Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Cruising the Web

The WSJ lays out the problems with the claims made by the plaintiffs in Whitford v. Gill, the gerrymandering case heard by the Supreme Court yesterday.
Plaintiffs are trying to entice Justice Kennedy with an ostensibly precise standard to determine unconstitutional partisan gerrymanders. They have proposed an “efficiency gap” formula to count what they call “wasted” votes—that is, those that don’t contribute to a candidate victory. But this standard is merely a proxy for proportionality.

How big a gap is too big and unconstitutional? Plaintiffs suggest 7%, but this is arbitrary. Under Wisconsin’s court-drawn maps in effect from 2002 to 2010, the efficiency gap favoring Republicans ranged from 4% to 12%. Even with this gap, Democrats won a majority of seats in the state Assembly in 2008.

The efficiency gap reflects partisan geographic concentration far more than political bias. Since 1972, at least 36 states have had efficiency gaps greater than 7% during an election. In 2012 and 2014, the maps in Kansas (drawn by a federal court) and Missouri (by a bipartisan commission) resulted in gaps greater than 10% favoring Republicans. Partisanship isn’t stable on an individual or district level, so efficiency gaps will vary by election.
If the Court decides for the plaintiffs, they'll be setting themselves up to hear appeals from practically every state.
The larger issue is whether the Justices want to inject the judiciary into partisan disputes even more than it already is. The Supreme Court has had enough trouble judging gerrymanders that are challenged under the Voting Rights Act, which requires states to consider race when drawing districts. If judges make themselves arbiters of every political consideration in redistricting, they will usurp the powers of other branches and make themselves bigger political targets.

This is dangerous for judicial credibility and political consent, and in any case there are non-judicial remedies. The Constitution lets Congress “make or alter” districts, and voters in a dozen or so states have ceded redistricting authority to independent commissions. Political controversies are best resolved by the political process.
John Ryder, a Republican lawyer, adds these inconvenient facts to demonstrate that the problem is that people are more and more living in communities alongside those with whom they agree ideologically.
such a standard would likely require bizarrely configured gerrymanders in order to achieve the judicially determined political balance. Americans have been sorting themselves into political enclaves for decades, as Bill Bishop documented in his 2008 book, “The Big Sort.” Mr. Bishop noted the increasing trend of counties to be carried by one party or the other by larger and larger margins. From 1976 to 2004, the proportion of Americans living in counties that were carried by landslide margins (20% or more) in presidential elections increased from 26% to 48%—even though 1976 and 2004 were close elections with similar popular-vote margins (2.1% and 2.4%, respectively).

Others have carried this analysis forward, giving the phenomenon the academic moniker “spatial polarization.” David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report observed last March: “More than 61 percent of voters cast ballots in counties that gave either Clinton or Trump at least 60 percent of the major-party vote last November. That’s up from 50 percent of voters who lived in such counties in 2012 and 39 percent in 1992.”

What this means for redistricting is Democrats tend to live in one part of a state, or a county, and Republicans in another. In Florida in 2000, Al Gore won 80% or more of the vote in some 800 precincts, while George W. Bush won 80% or more in about 80 precincts. When compact districts are drawn in the Democrat-leaning areas of Florida, they result in districts that vote 70% or 80% for the Democrat. If you draw natural, compact, contiguous districts, you will tend to have concentrated districts of one persuasion or the other. The only way to avoid that is to draw elongated districts that splinter communities and are gerrymandered to achieve a judicially determined political result.

This leads to the most pernicious effect of the argument. It changes the basis of representation from district-based to proportional. Instead of representing a community that is mostly compact and cohesive, the lawmaker would be selected according to a statewide partisan balance determined by the court. Such an approach can only heighten the already intense partisanship of contemporary politics.
I guess we'll have to wait to find out whether Anthony Kennedy thinks that the Court can find the exact mathematical formula to create what Democrats consider the exactly fair redistricting lines.

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Kevin D. Williamson argues
that public policy should be focused on the great majority of gun crimes rather than the rare incidents, horrific as they are. He compares the public's response to mass murders such as in Las Vegas to the public's fear of shark attacks when we're most likely to be killed from insects or other animals. The great majority of gun deaths are caused by illegally purchased handguns and the government isn't prosecuting those purchases under the laws that we have.
But there are ways to approach the 99 percent of homicides that do not involve trampling on the Bill of Rights. The federal government, and state and local governments, need to start prosecuting straw-buyer cases. Jeff Sessions could order — tomorrow — the U.S. Attorney’s office in Chicago to reverse its policy of refusing to prosecute straw-buyer cases unless they are part of a bigger arms-trafficking case. Prosecutors don’t like to go after straw buyers because the cases are a lot of work and they result in relatively minor convictions of sometimes-sympathetic defendants who orbit the criminal universe rather than being at the center of it. But straw buyers are an important source of illegal firearms for criminals who cannot legally purchase them themselves. We also need to more aggressively prosecute some gun-related violent crimes short of homicide, including handing down real jail time for illegal-possession convictions.

The overwhelming majority of the murders in our big cities are committed by men with prior criminal histories. Better probation and parole systems — ours are a joke — might be of some use there. So would better mental-health care.

A cracked malcontent and conspiracy nut killed three times as many people in Oklahoma City as were killed in Las Vegas, without using any firearms at all. Nineteen fanatics with box cutters killed thousands on September 11, 2001. In the United Kingdom and Europe, the jihadists have taken to driving trucks into crowds of people. Restricting the magazine capacity on a .223 rifle isn’t going to change any of that, and it won’t do anything to change the overwhelming majority of ordinary homicides, either. The Democrats’ gun-control agenda is an almost purely symbolic program proposed for no purpose other than to exercise political power, and hence cultural power, over people urban progressives regard as their enemies.

There is a great deal that we can do about violent crime. If Democrats are interested in what’s happening on the street in Chicago or Cleveland, they run those cities. Maybe they’ll get serious one of these days.
Charles C. W. Cooke takes on those like Jimmy Kimmel who contrasted Donald Trump's call for a travel ban after terrorist attacks with Kimmel's own demand for new gun laws after Las Vegas.
To Kimmel, in fact, these policies serve as solid and mockworthy examples of the sort of ill-advised, knee-jerk reactions that we tend to see in the aftermath of tragedy. Despite this opposition, he’s apparently for emulating that approach when the impetus is gun control, even if it means recycling all of the same hole-filled, detail-lacking talking points that we have heard year upon year, even if it means repeating falsehoods, and even if it means advocating the same old policies that have done nothing to help the problem. Frankly, that makes no sense....

This isn’t a competition to see who is the most sad. In no circumstance would I suggest that Kimmel were indifferent toward terrorism because he opposes Trump’s “solutions.” On the contrary, I’m aware that he may well be as upset as is everyone else, but believe simultaneously that the “fix” ain’t gonna work. I’d appreciate the same courtesy in return. Those of us who didn’t shout “gun control!” yesterday were not “fine” with what happened in Vegas. Rather, we are of the considered view that taking “every possible precaution” often achieves nothing at all. It may be indeed be the case that we react more to some things than others. But if that’s a bad thing — and it often is — we need less of it, not more.

Leah Libresco, a statistician and former newswriter for FiveThirtyEight, has a column in the Washington Post explaining how she used to deride the NRA for opposing what Democrats always call "common-sense gun-control reform" "such as banning assault weapons, restricting silencers, shrinking magazine sizes and all the other measures that could make guns less deadly," but then started doing research at FiveThirtyEight into the deaths of those who died by gun violence every year and found out that those reform ideas which are trotted out every time there is one of these horrific shootings wouldn't do much at all to stop gun violence. Amazingly, she found out that what gun rights advocates have been saying to oppose those reforms is actually true. For example, there isn't enough evidence that the policies adopted in Britain and Australia had much of an effect.
I researched the strictly tightened gun laws in Britain and Australia and concluded that they didn’t prove much about what America’s policy should be. Neither nation experienced drops in mass shootings or other gun related-crime that could be attributed to their buybacks and bans. Mass shootings were too rare in Australia for their absence after the buyback program to be clear evidence of progress. And in both Australia and Britain, the gun restrictions had an ambiguous effect on other gun-related crimes or deaths.
Those of us who don't use guns have heard terms like "assault weapons" or "silencers" and think that there are such things. Those who know more about guns and gun laws know that there aren't.
When I looked at the other oft-praised policies, I found out that no gun owner walks into the store to buy an “assault weapon.” It’s an invented classification that includes any semi-automatic that has two or more features, such as a bayonet mount, a rocket-propelled grenade-launcher mount, a folding stock or a pistol grip. But guns are modular, and any hobbyist can easily add these features at home, just as if they were snapping together Legos.

As for silencers — they deserve that name only in movies, where they reduce gunfire to a soft puick puick. In real life, silencers limit hearing damage for shooters but don’t make gunfire dangerously quiet. An AR-15 with a silencer is about as loud as a jackhammer. Magazine limits were a little more promising, but a practiced shooter could still change magazines so fast as to make the limit meaningless.
The great number of gun deaths in America are not ones that any of these proposed laws would stop.
As my co-workers and I kept looking at the data, it seemed less and less clear that one broad gun-control restriction could make a big difference. Two-thirds of gun deaths in the United States every year are suicides. Almost no proposed restriction would make it meaningfully harder for people with guns on hand to use them. I couldn't even answer my most desperate question: If I had a friend who had guns in his home and a history of suicide attempts, was there anything I could do that would help?

However, the next-largest set of gun deaths — 1 in 5 — were young men aged 15 to 34, killed in homicides. These men were most likely to die at the hands of other young men, often related to gang loyalties or other street violence. And the last notable group of similar deaths was the 1,700 women murdered per year, usually as the result of domestic violence. Far more people were killed in these ways than in mass-shooting incidents, but few of the popularly floated policies were tailored to serve them.

By the time we published our project, I didn’t believe in many of the interventions I’d heard politicians tout. I was still anti-gun, at least from the point of view of most gun owners, and I don’t want a gun in my home, as I think the risk outweighs the benefits. But I can’t endorse policies whose only selling point is that gun owners hate them. Policies that often seem as if they were drafted by people who have encountered guns only as a figure in a briefing book or an image on the news.

Instead, I found the most hope in more narrowly tailored interventions. Potential suicide victims, women menaced by their abusive partners and kids swept up in street vendettas are all in danger from guns, but they each require different protections.
She goes on to suggest that we need more mental health care for those who might be prone to suicide. We need to have better laws limiting the ownership of guns from those against whom restraining orders have been issued. And none of these reforms would do much for gang-related violence.
Even the most data-driven practices, such as New Orleans’ plan to identify gang members for intervention based on previous arrests and weapons seizures, wind up more personal than most policies floated. The young men at risk can be identified by an algorithm, but they have to be disarmed one by one, personally — not en masse as though they were all interchangeable. A reduction in gun deaths is most likely to come from finding smaller chances for victories and expanding those solutions as much as possible. We save lives by focusing on a range of tactics to protect the different kinds of potential victims and reforming potential killers, not from sweeping bans focused on the guns themselves.
I used to agree that we need tighter gun laws because that just sounds like a good thing. I don't shoot and no one in my family has had a gun so I didn't know much about guns or really understand the allure for hunters and enthusiasts. It was only as I read more about the issue over the years that I came to understand that what sounded so convincing and common sense really wouldn't do much for the actual violence that is killing people. It's more about having a political issue or an easy-seeming solution whenever there was one of these horrific events. It's natural to want to do something and we're primed to think that the government should have the answer and if it doesn't, there must be some sort of villainy at work. Enter the rhetoric against the NRA, the standard whipping boy for gun violence.
As usual after a mass shooting, the NRA is being attacked for using its political muscle to block more gun control laws. Here's a typical comment: "For most Hill Republicans, bucking the NRA is unfathomable. The powerful gun lobby spent more than $52 million backing candidates in the 2016 cycle alone." Or as alleged late-night comedian Jimmy Kimmel put it, Republicans "should be praying for God to forgive them for letting the gun lobby run this country."

But the NRA is a relative piker when it comes to campaign donations and lobbying. In the 2016 election, labor unions outspent the NRA by more than 3 to 1. Last year, the National Association of Realtors spent twice as much lobbying Congress than all the gun rights groups combined.

The "gun lobby" — typified by the NRA — is influential only because there are millions of gun owners in the country who are passionate about defending their Second Amendment rights. The gun lobby, in fact, is one of the few genuinely grass roots groups in Washington.

One thing that it seems that both sides could agree on, in the wake of Las Vegas, is to ban "bump stocks," the device that the shooter used to transform rifles into a fully automatic weapon. Those don't serve any purpose and even gun rights advocates would have a hard time defending them.
But replacing a standard rifle stock, the part that rests against the shoulder, with a bump stock allows a semiautomatic rifle to fire at a rate comparable to a fully automatic rifle — much faster than a human user can pull and release the trigger.

Bump stocks are legal and inexpensive, with some versions advertised for $99.

A standard stock is firmly fixed to the rifle. But a bump stock allows the body of the rifle to slide a short distance back and forth, harnessing the recoil energy of each shot. The shooter does not move the trigger finger; instead, the weapon bounces, or “bumps,” rapidly between shoulder and finger.
Since purchasing automatic weapons are already against the law, the device that transforms a gun into a fully automatic weapon should also be banned.

As IBD points out, there is no correlation between states with tighter gun control laws and a decrease in shootings.
For example, Maryland had a homicide rate of 6.1 per 100,000 population in 2014, despite getting an A rating from the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, which grades states on the strictness of their gun control laws. Next door Virginia, which gets a D rating, had a homicide rate of 4.1.

A-rated California and F-rated Texas had the exact same homicide rates. Gun-control-friendly Illinois had a higher homicide rate than its pro-gun neighbors, Indiana and Ohio.
And there is this fact from economist Mark Perry that I wouldn't have guessed, as the number of guns per person has climbed, the gun homicide rate has fallen.
According to data retrieved from the Centers for Disease Control, there were 7 firearm-related homicides for every 100,000 Americans in 1993 (see light blue line in chart). By 2013 (most recent year available), the gun homicide rate had fallen by nearly 50 percent to only 3.6 homicides per 100,000 population.

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California is considering banning gas-powered cars. Apparently, they think they just have to pass a law and poof! car companies will comply and climate change will be slowed down. Not so fast.
California is considering a ban on the sale of gasoline-powered cars. If state officials go this route, it will have little effect on CO2 emissions, but will harm consumers and kill California's economy.

The head of the California Air Resources Board told Bloomberg News that the state is seriously looking into whether and how to make internal combustion engine cars illegal in the state, as part of its self-imposed plan to cut state CO2 emissions in 2050 to 80% of what it emitted in 1990....

The CARB's Mary Nichols says California could implement such a ban in 13 years, and one state lawmaker plans to introduce a bill that would enforce it in 2040.

To put it bluntly, this is one of the most ill-conceived public policy ideas in a state that seems to have them in abundance.

First, some perspective....

California's move would make no noticeable dent in global CO2 emissions. Plus, it would take well over a decade before the entire car fleet turned over to all electric.

What's more, the CO2 reduction claims from such a ban are wildly exaggerated.

Remember, electric cars don't run on magic. They run on electricity. So forcing car owners to buy only electric cars will mean a massive surge in demand for electricity, which is generated largely by greenhouse-emitting natural gas and coal. In California, these fuel sources account for 40% of the state's electricity. Solar and wind add up to just 17%.

Much of the CO2 "cuts" will really just be a shift from one source to another.

As Scientific American noted, "electric cars may or may not help the country combat climate change — and it all depends on where the electricity comes from."

Manufacturing electric cars is also incredibly energy intensive. Even the Union of Concerned Scientists admits that it "results in higher (greenhouse gas) emissions than the making of gasoline cars — mostly due to the materials and fabrication of the lithium-ion battery."

When you account for that, the CO2 benefits from electric cars — over the entire lifetime of the car — are far smaller than advertised.
And what about people who decide not to buy electric cars and, instead, hold on to their gas cars.
There's another problem that advocates of a ban overlook.

Let's say California does prohibit the sale of new gas-powered cars. That will leave millions of consumers with a choice: hold on to their old gas-burning cars longer, or buy an overly expensive, less convenient electric car. Many will hold on as long as they possibly can.

While that would be good for auto mechanics, it would result in reduced new car sales, lost jobs in the auto industry — and not just in California — more people leaving the state, and more pollution from an increasingly older fleet of conventional cars.

Inez Feltscher writes about the patronizing attitude of Michelle Obama's chastising women who voted for Trump as not listening to their own voice and liking whom they're told to like. As Feltscher writes, Obama is "apparently unaware of the cognitive dissonance evident in telling 125 million adult women what they must think about a presidential candidate while simultaneously encouraging them to find their own voices." In the view of those on the left, we should vote our demographics rather than deciding on our own what we believe. Their worldview
posits that a person’s race, class, and gender determine his or her outlook. Because leftism recognizes only the collective, women who believe in limited government, traditional gender roles, or the pro-life cause are dangerous cracks in the shield against the patriarchy.

When they confront a woman who sees herself as an individual, rather than primarily a member of the female tribe, leftists like Mrs. Obama short-circuit and have to resort to the condescending conclusion that conservative women must not really be the masters of their own fates. Like 2017’s favorite metaphor, “The Handmaid’s Tale’s” Serena Joy, they must have unwittingly become the enforcers of their own “oppression.” Conveniently, this “logic” doesn’t extend to left-wing men, who are not considered self-hating for being on the minority side of their own sex’s voting gap.

As the Left likes to chant but apparently can’t absorb, women are people. There will never be a single political ideology that represents millions of American women with diverse backgrounds and life experiences. This seems like an obvious truth to anyone with a modicum of common sense, but common sense is far from common these days. For the Left, female diversity—not just in party registration but in life choices—is a problem to be solved.

A black student group at Cornell is upset that the university has too many African and Caribbean students.
Black Students United, a group for students identifying with the African diaspora, handed the university president a list of twelve demands, with one of them dealing with the disproportionate representation of African students compared to black students on the campus.

“We demand that Cornell Admissions to come up with a plan to actively increase the presence of underrepresented Black students on this campus. We define underrepresented Black students as Black Americans who have several generations (more than two) in this country,” the group stated in their demands, posted by Legal Insurrection.

Black Students United takes issue with the fact that there are more African and Caribbean students on campus when compared to black students. The group defines black students as those who come from black families that have lived in America for two or more generations. While the group said it doesn’t mind the university trying to recruit African students, they want the college to pay more attention to black students whose families have been affected by years of white supremacy.

“The Black student population at Cornell disproportionately represents international or first-generation African or Caribbean students. While these students have a right to flourish at Cornell, there is a lack of investment in Black students whose families were affected directly by the African Holocaust in America. Cornell must work to actively support students whose families have been impacted for generations by white supremacy and American fascism,” the group wrote.
Gee, would this group not have regarded Barack Obama as a desirable Cornell student since his father was an African?

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