Lessons in undermining democracy

By Mandy Robertson, Beth Moon and Carol Corbin

After each Census, states assess how many members of Congress are needed and redraw districts to even out populations. The next census is in 2020, so South Carolina will redistrict in 2021. However, district lines are often drawn by the party in power to help them win future elections. This unsavory practice is called gerrymandering. Both parties employ this practice.

Gerrymandering occurs in two primary ways—cracking and packing. Cracking means that if you have a city with a concentration of Democrats–liberals tend to be concentrated in cities–you would redistrict by cracking that city into many districts, reaching out into the suburbs and rural areas where the Republicans live to create a majority of Republicans in each district. (Look at the pie slices emanating from liberal Austin, Texas, for an example.) Packing means you draw a line around all the people who are most likely to vote a certain way so they get one seat and only one seat. That’s what happened in South Carolina.

Even though 45 percent of South Carolinians usually vote Democratic, only one of seven representatives is a Democrat—Jim Clyburn in District 6, a district that is 57.2 percent African American. Districts cannot be drawn to pack by race, but they can be drawn to pack by party, and in the case of District 6, it’s the same thing.

As long as this system is in place, voters are not choosing their legislators, the legislators are choosing their voters. Thirty-seven states, including South Carolina, allow elected representatives to draw the districts. It’s pretty clear that this is not a very democratic way to determine districts. But what are the consequences of this system? First, legislators have the “ability to flip the entire theory of democracy on its head by personally picking their own voters,” wrote The State political columnist Cindi Ross Scoppe.   Second, many elections are determined in the primaries, when only about 10 percent of electors vote, and those who do are usually the highly motivated members of a party—think Tea Party politics. This pushes parties away from the center, and often away from negotiation and compromise in legislation—think D.C. gridlock.

Additionally, once a party is entrenched and controls the redistricting, it discourages opposition. Few Democrats want to run against an entrenched Republican in a Republican “safe” district, because the time, money, and effort of a campaign is huge. It’s hard to get candidates to run if there’s no chance of winning. Further, that situation dissuades voters from voting. If they know their candidate cannot win, or if there is no candidate running that they can support, why bother to go to the polls?

Redistricting after the 2010 census was an example of the polarization that takes place when politicians do the redistricting. Before the redistricting in 2011, 70 of 435 U.S. House districts had competition, but after 2011 only 53 did, and after the 2012 election only 47 did. It looks a lot like monopoly. The big guy swallows up the little guy and eliminates competition until a monopoly is formed.

Peter Frey, professor emeritus from Northwestern University, suggests that gerrymandering should be eliminated because “it can be a serious violation of the one-person, one-vote” principle. Computer programs that gerrymander districts can do the exact opposite–create districts with nearly equal number of voters from each party.  Frey asks, “Why not use gerrymandering to achieve a different objective—to create as many competitive districts as possible?”

This proposal would address many of the problems in Washington and in our state legislatures simultaneously:

  • Reduce the number of representatives who are permanent fixtures;
  • Increase voter participation—when an election appears to be very close, more people vote because their vote might determine who wins;
  • Weaken the influence of special interests;
  • Provide incentive for compromise in Washington.

Iowa has a nonpartisan districting procedure in which “three bureaucrats sequester themselves for 45 days every decade after census data is released…. [and] are not allowed to consider previous election results, voter registration, or even the addresses of incumbent members of Congress.” Iowa’s results are viewed as a model of fairness and may be a model for the nation. After the 2011 redistricting, the state’s Congressional delegates are evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. The state has some of the nation’s most competitive races, and the results are always a toss-up.

That sounds ideal! But how do we convince our own state representatives that we want fair and competitive districting? That is one of the initiatives of Beaufort SC Indivisible. A group of about 25 Indivisible members on the Voting Rights team is working to convince state legislators to change the way districts are laid out to make voting more democratic (with a small D).

Currently there is a bill at the state level sponsored by Senate minority leader, Nikki Setzler (Lexington), and co-sponsored by Senators Mia McLeod (Richland County) and Mike Fanning (Great Falls). This bill (S.341) proposes a constitutional amendment creating a non-partisan, independent redistricting committee and might make democracy a reality in South Carolina.

For more general gerrymandering information, watch John Oliver explain it. It’s funny and it’s true.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A-4dIImaodQ

 

Take Action!

Please call or write your state senators to show your support for fair and non-partisan districting. Addresses and phone numbers below.

Here is a sample letter:

 

Dear Senator __________,

My name is ___________, and I vote in your district. I have become concerned that the district divisions do not give me a chance to be fairly represented in Columbia, since I am a (Democrat/Republican). Please vote for Senate Bill S.341 to appoint a committee that is non-partisan, that will redraw the voting districts to more fairly represent the voters (who live near each other and have similar concerns), and that will more equitably divide the state into several party divisions.

State Senators

District 43

Chip Campsen (R)

Beaufort, Charleston, Colleton

305 Gressette Bldg.

Columbia, SC 29201

803-212-6340

 

District 45

Margie Bright Matthews (D)

Allendale, Beaufort, Charleston

502 Gressette Building

Columbia, SC 29201

803-212-6108

 

District 46

Tom Davis (R)

Beaufort and Jasper Counties

404 Gressette Bldg.

Columbia, SC 29201

803-212-6350

843-252-8583

 

A rude awakening

Dream

I repeat a story to myself and to anyone who will listen. I woke on the morning of Nov. 9th to discover that my country—the democratic republic of the United States of America—had been stolen while I was sleeping, sold to the highest bidders. I have been trying to absorb this revelation ever since.

I had a dream up until the night of Nov. 8th, a dream that the hard-fought progressive achievements in civil rights, the movement toward universal health care, environmental protections, the evolution of gender equality among all persons, and voter rights were works in progress. We were moving forward. It was progress—imperfect—but movement toward a just republic, “for the people, by the people.”

I have had to confess to myself that I had been long caught in a dream and had not acted to protect these progressive achievements. I had been politically active in college and interned for a Congressional office, but then I got lax. I voted in every election but otherwise stayed in a dreamlike state. While I was asleep,  the Koch brothers and their billionaire minions bought the system.

I have been jarred awake by what has happened in our country since Nov. 8th. Now, I organize, resist, speak out against injustice, and stand up by those who are, and will be, victimized by irresponsible, regressive, tyrannical, and incompetent governance. We have to stay awake and resist the people now in power.

That is what Beaufort Indivisible and the Human Rights action team that I have joined has meant to me. My hope is by joining together in a common purpose to continue the progressive achievements of a better and just governance will take hold.

Stan Boyd, a musician, moved to Beaufort 13 years ago from Washington, D.C.

National Healthcare is only answer that makes sense

By Carol Corbin

I lived in Canada for 18 years and learned how wonderful universal healthcare can be. I came to believe what almost all Canadians believe: that healthcare is a human right. Except for the U.S., that belief is echoed in every developed nation on the planet, as well as developing nations like Cuba, Rwanda, and the Philippines.  

When I first got to Canada I noticed that my Canadian friends who had small children were taking them to the doctor for very minor ailments. It seemed to me that this was an abuse of the system. But I came to realize that what they and the system were doing was preventive healthcare—a nearly unheard of concept for an American. They weren’t waiting until the children were really sick, they were nipping it in the bud early, and keeping the population healthier as whole. The longer life expectancy and lower healthcare costs in Canada are a testament to its efficacy.

My experiences with the Canadian healthcare system were outstanding. I’d heard that I would have to wait for months and months to get an appointment. That was completely untrue. I heard that the quality was lower, that also was untrue. I began to realize that all the horror stories I had heard about Canada’s universal healthcare system had been concocted by the AMA to keep Americans from demanding a single-payer program.

I know of people here in the U.S. who have been in one of two “locks” because of the American health insurance system. One is the marriage lock. A cousin of mine could not get a divorce when he needed to because his wife would have been left without health insurance. He stayed married for many years to keep her from falling through the cracks. My sister was in a job lock. She had good health insurance where she worked, but she hated her job and it was actually causing her significant health problems. She was too young for Medicare and she was locked into the job indefinitely.

Lack of a national healthcare program creates enormous stress for citizens who are not covered by employer-paid health insurance. In 2013 nearly 2 million people filed for bankruptcy because of unpaid medical bills—62% of all bankruptcies are due to medical bills. Ten million people with health insurance will accumulate medical bills they cannot pay.

Here are arguments I have heard against universal healthcare and fact-based responses to them:

Myth 1: Universal healthcare is welfare

The U.S. prides itself being a free market where individualism is sacred. But many of the most vibrant economies (read, European) combine a free market commercial sector with a strong government that enacts beneficial regulations to protect citizens. At one time, Social Security was called welfare. Now it is a core provision of American government. Of the 33 developed nations, all but the US have universal health care. These nations learned early on that a totally free market approach to healthcare simply does not work.

Over 58% of Americans favor a federally funded, single-payer healthcare system. That was the original plan for Obamacare, but Republicans would not pass it without market involvement. As a result, there were problems with Obamacare that can only be solved by going single-payer.

Myth 2: Quality will decline

Proponents of the current system state that we have the best healthcare system in the world. And we do have excellent doctors, if you can afford them or have quality health insurance. But providing good healthcare for only the wealthy is not an efficient or equitable system. I do not believe that excellent doctors would become less excellent if they worked within a national system. That would presume that many doctors only entered the profession for the big salaries. I’m sure that isn’t true.

In most national healthcare systems, doctors in clinics and the ER are more available than in the US. Therefore, the wait-time argument doesn’t usually hold up. Most arguments against national healthcare are anecdotal and not based on rigorous studies.

In addition, despite very high spending on health, the US ranks 43rd for life expectancy at birth (Monaco, 89.52, US 79.68), and 56th for infant mortality rate (Singapore 2.3/1000; U.S. 6.2/1000). Our overall quality can’t get much lower than it is.

Myth 3: We can’t afford it

Universal healthcare in all countries is cheaper than the American system. In 2010 the US spent $8,233 per person, while the second highest countries paid $3000 less per person. On average, it costs just $3,268 per person to cover all citizens with a single-payer system.

The U.S. spends 2.6 times as much on healthcare as the average European country. Most of the excess is going to health insurance profits and the exorbitant salaries of health insurance CEOs. The two top CEOs of health insurance companies made $17.3 million each in 2015. Even after making over $1.75 billion in 2016, United Health pulled out of ACA due to reduced earnings. In 2012 there were 460,000 people working in health insurance alone.

The only reason anyone can argue that we can’t afford a national healthcare system is because they don’t want to cut into the profits of the health insurance companies or tax the rich. Tax reform is an essential ingredient in making a national healthcare system work. Fair taxation of the wealthy would bring about many benefits: a reduction in the gap between the rich and the poor and the ability to pay for universal healthcare, which would further reduce the gap. In addition, reducing the gap might also bring down crime and make America a safer nation. The wealthiest country in history certainly can afford a universal healthcare system.

Myth 4: Loss of individual choice

This is one of the worst arguments against universal healthcare. The choice people want is access to healthcare. Rich people will still have a choice between this surgeon or that surgeon. But poor people will have healthcare, and that’s the only choice they want. The just desserts argument suggests that people get what they deserve. But nobody wants or deserves to be poor, and using that argument is a cruel answer to a pressing problem. Universal healthcare will make it possible for people without much money to take control of their health and make healthier individual choices, with the guidance of doctors.

On Jan. 17, president-elect Trump stated, “We’re going to have insurance for everybody.” But what Americans want is not health insurance, although “access to health insurance” is all the President and Congress talk about. What Americans want is healthcare. The only possible way to cover everyone in the U.S. and keep the costs affordable is to remove the health insurance industry from the center of the healthcare system.

It’s time for a change. Let’s demand a single-payer national healthcare program that is compassionate and accessible and that treats everyone as a valuable citizen.

Carol Corbin has a PhD in Communication and taught media studies in Canada for 18 years. She tried out the Affordable Care Act when she moved back to the U.S. It was excellent health insurance, but it can’t hold a candle to national healthcare.   

Trump’s Fake Promises to the Poor

By Carol Corbin

When Paul Theroux traveled to South Carolina to write his 2015 book, Deep South, he came across conditions that rivaled third world countries. He stated, “These poor folk are poorer in their way … and less able to manage and more hopeless than many people I had traveled among in distressed parts of Africa and Asia. Living in the buried hinterland, in fractured communities and dying towns and on the sidelines, they exist in obscurity.” In the wealthiest nation in the history of the planet, people live in unimaginable poverty not far from Beaufort, the richest county in South Carolina. While living several years in Jasper County, S.C., I saw just how poverty can create hopelessness for generations. This, among other reasons, is why I have embraced Beaufort SC Indivisible.

America has gradually become an oligarchy—government by the powerful, wealthy few. In the 1920s, we had a similar situation. The top 1% of Americans owned nearly 25% of the wealth. By the 1970s, with changes in tax and labor laws, the top 1% owned under 10% of the nation’s wealth. That was the closest America came to an egalitarian society. At that time, the gap between the rich and the poor was narrowing, just like it did in other developed countries. But beginning in the 1980s under Reagan, that trend was reversed, and now the top 1% once again owns over 20% of the nation’s wealth. Further, the top one tenth of a percent owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90%. Income inequality is projected to be off the charts under Trump.

More income equality = greater happiness

In a 2015 study, the U.S. had the highest personal wealth–$63.5 trillion—out of 55 countries, but the wealth is also the most unevenly distributed. For decades, deregulation and lower taxes for the wealthy have not led to the trickle-down wealth-generation that was promised. Instead many theorists believe the U.S. needs to follow the lead of European nations that have created more equitable societies through spending on public education, taxing the rich, providing universal healthcare, and making job opportunities more widely available. Many of these same countries have happiness quotients that are much higher than oursthe US: Norway is the happiest, followed by Denmark, Iceland, and Switzerland. We rankThe US ranks number 14 in happiness.

Donald Trump’s presidency came about because he claimed he would help the forgotten poor, particularly the poor whites of the rust belt. But Trump has no intention of helping the poor. His plans to “fix” the economy through deregulation and tax reform will only help the already rich. The Republican health insurance bill to replace Obamacare, yes the same thing as the Affordable Care Act,  was a clear example of that—it was designed as a tax break for the rich that would have stripped insurance from millions of poor people. Trump’s agenda is about benefits to the wealthy; all his top advisors fall in that category.

The mastermind controlling Trump

Trump appears to be the puppet of one particularly wealthy supporter, Robert Mercer, a hedge-fund billionaire and brilliant computer scientist. He helped Trump delegitimize the mainstream media in order to dominate the internet and other media with “alternative facts.” And many of Trump’s supporters believe those alternative facts—like “climate change is a hoax,” and the “media are the enemy of the people.”

Robert Mercer is behind Citizens United, the organization that successfully argued before the Supreme Court that money is the same thing as speech. In other words, rich people can spend unlimited amounts of money to get a candidate elected by hiding behind front groups. Many political ads are sponsored not by candidates but by committees with democratic sounding names. Their goal is to control the candidates and control the judiciary that the candidate can influence. The Citizens United ruling did a huge disservice to democracy.

To understand Donald Trump’s presidency, we need to understand Robert Mercer, since he is pulling the strings. He’s the man who underwrote Breitbart News to strengthen it as a right-wing internet news source. He brought Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway into the Trump campaign.

Mercer believes that people are only worth what they earn. The wealthy are the most valuable, the poor are worth little, and welfare recipients have negative value. All his efforts go to keeping himself wealthy. He supports only ultra-right-wing, ultra-conservative, and anti-democratic causes. He is spreading the concept that climate change is a hoax to free industry from any environmental constraints. He gives free literature to schools that denies human involvement in climate change.

Mercer works through information he gathers from Facebook to use psychological mass propaganda. By publishing a personality quiz on Facebook, he gathered in-depth psychological information from respondents that was used in advertisements based on their deepest emotions. He follows 220 million Facebook users and continuously updates the computer program’s tracking systems through which he convinces average people that their best interests are served by supporting the platforms of the wealthy.

Studies have shown that there is a correlation between a nation’s general happiness and the feeling of hopelessness brought about by enduring poverty. Yet Trump and his affiliates intend to keep the poor supporting the rich. Every executive order, and every piece of legislation he signs is designed to make the wealthy wealthier and the poor pay for it. Making America Great Again, for Trump, means returning to the unfettered capitalism of the early 20th century, before labor and environmental legislation, before civil rights and women’s liberation. That way, he fulfills his obligation to his rich sponsors, and a small coterie of obscenely wealthy will continue to amass more wealth.

Only through active resistance to the Trump agenda can we reverse the disastrous effects he and his wealthy sponsors are advocating.

Carol Corbin has a PhD in Communication and taught media studies for 18 years in Canada, a country that is quite a bit happier than the U.S. She now lives in Beaufort, S.C, because it is warmer.