Tag Archives: virginia

What parts of congress to watch

One of the most fascinating moments in Sunday’s debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump was this exchange, concerning the checks and balances that glue together our federal government:

CLINTON: Well, here we go again. I’ve been in favor of getting rid of carried interest for years, starting when I was a senator from New York. But that’s not the point here.

TRUMP: Why didn’t you do it? Why didn’t you do it?

[…]

CLINTON: Because I was a senator with a Republican president.

TRUMP: Oh, really?

CLINTON: I will be the president and we will get it done. That’s exactly right.

TRUMP: You could have done it, if you were an effective — if you were an effective senator, you could have done it. If you were an effective senator, you could have done it. But you were not an effective senator.

[…]

CLINTON: You know, under our Constitution, presidents have something called veto power. Look, he has now said repeatedly, “30 years this and 30 years that.” So let me talk about my 30 years in public service. I’m very glad to do so.

It gives us a stark contrast between the two of them, and their comparatively normative political approach and Jacksonian strongman theory of politics respectively. But it also serves as a reminder that try as they might neither candidate would really be capable of governing alone. They’re not running for a dictatorial position, just a key linchpin in a bigger political system. So, who else should we watch in the coming weeks?

REPUBLICAN BACKLASH: AGAINST TRUMP OR AGAINST STATE GOVERNMENTS?

The Democrats face a steeper climb than the Republicans in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, given that they have to make up for lost seats from the 2014 midterm election and consolidate large enough supermajorities to overcome procedural blocks – namely the Senate’s filibuster.

Luckily for them, however, in several Republican-held seats they now can run something of a double-hitter against those GOP incumbents. Several Republican-run state governments have been embroiled in serious scandals or become nationally embarrassing over the course of the same election year as the national nomination of Donald Trump for president. Republican-leaning voters are in many corners of the country divided as to which candidates to support. What’s more, the competition between national figures within the Party has left many of them with contradictory queues in terms of how to vote.

These dynamics play out in similar ways in various parts of the country. In Kansas, there’s Governor Brownback’s Republican state administration which has bankrupted basic state services. In Michigan, it’s that Governor Rick Snyder (R) is implicated in mass water contamination. Likewise, in Maine Republican governor Paul LePage seemingly says a new outrageous thing each day.

In four, key, Republican-held congressional districts in those states, the GOP has a slight advantage given that most voters are White and suburban-dwelling, but the compounded scandals have chipped away at their lead. The effect has made KS-02, MI-06, MI-07, and ME-02 all unexpectedly more competitive than originally perceived because of how toxic the Republican Party has become in those places.

THE CALIFORNIA DEMOCRATS: THE CONTINUING MARCH FROM THE SEA

I wrote quite a bit about this dynamic often overlooked in the national press in the last presidential cycle, in 2012. As national politics are coalesced around a pluralistic and urban Democratic Party and a nationalistic and rural Republican Party, the electoral map in California has fallen into a predictable pattern of by and large a blue coast and a red interior. With more congressional districts than any other state, it’s both a block of vital votes in the House that can’t be ignored and something of a microcosm of national political trajectories. When a party does well nationally that blue-red divide tends to shift within California locally.

In 2012, that meant a consolidation of the coast as almost entirely Democrat-held and an expansion into more contested seats right along the dividing line. Two of the districts I covered specifically in that year seem relevant again, with Democrat Ami Bera in CA-07 yet again desperately trying to maintain a blue outpost deep within redder territory and Republican Jeff Denham in CA-10 likewise trying to stave off the steady march of Democrats from the sea to the Sierras.

Further south, however, three other races seem to present interesting tests of this red-blue competition as well. In CA-24, along the southern central coast, Democrat Lois Capps is stepping down, leaving an open seat in one of the more White, rural, and centrist portions of the coast. That poses a question of just how durable Democratic holds on the coast necessarily are.

Meanwhile, in CA-25, Republican Stephen Knight is the last congressional GOP office-holder in any part of Los Angeles county. In a district that is now majority minority, his reelection bid cuts to the core problems faced by elected Republicans – both in California and nationally. Finally, in CA-49, Republican Darryl Issa is running to keep one of the few remaining coastal outposts of the California Republican Party. Can he keep it? Or has an endorsement of Donald Trump been too much even for him?

RURAL, WHITE, GERRYMANDERED… AND RADICAL?

Even with those and other districts in which scandals and demographic transitions give Democrats at least a fighting chance, more seats must flip to change party dominance in Congress. If this proves to be a wave year, and it may very well be, there’s scattered rural districts around the country which seem poised to jump – but it’s not clear in what direction. Angry at an increasingly wide cultural gap and less enthused given the particularly anemic economic recovery, voters in these places seem ready to sabotage the Republican Party by going for Trump, but also ripe for a Sanders-style democratic socialism.

In PA-16 and VA-05, Republican lawmakers may have set themselves up for failure under these types of electoral conditions. Both are suburban-rural and White majority districts, designed to help boost the number of Republican-held districts in their states overall. That type of electoral math has great dividends when the electorate remains predictable, but populist sentiment has prompted voters to behave in ways that many party elites found baffling. While both districts are Republican-leaning, their current GOP representatives are not seeking reelection, adding yet another dose of unpredictability.

Many of those same underlying conditions rear their head in NH-01, but there’s an additional surreal flavor. Arguably one of the most unstable districts in the country, it’s alternated between Democrat Carol Shea-Porter and Republican Frank Guinta as representatives since 2006. In the past few election cycles, neither has held it for more than one of the congressional terms (which only last two years). They’re the two major party candidates this year once again. While the district leans right, and with a more rural and White composition it feels quite Republican, Shea-Porter has historically won it each recent year there’s been a presidential race. This election will test that pattern.

Among these types of districts, NY-19 stands out as defined less by dissatisfaction with the Republican Party and attraction to a type of political agitation more at home among the Democrats. It noticeably has more consistently leaned to the left of these other districts in both national and local races. This year, Zephyr Teachout who previously ran to the left of Andrew Cuomo for New York Governor, will try to capture the Hudson Valley area seat by running a Sanders-type Democratic campaign emphasizing economic equality and opportunity. Combined with yet another Republican incumbent not up for election, this is yet another test about how the Democratic Party might be able to reclaim support ceded for many decades to cross-over vote to the Republicans.

…AND THE SENATE?

You’ll note, that all of these places to look at are congressional districts, not Senate seats, like what Clinton held. That’s because the Senate seems to be approaching heat death. For months now, the most likely outcome of the Senate races has appeared to be a deadlocked 50-50 division, with the Vice President casting the tie-breaking vote. So much for looking back to the house for an answer to where policy comes from. Maybe it’s buried in a classically overlooked spot on the Presidential ticket.

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Building Better Districts

Things are beginning to heat up not just in the Presidential primaries, but in more local elections around the US as well. While the writing has long been on the wall for some of the most effectively gerrymandered districts of Virginia Republicans, it wasn’t clear who would necessarily be the biggest loser in a similar campaign for better district boundaries in Florida.

It looked like Democrat Corrine Brown might actually be the most threatened sitting representative by the redesign of her district. As a “dump” district designed to absorb Democratic-leaning Black voters making most nearby districts more easily won by Republicans, her individual interest in keeping her familiar district aligned with those of the state’s Republican Party. Worse yet for the Democrats, the idea was floated that Brown’s district might be expanded into a neighboring district held by fellow Democrat Gwen Graham. In short, an effort to redraw Florida’s districts so there wouldn’t be such a marked difference between districts seemed like it might just exacerbate that problem.

The new congressional map has been released and Brown actually appears to have avoided that worst possible outcome. Her prior district contributes nearly forty percent of the population in her new one, but so does the former tenth district. Her personal political charm will be put to the test with a largely new electorate she has to appeal to. Whether it’s Brown herself or one of her primary challengers who becomes the Democratic nominee, the new district won’t have lost much of its Democratic-leaning character. By one estimate it will be at least a D+10 to the former district’s D+16.

There’s some similar shuffling of populations that will happen to other Democrat-held districts further south within the state, but the ultimate results are more or less the same. While this might disrupt individual Democratic office-holder’s local support, it’s unlikely to cost the Democratic Party as a whole any of these seats. In an odd way, the increased jockeying within the Party might create an environment in which better candidates rise to the forefront of the Democratic Party in Florida.

That is not an apt description of how the redistricting is going to affect Republican representative Daniel Webster. His tenth district doesn’t appear to move very far on the map, unlike Brown’s radically reinvented district. Some of the more rural western parts of it are shaved off, however, and the district incorporates parts of Orlando which were previously carved out of it. The subtle changes are in high enough density areas to make a huge difference: not even forty percent of its original population is still in it.

2016-01-29_13452016-01-29_1342.png
(Left – the former 10th District, Right – the new 10th District. From here.)

This isn’t the kind of situation that Brown finds herself in either, where her losing the district would almost certainly be to another Democrat. Webster’s district is, by most counts, going to be almost as Democratic-leaning as Brown’s new one, and at the cost of most likely zero current Democratic-leaning districts.

While an extremely moderate Republican might be able to shed their skin in classic Floridan political fashion, Webster is fairly fringe. Recently, he was the Freedom Caucus’ alternative to Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) for Speaker of the House. One of the Webster’s premier political accomplishments dates back to his years within the Florida state government, where in 2008 he pioneered a set of anti-abortion restrictions that would ultimately become the widespread requirement of a transvaginal ultrasound. Walking that back to appeal to a roughly D+10 district seems rather unlikely.

This might be the future of representative reorganization in the US: Democratic complacency getting a bit of a shake-up and Republicans falling by the wayside of an electorate that they don’t reflect.

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Shots across the bow

Trigger waring: climate change, food insecurity, anti-Black racism

The attacks in Paris have dominated the broader news cycle all week as well as my writing on here. That’s exactly the type of situation I started Let Me Link You Fridays to help counteract, so here’s a short list of other events that caught my eye recently. Maybe the attacks in Paris put everyone on edge, because almost everyone was firing shots across the bow at someone or other.

GMOs: not all they’re cracked up to be?

Greenpeace, an environmental organization largely known for activist efforts other than opposing genetically modified (GM) crops, responded to the recent rebranding of genetic modification in agriculture. Seemingly encouraged by the defeat of GM labeling initiatives in 2012 and by the increasing market prominence of GM salmon, advocates of the new technologies have trotted out a number of older arguments for GM products. Chief among them is that the GM industry, which many GM advocates are critical of for its gene patenting and heavy use of pesticides, is separable from the GM technologies which might improve food security and yield other benefits for marginal communities around the rapidly crowding and warming world.

The report released by Greenpeace earlier this month doesn’t mince words on those arguments. The very title of it – “Twenty Years of Failure” – cuts to the core issue with many of those claims. If either GM technologies or the groups wielding them actually could resolve the problems in the world’s food systems, why haven’t they had any measurable impact in that way yet? It notes that literally all genetic modifications are designed with a highly industrialized agricultural model in mind – the same one that has outcompeted fragile food economies in some of the poorest parts of the world. What’s left in GM crops’ favor are only a few hypothetical improvements – better crop yields, ready-made adaptations to climate change, and other changes they haven’t yet been developed and for which local and traditional food production systems often have an already tangible alternative waiting in the wings.

Who doesn’t count in the Census?

More domestically, the American Prospect asked what might happen as a result of increased pressure on the Census Bureau to count the country’s population with online means. An aggressive inclusion of face-to-face counting was the order of the day in 2000 and 2010, and appears to have helped reduce the miscount discrepancy between White people and people of color to historic lows.

As the Census Bureau’s own website makes clear, the assessment of how many people live in a given area is among the deciding factors that “determine how more than $400 billion dollars of federal funding each year is spent on infrastructure and services.” Those are the medical, educational, and other community services that people of color in the US have inadequate access to – in part because censuses regularly undercount them where they live and overcount White people where they live.

The American Prospect notes that there is a partisan dimension to this. It’s a largely Republican effort to defund the Census Bureau. The loss of funds is mostly likely to affect the availability of the Bureau’s face-to-face services and other strategies key to creating the most accurate count, so that the government can serve all its citizens.

Who doesn’t count at the polls?

 

The Republicans weren’t just under fire for the racially-charged outcomes of their policies – they also showed they weren’t interested in backing down on those issues. A local court case about Virginia’s state legislative districts, which found that the Black population had been gerrymandered into a single district, has been appealed and may be heard by the US Supreme Court. Considering that the Republicans appealing the case neither live in the district nor represent it, they may be found to lack standing on the matter. Sticking their necks out like that seems a bit bold, possibly in a way that’s more likely to backfire than overturn the decision they disagree with.

One other act of boldness has been the claim from Virginia Republicans that the gerrymandered district was mandated under the (now defunct) preclearance system put in place by the Voting Rights Act. With the NAACP among the organizations arguing that this effectively disenfranchised the Black population of Virginia, and even presenting alternative maps, it’s a bit difficult to believe that the Republicans just had to limit Democratic-leaning Black voters to essentially a single district.

This is a bit of a warning shot that Republicans may argue in the many gerrymandering districts that the alternative to maps which pack Democratic-leaning demographics into “dump districts” are somehow what they were forced to comply with under preclearance. It’s also a bold move, if accepted by the courts, since it would force the plaintiffs to choose between supporting the reinstatement of preclearance (designed to prevent voter suppression measures) or advocating for non-gerrymandered districts. Those are two different issues, ultimately about different things, but Republicans look like they’re hoping to muddy the waters between the two.

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The featured image was produced from 2010 census data of New York City. Red dots represent 25 White residents. Blue are 25 Black residents; green are 25 Asian residents; orange are 25 Latin@ residents; yellow are 25 who marked other. From here.

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Party or movement, political seats or policy wins

A sinus infection has slowed me down for the past couple days, so I haven’t been writing as much as I would like on here. Let me jump back into the fray with a look at the bizarrely two-minded Democratic assessment of how well they did in the elections earlier this month. I dove into that discussion earlier myself, noting that while the Democrats lost a number of elections that weren’t unquestionably outside their grasp (the Kentucky governorship namely, but also the Virginia state legislature), the main changes were either in their favor or largely non-partisan. What stuck out to me were the ballot initiatives in Houston and Ohio which passed, as well as the Democratic wins in Pennsylvania which if nothing else tempered their losses elsewhere that night.

The Progressive Turnout Project, however, wanted to focus on what they saw as a recurring pattern in Democratic defeats. They sent out a promotional email after the election describing some key “huge losses”:

2015-11-10_1746Let’s take those one at a time.

In 2011, Kentucky did pick a Democratic gubernatorial candidate over a Republican one, to the tune of 464,245 Democratic votes altogether. That only slid down to 426,944 votes in 2015, however, not really an appreciable shift considering the 2011 Democratic candidate was an incumbent who was able to originally eke his way into office when the sitting Republican governor came under fire for corruption. 2011 may very well have been a high water mark for Democrats in Kentucky, even if it was nationally more of a low point.

It’s additionally worth noting that that Republican vote was probably more hampered than the Democratic one by an independent campaign in 2011 by libertarian Gatewood Galbraith. Although markedly pro-marijuana, he is perhaps most overt in his policy recommendations when it comes to the New Deal and related social programs which he argues dislodged the agrarian nature of the US and imposed an unethical, industrial-minded political order. In an off-year election with over 100,000 fewer votes cast than in the more recent one, he probably siphoned more support from the Republican than the Democrat.

The Virginia General Assembly, meanwhile, is a continuing exercise in gerrymandering. Others have better described the lengthy history of Virginia’s local legislature as a body representing the state internally divided in a radically unrepresentative way. As in, 8:3 ratio of seated state legislators with Democrats in aggregate receiving more votes statewide. Since the redistricting that went into effect in 2011, the Virginia State Senate, previously the only major body or position in the state held (narrowly) by Democrats, has gone ever so slightly to the Republicans. The maintenance of the two-vote majority for Republicans isn’t some sort of baffling and unexpected phenomenon. Regrettable? Sure. Avoidable? Perhaps. Completely within Democrats’ power to chip away at? Not necessarily. Something to expect to work itself out? Not in the slightest.

Lastly, the idea that Mississippi in an off year was going to elect a Democrat, well, stranger things have indeed happened, but that this was an unexpected loss, only possible with low turnout, speaks to a Democrat confidence that maybe is misplaced. Yes, Democratic-leaning voters are less likely to show up at the polls because of structural inequalities – they are less likely to own cars to drive to them, they are less likely to have media alert them about the election, they are even less likely to even have Democratic candidates to vote for. But there’s also the messaging game. Are Democrats making a compelling case to voters who might be persuaded in either direction? While many national elections indicate that that’s the case, they don’t speak to the increasing presence of candidates like Gatewood Galbraith (or other independent or third party candidates, or even Blue Dogs) as the alternative to Republicans in many corners of the United States. Democrats may very well have simply lost Mississippi.

Former Chairman of the Democratic National Committee Howard Dean struck a more nuanced version of the same chord as the Progressive Turnout Project. He admitted that “You have to have resources in the state parties, you have to have organizations in the state parties. Even places you don’t think we can win, because if you don’t do that we’re never going to win those states.” Implicit within that statement is that spreading resources and candidates out into less certain districts will indeed lead to losses, but even also a certain number of wins. That resignation to some inevitable losses didn’t stop Dean from bemoaning that “the thing that kills me about Kentucky is 460,000 people will lose insurance because they didn’t go out and vote”. The core of his argument is the same as the Progressive Turnout Project’s – that this is about either Republican structural advantages and either apathetic or misguided voters, rather than Democratic failures (inevitable or not).

Working Families, a pseudo-third party organized mainly in the broader New York City area, vocally disagreed in their post-election analysis-meets-donation-drive:

2015-11-10_1849A polarizing situation seems to have emerged here, where particularly non-partisan elections (mostly on ballot initiatives) have galvanized Democratic-leaning voters, even as the Party’s political fortunes have declined. Enmeshed in a political system that, as some Democrats have pointed out, is largely opposed to them and their policy goals, this makes apparent the status of the Democratic Party as political party hanging in air. What’s more important to it – partisan victories or policy victories? Most of the time the two go hand-in-hand, but in this past election, they each took a step sideways and showed they can diverge paths.

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The rising tide doesn’t lift all boats

TW: heterosexism, cissexism

A number of legal cases for marriage reform and the new state leadership in Virginia have combined to create the perfect storm in that state for the current ban on LGBTQ* marital recognition to be struck down. Elected only this past fall, current Attorney General Mark Herring campaigned on the basis of expanding marriage rights and in response to the various looming legal cases previously announced that he was “reviewing appropriate legal options” and has now filed alongside the plaintiffs in one Virginia case. This is a dramatic reversal to Virginia’s policy, which currently not only bans the recognition of those marriages but also the provision of any legal status to a same-sex couple with rights comparable to marriage.

Virginia joins a list of states, surprising to some, that have seen this issue recently come into question in spite of strict state-level bans. Both Utah and Oklahoma have in the past few weeks had federal judges strike down their policies, although granting same-sex couples marriage licenses has now been halted in Utah and not yet occurred in Oklahoma. All three of those states only had their sodomy laws, which banned sexual acts between same-sex couples, wiped out in only 2003 by the federal Supreme Court. To call this a quick progression seems like an understatement.

The expanding possibilities for many couples in all three of those states is highly limited, however, outside of the still uncertain changes to marriage laws. Housing discrimination against LGBTQ* people remains legal in all three. Likewise, none of those states collect or prosecute hate crimes against LGBTQ* people. Virginia is the only one of those states that has any protections against employment discrimination, which only applies to state employees and was only added earlier this month. All three also lack any sort of systemic protection for LGBTQ* people against harassment in schools or discrimination in accessing healthcare.

usa map - states with effectively no protections -
(The states shaded in above with red do not have any significant state-level protections for LGBTQ* people. They do not bar employment discrimination in either the public or private sectors for only cis LGBQ* people. They do not bar housing discrimination, again, even against cis LGBQ* people. They do not prosecute anti-LGBTQ* hate crimes, or even record them for federal purposes. Until this month, Virginia was also a member of this category.)

A common complaint in LGBTQ* activism is that the movement for recognizing their rights is overly focused on marriage and particularly avoids addressing the needs of transgender people. The evolving policies in these three states seems to suggest that, as they not only are far behind in protections other than marriage for LGBTQ* people, but they are among the most difficult states for transgender people to live in.

Oklahoma is among the few states that in a technical sense does not recognize transgender people – the state has no policy for or practice of changing the gender listed on a birth certificate. Utah and Virginia do modify birth certificates, but each with a catch. Utah fails to provide a new one, and simply “amends” an old one, which means that after modification it will come under increased scrutiny because of how it is “amended”. Virginia, alternatively, provides a new and authoritative certificate, but only after proof of an invasive surgery is offered. All three states fall far short of an ideal policy.

With one of several marriage cases already scheduled for January 30, majorities of Virginians in some polls supporting a turn from the current policy, and many legal experts comparing this issue to the push for legal interracial marriage (which was won nationally by a Virginian case), the next few weeks should hold some interesting developments. That said, Virginia, like much of the US, lags behind on the various other protections that LGBTQ* people find themselves in need of, particularly those most relevant to transgender people. Marriage reform is a necessary ingredient for resolving heterosexist and cissexist inequality in the US, but it isn’t sufficient on its own, which is among the “best” outcomes at the moment in those three and many other states. There may be a rising tide, but we’re seeing it fail to lift all boats at the moment.

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The broken logic of Michigan’s latest ultrasound-mandating bill

TW: restrictions on bodily autonomy, miscarriages

Not only are many Republicans seemingly fixated on getting some Republican (any Republican) into one of Massachusetts’ senatorial seats, but on regulating abortion in increasingly invasive and nonsensical ways. The newest state-level bill which has gotten national attention was based in Michigan, and followed on the heels of the state legislature essentially erecting legal barriers for people who experience a miscarriage and intensively regulating the provision of abortions or related medical services. Now a well-tested and overwhelmingly publicly opposed idea of how to regulate abortions has graced Michigan with its presence. Yes, Michigan Republicans are mandating fetal ultrasounds, contrary to what some of their more prominent legislators have said.

TV news coverage of anti-mandatory-ultrasound protests in Idaho last year
(Because that went over so well last time? From here.)

If you actually bother to read the bill, at least in the version that’s been publicly posted, the entire argument is laughable. Here’s the most relevant section in my mind (beginning on page 3):

The safeguards that will best protect a woman seeking advice concerning abortion include the following:
[…]
the performance of a diagnostic ultrasound examination of the fetus at least 2 hours before an abortion with the woman given the option to view the active ultrasound image of the fetus, hear the fetal heartbeat, receive a physical picture of the ultrasound image of the fetus, and hear an explanation of the ultrasound image of the fetus. The performance of a diagnostic ultrasound examination of the fetus, now a standard practice at abortion facilities, protects the health of the woman seeking an abortion by verifying an intrauterine pregnancy, as undiagnosed ectopic pregnancies can result in potentially fatal complications and infertility. The performance of a diagnostic ultrasound examination of the fetus further protects the interest of the woman seeking an abortion by assessing the viability of the fetus and confirming the approximate gestational age of the fetus, as this information is necessary in order to determine appropriate medical care for the woman seeking an abortion.
[… Therefore]
a physician or a qualified  person assisting the physician shall do all of the following not  less than 24 hours before that physician performs an abortion upon a patient who is a pregnant woman:
[…]
Provide the patient with a physical copy of a medically accurate depiction, illustration, or photograph and description of a fetus supplied by the department of community health pursuant to subsection (11)(a) at the gestational age nearest the probable gestational age of the patient’s fetus. [… and while performing the mandatory ultrasound] The physician or qualified person assisting the physician shall ensure that the ultrasound screen is turned toward the patient to enable her to easily view the active ultrasound image of the fetus; shall inform the patient that the active ultrasound image of the fetus is visible and she may view the image on the ultrasound screen if she desires; shall provide the patient with the opportunity to hear or decline to hear the fetal heartbeat as confirmation of a viable pregnancy [which is medically inaccurate]; shall offer to provide the patient with a physical picture of the ultrasound image of the fetus; and shall offer to provide the patient with an oral explanation of the ultrasound image of the fetus.

Did you catch that? Pregnant people are required to have ultrasounds performed, even if they’re so early in the pregnancy that it’s pointless and near impossible to properly do (requiring a transvaginal ultrasound, which the bill says is an acceptable outcome). They’re actually required to answer whole string of questions asking them if they want information on the fetus in one of a whole series of formats. The purported purpose of this, however, is to inform the medical practitioner who would perform the abortion of any unrealized medical complications or conditions of the pregnancy.

Yes, Michigan just passed a bill requiring doctors to barrage their patients with information on the pregnancy they’re seeking to terminate, so that the doctors would be informed of the details of the pregnancy. It’s like they’re not even trying to come up with a logical fig leaf for controlling other people’s bodily choices.

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Violence is multifaceted

TW: racist criminalization, cissexism, transmisogyny, forced displacement of indigenous people

I mentioned this late last week, but one of the key things to remember is how violence and inequality can be expressed in so many different ways. This past week was a fairly blunt remind of this with three separate incidents throughout the Americas – which show that a government’s intervention or non-intervention in a situation can be violent, and that violence is by no means the exclusive property of governments.

In New York, a child was handcuffed and subject to police interrogation for multiple hours. You’ve probably already realized it, but the child was, of course, Black. Likewise the alleged crime, which all indications point towards him not having committed, was stealing $5 that a fellow elementary student dropped on the ground. I tag a lot of things as “racist criminalization“, meaning the way a person’s race can make police and other authorities more likely to perceive them as criminal or their actions as more severely criminal than they actually are, but this pretty much takes the cake.

South of there, in Charlottesville, Virginia, the police are refusing to organize searches or assist community efforts to find Sage Smith, who has now been missing for two months. Again, Smith is Black, but beyond that, she’s a transgender woman. While her race might make her seem to be a more plausible culprit, her gender identity is apparently a plausible reason to particularly ignore her likely status as a victim of kidnapping or murder. This sort of refusal to intervene as police and provide services that are expected is common when it comes to violence against transgender women, which has lead to what many are calling an epidemic of transmisogynistic attacks.

Even further South, in Brazil, the government has essentially ceded control over a mega-dam project in the Amazon to private interests, which won’t be held responsible for the ensuing environmental impacts and 40,000 indigenous people who will be forcibly relocated by the dam. The Belo Monte dam threatens the most politically marginal populations in Brazil, and again the government is refusing to intervene with regulations that are already on the books. You can sign a petition asking for Brazilian President Dilma to review the decision to approve the project, here.


(Indigenous protesters against the project in 2011, from here.)

In short, there’s a lot of violence in the world, and only some of the time is the issue that the police or other governmental figures have intervened where they shouldn’t. Much of the time, protections are selectively enforced, primarily to protect the enfranchised, leaving many diverse groups, from transgender women to indigenous peoples, without recourse should private enterprises or actors harm them. Any effort at establishing actual equality between those who are cisgender and transgender or indigenous and non-indigenous needs to acknowledge both of these dimensions of violence.

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Which ones actually are swing states?

Yesterday, a lot of people suddenly seemed to notice that there are disagreements between various pollsters and politicos over what states are actually “up for grabs” by either Romney or Obama. On The Rachel Maddow Show, Maddow briefly covered it, noting subtle discrepancies between the two campaigns (as Obama continues to focus on Florida and Virginia, while Romney seemingly feels more comfortable there). She left it up to her viewers to deduce why the NBC predictions she also referenced were distinct from either of the major campaign’s focuses in including New Hampshire and Wisconsin as “swing states” (but dropping Nevada, too). Clearly, there’s some politics involved in simply deciding what states are vulnerable in the election.

Jonathan Chait earlier in the same day made a similar point, arguing that:

“[the Romney campaign] is carefully attempting to project an atmosphere of momentum, in the hopes of winning positive media coverage and, thus, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy [… while the race is somewhat close,] Obama enjoys a clear electoral college lead. He is ahead by at least a couple points in enough states to make him president. Adding to his base of uncontested states, Nevada, Ohio, and Wisconsin would give Obama 271 electoral votes. According to the current polling averages compiled at fivethirtyeight.com, Obama leads Nevada by 3.5 percent, Ohio by 2.9 percent, and Wisconsin by 4 percent. Should any of those fail, Virginia and Colorado are nearly dead even. (Obama leads by 0.7 percent and 1.0 percent, respectively.) If you don’t want to rely on Nate Silver — and you should rely on him! — the polling averages at realclearpolitics, the conservative-leaning site, don’t differ much, either.

The only problem with his statements is that while Real Clear Politics provides the polls to prove Obama’s small but consistent advantage, it also provides the predictions that keep insisting that Michigan and Pennsylvania are some of the “toss-up” states. Looking over their map of predictions, it’s hard not to see the “horse race” that gives the media the ratings it loves. After all, states they classify as “toss-ups” hold more electoral votes than all of Romney’s “safe” states, either Romney’s or Obama’s “likely” states, and their combined “leans”. It’s only smaller than Obama’s “safe” states by 11 electoral votes. Their list contains all of the states either campaign considers worthy or visiting right now, the two additional ones listed by NBC, and two more – Michigan and Pennsylvania. A full fifth of the states are being contested in their predictions.


(Behold the gray faces states that hold our future in their hands. The screen-shot of their electoral college prediction is from this morning.)

There’s a key word at the beginning there – they classify states. Based on what? That’s not really said – but given their job as an aggregate polling firm, which collects polls from different pollsters to give a broad overview of what races are looking like, it’s hard to believe that polling data are totally irrelevant to their classification of states. If that’s true though, that polls are at the center of their predictions – then they really look like they have a double standard between what gets classified as an identifiable preference for Romney and an apparent choice of Obama.

Focusing on just the “toss-ups”, there’s immense variation between states’ polling results within that category. Admittedly, some of them look like what you’d imagine. The recently collected polls for Colorado show low results for either candidate, with quite a bit of alternation between who’s leading. There’s been a mix of polls showing either Romney or Obama leading throughout October, and into the summer. It really is difficult to feel confident that the state will go one way or the other. There’s a few other states that also fit this overall pattern – New Hampshire, Florida, Virginia and Iowa.

Slightly distinct are the “toss-up” states with some mixed polling results, but a clear tendency towards Obama. Nevada, for instance, has consistently seen extremely small leads for Obama, with no polls in the past few months showing a Romney lead (although there were two ties). Looking at Ohio gives similar results, as there’s a clear imbalance between the campaigns in convincing voters to support them, but the difference is extremely small. While there is adequate uncertainty to question the victory of the incumbent in those states, labeling both of them “toss-ups” seems to imply a degree of equal opportunity that seems unfounded.

On the other hand, there are some “toss-ups” that seem to be anything but. Michigan hasn’t seen a tie or Romney victory in the polls since late August. Wisconsin hasn’t seen either since mid-August. Pennsylvania hasn’t seen one or the other since February. Multiple months have seen no polls indicating a Romney win or extremely close race. Over those weeks, there have been periods where the incumbent enjoyed double digit margins of victory. Those polls are provided by a diverse group of pollsters – from the right-leaning Rasmussen to left-leaning Public Policy Polling, but all of them have found substantial Obama victories in those states for at least a month and a half, if not more.

And yet, these are still “toss-ups”,  because apparently some one in Real Clear Politics head office still isn’t really sure if they can even modestly suggest that Obama will carry them. In contrast, North Carolina was reclassified from being a “toss-up” to being a  “leans Romney” state on October 18. If you bother to look at their state-specific polling data, they changed their prediction after 17 days without any Obama wins in the polls – and with only five polls showing single-digit support for Romney. Now, I actually agree with both Real Clear Politics and Five Thirty Eight that North Carolina is more likely to end up in Romney’s column than Obama’s, but Real Clear Politics’ standards for reaching that conclusion seem at odds with their choices for, say, Pennsylvania – which has 261 days without any Romney wins in the polls and 39 polls showing occasionally double-digit support for Obama.

So while Real Clear Politics polling aggregation might suggest the same conclusions as “biased” Nate Silver, their predictions don’t match, provided the prediction would be of an Obama victory. Sounds like Chait might have been too charitable there in attributing major media predictions of a Romney win to confusion, rather than willful intent.

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