Thursday, March 31, 2005

Michael: R.I.P. Terri Schiavo, Patron Saint of Living Wills

The most overused homily in America today is that Terri Schiavo’s death was a tragedy. Terri’s death was no more and no less tragic than the death of any other person. Terri’s dying, on the other hand, is indeed a unique and notable tragedy. Her dying was made a tragedy for all of us by the ham-fisted and opportunistic meddling of our political branches of government in the decisions of Terri and her family in a fashion most Americans would not want for themselves, regardless of their views about Terri’s case.

America hasn’t come to any consensus about where the line between life and death is to be drawn, nor between refusing care and euthanasia, nor even about who has the right to make those decisions for you if you can no longer make them yourself, though the latter has been settled law for a quarter of a century. Terri’s dying didn’t resolve any of these issues to anyone’s satisfaction. Instead it split apart a family, as it has our American family, and exploited the pain that rift caused for the political advantage of hypocrites.

As Americans reflect today and in days to come on the tragedy of Terri’s dying, a lot of us will be having difficult and sincere conversations with our families about what choices we would want made if we were like Terri. I hope those conversations will prompt more people to clearly record their preferences to avoid their personal tragedies from becoming fodder in the Morality-Political Complex’s next cultural war.

Terri’s dying has raised awareness of the importance of clarity in end-of-life medical decisions. Arizonans are lucky in this respect – a new online Health Care Directives Registry was created last year and is available for free, making it easy to ensure your doctors and family will know your wishes, and carry them out. Using the system is simple. Just download the forms from the Attorney General’s website and fill them out yourself, or in consultation with your family and/or an attorney. Examples of filled out forms are part of the enabling statutes: ARS 36-3224, ARS 36-3262, and ARS 36-3286. Submit the completed forms to the Secretary of State’s office where they will be entered into an online database that can be read using a login and password that is issued to you on a wallet card. Your physicians, the courts, and your loved ones can read your medical directives using the card should you become unable to direct your own care.

No one in Arizona need ever suffer the indignity of having their loved one's dying dragged through the media and used for political ends. If Terri’s dying teaches Americans anything, it is the importance of making your values and choices clear, unambiguous, and binding. Terri Schiavo is now our Patron Saint of Living Wills because her family's suffering reminds us that ours don’t have to.

Michael: Russ Feingold in 2008?

Why was there only one Senator to vote against the passage of the PATRIOT Act? Because only one Senator was strong enough in his defense of our liberties to oppose a rush to judgement, while others feared appearing 'soft' on terrorism. The past 4 years have proven that Russ Fiengold was right to cast that sole dissenting vote.

The ambitious, though flawed, attempt to control the tidal wave of money swamping our democracy bears two names. One is that of Wisconsin's Russ Feingold. The other is Arizona's John McCain. Wouldn't it be ironic if 2008 became a match-up between those two men, who reached across the aisle to craft the McCain-Feingold Act?

I hope that people will become acquainted with Russ, if they are not already. DNC Chairman Howard Dean, in his acceptance speech, urged Democrats to reach out to the so-called 'red states' so that the Democratic Party could be the Party of all 50 states of America. And that is what Russ is doing. He promised WI voters he would hold listening sessions in every county of WI every year when he was elected. He has kept that promise. Now he is taking his listening sessions to the reddest of the 'red states', Alabama, for a series of public engagements to learn what is on the mind of Southern voters.

To my mind, only someone who is open-minded enough to have a listening tour in Alabama, and brave enough to be the only no vote on the PATRIOT Act has what it takes to be a good President in these times.

You are likely to be seeing a lot more of Russ Feingold in the near future. He is likely to stand out in his role as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee during the inevitable fight over Supreme Court nominations. He will not be backing down on the issue of filibusters to block votes on judicial nominees. He has said he believes that one party is not meant to, and should not have all the power.

I'm hoping that Senator Feingold will decide to run in 2008. We need men like him in race. I encourage you to visit the unofficial Draft Feingold for President in 2008 website, and write a letter to Senator Feingold encouraging him to run. Even if you eventually pick another candidate, Feingold will bring character, class, and courage to the Democratic nomination race.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Andy: Herding Cats

"Trying to organize Democrats is like trying to herd cats."

I went to the anti-privatization rally on the 21st and had a really good time. It's fun to hang out with people you agree with. It's also fun to argue with Bush invitees. But was it an anti-privatization rally or an anti-Bush rally? I thought it was the former, but when I got there I saw it was the latter. Some of the protesters had anti-war signs and argued with the Bushies in line about the war. Some had pro-choice signs and argued that issue. Some argued about the economy. Etc. Now, I hate the SOB and all his policies as much as anyone because I love my country, but I was disappointed that we couldn't keep the focus on our opposition to privatization. Instead, over half of the crowd came to protest other policies (war, choice, false morality, etc.) and generally vent against Bush. This is good for an anti-Bush rally, but bad for an anti-privatization rally.

Whatever we do publically sends the public a message and that message will always be interpreted as an answer to the other guy's message. If Bush were to make a speech here, or on TV, on his administration's successful policies, we could answer his message of administration successes with our message that all those policies are failures. Anti-Bush rallies, with signs protesting all his policies and speakers who demonstrate how those policies are failures, would even be good to hold on a regular basis. But at these rallies we wouldn't be protesting only privatization and carrying only anti-privatization signs. That would send the message that his other policies were successes - because we didn't protest those other policies. It sends the wrong message.

Since we wouldn't protest the whole of the Bush administration's policies by protesting just one policy, then likewise we shouldn't be protesting one policy by protesting them all. When Bush comes here to talk up privatization and over half of the crowd comes to protest other policies, we aren't seen answering his message with a focussed message of our own. Over half of the crowd weren't even trying to answer Bush's message of that day; instead, they were answering messages that weren't being sent. Protesting all issues at a single issue rally dilutes that rallies message. It sends the wrong message. The only message that the public perceives is that we're just those disorganized Democrats who can't even make up our minds on what we're protesting.

When the rally is a protest of the Bush privatization plan, we should leave the other signs at home. A protest is a message and messaging requires discipline. Message discipline means focus and repetition. It doesn't mean regimentation because after all, we're not Republicans. The Republicans in line for the President's speech were all carrying the exact same sign. This is unnecessary as well as undesirable. All message discipline requires is that we protest the same thing at the same rallies. At an anti-privatization rally signs that say Bush is a war criminal, while true, detract from the message that rally is trying to send. There were plenty of variations on the anti-privatization message at that rally. If those were the only signs, they would have reinforced the message that privatization was a bad idea on so many levels. But instead they were lost in a sea of signs protesting other issues. When too many messages are sent at once the message that the public perceives is a garbled one and easily distorted by media and the opposition. Message discipline would reinforce a perception of progressive solidarity in in opposition to a particular policy. It helps frame the debate our way by taking away the stereotype of disorganization and self-interest. Lack of that discipline sends a message that we are more interested in our own issues, regardless of the context, than in supporting each other in all progressive issues.

Organizing progressive protests and rallies shouldn't be like trying to herd cats. When I go to a peace rally, I want to carry an anti-war sign. When I go to a pro-choice rally, I want a pro-choice sign. I might wear a button or T-shirt about another issue, but I want to show solidarity with those who are protesting other issues I also disagree with Bush on. Even though the issues I care about most are Social Security and health care, I wouldn't go to any of these other rallies with an anti-privatization sign. I don't want to detract from the message of that particular rally. I want to reinforce the message being sent by that rally, secure in the knowledge that other progressives will do the same at rallies for my issues. Staying on message isn't a good thing just for party leaders but also for the grassroots.

Michael: Mr. Burnell Smith Distains the Law

Mr. Smith went to the Capitol, unfortunately he broke the rules getting there; now he won’t leave.

David Burnell Smith has been ordered by the Citizen’s Clean Elections Commission to surrender the office of Representative for Arizona’s District 7 for breaking state campaign finance law. Smith also has been ordered to pay restitution to the people of Arizona of over $34K and a fine of $10K more. He has stated through his lawyer his intention not to resign.

There are no facts in dispute here. Mr. Smith admits to the overspending that prompted his removal from office, and his signature is on all the checks. Yet despite clear wrong-doing, he vows he is going to appeal the decision.

Mr. Smith’s defense seems to be that the overspending was not intentional. However, simply reading the law dispenses with that defense. Title 16 Section 942(C) provides that exceeding spending limits by more than 10% “shall result in disqualification of a candidate or forfeiture of office.” There is no requirement that the violation be intentional.

Section 942(D), requires that “[a]ny participating candidate adjudged to have committed a knowing violation of section 16-941, subsections A or C” must make restitution of campaign funds to the people of Arizona. This makes it crystal clear that intent is not required for the Commission to oust an officeholder. There is a rule of interpretation that the expression of one thing implies the exclusion of others. Stating that knowing violations of 16-941(C) will result in restitution, makes it quite clear that even unintentional violations of 16-941(C) shall result in forfeiture of office. Mr. Smith may avoid restitution with an intent defense, but he cannot stay in office that way.

Mr. Smith’s defense that his overspending is unintentional is groundless. He should know this, he’s a lawyer. Claiming a defense that he must know has no merit is ethically dubious.

The only conclusion I can draw is that Mr. Smith simply feels he’s above the law. Perhaps he thinks that he can hold his seat in contempt of the law because of his membership in the Republican caucus. I’d advise his colleagues not to let him presume upon that affiliation. More Republicans have been elected under Clean Elections than Democrats; a viable public campaign finance system benefits Republicans as much as Democrats. And majorities are not forever. It wasn’t all that long ago that Democrats controlled the Arizona legislature. The GOP in Montana and Colorado certainly didn’t expect to be in the minority so soon. The voters giveth and the voters taketh away. A precedent of allowing scofflaws to make our laws serves no one’s interests and is unlikely to endear those responsible to the voters, 65% of whom support Clean Elections.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Michael: The Carpenter Vs. The Hammer

via PERRspectives blog

carpenter and hammer

"Emotional appeals about working families trying to get by on $4.25 an hour [the minimum wage in 1996] are hard to resist. Fortunately, such families do not exist."
- Tom DeLay, From the Congressional Record, H3706 [1996 April 23]

"Do not tell lies... for all things are plain in the sight of Heaven."
- Jesus Christ

"I am the federal government."
- DeLay was responding to a government employee who tried to prevent him from smoking on government property. As reported in the New York Times [2003 June 13]

“I am the way and the truth and the life."
- Jesus Christ

"Nothing is more important in the face of a war than cutting taxes."
- Tom DeLay From a speech made to bankers [3/12/03]

"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God."
- Jesus Christ

""You know, the Democrats want to balance the budget by raising spending and raising taxes. The Soviet Union had a balanced budget."
- Tom DeLay, Meet the Press, 12/22/2003

"Go sell crazy somewhere else, we're all stocked up here!"
- Melvin Udall played by Jack Nicholson in "As Good As It Gets"

Tell 'Em The Way You See It

Starbucks has a new marketing program to "foster philosophic debate" in its coffee houses by putting pithy quotes on its cups. You can submit your own nugget of wisdom, or just read some of the quotes.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Michael: AZ Blogger Network

UPDATED: 3/27/05
I wonder if there is a need for a more formal way to communicate with and amongst the many bloggers in Arizona. We certainly don't all share the same views or philosophy, but I think that despite the wide range of opinion out there, most bloggers I've corresponded with have had a basic committment to some core principles and many have been laudibly open-minded regardless of their convictions.

Here are some basic ideas I think most bloggers can get behind, regardless of where they land on the political spectrum:

  • Journalistic Ethics: most bloggers strive to get the facts straight, whatever they may make of those facts, and to provide references to primary sources (which is more than can be said for traditional polemicists who anachronistically write 'columns' - I would dearly love for Ann Coulter to be forced to back up many of her assertions with a link...), and to be fair and accountable to those they write about (though not so accountable that we wish to forego the protections against liability for libel and slander extended to traditional journalists).

  • Best Practices: most bloggers are anxious not to misuse reader information they may have in their possession, i.e. site statistics, surveys, mailing lists, etc. They strive to handle the trust that is given them regarding personal information in a responsible fashion.

  • Improving Access: most bloggers would like more journalistic repute and better access to other media, public officials, and other newsmakers

  • Legal Protection: most bloggers are concerned that their constitutional freedom to do what they do be respected and protected by the government and private parties, including employers.

In addition, it would be nice if bloggers were able to voluntarily coordinate their actions when the circumstances seem right to them, especially in support of good humanitarian causes. In addition, a regular channel of communications might encourage the sharing of hard-won best practices and tips regarding marketing, monetization of traffic, software, service providers, and sources. To these ends I have established a yahoo group for Arizona bloggers: AZBlogNet

The group is unmoderated, but with posting limited to members. I refuse to ride herd on what is sure to prove a motley group, or undertake (what is in my opinion) the corrupting power of moderation. I will ban anyone who is being willfully disruptive, but otherwise, whether anything like a real community develops will be up to the users. I hope to see my fellow Arizona bloggers there, irrespective of political inclination.

Please Visit the BlogForArizona Store


How cool is this? You must have one of these to flash under everyone's nose. And that's not all, oh no! You can carry the meme of the well-loved donkey with you throughout your day when you shop at BlogForArizona.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Michael: This Week In Arizona Politics

So much punditry needed, so little time…

The Golden Rule
The legislature passed a bill authorizing special license plates sporting the Golden Rule, or “do unto other as you have others do unto you.” This seems to me the test case for an eventual “Choose Life” plate, which has been ruled unconstitutional in other jurisdictions. My favorite comment on this topic came from Rep. Tom Prezelski of District 29 who said, “If we’re going to [put] the Golden Rule on our license plates… then we better start living the Golden Rule in the legislation we pass.” The hypocrisy of many Republicans is such a fat target than Tom couldn’t help but hit the target.

The Budget
The 8.1 billion dollar budget the Republicans passed (the Democrats were merely observers, not participants in the budget process according to House Minority Leader Phil Lopes) was vetoed by the Governor. She wants more resources spent on kids and education. Specifically, she looking to expand all-day Kindergarten by 10,000 kids, provide more low-income families with the KidsCare health insurance program and child care subsidies, hire 184 additional staff members for Child Protective Services to meet national caseload standards, and build a new medical school in Phoenix to meet demand for physicians in Arizona. Those are fairly modest goals, frankly. I hope the Governor also demands more money for higher education. This year’s budget increase for the University of Arizona is less than 400K, which is really just a slap in the face of higher education.

More Immigrant Bashing
The Senate passed a measure to proscribe many government services for illegal immigrants and the House approved putting an Official English law on the 2006 ballot. A persistent hostility toward all immigrants, both legal and illegal, has pervaded this session of the legislature, and increasingly poisoned Arizona politics for years. The behavior of the majority party in dealing with the problem of illegal immigration and demographic change is yet another example of how popularly elected officials too often exploit their constituents’ fears and hatred, rather than modeling compassion and tolerance. The result is a nascent anti-immigrant militia in Arizona and a wave of hysterical legislative grandstanding.

The Governor’s veto stamp will prevent the worst of it from becoming law, likely until 2010 if the polling holds up. But even the Governor cannot resist scoring a few points off immigration concerns, albeit in a tasteful way, by sending bills to the Justice Department for the jailing of illegal immigrants every month – with interest. I begin to wonder if the Bush Administration is purposefully dragging its feet on addressing immigration matters as way of strengthening the hand of the racist kooks in border states such as California, New Mexico, and Arizona, making Republicans look reasonable by comparison? (not that some Republicans aren’t also racist kooks, mind you)

Throwing the Baby Out with the Bathwater
The Senate has passed a Concurrent Resolution on a party-line vote to place a measure on the ballot doing away with the single topic constitutional amendment rule that killed the Dirtier Elections initiative last year. The result would likely be 100 page opuses on our ballots that could introduce all sorts of harmful related constitutional changes by riding on one very popular idea. The Resolution’s sponsor, the redoubtable Senator John Huppenthal of District 20, who apparently wants to ensure that sloppy drafting doesn’t kill any more of his pet projects, is facing a recall petition by constituents in his district, making my headline a double-entendre.

Horne’s AIMS Off?
Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne is coming under fire for a possible misappropriation of $10 million, intended for tax-payer relief, to fund an emergency AIMS tutoring program. It was prudent for Horne to have taken steps to help kids with the tests in light of the inaction of the legislature on the AIMS issue; Senate President Bennett is even blocking any definitive vote to eliminate the AIMS test. Though it will likely die in committee anyhow, I like the Democrat sponsored Senate Resolution that would put on the 2006 ballot a requirement that legislative candidates must pass the AIMS tests before they can take office.

There is a law authorizing the Superintendent to transfer funds between programs in some circumstances, and Horne got the approval of both the Department of Administration and Governor Napolitano, but the legislature did not have a chance to have a say, and that has some feathers ruffled at the Capitol. In the end, the result will likely be more explicit requirements for consultation with the legislature to reprogram money so radically in the future, and Horne will emerge from the stink smelling like a rose to many parents for his initiative.

Senate Flops on DEQ
Senate Republicans thought they were carrying the water of the business community when they decided not to renew the charter of the Department of Environmental Quality, citing abusive and arbitrary enforcement by the agency. My, imagine that, regulated industries complaining about a regulatory agency. Sounds like they might be doing their job. We can’t have that.

In the end, the Senate backed off its plan to eliminate the agency when regulated industry representatives made it plain that no matter how much they complained, they would rather deal with a State agency than have to run everything through the under-funded, under-staffed, and over-worked Federal EPA. How very like out-of-touch ideologues to wildly over-react, pretextually using a few complaints to try to kill an agency that enables Arizona to keep control over our environment in the hands of Arizonans, only to be reined in by leveler, and more realistic heads from the business world. The poor Republicans can't even do a decent hatchet job on behalf of those they are wetting themselves to please.

’Drug War’ Turns Hot South of the Arizona Border
Mexican military units are moving in to support Mexican civilian law enforcement officials unable to control the rampant violence created by drug gangs struggling for territory in Sonora. This is just one more example of the increasing pressure drug prohibition puts on the civil resources of governments, and on the freedoms of citizens, both here and abroad. How long until there is a full-scale Colombian-style insurgency raging just miles from Arizona’s border? I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to live like Israel, behind a 30ft. concrete and steel fence vainly trying to keep out the chaos our domestic policies have created.

Michael: Arnold Vinick for President

Last night’s The West Wing episode, “In God We Trust,” had my wife and I spontaneously applauding for the fictional Republican Senator from California and Presidential nominee Arnold Vinick. If you didn’t catch it, you can BitTorrent the episode. Alda’s masterful performance of Vinick’s closing rant against the cynical use of religious piety in our public life was a breath of fresh air, and a nicely-timed shot across the bows of the Religious Right at a time when false piety and hypocritical exploitation of religious belief has never been more egregious.

Vinick’s rhetorical question about how Americans can expect to keep a separation of church and state if they demand public declarations of faith as a test for public office was right on point. It seems to me that perhaps the worst cultural result of 8 years of Bush will be the extent to which the President will have become accepted as a ‘religious’ or ‘spiritual’ leader. I find that trend extremely disturbing and harmful to the prospects of religious tolerance in this country. There is definitely an ethos at the highest levels of the ruling Party that projects the message of “Gott mit uns” that is destructive to genuine humility before God. The very idea that a political leader can ever be a genuine religious leader is false.

The constant and pernicious temptation, possibly requirement, of political office is telling people what they want to hear. A President, no matter how popular, can seldom, if ever, afford to tell adherents what they need to hear, nor offer genuinely critical moral or spiritual guidance. Any President who tried would be considered intolerably presumptuous, at best. The tendency to sermonize is definitely present in Bush (it’s one of his most annoying characteristics to his opponents, and most endearing to his supporters); but while he many remonstrate those without faith, he will never do more than flatter the faithful. He will feed them coded morsels to show how he shares their beliefs, but he will not, and cannot, ever be anything more than a reflection of his co-religionists in any way that matters. He will mouth homilies as a display of his profundity and peity, but he will always use religion to court the worst in people, not the best; baiting an enemy gets votes, loving one doesn’t. A true religious leader can be politically effective, but cannot hold an elected office: can you imagine MLK as President? True spiritual leadership takes people where they don’t already wish to go. Other great religious leaders have been poltically effective, Gandhi, The Dahli Lama, Bishop Desmond Tutu, none of who hold or sougt secular office. They knew that a person of deep spiritual calling can only serve one master.

The Presidency should not be a religious post nor require a religious test, no matter how informal, to occupy the office. Someday we will have Presidents who are Jewish, Mormon, Muslim, Hindu, Jainist, Shintoist, Buddhist, Wiccan, Scientologist, Gaian, and atheist. Do any of those hypothetical Presidents make you cringe? Why? Do you harbor the idea that the President is a religious or spiritual leader? Do you fear what a President with certain religious convictions might do with the vast power we settle upon him or her?

Even some Republican commentators are becoming disillusioned with the disturbing legal and ethical extremes to which the Bush-Rove-DeLay-Frist axis of the Party will go in their quest to politically exploit the heart-felt beliefs of some people regarding the Terri Schiavo case. I wonder if JEB Bush is going to descend into outright outlawry to take custody of Terri to sustain the momentum of the nation’s Schiavo obsession. Of course, Terri might serve the cause just as well as a martyred victim, murdered by a corrupt cabal of secular activist judges.

In addition to the effect of this debacle on our legal system’s treatment of the right to refuse medical care, it has been a clear demonstration of some of the worst behavior one might expect in office and in the media if Americans continue to demand‘spiritual’ as well as secular leadership from politicians. That is why Vinick, though being a Republican, would have my vote. He leaves his religion outside the door to the office he was elected to. That’s practice I can vote for. In Vinick's own worlds, "If you have a question about religion, go to church."

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Rev. Gerry: Military recruiting

Good morning, everyone,

I can’t send the article below without relating a personal story. I may convert it to an open letter and send to the Star, after I talk with the young man involved.

Darwin and I have two boys, 14 and 15 years old, who are freshmen at CDO high school. We have, of course, signed the forms withholding information on them from the recruiters. If recruiters were on campus recruiting for a religious or "partisan" cause, they would be thrown out, but it is approved to try to sway young minds to think war is good. Regarding another school shooting this week, I have to say I just can’t imagine how immature youngsters this same age make the mental leap that becoming their own military is an answer to somethng that makes them mad...

Last Saturday, in front of the recruiters office on the 2nd anniversary of the start of the war, one of our boys told us that military recruiters had recently been in his sign language class to promote military service, and they asked all the students to fill out “survey” forms that included their names and addresses. Fortunately, we discuss these things as a family, our boys know we have withheld their information, and they come with us to events such as Eyes Wide Open, the Iraq war memorial sponsored by AFSC. When he, knowing our wishes and believing was is “stupid,” refused to fill out the survey or give personal information, the recruiter scolded him for not turning in the survey, gave him “dirty look,” and asked him if he did not support his country! BAH! None of the other kids had even given the hour a second thought, accustomed to unquestioning trust in the authority of the school.

I am deeply grieved that innocent children, and yes they ARE children at this age, trusting their teachers to guide them, are subjected to military propaganda – without our consent or even knowledge. I am interested in joining with others who believe another side needs to be given to the kids and suggest they serve their country in other ways.

In peace, gerry
Rev. Gerry Straatemeier, MSW
From Alternet:
Military Recruiting 101

Exerpt: Under the No Child Left Behind legislation, Sec 9528, education funding in America has been turned into a recruiting tool for our military! Buried in this legislation is a section that mandates student's private information be given directly to the military unless the student's parent or guardian opts their records out – meaning that a request letter from the parent or guardian must be submitted to the school to keep the student's records private.

To compensate for students' greater understanding of the risks associated with military service, recruiters have implemented more and more predatory practices to meet their required numbers. That is why this personal information is so valuable to these desperate recruiters trying to meet the demand of the current U.S. war machine.

We must make sure our schools comply with requests to keep an individual's information private while fighting for changes in the heinous legislation that allowed this invasion of privacy to happen in the first place. But it will take an enormous campaign and a huge amount of effort to educate people on how invasive this act is! Help keep our military a true volunteer force, our students safe, and their information private – spread the word in your community about what is happening to students' personal information!


Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Michael: Why Private Social Security Accounts?

For the many of us who were not invited to discuss matters of state with the President on Monday, it is enough to know that you didn’t miss anything new. The President was relentless on the message of privatizing Social Security, pausing only to wax hypocritical about the Schiavo case.

Now, the President had already admitted that the plan to privatize SS does not address the fiscal problems the program could face 13-15 years from now. He has admitted that the likely hasn’t the congressional support needed to pass the reform. And despite GOP polling indicating that people are seeing the issue as more important relative to other subjects than they did 6 months ago, most people still prefer small and incremental changes, not radical solutions such as private accounts... oops, sorry, 'personal' accounts. So why does George keep pushing this dead horse around America like it was a prize stud?

Why does the GOP want the particular reform it calls for, and why now? The first is easy, because we are essentially a one party state at the moment. If they are ever getting away with any major change to Social Security, it has to be now. But why these specific reforms? Many couch the policy in a negative light: destroy the system, cut the safety net, or break the backbone of the New Deal. Some see a positive, if possibly troubling agenda; create an ‘ownership society’, give people more control over their retirements, or even lining the pockets of traders selling the financial instruments of reform. Except for the last, it is really all just so much hot air; and the commissions from the kinds of highly controlled investments aren’t going to be making traders the cheeva like churning a 401(k).

I’ve become convinced that the real reasons are much deeper and address far more basic needs of Bush’s constituency. That’s when I read the work of Michael Hudson of the University of Missouri in this month’s Harpers magazine (not yet online), and it all clicked neatly into place. For years Michael has been writing about the tech bubble and the growing crisis of corporate pensions funds. Michael puts it simply, "it is not the Social Security system that is broke, but today’s stock markets that need an infusion of cash to cope with shrinking earnings."

Hundreds of major corporations have been systematically under-funding their pension plans in order to use that income to report increasing profits in the 1990s to justify share prices. Of course, that just kicked those unfunded liabilities down the road, and the vultures are starting to roost. Now we face a corporate landscape in which major American firms are facing 100s of billions in obligations they can’t met. Firms are bankrupting to escape those obligations, leaving pensioners holding the bag, and leaving the Federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) with losses of 23 billion last year alone. Bailing out the PBGC could cost taxpayers 100 billion, or more, if the trend continues.

The root cause of this malaise is under-funding of pension reserves, and the stockmarket’s relative doldrums. Most of the pension reserves are stock in the sponsoring company or a diverse sampling of the market. What everyone really needs is a rip-roaring good stock market rally (read, BUBBLE. Pension reserves go up, corporation pull their bits out the fire, everyone who’s rich gets richer, and the little people get a taste of the action. Sounds swell. And it has historical precedent; many a good stock speculation bubble had a government behind it trying to dig its way out of public debts. The British government swapping dowdy old treasury bonds for sure bet stocks in the slave trade caused the South Sea Bubble of 1711. By the time the bubble collapsed, the government had paid off the debt and investors were left holding worthless paper. Bush’s plan really is not that much more complex than the South Sea Bubble, convince Americans to trade those stogy old T-Bills for exciting new growth stocks sure to make them wealthy. Once he’s privatized the risks of default, and socialized the large obligations or corporate owners, well everybody’s happy, except perhaps you if you lost everything in the crash of 2020 just before retirement. But, oh well, we’ll have a debtors prison or a good work camp for you, chump.

Well, like all ponzi schemes there is always the last sucker, and retirees stupid enough to rely on Social Security are Bush’s chosen marks. SS will be missing as much as half its revenue at a time of unprecedented demand from retirees. Bush’s plan almost certainly will boost the stock market; how could hundreds of billions in new dollars chasing the same equity fail to do otherwise? But the market will recede again because those investments won’t be used for real production, they will be used to cover the damage of yesterday’s excess and to continue fattening a financial and executive class who have begun to believe they are entitled to outrageous salaries and perks. The market will recede, as markets do, leaving us all poorer and without a viable system to help the elderly live in dignity in this nation.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Michael: On Terri Schiavo

Terri at her wedding

The worst laws are made in emergencies, when there is no time for deliberation or reflection, and voices of dissent and caution are quashed. We saw perhaps the definitive example of this principle with the passage of the PATRIOT Act. The new law which Bush signed at 1 a.m. last night to ‘save’ the life of Terri Schiavo may be another example. The new Federal law gives parents the right to challenge a cessation of life support in federal court.

This scenario has already played through in FL, with the FL legislature passing an emergency Terri’s bill giving Governor Bush the power to issue a order to re-instate nutrition and hydration to Terri. But it was found to be an unconstitutional invasion of the separation of powers for the Governor to try to overturn an order of the court. I have little doubt that eventually the same will happen at the Federal level. It is in the interest of those backing Terri’s parents, the Schindlers, to cause as much Constitutional havoc as possible for political gain. These people are certainly not conservatives. The States have already decided that, when there is no indication of the wishes of the patient, the power to decide life and death lies with the spouse. Those who are fighting Michael Schiavo on this have no respect for the institution of marriage or the power of the States to decide matters concerning marriage.

Senator Bill Frist viewed a brief video tape of Terry to reach his conclusion that she might recover and that he knows better than Michael and Terri’s doctors what is proper. Frist is a doctor, but he is not acting like one. If he were, his decision would reflect that no one, out of as many as 35,000 cases, has ever recovered after more than 3 months in a state such as Terri’s. The autonomic responses displayed by a person in Terri’s state can include laughter, crying, smiling, even squeezing a hand, all with the eyes open and moving around, which can give lay people and even unspecialized medical professionals false hope as to the mental state of the patient. Congress failed to take any sort of expert testimony in crafting the bill, which might have made it useful law. As it is, it is the mirror-image of a bill of attainder: a bill benefitting just one person. Having no real evidence beyond polling figures, Congress has wrought an injustice against Terri by further prolonging and publicizing her death, against her parents by giving them false hopes, and against her husband by impugning his motives and stripping him of his spousal rights.

What is most notable about this act of Congress is that despite being profoundly disrespectful of the institution of marriage, it is led by the self-same hypocrites who style themselves as that institution’s defenders. Michael Schiavo has been maligned as a gold digger and a ghoul, waiting to kill his wife until the legal process rewarded him sufficiently. He has been called cruel and heartless, unwilling to let his wife have a chance at life. But for years Michael Schiavo stood by his wife and hoped for her recovery, even as the medical specialists gave her ever-dwindling odds of doing so. If that’s not love, I don’t know what is. Finally, her doctors gave Terri no hope of recovery and he made the decision he was uniquely positioned to know Terri would have wanted him to make; to let her go. At this point, only 1 person in 75,000 would even live as long as Terri has in a persistent vegetative state, and there is no hope at all she might recover. Her neo-cortex now consists mainly of spinal fluid. The misperception of this stark fact by those who protest on her behalf is manifest: they pose the issue as whether Terri should live or die. But she’s already dead except for autonomic responses. She’s no more alive than a hydroencephalitic baby is alive, or than a blastocyst with no brain function. They insist she is handicapped, not dead. Their emotional responses are understandable, but are not the proper foundation for public policy.

The decision to terminate life is a hard one, especially when that life may one day be, or at one point was, a human life. Michael’s must have been a wrenching and profoundly spiritual decision, made with his wife’s best interests and own intentions and values in mind, as only a husband could know them. A decision informed by mutual knowledge so intimate, and so private to the marriage bond should not be overturned, even by parents. But that’s exactly what those ‘defenders’ of the institution of marriage have insisting on doing. Despite the states having already decided that the marital relationship was paramount, they have intruded into this intimate relationship and diluted the bonds of matrimony. In fact, consevative foundations have been quietly supporting the parent’s legal fight for almost twelve years now, to the tune of many hundreds of thousands of dollars, possibly millions. They have hoped for, and gotten, the exact naive and gullible reaction from cultural conservatives they calculated they would. I'm sure the Schindlers are good people concerned only for their daughter, but they are being cruelly used in the most cynical way possible for political gain. Even Bush's actions are larded with hypocrisy considering his signing of the Texas law allowing the termination of life support to infants over the objections of parents who can no longer pay for care. These people don't give a fig for life, they only care about contributions and votes.

It is not the picture that conservatives wish to paint: a cabal of well-heeled conservative political operatives and politicians using Terri’s mindless body as a prop in a sick morality play, fueled by conservative foundation cash. But that’s all this is. The fascistic, over-reaching ‘moral’ majority exploiting one couple’s tragedy, and trying to dictate decisions which properly belong within the loving bonds of marriage. Shame on them, and shame on the hypocrites who support them. I hope my wife or I are never so unfortunate as to be mugged by the ‘morals’ of Congress and the culture warriors of the Right if we are ever faced with decisions like those that Michael Schiavo faced.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Great Bateman Cartoon

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Peter Newton: "Freedom Reclaimed" by Tucson's John E. Schwarz

Ed.: Posted on behalf of Peter Newton

I was at a book signing tonight at Reader's Oasis and I wanted to spread the word about the event. Professor Emeritus John Schwarz was talking about his new book, “Freedom Reclaimed”. It is the next step to “What's the Matter with Kansas”. Professor Schwarz retired from the U of A last year, where he was a professor of Political Science. A previous book was a runner up for the Pulitzer Prize, while his other work has become the foundation for the Living Wage movement in the United States.

His most recent book, “Freedom Reclaimed”, discusses the founding fathers ideal of freedom and its relationship to enabling opportunity. Mr. Schwarz traces the development of opportunity in the US. The books claims that our most beloved and accomplished Presidents held expanding opportunity as their central thesis for their terms of office, allowing them to be become beloved and accomplished. The times where economic expansion was granted to the greatest number of our citizens are remembered most fondly, because it was at these times that the country acted word and deed as evidence to our ideals.

However, the past 30 years have been an aberration to our ideals, Schwarz contends. We have lost our way, chasing an illusion of freedom in a market controlled by the owners of capital. It is this very polemic that will be on display in Tucson on Monday when the President comes to visit Tucson. The President will put before us a rosy stained glass visage where each of us become our own controllers of capital, while passing tax and investment laws that benefit the men behind the curtain. Schwarz contends that we have lost our ideal of freedom, replacing it for bravado and an illusory idea of a ‘free market’. It is this illusory ‘free market’ that has been used to undermine the Social Compact we hold amongst ourselves as Americans.

Much like Thomas Franks' “What's the Matter with Kansas?” Schwarz’s book is an analysis of how we got here. Unlike Franks, Schwarz begins to propose ideas on how we begin to turn this slippery slope around. He proposes that we return the ideal of opportunity back to freedom, building a progressive definition to Freedom. It is opportunity that brings us equity, wealth and happiness to the amount we so choose. But, without the opportunity to participate in democracy, we have no freedom. It is this ideal that the rest of the world wants from us, not our wealth and most definitely, not our bombs. It is the one thing that we truly have to offer the world, and the reason people come here from across the planet. It is our selfishness that gets us into trouble, and it is this terrible contradiction that has us engaged in a new Vietnam.

I believe that if we answer the ‘Ownership Society’ with an opposing idea, we can begin to build our majorities again. In the recent past we have made tacit attempts to link Progressives with Social opportunity, but we have never made a strong appeal. Not doing so has left us appearing to be little more than people standing in opposition, lending credence to the rapid rantings of Zell Miller. Though he sounded like he was off his rocker, his rantings hit our campaign hard, and they stuck like barnacles. He, along with the Swift Boat gang, sunk our ship. I heard Zell, and though intellectually, I knew he was nuts, emotionally I knew that he had struck a direct hit. Being dismissive as we were, we ignored how the use of intonation can overcome reason and facts. How else are we embroiled in a corporate take over of our natural resources?

I argue, like Schwarz, that we need to recapture freedom as opportunity. To bring our word home, we must center ourselves on opportunity arguing every issue based on this issue. I have spoken with Arizona House Minority Leader Phil Lopes who suggests we bring it all back to All Day Kindergarten. When they talk about crime and prisons, mention that All Day K would reduce the number of prisoners, because education is the key to opportunity. The earlier we can prepare at risk children with skills and knowledge, the less money we have to spend later to correct the mistakes of neglect we have inflicted on poor children as they rot in prison. Combat issues that inspire fear and intimidation with one of compassion and opportunity. When a tax cut is proposed that will cost us All day K, remind them that without All Day K, there won't be many who can take advantage of the tax cut down the road.

I believe that a very interesting opportunity is about to open up on the Social Security debate. Bush's window is closing, but ours is opening. We need to job through and steam forward to a majority. How? We out lay a plan about how Social Security has provided opportunities for our Senior Citizens to live healthy and productive lives well into their 90s, contributing to the economy through the use of elder services. Social Security has provided opportunity for homemakers to live happy and productive retirements, visiting their grandchildren and living independently, even if their husbands have passed away and they never contributed FICA taxes. Social Security provides opportunity for many with disabilities to lead productive lives, providing services and economic security. We must maintain Social Security for these reasons and many more. Social Security is a net plus for the economy and society. It is the single largest and most successful opportunity program ever devised.

These arguments will preserve Social Security as it is. It will also grant us a chance at winning a seat or 2 in Congress. But I want more than 2. So, I propose that Democrats build our 2006 campaigns around expanding the reach of Social Security to provide MORE opportunity for MORE people. This might not be done through Social Security itself, but by copying its successful aspects to be incorporated with other opportunity programs: All Day K, Head Start, Welfare, Medicare, Medicaid, Neighborhood Policing, Rehabilitation, Amtrak, Transit, Homeland Security, Cafe Standards, Alternative Fuels, Reducing Pollution, Parks and Rec, School Construction, Road Repairs, Open Space Protection, etc. A WHOLE HOST of Progressive initiatives can fall under the Opportunity umbrella. This will work at the local, state and national levels.

We MUST recapture the high ground together. We can only do this is we run collaboratively, under a theme. Bill Clinton would NEVER have been close in 1992, if he had not made his Convention Speech about being the "Man From Hope." It was Hope, that changed the dynamic of that race between 2 Texans into a 3 way race. "Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow" playing at every stop enthused Americans to a better tomorrow AND drove the sales of Fleetwood Mac BACK on to the charts! A strategy must be set up to combat the ‘Ownership Society’ or we must admit defeat. If we don't run for something more than being slightly less awful than the other side, we'll never recapture the Majority. It won't be easy, for they will lie, cheat and steal their way to power again, but if we can unite around a single positive theme that encompasses our individual priorities, their smoke and mirrors will be pulled aside by Toto, and we can return to Kansas after this long storm.

As you can see, I was moved by the program tonight. John Schwarz is available to come and discuss his book with you and your friends, and he would very much like to do so. Please let me know, and I will speak with him about scheduling an engagement. Please try to buy it at a local independent bookstore or through your favorite independent bookstore online at . His book has been selected by Politics and Prose in Washington, DC as a book for a future discussion group. I encourage you to set up a fundraiser, or other event to discuss Freedom Reclaimed.

John E. Schwarz
Freedom Reclaimed
(Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, $30)
Publisher’s note: “In 1987, Schwarz’s book America’s Hidden Success argued that the social welfare programs of the 1960s had been highly effective. Since then, the shift away from government participation in social programs has left many Americans in need. Schwarz defines freedom the way FDR did, as opportunity for jobs, health care and education.”

Michael: Graf Chimes in on Education

The erstwhile Speaker of the Arizona House and Kolbe primary opponent, Randy Graf, popped up in the Arizona Daily Star's Reader Letters section on Saturday. He opined:

In Wednesday's "More Letters," the writer is upset with public education in Arizona and says we have "some of the poorest/low-scoring public schools in the United States." Yet the writer is critical of vouchers, which would allow parents an opportuninty to get out of these "low-scoring public schools."

I believe the writer's assumptions on our educational performance can be questioned. Some reports rank us in the middle of the national pack as to student performance.

But if the writer is so sure of the poor educational system we have here in Arizona, why would she condemn these students to a substandard education by insisting that parents and students not have more options to upgrade their education?

Well, I didn't expect Graf to confront this issue honestly.

The reason schools are "low scoring" is because the legislature consistently funds public school programs at such a low level, one of the lowest per capita in the nation, in fact. Many of these "low scoring" schools are in poorer and rural areas and are created by a persistent lack of resources that Arizona's primary school funding system doesn't redress - nor would voucher schools change that disparity.

These 'opportunities' to escape the public school system are more apparent than actual. As voucher schools are not governed by state rules for enrollment, they needen't accept any students they don't want. Nor are there any limits on how much they can charge for tuition. Thus for many, if not most, private schools accepting vouchers, the State's voucher would be only a down-payment toward the actual cost of tuition, which most people couldn't afford. Vouchers are a way for the wealthy to withdraw their tax money from the public school system and to apply those funds toward defraying the cost of their own exclusive and sectarian private schools where the hoi poloi aren't welcome.

I trust that Graf is refering to the Goldwater Institute's study of education when he cites "some reports" ranking us at the median in student performance. I think most are aware of the dangers when liars and statistics are put together.

We already have options beyond the public school system in the form of charter schools. Though I am ambivalent about charters, their promises have been brighter than their performances, I don't see how this experiment in the private provision of educational services fails to give parents hundreds of options. Perhaps it is the fact that they must meet State educational guidelines, enroll on a non-discriminatory basis, and cannot be sectarian that disqualifies them as sufficient choices in Graf's eyes?

As to who is condemning our students to a substandard education, I think it intelligent to look to those who hold the purse strings. Specifically, the GOP dominated legislature which has consistently fought for cutting taxes for the wealthy and special interests (to the tune of 300 million this year alone) instead of providing adequately for our kids' educations and our State's future. A legislature led until recently, I might add, by Mr. Graf.

Friday, March 18, 2005


Today is my day for 'I told ya so's.

Greg Pallast and the BBC scooped the story on the US media of the secret US plans to privatize Iraqi oil, thereby pulling OPEC's teeth, and how they were thwarted.

I conjectured long ago that this was the true purpose of the Iraq war. Of course, the plan always was so implausible that only paranoiacs would find it reasonable. One of the reasons why it is so hard for people to accept what the true motives of Neocon policy-makers actually were is that their view of the world is so incredibly naive and out of date. It is hard to accept that we are being led by people who are not only lethally out of touch with reality, but are darn proud of that fact.

History's judgement on the past two years will be clear and condemning. The Bush Administration dragged us into an unneccessary war with scare-tactics and empty promises in the vain hope of achieving impossible and self-contradictory goals. When oil prices remain above $50 a barrel, Iraq descends into persistent internal conflict, international terrorism against the West explodes, authentic and neglected security threats spiral out of control in the hands of incompetents, and American men and women continue to die with no end in sight, the Neocons' gradiose playbook will be seen for the dangerous book of fairy-tales it always was.

Michael: Drug Sniffing Dog Abuse

I wrote an unpublished opinion letter after the Supreme Court ruled in Illinois v. Caballes in which they upheld warrantless searches of vehicles using drug sniffing dogs. I was reminded of some of my objections when I came upon the site Drug Sniffing Dogs & Rex the Wonder Dog (via BoingBoing) cataloging some of the many ways a defense attorney has learned of that police are now abusing their new powers.

Here is my letter:
I was surprised and disappointed to note that not one of Tuesday’s NewsTalk excerpts expressed any disagreement with the Supreme Court’s authorization of drug sniffing dogs at traffic stops.

The dissenting opinions in this case expressed a concern that I share: the majority’s reasoning could justify widespread suspicionless searches with dogs.

In parking lots, at traffic lights, or while you are just walking down the street, police could circulate with dogs attempting to detect the odor of contraband. Dogs and their handlers are fallible; are you willing to be strip-searched because you had anchovies for lunch?

We have sacrificed enough liberty and too many lives in pursuit of prohibition. I find it frightening that so many Americans, and the majority of this Court, seem eager to sacrifice ever more of our constitutional rights in order to attack a public health problem with the terribly blunt instrument of the justice system.

It turns out that neither I, nor the dissenting Justices, were nearly cynical enough about the many means that police would invent to abuse this new power in the crusade against drugs. Here are some cataloged at Drug Sniffing Dogs & Rex the Wonder Dog :

1. Cops ask to search cars for no reason at all. If a driver refuses consent, then police have no grounds to search. Without consent, cops need "probable cause" to search. Cops create cause with canines by claiming that the dogs alerted, and forcing a search. That is why some court opinions have turned drug dogs into props for lies, because the dogs provide probable cause to search against drivers who understand their 4th amendment rights. Cops will lie and say that a dog alerted, even if it didn't. In that sense, it doesn't matter whether or not dogs are well-trained or accurate, because dogs are often ruses for lies to violate constitutional rights.

2. Cops ask to search cars for no reason at all because they know that most Americans are too meek to say "no" because government schools have conditioned civilians to submit to government and have taught nothing about constitutional rights. When drivers say "no," then some cops tell drivers that further action is inevitable because radio dispatch "has a drug dog on the way over." It is often a lie to induce consent. There is no dog on the way.

3. If a dog is or is not "on the way," cops add additional lies to make drivers think that there will be a long wait and that the driver must stay until a dog arrives. Cops rely on driver ignorance of the fact that evidence will be suppressed if drivers are detained longer than it takes to complete the traffic stop (e.g. write the ticket). Drivers are induced to consent to search to avoid a long wait based on lies.

4. If a dog is enroute, cops let drivers think that they are obliged to stay even when the cop has no reason to detain drivers any longer. The cop's rationalization is that drivers loiter roadside with cops for no apparent reason or because drivers enjoy waiting for dog sniffs. Cops take advantage of drivers who are too stupid (or too meek) to ask if they are free to go, so that drivers "consent" to unwarranted detention by not leaving.

5. Cops lie about how long it is taking to write a ticket or to obtain a radio response on a driver's license or tag check. If a dog is actually on the way, the cops will make sure that the ticket is written very slowly, until the dog arrives.

6. If a dog alerts and nothing is found, then cops will never record that as an error, but will claim that the dog detected lingering odors of contraband that were recently present. Cops will testify that dogs never make mistakes, never have and never will, and that apparent errors are skillful detections of lingering (residual) odors of contraband.

Michael: 3 Democrats Throw ANWR to the Drillers

The GOP only won the 51-49 vote with the aid of three Democrats. Curses!

Akaka and Inouye of HI and Landrieu of LA demonstrated a distressing truth; that Democrats are proving unable to stick together when it really matters. First the defections on the Bankruptcy bill, then an ungoly number of Democrats roll over for Bush's 82 billion to wage more war, now this...

Why on earth would both Senators from one of the most pro-environment constituencies in the States vote yes on drilling ANWR? The strange answer may be Senatorial logrolling by the GOP leadership on the sovereignty of Hawaiian natives.

It's ironic when you really think about it. The enviromental legacy of Alaskan natives will be destroyed so that the legal rights of Hawaiian natives will be recognized. The modern GOP can truly find a way to divide anyone.

On the plus side 7 Republican Senators showed some courage by voting against this oily boondoogle, one of them being our own John McCain. So there's that; but in the scheme of things, that's not much.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Tucson Hearings of the Government Reform Committee of AZ House

UPDATE: This meeting has been postponed due to the scuffle over the budget. I am told it will convene at this location at an as yet undetermined date.

The Government Reform & Government Finance Accountability Committee will convene for hearings in Tucson:

When: March 18, 2005
Time: 10 a.m.
Location: 1501 N. Campbell Avenue, Tucson

U of A Medical Center, DuVal Auditorium

Parking available in Lot 2030 (Campbell Ave. /Helen St.)

Tentative items to be discussed include the following:

o HB 2491 voter verified paper record (Sponsored by Rep. Downing)

o Behavioral Health

o HB 2486 homeowners' associations; litigation disclosure

Michael: Policy Markets and Aggregate Decision-making

I was wrong.

When DARPA suggested using public futures trading markets to help analyze trends and political events in world politics, I was skeptical and condemnatory. Like many others I was shocked by the idea of betting on events at the Policy Analysis Market (PAM) such as assassinations and coups. This characterization was really a spectacularly bad example of the events and metrics such a market is best suited to track and predict.

There are good arguments on both sides of the issue as to whether such models are ethical and efficacious. What finally settled my hash on the pro side of predictive markets is reading James Surowiecki's "The Wisdom of Crowds". A chapter of his book deals with intelligence gathering in a strategic sense. He examines the pro and cons of centralization, decentralization, local control, and aggregation in cybernetic systems. Surowiecki discusses some of the strengths and weakness of markets in general, and makes some very good points about the ethics and efficacy of the proposed PAM, specifically.

In short, Surowiecki points out that we make speculations about devastating and ethically questionable occurrences every day as a routine, even mandatory, part of government. Why should it be morally questionable to ask such questions outside of government? At base, the purpose of such markets is to bring to bear a much more diverse and independent set of viewpoints than is possible inside of government. In theory, such markets could even draw intelligence in the form of price indicators out of our enemies. It is highly pejorative, and factually dubious, to characterize such markets as 'betting on assassination'. Their purpose and value lies in predicting the health and stability of foreign societies about which our policy elites know little, not in making speculations about low probability and secretive events such as assassinations.

NetExchange, the private company which developed the PAM in partnership with DARPA, proposed in 2004 to bring out a non-governmental version of the PAM that specifically excludes violent events from trading. To date, this has not yet happened, but I think it will be an interesting experiment when it does. Surowiecki's book is upsetting a lot of my preconceptions about the capacity of groups in different circumstances to make intelligent decisions. I recommend you give it a read if you are interested in social behavior.

Tucson City Council Candidates

Here they are, the Democratic Challengers for Tucson City Council for 2005.

Ward 3 Ward 6
Karen Uhlich
Karen Uhlich
Steve Farley
Steve Farley
Nina Trasoff
Nina Trasoff
Clean Candidate
Clean Candidate
Friends O
Clean Candidate
Trasoff For

Steve and Nina will face off in the Democratic primary contest on September 7th, 2005. The winner will face Fred Ronstadt for the Ward 6 seat in the general election on November 2nd.

Karen is hoping to unseat Kathleen Dunbar in Ward 3.

Steve Leal is, so far, running unopposed in either the primary or general in Ward 5.

All the Democratic candidates and the incumbent running this year are funded by Tucson's own public campaign finance law. All the Republican incumbents running this year have repudiated the system, and are busily promising rich folk all over the state the moon and the stars to finance their campaigns.

I think all of the Democratic candidates are good people with progressive views and strong records of leadership and good judgement. Any and all of them deserve our support.

It is somewhat disappointing that progressive Democrats will have to choose between Steve and Nina; much better if we could have them both on the Council.

I encourage people to contact the campaigns and decide where you can make a difference. This year we have the opportunity to unseat two Republicans on the Council, and if we fail to do so, we haven't anyone to blame but ourselves (as opposed to 118K Buckeye State residents...).

Get Crackin'!

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Michael: Burnell Smith Should Go Quietly

After an investigation of illegal over-spending by an independent investigator, the Clean Elections Committee has decided that Representative David Burnell Smith must surrender his office, pay a 10K fine and pay back the 34K the citizens gave him to run. Burnell Smith would do everyone a service by accepting that decision and stepping down.

First of all, it isn't a partisan issue. I would be advocating the same for a Democrat who cheated the system. Burnell Smith's a Republican, it's true, but then so is his district. The elected Precinct Committeepersons of his district will have to select Burnell Smith's replacement, and he or she won't have to face the electorate to take office. Thus, whoever replaces Burnell Smith might be, and likely will be, further right than Burnell Smith. So it is not for partisan advantage that I support the Clean Elections Commission's decision.

I think Burnell Smith should step down because it is responsible to accept the consequences of your actions. Burnell Smith failed to adequately oversee his campaign fund. We are talking about less than 40K here. If Burnell Smith can't compently manage that amount of the public's money, how can we trust him to make decisions about the nearly 1 billion of state revenues which the legislature is responsible for? Do we really want a legislator in office whose excuse for flagrantly exceeding spending limits is that he still had checks left?

An editorial in the East Valley Tribune sums up the Republican take on Smith's problem. They excoriate the Clean Elections laws instead of the irresponsible candidate. They wax poetic about the will of people being superior to the whims of a bureaucrat. They fret that Clean Elections could harm grassroots involvement. In other words, they obsfucate horribly.

The candidate knew, or should have known the rules and the penalties. He's irresponsible and not fit to hold office. Clean Elections law, being adopted by Proposition is the will of the people - all the people - of Arizona, far more so than Burnell Smith's election. The voters of Burnell Smith's district will get a representative as provided by Arizona law. The decision made by investigator Lemon was considered and with strong precedent, the fates of Reps. Gorman and Gould clearly indicate this fact. Finally, only someone completely ignorant of Arizona's election law, or who was trying to scare people into opposing Clean Elections, would suggest the volunteerism might be a contribution to a campaign, as does the Tribune.

No matter how Burnell Smith and his supporters may try to portray this as a fight for principle, it is only fight for Smith's own self-interest. The court costs to defend any legal challenge he might make will come out of the tax-payers' pockets. The time he will tie up his legislative seat with his vain and selfish protestations could have been profitably used by a newly appointed Representative. The only possible good that could come of this is that the Arizona courts would lay down precedent upholding the Clean Elections system, even to the point of removing elected officials.

Step down Mr. Burnell Smith. It is the right thing to do. You still have a potential political career. You can run again. But if you fight this in the courts, you'll always be seen as that self-regarding grandstander who broke the law and tried to worm out of the consequences, and with good justification. What kind of example does it set when a lawmaker argues that the laws shouldn't apply to him? Go.

Michael: Voucher schools = American maddrassas

With the State's voucher bill soon landing on Napolitano's desk, Arizona's citizen should reflect deeply on what the bill actually allows. The proponents of vouchers claim that it provides more choices and more competition that will improve public schools. In theory that is true, but charter schools were supposed to do that, and we're still 48th in education nationally. In fact, charter school students tend to fare worse academically than their public school counter-parts. So why do we need vouchers if we already have charters and the fine idea of choice and competition has failed to produce meaningful results in over a decade of experimentation in AZ?

You will recall that the Bush Administration has been quietly rewriting employment discrimination law with the result that Federally funded faith-based organizations are now allowed to discriminate based on religious beliefs. This sets a clear precedent for allowing private religious schools accepting state funds in the form of vouchers to likewise discriminate in their employment practices. Given that private schools would not be required to open enrollment to all comers to receive state vouchers, the stage is set to create privately owned and operated, but state-funded schools at which toleration of relgious diversity is entirely absent. We will have created American Maddrassas at which religious indoctrination and a hatred for secular society is the main curriculum.

Allowing religious institutions to use taxpayer money for prosthelyzing youth is poor policy. Those most motivated to separate their children from secular society for their education are those most hostile to American institutions of public life. Fundamentalist Christians have already established Universities and a Law School to produce professionals who put their faith above all else. Now the indoctrination would start at Kindergarten; at what point would a child ever have a chance to absorb the values of American citizenship? Wouldn't they in fact be a citizen of the 'City of God' having gone exclusively to religious schools growing up?

Regardless of the danger of creating an America Taliban which is religiously alienated from the rest of American society, vouchers are a disservice to parents and students. Voucher schools have no need to meet curricula or performance targets, so there is no accountability for public money spent on them. Voucher schools have no need to meet NCLB or AIMS testing requirements, so they can't be evaluated by educators, the government, nor the prospective employers of their students.

Our Governor should veto the bill, whatever Republicans might offer her in exchange. Vouchers are bad idea. They are wrong for Arizona and bad for secular society. Objectively, they create a tax-payer funded crèche for religious radicals who are hostile to civil society - although Tom DeLay's immortal words, "I don't believe there is a separation between church and state," amply demonstrates that one needn't be raised in a Madrassa to be a religious zealot.

UPDATE: House Bills 2427 and 2625 would cost Arizona taxpayers up to $25 million in FY 2007 and increase over the next 11 years (as one new cohort of Kindergartners was added each year) to a total of $225 million in FY 2018. If about 110K children where placed into voucher schools over that time, then the state may begin to break even in 2018. That's alot of additional revenue for a program that is often portrayed as a means cost containment. The cost of this program is more than the 20 million dollar expansion of all-day kindergarten proposed by the Governor. So the legislature apparently feels that paying more for the public schools to do less is a wiser investment than the schools doing more when it matters most.

The sponsors also feels keenly the potential unconstitutionality of the voucher scheme it seems. The U.S. Supreme court did find that vouchers do not violate the federal constitution, but the Arizona state constitution says, "No tax shall be laid or appropriation of public money made in aid of any church, or private or sectarian school, or any public service corporation." Some will say that the state is not giving the money to schools, but to parents. That's a distiction without a difference. I could see a difference if the parent were free to spend it on beer instead of eduction, but as it is, it is just an alternative method of dispersing funds to schools. Similar programs were recently held to violate the state constitutions of Vermont and Florida, which have similar provisions.

Of course, our Republican legislators are not reknowned for their legal accumen. Rep. Andy Biggs (R-22) claims the U.S. constitution takes precedence over the state constitution, which is true, but not accurate. Just because the Supreme Court says there is nothing restricting vouchers in the federal consitution doesn't mean that the state constitution cannot be more restrictive of state spending - and it is. And what the hell ever happened to state soveriegnty as a Conservative value. anyway? Biggs is arguing that nothing in a state's constitution can differ from the federal constitution. Doesn't at least one Republican have a problem with Biggs' assertion? Or has political principle surrendered to political expediency completely?

Biggs authored HB 2625, and provides several cites to federal cases in the preamble in an attempt to legitimize vouchers. The only Arizona case Biggs could cite was Kotterman v. Killian, 972 P.2d 606 (Ariz. 1999), which actually undercuts the constitutionality of voucher bills under the Arizona constitution.

In Kotterman, the Arizona Supreme Court upheld the state income tax credit for contributions to private scholarship organizations under the religious establishment provision of the state constitution. The Court held that an income tax credit does not constitute a legislative appropriation, thus the state constitutional restriction on the use of public funds was not triggered. While I question the distinction, for reasons laid out in Justice Feldman's dissent, is Biggs seriously trying to convince people that state tuition vouchers would not be appropriations?

These bills are clearly an attempt to put tax-payer money into building American Maddrassas and are just clearly unconstitutional under the Arizona constitution. As for the Federal precedents upholding vouchers to religious schools, they all rely upon the specious idea that the choice of the parent in selecting the school prevents entanglement or endorsement of religious dogma. In this, the court is flatly misguided. The Supreme Court has departed from traditional jurisprudential principles in this area, and are in fact engaged in judicial activism of the worst sort; the kind that sullies our most cherished principles, like the separation of church and state.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Michael: Federal Agencies Making Propaganda with your money

The U.S. government has made and distributed hundreds of Video News Releases (VNRs) over the past four years, distributing them openly to news agencies who then often use the footage and commentary unattributed in their news coverage. There isn't necessarily any deception intended by the agencies involved (they don't hide the origin of their VNRs), but the viewer will seldom know that the footage came from the government and may have a political slant.

It isn't really surprising that VNRs have become so widespread in government. They are widespread in every other publicity field. However, we would be scandalized if a political campaign were releasing VNRs and news stations were carrying them without any contextualization or attribution. One of the main objectives of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reforms was to get politicians to be more clearly responsible for their own propaganda. Surely the purpose of making sure the public understands the real source of political information doesn't end just because that politician got elected? Who could have a problem with ensuring that all government publications are clearly and unambiguously labeled as such?

Transparency demands that VNRs be identified as to their source and their funding, just as a VNR from a political campaign must be. It is important that government sources are clearly identified, because journalists are less likely to approach 'government sources' from a critical viewpoint. When a political candidate hands a journalist a tape, there is a clear agenda that the journalist will question; when a government bureaucrat hands that journalist a tape, there isn't the same skepticism. The public deserves to know who is speaking when they see such 'news' footage.

Unfortunately, we currently have an Administration who sees itself as locked in an information war with the press and with the American public. Propaganda and public information functions have been merged in Iraq, and now we have seen instances of the same being done in administrative agencies and the target of their information campaigns is us. This covert propagandizement of the public via tax-payer funded VNRs in support of 'official' policy is just one half of struggle to achieve information superiority in the war for the public's minds. The other half is the increasing secrecy of the government upon the thinnest of pretexts.

But these underhanded techniques are by no means limited to the Bush Administration. In California, the Schwarzenegger Administration (I still feel like I'm writing satire when I type that) put out a series of VNRs promoting its policies that ended up in news stories without attribution. Likely, more examples of this use of tax-payer money to promote a political agenda covertly will be uncovered in the near future.

Local news stations are just too lazy and budget conscious to pass up high-quality free footage. There is no way that voluntary journalistic restraint is going to cure this problem. We need a ban on using tax revenues to push political agendas disguised as news, or at least require a BICRA-style attribution as to the source of VNRs. Perhaps a float of the agency and authorizing official's name in the corner, like a standard television branding badge, would be a way to assure attribution. I trust the public to make up its mind if they have all the information, but it seems unfair to allow executive officeholders to turn their bully-pulpits into news studios and covertly propagandize the public via 'independent' news sources.

Michael: Bush to "visit" Tucson

Bush confirmed that he will come to Arizona, most likely Tucson, to promote his plan to dismantle Social Security. The listservs and activist websites are all abuzz with plans to give him a warm welcome, indeed. If Bush allows anyone but hand-picked sychophants anywhere near him, his ears will certainly be burning. More likely, though, people will be stuck protesting at symbolic locations, like GOP HQ, once again.

I suspect that Bush will stick to script and restrict contact with any of us who dare to disagree with him. He'll land at DM in AF1, and heli over to the rally, which will be crawling with security and accessable only to ticket holders vetted by the Republican Party and the Chamber of Commerce, while anyone undesirable will be stuck, out of sight and out of mind, in a 'free-speech zone' a mile away.

God forbid Bush come face-to-face with an actual Democrat. The new Golden Rule of America politics: those who live in glass houses had better have a great security detail - or just outlaw rocks.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Michael: Spineless Senators

Betraying the working people of America, 18 Democratic Senators voted for a new Bankruptcy law that makes it harder for people crushed by debt to get a new start after a serious illness, a divorce, or a death in the family, while making it easier for the rich to protect their millions when they declare bankruptcy. They couldn't have stopped the bill, but they showed everyone how spineless and beholden to the consumer credit industry they are by voting for it anyhow. Hillary just didn't show up. Forgivable considering her husband was undergoing major surgery.
Bankrupt 18

Friday, March 11, 2005

Michael: Financial Support of the Troops

I don't care whether you believe in this war or not. I don't. But every one of us has a moral obligation to the men and women who are fighting it in our name. Since the party in control of the government doesn't seem to put a high priority on their well-being upon arriving home, it falls to each of us to do our part, apart from the taxes we pay, to make things a little more managable for them and their families.

Please buy as many purple bracelets as you can afford. The total purchase price, not the proceeds, go directly to the charity of your choice which are serving our troops.
For Those Who Serve Bracelet

Michael: What Would Jesus Say?

I became curious recently about the source of Fundamentalists' hostility toward gay marriage, and gays in general. Why are they so hostile to gay equal rights when other denominations, which are also Christian, seem to have little or no problem with tolerance of the sexual orientation of others? The answer, at base, is a matter of literal (sic) interpretation of the Bible, versus interpretation through the lens of New Testament teaching and new understandings of the original meaning of the Bible in its native languages. But along the way I also discovered a crucial tool for distinguishing the Conservative view of the world from the Liberal view. A tool that can be used for reframing the contest for the hearts and minds of American Christians in the political struggle for America's future.

The primary source of Biblical authority for the condemnation of homosexuality is in the Old Testament's Book of Leviticus 18:22.

"You shall not lie with a man as with a woman; it is abomination."

The next verse prescribes death as the punishment for violation of the Law. This is a source of controversy regarding Canada's hate speech laws, which makes the public reading of Leviticus hate speech.

This is the single unambiguous condemnation of homosexuality in the Bible. Other claimed references are inferential or derivative, at best. But there is no lack of controversy about the interpretation and context of Leviticus 18:22. The most important issue is that Leviticus is the book that deals with ritual hygiene of the ancient Jewish priesthood. Christians are explicitly freed from the Law by the Grace of Christ, and thus Christians generally do not observe the prohibitions in Leviticus.

The word 'abomination' in 18:22 is a questionable translation of the Hebrew word toeyvah, which also means 'ritually impure' or 'sinful'. Thus, there may not necessarily be a moral judgement implied by toeyvah, only that being toeyvah makes one unfit for Jewish rituals, much as failure to ritually bathe makes a Muslim unfit to pray. However, 18:22 appears alongside prohibitions on bestiality and incest, suggesting a more enduring moral content in the condemnation. On the balance, I think the textual evidence is stronger (from the standpoint of legal interpretation, anyhow) that Leviticus expresses both a ritual and moral condemnation of a man having sex with a man, though clearly it is a ideologically inspired stretch to likewise condemn lesbian sex on the basis of Leviticus, which refers specifically to men.

The real issue for a secular Modernist like myself is this: so what?! What does it matter if Bronze Age Israeli society condemned man on man sex? What does it matter to American civil law what any religion or any ancient legal or ritual system says?

The secular response to Levitican Law is that our government has no power to enforce or prohibit sexual practices based on any religion, no matter how august its provenance: that's what the First Amendment is for. Leviticus bans some practices that we continue to hold are contrary to public policy for non-religious reasons, such as bestiality and incest. But it also endorses some practices, such as polygamy, which for public policy reasons, our government has banned. Were we to take the literal guidance of Leviticus as the basis for our secular government, we would have to condone polyamory but punish man/man sex with death, while tolerating woman/woman sex. That is a patently absurd outcome. Unless prohibitions on homosexual sex can be justified by a legitimate public policy purpose, and the Supreme Court has already said that it cannot be, the government must tolerate it. Nor should homosexuality be used as the basis of any discriminatory policy, such as preventing homosexuals from entering into civil marriages. If the anti-gay lobby wishes to argue that a prohibition on such marriages has some continuing public purpose, fine, but cannot and must not hang their argument on the Bible or public morals. As we shall see, neither is on their side anyhow.

There is a broader theological aspect to the controversy over homosexuality between Fundamentalist Christians and other sects; what would Jesus say? Jesus is the foundation of Christianity, the source of the new covenant, and conduit of God's grace to mankind. The old Law must be interpreted and filtered through the life and teaching of Jesus. But Jesus says nothing about homosexuality. That could mean that the law of Leviticus stands fast. But such a result would be wholly inconsistent with the core principle that animated Jesus' revolutionary ministry; be compassionate as God is compassionate.

Marcus Borg, professor of religion and culture at Oregon State University, delves into the New Testament for a fresh look at Jesus, the social and political revolutionary. I have copied the most relevant chapter of Borg's book "Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time: The historical Jesus & the Heart of Contemporary Faith" to a PDF file, with permission of the author. I invite you to download and read his chapter, "Jesus, Compassion, and Politics". It is well worth the few minutes that it takes; I can hardly do justice to his scholarship and his refreshing perspective on the life of Jesus in a few paragraphs.

In brief, when viewed from the perspective of first century Jewish society, almost everything Jesus did and said was an indictment of the prevailing ethos. To the first century Jewish elite, the goal of social life was to be holy, as God is holy. The concepts of holiness and ritual purity, the opposite of toeyvah, were nearly synonymous. Purity was considered the polar opposite of sin. A 'sinner' is, literally, one who is impure, or toeyvah, as well as one who does bad things. One could be considered impure simply as a function of one's station in life; for some people toeyvah was a permanent condition. This duality of purity and sin, and the many shadings between them, structured what we would now term a caste system, with the most impure being the untouchables.

Among the untouchables at the bottom of the social system were the poor, the diseased, the lame, and women - and people who practiced unclean and abominable acts such tax collection (no, I'm not kidding...), and man on man anal sex. You will find the impure, the 'sinners', were the focus of the ministry of Jesus. One of the slanders against Jesus was that he was a "friend of tax collectors and sinners". In other words, he hung around with those whom Jewish society considered dirty, low-class, untouchable people. When you begin to realize that Jesus championed those most despised by first century Jewish society, that he derided and challenged the cultural assumptions of his time, and that his every act was an affront to the established social order, including the religious order, it becomes apparent that Jesus was consistently and forcefully demonstrating an alternative and conflicting ethos; be compassionate as God is compassionate. It also becomes very clear why they killed him.

Jesus worked to free the despised untouchables, the 'sinners', from the oppression of the Levitican legal and social order. The idea that Jesus would condemn a gay person for their sexual orientation or practices is irreconcilable with his teachings and acts. Jesus would sooner despise someone born blind. Both were untouchable abominations to first century Jewish society, and both would be honored dinner companions of Jesus.

Viewed through the lens at the core of Christianity - the teachings of Jesus - Levitican laws regarding homosexuality are not only outdated, they are immoral. To condemn someone for what they are, or for some act that is perceived as impure, is what Jesus preached against. It is against the example of his life. It is what he died fighting against.

To condemn homosexuals and deny them equal treatment under the law denies the life and teaching of Christ. In a word, it is un-Christian. Even if one does not respect the First Amendment, and wishes to enshrine ancient religious law in our Constitution, discrimination against gays is a profoundly immoral act that Jesus would have dispised.

As I read Borg's book it become clear to me that that Fundamentalists are trying to re-establish something like that ancient caste system that Jesus fought agianst, now, in present day America. This is a useful frame for any political discourse in a religious context. They are trying to establish a social order that is founded in a literal interpretation of the Old Testament. The merciless judgement and petty jealousy displayed by Jehova in the Old Testament infests Fundamentalists' words and deeds. They have banished the love and compassion of Jesus from their hearts. Their moral universe is all about who is 'chosen by God' (demonstrated by their wealth) or who is 'saved', and who is not. And those who are not one of the elect don't matter; they are barely human. Fundamentalists are cinching tighter the circle of compassion and ethical obligation that Jesus threw open to embrace the entire world, even non-believers.

Fundamentalists would gladly return to a time when genocide was not only acceptable - it was God's command. When torturing and murdering your enemies was normal - as long as you're sure to claim God is on you side. When a woman was just chattel who did not even have the right to control her own reproduction - just like livestock. When your worth as a person was founded upon your caste. When your race, your religion, your national origin, your sex, your disability, or your sexual orientation, could make you less of a person. When your status as a 'sinner' is only limited by the prejudices of those with power.

In the Fundamentalist worldview, your worth is never any greater than it is at your birth (both in a eugenic sense, from the twisted values resulting from their struggle to control the reproduction of others, and in that your birth may be the sum of your social identity), unless, of course, you become one of the elect - one of them. This is a profoundly anti-American view of the world. It treats with contempt the public virtues we hold sacred, the rule of civil law, the freedom of conscience and belief, the equality of all people, and the inherent dignity and rights of every human being.

There is a moral component to the political struggle between Neo-Conservative and Liberal views of the world, and it is the same as that between Fundamentalism and Jesus.

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