We're a Republic, Not a Democracy. Yes. But This Is Too Far.

Charles P. Pierce
Photo credit: LOGAN CYRUS - Getty Images

From Esquire

(Permanent Musical Accompaniment To The Last Post Of The Week From The Blog's Favorite Living Canadian)

Those still celebrating the midterm elections got an adult portion of reality this week courtesy of Cleveland.com and of our good friends at The Brennan Center. This came in the form of surveys demonstrating that this country still has a long way to go to keep the gerrymandering ratfckers of the world from screwing with its elections. First, from the Brennan Center:

North Carolina’s congressional district lines are already the subject of federal litigation claiming that they give Republicans a systematic, unconstitutional advantage in winning seats. Tuesday’s results bear those claims out. Democrats won roughly 50 percent of the vote in North Carolina, their best performance in almost a decade. But despite an extraordinary year, they netted just three of the state’s 13 congressional seats - the same as in 2014 and 2016. That happened because a promising Democratic wave crashed against one of the country’s most extreme gerrymanders, a congressional map that Republican legislators brazenly stated on the record that they carefully crafted “to give a partisan advantage to 10 Republicans and 3 Democrats.”

To engineer this advantage, the leaders of the Republican caucus worked in secret with a consultant to pack likely Democrats into three super-blue districts. In each of these districts, Democrats would win by very large margins. The Republican mapmakers then spread the rest of the state’s Democrats more thinly across the remaining 10 districts, ensuring that Republican candidates would win by small, but safe, margins. They made many of these districts safe for the GOP by giving each one just enough Republican voters to win elections in normal years.

I know, I know. We're a republic and not a democracy, and majoritarian tyranny etc. etc. But these kind of results are simply not tenable any longer. Erecting permanent institutional barriers to thwart the clear will of a state's people is laying out the welcome mat for actual authoritarian government.

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And to flout the rulings of the federal judiciary in this vital matter, as North Carolina has persisted in doing, is to slide us all back dangerously close to the frontiers of Calhounism.

All of this has continued to leave North Carolina Democrats with only 23 percent of the congressional delegation even though they won roughly half of the state’s votes in House races. Indeed, despite North Carolina’s well-established purple-state status - with hotly contested elections for statewide offices and a vibrant, diverse collection of voices and interests - its congressional delegation remains overwhelmingly Republican.

Since, as the Brennan Center points out, N.C. doesn't have the kind of initiative procedures that allowed Michigan to pass overwhelmingly a redistricting reform package last week, the only real option there is to keep beating this issue to death in the courts and then swamp the chicanery in 2020.

Photo credit: LOGAN CYRUS - Getty Images

And, as strange as it may sound, things might even be worse in Ohio, although, three years ago, Ohioans did vote for a package of reforms that will take hold in 2021.

It's a takeaway from Election 2018 that isn't the usual headline grabber. More importantly, in terms of controlling Ohio's government, the GOP won 73 of the 116 Statehouse races. But the Republicans scored their wins for 63 percent of the seats while collecting just over 50 percent of the total vote. This is a lot like what happened in Ohio's 16 congressional districts, where Republicans won 75 percent of the seats with just 52 percent of the overall vote.

There really is a boatload of work still to be done, and it's all going to happen offstage in the several states.

I'm certainly glad that Jim Acosta of CNN got his hard-pass back temporarily, thanks to a federal judge who obviously had a little time on his hands. Anything that makes this White House press shop look foolish is fine by me. However, I have to admit that I thought the whole controversy was oversold. First of all, the best reporting on Camp Runamuck has been done by people who don't have to sit through Sarah Huckabee Sanders's semi-daily crapola fests.

And I have to confess that I don't see a compelling First Amendment issue here-though I am open to contrary arguments, such as the ones posed by Jill Wine-Banks on TV Friday afternoon-except in that, if it were encouraged by this move, the White House likely would have pushed even harder in more directions. But, frankly, the relative solidity of Jim Acosta's press pass was not something I particularly cared about, one way or another. The way the major news organizations rallied behind him, though, was fairly impressive. Now that we know they can do that, may I suggest another cause for them to embrace.

Photo credit: NurPhoto - Getty Images

Repealing the Espionage Act, a gangrenous vestige of the very first Red Scare back during World War I. It was a law that really never should have had a time in a democratic republic and its time, such as it was, has passed. As the late Walter Karp wrote:

When a Hollywood filmmaker released his movie epic The Spirit of '76, federal agents seized it and arrested the producer: his portrayal of the American Revolution had cast British redcoats in an unfavorable light. The film, said the court, was criminally "calculated . . . to make us a little bit slack in our loyalty to Great Britain in this great catastrophe." A story that had nourished love of liberty and hatred of tyranny in the hearts of American schoolchildren had become a crime to retell in Wilson's America. The filmmaker was sentenced to ten years in prison for recalling the inconvenient past.

It has been misused by almost every president since it was passed. It is an inherent threat to the entire Bill of Rights in general, and the First Amendment in particular.

In fact, the Sedition Act, born at the same time and the product of the same dark impulses that produced the Espionage Act, was allowed to expire in 1924. But the Espionage Act still sits in our law like the revolver on the table at the beginning of Act One. I'm glad Jim Acosta is back in the room where it happens, but, if news organizations want to band together and use their clout in defense of democracy, there are tougher and more important issues than that.

Hey, America. Guess what? There's another Ebola breakout in Africa. From NPR:

"It's as if we're just starting now when in fact we started three months ago," says Rollin. "We're not making any progress." More than 300 people have already been infected, making this outbreak the biggest in DRC history. For weeks, the count of new infections has remained stubbornly at around 30 new cases per week. Also, says Rollin, "there are still a lot of people that are not detected in time." They die in their homes, cared for by relatives who don't know to use protective gear – setting off new chains of transmission. Perhaps most alarmingly, says Rollin, "I was looking at the last 30 days of cases and two-thirds of them were of unknown origin – so we can't trace them."

Photo credit: JOHN WESSELS - Getty Images

The reason for these setbacks is clear: Unlike previous outbreaks in DRC this one is taking place in an eastern part of the country that is wracked by conflict. Response teams are continually finding themselves blocked by multiple armed rebel groups who launch attacks on the government and civilians. The health workers have also been caught in crossfire between clashing factions within the Congolese military. And the responders have been repeatedly rejected and even assaulted by members of the community who are deeply distrustful of anyone associated with the government - including health workers. Rollin worries the situation could get even worse in late December, when DRC is set to hold national elections. "We have no idea what's going to happen, what the result will be – and whether it's going to be accepted," he says.

These figures are horrifying, and the history of epidemic disease during wartime is even worse. For the love of god, however, I hope they're keeping this news away from the president*. He'll have the Air Force shooting down jetliners coming over the Atlantic.

Weekly WWOZ Pick To Click: "Dance of the Salivating Pickler" (Egg Yolk Jubilee): Yeah, I pretty much still love New Orleans.

Weekly Visit To The Pathe Archives: Here's new Presidential Medal of Freedom winner Babe Ruth playing Santa at a children's hospital in 1947. I can't wait until next year when he gives one to Abraham Lincoln and Trigger.

(In other Bambino-related news, Jane Leavy's new bio of the Babe-The Big Fella-is great piece of work. This was a very complicated man.)

In Republican purgatory, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan are passing a bottle of cheap bourbon back and forth and wondering how it came to this in Orange County.

Is it a good day for dinosaur news, Register-Guard? It's always a good day for dinosaur news!

Museums across the country are full of fossilized bones and reconstructed dinosaur skeletons. But the title of a research paper Retallack and other University of Oregon researchers co-authored about the find, published last week in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, highlights its significance: “First dinosaur (Ornithopoda) from early Cretaceous (Albian) of Oregon, U.S.A.”

In other words, no one had found a confirmed fossilized dinosaur bone in Oregon before the discovery by Retallack, a UO earth sciences professor, plant and soil researcher and expert on evolutionary transitions. It is believed to belong to an ornithopod, a plant-eating dinosaur thought to have lived about 103 million years ago during the Cretaceous era, the same period in which the Tyrannosaurus rex lived. It is believed to have weighed about a ton and spanned more than 20 feet in length.

Is this really the first dinosaur ever discovered in Oregon? Was there a zoning problem or something? Did they all just move to California because the schools were better? Did none of them eat green beans? This find raises more questions than it answers!

The Committee always has a sweet tooth for obscure cultural references, so Top Commenter David Armamentos locked up Top Commenter of the Week by saying the following about Mississippi mistake Cindy Hyde-Smith.

Never knew Swoosie Kurtz had an evil twin.

Well-struck, my good man. Enjoy your 72.11 Beckhams for Thanksgiving!

I'll be back on Monday with some reaction from Elvis about the great honor he received from the president* today. Be well and play nice, ya bastids. Stay above the snakeline, and enjoy your Swoosie Kurtz festival on the teevee.

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