
tapping out the syncopated rhythms of this strange leap forward.

Photo on 11-19-16 at 2.39 PM
Janet Wootten, a proud independent since 1972 — and a Fulani foot soldier since 1988, helping to advance the independent cause.

National Poetry Month At P4P

Our celebration of National Poetry Month kicks off April 1st.

We will be sharing poems submitted by P4P members across the country.

Do you have a favorite political poem or poet? Do you have an original political poem that you have written that you would like to share?  Send me a note at Cathy.stewart5@gmail.com to have your selection considered.

This is the official poster for National Poetry Month. This year’s artist is Maira Kalman.

Image result for high resolution image of national poetry month poster

 

Click here to visit the poster where each image links to a poem.

***

OUR NEXT SELECTION:

 RATF**KED:

The True Story Behind The Secret Plan To Steal America’s Democracy 

By David Daley

We will be kicking off this selection toward the end of the month.

Our conference call with the author will be on Sunday, June 4th at 7 pm EST.

 

 

 

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