Thursday, April 27, 2006

If it Ain't broke...

Thanks to big "ML" for getting me going on this

The last I checked, the internet was working pretty damn well. I watched an entire live streaming Red Sox game Tuesday night on (they beat Cleveland 8 - 6, thank you very much). I receive e-mails, send e-mails, blog, surf, pay bills, buy stuff and download stuff without any trouble or undue slowness. Well if the big bandwidth providers get their way, that could all change.

Right now, the internet, as it always has, operates on the 'network neutrality' principle. Basically, data packets are transmitted on a first-come first-served basis, without regard to where they originate or where they are going. This has spurred enormous innovation and entrepreneurship because of the open competition spurred by low barriers to entry. In the current environment, the consumer gets to decide which content and services are worthy of the marketplace.

The large telcos: Verizon, AT&T, etc. who build and provide the infrastructure of the internet want a different set of rules and so far, Congress, most of whom eat at these companies cash troughs, are more than willing to let them make the rules. For years and years, these companies built infrastructure and strung 'dark fiber' (unused fiber bandwidth) to make money on internet traffic to come. These companies DO make money from providing bandwidth now. Most people with DSL now are paying anywhere from $20 to $50 dollars a month to have high 'downstream' bandwidth. what most people don't realize is that the's and Googles of the world also have to purchase very large bandwidth data circuits (T-1s, OC-3s, etc.) to connect their hosting servers to the internet itself, usually from multiple backup 'mirror' sites. These large data circuits, as you may guess, are very expensive and the telcos make tens of millions of dollars every year from them. So these providers - large and small - aren't exactly getting a "free ride" on the internet as AT&T chief Edward Whitacre (shown) might have you believe. No, they don't make money directly from their 'backbone' circuits, but they do collect larges tolls at the on-ramps and the off-ramps. In 2005, AT&T had net income of 4.7 billion dollars and Verizon had net income of 7.3 billion dollars, so let's just cut the crap that these companies are somehow going into insolvency if they don't get these concessions.

These telcos have seen the deep pockets of the large content providers and internet retailers that have prevailed in this highly competitive environment and have the idea that if they charge them extra money to provide "premium bandwidth", they can increase their own profits. Of course, the telcos are saying that this extra revenue will allow them to 'build the next generation of data networks', though this is something they've already been doing for many years and continue to do. In this tiered bandwidth environment content providers and retailers who don't or can't pay up for 'premium bandwidth' to line the telcos' pockets, will probably receive slower service. If you browse and purchase books from Amazon, the speed would be marginally faster. If you go to a smaller book e-tailer like say Alibris, Powells or new e-tailer trying to start up, the page loads could be noticeably slower, bordering on unusable. Simply put, the telcos want an environment where the supplier gets to decide which content and services are worthy of the marketplace. History has shown that this hardly ever works - "New Coke" anyone?

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Snow Job

So it's official, Tony Snow is moving from Fox News to the White House briefing room. I suppose now he'll have to tone down the Pro-Bush rhetoric a little and maybe even do a little fence mending, since at times, he has been rather unkind to his new boss on the air:

"No president has looked this impotent this long when it comes to defending presidential powers and prerogatives." - 9/30/05

“George Bush has become something of an embarrassment.” - 11/11/05

“George W. Bush and his colleagues have become not merely the custodians of the largest government in the history of humankind, but also exponents of its vigorous expansion.” - 3/17/06

Well, it seems that the Crawford Cowboy isn't enough of a right-winger for Tony's liking, but I'm sure he and Dick will get along great.

Speaking of Dick, Tony Snow is yet another inheritance from the G.H.W. Bush administration. In his pre-Fox News career, he was a speechwriter for George's dad. I just hope that this will forever put to rest the illusion that Fox is or ever was "Fair and Balanced", if they still even bother using that slogan.

At least Fox News' right-wing bias is blatently obvious and primarily stems from the ideology of the top man, Rupert Murdoch and his pit bull in charge of Fox News, Roger Ailes. However, the bias of many other news outlets, is much more subtle and therefore, I believe, much more dangerous.

My typical Sunday morning viewing is Chris Matthews, Tim Russert and John McLaughlin. I've always respected John McLaughlin since I started watching him around 1988. He does seem to be fairly even-handed in his pompous poo-pooing of political philanderers, as he might say himself. His "McLaughlin Group" broadcast on April 23rd, was a 'special topic' show focusing on the healthcare crisis without the usual four pundit panel. His four 'special' panel members were as follows:
Hank McKinnell - CEO, Pfizer Corp. - He runs a gigantic Pharmaceutical company.
Jay Crosson - Executive Director, Permanente Federation - He runs a huge HMO and also admitted to sitting on a federal "Medicare payment advisory committee".
Susan Dentzer - Healthcare reporter for the 'Newshour' on PBS
and finally,
Mike Leavitt - Bush's Secretary of Health and Human Services - Need I say more...

The name Hank McKinnell may sound familiar, since he stars in some of the television commercials that Pfizer - and most other big pharma companies - waste hundreds of millions of dollars on every year. But I'll get to that later.

Well, as you might expect, even with all those great healthcare minds on the panel, the question of why we spend 16% of our GDP on healthcare while the other industrialized nations spend an average of 8%, was never figured out. At one point, Mike Leavitt very theatrically held up a ballpoint pen and tried to blame the extra $1 trillion dollars on paperwork. Wow! That sure is a lot of paper, Mike! I think if they actually had a consumer healthcare advocate or an economist on the panel who's devoted their life to analyzing this kind of stuff that the answer would be fairly obvious. That being, that the rest of the industrialized world has universal coverage, therefore has pushed the profit incentive out of providing healthcare. Poor quality you say? I guess that's why these nations have higher average lifespans than ours.

Why was this panel packed with corprate healthcare big-wigs? As they say, "follow the money" and in T.V. that usually leads to the advertisements. There were no Pfizer ads. To have Hank's kindly face on the "News" show and also on the commercials paying for the "News" show would've been a little too obvious. However, if you click the link to the show site above, the Pfizer logo is there, alongside Kaiser Permanente's and others. God bless journalistic integrity! There were at least 3 ads that I counted during the broadcast for Kaiser Permanente. Interestingly, I never remember seeing a Kaiser Permanente ad during the "McLaughlin Group" prior to this show. Interesting indeed.... Was Mr. Crosson invited on the panel and then his company all the sudden decided to buy ad-time for the show, or was it the other way around? We'll never know. I suppose that the hypothetical consumer advocate or economist just couldn't pay the price of admission.

Keep in mind, examples like this are only the tip of the iceberg. It's obvious that even the veil of the illusion of propriety has been thrown off.

We do know that Mike Leavitt's employer didn't need to buy any ad-time - after all, he has his own news network.

Friday, April 21, 2006

'The Donald'

"The enemy of my enemy is my friend" - Don and Saddam in happier times (1983).

Calls for the firing or resignation of Donald Rumsfeld are reaching 10 on the Richter scale this week after more public calls for him to step down from recently retired generals. Rumsfeld has weathered similar storms in the past after Abu Ghraib, the Iraqi insurgency, claims of poor planning in the leadup to the war, no 'plan B' in Iraq, the failure to capture Bin-Laden, etc. That said, the 'Decider-in-Chief' has shown nothing but seemingly incomprehensible loyalty to his Koan speaking Secretary of Defense.

During the Vietnam War, though Robert McNamara did serve for seven full years until 1968, there were five different Defense Secretaries, interestingly followed immediately by Rumsfeld himself in 1975. Including this 14 month tenure under Gerald Ford, if he manages to stay on until the end of Bush's term, Donald Rumsfeld will have served longer than any Secretary of Defense since World War II. Furthermore, if one includes the office of Secretary of War that became the Secretary of Defense in 1947, Rumsfeld will have served longer than any Secretary of War/Defense in the our country's entire history (from Wikipedia). Is it just me, or does this seem rather, shall we say, significant.

Now, if as of today Iraq was relatively peaceful with a well trained professional army instead of teetering on the brink of full blown civil war, if the U.S. casualty count in Iraq was a few hundred instead of a couple thousand and climbing, if the Taliban in Afghanistan were truly defeated, if Osama Bin-Laden had been captured and was standing trial (ideally in the Hague), if Abu Ghraib and the other torture controversies never happened, if the Pentagon hadn't been turned into Halliburton's personal piggy bank, if our soldiers had enough body armor and armored Humvees, etc, etc, I could understand the long tenure. Hell, if even a couple of these things were true today I could understand it. But they're not, and as has been said, Bush's 'Bubble' needs some more 'Air holes'. I truly believe that even if his approval ratings go to 1 percent and the Republicans lose control of both houses of Congress in November, Bush still wouldn't even so much as consider asking for Rumsfeld's pink slip.

How long would Rumsfeld last in the board room of the other 'Donald'? About a nanosecond.

A Little Recent History...

Essay on 'The Contract with America'
(The following was published in 'Lit' magazine, February 1995 when Mikeweb was known as 'El Ciego')

Not everyone has heard of the Republican party's "Contract with America", fewer know what issues it addresses and fewer still understand all the solutions that it offers. The 'contract' was published last fall in T.V. Guide magazine, with much fanfare by the Republican National Committee, who could smell Democratic blood in the water with the election looming in November. The rest is history. The 'contract', or so they would like to believe, gave the Republicans control of both the House and the Senate for the first time in forty years. It is a well conceived gimmick that gave the Republican party an appearance of solidarity and purpose in the face of Clinton's and the Democrats' perceived lack of focus. Kind of like the N.F.L. vs. Major League baseball.
The major subjects addressed in the 'contract' include: a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, anti-crime measures, Welfare reform, tax reform, legal reform, changes to Social Security, term limits and unfunded mandate reform. The 'contract' promises to bring these issues to a vote within the first 100 days of this Congress, without promising that they will necessarily be passed. The person most closely associated with the "Contract with America" has to be Newt Gingrich, R-Geo, the new Speaker of the House. Gingrich has left no doubt in anyone's mind as to who is in charge. In his brief tenure as Speaker, Gingrich, a former college professor, has been at the center of a firestorm of activity, controversy and allegations much to the chagrin of many veteran Democrats and Republicans alike. At best, Gingrich is a loose cannon with some good ideas, at worst he's a nutjob who will be more of a detriment than a benefit.
On surface the "Contract with America" seems to have some good points, but upon closer inspection is revealed to be the same combination of Dickensian social ideas and 'wave of the magic wand' fiscal solutions that have been the hallmark of Republican policy and rhetoric for fifteen years. The tax reform and fiscal ideas, particularly the balanced budget amendment, have come under increasing scrutiny by leading Democrats as well as economic experts. The ability of the government to spend more than it takes in, although abused over the last fifteen years, is actually beneficial by helping to smooth out the business cycle. Furthermore, as Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.V., stated, "Amending the Constitution in this fashion is a major operation on the Constitution. And I don't think we ought to perform a lobotomy... without people being informed of the cost of the operation and the condition of the patient...." The amendment itself proposes to balance the budget by the year 2002. However, Republican leaders, despite prodding by Democrats, haven't been able to offer even general proposals on how to accomplish this. Laura Tyson, chairwoman of the Council of Economic Advisors, has stated that passage of the amendment could lead to "greater volatility" in interest rates and increase "downward risk to the economy". All this aside it seems unlikely that three-fourths of the states would slit their own throats by ratifying an amendment that could cut deeply into the money that they receive from the Federal government.
More fiscal 'magic' in the 'contract' involves reduction of the capital gains tax and indexation to inflation, 'neutral cost recovery' and unfunded mandate reform. Although they seem to be hedging, Republicans amazingly still believe that reducing tax rates will not reduce revenues severely. This time it's 'Laffer-curve VI: the resurrection', I've met the economist Art Laffer, who came up with this disproven theory, and I truly believe he would make a very successful used car salesman. In testimony before the House Ways and Means committee, Professor Calvin Johnson of the University of Texas stated that the 'neutral cost recovery system' plan "involves a number of serious errors" which include scoring the proposal as a revenue raiser when it actually would be "a costly revenue loser". Martin Sullivan of the American Enterprise Institute also testified that the plan would cost about $160 billion over the next ten years while commenting that "you do not need a Ph.D. in economics to know that there is something fishy about this.... " On the other hand, unfunded mandate reform, to hold the Federal government financially responsible for tasks that it delegates to the states, has some merit. Certainly states have been clamoring for it for years. The only problem is that the 'contract' fails to address how this will be paid for. Its fairly simple, either programs are paid for and controlled Federally or paid for Federally and controlled on the state level. If Republicans are looking to shrink the size of the Federal government, this doesn't seem the way to do it.
The bottom line is that the "Contract with America" promises to eliminate the budget deficit, make it harder to relegate costs to the states while proposing various other tax incentives to families and small businesses. The only proposal in the 'contract' designed to pay for all this is a reduction of the capital gains tax. Maybe too many of these Republicans are the type of people who also think pro-wrestling is real. As House minority leader, Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., said January 27 at a meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors: "I think my greatest concern about the so-called contract is that if you add it all up... in its totality it causes a further huge hole or breach in our national budget which, last night, we decided by a two-thirds vote that we wanted to balance over the next seven years." To juxtapose this, on February 6, Bill Clinton unveiled his 1996 budget proposal, which proceeded to collect more mud in its first hours than Primus saw all day at Woodstock. Clinton over the last two years has quietly made some progress on the budget deficit and this budget continues realistically and honestly on that hard path. Compared to the gimmickry of the Republican proposals, the choice seems obvious.
The other proposals in the 'contract' are, not suprisingly, popular among voters but by and large treat only the symptom and not the disease. In all fairness, these are the types of solutions that come from both Republicans and Democrats. Killing more citizens with the death penalty and building more prisons instead of giving potential criminals a better education early on and therefore more of a choice. Gutting the Welfare program, instead of providing single mothers with free daycare so they can pursue work, or better yet, an education. Investments in human capital will pay dividends for a long time by producing honest and tax-paying citizens instead of wards of the state. The over-riding symptom is poverty, but the disease is the lack of well paying jobs and this nations growing income inequity. As long as its more profitable to steal, deal drugs or draw Welfare than it is to work at one of the many low paying service 'Mc-jobs' that are available, a certain percentage of people will choose to do so. The next time you ask yourself why so many people are unemployed when you see help wanted signs at every 'Brad-Mc-Stop and-King' out there its because these jobs can barely allow one person to live, nevermind if you're trying to raise a family and as for saving for retirement or a child's education, you'd better keep playing lotto.
In a brief phone interview, Jeff Muthersbaugh, press secretary for Rep. Gary Franks, R-Ct, confirmed that Mr. Franks did sign the 'contract' and is dedicated, as the 'contract' states, to trying to bring a vote the proposals contained therein. He also stated that Mr. Franks' votes on each issue would depend on "the language contained in specific proposals brought to the floor" and whether the proposals are "good for the district and for the state." So far Republicans have to be pleased with the results the "Contract with America" has provided, while the smart ones may still be hedging their political bets. As to whether the Republicans use the 'contract' as a launch pad to the White House in 1996, that remains to be seen. Maybe as the proposals it contains are exposed to the bright light of scrutiny, they will wilt, or maybe not.
For those interested in seeing the "Contract with America" a copy may be obtained by calling the Republican National Committee at (202) 863 8500, just to hear the excitement in their ambitious young voices is worth the price of the call. It can also be purchased for $8.95 at B. Daltons bookstore.
Anyone agreeing or disagreeing with El Ciego's opinions are encouraged to write: Lit Magazine/ 13 Library pl./ Danbury, Ct. 06810.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Christians vs. chri$tian$

"I’m Jewish. Thank you. I’m not an expert on the New Testament. But I know that if you cut out all the passages where Jesus talks about helping the poor, helping the least among us, if you literally took a pair of scissors and cut out all those passages, you’d have the perfect box to smuggle Rush Limbaugh’s drugs in." Al Franken - more here

I'm no expert on the Bible myself, but I do know that Jesus Christ taught love, peace, tolerance, turning the other cheek, throwing out the money changers, etc. He didn't preach the shooting or bombing of doctors who perform abortions, "accidentally" dropping bombs on and shooting missiles at innocent men, women and children so that they may be "free" (and give us their oil) or depriving our children and mortgaging the future of generations of children to come so that the wealthiest among us may become even more wealthy. Of course, invoking Christ to legitimize very un-Christian acts is nothing new: the Crusades, the Spanish and other inquisitions, the forced prostletizing of so called primitive races, etc.

Additionally, throughout history, many organized religions have been little more than subtle or not so subtle tools of influence. Indeed, for a thousand years up until the 19th century, the church as an institution in Europe weilded an enormous amount of political power and coincidentally, was enormously corrupt. No wonder the age of enlightenment beginning with Rousseau, continuing with the American and French revolutions, "Jeffersonian" democracy (seperation of Church and State) and ending with the likes of Marx and Engels professed varying degrees of disdain for organized religion and in some cases, even questioned God's existence. Are we entering an age of "endarkenment", for want of a better word? The increased criticism of scientific advancement, the push for more and more limits on women's reproductive rights, the rampant corruption in the houses of power and religious political influence are all phenomena that were practically institutionalized up until 300 years ago with no dissent tolerated.

It seems that most of what passes for Christianity today, at least according to the Republican party, is the Ten Commandments, Great Flood, Pillar of Salt, ten Plagues, etc. Old Testament version of Christianity. The only problem is, Jesus wasn't really a major player in the angry and vengeful world of the O.T. I do know that Jesus' last name is where we get the word 'Christian' to begin with, so it seems to follow that Christianity is supposed to teach love, tolerance, etc.

It's obvious that certain quasi-fundementalist religious leaders seeking political and social influence for their un-Christian, "O.T." brand of religion are to some extent using the "Trojan horse" of the Republican party to give their ideas the force of law. Basically, forcing all of us to live by the beliefs of their particular religion. If this is allowed to continue at it's current pace, the seperation of Church and State - one of the main pillars of our Democracy as envisioned by our founding fathers - is all but dead. I hope other people find this as alarming as I do.

To top it off, the Republican party is and always was the party that is "friendly to business". Taxes too high? Too many safety or environmental regulations? Workers and unions giving you trouble? Tired of having your tax money wasted on schools, health care, the poor and their children? Don't worry, they're in your corner. Republicans are the party of the "Money Changers"! Instead of casting them out, many Christians, or more accurately "the religious right", have jumped into bed with them.

Hmmm... WWJD

Monday, April 10, 2006

John Kerry talks with Tim Russert

This Sunday, April 9, "Meet the Press" dispensed with the reporter roundtable at the end of the hour and Tim Russert spoke only to newsmakers. Well, there's always "The McLaughlin Group" afterward to watch some true pundit fisticuffs, though it does seem that the longer Pat Buchanan stays in the panel, the more irrelevant he gets. That makes me very happy.

Tim talked with John Kerry and I must say it was haunting to watch him. It also brought back painful memories of the '04 campaign. Specifically how, next to the message control and public image machine that was the Bush campaign, Kerry's was in damage control mode on a daily basis. In Sunday's interview, Kerry was forthright, intelligent and articulate laying out some common sense ideas about the problems in Iraq. The one that really caught my ear, was his charge of the complete failure of diplomacy by the Bush administration, even saying that it borders on "negligence". See it yourself here.

I was reminded of something that I told a few people in the heat of the '04 campaign, including someone politically connected. My thought was the perfect thing Kerry could've done was to go to Iraq himself to talk to soldiers and Iraqis. Obviouly, of the two candidates, he was far and away the only one with the real war veteran chops to pull it off. Done in the right way, with minimal press coverage, it would've really made a statement. I'm sure he must've considered it, but decided against it. The logistics, especially planning it through a Pentagon in the tight grip of Don Rumsfeld, could be a reason. Maybe he didn't want to use our soldiers as nothing more than a political backdrop like Bush was doing every chance he could. Maybe instead of not doing what the other guy was doing, he should've done it - but better.

Friday, April 07, 2006

The Leak Plot Sickens

"A certain contemporary ruler, whom it is better not to name, never preaches anything except peace and good faith; and he is an enemy of both one and the other, and if he had ever honoured either of them he would have lost either his standing or his state many times over." N. Machiavelli

Of course the over simplistic main stream media greeted the latest plot turn in the Plame leak case with the screaming headlines: "Bush approved leaks of classified information". Problem is, if you read on, you realize that there's probably no concrete proof of this. We're relying on the word not only of Libby, but "Dead Eye" Dick as well. I feel safe in saying that the veracity of anything these two say is worth questioning. It's what's legally known as 'hearsay' - actually twice removed in this case. No, this investigation is not going to mortally wound the "Crawford Cowboy" unless the prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald has some serious aces up both sleeves. I have to admit though, how this investigation plays out over the summer leading into the midterm election in November has me quietly excited. Joe Conason has a nice opinion piece about the revelation on and he seems to somehow know a little more than the MSM... (classified documents...?)

So, how can this play out? To me, it's looking more and more like Cheney and or Rove are going to be the ones left holding the bag. More likely Cheney on his own. The signal I'm looking for this to be the case, is if there's another big Halliburton contract that gets pushed through - way under the radar. Because if Dick's going to take one for the team, you have to know he's going to have a price. So: 1) Halliburton contract, and then 2) Dick resigns a month or two later.

Now this is where it really gets good. The administrations uber-strategy is to try to hold onto Congress in November and to position one of their own for a presidential run in '08. If Dick leaves, a certain someone will have to forego their "NFL Commissioner" fantasy for a little while. Yes, what better way than a turn as VPOTUS to launch Ms. Rice into the campaign foray. My guess: she'll wind up as the running mate of someone like McCain or Pataki. Either way, a formidable ticket. The added advantage of Rice as VP is that, assuming they can take Congress in November, it'll make the Democrats think twice about pulling the trigger on impeachment. Why ditch Bush only to deal with the much more cunning Rice and give her even more Oval Office cachet for '08?

OK, Sorry I wandered back into Machiavelli scheme-land there... Democrats, just do what's good for the country - PLEASE!!!

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Gerrymander redux - Tom's visit to Hardball(?)

Well, the valued, vaunted and once mighty "Fourth Estate" that we call the independent media in this country took another bullet in the knee cap last night when Tom DeLay deigned to grant Chris Matthews an exclusive post-resignation interview on Hardball. The way Matthews handled it seemed more like he was interviewing for the job of assistant bagger at Tom's grocery store. I think if ol' Tom had shown up on Access Hollywood instead that Nancy O'Dell could've done a better job. The Huffington Post has a great piece by Harry Shearer on this, plus some off-air video that shows DeLay looking amused and a little reserved in the face of Matthews' blatant boot licking.

Whether or not Matthews has a rightward slant doesn't really matter to me and isn't the core problem here. The real issue is that Matthews along with the rest of the mainstream media has a ratings and profit driven greenward slant. The very fact that instead of a reporter or news correspondent, CBS just hired the queen of infotainment to anchor their evening news, is proof enough of this. Somewhere right now, Dan Rather is contemplating slitting his wrists.

This is the kind of interview that twenty or thirty years ago either: 1) Wouldn't have happened in the first place, or 2) Would've left DeLay in serious need of a sweatband and eventually in the fetal position mumbling for his mommy. Exactly because of the ratings and money that these exclusive interviews with the likes of DeLay, Cheney, Rumsfeld, etc. provide, Matthews needs to put out the signal that they'll be able to tell "their side" of the story without ever having to answer any uncomfortable questions. Nevermind the fact that these people are proven liars and probable thieves. Unfortunately this game of grab-ass that the news media and politicians have gotten into in the last decade doesn't appear to be ending anytime soon.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The Wake of the Gerrymander

Today I posted the following letter to this article about Tom DeLay on

More of the Same

These stories of the ruthless power and money grabber's ascent and fall are nothing new to Congress or in a larger sense any of society's institutions throughout history. The Teapot Dome scandal, Watergate, Abscam, Iran contra, etc., etc. Neither Republicans nor Democrats are immune. As liberals, lets not get too smug about "Duke" Cunningham and DeLay, while forgetting about James Traficant(D-Ohio) being sentenced to 8 years for similar offenses not too long ago.
I think the true happiness that should come from this for anyone on either side of the aisle, is that most of the time, the system does work. The laws and codes of ethics are there, the enforcement is there and eventually the corrupt are exposed. These "Doom and Gloom" tomes about the state of American politics
only serve to fuel everyone's cynicism. This only leads to more low voter turnout.
As surely as the sun rises in the east, along with the vast majority of people who go into public service to serve the people, some will serve only to serve themselves. Wake me up when it's been 10 years without a single Congressperson or Cabinet member being convicted, indicted or at the very least being forced to resign. Then I'll start to worry.

This being said, Tom Delay did use dirty money and strong-arm tactics to wrest control of the Texas state legislature from the Democrats for the sole purpose of pushing through an unprecedented "mid-term" re-districting of the Texas U.S. House delegation in time for the 2004 election. This re-districting is widely believed to have handed the Rebublicans 3 to 5 additional seats in the House. Unless in the slim chance that a court overturns the re-districting, Texas and the House of Representatives are stuck with it for at least another 5 years.

House re-districting is one of those weird little Federalistic quirks, seemingly from a bygone era, that more and more appears to be working about as smoothly as the electoral college. Most states give control of re-districting to their respective legislatures, though some (Iowa is an example), put it in the hands of bi-partisan commissions. The bottom line: no two states do it exactly alike. The one commonality is that it's supposed to only happen every 10 years, in response to the U.S. national census.

We live in the information age. Among all that information is very detailed demographic, and yes, voting pattern data about every state, county, city, neighborhood and block. Combine this with software that is available to analyze this data and it is becoming increasingly easy to draw up voting district maps that favor either Republican or Democratic candidates. See this very informative Jeffrey Toobin article from the New Yorker for more details.

This "techno-Gerrymandering" as I'll call it, is polarizing the House, making it more difficult to unseat incumbents and leading inevitably to a more static, less effective legislative body. For this and other reasons things need to change - it's much too easy to 'game' the current system.
  1. Mandate state bipartisan commissions to control re-districting which will occur only every ten years.
  2. Stipulate that for any polling place, there must be at least 1 machine for every 100 eligible voters - not registered voters.
  3. Utilize expert computer technicians and statisticians to devise a real foolproof voting machine, not the sub-standard hodgepodge that we currently have. and finally:
  4. Eliminate the electoral college. It's illogical and gurantees that the only voters who will get to see and hear the candidates in person reside in "swing" states, unless that is, they can afford to attend a $1,000 a plate fundraising dinner in their own city.

Greats ideas, right! Well, don't expect it anytime soon. Some of these ideas require Constitutional amendments. A Constitutional amendment requires 2/3 of the states to ratify it only after it makes it through Congress and the President. So until the people demand change...

Long Live the Gerrymander!