Monday, June 25, 2012

Why a one-state solution is the only viable answer

It's hard to recognize that much of what you were told growing up wasn't true.

I was raised in a good, Jewish home. So I went to Hebrew school on Saturdays and religious school on Sundays. I even remember going to a Zionist day camp in the summer. We learned a lot, of course about Israel. We were told about the roots of Zionism, and about 'Tzedakah,' those little blue boxes people had put money into to buy land in Israel (of course when I went to school the state of Israel had been establshed for twenty or thirty years, so the money went to plant trees, but we were told about how during the Depression era people had put their spare change in the boxes to buy land in Palestine.) They gave us the impression that most of the land had been a barren, sparsely populated desert until the Zionists came and planted it and made it bloom, and that the few people who had lived there prior to the settlement by Jewish settlers were mostly nomads. There was even a slogan that went along with that, "The land without people for the people without a land."

We were told lots of other things about the Arabs too, little of it good. We were told that they were mostly terrorists, or supporters of terrorists. We were shown a map of the middle east in which Israel was a small piece and there were over 20 countries where 'arabs' lived. The implication was that those arabs (all residing outside of Israel) who wanted to take it over were fanatics and greedy for every bit of land ('why not a small piece for the Jewish people?' was a rejoinder I heard when the map was rolled out.) We were told that Palestinians living in the West Bank or Gaza (at the time they were still considered occupied parts of Jordan or Egypt) were 'squatters' and that they could go to any of those countries, from Iraq all the way to Morocco. We were told that not only were there some arabs living peacefully in Israel, but that those who had left did so voluntarily, either because they wanted to go someplace where they could take up arms and fight against the peaceful Israelis, or because they 'believed the stories' others were telling them that if they stayed then later when the Zionists were defeated they would be executed as 'collaborators.'

Even until a few years ago, I was, if not a Zionist, much more ready to give Israel the benefit of the doubt. But what I've observed though, is the intransigence of the Israeli government, and it has convinced me that there is no way that one can reasonably support such a government or support a peace process that depends on the cooperation of such a government.

It was a useful fiction. But unfortunately, as I later learned, it was a fiction. Like most fiction, there are small pieces of it that may be true but are used to misrepresent the whole. Yes, there were boxes where people put spare change to buy land. But by 1948, the fund set up to purchase land, using money that had been sent from abroad, had only purchased 2 million of the approximately 26 million dunams of land in Palestine (a dunam is a unit of area equal to 1000 square meters, or about a quarter of an acre.)

They also did not buy the land that they did buy from nomads. In fact, they bought it from farmers and other landowners. Palestinian farmers. But those Palestinians who sold their land were only a small minority. Most Palestinians lived on land, or at least in a land that their ancestors had lived in for thousands of years and had no desire to sell it or to live anywhere else. The whole idea of a 'land without people' is false. In 1947, on the eve of the beginning of all out war and after decades of Jewish inmigration, the estimated population was 1,970,000 (see table on page 5) in which Palestinians (who are both Muslim and Christian) outnumbered Jews by 2-1. Keep in mind that this was nearly 2,000,000 people packed into an area the size of Vermont; had it been in the United States it would have been the most densely packed state (there is a reason why land was measured in quarter-acres.) The Palestinians had ancestors who had lived there since antiquity. They had their own culture, and were not merely 'arabs' any more than, for example, Hungarians are merely 'Europeans.' Imagine, for example, if the Hungarians were told that Hungary had now been assigned to the Chinese, but since the Hungarians were 'Europeans' they could all just move to Spain. Ridiculous? Yes. But no more so than reasoning that the Palestinians are 'arabs' so if they are forced to leave Palestine then they can move to Morocco. Another fiction, but one which betrays a bigoted and simplistic viewpoint on the part of those who brought us the map to look at.

The British attempted to divide up the land into two separate states, one for Israelis and the other for Palestinians. This was at the same time they were doing the same thing in India and Pakistan, and we know how poorly that worked. It worked no better in Palestine. Here is where the fiction really got hard to separate from the fact, but it must be separated. We all have heard the saying, "one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter." This is true. The Israelis won the war, so we must also keep in mind another adage, "History is written by the winners." Certainly that is true in the Zionist school and summer camp. We were certainly told of every instance of Palestinians killing any Israeli (and during the 1970's there were frequent P.L.O. attacks, including at the Olympics, so it was very easy to tell this narrative,) but it was not until I was in high school that I learned that then Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin had been the leader of the Irgun, and the Irgun had committed many massacres and killings. Of course these were all explained away as 'necessary' massacres (not sure how a massacre can be 'necessary' but there it was told to us.) The Palestinians who fled were not fleeing because of some perceived threat of being shot as 'collaborators,' when some other arabs returned! They were fleeing because the Irgun and other armed Zionist groups killed many of them, and theatened to kill the rest if they remained. It is true that some arabs were allowed to remain behind. In some cases these people actually were the collaborators (!) but in other cases they were allowed because the new masters of the land (including new masters of the homes of those they forced to flee) needed a supply of low-wage, low skill laborers to do menial tasks. But the number of arabs who were allowed to stay was carefully limited to be far fewer than the Jewish population. The Palestinians who fled mostly went to refugee camps in southern Lebanon or other neighboring countries, or to camps in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, areas that had remained nominally under Palestinian control but were taken over by Jordan and Egypt, respectively.

There is a term for this process of driving an entire ethnic group or population out of their homes and forcing them to leave an area. It is 'ethnic cleansing.' But that term only came into vogue in the 1990's. It happened to the Palestinians much sooner than that. To argue that this was justified because there were also some arabs who killed Jews (which is also true) misses the point. Ethnic cleansing is always wrong, no matter who is doing it, and to whom.

It also explains why Americans are so much more willing than people in other countries to accept at face value the Israeli narrative on ethnic cleansing. We have it in our own history. The 'five civilized tribes,' the Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek, Chickasaw and Seminole, had all signed treaties with the United States and adopted American cultural and governmental designs. However, when southern planters wanted their land, President Andrew Jackson and his successors chose to ignore the treaties and forcibly sign new ones, and removed them to Oklahoma along the 'Trail of Tears.' In other words, the tie between native people and their land meant nothing-- they could be arbitrarily 'assigned' to land a thousand miles away and then forced to abandon their homes and walk there. This model repeated itself throughout the history of American westward expansion; the Nez Perce were rudely driven out of the Wallowa Valley in Oregon despite a treaty they had signed with representatives of Thomas Jefferson years earlier promising them the valley in perpetuity, the Sioux who were promised the Black Hills (sacred to them) but were forced out when gold was discovered there, and locally, the Navajo and Hopi tribes (historically blood enemies) who were assigned land together at Bosque Redondo-- after both being forced to walk hundreds of miles to get there they almost killed each other off in a tribal war while American officers couldn't understand why the 'indians' were fighting each other. Luckily, things turned out better for the Navajo and Hopi than for the five civilized tribes, the Nez Perce or the Sioux; after the army decided that the land they had been driven away from was 'worthless' they were allowed to return home. But an understanding of American history helps explain why we have been so willing to accept that the Palestinian people can be removed from their land (ironically in the name of 'returning' the Jewish people to the same land.) We have removed nations of people that were smaller and weaker than we were to some arbitrarily selected piece of land, so at a visceral level we are less willing to call it a crime when others do it because then the finger can be pointed back at us. Well, it can. Deal with it. It was wrong in the 1800's and it was wrong in the 1900's and it's still wrong.

Several wars later, the world came to realize that this conflict if it continued was intractable, so for a while the answer was the so-called 'two state solution.' This idea reached its zenith in 1994 with the Oslo accords, signed by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. The basic idea was straightforward enough: that Israel would be recognized by the Palestinians on territory it controlled prior to the 1967 war and a Palestinian state would be established in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Like many others, I bought into it at the time, and in fact did so until fairly recently. In fact, the 'two state solution' is still the official position that the U.S. government and at least officially, both sides are operating under. The reason I said 'its zenith' occured in 1994 when the accords were signed, is that it has pretty much gone downhill since then. After signing the accord, Rabin was assassinated by a fanatical Israeli settler. Then in 2000, an accord was nearly reached between Arafat and Ehud Barak, a member of Rabin's Labor party who succeeded him as prime minister. However, the final agreement proved just too elusive and talks failed. Shortly thereafter things broke down completely and Israeli voters booted the Labor Party from power and have elected a succession of right wing governments who may claim to want peace but have shown no interest at all in peace talks. Only one of the right wing leaders even hinted that he might be interested in moving forward on the peace process, Ariel Sharon, but after he said he might do that, he had a stroke and remains in a vegetative state to this day. On the Palestinian side, after Arafat died the Palestinians elected a new leader, Mahmoud Abbas (and let's be clear here-- Arafat himself only had the support of the Palestinian people because he was the leader according to the west, and the west provided funds, much of which Arafat kept for himself; a Palestinian friend of mine once explained to me, "Arafat has the authority to say 'yes,' " or in other words as long as he was willing to condone whatever the people were doing anyway then they would call him a 'leader,' but the resistance fight had long since moved on past Arafat.) But Abbas has been unable to make any progress towards negotiations, and in fact suffered what could be considered the equivalent of a civil war when Hamas, a rival group that unlike the Palestinian Authority has never recognized Israel and continues to fight took control of the Gaza strip in 2007.

In order to unify the Palestinians, Abbas formed a government with Hamas, which also gives Israel a way to avoid serious negotiations. A big reason why there are no negotiations right now also has to do with Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank. Unlike limited settlements like those in the Gaza strip (which settlements Israel abandoned and physically removed settlers from in 2005) in the West Bank, fully 10% of the population of Israeli Jews is now living there, not in the pre-1967 borders. This means that a right wing government can't negotiate peace because these settlers are a strong part of their base. In theory a Labor government could (since the settlers will certainly not vote for Labor anyway) but with more and more votes being cast by settlers the entire complexion of the government has shifted to the right so it is unlikely that Israel will elect another Labor government anytime soon, if ever again. At the same time, the complicated patchwork of Palestinian areas, legal settlements, illegal settlements (a crass distinction, because what is 'legal' is what Israeli law makes it, in fact according to international law the settlements are ALL 'illegal') and segregation walls makes it almost impossible to come to envision where one might put any kind of a border if the settlements remain, and as just discussed they are too big for Israel to likely be able to root out politically. In other words, Israeli intransigence is likely to remain because the tail has now taken over the dog. The settlers don't want any peace negotiations and they are now politically powerful enough that their opposition guarantees that there will in fact be no peace negotiations.

So where to now, then? Well, despite my upbringing and even my support for a two state solution until a couple of years ago (for an example of my evolution on the subject, consider that in a post I wrote seven years ago, I was still open to both a two-state solution and to bogus arguments about Israel needing extra land for 'security': Abraham Had Two Sons,) I believe it is time to suggest seriously a one-state solution. A single, secular state that allows everyone, Jews, Christians and Muslims equal rights, including equal religious rights. I know. Doesn't that put me in agreement with Hamas? It does, to a point. Hamas, of course is on record favoring the deportation of almost all Israeli Jews. I don't favor that. The overwhelming majority of Jews in Israel were born in Israel. So where would they go? Instead, what if the international community got behind a plan to create a single state, including everyone who lives there now. If someone lost a piece of property because it was seized from them, and they can prove legal ownership then give it back or compensate them (for example if an apartment house is now where there used to be a farm, it may not be possible to restore the farm, but then shouldn't the owners of the farm (or their descendants) if they were forced to flee, get compensation for the farm? Why not bring back the "Tzedakah boxes?" Bring them back, and let people put their spare change in them to compensate Palestinians for the land they had stolen. Yes, in a one state solution with guaranteed freedom of religion for everyone, we are going to have some major issues of trust (especially after decades of violence.) But wouldn't an effort abroad to compensate those who deserve it, be a worthwhile effort and a start towards building trust?

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Latest decision makes it clear that the Supreme Court has an agenda to elect Republican candidates

The Supreme Court two years ago issued the Citizens United decision, allowing both corporations and unions to spend unlimited sums of money in U.S. elections.

To a degree this was a balanced decision because while corporate spending on elections is much higher than union spending, it is also true that corporations heavily support Republican candidates while unions heavily support Democratic candidates in terms of their political donations.

This week however, the same Supreme Court ruled that unions must get an 'opt-in' from members before making political donations while corporations do not need any permission from shareholders.

If it wasn't clear before (think stopping the Florida recount in 2000,) it is now: the Supreme Court is not an independent branch of government. Whether because the majority of the court is in fact made up of Republicans, and/or because several judges are now in their seventies and may be considering who will replace them, the high court has a cynical political agenda to elect Republican candidates. Let's be perfectly clear about that.

A Democrat gets for 46.5 cents what a Republican spends $24.23 on

One of the most frequent claims made by the GOP is that they are better 'stewards' of taxpayer money. In other words, they have made the case that they are penurious and refuse to spend a dime that doesn't have to be spent, and make sure that if it is spent it goes the farthest.

Clearly, nobody wants to see their tax dollars wasted. That is true of Democrats as well as Republicans (and keep in mind that all those Democratic elected officials they claim are not keeping as close an eye on your money, are taxpayers too. It's also their money.) But let's take a closer look at a specific comparison, now that Maricopa county Sheriff Joe Arpaio (R) is planning to move into his new headquarters, which costs $92.5 million.

The building is 128,000 square feet in area. For those of you keeping track at home, that works out to $722 per square foot. Keep in mind that this is for an administration building, NOT a jail. Apparently among other things, the Sheriff is having bomb proof blast doors installed on the way leading to his office. Yeah, I know. After years of making inmates eat green lunch meat and sending his deputies on junkets to Hawaii to investigate the President's birth certificate* Arpaio claims he has a lot of 'enemies.' Never mind that there has never been a single actual attempt on his life. To hear Arpaio tell it, he is at the top of everyone's target list from Mexican cartels and al-Qaeda to federal agents who want to rub him out for being such a 'threat' to the President. Please! This guy makes Donald Trump look rational. To be sure, all sheriffs and law enforcement officers do make enemies (that comes with the job of enforcing the law against bad guys) but the rest of them all manage to do it without getting a martyr complex. Frankly if he's so paranoid about getting 'whacked' then maybe he should retire at the age of 80 instead of forcing the taxpayers to pay for bomb-proof blast doors on his office.

Now let's look at a contrast. Here in Navajo County, in 2009 the Sheriff's office needed another building for administration. Always keeping an eye on the taxpayers money, newly elected Democrat K.C. Clark bought the abandoned former Heilig-Meyers furniture store (about 8,000 square feet) for $50,000. He made the necessary renovations using prisoners on supervised work release from the county jail and moved in. The new building cost taxpayers here $6.25 per square foot, or less than 1% the rate that Arpaio's gilded new digs is costing in Maricopa county.

But wait a second. Isn't Maricopa County a much larger county? Of course it is. And of course the Sheriff needs a larger building to handle a larger staff. And he is getting one. So shouldn't this explain why it is so many times more expensive? Yes, and we just compared the cost per square foot, $722 per square foot for Sheriff Arpaio vs. $6.25 per square foot for Sheriff Clark. So per square foot, Sheriff Arpaio is spending 115 times as much (vs. 1,850 times as much if you just go with up front cost for the building.)

So what about per taxpayer? According to 2010 census data, the population of Navajo County was 107,449. The population of Maricopa County was 3,817,117. So dividing each of those numbers into the cost of the new Sheriff's headquarters, that works out to $24.23 per taxpayer for Sheriff Arpaio, and 46.5 cents per taxpayer for Sheriff Clark. That's about 52 times as much per taxpayer for Arpaio's building. And then you have to consider that a larger county means more staff, but not necessarily proportionately more because there will be at some level an economy of scale (for example, a sheriff in a small county may not need as many staff, but if the county is 35 times as large you still won't need three dozen times as many secretaries.) But this is the best case scenario for Arpaio, cost per taxpayer and he still can't get his use of taxpayer money on his new building to even be one fiftieth as efficient as Sheriff Clark's.

So next time someone tells you that, "Republican" is the same as "careful with taxpayer money," think again. They can say it, but that doesn't make it so.

* here's a thought on another topic-- every bit of evidence in Honolulu has long since been picked over, but birthers like Joe Arpaio's deputies still flock there. If the President had been born in North Dakota, do you think they'd be flocking to Bismarck year around in their intrepid pursuit of finding something that no other birther before has found yet? In fact, if the birthers are right, and the President was really born in Mombasa, Kenya wouldn't the real evidence be there? How come birthers like Sheriff Arpaio's deputies never go to a slum-ridden African city like Mombasa to look? You think that maybe it's because the surfing isn't as good?

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The debate on guns has been changing

A decade ago, when people would ask me whether I agreed with the Democrats on every issue, I'd answer that I generally did not. The exception was 'second amendment issues.'

As a rural Democrat (though I did grow up in the city) I understand that guns are pretty fundamental to the lifestyle around here. A rancher who is way back on his ranch dealing with a sick herd animal and is confronted by a pack of wild dogs may need it (yes, folks, those 'sweet little puppies' that people leave on the side of the road-- 99% of them get hit by cars, starve or die of thirst, or become coyote food, but the other 1%, they're out there-- and you don't want to meet them without a firearm.) But beyond that, a lot of people go hunting in rural areas, and even those who do not, generally know how to use a gun. And crime, while much less here than in cities is not entirely unknown in rural areas, but the difference is that if you call 911, the nearest officer may be miles away and whatever happens will be long over before they even get anywhere close to your home. For a lot of people here, guns are so fundamental that asking them to hand over their guns would almost be like asking them to hand over their kids.

And my own view has always been, "you should be able to buy any gun you want. And other than an instant background check to make sure you aren't a criminal or a loony, there is no reason why you shouldn't be allowed to buy a firearm.“ I've opposed registration of firearms as well, believing that it's not the government's business to know how many guns you own. And truth be told, that should be the liberal view. I believe you have the right to read, say, download, smoke or do whatever you want with a consulting adult in your own bedroom, so why not the right to buy what you want, including a gun?

For that reason, ten years ago I often differed with Democrats on gun issues, opposing gun control and registration laws.

I don't disagree with Democrats now, however. No, I have not changed my position, not changed it at all. What has happened is that the debate has shifted.

Although the rhetoric machine on the right likes to call Democrats 'gun grabbers' to keep their faithul in line, the truth is that no serious attempt to ban guns was proposed either by the President or Congress during the two years that President Obama had a Democratic Congress. It just wasn't on the radar screen. Even after the Tucson shooting, while there was a half-hearted attempt to ban the 30 bullet clips that Jared Loughner used to kill six people and injure 13 in a matter of seconds, (and some including me asked why anyone would want a rapid fire 30 bullet clip, unless you are a terrible shot and can't hit anything you aim at) there was no serious attempt to restrict the type of gun or ammunition people can buy.

What we see now (mainly at the state level, and Arizona is a prime example) is a much more aggressive agenda to push guns into places where they have never been allowed in the past, and that's where I am parting ways with the right. Some bills that have been passed by the Arizona legislature in the past few years and signed into law include:

*-- a law requiring that bar owners, unless they put up a sign stating otherwise, must allow guns into bars. Obviously armed drunks wasn't a good idea so virtually every bar in the state posted the sign, but it was an unncessary expense, and more importantly the legislature tried to tell the bar owners how to run their business.

*-- ending the requirement that concealed carry owners attend a safety class, and demonstrate competence. Yeah, we can laugh at the mayhem that followed, such as the man who accidentally blew a hole in the ceiling at Wal-Mart or the or the man who accidentally partially castrated himself with his fiancee's pink pistol or the guy who shot a hole in the floor while standing in the checkout line at the supermarket or the guy who was lounging around on the couch when the gun went off but was it really such a grand idea to get rid of the safety requirement? I mean, my kids took driver's ed and they have to drive around with a learner's permit and had twelve hours of instructed driving (half at the wheel, half observing) before they are allowed to get a license. You know, because a car isn't a toy, and you might hurt yourself or someone else if you didn't know and observe the safety rules? But I guess maybe a gun is now considered a toy. At least that's apparently what this seven year old thought.

It's not the people who know what they are doing who scare me, it's the armed nincompoops.

Even worse than what was signed into law, are some of the laws that have actually passed the Arizona legislature and made it all the way to the governor's desk the past few years. And history teaches that these bills don't die if you veto them, they will just come back in a modified form (such as the guns in bars bill, which was vetoed by Janet Napolitano but later signed by Jan Brewer.)

*-- the storage locker bill. Would have required that private businesses (any private business) allow people to carry a gun openly unless they invested a lot of money to install a secure storage locker where people could store their guns while in the business. So for example a convenience store would have to install such a locker or a person could walk right up to the clerk on the graveyard shift (when many convenience stores only have one person on duty) with a gun in their hand, and at the last moment could either present it butt-first to put into the storage locker or muzzle first ("this is a hold up.") Besides the obvious gift to armed robbers, this pretty much proves that the GOP legislature thinks business owners don't know what their customers want and therefore the legislature must tell them (and THEY are the ones who complain about the 'nanny state?')

*-- the guns in schools bill. Would force schools to allow any adult to carry a gun on campus. Again, a case of 'the legislature knows best,' not the local school board who knows what would work best in their community.

*-- the guns in university classrooms bill. Would force universities to allow anyone to carry a gun into classrooms. All I have to say about that is, I've had a lot more hotheads in classes I teach at a college than I've had school shooters. One time when I was teaching in Albuquerque a hothead got really ticked off in class, threw a pencil (hard) at another student's head (luckily she ducked and he missed) and then screamed obscenities at everyone and stormed off. I’m really glad he didn’t have a gun right then. For that matter, as long as we are talking about Jared Loughner (since the Tucson shooting came up earlier in this post) he was known to be a problem at Pima Community College. But fortunately the school had a gun-free policy which he followed on campus so when he had his periodic psychotic meltdowns on campus, he was unarmed at that moment. So in other words, we have become so obsessed with school shooters (which if we quit covering them and making a sensational story when there is one they probably wouldn't happen as often) that we forget the much more common case: of someone who may be in general a law abiding citizen, but who has a short fuse and a violent temper.

*-- the bill to allow guns into other public buildings, including town council meetings, municipal and civil courts and libraries. They could be banned only if the public entity involved installed expensive metal detectors at all the entrances (at this time of strained budgets, clearly something most such public institutions can't afford, and no, the legislature did not offer to provide funding in that case.) Just what we need, right? People bringing a gun to divorce court and custody hearings. Luckily even Jan Brewer realized this bill was bad news (kind of a sad commentary when you have to depend on Jan Brewer to be the adult in the room, but that's what kind of legislature we have now.)

So no, I haven't changed my position on guns at all. I still support responsible gun ownership. I still oppose gun control or gun registration. But the debate has shifted, and I do not support trying to force guns into places where they have never been part of the picture and don't belong in it.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

CD-1 analysis.

One of the benefits of the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission is that it has produced a much higher number of competitive districts, both at the congressional and legislative level, than what we see in other states where one party has been able to produce a partisan gerrymander (such as Democrats in Illinois or Republicans in Pennsylvania.) The result is that there are a number of legislative districts, and three congressional districts, which are classified as 'competitive,' meaning that it is realistic to imagine a scenario that has either party winning.

I live in one such congressional district, Arizona CD-1. The district is somewhat different than the old CD-1, which was also a competitive district. It is also an open seat. In 2010 Paul Gosar rode the Republican wave (and a $2 million ad buy by a GOP Super-PAC) to an upset of incumbent Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick. However this year, Gosar, a Flagstaff resident who resides in CD-1, ran away from a rematch with Kirkpatrick and jumped into a district that is more friendly to Republicans.

The result is that Kirkpatrick is now in a very good position to be elected to the seat again. She has already raised over $1.1 million, including from small donors throughout the district. In fact, the Rothenburg Political Report and Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball have rated the race as 'Lean D.' If that prediction holds then it would be one of the 25 seats that are presently occupied by Republicans and that Democrats need to retake to reclaim the House. Redistricting has also helped Democrats, adding the Hopi reservation and removing most of Yavapai county, a Republican stronghold, from the district. Some areas north of Tucson were added, and they do lean Republican but overall the district is still more Democratic. Even more than that, a poll on Tea Party 'favorability' in the district has shown a 17% decline since 2010.

Kirkpatrick does have a primary race against Wenona Benally Baldenegro, a progressive Democrat with a degree from Harvard. Past results however suggest that Kirkpatrick should be strongly favored in the race; in 2006, progressive candidates Susan Friedman and Mike Cacciopoli combined for 28% of the vote in a five way Democratic primary. In 2008, when Kirkpatrick was first elected, progressive candidate Howard Shanker worked the district very hard (in fact virtually everyplace I went that year I ran into either Howard Shanker or someone representing him) but then finished third with only 14% of the vote in the Democratic primary (second place went to Mary Kim Titla, who ran to the right of Kirkpatrick.) It could be a measure of how well progressives are getting their message out to see whether Benally Baldenegro exceeds Shanker's share of the vote in the primary. This is also a district where Hillary Clinton won handily over Barack Obama in the primaries in 2008, and while overall I may wish the district (and the Democrats living here) were more progressive, in fact by and large they are not.

On the Republican side, it appears that history may be repeating itself. For the first six years the district was in existence, it was represented by Rick Renzi, a Virginian who continued to live in that state while he was serving in Congress and only visited Arizona for campaign events. Renzi was a fixture on the non-partisan watchdog group CREW (Center for Responsiveness and Ethics in Washington)'s list of the 'dirty dozen' most corrupt members of congress. Renzi eventually declined to run again in 2008 after being indicted on multiple counts of bribery, extortion and money laundering. The case is now winding its way slowly through the courts.

With Renzi's history of 'representing' northern Arizona from the comfort of his Virginia home, and his ethical troubles reflecting so poorly on the district and on our collective judgment, you'd think the Republicans here would make a point of trying to find someone who actually lived in the old or the new CD-1 to run for 'representing' us and would look for someone without a past history of ethical problems. I mean, that's such a low standard that even Paul Gosar (the guy who abandoned the district because he was afraid of a rematch with Kirkpatrick) could clear that bar.

It seems though that they couldn't find a candidate who met either standard. Instead the leading candidate is Jonathan Paton, a paid lobbyist for the Payday Lending industry. Paton took thousands of dollars (not in campaign contributions either, but in the form of a check to him for 'services rendered' as a lobbyist) to represent this industry WHILE he was simultaneously serving in the legislature. This helped earn him the nickname, "Payday Paton." When asked directly about his roles with the discredited industry (remember that in 2008 voters rejected keeping Payday lenders in the state by a 2-1 margin) Paton tries to dodge the question. If he wants to represent Arizona in Congress, then he should answer forthrightly and candidly that question.

While serving in the legislature, Paton also was key to funnelling almost a quarter of a billion dollars in state money into a Tucson shopping project called Rio Nuevo. The project has turned out to be an expensive boondoggle and a waste of taxpayer money. It did help buy Paton something though-- he got a seat on the Board of Directors of the trust which oversees Rio Nuevo.

Similarly to what failed him in 2010, Paton is running a Republican Primary campaign centered on extremism and pandering to the tea party. Paton's position in terms of the Ryan budget alone is enough reason to vote against him if you care about Medicare and don't want to see it privatized, as Ryan has proposed and which Paton has stated his support for both in 2010 and 2012. Paton lost in 2010 to Jesse Kelly in a GOP primary, in his bid to beat Congresswoman Giffords. But one thing Paton could say, is that he was from the district. He can't even say that this time.

Perhaps that's why he jumped into CD-1 in order to run. He's unknown to most of the voters here, because the voters who know him have already proven they don't support him. But the truth is, Paton has already shown he's a lousy candidate, raising only $197,000 in Q1, less than he raised in a corresponding period in his failed 2010 campaign.

Yes, history appears to be repeating itself with Jonathan Paton setting himself up as the next Rick Renzi. But we don't have to elect him. And fortunately it appears that the voters are not likely to do that.

Saturday, June 02, 2012

It's the policy of tax cuts, deregulation and shrinking government that's failing

With the release Friday of May's terrible jobs report (and let's not sugar coat anything-- 69,000 created is terrible, and the unemployment rate notched up a tenth as a result) Mitt Romney and other Republicans have been quick to say that it is proof that President Obama's policies are not working. Their solution is to (predictably) suggest cutting taxes on 'jobcreators' (meaning the very wealthy and corporations,) getting rid of regulations and slashing government spending.

Not so fast. Certainly the policies in place are failing to stimulate the economy, but let's take a look at the policies in place.

Let's begin with taxes. Federal taxes are now at their lowest rates since 1950. It's hard to remember that during the 1950's and 1960's, the top marginal rate got as high as 91% in the Internal Revenue Code of 1954. And there were far fewer loopholes than there are today, so 91% meant 91%. Contrary to what today's conservatives will tell you, this did not deter job creation at all, as the American economy boomed (for example, Ray Kroc bought a hamburger stand from the McDonald Brothers in 1955, fully aware that if he was successful in his plans to turn it into a national chain of fast food restaurants he would be taxed at 91%. He and others prospered anyway.) Conservatives love to claim that the Reagan tax cuts were responsible for an economic recovery in the 1980's. But the top marginal rate under Reagan was cut in 1981 to 50%. That was what was considered 'conservative' in those days. What we have now is a system of historically low tax rates (on everybody) and then we have enough loopholes so that last year more than twenty thousand billionaires and multi-millionaires paid no tax at all as did many of the most profitable corporations. In other words, we have created a tax system in which tax rates are historically low, and what tax is paid, is paid mainly by the middle class, not the very wealthy. So the GOP argument that cutting taxes on the very wealthy will spur jobs is FALSE. Both the official and actual tax rates on the very wealthy and corporations are ALREADY the lowest they've been in decades and they have not stimulated the economy. Cutting them further will not help any more than the past several years of very low taxes have helped. In fact, if I fault Obama here, it's that he bought into the tax cut argument. Recall that the Stimulus was 43% tax cuts (including a mixture of corporate and individual tax cuts) and that he has further cut payroll taxes, and agreed to an extension of the Bush tax cuts two years ago. Let's be clear. Cutting taxes on so-called 'job creators' has NOT created jobs (certainly not in America.) Mostly, they've stashed the cash in accounts someplace (it is no coincidence that offshore banking in places like Switzerland and the Cayman Islands has exploded since the Bush tax cuts were passed.)

What about regulation? It's certainly true that there are regulations out there that can stifle small businesses. Former Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern, after leaving the Senate, opened a Bed and Breakfast in South Dakota. He later said that he got overwhelmed by all the paperwork he had to deal with, and recognized most of it as stuff he had written, sponsored or voted for while in the Senate. As he notoriously told one interviewer, "If I realized what a pain in the neck it would be, I wouldn't have written half of that stuff." However, in getting rid of regulations or deciding not to write new ones, we want to be careful as well. Let's remember that it was the (bipartisan) vote in 1999 that repealed the Glass-Steagull act and opened the door to exactly the kind of wild speculation by the big banks in risky derivatives that led to the crash of 2008. Taxpayers are understandably irate at having to bail out these big banks after their own irresponsible behavior, especially since as long as the banks were making big money, it went to their own executives and investors, not to the taxpayers (historically low tax rates, remember?) Dodd-Frank is a start in the direction of regulating the banks, but even at that it was watered down by their lobbyists, ensuring that what happened in the early 2000's could potentially happen again. A part of the act which was removed in order to gain the vote of Senator Scott Brown (R-MA) and break a GOP filibuster, the so-called Volcker rule would prohibit banks from investing in hedge funds and private equity funds. This is exactly the kind of investing that got them into trouble in the first place. The CEO of J.P. Morgan Chase, Jamie Dimon, has argued against the Volcker rule and said that the rule could cost his bank $400 million, but then has said little since trading in a hedge fund cost his bank $2 billion, five times the amount he claims the Volcker rule would cost.

Certainly if a chain of interconnected large banks fail, it can destroy the economy for everyone. BUT EVEN WITH Dodd-Frank, and EVEN IF the Volcker rule is in effect, there would still be FAR LESS regulatory oversight than there was under Glass-Steagull. During the time that Glass-Steagull was in effect, between 1937 and 1999, recessions were far milder than they have been since then (even the 2001-2002 recession was much deeper than any other recent recessions before the current downturn.) So once again, conservatives have gotten their way with regulation of the banks. Suggesting more deregulation would be going in exactly the wrong direction.

What about other companies than banks? Certainly if most business fail whether because of lack of regulatory oversight or for some other reason they won't ruin the entire economy. No, but they can ruin a lot for a lot of people. For example, given the BP oil spill, does anyone suggest that we should relax regulations on offshore oil drilling (I'm not saying don't drill, but would 'deregulation' make sense here?) Regulations are generally written either to protect the safety of workers, to protect the environment or to protect the consumer. Which of these three should we protect less? Haven't we seen enough people die in mine disasters in the past few years? Don't we already have enough pollution? Do we want more unsafe products on the market?

Are there some regulations that could go because they are obsolete, unnecessary or needlessly burdensome? Of course. And we should remove unneeded regulation, but we should be sure it is unneeded first. If we don't the price will be paid in lives-- maybe even ours (Vioxx anyone?)

And what about government spending? Isn't the deficit dangerous to the economy? Shouldn't we learn from Europe? To a degree, yes. We do presently have a national debt that exceeds $15 trillion and our debt-to-GDP ratio is very high (though not a record; it was significantly higher in 1946.) However, it must first be noted that a deficit is caused when spending exceeds revenue (just like if you spend more than you make, you will end with a debt, that you will have to borrow to pay.) Republicans love to claim that we have spent our way into a record deficit. Doing so, however, ignores the effect of trillions of dollars less in tax collections (remember those historically low tax rates? That represents revenue not going to the government.) The truth is, that spending under the Obama administration has on average increased at 0.4% per year, the slowest since the Eisenhower administration. I even give the GOP Congress some credit for this, with their (at times unreasonable) insistence on spending cuts as the price for doing anything the past two years (not that we won't pay for it of course, but the price will be less accurate hurricane forecasts and tornado warnings a decade or more from now.) The reason why the deficit has grown so much over the past decade is because tax revenues coming into the government have dropped through the floor (historically low tax rates, remember?)

Well, what about cutting government spending as a means to stimulate the economy then? Unfortunately, as I explained last year, cutting spending in the middle of a recession has exactly the opposite effect. In fact, this is exactly what we SHOULD be learning from Europe. Greece, Spain, Portugal and Ireland have all implemented various types of austerity to combat the recession, which involves massive cuts in their public sector workforces. The European Central Bank and the IMF have helped bail them out, but on the condition they cut their govenrment spending so that they could pay back the loans. Only an unexpected (but entirely foreseeable) development happened-- the economies of the countries collapsed so fast that even with the cuts they are having trouble making the payments because with a collapsing economy less is being produced at all and so less can be collected in taxes no matter how high the rate is. For example, the Greek economy has shrunk by over 20% just this year. What about the U.S. economy? With May's report, it is a fact that over 600,000 public sector jobs have been lost during the Obama administration. This includes over 11,000 federal jobs and much larger cuts at the state and local levels. This is precisely the OPPOSITE of what would be called for in classical Keynesian economic theory. One can argue whether this is itself caused by the bad economy (since states have to operate on a balanced budget) or by a conscious GOP attempt to shrink government (the truth is probably some of both, and there are enough public sector job losses to be explained using both of these causes.) However, contrary to what conservatives will tell you, if the economy has not been stimulated, it is not because of government hiring, but rather the dumping of hundreds of thousands of teachers, police and other public sector workers into the job market. So what we see is the effect of government not hiring, but in fact doing the opposite and sandbagging any private sector driven improvement in the economy by adding to the number of unemployed people (with lower income and consumer spending to match.)

So is the economy not doing very well? Absolutely, the May jobs report makes it clear that it is not. And certainly the interconnectedness of global markets means that we are fools if we believe that problems in Europe or Asia won't eventually be reflected in the U.S. But don't let conservatives suggest that they can 'cure' it by cutting taxes, deregulation and cutting government spending. Because that's what we've been doing for YEARS, and where we are now is where it has taken us! MORE tax cuts, deregulation and cuts to government spending would be like trying to cure high cholesterol by eating cheeseburgers.
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