Sunday, January 24, 2010

Democrats rally the faithful for 2010 elections

Fallout from years of Republican-controlled state government gave Democrats plenty of fuel to fire up the faithful this weekend at the Democratic State Committee Meeting in Phoenix.

Speaker after speaker hammered Republican governor Jan Brewer and Legislative ideologues with the facts. Arizona's economy is one of the worst in the nation. They have locked Legislative Democrats out of the budget process, refuse to listen to Democratic budget ideas, and failed to come up with concrete, fair solutions to the state's financial crisis. Arizona is fighting for the bottom in about every measurable statistic--except unemployment and home foreclosures.

"Leadership is not a spectator sport," declared Gubernatorial Candidate Terry Goddard. "Real leadership would be to include Democrats in the budget process." Goddard vowed to bring everyone together to solve the state's problems--unlike Brewer who has worked only with fellow Republicans.

Goddard went on to say that Arizona "is on a sprint to the bottom, and it's time to stop the free fall."

Arizona is at the precipice. State Republicans have ignored their fiscal responsibilities, given repeated tax cuts to the rich, mortgaged our future, and shortchanged our children and grandchildren. Reminding Democrats that education funding is one of our core values, Superintendent of Public Instruction Candidate Jason Williams led the audience in a chant from Dr. Seuss: "A person's a person no matter how small."

The Arizona Democratic Party is fielding strong candidates at all levels in 2010-- from Attorney General Goddard for governor to dozens of legislative hopefuls. Jobs, education, the economy, solar energy, and immigration reform were recurrent themes through several speeches.

Personally, I was very impressed with all of the candidates, their ideas, their integrity, and their energy. For detailed information about the candidates and their ideas for our future, check out the link lists that I have posted.

The 2010 elections are crucial to our state and the country. I encourage everyone to volunteer, donate, and VOTE! It's time to take back our state.

This article originally appeared in my Progressive Examiner column. Click this link to see the slide show from this event.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Campaign financing: First Amendment used to change laws in US and in Arizona

In two days, six judges have altered decades of campaign finance reform to favor the rich and well-connected.
Two court rulings this week--one by the US Supreme Court and another by a US District Court Judge--have left progressives reeling. Ironically, both decisions are based upon the First Amendment of the US Constitution.

On Thursday, January 21, the Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision ruled that limiting campaign contributions from corporations limits their freedom of speech. This decision is based upon the legal precedent of corporate personhood, which gives corporations the same rights as "natural persons" (AKA real people). To learn more about corporate personhood, check out this movie-- The Corporation.

President Obama said this ruling gives "a green light to a new stampede of special interest money in our politics" and has instructed the Congress to work on revised campaign finance reform legislation.

On Wednesday, January 20, 9th District Court Judge Roslyn Silver ruled that state matching funds given to Clean Elections candidates limits the freedom of speech of their opponents who are not running as Clean Elections candidates. The rationale is that the candidates who are running traditionally would somehow limit their fundraising because it would essentially give their Clean Elections opponents more matching funds. Silver did not strike down all of the Clean Elections legislation--just the matching funds section that brings "clean" candidates coffers up to the funding levels of their opponents. Silver has given the proponents of Clean Elections 10 days to appeal her ruling.

Arizona's Clean Elections law was created by the voters in 1998. According to the Clean Elections Commission, close to 90 individuals--including several in Pima County--have qualified as Clean Elections candidates for the 2010 elections cycle. Some are suggesting that implementation of this decision be delayed until after the 2010 elections.

Where do we go from here?

This article was originally published in my Progressive Examiner column.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Tucson march honors Martin Luther King Jr.

Despite chilly weather and the threat of rain, hundreds of Tucsonans of all ages and races gathered on the University of Arizona mall on Monday for the 25th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day March.

Clarence Boykins, President of the Tucson-Southern Arizona Black Chamber of Commerce and march organizer, greeted the crowd on the mall.

After a blessing, speakers reminded the marchers that although African Americans have made great progress since the civil rights movement of the 1960s, there is more work to do. In his address, Pima County Board of Supervisors Chairman Richard Elias alluded to Arizona's budget crisis and the state's Republican-controlled legislature. He called upon all Tucsonans to work together to raise up the less fortunate--regardless of race.

Marchers walked, chanted, and sang their way from the UA to the DeMeester Performance Center at Randolph Park, where they heard more speeches and enjoyed music performances and fine food. MLK events continue today.

This article originally appeared in my Progressive Examiner column. Click this link to see the slide show.

Move your money, pay cash and buy local

Frustrated Americans are bankrolling bank bailouts and funding bonus checks for CEOs with poor performance appraisals, but what can we do about it? How can we voice our anger and frustration? The federal government thinks these banks are "too big to fail."

Arianna Huffington and her cohorts have given us a way to demonstrate our frustrations. If these non-performing banks are "too big to fail," make them smaller by moving our money out. The Move Your Money campaign began in December 2009 and has taken off through social media and the Internet. At least two Examiners have encouraged their audiences in Newark and LA to move their money.

For Tucson, I'd encourage people to not only move their money to sound local banks or credit unions but also to buy local and pay cash. These three simple strategies can help us invest in our community and our local businesses.

More money stays in your community if you bank locally and buy locally. The Local First movement has been progressing across the country, with chapters in many state and cities. Yes, Tucson has Starbucks, Target, Safeway, and national chain retail stores, but we also has Epic Cafe, Yikes Toys, several farmers' markets, and Bohemia. Shopping and dining locally makes economic sense. The Local First Tucson website lists locally owned businesses in every service category. Forty-five cents of every dollar you spend stays in Arizona, when you buy from Arizona businesses.

Pay cash is my third piece of advice. Why pay cash? Because it costs you and the retailer money when you pay with a debit or credit card. Retailers pay 2-5% of the purchase price to the card company when you use a VISA, MasterCard, American Express or other debit or credit card. Two percent of a $10 purchase is only 20 cents. Multiply 2% by millions of transactions each day across the world, and you realize that card companies are making truckloads of money-- even before they start charging you interest, annual fees, late fees, or ATM fees for the convenience of using cards. Check out the New York Times video that opened my eyes the insane amounts of money that are being made by cards companies-- particularly VISA, the industry leader. Cards are much more convenient than checks or cash, but we are paying dearly for that convenience.

How do we survive in tough economic times and still foster growth locally? Pull money out of those free-loading banks that are "too big to fail", cancel the credit cards with those mega-banks, and open up an account with a local community bank or credit union. Buy local, pay cash, and live within your means.

This article originally appeared in my Progressive Examiner column.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Same-sex marriage is 'business-friendly'

Same-sex marriage-- I'm sure that this is not what Bruce Ash, John Munger, Jan Brewer, Steve Kozachik, Jack Kemper, and John C. Scott have in mind when they talk about making Tucson and Arizona more "business friendly," but as Judy Tenuta would say, "It could happen."

Work with me on this one....
1- Arizona has a multi-million-dollar budget mess on it's hands and no real solutions.

2- Our Republican governor and legislature refuse to take steps to bring more money into the state coffers because the obvious way to increase revenues would be to roll back the tax cuts that they have given businesses and rich people, and that would not be "business friendly."

2- Historically, Arizona has been a major tourist destination. We have plenty of hotels, resorts, and scenic vistas, which are perfect honeymoon retreats.

3- Arizona has the Grand Canyon, great weather in the winter, and the Gem and Mineral Show as tourist magnets, but fostering a new niche market for the tourist industry would make good marketing sense.

4- Arizona politicians-- both Democrat and Republican-- want to appear "business friendly."

So, why not develop same-sex marriage as a niche tourist market? According to this post on Alan Colmes' website, Edmund Egan, chief economist for the City of San Francisco, estimated that same-sex marriages could have earned that city $35 million a year + additional funds in tax revenues (except that California made it illegal with Prop 8).

Same-sex marriage also is illegal in Arizona, but-- hey-- if the legislature really wants to be "business friendly," they can make it happen. Si se puede, fellas. After all, bringing in several million dollars without raising taxes or fees would be "business friendly."

This article originally appeared in my Progressive Examiner column.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Jan Brewer: Cut the ideology and start governing

On Monday, January 11, 2010, the Arizona Legislature goes back into session. My wish for the new year is that Arizona's Republican lawmakers will put aside right wing ideology and work with Democratic lawmakers to develop shared solutions to the state's tremendous economic and social problems.

In other words, it's time to govern.

2009 was a disastrous year in Arizona politics. A year ago, when Democratic Governor Janet Napolitano moved to the post of Homeland Security Director in the Obama administration, Secretary of State Jan Brewer became governor. Napoitano brought lawmakers from both sides of the aisle together to create legislation. Brewer and her fellow Republicans in the legislature have shut Democratic lawmakers out of the process and essentially disenfranchised Baja Arizona residents represented by them.

Disregarding the Democrats' ideas and legislation has been a long-standing Republican tactic in the Arizona Legislature, but at a time when Arizona faces a monumental, multi-billion-dollar budget crisis, it is unconscionable for the Governor and other state-level Republicans to ignore Democratic legislators and their constituents.

Republican budget cuts affect us--our schools, our universities, our children, our jobs-- but we Democrats in Southern Arizona are basically unrepresented in the legislature.

In addition to the 2009 regular session, legislators have tackled budget issues on and off for months in multiple special sessions, but even with millions of dollars in cuts they have only nipped around the edges of the deficit.

How did Arizona get into such a financial fix? Of course, the US economic downturn has played a large role in the states' financial problems, but Republicans on both the state and federal levels who gave multiple tax cuts to the richest Americans must own some of the blame for the deficits. In Arizona, multiple tax cuts have resulted in a government that relies heavily on sales tax. With sales of homes and other goods down and unemployment at a record high, the state's revenues continue to shrink.
Undoubtedly, the blood-letting with continue during 2010. Republicans refuse to entertain revenue-generating solutions. In fact, this week, House Republicans announced plans to raise taxes on middle class Arizonans while offering more tax cuts to businesses.

How can they in good conscience off revenue cuts in the midst of a budget crisis? Their claim is that these business tax cuts will incentivize businesses to relocate to Arizona. They have a short-sighted view of what businesses want. Yes, it has become fashionable for states and cities to bend over backwards and offer multiple incentives to entice national sports teams and large businesses to relocate, but businesses look for other amenities-- like quality schools and universities, an educated workforce to draw from, a well-maintain infrastructure, and enlightened government.

As an old hippie, I wonder why are we Baja Arizonans not outraged over our disenfranchisement, the ineptitude of our state government, and the lack of leadership displayed by our governor?

We should be protesting at Jan Brewer's speech in Phoenix next week. Or at the very least, we should be bugging them on the phone and on e-mail. Check out the link box on this page for contact information and updates about proposed bill. Viva Baja Arizona!

This article originally appeared in my Progressive Examiner column.

Monday, January 4, 2010

New Year's Resolution: Do More with Less

A few years ago, I was walking through Macy's in San Francisco and checking out the latest fashions. This was about 5 years ago when the '60s and '70s looks first started coming back in style. The upscale downtown store was filled with fringed suede purses, lace-up leather boots, beaded necklaces, and crocheted vests from the hippie era and weirdly psychodelic mini-dresses, big sunglasses, and platform shoes from the early disco era. (Who knew that platform shoes would come back?)

The blue jean mini-skirts struck me in particular because they were authentically ragged, although quite pricey. The handmade look was reminiscent of the original blue jean skirts that we old hippies made in the early 1970s.

I sewed my first blue jean skirt from pair of cutoff shorts when I was a freshman in college. Since the dorm sewing machines were possessed by mechanical demons, we sewed these skirts by hand, which gave them a particularly crude look.

My mother was appalled by the rugged workmanship of my creation. In the fall of 1969, she sent me to college wearing wool sweaters with matching wool skirts, purses, and tasteful heels. When I came home in the spring, I was wearing a home-made love bead necklace that I strung; an orange hand-crocheted vest; my hand-sewn, blue jean mini-skirt; and Water Buffalo sandals. Except for the sandals, I had created my outfit with a handful of raw materials, a bit of ingenuity, and some skills I learned in junior high home economics class.

Fast forward 40 years to 2010, where is that personal ingenuity today? In the current economic climate, I believe we should look back to the '60s and '70s for direction. Gardening, composting, eating healthy meals, making your own clothes, living simply and naturally, and living in harmony with nature and other people were all in style.

How can you emulate this lifestyle today? Here are a few tips on living more simply:

- Evaluate your household. Does your house or apartment suit your family's size? Is if convenient to your work or do you have a long commute. You may consider downsizing or moving closer to your work to save money and energy costs.

- Do you know how to knit, sew, or crochet? These are useful skills. Consider taking a community class or asking a friend to give you a few lessons. If you know these crafts, teach your children. (They'll thank you someday.)

- Check out your closet. Are their clothes that could be updated or restyled into other fashions? Recycled fashion is in style-- particularly in Tucson. Maybe you could make pillow covers or other decorative household items from these clothes.

- Harvest rainwater and grow a garden.

- Plant trees to shade your property.

- Start a compost.

- Buy and eat locally.

- Reuse and recycle.

- Engage your family-- particularly your children-- in these activities.

I challenge you to more with less this year. You may find that this enriches your life.

This article originally appeared in my Baby Boomer Examiner column. To see a slide show of recycled art, check out this link.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

I.O.U.S.A.: a case for fiscally responsible government

Pontificating about the national debt and fiscal responsibility is popular campaign rhetoric, but politicians haven't done anything significant to reduce the national debt since President Bill Clinton was in office.

In fact, under President George W. Bush, Clinton's $127 billion surplus was transformed into a record $455 billion deficit-- through repeated tax cuts for the wealthy, military imperialism, and adherence to the failed theory of trickle down economics. Now the debt is in the trillions of dollars--and increasing every minute.
As we approach a new year with cautious hope, many Americans are glad to see 2009 end. With skyrocketing unemployment and home foreclosures, failing local businesses, and bankrupt state and local governments, it has been a rough year and a half since the economic crash of 2008.

Watching I.O.U.S.A. One Nation. Under Stress. In Debt on New Year's Day was a chilling experience. The movie offers a learned but understandable look at the current national debt, how we are dealing with it (or not), and what the country has done in the past to pay off debt. For a thorough recap and independent review of the movie, check out this link.

In a nutshell, the premise of the movie is that the US actually has four deficits:

1- The federal budget deficit-- The national debt is $12 trillion and counting;

2- The savings deficit-- we are a country of consumers, not savers;

3- The trade deficit-- we buy more from other countries than they buy from us; and

4- The leadership deficit-- our politicians are more interested in getting re-elected, than making tough choices. The leadership deficit is glaringly apparent in Arizona, where the Republican governor and Republican-controlled legislature nip away at the multi-billion-dollar budget while avoiding tough choices and refusing to listen to ideas put forth by the legislative Democrats.

I would two more deficits to this list:

5- The education deficit-- It was shocking how many people in the movie could not define the word "deficit". This is a symptom of our failed educational system, which is only going to get worse in bankrupt states like Arizona. Public education in the US is in a downward spiral, and no one is acting upon this. After all an uneducated populace will not question those in power. If you can't even define "deficit," you're not likely to ask for accountability from the leaders who are running it up. We are shortchanging future generations by allowing this to continue.

6- The media deficit-- With the demise of local newspapers and the rise of television entertainment news, the media in the US is in a shambles. Our best hope for real news-- not controlled by corporate press releases-- is citizen journalism.

When the continuation of the war in Iraq, escalation of the war in Afghanistan, multiple stimulus packages and corporate give-aways, and potential healthcare reform are added to our current fiscal obligations and the impending financial doom with the government starts paying Social Security benefits to millions of retiring Baby Boomers, the scenario is mind-boggling. For years, US taxpayers have been paying more into Social Security than is being paid out to retirees. Within the next 10 years, as more Baby Boomers retire, Social Security will be obligated to pay out more than it takes in. This in itself is a problem, but the US government has been borrowing against the Social Security surplus for years. No more surplus = no more borrowing = an even higher budget deficit.

Where do we go from here?

- Americans have to be willing to make tough economic choices. Thanks to Ronald Reagan, Newt Gingrich, George W. Bush, and the ideologues at FOX News, many Americans believe we can have everything we want and not pay for it. Our credit card mentality has to change. The bill is coming due, and we have to figure out how to pay it.

- We absolutely have to hold our elected officials accountable. In many elections, there is a "throw-the-bums-out" sentiment. This can be good or bad. Yes, throwing the bums out can clean house, but it is not blanketly a good idea to vote for the challenger "just because". We should reward politicians who have the guts to make the tough choices for the collective good. (Except for President Barack Obama and some in his administration, I can't name too many politicians who are putting the public good in front of personal ambition.)

- It is unconscionable for us to spend, spend, spend and leave crippling debt, a crumbling infrastructure, and a devastated educational system to our children and grandchildren.

- What can you do personally? Get involved in your local community and local government. Register and vote. Educate yourself about candidates and issues. Talk with friends and family. An educated and informed electorate is the key to change. Check out the I.O.U.S.A. trailer as a first step.

- Release yourself from debt. Pay off your credit cards, cut them up, and close the accounts. Don't buy things you can't afford. Save money. Make a plan to become financially independent.

This article originally appeared in my Progressive Examiner column.