A Textbook Example Of What Not To Do With Public Education.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that Arizona will spend 17 percent less per student on education this year than it did in 2008 before the Great Recession. That’s despite the fact that, according to the National Education Association (NEA), Arizona ranked dead last for expenditures per student for public K-12 schools for a number of years!

Only Oklahoma and Alabama have cut more state funding for education since 2008.

Thanks to the education-hating Arizona State Legislature (many legislators are on record stating that public education is socialism), schools are so hard up, they have to regularly go begging to the voters in their districts for tax overrides…special assessments on top of local property taxes.

Most Arizona school districts are desperate for money!

In my own district, the president of the school board admits that starting teacher salaries are so low, teachers who have families automatically qualify for food stamps and other public assistance. Class sizes have grown to 30-40 students. Many districts don’t have money to replace leaky roofs and buy school buses. And, despite their low salaries, most teachers are forced to buy many of the school supplies for their classes.

Imagine what would happen without these overrides.

What happened to the money? Much of it was stripped from the state’s budget and used to lower taxes for the wealthy and for large corporations. Some of it was redirected to charter schools. And some of the money was directed to Student Tuition Organizations (STO), the largest of which is operated by a state legislator. STOs provide tax credits (not deductions) for donations to private and public schools. In other words, the funds are never collected by the state and the tax credits come directly out of the state’s general fund.

Oddly, the tax credits for private schools are more than double those for public schools. And the operator of an STO gets a 10 percent management fee and there is no requirement that they even have to award tuition scholarships to students! (Is it any wonder the legislator who sponsored the orginal bill operates the largest STO?)

The sad fact is, over the past 5 years, the Arizona legislature has been far more concerned about protecting guns than educating children.

Demanding A 50 Year Cover-Up For Doing Your Job?

Our nation was built on representative government.  But our representatives are so concerned with re-election that many are now afraid to do what’s best for our nation. So much so, that they try to hide their actions from the very people they represent.

The on-going debate over the federal tax code is a case in point.

Before many senators were willing to venture opinions on the tax code, they needed to be assured by Senators Max Baucus (D-MT) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) that any suggestions would be kept secret for 50 years! Exactly what, or who, are they afraid of?

In a word, you.

Thanks to the Baucus-Hatch declaration, senators may now solicit favors from the K Street lobbyists without fear of repercussions. They are now free to recommend tax loopholes for their largest campaign contributors and special interests without fear of discovery by the people they are supposed to represent. By the time anyone finds out, they’ll be dead and forgotten.

Not exactly representative government, is it?

In one declaration, Baucus and Hatch have exposed everything that’s wrong with our government. And it’s not just a problem with the federal government. Such secrecy and tricks are used and abused by governments at all levels…city, county and state.

Those with money can buy access to those who make the laws. After all, it takes money to run for office these days…lots of it. So defense contractors, the American Medical Association, health insurance, Big Pharma, Big Oil, Wall Street, multinational corporations, billionaires, the NRA and others write our laws. They write the very regulations that will govern them, and because they write them, they feel free to break them.

No money.  No access.

Only a very few politicians have demonstrated through their actions that they are immune to such power.  Senators Elizabeth Warren, Al Franken, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders and a very small number of others have stood on priniciple. They seem willing to do the right thing and explain their decisions to those who elected them.

Far too many others say one thing in public and do something far different behind closed doors. The Baucus-Hatch declaration…along with Senators Baucus and Hatch…needs to go.

Another Debt Ceiling Debacle?

Teapublicans are always fond of relating government budgets to your household budget. It’s a lousy analogy. But let’s use it for the purposes of the debt ceiling debate.

Imagine if your family, concerned about its spending and debt, had a meeting and decided that you no longer wanted to pay any debts above…let’s say, $10,000.  And let’s say that your family couldn’t agree on spending cuts. For example, the father just doesn’t want to stop collecting expensive guns and driving luxury cars, the mother doesn’t want to give up health insurance and the 401K, and the kids don’t want to give up school and food.  So your family agrees to stop paying the mortgage, the utilities and the credit card companies.

What do you think would happen?

The mortgage company would foreclose on your home, the utilities would cut off electricity, water and gas, and the credit card companies would cut off any new purchases in addition to adding large penalties and interest to your outstanding balance.  Moreover, your family would be unable to borrow money from anyone else. And, if someone else was willing to risk loaning your family money, it would be at exhorbitant interest rates.

Does that sound like something you want to intentionally do to your family? No? Then why would you want to do that to your country?

What we have is a Republican Party that doesn’t want to give up the world’s most lavish military budget or tax cuts and welfare for our largest corporations. The Democratic Party doesn’t want to give up Social Security, Medicare, and access to health care and food stamps for the working poor. And the Tea Party parasites don’t want to spend anything because they don’t like the government anyway.

During the 2012 presidential election, we had a national debate about the direction of our nation and its budget. On these issues, the voters overwhelmingly supported the Democratic Party.  The results of that election should direct the conversation about government spending. Most important, there should be a conversation with all parties sitting down together and having an adult conversation about our nation’s future.

Unfortunately, the Tea Party parasites don’t want to do that, and the gutless Republican leaders are kowtowing to them.

A Recipe For Failure.

Since 2009, many conservatives have believed that Barack Obama is an anti-American socialist who was born in Kenya and, therefore, is an illegitimate president. Many in Congress refuse to recognize him as president, let alone negotiate with him. Even after he was re-elected in overwhelming fashion, they refuse to accept the results believing that he bought votes by offering “stuff” to the 47 percent they claim do not pay taxes.

On the other hand, Democrats in Congress believe that Tea Party conservatives were elected based on an avalance of misinformation and spending from billionaire ideologues. They also believe that many were the beneficiaries of conservative gerrymandering.

So where does this leave us?

It leaves us with a government that simply doesn’t function. If it were not for presidential orders, the government would be at a complete standstill. Congress and the president cannot agree on a budget, on foreign policy, on military action, on job creation…they cannot even agree on laws that have already been passed. The House continues to vote to repeal “Obamacare” without hope of actually doing so. Why? Merely because conservatives in Congress want everyone to know how much they dislike President Obama.

Conservatives in both the House and the Senate refuse to negotiate a budget deal. They merely want to dictate. In 2011, that led to an impasse over the debt ceiling that damaged the credit rating of government bonds, collapsed the stock market and brought economic recovery to a standstill. In 2012, it led to sequestration which created further problems.

Now conservatives in the House are threatening to pass a budget that will defund “Obamacare” and, unless they get their way, they not only threaten to refuse to raise the debt ceiling. They plan to shut down the government entirely.

In an attempt to reach some form of compromise, President Obama reached his hand across the aisle. In return, conservatives merely extended their collective middle finger.

Given the circumstances. it’s not at all clear which side will win. But I do know that we will all lose.

Could We Be On The Verge Of Peace In The Middle East?

The key to unlocking peace in the Middle East may have just been handed to us by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani who told NBC News national and international correspondent, Ann Curry, that Iran has no intention of creating nuclear weapons or weapons of mass destruction of any kind. When asked about Iranian denial of the Holocaust, Rouhani replied that those statements were made by his predecessor.

He also revealed that he has requested a diplomatic meeting with President Obama.

Apparently, this is in response to a letter from President Obama congratulating Rouhani on his election, followed by a series of letters discussing issues. It certainly didn’t hurt that the US agreed to Russia’s agreement to remove chemical weapons from Syria rather than a military strike.

It is not yet certain if these overtures will result in a renewed relationship with Iran. But no matter what happens, it shows that diplomacy is a far better option than military strikes and senile threats such as “Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran!”

It also demonstrates that statesmanship can work better than military force. It almost always shows more strength to resist the temptation for violence than to make threats and attempt to bully others. Moreover, it shows what can happen when we have leaders determined to get us out of ill-conceived wars than to get us into them.

If we are able to eventually normalize relations with Iran, it not only would release the pent-up energy and intellectual capital that has been strangling in Iran as a result of religious fundamentalism and our economic sanctions. It could reduce poverty in the country and eliminate one of the greatest destabilizing forces in the region. Instead of sponsoring terrorists, Iran could redirect the money to help others who are struggling economically.

After spending all but 33 years of our history at war, wouldn’t it be interesting to finally enjoy the fruits of peace?

More Guns = More Homicides.

Without the heavily-financed propaganda from the NRA, it’s doubtful that anyone would ever question the relationship. But since the gun industry has spent hundreds of millions to convince us otherwise, it has become the job of academia to bring us back to reality.  That’s just what Professor Michael Siegel from Boston University and his two coauthors have done in an exhaustive study to be published in an upcoming issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

The study looked at other academic literature which had concluded that where there are more guns there is more homicide. It compared gun availability and homicides using data from 26 developed nations. It analyzed the relationship between gun ownership and homicides using data from 50 states over a 10-year period.  The study even took into account many other factors including race, poverty and overall levels of violence.

The study’s inescapable conclusion is that more guns equal more homicides.

The plain fact is that guns make it easier to kill others and yourself. When someone snaps, guns become the weapon of choice. And thanks to the NRA, guns are readily available in every US city and every state.

Further, the act of concealing and carrying a gun doesn’t make us safer. It endangers us. That should be clear to everyone following the mass shooting at the Navy Yard in Washington, DC. The shooter, who had a history of gun violence and mental illness, was able to easily purchase a shotgun because all charges had been dropped and thus were not in the national database.

Although he entered the Navy Yard armed with only a double-barreled shotgun, he was able to acquire a semi-automatic pistol and an AR-15 assault weapon. How? The bad guy with a gun shot the good guys with guns and took their weapons.

So much for Wayne LaPierre’s post-Newtown argument.

And, in that regard, the Navy Yard shooting was not unusual. Data shows that most people who carry guns are more likely to be shot with their own guns than to use their guns to shoot an attacker. This is simply common sense. A gun is not a defensive weapon. It’s an offensive weapon. It cannot stop bullets. It can only stop another shooter if you see the shooter first, recognize the threat first and shoot first.

If we are to ever stop mass shootings and reduce gun homicides, we must reduce the number and lethality of guns. There is no justifiable reason why a private citizen should have more firepower and higher capacity magazines than law enforcement.  And there is no reason why we can’t have universal background checks for all gun purchases. Neither of these actions are a breach of the Second Amendment.

At the same time we have to look in the mirror and change our culture. Perhaps our movies and video games would not be so violent if we weren’t at war all the time. Maybe we would have less mental illness if we weren’t sending our citizens off to war zones, traumatizing them and returning them to our streets without careful examination. And maybe we’d have fewer of the criminally ill if we treated mental illness for what it really is…illness. There should be no shame or repercussions for a troubled individual seeking therapy anymore than there is for someone seeking treatment for cancer.

We shouldn’t stigmatize them. But we shouldn’t make it easy for them to purchase guns, either.

How Many Mass Shootings Will It Take?

Recent polls have shown that, after being mired in continuous conflicts for the past 12 years, Americans seem to have lost their appetite for war. Various polls found that more than 6 in 10 Americans were against any form of military action in Syria.

But we’re in the midst of our own war right here at home.

Monday’s shooting at the Washington, DC Navy Yard is just the latest in a long line of mass shootings in America. There has been an average of one a month since early in 2009! The victims have included theater-goers, citizens visiting with their congressional representative, elementary school children…even dozens of military and military contractors. In addition, there are many individual gun homicides – more than 11,000 per year according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The reaction from the NRA and other ideologues is to fight any form of common-sense measures such as universal background checks and bans on high-capacity magazines which allow mass shooters to fire up to 100 rounds as fast as they can pull the trigger without the need to reload. In order to intimidate anyone contemplating such measures, the NRA and other gun nuts targeted two of the Colorado legislators who actually had the intestinal fortitude to help pass such legislation. That may intimidate politicians, but it shouldn’t intimidate the majority of Americans who favor universal background checks.

After all, we’re the ones who elect these people.

Of course, the NRA responds to each shooting by first saying, “This is not the time to discuss gun legislation.” Then, after the shock from each event dies down, they come out with another lame statement such as that following the Sandy Hook massacre. “The only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

Obviously, that is utter nonsense.

At both the Navy Yard and Fort Hood, there were dozens, if not hundreds, of armed and trained guards in the immediate area.  At Fort Hood, 13 were killed and 32 were wounded before the armed good guys could stop the shooter. At the Navy Yard, at least 12 were killed before the shooter was stopped.  Those numbers are not significantly different from the mass shootings in which victims were unarmed.

By comparison there were 13 fatalities at the Columbine High School, 6 at the Tucson “Congress on Your Corner” event, 12 at the Aurora, Colorado movie theater, and 26 at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. (The number of deaths at Sandy Hook likely had more to do with the size of magazines used by the shooter and the ages of the victims.)

Moreover, the most thorough study to date on the availability and presence of firearms by Professor Michael Siegel and two coauthors at Boston University clearly shows that more guns equal more gun deaths, either by suicide or homicide.

In other words, good guys with guns do not diminish gun homicides.

As for the NRA’s fear that universal background checks will lead to a national gun registry, there is already a gun registry. Not by the government. By the NRA!

Another specious argument by the NRA and its cowboy wannabes is that gun ownership is the only deterrent for a tyrannical government. That presumes that hunting rifles, shotguns, handguns and semi-automatic assault weapons could deter a government military with tanks, fighter jets, bombers, attack helicopters and drones. Besides, if you’re so fearful of our democratically-elected government that you’re watching the skies for the black helicopters, you should just go ahead and join the Sovereign Citizens movement, renounce your US citizenship and move abroad. You’re too paranoid and too dumb to remain in the US!

It only took 17 mass shootings in Australia before the Australian government banned semi-automatic weapons and most other guns. We have nearly that many mass shootings a year and we can’t even pass universal background checks. Are we that much different than our Aussie friends?

Marketing Addiction.

The development of e-cigarettes was a good thing. It provided an opportunity for those addicted to nicotine and the act of smoking to replace tobacco cigarettes with something less harmful…not only less harmful to themselves, but everyone around them.

Of course, some greedy corporations can’t settle for a good thing. They have to find ways to turn a positive into a negative and, in the process, make millions.

Not content to sell e-cigarettes as a replacement for tobacco, companies like Lorillard have decided to create a whole new generation of buyers by marketing e-cigarettes in a variety of candy flavors and using celebrities to make their products seem cutting-edge “cool.” It’s a strategy right out of the playbook of tobacco cigarette brands from the fifties through the eighties. (Remember Joe Camel?) And, though tobacco companies have been forced to diversify, they have continued the same marketing strategies in Asia and other countries that lack regulations.

Unfortunately, the tobacco and e-cigarette industries are not alone. It’s well-known that the largest brewers in the US aim their advertising at males aged 30 and younger… the younger the better. The idea is that, if brewers can capture the attention of males who are younger than drinking age, those males will have already established brand preferences by the time they’re old enough to buy beer.  That explains the preponderance of TV commercials with girls in bikinis and adolescent humor.

Such tactics, while not illegal, are certainly unethical. But given the rampant greed of corporations, they’re unlikely to change.

Sovereign Citizens: America’s New (Bowel) Movement.

If you’re wondering about the headline, it’s not a typo. I feel it’s an accurate description of the freeloaders who have renounced their US citizenship and refuse to pay taxes or obey laws while taking advantage of our nation’s freedoms, services and benefits.

Each time one of these nitwits burns his driver’s license, Social Security card, birth certificate and other forms of identification, it’s as if our nation is shedding waste.

Now all we need to do is give them a good flush.

If they truly don’t want to be citizens of our nation, we should load them up and ship them to one of the many lawless nations in the world, such as Somalia, Yemen or Syria, where they can practice what they preach. There are plenty of immigrants who would gladly accept US citizenship, pay taxes and obey our laws. Indeed, many of our undocumented workers are already paying taxes knowing that they may never directly receive benefits from those taxes.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), the Sovereign Citizens movement is large and growing, with much of the growth coming since the election of our first president of African-American heritage. An estimated 100,000 people currently living in the United States are “hard core” Sovereign Citizens who have already renounced their US citizenship. The SPLC estimates another 200,000 are “just starting out” by resisting traffic tickets and drug charges. By conservative estimates, there are an additional 200,000 tax protesters who refuse to pay taxes. By deporting all 500,000, we would be freeing up room for 500,000 of the “Dreamers” and other grateful immigrants who are seeking US citizenship.

We would also be lowering the deficit through increased tax revenues.

At the same time, we would be making our nation safer. After all, the FBI classifies Sovereign Citizens as anti-government extremists and domestic terrorists. The SPLC classifies them as a hate group which was spawned by Christian Identity minister William P. Gale, the Posse Comitatus movement and several other racist and political groups of the lunatic fringe. (On second thought, strike the word fringe. That’s being much too kind.)

At the heart of the Sovereign Citizen movement is the belief that there are two classes of citizens in America: “original citizens of the states” and “US citizens (“Fourteenth Amendment citizens”) that include descendants of freed slaves. Since the “original citizens” of the states were here first, they claim not to be bound by federal, state or local laws. (It’s not clear how this applies to Native Americans.)

Like the Tea Party movement (that also needs to be flushed), Sovereign Citizens have selective memories and are selective readers of the Constitution. They also completely ignore the many statements made by our Founding Fathers that express the view that our Constitution placed everyone personally under federal authority.

And, like the Tea Party, Sovereign Citizens subscribe to a number of bizarre conspiracy theories and demand a return to the gold standard. The SPLC describes them this way: “Sovereigns believe that they – not judges, juries, law enforcement or elected officials – get to decide which laws to obey and which to ignore.” They often resort to violence in defiance of authority. Indeed, many are heavily armed, posing a serious threat to anyone with whom they disagree.

They’re not only in the wrong country. They’re in the wrong century!

Arizona’s Right Wing “Job Creators.”

When Gov. Janet Napolitano was replaced by the finger-wagging Jan Brewer following Napolitano’s appointment to become Director of Homeland Security in 2009, the last check on Arizona’s right wing-dominated legislature was eliminated. That led to such bills as the anti-immigrant SB 1070; bills that made it legal to carry guns in bars; bills that protected guns, not people; bills that cut tens of millions from public schools while cutting taxes for corporations.

All the while, the right wing legislators claimed that their top priority was job creation.

Therefore, it seems fair to judge their efforts by looking at the jobs created in Arizona compared to the rest of the nation. Since the end of the Great Recession, the US has regained 77 percent of the jobs lost according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Over the same period, Arizona has recovered just 46 percent of the jobs lost. Despite being one of the states hardest hit by the recession, Arizona ranks just 44th in job creation since February 2010.

The statistics show that Arizona has recovered just 66 percent of jobs lost by the information industry, 40 percent of those lost in professional and business services, 34 percent in other services, 32 percent in trade, transportation and utilities, 29 percent in government, and just 27 percent in manufacturing.

How can that be?

According to Teapublican legislators, the best way to create jobs is to cut taxes. Yet Arizona’s corporate taxes are among the very lowest in the nation. They also claimed that SB 1070 would allow Arizona citizens to reclaim jobs from undocumented workers. Somehow, they believed that chasing tens of thousands of immigrants from the state who rent homes, purchase cars, buy groceries and buy clothes would improve the state’s economy.

Apparently they also believe that outlawing a Latino studies program in the Tucson school district, eliminating the poor from Medicaid, attacking the federal government, cutting school budgets, redirecting money to private schools and private prisons, closing rest stops, closing state parks, demanding further proof of Obama’s citizenship, and telling the world that Arizona is unsafe, would entice tourists and sophisticated corporations to come here.

Maybe, just maybe, the right is wrong.