Thursday, February 16, 2012

Remapping Never Balances Political Districts (February 17, 2012)

An edited version of  this column may be seen at: http://www.sheepsheadbites.com/2012

Few voters  even the most apathetic  need to be reminded that politicians tend to be self-serving more than dispassionate and impartial. It’s never more evident than once a decade when political district lines must be redrawn.
 Looking at political district maps for Brooklyn and the city, you might think you’re gazing at an elaborate jigsaw puzzle. Yet, the process seems to get more complex when the lines are remapped after the census is analyzed every ten years.
Nevertheless, the best laid district lines for Democrats and Republicans usually don’t count much towards a representative democracy, but rather to do what’s best for the ruling political party.
Consequently, all state legislative seats are on the ballot this year and the political districts pie must be remapped before fall elections. Naturally, each party prefers a bigger slice, even after Republicans promised to end to gerrymandering, which leaves one party with an advantage over its opponents, and establish an independent redistricting process two years ago when they regained control of the state Senate.
However, as politicians are often do, the GOP broke that promise and is trying to impose partisan boundaries, including a whole new district, either upstate near Albany or in Nassau County, in order to safeguard its slim majority.
So much for guarantees by politicians, who, more often than not, tend to utter whatever they think the public wants to hear, then, no sooner they are safely ensconced in legislature, some of them go their own way when they become aware that incumbents rarely lose in state elections.
The new state senate lines for Brooklyn, revealed on February 2, eliminate the 27th district, which, until Carl Kruger pled guilty to corruption charges and resigned last December, he represented for over a decade. That district encompasses real estate from Mill Basin west to Brighton Beach and, if purged, the GOP will expand the districts currently represented by state senators Mary Golden, a Republican, and Democrat John Sampson, who would get the Mill Basin and Bergen Beach communities added to districts, including Canarsie, that he already represents.
Political insiders insist there’s a slim chance the proposed lines will be adopted since Governor Andrew Cuomo vowed to veto any partisan remapping after his call for an independent redistricting commission was rejected. Let’s hope he doesn’t agree to any compromise that would allow him to renege, like the Republicans. The Senate and Assembly are expected to redraft a redistricting plan before the end of February.
Independent activists called the GOP plan “the most gerrymandered lines” in recent history. Former Mayor Ed Koch, who has advocated independent redistricting, said he was disappointed in the proposal and a victory “lies with the enemies of reform.”
Reacting to the proposed controversial boundaries drawn up by a legislative task force, which prompted a lawsuit, a Brooklyn Federal District Court judge this week wisely recommended that the state’s stalled redistricting process be supervised by a court-appointed special master to ensure it complies with state and federal laws.
Two weeks ago, another lawsuit senate Democrats filed a lawsuit to challenge the GOP plan, which has drawn criticism from advocates who oppose district changes they maintain are unfair to minorities. Republicans insist that the convoluted formula is valid according to New York’s Constitution.
Therefore, the only way to impartially balance subsequent redistricting is to change the Constitution, ban gerrymandering and create a proposition to allow New Yorkers vote on it. Although that creates another challenge; making voters understand what’s at stake and getting a concerned number of them to participate in the process.
However, some people are so ambivalent they have no clue as to who represents them on the local, state and federal levels. So it comes as no surprise that few even know  or care  about district boundaries, whether it’s for the City Council, the state Assembly or Senate or the U.S. Congress.
As our state politicians pat themselves on the back for instituting some meaningful recent reforms, they should be embarrassed about neglecting practical district lines that only give the ruling party an advantage, not the people who elected them.
More importantly, voters need to wake up, smell the redistricting rip-off and send a clear-cut message when they go to the polls in November: “We’re tired of partisan bickering and won’t stand for distorted gerrymandering anymore!”

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Few, Proud Jerks Dishonor Marine Tradition (February 14, 2012)

From the Halls of Montezuma,
We fight our country's battles
In the air, on land, and sea;
First to fight for right and freedom
And to keep our honor clean:
We are proud to claim the title
Of United States Marine.

Remember when elementary school teachers would punish bad little boys (and maybe girls), who committed a minor offense, by making them write a suitable phrase about a hundred times on a blackboard, hoping, with any luck, it would be a lesson to the troublemakers?
Some recent adult culprits should be forced to write the words from the last line of the Marine Corps hymn’s opening stanza (above). That would be the minimum punishment for the ten Marines in Afghanistan, who, in 2010, posed for a photograph in front of an American flag draped above a banner emblazoned with a symbol of the Nazi SS. That World War II unit was declared a “criminal organization” at the post-war Nuremberg trials. Even though the soldiers properly positioned Old Glory on top, they disgraced the nation, the Corps and themselves by placing the notorious icon near the Stars and Stripes.
A month ago, the world saw a photograph of Marines in Afghanistan urinating on the corpses of Taliban soldiers. Last week, an appalling picture showed a unit of Marine snipers standing near a despicable symbol that represents a unit of Hitler’s feared black-shirted Nazis, who were nothing more than terrorists similar to the factions based in the Middle East.
The Marine Corps should not only order that group to publicly apologize, but also be educated about SS members, who were distinct from regular German soldiers and did what is considered the worst atrocity ever carried out against U.S. soldiers did during World War II.
During a standoff during the Battle of the Bulge in 1944, which was a turning point for the war in Europe, the Germans overran an Army post in Belgium and a Nazi SS Panzer Division captured hundreds of American soldiers. The captives should have been treated, in accordance with Geneva Convention rules, as prisoners of war, but the SS unit slaughtered them. A month later, the machine-gunned bodies of more than 350 soldiers were recovered.
Maybe, just maybe, those Marines were too dumb to complete a basic education or too sheltered and never saw a movie, television show or photo with the SS insignia. But those don’t suffice compared to the explanation that the double S insignia stood for their “scout sniper” unit.
A few defenders described the two incidents as “much-ado-about-nothing,” “innocent mistakes” or “youthful exuberance,” compounded by media overkill.
Are they serious or just lacking the same common sense and basic dignity as the jarheads they support?
Even so, these Marines are most likely extreme examples of a few ignorant bad apples serving our country, who deserve to be reprimanded, punished and educated about basic human dignity.
Nonetheless, several diverse groups and a number of former Marines denounced the outrage. Last Friday, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told the Marine Corps to reinvestigate and take appropriate action against those who posed with the Nazi logo.
As a former teenager and Army veteran, who, on more than one occasion, got caught up in ill-advised group activities, the latest incident is understandable, albeit deplorable. When group mentality prevails, habitually decent individuals, not wanting to be spurned or harassed by the others, reluctantly take part. In an atmosphere, like the Marines, where machismo flourishes, it’s easy to see how these incidents came about. Still, you’d think at least one man had the guts to report the episode to a senior.
A few bad apples don’t — and shouldn’t — spoil the bunch. In spite of another disgusting incident, it is wrong to discredit the admirable history of the U.S. Marines because of a few jerks.
In spite of this, the Marine Corps should add a class on human dignity when it drills recruits on Parris Island for basic training or its dignified reputation will continue to spoil and its renowned recruitment slogan: The Few. The Proud. The Marines, will lose its true meaning.