Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas to all!

A grateful "Merry Christmas" goes out to readers of Goldwater State, whether you celebrate it as a secular or a Christian holiday or don't celebrate at all, along with a wish that you have a happy, healthy, prosperous, and free new year, and an apology for sparse posting since the election.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Government billboards.

Driving back to Tucson from the Phoenix Symphony tonight, I spotted a billboard in Phoenix's arts and entertainment district boasting that the University of Arizona is #1 in Astronomy.

A very true claim, yes, but just how many Astronomy, Astrophysics, or Planetary Science majors does the U of A expect to recruit with such a billboard? The likely "real" purpose of the advertisement falls outside of legitimate University expenditure; it is an attempt to convince affluent Phoenicians to "support" the U, not by making donations--that's done by direct mail to alumni--but rather by requesting that their legislators fund it and otherwise grant its wishes, a perhaps cheaper supplement to its outright lobbying. (The legislature has talked about forbidding the University and other organs of the government to lobby for years but never has had the sense to pass such a bill.)

In their excellent >100 Ideas for 100 Days the Goldwater Institute proposes forbidding all state-funded billboards or advertising that include a politician's name or face. That's a capital idea, but it can be made broader still: forbid the State government, any local government, or any organ of the state or local government to purchase any advertising whatsoever aside from that required by statute.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Two new 'blogs added to blogroll.

I have added two more Arizona policy 'blogs to Goldwater State's blogroll:
  1. The Arizona Desert Lamp. Former Daily Wildcat columnist Evan Lisull's solo 'blog, this covers Arizona happenings and policy, with especial attention given to the University of Arizona.
  2. Brown and Little PLC. This is apparently a group 'blog, maintained by a Phoenix criminal defense law firm, although the names of post authors are not given. The perspective (like mine) appears to be broadly classical-liberal, and topics covered include the quirks of Arizona law and reports from the "field". This report about ethics violations in an unnamed prosecutor's office (which I suspect to be LaWall's) is but one of many posts that make the 'blog's archive worthwhile reading.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Proposition 101 is too close to call.

It's twenty minutes past midnight, and I find myself cursing AHCCCS chief and shameless fabricator Anthony Rodgers, gullible writers like those at the Daily Star who weren't critical enough of his creative "interpretation" of Prop 101 or the outrageous $2 billion price tag he put on it, and of course the court that let him slide.

Proposition 101, the Freedom of Choice in Health Care Act, is too close to call at the moment. With 92% of precincts reporting, the difference is a little over a thousand votes. Prospects don't look good, however; most of the missing precincts are in Pima County.

It's a nail-biter, yes, but I need sleep. More to follow. Semi-official, sporadically updated results may be found on the Secretary of State's website.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Something tells me I'd get along swimmingly with the East Valley Tribune editorial board.

Now that is an uncanny amount of overlap. Unlike Indie Rock Pete I'm happy to see that someone sees it my way, although it is a strange feeling.

Beyond fear of money-lenders.

A (rather paranoid) commenter on my post concerning Prop 200 thinks that Google ads for payday loans somehow diminish my credibility on the topic of Proposition 200. It's worth noting that Google places ads based on the presence of keywords, moreover, that it's a rather serious--libelous--accusation, that someone is somehow being paid to voice an opinion he wouldn't otherwise have.

The accusation of shilling for this business or that, so commonly heard from the Left, usually lacks plausibility and is a mark of immaturity. Without any evidence of payola one would have to rule out all legitimate reasons for holding an opinion, and the mind that cannot envision reasons other than payola that someone may support something that also may be in a money-lender's best interest is, at best, underdeveloped. As is the mind that reverts to the almost instinctual aversion to either self-interest--we don't live in a zero-sum world--or money lenders. I have argued that sunsetting the "payday loan" business would be bad for both the business owners and the business customers. That means passing Prop 200 is win-win. The mind suspicious of self-interest is one that doesn't understand the term "win-win". "Win-win" transactions between lender and borrower look a lot like "win-lose" transactions in hunter-gatherer society; override the caveman, please!

But back to those ads. Note that many of them are for offshore operations. If Proposition 200 fails and the legislature sunsets the "payday lenders'" enabling law, Arizonans will turn to these services, which are effectively beyond the reach of regulation and rather difficult for a person of modest means to sue.

Miscellaneous Endorsements: Maricopa County and Central Arizona

Four more endorsements, then sleep, work, and the polls, all the while anxious about the eventual disposition of Proposition 101:

  • Elect Dan Saban Maricopa County Sheriff.

    Joe Arpaio's PR men promote him as "America's Toughest Sheriff". What does having America's Toughest Sheriff get the people of Maricopa County? Publicity stunts, money wasted pursuing immigration paperwork offenders instead of criminals, civil liberties violations, extradition refusals, and quite a few sure-loser lawsuits. If they end up spending a night in his "Tent City" jail, it may even cost them their lives. The Wikipedia article on the man is a good place to start for those unfamiliar with his record, or just search for his name on Google.

    The County's authoritarian-leaning electorate has been predisposed to view Arpaio's detractors as "whiners", "supporters of criminals", and other such nonsense. Reflect for a moment on why our Constitution has e.g. the Fourth and Fifth Amendments, and if that doesn't convince you he has to go, consider how much those lawsuits are costing the taxpayer. If you're still not convinced he has to go, let me remind you that he has been using his office to harass and intimidate< critical journalists, leading to a standoff with Phoenix police when his deputies threatened to arrest a New Times reporter for the offense of searching public records, and also to a lawsuit over the retaliatory arrest and false imprisonment of New Times executives. If you don't think that behavior crosses the line, you likely think that the First Amendment is for whiners and that mere mortals ought never question any behavior by any "authority figure". But if you believed that, you wouldn't be reading my endorsements.

    Dan Saban is running to restore the respectability of the Sheriff's office and department, to end the stream of lawsuits, the posturing, the gimmicks, and the publicity stunts--none of which have made Maricopa county a safer place to live--replacing them with modern practices that work. Joining with the Arizona Republic and most of the area's policemen's organizations--again, strange company!--I encourage you to give him your vote.

  • Elect Judah Nativio to the AZ Senate, district 18

    Russell Pearce, more than anyone else, "poisoned the waters" at the Capital, whipping up xenophobia, even declaring illegal immigrants to "have no rights", as if to incite the people to a Rwandan solution.

    Term-limited out of the State House of Representatives, he's running for the State Senate. Judah Nativio, a cardboard-cutout Democrat, is his opponent. Don't send Pearce back to the Capitol; vote Nativio. Better to elect a mediocre Democrat than the State's major instigator of anti-immigrant hysteria.

  • Vote Joe Cobb in Congressional District 4

    I haven't much to say about incumbent Ed Pastor. (This is why I need a co-blogger in Maricopa County.) As far as I've been able to discern, the long-serving Democrat has a voting record that's "middle of the road" given his Party affiliation.

    What I do know, however, is that in any given room it's likely that (Libertarian) Joe Cobb can think circles around 99% of the other people present. Unlike most of the Libertarian Party's candidates he demonstrates an understanding of subtlety and that public policy is a balancing act. He demonstrates a genuine intellectual curiosity, an even temper, a courteous modesty, and the humane liberal values that characterize the libertarian movement but are all too absent from the Libertarian Party. More importantly, although he has not served in elected office, his past experience in government makes him well-qualified to serve in Congress, perhaps more so than any other Congressional challenger in the State.

    When I recommend voting for a Libertarian or a Green, it's usually as a protest vote. Don't vote for Joe Cobb as a protest vote. Vote for Joe Cobb because he's the best man for the job and, in a just world, would be a shoo-in.

  • Re-elect Jeff Flake in Congressional District 6. If any incumbent Congressman, anywhere in the USA, deserves re-election, it is Jeff Flake. Since leaving the Goldwater Institute for Congress eight years ago, Flake has become the House's premier advocate of fiscal restraint and one of its foremost champions of civil liberties. The "Flake Hour" set off the fight against earmarks. Party leadership made him pay for it, but he's stood firm. Perhaps if they'd have listened to Flake, they wouldn't be set to lose the House to the Democrats, again, despite low overall Congressional approval ratings.

    Contrast this with Democratic challenger Rebecca Schneider, who gripes that "people are tired of Jeff Flake not helping them. Need I explain to you, Ms. Schneider, how disingenous it is to call B slipping an earmark at the end of a bill to spend A's taxes for the benefit of C "help"? Or perhaps she really thinks that the job of a Congressman is to drive around the Valley and assist people stuck on the highway in changing their tires, or coax cats down from trees. Schneider's website reads like a third party candidate's thoughtless rant (and full of greengrocers' apostrophes and similar errors, too!), and her statements to the press show her to be similarly out of her league. Give her a few years on a school board or water board to learn to think about policy, perhaps then she'll be worth considering. The only reason she even has a hair of a chance this year is because of general anger at the Republican Party.

    That a Libertarian newcomer (with a website creepily reminiscent of the LaRouchies), Rick Biondi, is running against Flake is startling. Flake is easily the most libertarian member of the House. He voted against Sarb-Ox, voted against Medicare Part D, supported comprehensive immigration reform, and while he may have initially supported the PATRIOT Act and the war in Iraq, came to oppose both, and vote accordingly, in little time. Perhaps Biondi's run is an exercise in vanity?; surely there was room for a Libertarian on the State Senate ballot! Libertarians: look up Flake's record--he's not the "lesser of two evils"--and pass on Biondi.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Miscellaneous Endorsements: Pima County and Southern Arizona

And now for the post sure to annoy my readers: candidate endorsements. Just remember, this is a nonpartisan 'blog, so regardless of your party affiliation you can expect that I endorse candidates who don't share it.

  • Elect Brad Roach Pima County Attorney. I never thought I'd endorse a candidate also given the endorsement of the policemen's union, but (Republican) Roach's intelligent and temperate approach has earned the support of people with many political affiliations and tendencies, including quite a few Libertarians and Democrats.

    It doesn't hurt, of course, that when it comes to election integrity, incumbent Barbara LaWall is part of the problem, or that she has run the office in a highly political fashion, engaging in outright misconduct concerning the Stidham murder. And it probably helps that Roach was one of the principal victims of that misconduct. But Roach has taken the race far beyond questions of professional propriety by focusing on issues of intelligent management of the office.

    LaWall likes to promote high trial statistics, but a high trial rate wastes time and resources. Roach would like to get the office focused on putting the truly bad eggs--the ten percent of criminals who commit eighty-five percent of the crime--to trial and off the streets, letting nonviolent drug offenders and the simply stupid plea bargain. LaWall is reluctant to hire defense attorneys and turns down anyone who's ever so much as interned in the Public Defender's office; Roach understands that former defense attorneys often make the best prosecutors (and vice versa.)

    He supports, to some extent, the death penalty, and gives this "victims first" nonsense--more worthy of the Arabian legal system than ours--more talk than it's worth, but his election will bring positive change to the office and to the political culture of Pima County. (And possibly also to the state: LaWall and Terry Goddard together are principals in the Napolitano machine's culture of illegal electioneering and impunity.) I won't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. I must, however, note that I almost feel it a breach of loyalty to not endorse the accessible, open-minded, even-tempered Green Party idealist Claudia Ellquist, who is seeking this office for the second time. Like Roach, Ellquist has made sincere efforts to reach across party lines for votes and support. Like Roach, she promotes more intelligent management of the office, a higher standard of ethics (i.e. a responsibilty to justice, not just to winning cases), and enforcement of the electioneering laws LaWall and Goddard apply selectively at best. Unlike Roach, she also opposes the death penalty. I'd vote for both if I could, but our primitive voting system has it that if I vote for Ellquist over the much more broadly supported Roach, I might help to bring about the least desired outcome. I encourage a vote for Roach, but if you can't bring yourself to vote Republican, vote Ellquist.

  • Elect Barney Brenner Pima County Supervisor in District 3. Incumbent Sharon Bronson faced a challenger--me!--in 2004 who couldn't commit himself to the race. As a result she has amassed a substantial war-chest that has been spent on advertising and direct mail against Brenner, who came within 1500 votes of defeating her in 2000. Most of the direct mail and ads have been of the lowest sort we see in politics: "Look what I've done as Supervisor! What did Brenner do for you? He's not Supervisor and I am!"

    Bronson original sought the office because, like me, she was an environmentalist. It didn't take long, however, before she was running the county for the benefit of the development lobby. Shilling for business is a slander often hurled at free-marketeers, perhaps as misdirection: on the local level, it is the province of the left-winger. "If I let these guys have what they want, I'll have all sorts of funding for superfluous programs!" is the thinking that has carried the day on the Board of Supes and it seems in Bronson's office.

    We all knew that Pima County's boom couldn't last forever. As a candidate in 2004 I mentioned that water and open space together would rein in growth and that the County should plan more prudently for the future. Bronson did exactly the opposite. She tried to have her cake and eat it too, tremendously growing the County budget during the double-strength "boom" of new construction and rising valuations, and even claiming that she cut taxes. Yes, she voted for a decrease, but valuations were so high that it was a mere rate decrease.

    Party's over, new construction has come almost to a halt, valuations are down, and we're experiencing a budget shortfall. The county's voters couldn't bring themselves in 2004 to elect a candidate demanding fiscal responsibility, but that candidate was also 22 years old, new to the area, cast into the election at the 11th hour, working on a PhD, operating on a shoestring budget, and running at a time when the average voter thought the boom could last forever. Now that forever has come and gone, and that a more established candidate is in the race, I suspect that the voters will do what they should have done four and eight years ago.

    Brenner will be a good choice for the County. He believes that fiscal responsibility is the right thing to do and not merely something to do temporarily during lean times. Whereas Bronson merely has the support of the Democratic machine, Brenner has attracted endorsements from (maybe-Republican Supervisor) Ray Carroll and the Chamber of Commerce. He has no pretense to environmentalism but has substantially supported previous open-space measures. Moreover, his decidedly unBronsonlike position on the size and scope of governments means he need not act always in the interest of the development lobby. With Brenner on the Board of Supervisors, we can start talking seriously about out-of-control growth and ways to manage the water supply for the long term.

    Lower taxes, better policy, and fiscal restraint: what is there not to like? Sure, he's written for Human Events, but this is a local race, so who cares?

    In case you need a reminder, remember also that Bronson was a key architect of the Regional Transportation Plan and one of the chief election-integrity obstructionists, opposing her own party's records requests.

  • U.S. Congress, District 7

    Does anyone remember the old Simpsons "Treehouse of Horror" wherein the Presidential candidates were human-eating "Space Mutants" Kang and Kodos or Reform Party candidate Ross Perot? That election didn't turn out so well, but my recommendation is that you not vote for a Space Mutant and instead cast your vote for Libertarian candidate Raymond Patrick Petrulsky.

    Who are the Space Mutants in this case? One is the incumbent, Raul Grijalva, a Democrat with a drinking problem who didn't distinguish himself on the school board, didn't distinguish himself on the Board of Supervisors, has done nothing in six years to distinguish himself in Congress but keeps getting elected because of a great skill at Chicago-style ethnic identity politics. When he does stand out it's for nuttery like a ban on scary-looking firearms or a national Cesar Chavez holiday. The other is perennial candidate Joe Sweeney, a clinically crazy man, on permanent disability, who operates an unaccredited "law school" and who is an avowed racist, one time calling Mexicans amateur Jews. He also introduced the term "genital drive" to the popular language. Watch and laugh.

    Petrulsky has been unimpressive, even for a Libertarian candidate. But when the major-party candidates are space creatures, vote for Perot.

  • U.S. Congress, District 8.

    "Tim Bee" is Spanish for "pendejo. This is the man who held up SB 1214 in the state Senate, who is a principal in putting Prop 102 on the ballot, and who cut Tucson in half, for hours, for a private fundraiser. Incumbent Gabrielle Giffords, on the other hand, has been lackluster even for a first-term Congresswoman, unwilling or unable to come across as though she believes in much of anything and thus campaigning on her (fairly good) constituent services record. I know that Giffords does, at least privately, stand for things; let's give her a "kick" and get her to stand for things in Washington by casting votes for someone in the race merely to take a stand: Sierra Vista area coffee-shop owner Paul Davis.

    Davis's campaign is also unimpressive, even for a Libertarian, but with a folksy manner and a contemplative, modest approach to the issues, he's been a better candidate than Petrulsky. I was impressed by him in person, even offering to give him his first campaign contribution, which he wasn't set up to take at the time. The chances of him winning are minuscule, but in politics, one gets nothing by voting for the winner. This time around it's better to induce Giffords to show some backbone, or the Republicans to not nominate a certifiable jerk, by not falling into the "Vote against X" trap and instead voting for the Nice Guy who is closest to our position.

    If you must vote only for the short term, however, do vote for civil-libertarian Giffords over culture-warrior Bee.

Just a number tonight.

Just a number will be posted tonight. Candidate endorsements will be up by Monday evening.

The number is 7, which is the lower bound on the number of Prescott-area real estate agents who have committed suicide in the last six months.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Wall Street Journal editorial staff puts in good word for Proposition 101.

In part because they were scared by the tin-foil hat theory cooked up and promoted, perhaps illegally, by AHCCCS director Anthony Rodgers, Arizona's major newspapers have advised voting "no" on Proposition 101, the Freedom of Choice in Health Care Act. The Wall Street Journal has entered the fray, recommending a quite sensible "yes". To quote:
Proposition 101's fate is up in the air because its opponents, led by the Governor, are spending about four times more than supporters. They are doing so in the belief that if health-care choice passes in Arizona, it will spread to other states. It is ironic the groups opposing the rights of Arizona citizens to choose their own health care purport to back a "patient bill of rights." In what way is the freedom to choose one's care not a fundamental patient right?

That there is such well-funded opposition, led by bureaucrats and the Governor, to a proposition that guarantees (1) "No law shall be passed that restricts a person's freedom of choice of private health care systems or private plans of any type.", (2) "No law shall interfere with a person's or entity's right to pay directly for lawful medical services," and (3) "Nor shall any law impose a penalty or fine, of any type, for choosing to obtain or decline health care coverage or for participation in any particular health care system or plan", and nothing else, shows that some sinister imposition on your freedom to purchase medical services and insurance is in the works. Remember both this and the dishonest "$2 Billion" claim when Janet Napolitano comes up for re-election in 2010. More importantly, vote "Yes" on Proposition 101 this Tuesday, and consider making even a $5 contribution to Medical Choice AZ this weekend, to help pay for phone calls.

Welcome Laissez Faire Books to Arizona

News of the demise of Laissez Faire Books is outdated; the old specialty bookseller was taken over by the International Society for Individual Liberty.

As part of its restructuring and revival as an arm of a nonprofit, it has moved from expensive Benicia, CA to a larger and less expensive location near Phoenix. LFB joins the Institute for Justice, the Goldwater Institute, the American Civil Liberties Union, Americans for Prosperity and others as another of a growing number of pro-liberty organizations based in or with a presence in Arizona. Although still dismayed by their knee-jerk anti-environmentalism, I welcome them to the party.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Ballot Initiative Recommendation Summary

I have now remarked on every ballot question, initiated or legislatively referred, that will be on this year's statewide ballot, and one that will be seen by Tucsonans only. As news comes up in the next few days, I'll post further comments and updates.

In summary:
  • Vote "Yes" on Proposition 100 to prevent real estate transfer taxes from being levied.
  • Vote "Yes" on Proposition 101 to preserve your right to purchase health care and health insurance and to take the bad ideas out of the healthcare reform discussion.
  • Vote "No" on Proposition 102 to keep homophobic bigotry out of our State Constitution and preserve the legislature's ability to give equal rights to homosexuals.
  • Vote "No" on Proposition 105 to preserve ballot initiatives as a means to reform.
  • Vote "Yes" one Proposition 200 to reform the deferred presentment or "Payday Loan" business and preserve this important option for those who are between jobs or otherwise fall on hard times.
  • Vote "No" on Proposition 201 to preserve the option of settling home builder/home purchaser disputes by arbitration.
  • Vote "No" on Proposition 202 so that the legislature may still repeal the harmful employer-sanctions law.
  • Vote "No" on Proposition 300 every election cycle until a need for a legislative pay raise is demonstrated.
  • Tucsonans: After years of fiscal irresponsibilty and the defeat of merit pay, only a "No" vote on Proposition 403, the TUSD budget override, makes sense.

Thanks go out to Ballotpedia,a project of the Sam Adams Alliance, for tabulating my endorsements and linking this 'blog. Their site has grown to be a valuable resource for voters and amateur wonks alike; consider making a small donation to help them cover their operating costs, as I will after the election.

Nickled and dimed?--No thanks! Vote "Yes" on Prop. 100.

I don't have much more to say about Proposition 100, the "Protect Our Homes Act", that I didn't already say in my Associated Content article, so I'll instead approach the topic from a different angle.

Local governments and taxpayers are often at odds. Government officials want money to do what they think is good; taxpayers want to keep it to pay for their own interests or save for the future. Reasonable people can agree that we need taxes--at least until someone figures out a better way around the free-rider problem--but that they shouldn't be as high as the officials want. Supporters of government and taxpayer interests push in opposite directions and the result is reasonable even if nobody sees it as ideal.

Governments, however, often try to make a run around this balancing process by passing many small taxes, usually ones that most taxpayers don't pay in a given year. It is much more difficult for taxpayer advocates to fight many small taxes than a few large ones. For example, the City of Chicago has its infamous "driveway tax" that businesses must pay for each cut in the curb, in addition to ordinary street maintenance levies. Since ordinary residents don't have to pay, there's never a push for repeal. Similarly, many states and municipalities levy a real estate transfer tax, over and above a paperwork processing fee, whenever property is transferred from one party to another.

Aside from having to process paperwork, the act of transferring property imposes no cost on the State, so we can't view this tax as a gas tax-like "user fee". Moreover, the costs associated with developed property: police and fire protection, roads and sidewalks, etc. are paid for by property taxes.

We can frame real estate transfer taxes as eroding home equity (as Prop. 100's backers, the Arizona Association of Realtors, do) or we can frame it as driving up the cost of housing. Both are probably true depending on market conditions. It doesn't matter which is correct. What does matter is that a real estate transfer tax is a small tax, designed to nickel-and-dime taxpayers a few at a time, thus avoiding the processes which keep more general taxes like property, sales, and income taxes in check.

Several counties and municipalities inflated their budgets during the housing boom and are now facing shortfalls. Bills (note the sponsor, Phil Lopes) that would authorize real estate transfer taxes, previously unheard of in this state, are making their way to the legislature. If they're going to increase our taxes, make them increase them the right way: transparently, and equitably. Vote "Yes" on Proposition 100.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Stand up for your health: Vote "Yes" on Proposition 101

That I wholeheartedly support Proposition 101, the Freedom of Choice in Health Care Act, should come as no surprise. I was the first to post the text of the initiative on the Web, I wrote an early article endorsing the measure for Associated Content, I circulated petitions in support of this measure, and I recruited others to do the same. Proposition 101 is Arizona's and perhaps the entire Republic's most important ballot question in the 2008 election cycle.

We can all agree that the health care market in the USA needs serious reform. Economists studying the problem in earnest usually conclude that the root of our trouble is a tax code which ties, for most people, health care to employment, and encourages the purchase of "insurance" plans which aren't insurance at all but instead provide "comprehensive" coverage. As a result, we don't shop for either health care or health insurance the way we shop for housing, automobiles, food, eyeglasses, or dental care (I could go on, but I think you get the picture.) When B tells A what A needs and C pays B for it, B is totally insulated from competative forces and A is insulated from costs. Moreover, insurance companies which appeal to employers don't always provide good service to insurance consumers; who would purchase insurance on his own from a company known for denying to pay for treatment or dropping coverage?

There are other problems, too. In many states, mandates drive up the cost of both insurance and care. Think of a coverage mandate as equivalent to a law saying that if one purchases an automobile, one must purchase a Lexus or better. The Ford Focus is cheaper, even gets better mileage, but the state says you must have heated leather seats. These mandates also make it nearly impossible for those with pre-existing conditions to get policies with "riders".

Many of our best minds are at work on the problem, proposing ways to decouple insurance and employment and wean ourselves off of comprehensive care. (For those interested in the topic, Arnold Kling's Crisis of Abundance is as good a place to start as any.) The experiments we have seen with health savings accounts and other forms of consumer-driven healthcare are the beginnings of the effort to work out partial solutions independent of legislative reform, but it will ultimately take a few acts of Congress and state legislatures to straighten out the mess.

Getting those legislatures to straighten out the mess is more difficult than it needs to be, due to the presence of a strong contingent who'd rather smooth over the problem than fix its root causes. Some are driven by a radical ideology, a belief that all should be equal. Others simply want to do something good for the unwillingly uninsured in the short-term and don't have an eye to long-term fixes. Still others obsess too much over how much "we" spend on health care and health insurance--as though it matters--and seek to rein it in. All are violating what should be a ground-rule for the discussion, an Hippocratic Oath for legislatures: don't make those who are already well-served worse off. All support a form of rationing-by-queueing euphemistically called "Single Payer Health Care."

In Arizona, Phil Lopes is the main "Single Payer" culprit, introducing bills to establish such a program session after session. Most recently he was joined by some of the legislature's other ideologues, including, predictably, Steve Farley and Kyrsten Sinema, in proposing such a scheme that would outlaw the private purchase of health insurance (see section 36-3132) and let the State make health care decisions for patients to control its costs. The bills have, so far, gained little traction in our Republican-dominated legislature, but they may do so in the future, as public frustration with Congressional inaction begins to outweigh reports of waiting lists and denial of treatment from Canada and cost overruns from Massachusetts.

Proposition 101 does not fix health care in the State of Arizona; it would take an act of Congress to truly straighten things out. It does not inhibit Congress or the State Legislature's ability to enact health care reform. Instead, by guaranteeing that consumers can always pay directly for medical services or purchase private health insurance, it takes the most harmful "solution"--rationing--and the second-most harmful solution--"play or pay", a system of compulsory insurance purchase and fines designed to crowd out market mechanisms--off the table. It protects one of our most basic rights and sets the terms of the debate in a way that will make us all better off. AZ Republic columnist Robert Robb suggests that it may also do away with those pesky mandates that make insurance prohibitively expensive or even inaccessible to some. I can't speak to that, but if a court were to rule that that is so, I'd welcome the decision.

You can often tell a great initiative by the opponents' tactics; when they must simply tell fairy tales, the initiative's backers are on the high ground. It happened in 2006, when opponents of Prop. 207 claimed that counties and municipalities would have to bribe property owners to comply with existing regulations, and it's now happening with Prop. 101. The principal opponents claim that unnamed "experts" predict that passage of Prop 101 will cost $2 billion, a number they don't explain and seemingly made up out of thin air. They deliberately omit the text of the measure from a webpage and then claim that because the "descriptive title" lacks detail the measure itself is vague and that its meaning will be wholly made up by judges. Anthony Rodgers, director of AHCCCS, sent around memos making the bizarre claim that passage Prop 101 would require the state's subsidized indigent-care program to pay for any treatment enrollees desire. (The claim is bizarre because enrollment in AHCCCS is voluntary, not compulsory, and thus rather obviously not covered by the measure.) He possibly violated state electioneering law in the process, and Medical Choice AZ had to sue to stop him.

Eyes are on Arizona. George Will has remarked that passage of Proposition 101 may also impede federal Single Payer or Play-or-Pay.

This is the most important ballot question of the election cycle, and perhaps of our generation. Vote for Proposition 101. Vote to protect your own and your family's health care from those who would make it worse in the name of equality. Vote to take Phil Lopes's rationing scheme off the table permanently. Vote to establish Arizona as a bulwark against bad ideas at the Federal level. Vote to force the legislature and Congress to consider real reforms, not fumbling quick fixes. Vote to inspire other states to pass similar measures in 2010.

Defeat the last acceptable form of gay-bashing: vote "no" on Proposition 102

It has become evident in the four years since Massachusetts began allowing same-sex couples to marry that the practice is harmless. Heterosexual couples are not splitting up because the gays are getting married. Both the institution of marriage and the nuclear family are as strong if not stronger than they were before the change.

Why, then, amend Arizona's constitution to effectively make Clause C of ARS 25-101, which prohibits marriage between persons of the same sex, a new, one-sentence Article 30? Two reasons present themselves: irrationality and confusion, or hatred. It is no longer acceptable to beat up homosexuals, call them names, or generally treat them nastily, not even in private life; prohibiting them to marry is the last way for louts and bigots to stick it to the gays. A great many of those supporting a Constitutional ban on gay marriage do it because it's the next best thing to mandating that there simply be no gays.

And then there are the confused. While in California last weekend I saw "Yes on Prop 8" sign-wavers waving pieces of posterboard with the slogan "Prop 8 is Religious Freedom". Gun book publisher Alan Korwin, in a recently e-mailed newsletter, said "the correct term is Holy Matrimony." In a similar vein, a correspondent, on learning of my position on this measure, e-mailed to ask "Do you believe churches should be required by law to marry all couples if legal marriages are performed at all on their private property?" The First Amendment to the US Constitution, and the corresponding provision of the Arizona Constitution, already prohibit the state to interfere in the marriage rites of religions. No amendment to the State constitution is needed to prevent the State from mandating that any religious organization marry homosexuals, just as none is required to prevent the State from mandating that Jewish temples marry Hindu couples. (Curiously, we do not hear the opposite complaint from these people, that the failure to recognize as civil marriage the religious marriage of e.g. homosexual Unitarian Universalist couples is an interference with religion.)

Confusion runs deeper, still. Many in the Ron Paul Mouse Army believe that the matter is mere Culture War and that gays can simply draw up a contract and be married. There is no possible private contract in our current legal order that carries with it the rights and responsibilities of marriage. Still others see this as an acceptable legislatively-sponsored compromise when compared to 2006's Proposition 107 initiative. Proposition 107, which would have forbid the State or any subdivision thereof to recognize both gay marriage and civil unions or domestic partnerships, was definitively defeated by the voters.

Unlike 2006's Proposition 107, Prop 102 leaves the "civil union" option open, but "civil unions" are but a second class "civil marriage". They are not portable between the states, they often (due to inertia) do not carry the same weight with employer-based insurance plans (yet another reason to move away from employer-based insurance!), they do not put homosexual couples on equal footing with heterosexuals for income tax purposes, nor for inheritance purposes, nor for immigration purposes. Civil unions and domestic partnerships can't even reliably prevent malicious outsiders from interfering with hospital visitation.

Even if we defeat Prop. 102, homosexual couples will still not be afforded equal rights in Arizona. But the defeat of Proposition 102 leaves the option open, for the next Legislature or some future, more humane Legislature to grant equal rights to homosexual couples. I strongly encourage you to vote it down and to advertise publicly, to your friends and co-workers, on your own 'blog, or on Facebook, that you are voting it down.

While you're at it, if you live in Congressional District 8, vote for one of the opponents of Tim Bee, a co-sponsor of this legislatively-referred constitutional amendment (LRCA). Incumbent Gabrielle Giffords is alright, but has shown that she is no Jim Kolbe. Coffee-shop owner and longshot Libertarian candidate Paul Davis could, on the other hand, fill Kolbe's shoes if given the chance, and deserves even a symbolic show of support.

Preserve initiatives as a means to reform: vote No on Prop 105!

Proposition 105 is this year's shortest ballot question and far and away its most poorly worded. Judge for yourself:
Be it enacted by the People of the State of Arizona:

The Constitution of Arizona is proposed to be amended by adding Section 1.1 to Article IV, Part 1 as follows, if approved by a majority of the votes cast thereon and on proclamation of the Governor:

Section 1. Article IV, Part 1, Constitution of Arizona, is amended by adding Section 1.1, as follows:



Section 2. Short Title: This Constitutional Amendment shall be known as the "Majority Rule--Let the People Decide Act."

Reading that as written, it would appear that it only restricts initiatives which either raise taxes or force private persons, labor organizations, or other private legal entities to spend. Its proponents, however, claim that the effect is to restrict initiatives which mandate government spending obligations. I'll take their word for it and consequently recommend a "No" vote.

If you vote "Yes", you won't be in bad company: among individuals and organizations supporting this measure are the Arizona Federation of Taxpayers, Clint Bolick, and Tom Jenney. Similarly, many of those opposed are opposed for stupid reasons. Representative of these is the Arizona Republic and the organized opposition, No on 105, both of which frets about assigning a vote to non-voters. Nonsense!--they and others taking this view have been dazzled by the number 0.5.

Proposition 105, albeit sloppily, imposes (according to its supporters) a supermajority requirement to pass any ballot initiative that either mandates spending or imposes a tax. The new supermajority criterion, if it passes, would be fifty percent of registered voters, plus one. This is somewhat arbitrary: an initiative mandating forty percent of registered voters plus one vote "yes" to pass future initiatives is almost equivalent, yet cannot be shoehorned into a "you're letting nonvoters vote!" framework.

Under ordinary circumstances, majoritarian voting on individual questions is (perhaps paradoxically) the best way to prevent "tyranny of the majority". In legislatures, however, matters are different, and (among others) James Buchanan has made a convincing case for requiring a supermajority to approve tax increases. The same Public Choice arguments do not transfer neatly to ballot questions, but I would support requiring a supermajority to raise taxes to make it more difficult to pass initiatives which to many people appear only to tax others and not themselves.

The supermajority imposed by Proposition 105, however, would be far too strict. Consider that in an election with 51% turnout, an affected measure would need to pass almost unanimously. When there is 50% turnout or less, no affected measure could possibly pass. It would be better to simply mandate traditional two-thirds supermajority.

Moreover, even from a small-government, market-liberal perspective, many if not most initiatives carry with them some spending obligation, even if only for administration or enforcement. Supporters of this initiative have attempted to convince me that such spending obligations aren't really spending obligations, but only new programs are spending obligations. That's an insult to my intelligence, to expect me to believe that the courts would find that some spending is not spending. It's bad enough that the spending restriction itself isn't clearly worded; if supporters wanted to impose a supermajority requirement on only some spending measures but not others, they should have had someone with an IQ greater than 80 write the text of their initiative.

Consider that if we wanted to put aquifier-by-aquifier cap-and-trade, or school vouchers, or, were it not already law, concealed carry into place, all of these would, were Prop 105 enacted, have to pass with steep supermajorities. Preserve the initiative process as a means to reform: vote No on proposition 105. If, like me, you'd entertain requiring a supermajority to pass tax increases, let 105's supporters come back in two years with something more intelligent and better written.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

You can't help the poor by eliminating options: vote yes on Proposition 200

From my desk, or that of Rep. Marian McClure (R-Tucson), it is difficult to conceive of circumstances in which a deferred presentment transaction (commonly known as a "Payday Loan") would be a better option than a bank loan, a credit card, or an IOU from a family member or a close friend. McClure and I, however, approach this differently: I seek to understand the role this service plays in the poorer segments of society, whereas she would ban the practice as though the transaction involved a villain and a victim.

2008's Proposition 200 got its start as an industry-sponsored alternative to McClure's Stop Payday Loans. If 2006's Proposition 206 is indicative, such initiatives do not usually fare well. Mistaking self-interest for malfeasance, the press turns them into punching bags: how dare those who would be harmed by an initiative offer a counter-proposal! "Stop Payday Loans"'s backers failed to collect enough signatures to put it on the ballot--they did not even submit their petitions--making Proposition 200, the Payday Loan Reform Act, a viable means to nearly permanently counter the efforts of McClure and company to put deferred presentment services out of business and take an often-used financial option away from the State's poor.

The enabling law allowing these services ("payday lenders") to operate in the state is set to expire in 2010. The legislature could effectively ban payday loans without a vote. Since Arizona House Speaker Jim Weiers is in the payday loan business, this is unlikely, but neither Weiers's re-election nor his retention of his position are certain. Passing Prop 200 would make the enabling law permanent and require an initiative to pass to ban payday loans in Arizona.

Is this a good thing? Consider the alternatives those who use the deferred presentment service would have were it banned. (They're not using credit cards, personal IOUs, or bank loans because such things are not available.) They could bounce checks, or borrow from loan sharks. Bouncing checks incurs fees higher than those charged for deferred presentment and doing so repeatedly can land offenders in court, subjecting them to fines and possible jail time; running afoul of a gangster loan shark is even worse.

Some have described payday loan providers as "legal loan sharks". That's an oxymoron. Others are confused by the nature of the service. Loans of any kind induce in many a sort of moral confusion: instincts left over from days as hunter-gatherers have some thinking of the lender as villain and the borrower as victim. It took us millenia to understand the purpose of interest. Payday lenders do not charge interest, and attempts to describe their service as though it was an interest-charging bank loan make it sound outrageous. What payday lenders do charge is a fee for providing cash in exchange for a post-dated check. The check is presented (cashed) at the end of the loan's term. It is a short-term loan for a fee, not a long-term loan for which interest is charged.

That having been said, Proposition 200, in addition to extending the enabling law and cleaning up and modernizing some language in ARS 6-1521, imposes a few reforms on the payday loan industry, namely:

  1. Requiring that the lender present the terms of the loan in Spanish if requested by the borrower. Informal translations of English-language terms can cause detail to be obscured. It is not clear that this commonly resulted in borrower misunderstanding, but it is a somewhat abusive practice, and Prop 200 would forbid it.
  2. Requiring a one-day waiting period between the completion of one deferred-presentment transaction and entering into another. There would be no more rolling over of one payday loan into another.
  3. Mandating that payday-loan businesses offer a four pay-period payment plan. This would replace the rollover.
  4. Forbidding customers to enter into a deferred presentment transaction with another lender during the period of the payment plan.
  5. Capping the transaction fee at fifteen percent of the amount borrowed.

I know a few individuals who speak of these reforms as though they are an unconscionable and unacceptable interference by government in the marketplace. (One, who is running for US Congress, has also said that driving the poor to loan sharks would be a good thing, as it would teach the likes of Marian McClure a lesson. I don't see that as being compatible with treating people as ends in themselves, and cannot support letting things go to seed merely to prove a point.) There is not a peep to that effect from those in the payday loan business; the industry is nearly unanimously supporting this measure. The rollover process is what causes many to see payday loans as exploitative (and to associate with them extremely high "interest rates") even though the vast majority of borrowers do not get stuck in a never-ending rollover cycle. There's a lot to be said for protecting business and customers by replacing a practice that, rightly or wrongly, the voting public finds repugnant with something more acceptable.

Proposition 200 is a fair compromise. A "yes" vote keeps this valuable service available, nearly permanently, to poor people or others between jobs or otherwise in temporary hard times and at the same time forbids some of the more exploitative or seemingly exploitative practices, reducing the temptation of those with a misplaced sense of justice to ban the service altogether. Vote "yes" on Prop. 200.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A deficiency in police training.

Reportedly, in police training, the targets are all clearly "good guys" and "bad guys", and the bad guys are the ones with firearms.

The inevitable result: an armed homeowner who subdues a home invader is shot multiple times by Phoenix police.

It's high time our police are given training (or re-training) appropriate for a state in which concealed carry and open carry are both legal and in which citizens can thus be expected to defend themselves and others with arms when necessary. "Shoot the man with the gun" is sloppy, unprofessional, and downright dangerous to life and liberty.

Mickey Mouse Club

Among Arizona's official write-in candidates for President of the United States is one Charles Jay, of the "Boston Tea Party", a sort of joke political party--"joke" in the sense that it doesn't aspire to elect people to office--formed by disgruntled members of the Libertarian Party.

I have it on good information that Jay's running mate for Arizona purposes is none other than snake-oil huckster turned Jesus Junk huckster turned Man who Runs for Things Barry Hess. Figures. Jay was put on the ballot by the small-party wing of the Arizona Libertarian Party, annoyed by the National party's adoption of a sensible platform and nomination of someone who has but recently come around to the libertarian way of seeing things, former Congressman Bob Barr.

Some people are voting for Bob Barr to help build (or rebuild) a party for America's politically homeless libertarian (market liberal) movement, and to signal the major parties that more must be done to earn their votes in the future. Others are writing in Charles Jay to send a signal to...the Libertarian National Committee? To tell them that anyone who isn't a lifelong libertarian is unwelcome on the party's ticket? Or maybe to the Libertarian Reform Caucus, to tell them that a platform more in step with the broader libertarian movement is unacceptable and that further moves away from Rothbardian nuttery will cause them to leave to form a libertarian-er-est party for glib anarchists that runs its own candidates?

Either way, there's but one thing to say about it, and that is that it's a "Mickey Mouse" move if there ever was one.

Monday, October 27, 2008

By "Homeowners" we mean "Unions", and by "Rights" we mean "Restrictions": Arizona Proposition 201

Since it costs approximately a million dollars to place an initiative on the Arizona ballot, Proposition 201, now known as the "Homeowners' Bill Of Rights", can be thought of as a million dollar joke.

Who is the joke on? Members of the Sheet Metal Workers International Association, the trade union responsible for drafting this initiative. Money to promote and collect signatures for this initiative comes out of their dues. If I were a member, I'd consider simply quitting; Arizona is a right-to-work state. Those in other states may wish to consider holding decertification elections or at least switching to "agency fee only" membership. Union dues should be levied for bargaining, not for politicking, and certainly not for promoting initiatives so ridiculous that they have no chance of passing.

It's difficult even to see the connection between trade unionism and this initiative. It would seem to make it more difficult to build and sell houses in Arizona, which isn't in employee or contractor interest. If it is a make-work measure, I'd wager a few dollars on it being drafted by a kook or an ignoramus.

Perhaps it is a "get out the vote" measure, like the gay marriage ban, but in support of Barack Obama or some other union-friendly candidate for office. But terms of house purchase aren't really a rabble-rousing issue, and Arizona has a "homeowners' bill of rights" of sorts that works, in ARS Title 12, Chapter 8, Article 14.

Prop 201 would amend that article, changing its name to the "Homeowners' Bill of Rights". Cute, but--like "victims' bill of rights" and "patients' bill of rights"--tawdry. The substance of the measure is worse. Proposition 201:

  1. Extends to ten years the amount of time buyers have to make claims against builders.
  2. Requires 95% of the deposit to be returned to buyers who change their minds about purchasing a dwelling within 100 days of making their deposit.
  3. Forbids contracts between buyer and seller requiring arbitration before a lawsuit is filed; suits are the only recourse.
  4. Eliminates the "loser pays" provision, in favor of the buyer.
  5. Shortens from ninety to sixty days the amount of time a buyer must wait between notifying a seller of defects and filing an action.
  6. Strikes "includes a detailed and itemized list that describes each alleged defect and the location that each alleged defect has been observed by the purchaser in each dwelling that is the subject of the notice" and replaces it with "means a description in ordinary non-technical language that puts the seller on notice of the types of defects a homeowner of average experience would be expected to observe, any particular defect that is reasonably encompassed in the homeowner's description or that is or should have been found by a seller during an inspection of the alleged defects using due diligence shall be deemed included within the purchaser's notice to the seller", explicitly removing any requirement that the aggrieved buyer be specific, precise, or accurate.
  7. Requires all new houses to be sold with a minimum 10-year warranty, "without additional or separate charge".

It also makes a few amendments, in the same spirit, to the statute about monetary compensation, repairs, damages, and the like; read the full text for details.

The last item above is especially telling of the filers' mindset. It could be a declaration that the 10-year warranty cannot appear as a line item on the invoice (so as to hide its cost), but the choice of language makes that unlikely. It seems more like Mugabenomics: require that a warranty be provided without additional charge, and the builder will simply give the warranty to the new homeowner for free.

Proposition 201 is not only unneeded, but it would also drive up the cost of housing in the state and forbid buyer and seller to enter into favorable contracts. It is unwelcome during this housing-market downturn and would be unwelcome during a period of growth. Vote "no". And I cannot emphasize it enough: If you are a member of the Sheet Metal Workers union, switch to "agency fee" dues and move to decertify. Don't let your hard-earned wages be wasted on baloney such as this.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Proposition 202: "Stop Illegal Hiring" by making bad policy permanent.

Federal immigration policy allows fewer visas to be issued than are demanded by market forces. As a result, Arizona (and several other states) is host to a substantial number of aliens who reside and work here unlawfully.

To a reasonable person, this is an example of Federal policy harmful to the states, that ought be reformed. But why be reasonable when you can believe that changing a bad law without first punishing everyone who broke it will, like gay marriage, throw the universe into disorder?--turning policy questions into black-and-white, right-and-wrong matters of morality is so much easier on the brain. Arizona plays host to a rather large "unreasonable" subculture, of whitebread types who worry disproportionately about catching diseases from foreigners, who see every immigrant laborer as a sign that somewhere a Good White Person is slipping into poverty, who scream "No Amnesty!" and "What party of ILLEGAL don't you understand?", and who consequently would like to see Arizona enforce the failed Federal law.

That the motive is xenophobic bigotry is rather clear. No decent, non-bigoted person would hold it against someone that he didn't get into a queue that doesn't exist. (Check for yourself; there's no process for temporary or permanent immigrants from Mexico to simply fill out some paperwork, wait for it to be processed, and then come, Ellis Island-style.) Ordinarily this attitude is confined to poor illiterates, but in AZ it has a few exponents in high places, such as Russell Pearce, of Mesa. Pearce is to Mexicans what Captain Ahab is to Moby Dick; he lost an appendage abusing his badge and has had it out for brown folk ever since.

Led by Pearce, the legislature passed an employer-sanctions law in 2007. Illegal immigrants started to leave the state before the law even took effect. Victory to Pearce ("They broke the law. They're criminals," he said, apparently ignorant of the fact that being in the country without the right visa is merely unlawful, not criminal.) but to the rest of us, it looks like an economic contraction, and it has resulted in business moving out of the state, sometimes even to Mexico.

As things stand now, this policy, detrimental to all save those kooks who breathe easier when they see fewer Mexicans in the neighborhood, could be repealed by a simple act of the legislature. Passage of Proposition 202 would change that. On this 'blog I ordinarily go over the text of a measure with the readers. For this, I make an exception. I won't speak to the question of whether the employer sanctions law established by Prop 202 is better or worse than the one Pearce pushed through the legislature and got Governor Napolitano to sign in the mistaken belief it would stop him from trying for an initiative.

It's better in some ways, and worse in some ways, but more importantly, it is still just plain bad, and could only be repealed by another initiative. That means another million dollars and a vote that includes those mouthbreathing folk who hate the scary brown people for not waiting in the nonexistent queue.

Don't get caught up in some sort of "better employer sanctions law vs worse employer sanctions law" calculus. Vote "No" on Proposition 202 this year, to make it easy to repeal employer sanctions. That is, unless you really believe Jim Click should lose his license to sell cars if his manager "turns his head" while making a hire. But if you believed that, you probably wouldn't be reading this 'blog.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

I again ask for evidence: vote "No" on Proposition 300

Proposition 300 this year is the question of a pay raise for the legislature, referred to the voters by the Commission on Salaries for Elective State Officers. It's more modest than that proposed in 2006: a $6000 raise to $30,000 per year, as opposed to a $12,000 raise to $36,000 per year.

In the voter guide, the Arizona Advocacy Network recommends that we pass the measure so that the legislators don't have to come to rely on special interests to pay their keep. Baloney!--bribery is prosecutable and we can vote out of office those who offer legal quid pro quo. There is nevertheless something to be said for raising the salary: running for the legislature is currently unattractive to those of modest means who simply cannot abandon their jobs or businesses for a third of the year. I'd say that the low salary keeps class warriors out, but it doesn't: socialized medicine proponent Phil Lopes is an obvious example of that.

Perhaps if we raise the salary a bit, we can in the long term attract not only those of more modest means, but those of more modest attitudes. To take the financial hit being a legislator entails, one must value power more than the lost income. For "crusader" types, who see themselves as God's gift to Arizona--I'm thinking of Lopes, and Russel Pearce, too--the choice is clear. But this is mere speculation; I have no real-world reason to believe that the legislature will become less ideological at the margin were salaries to be raised.

Most arguments in favor of a "no" vote are stupid. The most common is simple disapproval of the current legislators: they don't "deserve" a raise. That's not what this question is about; the proper ballot line on which to show disapproval of a legislator is that corresponding to the legislative race. Similarly, Governor Napolitano's take, that the legislators shouldn't get raises because many other Arizonans aren't getting raises, is stupid. We don't determine wages and salaries by a toddler's concept of fairness (the "Daddy Model"), we determine it based on our guess as to what the extra money spent will get us.

I've noted that libertarians of the vulgar sort are very uncomfortable with the idea that laws can change and dead set in their flighty utopianism against mechanisms to change the law: Libertarian Party candidate for US Congress Powell Gammill gives us an example of this in his piece in the voter guide (linked above). We get a daffy anarchist credo, followed by Ernest Hancock's insightless slogan ("Freedom's the answer; what's the question?"), followed by an assertion that the legislature ought simply pass a budget and go home. Nonsense!--the way Gammill puts it, the legislature oughtn't legislate, forget what's written in the AZ Constitution and forget the good of the people of the State!

Shake the stupid out of it, and Gammill is nonetheless on to something. The Legislature doesn't go home when it should. It delays important business to spend time on nonsense. A raise might benefit us in the long run by attracting marginally better candidates, but we have no short-run evidence that a raise would do us good. As was the case with Tucson Prop 403, I want to see some signs that this is needed: the legislators prioritizing important matters and hurrying to get home to run their businesses or work their jobs and pay the bills. Say "No" to the raise again.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Yes, my ballot initiative review has started.

About a month later than I intended, I have begun my de rigueur review of each ballot question that I will see this general election. Yesterday's local Tucson question kicks things off; I will treat each in turn, in reverse numerical order.

If you can't wait, I have quietly made a few remarks about the initiatives on Associated Content. (Note that the article titles are not my own).

(Propositon 101) Arizonans to vote on Freedom of Choice in Health Care Act
(Proposition 200) In Arizona, "greedy" payday loans at issue
(Proposition 100) Arizonans may vote to pre-empt real estate transfer taxes.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

No blank checks for public schools: Tucsonans, say no to Prop 403

I'll offer a modest compromise to the Tucson Unified School District: You give us merit pay for teachers, and we'll give you a budget override.

Proponents of the override would like to tell us that this is not the same district that simply lost $1.6MM in assets, that having a new superintendent and a few new board members, TUSD should be given a clean record by the public. I say, "Show us you're different!"

Why should we believe that TUSD could improve public education if we simply give it more money? (Private schools, after all, operate on less per pupil.) Have enough reforms been put into place that administrators can honestly say "our hands our tied"? I need, and you should need, convincing of the district's bona fides, signs that they're not asking us to fork over more of our wealth or income so they can worry less about the budget while doing business as usual. Standing up to the teachers' union and insisting on merit pay is the clearest signal that can be sent that TUSD is operating for the benefit of the taxpayers, not its employees. Absent that, we ought to be shown some very clear reforms before, not after, we fork over the money. Reforms--fundamental changes in the way the district educates children--not promises involving trendy buzzwords like "smaller class size". An end to social promotion costs nothing.

Until I see either concerted reforms or the breaking of the Tucson Education Association, I will not vote for any TUSD budget override. (A dollar-for-dollar private school/homeschool parent tax credit wouldn't hurt, either, but that's asking too much!) Call it the "do not feed" principle. You don't give spare change to the bum if you think he's just going to spend it on wine. The people asking are different, yes, but it's not clear that they're not bums.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Bwana Spence comes to Tucson

From last Sunday's Arizona Daily Star:
"My kids play in the yard and I worry about their safety I poison dog food and meat and throw it out. Have killed off a bunch of intruders around my place," the post says.

The person who wrote that on Craigslist has been poisoning javelina and bobcats, not critters that come to mind as a threat to children. Perhaps this is a case of some borderline mentally ill person afraid of the desert, or all that's wild. If so, why isn't he (that's the generic "he") living in Phoenix or LA or New York.

Here's hoping the investigators locate and fine the sick bastard who's depriving his neighbors of their equal right to those animals. Killing bobcats, especially, can lead to little but trouble.

For those who miss the reference in the title, Bwana Spence was the Protestant missionary in The Lonely African who ordered forest cut down out of fear of what lives among the trees.

Monday, September 01, 2008

One more remark about Fowlkes and co.

To my Republican readers:

Fowlkes and his running mate have received the endorsement of the Pachyderm Coalition and the especially hard-to-get, supermajority-requiring approval of the Arizona Republican Assembly. He may not have the editorial boards' approval, but his support extends significantly beyond classical-liberals (and members of other parties) such as Robb and myself.

He stands a reasonable chance of winning the nomination; don't consider the vote to be "wasted" in any way.

Nominate and Elect Rick Fowlkes to the Arizona Corporation Commission

To date, I haven't given any candidate for office an outright endorsement on this 'blog. This will be my first: The Republican Party should nominate Rick Fowlkes for Arizona Corporation Commissioner, and the people of the state should elect him to that office.

The possibility of "change", specifically a shift away from liberalism to "solidaristic" Europe-style social democracy (soft tyranny, a la Tocqueville's use of the term, if you ask me!) has of late captured the mass press's imagination and attention. Relatively ignored has been the slow revolution in American life, deregulations, privatizations, the substitution of markets, ownership, choice, and opportunity for democratic or quasi-democratic government control. The various school choice programs, airline and telecom deregulation, HSAs, widespread adoption of individual retirement accounts and 401(k) plans: all these reforms, which reduce demand for and dependence on government, make Obama look regressive if not reactionary, once the voter does what the popular press has not and realizes that they are part of a uniformly liberal whole.

Election of Fowlkes would bring this "quiet revolution" to Arizona to the benefit of utility consumers. Relative to what could be, public utilities in Arizona operate in horse-and-buggy fashion. A state-mandated monopoly--which, with a few adjustments to the law, wouldn't be "natural"--asks an elected board, the Corporation Commission, if rates can be increased or terms of service can be changed, and the elected board either approves or it doesn't. Consumer choice does not enter the process at all; contrast how you purchase electricity or natural gas with how you buy cellular phone service, gasoline, or pizza.

Fowlkes would replace this monopoly plus rent-seeking mechanism with one based on choice and competition: utility retail service areas would be allowed to overlap, and in areas with three or more providers, competition, not government control, would determine rates and terms of service, just as it does for cellular phone service. Sharing plans would be arranged for truly monopolistic infrastructure such as wires and pipes, much as the Palo Verde nuclear plant is shared; Fowlkes has also privately expressed approval of customer ownership of the "last mile" of infrastructure, a la Ottawa, Ontario, Canada..

Kudos goes to Robert Robb for picking up on this proposal for competition in a year when editorial boards have concerned themselves mainly with the candidates' views on the constitutionality or practical benefit of the state's renewable energy mandate and flim-flammery like "partisanship". I wholeheartedly endorse Fowlkes, but, like Robb, I have reservations about his running mates. I like the idea of having three engineers on the Corporation Commission, but these two seem at times a bit out of their league. They have also publicly denied anthropogenic global warming, showing a contemptuous disregard for science; Fowlkes has merely declared it "overstated", which, to the average Joe who isn't reading scientific papers on the subject, may be true. Their competition, however, has also done so, with Marian McClure being especially fierce in calling the prevailing theory a hoax.

Republican readers: vote Fowlkes tomorrow, and strongly consider his running mates Joe Hobbs and Keith Swapp. Arizona ratepayers should be given the benefits of utility competition.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

The Friday Morning Phone Call

Friday, circa 9 AM, around the time I should be prying myself out of bed with a crowbar and getting to the lab (I tend to work into the evening), the phone rings.

"Hello, to whom am I speaking?", says the caller, and I reply:
"If you don't at least have a good guess, perhaps you shouldn't be calling this number."! He hangs up.

Ten minutes later, as I'm about to jump into the shower, it rings again.

"Hi, is this Bennett?", says someone sounding roughly the same as the first caller, timidly.

"Yes, what can I do for you?"

"You're the guy who wrote the letter in the Weekly (fourth item on the page) suggesting we call Tim Bee's campaign if we got stuck east of Swan."

"Yes. I have nothing to do with the Bee campaign, but I thought people should let them know how they feel."

"Oh. So you set them up, then."


"That's hilarious. I couldn't get home, and I was very upset, so I saw your letter and I called them up. The lady who answered gave me your number. I asked what it was for, then she screamed it at me again and hung up."

Take-away messages:
(1) I got under Tim Bee's staff's skin. Whether or not he got the point, I don't know. I'm still not going to vote for the pendejo until I get a check, and now, an apology.
(2) The Tucson Weekly staff may not always be classy (remember Tim Vanderpool's hit on Michael Badnarik?) but someone down there has a sense of humor.
(3) Tim Bee's staff is not above behavior verging legally on harassment. My number is publicly listed, yes, but I am not the person who can answer questions about your refund.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

An avoidable calamity: South Mountain Community College shootings

Reports, still lacking detail at this hour, are coming in about a triple shooting at South Mountain Community College.

Without any word of the motive or exact circumstances, there isn't much to say at the moment, other than that it this incident was probably avoidable. The Arizona Legislature had the chance to pass a bill allowing concealed carry on campus, but Senate president Tim Bee failed or refused to give it its third reading.

Would campus CCW have stopped the shooting? We can't say that for certain, but it would certainly have increased the chance that someone stopped the shooter before he got one or more shots off, and perhaps deterred the rampage in the first place. One doesn't come back after a fight and start shooting if one suspects the others to be armed. Simply put, two guns in the room is far more desirable than one or zero.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Osmolski Affidavit

A previous (and admittedly cursory) investigation by Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard's office into Pima County's 2006 special "Regional Transportation" election found evidence of inappropriate access to mail-ballot vote totals but nothing suggesting that vote totals were manipulated.

An affidavit sworn by former county employee Zbigniew Oslomski before the Democratic Party's attorney, Bill Risner, earlier this month blows the matter wide open. Oslomski, who was not a county employee at the time of the election, alleges that Bryan Crane, the county elections division's computer operator, admitted in a social setting to "fixing" the transportation election on orders of his bosses.

Does this mean that the County Supes, the development lobby, "public artist" turned State Rep. Steve Farley, and company stole the election? More to follow.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Call the Bee campaign, ask for compensation.

President Bush (spending the taxpayer dime) flew into Davis-Monthan AFB last night and drove up to the Catalina Foothills for a private fundraiser for the Tim Bee campaign.

Swan was blocked off from the base all the way up to Sunrise; dozens of police worked overtime to facilitate this. Hundreds of Tucsonans were stranded on one side of town or the other, unable to get home (perhaps to their children) or to work on time. To get home from the gym at Rincon High, I had to detour all the way to I-10 and Kolb.

If you were late to work or stuck and unable to get home last night or this morning due to the "security theater" surrounding a private fundraiser, call the Tim Bee campaign at 520-979-8667. Leave your name and address and ask them for a check compensating you for wasted gasoline and lost time.

While you have them on the line, ask them when they're going to reimburse Pima County and the City of Tucson for that police overtime.

Until I get my check, there's no chance I'll vote for Bee. If this is how he acts when a mere state legislator, just imagine the "Do You Know Who I Am" shenanigans he'll pull as a Congressman! What happened to the Republican ideal of no external costs and no transfer payments, of everyone paying his own way?

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Layout changes: pardon my dust!

Regular readers may notice that I've changed Goldwater State's template, and switched to Haloscan comment service to enable trackbacks.

To those of you who previously left comments: I can still see them. There's no good time to make that switch, but before election season, before I get posts up about the ballot initiatives, while traffic is low is better than during election season while traffic is high and discussions are ongoing.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Hardy taking questions on Heller

Dave Hardy, counsel of record for Academics for the Second Amendment's brief on DC vs Heller, is taking questions about the case and its implications, on the AZ Star's website, live, right now.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Why being an ideologue makes one stupid.

Czechvar, aka "Budweiser Budvar", is an above-average lager, produced by a state-owned enterprise.

Likewise, Arizona Highways is produced by the state Department of Transportation, and is one of the better travel magazines.

As Emerson wrote, a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Hmm...I thought that Senators were popularly elected...

I'm teaching--the dreaded Physics 102--for the first time since the passage of a bill mandating the display of the US Constitution in every public (state) classroom in Arizona. I've thus finally had a look at the posters that were tacked up in response to the bill.

The document they present is a strange one: by any interpretation it:

  1. Has the second-place finisher in the electoral college become vice-president,
  2. Defers the slavery question until 1808,
  3. Does not prohibit state abridgement of due process,
  4. Requires the indirect election of Senators,
  5. and places no restriction on Congressional passage of pay raises.

Yes, this Constitution is missing all but ten amendments, including the all-important Fourteenth. What sort of civic knowledge was this supposed to foster?

Monday, May 26, 2008

Not-quite-new 'blog covers Prop. 207 cases

Someone who appears to be a part-time Arizonan has created a 'blog covering Private Property Rights Protection Act cases.

Despite the grating use of the word "liberal" to mean "believer in unlimited government"--why would a believer in individual liberty support uncompensated regulatory takings?--it isn't all that bad. I'll surf over every now and then for updates.

Freedom of Choice in Health Care Act update

Unlike 2006's successful Prop. 207, the Freedom of Choice in Health Care Act has no East Coast "angel" donor. It nevertheless seems to be progressing well. A recently e-mailed update from Medical Choice for Arizona puts the effort at 90,000 signatures short of its 300,000 signature goal, and states that the group expects to submit its petitions well in advance of the July deadline.

I don't know whether or not they are trying to "fly under the radar"; although they still need to raise $25,000, the group has succeeded in hiding its contact-list sign-up form.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Econ 101 is not part of police training.

If you were driving in the Tucson area last weekend, you'd have seen, at I-10 exits, billboards complaining that policemen and police women in the "Phoenix Valley" (try finding that one on a topo map!) perform the "same job" as Tucson officers, with the "same danger" (less than fishing, mining, or trucking, if fatalities are a good metric), but receive $20,000 less compensation per year.

These billboards were purchased by the "TPOA", short for the Tucson Police Officers' Association, which, according to its website, is the "exclusive Bargaining Unit for Sergeants, Detectives, Officers, and Marshals of the Tucson Police Department." In other words, the police officers' union.

The union had the bad fortune of being in contract talks when the city is facing a $12MM shortfall, thus, for the past month, the union has been bickering with City Manager Mike Hein over his budget. Like any other union, TPOA has two objectives: to preserve its own power and to negotiate better conditions of employment, including compensation, for its members. Unlike a private-sector union, the TPOA can demagogue the issue, and has been doing so in a manner so crass as to verge on extortion, taking to the airwaves and even using on-duty contacts with the public to claim that response times are slow because TPD is understaffed. In other words: "Service will continue to be lousy until Hein caves in. You can't just get rid of us and hire a new police force, and you want to be safe, right?"

Nonsense. Police priorities and practices have room for adjustment; every officer handing out speeding tickets or busting college students for drinking beer is one who can't respond in a timely fashion to calls. Every time two or three cars are sent when one would suffice stretches the force thin. And if we must put more officers on the street or give them raises, selling the helicopter, which gives Tucson a nice Third World feel, is a start.

Having below the national average ratio of officers to residents is of no concern if the national average is too high. The city plans to add 500 officers over the next eight years, but that doesn't mean that the city is somehow 500 officers short. The case hasn't been made that we don't already have enough. Do we even need the new 500 or can adjustments to practices and priorities be made?

Back to those billboards: The TPOA is an autochthonous union run by real police officers, not labor lawyers and similar lumpens. Like most people, these officers have probably heard the word "economics" but never picked up a book on the subject. Clearly they're upset because they find it unjust that others doing the same job in different cities receive different compensation. This is the "Daddy Model" of fairness, perhaps hardwired in the human brain. It appeals to economic illiterates, but to follow it uniformly is a recipe for instant totalitarianism. Following it piecemeal is not benign, either; to apply it in this case would mean that the people of Tucson would get a raw deal. "We raised police pay just because they asked. Had we negotiated and compromised, you'd be getting more for your taxes."

If pay is truly too low, police will start leaving, and hires will become difficult. Even when a union is in place, there's no escape from the laws of microeconomics. If Tucson's pay were too low to hire and retain officers, we'd hear Chief Miranda making it to Hein.

To clarify: I don't object on principle to higher pay for police officers. If the market demands it, what can I say? Lowering professional standards would, of course, allow the City to hire officers for less, and that is unacceptable. I don't object to raising pay as a result of raising standards. I want police that say "yes sir" and "no ma'am", who know what mental illness is and looks like, who keep their sidearms holstered and fingers off the trigger unless truly in danger. I want police who understand that, when an earthmover is creeping toward an occupied squad car, moving the car or getting people out of the way is a better response than shooting a kid. I want the thin blue line broken and testi-lying punished severely. And I want merit pay for police. Policemen are not interchangeable like meatpackers or longshoremen; the truly good ones ought to be rewarded and retained, and, for our safety, the bad ones, the testosterone-pumped, deranged half-wits attracted to the job for all the wrong reasons, "encouraged" to seek some other form of employment.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Ecology of Alta Sonora

From lunch last month with an undisclosed applied mathematician:
There are three people in town who feed the (non-native) pigeons, I mean, feed a lot of pigeons. If they were to stop, we'd have no pigeons at all in Tucson.

File this one in the "there ought to be a law" department. There are native species which occupy the same niche (give or take) and which must be adversely affected by the flying rats!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Desert? What desert?

If we thought about local climate and ecology the way some commentators approach global warming, today's unseasonal wind and rain in Tucson would cast categorical doubt on the area being a desert!

It's a fairly well-documented if not quantitatively studied phenomenon: the common person does not understand that claims such as "drought", "global warming", or "desert" have associated time scales. "I can water my rocks, because it rained last week. Those people saying we're in a drought are a bunch of commie alarmists who have something against property rights and a good old fashined green lawn!"

Surely the louts, at least at the margin, will be extra wasteful this week. Hopes to get them to understand or even believe that water is a finite resource are perhaps misplaced. We have a "technology", if you will, which can bring about water conservation without getting the IQ-95 set to understand complicated arguments or waiting for the curmudgeons with mal fide objections to science in line. It's called "the free market". Aquifier-by-aquifier cap-and-trade would cause water's scarcity to be reflected in its price, and provide a means to gently wean the region off of diminishing stocks of Colorado River water.

What's keeping this ready-made "technology" from being applied? The last time Tucson Water raised its rates, there was political upheaval; understaning the meaning of "drought" and "scarcity" is not a necessary voter qualification. Thus we elect politicians who confound technocratic mitigation schemes and long-term solutions. This despite the current "going green" fad! Where's our homegrown Al Gore?

Thursday, April 03, 2008

SB1214 update

According to a report sent out this morning by Senator Johnson's office, SB 1214, which would allow CCW permit holders to carry on public university grounds, will not receive its third reading today.

Ordinarily, this would mean that the bill is dead, since the House (Arizona has a bicameral legislature) must set its agenda soon. However, if the bill passes the Senate next week, it can still be sent to the house and given its fair hearing by amendment of the agenda. Knowing that SB1214 will be controversial, Senate President Tim Bee held the bill up to allow Senators time to draft amendments, rather than inserting it in the calendar with little more than a day's notice. The bill will likely receive its third reading next week.

A clarification from yesterday; Johnson's amendment to her own bill has not yet been formally adopted; it will be introduced and voted on at the third reading. We can expect it to pass, as it is probably the result of discussion with those like Paula Aboud who feel that CCW training is somewhat inadequate.

Whether it will mollify them enough remains to be seen. Regardless, don't expect a party-line vote on this one. Governor Napolitano and the UA Young Democrats aside, this is a Western state; many Democrats carry weapons and most, unlike Ken Cheuvront, aren't out-of-touch with gun rights advocates or ignorant of even the terms of the debate. Senate Minority Leader Marsha Arzberger probably carries her .38 Special illegally in the Senate building, and can thus sympathize with students, faculty, and staff who want to carry at, to, and from the universities. Rumor has it that Minority Whip Rebecca Rios is also sympathetic.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

SB1214 is headed to the floor; will UA students, faculty, and staff win the right to self-defense?

Arizona has had a "shall issue" policy for issuance of CCW permits since 1994, but hearing it from some, you'd think that concealed carry is still a novelty, and that we simply don't know if people will start committing aggravated assault --or worse, shooting each other--left and right, if guns will "go off", etc.

The rhetoric we've been hearing about Senator Karen Johnson's SB1214, which would merely extend the right of CCW permit holders to allow carry at Arizona's state universities, has been, for the most part, a repeat of what we've heard every time firearms liberalization has been proposed since Florida didn't become the "Gunshine State" in the late 1980s: incredulity, fanciful scenarioes, and personal ignorance. European professors perhaps get a pass (with an admonishment tacked on: start learning about your host country, and reading Barbara Ehrenreich or Howard Zinn does not count!), but undergraduates who've for the most part lived in a concealed carry state since before they learned to read and faculty who've interacted peacefully with people packing heat in movie theaters, grocery stores, and plenty of stressful traffic encounters for over a decade have no excuse.

Perhaps this debate is even more obnoxious than usual; many of the "antis" don't even know what the bill does and talk about "kids" "running around" with guns as though SB1214 enables schoolchildren to carry. It doesn't even allow eighteen year old college students, who can at any time enlist in the military and be given responsibility for a burst-firing M16, to carry. All it does is to remove a nonsensical geographic restriction of the right to carry, allowing those of us who work or study (or, in my case, both) at a state university the to effectively defend ourselves against armed attackers at, to, and from University grounds.

The debate over firearms liberalization has been going on for over two decades, yet quite a few of our elected officials have been too busy to learn the basics. Take, for example, the discussion in the Democratic caucus:

Democratic Caucus Notes:

SB 1214 concealed weapons; school grounds
SPONSOR: JOHNSON JUD 2/25/2008 DPA (4-3-0-0)
RULES 3/10/2008 PFCA

Purpose (For more information see Fact Sheet): Allows a person with a
valid concealed carry weapons (CCW) permit to possess a concealed
firearm on the grounds of a community college or university.

[snipped RTS names--BSK]

Amanda Rohrkemper (Dem. Intern) explained the bill.

Sen. Cheuvront: They did make some good points how discipline could
really be increased if the teacher had a firearm in his/her possession.

Caucus chuckled.

Sen. Cheuvront: The people in support of this bill justify it by the
large amount of training. The problem is that they don't receive that
much training.

Sen. Aboud: I actually took two of these CCW courses, and I feel that at
least half the people don't have an adequate amount of gun knowledge.

Sen. Burton-Cahill: Maybe this is the time for us to increase the amount
of training for CCW holders. We should require more time out on the
range as well as in the classroom. In the last seven years, we've taken
the renewing training from four hours to two hours to absolutely
nothing. I'd like to propose a Floor Amendment that increases the
education for a CCW permit. It will also reinstate some sort of
training or testing to see whether additional training is needed.

Sen. Cheuvront: What kind of mental health is considered when issuing a
CCW permit?

Sen. Burton-Cahill: To that point, my father had several strokes last
fall and is now not permitted to drive. However, if he did have a CCW
permit, there would be nothing stopping him from continuing to hold it.

Amanda: To receive a CCW permit, a person must not suffer from a mental
illness. There are also other qualifications.

Sen. Cheuvront: Those are initial tests, but are they continually

Christina Estes-Werther (Research Staff): There is a criminal background
check taken every five years. I'd also like to mention that in
Republican Caucus, there was a concern that this bill does not address
university lockdown situations. Therefore, there may be a Floor
Amendment to address that.

Sen. Cheuvront: These people are not trained for this type of police

Apparently Ken Cheuvront thinks self-defense is "police work", and moreover thinks aggravated assault is a laughing matter. Perhaps Cheuvront Wine and Cheese has the police hanging out like the bodyguard ninjas in Curse of the Golden Flower, ready to drop out of the rafters to defend against all threats, but they're not to be found in my lab, the Mountain Avenue bike path, dormitories, or sorority house lawns.

Aboud's remarks are a little more well-taken. Perhaps training could be better, although the "antis" haven't come forward with even anecdotes of irresponsible CCW holders missing their targets and doing more harm then good. Nonetheless, many (who seem to get their notions of police skill with firearms from movies) feel that it takes a policeman's training to effectively defend one's self with a gun, to the point where adding such a requirement may mean the difference between victory and defeat for the right of people like me to carry to and from their workplace. Ergo a floor amendment to be introduced by Karen Johnson later today when the bill gets its third read, requiring those who'd carry in campus buildings to pass the firing test required of police officers.

That's an easy compromise if there ever was one; let's hope it does the trick. I've been working hard for the past few weeks helping the Students for Concealed Carry in the uphill battle to educate our clueless peers and the even more clueless general public about SB1214; we're here to stay even if the bill stays. Check back for updates.