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Tax-cutting House Republicans suddenly worry about the deficit when Puerto Rico needs help

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Why 69 Republicans didn’t vote for Puerto Rico aid.

A full-blown humanitarian crisis is still underway in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria devastated the island last month. More than 80 percent of the island is still without electricity, there’s a daily shortage of 1.8 million meals, and hospitals are running low on medication, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. In California, uncontrollable wildfires continue to ravage homes and entire economies. People are dying.

The House passed an emergency relief package this week that would direct $36.5 billion toward recovery efforts in Puerto Rico, California, and other communities affected by natural disasters. But 69 Republicans voted against it.

The excuse: It would be too big a blow to the deficit.

“Up here we use these casual phrases that we are going to write off the debt,” Rep. Dave Brat (R-VA), who voted against the relief package, told reporters. “Whoosh, there it goes. But where does it go? It goes to the taxpayer.”

Brat — like many of his conservative colleagues in the House Freedom Caucus who voted against the aid — said he wanted to see ways to offset the cost of these supplemental relief packages. Those demands, which range from reforms of the National Flood Insurance Program to proposals that slash social safety net programs — would take time, and leave people already in life-threatening situations hanging.

But this wrenching concern over the deficit — particularly when the situation in Puerto Rico remains so dire — is hard for some to swallow when conservatives are simultaneously pushing forward a tax reform package that could leave a more than a trillion-dollar hole in the deficit and have signed on to spending bills that added more than $100 billion to defense spending, without the immediate promise of offsets elsewhere.

But the conservative line in the House doesn’t seem fazed by such dissonance.

“My whole thing is that if it’s emergency funding, then historically we need to look at what we do with FEMA and properly fund it,” Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), who also did not vote for the aid package, said. “FEMA is for emergencies. Why have FEMA there if you are going to have supplementals all the time?”

Those considerations were not raised during the House’s appropriations process, which allocates money to federal agencies like FEMA — which the House Freedom Caucus overwhelming supported.

Even so, fiscal hawks are quick to raise concerns over supplemental spending requests — even emergency relief ones. Last month Congress passed a $15 billion relief package for Texas and Florida after Hurricanes Irma and Harvey, tying it to a three-month debt ceiling raise and stopgap funding measure to keep the government open. At the time, 90 House Republicans and 17 Senate Republicans voted against the package — citing the deficit, and that the relief aid was tied to the debt ceiling and continuing resolution proposal.

“Hurricane aid shouldn’t be added to the debt,” Rep. Mark Walker (R-NC) opined in the Wall Street Journal this week. “That’s akin to going to the Emergency Room after an injury, putting the charges on a credit card, and then pretending that the Visa bill is never going to arrive.”

For those hoping for relief in Puerto Rico, the hypothetical Visa bill is far from an area of concern. They’re just awaiting electricity, food, and water.

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mareino
2 days ago
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Mark Walker is literally a sociopath. I don't say that lightly. But read that quote: given the opportunity to come up with his own analogy of something an Earth human should not spend money on, he chose emergency medical care.
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Intrigue in the online mattress review world

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For Fast Company, David Zax wrote about the Casper mattress company suing mattress-reviewing bloggers over their affiliate marketing relationships.

As Casper flourished through 2014 and early 2015, I learned, it enjoyed a mutually beneficial relationship with Sleepopolis and similar sites. For many bloggers, in fact, Casper was among the first mattress companies to offer affiliate commissions, leading its competitors to respond in turn. The reviews sites were key parts of what marketers call the “purchase funnel,” converting a vague interest in mattresses into awareness of a specific brand, and often the decision to buy it. Many consumers were Googling terms like “best mattress,” landing on sites like Sleepopolis, and learning about e-tailers like Casper for the first time.

Indeed, one would never have predicted looming lawsuits from a friendly 2015 email exchange, in which Casper CEO Philip Krim attempted to court an affiliate marketer named Jack Mitcham, who ran a Sleepopolis-like site called Mattress Nerd.

In January 2015, Krim wrote Mitcham that while he supported objective reviews, “it pains us to see you (or anyone) recommend a competitor over us.”

Krim went on: “As you know, we are much bigger than our newly formed competitors. I am confident we can offer you a much bigger commercial relationship because of that. How would you ideally want to structure the affiliate relationship? And also, what can we do to help to grow your business?”

I was just thinking the other day about how these companies like Casper formed to undercut the price gouging mattress stores and now, with millions of VC dollars behind them, they’re pulling their own brand of underhanded tricks to manipulate people into buying their products. In five years, Casper will probably have dozens of retail stores and 10 different kinds of mattress at different price points — they already have more than a dozen stores and 3 models ranging from $600 to $1850 — just like the companies they are trying to replace. Their origin story won’t matter…VC-fueled marketing will paper over all of that and, tada, meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

Tags: business   David Zax
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satadru
1 day ago
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Glad I bought a nest. They're great.
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popular
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mareino
2 days ago
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acdha
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Washington, DC
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sirshannon
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damn it.

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal - Dear Lord

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Click here to go see the bonus panel!

Hovertext:
Later it turns it he was talking to Satan. But, it's okay because he has gold.

New comic!
Today's News:

Dear sweet lord it's pub day. God help us.




Red Button mashing provided by SMBC RSS Plus. If you consume this comic through RSS, you may want to support Zach's Patreon for like a $1 or something at least especially since this is scraping the site deeper than provided.
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mareino
2 days ago
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For non-Christians: the math is off. The average wafer is 1/3000 of a kg, and a Catholic* could only collect about 52 wafers/year by ordinary means. Since only priests can consecrate wafers, the obvious theological conclusion is that this divine cheat code is only available to the Ordained. (* note: the reasons why this person is probably Catholic are really, really tedious.)
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MORAL: some fridays be freaky

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archive - contact - sexy exciting merchandise - search - about
October 16th, 2017next

October 16th, 2017: So it turns out that the LAKES INTERNATIONAL COMIC ART FESTIVAL is super great. I even commissioned some art from one of my favourite English cartoonists!

– Ryan

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mareino
2 days ago
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I HAVE NOW CONSUMED THE MEDIA CONTENT YOU RECOMMENDED.
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daanzu_alt_text_bot
4 days ago
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[rss title] MORAL: some fridays be freaky

[img title] ESSAY-WRITING TIP: Below your word count? Got a phrase that's a number followed by a noun? Insert "of your Earth" between them and you're laughing all the way to the bank. The GOOD GRADES bank, that is! TWO of your Earth Good Grades banks, that is!

[mailto subject] this is the opposite of a comic years ago where god had seen groundhog day but t-rex hadn't. almost like the two comics groundhog day'd each other while the two characters freaky friday'd each other, thematically

Shackling Elementary School Kids Above Elbow Found to Violate the Fourth Amendment

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A school resources officer for Covington Independent Public Schools in Kentucky in 2015 shackled, in separate incidents, two learning disabled kids, an 8-year-old boy and a 9-year-old girl. The cuffs were attacked not around their wrists, but above the elbows behind their backs.

ACLU YoutubeACLU Youtube

The American Civil Liberties (ACLU) considered his actions a violation of the kids' Fourth Amendment rights, and this week a federal court agreed in a decision on motions for summary judgment from both sides.

Kenton County, where it occurred, is also liable for the officer's conduct. He was also a deputy sheriff.

According to an ACLU press release on this decision:

"We are gratified that the judge found, as a matter of law, that this was a violation of the Fourth Amendment," said Claudia Center, senior staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union's Disability Rights Program. "We knew this was unconstitutional behavior. Anyone who viewed the video could see it was tantamount to torture."

The lawsuit was filed in August 2015 by the ACLU, the Children's Law Center, and the private law firm of Dinsmore & Shohl. The suit prompted a Department of Justice investigation into the school district's disciplinary practices, including the use of police to deal with routine student misbehavior. In January 2017, Covington Independent Schools entered into an agreement with DOJ and began implementing new policies to ensure that disciplinary practices do not discriminate against children with disabilities.

The actual decision, which left the question of damages for a later court proceeding. The officer's actions were not found to be a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

One of the defenses involved asserting that clear school policy barring the use of restraints that way should not apply to the officer since he was in that moment acting not as a school employee but as a police officer.

Obviously, things can get complicated when the same employee wears both hats, which should make us wonder how necessary having cops in elementary school doing discipline is.

On that point, from U.S. District Judge William Bertelsman's decision:

Because SROs [school resources officers] wear two hats while serving in Kentucky schools, it can be difficult to discern when their actions constitute those of school personnel or those of law enforcement....[but the officer's] seizure and use of force, under the facts of this case, were unreasonable, even in the absence of the above regulation.

Judge Bertelsman notes the particular method of the shackling—above the elbows—made it especially egregious, and that had the handcuffing been more traditional at the wrist, perhaps a different judgment would be made.

Robby Soave reported on this awful conduct back when it happened in 2015, and rightly noted in an indignant subhed that the action was "outrageous and evil." Now a court has rightly agreed it was unconstitutional as well.

ACLU video regarding the situation, made when the suit was first initiated:

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mareino
4 days ago
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Democracy is a constant struggle against tyrants big and small.
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satadru
5 days ago
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skorgu
4 days ago
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What the fuck

The real fix for gerrymandering is proportional representation

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It’s time to consider radical solutions.

The furor over the Supreme Court case considering limits on gerrymandering has reminded me of a conference I attended years ago. This was a meeting mostly composed of legal scholars focused on progressive reforms to the American judicial system. Gerrymandering, which is a hot topic today, wasn’t a major focus of the conversation. But we did get one presentation from a distinguished scholar of redistricting matters who explained that redistricting is a particularly hard problem to solve because there are a number of different goals that are mostly incompatible:

  • It seems like a system should offer partisan fairness such that control of a legislature is typically in line with the population’s overall preference.
  • Districts should align communities of interest and correspond in some sense to real places that we can characterize, like “the South Side of Chicago,” rather than just be arbitrary zones, like “some of the suburbs of San Antonio and some of the suburbs of Austin plus a big disconnected patch of rural Texas.”
  • Racial minority groups should get fair representation. A state like Georgia that’s 30 percent black shouldn’t have an all-white congressional delegation.
  • There should be fair-fight districts with real electoral competition, not just everyone segregated into safe seats that protect incumbents.
  • Districts should be compact and look like a nice checkerboard of squares and triangles, rather than a bunch of crazy squiggles.

Sometimes you can make this all work together, but oftentimes you can’t. Creating majority-minority districts to ensure racial representation can look a lot like “packing” Democratic voters into lopsided seats. Aiming at fair fights sounds nice but will end up violating communities of interest. Aiming for partisan fairness will necessarily involve some odd squiggles, since neighborhood-level partisanship can be very disparate.

So I asked this scholar: “What about proportional representation?”

She said that when she teaches redistricting law, she does proportional representation last because it solves all the problems and the point of the class is for the students to work through the different complexities and legal doctrines governing the American system. That seems smart as a pedagogical approach, but as an agenda for political reform, solving all the problems is a good idea.

The many flavors of proportional representation

The basic idea of proportional representation is that instead of each place having a single representative selected by either plurality or a runoff system, you aggregate a bunch of people’s votes and then assign seats to parties in proportion to their popularity.

Proportional representation can work in a bunch of different ways, but there are two broadly popular schemes:

  • In a party list system, voters simply mark a ballot for a party and then seats are allocated based on the share of the votes that party got. If the Cranky Oldsters party gets 25 percent of the vote, they get 25 percent of the seats, and if that works out to 40 seats, that means the first 40 people on their list get seats.
  • In an alternative vote system (endorsed by conservative magazine National Review’s editorial, Reihan Salam), individual candidates still run for office, but instead of single-member districts, each state might be a big district with multiple members. In a state like Maryland with eight House members, voters would rank a bunch of candidates in order of preference, and then a formula would determine which eight people get the seat.

There are also innovative systems out there, like Jameson Quinn’s proposal for PLACE voting. The main downside of an AV system is that AV ballots are very complicated. A party list system, by contrast, is very simple, but some people don’t like the way it breaks the direct connection between voters and politicians. Germany and New Zealand use a system called mixed-member proportional representation that combines features of both to offer a simple ballot and personalized representation, with the main downside being that the under-the-hood details of how it works are complicated.

But while these different systems all have some pros and some cons, they all fundamentally solve the redistricting dilemma. The main way they do that is by simply making decisions about where the boundaries go much less relevant. Most states wouldn’t have any district boundaries at all. A big state like Texas or California might need to be sliced into three or four chunks, but because the outcomes are guaranteed to be proportional, the exact details of the chunking don’t matter very much.

Proportional representation solves many problems

The big upside to all flavors of proportionality — and the reason places hardly ever backslide from proportional to nonproportional systems — is that it basically solves all the map-drawing problems in one fell swoop.

Questions about representation for ethnic minority groups or communities of interest are taken care of exactly the way they should be — from the bottom up by voters and parties. If Latinos want to vote for fellow Latinos, then they will end up being represented by Latinos in proportion to their numbers. Or if Latino identity loses salience relative to other factors (ideology, geography, socioeconomic class, whatever) they won’t be.

Proportional representation also ensures that almost every district is in some sense a “fair fight.” Even if a state like Georgia has a pronounced lean toward the GOP or a state like Massachusetts has a strong lean in the other direction, the margin of victory ends up mattering a lot. And since the margin of victory matters, parties have incentives to try to communicate with, appeal to, and mobilize voters in every corner of the country. That helps boost participation and engagement, but also ensures that no incumbent can feel so “safe” in his seat that he doesn’t need to try to work hard, avoid scandal, and otherwise do his job.

Since most states wouldn’t need to be subdivided at all under PR, the “squiggly district” problem would be entirely eliminated except insofar as some states (looking at you, Maryland) are themselves squiggly. States that do need to be subdivided could be sliced in compact ways without sacrificing any other values. People who live in cities wouldn’t have their votes devalued due to some arbitrary notion of “clustering.” And nobody’s vote would be “wasted” — the views of Republicans in Los Angeles and liberals in West Virginia would count just as much as the views of anyone else.

Courts should think boldly about solutions

Until the 1962 Supreme Court case Baker v. Carr, it was commonplace for state legislature districts in the United States to contain wildly different numbers of people.

There’s no black-letter constitutional text requiring that state legislative districts be drawn with equal populations, and obviously the US Senate operates along exactly the opposite principle. So for the first 150-plus years of the republic, state legislatures apportioned themselves however they wanted to. This often meant leaving maps based on decades-old population data in place, deliberately overweighting rural areas, and other violations of democratic principles. But as the Warren Court began handing down civil rights rulings in the 1950s, pressure grew to confront states’ untrammeled boundary-drawing power.

Fifty-five years later, the ruling feels like common sense, but it was extraordinarily controversial at the time with Justice Felix Frankfurter and others arguing that for the Court to insert itself into the redistricting process violated the separation of powers. But having decided otherwise, the Court’s majority articulated a principle of “one person, one vote,” drawing on legal and political principles that could just as easily have been articulated as “all citizens’ votes should carry equal weight” — i.e., electoral systems should be proportional.

Not only does a proportionality mandate solve the problems of redistricting more elegantly, it solves the problem of judicial meddling with electoral mechanics much better. The Supreme Court fairly clearly doesn’t want to set itself up as a national district-drawing body that is perpetually being asked to decide whether a given setup counts as “gerrymandering” or natural “clustering” or whatever. Mathematical tools like the “efficiency gap” are a useful first step in quantifying partisan gerrymandering, but they still leave tons of other line-drawing goals in play. The judicial system’s experience with the effort to ban racial gerrymandering only to find itself sucked into a million debates over whether such-and-such a gerrymander is really about disenfranchising black people (which is bad) or just about screwing over Democrats (which is okay) is an unhappy precedent.

Requiring states to adopt proportional systems would be more disruptive in the short term, just as the requirement that districts be equal in population was disruptive. But the distinction between a proportional and a nonproportional system is fairly clear and doesn’t leave a ton left to argue over. It would solve the substantive problem of excessive partisan gerrymandering and the procedural problem of how to avoid excessive policing of partisan gerrymandering and solve the other dilemmas of redistricting at the same time.

Fixing everything in one fell swoop would make for a boring law school class, but as a policy outcome, it’s a pretty great idea.

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satadru
4 days ago
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Yup.
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mareino
6 days ago
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