Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Blogger Candidate Forum: The State Of The Union

Hello Everyone:

It is time for the weekly edition of Blogger Candidate Forum-the State of The Union edition.  Did anyone actually watch the whole thing yesterday evening?  Blogger watched the live stream mainly to see which Mr. Donald Trump would show up, the good version that stays on message and reads exactly what is on the TelePrompter or the off the rails version.  The good version showed yesterday evening with a softer version of the same divisive message.  It left Blogger in need of an emotional therapy pet.  Kind of seriously.  The one redeeming moment was the Democratic response given by party up-and-comer and Kennedy scion Joseph P. Kennedy III.  Joe Kennedy is Representative Joe Kennedy of the Massachusetts fourth congressional district.  It was a short speech but it provided an optimistic counterpoint to an otherwise downer of a speech.  The quotable moment came when Rep. Kennedy indirectly referred to the Trump administration as,

...a rebuke of our highest American ideal: the belief that we are all worthy, we are all equal and we all count (; date accessed Jan. 31, 2018).

Mr. Trump's very lengthy speech was mostly a review of his accomplishments in his first of office and outlined a number of proposals he would like (dare we say insists) Congress to consider in the coming year.  Before any of you get the idea that what this president says carries any weight, allow Yours Truly to remind you that this president has a history of saying one thing one day and saying the opposite the next day.  Keeping that in mind, The Forum would like to take a look at The President's maiden State of The Union speech and pick out some key points.

Let us start with Mr. Trump's two favorite words, "America First."  This was the overarching theme he successfully ran on-as president, he would always put the United States first.  At the Davos Economic Forum, he sounded a more conciliatory note when he said America first is not America alone.  Yet, for the first hour annual address to Congress it was all domestic policy: tax cuts, the economy, regulatory change, immigration.  Not one word about how he envisions America's place in the world until sometime into the second hour of the speech.  However, the message was crystal clear: "America First" is not just talk, The President is serious about making it a matter of real policy.

Early during the nearly ninety minute speech, The President made several pleas for that elusive idea, bipartisanship, asking Congress to set aside their differences and work together to "Make America Great Again." 

At one point, The President said,

...Tonight, I call upon all of us to set aside our differences to seek out common ground, and to summon the unity we need to deliver for the people we were elected to serve.

If you work hard, if you believe in yourself, if you believe in America, then you can dream anything, you can be anything, and together, we can achieve anything (Ibid)

Seriously?  This was the best White House advisor Stephen Miller and his merry band of speech writers could come up with?  That last sentence about believing in yourself, you can dream, you be anything, and together we can achieve anything sounds like it came out of a really bad young adult novel.

This pablum would explain House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's sour expression (and Blogger's need to wretch).  Note to Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders: never ever tell another woman to smile more.

State of The Union speeches are usually a mix of accomplishments and outlining vision for the future of government.  Mr.  Trump's maiden speech was "...80% celebration of what he has done and 20% talking about what he would like to do (In truth, the percentage might have tilted even more in the direction of Trump's recitation of his greatest hits) (Ibid).  It took nearly hour before The President mentioned a proposal-"a massive infrastructure bill--that he wanted Congress to take up." (Ibid) He kept going by insisting that Congress consider his proposed immigration compromise.

In case you decided to do something like, alphabetized your spice rack, instead of watch the SOTU speech, allow Yours Truly to review exactly what were Mr. Trump's greatest hits over the past year.  They were (dramatic pause) erasing everything that President Barack Obama did during his tenure in the White House.

As a candidate, Mr. Trump campaigned as the "anti-Barack Obama."  This appealed to Republicans in the Plain States, who "saw everything they disliked about big government liberals..." (Ibid) and love it.  Once in the Oval Office, Mr. Trump continued to govern as the anti-Obama," more accurately as the "Obama eraser." (Ibid)

Shall we review how The President erased President Obama's legacy?  He ended the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrival (DACA) program.  Quick note to DACA-eligible readers: you can still apply for relief at  Stop reading and do it now.  Back to the post.  The President argued for the repeal of the individual healthcare insurance mandate.  He signed executive order after executive order (not actual legislation) repealing Obama-era regulation.  Further, he announced that he planned to Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba open-a direct rebuke to President Obama's unsuccessful promise to close the prison.

Allow Blogger to remind you that prior to declaring his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination. Mr. Trump really did not have any clearly articulated policy initiatives. In fact, his whole platform was do the opposite of whatever President Obama did and he kept going through yesterday evening.

What about Special Consul Robert Mueller's investigation into Russia's alleged meddling in the 2016 election and possibly colluding with Trump campaign?  Not a single word or oblique reference to the subject.

The one and only time Russia was mentioned was during this applause line,

...Around the world, we face rogue regimes, terrorist groups, and rivals like China and Russia that challenge our interests, our economy, and our values.  (Ibid)

Strange that he would refer to Russia as a rogue regime after deciding, contrary to a near unanimous vote in Congress, not to impose new sanctions.

Perhaps it is not a big surprise that Mr. Trump would not even mention Special Consul Mueller's investigation during an 80 minute speech designed to promote unity and bipartisanship.  Instead, he spoke about everything else.  The investigation is tearing apart the political heart and soul of Washington so it is little wonder that he opted to leave it out of his speech.

Finally, It is all about the show.  This president loves living in the spotlight.  The big moment was the notoriously private First Lady Melania Trump publicly surfaced yesterday evening after keeping out of sight for nearly a week, including canceling her plans to accompany her husband to the Davos Economic Forum.  The First Lady was reportedly furious over being blindsided with the stories of her husband's alleged affair with porn actor Stormy Daniels.  The First Lady looked radiant in a white pantsuit.  A shout out to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton?

The State of The Union show was top notch.  No does stagecraft like this president, believe me.  Sorry, had to channel The President for a moment.  In the gallery were the families who lost loved one to the MS-13 gang (The President really did love saying MS-13) to the parent's of Otto Warmbier, a North Korean defector who waved his crutches.  Their stories were haunting and a reminder that it is not always all about the victories and joyous moments.  

Where do we go from here?  That remains to be seen in the coming weeks.  Another government shutdown is looming large if Congress cannot work out some sort of immigration compromise.  The Russia investigation is hanging like a large black cloud over Washington.  Given the stepped up efforts by The President and his supporters to discredit Mr. Mueller and his team, it appear that the Special Consul is about drop a very major bombshell.  In the meantime, take heart in Rep. Joe Kennedy's words,

Bullies may land a punch.  They may leave a mark,.... But they have never, not once, in the history of our United States, managed to match the strength and spirit of a people United in defense of their future. (Ibid)

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Is Broken Windows Still The Way To Go, Updated; December 20, 2017

Hello Everyone:

Today is a big day for the Trump administration.  It is The President's maiden State of The Union address.  Mr. Trump is expected to speak on how great the economy is, immigration, and infrastructure.  Two big questions loom over the annual speech to Congress: First, which Trump will show up?  Trump the good who stays on message or off the rails Trump?  Second, will First Lady Melania Trump actually show up?  The administration is hoping for a reset after the roller coaster of a first year.  Also looming over the SOTU is the Special Counsul Robert Mueller's  investigation into Russian interference with the 2016 Presidential Election.  Given the speed and intensity of Republican efforts to derail the investigation, it seem like the Special Counsul is getting ready to drop a bombshell.  Blogger Candidate Forum might tune in to see what transpires.  Alright, time to chat about today's subject: criminalizing gentrifying neighborhood's.

We begin in the epicenter of gentrification, Brooklyn.  Abdullah Fayyad reports on an early morning incident that took place over Labor Day in his The Atlantic article, "The Criminalization of Gentrifying Neighborhoods."  He writes, "In the early hours of Labor Day, Brooklynites woke up to the sound of steel-pan bands drumming along Flatbush Avenue, as hundreds of thousands of people gathered to celebrate J'ouvert, a roistrous Caribbean festival that commemorates emancipation from slavery."  In recent years, having been afflicted by gang violence, the 2017 pre-dawn parade was very different, according to The New York Times (; Sept. 4, 2017; date accessed Jan. 30, 2018).  Floodlights and security checkpoints dotted the parade route; many of the participants were distrurbed by what they believed was excessive police presence-overkill response to "a comparatively small number of bad actors."

Imani Henry, the president of the police accountability organization Equality for Flatbush, told Mr. Fayyad, There's criminalization of our neighborhood.  The New York Police Department declined Mr. Henry's request regarding security before and during the festival, "citing safety concerns."  His group filed a lawsuit for the information (; Sept. 2, 2017; date accessed Jan. 30, 2018).  Mr. Fayyad notes, "The NYPD did not respond to a request for comment."

Mr. Henry reckons that the increased law enforcement activity at the J'Ouvert celebrate is part of a greater overall pattern of police surveillance in gentrifying communities.  Mr. Fayyad reports, "The lawsuit-which has since made its way to the New York Supreme Court-argues that the NYPD recent increased 'broken window-'style [; March 1982; date accessed Jan. 30, 2018] arrests in Flatbush and East Flatbush, and claims that these 'police actions have coincidence with increased gentrification.'"

The claim is not just mere speculation.  Over the past twenty years, gentrification has become a regular feature of major American cities.  Abdullah Fayyad cites a typical example, "...a formerly low-income neighborhood where longtime residents and businesses are displaced by white-collar workers and overpriced coffeehouses."  This conventional example aside, "gentrification is a result of an economic restructuring-often leaves out a critical side effect that disproportionately affects communities of color: criminalization."

Let us elaborate.  Typically, when low-income neighborhoods experience an influx of more affluent residents, the social dynamics and expectations, change.   One the changed expectations is the perceptions of public safety and order, and the role government plays in providing it.  Mr. Fayyad writes, "The theory goes that as demographics shift, activity that was previously considered normal becomes suspicious, and newcomers-many of whom are white-are more inclined to get law enforcement involved."  Activities such as loitering and noise violations frequently get reported, particularly in racially diverse neighborhoods (; Aug. 21, 2015; date accessed Jan. 30, 2018).  

Harvard sociology professor Robert Sampson told Mr. Fayyad,

There's some evidence that 311 and 911 calls are increasing in gentrifying areas,...that makes for potentially explosive atmosphere with regard to the police.

Long-terms residents incrementally begin to get caught up in the criminal justice system for "quality of life" crime as 311 and 911 calls bring police to communities where they previously did not enforce nuisance laws before.  Paul Butler, a former federal prosecutor in Washington D.C., described the situation, "misdemeanor arrests are more reflective of police presence than the total number of infractions committed in an area."  He said,

It's not a question of how many people are committing the crime-it's a question of where the police are directing their law-enforcement resouces,...Because wherever they direct the resources they can find crime.

In 2013, San Francisco launched the Open311 mobile app which allows residents to quickly report quality of life violations like loitering or vandalism by taking a picture and sending their location.   The app can be used for altruistic purposes like reporting homeless people in need of assistance.  However, some are concerned (; Oct. 28, 2015; date accessed Jan. 30, 2018) the app can result in unnecessary harassment or citations.   While brokens windows remains a controversial policing  strategy, a 2015 survey suggested that it was still largely accepted by the general public (; May 13, 2015; date accessed Jan. 30, 2018), therefore when people witness something, they are more likely to report it.  To wit, when the app launched, the number of 311 calls increase througout the city, and one study (; date accessed Jan. 30, 2018) showed that gentrifying neighborhoods had a bigger increase in report quality of life violations.

Mr. Butler recently wrote the book Chokehold: Policing Black Men, believes that the spike in 311 calls is the result of newcormers (i.e. the affluent residents) refusal to assimilate into longstanding communal norms.  Paul Butler told Mr. Fayyad,

Culturally, I think the way that a lot of African American and Latino people experience gentrification is as a form of colonization,... The gentrifiers are not wanting to share-they're wanting to take over

One mechanism of this type of usurping public space, according to Mr. Butler, "is law enforcement."

Mr. Butler's hometown of Washington D.C., where he is currently a member of the Georgetown University law school faculty, provides a case study.  Abdullah Fayyad writes,

"On most Sunday afternoons, a performance group hosts a drum circle in Malcolm X Park, whose official name is Meridian Hill.  The tradition dates back to 1965-shortly after Malcolm X was assassinated-and was intended to celebrate black liberation.  While the drumbeats can still be heard today the ritual was called into question when the surrounding neighborhood began to change in the late 1990s.  New arrivals living in the blocks surrounding the park repeatedly complained about the noise until the police imposed and enforced a curfew (; Sept. 17, 2000; date accessed Jan. 30, 2018) on the drummers."

Lest you think that the increased police presence in gentrifying neighborhoods is the result of new neighbor's calling for service; Abdullah Fayyad observes, "police departments sometimes proactively deploy officers in areas that see bars and other alcohol-serving outlets pop up, as they tend to do in gentrifying neighborhoods."  Following an economic analysis, conducted by the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department in 2013, created its nightlife unit (; date accessed Feb. 5, 2018), "...which deploys officers to areas with budding or resuscitated nightlife scenes.  Robert Sampson told Mr. Fayyad,

If you're bringing in more bars, there's going to be drunk people congregating in the street, so you need police to tamp that down...But that may lead to potential confrontations.

Those confrontations can involve officers with bar patrons and longtime residents in the neighborhoods.

Former Washington D.C. police Cheif Cathy Lanier spoke to Mr. Fayyad, telling him, "...when a neighborhood's population and economy begin to change, certain problems are bound to rise."  Ms. Lanier elaborated,

You're going to have traffic issues, and you're going to have everything that comes along with a rapidly developing community,..., So you want to have that police presence there, and establish community engagement long before the change so you can work with long-term residents to help them through the transition."

She added, "Zero-tolerance enforcements,..., can be avoided if the police are proactive in creating a safe and orderly environment in advance of any major economic disruptions."

Be that as it may, long-term residents can still feel overwhelmed by the presence of increased security, not all of whom are law enforcement.  Mr. Sampson said, "private security and third-party police contribute to a sense of over-surveillance.  Specifically,

In a kind of rough neighborhood that's about to flip, there may be demand on the part of new residents for safety that goes beyond what the police can provide, which means more eyes on the street on the part of private police.

Historically, low-income and minority neighborhoods are frequently targeted for heavy police presence regardless of their development status, Mr. Fayyad opines, "gentrification and aggressive policing are two sides of the same coin and tend to reinforce one another."  Paul Butler added,

The concern when there are misdemeanor offenses is that neighborhoods seem unsafe or disorderly and that decreases their attractiveness for gentrification,.... So in a number of cities, people have observed that enforcement of low-level offenses against black and brown people increases when neighborhoods are prime for gentrification.

A primary concern in communities of color is that the increased police presence enhances the risk of police misconduct and violence.  Case in point, "In 2014, when San Francisco native Alejandro Nieto was fatally by four police officers responding to a 911 call, many residents believed [; March 21, 2016; date accessed Feb. 5, 2018] the incident wouldn't have occurred had his neighborhood not gentrified."  Mr. Nieto was accused of suspicious behavior in the neighborhood he lived in his entire life, and it was a newcomer who made the 911 call.  Following a brief confrontation with a neighborhood dog, Mr. Nieto, a former bouncer, anxiously paced up and down the street with his hand on his Taser, according to a passerby who called the incident in.  When the police arrived, Mr. Nieto pointed his Taser at them, which they mistook for a weapon.

Abdullah Fayyad points out, "Gentrification and police violence don't necessarily have a casual relationship."  However, increased law enforcement does create a situation for potential misconduct.  This is true of any neighborhood that experiences a greater police presence-"it's a simple matter of numbers."  Mr. Sampson said,

If you're ticketing more people or patrolling more often, you're stopping more people to ask question on the street,... Now, that's different than pulling a gun and shooting someone, or beating someone up, but the more stop-and-frisks and the more interactions, you have, then probabilistically, you're increasing the risk for police brutality.  So it's sort of a sequence or cycle.  

Paul Butler, offered the case of Eric Garner, who came to police attention for selling "loosies" (individual cigarettes), in Tomplkinsville Park on Staten Island, a common practice since 2006, when New York City sharply increased its tax on tobacco products.  The surrounding neighborhoods already experienced some economic development and there was a spike in misedemeanor violation calls.  Mr. Fayyad reports, "After a landlord made a 311 complaint [; June 13, 2015; date accessed Feb. 5, 2018] regarding illegal drug and cigarette sales taking place outside his apartment building, officers began to closely monitor the area."  Mr. Garner was confronted several months later, by police, an officer tried to arrest for previously selling loosies.  The arrest went bad-later the focus of national attention-when Mr. Garner died after an officer placed in a chokehold.

Paul Bulter opined, 

Before there was this effort to gentrify the neighborhood around the [Staten Island] ferry, I think it's fair to say it hadn't received much attention from the police,.... And you can imagine that of all the crimes polices have to worry about, selling loosie cigarettes shouldn't be a priority.

Gentrification goes deeper into the criminal justice system beyond police surveillance.  "As cities become whiter, so do juries."  For example, in Washngton, it is typical to have a majority Caucasian jury, if not all Caucasian, in a majority African-American city.  Mr. Butler had this to say,

Jurors often have different life experiences based on their race.  And so if the defense is 'the police lied' or the police planted evidence,' that's something that an African American or a Latino juror might well believe or find credible,.... A white person might find that hard to believe based on that person's experience with the police.

The debate over how best to deal with gentrification (washingtonpost; Feb. 6, 2016; date accessed Feb. 5, 2018) frequently glides over these tension, concentrating solely on economic development.  There are some who posit that gentrification is a natural part of the urban landscape (; Nov. 19, 2014; date accessed Feb. 5, 2018), and there are some that argue that municipal governments should do more to regulate the housing markets.  However, there is one question cities have not fully dealt with as they evaluate changing communities: "Are they prepared to decriminalized them?

Monday, January 29, 2018

Fixing Food Inequality Requires More Than New Grocery Stores; January 18, 2018

Hello Everyone:

Welcome to a fresh week on the blog.  Fresh week means fresh things to talk about.  #BloggerCandidateForum wanted to let everyone know that he is considering watching the State of The Union address, tomorrow evening, 6:00pm Pacific Standard Time.  The Forum might be interested to see if The President sticks to the script or goes off the rails.  One interesting news item today, it seems that The President is considering nationalizing the 5G network.  Federal Communications Commissioner Ajit Pai must be gnashing his teeth, especially after all the commotion surrounding the repeal of #NetNeutrality rules.  Other than Kesha's stunning performance, Bruno Mars and Kendrick Lamar having a good night at The Grammys, kind of an average news day.  Shall we move on to today's subject: food deserts and inequality.

Here is a fact, way too many Americans are overweight and consume unhealthy food (except for Yours Truly, naturally), a problem that disproportionately affects poor and low-income people.  Richard Florida writes in his CityLab article, "It's Not the Food Deserts: It's the Inequality," "For many urbanists,the main culprit has long been 'food deserts'-disadvantaged neighborhood's that are underserved by quality grocery stores, and where people's nutrientional options are limited to cheaper, high-calorie, and less nutritious food."  However, the answer is more complex than simply persuading high quality grocery chains to open a branch in underserved communities.

A new study, conducted by economists at New York University, Standfod University, and the University of Chicago, The Geography of Poverty and Nutrition: Food Deserts and Food Choices Across the United States, by Hunt Allcott, Rebecca Diamond, and Jean-Pierre Dube (; December 2017; revised January 2018; date accessed Jan. 29, 2018), provides additional evidence to the argument that food deserts are not the sole reason for the poor nutritional habits.  "The biggest difference in income and, especially, in education and nutritional knowledge, which shape our eating habits and in turn impact our health."

To quantify the quality of food and nutritional according to income groups, and spread out over different geographies, the study incorporates data from the "Nielsen Homescan panel on purchases of groceries and packaged food and drink items between 2004 and 2015, which it then evaluates in of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Healthy Eating Index."  The co-authors studied the gap between high- and low-income households: i.e. those with annual incomes of $70,000 or more, and low-income households with annual income of $25,000 or less.

Richard Florida observes, "The study reinforces the notions that food deserts are disproportionately found in disadvantaged neighborhoods."  It found that over half (55 percent) of all the surveyed postal codes with an average income of $25,000 fell into this category-over twice than the share of postal codes throughout he nation overall (24 percent).

Even more disturbing is that the study illuminates the breadth of nutritional inequality in American.  Mr. Florida writes, "Across the board, high-income households benefit from better, more nutritious food.  They buy and consume more of the four very healthy food groups:.... They consume less of two of four unhealthy food groups, staturated fat and sugar (their consumption of sodium and cholesterol is basically the same as that of lower-income households)."

Higher-income households (Yours Truly included) tend to have considerably healthier grocery receipts-statistically speaking, "almost 0.3 standard deviations, healthier-" than lower-income households, "a gap which expanded substantially between 2004 and 2015."  In general, high-income households purchased "one additional fiber gram per 1,000 calories than low-income ones, which is associated with a 9.4 percent decrease in Type 2 diabetes."  High-income households allow buy "3.5 fewer grams of sugar, which correlates with a 10 percent decrease in death rates from heart disease."

With this in mind, Mr. Florida observes some striking similarities in the food consumption habits between high- and low-income households.  Both income groups shop at stores, regardless where they live.  The difference being "High-income households spend 91 percent of their grocery dollars at supermarkets.  Low-income households spend just slightly less, at 87 percent."  

Furhter, both income households, including those residing in food deserts, travel approximately the same distances to grocery shop.  The study co-authors generated a graph (you can see it and related graphs at; Jan.18, 2018; date accessed Jan. 29, 2018) that maps out the distances Americans travel to buy groceries.  Mr. Florida reports, "The average American travels roughly 5.5 miles to buy their groceries.  Low-income households travel slightly less distance, an average of 4.8 miles.  Americans who live in food deserts across the board travel farther, an average of 7 miles..."  This includes households in rural areas.  Furthermore, residents of urban food deserts travel wee less than the overall average, "while low-income households that live in urban food deserts and do not own a car-the group that the food-desert argument is mainly about-travel just 2 miles on average."

This brings to mind the role neighborhoods in American nutritional habits, and "why do food deserts matter far less than the conventional wisdom says they?

To understand this, The Geography of Poverty and Nutrition: Food Deserts and Food Choices Across the United States follows two things.  First, it examined what happens when supermarkets open in underserved neighborhood's, including food deserts.  "It turns out that the entry of new supermarkets has little impact on the eating habits of low-income households."  Interestingly, even when a new supermarket opens in a low-income neighborhoods, the residents tend to buy the same low nutritional value products.

Essentially, a new supermarket simply diverts customers from established, farther away stores.  Hunt Allcott, Rebecca Diamond, and Jean-Pierre Dube state,

...supermarket entry does not significantly change choice sets, and thus doesn't affect healthy eating... (; December 2017; revised January 2018)

Thus, greater neighborhood access to better quality food stores accounts for a mere 5 percent of the difference in the nutritional choices made by both types of households.

Second, the study analyzed what happens when low-income individuals and families move from communities with lesser quality stores to ones with better quality options.  Again, the affect is negligible.  Moving to a neighborhood, where people have healthier eating habits has little or no impact in the short term, minimal affect in the medium term, and results in a 3 percent improvement in the Healthy Eating Index's tally of their grocery receipts.  

 The bottom line is, "the study finds little evidence to support the notion that food deserts are solely to blame for unhealthy eating.  It concludes that the evidence does not support the notion that eliminating food deserts would have material effect on nutritional inequality (Ibid). The next question would be, what does have material effect on nutritional inequality?

Instead of focusing on the differences of peoples' nutritional habits within an urban area, the co-authors focus on the regional differences in nutritional habits.  The co-authors created a map of the continental United States that illustrates the "Average Health Indx of Store Purchase by County (Ibid).  "The map plots the geography of healthy versus unhealthy eating across America's 3,500-plus counties.."  The dark red areas signify a "lower health index based on grocery purchases, while light yellow represents a higher health index."  Taking into account some variation within urban and metropolitan areas, the most glaring differences are across the regions.  "There is a large 'unhealthy eating belt' across the Midwest and South, surrounded by healthier eating belt along the East Coast, West Coast, and Pacific Northwest."

More to the point, "the fundamental difference in America's food and nutrition has more to do with class than location."  A staggering "90 percent of the difference in Americans' nutritional inequality is the product of socioeconomic class,..."  The issue is not that more affluent Americans have more money to spend at the grocery store.  Rather, the cost of healthier food is not as prohibitively high as some people think.  "While healthy food cost a little bit more than unhealthy food, most of that is driven by the cost of fresh produce."  The price difference between healthy and unhealthy food options is marginal.  Interestingly, "the price gap between healthy and unhealthy food is actually a little bit lower than average in many low-income neighborhoods, according to the study."

Another factor in the nutritional choices of higher-income Americans is they have the benefit of more eduction and better information about the benefits of healthy eating.  "Indeed, eduction accounts for roughly 20 percent of the association between income and health eating,..., with an additional 7 percent coming from differences in information about nutrition."

The co-authors suggest better education would benefit low-income Americans by equipping them with more information about the food they eat.  Yours Truly is not so enthusiastic about that suggestion.  Nutritional information is widely available and you can educate people about the joys of healthier eating but ultimately it come down to choice.  That head of broccoli versus that package of mini-doughnuts.

Richard Florida speculates, "There are deeper reasons, again tied to class, that enable affluent and educated households to put this nutritional information to use."  One reason is they have more time and resources to devote to their overall health and well-being.  Personally speaking, Yours Truly really does not spend that much time on her overall health and well-being but understands that Mr. Florida is speaking in general terms.  "Conversely, lower-income people may simply discount the health advantages of higher-quality food or see some of those foods, like kale or avocado smacking of urban elitism."  This would explain why The President's fondness for fast food and Diet Coke goes over well with his base.

Whatever the reason may be, the great American nutritional divide is a microcosm of the fundamental class divisions that mirrors the divisions we witness in fitness (Ibid; Jan. 2, 2018), obesity (Ibid; March 8, 2012), and overall health (Ibid; Jan. 5, 2012) and well-being (Ibid; Nov. 9, 2017).  The deeper divisions within our society is what is fueling the nutritional inequality.  

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Blogger Candidate Forum: More One Gerrymandering; Jan. 23, 2018

Hell Everyone:

It is time for the weekly edition of Blogger Candidate Forum.  A friendly reminder, the mid-term primaries are almost upon us.  In play is the Senate, the House of Representatives, governorships, and statehouses.  If you are registered to vote, fantastic, good for you, go out and vote.  If you are not registered to vote, no worries, you can go to for information.  Also, If you are DACA-eligible and need to renew, stop reading, go to to for renewal information and application.  Speaking of voting, we are returning to the subject of gerrymandering this week.

It seems that the state and federal supreme courts are waking up to the fact that partisan gerrymandering is everywhere you look (; date accessed Jan. 24, 2018).

David A. Graham writes in his CityLab article "Has the Tide Turned Against Partisan Gerrymandering?," "Courts have historically been reluctant to strik down redistricting plans on the basis of political bias-unwilling to appear to be favoring one party-but Monday afternoon, the Pennsylvania state supreme court ruled [; Jan. 22, 2018; date accessed Jan. 24, 2018] that the state's maps for the U.S. House violate the state constitution's guarantees of free expression and association and of equal protection."

This comes on the (tar) heels of a ruling in North Carolina, earlier this month, in which a federal court struck down the state's electoral map (; Jan. 9, 2018; date accessed Jan. 24, 2018), "the first time a federal court had ruled a redistricting plan represented an unconstitutional gerrymander."  The decision was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, which is currently considering similar a case from Wisconsin.  SCOTUS has also agreed to her a case from Maryland but rejected (; Jan. 16, 2018; date accessed Jan. 24, 2018) from Texas on procedural grounds.

Mr. Graham reports, "The Pennsylvania case may be at once the most important in the immediate term and least important in the long term."  The reason for this is founded in the state constitution, which curtails its reach but also has potential to remain in place.  Pennsylvania Republican legislators promised to seek a stay from SCOTUS, while Democratic lawyers posit (; Jan. 22, 2018; date accessed Jan. 24, 2018) "there was not path to the high court."

If the high court ruling stands, it could be a huge boon to Democrats in the upcoming mid-term elections.  Pennsylvania is an important enough state that anyone with White House aspirations, needs to win.  In the last presidential election, Mr. Donald Trump surprised many pundits by winning the state.  All but five statewide elected offices are in the hands of Democrats.  In terms of electoral votes, Pennsylvania has 18 House districts (; date accessed Jan. 24, 2018).  Twelve of those districts are in the red column and five are in the blue column; one was held by a Republican until he resigned in disgrace following a sex scandal.  Mr. Graham assures us that "Monday's ruling will not effect a hotly anticipated race in March."  Pennsylvania frequently lands on the list of worst district maps in the country.

Michael Berkman, director of the McCourtney Institute of Democracy at Penn State University, told CityLab, 

It's been a very effective partisan gerrymander.... Republicans have had a challenging time if you look at it at the state level.  Democrats clearly hold an advantage in the state, but they have just been destroyed in the legislature.

Given how closely scrutinized the map are "Monday's decision did not come as a complete shock."  Another challenge to partisan gerrymandering was dismissed by the federal court in December, however, the state Supreme Court tilts toward the blue side.  Mr. Graham reports, "The court issued a short decision Monday, with a fuller discussion to follow; two judges dissented, and a third dissent in part and concurred in part."

 No new maps have been drawn-the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ordered the state legislature to quickly draw a new map, adding that they would draw one of its own if the lawmakers did not comply-thus it is difficult to gauge the impact the ruling will have.  One thing is for sure, the short timeline will be beneficial to the Democrats.

Terry Madonna, a political scientist at Franklin and Marshall College , told CityLab

I think the Democrats would be optimistic that they would have a reasonable chance of picking up [a few seats].

Conservatively speaking, Keystone state Democrats could pick up one or two seats however, a more optimistic estimate has them adding as many as four or five places (; Jan. 22, 2018; date accessed Jan. 24, 2018).  It is not just the maps that would be less tilted toward the Republicans.  It could also mean that some of the incumbent Republicans would lose their advantage in their districts.

This news could not come at the worst possible time for the Red team.  Polling data and the speed of retirements from Congress, the president's near basement level approval ratings, all point to a #bluewave in November.  Mr. Berkman added, The kind of energy you're seeing elsewhere we're seeing here as well.

There are particular dynamics at play in Pennsylvania that could hurt the Republicans as well.  As Yours Truly previously stated, Pennsylvania is important to anyone with aspirations of occupying the Oval Office.  David Graham observes, "The state is  microcosm of national political dynamics with traditionally Republican suburban areas, which handed Democrats big wins in 2017 special elections across the country, trending toward the Democratic white, blue-collar voters sliding toward the Republican Party."

Also as previously mentioned, the district vacated by disgraced Republican Tim Murphy's resignation, Democrats are posing a very serious challenge, however former-Representative Murphy's ignominiously vacated seat will not be the only empty House chair.  Representatives Charlie Dent, a critic of Mr. Trump and moderate Republic, is retiring as is Bill Shuster.  The New York Times reported over the weekend that Representative Pat Meehan (R-Pa) settled a sexual harassment suit using a taxpayer funded settlement fund; other members facing similar charges have either resigned or announced their pending retirement.

Be that as it may, do not hold your breath on the House representation ended up evenly split with a 9-9 delegation. The Democratic Party is hampered by its strength in urban centers-eg. Philadelphia and Pittsburgh-which tends to generate packed districts.  Mr. Graham notes, "The eventual split is likely to get closer to even,..."

The Pennsylvania case shares similar features to the Wisconsin and North Carolina cases.  All three would result in outcomes that would be beneficial to Democrats.  Second, "all three argue that voters have been deprived of their rights to free speech, free association, and equal by virtue of being targeted for their choice to vote for the Democratic Party, which they say resulted in their being drawn into districts that reduced their outing power."

Third, all three cases represent a new trend toward quantifying the affect of partisan gerrymandering.  One measure is the "efficiency gap-" "a measure of how many votes for a candidate are wasted-either the number of votes in excess of what the candidate needs to wind, common when voter backing a candidate are packed into a district, or the number of votes cast of the loser when that candidates' supporter are dispersed."  Another way to quantify the affect gerrymandering is to conduct random simulations (; Dec. 11, 2017; date accessed Jan. 24, 2018) to demonstrate the extent of existing maps outside the normal distributions.

Even though some of the gerrymandered are struck down on the basis of race, the courts have been hesitant to declare gerrymanders unconstitutional along party lines because it would place the judiciary in the middle of partisan battles.  Since legislatures, in most states, have the right to draw districts lines, it has been generally assumed that they are delineated in order to give the majority party the advantage.  The question is have they gone too far.  In North Carolina, lawmakers protested, How much politics is too much politics in redistricting?  The goal of the measures is find an answer to that question, thus giving judges empirical information in order to render a decision.

Either due to this more data-based approach or just plain creative redistricting efforts, the end result are fantastical districts that would make Elbridge Gerry, the 19th century governor of Massachusetts, fifth Vice President of the United States, and the founding father of gerrymandering, turn scarlet.  This has made judges more receptive to new arguments.

New York University law professor Richard Pildes recently told The New York Times,

You're seeing how much turmoil there is now in the lower federal courts, and how many federal judges believes the time has come for the courts to impose substantial limits (; Jan. 11, 2018; date accessed Jan. 24, 2018).

For now, the U.S. Supreme Court has stayed the North Carolina decision while considers similiar pending cases.  David Graham speculates " seem unlikely (though not impossible) that the justices would render a ruling in time to affect 2018 races in Wisconsin, Maryland, or North Carolina."  He also points out "The Maryland case involves districts gerrymandered by the Democratic-controlled legislature.  Both parties have been offenders, but Republicans control so many more of the state legislatures that drew new maps after the 2010 Census, that most of the current cases involve GOP-drawn districts."  One possibility is the justices could affirm new concerns among federal judges regarding partisan gerrymandering, however, they halt the trend by reject any new arguments or numerical approaches.  There are indications that both data-based approach advocates and judges in the lower courts are shaping their language and decisions to appeal to Cheif Justice John Roberts (Ibid Jan. 15, 2018) or Justice Anthony Kennedy (; Jan. 9, 2018; date accessed Jan. 24, 2018), the possible deciding votes.

The Pennsylvania case, founded in the state's constitution, is by necessity more limited in scope.  However, University of Kentucky law professor Joshua Douglas tweeted

Some thought on state constitutions and the constitutional right to vote, in light of PA S. Ct. decision striking down map as unconstitutional:

Virtually every state constitution (all but AZ) has an explicit clause granting right to vote... (; Jan. 22, 2018; date accessed Jan. 24, 2018)

This explicit clause granting the right to vote offers an "alternative or parallel track for plaintiffs seeking to have maps thrown out."

The Pennsylvania case may be the only to have direct consequence for the 2018 mid-term elections and boost Democratic hopes of a #bluewave.  However, the growing judicial trend to toss up maps considered excessively partisan will continue well past November.  Mr. Graham believes that "Most of the ongoing cases should be decided long before 2020, and the results will likely spawn further litigation."  The winners in 2020, particularly in the statehouses, will have the unique once-in-a-decade opportunity to redraw maps following the next Census.  In recent cycles, redistricting efforts have produced a kind of partisan feeding frenzy; Democrats caught unaware in 2010 are launching a high-profile effort to fight back.  If the current patterns hold, judges might be advised to pay close attention to whoever wins in 2020, and they will be less likely to engage in partisan games.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Live Long And Prosper In Cities; January 16, 2018

Hello Everyone:

Order has been restored to the American universe as temporarily furloughed federal employees trudge back to work.  Blogger Candidate Forum just stuck his in the door to let Yours Truly know that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is seeking to question the President of The United States regarding his summary dismissal of Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey.  It sounds like things are quickly heating up.  Could the summer bring the announcement "Mr. President, you are the target of an obstruction of justice investigation?"  There is still a long way to go before we hear those words but between the questioning of (for now) Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the promise of cooperation from former Trump insider Steve Bannon, it certainly look like the walls are closing in.  Stay tuned, this just got really good.  Enough teasing and on to today's subject: how great cities can lengthen your lifespan.

Can a great city enable you to live a longer life?  What are the factors that contribute to a great city and, by extension, increase your lifespan?  These are the questions that Stanford economist Raj Chetty  answers in one of the most intriguing social science research from the Equality of Opportunity Project (; date accessed Jan. 23, 2018).  Joe Cortright spotlights Mr. Chetty's work in his CityLab article "Great Cities Enable You to Live Longer."  Mr. Cortright reports, "The project's major work looks at the factors contributing to intergenerational economic-the extent to which different communities actually enable the American Dream of people in the lowest income groups being able to move up economically."  In a related study (; April 26, 2016; date accessed Jan. 23, 2018), Mr. Chetty and his team examined how life expectancy differs by community.

The majority of the study is focused on the "relationship between longevity and income," and has been well-documented in other sources (; April 11, 2016; date accessed Jan. 23, 2018).  Mr. Cortright writes, "It highlights patterns that anyone following issues of inequality in the U.S. would have long suspected to be true-that life expectancy is strongly correlated with income, and that the gap in life expectancy between high- and low-income people has grown-..." The hard numbers bear this out.

Raj Chetty and his team also analyzed their information by commenting zone (similar to a metropolitan area) and county, which we can also reach important conclusions regarding the connection between where you live and and your lifespan, in the same manner as the team's earlier research on the link between place and economic opportunity.  Essentially,  "strong urban environments can boost their residents' longevity-especially for the low-income."

If you go to; Jan.16, 2018, you can check out a map of the United States that charts the spectrum of life expectancy for the bottom income quartile.  The dark red areas indicate a lifespan of 75- years old or less.  This average life expectancy corresponds to metropolitans in the Midwestern, southern, and mountain regions.  The light yellow areas indicate a lifespan of 77-years-old or greater.  This, no surprise, corresponds to the coastal areas.

Joe Cortright observes, "This wide variation in life expectancy by region provides some insights into the community characteristics that are most closely associated with longer lives.  CityLab (; Jan.16, 2018; date accessed Jan. 23, 2018) has reproduced a key chart from Chetty et al's research that demonstrates the correlation between a number of regional characteristics and life expectancy of people in the bottom income quadrant.

The chart maps out health behaviors, access to healthcare, environmental determinants, income inequality and social cohesion, local workforce conditions, and other factors.  The dots represent the point estimate, the lines signify the 95 percent confidence interval of the approximation.  Mr. Cortright writes, "Postive values indicate that life expectancy increases with increas in the local characteristic; negative values indicate that life expectancy decreases as the value of the local characteristics increases."

He continues, "In part, these statistics affirm what we already know: Places where people smoke more and where obesity is more prevalent have shorter life expectancies; places where people exercise more  have longer life expectancies."  An important thing to remember "Regional variations in key health behaviors are reflected directly in the life expectancy of the poor."  Another important idea to keep in mind, "...the report casts some doubt on some other factors that people think influence health and mortality."  Chetty et all examined the role of a variety of health care intiatives, the presence of social capital, and the role of inequality and unemployment; concluding that "regional variations in these characteristics had weak, if any correlation with regional variations in life expectancy."

"The unexpected importance of place"

"You are where you live."  Where people live unexpectedly turned out to be an important factor: "...strong, consistent positive contribution of several community level variables to life expectancy."  Interestingly, low-income people tended to live longer in communities with a higher immigrant population, more expensive housing, increased government spending, greater density, and a well educated population.  These characteristics were placed at the bottom of Raj Chetty's chart (see; Jan. 16, 2018; date accessed Jan. 23, 2018) in the category of "Other factors."

The data demonstrates a series of strong positive correlations.  Cities with a greater immigrant population have a longer lifespan for low-income residents. This is also true for cities with more expensive housing.  That one is a puzzle for Blogger because Yours Truly was under the impression that a stable affordable place to live was crucial to better health, and by extension, a longer lifespan.  Regardless, the data also found that low-income residents have a longer lifespan in places with greater government spending, increased density, and a better educated populace.  Joe Cortright surmises, "Taken together, these correlations suggest the importance of postive spillover effects from health urban places."  This makes sense to Blogger.  This would suggest that large cities tend to have higher levels of density.  Further, successful cities are magnets for immigrants, have more expensive housing, and a better educated population. All of these elements combine to produce a thriving city in turn means a longer lifespan for low-income residents.

Joe Cortright cites this passage from the study in which the co-authors explain that "their data make a strong case for a relationship between cities and greater longevity of the poor:"

The strongest pattern in the data was that low-income individuals tend to live longer (and have more healthful behaviors) in cities with highly educated populations, high incomes, and high levels of government expenditures, such as New York, New York and San Francisco, California.  In these cities life expectancy for individuals in the bottom 5% of the income distribution was approximately 80 years. In contrast, in cities such as Gary, Indiana and Detroit, Michigan, the expected age of death for individuals in the bottom 5% of the income distribution was approximately 75 years.  Low-income individuals living incities with highly educated populations and high incomes also experienced the largest gains in life expectancy during the 2000s.

As always, correlation does not equal causation; some of these optimistic findings may be based on factors such a s immigrants who choose to move to cities.  Be that as it may, "the strength of these correlations (and their absence for other variables like access to medical care) signals a need for further scrutiny." Additionally, this manner of broad statistical analysis comes with some caveats: "the paper takes only a first-pass, high-level look at correlations between geographic variables and life expectancy.  This analysis shows the simple and direct relationship between each tested variable and life expectancy-but doesn't measure any interaction among variables."  Again, correlation does not equal causation.  Nevertheless, by studying the correlation between certain local characteristics and life expectancy, we can answer the question of does place matter when it comes to life expectancy.

Thus far, there has been a good body of circumstantial evidence that supported the notion that cities are healthier.  We know from previous research and our own experiences that people in cities and denser environments tend to walk more (; date accessed Jan. 23, 2018), a key component to longevity.  Urban dwellers tend to drive less and suffer the aftermath of automobile accidents and more sedate lifestyles are associated with car dependent communities. More reason to put that phone down, go for a walk or take public transportation.  From our extensive reading of Richard Florida's articles, we know that "cities promote higher levels of innovation and productivity and that city economic success is correlated with education," however the data from Raj Chetty's study suggest that there maybe beneficial spillover in relation to life expectancy even for low-income urban dwellers.

Joe Cortright charmingly quotes Star Trek's most famous character Mr. Spock when he admonishes us to Live long and prosper.  A sentiment that Blogger wishes on all her fans and followers.  Taking Raj Chetty et al's latest study together with previous research on the link between place and inter-generational mobility, the studies combine to accentuate the role that community defining characteristics play in determining lifespan thus indicating that successful cities may be the biggest contributor to a long and prosperous life.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Fair Housing Is A Human Right; January 8, 2018

Hello Everyone:

Welcome to a new week on the blog.  Power to my pink pussy hatted sisters who marched this weekend.  Unfortunately, Blogger was not able to come out but Yours Truly wanted to march.  Instead, Blogger urges each and everyone of you to register to vote.  If you have not done so, please go to for information.  Make sure you come out on November 6, 2018 and vote.  Next, a word about the federal government shutdown.  Fortunately, the shutdown is just about over and the affected employees are set to go back to work.  Senate Democrats and Republicans agreed to a stop gap spending bill, intended to keep the federal government until mid-February while putting the discussion on Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA) on hold until early February.  A message to the President of The United States, leadership starts at the top.  Instead of spending the weekend at your pouting, tweeting, and watching television, we were not trying to broker some sort of a deal?  After all, do you not pride yourself on your stellar deal making skills?Interestingly, Mr. Trump watched old clips of him berating President Barack Obama.  He also watch the Women's March, mistakenly thinking it was a celebration of their accomplishments. Right, whatever you say.  A friendly reminder to the men and women that make up the United States Congress: We women and men of all races, religions, ethnicities, gender-orientation, and ability will not carry you through on Election Day.  If you want our vote, you will have to earn it.  Blogger hopes all of you were paying close attention to what the marchers were saying, we are here and we vote.  Now on to today's subject, fair housing.

Fair housing is a human right.  This is something that Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson does not seem to fully understand. To wit, at scheduled speech on Monday, January 8, 2018, protestors in Chicago booed Secretary Carson (@jbkm1973;; Jan. 8, 2018; date accessed Jan. 22, 2018).  Kriston Capps reports in his CityLab article "One Way to Fight HUD's Heel-Dragging on Fair Housing," " A member of a grassroots senior organization also interrupted his speech [@SeniorCaucus; Ibid]."  It was the Secretary's first public engagement since he "issued a delay in a key rule for advancing fair housing [; Jan. 4, 2018; date accessed Jan. 22, 2018] and confronting racial segregation,"  and the resistance is only getting warmed up.

The Friday before, January 5, 2018, 76 national faith, civil rights, affordable housing, and social justice organizations released a joint statement objecting to HUD's decision.  The department (; Jan. 5, 2018, date accessed Jan. 22, 2018)  said that it was abrogating its duty to carry out the mission Congress assigned it 50 years ago-a reference to the Fair Housing Act of 1968.

Housing advocates maintain that Secretary Carson has essentially suspended the goverment's obligation by postponing the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (; July 16, 2015; date accessed Jan. 22, 2018) put in place in 2015.  Mr. Capps points out, "This isn't the first time that Carson has tried to postpone an Obama-era housing; A similar maneuver was struck down in federal court in December."  Housing advocates are hopeful that HUD's action on the AFFH final rule will go down as well.  

Kristen Clarke, president and executive director for the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Right Under Law (; date accessed Jan. 22, 2018),

Needless to say, we are prepared to use every tool in our arsenal to fight HUD's suspension of this critical rule,... We are looking carefully to see whether HUD violate the Administrative Procedure Act.

The APA is a dusty federal procedural law that could lay the foundation for a legal challenge to Secretary Carson's effort to put a hold on implementing this fair-housing rule until late 2020.  It has happened once before: "After HUD released a memo back in August pushing a different Obama-era housing rule out to fiscal year 2020, plaintiffs successfully argued that the maneuver violated the APA."

The decision states,

This case is not about what is good housing policy,.... This case is about the rule of law-whether an agency effectively may suspend a duly promulgated regulation without observing the procedures or identifying relevant  factual criteria that the law requires to effect such a change.

Kriston Capps writes, "That case concerns the formula of determining how federal housing aid is calculated."  For example, the Housing Choice Voucher program (; April 11, 2017; date accessed Jan. 22, 2018)-commonly known as Section 8-the Housing and Urban Development department used a fair market rent standard for a particular city or metropolitan to determine the local value of a voucher. This resulted in problems in many cities, where the vouchers cannot adequately cover the cost of rents in high-end neighborhoods, which has led to "concentrated poverty in areas with unsafe housing, bad schools, and little opportunity."  

After reading the statement "...vouchers cannot adequately cover the cost of rents in high-end neighborhoods," and think why not move to a more affordable neighborhood?  Easier said than done.  Moving to a more affordable neighborhood is not always possible for Section 8 recipients who want to be near schools and work.  That is their right, thus the fair market rent standard needs to be re-evaluated and re-tooled so that it adequately covers the cost of rent in all neighborhoods.

Alright, back to the matter at hand.  In October 2017, a Connecticut civil rights group, Open Communities Alliance and two Section 8 recipients filed a lawsuit against HUD (; date accessed Jan. 22, 2018).  The plaintiffs were represented by civil rights groups including the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Poverty & Race Research Action Council, Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and Public Citizen-co-signatories on January 5 condemning HUD's postponement of fair housing.

To remedy these negative results, in November 2016, HUD enacted small area fair market rates (SAMFRs), for calculating rents in individual ZIP codes instead of the average rents across metropolitan areas.  The point was to allow families using the vouchers an opportunity to move out of poor neighborhood's into more desireable areas.  This Obama-era regulation was supposed to have taken effect on January 1, 2018.  However, as of August 2017, HUD announced a two-year suspension.

On December 23, U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia Chief Judge Beryl A. Howell granted a preliminary injunction for the plaintiffs in OCA v. Carson.  The injunction requires HUD to implement Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing on SAFMRs on January 1, as scheduled.  Mr. Capps notes, "While the government has 30 days to appeal the decision, a HUD memo did not make that sound imminent or likely."

The ruling in OCA v. Carson went ahead for several reason.  Mr. Capps writes, "The court concluded that while HUD mat suspend the SAFMR for an area where it would adversely impact renters, HUD showed no such standard for the 23 metro areas where it delayed the rule (out of 24 in all)."  Secretary Ben Carson's more recent postponement (; Jan. 4, 2018; date accessed Jan. 22, 2018) came after previous trouble with the data-mapping tool experienced by approximately 17 out of the 1,200 jurisdictions working on AFFH evaluations.

The December ruling on vouchers the court also determined that HUD did not have the authority to enact such a delay, "...deemed arbitrary and capricious."  Lastly, the ruling demonstrated "that the suspension was likely to pose real harm to the two African-American women and the Connectivut agency who served as plaintiffs."

Kriston Capps sums up his article with the testimony of a woman from Chicago.  He writes, "Her personal testimony showcased how the rule at HUD would make it easier for her to find affordable housing in a safer neighborhood with better education and opportunities for her child."  If her testimony is any indication, there may be many more similar stories.  The plaintiff could very well be able to take Secretary Ben Carson right back to court. 

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Blogger Candidate Forum: The Cities Will Not Be Ignored; January 12, 2018

Hello Everyone:

It is time for the weekly edition of Blogger Candidate Forum.  Primaries for the Mid-Term Elections begin in March.  If the chatter on the social media is to be believed, a "blue wave" is coming this November.  Both the House of Representatives and the Senate are in play.  Slowly, the Republican majority is being chipped away.  Some it can be explained as a backlash to Republican complacency to Mr. Donald Trump.  With the primaries looming in the horizon, Yours Truly thought it would be a good idea to take a look at how one state is attempting to redraw electoral districts in favor of one party over another.  The state in question is North Carolina and the attempt to redraw electoral districts in favor of one party over another is called gerrymandering.  Barry Yeoman explains in his CityLab article "How Gerrymandering Silenced North Carolina's Cities," "When North Carolina's legislative leaders were ordered to redraw the state's 13 congressional districts in 2016, they gave their hired mapmaker an explicit instruction: Maximize the Republican Party's electoral advantage."

Here on the Blog, we talk a lot about red Republican states and blue Democrat states.  No reason why those colors were chosen.  We never mentioned purple states: states that "are closely divided in its support of the two major parties."  North Carolina is a one of those states.  If it was up to State Representative David Lewis, senior chair of the House Select Committee on Redistricting, the state map would be more red than blue.  At committee meeting (; Sept. 22, 2017; date access Jan. 17, 2018), Rep. Lewis told the assembly,

I acknowledge freely that this would be a political gerrymander, which is not law,.... I propose that we draw the map to give a partisan to 10 Republicans and 3 Democrat because I do not believe it's possible to draw a map with 11 Republican and 2 Democrats.

That still does not sound right, does it.

Thomas Hofeller, the mapmaker, had an idea on how to achieve Rep. Lewis's dream map: strip electoral power from the cities.

There are two primary methods to gerrymander (; Nov. 2, 2011; date accessed Jan. 17, 2018): "packing" and "cracking". Mr. Yeoman explains: "Packing a district means cramming it with like-minded voters-more than are needed to guarantee a safe seat.  Cracking a community means spreading its voters across multiple districts in which they hold a minority view."  Tomas Lopez, the executive director of the non-profit advocacy group Democracy North Carolina (; date accessed Jan 17, 2018), said together, the cumulative effect is that it dilutes voices including urban ones.

This is precisely what Mr. Hofeller did in five North Carolina cities, according to a decision issued last Tuesday by a three-judge federal panel which struck down the state's congressional districts.  This was the situation: voters in the Raleigh and Durham areas were packed into Democrat David Price's 4th District, Charlotte residents were grouped into Democrat Alma Adams' 12th District.  This made it easier for districts surrounding them to remain Republican.  Meanwhile, the blue-leaning Greensboro and Asheville were divided between Republican districts.

Democratic state senator Terry Van Duyn, a resident of Asheville a western North Carolina city that is counterculture, outdoor-oriented, and very progressive, told CityLab,

There are a lot of ways to neutralize urban votes, and this is one of them,... My vote just doesn't count,... And because they cut Asheville in half, we contribute to the fact that congressional delegation is not representative of out state.

 The January 8 decision, written by 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge James A. Wynn Jr., was the first instance a federal court declared a congressional map unconstitutional because of partisan gerrymandering.  The federal courts have frequently tossed out maps because of racial bias-" was a race-based federal-court ruling [; Feb. 5, 2016; date accessed Jan. 17, 2018] that forced North Carolina's 2016 congressional redrawing."  Mr. Yeoman notes, "That decision was affirmed [; October Term 2016; date accessed Jan. 17, 2018] by the Supreme Court in May."  However, the courts  have been more liberal about electoral districts drawn in order to benefit one political party or another.

Judge Wynn's opinion (; Jan. 9, 2018; date accessed Jan. 17, 2018) potentially could be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, sets precedent.  Mr. Yeoman writes, Out of 24,518 possible maps generated by Duke University mathematicians Jonathan Mattingly, the judge noted, more than 99 percent gave Republican fewer employees than the 10 House seats they currently hold in North Carolina."  This, Judge Wynn wrote, reflects an intentional effort to subordinate the interests of non-Republican voters. He continued,

Partisan gerrymandinering runs contrary to numerous fundamental democratic principles and individual rights enshrined in the Constitution,...Long-standing, and even widespread, historical practice does not immunize governmental action from constitutional scrutiny

The North Carolina legislature has never been friendly to cities.  For example, "Back in the 1990s, when it was controlled by Democrats, a National Rifle Association lobbyist courted legislators with seafood parties and Christmas gifts [; Feb. 24, 1997; date accessed Jan. 17, 2018] and convinced them to invalidate local gun-control ordinances, which cities like Durham favored."

When the Republicans took over the legislature in 2011, they went on a preemptive frenzy.  Remember the reviled House Bill 2, i.e. "The Bathroom Bill," "which forced transgender people to use the restroom corresponding to their birth certificates in public buildings (; July 13, 2016; date accessed Jan. 17, 2018)?  This reviled bill passed after the city of Charlotte passed an ordinance protecting its LGBTQ citizens.  Fortunately, HB2 has been partially repealed but it still bars cities from "enacting labor standards and civil-rights protections."

More precisely, the statehouse went after individuals.  When the Durham City Council refused to incorporate land in a watershed to accommodate a developer (; date accessed June 27, 2013; Jan. 17, 2018), the legislators expanded the city boundaries by acclamation (; Session 2013; date accessed Jan. 17, 2018).

It is no surprise to Barry Yeoman that "none of the current legislative leadership comes from a major metropolitan area."  Republican state leader frequently portray North Carolina's cities as outsiders to the political mainstream defined as "conservative and rural."  Former Republican Governor Pat McCrory invoked North Carolina values (whatever those are) to justify the reviled HB2 (; date accessed Jan. 17, 2018) and a subsequent law banning sanctuary cities (; Oct. 28, 2015; date accessed Jan. 1, 2018).  Further, at a hearing this past August (, called to get public comment on state legislative district maps-NC state Republican Party executive director Dallas Woodhouse made the racially tinged suggestion "...that Donald Trump's sweep of white rural North Carolina should signal the state's political direction."  More accurately, the president won 50.5 percent of the vote in North Carolina but lost the seven most populous-urban- counties.

Mr. Woodhouse asserted,

It is not the job of this committee to make a political party that lost 76 [of 100] North Carolina counties in the presidential election competitive, because they are uncompetitive in vast swaths, vast areas,... The minority party in this body has a geographic problem.

Mr. Yeoman points out, "No one has suggested that North Carolina's congressional map was drawn with the overt purpose of harming cities.  But both gerrymandering and preemption suggest a willingness on the part of legislative leaders to diminish cities' power in the service of their electoral and policy goals."

Eventually, the question of politically biased gerrymandering will be settled by the Supreme Court, which listened to arguments in a similar case from Wisconsin (; Oct. 3, 2017; date accessed Jan. 17, 2018) and recently agreed to o hear a Maryland case (Ibid; Dec. 4, 2017).  There is possibility that the North Carolina case could also be heard by the justices however, "The legislative defendants have already requested [; Jan. 11, 2018; date accessed Jan. 17, 2018] a stay."  If the Supreme Court agrees with Judge James A. Wynn, and declares extreme politically motivated gerrymandering unacceptable, it will be much harder to justify ignoring cities in the next round of redistricting.