Kansas is realizing its yooooge budget mistake. Will Arizona follow suit?

17 Feb 2017 01:27 pm
Posted by: Donna

laffer napkinPhoto: Bloomberg

From the Kansas City Star comes this big development:

The Kansas Senate passed a bill to increase taxes Friday that could mark the end of many of the policies long championed by Gov. Sam Brownback.

Because no amendments were made to the bill first passed by the House, it does not need to go back to the House for revision and can head to the governor’s desk.

Brownback has three options:

▪ He could sign the bill, a move he ruled out earlier this week.

▪ He could veto the bill and send it back to the Legislature.

▪ Or he could choose to not sign the bill, but let it become law.

The governor’s office confirmed Friday that if Brownback does not take action on it after 10 days, it passes into law. That clock starts ticking as soon as his office gets the passed bill.

The legislation would bring the state more than $1 billion over a two-year span. It does that by raising a second income tax rate, bringing in a third bracket and ending a tax exemption for roughly 330,000 business owners.

Governor Sam Brownback of Kansas is a true believer in Tax Cut Magic™ and a follower of the wisdom of one Arthur Laffer, famous for dazzling audiences with a (literally) back-of-the-napkin theory of an optimal tax rate (very low, natch) that would usher in glorious economic growth and swelling state coffers.

To punctuate his point, he grabbed a pen and a cloth cocktail napkin and drew a chart showing that when tax rates get too high, they penalize work and investment and can actually lead to revenue losses for the government. Four years later, that napkin became immortalized as “the Laffer Curve” in an article Wanniski wrote for the Public Interest magazine. (Wanniski would later grouse only half-jokingly that he should have called it the Wanniski Curve.)

This was the first real post-World War II intellectual challenge to the reigning orthodoxy of Keynesian economics, which preached that when the economy is growing too slowly, the government should stimulate demand for products with surges in spending. The Laffer model countered that the primary problem is rarely demand — after all, poor nations have plenty of demand — but rather the impediments, in the form of heavy taxes and regulatory burdens, to producing goods and services.

Agree with the Laffer (and, okay, Wanniski) Curve hypothesis or not, it is at least an internally consistent argument. The main problem with it actually arises when you consider it in the context of the overarching conservative worldview – or at least the stated one. Why would they ever want more revenue going to the government, as promised by Laffer/Wanniski? You’d think, if they really believed in the Curve, that they’d propose increasing taxes until the glorious day of the bathtub drowning of the nanny state arrived, but whatevs.

Brownback (elected in the 2010 Tea Party wave) unleashed the Tax Cut Magic™ upon his state with a vigor considered remarkable even among Republican governors, and the results have been, shall we say, not-so-Laffer Curvaceous.

The Congressional Joint Economic Committee reported earlier this year that Kansas had just 9,400 new private-sector jobs in 2015 (out of 2.6 million nationwide). U.S. Department of Commerce data show that, prior to Brownback’s tax cuts, Kansas ranked 12th in the nation in personal income growth; after the tax cuts it fell to 41st.

A handful of school districts in the state had to close early last year for lack of funds, and the state Supreme Court has had to issue orders requiring Kansas to cough up enough money to pay for K-12 education.

In March, Brownback cut $17 million in funding, 3 percent, from the state’s six public universities in response to revenue shortfalls. In April, he announced that he was going to have to delay a $93 million contribution to the state pension fund, prompting Moody’s Investors Services to downgrade Kansas’ outlook from stable to negative.

Whoops.

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey clearly shares the same faith in Tax Cut Magic™ as his colleague Brownback and our state is headed down the same hole. Brownback was reelected in 2014 by 4 points, which sucks for a Republican running in a midterm year, and consistently polls as one of the least popular governors in the country. Ducey’s a slicker cat than Brownback, I’ll give him that, but he can only throw out so many shiny baubles to distract from his disastrous fiscal approach.

Town Hall Double Standards

10 Feb 2017 02:02 pm
Posted by: Donna

Remember back in the summer of 2009, when members of Congress of both parties held town hall meetings with constituents about health care reform, and there were loud protesters at all them, but especially at the ones held by Democrats?

And remember how that same summer Ann Kirkpatrick, who was serving her first term in Congress held a small event at a Safeway in Holbrook, AZ, that was not supposed to be a town hall but a lot of people turned up anyway and were angry and shouting at her and she and others feared for her safety so she walked out? Footage of that walking out was used in attack ads against Kirkpatrick in 2010 and every subsequent time she ran for election or reelection, including in her 2016 Senate race seven years later.

Think about that when you see this quote from a New York Magazine piece on a “rowdy” town hall led by Rep. Jason Chaffetz spotted by Salon‘s Amanda Marcotte.

Can you imagine the uproar from the Right, plus the heavy dose of tone policing by the MSM, that would have ensued had Ann Kirkpatrick (or Harry Mitchell or any other Dem) not only refused to hold meetings with constituents, but also described those who opposed them ideologically as “extremists, kooks, and radicals”? I know you can. And as Marcotte notes, the people Rep. Duncan are describing this way (and you can verify this for yourself watching video) are people scared of losing health care.

I went to some of those town halls in 2009, and several Tea Party gatherings that year and in 2010 as an observer for blog or campaign purposes. Despite it being during the depth of the recession most of the participants appeared to be well-nourished and comfortable. Outside of the comically ironic “keep your government hands off my Medicare” signs you’d often see, most of the protest was incoherent anger over “taxes” and “spending”. And, you know, some signs with President Obama with a bone through his nose and asking where his birth certificate was. The kind of stuff some of us liberals ruefully joke about as Economic Anxiety™. And, oh man, did I meet some people at them with extremely kooky and radical views!

The people going to town halls now and yelling at people like Jason Chaffetz (and I can think of few people more deserving of being yelled at) are being characterized as the “Tea Party of the Left” and I suppose that’s inevitable since there’s yelling involved, even though the moral difference the two groups is huge (former wanted to deny people health care and the latter wants them to have it).

If we’re the Tea Party of the Left so be it but that means we deserve to be heard by our representatives on health care as much as our counterparts did back in 2009. If they’re too chickenshit to meet with us (oh hi Martha McSally) we should hold public meetings without them and get reporters to cover those meetings (as they did in article I just linked about McSally).

My Democratic district meeting was packed!

07 Feb 2017 10:59 pm
Posted by: Donna


I was told the total number of attendees was about 160, so maybe not quite a triplefold increase but more than twice our usual number.

I’ve lived in Arizona Legislative District 28 since 2010 and have attended many, if not most of, the monthly meetings, which are the first Tuesday of the month the whole year except for December when we have our holiday potluck. Pulling up to the police substation where we hold our meetings in the conference room Tuesday night, expecting a district meeting no different than the many I’ve been to in the past, I saw there were a lot of cars, filling the parking lot and along both sides of the street. I figured there must be some other kind of community event going on.

After finally getting a spot on the street, I got to the meeting just as it was starting and it quickly became clear to me our meeting was the main event drawing all the traffic. I could not get into the largish conference room. There were so many people at the meeting (more than half newcomers according to the sign-in sheet) many of us had to stand in the station’s foyer area, where we strained to hear the speakers.

Was it the DeVos confirmation? A culmination of Trump outrages? Probably both, and several people raised their hands when asked if they found out about our meeting from the Indivisible project.

Whatever is spurring it, LD28 was not the only district to see an influx of new faces. LD17 is in the GOP-dominated East Valley region of metro Phoenix.

It begins.

Oh shut up, Glenn Hamer

03 Feb 2017 04:43 pm
Posted by: Donna

SomehowGlenn Hamer, who heads the AZ Chamber of Commerce and Industry, manages to keep his high-paying job despite being possibly the worst advocate for Arizona businesses ever and having a compulsive tendency to open his mouth and insert his foot.

Per the AZ Capitol Times Yellow Sheet Thursday:

hamer yellow sheet

Hamer and his Chamber are pushing for “reforms” to the state’s initiative process that will (duh) make it harder for citizens to pass them. That’s what’s behind his derisive comments about Prop 206. But Glenn can’t leave it at that, oh no. He then proceeds to pit teachers against other types of school workers, as if the latter are unworthy of decent pay. Of course, Hamer undoubtedly subscribes to the right wing ethos that public schools shouldn’t exist and that care work done primarily by women on behalf of children should be done for free or as close to it as possible.

Blast from the (recent) past: Stop thinking theocracy can’t happen here

01 Feb 2017 12:26 pm
Posted by: Donna

devos and trumpPhoto: abcnews.com

The nomination of Betsy DeVos, creepy Christian Dominionist lady with the Amway fortune behind her, for Secretary of Education, has me thinking of a thing I wrote two years ago on Blog for Arizona expressing skepticism that we in America are shielded from a theocratic takeover by our Enlightenment-infused religious traditions, modernity, or American exceptionalism.

From January, 2015:

This started out as a comment on someone’s Facebook post on the relationship between Islam and terrorism in the aftermath of the Paris attacks on Wednesday, but it got so long I decided to make it into a blog post.

A common argument that Islam is “different” from the other Abrahamic faiths is due to it being hundreds, if not thousands of years younger than most Jewish and Christian sects. The claim is that Muslims are going though the growing pains that Jews and Christians went through much earlier, and this explains why there is more more violence from radical Muslims today.

Obviously the chronology is right but I’m skeptical on the growing pains theory nonetheless. The reason is that several of the countries experiencing the worst religious repression and violence under Islam were, until very recently, thriving, progressive, secular countries. What changed? A variety of things, including wars and meddling into their affairs by powerful countries (ie US), which created the perfect storm for the reactionary authoritarians that exist in every group to seize the opportunity to force their rules on everyone else. It never takes the majority of the public to support a theocratic takeover, though that’s certainly helpful. It only takes a small band of committed zealots to strike fear into people through chaos and violence, or to promise them stability, or both.

This is why people who think it can’t happen here in US are deluding themselves. I can promise you, from nearly three decades of pro-choice activism, that there is a not insignificant number of Americans who are itching to impose a Christian version of Sharia law on America. They have a strong case of Jihad Envy, as is often joked wryly on the internet. And no, sorry, these authoritarians are not generally amenable to liberal arguments about how Jesus preached love and tolerance. They have their own Christ – a muscular, supply-side, neo-con Jesus. Author Jeff Sharlet, who wrote the book The Family, among other pertinent things about the American Religious Right, really opened my eyes to this.

A good model for what America could feasibly resemble under a radical theocracy is Saudi Arabia. It was never what you would call a liberal country from its inception, but in the mid-20th century Saudi Arabia was a arguably more secular than it is now and women had more freedom. A confluence of geopolitical and domestic forces converged to make it into the very strict theocracy that it is now.

This has not prevented the resource-rich country from amassing wealth and enjoying many of the advances of technology (the people at the top, at least). They are not mired in the 6th century, as they are so often described*. Saudis are ruled by 21st century theocrats. The internet and robotics and the most cutting edge extraction equipment and weaponry can co-exist with total female subjugation and public beheadings, as well as fatwas and similar forms of not necessarily state-sanctioned religious-based terrorism. On that last point I assert that “stateless” terrorism does not form in a vacuum. I believe that states succumbing, by varying degrees, to religious governance can be, and often is, a precondition to it**. It’s no accident that several of the 9-11 hijackers were Saudis.

My point is that there is nothing so exceptional about America, or Judeo-Christianity, that protects this country from becoming a theocracy. It’s not about the age of the religions or special triggering phrases in the Koran that aren’t in the Old or New Testaments. If you don’t realize that there are some powerful people in the United States doing their utmost to make this country into a theocracy – the kind that will spawn legions of angry young people willing to commit violence and give up their own lives in the name of The One True Faith – then you haven’t been paying attention. Start with Jeff Sharlet. I’m not suggesting it is inevitable by any means but it can happen here. We are not special and need to get out of denial about that.

*Which makes Islam a mere few centuries younger than Christianity, throwing more doubt on the “young religion” theory.

**It’s not like that kind of thing never happens in America as it is, thanks in part to laws legitimizing hatred toward abortion providers and patients. Same goes for anti-LGBT violence.

The AZ Dem Party got Clinton Foundation-ed

30 Jan 2017 06:15 pm
Posted by: Donna


My eternal struggle

Remember last summer when the Associated Press broke this bombshell story about the Clinton Foundation and teased it with a tweet about how half the people who met with Secretary of State Clinton had been donors to the Foundation and oh my lord what a scandal it was? Of course, it turned out to be a totally bogus smear job, thanks to AP being snookered by a right wing pressure group, Judicial Watch. The story was a big old nothingburger but it did lasting damage to the Clinton Foundation, which has done a lot of good in the world, and AP’s irresponsible reporting probably contributed to Clinton’s Electoral College loss in November.

A similar thing has happened to the Arizona Democratic Party, due to allegations made by former Executive Director Sheila Healy, who was terminated by the party after the election, in a lawsuit she filed against the party over a bonus. Healy claims she was fired for her opposition to “self-dealing” by State Party Chair Alexis Tameron. The Party claims Healy was fired for poor performance.

Evan Wyloge of the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting wrote an article about the lawsuit, which appeared in the Arizona Republic on Wednesday, January 25th, three days before the Arizona Democrats’ Reorganization Meeting the following Saturday.

Healy said she objected to awarding a “large direct-mail contract to a close friend of Ms. Tameron,” and “expressed concerns about the cost of a sizable digital contract awarded to Ms. Tameron’s husband.”

Tameron’s husband, Adam Kinsey, is a partner at Saguaro Strategies. Campaign finance records showed the Arizona Democratic Party paid $124,000 to Saguaro Strategies from its federal campaign account.

Whoa! That looks really, really bad, doesn’t it?

As you might imagine, this was a hot topic at the reorg meeting, with a lot of the Democrats in attendance highly upset over the allegations and questioning whether they should have confidence in Chairwoman Tameron.

Tameron and party Treasurer Rick McGuire addressed the issue prior to conducting the election of new officers. They explained how the deal with Saguaro Strategies for a program to increase small donor contributions was negotiated through its principal Andy Barr, not Adam Kinsey, and that the contract was approved by multiple parties, including Treasurer McGuire. McGuire explained, using Power Points, how the Saguaro small donor program exceeded expectations, raising nearly $1 million for the party from that source alone, nearly 10 times the amount of the prior year. Oh gee, not looking quite so sinister now, is it?

Not everyone was assuaged by their explanation, judging from some of the conversations I had later, but Tameron won reelection for Chair easily. But damage was done to both the image and fundraising ability of all the Democratic Party organizations, just as happened to the Clinton Foundation. Except this time it’s one of our own (Healy) feeding it.

As for Evan Wyloge, I don’t have a beef with him reporting on the lawsuit. That’s his job. But, journalists, you have to finish the job. Wyloge has not done any follow-up to his story (that I could find online) and did not even attend the Democratic meeting where he could have heard the explanation about Saguaro (he did go to the Republican one held the same day). The technical term I have devised for this type of reporting is “dropping a dookie”.

Wyloge basically dropped a big ol’ dook on the lawn of the Democratic Party and left us to deal with it. This is an ongoing pattern at the national and local level with the media where charges against Republicans (such as, oh say, Donald Trump being in cahoots with Vlad Putin in interfering with the election) must be carefully vetted and precise forensic evidence presented before the public can even know of them but all that’s ever needed to drop dookies by the planeload on Democrats is a whiff or appearance of impropriety, however bogus (Clinton Foundation, Comey letter, this AZ Dem lawsuit, Planned Parenthood “sting” videos, et cetera and ad nauseum).

As it is, this shit has gotten old, but now that Orange Hitler is in charge of the country and the Republicans in charge of Arizona are busy stripping the copper wires out of the joint, it’s simply unconscionable.

CLICKBAIT: This take on both David Brooks and “identity politics” is everything!

24 Jan 2017 06:53 pm
Posted by: Donna

brooks

From Timothy Burke, Professor of History at Swarthmore College, comes a magnificent rebuttal to David Brooks’ latest pile of festering sanctimonious hooey in the New York Times.

Swarthmore thoroughly pastes Brooks for his tedious habits of hypocrisy and useless moralizing, but he also takes down the “identity politics” canard peddled by guys like Mark Lilla (who was cited favorably by Brooks in his column, of course). Behold (emphasis mine):

You’re the guy with the ball, you’re the columnist with a valuable soapbox. There’s the goalpost: call the play, in detail. Be predictive for once, and stick to it when people do, in detail, something of what you want. Don’t wave more than half your players off the field and tell them to come back when they’ve diagrammed a play that will move the ball all the way to the endzone in a single down. What’s the call right now, David, that uses all the players on the field with their talents and inclinations? What’s the rallying cry that calls a sixty-year old conservative woman from Niles, Michigan and a lesbian Latina millennial in New York City home to an America that can stand against “brutalistic nationalism”? If you answer, “Whatever makes the woman from Niles happy, no matter what that is”, you’re not in the game with us. If you answer, “Well, actually, I guess it’s brutalistic nationalism only slightly less Trumpy”, you’re not in the game with us. You’re a drunk asshole sitting outside the stadium at a tailgate, watching on a bad-reception TV, yelling loudly after every play about how it was the wrong thing to do…

And it’s not just Brooks shirking his obligation. People who rail against “identity politics” from the left will often insist they support racial and gender and other types of equality not directly related to economic class. That’s great, but if they’re going to make that claim, the onus is on them to show us how they plan to win over white voters who went for Trump, while also keeping core Democratic constituencies comprised of the very people many of those white voters loathe engaged. I haven’t seen that play yet. What I’ve seen so far does not inspire confidence in the left economic populism emerging out of this election.