Shameless self promotion

So, I had pretty much the biggest thrill a Political Science professor and NPR lover could have when I returned from class last week to discover voicemail and email messages from NPR’s Mara Liasson.  She was doing a story on redistricting and primary reforms as a solution to extreme political polarization.  Since North Carolina has considered moving to non-partisan commissions to draw district boundaries, I got to be part of the story:

Several states are trying to do something about so-called hyperpartisanship by changing the way congressional districts are drawn and the way elections are held.

Their goal: force members of Congress to pay more attention to general election voters than to their base voters on the right or left…

One reason is that congressional district boundaries are drawn by politicians to make their seats as safe as possible. It is a system where politicians get to choose their voters instead of the other way around.

Several states are trying to change that. The redistricting process occurs once every 10 years, after a new census is taken, and in North Carolina, there is a bill to have the lines drawn by the nonpartisan Legislative Services Office.

“It would take redistricting out of the hands of politicians and put it into the hands of professional staff who would be forbidden from drawing those districts for political purposes,” says Steve Greene, a political scientist in North Carolina.

Population, not political affiliation, would be the only criteria. Greene says that would be a big change for North Carolina’s congressional district map.

“Right now, North Carolina has nine Republican seats and four Democratic seats in a variety of really crazy shapes,” he says. “To be honest, that has got to be one of the most effective gerrymanders in what is really essentially a 50/50 state.”

A couple of observations.  There’s a clear argument from many quarters that this is supposed to help with polarization.  Since I’m at least modestly familiar with the PS literature that says redistricting reform will likely do little to change this, I pushed back somewhat, but argued that this kind of reform is still very much needed and a very good thing for democracy.  Alas, that didn’t make the story.

Other interesting observation… if you listen, it sounds more like I’m in the studio than talking on the phone.  Technology!  I used a cool app called Report-It so that I recorded the conversation on my Iphone while talking on the landline and then uploaded the Iphone audio file for NPR to use my quotes.  Pretty cool!

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Photo of the day

Recent Photo of the day from National Geographic:

Picture of the Ward Charcoal Ovens State Historic Park in Ely, Nevada

Ward Charcoal Ovens, Nevada

Photograph by Royce Bair, Your Shot

In operation between 1876 and 1879, Nevada’s Ward Charcoal Ovens—here glowing with filtered lights that simulate functioning ovens—were built to produce charcoal from pinyon pine and juniper. In the years following, the ovens are said to have served as shelters for workmen and hideouts for stagecoach bandits. Today they’re the main attraction in Ward Charcoal Ovens State Historic Park.

Paul Ryan for poor people

Apparently, poor, misunderstood Paul Ryan really cares about poor people.  He just hasn’t been given the opportunity to show it.  And liberals mis-understand him just because he’s always wanting to cut government programs that, you know, directly benefit poor people.  Alas, if only liberals understood that these programs– rather than a much-needed  provision of food, shelter, etc., to others that might go without– are actually a hammock, leading the poor inevitably to indolence and poverty.  Look, I’m not naive and there really is something to the culture of poverty (something, mind you, but only a small part of the equation), but if you think the solution is to basically eliminate all the government help for poor people, well, I guess you’re Paul Ryan or Ayn Rand.

Shockingly, Paul Ryan’s prescriptions to help poor people are short on specifics:

“Paul wants people to dream again,” Holloway said of Ryan. “You don’t dream when you’ve got food stamps.”

Trips to Newark and Texas are slated for later this month. Woodson said Ryan has also asked him to gather community leaders for an event next year, and to help him compare the results of their work with the 78 means-tested programs that have cost the federal government $15 trillion since 1964.

The takeaway for Ryan, a Catholic, has been explicitly religious. “You cure poverty eye to eye, soul to soul,” he said last week at the Heritage forum. “Spiritual redemption: That’s what saves people.”

How to translate spiritual redemption into public policy? So far, Ryan’s speeches have been light on specifics.

Maybe you don’t dream when you are on food stamps, but you don’t sleep well when you are hungry.  It might also be noted that some of the most godless nations on Earth have among the lowest poverty rates.  The idea that you are going to solve poverty by individual-level spiritual conversions is just completely delusional.  There is one specific given– vouchers.  Of course, there’s no evidence that policy actually works.

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