Monday, April 28, 2003

That Was Then, This Is Now--Five Weeks Later

Here's this week's Tribune column. I wanted to compare the reaction to Newt Gingrich's speech after the war with Tom Daschle's unscripted remarks before the war. Notice the difference in the vehemence of the reaction, which essentially boiled down to that Newt may be egotistical but Daschle is a coward and a traitor. (And tell me again which one of them is the Vietnam veteran?) And for all of the GOP assertion that Newt has been banished to the wilderness, he still has the AEI post, the Fox News gig, and the seat on the Defense Policy Board, just like Richard Perle. Sheesh.

Those of you not in Arizona may not know about the multi-million dollar verdict against Corporation Commissioner Jim Irvin for attempting to use his office to steer a multi-state merger to a firm affiliated with his former chief of staff. But you probably don't want to know.

The Two-Faced GOP

East Valley Tribune, Apr. 27, 2003

Impeachment, diplomacy, whatever: Watch the GOP double standard at work again.

Last month, it was treason -- treason! -- to disparage the Bush administration’s diplomacy. Now it’s conservative holy writ.

Try this test developed by Wyeth Ruthven. See any substantive difference in these two statements?

“I’m saddened, saddened that this president failed so miserably at diplomacy that we’re now forced to war. Saddened that we have to give up one life because this president couldn’t create the kind of diplomatic effort that was so critical for our country.”

“The last seven months have involved six months of diplomatic failure and one month of military success. The first days after military victory indicate the pattern of diplomatic failure is beginning once again and threatens to undo the effects of military victory.”

The first speaker was Sen. Tom Daschle on March 18, the second was former Speaker Newt Gingrich on April 22. The differences? Five weeks and party registration.

In March, calling Bush administration diplomacy a failure was unpatriotic, treasonous, even French. Now conservatives are fighting other battles, so calling Bush administration diplomacy a failure is a heroic duty. Watch George Will’s columns for the exact parameters of this new “reality.”

Of course, whenever a Republican criticizes the administration, it’s the fault of some disembodied department or anonymous bureaucrat, not the White House. It’s not Bush administration diplomacy, it’s the State Department’s fault. The sign on President Bush’s desk apparently says “The buck stops over there.”

That certainly fits with GOP spin about George W. Bush, that he sets grand, strategic visions and doesn’t bother with details, leaving those to subordinates. Then they pretend that whenever anything good happens, it’s a grand, strategic thing, and whenever anything bad happens, it’s a detail -- far beneath (or beyond) the President’s brain.

No Republican ever let Bill Clinton dodge personal responsibility for anything that went wrong anywhere in the federal government, no matter how obscure. But then, Clinton is smart, so people assumed he knew what was going on. That’s a burden Bush need not bear.

And speaking of Clinton, notice how the rules for impeachment have changed, now that it’s a Republican in trouble? In 1998, when Clinton’s behavior in a civil lawsuit was at issue, the GOP swore its duty to uphold the law without exception or delay. In 2003, when Corporation Commissioner Jim Irvin’s behavior in a civil lawsuit is at issue, the GOP doesn’t want to rush things.

The perjury charges against Clinton came from a prosecutor -- Kenneth Starr -- and never went to court. The extortion and abuse of office charges against Jim Irvin are a jury verdict after a full trial. But it was vital to have Clinton’s impeachment and trial immediately, but with Irvin, legislators will wait until he exhausts his appeals.

In 1998, J. D. Hayworth flouted the usual per-sentence limit on clich├ęs explaining why we had to impeach Clinton immediately: “[F]or those who want to carve out an exception to the rule of law, it is as if we take the scales of justice from the hands of Lady Justice, and take off her blindfold and ask her to put an eye on the opinion polls and a moistened finger in the wind.”

This past week, Speaker Jake Flake said the House wouldn’t worry about impeaching Irvin because, well, they’re really busy with the budget, and the legal process is still ongoing, and the voters had reelected him. Apparently, Lady Justice may take off that blindfold -- for a Republican.

Lots of times in politics you risk being called a hypocrite. But do Republicans really want to waste one of them on Jim Irvin?

Monday, April 21, 2003

Tax Cuts--the GOP Cure for Everything (even birth defects)

President Bush comes out for universal health care and adequately funded public schools -- in Iraq! Which is funnier, real life or the cartoon version?

This week's column notes yet another imagination-boggling cut in the GOP leadership budget, based on a column by Dr. Allen Erenberg of the University of Arizona School of Medicine. If Saddam Hussein had eliminated funding for health care for prenatal pregnancy and premature babies to fund tax cuts for his cronies, that would have justified invading Iraq. The Arizona Legislature does it, and claims fiscal responsibility. Guess we could use a little regime change around here, too.

Want proof that these pro-lifers really do only care about kids from the moment of conception until the instant of birth? Here it is.

The Budget Battle

East Valley Tribune, Apr. 20, 2003

The GOP legislative leadership must avoid tons of stress by having no memory. Why else would what they said yesterday have no bearing on what they’ll say tomorrow?

“Fast Eddie” Farnsworth (who with each passing day seems more like Jeff Groscost with half the brains and none of the charm) and his legislative pals have a problem. GOP ideology requires them to balance the state budget on the backs of kids, families, and the elderly.

The GOP simply can’t make their numbers work without cutting help for parents with autistic kids, assistance for keeping the elderly in their homes, and vaccinations for children. Each day reveals yet another hard-hearted and fiscally stupid budget decision.

The latest is the leadership’s proposal to eliminate funding for neonatal medical programs. Dr. Allen Erenberg, a professor at the University of Arizona School of Medicine, wrote last week in the Arizona Daily Star about the Legislature’s proposal to eliminate funding for women at risk of pre-term labor or delivering high-risk babies. Last year, the program served 10,000 women. Next year, if the GOP leadership gets its way, the program won’t exist.

The cut also will eliminate aid for maternal/neonatal transport. If a woman in a rural area goes into early labor, or her premature baby may be critically ill, doctors now fly her to a Level III neonatal intensive care unit in Phoenix or Tucson. Rural hospitals simply can’t afford those facilities. Without transport funding, many premature babies simply won’t make it.

These so-called “pro-life” legislators constantly proclaim their deep and sincere commitment to helping children from the instant of conception to the moment of birth -- but not one minute more.

Might they make a teensy exception for premature babies who didn’t get nine full months in the womb? No way, baby. Once you’re born, you get a budget cut.

Good luck dealing with all those premature birth and low birth weight problems. Instead, the GOP will cut taxes on the rich. I’d joke that the Legislature thinks they’d be giving premature infants economic incentives to avoid birth defects -- but in the Arizona Legislature, that’s how they actually think.

Let me remind everyone yet again that there’s a competing budget plan from Gov. Napolitano that does none of these things. The governor’s budget doesn’t eliminate neonatal funding, childhood immunizations, and developmentally disabled services. And you ‘wingers can huff and puff and tell your usual lies about Democrats and liberals, but her budget doesn’t raise taxes.

But the Republicans still profess horror, claiming that the Governor’s budget involves too much borrowing, which is a terrible, terrible thing and which the GOP cannot countenance. Well, couldn’t countenance ten days ago. This past week, however, borrowing became cool again.

The GOP leadership now supports borrowing $400 million to build research facilities at the three state universities. What’s more, the GOP-approved borrowing plan also requires setting aside the Legislature’s rules to hear a late bill.

So now that it’s just peachy to bend the rules to borrow money, and if the Governor’s budget doesn’t raise taxes, what exactly are the GOP’s core principles? That people elected them to stop caring for premature babies? To increase childhood diseases by slashing funds for vaccinations? To “incentivize” kids not to become autistic by eliminating their services?

How do you complain about borrowing for months, then suddenly agree to borrow $400 million? Maybe the same way some people can go to church on Sunday, hear sermons about helping the least among us, then on Monday make the elderly, children, and the disabled pay the price of their ideological obstinacy.

Maybe it’s not a lack of memory. Maybe it’s something more fundamental -- like a lack of morality.

Monday, April 14, 2003

If You Were a Corporation, We'd Treat You Better

I hadn't seen some of the discussion comparing the U.S. Supreme Court's decisions in the "three strikes" cases (Ewing and Andrade) with the punitive damages case (State Farm) in actual newsprint. In State Farm, the Court refused to let a state court consider what a corporation did in other situations. Of course, "three strikes" laws are explicitly designed to consider what a person did in other situations (and for which they presumably have been punished already).

It's the Sandra Day O'Connor view of the world, I guess: If people incorporated themselves, they'd have more constitutional rights.

Judicial Class Warfare

East Valley Tribune, Apr. 13, 2003

There’s a difference when liberals and conservatives engage in class warfare: Conservatives play for keeps.

The U.S. Supreme Court just signed with this “it’s money that matters” philosophy. First, in March, the court ruled twice that the constitution lets states impose throw-away-the-key sentences, even for minor crimes, on repeat offenders.

In Ewing v. California, a felon with two prior non-violent convictions committed a third felony, stealing golf clubs valued at $1,200. As Ewing’s “third strike,” he got 25 years to life in prison. In Lockyer v. Andrade, another crook with two prior convictions stole videotapes worth $153, and got 50 years without parole.

The Supreme Court decided these sentences weren’t too harsh or disproportionate for repeat criminals, even non-violent ones. Apparently, the constitution says 50 years in prison, without the possibility of parole, is just fine for a $153 crime.

After Ewing and Andrade, you’d think that if a state wants to have really long prison sentences, it also could have really big civil penalties, too. Wrong. Last week, in State Farm v. Campbell, the court overturned a punitive damages award as so excessive, so disproportionate, that it violated the 14th Amendment.

The State Farm award was huge -- $145 million in punitive damages compared to actual damages of only $1 million. The court declared that the 145:1 ratio violated due process, implying that anything greater than 10:1 was unconstitutional. In Ewing and Andrade, the constitution said nothing about a 50-year sentence for a $153 theft. But apparently money gets more constitutional protections than liberty.

By the State Farm standard, either the Supreme Court valued a year of Andrade’s life at about three bucks, or else corporations just get that much more judicial solicitude than people.

Sure, Ewing and Andrade are petty thieves, in every sense. They got caught, convicted, and should pay for each crime. But if a third theft may mean a 50-year sentence, why do corporations deserve searching judicial concern about fundamental fairness?

As Justice Kennedy wrote, when reviewing a judgment against a corporation, “courts must ensure that the measure of punishment is both reasonable and proportionate to the amount of harm.” But when it’s about people (yes, even criminals are people), neither standard applies.

Both Sam Heldman and Nathan Newman wrote about these decisions, and neither could detect a principled basis to give corporations greater constitutional rights than individuals. If anything, the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of “cruel and unusual punishment” provides a strong textual basis for deciding Ewing and Andrade the opposite way. There’s nothing in the text of the 14th Amendment to justify federal constitutional review of excessive state court punitive damages awards on the grounds of fundamental fairness.

But you won’t hear from those conservatives who demand that courts stop legislating and stick to the words of the constitution, because in State Farm, they got the result they wanted.

This corporations-matter-more-than-people philosophy has swept the country. We’re cutting taxes on capital but raising them on labor. Businesses have our blessing to lobby for tax breaks and contracts, but if parents with disabled kids want to fight for their programs, they’re just some special interest.

The Goldwater Institute can raise more than half its money from nine contributors, each giving more than $100,000 in tax-deductible dollars and who undoubtedly get back far more than that in tax breaks and pet legislation, and it’s a respected think tank. Scottsdale firefighters can decide they need to organize to protect their lives, pensions, and community, and they’re a grubby union.

Sure, I believe corporations deserve due process and fundamental fairness. My problems is that I think actual people do, too. Just a dreamer, I guess.

Friday, April 11, 2003

Here's More of What Liberals Are Doing, Oh Mr. Instapundit

Marla Smith-Nilson is from a small town in southern Arizona, and a Flinn Foundation Scholar. (The Flinn Foundation runs a program which selects outstanding students from around the state and pays for their education at one of the three state universities, plus provides support, international travel, and other assistance to these students. The hope is that outstanding high school students will stay in Arizona, rather than having our best human capital leave the state.) Smith-Nilson is now Director of International Programs for WaterPartners International (Motto: We envision the day when everyone in the world can take a safe drink of water), which has kicked off a campaign to help provide emergency water supplies and sanitation for Iraq.

If we have won the war, we now need to deliver on our promise of humanitarian aid. She send my wife Beth an email that people interested in helping can give to WaterPartners, but beyond the immediate crisis in Iraq, the organization also wants to educate people about the global water crisis in general:

You have probably seen the images on the news -- looting and lack of security in Iraq is preventing international relief organizations from entering the country with emergency supplies. Even the Red Cross, the only organization that has been operating in the country throughout the war, has suspended its Iraqi relief program until the situation is more secure for its workers. Other organizations are stockpiling their supplies in neighboring countries but are not sure when they will be able to get into the country. Some are providing limited relief efforts to areas outside of Baghdad and Basra. In the meantime, I am reading reports about children begging westerners for water, lining the streets trying to stop their vehicles.

The rebuilding of the water infrastructure in Iraq will take years. It has been in decline for the past two decades following a civil war with the Kurds, the war with Iran, the invasion of Kuwait, the first Gulf war, UN sanctions, and now this war. Iraq's water situation was in a crisis state even before the war: since 1989, the number of people with access to safe water supplies has dropped from 92% to a staggering 11%. In this same time period, infant mortality rates have risen over 150%, and 70% of the deaths of children in Iraq are caused by water-related diseases. Given the war and resulting chaos, the situation can only be described as grim.

To help WaterPartners with their Iraq initiative, click here. You also can mail a donation payable to WaterPartners International to P.O. Box 654, Columbia, MO 65205-0654. Please note that the donation is for Iraq.

Sunday, April 06, 2003

A Muffler Shop Is Sacred, But Kids Are Disposable

I enjoyed the bit in the Diamondbacks' announcement of their gift, that it was the largest in team history. That stretches back, what, five years? But despite the headline chosen by my editor at The Tribune, this has nothing to do with generosity and everything to do with the proper role of government.

Unkindest Cuts

East Valley Tribune, Apr. 6, 2003

The Arizona Diamondbacks organization did a wonderful thing this past week, announcing the largest charitable donation in team history -- $100,000 -- for research into autism. The team also committed to give another $100,000 in the future.

It’s not clear if the gift is an immediate payment or a multi-year pledge, but assume that the D’Backs will give $200,000 to help cure autism this year and next. It’s a tremendous gift, and everybody involved deserves our praise and acknowledgment.

But the team’s generosity is a mere drop in the bucket compared to the Arizona Legislature plans for autistic kids -- in the other direction.

The GOP leadership budget proposes to cut $51 million from programs for children with developmental disabilities. About 1,600 kids would lose their services. And if you think that the Legislature will restore those cuts next year or the year after -- well, that’s not just gullible, that’s so out of touch with reality that you probably need therapy, too.

The Diamondbacks’ total gift represents less than 0.2 percent of what the GOP plans to slash from therapy for these kids in just one year. Every politician who says that charitable giving will replace government programs is either being deceitful or hoping that you stay ignorant of the numbers involved. The largest single gift in state history to autism research is some three orders of magnitude less than the GOP leadership’s proposed cuts.

Also, like many other charitable donors, the Diamondbacks committed their money to research. The funds won’t provide services to autistic kids who need help now. That’s only sensible; there’s no way to treat 1,600 kids with these severe disabilities for only $100,000 a year. That’s why it costs $51 million.

No private donation would make a difference in meeting that vast need. No donor wants to give money to solve 0.2 percent of a problem. Only state government has the financial power to make a difference in the vast and relentless task of helping children with developmental disabilities reach their fullest individual capacities.

Let’s hope and pray that the Diamondbacks’ gift helps find a cure for autism in the future. Meanwhile, what happens to children with developmental disabilities until that cure gets discovered? Are the kids just supposed to wait and hope that cure is somehow retroactive?

What kind of legislative leadership believes that years of a child’s life -- heck, crucial years of some 1,600 children’s lives -- just don’t count? Will autistic kids magically get two or three years of their lives back when the economy improves and the GOP perhaps acknowledges other priorities than cutting taxes? Yeah, right.

These numbers-matter-more-than-people Republicans probably want to tell kids with developmental disabilities that they should stop looking for government handouts and pick themselves up by their bootstraps. Too bad that these are kids we’re talking about, kids with problems that prevent them from communicating or understanding such concepts, much less acting on them. But that’s what’s driving the GOP budget proposals, an ideology that ignores real-world results affecting real people.

The GOP legislature also is trying to limit local governments’ use of condemnation, where a city can acquire property through legal action. Of course, the city must pay just compensation, but “Fast Eddie” Farnsworth and his buddies argue that each piece of property is unique, and people shouldn’t be forced to sell even if they receive full value.

Meanwhile, if Fast Eddie gets his way, some 1,600 kids -- whom you might think are unique, too -- will lose all their services and their hopes for fuller, more productive lives for at least a couple of years.

That’s the Arizona Legislature for you: A muffler shop is sacred; kids are disposable.

Thursday, April 03, 2003

Lori Sturdevant Gets It

Check out this column, from the Minneapolis Star Tribune (March 30, 2003), about whether Minnesota should try to duplicate Arizona's cut-taxes-at-all-costs (and we mean at all costs) strategy that has made us worst in crime, second-worst in high school drop outs, third-worst in teen pregnancy, fifth-worst in child poverty, and fourth-worst in voter turnout.

I guess it all depends on what you mean by "success."

Tuesday, April 01, 2003

Test posting.
We Have to Pay for a War? Who Knew?

You know how conservatives always say that liberals must hate America? I think it's far more true that conservatives must hate Americans--at least if their Arizona budget plan is any guide. It's all these autistic kids' fault--they should be told that they should lift themselves up by their bootstraps and not rely on government handouts. They won't understand, of course, but forget about therapy; maybe ideology can cure them!

Fiscal Folly

East Valley Tribune, Mar. 30, 2003

How about these so-called conservatives? Based on their budget, they love humanity. It’s people they can’t stand.

Why else would they want to eliminate services for some 1,200 abused and neglected children? Too bad about the abuse, kids, but the GOP legislative leadership wants to neglect you, too.

And we apparently need more tolerance for domestic violence during a recession. The GOP budget cuts 20,000 emergency shelter beds for women and children escaping from battering and abuse. That’s the Republican plan -- get smacked around by your boyfriend, then again by the Legislature.

The leadership’s budget increases spending on highways, but kicks 50,000 kids off health insurance. By eliminating funding to community health centers, some 47,800 people lose access to primary care. Really, who needs their health when they should be driving SUVs instead?

This is what the GOP legislative leadership wants to do. This is their plan. This is their “vision” for Arizona.

Victims of child abuse, domestic violence, and autism just don’t matter. It’s not about raising taxes, either. Gov. Napolitano’s budget doesn’t make these cuts, and doesn’t raise taxes. But the GOP can’t support her because they claim there’s “too much borrowing.” So childhood immunizations, day care, and treatment programs get slashed and trashed.

It’s an embarrassingly flimsy justification for kids, the elderly, and the ill bearing all the burdens of GOP ideology. First, these borrowing mechanisms are time-tested techniques applied by legions of GOP governors, here and elsewhere. Revenue bonding, rollovers, jiggering the fiscal year calendar; the GOP has done them all with the aid and comfort of these same so-called “fiscal conservatives.”

In 2000, when governor of Texas -- during the height of the economic boom -- George W. Bush used an 11-month fiscal year to create bogus expenditure numbers justifying a tax cut. These same numbers-matter-more-than-people Republicans considered that just peachy.

But more flagrantly, we now have a $330 billion federal deficit under Bush’s watch that’s headed north of $400 billion. (We have to pay for a war? Who knew?) We’re supposed to kick autistic kids out of treatment because of fear of -- gasp! -- revenue bonding when the federal government is spending money it doesn’t have with previously-unimaginable abandon?

Suddenly, whether a deficit is bad depends solely on which level of government is involved? And if what the president does has no bearing on what we do in Arizona, then what was all that hot air about Clinton’s flawed moral example?

The latest insult to kids and domestic violence victims and the mentally ill comes from Tom Patterson of the Goldwater Institute, who urges a “temporary” or “short term” cutback in such programs until -- well, it’s not really clear until what. But that’s how those conservatives think, as if these kids will take a year or two off from Princeton, then pick up where they left off. If your kid is autistic at age 7, he’ll probably still be autistic at age 9 when the recession ends, right?

If you think these conservatives will urge resuming treatment and health insurance programs when the economy recovers, then I guess you’ll believe anything.

Face it -- it’s a test. If the GOP can get away with leaving domestic violence victims out in the street, they’ll start going after the big bucks. Public health. State universities. Education. Honestly, how vital are second and tenth grade, anyway? Once accounting principles become more important than people, there’s no telling what they’ll “accomplish.”

So legislators, which is more important: Two or three years of an autistic child’s life, or the Goldwater Institute’s dislike of spending rollovers?

Here’s the frightening part: To “Fast Eddie” Farnsworth and his pals, that’s a really tough question.