Monday, October 28, 2002

Lose Ann Symington's Money!

This week's column is a couple of one-liners stretched out to a 600-word printed stand-up routine. I really like the idea of the "Lose Ann Symington's Money" reality show, though. In other news, former Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods announced that he's going to re-register as a Democrat after the election after he's finished co-chairing Matt Salmon's campaign. In an interview with the Arizona Republic published on Sunday, he tried to convince himself that Matt really isn't part of the right wingers having taken over the GOP here:

Q8. Some GOP moderates are suspicious of East Valley conservatives like Matt Salmon. Why aren't you?

If they get to know Matt Salmon, they understand that he's a different sort of person. I really find him quite exceptional. He's more conservative than I am. But that's no big deal.

Q9. If the hard right is controlling the party, why didn't they have a candidate in the Republican primary for governor?

They had one.

Q10. Who?

Carol Springer, probably.

Q11. A pro-choice woman?

Well, I don't know. That's a good point. That's just one issue. Maybe that turned them off. I don't know where they went.

Oh, well. Maybe Grant couldn't figure it out, but I think the rest of us can. Once he re-registers, then we're down to about 7 or 8 moderate Republicans in Arizona, hence the jest: What do you call a moderate Republican (or a pro-choice Republican) in Arizona? Answer: A Democrat.

East Valley Tribune, October 27, 2002

Merely remembering things that happened five or ten years ago can make Arizona politics a real laugh riot.

George Cordova, the Democrat running for Congress in District 1, lacks much of a political record, so he got attacked earlier this month on his business experience. The people attacking were former business partners who had invested $1.4 million in a failed olive oil importing venture. They included some 18 contributors to GOP causes, including members of the family of former Gov. Fife Symington (R-Bankruptcy).

Any rich Arizonan probably deserved to lose any money invested in an olive oil import business not based in New Jersey. (Yo!) Nonetheless, these angry investors argued that Cordova's business failure disqualifies him from political office. The truly delicious irony is that one person calling business failure such a terrible, terrible thing was none other than the wife of our former bankrupt, indicted, convicted, overturned-on-appeal, and pardoned-by-Bill-Clinton Gov. Symington.

When Fife Symington lost his investors $10 million, and filed bankruptcy, and faced both civil and criminal suits, these same people saw no connection between his business failures and his political qualifications. Heck, the Symington camp spun Fife's ability to ignore the collapse of his business as a positive qualification.

It was like a reality TV show, ahead of its time: "Lose Ann Symington's Money" (on attorneys' fees, even if not the actual investments). Fife won by losing -- other people's money.

I guess that's George Cordova's only mistake -- he didn't lose enough money. Squander $1.4 million of GOP donors' cash, and you're unfit for office. Blow ten times that amount in construction workers' pension funds, and you're a leader deserving our respect.

Having your business record attacked by a Symington -- talk about a badge of honor! Only in Arizona.

Meanwhile, running for Secretary of State -- for the past two decades, the gubernatorial waiting room -- is none other than "Amnesia Jan" Brewer. In 1996, Brewer castigated the quarter-cent sales tax that funded Bank One Ballpark. She slammed her opponent for the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors as an "embarrassment" for having voted for the tax. She campaigned wearing a "No Stadium Tax" T-shirt, and lobbied the state legislature to overturn the supervisors' vote to build the stadium.

Two years later, after surfing into office on waves of her anti-stadium-tax rhetoric, Amnesia Jan helped host the grand opening of Bank One Ballpark, calling it "one of the architectural and engineering wonders of the world." She got elected complaining about the money needed to build it, but once it was built and paid for (with your tax dollars and Ed King's political career), Brewer had her name put on the building's dedication plaque.

Amnesia Jan is an Arizona classic. She campaigns against taxes, derides her opponent as a free-spending liberal, and once elected, is pleased as punch to spend that money generated by those same taxes she so ardently opposed. Somebody else raises the money so Amnesia Jan can preside over its spending, with a giddy smile and bubbly dedication speech ("A state of the art, fantastic ballpark. The crown jewel of Maricopa County!")

Ever wonder why so much of politics seems poll-driven and spineless? It's because thoughtful people with guts (like Jim Bruner, who voted for the stadium tax knowing it would kill his political career) pay the price for their courage, while two-faced hypocrites (like Amnesia Jan Brewer) keep skating by, so long as voters never bother to remember more than the latest sound bite.

All this happened back in 1994 and 1996. Amnesia Jan hopes you won't remember. Don't let her get away with it.

Monday, October 21, 2002

Campaign Oddity Roundup

Usually, I need 600 words to make a point, but this week I used the old link-three-unrelated-things-together-and-make-a-column technique (including recycling a prior entry below about the Montana ad -- I had a busy week and couldn't find a fourth oddity worth writing about). This Colette Rosati might be a real goldmine of potential column ideas, and decide for yourself about the Montana ad--this Internet thing is pretty cool -- but mostly, I'm just feeling vindicated about Dick Mahoney. I feel like that investment analyst who kept doubting Enron's numbers (and whom Jeffrey Skilling cursed in a conference call) must have felt when Enron imploded. Forget "Independent … Like You." The real Mahoney slogan is: "It's All About Dick."

East Valley Tribune, October 20, 2002

Three oddities from this year’s campaigns:

First, political insiders have long debated whether signs actually work. Nobody knows if signs really help persuade undecided voters or build name identification. Most campaigns post signs only because everybody else does. It reassures supporters, who if they only see opponents’ signs, get very nervous.

But one candidate apparently believes in the effectiveness of signs, because in what may be a first, she’s removed most of hers during the campaign. Colette Rosati, campaigning for the state House in District 8 (north Scottsdale and Fountain Hills), actually paid to have her signs removed before the general election.

(Disclosure: Ginny Chin, a Democrat running for one of the two House seats, has my endorsement up on her website.)

It’s not so remarkable that Rosati paid for “campaign sign removal.” What’s remarkable is that she had to disclose it on her post-primary expenditure report. There’s an election coming up, yet her signs came down (although at least three of the "old" ones finally reappeared this week).

It makes sense only if you realize that Rosati won her GOP primary by appealing to the most religiously and politically conservative voters, touting her endorsement by Arizona Right to Life on her signs. Now that she’s won the primary, she needs to move back to the center pronto -- and those clues about her useful for snaring right-wingers in the primary don’t work so well for the general.

Second, readers, don’t say I didn’t warn you about Richard Mahoney. To those of you who said Mahoney would focus on issues, bring both humor and intelligence to the race, and could energize the radical center, I say: Yeah, right.

Instead, Mahoney has not just been sleazy; he’s been ineffectively sleazy. He’s single-handedly giving negative campaigning a bad name. Dick, your single-digit poll numbers should tell you that whatever you think of the other guys, voters know you’re worse.

Finally, check out this year’s “killer” ad, as apparently calling someone a hairdresser is enough to ruin a candidate in Montana. Once the ad ran, Mike Taylor, the underfunded GOP Senate challenger, simply dropped out.

Taylor ran a barber and beauty school during the 1980’s, which eventually settled a government audit investigation by repaying about $27,000, but without admitting guilt. Taylor also produced several infomercials about his school, and part of his own TV shows, showing him with large hair, bellbottoms, and disco shirt applying lotions to a male customer’s face, appeared in the ad attacking him for alleged student-loan fraud.

There’s been a national debate whether the ad is beyond-the-pale gay-bashing or more-than-a-little-amusing (and heterosexual) “Disco Stu” bashing. Most conservative/Republican commentators find the gay-bashing crystal clear, with most liberal/Democratic observers cracking up at “Disco Stu” effect.  View the ad here and decide for yourself.

Anyone in Arizona probably isn’t well-equipped with the necessary subtextual radar to determine the answer. Subtext? We get our gay-bashing strictly overt and blatant, whether it’s “Vote Gay” signs or vicious direct mail in GOP legislative primaries. I don’t recall much of a fuss in conservative/Republican circles about obvious gay-bashing; maybe it was just too obvious for them to care.

But the most interesting thing about conservative/Republican reaction to the hairdresser ad is the numerous comparisons to the first Bush campaign’s use of Willie Horton in 1988. The anti-Taylor ad is being called as hateful and inappropriate as the racism in the Willie Horton attacks. Apparently, some 14 years late, these commentators now consider that Bush I tactic racist, something not admitted at the time.

Who knows? If Noam Chomsky lives long enough, maybe he can have his past utterances ignored and get rehabilitated and respected -- just like Strom Thurmond.

Saturday, October 19, 2002

Taking Issue with Tuesday Morning Quarterback

No, not with his football comments, which are fabulous, nor with the running critiques of Enterprise, the new Star Trek "prequel" series, but with a comment last month about Bush v. Gore.

Gregg Easterbrook’s analysis of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Bush v. Gore (scroll way down) argues that whatever the problems with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision, the Florida Supreme Court decision was worse. The Florida court ignored, in Easterbrook’s view, equal protection -- the principle that a particular level of government must treat everybody the same. Under a federal system, it’s permissible for different states to have different voting standards, but each state must treat each of its citizens in the same way. Easterbrook says the Florida Supreme Court allowed different counting standards in different counties, thereby violating equal protection due to citizens of Florida.

However, in Florida (and most other states), the relevant unit of government for counting votes isn’t the state, but the county. State law determines the general legal standards for voting -- the hours the polls are open, how candidates file and campaign, and what constitutes a valid vote -- but it’s up to each individual county to run the election and count the votes.

Last month, after major problems with voting in the Democratic primary in Dade and Broward counties, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) immediately said it wasn’t a state problem, but rather the responsibility of county election officials. He didn’t see the problems as a statewide issue, nor one that implicated any state responsibility for making sure that voters in south Florida had the same opportunity to vote and to have their votes counted as voters in the rest of the state.

If the unit of government responsible for voting really was the state, and equal protection really meant that every citizen of Florida should be treated the same, then Gov. Bush was all wet, and supporters of Bush v. Gore (and critics of the Florida Supreme Court decision) should have said he was all wet. Equal protection should be applied equally -- if it applied at all.

On the other hand, it’s wonderful that some supposedly grand principle that got George Bush declared president is undercut by his own brother.

Thursday, October 17, 2002

In Arizona, We Don't Know From Subtle

You can see the TV ad that caused Mike Taylor, the underfunded GOP Senate candidate in Montana, to drop out of the race here or here (with options to download or stream). The Internet has hosted a major debate whether the ad is beyond-the-pale gay-bashing or more-than-a-little-amusing heterosexual “Disco Stu” bashing. As you might expect, most conservative/Republican commentators find the gay-bashing crystal clear, with most liberal/Democratic observers cracking up at “Disco Stu.” View the ad and decide for yourself.

Anyone in Arizona probably isn’t well-equipped with the necessary subtextual radar to decide which applies. During this campaign season, we have gotten our gay-bashing strictly overt and blatant, with no subtext necessary: anonymous “Vote Gay” signs placed next to signs for the Democratic candidate for governor here, who happens to be an unmarried woman. I don’t recall much of a fuss in conservative/Republican circles about such obvious gay-bashing; maybe it was just too obvious for them to care.

But the most interesting thing about the conservative/Republican reaction to the Montana hairdresser ad is the comparisons to the first Bush campaign’s use of Willie Horton in 1988. The hairdresser ad is being called gay-bashing as just as bad as the subtextual racism in that attack on Dukakis—which means that these conservative/Republican commentators, some 14 years late, now find the use of Willie Horton as racist, something I don’t recall them admitting at the time.

Who knows? If Noam Chomsky just lives long enough, maybe he can have his past utterances ignored and get rehabilitated and respected, just like Strom Thurmond.

Wednesday, October 16, 2002

The State Budget Crisis

This week's column was 612 words, or maybe it was really 38 million words if it would have been part of the Matt Salmon budget plan. I got a more aggressive headline than I thought the column would have, but if the Tribune is the house organ of the Salmon for Governor campaign, maybe they thought they should give me one. However, Bob Schuster deleted the joke that based on the budget plan, Matt Salmon's math is about as good as his definition of "lobbying." He also cut the last line, which I've put back in. You can read my version below and the Tribune's version here.

I'm late posting this week because I was in St. Louis on Monday and Tuesday, for one of the periodic showings of the grandchildren to the actual people in charge. Also, Beth is starting two weeks at Saint Louis University Law School as a "practitioner in residence."

I always have a wonderful time in St. Louis because my younger son and my father-in-law basically like to do the same stuff. We paid our respects to Crown Candy, Ted Drewes, and toasted ravioli (scroll down to the 5th entry), and swam laps, took a steam, and had breakfast with the same old guys (a/k/a the old same guys) at the Missouri Athletic Club. Each may be overrated, but each is still fine by me (and the kids generally, but especially Louis).

East Valley Tribune, October 13, 2002

Those of you swallowing that “just cut spending” nonsense regarding the state budget deficit should think twice about cutting education. Given how badly the numbers prove your belief is nonsense, the last thing to cut is teaching math.

Consider Arizona’s looming $1 billion deficit. Let’s assume current spending levels for education, healthcare, and prisons. Sounds reasonable, right? No candidate is bragging how they’ll cut those core government functions.

Remember that maintaining current services means more dollars than last year. There’s inflation and new medical treatments, and more children in schools and more criminals in prisons, so providing the same services costs more.

Also remember that “current spending levels” is still pretty dreadful. Scottsdale Schools Superintendent Barbara Erwin correctly called current inadequate funding for public education a form of child abuse. Hospital emergency departments in Pima County are day-to-day, with their funding on intensive care. And even if crime rates stay stable, nobody calls for fewer crimes or shorter sentences.

Keeping those core services at current levels, but eliminating every other agency, program, and service of state government -- everything! -- would save, according to Tom Betlach, Gov. Hull’s budget director, about $480 million, less than half of the 2003-04 deficit.

Think about it. No courts, no tourism promotion, no child welfare, no emergency food aid, no regulation of insurance, banks, utilities, and real estate. No state police or parks. No legislature. A libertarian heaven on earth, like Lord of the Flies but with real people.

People don’t realize how much of government is in those “core functions” because in Arizona we simply don’t fund optional stuff much. Oh, you can find pointless programs; in any enterprise of the size of state government, of course there’s waste, fraud, and abuse. But there’s no way to find enough five-, six-, or even seven-figure programs to pay for a ten-figure deficit.

Just do the math -- just don’t do the math as sloppily as Matt Salmon’s “budget plan.” Salmon proposes consolidating the Banking, Real Estate, and Insurance Departments and thereby save $50 million. Unfortunately, these three agencies get about $12 million total from the General Fund. Forget about “consolidating” -- you could eliminate them entirely and still need to find another $38 million in savings from unspecified other agencies.

Even with this kind of bogus math, Salmon’s “plan” -- by its own admission -- is still $400 million short.

There’s one final myth about the state budget. Government should cut spending "because that’s what families do during tough times."

Leave aside that unlike businesses and families, the demands on government increase during a recession. The entire analogy is bogus, because during this recession individuals may be cutting spending some, but they’re borrowing money more.

Consumer debt is at record levels. In fact, our economic outlook is so cloudy in part because consumers have kept spending at boom-like levels by increasing debt. When this recession finally ends, unlike past cycles construction and auto sales won’t lead the recovery, because consumers have taken advantage of low mortgage and new car loan rates already.

Want to run state government like a family budget? Then take out a new mortgage and borrow our way to a better tomorrow, just like real families are doing.

Would a “real family” cut education, healthcare, and prisons? No way -- with or without credit cards and zero percent financing. Don’t swallow this absurd hokum; take a math class instead.

Tuesday, October 08, 2002

Just a Question (or two)

Why do people who find the government utterly clueless, inefficient, and worse-than-useless when it comes to airport security find the same government utterly trustworthy, prescient, and correct when it comes to Iraq?

Shouldn't anybody with an "Impeach Norm Mineta" bumper sticker call for war in the Middle East with, at the very least, a sense of irony?

Monday, October 07, 2002

Beating Up Those Who Can't Fight Back

This week's column was triggered by an Arizona Court of Appeals decision, Flanders v. Maricopa County, No. 1 CA-CV 01-0239 (Ariz. App. Sep. 26, 2002). You also might want to read the full rant by Prof. Mark Kleiman of UCLA regarding cutting prison literacy programs for the math on such efforts, if nothing else.

I got a dreadful headline; jail anarchy is the kind of thing that would gladden conservatives. The actual point of my column is that too much of politics today depends on beating up people who can't fight back. Prisoners, illegal aliens, juvenile predators, it's all their fault--what a winning philosophy! But you have to take what you can get with The Tribune.

East Valley Tribune, October 6, 2002

The signs say “Support Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s Jails. Vote for Proposition 411.” Maybe, as urged by Supervisor Fulton Brock, we should extend the county’s jail tax. But based on a new Arizona Court of Appeals opinion, don’t vote for Prop. 411 to support Arpaio’s jails -- unless you enjoy “deliberate indifference” to human life, violating the constitution, and making prisoners suffer just for the political upside.

The appeals court upheld a $948,000 jury verdict against Maricopa County and Arpaio in the brutal beating of Jeremy Flanders in the Tent City Jail. In 1996, while serving a one-year sentence for burglary, other inmates brutally attacked a sleeping Flanders during a guard shift change. Witnesses saw Flanders, then 20, beaten with a metal rebar tent spike. No guards responded, no alarm sounded.

Bloodied, unconscious, and beaten nearly unrecognizable, another inmate carried Flanders to the guards, nearly 100 yards away, for assistance. Flanders remained in a coma for several days; he lost motor functions and suffered permanent brain damage.

The U.S. Constitution prohibits “cruel and unusual punishments.” Flanders sued Maricopa County, the Sheriff’s Office, and Arpaio for violating his Eighth Amendment rights, and for gross negligence.

The trial revealed some seamy details of Tent City lost in the haze of bologna sandwiches, pink underwear, and chain gangs: Too few guards too far away to supervise and control inmates; prisoners roaming the grounds freely; pervasive weapons, like those tent stakes; frequent inmate fights; and plenty of easily-obtained contraband.

Getting contraband into Tent City was absurdly easy. Prisoners on work release brought back some, but more simply was thrown inside. Outsiders would approach the fences and just toss stuff to inmates in the yard. As guards rarely patrolled outside, the “fence toss” was a steady pipeline into the jail.

At trial, a correctional expert described preposterously simple, but ignored, ways to reduce weapons and contraband and increase security: cementing tent stakes, moving the fences, and conducting shift changes in the yard, not the enclosed building.

The court said the evidence of unsafe conditions “was essentially undisputed, even by jail authorities.” The court held that “the history of violence, the abundance of weaponry, the lack of supervision, and the absence of necessary security measures supports the jury’s finding of deliberate indifference to inmate safety” by Arpaio.

Arpaio’s defense was “a claimed lack of knowledge,” that America’s Most Media-Hungry Sheriff just didn’t know what occurred in Tent City and therefore couldn’t be responsible. He even testified to ignorance of an inmate’s threat to beat Arpaio with a tent stake -- a threat, unfortunately, described in his book, America’s Toughest Sheriff. (He only wrote the book; he never said he read it.)

Arpaio’s indifference to law and life has a parallel with the Bush administration’s move to cut prison literacy funding -- a move which UCLA professor Mark Kleiman compares to trying to reduce health care costs by cutting vaccinations. It’s guaranteed to increase both costs and crime.

Literacy correlates with employment and illiteracy correlates with recidivism. Given prison costs, a literacy program with only 1 percent effectiveness saves money -- with the benefits of lower crime to potential victims and the community an additional bonus.

But, as Kleiman notes, shortsighted hatred of criminals instead will give us policies that increase crime.

The only reason to cut prison literacy programs, or to have a Tent City, is for the votes to be had in saying any prisoner is bad, deserves what he gets, and we won’t spend any money on bad people, even if it eventually costs us more million-dollar verdicts and more crime.

Who cares if it’s right, it’s so popular to beat up somebody who can’t fight back -- just like what Joe Arpaio let happen to Jeremy Flanders.