End gerrymandering to get Congress moving

Ind’pls Star
October 15, 2013 

The government shutdown is reminiscent of the 1995-96 game of “chicken” between Democratic President Bill Clinton and Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich. That drama was resolved fairly quickly when it became clear the public had no patience for taking the government hostage, but gerrymandering ensures we will not see a quick resolution this time.

There are many reasons for our dysfunctional Congress, but one which is glaringly obvious is the way gerrymandered districts can produce unresponsive legislators unconcerned about working for the greater good. If citizens want to take away the ability of uncompromising extremists to tie our government in knots, we must reform redistricting in a way that encourages districts drawn to enhance competition.

There is plenty of evidence that maps drawn by partisan legislators have helped create the “suicide caucus” that is so intent on scoring political points instead of legislating. An analysis by The National Journal indicates that the number of Republicans elected from competitive districts has declined significantly since 1995, from 79 members then to 17 today. Extremists elected from safe districts not only have nothing to fear from refusing to compromise, they also have political incentive to keep this debacle going.

The way to stop gerrymandering is to shift from partisan state legislators to an independent citizens commission the job of drawing congressional and state legislative maps. Both political parties are guilty of gerrymandering districts to ensure their candidates’ re-election. Creating an independent, citizen-led commission would be a realistic solution to this issue. An Irvine Foundation study of California’s 2011 redistricting process indicates that California has been able to insulate its process from partisan control, with the result that voters and legislators praised the process for its inclusiveness and transparency.

Is there evidence of the impact of gerrymandering on congressional districts here in Indiana? Yes. Under the maps drawn in 2011, only two of nine districts are considered competitive, compared with four competitive ones under the old maps. Of course, Indiana cannot expect incumbent legislators, many of whom represent noncompetitive districts, to lead an effort to end gerrymandering. It will take a massive grass-roots effort to end this incumbent protection scheme.

That’s why Common Cause Indiana and League of Women Voters of Indianapolis have launched “Drawing a Line for Democracy,” a user-friendly resource guide to redistricting reform. We ask all Hoosiers who are fed up with gerrymandering and the dysfunction it encourages to notify Indiana General Assembly members that it is time to end the ultimate conflict of interest — allowing incumbent politicians to choose their voters, instead of the other way around.

Although the next round of redistricting in 2021 may seem distant, a transformed process must start today. The job will require a constitutional amendment, so we face the challenge of a statewide referendum as well. For this effort to succeed, huge numbers of informed voters must demand real reform. If the current circus in D.C. doesn’t motivate us to contact our legislators and insist on a plan for an independent redistricting commission in Indiana, what will?

(Julia Vaughn is policy director for Common Cause Indiana. Becca Beck is president of the Indianapolis League of Women Voters.)

Shutdown…again?

11/23/14 – It was only about one year ago that a 16 day government shutdown ended.  The day following its ending President Obama stated, “…These last few weeks have inflicted completely unnecessary damage on our economy.  We don’t know yet the full scope of the damage, but every analyst out there believes it slowed our growth. We know that families have gone without paychecks or services they depend on.  We know that potential homebuyers have gotten fewer mortgages, and small business loans have been put on hold.  We know that consumers have cut back on spending, and that half of all CEOs say that the shutdown and the threat of shutdown set back their plans to hire over the next six months.  We know that just the threat of default — of America not paying all the bills that we owe on time — increased our borrowing costs, which adds to our deficit…” (more)

On November 14, 2014, several days before Obama announced actions he’s taking regarding immigration, MSNBC.com reported, “…For his part, McConnell said again yesterday that “there is no possibility of a government shutdown,” at least not in this session. Soon after, however, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) declared that “all options are on the table” when it comes to GOP opposition to the president’s policies. Boehner’s posturing is very likely the result of pressure from his House Republican members, who tend to lead their leaders, rather than the other way around. Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.) has assembled 59 GOP lawmakers – and counting – who’ve endorsed a letter calling on Congress to “prohibit the use of funds by the administration for the implementation of current or future executive actions that would create additional work permits and green cards outside of the scope prescribed by Congress.” To be sure, 59 is hardly a majority, but the number is growing and Republican fury isn’t subsiding. If GOP lawmakers decide to pursue a shutdown strategy, here’s how it would work: Current federal funding expires on Dec. 11, at which point the government would shut down (again)…”

House Approves Keystone XL Pipeline … Again

November 14, 2014
blogs.rollcall.com

In a bid meant to bolster the campaign of bill sponsor Rep. Bill Cassidy, who is in run-off election for a Louisiana Senate seat, the House voted 252-161 on Friday to once again approve the Keystone XL Pipeline.

It was the ninth time the House has passed a measure authorizing the construction of the pipeline, which would bring oil from Canada to Texas. But this time, with an election far off in the distance, 31 Democrats voted with 221 Republicans in favor of the bill…

… the bill would still need 60-votes in the Democratic Senate before heading to President Barack Obama’s desk — a tall, but perhaps achievable order. There are roughly a dozen Democrats who have voiced support for Keystone in the past…

…The pipeline has been under review for six years, with federal regulators taking in nearly 2 million comments as they drafted environmental impact statements… (more)

The Keystone XL Pipeline: Three Stories to Help You Understand the Debate

November 14, 2014
Time.com

The proposed Keystone XL pipeline has become the single most important environmental issue in the U.S.—even though its environmental impact may not even be that great. The pipeline would move some 830,000 barrels of crude a day from the Canadian oil sands in Alberta to Steele City, Nebraska and then down to the Gulf of Mexico. Keystone would make it easier for Canadian producers to sell their landlocked crude to the rest of the world—which is exactly what environmentalists fear. Oil sands crude is dirtier and has a bigger carbon footprint than conventional oil.

Landowners in Nebraska worry that a spill could contaminate the state’s vital aquifer, while environmentalists fear that the pipeline will speed the development of the oil sands and help add huge amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. But other experts argue that oil sands crude will come to the U.S. by another route—most likely through rail—or be sold elsewhere in the world if Keystone isn’t built, meaning the planet won’t be any better off.

Since it’s an international project, the President has to sign off on the Keystone pipeline before it can be built… (more)

Keystone XL Pipeline Facts: Pros and Cons

November 14, 2014
Heavy.com

The Keystone XL Pipeline is a project to extend the existing Keystone pipeline, which carries heavy crude oil from the oil sands of Canada to U.S. refineries. It was approved by the Republican-controlled House on November 14, and will now proceed to the Senate.

The current pipeline reaches to Cushing, Okla., Wood River and Patoka, Ill., and Texas’ Gulf Coast. The proposed Phase IV, Keystone XL, would begin in Alberta and extend to Steele City, Neb., essentially replacing phase I of the existing pipeline with a more direct route.

The project has been politically fraught, with debate over the pipeline now entering its sixth year. The Senate will vote on Tuesday, and from there, if passed, the proposal will go to President Obama for consideration.

He has to date delayed making a call, citing on ongoing State Department review, but it seems likelier in recent days that he may veto the proposal.

Here are the pros and cons to the controversial proposal: (more)

Shades of complexity dominate the debate over ‘net neutrality’

(Net Neutrality definition and Q & A)

Steven Pearlstein, The Washington Post, November 29, 2014

“…At one level, net neutrality is a solution to a problem that, for the moment, doesn’t exist. While Americans pay higher rates for slower service than Internet users in other countries, a combination of public opinion, regulatory pressure and antitrust consent decrees has restrained Internet service providers (ISPs) from blocking, prioritizing or otherwise discriminating against other people’s content — the evils net neutrality aims to solve…what the net neutrality debate is really about is deciding who will pay the considerable costs of building out the infrastructure to handle all those bandwidth-hogging videos and games that we’ll be downloading from the Internet…But here’s the thing: In a genuinely competitive market, it shouldn’t matter. Whichever side pays will simply pass the cost on to us consumers…Unless major investment is made to run high-capacity fiber-optic cable to most neighborhoods, the existing infrastructure will soon be overwhelmed…” (more)

Net neutrality essential to our democracy

In May, HBO comedian John Oliver opened his segment on net neutrality by saying, “The cable companies have figured out the great truth of America: If you want to do something evil, put it inside something boring.” He then delivered an incisive 13-minute monologue that was anything but boring, drawing more than 7 million views on YouTube. Indeed, as Oliver demonstrated so effectively, while net neutrality may seem like a dull subject, protecting it is essential to not only the future of the Internet, but also the future of our democracy.

Net neutrality is, simply put, the fundamental principle that all Internet traffic should be treated equally. There are very few level playing fields in American life, but in a nation plagued by inequality, the Internet has remained open, free and fair — a powerful equalizing force that has allowed good ideas to flourish whether they came from a corporate board room or a college dorm room. This equality of opportunity is at the core of net neutrality. And it is under relentless attack by major telecommunications companies seeking yet another advantage to tighten their grip on the market. (more)

Immigration: Top 10 pros and cons

What Are the Solutions to Illegal Immigration in America?

1. Using the Term “Illegal Alien”
2. Amnesty
3. Deportation
4. Mexican Border Fence
5. Civilian Border Patrols
6. Terrorist Threat
7. Economic Burden
8. Driver’s Licenses for Immigrants in the United States Illegally
9. Using State and Local Law Enforcement vs. National Only
10. Border Militarization

Transcript: Obama’s immigration speech

…Tonight I’m announcing those actions.

OBAMA: First, we’ll build on our progress at the border with additional resources for our law enforcement personnel so that they can stem the flow of illegal crossings and speed the return of those who do cross over. 

Second, I’ll make it easier and faster for high-skilled immigrants, graduates and entrepreneurs to stay and contribute to our economy, as so many business leaders proposed.

Third, we’ll take steps to deal responsibly with the millions of undocumented immigrants who already had live in our country.

I want to say more about this third issue, because it generates the most passion and controversy… (more)