Tuesday, June 30, 2015

What the AZ Lege vs. AIRC lawsuit was all about: "Phouls in Phoenix", a play in three acts

There's lots of chatter in the mainstream media and blogosphere about this case. Back in March, however, Nina Totenberg (NPR, All Things Considered) summed it up in two paragraphs.

In 2000, Arizona voters approved a ballot initiative to amend the state Constitution and take legislative redistricting out of the hands of the state legislature. Instead, the voters gave most of the redistricting power to an independent commission, composed of two Republicans, two Democrats, and an Independent chair. In a state with 35 percent registered Republicans, 35 percent Independents, and 30 percent Democrats, the congressional map the commission drew had four safe Republican seats, two safe Democratic seats, and three competitive districts.

Infuriated Republican state legislators wanted a bigger slice of the pie, however, and after the Arizona Supreme Court frustrated their effort to fire the commission's chair, they challenged the commission as unconstitutional, appealing all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

And thereby wasting gobs of money, time, and effort that could have been channeled to pressing problems like funding education. But these are the actors in the stage play "Phouls in Phoenix."

Note. Phoul is variously defined as a foolish ghoul or a ghoulish fool. Either is correct. Phouls reside in Phoenix and dine on the flesh of our social institutions that serve the young, poor, and sick.

Best Monday in quite some time: SCOTUS finds in favor of Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission

For the majority opinion in Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote: Arizona voters sought to restore "the core principle of republican government," namely, "that the voters should choose their representatives, not the other way around." Imagine what would have gone down had the ruling ended the other way.

Quotes that follow are from the full SCOTUS opinion.

In the matter of the AIRC, it boils down to this finding favoring AIRC.

The people of Arizona turned to the initiative to curb the practice of gerrymandering and, thereby, to ensure that Members of Congress would have "an habitual recollection of their dependence on the people." The Federalist No. 57, at 350 (J. Madison). In so acting, Arizona voters sought to restore "the core principle of republican government," namely, "that the voters should choose their representatives, not the other way around." Berman, Managing Gerrymandering, 83 Texas L. Rev. 781 (2005). The Elections Clause does not hinder that endeavor.
For the reasons stated, the judgment of the United States District Court for the District of Arizona is
Affirmed.

SCOTUS allowed that the AZ Lege has standing, but that AIRC can perform redistricting

We now affirm the District Court’s judgment. We hold, first, that the Arizona Legislature, having lost authority to draw congressional districts, has standing to contest the constitutionality of Proposition 106. Next, we hold that lawmaking power in Arizona includes the initiative process, and that both §2a(c) and the Elections Clause permit use of the AIRC in congressional districting in the same way the Commission is used in districting for Arizona’s own Legislature.

Justice Ginsberg argued that independent commissions like the AIRC act against the Lege's inherent conflict of interest when it tries to control the redistricting so as to keep its members in office.

Independent redistricting commissions, it is true, "have not eliminated the inevitable partisan suspicions associ- ated with political line-drawing." Cain, 121 Yale L. J., at 1808. But "they have succeeded to a great degree [in limiting the conflict of interest implicit in legislative control over redistricting]." Ibid. They thus impede legislators from choosing their voters instead of facilitating the voters’ choice of their representatives.

... the legislature’s responsiveness to the people its members represent is hardly heightened when the representative body can be confident that what it does will not be over turned or modified by the voters themselves.

Moreover, granting the AZ Lege's arguments would have far-reaching effects on other laws enacted by people's initiatives.

Banning lawmaking by initiative to direct a State’s method of apportioning congressional districts would do more than stymie attempts to curb partisan gerrymandering, by which the majority in the legislature draws district lines to their party’s advantage. It would also cast doubt on numerous other election laws adopted by the initiative method of legislating.

The list of endangered state elections laws, were we to sustain the position of the Arizona Legislature, would not stop with popular initiatives. Almost all state constitutions were adopted by conventions and ratified by voters at the ballot box, without involvement or approval by "the Legislature."

Here are similar observations from Daily Kos.

While this case only concerns Congress and only immediately impacts Arizona, a ruling for the plaintiffs would have had explosive implications for ballot initiatives and direct democracy. More frighteningly, taken to its logical extreme, such a ruling may have even removed the ability of governors to veto redistricting legislation, since governors are not literally a part of the legislature. That would have destroyed Democrats' ability to block future GOP gerrymandering because it is far easier to win gubernatorial elections in states such as Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin than it is to capture their already gerrymandered legislatures (whose district lines were drawn by Republicans, of course).

Had the ruling gone the other way, it might have kept Democrats out of the House for a very long time, which underscores just how big of a victory this is for reform advocates. It is now up to activists to organize new ballot measures in more states to combat the current gross distortion of gerrymandering.

Here is another review of the stakes in the AZ lege lawsuit against AIRC, this one from WGCU, an NPR/PBS affiliate in Florida. Why Florida? My Google Alert service snagged it. The more profound reason is that a ruling against the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission would have had an effect on many states other than the ones we hear most about (e.g., California). This must have influenced the majority opinion.

California also adopted an independent redistricting commission thanks to a 2008 statewide referendum. Their commission included 14 members — five Democrats, five Republicans and four members from neither party. According to election law professor Rick Hasen of the University of California-Irvine, who runs ElectionLawBlog.org, further legal action would likely have to be taken for California's to be struck down, too.

That could be the case for other states that have commissions involved in their redistricting process, too. According to the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, five states — Hawaii, Montana, Idaho, Washington and New Jersey — legislators appoint at least some of the commission members, but aren't involved in drawing district lines. In Indiana and Connecticut, backup commissions draw maps if the legislature deadlocks on how to redraw lines.

And in Iowa, Maine and New York, commissions submit maps to legislatures for approval, while in Ohio the commission helps the legislature with the lines.

How expansive or narrow the ruling on Monday is could impact some or all of these states as well — up to as many as 152 districts.

Thinking more broadly, the stakes were/are even higher.

If the ruling is more expansive and endangers other states' advisory commissions too, additional legal action could come, too. But for many legal scholars and good-government groups, the biggest fear is that if the court strikes down Arizona's commission, it could be a death blow to hopes of removing politics and gerrymandering from the redistricting process.

Death is forever. But that did not happen.

Don't be ashamed to have been nervous, uneasy, anxious, afraid. I was.

Don't be ashamed to have predicted the opposite ruling. I did.

Instead flood your mind with joy for our democracy surviving a horrible challenge.

Amazing Grace: President Obama's awesome speech in Charleston

AZBlueMeanie urges everyone to view the President's speech eulogizing Rev. Senator Clementa Pickney.

This eulogy will be recounted by historians as one of the greatest speeches by an American president. This was a tour de force by President Obama on America’s race relations 150 years after the end of the Civil War, and 50 years removed from the hard won victories of the Civil Rights Movement. There are echoes of Lyndon Johnson’s "Great Society" speeches, and Abraham Lincoln’s speeches on healing the Union. It is a call for introspection on how far we have come, but as sinners, how far we have yet to go to "achieve a more perfect union." It is a clarion call for action.

This eulogy is a speech that only this president, with this confluence of events, at this particular time in our history could give.

Agreed. Here are the links from the Meanie to the YouTube video and transcript.

Cartoons for the (rest of the) week

Here is Monday's list of cartoons from AZBlueMeanie at B4AZ.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Reminder: Remaining opinions by SCOTUS to be announced tomorrow (Monday)

From SCOTUSblog: Editor's Note : On Monday we expect orders at 9:30 a.m. followed by opinions at 10. We will begin live-blogging at 9:15. (Times are Eastern.)

Of note:

  • No. 13-1314, Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission (use of non-partisan commission to adopt congressional districting plan), argued March 2, 2015. The stakes in this one are huge! I recommend reading the Phoenix New Times report.
  • Nos. 14-46, 47, & -49, Michigan v. EPA (and others) (EPA regulation of hazardous air pollutants from electric utilities), argued March 25, 2015

Renewable energy empowers people: A message of hope to the American public

Subtitle: But for traditional utilities like APS and TEP the message is "get on board or get out of the way. "

If you are about to get hit by a semi, it makes sense to get in the driver's seat or get the hell out of the way. The archaic business model of public utilities is about to get rolled by renewable energy, specifically solar. Smart utilities are getting into the business to save money and just as importantly to rebuild a compact with their customers emphasizing conservation and renewable energy.

Stupid utilities, on the other hand, and they do exist, will cling to the old business model, will inflict economic damage to their customers, and are going to go down gasping. But not before they keep America from achieving its innovative potential.

Check my take on this by reading this article from the New Yorker. On my reading, I experienced a rare emotion - hope. We can reinvent America, achieve energy independence, and effectively deal with climate change. Bill McKibben provides concrete examples of energy companies that are out in front of the wave.

Power to the People: Why the rise of green energy makes utility companies nervous. BY BILL MCKIBBEN appearing in the online version of The New Yorker Annals of Innovation JUNE 29, 2015 ISSUE.

h/t to Nathan Hicks via Lise Hicks

Corporation Commissioner Bob Stump hands over cellphone

The wrangling now is over who gets to review the contents.

Here is a report from Howard Fischer at Capitol Media Services reprinted in the Daily Star this morning.

State utility regulator Bob Stump has surrendered his state-issued cellphone to see if long-deleted, and potentially improper, text messages can be retrieved.

At issue is a series of texts — listed on a commission log — between Stump and Scot Mussi, executive director of the Arizona Free Enterprise Club.

The Free Enterprise Club spent more than $300,000 last year to get Republicans Tom Forese and Doug Little nominated for the Corporation Commission over GOP foes who supported solar energy.

Republican Stump was chairman of the Corporation Commission at the time and is still a member.

There also were texts with Little and his wife as well as texts with Barbara Lockwood, an executive at Arizona Public Service, a utility regulated by Stump and the other commissioners.

Arizona law says any effort to influence an election has to be done independent of any candidate.

Stump — who has not returned numerous calls and messages seeking public comment on the issue — not only routinely deleted texts, but had since thrown out his state-issued iPhone3, Barr was told.

Barr said it is possible that the texts still survive. He said when Stump upgraded to his iPhone5 he transferred not only the contacts but "metadata" containing the texts that the commissioner believes he deleted. Barr said his expert can retrieve that data if he’s given access to the current phone.

The commission is going to hire a retired judge to mediate and "supervise a forensic examination of the phone by a properly qualified expert to see if any deleted text messages can be retrieved". So what's the problem? Barr is the lawyer for the Checks and Balances Project which is investigating Stump's email and wants a separate expert to conduct his own review of any deleted emails recovered. But that's not OK with the commission.

But [Barr's] request for everything found on the phone is not acceptable to the commission. Cantelme [lawyer for the commission] said if any texts can be recovered, the commission’s legal staff will review them to determine whether they are public records. Only then, he said, will the agency produce any records "as appropriate."

That ensures that private messages are not made public, said Jodi Jerich, the commission’s executive director. "I don’t understand why that’s not good enough," she said, adding of Barr, "He’s questioning the integrity of the commission’s legal staff."

And that is the problem. Damn right the integrity of the commission is being questioned. the staff works for the commission and the ex-chair of the commission is charged with wrong-doing.

The way to get out from under the cloud of suspicion is to have both sides review the emails. If only the commission's staff does the review, the issue will never be settled and the commission will continue on with its credibility damaged.

The emails should be made available in full to both parties.

NY Times Quotation of the Day

"All of us have a natural firewall in our brain that keeps us from bad ideas. They look for weaknesses in the wall, and then they attack."

NASSER WEDDADY, a Middle East expert, on the effort the Islamic State makes to indoctrinate recruits.

ISIS? I thought the quote was about Republicans.

"Children, what's that sound?" Republican Club President's head explodes at concert

Friday evening (June 26) we attended a concert at Quail Creek featuring music of Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young. Great show, BTW. The guy seated behind us started telling us how SCOTUS was bought by Dems (really?) and recent Supreme Court opinions, like "SCOTUScare" would destroy America. When informed that he was talking to the wrong people, his articulate and carefully reasoned summary statement was "You're full of shit."

Who was this guy? The President of the Quail Creek Republican Club.

I take two things away from this. First, I can see how the SCOTUS rulings on ACA and same-sex marriage would cause Republican heads to explode. His did. Second, I do not understand why this guy attended the concert. After all, the third song in the concert was "For what it's worth" by Buffalo Springfield (written by Stephen Stills).

There's something happening here
But what it is ain't exactly clear
There's a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware

I think it's time we stop
Children, what's that sound?
Everybody look - what's going down?

...

Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep
It starts when you're always afraid
Step out of line, the men come and take you away

We better stop
Hey, what's that sound?
Everybody look - what's going down?

Maybe the guy just mistook Buffalo Springfield for a gun.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Decisions on remaining cases before SCOTUS to be announced on Monday

From SCOTUSblog: Editor's Note : On Monday we expect orders at 9:30 a.m. followed by opinions at 10. We will begin live-blogging at 9:15. (Times are Eastern.)

Here are two that Scriber watches (and worries about) in plain English from Amy Howe at SCOTUSblog.

Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission is a lawsuit filed by the Arizona legislature that challenges an amendment to the state constitution, passed by the state’s voters in 2000, which took the power to draw boundaries for federal congressional districts away from the legislature and gave it to an independent redistricting commission. The legislature argues that the transfer of redistricting control to the commission violates the U.S. Constitution’s Elections Clause, which provides that the "Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for . . . Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof." Voters and state legislators in California, which uses a similar independent commission, are also watching this case carefully.

There is only one decision remaining from the Court’s March sitting. It will come from a trio of cases, argued together, that will go by the name of Michigan v. Environmental Protection Agency because that case was filed first. ... This is a dispute between the federal government, on the one hand, and states and industry groups, on the other, that arises from the EPA’s efforts to regulate pollution – and in particular mercury – from power plants. The question before the Court is whether, when deciding whether it is going to regulate the emissions from power plants, the EPA must also consider how much it will cost the power plants to comply with the new regulations. States and industry groups had argued that the EPA is required to consider compliance costs at the outset, while the EPA argued that it does not have to consider costs until later in the process, when it issues specific pollution standards. Justice Antonin Scalia is the only Justice who has not yet written a majority opinion for March, so he is likely to be writing this one – good news for the states and industry groups, in all likelihood. [Scriber: Uh-oh!]

It only took one day ...

... for the GOPlins to come out spitting and snarling and fuming. Less than a day, actually. Why? Because SCOTUS affirmed same-sex marriage as a fundamental right. The NY Times has the report that mentions crAZy.

Within hours of the Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage, an array of conservatives including the governors of Texas and Louisiana and religious groups called for stronger legal protections for those who want to avoid any involvement in same-sex marriage, like catering a gay wedding or providing school housing to gay couples, based on religious beliefs.

...

Early tests of religious rights and discrimination may come in the few states, mainly in the South, where some county clerks have said they will not issue same-sex marriage licenses. In North Carolina, where several county magistrates resigned last fall rather than abet same-sex marriages, a law has been passed to allow such refusals.

The federal government and about 20 states have versions in place of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which requires courts to balance possible infringements on religious beliefs against compelling state interests. The laws were originally intended to protect religious minorities against inadvertent discrimination — just this month under the federal law, a Sikh college student won the right to keep his long hair and turban while participating in R.O.T.C.

But recently proposed versions, including the original bill in Indiana and one that was vetoed by the governor of Arizona in 2014 after a similar uproar, seem intended to authorize discrimination against gay people by businesses, rights groups said. Civil rights groups also became more wary of such laws last year when the Supreme Court, in the Hobby Lobby case, said a closely held private corporation could in effect have religious beliefs.

This month, in anticipation of the marriage ruling, Senator Mike Lee, Republican of Utah, and Representative Raul Labrador, Republican of Idaho, introduced the First Amendment Defense Act, which would push federal law far beyond the existing religious protections. Sure to be strongly opposed by civil rights groups and most Democrats, the bill would prohibit federal officials from penalizing individuals, businesses, charities or schools for actions based on a conviction that marriage is between a man and a woman.

A while back I read an article about transgendered persons serving in the military. In one case two persons were serving, one a F2M trans and the other a M2F trans. Madly in love are those two. I wonder what the GOPlins and their high priests think about that. I hope they spend a lot of time thinking about it. Their heads might explode.

"#LoveWins"? Apparently not quite yet. The fight is not over. Never is.

Of course not: GOP cannot give up its fixation on repeal

If I did not believe in coincidence, I would have to think that Steve Benen (MSNBC/Rachel Maddow) became a contributor to my "Of course not" series. Today he writes about how the GOP's obsession with Obamacare repeal continues in spite of defeats at the ballot box, Supreme Court (now twice), and public opinion.

... maybe now Republicans are prepared to move on and stop trying to take families’ benefits away?

Of course not. The conservative Washington Examiner reported yesterday on Boehner’s familiar posture.

"Obamacare is fundamentally broken, increasing healthcare costs for millions of Americans. Today’s ruling doesn’t change that fact," Boehner said. "Republicans will continue to listen to American families and work to protect them from the consequences of Obamacare."

"And we will continue our efforts to repeal the law and replace it with patient-centered solutions that meet the needs of seniors, small business owners, and middle-class families," he said.

As a substantive matter, Boehner’s stale talking points are impossible to take seriously. As a political matter, the notion that the Speaker believes the public is clamoring for repeal is demonstrably false.

But the broader takeaway is more important: even now, despite a lengthy series of Republican debacles, despite the painfully obvious ACA successes, despite unambiguous court rulings, the GOP dream of dismantling the American health care system simply will not die.

It’s just pitiful. The sooner Republicans accept reality, recognize the fact that the law is both legal and effective, and become obsessed with some other issue, the better it will be for everyone.

"It is so ordered." SCOTUS rules that same-sex couples have a fundamental right to marry

Today President Obama tweeted: "Today is a big step in our march toward equality. Gay and lesbian couples now have the right to marry, just like anyone else. #LoveWins"

Justice Anthony Kennedy delivered the majority opinion of the Court. Here are essential snippets from the full text of the ruling.

... the right to marry is a fundamental right inherent in the liberty of the person, and under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment couples of the same-sex may not be deprived of that right and that liberty. The Court now holds that same-sex couples may exercise the fundamental right to marry. No longer may this liberty be denied to them. Baker v. Nelson must be and now is overruled, and the State laws challenged by Petitioners in these cases are now held invalid to the extent they exclude same-sex couples from civil marriage on the same terms and conditions as opposite- sex couples.

No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.

The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is reversed.

It is so ordered.

And with those words the matter of marriage between two members of the same sex was settled on June 26th, 2015, by the Supreme Court of the United States of America.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Playing a zero-sum game while awaiting another cliff-hanger from SCOTUS

The posts here today cover a national sigh of relief following the SCOTUS reaffirmation of Obamacare (ACA). But I think there is a much bigger decision hanging out there and that is the one on the lawsuit brought by the crAZy legislature against the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission (AIRC). A zero-sum game will illustrate why I am worried.

Suppose that SCOTUS only had two cases on its agenda - ACA and AIRC - and that, for whatever perhaps internal horse-trading reason, they would negate only one of those laws and affirm the other. Which one would you pick? ACA which impacts millions of people's health care right now? Or AIRC which would negate the voter's intent and instead substitute redistricting by the state lege? If you pick ACA, then the AIRC law goes down and we are faced with institutionalized gerrymandering forever.

So my nightmare comes down to this: we may be faced with Republicans in control of state governments in perpetuity.

Maybe my nightmare will not come to be. Maybe this is not a zero-sum game after all.

We might find out the answer to this one this morning when SCOTUS releases more of its decisions.

Chief among the reasons to celebrate the SCOTUS decision on Obamacare: it works!

Paul Krugman was nervous, as were many of the rest of us, but SCOTUS came through. He lists the successes of Obamacare.

  • "around 15 million Americans have gained insurance."
  • "In states that have implemented the act in full and expanded Medicaid ... the uninsured falling from more than 16 percent to just 7.5 percent"
  • "What about costs? ... premiums remain much lower than expected."
  • "sharp slowdown in the growth of overall health spending"
  • "... there’s no job-killing in the data: The U.S. economy has added more than 240,000 jobs a month on average since Obamacare went into effect, its biggest gains since the 1990s."
  • "... the deficit has continued to decline, and the Congressional Budget Office recently reaffirmed its conclusion that repealing Obamacare would increase, not reduce, the deficit."

Krugman winds up with this.

Put all these things together, and what you have is a portrait of policy triumph — a law that, despite everything its opponents have done to undermine it, is achieving its goals, costing less than expected, and making the lives of millions of Americans better and more secure.

Now, you might wonder why a law that works so well and does so much good is the object of so much political venom — venom that is, by the way, on full display in Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissenting opinion, with its rants against "interpretive jiggery-pokery." But what conservatives have always feared about health reform is the possibility that it might succeed, and in so doing remind voters that sometimes government action can improve ordinary Americans’ lives.

That’s why the right went all out to destroy the Clinton health plan in 1993, and tried to do the same to the Affordable Care Act. But Obamacare has survived, it’s here, and it’s working. The great conservative nightmare has come true. And it’s a beautiful thing.

Republicans continue to publicly denounce Obamacare, secretly celebrate SCOTUS decision

The GOP dodged a political bullet when SCOTUS reaffirmed Obamacare and Congress' original intent on nationwide health insurance subsidies. Steve Benen at MSNBC/Rachel lists a sample of those who breathed a sigh of relief (and uttered silent prayers of thanks).

  • "congressional Republicans have made no progress in creating an alternative to the Affordable Care Act" [and never will]
  • "middle-income families in red states who would naturally look to their GOP representatives for help" [but would not get it]
  • "Republican governors – some of whom also happen to be presidential candidates – who would have been under pressure to create exchange marketplaces in their states to prevent constituents from suffering" [and would have been prevented doing so by their own state legislators]

Nevertheless, GOPlins being GOPlins will continue to harp on a law that works to try to gin up support during the coming election.

For example, Lindsey Graham, GOP candidate for President, clings to the GOPlin message on Obamacare for his 2016 campaign issue. Why not? He's got nothing else cooking. Quoting from politicalwire.com:

"It means that the most significant domestic issue in 2016, at every House race, in every Senate race and for president will be centered around whether or not the country wants to keep Obamacare."
— Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), quoted by Politico, on the Supreme Court decision upholding Obamacare subsidies.

Oh, please Senator Graham. Stay that course. Explain to the millions of voters in the battle-ground states why the GOP plan would have worked. Oops. "Plan? There ain't no plan." And there never would have been one. Just more pain and suffering inflicted on the populace by a petulant South Carolina good ole boy and his cronies.

But the cooler GOP heads know that their position is now just for show and that they now do not have to parade their undeliverables to the public. Benen again:

Effectively immediately, Republicans can go back to doing what they’re good at: whining incessantly about an effective law, while avoiding any actual work on health care policy.

They won’t admit it publicly, but plenty of officials in the party know this is true. Indeed, Bloomberg Politics’ Sahil Kapur talked to a senior GOP aide on Capitol Hill this morning who said, in response to this morning’s ruling, "Oh thank God."

But just to prove that it's not over until it's not over, here is just one more reaction from the several quoted in Politico.

[Ted] Cruz, who is running for president, railed against unnamed GOP colleagues whom he contended are "quietly celebrating" that the law was upheld. In an interview after making a speech on the Senate floor railing against the law, he pointedly refused to rule out using spending bills to try to defund the law again — a tactic that led to the government shutdown two years ago.

The Politico headline reads "GOP lawmakers: Time to move on from Obamacare repeal". I wonder if they read their own story.

California assembly mandates vaccinations

Subtitle: Republican legislators hold out for more disease, fewer shots

The title is true; the subtitle is not, exactly. But the vote did split on party lines according to this report from the NY Times.

Schoolchildren in California would be required to be vaccinated unless there is a medical reason not to do so under a sweeping bill approved by the State Assembly on Thursday. The measure would end exemptions for personal or religious reasons, routinely requested by parents opposed to vaccines.

The debate was often cast in very personal terms, often eschewing the science in favor of personalized anecdotes.

The disagreement here has been intensely personal, with parents on opposing sides coming to the Capitol with babies in tow, holding them in slings while offering emotional testimony to lawmakers. And during an hourlong debate in the Assembly on Thursday, nearly every legislator who rose to speak invoked his or her experience as a parent.

But in spite of the personalization of the debate, the science is not in doubt. Vaccines prevent preventable diseases.

Despite the intense lobbying by each side, the science supporting vaccines is settled, and opponents remain only a small if vocal minority. Doctors overwhelmingly recommend childhood vaccines — which have been credited with the elimination or near-elimination of diseases like measles, mumps and rubella — and many pediatricians will not accept families who resist vaccines into their practices.

Medical studies that claim to show a link between vaccines and autism have been discredited or retracted, yet some parents and others cling to them as evidence that their children should not get the shots. But if too many people in a given community are not vaccinated, doctors say, the "herd immunity" factor that protects vulnerable people and others from these diseases breaks down.

When children have medical conditions that prevent their immunization, they are at risk for diseases that occur in the absence of mass vaccination.

Carl Krawitt, whose 7-year-old son, Rhett, is in remission from leukemia and was medically prohibited from receiving vaccines, argued that it was children like his son whose rights were being violated by those who refuse to vaccinate; unvaccinated children could pass along potentially deadly diseases to Rhett.

"The social impact of not having children vaccinated is truly life-threatening for some," Mr. Krawitt said. "We can take personal freedoms to such an extreme," he said, adding that he was not surprised that the measure had engendered so much controversy.

And about those Republican lawmakers?

... In committee hearings, the votes have largely split along party lines, with Democrats — a majority in the Legislature and throughout California — favoring the bill and Republicans against it.

You have to wonder: how did the Republican party become the party of "no"? No to science. No to medicine. No to health insurance. And the list goes on.

I have a hunch Mr. Krawitt may not be voting Republican any time soon.

Republican presidential candidates worried, fear ACA victory opens doors to good education and clean environment

Here is the story from the Borowitz Report at The New Yorker.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Whasup at the Supreme Court this morning

It seems like SCOTUS ought to be issuing some of the remaining opinions today (Thursday) and tomorrow. SCOTUSblog will run a live blog from the Court those mornings starting at 9:00 AM eastern time.

Here is Amy Howe's SCOTUSblog post on the seven remaining cases in plain English.

Scriber is watching:

  • No. 13-1314, Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission (use of non-partisan commission to adopt congressional districting plan), argued March 2, 2015
  • No. 14-114, King v. Burwell (ACA subsidies for insurance purchased on federally created exchanges), argued March 4, 2015
  • Nos. 14-46, 47, & -49, Michigan v. EPA (and others) (EPA regulation of hazardous air pollutants from electric utilities), argued March 25, 2015
  • Nos. 14-556, -562, -571, & -574, Obergefell v. Hodges (and others) (challenge to state bans on same-sex marriage and recognition thereof), argued April 28, 2015

Scenarios for what might follow a SCOTUS opinion against Obamacare

By the time you read this, the opinion might already have been revealed. If not, it's still reasonable to try to guess the aftermath of possible rulings on King v. Burwell.

Greg Sargent (Plum Line/Washington Post) reports that Dems have one-sentence bills ready to roll out in the House and Senate providing a fix for the subsidy problem.

... According to a Democratic leadership source, Democrats already have a one-sentence bill written on both sides — in the House and the Senate — and it will be introduced in both chambers at the "first available opportunity" if the Court ruling requires it.

This provides a hint of how Democrats might try to go on offense against Republicans if the Court nixes the subsidies. Obviously Republicans won’t accept the one-sentence fix. But this suggests Democrats will try to move quickly to exploit the divisions that have already developed among Republicans over their own response to such a ruling.

The GOP divisions are such that even some Obamacare foes are predicting that Republicans will end up caving and agreeing to renew subsidies with few conditions attached.

Read Sargent's post to follow the analyses of what the various GOPlin clans might do. (Yes, there are more than one kind of GOPlin lurking in the Caves of Congress.) He concludes:

To see just how difficult the GOP position will be to explain, try making sense of (Gov. Scott) Walker’s deeply incoherent op-ed for CNN. In it, he claims that under his implementation of Obamacare, "for the first time in state history, everyone living in poverty has access to coverage." But if 184,000 Wisconsinites lose coverage in the wake of a Court ruling, it will be Obamacare’s fault, and Obama should fix the problem by joining Republicans to repeal the law’s benefits for everyone across the country and replace it with a herd of unicorns.

I’d never advise underestimating the obfuscatory power of the GOP’s Obamacare Fog Machine. But the one-sentence fix plans themselves suggest the Democratic position will probably be a lot easier to convey to the public. The polling on this favors the Democrats. If Clinton goes on offense, as she recently signaled she will, you’d think the party will follow her lead effectively.

On the other hand, these are Democrats we’re talking about here…

Trade bills pass

Wednesday the Senate passed the two trade bills, TPA (fast track) and TAA (worker assistance). The NY Times has the story as does AZBlueMeanie who concludes with the following snippet.

With the preliminary bouts out of the way by Thursday, action now shifts to the main event, which will be the fight over the specific provisions of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, once its classified provisions are finally made public for review and Congress considers each provision in up or down votes beginning later this year.

Why your property taxes will increase

Why your property taxes will increase

Pima County Supervisor Ramon Valadez tells the tale of how the AZ State Lege (aka the idioture) balanced its budget on the backs of counties and municipalities - particularly singling out Pima County.

Most years, the crafting of the annual Pima County budget is when we decide on our priorities for the coming year. This year, the state of Arizona inserted its priorities into our budget.

Normally, the state and the county negotiate a reasonable amount the county will agree to pay to cover the cost of some state-funded programs. We then figure out how to absorb it into the budget without raising property taxes. We had reason to believe we could expect much of the same for this year’s budget.

Instead, the Legislature, in a last-minute budget bill amendment that was presented at 3 a.m., shifted $47 million of state budget costs to the counties. Pima County has to pay up to $23.2 million, or 49 percent, of the total, even though we only have 17 percent of the state’s population. This increased our existing state cost shifts from $82.8 million to $106 million, or nearly 33 percent of the total Pima County primary property tax collected in FY 2016.

Once upon a time, back when Frank Antenori was a state senator from LD 30, I attended a Republican Club meeting. (Shudder!) This was back when the Lege was doling out border security money and was denying it to Pima because of remarks made by our Sheriff. Antenori, when asked about that, was very forthright: "political payback." The Lege has done it again.

Congratulations for your help in balancing the state budget.

CDC concerned about epidemic of GOP candidates

Andy Borowitz at the New Yorker reports.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

First annual Sky Island Scriber economic poll

Here are a set of questions and assertions about economic issues. Please, on a separate sheet of paper, write down your answers next to the number of the question.

  1. Social security taxes are now capped at an income of $118,500. Should the cap be lifted thus taxing income over $118,500? Check one: [ ] Yes [ ] No
  2. Federal minimum wage should be increased. Check one: [ ] Yes [ ] No
  3. Large corporations have too much influence. Check one: [ ] Yes [ ] No
  4. The gap between rich and poor is getting larger. Check one: [ ] Yes [ ] No
  5. Taxes on those earning more than $1 Million should be raised. Check one: [ ] Yes [ ] No
  6. Employers should offer paid sick leave. Check one: [ ] Yes [ ] No

When your answers are recorded, please proceed to the next post, "poll results".

Poll results: ANSWER QUESTIONS IN POLL ABOVE BEFORE OPENING!!!

Now I have no idea how you answered, but here are results of two recent polls by CBS and NBC/WSJ.

Fast track trade bill (TPA) passes Senate. But will the President sign off if Trade Adjustment Authority (TAA) fails?

Here's the assessment from AZBlueMeanie at B4AZ.

This is a fait accompli. The only thing that could possibly derail it is Tea-Publicans voting against the Trade Adjustment Authority (TAA) bill in enough numbers to defeat it in the House. President Obama has said that he wants both bills. Whether he would sign TPA without the TAA bill is an open question.

Anti-taxers will raise taxes ...

... on the sick and poor.

There was a piece in Monday's Daily Star about how states like Kansas are going bust trying to stick to the pledge to not raise taxes. But they can't do it so they are levying a new tax burden on the bottom 20%. David Safier, reporting at Tucson Weekly/The Range, found the original article on Boomberg Politics.

Here's the simple fact facing the anti-taxers. (Quoting from the original Bloomberg article)

'There's a threshold, even for Republicans, where they don't want to cut spending any further,' said Scott Pattison, executive director of the National Association of State Budget Officers in Washington.
The important questions are, (1) Where is that budget cutting threshold — at what point do anti-tax addicts hit bottom and admit they have a problem, and (2) what kind of new revenue sources will they create?

There's gotta come a time when even Ducey and his gang of Republican legislators have to admit they need to raise taxes, right? (And there should be a time long before that when Democrats get brave enough to make a strong statement to that effect). It has to happen somewhere down the line. Things can't keep on sliding downhill forever. And when the time comes, the media and the Democrats have to be ready to ask, Who's going to bear the burden of the tax increases? The answer should be, the overall state tax burden should be progressive. The more money you make, the higher percentage you should pay. But if the current soak-the-poor tax rates are any indication, that's not the way the Republicans are going to play it. Currently, the share of family income paid in state and local Arizona taxes by people at the top, middle and bottom of the economic spectrum is wildly skewed the wrong way. The top one percent of earners pay 4.6 percent of their incomes on state and local taxes. The lowest 20 percent pays 12.5 percent. For the families between the two extremes, it's the same pattern. The more you make, the lower percentage you pay. Republicans, if they have to find new revenues, will be happy to continue the trend if they can get away with it.

If you are sick or poor in crAZy, wait for it. Your tax bill will rise and you will be sicker and poorer.

The Pope takes on Wall Street

Katrina vanden Heuvel at The Nation reports that the Pope's environmental message is about much more than climate change. For example:

"The Earth, our home," he writes in the new encyclical, "is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth." We are failing in our responsibility to care for God's creation. The reason, he says, is that idolatry of the market and consumerism has supplanted any sense of the common good. And public action is stalled because "too many special interests, and economic interests easily end up trumping the common good and manipulating information so that their own plans will not be affected."

Sen. Flake does the easy thing. But would he have done the right thing?

Here's another short report from the Capitol Times on Sen. Flake accepting a monetary contribution from the leader of a white supremacist organization.

U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake says he’s donating campaign contributions he received from a white supremacist to a charity.

Monday’s action by Arizona’s junior senator comes after the Guardian newspaper reported that Flake was among the Republicans who received donations Earl Holt. Holt leads a white supremacist group cited by Charleston, South Carolina, church murder suspect Dylann Roof in an online manifesto.

Flake’s press secretary says he will donate the $1,000 he received in 2012 to the Mother Emanuel Hope Fund, which was set up to help the families of the nine victims of last week’s shooting.

We'll never know for sure whether Flake would have voluntarily refused or refunded the monetary contribution from Earl Holt, the leader of the Council of Conservative Citizens. Would he have done so in the absence of public outcry? I doubt it. Charitably, and perhaps realistically, he may not have known where a $1,000 contribution came from. But even if he did not, his staff should be checking such things. Regardless, giving it up now clears a low bar. Flake and all the other recipients of cash from Hunt should not be backing off -- they should be using the force of their offices to visibly and publicly to denounce CofCC.

Sure they will. The heat must be getting to me.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Doing the right thing means not waiting for a scandal to reverse course: GOP politicians fail, of course

Watching the Rachel Maddow show right now (Monday evening). She has a great expose of the GOPlin politicians who are returning cash donated by the same racist organization that inspired the Charleston shooter.

The report was first aired by The Guardian. They list GOPlins who took money from the head of the Council of Conservative Citizens:

Four presidential hopefuls were among 16 Republicans who on Monday gave up more than $30,000 in campaign contributions from the leader of a white nationalist group said to have influenced the Charleston church shooting suspect Dylann Roof.

Scott Walker, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and Rick Santorum led a GOP group spanning Congress and statehouses who said they would donate to charity or return money from Earl Holt, following the publication of a Guardian article on Sunday.

Other Republicans who have taken money from Holt declined to comment about the contributions.

Holt, the president of the Council of Conservative Citizens (CofCC), has contributed more than $74,000 to Republican candidates and committees in recent years, according to public filings, while making dozens of racist statements online.

Among the other GOPlins taking Holt's cash is our very own Senator Jeff Flake who is giving up his $1,000.

Another $6,500 in Holt campaign contributions are to be donated to the church fund from senators Joni Ernst of Iowa, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Jeff Flake of Arizona, Rob Portman of Ohio and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, along with representatives Ryan Zinke of Montana, Louie Gohmert of Texas, and Mark Sanford of South Carolina.

The full list published by the Guardian reads like a Who's Who of GOPlin politics. It's fun watching all these people run for cover. But the thing is: if this story had not surfaced, they ALL would have been happy to have taken, and keep on taking, money from this lousy, racist organization.

Jared Taylor, a spokesman for the CoCC, said in a statement on Monday that its leaders "utterly condemn" Roof’s alleged killings, but said the shootings "do not detract in the slightest from the legitimacy of some of the positions he has expressed".

Taylor said: "Ignoring legitimate grievances is dangerous."

Apparently, really dangerous for the nine people killed. (I think those nine might have a legitimate grievance.)

CoCC leader, Holt, stated:

In a statement published on Sunday, Holt said it was "not surprising" that Roof was apparently informed by the group’s website as it reported race relations "accurately and honestly".

However, he added: "The CofCC is hardly responsible for the actions of this deranged individual merely because he gleaned accurate information from our website."

Folks, this is not going away because Flake gives up his donation from CoCC. It is not going away because Haley (might!) get the confederate flag moved. CoCC is symptomatic of a rot in our society. When you combine the vile preachings of organizations like CoCC with ready access to firearms, I have to think more is on the way.

UPDATE: This morning AZBlueMeanie blogs on the history of that organization:

This is recent history. It’s not like Republican candidates — or reporters for that matter — should not know who the Council of Conservative Citizens is and know its history of racism.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Why doing the right thing is the wrong thing in the land of GOPlins and Koch-heads

Subtitle: Lady Diamondback bites Ohio Gov, Gov stomps Snakey Lady, Koch-heads stomp Gov.

Got that? What triggered this chain of events was Ohio's entrance into the group of states expanding Medicaid. Jim Nintzel at TucsonWeekly/The Range focuses on an exchange between Snakey Lady and the Ohio Gov as reported by Politico. Here it is:

... At one point, according to accounts provided by two sources present, Randy Kendrick, a major contributor and the wife of Ken Kendrick, the owner of the Arizona Diamondbacks, rose to say she disagreed with Kasich’s decision to expand Medicaid coverage, and questioned why he’d expressed the view it was what God wanted.

The governor’s response was fiery. "I don’t know about you, lady," he said as he pointed at Kendrick, his voice rising. "But when I get to the pearly gates, I’m going to have an answer for what I’ve done for the poor."

The exchange left many stunned. About 20 audience members walked out of the room, and two governors also on the panel, Nikki Haley of South Carolina and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, told Kasich they disagreed with him. The Ohio governor has not been invited back to a Koch seminar — opportunities for presidential aspirants to mingle with the party’s rich and powerful — in the months since.

See? In Kochland, right is wrong and wrong is right. George Orwell warned us about this a long time ago.

Bumpy road warning for this week: Cases left for the Supreme court to decide

From the Arizona Politics blog:

The nine Justices finish deciding cases from the October term by the end of June (or, occasionally, the beginning of July), and some of the most difficult and significant cases end up being the last ones left. This year, the Arizona Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission still remains, along with the ACA ("Obamacare") subsidies, same sex marriage, and four other cases.

SCOTUSblog expects opinions on Thursday and Friday mornings. They run a live blog from the Court those mornings starting at 9:00 AM eastern time.

UPDATE: AZBlueMeanie says SCOTUS added Monday to the days for announcing opinions on remaining cases.

Pending cases (from SCOTUSblog.com)

My votes for cliff hangers:

No. 13-1314, Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission (use of non-partisan commission to adopt congressional districting plan), argued March 2, 2015

No. 14-114, King v. Burwell (ACA subsidies for insurance purchased on federally created exchanges), argued March 4, 2015

My votes for nail-biters

Nos. 14-46, 47, & -49, Michigan v. EPA (and others) (EPA regulation of hazardous air pollutants from electric utilities), argued March 25, 2015

Nos. 14-556, -562, -571, & -574, Obergefell v. Hodges (and others) (challenge to state bans on same-sex marriage and recognition thereof), argued April 28, 2015

Here is the full list of cases. And here from SCOTUSblog are FAQs about SCOTUS and how the court operates.

SC Gov calls for removing confederate flag: Why it won't be enough in one picture.

Governor Nikki Haley calls the flag a symbol of SC's past, not its future. But no matter how many politicians recognize the wave and pile on, the problem is deeper than an historic piece of cloth. Consider the conjunction of symbols in this photo of the Charleston shooter.

Using voodoo economics Jeb Bush promises what no other president has achieved

He should have listened to his dad about "voodoo economics." Paul Krugman explains the difficulty in achieving sustained 4%. No other president has done that.

... the next time you encounter some conservative going on about growth, you might want to bring up the following list of names and numbers: Bill Clinton, 3.7; Ronald Reagan, 3.4; Barack Obama, 2.1; George H.W. Bush, 2.0; George W. Bush, 1.6. Yes, that’s the last five presidents — and the average rate of growth of the U.S. economy during their time in office (so far, in Mr. Obama’s case). Obviously, the raw numbers don’t tell the whole story, but surely there’s nothing in that list to suggest that conservatives possess some kind of miracle cure for economic sluggishness. And, as many have pointed out, if Jeb! knows the secret to 4 percent growth, why didn’t he tell his father and brother?

Check out Krugman's column for why a high level of sustained growth is hard to achieve.

So what does it say about the state of the party that Mr. Bush’s son — often portrayed as the moderate, reasonable member of the family — has chosen to make himself a high priest of voodoo economics? Nothing good.

Cartoons for the week - and a comment on elephants and donkeys

Weekly cartoons are from AZBLueMeanie at Blog for Arizona.

Lots of elephant pics in today's cartoons. It got me wondering about the history of the symbols for the two major parties. Here is the history from CBS News.

The donkey was first associated with Democrat Andrew Jackson's 1828 presidential campaign.

His opponents called Jackson, well, a "jackass" for his populist views.

Jackson was actually ENTERTAINED by the insult, and used the image of the strong-willed donkey on his campaign posters.

Later, famed cartoonist Thomas Nast used the donkey in his newspaper cartoons, helping to establish it as the symbol of the Democratic Party.

And it was Nast who provided the Republicans with their elephant.

In an 1874 cartoon, Nast drew a donkey clothed in a lion's skin - scaring off the other animals at the zoo.
. . . All the animals, except for the fearless elephant, which was labeled "the Republican vote."

The symbol endures to this day.

Too bad. Elephants are intelligent, socially responsible beings. The Republicans are neither.

Elephants are known to grieve for dead members of their species. Do Republicans? (Want to take issue? Check out the gun lobby's response to Charleston.)

Elephants are being poached to near extinction so that the Chinese can have ivory baubles. Don't hear much from Republicans about the horror of that.

If I could change the symbol for Republicans I would. I am open to your suggestions. A change might enable more sympathy for elephants.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Short takes on our Races to the Bottom

Is the Pope's warning on the environment too late? See AZBlueMeanie's post this morning in Blog for Arizona. BlueMeanie covers two topics (that I've blogged about here before): impending water shortages (here he focuses on the overdrawn aquifers world wide), and the mass extinction underway (the "sixth" extinction). So is humanity racing to an environmental bottom? Seems so.

Who makes our laws? Arizona has almost won another race to the bottom: the number of our laws written by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Ed Lord in GV News tells us how America is caving to corporate interests that are not exactly compatible with the public good. "Arizona tied for third state in the U.S. for number of bills introduced that were drafted by ALEC." I guess we can save money by getting rid of our idioture and letting ALEC govern the state.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

What a negative SCOTUS ruling might mean: Universal health care in blue states?

That's what Greg Sargent at the Plum Line (Washington Post) suggests.

As we come closer to a Supreme Court ruling in King v. Burwell, news organizations are gearing up to portray a decision nixing subsidies in three dozen mostly-Republican states as a fatal blow to the whole Affordable Care Act. CNN predicts such a decision could send "Obamacare" into a "death spiral." Reuters blares: "Obamcare faces latest brush with death."

But in fact, the absolute worst-case scenario you can envision unfolding from an adverse ruling is a considerably less awful outcome. Put simply, it’s very plausible the health care system would continue progressing towards universal health care in around 16 to 18 mostly blue states, while in many red states, something approaching chaos would set in, at least in the short term.

... what continues to get lost in the coverage is that even if you assume that neither Congress nor state lawmakers do anything, much of Obamacare would remain in place, and significantly more people would retain its benefits than would lose them. This is important, not just to get the significance of the ruling right, but also because it has direct relevance to the policy and political story that will unfold after it.

"You would start to see a major division between states that had willingly participated in the ACA, which suddenly have an economic boon and high rates of insurance, and states that returned to pre-ACA standards or worse, with a continuation of under-insurance and a struggling health economy," says Caroline Pearson, a senior vice president for Avalere Health, a health care consulting firm. "Those states would have an incentive to implement state-based reforms. But where would the money come from? They would need federal funds to create state-based solutions."

So the pressure would be on. GOP lawmakers would certainly pat themselves on the back for a body blow to ACA, but in the longer term, something would give.

... all indications are that in the mostly blue states that were undisturbed by the lawsuit, the progression towards universal health care would continue.

That means that you would have health-care-have states and health-care-have-not states. And that would lead to the question here phrased in terms of an earlier stage of human development: "Mommy, why can't I have toys like Johnny?" Mommy needs to answer. And so would the health-care-have-not states. The answers might bring the entire nation closer to universal health care. Finally.

GOP hates the deficit ... until they need money to fund their priorities

We know: the GOP is always pissing and moaning about the deficit. But their own favored policy positions and legislative proposals would increase that deficit they claim to hate. The data on this comes not from The Nation or New Republic but from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). Steve Benen at MSNBC/Rachel Maddow reports.

After several dozen pointless repeal votes, congressional Republicans haven’t exactly been subtle about their intentions towards the Affordable Care Act. In fact, with a major Supreme Court case pending, GOP lawmakers are once again considering new plans to try to "repeal Obamacare" all over again.

But everyone involved in the debate should be clear about the consequences. The effects on millions of families would obviously be brutal, but CNBC reports today on the fiscal impact on the nation.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said Friday that a repeal of the Affordable Care Act would over the next decade "probably increase budget deficits with or without considering the effects of macroeconomic feedback."

Depending on those economic considerations, the federal deficit could increase up to $353 billion over the next 10 years as a result of a repeal of Obamacare, the CBO said.

The same CBO report, available online here, found that if Republicans succeeded in scrapping the law, 19 million Americans would join the ranks of the uninsured by 2016. The total would grow by several million in the years that follow soon after.

As I've said before, in GOPlin land, when it comes to what to do after a repeal of ACA, "Plan? There ain't no plan."

As a political matter, GOP lawmakers and candidates take a degree of pride in their unhealthy obsession with repealing the Affordable Care Act, but in a more sensible climate, this repeal agenda would be considered scandalous – Republicans are effectively bragging about their plan to add hundreds of billions of dollars to the deficit while destroying the health security of tens of millions of Americans.

And then add to that the cost of the GOP wish list on tax reform, abortion control, and immigration - approaching another $200 billion.

UPDATE: What the GOPlin lawsuits against the Independent Redistricting Commission cost the state

The current best guess is in excess of $3.65 million reports the Arizona Politics blog.

Wednesday, Arizona's Politics reported on the legal costs incurred by Arizona taxpayers because of the partisan battle over the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission - that article noted the costs - to the taxpayers - had "exceeded $3.4 Million." The AIRC has now provided breakouts of legal fees it has paid over the past four years, and it turns out that the legal bill is now at $3,649,239.

The actual cost could have been, and most likely will be, much higher.

There are presently three live cases against the AIRC, all from either Republican lawmakers, or Republican-philic interests. Surprisingly, the AIRC has spent THE LEAST in outside legal expenses on the Arizona Legislature v. AIRC case about to be decided by the Supreme Court.

This is partly because it is a Constitutional challenge that did not require much time-intensive (costly) discovery, and partly because the U.S. Supreme Court expert Seth Waxman surprisingly agreed to represent the Redistricting Commission pro bono. That saved Arizona taxpayers somewhere between $300-500,000.

David Fitzsimmons on the surprise roast for Sheriff Dupnik

David was the perfect roast-master. For those of us who missed the show, here is the link to this morning's editorial in the Daily Star.

Fact checking reveals misinformation about rural hospital closures

This is a draft of a letter to the editor, or maybe op-ed, I will send to the Star later today.

In a Letter to the Editor in Friday's Daily Star, Timothy Michael makes stunning claims about rural hospital closings. Here I report on a fact checking investigation. My results indicate that Michael's claims include a numerical falsehood and questionable attributions of cause and effect.

Michael makes this claim about the frequency of closings: "Consensus: ACA’s heightened costs caused hundreds of hospital closures, as numerous pundits predicted." That claim is false in two ways. First, there have not been "hundreds" of closures. Second, whatever "consensus" there is comes from various news sources relying on the same data showing the number of closures at well under 100 (one hundred) during the last 10 years.

Here are quotes (from what I assume to be) Michael's sources.

USA Today: "Since the beginning of 2010, 43 rural hospitals — with a total of more than 1,500 beds — have closed, according to data from the North Carolina Rural Health Research Program. The pace of closures has quickened: from 3 in 2010 to 13 in 2013, and 12 already this year. "

Reuters: "The majority of rural residents in the United States live in states which are not expanding Medicaid, reported the North Carolina Rural Health Research Program. A majority of the 24 hospitals closed since the start of 2013 are in those states."

Washington Post: "The Kansas-based National Rural Health Association, which represents about 2,000 small hospitals across the country and other rural care providers, says that 48 rural hospitals have closed since 2010 ..."

Nowhere is there information to support the claim that ACA "caused hundreds of hospital closures." The consensus numbers vary a little depending on the date of the report, but all converge on something less than 50.

Other sources agree. This infographic from FamiliesUSA shows 31 closures since 2010, 20 in states that did not expand Medicaid but only 11 in states that did expand Medicaid. Apparently, the decision to not expand Medicare might have something to do with the likelihood of a rural hospital closure. That conclusion would be strengthened by a comparison of closure rates before and after 2010.

The University of North Carolina (UNC) has studied such closures for years and provides an interactive map of closures during the 5-year period after the ACA (2010-2015) but also for the years before the Affordable Care Act (2005-2009). That comparison gives us a way of deciding whether ACA was accompanied by a big jump in closures. The UNC rural health research program now has 90 hospital closures in its database. Of those, 37 occurred before 2010 and 53 occurred after the beginning of 2010. However, the pattern is different for those states that expanded Medicaid (23 dropping to 14) and those that did not (14 increasing to 39). Thus states that expanded Medicaid experienced a 40% drop in closures but states that refused the Medicaid expansion saw their closure rates increase by nearly 180%.

Even a brief glance at the maps in suggests that there is another variable at play, namely the geographic location of those non-expansion states: mainly in the south. So, is ACA to blame - as Michael suggests - or not?

The possible causes of rural hospital closures have been studied for years. A very clear takeaway from such studies is described in the Washington Post article.

If there was one particular policy causing the trouble, it would be easy to understand," said Mark Holmes, a health economist at the University of North Carolina. "But there are a lot of things going on."

... rural hospitals ... suffer from multiple endemic disadvantages that drive down profit margins and make it virtually impossible to achieve economies of scale.

These include declining populations; disproportionate numbers of elderly and uninsured patients; the frequent need to pay doctors better than top dollar to get them to work in the hinterlands; the cost of expensive equipment that is necessary but frequently underused; the inability to provide lucrative specialty services and treatments; and an emphasis on emergency and urgent care, chronic money-losers.

The Kaiser Family Foundation has a good report on what it costs states to not expand medicaid.

Thus the possible causes of rural hospital closures are many and complex. Blaming a single agent, as Michael does, is an ideological bias and not a factual statement.

Let me end with a plea for a tighter editorial review of letters claiming to provide factual information. I will readily admit that I am a numbers guy by training and profession. But Michael's false numerical claims can be disproved easily by anyone doing a simple Google search as I did. The Star owes more to its readers than reprinting misinformation.

If that last paragraph prevents publication, believe me, I will get it printed elsewhere.

crAZy in the news: Why teachers flee Arizona

We're number 1. AZ has won the race to the bottom with respect to education funding. And we're in the process of winning another race: the state least attractive to teachers. Here's the latest review of the status of public education in AZ from the Washington Post.

Guess which public official is pictured right below the damning headline: "Why teachers are fleeing Arizona in droves."

Friday, June 19, 2015

Arizona could afford better education funding but chooses not to

Want to know why Il Duce's "plan" for education is smoke? Here is an article by David Safier in TucsonLocalMedia on how AZ stacks up to other states in terms of its income and its spending on education. It's hard to escape the conclusion that the state (or more precisely its political leaders) has made a conscious decision to defund education. Below are snippets with David's conclusions. Check his numbers by reading his article.

... facts and figures ... all lead to the same conclusion. Almost every state in the union spends more to educate their children than we do — lots more in most cases. That includes states run by Republicans as well as Democrats, states in the south and the Midwest as well as on the east and west coasts.

The hard truth is, Ducey’s proposal to throw the schools a lifeline from the state lands trust doesn’t even begin to drag us out of the funding hole we share with three other states. We need a serious plan, and it has to include more taxes. Anything else is just a Band-aid. And if it’s done properly, by responsible adults, the burden can be borne by those who can best afford it, not people struggling to maintain a reasonable standard of living.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

On the matter of climate change: Pope Francis 1, Jeb Bush 0.

For Bush, religion is for church on Sunday, but come Monday, it's politics as usual. And, for Bush, science has no place at all.

Steve Benen at MSNBC/Rachel Maddow has a succinct review of the Pope's message and conservative reactions to it. "Reactions"? Well, try political pushback.

Here is Benen's quote from the AP release on what the Pope is up to.

In a sweeping manifesto aimed at spurring action in U.N. climate negotiations, domestic politics and everyday life, Francis explains the science of global warming, which he blames on an unfair, fossil fuel-based industrial model that he says harms the poor most. Citing Scripture and past popes’ and bishops’ appeals, he urges people of all faiths and no faith to undergo an awakening to save God’s creation for future generations.

It’s an indictment of big business and climate doubters alike.

The religious leader added that there is no doubt "most global warming in recent decades is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases released mainly as a result of human activity."

See why the so-called conservatives are Pope-bashing? (BTW - why is bashing the Pope and foisting a lousy environment onto our children "conservative"?) Back to Benen:

Among Republican presidential candidates, meanwhile, the responses have also been quite hostile, most notably from Roman Catholic candidates. Rick Santorum got the ball rolling two weeks ago, and Jeb Bush echoed the criticisms this week.

In fact, campaigning in Iowa yesterday, the Florida Republican argued, "I don’t go to Mass for economic policy or for things in politics. I’ve got enough people helping me along the way with that."

Scriber suggests firing all of them and hiring a guy named Francis.

It seems difficult for Bush to even imagine the climate crisis as a moral issue. For him, global warming is "political," and therefore outside his church’s purview.

And Bush appears incapable, or unwilling, to step back and regard human-induced climate change as a matter of science, not politics.

We don’t often see this posture. Prominent leaders from the faith community disagree with Republicans all the time – on health care, immigration, poverty, and capital punishment, among other things – but GOP politicians rarely respond, "Stay out of this; it’s none of your business."

But with the pope investing considerable energy in combatting the climate crisis, U.S. conservatives are effectively declaring that his perspective has no place in the debate.

Fortunately, Francis doesn’t seem to care.

Follow-up: Arizona Corporation Commission can and should retrieve Stump's email messages

The ACC is getting in over its head in the boiling water of a developing scandal. ACC Commissioner Bob Stump is known to have communicated with a dark money group, candidates for the ACC, and Arizona Public Service. I am guessing that these messages are the ones Stump deleted along with "disposing of" the ACC phone. Now the Sierra Vista Herald editorial board has weighed in.

The Arizona Corporation Commission may have more than angry solar customers to worry about if it someday rules in favor of changing what state utility companies pay to residential customers generating power back to the grid.

Suddenly the ACC finds itself embroiled in a fight with a Washington, D.C.-based organization — the Checks and Balances Project — about whether the state governing agency has been lost to what the group defines as "regulatory capture" by state utilities. The project is a 501(c)4 non-profit organization that advocates for renewable and sustainable energy policies..

Records obtained by the interest group show that the former chairman of the commission, Bob Stump, was in regular contact through his cell phone with the head of a committee that donated several hundred thousand dollars to the campaigns of commission candidates. Text message records show that Chairman Stump was also in contact with both the candidates who received funds from the same committee, and their campaign managers.

That was what was already reported. Following is new information.

Text messages between these parties certainly raise an eyebrow, but without knowing what was being said, former Chairman Stump is only subject to suspicion.

Unless the contents of the text messages can be made public there isn’t any evidence that Stump, or any of the commissioners when they were candidates, did anything wrong or in violation of state laws.

Monday, the Arizona Corporation Commission announced that Stump deleted messages from his state-issued cellphone and that he personally disposed of the phone. Thus, according to the ACC, the text messages cannot be recovered.

Not so fast, responded the Checks and Balances Project.

On its website this week, the group listed software that can be used to recapture deleted text messages and it contacted the cell carrier company that Stump’s phone was using, to confirm that the former chairman’s phone records could be recovered, if the company is subpoenaed.

The "finger trap" that the ACC has found itself caught in stems from an appearance of impropriety.

Regardless whether the state commission believes that this Washington-based group is wrong, an attitude of anything less than cooperation on questions of how public records are handled and whether campaign laws have been violated can’t be tolerated.

The state agency needs to make an honest and public effort to retrieve Stump’s cell phone and review the text messages to clarify its transparency and satisfy public interest.

The ACC has its reputation [to] protect and that isn’t accomplished by failing to pursue the truth.

For those of you who like to read the original report, here is the link to the Checks and Balances Project post along with critical snippets quoted below.

The Arizona constitution empowers the ACC to "act in a Judicial capacity sitting as a tribunal." Chairman Susan Bitter Smith, like all of the members of the Arizona Corporation Commission, has subpoena power. If she really wanted to know if former Chairman Stump was engaged in illegal electioneering prior to the August 26, 2015, GOP primary election, she could subpoena the text message content from Verizon and read what Stump was texting.

Can she get access to the messages? Yes, according to Checks and Balances.

Unless Commissioner Stump has destroyed his phone, removed the SIM (data) card, purposefully deleted texts, or updated the operating system software, the text message content and Gmails that we have requested under the Arizona records act still reside on his phone.

Verizon (Stump's carrier) would be responsive to a subpoena and software exists to retrieve the messages.

The ACC and Stump in particular are in a bind. The preceding snippet indicates the next step if ACC does nothing and tries to stonewall. Stump will forever be under a cloud of suspicion and the ACC, the "fourth branch" of AZ government, will have its reputation tarnished and its credibility forever suspect.

But all this assumes that Stump and his fellow Republican commissioners feel something that is labeled "shame."

I've seen no evidence of that.

h/t Pat Fleming for the Sierra Vista Herald editorial.