Monday, March 19, 2007

"Tom Patterson is a retired emergency"

That's how The Tribune describes another of their regular columnists. There's something about Dr. Patterson that makes him appear to me as if he wears a "KICK ME" sign on the back of his suit jacket. And the best thing about writing about politics in Arizona is that after 10 years, you get to trot out your old stuff as a history lesson, not a lack of imagination.

Patterson's column is available, for another couple of days, here. The Reeder et al. paper is Reeder, G. D., Pryor, J. B., Wohl, M. J. A., & Griswell, M. L. (2005), On attributing negative motives to others who disagree with our opinions, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 31, 1498-1510, and The Washington Post article quoting Reeder is here. If you get nothing else out of my column, you should know that Mike Kopetski is a very good guy.

East Valley Tribune, Mar. 18, 2007

Among my many regrets in life is a speech I made in the House of Representatives during the NAFTA debate. Convinced that words "free trade" were a magic incantation overwhelming all doubt, I accused those opposing the trade pact of political cowardice.

When I finished, Rep. Mike Kopetski of Oregon gave me some friendly but stern advice. He instructed me never to attack my opponents' motivations. Nobody really can know others' motivations, and it's too easy to believe people who disagree with you act out of malice, or fear. Attributing bad motives to your enemies also makes it too easy to dismiss their arguments. Mike told me to assume that those who disagreed did so in good faith, and never to attack their motivations instead of their arguments.

That's not easy to do, especially because social science research shows that most people automatically assume the worst about their opponents. In a delightfully-titled paper called "On attributing negative motives to others who disagree with our opinions," Prof. Glenn Reeder of Illinois State University and his co-authors tested people with strong opinions about the Iraq war. They found people on both sides shared an identical bias: Both described those who agreed with them as ethical and principled, but assumed those who disagreed were motivated by self-interest. Reeder told The Washington Post that our brains interfere with our ability to accept disagreement on issues of great public importance: "We find it difficult to grant that other people come to their conclusions in good faith if they reach a conclusion that is different than ours."

Other studies show that we tend to assume those who disagree with us are less well-informed, and on issues where even partisans must admit that opponents are also knowledgeable, we then assume opponents are biased or selfish.

Not only do we assume the worst about those who disagree, we also believe we're better than the typical person who agrees with us. A Harvard Business School study found that we tend to consider ourselves more moderate, freer from bias, and abler to "see things as they are" than our fellows. Not only are we apparently hard-wired to believe the worst of our opponents; we're also hard-wired to think that we're also superior to even those who wisely share our opinions.

Everybody thinks they're an above-average driver. Why shouldn't we think the same thing about politics?

Kopetski's advice, and this social science research, came to mind in reading Tom Patterson's column last week attacking Rep. Harry Mitchell, D-Ariz., for supporting card-check legislation. Instead of considering any of the arguments for the Employee Free Choice Act, Patterson just assumed he knew Mitchell's motivations, that he voted for the bill because of political payback to union supporters.

There are several facts that supporters of card-check might note in favor of the legislation, some of which might be more persuasive than "research" by GOP pollsters hired by groups opposed or 40-year-old court cases. First, it's not just a "far left-wing" issue; the Democratic Leadership Council endorsed card-check. Even Joe Lieberman supports card-check.

Several recent studies have found employer coercion is a significantly bigger problem than union coercion. Patterson may think that the law "assiduously" protects the right to organize, but employers do fire employees for union activity before elections can be held -- and the penalties remain extremely low. Voters should consider whether the same managements who backdated stock options, or violated accounting standards, or gave themselves far more generous health care benefits than regular workers will be suddenly scrupulous in respecting employees' rights to organize. And if you claim the Bush administration will protect the rights of the little guy, some Katrina victims and Walter Reed outpatients just might disagree.

Finally, while serving as state Senate majority leader, Patterson lobbied some lobbyists and a state employee on behalf of his private business interests, leaving himself uncomfortably open to criticism from some observers (like me) over his ethics. Next time, Patterson should stick to the merits and not attack others' motivations from inside his glass house. The way our brains work, I just can't resist throwing stones back.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Don't Blame South Dakota!

It's special "edge of the prairie" week here in at Liberal Desert, as my new-found friends from the Mount Rushmore State (formerly the Other Sunshine State) explained the real scoop to me. In typical small state/small town fashion, everybody was willing to talk, nobody was willing to talk on the record. And I'm now the proud owner of more South Dakota trivia than I ever thought possible.

Imagine if Mesa, Chandler, and Gilbert got 2 U.S. Senators and a Representative, plus all the usual state and local positions as well. The former AG's wife is a Supreme Court justice; everybody's connected to everybody else. Kind of like my extended family, actually. My suggested headline was above, but the editor went all Conan Doyle on me, plus ran a picture of Marty Jackley. He probably never expected to be famous in Arizona (unless what's going on is that somebody at The Tribune is related to him.)

It turns out that the potential investigation of Tapken's son involved a federally-insured bank, with a politically-connected board of directors, loaning money to the Thune friend's auto dealership -- potential bank fraud. What is it with GOP politicians and bank fraud? My source says that Judge Piersol didn't want to reappoint Tapken with the bank fraud investigation in the background, because he feared that if he reappointed her and the investigation blew up, the Bush Justice Department would wash its hands of their appointee and say that appointing her was all the judge's idea. My, that someone would think that the Bushies wouldn't show loyalty to their people. Such an imagination, eh Paul Charlton?

The other interesting thing is that the Senate GOP caucus has apparently decided that Jon Kyl will spend the next 2-4 years being their primary hack; he'll take the maximum GOP position on everything. Even when the White House throws in the towel on interim appointments of US Attorneys, it'll be Kyl who tries to hold the maximum line and keep the Patriot Act provision, to the greatest extent possible, intact. Of course, if the White House were in Democratic hands, he'd be leading the charge to repeal it. That's moderation for you!

East Valley Tribune, Mar. 11, 2007

Wonder why the Bush administration wanted to change the decades-old process for appointing U.S. Attorneys by stuffing something into the Patriot Act? Wonder why Republicans, like Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., won’t agree just to repeal it?

Curious? I was. Republicans are justifying the need for changing the statute because of the "fiasco" in appointing South Dakota’s current U.S. Attorney.

According to the administration’s story, with an interim appointment about to expire, the Justice Department asked Judge Lawrence Piersol, the chief federal district judge, to reappoint the same person for another term. Instead, Piersol appointed someone who, according to Sen. Kyl’s press secretary, "did not have any federal prosecutorial experience, had not undergone a background check, and did not have the necessary security clearances." The Justice Department then appointed another candidate, who was sworn in by "a federal judge."

Meanwhile, Piersol appointed his guy. South Dakota had two different U.S. Attorneys, and criminal prosecutions could have been jeopardized. Accordingly, says Kyl’s aide, "the President was forced to resolve the situation by firing the district judge’s U.S. Attorney. The matter was not completely resolved until another U.S. Attorney was confirmed by the Senate the next year."

Those specific assertions are basically correct -- but, naturally, the real story is quite different. The administration’s edited version sounds like a travesty, an out-of-control Clinton appointee with ties to former Sen. Tom Daschle, making an executive appointment. Outrageous! Unconstitutional!

Ignore the judges-appointing-prosecutors complaint; none of these folks fretted about judges appointing Kenneth Starr to hound Bill Clinton, so it's not like we're dealing with actual principles here.

Our story actually begins in 2001. With each presidential election, all U.S. Attorneys resign so the new administration can appoint its own. While a presidential appointment, in practice the senior member of the president’s party in the state’s congressional delegation chooses who gets the job.

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., then a congressman and the lone Republican in the delegation, recommended a state prosecutor, Scott Abdallah. B ut before Senate consideration, Abdallah suddenly withdrew. Instead, James McMahon got the job. McMahon served admirably, but after four years, he’d had enough. In late 2004, after Thune defeated Daschle, McMahon announced his resignation.

Thune then recommended Michelle Tapken, who got an interim appointment in 2005. However, she withdrew from permanent consideration because of her son’s involvement in a failing business owned by Thune’s close friend that might have required a federal investigation. Just before her term ended in December, Justice asked Judge Piersol to reappoint her, but on Dec. 20, he instead chose Mark Meierhenry, a Republican and a former two-term state Attorney General. (He’s the guy with no "federal" prosecutorial experience, but as AG, Meierhenry actually did represent the state in federal criminal proceedings.)

Maybe Piersol thought Tapken’s conflict disqualifying her from a permanent appointment also disqualified her from another interim one. Or maybe he wanted to embarrass Thune into finally nominating somebody permanent.

Justice, aghast, appointed Steven Mullins, assistant U.S. Attorney for western Oklahoma. A federal judge -- in Oklahoma -- administered the oath on Dec. 22, and Mullins moved to South Dakota. Meierhenry’s a Republican, but he’s a moderate, which presumably disqualified him. Still, he quaintly was actually from South Dakota, and didn’t need importation from Oklahoma.

On Dec. 22, the Senate adjourned for the year, so President Bush could make a recess appointment, which he did of Mullins. Any confusion over the real U.S. Attorney got resolved by January, after lawyers concluded that the president’s subsequent recess appointment trumped the judge’s interim one. Finally, Thune named his candidate, Marty Jackley, whom Bush nominated on May 18, 2006; the Senate confirmed him two months later, and he’s doing just fine.

So today in South Dakota, the sun still rises in the east and federal law is enforced without fear, favor, or judicial appointments. But the story isn’t just an out-of-control judge and a bad statute; there’s also a senator who needed year to do his job and local politics in a state where everybody really does know everybody else.

It’s a situation unlikely ever to reoccur, and precious little justification for playing "Ready! Fire! Aim!" with U.S. Attorneys.

Monday, March 05, 2007

The Servant Must Eat The Master's Cooking

Oversight, it's a beautiful thing, and here's the Arizona angle as a die-hard Republican gets the slimed-by-the-Bushies treatment. I'm happy to hold each side's coat.

I also got to hear David Iglesias speak at an American Jewish Committee event here in Phoenix, at the AJC Learned Hand Award luncheon (a/k/a the Longest Three Hours of My Life). At the time he spoke, several years ago, it was a much more positive thing to have Tom Cruise play you in a movie. The bits in brackets is the stuff my editor deleted.

East Valley Tribune, Mar. 4, 2007

A quick "attaboy" to The Tribune for last week’s editorial calling for repeal of the little-noticed USA Patriot Act reauthorization provision granting the administration authority to appoint interim U.S. Attorneys indefinitely without Senate confirmation. The editorial noted that the recent purge by the Bush administration -- of its own appointees, for gosh sakes -- could lead to a politicized and "badly-flawed" system of federal law enforcement.

It would have been nice if the editorial noted that it’s Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) blocking a bill to repeal the provision, [rather than the more passive "being held up in a procedural wrangle,"] but hey, it’s a start.

The purge started when the U.S. Department of Justice removed H. E. "Bud" Cummins, the U.S. Attorney for Arkansas, to give the job to J. Timothy Griffin, a former Karl Rove aide and Republican National Committee staffer. Griffin since removed his name from consideration for a permanent appointment, but still serves on an "interim" basis. Deputy Attorney General Paul J. McNulty would not dispute that Cummins was let go to appoint a political ally of the administration, but said that the others -- including former U.S. attorney for Arizona Paul Charlton -- were fired for "performance-related" reasons.

The Department of Justice is sticking to the "performance-related" claim even though the fired attorneys received many positive evaluations and glowing recommendations. One fired U.S. Attorney even produced a letter from Director Michael A. Battle, who fired him, commending his "exemplary leadership in the department’s priority programs."

Until last week, the highest-profile firing was of Carol S. Lam, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of California, who oversaw the prosecution in San Diego of former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham for taking $2.4 million in bribes. The Cunningham investigation is continuing -- or, at least it was continuing before the Justice Department fired the prosecutor overseeing it.

But last Thursday, another fired U.S. Attorney, David C. Iglesias in New Mexico, told reporters that he was let go because he refused to be a "team player." Iglesias told the Albuquerque Journal that two members of the New Mexico congressional delegation pressured him to issue indictments of a former Democratic state legislator before this past November’s elections; Iglesias refused to rush the investigation, and the following month, he got canned by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

Iglesias is an interesting character, and a compelling speaker. A Navy JAG officer, his work as defense counsel in a prominent military hazing case became the inspiration for the Tom Cruise character in the movie, A Few Good Men. He still serves 40 days annually in the Navy Reserve. Iglesias refused to name the elected officials who pressured him, but the New Mexico congressional delegation has only five members, and three have gone on record that they didn’t call him. The other two, Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., and Rep. Heather Wilson R-N.M., have refused any comment, so draw your own conclusions. (UPDATE: Domenici issued a statement over the weekend confirming that he did call, which he "regrets." Nothing official from Wilson yet, though.)

Iglesias, Lam, Cummins, and a fourth former U.S. Attorney (John McKay, of the Western District of Washington in Seattle) have been issued subpoenas by the U.S. House Judiciary Subcommittee on Commercial and Administrative Law to testify this Thursday, so expect the plot to continue to thicken.

But whatever comes from that investigation and Iglesias’s incendiary charges, if you want to know exactly how little loyalty to George W. Bush gets you, look at Paul Charlton. Charlton is a strong Republican, serves on Sen. John McCain’s finance committee, and by all accounts was a faithful soldier for the Bush administration. Charlton told reporters that he was let go over disputes about whether all death-penalty case decisions should be made in D.C. or in Arizona, but the Justice Department and Gonzales are sticking with their "performance-related" claim. Thus, Charlton’s reward for his years of public service and his loyalty is having Attorney General Gonzales and his deputies belittle his abilities.

Democrats are now pretty much used to being slimed by Karl Rove, but I wonder if Paul Charlton knew that it could happen to him, too.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Shameless Self-Promotion Department

On Wednesday, April 11th, I will be the 2007 recipient of Planned Parenthood of Central and Northern Arizona's Peggy Goldwater Award, the affiliate's award for volunteer leadership. The event is at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, and it's a roast--so you can contribute by attending, or financially, or by sending jokes that you think the roasters could use (not that they'll run short but you never know, it's hard to hit all the high points in only 3 minutes). Jokes about sex, jokes about politics--at how many events would both be equally appropriate?