Friday, July 31, 2009

Price for Harper's vote: Fire people, especially in award-winning Auditor General's Office

The latest update from the lege is that Sen. Jack Harper (R-Surprise) has reached an agreement with the Governor to get his vote to refer a sales tax hike to the November ballot (the reason why this was already a bad deal before Harper became the critical vote is summarized nicely in Rep. Daniel Patterson (D-Tucson)'s post right here.

The catch is that Harper will only vote for the referral if all state agencies cut 5% of their staff. No, that's not a 5% across the board budget cut, it's a 5% across the board staff cut. Of course these are agencies that have already eliminated unnecessary positions and gone along with state hiring freezes (remember those were implemented during the past few bad budget years) so what he means is that in order to get his vote, he wants to see heads roll. He wants to watch them fire people-- and in every state agency, no matter how critical they are.

Only in the bizarre, twisted world of Arizona Republican politics would a demented creation like Harper be allowed to wield that kind of power.

But that's only the beginning of what he wants.

He also wants to screw over two of his GOP colleagues and kill a downtown redevelopment project in Tucson. The two Republican Senators from Tucson, Jonathan Paton and Al Melvin, are already on board the GOP budget. Some southern Arizona blogs are all over them about that now that Harper is pulling his stunt. But Paton and Melvin have apparently folded like a house of cards. All I can say to that is, join the club. My own Republican Senator, Sylvia "uranium mining can't be dangerous because the earth is 6000 years old" Allen, already voted for the June 4 budget (which is more or less being revived in this one) which will make devastating cuts to rural hospitals and likely force every single rural health clinic around here to close. Maybe Tom Chabin is right and the voters are getting what we deserve, but I don't think so. Republicans have been promising for years that they would cut taxes for the wealthy and cut budgets and shrink government, well guess what folks, it wasn't just rhetoric. I have confidence that the voters will fix this problem next year (but it will be rocky going until then.)

But the really ridiculous part of what Harper wants is a 50% cut to the Auditor General's Office. The Auditor General is a nonpartisan office which is tasked with making sure that all the funds (or what is left of them) that the state provides to local governments, school districts and other entities are accounted for and spent responsibly. So apparently Sen. Harper is OK with more waste, fraud, mismanagement and even embezzlement of public funds because these are the things that the office of the Auditor General is supposed to prevent and protect us taxpayers from.

I should also add that the Auditor General's office has consistently been recognized as one of the best run offices in the state (maybe there is something to be said for running a non-partisan office with professionals who stay focused on doing their job.) In fact, Bill Thomson, the Deputy Auditor General, was recently honored with the Administrator of the Year award, given by that well-known hotbed of radical ultra-liberalism, the BYU Marriott school of Business Management.

Which makes me wonder. Why would Senator Harper single out the Auditor General's office for a 50% cut? Is it because he wants there to be more waste and fraud in public funds so that someday in the future he can find an example and use it to advance his own sick agenda? Or is it perhaps something a bit closer to home-- he knows someone who is screwing the taxpayers personally by embezzling funds, and he wants to try and protect them from those nosy auditors?

The real crime is that the rest of the Republicans in the legislature will probably vote for this and the Governor will sign it.

UPDATE: This did NOT get voted on. Apparently other Republican legislators balked at the idea of blanket-firing thousands of state workers for no other reason than to get one vote in the state senate. A small victory for sanity.

If they really had a case against health care reform they wouldn't have to throw spitwads like this

I'm deducing that the right doesn't have much in the way of arguments for why we shouldn't have health care reform. Sure, they have a point about the cost, but not a very good one since they had no problem with running up the deficit by at least a trillion dollars three times during the Bush administration: for the $1.3 trillion Bush tax cuts, for the Iraq war and for the medicare prescription drug 'benefit' (which actually benefits the pharmaceutical industry, but I digress.)

So having nothing else to go on, they are resorting to trying to scare people about something that isn't even in the bill.

What the bill does say as that every five years seniors are entitled to VOLUNTARILY consult with a physician about their long-term health and to go over whether they have a living will, etc.

But you wouldn't know that if you listened to conservative talk radio or watched their television ads.

They have deliberately distorted a small, voluntary and logical provision in the bill to claim that seniors will be denied health care and even up to and including forcibly euthanized.

Not that there is anything at all in this bill about even voluntary euthanasia (which is still illegal in 48 states and there is absolutely nothing in any of the various health care bills to come out of committee which changes that.) But hey, if you can't get away with just a small lie I guess they figure that a whopper is better.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Even dumber than selling the capitol

The GOP legislature has a new way to finance giving away a $250 million property tax cut and $400 million income tax cut, heavily weighted towards corporations and the wealthy who lobbied for these cuts.

They want to sell the state capitol and other state buildings and then rent them back.

So what is even dumber than that?

How about doing it right now, when the market for commercial real estate in Arizona is near its bottom?

Not only sell the capitol, but time it to make darn sure the state gets the lowest possible price for it.

Maybe they should consider taxing whatever they are smoking, because it's obviously pretty potent stuff.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Bill to clean up the environment makes things worse instead

Hat tip to KNAU which profiled this story on air this morning (funny how public radio does a better job of investigative journalism than for profit private outfits):

"Black liquor."

That's what they call the mix of sludge that comes out of a paper mill when trees are ground to pulp.

Add some gasoline to it, and voila! A useful fuel that the paper mill can use to power itself.

At least that was the theory that Congress was operating under two years ago when they revised a 2005 bill to allow for a big tax credit for paper mills ($.50 per gallon of gasoline when blended with an alternative fuel and used internally.)

Only it may be another example of the law of unintended consequences.

Paper mills that deal with recycled paper (like the Catalyst mill near Snowflake, or in other words not that far from where I live) don't make the stuff. So they don't qualify for the big tax credit.

Which in turn means that they may have to shut down because mills that mill fresh trees are getting what amounts to a big subsidy.

Stop and think about this for a moment, folks.

The net effect of this 'alternative energy bill' will be to shut down paper mills that deal with recycled paper. Hence that will mean more logging, more paper in landfills (that's the double whammy there), more pollution (since traditional paper mills make quite a lot more than recycled paper does-- I well remember living in the beautiful community of Missoula, Montana and smelling the distinctive odor of the paper mill every morning.) You don't smell the paper mill when you're in Snowflake (though that may be because the pig farm masks it.) Throw in fuel that is used by loggers to clear roads and drive in logging equipment (not to mention the pollution that goes along with it) and I doubt if even the original intent of the bill, to save energy actually does any of that.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Gates matter requires some questions.

The right has been raising all sorts of flack over the recent incident involving Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates and a Cambridge police officer.

But their sense of outrage doesn't bear closer inspection. To begin with, they questioned President Obama (who acknowledged that Gates is a friend of his) defending Gates by saying that the Cambridge police acted 'stupidly.' But then they always preface this by saying that 'nobody knows what happened' before trying to claim that the officer was right.

Only if in fact 'nobody knows what happened,' why are they assuming that the police report is right? It's a fact that in America there are good cops (who I think are the majority of officers in fact) and bad cops. However police reports always paint the officer in the best light and the person who was arrested in the worst light. That may be accurate, and it may not. But to start off an argument with 'nobody knows what happens' and then go from there by one version of events is hypocritical.

Ignoring the obvious question of whether Gates would have been confronted in this way if he were white, one wonders what a police officer was doing inside the foyer of Gates' home once in fact Gates had produced proof that he owned the house. Certainly the President was correct that the police acted 'stupidly' just based on the fact that the officer stood there and argued with Gates for awhile before turning to leave.

He then says that Gates followed him outside and continued the argument. Gates denies this, but even if it were true it's reasonable to ask why not just leave the grounds. If an angry man standing on his porch is hurling insults at the police, then the easiest way to defuse that, given that no crime was committed in the first place would be for the police to just pile into their cars and drive away.

And here I'm being generous and (as I noted earlier) assuming that the police report version is correct and Gates is not.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Now is the time the President's supporters need to step up

Much has been made about the President's stepping up and taking on Sen. Jim DeMint who pretty much came out and said that the plan is to delay, then defeat the Obama health care proposal so that it could become Obama's 'Waterloo.'

The President was exactly right to shine a spotlight on DeMint's remark since it makes it very, very crystal clear that the focus of Republicans in Washington is not to reform anything but to defeat the President, pure and simple.

And considering that we have a for-profit health system in which sick people and their very lives are treated as a commodity and bought and sold like stocks and bonds, and in which those who are uninsured and can't pay are sent to the back of the line and often receive worse health care than in many third world countries, there needs to be some serious reform.

But here is my question: WHY DID THE PRESIDENT HAVE TO CALL OUT SENATOR DEMINT PERSONALLY? Where the HECK are his supporters?

Sure, he could have sent Joe Biden out, as the traditional job of the Vice President is to get his hands dirty taking on the opposition. However sending out the Gaffe-prone Biden, who was chosen mainly because he is qualified to be President (imagine that) if something should befall Mr. Obama, would be taking a big risk in itself. So not finding any other supporters willing to call out Senator DeMint, the President decided he had to do it. And he did it very effectively, no question about that. But it makes one wonder why he had to do it at all. Come on, Democrats-- quit standing on the sidelines. This will only get done if everyone, especially elected office holders, get behind reform.

Bipartisan Senate vote kills the F-22

In this age of party-line votes, a very interesting vote came about in the Senate today.

At issue was $1.75 billion to build seven more F-22 fighters. We now have 87 of them and the Pentagon agrees with the administration that we don't need any more. The plane has not been used on a single sortie in Iraq or Afghanistan, and it has become the epitome of the modern-military industrial complex-- a hugely expensive piece of military hardware that we are practically bursting at the gills with now and which even the military wants more of about as much as they want more saddles for horse-mounted cavalry units. The Obama administration felt so strongly about this program and how useless the F-22 is that the President issued his first veto threat if this were to remain in the defense authorization bill.

In fact, the only reason the F-22 has lasted this long is that it is produced by Lockheed-Martin which employs production workers in most states.

The debate today focused largely on economics-- the economics of laying people off during a recession.

I can certainly understand that argument but my response would be why Senators who protested loudly about jobs (like Georgia's Saxby Chambliss, in whose state the largest number of workers are located) didn't feel that way back when we were talking about the stimulus. Ironically, a co-sponsor of the measure to delete the funding for the F-22's, Carl Levin of Michigan (along with John McCain, who considers the F-22 to be a waste of money and a detriment to the military) is from a state where thousands of auto workers only have a job today because of massive Government intervention in GM and Chrysler, jobs that Chambliss wanted to see disappear.

However, while one can make a case for saving jobs at automobile factories that make a product that people will use, it is hard to make a similar case for saving jobs at a factory producing an aircraft that few people will ever fly and which has so many problems that it has never actually been flown in a war zone.

The vote in the Senate reflects the confused politics of the F-22. The roll call vote was 58-40 to kill the plane. Democrats voted 42-14 to kill it. Republicans voted to keep making the plane, but by 25-15. The Senate's two independents were also split, with Bernard Sanders wanting to ax the F-22 program and Joe Lieberman in favor of continuing to build it.

Ultimately killing the program was the right thing to do. It is hard to get action sometimes in a body where so many competing interests are at work but I commend the Senate for this vote. And it is a reminder that every now and then a bipartisan coalition will form to do the right thing.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Walter Cronkite, the man who took us all to the moon

Walter Cronkite, the legendary anchor of the "CBS Evening News," has died at the age of 92.

His was the voice that guided America through triumphs and tragedies, a steady, clear voice in a turbullent and unpredictable age.

It was Cronkite who told Americans about the Cuban missile crisis, the assassinations of President Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, the Civil Rights struggle, Vietnam and the anti-war protests, Roe vs. Wade, Watergate, the Killing Fields of Cambodia, Three Mile Island and the Iran hostage crisis. His calm but strong voice let us all know what was going on.

Cronkite's professionalism extended to every area of the news (although there were times, such as his coverage of the Kennedy assassination when glimpses of a man who was just an American like all of us came through.) But there was one day on which he felt it was important to speak out. It came following the Tet Offensive in the Vietnamese War, an event in which while Americans were able to beat back Viet Cong attacks at every turn, the enemy was able to prove that the war had not been won (despite statements to that effect by American planners) and that they could still launch attacks in virtually every area of South Vietnam. Walter Cronkite felt then that he had a duty and an obligation to use his podium to express his belief that the war was unwinnable. To be silent any longer and let more young Americans bleed their lives away once he realized that would not have been in his character.

That is not the one area of reporting where he will be most remembered though.

Monday will be the fortieth anniversary of that day when the Eagle soared over the airless surface of a barren and alien new world. Forty years ago Apollo 11 reached the moon and Neil Armstrong set his foot down on its dry, lifeless and dusty surface. Much has been said and written about it. But far from just another news story, reporting on America's space program was Walter Cronkite's favorite topic. It was his passion, and a passion which he shared with millions of Americans. There are those who claim that what interest in space we have originated with television shows like Star Trek or movies like Star Wars. Perhaps, but I don't believe it. No, it originated with a news anchor, someone who took the time and really felt how important it was to explain to us what it took to put a giant spaceship into space and to explore a place which had captivated people for millenia and was now within reach.

On Monday we will hear a lot about the spaceship that took three astronauts to the moon. But I hope we hear too about the news anchor who took millions of people to the moon with them, and without leaving their living rooms.

If your friends are conservatives then you won't need any enemies

Just in case you don't know how the conservative money machine works, the American Conservative Union got caught in the shakedown in a legislative dispute between FedEx and UPS.

The American Conservative Union asked FedEx for a check for $2 million to $3 million in return for the group’s endorsement in a bitter legislative dispute, then flipped and sided with UPS after FedEx refused to pay.

For the $2 million plus, ACU offered a range of services that included: “Producing op-eds and articles written by ACU’s Chairman David Keene and/or other members of the ACU’s board of directors. (Note that Mr. Keene writes a weekly column that appears in The Hill.)”

The conservative group’s remarkable demand — black-and-white proof of the longtime Washington practice known as “pay for play” — was contained in a private letter to FedEx , which was provided to POLITICO...

In the three-page letter asking for money on June 30, the conservative group backed FedEx. After FedEx says it rejected the offer, Keene signed onto a two-page July 15 letter backing UPS. Keene did not return a message left on his cell phone.

The whole dispute is about a bill which would make it easier for the Teamsters union to unionize FedEx. UPS is already organized by the Teamsters. FedEx has resisted unionization but UPS and the Teamsters believe that organizing FedEx would help ensure uniform labor standards throughout the industry.

As a supporter of unions as a progressive force for workplace rights and equality (in fact I once helped start a union at a former workplace,) I back UPS in the dispute. I'm up front about that and certainly don't expect anything for my support. I support the legislation because I believe it's the right thing to do. One would think that principled conservatives if they really believed that unionization was a bad thing wouldn't have to ask for money to support FedEx in this case, but would do it just because that's what they believe in. Ah, but that assumes that conservatives have principles. And at least in the case of the American Conservative Union, it appears that they don't have any, at least any that can't be bought.

Oh, yeah. There apparently is one thing they still do stand for.

Maury Lane, FedEx’s director of corporate communications, said: “Clearly, the ACU shopped their beliefs and UPS bought.”

ACU's executive vice president, Dennis Whitfield, said that neither the group nor David Keene, the chairman, took any money from UPS.

Just two weeks earlier, ACU had offered its endorsement to FedEx, saying in a letter to the company: “We stand with FedEx in opposition to this legislation.”

But there was a catch — an expensive one. ACU asked FedEx to pay as much as $3.4 million for e-mail and other services for “an aggressive grass-roots campaign to stop the legislation in the Senate.”

Granted, it's hard to believe anything that the ACU says about this but if Mr. Whitfield's assertion is true, then they endorsed UPS's position on the legislation for a different reason-- solely that they were rebuffed by FedEx. In which case they do stand for something-- SPITE!

"You don't let us watch your back, then we stick the knife in it ourselves."

Dick Cheney and Scooter Libby would be proud.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

What Sotomayor SHOULD say: Why NOT use my experience to help with decisions?

Why shouldn't a judge on the United States Supreme Court use her personal knowlege as gained by life experience as one component of what goes into making decisions?

Conservatives claim to be 'strict constructionists,' regarding the Constitution and claim that judges should relate everything back to it (well, except for the fourth amendment, the fifth if accused of a drug crime and the sixth regarding Jose Padilla, and portions of the first, also not Article 4, Section 1 as relates to marriages performed in New England states.) They blithely preach the Constitutional gospel like it is the answer to all life's questions, even though the founding fathers themselves took pains to make it clear that it only served as a guideline. For example, conservatives love to remind you that there is no explicit right to privacy in the Constitution. There doesn't have to be, thanks to the ninth amendment which explicitly states that the fact that a right is not enumerated in the Constitution does NOT construe that there is no such right. It's up to judges then to enumerate what additional rights the ninth amendment refers to and more than 90 years ago they decided that privacy was one of those rights.

Obviously to conservatives though these apparent contradictions of their dogma with the Constitution are mere inconveniences. According to them, Ben Franklin and John Adams must have agreed (and agreed with their view) on medicinal marijuana and funding for English learner classes, it's in there if you look hard enough. And then see what you want to see.

Only problem is, if it was that easy the case wouldn't make it to the Supreme Court in the first place. If the Constitution clearly spelled it out then you wouldn't even need judges at all, just a bubble sheet with questions about the case on it and a computerized flowchart.

The cases that the SCOTUS even accepts have been appealed all the way up through the process precisely because there are often contradictory Constitutional provisions, clauses or amendment which can be construed as favorable to either side. In other cases there is simply no Constitutional precedent at all.

In these cases, why isn't it apropos for a judge to use all sources available to arrive at a decision, including her own experiences? The Constitution may not provide a clear enough answer to a problem that was not even conceived of two centuries ago, and in that case the judge has to have something to go on, be it her own judgements, international law or whatever else. So why make it a bad thing to use her best judgement?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Based on how Palin is running her own state, it's a good thing she's quitting

Lost in all the discussion about how Sarah Palin's resignation will affect her future and her feud with a nineteen year old stud (how many 45 year old politicians get dragged into public spats with a teenager anyway), is the disaster she has been as Governor of the 'last frontier.' But today a story is out that is a prime example of how things have been going up there: Feds suspend Alaska's in-home health care programs.

ANCHORAGE — State programs intended to help disabled and elderly Alaskans with daily life — taking a bath, eating dinner, getting to the bathroom — are so poorly managed, the state cannot assure the health and well-being of the people they are supposed to serve, a new federal review found.

The situation is so bad the federal government has forbidden the state to sign up new people until the state makes necessary improvements.

No other state in the nation is under such a moratorium, according to a spokeswoman for the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

My question is this: what exactly has she done competently since she's been in Government? Anything? And this is who some conservatives want for President? Man, if she ever becomes President there may even be some people who will miss Dubya, that's how bad she is.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Bills the lege wasted their time and your nickel on

Maybe the legislature didn't get a budget done that could pass muster, but it's nice to know that as the time crunch came, they were working hard on these kinds of bills:

Authorized seven new special license plates, including one for fans of the Arizona Cardinals (HB 2222; signed by Jan Brewer.)

Legalized sparklers and small fireworks in Arizona. There is a minimum age of sixteen to buy fireworks but no minimum age for their use, so I'm sure that people living in areas with a high fire risk will be thrilled to know that their neighbor's sixteen year old can now buy fireworks and give them to the five year olds to go keep themselves entertained (HB 2258.) AND, just to put the double whammy on this one they also passed SB 1421, which limits the amount by which local districts (including fire districts) can raise their levy to cover new expenses (oh, like let's see-- maybe the cost of putting out a bunch of new fire calls caused by children playing with fireworks.) The Governor has not yet signed or vetoed either HB 2258 or SB 1421 but what I hear is that she will probably sign them. I bet the few cents you might save on your fire district tax won't cover the amount your homeowners insurance will increase by.

Prevented cities, counties and other jurisdictions from removing political campaign signs along roads or otherwise in public right of ways (SB 1022 following a strike-all amendment.) Nice to know they're looking out for themselves. No word on whether the Governor will sign this one or not.

Religion in the schools. Allows students to use religion as a basis for their classwork, for example they can submit an essay saying that the earth is 6000 years old and receive full credit if they claim it is based on a religious viewpoint. Schools also can't ban students from wearing clothing with a religious symbol or message. (HB 2357; I'm taking bets on how long it takes before this backfires on conservatives and they get irrational when female Islamic students actually take advantage of this bill and start wearing a head scarf or a burqa to school.)

Recognizing July 25 as the national day of the cowboy (SR 1003).

Well, you can always cry in your beer. They did double the production limit for microbreweries (HB 2301; signed by jan..... brewer.)

Friday, July 10, 2009

Keith Olbermann recognizes my state senator as the 'worst person in the world.'

I hadn't posted on this story, largely because so many other Arizona blogs have done a very good job of coverage, but now that it's gone national, I'd mention that in Keith Olbermann's countdown on July 8 he names our own state Senator from here in Navajo County, Sen. Sylvia Allen (R-ignoramus) as the 'worst person in the world.'

watch Olbermann naming Allen.

The original remark by Allen is here:

The whole issue started when Senator Allen was speaking on the senate floor in favor of uranium mining. She was against environmental restrictions and she said that because the earth has been here 6,000 years, long before environmental laws but we haven't damaged it yet by mining uranium there was no need to be concerned about environmental restrictions. After she made the 6,000 year comment someone (apparently someone who realized what she'd just said) tried to cut her off. Instead they only interrupted her train of thought so she started again with repeating the six thousand year thing.

What is most amazing is the way she said it. When for example a Mike Huckabee or a Sarah Palin say something like that they emphasize it, which to me makes it clear that they know that what they are saying isn't true and they are only chucking that in there to appeal to the fundamentalist crowd. But the way senator Allen says it makes it pretty plain that she believes that as a matter of course it simply is; sort of like if you or I began a sentence with, "The sun rises..."

Even leaving the 6,000 years aside, the fact that she also believes that there was no environmental damage before there were environmental laws and that uranium mining doesn't hurt the environment is also breathtaking in the level of ignorance that it displays. There is a good reason why they want to mine uranium now in the area around the Vermillion cliffs and the Grand Canyon. It's because in the place where they used to mine it, on the Navajo reservation, Navajo Nation president Joe Shirley has banned any more uranium mining. Maybe she should visit the reservation or have lunch with president Shirley (who four years ago passed up a lot of government and private money when he refused to allow uranium mining to begin again on the reservation.) There are still dangerously radioactive (as well as chemically hazardous) tailings piles on the reservation from the 1950's, 1960's, 1970's and 1980's when uranium was mined there. That's besides the thousands of Navajos who worked in the mines or lived near them who have become sick and died over the decades from diseases, especially cancers very probably caused by exposure to uranium dust. Joe Shirley is a Leader (yes, that's with a capital 'L') who puts the welfare of his people first, something that is unfortunately a rare commodity in our state.

Our district, legislative district 5, abuts but does not extend onto the reservation. In fact, Senator Allen voted for the June 4 budget (the package which was transmitted to the Governor just in time for her veto on June 30, which is why we now have the special session.) The budget cut a great deal from rural hospitals and other institutions, so much so that our Republican state representative, Bill Konopnicki crossed party lines to vote against it. I pointed this out in a letter to the Holbrook Tribune. Senator Allen (who I had emailed several times before to express my opinion on issues) emailed me back saying she was annoyed at the letter. She disputed portions of it, but I know very well what was in that budget and the truth is she voted to gut healthcare and schools in her own district, and apparently doesn't know that she did vote for that.

Senator Allen was not originally elected to the position, but rather she was appointed by our county commission following the death of the incumbent (thanks, guys.) I will give my own commissioner, J.R. DeSpain, credit for opposing her, but he lost a 4-1 vote. It is true that state law required that they appoint a Republican to the position (since Jake Flake, the guy who died was a Republican) but you would think they would at least look for a Republican who knows the earth was here already before civilization began. There are some, you know. Heck Konopnicki was known to be interested in the position and as the state representative and a member of the same party he would have been the logical choice to run.

Maybe it is clear that senator Allen went to schools here in Arizona. After decades of Republican control of the legislature (even in the rare terms when there is a Democratic Governor) and starving the schools, it seems that the scariest part of having our kids taught in an underfunded educational system is that one day they grow up and take what they've learned in school to the legislature.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Stimulus slow to create jobs because of changes made by GOP Senators(!)

Remember back when Democrats had to just about sell out the barn to get three Republican stimulus votes?

The bill was trimmed substantially, from over $900 billion to its final pricetag of $787 billion.

Still a lot of money but even then a lot of economists predicted it would not be enough.

Well, if it isn't then the problem is not even so much the amount of the money as the way what was left was structured. The stated purpose of the bill was to create jobs but what was left does not do that.

Start with the fact that 42% of the stimulus is in the form of tax cuts. At best, tax cuts might be spent to create jobs but in the present environment the chances are than anyone who can afford to save their tax cut money is probably doing exactly that; spending it on job creation is just too risky right now. It would have been far better for the Government to spend the money up front than handing it out in tax cuts.

Most of the rest of it is going to state and local governments which have been using it to shore up their budget holes. That might prevent more layoffs of state workers but again, this isn't really creating a lot of jobs.

What is missing is the direct spending by the Government to hire new workers. Remember all the 'shovel ready projects?' For example, in order to get her support Senator Susan Collins of Maine made them take out every dime that had been in the stimulus for school construction. It's not like there isn't a need for school construction, there is. And right now there are plenty of Americans ready to do it. But in order to garner the votes of a handful of Republicans the portions of the bill most directly related to job creation were removed.

Now, I understand that this is the way Govenrment works (even more so given that at the time the administration had to have at least two Republican Senators or they couldn't have passed any kind of a bill.) However for Republicans to complain about the slow pace of job creation when it was Republicans who in effect structured it that way is at best hypocrisy.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it.

Right after the September 11 terrorist attacks, news outlets reported that it was the first attack on the continental United States (excluding Alaska and Hawaii) since the War of 1812. They said it was a new phenomenon: a foreign leader who hid in another country from which he had effectively declared war on the United States. When they said that they showed their ignorance of American history, and in matters of foreign policy ignorance of history is a very dangerous thing. There is a saying that those who do not study and learn the lessons of history will repeat it, meaning that they will not recognize a situation they are confronted with and will repeat the mistakes that were made by their forbears. And so it seems to be today, in terms of our war in Afghanistan and our pursuit of Osama bin Laden.

Let's go back to March 9, 1916. Foreign invaders attacked the United States. They first attacked the 13th Cavalry regiment of the United States Army, seizing over 100 horses and mules, then stormed into the town of Columbus, New Mexico, burning much of the town and killing two dozen people (both soldiers and civilians,) some of whom were shot in the head, execution-style.

The attackers came from Mexico and were led by Francisco "Pancho" Villa, already a notorious revolutionary. Villa, despite being pursued by U.S. troops still found time to cross the border again and attack the town of Glen Springs, Texas on May 15 of that year, killing one more American.

Because there were then still Mexicans alive who remembered the Mexican War with the United States (1845-1848) Villa's raid was cheered across Mexico.

This was the first attack by a foreign attacker upon United States territory since the War of 1812 and it prompted an immediate angry reaction from the United States. General "Black Jack" Pershing led 10,000 American troops into Mexico in pursuit of Villa. Their stated goal was to pursue Villa 'to the ends of the earth' if necessary, and either kill him or bring him back to face a court of justice. They had some success with disrupting and damaging Villa's organization (in fact, a young Lieutenant named George S. Patton is credited with killing Julio Cárdenas, one of Villa's top commanders.)

However, Pershing's expedition marched 2,000 miles through Mexico and while they did engage Villistas (and occasionally other Mexican revolutionaries) they never caught up with the man himself. Pershing later admitted to having been "outwitted and out-bluffed at every turn." In short, the Pershing expedition was a failure that did more to strengthen Villa by raising his popularity than it did to hurt his military capability.

The expedition eventually ended in January, 1917. The United States was well aware that Villa was still lurking someplace in Mexico and border security was beefed up. Pershing and his troops were soon after on a ship to Europe to fight the Kaiser's army (with more success than they had against Villa, I might add.)

Villa had been celebrated as a hero across all Mexico at the time, as Mexicans were more than happy to see him giving the proverbial finger to the United States. However when Pershing left, Villa was back to just being Villa. And Villa had left a wide trail of bodies all over Mexico as well and made a lot of enemies. So it is not so surprising that a few years later, on July 20, 1923, someone ambushed Villa while he was driving his car and riddled him with bullets. The Federales, Mexican police, claim it was them but many sources suggest they just showed up to take pictures. Live by the sword, die by the sword.

Let's fast forward to the present. On September 11, 2001, we saw the second organized foreign attack on U.S. territory since Villa and the first since World War II.

Americans were outraged and the country rallied together in support of a war in Afghanistan to defeat the Taliban rulers of the country and their al-Qaeda allies, and either kill or capture Osama bin Laden.

Although I almost never support war, believing it should be a last resort, I felt then that the Afghan war was necessary.

I also felt (like many others, and expressed very directly by Al Gore in the summer of 2002) that we should finish the job instead of putting it on the back burner to go fight another war. However, whatever one may think of Iraq what is done is done and we are now back fighting in Afghanistan.

Much has changed however. Far from being on the offensive, we have become primarily tied down to defending the cities and a few military bases. Our 'support' rests with the popularity of a government that few people outside the capital support or even acknowlege. International borders (especially that between Afghanistan and Pakistan) are either ignored by the enemy or used as a 'terrain feature' by them to their advantage. Recently we have been looking for another way to send supplies to Afghanistan because we can't even guarantee our own supply convoys in terrain that is so mountainous, craggy and rocky that the enemy can literally advance to within a few yards undetected. And, they blend into the civilian population giving our troops the unpalatable choice between sitting and waiting for them to attack us before we can respond or shooting at people who very well may in fact be civilians. In short, we have become the Soviet Union. Ironically, Russia recently answered our call for another land-based supply route and negotiated with other former Soviet republics to allow us to use the same supply routes in from the north that they used to use. One wonders whether this gesture from Putin and Medvedev was made from good will or with a sly grin, because they know very well how vulnerable those other routes are, and can't wait to see us fighting the same war they fought and lost.

Into this situation we have dumped thousands more troops. I wish them success, but I am not optimistic that we will achieve it. There was indeed a window to finish off the Taliban in Afghanistan (and maybe get bin Laden) but that window has long since been closed. A nascent antiwar movement, has recognized this too and is calling on American soldiers to be withdrawn from Afghanistan if the present offensive in Helmand does not achieve its objectives and help stabilize the country.

But if we leave won't bin Laden again be a threat to attack the United States?

Yes, he will. But staying there doesn't guarantee that he won't. Further even if we leave there is no reason we can't continue to hunt for him via collection of intelligence, covert operations and the use of unmanned aircraft.

At this point, I would suggest that as long as we stay we are probably helping him hide. He is still fairly popular among the Pashtun, the tribe that is most strongly identified with the Taliban, and among some other Islamic fundamentalists in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Being pursued by the United States gives him the equivalent of a 'get out of jail free' card with many of the locals who don't want to make trouble for the man who is still throwing a finger at America. But if we leave he will have the same problem that Villa did-- he's left a wide trail of bodies (including Afghan, Pakistani and muslim bodies) that he will have to answer for, and sooner or later one of his local enemies will catch up to him, just as they did to Pancho Villa.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

WaPo was wrong to cancel fundraiser

On this 233rd birthday of America, I'm going to come clean about something that's been bothering me about freedom of the press.

It has to do with the recent brouhaha about the Washington Post's plan to have the equivalent of a political fundraiser, in which big wigs and fat cats could pay up to $250,000 per plate to mix with reporters, editors, owners and other important people who influence what goes into one of the nation's most prestigious newspapers.

No, I'm not angry because they thought of the idea as a way to raise some money.

No, I'm not angry because presumably it would give rich people an opportunity the poor won't get.

No, I'm not angry at the idea of wealthy contributors trying to buy influence to help get their story into (or for that matter keep their story out of) the paper.

I'm angry because they canceled the event.

Somebody at the Post thought of a unique way to raise money from private sources. And given that the Post lost $20 million last quarter, clearly they do need to do something.

The fear that the contributors at the event would cause the news to be biased is absurd on the face of it. If that were true then why would a newspaper even accept advertising? As Lyndon Johnson, the most worldly of politicians used to love saying about the Senate, "you have to be able to take their money, eat at their table, drink their wine, screw their women and vote against the bastards anyway or else you don't belong here." News professionals can do their job just as well as politicians can (better, I hope) and should be willing to cover a story no matter who is featured-- or they should go find a day job doing something else and write a blog at night. Heck, even Rush Limbaugh, the king of the radio blowhards, recently was able to lambaste the government bailout that saved General Motors even while acknowleging that GM has been a long time sponsor of his show. In canceling the event, is the Post suggesting that they aren't sure they can operate with even as much journalistic integrity as Rush Limbaugh!? Heck, I gave 35 bucks to national public radio last year (which was all I could afford.) Does that mean I should expect that if I'm ever in the news NPR will give me favorable coverage? No, and if I did I'd be delusional. True that $250,000 is a lot more than $35, but the same principle applies.

Besides, if a story is worth telling it will get out there (especially today in the face of all manner of alternative media crowding the airwaves, the internet and even streaming around the world through outer space.) The days when a newspaper could bury a story are gone. Sooner or later it will get out and the only thing the newspaper will bury is its own opportunity for a scoop.

OK, so what if it's not actual influence peddling they were worried about but the appearance of influence peddling?

The critics of papers like the Post (and they are legion) claim that they are losing money because people don't read them as much anymore because the news is biased. And they jumped all over the Post for this story, suggesting that now the bias was up for auction.

If only that were the reason people don't read the paper. Then presumably the paper could just hire a conservative editor and the subscriptions would start rolling in. But newspapers all over the country are facing similar tough economic circumstances. And it's because the demographic of print readers-- mostly older, less web savvy, is declining in numbers. I know this personally-- I moonlight with a delivery route for the Arizona Republic and just since I took over the route in 2007 the number of subscribers on it has declined by probably 25%. The recession has something to do with it, but even when the recession is over expect that newspapers will continue to struggle. Just over a year ago (before the recession really got going) my own 'hometown' paper, the Winslow Mail, a paper so old that its early editions were full of pioneers, cattle rustlers and gunfighters, shut down.

To be sure, I'm not suggesting that newspapers aren't biased. Nothing of the kind. And it's not like they weren't biased in the days of the founding fathers either-- I mean (since I'm writing this post on July 4), can you imagine the Boston Gazette in the days leading up to the Revolution including an editorial written by the British Governor extolling the virtues of King George just to keep things 'balanced?' If anything, newspapers today are far more even handed in giving voice to divergent views than they have been historically, either 233 years ago or even fifty years ago. Look up the term, 'yellow journalism' if you think that media bias is somehow a bigger dragon today than it has been in the past. Quite the opposite, in fact.

A free press is not the same thing as a fair press, and the founding fathers knew that. Instead of pushing for a balanced through the Constitution or through legislation, they figured out that if the press was biased then people who did not share that mindset would challenge it with a different point of view. The only difference today is that instead of merely a different point of view, it is likely to be a different format or technology-- so that conservative talk radio challenged liberal television news, and then the mostly liberal blogosphere challenged talk radio, but is now being challenged itself by twitter-- a medium that conservatives love. What we can see from these examples is that a free press, when left alone, evolves into a fair press.

So to those who argue that the Post is biased I'd answer, "what if it is?" Without saying it is or it is not, I'd answer they have the right to be biased if they want to, and alleged bias is not why they are losing readers. So what about the appearance that people who can afford a quarter million dollar lunch ticket can now get access to reporters and editors and so influence the way that certain facts are presented in a particular story (or maybe even kill the story)?

The idea that the rich and powerful will have undue access to writers and staff because of this is also silly. Let's be honest-- if a billionaire (someone who can afford to spring for a quarter million for lunch) who is a mover and shaker in a community walks into the office of most major dailies and says (s)he wants to talk to a reporter my hunch is that it will happen a lot quicker than if you or I walk in and make the same request. The access is already there. Why not charge for it?

In this extremely challenging environment, someone came up with an idea that is increasingly being used in other areas where funding is tight: corporate sponsorship. The City College of San Francisco is looking at letting individuals and corporations sponsor a class. The Phoenix Mercury of the WNBA is removing their team name from their jerseys and will replace it with a corporate sponsorship. Why can't a newspaper do this? Aren't their critics on the right always suggesting that private funds are better than government ones?

And that brings us to the real reason why I wish they had gone ahead with their fundraiser. If the Post and other newspapers don't come up with innovative ideas soon then you will see one of two things happen. They might go bankrupt (leaving 'news' to radio and cable television talking heads and bloggers like me-- sorry, but we don't qualify as 'news.') Or, they might get a 'sponsorship' (a.k.a. bailout) from the one entity which it is absolutely essential that newspapers remain out from under its influence-- the government.

So, shame on the Post. Shame for not being willing to stand up and defend their innovation and then for not carrying it through as a money earning idea. They've already gotten lots of bad press out of it just for their intent to hold the event-- how much more could they get if they actually do hold it (and most of that would come from implacable enemies anyway.)

They should re-schedule the event right away and this time go through with it.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Chicken crosses road; state police fail to solve mystery.

Well, we still don't know WHY the chicken crossed the road, but we do know which road (highway 17 north of Phoenix) and what the result was (a major traffic backup.)

Rooster on road backs up I-17.

Drivers found themselves contending with more than holiday traffic Friday when a chicken was found crossing the road.

Northbound Interstate 17 remains backed up north of Loop 101 after a rooster tried to cross the freeway about 11 a.m. at Arizona 74

"It's just a busy holiday - and of course the rooster," said Officer Robert Bailey, a DPS spokesman. "The rooster only compounded matters."

An officer removed the uninjured bird within 40 minutes, but Bailey expects the heavy Fourth of July traffic to remain slow-and-go through late this evening.

Unfortunately the article goes on to say that the officer took the bird to New River and released it, without first asking the chicken WHY it crossed the road!

This whole matter of motivation is the key question that should have been asked here. People have been asking why the chicken crosses the road since, well, there were roads and chickens crossed them.

With modern interrogation techniques, including some developed for use in cases of rendition, the chicken could have been made to confess why it crossed the road. Not just physical pain, but the infliction of terror. Just imagine a state patrol officer walking into the room where the chicken was being asked, "Just one more time, WHY?" dressed up as Colonel Sanders, holding a knife and a fork. THEN you'd hear some squawking, yes, you would.

Yes, the Obama administration has banned some of these techniques (so no terrorist ever has to worry about Colonel Sanders conducting the inquiry) and for that I am glad. But even with kinder, gentler interrogation techniques ('Do you want a cigar?') some effort should have been made to solve the mystery of why the chicken crossed the road before the rooster was let go, so that he can come back and cross another road someplace.

Sarah Palin: I QUIT.

A GOP Presidential contender for 2012 hadn't melted down yet this week, so I figure since it's Friday, there's still time. And sure enough--

I'm reading that Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, apparently upset about a Vanity Fair article out this week that quoted anonymous former McCain staffers who said that she was difficult to work with, has decided to quit.

No, not in the sense of 'won't run for re-election.' More in the sense of 'I quit.' Now.

In a stunning move, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, Sen. John McCain's 2008 vice presidential running mate, announced today that she'll resign later in the month and won't seek a second term next year.

Palin, a possible 2012 GOP presidential candidate, didn't answer any questions today and remains mum about her future intentions.

McCain, an Arizona Republican, made Palin a household name nearly a year ago when he picked her to join his ticket. On the national scene, Palin is one of those political figures who inspires passion in supporters and detractors alike. This week, Vanity Fair published a lengthy critical piece on Palin that allowed anonymous former McCain-Palin campaign officials to bash her.

Which, in my opinion, only proves that those who were concerned that she was too flaky and erratic to be President are right. Far from 'balancing' the ticket, the McCain-Palin ticket was erratic and inconsistent paired with erratic and inconsistent.

According to University of Virginia Political Science guru Larry Sabato, "Bizarro World: Sarah Palin just committed national political suicide by resigning as Governor of Alaska."

He's right about that. And every week another potential 2012 Republican Presidential candidate commits Hari-kiri.

Two weeks ago, it was John Ensign, who was in Iowa testing Presidential waters even as his fate was being sealed. One week ago it was South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford. Now it is Palin.

This benefits President Obama in two ways. First of course, potential 2012 foes are dropping like flies, but second this is now the third weekend when the GOP would prefer to talk about their opposition to health care, climate change legislation or Sonia Sotomayor but they will be competing in getting their message out with the weekly Republican meltdown story. In fact, the only Republican who is probably counting this as good luck is Mark Sanford.

At this rate, President Obama will have an easy time with re-election in 2012 because there won't be any Republicans left who haven't hit the self-destruct button.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

The importance of a primary

2008 was destined to be a Democratic year at the presidential level. As has been pointed out in many other places, the electorate was thoroughly tired of George W. Bush and after the economic crisis that began with the failure of the Lehman Brothers Bank on September 14, last year's election would have been an unwinnable scenario by any Republican candidate against any competent Democrat (maybe if the Democrats had nominated John Edwards and the Rielle Hunter scandal had erupted a week before the election, but it would have taken something of that magnitude to shift the poltical landscape last year enough to produce a GOP win.)

In that framework, it is worth taking a look back to last year's epic primary battle betwen Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. There is no reason to suppose that the November result would have differed much (Clinton might have lost North Carolina and Indiana and won Arkansas, West Virginia, and/or Missouri but regardless of small differences in the electoral map, in the end the result would have been the same.)

The differences come after that. The ongoing differences between Clinton and Obama are highlighted by a report today that Clinton urged Obama to take a tougher line last week with Iran. One can argue whether she was right or not (certainly the Khameini/Ahmadinejad regime has blood on their hands and deserve to be called on it, but equally certainly the unarmed demonstrators never had a chance against the armed militia, backed by the police, backed by the army if it had come to that, and Obama was fundamentally right during the campaign that Iran is too big and too important a country to maintain the Bush policy of isolation in regard to) but this is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of what is different. Hillary Clinton remember, backed the Iraq war (and continued to back it well after most Democrats had realized that the most we could win was a Pyrrhic victory) even siding with the Bush White House on the surge, interrogation methods and a whole host of other war issues, and also voting with the Bush White House against Iran on a resolution in late 2007 naming the Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist organization (a vote which in fact may have cost her crucial support in Iowa, especially when she appeared to blow off voter anger over it, chastizing a man who asked her about it at a rally.)

It is impossible to know how Hillary Clinton as president would have dealt with any specific situation but let's remember that she was intimately involved in decision making during her husband's presidency and he would have been very involved in hers. Hillary is not Bill, but the Bill Clinton presidency (not least because they do in fact have similar political views) provides a guideline for what we might have expected. Bill was far more ready to use military force than Obama has been. For example it's a good bet that if Hillary Clinton were president we'd have marines on the ground right now returning president Zelaya to Honduras (remember that Bill Clinton faced a nearly identical situation in Haiti and sent the marines to restore Aristide.) It's also worth noting that Hillary Clinton in the Senate several times voted for more funding for the military (including for the war in Iraq) that Barack Obama opposed.

Besides the fact that Bill (and very probably Hillary) was and would have been more hawkish in terms of foreign policy, there are also domestic policy differences.

On social issues there are very few differences. It's not hard to imagine Hillary Clinton nominating Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, and on issues like the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and the 'Mexico City Rule' the results would likely have been identical. In fact, arguably Hillary Clinton would have done more on gay issues than Obama has done (an area of civil rights where he has been slow to implement promises he made during the campaign.)

However on economics there are some major differences. Hillary Clinton was strongly pushed by the DLC (Democratic Leadership Council), an economically conservative pro-business group within the Democratic party. Bill Clinton was instrumental in its founding, and if one thinks back to the Clinton Presidency on economic issues Bill Clinton had a decidedly conservative tilt. He actively pushed for less regulation of markets. On this issue he was nearly indistinguishable from most Republicans; in fact, Bill Clinton deserves a share of the blame for the present multiple crises caused by lack of adequate regulation. For that matter Hillary would likely have had more trouble than Obama reversing course on regulation, not only because doing so would cut against her core economic beliefs but because in many cases Obama has had to change rules that were written during the Bill Clinton presidency-- something Hillary Clinton would certainly have to answer about. Also, Bill Clinton generally was opposed to bailouts and favored free trade. Hillary Clinton in the Senate took these positions as well. There may have been a stimulus bill if Hillary Clinton were president but with the Clintons' aversion to deficits (even going back to Arkansas) and her early campaign promise (granted, made before all hell broke loose) to produce balanced budgets it might not have been large enough. Remember too that Al Gore was frustrated that the Clinton White House never pushed for higher CAFE standards or other environmental legislation because they spent too much time listening to the business lobby, and it's likely that if Hillary Clinton were president we would never have seen much of an effort along the lines of the global warming bill the House passed last week.

On health care, Hillary's most famous battle (and most famous defeat) came in 1994 trying to create a universal coverage plan. During the primary she promised to try again, but between her dislike of deficit spending (one reason for the big surpluses during the Clinton presidency was that they raised taxes to pay for a health care plan early on but then didn't get the plan) and her more cautious approach (even more so having been burned once on it) the likelihood is that healthcare 'reform' would have been something much more modest than the sweeping changes we are likely to see in the Obama bill. With the Clinton ideal of focus groups, triangulation and pollwatching driving the process we might well end up with a fancy sounding 'reform' that in the end would do relatively little. There might have been a mandate to buy health insurance (as there is today in Massachusetts) but no public plan to hold down costs by competing with the private plans.

Of course, there are areas where I don't agree with Barack Obama (and at least in one area, civil rights, there are reasons to believe that Hillary Clinton might have been the more progressive of the two) but on balance I believe that it is a good thing that Democratic activists (including me) became involved in the primary and pushed Obama over the finish line. In at least two major areas, foreign policy and economic policy it is clear that because of the primary we have a far more progressive presidency than we would have if Hillary Clinton had been nominated.

For Governor Brewer to have any credibility at all, she has to veto this budget

The Republican legislature has apparently passed a budget package that is little changed from the package they passed on June 4 (and held all month) and that Governor Brewer even went to court to force them to send her so she could go ahead with a promised veto.

Since this budget is the same in all its major components to that budget and they didn't give her any of what she asked for in her five point plan (most notably a vote on a sales tax) I believe that she essentially has two choices.

She can sign the bill, and make it plain to everyone that she is a weak Governor who has been rolled by the hoods who run the legislature.

Or she can veto the bill, make it clear that she meant what she said last month, and then sit down with a clean table and negotiate with both Republicans and Democrats who are more interested in getting a budget that recognizes the hard economic realities of this year but won't devastate state schools, universities and services either this year or going forward into the future.

We will know probably within hours what she's really made of.


She DID veto almost all of it! She signed essentially the minimum amount of the budget that she needed to in order to keep the government running.

Not that I completely trust Jan Brewer (who is still, at the end of the day, a conservative Republican) to always do the best job for the state, and she certainly deserves criticism for not showing more leadership in the months leading up to this debacle, but she deserves credit where credit is due and today she stepped up and did what had to be done.

OBSERVATION: The legislative leadership couldn't keep their members in line to put together the deal with the Governor that she wanted. So it is unlikely she will get anywhere just re-negotiating with them, instead she may have more success if she sits down with Democrats and moderate Republicans and tries to put together a majority that way.
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