Friday, April 29, 2005

Advance Text

Al Gore's speech on Wednesday, which I used as the starting point for my weekly column that will run Sunday, is now available here. As they say, read the whole thing -- or at least part of it, it's not like I can make you read the whole thing.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

This Week's Best Headline

Courtesy of Peter Loge, the absolute latest North Dakota religious news. You can read the article, but it's the headline that truly matters.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Rooting Against Both Teams

My editor cut my opening line--it even got a laugh from Beth--so I'm sticking it back in. I was pretty proud of it, too. However, I owe my editor gratitude because I'm apparently incapable of spelling "Bidwill" correctly. Newspaper version is available here.

We just returned from a weekend in St. Louis, where my brother-in-law received a distinguished alumnus award from the Washington University School of Law and we not only had Seder with the Schermer family in their native time zone, but we also learned that Ted Drewes' frozen custard is certified kosher.

East Valley Tribune, Apr. 24, 2005

Instead of writing about the Pope, I’ll rant about the Cardinals.

The National Football League is America’s finest example of socialism. Teams share most revenues equally, blunting the economic impact of success or failure. Draft order and scheduling favor weaker teams, to help unsuccessful franchises over their failures. League rules restrict franchise sales, and teams (except the grandfathered Green Bay Packers) must be owned by individuals -- rules that restrict competition and entrench existing ownership.

But where the NFL’s socialistic bent really shines is in public subsidies. These rich guys have gotten taxpayers to provide their stadiums, which sheds costs and makes these private businesses even more valuable. Studies have long shown that stadiums don’t spur new economic development, they just redistribute existing entertainment dollars. Economic studies, however, don’t provide legislators with seats in luxury boxes at prime sporting events, so even conservatives support this form of income redistribution.

As part of the political wheeling and dealing to get the Cardinals their sweetheart deal, the Fiesta Bowl agreed to support the stadium. But the Fiesta Bowl is strictly a junior partner, and the Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority, which keeps confusing the public interest with the Bidwill family’s finances, gave the Cardinals control of 55 of the stadium’s 86 luxury suites at each Fiesta Bowl game. The Fiesta Bowl is learning that hopping into bed with the Bidwills does not lead to morning-after respect. Not that the college bowl barons are morally superior to NFL owners. The college football-industrial complex takes the same public stadium subsidies, and enjoys tax-exempt status, and avoids paying the players by calling them “amateurs.”

The Fiesta Bowl now has cause to regret their dalliance because they want to host the first one-game playoff of the top two college football teams following the bowl games in January, 2007. This playoff idea “solves” future disputes over who plays for the national championship by shifting the debate from before the bowls to after. Its real purpose is generating more money, and fighting over money is the real contest here. Who gets the local cut from this new mega-game, the Fiesta Bowl or the Bidwills?

The Cardinals and their ASTA lackeys argue that the Cardinals got control of everything -- suites, marketing, and concessions -- at the stadium except the 23 suites at the Fiesta Bowl. Any new event usually would be included within “everything.” The Fiesta Bowl argues that a brand-new post-bowl playoff game wasn’t contemplated when the ASTA gave away the store to the Bidwills. Unfortunately, once you cut a deal, you normally can’t renegotiate if it’s worth more than you originally thought.

Well, there’s one thing a well-connected group like the Fiesta Bowl can do when stuck with a weak legal argument: Have the law changed. Last week, the Legislature (with only one dissenting vote!) passed a bill to reserve this new college game for the Fiesta Bowl. Legally, the Cardinals are getting hosed -- and they deserve it. Supporters of this legislative legerdemain argue that Arizona’s chances of landing the big game are better with the Fiesta Bowl running it. That’s true, but only marginally, because TV is really in charge; the host committee is basically courtesy drivers and party organizers. Still, given the Bidwills’ track record, the less they’re involved, the better. Supporters also claim that taking from the Cardinals to give to the Fiesta Bowl also upholds voters’ intent that the stadium be a “multipurpose facility” providing “public benefits,” and not just a boon to the Bidwills. But this argument confuses spin with reality.

Any talk about the public interest in the stadium deal was just sweet talk for the voters. The actual statute and the ASTA were under no such instructions; the stadium truly was a $331 million gift to one family. So it’s hard to pretend outrage at the Legislature eliminating some goodies that the Bidwills shouldn’t have gotten anyway.

I’d rather the politicians would give that money back to the public and not to the college bowl barons, but if that’s the only way to make sure that mediocrity isn’t rewarded with even more money, it’ll have to do.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Democracy Rhetoric Only Goes So Far

You know, sometimes there just isn't enough politics in Arizona, you have to search for topics in different countries (other than Ukraine, I mean).

East Valley Tribune, Apr. 17, 2005

The usual Bush administration “tomorrow is too far away/let’s have more tax cuts today” thinking guides their Mexico policy, too -- and Arizona will bear the consequences.

The administration is missing the longer-term boat yet again in the run-up to the 2006 Mexican presidential elections. The Mexican constitution imposes a one-term limit, so President Vincente Fox, of the National Action Party (PAN), can’t run again.

The second-most important Mexican elected official is the head of the Federal District; usually called the Mayor of Mexico City, the office’s importance lies somewhere between a U.S. mayor and state governor. The current mayor, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (known by his initials, AMLO), has a substantial lead in presidential polls. AMLO, after playing coy, plans to run as the candidate of the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD).

AMLO has been a relatively controversial, but still remains popular. His administration has been tarnished by two high-profile scandals. The city’s police chief was videotaped engaging in high-stakes gambling in Vegas; later, audits found $3 million dollars missing from municipal accounts. Also, AMLO’s former personal secretary was taped accepting a $320,000 payment. Nobody found evidence that AMLO participated, but he refused to distance himself from either man until well past the point of painful obviousness.

AMLO attributed both scandals to political conspiracies, led by President Fox and past president Carlos Salinas, of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). Conspiracy theorizing usually doesn’t help with videotapes of money changing hands, but AMLO’s PAN and PRI opponents just handed him an actual injustice with which to cloak himself in martyrdom garb.

The incredibly obscure dispute arises out of municipal expropriation of land by AMLO’s predecessor needed for road to a new hospital. A judge enjoined construction in 2001, but work continued. In the U.S., this dispute would be a civil matter; officeholders routinely get sued in their official capacities . The Mexican federal prosecutor alleges that AMLO personally knew of the violation of the court order, and under Mexican law, that’s a criminal matter.

Mexican law also provides for official immunity for officeholders, so these kinds of criminal proceedings stay on hold until their term of office ends. But the national legislature, the Chamber of Deputies, can remove this immunity (in a process called desafuero), which makes the official subject to arrest. Moreover, Mexican law also prohibits anybody facing a criminal charge from running for president.

PRD holds only a quarter of the seats in the Chamber, and the PAN and PRI deputies carried the desafuero vote by a wide margin. While PAN and PRI were bitter enemies in the last election, now PRI is seen as more of a centrist, or even conservative, party, informally allied with the center-right PAN in opposing the center-left (and front-running) PRD.

To Americans, talk of the vital importance of elected officials respecting judicial orders sounds less impressive after the Schiavo legislation and GOP leader Tom DeLay’s “inartful” threats against judges. Similarly, the Bush administration, which usually loves to talk about democracy, has been curiously silent. So far, a State Department spokesman has said only that barring AMLO from running is an internal Mexican matter.

Unfortunately, the Mexican ruling parties, and Bush, are playing into AMLO’s hands. The desafuero vote gives AMLO proof that the PAN and PRI really are out to get him, and nothing helps a foreign candidate’s popularity like Bush’s opposition.

The administration may be ignoring its pro-democracy rhetoric to help its friends in the PAN, but Arizona will pay if we lose this bet. Any efforts to bring order to the U.S.-Mexico border require much work from both countries’ governments. If the Mexican authorities won’t help, increased U.S. enforcement alone won’t solve the problem.

By implicitly siding with the PAN and PRI, the Bush administration has made its Mexican friends (and U.S. oil types) happy today, but at the expense of two long-term (read: next year) problems. They’re making AMLO more popular among Mexican voters, and making the candidate and party with the least interest in helping us with border problems the likely winner.

This may not matter to people living in Washington, D.C., but to those of us in Arizona, today may be O.K. but tomorrow sure won’t be pretty.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Feet Me in St. Louis

A huge self-indulgent shout out to America's Favorite College Freshman (TM) who ran the half marathon at the St. Louis Marathon on Sunday. Her proud-as-punch father ran the marathon and learned, to his legs' regret, that there really are a lot of hills in St. Louis in addition to The Hill. So you should indulge me by clicking on this link, typing in "Coppersmith" in the last name field in Quick Find, and see how 40% of the family spent their Sunday. Yes, our daughter is not only tied for third funniest; she's now the best female half marathoner in the family.
A Pharmacy of One

This week's column wonders why our legislature can't decide whether pharmacists are too busy to help or really have enough free time to run your life, too. Weird headline, plus in the newspaper version, they jammed all the paragraphs together due to lack of space. The Oregonian series on meth mentioned in the column is worth reading for anyone interested in drug policy, as is Lindsay Beyerstein on pharmacist malpractice here.

East Valley Tribune, Apr. 10, 2005

Pharmacists and their friends at the Arizona Legislature can’t figure out from week to week whether pharmacists have too much to do already, or instead have enough free time to philosophize in addition to filling prescriptions.

First, the Legislature decided that pharmacists needed a law granting them the right to decide whether a customer "deserves" to have a prescription filled. The so-called “conscience clause” means that any zealous pharmacist can let his or her personal moral scruples determine whether you get the medicine your doctor ordered. Merely following the profession’s code of ethics by serving their customers as their physicians directed apparently didn’t fill up enough of pharmacists’ workdays. So they got their buddies in the Legislature to pass a law letting them play judge, jury, and doctor, too.

At the same time, pharmacists got all upset over making any change to how they sell over-the-counter medications containing pseudoephedrine, which illegal drug dealers extract and use to make methamphetamine. Attorney General Terry Goddard sought legislation that would take the pills off open shelves and require purchasers to show identification and sign a logbook. Such a law in Oklahoma is credited with reducing seizures of meth labs by 70 percent, and several other states are moving to adopt their own versions. But not here in Arizona, where business interests blocked the bill. Pharmacists are just far too busy, we’re told, to do anything so effective to prevent diversion of pills to the illicit meth trade.

Thus, we see exactly how far the delicate “conscience” exhibited by certain pharmacists and their allies in the Arizona Legislature extends. Druggists want (and have the time) to play doctor and decide whether you deserve to have your prescription filled. But faced with a meth epidemic, they don’t have nearly enough time to be good citizens. I guess the Legislature considers birth control pills as a much greater public menace than methamphetamine.

The pharmacy industry argues that restricting over-the-counter medications only hurts businesses and consumers and won’t make a difference to illegal drugs. But a two-year investigation by reporter Steve Sua of the Portland Oregonian (well worth reading, and available online here) showed that meth abuse in the western U.S. has fluctuated dramatically during the past decade, exploding and then surprisingly subsiding before exploding again.

Sua examined records of rehabilitation programs, hospital admissions, drug arrests, and drug seizures by Drug Enforcement Agency and local law enforcement. He found a surprising correlation between meth purity and abuse, and also found that federal efforts to restrict the supply of chemicals needed to make meth actually worked for a while, in 1995-96 and again in 1998-99. Fewer meth addicts entered rehab; fewer meth overdoses appeared in hospital emergency departments; police made fewer arrests for meth possession, and identity theft and car theft, which police say are crimes typically committed by meth addicts, actually fell in several Western states.

Within a year, however, the “superlabs” supplying most of the drugs switched to different raw materials, meth quality and abuse both rebounded, and the epidemic resumed. But meth suppliers are still vulnerable, because they only can make the drug from ephedrine or pseudoephedrine -- and unlike with heroin or cocaine, only nine factories, in four countries, make the bulk of the world’s supply. Restrict and control the chemical supply, and you’ll stop the meth epidemic. It happened before, and it can happen again.

But while waiting for the feds to wake up and smell the phosphorus, states can and should restrict the homegrown portion of the meth trade. It’s all in the chemistry -- and smart regulation of the chemicals could stop the local labs in their tracks. Without ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, there’s no meth. All it’ll take is smaller purchases, a little time, and a little inconvenience the next time you need over-the-counter cold medication.

If that minimal intrusion upsets you, just remember that if the Legislature gets its way, it will be worse. Just wait until you get a morality lecture from your pharmacist instead of your prescription.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Protecting the Environment? What's Up with That?

This week's column is one of those "Is there something in the water at the Legislature?" stories. You've got a major developer in Pinal County, who just doesn't care about environmental regulation; he figures that fines are merely a cost of doing business. You've got a pipeline company that has a major break, with gasoline flowing near homes in Pima County and which causes massive lines at gas stations in Phoenix. You've got a hazardous waste treatment facility that has a contract with the State of California to deal with toxic waste collected in methamphetamine busts in California, and the employees wind up selling the seized chemicals on the street to drug manufacturers. And the reaction in the Leg is to complain that ADEQ is just too tough on enforcement and we should abolish it? These folks truly are from a less reality-based universe.

In other news, they changed -- in both length and difficulty -- the El Tour de Phoenix course, and it was a tough day out there on Saturday. I missed a "gold" time by 17 minutes, but most of my friends from ABC missed as well, at least according to the website, so there's apparently no shame in silver and 3:52:10 for bicycling 74 miles.

East Valley Tribune, Apr. 3, 2005

You may have been curious when the Arizona Legislature voted, for one day, to abolish the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality. Legislators were upset ADEQ was enforcing the law, which struck them as inappropriate behavior.

(Disclosure: ADEQ’s director, Steve Owens, is a friend and I practice law with his wife. But you probably knew that already.)

The legislators may have been confused by national environmental policy, where policies’ names represent exactly the opposite of their effects. Thus, “Clear Skies” would increase air pollution, and “Healthy Forests” means cutting trees. That the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality would act to protect environmental quality was just too much for some legislators to handle.

Helping lead this puzzling fight against protecting the environment, according to most Capitol observers, were the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce and Arizona Chamber of Commerce. Both Chambers have outsourced environmental issues to attorney David Kimball, who represents both the Chambers and his own clients with environmental “issues.”

Most interestingly, Kimball also has represented Innovative Waste Utilization. You should recall IWU, a hazardous waste facility in Phoenix; in 2001, it got a 10-year permit from ADEQ to store, treat, and dispose of hazardous waste, and almost immediately, bad things started happening.

Much of the waste at IWU came from California, which sent chemicals and equipment seized from raids on illegal methamphetamine labs for treatment and disposal. Meth lab waste is extremely toxic, so much so that our Legislature just classified making meth with children in the home as felony child abuse.

IWU ran a sloppy operation, with bad paperwork and procedures. But sloppiness was the least of it. Instead of treating the waste, IWU employees started selling the chemicals to meth labs in Arizona and California.

Law enforcement started hearing rumors about IWU almost immediately. Police videotaped illegal diversions and made undercover purchases. A California bust found chemicals previously seized and shipped to IWU, then sold by IWU employees back to meth labs in California.

After building a criminal case, in early 2003 a multi-jurisdictional task force raided IWU. Eventually, several employees pled guilty to numerous felonies; ADEQ then spent some $700,000 to clean up the IWU site.

Following the raid, ADEQ revoked IWU’s hazardous waste permit -- and IWU appealed, claiming that the State didn’t really have a good reason for taking the permit away. Apparently nobody in business these days takes responsibility for anything, preferring to pocket the profits while blaming any problems on a “few” “low level” “bad apples.” It’s the Bernie Ebbers WorldCom defense: Top management got all that money precisely so they wouldn’t be actually responsible for anything.

It was an interesting appeal hearing. IWU didn’t put on any witnesses, but instead just complained about ADEQ’s evidence, that ADEQ shouldn’t rely on search warrants, grand jury indictments, and guilty pleas. The administrative law judge wasn’t impressed, especially when IWU kept raising arguments he’d already ruled against before the hearing, and when the judge found that IWU misstated and overstated the record -- which, in a delicious bit of understatement, he said was “a fact diminishing validity that might otherwise be accorded to its arguments supported thereby.”

So here’s how this particular game works. David Kimball not only served as counsel for IWU, he speaks for both Chambers on all matters environmental. He gets friendly legislators to vote to abolish ADEQ. Meanwhile, Kimball’s minions now are suing the state to keep IWU operating.

That’s all you need to know about the Chambers of Commerce view of proper environmental policy. They’re happy to help bash the agency charged with protecting the environment -- while their representatives try to keep in business a hazardous waste treatment facility whose employees engaged in the wholesale meth trade.

It’s ADEQ no, but IWU yes. The Chamber of Commerce types apparently don’t mind being in bed with people who support recycling, at least the recycling of California methamphetamine here in Arizona.

After all, protecting the environment is meddlesome government. Selling meth -- now that’s a business, after a fashion, and the Chambers certainly wouldn’t want to do anything anti-business.