Wednesday, December 31, 2014

People power goes on the block on March 2nd

That date may go down in history as a day of infamy. March 2nd is when the U. S. Supreme Court hears arguments in Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission.  Given the conservative majority on the Court, the people of Arizona (and, indeed, the people of the U. S.) could end up as the losers in a battle waged by their elected representatives, the outcome of which is determined by partisan judges.  AZBlueMeanie at Blog for Arizona has some scary comments.

I have previously explained what the case law precedent holds in this matter, but of course, this is of little importance to the conservative activist justices of the U.S. Supreme Court who are hellbent on eliminating election laws and the rights of voters. They have ignored their own precedents and changed long-settled law to suit their ideology several times already.  The fact that this appeal was even granted is a bad sign.
A decision in favor of the Tea-Publicans in the Arizona Legislature would affect not just Arizona, but all states which have a constitutional citizens initiative and referendum process in which the power to legislate is a residual power that resides in the citizens of the state. Other states that have some form of independent redistricting commission, the most important of which is California, will also be affected.
The rule of Gerrymandering: “Voters don’t pick their representatives so much as their representatives choose their voters.”

Put another way, if the GOPlins win this one, "power to the people" will give way to "power from the people."

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Retched excess: Brewer's crusade against drivers licenses costs $1.5 million (and climbing)

Now let's see if I have this correct.  The AZ legislature cannot find the money to pay what they owe to public education.  Moreover, they dip into the highway fund to balance the budget.  And now ADOT is on the hook for paying the legal fees for Brewer's crusade?  Retch!

Laurie Roberts at azcentral has good advice for the incoming governor: stop this nonsense now and cut our losses.

h/t Jerry Stoops

Pope Francis champions global action on climate change

And, equally big news, is that survey results indicate that most Catholics agree.  Here is coverage from Mother Jones.

Pope Francis, the leader the Catholic Church, is closing out 2014 in his typically headline-grabbing fashion. He used a traditional Christmas address to issue a scathing takedown of the political squabbling that infects Vatican bureaucracy, and he was also credited as a key backroom player in the thawing of US-Cuba relations.
Next on his list? Climate change.
Over the weekend, the Guardian reported that the pope will issue the first-ever comprehensive set of Vatican teachings on climate change, in the form of an encyclical—or "papal letter"—sent to churches worldwide. He will also personally lobby for climate action action in a series of high profile meetings ahead of the all-important UN global warming negotiations in Paris next year. ...

One issue, if not the issue, for the Pope is the impact of climate change on the poorest of humanity.

Climate change ... will "affect all of humanity, especially the poorest and future generations. What's more, it represents a serious ethical and moral responsibility."

Oh, man!  If he can get the U. S. and Cuba together, he can beat climate change.

The weekly "Huh?" award goes to Robert Samuelson ...

... for claiming that our economic system is rigged in favor of the middle class.  Huh?

Here is the rebuttal by Kevin Drum at Mother Jones with a compelling graphic showing how economic expansions have increasingly favored the ultra-rich.

John Oliver: How to avoid the hassle of New Year's Eve

Timely advice for tomorrow. From truthdig.com:

Of all the holidays in all the world, New Year’s Eve always seems to be more hassle than it’s worth. Thankfully, the “Last Week Tonight” host can help you get out of any celebration you want to avoid.

Check out the 3-minute video.

Monday, December 29, 2014

The World According to GORP

That would be the Grand Old Republican Party (with apologies to John Irving and Robin Williams).

Robert Reich has a good post about what we can expect from GORP now that he controls both houses of Congress ("he" being The Prototypical Patriarch - white, old, rich, and conservative).  

What GORP believes

No climate change (and we humans have nothing to do with weather anyway).  Tax cuts for the wealthy is good for the poor.  Economic inequality is merely an artifact of measurement.  Evolution? Nothing worth mentioning before 6,000 years ago.  Voter fraud is everywhere and can be controlled by eliminating voting.

What GORP might will do

Reich predicts they will fire the head of the Congressional Budget Office thereby reducing the dissonance between their economic beliefs (as in the Ryan budget) and the economic, statistical, and scientific facts.   Not only that:

The pattern seems to be: if you don’t like the facts, make them up.
Or have your benefactors finance “think tanks” filled with hired guns who will tell the public what you and your patrons want them to say.
If all else fails, fire your own experts who tell the truth, and replace them with people who will pronounce falsehoods.
There’s one big problem with this strategy, though. Legislation based on lies often causes the public to be harmed.
Not even “truthiness,” as Stephen Colbert once called it, is an adequate substitute for the whole truth. 

But a world governed by truthiness will be the world we live in starting a week from today - a World According to GORP.

If you can't reason with 'em, laugh at 'em

Cartoons from AZBlueMeanie at Blog for Arizona.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Retched excess: AZ Republicans feather their own nest with $800,000 of taxpayer money

That's right.  They are spending $800K on remodeling even while claiming they cannot afford to fund schools.  Here's the story at azcentral.

The Arizona Legislature faces a $1 billion budget shortfall. State leaders have begun warning that likely painful cuts will be required and say they can't afford to pay public schools the money the court says they're owed.
Meanwhile, the House and Senate found nearly $800,000 in the couch cushions for new carpet, paint, reconfigured offices for leadership and other remodeling to legislative facilities.
According to information provided to The Arizona Republic in response to a public records request, the Senate is spending $363,111 on remodeling and the House is spending $336,759. Some of the amounts are based on the bids, and so may change once work is completed.
And that's not all of what's being spent. The records do not include the amount the Senate is spending to reupholster dozens of chairs in legislative hearing rooms, or what the House is spending on new monitors and TVs.

Here's the new Republican slogan for 2016: Kouches Over Kids.

Darrell Issa failure

Every single phony scandal this man trumped up was a bust.  He spend millions of taxpayer money on investigations into Benghazi, IRS, and just about anything that might question the competence of government, especially the executive branch.  There is no telling the total tab when the costs of defense and compliance by various agencies are included.  

Issa is termed out, but, ..., wait for it ... his Republican successor who will chair the oversight committee will be just as bad.  Read the full accounting at Salon or a compressed version at Daily Kos.

Wealth redistribution Republican style

Yes, wealth redistribution is going on.  But from the bottom up.  Read examples of what individual states are doing at this truthdig report.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

"GOP learns lessons from Sam Brownback's tax scare"

Really? Well ...

Here is a report from Politico on how the GOP in various states are coping with limited revenue and already cut-to-the-bone services.  It does seem that the voodoo economists are retreating from campaign promises that, if realized, would have led their states down the same path to economic disaster as Kansas.  For example, in AZ our Governor-elect Dicey Doug Ducey promised to eliminate the state income tax (without any plan as to how to make up the billions of dollars in new deficit).  Now his spokespersons are talking differently.

An Arizona Republican close to GOP Gov.-elect Doug Ducey, who wants to make serious changes to the state’s Tax Code, said they’ll communicate more realistically than Brownback: Though they [still] think tax cuts grow the economy, “we have never said decreasing taxes would increase state revenue.”

But that's the whole theory: tax cuts grow the economy and thus automatically generate more revenue.  These guys continue to believe this stuff.  They just think Brownback screwed up the implementation.  To continue:

Republicans have learned a budget lesson from Brownback, too: Make sure you have the money.
“What Republican generally learned about the Kansas experience was to make sure you have the budget handled before you embark upon the tax changes,” said Stephen Slivinski, a senior economist at the conservative Goldwater Institute, who added that “if tax cuts are ever going to be in the offing, you have to handle the budget and do so in an honest clear way to make sure there may not be traps that might have befallen the Kansas effort.”

The thread running through all this is if we just communicate better all will be well.

Arizona’s new governor-elect is in a similar boat [as other states like Wisconsin]. Ducey ran on a platform of reducing income taxes as close to zero as possible, but his transition team is now facing a potential $500 million budget shortfall and court order mandating the state spend more on education.
So tax reform and tax cuts will likely have to wait.
“Because we’re facing such a large budget shortfall, I haven’t heard anyone speak of cutting taxes any more than we already have,” said Jennifer Stielow, vice president of the Arizona Tax Research Association, who sits on Ducey’s budget study committee that will offer up recommendations for his first budget. “It’s not the environment to propose something like that.”

So don't look for a roll-back of the corporate subsidies initiated by Brewer anytime soon.  That quote contains an implicit signal that those subsidies will stay in place.  And don't look for a sudden immigration of new businesses to AZ.  After all, we're agin immigration in AZ.

The remaining options for Ducey and legislative chums are not great.  Hiking taxes is not likely.  Rescinding the corporate tax giveaways cuts would be admitting the theory is wrong so they cannot do that.  Scrapping Medicaid would blow another hole in the budget.  They most likely will have to restore funding to education (after they lose their lawsuits).  All that adds up to a deficit of a billion dollars  ... and climbing.  To avoid truly devastating cuts to services, as far as I can see, the only source of revenue is to tackle tax expenditures aka sales tax loopholes - a source of revenue worth as much as 12 billion dollars.  Does anyone in Phoenix have the gumption to deal with that one?



Update: Quick guide to the AZ legislative web site

Craig McDermott at Blog for Arizona has been posting helpful tips in his "guide to using the website of the Arizona legislature".  

As the opening of 2015 session of the Arizona legislature approaches, it is time for a quick tutorial on using the legislature’s website.
Users can access an incredible amount of information on or through the website, but it can be a little confusing for people who are unfamiliar with it.
Hence, the quick guide to using it. :)

Here are the links:

Part 1

Part 2 Section 1

Part 2 Section 2

Part 2 Section 3 (new)

And for those who love URLs:

http://blogforarizona.net/az-lege-2015-participation-101-part-1/

http://blogforarizona.net/az-lege-2015-participation-101-part-2-section-1/

http://blogforarizona.net/az-lege-2015-participation-101-part-2-section-2/

http://blogforarizona.net/az-lege-2015-participation-101-part-2-section-3/


Friday, December 26, 2014

Tidings of comfort: A year of "Yes, we can"

Paul Krugman in the NY Times writes about all the successes of 2014 - proving that government can work and can work for our betterment.   The successes included containment of the Ebola virus,  the improvement in the economy, foreign policy, and affordable care.  

The common theme here is that, over the past year, a U.S. government subjected to constant bad-mouthing, constantly accused of being ineffectual or worse, has, in fact, managed to accomplish a lot. On multiple fronts, government wasn’t the problem; it was the solution. Nobody knows it, but 2014 was the year of “Yes, we can.”

But all those successes got drowned out by the right-wing media machine and the failure of Democrats to blow our own horn. 

h/t Phil Silvers

A Christmas Story

Well, it's not about Christmas per se.  But it's a must-see heart-warmer suitable for the season (from Daily Kos).

Given that one of the first well-known uses of 3-D printing was trying to make something we already have plenty of—firearms—this story provides a kind of antidote.

How 3D printing technology gave new limbs and a new life to a dog named Derby.

Insidious inequality: "The central issue is who the government works for."

Robert Reich has a scorching account of how big money drives politics to work for the monied few.  His listing of who benefits from the spending bill trillion dollar travesty is boggling.  And because of the lifted limits on campaign contributions, more of this is on the way.  It may be premature to lament the demise of our democracy, but the signs are not good.  

... As wealth continues to concentrate at the top, individuals and entities with lots of money have greater political power to get favors from government – like the rollback of the Dodd-Frank law and the accumulation of additional corporate welfare. These favors, in turn, further entrench and expand the wealth at the top.

When Democrats vote for such a bill you know that we - that is, the American public - are in trouble.  

Read more in Reich's essay on alternet.org.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Corrected post: News from the Sky Island Scriber

The "News" post yesterday contained an error.  The old web address for the blog does still work but the correct[ed] address is: 

skyislandscriber.blogspot.com

The corrected post is on the web site here.

(Thanks, Pam!)

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

SCOTUS calendar of arguments for early March includes redistricting and ACA

Those are two issues of interest to us in AZ.  Here, from SCOTUSblog.com, is the February/March calendar.  So ... mark your calendars.

News from the Sky Island Scriber

The blog will get cranking again soon after the 1st of the year.  Those who are subscribed will continue to get the daily (or weekly - depends on your subscription) email version.  Sometimes you will find useful to log onto the Sky Island Scriber's web site.  Here's how and why.

New web addresses.  The old one still works (skyislandscriber.blogspot.com) but there are some new ones as well.  The scriber acquired our very own domain name so you can just go to www.skyislandscriber.com or just skyislandscsriber.com.

Manage your subscription[s].  While at the site, over on the right side of the page, you will find two dialogue boxes that you can use to manage daily and/or weekly subscriptions.

Search the archive.  Also over on the right side of the home page, you will find way down at the bottom, after the subscription boxes, the archive of all previous skyislandscriber posts.  They are organized by date - year and month.  But searching for a particular individual or issue is awkward.  Therefore, I installed a search engine which is in the dialogue box just above the archive listing.  Type in one or more terms and click "Search now".  For example, typing the name Nichols brings up all posts citing John Nichols.  Typing Nichols Sanders narrows the results to only those posts by Nichols citing Bernie Sanders.  If it's not full text search, it comes awfully close.  Searching for Eisenhower brings up two posts, one on an essay by Nichols and another on an essay by Krugman (essays in which Eisenhower named in the bodies but not in the posts' titles.  At the top of the results list, there is an option to sort by date.

Quick guide to the AZ legislative web site

Craig McDermott at Blog for Arizona has been posting helpful tips in his "guide to using the website of the Arizona legislature".  

As the opening of 2015 session of the Arizona legislature approaches, it is time for a quick tutorial on using the legislature’s website.
Users can access an incredible amount of information on or through the website, but it can be a little confusing for people who are unfamiliar with it.
Hence, the quick guide to using it. :)

Here are the links

Part 1

Part 2 Section 1

Part 2 Section 2

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Response to the letter in Sunday's Daily Star on wealth inequality

Here is the letter I sent to the Star this morning (  The author of the target letter snarkily blamed Obama for the recent increases in economic inequality.  My rebuttal LTE follows. (h/t AZBlueMeanie - lots more at the post in Blog for Arizona)

===============

Re: The December 21st letter "Look at who is leading as middle class declines"

Revealing partial truths is one way to mislead the readership. Yes, the great economic divide between rich and poor has increased during President Obama's tenure.  But what this partial truth masks is the larger truth, namely that the wealth gap has been widening for the last 30-odd years.  (For example, see http://gabriel-zucman.eu/files/SaezZucman2014.pdf.)  And that widening has continued regardless of who occupied the White House and regardless of which political party was in control of the Congress.  

There are more fundamental causes of the great economic inequality in this country that transcend political party.  Tax policy is one of them.  Reagan and Bush tax cuts have created a booming fiscal engine that channels money upwards from the working class to the uber-rich - the top 0.1%.  The net effect has been to reverse the post-world-war II growth.   The sad fact is that this engine has continued under both Republican and Democratic administrations.  

To get our country back on track and restoring an economically healthy and consuming middle class, we need a drastic revision of public policy.  That will require bipartisan action on several fronts, tax policy being just one.

There is no advocacy for class warfare in my remarks.  That's already covered by Warren Buffett's observation:  “There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.”  America does not need that kind of victory.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Why is "humanity hanging from a cross of iron"?

The actual title of John Nichols' essay in The Nation is "What Bernie Sanders and Dwight Eisenhower Have in Common".  Nichols' recounting of the convergent observations made by Eisenhower and Sanders is so good that I am going to reprint it here in full (with minimal comment and added emphases).

Dwight Eisenhower was right when he warned at the close of his presidency about the development of an American military-industrial complex, as most everyone in the United States and around the world is now well aware.
Eisenhower was also right when he warned at the opening of his presidency about the danger posed by the bloating of military budgets.
"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed," the newly inaugurated commander-in-chief told the American Society of Newspaper Editors convention in April 1953.
"This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some fifty miles of concrete pavement. We pay for a single fighter with a half-million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people," Eisenhower explained, as a president who also happened to be a retired general. "This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron."
The cross of iron has grown a good deal heavier with the passage of time, as a United States Congress that argues about whether the country can afford to pay for Food Stamps and nutrition programs just approved a Department of Defense bill that authorizes $585 billion in Pentagon spending for the 2015 fiscal year. If history is any indication, the actual spending total will turn out to be a good deal more than that once all the supplemental appropriations have been added.
"The United States spends more on its military in absolute terms than any other nation on earth," notes Germany's Deutsche Welle. "In 2013, the US spent $640 billion on defense, followed by China with $188 billion and Russia with $88 billion, according to figures from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute."
The US spending tends to be approved with very little of the questioning that Eisenhower encouraged. In the House the vote to approve the latest Pentagon plan was 300-119. In the Senate, it was an even more lopsided 85-11.
And a number of the latest "no" votes came from Republicans—such as Texas Senator Ted Cruz—who were griping about a provision that designated new national parks and wilderness areas,
But Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders cast a "no" vote on what might reasonably be described as "Eisenhower principles."
"I am voting no because I have very serious concerns about our nation's bloated military budget and the misplaced national priorities this bill reflects," explained Sanders. "At a time when our national debt is more than $18 trillion and we spend nearly as much on defense as the rest of the world combined, the time is long overdue to end the waste and financial mismanagement that have plagued the Pentagon for years."
Sanders, who is set to take over as the ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, is making an argument for cracking down on budgeting abuses that the Pentagon that liberals and conservatives ought to be able to respect.
"The situation is so absurd that the military is unable to even account for how it spends all of its money," says the senator. "The non-partisan watchdog agency, the Government Accountability Office, said ‘serious financial management problems at the Department of Defense made its financial statements un-auditable.' "
That does not make Sanders anti-defense. It makes him a senator who is willing to call out waste, fraud and abuse—and to apply the standards that Eisenhower proposed.
"I support a strong defense system for our country and a robust National Guard and Reserve that can meet our domestic and foreign challenges," argues Sanders. "At a time when the country is struggling with huge unmet needs, however, it is unacceptable that the Defense Department continues to waste massive amounts of money."

Today (Dec. 19), President Barack Obama held an end-of-year press conference.  In his remarks, he noted with respect to the controversial Keystone XL pipeline that there were better ways to create jobs and grow the economy.  I submit that the same is true of the bloated military budget.  But our Congress debates the cost of food stamps.  They don't ever have a debate on an infrastructure bank and why we need to care for our roads and bridges.  But they approve with little or any debate the largest amount of money in the world for military spending, money that cannot be accounted for.  And that is why humanity is hanging from a cross of iron - a cross forged in the United States of America.

Now support Nichols' reporting by subscribing to The Nation here or here.  (I just did.)


Thursday, December 18, 2014

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. labels coal "an Outlaw Enterprise", McConnell defends the outlaw

Writing in the NY Times Kennedy takes on "King" coal.  That industry is dirty by its very nature but also dirty in terms of what it does to the environment and how it corrupts politics.

Bear with me on this.  I'll quote from Kennedy's op-ed on the specifics of the culture of corruption of coal, but there is a larger issue at stake.

On Nov. 13, federal prosecutors in West Virginia announced that Donald L. Blankenship, the notorious former chief executive of the Massey Energy Company, once Appalachia’s biggest coal producer, was charged with widespread safety violations and deceiving federal inspectors. In 2011, the Mine Safety and Health Administration found that safety violations led to the 2010 explosion that killed 29 miners at the Upper Big Branch mine. Holding the head of a mining company responsible for such violations is an unprecedented move in the coal industry.
Then, on Nov. 24, a Kentucky judge issued a scathing judgment against a Frasure Creek Mining settlement involving over a thousand Clean Water Act violations and years of false data on pollution-disclosure reports.
Coal is an outlaw enterprise. In nearly every stage of its production, many companies that profit from it routinely defy safety and environmental laws and standards designed to protect America’s public health, property and prosperity. In fact, Mr. Blankenship once conceded to me in a debate that mountaintop removal mining could probably not be conducted without committing violations. With a business model like that, one that essentially relies on defiance of the law, it is no wonder that some in the industry use their inordinate political and economic power to influence government officials and capture the regulating agencies.

You can read more in the Kennedy op-ed about the specifics of King Coal's environmental misdeeds in Appalachia and what Kennedy has been doing about it.  The bottom line for Kennedy is this:

The Kentucky judgment and the indictment of Mr. Blankenship are two steps in the right direction, but there is a long way to go. If we are to save Appalachia, we first need to save our democracy by getting the dirty money out of politics. As long as campaigns are fueled by donations from King Coal, state agencies and politicians in Kentucky and West Virginia will continue to be servile cogs in a destructive machine. That mechanism is uprooting America’s purple mountain majesty, poisoning its rivers and people, and destroying the communities of Appalachia.

Hmmm.  "Servile cogs"?  I wonder if we can be more specific.

The AZ Daily Star today carried a report on Mitch McConnell's view of King Coal and how he plans to use his new powers as majority leader to derail environmental regulation in the US.  Here are snippets from the AP interview.

Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., pledged on Wednesday to do all he can to stop President Barack Obama's coal plant regulations, saying a White House "crusade" has devastated his state's economy.
The Environmental Protection Agency "has created a depression in my state and it's done a lot of damage to the country all across the country with these efforts to essentially eliminate coal fired generation," he said in an Associated Press interview.
"I couldn't be angrier about it and whatever we can think of to try to stop it we're going to do. ... I know it won't be easy with Barack Obama in the White House."
McConnell takes over the Senate leadership and its new Republican majority in January. He reaffirmed plans to make approving the Keystone XL pipeline, which would run from Canada to Texas, as the first order of business. He said other moves to counter Obama's environmental policies await, but he did not offer details.
The Obama administration is trying to get fossil-fuel fired power plants to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. The White House also recently announced a deal with China to curb the greenhouse gases blamed for global warming.
Asked if the Senate had any obligation to address global warming, McConnell said, "Look, my first obligation is to protect my people, who are hurting as the result of what this administration is doing." [Translation: "no".]
He said that despite the administration's "phony deal" with China, "coal is booming elsewhere."
"Our country, going down this path all by ourselves, is going to have about as much impact as dropping a pebble in the ocean," McConnell said.
"So for the president to pursue his crusade at the expense of the people of my state is completely unacceptable, and I'm going to do any and everything I can to stop it," McConnell said. Much of the decline of the Kentucky coal industry is actually due to the rise of other energy sources, such as cheaper natural gas, as well as cheaper coal from other states; and Obama's regulations have not all taken effect.

There are lots of things wrong here, but I will take on three of them.  

Coal as a dominant source of energy is on the decline for reasons other than environmental regulation.  Like other fossil fuels, the coal industry is threatened by renewable energy sources like solar.  So McConnell is being disingenuous in his claims about the cause of coal's decline in Kentucky.

Second, if we were to accept McConnell's logic about "dropping a pebble in the ocean" we would never do anything about any problem - ever.  None of our social safety net would be in place.  MLK would never have organized marches.  And Gabby should give up her crusade for gun safety.  So the "pebble" defense is bogus.

Finally, McConnell is claiming some kind of moral high ground with his defense of "the people of my state".  He should be called out on that one.  King Coal is poisoning his people - read some of the details on that in Kennedy's op-ed.  King Coal is poisoning the pristine environment of Appalachia and Kentucky specifically.  And they are getting away with it by their influence over "servile cogs" like McConnell.  That is a morally indefensible position and we should not let Mitch "pebbles" McConnell get away with it.

More generally, McConnell's stance on Kentucky coal is a signal of things to come in a Republican-dominated congress.  Forget bypartisanship.  You can welcome compromise if you like with the guy who swore to make Obama a one-term president.  (You know -- the guy who cannot see the ripples because of the size of the pebble.)  The last bulwark we have against the corruption of corporate influence over American politics is President Obama and the power of the veto.  I hope he uses it.



Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Make your voice heard in Phoenix

The Arizona Advocacy Network is hosting two training sessions (on-line "webinars") on Jan 3 and 12, both at 6 PM.  Each lasts an hour and provides instruction on the ALIS and RTS systems.  These systems allow members of the public to be heard by the legislature from a distance without having to be physically present in Phoenix.  If you have even the smallest spark of activism, this training is a must do for you. 

Click here for details about this event.

(h/t Craig McDermott at Blog for Arizona)

Barber vs. McSally CD2 race to be decided today

The results are in and will be revealed in a ruling by Maricopa County Superior Court judge Katherine Cooper in a hearing at 10 AM today.  Pick your favorite news source and tune in.

Congressional conservatives want to increase your taxes

No kidding.  Among other egregious inclusions, the trillion dollar spending bill passed last week has a provision that cuts funding for the IRS.  The problem is that the return on investment in the IRS is large.  Reducing the effectiveness of IRS therefore could have the consequence of raising the tax rate in order to keep revenues constant.  This is a classic case of unintended consequences enacted by economic <INSERT YOUR DEROGATIVE HERE>.  Or maybe this is evidence that bipartisanship is not all that it is cracked up to be.

Check out this article in the Washington Post by Catherine Rampell for details. (h/t AZ Daily Star)

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Big banks need to be busted up before they go bust ...

... and bring the rest of us down in the process.  That's just part of Elizabeth Warren's message delivered on the floor of the Senate objecting to provisions in the spending bill that will relax regulations on banks.  

And that bill does more.  Here is a brief on other parts of the bill from Pamela Powers Hannley at Blog for Arizona:

It is highly likely that this budget– which takes some $90 million from the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program while giving more than $450 million to the Pentagon for fighter jets it doesn’t want and setting up another ruinous Wall Street bailout– will pass the Senate and be signed by the president.

Warren really laid into Citigroup.

In a fiery but measured speech on the Senate floor, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren blasted the close ties between CitiGroup, Congress, and the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations as Wall Street “cronyism”. Channeling trust-busting, progressive President Teddy Roosevelt, Warren called for “opening up Dodd-Frank to make it tougher” and for an end to “too big to fail” banks.
"Let me say to anyone who is listening at Citi, I agree with you that Dodd-Frank isn’t perfect,” Warren said, looking directly into the camera. “It should have broken you into pieces.”

Unfortunately, the applause was not exactly deafening.

Here is the fundamental problem with the politics of economic inequality that has built over the last 40 years:  Democrats support Republicans when it comes to policies that work against American families.  Clinton signed off on repeal of Glass-Steagall.  Now Obama will sign off on this bill which, Warren argues, will set us up for another financial crash.  (Remember Thom Hartmann's book "The crash of 2016"?)  And it's not just the President.  Our representatives in Congress are voting for this stuff.  See yesterday's posts in this blog, here and here, for more about how Democrats need to get back to their core values and put them to work in politics.

Here is a link to Warren's prepared remarks in the Washington Post (h/t AZBlueMeanie).



Saturday, December 13, 2014

Elizabeth Warren's "special sauce"

Stephanie Taylor at The Nation analyzes Warren's broad appeal. (h/t Jean Vickers)

From the rubble of the 2014 election, a conversation has started about the future of the Democratic Party. Senator Elizabeth Warren is central to that conversation. 
This week, we learned that Warren will be joining the Senate Democratic leadership as strategic policy adviser to the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee. In this role — created specifically for her — she will help craft the party's policies and priorities as well as serve as a liaison to progressive groups. 

Assuming the party chefs retranche' (forgive the George-Will-ism) are serious about taking her advice, this is an amazing ascendancy - she's not been in the Senate all that long.

So what is her recipe?  Taylor lists several defining ingredients.  Big ideas, pursued with boldness, and a pragmatic but skeptical approach to bipartisanship are a few that are listed leading up to this conclusion.

The road to 2016 starts today. Democrats in Congress have a choice. They can become less and less popular as they pursue tepid policies that seek to pacify everyone and please no one. Or they can tap deep into themselves — into the parts that are most courageous, most audacious, most good. They can pursue a road map that is both ideological and tactically advantageous. They will be surprised at the results.

A true blue Democrat would only be surprised at positive results from acting like a Democrat if the memory of FDR has totally faded.

John Nichols derides the "party of pablum"

Here is a related post from John Nichols in The Nation.

When Bernie Sanders gets to griping about the Democratic Party, which happens frequently, he asks, "What does it stand for?" The independent senator argues that, after years of sellouts and compromises on issues ranging from trade policy to banking regulation, and especially after letting campaign donors and consultants define its messaging, the party of Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman has become an ill-defined and distant political machine that most Americans do not relate to or get excited about. His point has always been well-taken, but it was confirmed on November 4. How else can we explain voters who chose Mitch McConnell senators and Elizabeth Warren policies?

Nichols uses Arkansas as an example of the deep disconnect between the Democratic politicians and (what should be) Democratic policies.

That's what happened in Arkansas, where 65 percent of voters expressed their concern about income inequality and poverty by approving a substantial minimum-wage increase on the same day they gave Senator Mark Pryor just 39 percent of the vote. Pryor was one of many Democrats who ran away from President Obama in 2014, and part of how Pryor distanced himself was by announcing his opposition to increasing the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. 

Pryor got out-played by his opponent.

Republican Tom Cotton, who also opposes the federal increase, slyly endorsed the state ballot initiative and swept to victory in a race where what could have been sharp distinctions between the contenders were neutralized by the Democrat.

If you want a lesson about what to do better, here it is.  

At the root of the problem is a delinking of politics from policy. Increasingly, Democratic candidates in major contests run as "brands" carefully constrained to make a lowest-common-denominator appeal that is satisfying to campaign donors and insiders in Washington but that makes little sense to voters. While GOP candidates rage cynically against "elites" and "crony capitalism," Democrats peddle pablum. As such, they don't excite even their own base. What excited activists were those initiative and referendum campaigns; indeed, some of the biggest rallies I witnessed during the 2014 campaign were organized by backers of minimum-wage hikes and "Move to Amend" campaigners for an end to corporate influence on politics and policy. They were right to be excited: they were on their way to big and meaningful victories because they were fighting for big and meaningful—as well as popular—proposals. That's a lesson Democrats should ponder, because as Stephanie Taylor of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee reminds us: "When elections are about nothing, Democrats lose."

We have to make the next election about something.  We need to convince our Democratic politicians that voting with Republicans is dangerous to their political health.  If you walk like one and talk like one, voters think you are one.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Why the psychobiology of conservative brains makes the case against bipartisanship

Yes, that's a bit extreme, but it did get your attention.  

I am still on my research sabbatical but will post to this blog now and then when I find some noteworthy research that has practical political implications.  

Here are two articles.  The first is John Nichols' scathing critique of a US House vote on tax breaks for corporations.  (Why do Dems vote for this stuff?)  The second touts a return to FDR style messaging as a way to overcome the characteristics of the conservative brain - and presents a justification for why our Democratic politicians should start behaving very differently.

What Democrats just did (and should not be doing)

Want to know why voters are tuned out and turned off?  If you cannot tell the difference between parties based on objective measures, like roll call votes on corporate giveaways, why vote?

John Nichols reports at The Nation.   The House overwhelmingly passed corporate tax giveaways.

... the US House voted 378-46 for the so-called "Tax Increase Prevention Act."
Hailed by politicians and pundits as an example of Congress coming together to get something done, the measure—which still must be considered by a somewhat skeptical Senate—is better understood as a glaring example of what it wrong with Washington.
"There are a lot of things that Congress didn't get done in the last two years," explains Congressman Mark Pocan, a Wisconsin Democrat who cast one of the lonely "no" voters in the House. "The fact that this was a priority of this leadership at this point shows just how broken this Congress is."
The measure seeks to extend many of the most absurd tax breaks enjoyed by multinational corporations in a way that Congressman Keith Ellison says "gives away too much to big business, while doing little to help working families make ends meet."
The "bonus depreciation" merits special attention.
Georgetown University law professor David A. Super refers to that particular corporate tax break as a "license to steal"—because it "allows a business to pretend that its buildings and equipment wear out far faster than they actually do."
"As economic stimulus, bonus depreciation does not work. Studies of a similar measure enacted to combat the 2001 recession found that only a tiny minority of businesses even considered the new tax benefit as an important factor in making investment decisions," explains Super. Yet, he adds, "The cost [of bonus depreciation is] staggering: nearly $300 billion over the next decade, more than three times what we spend on nutrition supplements for pregnant women, infants and young children. That would wipe out roughly one-third of the deficit reduction from higher tax collections from the wealthy as a result of last year's 'fiscal cliff' deal."
Only the most sold-out, corporate-hack Republican could back such a fundamentally flawed scheme, right?

Wrong.  Click here to get a listing of the votes.  Totally disgusting.  Well, not totally.  Raul Grijalva voted "no".

BTW: Why is "bipartisan" defined as doing what GOPlins want?

Why knowing about conservative brains should guide Democrats and shape their policies

If the interpretation of the research is correct - that conservatives are wired differently - there is an important implication: we cannot keep trying to convert them.  But if that is true, then how did FDR manage to achieve so much?

This is a very good read at alternet.org (h/t Dave Divine) and not a terribly long one.  Here are motivating snippets.   

... by far the biggest and most often-studied difference between the conservative and liberal brain is their response to stimuli invoking fear and disgust. Conservatives tend to react much more viscerally to negative stimuli than do liberals, and they are likelier to interpret new information [8] as having a negative or dangerous effect on their lives.
... if our politics is also hardwired in our genes [12], then our familiar red-blue/urban-exurban geographic divisions may not just be a cultural gulf, but a separation between two different types of people whose minds function in fundamentally different ways. For whatever reason, a high number of Americans seem to be intrinsically responsive to messages that rely on judgmentalism, fear and disgust as primary motivators. Not much is likely to change that, because those responses aren't simply a cultural overlay but hard-coded into the brain.

Here is an alternative approach for a Democratic re-awakening.

The path forward for liberals isn't to try to deactivate conservative fear-based responses by using more powerful frames based on hope and change. That seems nearly impossible. Would it be possible instead to reorient the target of their anger and fear toward the very wealthy elites on Wall Street who are actually damaging their economic well-being by hollowing out [13] the American economy in favor of the asset class?
An economic populist approach has the advantage of being right on policy and on politics. The aspirational liberalism championed by President Obama is destined to disappoint in an era of rampant political obstruction designed to deflate hope and blockade real change. The rhetoric of the Elizabeth Warren wing of the Democratic Party, by contrast, is unafraid to make sharp contrasts and define villains. The instinct of the neoliberal wing of the Democratic Party is to pretend that there are no villains in the economy, only temporary obstacles to inclusive growth; the instinct of the more economic populist elements is to clearly define the perpetrators of the decline of the middle class. Their very "divisiveness" is what allows voters motivated more by anger and fight-or-flight instincts to identify with political warriors who will solve problems by taking down the real bad guys.

That is how FDR did it.

FDR provides a working historical precedent for this approach. While his administration did admonish directly against fear itself, it also pulled no punches [15] in channeling the anger of dispossessed Americans toward the plutocrats who opposed him in ways that are strikingly sharp in tone to a modern ear, but find echoes in the language of combative moral authority we typically only see from conservatives today. Consider FDR's 1936 Madison Square Garden speech, and how little in common it has with the neoliberal rhetoric of modern Democrats: 
[Quote from FDR speech.] We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace—business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering. they had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob. Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me—and I welcome their hatred. I should like to have it said of my first Administration that in it the forces of selfishness and of lust for power met their match. I should like to have it said of my second Administration that in it these forces met their master."
That was a speech designed not for the more rational parts of the brain, but straight for the amygdala, the so-called "lizard brain." FDR used rhetoric like this in combination with aspirational speeches to build a large and broad coalition that appealed to Americans across the aisle.

The lesson for Democrats is simple:

... it will be easier to convince conservative-leaning brains that Wall Street plutocrats are more to be feared than minorities or empowered women, than to convince them that there are no enemies to be feared at all.


Monday, December 1, 2014

Sky Island Scriber takes a sabbatical

Yesterday I featured an article on the differing psychologies of liberals and conservatives.  In so doing I was reminded of my conviction that mounting an effective campaign, either for an issue or a candidate, needs to be grounded in what we know about such differences.  And what we know comes from scientific research in the social, behavioral, and biological sciences.  But I am not satisfied with the state of my own knowledge about that research.  Blogging about a range of topics keeps me current on the news (and is often fun), but it does not allow me the time to delve deeply into any one topic.  So I am going on sabbatical to re-engage my academic skill set (as an experimental psychologist) in the service of some academic research.  My immediate objective is to do lots of reading about the research on the conservative mind; the longer term goal is to discover new applications of that research to more effective campaigning.

The blog (meaning the email list, news feeds, and supporting apps) will stay active during my sabbatical so that I may write occasional posts on my progress.  I hope to be back blogging again early in the new year.

In the meantime, here are some sources that I rely on.

* Blog for Arizona (You too can subscribe to it and get daily emails.)

* Paul Krugman's columns in the NY Times

* Robert Reich

* Daily Kos

* Al Jazeera

* Mother Jones

* alternet

* And then there is vox.com and salon.com.

Cheers to all and best wishes for the holiday season.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Why do GOPlins hate the EPA? Paul Krugman says it's all about inequality.

Krugman makes the case in his column in the NY Times (reviewed by alternet.org).

Here is the question:

... polluters will defend their right to pollute, but why can they count on Republican support? When and why did the Republican Party become the party of pollution?

The striking fact is that previous Republican presidents (Nixon and George H. W. Bush) played major roles in defending our environment.  EPA was established under Nixon and expanded under Bush.  Now their party has undergone some transformation making the GOP defenders of pollution - on every issue, always.  Just for example:

... Today’s Republican Party is putting a conspiracy theorist who views climate science as a “gigantic hoax” in charge of the Senate’s environment committee. And this isn’t an isolated case. Pollution has become a deeply divisive partisan issue.

What happened?  Here is Krugman's take.

The basic story of political polarization over the past few decades is that, as a wealthy minority has pulled away economically from the rest of the country, it has pulled one major party along with it. True, Democrats often cater to the interests of the 1 percent, but Republicans always do. Any policy that benefits lower- and middle-income Americans at the expense of the elite — like health reform, which guarantees insurance to all and pays for that guarantee in part with taxes on higher incomes — will face bitter Republican opposition.
And environmental protection is, in part, a class issue, even if we don’t usually think of it that way. Everyone breathes the same air, so the benefits of pollution control are more or less evenly spread across the population. But ownership of, say, stock in coal companies is concentrated in a few, wealthy hands. Even if the costs of pollution control are passed on in the form of higher prices, the rich are different from you and me. They spend a lot more money, and, therefore, bear a higher share of the costs.
In the case of the new ozone plan, the E.P.A.’s analysis suggests that, for the average American, the benefits would be more than twice the costs. But that doesn’t necessarily matter to the nonaverage American driving one party’s priorities. On ozone, as with almost everything these days, it’s all about inequality.

Krugman considers other possible explanations and finds them incomplete at best.  Check out his column.

Public service post: How strong is your password?

Creating strong passwords is a must, but how strong is "strong"?  Hackers are pretty good at understanding the psychology of password creation.  Here are some tips on what not to do in your defense against the dark arts.

Theoretical and practical perspectives on psychologies of liberals and conservatives

Here is a review (on alternet.org) of research on cognitive differences between liberals and conservatives.  It contains summaries of research like this:

... a growing body of literature reveals that liberals and conservatives think differently from one another in ways that can even be traced back, in part, to the level of instinctual response, reflecting conservatives’ heightened sensitivity to threat bias. This work is congruent with an integrated multi-factor account offered by John Jost and three co-authors in the 2003 meta-analysis “Political Conservatism as Motivated Social Cognition.” In their abstract, they explained,  “Analyzing political conservatism as motivated social cognition integrates theories of personality (authoritarianism, dogmatism–intolerance of ambiguity), epistemic and existential needs (for closure, regulatory focus, terror management), and ideological rationalization (social dominance, system justification).” Their meta-analysis integrated findings from 88 sample studies in 12 countries, with 22,818 individual subjects—meaning it drew on a substantial body of work by others.
Yet, once publicized, it drew such a hostile response there was even talk of Congress defunding the entire field of research into political attitudes. In response, Jost and one co-author wrote a Washington Post Op-Ed, which defused the crisis. In it, they wrote:
True, we find some support for the traditional “rigidity-of-the-right” hypothesis, but it is also true that liberals could be characterized on the basis of our overall profile as relatively disorganized, indecisive and perhaps overly drawn to ambiguity — all of which may be liabilities in mass politics and other public and professional domains.
This statement underscores the point that liberal cognitive tendencies can be as problematic in their way as conservative ones are.

The article also contains practical suggestions for messaging that might reach across that divide:

[There is] “empirical work being done by Rob Willer and Matthew Feinberg … showing that you can get ‘the other side’ to support your side more if you make sure to approach or political arguments into language or have it address the concerns of the other side. So, for example, if you talk about environmentalism as maintaining the purity of the earth, and get conservatives much much more excited about the idea of sustainability and environmentalism.” 

But Dems beware: it cuts both ways.

On the other hand, they also showed that emphasizing the military’s role in providing equal opportunities for minorities impacts liberals to make them more supportive of the military—so adopting different basic frameworks can reach people on both sides of the ideological divide. Their research doesn’t show that differences are erased, but they can be diminished, which is a start.

There is lots more research reviewed here which should be a good starting point for framing messaging for 2016.

Addendum: Wilson grand jury instructions confusing due to difference in state and federal law

The confusion in the instructions reported by Lawrence O'Donnell (see my previous post) might very well have been due to a conflict between Missouri state law and a United States Supreme Court ruling.  The Supreme Court ruled that force against a fleeing suspect is unconstitutional but Missouri never changed its law to comply.  St. Louis Public Radio had two reports, here and here.

Wilson resigns from Ferguson police force, claimed to be paid by ABC for interview

Just about every news source (e.g., Al Jazeera) reports Darren Wilson's resignation.  Here is a claim that he was paid big bucks for the interview with ABC.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Election retrospection: Some lessons to learn for 2016

And we need to learn them because we Dems are already behind -- 2016 started November 5th.

There are some good points in this Daily Kos story and I will highlight some of my favorites in snippets here.  The Daily Kos post also has links to other good retrospective articles.

Lesson: Turn out your base

That is, give the base something to be excited about.  Having Dem candidates run/vote as Republican-lite didn't, and won't, cut it.  The consequence of that is blurring party identities and a loss of enthusiasm.

... The poll says that people who decided on Election Day, in the final week, and in the final month, all went heavily in the Democratic direction, and that it was the Republican voters who had made up their minds months before. The Washington Post's Aaron Blake has a good explanation for what probably happened here—the decision wasn't between Democrats and Republicans, but between Dems and not voting at all: "Also, it's quite possible those Democratic late-deciders are simply partisans who weren't all that enthusiastic about voting and, thus, didn't technically decide until the very end, even as their votes were basically foregone conclusions."

Lesson: Number of phone calls and number of "Knocks" are misleading metrics

Those numbers sound good from campaign managers' stump speeches.  Is there hard evidence of their effect on voter turnout?

... An overview of controlled experiments about GOTV by Vox suggests that even though canvassing is much better at stimulating turnout than, say, mailers or phone calls, canvassing also needs to involve actual good, organic conversations. Simply rushing through the script in order to maximize the number of "knocks" isn't much more effective than forcing people to sit through TV ads.

For those who would take issue with this one, I ask that you reflect on what volunteers get asked to do and how that's measured.  Consider this parallel.  Number of student credit hours is one educational metric used to determine allocation of funds among different university departments.  But is that a measure of quality of education?

Lesson: It's the REAL economy, stupid.

A lot of the post-mortems ... about the election have invoked the confusion about how, on paper, the economy is doing well, and yet, people are dissatisfied with how the economy is treating them in particular, which undercut any Democratic efforts to point to the economy and say that what they're doing is working. ...

Because what they're doing is working mainly for the economic royalty.  The statistic missing from the DCCC flyer about the economy is the decline in real wages even while productivity increased.

Lesson: Get a common, gut-level message and stick to it.

What was the Democratic theme in 2014?  It should have been the economy, stupid.

Ed Kilgore looks for a way forward on talking about the economy, not so much a question of "more" or "less" populism but about getting everyone on the same page with one message about the economy, one that focuses on how inequality hampers growth in general.

Theres a lot more in this article so have at it.

California town on verge of creating its own border patrol

Robert Reich tells a story about the two Americas.  Orinda, CA is an upscale, wealthy community that benefits from a good tax base and donations from parents.  And it zealously guards its schools.

Orinda’s schools are among the best in California – public schools that glean extra revenues from a local parcel tax (that required a two-thirds vote to pass) and parental contributions to the Educational Foundation of Orinda which “suggests” donations of $600 per child.

So what's the big deal?

Orinda doesn’t want to pay for any kids who don’t belong there. Harold Frieman, Orinda’s district attorney, says the district has to be “preserving the resources of the district for all the students.”

Well, maybe some of the students?

Which is why it spends some of its scarce dollars on private detectives to root out children like Vivian.

Vivian attends one of Orinda's schools.  Why do Orindians want her gone? Here's the story on Vivian.

In early November, school officials in Orinda, California, hired a private detective to determine whether a seven-year-old Latina named Vivian – whose single mother works as a live-in nanny for a family in Orinda — “resides” in the district and should therefore be allowed to attend the elementary school she’s already been attending there.
On the basis of that investigation they determined that Vivian’s legal residence is her grandmother’s home in Bay Point, California. They’ve given the seven-year-old until December 5th to leave the Orinda elementary school.
Never mind that Vivian and her mother live during the workweek at the Orinda home where Vivian’s mother is a nanny, that Vivian has her own bedroom in that home with her clothing and toys and even her own bathroom, that she and her mother stock their own shelves in the refrigerator and kitchen cupboard of that Orinda home, or that Vivian attends church with her mother in Orinda and takes gym and youth theater classes at the Orinda community center.
The point is Vivian is Latina and poor, and Orinda is white, Anglo, and wealthy.
And Orinda vigilantly protects itself from encroachments from the large and growing poor Latino and Hispanic populations living beyond its borders.

Reich takes Vivian's story to a more general level.

The bigger story is this. Education is no longer just a gateway into the American middle class. Getting a better education than almost everyone else is the gateway into the American elite.
That elite is now receiving almost all the economy’s gains. So the stakes continue to rise for upscale parents who want to give their kids that better education.
The competition starts before Kindergarten and is becoming more intense each year. After all, the Ivy League has only a limited number of places.     
Parents who can afford it are frantically seeking to get their children into highly regarded private schools.
Or they’re moving into towns like Orinda, with excellent public schools.
Such schools are “public” in name only. Tuition payments are buried inside high home prices, extra taxes, parental donations, and small armies of parental volunteers.  
These parents are intent on policing the boundaries, lest a child whose parents haven’t paid the “tuition” reap the same advantages as their own child. Hell hath no fury like an upscale parent who thinks another kid is getting an unfair advantage by sneaking in under the fence.

Here is the rest of the story.

The other part of this larger story is that a growing number of kids on the other side of the fence are Hispanic, Latino, and African American. Most babies born in California are now minorities. The rest of the nation isn’t far behind. 
According to the 2010 census, Orinda is 82.4 percent white and 11.4 percent Asian. Only 4.6 percent of its inhabitants are Hispanic or Latino, of any race. All of its elementary schools get 10 points on the GreatSchools 10-point rating system.
Bay Point, where Vivian’s grandmother lives, is 41.4 percent white, 54.9 percent Hispanic or Latino of any race, and 11.6 percent African America. Bay Point’s elementary schools are rated 2 to 4 on GreatShools’ 10-point scale.
Many of the people who live in places like Bay Point tend the gardens and care for the children of the people who live in places like Orinda. 
But Orinda is intent on patrolling its border.

And in so doing denies children like Vivian an equal shot at the American dream - a dream that is eroding day by day.

Assuring inequality of educational opportunity is one means of reassuring a future in which the rich get richer.

Orinda seems posed to create its own border patrol.  Is it ready to declare itself the independent state of Orindiana?

Friday, November 28, 2014

Shocking mistake by prosecutors in Darren Wilson grand jury

Lawrence O'Donnell in his "Rewrite": Assistant prosecutors instructed the grand jury with an unconstitutional law.  They gave the grand jury copies of a Missouri law that had been ruled unconstitutional by the US Supreme Court in 1985.  What did that law say? That police were permitted to use deadly force on a suspect who was running away.  And then, when they tried to re-instruct the jury after Wilson's testimony, the prosecutors screwed up the correction.  If you read nothing else today, view this video.

h/t "Cheri" - a comment in Blog for Arizona.

The Magical Number 108, Plus or Minus 10: Some Limits on Our Capacity for Belief in Our System of Justice

The headline is a play on the famous paper "The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on Our Capacity for Processing Information" by George Miller.  

What is the deal with 108?  According to Shaun King writing in the Daily Kos, 108 is the number of days following the shooting of Mike Brown that the Ferguson police claimed Brown had run (and died) 35 feet from Police Officer Darren Wilson.  If you make it 118 (the plus 10), the actual distance finally admitted by the prosecutor, Bob McCulloch, was 118+35=153 feet, not 35.  Even now, as in the interview with ABC News host George Stephanopoulus, Wilson continues to assert the distance to be 35 feet.

Again, Wilson continues to advance the lie because it supports his narrative. If Brown ran half a football field away, it suggests so much more to us than the mental image of his barely making it 10 yards before he, as Wilson suggests, turns around in a demonic rage, and then runs into a hail of gunfire from Wilson's semi-automatic pistol.
If Wilson and the police will tell this lie, so boldly and so publicly, we must ask why. If they will tell this lie, one of fact and math, not of opinion, why do they deserve the benefit of the doubt with every other detail they claim to be the truth in this case?

Therein lies a limit on belief in our judicial system.

Ultimately, this case should've gone to trial, where these claims could be cross-examined and debunked by a truly concerned attorney. But Brown's family, and all citizens who care for justice, were denied this opportunity.

Superintendent-elect Diane Douglas has Spring semester to get her grade above F

Otherwise, the recall effort will kick in during the summer break.  See the story by Montini at azcentral.com.  Of all the letters she didn't care to have added to her name (like, MS, PhD), I would have thought F would be the least desirable.  Maybe not.

P. S.  She appears to keep dodging reporters so she is getting a zero on the first question of the first Spring semester exam.

Update: Judge denies Barber request to count more ballots

Link to the story at azcentral.com.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Two cheat sheets for dinner-time conversation with Tea Baggers and other GOPlins

Here is a before/after comparison on the economy from DCCC (h/t Jim Woodbrey)

And here is another one on Obamacare.

Watch their eyes glaze over and heads explode.  

Happy Gobbler, GOPlins!

Why the best turkey is a pork shoulder

Here is some culinary advice for next Thanksgiving (or any dinner until then) from Ezra Klein at vox.com.

Barber campaign goes to court to get ballots counted

Lawyers for both Barber and McSally campaign are duking it out in court.  The judge is expected to rule early next week.

Here is the story from Jim Nintzel at Tucson Weekly/The Range.

And here is an editorial reaction to which ballots should be counted by Dan Shearer at GV News.

Why is Harry Reid Republican-lite?

He struck a deal with the Republican House leadership on a tax deal that would scrap the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Care Tax Credit while preserving tax breaks for corporations - permanent ones at that.  Nancy Pelosi in the House and Sherrod Brown in the Senate are gathering the votes to prevent the override of the veto certain to come from President Obama.  

So, why IS Harry Reid Republican-lite?  More generally, why do Democratic politicians run away from their own party and its values?

Here are the details in a report from Daily Kos.

P. S.  The wind energy tax credit is in that bill and will be collateral damage if a veto is forthcoming.  The Congress might still work out a tax package that avoids the veto and some windy-states Senators promise to keep the credit alive.  This is what comes of bundling unrelated items into single bills.  Here is the report on that bill from motherjones.com.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Why is Tea Party blood pressure off the charts? O. B. A. M. A.

So says Kevin Drum writing at motherjones.com.  He was commenting on an op-ed this morning in the New York Times by Jeremy Peters who wrote, in part:

Mr. Lowry [editor of National Revew] suggested one way Congress could react. “If I were John Boehner,” he said, referring to the House speaker, “I’d say to the president: ‘Send us your State of the Union in writing. You’re not welcome in our chamber.’ ”

Drum's reaction:

Oh man, I can't tell you how much I wish they'd actually take Lowry up on his suggestion. Can you imagine anything that would strike middle America as pettier and more pointlessly vindictive than this? Anything that would seem feebler and more futile? Anything that could possibly be more evocative of a five-year-old throwing a tantrum?
I guess you could if you put your mind to it. But it would be hard. Obama is really inside their heads, isn't he?

Yes, but it gets even better and closer to home sweet home in crAZy.

At the top of [the Tea Party] list of potential targets are politicians like Senator John McCain of Arizona, a proponent of an immigration overhaul. Their fantasy candidate: Sarah Palin, Mr. McCain’s former running mate, who now spends much of the year at her home in Scottsdale, Ariz. Two prominent conservative activists, who spoke anonymously to reveal private discussions, said leading Tea Party figures planned to reach out to Ms. Palin to see if she was interested in running against Mr. McCain.

I wonder if ritzy Scottsdale is prepped for drunken brawls.

"Still crAZy after all these years." (Simon & Garfunkel)

The Ferguson shooting and grand jury non-indictment: A perfect storm of unbelievability

Here are links to two stories about the shooting of the unarmed, black teenager Mike Brown by Police Officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri.  Both are written by Ezra Klein of vox.com and based on now public accounts.  One story is  based on testimony of Brown's companion the day of the shooting, Dorian Johnson.  The other is based on the statement by Darren Wilson.

Klein highlights the notorious unreliability of eye-witness testimony and the fallibility of human memory of rapidly occurring, highly emotional events.

As with Wilson, it's impossible to know where Johnson is telling the truth, where he's lying, and where his memory is simply faulty — eyewitness accounts are completely unreliable even under the best of circumstances, and these were not the best of circumstances.

Note that the eye witness accounts have been reported to contradict the physical evidence.  Note also the timing of the critical events.  Klein again:

But where Wilson's account presents Brown as completely irrational and borderline suicidal, Johnson's account is more recognizable. It isn't a blameless, kindly beat cop who gets set upon by a rampaging Michael Brown. And nor is it a blameless, kindly Michael Brown who gets set upon by a cold-blooded murderer with a badge.
It's a cop who feels provoked by these two young black men who won't get out of the street, and who tries to teach them a lesson, to put them in their place. His actions escalate the situation, and then the adrenaline floods, and then there's a struggle, and the situation escalates, and escalates, and escalates, and then Darren Wilson shoots Michael Brown and Michael Brown dies.
All this happened in less than two minutes. The fight happened in even less than that. And so there's also room for both accounts to be subjectively right. With the adrenaline pumping Wilson might really have grabbed Brown first, but then thought Brown was trying to grab his gun, or beat him to a pulp, even as he was really trying to get away. Brown might have sworn at the cop who almost clipped him with a truck, but after that, he might have really been trying to simply survive the altercation.

In the end we are left with conjectures - "might really have" - that were not put to rest by the grand jury's decision not to indict.

Foreign policy quiz on Iraq and Mideast matters

My quiz is based on an article in motherjones.com by Andrew Bacevich (see last item in this post for his creds).

Q1: Do you believe that Iraq, as a country, still exists? (Yes or No)

If you said "yes", then you believe that:

Considered from this perspective, the "Iraqi government" actually governs, the "Iraqi army" is a nationally representative fighting force, and the "Iraqi people" genuinely see themselves as constituting a community with a shared past and an imaginable future.

If you believe that the greatest Humpty Dumpty of all times, Dubbya, broke Iraq with his trumped up invasion, then you most likely answered "no".  Another reason for answering in the negative would be recognition of the incompatibility of mid-East boundaries and the actual distribution of religious and cultural groups.

Q2: Which of the following assertions (quoted from the Bacevich article) is provably false?

(a) The presence of US forces in the Islamic world contributes to regional stability and enhances American influence.

(b) The Persian Gulf constitutes a vital US national security interest.

(c) Egypt and Saudi Arabia are valued and valuable American allies.

(d) The interests of the United States and Israel align.

(e) Terrorism poses an existential threat that the United States must defeat.

(f) Each of the above is arguably false.

(g) Each of the above is true.

If you affirmed the truth of one or more of these statements, then there is a place for you in the State Department or Pentagon or Council on Foreign Policy.  Bacevich dismantles the rationale for each one of these assertions. Read his essay to find out how.

Andrew J. Bacevich, currently Columbia University's George McGovern Fellow, is writing a military history of America's war for the Greater Middle East. A TomDispatch regular, his most recent book is Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed Their Soldiers and Their Country.

The case for infrastructure investment - and why it is not happening yesterday

David Johnson at ourfuture.org (h/t Daily Kos) reacts to a "60 Minutes" report on our crumbling infrastructure.

“60 Minutes” ran a report Sunday, “Falling apart: America’s neglected infrastructure,” describing the seriousness and damage to the economy caused by our country’s crumbling infrastructure.

The solution is clear: borrow the money while interest rates are low and then start hiring and rebuilding.  The reason why it is not now happening, and may never happen, is simple: Republicans don't want government to succeed.

OK, you say, that's too harsh.  You may be right.  The Republicans might want infrastructure investment but they want more tax breaks for corporations first.

Read Johnson's article - it has the link to the 60 Minutes program.

The next episode in the GOPlin saga: The revenge of the GOPlins

House Republicans are pushing a tax bill that chops out extensions of the earned income credit and child tax credit - it's payback for the President's immigration action.  Let's see if it hits Obama's desk DOA.

The essence follows (from the Kevin Drum article at motherjones.com). 

....Left off were the two tax breaks valued most by liberal Democrats: a permanently expanded earned-income credit and a child tax credit for the working poor. Friday night, Republican negotiators announced they would exclude those measures as payback for the president’s executive order on immigration, saying a surge of newly legalized workers would claim the credit, tax aides from both parties said.
So there you have it. This bill is the first victim of Republican frothing over Obama's immigration order. As revenge, they left out Democratic tax priorities, and Obama is having none of it.

Robert Reich: Why college gets you nowhere

Wages have fallen for non-graduates, but wages for college-educated people have fallen also.  Why?

... While a college education is now a prerequisite for joining the middle class, the middle class is in lousy shape. Its share of the total economic pie continues to shrink, while the share going to the very top continues to grow.

You can find more dismal statistics and analyses in Reich's essay at alternet.org.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Failure to indict is statistically rare - except in police shootings

Here is a report on how the Ferguson grand jury failure to indict is a statistically significant (meaning rare) event.  But if you look at just police shootings, failures to indict are commonplace.  The question, raised in the report from fivethirtyeight.com, is why?

There are at least three possible explanations as to why grand juries are so much less likely to indict police officers. The first is juror bias: Perhaps jurors tend to trust police officer and believe their decisions to use violence are justified, even when the evidence says otherwise. The second is prosecutorial bias: Perhaps prosecutors, who depend on police as they work on criminal cases, tend to present a less compelling case against officers, whether consciously or unconsciously.
The third possible explanation is more benign. Ordinarily, prosecutors only bring a case if they think they can get an indictment. But in high-profile cases such as police shootings, they may feel public pressure to bring charges even if they think they have a weak case.

The release of all the evidence may be enlightening.

From Steve Farley: What we have to look forward to in the next legislative session

Here is a post from Steve's Facebook page this last Friday (11/21/2014).

This morning I took on Senate President Biggs and House Speaker Gowan debating fiscal policy in front of about 800 corporate tax cut fans at the annual conference of ATRA, the AZ Tax Research Association. I believe I more than held my own. The most astonishing moment came when Sen Biggs told the crowd that a court forcing the legislature to adequately fund our schools would be a "great injustice." Then he said that he was confident we would be done with session, complete with a partisan budget in only 65 days, since he figured The governor, speaker, and he would agree on everything. We have a lot of work to do. I did make headway arguing passionately that our schools are more important to a healthy business climate than yet another corporate tax cut and got some applause.

"great injustice"? Since when is education an "injustice"?  The difference between Republican and Democratic brains is large indeed.

IMO, enacting new taxes is not likely.  So we need to support Steve in finding revenue sources by closing loopholes.  More on that to come.

Brewer loses appeal on drivers license ban, Ducey says he will continue losing streak

Here are snippets with the essence of the story from azcentral.com.

A federal appeals court Monday denied Gov. Jan Brewer's request that it reconsider its ruling blocking her denial of driver's licenses to young undocumented immigrants protected by a 2012 deferred-deportation program.

That is, she lost the appeal heard by a 3-judge panel and then asked for the entire court of 11 judges reconsider.  Basically they said "no."

The ruling affects an estimated 20,000 immigrants in Arizona who are protected by the Obama administration's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, policy. The policy allows undocumented immigrants who were brought here as children before June 15, 2007, and who were born after 1981 to be protected from deportation as long as they register and pass criminal-background checks.
Brewer issued an executive order denying licenses to DACA recipients on Aug. 15, 2012, the same day DACA took effect.
Gov.-elect Doug Ducey has said he will continue Brewer's policy with regard to the driver's licenses.
"Clearly, the legal process should play itself out in relation to this matter," said Daniel Scarpinato, Ducey's spokesman. "As the governor-elect has always stated, he will adhere to the law once a final rendering has been reached."

So here you have it -- the first concrete action of the incoming Dicey administration on job creation.

"Gov. Brewer has wasted countless taxpayer dollars defending a misguided and harmful policy that has been rejected time and time again by the courts," said Dulce Matuz, one of five plaintiffs in the case.

It's not a waste.  Think of the countless jobs created by this investment of tax payer dollars.  

Jobs for lawyers, that is.

Update on AZ Fact Check on tax loopholes

Yesterday I posted about a fact check on Steve Farley's claim that the state was losing 12 billion (with a B) dollars because of tax loopholes.  I provided a link to Steve's Facebook photo of the print version of that story. Here is the link to the on-line version of the story.  (Thanks to Steve for the link.)

Before the recall, give Diane Douglas a chance ...

... to do nothing?  The newly elected education superintendent talks crAZy conspiracy theory to the Tea Baggers and ran on one issue - common core.  And yet the voters put her in that position (by an overwhelming mandate of 50.48%) for which she is otherwise completely unqualified.  Laurie Roberts at azcentral.com reports that there already is a recall effort officially underway.

A political committee on Monday filed formal paperwork with the Secretary of State's Office, signaling its campaign to recall Arizona's soon-to-be top educator.
The Coalition to Recall Diane Douglas is set up with a phone number, an e-mail address, a Facebook page and a pair of guys who want to see Douglas bounced from the state superintendent's office.

However, the actual recall cannot happen until July.

Under Arizona law, she gets to serve for six months before she can be recalled, under the enduring principle that our leaders ought to have time to do something silly, scandalous or just plain stupid before we bounce 'em.

What Republicans know about climate change does not influence what they &nbsp;believe

So says a recent study reported in motherjones.com.  Republicans report changes in temperature but then refuse to believe in climate change.  Not so with Democrats.  You could just as well translate this into economic terms and the belief in trickle-down economics.

How mathematics might work in a GOPlin universe

Or not.

The GOP members of both chambers, notably Ryan and Hatch, could be on their way to rewriting the rules of mathematics.  The basic idea is to make tax cuts for the rich appear to be lest costly than they actually are. If you don't like minus signs in your budgeting, just make the "-" into a "+".  If that happens, look for the economic inequality indicators to take off.

Read the details in this post at motherjones.com.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Why increasing economic inequality might trigger the crash of 2016

I suspect that many Green Valley households are in what Bob Lord at Blog for Arizona calls the Affluent 9%.  Such households should be worried because the concentration of wealth among very few people threatens them just like it has taken a horrific toll on Americans in the bottom 90% bracket.  (Want examples?  Google #MyHungerGames.) Here is the danger.

The affluent 9 percent are those households with annual incomes roughly between $100,000 and $400,000, the 30 million Americans both affluent enough and numerous enough to maintain our facade of prosperity.
They fill our restaurants, populate our shopping malls, and fill the coach sections of commercial airplanes. They trade in their cars before running them into the ground, simultaneously propping up our auto industry and creating a used-car market for those unable to buy new.

But that economic group is at risk because of the increasing concentration of income share in the top 1%.

Saez and Piketty have tracked the distribution of income in America over a 100-year period. Their data establish a consistent relationship between the income share of the top 10 percent of the population and the shares of the top 1 percent and top 0.1 percent.
The top 10 percent’s share of the nation’s income typically matches the top 1 percent’s share of the income that goes to the top 10 percent, and the top 0.1 percent’s share of the top 1 percent income follows this same pattern.
Let’s call this statistical phenomenon the “proportionate sharing pattern.”
Is the pattern a precise relationship? Of course not. We’re not talking immutable laws of physics here. But the pattern has been remarkably consistent over time, with the period between 1931 and 1940 the only substantial aberration.
Otherwise, the pattern has held. If 40 percent of the country’s total income is flowing to the top 10 percent, then about 40 percent of that 40 percent, or 16 percent, will be flowing to the top 1 percent, and about 40 percent of that will be flowing to the top 0.1 percent.
Consider what happens to the share of the affluent 9 percent under a mathematically precise proportionate sharing pattern as income concentrates at the top. Early on, the income share of the affluent 9% increases. But as the share flowing to the top 1 percent expands, the rate of increase for the affluent 9 percent slows. Eventually, when the share of the top 10 percent hits 50 percent of total income, the income share of the Affluent 9 percent peaks at 25 percent, after which it declines. At this point, the affluent 9 percent transition from being beneficiaries of increasing inequality to being victims.

So what will that do?

The question may not be how much income we can cram into the top 1 percent, but how long we can sustain the affluent 9 percent while the income share of the top 1 percent soars. If the affluent 9 percent feel pinched and cut back, our consumption-based economy could implode.

How close are we?  Read Thom Hartmann's book The Crash of 2016.

Steve Farley's stats on the cost of AZ tax loopholes passes AZ Fact Check

From The Farley Report from Phoenix #213: 11-6-14

... while the outcome wasn't quite what I had hoped for, I am pleased that in the face of that rightward headwind blowing across the country we Democrats in the Arizona Senate at least maintained our current membership. Voters have maintained our 17-13 Republican-majority party division as we enter a year that will bring tremendous challenges to keep our state fiscally afloat and schools funded as we face the dual threats of continued economic stagnation and the gaping budget holes left by arbitrary corporate tax giveaways that their proponents promised us would fix the stagnation years ago.
There are solutions to these challenges, and I will advocate as hard as I can to enact them. We can finally tackle the revenue hemorrhaging from more than $12 billion in special interest tax loopholes currently in our sales tax code, like the infamous 4" pipe exemption. We can agree to prune back previously enacted corporate tax cuts that are not yet fully phased in, especially given the statistical lack of correlation between absurdly low business taxes and economic growth. 

AZ Fact Check at The Republic took this claim about tax loopholes on and reports results of their research.  The fact is that AZ could be in the black if most of those loopholes were closed.  Oh, I can hear the howling start now.

Here's Farley's photo of the report in the print edition. (Photo from The Republic, Nov. 23rd, 2014. h/t Jim Woodbrey)