Edward Lorenz, a now-departed meteorologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was perhaps the first person to ever expound on the “butterfly effect” – the idea that a butterfly fluttering its wings in one corner of the world could set off a chain of events leading......
It’s hard for us to imagine a scenario in which having fewer state lawmakers is a bad thing, so we suppose we should be enthused about Tuesday’s vote by the state House to significantly cut the membership of the General Assembly. However, it’s just a first step in what no doubt will be a long, tortuous and probably unsuccessful march toward giving voters the opportunity to weigh in on the matter.
By way of background, there have been previous attempts to cut the size of the Legislature, but all have fallen short. On Tuesday, the House OK’d a bill to cut that chamber from 203 representatives to 151. A companion measure that also was approved would cut the membership of the state Senate from 50 to 37. But these aren’t like typical bills that would simply need the Senate to concur and the governor to sign off. These measures require passage by the Senate during this two-year legislative cycle, then approval again by both houses by December 2018. Then, and only then, would the proposals be put before the voters in a statewide referendum.
Supporters argue that the move to a more svelte General Assembly would save the state a bundle of money and also could improve the actual operation of the Legislature.
“Reducing the size will ... make for a more efficient Legislature in building consensus,” said Rep. Jerry Knowles, R-Schuylkill, prime sponsor of the House bill. “It will also make for better discussion and clearer debate.”
The current size and cost of the Legislature is difficult to defend. Lawmakers make anywhere from $84,000 to more than $120,000. They have Cadillac-style perks and retirement plans, and they rake in even more money in the form of no-receipts-required per diems. Pennsylvania has the most expensive legislature in the country, and it is the largest full-time body of its kind, if by full time we mean folks who meet in regular session with a regular lack of regularity.
Rep. Greg Vitali, a Democrat from Delaware County argued for the status quo, saying that reducing the number of lawmakers would lead to districts that would be too large to manage.
Our response is that if and when the number of lawmakers is reduced and districts are redrawn, they should be crafted based on common sense and obvious geographical boundaries, absent the kind of ridiculous gerrymandering that has been a part of past redistricting in order to protect legislative seats for this party or the other.
Take, for instance, the 15th District, currently represented by Republican Jim Christiana. We have nothing against Christiana. He has shown himself to be a capable and thoughtful public servant. We endorsed his candidacy last fall. But his district is a joke. It starts at his home base in Beaver and travels all the way down through Washington County until it reaches the sparsely populated rolling hills and valleys of West Finley Township, hard by the Greene County line.
Some years back, colorful former state lawmaker Bill DeWeese referred to another grotesquely gerrymandered district as resembling “a supine sea serpent with genitalia pointing toward Wheeling.”
If more sensible redistricting isn’t enough, the incredible advances in communication we have witnessed over the past 20 years should also help to negate any challenges presented by larger districts. Also, if lawmakers are concerned about properly serving a greater number of constituents, they can open a couple more satellite offices in their districts. We’ll still be saving money.
In some news stories, the good guys and bad guys are pretty clear-cut. It’s hard to muster much sympathy for, say, the barbarians in ISIS laying waste to parts of Syria or Iraq, and it’s natural to feel for people whose lives were upended because of a natural disaster and the samaritans who are swooping in to provide aid and comfort.
But the shooting that happened Sunday night in Garland, Texas, outside an event sponsored by a virulently anti-Muslim organization where folks were asked to draw cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad – and, one presumes, render him in less than flattering ways – is one of those stories where it’s hard to find anyone deserving of much sympathy at all. When it comes down to it, this was a couple of detestable extremists feeding off another group of extremists, who are no slouches themselves when it comes to being unsavory, and the whole thing ended in gunfire and death.
To recap, a group fronted by Pamela Geller, a onetime Long Island housewife who, over the last decade, made a name for herself by spewing vicious hatred of all things having to do with Islam, put together a “contest” at a conference center Sunday night for people to create “art” depicting Muhammad. In Islam, making any kind of image of Muhammad is considered blasphemous, and the group’s “contest” was meant to be provocative.
However, rather than ignoring Geller and her merry band of bigots, as mainstream Muslim groups urged their members to do, a couple of young men from Phoenix, Ariz., who are thought to have had sympathies with jihadist groups, took the bait. They made their way to the extravaganza with guns and wounded a security guard before police arrived and killed them.
It was certainly within the free-speech rights of Geller and those who follow her to hold their event, just as it’s lawful for a handful of ragtag members of the Ku Klux Klan to come out from under the rocks they inhabit and hold rallies on courthouse steps. But the shooting Sunday night should not provide oxygen for the likes of Geller and others who seek to gin up hatred of Muslims based on distortions and exaggerations. It should be pointed out Geller’s organization has been designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which notes she “mingled comfortably with European racists and fascists, spoken favorably of South African racists, defended Serbian war criminal Radovan Karadzic, and denied the existence of Serbian concentration camps.”
Josh Marshall of the Talking Points Memo website put it well when he said “political violence is the greatest corrosive of free and ordered societies,” while, at the same time, “Pam Geller is a cancerous presence in the U.S. political conversation” and her organization is still a hate group.
The notion Islam in its totality is violent and driven to put us all under the yoke of Sharia law is refuted daily by the overwhelming majority of Muslims across the globe who do their jobs, raise their families and practice their faith quietly, just as the majority of Christians, Jews and practitioners of other faiths do.
Alas, Geller and her fellow Islamophobes will continue to flail away and try to convince people otherwise. The next time they host one of these “contests,” we hope they are allowed to peacefully marinate in their own hate and are ignored by everyone else.
Nothing would bother them more.
Because the polls don’t close in Britain until 10 p.m., election-night coverage there on radio, television, and now the web, tends to be an up-until-dawn ritual even in years where one of the two major parties is expected to handily win a sufficient number of seats in the House of Commons to......
Fifty years ago, the United States, with the support of most Americans, had ramped up its involvement in Vietnam into a full-scale war. Five years later, by the time four Kent State University students were killed by National Guardsmen, dissent had grown and the fabric of American society was......