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.