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.

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“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.    

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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.

Controversy over Voter ID Bill Hits Pennsylvania

–by Anne Grant

If Pennsylvania signs a contentious new bill into law, the process of voting is about to become very difficult for over 700,000 of the state’s residents.

On June 24, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed the controversial voter ID proposition also known as House Bill 934.  

House Republicans had forced the vote on the bill, which, if passed by the Senate, could potentially disenfranchise about 700,000 otherwise eligible Pennsylvanians.

House Bill 934 would require all voters to show a valid, unexpired photo identification to prove citizenship.

While advocates of the voter ID bill assert that it would prevent voter fraud in polling booths, those opposed to the idea point out that, as state Rep. Ron Waters (D. Phila/Delaware) noted, the bill is a “solution without a problem”.

In the same statement, Rep. Waters continued, “The bill’s sponsor claims that it is needed to fight voter fraud. But in the past 10 years, there have been fewer than two dozen voter fraud convictions in Pennsylvania, according to the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing; and that’s out of 39.4 million ballots cast.”

More after the jump.
House Democrats and others opposed to the bill posit that the bill simply represents a Republican strategy to marginalize voters who do not have sufficient identification and who would otherwise likely vote Democrat.

Among the 700,000 Pennsylvanians whose voting rights could be compromised are young people, college students, the elderly, and poor residents.  The photo requirement must be issued from DMV centers; this kind of identification is unnecessary for the many Pennsylvanians who rely solely on public transportation.

According to a June 24 press release from the office of Rep. Waters, House Republicans have done little to ease the proposed identification requirement.  It stated, “Republicans rejected amendments that would have allowed other forms of identification to be used, such as voter registration cards, college IDs, or hunting licenses. Additionally, they rejected efforts to exempt voters over 65 and victims of domestic violence from the photo ID requirement, as well as attempts to require notification of this new requirement to be published in Spanish as well as English.”

After its passing by the House, the bill has moved to the Senate for consideration.

In other states, voter identification bills have undergone similar bouts of partisan controversy.  Governors in Minnesota, Missouri, and Montana have all vetoed similar voter identification bills.

Recently in North Carolina, Governor Bev Perdue vetoed her state’s proposed voter identification bill as well.  In a statement from her office, Perdue commented that nothing should stand in the way of citizens exercising their voting rights.  She commented, “We must always be vigilant in protecting the integrity of our elections. But requiring every voter to present a government-issued photo ID is not the way to do it. This bill, as written, will unnecessarily and unfairly disenfranchise many eligible and legitimate voters.”

In Pennsylvania, House Bill 934 is set to be reviewed by the state Senate.

Senate Dems limit agenda to protect small-state senators

Whew! The American people need not worry that U.S. Senate leaders might do their job, as in taking command of the legislative agenda.

More after the jump.

We sure do not want to jeopardize the Democratic Senate seats in conservative-leaning states like Montana, Nebraska and North Dakota.

Under the headline “Senate Democrats’ minimalist agenda,” The Washington Post reports that the Democratic majority has intentionally restrained itself to save seats in states like these.

The May 21 Post account states: “Democrats have decided to try to shield those lawmakers from the usual weeks-long debates and instead await for compromises to be reached behind closed doors. Reid’s approach is a bet that doing nothing looks better for them, so long as their arguments resonate with voters in 2012.”

Welcome to governance in 2011. We are stuck with an immovable Senate because doing their jobs might cause some Democrats to lose their jobs in the November 2012 election. The Democratic leadership is worried that they will lose their 51-47 majority if they overplay their hand; two senators are independents who caucus with the Democrats.

What, then, is the point of having a Senate?

Senate gridlock is rooted in the Senate’s composition when delegates from smaller states at the Constitutional Convention feared that the larger states would dominate the government under a Congress with proportionate representation. They compromised by requiring equal representation for all states in the Senate while leaving the House of Representatives with proportionate representation.

The five states that opposed proportionate representation in 1787 would surely benefit by it today, either directly or indirectly. Though a small state, Delaware is part of the liberal Northeast bloc as is Connecticut, Maryland and New Jersey…almost forgot, New York was the fifth dissident state. Rhode Island did not participate in the convention, but all six states are currently represented by Democrats in the Senate.

Most low-population states are conservative or conservative-leaning. Most are represented by Republicans in the Senate or alternate between the two parties. If Tom Daschle represented New Jersey or New York rather than South Dakota, where he lost in a re-election bid, he would almost certainly be serving in the Senate today.

Daschle’s fellow Democrats do not want others like him defeated, so they adjust their agenda to protect their Senate seats in swing states. Three of those states, where two incumbents are up for re-election and a third is retiring, are home to 3.5 million people – Nebraska, 1.7 million; Montana, 975,00; and North Dakota, 646,000.

So, 1 percent of the nation’s citizenry can propel the Senate leadership to ignore or minimize the needs and concerns of millions upon millions of Americans. Democrats in the 112th Senate represent 190 million Americans. America’s latest population estimate is 308 million.

The four Democratic senators from New York and California collectively represent one-sixth of America’s population, 36.9 million in California and 19.5 million in New York.

That leaves 56.4 million Americans, and millions from other moderate or liberal states, in the lurch.

If the Senate represented the populace on a more proportionate basis, then far more attention would likely be paid to issues raised by the senators from high-population states such as New York and California.

It is necessary to point out how the Constitution’s requirements for Senate representation limits responsiveness to residents of the more  populous states. Clarifying the problem is the first step toward resolving it.

However, I am well aware of the obstacles under the amendment process to changing the rules. On the surface, accomplishing anything substantial appears to be impossible.

One never knows. Maybe it can be done. After nearly 10 years, who genuinely expected America to find Osama bin Laden? Perhaps the same will and determination can be applied to revising the rules.

PA Senate to Vote on Restrictive Abortion Bills

by Anne Grant

Reacting to the Gosnell scandal that has rocked Pennsylvania’s ongoing controversy over abortion rights, the State Senate plans to vote next week on measures that would seriously restrict abortion access for women.

During the week of May 23, the Pennsylvania State Senate plans to weigh two new proposals, Senate Bills 732 and 3.

If passed, Senate Bill 732 would change the inspection procedures mandated for abortion clinics. So far, it has already passed the Senate Health and Public Welfare Committee by a 10-1 vote.

Senator Bob Mensch from Bucks County is responsible for putting forward this bill, titled the Mensch Amendment.  Essentially, the amendment would require clinics which perform abortions after nine weeks of pregnancy to follow the regulations adhered to by ambulatory surgical facilities.

On the other hand, Senate Bill 3 would forbid insurance companies from covering abortion costs for women. This change would take place amid insurance exchanges according to federal health care reform; the state would simply choose not to pay for these abortions.

Heavily restricting abortion access for women in Pennsylvania, these bills have emerged from the January arrest of Kermit Gosnell in Philadelphia.
Gosnell was charged with eight counts of murder after authorities discovered his clinic, where he had spent years performing dangerous, late-term abortions in unsanitary conditions for poor and immigrant women in Philadelphia.

Gosnell was accused of delivering, then killing, seven babies with scissors.  Two women reportedly died from his procedures and many more left the clinic with severely damaged reproductive and excretory organs.

Senate Bill 574, which passed last week, is another reaction to the Gosnell indictment.  This measure has increased the stringency of abortion clinic regulations; as a result, many clinics may have to close or undergo renovations costing hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Several organizations have come forward to express dismay with these bills, which they consider restrictive to women’s access to safe, affordable abortion services.  These associations include the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates, the Women’s Law Project, PA Clergy for Choice, and the Allentown Women’s Center.

Jennifer Boulanger, the executive director of the Allentown Women’s Center, pointed out that no abortion clinics in the state could meet the unreasonable equipment stipulations of new regulations, such as hospital-size elevators and 400-square foot operating rooms.  She also noted that, even if these small abortion clinics could spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on these unnecessary renovations, they could make the changes in the bill’s 60-day allotted time frame.

According to Boulanger, patients would also bear the “skyrocketing” costs of abortions that would result from new, more extensive regulations.  She speculated that the cost could rise from about $350 to over $1,000 for an abortion.  This change would further marginalize poor women in need of reproductive health services.

Boulanger went on to note that, in a state where only 22% of counties have abortion provider, it is imperative for these clinics to stay open.  She alluded to a “public health crisis in the making”-the increase of black market abortions, self-induced abortion attempts by pregnant women, or women having to leave Pennsylvania to receive abortion services.

Additionally, she asserted that Pennsylvania already has a set of regulations to ensure the safety of women who use the state’s 20 abortion providers.

Sue Frietsche of the Women’s Law Project also noted the extensive set of regulations that already exist to protect the safety of women who use abortion services in the state.  She insisted that all of the state’s clinics abide by these safety stipulations.

The Pennsylvania State Senate will consider Bills 732 and 3 next week.

Anne Grant is an intern at the Philadelphia Jewish Voice this summer.  A rising senior at the University of Virginia, she is majoring in Jewish Studies and Middle Eastern Studies.  To contact her with questions or problems with the web site, email her at [email protected]

Senate Stands Up for Women’s Health

—  Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism


We commend the Senate for standing up for women’s health and rejecting a bill that would have denied all federal funds to Planned Parenthood, a vital health care service provider. Each year, Planned Parenthood’s network of more than 800 clinics nationwide provides nearly one million cervical cancer screenings, 830,000 breast exams, affordable birth control for nearly 2.5 million patients, and nearly four million tests and treatments for sexually transmitted infections, including HIV testing. Revoking Planned Parenthood’s federal funding would have disastrous consequences for all of these services and would not change a fact that has endured for decades: that no federal funds, received by Planned Parenthood or any other organization, can be used for abortion services.

The Senate’s action was especially heartening given that the same bill passed the House of Representatives earlier in the day. We have repeatedly condemned such attempts in the House to undermine women’s access to critical health care services, including abortion. These attempts violate the U.S. Constitution and core principles of Jewish tradition, which affirms society’s obligations to ensure access to health care and the rights of women to make moral decisions about their own bodies and their own reproductive health. Women are commanded to care for their health and well-being above all else, and society is commanded to provide health care for its most vulnerable residents. These dual obligations compel us to advocate for broad access to affordable reproductive health care and support Planned Parenthood in its efforts to reach millions of under-served men and women.

We call on the House to stop its relentless attacks on reproductive choice and women’s health, beginning with an end to the campaign to de-fund Planned Parenthood.

Statement from Planned Parenthood follows the jump.
— Dayle Steinberg, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood Southeastern Pennsylvania

Yesterday, the US Senate listened to millions of American women and voted, 58-42, to reject H. Con. Res. 36, an extreme proposal to bar Planned Parenthood from providing preventive health service, including birth control, breast and cervical cancer screenings, and STI (including HIV) testing to patients who are covered by Medicaid and other federal programs.

Planned Parenthood applauds the members of Congress who stood up for women’s health and voted against this proposal.

This vote is a major victory for women’s health and the millions of women who go to Planned Parenthood for health care.

Hundreds of thousands of Americans across the country made their voices heard in support of Planned Parenthood and opposed this radical proposal by calling Congress, writing and e-mailing their elected officials, and attending rallies. The grassroots support for Planned Parenthood was extensive.

This extreme proposal was rightly rejected by Democrats and Republicans. In addition, members of Congress who support abortion rights, as well as those who oppose abortion rights, voted against this proposal, which would have denied women family planning and would have resulted in an increase in unintended pregnancy.

Even though the House Republican leadership insisted on forcing an up or down vote in the House and Senate on this extreme proposal yesterday, all their political maneuvering accomplished was to show that the House leadership is willing to sacrifice women’s health to advance a narrow ideological agenda.

While we are outraged that the House voted to pass H. Con. Res. 36 by a vote of 241-185, the outcome of that vote was not a surprise.

Any member of Congress who voted for this extreme proposal just cast a vote against women’s access to lifesaving cancer screenings and birth control.

More than 90 percent of the health care Planned Parenthood provides – and 100 percent of the care it provides through federal programs – is preventive. We do not want one woman to be diagnosed with advanced cancer that our health centers could have detected early through screening, and we’re appalled that a fringe element of Congress would continue to put its narrow political agenda ahead of women’s health and safety.

Thankfully, the Senate has made clear this extreme proposal is unacceptable and rejected it.

Rabbis Call for Sensible Filibuster Reform

“There was a time when filibusters were symbolic of a principled stand…a David standing up to the Goliath. I think Strom Thurmond’s filibuster against the Civil Rights Act of 1957 took the sheen of nobility off the filibuster, but what constitutes a filibuster these days is not at all recognizable from the Mr. Smith or the Sen. Thurmond version. And it’s clear, looking at this graph that the Republicans have upended the intent of the filibuster rule to basically break down the Senate and launch the virtual rule of the minority.” — Nicole Belle

— Eric Harris and Jonathan Backer

“When the Senate rules create a status quo where justice is so frequently deferred or denied, the people start to lose faith in our democratic institutions, apathy is engendered, and the health of our democracy is threatened.”
— Rabbi David Saperstein

Rabbi Steven Fox, Chief Executive of the Central Conference of American Rabbis; Rabbi Ellen Weinberg Dreyfus, President of the Central Conference of American Rabbis; and Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism today released a letter urging Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to enact sensible filibuster reform when the Senate convenes for a new Session on tomorrow.

The full text of the letter follows:

Dear Senator Reid and Senator McConnell,

On behalf of the 1,800 rabbis of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the national Reform rabbinical association, we write to advocate sensible filibuster reforms.

During the 111th Congress, a challenge to the smooth functioning of democracy, which had been growing evident for some time, came into stark relief. A minority of Senators invoked cloture 63 times-the most of any other Congress, indeed, more than the sum total of instances between the creation of the modern filibuster at the beginning of the 20th century and 1982. Rather than facilitate a cautious and deliberate legislative process, the filibuster in its current incarnation has created gridlock and has weakened the government’s ability to respond to the needs of its citizens. In a Dec. 18 letter, 56 Democratic Senators called on you to take steps to curb this abuse of the filibuster. We are encouraged as well that a respected returning Republican Senator, Dan Coats, has also called for reform. We ask you to heed their call, and work together. Reform cannot succeed without bipartisan support.

Let us be clear: the filibuster is a vital and necessary tool of the minority.  The Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) has consistently opposed attempts to eliminate the right of a minority of Senators to block extreme legislation and nominees. The CCAR has also supported efforts to reduce misuse of the procedural tactic when it occurs. During the 1950s and 1960s, a minority of legislators used the filibuster to prevent civil rights legislation from receiving a vote before the U.S. Senate. For this reason, the CCAR supported successful reform of Senate rules in 1975 to lower the threshold for cloture from a two-thirds to a three-fifths majority.

During the 111th Congress, the filibuster denied the DREAM Act an up or down vote in the Senate. The chamber never even debated legislation addressing climate change because of the mere threat of the filibuster. While many factors were at play, the filibuster or threat thereof diminished the Senate’s ability to respond to the needs of unemployed Americans struggling amid a prolonged jobs crisis, led to a health care reform law with fewer cost control mechanisms, and produced Wall Street reform with less ability to address the root causes of the financial meltdown.  Dozens of other important issues never came before Congress over the past two years because filibusters consumed so much of the Senate calendar. When the Senate rules create a status quo where justice is so frequently deferred or denied, the people start to lose faith in our democratic institutions, apathy is engendered, and the health of our democracy is threatened.

The ability of a truly dedicated minority to oppose the most extreme instances of legislative excess or of judicial or executive appointments must be preserved. But the current rules have evolved to a point where a 60-vote threshold in the Senate is the norm on important issues, not the exception. Some simple changes currently being considered have the potential to more effectively accomplish the goals the CCAR has long advocated.  That is, they could promote a more restrained and responsible use of the filibuster, while preserving minority rights in the Senate:

  • Continuous debate-a substantial number of senators should be required to sign a petition in order to initiate a filibuster and members should be forced to speak continuously in order to sustain it. The onus should also be on the minority to maintain a filibuster rather than just on the majority to break it.
  • Eliminating anonymous holds-the filibuster was designed to allow a minority to slow down the legislative process in order to make its case to the public. Anonymous holds accomplish only gridlock, allowing the minority to conceal itself behind a cloak of procedure without justifying its obstruction.
  • Fewer opportunities to filibuster-the minority currently has the ability to filibuster the initial motion to debate legislation, amendments, and the final vote. Duplicative filibusters clog the Senate calendar and prevent the legislative branch from doing the people’s work. The minority should get one opportunity to block a piece of legislation through procedural tactics.
  • Strengthen the right of the minority to offer amendments-supporters of the filibuster argue that it is a necessary tactic when the majority offers insufficient opportunities to offer amendments. But, currently, more amendments offer more opportunities for filibuster. Allowing each side to offer amendments with a limited amount of time for debating each would circumvent this problem and provide more opportunities for minority input.

We urge you to consider these and other ideas to limit abuse of the filibuster. The cause of social justice depends on a legislative branch that is responsive to the will of the people while mindful of minority rights. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us at 202-387-2800.

Sincerely,

  • Rabbi Steven Fox, Chief Executive, Central Conference of American Rabbis
  • Rabbi Ellen Weinberg Dreyfus, President, Central Conference of American Rabbis
  • Rabbi David Saperstein, Director, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism

The Paycheck Fairness Act

— President Barack Obama

I am deeply disappointed that a minority of Senators have prevented the Paycheck Fairness Act from finally being brought up for a debate and receiving a vote.  This bill passed in the House almost two years ago; today, it had 58 votes to move forward, the support of the majority of Senate, and the support of the majority of Americans.  As we emerge from one of the worst recessions in history, this bill would ensure that American women and their families aren’t bringing home smaller paychecks because of discrimination.  It also helps businesses that pay equal wages as they struggle to compete against discriminatory competition.  But a partisan minority of Senators blocked this commonsense law.  Despite today’s vote, my Administration will continue to fight for a woman’s right to equal pay for equal work.  

GOP Candidates In Their Own Words

Race Republican Photo Quote Contenders
US Senate
Nevada
Sharron Angel,
State Legislator (Washoe County-26)
  • “People are really looking toward those Second Amendment remedies and saying my goodness what can we do to turn this country around? I’ll tell you the first thing we need to do is take Harry Reid out.” [Link]
Harry Reid, Senate Majority Leader
US Senate
South Carolina
Jim Demint, Incumbent Senator
  • “If a person is a practicing homosexual, they should not be teaching in our schools.” [Link]
  • “I would have given the same answer when asked if a single woman, who was pregnant and living with her boyfriend, should be hired to teach my third grade children.”
    [Link]
Alvin Greene, political unknown
US Senate
Delaware
Christine O’Donnell, marketing consultant
  • “American scientific companies are cross-breeding humans and animals and coming up with mice with fully functioning human brains.” [Link]
  • “Lust in your heart is committing adultery so you can’t masturbate without lust.” [Link]
Chris Coons, New Castle County Executive
US Senate
Pennsylvania
Pat Toomey, Former Congressman (PA-15)
  • “Let’s not tax corporations…. I think the solution is to eliminate corporate taxes altogether.” [Link]
  • “There has been an increase in the surface temperature of the planet over the course of the last 100 years or so. I think it’s clear that that has happened. The extent to which that has been caused by human activity I think is not as clear. I think that is still very much disputed and has been debated.” [Link]
Joe Sestak, retired Admiral and Congressman (PA-7)
US Senate
Kentucky
Rand Paul, opthamologist and son of Congressman Ron Paul (TX-14)
  • “Decisions concerning private property and associations should in a free society be unhindered. As a consequence, some associations will discriminate…. A free society will abide unofficial, private discrimination – even when that means allowing hate-filled groups to exclude people based on the color of their skin.” Link]
Jack Conway, Secretary of State
US Senate
Connecticut
Linda McMahon,
co-founder of World Wrestling Entertainment
  • “So I still don’t think we know the long-term effects of steroids. They are continuing to study it more and more, but I don’t believe there are a lot of studies out there today that are conclusive.” [Link]
Richard Blumenthal, Attorney General
US Senate
Louisiana
David Vitter, incumbent Senator
  • “I personally don’t have standing to bring litigation in court. But I support conservative legal organizations and others who would bring that to court. I think that is the valid and most possibly effective grounds to do it.” [On birther investigations] [Link]
Charlie Melançon, Congressman LA-3
US Senate
Alaska
Joe Miller Scott McAdams, lawyer; and Lisa Murkowski, incumbent Senator
US Senate
Colorado
Ken Buck, Weld County District Attorney
  • “You are taking a very small group of cases and making a point about abortion. We have hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of abortions in this country every year. And the example that you give is a very poignant one, but an extremely rare occurrence.” [Defending his opposition to abortion even in the case of rape and incest] [Link]
Michael Bennet, incumbent Senator, and Tom Tancredo, former Congressman (CO-6)
US Senate
Oklahoma
Tom Coburn
  • “Lesbianism is so rampant in some of the schools in southeast Oklahoma that they’ll only let one girl go to the bathroom. Now think about it. Think about that issue. How is it that that’s happened to us?” [Link]
Jim Rogers, teacher
US Senate
Alabama
Richard Shelby
  • “Well, his father was Kenyan and they said he was born in Hawaii, but I haven’t seen any birth certificate.” [Link]
William Barnes, lawyer
House of Representatives
Delaware (At-Large)
Glen Urquhart,
real estate financer
  • “Do you know, where does this phrase ‘separation of church and state’ come from? It was not in Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists…. The exact phrase ‘separation of Church and State’ came out of Adolph Hitler’s mouth, that’s where it comes from. So the next time your liberal friends talk about the separation of Church and State ask them why they’re Nazis.” [Link]
John Carney, Lt. Governor

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Who are you visiting?

Crossposted from DemConWatch

Congress has gone home. To your neighborhood. What these boys and girls are supposed to be doing is visiting with you, the voter. All the reps and Senators have websites. These sites will either list the public activities they'll be attending, or give you contact information for their local offices which you could call for information or to set up a meeting.

Some people interact with Congress on a regular basis. You know if you're one of these people: when you call, the staffers either sigh in a way that indicates “I cannot believe it's you, again” or ask after your family, all of whom they know by name. We can't all be like that. You actually can develop a personal relationship with your elected officials. My mom for many years had an interactive relationship with a Senator who will remain nameless, but his initials were Bob Torricelli. He had a position on one issue that, um, resonated with her. He'd have a speaking engagement where there was audience participation, and she'd be there. Everywhere he went. They were on a first name basis. For years. There's art.

More after the jump, and a poll!

But on a more normal basis, they will all be out and around, and if you want them to know what you think, you should consider going to an event, calling, and/or stopping by the office. This is true whether you have an elected official you love, or one you are actively working to replace. While the public events will likely not be as rude and contentious as they were last summer, and might not involve forging flooded roadways to get there, they will likely still be interesting and potentially worthwhile. 

Elected officials only get re-elected if they have the support of their constituencies, or at least that's what's supposed to happen. They can only vote your opinion if you let them know what it is. Even Rick “Spawn of Satan” Santorum was known to change votes based on his constituency input. Sure, not always, but on occasion. Point is, you say nothing, and they don't know how the populace feels beyond what polls tell them. And national polls may well not reflect local sentiment.

So what are your plans?