Monday, July 30, 2007

Murder, yes it was. But this case screams for a lesser charge.

We know one thing. Matthew Booth's 13 year old daughter deliberately shot him in the face with a shotgun. And she is charged with an open count of murder, for which she will be tried as an adult and maybe spend the rest of her life in prison.

But she shouldn't.

If Matthew Booth was murdered, maybe it is because a system didn't care, despite his having been reported to Allegheny County Officials who didn't bother to follow up. And a trapped child, living with her brother in animal feces and sexually abused by her father, finally did about the only thing she could think of. She killed him.

BUENA VISTA, Pennsylvania (AP) -- A 13-year-old girl used a shotgun to fatally shoot her father in the head early Monday in a home overrun with animals and filth, police said.

The girl told investigators she used a 12-gauge shotgun to shoot 34-year-old Matthew Booth in the face while he was in bed, according to a police affidavit.

A police complaint did not identify a motive in the killing, but her mother, Michelle Fazek, who was separated from Booth, said she had complained several times to county child welfare officials that her daughter and her brother, 14, were living in squalor and that her daughter had been abused.

"I just want to see her," Fazek said. "She must be so scared."

Messages left for Allegheny County's Office of Children, Youth and Families were not immediately returned.

The Associated Press does not identify victims of possible sexual abuse.

The girl appeared in municipal court late Monday wearing a maroon county jail uniform, her hands and ankles cuffed, where she was charged as an adult with criminal homicide and ordered held without bail.

The house in Elizabeth Township, about 20 miles southeast of Pittsburgh was in deplorable condition, police said.

"They had a number of animals, dogs, cats and rabbits. They hadn't cleaned up after them," said James Morton, assistant superintendent of Allegheny County Police. The two-story frame house had dirty, peeling white siding, and a downstairs window was boarded up.

Yeah, I know. Maybe she should have run away. Perhaps, but to where? Life on the streets is pretty dangerous for a thirteen year old girl. Gangs, drugs, rape, forced prostitution, maybe becoming a murder victim herself-- that is what can be expected for a thirteen year old runaway. Of course if she ran to her (apparently non-custodial) mother, it is very likely that the police would look there first and that she would simply be returned home-- and I'm sure punished by her father in a horrible manner. Beyond that, a thirteen year old probably doesn't know enough about life to know about battered women's shelters or other places she could seek help.

The county officials will undoubtedly pat themselves on the back if they get a conviction, and chalk up another 'solved crime' brought to a successful conclusion. A statistic. They won't even think twice about the failure of the County's Department of Children, Youth and Families.

No, murder is never the right choice to get out of a situation. But a murder charge in this case is inappropriate. A charge of perhaps voluntary manslaughter, followed by a sentence to be served someplace where this girl can get the help she needs, is what the prosecutors should pursue.

FBI raids GOP Senator's home

Well, having raided two Republicans (Rick Renzi, R-AZ and John Doolittle, R-CA) and one Democrat (William Jefferson, D-LA) in Congress it looks like the FBI corruption investigators have moved on to the Senate.

According to the Washingtonian Magazine, Stevens has retained "Washington's most powerful and expensive lawyer," Brendan Sullivan Jr.

Unlike the three congressmen (or for that matter like Duke Cunningham, R-CA or Bob Ney, R-OH who are presently in prison after being convicted of corruption) Stevens is not a small fish. He was elected to the Senate during the last year of the Johnson administration and has been Republican whip of the Senate (between 1977 and 1985). He has chaired the Senate Rules Committee and Appropriations Committee-- both positions of extraordinary power in the Senate. Stevens has been in the pocket of large media corporations which want to control the internet and oppose network neutrality. During the debate on it last year, Stevens displayed an astonishing lack of understanding even of his own bill as well as of technology and finally got so frustrated that he described the internet as 'a series of tubes.' And this was the guy who wrote and pushed through the Telecommunications Industry backed intenet bill, SB 2686, last year in the Senate.

Interestingly enough, as the senior Republican in the Senate, Stevens last year was President pro-tem. This means that he was (and should Republicans regain control of the Senate, will again be) the fourth person in line for the Presidency.

Ted Stevens is well known for pork barrel spending. Now, I'm not the opponent of pork that some on the right are, since I do believe that many projects classified as 'pork,' while they might be unprofitable from a purely monetary point of view, do benefit and make life better for some of our fellow American citizens and as such are things which are worthwhile doing. However, Stevens crossed the line IMO when he blocked the creation of a federal database which would allow people to see what the 'pork' projects are and how much they cost. I'm perfectly ready to defend a lot of 'pork,' but I fault Stevens for the fact that the projects and numbers are not out there for perusal on the internet like they should be. And now it seems he may be done in by pork, apparently personally benefitting from the largesse of a government contractor. How fitting an end, if it turns out to be so.

The culture of corruption still seems alive and well in Washington. Until it is swept out, we have to demand that ethics reform continue. This year's ethics reform bill, while better than the complete lack of it that we saw for the past few years, still is far less than what we as voters should be demanding.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Ask the question: If Pat Tillman was murdered, who didn't want him to come back alive?

Once again (in what we are learning is a story which seems to get worse every time we get closer to the truth,) we've learned some disturbing new details regarding the death of Pat Tillman.

Tillman, you may recall, was the NFL star who left a career worth millions of dollars per year to join the elite U.S. Army Rangers (along with his brother Kevin) after 9/11 so he could fight in Afghanistan against the people who had actually attacked us. After a stint in Iraq, where he told comrades that he opposed the Iraq war and believed that it served no purpose in the war against bin Laden and al-Qaeda, he was redeployed to Afghanistan where he died on April 22, 2004. Within hours, a heroic story about his death was put out, and he was even awarded a silver star. A nice touch, it turned out to what was even then known to be a big lie.

But in today's story, we learn much more. Much more disturbing.

SAN FRANCISCO - Army medical examiners were suspicious about the close proximity of the three bullet holes in Pat Tillman's forehead and tried without success to get authorities to investigate whether the former NFL player's death amounted to a crime, according to documents obtained by the Associated Press.

"The medical evidence did not match up with the scenario as described," a doctor who examined Tillman's body after he was killed on the battlefield in Afghanistan in 2004 told investigators.

The doctors, whose names were blacked out, said that the bullet holes were so close together that it appeared the Army Ranger was cut down by an M-16 fired from a mere 10 yards or so away....

The documents show that a doctor who autopsied Tillman's body was suspicious of the three gunshot wounds to the forehead. The doctor said he took the unusual step of calling the Army's Human Resources Command and was rebuffed. He then asked an official at the Army's Criminal Investigation Division if it would consider opening a criminal case.

"He said he talked to his higher headquarters, and they had said no," the doctor testified.

We also learned this:

• No evidence at all of enemy fire was found at the scene - no one was hit by enemy fire nor was any government equipment struck.

After their first set of lies was exposed, the Pentagon and the White House are still sticking stubbornly to their second story, that it was a friendly fire 'accident,' even now offering up the heads of several generals on a platter.

But the evidence is still there, that this was no accident. And the motivation is clear: Pat Tillman was well known to personally oppose the Iraq war, which was not the war he signed up to fight. And after his commitment was over, he'd have been a devastatingly effective opponent of that war. Even Ann Coulter would have had a tough time attacking Tillman after he got home from both Afghanistan and Iraq, and began speaking out against the Iraq war. April 2004 was the month that Iraq boiled over and it was clear that the U.S. would be there longer than Tillman's commitment. So suddenly he died, conveniently in the war he had volunteered for, and within hours the heroism story was out, carefully scripted and made to order, complete with silver star.

Mary Tillman is right, this doesn't pass the sniff test. There is more here that needs to be investigated. Let's hope that Congress demands to know the names of the doctors involved and determines why their suspicions that it was murder weren't acted on. It is true that the army did eventually conduct an inquiry in which they asked if any of the men in his unit disliked Tillman. But maybe that isn't the inquiry that needs to be asked in regard to what appears to be a cold blooded case of murder. Maybe the question needs to be asked, who was afraid of Pat Tillman, and how far would they go in order to prevent him from saying what he was going to say after he left the army?

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The lights are off, the doors are locked and everyone else has left the building-- but President Bush still is talking about a 'win' in Iraq.

Today President Bush said once again that we have to 'win' in Iraq.

Leaving aside the fact that we've grown tired of this stale old line in support of keeping us moving in place in a war that has become intractable and likely unwinnable, I'd like to know exactly how he defines, 'win.' The ever-murky and changing mission has made it virtually impossible to even know what exactly a 'win' was.

Certainly if a 'win' was to get rid of Saddam Hussein, then since that is done, we should bring all our troops home, in say, four years ago. If it was to get rid of any WMD's, then we should also bring our troops back years ago, certainly after the administration made the announcement on January 12, 2005 that they were calling off the search for WMD's after two years of exhaustive searching had turned up nothing other than a handful of left over and decomposing mustard gas cannisters from the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980's that had apparently been stuck on a back shelf somewhere and forgotten about. If it was about letting the Iraqis elect a government, then that has also been done, though they elected a fundamentalist Shi'ite government that is essentially a puppet of the Shi'ite militias who support them. If a 'win' was to keep Iraq peaceful and prevent Islamist terrorists from disrupting the country, then-- wait a second, Saddam was doing that. If a 'win' means some sort of a smashing military victory, then somebody better read about what exactly a guerilla war is.

As a matter of fact, George W. Bush himself declared that all major combat operations were over on May 1, 2003 under that 'Mission Accomplished' banner. The cost then was 139 American lives and about $45 billion, in the course of six weeks. According to what was said then, that was a 'win.'

Since then we've lost 25 times as many American lives, spent fifteen times as much money, and been there for about 35 times as long.

So I figure by now, we must have 'won' Iraq at least a couple of dozen times. So let's bring our troops home now, I don't know if we can stand much more of this kind of 'winning.'

Ann Kirkpatrick resigns to run for Congress.

Ann Kirkpatrick, who represents district 2 in the Arizona legislature has resigned from her seat in order to run for Congress against Rick Renzi, who is being investigated by the FBI and the Justice Department for corruption.

I had been supporting Allen Affeldt, a progressive friend of mine who is also the mayor of Winslow early in the campaign but Allen decided not to run. Even then though I felt that Kirkpatrick would be a very formidable candidate. Since Allen is not running I am glad that she is, not only because she can win but because she has spent much of her life working to make life better for people. And that is something I can support and work for enthusiastically.

There are several other candidates in the race including reporter Mary Kim Titla, attorney Howard Shankar and likely former congressional nominee and Al Gore campaign manager Steve Owens but I believe that Kirkpatrick is the candidate most in tune with the majority of rural voters throughout the district.

Friday, July 20, 2007

The debate on Iraq is an AMERICAN discussion, and Hillary was right to be outraged.

It is not often lately that I've defended Senator Hillary Clinton. More often, I've been critical of the Democratic frontrunner over everything from her support of the Patriot Act to her refusing to admit she was wrong when she voted in October 2002 to support the use of military force in Iraq (though she has noted, correctly, that the resolution authorized the use of military force specifically to make Saddam Hussein comply with U.N. sanctions, and the Bush administration focused on his letting the arms inspectors back in which he did-- so it was George Bush's decision alone to order them back out so he could invade anyway.) And I've made it abudantly clear that I've endorsed and am working for one of Clinton's Democratic primary opponents, Bill Richardson.

This week, though Clinton was correct in calling 'outrageous' an assertion made by Undersecretary of Defense Eric Edelman that even talking about withdrawal encourages enemy propaganda, in answer to a direct question that she asked him about whether the army was preparing a scenario for withdrawal.

The narrow reason why it was outrageous is that whether we end up withdrawing or not, to not at least have a plan for withdrawal is as foolhardy as, well, maybe invading a country without having a plan about what exactly to do after the government falls. Only a fool wouldn't at least have a plan to cover any reasonable contingency. It is only after witnessing the dumfounding incompetence we saw displayed in the weeks and months after the fall of Baghdad when we had no clue about how to run a country and let the insurgency assemble itself right under our noses that I'd even think that there would be a need to ask whether we had a withdrawal plan filed someplace and what it entailed. But having witnessed that, it is a valid question to ask.

But the broader reason why it was outrageous is one that cuts to the heart of the matter.

Sure, there will certainly be some opponents of America in Iraq who will be encouraged by the fact that we are discussing withdrawal. Just as opponents of America are encouraged by our coverage of war casualties, or as they were encouraged by our accounts of the devastation they caused on 9/11, or encouraged by the wholesale changes in our society they've witnessed as we change more towards being a xenophobic police state than we were before 9/11. I will readily concede that there are opponents of America all over the world who will take encouragement from our discussion of all of these things.

But the alternative is much worse. The alternative is to not talk about these things. If we don't, then we lose the essence of democratic discussion. How exactly are we supposed to extricate ourselves from a ruinous war if we can't even talk about getting out? Only in the twisted world of conservative logic would we put the kibosh on any discussion over getting out of a situation that has gotten worse and worse, and shows no signs of getting better.

The debate about what we will do is an American debate, and we will debate it and make decisions about what to do here in America. That is the way we do things here, and whether people in other countries choose to pay attention to what we are talking about and even take sides or make plans is irrelevant, and is certainly not a reason why we should not have the debate in the first place. Further, this war has dragged on for over four years since it was supposedly over, and we've wasted thousands of American lives and hundreds of billions of dollars in order to strengthen an enemy, the cause of Islamic fundamentalism, that we were supposed to be weakening. In this context, a discussion about withdrawal is hardly a surprise. If anyone should shoulder the blame for encouraging the enemy, it is the inept leadership of this administration which has managed to fight them for years and achieved nothing beyond getting rid of a dictatorship which suppressed Islamicists in the first place.

Besides, if such discussions should not be held because they encourage the enemy, then why didn't the cacophony of voices now raised in praise of Mr. Edelman refrain from jumping all over Ms. Clinton's husband when he tried to get rid of bin Laden on August 18, 1998? Within hours, Republican Senator Dan Coats called on Bill Clinton to resign, and many others claimed that the attack (which came eleven days after the African embassy bombings) was politically motivated and should not have been launched since it took a headline away from the all-important Monica scandal. I'm sure that Osama, after realizing how getting done with his meeting early saved his neck, probably had a good belly laugh when he read the reaction of Senator Coats and others.

It is time for us to get out of Iraq. We should direct our military leadership to draw up plans for a withdrawal now, and then act on them. And no, I don't really care what our enemies think when they read that, I care that we do it because staying there any longer is not in the best interest of America. Period.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Poll casts perspective on how weak GOP primary field really is

As if we've not had enough confirmation of the fundamental weakness of the Republican field:

Today AP-Ipsos released a poll of the top four candidates in the GOP field (Rudy Giuliani, yet unannounced candidate Fred Thompson, John McCain and Mitt Romney,) and 'none of the above' beat all the candidates.

Yes, it's true. That option got 23% (and I doubt if it's because they all wanted to pick Duncan Hunter), while Giuliani (whose own consistent decline in polls over the past two months has only not been noticed because McCain has been falling faster) got 21%, with Thompson at 19%, McCain at 15% and Romney at 11%.

In contrast, even with some Democrats still holding out hope for Al Gore, most Democrats have expressed satisfaction with the candidates running (and if a poll sampled just Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John Edwards and Bill Richardson, the top four Democrats, we'd already have more total support according to all recent polls than would be needed to ensure that 'none of the above' didn't do very well at all.)

Put it this way-- another measure of how weak the Republican field is, is that John McCain is still polling at a level that puts him in the thick of the race. Most national Republicans (and even a lot of them right here in Arizona) don't like John McCain, don't trust John McCain and certainly don't support John McCain. Further, 'Mr. fiscal conservative' is coming off a terrible stretch of bad news, in which he pretty much destroyed his own campaign by assuming he would raise mammoth amounts of money ahd setting the spending curve so high that it is hard to imagine how anybody could be that broke after raising over $20 million more than fifteen months before the next Presidential election (and more than six months before the first primaries.) In any normal year, with decent GOP candidates, a candidate who had the high negatives of McCain who then proved himself so incompetent at running his own campaign would be long gone, or at least relegated to the 2% or below level (and yes, the candidate is responsible for his campaign if nothing else-- otherwise how could you expect him to handle being responsible for the whole country?) But he is there anyway because what other options are there?

Giuliani, as I mentioned has been slowly losing air. His campaign has not fallen as fast as McCain's, and he has raised more money than any Republican (Thompson does not have to report contributions since he still officially only has an exploratory committee) but since he grabbed the lead from McCain earlier this year, it seems like a lot of his supporters have been giving having second thoughts and have moved away from him in the polls. Maybe it's the nasty divorce he had while in the middle of an affair that has caused his kids to stop speaking to him, maybe it's his position on abortion, maybe it's the fact that other than working for a Houston based law firm that helps out Big Oil he's done little since leaving the mayor's office, maybe it's his flip-flop on gun laws, maybe it's a concern among GOP primary voters that if his successor as mayor, Michael Bloomberg runs as an independent he could all but destroy Rudy's candidacy by picking off many of his core voters, but whatever it is, the 'magic' that Rudy seemed to have, has quite clearly rubbed off with Republican voters.

Thompson keeps getting compared to Reagan. Yeah, he's a conservative and an actor. But he obviously doesn't have Reagan's charm with Republican voters, since he still can't beat 'none of the above,' and even evangelicals-- who Thompson was courting-- have not really committed to a candidate. And the truth is, Thompson has spent most of the past few years as a lobbyist on capitol hill. Many Americans believe that lobbyists are precisely at the root of what has gone wrong with Washington, and to elect one of them President would be handing the keys to the henhouse to the fox.

Romney has gone up consistently, but he is behind the other three and also hasn't made many inroads with evangelicals who are probably as important in GOP primaries as, say, African-American voters are in Democratic primaries.

And the irony is that you'd think it would be easier for these guys to convince Republicans. After all, there are fewer of them since about one in eight Republicans has left the party in the past three years.

But obviously those left are still having a tough time figuring out who to support.

Monday, July 16, 2007

The Bionic Man

What is sports? Sports has always been ultimately a competition, man against man (or perhaps woman against woman or team against team) to see who, with the magnificent body they were born with, could achieve victory over a worthy opponent.

Then during the 1970's, there was a very popular television show. Part James Bond, part science fiction (yes, there was even an episode featuring Bigfoot), the show was called the Six Million Dollar Man. It featured Lee Majors, who played the role of Colonel Steve Austin, who in the story almost died in a plane crash and was fitted with artifical legs, an artificial arm, and an artificial eye. Only they were not the usual prostheses. With them, he could run seventy miles per hour, lift cars and throw them out of the way, and watch what people were doing who were hundreds of yards away. Later, the series created a spinoff, called The Bionic Woman, featuring Lindsay Wagner as Jamie Sommers, who had similar replacements to Austin's (except that she got an ear instead of an eye.) In fact, NBC is primed to reach back into the archives and bring back a new version of the Bionic Woman series this fall.

While the series are long since gone, they did introduce a new word to our lexicon: 'bionic,' a word which was used to describe the artificial, robotic prostheses with which they were attached, but now used fairly commonly to describe artificial attachments which are robotic in nature but operate at the direction of a human body and human nerve and muscle stimuli. What made the series remarkable was the idea that such replacements could be made better than the human tissue that they replaced. At the time it seemed remarkable.

Not so anymore. Of course artificial replacement parts, such as wooden peg legs and glass eyes have been around for a long, long time. They have served a mixture of aesthetic purposes and functionality, but no one ever figured that, for example, a person who had lost his or her legs and had artificial ones put on, would ever be as good (or better) than he or she was beforehand.

But now we have the case of sprinter Oscar Pistorius. Pistorius' story is an inspiring one. He was born without fibulas-- the bone that hurts when someone kicks you in the shin-- and when he was less than a year old, his legs were both amputated below the ankle. But Oscar Pistorius had a dream. His dream was to be a great athlete. And he has gotten state of the art prosthetic legs, and has set world records in the 100 meters, 200 meters and 400 meters at the paralympics. But he isn't content to just compete against other athletes with disabilities. So Pistorius has been trying to qualify to run for Great Britain in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

And that has caused some concern with the folks at the International Association of Athletic Federations, the body which governs track and field events internationally. After carefully reviewing recent tapes of Pistorius competing, they have determined that his new prosthetics actually give him an advantage because they have better air resistance than actual human legs. They have not suggested (yet) banning Pistorius from the Olympics (and something tells me that right now they are putting the proverbial finger in the air and seeing which way the wind is blowing before making an announcment on the subject) but certainly the die has been cast-- not only for this year, but for the future.

You see, almost all science fiction sooner or later becomes reality (just read Jules Verne about going to the moon, or about submarines, and you will know what I mean.) About the only thing that is fictional anymore about the 'six million dollar man' is the pricetag-- they never envisioned the cost of health care in the United States. But other than the obvious fact that they theoretically don't want people walking down the street who could rip trees out of the ground, they could probably build parts not much below the level of those in the show today if they wanted to. Certainly the prosthetics they are building are just as good, if not better than what other people have naturally-- and Oscar Pistorius is a great example.

But here is the dilemma: people who are 'differently abled,' for the most part don't want to be considered as such. Hence the push for prostheses which can allow people to do everything that they would want to in a world full of people who don't have their different ability (in fact, the reason Pistorius first started running was that he was recovering from a rugby injury.) They likely don't want to be better than other people, just not different from them. And we have now reached that plateau. But then when we come to the hair's breadth that separates a gold medalist from a silver in the Olympics, how finely tuned can we make that be? For that matter, if Oscar Pistorius had been born with ordinary, or even the best of fibulas, would he have been good enough an athlete to get to this point? Certainly he'd have had the same heart he has now, but the bald fact is that many athletes have heart, but sooner or later most of them run into someone who is just plain a better athlete.

And what of the future? If prosthetics are just as good as human muscle and nerve today, then it stands to reason that it won't be that much longer before standard prosthetics will be much better than human parts. What do you do then? Create an artificial 'Olympics' (just as we've had paralympics for years) for people who can do things that others just can't? That would be a tragic trick for the differently abled-- to no longer be segregated in athletic contests because they weren't physically as good as or able to compete with others, but rather because they were stronger, faster and physically superior athletes than their friends and neighbors. It is already true that the world record for the wheelchair marathon is faster than the record for running a marathon (that has been true for quite a long time now,) but no one suggests that wheelchair marathoners should be eligible to compete against the distance runners in the Olympics.

Beyond that, if things continue as they are, then unlike Pistorius, who is merely competitive (and who recently finished last in a field of elite runners at the British Grand Prix) there is little doubt that prostheses will be developed that will make those who have them better. And if so, might not even some who are not differently abled, but who are just as competitive, maybe even consider having arms or legs amputated just to get the new attachment? Far fetched? Maybe, but if you think that people haven't been willing to do horrible things to their bodies just to get a small competitive edge, then look no farther than the surge of steroids and other performance enhancing drugs (for that matter, if they are competing against people who have become better athletes through robotics, it suddenly becomes a lot harder to point fingers at an athlete who uses steroids or other drugs to 'even the field' by 'improving' their natural body.)

I don't believe, despite what the report said, that Oscar Pistorius is really advantaged significantly by his prostheses, and if he runs and wins it will be a tremendous source of inspiration to millions of people, so I believe the IAAF should allow him to run next year. I also believe he should be allowed to compete (if he earns his place on the British team) because the issue hasn't really been looked at like it should, and it is unfair to punish Pistorius because the IAAF has suddenly figured out that technology has caught up with them.

However, this issue is not going to disappear, in fact it will grow enormously in the near future, so I would also recommend that the IAAF establish a committee now, including world class athletes, medical and coaching professionals and advocates for the disabled who will establish guidelines (maybe specific standards for the prostheses which will be used, just as NASCAR has standards for cars and most other sports where equipment is important, from golf to baseball, have standards for that equipment) that will allow the differently abled to compete on an equal field, but without gaining by virtue of the explosive growth in science, an advantage which is not commensurate with the spirit of sportsmanship.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

What is a 'trivial' candidate anyway?

That's a good question, following an open mic exchange between Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton and current third place candidate John Edwards at the conclusion of last week's NAACP debate. The exchange, according to CNN, went like this:

The open microphone caught the following exchange:

Clinton: “We’ve got to talk, because they are just being trivialized.”

Edwards: “They are not serious.”

Clinton: “No.”

Clinton: “I think there was an effort by our campaigns to do that. That got somehow detoured. We got to get back to it, because that’s all we’re going to do.”

Clinton: “Our guys should talk.”

This is insulting to those of us who plan to vote in the Democratic primary.

To begin with, the field of eight, including the two of them, plus Joseph Biden, Christopher Dodd, Mike Gravel, Dennis Kucinich, Barack Obama and Bill Richardson has already been 'selected' by the powers that be from among dozens of announced candidates. To cite one example (a ten year old who clearly knows the score), ever hear about Susie Flynn, Democratic candidate for President? I thought not. Of course the field of eight could be defended in that its members did meet certain qualifying standards before being invited to debates, having eiher been elected at some time to the United States Congress, the United States Senate or as Governor of a state (though Richardson is the only governor and he would qualify anyway as a former congressman.) But exceptions to that bar have been made in the past, as for example four years ago when former General Wesley Clark and civil rights leader Al Sharpton were included in the debates. However, one can certainly argue that members of congress or the Senate or state Governors have been close enough to the top that they have a realistic idea of what the Presidency entails and what it would take to win a campaign for President. Not 'trivial,' in other words. And yes, I do consider all of them to be serious candidates.

Further, among those eight, the only reason why Clinton, Barack Obama and Edwards are the front runners at all is because the national press gave them the most coverage, even before they announced. So the idea that they can claim that they are somehow 'more serious' than the rest of the candidates is also pretty insulting. They have better poll numbers and better fundraising numbers because the news organizations that cover politics assumed they would be the frontrunners before the campaign, which in term gave them higher name recognition which led to higher poll numbers and that in turn becomes a positive cycle of positive publicity, fundraising and polling (though if they don't meet expectations, that can just as quickly become a negative cycle-- just ask John McCain.) But as we get closer to the primary season, voters want to hear from all the candidates and make up their own minds, not just based on poll numbers. As it is, the fundraising advantage that the early frontrunners have will still give them an advantage early next year (the meaningful primary season this year runs from mid-January through February 5). But even a candidate who is now buried in the polls can and has jumped up and made a move at the right moment. Heck, Edwards of all people should know that, since he came from way behind just to finish second in 2004. For that matter, while Clinton is clearly in first place at this point and Obama is clearly in second place in the Democratic primary field, Edwards' hold on third place, while still a given, is not all that secure as Bill Richardson has been moving upward for the past couple of months to the point that he is now much closer to Edwards than he is to Biden, Dodd, Kucinich or Gravel, the neighborhood where his poll numbers were residing about three months ago.

What this shows really is that there is a certain amount of conceit among some of the front runners that 'they' are 'it.' Though to his credit, Obama kept his distance from that exchange between Clinton and Edwards.

And as we all know, pride cometh before the fall.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Georgia District Attorney sends out Kiddie Porn Tape

Recently I did a post on Genarlow Wilson, the Georgia teen who is serving a ten year prison sentence and facing a lifetime as a registered sex offender because he engaged in sexual activity with a girl from the same high school he went to. The Georgia legislature, embarrassed by Wilson's case, passed a new sex offender law that makes it a misdemeanor, rather than a felony when two minors have sexual relations with each other-- but Wilson is still in prison because he was convicted under the old law and Georgia Attorney General Thurbert Baker is resisting a judicial order to let him go.

Well, I'm sure you remember the old saying about when the 'sh*t hits the fan?' Apparently it has now.

Douglas County District Attorney David McDade has now sent out copies of a pornographic tape shot at a party and used in prosecuting Wilson, which shows several teenage girls (including their faces) as well as Wilson and shows graphic video of teenage sex. He has released it to dozens of media members, organizations and individuals, claiming he was doing it under the state's open records act.

Federal authorities are now saying that McDade may have violated Federal pornography laws by sending the tape out.

McDade, an ally of Baker in keeping Wilson behind bars and serving in the office in which the original case was brought forward, said that the state's open records act left him no choice. But that isn't so, according to Federal authorities:

David Nahmias, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, said earlier this week: "We have advised that the videotape at issue constitutes child pornography under federal law and should not be knowingly distributed, received or possessed outside of law enforcement and judicial proceedings."

Nahmias said Tuesday that federal laws prohibiting the distribution or possession of child pornography "are intended to protect the children depicted in such images from the ongoing victimization of having their sexual activity viewed by others, potentially for years to come. ... These federal laws trump any contrary requirement of the state's open records act that may exist."

It seems that in their zest to make Genarlow Wilson an example to deter teenagers from engaging in sexual activity, the Georgia authorities may have themselves been willing to commit felonies. And as prosecutors themselves, there is little doubt that they knew what Federal law was on the subject, even before Nahmias advised them that he considered the tape to be child pornography. And they did it anyway.

If you or I knowingly had in our possession and mailed out copies of a tape that depicted teenagers, with their identities not in the least disguised, engaged in sexual acts, then we would go to prison, probably for decades, and then have to register as sex offenders when we got out. But here we have law enforcement authorities doing the same thing, all in their zeal to defend their original actions in seeking such a harsh sentence for Wilson.

Genarlow Wilson should never have faced felony charges and should not have to register as a sex offender. But maybe those who have prosecuted him, especially David McDade, should.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

State Chair resigns

State Chair David Waid sent a letter to all of us who are members of the state committee announcing his resignation as Chair of the Arizona Democratic Party.

Waid, who was just elected to another term as Chair, said that he is resigning to spend more time on his consulting business and with his family.

Some of Waid's opponents were concerned that he might do this back when he ran against Randy Camacho for Chair. However, he was re-elected anyway by an overwhelming margin because of what he did last year. And what did he do? Oh, only helped lead the party to overwhelming victory last year, as not only were the Governor and Attorney General easily re-elected, but Arizona became one of only three states west of the Mississippi where Democrats picked up multiple congressional seats. And he made sure that the 'blue wave' didn't stop there, s Democrats picked up one seat in the state Senate and six state house seats (including beating Cheryl Chase, a former Democrat who picked the wrong year to switch parties.)

He will be missed.

Why I haven't jumped onto the impeachment bandwagon.

These days, it seems that one can't go very far in the liberal blogsphere without running into someone advocating impeachment, of both Bush and Cheney, for the crime of leading the United States into a ruinous war in Iraq. This started a couple of years ago, and I thought it would peter out as the fad of the day, but instead it seems to have grown stronger and picked up adherents. In fact at our next state party meeting in August, a resolution has been put forward by the Progressive Caucus of the Arizona Democratic Party, not only supporting impeachment, but directing the members of our Congressional delegation to support it.

And the thought is certainly appealing and I can understand where the sentiment comes from. It originates in the 2000 election, and the belief (which I share) that this President was never legitimately elected, and used a combination of dirty tricks, luck and a Supreme Court decision to strongarm his way into the White House. Then, once there, he has indeed been guilty of pushing America into a war which it turns out was a vat of acid that has eroded our military capability, our financial wellbeing and the status of the United States as a superpower. On July 2, 2003 he told insurgents then starting to pick off American troops in Iraq, 'bring it on.' For a President to dare an enemy to attack American troops in the field is reckless, cowardly and inexcusable.

Mostly, President Bush has been wrong because his ideology is wrong. The rest of the time, he's been wrong because he is incompetent.

But I oppose impeaching him.

The first reason is because whatever harm he has already done (and it's been an awful lot), he has by now been effectively neutered. He can't even get the members of the Senate from his own party to stand firm in favor of his war. The so-called 'surge,' has had mixed results at best, and has resulted in a rapid approach of the half trillion dollar mark in terms of the cost of this war, and now in three consecutive months it triple digit U.S. military fatalities-- a figure exceeded now five times in the past nine months, but only three times in the three and a half years of war prior to last October. George Bush and Dick Cheney will leave office on January 20, 2009-- scarcely a year and a half down the road-- weakened and with no legacy at all. None. Even Jimmy Carter, who Republicans love to lambaste, left office with the Camp David peace accords between Israel and Egypt, and the passage of a new and comprehensive energy policy (which we'd have been much better off if we'd followed through with) in his bag of mementos.

Beyond that, though, impeaching the President would be unlikely to succeed. Even if you could get enough House Democrats to back it (unlikely for a measure with 10 cosponsors as of this writing), and also back impeachment against Dick Cheney (which would require a completely seperate trial), to convict in the Senate, you'd need the votes of sixteen Republicans (seventeen if Lieberman voted not to convict, which is likely). True, up to ten Republicans have recently raised some concerns about Iraq (with Snowe of Maine, Smith of Oregon and Hagel of Nebraska having outright signed onto a Democratic measure for withdrawal), but that is not the same as signing onto removal from office, and to get up to seventeen is unrealistic. Period. And then you'd have to go through the whole thing all over again and get up to that number again for Cheney. Truth is, I don't see it happening. Besides, if it did then it would end-- not Bush and Cheney's career on January 20, 2009, but rather Nancy Pelosi's career (she'd be compelled by the Constitution to resign from the speakership and become a caretaker President for a year-- and with the party nominee likely chosen by this February, she wouldn't even have the option Gerald Ford had to try and run for a full term.)

Further, it is hard to see what good this could possibly do for us on matters that are important to us. How does impeaching President Bush get us any closer to universal health care, a living wage for all Americans, an end to poverty and most importantly getting us out of Iraq? There is only one way to be sure of the first three-- which is to expand the Democratic majority in Congress and elect a Democratic President next year. Hard to see how impeaching Bush will do either. As to Iraq, Republican Senators are now defecting in numbers that suggest that we could, especially as the election gets closer, be able to put through a real withdrawal bill. But again, it's hard to see how impeachment would help us get that done. It could hurt though, a lot.

I hope we have the good sense to stay focused on what matters-- next year's election. Because if we try to impeach the President, and then on January 20, 2009, a Republican is taking the oath of office, we would only have ourselves to blame.

Bush administration's ideology was more important than your family's health

So says former Surgeon General Richard Carmona.

WASHINGTON — President Bush's first surgeon general testified Tuesday that his speeches were censored to match administration political positions and that he was prevented from giving the public accurate scientific information on issues such as stem cell research and teen pregnancy prevention.

"Anything that doesn't fit into the political appointees' ideological, theological or political agenda is ignored, marginalized or simply buried," Dr. Richard H. Carmona, who was surgeon general from 2002 to 2006, told a congressional committee. "The job of surgeon general is to be the doctor of the nation — not the doctor of a political party."

Early in the administration, when the issue of federal funding for stem cell research arose, Carmona said, he felt he could play an educational role by discussing the latest scientific research. Instead, he said, he was told to "stand down" because the White House already had made a decision to limit stem cell studies. He said administration appointees who reviewed his speech texts deleted references to stem cells.

Carmona's remarks were the latest in a series of complaints from government scientists about what they say are administration efforts to control — and sometimes distort — scientific evidence in order to support policy decisions.

NASA scientists have complained, for example, of political pressure to tone down warnings about global warming. Environmental Protection Agency officials have complained that technical information on such subjects as power plant emissions and oil drilling have been ignored.

Dr. Elias A. Zerhouni, director of the National Institutes of Health, recently dissented from the administration's position by saying its restrictions on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research were holding back progress and should be lifted.

Scientists outside the government also have complained about what some call the administration's "war on science."

In the case of the surgeon general, Carmona told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, "the reality is that the nation's doctor has been marginalized and relegated to a position with no independent budget, and with supervisors who are political appointees with partisan agendas."

It is true that in the past some surgeon generals have felt some political pressure, including at least two who also testified with Carmona, --former Surgeon Generals C. Everett Koop (Reagan) and David Satcher (Clinton), but as Carmona testified, other former surgeon generals told him that they had never seen the level of ideological interference that he has experienced from the Bush administration.

If, as the administration claims, embryonic stem cell research holds no hope for curing diseases, then why wouldn't they want the Surgeon General to tell us about all the research he's seen on it? And, if as they claim, abstinence only is the program best suited for preventing teen pregnancies, then again why wouldn't they want the Surgeon General to tell us about the research backing them up?

Obviously, the answer is because they have seen the resarch, and know it doesn't square with their ideological position. So, they will force the messenger to square with it anyway.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

USOC apologizes for Congo joke in Brazil.

It would be easy to blame the fact that the rest of the world perceives Americans as arrogant, prejudiced and in denial of reality on President Bush and the Iraq war, perhaps along with anti-immigration hardliners. But that would be too convenient. And it would also be an oversimplification. At most, all Bush and the anti-immigration crowd have done is confirmed and strengthened feelings that have existed towards Americans for years.

It is a prevalent opinion around the world, and opinions like that have to be earned. And so it was today, after the United States Olympic Committee, shortly after arriving in Rio de Janiero, Brazil, had to apologize for the actions of one of their workers who scrawled, 'Welcome to Congo,' on a message board, apparently comparing Brazil with the war and poverty torn central African country.

SAO PAULO, Brazil (AP) -- In a joke that made Brazilians cringe and forced the U.S. Olympic Committee to apologize, a USOC worker scrawled "Welcome to the Congo!" on a board in the organization's Rio de Janeiro media center for the Pan American Games.

Rio's O Globo newspaper published a photo of the message on its front page Saturday, and ran a headline saying the joke was "full of prejudice." The message was condemned in a nation extremely sensitive about being compared to less-developed countries, especially by Americans -- who often are perceived as arrogant by Brazilians.

The controversy occurred as American athletes arrived in Latin America's largest country to compete in the event that starts Friday.

The USOC issued a "deep apology to the people of Brazil and Rio de Janeiro" in a statement Saturday, and said the worker who wrote the phrase was disciplined and is no longer a member of the U.S. delegation to the games.

And on top of that, even when trying to explain the 'joke' away, a USOC member also made us look like wimps:

The picture in O Globo showed USOC media employee Kevin Neuendorf in front of the whiteboard, and the story quoted him as saying it was written because "it's really hot in Rio."

O Globo noted that Rio is in the middle of its South American winter, and that the USOC office at the games is air conditioned. The average temperature in July in Rio is 78 degrees -- on Saturday, the temperature was in the low 80s.

translation: 80 degrees to an American is 'really hot.' And those are supposed to be our athletes! This is embarrassing.

I'm glad that the USOC made an apology to Brazil (which is not such a backwards country as some uneducated Americans may think-- the living standard in Brazil is probably about what it was in the U.S. twenty or thirty years ago, and most Brazilians now have access to the internet.

I might also suggest that they make an apology to the people of Congo (who are probably too preoccupied with trying to keep alive to have paid much attention to this story, but we should apologize anyway.) After decades of the tyrannical, corrupt and despotical rule of the dictator Mobutu ended about a decade ago, Congo has been wracked by war, violence, anarchy and starvation, in which the only attention the world pays to the country is when they also have the occasional outbreaks of Ebola. Congo is a tragedy, not a joke.

Attitudes like those held by the Brazilians can be stoked overnight by comments like these, and they aren't easy to erase.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Genarlow Wilson isn't a pedophile, and he should't be treated as one.

Genarlow Wilson needs to go free now. Period.

Teenagers will fool around sometimes. I'm not saying that's a good thing, and I advise my own kids to wait, and warn them about the dangers of AIDS, other STD's and the potential for pregnancy. I tell them about safe sex, but also tell them that I hope they wait. But the fact is, high school sex does happen, and when it does, it's not a felony.

Except that it was a felony when Genarlow Wilson, then seventeen, had consensual sexual relations with a fifteen year old girl who went to the same high school as he did.

Under Georgia's strict sexual predator act, he was charged four years ago with sexual assault on a teenager and slapped with a ten year prison sentence (where he is today) and told that when he gets out, he will have to register as a sex offender.

Largely because of his case, Georgia legislators softened the law and made it a misdemeanor when two minors engage in sexual relations with each other. But that doesn't help Wilson, who was convicted under the old law.

One man has been instrumental in keeping Wilson behind bars: Georgia Attorney General Thurbert Baker. Whether he is trying to prove he is tough on crime, or whether he is trying to curry favor with those 'values' voters who feel that any kind of teenage sex is so evil that it is worth throwing a man's future away in order to make a point, Baker has refused to budge and insists that Wilson serve out his entire term, and then register as a pedophile.

I'm not going to go into the racial angle here, as it has been reported on ad nauseum (Wilson, the girl he was with and Baker are all black; it is fair though to ask whether those voters who are so concerned about the 'morality' aspect of this would be as insistent on keeping him there if he were white.) I also will resist the urge to speculate on whether this case would ever have gone to trial if the girl were the seventeen year old and the boy was fifteen.

Instead I am going to focus on the substance of the charges. The Georgia legislature frankly didn't go far enough in 'fixing' their law. If the pair had waited for a few months, then she would have been sixteen and he would have been eighteen and even under the new law he would have been considered guilty of a felony. The fact is that this case cheapens sexual predator laws. We need tough sexual predator laws to protect children (both teenagers and younger kids) from 45 year old perverts hanging out on the internet, or the really nice guy who gives candy out down the street, or Uncle Lester who is always volunteering to watch the kids when the parents are gone. We know intuitively what a sexual predator is. It is a much older adult who takes advantage of a child who is not yet mentally or emotionally mature enough to comprehend the consequences of sex. Maybe it is a rapist, or maybe it is someone who likes to touch the girls where they ought not to be touched. But we know what one is.

We should also know what one isn't. Two years difference in age doesn't qualify for slapping the 'pedophile' label on someone for the rest of their life. Heck, I'm two years older than my wife. Does that make me a pervert? No? What if we'd met in high school? We didn't, but I know people, now happily married, who did meet in high school. And guess what? One of them is always a little older. I know, that sounds astonishing, but it's true.

Frankly, labelling Genarlow Wilson as a sex predator will, if it happens, make sex predators sound not as threatening as they should.

I realize that there is a need to draw a line somewhere, but it seems as though Canadians and some others have the right idea when they have written in a 'near-age exemption' into their laws. Three to five years seems reasonable. True, that could lead in a worst case scenario to an eighteen year old adult legally having sexual relations with a thirteen year old, but anything less than that seems to risk repeating what has happened here.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Governor's move was brilliant, absolutely brilliant.

A little while ago, I blogged on Governor Napolitano's decision to sign the very tough employer sanctions bill that the legislature passed after it was pushed primarily by hardcore anti-immigration GOP hardliners. I briefly alluded to the political impact of her decision, but as I've thought about it, I've realized how truly brilliant her move was, and how it warrants another post.

In Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan, Mr. Chekov and companion are surprised to meet Khan on a world they thought was deserted. Though Khan has not seen anyone from outside for years, he thinks at first that Chekov may have come to his world by intent. But then he realizes that they landed on the wrong planet, and he says, in an excited but subdued voice, strengthened by sudden realization of discovery and advantage, "You didn't expect to find me!"

And so it is here. I could almost hear the Governor saying with a feeling of victory under her breath as she read the sanctions bill, 'Ah, I see... you didn't expect me to sign this bill.'

After vetoing scores of the legislature's most draconian bills since taking office in 2002 (and making every single one of those vetoes stand) the Governor has largely muzzled the legislature's conservative leaders. They still try to pass a lot of bills that have veto-bait written all over them, mostly to embarrass the Governor or perhaps to get her on record (a record they can distort) for 2010 in the event that she runs for the Senate.

And I believe that was the case here. Governor Napolitano has said before that the way to deal with immigration is to get tough on people who hire undocumented workers. So the legislature decided to call her bluff and pass this piece of legislation so she'd veto it and then they could cite it when they went after her on immigration sometime in the future. Her past defense of vetoing immigration bills has been that it is a Federal responsibility (which is true, in fact.) But after last week's defeat of the Federal immigration bill they would be able to hit her with the failure of the Federal government to act.

Only, they were sure that she would veto it. After all, she invariably vetos any bill that is this draconian in its effects and she has always maintained decent relations with the business community in the state. So when they wrote the bill they didn't bother to exempt anyone who has a business license. They wrote in some ridiculous figures-- $100,000 to maintain a statewide database AND cover statewide enforcement of the law, and $70,000 to educate employers all over the state about it. County attorneys get $2.5 million-- spread among all 16 counties in the state-- which is supposed to cover the cost of hiring people to investigate and prosecute these cases. In other words they didn't think much through. Why waste time working very hard on a bill that is going to be vetoed anyway?

So they thought.

Then she signed it. And announced that she is likely to call a special session to deal with the glitches. So much for the 'part time legislature.' They will be back in August or September for what could be a very rocky session.

And she holds all the cards. In exempting infrastructure, there is little they can argue. They don't really want their constituents to freeze in the dark this winter when the electric company closes up shop. They don't want to be closing hospitals.

They will of course want to exempt private schools (at least those which are run as for profit businesses) so they don't have to comply with a law that the public schools won't have to worry about the consequences of. But right now, the private schools will be hit with the new law, and I have a feeling the Governor will demand a stiff price for exempting them (wonder how much of a split that one is causing in the GOP caucus, since some members are very committed to private schools and 'educational choice,' and are probably furious at their own leaders for getting them to vote for this package which has now come back and gored their own ox.) Getting rid of the flawed database requirement and going back to Social Security cards may be one price that she demands.

The funding is the other big issue here. $170,000 might pay for the computers the database is to be maintained from. It certainly won't cover the employees or resources necessary to educate and then enforce the law on employers statewide. For $2.5 million total, the county attorneys won't be able to investigate and prosecute more than a few really egregious cases. Only, the state budget has already been passed for this year. And at that, the slump in the housing market (to say nothing of what this bill will do-- certainly not cause a short term economic boom) is likely to bring revenue projections down. So she holds all the cards again-- she can simply insist that the legislature leave the already approved budget for this year alone, and find their own funding sources. In other words, they can choose between in effect gutting their own law (essentially keeping it on paper with no one out there enforcing it) or raising the revenue to fund it. She can point out the disaster that happened in the early 2000's when the state took money out of the rainy day fund, and the prospect of a near-term slowdown and refuse to accept that as a source of revenue. Bonds, as have been used in the past to finance things like school construction are generally backed by real assets, so she can refuse to allow the legislature to borrow by way of bonding for that reason. The Governor, who ran in 2002 on a pledge to ask for tax increases only as a last resort, has not once in five years asked for one. And she won't need to now. But she can close all the other doors and in effect force the GOP hardliners who control the legislature to either fail to enforce their own pet bill or raise taxes to pay for it.

On top of that, business leaders, while maintaining a cordial relationship with the Governor, have given Republicans-- even hard core loonies like Pearce-- their support, including their financial support. Of course the Governor has always protected them from some of the more ridiculous bills they passed, such as the law which she vetoed this week which would have required all businesses to buy storage lockers for customers to store their guns. In their Republican pipe dream, they can think about how great having a GOP legislature is while they shovel money at them without having to worry about some of the most odious requirement that they pass on to businesses. If it's too bad, Janet will take care of it. Only this time she didn't. Wonder how much they will donate to Pearce next time around? This bill drives a wedge between Republicans in the legislature and some of their most reliable supporters.

Certainly, had the Federal bill passed last week, Governor Napolitano would have had all the cover she needed to veto the bill. But since she didn't, she has dealt a blow to private schools, is forcing the business community to realize the true cost of supporting some legislators who represent the fringes, and may force Republicans to be the ones to raise taxes.

Not a bad political payout for a day's work.

Governor surprises legislature, signs tough employer-sanctions bill

This week, Governor Napolitano citing the failure of the Federal government to address the issue, signed the new employer sanctions bill (House Bill 2779), which makes Arizona the toughest state in the nation against employers who hire undocumented workers. Employers will be mandated, starting in January, to check job applicants against an existing database which contains the names of workers authorized to work legally in Arizona. If a business hires someone illegally then the new law would put a business on probation for a first offense and permanently revoke their business license for a second offense.

On balance, I agree with the Governor. I've always said that the problem is not the undocumented aliens themselves, the large majority of whom after all have only done what generations of American pioneers have always done, and come looking for opportunity-- and the argument that they are 'illegal' could be reversed in a few minutes with the stroke of a pen adjusting the numbers of legal immigrants to something bearing a resemblance to the market based reality that we now see, with hundreds of thousands of Arizonans here illegally but also working. Rather the problem is with illegal employment, in that employers who knowingly hire undocumented workers often do so in order to gain a competitive advantage by exploiting laborers who cannot complain (for fear of deportation) about abusive work standards, below minimum wage pay, sexual harrassment and other types of exploitation. The new bill goes a long way towards protecting workers against that kind of stuff by putting those who engage in it at risk of losing their business.

There are some problems with the bill though. The Governor also cited the need to call a special legislative session in her signing message in which she identified five problems with the legislation. There is also one other that conservatives will certainly try to address, once they realize what they've just done to one of their own pet causes, private schools.

The first issue cited by the Governor is that there is no exemption for utilities, hospitals, nursing homes and other businesses critical to infrastructure. Clearly such an exemption will have to be written into the law since if a single mistake is made, it could, in a worst case scenario lead to large numbers of people going without electricity, gas or water for extended periods of time (though one benefit is it might make people understand a little better how life is for other Americans who still don't have basic utilities courtesy of fiscal conservatism, specifically when Ronald Reagan shut down the Rural Electrification Administration beginning in 1986 in order to save a few bucks.) Another result of this oversight, if it is not corrected is that it could cause hospitals to shut down with patients presumably being forced to walk out of there and go to other hospitals. One other area that the Governor did not specifically recommend but which needs to be dealt with-- state contractors. Though the state itself does not have a business license and so is effectively immune from making bad decisions under the law, if a state contractor, say providing prison guards or working on a state highway project were suddenly shut down by this provision the results could still be disastrous.

On the other hand, it appears that the proponents of the bill (led by anti-immigrant Godfather Russell Pearce who wrote the legislation) probably expected a veto, because it also doesn't exempt private schools, many of which do have a business license. This added requirement on private schools will help level the playing field (since the state presently makes public schools jump through all kinds of hoops that many private schools do not have to jump through.) And you can be sure that there are advocates of public schools, especially teachers unions, who will now have and will certainly use this as a weapon to bludgeon private schools with and maybe put some out of business.

Her fourth point is my second one: the concern that the law could be discriminatory. Certainly it is true that employers are less likely to take a chance on people whose names suggest they might be immigrants from parts of the world where that is controversial (especially Latin America, the Middle East and China.) And this is a legitimate concern. There are many legitimate workers, legal immigrants, or people who were in fact born right here in the good ol' U.S. of A. named Pedro or Mohammed. But most businesses are still more likely now to want to hire Peter and Moe. True, the supply of jobs is large enough that there will still be some openings when the supply of Peters and Moes is used up (in fact that is why we have so many undocumented immigrants in the first place) but asking that Pedro and Mohammed move to the back of the line means that they are still less likely to be hired, and if they are they will be hired for the jobs that Peter and Moe turned down in favor of a better one that is no longer available.

Further, the database that employers are supposed to check prospective hires against is unreliable. This week, the Arizona Republic reported that there is a 4% error rate in the database. This means that tens of thousands of legal workers, even U.S. citizens, may discover all of a sudden that they can't work in Arizona. This represents 1 out of every 25 legal workers in the state (think of it this way-- if you work at, say, a small to midsized company that employs 200 people, what would you think if eight of them were suddenly told they were fired and could not even get another job in the state, because a computer someplace didn't list them as authorized to work? Heck, you might even be one of the eight.

Clearly this database is flawed. My own suggestion would be to throw it out and go back to the traditional way of checking eligibility-- with social security cards, etc. Yes, this is subject to fraud, and yes some errors will still be made, but the documented error rate of the present system in the past is actually less than in the state database, and continuing to use the present system will be no more discriminatory than it is today. The main thrust of the bill was the employer sanctions, and getting rid of the database and continuing to require verification of documents as grounds for deciding who to hire would have nothing to do with that. In any case, it appears as though opponents of the database plan to take it to court, so even if the legislature doesn't fix this one, I'd be really surprised (and dismayed) if the database was used next January 1 as scheduled.

Another problem that the Governor cited had to do with the fact that a single bad hiring decision at one location could put a business with multiple locations out of business. Personally, I am not all that upset about this-- if only because as regular readers of this blog know, I don't think much of the way Wal-Mart, in particular conducts its business, and having been guilty of hiring illegal aliens in the past, this law may have its intended effect and limit the ability of Wal-Mart to knowingly exploit its workers in a major way. The prospect of having to shutter every store in the state should be sufficient to make Wal-Mart comply with the law (protecting its own, as well as its competitor's employees). However, I'd think that the prospect of even having to close them one at a time would be good enough to make Wal-Mart comply with the law. And I would agree, that to force for example, a statewide chain (or a national chain with many outlets in Arizona) to close all its locations because the manager at one of them screwed up is a bit Draconian. I have to admit though, that the thought of Wal-Mart not only being forced to close every store in Arizona, and then never being able to open another one, almost made 'Draconian' sound good (though clearly if that happened tens of thousands of people would be thrown out of work in a day, so I still don't favor it covering all locations.)

A third problem that the Governor cited (the fourth one I am addressing) is simply the lack of funding. Again, it appears that the authors of the bill expected a veto, so they put only token amounts into it to cover enforcement and education for the whole state. So during the special session the Governor will ask them to pony up the funds. And here is an interesting twist: She now has the high ground on the issue, and may insist that the funds be provided without taking them from elsewhere in the state budget (which has already been allocated.) She might even force the legislature to raise taxes for the first time in years-- and without even specifically calling for a tax increase, just in effect telling them they need to find a way to fund it.

The fifth change she recommended had to do with an incorrect citation of Federal law, and I doubt if changing it will be controversial.

As I said, looking at the private school issue and the funding issue, I am sure that Pearce and the GOP legislature expected the Governor to veto this bill (as she vetoed a record 43 bills last year, and could be expected to veto pretty much anything that Russell Pearce wrote,) presumably so they could use it against her in the future. Instead it seems as though she played chicken with them and won, so it will be interesting to see during the special session that she calls how they plan to address these and the other issues that she raised.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Declaration of Independence plaque miscredits the author

Students will return to schools this fall here in Arizona and find something new. Last year, Republicans in the legislature pushed through a flag bill-- a bill requiring that classrooms in both grade schools and colleges and universities all display an American flag, together with a copy of the Declaration of Independence and a copy of the Bill of Rights. Only they didn't provide the necessary funding for it, so the schools had to dig into their already thin supply budgets to pay for the new decor.

Now, I grew up with a flag on the wall in the classroom, and don't have a problem with it. I do have a problem with the idiots who believe that the way to make people better citizens is to simply force the flag in their face as often as possible, mandating it and then not being willing to pony up the money for it.

However, I do believe that whatever is displayed in the classroom should be factually accurate.

Let's consider what the students may learn from this, if they get bored and start looking at the flag and reading the documents. They may learn that the flag has thirteen stripes and fifty stars. They may learn that the police have to get a warrant, or that they are protected against being compelled to incriminate themselves. They may learn that the colonists thought that being compelled to quarter British soldiers was a justification for rebellion. And they may learn that the Declaration of Independence was written by John Hancock.


At least that is the reaction that I had today when I went back to work at the community college where I work and found the Declaration on the wall. Down at the bottom, after the last word of the Declaration, it clearly said:

-- John Hancock

Now John Hancock was indeed a patriot, and he was at Independence Hall when the Declaration was drafted. His name is often associated with the Declaration because he signed it first, and being proud of his calligraphy, he signed his name large. But after that, the other fifty-five men who took part also signed their names. He is no more the author of the Declaration of Independence than any of them. They should put all 56 names, if they put one. But if they insist that there is only room for one, then it still should not be Hancock, it would properly be Thomas Jefferson, by whose hand the document was in fact written.

For a school to put something up on its wall which is wrong may be a mistake, or they may not notice it until they've bought the plaques (and you can be sure if the legislature wouldn't appropriate funds to pay for this the first time, they certainly would not appropriate funds to fix the problem.) I still would suggest that it should come down, because learning wrong facts is actually harmful to students. But for the company that makes the plaque, presumably one of their specialties, to make such a basic and stupid mistake is inexcusable. The best explanation I can come up with is that since schools are having to pay for this themselves, they are finding the cheapest supplier. And cheap is usually cheap for a reason.

But that's our fine educational system, courtesy of our skinflint legislature for you.

So next time you hear another dismal statistic about how Arizona school kids are doing, keep in mind that the legislature is helping them get there, in this case directly helping them get there.
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