Mahmoud Abbas’s words at U.N. need cleansing

Whatever your view of the United Nations resolution recognizing “Palestine” as a state, Mahmoud Abbas’s speech revises Middle East history — to the point of being downright insulting to supporters of Israel.

“Without a Palestinian state,” says Australian Prime Minister Bob Carr, as quoted by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, “there can’t be peace in this region.”

What “peace in this region” can there be if the leader of the so-called state of Palestine demonizes Israel in front of the General Assembly of the United Nations?

More after the jump.
Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, accused Israel of “ethnic cleansing” and forced expulsion of the Arabs from Israel in 1948.

Strange. That’s exactly what the Arab world intended for Israel from the instant the U.N. approved its creation as a state of its own.

It is fair game for Australia and five other developed nations to criticize Israel for apparent retaliation of the GA’s vote to recognize “Palestine” as an independent state. However, they opened themselves up to accusations of bias for letting Abbas get away with his brazen lies before an assemblage that was formed to solve the world’s turf battles through reason and fair play.

Carr and the other leaders — from Britain, France, Spain, Denmark and Sweden — probably did not even read Abbas’s speech before they summoned Israel’s ambassadors to register their anger with Israel’s decision to build 3,000 housing units in the West Bank.

Abbas lost all credibility when he declared:

“The Palestinian people, who miraculously recovered from the ashes of Al-Nakba of 1948, which was intended to extinguish their being and to expel them in order to uproot and erase their presence, which was rooted in the depths of history.”

Nakba” has been traditionally translated to mean “catastrophe.”

He then accused Israel of “one of the most dreadful campaigns of ethnic cleansing and dispossession in modern history.”

History contradicts Abbas. Israel accepted a U.N. partition plan to allow Jews and Arabs to live in separate enclaves… in peace. Instead, Arabs from within the partitioned areas and from five Arab nations attacked Israel.

As Israel held its ground, many Arabs fled for a variety of reasons, according to historians. Their leaders demanded they move out so Arab troops could conquer Israel, and the Arab inhabitants would return a few days later. Others understandably feared being caught in the cross-fire.

Perhaps Jewish extremists drove some Arabs out, but this has yet to be proven. If indeed they did, the Arabs provided them with the opportunity by initiating the war from the outset.

No doubt that some Israelis were pleased that a large number of Arabs fled, yet this was not their responsibility.

A half-century later, the Israelis offered the Palestinian Authority an independent state, but then-PA leader Yasser Arafat turned it down and facilitated a war against Israel.

Abbas likely bypassed the negotiating process because he is afraid that powerful blocs among his people are demanding more — the “right of return,” which will mean flooding Israel with 5 million refugees.

Granted, Netanyahu authorized settlement expansion on the West Bank, which gave Abbas an excuse to ignore negotiations.

In the midst of this 64-year span of events, a 30-year-old Israeli colonel known as “Yoni” died in 1976 while leading the rescue of 100 Israeli hostages held in Uganda by a group of Arab and German gunman. His brother is now Israel’s prime minister.

“Extinguish their being?…Expel them?” First Abbas’s associates cause the death of Netanyahu’s brother, and all these years later Abbas casts Israel as the villain. One needs not to have lost a brother to these creeps or even live in Israel to take offense with Abbas’s version of history.

Bruce S. Ticker of Philadelphia is author of the e-book George Costanza Goes to Washington available at TheWriteDeal.

 

New political book roasts flaws in governing

College students threatened with doubled school-loan interest rates can thank a stale, anachronistic political process on Capitol Hill that makes as much sense as the antics on “Seinfeld.”

In fact, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid must have modeled his negotiating skills on Seinfeld pal George Costanza when he allowed Republicans to retain their filibuster power, which they abuse at nearly every opportunity, according to the new e-book Amending America: To Change Policy, Change the System. This close look at our governing system is written by Philadelphia Jewish Voice writer Bruce S. Ticker.

Excerpts of Amending America were published in The Philadelphia Jewish Voice earlier this year under the working title, American Vision.

More after the jump.
Amending America builds a compelling case that the Constitution’s rules and other glitches in the system facilitate gridlock in Congress by shortchanging the clout of larger states in the Senate; allowing the two-party system to undermine independent candidates; treating Washington, D.C., residents as second-class citizens; and, of course, depriving Americans of a direct vote for our presidential preference. The book offers recommendations to level the playing field for all 308 million of us.

Sen. Boxer’s knockout election, Sen. Craig’s bathroom bust

Senator Barbara Boxer joins Marines in Iraq at mealPart 6 of American Vision by Bruce Ticker

‘It is appalling that a united House position – and common sense – weren’t enough to convince the Senate that the most at-risk areas need this security funding,’

– U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey, from New York’s Westchester County

The composition of the U.S. Senate threatened to partly claim homeland security funds for New York City.

The city that bears the starkest terrorist target on its back was competing with 64 cities for shrinking funds, from $887 million to $725 million in the budget that ran to Sept. 30, 2011. The 20 percent cut was part of the Republican-imposed budget deal reached between President Obama and members of Congress.

More after the jump.
New York House members attempted to pare down the number of eligible cities from 64 to 25 or less, but Senate members vetoed the idea, according to The NY Daily News.

U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey, a Westchester Democrat, told the News that the city would lose $27 million because of the large number of competitors.

“It is appalling that a united House position – and common sense – weren’t enough to convince the Senate that the most at-risk areas need this security funding,” she said.

Rep. Pete King, a Long Island Republican, added, “I guess Nashville has the Grand Ole Opry, but in terms of landmarks at risk and assets being targeted, nothing comes close to New York City.”

Besides Nashville, other cities eligible to compete for anti-terror funds were Anaheim, Calif., Bridgeport, Conn., Baton Rouge, La., Omaha, Neb., Toledo, Ohio, and Richmond, Va., according to the News.

Eventually, Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Homeland Security, pared down the number of cities eligible for this money, allowing NYC to receive more funds.

It is a common practice for lawmakers to respond to a situation which mainly affects one or a few communities by spreading funds to other towns which do not need it for this purpose. That’s why state money is often allotted to wealthy as well as poor school districts.

On the federal level, we are stuck with a dual system of tradeoffs. All House members represent the same number of people, but senators can demand more because each state is represented by the same number of senators no matter what the population.  

As a result, senators from a large state must concede even more than they would if the Senate was based on proportionate representation.Senator Larry Craig of Idaho


Barbara Boxer and Larry Craig served in the Senate simultaneously for 16 years. Craig, first elected in 1990, retired in disgrace in 2008, after he made some unusual gestures to an undercover police officer in the next toilet stall at a Minneapolis airport restroom.

In her 2004 re-election bid, Boxer achieved bragging rights to winning more votes – 6.9 million – than any senator in American history. She certainly won more votes than many of our earlier presidents. Boxer’s accomplishment can probably be attributed to her staying power and the ongoing growth of her adopted state. Faced with an aggressive opponent in 2010, Boxer could not match her 2004 record, though she was still re-elected.

Minneapolis restroom where Senator Larry Craig was arrested.California’s population is now up to 36.9 million and Idaho is home to 1.5 million, yet Boxer and Craig exercised exactly the same level of clout from 1993 (when Boxer joined the Senate) to 2009.  As a reminder, members of Congress are elected in November during an even year and assume office in early January.

This contrast exemplifies, if to an extreme degree, that the constitutional requirement of two Senate seats for each state does not work in a democratic system. It allows all the less populous states to exercise far more clout than the bigger states.

In his book “How Democratic is the American Constitution?”, Yale professor emeritus Robert A. Dahl writes, “Because the votes of U.S. senators are counted equally, in 2000 the vote of a Nevada resident for the U.S. Senate was…worth about 17 times the vote of a California resident. Surely the inequality in representation it reveals is a profound violation of the democratic idea of political equality among all citizens.”

Dahl’s book cites James Madison’s words: “The states were divided into different interests, not by their differences in size, but by other circumstances.”

Minority groups have long been impaired by this system. Dahl recounts that between 1800 and 1860 the House passed eight anti-slavery measures that were all defeated in the Senate. The South exploited its Senate power to end Reconstruction “and for another century it prevented the country from enacting federal laws to protect the most basic human rights of African Americans,” Dahl writes.

What more damage can be done if the Senate continues in its current form?

A recommendation to improve the system, detailed in a future chapter, would transform the operation from the equal number for each state to a more proportional method. The least populous states would lose one senator and senators in larger states would represent sections of each state. Depending on their size, some states would be authorized to elect more than two senators. On the surface, such changes must pass through the amendment process, which makes it appear impossible that it will ever happen.

More infuriating is the persistence of the filibuster rule which obstructs sensible legislation even more. It was born in folly and is protected in folly. We can safely compare treatment of the filibuster to Seinfeld’s Bizarro World.

A Senate at risk


111th Senate

Part 5 of American Vision by Bruce Ticker

“Enzi has already gotten detailed responses to the questions he raised. We know exactly how the 9/11 health clinics have spent their money, and so does Enzi.”
– Manhattan U.S. Reps. Carolyn Maloney and Jerrold Nadler

Whew! The American people were spared a U.S. Senate that might take command of its legislative agenda.

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

More after the jump.
Under the headline Senate Democrats’ minimalist agenda, The Washington Post reported that the Democratic majority has intentionally restrained itself to save seats in states like these.

The May 21, 2011, 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 the Senate half of the 112th Congress. Any wonder we have been stuck with an immovable Senate? Doing their jobs might cause some Democrats to lose their jobs in the November 2012 election. The Democratic leadership worried that they might lose their 51-47 majority if they overplayed their hand; two senators then were independents who caucus with the Democrats.

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

Senate gridlock is rooted in the Senate’s composition that requires equal representation for all states, while leaving the House of Representatives with proportionate representation. Senate Democrats  represent all five states that opposed proportionate representation during the Constitutional Convention in 1787. Rhode Island, which did not participate in the convention, is also represented by Democrats in the Senate.

Most low-population states are conservative or conservative-leaning. They are represented by Republicans in the Senate or alternate between the two parties. Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota was defeated for re-election in 2004. If he represented New Jersey or New York, he almost certainly would be serving in the Senate today.

Daschle’s fellow Democrats do not want others like him defeated, so they adjusted their agenda to protect their Senate seats in swing states. Three of those states, where two incumbents were retiring and a third was up for re-election, 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 – out of 308 million Americans – can propel the Senate leadership to ignore or minimize the needs and concerns of tens of millions of Americans. Democrats in the 112th Senate represented 190 million Americans after the 2010 election and 204 million in the 2008 election before Scott Brown, a Republican, was elected on Jan. 19, 2010, to fill a Massachusetts Senate seat left vacant by the death of Sen. Edward Kennedy.

Under these overall population estimates, each senator is counted as representing half their state’s population. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter’s switch to the Democratic Party is not counted here because he was elected as a Republican.

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 135 million 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.


Our present form of government was launched in a building at Wall and Nassau streets in lower Manhattan that was demolished two decades later. George Washington was inaugurated on the balcony on April 30, 1789. Eight blocks northeast, 212 years and four months later, two hijacked airplanes slammed into the World Trade Center towers.

It was this very form of government that threatened funding of two programs for New York City resulting from the 9-11 tragedy. One issue prompted bickering between a Manhattan congresswoman and a senator who represents fewer people than the number who live in her district. Manhattan alone comprises triple the population of the state that sent Mike Enzi to the Senate. For those who are confused by New York’s geographic composition, Manhattan is one of five boroughs that comprise NYC, population 8 million plus.

Manhattan’s population is 1,600,000 and Rep. Carolyn Maloney represents 700,000 people. The population of Enzi’s state, Wyoming, is 544,000.

In December 2010, Enzi opposed the Zadroga bill to compensate 9/11 workers sickened during the clean-up of the World Trade Center site. He was even accused of quarterbacking a campaign against the bill with a document that Carolyn Maloney called “a pack of lies.”

The New York Daily News attributed to unidentified sources the claim that Enzi, ranking Republican on the Senate Health Committee, was behind the opposition to the Zadroga bill, which would spend $7.4 billion over 10 years to provide health care and pay victims.

The revenue would be raised from closing tax revenues on foreign corporations. Because Republicans were against employing this source for revenues, New York Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, both Democrats, suggested other funding alternatives.

The News reported that the Republican document ignores their offers and labels the foreign tax provision a job-killer, and blatantly fabricates the claim that 95 percent of the workers were provided for in a recent $625 million legal settlement.

Only 10,000 people who sued, not the 30,000 who received some form of treatment, are covered by the settlement, the newspaper article clarified.

Calling these claims “a pack of lies,” Maloney said, “If these were legitimate concerns, why are Senate Republican leaders only raising them now, at the last minute, instead of years ago?”

Enzi would not respond to these accusations, but a week later he penned an op-ed piece in the News where he claimed that health-care providers that received federal grants for 9/11 health programs “have failed to tell Congress where that money has gone.”

In a follow-up letter to the News, Maloney and Jerrold Nadler (Ground Zero is located in his congressional district) wrote that “Enzi has already gotten detailed responses to the questions he raised. We know exactly how the 9/11 health clinics have spent their money, and so does Enzi.”


Obama signs Zadroga Act

In a Dec. 3 editorial, the Daily News employed phrases such as “distort the truth” and “torture decency” to describe Republican tactics. “They should stand at the graves of all those whose lungs were fatally destroyed, starting with NYPD Detective James Zadroga, who labored 450 hours at Ground Zero, and repeat the libel.” The bill was named after Detective Zadroga.

Next excerpt – Two senators, a high road and a low road

To change policy, change the system


Maturing moment – Convention delegates sign great but flawed Constitution at Independence Hall.

Part 4 of American Vision by Bruce Ticker

Congress will never change so long as both political parties are locked in an endless struggle for power.

Many senators and representatives in both parties enter Congress with the best of intentions, but they must still run for re-election and consider how their votes will affect their respective parties.

The end result means frequent watered-down compromises between what is best for their constituents and the public at large, and for their party.

More after the jump.
Republicans seem dead set against doing anything for vulnerable citizens,and they have feared that a more conservative candidate will be nominated to face President Obama in November. Democrats will restrain themselves because they worry that Democrats representing swing states or swing House districts will be endangered by initiatives considered to be too liberal.

It would be ideal if citizens entered Congress as, well, citizens intent on solving America’s problems, but political pressures intrude on a disproportionate basis. The election of independents could readily revitalize elections and the governing process.

The present system impedes the election of independents who would have difficulty raising the kind of money and building the type of campaign organization that can be provided by a political party. Because of the winner-take-all system, independents usually end up siphoning votes from one or both party candidates.

Some bad actors from either party who hold safe seats would probably get elected anyway, but a less partisan Congress would dilute their power. Probably nobody would have dared tell a president that he lied.

Independent candidates have been elected in a handful of statewide elections, usually small states. Of 100 senators and 435 House members, only two members of Congress are independents – Sens. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut and Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who was also elected as an independent when he represented Vermont in the House. Like independent governors in other states, these candidates were already people of stature.

These kinds of obstacles might be overcome by creating a system known as Instant Runoff Voting, which allows voters to list other preferred candidates in case their favored candidate ranks low on the pecking order. More on this in later chapters that outline recommended improvements.

It is probably impractical for an independent to mount a serious campaign for president or for elected office in a diverse, populous state, but it might be possible in congressional districts and small states.

______________________________________________________

The performance of Congress tops a chain of oppressive circumstances that restrict government on most levels in resolving difficulties in society.

The failings here are evident – crime, poverty, substandard schools, housing shortages, unemployment, inadequate health-care coverage, the widening income gap, child abuse, prejudice, political gridlock, corruption, government mismanagement and so on.

People often complain about conditions, but little is done about them. Some Americans who may fit the label of “liberal” assail Obama for failing to push his progressive agenda harder. Some African-Americans gripe that Obama has not done enough for issues which affect the black community. All true.

Maybe they failed to notice some slight stumbling blocks. Obama and Democrats in Congress have been unable to succeed with basic initiatives because of Republican opposition. The House passed legislation for a partly publicly financed health care system on Nov. 7, 2009, when it was controlled by the Democrats, but the Senate dislodged what was called the “public option” because Republicans threatened to exercise their filibuster power.

The same fate awaited Democratic attempts to repeal tax cuts for the wealthy.

If Democrats cannot get past these simple hurdles, how are they expected to do much else of a progressive nature?

The barrier that blocked Democratic legislation in Congress is one of many traps in our governance system that obstructs efforts to address some of the most basic needs in our country. Children continue to go hungry, more loyal employees in the private sector lose their jobs, students still attend overcrowded schools, prices persist in rising as wages stagnate.

Our system also maintains institutional racism. African-Americans and other racial minorities are disproportionately victimized by such policies.

None of this is likely to improve so long as we endure the policies produced by our current system.

To change policy, change the system.

The historic magnitude of the Constitution cannot be minimized, but certain of its rules limit America’s ability to serve its citizens adequately. The Constitution provides a durable foundation, but in two centuries it was necessary to place a great deal of building blocks atop it. What we have now is far from sufficient.

The Constitution contains four significantly flawed requirements. The most obvious was the set of provisions prolonging slavery. Fortunately, slavery was abolished with the Civil War, but the Constitution reflects the ongoing racial conflicts inherently embedded in American society.  

The electoral college was widely vilified when the 2000 presidential election turned into a bizarre spectacle – not the first time that a presidential candidate won the electoral college while losing the popular vote. The electoral college served its purpose for selecting presidents during the nation’s early years, but the reason for it no longer exists and the electoral college remains a drag, at best, on the democratic process.

The electoral college allows the ongoing potential for the selection of a president who is elected by only a minority of the voters, not to mention other disadvantages.

Creation of the Senate permits a minority of the country’s population to control part of the legislative process and the appointment of Supreme Court justices. The majority of the people must depend on chance at the ballot box to obtain sufficient clout in the Senate.

On the surface, the amendment process can easily block any attempt to adjust these clauses to make the system more democratic. Any proposed amendment can be thwarted by provisions requiring a two-thirds vote in each house and ratification by three quarters of the 50 states.

Under this system, interestingly, the minority of the population can block adjustments of the rules which already stifle the will of the majority.  

Our system of governance also inhibits the appointment of Supreme Court justices and judges on the lower federal courts whom we can trust for fairness. It is possible for the minority of the people to select judges because of the power of the electoral college and the composition of the Senate.

Beyond the Constitution itself, our 50-state network as we know it is anachronistic. The economic strength or weakness of many states now depends on corporate decisions reached in other states and even foreign countries. Big cities or metropolitan areas usually fund a state’s operations by higher proportions, and the larger states send more money to the federal treasury than smaller states.

Some cities and metropolitan areas may well be self-sufficient if they detach themselves from their state governments. It would likewise make sense if low-population states merged, or if some small states folded into an adjacent larger state.

Many of our problems are self-inflicted. We entrust our political leaders with extensive powers on levels from the White House to City Council. We have elected many exceptional people for public office, yet we have voted people into office who mismanaged our government, stole from us and even contributed to frantic turmoil throughout the world.

Politicians who betray our trust are able to do so because we let them get away with it.

Few enough Americans exercise their rights. Many do not vote in any elections and others will only vote in selected elections, especially the presidential election and in big-city mayoral elections. We do not take time to learn about candidates’ backgrounds and their positions.


Way of Wisconsin – Citizens exercise their democratic rights in rotunda of state capitol in Madison, in protest of Gov. Scott Walker’s anti-union initiatives

Once successful candidates take office, too few of us bother to keep track of what they do or communicate our concerns to them. Nor do we organize sufficiently to express dissent of their actions. The series of mass protests in Madison, Wisc., was an exception to what we have experienced in modern times.

Mayors, governors, judges and elected officials of all kinds have mismanaged their operations or abused the trust placed with them. Scandals abound, involving massive contract overruns, judges prosecuted for profiting from sentencing practices, council members benefiting from questionable procedures, a lawyer’s conflict of interest over a proposed building, sexual harassment, the appointment of a schools chief seen as indifferent and unqualified,  and a state government’s longtime neglected oversight of an abortion doctor ultimately charged with murder of babies after being born alive.

The system can be changed.

This begs some legitimate questions: Why bring all this up? Are there any alternatives? If there are, how do we bring about any change?

A series of recommendations are recited in the latter portion of this series. They include a more proportionate form of congressional representation; a realignment of state governments; more regional systems of government; modified rules governing the federal courts; and electoral changes to encourage campaigns of independent candidates, among other measures. Did I mention scrapping the electoral college?

These suggestions can at least serve as a starting point for consideration.

The most anticipated concern about these ideas is this likely question: How? To risk understatement, the obstacles to any changes are daunting.


Broken system – Electoral vote prompts need for bizarre recount in Florida, sparking protests.

If the Senate refuses to adjust or eliminate the filibuster rule, what hope is there for anything else? To amend the amendment process, we obviously need to use, well, the amendment process. The public understood full well the consequences of the electoral college when we endured the Florida recount a decade ago, but there has been no groundswell to eliminate it.

We should be under no illusion that the system will change. Maybe conditions can improve, but at this rate the outlook is not optimistic.

However, it is crucial to understand the deficiencies of the system before we can improve conditions. Making America what it should be does not seem possible under the existing way of doing business, but maybe it can happen. I do not know how to change policy without changing the system.

At stake is good government and how it can best serve its people.  

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

An illegitimate Congress? You betcha

Part 2 of American Vision by Bruce Ticker

The Republican leadership is asking its members to make a silly vote. — House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, April 1, 2011

Blame Congress.

Even more, blame the rules of the game that enable the Congress we have.

More after the jump.
Congress is hardly the only culprit responsible for bad government, but Capitol Hill is the starting point. The majority in Congress can declare war, or shift this power to the president; raise or cut taxes, especially for the rich; send troops…not to mention the National Guard…to fight Muslims in two unstable countries; and provide or deny our most vulnerable citizens housing, food, health care and quality education.

Congress can also violate the U.S. Constitution, as did 221 members of the House of Representatives via some bizarre legislation on April 1, 2011.

All 221 members ignored Article 1, Section 7, of the Constitution which was recited on the House floor on Jan. 6, 2011. All supporters of the bill in question were Republicans, the very ones who insisted that the Constitution and its 27 amendments be recited when Congress opened its 2011-12 session.

All Democrats and 15 Republicans voted against H.R. 1255. Rep. Louie Gohmert, a Texas Republican, said the bill “violates my conscience and the Constitution, and I cannot vote for it.”

Our system is not perfect, but the 221 representatives who voted for the bill cheapened our way of doing the people’s business.

H.R. 1255 required that a fiscal year 2011 spending bill, already passed by the House, would become law if the Senate would not pass a spending law by April 6.

There is a reason the bill never became law after that date – the Constitution, which requires that a bill can only become law after both houses pass a law and the president signs it, or the president refuses to sign and both houses override his veto by a two-thirds vote.

The provision reads, “Every bill which shall have passed The House of Representatives and the Senate, shall, before it becomes a Law, be presented to the President of the United States: If he approve he shall sign it, but if not he shall return it, with his Objections to that House in which it shall have originated, who shall enter the Objections at large on their Journal, and proceed to reconsider it. If after such reconsideration two thirds of that House shall agree to pass the Bill, it shall be sent, together with the Objections, to the other House, by which it shall likewise be reconsidered, and if approved by two thirds of that House, it shall become a law.”

In the less than genteel debates over the April 1 budget bill, The Hill newspaper quoted House Majority Leader Eric Cantor saying,

Funding the government at the levels passed by House Republicans might be what Senator Reid wants, but surely even he would agree that it’s a better alternative than shutting down the government.

Cantor, a Republican from the Richmond, Va., area, was referring to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.

Some Democratic representatives recommended that Cantor and his flock read children’s books on the Constitution such as House Mouse, Senate Mouse, according to The Hill. Then-Rep. Anthony Weiner of Queens quipped, “It’s a much thinner book and it rhymes.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco invoked the most mature comment when she declared, “What you see on the floor today is no example of democracy in action. It’s silly. The Republican leadership is asking its members to make a silly vote.”


On the surface, Congress is representative government. After all, each of us can claim representation by one member of the House of Representatives and two members of the Senate, with the exception of those living in Washington and the U.S. territories.

Some Americans are represented better than others. In reality, Congress neither represents the majority of Americans nor adequately protects the rights of minorities. Congress is mainly hobbled by two inherent mechanisms and one of its own making.

First is the constitutional mandate for disproportionate representation in the Senate allowing each state equal clout – whether a senator represents 544,000 citizens or 36.9 million. Second is the stifling two-party system which thwarts meaningful participation of third parties and independent candidates in the political process. If more independents could get elected, is it possible that neither party could claim a majority in either chamber? The Senate’s composition is aggravated by the filibuster rule, which the Senate majority can revise or eliminate.

On May 30, 1787, the Virginia Plan was introduced to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia proposing a national government consisting of a legislature, executive and judiciary. The concept for a legislature subsequently materialized as two houses of Congress – each to represent American citizens on a proportionate basis. On June 9, New Jersey delegate William Paterson declared, “New Jersey will never confederate on the plan before the Committee. She would be swallowed up.”

Virginia was the most populous state at that time, followed by Pennsylvania. New Jersey was among the small states, yet now New Jersey outranks Virginia, respectively 11th and 12th in population. New Jersey was joined in opposition by delegates from Delaware, Maryland, Connecticut and New York, the latter of which is now our third most populous state. Despite Delaware’s current ranking of 45th, all five states are part of the northeastern bloc that traditionally adheres to moderate and liberal policies. Each is represented by centrist or liberal Democrats in the Senate.

On June 11, Roger Sherman of Connecticut proposed “that the proportion of suffrage in the first branch should be according to the respective numbers of free inhabitants; and that in the second branch or Senate, each state should have one vote and no more…As the states would remain possessed of certain individual rights, each state ought to be able to protect itself; otherwise a few large states will rule the rest.” Sherman revised his proposal on June 20 and was joined by fellow Connecticut delegates Oliver Ellsworth and William Samuel Johnson on June 29 in proposing a comparable plan, later to become known as the Connecticut Compromise.

“Too many – both among the large- and small-state delegations – were simply not in a mood to embrace compromise,” Richard Beeman writes in “Plain, Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution.” “One by one, they rose to defend their ideas and, more importantly, the interests of their particular states.” The delegates ignored all three versions of the Connecticut plan until July 16, when they decided to split the composition of the two chambers. Members of the House of Representatives would each represent the same amount of constituents (that number now averages 720,000) and each state would be represented by the same number of senators.

Madison and four other delegates gathered the next morning, July 17, to discuss the July 16 decision. They found no takers to reconsider the Connecticut Compromise, which was formalized in Article 1 of the Constitution. Most delegates, displeased with the final product for varying reasons, signed the Constitution on Sept. 17, 1787, because their choice was to persist with the status quo or formalize the governing mechanism produced by the convention.

In the Federalist Papers, Madison argued for Section 3 of Article 1, which authorizes creation of a Senate with equal representation. The Constitution was ratified by 11 of the 13 states, and Congress as we know it today convened on Wall Street in lower Manhattan on March 4, 1789. George Washington was inaugurated as our first president on April 30, 1789.

Nine states were required to ratify the Constitution, made official by New Hampshire on June 21, 1788. North Carolina and Rhode Island made it unanimous soon after the government was formed.

Washington strenuously warned against the formation of political parties in his 1796 farewell address in part because “it is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed.” Political parties indeed emerged. After the Civil War, the political process settled into a pattern dominated by the Democratic and Republican parties.

In 2006 and 2008, voters upset with Republicans mainly had Democrats as an alternative. In 2010, Republicans benefited. Independent or third-party candidates typically divert votes from the more preferred party candidate.

The filibuster was rooted in Vice President Aaron Burr’s verbal critique of Senate rules. He singled out a Senate rule requiring the majority to cut off debate, and the Senate scrapped the rule in 1806 without replacing it. More than a century later, political pressures produced the filibuster in 1917, requiring a so-called super-majority to end debate. The filibuster carried debate to the extreme in which debate could clog up Senate business indefinitely.


A tsunami warning buoy

The upshot of these events is a dysfunctional system that in 2011 produced a possibly illegitimate Congress; cuts to a tsunami-warning system; and the criminal conviction of an impeachment leader.

The swearing-in for 433 House members of the 112th Congress was held on Wednesday afternoon, Jan. 5, 2011, as two other members – Michael Fitzpatrick of Bucks County, a Philadelphia suburb, and Pete Sessions of Dallas – attended a reception a few hundred yards away, in the Capitol Visitor Center, for more than 500 of Fitzpatrick’s constituents.

As Speaker of the House John A. Boehner administered the oath of office on the House floor, Sessions and Fitzpatrick watched Boehner on live television and recited the oath without leaving the reception, at 2:15 p.m. Predictably, House parliamentarians told them they must be officially sworn in, and Boehner administered the oath of office on Thursday.

Fitzpatrick said he thought that the Jan. 5 swearing-in would be held at 2:45, not 2:15. Any situation could arise that might prevent a member of Congress from attending the swearing-in.

Their failure to show up for the oath does not by itself jeopardize the operations of Congress. The act of casting votes for six legislative measures – before taking their oath of office – could be problematic.

Because two illegitimate congressmen cast votes, can these measures be legitimate?

If Sessions and Fitzpatrick paid attention when the Constitution was recited on Thursday morning, they would have been aware of Article VI, Clause 3: “The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution.”

Sessions and Fitzpatrick violated Clause 3 when they voted to establish the rules of the House and a 5 percent reduction in congressional office allowances, according to The Washington Post. Their votes were stricken from the Congressional Record on Friday, but was that sufficient?

This fact remains: The House passed six measures in which two illegal votes were cast for each. That could make the entire package of bills illegal. Any one of these bills which, if they need to be ratified by the Senate and signed by the president, could be illegitimate because illegal votes were cast in the first place.

Sessions even chaired a committee meeting on Thursday.

They should have arranged to be sworn in before casting any votes. It takes plenty of gall to cast votes without abiding by the constitutional requirement to be “bound by Oath or Affirmation.” They should have known better. Sessions spent the previous 14 years in Congress and Fitzpatrick was first elected in 2004, defeated two years later and elected again the preceding November.

Their allies might argue that these measures would have passed without their votes, so it is okay to maintain the results. However, the initial inclusion of these votes could taint the end result.

Congress disregarded our constitutional principles. The House took legislative action that was not legitimate. The only way to make it legitimate is to wipe the slate clean and hold the votes and the committee meeting again.

The House not only violated the Constitution when it took on those six votes. The House persists in violating the Constitution so long as it refuses to straighten out its self-inflicted mess.

This is not parsing. The law is the law is the law. If our own Congress cannot abide by the law that binds it, then our system is automatically violated.

Next excerpt – Profiles in absurdity

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.    

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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.

They demanded ID when I came to vote


My decades-long experiences as a voter in Philadelphia were mostly satisfactory, but my luck ran out on Nov. 8.

When I entered my center city polling place, poll workers improperly demanded that I produce identification. The 2011 general election occasioned my third or fourth visit to this site. A registered voter is required to produce identification once after s/he moves to their new address.

I reminded them that lawmakers in Harrisburg were currently haggling over a proposal to require identification during each election, which means that they had no legal authority to demand this.

More after the jump.

They told me that the judge of elections directed them to demand ID. They said that the judge can do this while the legislature is determining what to do in the future. I declined and they asked me to recite my address, which I did.

I informed them that I was going to phone the elections board. One poll worker responded that they would tell me what a great job they were doing.

This was at least the third time that I voted at this polling place since my polling place was relocated a few years ago.

A similar experience occurred last May. When I entered the polling place, a worker yelled at me to produce identification. At that time, I was not aware that identification was an issue, so I produced ID.

Both these experiences were bizarre and disturbing. I have to wonder where the city commission finds these people. Whatever the merits of the proposed legislation, it is still not the law. In addition, I probably would have produced ID had they asked me for it as a courtesy. However, they had no right to make demands, even to have me recite my address.

I complained to anyone who I thought was responsible or had an interest in my concern – the Pennsylvania Department of State, state Rep. Babette Josephs and newly-elected City Commissioner Stephanie Singer, a Democrat who does not assume office until January. I reluctantly contacted the city commission office still run by departing Commissioner Marge Tartaglione.

A City Commission lawyer hooked me up with my Democratic committeeman, who immediately apologized and promised that this kind of conduct would not be repeated. He explained there was a miscommunication and described other unusual circumstances that contributed to this episode.

While his explanation begged more questions, I deeply appreciated his responsiveness.

I confess to not following the city commission election closely. I was aware that the commission under Tartaglione was heavily politicized. My attempts to learn more about the election process or research voter turnout and past election results were undermined by the agency’s website, if you can call it that. The website is essentially a blank slate that is utterly useless.

A few weeks after the election, I learned that my experience was nothing unusual after reading an Inquirer interview with Singer and Al Schmidt, the incoming commission members who will replace, respectively, Tartaglione and Joseph Duda. Schmidt is a Republican.

In excerpts, Schmidt said, “The common denominators during the campaign really focused on transparency, making sure the office provides information to people when they need it…that it’s more efficient and more accountable to taxpayers and people who depend on it for service…They’re not transparent in how they spend taxpayer dollars…but more importantly, the information that people need to become engaged in the civic life of the city.”

Singer: “Part of it is simply making certain information is easily, publicly available, through the usual formats and also on a website. Budget detail and election results and things like that. And part of it is changing the culture of the office…making clear that we’re here to serve the public – the voters, the candidates, and the parties. And that our job is to make it easier for people…to be engaged.”

Schmidt: “The training of election board workers has been really very poor, and I think it shows in a lot of ways. I know it hurts our minority party and other minority parties…They’ve never seen a poll-watcher certificate before and they kick people out…It causes a lot of havoc on election day.”

Schmidt and Singer talk like serious people intent on serving the public to the best of their abilities. Under ideal circumstances, there would be nothing special about them. The Schmidt-Singer team should be the standard, not the exception.