Fair Districts PA Coalition Making Our Vote Count

The Philadelphia Jewish Voice, the League of Women Voters and other organizations across the state announced the formation of a new coalition called Fair Districts PA. The coalition’s purpose is to advocate for reform of Pennsylvania’s redistricting rules to make the process of drawing electoral districts impartial, transparent, and accountable.

Pennsylvania's current redistricting plan is on the left. A hypothetical plan with compact districts is above on the right.

Pennsylvania’s current redistricting plan is on the left. A hypothetical plan with compact districts is above on the right.

Congressional and state legislative electoral maps are redrawn every ten years following the national census. In Pennsylvania, the process of drawing those maps is controlled almost entirely by state legislators, a conflict of interest that puts politicians in charge and takes away the rights of voters.

Some states, most notably Arizona and California, have reformed the process by establishing impartial citizen commissions and clear standards for how districts are to be drawn. The results have shown increased voter engagement and more competitive elections.

Fair District PA’s priorities include:

  • Assigning the redistricting power to an independent commission, of which neither the commissioners, nor members of their immediate families, may be government or political party officials.
  • Ensuring the transparency of the process and meaningful opportunities for public participation.
  • Establishing verifiable statistical standards for a fair election process.

[Read more…]

Overcooking California’s election process

That Uncle Leo from “Seinfeld” once accused a cook at Monk’s of anti-Semitism because he overcooked a hamburger. Imagine how he would characterize California’s new election system, which by chance or conspiracy has caused Jewish Angelenos unspeakable horrors.

…With apologies to the late, great actor Len Lesser who portrayed Uncle Leo and lived near Los Angeles.

Poor Jewish Angelenos.

California’s new “top-two” primary must be an anti-Semitic plot. Uncle Leo of “Seinfeld” would conclude nothing less, especially since an Austrian-born governor signed off on it. Recall that Uncle Leo once accused a cook of anti-Semitism for overcooking a hamburger.
The state’s first “top-two” primary should be its last. It produced two general election contests that must be torture for every voter who lives in the newly-drawn 30th and 33rd congressional districts – where the vast majority of Jewish Angelenos live. Many a righteous gentile is suffering along with them.

Two veteran Jewish Democratic representatives – Howard Berman and Brad Sherman – are fighting (now, almost literally) for much of the San Fermando Valley, the 30th, because their districts are being merged. Democrat Henry Waxman, by all accounts a highly respected representative, faces a Republican-turned-independent who will not give straight answers on domestic issues. Both Waxman and his rival, Bill Bloomfield, are Jewish.

More after the jump.
I swiftly came to envy Jewish Angelenos during a much-too-brief visit to L.A. last December. Loved the beaches, appreciated the courtesy of most Angelenos and enjoyed the vitality.

Now a plague has fallen over the landscape that is almost as disastrous as a….okay, so it is not quite so horrid as a 7.5-scale earthquake.

Both the Waxman and Berman-Sherman elections exemplify why the “top-two” primary was, is and will be a bad idea.
Had the designers of this plan surveyed past elections, they would have learned that fewer voters turn out in primaries than general elections. Put another way: Who doesn’t know that primary turnout is much lower than general election turnout? That means fewer people determine the line-up.

The intention of the new process is laudatory. The “top-two” primary is intended to dilute partisan influence. The system allows candidates of all stripes – Democrat, Republican, third party or independent – to run in a single open primary in congressional elections and other contests. The two candidates with the greatest number of votes will face off in the general election.

It opens the door for independent candidates, but the results of the first primary last June 5 were underwhelming. Four independents broke through, but three eked out low numbers allowing them to face incumbents who each won large majorities (two Democrats and a Republican).

The exception is Henry Waxman. He has won every election since 1975 with a minimum of 60 percent of the vote, yet he emerged from the primary with 45 percent. He faces an independent who calls Congress “hyper-partisan.”
Whether Waxman is “hyper-partisan” is open to question, but he is no doubt accomplished. He is the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, passed major anti-pollution legislation and helped initiate early versions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Health-care reform would hardly be a personal priority for his constituents in Malibu, Beverly Hills and other ultra-wealthy communities. Redistricting removed 45 percent of his constituents, mostly on L.A.’s west side, and added expensive coastal real estate south of Los Angeles International Airport, a.k.a. LAX.

I watched Waxman chair a committee meeting in 2008 on complicated financial matters, yet after awhile it was clear that the Bush administration was vulnerable to criminal prosecution. It takes an intelligent, diligent worker bee to accomplish that much.

Bloomfield is running as an independent who previously contributed $285,000 to Republicans. His stated reason for running: “You’ve got people in Congress who basically think that their job is to politick 24/7. The hyper-partisanship is causing the gridlock.”

How does Waxman contribute to that concern? In a Jewish Journal article, Bloomfield makes no case and Waxman’s record, in fact, suggests otherwise.

The Journal piece describes Bloomfield as having “avoided picking sides on a number of issues that have divided Congress” and lamented passage of health-reform without support from any Republicans, but refused to say how he would have voted.

We need independents because Congress and other political offices need average citizens with lots of fresh ideas who are not held back by partisan influence. One would think Bloomfield is full of new attitudes and reflects the perspective of people who lack a political home.

Jews in the Valley have been compelled to endure an election contest between Berman and Sherman not once but twice. They were the main players during the primary and now they are engaged in what amounts to a rematch.
As Democrats with similar liberal voting records, these guys have as much in common politically as any pair of contestants. Incredibly, $11 million has been spent on this election, which The Los Angeles Times described as one of the nation’s most expensive.

It almost turned into a literal slugfest earlier during a debate this month when Sherman disputed Berman’s lead sponsorship of the Dream Act, an immigration reform bill, and Berman called his rival “delusional.” Berman appeared to approach Sherman, who yelled, “Don’t you dare stand up here in the west San Fernando Valley and get in my face! Get away from me!”

As the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported, Sherman put his arm around Berman and said, “You want to get into this? You want to put your face in mine?”

Sherman is 57 and Bermain is 71. This incident occurred in Woodland Hills, which The Jewish Journal tagged as the most populous Jewish community in Los Angeles. A sheriff separated them.

The general-election line-up was determined by a minority of voters because of low turnout during primaries. General election voters could respond to their choice with anger and confusion.

It is too late to relieve the current suffering of our California brethren, but a repeat can be avoided. Revert to closed primaries and establish a ranked preference process in the general election known as Instant Runoff Voting.
On its Web site, the Center for Voting and Democracy describes how Instant Runoff Voting would work: “IRV allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference. Voters have the option to rank as many or as few candidates as they wish, but can vote without fear that ranking less favored candidates will harm the chances of their more preferred candidates.

“First choices are then tabulated, and if a candidate receives a majority of first choices, he or she is elected. If nobody has a clear majority of votes on the first count, a series of runoffs are simulated, using each voter’s preferences indicated on the ballot. The weakest candidates are successively eliminated and their voters’ ballots are redistributed to next choices until a candidate earns a majority of votes.”

Time for Sacramento to cease overcooking elections. Let my people (and all righteous gentiles) vote…in an election process that makes sense.

A Bolder Career Move for George Clooney

I have a wonderful ideal for that intrepid scion of Liberal America, George Clooney. His newest endeavor, soliciting Obama contributions from rich folks in Switzerland, is a waste of his talent.  He should listen to his Jewish Mother, meaning myself, and marshal his bountiful charms and irresistible punim for a more lofty goal. That is, saving California. The Left Coast is the ancestral homeland of his tribe, and if they don’t watch it, they may be wandering in the desert.

More after the jump.
As the exalted Governor Jerry Brown will soon find out, there is just so many ways to squeeze the tax base, until they slip on their Birkenstocks and run. The upper tier of this base knows how to protect themselves. Oprah Winfrey, no slouch in business, wisely avoids paying California residency taxes. Who would have thought she could be so, dare I say, Right thinking? So far, no one has complained that she doesn’t give  her “fair share.” Ms. Winfrey is a rich Democrat, so she is immune to criticism. Only rich Republicans face media ire.

Lacking assistants, the most endangered of California’s species is middle class. Their only option is to sell their home, a Herculean feat nowadays, or simply evacuate via “jingle mail,” for more hospitable climates, Jingle mail is a well known practice in the states most profoundly hit with the decimation of housing prices, such as Nevada, Arizona  and Florida. It refers to homeowners giving up on underwater mortgages and sending their keys to the bank, hence the term, “jingle mail.” Some emigrated to more hospitable job climates, like Texas, with an unemployment rate of 6.9% and Utah, with a rate of 6% .  I suppose the heartier jingle mailers could have opted for North Dakota, 3%, or South Dakota 4.3%.

Where is the EPA on this endangered species? Perhaps they were occupied with trying to save a tiny fish, the two inch Delta smelt. This smelt emergency resulted in turning off the sprinkler that irrigates the farms of the Central Valley,  The sturdy farmers were no match for the Leftist EPA and many went belly up for lack of water. Not one movie star protested the farmer’s plight. Clooney and company could have done a telethon at least.

California has elected itself the Kingdom of all Environmental Loonies, and they have paid dearly for it. Environmentalists gone wild destroy the business climate with burdensome regulations. California has an unemployment rate of 10.3%, which is over the national rate of 8.3%.  Add this misery to has some of the highest local state taxes in the country and generous  public employee pensions. These pensions are unfunded by due to shrinking tax base and flight of business. Now the Golden State is significantly tarnished by three municipal bankruptcies. The cities of Stockton, Mammoth Lakes and San Bernardino have all filed for bankruptcy protection.

As shocking and stupendous as the Stockton bankruptcy was, San Bernardino’s bankruptcy is a personal tragedy for me, since I had family there at one time. In fact, my first jet trip at age 14 was to see my Uncle Wayne and Aunt Mary Kay in San Bernardino. Like most of the greatest generation, they believed that the American way was to work hard and save your money. They have long departed this earth, but I wonder what they would have made of the current state of affairs. The majority of the middle class born during the 50’s and 60’s were raised on the ideals of hard work and thrift. This along with the twin ideal  of Personal Responsibility has lamentably vanished the from our national conversation.

What used to be termed the Golden State has veered so far to the left, it is in danger of causing the St Andreas fault to crack open and dump the lot of it into the Pacific ocean. If conventional wisdom is correct, and what starts in California spreads to the rest of the country, I would counsel all to get to the nearest lifeboat.  

Our Western Titanic if about to sink.  California faces an annual deficit of at least $20 Billion, scheduled right through 2016,  according to the Wall Street Journal. The reasons for this are myriad and too complex to do service to here.  A glaring fault lies with its aggressive Environmentalist lobby, which aims to cut greenhouse emissions back to 1990 levels and mandates another cut of 80% by 2050. This ignores the jobs that come with fossil fuel as evidenced by the admirable 3% unemployment rate of North Dakota. It also ignores the advances of technology, which have been instrumental in extracting fossil fuel safely. Perhaps China should follow our technology, since their old fashioned coal plants not only kill miners, but produce polluted air that will drift westward., no matter what California mandates. Placing all bets on man-made Global warming without a care to protect the economy of the human species is just plain bad policy.

California is about $500 billion in the hole to another Liberal God, Public employee pensions. Even the benign dictator Franklin Roosevelt knew this was a conflict of interest. I don’t have a pension., and I flatly refuse to pay for someone else’s.

California has also become a de facto colony of Mexico. Our Amigos lost the state during the Mexican American war in 1845, but in 2012, the Mexicans are winning the peace.  I suggest the Left Coast follow Arizona’s lead and saying “No Mas”, or maybe shake Mexico down  for the feeding and medical service to it’s citizens. In fact, charge them double for using our schools and hospitals, since they are worth double in value. Stop this nonsense of bilingual education, and stop pressing three for Spanish. What do the poor Koreans think when they hear this press three for Spanish? Probably nothing, because they are busy with three jobs, going to church,  and getting rich.

If we press three for anything, it ought to be for common sense. Businesses like Apple are stampeding from the State and Venture Capital has slowed to a trickle. California’s credit is so bad that its credit default swap is on par with Kazakhstan.

For those of you who don’t know what a credit default swap is, I can explain is simple English. It is a financial vehicle that insures against default on bonds and other loans. So, if you can wrap your mind around this concept, the Golden State, with its movie stars, mega mansions and Porches and Mercedes rushing to Rodeo Drive has more in common with an inhospitable Asian country peopled by goats, tribal chieftains and women who know their place.

Feel-Good Liberal creed is what got California into this mess. Something else has to charge to the rescue. How about we quit talking about Fairness and Social Justice? These phrases are code for taking my money along with my Korean friend’s money and giving it to serial Welfare seekers and services for illegal immigrants, because that is “fair.” If the Federal government deems it necessary to bailout California, then those folks living in row houses in Youngstown, Ohio will be bailing out folks who own beach houses in Malibu. That is what I call the epitome of unfair.

So, George Clooney, Sarah Jessica Parker, Anna Wintour, Oprah Winfrey and the rest of the in-crowd should fuel up their private jets and go from state to state or overseas to collect for California. This is what patriotic movie stars did in World War II, It  could work  again. Barack Obama is running a surplus and can fend for himself. His jet setting disciples, insulting the ticket buying public, run the risk of  backlash by We the People.  George, not all Americans are in love with Mr. Obama. Do your career a favor and stop shilling for him. This is still a center-right country. Ignore us at your own peril.  

Mitt’s Man Cave, Bat Cave, or Underground Bunker? Your call.

In May 2008, Mitt Romney bought the fifth of his six homes for $12,000,000. This beachfront home at 311 Dunemere Drive in La Jolla, California features its own “sandy beach, a quiet cul-de-sac location, spacious oceanfront deck, numerous patio areas with manicured lawns and mature landscaping.”

The Wall Street Journal now reports that Romney up-grading his beach house, more than doubling its size giving him an additional 3,600 square feet of space underground.

Tony Crisafi, one of the project’s architects, declined to comment on Mr. Romney’s motivations but says that these days, most of his clients want to be discreet about the scale of their home, and one way to do that is “by pushing things underground.”

So what do you think Mitt is planning to build underground? His own “man cave”? A “bat cave” with hi-tech superhero equipment? An Olympic swimming pool? An underground bunker to use as a West Coast version of Camp David? Your guess is as good as mine!

Profiles in Absurdity


Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-FL) escorts Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) into the House of Representatives for the 2012 State of the Union

Part 3 of American Vision by Bruce Ticker

You are the most vile, unprofessional and despicable member of the U.S. House of Representatives
— Allen West’s belated Valentine’s Day message to colleague Debbie Wasserman-Schultz

To revive the economy, a majority of the House slashed  $126 million during February 2011 from the National Weather Service, the agency which operates the Pacific Tsunami Warming Center in Hawaii, which in turn issued warnings minutes after the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan.

“The nation is in an historic fiscal crisis, and it is imperative that the Congress roll back spending in virtually every area — including NOAA — so that we can help our economy (get) back on track,” explained Jennifer Hing, GOP congressional spokeswoman

Tea partiers ignored safety concerns when they eliminated $61 billion in expenses. The House passed a bill slashing $61 billion, but the Democratic-controlled Senate disregarded the legislation.

More after the jump.
A union representative, quoted by the Associated Press, said the proposal could lead to furloughs and rolling closures of weather service offices, which might in turn impair the center’s ability to issue warnings comparable to those issued on March 11. “People could die,” said Barry Hirshorn, Pacific region chairman of the National Weather Service Employees Organization.

The weather service cuts were part of $454 million in reductions for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Hawaii’s congressional delegation, all Democrats, asserted the need for the warning system, AP reported. “This disaster displays the need to keep the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center fully funded and operational,” said Sen. Daniel Inouye, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. “I hope my Republican colleagues in the House are now aware that there was a horrific earthquake and tsunami in the Pacific.”

Hing, spokeswoman for the House Appropriations Committee, insisted that House members understand that critical lifesaving and safety programs are maintained, according to AP. She said funds for a network of buoys to detect tsunamis in the Pacific Ocean will be retained.
It would be devastating if Hawaii and California were struck by a tsunami without an opportunity to minimize the damage. Hawaii is a tourist mecca and California is our most populous state, home of countless, innovative industries.

One would think the Republicans are anxious to preserve that part of our economy.


Our system has produced many members of the House and Senate who have done well, and there have been times they disgraced their office. A few samples of the latter, mainly Republicans:  

John A. Boehner infused three odious attitudes into this Feb. 15, 2011, sound bite:

Over the last two years, since President Obama has taken office, the federal government has added 200,000 new federal jobs. And if some of those jobs are lost in this, so be it. We’re broke.

Boehner, Speaker of the House then, was accused of lying about those 200,000 jobs and shed no tears — his specialty, remember? — over lost jobs, but what’s really incredulous is his claim that “we’re broke.” He broke the national bank, along with most of his cronies in Congress and the former Bush administration. They could have saved programs under the “human services” label by raising taxes on the wealthy.

Thank the filibuster and the Senate’s composition. The Democratic majority in December 2011 sought to restore higher tax rates for couples earning more than $250,000 yearly, but the filibuster process blocked it.

George W. Bush entered the White House with a comfortable surplus and produced a colossal deficit. In between, the United States invaded Afghanistan and Iraq and slashed taxes for the wealthy.

Our military forces exited Iraq at the end of 2011 and, at this writing, we are stuck in Afghanistan. In December 2010, Democrats in Congress sought to revive higher tax rates for the wealthy, but Senate Republicans filibustered their way to maintain the lower tax rates.

Boehner never complained. He must share the blame now that “we’re broke.” So be it.

Elsewhere on Capitol Hill, Sen. John McCain reminded Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius at a committee hearing that his governor sent her a request to waive Medicaid requirements to save $541 million in annual state expenses. This exchange was broadcast on C-span.

In March 2010, when Obama signed the watered-down Affordable Care Act into law. McCain did his part in quashing any chance for creation of a publicly-funded health-care system.

On Jan. 19, 2011, 242 Republicans and three Democrats in the House passed the “Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law.” Arizona’s Republican House members who voted for it were Jeff Flake, Trent Franks, Paul R. Gosar, Benjamin “son of Dan” Quayle and David Schweikert, while Arizona Democrats Ed Pastor and Raul M. Grijalva voted against the bill. Of course, Democrat Gabrielle Giffords was hospitalized after surviving the Jan. 8 assassination attempt.

Arizona was among 26 states challenging the health-care law in court. One federal judge even ruled the entire law to be unconstitutional. However, these challenges were expected to be decided by the Supreme Court.

At the same time, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer faced a cash-flow nightmare. Collectively, many states were contending with a budget gap estimated at $125 billion. Brewer wanted to make up for almost half the state’s deficit by dumping 280,000 Arizonans from Medicaid coverage.

She sent a letter to Sebelius asking for a waiver in the new health-care law that requires the states to retain eligibility levels if they want to receive federal Medicaid money, according to The New York Times; other governors in both parties planned to follow suit. She wrote:

Please know that I understand fully the impacts of this rollback, and it is with a heavy heart that I make this request. However, I am left no other viable alternative.

Brewer wanted to unload 250,000 childless adults and 30,000 parents from Medicaid who were allowed eligibility as the result of a 2000 referendum. It was funded from cigarette levies and a tobacco lawsuit until 2004, when the general fund took up the slack, according to the Times.

Here was my recommended response from Sebelius, the mild-language version:

Jan, you talk about a heavy heart. You and your pals in Congress have hardened my heart. Democratic governors will get serious consideration for a waiver, but not any of you knotheads from Austin, Atlanta, Tallahassee or your beloved Phoenix. You might not have this problem if your cohorts in Congress had not obstructed a serious initiative to reform our health-care system. As my Democratic friends from the Bronx would say, waiver this! And give my best regards to Sen. McCain.

Rep. Allen B. West, a Republican, revealed serious mental-health issues when he sent Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz a nasty personal note after she attacked his defense of a bill to reduce Medicare and other domestic spending on July 19, 2011. (Okay, so I’m not licensed to make m-h diagnoses; you judge).

The Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel reported that Schultz, a Democrat, took to the House floor and said:

The gentleman from Florida, who represents thousands of Medicare beneficiaries, as do I, is supportive of this plan that would increase costs for Medicare beneficiaries — unbelievable from a member from south Florida.

West left the chamber immediately after his own speech, prompting Schultz’s rebuttal on the floor. He subsequently fired off this memo to Schultz and House leaders:

Look, Debbie, I understand that after I departed the House floor you directed your floor speech comments directly towards me. Let me make myself perfectly clear, you want a personal fight, I am happy to oblige. You are the most vile, unprofessional and despicable member of the U.S. House of Representatives. If you have something to say to me, stop being a coward and say it to my face, otherwise, shut the heck up. Focus on your own congressional district!

Actually, West focuses on a different congressional district. He lives in Schultz’s district, but represents an adjacent district covering parts of Broward and Palm Beach counties, though that’s a minor aspect.

In a fundraising letter, West wrote that Schultz “attacked me personally for supporting the legislation.” He has also griped about criticism for being a black conservative, sort of the Clarence Thomas of  Congress.

Schultz’s criticism of West on the House floor is known as “fair game.” Politicians habitually snipe at each other over policy issues. The grown-ups take it in stride, but West could not, well, take it.

Schultz was on target when she told The Miami Herald:

It’s not really surprising that he would crack under the pressure of having to defend that. If he feels that concerned and gets that churned up over having to defend his position then he probably should reconsider his position.

Hmm… Since when was she licensed to make mental-health diagnoses?

Tom DeLay offered these words of wisdom on Jan. 10, 2011:

This criminalization of politics is very dangerous, very dangerous to our system. It’s not enough to ruin your reputation. They have to put you in jail, bankrupt you, destroy your family.

“This criminalization of politics” did not disturb DeLay when he engineered the impeachment of Bill Clinton in 1998 because the president lied about…his sex life.

DeLay felt far differently about it when Travis County Court Judge Pat Priest in Austin sentenced him to three years in prison for money laundering and conspiracy — the result of his role in channeling corporate donations to Texas state races in 2002, according to the New York Times.

The evidence presented at the trial showed that DeLay and two associates routed $190,000 in corporate donations in 2002 to several Republican candidates for the state legislature, using the Republican National Committee as a conduit. Texas law bars corporations from contributing directly to political campaigns.

DeLay and his Republican friends pushed for Clinton’s impeachment on grounds that he lied in court about sexual activity with Monica Lewinsky, the White House intern. There were suggestions that Clinton’s denial did not constitute perjury. Clinton did nothing that affected his presidential duties. However anyone regards Clinton’s behavior, what’s the difference in terms of his job?

It was petty stuff, which is what DeLay claims about his conviction and sentencing. In fact, he charges that the Democratic district attorney was using the law to avenge his empowerment of Republicans.

DeLay was not using the power of impeachment to avenge Clinton’s empowerment of Democrats?

DeLay’s hypocrisy surfaced then, but his abuse of the Constitution’s impeachment clause was offensive.

Impeachment is briefly covered in Article II, Section 4:

The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery and other high Crimes and Misdemeanors

.

The framers of the Constitution had higher purposes for the impeachment clause than settling political scores. Now DeLay, who appealed his sentence, felt victimized by an unfair legal situation. Bad law or not, he was still convicted of violating it.

Next excerpt: To change policy, change the system

Horror on the Hudson

Part 2 of American Vision by Bruce Ticker

“Children are not like roads. They will not remain static over the next few years and they will not get the chance to redo these school years when the economy gets better.”

– Debra Fuchs-Ertman, Scarborough, Maine

William Paterson’s distinguished career as New Jersey’s governor and senator, and subsequently as a justice on the U.S. Supreme Court, is a tad tarnished by his service as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention in 1787.

The framers of the Constitution are habitually hailed as visionaries. Not altogether true. Paterson balked at the Virginia Plan for proportional representation in Congress. He predicted that the most populous states would dominate the agenda in Congress. Proportional representation would leave New Jersey and the other small states on the margins of power.

Paterson ultimately accepted the Connecticut Compromise that affords each state equal representation in the Senate and proportional representation in the House.

With 8.7 million people, New Jersey is today America’s 11th most populous state, ranking immediately above Virginia. These days it seems as if the least populous states dominate the agenda, leaving the larger states – New Jersey among them – on the margins of power. Moral of this story? New Jersey and you, congested together.

More after the jump.
As Smoky the Bear might say, only you can prevent the collapse of the George Washington Bridge. If the GW crashes into the Hudson River, can you live with the scenes of twisted metal and the screams of the victims on your conscience?

As the wealthy lap up their luxury, the rest of us are now expected to find more money we do not have to rebuild our bridges and roads and supply jobs for the building trades unions.

Such is the message conveyed by our leaders in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, if indirectly through intermediaries. They refuse to raise taxes on the rich or profitable corporations, yet they want us to pay higher tolls and fees.

“The pain of higher tolls is nothing compared with the pain we would feel if the span of the George Washington Bridge collapses,” writes Mitchell Moss in a New York Daily News op-ed.

“There are dozens of critical maintenance projects like that – basic improvements that need to be made to keep things running smoothly,” the urban policy professor continued. “Contrary to popular belief, tolls are actually the best way to pay for highways and bridges.”

In a letter to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Ricke C. Foster, president of the Contractors Association of Eastern Pennsylvania, writes: “The state has suffered for decades without the needed funds to invest in our highways and public transit systems. The recent recommendations by the Transportation Funding Advisory Commission offer a commonsense solution to our state’s transportation problem, in particular, raising additional funds specifically from transportation users.

“The cost for a typical motorist will be only 70 cents per week in the first year, growing to a still-modest $2.50 per week by year five – less than the cost of a gallon of gasoline,” he continues. “It’s a plan that will put Pennsylvania back on track to economic recovery and provide for our long-term prosperity.”

No argument. Our infrastructure has long been deteriorating. We know that. Likewise, repair projects to this end will create many jobs. We also know that the governors of both New York and New Jersey had until then refused to raise taxes on the wealthy; NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo changed his mind in December 2011. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett has rebuffed all calls for imposing a production tax on ultra-profitable corporations that have been extracting shale gas underneath Pennsylvania land.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey antagonized motorists on both sides of the Hudson when in late August 2011 it proposed massive toll hikes on its bridges and tunnels across the Hudson and its bridges between New Jersey and Staten Island.

A commission in Pennsylvania recommended increases in taxes and fees to pay for repairs of state roads, bridges and mass-transportation systems. The increases would include annual vehicle and drivers’ fees.

As a man of vision, could William Paterson have envisioned this scenario?

The Port Authority originally proposed raising tolls for E-ZPass users from $8 to $12 and drivers who pay with cash would be charged almost double, from $8 to $15 for each trip. Fares for the PA’s subway-style service known as PATH would rise from $1.75 to $2.75.

The PA mess swiftly got ugly. Letters to the editor that were published were almost unprintable. Union workers filled some hearings to argue that the toll increases would produce jobs and upgrade the infrastructure, the NY News reported.

“This plan will be a lifeline for New York City workers, but it will also be a lifeline for our city’s infrastructure,” said Bernard Callegari, a member of Construction & General Building Laborers’ Local 79.

So poor and middle-class citizens should pay higher tolls and train fares so we can give Callegari and his friends jobs – jobs that will probably provide higher salaries than many of these people currently earn.

Also, union representative Michael McGuire said, “There is no such thing as a free lunch. We have serious infrastructure needs.”

Added Local 79 member Dennis Lee, “Haven’t we learned something from (the bridge collapse in) Minnesota when all those people died? Are we looking to be a Third World nation?”

Joe Valentine, vice president of Taxpayers of Staten Island, engaged in a shouting match with a union member after saying, “They come in here and try to intimidate me and the rest of Staten Island. You people are not even from Staten Island…I want your hands out of my pocket.”

Few people would be surprised if the unions and politicians orchestrated this spectacle. The Port Authority would get its toll and fare hikes and the unions would get their jobs. Everyone else would be squeezed even more.

The unions’ conduct is a sure way to lose sympathy. Any reasonable person would be pleased for anyone to find work, but opponents of the tolls are probably anxious to see these guys waiting in long employment lines.

If the politicians were behind it, they artfully played the divide-and-conquer game.

What the union members should have done was team up with the commuters. Instead, they apparently fell for the oldest trick in the book.

What’s more, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie balked at the PA’s toll-hike proposals – even though they appoint the members of the authority. They claimed they were caught flatfooted by the news.

Nor did anyone acclaim the governors as knights in shining armor who rescued them from the high tolls. The PA reduced the toll hikes considerably, but would raise the PATH fares 25 cents each year for the next four year instead of boosting it by $1 in one year.

Is it necessary to raise tolls to fund infrastructure repairs? Some of the wealthiest people in the world live in New York and New Jersey. They were already paying extra taxes before Christie ended it in New Jersey and Cuomo agreed to let them run out in New York. Cuomo campaigned on a no-tax pledge and must contend with a Republican-controlled state Senate.

Christie sacrificed money for schools and community services to soothe the rich. As a precursor to the toll increase, fares on New Jersey Transit trains rose nearly as much as 50 percent on May 1, 2010; a round-trip from Trenton to New York increased from $21.50 to $31.

So it’s strange to read Christie’s words in The New York Post: “What’s the cost of not paying higher tolls, if in fact we stop investing in our infrastructure to the region?…It’s about creating good-paying jobs for building tradesmen and women across our state, to put them to work on these projects.”

Rob Wonderling, president of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, tried to justify Pennsylvania’s fee increases in a Philadelphia Inquirer op-ed: “Additional proposals called for generating the revenue through an increase in the annual vehicle and drivers’ fees to inflation – by $13 and $5, respectively. The fees paid by these citizens have not been adjusted since 1987.”

So a failure to adjust said fees for 24 years obligates an increase. Maybe the state can think about adjusting the fees downward.

___________________________________________________

“I came in full of idealism – I was going to change my city,” Mayor Bill Finch of Bridgeport, Connecticut’s most populous city, told a New York Times reporter. “You get involved in government because you want to do more for the people, you want to show them that government can work and local government, by and large, really does work for the people.”

Finch caved to the same forces as other mayors, laying off 160 city employees. Mayors throughout the nation, gathering in Washington during late January 2011, testified to similar nightmares of cutting services, sending city workers to the unemployment lines, raising taxes and bracing for declining tax revenues and aid reductions from their own states, according to the NY Times.

The 200 mayors pressed their federal agenda as they visited President Obama and members of Congress, urging more spending on transportation and retaining the Community Development Block Grant program.

Many of these mayors expected their state governments to withhold more funds rather than help them since most states face moderate to devastating deficits. Among our largest states, California, population 36.9 billion, at the time faced a $25.4 billion deficit; Illinois, 12.9 million, $15 billion; Texas, 24.7 million, $13.4 billion; and New Jersey, $8.7 million, $10.4 billion, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, as reported in the NY Times.

Four states – Alaska, Arkansas, North Dakota and Wyoming – were not projecting shortfalls, according to the study.

The following June, mayors gathered in Baltimore where they called upon the president and Congress to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan so that the money spent on military ventures could be diverted to the needs of the cities. In the preceding decade, $1.3 trillion was spent on Baghdad and Kabul.

So, cause and effect? Rats are swarming the underground. The jobless rate rises as stocks crash. Public school students confront class warfare. More blood flows on the city streets. And riots could come to a neighborhood near you.

“We have a lot of kids graduating college, can’t find jobs,” says Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who keeps contractors well sustained. “That’s what happened in Cairo. That’s what happened in Madrid. You don’t want those kinds of riots here.”

Even political rival Jumaame Williams, a city councilman, is on the same page with Bloomy: “I don’t think it’s far-fetched that there could be civil unrest if people are not able to feed their families, just as it’s not far-fetched that if young people can’t get opportunities, violence will increase.”

A taste of the fallout as our societal nightmare worsened just as the 10th anniversary of 9.11 was observed. Especially as cuts imposed by state legislatures began to take effect.

Then 11 days after the anniversary, we learned that 46.2 million Americans were officially subsisting at the poverty level…in 2010. Of those, 1.6 million were living in New York City, up 75,000 from 2009, and nearly 400,000 resided in Philadelphia, up 64,000, according to New York and Philly papers.

The Census Bureau released these and other alarming figures in its 2010 American Community Survey, which reported that the national poverty rate rose from 14.3 percent to 15.1 percent in 2010, the third consecutive annual increase. However, one in five New Yorkers lived in poverty in 2010 while the poverty rate in Philadelphia rose 1.7 percent that year, from 25 to 26.7 percent. Other hard-hit cities were Los Angeles, Miami,
Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Houston and Minneapolis.

“A 1.7 percent increase from 25 percent to 26.7 percent poverty may not sound like a lot, but that’s nearly 23,000 more children, parents, brothers and sisters struggling to get by each and every day,” noted Kathy Fisher of Public Citizens for Children and Youth in Philadelphia.

Joel Berg, executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, added, “Increasing poverty is simply a confirmation of what we see every day in ever-longer lines at food pantries and soup kitchens. It is also latest proof our city and state policies are failing in fundamental ways.”

It was a real surprise on Labor Day 2011 when a rat chomped on a woman’s foot as she sat on a bench waiting for a J train, inside the Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall station. Half-crazed from the attack, she rushed to a service booth and was taken to a hospital. She was treated and released.

The attack was unusual, sources told The New York Daily News, because the J train platform has a low rodent population. Now the platforms for the 4, 5 and 6 trains are “a rat fest,” said a transit worker.

In the wake of heavy layoffs, union officials and employees blamed less frequent garbage collections and failure to adequately seal trash storage rooms.

“I’ve heard of rats running over people’s feet,” the transit worker said. “But I’ve never heard of anyone actually bit.”

Trenton, N.J., laid off 105 police officers, nearly one-third of the force, on Sept. 16, 2011, to save $4 million, according to the Associated Press. Mayor Tony Mack attributed the layoffs to the loss of $28 million, from $55 million, in state funds from the past year. That follows steep police layoffs in Newark, Camden and Atlantic City.

“We’re losing the streets,” said Trenton Officer Maria Chell-Starsky, laid off after six years on the force. “We might as well just hand the city over to the gang members.”

Likewise, violence rose in the two major cities linked by the New Jersey Turnpike. Philadelphia’s homicide rate increased slightly during the 9/11 weekend with seven slayings in addition to 14 nonfatal shootings, The Philadelphia Daily News reported. The following weekend, gun use in New York prompted Cuomo to spout about gun control and related issues, The New York Daily News reported.

“It has been decades where we have been fighting Washington for sensible laws controlling guns, and we need those laws passed, and we need them passed now,” the governor said.

Basic law-enforcement services have suffered in the adjoining Midwestern states of Kansas and Missouri. A controversy among three arms of government has inflamed Topeka, Ks., after the Shawnee County District Attorney refused to prosecute suspects in misdemeanor cases of domestic abuse.

After the county commission cut his $3.5 million budget by 10 percent in 2011, District Attorney Chad Taylor said, his office would cease prosecuting misdemeanor cases of domestic violence. Topeka’s City Council, in turn, voted that October to repeal a local law categorizing domestic violence as a crime, The NY Times reported. That would compel Taylor to prosecute the cases since they would remain a crime under state law.

In addition to losing money, Taylor pointed out that violent crime has increased. “I feel like my office and public safety are a priority,” he said.

Shelly Buhler, chairperson of the Shawnee County Commission, said she did not expect Taylor to follow through with his warning that he would no longer prosecute domestic violence. “We had hoped that he would not put that group of victims at risk, that he would find some other way to absorb the cuts,” she said.

“To have public officials pointing fingers while victims of domestic violence are trying to figure out who will protect them is just stunning,” said Joyce Grover, executive director of the Kansas Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence.

In Missouri, a county public defender wondered aloud: “Is someone in prison who might have been acquitted if we had had more resources?”

Rod Hackathorn, public defender for a three-county district including Ozark County, adds, “You don’t know. I’m sure that it’s happened, and I don’t know who it has happened to. And that (is) the scariest part of this all.”

Hackathorn’s district was one of two in Missouri to announce in summer 2010 that it was turning down cases because they are overburdened and lack staff to serve all defendants, The NY Times reported. Nine other districts were taking steps to follow suit, and Public Defenders in other states have either sued over their caseloads or rejected new cases.

In one instance in Missouri, Christian County Judge John S. Waters said, “It flies in the face of our Constitution. It flies in the face of our culture. It flies in the face of the reason we came over here 300 and some-odd years ago to get out of debtors’ prison…I’m not saying the public defenders aren’t overworked. I don’t know how to move his case and how to provide what the law of the land provides.”

The public defender’s office had repeatedly begged the judge to release it from representing a defendant charged with stealing prescription pain pills and a blank check because of its workload. The Missouri Supreme Court subsequently rescinded the assignment pending further court proceedings.

“What you have is a situation where the eligible pool of  clients is increasing, crime rates are potentially increasing, while the resources often for public defenders are going down,” said Jo-Ann Wallace, president and chief executive of the National Legal Aid and Defender Association.

Public-funded legal defense for indigent citizens charged with serious crimes was required as a result of the 1963 Supreme Court ruling, Gideon v. Wainwright.

However, Missouri’s public defenders office told the Times that $21 million more than $34 million it was slated to receive in 2010 is needed to staff it adequately. That would fund 125 more attorneys, 90 more secretaries, 109 more investigators, 130 more legal assistants and more space.

Due to school program cuts in Toledo, Ohio, boxing emerged as a popular sport by February 2011. A NY Times article chronicles how hundreds of teen-agers participated in boxing clubs after the school district terminated all athletic teams for middle school students and high school freshmen. Also cut were high school cross-country, wrestling, golf and boys’ tennis teams, along with all intramural activities that include cheerleading and dance teams.

Parents are willing to pay for boxing activities, as nurse’s assistant Tambria Dixson pays $90 monthly to a gym for her three sons. “Paying for it is a struggle,” she says. “But the kids in our neighborhood who aren’t involved in athletics are getting involved in gangs. So yes, it’s worth it.”

Because the California legislature is constrained from raising taxes, the sprawling Los Angeles Unified School District and other districts filed a lawsuit against the state in late September 2011 claiming that Gov. Jerry Brown and the legislature illegally manipulated the state’s voter-approved education funding formula to shortchange them by $2 billion, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Brown and the legislators circumvented a mandate to allocate 40 percent of state spending on schools in 2011 by converting more than $5 billion to local monies. The teachers union agreed to the plan, but a grouping of school boards and administrators chose to file suit. “We were really terribly underfunded before the recession began three years ago,” said Bob Wells, executive director of the Association of California School Administrators. “There just has to be a stop to those sorts of cuts.”

No argument from the legislative majority, which is Democratic, but a two-thirds majority is required to increase taxes to offset severe cuts in school aid. Republicans occupy more than one-third of the seats and, predictably, refuse to cooperate

One victim of California’s 2011 budget cuts was the Los Angeles Unified’s elementary school library system, which laid off 227 of its 430 library aides and halved the hours of another 193 aides.

Jean Ross of the California Budget Project said in a statement quoted by LATimes columnist Steve Lopez, “Policymakers should not balance state and federal budgets at the expense of the families who have been hardest hit by the economic downturn…Policymakers should focus on proven strategies for improving the state’s competitiveness – strengthening our schools, our colleges and universities, and other public structures that are fundamental to job growth and a healthy economy.”

Lopez wrote, “Don’t we deserve a full public discussion in which we can question the wisdom of destroying an elementary school library system in a district with huge reading deficiencies?”

The school system in Scarborough, Me., was confronted with losing more than $1.1 million in state money, federal stimulus funds and other revenue sources, which translates to the equivalent of 12 full-time teaching positions and part-time jobs, according to The Portland Press-Herald.

The Board of Education spent an hour on March 17, 2011, listening to 13 residents, all of whom assailed the proposed cuts. Critics pointed to how the cuts affect class size, how programs should be upgraded and not diminished and the difficulties caused by activity fees.

“Children are not like roads,” said Debra Fuchs-Ertman. “They will not remain static over the next few years and they will not get the chance to redo these school years when the economy gets better.”

As Pittsburgh riders endured a transit crisis in March 2011, George Washington probably never imagined what would become of the triangular segment of land jutting out onto the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers, where they formed the once-strategic Ohio River.

A case could be made that Pittsburgh’s Point State Park – first the site of Fort Duquesne and then Fort Pitt – indirectly inspired the creation of America. In 1754, then-Lt. Col. Washington led colonial troops toward that site to ensure construction of a British fort to control those waterways.

Along the way, Washington’s troops fought French soldiers in a brief battle at a spot known as Jumanville Glen. The engagement triggered events leading to the French-Indian War, which led to England’s demands for taxation to pay for the war, which set the course toward the Revolution.

Downtown Pittsburgh is located directly behind the park. It is the center of a region populated by almost 2 million people.

Yet in the Pittsburgh suburb of Ross, Tyler Boyer told a Post-Gazette reporter that he waited 70 minutes for a bus on March 28, 2011, the first weekday when severe cuts in bus service went into effect. He said four packed buses passed him until he joined with others to carpool downtown.

For five years, Kara Griffith caught a 7:27 a.m. bus in New Kensington each day to her job as a financial consultant in Pittsburgh, but on March 28 she had to start arriving at the stop at 7:05 a.m.

“The buses are packed. It’s standing room only. Some buses will pass you up,” she said. “For what I pay each month for a bus pass, and I get this kind of service? You raise your rates but give us poor service?”

One day earlier, Allegheny County’s Port Authority eliminated 29 bus routes and reduced service on 37 other routes while laying off 180 drivers and other employees. The authority blamed a $55 million deficit on the loss of state funds.

No doubt that Washington, James Madison, Benjamin Franklin and the remainder of America’s founders would feel proud and fulfilled that a great country evolved from a task that originated with them. However, they would probably be aghast to discover that an important city like Pittsburgh would be stripped of basic services provided by its transportation system.

Not to mention all the other cities, schools and towns that have been devastated in the wake of this recession.    

___________________________________________________

Robert Hudson may well have died so the city of New York could collect a fine from his wife for neglecting to wear her seatbelt. Maybe.

If the account presented by his widow’s attorney is true, Hudson was possibly victimized by New York’s desperate search for revenues to compensate for the money it has lost over the years. New York’s practice reflects the efforts of other cities and states to raise money.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has transformed this process into an art form, but it occurs in plenty of other places, especially in large cities and populous states. For decades, taxpayers in major cities and large states have been filling up the bulk of state and federal treasuries to the point that cities and states cannot support themselves.

To break this out, the federal government receives much more money from large states than elsewhere because that’s where the money is. Not only do we have a greater number of citizens to pay taxes in these states but a high percentage of the wealthy live in places like Beverly Hills, Manhattan’s Upper East Side and Fairfield County in Connecticut.

Not to mention suburbs like Newton in Massachusetts, Bethesda in Maryland, Lower Merion in Pennsylvania and Teaneck and Cherry Hill in New Jersey.

Likewise, these cities and wealthier communities stuff the coffers of state governments in higher proportions. The statehouses in Albany, Springfield and Sacramento stay in business largely thanks to downstate New York, Chicago and vicinity and Los Angeles County.

Of $8 billion in state sales tax revenues, Pennsylvania receives one-fourth of the total from seven counties, Philadelphia and its four suburban counties and two counties around Pittsburgh, according to state documents.

What kind of money does that leave for a city or a county, or a state? When they are in trouble, they must find ways to compensate. Often, the methods are outlandish and extreme, maybe enough to induce a fatal heart attack.

An account in The New York Daily News reported that Robert Hudson, 72, drove his wife Doris, also 72, to a Queens Village pharmacy on Jan. 14 so she could obtain medicine, and she took her seat belt off when they arrived.

Two police officers arrived, accused her of not wearing the belt and told her she would receive a summons, but she had no identification with her.

Hudson’s attorney, Bonita Zelman, told a Daily News reporter that police prohibited her husband from driving home to get the identification, so instead he spent 45 minutes walking home a half-mile back and forth.

While he was gone, Mrs. Hudson obtained her medicine and the officers wrote her a summons on the basis of her name and address from the prescription, the News reported.

The Hudsons subsequently returned to the car and drove off. After driving a block or more, Robert Hudson collapsed behind the wheel and later died at Franklin Hospital.  

“There was no reason not to let him drive home,” Zelman raged. “He wasn’t the one getting the summons. Instead, they had him walk home. He tried to walk as fast as he could, but he’s 72 years old and some of the walk is uphill.”

Mrs. Hudson disputed police claims that the officers were willing to write the summons without inconveniencing Mr. Hudson.

The News quoted an unidentified police official who said the officers “showed poor judgment.”

Reading between the lines, if Mrs. Hudson’s story is true, the officers were probably under relentless pressure to return to the police station with a stack of tickets that would generate wads of cash for the city.

Police officers elsewhere in New York have complained about being forced to make quotas, and this is typical of many local and state governments, and they do this with agencies other than police departments.

The Hudson episode would be an extreme example of how New York gropes for new money, but it is no isolated incident. A few years ago, some women were each fined $250 for wading into the ocean at Brighton Beach in Brooklyn after 7 p.m. Even if they violated the law, why were the fines so steep?

Not only members of City Council but also state legislators fumed over a plan for the fire department to charge at-fault motorists $365 and $490 for any kind of car accident with the intention of raising $1 million yearly, a tiny fraction of the department’s $60 million budget gap.

“This cracks open a door that if we don’t close now, they’ll kick open and start charging fees for 911 or garbage pickup,” state Sen. Eric Adams of Brooklyn told a Daily News reporter.

Added Councilman Peter Vallone of the Astoria section of Queens: “Firefighters are supposed to provide help, not assess damage and who is to blame. They are simply not set up to be judge and jury at the scene.”

More than 3.2 million parking tickets were contested in 2010, 15 percent higher than those contested the year before, stated the 2010 Mayor’s Management Report, according to the News. More than $600 million from parking tickets were collected by the Finance Department in 2010.

New Jersey’s school aid cuts had a strange downhill impact. Gov. Chris Christie axed state aid to the schools by $1 billion to contend with the state’s $11 billion budget gap. After losing $1.5 million from the state, Haddonfield’s school district initiated a campaign to attract tuition-paying students from outside the district for 10 students per grade between sixth and 10th grades, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.

“The primary reason is to raise revenue because of the loss of state aid,” said Superintendent Richard Perry.

School officials in the Los Angeles United School District – second largest in America – had hoped to raise up to $18 million by seeking corporate sponsorships to make a dent in budget cuts. In November, 2010, 1,000 employees were let go in a new round of layoffs, the NY Times reported.

School board members who approved the corporate sponsorship program in December found the move distasteful. “The reality is public funding is not funding public education,” Steve Zimmer said. Smaller school districts have been permitting naming rights for their stadiums for a long time, but Los Angeles is the biggest district to take this step.

The D.C. Council in Washington considered a bill in December 2010 to force homeless families to prove they reside in Washington before they can be admitted to a shelter, according to The Washington Post. Council members argued during a meeting that the homeless shelters are frequently overwhelmed.

“We cannot be the hotel for Virginia and Maryland residents,” said bill co-sponsor Tommy Wells, a Democrat.

Mary M Cheh, also a Democrat, said, “I think in its various applications it’s going to be cruel.”

When New Yorkers suffered through a mammoth snowstorm, the city could pull in $500,000 from issuing 9,910 summonses to people who failed to move their vehicles when its alternate-side parking rules resumed on Monday, Feb. 7, 2011, following the deluge of snow and ice, the Times reported.

Spoiled motorists whined that their cars were still trapped by snow and ice, and therefore they could not move them to legal spots. Talk about entrapment.    

American Vision – Prologue

Prologue of American Vision by Bruce Ticker

Bruce Ticker has written a new book American Vision. He has given us permission to publish this work as a weekly series. Here is the prologue.

Even on a day when almost nothing happens, the course of American history can be set for more than two centuries.

One such day was July 17, 1787. The birth of the Connecticut Compromise is customarily dated to July 16, 1787, when the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia approved a fresh but flawed legislative system, as part of a broader package of provisions for the budding Constitution.

Prior to 10 a.m. on the 17th, delegates from the most populous states to the Convention gathered at what is now Philadelphia’s Independence Hall to assess the convention’s vote from the day before.

The Connecticut Compromise created a split form of government: Each member of the House of Representatives would represent the same number of Americans, on a proportionate basis, and each state would be represented by the same number of senators regardless of population.

More after the jump.
The compromise split the difference between the Virginia Plan for proportionate representation in both chambers and the response to the Virginia delegates, the New Jersey Plan. New Jersey’s delegates, afraid that the large states would overwhelm smaller states like New Jersey, demanded equal representation in all chambers.

Under Convention rules, each delegate had the right to raise any issue whenever they wanted, even after a decisive vote was taken. That means the issue could be reopened on any given day, and that day was July 17.

The main players of this caucus – Virginians James Madison and Edmund Randolph, Pennsylvanians James Wilson and Gouverneur Morris, and Rufus King of Massachusetts – reopened the issue, however briefly. They met to discuss how to react to the July 16 vote on the basis of their insistence that both the House and Senate should represent the people on a proportionate basis.

As constitutional scholar Richard Beeman writes, Madison reported that “the time was wasted in vague conversation on the subject, without any specific proposition or agreement.”

In his book “Plain, Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution,” Beeman characterizes the outcome this way: “He discovered much to his chagrin that only a handful of delegates felt as strongly about the issue as he did, and no one was willing to risk the outcome of the Convention on it.”

So on March 4, 1789, the newly-revamped Congress convened in New York City for the first time at Wall and Nassau streets, eight blocks southeast of the future site of the demolished World Trade Center. Actually, it took roughly a month before either chamber had a quorum. Come April 30, George Washington was inaugurated at the same site as the first president of the United States.

Madison and the other four were apprehensive about a Senate where each state is authorized to send the same number of senators to Congress. As Beeman puts it, “They held the principled view that it was wrong to give any state government, be it a large state or a small one, too much weight and authority within the national government. The only way to avoid that injustice was to represent the people according to their numbers.”

History would repeatedly prove Madison and associates to be right. For example, the senators from New Jersey, Frank R. Lautenberg and Robert Menendez, and Maryland, Barbara A. Mikulski and Benjamin L. Cardin, discovered in 2010 that the wealthy would retain their tax cuts and health-care reform would be watered down. Delaware Sens. Thomas R. Carper and Christopher A. Coons advocate for most of the same concerns affecting the three states.

Such lapses are mainly rooted in how the Senate is composed in combination with its much-abused filibuster rule.

More than two centuries earlier, the chief opponents of proportionate representation in the Senate represented Delaware, Maryland, Connecticut, New Jersey and New York. Though Delaware ranks 45th in population with 844,000 residents, New Jersey now ranks 11th with 8.7 million people and Maryland is 19th, population 5.6 million, according to Census Bureau figures. With 19.5 million people, New York is now the third most populous state.

Many of the 37.5 million Americans from these states are paying today in large part because of the Connecticut Compromise.

Electoral vote: Our state has historic opportunity

Pennsylvania has the chance to join an initiative to establish the popular vote for the presidency. Why play games with the electoral vote?

Bruce Ticker testified to the Pennsylvania State Government Committees arguing against the Republican attempt to re-engineer Pennsylvania’s electoral vote in their favor. His solution for a fairer Presidential election?
The National Popular Vote.

Written testimony follows the jump.
The Hon. Members of the Pennsylvania Legislature:

I love the United States. I feel so very lucky to have been born in this country. The Constitution was signed on Sept. 17, 1787, and was subsequently ratified by the 13 states. Congress formally convened in March 1789 and George Washington was inaugurated as our first President on April 30, 1789.

The Constitution is a great document that has served as the foundation for our governing process. It nonetheless contains serious flaws.

I have long been concerned about the system for choosing a President as authorized by the Constitution. Why do I phrase it that way? Yes, it’s a mouthful. Wouldn’t it be simpler to call it the presidential election? This process is not an election.

Your proposal to seek an alternative to the winner-takes-all method has its merits and drawbacks. However, any process administered in the framework of the Electoral College is inequitable and insults the intelligence of the average voter.

There is only one fair and just means of selecting the people who run our government – the direct vote. Every time each of you runs for office, you trust the judgment of your constituents. You accept that. Otherwise, you would not remain part of the system.

The direct vote must also be the means for choosing our Presidents. Especially, successful presidential candidates have assumed the Presidency four times without winning the popular vote. The last time this occurred was only 11 years ago.

I respectfully request that you abandon this course and direct your energies and resources to replace the electoral college with the popular vote. I confess that until recently I thought we had only one avenue available – the amendment process. Any amendment approved by Congress must be ratified by three-fourths of the 50 states. Theoretically, 14 million citizens can block an amendment. That is the collective population of the 13 or 14 least populous states. Our current population is estimated at 308 million people.

The amendment process is an arduous obstacle course.

To my delight, I learned that Gov. Jerry Brown of California signed legislation on Aug. 8, 2011, to participate in an initiative which would effectively sideline the electoral vote without struggling through the amendment process.

This initiative, called the National Popular Vote, has been lobbying officials in the 50 states to agree to an interstate compact. Each state would agree to release its electoral votes to the presidential candidate who wins the vote nationwide.

To succeed, this system requires the participation of states with a combined 270 electoral votes, the majority currently required for a candidate to win.

Gov. Brown’s signature added 55 electoral votes to the initiative, the largest collection of votes from America’s most populous state. This step raised the total from 77 to 132 votes.

You now have an historic opportunity to build on the foundation of our system, the Constitution. You can contribute to providing the United States with the direct vote for President. You can start the process now to consider participating in this initiative.

Pennsylvania would add 20 electoral votes. The popular vote would provide all of us with a direct measure of power in selecting our president. It would expand upon our freedoms and enliven the political process.

The framers of our Constitution did not create the electoral system in a vacuum. Historians cite a number of interrelated factors. Among them, communications were sparse. No e-mails, no Action News, newspapers were just starting to evolve. The average citizen had no realistic means of being informed of the qualifications of the candidates.

Because of our technological advances and the range of today’s news media, voters today can readily access the qualifications of the presidential candidates. For that matter, we often get too much information about them.

It is hardly news to you that the majority party has been accused of proposing this plan to obtain political advantage. Practically speaking, the popular vote will likely benefit Democrats because Democratic-leaning voters are clustered more in metropolitan areas, and Republicans tend to be scattered more in the suburbs and rural areas. For the record, I am a registered Democrat.

My prime concern is good government in order to better serve the public. The popular vote can only facilitate good government. I can think of reforms that Democratic Party leaders may not be anxious to embrace.

Again, I ask you to abandon this proposal for awarding electoral votes. Forgive the cliché, but that plan accomplishes nothing more than rearranging the deck chairs. Please focus your attention on ending the impact of the electoral college.

Thank you for your attention.

Bruce S. Ticker

 

NJDC Congratulates Representative-Elect Janice Hahn

–by David Streeter

The National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) congratulates Janice Hahn on her successful bid to represent California’s 36th Congressional district. In the special election held today, Hahn defeated her Tea Party-backed Republican opponent, Craig Huey, and dealt a blow to the hopes of Republican leaders who had hoped to send another extremist candidate to Washington, DC. NJDC President and CEO David A. Harris released the following statement in response to Hahn’s victory:

“On behalf of the National Jewish Democratic Council, I wish Representative-elect Janice Hahn the best of luck as she continues her career in public service by representing her community at the federal level. We look forward to working with Hahn and continuing the fight for the progressive values she shares with the vast majority of American Jews. After two special elections in this off-cycle year, the growing trend is clear: Americans want leaders to fight against the increasingly extremist agenda of the Republican Party. Hahn has demonstrated that she is ready to do just that.”

Throughout her race against Huey, Hahn distinguished herself as the only candidate that represented the values of most American Jews.

More after the jump.
Hahn pledged her support for Israel and President Barack Obama’s efforts to strengthen the bilateral relationship. Specifically, she expressed support for Obama’s intensified security assistance to Israel, the Administration’s additional sanctions against Iran, and the Administration’s condemnation of anti-Israel rhetoric in international bodies.

Hahn has also been described as “a true fighter on the side of working people” by the L.A. County Federation of Labor.  She has been an ardent proponent of President Obama’s health care reform package and has pledged to protect and expand it.  Hahn also firmly opposes privatizing social security and turning Medicare into a voucher system.

Individuals like Hahn who reflect Jewish values in their policy priorities serve as a reminder to the Jewish community that the Democratic Party remains the only party that advocates for Jewish values within the halls of Congress.

Scalia, no class act(ion) for justice

Maybe Associate Justice Stephen G. Breyer was thinking of two or more of his Supreme Court colleagues when he wrote, “Only a lunatic or a fanatic sues for $30.”

The associate justice regarded by court critics as leading court fanatic, Antonin Scalia, wrote the majority opinion on Wednesday, April 27, 2011, depriving ordinary consumers of another avenue to contest possible injustice. Scalia’s opinion was supported by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr.

Breyer’s disdainful retort was part of his dissent that was joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. It was the usual 5-4 line-up for a contentious issue.

The court ruled that businesses may use standard-form contracts to prohibit consumers who claim fraud from joining together in a single arbitration, according to The New York Times.

More after the jump.
Vanderbilt University Law Professor Brian T. Fitzpatrick explained, “The decision basically lets companies escape class actions, so long as they do so by means of arbitration agreements…It’s one of the most important and favorable cases for businesses in a very long time.”

Vincent and Liza Concepcion of California filed the lawsuit against ATT&T Mobility seeking class-action treatment after objecting to a $30 fee for what was said to be a free cellphone, the Times reported.

AT&T responded by relying on the contract requiring the couple to settle disputes through arbitration and prohibited them from joining with others to seek class-action treatment, whether in arbitration or in traditional litigation in court.

The company argued that the case could neither move forward in court nor as a class action in any forum, but lower federal courts would not enforce the arbitration agreement and permitted the case to proceed. The courts followed a 2005 California Supreme Court decision that prohibited class waivers as unconscionable, according to the Times.

Scalia wrote in the majority opinion that the lower courts did not properly apply the Federal Arbitration Act which overrides some state court rulings against arbitration. The California Supreme Court’s ruling prohibited class waivers in all standard-form contracts, whether applicable to arbitrations or court proceedings, as unconscionable if they gave rise to claims that the companies issuing them had set out “to deliberately cheat large numbers of consumers out of individually small amounts of money,” the Times reported.

Scalia wrote, “Requiring the availability of class wide arbitration interferes with fundamental attributes of arbitration.”

Breyer stated, “Where does the majority get its contrary idea – that individual, rather than class, arbitration is a fundamental attribute of arbitration?

He pointed out that class arbitrations are more efficient and, primarily important, minor frauds such as that claimed by the California couple will not be resolved.

He wrote, “What rational lawyer would have signed on to represent the Conceptions in litigation for the possibility of fees stemming from a $30.22 claim?” Quoting from another case, he added, “Only a lunatic or a fanatic sues for $30.”

Vulnerable people in this society have limited avenues to obtain justice. Wealthy people sometime file lawsuits over the most petty affronts. Attorneys turn down claims from people if they cannot see a cost-effective case in it or they cannot afford the legal fees.

Scalia and other conservatives embrace the “original intent” of the framers of the Constitution. Was it their “original intent” to leave ordinary people without legal recourse?