StandWithUs Pro-Israel Billboard in Harrisburg

StandWithUs Billboard in Houston reads "Not with our tax dollars. Stop U.S. aid for Palestinian terrorism."

StandWithUs Billboard in Houston reads “Not with our tax dollars. Stop U.S. aid for Palestinian terrorism.”

StandWithUs is placing a billboard on I-83 south between Harrisburg and York beginning January 7, 2016 for four weeks.  The billboard alerts commuters of the foreign aid America sends to the Palestinian Authority with the message, “Not With Our Tax Dollars. Stop U.S. Aid for Palestinian Terrorism,” and directs viewers to learn more and sign a petition.

The StandWithUs billboard counters an anti-Israel one also on the I-83 initiated by StopTheBlankCheck and paid for by IfAmericansKnew that asks, “$10 Million a Day to Israel? Our Money is Needed in America.”  The StandWithUs billboard will appear concurrently with the anti-Israel one.

StopTheBlankCheck Billboard

StopTheBlankCheck Billboard

“The anti-Israel billboard campaign is misinforming people, as usual.  The agreement between America and Israel stipulates that 75 percent of the military aid Israel receives from the US has to be spent in America,  The U.S. spends $250 billion a year to keep American troops protecting allies around the world, from Germany to Japan and South Korea. In contrast, the $3 billion a year America sends to Israel boosts the US economy, protects our interests and does not include any American troops on the ground in Israel, which protects itself,” explains Joseph Puder, director StandWithUs Philadelphia.

“The anti-Israel billboard also omits the fact that the U.S. has given the Palestinians billions of dollars in aid since 1993, which is obviously not spent in the U.S.  The U.S. has been the primary financial supporter of the Palestinian refugees since 1949, and has donated over $6.5 billion to the UN agency, UNRWA (United Nations Reliefs and Works Agency), an agency set up to address their specific needs, while the needs of other refugees worldwide have no such specific agency.  Indeed, the Palestinians have received more foreign aid per capita than any other group of people in the world.  It is unfortunate that this money is spent on promoting hate and violence against Israelis by the Palestinian leadership, rather than on the betterment of its own people,” he continues.

StandWithUs has countered anti-Israel messages on public transit and highways wherever they appeared throughout the United States and Canada since 2007.

Bipartisan Group Tackles Redistricting Reform in Harrisburg

— Charles M. Tocci

Calling it an “imperative” first step to any government reform initiative, a bipartisan, bicameral group of Pennsylvania lawmakers today announced the formation of a legislative workgroup aimed at hammering out redistricting reform legislation.

“Modern day government has deteriorated into a politically tainted, polarized and gridlocked force that is more about self-preservation than representative government,” said Sen. Lisa Boscola (D-Northampton). “This bipartisan effort is not about whether we need to change redistricting, but how we should change it.”

The number of interactions between cross-party pairs has decreased drastically from 1949 to 2011. (Image: Clio Andris)

The number of interactions between cross-party pairs has decreased drastically from 1949 to 2011. (Image: Clio Andris)

The lawmakers claim that Pennsylvania’s many oddly shaped, gerrymandered districts have created politically impenetrable fiefdoms that pressure lawmakers to toe the party line at the expense of bipartisanship and compromise. A recent Penn State study concluded that members of Congress are now nearly seven times less likely to cross-vote on issues than they were a few decades ago. In the 112th Congress (2011-2013), just 7 of the 444 members accounted for 98.3% of all cross-votes.

Rep. Sheryl Delozier (R-Cumberland) noted, “We’ve heard our constituents’ ask for a more accountable government and a more open and transparent redistricting process in Pennsylvania. I hope the formation of this bipartisan redistricting reform group shows that we are listening to those concerns, and we’re ready and willing to work together to overcome current challenges. This is a significant first step toward a bipartisan solution that works for all of Pennsylvania.

Rep. Mike Carroll (D-Luzerne) said, “There are some good proposals on the table. This workgroup’s job is to find common ground, draw the best from various ideas, and emerge with a strong bipartisan solution that we can all rally around.”

Sen. John Eichelberger (R-Blair) added, “I believe that the difficulties and delays that plagued Pennsylvania’s last attempt to put together a timely map of legislative districts emphasizes the need to explore new methods of reapportionment in the Commonwealth. For that reason, I am happy to participate in the efforts of this workgroup.”

The lawmakers said it is important that the redistricting reform process take shape this legislative session to have a new system in place when district maps are redrawn again for the 2020 census. To change the redistricting process, the state legislature must pass legislation changing the state’s constitution in two consecutive sessions. Voters must then approve the reform proposal via referendum.

“Our democratic system requires that voters choose their legislators, but our politically motivated redistricting process allows legislators to choose voters instead,” said state Sen. Rob Teplitz (D-Dauphin/Perry). “That must change.”

Lawmakers claim that the last Legislative Reapportionment Commission largely ignored sound redistricting tenants such as contiguity, compactness and community of interest. New legislative maps, which were supposed to be in place for the 2012 elections, were overturned by the state Supreme Court as being “contrary to law.” The decision sent the commission’s lawmakers, lawyers and staffers back to the drawing board and kept old legislative boundaries in place for the 2012 election.

Members of the group pointed out that the method we use for congressional redistricting in Pennsylvania isn’t any better. The 11th Congressional district runs from Adams County to the northern tier, while the 15th Congressional district goes from Easton to Harrisburg, and the 12th Congressional District traverses from Cambria County to the Ohio line.

The legislators said that drawing Congressional districts is more politically charged than drawing the state House and Senate districts because Congressional districts are presented in bill form and goes through the legislative process. A bipartisan reapportionment commission comprised of caucus leaders meets and deliberates on state House and Senate districts before presenting its state legislative redistricting proposal.

Non-partisan map would give Pennsylvania less biased representation in Congress.

Non-partisan map would give Pennsylvania less biased representation in Congress.

(Editor: Stephen Wolf has computed non-partisan maps “that give voters a real choice and allow the majority to have its voice heard.” Here are his maps for Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Wisconsin and other states.
Even more representative maps can be drawn by actively seeking proportional representation and competitive districts instead of ignoring partisanship as Stephen Wolf does.)

Other lawmakers at the news conference included Senator John Blake (D-Lackawanna), along with Representatives Steve Santarsiero (D-Bucks), Dave Parker (R-Monroe) and Steve Also on hand to express their organization’s support for redistricting reform were: Barry Kauffman, Common Cause; Susan Carty, League of Women Voters and Desiree Hung, AARP.

Wrapping Up 2012

 

Crossposted from Democratic Convention Watch.

The best year in review piece I've seen came from Dave Barry. You can read it here, and you really should. Where else could you see gems like this:

In labor news, Chicago teachers go on strike over controversial proposed contract changes that would allow the school board to terminate teachers who have passed away. Meanwhile, the NFL comes under increasing pressure to settle the referee strike following a game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Tennessee Titans in which the replacement refs call four balks and three traveling violations, and ultimately declare that the winner is the Green Bay Packers. At the end of the month the strike is settled, and the replacement refs move on to their new role as Florida elections officials.

 More after the jump.

We close the year with sad health news for two famous pols. George HW Bush is 88 years old, has Parkinson's, and breathing trouble. It doesn't look good for longevity. Hillary Clinton is at NY Presbyterian with a blood clot found after her fall-induced concussion. This is not her first blood clot. Shame on those right wing wacko pundits who claimed she was faking. We wish the best for Secretary Clinton.

The 112th Congress is ending. Tom Brokaw said it best yesterday on Meet the Press when he said that the real problem is that 75% of districts have been redistricted so that they're bulletproof. I hope that America wakes up to this, and changes the system by which we redistrict to non-partisan methods, and jungle primaries, so that we have a shot at a legitimate House. 

Aside from the House, it has been a good political year. This was the year that dark money failed, that liberals won the hearts, minds, and votes of a majority of Americans across the board. My personal goal for 2013 is to turn Pennsylvania blue at the local level, and position the state (block by block, town by town, county by county) to win back Harrisburg in 2014. Tall order for one as vertically challenged as myself, but I believe I'll have lots of help! And besides, there's this from some post on Facebook:

It's impossible, said pride.
It's risky, said experience.
It's pointless, said reason.
Give it a try, whispered the heart.

Happy coming 2013. The dream endures.

Pennsylvania Redistricting Take 2

Reprinted courtesy of the Jewish Social Policy Action Network

A new set of district maps for the Pennsylvania House and Senate was proposed on April 12, 2012, by the Legislative Reapportionment Commission. In response to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania’s ruling in February in Holt v. LRC, the Commission proposed new maps with fewer divisions of counties and municipalities. A thirty-day period is provided for members of the public to testify at a hearing on May 2 or to file written comments with respect to the proposed maps. JSPAN and the Philadelphia Jewish Voice are members of a coalition of non-profit agencies and individuals studying the newly proposed districts. We invite your comments and suggestions.

LRC Press Release After the Jump

Video continues at LRC website.
Legislative Reapportionment Commission Press Release

On Thursday, April 12, 2012, the 2011 Legislative Reapportionment Commission, by a majority vote, approved and filed with the Secretary of State a Preliminary Reapportionment Plan for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. A copy of the Preliminary Plan is located on the Commission’s website.

In accordance with Article II, Section 17(c), of the Pennsylvania Constitution, all persons aggrieved by the Preliminary Plan must file exceptions with the Commission within thirty days of the April 12, 2012 filing date. All exceptions must be in writing and contain the name of the individual, a signature, mailing address, and daytime telephone number. Individuals who wish to submit an alternative plan with their written exceptions to the Commission are requested to file a paper copy, and, if that alternative plan is prepared using computer software, a copy of the
“shapefile” of that plan. Written exceptions to the Preliminary Plan must be received by the
Commission on or before 5:00 p.m. on May 14, 2012.
Written exceptions submitted in a traditional format may be mailed to: Charles E. O’Connor, Jr., Esquire, Executive Director, 2011 Legislative Reapportionment Commission, 104 North Office Building, Harrisburg, PA 17120

Individuals who wish to file written exceptions via email are requested to use “Contact Us” link located at the bottom of the home page of the Pennsylvania Redistricting Website at and, in the first line of the message, type the word “EXCEPTION.”

The exception may thereafter be typed directly into the “Message” box or electronically attached
using the “Message Attachments” box.

A public hearing will also be held on May 2, 2012 at 2:00p.m., in Hearing Room #1, North Office Building, Harrisburg, PA 17120 to receive any comments on the Preliminary Plan. Please note that individuals who file written exceptions to the plan and wish to present their exceptions at this hearing shall also make a request to be scheduled for that presentation at the public hearing. Please call (717) 705-6339 for additional information.

Redistricting Committee Schedule

Reprinted courtesy of Above Avergage Jane

We’ve seen the proposed districts for the Pennsylvania State House and Senate, including that weird shaped district around Harrisburg.  So far we haven’t seen so much as a line segment of the proposed Congressional Districts.  The bill to accept the new boundaries (HB 5) reads at present like this:

For the purpose of electing representatives of the people of Pennsylvania to serve in the House of Representatives in the Congress of the United States, this Commonwealth shall be divided into 18 districts which shall have one Congressman each, as follows:
(1)  The First District is composed of a portion of this Commonwealth.
(2)  The Second District is composed of a portion of this Commonwealth.
(3)  The Third District is composed of a portion of this Commonwealth.
(4)  The Fourth District is composed of a portion of this Commonwealth.
(5)  The Fifth District is composed of a portion of this Commonwealth.
(6)  The Sixth District is composed of a portion of this Commonwealth.
(7)  The Seventh District is composed of a portion of this Commonwealth.
(8)  The Eighth District is composed of a portion of this Commonwealth.
(9)  The Ninth District is composed of a portion of this Commonwealth.
(10)  The Tenth District is composed of a portion of this Commonwealth.
(11)  The Eleventh District is composed of a portion of this Commonwealth.
(12)  The Twelfth District is composed of a portion of this Commonwealth.
(13)  The Thirteenth District is composed of a portion of this Commonwealth.
(14)  The Fourteenth District is composed of a portion of this Commonwealth.
(15)  The Fifteenth District is composed of a portion of this Commonwealth.
(16)  The Sixteenth District is composed of a portion of this Commonwealth.
(17)  The Seventeenth District is composed of a portion of this Commonwealth.
(18)  The Eighteenth District is composed of a portion of this Commonwealth.

Not much information there.  The Senate and House State Government Committees are scheduled to have a joint informational committee meeting on Dec. 12, to discuss redistricting.  There’s another informational meeting scheduled for Dec. 13th.  The House State Government Committee is scheduled to have a voting meeting on Dec. 15th and one of the issues slated for that meeting is redistricting.  Since this is Dec. 7th, a Thursday, and the 12th is a Monday there is very little time for a redistricting map to be released, let alone allow for public comment.
No one even seems to pretend that these district boundaries are drawn with no regard for party or the protection of incumbents.  It’s just impossible to take this seriously as anything other than a political exercise in the worst possible meaning of that phrase.

I do remember that there was an opportunity to make some changes in this process a few years ago and people trying to seize that opportunity were thwarted.  And now those chickens have come home to roost.

Republicans In Harrisburg Trying To Run Out The Clock for Redistricting

If politics were sports, someone would call a delay of game penalty on the Republicans for illegally trying to run out the clock while they are ahead.

What is happening?

Every ten years, the United States takes a census of its population, and the states must then redraw their Congressional and State Legislative Districts to take into account shifts in population over the last ten years. Since politicians are drawing their own districts, this process is rife with conflicts of interest as politicians choose their constituents most likely to reelect them into office.

In Pennsylvania, the Republicans have a clear advantage in the redistricting process since they control the governorship, both chambers of the legislature and the Supreme Court. The only limits on their power is recourse to courts by groups disenfranchised via violations to the Federal Voting Rights Act. However, the GOP seeks to close this window of opportunity.

Paragraph (c) of Section 17 of Article II of the Pennsylvania Constitution lays out the calendar for how redistricting is supposed to work:

No later than ninety days after either the commission has been duly certified or the population data for the Commonwealth as determined by the Federal decennial census are available, whichever is later in time, the commission shall file a preliminary reapportionment plan with such elections officer. The commission shall have thirty days after filling the preliminary plan to make corrections in the plan. Any person aggrieved by the preliminary plan shall have the same thirty-day period to file exceptions with the commission in which case the commission shall thirty days after the date the exceptions were filled to prepare and file with such elections officer a revised reapportionment plan. If no exceptions are filled within thirty days, or if filed and acted upon, the commission’s plan shall be final and have the force of law.

The Census Bureau released the data for Pennsylvania on March 11, but the Legislative Reapportionment Commission delayed choosing their 5th and final member until the Republican-controlled Pennsylvania Supreme Court stepped in and named Judge Stephen McEwen (R) on April 19.

According to a plain reading of the Pennsylvania Constitution:

  • the LRC then had a 90-day deadline and had to prepare a preliminary plan by July 18.
  • There would then be 30 days for “corrections” and hearings, leading a final plan by August 17.
  • Any appeals to that plan would have to be filed within 30 days or by September 16.

This schedule is designed to give plenty of time for potential candidates to plan before filing to run in next year’s elections.

However, the Republicans on the Legislative Reapportionment Commission have their own unique calendar. According to them, Pennsylvania does not have census data until they say that Pennsylvania has census data. Last Wednesday, August 17, the Legislative Reapportionment Commission held its first public meeting and they certified their approval of the United States Census data for Pennsylvania, and declare that this would start the 90-day clock.

By a stroke of the pen, the Republicans have bought themselves four months of time, instead of being already beyond the deadline, they can “deliberate” until November 15. They can then issue “corrections” and hold “hearings” until December 15. In theory, the citizens of Pennsylvania can then file any appeals in hopes of restoring their right to equitable representation. However, in practice the courts will have their back against the wall as candidates are already starting their campaigns including preparing the petitions (due February 14, 2012) to qualify for the April primary.

The Republican legislators hope to carve Pennsylvania in districts according to their political calculus, and run out the clock to avoid any potential challenges to their fait accompli.

More after the jump.
Why doesn’t the Democratic Minority raise a hue and cry about this outrage? Perhaps they are afraid to make waves and ended up being excised from the district which they represent. Or perhaps they are content to see the Republicans districts being fortified, knowing that all those unwanted Democratic voters will end up getting tossed into Democratic districts. The Pennsylvania citizen is the real loser here since redistricting is being used as a tool to protect incumbants. As a result less incumbants than necessary will have to worry about their reelection, and some politicians may be less responsive to their constituents as a result.

What can be done about this?