John Nichols Is Coming!

Want to know what a Nichols event is like? Just watch five or ten minutes of this video and then hasten to RSVP for the event:

Nichols is headlining our annual fundraiser with a talk titled "Is Democracy Dead in Wisconsin?" RSVP for this special occasion.

Part of the answer to sustaining a vibrant democracy is sustaining the civic organizations, of which Grassroots North Shore is one. This all-volunteer organization doesn't need tens of thousands of dollars a year to stay in business, but we do need a modest level of support to keep our office running, to provide informative and educational programming four to six times each year, and to participate in electing progressive candidates.

Even if you have to miss seeing John, your donation would be deeply appreciated.

 

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Gerrymander on Trial

On May 24, 2016, a three-judge panel in Federal Court will address the question of whether the Wisconsin legislatureʼs 2011 redistricting plan is unconstitutionally partisan. Twelve Wisconsin democrats have sued the Wisconsin Department of Justice alleging that Republican state redistricting was unconstitutionally partisan and “one of the worst gerrymanders ever.”

Gerrymandering is the manipulation of district boundaries for the political advantage of a particular party. The word was coined in 1812 when Massachusetts Governor Eldridge Gerry redrew district lines in Boston to favor his party. The district created had a bizarre shape that resembled a salamander. Gerry and salamander combine to form Gerrymander.

Over the last 200 years gerrymandering has been a tried and true political method. Many strangely shaped districts, not only salamanders, have served the interest of partisan politics. Until recently North Carolina Congressional District 14 was over 80 miles long and in places only as wide as the interstate it followed. The saying was that “If you drove down the Interstate with both car doors open youʼd kill most of the people in the district.”

How district lines are drawn can influence election results in many ways. Common methods are packing and cracking. In “packing” similar voters are packed together in a single district, removing their influence from other districts. In the illustration above, the fourth map shows how packing can work. Notice that most of the blue squares are bundled into two districts, each of which has only one red square in it.

In “cracking” blocks of voters are broken apart and distributed in other districts to dilute their voting strength as much as possible. You can see the effects of cracking most clearly in the third map above. Red squares are broken up into blocks of four, diluting their voting strength in every district.

Political boundaries are usually redrawn every ten years in response to census data. In most states the state legislature controls the redistricting process. Manipulating district boundaries for partisan purposes, or gerrymandering, is not illegal unless the plan violates the Voting Rights Act.

In 2011 Wisconsin Republicans controlled all branches of state government — the assembly, the senate and the governorship. They thus had complete control of the redistricting process, which was carried out in strict secrecy using private lawyers. Only one public hearing was held before the map was passed by the legislature and signed by Governor Walker.

The redistricting map was greeted by a torrent of objections and spawned myriad lawsuits. A large number of documents were lost and a hard drive with redistricting data was destroyed. A judge who had unsuccessfully tried to access documents chastised “the all but shameful attempt to hide the redistricting process from public scrutiny.”

A Latino district that had been split (as a result of cracking) was restored by court order, but otherwise the district lines drawn by the legislature in 2011 formed the basis of the electoral districts for the 2012 and 2014 elections. The map was attacked by Democrats as an example of extreme gerrymandering. Although the districts it created lacked bizarre shapes, the districts were drawn so as to strengthen the Republican hold on government. For instance, the liberal suburb of Shorewood was removed from the state senate district of conservative Alberta Darling — in a clear example of cracking — to strengthen her against a possible recall election. Kenosha and Racine, both Democratic, were packed together, enabling a strong Republican district to be formed to the west.

 

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If It Walks Like a Duck

lame_duck.pngThe origin of the phrase ‘lame duck’ had nothing to do with politics.  It started out (1761, UK) as London Stock Exchange slang for someone defaulting on his debts, then was reapplied (1863, US) to mean an ineffectual politician in any office.  In this country, the first public usage with respect to a sitting President seems to date back to May of 1926, when the Wisconsin newspaper, the Appleton Post-Crescent ran a piece titled, ‘Making a lame duck of Calvin Coolidge’  (CBS News November 29, 2013).

Currently, the phrase is most commonly used to refer to a President who is either not running or has been defeated for another term; and the period usually refers to the time between the November elections and the swearing-in ceremony in January (10 weeks).  Arguably, the GOP has been trying to make President Obama a lame duck president since before he was inaugurated for his first term.  And now they are deceptively trying to convince the public that because the President is in his last year, he is, in fact, simply a lame duck and should not bother doing anything.  This boils down to saying that, even though the President was elected to serve a four year term, it is really only three years because the last 25% should not matter.  Using an extension of this logic, does the person who works an eight hour day have a legitimate claim that for the last 25% of their day, they should not be doing anything?

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Whither the WI Supreme Court?

The Wisconsin Supreme Court: Another Chapter

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The Wisconsin Supreme Court — known for decades as a paragon of honesty, ethics, and integrity for decades — has run into less glorious distinction in the last ten years.  The following statements contrast the judgement of the Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court with that of the Chief Justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court:

“Judges are not politicians,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., wrote in the majority opinion in a 5-4 decision [Williams-Yulee v. Florida Bar], “even when they come to the bench by way of the ballot.” He went on, “Simply put, Florida and most other States have concluded that the public may lack confidence in a judge’s ability to administer justice without fear or favor if he comes to office by asking for favors.” 

Justice Roberts’s opinion makes the connection between campaign contributions and the appearance of corruption or favoritism clear. But in Wisconsin, new recusal rules adopted in 2010 make recusal a matter of personal discretion. Each judge or justice decides for him or herself whether in a given case recusal is warranted. In defending the new recusal rules, Justice Roggensack took a position quite different from the one expressed by Chief Justice Roberts.

Patience Drake Roggensack, now the Chief Justice [of the Supreme Court of Wisconsin], wrote for the conservative majority in a 4-3 vote in favor of the rule, “We elect judges in Wisconsin; therefore, judicial recusal rules have the potential to impact the effectiveness of citizens’ votes cast for judges. Stated otherwise, when a judge is disqualified from participation, the votes of all who voted to elect that judge are cancelled for all issues presented by that case."

Justice Roggensack’s opinion reveals that she and her fellow conservative justices consider themselves to be representatives of the people who voted for them. Not impartial judges of the facts and the law, but partisans beholden to their supporters, including especially those who funded their campaigns!

Interestingly, when considering changes to the rules, the court rejected ones proposed by the League of Women Voters, a nonpartisan group, and instead adopted the extremely weak rules submitted by the Wisconsin Realtors’ Association and Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, two right-wing groups who heavily supported the elections of the right-wing justices as well as the election of Governor Walker.

The recusal rule changes are only a fraction of what is troubling our Supreme Court, but they represent the direction the court has taken.  Money, Eric O’Keefe, Wisconsin Club for Growth, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, Citizens for a Strong America, among other outgrowths of the same movement have aggressively taken control of all branches of our state government.  There may be several avenues of recourse.  The people are our best hope.  Educate, talk to other people, vote, repeat.

Continue on to the next section where the basic responsibilities and procedures for the court are briefly explained.

 

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The Face of Fascism

Earlier in his campaign for the GOP nomination, Donald J. Trump stated with intensity that the United States must prohibit the entry of any Muslim to our nation.  This remark elicited a huge response, and some of the comments included references to the words "fascism/fascist."  Former Democratic Presidential Candidate Martin O’Malley stated that Donald Trump is a "fascist demagogue." 

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Using a clever play on words and a eerily unsettling image, the Philadelphia Daily News carried this picture on its front page.

On Tuesday, 12/8, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow devoted her introductory segment to a brief overview of fascism.  To be clear, many Americans are not really familiar with the concept.  Many conflate it with socialism or communism, which could not be further from the truth:  on the spectrum of political ideology fascism is found on the far right, socialism and communism on the left.   And there has been a tendency to speak about fascism in low whispers.  This article is intended to shed some light on the nature of fascism.

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Where and When to Vote Early

To help North Shore communities take advantage of early voting, here's a list of municipal offices, phone numbers, and business hours. 

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Obama's Clean Power Plan: Myths Busted

Late last summer, in conjunction with the release of his Clean Power Plan, President Obama proclaimed in a speech to an audience in Arkansas:

We have a moral obligation to leave our children a planet that’s not polluted or damaged. By taking action now to combat climate change, including developing homegrown clean energy and cutting energy waste, we can help protect our kids’ health, cut carbon pollution, and begin to slow the effects of climate change so we leave a cleaner, safer environment for future generations.

We are already feeling the dangerous and costly effects of a changing climate across the nation. In the past three decades, the percentage of Americans with asthma has more than doubled, and climate change is putting those Americans at greater risk of landing in the hospital. And extreme weather events – from more severe droughts and wildfires in the west to more powerful hurricanes and record heat waves – are affecting communities across the country. Now is the time to act. We have already made progress by moving to cleaner sources of energy and improving the energy efficiency of our cars, trucks, and buildings.

Released on Monday, August 3, 2015, the Plan addresses cutting greenhouse gas emissions from power plants by 2030.  The Federal Government will establish standards for each state; and then each state will develop its own plan for implementation.  Initial versions of the Plan are due in September 2016, with final versions due in 2018.  For more detail on the Plan and subsequent activity, click here.

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