Friday, January 30, 2004

Medium-rare? No, Medium. My Compliments to the Chef.

OK, so when I made my Dean prediction for the Arizona primary (carefully hedged, but a prediction nonetheless) I didn't know that (a) the Dean campaign would be essentially out of money and (b) they'd stop television ads in all the Feb. 3 states, including Arizona.

The Dean folks here worked early balloting extensively, and people could request and vote their ballots in advance of the post-Iowa free fall, but if Dean is not coming to Arizona, and not advertising in Arizona, and telling people that what really matters are the primaries later in February in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Washington -- well, it looks like I should note that if I get a choice, I'd like my crow prepared by the chef at Los Sombreros, 2534 North Scottsdale Road; can I have the mole, please?

Also, early voting isn't irrevocable. In Arizona, a voter who cast an early ballot but later regrets his or her vote can request another early ballot, or vote a "questioned ballot" or "QB" at the polls. The county recorder will toss the earlier vote and count the last one. Just ask former state Sen. Jay Blanchard, who defeated Jeff Groscost in 2000 despite the alt-fuels controversy exploding after many voters had cast an early ballot.

Thursday, January 29, 2004

Your Federal Tax Dollars At Work

Check out how Arizona's Lisa Graham Keegan is spending your tax dollars, courtesy of this report in the Washington Times. Of course, we've seen no mention of this story in the Arizona media. Maybe there's a future column here.
It's All Joe-ver But The Shouting

The Arizona Republic today endorsed Joe Lieberman in the Feb. 3 Democratic presidential preference election (primary), proving once again that "Joe-mentum" means nominating as the Democratic candidate somebody preferred by people who are absolutely going to vote for Bush anyway.

This means Lieberman can put his endorsement by the Arizona Republic right next to the Manchester Union-Leader endorsement. What’s next, the coveted New York Post endorsement?

The Republic endorsement reminded me of the Democratic candidate debate in Phoenix last October. My seat just happened to be right behind one of Arizona’s most prominent Jewish Republicans; I won’t use his name, but he’s certainly no heel (second item). Call him M. Anyway, M. is a big Joe Lieberman fan and asked me what I thought -- could he be nominated?

Interesting question, M., I replied. I said it depended. For example, would M. vote for him in November against Bush?

M. didn’t answer, but instead asked what I thought about a Jewish candidate running for president.

Interesting question, M., I replied. Would you vote for him in November against Bush?

M. still didn’t answer, but noted that Joe was discussing issues in ways that M. found compelling, and wouldn’t he be good for the Democratic party?

Interesting question, I replied. So would you vote for him in November against Bush?

M. just smiled and still didn’t answer, so my final response was that if there was no way a guy like M. would vote for Lieberman, why should Democrats nominate Joe because guys like M. like Joe?

We parted as friends, and I resumed my search for that elusive swing voter.

Monday, January 26, 2004

Get Your Horserace Odds Here!

My little jest in my column about another columnist for the Tribune, Becky Fenger, got cut by the editor. I guess I have to make the private jokes even more obscure. In the third paragraph, after "hallmark of the Tribune op-ed page," I originally wrote "and because Becky Fenger only does that funky stiletto-heel kick to your back if you're a Jewish Republican." Don't get the joke? Here's the story from the Arizona Republic. We're talking major weird here, aren't we?

The Democratic Campaign
Dean Can't Be Counted Out Yet

East Valley Tribune, Jan. 25, 2004

Why bother writing a new column this week? Since the State of the Union address last Tuesday, with President Bush announcement of Iraq’s “weapons of mass destruction-related program activities,” is writing truly necessary? Shouldn’t it be enough to “engage in column-related program activities?” What about providing “clear evidence of possible intent to develop column-writing capabilities?” Plus, don’t forget, several years ago I actually wrote an original column.

As NYU professor Siva Vaidhyanathan wrote, “A cheese-food product is closer to real cheese than ‘weapons of mass destruction-related program activities’ are to real weapons.”

But because selfless service is the hallmark of the Tribune op-ed page, I figured I should do the one thing you’d expect of your regular Democratic columnist: Handicap the Feb. 3 Arizona presidential preference election.

Of course, I really don’t know what will happen. But Americans always speculate endlessly about something to which we’ll know the answer in a couple of days. (You’ll spend more time on stories about who’s going to win than watching the actual Super Bowl.) So let’s speculate away!

First, turnout will be about half of the 29 percent who voted in the 2002 regular primary. That year, four equally-funded candidates sought the Democratic nomination for governor, spending more than the presidential campaigns have in total. Primary turnout also benefited from first-time campaigns in newly-drawn legislative districts in solid Democratic areas; on Feb. 3, with no other races on the ballot, turnout in those areas will decline. I predict about 125,000 votes total, roughly as many the number attending the Iowa caucuses. With 7 candidates splitting that turnout, as few as 20,000 to 30,000 votes could provide a significant win.

Until last week, in a low-turnout “ground war,” the Dean campaign had a decisive edge. They had logged in -- with commitments to vote for Dean, and email addresses -- about half the votes they needed two months ago, and as the campaign surged, their count undoubtedly grew. Unfortunately, by stumbling in Iowa, and if Dean does poorly (meaning, performing worse than whatever level expectations get beaten down to) in New Hampshire, their “hard count” of definitely committed voters suddenly got softer.

Iowa showed that most Democratic voters aren’t deeply committed to a particular candidate. Tracking polls (especially those which force respondents toward a choice and have low undecideds) are catching preferences, but those preferences aren’t solid. Voters are looking at their choices afresh every couple days, and with each new development and primary result.

Iowa polling interviews showed that most voters who called opposition to the war in Iraq their most important issue actually didn’t vote for Dean. The single most important issue for most primary voters wasn’t on the pollsters’ list. It wasn’t the war or some other “issue,” but rather who has the best chance to beat Bush in the general election. All this talk about “Bush hatred” missed the point; most Democrats are watching analytically, looking for the candidate with the best chance to win at the end. We Democrats haven’t been this practical since -- well, I don’t think we’ve ever been this practical.

Still, while Dean has had troubles, he’s put far more money into Arizona than the other campaigns, his hard count won’t go completely soft, and with early voting, many Dean votes got mailed ahead of recent adversity. So I still say Dean wins, but narrowly; Kerry and Clark finish second and third.

But it’s only a guess, and everything is still fluid. Heck, I still haven’t decided for whom to vote. Talk to me in 9 days.
The Definition of an Expert

The Washington Post highlights the Arizona presidential preference election (our "primary"). Of course, in politics, out-of-town conventional wisdom trumps local conventional wisdom every time--but note the CYA question mark in the headline. Here's the hed:

In Arizona, the 'First True Test'?
With Feb. 3 Nearing, State Has Undecided Bloc, No Favorite Son
By Evelyn Nieves
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 25, 2004; Page A10

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Two Points of Personal Privilege

1. Best Rock-n-Roll Arizona marathon photo here. There's another photo at the finish line, and I look pretty bad; at least here (mile 19), you can't see the pain quite as easily. Plus the saguaro and Papago Buttes in the background look good, too.

2. Congratulations to my daughter, Class of 2008.

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

The Clock Strikes 13

I realize in politics that you take what you can get, that the trick is to turn lemons into lemonade. Still, it made my teeth hurt when Joe Lieberman's campaign trumpets his endorsement by the Manchester Union-Leader. With friends like that, who needs enemies?

Monday, January 19, 2004

National Greatness Conservatism? It's Really National Nonsense Conservatism

My hopefully humorously scathing look at the Bush moon-Mars proposal was paired with our Secretary of State's gush to Bush (Look at his record--why, there are only a few million less jobs than when he took office, a real tribute to his leadership!) so some of the jokes seemed misplaced. But if the Republicans spent years calling Al Gore "Ozone Man," I figure Bush has earned his nicknames. The meme floating around is that if we could just dress Bush up in the spacesuit now, we might be able to save a couple hundred billion dollars. I really did like my talking robots line, though.

Dubya's space fantasy will beggar us

East Valley Tribune, Jan. 18, 2004

Explain to me again why we should take seriously anything George W. “Moonbeam” Bush says? The guy likes to give everybody else nicknames, but with his speech to NASA last week, he’s earned his own.

George “Mars Man” Bush -- fresh from his false claims about Iraq’s WMD and connections with Al Queda -- announced that he hasn’t done enough to screw up this country's future. Now he wants to mess up outer space, too.

Such a “bold” vision -- manned exploration of the moon and Mars, which previous U.S. presidents proposed in the 1960’s, 1970’s, and 1980’s. I guess that’s how Republicans try to seem bold and exciting, by recycling tired sci-fi fictions of baby boomers’ youth.

“Space Case” Bush can’t even come up with new pipe dreams; instead, he’s recycling his father’s. (Yes, W, that is your father’s Mars-mobile.)

What’s next? Federal initiatives to make those neat cars that Sean Connery drove in the James Bond movies? Talking robots to lead welfare mothers into (and discourage gays from) marriage?

Somehow we’re going to build a moon base by 2020, spending $1 billion a year. Can anybody seriously defend that price estimate? It costs $500 million for just one space shuttle flight that never leaves earth orbit. You just can’t go many times farther and escape earth’s gravity and transport enough materials and construct a base and staff it with astronauts and get them home, for anything within orders of magnitude of that price.

That’s just the absurd part. The truly ridiculous part is that a moon base makes a trip to Mars more difficult and expensive. It’s based on the thought -- no, the fantasy -- that something on the moon will turn out to be rocket fuel. (Maybe that’s where the Iraqi WMD went -- to the moon, Alice!) If that “bet” doesn’t pan out, then we’ll have to transport raw materials from Earth, then carry that same mass out of the moon’s gravity well anyway.

This is leadership -- fly to the moon and see if anything turns up? Maybe to “Moon Rocks for Brains” Bush, but not to anybody not scientifically ignorant.

But it’s not just George “Elliptical Orbit” Bush who has to answer for these absurdities. Two other groups either need to denounce this otherworldly absurdity, or stand exposed as not just world-class, but solar-system-class, hypocrites.

First are the “cut spending!” types, who still support this administration despite record deficits, open-ended nation building, new entitlements, and now this $1 trillion pointless space gambol. We’ll see some meek, mild complaints, but the merest fraction of the grief they gave Al Gore or will give Howard Dean or Wesley Clark. No Democrat could ever enact anything this colossally pointless and expensive, but that crowd lets Republicans get away with anything.

Why complain so vehemently about a light-rail system for metro Phoenix if you’re giving “Deficit Rocket” Bush a pass? Apparently they don’t take him seriously, either.

The other people who should start apologizing are space station supporters. The moon-and-Mars “plan” retires the space shuttles, which kills the space station. Without the shuttle to boost its altitude, the station crashes into to Earth in several years. The station still isn’t finished, but it’s already obsolete. And it’s accomplished essentially nothing worthwhile, other than funding well-connected aerospace contractors.

The space station, which I opposed in Congress as not worth the money, turns out to be not worth the money. But those same people who brought you the space station now want us to fly to the moon and Mars.

You shouldn’t buy a used car from these people, much less this lunacy -- in both senses of that word.

Monday, January 12, 2004

Sprawl, Y'All

There are two kinds of people in the world--those who insist on dividing everybody up into two categories, and those that don't. But if you're in the first group, and one of those categories is finishing a marathon, I changed categories yesterday--along with about 20,000 of my close friends at the Arizona Rock & Roll Marathon. I didn't do as well as I had hoped; I'd been falsely optimistic based on a pretty good time at a 30K race two weeks before, but I had a rough time yesterday from about mile 16 onward, and a really rough time between miles 20 and 24, but I finished in 5:02:51. No photos available yet, but those in the know can pull up my split times here and see exactly how thick the wall was between 13.1 miles and 20 miles, and the even-thicker wall between there and the end. I'm not sure if I'll try another; ask me in a couple of days when I can walk without grimacing too badly (or too loudly).

For those of you interested in Arizona land use issues, you can read the USA Today article mentioned in the column here and the Good Jobs First report is available here.

Unions and Growth

East Valley Tribune, Jan. 11, 2004

One reason voters in 2000 rejected the Citizens Growth Management Initiative, Arizona’s first statewide anti-sprawl effort, was organized labor’s opposition.

Stop guffawing. Sure, unions here face the same impediments to organizing and effectiveness as elsewhere, only more so. Not only is labor law unfavorable, but our ruling ideology views workers fighting together for better wages, benefits, and lives for themselves and families as, for reasons that elude me, un-American. Like there’s some patriotic obligation for people making less than you to have no health insurance and get only minimum wage. It’s just nuts.

Yes, the construction trades aren’t a big part of our Real Estate Industrial Complex, and their opposition wasn’t the only reason CGMI failed badly. But having working men and women who do real things like pour concrete or install wiring oppose growth limits was politically useful. Construction workers provide much better visuals than a bunch of guys lobbying key legislators that Maricopa County taxpayers should pay for roads to increase the value of Pinal County real estate plays.

Labor’s opposition probably helped as much as Grant Woods selling out, or the soon-to-be-found-unconstitutional Arizona Preserve Initiative -- not dispositive, but still useful.

That was the experience in California and Colorado, where union opposition helped in having voters defeat anti-sprawl initiatives in 2000. But this March, San Diego County voters will decide another Urban Growth Boundary initiative, six years after defeating a similar proposal. And this time, organized labor -- which in 1998 opposed any limits on development for fear of losing jobs -- supports the initiative.

As reported by John Ritter in USA Today (and then spotted by Blake Hounshell of, in 2001 the AFL-CIO urged member unions to reconsider anti-sprawl proposals. And since then, in San Jose and in Contra Costa County in California, unions supported successful local initiatives to create urban growth boundaries, protect open space, and encourage infill and high-density urban development. In Las Vegas, the Teamsters now support “smart growth” initiatives, calling for growth limits until the city obtains new water supplies. Ritter quotes one Teamster official: “I’d rather lose a couple hundred jobs today than a couple thousand in five years when the builders go somewhere else.”

(Imagine -- a five-year time horizon! The guy automatically would lose his membership in our local Real Estate Industrial Complex.)

Unions have become convinced that smart growth offers more and better jobs than sprawl. A recent report by Good Jobs First, a DC-based nonprofit that watchdogs economic development subsidies, revealed that over the past decade, metro areas with growth controls had nearly one-third more construction jobs than areas without them. Infill, rehabilitating older buildings, and reclaiming toxic sites are more labor-intensive than sprawl, creating more jobs.

There’s also a more narrow economic interest at work here; unions see that sprawl creates more jobs for non-union contractors (or for guest workers on a Bush 3-year pass). Sprawl also serves and depends on non-union “big box” retailers like Wal-Mart. But unions also support smart growth policies because of the social benefits, in keeping with labor’s proud tradition of supporting things good for non-members, too. If smart growth policies can lead to less traffic, cleaner air, shorter commutes, and more open space, everybody benefits.

Ritter quotes Jerry Butkiewicz, secretary-treasurer of the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council, explaining his group’s new position: “People will automatically say this initiative is anti-growth. It’s not. We want to increase growth. We just want it to be dense, to stop this sprawl. It’s killing us.”

There’s no guarantee the San Diego initiative will win, or if it flies in San Diego it’ll fly here. But it’ll sure be more interesting if it does.

Monday, January 05, 2004

Insult Opponents in Front of Everybody, Apologize to Jews Only

It was time for some fun at Rep. John Shadegg's expense, based on a column he wrote (well, I suspect a staffer wrote for him) that appeared in the Greater Phoenix Jewish News, available here.

We've got to fight against this "Bush hatred" meme; it's a tactic to avoid answering legitimate criticisms of his policies, like yelling "class warfare." And Howard Dean had better watch all this shooting from the lip stuff; after all, the GOP nominee is so incredibly respected for his verbal precision.

Hypocrisy and Politics

East Valley Tribune, Jan. 4, 2004

People claim to dislike politicians who say one thing but do another. They should save their distaste for politicians who say one thing to mainstream media, but something different when speaking to specific audiences -- politicians like Rep. John Shadegg.

Rep. Shadegg styles himself a fiscal conservative to mainstream voters and a believer in foreign aid for Israel among Jewish voters. He faced a quandary because the $328 billion 2004 omnibus spending bill which passed the U.S. House last month contained both wasteful spending and Israel foreign aid. Rep. Shadegg voted no, but told mainstream media one thing while telling Jewish constituents another.

His general press release after the vote complained about the breakdown of the budget process, and the “unsustainable” increases in spending by the Republican-controlled government, making his “no” vote seem inevitable.

But in a post-vote column in the Greater Phoenix Jewish News, Shadegg sent Jewish voters a much different message: “My vote against this legislation was a protest against reckless spending and the corruption of the budget process. Before casting my vote, though, I made sure that the bill had the votes to pass.”

“Profiles in Courage,” this ain’t. Rep. Shadegg first made sure his vote wouldn’t matter, then took his “principled” stand only because it wouldn’t change the result. How brave. How convenient.

Shadegg admits he confirmed the bill had enough votes before indulging in his symbolic, meaningless gesture. He’s in debt to those who voted the other way, giving him the opportunity to denounce reckless spending to most voters, while giving the Jewish community the impression that if support for Israel had been in genuine peril, he would have voted “yes.”

Shadegg wants the general community to believe that he thinks nothing is more important than fiscal responsibility, but he wants the Jewish community to believe that U.S. aid for Israel is more important. By tailoring his message differently to different groups, he might have gotten away with it -- again.

Shadegg told the mainstream media one thing but made sure Jewish voters got a different message another time, too. In 2000, when President Clinton -- using long-standing presidential authority granted in the Antiquities Act, since specifically upheld by the courts -- created the Ironwood National Monument in Arizona, Shadegg compared that action to how Hitler “eroded the will of the German people to resist evil.” When called on that grotesque and false analogy, he apologized, but in a statement he sent just to the Jewish News.

See how hypocritical GOP spin about “Bush hatred” is? Today, Republicans find somebody on some website, no matter how weird or obscure, who calls Bush a Nazi, and all Democrats are to blame. But someone now a five-term GOP congressman plays the Hitler card, and it all goes away with an apology that only Jews will read. We Democrats have a long way to go before we catch up to the Republicans.

Note also that Shadegg’s complaints about the “corruption of the budget process” ring hollow, because the GOP House leadership, which Shadegg supports, is doing the corrupting. Republican earmarks, in both number and dollar volume, are now multiples of the worst excesses under Democratic control. Even Shadegg admits that “money which used to be allocated on merit is now spent on the basis of power and influence.” But he supports these same GOP leaders, who have made things so much worse.

Finally, the staffer who actually wrote Rep. Shadegg’s piece might want to do better fact-checking next time. H. Res. 409 condemns anti-Semitic remarks by the Prime Minister of Malaysia, not Indonesia.

But that’s no big deal. These House resolutions are essentially symbolic, meaningless gestures. Just like Rep. Shadegg’s vote on the spending bill.