Thursday, December 31, 2015

Ducey's Choice explained: 1, 2, 3, Tax Breaks for Me.

That's what I call Proposition 123, the BFDeal on public education funding: Ducey's Choice. It's Sophie's Choice redux. We can starve the kids of today or starve the kids of tomorrow. The mechanism is raiding the state land trust - you know - the money that already belongs to education - to fund education. The goal, really, is to help Guv Doozey to hew to his promise of tax breaks for the rich. David Safier at TucsonWeekly/TheRange explains. (This one is so good that I'm reprinting the full text for you.)

Here's what pisses me off about the whole Prop. 123 thing.

On the plus side, Arizona's public schools stand to receive over $300 million a year which has been denied them for years if Prop. 123 passes and the state is allowed to dip further into the state land trust funds than is currently allowed. If it doesn't pass, we climb back on that old merry-go-round where the court orders the legislature to pay what it owes the schools and the Republican majority folds its arms and says, "You can't make me." Which is true, the courts can't literally force the state to pay up the money it owes, and it's unlikely the courts will even tighten the screws much because they know how likely it is an angry governor and legislature will bring vengeance down on their heads. If Prop. 123 fails, the stalemate will continue for years with mounting court costs on all sides and not a penny of that money the state owes going to the schools.

On the minus side, that state land trust money which will be tapped if Prop. 123 passes is already designated for children's educations, so basically, the children will be paid from their own inheritance, not from new money. That means less money in the fund for education in the future. But even though I don't like that scenario much, I'm willing to live with it, because the schools are really, really hurting for funds—need I say again that we're 48th, 49th or 50th in per student spending?—and I can't deny this current crop of students the benefit of even a small financial boost. And remember, the $300 million-plus is only a small boost in funding. Need I say again it won't lift us even one place on the per student funding list?

On the even more minus side, the pro-Prop 123 group has already raised nearly half a million dollars for its campaign and has set its sights on raising as much as three or four million total. Where do you raise that kind of money? From deep pockets, of course, the wealthiest individuals and corporations in the state. According to the Capitol Times, that includes:

  • $150,000 from Greater Phoenix Leadership chaired by Sharon Harper, president and CEO of Plaza Companies
  • $75,000 from the Salt River Project
  • $25,000 each from Developer Edward Robson and his company, Robson Communities Inc. [This is Scriber's favorite given my residence in a Robson development.]
  • $44,500 from Sunstate Equipment President Michael Watts and his wife, Cindy
  • $25,000 from the Southern Arizona Leadership Council
  • $10,000 from the Arizona Lodging and Tourism Authority

Now, I'm sure all these people will tell you, with heads tilted to one side and a hint of tears glistening in their eyes, how much they support public education. And probably there's some truth in the claim, for some of them anyway. But, really? All these people are willing to spend all that money because of how much they love other people's children? Uh, uh. When lots of rich people pitch lots of money into political fights, it tends to be because they stand to benefit personally. And the way these rich folks stand to benefit is from the tax breaks Gov. Ducey has promised them. So what could be better? Give other people' kids the money up front that was being saved for their futures and free up the state budget surplus for those tax breaks, which will be worth a whole lot more than these folks are ponying up to help pass Prop. 123.

So here I am, on the same side as the one-percenters because I want to guarantee more money for schools and they want generous tax breaks for themselves. And that's what pisses me off about this whole thing. Because right now, the rich aren't paying their fair share in Arizona. In fact, they pay a lower percentage of their incomes in combined state taxes than people in the bottom 20 percent. And they want to pay even less when they should actually be paying significantly more, which would allow taxes to remain stable for the rest of the population while schools, social services, road repair and a host of other underfunded state items get a much-needed infusion of dollars, and we wouldn't need to raid the land trust fund to boost state funding on education.

Am I wrong to accuse Ducey and his rich friends of supporting Prop. 123 for their own personal financial gain? I doubt it. But I would love to be proved wrong. If Ducey and the legislature's Republican majority pass a significant increase in the amount they allocate for public school education in the state budget, I'll be happy—delighted, in fact—to admit I misjudged them.

You see the perfidy in Ducey's Choice? Reasonable people, all squarely on the side of properly funding public education, will come down on opposite sides of the vote on Proposition 123. Safier gulps and votes for more money now. Scriber gulps and votes to protect students in the longer run. That's how Ducey's Choice is designed to work. Safier gets nailed for voting against the future. Scriber gets nailed for voting against teachers' pay raises now.

I propose a slogan for the Prop 123 campaign.

One. Two. Three. Tax Breaks for Me.

Of Course Not: Will APS reveal its campaign spending?

Here's the answer from KVOA.

Corporation Commissioner Bob Burns "asked" APS to expose its campaign spending. Will the APS CEO do so?

Of. Course. Not.

Republican candidates do not learn from experience

I know. Duh. But it's worse.

They are defending failed GOP policies with even more vigor - "Doubling Down on W" as Paul Krugman puts it. Krugman in the NY TImes, writes about how the GOP candidates fail to learn from the disastrous policies of George W.

... you might have expected the debacle of George W. Bush’s presidency — a debacle not just for the nation, but for the Republican Party, which saw Democrats both take the White House and achieve some major parts of their agenda — to inspire some reconsideration of W-type policies. What we’ve seen instead is a doubling down, a determination to take whatever didn’t work from 2001 to 2008 and do it again, in a more extreme form.

Start with the example that’s easiest to quantify, tax cuts.

Big tax cuts tilted toward the wealthy were the Bush administration’s signature domestic policy. They were sold at the time as fiscally responsible, a matter of giving back part of the budget surplus America was running when W took office. (Alan Greenspan infamously argued that tax cuts were needed to avoid paying off federal debt too fast.) Since then, however, over-the-top warnings about the evils of debt and deficits have become a routine part of Republican rhetoric; and even conservatives occasionally admit that soaring inequality is a problem.

Moreover, it’s harder than ever to claim that tax cuts are the key to prosperity. At this point the private sector has added more than twice as many jobs under President Obama as it did over the corresponding period under W, a period that doesn’t include the Great Recession.

You might think, then, that Bush-style tax cuts would be out of favor. In fact, however, establishment candidates like Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush are proposing much bigger tax cuts than W ever did. And independent analysis of Jeb’s proposal shows that it’s even more tilted toward the wealthy than anything his brother did.

[snip]

The point is that while the mainstream contenders may have better manners than Mr. Trump or the widely loathed Mr. Cruz, when you get to substance it becomes clear that all of them are frighteningly radical, and that none of them seem to have learned anything from past disasters.

Why does this matter? Right now conventional wisdom, as captured by the bookies and the betting markets, suggests even or better-than-even odds that Mr. Trump or Mr. Cruz will be the nominee, in which case everyone will be aware of the candidate’s extremism. But there’s still a substantial chance that the outsiders will falter and someone less obviously out there — probably Mr. Rubio — will end up on top.

And if this happens, it will be important to realize that not being Donald Trump doesn’t make someone a moderate, or even halfway reasonable. The truth is that there are no moderates in the Republican primary, and being reasonable appears to be a disqualifying characteristic for anyone seeking the party’s nod.

Being reasonable implies a reliance on facts as a foundation for policy. On the GOP primary stage, facts are not playing well.

Check out Krugman's column for other examples of the failed policies that the GOPlin candidates are resurrecting from W's administration.

Andy Tobin appointed to Corporation Commission, Doug Little to chair the Commission

What Tobin will or will not do remains, for Scriber, an unknown. I don't have information on his stance on matters before the Commission, like the residential solar installers vs. utility companies battle over net metering. I'll have to do some digging.

What we do know is that Doug Little, along with now fellow Commissioner Tom Forese, benefited from oodles of cash alleged to be spent by Arizona Public Service (APS) on the 2014 election. My prediction is that APS will get what it (allegedly) paid for.

Also in the news: Commissioners Little and Forese are working on a compromise between Solar City and APS. Isn't this like a fox working out the differences between another fox and a hen?

Ducey appoints Tobin to Corporation Commission

Some had hoped that Ducey would appoint a neutral person, perhaps a retired judge, to the AZ Corporation Commission to fill out the vacancy created by Susan Bitter Smith's resignation. Instead the former AZ House Speaker Andy Tobin will join the Corporation Commission. Here are snippets from the Arizona Capitol Times (subscription required).

Gov. Doug Ducey today appointed former House Speaker Andy Tobin as the Arizona Corporation Commission’s newest regulator.

The governor made the appointment a day after the regulators met to elect Commissioner Doug Little as interim chairman. [_Scriber_: More on that below.] Tobin will replace Commissioner Susan Bitter Smith when her resignation becomes effective on January 4th.

“There’s a reason I’ve trusted Andy with so many important roles in my own administration – he’s a person of outstanding integrity,” Ducey said in a news release. “Andy is his own man, known for sticking to his guns and doing what he knows is right, even when the stakes are high and even under intense outside pressure. Now, more than ever, that strength of character is needed on this commission.”

Tobin, who is currently the director of the Arizona Department of Insurance and the interim director of the Arizona Department of Financial Institutions, will be vacating those posts.

Bitter Smith is resigning as a commissioner following Attorney General Mark Brnovich’s decision to seek her ouster from office over conflict-of-interest allegations.

Craig McDermott posting at Blog for Arizona is just as skeptical as Scriber about the consequences of this appointment.

Mitch M. at Arizona’ Politics observes that Tobin will take a significant cut in pay when he takes the job on the ACC.

However, I will observe, that given the behavior of the ACC and its members, that we need not worry about Tobin.

Only his official pay will be cut.

Doug Little chosen as Chair of Corporation Commission

Also from the Capitol Times is this story on Commissioner Doug Little's selection to chair the Commission.

... the commissioners voted to have Little assume the helm on an acting basis, beginning this coming Tuesday. Then, after Ducey finally acts [on naming a replacement for Susan Bitter Smith], there will be another vote, this time with the new member participating.

But it really won’t matter who Ducey names — or what that person wants.

Little already has the endorsement of Tom Forese, with whom he ran as a ticket in the 2014 election. And Burns committed to vote for Little when the time comes.

That guarantees him three votes on the five-member panel. And Little acknowledged after the meeting he does want the post on more than an interim basis.

But he refused to say after the meeting what will be his priorities as chairman.
“I think maybe it would be more appropriate to have that conversation when we actually have the full commission populated,” [Little] said.

The position comes with some power beyond actually running the meeting. Whoever chairs the panel also sets the agenda.

Corporation Commissioners seek compromise between solar installers and big utilities

Here's a third article from the Arizona Capitol Times, this one on what two Commissioners, Little and Forese, are up to - supposedly seeking a discussion about, and compromise on, net metering between Solar City and APS.

Republicans Tom Forese and Doug Little have both taken personal trips to California to meet with Lyndon Rive, the CEO of SolarCity Corp., the largest solar installer in Arizona and the country, according to The Arizona Republic (http://bit.ly/1OwHTh2 ).

“What I’m trying to do is heal some damage,” Forese said. “These two groups have landed so many punches with each other that I’m trying to get it to the point where they can communicate on a different level.”

When both regulators ran for office in 2014, rooftop-solar leasing firms expressed concern that the candidates were taking so-called “dark money” from Arizona Public Service Co. The solar leasing firms said the money was to encourage the regulators to reduce solar subsidies.

APS hasn’t denied funding the candidates.

As Molly Ivins once observed, "ya gotta dance with them that brung ya." We will see who is playing the tune and who is on the dance floor in the year to come.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Opposition to Prop 123 grows, so does cash to fund the Prop 123 campaign

My own statement of opposition will not appear in the pamphlet that gets sent to each household with a registered voter. It wasn't the content, it was a legal technicality: my signature was not notarized. Now I know. And next time I will get the correct information publicized which the main AZ media did not do. And the Secretary of State office did not have informing the public "on their radar." But I digress.

Here are two items of news about the "education deal" pushed by Il Duce and and his strange bedfellows (aka education organizations and business leaders). First, opponents are lining up with many opposed because the deal takes from future education to fund present education. Second, the cash is rolling in to fund the campaign to convince voters that the raid on the land is a good deal.

The story about the opposition to Prop 123 was reprinted in this morning's Daily Star from Arizona Capitol Times (subscription required), the version I will quote here.

Opposition is building to a measure that slid through the Legislature that asks voters to approve a plan to tap a trust account to boost education funding.

More than four dozen statements in opposition to Proposition 123 were submitted to Secretary of State Michele Reagan. They will be included in a pamphlet that will be mailed to the homes of all registered voters ahead of the May 17 special election.

The list of foes is not quite like the veritable Who’s Who in business, politics and education, all of whom submitted their own statements in support. That includes Gov. Doug Ducey, House Speaker David Gowan, Arizona Education Association President Andrew Morrill and an assortment of business leaders.

All cite the same theme of getting more money into classrooms without raising taxes.

Opponents, however, point up what they see as flaws in the measure. But the question remains whether they can mount any organized opposition to what promises to be a well-financed campaign.
At this point the de facto leader appears to be state Treasurer Jeff DeWit.

But DeWit is facing a well financed foe.

He already is at a financial disadvantage: Campaign finance reports show proponents already have collected more than $483,000 in donations of $10,000 or more.

The treasurer is already looking at ways to attack the plan. And at the center of that is that much of the financing for the $3.5 billion that would be provided to schools over the next decade will come from the trust account already set aside for education.

Public schools already get close to $100 million a year from the account, which consists of proceeds of the sale and lease of land the federal government gave Arizona when it became a state. Proposition 123 would more than double that for the next decade.

DeWit said that’s not financially sound and will result in less aide to schools long term.
But if all the math is too complicated, DeWit has a simpler message.

He pointed out that a majority of the pro-123 statements included in the pamphlet, each at a cost of $75, were paid for by business groups — “somebody that would benefit from the corporate tax cuts that raiding the school trust will give them.”

Those opposing Prop 123 do so for various reasons. Here is an example.

Dave Braun, a Phoenix Democrat running for the Legislature, paid his $75 to put in his two cents in opposition. His ballot statement calls the plan a “gimmick” to raid the land trust … so the governor can claim he spent more money on education without raising taxes when he runs for reelection or for president.”

Braun said he thinks the schools, who agreed to the deal to end the 2010 lawsuit, got taken, especially once the Supreme Court said lawmakers had illegally ignored the inflation mandate. He compared it to someone who robs a bank of $100,000 and then agrees to refund $50,000 under the condition of not going to jail.

“The deal returns, as far as I can see … somewhere between one half and two-thirds of the money that should have been paid to the schools,” Braun said.

Campaign finance filings show nearly half a million dollars already raised in support of Prop 123 - all in large donations of $10,000 - again reported by the Arizona Capitol Times.

As always, we need to ask who benefits and then follow the money.

According to its disclosures to the Secretary of State’s Office, Let’s Vote Yes for Arizona’s Schools, the campaign for Prop. 123, has raised about $484,000 since late November. The campaign has spent about $11,000 so far. The campaign reported its fundraising under a law requiring swift disclosure of all contributions and expenditures of at least $10,000, though some of its reported contributions and expenditures fell below that threshold.

By far the largest contributor is Greater Phoenix Leadership, which gave $150,000 to the Prop. 123 campaign. Plaza Companies president and CEO Sharon Harper, the campaign chairman, also chairs the GPL board of directors. Her company also contributed $15,000 to the campaign.

Other business and civic groups contributed as well. The Southern Arizona Leadership Council contributed $25,000, while the Arizona Lodging and Tourism Authority gave $10,000.

Salt River Project was the second largest contributor, chipping in $75,000. Developer Edward Robson and his company, Robson Communities Inc., each gave $25,000 to the campaign. And Sunstate Equipment President Michael Watts and his wife, Cindy, contributed $44,500. Numerous other individuals and businesses contributed between $10,000 and $25,000 to the campaign.

J.P. Twist, a staffer for Gov. Doug Ducey who will serve as the Prop. 123 campaign manager, has said he expects the campaign to raise between $3 million and $4 million.

I smell tax breaks in the air.

Voters will cast their ballots on Prop. 123 in a May 17 special election. The measure would provide an additional $3.5 billion in K-12 education funding over the course of 10 years, about $2.2 billion of which would come from increased distributions from the state’s Permanent Land Endowment Trust Fund. It would also implement economic “triggers” allowing the state to suspend or rescind inflation-based funding increases to K-12 education during fiscal downturns.

Those are two good reasons to oppose Prop 123.

Political calendar for 2016

Here's a public service announcement from AZBlueMeanie listing the important dates.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Future fiction: What lies ahead in 2016

Yesterday I featured some retrospection on 2015. Today we'll take a prospective look at 2016. Bear in mind that my predictions, and those I feature in these articles, are about as good as the prognostications of Nostradamus so you can make up your own future fiction.

The lead set of musings about 2016 are from the Daily Beast. The author speculates about the Presidential primary and who might win over whom, the fate of the two parties, and ISIS. The answer to "Anything Else?" is disturbing, especially so in the context of the demagoguery practiced in 2015.

Anything Else?: As a matter of fact, yes. One of the more disturbing little factoids I happened across recently is this poll result showing that less than 30 percent of millennials think it’s essential to live in a democracy.

I have many thoughts on this, but this column is almost over, so maybe we’ll get to them next year. However: This is not a prediction for 2016 per se, but an observation about the entropic direction we seem to be heading in as a country. We aren’t really citizens anymore in any meaningful sense. Most of us are chiefly consumers and spenders. Those of us who do take citizenship more seriously and are engaged in politics aren’t sitting down together to figure out solutions to problems, as citizens are supposed to do (in the imaginations, say, of the Founders); we’re ripping each others’ bowels out. It’s no wonder young people care less about democracy—they’re not seeing much democratic practice in their lives that’s appealing or salutary.

In addition, the market has trained our brains to demand efficiency, to value it above all else; and democracy is terribly inefficient. Isn’t this part of Trump’s appeal? His supporters just want it done now; build the wall, to hell with Congress and lawsuits. This may or may not descend into fascism, but it’s something I worry about a lot—not just with regard to Trump, but with regard to where we’ll be 20 or 40 years from now—and you should too.

Happy New Year.

Voter suppression redux

Here is a prediction already known to be true.

2015 was a year of attempts by the Republicans in the AZ idioture to suppress the vote. We can look forward to more of the same in 2016. GOPlins never give up. Here's a report on the first salvo - a bill to outlaw "ballot harvesting" - from Arizona Capitol Times (subscription required).

Republican Rep. Anthony Kern of Glendale is reviving a years-running controversial measure to ban volunteers from collecting voters’ early ballots and delivering them to elections officials.

Kern pre-filed a bill for the 2016 legislative session that would outlaw the practice of “ballot harvesting” that was pioneered by Latino get-out-the-vote groups to engage low-efficacy voters, and turn out the vote for mostly Democratic candidates.

And, as in 2015, efforts to suppress the vote are based on unfounded rumors and bogus information.

... Kern said he has heard rumors that volunteers have committed fraud in their ballot collections, and that banning volunteers would boost confidence in the election system.
“There are rumors out there of (fraud) happening, but I don’t know about any instances in particular,” he said ...

... Democratic Sen. Andrew Sherwood of Tempe noted that there have been no verified instances of voter fraud associated with the practice of ballot harvesting. He questioned what problem Kern and other Republicans are trying to solve with the bill, other than to thwart an increase in Democratic turnout.

“Republicans go after bills like this if they find them to be politically profitable… You can’t run this bill and say you’re doing the people a favor if this doesn’t help people make their voice heard in an election,” Sherwood said.

Remember that the 2014 voter suppression legislation was pulled by the legislature itself after a petition gathered enough signatures to refer it to the voters. Never to let a bad idea laid to rest ...

In 2015, Republican lawmakers attempted to revive the [2014 version of the] ballot harvesting ban, but the bill died after the Senate adjourned for the year while the House was in a middle of a vote on the legislation.

But Kern noted the bill had enough votes to pass the House when the vote was canceled, and said he expects enough Republican senators to support it to ensure this is the year the bill becomes law.

Sherwood, however, warned that Democrats and community groups have long fought the legislation tooth and nail, and have so far prevailed.

“There are not many bills where collectively (Democrats) feel this is a battle of good versus evil. With the ballot harvesting bill, a lot of my colleagues and I feel this is in fact a battle of good versus evil, and (stopping) this needs to be of the highest priority,” he said.

The one thing that voter suppression legislation is designed to help? Making our Democracy work less well by limiting the voice of the people.

Stumpgate saga continues to unfold

The latest move by AZ Corporation Commissioner Bob Stump is to keep the contents of his text messages hidden from public view. Given the late date in this year, Stumpgate is certain to spill over into next year. Here's the story by Howard Fischer in this morning's Daily Star.

Attorneys for Bob Stump and the Arizona Corporation Commission are trying to convince a retired judge that some of the text messages on the utility regulator’s cellphone should never see the light of day.

In a letter to David Cole, the lawyers are arguing that just because Stump sent messages from his state-owned phone does not mean they are a matter of public record. Ditto, they contend, for any messages sent to him.

Instead, they want Cole, who is reviewing the texts under a court directive, to strip out any messages of a personal nature before releasing the others.

But the "personal" messages are those Stump traded with an APS lobbyist, a dark money operative, and two Republican candidates for the Commission.

Another dodge proposed by Stump's legal team is to declare his messages are subject to legislative privilege.

Dan Barr, the attorney for the Checks and Balances Project, which went to court to seek the information, concedes that simply because a message is on a state-owned phone or computer does not automatically make it a public record. But what does bother Barr is a separate contention by the lawyers for the commission and Stump that much of what is being recovered from Stump’s phone is not public by reason of “legislative privilege.”

“We have not identified, and the defendants have not cited, any case holding that corporation commissioners are entitled to assert legislative privilege,” Barr wrote to Cole.

You can get caught up on the background for Stumpgate in the Star's report - and get up to speed on the legal arguments. This one will continue in 2016.

Cole has provided no date of when he will finish his review, and whatever he decides could lead to another round of legal filings.

Resolutionary ideas in 2016 for "cognitively deprived conservatives"

Paul Buchheit writing at commondreams.org offers five New Years resolutions for conservatives.

  1. Accept that Poverty Causes Marital Problems, Not the Other Way Around
  2. Learn that Democratic Socialism Does Not Mean Government Control
  3. Understand that Capitalism Has No Incentive to Work for Poor People
  4. Admit that You're Scaring the Hell out of the Public to Support Your War-Happy Ways
  5. Stop Saying Corporations Have an "Insane Tax Burden"

I'll give you #4 for free. You'll have to read his article for the rest.

A Fox News analyst called ISIS "the single biggest threat in [America’s] 200-year history." The national news media has driven Americans to a frenzy of fear, leaving more and more of them to express their concerns about terrorism, even though we're all more likely to get shot by a toddler than a terrorist.

The Air Force is dropping so many bombs on Muslim countries that companies like Boeing are gearing up for increased weaponry sales, as stock prices for weapons manufacturers keep surging. Our nation continues to build up the stock of arms around the world. In 2014 alone arms sales increased 35 percent, to $36.2 billion.

Deportation and immigration policies in 2016: What Obama will do and what it means for Democratic candidates

The Obama administration plans renewed efforts to deport Central American families (from vox.com).

What the Obama administration is actually planning to do, in less than 200 words

Since the beginning of 2014, about 100,000 families (mostly mothers with children) have arrived in the US from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. Most of them have tried to get asylum in the US — these are among the most violent countries in the world, and many of them are being targeted by gangs.

While some of these families have been granted asylum, many have not — either because they've made their case in immigration court and lost, or because they simply didn't show up for their scheduled hearing before a judge. Some families (as many as 15,000) have stayed in the country after being ordered to leave.

The Obama administration plans to launch a big effort to deport those families starting in January 2016. And it's planning to raid residential neighborhoods to find and arrest the familiesa tactic that a lot of immigrants and immigration advocates have traumatic associations with.

That's not good news for either those families or for Democrats in the coming election year.

This is very bad news for Hillary Clinton

If the Obama administration's plan succeeds at deporting the Central American families it's targeting, it's going to be a political success only insofar as it keeps border security off the table in the 2016 election — exactly what the administration failed to do in 2014. But it's very difficult to predict how things will shake out: not just how the policy itself will work, but how it'll be seen by the public. And since we don't yet know who will receive the nomination of at least one major party in 2016, you almost certainly shouldn't trust anyone who makes claims about the administration's plan being good for Democrats or for Republicans in the general election — though there are definitely particular variables to watch for. Attention and outrage to the raids in Latino and Spanish-language media, for example, could be a warning sign that the raids could depress Latinos from turning out for Democrats in the general election.

[_snip_]

So far, Clinton's campaign has issued a statement saying she has "concerns" about the Obama administration's plan. It's not clear if advocates will find that acceptable (it is pretty likely many will not). O'Malley and Sanders have both come out strongly against the plan, and both of them — particularly O'Malley — are likely to start criticizing Clinton for not denouncing it outright.

Hillary Clinton demonstrated at the most recent Democratic debate that she's already looking toward the general election, and no longer focused on running against opponents in a Democratic primary. But the immigration raids are exactly the sort of issue that could feed resentment of Clinton among one segment of the progressive base, at exactly the time when she wants Democrats to start rallying around her — and make Latino voters bitter about the general election right when she needs them to start getting excited.

It's not clear whether that segment of the base matters enough to the Clinton campaign for them to take a stronger position against the Obama administration — but it's a situation the campaign almost certainly didn't want to be in to begin with.

Whatever else I can say about the implications would not be sufficient. You do need to read this one.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Scriber's year in review

Today Scriber features a selective set of articles looking back on 2015 from different perspectives. Let's start with politics.

The Hill has a listing of winners and losers.

It’s been a wild year in politics, both on the presidential campaign trail and in the halls of Congress.

But as 2015 draws to a close, it’s time to take stock of who saw their fortunes rise, and who might want to put the past 12 months behind them.

Not surprisingly, Donald Trump leads the list of winners.

Love him or hate him, 2015 was the year of Trump.

His presidential candidacy, dismissed as a joke at its inception, became the biggest story in politics and transformed the Republican race.

With only a month to go until the Iowa caucuses, the real estate mogul is the clear front-runner for the Republican nomination, and shows no signs of slowing down.

His effect, not just on the GOP but on American politics more broadly, will be debated for years to come. Republican opponents of Trump fear he is corrosive to the party’s brand, given his deeply controversial comments about illegal immigrants, Muslims and women.

But Trump’s support among voters angry with the Washington establishment has held firm, suggesting his candidacy may be no passing fad.

And, not surprisingly, Jeb Bush leads the list of losers.

It has been a miserable year for the former Florida governor, who was considered the GOP frontrunner when he launched his campaign in June.

Trump has tormented him relentlessly, labeling him a “low energy” candidate and a loser. Now Bush sits at single digits in the polls, with a comeback victory in New Hampshire perhaps his only hope.

While Bush has blamed Trump for his woes, recently calling him a “jerk,” the problems in his campaign run far deeper.

Bush and his allies have spent around $26 million on TV campaign ads, to little discernible effect. The candidate lies a distant fifth in the RealClearPolitics national polling averages and is sixth in New Hampshire, a state he has guaranteed he will win.

Goes to show ya. The only group worse at predicting politics than the political pundits (also on the losers list) is the candidates.

Technology in review: six advances that will remake our world

To the average person, it may seem that the biggest technology advances of 2015 were the larger smartphone screens and small app updates. But a lot more happened than that. A broad range of technologies reached a tipping point, from cool science projects or objects of convenience for the rich, to inventions that will transform humanity. We haven’t seen anything of this magnitude since the invention of the printing press in the 1400s. ...

Here is one to motivate your reading of the entire article. It's in the Washington Post by Vivek Wadhwa (a fellow at Rock Center for Corporate Governance at Stanford University, director of research at Center for Entrepreneurship and Research Commercialization at Duke, and distinguished fellow at Singularity University).

Doctors in our pockets

All of this has been made possible by advances in computing and networks. In a progression called Moore’s Law, computers continually get faster, cheaper, and smaller, doubling in speed every 18 months. Our $100 smartphones are more powerful than the supercomputers of the 1970s—which cost millions of dollars. With faster computers, it becomes possible to design more powerful sensors and artificial-intelligence (A.I.) systems. With better sensors, we can develop sophisticated medical devices, drone-based delivery systems, and smart cities; and, with A.I., we can develop self-driving cars, voice-recognition systems, and digital doctors. Yes, I am talking about applications that can diagnose our medical condition and prescribe remedies.

In 2015, smartphone-connected medical devices came into the mainstream. Most notably, Apple released a watch that, using a heart-rate sensor and accelerometer, can keep track of vital signs, activity, and lifestyles. Through its free Research Kit app, Apple provided the ability to monitor, on a global scale, the use of medicines and their efficacy. Microsoft, IBM, Samsung, and Google too, as well as a host of startups, are developing sensors and A.I.-based tools to do the work of doctors. These technologies are expensive and geared for the developed world; but companies in China, India, and Africa are working on inexpensive versions. The sensors that these devices use, and the computing and storage that A.I. systems need cost very little. Previous generations of medical advances were for the rich; now all can benefit.

Now check out the other five advances including drones (instead of roads) and renewable energy (affordable for all).

Ridiculous health claims in review

Sometimes you wish 2015 didn't happen. Here are nine reasons from vox.com to wish, albeit without much hope, that 2016 will be better. For instance:

Donald Trump says a lot of bizarre stuff, but one of his worst claims this year came when he endorsed the long-refuted notion that vaccine induces autism in kids.

It does go downhill from there.

Gwyneth Paltrow — who has a long history of spouting absurd health claims — stooped to a new low, endorsing steam cleaning one's vagina to boost energy and rebalance female hormones. ... Needless to say, you should definitely not do this.

The Borowitz year in review

The Editor of newyorker.com lists his favorites from The Borowitz Report.

One of the challenges for a satirist in 2015 was staying ahead of the news. What might have seemed absurd yesterday actually happened today. Tomorrow will just get stranger.

Within this cycle, it’s been a delight to publish Andy Borowitz’s humor column—and to be continually reminded that, sometimes, the only way to make sense of what’s happening in American politics is to laugh. In that spirit, here are fifteen of my favorite Borowitz Reports from the past year, arranged chronologically.

Trump is Putin on a show

Cartoons for the week from AZBlueMeanie.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Demagogic Candidate

Bob Lord at Blog for Arizona makes some chilling observations about Trump as a demagogue. It's not so much about 2016 as it is about 2020. It's not so much about Trump per se as it is about the next demagogue who is smoother but who is nevertheless a right-wing totalitarian at heart.

Demagogue: a political leader who seeks support by appealing to popular desires and prejudices rather than by using rational argument.

How closely does Donald Trump fit that description? Any less so than Hitler, Milosevic, or Netanyahu? Hardly.

Yet we still discount him. I shudder.

So do I. It's fun to make fun of Trump. His outrageous claims. His silly hairdo. His ignorant base.

Which of the last three phrases does not belong? That base of support for Trump is a serious and scary phenomenon in American politics. They do not care about his outrageous bogus claims; they celebrate the anti-science and rejoice in what they know that isn't so. They do not care about his hair; it's his bravado macho attitude that gets them juiced. Therefore:

All of the predictions about his demise are winding up false. We’ve seen how every time the so-called experts predicted an outrageous remark would sink him, they’ve been wrong. But now we’re seeing that his support is not limited to a small slice of the Republican Party.

So can he win? Yes. Will he win? Most likely not. But if he does not win, a sigh of relief is not warranted. The election of 2020 is just a political nanosecond away.

Do I think Trump, as the Republican nominee, could win next November? Actually, no. What worries me is how close he could come.

And how the table is being set for the next demagogue who comes along.

All of the ingredients for disaster are in place. An illiterate populace? Check. Extreme inequality? Check. A significant minority who feel threatened, angry and resentful? Check.

Throw in an unsuccessful “centrist” presidency for the next four years, a painful recession, and four more years of record-breaking assault weapon sales, and the explosion of 2020 will be like nothing we’ve ever experienced.

Don’t discount demagogues.

71% of Democrats favor "Medicare For All": Which candidate agrees?

The betting odds are that Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee for President. (Never mind that Bernie Sanders, according to a recent poll, would do better against Donald Trump.) But if you are supporting Hillary because you think she stands the better chance of winning the general election, think twice about what return you will get for your investment. Here's a view of the recent Democratic debate from commondreams.org on the matter of a single payer health system - "Medicare For All."

If the Hillary Clinton campaign had its way, supporters of Bernie Sanders – whose backing she will obviously want in November should she win the Democratic nomination – would feel that, while Clinton might not be all that they want in a president, she would at least go part of the way there. But if you followed the third debate deep enough into the night, you witnessed, in what stands as the most disingenuous moment of the Democratic race thus far, Clinton not simply disagreeing with Sanders on his Medicare For All, single payer health insurance plan, but knowingly distorting it. This was not Hillary Clinton offering a more moderate version of a solution, this was Hillary Clinton acting as part of the problem.

... the single-payer bill Sanders introduced in 2013 called for a 2.2 percent tax on individual incomes up to $200,000 and couples up to $250,000 (and higher rates for higher brackets), a group she pledges would see no tax increases under a Clinton administration. But the reason that a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll found 52 percent of Democrats strongly backing a Medicare For All plan, and another 29 percent somewhat favoring it, is that they understand that there is a payback for that tax increase. And so does Hillary Clinton.

That's nearly three out of four Dems favoring Sanders' plan. But we know that our political leaders are out of step with the electorate. Why? Enter big money.

... [In the 2008 election] The New York Times reported her the second highest recipient of health care industry campaign contributions, trailing only Republican Senator Rick Santorum. Washington health care lawyer and lobbyist Frederick H. Graefe told the paper that “People in many industries, including health care, are contributing to Senator Clinton today because they fully expect she will be the Democratic presidential nominee in 2008.” Therefore he felt that “If the usual rules apply,” early donors would “get a seat at the table when health care and other issues are discussed.”

Sanders, of course, famously does not take such contributions – and there we have the root of the difference. So, much as Clinton might hope Sanders backers won’t fret too much about her supposed inevitability as the nominee because she’ll at least give us Bernie-Lite, it ain’t necessarily so. As Sanders charged in an earlier debate, there’s always a price to be paid for becoming a darling of the corporate world. And it’s generally the people Clinton claims she’ll shield from tax increases who wind up actually paying it.

Yes, Scriber does Yearn for Bern.

Another view: On Sen. Sylvia Allen's appointment as Education Committee chair

Allen's crackpot beliefs (e.g., the earth is 6,000 years old) are the fodder for hilarity on the Comedy Channel - where Arizona politicians like to be, I guess. But David Safier (TucsonWeekly/TheRange) presents a somewhat moderating view of what Allen might - and might not - do in her new role.

I'm asking these two questions in complete seriousness. Will Allen do any more damage as Education Committee chair than the garden variety conservative Republican senator? And is there a chance she might be an occasional breath of fresh air beyond the comic relief she'll afford?

Time will tell, but I don't know how Allen's position as education committee chair will lead to worse legislation than would come out of the senate with any other Republican in that seat. She'll push bills she likes through committee and block those she doesn't like, just like any other chair. In most cases, she won't make significantly different decisions than her predecessor Kelli Ward. And I doubt she'll have much influence on the actual voting on the senate floor. If I'm right about this, the end result will be the same pro-privatization, anti-"government schools" legislation which has been the norm in our Republican-majority legislature, and the same school-starving budget decisions.

However, one thing might be different. Allen is not one to walk in perfect lockstep with the Republican leadership when she disagrees with them. Call her a loose cannon, call her someone with the courage of her convictions, she has been known to leave the fold when it suits her. She just might say things from her lofty perch at the head of the ed committee that embarrass the Republican establishment from Ducey on down—maybe even speak truth to power now and then. And as Sen. Steve Farley, a Democrat, says, Allen is willing to talk with people from both sides of the aisle. So who knows? The Democrats on the education committee might be granted a wee bit of consideration once in awhile. A few of their suggestions could even work their way into education legislation which would never see the light of day under a chair who blindly followed Biggs' party line.

As David says, time will tell. But Scriber is not a big fan of time alone improving much of anything - other than good wine in a bottle. But you have to start with good wine (and, in the case of education, good policies).

Friday, December 25, 2015

A quote for Christmas day

The Quote: "The debate about how to respond to poverty continues to this day—in much the same language Dickens recalled more than a century and a half ago. The poor are still with us, as are the Scrooges. We’d best bless them all, with hopes that the ghosts of Past, Present, and Future will again visit those who are in need of some seasonal prodding." From John Nichols at The Nation.

The context is Nichols' commentary on the reactions of the Republican front-runners to the idea of increasing the minimum wage and how their responses seem so Dickensian.

“I hate to say it,” said Trump, “but we have to leave [the current $7.25-an-hour minimum wage] the way it is. People have to go out, they have to work really hard and have to get into that upper stratosphere. We cannot do this if we are going to compete with the rest of the world. We just can’t do it.”

[The moderator] Cavuto asked if Trump was really saying, “Do not raise the minimum wage.”

“I would not do it,” responded the billionaire.

In fairness to Mr. Trump, he is rather proud of his personal charity. Give the billionaire his due for that—and for asserting that he really did “hate” to deny working Americans a living wage. In further fairness to Mr. Trump, it should be noted that several of his fellow Republican contenders were at least as hard-hearted as the wealthiest man on the stage. Dr. Ben Carson, a millionaire many times over, peddled the fantasy that paying working Americans a living wage would create unemployment. Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who rarely shows up for his own day job, announced that a federal living-wage guarantee would be “a disaster.”

Trump was simply saying, as one of the richest men in the world, that he was not ready to embrace the ancient principle that a fair day’s work ought to be compensated with a fair day’s pay. Like so many of his Republican compatriots, the billionaire cannot muster the generosity of spirit—and economic common sense—required to support modest policy changes that would extend a measure of equity to Americans who work full time but still live in poverty. For these political misers, policies that might improve the lot of the poor are not their business.

Charles Dickens, the author of A Christmas Carol sought "to inspire and extend the humanity of his countrymen" through his accounting of the transition of Ebenezer Scrooge from a political miser to a charitable human.

Before you unwrap your gifts, check out Nichols' juxtaposition of Scrooge's original views with those of our present Greedy Old Patriarchs. May the ghosts of Christmas visit them soon.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Quote of the day: Bernie Sanders on the need for a national health care system

The Quote: "it is a national disgrace that the United States is the only major country that does not guarantee health care to all people as a right."

From this morning's email from Sanders:

The truth is, it is a national disgrace that the United States is the only major country that does not guarantee health care to all people as a right. Today, 29 million of our sisters and brothers are without care. Not only are deductibles rising, but the cost of prescription drugs is skyrocketing as well. There is a major crisis in primary health care in the United States.

So I start my approach to health care from two very simple premises:

  1. Health care must be recognized as a right, not a privilege -- every man, woman and child in our country should be able to access quality care regardless of their income.
  2. We must create a national system to provide care for every single American in the most cost-effective way possible.

Now that would be a happy holiday present for 29 million Americans.

Scary thought of the morning: Trump's support may be greater than in the polls

What's the evidence? On-line polls have him stronger than person-to-person phone surveys. Steven Benen offers a theory of why that may be so.

... there’s speculation that some Republican respondents may be embarrassed to voice support for Trump when an actual person calls their home, but feel less awkward in online or robo-call polls, which might explain the gap.

And if that’s true, Trump’s support in traditional, independent, historically reliable polls may be understated a bit, because some of his supporters feel awkward about admitting it out loud.

Check out the evidence cited in Benen's report.

Update on Sylvia Allen's appointment as Education Committee chair: "What could possibly go wrong?"

Well, for one thing the national notoriety it brings to Arizona. Now Steve Benen (MaddowBlog) has picked up the story and puts it in a national context.

... The Arizona Republic reported yesterday that another creationist “will now help shape the future of education” in the Grand Canyon State.

Senate President Andy Biggs named Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake, chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee. Allen replaces Kelli Ward, who resigned the Senate earlier this month to focus on her congressional run.

Allen is best known for her controversial public comments over the years. During a legislative hearing in 2009, she said the Earth is 6,000 years old, a belief held by “Young Earth” biblical creationists. In 2013, a Facebook post about chem-trail conspiracies gained widespread media attention, as did a March comment suggesting mandatory church attendance. […]

As chairwoman, she will control which legislative education proposals succeed and which ones die.

That tidbit about mandatory church attendance may sound outlandish, but it’s not a joke. Regular readers may recall a piece from April on this: Allen recommended consideration of a bill “requiring every American to attend a church of their choice on Sunday to see if we can get back to having a moral rebirth.” She conceded at the time that government-imposed worship wouldn’t be “allowed,” but she saw the idea as a solution to the “moral erosion of the soul of America.”

She added at the time that she wanted a return to the 1950s. “People prayed, people went to church. I remember on Sundays the stores were closed,” Allen argued. “The biggest thing is religion was kicked out of our public places, out of our schools.”

She also believes, in all sincerity, that the planet is only 6,000 years old, which means she’s only off by about 4.5 billion years.

And yet, Allen is now the chair of the legislature’s Education Committee. What could possibly go wrong?

What indeed.

Envision, if you will, the future of education in America, not just Arizona, under control of the political right wing. Allen is but one example. Benen again:

It was just two months ago when Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) appointed a new commissioner to the state’s Department of Education, despite (or perhaps because of) his support for teaching creationism in Maine’s public schools.

That is the real reason why we should fear the likes of Sylvia Allen in control of public education funding. It is worth repeating Benen's observation.

... The Arizona Republic reported yesterday that another creationist “will now help shape the future of education” in the Grand Canyon State.

The Republic explained her power.

As chairwoman, she will control which legislative education proposals succeed and which ones die.

What Sylvia Allen may (and may not) bring to the AZ Senate Education Committee

My lead post yesterday was about the appointment of AZ State Senator Sylvia Allen as Chair of the Senate Education Committee. I joined the Daily Kos and AZBlueMeanie (Blog for Arizona) in harsh words about her qualifications and pessimism about what that says about the future of public education in AZ. But there is another reason to be wary about the attitudes and biases that Allen brings to the Education Committee, namely her involvement in for-profit schools. That is the topic of a post at Blog for Arizona by Linda Lyon.

... I doubt her religious fervency is the reason AZ Senate President Biggs selected Allen to be the person who will control what education proposals make it out of the AZ Senate. Rather, I suspect it is her support of charter schools like the George Washington Academy she helped found in Snowflake. Listed as the “Administrative Program Manager” on their “GWA Teachers and Staff” page, Senator Allen’s employment with this school makes me wary of her ability to be impartial when it comes to legislation that favors charter schools over traditional district (public) schools. Please know that I am not a charter “hater.” I recognize there are charter schools that fill critical needs. What I am, is realistic about the impact the diversion of tax payer dollars to privately managed charter and private schools is having on our traditional school districts and their students. Make no mistake; this is a zero sum game. When charter schools win, traditional district schools, often the hub of small communities, lose.

Lyon goes on to describe the operation of charter schools educational management organizations (EMOs) using Allen's charter school as an example. But take note: Lyon is not a reflexive charter hater.

I believe charter schools should supplement public schools not supplant them. The original intent of charter schools as envisioned by Albert Shanker, the president of the American Federation of Teachers (yes a union guy), was a public school where teachers could experiment with “fresh and innovative ways of reaching students.” That was until the corporate reform movement recognized the money (around $700 billion) to be made in the K-12 education market.

Lyon's issue with charters is how they have become private competitors with public schools.

Yet, despite all the efforts of reformers and the fact Arizona has led the Nation in charter school development, a full 85 percent of Arizona students still attend traditional district schools. This is where our focus and that of those who represent us should be. In the first session of the 52nd Legislature, Senator Allen voted in accord with the Arizona School Boards Association’s position on only two of nine bills. That is right in line with her party, but it doesn’t bode well for her support of Arizona’s traditional public school children. Still, I must admit that I liked her words to the Arizona Republic in response to her appointment as the Senate Education Committee Chair: “I want to highlight the incredible teachers who are the reason for our children’s success. I also want to focus on parents’ responsibility in their children’s education. They are a critical part of their children’s success. We need to encourage that involvement.” I agree entirely with both of those sentiments and hope she genuinely believes them and acts accordingly as the Senate Education Committee Chair.

Words won’t though, raise Arizona’s academic achievement above the bottom three or four. Senator Allen appears to be predisposed to charter schools, her voting record has not been supportive of traditional public education, she has extreme religious views and, she only has a high school diploma. Look, I am not criticizing her for not going to college, she’s obviously done well in spite of that. But, with that in mind, is she the right person to exercise this much control over what happens with education in our state? After all, there are a multitude of experiences higher education offers and in the absence of these experiences, you don’t know what you don’t know.

Sen. Allen's track record, bolded above, is not a cause for optimism. She has a lot to overcome to chair a committee that should be an advocate for public schools.

Ultimately, the proof is in the pudding, and I hope Senator Farley is correct in his assessment that he believes Allen will “do a pretty good job.” Unfortunately, I believe our AZ students need more than “pretty good”, I think they need the very best we can bring. I have my doubts that Senator Allen is up to the job, but time will tell and I’ll be watching.

So will we.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Quote of the day: Condensed to a single word - suckers

The Quote: "Any of Arizona’s “education leaders” who still believe that the Arizona legislature is going to provide public education more funding should resign now." - AZBlueMeanie in today's Blog for Arizona.

Arizona has once again made the national news. This time it is the appointment of raving Tea Partier Sylvia Allen to chair the AZ Senate Education Committee. BlueMeanie reports.

No one in their right mind would ever appoint Senator Sylvia Allen chair of the Senate Education Committee. But then no one believes that Senate President Andy Biggs is in his right mind. He is an ideological extremist, nothing more.

For Arizona’s “education leaders” who thought that your settlement of the education funding inflation adjustment lawsuit, Cave Creek Unified School District, et al . v. Ducey, was going to be a “first step” to further address education funding in Arizona, this is a clear signal just how badly you misjudged the Tea-Publican Arizona legislature. Prop. 123 in the May special election is all you are going to get (if the voters approve).

Suckers.

The Daily Kos has the scoop on Allen (h/t BlueMeanie).

Tea party stalwart Sylvia Allen, who first became a state senator in Arizona (and a national embarrassment) in 2008, has been made chairwoman of the Senate committee handling education legislation. The Phoenix New Times calls her a “professional fruitcake.”

Allen is known for a string of bizarre and racist remarks as well as an attachment to conspiracy theories. For example, she believes the Earth is just 6,000 years old, a view held by some fundamentalist Christians but rejected by scientists and many Bible scholars. She also believes “chemtrails” are poisoning us and that “Agenda 21” is a plot to surrender U.S. sovereignty to the United Nations ...

During her senate career, Allen has pushed for uranium mining near the Grand Canyon, backed state funding of a militia run by the neo-Nazi J.T. Ready to guard the Arizona-Mexico border, opposed Medicaid expansion, suggested only half-jokingly that mandatory church attendance be imposed, encouraged an anti-semitic Holocaust denier to testify before the state senate, rejected mandating reduced carbon emissions and denied that humans are causing climate change. In 2011, she supported eliminating health-care coverage of 280,000 Arizonans, saying that people should do more to take care of their health and thus avoid having to see a doctor. “This isn’t the only time in our history when people had to choose between food and medicine,” Allen said.

Arizona Republicans don’t seem the slightest bit distressed by Allen’s crazed flakiness. Indeed, they appear determined to promote it by promoting her. And now she’s in a position to spread it to every schoolchild in the state. At least we now know what the Arizona GOP actually stands for: Goobers on Parade.

And the campaign to sell Proposition 123 has not even started yet. Doozey and his minions will be working hard to convince the voters to make Ducey's Choice - pay education 72% now or preserve the state land trust for the future. The state education leaders bought into the 72% now. The state treasurer is trying to preserve the land trust principal. But this is a false choice manufactured by the Guv. Revenues are up and there is enough slush in the state's coffers to pay education what is owed. But that is not what the Goobers want. Stay tuned for tax breaks.

Trump's tax plan: Cuts for the wealthy paid for by increasing the national debt

Meaning that you and I will get fleeced. Vox.com reports on how conservative candidates for President plan to jack up the debt.

Two weeks after releasing numbers on Jeb Bush's tax plan, the Tax Policy Center — one of the only nonpartisan economic think tanks respected on both sides of the aisle in Washington — is out with an analysis of the tax plan of the Republican frontrunner, Donald Trump.

Trump's plan, TPC estimates, will cost $9.5 trillion, not including interest payments on the debt incurred as a result; with interest included, the cost rises to $11.2 trillion. That's substantially more than the $6.8 trillion/$8.1 trillion cost of Bush's plan. And like Bush's plan, TPC finds that Trump's is hugely regressive ...

... The typical low-income American will get $128 under Trump's plan. The typical one-percenter will get $275,257. The typical 0.1-percenter will get $1.3 million. Overall, TPC finds that 67 percent of the cost of the cut comes from tax breaks to the top 20 percent, and 35 percent from breaks to the top 1 percent.

So whatever the media tells you, believe this:

[Trump raising taxes on the wealthy] is nonsense. It has always been nonsense, and TPC's analysis proves it once and for all. Donald Trump wants truly massive tax cuts for wealthy people. That's his tax agenda in 2016.

And Trump is just leader of the pack of tax-cutting "Guardians of Privilege."

Note. Guardians of privilege is commonly attributed to Harry Truman's version of the GOP. See, for instance, Bill Moyers' 2002 article. That characterization was true in 1945, was true in 2002, and, on the occasion of the tax and spending bill just signed into law, is true today. The magnitude of the privilege just keeps getting bigger and bigger. Go read the article by Moyers in yesterday's commondreams.org.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

What Santa might bring to AZ's leaders ...

... whether they want it or not. Here is Laurie Roberts' list of ideal gifts to present and past state officials and the AZ citizenry. For example:

Arizona public school children: Leap Frog Fridge Phonics Magnetic Letters Set. Please make a note only to bring letters A through R. Because our children are poised only to get 72 percent of inflation funding under a court settlement, we in Arizona must forgo teaching them 28 percent of the alphabet.

Corporation Commissioner Bob Stump: Hello Kitty Text Messenger. The purr-fect gift for a public official who wants to avoid turning over his state-supplied cell phone. And at just $19.99, easily disposed of in case prying eyes file public records requests, hoping to find out why you’re texting the people you’re supposed to be regulating.

The rest are just as good. Check it out.

Saturday Night Live does the Republican debate

And do they ever! Here's the link to the clip via Ring of Fire.

What led to Donald Trump's success with Republican voters

Paul Krugman takes a hard look at what led to the rise of Donald Trump. In brief, Trump is the product of what the GOP has been training their party to believe - that attitude, pomp, "guts," bravado, and ignorance trump (oops) hard thinking, logic, relevant experience, and facts. Here are the first snippets.

Almost six months have passed since Donald Trump overtook Jeb Bush in polls of Republican voters. At the time, most pundits dismissed the Trump phenomenon as a blip, predicting that voters would soon return to more conventional candidates. Instead, however, his lead just kept widening. Even more striking, the triumvirate of trash-talk — Mr. Trump, Ben Carson, and Ted Cruz — now commands the support of roughly 60 percent of the primary electorate.

But how can this be happening? After all, the antiestablishment candidates now dominating the field, aside from being deeply ignorant about policy, have a habit of making false claims, then refusing to acknowledge error. Why don’t Republican voters seem to care?

Well, part of the answer has to be that the party taught them not to care. Bluster and belligerence as substitutes for analysis, disdain for any kind of measured response, dismissal of inconvenient facts reported by the “liberal media” didn’t suddenly arrive on the Republican scene last summer. On the contrary, they have long been key elements of the party brand. So how are voters supposed to know where to draw the line?

Read Krugman's article to pick up the train of thought at the advent of George W. He concludes:

... it’s important to realize that [Trump] isn’t someone who suddenly intruded into Republican politics from an alternative universe. He, or someone like him, is where the party has been headed for a long time.

Quote of the day: "Tell Donald Trump to go to hell."

The Quote: “Do you know how you make America great again? Tell Donald Trump to go to hell.” —Lindsey Graham.

Lindsay Graham has withdrawn from the GOP primary. I found myself disagreeing with Graham on just about everything, but I thought him to be a gentleman of the old Southern tradition. For instance, in one Senate hearing he advised a nominee that he would vote for her and then proceeded to have a conversation about their differences. (I think I remember that one right.) At any rate, he was a voice of reason in a sea of racism and irrationality.

John Nichols (The Nation) has more on Graham and his withdrawal.

The senator was the loudest—and often the loneliest—Republican challenger to the absolute absurdity of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, and to the willingness of other candidates, congressional leaders, and party bureaucrats to aid and abet the blowhard billionaire’s vile rhetoric. Graham dared to say what other Republicans would not, ripping Trump as a “race-baiting, xenophobic religious bigot.”

In the most recent round of Republican debates, Graham offered a poignant rejection of Trump’s bigotry.

Asked what he would say to Republicans who support the billionaire, Graham said to his fellow partisans:

You may think this makes us safe, but it doesn’t. The good news for everybody in this room is, after 36 trips to Iraq and Afghanistan, most people over there, Wolf, are not buying what ISIL’s selling. This is a religious war between radical Islam and the rest of the world. And there’s only one way you’re going to win this war. Help people in Islam who reject radical Islam to fight over there and destroy this ideology. Donald Trump has done the one single thing you cannot do. Declare war on Islam itself. ISIL would be dancing in the streets, they just believe in dancing. This is a coup for them, and to all of our Muslim friends throughout the world, like the King of Jordan and the President of Egypt, I am sorry. He does not represent us. If I am President, we will work together. People in the faith to all over the world destroy this radical ideology. Declaring war on the religion only helps ISIL.

Earlier this month, in a CNN interview, Graham said, “Do you know how you make America great again? Tell Donald Trump to go to hell.”

Now it is Graham who is out. And, with his exit, a dismal Republican race is diminished further still.

Poll numbers combine with history to suggest Trump might win the GOP nomination

What could be scarier? (OK, Cruz, I guess.)

In addition to reporting some more polling results, Steve Benen puts Trump and the polls in historical context.

About a week ago, a Monmouth University poll showed Donald Trump crossing a striking threshold: the survey showed the New York developer reaching 41% in the Republican primary at the national level. The obvious question was whether this was an outlier to be dismissed or evidence of Trump’s ceiling reaching new heights.

The evidence now points towards the latter. A day after the Monmouth poll was released, a Washington Post/ABC News poll showed Trump leading the GOP pack with 38%. And on Friday, a Fox News poll, conducted entirely after last week’s debate, raised even more eyebrows:

  1. Donald Trump: 39% (up from 28% in November)
  2. Ted Cruz: 18% (up from 14%)
  3. Marco Rubio: 11% (down from 14%)
  4. Ben Carson: 9% (down from 18%)

Every other competitor in the Republican field was at 3% or lower, including Jeb Bush, who’s down to 3%, which is his lowest point to date. At the top, Trump’s national 39% support is the strongest performance of any GOP candidate in any Fox poll this year, and his 21-point lead – he’s now ahead of Cruz, Rubio, and Carson combined – is also the largest advantage any Republican has enjoyed in 2015.

There’s also the latest survey from Public Policy Polling, which was also conducted entirely after last week’s debate:

  1. Donald Trump: 34% (up from 26% in November)
  2. Ted Cruz: 18% (up from 14%)
  3. Marco Rubio: 13% (unchanged)
  4. Jeb Bush: 7% (up from 5%)
  5. Ben Carson: 6% (down from 19%)

So Trump is 20% ahead of the nearest competitor (and scores higher than the next two combined).

Benen asks "When was the last time a Republican presidential candidate led by more than 20 points in late December and failed to win his party’s nomination?"

And answers: "Never. It just hasn’t happened." He concludes:

Am I saying Trump is going to win the nomination? Not exactly. I am saying we’re looking at a dynamic in which we’ll either see (a) the biggest Republican collapse in modern American history; or (b) the first Republican nominee since 1940 with no experience in public office.

Either way, we’re going to see a result without modern precedent. Buckle up.

Monday, December 21, 2015

DNC under fire for datagate and the debate schedule

The Democratic National Committee and its chair, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (DWS), is not having a good day. They came down hard on the Sanders campaign because of a software glitch by the NGP-VAN contractor. They then completely capitulated when faced with the (inevitable) lawsuit from the Sanders campaign. Bob Lord at Blog for Arizona has withering comments about this "datagate". He's got two complaints: the sparse and ill-timed schedule of debates and the decision to lock out the Sanders campaign from their own data.

DWS, who as party chair is ethically obligated to remain neutral in the Democratic nomination process, is thought by many progressives to be working to rig the process to favor Clinton. Progressives point to at least two actions as evidence of DWS’ bias:

(1) The decisions to hold few debates, and to schedule several of those few debates at times viewers would be least likely to tune in. The scheduling of last night’s debate on the Saturday before Christmas was Exhibit A on this front.

(2) The decision to lock the Sanders’ campaign out of its own database as “punishment” for a staffer peeking at Clinton campaign data when the DNC’s vendor, NGP Van, screwed up and dropped a firewall for 40 minutes. The action was a blatant breach of contract by the DNC, so much so that it capitulated within hours of being hit with a lawsuit by the Sanders’ campaign.

With respect to (2), check out Lord's post for more. For example:

Even if DWS is unbiased as she’s supposed to be, she blew it. By forcing Sanders to sue the DNC in a situation where she’d have no choice but to instantly capitulate, she sent the message loud and clear: “I’ll make my own rules unless you force me not to.” That engenders bitterness. It tells Sanders’ supporters that having them feel their candidate was treated fairly is not much of a priority to her. That’s just not how you win general elections.

With respect to (1), John Nichols has lots to say and that's covered in the next post below.

The night before Christmas: Democrats debate in the shadows

To extend John Nichols' (The Nation) essay on the Democratic debates - or, rather, the lack thereof:

'Twas the night before Christmas, on most of the box

No anchor was stirring, not even at Fox;

The debates were planned by the Party with care,

In hopes that the voters soon would be there;

Adapted from A Visit from St. Nicholas with apologies to Clement Clarke Moore.

What is the DNC thinking? The GOPlins are all over prime time news on weekday evenings. The Dems are stuck on Saturday night in the holiday season. It gets worse. The numbers are not good. Here are snippets from Nichols the recent debate and the DNC schedule.

Unfortunately, this consequential Saturday night debate was held on a Saturday night. And not just any Saturday night—the last one before the last great pause in the political calendar that comes during the period from Christmas to New Year’s Day.

“I guess Christmas Eve was booked,” Michael Briggs, a spokesman for Sanders, told The New York Times.

“They’ve scheduled it during shopping season, December 19th,” complained O’Malley, whose campaign needs all the debate exposure it can get. “I don’t know why that is. I think it’s out of a false sense that they have to circle the wagons around the inevitable front-runner.”

And do you wonder why there is abundant suspicion about the DNC's motives and competence? Of course the DNC defends its decisions.

Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz and her aides beg to differ, as they prattle on about “robust” viewership.

That’s just silly. The latest debate attracted a mere 6.71 million viewers, the lowest number so far for any 2016 debate organized by the DNC or the RNC. Saturday night’s debate was such a flop that it barely attracted one quarter of the viewership of the most watched Republican debate.

[The] November Democratic debate was on a Saturday night in Des Moines. From a viewership standpoint, it was a disaster. That debate attracted only around 8.5 million viewers—barely one-third of the total that watched the first Republican debate. The response of the O’Malley campaign to those numbers was the right one: “We can’t fool ourselves—the Republicans are eating our lunch in terms of attention and viewership because of the unprecedented, unilateral, and arbitrary way the DNC Chair determined this schedule,” said O’Malley deputy campaign manager Lis Smith.

Remember the definition of insanity?

So what are the Democrats doing? Holding more weekend debates.

The Republicans got started months sooner with three times the number of scheduled debates. And that's just some of the embarrassing stats.

By any measure, the Democratic schedule is insufficient.

How insufficient? Not since 1980 has a major party with a competitive race for the nomination scheduled so few debates, according to FiveThirtyEight.

So what to do? Nichols winds up with the obvious.

The DNC needs to schedule more debates on more nights when more Americans are watching.

That’s good for Democrats. And that’s good for democracy—especially in what is shaping up as an entirely unpredictable and frequently volatile political season that ought not be dominated by one party. As Lis Smith says, “It’s clear we need to open up the process, have more debates, and engage more voters in this process.”

Cartoons of the week

News to peruse and defuse from AZBluemeanie: Trump and lesser GOPlins.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Handsome Johnny is marching off to war again - this time in Agrabah

Where is Agrabah? Nowhere. It does not exist. But 30% of the respondents in a recent poll want to bomb it. Steve Benen (MaddowBlog) has the short story about the poll.

Public Policy Polling has a well-deserved reputation for asking cheeky questions – in the middle of legitimate, proper surveys – that stand out for being funny. Today’s gem, however, is special, even by PPP standards.

Would you support or oppose bombing Agrabah?

Support bombing Agrabah 30%

Oppose bombing Agrabah 13%

Not sure 57%

And what, pray tell, is Agrabah? It’s a fictional city in a Disney movie called Aladdin. In other words, nearly a third of the country, asked about a made-up place with a kinda sorta Middle Eastern-sounding name, is ready to launch a bombing campaign.

Reactions to the poll on Agrabah might split along the lines of pessimistic vs. optimistic outlooks. You can worry about that 30% willing to bomb someplace, anyplace as an indictment of our national character. Or you can take solace, as Benen does, from the 57% unwilling to commit.

For those of you too young to recall, Handsome Johnny was the protest song by Richie Havens (performance at Woodstock 1969 on YouTube).

Let's add a verse.

Hey, look yonder, tell me what's that you see

Flying o'er the towns of Agrabah?

Looks like Handsome Johnny with a joystick in his hand

Carpet bombing Agrabah, hey, flying the Agrabah war.

We should embrace political messiness, not fear it

That's the theme of an op-ed in the New York Times by Kevin Baker. It is a lesson on American history and a lament for the demise of practical politics. It was prompted by the most recent debate among Republican presidential candidates. Below is the result of my effort to fashion a shorter narrative, but you should take the time to read the whole article.

It is impossible to imagine any of these [Republican] candidates working hand in hand with a Democratic administration in the best interests of America. It would be tempting to say that all this marks a new low in the annals of our democracy, save for the fact that this is how it has functioned, or failed to function, for much of its existence.

Political analysts attribute our current stalemate to a number of likely factors: the corrupting influence of big money; the fall of the old party bosses and the advent of primaries; and now the rise of a social media that is centered on forming virtual communities of like-minded people. All true, but the heart of the matter is this: The system is not supposed to work.

The founding fathers built a system based on distrust of power, hence the numerous checks and balances. And then they resumed physical conflict on the floor of the House and even murder by duel. What eventually resulted was a system not based on two parties but four.

Both major parties ... had their own liberal and conservative wings, creating what were in effect four major parties and a national legislature full of ever-shifting coalitions, usually across party lines.

It prompted Roosevelt to approach Wilkie and propose a coalition of liberal Republicans and liberal Democrats.

Roosevelt elaborated: “We ought to have two real parties — one liberal and the other conservative. As it is now, each party is split by dissenters.”

He was wrong. The idea of two ideologically consistent, European-style parties that offer voters clear-cut choices may sound logical. But our federal government has always worked best when our major parties were instead messy, exasperating contradictions, sprawled across many different regions. In fact, that’s almost the only time our government has ever functioned well.

The former opponents’ dreams of one big liberal party were soon dashed by both men’s deaths, but what Roosevelt and Willkie wanted has largely come to pass. The Republican Party has shifted hard to the right on virtually every issue and moved its base to the South. The Democrats remain more ideologically diverse, but are increasingly isolated along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, plus a few sections of the Midwest and the Prairie States.

The fruits of this realignment were on display last week, in the latest Republican debate. The candidates focused solely on a serious foreign threat, much like Roosevelt and Willkie’s 1940 race, which was combative but civil. By contrast, the Republicans’ nine top candidates offered almost nothing beyond ceaseless vituperation of President Obama and the leading Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton.

But we digress to the future. Back to the functionally 4-party system.

This arrangement defied pretty much every civics textbook, every political theorist’s idea of how government should function. It was also when our national government began to work. From roughly 1900 to 1990, when this “four-party system” was in existence, the United States emerged as the world’s leading power and reached its economic zenith. We fought and won two world wars and the Cold War; built a social welfare state; established a stable national banking system; won the vote, and then equal rights for women, African-Americans, Hispanics and Asian-Americans; rebuilt Europe; constructed a formidable national infrastructure; instituted environmental safeguards and preserved millions of miles of wilderness; and generally created the freest, most prosperous, major multicultural nation the world has ever seen.

So what unraveled?

Yet if it was imperfect, this era of practical democracy created or enabled so much of what we think of as the best in America today. It ended in the 1990s, as Republican political leaders and strategists like Newt Gingrich and Karl Rove deliberately emphasized party differences. They encouraged their candidates to adopt language that referred to the opposition as un-American and maneuvered to suppress Democratic turnout or render it ineffectual.

They have succeeded, perhaps a little better than they intended. Voter turnout in the 2014 midterm was the lowest since the end of World War II — and general disgust and disillusionment with the entire political system has spawned the likes of the Tea Party, and now the wretched candidacy of Donald J. Trump.

Our elections are once again fought out in ways that seek to demonize the opposition. Where once unscrupulous demagogues used to try to draw voters to the polls by invoking secret plots by the Masons, or the pope, to take over America, we now find ourselves right back in the demon-haunted world, deluged with conspiracy theories about Shariah law, Planned Parenthood or Benghazi. It’s no longer enough, for instance, to criticize President Obama’s policy on Syria and the Islamic State. Instead, as nearly every Republican candidate asserted in last week’s debate, he doesn’t want America to lead or be strong.

Such rhetoric is, for starters, horribly dangerous. It is not far removed from the sort of invective Joe McCarthy used to fling around — or the sort that was flung at Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin of Israel, before his assassination in 1995. But it makes one wonder, as well: After such bile, what cooperation?

These days, the alternative to politically messy cooperation looks suspiciously like a totalitarian regime.

Kevin Baker is an essayist and the author, most recently, of the historical novel “The Big Crowd”; he is at work on a book about American history between the world wars.

Trump holds steady lead in New Hampshire poll. Cruze, Rubio, Christie slug it out for second place.

And the GOP establishment favorites are firmly in the tank (now joined by Carson). Here are the numbers reported by Steve Benen in the MaddowBlog.

As New Hampshire polling goes, the new Franklin Pierce University/Boston Herald survey will probably reinforce the Republican establishment’s biggest fears.

  1. Donald Trump: 26% (down from 28% in October)
  2. Ted Cruz: 12% (up from 5%)
  3. Marco Rubio: 12% (up from 6%)
  4. Chris Christie: 11% (up from 3%)
  5. Jeb Bush: 10% (up from 9%)
  6. John Kasich: 8% (up from 6%)
  7. Carly Fiorina: 6% (down from 10%)

The remaining candidates were each at 5% support or lower, including Ben Carson, who was in second place with 16% just a couple of months ago.

In terms of shifts, Cruz and Christie are clearly the biggest movers in this poll, which is roughly consistent with other recent data.

But the broader takeaway is the fact that the Republican establishment is divided, and the result is a gift for the GOP frontrunner.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Update: DNC restores data access to Sanders campaign

This breaking news is courtesy of Linda Laird.

The Sanders campaign and the Democratic National Committee came to an agreement late night to restore vital data to the campaign by this morning after the Sanders campaign filed suit in federal court. In just one afternoon and evening, Democracy for America had collected more than 115,000 signatures on a petition demanding the DNC back down. A similar petition circulated by the MoveOn.org on Friday had collected 250,000 signatures, and the Sanders campaign’s own petition had 214,000 names on it by the time an agreement was reached. The revolution continues!

DNC needs to restore Sanders' access to VAN

Greg Sargent (the Washington Post Plum Line) reviews what led to the DNC pulling the plug on Sanders campaign access to the Voter Activation Network (VAN) - and what DNC should now do: restore access. Here's the link to Sargent's column.

It’s being widely reported that the Democratic National Committee has suspended Bernie Sanders’ access to its voter data after a software snafu allegedly allowed a Sanders staffer to view the Hillary Clinton campaign’s own proprietary data. As many accounts have noted, this represents a serious blow to the Sanders campaign.

We need more detail to understand exactly what happened here. But one point that can be made right now is that the DNC needs to restore Sanders’ access to the data as quickly as possible.

The Big Short: New movie about the housing bubble

Paul Krugman turns movie critic in this review of The Big Short. He thinks the movie gets it right - and therefore will come in for increasing pushback from Wall Street and the anti-regulatory forces.

While the movie gets the essentials of the financial crisis right, the true story of what happened is deeply inconvenient to some very rich and powerful people. They and their intellectual hired guns have therefore spent years disseminating an alternative view that the money manager and blogger Barry Ritholtz calls the Big Lie. It’s a view that places all the blame for the financial crisis on — you guessed it — too much government, ...

Check out his review and then: Let's all go to the movies, Lets all go to the movies ...

"Feel the Farce": Fitz reports on the real GOP debate

Here's a link to David Fitzsimmons' column in the Daily Star this morning. It's a funny recasting of the GOP debate as between StarTrek and Star Wars. Keep everything in perspective. Wake up to Fitz!