Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

DeLay Redistricting

From this story in today’s Houston Chronicle:

Almost 1 million blacks and Hispanics live in the districts of six Anglo Democratic congressmen who likely would lose re-election under the proposed Republican redistricting plan…And [Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, D-San Antonio] said blacks and Hispanics in Galveston are taken out of [Democrat Nick] Lampson’s current 9th District and put into House Majority Leader Tom DeLay’s proposed 22nd District.

“It puts the African-Americans in Galveston County into Mr. Tom DeLay’s district, where you know they will have absolutely no influence,” McClendon said. “It takes away the voting rights of those citizens who have worked so hard to keep from being disenfranchised.”

This struck me because, having been to both Galveston and Sugarland, I can say that they are rather far apart:

Start: Sugar Land, Texas, United States
End: Galveston, Texas, United States
Total Distance: 56.5 Miles
Estimated Total Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes.
(Galveston is on the Coast; Sugar Land is Southwest of Houston)

As I said before, it’s a naked power grab and a classic gerrymander, assuming that Rep. McClendon’s statement is correct. Take most of the Galveston minorites out of the Galveston district and put them in a district conservative enough to elect Tom Delay, so that their votes don’t count in any races other than Senate and Presidential elections. Then, with only whites voting in what remains of the Galveston district, Republican victory there is nearly assured.

However, a flagrant racial gerrymander like this is unlikely to withstand scrutiny by the Department of Justice, meaning that it will likely end up in federal court again. The federal government can’t really do anything about purely political gerrymandering within a state, but if it’s based on race–as much of DeLay’s proposed map appears to be–then the Voting Rights Act comes into play. Now my question for the legal experts is which map would be used in 2004 if the matter is still before the courts? Is there an automatic provision, or would it be up to the trial judge?


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I’m a Democrat

Via CalPundit, this fun quiz that, based on your responses to a series of questions, ranks candidates based how closely aligned their positions are to your answers. Kevin and I had fairly similar rankings (same top three) and we were both surprised to see Kucinic at the top of the list. But I was pleased to see that while Kevin agrees with Bush on 15% of the issues, I only agree on 3%.

1.  Kucinich, Cong. Dennis, OH – Democrat   (87%)   Click for info
2.  Kerry, Senator John, MA – Democrat   (77%)   Click for info
3.  Dean, Gov. Howard, VT – Democrat   (75%)   Click for info
4.  Lieberman Senator Joe CT – Democrat   (69%)   Click for info
5.  Sharpton, Reverend Al – Democrat   (69%)   Click for info
6.  Edwards, Senator John, NC – Democrat   (68%)   Click for info
7.  Gephardt, Cong. Dick, MO – Democrat   (68%)   Click for info
8.  Moseley-Braun, Former Senator Carol IL – Democrat   (65%)   Click for info
9.  Graham, Senator Bob, FL – Democrat   (58%)   Click for info
10.  Bush, George W. – US President   (3%)   Click for info


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Redistricting in Texas

Post-publication note: this post contains inaccurate information about the Legislative Redistricting Board’s role in crafting U.S. Congressional districts, but I’m leaving it up to keep the record intact (I only edit grammar or make minor wording changes post-publication). The correction and clarification are here.

What is going on now in Texas is constitutionally dangerous and damages the stability of our government. A major political distinction between the first world countries and the developing and undeveloped world is that only the former have longstanding stable democracies. When the latter classes of countries achieve stable democracies, development accelerates dramatically. Clearly, democracy as we know it will not end if the Texas redistricting plan passes, but it’s a step in a bad direction. Already, Colorado Republicans are taking steps to emulate Texas Republicans. Democrats now warn that they will retaliate in New Mexico and Oklahoma. Fighting this battle once every ten years is bad enough; if the current Republican inter-Census redistricting succeeds and Democrats respond, then it becomes a battle fought every two years-virtually ceaseless redistricting battles. And Republicans should ask themselves what the chances are that at some time in the next 20 years Democrats could take control of New York and California. Regardless of which party does it, using a modest advantage to rig the system for decades to come is just not democratic.

A reading of the chronology of events shows that the creation of the current districts–the ones DeLay is trying to overturn–was clearly more influenced by Republicans than by Democrats. The only time a majority-Democratic body stepped into the process, it approved a plan that was drafted by the Republican-controlled Texas Senate. The Texas House Research Organization authored an informative report that contains an excellent summary of the various redistricting battles between 2000 and the end of 2002. The following account is based on this report and various Google sources.

Following the Census, in 2001 the Texas House and Senate created but did not pass redistricting plans. Apparently, the two plans were quite similar, with differences in only three districts, as described below. Under Article 3, Section 2 of the Texas Constitution, this failure to pass a plan mandated convening a Legislative Redistricting Board (LRB). As shown in the addendum, the LRB had four Republicans and one Democrat. Shortly after the LRB convened, on July 3, 2001, Governor Rick Perry declined to call a special session of the Texas legislature, meaning that the eventual districts would be up to the LRB and the courts.

On July 23, 2001, a three judge panel in Dallas met and set a 10/1/2001 deadline for state courts to consider redistricting. The next day, the LRB voted 3-2 (Aye: Cornyn, Dewhurst, Rylander; Nay: Laney, Ratliff) to pass the districting plan created by, but not enacted by, the Texas House. Lt. Gov Bill Ratliff, who voted against, is a Republican. The plan was then sent to the U.S. Department of Justice for review under the terms of the Voting Rights Act, a step that allows the Justice Department to check for racially biased gerrymandering.

In the meantime, the LRB plan went to the State Court for review. After a venue battle in which Democrats wanted the case decided in relatively liberal Austin while Republicans preferred more conservative Houston, the case landed in Judge Paul Davis’ court, a Democrat. Judge Davis initially adopted a plan proposed by Republican Lt. Governor, Bill Ratliff, and then made revisions based on a plan proposed by Democrat Pete Laney, issuing a final plan on 10/10/2001. Based on accounts at the time (e.g., here), Davis’ initial plan was likely to tip three districts towards Republicans while the revised plan was likely to leave the balance of power unchanged.

Nine days later, the Texas Supreme Court invalidated the Davis plan. The Texas Supreme Court currently has nine Republicans; at the time, there were at most three Democrats on the court, though I believe there was only one (Richard Baker). So Republicans overturned the Democratic Judge’s plan, which was based primarily on the plan drafted by the Republican-controlled legislature and approved by the Republican-controlled Legislative Redistricting Board. This ruling by the Texas Supreme Court effectively took the matter out of the state’s hands, and placed it in the hands of a panel of three federal judges.

Now the picture becomes cloudier because there are actually two “three judge panels”, the Tyler panel (one Republican and two Democrats) and the Dallas panel (two Republicans and one Democrat). Both are chaired by 5th Circuit Justice Patrick Higginbotham, a Ford appointee. On balance, my reading of the chronology indicates that most of the action occurred in the Tyler panel. The addendum gives the composition and political affiliation of each panel.

In early November, the Tyler panel stated that it would not use the LRB proposal as a basis for drawing districts unless and until the Department of Justice finishes its Voting Rights Act review, which Justice completed on November 16th. The Justice Department found that the LRB plan illegally split up three districts in ways that reduced the portion of Spanish surnames in any one district. That is, the new plan reduced by three the number of districts with a majority of Spanish surnames. So the Tyler panel made revisions to correct this flaw, while otherwise leaving the plan unchanged. The net result of this was that the panel adopted the original plan proposed by the Texas Senate, which was identical to the Texas House version, but without the Spanish surname gerrymandering. Oddly enough, between 2000 and 2002, the Texas House was controlled by the Democrats (hence, Pete Laney’s Speakership) and the Texas Senate was controlled by Republicans. So at the end of the day, the adopted districts were drawn by Republicans.

In 2002, the Republicans also took control of the Texas House, which presumably was the inspiration for Tom DeLay’s power grab. He is now leading an effort to overturn a plan that (1) was drafted by the Republican-controlled Texas Senate, (2) in 29 of 32 districts is identical to the one passed by the Republican-controlled Legislative Redistricting Board, and (3) was approved by a panel of federal judges. Admittedly two of three judges were Democrats, but they nevertheless approved the Republican plan (Judge Hannah called the districts a political gerrymander, but opined that they did not violate federal law).

On balance, there’s really no case to be made that Republicans were excluded from the 2001 redistricting process, which should mean there is no basis now for an additional redistricting. If in spite of this, DeLay succeeds it is likely to give Republicans 4 to 6 more seats in the House.



You can see maps of the redistricting process in various stages here.

The Legislative Redistricting Board

Attorney General John Cornyn (R)

Land Commissioner David Dewhurst (R)

Speaker Pete Laney (D)

Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff (R)

Comptroller Carol Rylander/Strayhorn (R)

The Three Judge Panels


Patrick Higginbotham (5th Circuit)–Ford Appointee

A. Joe Fish (District)–Reagan Appointee

Sam Lindsay (District)–Clinton Appointee


Patrick Higginbotham (5th Circuit)–Ford Appointee

T. John Ward(District)–Clinton Appointee

John H. Hannah (District)–Carter Appointee

State Judge Paul Davis (D-Austin)

UPDATE: Off the Kuff has an interesting discussion of who is likely to win and lose under the new plan.

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Government Information Awareness

Inspired by Ashcroft’s TIPS plan to create dossiers on all Americans and to get you to spy on your neighbors, an MIT researcher has created the Government Information Awareness (GIA) program. Here’s the mission statement:

To empower citizens by providing a single, comprehensive, easy-to-use repository of information on individuals, organizations, and corporations related to the government of the United States of America.

To allow citizens to submit intelligence about government-related issues, while maintaining their anonymity. To allow members of the government a chance to participate in the process.

Also from the GIA site, this quote worth remembering:

“The only sure bulwark of continuing liberty is a government strong enough to protect the interests of the people, and a people strong enough and well enough informed to maintain its soverieign control over its government.”
— Franklin Delano Roosevelt


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The Party of Fiscal Responsibility

Potential recallee Gray Davis has a plan to deal with California’s $38 billion deficit by raising taxes by $8b and reducing spending by $18b. In contrast, California Republicans want to deal with the revenue shortfall without raising taxes, preferring to instead cut unnecessary services (like kindergarrten!), increase borrowing, and basically pretend the crisis doesn’t exist. This approach has predictable consequences:

Two major credit-rating agencies, alarmed by California’s continuing political and fiscal trauma, said this week that they were considering further lowering the state’s credit rating, already the worst in the nation. Such a move would significantly raise the state’s cost of borrowing and make potential investors wary about purchasing California public debt at a time when it appears that the state will have to turn to the markets to help pay its bills.

A downgrade would mean an additional $400m per year in interest costs for the state and so would presumably by follwed by Republican calls to eliminate first grade.


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The Bait and Switch Program

Seriously, there is a concerted effort to pull a major switcharoo on the American public by appending the word “program” to the phrase “weapons of mass destruction”. The latest example comes from Pat Roberts, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman (R-Kansas), in a story titled “Senate intel chairman suggests proof coming on Iraqi WMD“, but with the subtitle “Distinction drawn between program and actual weapons”. Here’s the key sentence from the story:

Just back from a trip to Iraq, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, suggested proof is coming soon that deposed leader Saddam Hussein had a WMD program that could have turned out an operational weapon on short notice.

In an effort to keep you from being fooled, I visited

pro·gram n

1: a system of projects or services intended to meet a public need; “he proposed an elaborate program of public works”; “working mothers rely on the day care program” [syn: programme]

2: a series of steps to be carried out or goals to be accomplished; “they drew up a six-step plan”; “they discussed plans for a new bond issue” [syn: plan, programme]

3: (computer science) a sequence of instructions that a computer can interpret and execute; “the program required several hundred lines of code” [syn: programme, computer program, computer programme]

4: a course of academic studies; “he was admitted to a new program at the university” [syn: course of study, curriculum, syllabus]

5: a radio or television show; “did you see his program last night?” [syn: broadcast, programme]

6: a performance (or series of performances) at a public presentation; “the program lasted more than two hours” [syn: programme]

7: a document stating the aims and principles of a political party; “their candidate simply ignored the party platform”; “they won the election even though they offered no positive program” [syn: platform, political platform, political program] 8: an announcement of the events that will occur as part of a theatrical or sporting event; “you can’t tell the players without a program” [syn: programme]

Clearly, definitions one and two are the only ones relevant to the WMD issue. I boldfaced important parts of the definitions–parts that highlight the fact that “program” refers to a plan of action, not an action that has already occured. A WMD “program”, but without any extant WMD, may in fact be a valid justification for a war, but as a justification for the Operation Iraqi Freedom War, it’s a non sequitur. The war we actually just had, as opposed to some other hypothetical war, was explicity premised upon actual, existing, WMD. Billmon’s list of pre and post war quotes from administration officials, including the President, is an invaluable reference. Go print it out, make copies, and hand them to anyone who shows signs of falling for the bait-and-switch program. Here’s a typical example, if somewhat terse:

Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction.
–Dick Cheney, Vice President, 8/26/2002.


P.S. There may in fact be WMD hidden somewhere in Iraq, but even if found, that does not justify Republicans’ willful attempts to mislead the public by conflating actual Weapons with a “WMD program”.

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The Unemployment Circle is Almost Complete

Bush II is inching closer and closer to the unemployment levels that Bush I attained, with unemployment now reaching a level not seen since 1994:

Unemployment rose to 6.4 percent from 6.1 percent in May, the Labor Department said. That’s the highest level since April 1994.


UPDATE: Via Atrios, this interesting bit of additional information: “… almost all of that jump [in unemployment] being due to female black over 20 unemployment rising from 8.0 to 9.8%.” I wonder what this implies for the level of attention the White House will give this mounting problem.

UPDATE: MB has a more detailed breakdown at Wampum.

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Howard Dean

Personally, I think the strongest team has John Edwards on top and Wesley Clark on bottom (a scenario now legal even in Texas). But I do enjoy watching Dean; he’s smart and passionate, and he accomplished two impressive feats: (1) raising more than any other candidate did last quarter, and (2) raising a bit over half of his funds via the internet. In honor of this accomplishment, check out his blog, Dean for America. Dean’s internet savvy is sure to be immitated by his rivals, meaning we’ll soon be able to read the daily thoughts of every candidate.

Food for thought: envision a blog by President Bush (


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More Orcinus

From Dave Neiwert’s latest installment from the soon to be published (in electronic form) essays on Rush, Newspeak, and Fascism:

As the War on Terror, instead of combating the rise of fascimentalism, transforms itself into a War on Liberals; as conservatives increasingly identify themselves as the only “true” Americans; as Bush continues to depict himself as divinely inspired; as the political bullying that has sprung up in defense of Bush takes on an increasingly righteous religious cast; and as free speech rights and other democratic institutions that interfere with complete political control by conservatives come increasingly under fire, then the conditions for fascimentalism will almost certainly rise to the surface.

These conditions remain latent for now, but the rising tide of proto-fascist memes and behaviors indicates that the danger is very real, especially as fascimentalist terrorist attacks take their toll on the national sense of well-being and security. It may take fully another generation for it to take root and blossom, but its presence cannot be ignored or dismissed.

Hyperbole you say? Perhaps. On the other hand, Ann Coulter’s latest Screed (“Treason“) is currently #2 on Amazon. The good news is that, unlike Hillary Clinton, Coulter is unlikely to hit #1 (thanks, J.K. Rowling).


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Thou Shall Not Violate the First Amendment in Alabama

Earlier, talking about the recent sodomy case and the upcoming Pledge of Allegiance case, I speculated that “if something is constitutionally questionable but it dates back to the American Revolution or thereabouts, then it’s ok. But if it’s constitutionally questionable and originated in the 20th century, then the court will strike it down.”

Under this theory, putting “In God We Trust” on money is consitutionally ok, whereas putting a monument displaying the Ten Commandments in the Alabama Supreme Court building is not constitutional.

Thank God!


P.S. Those on the side of the judge who had the monument put in the building, Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, will likely make appeals based on the Christian traditions of the nations and the importance of the Bible to the Founding Fathers, and so on. That the Founding Fathers in any way intended the government of this nation to be anything other than secular is a dangerous myth that should be put to rest. Could “God” have accidentally been left out of the Constitution? After the Constiution was ratified, was there a Philadelphia Convention where the Founding Fathers said “Oops, this document could leave future generations with the false impression that we did not intend this nation to be a theocracy?”. Christ. Libertarian blogger Amy Phillips has some good quotes on this subject. I like this one from John Adams: “The government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion…”

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