Monday, April 30, 2007

It Was All Hidden In Plain Sight

In DC, they're making a movie about Rick Renzi. It's called "Dead Man Walking." My suggested headline was "Big News From Arizona (as reported elsewhere)" but the editor went drier and more clinical (and less interesting).

There's nothing we know now (apart from 40 FBI agents raiding the guy's wife's business--but we don't know what they were looking for or what they found) that we didn't know 6 months ago. That wasn't reported 6 months ago. But the powers that be here in AZ just ignored it until it appeared in The Wall Street Journal--then it became real! We can't ignore it anymore! Sheesh.

Last week, after publication of the front-page Journal story, The Republic editorialized:

Partisan Democrats have tied the two Renzi investigations to last fall's firing of the U.S. attorney for Arizona, Paul Charlton. Unlike the paper trails tracking the land deals, however, there is no evidence so far that the demonstrably inept Attorney General Alberto Gonzales fired Charlton to stave off an FBI investigation that was already well under way. Not yet, at least.

Fascinating--it's all the fault of those partisan Democrats. But what, exactly, is the Bush administration explanation for firing Charlton? Have they produced one? After everything that we've learned about Gonzales and the Bush White House, is there anybody who wants to make a bet that the Renzi investigation wasn't the reason?

Jaime Molera and I are doing the two-sides-of-every-issue thing for the "At the Capitol" segment tonight's Horizon program, 7 pm on Channel 8 (and streaming on the KAET website). He likes John McCain, I don't.

East Valley Tribune, Apr. 29, 2007

Rick Renzi is the latest GOP gift that keeps on giving; almost every morning, another shoe drops. I just hope he doesn't resign before this column runs. If only for continued enjoyment of this scandal, House Democrats better keep William "Doesn't everybody keep cash in their freezer?" Jefferson, D-La., off any committees, too.

For those depending on Arizona media for Arizona news, a brief recap is required. Renzi is a three-term GOP congressman from Flagstaff -- in the sense that a pro athlete is "from" Phoenix, it's where he plays but it's not where he grew up or where his family lives. Renzi is the son of a retired Army general, formerly the commandant at Fort Huachuca in Sierra Vista, who now works for ManTech, one of the base's largest contractors, with some $500 million in contracts. Sierra Vista isn't anywhere near Renzi's congressional district.

Renzi also was reelected last November using a TV ad that Jacob Weisberg of Slate, who usually bends over backwards to blame both sides, called "pure political poison" in which "not a single claim in the ad is actually true." Renzi also is the subject of two separate federal investigations, one reportedly looking into whether he used his official status to benefit his father's employer. In 2003, he sponsored legislation that would have relaxed water restrictions on Fort Huachuca, allowing expansion of the base. Renzi claimed that ManTech couldn't benefit, because the company somehow could transfer its contracts to another base. Neither daily newspaper here found anything noteworthy in Renzi pushing a bill benefiting his father's employer.

It took The Wall Street Journal to report the other investigation, whether Renzi used his office to push the sale of a 480-acre parcel owned by Renzi associate James Sandlin. Renzi first demanded that Resolution Copper purchase the land near Fort Huachuca before he'd support a federal land swap for Resolution's new copper mine. Renzi then told a second group that purchasing Sandlin's parcel was "a matter of national security" and key to Renzi's support for their proposed exchange. After selling to the second group, Sandlin paid a Renzi family business $200,000.

The Journal then reported last Wednesday that the Renzi investigations "faced unexpected obstacles" and those delays "postponed key approvals in the case until after the [2006] election." The Hill newspaper also uncovered that Renzi didn't disclose Sandlin's $200,000 payment as required by House rules. The Washington Post then reported that Renzi's chief of staff, Brian Murray (former executive director of the Arizona Republican Party) called U.S. Attorney Paul Charlton in late 2006 about the Renzi investigations -- which Charlton's office, as required, reported to the Justice Department. However, Justice somehow failed to disclose that call in their "document dump" about the U.S. Attorney firings.

Charlton first appeared on Justice Department lists of "bad" U.S. Attorneys in a Sept. 13, 2006 memo, a late addition. Nobody from the Bush administration has managed to explain why Charlton was let go, so it's getting easier to connect it to the Renzi investigations. There aren't documents, so far, linking Charlton's firing to delaying these investigations -- but the White House keeps stonewalling on those emails on Republican National Committee servers used by Bush administration staffers. You know, the ones that haven't been "lost."

Republicans used to love the FBI when it investigated the Clinton administration. But the FBI isn't pro-Republican; it's anti-incumbent. Oops!

Not only are the Arizona media playing "report-what's-being-reported-elsewhere" on an Arizona story with national implications, but even when reprinting someone else's story, The Arizona Republic puts their own spin on the ball. Last Thursday, the Republic reprinted a Washington Post story, with the headline "Renzi Aide Called U.S. Attorney to Ask About Probe/Chief of Staff Inquired About Land Deal Investigation; Prosecutor Among Eight Who Were Fired." The Republic's version: "Renzi Aide's Call to U.S. Attorney Inflames Dems."

See? You don't need Fox News to learn the GOP talking points. But based on our local media getting scooped on Rick Renzi, you'd better read national papers to know what's happening in Arizona.
Compare and Contrast

I didn't have room in the column to include the ledes, but here's how the Washington Post article on the Renzi chief of staff contact with the U.S. Attorney office got translated into the Arizona Republic version:

First, here's the Post:

Renzi Aide Called U.S. Attorney to Ask About Probe

Chief of Staff Inquired About Land Deal Investigation; Prosecutor Among Eight Who Were Fired

The top aide to Rep. Rick Renzi (R-Ariz.) called the office of Arizona's U.S. attorney about six weeks before the prosecutor was fired, inquiring about a federal probe into the congressman's role in a land deal that benefited a former business partner and political patron.

And here's how it appeared in the Republic:

Renzi aide's call to U.S. attorney inflames Dems

Reports that the top aide to Rep. Rick Renzi, R-Ariz., called the office of Arizona's U.S. attorney about six weeks before the prosecutor was forced to resign further fanned the ire Wednesday of Democrats conducting a sprawling investigation into the ousters.

Nothing to see here, folks; we didn't drop the ball on this story, it's nothing but he-said, she-said politics, no way we could have known about this until we were scooped by The Wall Street Journal in our own backyard. Go click on the links, and you'll see a newspaper that's always looking over its right shoulder, worried that what appears in print won't match the viewpoint of some right-wing cranks more than they worry about getting the real story. And it's not the Post, they've got their own problems but not that one.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Jackie Robinson, Libertarian Hero!

This week's column was, as usual, "inside baseball," but this time, it was actually about baseball. Did you know that Jackie Robinson's plaque at the Baseball Hall of Fame mentions nothing about his race, or his role? (Stan Hochman, of the Philadelphia Daily News, wrote a column about it that I found.) It's just a bunch of statistics about his career. I think that's interesting but couldn't fit it into the column.

The Power Of Faulty Memories
East Valley Tribune, Apr. 22, 2007

Last week, The Tribune joined the celebration of the 60th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s historic debut for the Brooklyn Dodgers. The everything-fits-our-ideology editorialists declared Jackie Robinson a great man, but noted that "he didn’t stand alone" because "great moments are rarely solo acts," and "the force of good men’s will" did what "government accomplished only by coercive power." Jackie Robinson, libertarian hero!

The editorial recounted a now-familiar tale of the game at Cincinnati when Reds players "unmercifully heckled Robinson, then turned their venom to Dodger shortstop Pee Wee Reese." As recounted by teammate Rex Barney in Peter Golenbock’s Bums, Reese then walked over to Robinson and put his arm around him. Barney says Reese’s gesture "drove the Cincinnati players right through the ceiling, and you could have heard the gasp from the crowd as he did it."

It’s a powerful story; Reese, invariably described, as here, as "a Southerner, Kentucky-born," stands up to bigots for his teammate and changes a nation’s heart. There’s even a statue of the incident, dated to May 13, 1947, in front of the stadium where the Brooklyn Cyclones minor league team now plays.

Except the Reese arm-around-the-shoulder probably didn’t happen, at least not that way, and almost certainly not in 1947. It’s a bit of actual inside baseball, but Golenbock isn’t the most reliable storyteller. Consider 7, his new not-quite-a-novel, not-quite-a-biography of Mickey Mantle. Golenbock says that some stories "aren’t confirmable journalistically," but "Mickey’s friends swear that the incidents are true." Well, all right, then! As Newsday’s Neil Best wrote, readers shouldn’t trust Golenbock’s details because "he has a long history of sloppiness with facts even in officially non-fiction books."

Jonathan Eig’s new book, Opening Day, is just the latest attempt to sort through unreliable, decades-old memories. Eig noted that Robinson played first base in 1947; he didn’t move to second until 1948, so in 1947, Reese would have had to stop play and walk across the full diamond to reach first base. Don’t infielders always meet at the pitcher’s mound instead?

Eig also searched for any contemporary accounts of the event, and found none. White sportswriters rarely, if ever, mentioned Robinson’s race or his significance. No white reporter made a big deal of Robinson’s debut, and none of their accounts of the Dodgers-Reds game mention the Reese-Robinson interchange. Black reporters for black newspapers, who extensively chronicled Robinson’s season and his importance, describe the Cincinnati crowd as well-behaved, with no reports of taunts from the crowd or the Reds. Their stories don’t mention what would have been the game’s most remarkable moment.

In Eig’s view, only after people realized Robinson’s significance did they "go back and recreate the story." And memories, which can be fuzzy in the best of circumstances, really become unreliable when people use hindsight to create them.

Robinson’s widow, Rachel, later recalled Reese’s kindness, and Robinson himself described an incident from the 1948 season where Reese did talk with him, quieting some racial taunts. Eig also found reports of some similar-sounding incidents in 1949. But Rachel Robinson herself doubted that Reese would have put his arm around Jackie Robinson; a hand on a shoulder would have been more like him.

The moral isn’t that Robinson wasn’t a great man, or that Reese wasn’t a decent and honorable guy. Eig’s research into the 1947 season shows that much of the time, Robinson was on his own. His teammates hung back until he’d proven he was a great player and it became safe to support him. Like his teammates, people didn’t suddenly change, either. Our decades-old recollections -- with everybody tempted to portray themselves as more decent and color-blind than they actually were -- isn’t a good guide for policy today.

Robinson made his major league debut in 1947, but seventeen years later, lunch counters and schools were still segregated. It took government’s coercive power to make discrimination illegal. It’s certainly pretty to think that a scene that almost certainly didn’t happen suddenly changed the world, but it just wasn’t and isn’t so.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

No Matter Where You Go, There You Are

Rawhide: Dr. Banzai is using a laser to vaporize a pineal tumor without damaging the parthogenital plate. A subcutaneous microphone will allow the patient to transmit verbal instructions to his own brain.

Observer: Like, "raise my left arm?"

Rawhide: Or "throw the harpoon." People are gonna come from all over. This boy's an Eskimo.

There's more. Strap on the overthruster, Blue Blaze Irregulars, and check it out. It's all good. Thanks, Jon Carroll.

Monday, April 16, 2007

And Where All The Health Care Providers Are Above Average

No Patient Left Behind, anyone?

At least the columns are getting posted closer to on time (and I got my taxes done and mailed by this morning). I needed to prepare something for a panel discussion on health care last Thursday, so hence this column, but I never got the chance to trot out my statistics. Which was probably for the best, all considered. Still, it sure seemed like my story about the woman who called my congressional office during the 1993-94 health care debate and told the poor kid who answered the phone, "You tell Congressman Coppersmith I don't want any of that government health care. My Medicare works just fine," has now become part of the standard Len Kirschner Power Point lecture. Of course, if I hadn't wanted anybody to steal that story, I shouldn't have said it.

My proposed headline was "Statistics Versus Anecdotes in Health Care and Education," but the editor went with the old "A&R" (appearance and reality) as we used to call that routine in college. Note that health care in The Tribune is two words. Apparently, that's how they do it in France and Japan. At least we're benchmarking our spelling (although not against the British, we don't like NHS). "On" health care? Should it have been "In"?

East Valley Tribune, Apr. 15, 2007

Lots of people believe the United States has the best health care system in the world. Very few believe the United States has the best education system in the world.

Most people have no problem agreeing with the first statement, despite fairly lackluster statistics, based either on anecdotal data or just from hearing about our superiority so many times that it's got to be true, right? Even with miserable personal experience, people just assume that other countries must have it worse.

But when it comes to education, people also ignore their own personal experience (or those of their kids), and listen to the negative drumbeat. But in education, they're focused on our fairly lackluster statistics, accepting those numbers as proving that students in other countries do better.

Our health care statistics are pretty grim. Compared to other leading industrial countries, we have significantly worse infant mortality, lower overall life expectancy, and lower life expectancy at age 65. In health care, we're the opposite of Lake Wobegon; all our statistics are below average.

Worse, we spend more -- much more -- than other countries with better overall results. In 2003, the U.S. spent 15.2 percent of gross domestic product on health care; France spends 10.4 percent. Other advanced industrial countries spent less in percentage terms, and much less in absolute terms. We now spend more money on the governmental part of the system than countries with universal coverage, yet some 46 million Americans under age 65 have no health insurance.

Defenders of the status quo argue that these health statistics are too crude, because infant mortality and life expectancy depend on poverty, environmental, and lifestyle factors. (That's a tendentious argument, because if more people had health care coverage, then there wouldn't be as much poverty, and doctors can help change lifestyles, too.) But even if you use "disability adjusted life years" or other more technical statistical measures, the U.S. pays a lot more money and gets a lot less health than Japan or northern Europe.

More sophisticated defenders of the status quo acknowledge these numbers, but claim that these measures don't reflect our advantage in high-tech medical technology. They claim governments in other countries limit health spending, cutting back on technology, so their citizens really get less than we do.

But the statistics don't back up that claim, either. As Jonathan Cohn noted in The New Republic, Japan has single-payer, but also has more CT scanners and MRI machines, per person, than the U.S. France and Britain in particular seem to have less technology, although Germany and Switzerland seem comparable to the U.S. when it comes to medical gizmos. But while their citizens seem to get fewer machines, they do get a lot more time with their doctors. The French, on a per capita basis, have more physician office visits, more prescriptions, and longer hospital stays. Cohn reports that the average woman in France giving birth gets to stay in the hospital for nearly 5 days, even for a perfectly routine delivery. Go ask a new mother here what she got, and be prepared for a long story of a far shorter stay.

Meanwhile, you can come up with similar scare stories from abroad and miracles at home in education. Look at the number of foreign students coming here to study. Check out our Nobel Prize recipients, those high school kids winning science fairs and scholarships. Those anecdotal stories tell us just as much about how the overall education system performs as evaluating health care by looking at wait times for elective hip replacement surgery in Quebec, or that the U.S. does better than France and Sweden in treating breast and prostate cancer (while ignoring that they do better than we do in treating cervical, ovarian, skin, and stomach cancer.)

Why do we want our kids, overall and statistically, to outperform students in Japan -- but not our health care? Other countries spend less, cover everybody, and their people are healthier. We demand our schools measure up to the rest of the world, but when it comes to health care, we act like everyplace else doesn't exist.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Gently Roasted

In case you're wondering, Wednesday's roast was more of a gentle basting. I had trained for far worse than I actually received. And when Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon is the funniest guy there--well, it shows how much it helps to have a staff of people helping you to be funny. Two jokes: Phil said I didn't deserve a full day in my honor, so he issued a proclamation that 10-11 pm would be my hour in the City of Phoenix, but that I should enjoy myself because he'd be in bed by then. And our friend Marcy Shaffer's song, "This Sam is Your Sam," included the wonderful line, "Despite that smile/He gave us Kyl." Also, about a dozen people got or took credit for introducing Beth and me. Success has a thousand fathers, etc.

The next morning, one of my new partners asked how it went and if I'd actually had fun, because some people are uncomfortable being the center of attention. I said I didn't know anybody like that.

East Valley Tribune, Apr. 8, 2007

It wasn’t a good week for the "I’m inevitable, so fall in line" campaign strategy. The 2008 presidential race’s first big test, first quarter fundraising, wasn’t kind to alleged frontrunners. While it’s still very, very early, it’s just too, too tempting not to enjoy some schauenfreude at their expense.

Sen. Hillary Clinton tried to direct the news cycle by leaking to Matt Drudge her finance totals. Drudge responded with banner headlines, "AMERICA LOVES HILLARY" and "Hillary in blowout with $36 million."

Drudge’s call had a couple of problems, however. First, $10 million of Clinton’s total came from her 2006 Senate campaign, money which wasn’t raised during the quarter or for her presidential race. Second, $6 million more came from high-dollar contributors who "maxed out" by giving both $2,300 for the primaries and more for the general.

When Sen. Barack Obama announced his fundraising totals, knowledgeable observers quickly realized that Drudge called the wrong winner. Obama raised $25 million in the quarter, nearly the same total, but with more available for primary use, $23.5 million to $20 million.

Hoary political rules-of-thumb haven’t done so well lately, but campaign veterans tell you that the best source of future contributions is people who already gave, so Obama’s roster of nearly 100,000 contributors, mostly smaller donors and twice Clinton’s total, should be an advantage going forward. Also, Clinton’s $10 million transfer from her Senate campaign account reminded people that she spent $37 million on that campaign running against a doomed no-hope nonentity.

There’s some justice that the Clinton campaign’s little dance with Drudge (and shameless courting of the Murdoch-owned New York Post, which actually endorsed her in 2006) didn’t work. Leaking to Drudge makes perfect sense; as a ‘winger, he’d want Hillary to be the Democratic frontrunner (the better to scare Republicans into swallowing their doubts about their own candidates), and he often sets the media agenda for "real" reporters. But too many insiders know too much about fundraising to let a Drudge headline be the whole story. Clinton should remember that if you lie down with dogs, you need to get out of it more than just fleas.

The supposed GOP frontrunner, Sen. John McCain, started his week with a one-hour tour of Baghdad’s Shorja market, claiming that he could "walk freely" in the city. That is, if "walk freely" means being escorted by some 100 U.S. soldiers, 3 Blackhawk helicopters, and 2 Apache gunships, plus wearing body armor.

McCain saw his unimpressive poll numbers matched by disappointing fundraising. He finished third among Republicans with $12.5 million, well behind Mitt Romney’s $20.5 million and Rudy Giuliani’s $15 million. Not only did McCain raise less than half of what Clinton and Obama each raised, McCain also fell behind John Edwards’s $15 million (twice his 2004 total), too.

Romney’s numbers were a record -- until Clinton and Obama announced their results. Similarly, ever since the Federal Election Commission started keeping track, Republican candidates have always raised more money than Democrats, but this year it’s the reverse; the Democrats together raised $78 million ($15 million via the Internet), the Republicans $51 million.

But the most schauenfreude-ish news is that McCain’s campaign reacted to their fundraising problems by bringing in former Sen. Phil Gramm and Fred Malek. As a presidential candidate, Gramm raised millions, and got Arizona Republicans to schedule a special early taxpayer-funded primary designed for his benefit, only to drop out of the race the week before the Arizona vote. Malek, as ordered by President Nixon who thought Jewish economists were after him, prepared a list of top Bureau of Labor Statistics staffers whom Malek suspected were Jewish. Two Jewish staffers actually got demoted. Malek denies having anything to do with the transfers, claiming that he only counted Jews, and anything else that happened wasn’t his department.

So much for "Straight Talk": Underperform, then call in two of America’s least savory money types to bail you out. I hope Sen. McCain kept that Baghdad flak jacket; it might come in handy here, too.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Ranking Arizona (State)

That was my suggested headline for this column, but I think my editor worried that it was a potential trademark violation for a business publication here in Phoenix. But I'm not sure the editor's choice worked perfectly. I'm actually more worked up over the healthcare lottery issue, but it took more words to explain the Tillman case. Still, I don't plan ever to cut The Tribune a break for supporting the Swift Boaters.

East Valley Tribune, Apr. 1, 2007

To The Tribune's consternation, the Arizona Board of Regents gave Arizona State University President Michael Crow several thousand reasons to care how ASU does in the U.S. News and World Report college rankings. Crow's incentive package pays him more if ASU climbs a tier in the survey.

Tying Crow's pay to a magazine article bothers the Tribune editorial writers, who gave it their version of a slap on the wrist -- but, interestingly, not the stern kick in the pants usually reserved for government actions not to their taste.

The Tribune objected to linking a public official's compensation with what's basically a way to sell magazines. The editors didn't object to using metrics that also appear in the U.S. News methodology if they're also valid measures of performance, but explicitly linking compensation to press clippings seemed, well, unseemly.

I do agree with my editorial overlords about the dangers of abandoning policy to the media, but the regents' use of these rankings is a pretty benign place to draw that line. Nobody following higher education doubts the importance of the U.S. News rankings. Whatever the flaws -- this year, the magazine downgraded Sarah Lawrence, which doesn't require SAT scores, by "creating" an average score that applicants supposedly "would have" gotten -- the U.S. News rankings are the biggest game in academia today, and one which less-distinguished colleges must play.

Many private institutions have revised their policies -- offering more financial aid to convince admitted students to attend, increasing the college's "yield" -- to try to improve how they rank. It's no surprise attempts to game the U.S. News algorithm have moved to the public sector.

Of the several metrics for President Crow's incentive compensation, moving up the U.S. News ladder is probably the single most effective way to improve the university, particularly for out-of-state applicants. Who knows, it could even counteract the effects on parents of ASU's traditionally stellar ranking in Playboy's occasional "party school" survey.

Instead of fretting over using the U.S. News survey, I'd rather save our apprehension for some other areas where we're already letting the media rule. In healthcare, having a newspaper editor decide your illness worthy of publicity can trigger all sorts of help otherwise unavailable. If you don't make the paper, then you still may get care, but you may go bankrupt in obscurity, unlike somebody with a "human interest" tale atop the local news. Life isn't fair, but somehow the fact that we've created a system that increases life's basic unfairness ordinarily doesn't bother libertarians.

Then there are the numerous, still unsatisfactory, internal investigations into the death of our national hero Pat Tillman, the ASU football player who gave up his NFL contract to enlist in the Army Rangers. Corporal Tillman's death in Afghanistan is now officially determined as caused by "friendly fire" rather than enemy action. The Pentagon acknowledges that officers suspected Tillman's death was an accident almost immediately, but his company commander recommended a Bronze Star anyway -- which got upgraded to a Silver Star as the process moved along.

The Pentagon's most recent investigation recommends punishment for nine officers, including four generals, for violating military regulations and not notifying the Tillman family of the truth promptly. The Pentagon says it found no evidence of a cover-up, but the family has denounced the Silver Star as "part of a cynical design to conceal the real events from the family and the public, while exploiting the death of our beloved Pat as a recruitment poster." That sounds awfully harsh, but people who considered the attacks on John Kerry's medals appropriate political speech shouldn't have any problem with the Tillman family's rhetoric.

If you're truly worried about government being corrupted by concern over how things get reported in the media, then I'd worry less about ASU's focus on the U.S. News rankings, and far more about our dysfunctional healthcare system -- or about getting Pat Tillman's family a trustworthy, outside investigation of how the Army got this tragedy wrong.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Heads-I-Win, Tails-You-Lose Budgeting

I'm about 10 days behind sending out columns because I just got back late last night from visiting our daughter in London. I need to get caught up, on emails, sleep, and work generally, so it will take a few days but you'll get my law firm's recent press clippings (such as "Partner Sam Coppersmith is a former Democratic congressman and liberal blogger, and Schermer is his wife." These days, which is more important?)

East Valley Tribune, Mar. 25, 2007

Several lobbying groups which style themselves as "pro-business" have called on the state legislature to cut taxes and to spend more money on their pet issues. The Arizona Chamber of Commerce and the Arizona Association of Industries want more business property tax cuts. The same groups also want more research and development tax credits and more spending on job training and inducing foreign investment.

"We don’t believe it’s an either/or proposition," Jim Norton of AAI told the Arizona Republic. Others may believe that "to govern is to choose," as John F. Kennedy once said, but for the Chamber and AAI, their preferred method is to choose everything.

For some groups, government’s limited resources and unlimited demands may conflict, but when you’re a lobbyist for well-connected businesses, there’s always enough room for all your clients’ priorities. Only autistic children or all-day kindergarten or transportation faces "more will than wallet."

So-called "pro-business" groups wanting both lower taxes for themselves and higher spending for themselves may sound hypocritical, but it’s all too common. People believe that their taxes are too high -- and that government isn’t doing enough for them.

The chambers have a long history of playing fiscal "heads I win, tails you lose." Back in the 20th century, Gov. Jane Hull appointed Martin Schultz of Pinnacle West, who usually leads any list of the state’s top lobbyists, to head a task force to look at the state’s transportation needs over the next few decades. The group concluded that we had woefully underprepared for Arizona’s future needs; what was going to be built with projected future resources wasn’t nearly enough to meet demand. Instead, Arizona would need to find (translation: raise taxes) $20 billion to $40 billion just to keep pace with growth.

Meanwhile, the CEO of the Phoenix Chamber wrote op-ed pieces claiming that the state absolutely couldn’t raise taxes, that instead we had to spend the same money in smarter ways, or something. This was absolute nonsense, because it’s hard to build highways by passing laws or by thinking really hard; you need money. No money, no new transportation. I enjoyed the spectacle of Schultz, then on the board of the chamber, saying the state needed $40 billion in new revenues while the chamber’s CEO was saying the state didn’t need more revenue. And thus we created today’s inadequate transportation infrastructure.

Those of you stuck in traffic jams should understand that our phobia about raising taxes is far, far stronger than anyone’s concern about your commute. But the facts recognized by Schutz’s committee haven’t changed; Arizona is still $20 billion to $40 billion short in resources needed for transportation -- and any attempt to do anything about the clear gap between resources and needs will meet the usual fantasy that something other than money can build transportation infrastructure.

This time the double-talker is state Senate Transportation Committee chair Ron Gould, R-Lake Havasu City, who calls Schultz’s latest call for additional transportation resources a "non-starter" that won’t even get a committee hearing. Instead, Gould wants to find "innovative ways to improve our state’s infrastructure that do not include raising taxes on Arizona taxpayers." So far, the suggestions are a lamp with a genie who grants three wishes, winning the lottery 200 times, and Green Lantern’s magic ring. If Gould has more practical ideas, he’s not disclosed any.

That’s the dirty little secret about government spending. The GOP Congress wasn’t "hijacked;" they didn’t cut spending because their constituents actually like those programs -- or in the case of transportation, education, healthcare, and the environment, demanded those programs. As one Texas wag put it, we now have two parties. The Republicans want programs; they just won’t pay for them. The Democrats want programs; they just can’t pay for them. And the public -- and sophisticated business lobbyists -- believe that there’s "plenty of room" for paying less and getting more.

"Either/or" propositions are for suckers; all of us want both. And nobody in politics calls us on it.