Voting Rights Today
Today, as we reflect on Martin Luther King’s life and legacy, it is chilling to see voting rights again under attack. Partisan gerrymandering is one of the oldest tools for stifling voter rights. Last year, partisan gerrymandering was brought down from the attic and used aggressively in Texas and in other states. Yet, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals found no fault with the Texas redistricting plan, basing its analysis almost exclusively on the plan’s impact on Black and Hispanic voters and ignoring the broader attacks on voting rights that shredded Austin and other communities.
The newest threat to voting rights is through electronic voting. There is a concern that with electronic voting all votes may not be accurately recorded and reported and that the voting software may be subject to tampering. Amazingly, some of the electronic voting system companies have asserted that their voting software is protected as a trade secret, preventing voting officials from verifying the vote, and some local voting officials have agreed to these limitations. It should be a minimum standard that our voting procedures are transparent and available for inspection.
Here, at the dawn of the 21st Century, we are reminded again that part of Dr. King’s legacy is that our civil rights cannot be taken for granted, that we must always be vigilant, and that we must be ready to both step forward to assert our rights and to protect the rights of others. This is both a part of Dr. King’s legacy and part of what it means to be an American. The American Revolution and our separation from England was based in large part in grievances over voting rights, representation, and governance. Our legacy is older than that, though, extending back to the English Civil War and the wars of religion during the 17th Century that so greatly influenced the early settlement of North America and before that to the Magna Carta, Rome, and Athens. Voting rights are an age-old and eternal question, and we must do our part to hold-up our end of the debate.
Sun Tzu Would Not Approve
I don't belong to an organized political party.
I'm a Democrat
-- Will Rogers
No Democrat filed to run for election in the redrawn 10th Congressional District. Eight Republicans are running to represent the District which extends from North Travis County down Highway 290 to Suburban Houston. Sun Tzu would not approve of the Democrats providing the Republicans with this opportunity to consolidate control over this district that was designed to include a nominal Republican majority. The Republicans running for the seat are in disarray with an east-west tug of war for control of the district and with candidates running on platforms calling for abolition of the IRS and monuments to the Ten Commandments.
The Democrats are not even on the field, though. By not running a candidate in this district, the Democrats are continuing to allow the Republicans to define the terms of debate. Sun Tzu is noted for identifying that “the highest realization of contest is to attack the enemy’s plans; next is to attack their alliances; next to attack their forces; and the lowest is to attack their fortified positions.” The Republicans have planned for the 10th Congressional District to be won by a Republican. Because it is a new district, though, the Republican alliances within the district are weak and divided. It would be challenging for a Democrat to run in the 10th Congressional District, but there is also an opportunity to challenge the Republicans in this district before they can strengthen their alliances and consolidate their control.
The Republicans gained control of the state because for years they were willing to field candidates in races even where they had little chance of winning. The Democrats need to recognize that we are now in the same position the Republicans were in back in the 70s. The Democrats have recognize that the old ways no longer work, that they have not worked for awhile, and that the party must rebuild itself in each county and district and define a new what the party stands for and offers to the voters. To do that, though, the Democrats are going to need to field candidates.
When Are We Going to Get There?
President Bush’s space program is long on generalities and short on specifics and vision. Bush has called for a base on the moon and substantial progress on a trip to Mars by 2030. The only specific deadline he offered was to cut off funding for the International Space Station by 2010. There are still many questions as to why we should go to the moon and whether a manned trip to Mars is even feasible. Some allege that Bush has called for a base on the Moon in order to stake out a permanent claim before China and India get there.
President Bush has, however, created an opportunity for the Democrats running for President and for Congress to engage in a debate on our objectives in space. The space program will continue to be developed through annual budgets and annual debates on what priorities should be funded. A new direction is needed for our space program, and there is still an opportunity to define what that direction will be.
Yes, I am a
To Infinity, and Beyond!
White House staff have announced that President Bush will declare a major new space initiative in a speech next week, bootstrapping on the ongoing success of the Mars Spirit mission. The initiative will reportedly include returning to the Moon and making substantial progress on a mission to Mars within ten years. The key issues will be the scope of the initiative, whether the Moon is even an appropriate destination, how President Bush proposes to pay for the initiative.
At a time of escalating budget deficits and job losses, with our military overcommitted and overextended, and with state and local governments increasingly squeezed and scrambling to pay for education, infrastructure, and other programs, the cost of any new space initiative will be a critical factor. With John McCain and other fiscal conservatives already characterizing the President’s current budget as a drunken spending spree, there is a real question as to the feasibility of taking on a major new space initiative. A specific proposal for funding is needed if the space initiative is to be anything more than more spend and don’t tax Republicanism.
As for the scope of the initiative, there are other places to go besides the Moon. There are four potential objectives: the Moon, Mars, L-5, and a space elevator. President Bush is proposing a return to the Moon. Other than a visit to past glory, we need to ask why the Moon? What is there to be gained? What can we achieve? What can we gain?
Mars is certainly the sexiest objective, but also the most difficult and the riskiest. Two-thirds of the remote vehicle missions sent to Mars have failed. That success ratio needs to be dramatically improved before we undertake the risk of a manned mission to Mars. A manned mission would also be far more difficult and expensive than the recent remote missions. First, a manned mission cannot be left on Mars. The mass of fuel, supplies, and other materials required for a return mission would be difficult to send from Earth, and an advance mission of remote supply vehicles may need to be sent to Mars in advance in order to provide the supplies necessary for a return mission. Beyond the engineering challenges, the medical challenges are daunting because we do not yet know how to keep people in space and protect them from the solar radiation for the six months trip to Mars and the return trip.
Lagrange Point 5, L-5, is the least sexy of the potential objectives and one of the more practical. L-5 is one of the points between the Earth and the Moon where the gravity of the two bodies is balanced. A space station placed at L-5 would be stable. If we are interested in establishing a permanent presence in space and building the infrastructure for travel to Mars or other points in our solar system, the L-5 is the place to be.
A space elevator might seem like the most far-fetched proposal, but it would be the most practical. One of the greatest challenges in space exploration is escaping Earth’s gravity. A space elevator would greatly reduce the cost of lifting payloads above Earth orbit. Reportedly, engineering and material science have advanced to the point of making a space elevator a feasible near term goal. A space elevator would both benefit existing commercial use of space, encourage other projects, and support a Mars mission.
With the November presidential election accelerating towards us, the political ramifications of President Bush’s space initiative will be crucial. In the election year calculus, a major new space initiative is golden. President Bush can use it to offer a grand vision without having to present specific costs or describe how it will be paid for. Also, it forces the Democratic candidates to respond and presents the chance that they will seem churlish and limited in vision if they question how we might pay for any major new space program and what benefits we might gain. Still, in a time of budget deficits and increasing demands on government at all levels, those questions need to be asked.
One of the things that is most striking about President Bush’s proposed space initiative is how it seems to fit into an overall pattern of remaking the 60s. With U.S. troops already committed into a lengthening war of occupation and now with a new program to put us into a space race with China, it looks as if the Bush administration is attempting to refight the culture wars by replicating the 1960s in this, the first decade of the 21st Century.
We will need to dust off our copies of Whitey on the Moon
Welcome to Delayistan
Well, the Republican map is valid for now. I cannot believe that I now live in a Congressional District that extends to Suburban Houston. I cannot imagine how anyone will be able to represent such a disparate district. I seriously doubt that we will see our U.S. Representative ever again at our neighborhood 4th of July celebrations.
One of the things that is striking about the court’s decision is its preoccupation with race. The impact on the voting rights of racial minorities is nearly the exclusive focus of the opinion. Now, this is not surprising as the Voting Rights Acts have traditionally provided the primary means for analyzing the validity of redistricting efforts. What we are seeing now, though, is the use of precise demographic and voting information to design districts that predominately favor one of the two political parties. In analyzing the effect of the redistricting plan on existing communities of interest, the court looked to see whether the effect on existing communities could be seen as evidence of whether ethnicity had been a predominate concern in redistricting. The court found that the impact on communities was trumped by the requirement of equal district populations (Opinion at p. 93-94). The Court did not analyze the effect of the redistricting plan on the communities of interest in Travis County. This redistricting plan did severe violence to the voting rights of Texans, but the court lacked the legal structure to analyze the true impact of the plan.
As the court pointed out, Texas has the authority to write rules governing Congressional redistricting, including prohibiting mid-decade redistricting efforts such as this. In Colorado, a limitation within the state constitution barred redistricting other than as required once a decade following a census. The Legislature should approve new rules for redistricting that will minimize the polarizing partisanship that has characterized the 2003 effort. Senator Wentworth has previously proposed the formation of an independent redistricting commission that could take on the effort and allow legislators to focus on legislative tasks. Such a commission and a rule barring mid-decade redistricting would be a good start in moving Texas back into a productive bipartisan tradition.
After Britney Spears’ 55-hour marriage “just for the hell of it,” I wonder anew what further damage gays and lesbians could possibly do to the institution of marriage.