Friday, July 27, 2007

Redistricting Constitutional Amendment: An Issue We Can’t Afford To Ignore

Representatives are elected to act in the interests of their constituents. This is a basic concept of representative democracy – you’ll find it in almost any middle school or high school social studies text book. Yet, we know that in the real world, elected officials often act in the interest of themselves, and even more often, in the interest of their political party. If our elected officials aren’t accurately representing their constituents, why are they continually elected? One part of the answer is gerrymandering.

When districts are gerrymandered, district lines are drawn to most strengthen the vote of a particular political party. For example, although more Michigan voters usually vote for Democrats than Republicans, Republicans often win a majority of seats. Some say this is due to partisan gerrymandering.

Recently, Senator Glenn Anderson, 6th District Democrat in the Michigan Senate, introduced Joint Senate Resolution D. This constitutional amendment would change the way Michigan district lines are drawn. As you probably know, our current system gives the majority party the power to draw district lines. Gerrymandered district lines break up communities that share concerns and issues, in many cases decreasing the impact of like voters, and make elections less competitive.

The new proposal would create an independent redistricting commission of nine members: four Democrats, four Republicans, and one independent elected by the other eight. This commission would draw district lines for Michigan elections. This legislation intends to de-politicize the redistricting process, drawing of district lines with regard to the communities, rather than the advantage of either political party.

On his website, Anderson says the current system allows politicians to choose their voters instead of voters electing their representatives. “Reforming the process will strengthen the hand of voters and force politicians to be more responsive to those they represent, regardless which party they identify themselves with,” said Anderson.

I strongly support this legislation and hope to increase awareness of this issue among Michigan voters. Unfortunately, studies show that most people don’t understand political redistricting and don't really care about it. A 2006 study from the Pew Research Center cites that 47% of people don’t even know how redistricting is done in their state. When asked if they were satisfied in with the process, 70% of people had no opinion.

Certainly, redistricting is an issue that is hard to get excited about for most people. It’s much easier to be angry about the war, get upset about gas prices, or frustrated by our outrageous health care system. Redistricting isn’t glamorous, but it’s the basis from which we can get things done. Without a fair process, you can shake your fist at the sky all you want on your pet issues: if the way we elect our representatives is corrupt, they will have no reason to listen to what we want.

Find out more about the Pew Study here, or read the text of the redistricting amendment proposed by Senator Anderson here.

Thanks for listening. As a new member of the ICDP, this is my first post to the dispatch. Hope you enjoyed it, and if you didn’t, write down your negative comments and toss them in the nearest rubbish bin ;) Give me a little time to get my bearings and then critique away.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Anti-tax Nuts Looking for Dweebs in Mount Pleasant

Leon Drolet, the far right Republican from Macomb County, was in Mount Pleasant the other night trying to recruit an army of know-nothings to recall any legislators who vote for any tax increases.

But apparently the expensive room at the Holiday Inn had only a handful of dweebs who wanted to listen to Drolet teach them that any tax is a bad tax and that no government is good government. The giant pig that Drolet's anti-tax group haul's around the state was sitting outside the Holiday Inn and even despite several notices and ads in the local publications, Drolet's group isn't having much impact.

Imagine that. When even the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and most other sane Republicans concede that state and local government actually need more revenue and not more cuts, Drolet keeps pushing the dead horse he doesn't realize has passed on.

Polls now clearly show that Michiganders don't want to have schools and health care for the poor cut back and they don't want to force universities to raise tuition because of further cutbacks in state funding. But Drolet and his cronies are now threatening to organize a phalanx of avid volunteers to recall legislators who don't notice the anti-tax lunatics mean business.

This whole mentality is brought to you by one of George Bush's favorite neocons, Grover Norquist. Norquist once described his goal as the drowning of government in a bathtub by cutting off its funding. Norquist is one of the board members of Drolet's anti-tax group.

But after 12 years of John Engler's insistence that Michigan would prosper as a result of his massive tax and budget cuts, that dog doesn't hunt any more even in his home county of Isabella. Engler is smart enough not to come back this way much. He'd be laughed out of Stan's.

Drolet doesn't get it yet. The anti-tax policy doesn't work, never has and never will for ordinary folks. It just makes the rich richer and the rest of us poorer and cuts services most of us agree we don't want to cut.

For those who don't think term limits has any reason to be, I might just remind them that Drolet is no longer commuting to Lansing.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Banning Planned Parenthood Centers, and Dave Camp

I’ll begin with a disclosure: I am a member of Planned Parenthood. Whether or not you are pro-choice or pro-life, I would hope that preventing unwanted conception is a common ground for us to agree upon. While Planned Parenthood clinics are viewed by many people as little more than abortion clinics, in fact the prime goal has been, and continues to be (surprise!) family planning. Among other things, this means giving people information about how to prevent pregnancies, or information about prenatal care. Yes, abortion is part of the mix, but it is a last resort.

This might come as a surprise (he wrote sarcastically), but there are people who are not only against abortion, but also against real sex education and any and all means of contraception. This is why Planned Parenthood has been in their sights for many years as an organization that they want to put out of business.

Their latest attempt is coming from Congressman Mike Pence. Mike is introducing an amendment that specifically seeks to ban Planned Parenthood health centers nationwide from receiving family planning funding. This is probably unconstitutional, but that has not stopped Republicans from the far right yet.

Planned Parenthood frames it this way: “Each year, more than five million women receive comprehensive family planning services at family planning clinics that are funded by Title X. These women are predominantly poor and uninsured -- two-thirds have incomes at or below the federal poverty level. Title X provides a critical safety net for these women, and without it, many women would go without the health care they need and deserve. For many of these women, Planned Parenthood is the only provider they know and trust. Time and time again, anti-family planning politicians put politics ahead of women's health. It's time to put a stop to these extremist policies.“

This amendment will reach the floor of the House soon, and Dave (Rubber Stamp) Camp will be voting on it. Call him and urge him to vote NO on the Pence Amendment to the Labor-HHS spending bill. This is another chance for him stand up for women’s health. Call soon!

Representative Dave Camp
(202) 225-3561

Monday, July 16, 2007

LTTE: Lawmakers bad employees

The following letter to the editor appears in today's Grand Rapids Press.

If you were your company's boss, and you had employees who weren't doing the work they were hired to do, wouldn't you get on their case? While Michigan continues to deal with economic and budget woes, some state lawmakers decided to put a two-week vacation above the interests of our state.

Universities and school districts are having to make budget projections based on uncertainty. Businesses considering moving to Michigan are scared away by the state's poor credit rating. Why aren't such lawmakers as Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop willing to work toward a solution to this budget crisis? What's more, many lawmakers oppose a tax increase. Never mind the fact that Republicans raised the gas and cigarette taxes when John Engler was governor, or that our personal income and business tax rates are lower than those of most other states. Or that a bipartisan panel recently said that new revenues are needed to get our state out of the fiscal and economic hole.

I certainly don't fault Governor Jennifer Granholm, who has worked tirelessly over the past few years to fix the enormous problems Michigan faces. Michigan lawmakers are paid a salary of $80,000 per year, more than state legislators in most other states.

What business do they have in the Legislature if they choose vacationing over working?

As Americans, we are the bosses of our elected officials. As Michigan residents, we must remind our lawmakers that they're not paid to fiddle while our state burns.

There are actually quite a few goods ones in today's Press, including another one that uses the 'fiddling while Michigan burns' metaphor. So if you want a look at what's going on beyond the Morning Sun, have at it. (There's also more illustrious framing of the issue here.)

(I should note that in the version I sent in, the paragraphs didn't break the way they do here. So if, say, the third to last paragraph didn't make sense, now you know why.)


Wednesday, July 11, 2007

House passes relief for college students; Camp opposes it

These days, getting a college education is essential for those who want to be successful throughout life. Moreover, a skilled and educated workforce is critical for the US to get back on the right track.

Key to this is making sure college is affordable. Last year Republicans in Congress voted to cut the Pell Grant and raise interest rates on student loans. Under Democratic leadership, Congress is working to remedy that. An important piece of this effort, the College Cost Reduction Act of 2007, has passed the House... but whaddya know, Dave "Nice Guy" Camp opposed it.

Rep. George Miller (D-CA), chair of the House Education Committee and champion of students, had a few words for those who tried to kill the bill:

"...You don’t like the fact that while you were in power after years of flat lining the Pell Grant, we we’ve finally given them the biggest increase in decades for the poorest kids in this country. You don’t like that so you want to kill the bill. You don’t like the fact that were going to take 5 million middle class kids and extend to them a loan thats interest rate is cut in half? While their families are struggling to get them through college? They’re making sacrifices every year? You’re going to do this? You’re going to kill this bill? Are you proud? Are you proud of this amendment, that you are going to try to kill this bill? Say it louder."

Well, Mr. Camp, are you proud?

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Friday, July 06, 2007

Bill Clinton and Truman– what a pair

Yesterday (5 July), I spent a memorable afternoon sitting about 30 feet from Bill Clinton as he addressed 5000 people. It was a hot day in Independence, MO, and we had gathered to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Truman Library and Museum.

After broiling in the afternoon sun, we were finally admitted into the cool air of the physical center of the Reformed Latter Day Saints, the Community of Christ auditorium. Harry Truman’s grandson, Clifton Truman Daniel, and the governor of Kansas, Kathleen Sebelius were sitting near us, as were other political luminaries.

My point in this entry is not to burden you with a “what I did on my summer vacation” sort of diary, but to remind you, as I was reminded yesterday, that our greatest presidents have been visionaries and men of good will.

Unlike the current inhabitant of the Oval Office, these men actually meant what they said. Bill Clinton reminded us that Harry Truman sought out our nation’s enemies so he could talk with them and reach political solutions. Truman devised the perfect, non-military alternative to counter Russian imperialism: the Marshall Plan.

He respected minorities, was concerned about the welfare of the entire nation, acknowledged his mistakes, and led this country brilliantly through some of the most dangerous periods of our history: the reconstruction following WWII and the beginning of the Cold War. In short, he was the complete antithesis of our current president who has engaged in double-speak for so long that he has lost his moorings politically, ethically, and morally. He is adrift on a sea of deception, with he himself, perhaps, being the most deceived.

Clinton, who is perhaps one of the most thwarted presidents we’ve ever had, talked about how Truman was thwarted by powerful political forces who would not abide racial integration, universal health care, or a myriad of other programs that could have bettered our society. Like Truman, Clinton could have done so much more had he been able to focus on the job rather than fighting off his enemies who would do anything, including shutting down the federal government, to make his life miserable. Parenthetically, does this sound like what a certain Michigan governor is going through?

Yesterday, all of us who heard Clinton speak were reminded that once we had great presidents who cared about all of us. I look forward to the possibility that this will someday once again be true.

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Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Our Country, to Have and to Hold

Before his death three years ago, my grandfather told me a number of stories about his days in the Asia/Pacific Theater during World War II - escaping death, crossing the Equator, the meals they served on the ships. My other grandfather also had war stories of his own, although sadly, he died two years before I was born, so I never had the chance to hear them.

Both of my grandfathers shared something in common, however: Both are among a long list of brave men and women who have served in defense of this nation and the ideals we hold dear - the ones Thomas Jefferson wrote in that Declaration which was signed 231 years ago today: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.

Jefferson was one of many who, tired of the status quo, decided to take action against tyranny, against the oppression of those at the bottom by those at the top. And so we must follow in Jefferson's lead.

A lot has changed since the Founders rose up and rejected the status quo. Our nation has 37 more states and 100 times as many people. Forty-three men have taken an oath to uphold our nation's Constitution, with some fulfilling their oath better than others. Whereas only free men over 21 who owned property could vote in the early days of our Republic, nowadays virtually everyone over 18 may vote.

Yet even as our freedoms come under attack from within, we can be proud of the fact that so many people - among them my friend Cliff, who recently returned from Iraq - are willing to put their lives on the line for those ideals which Jefferson gave us, and that so many others - Keith Olbermann, Helen Thomas, Al Gore, and John Conyers, among countless others - work day in and day out to hold our leaders accountable for preserving and expanding liberty.

But they cannot do it alone.

In this time when our basic freedoms are being attacked, each of us must take responsibility for doing our part to ensure that the cause of liberty is not destroyed in our great Republic. Because as much as Bush and his cabal try to ruin the Republic, the fact remains, this is still our country.

OUR country.

This country belongs to ALL 300,000,000+ of us. This country belongs to a poor person without health insurance and without a job as much as it does to the wealthy CEO of a Fortune 500 company. It belongs as much to a paralyzed person as it does to a star athlete. It belongs as much to a janitor as it does to his/her company's senior vice president. It belongs just as much to a military recruit on his first day in basic training as it does to a four-star general. It belongs as much to a child entering kindergarten this fall as it does to my school district’s recently retired superintendent and her successor.

And of course, this country belongs to the millions of people who have served their country in uniform: from Washington and the other Founders, to Grant, to TR at San Juan Hill, to my grandfathers, to my father, to Cliff.

This country belongs to us as much as it did to the 56 men who pledged “our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred Honor” to the cause of freedom 231 years ago. Or to the 39 who, eleven summers later, authored the Constitution.

Or the millions of working men and women in this country, without whom America would not be America.

Or the countless men and women who have died protecting us: Armed Forces personnel, firefighters, police officers.

Understanding that this country belongs to each and every one of us is what patriotism is all about. Patriotism doesn’t involve saying you support our troops despite supporting policies that harm them, i.e. an ill-planned war that has led to the loss of nearly 3,600 Americans. Nor does it involve calling people traitors just because they they happen to disagree with you. Nor does it involve ruthlessly attacking patriots such as Max Cleland and John Kerry.

Patriotism involves speaking up. Sharing your opinion. Demanding the truth. Expecting the best for our Republic. Insisting that good spring from bad, that the values we hold dear as a nation are not suppressed by a group of egotists seeking to serve themselves at the expense of others.

Countless Americans have sacrificed so much for this country, from the bitter winter at Valley Forge, through the bloody Civil War, through two World Wars, through numerous other conflicts, right into this one. We can't all serve in the military, but if our nation is to remain free, we must all do the example Jefferson laid out for us and fight for the America we desire.

God and Patriotism: thoughts on the 4th of July

In the midst of our individual ways of celebrating this national holiday, it is good to consider how easily love of country (the meaning of the term patriotism) can become confused with religion. Now my eyes get misty when I see the American flag waving in the breeze, and I sing “God bless America” as loudly as the next person when I’m at the baseball game (now that this has, it seems, become a new national custom). But I know that these are words and images that I have been taught to respond to; if I were, for example, from Zambia, I would not have the same feelings.

This is where my countrymen are easily confused: God, if indeed there is a God, does not place the humans who inhabit this particular part of the world above the humans who inhabit the other parts of the world. There are those who would have us believe otherwise.

They call themselves and their groups by various names, and they were around even before the signing of the Declaration of Independence. They are people, men mostly, who thirst to have power over other people, and they cloak their quest under the cover of religion. What do they want? To do away with the Constitution and establish a theocracy where the state and religion are one.

Some might actually believe what they say: that they have discovered Truth and have a special relationship with their god who communicates with them in mysterious ways (in this country, when people hear voices in their heads, we place them in asylums; but if they say it on the radio or television, we send them money). Others are seeking political power and may or may not believe what they say, but they are more than happy to bend, twist, and otherwise misuse religion to attain power.

This day celebrates a time when a cluster of colonies banded together to tell England that they would not tolerate a system that oppressed people because they had different religious or political views then the majority. This would become a nation ruled by law, where a theocracy would not exist. This would be something not seen before among nations: a secular government where all religions could flourish, and where even the non-religious could find refuge.

This is a day to remember the closing words of the Pledge of Alligance, so we can once again be a nation indivisible, where all people, and all religions, can truly say that here is they find liberty and justice for all.

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Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Not About Scooter, it's the war lies, Stupid

If you check out the major media, you would think the commuting of the jail sentence is all about whether a Vice-presidential aide should go to jail or not. But when President Twig commuted the prison sentence of Paul Wolfiwitz protege I. "Scooter? Libby, Jr. , son of an investment banker, it wasn't about whether a child of privilege would again make a mockery of justice. Although, it is easy to make that case.

No, it is really about the cover-up of the lies that got us into an incredibly expensive and scandalous war. When Joe Wilson revealed in a New York Times op-ed piece just a few of the lies related to the claim that Iraq had and was building weapons of mass destruction, the revelations could have derailed an unjustified and illegal war.

Most of us are convinced the White House directed the attacks on Wilson and his CIA wife and that Scooter was just the errand boy. But the errand boy in jail could sing to save his own butt. Commuting the sentence keeps a lid on the truth from coming out about Wilson-gate. So where is a Deep Throat? How long will it take?

If you listen to today's media, Scooter had nothing to do with the Iraq War. We need to keep reminding ourselves we got lied into a war and they are still covering that up. That is why Bush still has a 30% approval rating. Or is it now 27%. If the truth came out, it would be 2%.