US elections are rigged — Canada knows how to fix that

When Americans voted for the House of Representatives in 2012, Democratic candidates won 1.4 million more votes than Republicans. Yet after the dust settled, the GOP ended up with a 234-201 majority in the chamber. And several recently-gerrymandered states had particularly odd results — for instance, in Pennsylvania, Republicans won 49 percent of the votes, but 69 percent of the seats.

Gerrymandering isn’t the only reason that election results only occasionally match vote totals…Several analyses find that simple geography matters more — many Democratic voters are packed closer together in urban areas…But gerrymandering infuriates voters because it feels so unfair. Letting partisan politicians — or their appointees — draw congressional districts reverses the normal order of politics. Voters are supposed to choose their politicians. Gerrymandering lets politicians choose their voters.

So is it possible to end gerrymandering? Well, the country just north of us managed to pull it off. “Canadian reapportionment was highly partisan from the beginning until the 1960s,” writes Charles Paul Hoffman in the Manitoba Law Journal. This “led to frequent denunciations by the media and opposition parties. Every ten years, editorial writers would condemn the crass gerrymanders that had resulted.” Sound familiar?

Eventually, in 1955, one province — Manitoba — decided to experiment, and handed over the redistricting process to an independent commission. Its members were the province’s chief justice, its chief electoral officer, and the University of Manitoba president. The new policy became popular, and within a decade, it was backed by both major national parties, and signed into law.

Independent commissions now handle the redistricting in every province. “Today, most Canadian ridings [districts] are simple and uncontroversial, chunky and geometric, and usually conform to the vague borders of some existing geographic / civic region knowable to the average citizen who lives there,” writes JJ McCullough. “Of the many matters Canadians have cause to grieve their government for, corrupt redistricting is not one of them.” Hoffman concurs, writing, “The commissions have been largely successful since their implementation.”

Canada changed this 50 years ago. Actually the majority of countries that accept democratic representation as their standard use independent commissions – taking control of districting for elections out of the hands of those running for office.

Might be worthwhile to pass this suggestion along to your Congress-critter. I’ll hold back my cynicism – for a moment.

Art exhibition takes aim at the Church as papal vote nears

As cardinals flock to Rome to choose the next pope, two artists have taken the opportunity to stage an exhibition taking aim at the wealth of the Roman Catholic Church and the sex abuse scandals that plagued Pope Benedict.

Held in an ancient building where Italy’s patron Saint Catherine of Siena died, “The Unspeakable Act” is a life-size model of Benedict in a confessional box, his sumptuous red and cream-colored robes spread about him.

Installed on the stage of a darkly-lit theatre, the artwork is surrounded by eerie music and a track of Benedict announcing in Latin his decision to resign after eight years topped with the whispering sounds of people confessing their sins.

Benedict’s papal tiara lies on the ground and his bejeweled hands cover his face in apparent horror or shame at a phrase from the Gospel of St. Luke that lies open on his knee: “Let the little children come to me”.

The exhibition is the work of artists Antonio Garullo and Mario Ottocento who became famous for lampooning the scandals of the powerful in 2012 with an exhibit depicting a sleeping Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, his hand in his trousers and a satisfied look on his face…

The artwork, that opens to the public on Wednesday, has personal importance for Garullo, 48, and Ottocento, 40, an artistic duo for 20 years who were the first Italian gay couple to be married when they wed in Holland in 2002.

Since then they have battled for their union to be recognized by authorities in Italy, which has no legal provision for same-sex couples, although a 2012 survey found 63 percent of Italians support equal rights for gays.

Their statue of Pope Benedict is surrounded by works by reformist theologian Hans Kueng and the late Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, a liberal voice who called for the Church to modernize – since it was “200 years out of date”.

I’d add a call for taxation of the church’s business and property wealth.

Cost of combating climate change surges – politicians do nothing

An agreement by almost 200 nations to curb rising greenhouse gas emissions from 2020 will be far more costly than taking action now to tackle climate change, according to published research.

Quick measures to cut emissions would give a far better chance of keeping global warming within an agreed U.N. limit of 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times to avert more floods, heatwaves, droughts and rising sea levels…

The timing of cuts in greenhouse gases was more important than other uncertainties – about things like how the climate system works, future energy demand, carbon prices or new energy technologies.

The study indicated that an immediate global price of $20 a ton on emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), the main greenhouse gas, would give a roughly 60 percent chance of limiting warming to below 2C.

Wait until 2020 and the carbon price would have to be around $100 a ton to retain that 60 percent chance, Keywan Riahi told Reuters of the study made with other experts in Switzerland, New Zealand, Australia and Germany…

After the failure of a 2009 summit in Copenhagen to agree a worldwide accord, almost 200 nations have given themselves until 2015 to work out a global deal to cut greenhouse gas emissions that will enter into force in 2020.

Amid an economic slowdown, many countries at the last U.N. meeting on climate change in Qatar in December expressed reluctance to make quick shifts away from fossil fuels towards cleaner energies such as wind or solar power…

The report…showed that greener policies, such as more efficient public transport or better-insulated buildings, would raise the chances of meeting the 2C goal.

Being the world’s dominant economic power means we’re the focus of cause-and-effect relationships. Especially in politics. Failure of the United States to lead on the question of climate change is key to resolving the future costs – and increases.

Obama made mention of the question briefly in his inauguration. Republicans and Blue Dog Dems have started whining even before the introduction of any useful legislation. Power companies have lots of buck$. Most of the rest of corporate America is ready to pitch in – and do nothing constructive – as ever.

Hillary Clinton makes an official visit to a land America tried to bomb into submission

Hillary Clinton on Wednesday became the first US secretary of state to visit Laos for 57 years, on a trip focused on the damaging legacy of the Vietnam War.

The US “desire was to deepen and broaden” the relationship, Clinton said after a visit to a US-funded orthotic and prosthetic center, which she described as a “painful reminder of the legacy of the Vietnam War era”.

“Here in Laos the past is always with you,” she said, addressing US embassy employees.

US forces dropped more than 2 million tons of ordnance on Laos between 1964 and 1973 in some 580,000 bombing missions to cut off North Vietnam supply lines.

Some 30 percent of the ordnance failed to detonate. All 17 of the country’s provinces are still contaminated by unexploded ordnance and Laos remains the most heavily bombed country, per capita, in history.

Clinton…met Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong at his office…The pair had “substantive discussions on the broadening bilateral cooperation”…The countries “agreed to improve and further facilitate the accounting operations for US personnel still missing from the Indochina War era” and address the “remaining challenges” of unexploded ordnance…

Clinton said she hoped in the future there would by ways “to give people and particularly children of this nation the opportunity to live their lives free of these unexploded bombs“.

Hillary, Hillary. Even when you were at Yale Law School with a reasonably stodgy legal career mapped out, you never relied on watered-down platitudes to describe the special relationship between Imperial America and the nations battered by a war embraced by both wings of our unitarian political establishment. You didn’t have a problem describing thugs like Kissinger as “criminal”.

Now, thoroughly absorbed into the Borg of American foreign policy, you ask us to applaud a tiny gift to a nation we carpet-bombed with cluster bombs, a pittance compared to even the little we spend on recovering the bones of American pilots shot down on their missions of brutality and death.

Hillary – your politics stink.

Tsunami tales win Japan’s Imperial poetry contest

Poems about the Japanese tsunami were among the winners at the country’s annual Imperial Palace poetry contest. Emperor Akihito and his family attended a ceremony in Tokyo, where the 10 winning poems were read aloud.

One winner, a 72-year-old tailor, wrote of his relief upon learning his son was safe after three days of uncertainty when an earthquake and tsunami devastated Japan last March.

The theme for this year’s traditional five-line tanka contest was “shore”.

A tanka is an older form of poetry than the more well-known haiku, and follows a syllable pattern of 5-7-5-7-7…

Never able to
Turn it back,
This reality
Feels so heavy on my shoulders,
Along this coastal path.

By Yueko Sawabe

The imperial family also offered their poems for the event. One of Emperor Akihito’s verses expressed his sorrow and horror in watching the dark waves of the rolling tsunami on TV news footage.

Next year’s theme has been announced as “stand up”, which could inspire poems of hope in a recovering Japan.

Bravo. I could see Obama sponsoring a poetry contest.

The next Republican in the White House – hopefully not in my remaining years – will probably have a contest for badges required for dissenters to wear in public. As part of the Patriot [sic] Act.

Asha Bhosle – the voice of Bollywood

‘In the old days all the movie songs were recorded right there on set,” remembers Asha Bhosle, the quintessential Bollywood singer. Now 77, Bhosle was just 11 when she performed her first song on a movie soundtrack, Chala Chala Nav Bala from Majha Bal in 1943. In the 68 years since, she has provided the on-screen singing voice for generations of actresses unable to capture and deliver a song as brilliantly as she could, singing around 20,000 tunes in 14 languages, as well as recording with Robbie Williams, Michael Stipe and the Kronos Quartet, and lending her name to Cornershop’s Brimful of Asha, one of the landmark No 1 hits of the 1990s.

“My son Anand first heard that song in San Francisco and told me all about it,” she says, via a friend and translator, from Australia where she is appearing in concert. “I was at the immigration counter at Heathrow Airport once and the young officer read the profession listed in my passport as ‘singer’. He was intrigued, so I told him I was the Asha from Brimful of Asha, and he was so excited he left his post and called his friends over to meet me. So I guess, at the very least, that song helped me clear UK immigration faster than usual.”

When Bhosle thinks back to the start of her career she remembers dusty movie sets, people running around, lights and cameras. “And there was little me,” she says, “falling asleep and being woken up to sing my part. I think of that time fondly – it was pre-independence India. Only my sister Lata [Mangeshkar, a hugely popular singer in her own right], Manna Dey [the 91-year old Bengali singer] and I are left from those who began their careers in what was British India…”

Bhosle became particularly well known for her ability to change her voice for each role and a huge amount of film work, alongside established male singing stars such as Dey, Kishore Kumar and Mohammad Rafi, followed…

“Rahul Dev’s music was way ahead of its time,” she says. “He had so many different styles and rhythms in his music. You can hear jazz, Latin, that John Barry, super-spy sound, some blues, calypso and pop in there; 17 years after he died, he’s more popular than ever.”

RTFA. Learn to love some of the best pop music ever to reach out to the whole world.