It's responsible for getting you to stop doing things. Pinning down the way the brain handles inhibition has implications for ADHD and addiction. Jeffrey Hatcher via Flickr CC By 2.0 Neuroscientists know a lot about what happens in the brain when someone decides to do something, like reach for a cookie on the office snack table.
Maps are being redrawn all over the country in response to last year's census. Unfortunately, the process currently leaves a lot of room for partisan gerrymandering. It is the first time since the passage of the Voting Rights Act that district maps will be drawn without the preclearance requirement of the Voting Rights Act for many states.
A 2019 Supreme Court case also makes it impossible to bring gerrymander cases to federal courts on the basis of partisanship. Luckily some states have passed redistricting reforms since the last census. Others have divided legislatures where partisan abuse is less likely. But there are states that will attempt to draw maps in blatantly partisan ways, particularly to protect Republican political power.
The practice of manipulating voting districts for political power — ie, gerrymandering — wasn't invented in the US but it's hard to say we didn't perfect it. In 18th-century Britain, districts called "rotten boroughs" were drawn with few voters to ensure certain representatives were elected to Parliament. Gerrymandered districts have existed since the inception of US congressional districts, but initially the districts were still drawn in relatively normal ways.
The term "gerrymander" was coined after an 1812 Massachusetts state senate district map was drawn and signed into law by then Governor Elbridge Gerry. The map drew a long thin district that sliced up Essex County, which usually voted for the Federalist Party, in order to help the Democratic-Republicans. As a result, a county that had elected five Federalist representatives elected three Democratic-Republicans and only two Federalists. Federalists won over 1,500 more votes statewide but elected only 11 representatives while Democratic-Republicans elected 29. Ultimately, the extreme district map caused a backlash and Federalists soon regained power and redrew the district map.
The bill was seen as a partisan vendetta by many Federalists and when a satirical cartoon was drawn Elbridge Gerry's name was used to describe the salamander-like monster. Thus the term "gerrymander" was born. While obviously not the first time districts were drawn in a way to consolidate political power, the Massachusetts map was the first example of a district drawn in a clearly ridiculous way.
In 1842, Congress passed the Apportionment Act. It required districts to be geographically contiguous but there's little evidence it was enforced. Once Black men gained the right to vote, the use of gerrymandering grew with a vengeance. States redrew their maps more often after the Civil War to advantage the Republican and the Democratic parties. Democrat-controlled Ohio redrew its congressional districts six times between 1878 and 1890 to ensure Democrats were in control of the state. In 1888, Pennsylvania redrew its map so Republicans could retain their majority in the state House.
After the Civil War, gerrymandering not only caused partisan results but was used to disenfranchise Black voters, specifically as a response to the Black political power gained during reconstruction. In 1876, a Texas newspaper commented that the racist gerrymanders disenfranchised Black voters by "indirection." Mississippi created a "shoestring district" and South Carolina drew a "boa constrictor" district in order to disenfranchise Black voters. This "boa constrictor" district linked every Black precinct that could be connected by even the smallest land continuity. By isolating Black voters , the violent intimidation or outright fraud needed to disenfranchise them became much easier. Along with poll taxes, literacy tests and all-white primaries, racist gerrymanders successfully disenfranchised Black voters in the South until the civil rights movement.
In the 1960s, the Supreme Court issued a number of opinions dubbed the "redistricting revolution" to address gerrymandered districts. In 1960, the court found that district lines drawn with the intention of disenfranchising Black voters violated the 15th Amendment in Gomillion v. Lightfoot. Justice Frankfurter's opinion held that an Alabama act that created a Tuskegee district that excluded nearly all Black voters effectively denied people their vote to vote on the basis of race. Overturning the 1946 decision Colegrove v. Green, which held that malapportioned congressional districts were not the purview of the federal judiciary, Baker v. Carr in 1962 held that redistricting issues could be brought to federal courts under the 14th amendment. Two years later the Supreme Court decided two cases, Wesberry v. Sanders and Reynolds v. Sims, requiring that electoral districts be established based on equal population and the principle of "one person, one vote."
While important precedent that forced maps to be redrawn, the requirement of uniform population did not stop districts from being drawn in bizarre shapes to protect partisan power. In 1993, in Shaw v. Reno, the Supreme Court held that a bizarrely shaped district is strongly indicative of "racial intent" and therefore will be struck down for violating the Equal Protection Clause if no other reason for the shape can be given. While certainly a step in the right direction, Shaw didn't exactly end the practice of drawing ridiculously shaped districts. Additionally, Shelby v. Holder will likely make it easier to get racist gerrymanders into effect because preclearance is no longer required.
In 2019, the Supreme Court dealt a huge blow to efforts at fixing partisan gerrymandering. In Rucho v. Common Cause the court held that partisan gerrymandering is not an issue for federal courts to consider and is only the purview of state courts or legislative action. Under the 2017 decision Cooper v. Harris, cases can bring issues of racist gerrymandering to the federal court system, but they have to prove race was the predominant factor in drawing the district and that the state didn't have a compelling state interest, like protecting minority voting rights at which time race can be a consideration.
Two weeks ago, Texas released a redistricting map that prompted a lawsuit alleging intentional discrimination against Hispanic voters. Since the lawsuit concerns racist gerrymandering and not just partisanship, it can be brought in federal court. But it's not yet clear how it will be received. Under the proposed Freedom to Vote Act, this type of gerrymandering would not be allowed and neutral redistricting standards would be imposed. The act also would provide more power to courts to adjudicate issues with gerrymandering more quickly.
Unfortunately in the most recent Senate vote, the bill was blocked in a 51-49 vote because Democrats don't have enough votes to override the filibuster. Republicans are blocking the bill but the current redistricting reform is actually based on a 30-year-old Republican proposal. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is still promising to fight for the bill but we likely will continue to need West Virginia Senator Manchin and Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema to agree to filibuster reform if we have any hope of passing the legislation.
My mother is a firm believer in Jesus Christ as her personal Lord and Savior. When she receives an unexpected windfall, or a report of good health from her doctor, she says she's been blessed. When things are not going well, it is God testing her faith in Him. Never, absolutely never, does she question decisions by her personal Lord and Savior.
This is the relationship many Americans have with business.
Except for a contingent on the far left, local companies, major firms and multinational corporations are revered. CEOs are venerated as job creators. The decisions filtering down about wages, benefits, and work environment are justified through the gospel of the free market.
But we need to be skeptical of our relationship to businesses.
Tributes and sacrifices
We all know about efforts made by local and state governments to court business. They are like "tributes." But the scale of these tributes can be mind-boggling. Consider Amazon. Good Jobs First has been tracking subsidies — grants and tax incentives — Amazon receives yearly. According to the nonprofit, Amazon has received over $4.1 billion in subsidies since 2000. One could imagine tax breaks for a smaller, or emergent, company. But Amazon recorded revenues of $280 billion last year. It is No. 2 on the Fortune 500 list (behind Walmart). Yet the tributes keep coming. The company has gotten $650 million in tax breaks from local and state governments this year.
There's no reason subsidies shouldn't go to a profitable company instead of an emergent one. If one sees subsidies as investment, it makes sense to give a tribute to Amazon. But what Amazon gives in return are modest wages to warehouse workers and delivery drivers plus horrible working conditions. On March 17, an Amazon warehouse worker testified at a Senate Budget Committee hearing about her warehouse's "grueling" working conditions in Bessemer, Alabama.
Maybe the tributes are more like sacrifices, and meager blessings are given in return for taking the heart out of a tax base.
It goes on. We are currently in a worker shortage crisis. According to the US Chamber of Commerce, the number of job openings surpassed the number of job-seekers in July. That month, the US had 10.9 million job openings, an all-time high (the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics report estimated 10.4 million job openings at the end of August).
One interpretation of this is that the COVID relief benefits have dampened interest in working. Fox News Business asked in a recent story, "Are unemployment benefits the new welfare?" Quoting from a research fellow at the conservative Foundation for Government Accountability, the story claims: "Unfortunately, due to the recent COVID-19-related changes, unemployment insurance has been morphed into more of a long-term benefits program."
Yes, many people decided to receive COVID benefits instead of seeking low-paid employment. The "unemployment as welfare" line of reasoning ignores the responsibility of employers to employees. It assumes that if an employer "graces" us with a job offer, we should accept, regardless of how much it pays or the quality of work conditions. Businesses give us what we need, not always what we want. We should be thankful for what we have received.
A great awakening
Around 2015, my university decided to offer a degree in cybersecurity. The nation had coalesced around a narrative that there was a shortage of cybersecurity professionals. Our nation's president at the time, Barack Obama, allocated money for institutions that began offering degrees in this field. Our governor at the time, Terry McAuliffe, doubled down with even more money. As a result of government funding and some bright, industrious academics and administrators, we now have a fantastic School of Cybersecurity at my university.
Around this time I stopped singing from the business hymnal. I was on the front lines of my university's program development. The extent to which we attempted to meet business needs was problematic.
We wanted course content reflecting what students would be doing on the job. We even hosted seminars during which we listened to what business leaders wanted from graduates. This was already a problem for me, because I don't see universities as job-training programs.
At the same time, it became apparent to me that the tasks companies needed done did not require a four-year or two-year degree. Firms could train bright, hardworking people out of high school if they wished.
I worked with my university to create an elaborate feeder program, helping absolve businesses of their responsibility for identifying good workers and preparing them. My university's relationship with the cybersecurity industry is indicative of a broader problem.
We complain about the expense of higher education, and rightfully so. It is insane that a college graduate can expect to be saddled with $30,000 in debt. That is the average, but some end up owing much more. Universities deserve some blame. But remarkably, there are few complaints about businesses not hiring people out of high school.
Yet that is the central issue. Even if college were cheaper, a student, instead of owing $100,000 in loans for a job they could've gotten out of high school, would instead owe $50,000. Better, but they shouldn't owe anything or spend four years doing something they don't want.
Our deification of businesses makes it heretical to question this. But they also have a responsibility to identify, screen and train people.
Be a skeptic
We should question our relationships with businesses. Do localities need to offer all these tax breaks? Suppose no one offered them? I am sensing a growing pushback about these tax breaks, with evidence accumulating that these sacrifices do not lead to blessings.
On the minimum wage front, there is still an energetic Fight For 15 movement. Pushback will come from free-market proselytizers. But there are solid arguments for raising the minimum wage. Improving working conditions is a moral argument that must be articulated.
And the responsibility for worker training? I don't see anyone talking about this, which is unfortunate. The closest I have seen are commentaries about raising the profile of two-year colleges.
Understanding that everyone does not need a four-year degree is a step in the right direction but still does not put any responsibility on businesses. There is still a lot of work to do, but I feel good about where we are headed. We as a nation are becoming more skeptical.
Yesterday, I said the Republican Party isn't conservative in the way it defined the term for 50 years. With exceptions, it meant opposition to "state intervention" in the economy, business, or civil affairs. These days, however, Republican voters want elected officials to use the power of the state to ensure the superiority of white people. You can call that conservative, too. But that's not how the GOP defined it. Until very recently, the party at least paid lip-service to political equality.
What about the Democrats? Well, they are more liberal than they have ever been in my lifetime. But the fact remains the party is very big — on account of Donald Trump chasing away people who really did believe in conservatism as defined for half a century, with privilege for private property, private enterprise and individual liberty. Those voters have to go somewhere, even if they call themselves independents. This is one reason the Democrats are now fighting among themselves.
With so much attention paid in recent years to the liberal drift of the Democratic Party, there's been less attention paid to its conservative character. That might be a blessing. After all, "conservative" as applied to the Democrats is not the same as "conservative" as applied to the Republicans. But because these modes of thinking are different and distinct, there's an opportunity to redefine what it means to be a Democratic conservative. Or at least what it should mean by centering political equality. If the GOP can define it, why can't the Democrats?
The following is my attempt to shake the dust off the term as it applies to only three controversial issues. My hope is that by characterizing a kind of counter-conservatism, we can, first of all, see the fuller breadth of human understanding. Second, give conservatives who might still be in thrall to right-wing propaganda a means of seeing there's room for them in the Democratic Party as long as they commit to equality.
This one's easier than you think. Lots of Democrats sit on the line between pro-choice and anti-abortion. Joe Biden has said for his entire career he's personally opposed to it, because he's a Catholic, but he supports the right of women to control their own bodies. I said the difference is a line, but I think it's more than a gap. You can oppose abortion but simultaneously oppose state regulation of an individual's very body. That's conservative political equality. If you don't think women ought to have such rights, well, there's always the fascist party. As for the fetus being a person, any idiot can see a fetus is not a person until it's born. Then it's a person entitled to full rights and privileges.
This one's not as hard as you think either. To a conservative, human beings are inherently evil. Evil people, even when occasionally good, should not be allowed to own serious firepower. The more guns around, the more likely someone's going to get hurt. Case in point: every single shooting massacre. The government should ban AR-15s and the like. It should compensate owners by buying their guns at fair market prices. The only guns available to private citizens should be for hunting and home defense. As for open and concealed carry, why? We're not trained peace officers. Let's not make-believe we are. You can call this "state intervention," but a conservative who believes in equality as well as the inherent evil of human beings might call this leveling the playing field so that no one has an unfair advantage.
Conservatives are more likely than liberals to believe their religion is the right one. But conservatives who center equality have not been as vocal as they should be about the need to maintain and defend the establishment clause of the First Amendment. The separation between church and state is not for the advancement of secularism, as some conservatives would have you believe. It's for the advancement of religion itself, yours and everyone else's. Some historians suggest the establishment clause is how the US became the most religious among industrialized nations. Without the thumb of government on the scales, religions had to compete in the marketplace of religions. For all religions to be equal in the eyes of the state is best for all of them.
I'll talk about other controversial issues another time. In the meanwhile, why not give it a try? Explain as well as you can how you think a conservative who centers equality might approach a given issue. Or tell me I'm full of it. After all, maybe a conservative who centers equality isn't conservative. Maybe they're just liberal!
Donald Trump didn’t mention John McCain once during Indiana rally held after senator's Arizona funeralDonald Trump didn’t mention John McCain once during Indiana rally held after senator's Arizona funeralDonald Trump hosts a rally in Indiana/Screenshot
Trump's rally 'likely' increased COVID-19: health officialTrump's rally 'likely' increased COVID-19: health officialPresident Donald Trump at a campaign rally in Tulsa (screengrab)
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