Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Best Way to Express Patriotism and Fidelity for the Democratic Process When Your Side Loses?

When Barack Obama was elected President in 2008, many on the right went absolutely crazy. Within a few months of his inauguration, at the height of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, the Tea Party and Birtherism had become quite popular. The racism endemic to at least a portion of the Tea Party (and yes, racism was loudly present in the Tea Party movement) seemed fueled by the election of a black President. So too was the ongoing chorus of voices that cried out that President Obama wasn’t actually eligible to be President because he was born in Kenya or because both parents weren’t citizens or because his father owed “allegiance” to Britain or … well, any of a host of other idiotic reasons.

The point was that, to many people, the election of a black President was an apparent sign that something had gone “wrong” in “their” country and that either the election wasn’t legitimate or that they needed to “take their country back”. “Patriotic” voices on the right spent four years trying to convince either themselves or others (I’m honestly not sure which…) that President Obama wasn’t an American, that he was a socialist or a Marxist (or sometimes a Fascist), that he was a Muslim or he hated Christianity, that he was secretly gay or swore allegiance to … oh, hell, I can’t even keep all of the conspiracy theories straight anymore. One thing is certain, though, and that is that many Republicans did everything that they could to prevent President Obama from having any political successes in the hopes of making him a one-term President.

So jump forward to 2012. President Obama wins re-election and does so by a wide margin, even though Republican talking heads had been telling their constituency, for months, that Mitt Romney would win. Those talking heads told them that the polls were inaccurate, just as they told people that neither global warming nor evolution was real, that unemployment numbers were faked, that 47% of Americans don’t pay taxes, that Benghazi was a cover-up, that the UN was coming to take their guns, that Obamacare was a “government take over of healthcare”, and so on and so forth.

And yet Obama won.

By a lot. Current vote totals show that Romney received only around 47.5% of the popular vote.

So how now do these “patriotic” Americans respond? How do they reconcile the fact that a majority of their fellow citizens saw a different world than they did? How do they come to terms with the fact that they weren’t able to take their country back from the Marxist Kenyan Muslim in the White House?

They write and sign petitions to secede from the United States of America.

How’s that for patriotism?

This isn’t just a case of people saying, “It’s my ball, and if you don’t play by my rules I’m going home.” No, it’s much worse than that. It is, instead, as people like Ann Coulter have claimed of liberal views for years, treasonous. Remember that little hubbub from 1861-1865? Right. That’s what happened when some states decided to secede because they didn’t like the results of the democratic process.

Does an American patriot truly respond to electoral defeat by talking about secession?

And try out this thought experiment for a brief moment: Let’s take a little trip, shall we, back in time to an alternate version of November 2004. You remember 2004, don’t you? George W. Bush had just defeated John Kerry to win a second term as President of the United States. I know, I know. You’ve blocked that memory. But let’s go back to that November shall we, but with one teensy weensy tiny itty bitty change. You see, in our alternate version of November 2004, within days after the election liberal Americans all across the north and along both the northeast and west coasts began writing and signing petitions to seceded from the United States. Remember that? Right.

Well, I also want you to remember what it was like when you turned on Fox News and listened to the network talk about those who advocated secession. What was it that Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck said about those seeking to secede from the Union? Did they just chuckle and suggest that these people were crazy … or did they call for charges of treason with public hangings for those who suggested secession?

Or go back four more years to November (and December 2000) when the Supreme Court decided that George W. Bush had defeated Al Gore (who, you will no doubt recall won the popular vote but lost the electoral vote because of a 517-vote difference in Florida). Don’t you remember liberals lining up across the country and refusing to recognize the legitimacy of Bush’s presidency, members of the military refusing President Bush’s orders, and people all across the country writing and signing petitions seeking to secede from the Union?

Oh, wait. Those things didn’t happen. But just think about how those on the right who now talk of secession, or even more standard voices on the right, would likely have reacted to liberal calls for secession. I’m betting the reactions would not have been terribly accommodating.

So what is it about the election and re-election of Barack Obama that has caused such widespread … well, lunacy? And why are we treating anyone who suggests secession as anything other than treasonous? Seriously.

For years, we’ve heard some direct the “love it or leave it” mantra toward those who are critical of the US government or a specific US policy. But now, when the shoe has changed proverbial feet, the mantra seems to have been turned on its head. Now, rather than “love it or leave it” those who don’t like the results of the democratic process demonstrate their fidelity both to the country and that process by suggesting that secession is the proper course. These people are likely the same ones who like to crow about “American exceptionalism” yet when confronted by the results of the democratic process, the very core of that exceptionalism, they cry foul. How about this? If you don’t like what America has become, take your own advice … and leave. Don’t secede. Just pack your bags and go. I’ve heard that the Democratic Republic of Congo is nice this time of year. And take your racism and conspiracy theories with you. Oh, and be sure to save room in your luggage for Limbaugh, Beck, and their ilk. I’m sure you’ll have need to talking heads who share your myopic worldview wherever you end up. Buh-bye.

And for the rest of us, if you hear someone talk about secession, ask them if they’re any different from slave states in the 1860s? Ask them if they really are patriotic Americans. Ask them if they’ve pledged allegiance to the flag “and to the Republic for which it stands”? And then ask if that means anything to them. Ask them to explain how the democratic process is supposed to work and what democracy really means to them. People who express thoughts of secession or who espouse conspiracy theories or claims that President Obama is somehow illegitimate need to be shamed, and publicly so. When these folks mention widely debunked and obviously false conspiracy theories, call them out. Ask them to prove their case. Don’t just let this sort of speech pass you by.

We need to stand up for American exceptionalism, especially our exceptional democracy. So when you hear talk of secession, call the speaker out and tell them that secession is treasonous and in violation of their pledge of allegiance to the Republic. Those who’ve abandoned their respect for the our democratic process don’t deserve for their views to be respected. And those who base their views on the fact that our President is black should be called out for the racists that they are.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A Few Random Thoughts About Gaza

(Warning: A few disturbing photos are included below.)

I spent a fair amount of time on Twitter and the Internet over the weekend, tweeting, discussing, and writing about the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas. And obviously, I’ve been watching, listening, and reading news and other information about the conflict. I have a few random thoughts that I think are worth noting.

To those who complain about the “civilian” casualties caused by Israeli attacks against Gaza, let me offer the following: First, how do you know that the casualties are “civilian”? Members of Hamas don’t wear uniforms except for staged parades (in times of peace). So just because Hamas tells you that someone who has been killed is a civilian doesn’t necessarily make it so. I suspect that when we analyze the casualty lists after the hostilities have ended, we will find, much as we did following Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009 that an enormous percentage of those killed were, in fact, “militants” engaged in operations against Israel. (How do we know? Often just by looking at the websites of Hamas and associated groups or the Facebook or similar posts of those killed where membership in Hamas or Islamic Jihad is often a point of price.) Moreover, when you see statistics that talk about “children” that are killed, please keep in mind that teenagers participating in the rocket attacks against Israel may still be considered “children”. No, I’m not suggesting that 4 and 5 year olds are launching rockets, but I am suggesting that the number of “children” killed is inflated to make Israel’s action look worse.

Second, why aren’t those casualty numbers much, much higher? If Israel wanted to be absolutely certain that Hamas had no more rockets, Israeli airstrikes could easily flatten large swaths of Gaza. Israeli missiles could rain down indiscriminately on homes and schools, mosques and hospitals, in the hope that perhaps weapons hidden therein would be destroyed. Israel could, as former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s son so inelegantly put it, bomb Gaza back to the Stone Age (and no, I’m not advocating such a policy!). But Israel hasn’t done that. Israel has, instead, endeavored to carefully target strikes against suspected weapons caches, rockets, and Hamas combatants. But even the best and most carefully planned strikes may sometimes go awry, especially when the weapons, rockets, and combatants are located in densely populated urban areas where the true civilian population is used as a broad human shield.

Here are a few examples:

Israel yesterday killed a top Hamas military commander in a targeted strike in Gaza on Wednesday, prompting outrage from militants who said the Jewish state had opened

Rockets launched from the Gaza Strip

Fajr-5 Long-Range Rocket Launch Site

One could ask why Hamas has spent their money building weapons caches and smuggling tunnels while Israel has spent money on bomb shelters and anti-missile defense systems. Or, asked differently, how different might the lives of those living in Gaza be today if the government (Hamas) had spent its resources to better the lives of civilians instead of on weapons which were then used in a way that was almost certain to invite Israeli retaliation? For those who think that the differential death toll is particularly meaningful, just ask how many more Israelis might be dead without the air raid sirens, bomb shelters, and Iron Dome missile defense system; how many fewer might be dead in Gaza had Hamas built bomb shelters let alone not fired rockets at Israel in the first place.

You should also ask why, if Israel is so “evil”, it has continued to allow food, medicine, and other supplies to cross into Gaza through an Israeli border crossing? Note further that supplies have been held up in the last few days because Islamic Jihad (one of the terrorist groups operating from Gaza with either the cooperation or approval of Hamas) has been intentionally targeting the border crossing through which those supplies pass. Should you wish to say something like “But the blockade!” allow me to remind you that the blockade was not in effect when Israel left Gaza in 2005; it wasn’t instituted until 2007 when Hamas took over control of Gaza. And why was the blockade commenced? Hmm. Could it be that Israel was trying to limit the influx of rockets and other weapons into Gaza? It’s not easy to smuggle large rockets from Iran (apparently via Sudan, through Egypt, and then tunnels into Gaza), but it’s much, much easier if they’re simply put in the cargo hold of a ship. Oh, and don’t forget that the United Nations, hardly a friend to Israel, issued a report that the naval blockade of Gaza is legal. While we’re on the subject of legality, let’s not forget that Richard Goldstone, author of the infamous Goldstone Report issued in the wake of the 2008-2009 violence in Gaza, essentially withdrew his own approval of that report.

For that matter, why has Israel continued to provide electricity to Gaza or not destroyed the means for those living in Gaza to communicate with the outside world? If this were truly a “siege” as some have claimed, wouldn’t the first act of Israel have been to completely isolate Gaza in as many ways as possible? Yet Hamas’ spokespeople continue to brag about their “successes” on Twitter and on the Internet and are available for television interviews with whomever is willing to listen. Moreoever, Israel has given international journalists virtually free access to Gaza. Of course, let’s not forget that Hamas has tried to hold some of those journalists hostage, located operations facilities in the same buildings used by those journalists, and fired rockets from the streets around those same buildings. In other words, Hamas has used international journalists as human shields, just like the rest of the population of Gaza.

When it comes to journalism, it’s also worth noting the penchant of Hamas and its followers to send out bogus news and photos in order to inflame world opinion. Several journalists and newspapers have been “caught” publishing or re-tweeting images claimed to have been from Gaza but which were, in reality, taken in Syria in recent months. Or consider the case of the body of the child that the Egyptian Prime Minster was photographed with, supposedly killed by an Israeli airstrike.

Of course, once journalists did even a tiny bit of research, it became readily apparent that the child was killed not by an Israeli airstrike but rather by a Hamas rocket that didn’t make it all the way to Israel and instead landed in Gaza and killed that child. Israel observed a cease fire while the Egyptian Prime Minister visited Gaza; Hamas did not. Only Hamas — and not Israel or anyone else — only Hamas is to blame for that child’s death. And, as if the death of that child wasn’t bad enough, Hamas then tried to use his death for propaganda purposes by sharing the photo and blaming Israel.

A BBC reporter was forced to correct his tweet of this photo when it was pointed out that the photo was taken a month or two ago … in Syria:

Another example:

Alqassam Brigades appears to be the official Twitter feed for the militant wing of Hamas.

Note that the absolute worst photo that has been circulated of an “atrocity” in Gaza, but which actually happened in Syria, is just so shocking that I’m not going to post it here. Don’t go looking; you’ll regret having done so. Seriously. Though, it does pose the question of why there is so much international condemnation and outcry about the relatively limited number of casualties in Gaza but so little being said about the death toll and scope of atrocities in Syria. According to the Syrian Network for Human Rights (and no, I have no idea how credible that source is…), there have been over 1,000 killed in Syria just since November 8 (and that’s missing several days of data…). But we haven’t seen rallies or visits by the Egyptian Prime Minister or wall-to-wall television coverage of those deaths. Nope. Just the Palestinians in Gaza.

Why would Israel, if it didn’t care about the civilian population, send text messages and drop printed flyers warning residents to seek shelter (and telling them where safe areas are) and to avoid members of Hamas? Funny, but I don’t recall Hamas telling people to leave a particular bus or pizza parlor before a suicide bomber detonated his bomb. And it’s telling that Hamas ascribes the act of trying to reduce civilian casualties to “Israeli terror” as it urges civilians to stay in their homes where they can continue to act as unwitting shields for the weapons hidden in, about, and under those homes.

Please stop and think about every other military conflict in the history of the world. I know, that’s not a small number. But can you identify any other military conflict in which one side worked as hard as Israel has done to minimize civilian casualties? That’s a serious question. Or, perhaps just limit your thought process to some recent conflicts: Libya, Yemen, and Syria. How about any of the innumerable wars in sub-Saharan Africa? The civil war in Sri Lanka? Iraq? Afghanistan?

We shouldn’t forget that Israel has also provided medical care for residents of Gaza who have been injured. Why would such an “evil” country provide medical care to “the enemy”? And do you think, even for a moment, that a hospital in Gaza would provide medical aid to a Israeli? Before answering that question you might consider that Hamas never allowed the Red Cross to visit Gilad Shalit while he was in captivity in Gaza. Or consider that earlier today Hamas publicly executed six people (on a street in Gaza) who were alleged to have collaborated with Israel. After the executions, people took turns stomping on five of the bodies while the sixth was dragged through the streets behind a motorcycle. Here’s a photo from CNN’s Anderson Cooper:

Photo by andersoncooper

That’s what the Hamas version of justice looks like. Can you imagine what Israel would look like if Hamas were to achieve its goals?

Yes, violence is bad. Yes, peace would be much better. I do believe in a two state solution. I think that the Palestinians should have their own state where they can live in peace beside Israel. But sometimes the only way to achieve a peace is through violence. And certainly, when one said is committed to a strategy of ongoing violence, especially aimed indiscriminately against a civilian population, then the only way to achieve the peace may be to demonstrate that the indiscriminate violence will not lead to a “victory”.


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Thursday, November 15, 2012

What Is a "Proportionate Response" to Terror? (Repost)

In light of current events in Israel and Gaza, I thought it appropriate to repost something I wrote on New Year’s Eve 2008 (during the last major outbreak of violence between Israel and Hamas).

While waiting in line to get my lunch today, I overhead two people arguing about the conflict in Gaza. One of the people made the oft-heard claim that Israel was to be blamed for using “disproportionate force”. That got me thinking. What, precisely, is proportionate force and how should it be applied?

The proximate cause for the current conflict is the near-constant bombardment of southern Israel with rockets. So, should Israel, in an effort to keep its implementation of force “proportionate” simply fire one rocket at Gaza for every rocket fired at Israel? If Hamas fires 60 rockets on any given day, should Israel simply fire back 60 of its own? And if those Hamas rockets are non-targeted (i.e., they are simply pointed north and fired without any real attempt or ability to hit a particular target), should Israel’s response be equally random and indiscriminate? Can you imagine the outcry if Israel were to do that?

If a Hamas suicide bomber blows up a pizza parlor, should Israel simply plant a bomb (I don’t think a Jewish suicide bomber is a very likely possibility) in a cafe in Gaza? Must Israel ensure that it only uses the same amount of explosives as the suicide bomber? And if the suicide bomber used metal fragments dipped in rat poison, should Israel be sure to include some kind of chemical or biological agent it its response? If a Hamas terrorist attack targets a shopping mall, should Israel be sure that its response hits only civilians? If a Palestinian terrorist attacks a Passover Seder, should Israel’s response target a Ramadan feast? Again, can you imagine the outcry if Israel were to take such actions?

If Palestinian children are taught to hate Jews, should Israeli children be taught to hate Muslim children?

If Iran should acquire a nuclear weapon and attack Israel, would Israel thus be justified in launching its own nuclear response against Iran?

And why, in all of these scenarios, must Israel wait and respond to the initial implementation of force?

If you punch me in the face over and over again, shouldn’t I have the right to do something other than simply punch you back? If you won't even sit down and talk to me to try to work out our differences, must I simply allow you to keep hitting me? Or, can I take efforts to stop you from hitting me again?

I guess that the real question is what is Israel supposed to do when Hamas launches attacks from within civilian areas and with the use of civilian shields? What is the “proportionate” response to that attack? Clearly, Israel cannot simply allow the attacks to continue unchallenged; just as clearly, Israel cannot simply decide to surrender and commit mass suicide to appease Hamas. So what can and should Israel do?

I suspect that if I were able to cross-examine at length one of Israel’s critics I would learn that their real answer is that Israel should not be entitled to use force at all either due to a mistaken belief that Israel is a “colonial” or “apartheid” regime or due to some form of anti-Semitism.

In any event, I believe that Israel has the right to defend its citizens. I believe that Israel has the right to do more than simply respond in kind to attacks launched against it. If the only way to stop the use of terrorist force in an asymmetrical conflict is with the application of disproportionate counter-force, then such disproportionate force should, in reality, be seen as proportionate in the situation.

Consider again the following formulation from Alan Dershowitz (though I don’t know if he borrowed it from someone else): If the Palestinians were to put down their weapons, there would be peace; but if Israel were to put down their weapons, there would be genocide.

Here are links to other posts that may be relevant:


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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Does Legislative Representation Properly Represent the Votes of the Electorate? (Part 2)

Last week I looked at how the results of the November 6 election were reflected in party affiliation of the candidates elected to the House of Representatives. Today, I want to continue in that same theme, but with a different state: Pennsylvania. Why Pennsylvania, you ask? I think that the answer will become self-obvious as I get a bit deeper into the analysis. Just remember that the question is whether Congressional representation properly represents the will of the people as reflected by the votes that were cast.

Note that all of the vote total information in this post comes from the website of the Pennsylvania Department of State (as of November 12, 2012).

Before diving into the Pennsylvania races for the House of Representatives, let’s first take a brief look at how the vote totals broke down for the statewide contents in Pennsylvania (minor parties omitted):

President Mitt Romney (R) 2,595,174 46.8%
  Barack Obama (D) 2,887,221 52.0%
Senate Tom Smith (R) 2,430,995 44.6%
  Bob Casey (D) 2,921,798 53.7%
Attorney General David Freed (R) 2,241,524 41.6%
  Kathleen Kane (D) 3,027,541 56.1%
Auditor General John Maher (R) 2,469,766 46.5%
  Eugene Depasquale (D) 2,643,072 49.7%
State Treasurer Diana Vaughan (R) 2,330,049 44.0%
  Robert McCord (D) 2,782,891 52.6%

Democratic candidates won every statewide race and only one of those had a margin of less than 5 points (Auditor General).

So, knowing nothing else, what would you predict for the breakdown of Pennsylvania’s 18 seats in the House of Representatives? A little “back of the napkin” math, working from a presumed vote spread of about 52% for the Democratic candidates (rounded up), would suggested that Democrats should have won 9 or 10 of those 18 seats.

But here is the reality:

1st CD John Featherman (R) 39,752 15.0%
  Robert Brady (D) 226,189 85.1%
2nd CD Robert Mansfield, Jr. (R) 31,668 9.4%
  Chaka Fattah (D) 302,746 89.4%
3rd CD Mike Kelly (R) 159,630 54.7%
  MIssa Eaton (D) 119,905 41.1%
4th CD Scott Perry (R) 179,340 59.7%
  Harry Perkinson (D) 103,387 34.4%
5th CD Glenn Thompson (R) 172,616 62.9%
  Charles Duman (D) 101,866 37.1%
6th CD Jim Gerlach (R) 187,008 57.1%
  Manan Trivedi (D) 140,659 42.9%
7th CD Patrick Meehan (R) 203,977 59.5%
  George Badey (D) 139,067 40.5%
8th CD Mike Fitzpatrick (R) 199,283 56.7%
  Kathy Boockvar (D) 152,515 43.4%
9th CD Bill Shuster (R) 165,992 61.6%
  Karen Rambsburg (D) 103,338 38.4%
10th CD Thomas Marino (R) 168,745 65.9%
  Philip Scollo (D) 87,449 34.1%
11th CD Lou Barletta (R) 163,733 58.5%
  Gene Stilip (D) 116,315 41.5%
12th CD Keith Rothfus (R) 167,396 51.5%
  Mark Critz (D) 157,364 48.5%
13th CD Joseph Rooney (R) 92,415 31.0%
  Allyson Schwartz (D) 205,287 69.0%
14th CD Hans Lessman (R) 71,805 23.1%
  Mike Doyle (D) 239,656 77.0%
15th CD Charles Dent (R) 161,231 56.6%
  Rick Daugherty (D) 123,735 43.4%
16th CD Joseph Pitts (R) 154,337 55.0%
  Aryanna Strader (D) 109,026 38.9%
17th CD Laureen Cummings (R) 103,319 39.5%
  Matthew Cartwright (D) 158,422 60.5%
18th CD Tim Murphy (R) 204,784 63.8%
  Larry Maggi (D) 115,975 36.2%

Some observations (I did the math so you don’t have to):

  • Democrats won just 5 of the 18 seats (with Republicans, obviously, winning the other 13).
  • The total number of votes cast in House races was very similar to the total number of votes cast in the other statewide races.
  • The lowest winning percentage by a Democrat was 60.5%; the others received 69%, 77%, 85.1%, and 89.4% of the votes cast in their districts.
  • By contrast, only four winning Republicans received at least 60% of the vote (65.9% being the highest).
  • But here is the amazing statistic: The Democratic candidates received 2,702,901 total votes; the Republicans received 2,627,010 votes. Yes, those numbers are correct. Read them again.
  • In other words, the Democratic candidates for the House of Representatives received 50.71% of all votes cast compared to just 49.29% for the Republicans. And yet the Republicans won 13 of 18 races.

Now think about those results for a moment. Democrats won every statewide race, with around 52% of the vote. But they lost 13 of 18 House races, even though they earned nearly 51% of the vote.

Would it surprise you if I told you that for the 2010 redistricting, Pennsylvania’s legislature was controlled by Republicans with a Republican governor? The online journal Real Clear Politics labeled the job that Pennsylvania’s legislature did “the Gerrymander of the Decade”.

Now I’m not suggesting that only Republicans engage in gerrymandering for political purposes. Both sides do it, though I do suspect that an analysis would show that Republicans either do it more or at least more effectively.

In any event, the ability of state legislatures to draw lines that serve not to give voice to the broadest segment of the population, but rather, to insure electoral victories for the chosen party, is a real problem in the overall fairness of our legislative process.

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Friday, November 9, 2012

Does Legislative Representation Properly Represent the Votes of the Electorate? (Part 1)

I’m starting a new series of occasional posts about our electoral process and some of the problems or issues that we should address (or at least discuss whether they are, in fact, problems at all). We are the greatest nation on earth with a tremendous form of government. And yet we have so many problems in our electoral system that we should, in many cases, be embarrassed. By way of example, can someone please explain to me why any American should have to wait an hour, let alone five or six hours, just to cast a ballot? We can land men on the Moon and robots on Mars, but we can’t seem to figure out how to run an election. It’s time that we started examining our electoral process to determine whether changes are necessary and, if so, of what kind.

Indiana has 9 Congressional Districts. On Tuesday, those districts elected 7 Republicans and 2 Democrats. But I want to look at the vote totals that the candidates received in their districts and that the parties received statewide. To that end, here is data culled from the website of the Indiana Secretary of State (I omitted two candidates that received 4 and 0 votes respectively and have not checked back to see if this data was updated after I copied it on Thursday).

District 1 Pete Visclosky (D) 187,347 67.29%
  Joel Phelps (R) 91,072 32.71%
District 2 Brendan Mullen (D) 125,968 47.97%
  Joseph Ruiz (L) 8,841 3.37%
  Jackie Walorski (R) 127,799 48.67%
District 3 Kevin Boyd (D) 92,179 32.95%
  Marlin Stutzman (R) 187,611 67.05%
District 4 Tara Nelson (D) 92,896 34.15%
  Benjamin Gehlhausen (L) 10,554 3.88%
  Todd Rokita (R) 168,566 61.97%
District 5 Scott Reske (D) 125,192 37.59%
  Chard Reid (L) 13,425 4.03%
  Susan Brooks (R) 194,415 58.38%
District 6 Brad Bookout (D) 95,966 35.20%
  Rex Bell (L) 15,828 5.81%
  Luke Messer (R) 160,838 58.99%
District 7 André Carson (D) 161,422 62.82%
  Carlos May (R) 95,521 37.18%
District 8 Dave Crooks (D) 122,258 42.92%
  Bart Gadau (L) 11,127 3.91%
  Larry Bucshon (R) 151,441 53.17%
District 9 Shelli Yoder (D) 99,732 41.26%
  Todd Young (R) 141,972 58.74%

So what are the totals?

Democrats 1,102,960 44.44%
Libertarians 59,775 2.41%
Republicans 1,319,235 53.15%

There are a few interesting things to take away from these results. First, note how there was only one race that was actually close (District 2 where the margin of victory was less than 1%). The other races all had margins of victory of at least 10 points (and some exceeded 20 points!). But the overall total has a margin of victory for the Republicans of just under 10 points. More importantly, though the Republicans received 53.15% of the total votes cast in House races, they won 77.78% of the seats. Or, said the other way, even though Democrats received 44.44% of the votes cast, they only won 22.22% of the seats (or a percentage victory that is exactly half of the percentage that one would expect based on the raw vote totals).

So ask yourself this: Is the Indiana delegation to the House of Representatives, consisting of 2 Democrats and 7 Republicans actually representative of Indiana’s electorate?

If we take the Republicans percentage of the raw vote (53.15%) and apply that to the total number of seats from Indiana, and round up, the Republicans should be expected to have 5 of the 9 seats. If we take the Democratic percentage of the raw vote (44.44%) and apply that to the total number seats from Indiana, the Democrats should be expected to have the remaining 4 seats.

But the Republicans have 2 “extra” seats at the expense of the Democrats. Why?


Take a look at this map of Indiana’s Congressional Districts. [Update November 12, 2012: The map below is incorrect; I researched this before posting on Friday and was convinced that I had the correct map but I was mistaken. Thus the discussion of this map and its particular oddities is still interesting though not current. I will post a correct map as soon as I find a good, version that can be properly embedded.][Update November 12, 2012: Current map is at the bottom of this post.]

Why the odd shapes? Why does the 2nd Congressional District have those little pieces of Porter and Elkhart Counties? Why does the 2nd Congressional District have that really weird little piece of Howard County, almost disconnected from the rest of the district (that’s the city of Kokomo)? Or How about the 4th Congressional District? Why does it have that little piece cutting Fountain County in half? Or the “isthmus” that stretches across eastern Monroe County down to all of Lawrence County? The 5th Congressional District gets the far north of Marion County, then skirts through Hancock County before coming back into the far south of Marion County. In the 6th Congressional District, we have odd little incursions into Shelby County and Dearborn County, plus a piece of Johnson County. The 9th Congressional District has an odd protrusion in Bartholomew County to include the city of Columbus. Finally, look carefully at the edges of the 7th Congressional District and note how jagged they are … and that unlike every other Congressional District in the state, the 7th Congressional District is contained to a single county.

All of these questions can, I believe, be answered quite simply. The districts are drawn to pre-determine the outcome of races.

You see, the politicians who draw these districts are well aware of and take into consideration whether the population of a given area tends to vote Republican or Democratic. And when these new districts were drawn in 2011 … those making the maps were Republicans.

Now, in all honesty, it could have been much worse. But it could also be much, much better.

I think that most of us would agree that it would be wrong for a map to be drawn to intentionally dilute the voting power of African-Americans (a tactic that has been common in the South) or any other ethnic voting group (in particular, Latinos in Texas). Most of us (I hope) understand that simply isn’t how fairness should work in a democratic system. But why is drawing lines based on perceived political affiliation any different? I don’t think it is.

I’ve got a lot more to say on this subject and as part of this new series of posts, I’ll be coming back to the issue of gerrymandering and some thoughts on solutions.

But until then, please visit The ReDistricting Game to learn more about redistricting and try your hand at drawing district lines.

Update November 12, 2012: The map above is incorrect; I researched this before posting on Friday and was convinced that I had the correct map but I was mistaken. Thus the discussion of this map and its particular oddities is still interesting though not current. I will post a correct map as soon as I find a good, version that can be properly embedded.

Update November 12, 2012: Here is the current map of Indiana’s Congressional Districts. From a quick glance, they don’t appear to have the sort of easily visible obnoxious gerrymanders present in the map above. However, given the vote results, it remains clear that the districts, as redrawn, were still gerrymandered in a way to produce predictable results.

Indiana Congressional Districts 2012

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Friday, November 2, 2012

Things That Bring Me Down

As the election draws nigh (literary, no?), two things that I keep hearing from people are driving me crazy. The things are said by people who are normally pretty moderate in the views and who are intelligent and thoughtful in their positions. But those who are voting for Romney have offered some form of the following reasons:

  • I really don’t like all those social issues that the Republicans talk about … but I don’t think that they’ll really do all those bad things; they’ll focus on the economy instead.


  • I really don’t know what Mitt Romney will do if he’s elected President, but I just know that he’ll do a better job because he’s a Republican and Republicans are better for the economy because Democrats are … um … unions! and … um … taxes! Yeah.

Once again, time is short, so I’ll be brief.

To those who don’t think that Republicans will try to push on their agenda of social issues, let me ask these questions:

  • How do you explain the unending parade of social issue legislation that they’ve focused on in the House of Representatives over the last two years (not to mention in states like Indiana)? Just how many new jobs were created by trying to redefine “rape”?
  • How do you explain the fact that Republicans in the House of Representatives haven’t taken action on jobs bills?
  • How are you going to explain to your granddaughters that you prioritized lower taxes over allowing them to control their own bodies? How will you explain to your grandchildren that it was OK to discriminate against gays or people who look a little different or maybe have a different view of theology? In twenty years those kids will look back on us with the same sense of horror that we have when we think about Jim Crow and miscegenation laws. Do you really want to elect people who want to adopt social policies of the past?

For those who think on the economy that Republicans are better … just because they’re Republicans, then think about these issues:

  • Has the stock market performed better under Democratic or Republican Administrations? Go ahead. Check it out. I’ll wait. Or, if you want some help, you can check out these articles from Fox News, Bloomberg, and The Economist. Seriously.
  • Why is the economy in the mess it’s in now? Was it all the fault of Democrats? Or did two massive tax cuts (after President Clinton finally managed to balance the budget), an unpaid drug benefit, and two unpaid wars have maybe a little something to do with it? Oh, and don’t forget about reckless behavior on Wall Street. You’ll note who fought for and against the adoption of a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
  • If Republicans had tried, even just a tiny smidgen, to work with President Obama instead of blocking everything that they could, might things be just a little bit better today? Or did a still weak and anemic recovery help Republicans try to get back to power? Yes, I went there. I do think that at least some Republicans intentionally tried to slow or stop the recovery in order to hurt President Obama’s chances to be reelected.
  • When you hear “unions” tossed off as if it’s they are a Democratic bogeyman, ask yourself how much influence unions really have these days, especially when compared to transnational oil companies and banks that are “too big to fail”. Remember when Romney said that “corporations are people”? Yeah, well what do you think unions are? For that matter, I’m curious: Who lobbies Congress on your behalf?
  • And before you say, “Don’t raise my taxes!” make sure that you understand: (a) how marginal tax rates work (because I’ve learned over the last few years that a large, large number of people who complain about taxes don’t understand even basic concepts); and (b) what Romney’s plans will really do (oh, wait… that’s a virtual impossibility because he won’t tell us his plans!).
  • I do understand both the need and desire to cut federal spending. But it’s easy to say, “Cut spending.” Tell me which programs you want to cut. More importantly, tell me how cutting those programs will effect people.
  • And why oh why, if President Obama is just so bad on the economy, would he have secured endorsements from Warren Buffet, Michael Bloomberg, and The Economist?

Way back in February 2011 I asked Is This Why People Voted Republican? Do you really think a vote for Republicans today will lead to different results than what I talked about then?

For that matter, do you really think that a party with leaders that have largely rejected science and truth will be able to solve real problems? And how many new wars will they get us into while trying to solve those problems?

My guess is that they’ll realize that trying to solve problems is … um … like, hard, dude. So instead, they’ll focus their efforts on intruding into a woman’s vagina, making sure that gays are discriminated against, and furthering their goals of making us a “Christian nation”. Because social legislation is easy. It’s the tough stuff that takes thoughtfulness and care.

I’m out of time. Have a good weekend.

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