Friday, December 30, 2011

New Year's predictions. 2012.

January: The Iowa caucus will be held. But the TV ratings on all the networks together will be less than the number of people who tune in to ESPN to watch the game between BCS # 12 Michigan and # 11 Virginia Tech.

February: Rick Perry's Presidential campaign will implode and he will bow out after he says at a debate, "I'm sure I could beat President, uh, President, ummm.. what's his name? Oops."

March: Super Tuesday primaries. Given a ballot that is limited to a choice between Mitt Romney and Ron Paul, Republicans in Virginia will head to Long John Silver's and vote for the shrimp basket with fries.

April: John Boehner will announce that the Republican caucus has agreed to support a deal negotiated between Mitch McConnell, Harry Reid and the Obama administration on a long term tax reform deal. The three of them will hold a joint press conference. After President Obama praises the work of the negotiators, Boehner will quickly step up, slap Obama on the back and cry, "APRIL FOOL!!"

May: Joe Arpaio's office will again be the subject of inquiry after it is found that due to the massive use of manpower involved in saturation patrols trying to find illegal immigrants, 400 murders have not been investigated. Joe will call the publication of the disclosures "politically motivated" and explain that the cases have been filed in the same cabinet as he files sex crimes cases. The round one.

June: The Chinese economy will go into a recession and the Chinese government will quickly pass a public works program to put people to work. Unfortunately, people who are used to working in factories making stuff out of cheap, bright colored plastic will cause more problems when they try to fill potholes the same way.

July: At the London Olympics, officials will announce a suprise steroid test. All weightlifting, sprinting and swimming events will all be canceled after all the competitors cite a sudden injury and withdraw from the competition.

---ALSO in July: Ron Paul will announce a third party run for President. In order to articulate his vision for America he will have banners printed up that say, "Ron Paul. 1912."

August: After a long battle going all the way to the convention in which Republicans wanting anybody but Mitt Romney make a last ditch effort to draft Harold Stassen's ghost, Romney will wrap up the GOP nomination. He will announce that Kim Kardashian is his running mate as he struggles to drum up interest in his campaign.

September: A new law will take effect in Arizona ninety days after the legislature passes and Gov. Brewer signs the bill mandating that all colleges and universities must allow anyone on campus to carry a gun, anyplace. It will however help ASU win the PAC 10 when running back Cameron Marshall carries a pistol in his waistband, announces that it has a hair trigger and opposing players are reluctant to tackle him.

October: North Korea's new Supreme Leader, Kim Jong Un, will need to be replaced after he visits a nuclear facility and asks, "And what is this button for?" Radiation, and Kim Jong Un, will drift in a cloud across the Pacific. Not to worry, the world will be introduced to Kim Jong Tyke, looking sharp in his new Mao jacket and military hat as the most dapper five year old in the picture.

November: Barack Obama will be re-elected as President. Mitt Romney will concede graciously. But the hot ticket for Washington reporters who don't get out much will be the Ron Paul party because-- well, let's say the 'refreshments' are more popular.

December: Emergency workers will be called to the U.S. Capitol building on Christmas Day when it is discovered that Eric Cantor's office has been packed full of coal overnight by Santa.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Why I support President Obama without reservation in 2012

Lately, when I've criticized the Obama administration on specific issues where I've disagreed with policy (such as Afghanistan or the extension of the Patriot Act) there are those, especially on the left, who have asked why I still want to see him re-elected, whether it's because I duly admit to being a party hack or simply because he'd 'just be better than the Republicans.'

Although both of the above are true (I am an elected Democratic county party first vice chair, and have no doubt that any of the leading Republicans would continue all of the policies I dislike as well as do many other things I would't like) I am enthusiastically, and without reservation ready to work for the re-election of President Obama in 2012. He is the candidate most qualified to serve as President of the United States during the next four years.

Let me address three main topics as to why the President should be re-elected for another four years, and I will talk about the President here, not about why Republicans are bad.

1. The economy

2. Health care

3. The President's personal temperment and how it relates to the job.


Let's start with the biggest issue, the economy. The criticism from the right about President Obama is two-fold. They argue that he has failed to fix the problems that they acknowlege that he inherited from the Bush administration, and they also argue that he has made things worse by running up the deficit with massive increases in government spending.

In regard to not fixing the problem, it is true that when President Obama was inaugurated, the unemployment rate was 7.8% and it is today 8.6%. However, at the time he was inaugurated the U.S. was teetering on the brink of a Depression. We were hemorrhaging 700,000 jobs per month with no end in sight. The President took a Keynesian approach and negotiated the Stimulus bill with Republicans. These negotiations resulted in a bill that was 43% tax cuts (while major elements of spending, such as on school construction were removed from the bill in order to gain GOP support.) Despite these concessions, the GOP followed Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's "top priority to make President Obama a one-term President". Therefore the bill, heavily loaded with GOP-sponsored tax cuts as it was, received zero GOP votes in the House and only three in the Senate. Republicans like to claim they were right, and that the stimlulus was a tremendous waste of money that did not work. They cite an erroneous projection made by a staffer (made even before President Obama was inaugurated) that if the Stimulus was passed then unemployment would top out at 8% vs. 8.8% without the Stimulus (which it arguably had exceeded even before the Stimulus took effect.) That the recession was far deeper than even some of the President's economic advisors had foreseen is not the same thing as claiming that the Stimulus didn't work. In fact,
the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has backed up the administration's claims regarding the impact of the Stimulus. So when Republicans claim it did not work, that is what it is-- a claim, not backed by data. It's difficult of course to prove something which did not happen would have, and it is true that the country got out in front of the situation more quickly (TARP) than in 1929, but it is certainly a reasonable conclusion that the Stimulus and other actions taken by the Federal government saved the nation from a Depression similar to the one in the 1930's. What the administration failed to do was take enough credit for the effects of the Stimulus. It was sent out to states with permission for the Governors to spend it as needed in their own states. Some Governors have given the Federal government the credit but others have claimed that there was some kind of economic miracle in their own state without crediting whatever portion of it was due to the stimulus (this means Rick Perry especially, though Jan Brewer here in Arizona is guilty of taking the money without saying thank you too.)

The recovery since then has been bumpy but it is on the upswing. The November 2011 jobs report marked the fifth consecutive month in which private sector job growth has exceeded 100,000. In fact, it would look even better if public sector jobs weren't being cut at a record pace (so if the recovery is slow, it's not a failure of Keynesian economics, but of anti-Keynesian economics of slashing government payrolls in the middle of a down economy.) The Stimulus then was a success, in that it helped the economy land as softly as possible at the bottom of a very deep hole, and we are now crawling out at a steady and gradually improving rate. I believe that as a steward of the economy, President Obama has indeed lived up to his ideals of 'hope.' Things are getting better slowly, but they are getting better and in most states unemployment has fallen substantially over the past year. President Obama does in fact deserve credit for turning the direction of the economy around, from 'declining' to 'growing.' He deserves a chance, having done so, to work on getting it all the way up to speed. The following graph of job gains/losses in the critical period before and after the Stimulus bill passed makes it very plain.

The other area where Republicans have been critical of the President's economic policy is in the area of spending and the deficit. It is true that the Stimulus bill cost $862 billion which was added to the national debt (though as described above, it was necessary because the Depression it was designed to prevent would have been far more deadly to the overall economy.) And the President has conceded that although the Stimulus (as well as TARP) was necessary spending, in the long run the deficit needs to be reduced. I believe that given his explanation for the initial round of spending (and his acknowlegement of why he did it) that's all the explanation that is needed. He spent when he felt it was necessary to spend, so there is no reason to believe he wouldn't cut when he felt it was necessary to cut.

FINALLY let's apply the metrics I used in this post from the day President Obama was inaugurated to see how his economic record is so far:

1. The stock market. The Dow closed at 8281.22 on its last close before Obama was inaugurated, and continued down on that day to close at 7479.09 (a sense of where things were headed.) Today it closed at 12,169.65. This is not only 50% higher than it was when the President took office, but even above the 10,587.60 it was at on January 20, 2001 when Bush was inaugurated. Anyone who says this is anything less than a success (albeit on the narrow metric of how the folks that invest in stocks are doing) clearly has an agenda of running down the President no matter what the numbers say. And sales of luxury items like yachts and luxury cars are doing extremely well this year, bearing this out. Of course, as we've seen though 30 years of 'trickle down' just because the 1% are doing well, does not mean that the 99% are. However it is also true that millions of ordinary Americans are seeing their retirement accounts, IRA's and pensions in much better shape than they were a couple of years ago because of the booming stock market.

2. The Euro exchange rate. When Bush was inaugurated the rate was that it cost $0.94 to buy one Euro. After the economy tanked with Bush in the White House that was $1.32 per Euro the day Obama was inaugurated. Today it is just under $1.31. I'm willing to concede that this is not good news. Essentially the dollar (which represents faith in the American economy) has made only a very small gain against the Euro, which of course we well know that the European economy is now in a severe crisis. The exchange rate had dipped as low as $1.16 per Euro when it looked like a Greek default could be imminent but it has recovered substantially.

3. Net job growth. During the eight years after Bush was inaugurated, we had a net total job growth of 3.8 million jobs. This works out to about 40,000 per month on average. It is true that more than 2 million jobs were lost during the first two years of the Bush administration, so if you take that away then you have a gain of about 6 million jobs in 72 months, or about 83,000 jobs per month after the initial recession (which Bush apologists like to blame Clinton for even though the only big piece of legislation that was passed during the first couple of months of the Bush administration were the tax cuts, which they claimed would spur growth but it did not.) HERE IS THE KEY: even though those who pump up Bush's number by blaming his first two years on Clinton like to fully credit the first year of job losses starting in 2009 to President Obama, as we can see from the chart above the rate of loss turned around almost immediately when the Stimulus was passed, and today, despite the GOP around the country forcing public-sector job CUTS the rate of net job growth (over 100,000 now for the past five months) is STILL substantially higher than the average for the Bush administration AFTER the first two years of recession (!) In fact, during the few occasions when the Bush economy WAS producing substantially more than 100,000 private sector jobs (remember it is still over 100,000 even with the public sector cuts subtracted out) Republicans were trumpeting the same kinds of numbers as a success! Now, I will grant that we need more job growth than this, but the President has gone from a loss of -700,000 jobs per month to +100,000 and going up, so clearly his record on the economy deserves a deeper look. Even in some of the highest unemployment regions, hiring has been picking up and the unemployment rate is lower than it was last year.

4. Price of crude oil. This is the one where Obama takes the biggest hit. It was $34.20 when he took office and a barrel of Brent crude closed at $107.89 today. I was critical of Bush when crude oil prices hit $140 per barrel during his term. While some issues are clearly outside of the ability of the administration to do anything about (Arab spring, increased demand from China and India) it does push energy issues to the forefront. The Obama administration has invested in light rail, higher energy efficiency standards for automobiles and green energy. Those are all long term solutions and perhaps the biggest threat from a GOP Presidency is the threat that all of those things will be reversed and we will be back to the fossil fuel-dependent status quo on energy. That said, conservatives DO have a point that we have to feed our need for oil now. It will be interesting to see what happens with the Keystone pipeline now that it has turned into a political football. Its projected route is in fact unacceptable because it crosses some of the most sensitive regions of the aquifer which supplies the state of Nebraska with everything from drinking water to water needed for wildlife. The question is whether the route can be made environmentally safer. There is an eastern route which crosses only a small, and less sensitive portion of the aquifer. The administration must look for how, given that they will now have only a sixty day window to make that decision, they can mandate that the pipeline misses the aquifer, entirely if at all possible. Similarly, drilling is now resuming in the Gulf of Mexico, but the question is whether the safeguards are in place to prevent another spill. Sadly, there is no evidence that they are. And as we know, there is no plan in place about what to do if such a spill occurs. Maybe they should invent something that will stop it before they go back to deep sea drilling.

5. National debt. It increased under Bush from $5.8 trillion when he took office to $11.8 when he left. Yes, it has continued to increase under President Obama. However, this is one area where he makes perfect sense. There was an immediate crisis when he took office (the loss of more than 2/3 of a million jobs per month.) He did what he had to to stanch the job loss. Yes, it increased the deficit. He's fully owned up to the fact that it did, and is now saying he wants to look for ways to bring it back down in the future. Good. His opponents also like to point to the health care law as 'big spending.' Only that is not supported by the facts: The non-partisan CBO found that the PPACA actually REDUCES the deficit by $143 billion over ten years compared to if it had not been passed. Further, when the new GOP House came in the same CBO found that their attempt to repeal the law in its entirety, if it happened at the beginning of this year, would ADD almost a quarter of a trillion dollars to the deficit! So when a Republican uses 'health care' interchangeably with 'deficit spending' they show they haven't a clue what they are talking about.


Nothing that has happened during Obama's first term is as controversial as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA.) It is true that the final bill does not include a public option (as the President himself had wanted) and that it does include an individual mandate to purchase private insurance (which candidate Obama clearly stated his opposition to during the campaign, and which contrasted him with Hillary Clinton who favored an individual mandate.) Conceded, readily. Given unified GOP opposition, the President needed the votes of all sixty Democrats. That included Blanche Lincoln who stated flatly that she would never vote for anything containing the public option, and Independent Joe Lieberman (who represents a state that is famously the home of several large insurance companies) who was looking for any excuse at all to vote against the bill, even signing onto an agreement that included a Medicare buy in at 55 that he was on record as supporting but then backing out and refusing to back the plan. As we know too, Democrat Ben Nelson (whose state is home to the Mutual of Omaha insurance company) refused to vote for the plan until it included special treatment for Nebraska (the so-called "Cornhusker kickback.") So the plan we got was the plan that was necessary in light of unified opposition from the right and the need to placate, therefore, every single one of fifty-eight Democratic and two Independent Senators. Yes, getting it passed was ugly, but also yes, it did get passed.

Given that there is room for improvement, let's consider what it does do. It sets up exchanges so those who can't afford insurance will receive a subsidy to help them buy it. Maybe we would have preferred a public option (or even single payer if we could get it) but achieving universal coverage (though granted universal coverage that excludes undocumented immigrants, but that's a topic for a different discussion) is a good and firm step in the right direction. When it was passed, there were 51 million Americans without health insurance. Because of changes that have already gone into effect such as an end to pre-existing exlusions and recissions and allowing parents to continue to cover their kids while they are in college, that number has already gone down by two million despite the slow recovery in the economy. When the bill is fully implemented, there will no longer be two classes of people in the emergency room: those who are insured or can pay cash, vs. those who are uninsured and poor and generally have to wait far longer until the people in the first category have all been seen. THIS IS A GOOD THING and those, particularly liberals, who suggest otherwise because of some esoteric argument that the health care bill isn't 'better' are wilfully blind and probably have never been uninsured themselves or know what that means if you are sick or injured but stacked on the back rack waiting for hours on end or sometimes even days to be seen.

Further, the first President to propose and push for a national health care system was Teddy Roosevelt. He left office more than a century ago. That's how long we've been trying, and that's how long conservatives have blocked any kind of insurance reform. THE FACT THAT THIS GOT PASSED AT ALL is, in the words of Vice President Biden, a "BFD." Certainly an achievement for the President.


Let's end with the President's basic temperment. He's both thoughtful and careful in thinking through his response to crises and but also willing to be bold and accept the consequences and see things through once he's made a decision. This was first put on display just a couple of months into his term when Somali pirates kidnapped and held for ransom the captain of an American freighter. President Obama gave negotiaters the chance to act but finally when the captain's life was in danger he gave the order to the SEALS to rescue him and use lethal force if that was what it took. Then a couple of months later, when bankruptcy loomed for Chrysler and General Motors, President Obama used TARP funds to aggressively intervene and preserved the core of the American automotive industry, and under American ownership. The success of the two companies since then has vindicated his decision but at the time it was not clear at all that it was the right decision. We've since seen other similar reponses to a crisis (Libya*) or when an opportunity presented itself (bin Laden.) This mixture of coolness when considering options followed by boldness and resolve once it's time to act is exactly what we need in a Commander in Chief. I believe President Obama passes this test while the leading Republicans do not. Mitt Romney is undeniably cool, but his past history to equivocate on issues and (as we saw in the 2008 campaign) adjust his strategy reactively instead of keeping a steady course does not inspire confidence in how he would respond to a crisis. Newt Gingrich has a history of impulsive, 'fly by the seat of his pants' decisons. While his ability to improvise is certainly bold, one has to be concerned about whether he would make the same decision he would make if he took time out to think through his position. His statements on Libya earlier this year highlight this concern. On March 3, Gingrich criticized Obama for not intervening in Libya unilaterally. After Obama, with the backing of the U.N. and the Arab League, participated in a joint intervention with France, Britain and other nations, Gingrich flip-flopped and criticized the intervention. It's perhaps understandable in that as a GOP candidate Gingrich felt the need to criticize the President no matter what he did, but the sudden, whiplash reversal makes one wonder for how long Gingrich really thinks anything through before responding.

President Obama has both characteristics: coolness when it is time to think things through and make a calculated decision, then boldness when it is time to follow through on that decision and see it through, including all consequences and fallout that may result.

So yes, for these reasons I believe, despite my sometimes copious disagreements with the President, that he deserves to be re-elected.

*--I myself questioned the Libya intervention once it took longer than he predicted, but I do give him credit for keeping his commitment to not send any American ground forces and getting completely out once it was done.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Tentative Final Redistricting maps up

Yesterday the Independent Redistricting Commission voted to approve "Tentative Final Maps" (pending review by the Department of Justice) for the congressional and legislative maps.

Not surprisingly the vote on the congressional maps, which although they include 4 safe Republican and 2 safe Democratic districts, is generally perceived as more favorable to Democrats than the present set of maps, passed 3-2 with the two Republican commissioners (Stertz and Freeman) dissenting.

The legislative map, while not as Republican-friendly as the present map (which is essentially a Republican gerrymander that allowed the GOP to build their supermajority in the legislature) is still favorable to the GOP, and will likely guarantee Republican control of the legislature through the end of the decade. What is interesting about that is how the Republicans on the commission tried to play politics with the vote and were exposed by commissioner Herrera. Both of the Republican commissioners initially voted 'no,' (apparently to preserve the strongest case for their party to claim the maps were unfair.) Commissioner Herrera, however, voted 'present' so that the commission deadlocked and could not pass the map on a 2-2-1 vote. Commissioner Stertz then quickly changed his vote to 'yes,' showing that his opposition was indeed just for show. Credit to Steve Muratore for pointing this out.

Locally, the changes made in CD 1 from the October draft map are minimal-- to remove eastern Cochise county from the district and replace it with areas around Sedona. I doubt if this will make any significant difference, and it appears that the population shifted in and out of the district was small. CD 1 is, however, because of the inclusion of additional reservations and the exclusion of Prescott, substantially more Democratic than the old CD 1. Since Paul Gosar's winning margin was provided entirely by Yavapai County, if he ran in 2010 against Ann Kirkpatrick in the CD 1 we now have, he would have likely lost.

The changes in LD 6 and 7 from the draft map seem to marginally favor Democrats. LD 6 has picked up areas to the immediate northeast of Flagstaff and Grand Canyon Village. Residents of Show Low-Pinetop/Lakeside (heavily Republican) were upset by being split apart in the October draft map and insisted they wanted the communties to be joined together. They are-- in LD 7 (the Native American dominated district that will include the Navajo, Hopi, Apache and Havasupai reservations.) I doubt if that is the change the residents who insisted on 'sticking together' had in mind, but it's what they got. Sun Valley, a Republican area east of Holbrook also was moved into LD-7 (while areas in the far northwest corner of the state were removed from LD-7 and put into a district with Lake Havasu City and Kingman.) I believe that LD-7 may be slightly more Republican with the changes but is still virtually certain to elect only Democrats this decade. The draft map for LD-6 was considered marginally competitive but had a distinct Republican tilt. But now that it's gained more of Coconino county and lost Show Low and Sun Valley I suspect the new demographic reports that will be presented today or tomorrow will show it to be more competitive (maybe still with a Republican edge, but one that might not hold for a very conservative Republican like Sylvia Allen that scares away independents.)

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Why I hope the payroll tax cuts are NOT extended

This week the Obama administration has been pushing their advantage on the payroll tax cut, implemented as the GOP was poised to assume control of Congress and about the only kind of stimulus spending they could get (at the time) GOP support for (or at least to not filibuster) that would get money into the hands of ordinary Americans.

The argument that is being made now is a simple one: that despite yesterday's positive jobs report (and more importantly five straight months of 100,000 plus private sector jobs being created) the economic recovery is not yet strong enough to sustain a sudden loss of spending power from ordinary Americans (most of whom have adjusted to and spent the few extra dollars per paycheck the payroll tax cuts added and would in fact see a decline in their weekly paycheck, which could well ripple into the economy. And it is no secret that Republicans in Congress, who have seen their ratings tank even further after the failure of the supercommittee, want to inflict a political defeat on the President just to show that they still can.

I understand this, but I believe it is important that Democrats lose this battle. There are two reasons why I believe this.

The first one is that the payroll taxes are supposed to be dedicated to Social Security and Medicare. Although the actual money in the Social Security Trust Fund has long since been raided in order to mask the true size of congressional budget deficits and replaced by a stack of IOU's from Congress, the total of money in the Trust Fund is still calculated and used to project the future health of Social Security (and Medicare.) I fear that the decreased flow of money in payroll taxes would allow those who want to get rid of or radically change these programs to claim (accurately in fact) that their financial doomsday is much closer than the last time we checked and use that as a weapon to destroy or seriously damage Social Security and Medicare. And the logical way to fix them (getting rid of the cap on income subject to the payroll tax) would be effectively off the table if a Republican Congress, at the behest of a Democratic President, has just been extending a cut on payroll taxes.

Yeah, I'd probably notice the $40 a paycheck or so that I started getting two years ago and would quit getting, but I'd rather have Social Security and Medicare.

The second reason why I would like to lose this battle is because of the message it sends and how it will play next year during the debate on the Bush tax cuts and whether to extend them. Buying into the concept that failure to extend a TEMPORARY tax cut is a 'tax increase' plays into the hands of those who want to extend the tax cuts and instead get rid of the deficit by focusing only on spending (meaning for education, social programs and other programs that benefit the public.) To begin with, the argument that letting a scheduled tax cut expire on schedule is really a tax increase, is false and we should be consistent in saying so. If your grocer puts an item on sale and then the sale ends as scheduled, but then you went to the grocer and accused the store of 'raising prices' you would be laughed at. But that's the argument we are being asked to make this year (and may be asked to buy next year) about taxes.

We hold an ace in that next year the Bush tax cuts are due to expire. We should let them, on schedule. As Ezra Klein points out the GOP is in a deep, deep hole of its own making. If Congress does nothing (which is far easier to accomplish in Washington than actually doing something) then automatic tax and spending changes will kick in that will cut $6 trillion off of the budget defict. But 3/4 of that will caused by the end of the Bush tax cuts (and the other quarter by sequestration due to the failure of the supercommittee, but half of that is from the war budget.) Like the payroll tax cut, the loss of the Bush tax cuts for most people would be noticeable, but not anywhere close to how much we'd notice in terms of cuts to public services if conservatives had their way.

But add the payroll tax cuts up, and then the Bush cuts for the working class (not sure there is much of a 'middle class' anymore) isn't that a significant additional burden on working people? Yes, it is. I fully understand that (being a financially stressed member of the working class myself.) However if considering how massively the Bush tax cuts were weighted towards the wealthy, and more importantly what the GOP has proposed cutting (remember the Ryan budget that wanted to privatize medicare and slash Social Security?) there is no way that any member of the working class would receive enough from the continuation of these cuts to be able to make up for the lack of Social Security and Medicare in our old age. Social Security provides a guaranteed income that is at least enough to keep people who are too old to work anymore off the streets and with at least a minimal amount of food on the table, and medicare ensures that they will receive medical treatment at an age where private insurance would become prohibitively expensive. Compared to that, the loss of working class tax cuts is a small price to pay compared to the end of the 'deficit' argument that the Republicans have made to justify draconian spending cuts if ALL the Bush tax cuts expire and a flood of revenue returns to the government.

In other words, Democrats and progressives next year will hold most of the aces. It will be up to the GOP to try and put something together that we can agree to, because we have much less to fear from the automatic changes that would occur than the right. Let's show that our representatives in Congress and those of us who are out in our neighborhoods have learned how to hold onto our cards, and not waste them to score small (as continuing the payroll tax cut would be.) Buying into the logic that ending a tax cut on time is 'raising taxes' would undermine our own position next year that it is not.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Christmas in the stores, Christmas out of the stores

[Reprint of a 2005 article I wrote on another blog; reposted here to make it easier to access.]

In 1935, Charles Darrow was awarded the patent for the board game, 'Monopoly,' which he later sold to Parker Brothers. In those old games, the houses and hotels were made of wood, but much has stayed the same as when Darrow was making the sets by hand. That includes this Community Chest card.

Now today, you will hear some right wing 'Christians' claim that there is suddenly a 'war on Christmas.' They claim that secular America is out to get rid of Christmas, all in the name of political correctness.

Well, as we see from the card above, the idea of separating the holiday aspect from the religious aspect (Christ) was alive and well decades ago. So it is certainly nothing new.

Besides, wasn't it until a year or two ago that the same people were bemoaning the 'commercialization' of Christmas? They were worried about how the 'true meaning of Christmas' was being swallowed up in a giant rush to the malls. But let a mall store greet you with 'Happy Holidays,' now they will rush to a microphone and tell you that the store in question is part of some giant conspiracy to do away with Christmas.

Maybe this will placate them in their new obsession: How about a mall that features a nativity display, sponsored by Visa (It's everywhere you want to be). Joseph will be dressed in a very nice suit by Ralph Lauren (shoes by Bruno Magli). Mary will be dressed in a very sharp outfit from Pendleton (plus sizes available), with solid wood platform shoes by Steve Madden, exclusively available at Nine West. The three kings will be modeling Patagonia sportswear, with Nike tennis shoes. The infant will be modeling swaddling clothes from Baby Gap. Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh will be on loan from Bank of America. Animals will be wearing collars that read,

Get commercialism out of Christmas. Put Christmas into commercialism. But only the way we tell you to. No wonder these people are never happy. They get their way, and they aren't satisfied with the results. And I bet some of them will grumble about it all the way to the Department store and buy something that hearkens back to the 'good old days' when nobody thought twice about saying, 'Christmas.' Something that brings back pleasant memories from when they were kids. Maybe even a game of Monopoly.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Domestic Violence Resolution (third time.)

The following resolution has now been displayed on the state party website (not our fault that it wasn't last August, somebody else dropped the ball on it) for the requisite 40 days.

It will be presented for a vote in Yuma.

WHEREAS, over 25% of women in the United States have been or will be victims of domestic violence in their lifetimes,

WHEREAS, according to the Domestic Violence Resource Center, it is estimated that 600,000 to 6 million women are physically abused by husbands or domestic partners every year, and the vast majority of these cases go unreported because of fear,

WHEREAS, domestic violence is the cause of four deaths per day in the United States,

WHEREAS, according to figures from the Arizona Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 96 Arizonans died in domestic violence incidents during 2010 alone,

WHEREAS, members of the legislature, including members of both parties, have been cited in police reports for acts of violence against their spouses or domestic partners,

and WHEREAS, domestic violence is too serious an issue with which to play partisan politics or selectively ignore according to partisan allegiance,

BE IT RESOLVED that the Arizona State Democratic Committee condemns all incidents of domestic violence and in particular condemns all elected officials who have engaged in violence or threats of violence towards a spouse or domestic partner and does so regardless of partisan affiliation.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Out of Iraq-- a war we never should have gotten into

I had the following comment on a website I visit sometimes that caters mainly to conservative Christians. In particular, a poster back in 2007 (during the 'surge') had posted that Iraq was still a 'war we could win.') But the comment is appropriate as well as a blog post so I'll put it up here too.

The President announced yesterday that all troops will be home by the end of the year.

Hard to see how this is a 'win.' At best, a Pyrrhic victory.

We are leaving Iraq with a government friendly to Iran, in fact one in which Moqtada al-Sadr holds more power than anyone except the Prime Minister (who is dependent on al-Sadr for his ability to govern at all.) Iran has essentially a free hand in Iraq, and its former Badr militia are now the core of the Iraqi army.

If there is any democracy at all, it is very disfunctional (look at what came out of the last election, when it took months to form a government and the winner became the loser because al-Sadr decided to make it so.) Half the population (the female half) actually have less rights in matters like divorce, inheritance and custody than they had even under Saddam, and the Constitution begins with the phrase "Sharia shall be a source of law" which the parliament has acted on it with enthusiasm, writing Islamist laws to replace the secular ones. Not surprisingly in such an environment tens of thousands of Christians, a community that dates to the very early church, have had to flee the country and nobody has done anything to prevent it.

In exchange for this rather dubious outcome, we fought for eight years (longer than we fought in World War II and Korea put together,) paid a trillion dollars of borrowed money (which is now part of the debt that everyone is wringing their hands about) and lost more than 4,000 Americans (with tens of thousands crippled or suffering from chronic conditions.)

How does that in any way, shape or form, qualify as a 'win?'

If anybody 'won' the Iraq war, it's Iran, and they did it without firing a shot.

I'm just glad we are out of there.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Russell Pearce recall election

I was at a professional conference last Friday and a conversation with a colleague turned to the Russell Pearce recall. Pearce, as some who don't live in Arizona may not know, is the President of the State Senate and the second most powerful politician in the state (and some would argue the first, because the Governor reacts to what he does, rather than the other way around.) This individual, who does not reside in district 18 (Pearce's district) wanted to know why so many people in the state care. My answer was, because what Pearce has done affects the whole state, and well beyond for that matter.

Pearce was the lead sponsor of SB 1070 and has over the past few years been the chief proponent of a whole raft of anti-immigration legislation which has made Arizona synonymous with 'anti-immigrant' and some would argue 'anti-Hispanic' (I have Hispanic friends here in Arizona who are natural born U.S. citizens but since this has passed they have experienced racial profiling, unwarranted detention and harrassment of a type that as a white person I have never had to face.)

Besides Pearce's personal quirkiness which leans towards the extreme (for example in 2006 he 'accidentally' forwarded a virulently anti-Semitic email from the National Alliance, a white supremecist group to dozens of his supporters; and he carries a loaded firearm onto the floor of the state Senate and has encouraged others to do so as well) he has pushed towards the far, far right on virtually every issue. As President of the Senate he has pushed for cuts far more devastating to education and other state services than even Governor Brewer or House Speaker Kirk Adams (who is himself very conservative) have asked. Pearce promised that this state Senate would be a 'Tea Party Senate' and he has delivered, pushing or passing bills asserting the right of Arizona to nullify Federal laws, seize Federal land to train a state militia and kick thousands of people off of medicaid, including many who would be eligible in any other state in the nation.

The anti-immigrant rhetoric of Pearce and his supporters almost seethes with hostility, and it is for this reason, and for his role in crafting such a bad budget that earlier this year Pearce opponents (from both inside and outside of district 18) have come together to support his ouster. More signatures were collected on recall petitions than people who actually voted for Pearce last year, and despite several desperation lawuits by Pearce the recall is moving forward.

Pearce's supporters have even gone to the point of using despicable and unacceptable tactics, like throwing a padlock that struck Pearce's recall oppnent (more on that in a moment) in the nuts to try and deter him from announcing a run, and putting a sham candidate with an Hispanic surname on the ballot for the express purpose of diverting Hispanic votes. The candidate, Olivia Cortes, withdrew once it became clear that recall supporters had 'smoking gun' evidence tying her candidacy to Pearce supporters and she was about to be confonted with it in court.

Pearce's opponent is Jerry Lewis, also a conservative Republican from Mesa. Like Pearce, Lewis is a Latter Day Saint (Mormon)-- full disclosure: so am I-- and like Pearce, if he gets into the Senate expect him to cast mainly conservative votes. In their debates, the only place where Lewis clearly differed from Pearce was on immigration, decrying the mean-spiritedness behind a lot of Pearce immigration legislation and pushing for a comprehensive solution that is focused on keeping families together rather than deporting family members. Pearce has also gotten into some hot water with the Church for claiming that his position on immigration was supported by the Church and implying that he was some kind of church spokesman. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Pearce has never held any such calling, and in fact recently the Church has stated bluntly their position on immigration and it is in favor of the kind of comprehensive plan that Lewis is proposing-- in other words NOT what Pearce wants.

So why are so many Democrats and Independents, as well as Republicans supporting Jerry Lewis? If this is an election between two conservative Republicans then shouldn't we claim that we don't have a dog in this fight?

No, we should not. I don't care if Jerry Lewis is a conservative Republican. I don't care if he votes 95% with the Republicans. I don't care, because no matter what his positions are, he's not Russell Pearce. The substance may not change, but if Pearce is removed as leader of the Senate you can be sure that the tone will change.

As well it should.

Monday, October 10, 2011

State Legislative interactive map up

Specifically, it is up here.

KEEP IN MIND THAT THIS MAP IS NOT FINAL. Some adjustments can and likely will be made during the constitutionally mandated public comment period, but more or less these are the lines we will be using for the next ten years.

Again, I can't tell from the maps much about the rest of the state (because I don't know the partisan leanings on a block by block basis as much as someone who lives here) but it looks like we will be having an interesting time here in northern Arizona.

Roughly speaking, it appears as though the previously existing LD-5 and LD-2 have been largely replaced new districts 6 and 7. This is said approximately, because for example district 7 extends all the way to Nevada and portions of what used to be the southern end of district 5 including Globe and Safford have been put into other districts.

Flagstaff has been lobbying vigorously for years to get out of being put into the same district as the reservations and this in fact is the case; Flagstaff is in district 6 and the Navajo, Hopi, Hualapi and now also the Apache reservations are in district 7. All of Apache county is also in district 7.

The boundary line between the two districts is likely to be a matter of some controversy in Navajo County. Winslow and Pinetop-Lakeside (yes, you read that right) both join the reservations in district 7. Distict 6 includes Holbrook, Snowflake/Taylor, Show Low, Payson (which is actually in Gila county) and Heber/Overgaard. Probably in an attempt to make me zoom all the way in, Joseph City is in the most bizarre position of all. Joseph City is in district 6, but areas immediately to the north, west and south of town are in district 7. Jackrabbit is in district 7, and while it appears that all houses presently in Joseph City itself are in district 6, if people build very far outside of town in any direction except east they will be in district 7.

Politically, district 7 appears to be dominated by Native Americans and probably pretty close to safe for Democrats, especially with Democratic-leaning Winslow in the district (this won't make the 'Tea Party' crowd in the Springerville area or in Pinetop/Lakeside happy but then it would be difficult to make other adjustments in the boundaries without moving someone else into district 7 (and given the precarious position that Joseph City is in with regard to remaining in district 6 if someone from one of these areas convinces the commission to include them in district 6 rather than district 7 then I suspect we will be the first ones to be added to district 7 in order to rebalance the population.) Jack Jackson will likely represent this area in the Senate. One of the members of the legislature will likely continue to be Albert Hale, and the other legislative seat will likely be up for grabs but probably decided in the Democratic primary.

Distict 6 is clearly a competitive district. Flagstaff leans strongly Democratic and is its main population center, and is supplemented by Sedona (the rest of Yavapai county is mostly in another district.) Central Navajo County is heavily Republican, and this is likely to set up a head to head battle between two current legislators, present LD-5 Senator Sylvia Allen (R-Heber) and Rep. Tom Chabin (D-Flagstaff) who has made it clear that he plans to run for the Senate. LD-5 representatives Brenda Barton of (R-Payson) and Chester Crandall (R-Heber) will also likely run again but it is hard to see Barton's brand of conservatism (even farther to the right than Allen) appealing to people in Flagstaff or Sedona. Crandall would have slightly more credibility in areas like that but his failure to move away from the far right party line during his two years in the legislature will come back to bite him if he claims to be a 'different kind' of Republican. Democrats will have two openings for house candidates. All other things being equal, you could make a case that this district marginally favors Democrats because the population of Flagstaff/Sedona outweighs central Navajo County, but on the other hand Flagsaff is only fairly strongly Democratic while some of the areas in central Navajo like Snowflake and Heber are extremely Republican (80-90% GOP.) There is no question that this will be one of the most competitive districts on election day.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Interactive map lets you see the proposed new redistricting lines.

Here is a fully interactive map of the proposed new Arizona Congressional districts:

click here to see them

These lines are not completely set yet because the public will still have time to weigh in and try to persuade the redistricting commission to change them, but in all likelihood the final district lines will look very similar to this.

It appears that congressional districts 1, 2 and 9 will be competitive districts, districts 3 and 7 will strongly favor Democrats and districts 4,5,6 and 8 will strongly favor Republicans.

Locally, it is worth noting that Paul Gosar's winning margin over Ann Kirkpatrick last year was provided almost entirely by Yavapai county, which is now in district 4 (except for a sliver around Sedona and Camp Verde.) Payson is also now in district 4. New territory in district 1 includes the Hopi reservation, a much larger slice of Pinal county and a Phoenix area reservation, a mainly Republican slice of Pima county, and most of Cochise county, including a sliver of the border with Mexico. Overall the new territory looks to be quite a bit more Democratic than what has been removed from CD-1. Overall, CD-1 is classified as 'competitive' and it is certainly true that a Republican could win it, but the new district does have a 9 point Democratic registration edge and it is hard to see a weak incumbent like Paul Gosar holding on.

So even though as a Democrat I was hoping for at least four competive districts in the state (as it is, only a third of the voters in the state will typically have a race in November where both candidates can realistically win) I am happy to see that Mr. Gosar may be a one term congressman (it appears that David Schweikert will most likely be representing district 4 so the idea that Mr. Gosar could move to Prescott and run is probably even more of a stretch than that he could win a second term in a district where he really hasn't distinguished himself this term.) In order to return to Congress, Gosar will now have to win what is left of the district, when last election he barely broke even outside of Yavapai county, and if you take out Payson he actually lost the areas that under this map still remain in CD-1. It's hard to see him picking up many votes from the new areas either, particularly given that the Hopi (who are, like the Navajo, 90% Democratic voters) have agreed for the first time to share a congressional district with the larger tribe.

Former congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick is running again (and has outraised Gosar) but she will first have to win a primary against Wenona Benally Baldenegro, a newcomer but also a native American (in a district which is over 20% native American.)

Definitely though, Gosar (who has voted about 100% of the time with John Boehner-- ironically after running campaign commercials critical of Kirkpatrick for voting about 80% of the time with Nancy Pelosi) can't be pleased with the new district.

UPDATE: It looks like Schweikert may NOT run in district 4, even though that is where his residence is. He said in an email to his supporters he intends to run in district 6. That starts a game of musical chairs among Republicans in which either Gosar or Ben Quayle will be odd man out, with neither of them strong enough to defeat either Scweikert or Franks. Right now, Franks would be running in district 8, in which case Quayle would have a tough time against either Schweikert or Franks; in this case, Gosar could sprobably ave himself if he ran in district 4. On the other hand, if Franks decides to do Quayle a favor, he could run in district 4 and open up district 8 for Quayle. Either way there are four Republicans trying to fit into four GOP districts, but in such a way that it is almost certain that somewhere in Phoenix or points northwest there will be primary between two of them.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

What happens if the SCOTUS overturns only the mandate and nothing else?

It seems as though we are always having an 'all or nothing' debate on the health care law. Democrats seem compelled to follow the position of the administration that the whole Affordable Care Act should be defended, while Republicans are just as adamant that it should be repealed-- every jot and tittle.

It is true that because of the political realities in Washington during late 2009 when the bill was put together, it was a carefully crafted piece of legislation designed to appease both patient groups, medical providers and the insurance industry.

In particular, a key piece of the bill was the individual mandate-- the requirement that starting in 2014 all Americans must purchase health insurance or face tax penalties. Candidate Obama in 2008 had only supported the mandate for children (on the theory that children were unable to make their own decisions as to whether to purchase insurance or not and their parents should not have the right to put their childrens health and lives at risk by not purchasing insurance.) However, he had specifically opposed the mandate for adults (which helped distinguish him from Hillary Clinton in the primaries, as she supported it.) However, as the bill was warped to fit through the hoop of what was possible in the Senate (and key parts such as the public option were jettisoned) the mandate made its way back into the bill.

The reason why it did was the perfectly logical contention by the insurance industry that other provisions in the bill, which curbed their worst practices (like recission, the act of canceling someone's policy when they got sick; pre-existing condtion exclusions which effectively meant for example that cancer survivors could never buy health insurance; and lifetime caps on treatment) would drive up their costs as they were forced to cover the sickest patients and pay for their care. While it certainly can (and should) be argued that the purpose of health care is to take care of the sick, insurers did have a point about the cost. So, the mandate meant that they would in return vastly expand their market, by virtue of more people paying premiums. While they would now be required to cover sick people who previously could not get insurance, they would balance this with premiums paid by mostly young, healthy people who right now don't have insurance (and gamble that they won't suffer an accident or unexpected illness.)

There are some good reasons why one could argue for the mandate of course. Some people who could afford insurance choose not to get it now (you know who I'm talking about because you've met him too-- the young, indestructible stud who spends all his money on a hot car he can barely afford to put gas in.) Then, when they are in an accident from hot dogging it down the freeway they are unable to pay the hospital bill, and we all end up paying for it when they pass it on via exaggerated charges to us, the insured (which then the insurance company jacks up our premiums to get their loss back.) This kind of thing has been going on for years and it's why a lot of hospital administrators lose their hair early. But-- the mandate remains unpopular (after all, nobody wants to be told they HAVE to buy something) and it has been a point of attack by opponents of the law.

Adding the mandate to the bill helped nail down the votes of two key Senators with strong ties to the insurance industry, Independent Democrat Joe Lieberman of Connecticut (for a long time Hartford, the capital of Connecticut practically defined the insurance industry and is still the home of many major insurance companies) and Ben Nelson, D-Nebraska (whose state is the most Republican one in the nation to elect a Democrat to the Senate, and also the home of Mutual of Omaha, still a major player in the insurance industry.)

Almost from the moment the ACA was passed on March 21, 2010, Republican candidates at all levels have pledged to repeal it. And recognizing how politically balanced it was, they have pledged to repeal the whole law, but in arguing that it should be repealed have focused their rhetoric like a laser beam primarily on one particular provision-- the mandate. However, promises to repeal are essentially political posturing. Doing so would be a mammoth undertaking, and it is a fact that no matter how successful the GOP is at the ballot box it is virtually certain that there will still be at least 41 Democrats who voted for the law in the first place left in the Senate-- enough to mount a filibuster and prevent a repeal effort from going anywhere even if there is a GOP President, pen in hand, ready to sign it. And it's hard to see how promising to go back to the broken health care system we've had for the past couple of decades is going to be seen as a panacea if they repeal it (I know they said 'repeal and replace' but repealing it and then passing a different reform law is even more hard to visualize than just doing the first half of that and going back to start.)

More significantly, various Republican groups (most notably a coalition of Republican state Attorneys General) have filed suit in courts all over the country attempting to overturn the law.

So far, at the level of the federal appeals courts, the results have been decidedly mixed. Six rulings have so far been issued. Three of them have upheld the law, and the other three have ruled against it. This is likely to end up in the Supreme Court next year and everyone is basing their thinking on the assumption that the court will either rule for the entire law or against the entire law.

BUT-- ONLY ONE of the three rulings against it overturned the whole law. The other two overturned the individual mandate only and upheld everything else of significance (including the reforms mentioned above preventing insurers from denying coverage and insurance exchanges where people who couldn't afford it otherwise could buy private insurance with premiums that are partly paid by the federal government.)

Well, it took a former Senate Republican-- and a formerly very influential one at that, former Majority Leader Bill Frist to ask the obvious question:


After all, the Supreme Court has a long history of ignoring whatever the legislative dealmaking was in getting laws passed and overturning certain provisions while leaving others alone.

The first thing that will happen in that case is that the insurance industry executives will need their own services after having a heart attack. Suddenly faced with not getting the increased revenue they have been counting on but still on the hook for universal coverage, they will try to make this up in one (or more probably both) of two ways:

1. Significantly increase premiums. This would increase costs both to people who pay them, and also to the government. As passed, the OMB found that because of a number of taxes included in the bill the ACA actually reduces the projected deficit by $143 billion (another irony in Republican calls to trim the deficit, when this is something that actually more than pays for itself.) But if the mandate is repealed all bets are off the table because the necessary government subsidies on insurance would spike upward sharply and begin to play into the deficit.

2. Begin an intensive lobbying campaign to be relieved of the burden they now have (and as part of the overall package were willing to accept for a few years) of caring for the sickest without revoking their insurance, turning them away or limiting the total cost of their care.) While it is conceivable they could convince Congress and some future administration to repeal the rest of the law, I believe this is unlikely because many of the provisions are not only popular, but are well ingrained by now. Passing a bill that explicity gave insurance companies the right to screw people (even if it's how they used to screw them) would be very unpopular and no politician will want to touch it. So instead of that they might have more success if there was some other way in which these very sick patients who were no longer profitable to treat could be taken off their ledgers. But that would require that they be given to someone else to pay for. And clearly no insurance company will want to only get people who have been rejected as too costly or too risky by other insurance companies. So that leaves-- that's right, the government. So, in that case it's entirely plausible that the insurance industry itself would end up pushing for a public option (albeit one only open to people the insurance companies don't want.)

Nevertheless this is a good thing. If the Supreme Court throws away the mandate we could end up in a society in which you may not be compelled to buy insurance but insurers are compelled to sell it to you and on top of that we get a public option after all.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Spy games

American hikers Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal were sentenced to eight years in prison by Iran today after being convicted of spying. The pair claimed to be hiking in far northeastern Iraq more than two years ago along with a female companion, Sarah Shourd, who was later allowed out 'on bail' (effectively a ransom payment because nobody expects her to return for trial) after her health began to deteriorate and both the U.S. and Iran were concerned that if she died in prison it could lead to questions that neither would want to answer.

So the question remains, Are they spies?

I don't consider official pronouncements from either government to mean anything. The Iranians of course will say that (just as other governments hostile to the U.S. will) about any American who shows up in their territory. At the same time, if they were spies would you expect our government to acknowlege this? Clearly not. It was a major embarrassment to the U.S. earlier this year when they had to acknowlege that Raymond Davis, an American contractor who shot two Pakistani men who were allegedly trying to rob him was in fact an American agent. So because the Iranian government will automatically accuse and the American government will automatically deny, we can throw both of those out in the trash.

So what we are left with is purely speculative.

Reasons to think they could be spies:

1. The location and time where they were apprehended. I know dozens of serious hikers and I've never met any who were juked to go to Iraq. I'm sure there is some beautiful country there but in particular, trails that lead long the border with Iran seem a very curious place for American hikers to head to unless they have another reason for being there; Further, keep in mind that Iraq is still a war zone (and two years ago was that much more of one.) Granted, Kurdistan is the least restive part of Iraq but it's still true that Iraq is a dangerous place for Americans who just want to go for a visit. Most hikers try to avoid places where they may end up in political or local trouble, not seek them out.

2. The fact that high level administration officials have been involved in trying to get them out of Iran. If they were just ordinary citizens they'd probably send Bill Richardson or Bill Clinton or someone else with little power to actually promise anything to get them out.

3. They were convicted. Granted I'm not sure I'd want to be put on trial in Iran, but at the same time it does have a judicial system in place so contrary to popular belief in the U.S. it's not a society absolutely ruled by the will of a mullah or of Ahmadinejad. Judges have ruled against the state before there.

Reasons to think they may not be spies:

1. An eight year prison sentence. Convicted foreign spies are typically given life sentences, and in some countries they can face execution. Consider convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard, who was arrested in 1985. He got a life sentence for being convicted of spying on the United States. The Israelis have tried unsuccessfully through for years that have spanned five Presidential administrations to get Pollard back. Keeping in mind that Israel is a nominal ally of the United States, the fact that Pollard is still in prison and will very likely die there would not bode well by comparison for an American spy convicted in Iran. So an eight year sentence may be largely for show, so they can growl and tell us how tough they are but not be stuck with these guys in prison for the next 50 or 60 years. Eight years does however guarantee that they won't be released until after the Obama administration (a clear poke at it since they were arrested very early on during the Obama administration.)

2. History. Remember that Iran held Americans hostage for 444 days back in 1979-1981 and in fact effectively held America captive for more than a year. Almost every news story was about the hostage crisis (in fact that's how "Nightline" got started) and for at least a decade thereafter the biggest bogeyman we had was Ayatollah Khomeini. There are some who even believe that Ahmadinejad personally was among the hostage takers (a charge he denies) but there may be a certain desire to see how much they can make America sit up and take notice.

3. Cultural issues. Most successful spies (depending on their mission) are citizens of the country which they are spying upon. Foreigners can attract suspicion and even more so in a society as xenophobic as Iran has become. And in fact, the U.S. would not need to send Americans to infiltrate Iran because given the long history between the two nations along with the fact that many Iranians are plainly disgusted with their regime, it's virtually certain that the U.S. has all the spies we need available in Iran right now. At the same time, there are things that sufficiently trained Americans operating along the border in theory COULD do, including making contact with local villagers to try and recruit more spies (in which case they would most likely in fact have gotten lost because remember we are talking about Kurdistan here, which is on both sides of the border; in this scenario they would be looking for Iranian Kurds who were temporarily in Iraq.) Another would be to set up electronic equipment along the border; I'm certainly no expert on that but I'd be amazed if they don't have electronic equipment that could spy very effectively at least a few miles into the country, and detect movement around and across the border-- for example weapons shipments allegdly being smuggled from Iran into and across Iraq to Syria and then to Hezbollah. However, even to do this work, I would think they'd have tried to recruit some local Kurds they could trust with it so as not to arouse suspicion.

Often spies do not, in fact, serve out their full sentences-- they are exchanged in spy swaps. Probably the most notorious spy swap in history occurred February 16, 1962 when Russia's former top spy in the U.S. Colonel Rudolf Abel was traded across a bridge for former U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers, who had been shot down in 1960. It's possible that Iran, rather than wanting the payment of ransom or political concessions, may be planning to trade these hikers for Iranians in prison (whether for spying or for other crimes) elsewhere.

What we can say is that there is probably more to be known here than the cover story.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Revamped Domestic Violence resolution.

We are trying again to pass the domestic violence resolution we tried to pass in April (but it got hung up in the resolutions committee over some issues involving how it was written and when it was submitted.) The first draft of this was submitted in plenty of time so that should not be an issue.

Here it is:

WHEREAS, over 25% of women in the United States has been or will be a victim of domestic violence in her lifetime,

WHEREAS, according to the domestic Violence Resource Center, estimates range from 600,000 to 6 million women who are physically abused by husbands or boyfriends every year, the vast majority of which is goes unreported because of fear,

WHEREAS, domestic violence is the cause of four deaths per day in the United States,

WHEREAS, in 2010 according to figures from the Arizona Coalition on Domestic Violence, 96 people died in Arizona due to domestic violence,
WHEREAS, former Republican Leader of the Senate Scott Bundgaard has pled no contest to having beaten his girlfriend and is now the focus of an inquiry by the Senate Ethics Committee,

WHEREAS, other members of the legislature, including members of both parties, have been cited in past police reports for acts of violence against their wives,

and WHEREAS, domestic violence is too serious an issue to play partisan politics with or selectively ignore according to partisan allegiance,

BE IT RESOLVED that the Arizona State Democratic Committee condemns all incidents of domestic violence and in particular condemns all members of the legislature who have engaged in violence or threats of violence towards a spouse or domestic partner and does so regardless of partisan affiliation.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Drafts of redistricting maps up

After a number of meetings around the state, the Arizona Independent redistricting commission released some initial drafts of plans that are under consideration. There are two legislative (shown above) and two congressional (shown below) sets of proposed boundaries. NOTE THESE WOULD NOT BE FINAL IN EITHER CASE. There will be adjustments to the boundaries to meet the needs of local communities of interest and other concerns. For example, I notice that in both versions of the Congressional districts there is a boundary along the Navajo/Coconino county line. However it seems highly likely that the western portion of the Navajo nation, which lies in Coconino county, will be put back into the eastern district, which would necessitate compensating adjustments elsewhere (these districts are drawn to comply with Federal standards regarding population and continuguousness.

I will have to study the Congressional maps more before developing an opinion. However, I was aware (and these maps confirm it) that Arizona legislative district 5 in its present form was virtually certain to be redistricted out of existence. If Sylvia Allen wants to remain in the Senate she will likely either have to defeat Jack Jackson in a district that is majority Native American or defeat Tom Chabin in a district whose main population center is in Flagstaff and appears to be very competitive with perhaps a slight Democratic lean (pending final boundaries.)

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Government spending and jobs.

A friend of mine on facebook asked me the following question:

Can you help me to understand if FDR initiatives like the WPA would help to get America back on it's feet in these times? Congress is focused on only taxes and the budget and I just feel like America needs employment opportunities to turn this economic situation (recession, depression or whatever it is) around.

So let's answer it here. To begin with, let me agree with Republicans at least in principle about something. Republicans insist that to raise taxes in a recession is bad (though if they get their way and cut taxes to spur growth in hard times, they never suggest raising them back again in times of prosperity and surplus, instead advocating more tax cuts to 'give people their excess money back.') Their reasoning is that if you raise taxes then people have less to spend (because it's going to the government) and if we assume that government spending does not grow, there will be less money put into the economy to spend on goods and services, so demand will drop. When demand drops then there is excess supply, which causes prices to drop and the companies that produce things, facing a glut in supply and low prices, will lay people off; then those who are laid off will (even if they get unemployment benefits) get less money and therefore spend less, which will reduce demand some more and keep things cycling downward.

There is a seed of truth to the theory behind this argument, especially if (as just noted) you assume that spending by the government remains constant.

In practice however, keeping taxes at their lowest in decades has not spurred the economy at all, partly because companies (and individuals at this point) are hording money (most large companies have record amounts of cash in the bank) and partly because when they do invest the money they are not paying in taxes to grow their businesses, the lion's share of at least what large corporations have spent is being invested outside the U.S.; I'm not against a good economy in China or India, but I do question a policy by which U.S. taxpayers pay to develop it. In particular, following the passage of the Bush tax cuts in 2001, over 2.5 million jobs were outsourced over the next three years as the beneficiaries of those tax cuts spent them to build factories and call centers in Asia, and then shut down factories and call centers in the United States.

There is another alternative when depending on the private sector to carry the economy isn't working, and that's what we will talk about here. Government spending to take up the slack, as spelled out by the late economist John Maynard Keynes. Remember that the above argument assumed that spending by the government remains constant. But what if it increases? If it does, then Governments (federal, state and local) will hire people and purchase goods and services. An office computer, a car, or a bag of cement will bring in the same profit to the vendor whether it is purchased by a company or by a government agency. Therefore government spending, if it increases the level of demand, has the same effect on the economy as if the same amount of money is spent by private businesses (though government spending also offers the advantage of certainty and budgeting while whether private businesses spend money depends on factors often subject to uncertainty and fluctuation.) Beyond that, if government hires people (as in the Roosevelt New Deal programs) then they get paid a salary. Because they are the same people who otherwise would be unemployed, they get paid a salary in exchange for doing work which must be done (and I promise, if you go to any mayor in America you could be provided with a list of projects that the city or town in question needs to have done, but there is not enough funding to hire the people to do it.) And most of what people earning a working wage earn, they spend at local businesses to maintain their household-- again, no differently than if they were working for a private company.

The Roosevelt era New Deal programs are a great example of precisely this kind of government spending to replace money that was not being put into the economy by private industry. Millions of people who previously were not part of the economy (other than being a drag on it by consuming whatever they could get their hands on but not producing anything because nobody was giving them the opportunity to produce anything) were instead hired and began building all kinds of infrastructure (much of which is in use today.) I still remember walking down a sidewalk in Socorro in the 1980's and seeing stamped in the corner of the cement, "WPA 1936." The New Deal programs did a lot more than just build sidewalks in Socorro, of course. They created great works of infrastructure including hydroelectric dams, highways and flood levees. My wife's grandfather was in the Conservation Corps as a young man and helped build many of the roads and trails into our National Parks. Much of this infrastructure is still in use today, partly because it was well built but also partly because honestly we haven't made the investment to maintain and where necessary replace it. The Minneapolis bridge collapse a couple of years ago should serve as a wakeup call as to what can happen when we let things decay for lack of funding.

More importantly, the Roosevelt programs (many later continued under Truman, Eisenhower and other future Presidents) stopped the deepening of the Great Depression when they were first implemented in 1933 and began the slow climb out of it. Yes, there were those who bemoaned the cost, but let's not forget that Roosevelt listened to them in 1937, cut spending, and got slapped with a return to recession in an economy not yet ready to stand on its own. Luckily he learned his lesson quickly and resolved never to listen to that kind of thinking again. THE MAIN POINT TO MAKE IS THAT INCREASING GOVERNMENT SPENDING INCREASES DEMAND FOR GOODS AND SERVICES, and this increased demand spurs growth in the economy. This is exactly the same argument Republicans make about tax cuts. The only difference of course is that giving the money to poor people generally means that all or most of it will be spent in America, while if it is given to multi-national corporations then you can only hope they spend it in America because most of them haven't in the past.

So what about the Stimulus two years ago? Republicans will tell you that it didn't work, proving that a big government spending program won't rescue us from the recession.

In fact, they are wrong on three counts.

1.The stimulus did work and stopped the slide into another Depression.
2. The stimulus was too small, not too big.
3. The economy can't be rescued instead by cutting government spending to reign in the deficit; attempting to do so actually makes things worse instead of better.

Remember that when Obama took office, the economy was hemhoraging over 600,000 jobs per month and was headed straight down with a rocket. The stimulus clearly did work, beginning the month it was passed, February 2009.

It is hard to see that this worked without the visual, because most of the early turnaround represents jobs which were on track to be lost but which were instead saved. Most of the money went in lump payments to states who then used the money to avoid even deeper cuts to schools, police and other government agencies. In many cases the Governors of those states quietly took the money but did not want to be caught thanking the President for Stimulus money (cautionary tale: see what happened to former Florida Governor Charlie Crist, who was run out of the GOP after he did.) But just imagine: Two years ago Arizona implemented a series of deep cuts in order to appease a $3 billion budget deficit. After Jan Brewer got a billion dollars in stimulus money, the hole was only $2 billion. So translate the $1 billion difference into jobs that were saved, and it's quite a few. But to go back and point out now that all those people were preserved in their jobs by the Stimulus bill is largely self-defeating. The GOP won on how to frame that debate. Telling someone that without the Stimulus, "you would probably would have been laid off two years ago" is not likely to get many listeners, even if it's true.

It is also true that one reason why is a self-inflicted wound by the Obama administration. In trying to sell the Stimulus to Congress, an administration official made the now infamous statement that without the Stimulus, unemployment would top out at (a then-bad sounding) 8%. This was a very rosy projection, and clearly wrong. That goes to one of the most infuriating things about the Obama administration, to be honest. He took over during a crisis he didn't even have anything to do with starting and yet almost immediately started trying to talk up the economy (remember 'greenshoots?') I don't know why Presidents think that being a pitchman for the economy is part of their job. It's not. I think people would appreciate a President who would level with them a bit more. If the economy sucks right now, then say the economy sucks, and do it on television. Then, if things start to improve they will believe you when you say so. Roosevelt, in his 'fireside chats,' never claimed that things were getting better unless they were. He did not feel he had to 'sell' his programs-- he did win the election, after all. Had Obama proposed even twice the size of a stimulus he did and called it a 'jobs' program (because that's what it was, and 'stimulus' sounds like one of those Washingtonese words that Republicans could tee off on) then would they have dared to filibuster it back when we were seeing unemployment skyrocket? I don't think the President had to put a number on it at all, but if he did have to try and project where unemployment was headed without a jobs bill, something closer to 20% might have been more realistic.

This goes to the second argument. The stimulus was originally proposed at about $950 billion. Obviously this was part of a political attempt to be able to attempt crossing the 'trillion dollar' barrier. In exchange for this semantic concession we got a bill (which Republicans negotiated down to $797 billion after seizing the initiative within days after the President took office by threatening a Senate filibuster) that (as was pointed out at the time) was inadequate. The size of the Stimulus compared to what was needed to fully prevent a second Great Depression was like trying to haul a load in a trailer that weighs many tons up a hill using a compact car. Underpowered and therefore underperforming. Besides being too small, the Stimulus was loaded with 43% in both individual and corporate tax cuts (all to get the votes of three Republicans.) We know by now that the whole argument that tax cuts boost the economy is faulty; over the past decade we've had massive tax cuts in place, to where Americans are now taxed at the lowest rate in fifty years, so if low taxes produced a good economy then today our economy should be booming. Further, one price of getting the votes of the three GOP Senators who did vote for it, was to take out funding for school construction and repair projects (which is something that is clearly needed a lot more than more tax cuts, but it was taken out to appease Sen. Susan Collins, (R-Maine.) So by last year, it was plain that while the Stimulus had stopped the economic freefall, it was not enough to actually turn the economy all the way around and most economists said we needed a second, larger Stimulus. Though they were correct about the economics of the situation, this was clearly impossible in last year's "Tea Party" driven political environment. In addition to this, the Stimulus was only written to last for two years. The recession may be technically over but government support is still needed and is being withdrawn prematurely. To cite the most obvious example, state and local governments are now having to lay many people off because their tax revenues have not recovered to the level they were before the recession. What recovery they have had has not even been fast enough to compensate for the withdrawl of the stimulus funds. During the Lame Duck session last December, a de facto second stimulus was on the table with the new budget and had reached an agreement, when seven Senate Republicans walked away at the last minute and instead signed off on a much smaller budget package that preserved only 43% of the Stimulus-- you guessed it, the tax cuts.

To address the third point, you have to have blind faith that if the deficit went away that businesses would just open their wallets and start spending money, and further that when they do, they will begin hiring a lot of workers (because anything less than 300,000 per month won't bring the unemployment rate down at a significant rate.) At the same time cutting away at government at a time when we should be spending more to help the economy is a gamble. I'm not the only person who sees the economic policies of austerity and deficit reduction we are focusing on today as parallel to the disaster that similar policies caused in 1937.

Further, there is no evidence that the Federal budget deficit is what's preventing large scale hiring, and in fact it is instead misguided attempts to cut government that are having the opposite effect. What's happening in private industry is a little like a bunch of people standing on the beach after a shark has been spotted nearby. Even if the 'all clear' has been sounded, somebody has to go in first, and with the shock of the recession still recent and economic reports which seem to conflict each other weekly (but seem to point to a long, slow recovery with a significant possibility of a 'double dip' recession) employers are skittish to be the first ones in, spend a lot of money to expand, train and hire people and then get their heads cut off if there is a double dip. In fact, as far as there has been any growth in the economy a lot of businesses have figured out how to expand their businesses without hiring at all via productivity gains. Even in Congress we've seen this happen recently with the announcement of the end of the House page program (with the ability to now just send out a bill that's thousands of pages long instantly to every member of Congress, not to mention email and twitter accounts, there is no longer any need for high school students to walk around the halls of Congress carrying documents and bills with them from office to office.)

What is more, cuts in federal, local and state governments especially (since they are being pinched by the premature end of the stimulus) are undermining even what meager recovery there is in the private sector. This is exemplified by the July jobs report. In July, 117,000 nonfarming jobs were added (farming jobs are excluded from the jobs report because of the large monthly swings caused by different needs in farming.) However, this is a net of 117,000 jobs. Private sector jobs actually rose by 154,000 jobs. But jobs being lost in various levels of government ate up about a quarter of that as governments eliminated 37,000 jobs. In June, the initial report said that private sector employment was up by 53,000 jobs but government cut 39,000 jobs for a net gain of only 18,000 (later revised to upward to a net gain of 46,000 as more data became available.) So far from helping the employment situation, attempts to reduce government in the middle of the recession are actually slowing down the recovery and negating the effect of whatever private sector jobs are being created.

Common sense follows that this is true as well. If a man who has been unemployed in construction finds a job in a retail industry (perhaps for less money but he is at least employed) but his wife loses her job as a teacher due to state budget cuts, then it follows that there has been no net change in employment, and more importantly, no net change in demand for goods or services. This family is a microcosm of the recovery we are seeing: a few people are finding work in the private sector (though almost always in worse jobs with less pay and fewer benefits than the jobs they had before the recession) but because government is now dumping more people into the unemployment pool instead of taking them out, misplaced 'austerity' is actually dragging out and damping down the recovery.

Finally, let's consider the unemployed. If we do not hire them, then they either drop out of the labor market (whether through homelessness or finding someone else to become dependent on) or collect unemployment benefits. While unemployment benefits are generally meager, so were the wages for New Deal jobs. But returning to my wife's grandfather (which is where I will conclude,) his time in the Conservation Corps gave him more than the ability to put food on the table. Being involved in the construction of great works gave him a sense of pride in his accomplishments and self-worth that he had all the way until when I knew him before his death about a decade ago. It also gave him an education; after he returned from World War II he was able to use the skills he gained from the Conservation Corps to make a career as a heavy equipment operator. I'd say the government got a pretty good return on their investment in him of 25 cents per hour.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Why a default really could bankrupt Social Security

Until a few days ago I was with those who questioned why a default would affect Social Security, since Social Security has a dedicated tax. However it will, and could even end Social Security.

To understand why, go back to the 2000 election, and also to a disastrous decision made during last December's lame duck session. Social Security is supposed to have a dedicated source of revenue, the Social Security payroll tax that is taken out every time we get a paycheck (plus an equal amount that our employer contributes that we don't even see.) Al Gore, concerned about federal agencies borrowing from the Social Security trust fund (supposedly a record of everything that was borrowed is kept in a file cabinet in the H.J. Hintgen Building in Parkersburg, West Virginia near the banks of the Ohio river) proposed to put Social Security in a 'lockbox' and prohibit Congress or any federal agency from raiding the Social Security trust fund. Of course we know what happened in 2000, and along with the end of the Gore candidacy went the idea of a 'lockbox.' Borrowing from the fund has only accelerated rapidly since then, so that most (by some estimates virtually all) of the money that is supposed to be in it has been replaced with I.O.U.'s now kept in the Hintgen Building. Then last December, as part of the 'compromise' budget proposal, payroll taxes were cut by about a third. This immediately unbalanced the Social Security account in that revenues coming in were much less than what was going out. Of course there is always that trust fund, right?

Well not if we default. If we default then there is one debt the government can wipe off the books and not pay back without suffering the adverse affects of a default on the value of the dollar in the international currency market. That debt is to toss the file cabinet out the window of the Hintgen Building and into the river, because according to bankers in New York or Switzerland or Hong Kong, that would be an internal U.S. government debt.

Don't kid yourself. This could happen, and it is not that far from happening.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Domestic Violence Resolution

This won’t be a routine state party meeting this Saturday in Tucson.

We will be considering the following resolution, which is derived after negotiations with the state party to get it onto the agenda from a resolution a number of us came together to craft:

WHEREAS, over 25% of women in the United States have been or will be a victim of domestic violence in her lifetime,

WHEREAS, according to the domestic Violence Resource Center, estimates range from 600,000 to 6 million women are physically abused by husbands or boyfriends every year, with the vast majority of instances unreported because of fear,

WHEREAS, more than 3 women are killed every day in the United States during episodes of domestic violence,

WHEREAS, domestic violence is too serious an issue with which to play partisan politics or selectively ignore according to partisan allegiance,

BE IT RESOLVED that the Arizona State Democratic Committee vehemently condemns all acts of domestic violence by anyone, regardless of political party.

The original resolution named names. This somewhat watered down version is the result of negotiations involving state party chair Andrei Cherney, but to his credit he is now allowing this to go forward. A bit of background may help flesh this out.

A Republican, Senator Scott Bundgaard, has been in the news quite a lot lately after an incident on a Phoenix roadway in which, according a police report, he beat up his girlfriend, Aubrey Ballard. Bundgaard has been condemned by the state Democratic party and many others for this action, which he rightly should be.

A Democrat, Representative Daniel Patterson, has not been condemned because he's been flying under the radar, so to speak, and like most in the state I had no clue about this until last month. Personally, I've always liked Representative Patterson and used to read his blog. He's been a great vote on everything from the evironment to protecting schools and I believe he is a genuine progressive. I met him once-- two months ago in Phoenix when he made a great speech outside the legislature during a protest on behalf of public employees. None of that prepared me for what I ran across on the Three Sonorans blog on March 9, a blog post including pictures of several police reports that have been filed against Representative Patterson, including one this past December involving a domestic violence episode involving his (now ex) wife, Jeneiene Schaffer. Most troubling in the Three Sonorans article was the allegation that state and Pima county party officials as well as leaders in the legislature have known about Representative Patterson's behavior including at least two incidents of violence involving his wife for sometime and chose to kick it under the rug and deter any serious inquiry about it.

I don't believe in giving someone a mulligan because they are a good vote on the environment. It is always wrong for a man to use force or threaten to use force against a woman, but also believing in fairness I decided the best course to take would be to ask Representative Patterson about it. So, I went to his facebook page and he had, as luck (or maybe pre-emptiveness, who can know?) would have it, he put up a post that day regarding his co-sponsorship of a domestic violence resolution.

That facebook page is here:

Daniel Patterson's March 9 facebook post on domestic violence.

I am here cutting and pasting the transcription of that conversation including his response:

Daniel's Profile • Daniel's Wall

Daniel R. Patterson
My bipartisan work against domestic violence in #Arizona #Tucson

March 9 at 9:26am via TweetDeck •LikeUnlike •

Eli Blake I'm sure you'll erase this comment but I am very disappointed in what I read online a moment ago from the three Sonorans.
March 9 at 9:59pm • LikeUnlike

Daniel R. Patterson So am I. It is not true.
March 10 at 9:37am • LikeUnlike

I wish I could save a screenshot but unfortunately this computer won't allow me to do that.

Representative Patterson did not erase my comment, and he denied that this was true. Fair enough. Anyone can write anything on a blog after all, and it is necessary for those of us who are bloggers to police ourselves. Some bloggers do a better job than others of making sure that everything they write is factually correct. And even if it is, blogs by definition reflect one person's view of the world and don't try to keep things balanced. So if all that came out about this was the Three Sonorans piece I'd have to give Representative Patterson the benefit of the doubt.

However, that wasn't all there was of this. First, the police reports photographed in the article, do in fact, exist. I verified this with some folks down there. Then it turned out that there was an article about his penchant for violence two years ago in the Tucson paper. Then another newspaper, the Arizona Guardian published a story on Daniel Patterson. Most importantly, the Arizona Coalition Against Domestic Violence called on Representative Patterson as well as Senator Bundgaard to resign from the legislature. I trust the ACADV and know they would not make a call like that without having good facts to back it up.

Turned out that I wasn't the only person thoroughly disgusted with both Rep. Patterson and with the state party's calls for Sen. Bundgaard to step down while knowing full well that we had exactly the same dirty laundry to take care of in our own house. To create a double standard here is to turn domestic violence into a political football that it is too much of an important issue to be turned into.

Several of us, including primarily myself, Diane D'Angelo, Pat Fleming and Judy Nagle began to coalesce around the basic premise that this needs to be brought out into the open so that the rank and file in our party (not to mention voters) at least know about it, and that we feel that some of the leadership in the state and Pima county party should not be supporting, much less covering up for, a man who has been accused of beating his wife. True that he has not been charged for that but at the same time his contention that the police reports are false (all of them?) just doesn't hold water. Yes, you can certainly find anyone who lives in a black or latino neighborhood who could probably relate to you a story about someone they know who was written up falsely by the police, but this involved several different officers over several years and rep. Patterson sounds less than convincing when he contends that the police reports are false.

Let me add here, that it is no secret that Representative Patterson has been dating his campaign manager for at least the past year. I don't care about someone's affair or their messy divorce (that's between them and their spouse) but I DO care about one other issue that came up out of all this: Representative Patterson has not been paying his child support. He did make a March payment after all of this came up but he's still two months in arrears. It would be one thing if he was unable to make child support payments (I've known some men who actually were unable to because of loss of income or illness) but he has been employed the whole time, and has chosen to deny payments both to his wife and for the raising of their daughter. That's not specifically what this resolution is about but it is a real and ongoing concern.

As I said, there are quite a few of us who came together to push this forward. Former Representative Fleming has agreed to read the proposed resolution on the floor. The plan is for others who feel that domestic violence is wrong regardless of who is doing it, to stand behind her while she is reading it. I for one will do so proudly. The Democratic Party has always been the party of the powerless against the oppressor, and it is worth remembering that oppression can happen just as much in a home or an apartment as it can happen in a society or in a workplace.
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