When You’re Right, You’re Right

When folks on the Right are right, it’s worth noting–and applauding.

A few weeks ago, when some polls were showing a dead-heat Presidential contest, an article in the Weekly Standard titled “Donald Trump Cannot Save Our Republic” began

With the election now a virtual dead heat, conservative opponents to Donald Trump have never faced greater pressure to support him. Capitulation is needed, it is said, because the survival of the republic is at stake. If we allow Hillary Clinton to win the presidency, our constitutional system of government will be destroyed forevermore. Thus, we have no choice but to forbear.

This rhetoric is well-designed to prey upon the fears of conservatives who loathe Hillary Clinton, but it is not the language of American republicanism. Indeed, the fact that it has gained such traction on the right is a signal that many conservatives themselves have lost touch with the traditions of our constitutional system.

Put simply: This argument places the presidency at the center of American political life, which is a progressive innovation popularized by Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt. The Framers rejected this implicitly, for most of their attention was spent perfecting the legislative branch, which was to be the primary repository of political power, as well as the tribune of the people.

The article argued that support for Trump would not only be implicit support for the (relatively) new centrality of the Presidency, it would allow conservatives and others to  continue ignoring the real problem: Congress.

The ailment, simply put, is this: Congress is a basket case. It refuses to exercise many of its sovereign responsibilities under the Constitution. Many of the tasks it retains it executes badly. Worst of all, the legislature itself has ceded these authorities. They were not taken from it, but granted, happily, of its own volition. A return to true constitutional government does not require us to elect a kingly president who vaguely sympathizes with the platform of the Republican party, but insisting that the legislature reconstitute itself under the Framers’ original vision.

I do not necessarily agree with every point raised in the article, but its major thrust is clearly on target. I’ve written previously about the consequences of Americans’ evident–and troubling–belief that every four years we elect a monarch, who will either keep the promises made on the campaign trail, or earn public ire for failing to do so.

That drastically inaccurate view of the executive ignores Constitutional checks and balances, blames whoever holds the office of President for doing or not doing things over which he (or she) has influence but ultimately no control, and–worse– lets Congress off the hook. That view also explains why turnout falls off precipitously in off-year elections.

Voters who don’t recognize the importance of the legislative function fail to pay attention to the qualifications and temperament–let alone the work ethic–of those they send to Congress. The result is a legislature filled with partisan ideologues, empty suits (and too often, idiots) who are woefully unprepared to carry their share of the governing load.

As the article notes, “Reform of the legislature begins with electing to it a majority that is actually interested in reform.” To which I would add, “and actually interested in governing.”

The Presidency is important. In this election,which offers a choice between a well-qualified politician who operates–in P.J. O’Rourke’s memorable phrase–within normal paramagnets, and a dangerously autocratic ignoramus, it is supremely important. But we ignore our choices for the Senate and House at the nation’s peril.

Gerrymandering Update

Monday afternoon was the last meeting of Indiana’s Interim Study Committee on Redistricting.

The good news: by a vote of 8 to 3, the committee recommended major reforms, including that district maps be drawn by an independent commission. (For details, you can visit the websites of either Common Cause of Indiana or that of the Indiana League of Women Voters.)

The cautionary news: the recommended legislation will have to pass both the Indiana House and the Indiana Senate, both with Republican super-majorities.

I will readily admit that when I was asked to serve as a lay member of that committee, I had no expectations that we would actually produce a recommendation for change, let alone that such a recommendation would be the product of a bipartisan vote. (I used to be an optimist, but reality has beaten me down…)

The committee was chaired by Representative Jerry Torr, a Republican who demonstrated admirable civility, fairness and open-mindedness, and who ultimately supported the recommendation for reform.

Open-mindedness was rather conspicuously lacking from the three “no” voters, Brant Hershman, Pat Miller and Beverly Gard. All three came into the process determined to deep-six any proposed reforms, and Miller and Hershman made no bones about it. Hershman had voted against even constituting the committee, and both he and Miller continued to insist that there was no problem with Indiana’s maps, despite hours of public testimony and substantial research evidence to the contrary.

The ultimate prospects for reform now rest with the citizens of Indiana, who will need to display to their elected Senators and Representatives the same support for change that they displayed during the public meetings of the Interim Study Committee. They packed the House Chambers, contacted committee members and made it clear that the status quo is unacceptable.

What is gratifying about the outpouring of public support for gerrymandering reform is that it is evidence that the public has caught on to the importance of systemic control mechanisms. Voters have finally recognized that going to the polls and casting a ballot is meaningless if the district in which they are voting has been rendered uncompetitive.

The recent book Ratfucked spelled out how the Republicans gerrymandered districts after the last census–and how the Democrats were asleep at the switch as that very sophisticated effort made the U.S. House unwinnable for Democrats for the foreseeable future. A recent report from Politico suggests the Democrats got the message:

As Democrats aim to capitalize on this year’s Republican turmoil and start building back their own decimated bench, former Attorney General Eric Holder will chair a new umbrella group focused on redistricting reform — with the aim of taking on the gerrymandering that’s left the party behind in statehouses and made winning a House majority far more difficult.

The new group, called the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, was developed in close consultation with the White House. President Barack Obama himself has now identified the group — which will coordinate campaign strategy, direct fundraising, organize ballot initiatives and put together legal challenges to state redistricting maps — as the main focus of his political activity once he leaves office.

It would be nice to have a democracy where voters choose their representatives, instead of the other way around.

Ballots and Bullshit

Aside from all the (quite appropriate) angst over our Presidential choices and control of the U.S. Senate, voters in my state of Indiana will be faced with important local decisions. On my  ballot (I voted early) there were three important measures, only one of which was (in my opinion) a “slam-dunk.” That was the referendum for a very minor tax increase to support a very major improvement to our city’s terrible mass-transit, and as I have written previously, it deserves our support.

The other two issues require some background, and the ability to cut through spin and propaganda. (Okay, bullshit.)

The first is a state constitutional amendment supported primarily by the NRA, that would make hunting and fishing a constitutional right.

The Journal-Gazette said it best:

First, it’s completely unnecessary. Like the U.S. Constitution, the Indiana Constitution guarantees the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” That covers hunting, fishing and a myriad other activities, as long as those pursuits don’t infringe upon other rights.

Not only does placing hunting and fishing rights alongside such core protections as freedom of speech and religion trivialize the Constitution, it threatens to undermine legitimate laws and regulations. If the right to hunt and fish is needlessly elevated above other kinds of concerns, who knows what kind of bizarre legal challenges to environmental, safety or endangered-species regulations could clog the state’s courts? Judges need to balance freedoms and responsibilities in a broad array of situations – one reason constitutional rights have traditionally been expressed in broad principles rather than narrow specifics.

Finally, there is this not inconsiderable point: No sentient human being can believe that the state of Indiana would actually ban hunting and fishing. From the beginning, this proposal has been a colossal waste of time and energy whose passage could work costly mischief with courts and regulators and trivialize a magnificent document.

Environmental groups opposing the measure also point out that it would make hunting and fishing the “preferred method of wildlife management” in Indiana, placing hunting legally ahead of non-lethal forms of wildlife management (relocation, fencing, contraception, etc.) and threatening to interfere with future efforts to find new ways to manage our wildlife.

And of course, the amendment would be one more nail in the coffin of local control; it would limit the ability of local municipalities to pass their own laws to protect wildlife in their jurisdictions as they see fit.

The second are school board elections. In my district, that has gotten very ugly.

As Abdul recently noted in the Indianapolis Star,

With respect to IPS, the district has come a long way since the dark days of Emperor Eugene White. Long gone are the days of the district spiraling into a fiscal abyss, and a board whose majorities of members were more concerned about employing adults and placating unions than educating children. And if there wasn’t a headline about the state getting ready to take over another failing school, we would have thought we were reading the wrong newspaper.

Looking objectively as to where the district is as opposed to where it was a few years ago, you can only see that progress is being made and things are going in the right direction.

He followed that introduction with objective data confirming the “right direction” assertion. I encourage readers to click through and review that data.

Now, people can differ about change, and everyone who disagrees about particular reforms isn’t a conspiracy theorist. But some are. (This is apparently the season for conspiracy theories.)The incumbents running for re-election–the people who are finally steering the ship in the right direction–are stridently opposed by a couple of “groups.” (The quotation marks are because at least one of these groups appeared pretty much out of nowhere, and has been anything but transparent, so for all we know, it’s three parents pissed off about something.)

Now, I am hardly a dispassionate observer; my stepdaughter serves on the Board, and although she is not one of those running for re-election this year, she has regularly shared Board policies and debates; furthermore, I personally know all the members who are on this year’s ballot. Agree or not with their actions or priorities, but they are good people, earnestly trying to do what is best for IPS children–and they don’t deserve to be called “child molesters” and “pawns of the plutocracy.” They don’t deserve to have their motives questioned and their honesty impugned.

Evidently, 2016 is the year for unhinged conspiracy theories, outright lies, demeaning insults and vulgar language. In my view, people who engage in these sorts of behaviors–from Trump to “Our IPS”–are for that reason alone unfit to serve.


Pot and Consequences

This election is driving me to drink.

If I were younger, if I’d ever learned to smoke and inhale, and if marijuana were legal, it would probably drive me to pot. Fewer calories.

Speaking of legalization…..Advocates and opponents of marijuana decriminalization have generally based their arguments on theory and supposition; they’ve exchanged “I think this will happen” scenarios, since there were no jurisdictions from which actual data could be gathered.

That has now changed. And the Shorenstein Center’s Journalist Resources has helpfully compiled studies reporting actual–as opposed to theorized–results.The compilation is timely: this November, voters in at least nine states will decide whether to legalize marijuana for medical or recreational use.

Most states that have relaxed previous prohibitions have done so by making pot available for medicinal purposes. But the distinction between medical and recreation use is not as significant as we might imagine:

Most research on the link between marijuana and crime finds that medical marijuana laws (often abbreviated as MML) cause a general uptick in the use and availability of marijuana — beyond the patients who are prescribed the drug. “The legalization of marijuana for medicinal purposes approaches de facto legalization of marijuana for recreational purposes,” write D. Mark Anderson of Montana State University and Daniel I. Rees of the University of Colorado Denver in the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. By examining pre- and post-legalization in these MML states, they can “make predictions about what will happen in” states that legalize marijuana for recreational use. 

So what does happen when marijuana use is legalized? What about predictions that crime will rise?

In widely cited research, Robert G. Morris of the University of Texas and colleagues see crime fall in every state that has introduced MML. Using FBI data on seven types of crime across states with and without MML, they dismiss concerns about rising crime.

“MML is not predictive of higher crime rates and may be related to reductions in rates of homicide and assault,” Morris and colleagues write in the study, published in PLoS One in 2014. That may be because people seem to use alcohol less when they have access to pot: “Given the relationship between alcohol and violent crime, it may turn out that substituting marijuana for alcohol leads to minor reductions in violent crimes.”…

Economists Edward M. Shepard and Paul R. Blackley of Le Moyne College find that medical marijuana is associated with significant drops in violent crime. Looking at crime data from 11 states in the west, seven of which had medical marijuana laws before 2009, they see “no evidence of significant, negative spillover effects from MMLs on crime.” Instead, they suspect a fall in the involvement of criminal organizations after marijuana is legalized for medical use and conclude, “MMLs likely produce net benefits for society.”

Looking at crime data before and after the depenalization of marijuana in the United Kingdom in 2004, Nils Braakmann and Simon Jones of Newcastle University suggest most types of crime, risky behavior and violence fall. But they observe a 5 percent to 7 percent increase in property crimes among 15- to 17 year olds.

Opponents of decriminalization predicted increased traffic fatalities from impaired driving, but according to the research, during the first year following changes in the law, traffic fatalities decrease between 8 percent and 11 percent.

Other findings: there is a modest increase in pot use among young people, but not older cohorts. Suicide rates fall. Racial profiling declines. So do opioid overdoses.

Medical cannabis laws are associated with significantly lower state-level opioid overdose mortality rates.” Patients seem to be using these as substitutes, and marijuana is far less addictive and dangerous than drugs derived from the opium poppy.

And then there’s this: one study found that the U.S. could take in some $12 billion in new tax revenues by regulating recreational marijuana.

We sure could use the money.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll pour myself a drink……