On fixing American democracy

(Note: this is as close as I’m going to come, I think, to a post about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, mostly because I still can’t think clearly about it. Check my Instagram for a minor tribute to her that I did, though.)

I turned eighteen in July of 1994, which means that my first presidential vote was for Bill Clinton’s reelection in 1996. Since I have been old enough to vote– and I am 44– there has been only one election where the Republican candidate for President got a majority of the popular vote. For some reason, though, there have been twelve years in that time where I had Republican presidents– because in two other elections, the winner of the popular vote did not win the Electoral college. And I’m not going to do the math to figure out the exact numbers, but during those years where I’ve been able to vote there has– I will use the word frequently— been situations where the balance of the Senate and the House did not reflect the number of votes received by the elected officials of that party as well.

The Republicans have been given a head start in our democracy for my entire adult life. The Republican agenda does not enjoy popular nationwide support, but their power in our government is aided by the Electoral College and a Constitution that says every state must have exactly two senators– a compromise that might have made sense in 1789 but no longer really does when California literally has nearly seventy times as many people as Wyoming but only eighteen times as many electoral votes.

The following things need to happen:

  1. Washington DC must be granted statehood as soon as humanly possible. Right now residents of our nation’s capital have literally no representation in Congress, and DC has around 200,000 more residents than Wyoming does. This isn’t fair. It needs to be fixed.
  2. Puerto Rico, with a population of 3.2 million, more than 20 states, has a more complicated statehood picture, which I admit I’m far from an expert on– my understanding is that there was a recent statehood referendum that won, but which many opponents claimed was a poor representation of the actual mood of the island. I don’t know if that’s a legitimate argument or not. I just don’t. I will phrase it this way, then: Puerto Rico should be granted the option of statehood, and hopefully we can have a cleaner referendum in the near future to see if they prefer statehood or independence. Either way, they’ve been a territory for far too long.

You may be pointing out in your head right now that this does not precisely solve the problem of the Electoral College, and furthermore does not really reflect the enormous advantage smaller rural states have in the Senate, allowing them to potentially block legislation desired by overwhelming majorities of Americans. This is true, and I don’t see a way to overcome that roadblock short of setting a ceiling for a state’s population and carving a few of the bigger states up, which doesn’t seem super likely. But we can limit the antidemocratic effects of the Electoral College without a Constitutional amendment.

How? By increasing the size of the House.

The Constitution does not specify how many seats the House needs to have, only that the number of citizens per seat should be no less than 30,000. I think we can all agree that a House with nearly eleven thousand members is untenable for a variety of reasons. But there is nothing in the Constitution that requires the number of House members to be 435. It used to be fairly routine to expand or change the number of House members– 21 times between 1790 and 1920, which is the last time it happened.

Which, okay, a lot of those were because we added new states. True! But I feel like a hundred years was a nice long run for 435 members and maybe expanding to, oh, twice that might be nice.

(Be aware, because people seem to think this is a good argument for some reason, that I don’t give one thin damn how many desks there are in the House chamber. That’s a building. We can renovate the motherfucker. We can build a whole damn new one if we want.)

And doubling the size of the House would, in turn, double the number of available Electoral votes, which– again– wouldn’t fix the problem, but would bring the vote of a Californian closer to being fairly counted than it is now.

Now, understand that there is an argument to be made that if California has seventy times as many people as Wyoming then it deserves seventy times as much representation. It’s probably even the cleanest argument, honestly, because everything else boils down to well, California needs to have closer to a truly representative vote … but not that much closer. But even if we just doubled the size of the House– and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to have 8-900 voting members in an organization representing three hundred and twenty-five million people– we would in turn close that distance and the vote of a Californian would be closer to counting as much as it should. It’s not going to be perfect, because of the Senate, and we can’t fix the Senate (or at least I’m not aware of a way) without Constitutional amendments, which is outside the scope of what I’m talking about right now.

Our democracy, such as it is, and believe me part of me wants to put that word in quotation marks right now, needs to be more representative than it is right now. This won’t fix it, but it’s a place to start.

On not being “political”

A quick recap: In the now-five weekends since school started, I have had two (2) weekends where students in my building lost younger siblings to gun violence– one who was playing with (or at least near someone who was playing with) a loaded weapon that went off, and another killed in a drive-by shooting at a birthday party. Last weekend, one of my former students apparently fired a shot or two at someone she had gotten into an altercation with at a bar, and then her gun went off while she was in the back seat of what was effectively their getaway car, going through the front passenger seat and killing her best friend, another former student.

Today’s horror involves a killing this afternoon at my local mall. I came across this Facebook post just now; one of those where you don’t know the person but someone you know interacted with them and so the post makes its way onto your feed. I would like you to direct your attention to the first two sentences, in particular:

Now, I don’t know this dude, which is why I didn’t respond to him on FB, and is why I’m cutting his name out here. He’s going through some shit I’ve never had to go through right now and I feel for him.

But God damn it, this impulse toward oh don’t make this political, when the problem is, oh, gun violence is completely the fuck out of control, is part of the god damned problem. This comes from the same impulse that occasionally leads to ignant shit like this:

And … nah.

You cannot “make” gun violence political. Gun violence is inherently fucking political. You cannot take politics out of gun violence. When we have a political party in this country that is literally encouraging its followers to stockpile as many guns as they can and the fucking person masquerading as our nation’s President is actively calling for gun violence in response to the results of our upcoming election, you can not take politics out of gun violence.

America has decided that it does not matter how many people die; their guns are more important than the lives of children, the lives of their friends, the lives of their families, whatever. That is a political decision. These folks literally don’t care who dies so long as they get to keep their toys and people with darker skin than them don’t. And the “be like Bob and Sally” bullshittery exists to obscure that, to hide the fact that for a whole god damn lot of people politics is literally a life and death matter and it is not only perfectly fucking okay but frankly the only sane decision to cut people out of their lives who have made the political decision that you are not human and your life does not matter. My white skin and manly cishet genitals are going to protect me from this to a certain extent but sooner or later these fuckers are going to get around to the atheists. This is not fucking theoretical to me. Not at all.

We are at the point where one of our two major political parties is actively courting fascists and white supremacists. Where actual fucking Nazis not only support the party holding the White House but hold positions of power within that party and are not actively shunned by those individuals who don’t yet identify specifically with them.

When you have one Nazi sitting at a table with eleven people who don’t mind that the Nazi is there, you don’t have one Nazi and eleven “adults” who don’t want to rock the boat. You’ve got twelve Nazis sitting at a table.

America is the world’s largest source of gun violence because America has made the political decision to be the world’s largest source of gun violence and Americans who disagree have not managed to summon the political will to stop them. If you are trying to skate around that to avoid fights and losing friends, you are part of the problem.

In which I have no patience for white nonsense

So it’s happened again, another unarmed young Black man who posed no threat whatsoever shot in the back multiple times by police officers. Amazingly, as of right now Jacob Blake is still alive, despite being shot seven times at point-blank range by someone who was attempting to murder him.

I just had a student lose a younger brother– a nine-year-old– to a gunshot. And neither of these things will ever stop, because America loves guns more than it loves children or Black people combined, and white people in this country will put up with absolutely anything so long as they can see people of color nearby who have it worse than they do.

I finished up with my classes today and decided to do something I don’t do very often, which is go take a swim in the pool by myself. Before I did, I spent a moment randomly scrolling through TikTok and found a video by a Black woman who was clearly reacting to Blake’s shooting. I duetted the video– which, for those of you who don’t do TikTok, is basically that app’s version of Twitter’s comment-RT, but did mine over a black background and just put “Nothing I need to add here; BLACK LIVES MATTER” in my side of the screen. I was basically just doing a signal boost.

(Which turned out utterly unnecessary, as the account I was duetting was MUCH bigger than mine, but whatever.)

Well an hour later I got out of the pool and discovered that my most famous TikTok video is now one that I don’t actually appear in. It’s gone very mildly viral (very mildly; I only have about 40 followers and don’t have much reach there) but for some reason it was getting a lot more commentary and Likes than usual, especially compared to the number of views.

And, man, y’all, there’s a whole lot of racists on TikTok. I am desperately tired of white people who somehow in August of 2020 still want to pretend that any of the following are true:

  • That “All Lives Matter.” No, they don’t, and this has been explained to you repeatedly, and I assume at this point anyone who says this is either a racist or too stupid to live.
  • That “Blue Lives Matter.” There is no such thing as Blue Lives, and you are a racist— and an asshole– if you try this one. Cops choose to be cops. This is not a thing.
  • Oh if you just follow instructions you’ll be fine. Not true, not at all. Especially when there’s five different cops all barking different sets of instructions at you. Also: Tamir Rice. Also: Philando Castile. Also: Charles Kinsey.
  • If they weren’t doing anything wrong, they’d have been fine. Also not true! See: Tamir Rice again. See: Breanna Taylor. See: Botham Jean. See: Atatiana Jefferson.

Cops kill Black people because cops in this country are racist and overfunded and overarmed and utterly fucking out of control. The police are a street gang with no accountability whatsoever. I also had to contend with this piece of risible horse shit today:

Oh, I absolutely do want to do these things, and frankly I don’t trust anyone who doesn’t. And I am far from the only fucking one. Shut the fuck up, Joy Behar, and take your idiot bullshit with you. I’m not in the mood.

At any rate, I’ve discovered that you can’t delete comments on TikTok once they’re made, but you can block commenters, and I’ve been making sure that no one gets a chance to be dumb twice. Because unless I actually do get paid to educate you, I don’t get paid to educate you, especially for something that by this point in this year of all times you should bloody fucking already know.

Enough of this bullshit. Be better, white people.

KAMALA!!!!!!!!

Best piece of news I’ve had in a while?

Hell yes.

Now announce that Obama is going to be the first pick for SCOTUS.

On #8cantwait, defunding the police, and reform

I went on a little bit of a tear this morning about incrementalism, police reform, and the “defund the police” … movement? Hashtag? thing, and it occurs to me that part of the problem is that I don’t know what to call it. One thing that has been true about me for a while is that I am nearly always in favor of taking small steps that get me closer to an overall goal. That doesn’t mean I don’t want the goal, or that if the chance arrives to achieve the goal I won’t jump at it– but if we have a chance to move closer I’m always going to take it even if it doesn’t solve all existing problems anyway. The notion that we can make progress toward solutions is one that I believe in pretty strongly.

To wit, health care: I think health care should be free or close to it at the point of delivery and that everyone should have health insurance, and I believe health insurance should be covered by taxes. I don’t necessarily care about how that is enacted– if you can put a plan in front of me that has a chance to pass and keeps for-profit health insurance companies in business while enacting that goal, or at least part of that goal, chances are I’ll support it. I think ultimately we need to move away from the notion of for-profit health insurance– that, in fact, it is a moral abomination– but it’s not going away tomorrow, and in the meantime anything we can do to keep people alive and fight off living in a world where medical bankruptcy is a thing is good. I am a realist, though, and I live in America, and I don’t think that private insurance companies are getting abolished tomorrow, so I’m not going to stomp my feet about Medicare for All and hold my breath.

Similarly, police reform. This is complicated to talk about, because when we talk about “defunding police,” the meaning of that term slides around kind of hideously depending on who you’re talking about. I am always entertained when I hear elected officials or, really, anyone talking about guns and saying things like no one is coming to take away your guns, because I am absolutely coming to take away your guns. Similarly, there appear to be a contingent of people who, when they say “defund the police,” they mean exactly that, and then there’s another contingent of people– who may or may not be trying to appropriate the phrase from the first contingent– who actually mean “cut their budgets, but keep them around.”

Those are not the same thing, and that’s kind of a problem.

And then there are organizations like #8cantwait, which has its own problems, namely surprisingly dodgy statistics and studies for something Sam Sinyangwe has put his name to, as he’s always seemed like a pretty straightforward guy. I would take that 72% number with a grain of salt. But I do think that enacting these types of policies would, in fact, reduce police violence, and even if the goal is (laudably!) to eliminate police violence, maybe we do things that aren’t going to get us all the way there in one stroke anyway because they’ll help? Some of those 8 items would even increase police budgets, or at least would without commensurate cuts elsewhere– training costs money, for example– and that’s an automatic nonstarter for (some of) the Defund folks, especially the Defund/Abolish wing. I’m willing to spend some extra taxpayer money if it keeps people alive.

And, of course, there is the fact that Eric Garner (and, I’m sure, others) was killed with a chokehold that has been banned in New York since 1993, so clearly the policy didn’t keep him alive. But laws don’t actually stop crime! We know this! It’s not controversial! What laws do is allow us to punish people when they commit those crimes, and you can’t go after a cop for using a banned chokehold if the chokehold isn’t banned.

It is utterly ludicrous, to me, to claim that you want police violence stopped and to simultaneously be against enacting a policy that police can’t use chokeholds. And I would like to see better data on how well these policies work— if police departments having such a policy doesn’t change anything, then by all means don’t bother– but I don’t see much of a down side in banning something like a choke hold while we try to collect better data. I mean, that should lead to fewer people being choked, right? It surely won’t lead to more choking.

I am sympathetic to the lower-case D defund people, and I’m absolutely willing to listen to the defund-and-abolish crew; I just downloaded Alex Vitale’s The End of Policing (because a paper copy cannot be found, which strikes me as a good thing) and I intend to read it soon, and me being me I’m sure I’ll find other books about it to read as well. But my initial feeling is that such a thing isn’t going to fly in America. I’d love to be wrong, but I live in a country where 40% of the populace still approves of the syphilitic Adderall addict in the White House. We are not abolishing the police anytime soon even if it’s a good idea.

So what sorts of things do I think we should do? Here, have a list in no particular order:

  • I really don’t see any reason not to encourage wholesale adoption of the #8cantwait agenda. It’s not going to solve all of our problems, but even if it doesn’t help as much as I hope I certainly don’t see it making things worse.
  • Police unions should be abolished. Police are not workers. This is a big part of the problem, because Republicans don’t want to criticize police and Democrats don’t want to criticize unions. They’re not the same as workers and they shouldn’t have the same protections. Police unions have to go.
  • Police should not even carry guns most of the time. I’m okay with keeping one in the car or something but the vast majority of police work does not require the cop to be armed.
  • It should be widely recognized that killing someone on the job is literally the worst thing a cop can do. No police officer who has killed someone, justified or otherwise, should still be on the streets. I don’t mind them having desk jobs, but once you kill somebody you should be done patrolling.
  • Police should be required to be licensed and degreed (four years!) to at least the same extent as teachers are. Police licensure should be temporary and revocable in the case of misconduct, and there should be at least state-by-state databases keeping track of them.
  • Police officers dismissed for cause or who have their license revoked in one state cannot move to another state and apply for a new one. Similarly, this information should be public– you can look up my teachers’ license; I should be able to see theirs as well.
  • Review boards with actual teeth, staffed by civilians.
  • “Kettling” and blocking access to public transit during protests should be banned. Protesters should always have the option to leave, particularly when “failure to disperse” is something cops arrest protesters for.
  • I want a nationwide, comprehensive, detailed, publicly accessible database on the use of force by police departments.
  • Deescalation training should be mandatory, frequent, and used. Again, I want the police held to at least the same standards that teachers are.
  • Use of tear gas, LRAD devices, rubber bullets and any sort of other military hardware by police officers is banned, and the sale of surplus military hardware to police departments is ended immediately. Tear gas is a fucking war crime if you use it on opposing armies; there is no reason for its use to be so routine against American citizens.
  • Any officer found to have turned off his or her bodycam or covered his or her badge number and/or name while on duty is fired immediately, end of discussion, no exceptions.
  • Tangentially related, perhaps, but private prisons should be abolished. We can talk about prison abolition in general sometime if y’all like but private prisons are an obscenity.
  • End qualified immunity.
  • It should be illegal for police to have sex with people in custody, because are you fucking kidding how are there not already policies against this???
  • Police should have to carry malpractice insurance the same way doctors do. Settlements are paid out of that insurance fund or out of pensions, not out of taxpayer pockets.
  • Police are not automatically dispatched when a call to EMS or fire departments is made.
  • Police are provided with free and ready access to counseling and mental health services.

That’s a start, I think; I’ll add into the list as the day goes on if I come up with more. None of these policies are going to stop police violence, of course, but again: you have to decrease police violence before you can stop it.

Yell at me in comments if you like, but be aware I am a bit short-tempered today.


4:06 PM, Monday, June 8: 1,954,236 confirmed cases and 110,845 Americans dead. The site I pull this data from had spiked to over 116k dead earlier today; it’s rolled back now, so I assume there was some sort of data entry error.