Saturday, December 31, 2005

Four Thirty Five 
Nope, not AM. Not PM.

House seats.

The US House of Representatives consists of 435 members. The other day I was idly wondering - why 435? why not 434, or 436? Where did 435 come from? The Constitution specifies only that each House seat shall represent at least 30,000 people - so why 435?

Why indeed? Historically, the size of the House was increased after every decennial census, as the Constitution calls for. The last time, though, was in 1911, when it reached its current size. In 1920-21, Congress could not decide what methodology to use to do the reapportionment and so they did nothing that session. By 1930, they'd apparently decided that they really liked the idea of not watering down their influence and power any further - so ever since then we've had just 435 seats in the House (with a 4-year blip to 437 when Alaska and Hawaii entered the Union).

The House of Representatives is supposed to be the People's House - but a House member now represents, on average, about 660,000 people. That's way too many - a far cry from the constitutional lower limit of 30,000. It makes Congressional district constituencies so large that no individual constituent is adequately represented in Congress. How often have YOU spoken to your Representative? Have you even MET him or her? Odds are you haven't. Because they have to reach so many people, over such large geographic areas, it also makes Congressional campaigns so expensive that ordinary citizens without the ability to contribute to those campaigns have become almost irrelevant to them. The limited number of seats leads to rampant dishonesty and corruption of the re-districting process - as we've seen in Tom DeLay's recent indictments in connection with Texas' redistricting 2 years ago.

It's time to take a look at true Congressional reapportionment. The US population as of the 2000 census was roughly 282 million. If we went with 30,000 constituents per Member, the House would swell to almost 10,000 seats. Kind of unwieldy, I'll admit (it would be difficult to fit them all in the Capitol Building). But there are many compelling reasons for a serious increase in the size of the House - if not all the way down to 30,000, at least to something far lower than the 800,000 constituents per member it will likely be after the 2010 census.

Here's hoping for a more democratic (and a more Democratic) 2006, and I wish you all a happy, healthy New Year.

Friday, December 30, 2005

R.I.P. Michael Vale 
28 June,1922 - 24 December,2005

Time to make the donuts!
It's still time to make the donuts...

Best laugh I've had all day 
I do so enjoy reading Times' columnists these days, because there's a little present at the end of each one:

Thomas L. Friedman is on vacation.

Our crapulous press 
In a story about web cookies on the White House website, Associated Press reporter Anick Jesdanun demonstrates, right in his lede, what's wrong with the American press today, and why so many bloggers call reporters for the main-stream media "stenographers:"
U.S. to Probe Contractor's Web Tracking

By ANICK JESDANUN, AP Internet Writer Fri Dec 30, 4:27 AM ET

NEW YORK - Unbeknown to the Bush administration, an outside contractor has been using Internet tracking technologies that may be prohibited to analyze usage and traffic patterns at the White House's Web site, an official said Thursday.

David Almacy, the White House's Internet director, promised an investigation into whether the practice is consistent with a 2003 policy from the White House's Office of Management and Budget banning the use of most such technologies at government sites.

"No one even knew it was happening," Almacy said. "We're going to work with the contractor to ensure that it's consistent with the OMB policy."


Nonetheless, agencies occasionally violate the rules inadvertently. The CIA did in 2002, and the NSA more recently. The NSA disabled the cookies this week and blamed a recent upgrade to software that shipped with cookie settings already on.
The very first words of this story - before we even learn what "it" is or what the facts about "it" are, are that the White House knew nothing about whatever "it" is. Once we learn what "it" is, why should we believe that the assertion is true? Because David Almacy, the White House Internet Director, said so. As if everything (or anything) coming from the White House can be taken at face value. As if we were provided with any background information that would lend credence to Almacy's claim. Even the headline, "U.S. to Probe Contractor's Web Tracking", emphasizes that it was a "contractor," not the White House, who implemented tracking technologies that "may be prohibited". Is no one at the White Houe responsible for oversight of contractors? Not even Mr. Almacy? And what's up with "may be prohibited?" Either they are prohibited, or they aren't - there's no maybe about it.

Then, at the close of the story (to make sure we didn't miss the point, I guess), we're assured that government agencies like CIA and NSA violate the rules only once in a while and, of course, only "inadvertently." At least there was a single source, however compromised, for the the White House assertion, but not a one about the CIA or NSA.

It's just a little story, to be sure, but I think it's reflective of way too much of what our so-called journalists do on a daily basis. Shilling for the government, that is, while doing little or no actual reporting.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

The "I" word gaining traction 
Impeachment, that is.

It'd be easy for middle-of-the-road Americans to write off Chris Floyd off as a left-wing wacko:
So now, at last, the crisis is upon us. Now the cards are finally on the table, laid out so starkly that even the Big Media sycophants and Beltway bootlickers can no longer ignore them. Now the choice for the American Establishment is clear, and inescapable: do you hold for the Republic, or for autocracy?

There is no third way here, no other option, no wiggle room, no ambiguity. The much-belated exposure of George W. Bush's warrantless spy program has forced the Bush-Cheney Regime to openly declare what they have long implied -- and enacted -- in secret: that the president is above the law, a military autocrat with unlimited powers, beyond the restraint or supervision of any other institution or branch of government. Outed as rank deceivers, perverters of the law and rapists of the Constitution, the Bush gang has decided that their best defense -- their only defense, really -- is a belligerent offense. "Yeah, we broke the law," they now say; "so what? We'll break it again whenever we want to, because law don't stick to our Big Boss Man. What are you going to do about it, chump?"

Molly Ivins is, of course, a well-known member of the ancient and hermetic order of the shrill:
This could scarcely be clearer. Either the president of the U.S. is going to have to understand and admit he has done something very wrong, or he will have to be impeached. The first time this happened, the institutional response was magnificent. The courts, the press, the Congress all functioned superbly. Anyone think we're up to that again? Then whom do we blame when we lose the republic?

But when Barron's - Dow Effing Jones his own self - starts talking about the ultimate legal remedy to an out-of-control president you know there's something afoot:
Willful disregard of a law is potentially an impeachable offense. It is at least as impeachable as having a sexual escapade under the Oval Office desk and lying about it later. The members of the House Judiciary Committee who staged the impeachment of President Clinton ought to be as outraged at this situation. They ought to investigate it, consider it carefully and report either a bill that would change the wiretap laws to suit the president or a bill of impeachment.

And even the American Enterprise Institute? Norm Ornstein?:
I think if we’re going to be intellectually honest here, this really is the kind of thing that Alexander Hamilton was referring to when impeachment was discussed.

I think we got ourselves a convoy.

via The Sideshow, Shrillblog


Click on the picture for a full-size PDF of the ad.

Visit the ACLU for more.

via Daily Kos

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

I Spy? Why? 
The Maplewood Township Committee has been considering deploying surveillance cameras in some parts of town to reduce crime - particularly Jacoby Street, where there has been an upsurge in gang activity. For many reasons, this is a bad idea, not least that surveillance cameras do nothing to reduce crime. If the TC members think that merely placing cameras there, without 24x7 monitoring, will do anything at all, they are deluded - but monitoring the cameras will take manpower, and that manpower would be better spent by hiring new police officers and deploying them on foot patrol.

I'm a law abiding citizen, but I don't fancy the police watching my every move in anticipation that I might commit a crime. Surveillance cameras raise some nasty civil rights issues. I'm not sure where current legal thought is on such cameras, but they seem to me to be skirting legality, as violations of the 4th Amendment proscription against unreasonable search. One need only look in today's news to read about this, as the Bush administration is on the hot-seat for spying on citizens without explicit judicial consent and oversight.

These cameras are, simply, a very very bad idea.

The TWU won 
TWU Local 100 and the MTA have reached a tentative agreement on a new 3 year contract. The TWU membership will receive the raises that had been on the table when contract talks broke down last week - 3%, 4%, and 3 1/2%. The proposed 6% pension contribution for new employees has been scrapped, but union members will now have to contribute 1.5% (about $60/month) toward their health insurance.

The sticking point for the union had been the pensions - specifically that current TWU members were to continue their 2%-of-salary contributions but that new employees would contribute 6%. This divide-and-conquer strategy has been prevalent in labor contract negotiations for quite a while now, as management has attempted (with a lot of success) to dilute unions' power by creating multi-tier contracts and a class-stratified rank-and-file - in effect making newer workers distrustful and resentful of their unions and of workers with more seniority and thus better deals. The TWU managed, thankfully, to stave off this left-handed, nibbled-to-death-by-ducks approach to union-busting.

The strike was a pain in the ass for sure, for me and for millions of people in the New York/New Jersey/Connecticut area - but the ultimate benefit, for the TWU and for all working Americans should not be underestimated. Unions have been under the gun since Ronald Reagan took on, and destroyed, PATCO back in the early 1980's. Since then, American workers - blue-collar and white, unionized and not - have increasingly been on the shit-end of the stick when it came to employer-employee negotiating power, and the results have included newly huge income disparities, and static or declining household incomes in an economy that has been booming for almost the entire Ronald Reagan - Bush II period.

I'm not, and never have been, a union member, but my father was a public school teacher and teacher's union officer back when teachers had to strike just to get a living wage. When his union struck in 1972, we suffered the same Taylor Law 2-for-1 income loss that the TWU workers and their families are facing today. Unions aren't always in the right, nor management always wrong, and not all strikes are created equal - but in my opinion the TWU were more than justified in walking out. Congrats to Roger Toussaint and the members of the TWU for standing up for their, and our, collective bargaining rights.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

New Years Resolution 
Let's resolve in 2006 to make New Jersey bluer.

Two NJ Republican House members are particularly worthy of booting out of office - Scott Garrett of the 5th District, and Mike Ferguson of the 7th .

BlueJersey.net says there are 2 Democrats vieing for the nomination in the 5th - Anne Wolfe and Paul Aronsohn. ActBlue is now accepting contributions for the 5th district general election campaign and will distribute them to whichever candidate emerges after the primary, so why not toss 'em a few shekels? (FWIW, I met and had a nice conversation with Anne Wolfe in Maplewood not long ago, and she seemed like a good candidate to me).

In the 7th, it looks like former Hillsborough mayor Joseph Tricario will be facing off against Union Assemblywoman Linda Stender in the Dem primary, and the cheerleading there is being led by the Blue 7th PAC. They're holding a fundraiser in February - a concert at the McCarter Theater featuring The Indigo Girls - to help finance whoever ends up as Ferguson's opponent in November. Buy a few tickets for the folkies you love. (For more on why we should get rid of Ferguson A.S.A.P., check out DumpMike.com.) After the revolutionary election results in Millburn's TC races last month, I think getting Ferguson out of Washington is doable - so let's do it.

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