Arizona’s Voucher Battle Continues

The Arizona Republic reported today that Save Our Schools Arizona will now hire paid circulators to “boost the chances that voters get the last word on the legislatively approved expansion” of Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (vouchers.) According to The Republic, leaders of SOSAZ had intended to gather the required 75,321 valid signatures with only volunteers by the August 8, 2017 deadline. Now though, the organization finds itself with unexpected money and has decided to hire paid circulators for the last push to get at least 120,000 petition signatures for sufficient cushion.

As is often the case in Arizona though, GOP leaders in the Legislature are already working to undermine the effort. Senator Debbie Lesko, a Republican from Peoria has been the prime proponent of the effort to expand vouchers and is coincidentally (or maybe not), the Arizona Chair for the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC.) As the likelihood of getting the repeal referendum on the ballot increases, she is planning ways to end run the effort. One of those is for the Legislature to repeal SB 1431 thereby eliminating the need for a public vote. Then Lesko and her GOP pals would just pass another expansion in the next legislative session. This move would not only require opponent vouchers to start a new referendum drive from scratch, but would also prevent the voucher vote from drawing more Democrats to the polls in November 2018.

Whether the petitions are being circulated by paid circulators or volunteers, they must contain sufficient valid signatures to qualify the referendum for the ballot. If you are an Arizona voter who hasn’t yet signed one of the petitions, please go to http://sosarizona.org/events or https://www.facebook.com/SaveOurSchoolsArizona/ to locate signing opportunities. If there is no opportunity in your area, you can email SOSAZ at SaveOurSchoolsAZ@gmail.com to make other arrangements.

There is no doubt that Lesko and her buddies will do what they can to continue to thwart the will of Arizonans, as has been their modus operandi in the past. For now though, “we the people” must do what we can, to ensure our government stays “of the people.” When it comes to slowing down the attack on our public schools, repealing the full expansion of vouchers is where we need to focus our efforts now. The 95% of Arizona’s students that attend our public schools are counting on us and the future of our state depends on our engagement. Please do your part and sign a petition this week, or for sure, by August 8th!

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The NRA’s False Choice

I’ve been taking a bit of a break from writing, but this article written by Marine officers (there are no former Marines) is just too “on target” (please pardon the pun) not to share. I have nothing to add other than I agree entirely, especially with these two sentences:

“Indeed, true patriotism is not partisan, and the love of country and exercise of Constitutional rights is not the purview of any one group.”

“We renounce the false choice presented by the NRA that Americans need to pick a team between the First and Second Amendments.”

The NRA Has Entered the Province of Cowards
by Joe Plenzler, flipboard.com
As Marines, we fought to defend the U.S. and its freedoms. The NRA’s new video campaign is dedicated to a xenophobic policy of violent hatred and intolerance undermining freedom.

Over the past few weeks, the National Rifle Association has deployed several hyperbolic, incoherent, irresponsible, and divisive videos demonizing half of the American population in their efforts to recruit new members—beginning with Dana Loesch, followed by Greg Stenchfield, and most recently by U.S. Navy veteran Dom Raso.

Such fear-based incitements to hate and violence are the province of cowards.

These ads are official NRA TV products sponsored by Ruger and Kimber, both firearms manufacturers.

The NRA, founded by Union officers after the Civil War, was established as an organization dedicated to civilian marksmanship, gun safety, and Second Amendment rights.

However, this recent video campaign is a crescendo of increasingly partisan rhetoric on the part of the NRA, demonstrating that they are now dedicated to a xenophobic policy of violent hatred and intolerance that increases polarization and discord within American society.

In tone and content, the videos are eerily reminiscent of the thugs and bullies that have historically executed violence in support of authoritarian regimes.

These NRA ads are a clear and sophisticated effort that use well established propaganda tricks to appeal to scarcity, fear, and the basest of human emotions. For instance, the unnamed “they” at the beginning of Loesch’s video establishes a cognitive frame for the viewer to insert their own personal boogeyman.

Moreover, the videos conflate the American public’s right to peacefully assemble, protest, and criticize their government with the violent criminal behavior of a small number of rioters.

The NRA props up the Second Amendment by undermining and vilifying the protections afforded in the First, and paints everyone who may disagree with the current administration, our country’s justice system, or the NRA’s partisan political position with a very dark and unjust broad brush.

The NRA ads depict a dystopian, violent present whose danger can only be met by heavily armed citizens, when in fact a recent 2016 FBI report shows violent crime in the US to be at a 20-year low despite the more than 33,000 gun-related fatalities in our nation every year.

Additionally, the NRA’s use of stock riot footage misrepresents the character of the anti-administration protests. The data on the protests since the inauguration show that less than 0.5% of all protests have resulted in any property damage, and even fewer have resulted in physical injury.

To the NRA, we ask Qui Bono—to whose benefit? This fear-mongering certainly does not benefit the American people.

The truth is that the NRA is engaging in shameless fear tactics to increase membership so they can put more money into the pockets of politicians in Washington so firearms manufactures can increase sales resulting in profits and returns to shareholders.

They are selling a false narrative that there is only one right way to be a patriot.

This divisive rhetoric is amplified by their deafening silence on the killing of Phillando Castile, a law-abiding gun owner.

They are preying on a fearful public, and this is unethical.

While we would expect Loesch and Stinchfield to engage in such paid partisan hyperbole, we are embarrassed that a fellow veteran like Dom Raso would stoop to partisan fear-mongering and denigrate himself in the same manner.

We expect more from our veterans.

You see, while we have spent the past 16 years fighting real wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, extreme partisans on both sides of the political spectrum have been intent on waging a culture war at home.

It is time for this to stop.

During our combined 56 years in the United States Marine Corps, we served with Americans from every conceivable political, ideological, ethnic, religious, and socioeconomic background—including foreigners who joined our military and helped fight our wars so they could earn a shot at U.S. citizenship.

Our experiences serving in every clime and place have taught us to be grateful for our ever evolving experiment in democracy, and have also shown us that there is no one right way to be Americans.

Indeed, true patriotism is not partisan, and the love of country and exercise of Constitutional rights is not the purview of any one group.

Each of us who volunteer to serve swore an oath to defend the Constitution and all of its amendments for every American—even those we may disagree with.

While we deplore the riotous violence of a few—completely overblown by the NRA—we respect the rights of the people to peacefully assemble and protest. We also respect peaceful civil disobedience. These rights are the cornerstone of our democracy, codified as the First Amendment to ensure that we can disagree, protest, and express our views without resorting to the violence of the past.

We also reject the most recent phenomena of labeling anything disagreeable as false or fake news. We believe everyone is entitled to their opinions, but nobody is entitled to their own facts.

We renounce the false choice presented by the NRA that Americans need to pick a team between the First and Second Amendments.

We believe that the use of intimidation, fear-mongering, and threats of violence to crush the people’s right to peaceful assembly, redress grievances, and maintain a free press is the first step in the march towards authoritarianism.

We believe that ALL of our civil liberties are worth defending for ALL Americans—including protection from the use of excessive lethal force by those sworn to protect and serve our communities.

We reject extremism in all of its forms—both emanating from the right and the left.

We believe that the way forward to bring our Nation together does not come from a clenched fist, rather it comes from an extended hand and a commitment by sane, common-sense, and courageous people to meet in the center and work toward the common good.

We believe that veterans, given the military’s cultural emphasis on service, nation before self, and teamwork can be useful in encouraging respectful civil discourse to solve our nation’s toughest problems.

We strongly believe in the sentiment first expressed by Edmund Burke, that the only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men and women to do nothing.

We believe that the majority of NRA members deplore the hate and fear-based tactics of the NRA leadership yet their dues and donations continue to resource the NRA’s incitements to hate and violence.

The silence of these good men and women is deafening.

What will you do?

Craig Tucker is a retired Marine Corps Colonel and decorated 25-year combat veteran. His combat command of RCT–7 in Iraq spanned 14 months and included the first and second Battles of Fallujah, numerous smaller actions and a Purple Heart for wounds received in combat action north of Husaybah Iraq.

Kyleanne Hunter is an 11-year Marine Corps combat veteran and decorated AH–1W Cobra helicopter gunship pilot. She served combat tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as a tour as the Marine Corps’ Liaison Officer to the House of Representatives. She is a former NRA member.

Joe Plenzler is a retired Marine Corps lieutenant colonel and decorated 20-year combat veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan. He served from 2010 to 2015 as the spokesman, speechwriter, and staff group director for the 34th, 35th, and 36th Commandants of the Marine Corps. He is a former NRA member. ■

Trump makes war on the states: More on the voter data demand from Trump’s voter suppression commission

Cross posted from skyislandscriber.com.

Donald Trump has picked fights with the judiciary, members of Congress, and the executive branch itself (Comey, Obama). In addition, he has waged all-out war on our free press. Having exhausted potential targets for his infamous and indecent Twump-ly trirades at the national level, he is now picking a fight with state-level election officials.

What started this spat (which is likely to develop into something bigger because of the stakes), is the letter sent to the 50 Secretaries of State by the co-chair of Trump’s Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity (aka by some as the voter suppression commission), Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. (The full text of the letter follows the break.)

Nearly 1/3 of the states responded negatively for reasons developed below. In response, Trump says states are ‘trying to hide’ things from his voter fraud commission. But: Here’s what they actually say.

More than two dozen states have refused to fully comply with a sweeping and unprecedented White House request to turn over voter registration data, including sensitive information like partial Social Security numbers, party affiliation and military status.

Overall, the states that have said they will not be complying at all with the Kobach commission’s request represent over 30 percent of the nation’s population. That could complicate any efforts to build a truly national voter file, although it remains unclear what the commission’s ultimate goal is in collecting the data.

As it turns out, the bipartisan group of state officials withholding information from the commission have been very forthcoming about their reasons for not complying. …

Here are a couple of examples of the responses from Secretaries of State.

“I will not provide sensitive voter information to a commission that has already inaccurately passed judgment that millions of Californians voted illegally,” said California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, a Democrat.

“California’s participation would only serve to legitimize the false and already debunked claims of massive voter fraud made by the President, the Vice President, and Mr. Kobach,” he added. "[Kobach’s] role as vice chair is proof that the ultimate goal of the commission is to enact policies that will result in the disenfranchisement of American citizens.”

Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, another Democrat, struck a similar note.

“The president created his election commission based on the false notion that ‘voter fraud’ is a widespread issue — it is not,” Grimes said. “Kentucky will not aid a commission that is at best a waste of taxpayer money and at worst an attempt to legitimize voter suppression efforts across the country.”

In addition to the states’ responses, voter advocacy groups have been especially critical of the Trump/Kobach play. Snopes.com reports Growing Number of States Reject Voter Data Request From Trump’s Election Commission

Voter advocacy groups have also come out against the commission’s push for access to the data, which it said it wanted by 14 July 2017. League of Women Voters president Chris Carson said in a statement that her group would support any state that refused to comply with Kobach’s request:

There is no justification for this giant fishing expedition. The Commission itself is a distraction from the real issue of voter suppression, and that efforts to “investigate voter fraud” threaten our most fundamental voting rights. This most recent move by Mr. Kobach is an indicator that the so-called Election “Integrity” Commission is not interested in facts, but false accusations and dangerous policy recommendations.

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law also condemned Kobach’s letters and called on his counterparts in other states to “discourage state and local officials” from participating in the commission’s activities:

This meritless inquisition opens the door for a misguided and ill-advised Commission to take steps to target and harass voters and could lead to purging of the voter rolls.

[From the Washington Post report:] “We’re concerned about unlawful voter purging, which has been something that Kris Kobach has been leading the charge,” said Vanita Gupta of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and former head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division, in an interview Friday.

Part of the problem here is that few people trust Kris Kobach and Trump’s war against the states does not endear him to the state election officials.

[Snopes:] Kobach has not elaborated on how information collected by the commission would be kept safe.

Before joining Trump’s administration, Kobach worked as an attorney for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a hardline anti-immigration group. In September 2016, a federal appeals court found that Kobach had provided “precious little” evidence that non-U.S. citizens were engaging in voter fraud.

[Post:]Gupta and others argue that Kobach doesn’t exactly have a reputation for being honest about his work on voter fraud. Just a week ago, a federal judge fined Kobach $1,000 for “presenting misleading arguments in a voting-related lawsuit.”

To learn more about the man who Trump made co-chair of this bogus commission, see Ari Berman’s report on The Man Behind Trump’s Voter-Fraud Obsession. How Kris Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state, plans to remake America through restrictive voting and immigration laws.

Here is one reason, among dozens listed by Berman, why Kobach is an existential threat to our republic and deserves both respect and fear.

On June 8, Kobach announced his candidacy in the 2018 Kansas gubernatorial race, telling a room full of supporters in the Kansas City suburb of Lenexa that he had “the honor of personally advising President Trump, both before the election and after the election, on how to reduce illegal immigration. And is he doing a good job?” The crowd cheered. If Kobach wins, he could be positioned to run for president as the legal mind who can deliver the promise of Trumpism without the baggage of Trump himself.

Paul Waldman (Washington Post/Plum Line) sums it up in Why we should be very afraid of Trump’s vote suppression commission.

Let’s be clear: The sole purpose of this commission on “election integrity” is to suppress votes and give the GOP a structural advantage in every election. It’s being led by Kris Kobach, whose twin missions in life are to scale back immigration and to make voting more difficult. Other commission members include Ken Blackwell, a far-right activist who as secretary of state of Ohio in 2004 (while he was simultaneously serving as state co-chair of the George W. Bush campaign) tried to disenfranchise people whose registration forms were submitted on insufficiently heavy paper stock. The administration just added Hans von Spakovsky, who before Kobach emerged was known as the country’s most prominent advocate of vote suppression.

These people are not trying to determine whether there are problems with our voting system and find the best solutions to those problems. They have come together to promote the myth of voter fraud and enable vote suppression in order to advantage the Republican Party. No one should be fooled into thinking this enterprise is anything other than that.

If Kobach were successful in obtaining full names, addresses, dates of birth, and last four digits of social security numbers, and then putting all that in the public domain, as he said he would do, he would be inviting identity theft on a national scale. Every Secretary of State should join the resist movement.

Correction to yesterday’s post: Kris Kobach is the Kansas Secretary of State, not the Attorney General. His first name is Kris, not Chris.

The full text an example letter follows – it is the one sent to Maine. Emphases are mine.

Continue reading

Putin’s assault on our election, Obama’s secret responses, and Trump administration missing in action on preventing future election hacks

Cross-posted from skyislandscriber.com

Yesterday evening (Friday, June 23rd), Rachel Maddow reported on a stunning Washington Post story about Obama’s secret struggle to punish Russia for Putin’s election assault. I am not in the least ashamed to admit that I cannot do justice to the Post’s story with a few – or even many – snippets. It’s a long article but if you want to understand what the Russians did to our election, and what serious threat remains, you must read this story.

Here are my take-away messages from the Washington Post report.

  • Putin ordered and directed the Russian effort to help Donald Trump and hurt Hillary Clinton.
  • Political push-back from Republican politicians, nationally and locally, prevented effective counter-measures.
  • American response was tempered by the fear that Russia would take additional cyber-action to disrupt the 2016 election.
  • Russia still has the means to disrupt future elections – 2016 was practice for a larger-scale intervention.
  • Obama initiated a U. S. program to develop cyber “implants” that could be triggered remotely as part of retaliation for any Russian aggression against our election system or power grid.
  • Trump has not interfered with that program but neither has he pushed for bolstering the security of our election infrastructure.

That last one based on an article by NBC News, Trump White House Has Taken Little Action To Stop Next Election Hack that appeared this morning (June 24).

The Trump administration has taken little meaningful action to prevent Russian hacking, leaking and disruption in the next national election in 2018, despite warnings from intelligence officials that it will happen again, officials and experts told NBC News.

“This attack is really the political equivalent of 9/11 — it is deadly, deadly serious,” said Michael Vickers, a career intelligence official who was the Pentagon’s top intelligence official in the Obama administration. “The Russians will definitely be back, given the success they had…I don’t see much evidence of a response.”

According to recent Congressional testimony, Trump has shown no interest in the question of how to prevent future election interference by Russia or another foreign power. …

Dozens of state officials told NBC News they have received little direction from Washington about election security.

That apparent top-level indifference, coupled with a failure to fill key jobs at the Department of Homeland Security and other agencies, has resulted in a government paralyzed by inaction when it comes to protecting the next election, experts and government officials told NBC News.

“The Trump administration is woefully missing in action,” said Gregory Miller, co-founder of the Silicon Valley based Open Source Election Technology Institute, a non-profit research group.

“It isn’t happening,” said David Jefferson, a voter security expert and computer scientist in the Center for Applied Scientific Computing, when asked whether he saw a U.S. government effort to address the problem.

What is the Trump administration doing? Apparently, they are pursuing a different agenda.

The White House says it’s sending letters to states and municipalities next week asking them to send data to an election fraud commission. It also points to the signing of a cybersecurity executive order as a step toward protecting elections.

WTF? They’re chasing a bogeyman down a rat hole while the clock is running out on time to strengthen our cyber defenses.

In interviews, dozens of state officials told NBC News they have had limited interaction with the Department of Homeland Security, which is tasked with helping them guard against cyber intrusions. They have seen no major initiative from the Trump administration, they added. …

And the threat remains.

… experts say Russia and other nation-states have shown themselves fully capable of manipulating actual votes.

“It was and is within the technical capacity of Russia and other nation states to interfere with our elections and to change votes, ” said Edward Felton, a Princeton computer scientist who served as deputy chief technology officer in the Obama administration. “We’re fortunate that they chose not to do it.”

J. Alex Halderman, professor of computer science at the University of Michigan, told a Senate hearing this week that he and his team demonstrated the ability to reprogram voting machines “to invisibly cause any candidate to win. We also created malicious software — vote-stealing code — that could spread from machine to machine like a computer virus, and silently change the election outcome.”

… U.S. intelligence officials say, it has to be made clear to the Russians or any other nation that there is a price to be paid for hacking an American election.

John McLaughlin, a former acting CIA director, said he had seen no indication that President Trump and his team have “weighed in with Russians or made clear to the Russians our determination to stop this.”

Links to clips from Rachel’s Friday show

Russian election hacks took US to brink of cyberwar: Rachel Maddow reviews some of the highlights of a lengthy, eye-opening report from The Washington Post about the reaction of the Obama administration to the news that Vladimir Putin was directing a cyberattack on the U.S. election.

Russia 2016 cyberattacks seen as dry run for future elections: Ellen Nakashima, national security reporter for The Washington Post, talks with Rachel Maddow about her reporting on Russia’s cyberattack on the U.S. election and the Obama administration’s deliberations on retaliation.

Uptick in Russian visa requests ahead of 2016 election: Ned Price, former NSC spokesman and senior director, shares with Rachel Maddow insights on the reporting by the Washington Post of an uptick in visa applications from Russia ahead of the 2016 election.

Senate releases Better Care for the Rich Act: What’s in it, How the Senate will try to get it passed, and What you can do to stop it

Health apocalypse
The Republican plan for America:
Ignorance, Poverty, Pestilence, Death

The Senate (McConnell, really) released the draft of the “Better Care” act on Thursday. In this post I cover three questions. (1) What’s in the Senate’s “Better Care Reconciliation Act”? (2) How will the TrumpCare fight play out? (3) What can you do?

What’s in the Senate’s “Better Care Reconciliation Act”?

The Better Care Reconciliation Act: the Senate bill to repeal and replace Obamacare, explained by Sarah Kliff, a vox.com contributor on health care. (h/t Mrs. Scriber)

The bill asks low- and middle-income Americans to spend significantly more for less coverage.

The bill would roll back the Affordable Care Act’s expansion of the Medicaid program, which currently covers millions of low-income Americans, and include additional cuts to Medicaid. It would rework the individual market so that enrollees get less financial help to purchase less generous health insurance with higher deductibles.

Here is how the Senate bill works:

The Senate bill begins to phase out the Medicaid expansion in 2021 — and cuts the rest of the program’s budget too. The Senate bill would end the Affordable Care Act’s expansion of Medicaid to millions of low-income Americans. This program has provided coverage to more Americans than the private marketplaces

It would also cut the rest of the public insurance program. Better Care would also limit government spending on the rest of the Medicaid program, giving states a set amount to spend per person rather than the insurance program’s currently open-ended funding commitment.

The Senate bill provides smaller subsidies for less generous health insurance plans with higher deductibles. The Affordable Care Act provides government help to anyone who earns less than 400 percent of the federal poverty line ($47,550 for an individual or $97,200 for a family of four). The people who earn the least get the most help. The Senate bill would make those subsidies much smaller for many people, and only provide the money to those earning less than 350 percent of the poverty line ($41,580 for individuals and $85,050 for a family of four). The Senate bill will tether the size of its tax credits to what it takes to purchase a skimpier health insurance plan than the type of plans Affordable Care Act subsidies were meant to buy. Essentially, these tax credits buy less health insurance.

The Senate bill seems to allow states to opt out of Obamacare’s marketplaces and essential health benefits requirement. A new waiver process would allow states to overhaul their insurance markets, including ending the essential health benefit requirement and specific subsidies that benefit low income Americans, so long as those changes do not increase the deficit.

The Senate bill repeals the individual mandate — and replaces it with nothing. The bill gets rid of the Affordable Care Act’s unpopular requirement that nearly all Americans carry health coverage or pay a fine. This could cause significant disruption in the individual market because it takes away a key incentive healthy people have to buy coverage, meaning only sick people may sign up.

The bill would cut taxes for the wealthy. Obamacare included tax increases that hit wealthy Americans hardest in order to pay for its coverage expansion. The AHCA would get rid of those taxes. Obamacare was one of the biggest redistributions of wealth from the rich to the poor; the AHCA would reverse that.

The Senate bill defunds Planned Parenthood for one year. This would mean Medicaid patients could no longer seek treatment at Planned Parenthood clinics. Experts expect this would result in low-income Americans getting less medical care and having more unintended pregnancies, as access to contraceptives would decline.

All in all, the replacement plan benefits people who are healthy and high-income, and disadvantages those who are sicker and lower-income. The replacement plan would make several changes to what health insurers can charge enrollees who purchase insurance on the individual market, as well as changing what benefits their plans must cover. In aggregate, these changes could be advantageous to younger and healthier enrollees who want skimpier (and cheaper) benefit packages. But they could be costly for older and sicker Obamacare enrollees who rely on the law’s current requirements, and would be asked to pay more for less generous coverage.

Kliff has lots of detail backing up her analysis in her vox.com report.

How will the TrumpCare fight play out?

This is part of an email message from Ezra Levin, Co-Executive Director, Indivisible. (Indivisible was founded by a group of former congressional staffers who want to turn the tables on the Tea Party types in service of resisting Trump.) (h/t Laurie Jurs via Miriam Lindmeier.)

Senate Republicans have promised a vote by the end of next week. But there are still several steps between now and passage of TrumpCare. Here’s how the former congressional staff at Indivisible Team think the fight will unfurl:

  • Tomorrow, we’ll get a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) score, which will quantify exactly how many millions of Americans will be screwed by this bill and in what ways.
  • On Monday or Tuesday, Republicans will officially announce the vote is happening by the end of the week and start debate on “the bill,” which is just a draft bill intended to make it look like they’re being transparent but in reality is a trick to hide just how awful their finished product will be.
  • Over the next couple days, Senators will submit amendments, most of which will fail and none of which would make this bill redeemable.
  • On Thursday, the Senate will plan to vote on the legislation, but first they will vote on all submitted amendments (known as “vote-a-rama”).
  • At the last possible minute, Senate Republicans will replace the entire bill they just got finished “debating” with an alternative TrumpCare bill secretly crafted behind closed doors.
  • By the end of Thursday, there will be a final vote in the Senate.
  • As soon as that same Thursday, the House may then pass the legislation and send it to Trump to sign. This could take longer, but this is the worst case scenario and quite possible.
  • Next weekend, one week of congressional recess begins. They’ll either have the bill done by then, or they’ll have to wait another week.

Throughout this process there will be precisely zero public hearings in the Senate. Make no mistake, this is a historically partisan, secretive, and undemocratic process for one of the most consequential pieces of legislation of our generation. This is atrocious.

What can you do?

From Indivisible:

So let’s fight it. All you need to pressure your Republican Senators, including DAILY scripts and new materials, is on our TrumpCareTen.org website. Need more background materials? We’ve got ‘em for you here. It’s critical that you’re showing up and that when you’re not showing up, you’re calling your Senators every single day.

Here is Scriber’s post on an alliance4action call to action from a few days ago.

State Sponsored Discrimination

Some parents don’t know best. There. I said it. Let’s face it, some parents aren’t present, some are abusive, and some are drug addicts. Then there are those who are trying their damnedest to provide for their children but their minimum wage jobs (without benefits) just don’t pay enough to make ends meet. Bottom line is, not all parents know how, or care enough to provide, the best they can for their children. Where that is the case, or, when hard working parents need a little help, it is up to all of us in a civil society, to ensure all children are safe and that their basic needs are met. As education reformer John Dewey said over a century ago, “What the best and wisest parent wants for his child, that must we want for all the children of the community. Anything less is unlovely, and left unchecked, destroys our democracy.”

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos evidently doesn’t agree. In recent testimony to Congress, no matter what question she was asked about how far states would be allowed to go in discriminating against certain types of students, she kept deflecting to “states rights” and “parental rights,” failing to say at any point in the testimony that she would ensure states receiving federal dollars would not discriminate. From watching her testimony, if she had been the Secretary of Education with Donald Trump as President back in the early 1960s, the Alabama National Guard would undoubtedly never have been called up to integrate the schools.

This should surprise no one. After all, the entire school reform agenda is really about promoting survival of the fittest. Those who “have” and already do well, will be set up for even more success while those dealing with the challenges poverty presents, will continue to suffer. As far as Betsy DeVos is concerned, the U.S. Department of Education has no responsibility to protect students from discrimination based on race, ethnicity, religion, sexual preference, gender identity. The hell with Brown vs. Board of Education, she will not step in to ensure states do the right thing for their students. As Jack Covey wrote recently to Diane Ravitch, to Betsy, “choice” is everything and parents should be able to send their children to a black-free, LGBT-free, or Muslim-free school on the taxpayer’s dime if they want to.

Does that EVEN sound remotely like America to you? How can it be okay for our tax dollars to promote blatant discrimination? This is essentially state-sponsored discrimination. Yes, discrimination has always occurred via self-funded choice. The wealthy have always been able to keep their children away from the rest of us but, it was on their own dime. As it has always been with parents who stretched budgets to live in neighborhoods with the “best” school district as a way to ensure their child had the best chance.

And despite some attempts to even out the inequity inherent in the system, it persists. Texas superintendent and public school advocate John Kuhn recently wrote about “a phenomenon called ‘inequitable equilibrium’ wherein states are forced by judges to adjust school spending to make it more fair but then, over time, without fail, the state legislatures pass new laws and find workarounds to return to socially acceptable maximum level of school funding inequity.” John goes on to write that, “Voters in centers of power and influence are able to ignore something as esoteric as inequity so long as it only affects relatively voiceless populations in inner cities, border towns, and fading farm towns.”

Now though, we are saying that taxpayers must pay for the right for parents to segregate their children from those they consider less desirable. Today’s narrative is “the hell with ensuring all kids have equal opportunity, you only have to care about your kid and the taxpayer will help you.” Kuhn writes about “voting majorities in Texas primaries [who] nominate candidates who are religious but not moral, who play-act as righteous representatives of the people’s hearts and values but who, in the crucible of leadership, more and more of the time reveal themselves to be really pretty bad people who are effectively incapable of moral leadership.” John may be talking about Texan candidates and lawmakers, but I’ve seen plenty of the same at the Arizona Capitol. And when he writes that Texan voters “keep electing carnival show barkers who are better at sound bites than sane decisions,” you have to admit you can recognize how that applies to Arizona voters as well. I also find myself identifying with his statement that “Governance has devolved into something like pro wrestling, but it’s school children in underfunded schools who are getting hit with folding chairs.” Of course here in Arizona, I would add that “teachers are getting hit with those folded chairs too.”

Then, as Kuhn points out, legislators require schools be graded with “uniform criteria while refusing to fund schools uniformly.” This system then ensure schools in poorer communities are branded as bad schools, driving down property values, making it harder to raise local funds for schools or attract new businesses or jobs. “Test-based school accountability combined with inequitable school funding” John says, “is state-sponsored sabotage of cities.”

It is a sign of the times I am afraid, that it is acceptable to “pick on the little guy” and to “kick a guy when he is down.” It is acceptable for those in power to decide who “wins” and who “loses” and for our nation therefore to be moving toward a caste system where many will never ever have a shot at the American Dream no matter how hard they study and work.

I’ve been streaming “The Handmaid’s Tale” and find it very disturbing. If you haven’t watched it, you should. It is a clear commentary on how accepting the previously unacceptable, no matter how small and seemingly insignificant, can eventually result in horrific consequences no one would have ever believed could come to pass. Prior to the past year, it would never have crossed my mind that something like “The Handmaid’s Tale” could happen in America. Now, I’m not so sure.

One Big Ass Shell Game

Governor Doug Ducey has pledged to reduce taxes every year he is in office and likes to tout he is doing just that. The GOP-led Legislature also seems to be totally on-board with doing less with less unless that is, they are handing out corporate welfare. At least that is, while they still need corporate donations to help fund their reelection campaigns.

Evidently though, once out of office, GOP “leaders” can see the error of their ways as with former Governor Jan Brewer who just told Capitol Media Services that, in hindsight, the tax cuts she approved were “a little bit too aggressive.” She went on to say that the result has been a reduction in revenues for necessary state services and that “sooner or later, you have to pay the fiddler.” Just like GOP leadership today though (who claim school boards, not they, are responsible for teacher salaries), she passes the buck by saying her approval of the cuts was a political compromise because “the boys at the Legislature…wanted more.”

The tax cuts Brewer and “her boys” put in place a decade ago will in the FY2018 budget year alone for example, reduce state revenues by another $107.2 million. Since 2015, the 30% reduction in the corporate tax rate has amounted to $400 million. Unfortunately though, economist Dennis Hoffman of the W.P. Carey School of Business at ASU says, “There is no discernible evidence that corporate economic activity accelerated in response to the cuts.” He went on to say that “net corporate collections this fiscal year will likely be less than 60 percent of the net flows observed in fiscal year 2012 or 2013 despite the moderate growth we have seen in the overall Arizona economy since then.” Or, as Howard Fischer, of Capitol Media Services writes, “if the cuts were supposed to convince more corporations to move to Arizona and start to pay taxes, that hasn’t been the experience.” Need I mention how Sam Brownback’s Kansas experiment with “trickle down has worked out?”

The tax cuts aren’t though, the only form of corporate welfare GOP lawmakers are really good at handing out. In fiscal year 2016, state law allowed $13.7 billion in taxes to go uncollected via a long list of exemptions, deductions, allowances, exclusions or credits. That number, the AZ Capitol Times reports, is likely to grow by another $1-to–2 billion once individual income tax deductions are added to it. The Arizona Department of Revenue estimates that more than half of all state taxes haven’t been collected for at least a decade. These “tax expenditures,” amount to $136.5 billion since fiscal year 2007, about the same as the sum of state budgets over the past 15 years. Most of these tax expenditures (exemptions) come from a variety of “carve-outs” to the transaction privilege tax, Arizona’s version of a sales tax. In fiscal year 2016 alone, almost $12.3 billion was excluded, about half of it due to services being exempted.

Of course, any attempt to reign in these tax exemptions has been met with resistance from GOP legislators and in fact, an amendment to the AZ Constitution passed by voters in 1992 requires any changes to the tax code that would increase revenue, to be approved by a two-thirds supermajority in each legislative chamber instead of a simple majority. This is a tall order, but even so, Senator Steve Farley (D) and Senator David Farnsworth (R) introduced SB 1144 this year to require a review of tax expenditure to TPT every ten years. Representative Vince Leach (R) was one of the many opposed to the bill, making it clear he didn’t like the word “expenditure” in the name of the review committee (Joint Legislative Tax Expenditure Review Committee) the bill called for. Leach said the name would give the impression that the Legislature is appropriating funding with the exemptions rather than just not collecting it. I would call that a serious splitting of hairs. The bottom line is whether you call them tax exemptions or tax expenditures, the affect is the same…they are making our state poorer and ultimately, due to cut services and programs, meaner.

But wait, there’s more. Not content with all the giveaways they already have in the pipeline, GOP legislators agreed this year, to cut another $10 million from state revenues by allowing Arizonans an additional $100 exemption of their income from state taxes. This is definitely more show than go though, since even the wealthiest Arizonans – those making more than $150,000 a year – will see a difference of just $4.54 when they file their taxes;those making less will see even less.

Of course, there’s nothing like political spin to put a different face on facts. Of the $100 increase in personal exemption, gubernatorial press aide Daniel Scarpinato said, “Any time you’re improving the tax code and letting people keep more of the money they earn, you’re going to see an impact. This is money that people will be keeping of their own and putting into the economy rather than just going into government.” Really? A max of $4.54 per taxpayer will get our economy moving? Why didn’t we think of this before?

The state needs to find the balance of “providing enough revenue to pay for all the other stuff that businesses and the public want to make a nice environment to live in” says economist Jim Rounds. And, although it doesn’t take an economist to figure that out, some voters still may not realize that many of the tax cuts the AZ GOP has handed out aren’t cuts at all for the citizens of Arizona. Rather, they are part of a complex shell game that lets the Governor and legislators look like they are cutting taxes while just shirking their responsibilities to fund our schools, repair our highways, and care for the neediest amongst us. Instead, they increasingly pass the costs down to the taxpayers at the local level in the form of increased sales taxes, overrides and bonds for school districts, and local taxes to repair our roads. In the case of monies for road repair specifically, the revenue for the repairs has been raised year after year, but then also each year, swept up by the Legislature to use elsewhere.

Yes, the funding of our state is one big ass shell game which we are currently losing. Want to start winning? Elect legislators by their commitment to giving Arizonans what they deserve: well funded public schools with adequately compensated teachers, well maintained highways and roads without potholes, a Child Protective Services agency that actually protects children, and much more. Face it, we are effectively in a war between care for the people and their common good and care for corporations and the wealthy. Your vote is your most effective weapon in that war; use it wisely.