VICE (2013) s05e26 Episode Script

Divide and Conquer & Crackdown in Honduras

1 SHANE SMITH: This week on Vice: manipulating voting districts to win elections.
Gerrymandering is all designed for helping the politicians, but not the ordinary citizen.
GIANNA TOBONI: Do you think the makeup of the state legislature right now represents the North Carolina population as a whole? No, ma'am.
SMITH: And then, the crackdown of American gangs in Honduras.
We're going to a new, US-style penitentiary on the edge of town.
These guys have no idea how much their lives are about to change.
(THEME MUSIC PLAYING) YEUNG: Go, go, go! REFUGEE: We are not animals! The results of the 2016 presidential election reignited the debate over whether the electoral college system is truly democratic.
NEWSMAN: This is the fifth time a president has won without the popular vote.
Most notably, the last time was in 2000.
What does this say about the electoral college? But an even bigger question is being raised over how the actual voting power is distributed in American elections.
We've got to end the practice of drawing our congressional districts so that politicians can pick their voters, and not the other way around.
We've been drawing lines for political reasons all the way back to 1812.
It's a long American tradition, but I think it's wrong.
Gerrymandering, or the redrawing of voting districts in favor of one political party, has been accused of increasing partisanship in Congress, and the question of its constitutionality is now headed to the Supreme Court.
So we sent Gianna Toboni to ground zero for the gerrymandering debate: North Carolina.
(SNORTING) (WOMEN LAUGHING) WOMAN: Take a deep breath in.
(ALL BLEATING) (BLEATING) One more time, breathe in.
(ALL BLEATING) Nice, good job.
Go ahead, bring your hands to your knees.
Drop your chin to your chest.
Breathe in.
(QUIETLY) Welcome to Asheville Take a deep breath in - where yoga - Exhale.
is yoga with goats.
(BLEATING) I was surprised to learn that there was goat yoga with equal rights petitions and a lot of liberal people - Yeah.
- in such a conservative congressional district.
Yup.
Well, the thing about our district is it is kind of cut up a little bit.
- What do you mean, "cut up"? - Um, the way that they do our districts, Asheville would be a very progressive district if it weren't for the fact that they've kind of cut it right down the middle.
TOBONI: Congressional districts in the US are typically supposed to have similar populations, resemble a coherent geographic shape, and keep communities with similar interests together.
Of the 435 congressional districts in the US, North Carolina has 13.
In one of those districts, the city of Asheville's large liberal-leaning population made it competitive for a Democrat to win, until a 2011 redrawing divided the city's population into two otherwise conservative districts and permanently altered the political landscape.
Asheville mayor, Esther Manheimer, a Democrat, has seen the city's representation dramatically change over the last decade.
MANHEIMER: The political environment here is far outside of the average of North Carolina, I would say.
After the 2011 redistricting, how was Asheville affected? It was dramatically affected.
Asheville used to have a congressional district that took in all of Asheville and all of Western North Carolina, and it supported Congressman Heath Shuler, who was an excellent balance of what you get when you add Asheville to Western North Carolina, because Asheville's very liberal, but Western North Carolina tends to be more conservative.
And then with redistricting by the Republican state legislature, Asheville was split into two very conservative congressional districts where there's no question these districts don't represent where Asheville is on the political spectrum.
TOBONI: By splitting the city into two districts, Asheville's liberal population was absorbed by two other, more populated, conservative districts.
So, what happened to the influence of voters in Asheville? They feel that their voice has been eradicated by gerrymandering.
TOBONI: Gerrymandering, or the manipulation of district voting maps for the advantage of one political party, helped ensure that moderate Democrat Heath Shuler would be replaced by one of the most far-right Republicans in office today, Mark Meadows.
2012 is the time that we're gonna send Mr.
Obama home to Kenya or wherever it is.
We're gonna do it.
We caught up with Heath in his former district.
Here's the city, and it once was all the 11th District.
And now, Democratic-leaning precincts, which essentially took in the whole city of Asheville, are now in the 10th district.
TOBONI: Redistricting in North Carolina is done by state legislators from the party in power of the state House, in this case, the Republicans.
When they were drawing the lines, people were calling me, "Would you like to have this precinct? If you'll give up this precinct?" I'm like, "That's not the way this should work.
" It's not fair to the community.
Let's draw these lines the way they should be drawn, based upon fairness.
Stop the gerrymandering.
TOBONI: The practice goes back to 1812 when Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry's Democratic-Republican Party engineered district lines to help his own party make gains in the state senate.
A cartoonist satirized Gerry's voting district as looking like a salamander, and the term "gerrymander" was coined.
Since then, voting districts have been drawn much more precisely.
After 2010, Republican state legislators took over the redrawing process and have since been able to make ten of the state's 13 congressional seats safely conservative, despite there being more registered Democrats than Republicans.
This GOP success in North Carolina was actually part of a broader and highly effective national strategy called REDMAP.
We spoke to its architect, Chris Jankowski.
So, you were the mastermind behind, I think, what will be known as historic in the great 2011 gerrymandering, which is still, in many ways, dictating politics in our country.
How did you decide to pursue that? Well, it really started after '08 and Obama's historic win, where he really shifted a number of political dynamics in the country.
And so, as Republicans, we were looking at, "Okay, what's the path back?" And one of it was, obviously, how do we get control of the US House of Representatives? What is REDMAP? REDMAP is a strategic plan to pool money, on the national level, and invest it into the key state legislative races, where there was gonna be a redrawing of congressional lines, based on the census data, and focusing on the states that were either gonna lose a congressional seat or gain a congressional seat to have maximum impact.
The direct results of the REDMAP project on the state legislative level was to put Republicans at the table to draw the lines.
People ask me about REDMAP, and, "Wasn't it so unfair, what you did?" And I say, well, we took the rules that applied, we told them what we were gonna do, and we did it.
And we did it in a year that was, obviously, historic in itself.
TOBONI: Since REDMAP, Democrats have lost more than 900 state legislature seats across the country.
These state House wins have given Republicans unprecedented map-making power.
Voting rights scholar and lawyer, Nick Stephanopoulos, showed us one of the modern tools legislators can use to redraw districts.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So, this is Maptitude for redistricting.
Maptitude will give you information about the populations of all of the districts that you're constructing.
That would let you forecast how different districts would perform under different configurations in future elections.
The city of Asheville, for example, is split in two, because if it were kept whole, it might have been enough for a Democratic congressional district.
So, what are you doing right now? I've told Maptitude that I want to add counties to District 11, and I want them to come from District 10.
You highlight as many of them as you want to assign, click the "assign" button, and all of a sudden those counties will now be in the district you put them in, and they will no longer be in the old district.
As you can see, all of a sudden, District 11 just swallowed up two-thirds of District 10.
- In 30 seconds.
- Exactly.
No Democrats are gonna be winning those districts.
- It's like a computer game.
- It's a fairly easy computer game.
TOBONI: And the two main strategies to win that game, and state elections, are called cracking and packing.
Partisan gerrymandering always takes place through these two techniques of cracking and packing.
"Cracking" refers to dispersing the other side's voters across a relatively large number of districts.
And "packing" refers to over-concentrating the other side's voters in a few districts where their preferred candidates consistently win by enormous margins.
So, just to be clear, this process is legal, and it's necessary across the country.
So, what's the problem? It's necessary because we need to make sure the districts have the same populations, but there is, effectively, no legal limit whatsoever to how extreme their partisan gerrymandering can be.
TOBONI: And some of the most extreme examples can be found in urban areas, which tend to have dense liberal populations.
To see the effects of cracking, we went to North Carolina A&T State University.
North Carolina A& is a historically black college and university.
There are about 10,000 students here.
So, if you take 10,000 students, um, that's definitely enough, especially in a smaller, congressional election, to swing a vote - one way or the other.
- For sure.
A&T was actually split into two different districts.
Right now, we're in Congressional District 13.
- Okay.
- Um, this street is Laurel Street, and this is the street that divides the campus, um, for voting purposes.
Their vote is now cracked.
So that building right there is a different congressional district - than where we're standing? - Yes.
- Fifty feet away? - Right.
So now that vote has been divided exactly in half 5,000 students.
Still significant, but when you put this campus in the broader map of the district, it's a much smaller, much weaker vote.
TOBONI: So, while cracking is used to break up votes, packing clusters voters of one party together.
We saw how Republican legislators applied this technique to smaller state House races.
Thank you, Bright Hopewell, for this opportunity, once again.
Another Sunday morning to come and stand before you.
TOBONI: Republican mapmakers packed thousands of new minority voters into state House Democrat Garland Pierce's district, a move that pulled minority voters out of other races that they would have had more influence in.
- So, what's this here? - This is House District 48.
- In the yellow? - In the yellow.
And, like I said, it starts this is all the way to Greensboro, North Carolina, 220.
And this is the furthest point in the south, which is Fairmont and Lumberton.
TOBONI: Representative Pierce's district now weaves in and out of four counties, across a hundred miles in the southern part of the state.
So, why is the district shaped like this? To stack and pack minorities.
Do you think that the makeup of the state legislature right now represents the North Carolina population as a whole? No, ma'am.
No, ma'am.
A neighborhood should never be split.
Precincts should never be split.
They used the power of the pen to really, uh, put themselves in a position to lead for a while.
TOBONI: That effort has now led to Republicans occupying 64 percent of the state Assembly seats, despite there being more registered Democrats than Republicans in the state.
This isn't just happening in North Carolina.
The GOP went from controlling 14 state legislatures in 2010, to 32 this year.
And as districts have been redrawn over that same time, maps that once contained blue are consistently turning red.
With congressional approval ratings at historic lows, there's now bipartisan support for the termination of gerrymandering.
This is a very, uh, dynamic office you have here.
Well, this is the Predator that I fought.
See, when you're a real stud like me, then you fight the Predator with your bare hands and wipe them out.
Then here, the Terminator, traveling through time.
Of course, if I could do this in real life, I would travel back to 1812 and wipe out gerrymandering.
In the movies it would be easy, because you just would, you know, go into the room where they draw the maps and, um, blow up the room, throw everyone out of the room, burn the maps, and then have honest people draw the district lines.
Gerrymandering sucks because it's all designed for helping the politicians, but not the ordinary citizen.
Do you think that voters know that their voter influence, is, in some cases, being taken away, or that their votes are being manipulated? Because it's a very complicated issue, it's very hard to, kind of It's not the sexy issue that people can jump on and get involved with.
So, uh, only recently it has now come out, because there's such a lack of performance in Congress.
There's such a low approval rating that people are saying, "Wait a minute.
We've got to do something about it.
" When you first took office as governor of California, how bad was the gerrymandering here? It was like Republicans were all locked into one district, and Democrats were all locked into one district, so the Republicans had to be as far to the right as possible in order to win.
The Democrats had to be as far as possible to the left.
So how do you get them together to agree to something, or to at least compromise to get something done? I remember, before we did the redistricting reform, in California, we had 265 congressional elections, and only one, in ten years, changed party hands.
Only one.
Think about that.
We, in California, went all out and declared war on gerrymandering, and we have done away with it.
But it's not going to ever be perfect unless you literally take it away from the legislators altogether.
That's the ideal thing, is to take it away from them and to have ordinary folks create a commission that has no interest in the party.
And the key thing now is for the Supreme Court to really understand the complexity of the issue.
TOBONI: Until now, the Supreme Court didn't have a way to mathematically determine the extent to which a district had been gerrymandered by party.
But Nick Stephanopoulos may have a solution.
You created a statistical measurement called the efficiency gap.
What is that? So, the efficiency gap is meant to be a measure of the extent of partisan advantage.
The key here is to realize that both cracking and packing produce what political scientists call "wasted votes.
" So it will tell you, in a single number, the direction and the magnitude of a plan's partisan skew.
TOBONI: In October, the Supreme Court will hear arguments for a case about Wisconsin state Assembly districts that could open the door for the efficiency gap to be used across the country.
A new precedent set in this case could also affect the balance of power in Washington, D.
C.
If they do that, that's still a subjective standard, and you can be assured that there will just be more lawyers and lawsuits challenging these lines.
Do you have any regrets for something that you helped to create? No.
I just don't.
I did it because I actually think that putting Republicans in charge of state government is a good thing.
Do I like polarization? No.
Would I like compromise? Um, depends.
But I don't feel bad at all about giving my party an advantage.
Because I believe, ultimately, in what we're trying to do.
And it looks like the Democrats, they're gonna do it, themselves.
So, it there's become and arms race quality to it.
Which I don't like, but I don't we don't tend to lose.
Twenty years ago, American law enforcement came up with a novel solution to the gang violence surging in immigrant communities in Los Angeles: deport the gangsters back to where they've come from.
But that created a new problem, because returning criminals from the notorious MS-13 and 18th Street gangs, began regrouping in their home countries.
And they got even stronger.
Now, nowhere was the problem worse than Honduras, which, as a result, has become one of the murder capitals of the world.
But recently, the situation has begun to change and crime is actually starting to decrease.
So we sent Vikram Ghandi to find out why.
(SIRENS WAILING) We're right now in Tegucigalpa, riding around with the FUSINA, which is a newly built initiative from the president, a military task force that is patrolling cities around this country to clean up gang violence and drug trafficking.
(SIRENS WAIL) (IN SPANISH) GANDHI: The FUSINA is a national security force that combines military and police personnel.
So far, they've arrested 6,000 gang suspects and seized more than 9,000 illegal firearms.
GANDHI: Over the course of a single week, they execute hundreds of raids and traffic checkpoints, and thousands of random searches, which authorities believe has been essential in helping reduce homicides by more than 30 percent in the last few years.
These units have their eyes on two targets: the 18th Street Gang, and the infamous MS-13.
Both of these groups were actually founded in the US by young Central American immigrants wreaking havoc across Los Angeles in the early '90s.
Because so many gang members were undocumented, American authorities began deporting convicted gang members en masse.
Tens of thousands of these seasoned gangsters ended up back in their home countries, where they reformed their ranks and began to thrive under weak governments profoundly ill-equipped to handle them.
(SPANISH RAP SONG PLAYS) Today, their operations in Central America are so violent that Attorney General Jeff Sessions has said, MS-13 could qualify as a terror organization, putting them in the same class as Al-Qaeda and ISIS.
MS-13's motto is, "kill, rape, and control.
" That's their motto.
GANDHI: Oscar Alvarez Guerrero served as the minister of public security, and saw the rise of these American gangs in Honduras.
When they came from US, they were the heroes.
This guy who left, and five years later came back a different guy.
And they want to be like him.
"I want to have these pants, I want these tattoos.
I want la Vida loca.
" (SPANISH RAP SONG PLAYS) What do they do now? They are kidnapping, extortion, drug trafficking, human trafficking.
They have infiltrated police.
These hardcore gang members are killing machines.
(WOMEN SOBBING) GANDHI: Here in Honduras, the gangs don't only target each other.
Near the height of the violence, almost 500 Honduran civilians were being killed each month.
In our first trip, no matter who we spoke with, the response was the same: that gangs were making the country unlivable.
GANDHI: Record numbers of Hondurans began fleeing from the relentless violence, making their way north, through Mexico, to the United States.
But what was most shocking, was that for all the bloodshed and misery they've caused, life for the criminals themselves was relatively easy, even when they wound up behind bars.
(SPANISH RAP SONG PLAYS) It's like a party in here.
They're selling snacks, you can play pool.
There's girls in here.
How is this a prison? I don't understand it.
GANDHI: From right inside the prison, gang leaders can still do what they want: Give orders to subordinates, get visits from their girlfriends, and smuggle cell phones, drugs, and guns.
Security and regulations were so lax, that prisoners ran full-scale businesses where they could make goods and sell them for profit.
This is a shoe factory inside of this prison.
It's basically like a working city.
I've never seen anything like it.
What It says "PUMA"! As long as you weren't on a gang's hit list, life in the prison wasn't much of a hardship at all.
GANDHI: But now, under President Juan Orlando Hernandez, things are starting to change.
GANDHI: His plan is to drastically reform the prison system and put the teeth back into the threat of incarceration.
Ilama Penitentiary is the first in a new wave of US-style maximum security prisons, where guards can closely monitor the inmates' movements and communication.
But Ilama is more than a lockup.
It's a message to lawbreakers.
Authorities allowed us to go along with them as they conducted a wave of transfers from the older prison to the new supermax facility.
(PRISONERS CLAMORING) GANDHI: Tensions are high right now.
These guys have no idea how much their lives are about to change.
Okay, that's your first guy.
We were able to ride with the lower-security prisoners as they were transported by bus.
The high-asset violent offenders travel by reinforced personnel carriers.
We're going to a new, US-style penitentiary on the edge of town.
(SIRENS WAIL) Hey, Gabacho.
We're about to go into the maximum security wing of this new prison.
Soon, all of the hard criminals will be transported here, but right now, there are about 60 guys who are some of the worst of the worst.
These inmates had been placed a few months earlier, and President Hernandez gave us special permission to interview the locked-up gang members.
(CLAMORING) Tell me about the new conditions in this new prison for you.
Are they better or worse than they used to be? GANDHI: While inside, we were given the rare opportunity to meet with two of the 18th Street Gang's most powerful leaders, convicted of weapons and extortion charges.
They'd originally been housed in the prison went to on our first visit.
But now they were feeling the weight of incarceration in a whole new way.
GANDHI: Now with a large number of the gangs' leadership behind bars, and crime in Honduras dropping each year, the authorities here in Honduras believe that their efforts in police and prison reform are really working.
Much of this success is dependent on Honduras's relationship with the United States, which, during the Obama administration, provided hundreds of millions of dollars in police and military aid, raising the question of what will happen with US policy moving forward.
And we will build the wall as sure as you are standing there tonight.
We need the wall.
GANDHI: The bulk of the new administration's plan to disrupt gangs like MS-13, is to build a wall on the southern border, which would cost about 70 billion dollars.
But President Hernandez believes it's more effective and more affordable to attack the problem at its source.
If there was a suggestion of not continuing the aid here, what would your explanation of saying why it's important for the US to continue that aid?