May 25, 2012
This image has been posted with express written permission. This cartoon was originally published at Town Hall.
Every ten years, after the U.S. Census releases its latest population reports, most of the 50 states begin the complicated process of drawing new election districts. As you might expect, partisan bickering and maneuvering inevitably distort things. So a decade ago, Arizona voters decided to end the partisanship by removing the redistricting process from the state legislature and placing it in the hands of an independent commission. Last year, the new commission, consisting of two Democrats, two Republicans, and a nonpartisan chair, got to work on its first set of maps after the 2010 census.
Unfortunately, the results were anything but nonpartisan. The independent chair sided consistently with the two Democrats, essentially giving them control over the makeup of the congressional and state legislative maps. Lawsuits were launched, along with a push by Arizona’s Republican governor, Jan Brewer, to impeach the chair. The new maps, if let stand, “could reshape the state’s political landscape” in the Democrats’ favor, theArizona Republic reported. Already, state lawmakers are looking at doing away with the commission or significantly changing it.
Arizona isn’t alone. In many states, including those where reformers had tried to make the process less political, redistricting has already determined the outcome of this year’s races for Congress and state legislature. In part, blame naivety for the reformers’ failure: redistricting isn’t easily drained of partisanship. But federal election law—especially the Voting Rights Act, which mandates a certain amount of legal gerrymandering to reach preferred racial outcomes—shares some of the blame. Though some states are inching toward ways of carving out fairer, less politicized electoral maps, reform is slow, and scheming over election districts remains nearly as important as it ever was to politicians’ fortunes, the composition of state legislatures, and even control of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Controversy over redistricting is almost as old as America itself. The word “gerrymander,” which describes an oddly shaped district drawn to gain electoral advantage, first appeared in print on March 26, 1812, in theBoston Gazette. The paper used the term to describe a district in Essex County, drawn by Massachusetts’s ruling Democratic-Republican Party, that looked like a salamander. Governor Elbridge Gerry had signed into law an electoral map incorporating the strange district—hence the portmanteau word.
Gerrymandering has persisted partly because the U.S. Constitution is silent about redistricting, so courts have had trouble ruling on the constitutionality of obviously partisan districts. “The Constitution no more regulates gerrymandering than it regulates pork-barrel spending or the many advantages of incumbency,” write two legal scholars, Larry Alexander and Saikrishna Prakash, in a 2008 William and Mary Law Review article. It’s true that in 1986, the Supreme Court tried to define excessively partisan gerrymandering, using terms like “fairness” and “discriminatory intent,” and to label it unconstitutional. But in a 2004 ruling, the Supreme Court admitted that the language of the 1986 decision had resulted in nearly two decades of confused rulings and fruitless efforts at consensus by lower courts. Justice Anthony Kennedy noted that “ordering the correction of all election district lines drawn for partisan reasons would commit federal and state courts to unprecedented intervention in the American political process.”
The court’s shift raised the stakes in the 2010 elections in a way that went largely unnoticed. Now that the courts were much less likely to intervene to prevent partisan redistricting, the winners of the 2010 elections would have fewer checks on their power to draw districts for the next round of elections, in 2012. Illinois governor Pat Quinn’s narrow defeat of Republican challenger Bill Brady, for instance, meant that Democrats would dominate redistricting in the Prairie State—a crucial component in any Democratic effort to retake the U.S. House of Representatives this year.
Clashes over redistricting in Illinois and Texas illustrate how much is at stake. A decade ago, federal judges intervened to break a Texas redistricting stalemate by drawing a map that largely maintained the status quo. The GOP argued fruitlessly that the new map was unfair, observing that Republican candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives had captured 57 percent of the Texas vote in the previous election but actually held just 15 of the state’s 32 House seats. So when Republicans took control of the state’s legislature in 2002, they engineered a new map that helped them win a 21–11 edge in congressional representation in the 2004 elections, strengthening the national GOP’s hold on the House. Democrats challenged the map, saying that states couldn’t have more than one redistricting per decade, but the Supreme Court ruled that nothing in the Constitution prevented it.
The 2010 census brought Texas a population gain of nearly 4.3 million, giving the state four new congressional seats. Republicans carved new maps that could, some observers estimate, give them victories in 26 congressional districts this year. But Democrats, joined by some civil rights groups, sued, charging that the maps failed to provide enough electoral opportunities for Latinos, who were driving the state’s population gains. A three-judge federal panel agreed, threw out the GOP maps, and instituted its own, which swung the balance back toward Democrats. The U.S. Supreme Court then threw out those maps, concurring with the one dissenting judge on the panel, who had called them “a runaway plan that imposes an extreme redistricting” on Texas. The state is currently in electoral turmoil: it has pushed back its primaries once already while the parties try to work out a compromise. Control of the House of Representatives may hang on the resulting map.
With Texas’s outcome uncertain, Democrats have intensified the redistricting battle in Illinois, a state where Republicans picked up four congressional seats in 2010 and today hold an 11-to-eight advantage. Democrats control the state legislature, however, which meant that last year they could draw a redistricting map that will swing the House delegation to the left: heavily Democratic districts within Chicago have been merged with suburbs, ending the Republican advantage there. Democrats could win 11 or 12 seats (out of 18 now, after the state lost a seat in the latest census) under the new arrangement, experts predict. Republicans are protesting the redistricting; so are Hispanics, who say that it minimizes Latino population gains. But their objections have failed to get the map overturned in court…
May 25, 2012
RICH AND SEEMINGLY BOUNDLESS as the creative arts seem to be, each is filtered through the narrow biological channels of human cognition. Our sensory world, what we can learn unaided about reality external to our bodies, is pitifully small. Our vision is limited to a tiny segment of the electromagnetic spectrum, where wave frequencies in their fullness range from gamma radiation at the upper end, downward to the ultralow frequency used in some specialized forms of communication. We see only a tiny bit in the middle of the whole, which we refer to as the “visual spectrum.” Our optical apparatus divides this accessible piece into the fuzzy divisions we call colors. Just beyond blue in frequency is ultraviolet, which insects can see but we cannot. Of the sound frequencies all around us we hear only a few. Bats orient with the echoes of ultrasound, at a frequency too high for our ears, and elephants communicate with grumbling at frequencies too low.
Tropical mormyrid fishes use electric pulses to orient and communicate in opaque murky water, having evolved to high efficiency a sensory modality entirely lacking in humans. Also, unfelt by us is Earth’s magnetic field, which is used by some kinds of migratory birds for orientation. Nor can we see the polarization of sunlight from patches of the sky that honeybees employ on cloudy days to guide them from their hives to flower beds and back.
Our greatest weakness, however, is our pitifully small sense of taste and smell. Over 99 percent of all living species, from microorganisms to animals, rely on chemical senses to find their way through the environment. They have also perfected the capacity to communicate with one another with special chemicals called pheromones. In contrast, human beings, along with monkeys, apes, and birds, are among the rare life forms that are primarily audiovisual, and correspondingly weak in taste and smell. We are idiots compared with rattlesnakes and bloodhounds. Our poor ability to smell and taste is reflected in the small size of our chemosensory vocabularies, forcing us for the most part to fall back on similes and other forms of metaphor. A wine has a delicate bouquet, we say, its taste is full and somewhat fruity. A scent is like that of a rose, or pine, or rain newly fallen on the earth.
We are forced to stumble through our chemically challenged lives in a chemosensory biosphere, relying on sound and vision that evolved primarily for life in the trees. Only through science and technology has humanity penetrated the immense sensory worlds in the rest of the biosphere. With instrumentation, we are able to translate the sensory worlds of the rest of life into our own. And in the process, we have learned to see almost to the end of the universe, and estimated the time of its beginning. We will never orient by feeling Earth’s magnetic field, or sing in pheromone, but we can bring all such information existing into our own little sensory realm.
By using this power in addition to examine human history, we can gain insights into the origin and nature of aesthetic judgment. For example, neurobiological monitoring, in particular measurements of the damping of alpha waves during perceptions of abstract designs, have shown that the brain is most aroused by patterns in which there is about a 20 percent redundancy of elements or, put roughly, the amount of complexity found in a simple maze, or two turns of a logarithmic spiral, or an asymmetric cross. It may be coincidence (although I think not) that about the same degree of complexity is shared by a great deal of the art in friezes, grillwork, colophons, logographs, and flag designs. It crops up again in the glyphs of the ancient Middle East and Mesoamerica, as well in the pictographs and letters of modern Asian languages. The same level of complexity characterizes part of what is considered attractive in primitive art and modern abstract art and design. The source of the principle may be that this amount of complexity is the most that the brain can process in a single glance, in the same way that seven is the highest number of objects that can be counted at a single glance. When a picture is more complex, the eye grasps its content by the eye’s saccade or consciously reflective travel from one sector to the next. A quality of great art is its ability to guide attention from one of its parts to another in a manner that pleases, informs, and provokes.
In another sphere of the visual arts there is biophilia, the innate affiliation people seek with other organisms, and especially with the living natural world. Studies have shown that given freedom to choose the setting of their homes or offices, people across cultures gravitate toward an environment that combines three features, intuitively understood by landscape architects and real estate entrepreneurs. They want to be on a height looking down, they prefer open savanna-like terrain with scattered trees and copses, and they want to be close to a body of water, such as a river, lake, or ocean. Even if all these elements are purely aesthetic and not functional, home buyers will pay any affordable price to have such a view.
People, in other words, prefer to live in those environments in which our species evolved over millions of years in Africa. Instinctively, they gravitate toward savanna forest (parkland) and transitional forest, looking out safely over a distance toward reliable sources of food and water. This is by no means an odd connection, if considered as a biological phenomenon. All mobile animal species are guided by instincts that lead them to habitats in which they have a maximum chance for survival and reproduction. It should come as no surprise that during the relatively short span since the beginning of the Neolithic, humanity still feels a residue of that ancient need.
If ever there was a reason for bringing the humanities and science closer together, it is the need to understand the true nature of the human sensory world, as contrasted with that seen by the rest of life. But there is another, even more important reason to move toward consilience among the great branches of learning. Substantial evidence now exists that human social behavior arose genetically by multilevel evolution. If this interpretation is correct, and a growing number of evolutionary biologists and anthropologists believe it is, we can expect a continuing conflict between components of behavior favored by individual selection and those favored by group selection. Selection at the individual level tends to create competitiveness and selfish behavior among group members—in status, mating, and the securing of resources. In opposition, selection between groups tends to create selfless behavior, expressed in greater generosity and altruism, which in turn promote stronger cohesion and strength of the group as a whole…
How Obama Missed an Opportunity for Middle East Peace: Why did the president ignore the only part of the “peace process” that was working?
May 25, 2012
We were fond together, because of the sweep of the open places, the taste of wide winds, the sunlight, and the hopes in which we worked. The moral freshness of the world-to-be intoxicated us. We were wrought up in ideas inexpressible and vaporous, but to be fought for. We lived many lives in those whirling campaigns, never sparing ourselves: Yet when we achieved and the new world dawned, the old men came out again and took our victory to re-make in the likeness of the former world they knew.” – T.E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom
There aren’t many reasons for optimism regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict these days. But amid the failed negotiations, diplomatic maneuverings, and occasional spasms of violence, one unsung initiative has been an unalloyed success: The mission of the U.S. Security Coordinator (USSC) for Israel and the Palestinian Authority. This hodgepodge staff of military and civilian advisors, working together in the spirit of Lawrence’s words, has trained more than 5,000 members of the Palestinian Authority Security Forces (PASF), rebuilt Palestinian security institutions, and fostered a renewed sense of relevance in the Palestinians’ nascent moves toward statehood.
The achievements of the USSC, which began operations in 2005 and commenced training Palestinian security forces in 2007, have formed the foundation of every claim of progress made by successive U.S. administrations in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The mission has been integral to the re-establishment of stability and security in the West Bank for Palestinians and Israelis alike — militias are off the streets, crime is down, and basic order has largely returned.
The mission has been lauded by such leaders as U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. But it is perhaps the opinion of Palestinian citizens themselves that is most telling. A community leader in the Balata refugee camp in the West Bank, once a center of conflict,compared the period before 2007, when “the camp was controlled by militias and thugs who partially financed their regime through theft and extortion,” and after new security forces’ return, when “life changed for the better.”
The work of the team headed by Lt. Gen. Keith W. Dayton, who was its second coordinator and guided the USSC from December 2005 to October 2010, continues to reap dividends to this day. The efforts of a professional, motivated, and well-trained Palestinian security establishment have allowed West Bank business enterprises to flourish and local economies to boom. These successes have facilitated Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s efforts to reconstruct government and local institutions. Perhaps the greatest mark of its success is that, even as the political impasse between Israel and the Palestinians widens, security coordination between the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and Palestinian security forces continues at levels unseen since before the Second Intifada, which raged from 2000 to 2004. This development was unimaginable just a few years ago.
While the accomplishments of Dayton’s team were recognized and celebrated by Europeans, Israelis, Palestinians, and our regional partners alike, its significance seems largely lost on those in Washington. President Barack Obama’s Middle East team has particularly failed to grasp the importance of this effort: It has not only failed to exploit the progress for political gains, but has in fact scaled back the mission’s key role as an interlocutor between the parties. It’s a fact well understood, and at times lamented, by our Israeli and Palestinian counterparts. “The USSC bought critical time, time for the politicians,” said former IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Amnon Lipken-Shahak in a meeting with Dayton in 2009, “which, sadly, those on all sides have wasted.”
While not explicitly stated, the USSC was created by President George W. Bush’s administration as part of the overarching peace process. Given Israel’s neuralgia with the concept of armed and organized Palestinian groups in the wake of the Second Intifada and the Palestinians’ anxiety about lacking a security patron, the organization was meant to give the Israeli political and defense establishment confidence that an individual was in place who would do nothing to jeopardize Israel’s security, while simultaneously giving the Palestinians someone they could point to as their “big brother” within the whole of the process. The USSC was thus never just about “training and equipping” the Palestinian security forces, nor achieving institution-building goals. It was, first and foremost, a U.S. confidence-building measure between both parties.
Why was this concept lost? The course taken by former special envoy George Mitchell and his team, which began its mission with the unrealistic belief that negotiations were the one and only key to success, was emblematic of the Obama administration’s entire approach. Members of his team explicitly told us that focusing on anything other than negotiations — such as security or other bottom-up economic and institution building efforts — would be seen as an admission that their efforts were lackluster by comparison.
Their actions were even worse than their rhetoric. Mitchell’s team consistently excluded and bypassed the USSC, then Washington’s most trusted agent, including on issues that clearly dovetailed with his security purview.
Mitchell and his team failed to understand that the top-down negotiations process had to be augmented by a bottom-up institution building process. Beyond being saddled by thepresident’s own misguided pronouncement on Israeli settlements, Mitchell also failed to supervise the activities of the senior members of his team, whose views were both out of tune with the realities of the ground and the perspectives of key Israeli and Palestinian players. None seemingly understood the importance of Israel’s defense establishment as a gateway to energizing their own politicians to exploit the security progress, nor valued the critical relationships the USSC possessed upon their arrival.
Since Mitchell left his post, however, he seems to have recognized the error of his ways — too late. At a January 2012 event sponsored by The Atlantic, he laid out a plan that joined a top-down process with a bottom-up institution building effort — identical to the approach advocated by the USSC, and ignored by his office when he had the power to actually implement them. (When Dennis Ross re-inherited his de facto role as the president’s lead man on peace-process issues after Mitchell’s departure, he also ignored his own proclaimed lesson that there should not be a disconnect between those sitting at the negotiating table and events on the ground.)
Obama’s Middle East team to date has sought to diminish Dayton’s role rather than build on the USSC’s successes in the field. By 2010, unnamed administration officials were holding forth that he was “very difficult to deal with” and “excessively deferential toward Israeli security assessments.”
Based on our own experiences working closely with the general from 2005 to 2010, these views are deeply misinformed. These negative assessments were primarily based on Dayton’s increasing calls for more concerted action to reach a diplomatic breakthrough in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. As his tenure progressed, he came to realize that security gains alone — no matter how emotionally satisfying for his team — would not resolve the conflict.
Dayton was not overly deferential to the Israelis. However, he realized early on that without their buy-in on every initiative, nothing could progress. Had the Israelis not come to trust and respect the general, we would not be writing this article — there would be no successes to report.
Dayton departed the USSC in October 2010 after five years at the helm of the organization without so much as an exit interview with President Obama, although he had met three times with Bush in the Oval Office to review progress of the mission. (After numerous requests, he did eventually meet with Secretary Clinton and then-National Security Advisor James Jones.) He was also not afforded a final congressional testimony — which, according to a senior congressional staffer who wishes to remain anonymous, was blocked not by Congress but by the State Department’s Office of Near Eastern Affairs. Finally, he was not asked for either an after-action report or an assessment of the five years he worked to advance successive U.S. administrations’ peace-process efforts in the region.
May 25, 2012
Two hundred and thirty six years ago- not even an instant on the cosmic clock- America took her first tentative steps towards freedom. Since those tumultuous days, this nation and the freedoms she represents, have grown, prospered and has served as a source of inspiration for billions of people in their own search for freedom.
When we see Americans proudly marching in a Veterans Day parade, we are watching the men and women who are a living testimony to those who would defend the principles and ideals of freedom. They fought for more than geography and they fought for more than country.
From the time of our inception as a nation, there have been forces determined to destroy what it is we stand for. Entire political ideologies are predicated on vilifying us and our belief that freedom serves all of mankind. Even some religious ideologies, under the thumb of the oppression, have become a tool of those who would sooner kill others and their own, rather than see people live free.
Some people regard culture and society as an extension of Darwinian theory. Current versions and models are the ‘latest and the greatest,’ with past cultures and societies seen as flawed and limited. The leaders of other cultures and societies co opt and rewrite the past to support their own ideologies, reinterpreting that past to fit, support and endorse their particular vision.
Americans are different. We are raised with the conscious understanding that those that came before us were giants, and that we are obligated to defend and build upon those principles and ideals of our Founding Fathers. They were not perfect but we are not better than them. Their legacy serves as our guiding light- we do not need to reinterpret freedom with each new regime or to serve successive generations. We are beholden to our founding fathers and those who came after, for having elevated successive generations and for having instilled in us the morals and obligations that come with freedom.
Indeed, when we think about, consider and debate our freedoms, we go back in time and become participants in the meetings that that took place in Philadelphia. We share in the arguments, passions and dedication to an ideal that will shape the future.
Americans talk about freedom so passionately because we are passionate about that great ideal. Freedom is the foundation of our beliefs. Because of freedom we free to choose the things we believe in, without fear of violence or repercussion.
Freedom is the only ideology that wants to make the world a better place, a place where each and every one of us can author our own destiny- and do so without without stripping others of their rights. In a free society, we are free to exercise free will. We can choose to believe in God or we can exercise that free will and choose not to believe in God. In a free society, God takes care of His affairs. In many places, there are those who take it upon themselves to handle God’s affairs for Him.
The fight for freedom has not been easy. It never is. There are those that see the cost of freedom and want us to abandon the citizens of nations that so desperately need liberation from tyranny. It is tempting indeed to walk away, in the myopic and absurd belief that we would be forever extricating ourselves from a problem.
There is an undeniable truth. Freedom supports righteousness and make the world a more civilized and moral place. Notwithstanding the reality that much of the world doesn’t care about those ideals, that truth about freedom is unassailable. Those that resist and resent our involvement in helping to secure freedom for others, may at times, seem to prevail, but in the end, even that is illusory.
There are those that will go to great lengths to keep us from bringing freedom to others. They will excoriate us, berate us, laugh at us and even support violence against us. There are those who would align themselves with evil so as to hurt us- and rejoice in our pain. There are those that would support the propaganda and ideologies that would demoralize and weaken us. With all their might, deceit and hatred, they would relentlessly attack us- but in the end, it will all be for naught. Americans will defend freedom, from all enemies, foreign and domestic.
They may at times kill the messenger, but the world cannot kill the message.
There are really only two ways you can hurt someone. Take away their dignity or take away their hope. When a tyranny oppress a citizen, they take away dignity. When that oppressed citizen no longer believes that there are free and good people who care about them, there are left without hope. What is hope? Well, it is an average American, from an average place, who put on a uniform and fought to liberate oppressed people- and then went home.
Of the 7 billion people on this planet, only 300 million are Americans. In other words, less than 5% of the population of this planet are Americans- and yet, the world is obsessed with our existence. In the course of the last 235 years, we have provided the world ideas, contributions and realities that are in the consciousness of virtually every human being on the planet. Given our numbers and short history, we should not have had this profound influence on history and mankind.
The secret to our our successes and influence can be attributed to one powerful word: Freedom.
The notion that all men are created equal and are deserving of freedom is a biblical concept. It took America to make that a reality, in those ideas called freedom and democracy. “They will beat their swords into plowshares…nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore,” can only come about as the result of freedom and democracy for all mankind. It is an illusion to believe that anything less will bring about peace. The one thing we have learned is that democracies don’t wage war with each other. They do not take up arms to settle disputes.
To presume that we must somehow persuade populations that freedom is better than tyranny is absurd. It presumes that tyranny and freedom are of equal value and standing. In fact, we appear foolish and weak when are forced to plead our case. In reality, when we argue the case for freedom as equal to tyrannical regimes, we belittle freedom. A casual observer would ask why we would denigrate ourselves in such a manner.
Nationhood is earned, not bestowed. Great nations are formed to build societies, not to destroy others. Healthy cultures define heroism as saving lives. Failed cultures define heroism by those who take lives. Healthy cultures elevate their citizenry. Failed cultures deprive and steal from their citizenry. Yes, it really is that simple.
What kind of impression do we make if we are willing to belittle ourselves to plead the case for democracy over tyranny? That is like lowering ourselves to argue the merits of kindness over cruelty.
The men and women marching today fought wars to bring freedom and liberty as opposed to those who would take them away.
The men and women marching today fought wars for to defend the highest principles, that all men should be free.
Those men fought a war in the hope, naive perhaps, that through their efforts, blood and tears, there would be an end to all wars.
Believing in those principles, some of those men were never to come home. Some are buried in fields, close and far away. Some graves remain unmarked, at the bottom of a forever cold ocean, with young and good men entombed in deep dark waters, never to have the sun shine on on their final resting places.
Families too, paid for their sacrifices.
Children who never again would see their father.
Wives learned that, ‘what God hath brought together‘ can be ‘torn asunder’, at the hands of other men that held close evil to their heats.
Parents, had to live through nature in reverse, burying their sons and daughters.
When you see an average looking man or woman today, marching in parade, walking around or even on TV wearing a veterans cap, beret or hat, remind yourself that is what hope looks like- and that is more precious and beautiful than anything in any museum, anywhere.
Happy Veterans Day.
Portions of this post have been previously published.