Balance is the key

I just listened to “The Coming Storm”, by Michael Lewis. I didn’t carefully read the description before diving in, and thought it would inform me about the increasing violence of weather. Rather, I learned about the privatization of weather, or at least the reporting of it, and the Department of Commerce.

Turns out, the Department of Commerce has little to do with commerce and is actually forbidden by law from engaging in business. Rather, it runs the U.S. Census, the Patent and Trademark Office, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Over half of its $9B budget though, is spent by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to figure out the weather. And figuring out the weather, is largely about collecting data. “Each and every day, NOAA collects twice as much data as is contained in the entire book collection of the Library of Congress.” One senior policy adviser from the George W. Bush administration, said the Department of Commerce should really be called the Department of Science and Technology. When he mentioned this to Wilbur Ross, Trump’s appointee to lead the Department, Ross said, “Yeah, I don’t think I want to be focusing on that.” Unfortunately for all of us, Ross also wasn’t interested in finding someone who would do it for him.

In October 2017, Barry Myers, a lawyer who founded and ran AccuWeather, was nominated to serve as the head of the NOAA. This is a guy who in the 1990s, argued the NWS should be forbidden (except in cases where human life and property was at stake) from delivering any weather-related knowledge to Americans who might be a consumer of AccuWeather products. “The National Weather Service” Myers said, “does not need to have the final say on warnings…the government should get out of the forecasting business.”

Then in 2005, Senator Rick Santorum (a recipient of Myers family contributions) introduced a bill to basically eliminate the National Weather Service’s ability to communicate with the public. Lewis asks his readers to “consider the audacity of that manuever. A private company whose weather predictions were totally dependent on the billions of dollars spent by the U.S. taxpayer to gather the data necessary for those predictions, and on decades of intellectual weather work sponsored by the U.S. taxpayer, and on the very forecasts that the National Weather Service generated, was, in effect, trying to force the U.S. taxpayer to pay all over again for the National Weather Service might be able to tell him or her for free.”

It was at this point in my listening that I began to think how this privatization story was paralleling that of education’s. In both cases, those in the public sector are in it for the mission, not the money. In both cases, the private sector only “wins” if the public sector “loses”. In both cases, it is in the interest of the private sector to facilitate the failure of the public sector or make it look like it is failing.

Just as private and charter schools profit when district schools are perceived to be of lower quality, Barry Myers has worked hard to make government provided weather services look inferior to that which the private sector can provide. As Lewis points out, “The more spectacular and expensive the disasters, the more people will pay for warning of them. The more people stand to lose, the more money they will be inclined to pay. The more they pay, the more the weather industry can afford to donate to elected officials, and the more influence it will gain over the political process.”

Myers clearly understood the private weather sector’s financial interest in catastrophe and had no qualms about maximizing on it. One of those opportunities presented itself in Moore, Oklahoma when the NWS failed to spot a tornado that had spun up quickly and rapidly vanished. AccuWeather managed to catch it and immediately sent out a press release bragging that they’d sent a tornado alert to their paying corporate customers 12 minutes before the tornado hit. But, they never broadcast the warning…only those who had paid for it got it. This focus on profit above all else is why when the Trump Administration asked a former Bush Commerce department official to provide a list of those who should lead NOAA, Barry Myers’ name was not on it. “I don’t want someone who has a bottom line, or a concern with shareholders”, said the official, “in charge of saving lives and protecting property.”

That sentiment is how I feel about the provision of “public” education by private and charter schools. I don’t want someone who has a bottom line, or a concern with corporate shareholders, in charge of educating America’s children without full transparency and complete accountability to taxpayers and the public. Rather, when taxpayer dollars are funding a service previously provided by the public sector, the potential must be weighed, for damage to the common good caused by the motive to profit.

Unfortunately, that’s not what’s happening today. As described by Jim Sleeper in a recent Salon.com article titled “Republic derangement: A party I used to respect has gone off the cliff”, “the disease of turbo-marketing [is] reducing American education, entertainment, social media, politics and the dignity of work itself to levels determined by a mania to maximize profits and shareholder dividends, no matter the social costs.

No, I’m not saying there aren’t problems with the public sector. But, the idea that the public has more control over a private corporation than it does over a public entity is ludicrous. The idea that parents have more say over a charter school’s Education Management Organization (EMO) or a private school’s owner, than they do over a school district governing board is ludicrous. Ever try to attend an EMO’s board meeting, let alone be allowed to make a “call to the public” at one? How about gaining visibility to the financial documents of a private school? Not happening.

The key to public sector performance is public engagement. For-profit corporations are generally motivated by profit. That is as it should be. Public entities are generally motivated by doing good for the public, again, as it should be. Neither is inherently bad or good, they each have their place and purpose. In some cases, there can even be a good mix of the two, such as with the U.S. Postal Service. But, the focus on privatization is currently being overplayed, to the detriment of our public institutions and the common good of our Nation and our world.

Truth is, government can provide a valuable check on corporate greed. Likewise, fair competition from the private sector can provide a check on the potential for government complacency or really, that of any monopoly, private or public.

Balance is the key. As Simon Sinek said, “The trick to balance is to not make sacrificing important things become the norm.” One of the most “important things” in my mind, is to care for those who do not have the capacity to care for themselves. To ensure ALL OUR children have the opportunity to lead healthy, productive lives, no matter the circumstances of their birth, or the zip code in which they live. In the words of John Dewey, “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.”

Oh No She Didn’t!

AZ Capitol Times reported today that in response to a Save Our Schools suggestion that voucher expansion should be “sidelined” while the battle for public education funding continues, Kim Martinez, a spokeswoman for the American Federation For Children, said she was “unimpressed”. Martinez also said that, “It is unfortunate that Save Our Schools continues to take a stance against children who need ESAs, a program that helps disadvantaged students who are slipping through the cracks at their neighborhood schools. It is short-sighted to put funding concerns above children whose learning requirements have to be met today.”

Bravo Ms. Martinez, I couldn’t have said it better myself, at least not your words about the urgency of meeting children’s learning requirements. It totally IS short-sighted to put funding concerns above children whose learning requirements have to be met today. It IS totally unacceptable that public school students entering high school next year, have yet to be in an adequately funded classroom. It IS totally unacceptable that the Arizona Legislature continues to favor corporate welfare over ensuring our public schools are adequately funded.

As for your swipe at Save Our Schools for their “stance against…disadvantaged students who are slipping through the cracks at their neighborhood schools”, give me a break! We know that Save Our Schools is fighting for exactly these children and all one million Arizona public school students. We also know that you are fighting for Betsy DeVos and her privatization movement. Neither Save Our Schools, nor our public schools at large, are responsible for “disadvantaged students who are slipping through the cracks. The enemies of these students are 1) poverty and 2) our failure to deal with it.

Our children cannot continue to wait for the adults to understand that education is not an expense, it is an investment. They cannot wait for us to realize that every child matters and deserves the opportunity to succeed. Every day that passes without this as our driving force, is another day of lost opportunity for us all.

Liberals don’t see the problems; Conservatives, the promise

Recently, I saw a bumper sticker that said, “When the government gives you something, they take something away from someone else.” “Wow”, I thought. “What a cynical way to look at the common good.” Why not view it as “when the government gives you something, it is really your neighbor giving you a helping hand”? The government is after all, nothing more or less than all of us.

And yet, the GOP has managed to convince many Americans that as Ronald Reagan said, “government is not the solution of our problem; government is the problem” and Grover Nordquist said, he wanted to “shrink it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.”

There are however, a multitude of functions that can only be effectively and fairly provided by government. There are many examples of this such as national defense and public education, but basically, I think the primary role of government is to provide for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. William Weld, a former Republican governor of Massachusetts, wrote that,

“Liberals often don’t see the problems, and conservatives don’t see the promise, of government.”

I certainly can’t speak for all liberals, (which literally, is not a four letter word oh by the way), but I think I’m fairly clear-eyed about some of the problems of government. But…I haven’t found many Conservatives who will admit to the essential good that government can provide. Yes, government is not perfect. It tends to be bureaucratic and inefficient. But…if we the people, do our one main job (voting) correctly, we elect those who will make it the best it can be.

Weld’s circa 2000 article talks about the role of government to act as a check on corporate greed that doesn’t serve the greater good, to protect the environment, and to as Lincoln said, “appeal to the better angels of our nature.” Weld noted that, “Oliver Wendell Holmes once said that the desire to exclude other people from your circle and surround yourself with people just like yourself is a perfectly natural human phenomenon.”

That natural tendency though argued Weld, must be “guarded against and restrained.” He added that,

“Government can contribute to a shared sense of purpose on the part of the citizenry; that’s its highest and best application.”

This role to contribute to a “shared sense of purpose”, is I believe the biggest failure of President Trump. Not only has he not appealed to our “better angels”; he has stoked the fires of division and then continually turned up the heat. Whether race-baiting, declaring himself a nationalist, declaring the press the “enemy of the people”, or working to reduce people’s trust in our nations’ institutions, he continues to appeal to the lowest common denominators of hate and fear. And, unfortunately, GOP leadership has pretty much been “lock-step” with him.

In an article published two days ago on Salon.com, Jim Sleeper, a lecturer at Yale and author of two books on liberalism and race wrote,

“Yet Aristotle was right to warn that humans who lose the art and discipline of “the political” become lower than beasts. When conservatism talks about the sanctity of property and, at the same time, about the dangers of materialism and of public-deficit financing, both of which it pursues to strengthen plutocrats and to bankrupt Social Security, public education and health care, it opens the vacuum to Trumpian malevolence and corruption. Its “pre-political” anti-politics subverts its own professed ideals of republican self-governance, which should reinforce mutual trust, not dog-eat-dog competition and empty salvific, decadent and scapegoating escapes. But what they didn’t do – what we need to do most now – is to stop the disease of turbo-marketing from dissolving the republic that has given its insurgents enough breathing room and footholds to transcend even themselves.”

If we are to change the narrative, the Democrats in Congress now must, (as my wife had hoped to do in the Arizona Legislature), prove that government CAN work for the people. It CAN function well to ensure the people’s needs are addressed. That, rather than investigations and committee hearings, will speak loudest to the American people.

The GOP preexisting condition – they voted to kill ACA before defending it

Cross-posted from SkyIslandScriber.com

Republicans think you are stupid. As part of your mental incapacity, the GOPlins are betting that you, and millions of other voters, have no memory of what the GOP candidates said just a couple of weeks ago. A case in point is “preexisting conditions.” The entire Republican party repeatedly voted against the ACA (aka Obamacare) which has as a major feature protection for those with preexisting conditions. But the Republicans, notably the president and leaders of both House and Senate, vowed to kill ACA and thereby remove such protection. Closer to home, AZ CD2 Rep. Martha “Get this fucking thing done” McSally jumped on that bandwagon and repeatedly voted to kill ACA. Now, however, it is apparent that the public really likes ACA and wants its protection for those with preexisting conditions. Of course, you know what’s happening next. The Republicans, including McSally, are for such protection. Big time. Why the change? That’s the topic of this post.

I begin with various commentaries. But if you are strapped for time this morning, skip to the end and view the Rachel Maddow video from last night. It features our own Martha McSally flipping, flopping, and floundering on camera about the disconnect between her votes to kill ACA (and its provision for preexisting conditions) and now her claim to be its grand protector.

This morning 538 asks Are Republicans Losing The Health Care Debate? It looks like it. They’ve done a 180 on protections for people with pre-existing conditions.

This week President Trump tweeted that Republicans would “totally protect” health insurance coverage for the millions of Americans who have pre-existing medical conditions (while Democrats would not, he said) and encouraged people to “Vote Republican.” If this sounds like a bizarre 180-degree turn for Trump and his administration, that’s because it is.

Earlier this year, the administration supported a lawsuit that asks the courts to throw out key provisions of the Affordable Care Act, arguing that the individual mandate and protections for pre-existing medical conditions were unconstitutional. What’s more, Republicans have long campaigned on the promise to repeal the ACA and tried to “repeal and replace” it for much of the summer of 2017.

“The ground has shifted under Republicans and now they’re trying to catch up with this,” said Simon Haeder, a professor at West Virginia University. Haeder said the GOP may be trying to change its tune on ensuring coverage for those with pre-existing medical conditions because the position is now so widely accepted. “A decade ago or so, we had no protections for people with pre-existing conditions,” said Haeder. “And we got those with the ACA, and now they’re so accepted by everyone that Republicans feel compelled to acknowledge they want to support people with pre-existing conditions, despite what they’ve told us for the last eight years.”

But unfortunately for Trump and the Republican party, Democrats seem to be winning the health care public opinion battle: 53 percent of Americans said they trust Democrats to do a better job with health care than Republicans in a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll. Just 35 percent of respondents said they trusted Republicans over Democrats. Similarly, a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that Americans were more likely to trust Democrats over Republicans on specific health care issues like continuing protections for pre-existing medical conditions and reducing health care costs. Even independents have gotten behind Democrats: 60 percent placed their faith in Democrats to protect pre-existing conditions (compared to 19 percent who trusted Republicans) in the Kaiser poll.

Americans have also come to feel more positively toward the the ACA in the last year. Forty-nine percent of U.S adults view the ACA favorably in the most recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll, compared to 42 percent who view it unfavorably. The popularity of the ACA even reached an all-time high in February of this year, with 54 percent of Americans approving of it according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

With just two weeks to go until the midterms, both Democrats and Republicans are doubling down on health care as a critical campaign issue. We reached out to experts to see if they thought it was a smart move for Republicans to try to shift the narrative on pre-existing medical conditions, but the experts we spoke to said Republicans were too far behind on the issue to gain much ground. They were also unsure if this might actually hurt Republicans at the polls. After all, health care isn’t the top issue for every voter.

Robert Blendon, a professor of health policy and political analysis at Harvard, told FiveThirtyEight that the best political strategy for Republicans is to “try to not talk about health care.” But Democrats have made health care a core campaign issue, running deeply personal and emotional ads, and Blendon said that has ultimately forced Republicans to respond. “If you’re there and the ads are running and you’re in a forum with a Democratic candidate accusing you, you have to say something. The old argument — ‘We’ll just get rid of it and start over’ — is a total nonstarter.”

In the short term, Republicans’ strategy of supporting protections for people with pre-existing conditions may help reassure some independent voters who were already planning to cast their vote for the GOP, but the experts we spoke with said it’s not likely to sway other voters. And in the long term, experts said today’s positions will make it tougher for Republicans to repeal the ACA, putting them in a difficult legislative position going forward.

Whether Republicans will suffer electoral losses as a result is unclear. But, Eric Patashnik, a public policy professor at Brown University, said in an email that “it is already clear that Republicans have made it even harder for their party to govern if they manage to retain control of both chambers and take another stab at dismantling Obamacare.”

See? The GOPlins are losing their bet against you and your memory.

Katrina vanden Heuvel writing in the Washington Post (and The Nation) hopes that Voters must catch on to Republicans’ con on health care.

And it seems that they are.

… [Senate Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell is getting criticized for handing Democrats a campaign issue, but this has been Republican gospel for years. …

McConnell’s heresy was to mention his plans a few weeks before the Nov. 6 midterm elections. As committed as Republicans are to cutting Social Security and Medicare, they are even more rabid about not admitting that in election campaigns. More than a dozen vulnerable Republicans scrubbed their websites to omit any mention of their pledge or vote to repeal Obamacare. This year, emulating Trump’s penchant for the big lie, many have been even more brazen — cross-dressing as Medicare’s defenders against Democrats who favor moving to a Medicare-for-all program. Trump himself weighed in with a characteristically dishonest opinion piece in USA Today, arguing that Democrats would “eviscerate Medicare.”

For the first time, however, Americans might be catching on to the shuck. Health care emerged as a leading issue this year, even before McConnell made his comments. Democrats are on the attack against Republicans who voted to repeal Obamacare, deprive millions of health insurance and end coverage of those with preexisting conditions. The Wesleyan Media Project, which tracks paid advertising by candidates, super PACs and party committees, reported that from Sept. 18 to Oct. 15, almost half of the ads in federal races mentioned health care, including nearly 55 percent of pro-Democratic ads.

A Morning Consult-Politico poll taken Oct. 11–14 reports that among voters who prioritize senior issues such as Social Security and Medicare, Democrats enjoy a 19-point advantage (52–33) over Republicans. Seventeen percent of the voters reported these issues were their leading concern. In recent years, seniors have been the most conservative voting cohort, while having the highest turnout. Republicans won the senior vote convincingly in the 2010 and 2014 midterms. Trump won 53 percent of the senior vote in 2016. If these concerns dent the Republican margin among seniors, a blue wave would be virtually assured.

And Paul Waldman, also in the Post, boldly declared that Obamacare has finally won.

It’s happening on multiple fronts. First, polls over the past year or so have shown the law to be consistently popular — more so than, for instance, the tax cut Republicans thought would be the key to a midterm election victory. When even Fox News polls show the law getting more support than ever, the world is obviously not as Republicans would like it to be.

Second, instead of demanding that the ACA be torn from its foundations and set ablaze, the public seems more inclined to entrench its protections and expand its coverage. As the Associated Press reports, in the four conservative states where voters got initiatives on the ballot to accept the ACA’s expansion of Medicaid and insure thousands more people, the conservative lawmakers who refused to do so for years have been shocked by the popularity of the measures, with polls showing them with a good likelihood of winning …

Perhaps it shouldn’t have been so surprising after the backlash they experienced when they tried to repeal the ACA last year and it became apparent how popular Medicaid is. In the latest Kaiser Family Foundation tracking poll, by a margin of 56 percent to 37 percent, voters in states that did not accept the expansion of Medicaid — conservative states all — now say they support expansion.

Then, of course, there’s the fact that the ACA’s guarantee of coverage for people with preexisting conditions has suddenly become the hottest issue in the midterm elections, so much so that one Republican candidate after another is airing ads proclaiming his fervent commitment to maintaining those protections — the very protections Republicans have been trying to destroy with repeal efforts and lawsuits aimed at getting the law struck down. You can find few better signs of the political success of a law than when the people who fought against it and are still trying to destroy it rush to assure voters that in fact they dearly love what it does.

And every time another Republican airs an ad claiming that he wants to mandate protections for preexisting conditions, he only reinforces one of the ideas that drove the creation of the ACA in the first place: that it’s the responsibility of government to ensure that every American has secure health coverage.

This is a story in itself. Remember the Trumpian formula for governance? For a given agency X, appoint as its leader someone Anti-X.

Just to be clear, none of this means that the ACA is safe. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said that if Republicans have the votes next year, they will try again to repeal the law. The Trump administration is encouraging states to add work requirements to Medicaid, the purpose of which is simply to force recipients to navigate a bureaucratic maze so that the state can find a justification to kick them off their health coverage. To be in charge of the Medicaid program, Trump just appointed Mary Mayhew, a former aide to America’s worst governor, Paul LePage of Maine, who refused to accept the expansion even after his state’s voters passed an initiative requiring him to do so; her mission seems to be to destroy Medicaid from the inside.

Regardless, the popularity of ACA might well shield us against such attempts at bad governance. Waldman concludes “Once people started seeing the benefits of the ACA, it did indeed become more popular. It still has problems and leaves gaps, and Democrats are becoming united around the idea of moving past it to go all the way to universal coverage. But it’s looking increasingly unlikely that we will revert to the unspeakably cruel health insurance system we had before the ACA took effect. Even if that’s what Republicans would still prefer.”

Lastly, you should set aside 10 minutes or so and view this segment from the Rachel Maddow show last night (Thursday, Oct. 25th). The clip is embedded below but if you have trouble viewing it, here is the link.

http://player.theplatform.com/p/7wvmTC/MSNBCEmbeddedOffSite?guid=n_maddow_a2mcsally_181025

The dozen things Susan Collins did not say should motivate female voters

Cross posted from SkyIslandScriber.com

There were few surprises yesterday on the Senate floor as the senators delivered speeches about why they did or did not favor the confirmation of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the US Supreme Court. The notable actions were from the supposedly undecided senators who announced how they will vote: Collins (yes), Flake (yes), Heitkamp (no), Manchin (yes), Murkowsky (no).

Susan Collins (R, Maine) took the podium at noon yesterday to defend her decision. I watched the full, hour-long presentation. I won’t (can’t, really) trouble you with her detailed defense of Kavanaugh’s judicial record, her condemnation of the confirmation process, her indictment of Kavanaugh’s opponents, her casting of doubt on Ford’s naming of Kavanaugh as Ford’s abuser. It was a bit hard not to be impressed with her defense of the presumption of innocence. However, what really grabbed me was what she did not say.

She did not talk about the dozens of potential witnesses ignored by the FBI in the reopened background check.

She did not talk about the apparent interference by the White House with that investigation.

She did not talk about the 90% of the Kavanaugh documents that were withheld from the Senators.

She did not reference the now over 2400 law professors who were united in their condemnation of the horrific rant by Kavanaugh.

She did not reference an additional letter signed by 900 female law professors.

She did not reference the announced opposition by former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens.

She did not cite the American Bar Association’s concerns about Kavanaugh.

She did not mention the (rare) opposing announcement by the National Council of Churches.

She did not cite the studied editorial positions of America’s two major newspapers, the New York Times and the Washington Post.

She did not refer to the dishonesties attributed to Kavanaugh’s previous appearances before the Senate.

She did not take note of Kavanaugh’s deranged rant in which he blamed Democrats and the Clintons for the opposition to his confirmation. He stopped just short of “Lock her up!”

And, particularly galling to me: after citing the over 90% concurrence between voting patterns of Kavanaugh and Merrick Garland, she did not admit to how the Senate Republicans denied a chance for the nominee of a sitting president to be heard let alone voted upon for over a year. In ignoring McConnell’s role in that cheat, as one columnist called it, she let stand the underlying hypocrisy of this rushed Republican circus.

You can read about the details in the post this morning by the AZ Blue Meanie at Blog for Arizona who wrote Despite massive opposition, Republicans are set to confirm the most unpopular judicial nominee in American history.

David Fitzsimmons, editorial cartoonist and columnist at the Daily Star, will have the last words for now as he says I believe Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh told the truth.

If you are a woman, on the way to getting even, you should be seriously mad. Because, Fitz says, you know that “if a woman acted like Kavanaugh did, she would have been dismissed as a hysterical, raging bitch. If a black man acted like Kavanaugh, he would have been cuffed and searched. Any Latino who dared to act like Kavanaugh would have been put on a plane to Mexico yesterday.”

“It’s good be a preppy, Brett”, observes Fitz.

And there is one more thing Collins did not say. That’s the indelible memory that Christine Ford will carry to the grave, the memory of two drunk preppies having a laugh at her expense. Fitz again:

… the king and all the king’s men had best know that in 2018, Hell hath no fury like a woman voter scorned by her prehistoric senators. This election year, indelible in the female voter’s hippocampus as she contemplates her vote, will be the laughter. The uproarious laughter between you, Mister President, and your fans at that rally, having fun at the expense of a sexual assault victim.

If you are woman, please, please let me watch you vote.

An open letter to Sen. Jeff Flake

Cross-posted from skyislandscriber.com

Following is a letter to the editor from your Scriber appearing in the Green Valley News this morning titled Kavanaugh vote.

An open letter to Sen. Jeff Flake.

At the end of Bertolt Brecht’s play, Galileo tells his former student “The practice of science would seem to call for valor.” I add, “The practice of responsible politics would seem to call for valor.”

Shortly you will be asked to cast a vote on Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination for the Supreme Court. What you do might well take valor. Everything you detest about President Trump exists as a microcosm that played out in the confirmation hearings. The record shows Kavanaugh being less than honest in previous appearances before the Senate. The record this year shows Kavanaugh being evasive and not answering questions put by the senators. In the past, you have spoken out forcefully on your displeasure with the president. Trump most recently has tried to use the Justice Department against his political opponents. And now Trump’s nomination of Kavanaugh appears to be a ploy to protect himself from his legal entanglements. You need to talk about the connection between Trump and Kavanaugh, but you need to do more. You need to vote against that confirmation. Your integrity and credibility are at stake.

In the Rogue Theatre director’s notes, we are told: “Like the courtiers surrounding Prince Cosimo de Medici who refuse to look through Galileo’s telescope, we refuse to learn the truth because it might upset our ideas about the way things are.” You, sir, are not a courtier and Donald Trump is not a king. You are a United States senator and as such you should demand and get honesty and forthrightness from those who testify before the Senate.

I hope you will behave with valor and vote against this confirmation. I ask this of you in the name of the citizens of the United States of America to whom you owe the truth.

Bill Maki, Green Valley

BTW: I highly recommend the Rogue Theatre version of the play, Galileo.

The most important vote you ever cast

Cross-posted from skyislandscriber.com

Bob Lord at Blog for Arizona reminds us that Reality Calls: Kyrsten Sinema May Be the Most Important Vote You Ever Cast. Here it is in full.

I was hoping a miracle would save me from writing this post.

I so wanted Deedra Abboud to pull off a stunning upset, even though I knew it couldn’t happen.

But reality has arrived. Kyrsten Sinema is the nominee for U.S. Senate of the Democratic Party.

And as soon as I receive my ballot in the mail in October, I’ll be connecting that broken bar next to her name. It’ll be painful. I’ll undoubtedly throw up a little in the back of my mouth as I do it. But there will be no hesitation on my part. Sanity demands no less.

And if you want to maximize our chance of avoiding disaster, you’ll be joining me.

I will do this with no delusions about how Sinema will vote. I know each vote she casts will be an exercise in abject cynicism, with the sole consideration being how it impacts her own political future, principle be damned. I know she’ll vote to repeal the estate tax on billionaires and to let Wall Street thieves run wild. I get that.

But it’s not about how she will vote; it’s about who she’ll caucus with and about avoiding the alternative, Martha McSally. Whatever the possibilities are to wrest control of the Senate from Mitch McConnell, we need to maximize them. If that chance is a mere one percent, we need to pull for it. If it’s 99 percent, we need to make certain there is no surprise. And as tragically flawed as Sinema is, McSally, who repeatedly pledges fealty to Trump, is a thousand times worse. Yeah, I know, the lesser of two evils is still evil. But when choosing between a shoplifter and an axe murderer, choose the shoplifter. It’ll be a choice you can live with.

For Arizona progressives who resent the condescension of establishment hacks stupidly blaming you for Hillary Clinton’s loss, when any moron could figure out that the election was lost in the rust belt, I feel your pain. But the election isn’t about those establishment hacks, no matter how much their condescension tempts you to lash out and vote Green or stay home. This is not 2016. This time, Arizona is the epicenter. Sinema’s success in November is crucial. Arizona very well could decide the balance of political power in the U.S. Senate.

And there is nothing remotely as important as constraining the power of Donald Trump. Nothing.

So, when you receive your ballot, get it over with right away, lest you not give in to the temptation to send a message, or forget to vote early, then get whacked with some emergency on Election Day.

And if you wake up feeling a bit cheapened on November 7th, you can find redemption by gearing up for the 2024 primary. It’ll be here before you know it.

Scriber weighs in: If you stay home, you get McSally. If you vote Green or Libertarian, you get McSally. You can continue to be a progressive, but you need to get practical. She “who repeatedly pledges fealty to Trump, is a thousand times worse” than Sinema. Here are some samples of what I’ve posted in the recent past.

From my May 21, ,2018 post: In Election 2018 ‘The Democrats are coming.’ But which ones and how Democratic? I reviewed the reasons for thinking badly of Sinema, concluding:

So, do with this what you will. But remember 167. That’s the number of Democrats who were angered by some of then Rep. Ron Barber’s votes who stayed home in 2014 and thereby were complicit in getting McSally the CD2 seat. Which she kept in 2016. And which may now be her path to the Senate. And then the Presidency.

If you don’t like Sinema for Senate (and there are good reasons why you should not), what are you going to do come November? Are you (oh, hell, we) willing to accept McSally or Kelli Ward or Joe Arpaio over Sinema?

From my June 13, 2018 post: Research report – Krysten Sinema’s votes reveal progressive values.

For Sinema’s record in the U. S. House, I used 538’s Tracking Congress In The Age Of Trump. An updating tally of how often every member of the House and the Senate votes with or against the president. One measure is “how often a member votes in line with Trump’s position.” Sinema scores 57.3% and is the third highest Democrat in the House in voting with Trump.

However, that percentage is misleading. Here is why. The percentage includes lots of bills that provide stop-gap funding to keep the government running or that deal with other budgetary matters. Votes for these kinds of routine bills will tend to inflate the percentage score – assuming we all want to keep our government running. (Disclosure: I’ve used that percentage score to criticize other candidates before. Now I have to reevaluate that practice.)

Instead of using the overall percentage we need to look at votes on legislation that matter to progressives, for example, denying funding for Planned Parenthood, punishing sanctuary cities, increasing the availability of guns, repeal of Dodd-Frank, and repeal of regulations that provide for clean air and water. I pulled the records for 33 such bills from January 1, 2017 to present. I counted the number of instances in which Sinema voted against legislation supported by Trump. Her score was 85% opposed to Trump’s position.

You might ask how good is that score. To establish bounds on that measure I used the same method to compute the progressive scores for Raul Grijalva (AZ CD 3) and Martha McSally (AZ CD2). Grijalva scored a perfect 100% opposed to Trump’s positions and McSally, voting almost entirely with Trump on everything, scored 3%. (By the way, Trump’s score on the same measure was a perfect 0%.)

At the time of this writing, it appears that a likely match-up for the AZ U. S. Senate seat will be between Sinema and McSally. When it comes to deciding on how to vote, if you want ideological purity, you could point to the difference between Sinema and Grijalva (100% – 85% = 15%) and stay home. But if you want to flip that seat held by Republican Jeff Flake to a Democrat, you should focus on the difference between Sinema’s progressive score vs. that of McSally (85% – 3% = 82%) and Get Out to Vote.

I-11? NIMBY

Picture Rocks (a rural, unincorporated community west of Marana) was the place to be this past Tuesday night when representatives from the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) came to a Citizens for Picture Rocks (C4PR) meeting to brief residents about the proposed I-11 highway. I counted about 120 people overflowing the community center and although people were mostly polite, it was obvious feelings run raw on this subject.img_2037.jpg

I-11, is a new north-south Interstate Highway envisioned to someday run from Mexico to Canada. In Arizona, the project is at the Tier 1 Environmental Impact Study (EIS) stage to identify a Selected Corridor Alternative on a 280-mile long corridor between Nogales and Wickenburg. This EIS was authorized by the State Transportation Board in December 2014 and was slated to run for three years at a cost of $15 million to determine the “preferred alternative” route.  i11 map

Jay Van Echo, ADOT project manager for I-11, gave a “15 minute presentation” that must have lasted at least 45 minutes. During that time, he frequently stated that the “facility” (highway) project is in the deliberative, not decision stage. But, at a meeting in May 2016, he acknowledged there are only two serious possibilities: “through the Avra Valley or along the existing I-10.” The latter alternative involved the possibility of double-decking six miles of Ruthrauff and I-19. According to then-ADOT State Engineer Jennifer Toth in 2008, “it would do everything planners want for the next 30 years at one-third the cost. That would save taxpayers nearly $2 billion.” But, according to the article in TucsonLocalMedia.com, ADOT rejected that option due to “cost”.

History like this might be why, despite very diverse political viewpoints, the Picture Rocks community (and many other stakeholders) is united in their opposition to an outcome many believe has been predetermined. That outcome, is a new interstate running through pristine Sonoran desert, and what they want to know is, how to stop it.

Although unified in opposition, they voiced a variety of reasons for it. Most of course, are concerned about losing their homes or having their property values negatively impacted. One resident though, raised concerns about how the proposed highway would obviously help Mexico and Canada, but was not about putting “America First”. Another, wondered how the President’s border wall would affect the project. Yet another raised a concern about a conspiracy between various government entities and with wealthy people who appear to be buying up land in the area. Nothing it appears, is apolitical, or what it seems, these days.

Other questions included concern for how pollution from trucks would be mitigated, whether homeowners would be fully compensated for their property if forced to move, whether there was any benefit for residents of Avra Valley (which abuts the Ironwood National Monument area) and when the final decision of a route would be made. On that last one, I never heard a definitive answer. What I gleaned from the i11study.com website, is that once the EIS analysis is complete this month, the effort will progress to the Final EIS from November 2018 to October 2019 to identify the preferred alternative and then the Record of Decision will identify the selected alternative between October and November 2019.

Van Echo repeated several times that there would be more opportunities for community members to provide comment and ask questions prior to the eventual decision being made. I got the impression though, that those responsible for this decision are not necessarily listening. Both the questions presented on behalf of the C4PR Board and members of the Picture Rocks Transportation Committee, and comments eventually allowed later by those in attendance, led me to that conclusion.

It’s not that people aren’t trying to be heard. The I-11 Joint Stakeholder Community Planning Group (JSCPG) provided a clear position in their I-11 position statement issued on August 3, 2018. Consisting of representatives from the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection, (comprised of 34 environmental and community groups and representing 30,000 people) and others in Pima County and beyond, agreed that,

Of the two routes proposed for a future 1-11 highway, the expansion and reconfiguration of the existing I-10 and I-19 corridor is the only acceptable route. A by pass through Avra Valley is not acceptable.

I imagine a NIMBY (not in my backyard) approach to a project such as this is fairly common. After all, an interstate may be good for business, but I can’t imagine anyone wants it running through their neighborhood. In a flyer handed out at the meeting, the JSCPG raised the point that this project could provide significant opportunity to address historic consequences resulting from the construction of I-10, “which physically divided our community and diminished the quality of life of our downtown and other neighborhoods along the highway.” They also encouraged ADOT and FHWA to refer to the I-11 Super Corridor study submitted to ADOT in 2016. This transdisciplinary study  was completed by the University of Arizona, Arizona State University and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. The recommendations they put forward consisted of a comprehensive approach such as “the addition of light and heavy rail, walking, cycling, new technology for controlling traffic, as well as incorporating alternative forms of energy production and transportation.

Albert Lannon, a Picture Rocks resident and member of the Avra Valley Coalition, concludes of the two routes available, double decking I-10 through town, or making the truck route through Avra Valley, the FHWA is leaning toward the latter. But, Lannon isn’t taking that eventuality sitting down. According to the Arizona Daily Independent, in January of this year, he filed a formal complaint with the Board of Supervisors alleging the County Administrator and his staff of ignoring BOS Resolution 2007-343 which expressly “oppose[d] the construction of any new highways in or around the county that have the stated purpose by [sic] bypassing the existing Interstate 10 as it is believed that the environmental, historic, archaeological, and urban form impacts could not be adequately mitigated.” The resolution also discussed Avra Valley as worthy of protection.  His complaint was dismissed.

Unfortunately for the resident stakeholders and groups that want to protect our environment and wildlife, Pima County isn’t the only government entity now on-board with the project. According to PinalCentral.com, the “Pinal County Board of Supervisors passed its own resolution in 2010 in relation to Interstate 11, though this one expressed support for the project and deemed I-11 a ‘transportation priority.”‘ Likewise, both towns of Eloy and Casa Grande have issued statements of support for the project.

Meanwhile, Albert Lannon is not giving up and having watched the dynamics at the C4PR meeting, there are plenty who plan to fight on. Lannon obviously believes the cause is too important, claiming, “the new freeway would hinder existing businesses that cater to truckers driving on I-10 and damage the tourism industry that thrives in the many wildlife parks around Avra Valley.” He says his coalition will continue to hold candidates accountable. In an election year, maybe that matters, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.

 

LD 11 Incumbents on Support for K-12 Ed

Note: In the interest of full disclosure, I should note that I am a campaign manager for a candidate challenging Mark Finchem for the AZ House in LD 11.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock this year, you probably know that this is an election year where K-12 education has been on center stage, at least here in Arizona. Here in LD 11, where I live, both Representatives Mark Finchem (running for reelection to the AZ House) and Vince Leach (running this year for the AZ Senate), have intimated they are supporters of education and have worked to restore funding back to 2008 levels.

First of all, I believe that if a politician doesn’t specify they are a supporter of PUBLIC education, they probably aren’t. Secondly, funding for Arizona public education is still almost $800 million short per year from 2008 levels, even with the plus-up in budget approved this year. And oh by the way, bringing our funding back up to 2008 levels isn’t exactly something to brag about, and the 5 percent raises promised teachers in 2019 and 2020 don’t count until they actually happen. For now, they are just promises that future legislators will need to make good on.

Secondly, the only way to really know where an incumbent stands on an issue is to look at the votes they cast, to include the budget they voted for. As former Vice-President Joe Biden once said,

Don’t tell me what you value, show me your budget and I’ll tell you what you value.

That’s why it is important for all of us to delve a little deeper. One resource for learning about incumbents’ voting records on K-12 education bills is the Friends of ASBA (Arizona School Boards Association) “Educating Arizona” voting guide. It is published each year to show how Arizona legislative candidates voted on key bills impacting K-12 education. Votes on bills however, aren’t the only measurement ASBA uses to track support for public education. They also assess “how helpful (or not) a given legislator was in advancing the ASBA political agenda during the legislative session, and how the legislator acted toward public education in general.” (Note: ASBA’s political agenda is brought forth by Arizona school boards all around the state and contains agenda items from across the political spectrum. It is then condensed by a Legislative Committee made up of a very diverse group of school board members and finally, is voted on by representatives from each school board at our annual delegate assembly.) Helpful actions legislators take are considered for extra credit and include helping to get bills heard (or not) in committee and helping to prevent bad bills from advancing. Based on this total assessment, ASBA awards legislators a thumbs up (Champion), thumbs sideways (Friend), or thumbs down (Foe).

I thought I’d go back to the 2015 guide to see how my legislators have voted on K-12 education bills since they first got in office. That year, both Representatives Finchem and Leach voted with the ASBA position on only two of the ten bills. Among other bills, they voted to expand Empowerment Scholarship Accounts to children living on tribal lands and grandchildren being raised by their grandparents, as well as to replace common core.

In 2016, Finchem voted with the ASBA position on only three of seven of the bills and Leach only three of eight. They voted to establish caps on additional state aid, to phase-in empowerment scholarship accounts (ESAs), and to expand and modify administration of ESAs (vouchers). They also voted against eliminating the freeze on KidsCare.

In the 2017 legislative session, Finchem voted with ASBA on three of six bills and Leach on four. They both however, voted in opposition of ASBA, for SB 1431, the full expansion of ESAs. It really can’t get more anti-public education than that, and their “thumbs down” rating reflects that reality.

2018 saw both Finchem and Leach vote on eight key K-12 education bills and each of them voted with ASBA on six of them. The most significant bill passed was SB 1390/ HB 2158 which renewed Prop 301 for 20 years and kept public education funding from going off a cliff in 2021. Although they both voted for this bill, their lack of support in general, earned them another “thumbs down” and “Foe” moniker with regard to public education.

Just in case there is any lingering doubt about their focus when it comes to support for public education, Finchem writes on his website, “School Voucher Program expansion is an important element to creating a diverse and well qualified employment pool, a factor that many job creators look for when deciding on which state to locate in.” Leach does not include education as one of his top five issues, prioritizing the 2nd Amendment and support for Pro-Life over opportunity for students.

Elections matter, and I encourage all voters to be informed where candidates stand on the issues that matter most to them. As Franklin Roosevelt said,

Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.

 

 

 

 

We Get What We Deserve

Wow! I normally think of Laurie Roberts as a fair-minded reporter with a pro-public education bent. I don’t know what happened to her this morning, maybe she ran out of leaded coffee and had to drink decaf. At any rate, I couldn’t let her opinion piece, “Does Arizona really need 236 school districts?” go unanswered.

First of all, the answer is no. But of course, this isn’t the sort of question that can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no” because there are so many variables that must be factored in. For example, I was recently on the Diné (Navajo) reservation where even relatively close to Tuba City, the students must travel over REALLY bad roads for over an hour each way every day to get to and from school. Could we do more to consolidate district schools on tribal lands? Maybe a little, but I’m guessing opportunities would be very few and far between.

Sure you say, but that’s a really different situation than what they have in downtown Phoenix. Yes, that’s true, but I’m guessing there are other unique circumstances in those schools and the voters elect locally elected governing boards to make decisions about what is best for their students and their communities. Do they always get it right? No – no one ever does. But, they are closest to the action and have the best chance of making the right calls.

Roberts finds it curious Governor Ducey has never shown interest in merging school districts. I seriously doubt she really finds it curious and suspect she understands that this is a hot potato issue the Governor would rather just keep off his plate. And as for Robert’s claim that Governor Napolitano’s plan to reduce the number of districts went down in flames because “school officials fired up torches in defense of ‘local control’”, I don’t believe that was where the main pushback originated. If school officials were fighting the consolidations, I’m betting it was because their parents and community members were pushing them to do so. What parent after all, wants their child on longer school bus rides than necessary, or further away from home during the school day?

As for her assertion that “On average, school districts in Arizona spend a woeful 53.8 percent of their budget in the classroom”, Roberts knows this is “woefully” misleading. Here’s the facts about what public district schools spend in the classroom and what they spend on administration:
1. Yes, Arizona districts spent 53.5 percent of their available operating dollars on instruction in FY 2016 per the AZ Auditor General’s Arizona School District Spending report. But, the Arizona School Boards Association disagrees with what is included in that “classroom spending” and the Governor and Arizona Legislature agreed back in 2015. That’s because the AG’s report doesn’t count instructional support (5.7 percent) and student support services (8.2 percent). These areas include physical and occupational therapists, reading and math intervention specialists, media specialists/librarians, counselors and social workers. All of these specialists are critical to a student’s academic success and when included, take the total amount of classroom spending up to 67.4 percent.
2. Even at that, as Roberts points out, Arizona districts spend less on administration than the national average. My research shows we spend only 67 percent of the U.S. average spent on administration, not just the one percent she cites. Even assuming she is correct, the important point is that we do better than the national average.
3. For all their touting of efficiencies gained due to their relief from bureaucracy, Arizona charter schools spend DOUBLE the amount on administration than do district schools.

She really loses me though, when she opines, “if the school lobby succeeds with its plan to soak the rich with a massive income tax hike….” Words have meaning and it is by no accident that she chose “lobby” and “soak”. I mean, imagine if she’d wrote the sentence this way: “if public education advocates succeed with their plan to more fairly distribute additional taxation to ensure our districts are funded just at 2008 levels….”

Besides, if you want to make a case for efficiency of public school operations, how about we start exercising more control over where charter schools can build and operate. Does it really make sense for a Legacy Traditional Charter School to have been built in Peoria a couple of years ago for 1,500 students when there were 8 “A” and “B” rated schools WITH capacity, within a two-mile radius of where the charter went in? And that’s just one example of the waste generated via the lack of accountability in a state that is intent on siphoning taxpayer dollars away from its public schools with little transparency to the process.

The bottom line is that district schools, with their locally-elected governing boards, open meeting law requirements, and procurement rules, (unlike charters and certainly, private schools) offer the greatest degree of accountability and transparency of any school choice option. But…for the system to work, the public must be informed and engaged, and government MUST provide the checks and balances. Just like with government at large, we get the public schools we deserve.