Saturday, December 1, 2012

Musical Children

Having married a musical wife, one thing we have committed to do is to make sure each of our kids have music lessons, starting at a young age to continue through as long as we are raising them and have a say in it. Two of our four kids are currently enrolled, a third is close.

Our oldest daughter has been been in violin lessons since she was four. She's ten now, so she's been practicing pretty consistently almost every day for the past six years. Granted, lessons at age four or five weren't quite what they are now she's ten, but nonetheless significant progress has been made. She is now about half way through the Suzuki program's fourth book, but more importantly has really good technique, plays beautifully for her skill level, and is well on her way toward mastery if she chooses. More than that, she enjoys playing, learns pieces quickly, and is not shy about playing publicly. It's one of her core talents.

My second oldest son started music lessons later (for him, the cello). He was more resistant to it earlier and we felt like it was more appropriate for him to wait. He's seven now and even still, he's more reluctant to practice or to play. He's not as careful and he's made slower progress, but even still, he also must practice every day, and he does so reasonably consistently. So, while slower and not as refined, he's still progressing.

 The point is that music is, for us, not an extra-curricular activity. It's part of our core subject curriculum (yes, we homeschool). And all four of our kids will continue to take music lessons through high school. It might not be their passion, they may choose other professions (hopefully since a musician's life is not easy), but they will spend at least thirty minutes a day on most days practicing their instruments. And they will, all of them, be competent musicians at the end of it. Enough to play and perform and inspire even if it's just as amateur players.

Why would this be important to us? First of all, would any right-thinking parent allow their child to stop learning math after the third grade? Literature? Science? Why are the arts not equally as important as math?

When I was young, I took the requisite piano lessons for a year maybe? My teacher moved away from our neighborhood and I was left to fend for myself. I never really learned how to play. Listening to master musicians I assumed they were born with the skill. Sure, they practiced, but they had to have had some genetic predisposition that I was just not born with.

This thinking is wrong, I think practically anybody can achieve mastery given the right desire. It just takes hours of practice, many, many hours, more hours than most people are willing to put in. I would never impose the amount of hours necessary to achieve true mastery on my children on anything. It's up to them to find their passions and hopefully, they will find it within themselves to develop the drive, dedication, and continued focus to spend the hours it takes to achieve the mastery. I just want them to have some level of proficiency in the core subjects and we, our family, feel music is part of that core.

Tonight, we had a chance to enjoy the luminaries at the Desert Botanical Gardens. Throughout the gardens they had about 7 or 8 musical groups playing truly inspiring music. These musicians were wonderful, incredibly talented. And the setting, the gardens, even at night is just a splendor, a jewel in the heart of the Phoenix valley. I came away completely inspired and grateful for the opportunity to really appreciate so much talent - both for the musicians I heard and the many people who work to make sure the gardens retain their beauty.

I can't help but think that we as a culture and a country continue to live (obviously) far below our potential. If every child had the opportunity to learn some kind of art (music, painting, sculpture, drama, dance) and not just the one or two years most children get if they are lucky, but instead regular consistent training throughout their childhood lives, how enriched would the next generation be? Imagine the church musical numbers, imagine neighborhoods getting together for random music nights, street performers on every street, jam sessions in public places. Imagine how much more sensitive we would be toward preserving and creating beauty. We would work harder to beautify our homes and neighborhoods. We would demand more out of our parks and public spaces. We would be less tolerant of pollution.

There's been a lot of talk about the need for more math and science in our schools. I love math and I love science and we need more of it. But I think we also need more artists and musicians. The world would be a better place.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

If I had to vote today

I'm still an undecided voter in terms of many of the down-ballot elections. On some of them, I still have no clue since I have yet to do my research. So, with a week and a half till voting time, this is where I stand. Please challenge me on any of this. However, unless you have some really incredible point to make regarding the presidential race, I think I have gotten more than my share of information on that race. I would prefer if you saved your comments for the races down the ballot.

Race Candidates AZ Republic Pick My Pick Rationale
Presidential Race Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, Gary Johnson, Jill Stein Mitt Romney Barack Obama I would say I'm leaning Obama. I may decide to go third party. I have a fairly surprising long list of reasons I've been less than satisfied with Obama's last four years. None more than his willingness to assassinate suspected terrorists without trial even when they happen to be US citizens. And then his use of drones to perform these assassinations. The problem with Mitt Romney is that not only has he endorsed these practices but has indicated he would expand on them.
US Senate Jeff Flake, Richard Carmona, Marc Victor Jeff Flake Richard Carmona I think Jeff Flake is a great candidate and I wouldn't mind a Flake victory here. Richard Carmona has an amazing background; he is a viciously independent thinker; and more moderate than Flake. This is a close call for me, but I really want Democrats to hold onto the Senate.
US Representatives in Congress District 9 Vernon Parker, Kyrsten Sinema, Powell Gammill Kyrsten Sinema Kyrsten Sinema I like Vernon Parker. He's more moderate than most Republicans currently in Congress. He opposes Ryan's economic plan for example. Although, he's trying too hard to defend much of the Republican ideology and he has a very difficult time doing so. Check him out here on Sunday Square off for example Sinema has a pretty boiler plate agenda, but she's extremely smart and has an impressive record in the legislature.
State Senator District 26 Jerry Lewis, Ed Ableser, Damian Trabel Jerry Lewis Ed Ableser I think Jerry Lewis has been a good Senator, but he does have some curious votes, going a long with a pretty kooky party far too many times, apparently even voting for an insane UN bill "Lewis says he voted for the UN bill after being assured that it would die in the House." And being the decisive vote on getting the insane proposition 120 on the ballot. In the past year or so, he's been much more engaged then Ableser,and has been and over all a moderate voice in the House. Ableser prioritized his first born over spending time with a pretty polarized legislature. Overall though, I think we need Democrats in the Senate.
State Representative District 26 Raymond Speakman, Mary Lou Taylor, Juan Mendez, Andrew Sherwood, Chris Will, Haryaksha Gregor Knaue Juan Mendez and Andrew Sherwood Juan Mendez and Andrew Sherwood The first easy one on the ballot. I know nothing about Mary Lou Taylor, she skipped the debate and according to the article refuses to stake positions on key issues. Juan Mendez and Andrew Sherwood have passion and energy and would be good assets in the House.
Corporation Commissioner Bob Stump, Susan Bitter Smith, Robert Burns, Paul Newman, Marcia Busching, Sandra Kennedy, Christopher Gohl, Daniel Pout, Thomas Meadows Bob Burns, Bob Stump, and Marcia Busching Bob Stump, Marcia Busching, and Sandra Kennedy Bob Stump is extremely smart and accomplished, Marcia Busching also seems smart, pragmatic, and reasonable. I'm thinking about going with Sandra Kennedy as my third choice. Bob Burns is probably the better qualified candidate, but Kennedy isn't bad. She's an incumbent and a Democrat, so going with ideology here.
County Attorney Bill Montgomery and Michael Kielsky Not Sure Bill Montgomery I haven't studied this race enough yet. Kielsky is a libertarian and is focused specifically on avoiding prosecuting "victimless crimes - drugs, prostitution. I think this is a bit too far, though it's an appealing thought. Montgomery is far better than his predecessor who was more inclined to go after political enemies. The Democrats sent no one to oppose him.
County Recorder Helen Purcell Not Sure Nor Sure She's running unopposed, but I reserve the right to not vote for her. I need to do my research here.
Sherriff Joe Arpaio, Paul Penzone, Mike Stauffer Paul Penzone Paul Penzone The easiest race on the ballot - by a mile. Literally, if you vote for Arpaio, you are either not paying attention or a hopeless partisan who would vote for Republican no matter how bad.
County Treasurer Charles Hoskins Not Sure Not Sure
Central AZ Water Conservation District Janie Thom, Lisa Atkins, Robin Bain, Linda Brickman, Gayle Burns, Guy Carpenter, Terry Goddard, Carrie Hamstra, Heather Macre, Jean McGrath, Brett Mecum, John Minieri, Pamela Pickard Terry Goddard, Lisa Atkins, Pamela Pickard, Guy Carpenter, Heather Macre Terry Goddard, Heather Macre, Guy Carpenter, Pamela Pickard Terry Goddard has influence and experience. Heather Macre is young and cares about climate change. Guy Carpenter has experience and expertise. Lisa Atkins has done a lot on the board. The rest are either too extremely conservative or I could find no good information bout them.
Maricopa County Special Health Care District District 1 Mary Harden, William Bruno Not Sure Mary Harden I'm going with Mary Harden on this one. She is a career nurse and has worked within MIHS for most of that career. Although Bill Bruno the incumbent seems to have better answers, he has no direct medical experience, has been more of a manager over his career.
Maricopa County Community College District 1 Frank Denogean, Doyle Burke Not Sure Doyle Burke Burke is the clear choice here. He's been an English professor at a community college and the incumbent. Denogean has had a checkered past and is a substitute teacher currently.
Tempe Union No. 213 Question 1 Bond Approval Not Sure Yes I'm voting on anything that gives our schools more money.
Tempe Union No. 213 Question 2 Bond Approval Not Sure Yes I'm voting on anything that gives our schools more money.
Tempe Union No. 213 High School Governing Board Moses Sanchez, Dave Wells, Don Hawker, Michele Helm, Sandy Lowe Not Sure Moses Sanchez, Dave Wells, and Michele Helm Moses Sanchez is a return Afghanistan veteran with kids in high school. Dave Wells is an ASU professor and Michele Helm is a long-time educator. A good mix of experience. Don Hawker is too conservative. Sandy Lowe is good, but I liked the other three better.
Tempe Elementary No. 3 Budget Increase Not Sure Yes
School Governing Board Tempe Elementary No. 3 Rochelle Wells, Teresa Devine, Suzanne Durkin-Bighorn, Kathleen Espinoza Not Sure Rochelle Wells, Teresa Devine, and Kathleen Espinoza Rochelle Wells is the incumbent and she came to our house for a personal chat (though long-winded). Loved Teresa Devine's answers to the survey and her experience. Kathleen Espinoza is a long-time educator. Had trouble finding any information on Durkin-Bighorn.
City of Tempe Question 1 Bond for Public Safety Not Sure Yes
City of Tempe Question 2 Bond for Park Improvements Not Sure Yes
City of Tempe Question 3 Bond for Infrastructure Preservation Not Sure Yes
Judges Skipping Skipping
Proposition 114 Proposition protecting crime victims from getting sued. Opposes No Just a waste of time.
Proposition 115 Proposition changing the process for Judge Selection. Opposes No We need to keep our judicial system non-partisan, this proposition will reduce its independence.
Proposition 116 Property tax exemptions for small businesses. Supports No Let's keep our tax code simple.
Proposition 117 Property Tax Assessed Evaluation. Opposes No It will defund our government in the face of rising property values
Proposition 118 Establishment of Permanent Funds Supports Yes Guarantees a stream of funds for schools.
Proposition 119 State Trust Lands Supports Yes Sounds sensible to me.
Proposition 120 State Sovereignty Opposes No Dumbest proposition on the ballot.
Proposition 121 Direct Primary Election Law Supports No This will weaken political parties which I think are doing more good than people realize.
Proposition 204 Sales Tax Increase for Schools Opposes Yes We need to money for schools.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Vice President Debates

Now that there's a little space between me and the two presidential debates, I wanted to assess my own emotional reaction to them given that I've been on Team Democrat for some time now. With the first presidential debate, Mitt Romney took it to Obama, attacking the weaknesses of his first four years. It was frustrating because Obama didn't defend himself well nor did he hold Romney's campaign accountable for their bad ideas.

Going into the vice presidential debates, I was hoping Joe Biden would help do what Obama failed to do. I watched the 2008 primary debates and based on his performance then, I knew Biden is a good debater, usually the best of the group, and more then ready for this task. He has sincerity and passion and those qualities come out. I was looking forward to it.

Let me say, I only caught pieces of the debate, but enough of it that I didn't feel like it was worth my time re-watching the whole thing again later. I think Joe Biden did his job, he defended the Obama record and called Ryan out on some of their policies that demanded a bunch of additional scrutiny. Did Biden go too far? On occasion, and I want to point out how using an example. In fact, this example was on an issue that I think most of this presidential campaign rests. Take a look at this clip:

This I think captures the essential differences between the two presidential campaigns on one of the core issues facing our country.

We are facing the dual and mutually exclusive challenges of a growing debt and high, pervasive unemployment.  Given that our unemployment challenges are a direct result of not enough demand for the abundant supply of goods and services, anything the government does to tackle unemployment (cut taxes or increase spending) grows the deficit. Anything the government does to tackle the deficits (increase taxes or cut spending) grows unemployment.

The responsible thing is to grow the short term deficit while addressing long term debt. The way to do this is to slowly, carefully simplify the tax code so that it's fairer, less distortive, but maintain its prorgressive properties as a tool to add some redistribution to our highly and economically dangerous inequities. This means closing loopholes long term, cutting taxes for the poor and middle class in the short run.

You can't do this quickly, every loophole helps certain industries and immediately closing these loopholes would have devastating consequences. For example, closing the mortgage interest loophole would hurt our housing industry. Closing the employer health insurance loophole would put pressure on companies and employees who count on it.

When Mitt Romney claims he can simultaneously close loopholes, grow the economy, make taxes revenue neutral, cut taxes across the board by 20%, balance the budget, and not add a dime of economic burden to the middle class - in other words solve every current economic problem without having to specify how in the world he could possibly accomplish this - he is taking on the role of economic savior every bit as crazy as the hysteria surrounding Obama's presidential race in 2008.

You can't claim to be a miracle worker and give no indication how the miracle can be performed. You can't hide behind the claim that you're laying down principles that will be worked out in a bipartisan way when these "principles" are mathematically impossible.

Where I got frustrated with Romney was that Barack Obama kept calling his bluff (or tried to) by asking Romney how in the world can Romney make up for the $5 trillion dollar tax cut (over 10 years) and Romney refused to admit he would do so as if the 20% across the board tax cut promise didn't exist.

Joe Biden put the impossibility of this position front and center. Ryan was going to use a lot of smart sounding words to give their position the air of sophistication and possibility. Biden interrupted often here to prevent him from getting away with it.

Was Biden rude while doing so? Did he get carried away?

One final point, Ryan was about to use Kennedy and Reagan as examples of how cutting taxes can stimulate growth and that growth can be factored into the deficit mathematical equation. This is the central point made by Romney apologists. First, both Kennedy and Reagan were cutting tax rates significantly higher than what we're seeing today. Second, in both cases, the economic problems being faced then had much more to do with inadequate supply than inadequate demand. The problems were different then, the solutions are different today.

No, Ryan, you are no Jack Kennedy.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Is the Republican Party Racist?

That's the provocative claim on Slate today, but actually it's not nearly tendentious as it sounds and actually the author makes a really great point. The meat of the article can be found in these two paragraphs:
No, I’m not saying all Republicans are racist. I’m saying that as a party, ever since Goldwater and Nixon concocted the benighted, openly racist “Southern Strategy” in the ’60s, the Republican Party has profited from overt and covert racism.
The Southern Strategy was designed to capitalize on Southern white resentment of court-enforced busing to end school desegregation, of the 1964 Civil Rights Act's prohibition of discrimination in interstate commerce, of enforcement of the 1965 Voting Rights Act to prevent historically racist Southern counties and states from discriminating against blacks who sought to exercise their right to vote where once they'd been effectively barred. By playing on these issues, Nixon and other Republicans of this era won many traditionally Democratic votes in the South. Later, GOP opposition to affirmative action, race-based hiring "quotas" and all other methods of compensating for the debilitating legacy of slavery, Jim Crow and segregation fed into what was one of the momentous shifts, a total turnaround in just more than a decade (1970 to 1984) from a solidly Democratic South to a solidly Republican one.
With the following consequence:
Which means in practice that the GOP starts out every presidential election with (depending on census changes in electoral vote numbers) some 100 electoral votes, more than a third of the way to the 270 electoral votes needed for victory.
Ok, here's my take. It's true that the states in the deep south, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina have a deep residue of racism that inspires its politics. To deny this is to be well in denial. Now Texas is a big state that spans a large geography and a state I'm not sure is as embedded in racist politics as the others. Given that it currently has 34 electoral votes, or a third of the 100 identified by the author, it kind of dampens the author's thesis. Of course Texas is a red state because of Nixon's and Reagan's southern strategy? I would say its complicated.

Additionally, you can say that the Democratic party has an equal if not greater built in electoral college head start that includes largely populated states in the Northeast and California. These states are probably blue in part as a backlash to this same southern strategy.

However, I do think it was inevitable that the southeast portion of the United States has enough of an electoral college influence to send at least one of the two major parties down this dark path. That one of the two parties would take advantage of it to earn a significant advantage electorally makes sense.

And you can see the consequences in some of the conservative ideology, especially in terms of welfare, affirmative action, and immigration. These issues are certainly broad minded enough to include non-racist supporters, especially those who have not had the exposure to race issues to understand the deeper intent behind these programs (I'm looking at you Utah).

It partially explains Mitt Romney's strategy to attack Obama on his attempt to supposedly gut welfare to work:
At the very least these patterns make Southern voters susceptible to what some observers have called "dog whistle" appeals to racism, such as Mitt Romney's false claim in campaign ads that Obama had "gutted" welfare reform work requirements, reminding many of Reagan-era attacks on "welfare queens" in Cadillacs.
 It was a lie. It's also an issue that is not overtly racist so it appeals to non-racist conservatives but it has a definite appeal to those who are.

For me, it also explains why there's been this irrational hysteria from the right in reaction to a Barack Obama presidency. Again, it's complicated. Some of it was resentment to the way Obama captured the white-house. This savior dropped in from heaven to rescue America from itself. Some of it was also just the natural polarization that is at play in this country. Finally, of course, deep economic trouble tends to bring out the worst in people.

But some of it was inspired by the core Southern conservatives who just can't stomach a black president.
The final presidential tally in 2008 gave ample warning of the potency of the GOP’s conservative white constituency. Obama made a major breakthrough by winning a significant percent of votes from white independents and young white voters. Among Southern and Heartland America white male voters, Obama made almost no impact. In South Carolina and other Deep South states the vote was even more lopsided among white voters against Obama. The only thing that even made Obama’s showing respectable in those states was the record turnout and percentage of black votes that he got. ...
Any fair minded person would have to admit, the over-the-top anti-Obama rhetoric from the right is irrational. They were never willing to compromise on any issue from day one. Every issue Obama put on the table was a deal-breaker for them. There was not an ounce of decency shown by most Republicans in Congress, and they got away with it only because the economy was down the toilet.

Was this racism? Generally no, but to think that over a third of your electoral college support comes from a set of states that do this:
Is it any accident that they fly Confederate flags from their statehouse, as in South Carolina, or incorporate Confederate flag symbols into their state flags as in Mississippi and Alabama, or allow them to be flaunted on state-issued license places, even passing laws that declare they must be respected. If you’ve traveled much in the South (as I have), you see them flying too from courthouses, municipal buildings, and other private establishments. If it’s not unconstitutional, it is, frankly, disgusting.
And in a not as over-the-top comparison as it seems at first:
If a conservative government in the German state of Bavaria decided it was going to allow the flying of the SS death’s-head flag, would we find it a touchingly nostalgic tribute to “tradition”? We would not. And yet, as I’ve said before, slavery was a slow-motion genocide that murdered, over three centuries, as many or more human beings than Hitler did. And after a brief reconstruction period, people in the slaveholding states continued to murder, rape, and otherwise oppress the freed slaves and their descendants for another hundred years until they were forced by Federal laws and courts against their will to exercise their racism in less obvious ways, voting being just one.
I left the Republican party because it got too crazy for me. I think this party needs to do some introspection. At this point, it would be suicide for the party to renounce 100 electoral college votes from the south. But they should. They should find ways to adopt saner immigration policies, policies that help address poverty and blight in minority neighborhoods.

They should, but they won't.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

LD 26 Video Debates

Just finished the Arizona Legislative District 26 debate:

Let me summarize some of my thoughts.

First of all, those in attendance included Jerry Lewis and Ed Ableser running for State Senate; Juan Mendez, Andrew Sherwood, and Ray Speakman running for the two open House seats. Ok, there was a libertarian and a green candidate, but they were so bad they aren't worth mentioning. There is also another Republican running who didn't show, Mary Lou Taylor. I'm not sure why people don't attend or want to engage in a debate. It makes it harder for a voter to get to know where they stand and who they are. Mary Lou Taylor, who are you, beyond a name on a political sign?

Ok, surprisingly enough, every candidate agreed on every issue, from the need to provide Kid's Care (health insurance for the poor), high tech jobs for Arizona, investment in education, investment in solar, and on and on. So, ideologically, they might as well all belong to the same party.

Where the starkest contrast comes from was in tone, background and approach to politics. The three Democrats are all young, energetic, and passionate. They each have different backgrounds, but are hyper-motivated to make a difference in the political process.

Ed Ableser has the longest tenure in the legislature starting in his twenties. He is a counselor by training and profession and is passionate about the effects of policies on individuals, especially those most at the margins in society.

Juan Mendez grew up in the valley from immigrant parents. He grew up poor, but his parents took advantage of state programs, health insurance, training programs, schools and scholarships. Mendez is alarmed (as am I) at the extremes in the Republicans in Arizona's legislature, folks who cares more about tax breaks for corporations, balanced budgets and rainy day funds then funding essential services for the poor. Worse, they care more about demagoguery on immigration, conspiracy theory legislation on global warming or birthed theories, then they do about solving real problems we face - but I digress.

Andrew Sherwood has been a volunteer for the party for a while and is running on jobs - high tech jobs for the future and making sure we have an educated work force to fill those jobs.

Jerry Lewis has the most impressive and extensive business resume of the group and it shows. He's been a religious leader in his community. He's been involved in education, in business, he's an accountant by training and profession. He took Russell Pearce's seat in an historic recall election and is running as a moderate. Someone who is trying to roll back from within some of the extremism in the Republican party of late. He wants to be someone who listens, finds common ground and compromise.

Ray Speakman has the least impressive resume of the group and it shows. He's older but his experience does not seem that relevant. He has eight kids and a bunch of grandkids. He's been a volunteer in scouting and has owned business, construction and design. However, he doesn't seem to have the much grasp on the issues and shows almost no passion, energy, or charisma.

Lewis vs. Ableser
It seems that Ableser's main critique of his opponent is Lewis's voting record, primarily his vote for the Republican budget that cut Kid's Care. Lewis's retort as far as I understood it was that he's worked with Republicans to moderate these bills but fundamentally must go along with bills, however flawed to get things done. Lewis is not there to make statements.

Ableser, Mendez and Sherwood definitely take a harder stand in their approach. They want to stand up for principles and on certain things may not be as willing to find common ground.

Lewis's main attack on Ableser was on his attendance record, something Ed never really addressed in the debate. In my home he had a really good explanation. He has actually had a stellar attendance record up until his wife became pregnant and their baby was born. Then, he chose to skip non-essential votes to assist his wife with the pregnancy. I'm not sure why he didn't offer this defense in the debate.

Lewis in his attack did say something I loved, that he shows up, he represents, he listens to those he represents, even those that didn't vote for him. Along that vein, where was Mary Lou Taylor?

Of the two in the debate, and it was close, but I found Lewis more well-spoken, seem to speak more from the heart and was less reliant on notes. In my home visit, I found Ableser knowledgeable and charismatic in fact more so than when I met Lewis at a different house party, which is why I found it surprising that he read his opening and closing statement.

It's hard for me, based on the information I have to know conclusively whether Lewis or Ableser would be the more effective legislature. I guess my next step would be to look at their legislative record and to figure out which bills they sponsored, what were their priorities, which one of the two seemed to make the bigger impact.

As of now, for me it comes down to what I want from my state government. I want to see greater representation from the Democratic caucus. I want Republicans that are forced to listen and work with Democrats. The only way to get there is to elect Democrats to office. I think Ed Ableser is more than qualified and deserves to be elected. I wish I could elect Jerry Lewis as well, but I can't. As of now, I'm likely to support Ableser.

Juan Mendez and Andrew Sherwood are clearly better than Ray Speakman. That race should not be close.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Ed Ableser for State Senate

I just had an immensely gratifying evening with Ed Ableser who is running State Senate from my legislative district. A few months ago, I spent an evening listening to Jerry Lewis, the person he's running against. Admittedly, I tend to just like people so I'm easily taken by impressive presentation. So, let me preface with this blog with that.

But man, to be honest, this was a really great evening. In attendance was the bishop of my church congregation, the congregation's former high priest group leader, a former young women's president, friends, and few neighbors that dropped by. I was hoping for a bit more of a turnout, but really, I cannot complain.

All in all, I totally enjoyed it. We had smart people asking smart questions and I was really impressed with Ed's answers. He had such a grasp on the issues and knew policy inside and out. He has a really interesting perspective and experience. He's a counselor by trade and talked in detail about his experiences working with people struggling with addictions and other serious problems.

I'm telling you, we had a smart, respectful crowd. The topics range from gay marriage, legalization of marijuana, abortion, Kid's Care, university education funding, foster care and CPS, slum lords, dumb tax loopholes giving incentives to business simply to move from building to building, the list goes on and on.

We talked about the super majority enjoyed by the Republicans in the legislature right now which has inspired completely nutty legislation such as labeling global warming a global conspiracy or worse gutting programs that help people in need. In this election the Democrats have a chance at getting a 15/15 split in the Senate but its contingent on the race in this district. A 15/15 split forces Republicans to compromise. We desperately need balance in this state, Republicans forced to work with Democrats making sure smart legislation is passed to deal with actual problems facing Arizonans.

And there are reasonable Republicans. He talked about how many Republicans in the state and national legislature favor things like the  "Dream Act" legislation but SB1070 literally moved immigration reform back years. That bill changed the rhetoric around the issue for the worse. Congressional Republicans and Democrats are closer on this issue than people think, but Republicans can't concede and give Democrats a political victory.

Kid's Care was the biggest no brainer issue for me discussed today. Over the past four years, the state legislature has cut funding to programs that help people even as they've provided give aways to businesses. Kid's Care is health insurance for the poor. Jerry Lewis, to say it bluntly, voted to have its funding cut.

He also defended himself against the attacks from his opponent that claim he's missed a lot of votes. He's been in the legislature a number of years. For most of the years, he's sponsored bills, and has shown up for almost every single vote. Recently, he had his first baby, who graced our home as well :-). He chose to spend more time with wife and baby and missed more votes as a result. However, he made sure he attended the significant ones.

I must say, I think Ed gets a bit carried away on how involved state government should really be in the lives of people. I'm with him for the most part, a couple of times he went a bit farther than I would go. Most notably, he talked about how we should do more proactive mental health screening, which sounds good and I'm not exactly clear on his views on the specifics, but is perhaps a bit more intrusive than I believe.

Anyway, loved the evening and I appreciate Ed for sharing his time with us. I thank Andrew Sherwood and Juan Mendez for their appearances as well. I especially thank my loving wife who worked hard to get our house ready for the evening all while she was busy dealing with our four challenging children.

To find out more about Ed Ableser, check him out here and here.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Bottom Up Politics

In the past I've spent way too much time on presidential politics.  Even now, I'm spending too much time on presidential politics.  For good reason, I think.  What happens in Washington D.C. does have a pretty big impact on what happens in Tempe, AZ.  Certainly, those people who have enrolled in the military over the past 10 years and had to leave friends and family to fight in Iraq or Afghanistan were profoundly affected by the Bush presidency.  I believe the severe recession of 2008 was inevitable, but perhaps a more aware executive branch could have muted its immediate affects and then followed up with a faster recovery.  The economy obviously affects us all.

More profoundly, I've tried hard to get involved in local politics only to find the issues that dominate national news drip down to almost every local election. Bush introduces "No Child Left Behind" with its emphasis on school choice, vouchers, high stakes testing and every candidate from the local school board elections to the state governor has something to say about it on the campaign trail. I'm still amazed that Republicans want lower taxes no matter how localized office is.  Republican presidents want lower federal taxes. Republican governors want to cut state taxes.  Republican mayors want to cut property taxes and so on.  There seems to be very little difference between issues discussed during a presidential campaign and the legislative district race. If you're interested in politics at all, then you have to pay attention. The top of ticket sets the agenda and the rest of the candidates seemingly fall into line.

The final reason national elections matter is because the success or failure on the top of the ballot has a significant affect on what happens down the line. If you have a popular Republican president running for office, chances our Republican candidates for congress, state legislatures, governors, mayors and every one else who happens to be on that same ballot will benefit.

What I hope to do, in my own small way, is to turn this upside down. My vote really doesn't matter that much at the national level.  My state goes one way or the other, and anything I say or do just gets lost in the noise. I'd like to believe I have a bigger influence locally. If I can push for say, Paul Penzone for sheriff, this gets Democrats excited and voter turn out increases. A person shows up excited to get Joe Arpairo out of office, but now are forced to consider Kyrsten Sinema for Congress, Rick Carmona for Senate, and of course, Barack Obama for president.

And I have a greater chance to make a bigger difference locally. It is a smaller scale election, so my vote counts more. When I am able to canvass (trying as I do to bring my kids with me), each door I knock on, each conversation I have, each extra voter I am able to bring out to the polls makes more of a difference. I can donate a dollar to the Obama campaign which is like dust in the wind in these millions of dollars campaign, or I can donate money to my state legislature candidates where every single dollar matters so much more.

There's this bumper sticker phrase out there that says, "Think globally, act locally", or something like that.  This is what I want to do more of. Focus on local issues:  crime in Tempe, school quality in Arizona, my local economy. I have more opportunity to drive the discussion locally and in so doing drive voter turnout. As we are able to drive issues from the bottom up, we can start to have a stronger influence about what gets done from the top down.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Andrei Cherney for Congress Part II

I did want to follow up my first post especially since I did get a response from a volunteer on the Schapira campaign regarding his education platform.  I hope I'm not being too presumptive publishing it here:
I have attached the American Federation of Teachers questionnaire and below have pasted the essay questions that were asked by the National Education Association and answered by David.
A.    Please describe the top three public education priorities (pre-k through higher education) on which you would focus in Congress and why. 

A.    1. Reforming ESEA collaboratively with educators and school leaders – focusing on what is best to improve student success. We cannot allow ESEA to continue restricting states and local school districts with burdensome regulations and bureaucratic red tape that does not advance student achievement.   2. Improving access to affordable higher education through Pell Grants to prepare American students for the 21st Century economy. Increased access to higher education will strengthen our economy and increase opportunities for students across the country. An investment in education today will make all the difference in America’s future. 3. Preserving and increasing funding for Head Start so that working families can provide early childhood education to their kids and ensure that our students have a strong foundation to build upon. Working families shouldn’t have to choose between paying their bills and ensuring a strong educational experience for their children – Congress can provide increased financial resources to eliminate that conflict.

B.    Please explain how, as a Member of Congress, you would specifically build respect for the education profession in order to help attract and retain the highest quality educators in pre-k through higher education. 

B.    As a former high-school teacher and university instructor, I would be a positive exemplar of our profession in Congress. Education and increasing student achievement have been the priorities of my political career and will continue to be in Congress. It is important for Congress to include education professionals in policy making so that we can develop teacher evaluation processes that are respectful of teaching as a profession, that apprise teachers of strengths and flaws and provide professional development to strengthen weak areas. I believe as a nation we must bring focus back to the importance of education, recognizing that having a strong teacher in every classroom is one of the keys to student success. I understand that we must work towards a system that offers not only competitive salary and benefits, but also positive work environments that foster professional development in order to attract the best and brightest professionals to education, and give them the respect they deserve.

  1. Please explain your position on increasing federal support for public higher education, particularly given the need for global competitiveness? 

C. The strength of our education system and our economy are intertwined. We must invest in education to build a highly-educated, sustainable workforce that will allow the United States to compete in the 21st Century. In the past, economic competition has been between states, but now the United States is competing with countries around the globe like India and China. Education will be key to our nation’s ability to ensure global competitiveness, and we must make it a national priority. By increasing federal support for public higher education, we can begin to level the playing field for all students, regardless of background or socioeconomic status. Federal support is critical to ensuring that every student is assured the equal opportunity they deserve to achieve the American Dream. We cannot ignore the importance of education as we discuss the future of the U.S. economy in a globalized world.

I think this is all really good and accurate. I recently an article putting into question some of Bush's reforms to put undue national burdens on "failing schools".  I've also have Diane Ravtich's book, "The Death and Life of the American School System". Both echo some of the points Schapira makes here and in other forums.

I am still of the opinion, though, that Cherney has a better grasp of the central issues facing the US nationally that extend well beyond education - medicare reform, unemployment, jobs.  This is a tough race with three really great candidates.  I'm voting for Cherney, but I will definitely throw my support behind the winner of tomorrow's election as they shift gears toward November.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Andrei Cherney for US Congressional District 9


Let me start by saying that I cannot relate to those who vote early by mail.  I'm fine with getting a mail-in ballot, looking at it, doing your homework, then on election day turning it in.  I can't relate to people who feel the need to mail in their ballot early. Ok, maybe if the election is easy and there is a clear difference between the candidates. For example, if the ballot had Paul Penzone running against Joe Arpaio and nobody else? I would fill in that ballot and drop it in the mail months early.

But voting is hard and serious business.  Wait until the last possible minute, read as much as you have time to read, discuss, ponder, change your mind, then when you are finally forced to make a decision,  vote.  Make it count.

Even at this late hour, the Saturday night before the primary election on Tuesday, I'm only leaning toward Andrei Cherney.  I reserve the right to change my mind.   What follows are the reasons I'm inclined to vote for Andrei Cherney if I was forced to vote today.

First of all, all three candidates are incredibly solid.   I've watched now three debates involving the candidates.  To tell you the truth, ideologically, all three are pretty similar, so ferreting out the differences is pretty challenging. 

Kyrsten Sinema

Kyrsten graduated from BYU at 18.  She later received a Masters degree in social work and a law degree, both from ASU. In other words, she is incredibly smart and ambitious.

Based on whatever I can get access to from the internet, her main contributions in the state legislature came in the form of opposition to other bills.  She was a leader in opposition to two bills to ban gay marriage in Arizona, the first failed, the second passed.  And, she was a leader in opposing Russell Pearce in strident anti-immigration bills.  She has sponsored many bills, but very few ever came to a vote. Cherney has given her some heat here, but I given the strong legislative majority the Republican party has enjoyed here, I cut her some slack.

She has gotten a lot of press for her immigration stances, from the NY Times:
In the Arizona Legislature, an elective body of astounding dimness, one of the few bright lights was Kyrsten Sinema, who as a state senator gave a blistering critique of S.B. 1070, the state’s radical, Arpaio-inspired immigration law. (She sponsored several bills to rein in the abuses of Sheriff Arpaio and his ally Mr. Thomas, the county attorney, though her colleagues didn’t go along.) Ms. Sinema, who is a lawyer and on the faculty of the Arizona State University School of Social Work, debated the law for hours with its sponsor, Russell Pearce, ruthlessly exposing its many legal flaws. The law was later eviscerated by the United States Supreme Court, too. Arizona voters eventually recalled Mr. Pearce. Today, Ms. Sinema is running for Congress.
Here is an impressive display as she eviserates the SB1070 law that made Arizona so, well, infamous.  I really wish I had access to this during the heat of the debate.

David Schapira

David Schapira is running for Congress making two fundamental points:   1) That he is the only one of the three candidates with thorough, authentic ties to this community and 2) That he is the only candidate that will make education a priority at the national level.

This really is at the heart of who he is.  He was born in this district and has basically lived here all of his life.  His degree is in political science at George Washington University, but on his return, he has flung himself into politics, volunteering locally while teaching high school at his alma mater.  As soon as he was old enough, he ran for state house and won.  He seems to be most impressive when he's running.  He's everywhere, he has a massive staff of volunteers and deep local connections. He's picked up key endorsements from Tempe, most notably Harry Mitchell and The Arizona Republic.

He also has strong experience on the education issue, working as a teacher for a short time, but serving on education committees in the legislature and serving on the Tempe High School school board.

I've watched three debates now and of the three, he is the most articulate and charismatic. All three are really good, I say Schapira shines in his ability to express himself with energy and charisma.

Beyond all of this, though, I find him the least accomplished of the three.  Accomplished sure, but what specifically has he done?  His internet presence is shallow.  I don't see any significant legislative accomplishments on his resume.  He talks a lot about how he wants to improve education, but I have never heard him share specifics.  I do have an e-mail out to a volunteer on his staff asking for more information, I'll update this blog when I hear back.

I started this campaign leaning Schapira based purely on superficial reasons - he's been my representative for years now, almost my entire time living in Tempe.  But to be honest, I only really hear from him when he's running for office.  Granted, I've had a hard time keeping track of our state legislature other than when something controversial crops up.  But based on the amount of internet research I've been able to muster, he's impressive, but falls short of the other two.

Andrei Cherney 

I think all three candidates have impressive backgrounds, but Andrei's is particularly unique, from wikipedia:
Cherny was born in Los Angeles, California on August 4, 1975. His parents were Czechoslovakian immigrants that spoke little English. His parents struggled to provide for him and his brother and sometimes received assistance. Cherny utilized Pell Grants and worked three jobs to get through college[3].
Cherny graduated with honors from Harvard College. As writer for The Harvard Crimson, he wrote political pieces highlighting Clinton's reelection campaign[4]. The White House communications director noticed his column and circulated it until it finally reached President Clinton's desk. President Clinton used several of Cherny's lines in his 1997 inaugural address and hired the twenty-two-year-old Cherny ten days later[5]. He later received his Juris Doctor from the University of California, Berkeley School of Law (Boalt Hall).
Those two paragraphs are pretty unbelievable.  He worked three jobs to get through college at... Harvard and later Berkely School of Law.  At age 22, he became the youngest presidential speech writer in US history.  At age 25, he wrote The Next Deal: The Future Of Public Life In The Information Age.   Eight years later, he published, The Candy Bombers.

Here is a short essay that echoes his thoughts on his first book, a book I anxiously want to now read.
The New Covenant addresses provided a break with a liberalism that had become out of date and out of touch. Contemporary Democrats bear both the benefit and the burden of the twenty years that has since passed. Today, in large part because of the eight years of the Clinton presidency, there are fewer litmus tests for politicians; there is less ground that is off limits for discussion. By speaking forcefully and unapologetically about issues such as crime at a time that the discussion was seen by many as a code word for racism, Clinton made it possible for Barack Obama to run for the White House and barely mention the issue. The reform agenda advocated by Education Secretary Arne Duncan might well have led to a civil war among Democrats had Clinton not laid the groundwork for such a debate.
Here's an an interesting interview with him here.  And here's a discussion between him and David Frum.

Since then, he has run unsuccessfully for State Treasurer but has led the Democratic party in the state, getting Democratic mayors in Phoenix and Tucson and helping to recall Russell Pearce.

His main weakness is that he has never really been successful running a campaign.  Running twice, losing both.  Of the three, he has a tendency to go negative and tends to make unfair or irrelevant attacks on his opponents.  Much of what I've heard from him say seems boilerplate to me.  Perhaps he is more insightful in his writing than on the campaign.


I think in this race, you have to look at the position they are running for.  I think Schapira has the best chance of winning in a general election.  He portrays a pretty moderate and pragmatic message, but he tends to stay shallow.  This does work well in a campaign since most people are looking for personality over substance. Once elected, I'm worried not much will get done.

Sinema has a more impressive record of getting things done.  She's done the hard work of getting elected.  And she's been substantive once getting there, making a name for herself locally and nationally.  Her weakness is that she has had a history of taken pretty extreme positions, which may hurt her in the general election: opposing the Afghanistan invasion most notably when there was almost unanimous support for the invasion.  She has moderated since then, but I'm not sure whether independents will cut her some slack on this.

Cherney has not really won an election, but he has deep and significant experience in Washington DC. He is a deep thinker and has worked out issues relevant at the national level.  I think this puts him ahead of both Sinema and Schapira.

This is a fantastic race.  I think we have three good choices.  At this moment, my support is with Andrei Cherney.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Romney vs. Obama on Medicare

A friend of mine recently sent me this article by David Brooks who makes the case that Romney/Ryan are more serious about medicare reform:

Moreover, when you look at the Medicare reform package Romney and Ryan have proposed, you find yourself a little surprised. You think of them of as free-market purists, but this proposal features heavy government activism, flexibility and rampant pragmatism.
The federal government would define a package of mandatory health benefits. Private insurers and an agency akin to the current public Medicare system would submit bids to provide coverage for those benefits. The government would give senior citizens a payment equal to the second lowest bid in each region to buy insurance.
This system would provide a basic health safety net. It would also unleash a process of discovery. If the current Medicare structure proves most efficient, then it would dominate the market. If private insurers proved more efficient, they would dominate. Either way, we would find the best way to control Medicare costs. Either way, the burden for paying for basic health care would fall on the government, not on older Americans. (Much of the Democratic criticism on this point is based on an earlier, obsolete version of the proposal.)
Here's my response:
The reason why Medicare works as well as it does in the way it provides affordable access to health care for our elderly is because it's subsidized through the tax code.  In other words, the entire working population, collectively, are chipping in to provide health care to our elders.   The elderly are our most expensive health care recipients and making sure we provide for them at a time when they are at their most vulnerable without breaking the bank is a really, really tough problem to solve.

What Ryan is proposing here is basically an Obamacare-like exchange for the elderly.  Unlike Obamacare, he's providing a public option.  I'm assuming the public option is different from traditional Medicare because it will be funded by premiums instead of through the taxes.  Otherwise, medicare premiums will always beat private insurance (since tax payers are footing most of the bill).

So, the elderly will receive a voucher to pay for the lowest bid, private or public.  But all insurance companies would have to provide a minimum level of benefit defined by a "assigned board of technocats?"  He doesn't say how this minimum level of benefit will be defined and by whom, but it's sounding suspiciously similar to Obamacare for the elderly.  The problem is an exchange filled with a population of people over 65 will, by definition, be far more expensive than an exchange filled with people under 65.  I hope this is obvious.

The problem I see is that you either enforce a pretty generous set of benefits in which the elderly's health care is provided for at much the same levels medicare does so today.  In that case, I don't see much of a difference from today's system, and I also don't see it saving any money better than traditional Medicare.

Alternatively, you prescribe much more degraded level of benefits, and the elderly are forced to come up with the difference out of pocket.  In this case, you shift the burden from the government onto the elderly.

Where I think Ryan gets this whole thing incorrect is that he thinks if we just provide a regulated marketplace for insurance, competition will drive costs down.  This is wrong in my opinion.  I just don't believe there is a free market solution for elderly health insurance.  Without government support, not a single private insurance company with any interest in making a profit would offer health insurance for those near their life expectancy.  The risk is too high.

I'm not sure there's anything much we can do given the demographic realities our country is facing.  I do offer two suggestions.  Try to offset our aging demographic by allowing a lot more young people to immigrate here: people who can help pay for and take care of our elderly.  Second, hope that we can achieve more innovation, automation, and robotics in our economy, so we can produce more with less.  Why work when robots can do it, and we can all retire and live on medicare if we can automate health care.

The immigration problem is a bit of a red herring, because we would actually be stealing the labor resources from other countries to shore up our own deficiencies, this will exacerbate their demographic problems while helping our own.  I think more automation is actually something we're seeing, allowing us to produce more output with fewer of us working.  We'll have to make sure this doesn't produce high inequalities by the concentration this wealth into the hands of the few to the detriment of the many.  We'll see.

But with an aging population, we will have to bite the bullet and take care of them. I'm not sure there is any other way.   And this is expensive. I'm not sure there's any way around it.  It's a tough problem.
I'm proud of myself because Yglesias  makes a very similar point here. 
Indeed, while at a superficial level there’s a sharp philosophical contrast here between the GOP’s faith in the private sector and Obama’s faith in bureaucratic management but in fact both approaches rely on effective central planning. To make the vouchers work, regulators need to adjust the value of each person’s voucher for age and health status and need to define a minimum acceptable benefits package. Regulators capable of doing that well should also be capable of effectively managing a government-run program and vice versa.
The real difference between the two plans is subtle and relatively small compared to the point of consensus. Under either version, seniors will face the novel situation of potentially being denied useful medical treatment on the grounds that Medicare can’t afford to pay for it. Over the long term, something along those lines is likely inevitable, but it’s striking that both sides have arrived at the exact same figure for how much it’s reasonable for Medicare to spend. Given how far apart the parties are on other economic issues—tax rates, health care for the nonelderly, the appropriate level of environmental regulation, and so forth—the meeting of the minds on the appropriate federal financial commitment to retirees’ health care is truly striking. Even more striking is that since both sides basically agree, we’re getting no real debate over whether this GDP+0.5 percent number makes sense or where it comes from.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Paul Krugman on Paul Ryan Part II

My first hastily written post on this subject didn't come out exactly as I intended, so I wanted a follow up to clarify a few things.  First, I hardly mention Krugman, so let me lay his posts out here now.

First let's start with this post:
In the first decade, the big things are (i) conversion of Medicaid into a block grant program, with much lower funding than projected under current law and (ii) sharp cuts in top tax rates and corporate taxes.
Is this a deficit-reduction program? Not on the face of it: it’s basically a tradeoff of reduced aid to the poor for reduced taxes on the rich, with the net effect of the specific proposals being to increase, not reduce, the deficit. Yet Ryan claims a big deficit reduction, via two big “magic asterisks”. First, he insists that the tax cuts won’t reduce revenue, because they’ll be offset with unspecified “base-broadening”.
Second, there are large assumed cuts in discretionary spending relative to current policy...
In my last post, I summarized these points and defended them in some detail.  I really do have some amount of sympathy for Paul Ryan's point of view.  Our current system of government has been a rather large buildup of the federal government, starting from FDR's New Deal, culminating in LBJ's Great Society and now Obama's Health Care layered on for good measure.

This has meant expensive entitlements promised to the elderly and a fairly significant safety net for the poor.  To pay for this, a pretty steep progressive tax code with an attempt to put much of the burden on the rich.  Some of this progressiveness has been muted by an increasingly complex tax code riddled with exemptions that favor those with the money to purchase tax professionals to take full advantage of these exemptions.   So, far too many of those rich are not paying for it as intended and instead we have plunged the nation into debt, especially as are country ages and more and more people are making claims on these promised entitlements.

I also share some wariness that the federal government can manage to care for our most vulnerable better from their lofty Washington DC towers than those of us who love and care for them more directly.

The Medicaid block grant is an attempt to shift the responsibility for this program to the states and to put a constraint on its burden no matter what happens to the economy.   The states now have the freedom to spend this money how they will and as I said before, the freedom to supplement it further, considering they do have the power to tax locally.

Ryan's plan weakness is that beyond the medicaid grant, it lacks specificity.  Which loopholes will he cut?  Which federal programs will get the ax?  What will be the consequences of each?  Can he really remove the deduction for charitable donations?  Deductions on mortgage interest?  Deductions for employer insurance?   It's all far easier than it sounds, which is why Krugman comes down so harshly on Paul Ryan and justly questions whether he would just add to our debt and deficit, as his tax cuts are not matched by either spending cuts or "base broadening", similar in effect, to the Bush tax cuts before.

I do think Paul Ryan's vision has substance and his views have merit.  If he's willing to be pragmatic, willing to compromise, and willing when it comes down to it, to defend and expand his vision in the face of real attacks and critiques, he will show his meddle as the leader of the Republican party.  We'll see.

I will come to the medicare part of Ryan's plan in another post.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Paul Krugman on Paul Ryan

First of all, I love the Paul Ryan pick.  I agree with David Brooks here, this presidential campaign has been pretty boring.  Largely because both candidates have been unwilling to offer any specific solutions or ideas to solve the very real problems we're facing:
Has there ever been a campaign with so few major plans on the table? President Obama’s proposals are small and medium-size retreads, while Mitt Romney has run the closest thing to a policy-free race as any candidate in my lifetime. Republicans spend their days fleshing out proposals, which Romney decides not to champion.
When Romney selected Ryan as a running mate, he selected a man with a pretty specific plan.  The reason why presidential candidates avoid doing this, though, is because these plans become fodder for the other side to rip into.  Of course, they do so from their own perspective without thoughtfully considering why the other side might think these ideas were good ones.

Paul Krugman has spent some time on his blog critiquing Paul Ryan's plan.  Consider this post a small defense of Paul Ryan.  First of all, Krugman believes at this point in time, all Republicans are currently unreasonable idealogues:
It’s kind of the “treason never prospers” argument (“for if it prospers, none dare call it treason”); if someone declares that tax cuts don’t pay for themselves, or that printing money when you’re in a liquidity trap isn’t deeply inflationary, or that fear of Obamacare isn’t holding the economy back, he ceases to be considered a member in good standing of the GOP. There are, therefore, no reasonable Republicans on these issues.
My impulse is to completely agree with this, to post this on facebook with a commentary lamenting how terrible the Republican party has become.  But smart, reasonable, even Nobel prize winning economists have supported Romney along with all of these seemingly unreasonable policies.  There has to be a reason.  The reason I think is Krugman just shares a different worldview from most Republicans, for which I'll use Paul Ryan and his plan as a proxy.

First, the Republican mindset consists of a strong distrust in government to manage economic affairs.  This comes out indirectly in Ryan's economic plan.  Paul Ryan wants to make the income tax code less progressive, giving the top earners a significant tax cut as a result.  Consider also, that since the US has among the highest corporate tax rate in the world, Ryan's plan also wants to cut this rate with the hope of leveling the competitive field and enticing more business back to the US.  He balances these pretty substantial revenue cuts by removing many, perhaps all, of the current deductions and loopholes in the tax code.  He hand-waves on this, but to make the tax cuts revenue neutral, basically all deductions must go.  The end result is a lower, flatter tax code.

But, this does not get us to a balance budget.  To get us there, he has to do something about our spending and entitlement reform.  He protects defense and social security (in the past he was a proponent of social security privatization), but he basically cuts nearly everything else practically to zero.  He doesn't explicitly say this, but he does provide target spending as a percentage of GDP and to get to those targets, while preserving the programs he's intent on preserving, discretionary spending is cut to the bare bones.

Finally, medicaid spending, much of which goes to the elderly in the form of long-term care support, is reduced and controlled.  Rather than an open-ended federal entitlement, they turn it into a fixed block grant that is transferred to the states.  The states, then are free to meet the health care needs of the poor and the elderly in the ways that make sense to them.

This all sounds harsh, but consider the worldview.  First, it gives the states the opportunity to step up.  States can increase taxes and spending to compensate for the tax and revenue cuts at the federal level.  This moves spending from the federal to the local levels, providing the benefit of localizing problem solving.  Further, and perhaps more profoundly, reduced federal tax obligations on those with higher income, free them up to direct those funds to local charities, churches and other institutions.  Providing wage earners greater opportunity to control how these funds are used and to hold the recipients of those funds more accountable.

 Providing less federal support also, in theory and perhaps counter-intuitively, has the potential to decrease inequality.  As corporations get big and as they lose corporate welfare support, smaller businesses have better opportunities to compete, spreading the wealth as they compete and win in the marketplace.

Ultimately, conservatives have a general impulse to distrust federal politicians, who tend to insulate themselves from the larger population.  Folks in Congress rarely lose re-election as they harness powerful money to shoot down challengers.  The lose accountability and as a result use their power to benefit their friends both in business and in politics.  Ultimately, federal funds are used inefficiently and hurt our economy.

I understand the impulse and I share some of these concerns.  But I have to say, I think much of this is  libertarian fantasy in much the same way socialists in the 1920's believed they could create an egalitarian utopia through managed government initiatives.   I'm a proponent of a mixed economy. A free market, balanced by a social safety net. Federal, state and local levels of government have important roles to play, but this is a subject for another post.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

US Congressional District 9 Candidates Part 2

I blogged the CD 9 debate some time ago.  I want to finish this now.

This is an hour long debate, I'm not exactly sure where I ended this last time, I'm going to pick it up half way, well at the 26:47.

At this point in the debate, they are talking about how to balance the budget, Vernon Parker.  The refusal to raise taxes has become religious dogma to this Republican party.  I don't mind lowering the tax rate as long as we close loopholes.  I think the overall goal is to raise revenue.  We have to raise revenue to pay for our aging population.  He also wants to flat out cut federal departments:  the Department of Education, Energy.  There is no role for the federal government in education or energy for the Republican party.  It's an uncompromising, extreme federalist position that I happen to disagree with.  The federal government has a role.

Can I go ahead and skip Wendy Rogers from here on out?  She is extremely, well extreme.  Just one more, she'll cut social security and medicare (well she uses the word reform), but not defense.

Sepulveda up next.  Again, I'm totally in favor of cutting the corporate income tax that no corporation actually pays.  Let's cut the rate and the loopholes.  The poor do not pay income tax, true, but they do pay taxes, payroll and sales tax.  Republicans want to cut the corporate tax cut, but increase taxes on the poor.  Strange.

Schapira up next.  Democrats of course go after defense first.  But we have to look at revenue especially by increasing taxes on the rich.  This won't get us all the way there given our demographic pressures and the growing cost of health care.  He's after the Republicans.  They want to break the promise to our seniors and increase taxes on the poor.

Sinema up.  Bush tax cuts have not helped the middle class.   Broaden the base and lower the rate.  This is common sense.  Strange only Democrats are proposing this.  Cutting cold war relics in our defense is also common sense, strange also the Republicans are so stubborn on this.

Closing comments:

Jeff Thompson:  Very angry.  Extreme.  He would be a terrible candidate.  I'm guessing he won't be selected.

Travis Grantham:  Another extreme candidate. 

Andrei Cherney:  He's extremely smart, a Harvard grad.  He's worked in Bill Clinton's administration.   He's against bailing out the big banks.  I'm wondering what his alternative to the bailouts?  Not an easy thing to do with a teetering economy. 

Krysten Sinema:  She is touting her moderate, working with both sides of the aisle credentials.  Quickest way to my heart I would say.

David Schapira:  He's been playing a dual role, he's on a school board and a member of the State Senate.  He has a strong bias toward education, though, it seems like enhancing the funding of our current system.  I haven't heard much from him on specific reforms.  Good position if you think our current system is the best one, something I don't believe in.

Martin Sepulveda:  Government is best when it governs the least.  We don't need the government in every facet of our lives.   He served nine years in the Chandler city council.  He was born and raised here.

Wendy Rogers:  She goes to the office.  She has to meet pay roll. 

Vernon Parker:  He would honor social security, in response to Schapira.  He has a lot of endorsements.

The person who is moderating the debate closes with a plea to work together, to compromise.  There are good ideas on both sides of the aisle.  Yes!  Second, he quotes Thomas Jefferson citing the importance of a strong and effective press.  

Friday, June 29, 2012

Jerry Lewis for State Senate

Tonight, I crossed party lines to attend a meet and greet for Jerry Lewis who is running as a Republican for the State Senate in my legislative district.  He is the same person who took out immigration pariah Russel Pearce in a recall election.  He wasn't in my district then, but the lines have been re-drawn and he's in my district now.  He'll be running against Ed Ableser in November, someone who I've spent some time canvassing for already.

I went into the event tonight already with some expectations.  I figured Jerry Lewis was a moderate, was substantive, and would be someone I could, in theory vote for.    And I do have some concerns about Ed Ableser.  I've been told he's a pretty down the line liberal and I've read that he has missed 40% of his votes.  From Robb:
The Arizona Capitol Times reported on voting participation by state legislators. Most of them voted a high percentage of the time. I leave to you whether that’s good or bad.

The worst voting record in the Legislature by far belonged to Democratic state Representative Ed Ableser. He missed nearly 40 percent of the House floor votes.
When legislators miss a lot of votes, they usually have good excuses – personal or family illness, unusual business demands. Ableser, who is running for the Senate this year, had one I hadn’t heard before: He doesn’t like the legislators the voters in other districts elected.
The Capitol Times quotes Ableser as saying: “They’re nuts. The Tea Party has taken over the state and made it a complete mockery. I’m not going to participate in that.”
Well, now. Perhaps Ableser should ask that the election in his district be delayed – so he can see who gets elected from other districts and therefore how much time he really wants to spend doing the job.
 Back to Lewis, I admit I was kind of taken by him.  He's incredibly nice and engaging (though at times a bit long-winded).  He has an impressive resume.  He has really smart, authentically sharing views on immigration that I'm totally on board with.   He seemed to have a pretty strong libertarian ideology but tempered by a ton of pragmatism.   He actually spent several minutes talking with me and my wife, which is a precious opportunity for me and I'm grateful for it.

I asked him point blank his opinion on Obamacare.  I did make the mistake of prefacing my question with a disclosure that my daughter has a chronic illness.  He gave a sensible answer:  it's the law, let's work with it to improve it, but until the Republicans come up with something better, this is what we have.  Having said that, I got the impression he had a tendency to say what he felt people wanted to hear.

The person who hosted this house party attends my church congregation and invited many members of the church to attend. Someone, who I respect, stood up and gave a tearful endorsement for this person as someone who has a pure and honest heart.  Also, he was, at one time, a ecclesiastical leader of my parents congregration and knew my parents by name.

I can easily see myself voting for Jerry Lewis, but I would love to get a chance to have a similar discussion with Ed Ableser before this is all said and done.  I also can't wait to watch the upcoming debates.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

We Need a Free and Open Economy

I use facebook almost exclusively for political conversation.  The other day a conservative fb friend of mine linked the following picture:

Here was my comment:
Which is why we need to be much more concerned with unemployment than with debt/inflation - knowing that there is some overlap of these issues, but not a perfect overlap.
This coincides with and is inspired by a lot of commentary out there that unemployment should be our top priority.  This resonates with me because of my Dad's perpetual unemployment (and underemployment) problems has been a dibilitation that he passed on to me.  Not that I have had my own direct problems with this, but the fear of it has definitely kept me from taking bigger career risks (or any career risk) and has limited from really putting myself out there for far too long.

I'll spare you his response to my comment, but let me give you my out of context follow up to his response:
The overall economy consists of overall buying/selling, consuming/producing. It doesn't matter whose doing it. We're all people afterall whether our paycheck is coming from a gov't entity or a private company, work is work.

You can make the argument that accumulating a bunch of debt forces us to pay interest on that debt, which is why I think there is some overlap between jobs & debt, just not a perfect overlap.

And certainly, if gov't stopped borrowing completely, a bunch of people get laid off in the short term - and there's simply not enough jobs in the private sector, again in the short term, to absorb that.

So, if your priority is debt, you are willing to live with higher unemployment. If your priority is jobs, you are still concerned about debt as it relates to jobs, but you may be more willing to borrow in the short term. Similar to if say, I lose my job, I'm willing to borrow to put food on the table until I can bridge the gap until I find my next job. Food is higher priority for me than debt.

So, Reagan's point, a job is the best social program is something I 100% agree with, which is one reason I think unemployment has more urgency than our debt in the short run.
This is the part of my comment I want to highlight:
 And certainly, if gov't stopped borrowing completely, a bunch of people get laid off in the short term - and there's simply not enough jobs in the private sector, again in the short term, to absorb that.
Ok, this argument makes sense, but then Obama went ahead and issued an executive order to allow young illegal immigrants to stay in the US without fear of deportation.

In his press conference, he gets heckled by some conservative hack complaining that allowing these immigrants legal access to our economy would affect jobs at a time when there are none.  He basically makes the exact same argument as mine, but in this context my impulse is to disagree.

AAAARGGG, a contradiction inspired by my allegiance to team Democrat.  So, what do I do with this insight.  Do I shift on immigration or on government size?  Well, sorry, given those alternatives, I will never shift on immigration.  All things being equal, I want more freedom, less government and less restriction.  I would rather error on the side of the people.

What am I getting at exactly?  Well, even in times of high unemployment, we need to find ways to cut the waste of the government and allow local communities and neighborhoods find ways to solve their problems.  I think there are some problems that demand federal, state, and local government involvement, but where private and non-profit institutions step in, the government should step away.

Laying off people in government jobs that are providing marginal benefit to society can only help our economy, forcing, allowing that person to find a way to make a more positive contribution to the economy elsewhere.  There's not such a thing as too many people.  Our economy is big enough, diverse enough, and vibrant enough to absorb influxes of new people.

I strongly support the Dream Act, and I cannot relate to people who don't.