Tuesday, December 26, 2006

It's Kidneys, Doc, Kidneys!

I really did get emails from one reader who lost her brother to kidney disease and who claimed she didn't know that ESRD is covered by Medicare. She thought it was the wonders of the market. I wonder if she's tried to purchase health insurance lately. I figure it can't hurt to confront these libertarians with reality every now and then.

Most of the statistics in this column came, directly or indirectly, from Medicare’s End Stage Renal Disease Program, by Paul W. Eggers, Ph.D. of the National Institute of Diabetes, Digestive, and Kidney Diseases at NIH, published in Health Care Financing Review (Fall 2000). Additional background on the political origins (and need for) the ESRD diagnosis can be found in Daniel M. Fox, Power and Illness: The Failure and Future of American Health Policy (University of California Press, 1993), at 76-77.

Bonus points if you know the setup to the punchline above, provided you're no longer in elementary school.

East Valley Tribune, Dec. 24, 2006

Some Bush-supporting dead-enders, upset at criticism of the Iraq war, have demanded the name of one government program that actually works. So let’s consider the Medicare end stage renal disease (ESRD) program. It’s not perfect, but since 1973, over 1 million people have had their lives extended or saved -- by socialized medicine.

Even people who should know better don’t understand how dialysis and kidney transplants became widely available. One reader lost her brother to kidney disease forty years ago; she thought market forces made dialysis cheaper, just too late for her brother. She simply didn’t know -- or her ideology wouldn’t let her know -- that it was government’s doing.

Today’s dialysis machines date back to 1960, and successful kidney transplants from cadavers became common a few years later -- early enough that her brother might have been saved. But until 1973, treatment was extremely costly; dialysis machines were rare, and most health insurance didn’t cover such "experimental" treatments. Physicians rationed care, deciding whether the mother of young children, or the older business executive, or the teenager should get the last dialysis slot. If you didn’t win, you died.

Not surprisingly given a subjective rationing system, patients getting dialysis didn’t quite reflect the population with kidney disease. In 1967, patients were overwhelmingly male (75 percent), white (91 percent), and young (only 7 percent 55 or older). By 1978, after the government became involved, patients were evenly balanced between men and women, blacks represented 35 percent, and 46 percent were 55 or older.

It took about a decade for the political system to make kidney care widely available. A Johnson administration advisory committee concluded that the benefits of dialysis and kidney transplantation far exceeded the disease’s costs. Five years later, Congress amended Medicare to cover ESRD -- a political diagnosis essentially invented to convert a chronic disease into an acute condition so it Medicare could cover it.

The ESRD program kept expanding, both in terms of coverage and patient numbers. Part of the latter increase comes from the dramatic increase in diabetes incidence; in 1978, 10 percent of patients in ESRD program had kidney failure from diabetes, but by 1998, 45 percent did. Additional advances also have allowed more medically fragile patients, and especially patients over age 65, to receive dialysis. Finally, Congress has expanded the program several times, although per capita and inflation-adjusted reimbursement rates are considerably lower than twenty years ago.

Not everybody qualifies for ESRD treatment under Medicare; it’s an entitlement only for those fully or currently insured for Social Security benefits, or a spouse or dependent. But those are not exacting requirements, so approximately 92 percent of persons with ESRD qualify for Medicare coverage. Thus, we have nearly, but not quite, universal coverage for nephritis under a socialized system, where every wage earner’s Social Security taxes help fund medical care for everybody, regardless of means, suffering from end-stage renal disease.

Yes, people who should know better don’t understand the role that government played in making dialysis and transplants widely available, so that losing kidney function wouldn’t mean death unless you won the rationing lottery. You’ll see ‘wingers complain about restrictions on dialysis in New Zealand, without acknowledgement that dialysis is widely available in the U.S., especially to elderly patients, only because Medicare covers it.

Ask anybody with kidney disease if they want to go back to the way life was in 1972, before big, bad government got involved. Start with those 1 million people who had their lives extended by Medicare; ask if they want to return to having doctors decide who shall live and who shall die.

Medicare ESRD is a government program of socialized medicine. It’s not perfect; lots of advocates want better reimbursement, especially for home dialysis, and there have been lots of not-nearly-as-successful government programs. But the next time you mindlessly parrot that government’s the problem, remember Medicare ESRD and those 1 million people.

As Matthew Holt once put it, remember that government spending led to the creation of the Internet and biotechnology; the market created reality TV.

Monday, December 18, 2006

War Isn't Like Poker (and Life Isn't Like a River)

For this week's column, I'm not sure the headline is right. My suggestion wasn't much better, but isn't the Bush administration's belief that you play for victory--unless it jeopardizes (not requires) tax cuts? That if raising taxes would guarantee victory in Iraq, well, we'd take our chances in Iraq? Well, it's weird either way. My original suggestion was "Iraq is the most important thing -- except for tax cuts" but this is how it got translated into newsprint.

You can click on links to some of the "double down" neocon articles, if you want to see the poker analogy in its natural habitat. It doesn't make any more sense in context.

East Valley Tribune, Dec. 17, 2006

By hiring a new football coach, Arizona State University has let the terrorists win.

That’s a pretty stupid theory, but it’s being pushed by the neoconservatives and other Bush administration enablers about Iraq. They claim that our enemies are banking on the American public’s weakness of will. Victory depends on the enemy knowing that we’ll do whatever it takes to win, that our capacity to inflict and absorb pain is so much greater than theirs.

The terrorists are supposedly media-savvy, designing their activities mainly based on how they’ll play in the U.S. press. We’re allegedly too susceptible to fretting over bad news and too fearful of casualties. We don’t understand that it’s absolutely vital that once the Bush administration decides on a course of action, no matter how seriously wrong-headed, the nation simply cannot turn back. Under their military theories, you don’t ever dare stop throwing good money after bad; instead, you keep increasing the bet. War, they say, is like poker; if you raise the stakes enough, you can win.


Did I say this theory was stupid? The poker analogy is particularly pathetic, because winning by raising the stakes depends on the other players not throwing good money after bad, to save their chips for the next hand. It’s also, as Matthew Yglesias notes, bad poker strategy because of the difference between the U.S. military -- which can leave Iraq -- and the Iraqis, who can’t. How do you bluff a player who’s already "all in"?

It’s also stupid because who, exactly, in Iraq is the enemy we’re trying to impress with our strength of will? Is it al Qaeda in Iraq, a marginal foreign presence? Former Ba’ath party officials? The Sunnis? Muqtada al-Sadr? The Iranian-backed Shi’a political parties, like the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, or SCIRI -- whose leader, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, met with President Bush earlier this month? It’s hard to know which group upon which we must train our superior mental powers to make sure they understand the firmness of our resolve.

But the usual analogy isn’t that war is like poker (now there’s a slogan for McCain 2008: "Iraq -- a good bet at the time!") Instead, it’s football that’s like war. And if you win wars not by having the right leadership, strategy, and personnel, but rather by having enough willpower and resolve, then why did ASU bother hiring a new coach?

Shouldn’t ASU instead have demonstrated its superior strength of will by keeping Dirk Koetter, thus proving to our enemies that we simply won’t admit defeat, that our ability to absorb punishment far exceeded their ability to dish it out, and that our resources are inexhaustible and our resolve implacable? Isn’t replacing an underperforming coaching staff simply a distraction from demonstrating the willpower needed to triumph over our opponents? If wars are won and lost over the other side’s perceptions of our strengths and weaknesses, why not football games?

You’d never send a football team, at any level, out on the field armed solely with a bizarre theory that victory depends solely on "will." You also don’t tell them we want "victory" without first giving them a scoreboard and a game plan, two subtleties still eluding President Bush. You’d want some recruiting, preparation, and execution, then you’d try to pump everybody up at game time with pep talks about wanting it more than the other guys. Otherwise, we’d choose coaches based on oratory, not recruiting skill.


The most laughable part of the "willpower" theory is that even the most dead-end Republicans don’t really believe that the war in Iraq is the absolutely most important issue our country faces. Just ask what they’d do if winning the Iraq war depended on (gasp!) raising taxes.

With more money, we could pay more soldiers and reservists and reconstruct Iraq. We even could bribe more Iraqis. But if winning in Iraq wouldn’t make Republicans willing to reinstate the tax rates on the wealthiest we had during the 1990’s boom, then why, oh why, would we consider sending even more troops on this undefined mission, with no good ending possible?

Monday, December 11, 2006

Get Your Fresh ISG Backlash Here!

It's time for across-ideological-boundaries backlash for the Iraq Study Group! Obscure headline, but it's all my creation, I hope you get it.

East Valley Tribune, Dec. 10, 2006

It was "hooray for bipartisanship" week in Washington, as the wise men and woman of the Iraq Study Group finally issued their long-awaited report. The report is quite definite about our serious, and increasing, problems in Iraq. On solutions, it’s backside-covering mush, but it’s not like anybody else has a better plan.

The report is quite stark on the problems with Bush administration’s policy and the grimness of the current situation. Forget all the happy talk and Bush’s plan-of-the-month club. Whether it’s stay the course or stay the course-light or even barbeque-flavored-stay-the-course, the situation in Iraq is "grave" and "deteriorating." And, you’ll note, this occurred before Nancy Pelosi becomes Speaker of the House, so don’t blame her.

All you people who insisted that the media was exaggerating the problems in Iraq, that the reality was better than the "if-it-bleeds-it-leads" reporting, and that the day of glorious victory is just around the corner? You’re wrong.

The wise guys and gal, on page 94, said that the Bush administration has engaged in "significant under-reporting of the violence in Iraq" due to a tracking system designed to minimize Iraqi deaths. The reporting standards excluded attacks on Iraqis where the source could not be readily determined; attacks not resulting in U.S. casualties also weren’t counted. The ISG’s conclusion: "Good policy is difficult to make when information is systematically collected in a way that minimizes its discrepancy with policy goals."

That may be a bit opaque for lay readers, so let me translate into plainer English: In the Bush administration, when reality differs from ideology, it’s reality that’s biased.

The ISG report’s recommendations, however, are easily picked apart, mainly because there really aren’t any good options left. Conservatives demand that we try harder to win, but except in comic books, strength of will doesn’t win wars; I’d rather depend on technical expertise, sufficient forces and firepower, and having a competent strategy. Next time, try having the basics covered before starting a war, and let willpower take care of itself.

It’s not particularly troublesome that the ISG recommendations don’t seem militarily realistic, and are sufficiently vague that they could be used to justify immediately withdrawing combat troops or increasing the U.S. commitment. It’s also not practical to imagine the FBI and Justice and State Departments suddenly placing thousands of career bureaucrats into body armor and Arabic-language courses to help create a functioning Iraqi civil society. It’s also plainly foreseeable that President Bush won’t adopt many of these recommendations, even when they called it a "diplomatic offensive" hoping that sounds more macho than asking the administration to talk to other countries for their help.

No, what bothers me is all this folderol about wise men, bipartisanship, and comity. David Broder went over the edge when he described the members of the ISG as having undergone "an exhilarating experience, a demonstration of genuine bipartisanship that they hope will serve as an example to the broader political world."

Yes, isn’t it wonderful? We created an evenly-balanced (5 Republicans and 5 Democrats, 9 men and 1 woman, 9 whites and 1 black -- that’s balance for you!) commission and let them solve all our problems in a bipartisan, polite, unanimous way. Apparently, the only thing more important than democracy is civility.

Yes, bipartisanship is such a wonderful thing. Just think how useful this structure could have been only a few years ago. Instead of that nasty, partisan, and contentious impeachment, we could have convened a similar group, evenly balanced between Republicans and Democrats. They could have investigated President Clinton in secret then, with great fanfare, issued a report that would have been a model of civility and unanimity, coming up with a way to disapprove of his behavior without, well, making an unseemly fuss.

Now that Bush has thoroughly messed up Iraq far beyond the powers of even James Baker to fix, now you want bipartisan civility? Kids, you should have thought of that during the last president’s term.
Obscure Political Sports Analogies

You don't expect the Jewish kid to use a boxing analogy, do you? Well, maybe you should.

I also gave Paul Davenport a different sport analogy, noting that last spring conservatives opposed to gay marriage were upset with the GOP-controlled legislature for only having the votes to put on the ballot a constitutional referendum that would have banned gay marriage. Outraged that it wouldn't also prohibit domestic partnership arrangements, they instead gathered signatures for the combo initiative-- which gave opponents their message and means to defeat the initiative. So here's a perfect example of Republicans who not only were out of the mainstream; they were aground on the right bank and left to wonder why the canoe wasn't moving.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Fife and Me -- A History

Here's some ancient Arizona political history, triggered by the unsuccessful candidacy of former Gov. Fife Symington for chair of the GOP committee in Legislative District 11. It's internal political party politics, a topic about which I unfortunately know something. Being chair of a state party, as many of you have heard me say, is like taking small children to a fancy restaurant. You always want people to say when you leave, "I wish you could have stayed longer."

My editor enjoyed the local color and gave me more space than usual. Everyone's still in a bit of shock that the D's picked up one of the seats in this district in the state house.

East Valley Tribune, Dec. 3, 2006

Fife Symington, I feel your pain.

Which feels pretty odd, especially knowing our history. I once was on Fife’s holiday gift list (Cookies from Home -- nice choice). I represented the permanent lender for Symington’s Mercado project. When the loan closed, we were friends. Once he had to repay it, no more.

Trying to stave off bankruptcy, he sued me personally. I was a witness in his bankruptcy trial, and both of us testified in the lawsuit between the Mercado’s permanent and construction lenders. The jury returned a verdict for my former client, convincing me of the accuracy of a poll of 12 registered voters.

Politically, we similarly moved farther apart. Fife started as a moderate, back when moderation was cool. As governor, he appointed good people, like Chris Herstam as chief of staff, Ed Fox at environmental quality, and Betsy Rieke at water resources. He campaigned as the alternative to the failed ideology of Evan Mecham, then as governor started channeling Evan Mecham. Now he’s the most anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage Harvard College grad around.


After my defeat in the 1994 GOP wave, I got elected chairman of the state Democratic Party, where much of my role consisted of Fife Symington jokes -- after his bankruptcy filing, political comedy gold. Assisted by Symington’s continuing ethical and political troubles, Bill Clinton carried Arizona in the 1996 election, the first for a Democrat since 1948. But Symington couldn’t squawk much about Clinton, not after getting one of Clinton’s last-minute pardons.

I now also share with Fife, besides residing in Legislative District 11, an unsuccessful political party election. Last month, Symington ran for chair of the District 11 GOP committee, and lost 215-166 to incumbent chair Rob Haney.

Haney is reportedly (permalinks don't work; scroll down to "Fife's Running") a tireless grassroots organizer who recruited most of the district’s precinct committeepeople, who elect the chair. He also detests Sen. John McCain, another District 11 resident. Haney won approval of resolutions censuring McCain from both District 11 and the Maricopa County GOP committee, embarrassing a potential presidential candidate.

Besides Symington, an entire slate ran for District 11 GOP office to try to limit some of the intra-GOP squabbling, with endorsements from Sen. Jon Kyl and Reps. John Shadegg, Jeff Flake, and Rick Renzi. (McCain stayed out of the fray, but notable by her absence was state Sen. Barbara Leff, who is now officially as right-wing as they come.) Despite the endorsements, Fife’s entire slate lost -- big.

In my case, eight years ago, after being a congressman and State Chair, I ran from my district for the state Democratic Party committee. Like Fife, I wanted to unseat the incumbent state chair, a buffoon with a knack for shooting other Democrats in the foot. Unfortunately, his true-believer supporters thought actually winning elections was for sissies, so I lost.

The Haney faction is only following the advice of Matthew Dowd, President Bush’s former pollster, who believes most independent voters almost always vote with one party. Using Dowd’s research, Karl Rove instructed Bush not to govern from the center, but rather by rallying the base and dragging along rightward-leaning independents.

But Dowd’s analysis may not hold up, because the base can devour endless red meat and only clamor for more. A twice-elected former governor and the most hawkish GOP senator were insufficiently conservative for District 11 true believers, who wanted their carrion even more right-wing -- potentially too right-wing for many independents.

There are few things less worthwhile than internal political party elections and bickering. Like faculty politics, it’s so vicious because the stakes are so low. And one of your greatest burdens as a candidate or public official is the vitriol from those exhausting true believers theoretically on your side. They proclaim loudly that they stand on principle, but it sure seems like petty squabbling over personalities.

In Congress, I was tormented, with a viciousness that even Rob Haney might admire, by people who thought the most important issue facing our country was The School of the Americas. (Go Google it, and see that on the Internet, nobody knows your issue is a dog.) And don’t get me started about the 2000 Nader campaign. Thanks again, Ralph.


A major accomplishment of the long, dark night of the Bush administration is convincing Democrats we have more important battles than intramural ones. It’s bad for the state, but as a Democrat, I’m delighted that Republicans want to mimic our worst mistakes -- and even more delighted if the GOP wants to convert “independent in name only” voters into actual independents.

While District 11 has an 18-point GOP registration edge, there also are over 20,000 registered independents -- 21 percent. If you can only be a Republican if you’re a real true believer, then Democrats may keep finding common cause with those independents and “soft” Republicans.

District 11 independents may be becoming more independent than Republicans would like. They certainly had no problem voting for both Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano and Republican Sen. Kyl -- and Democratic state Rep.-elect Mark DeSimone thanks them, too.
Yet Another Race Update

Sunday was the Fiesta Bowl-Runner's Den half marathon in Scottsdale, and while I was 31 seconds--31 seconds!--short of my goal of breaking 1:50, I did improve my time from last year by over 8-and-a-half minutes, and it's a new PR for the distance at 1:50:31 (gun time, not chip time, too). Maybe next time I'll do better if I haven't donated blood 4 days before the race. It's a pretty fast crowd; the third fastest male in my age group finished in 1:32, and there's no way that's happening for me. If I make it to age 80, only then would I have a chance. Nice T-shirt, though.

Monday, November 27, 2006

The Annual Ask (The Now-Traditional Tax Credit Column)

It's my Thanksgiving weekend special "evergreen" column, urging Arizona taxpayers to take advantage of our unusual brew of state income tax credits that allow you to make donations and receive the same amount back in a tax credit. It's philanthropy on the cheap, and I keep urging people to practice in hopes that it creates the learned behavior of philanthropy even when it isn't free.

The newspaper version of the column is available, for the next two weeks, here. And just so you know, not only will we be writing our usual checks to Devereux, the Family School, and the Clean Elections Fund, but I've got my appointment to give blood on Thursday. Cookies without guilt, too.

Holiday Greetings from State Tax Code
East Valley Tribune, Nov. 26, 2006

Each year around this time, this column reminds readers of Arizona’s surprisingly numerous ways to be generous for free. It’s a strange "generosity" that costs nothing, and like much recent legislation, you first must have money to benefit.

In addition to having cash to spare for a few months, you also must itemize deductions, and sometimes the Alternative Minimum Tax affects your results. But if you qualify and make contributions, you get dollar-for-dollar credits against your state income taxes, with your federal taxes unaffected by swapping a state tax deduction for charitable ones. And for 2006, the credit amounts for married taxpayers have increased again.

There’s a "reverse Robin Hood" aspect to income tax credits, because better-off taxpayers can take advantage, while those just getting by can’t. But that’s the way it is, so if you can, whoosh yourself through several Arizona tax loopholes before Dec. 31.


First, contribute to a "private school tuition organization" this year, and become eligible for an Arizona income tax credit in April. The credit limit is now $500 for individuals and $1,000 for married couples.

There are dozens of PSTOs in Arizona, but please consider writing your check to Schools With Heart, 1131 E. Highland, Phoenix, AZ 85014; designate your check for the Family School, a unique, progressive school serving children from diverse backgrounds.

Second, taxpayers also can donate to public schools -- although this being Arizona, of course it’s smaller than the private school credit. Single taxpayers can give and get back up to $200, while the limit for married taxpayers is now $400. You must write the check directly to the school, not to a PTO or foundation.

So contribute to the schools in the Isaac School District, 3348 W. McDowell Road, Phoenix, AZ 85009, or click here, or call (602) 455-6700. Inner-city Isaac gets only a fraction of the donations given to wealthier suburban districts while facing far greater challenges, with more than 90 percent of its students at or below poverty level and about two-thirds in non-English-speaking homes. Please make Arizona school finance slightly less perverse by contributing to Isaac’s schools, at no net cost to you.

Third, donations to charities assisting low-income residents can get another tax credit, if your gift is above your "baseline" charitable giving (what you gave to charity in 1996, or the first year you itemized). This credit amounts to $200 for single taxpayers and $400 for couples.

As a board trustee, I strongly urge you to make a free contribution to Devereux Arizona, part of the nation’s largest nonprofit behavioral health service provider. Devereux serves children in Arizona in foster care and residential programs, many of whom come from abusive or neglectful homes; that’s why they need foster care. Devereux’s "My Little Stocking" fund pays for holiday gifts for children who otherwise won’t get any. Send your check to Devereux at 11000 N. Scottsdale Road, Suite 260, Scottsdale, AZ 85254, click here, or call (480) 998-2920 ext. 1023.

Fourth, you can help fund Arizona’s system of publicly-financed elections and take the place of lobbyists and political fundraisers, at no cost to you. These limits are surprisingly high; $550 for individuals and $1,100 for couples, or up to 20% of your total state tax liability, whichever is more. Send your check to the Citizens Clean Election Fund at 1616 W. Adams, Suite 110, Phoenix, AZ 85007.


Finally, I always close by urging donations of something else that won’t cost anything -- blood. The holidays always seem to stretch blood supplies, so it’s a perfect time to schedule a donation. You can call United Blood Services at (602) 431-9500, or make an appointment online.

Don’t let December 31 come without having taken as much advantage as you can of Arizona’s unusually broad menu of loopholes and credits. Use misguided public policy to help make our community a slightly better place, at no cost to you. And maybe you’ll get into the habit of giving even when you don’t get a tax credit.

Monday, November 20, 2006

It's All Over Including The Shouting

The Maricopa County Recorder finished with the last ballots on Sunday afternoon, and while the percentages between Mitchell and Hayworth narrowed (by 0.2 percent), the number of votes separating them increased to over 8,000. But because Hayworth refused to concede for so long, his congressional office in Washington wasn't made available in the office lottery -- and Harry inherits it. So as a freshman, he gets a Rayburn office with a view of the Capitol dome, and assuming reelection in 2008, he has to move to a much less nice office; but for now, he has quite the DC spread.

Of course, now that the last vote's been counted, Harry will have to declare victory, and the gloating season officially ends. Darn. I was really enjoying gloating.

In the state legislature, the D's picked up one seat in the Senate and 6 in the House--and the 1 in the Senate is a big one, because we also swapped a squishy D for a strong one, and in the seat we picked up, we traded a squishy R who usually voted the right way, but it was always a pain-in-the-butt struggle, for a strong D as well. It's only a one-vote swing but it's a LOT less work for the good guys. And in the House, the D's have enough numbers now to have some fun if there aren't enough R's on the floor. Onward and upward.

East Valley Tribune, Nov. 19, 2006

Sometimes free advice is worth even less than what you paid for it, especially when it comes from people with a strong interest in your failure. So lots of conservatives are racing to explain to Democrats why we won and what we need to do now that we’ve won -- and we’d be nuts to listen.

These same people told us that after losing the popular vote in 2000, George Bush would have to govern from the center and find bipartisan cooperation if he hoped to succeed, and we know how that worked out. These folks also said after 2004 that Democrats were doomed by gerrymandered districts, the GOP’s fundraising edge, and the Republicans’ top secret early voting and get-out-the-vote efforts, the tactics that led to Harry Mitchell actually increasing his lead over J.D. Hayworth. They also predicted that the Republicans would win a veto-proof margin in the Arizona Legislature so they’d finally be able to show Janet "63 percent" Napolitano exactly who was boss.

There’s a bit of irony in people who have been so spectacularly wrong in the past getting to make such fresh, new predictions that, when reduced to their essence, translate into "I was right all along" -- despite what the scoreboard says. Apparently, as a pundit, you spin the failure of your predictions as confirmation of your wisdom.

So we have the effort to pretend that the incoming Congress is somehow more conservative than this one, because both moderate and conservative Democrats won and supposedly only moderate Republicans lost. This fallacious argument is a tougher sell in Arizona than elsewhere, because it takes world-class spinning to pretend that new District 8 Rep.-elect Gabrielle Giffords is more conservative than Randy Graf and that Mitchell is more conservative than Hayworth. (If you define "conservative" as "less obnoxious," then maybe, but otherwise forget it.)

It also requires ignoring that a lot of what happens in Washington isn’t ideological, but rather personal and institutional. Lots of people outside the House Democratic caucus were hyperventilating over the contest for majority leader between Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., and Rep. Jack Murtha, D-Pa., as a battle for the Democratic Party’s soul between moderates and fire-breathing liberals. Murtha was the great liberal champion, yet he’s a decorated Marine Corps vet, a committed hawk, and a pro-life Catholic. Never mind "litmus tests," what are the odds that Republicans would seriously entertain making a pro-choice politician one of their key legislative leaders?

Even more absurd are the explanations of Republican defeat that manage to mention all sorts of issues, missteps, and scandals that plagued the GOP, except one itty-bitty problem: Iraq. Isn’t it remarkable how the "central front in the War on Terror" is suddenly no longer worth talking about? Before the election, the war was supposedly the most important part of the supposedly most important issue, but now it’s not worth even a mention in the post-election post-mortems.

I realize we’re patiently waiting for the wise men on the Baker-Hamilton Commission to come up with a bipartisan fog of plausible deniability for everyone with any responsibility for the war, but the unwillingness of Republicans to mention Iraq at all is deafening. They’re already excited about the next war against Iran, apparently -- with their plan for Iran resembling the planning for post-war Iraq, where we went in with the first two soundbites and thought we’d wing it from there.

Then there’s the "conservatism hasn’t lost, conservatism hasn’t been tried" trope. I look forward to Republicans going to the American people for support for "real" right-wing ideas, like Social Security privatization, rolling back environmental protections, and convincing people who haven’t gotten tax cuts that we need to give renewed tax cuts to those that got them already. These people think Republicans lost because what Americans really wanted was, yes, "uncompassionate conservatism."

On behalf of those Democrats elected this month, here’s my worth-less-than-its-cost advice for Republicans: Please, please, please be even more conservative -- and thank you for your support.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

AZ GOP Kremlinology

What on earth does this paragraph in Billy House's story in Saturday's Arizona Republic mean?
Shadegg would not say so Friday, but his efforts to defeat Blunt may have been hindered by fellow Arizona GOP Rep. J.D. Hayworth, who is steamed over his defeat last week by Democrat Harry Mitchell.

In angry comments to fellow House Republicans this week in Washington, Hayworth has been pointing to what he views as involvement by Shadegg and fellow Arizona Rep. Jeff Flake in negative pre-election depictions of him and other Republicans in some media.

Hayworth was not available for comment for this story.

"Involvement" in "negative pre-election depictions"? Are we still arguing about the Republic's endorsement of Mitchell editorial, or does Hayworth see any talk of "reform" or "principles" by Republicans as implicit criticism of him? No wonder the House Republicans reacted to talk about change by electing the same old guys. UPDATE: It wasn't the editorial, but rather The Wall Street Journal front-page article published on Nov. 3. Here's the Shadegg source-greaser that ran in today's paper.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

That Even The Blind Shall See

After the ballots counted today, Harry Mitchell has a larger lead than he did on election night. His margin has increased by 544 votes, to over 6,000 votes--6,499 to be precise. There are probably 20,000 ballots left to count in CD 5, but they are (as were today's count) apparently ballots cast closer to election day, after independents and marginal R's had started breaking for Mitchell. He's doing better than Hayworth did among those voters than Hayworth did with the earlier uncounted early ballots that couldn't be processed before counting stopped election night.

This result was pretty obvious to people who understand this stuff last week, but with these new numbers, maybe even the willfully obstinate will have to wake up and smell the coffee.

Monday, November 13, 2006

The Fall of America's Most Obnoxious Congressman

You can hum the lede to this week's column, if you want, or listen through the links below. Plus, a special bonus Pennypacker Hall reference, for those of you who knew me when.

Updates on my service as co-chair of Rep.-elect Mitchell's transition team are available here, here, and here. The streaming video of election night analysis on Horizon is available through this page; the transcript isn't available yet, but you can watch us discuss developing a new measurement unit for political vitriol, the Hayworth Standard Unit (as in, "That mailer was so negative, it was 8.3 Hayworths.")

They've counted about half of the outstanding ballots in Maricopa County, only about 22% of which are from District 5 (updates here), and it's affected the 6,000 vote election-day margin by all of 500 votes. So it's all over but the very tail end of the counting, but Hayworth (despite his bluster in 1996--apparently that only applies to other people, not to him) won't concede until the last vote is counted. Hopefully by then, he's very, very, very old news.

East Valley Tribune, Nov. 12, 2006

How was your Election Day? As Cole Porter might have written, mine was J.D.-lightful, J.D.-licious, and J.D.-lovely.

I'm enjoying watching Republicans spend maybe 30 seconds in introspection before blaming everybody else for last Tuesday's historic loss. Moderates say the GOP needs to be more moderate, while conservatives blame insufficient conservatism. Neo-conservatives call intervening in the Terry Schiavo case was a huge liability, while theo-cons say they didn't invent the neo-cons' Iraq quagmire.

Nobody likes Dennis Hastert anymore, and if Bill Frist hadn't retired, he'd be even less popular than Trent Lott. And if Karl Rove is such a genius, why were resources sent into Senate races in Michigan, New Jersey, and Maryland that might have made the difference in Montana or Virginia?

Candidates fault the Bush administration for a deeply unpopular and failed war in Iraq. Meanwhile, the administration anonymously blames the candidates for not going negative enough -- like you really needed to see more negative ads -- and for not sticking up for the administration's deeply unpopular and failed war in Iraq.

How many defeated Republicans watched Bush fire Rumsfeld the day after, wondering why that didn't happen months ago, when it might have helped? Contributors to soon-to-be-ex-Representative Hayworth, watching him affect an air of reasonableness and humility while waiting for all of the votes to be counted, must wonder why he didn't try that particular act during the campaign.

Some Republicans blame the other daily newspaper's endorsement of Harry Mitchell with Hayworth's historic loss. They're outraged! Hayworth, a bully? Who ever could think that?

Who? The Tribune for starters, which called Hayworth "bombastic," "boorish," and "an affront to his colleagues, an embarrassment for Arizona." (That was in 1996, before the editorial page went to libertarian re-education camp and joined the crusade to eliminate taxes on inherited wealth faced by, for example, the current owners of this newspaper.)

The National Republican Campaign Committee doesn't blame editorials; they've called Hayworth's defeat "self-inflicted." The NRCC isn't waiting for the counting of the last vote -- and ten years ago, neither did Hayworth.

In 1996, Hayworth's margin the morning after the election was only 590 votes. Hayworth declared victory anyway, not waiting for his opponent's concession, and spent the days needed to finish counting absentee and provisional ballots complaining loudly about any delay in confirming his victory.

While Hayworth admitted it was "theoretically not impossible" for his opponent to make up the difference, he said it was "so highly unlikely as to be akin to saying that the sun will not rise tomorrow morning." Mitchell's margin may shrink some in the final count, but he starts out with ten times the spread Hayworth had when he vociferously demanded that Steve Owens, his 1996 opponent, concede immediately.

Patiently counting every last vote wasn't important in 1996, because it wouldn't benefit Hayworth. Now that the shoe's on the other foot, so J.D. insists we wait until no possible combination of sunspots, Ouija boards, and incense could reverse the voters' judgment that after 12 years of Hayworth's ABC's (Abramoff, Bombast, and Corruption), enough was enough.

Residents of District 5 are lucky, however, because Harry Mitchell is now the most popular Democrat in Washington. In abject gratitude, the new Democratic majority will let Harry write his own ticket -- committee assignments, leadership opportunities -- as his reward for defeating America's Most Obnoxious Congressman.

There's a historic precedent, too. In 1980, GOP Rep. John LeBoutillier (not merely a college classmate, we lived in the same freshman dorm) got elected to the House, and decided to be as insufferable as possible to then-Speaker Tip O'Neill (calling him "big, fat, and out of control" -- like the federal government.) Two years later, Democrat Bob Mrazek defeated LeBoutillier, and O'Neill's gratitude made Mrazek not just a faceless backbencher, but a member of the Appropriations Committee as a freshman.

Harry Mitchell is 66, and he's already done more for his community than a dozen other people. But as long as he still wants to serve, he'll have some very grateful friends in Washington -- in the majority, too -- to help him do a very good job.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Here In Arizona, We Are J-D-Lighted

Because you can't check the results page too often in the CD-5 race, it's here. Best reaction quote? "Oh, how I'll miss the red face, the hair slicked back with sweat, the epic gasbaggery."

Harry Mitchell is now the most popular Democrat in DC.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Running and Spinning

It's quiet out there. Too quiet. And watch it take days until final votes are tallied in several key races. But no matter, I need to be ready to spin like a pro by 8:30 pm MST on Tuesday evening, when I'm part of the Horizon (Channel 8, PBS in Phoenix/Tempe) 4-person election panel. It was going to be me and two Republicans, one a lobbyist and the other a columnist, but I said forget about that. Eventually, the producer relented and we have a less conservative columnist joining the panel now. A small victory for balance. And that's PBS! Sheesh.

For those in Phoenix, Michael J. Fox is appearing at a get-out-the-vote rally at 4:30 pm this afternoon to support Jim Pederson and Harry Mitchell. It's at the Fiesta Inn at 2100 S. Priest Drive, the southwest corner of Broadway and Priest, in Tempe. Let me know if you want a copy of the flyer for the event but that's basically all it says.

Finally, a new PR at Sunday's Phoenix YMCA Half Marathon, 1:50:59. Couldn't manage to break 1:50 on a course with a 2-mile uphill grade at the finish, but that's over a minute and a half better than my previous best, an 8:29 pace, and a nice waystation for my Rock-n-Roll Marathon training. The vendor has posted two photos here; of course, as a guy, I'm busy playing with my watch, which I don't really understand how to operate and which I can't really read anymore without reading glasses, as soon as I crossed the finish line.
John Steinbeck Predicts Immigration As Campaign Issue

This week's column is a bit coded for those not following the races closely, but the Sunday before the election it's bad form to mention a candidate by name because he/she doesn't have a chance to respond. So the GOP incumbent recently cut loose by the otherwise-GOP-friendly Arizona Republic was J.D. Hayworth. If he loses, it's a wonderful day in Arizona and America, and Harry Mitchell becomes the most popular man in the House Democratic caucus. I thought "bluster" was a solid tip-off to those who needed to know the names involved. My suggested title, admittedly weak, is above but the editor didn't do all that much better. The Richard Rodriguez column I credit is well worth reading.

East Valley Tribune, Nov. 5, 2006

One of the biggest surprises this election season was the other daily newspaper abandoning a long-time GOP incumbent after five consecutive endorsements and instead endorsing his opponent. The paper claimed it hadn’t changed, but the incumbent had.

Surprisingly, there’s actually something to that claim. In 2004, basically the entire Arizona GOP congressional delegation opposed Proposition 200, the so-called “Protect Arizona Now” initiative that does nothing about absentee voting fraud but makes going to the polls a painstaking exercise in document reconstruction.

This was back when Republicans thought they could compete for the Hispanic vote, which lasted until the polls closed on November 2, 2004, and Prop. 200 passed. Seeing a roiling wave of anger over immigration building on talk radio and in the usual ‘winger hangouts, Republicans soon abandoned their Hispanic outreach program to jump in front of that particular parade. You never hear about all those incumbents having opposed Prop. 200 back in 2004; it’s been drowned out by their latest bluster over immigration.

We’ll see Tuesday who and what really has changed, so instead of the political implications, let’s discuss the cultural ones.

Much of today’s immigration debate is totally anti-historical, part of a natural inclination to think that we and our problems are completely unique. But despite all we say about our openness to new ideas and people, Americans have never been completely at ease with change while it’s occurring.

Benjamin Franklin complained in the 1750’s about those German immigrants with their languages and complexions different than “real” Americans. And the CATO Institute’s Richard Rodriguez pointed out that we demonize even other Americans when sufficiently threatened, recalling the moral outrage against folks from other states in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath:

In the West there was panic when the migrants multiplied on the highways. Men of property were terrified for their property. Men who had never been hungry saw the eyes of the hungry. Men who had never wanted anything very much saw the flare of want in the eyes of the migrants. And the men of the towns and of the soft suburban country gathered to defend themselves; and they reassured themselves that they were good and the invaders bad, as a man must do before he fights. They said, These goddamned Okies are dirty and ignorant. They’re degenerate, sexual maniacs. These goddamned Okies are thieves. They’ll steal anything. They’ve got no sense of property rights.

And the latter was true, for how can a man without property know the ache of ownership? And the defending people said, They bring disease, they’re filthy. We can’t have them in the schools. They’re strangers. How’d you like to have your sister go out with one of ‘em?

The local people whipped themselves into a mold of cruelty. Then they formed units, squads, and armed them -- armed them with clubs, with gas, with guns. We own the country. We can’t let these Okies get out of hand. And the men who were armed did not own the land, but they thought they did. And the clerks who drilled at night owned nothing, and the little storekeepers possessed only a drawerful of debts. But even a debt is something, even a job is something. The clerk thought, I get fifteen dollars a week. S’pose a goddamn Okie would work for twelve? And the little storekeeper thought, How could I compete with a debtless man?

Rodriguez points out one (of many) little contradictions inherent in our vision of ourselves as Americans. We live in the New World, far from “Old Europe” and we constantly denigrate all ideas not invented here. We don’t want French healthcare, Swedish socialism, or German labor unions. But children and grandchildren of immigrants from Ireland, Italy, and Russia are now outraged that America isn’t like some distant colony of England.

Even England isn’t like that mythical England -- and America never was. That would be the ultimate tragedy of all this misplaced anger, if Americans become more nostalgic than the British for a romanticized version of a past that never actually existed. Now that would be un-American.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Meet the New Plan, Same As the Old Plan

That was my proposed headline, but the editor's substitute (the regular editor was at the Freedom Newspapers libertarian re-education camp in Orange County) was more partisan. The newspaper version is here. Over the next 9 days, it's worth it to keep repeating exactly how badly these guys have blown it.

East Valley Tribune, Oct. 29, 2006

President Bush has officially cut-and-run from “stay the course.” As The Washington Post’s Peter Baker reported, “A phrase meant to connote steely resolve instead has become a symbol for being out of touch and rigid in the face of a war that seems to grow worse by the week” -- and that’s according to Republican political consultants.

Just as Oceania has always been at war with Eurasia, Republicans are now claiming that they’ve never wanted to “stay the course.” Hello, flexibility; goodbye, steely resolve and unerring gut instinct. Those latter qualities are so last month.

White House spokesman Tony Snow said all those previous “stay the course” statements are now inoperative, claiming that “What you have is not ‘stay the course’ but in fact a study in constant motion by the administration.” He wants us to believe that George W. Bush has become a dutiful student of reality, constantly tinkering with tactics and methods. And if you believe that, send me your money for Arizona Cardinals playoff tickets.

Bush isn’t changing tactics, or rethinking strategies; he’s only repeating new slogans for the same old slop. They’ve tried all this stuff already -- targets, troop reductions, into and out of and back into Baghdad -- and it’s all failed. Shouldn’t they at least put new lipstick on a different pig once in a while?

President Bush’s strategy for Iraq has had more sequels than the "Police Academy" movies -- and just like those sequels, it’s the exact same plot, with the exact same results; only the titles change, slightly.

Polls show that the American people are way ahead of the Bush administration and their GOP enablers in Congress. Republicans may hope otherwise, but a large majority has realized Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld don’t just lack a plan; they don’t have a clue.

Every step of the way -- relying on bad intelligence, rushing to war, not assembling a real coalition, not having nearly enough troops to maintain civil order, trying to convert wacko Heritage Foundation policy papers into the Iraqi legal system, disbanding the Iraqi army, failing to restore services, sending Republican hacks to staff the occupation, not adopting counterinsurgency tactics until too late, building permanent bases, not making training Iraqi military and police a priority -- well, you get the idea, every step of the way, Bush has gotten it wrong.

These are basic, fundamental, and huge mistakes, which war supporters can’t avoid with stupid Tet offensive analogies. If you “win the war but lose the peace,” you’ve lost because in both football and foreign policy, winning the first half doesn’t count; you have to win the whole game. Bush supposedly winning the war but losing the peace mirrors how the Cardinals “won” the first half but only lost the second against the Chicago Bears. Check your Clausewitz (“war is the continuation of politics by other means”) and the NFL standings if you don’t recall how that actually turned out.

Recounting the administration’s mistakes (and their insistence that this time the same formula will work, if we only trust them!) isn’t just merely rehashing what happened three years ago. First, the folks saying we should avoid “recriminations” are the same ones who spent years investigating and obsessing about sex in the Oval Office, leading to impeachment, the nuclear option of politics. Recriminations were just fine, back then.

Second, it’s Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld -- cheered on by GOP congressional incumbents -- who drove this car over a cliff (scroll down to Oct. 26). Now that even Bush has to acknowledge that things aren’t going quite swimmingly, they’re turning around to the Democrats stuck in the backseat and demanding that we come up with a better idea of what to do.

Well, the first idea is we should change drivers. You want an election to be a referendum on national security? That’s the first point of a two-point Democratic platform: We’re not the people who screwed up Iraq. The second point? Vote for us and you’ll be able to take toothpaste on airplanes again.

Sounds like a plan to me.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Because You Just Can't Have Too Many Circumcision-and-Stomach-Staping Jokes

The Jewish News of Greater Phoenix reports on the Congregation Beth Israel candidate forum here. "Temple tempest triggers tempers" -- I want that editor to write my headlines.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Let The Circumcision-And-Stomach-Stapling Jokes Begin!

In response to comments I've rethought my position on Prop. 205, Vote by Mail. It's basically a choice between two groups of voters who simply don't turn out enough: minorities, especially Native Americans, in the general election, and GOP moderates in the primaries. GOP moderates, of whom there are about 9 left in Arizona, have tried just about everything to increase turnout in GOP primaries, to little avail, so the next step is to put a ballot into everybody's mailbox in these upscale suburban districts because we just can't trust them to apply for one over the Internet, by phone, by mail, or through a campaign. (But heaven forefend we increase turnout by giving them a lottery ticket--that would diminish the democratic experiment, as opposed to giving in to their laziness.)

I would ordinarily call this one a draw, but what's sealed it for me is the constellation of groups supporting and opposing 205. The Arizona Chamber of Commerce, Secretary of State Jan Brewer, and the Arizona Republican Party are opposed; the Arizona Democratic Party supports it. The Arizona Republic endorsed it this morning, but I'm willing to overlook that. It's increased turnout in Washington and Oregon--but by about 6 percent, which is less than what was predicted, so you may want to take predictions of doubling of turnout in primaries with a grain of salt, but it's still an increase and couldn't hurt. So change the recommendation on 205 to YES, but this is absolutely the last thing we're going to do for GOP moderates, who always look so pitiful because they never, ever stand their ground. Guess what--the "real" Republicans don't respect you in the morning, either.

Now for the column; the editor came up with a very good headline when I was stumped (the best I could do was "Hayworth Next Plans To Run For Pope") but to my great regret, he cut the last line of the first paragraph, which I've put back in (yes, that means replacing a circumcision joke). I think Milton Berle (scroll down to third item) would approve.

East Valley Tribune, Oct. 22, 2006

I really wasn’t planning on slamming J.D. Hayworth yet again, but once his campaign spokesman insisted last Tuesday that Hayworth is a “more observant Jew” than anyone supporting Harry Mitchell, it’s time to unleash the hounds. Let the circumcision-and-stomach-stapling jokes begin!

Apparently as part of nationwide celebrations tied to President Bush’s declaration of “Character Counts Week,” Hayworth decided to back out at the last minute from a candidate forum at Congregation Beth Israel in Scottsdale. Hayworth and challenger Harry Mitchell would have been the undercard to the Senate headliners Jon Kyl and Jim Pederson. Instead, Hayworth sent two surrogates, Jonathan and Irit Tratt, who helped show that while politics may look easy, you shouldn’t leave it to total amateurs.


Rather than lauding Hayworth’s record, campaign spokesman Jonathan Tratt accused Mitchell of sympathizing with “Islamo-fascists.” The sole evidence for this charge is Tratt’s support of Hayworth, but as a Republican, he feels entitled to make stuff up. And not only was Mitchell in bed with terrorists, said Tratt, but anybody in the audience supporting him was “disloyal” to Israel. The audience didn’t take kindly to this kind of nonsense, so Tratt pointed his finger and said Hayworth is a better Jew than the audience. That went over really, really well, leading Irit Tratt to exclaim, “No wonder there are anti-Semites.”

Yep, that’s the way you assure the Jewish community that when you quoted copiously from Henry Ford’s anti-Semitic writings, you were doing so from absolutely pure motives. Not only can’t you be anti-Semitic if you’re pro-Israel, but apparently if you’re not a Republican, you’re not really a Jew. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee condemned the Tratts' remarks, calling them "repugnant" and "in no way representative of AIPAC."

As Tratt wrote in a letter to the editor earlier this year, Jews shouldn’t complain about Hayworth quoting Ford, because Hayworth not only voted in favor of a House resolution (one of those substance-free “post cards” to the rest of the world of which Congress is enamored) supporting Israel’s right of self-defense -- as did every other member of the Arizona delegation -- but Hayworth “made a floor statement supporting it.” Yes, Hayworth spoke in favor of Israel, and therefore not supporting Hayworth makes you a disloyal anti-Semite.

Apart from proving that so-called “leaders” in the American Jewish community now value rhetoric more than reality, I’m not sure why Hayworth’s campaign felt it necessary to get into an argument over who’s the better Jew, the Baptist incumbent or members of Congregation Beth Israel. It’s especially odd because Hayworth found it necessary to revoke his endorsement of state Rep. Russell Pearce over Pearce’s emailing to his supporters of an article from a neo-Nazi website.

Pearce claimed he never read the entire article, but the first part made a lot of sense to him, so he forwarded it to his supporters. After he learned it came from a white supremacist group, he apologized -- but that wasn’t enough for Hayworth, who withdrew his endorsement because Hayworth refuses “to be associated with any communication that contains anti-Semitic remarks.”


Blogger Ted Prezelski had two interesting takes on that particular statement. First, Hayworth is fine being associated with anti-Semitic remarks, so long as they were written by Henry Ford. Pearce just quoted the wrong anti-Semite. Second, the neo-Nazi site and article also goes after blacks and Hispanics in despicable terms -- but Hayworth was upset only by the anti-Semitism. Either Hayworth’s moral outrage only goes so far, or else he sees a real political opportunity for a Judeo-Christian white supremacist group. Whatever it takes, indeed.

But the prize for xenophobia beyond the call of duty goes to GOP candidate Randy Graf, running to replace Rep. Jim Kolbe in District 8. Graf didn’t cut and run like Hayworth; instead at a candidate debate, Graf defended Pearce: “We are of like mind of how government should be run. [It’s] been blown out of proportion. He’s a good person. He’s a good American patriot. He’s been a great legislator in Phoenix, and I’m proud to have him as an endorser of my campaign.”

And anybody who believes otherwise isn’t a good Jew.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Friday, October 20, 2006

Sam & Andy's How To Vote 2006: A Guide For The Perplexed

Andy and I have been asked for recommendations on the 4-page 2006 Arizona general election ballot, so here are our recommendations on candidates, propositions, and judicial retentions:

Candidates: If you read these emails, it should be no surprise to that we’re voting for, and telling you to vote for, Janet Napolitano for Governor, Jim Pederson for U.S. Senate, and (where we can) for Harry Mitchell in District 5, Gabrielle Giffords in District 8, and Herb Paine in District 3, all red-to-blue congressional races. Basically, our default advice in Arizona is, vote for the Democrat, except for these extra-special decent Republicans:

Corporation Commission: You get to vote for two; vote for Kris Mayes (incumbent), then of the two D’s running, vote for Mark Manoil.

State Senate, District 8: If you need to show nonpartisan cred, that “vote for the person and not the party” crap (like the Arizona Legislature ever evaluates ideas based on their value and not on their party provenance -- NOT) vote to re-elect Carolyn Allen.

In LD 11, the only Democrat running is Mark DeSimone; if you don’t want just to single-shot him, between the two Republicans, vote for Adam Driggs.

Special shout-outs to people especially doing the Lord’s work and running against truly annoying Republicans (this is for people in a hurry who can’t be bothered voting for every office, but if you can’t fill out an entire ballot what are you doing reading this email?):

Governor: Janet Napolitano
Secretary of State: Israel Torres
Attorney General: Terry Goddard
Superintendent of Public Instruction: Jason Williams
U.S. Senate: Jim Pederson
U.S. Congress, District 3: Herb Paine
U.S. Congress, District 5: Harry Mitchell
U.S. Congress, District 8: Gabrielle Giffords
State Senate, District 11: Ann Wallack

Special obscure Central Arizona Water Conservation District recommendations bonus! You get to vote for five; we recommend, in this order:

George Brooks, Jr.
Lisa Atkins
Frank Barrios
George Renner
Richard Morrison

All are incumbents. Under no circumstances whatsoever should any reasonable person vote for Burns, McGrath, or Pickard. If you have a problem with any of our 5 recommendations, you could cast a sympathy vote for Ed King. He’s not the brightest candle in the chandelier, but as a county supervisor in 1994 he really got screwed by voting for the baseball stadium tax, then lost the next primary to Jan Brewer who ran on an anti-tax platform -- but who then had no problem attending the opening of the stadium and has her name on a plaque at the entrance. She’s such a hypocrite that I’ve always harbored better feelings for King than he actually deserves.

Propositions: Amaze your friends by being able to tell these apart!

Prop. 100, No bail for illegal aliens: NO. If you’re a flight risk, you’re not supposed to get bail. So this proposition would make judges deny bail to people they determine aren’t a flight risk, but we’d have to keep them locked up anyway. This wacko idea is supported by people who rail against unnecessary government spending, like this proposition. Go figure.

Prop. 101, Local property tax limitations: NO. This proposition punishes districts and municipalities that don’t use all of their taxing authority in a particular year; the 2% limit now in the state constitution would be based on actual taxes assessed, rather than full authority if less was assessed. It hamstrings municipalities and punishes them for doing well in good years.

Prop. 102, No punitive damages for illegal aliens: NO. The purpose of punitive damages is to punish the wrongdoer, not to reward the victim. This proposition tells tortfeasors, choose your victims wisely and save money! Vote no.

Prop. 103, English as official language: NO. It’s not needed and counterproductive. You could even call it “estúpido.”

Prop. 104, Municipal debt limits: YES. This proposition would allow public safety and streets to have the higher debt limit currently allowed for water, sewer, and land acquisitions. Public safety should be in the higher category. Basically corrects a typo in the state constitution.

Prop. 105, State trust lands: NO.
Prop. 106, State trust lands: YES.
Short explanation: The people supporting 105 are the cattle ranchers and the Central Arizona homebuilders; everybody else supports 106. If you think the ranchers and the homebuilders actually care about education or conservation, you need a brain transplant.

Longer explanation (Disclosure: Andy is on the Prop. 106 committee and our firm has represented organizations supporting 106), courtesy of Grady Gammage:

Vote yes on 106 and no on 105. 105 is largely meaningless, put on the ballot to confuse the voters. It's not harmful, but if we're going to open up the state constitution, it isn't worth the trouble. All the negatives you hear on 106 are false: it helps, not hurts education funding (so the AZ Education Association is for it); it preserves way more land (so Nature Conservancy, Sonoran Institute, and other conservation groups support it); makes the process for developing state land more rational (thus Valley Partnership and Greater Phoenix Leadership support it); and it works better for cities and towns (so the AZ Planning Association supports it). The opposition is really only three sources: cattlemen, who want cheap grazing leases forever; the Central AZ Homebuilders (who've lost their minds and broke with the rest of the real estate community for reasons no one can figure out--even the Southern AZ Homebuilders support it); and Grady’s former partner Becky Burnham, who has a convoluted rationale for not liking it that basically amounts to she didn't write every word of it, so it can't be any good.

Prop. 107, Gay Marriage and Domestic Partner Benefits Ban: NO. (Also a client of CGSON.) Sure, take away health insurance and employment benefits from all sorts of people, gay and straight, because it might help turn out right-wing voters. Vote no and give money to the Vote No campaign, too. If your marriage is threatened by other people's domestic arrangements, the problem is with you and not other people.

Prop. 200, Voter Reward Act: PICK ‘EM. We’re split on this one. Andy says no, it’s a cheap and tawdry gimmick. Sam says that’s not a bug, it’s a feature. It’s an annoying Mark Osterloh idea -- not the idea, Mark is annoying -- that would give a free lottery ticket to every voter. Might drive up turnout, and people who write editorials for the Arizona Republic shouldn’t get too huffy about the supposed lack of intellectual content in Osterloh’s ideas.

Prop. 201, Smoking Ban: YES. (A client.) This is the real ban, not that fake 206 one, and it’s supported by the Arizona Restaurant Association, which sees the exemption for bars in 206 as a way for bigger businesses to crush the mom-and-pops. Just as you shouldn’t listen to the cattlemen on conservation, we’re not sure the tobacco companies are the best source of wisdom on smoking bans.

Prop. 202, State Minimum Wage: YES. (Again, a client.) When stupid right-wing editorials are outsourced to Bangalore, then you can start listening to them about what kind of wages those at the very bottom of the ladder are entitled to. Until then, vote yes.

Prop. 203, Early Childhood Tobacco Tax: YES. We’re not sure about the funding source’s long-term viability, and it would be nicer if these programs were funded directly by the state general fund, but Arizona has about the same chance of spending too much money on early childhood programs as I do of pitching in the MLB All-Star Game, so vote yes.

Prop. 204, Factory Farming Ban: YES. Is hogwash a good thing, or a bad thing? I prefer my hogs washed. Vote yes.

Prop. 205, Mail Balloting: UPDATE: Old recommendation: NO. It could depress turnout in minority and reservation communities where vote-by-mail has always been a very tough sell and low-percentage option, so vote no. NEW RECOMMENDATION:

YES. I've rethought my position on this one. It's basically a choice between two groups of voters who simply don't turn out enough: minorities, especially Native Americans, in the general election, and GOP moderates in the primaries. GOP moderates, of whom there are about 9 left in Arizona, have tried just about everything to increase turnout in GOP primaries, to little avail, so the next step is to put a ballot into everybody's mailbox in these upscale suburban districts because we just can't trust them to apply for one over the Internet, by phone, by mail, or through a campaign. (But heaven forefend we increase turnout by giving them a lottery ticket--that would diminish the democratic experiment, as opposed to giving in to their laziness.) I would ordinarily call this one a draw, but what's sealed it for me is the constellation of groups supporting and opposing 205. The Arizona Chamber of Commerce, Secretary of State Jan Brewer, and the Arizona Republican Party are opposed; the Arizona Democratic Party supports. The Arizona Republic endorsed it Monday, but I'm willing to overlook that. It's increased turnout in Washington and Oregon--but by about 6 percent, which is less than what was predicted, so you may want to take predictions of doubling of turnout in primaries with a grain of salt, but it's still an increase and couldn't hurt. So I voted yes, but this is absolutely the last thing we're going to do for GOP moderates, who always look so pitiful because they never, ever stand their ground. Guess what, GOP moderates--the "real" Republicans don't respect you in the morning, either.

Prop. 206, Smoking Ban: NO. (As noted, we’re representing the competing initiative, 201.) This is a smoking ban supported by RJR Reynolds to compete with the real ban, Prop. 201. Like the tobacco companies would have the right idea about a smoking ban. If you buy that, second-hand smoke is the least of your issues.

Prop. 207, Municipal Condemnation: NO. An extreme, expensive, and dangerous solution to a non-existent problem. More commentary from Grady:

207 isn't about cities condemning your house to sell to developers -- that's already largely prohibited in AZ. It's about a libertarian New York real estate developer who doesn't believe in zoning and thinks there should be compensation for all land use regulation. If it passes, land use lawyers make tons of money under it, because it's so badly designed. But it stinks as public policy. Regulation of development is necessary in a place that grows as much as Arizona, and we don't have a history of overregulation. And on this one, even Ms. Burnham agrees.

Prop. 300, Education Benefits for Illegal Aliens: NO. Haven’t these people ever heard of “human capital”? Hugely counterproductive for Arizona as a state, but it might be in the political interests of certain incumbents at the Legislature to keep as many people as possible as uneducated as possible. After all, they need to make sure the base is replenished.

Prop. 301, Methamphetamine Penalties: NO. This may be a good idea but drug penalties are so over-the-top generally that having one too low is a novelty.

Prop. 302, Legislative Salaries: YES. On the merits, we get what we pay for. This proposition has less chance of passing than my All-Star Game appearance.

Scottsdale Unified School District Override: YES. I still have one kid left in the SUSD, and even if he’d graduated, I owe it to future kids to support the schools that educated our kids.

Judicial Retention: Go ahead and vote YES to retain everybody. If you’re running out of time to fill out your ballot, make sure you vote to retain both Supreme Court judges (Andrew Hurwitz and Ruth McGregor) and all three Court of Appeals judges (Donn Kessler, Patricia Norris, and Maurice Portley), and Superior Court judges Sally Schneider Duncan and Peter Reinstein (both Temple Solel members deserve judicial retention automatically). If you’re really, really determined to find one judge to vote against just to show you're paying attention or something (like anybody will know), we have a recommendation about the least-qualified "yes" vote that we can send you in an email off-list.

Hope this helps. Arguments welcome.

UPDATE: Don't bother reading the comments, it's nothing but pro-207 spam so far.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Is It Good For The Jews?

I'm a guest lecturer this week in an ASU online class, American Jews in US Politics, POL/REL 394, and only had time to prepare one set of original thoughts, so my column is also my opening online "lecture" for the course. The newspaper version of the column is available, for two weeks, here.

I ran out of room for the column, but my fear is that leadership of Jewish communal organizations will fall into the Cuban-American community's model, where there's a definite hierarchy to the organizations, where rhetoric matters much more than results, and where the "right" position is the one which is most right-wing and conservative -- and where debate on the merits and practicality is seen as disloyalty to the cause. The Cuban-Americans certainly have a wonderful record of results; they've done so much for actually bringing freedom and democracy to Cuba over the past 40 years, we really should adopt that model for what American Jews want to do for Israel. At least I'll find out if there really is an AIPAC list of "Jews We Abuse."

As part of my preparation for the ASU class, I've learned since filing the column that the correct quote is "Jews earn like Episcopalians and vote like Puerto Ricans" and it's from Milton Himmelfarb, who edited the first major exit-poll-based survey of Jewish voting attitudes in the 1960's. My father-in-law and I had a bet on who first said it and we both lost.

I debated whether the editor would let me keep the George Allen (R-Macaca) reference, but he did. Must have been sufficiently obscure so it could survive.

East Valley Tribune, Oct. 15, 2006

In 1994, I probably got 75 percent of the Jewish vote. Unfortunately, of the 25 percent voting for the other guy, it felt like I knew each one personally.

Not much has changed since; Jews are still overwhelmingly liberal and Democratic, still living like Episcopalians and voting like Puerto Ricans. There are 26 Jewish members of the U.S. House, and (including Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.) all but one are Democrats; in the Senate, it’s 11 total and 9 Democrats, unless you include Sen. George Allen (R-Macaca), which changes those numbers -- and his, too.

But the leadership of Jewish organizations -- particularly the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) -- has become steadily more conservative and Republican, and there’s a rising internal debate over which party better “deserves” Jewish support. Republicans like David Gelernter of The Weekly Standard argue that Jews owe President Bush because of his unwavering support for Israel, even if disagreeing with him on every other issue -- and even if Democrats also support Israel, because if Democrats win, jobs and influence may go to their insufficiently pro-Israel supporters. As Jonathan Chait put it, Jews must “keep anti-Zionists from securing a foothold within the Fish and Wildlife Service.”

Rabbi Marc Gellman couldn’t understand why Jewish voters who strongly disagreed with Sen. Joe Lieberman on Bush and Iraq didn’t vote for him anyway, because he’s “one of us.” But should an outsider imply that Jewish voters have divided loyalties, or make support of Israel or religion the sole basis of their vote, that’s anti-Semitism.

There are two arguments for Jews to vote Republican: First, some non-office-holding Democrats don’t support current American or Israeli policy. Second, the GOP notes that depending on the poll, rank-and-file Democrats question U.S. policy toward Israel more than Republicans, while Bush’s support for Israel has been strong and uncomplicated. The Middle East may be incredibly complex, but U.S. policy should be really, really simple.

There are two problems with these arguments. First, it’s easy to “nutpick” and find Democrats saying outlandish things. The difference is that our nuts are writing letters to the editor or posting comments on weblogs; Republican nuts are in Congress or chair the state House Appropriations Committee.

The other problem is that Republican support has been all words, no results. They’ve banished all nuance and qualification from their rhetoric, but neither the U.S. nor Israel is better off. Bush has been so wrong about so much that if he says the sun rises in the east, astronomers get very nervous. As Daniel Davies wrote, try to name one example of a Bush administration policy significant enough that you’ve heard of it whose execution wasn’t bollixed big time. Republicans’ feelings are fine; it’s the “Bush-league execution” that’s problematic.

The GOP argument basically boils down to “Jimmy Carter bad, George Bush good.” Carter is loathed in “pro-Israel” circles despite his work on the Camp David Accords, which even the most virulent Republicans don’t wish to abandon, as Matthew Yglesias notes: “Bush has been much more ‘supportive’ of Israel, but what’s actually been accomplished?”

Moreover, Judaism has never been about feelings, but rather actions. Jews don’t much value “feeling Jewish” or “looking into somebody’s heart.” As Rabbi Leonard Rosenthal of San Diego wrote, in Judaism feelings without actions contribute neither towards the future nor to tikun olam, the obligation to help “repair the world.”

Rosenthal told the story of the Rabbi of Leesa, who visited a wealthy, but miserly, congregant to ask for a major gift. The man welcomed the Rabbi with a lavish dinner, but the Rabbi touched nothing and asked immediately for the contribution. The man quoted the sages about the importance of polite conversation, but the Rabbi noted that polite words are worthy of blessing only when accompanied by concrete help: “Kind words without kind deeds are meaningless.”

So welcome the new AIPAC alternative which George Soros, Edgar and Charles Bronfman, and Mel Levine plan to launch later this month. For both political and religious reasons, to all Americans, not just Jews, results should matter.

Monday, October 09, 2006

GOPers Blame Cunning, Ruthless, and Incredibly Competent Democrats

The jokes that didn't fit into yesterday's column:

Speaker Hastert and Cardinal Law: Separated at Birth?

According to yesterday's LA Times, it's no longer true that the difference between a Republican sex scandal and a Democratic sex scandal is that the Democratic scandal has actual sex. (It was a good joke while it lasted, though.)

As for the column, you need to know that the editor cut out the reference in the third-from-the-last paragraph about the NRCC using Foley cash in J.D. Hayworth's race (which they are, they just dumped another ~$200K into shoring up Hayworth). I'd say that's interesting, but it really isn't, it's what I've learned to expect from The Tribune.

But if we Democrats really did orchestrate the Foley scandal, shouldn't we have waited a week or two closer to the election? At least the paranoid Republicans can't claim we're both cunning and devious on one hand and totally incompetent on the other, simultaneously. You need two different Republicans to do that.

Also, don't listen to anybody who says that if the Democrats win Congress, it's more a statement about the failings of the Republicans than a mandate. Mandates are just so last century. It's not like Bush bothered getting one before acting like he had one, when he didn't even get as many votes as the other guy.

East Valley Tribune, Oct. 8, 2006

Still an undecided voter? Here’s all you need to know about our current rulers.

Remember Vice President Cheney shooting that guy in the face? After getting out of the hospital, the victim apologized to Cheney. Hunter safety rules make the shooter responsible for his shot, but the guy with hundreds of pellets in his face and torso told Cheney he was sorry -- and GOP pundits said that Cheney shooting a guy would be a net positive for Republicans, because -- well, who the heck cares, it’s just that they actually said it.

So when the sordid electronic messages sent by former Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla., to underage House pages surfaced, how did the House Republican leadership react? By calling for a criminal investigation of other people who may have seen those messages. Yes, let’s treat those kids like the guy Cheney shot -- who needs accountability, let’s blame the victims!

Then there’s the other GOP spin, that it’s all the Democrats’ fault. The House Republican leadership couldn’t be expected to know just based on the emails that Foley was doing something absolutely wrong and improper. Except that the group that first obtained copies of the emails this summer first turned them over to the FBI; they only released the emails publicly after the story broke. Those outsiders realized immediately that the emails were seriously creepy and potentially criminal, something beyond the capabilities of the House Republican leadership when it actually mattered.

Blaming the Democrats is amazingly hypocritical, because the House Republican leadership treated Foley as merely a GOP political problem, not one involving the institutional integrity of the House. House GOP leadership cut out the Democrats entirely. Staffers warned pages placed by GOP members about Foley, but nobody thought it necessary to talk with the lone Democrat on the committee overseeing the page program. House Republican leaders saw their responsibility as stopping at Republican pages; any Democratic pages would be left to their own devices.

The absolutely funniest excuse is The Wall Street Journal-Newt Gingrich claim that House Republican leaders couldn’t take action against Foley sooner because if they did so, why, they might have been accused of -- wait for it -- anti-gay bias. Yes, Republicans worry ceaselessly about anything that might possibly be construed as homophobic, because respect for gay Americans plays such a key role in their campaigns. But wait -- now fabulous (in the fantasy, not well-dressed, sense) stories being are fed to reporters that a secret cabal of gay senior GOP members and staffers “that protect each other” stabbed House Republican leaders in the back.

Oh, isn’t that just delightful. Hey, former state Rep. Steve May and retiring Rep. (and former House page) Jim Kolbe, R-Tucson: The House Republican leadership is in trouble, so they have one response: Blame the gays! It’s all Foley’s fault, or maybe the pages’ fault, either because these high schoolers didn’t risk ruining their lives by confronting a 6-term congressman, or because they were just so gosh darn cute that no gay Republican could be expected to resist.

You’d think what’s coming would make any self-respecting gay Republican ill. Except for one thing -- why are there still any self-respecting gay Republicans left?

And making Foley the scapegoat only goes so far. Not only is the House GOP campaign committee refusing to return money Foley gave, but spokesperson Carl Forti said the GOP would be happy to put Foley’s own campaign war chest to use, such as trying to bail out at-risk incumbent (and Speaker Hastert supporter) J. D. Hayworth. Hate the sinner, love the sinner’s cash.

The House Republican leadership said they were protecting children, but they were really protecting their own power. The Bush administration claims it’s protecting us -- and they are, from the bone-chilling “threat” of toothpaste and shampoo on airplanes. And when Republicans fail, it’s the victims of their errors who must apologize.

So swing voters, here’s your question for the “accountability moment” coming November 7: How much failure is enough?

Sunday, October 08, 2006

That Was Then But This Is Now

On September 24, the Tribune ran a major across-the-top editorial attacking a political ad that has never actually run in Arizona. This followed an editorial in the Arizona Republic similarly attacking the ad the previous Tuesday. So both papers have gotten their knickers all twisted about an ad that nobody has seen here. Must be some ad. My piece ran with an op-ed by Le Templar, justifying their position, which repeated an error in their 2004 position claiming that they were saving free speech from both Bush and Kerry, who, according to the Tribune, both had called for government regulation:

In August 2004, presidential candidates George Bush and John Kerry both wanted to cut off the ability of independent groups called "527s" to raise money and to craft commercials attacking election candidates. We said at that time such government interference would run afoul of the right to speak freely about politics, even when such talk includes inaccurate information or inflammatory language.

That's what the previous Tribune editorial page editor Bob Schuster wrote in 2004, but he was wrong on the facts then, and now Le has repeated his mistake. For his part, Bush didn't say he wanted to ban 527s; he was somewhat inarticulate but he called only for a ban on 527s using "soft dollars." Those groups could run all the ads they wanted, saying whatever they wanted, but only using hard dollars. Bush only called for a change in the campaign finance rules that (surprise!) would have benefited Republicans and hurt Democrats. For his part, Kerry never called for any legal ban on 527's or any governmental review of their speech--he said only that the wildly inaccurate Swift Boat ads should be out of bounds, just like you say about Vote Vets, but somehow you never managed to get around to the accuracy of the Swift Boat ads because you've been too wrapped up in Bob's inaccurate portrayal of both Bush's and Kerry's positions on 527s in 2004.

I wrote about Bob's erroneous attribution of positions that neither Bush nor Kerry actually held, pointing out that neither candidate actually said what Bob said they did. Maybe I'm wrong. If Le can find some documentation of Kerry calling for legal or governmental review of speech by 527s, I'll gladly apologize, but I've checked again and Kerry never said what the Tribune now twice has said he did, and in reality Bush never did either. Bob misstated both Bush's and Kerry's position on this issue in 2004, and now Le is doing it again to justify why the Tribune never spoke out about the accuracy of the Swift Boat ads (which were seen here) but are suddenly running a truth squad on the Vote Vets ad (that hasn't been seen here). The government regulation argument is factually incorrect--that is, if Tribune editorials should be held to the standard of truthfulness they want to apply to Vote Vets. If they're using the Swift Boat standard of "truthiness," that's another matter, but they should have let me know so I could have matched their accuracy more precisely.

That's way more than you need on this issue. Sorry, but that's what happens when it's something I know about (and when I can quote myself--how weird is that?) On with the column!

That Was Then, But This Is Now
East Valley Tribune, Oct. 1, 2006

Last Sunday, upset by an ad from Vote Vets, an “independent” political committee that’s endorsed more Democrats than Republicans, attacking GOP incumbents for voting against money for body armor for troops in Iraq, the Tribune editorialized that the ad shouldn’t run, because it’s “wrong,” “patently false,” and a “waste" of time and money.

Maybe so -- but that never bothered the Tribune before.

Both daily metro Phoenix newspapers have run major editorials attacking an ad yet to appear here. The ad must be incredibly powerful to goad both papers into preemptive attacks -- and hopefully for the GOP incumbent, this preemptive war works out better than Iraq.

The Tribune editorial shared one error with the initial analysis by Factcheck.org, which took a leading role in attacking the Vote Vets ad. However, Factcheck updated their critique to acknowledge that vote in question occurred after floor statements and press releases describing the money as intended for protective helmets, vests, and inserts.

Factcheck updated their analysis after criticism from Media Matters. The Tribune may consider the Vote Vets ad’s inaccuracy as “patented,” but readers should view both critiques and decide which one best supports their preexisting beliefs.

But if Factcheck is the arbiter of truth, then the Tribune should note that they also called a Bush-Cheney 2004 ad against John Kerry, attacking him for voting against body armor for troops, similarly false. I don’t recall a Tribune editorial attacking Bush for false campaigning on this exact issue.

The Tribune also called the Democratic amendment an attempt “to score political points.” This presumably was to distinguish it from Republican-organized votes on flag-burning, abortion, and Terry Schiavo.

There’s also one amazing euphemism in the editorial, the assertion that “the Pentagon misjudged the danger from insurgents to troops . . . and so didn’t order enough body armor.” The Pentagon? We’re blaming a building?

Sometimes “the Pentagon” is shorthand for the Department of Defense, but who was running DoD for planning and execution of the Iraq war? Who essentially fired everyone who warned that the war might cost more, require more troops, or take longer than Rumsfeld wanted? Who said we’d be greeted “as liberators”?

Maybe I also would have guessed wrongly about how Iraq would turn out, but I’d be expect to be held accountable for my mistakes. Shouldn’t we hold Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Bush -- and congressional Republicans, who refuse to engage in any effective oversight -- accountable for their mistakes?

But last Sunday’s editorial also directly contradicts past Tribune pronouncements. In 2004, the Tribune called candidates seeking to keep ads off the air, specifically because of truthfulness, “disingenuous.” No, worse; such efforts were unfair and unconstitutional: “These groups have the same First Amendment rights as the candidates to spend what they want and say what they want, and the candidates’ druthers should have nothing to do with it.”

Even though those 2004 ads were “other than polite, maybe even other than accurate,” the Tribune supported airing them: “That’s the way of a freedom-loving democracy. The thing is, freedom is also preferable to having those who see themselves as your betters control you for the sake of their sense of order.”

But that was then, when inaccurate ads were running against a Democrat. Now that ads may run against a Republican, the Tribune wants to reconsider its freedom-loving rhetoric and replace it with something more, well, pragmatic.

The Tribune now considers itself one of our betters, a self-appointed guardian of discourse recommending what we see and hear. In 2004, such infringement on speech made you “ultimately less protected from the politically powerful” and meant you “have been robbed of a piece of your dignity as a moral agent defining your own life.” In 2006, the Tribune wants to instruct advocates on what kind of ads they should and shouldn’t run.

Why were the less-than-accurate Swift Boat Vet ads a necessary, if messy, part of democracy, but the Vote Vet ads are “dangerously” incorrect and shouldn’t air? If there’s a principle here (other than “It’s O.K. if a Republican does it”), I’d love to hear it.