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Democratic Diva

I have some questions for Robert Robb on vouchers!

05 Apr 2017 11:14 pm
Posted by: Donna

Bob Robb Raw
Not an actual photo of AZ Republic columnist Bob Robb

As an expansion of vouchers makes its way to an AZ Senate vote Thursday, Bob Robb has questions for opponents of the bill that I’m sure he came up with entirely on his own and not via talking points brainstormed up in a Goldwater Institute and/or Heritage Foundation conference room:

Opponents are using the analysis as a club to beat the expansion to death. Vouchers are just a con job to help the rich pay to send their pampered offspring to posh private schools, they exhort. And drain resources from district schools for average Jacks and Jills.

There’s actually less here than meets the eye.

ESAs are currently used mostly to help educate special education students. It shouldn’t be surprising that affluent parents are quicker to find and use resources to help their special-needs children than low-income parents. But does that make the existence of the option a social injustice?

Why constantly try to sell them by guilt-mongering over disadvantaged poor minority kids then?

Robb goes on to make some speculative claims – when special ed students walk out the door, more expenses than revenue go with them” “The use of vouchers by parents of special ed students isn’t necessarily predictive of what would happen if access to them were made universal. But it is suggestive.” – before he gets back to pooh poohing the importance of the finding that vouchers are being used mainly by affluent families (exactly as critics predicted).

For these parents, the cost of sending their children to parochial school can be a considerable financial sacrifice. Truly high-performing charter schools with traditional programs have been cannibalizing parochial school enrollments in upper middle-class neighborhoods. For some of these parents, a voucher could tip the balance back in favor of the parochial school.

So, is it a con job to argue that vouchers are intended to help low-income students and parents? Not entirely.

Again, it is a con job when the ESAs are being sold with lugubrious pleas about poor children. Why does Bob Robb think this kind of deceit is okay?

Oh, he gets to that. Behold:

It may be politically incorrect, but it would be obtuse not to acknowledge that upper middle-class parents are more likely than low-income parents to take an active role in directing their children’s education and taking advantage of whatever options are available. Compensating for indifferent or destructive parenting is one of the challenges for inner-city schools.

That right there is vintage Bob Robb*.

Vouchers, however, give low-income parents who want to take an active role in directing their children’s education more options. Given that most private schools have a religious affiliation and sense of mission, scholarships are often available to bridge the voucher-tuition gap.

I have questions for Robb now. First, where would even the most educationally motivated low income families be able to afford to educate their children in private schools with subsidies (from all sources) less than 100% of tuition, uniforms, meals, transportation, and sundry other expenses always or often covered by public school districts? Next, since he already acknowledged in his column how poor families don’t use them and predicts expanding them will not change that, then what is he even doing here?

Oh right, Robb is making the same bullshit sales pitch using poor people as props as the professional voucher peddlers do. Is this why he wants voucher opponents to stop pointing out what a lie that is and instead pay attention to the pink squirrel he wants them to see over there?

*Oh, I’ve had this dude’s number for so many years now.

Anti-choicers smear an AZ abortion provider. Will the media blow it again?

30 Mar 2017 02:46 am
Posted by: Donna

I was up late Tuesday night thinking about how over the past couple of years two organizations – Planned Parenthood and the Democratic National Committee – and one individual – Hillary Clinton – had their images profoundly damaged by allegations of serious unethical and even criminal behavior. All the claims (that Planned Parenthood trafficked baby parts, the DNC somehow rigged state primaries, and pretty much everything Hillary Clinton was accused of) turned out to be overblown or even fell apart completely when subjected to actual scrutiny. Sadly, most people aren’t bothered to do due diligence in general, let alone when it might challenge a pre-conceived narrative they hold about, say, Hillary Clinton or the DNC or Planned Parenthood. And unfortunately, that description includes many people in political journalism.

That thinking prompted me to tweet this:

During the election many mainstream news outlets chased down multiple half-baked conspiracy theories pulled out of the butts of right wingers about Hillary Clinton. When wild accusations about her use of a private email server, or her family’s foundation, or her bout with pneumonia, etc., fizzled out, the media kept the stories alive and in the news cycle through “optics”. “Well, it doesn’t seem the Clinton Foundation did anything wrong by taking meetings with donors but the optics are bad!”, the pundits mused with furrowed brows, with some demanding the Clinton Foundation be shut down. Over and over the media did this, resulting in Clinton’s approval numbers plummeting and in her being perceived as less honest than Donald Trump.


The endless harping on Clinton’s email server finally culminated in what many believe to be the final blow to her election chances when FBI Director James Comey released a letter stating their re-opening of their investigation of Clinton based on emails found Anthony Weiner’s laptop. It turned out to be nothing but the damage was done in the crucial days while early voting was going on all over the country.

Similarly, the DNC fell victim to a campaign orchestrated by Russia and using Wikileaks to sow hostility to Hillary Clinton from the left by dumping a cache of stolen emails right before the DNC convention, and again one month before the election. The dumps were calculated and spun to play into existing beliefs that the Democratic establishment not only favored Hillary Clinton (arguably true) but that they actively worked to rig the primaries against Bernie Sanders (extremely unlikely, given how the DNC doesn’t run state primaries). Again, if you did your due diligence and actually read the ostensibly damning emails, all they revealed is that, yeah, some people in the DNC and Clinton campaign really didn’t like Sanders (shocking!) and that (gasp!) political operatives like to talk trash. Nothing more.

Trump and his supporters eagerly slurped up Wikileaks as well, for the obvious reason that they hurt Hillary Clinton, but also because they played into stereotypes of “crooked” Democrats engaging in voting fraud. Again, the entire story came down to “optics”, which was (of course) how the media framed and justified nonstop coverage of the content of leaked emails, rather than covering it as an actual crime against the Democratic nominee as it should have been.

Optics is a reality in politics, and bad optics is sometimes self-induced silliness like riding in a tank wearing a goofy hat, which may be avoided if you have good handlers. But when your “bad optics” are deliberately crafted by people using lies and distortions to make you appear unethical and even criminal, there’s no foolproof way for you to anticipate and neutralize against it. Especially if the targets of the manipulation, and most everyone else, seems to be invested in believing the worst they possibly can about you.

And that’s the thing about going with “optics” despite a dearth of evidence for heinous misdeeds alleged against both Hillary Clinton and the DNC. It’s not just sloppy jounalism (it is!) but it’s unjust as all hell too. Optics for politicians are like a cousin to respectability politics in that the amount of damage they will do to you tends to be proportional to your own identity and that of your likely constituents.

Seven hundred some odd words in, I now get to the crux of this post: If any group of people knows firsthand what it is to deal with unrelenting attacks on their integrity and constant bad optics problems, it is the people who provide low income women with sensitive, respectful reproductive and sexual health care. Every couple years or so, in Arizona and the rest of the country, anti-choicers wave around “sting” videos purporting to show abortion providers engaging in macabre activities.

These are highly staged operations where operatives gain access to clinic workers through false pretenses. They gain the trust of their targets and lull them into discussing outlandish and highly unlikely situations. Oftentimes the videos are then deceptively edited to make the abortion providers appear as bad as possible.

Every time they’ve done it so far, the MSM has lapped it up, until the wild allegations of the “sting” fall apart and then it slides into “optics” about Planned Parenthood (largest provider of repro health care to low income patients) and Democrats.

The latest installment in this saga (I’m getting to the point, promise!) came on Wednesday when the Center For Medical Progress (CMP), which happens to be facing fresh felony charges in California (warning: autoplay), released a shocking new video! featuring clips of an Arizona abortion doctor discussing her work and how she might obtain usable fetal tissue for medical research. And, yes, engaging in some dark humor about how she does her job, as doctors around people they trust and are comfortable around are wont to do.

I can hear you already. “But Donna, those jokes look really bad! This is bad optics!”

Which is precisely how it works. CMP videos are clearly choreographed and doctored to disturb people. Luckily for anti-choicers, despite the unpopularity of most of their positions, there is an endless willingness in the general public (and in the media) to believe the absolute worst of women (especially if they don’t know them personally) which gives anti-choicers the perfect opening to do these smears.

Watch how Center For Arizona Policy (CAP), in a manner Wikileaks would admire, spins:

A shocking new video released today by The Center for Medical Progress catches an Arizona abortion doctor discussing potential trafficking of aborted baby body parts – and joking about the need to workout her biceps so she has the strength to abort babies.

In the video, Dr. DeShawn Taylor, formerly of Planned Parenthood, now with Desert Star Family Planning in Phoenix had a cavalier attitude about taking life and skirting the law.

When asked about babies born alive during abortion attempts, Taylor didn’t mention a 42-year-old law requiring her to try to save the baby’s life. Instead she tipped her hand, saying, “The key is you have to pay attention to who’s in the room… because the law states you are not supposed to do any maneuvers after the fact to try to cause fetal demise.”

You are probably going to be bothered about jokes made by abortion providers, or their descriptions of how they try to shield staff from upsetting sights, if you already subscribe to a whole bunch of stereotypes about women who seek abortions. Such as how most done past the first trimester are at the request of wanton floozies irresponsibly ending their pregnancies for funsies, but who are sometimes strangely altruistically driven to donate the fetal tissue for important medical research.

If you’re a regular person who believes all of this, I can forgive you. Though you should do better, honestly. If you’re a journalist? No. Again, the job here is not “optics”. This is not Planned Parenthood in a funny hat in a tank. This is a damning charge against reproductive health providers leveled by groups organized against them, who have a long history of lying and fomenting violence.

Ask the right questions: What are CMP and CAP alleging here, specifically? Is it even plausible? The claims by CMP and CAP are deliberately vague. Why? Why do they always run to the public airwaves and politicians with their allegations first and never law enforcement? What, precisely, are CMP and CAP accusing women and their doctors of doing? Make them spell it out. Pursue that.

Don’t blow this, media. Don’t make it about “optics”. It may be enticing, but it’s not good journalism. We see where this kind of coverage leads.


Watch conservative media try to mold Doug Ducey into the anti-Trump

27 Mar 2017 01:55 pm
Posted by: Donna

ducey herrod
Do you think these two want most people in Arizona to enjoy liberty? I don’t.

George Will’s syndicated column from Saturday is a regurgitation of the same inane pap that comes up every year or so where some conservative visits Arizona (or possibly doesn’t even bother to come here, just makes a phone call or two), pronounces our state to be a conservative utopia, and mentions golf. Reading these paeans, one can always be certain the author has not spoken to any public school teachers, low wage service workers, or immigrants. Mainly they stick to talking to white guys who play golf on nice private courses. You know, the regular people.

Will’s piece ran in the Sioux City Journal and was entitled – wait for it – “An Oasis of Liberty in Arizona” and contains the obligatory nostalgic Old West reference and talking points straight from the Goldwater Institute about how plucky small business owners being menaced by evil government bureaucrats is not tolerated in these here parts.

What did strike me was Will’s adoring profile of Governor Doug Ducey and how he cast Ducey as the anti-Trump without saying the President’s name. It’s difficult to pick which paragraph of this love letter to Ducey to highlight but here’s one that mentions golf:

Born in Ohio, he came here to attend Arizona State University and became a businessman who attended Goldwater Institute events. After he joined the founder of Cold Stone Creamery ice cream shops and opened 1,400 nationwide, he was elected state treasurer, then governor. Seeking advice from the best, he called former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, who suggested appointing to his administration business people looking for new challenges. (Daniels asked, “Do you know anyone who plays golf on Tuesdays and is miserable?”)

I…can’t even snark about that golf on Tuesdays statement. We are so fucked, Arizona.

As we speak, the highest office in the land is manifestly demonstrating why “run the government like a business” is not a great approach but for George Will and the Goldwater Institute, this holy tenet cannot fail, it can only be failed. Thus, in the capable hands of someone like Doug Ducey, doling out powerful positions to business leaders leads to dandy outcomes, always.

Ducey wants Arizona to have a “West Coast vibe with a Midwestern work ethic,” and he cheekily calls California’s Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown “my partner in growing Arizona’s economy” because California’s business climate is a powerful incentive for firms to relocate in Arizona, where more than 60 percent of its residents were born elsewhere. Arizona’s motto is “Ditat Deus” (“God Enriches”), but His work can be facilitated by Ducey’s goal of getting the state’s income tax “as close to zero as possible.”

He calls himself a “full-spectrum conservative,” including support for free trade (NAFTA has been good for Arizona’s commerce with Mexico), but there are limits to his Western libertarianism. Last year, he led the campaign that resulted in Arizona being the only one of five states voting on the issue to defeat legalization of recreational marijuana: “I’m the son of a cop and the father of three teenage sons.”

The current president has pointedly said, “This is called the Republican Party. It’s not called the Conservative Party.” Actually, it became a conservative party partly because of what an Arizonan did many decades ago. It may become such a party again, with another Arizonan’s help.

Oh, George, keep dreaming. But my suspicions that 1. Ducey is shitting bricks over Trump and 2. there is a concerted effort among “establishment” Republicans to mold Ducey into the anti-Trump are further confirmed. And if they repeat it enough the mainstream media will run with that theme as well.

It’s dead wrong, though. Ducey is in many ways worse that Trump. In addition to being an anti-pot scold, he’s a true believer anti-choicer. He has shown a level of contempt toward poor Arizonans that Paul Ryan would admire (pushing for lifetime limits on TANF and Medicaid, for example). He is against funding public education (and no, throwing a few pennies at it via Prop 123 doesn’t mitigate that) and just signed an anti-democratic bill attacking citizens initiatives into law. And it turns out happy-go-lucky business dudes with ample time to golf on Tuesday don’t make great leaders of agencies in charge of child welfare.

Doug Ducey is a bog standard Republican, and far from being a departure from the President it makes him every bit as dangerous as, if not more so, than Trump*. Being blandly affable and having guys like George Will putting the “principled conservative” spin on him has enabled Ducey to do harmful and unpopular things without them sticking to him personally. But they should. As I keep saying, at some point it needs to be recognized that the solution to problems created by Republicans is never going to be more Republicans.

*In domestic policy, that is. Trump does have access to nukes, which could prove to be a tad problematic.

Ducey trying to have it both ways on health care

23 Mar 2017 06:18 pm
Posted by: Donna

smirking ducey

One of the more tedious but hard-to-shake obsessions in politics is the fetish for consistency, whereby it’s viewed a weakness for a politician to change their mind or admit they were wrong about something, even when presented with an abundance of evidence for why they should change their view. It most famously did “flip flopper” John Kerry in back in 2004. So on a certain level I can understand why Arizona Governor Doug Ducey is loath to backpedal on the fierce opposition to all things Obama, including the Affordable Care Act, he has maintained since he burst upon the political scene here in 2010.

But dude is flopping about so badly on this it’s difficult to take him seriously. He’s against Trump’s bill because it’s not conservative enough but also because it’s…uh…too conservative.

The governor late Tuesday repeated his stance that “Obamacare” needs to be repealed. And he wants some replacement in place before it disappears.

But Ducey said the proposal being pushed by U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan is not ready for prime time.

“I have concerns with the bill as it’s written today,” the governor said. If nothing else, he said the plan is too rigid.

“I’m advocating with the White House, with the Secretary of Health and Human Services for a plan that gives Arizona flexibility, that brings back our insurance market and allows us to benefit from an improvement in our health care law,” Ducey said.

That issue of “flexibility” goes to previous efforts by the Ducey administration to include some cost-savings requirements in the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, the state’s Medicaid program.

For example, Ducey sought federal permission to impose work requirements on some Medicaid recipients and kick them out of the program after five years. …

…And after 2020 there is no specific federal funding for expanded coverage. Instead states will be given block grants in a yet-to-be-determined amount to decide how to spend the dollars.

That possibility worries the governor.

“I don’t want to see anybody have the rug pulled out from underneath them,” Ducey said. “And that’s what I’m going to be advocating for.”

The governor said he’s confident that what got introduced won’t be what emerges.

“I think you’re going to see a different bill if it does get out of the House, if it does get out of the Senate, than the bill you see today,” he said. Ducey said he and other governors intend to be “a positive, constructive part of the process.”

That garbled mess of positions is a cry for help from a Republican who knows he’s up for reelection in a midterm year.


Connie Dotts is a big fan of her insurance.

“I like that we can choose our own doctors,” says the 60-year-old resident of Mesa, Ariz. “They also have extensive mental health coverage.”

Dotts isn’t on some pricey plan, either. She’s among the nearly 2 million people enrolled in Medicaid in Arizona and one of the more than 400,000 who have signed up since the Republican-led state expanded Medicaid in 2013.

Her eight prescription drugs are cheap, Dotts says, and she has no copays or premiums. The Medicaid benefits have allowed her to stay on top of her emphysema, depression and osteoarthritis.

Arizona Democrats have an abiding faith that someday their focus on public education will one day be recognized and rewarded by the voters. That’s something I’m fairly skeptical of, given how voters love to tell pollsters they care about the schools but aren’t really that motivated to vote to fully fund them if they don’t have students in their household.

Messing with older white people’s health care, though? Different story. That could have electoral consequences for Republicans all the way down the ticket in 2018. Bigly. This demographic was convinced to deal Democrats a bloodbath in 2010 on the (false) claim that President Obama was stealing money from Medicare to put into so-called Obamacare (in the days before it was okay for our side to call it that). Imagine what they’ll do when their actual health care costs go up thousands because of Trump and a GOP Congress.

Ducey is right to be nervous but shouldn’t get away with trying to work both sides of the issue – harsh enough for the Freedom Caucus but compassionate enough for normal people. What he proposes as “improvements” to Trump’s bill will pull the rug out from under a lot of people, in particular people like Connie Dotts, not quite Medicare-eligible but having the kind of health issues that could make a work requirement and lifetime cap of five years a real problem.

Sit down, GOP men of Arizona

22 Mar 2017 01:27 am
Posted by: Donna

Well, Trump’s Electoral College victory sure has given some of our local male GOP reps a turgid sense of urgency in showing the uppity bitches what’s what. They should still refrain from that, for they look quite foolish and dickish in its pursuit.

Beware anti-choicers’ calls for “common ground”

21 Mar 2017 12:05 am
Posted by: Donna

handmaids tale
A Handmaid’s Tale is not a dystopic novel to them, it’s a how-to manual

AZ Republic‘s Alia Rau reported last Thursday on SB1367, the lastest “born alive” anti-choice bill:

Maureen Williams testified that the bill would have changed the final minutes she had with her daughter, Zoe. At 23 weeks pregnant, she said, she learned her daughter had tumors on her liver, half a vertebrae and water on the brain.

“The doctors told me she barely had a chance of living,” Williams said, sobbing. “I wanted Zoe. She was mine. I remember her every day. I made the choice of taking on her physical pain and having this abortion. I would have wanted her on my chest to let her pass away in peace. We need to leave this decision to the parents and the doctors.”…

…AnMarie Stone said a mid-pregnancy ultrasound showed she and her husband were having a healthy baby boy…

…”He had a heartbeat. He was breathing. He was a child outside his mother,” she said. “The nurses gently wrapped him in a blanket and gave him to us. My husband and I held him until he was gone. Legislation forcing the doctors to resuscitate him would have been not only unethical, but cruel.”

The women testifying before the House committee were describing their own complicated tragic personal experiences, which are precisely the kind of situations that make anti-choice meddling in health care decisions dangerous public policy. And to help understand why anti-choice legislators never seem to be moved by these stories, take a gander at how the main sponsor of the bill reacted to them:

Sen. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa, said he was surprised by the opposition to the bill and thought it was a position everyone could support.

“The baby is no longer in the mom. The baby is no longer ‘a blob of tissue’ so obviously we want our doctors to provide medical care,” he said. “If there’s any common ground ever on this issue, it would be this.”

Anti-choicers see themselves in a Manichaean contest between good (female chastity and embrace of motherhood) and evil (female promiscuity and rejection of motherhood) at all times. So when they speak of “common ground”, know they mean concessions that push the dialog and public policy toward their end. Since abortion rights tend to be debated on theoretical grounds, it’s easy for the anti-choicer to extract “reasonable” compromises, in this case agreement that efforts should be made to save a very premature infant showing signs of life!

And in this abstract good vs evil battleground, it is necessary to invent evildoers: women who wait until late into a pregnancy for no good reason to abort, doctors who prey on highly malleable girls and women to get them to get abortions at any stage of pregnancy, evil mercenaries who run “abortion mills” and sell baby parts harvested from unnecessary late-term abortions for profit, etc. Anti-choicers are easily able to convince a depressingly large number of regular people such monsters exist by tapping into existing cultural angst over female sexuality and independence. As I’ve said before, slut-shaming is about as close to a national religion as we have in this country and is basically the only thing keeping anti-choicers from being fully recognized as the lunatics (every bit as batty as Birthers or anti-vaxxers) that they are.

Grieving parents of wanted babies refusing heroic medical interventions so as to not further traumatize the infants or themselves are inconvenient to the anti-choice “common ground” strategy being pursued here, the goal of which is a law making it yet more expensive and risky to be an abortion provider. So the existence of the grieving parents is simply ignored. Hence, Senator Smith’s surprise – feigned or real – at the opposition to his bill. But this is exactly why we should resist calls to find common ground with anti-choicers, wherever they’re from. You can’t find common ground with fantasists. Plus, leaving fraught and highly personal medical decisions to people and their doctors, AKA the pro-choice stance, is the compassionate and, yes, moderate position on Smith’s bill.

Howie Fischer is not here for your bullshit

16 Mar 2017 03:18 pm
Posted by: Donna

howard fischer
Not here for it.

Howard Fischer is a journalistic institution in Arizona. He’s the Chief Correspondent for Capitol Media Services, which is basically one Howard Fischer not being here for your bullshit.

I’ve run into Howie in his irascible corporeal form time or two, including when we were on a TV panel together back in 2010, in which I sparred with him and the other dude (don’t remember which dude but I’m generally on with two dudes when appearing on TV) over private prisons. Post-taping, as we undid our microphones, we panelists chatted about political happenings of the time which I don’t remember. I do recall Howie walking away from the Channel 12 studio observing how Terry Goddard needed to “grow a pair of balls!” I wrote him off for a while after that, feeling he was the usual Arizona media crank who thinks Democrats here are irrelevant yet still scorns Democrats for not saving the state from Republicans.

In the years since, I’ve grown to respect the guy and find myself relying on his reporting more than any other to keep up with what is happening at the state government. And in two recent instances, Fischer has demonstrated how to construct a proper lede. Lede is a fancy inside baseball press term meaning the statement, usually at the beginning of a story, that tells you what it’s about and (ideally) makes you want to read the whole thing. Ledes often accompany headlines (which we now know are very important), particularly on social media posts linking articles (oftentimes a tweet or Facebook blurb promoting an article is a lede). In many cases headlines and ledes are the only things busy readers scan before moving on to something else. So it’s important to be concise and correct with your lede.

Watch and learn from Howie Fischer how a lede should be done:

PHOENIX — Rejecting concerns of doctors, a House panel voted 6-3 along party lines to require them to do everything possible to keep severely premature babies alive no matter the chances of survival.

I do have issues with the AZ Daily Star‘s headline of the piece, which puts an undeserved positive spin on motivations of AZ House Republicans, but it’s likely the headline wasn’t chosen by Fischer*. Look at that lede, though. He is not here for Cathi Herrod’s pie-eyed bullshit and there’s none of the usual “abortion opponents and lawmakers say this about the bill but doctors and pro-choice advocates say that” you see so often in coverage of anti-choice bills.

Nope. Howie Fischer is not an opinion writer but he doesn’t buy that opinions of the shape of the earth differ either. His article opens with a straightforward statement that tells the reader three important things: doctors are being overridden, the vote was party line (Republicans), and health care providers will be forced to perform drastic medical interventions on infants who cannot survive. So whatever percentage of readers (and you better believe it is high) who don’t read beyond that come away with a basic grasp of this legislation. Well done!

Here’s the second instance of high quality lede writing by Fischer:

PHOENIX — Saying it would send the wrong message, Republican lawmakers voted Wednesday to kill legislation that would simply require them to review the $12 billion a year the state could potentially collect in sales taxes if all exemptions and exclusions were eliminated.

Here’s what you know if you don’t read beyond the headline (good this time) and the lede: Republicans don’t want to review tax breaks that cost the state $12B annually and Republicans are cowardly liars. Fischer adeptly flips the Republicans’ own framing (“send the wrong message”) against them and allows the word “simply” to do a lot of lifting. And he’s not editorializing on the merits of those tax breaks. He’s letting the reader know he’s not here for Republicans’ bullshit on why they killed that bill.

Read both the articles fully for the further details Fischer provides but do take the time to appreciate good lede construction and a reporter placing not being here for bullshit over a futile quest to appear “balanced”.

You should follow him on Twitter too.

*Arizona Capitol Times went with a better headline but it might be behind a paywall for some.