Friday, June 27, 2014


How elected officials lose touch

Recently I had occasion to write to one of my elected representatives.  I won't reveal which one, as the representative may read this blog (extremely unlikely) and take offense.  One thing I don't want to do is offend my state or national representatives and senators.  It's hard enough to get them to pay attention or even to read any letter or e-mail I send.  Their representative districts are huge and they just don't have the time, even if they go without sleeping and eating, to read and respond to all the mail and phone calls they get.

Instead, elected representatives have staff people who handle the mail and phone calls.  For example, if I were awakened every morning by a noisy peacock at the break of day (about 4:30 AM in mid-summer) and wanted to bring the matter to the attention of my City Councilman, my phone call or letter would be referred to his staff member in charge of dealing with early morning noise problems.  This representative might refer my complaint to the bureau of animal regulation for action on the noisy bird.  My Council member might never hear of my complaint, especially if the peacock ended up in ragout.

Now, here's the rub.  Suppose this staff member happens to fancy peacocks.  He might then advise me that there is a peacock admiration society that I might be interested in.  I would learn a lot about peacocks if I attended meetings of the society.  The result?  I would be frustrated and angry that the staff member would treat me with such arrogance.  If I tried to let the Council member know what his staff person had done, my complaint, containing the word "peacock," would simply be referred to the same staff member and the Council member would never learn about my frustration.  I would also not get any help regarding early morning sleep.  I probably would not vote for that Council member again.  I might procure a small bore hunting rifle and take lessons on how to shoot the thing and solve my peacock problem by direct action.

This peacock story is just a story and I remain on good terms with Bob Blumenfield, my representative on the Los Angeles City Council.  The point of this post is that elected officials should be very careful about their choices of staff members.  It's important that the staff members not have any prejudices or preconcieved views about the area of expertise they are expected to handle.  The elected official's reputation depends on the quality of the staff.  Any prejudice in a staff member is seen, rightly or wrongly, as prejudice in the official himself or herself.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014


Money and Gerrymanders

My phone rings a dozen times a day.  I've got into the habit of not answering it.  After six rings, the $30 AT&T Answering machine takes over.  Most callers hang up after five rings, so I don't get very many messages.  These callers all want money.  Some of them want to paint or repair my house.  Others want me to contribute money to a political candidate or to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the Democratic National Committee, the President's Organize for Action Committee, etc.  They all tell me about how much money the Koch Brothers are spending to reelect Republican Representatives, elect Republican Senators, etc.  It seems as though there is a belief that enough money will buy the election.  If our side can outspend the Koch Brothers, we will win.

I doubt it.  After every ten-year census the various State legislatures (except California and Iowa, that have non-partisan commissions to redraw district lines) redraw the lines of Representative Districts.  The majority party in the legislature sees to it that the lines are drawn to favor incumbents of that party and, if possible, help members of the party unseat incumbents of the other party in districts they represent.  Drawing district boundaries to favor one particular party (or ethnic group or other) is called "gerrymandering" after a politician in the early 1800's named Eldridge Gerry.  It's easy to do if you have reports by individual precinct from a recent election.  You create districts for the other party with as great a majority for that party as possible.  You create districts for your own party with just enough of your party's loyal voters to elect your party's candidates.  Thus, a State in which 60 % of the voters prefer the other party can still be gerrymandered to provide that sixty percent of your own party's candidates win.

After the 2010 census, Republicans found themselves in control of the redistricting process in many States: large states like Texas, Pennsylvania, New York, Georgia, Michigan, etc., etc., etc.  They were able to guarantee that the House of Representatives would have Republican majorities until the next redistricting in 2020 regardless of the partisan vote in the gerrymandered States.  This is the problem Democrats have.  No amount of money is going to undo the gerrymandering.  I will continue not answering my phone until after Election Day.                          ......

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