The Fix Is In, Can We Fix It?

Ward 8

Gill v. Whitford, the case now before the Supreme Court about whether Wisconsin’s state legislative districts were unconstitutionally gerrymandered, cannot alone bring democracy back to the USA, but it can certainly help.

Gerrymandering, the drawing of electoral districts for partisan advantage, has been around a long time (and has benefited both parties). The SCOTUS is looking at whether Wisconsin crossed a line in drawing their lines. Within this question is the fact that in 2012, Republicans received only 48.6% of the vote but took 60 of 99 seats in the State Assembly.

This same “seat bonus” can be seen at the national level. In 2016, Republicans received a plurality of votes cast for Congress nationwide, 49.9%, but they received a greater share, 55.2%, of the seats. Democrats, as a result, won a smaller share of seats than they did votes: 44.8 percent of seats as compared to 47.3 percent of the votes.

Our system of representative democracy in Washington is broken, and it is showing up on issues like gun control. E.J. Dionne Jr., Norman J. Ornstein and Thomas E. Mann, in their new book One Nation After Trump: A Guide for the Perplexed, the Disillusioned, the Desperate, and the Not-Yet-Deported, said the United States is now a non-majoritarian democracy.

They note that our democracy is “undermined by a system that vastly overrepresents the interests of rural areas and small states. This leaves the large share of Americans in metropolitan areas with limited influence over national policy.” A key break they point out is with the Senate.

Even if a bipartisan group of Senators from the most populous states heeded the will of popular majorities to enact some elements of gun control (background checks or measures to prevent the mentally ill and those on no-fly lists from buying guns), they will lose if all 50 senators from the 25 smallest states voted for a bill and Vice President Pence cast his lot with them, senators representing just 16% of Americans could overrule those representing 84%.

“And this problem will only deepen. David Birdsell, a Baruch College political scientist, has calculated that by 2040, 70% of Americans will live in 15 states — and be represented by only 30 of the 100 senators,” Dionne noted.

The Senate, however, was never meant to be particularly representative. Fixing it structurally would likely require a Constitutional Convention. But we can still do something to address what Dionne called “the failure of our institutions to account for the movement to metropolitan areas is the culprit. In 1960, 63 percent of Americans lived in metros; by 2010, 84 percent did.”

As I mentioned in “No Taxation Without Representation,” we need to remove the cap on the number of representatives in Congress. Our 435 representatives is based on the population of the U.S. in 1911, and the cap was designed to support Prohibition and serve as a bulwark against all those immigrants from southern Europe.

Adding more members of Congress will make it harder for anyone to control – whether the Koch brothers, George Soros, or Vladimir Putin. It would also change the game of gerrymandering, making it harder to simply lump one party into the same district.

As we watch SCOTUS wrestle with this gerrymandering case, I can’t think of a better cocktail than the Ward Eight. According Gary Regan, in his book The Joy of Mixology, the cocktail was created at the Locke-Ober Café in Boston around 1898 to celebrate the victory of Martin Lomasney to the state legislature. Lomasney was known as the Czar of Ward Eight, who was well known for his methods of getting votes. This victory cocktail was created before the results were in.

The Ward Eight recipe taken from the Savoy Cocktail Book as I used it is:

1.5 oz rye (FEW rye with its Prohibition tie, also it’s really good, seemed appropriate)

.75 oz orange juice

.75 oz lemon juice

3 teaspoons grenadine

Shake over ice, strain into a cocktail glass

Cheers!

Incompetent v. Indifferent

Heart

As we approach 10 days after Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico as a major Category 4 storm, the federal response to the suffering of 3.5 million American citizens has been woefully inadequate.

The devastation is almost unimaginable, with the electrical grid gone across the whole island with no prospect of repairs for months to years, and nearly 2 million people without drinking water. During these 10 days, President Trump has spent two weekends at his golf resorts. The Washington Post reports the first weekend, a Lost Weekend, hampered efforts to provide relief for Puerto Rico.

This past week, Trump then blamed relief efforts on the fact that Puerto Rico is an island. “This is an island, surrounded by water. Big water. Ocean water,” Trump said.

This weekend, again from his golf course in New Jersey, Trump lashed out at Puerto Rican officials, particularly the mayor of San Juan, in a series of early morning tweets. Apparently her desperate pleas for help did not come with enough Hail to the Chief.

While some have called Maria Trump’s Katrina, CNN said it is much worse. I am not a fan of trying to refurbish the image of George W. Bush. However, Katrina showed the Bush Administration to not be very good at handling a crisis, but their incompetence did not suggest the level of uncaring we see today.

While the “big water” comment proves Trump is in search of a brain as much as Bush was, it would certainly help now if he at least had a heart. Since the wizard isn’t likely to bestow one on Trump any time soon, in the meantime we can drink a Have A Heart cocktail.

This classic from Dr. Cocktail Ted Haigh’s Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails book is:

1.5 oz gin

.75 oz Swedish Punsch

.75 oz lime juice

.25 oz grenadine

Cheers!

Flying Too Close to the Sun

Plane

Another of Trump’s best people has resigned from the Administration. This time it was HHS Secretary Tom Price after revelations that he chartered private flights costing taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars.

As Rep. Adam Schiff snarked on Twitter, “Tom Price committed the one unpardonable sin in Trump’s world: Being rich, but not rich enough to own his own private jet.”

Actually, Trump had threatened Price’s job in July during the overly political speech to the Boy Scouts, saying that if Price couldn’t get the Obamacare repeal bill passed he’d fire him. This past week saw the latest repeal bill fail. Shot down in flames if you will.

Price’s excessive private plane charters has also brought a great deal of scrutiny to the travel habits of others in the Administration as well, with new discoveries making headlines frequently the past few days. The latest case of misuse of taxpayer dollars being attributed to the Veterans Affairs Secretary earlier today.

Of course, Trump is yet again spending the weekend at one of his golf courses, raising the already astronomical security costs and stretching the Secret Service to dangerously thin levels. The cost of Trump versus Price is like comparing an Air Force One 747 versus a paper airplane, but it just proves Trump remains King of the Grifters.

Since the rest of us won’t even be left with a paper airplane at this rate when Trump is done, may as well have a Paper Plane cocktail as we send Tom Price into the wild blue yonder.

Via Kara Newman’s excellent book Shake. Stir. Sip. the Paper Plane is:

.75 oz Bourbon

.75 oz Aperol

.75 oz Amaro Nonino

.75 oz lemon juice

Shake over ice, strain into a chilled coupe glass.

Cheers!

Harvey Dumps on Trump’s Wall

Harvey

The remnants of Hurricane Harvey have left behind vast devastation in Texas and Louisiana and will dump heavy rains across additional regions of the U.S. for the next several days.

While those rains are set to spoil Labor Day weekend plans on the Jersey Shore, it is important to remember that the area that has been flooded in Texas is greater than the size of New Jersey. It is also important to remember that despite Texas Senator Ted Cruz’s leading the GOP on no votes on aid to Superstorm Sandy victims five years ago, the NJ Congressional delegation has committed to aid for Texas.

Hurricane Katrina’s devastation in 2005 cost $160 billion and, while it will be a while before we get officials figures, Harvey is expected to blow that away, perhaps approaching $200 billion.

The scope of the devastation, which continues to unfold as chemical plants are not reacting well to all that heat and water, is one that will impact Texas for years, and is already having an impact on Washington. As Congress prepares to get back to work next week, they will find Harvey has helped to change the dynamic.

Besides the fact that coverage of the floods has taken some of the spotlight away from Trump, his reaction to Harvey combined with Charlottesville and his lack of accomplishments seem to have left him diminished. And this time, it seems to be holding on.

One key effect of Harvey is likely to be on Trump’s border wall. Even though some Republicans in the House have called for using $1 billion of Harvey aid for the wall, most agree rebuilding in Texas will take precedence. Headlines like “Hurricane Harvey may have destroyed Trump’s Mexico wall before a single brick is laid,” in Quartz or “Hurricane Harvey Could Get Congress Out of Paying for Trump’s Border Wall,” in Mother Jones are painting a picture Trump doesn’t want to see.

Clearly, there is no better drink tonight than having a Harvey Wallbanger. It is absolutely the type of drink you could have gotten at the Balinese on the pier in Galveston in the mid 1970s when ZZ Top was singing about it.

Essentially a Screwdriver with a float of Galliano, you could even have one while watching Congress bang bricks out of Trump’s wall with each Harvey appropriation next week.

From Gary Regan’s The Joy of Mixology, the Harvey Wallbanger is:

2 oz vodka

3 oz orange juice

.25 to .5 oz Galliano

Build the vodka and orange juice in an ice-filled highball glass, stir, then float the Galliano on top.

Cheers!

Sun Stealer

Sun Stealer

During a brief window of time today, the vast majority of Americans will focus their attention on something other than Donald Trump. Never fear, though, Cheeto Mussolini has scheduled a nationally televised announcement about Afghanistan later to regain the spotlight.

The Total Solar Eclipse brings a wealth of metaphor today, from darkness spreading across the United States to my ISO-approved star-spangled solar eclipse glasses emblazoned with the logo American Eclipse 2017. The moon blotting out the sun is actually not the first time in the past seven months that Trump has not been the center of attention.

The brilliant Amy Siskind, who is chronicling all of the things that are changing under the Trump regime, has noted how the events in Charlottesville last week had sidelined Trump’s ability to control the headlines. Siskind tweeted:

“Starting Saturday in Charlottesville, for the first time in a long time, Trump lost the narrative. He is no longer driving the news cycle with his palace drama or North Korea or Venezuela or his random shiny coin for the day — the American people are driving the narrative. … This is not sustainable for him. … One of two things will happen next: he will continue to crumble under the weight of awakening by decent American people of what brought Trump into power (other than Russia). This is not our country. Or, he may throw a shinier coin — this prospect scares me — to distract again and take back the narrative.”

Of course, Trump tossed that shinier coin and stole back the narrative with his praise for the “very fine people” amongst the Nazis and white supremacists.

The onslaught of outrages from Trump is constantly eclipsing the previous offense. It has only been 13 days since Trump threatened North Korea with “fire and fury,” and 12 days since we learned that the FBI had raided the home of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort as part of Robert Mueller’s Russian election interference investigation.

As Trump heads to TV tonight in the wake of the eclipse, obscuring the planned Paul Ryan Town Hall meeting on CNN, it’s time for the very appropriate Sun Stealer cocktail. The only real question now is, how’s it going to end.

Via Kindred Cocktail, the Sun Stealer is:

2 oz gin

.75 oz Punt e Mes

.25 oz Creme de Cacao

.25 oz Fernet Branca

1 dash orange bitters

lemon twist as garnish

Stir over ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass, garnish.

Cheers!

Return of the 20th Century

20th

The past week has seen headlines dominated by the KKK, Nazis and the threat of nuclear annihilation. Who knew that #Winning and Making America Great Again meant replaying all the worst bits of the previous century?

The U.S. entered WWI exactly 100 years ago, adding a chronological element to the possibility of the end of the American Century I wrote about here and here. At yesterday’s press conference Trump defended Nazis with his “Both Sidesism” comments and false equivalencies between monuments to Founding Fathers George Washington and Thomas Jefferson with those of traitorous scum Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. Now other foreign leaders are speaking out and saying we must stand up to Nazis.

These Confederate statues themselves are primarily a part of the last century, and not from the more immediate post–Civil War days. The two big periods of monument construction in the early 1900s, at the time of Jim Crow laws and the formation of the KKK, and then again during the Civil Rights Movement were clearly a 20th Century phenomenon. Also, as the NY Times put it in an editorial, this is not just a Southern problem either:

“The president of the United States has unleashed a new generation of domestic terrorists. During the presidential campaign, and now from the seat of power in the White House, Mr. Trump’s talk of building a wall, his denigration of women, his ban on transgender soldiers and his circle of nationalist advisers embolden the very people who showed up in Charlottesville chanting, ‘Jews will not replace us.'”

These would be the “very fine people” Trump spoke of at the press conference that even the conservative Weekly Standard called a disgrace.

This hardly feels like the Shining City on a Hill that Ronald Reagan spoke of in his farewell address in January 1989.

Defeating Hitler was certainly one of those times when America stood as beacon to the world, so tell some Nazi punks to fuck off and have a Twentieth Century cocktail as we try to figure out how we’ll restore that vision when Trump is gone.

This classic via Ted Haigh in Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails is:

1.5 oz gin

.75 oz Cocchi Americano (or Lillet Blanc)

.5 oz creme de cacao

.75 oz lemon juice

Shake over ice, strain into a chilled cocktail glass, garnish with a lemon twist

Cheers!

Shall We Play A Game?

Nuke Daq

In the hierarchy of distractions, Global Thermonuclear War tends to work better than most. (Made you look!)

As many Americans deal with an anxiety that has largely been absent for some 30 years, Trump keeps ratcheting up the provocative language around nukes in North Korea. Despite his “locked and loaded” rhetoric, much of the world doesn’t really believe the U.S. is on the brink of war with North Korea, and China has warned Kim Jong Un that his country is on its own if it starts something with the U.S. (but will intervene if the U.S. strikes first).

This is a serious situation, as well as a reminder of just how much Donald Trump is unsuited and ill-equipped to be president. At the same time, this does seem designed to draw our attention, and gathering attention is something Trump is suited for as he’s spent so much of his life honing those skills.

We cannot dismiss this distraction because there is no evidence that Trump wouldn’t start a war to cover his tracks.

The Washington Post reminds us today that amid all of the craziness of the North Korean brinksmanship and thanking Vladimir Putin for expelling U.S. diplomats from Russia, Trump continues to use the presidency to enrich his family. While the Post is primarily talking about the Trump Hotel, there are seemingly a deep web of financial interests at play.

The team of prosecutors assembled by special counsel Robert Mueller is loaded with specialists on financial crimes. The revelation that former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort’s home was subject to a pre-dawn raid by the FBI serving a warrant for Mueller’s investigation suggests the vice is tightening.

Another interesting thread in the financial aspect came up today in a special report from Reuters detailing the ways in which Putin, via Russian state-owned energy firm Rosneft, is taking advantage of unrest in Venezuela to gain leverage over oil fields and access to U.S. markets (via CITGO) despite sanctions.

“Moscow has substantial leverage in the negotiations: Cash from Russia and Rosneft has been crucial in helping the financially strapped government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro avoid a sovereign debt default or a political coup. 

“Rosneft delivered Venezuela’s state-owned firm more than $1 billion in April alone in exchange for a promise of oil shipments later. On at least two occasions, the Venezuelan government has used Russian cash to avoid imminent defaults on payments to bondholders, a high-level PDVSA official told Reuters. 

“Rosneft has also positioned itself as a middleman in sales of Venezuelan oil to customers worldwide. Much of it ends up at refineries in the United States – despite U.S. sanctions against Russia – because it is sold through intermediaries such as oil trading firms, according to internal PDVSA trade reports seen by Reuters and a source at the firm.”

Republican Senators from several Gulf oil states are urging Trump to hold off on Venezuelan sanctions as they would send Maduro further into Russia’s arms, further harming U.S. energy interests.

How this plays out will be interesting to watch as there are a number of links to people in the Trump orbit. Of course there is Secretary of State and former Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson who has many connections to Rosneft. But there are also known targets of the Trump-Russia investigation with Rosneft ties, including Manafort and Carter Page. Adam Schiff, ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, outlined some of those ties back in March.

Without putting on the tinfoil hat, just some things to keep an eye out for while comfortable in the knowledge that Mueller’s team likely is all over this. So while we wait for things to blow up on one side or the other, enjoy the weekend with a Nuclear Daiquiri.

Via Cocktail Virgin, the Nuclear Daiquiri is:

3/4 oz Wray & Nephew Overproof Rum
3/4 oz Green Chartreuse
3/4 oz Lime Juice
1/3 oz Falernum (Velvet)

Shake with ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a lime wheel.

Cheers!