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Here’s where I try to explain the Voting Rights Act like we’re in 3rd grade Social Studies.

Allow me, as a super-regular person, to explain what happened for other super-regular people to digest.

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Now that the furor has died and warm feelings have passed because SCOTUS struck down DOMA, let’s rewind and talk about the VRA.  In light of the progress made on behalf of gays and lesbians, SCOTUS’ earlier ruling on the VRA is even more heinous and I’m going to try to explain it to you in five parts.

What did SCOTUS even rule on?
What’s the big deal with needing an ID to vote?
Does it matter where people vote?
What’s gerrymandering?
Does this even matter anymore?

I’m not an expert and all of this will be in simplest terms because the law isn’t my wheelhouse.  If this were Basketball Wives, I could really dig into the issue.  So allow me, as a super-regular person, to explain what happened for other super-regular people to digest.

In my opinion, part of the reason less people paid attention to the VRA was the fact that nobody really knows what it is.  Gay marriage is easily understood by a lot of people so the joy over DOMA’s demise far outpaced the outrage over the VRA.  That’s why I feel this information is necessary so we can all break it down together.

What did SCOTUS even rule on?

The Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965.  Between Reconstruction immediately following the Civil War and the VRA of 1965, blacks in most of the country were unable to vote due to a series of roadblocks specifically set up to target them.  Poor whites in many locales also felt the consequences of those barriers, but the focus was to keep blacks from voting.  If blacks couldn’t vote, they couldn’t elect people to take up their cause and would by default remain on the lower rungs of society.

SCOTUS ruled on the part of the VRA related to states that have to apply for pre-clearance before enacting voter legislation.  Southern states with a history of racial prejudice are allowed to make changes to their voting regulations but only if they receive the OK from the Department of Justice.  If Justice says, “No, Mississippi, you’re only making these changes so less black people can vote,” then Mississippi doesn’t get to enact those changes.

SCOTUS invalidated the list of states that have to apply for pre-clearance.  Technically, the rule is still on the books, that some states need to be pre-approved, but now there is no standard by which to choose those states.  As a result, it is now open season in the Deep South and southern states can make any changes they want without approval from Justice.

What’s the big deal with needing an ID to vote?

Many people around my age don’t really see an issue with needing an ID to vote because we’ve always assumed that it was necessary for everyone.  Older people hadn’t needed one previously.  Under today’s laws, first-time voters in most states who register by mail must present a photo ID, a copy of a current bill, or a bank statement.  In a few states, they recommend bringing some form of photo ID but it’s not expressly necessary in most locations.  Prior to 2006, no state required a voter to produce government-issued ID to vote.  You registered, got your voting card, and that’s what you used.  A lot of older people who’ve never had an ID and never needed one to vote are now forced to get one.  There are countless stories of older people in their 80s and 90s who’ve been voting for longer than our parents (or grandparents) have been alive who would now be required to obtain a photo ID for the first time in their lives.

11% of voting-age US citizens don’t have a government issued ID.  They wouldn’t be able to vote.  Of those 21 million citizens, the majority are young people, Hispanic, poor, and/or have not gone to college.  That’s a big swath of Democratic voters that Republicans are attempting to disenfranchise.

Also, IDs are not without cost in many locations.  Requiring someone to pay $25 to secure a photo ID just to vote is akin to the poll taxes which kept many poor blacks from voting prior to 1965 because they couldn’t afford to.  $25 doesn’t sound like a lot to most of the people reading this right now, but if you are dependent upon the government for your livelihood (and most likely a voting Democrat) and you budget your finances down to the cent, $25 will many times deter you from attempting to vote at all.  Additionally, factor in the process and cost to secure the necessary documents to get a photo ID (for example, an elderly woman born in rural South Carolina who now has to petition the state for her birth certificate) and you have a situation where people are paying time and money just to vote.

Republicans found a “solution” to a problem that never existed.  They claim voter ID laws will cut down on voting fraud when the overwhelming cause of voting fraud comes from absentee ballots and officials who try to change the voting results.  There have been less than 100 convictions for voter ID fraud over the past 5 years.

Does it matter where people vote?

The last presidential election showed a staggering number of people waiting in line for hours and hours to cast their vote.  Most of those people in line were minorities at their neighborhood voting location.

For an example of voting location changes struck down because of the VRA, we can look at Houston.  In one suburb, there were 84 voting places and they wanted to reduce the number to just 12, most of which were in white neighborhoods.  The location in the neighborhood with the highest percentage of white people was slated to serve 6,500 voters.  The location in the neighborhood with the highest percentage of minorities was slated to serve 67,000 voters.  Clearly the second location would have prohibitively long lines, causing many voters to stay at home or go to work because they couldn’t afford to wait all day to vote.  SCOTUS didn’t approve that scheme and that legislation died.

What’s gerrymandering?

Gerrymandering is the process by which voting district lines are re-drawn to capture certain demographics.  I’m going to try to explain it in the simplest terms.

This below is Square City and it’s standing in for any number of metropolitan areas throughout the US.  I’ve divided the city into four districts.  Red is where Republicans live and Blue is where Democrats live.  I did it this way to capitalize on the prevailing thought that most inner-cities have minority residents while all of the white residents have moved to the suburbs.

gerrymandering

In the first Square City example, you see the district is drawn simply and evenly with 4 identical sections.  Sections 1 and 3 will probably elect a Democrat while Sections 2 and 4 will probably elect a Republican.  Let’s say that statewide, Republicans control congress and they want to ensure that they keep a Republican majority.  Square City is an easy way to add more Republican representatives during the next election through gerrymandering.  They propose to redraw the voting districts this way.

gerrymandering2

Now, the inner city is all one section and the other three are Republican suburbs.  My example is super-simple.  In practice, Republicans have carved out some truly outlandish shapes in order to essentially rig future elections. Check out North Carolina’s 12th Congressional District that makes absolutely no sense at all.

nc district 12

After Obama won in 2008, the country’s Republicans fired up their constituents and won countless elections in 2010.  Gerrymandering became the hot topic and every piece of voter ID legislation was introduced by a Republican majority legislature aside from the state of Rhode Island.

Does this even matter anymore?

SCOTUS’ decision apparently rested on the fact that,  to quote Justice Roberts, “Our country has changed.“  They feel that the 60 years that have passed since the VRA more than makes up for the 100 years that passed between Reconstruction – when blacks were voted into office for the first time before the Klan and their intimidation tactics put a stop to that – and the 1960s.

Nice thought.  Racism is over.  Warm Fuzzies all around.

But.

The very same day SCOTUS came down with their decision, Texas said they would enact their voter ID laws (which reduce the acceptable forms of ID from 8 photo & non-photo categories to just 4 photo categories) and would re-start legislation to redraw many of their voting districts.  Texas’ previous attempts to do just that were denied by the justice department for being unfair to minorities.  Newly-minted national hero Senator Wendy Davis owes her seat to the fact that Texas was unable to redraw her district into a shape more favorable to Republicans.

Mississippi is now moving forward with their voter ID laws.  The same goes for Alabama.  Both states were denied by the Justice department under the very same parts of the VRA they just struck down because the country has apparently changed.  North Carolina didn’t even bother to petition the Justice department to approve their voting legislation because they knew it would be denied.  With the new ruling, they’re going full steam ahead with a plan to enact new voter ID rules, reduce early voting (which disproportionately affects African Americans working for hourly wages), and eliminate Sunday voting (which led directly to Obama’s election, as massive numbers of black churches organized their congregations to vote after church).  This would have been deemed racist under the VRA, but now they can do it.  Since the year 2000, 74 different pieces of proposed voting legislation were denied by SCOTUS under the VRA…but Justice Roberts says the country has changed since 1965.

In a nutshell, the Supreme Court just turned the clock back to the 1960s and the South is beginning to do all they can to place as many restrictions on voting that are legally possible, restrictions that are primarily put in place to keep minorities from voting.  Congress can take up the matter and draft new legislation, but considering they can never agree on anything, the outlook isn’t that bright.

I advise you to call your 90 year old great grandmother on social security and tell her to start collecting her coins to buy an ID so she can vote in the next election.  That is, unless the South can think of some other creative ways to keep Democrats away from the polls.  Let’s hope dogs and fire hoses don’t come back in style.

 

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Politics

Don’t worry about the Supreme Court.

We can’t stop whatever will happen, but we can mitigate the damage if we flip the Senate and put Biden in the White House.

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From what I can tell on The Internets, America has suddenly been thrown into complete chaos and her very future is now in question because a 90-year-old lady “unexpectedly” died after 47 brushes with cancer. As a natural cynic and charming pessimist, I agree! The United States is circling the drain…but we were already doing that anyway. At any rate, I have calmed myself down by mulling over all of the possible scenarios that may arise over the next few months, because even if all of the outcomes are terrible, I feel better if I know what they are. This is what I’ve come up with, from best case to worst case.

Cheetolini decides not to put forth a nominee, loses the election.

As of this morning, President Velveeta was was still telling the country he plans to nominate someone, most likely a woman, most likely this weekend, about a month before the election. However! He is a perpetual liar, and a self-serving, world class sack of shit. Most of the Republican Establishment wants a nominee and a quick confirmation because that will give us the most Conservative Supreme Court in decades, and with a 6-3 split, they can outlaw abortion, gay marriage, and all happiness for the next generation.

Pumpkin Spice Putin is not part of the Republican Establishment. He’s a lone wolf who only cares about himself, and if the wrong (right!) person whispers in his ear that dangling a nominee is better for him politically, he would probably go that route. It’s perfectly logical: Elect me again, and I’ll nominate this conservative judge and hand over the Supreme Court to the GOP for the next 20 or 30 years. It’s a good strategy considering he has nothing to brag about right now. Then we beat him in November, and the problem is solved.

The nominee doesn’t make it to a vote or isn’t confirmed, and Adolf Twittler loses.

Not making it to a vote and not being confirmed are slightly different but still dependent upon the same handful of Senators who pretend to be a smidge more independent from the rest of the Republican Party. Back in Obama’s term, Mitch McConnell and Matroness Lindsey Olin Graham Devereaux Sugarbaker said the President shouldn’t be able to seat a Supreme Court justice during an election cycle. They are liars, and no amount of shaming them for their hypocrisy will matter, so please stop wasting your breath on this. If you want something to pay attention to, keep watch on which Senators have now said — since RBG passed away — that they still believe that. As I’m writing, this is the count:

You can keep up on the Washington Post, but Democrats need four Republicans to withhold their support in order for the vote to fail. Right now there are two confirmed and one maybe with 29 yet to speak on the topic. Hopefully Mitt Romney will find that backbone he pretended he had a few months ago and do the right thing.

There’s a confirmation, but we take the Senate and Biden wins.

Republicans don’t have principles, so I’m not counting on four of them to actually block the nominee. If Biden wins and we pick up the Senate, we could pack the court and make the newest Conservative windbag useless. If Uncle Joe wins, we only need to pick up three Senate seats to take power because Kamala will be the tie breaker. The reelection landscape is a great map for us this year, because the Blue seats up for reelection are pretty solid and there are fewer of them. There are a lot of Red seats, and a good number have started to lean Blue or fall into the tossup category.

Nothing in the Constitution says we have to have nine Supreme Court justices. We’ve had between five and ten. The last President to seriously attempt to expand the court was FDR, but he was met with a lot of resistance even within his own party and he failed.

That was then, and this is now. Democratic voters are tired of being represented by politicians who won’t even bust a grape in a fruit fight. Republicans come armed with assault rifles and we show up with one boxing glove from the early 60s with moth holes in it. We are ready to replace them with people who will actually do their jobs and they know that, which is why they’re already floating the idea of packing the Court if McConnell successfully pulls off this power grab. Biden is on record from a long time ago saying it would be a bad idea to pack the Court and Conservative Democrats say it sets a bad precedent, that whichever party is in power will just alter the Court and it will no longer be a stable, non-political institution, but screw all of them. It’s time to actually play the game, or get off the field.

There’s no confirmation and we take the Senate, but Biden loses.

In this case, everything I just wrote applies, except Kim Jong Ugly vetoes whatever act we pass to expand the court. We’d need a two-thirds majority in both chambers of Congress to override him, and we just won’t ever have the numbers for that. We’re stuck with a 6-3 court for at least the next four years. If Stephen Breyer retires (and he definitely will), the Senate should block any nominations and just hold the Court in place until 2024 when we run somebody better than Joe Biden.

There’s no confirmation before the election, Mango Mussolini wins, and we don’t take the Senate.

There’s a confirmation, the Fanta Fascist wins, and we don’t take the Senate.

Those Senators who don’t believe an outgoing President should seat a Supreme Court judge would then vote to confirm if Biden loses in November. There is a scenario where he wins, but we take the Senate, and those Senators say “the people have spoken, and their Senators should decide who the next judge is” but we already know that’s not going to happen. The Supreme Court will be 6-3. Breyer will retire (or retire) and the Supreme Court will be 7-2.  In that case, you will find me in Sweden with my new husband or wife who says my dark skin is “exotic” and I’ll just deal with the fetishization for however long it says on the pre-nup before I can get a divorce and enough money to live on.

But seriously, if you want to do something, save your energy for what matters. You can’t shame a Republican Senator into sticking to what they said five minutes ago, let alone four years ago. Whether or not there’s a confirmation is completely out of your hands, so don’t worry about it. Let that go. We’ll get a sixth Conservative judge by November, or we won’t. You can’t do anything about it. What you can do is prevent a 7-2 Court by focusing on the Senate races that could flip Blue. What you can do is work for a 13 seat Court by focusing on those races and making sure Biden wins in November.

Mitch McConnell will win his race. Stop giving AmyMcGrath your money. Focus on the Democratic challengers in these six races:

Mark Kelly, Arizona
John Hickenlooper, Colorado
Theresa Greenfiend, Iowa
Sara Gideon, Maine
Steve Bullock, Montana
Cal Cunningham, North Carolina

We can’t stop whatever will happen, but we can mitigate the damage if we flip the Senate and put Biden in the White House. So let’s focus on that part.

And now, I’m off to hit these Swedish lessons on Duolingo because this whole country finna be on fire the day after the election regardless of who wins anyway.

 

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The DNC won’t add weed and healthcare to the platform.

The United States is not a democracy.

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The Democratic National Committee has been voting on the 2020 platform, and if you’ve been mystified (and upset!) about the outcome, you’re not alone. You would think that in a democracy, if the majority of people want something, our delegates and elected officials would speak on behalf of the people work to make that something come to fruition.

Unfortunately, the United States is not a democracy.

Marijuana

Marijuana is legal in 11 states and the District of Columbia. Across the country, grassroots organizations are working to decriminalize and legalize marijuana because there is no reason for it to be classified as a Schedule I drug alongside heroin and bath salts. Nobody ever ate a face high on marijuana. The continued vilification of marijuana is a holdover from the racist Refer Madness days of yore where lawmakers convinced everybody that Black men would smoke weed, turn into King Kong, and steal their white women. That racism never really went away. Who gets arrested for smoking weed and who doesn’t? Who is in jail for smoking weed and who gets to open dispensaries?

Given that history, it’s not a surprise that liberal-minded people have moved toward legalizing marijuana. In 1969, support for legalization was 12%. In 1977, it was 28%. Not much changed for the next couple of decades — support for legalization didn’t pass 30% until 2000. However, between 2000 and now, support has grown to 66%. A clear majority of Americans want marijuana to be legal, and among Democrats support is at 76%.  (Even Republicans have tipped over into the majority with 51%.)

The DNC voted against adding marijuana legalization to the platform.

Democratic National Committee delegates voted 105-60 against including marijuana legalization in the party platform on Monday.

The draft version of the platform supports decriminalizing marijuana use and legalizing medical marijuana, adding that it should be left up to the states “to make their own decisions about recreational use.”

The platform was unlikely to ever endorse full legalization, since Joe Biden, the presumptive nominee, does not back the policy. He supports federal decriminalization, which would take away incarceration for possession.

But Dennis Obduskey, a delegate who introduced the legalization amendment during the meeting of the DNC’s platform committee, noted that the current document is a step back from the 2016 platform, which supported “providing a reasoned pathway for future legalization.”

(cont. HuffPo)

A majority of the country wants legal weed. A hefty majority of Democratic voters wants legal weed. Biden does not want legal weed and the delegates fall in line behind him.

Medicare for All

Wouldn’t it be nice to live in a country where, if you got sick, you could go to the doctor without worrying about whether you’ll go bankrupt? In the middle of a deadly pandemic, wouldn’t it be great to be able to go to your local healthcare provider and ask for a coronavirus test without insurance? (We can do that here in NYC, but in many places in the US, you need insurance or you need to be an essential worker or both.)

The rest of the country thinks so too. 66% of voters support Medicare for All — that’s 46% of Republicans (because you know how they are) and a whopping 88% of Democrats. There aren’t a whole lot of things you can get 88% of a group to agree on, but clearly Americans who are voting Democrats into office want Medicare for All.

The DNC is not adding it to the platform.

Here’s my Sitting On My Beanbag Chair With No Expertise opinion. We’ve seen things like this happen before, where it seems a majority of us want one thing and our officials ignore that in favor of what’s good for them or their career. Our politicians are beholden to donors, so if we want more money for solar energy but the oil guy is paying for the campaign, we don’t get more money for solar energy. This doesn’t quite feel the same.

Instead, I feel like I’m being taken for granted, that my vote is a given, and the party and platform feels free to capitulate to the minority of loud, moderate, and reliable voters. I don’t have any insights to their actual process, so feel free to draw your own conclusions, but it looks to me that the DNC is playing the odds, and those odds are against the majority because most of us will in fact support the party even if the platform isn’t as progressive as we all want and deserve.

There’s no medicare and no weed, but I’m still going to do my best to make sure we get Democrats elected as opposed to Republicans. I’m not going to sit out, because there’s too much at stake. On the other hand, the moderates who would be upset by free healthcare and legal marijuana could in fact turn away, withdraw their support, and just sit at home. They’re not as upset at the direction of the country, so they don’t have the same fiery desire to make sure we do in fact get as many Republicans out of office as possible. Those moderates are older and they more reliably turn up to the polls. So the DNC looks at it and says, “here are these people who always vote and work for us who MIGHT NOT VOTE if we make changes, and here are these people who vote sometimes and they’ll work whether or not we make changes.”

And the only way to change those odds and that thought process is to actually show up. We go through this every couple of years and at some point it has to stick — young people, you have to vote. People who will be dead before you even throw out some of your spices are building the country you have to live in for the next 4 or 5 decades because you don’t vote. And the DNC makes undemocratic decisions like these, against the will of the majority, because the minority turns out over and over.

 

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No one cares about the lunch lady.

What’s going to be the mortality rate for cafeteria workers when schools reopen? 

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There are a couple of viral tweets going around painting Betsy DeVos as a callous monster for wanting to re-open the schools.

As far as I’ve been able to find, a doctor made that prediction, not Betsy, and I’m not even sure how he came to those numbers because the death rate for children under 18 is actually lower than 0.02%. Still, let’s be very clear. Betsy DeVos is definitely a monster, but she should be going viral because of the full scope of the picture, not one dubious figure.

The economy can’t reopen because there’s nowhere for children to go. Parents can’t leave their kids at home alone while they go back to work, so until they’re back in school, the country won’t start running again. That is the main concern for this administration.

The people who have the means to keep their children home away from public school are mostly white and mostly middle class. This is also great for DeVos because she doesn’t want those kids in school with poor and/or brown kids anyway.

A lot of teachers would rather retire or quit than go back to school next month, and that’s also great for DeVos because if public schools perform poorly, she can more righteously throw her weight behind the charter system she loves so much.

But Betsy DeVos and the whole lot of them are ignoring the lunch ladies.

I grew up in a very rural school district where my graduating class would have been around 80 people (I didn’t graduate with them though because I left for boarding school). I don’t remember the names of any of the janitors in any of the schools I went to growing up. The ones I can clearly build an image of in my mind were 40-year-old Black men, but they were in the background of my upbringing, neither praised nor maligned.

I don’t remember my first bus driver but she was a white woman with a long ponytail and a son named Brian who bullied me on the way home from school every day until I fought back. She kicked me off the bus and my mom had to pick me up for the rest of the year. My second bus driver a few years later was a cheerful Black woman. I remember a lot about her because she was also the computer teacher — that’s what happens in rural school districts, a lot of double duty. They were both in their 40s, but there were a few older bus drivers as well. My mom drove a school bus in her 60s just for something extra to do because she was tired of doing so much hair (she owned a salon). I don’t think anybody hated the bus drivers — except James Harris. I definitely hated James Harris because he was an asshole and I don’t care if anybody from my childhood is reading this. James Harris was an asshole.

One of the 3rd grade teachers went to high school with my mom and she was in her 40s when I came through. My 3rd grade teacher was almost 60 though. My 6th grade science teacher and 7th grade math teacher were both about 60 as well. The rest seemed old at the time, but they were generally under 40. Most of my teachers were nice women and I have pretty fond memories of them growing up.

I don’t have any fond memories of any of the cafeteria workers. They were mean old ladies who gave me nasty food. The square pizza would be burnt. The chicken rings would be rubbery.  I’ve never had chocolate milk that tastes like that outside of a school cafeteria. A peanut butter and jelly sandwich should actually have some jelly in it. And did I mention they were mean? Because they definitely were. When one of the Poor Kids didn’t have the quarter to pay for reduced breakfast, they didn’t get any food, and I felt like it was the mean old ladies’ fault. Lunch was a break from the day, but they would yell at us for just being kids. Why do we have to be so quiet?!

It’s not just me. The lunch lady is the most maligned adult from our childhoods. It’s hard to find nice cartoons about the lunch lady, but these are endless.

lunchladies1

lunchladies3

 

lunchladies4

lunchladies2

As an adult, it’s easier to look back at the cafeteria workers and stand in solidarity with what they go through. Most of those women have cooked for their families for decades. They know their way around the kitchen as much as any other 60-year-old Southern woman, but they were forced to feed us what was stipulated by the guidelines and the budget. They couldn’t give free food to the unfortunate and they didn’t make enough money to feed them out of their own pocket. They sometimes didn’t make enough money to feed themselves, and they’d be punished if they took leftovers (which are supposed to be thrown away per school district regulations, not taken home to feed your family). And if they were a little grumpy from time to time, they had the right to be. It’s a thankless job serving terrible food to children who disrespect you. Also, put yourself in this common scenario: You’re an older woman whose husband has been laid off or passed away, and you have to find a job with no work history. You can either greet at Wal-Mart or serve cold corn at the elementary school.

When schools open, kids will be spreading the coronavirus around like Skittles. As a general rule, children are disgusting germ factories. They’re always leaking and touching things and they’re mysteriously sticky at all times. And they cough like this:

cough

I don’t understand what a school day is supposed to look like. Disney went through all this work to make their park Social Distance Friendly and they’re requiring people to wear masks and the system is already breaking down, but how do you do that in a school? The desks are right next to each other and there’s no way to spread them out. How do you make a class of 25 wear a mask all day long when it takes ten minutes just to get them in a straight line to go to recess?

When the kids start to get sick, some of your children will die. The ones who don’t die will hop on a packed school bus and kill some of the bus drivers. They’ll walk by the janitor who cleans when the halls are mostly empty. They will sit in class all day with a teacher trying to hide behind a shield, but some of them will die too.

Then their midday reprieve from learning and breathing in a mask will be in the school cafeteria where they’re yelling at each other and spraying germs on the grumpy old lady serving the food nobody likes. She’s wearing a mask, but they aren’t. She’s wearing gloves, but they haven’t washed their hands well. She’s keeping her distance, but she’s stuck in that cavern of corona with recycled air for the 3 or 4 hours it takes for all the classes to have lunch.

What’s going to be the mortality rate for the lunch ladies?

 

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