Saturday, October 31, 2015

Ducey signs K-12 Kicking Kids funding deal, Republicans ecstatic over education fix, Dems' response mixed

Before I get into the reports on the deal, I will go out onto a limb and make some predictions. First, the voters will likely get on board and approve the deal. That gets everybody, the Guv, the lege, both political parties, the education groups, and the public off the hook. The common decision is to rob from the kids of the future to pay an inadequate sum to the kids of today. Second, the Guv will pursue his anti tax agenda and use budgetary surplus to fund it. Relatedly, there will be a renewed push for a flat tax in the lege. Now read on and tell me if what follows leads to any other conclusions.

Here is the update on the education funding bills signed by Doozey. Snippets are from The Arizona Capitol Times (subscription required); the Daily Star ran the story on its front page this morning.

Gov. Doug Ducey has signed a $3.5 billion education spending proposal that legislators gave final approval to earlier today, finalizing a plan that, if voters approve in May 2016, will settle a longstanding lawsuit against the state.

All three of the bills and resolutions comprising the settlement received bipartisan support in the Senate, though most Democrats chose to vote only for the bill that appropriates funding to schools, while casting futile no votes against measures that ask voters approve changes to the Constitution and authorize a special election, estimated to cost $9.3 million, to do so.

Yesterday, Democrats in the House did the same thing.

Republicans applauded the measure, calling it a cause for celebration, and chastising Democrats for voting yes for aspects of the deal while still taking time to criticize the negotiated settlement.

A central feature of the deal was the raid on the state land trust. Democrats, like Sen. Steve Farley, and state Treasurers, past and current (Republican Jeff DeWit), opposed taking that money because it dips into the principal. Doing that will reduce future earnings and leave K-12 in worse shape in the future.

The Republicans, like Senate majority leader Andy "Littles" Biggs, crowed about what a great deal it is while disparaging or just dismissing criticism.

Now the voters will decide two issues on May 17th.

The entire package is conditional upon voter approval. If voters don’t approve the constitutional changes at a statewide special election on May 17, the schools won’t see an additional penny.

Already the campaign to secure voter approval is cranking up.

The Legislature may have approved the settlement, but there is still work to be done. Ducey announced that Plaza Companies CEO Sharon Harper, who also chairs the Greater Phoenix Leadership board of directors, will chair the campaign for the May 17 special election. Harper said she was honored that Ducey chose her to lead the effort.

"Now it is up to the voters to do their part and conclude the Legislature’s actions by voting yes for our schools, yes for our teachers, yes for our children," she said.

Not surprisingly, over at Blog for Arizona AZBlueMeanie is highly critical of the deal.

Now it is up to you, the voters. And maybe a legal challenge filed by State Treasurer Jeff DeWit to protect the beneficiaries of the state land trust for education from what he deems an "illegal" diminishment of trust assets.

Ben Carson, the GOP, and "The Rise of Anti-Knowledge"

You might remember Mike Lofgren from his writings about Congress (e.g., his book The Party is Over: How Republicans Went Crazy, Democrats Became Useless, and the Middle Class Got Shafted. ) Now at billmoyers.com he exposes the active bias against knowledge, "the rise of anti-knowledge."

Following are snippets to give you a quick look at Lofgren's central points. But do take a few moments and read the whole article - it is a really good look at how the far right gets comfortable with knowing what isn't so.

In the realm of physics, the opposite of matter is not nothingness, but antimatter. In the realm of practical epistemology, the opposite of knowledge is not ignorance but anti-knowledge. This seldom recognized fact is one of the prime forces behind the decay of political and civic culture in America.

Some common-sense philosophers have observed this point over the years. "Genuine ignorance is . . . profitable because it is likely to be accompanied by humility, curiosity, and open mindedness; whereas ability to repeat catch-phrases, cant terms, familiar propositions, gives the conceit of learning and coats the mind with varnish waterproof to new ideas," observed psychologist John Dewey.

Or, as humorist Josh Billings put it, "The trouble with people is not that they don’t know, but that they know so much that ain’t so."

I'll focus on Ben Carson as an example.

This brings us inevitably to celebrity presidential candidate Ben Carson. The man is anti-knowledge incarnated, a walking compendium of every imbecility ever uttered during the last three decades. Obamacare is worse than chattel slavery. Women who have abortions are like slave owners. If Jews had firearms they could have stopped the Holocaust (author’s note: they obtained at least some weapons during the Warsaw Ghetto rising, and no, it didn’t). Victims of a mass shooting in Oregon enabled their own deaths by their behavior. And so on, ad nauseam.

It is highly revealing that, according to a Bloomberg/Des Moines Register poll of likely Republican caucus attendees, the stolid Iowa burghers liked Carson all the more for such moronic utterances. And sure enough, the New York Times tells us that Carson has pulled ahead of Donald Trump in a national poll of Republican voters. Apparently, Trump was just not crazy enough for their tastes.

We need the surgeon’s skills on pain of agonizing death, and reward him commensurately, but that does not make him a Voltaire. Still, it makes one wonder: if Carson the surgeon believes evolution is a hoax, where does he think the antibiotic-resistant bacteria that plague hospitals come from?

[Another writer] expresses astonishment that Carson’s jaw-dropping comments make him more popular among Republican voters, but he concludes without fully answering the question he posed. It is an important question: what has happened to the American people, or at least a significant portion of them?

The short answer is in three parts. First, anti-intellectualism has always lurked in America. Second, religious "fundamentalism has merged its personnel, its policies, its tactics and its fate with a major American political party, the Republicans". Third, there is a conservative media infrastructure that supports and encourages belief in what isn't so.

Thanks to these overlapping and mutually reinforcing segments of the right-wing media-entertainment-"educational" complex, it is now possible for the true believer to sail on an ocean of political, historical, and scientific disinformation without ever sighting the dry land of empirical fact. This effect is fortified by the substantial overlap between conservative Republicans and fundamentalist Christians.

When these culture warriors get control of government the threat to Democracy becomes starkly revealed.

This brings us back to Ben Carson. He now suggests that, rather than abolishing the Department of Education, a perennial Republican goal, the department should be used to investigate professors who say something he doesn’t agree with. The mechanism to bring these heretics to the government’s attention should be denunciations from students, a technique once in vogue in the old Soviet Union.

Lofgren concludes with a mixed message of optimism tempered by a word of warning.

In all probability, Carson will flame out like Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann and all the other former panjandrums of a theological movement conservatism that revels in anti-knowledge. But he will have left his mark, as they did, on a Republican Party that inexorably moves further to the right, and the eventual nominee will have to tailor his campaign to a base that gets ever more intransigent as each new messiah of the month promises to lead them into a New Jerusalem unmoored to a stubborn and profane thing called facts.

Mike Lofgren is a former congressional staff member who served on both the House and Senate budget committees. His book about Congress, The Party is Over: How Republicans Went Crazy, Democrats Became Useless, and the Middle Class Got Shafted, was published in paperback in 2013. His new book, The Deep State: The Fall of the Constitution and the Rise of a Shadow Government, will be published in January 2016.

h/t Jana Eaton

CNBC’s "moderators were no match for the lying liars on stage"

Subtitle: "When the audience boos your reasonable questions and you have no follow-up, you know you suck at running a debate."

Salon.com has a stinging critique of the management of the Wednesday GOP Presidential debate. The moderators are charged with not doing their homework and not coordinating very well in their management of the candidates. I would defend the moderators by likening their task to that of herding cats, but for one thing. I have no love for cats but that defense would be a mortal insult to the species. Instead let me liken the task to management of a herd of hungry velociraptors in a butcher shop egged on by a coliseum of cranky Christians out for blood.

You think that's too harsh? Check this out.

[It started with] the early fact-checking flub. Moderator Quintanilla asked Ben Carson about his connection with Mannatech, a medical supplement maker accused of false advertising. Carson denied a connection, calling the question "total propaganda." This seemed to catch Quintanilla flat-footed, but he observed that Carson can be seen in a photo on Mannatech’s website, with the company’s logo over his shoulder. Where did that come from, if not endorsement of the product? "If somebody put me on their homepage, they did it without my permission," Carson responded. Quintanilla tried to go further, somewhat ineptly—he did not say, as he could have, "The Wall Street Journal unearthed a video where you are vouching for this product; what is that, if not a connection or endorsement of Mannatech?" But he does ask whether or not Carson’s appearance in the ads demonstrates poor judgment. Before Carson can even get anywhere, the audience boos Quintanilla—which is all Carson needed to smile and ignore the question.

The author of the salon.com article, Sonia Saraiya, reflects:

In the last few hours, as I’ve been writing this, I’ve been wondering about that booing. What is the crowd upset about? Do they think it’s unfair to ask Carson if he’s fit for the presidency? Or do they firmly believe that he’s blameless about Mannatech? It’s understandable that Carson has vocal supporters in the audience, but Carson wasn’t debating Quintanilla—he’s debating Trump, and Marco Rubio, and Carly Fiorina, and a half-dozen other people. And yet the audience responds as if the real enemy here is one of three people trying to add depth and substance to the debate.

(The latter observation is consistent with "the rise of anti-knowledge" covered by Scriber in a separate post today.)

Here's the concluding paragraph.

CNBC could have been prepared as if for the Nuremberg trials and it still wouldn’t have been enough; the crowd wasn’t interested in the truth. And though all the candidates know that to some degree, last night was Marco Rubio’s night to shine as a manipulator of the conservative media entertainment complex—that particular doublespeak that rails against the mainstream media while dominating it with tortured logic and dog-whistling. Carson calls Quintanilla’s perfectly legitimate question "propaganda." Trump tells a story about how the debate was formed, and Harwood states unequivocally that the story is not true. So Trump—like a growling mastiff—shouts Harwood down and literally postures in a show of bullying strength. Governors Chris Christie and Mike Huckabee address the viewing audience with the implied nudge-and-wink that indicates they are addressing just certain demographics of the viewing audience. And Marco Rubio, in the particular pandering smarm that he has perfected over the years in Florida, first insists Harwood has his numbers wrong and then admits that "numerically," Harwood is right, but something-something, defeat Hillary, reverse Obama’s policies, and never, ever, raise taxes. And the live audience at the Coors Events Center ate it up. This wasn’t a debate—because the audience didn’t want a debate, so CNBC didn’t prepare for one. Instead we got two more hours of loud discussion that is so far removed from what this country really needs or wants that it might as well be on the next planet over. This wasn’t a debate, this was a circus. And we are the clowns.

h/t Jana Eaton

GOP debaters had the answers - just not to the questions asked

Charles P. Pierce takes stabs at the GOP's rhetorical balloon in Common Dreams.

There never has been a debate in which the panel seemed less relevant, and this isn't the fault of the three people on it. The folks behind all the podiums came to the stage wanting to say things, and damned if they weren't going to say them. ...

... the highlight of the first hour, and the most vivid example of what was going on, was when Ted Cruz was asked about the budget deal that was struck this week between the Congress and the White House, and he replied by ripping the moderators up one side and down the other. This was the Tailgunner in full cry, channeling the spirit of the original Tailgunner when he called the last Democratic debate, "the Bolsheviks vs. the Mensheviks." Are you now, or have you ever been…

This wasn't a lack of control. The format was fine. But there's nothing you can do about someone like Ted Cruz, who isn't encumbered by either truth or civility. Even defending the other candidates, he doesn't care what damage he does, as long as he can stand atop the rubble. Come to think of it, that could be said of pretty much all of these people.​

Add to that the fabrications and falsehoods favored by Carson: "Dr. Ben (The Blade) Carson spun his mathematical cotton candy into sweet swirls of complete non-fact." And you pretty much have the whole picture: a showcase of GOP talking points encumbered by neither truth nor civility.

NY Times Editorial: Republican tax plans won't work

Regardless of the "fantastical" claims by Republican Presidential candidates, plans like the proposed tithe (from Carson) and tax cuts for the rich (from the rest) will simply blow a hole in the federal budget and necessitate gigantic cuts in Medicare and Social Security. The NY Times Editorial Board concludes:

All of these candidates deny fiscal reality. In the next 10 years, revenues will need to increase by 40 percent simply to keep federal spending even, per capita, with inflation and population growth. Additional revenues will be needed to pay for health care for the elderly, transportation systems and other obligations, as well as for newer challenges, including climate change. And interest on the national debt will surely rise because interest rates have nowhere to go but up.

In light of these needs, taxes have to go up. The reality is that income tax increases can be prudently imposed only on the wealthy at this point, because only they have had meaningful income gains in recent decades.

The Democratic candidates have acknowledged this and have called for high-end tax increases, while keeping proposed tax cuts targeted on low- or middle-income Americans. They have also called for new taxes on financial transactions. Most important, their tax plans are part of broader economic proposals to raise wages, including support for a higher minimum wage, unions, expanded profit-sharing and employee ownership.

Responsible policy for the near term demands tax increases on individuals and sectors that can bear them. There is no room or rationale for across-the-board tax cuts, no matter what the Republican candidates say.

Friday, October 30, 2015

The Borowitz Report: Jeb Bush ends campaign with "Mission Accomplished" banner

Bloggers and pundits have been speculating about Bush's campaign being on a "death watch." After Bush's ineffectual performance in Wednesday's debate, Andy Borowitz at The New Yorker imagines an end to the ordeal.

MIAMI (The Borowitz Report)—Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush announced that he was dropping out of the race for the Republican Presidential nomination, while standing in front of a "Mission Accomplished" banner draped over the fa├žade of his campaign headquarters, in Miami.

While acknowledging that he took pride in the impressive success of his campaign, Bush stressed that victory did not belong to him alone. "This is a great day for America," he said.

Upon the conclusion of his remarks, Bush bade farewell to his staffers with a military-style salute before stepping into a waiting helicopter and ascending to the skies.

Check out the rest of Andy's satire.

AZ Kicking Kids initiative survives attacks in Senate Appropriations Committee: State Treasurers opposed, Republicans united, Dems divided

The tentative settlement in the K-12 funding lawsuit ignited fireworks in the AZ Senate reports The Arizona Capitol Times (subscription required).

Current and former state Treasurers opposed for fiscal reasons

... former treasurer Dean Martin called the settlement deal a raid on the state’s land trust and likened it to congressional marauding of the Social Security trust fund.

"I’m disappointed that you’re not legislating this. There is no open discussion. There are no changes," [current State Treasurer Jeff] DeWit told the Senate Appropriations Committee, adding lawmakers could do a better job of drafting a settlement that would still be palatable to schools, which have sued the state over their inflation money.

Republican legislators march to Il Duce's music

... Treasurer Jeff DeWit accused lawmakers of surrendering their legislative authority by accepting a deal that he said was handed to them by Gov. Doug Ducey with instructions not to make changes.

"We’ve had this legislation written by the executive branch, and brought down here, and you’ve been [given] instructions: Don’t change anything, just get it through," he added.

Democrats divided, appear hopelessly helpless

The dividing issue is the raid on the state land trust.

Democrats on the committee were divided, with Senate Minority Leader Katie Hobbs supporting the package of legislation while Sen. Steve Farley, a Democrat from Tucson, balked at it.

Farley likened the settlement to a robber who breaks into a home, steals money and offers a portion back to the owners as restitution.

Fear is driving the support for the settlement by child and education advocates and their Democratic supporters.

Hobbs agreed with Farley’s analysis. But she quickly added, "Unfortunately, [under] the political reality that we are in right now… this is the only settlement agreement that we are going to have the opportunity ratify."

"... we need to do something right now, and if this lawsuit isn’t settled right now, it will drag on in court for who knows how much longer with maybe a chance that everything is lost," she added.

With Hobbs’ support, the legislation that resets the inflation funding for schools and provides additional money from general fund passed by a vote of 4-1.

The full Senate is scheduled to vote on the settlement today (Oct 30th).

Once the dust settles, it will be interesting to see how Democratic legislators vote[d] on this travesty - and how they explain those votes.

For thorough analyses and objections to the settlement, see example posts by bloggers AZBlueMeanie and Scriber, and columnist Tim Steller.

Quote of the day: Education and child advocacy groups "should be ashamed for having agreed to such a bad deal."

The quote is from AZBlueMeanie at Blog for Arizona. The bad deal mentioned in the quote is the settlement of the K-12 funding lawsuit. More quotes from the Blue Meanie follow.

This tentative settlement is a complete capitulation by the education and child advocacy groups representing the plaintiff school districts in this case. It is a breach of ethics owed to their clients, and a breach of the moral obligation owed to the children of Arizona. They are snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. They should be ashamed for having agreed to such a bad deal.

One commenter described this situation as similar to "battered spouse syndrome." They are trying to please their abuser to make the abuse stop. We all know how this ends.

AZ House approves Kicking Kids initiative

House Republicans were unanimous in their support, Democrats' opposition was ineffective, and voters will have the final say. Here are the essential snippets from The Arizona Capitol Times (subscription required).

The Arizona House of Representatives worked late into the night Thursday to approve a $3.5 billion education finance package aimed at settling a long-running lawsuit over education funding.

Republicans in the chamber unanimously supported all three measures in the package, while Democrats split the difference and supported one bill in the all-or-nothing deal. The package still needs approval from the Senate, and then the Arizona voters at a May 17 special election.

Gov. Doug Ducey called lawmakers back to the Capitol in a special session on Wednesday to approve the package, but after a day full of stops and starts, the Senate ended its work at 5 p.m. Thursday, leaving the House to do its business.

Senate President Andy Biggs of Gilbert said the chamber would come back Friday morning to approve the package.

Democrats in the House unsuccessfully attempted to kill or amend the package. After failing to do so, however, Democrats decided to support the bill appropriating the money, but oppose the measures asking voters to approve changes to the Arizona Constitution and authorizing a special election in May to do so.

The entire package is conditional upon voter approval. If voters don’t approve the constitutional changes at a statewide special election on May 17, the schools won’t see an additional penny.

Paul Ryan elected Speaker of the House of Representatives

"Let’s be frank, the House is broken."

An apparently reluctant Paul Ryan accepts the Speakership but appears realistic about the problems and politics that got him the job. Here are snippets from the NY Times breaking news report on Thursday.

Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin was elected the 54th speaker of the House on Thursday, taking the gavel that he never sought to wield from John A. Boehner, who relinquished it under fire.

But the personal jubilance and high expectations felt by Mr. Boehner, who was elected in a sweeping Republican takeover of the House in 2011, have been replaced with a grim recognition that Mr. Ryan’s ascent stems not from electoral victory but rather the chaos in the ranks of his party’s sizable majority.

Mr. Ryan received 236 votes, a comfortable margin that included several of the hardline conservatives who had worked to oust Mr. Boehner. [He needed 218.] In his address to Congress after the vote, he implored members who have been fighting so bitterly to find a way to work together. "Let’s be frank, the House is broken," Mr. Ryan said. "We are not settling scores," he added, "we are wiping the slate clean."

Mr. Boehner, 65, came into the job a seasoned leader who tried to appease the Tea Party members whose elections helped usher Republicans into the majority. Mr. Ryan, 45, the youngest speaker since 1869, comes in warning those members that he expects them to have his back.

The test for Mr. Ryan will be whether he can manage, perhaps even blunt, this wing of the House Republican conference, or if he too will fall to its members’ intransigence. He had warned members that while he would take their concerns about process seriously, he would not brook dissent that would undermine his ability to lead them.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Transcript of GOP presidential debate showcases Carson's economic fantasies and other GOP delusions

This morning the NY Times features the full transcript of the GOP presidential debate from last night (Wed., Oct. 28).

The transcript is long but revealing of the shallowness of these clowns. For example, they were quizzed about their economic plans. Here is the exchange of one of the moderators with Ben Carson.

QUICK: Dr. Carson, let’s talk about taxes. You have a flat tax plan of 10 percent flat taxes, and — I’ve looked at it — and this is something that is very appealing to a lot of voters, but I’ve had a really tough time trying to make the math work on this. If you were to took a 10 percent tax, with the numbers right now in total personal income, you’re gonna come in with bring in $1.5 trillion. That is less than half of what we bring in right now. And by the way, it’s gonna leave us in a $2 trillion hole. So what analysis got you to the point where you think this will work?

CARSON: Well, first of all, I didn’t say that the rate would be 10 percent. I used the tithing analogy.

QUICK: I — I understand that, but if you — if you look at the numbers you probably have to get to 28.

CARSON: The rate — the rate — the rate is gonna be much closer to 15 percent.

QUICK: 15 percent still leaves you with a $1.1 trillion hole.

CARSON: You also have to get rid of all the deductions and all the loopholes. You also have to some strategically cutting in several places. Remember, we have 645 federal agencies and sub-agencies. Anybody who tells me that we need every penny and every one of those is in a fantasy world. So, also, we can stimulate the economy. That’s gonna be the real growth engine. Stimulating the economy — because it’s tethered down right now with so many regulations...

QUICK: You’d have to cut — you’d have to cut government about 40 percent to make it work with a $1.1 trillion hole.

CARSON: That’s not true.

QUICK: That is true, I looked at the numbers.

CARSON: When — when we put all the facts down, you’ll be able to see that it’s not true, it works out very well.

QUICK: Dr. Carson, thank you.

So Carson makes this stuff up - or else his economic advisors are characters from some comic book.

Even though Quick let Carson off in the end another candidate was not inclined to let it pass.

KASICH: ... This stuff is fantasy. Just like getting rid of Medicare and Medicaid. Come on, that’s just not — you scare senior citizens with that. It’s not responsible.

HARWOOD: Well, let’s just get more pointed about it. You said yesterday that you were hearing proposals that were just crazy from your colleagues. Who were you talking about?

KASICH: Well, I mean right here. To talk about we’re just gonna have a 10 percent tithe and that’s how we’re gonna fund the government? And we’re going to just fix everything with waste, fraud, and abuse? Or that we’re just going to be great? Or we’re going to ship 10 million Americans — or 10 million people out of this country, leaving their children here in this country and dividing families?

And, of course, Kasich could not resist making a pitch for himself.

Folks, we’ve got to wake up. We cannot elect somebody that doesn’t know how to do the job. You have got to pick somebody who has experience, somebody that has the know-how, the discipline.

And so went the night.

If you have a lot of time on your hands, you can read the whole transcript here. If you find that daunting, you can take a short cut and read the Times' summary here.

Or, you can skip to the bottom line provided by Bob Lord at Blog for Arizona. For your convenience, his post titled "Did I Just Waste Two Hours?" is reprinted below.

Yes, I sat through the entire Republican debate. [So did your Scriber - what dedication!] At the outset, I said if Bush was smart he’d come out swinging against Carson. He didn’t. He probably pissed away what ever remaining chance he had.

But I digress. There were precious few moments of real impact. I did think Christie blew a big fat dog whistle to every racist in America. And I think Fiorina will sink like a stone after being skewered regarding her time at H-P.

Then there was Rubio. The pundits are saying he did well, but I felt just the opposite. There was one exchange I thought should be seen as devastating, when he gave his canned answer about his financial woes and the questioner followed up by noting that the financial woes came after he made $1 million windfall on a book deal.

Apparently, I’m the only person who saw that as significant. Oh well.

Who won? I’d say Carson. the other candidates were too stupid to go after him, so he gets to keep his momentum.

Kasich tried, but for the most part Carson kept getting off easy.

As one of my heroes used to say "What a bunch of maroons!"

Updates on Arizona's Kicking Kids initiative

AZ does not have such an initiative ... yet. But it will if the legislature passes the education settlement - and if the voters approve the raid on the state land trust.

Ducey calls special session on K-12 funding

Jeremy Duda at The Arizona Capitol Times (subscription required) reports on the special session. (Pothole alerts are from your Scriber.)

Gov. Doug Ducey called the Legislature into special session Wednesday evening to approve a settlement that will bring an end to five years of litigation over K-12 school funding by putting an additional $3.5 billion into Arizona’s education budget over the next 10 years.

The deal arranged by the Governor’s Office, Republican legislative leaders and the K-12 groups that sued the state would use increased distribution’s from the state’s land trust fund, along with extra money from the general fund, to make up for annual inflation payments the state has withheld for years. A trial court ruled last year that the state owed schools an additional $336 million for the inflation payments, but the state is appealing the ruling.

[Pothole alert] In exchange for the additional funds, the schools agreed to impose economic "triggers" that would temporarily halt the automatic inflation payments in years in which sales and employment growth drop below 1 percent.

[Pothole alert] Lawmakers would have the option of withholding the payments in years in which those two benchmarks dropped below 2 percent. Starting in 2026, the Legislature could make some cuts to the schools if K-12 education constitutes at least 49 percent of the state’s general fund spending.

[Pothole alert] The bulk of the funds would come from the Permanent Land Endowment Trust Fund. The plan would increase the fund’s 2.5 percent annual distribution rate to 6.9 percent for 10 years, which would provide an additional $2.2 billion. K-12 schools would also receive an additional $50 million per year for five years and $75 million a year for five years after that, with the money coming from the general fund.

[Pothole alert] Both the land trust changes and the economic triggers will require voter approval. Ducey and lawmakers plan to put the question before voters in a May special election.

Votes for education deal in doubt

The details, including "potentially monumental loopholes" - potholes flagged above - leave many doubtful about the K-12 settlement. Here are snippets from the Daily Star story this morning.

School officials and other groups that advocate for children are making pleas to lawmakers to accept a funding deal that some question.

The push comes as legislators returned to the Capitol late Wednesday in special session to start debating the plan to finally end a lawsuit over their failure to meet legal obligations to properly fund schools. It provides an additional $3.5 billion over the next decade.

But it is the details — and some potentially monumental loopholes — that have raised questions. And that could leave the package short of the votes needed for final approval on Friday.

Opinion: School deal is a bad deal

From a Guest Opinion by Ben Scheel at The Arizona Capitol Times (subscription required).

The current proposal to get more money to schools is quite simply, terrible. A manufactured crisis to make sure there is plenty of room for tax cuts this upcoming session.

It’s understandable that the plaintiffs were ready to settle and move on, this lawsuit has been dragged out long enough. But if this sneaky heist is carried out, leadership will be discussing which taxes they’re going to cut with revenue growth in the upcoming session. Essentially advocating for depletion of the trust to give corporations and the wealthy a break, again. After all, money to schools and lower taxes sound good on the 2016 campaign trail.

Quote of the day: State Sen. Steve Farley on the education settlement

"It's like the Governor, Speaker and President are offering to break into our house, steal our money, and give 72% of it back to us. And we agree not to press charges because a trial might take too long." From The Farley Report from Phoenix #232, 10-28-15 via the Friends O'Farley email.

The rest of Steve's letter follows.

I've been reserving judgment until I could more fully digest the preliminary settlement terms offered by Gov. Ducey, Pres. Biggs and Speaker Gowan to the K-12 inflation funding lawsuit. We may or may not go into Special Session tomorrow to consider it. I still am open to making this work somehow, but it sure looks like a bad deal for kids right now.

The Governor and legislative majority, who stole voter-required inflation money from our schools for five years (while funding corporate tax cuts instead) and have had a judge order that the money be restored, are offering to pay 72% of what the judge ordered in ongoing annual funding and half of the back pay owed, paid for by additional withdrawals from education trust funds that are already guaranteed to schools (and requires voter approval at an $8 million special election that can't be held before next May, plus possible congressional action), at a rate that puts at risk the future principal of the fund and creates a funding cliff ten years from now that could force future cuts. This despite the fact that we have enough surplus to pay it all out of surplus funds RIGHT NOW, as the Democratic plan offers.

The plaintiffs don't want to continue to press the suit through additional appeals because they believe it will take too long and the outcome may be uncertain, despite the overwhelming public demand for more funds for public schools.

It's like the Governor, Speaker and President are offering to break into our house, steal our money, and give 72% of it back to us. And we agree not to press charges because a trial might take too long.

Additionally, there are poison pills built into the deal that allow the legislature to not pay inflation costs if job growth or sales tax growth is less than 2% annually, a fairly common occurrence in AZ. And if education spending is ever 49% or more of the state budget, not only is inflation funding not allowed, the education budget can be cut by the amount of inflation money funded the previous year. That percentage can be artificially boosted by intentionally reducing state revenues through tax cuts.

There is no provision offered to restore the cuts to JTED and CTE programs, which are currently in a death spiral due to last year's budget axe.

We are currently 50th in the country in state support for K-12. The increased amount going to schools in a best case with this deal would be $173 per student in all. To give you some perspective, it would take $2,000 more per student to get us tied with Texas for 48th in state support for K-12.

We need a lot more investment in our schools to move the needle in a positive direction and give our kids the education they deserve and our economy the boost it needs. We have one of the highest rates of poverty in the country, and public education is the most reliable tool we have to lift people out of poverty.

The plaintiffs have said they believe this settlement deal is only a start -- we need much more funding to reach merely adequate levels. I agree.

However I have not heard anyone on the other side state that they are ready to look for more funding over and above this deal. The Governor, President, and Speaker believe this is all they need to do to convince the public that they support public education. No more.

To believe they will act to get more funding for schools later, after this deal removes the current level of public pressure, is politically naive.

If we approve this deal, it looks to me that our schools may actually be worse off than before the deal, with those poison pills written in, and the lessened public pressure to restore further funds. That should be in no one's interest.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

AZ education settlement is driven by fear

Yesterday (Oct 28) I opined that the education settlement sucks. AZBlueMeanie at Blog for Arizona agrees and provides more details about the settlement. Check out his post from Wednesday, Oct 28 to learn more. Here is his conclusion.

In my opinion, this is a bad settlement, motivated out of fear that the courts will not enforce a judgment against our lawless Tea-Publican legislature. Our legislators will continue to violate the law with impunity because no one has been held accountable.

The major portion of this proposed settlement comes from the state trust lands fund. Once again, our lawless Tea-Publican legislature and Governor has devised a "robbing Peter to pay Paul " plan to avoid their constitutionally prescribed duty to raise taxes to pay for public education and the (judgment) debts of this state.

In effect, our lawless Tea-Publican legislature and Governor propose to steal from the trust lands fund set aside for future generations of Arizona students to pay only a partial amount of the restitution that they owe to the present generation of Arizona students from whom they have stolen education funds. I believe Tea-Publicans refer to this as "generational theft." The amount they propose to steal from the state trust lands fund may deplete the corpus, and thus violate the trustee’s duty to the beneficiaries, resulting in additional litigation.

This settlement will also leave Arizona students near the bottom of education funding in the United States. Inflation adjustment funding would be subject to the discretion of the legislature and inflation triggers based on economic circumstances. And the minimally increased funding is only temporary, for a period 10 years, with a fiscal cliff in 2016 (earlier if Prop. 301 is not renewed by voters in 2021).

Finally, the GOPropagandist editors of The Arizona Republican will shamelessly try to sell you this load of crap as a good settlement, because it allows their boy Doug Ducey to maintain his pledge not to raise taxes during his term of office ...

If the lege was not totally dominated by a single party ...

If the Governor was fiscally responsible and used taxes to pay the state's bills ...

If the state's education groups were bolder in their advocacy ...

Then we might be able to get this settlement deep-sixed and go back to the drawing board seeking a better plan.

Presidential candidate John Kasich offer honest appraisal of the Republican Party and its candidates

But in the land of GOPlins, honesty is not the best policy. On the other hand with his poll numbers in the minuscule category, what does he have to lose?

Here's the rant - transcript from Daily Kos.

John Kasich appeared in a pre-debate rally in Ohio on Tuesday. He was fed up. He appeared exasperated. He went ballistic in a section of his speech.

"Do you know how crazy this election is?"John Kasich said. "Let me tell you something. I've about had it with these people. Let me tell you why. We got one candidate that says we ought to abolish Medicaid and Medicare. You ever heard anything so crazy as that, telling our people in this country who are seniors or about to be seniors that we're going to abolish Medicaid and Medicare." Kasich was referring to statements Ben Carson made.

"We got one person saying we ought to have a 10% flat tax," Kasich said. "That would drive up the deficit in this country by trillions of dollars that my daughters would spend the rest of their lives having to pay off. You know what I say to them. Why don't we have no taxes? Just get rid of them all. And then a chicken in every pot on top of it." He was likely referring to statements made by Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, and Rand Paul.

"We got one guy that says we ought to take 10 or 11 million people and pick them up, where the—I don't know where, we're going to go in their homes, their apartments. We're going to pick them up and we're going to take them to the border and scream at them to get out of our country," Kasich said. "Well that's just crazy. That is just crazy." Of course John Kasich was referring to Donald Trump and his anti-immigrant stances and promise to deport 11 million immigrants.

"We got people proposing healthcare reform that is going to leave, I believe, millions of people without adequate health insurance," Kasich continued. "What has happened to our party? What has happened to the conservative movement?"

John Kasich's explosion of justifiable disdain for what his party has become may seem bold to many. The reality of the state of the Republican Party makes his utterances likely fatal. He likely will not be the Republican nominee.

Paul Ryan nominated as next Speaker of the House

The New York Times reported the nomination of Paul Ryan to be the next Speaker of the House of Representatives.

House Republicans on Wednesday nominated Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin to be the 62nd speaker of the House, turning to the young chairman of the Ways and Means Committee to replace John A. Boehner of Ohio, who was driven into retirement by an angry uprising of conservative hard-liners.

Republicans said the vote was 200 to 43 over Representative Daniel Webster of Florida, Mr. Ryan’s closest rival.

Although Mr. Ryan was short of the 218 votes needed to win Thursday’s floor vote, supporters said he would pick up backers now that he is the nominee. "Anything over 218 wins, I think we’ll be well above that," said Representative Tom Cole of Oklahoma.

Mr. Ryan ultimately said he would accept the nomination but only if his colleagues rallied behind him, which they did last week. Although the Freedom Caucus [aka the ratpack who deposed Boehner] did not formally endorse him, a majority of its members said they would vote for him.

Quote of the Day: Tim Steller on the education funding plan

The schools are being paid the inflation funding they are owed with money that is already theirs. It’s like taking money out of their bank account, handing it to them and saying, “Here’s that money we owe you.” (Daily Star, Oct 28.)

The AZ education funding plan sucks

It sucks because the lege slithered out of their constitutional responsibility to fund public education. It sucks because the education groups caved, wanting less money than was their due - now. It sucks because it sucks money from future kids by sucking money from the state land trust. It sucks because it sucks money belonging to education to pay for education so that Guv Doozey and the GOPlins in the lege can go on cutting taxes. It just sucks.

Tim Steller has a more refined, but just as sharp, critique in this morning's Daily Star.

Members of the Legislature unwrapped the education-funding package Tuesday and revealed an unsightly gift.

It’s such a convoluted contraption I can’t help but wonder if this is really the best we can give our schools, kids and teachers.

The Arizona Republic’s Mary Jo Pitzl quoted one observer looking over the proposal for the first time Tuesday as saying it "looks like it was written on three different napkins, from different bars." Indeed.

Moreover, the plan could be illegal, according to State Treasurer Jeff DeWit. Steller again:

Previously, Ducey proposed withdrawing between 5 percent and 10 percent of the trust every year for 10 years. While Ducey is the former state treasurer and informed on this subject, he ran into an unmovable obstacle in current treasurer Jeff DeWit, who said Ducey’s plan was financially unwise because it proposed withdrawing too much from the trust.

I talked to DeWit on Tuesday, and he said the withdrawals in the plan revealed Tuesday — a proposed 6.9 percent-per-year rate — would add up to almost the exact same amount as under Ducey’s plan. He and the state Board of Investment maintain that 3.75 percent per year is the maximum financially responsible amount, he said. Right now, withdrawals are capped at 2.5 percent, so that’s 1.25 percentage points of wiggle room right now.

Like legislative Democrats, DeWit, a conservative Republican, would instead use the state’s budget surplus to pay for the required inflation increases. He noted that, because the plaintiffs in the suit were willing to accept about 70 cents on the judicially approved dollar of inflation funding, the Legislature could simply tap the surplus to pay for it now.

"This is like we just agreed to let them burgle our house, steal our money, then give back 70 percent of it," state Sen. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, told me. "Then we agreed not to press charges because the trial would take too long."

"Why would we not just jump on that, solve this thing and finish it on Friday?" DeWit asked. The governor, he said, "can still accomplish his goals, solve the schools’ lawsuit, and have money to spare without touching the schools’ trust."

But the education groups who brought the suit against the lege have a shorter term perspective.

And from the plaintiffs’ perspective? I asked Tim Hogan, one of the plaintiffs’ lead attorneys, and he essentially said there was no alternative.

"The point is to get money to schools now, compared to the risk of going forward and the risk of litigation," he said.

It would probably have taken two more years to resolve the case, he said. The land trust funds "are what were on the table."

"Here’s my interest: Getting money in the classrooms as quickly as possible," Hogan added. "I’m convinced that balanced against the risk we face, against the delay, this is a good deal."

But against the alternative of actually paying our bills straightforwardly, without gimmicks or complications, this is a real stinker.

So basically all the parties are happy with robbing from future kids to pay for the education of present kids. Like I said: it sucks.

"Greenland is Melting Away"

If it does melt away, Wall Street should be very worried - unless the Wall Street denizens live higher than the 3rd floor or so. But the Republicans supported by Wall Street money are delusional about the environmental threats posed by climate change. Here, from a New Republic report, is a listing of the Republican delusions..

When climate change and energy policy come up in Wednesday's [that is, today's] Republican presidential debate, you can expect the candidates to describe a world that doesn't much resemble the one we live in. While the climate crisis received prominent billing in the first Democratic debate and inspired an unusually healthy discussion of real-life solutions, Republicans have charged ahead with energy plans that hardly recognize current reality.

Here are their delusions - and rebuttals to them.

What problem?

... even the small minority who, like Jeb Bush, will admit out loud that climate change is a threat refuse to propose any action that could help address it ...

Energy independence

Republicans say that by opening all of the public lands and the entire ocean for fossil fuel development, America would no longer have to rely on oil from the Middle East. It’s a false promise, because the U.S. will still be just as susceptible to global oil price shocks ...

What clean energy?

... [Republicans] ignore the fact that the clean energy industry exists, unless they're pooh-poohing it.
But clean energy is saving consumers and businesses more and more money, as prices come down.

Get rid of EPA to save coal country

... repealing or scaling back EPA initiatives won't bring back lost coal jobs. A major reason coal has suffered under Obama can be chalked up to the free market Republicans like to celebrate. Natural gas and the clean-energy boom have applied pressure to the coal industry by driving down prices, and it's cost the industry the most in states where it's more expensive to mine for coal.

Woe is us: Energy prices will skyrocket

The fossil fuel industry has been warning of the same thing for decades. It has never once been correct. Even if you discount the health and economic benefits from less air pollution, the estimated costs of regulations usually turn out to be overstated. For example, after the coal industry warned of huge rate hikes following the federal acid rain program in the 1990s, electricity prices in many states actually declined.

"Greenland is Melting"

And that brings us back to the headline. Greenland is indeed melting and melting fast. The New York Times has an excellent story (with interactive graphics) on the scientists who are measuring the melt.

The scientific data ... [collected] here could yield groundbreaking information on the rate at which the melting of Greenland ice sheet, one of the biggest and fastest-melting chunks of ice on Earth, will drive up sea levels in the coming decades. The full melting of Greenland’s ice sheet could increase sea levels by about 20 feet.

On the positive side, every building on Wall Street will get a swimming pool.

Abortion, rape, and incest: A case against exceptions

Previous title: Carson leads GOP candidates on extreme position on women's reproductive rights

The original target of this post is the reporting by Paul Waldman at the Washington Post/Plum Line on the GOP candidates' positions on abortion and exceptions for rape and incest. But I decided that there is a much broader issue at stake: why is there any kind of legislation, at any governmental level, that would make such exceptions necessary? So this post is in two parts. I'll cover Waldman's data on the candidates and then write a bit of an essay making the case against exceptions by defending universal abortion rights.

[Sunday] on Meet the Press, Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson made clear that he not only wants to overturn Roe v. Wade, he also opposes exceptions for rape and incest. Lots of viewers probably saw that and said, "Wow, that’s a pretty radical position to take." And it is. But they may not realize just how radical the entire field of Republican presidential candidates is on the issue of abortion.

I’m going to focus on two questions for the moment: whether Roe v. Wade should be overturned, and whether, if abortion is banned, there ought to be exceptions for victims of rape and incest.

The Roe v. Wade question is critical, because it is all but guaranteed that should a Republican become president, he will appoint only Supreme Court justices who can be counted on to vote to overturn Roe, which would allow states to ban abortion completely. Right now there are four Supreme Court justices ready to overturn the decision; if the right justice (or two) retires, it would be gone.

But that’s not what the public wants. Polls consistently show that between 55 and 65 percent of Americans say that Roe should not be overturned, while only around 30 percent say it should. And even within the Republican Party opinion is divided almost evenly. Yet with the exception of George Pataki, every single Republican candidate for president is in favor of overturning Roe v. Wade (if we assume that Donald Trump’s relatively recent conversion to the pro-life cause includes opposition to Roe; he doesn’t seem to have said specifically, but when asked, he insists that he’s pro-life and hates abortion).

On the question of exceptions to abortion bans in cases of rape or incest, I should note that opposing such exceptions is philosophically consistent. If you believe that abortion is murder, then you ought to believe it’s always murder, however the woman got pregnant. You could also argue that rape and incest exceptions reinforce the idea that abortion access ought to be granted through some kind of puritanical virtue test — a woman who was raped didn’t willfully have sex, so therefore she isn’t a dirty sinner and she can get an abortion.

Nevertheless, the fact is that most Americans believe women who are raped or girls who are the victims of incest should be able to access abortion. And not just a majority, but a huge majority. Polls that have asked this question find between 75 and 85 percent favoring legal abortions in case of rape and incest ...

So the GOP candidates for President are completely out of step with the American public on both questions. See Waldman's report for the data. In sum:

... 14 of the 15 remaining Republican candidates want to overturn Roe v. Wade, and 7 out of the 15 would ban abortion with no exceptions for rape and incest.

But the underlying theme in these kinds of discussions is that it's OK to ban abortion so long as you make some exceptions, in this case, for terminating pregnancies caused by rape and incest.

Why should there be any kind of restriction on abortion? If there were no restrictions, there would be no need for exceptions. If you (generically speaking) believe in limited government, you should want to minimize government's intrusion in personal decision making. If you are against regulating school lunches and hence children's diets, you should also oppose governmental intervention in women's reproductive decision making. If you oppose gun control laws, you should oppose abortion laws. So I conclude that the most philosophically defensible position is to support complete legalization of abortion, to oppose anti-abortion laws, and thereby make exceptions unnecessary.

I am aware of the flaw in my logic: conservatives are not known for their cognitive flexibility and consistency. They are perfectly capable of being opposed to gummint interference in cases affecting themselves but welcoming of gummint interference in cases affecting the rights of others. But I offer the argument for universal abortion rights anyway.

In the end, Waldman and I get to the same place. The current cast of GOP characters is without exception opposed to women's rights to make their own reproductive decisions. That is one reason to reject the lot of them and get ourselves a Democratic President in 2016. Any other outcome of the election will doom Roe v. Wade.

Barn-cleaning budget deal appears to be a win for Obama - and for Republican leaders too

Perhaps the biggest part of the deal was getting out from under the constant threat of government shutdown by the crazies in the House - at least for a couple of years. The crazies, however, are still there but now they can beat up on Paul Ryan - the Ayn Rand loving guy who now is too moderate for the Freedom Caucus wing-nuts.

Here are a selection of reports on the deal - NY Times, Rachel Maddow Show, Blog for Arizona. Take your pick.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Breaking: Carson pulls ahead of Trump in national poll

The New York Times reports the results of a NY Times/CBS national poll just now (5:20 AM, Oct. 27).

Ben Carson has taken a narrow lead nationally in the Republican presidential campaign, dislodging Donald J. Trump from the top spot for the first time in months, according to a New York Times/CBS News survey released on Tuesday.

Mr. Carson, a retired neurosurgeon, is the choice of 26 percent of Republican primary voters, the poll found, while Mr. Trump now wins support from 22 percent, although the difference lies within the margin of sampling error.

The survey is the first time that Mr. Trump has not led all candidates since The Times and CBS News began measuring presidential preferences at the end of July.

Even with the caveat about the difference (26% vs. 22%) being within the margin of error, the poll results suggest that Trump's position as top contender among the GOP candidates has become precarious. Unfortunately, the cost of dislodging Trump is another demagogue, calm in outward appearance, but radically right-wing in his rhetoric.

Be careful what you wish for.

Fiscal brinksmanship likely to dominate the next Republican debate

The GOP candidates are already lining up to see who can push hardest for a government shutdown in order to extract concessions like defunding Planned Parenthood. Here's the story from Greg Sargent at the Washington Post/Plum Line.

On Wednesday night, the Republican presidential candidates will gather in Colorado for their first debate focused wholly on the economy.

This spectacle will unfold with only six days to go until the Republican-controlled Congress must raise the debt limit on November 3rd. There appears to be at least a possibility that it might not, which could plunge the United States into default, an outcome that even some conservative economists have warned could lead to economic catastrophe.

A deal on the debt ceiling is reported to be in the works with Boehner trying to leave a "clean barn" for his successor. Will the candidates on stage make meaningful, sensible contributions to this process?

And some of the GOP candidates may feel required — or may see an opportunity — to rile up conservative base voters by blasting the deal as a sellout, because it extracted insufficient concessions from Democrats in exchange for raising the debt ceiling and funding the government. Conservatives, of course, are demanding that GOP leaders hold firm and win a whole grab bag of goodies in exchange for averting default and keeping the government functional.

Presidential candidate Ted Cruz is already laying down a hard marker, urging GOP leaders not to capitulate by agreeing to a "clean" debt limit hike. Donald Trump has said that GOP leaders should use the debt limit as a "negotiating tool" to force spending cuts. John Kasich has been evasive on whether there should be conditions for a hike. Marco Rubio voted against a debt limit hike in 2013, explicitly because it didn’t force spending cuts. I’m unaware of anything Jeb Bush has said on the topic. Meanwhile, at the most recent GOP debate, several of the GOP candidates called on GOP leaders to use the battle over government funding to force Dem concessions, such as the defunding of Planned Parenthood.

Whenever we’ve faced these crises in the past, polls have tended to show that majorities want the crises averted and reject efforts to attach conditions to it. This time around polls are suggesting the same. Yet at the coming debate, at least some of the Republican candidates may be advocating for the maximally confrontational approach, despite all the economic damage that could entail.

Of course, candidates advocating for that approach will claim that it is really Democrats who would really be causing default and/or the government shutdown, as some of them are already trying to do. But you’d think that CNBC debate moderators — who include the excellent John Harwood — would be able to press Republicans effectively on the debt limit in particular, hopefully revealing the true nature of their position, which is that GOP leaders should insist on unilateral concessions in exchange for averting massive economic damage to the country. More broadly, the candidates will be pressed to defend more fiscal brinkmanship in the context of a debate over the economy, even as Congressional leaders are trying to reach a bipartisan deal that might put the recovery on more solid footing.

GOP debate watch: How Bush can settle Trump's insults

Trump insults just about everyone: "low energy" directed at male competitors (Bush and Carson), and remarks about menstruation and personal appearance directed at females (Kelly and Fiorina). The targets of those remarks often seem at a loss for how to respond.

The historical solution to matters of honor has been the duel. Here is a proposal for Wednesday's Republican debate in a New Republic story.

A modest proposal, then, for the remaining GOP debates: Make them open-carry. And if (or when) Trump insults Jeb or any of the others, settle the dispute at once at 20 paces. The two combatants would of course have to agree on weapons and seconds, but this could be arranged through the same negotiations that go into making up the rules for the debates. (As a bonus, this would also provide a test for Trump’s self-proclaimed mastery of the art of the deal.) Depending on how good a shot he proves to be, this might be the only way that Trump can be defeated on his own terms, allowing the reminder of the debates to edge into actual policy arenas.

Even the NRA can get on board with this one.

Arizona education funding deal's devilish details

The Daily Star has a report from Howard Fischer (Capitol Media Services).

A trial court ruled last year that the state for years has illegally ignored a 2000 voter-approved mandate to boost aid to education annually to account for inflation. Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Katherine Cooper pegged the current shortage at about $330 million, a figure that over the next decade, with inflation, would total about $3.8 billion.

And that doesn’t include another $1.3 billion schools claim they are owed for missed payments going back to 2009.

By contrast the package awaiting legislative action has a price tag of $3.5 billion over the same period [the next decade].

Where does the $3.5 billion come from?

Republican lawmakers were still being briefed and declined to comment. But Democrats, who were left out of the negotiations, have concerns.

Most significant is that the lion’s share of the new funds comes from nearly tripling the amount of money withdrawn each year from the state land trust account for the next decade. These are the proceeds from the sale and lease of the 9.2 million acres left of what the federal government gave Arizona when it became a state in 2012, legally earmarked for education.

House Minority Leader Eric Meyer said that’s not necessary.

"We would have used dollars that are sitting in the general fund now to fund our schools," he said. That comes close to $800 million between the cash left over from last fiscal year and what’s in the state’s "rainy day" fund.

The concern, Meyer said, is that larger withdrawals from the trust mean less money at the end of the decade, money that will be needed for students in school at that time.

Quoted in The Republic/azcentral.com report, State Treasurer Jeff DeWit shares that concern.

Treasurer Jeff DeWit has been critical of Ducey's original proposal to withdraw additional funds from the State Land Trust. The current withdrawal is 2.5 percent. He said he hadn't seen the most recent plan in writing, but was concerned about what he'd heard.

"There is a hard-and-fast line we cannot cross. We cannot spend principle," he said. "We can go up to 3.75, but that's the best number everyone agrees we can do without spending principle. That's the safe number."

What remains to be done to realize the deal?

The schools appear to be on board with the deal because of some of the guarantees of sustained funding and the inflation increases. More snippets from the Star's report follow.

Tim Ogle, executive director of the Arizona School Boards Association that has led the multi-year fight, said Monday he is pleased with the deal. And he said it should be no surprise schools are willing to settle the lawsuit and put the fight behind them.

In many ways, Ogle said, this new deal is pretty close to what the schools offered last year, even though it is not quite what they had hoped for when they sued in 2010.

The legislature needs to be convinced.

Katie Hobbs, Meyer’s Senate counterpart, said her members still believe that schools need more money than is in the deal.

But with the schools satisfied with the deal, do Democrats go along?

"We’re working on that now," Hobbs said.

The governor said he recognizes he still needs to sell this to the legislators.

And the voters need to approve the increased withdrawals from the state land trust.

And even if lawmakers go along, the plan needs voter approval because it involves changing that formula for withdrawing funds from that trust account.

Everyone breathe a big sigh of release. Problem solved. Until the schools figure out that 10 years from now the money goes away. Check this one:

There is language in the plan that could allow the extra money to go away entirely. And after 2026, under certain conditions, schools actually could have to give back some of the previously granted inflation aid.

APS Chairman Brandt tries to provide cover for Arizona Corporation Commission

KJZZ has the short version.

Arizona’s largest utility and its parent company will not stop making campaign contributions in the races for Arizona Corporation Commission [ACC].

Commissioners Bob Burn and Susan Bitter Smith had asked that the public service companies they regulate voluntarily refrain from financially backing candidates for the office. The impetus was the ongoing controversy over $3 million in "dark money" contributions in last year’s election, which is widely believed to have come from Arizona Public Service [APS] and Pinnacle West Capital.

On Friday, the companies' CEO Donald Brandt filed a letter with the commission flatly rejecting the suggestion by Burns and Bitter Smith that such activity undermines public trust in the commission. He contends that would "muzzle" the utility's political speech, even as others continue to pour money into elections. Brandt adds that commissioners are elected through a democratic process, and he does not believe they would base decisions affecting Arizona citizens on anything other than the evidence submitted to them.

So far, more than half a dozen companies have stated that they will not make contributions in future corporation commission elections.

Commissioners Tom Forese, Doug Little and Bob Stump have all raised objections to Burns' and Bitter Smith's request.

More on these guys below.

Laurie Roberts at The Republic/azcentral.com comments.

It is "troubling," we are told, that anyone could possibly think that members of the Arizona Corporation Commission [ACC] could be bought.

"Troubling" that anyone could call into question the integrity of the five-member commission that sets utilities’ profits – and the size of your electric bill.

So says the head of Arizona Public Service [APS], the regulated utility widely believed to have secretly spent $3.2 million last year to ensure that its favored candidates became its regulators.

Don Brandt, in a letter to the commission filed Friday, spends two-and-one-half pages extolling the virtues of political speech and the utility’s First Amendment right to use "all lawful means" to get its views out there.

"All lawful means" being code for the right to covertly spend millions of dollars to get you to vote for the slate of candidates most likely to fall in line with the electric company – without, of course, telling you that this is the slate of candidates most likely to fall in line with the electric company.

And indeed they do. The two commissioners elected with the (presumed) help of APS money do tend to vote with Bob Stump in matters affecting APS.

In the current context, Brandt's letter to the ACC can be understood as a defense of dark money influence in elections. Or perhaps it is just intended to defect criticism from the commissioners who vote on what APS wants.

"The Companies (APS and its parent, Pinnacle West)," he wrote, "flatly reject any suggestion that Commissioners would base decisions affecting the well-being of the state’s citizens other than on the evidence submitted to them, or would otherwise compromise his or her oath of office."

Well if that's really what he believes, why then would APS spend $3.2 million on an election?

The other possibility is to question the premise and conclude that Brandt does not believe that at all.

The solution to all this is for the APS and the ACC both to do a data dump. APS has so far been unwilling to bare its books (perhaps because the ACC is dragging its corporate clogs and not asking for that). And there still remains the issue of Stump's texting to APS lobbyists and to those two now elected commissioners - and what was in those texts. Bobby boy remains coy about that.

... the idea of requiring APS to open its books so that we can judge for ourselves the motivations of those on the commission? That’s not only a good one – it’s an essential one if this commission wants the residents of Arizona to believe that they are getting a fair shake.

Again, question the premise. Does the commission really care?

Monday, October 26, 2015

What's in education's wallet? Maybe not so much is the speculation about the still secret deal

Here's more from AZBlueMeanie to add to my post yesterday about the deal reached between "Dicey" Ducey, "Little" Biggs, and "Ya gotta wanna" Gowan-a. Supposedly, the education folks are on board (but maybe not). Rumors are that it's less than the full amount owed, it taps the state land trust, and the Dems were ignored. There are lots of ways for any deal to go south: the lege has to approve it, the education associations have to approve it, and the voters will have to vote on it. I advise against holding your breath.

AZ Senator Dallesandro exposes Arizona's charter schools

Here is a factoid from the LD2 Senator.

Arizona has three times the national average of charter schools. Does this mean that they have 3 times the fraud? 3 times the abuse? 3 times the waste? In the aggregate research shows that charter schools in AZ perform worse than your neighborhood/traditional schools in mathematics.

Link to her source.

Candidate watch: Carson ahead in Iowa polls, "calm" manner assures voters in spite of his extreme rhetoric

The NY Times carries this piece on Carson's appeal to the GOP voters in Iowa.

His supporters cite Mr. Carson’s character, not his positions, as the main reason they back him.

"That smile and his soft voice makes people very comforted," said Miriam Greenfield, a farmer in Jewell, Iowa.

Well, we should have expected that. The political science research shows that candidates' appearances matter more than what comes out of their mouths.

Mr. Carson’s support has not been dimmed by his statements on the unsuitability of a Muslim to be president; his linking of gun control and the Holocaust; and his likening of President Obama’s health care law to slavery. On the contrary, 57 percent of Republicans in the Register poll rated as "very attractive" his comparison of the health care law to slavery, and 73 percent said his opposition to a Muslim as president made him more attractive.

In case you ever thought of Carson as a calm, mild-mannered middle of the road kind of guy, check out his stance on abortion in cases of rape or incest.

On Sunday, Mr. Carson gave critics more fuel by opposing abortion in cases of rape or incest, saying on NBC’s "Meet the Press" that "I would not be in favor of killing a baby because the baby came about in that way."

And Republican women love this guy.

What is more, Mr. Carson’s provocative comments on topics like Nazism and slavery, which pundits and commentators regularly denounce, seem only to deepen the enthusiasm his evangelical base feels for him. He has connected with Republican women here, who prefer him to Mr. Trump.

Go figure.

Candidate watch: While GOPlins rave, Clinton keeps her cool

My sense of the overall media response to the Benghastly hearing (aka inquisition) is that Clinton won all 10 rounds. Politely attentive, a condescending smile, and fact-based responses totally derailed the rude ravings of the Reps on the committee. Craig McDermott at Blog for Arizona sums it up.

…The race isn’t over yet, not by a long shot, but Hillary Clinton went a long way toward securing the 2016 Democratic nomination for the presidency, and toward securing a general election victory, when she faced down the bullies masquerading as Republican members of Congress this past week.

... she did incredibly well, staying cool, calm, and collected in the face of a marathon session thinly-veiled partisan bloviating dressed up as questioning.

Like McDermott, "I am a supporter of Bernie Sanders and believe that Clinton is far too close to Wall Street and other 1%’ers (and their lackeys)."

But, gotta be realistic here, the national polls indicate that Clinton is likely to be the Democratic candidate. Assuming she is, what did she gain from the Benghastly show?

Her biggest gain from the session won’t be in attracting hardcore supporters of Sanders and the other Democratic candidates, it will be in attracting the support of voters who are late arrivals to the primary season. The image of Clinton facing Trey Gowdy and his merry bunch of cutthroats and not even batting an eyelash will be the main image in their minds when those voters figure out who they think is the best candidate.

And that image will endure no matter who is the candidate. Score a big win for Hillary Clinton.

Demagocracy defined

Demagocracy, n. A system in which the people elect the most ignorant and blusterous candidate as their leader.

This is scary. The automatic spell checker in my text editor flags "Demagocracy" as misspelled with one possible dictionary replacement: "Democracy." It's almost as though someone saw this coming. Sinclair Lewis, maybe?

Robert Reich explains the difference.

Among the current crop of candidates for president of the United States, who exhibits leadership and who doesn’t?

Leadership isn’t just the ability to attract followers. Otherwise some of the worst tyrants in history would be considered great leaders. They weren’t leaders; they were demagogues. There’s a difference.

A leader brings out the best in his followers. A demagogue brings out the worst.

Leaders inspire tolerance. Demagogues incite hate.

Leaders empower the powerless; they give them voice and respect. Demagogues scapegoat the powerless; they use scapegoating as a means to fortify their power.

Leaders calm peoples’ irrational fears. Demagogues exploit them.

Reich then asks: "[of] the current crop of Presidential candidates: Who are the leaders, and who are the demagogues?" Check out his blog for his nominees in both categories.

Cartoons of the week: The non-witch-hunt witch hunt, Gowdy Been Gauzy, Ryan or Putin as Speaker?

And Trump and Carson. It's been a target rich week for AZBlueMeanie at Blog for Arizona.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Quote of the day: "Republicans are holding a gun to the head of the American economy and they’ll fire"

Paul Waldman writing at the Washington Post/Plum Line about the looming debt ceiling disaster.

All this suggests that every force involved is propelling Republicans not just toward forcing a crisis, but forcing an actual default. At some point, they might realize that "Republicans are holding a gun to the head of the American economy and they’ll fire unless we let them slash Social Security and Medicare" isn’t exactly a winning political message to send. But who knows how much damage will be done before they realize that?

Read Waldman's article for the details of "all this". Here is his intro.

It’s tempting to say that the upcoming need to increase the debt ceiling is another depressing iteration of the governing-by-crisis that we’ve gotten used to over the last five years since Republicans took control of the House. But it isn’t. It’s worse. The chaos that is the Republican caucus in the House of Representatives is about to have some very serious effects on the entire country.

Candidate watch: Trump suppresses Latino reporting, Carson suppresses liberal speech, Bush suppresses campaign spending

Snippets from stories at ringoffireradio.com: Trump, Carson, Bush.

Trump

Donald Trump’s campaign has confirmed reports that the billionaire Republican frontrunner had Univision reporters removed from a campaign event in Florida on Friday.

Carson

Showcasing his lack of legal knowledge, Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson argues that he would outlaw what he believes is "liberal" speech on college campuses.

Appearing on Gleen Beck’s radio program, Carson explained that he would do this by direction of the Department of Education.

"I actually have something I would use the Department of Education to do," said Carson. "It would be to monitor our institutions of higher education for extreme political bias and deny federal funding if it exists."

Bush

Jeb Bush’s campaign is in crisis mode. The campaign is reportedly cutting campaign spending in order to try and salvage what little hope remains in early states.

The Bush campaign has expressed that it recognizes the detrimental effect the Trump campaign has had on Bush’s prospects. Officials with the campaign have stated that the political landscape of today is very different than what they expected when the campaign began.

How much longer can Jeb’s campaign limp forward?

School funding deal revealed soon: But who is at the table?

My bet on table seats? Biggs. Gowan. Ducey.

Noticeably absent? State Treasurer Jeff DeWit. Diane Douglas. Public Instruction. First Things First.

Here are snippets from the story in this morning's Daily Star/tucson.com.

A deal in principle has been reached to settle a long-running lawsuit over school funding, and Republican members of the Arizona Legislature have been notified to come to the Capitol for briefings starting Monday, Arizona Senate President Andy Biggs said late Saturday.

Biggs said documents were being prepared over the weekend, and he will brief members of his Republican caucus Monday and Tuesday. House Speaker David Gowan notified Republican House members to come to the Capitol on Tuesday.

Biggs would not provide details of the agreement, saying "It would be unfair for them to find out anything from the media."

Translation: "I want them to know only what I feed them." Having a public policy debate in public is not the M. O. in Phoenix.

Nevertheless, the GOPlins are charging ahead.

[State House Speaker David] Gowan told his members in an email Saturday afternoon to come to the Capitol for briefings on Tuesday and be available for the rest of the week in case a special legislative session is called.

However, there are a couple of potholes to be navigated. First any deal has to pass in both House and Senate. The GOP has majorities but that is no guarantee that some of the GOPlins won't prefer to kick the kids down the road. Second, the voters will have to approve parts of any deal that raid First Things First and/or the state land trust.

Will the Dems in the state lege have a say? The report on the impending deal by The Republic/azcentral.com suggests otherwise.

House Minority Leader Eric Meyer, D-Paradise Valley, said he had not yet been briefed on the proposal.

I have this sinking feeling that the Biggs plan might mean Littles for public ed. But we will see come tomorrow.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Congress plans to fiddle while America burns (after House GOP starts the fire)

That's right. The GOPlins know what's going to happen - it damn near did the last time they made threats about the debt limit. And now they are doing it again: bringing the full faith and credit of the United States to the precipice and threatening to take down the world economy as well. This is not an accident, no matter what you hear elsewhere. There are Republican members of Congress who really would like to see us go off the cliff. When it happens, they get to prioritize which bills get paid. It's another ploy to cut big gummint programs like Planned Parenthood and EPA and ...

I hear you say "there he goes again with another goofy conspiracy theory. Well, suspend judgment and let Steve Benen at MSNBC/Rachel Maddow fill in some details and then you decide. (h/t AZBlueMeanie).

The Republican-led Congress has just 12 days before the nation’s debt ceiling has to be raised. If lawmakers fail to meet their responsibilities, the country won’t be able to pay its bills, we’ll default on our debts, the full faith and credit of the United States will be in jeopardy, and the economic consequences will be severe.

At this point, congressional Republicans appear to be divided into two groups. The first, which includes the GOP leadership, knows it must raise the debt ceiling, but this faction has no idea how to complete the simple task. The second, which includes far-right members in both chambers, wants to hold the debt ceiling hostage, threatening to crash the economy on purpose unless Democrats meets their demands, but this faction hasn’t bothered to fill out the ransom note.

So far, markets aren’t panicking, because everyone is working from the assumption that Republicans won’t deliberately create a recession for no reason – though anything’s possible.

What’s striking, though, is how little work is getting done. We’re 12 days away from a dangerous deadline – Congress is only in session for 7 of those 12 days – and Congress isn’t even trying to move towards a resolution yet. Instead, the GOP-led House spent time yesterday on something called the "Default Prevention Act."

With the potential for an unprecedented federal default two weeks away, House Republicans on Wednesday plan to pass legislation not to avert disaster, but rather to manage it, channeling daily tax collections to the nation’s creditors and Social Security recipients if the government’s borrowing limit is not lifted.

Let’s put this in everyday terms. Imagine a gang told you they plan to burn down your town unless their demands are met. You’re skeptical and tell the gang to go away. But the gang members stick around and say, "Before we burn down your town, let’s start making plans to prioritize which parts of the town you might want to rescue before we turn violent."

That, in a nutshell, is what the "Default Prevention Act" is all about – the gang members passed a bill yesterday to prioritize which bills they’ll allow the United States to pay, and which bills will get burned by their fire.

The problem, of course, is that all of this is completely insane.

What we’re talking about is a plan in which Republicans try to manage the fire from their own arson, "channeling daily tax collections to the nation’s creditors and Social Security recipients" after they refuse, on purpose, to raise the debt ceiling.

And why would GOP lawmakers prioritize the nation’s creditors and Social Security recipients? On the former, because so much of the global economy rests on U.S. Treasury bonds, a deliberate default risks crashing financial systems across the planet. That would be … catastrophically bad.

On the latter, congressional Republicans don’t want to be responsible for cutting off Social Security checks for millions of American seniors, right in time for the holidays.

The "Default Prevention Act" is, by this measure, misnamed. It would prevent the nation from defaulting on some debts, while encouraging the nation to default on others.

Making matters just a little worse, Slate’s Jordan Weissmann explained that the GOP plan appears to be illegal and literally impossible to implement.

[E]ven if the government could borrow to pay bondholders and seniors, crossing the debt limit would still be plenty apocalyptic. Treasury’s computers still might not be capable of prioritizing its obligations, in which case we’d still end up failing to pay some bondholders despite Congress’s intentions.

The mere threat of such an accidental default could cause markets to seize. If the Treasury did successfully keep money flowing to its lenders, meanwhile, the government still wouldn’t be able to cover all of its other costs, and thus would be forced to implement massive, immediate spending cuts to other programs, likely dragging the U.S. and probably the rest of the world into a recession.

He’s referring, of course, to a recession that could easily be avoided by simply raising the debt ceiling – a simple, procedural vote that costs nothing.

Tick, tock.

AZBlueMeanie at Blog for Arizona has quite a bit to say about this.

If Tea-Publicans don’t pull their infantile heads out of their ass in the next ten days, the U.S. faces a default on the full faith and credit of the United States on November 3. That would lead to economic catastrophe.

After the mutiny of Tea-Publicans that we have witnessed in Congress over the past month, I have absolutely no confidence in the ability of the Gang Who Couldn’t Shoot Straight to be able to do what is necessary. We are hurtling towards economic disaster and the media is not sounding the alarm — yet.

The media is starting to wake up. This morning the Daily Star ran a version of a report by AP's Andrew Taylor but it was not on the front page. Too bad, because the news from Congress is not good - in fact, it is horrible. The GOPlins are playing chicken with an economic train.

... House GOP leaders warn that they can't summon even minimal support for the kind of debt limit increase demanded by President Barack Obama — one that's free of any concessions to hardline conservatives. They are still holding out hope for some kind of add-on to make the politically toxic vote more palatable.

Too bad, say Democrats, who point out that Congress passed a debt-limit increase just last year without add-ons. And all but two of 188 House Democrats have promised to vote for the measure, which means it would only take just 32 out of 247 Republicans to produce a winning vote of the full House.

Top House Democrats scoff when told that GOP leaders say they might not be able to even deliver that minimal number.

"Then they ought to all be fired," said Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the No. 2 House Democrat. "It is inconceivable to me that there aren't 30-plus Republicans to vote to make sure their country is solvent."

"I believe they truly don't have the votes. It is not just a negotiating posture," said David Schnittger, a former longtime Boehner aide. "It's something nobody wants to vote for."

Only 28 House Republicans voted with virtually every Democrat last year to boost the debt ceiling; 19 of those lawmakers remain in Congress. Because of GOP electoral gains, Boehner would have to come up with a dozen or more additional Republicans to pass a "clean" debt limit measure with nearly all of the chamber's Democrats.

McCarthy recently told reporters — "I do not see 218 for any clean (debt limit) bill," referring to the number of votes needed to pass legislation through the 435-member House.

Jordan Weissman at Slate has the closer.

Playing with the debt limit is insane, full stop. There is no way to make it less insane. That's why Republicans used it as a threat in the first place. If they're going to keep playing this game, they might as well just embrace the crazy.

And they have and they do - every single day.

Happy Halloween from your Congress. Be afraid.