Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Congress to Campus

The student newspaper at the University of Northern Iowa, the Northern Iowan, ran an article on my visit to UNI with former Secretary of the Interior Manuel Lujan. Go Panthers!

Monday, September 25, 2006

Foxes Campaign for "Henhouse Reform"

This week's column compares and contrasts two different state trust land initiatives on the ballot in November. You can figure out which one I'm supporting. My proposed headline is above, but the editor went with something more basic.

East Valley Tribune, Sept. 24, 2006

Arizona voters face a very clear choice this November between two competing constitutional initiatives on state trust land. Proposition 106, Conserving Arizona’s Future -- supported by a broad coalition of educators, environmentalists, and business leaders -- would save 690,000 acres of beautiful, undeveloped state trust land for recreation and conservation, and would improve land sales and leases procedures, generating more money for education.

Meanwhile, Proposition 105 -- bought and paid for by the Homebuilders Association of Central Arizona and the Arizona Cattlemen’s Association -- would force the State Land Department to move convicted sex offenders into your neighborhood.

That’s not exactly correct, but that’s the high level of regard for truth that HACA and ACA are bringing to the state trust land debate.


It starts with the campaign committee that HACA and ACA formed, called “Protect Teacher Pay,” which doesn’t really have any actual teachers involved, and certainly none protecting their salaries. (Real teachers, and the Arizona Education Association, instead are supporting Prop. 106.)

Then there are the HACA and ACA campaign materials that claim that Prop. 106 would “severely restrict” school funding and teacher’s salaries. In reality, Prop. 106 would give the State Land Department additional tools and funding to generate more money for schools by selling and leasing more infill parcels.

HACA and ACA also claim that Proposition 106 would create a “politically appointed board” with “no experience” to make “extremely complicated land use decisions” -- as opposed to HACA and ACA, which want to keep the legislature in charge.

Yep, the people who brought you alternative fuels are the alternative to “political” types with “no experience” in “extremely complicated land use decisions.” Like five names picked at random from the phone book wouldn’t have a higher median IQ than the Legislature. Prop. 106 actually creates an oversight board appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state Senate -- much like the Arizona Board of Regents -- with requirements that members have substantial experience in the board’s areas of responsibility.

HACA and ACA allege that Prop. 106 prohibits any improvements, even for recreation or access, to lands set aside for conservation -- but Prop. 106 specifically guarantees public access and specifically allows construction of roads, parks, and trails. That one isn’t a matter of interpretation; HACA and ACA just ignored language in Prop. 106 to try to scare voters. (That’s the polite way of putting it, but if you see Connie Wilhelm, HACA’s executive director, with her pants on fire, you’ll know why.)


HACA and ACA also claim that Prop. 106 allows trust land anywhere in the state “to be considered for conservation,” which is deceptive at best. Apart from the 694,000 acres designated for conservation, Prop. 106 allows additional conservation if master planning by the State Land Department and local communities show the need for additional acres -- and any additional conservation areas must be acquired at market value.

By contrast, the HACA and ACA initiative sets aside only 40,000 acres, and has nothing for any future conservation planning efforts by the Land Department, no matter how much development, how many more people, and how much more need Arizona has in the future.

But the real question voters should ask themselves in evaluating these two propositions is why the homebuilders and the cattlemen -- whose businesses depend on using state trust lands at the lowest price possible -- would have the best interests of teachers, students, hunters, campers, and hikers in mind, especially when all those other groups support Conserving Arizona’s Future, Prop. 106.

The Prop. 105 campaign’s difficulty with truth becomes understandable when you realize that HACA and ACA want to bamboozle voters into letting the foxes run the henhouse. Deception? Dissembling? Out-and-out lying? Don’t get upset, it’s what foxes do. Instead, vote “no” on 105 and “yes” on Conserving Arizona’s Future, Proposition 106.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Arizona Primary Election Round-Up Column

My proposed headline was "That's Why They Make Them Run The Horses" but the editor went with something more, ahem, personal. Those who "subscribe" to my Tribune column by email may not get this week's edition because of the verboten words "Jenna Jameson" and "porn" may trigger spam filters. But those words may drive traffic to this blog (especially if I also mention Paris Hilton....)

East Valley Tribune, Sep. 17, 2006

People always knock primary elections as boring and low-turnout affairs, and this past week’s was no exception. Low turnout, few surprises -- mainly because nobody knew what to expect. But you can’t dismiss an election that made both Len Munsil and Jenna Jameson happy.

For those of you living outside metropolitan Phoenix or in a cave, the Scottsdale City Council, spurred into action by the folks who enjoy deciding what you can do with your leisure time, reacted to the world-class porn star (and Scottsdale resident) purchasing one of two strip clubs still allowed in the city by adopting a lap-dancing ordinance. Jameson’s promoters responded by gathering enough signatures to refer the ordinance to the voters, which was held in conjunction with the statewide primary.

The referendum campaign was somewhat unusual, with the two sides casting themselves as fighters of crime and protectors of neighborhoods on one hand, and defenders of “small business” on the other. I loved the “small business protection” stuff. Like many other aspects of this particular topic, it’s not real, but guys like it anyway.

Joining Jameson in celebrating the results (but little else) is GOP gubernatorial nominee Len Munsil, who has spent his life as one of those folks who enjoy deciding what you can do with your leisure time. The GOP race baffled the usual prognosticators, who couldn’t decide if Munsil’s religious right connections would outperform Don Goldwater’s famous name.

As it turned out, there wasn’t much turnout, and so-called “lower-efficacy voters” who might have been distracted by Goldwater’s nephew’s famous name didn’t show, but the more-connected actual voters knew that the name and some DNA was all that Don shared with Barry. The intelligence, vision, and independence? Not so much.

So Munsil won comfortably, but it's worth going behind the numbers. The final results aren't available yet, but it looks like Munsil won an essentially two-man primary (the two fringe candidates combined for less than 10 percent) with slightly over 50 percent. Looks good.

But compared with 2002, not so much. Approximately 283,000 people voted in the 2006 Republican primary. While we can't tell how many of those were registered independents who requested a GOP ballot, with just over 1 million registered Republicans in the state, turnout will be around 24 percent. Thus, Munsil got his 50 or 51 percent by getting 143,000 votes.

In 2002, however, current GOP state chairman Matt Salmon won a three-way race with two statewide officeholders, Secretary of State Betsy Bayless and State Treasurer Carol Springer, with a slightly better percentage. But turnout was apparently at least ten points higher at 34 percent, so Salmon got his 56 percent by getting 174,000 votes, some 30,000 more than Munsil despite approximately 100,000 fewer registered Republicans in 2002.

You see the punch line coming, don’t you? Not only is 2006 very, very different than 2002, but Len Munsil? He’s no Matt Salmon.

Next, notice how any campaign involving soon-to-be-former state Rep. Colette Rosati turns nasty? Maybe it's not the campaign, but rather Rosati.

And on the Democratic side, if you’re trying to understand how Jason Williams defeated former state Sen. Slade Mead, who was endorsed by the Arizona Education Association, for the superintendent of public instruction nomination, you’re not alone. The people who ran Williams’s campaign can’t explain it, either.

Finally, there’s a bit of pundit cherry-picking going on with the GOP results. Randy Graf’s 43 percent victory in the U.S. House primary in District 8 in southeastern Arizona, where two high-profile moderates split that vote, is being touted as showing the power of the immigration issue. But in the statewide GOP gubernatorial primary, the candidate with better anti-immigration credentials (Goldwater, with Russell Pearce’s endorsement and a misleading robo-call from Minuteman leader Chris Simcox) lost handily to Munsil (who was mushy on guest workers, and who was endorsed by immigration-haters’ hated John McCain).

So apparently immigration is the key issue for 2006 -- except when it isn’t.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

As Long As We're Featuring Photographs of Mamoun Ahmadenijad...

...here is the Iranian President greeting Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki during the Iraqi PM's visit to Teheran this week. It's apparently one big Islamofascist menace out there and Ahmadenijad is absolute evil, but here you have al-Maliki, a brave fighter for democracy, consorting with him. Smiling, to boot (it's there, under the moustache). Better simply to ignore it. Because facts are hard, stubborn things, but saying the same nonsense over and over again is so comfortable and sweet.

Ahmadenijad is surprisingly short, though.

Monday, September 11, 2006

A Plea for Tolerance, Understanding, and Civility...

...is made, unexpectedly, by Greg "Miss Manners" Patterson, who takes a break from making snide and baseless innuendoes about sexual preferences of Democrats (scroll down to September 2; Greg doesn't believe in links) to accuse me of (gasp!) going over the line with my last column (scroll down to September 10) noting that both the president of Iran, and Republicans, are campaigning against "liberal and secular" university professors. Next: J.D. Hayworth complains that people are way too mean to him, and Rush Limbaugh bemoans the demonization of those who hold different views because, after all, can't we all just get along?

And I suspect the reason why Becky Fenger decided not to use Greg's joke is that I'm told I look more like Mohamed A. El-Erian than Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. We report, you decide (but please note that it would be far, far more profitable to be Mohamed than Mahmoud).

Or maybe it was because if you have to explain the joke, it's just not that funny.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

David Horowitz and Iran: Together at Last!

This one was pretty easy to write; I'm surprise that Ahmadinejad's comments about liberal and secular university teachers didn't get wider play. Shows you how the agenda gets set, I guess. My suggested title was "The Mullahs of West Washington Street" but the editor went in a different direction.

East Valley Tribune, Sep. 10, 2006

We’ve finally found common ground between Iran and the GOP majority in the Arizona legislature: They both oppose liberal and secular university professors.

It’s no joke, but it really should be. Last week, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called for a purge of liberal and secular teachers from the country’s universities. And he used those exact key words: “Today, students should shout at the president and ask why liberal and secular university lecturers are present in the universities.” It sounds a bit formal when translated from Farsi, but it’s something you might hear from George W. Bush or Newt Gingrich.

Ahmadinejad’s government has been replacing university teachers deemed by the government as too “liberal” and “secular,” by sending dozens into retirement and by replacing the head of the country’s oldest university in Tehran with a cleric, sparking student protests. This putting-liberals-out-to-pasture policy mirrors what the current Islamic government did after coming to power in 1979, when the ayatollahs sacked hundreds of professors and students deemed too liberal and insufficiently religious.


What a wacky idea -- except that it’s same one being pushed by prominent Republicans and conservatives throughout the country. Republicans usually call these efforts an “Academic Bill of Rights,” but it’s only a matter of time before the Iranians discover the usefulness of such a marketing gimmick as cover for a religious-based professorial purge.

Here in Arizona, state Sen. Thayer Verschoor, R-Gilbert, joined the parade to fix the exact same problem that’s upsetting Ahmadinejad, that there are too gosh-darn many liberal and secular university lecturers present at the universities. But Verschoor (and his nearly two dozen GOP co-sponsors) went even farther than Ahmadinejad, with a bill that required public colleges to give students “alternative coursework” if a student declares any assignment “personally offensive,” meaning anything that “conflicts with the student’s beliefs or practices in sex, morality, or religion.”

The bill passed the Senate Higher Education committee, but died in the full Senate (a victim of what Verschoor calls “the whole academic freedom thing.”) It managed to be so extreme that even David Horowitz, who is pushing these Iranian-style “Bill of Rights” nationally, objected to giving students a get-out-of-class-free card if they find anything in the course “uncomfortable” or “personally offensive.”

Why shouldn’t legislators give students an absolute right to avoid anything in their higher education that might cause them to think or learn about things that don’t fit their existing views? It’s the very key to success as a Republican politician these days, when even Sen. John McCain must drop his “maverick” pose long enough to endorse teaching so-called “intelligent design” instead of evolution. It’s only a matter of time before the GOP platform calls for repeal of the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

The story behind Verschoor’s bill is interesting, too. (H/t: Michael Berube, fellow WashU parent.) A student at Chandler-Gilbert Community College enrolled in modern American literature and history course called “Currents of American Life.” The syllabus referred to potentially controversial and “adult” themes of some assigned readings, and the lecturer noted that reference on the first day so those with weak constitutions and delicate dispositions could switch classes. Several weeks later, one student demanded an alternative to Rick Moody’s The Ice Storm, saying he hadn’t paid attention on the first day. So what’s Verschoor’s “conservative” solution? To reward the inattentive student and pass a law giving him a free pass out of class. Ridiculous enough for you? There aren’t really any conservatives anymore, just cranks.


Of course, there are tremendous differences between what Ahmadinejad and Verschoor propose for their respective governments’ higher education systems. One demands that professors be less liberal and more conservative, while the other demands that professors be less liberal and more conservative. One insists that instruction must reflect his and students’ religious beliefs, while the other insists that university instruction must reflect his and students’ religious beliefs. One has a difficult-to-spell name, while the other’s name is difficult to spell. I hope that clears it up.

As Ben Adler put it, at least Iran is finally catching up to us in something besides nuclear technology.

Monday, September 04, 2006

They're Not Blind, They're "Morally and Intellectually Confused"

Rumsfeld’s speech last week to the American Legion—which he’s now trying to say wasn’t directed at anybody, it was an abstract historical discussion (yeah, right)—just angered me phenomenally. My response is less a column than a speech I’d love to give at a campaign rally after dropping the parentheticals (and then the candidate still can decry partisanship etc., or as we call it in the trade, “the usual David Broder B.S.” after I've given the 'send Bush a message, vote for Pederson/Mitchell/etc.' message.) Do people still chant refrains these days?

The best part is that bashing Rumsfeld is pretty much a free shot these days, no 'wingers are emailing to say he's really doing a heck of a job. And it's even unfair to Rumsfeld in a way (hence the refrain with Cheney and Bush) because to the extent Rumsfeld has done a lousy job, it's because he's been carrying out the policies of Bush and Cheney (to the extent that Bush plays a role in formulating those policies, that is.)

The newspaper version is here in case you want to link to that.

East Valley Tribune, Sep. 3, 2006

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld gave a speech last week and said, “This country can no longer afford any moral and intellectual confusion about who and what is right and wrong.” He was so right -- just not in the way he thought.

Because the people who have been morally and intellectually confused -- about what the Constitution requires, about fighting terrorism effectively, and about the costs and benefits of their schemes to remake the world based on crackpot theories that sound vaguely plausible in a 700-word op-ed piece, but are hopelessly impractical in the real world -- are Rumsfeld, Vice President Dick Cheney, and President George W. Bush.

The people who have been wrong, who were enthralled by what they think they know about history, grabbed what they like and ignored the rest, treating history like intelligence, something to be “cherry-picked” to justify pre-existing views, and who have misunderstood the needs of the present and the future -- are Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Bush.

The people who want to pretend it’s 1938, or 1914, or 1998, or whatever, but who in 2006 made Iraq “the central front in the war on terror” but made a mess of it, who sent our troops into battle with inadequate armor, insufficient numbers, and incompetent battle plans -- are Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Bush.

The people who dismissed dissenting views on whether Iraq represented any sort of current threat to the U.S., on how many troops we’d need to secure the country, on how our troops would be greeted by the populace, on how long it would take and how much it would cost, on whether our invasion would benefit Iran more than us, and who decided to go ahead anyway, regardless -- are Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Bush.

The people who can’t argue straight up, but who rather need to demonize their opponents and impugn their patriotism, because their only hope is to argue against straw men, not real ones -- are Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Bush.

The people who only have two methods of statecraft at their disposal, either “being nice” or bombing, who see all other forms of power and persuasion as weakness -- are Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Bush.

The people who, over three years after the “Mission Accomplished” speech on the aircraft carrier, can’t decide if we need to “stay the course” or if we need to “adapt to win,” who think bombast and blaming the media can mask years of incompetence and error -- are Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Bush.

The people who mishandled the federal response to Hurricane Katrina, who left Americans in Fourth World conditions, waiting for help from Third World countries, who saw the biggest natural disaster in U.S. history as an opportunity to cut the estate tax on the absolute wealthiest -- are Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Bush.

The people who refuse to recognize publicly that we face threats that require cooperation -- from Americans of differing political views, and from our allies and even countries that on most issues, aren’t our allies (in the way the Bush administration opened back-channel communications with Iran over our mutual interests in removing the Taliban from Afghanistan, or cooperated with Sudan over fighting al Qaeda), and who thereby make our task more difficult and less certain -- are Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Bush.

The people who have been wrong so consistently, and whose argument for trusting them now boils down to “things are now so messed up that you have no choice but to keep us in charge” -- are Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Bush.

And let’s not forget that among the people who have enabled Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Bush to make these mistakes unchallenged, who run from their oversight responsibilities in the same way they got deferments from the draft, who have no interest in making sure that we don’t make the same mistakes in Iran all over again, include Jon Kyl and J.D. Hayworth, who never met a folly of which they didn’t approve -- so long as it’s a folly of Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Bush.