Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Immigration reform: the rest of the story, part 2

Xenophobia will continue to re-surface in our [state] unless and until government finds long-term solutions to this very serious problem which seems to be a result of some of the poor, the desperate and the unemployed taking matters of government into their own hands.

Given the anti-immigrant fervor sweeping Arizona and the US this quote could have been uttered by a local politician or activist. In actuality, this is a statement by African Christian Democratic Party Gauteng leader Lydia Meshoe as quoted in today's Times Live from Johannesburg, South Africa. The online newspaper goes on to say, "Sixteen people, mostly foreign nationals, were attacked at Kya Sands informal settlement north of Johannesburg in the past few days."

Hmmm... this is not unlike actions of the neo-Nazis vigilantes patrolling Pinal County, is it? (OK, they haven't shot anyone that we know of, but they're armed and ready.) Why are we as a country sliding backward from racial equality and tolerance for "the other"?

I blame extremist politicians and media personalities who twist the facts.. and sometimes just plain lie (1, 2). I'm not going into how irresponsible and destructive Faux News celebrities like Glen Beck, Sarah Palin, Sean Hannity, and Bill O'Reilly are but instead will focus on Arizona politicians' lies and the related facts.

Arizona's Republican politicians-- particularly those running for office-- have been fanning the flames of xenophobia to further their political careers. Unelected Republican Governor Jan Brewer, septuagenarian Senator John McCain and his senatorial sidekick Joh Kyl, and Arizona Legislator Russel "Father of SB1070" Pearce are four politicians who obviously do not employ fact-checkers.

A few weeks ago, Brewer made headlines when she accused most border crossers of being drug dealers and talked about beheadings in the desert. (For a video, try this link.) Presented with the facts, she tried to mumble her way out of it. Although McCain flip-flops on multiple issues with impunity, recently he and Kyl have been beating the border enforcement and fear drums, along with Right-Wing Anchor Baby Pearce, who has no need for facts in his rhetoric.

So where is the truth? In yesterday's part 1 on The Rest of the Story, I quoted several polls that show most Americans favor comprehensive immigration reform and a path to citizenship. Today, I'll offer some statistics to debunk the lies being told by politicians who hope to capitalize on your fear.

40 people have died in the desert since July 1, 2010. Pima County's Medical Examiner is quoted as saying, this could be "the deadliest month of all time." These people are not ranchers or drug dealers; they are undocumented border crossers-- los desconocidos-- the unknown dead who come to the US everyday for work and a new life. According to the No More Deaths website, 153 have died in the desert since October 1, 2009.

Ironically, although more people are dying in the desert this year, fewer people are crossing the border illegally. According to the Arizona Daily Star, "Apprehensions in the Border Patrol's Tucson Sector have decreased each of the past five years; remittances to Mexico have declined and anecdotal reports show the economic recession has slowed illegal immigration. Yet more people are dying than ever."

Brewer, McCain, and others have blamed undocumented border crossers for beheadings, home invasions, murders, and kidnappings. In actuality, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the violent crime rate in Arizona has been decreasing since it peaked in 1993. (It will be interesting to see if Arizona's violent crime rate increases after the new "Constitutional" Carry law goes into effect next week.)

Again, according to Bureau of Justice Statistics, Tucson ranks 38th in crime-- far behind heartland cities like Columbus, Ohio and Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Many US citizens are heavily armed, and people get shot everyday. As this blogger points out, when someone is shot in DC, no one calls for thousands of troupes to be deployed.

Unfortunately, in US politics, facts don't matter much, and according to a research study reported by National Public Radio (NPR), people don't generally change their minds-- even when presented with facts. Sigh.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Immigration reform: the rest of the story

Repeatedly, news outlets have reported that a majority of US and Arizona citizens support SB1070. More often than not, those reports do not provide the question(s) asked to determine that finding. For example, an early Rasmussen poll asked if people thought it was acceptable for police to ask for identification during a traffic stop. Most people said, "Sure. That's OK," since it is already standard procedure to ask for a drivers' license, registration, and proof of insurance. The problem with SB1070 is that it goes far beyond that (1,2).

An article from yesterday's Daily Kos quotes several other surveys that are not getting the same media attention as the pro-SB1070 polls. For example:

Did you know that most US citizens favor comprehensive immigration reform, including a path to citizenship -- particularly for undocumented workers who have been here for years? The Daily Kos quotes not one but four independent polls that revealed those results. Check the link for full details from these surveys conducted by the Associated Press, CNN, CBS/New York Times, and other reputable sources.

Even though the bill has not become law yet, SB1070 is already creating consequence beyond lawsuits, convention cancellations, protests, pizza boycotts, and the meteoric rise in Governor Jan Brewer's popularity.

We are seeing an increase in aggressive law enforcement by law officers and armed vigilantes. Last week, on the same day that the SB1070 hearing started in the courts, Sheriff Joe Arpaio conducted a desert raid with 100 of his men in the outskirts of Maricopa County. (How much did that cost to round up 11 people who were in the wrong place at the wrong time with brown skin?) In addition, we have civilian neo-Nazis patrolling the desert in Pinal County.

Seriously, folks, do we really want to live in a police state where big white boys with dangerous toys fan out across the desert looking for exhausted border-crossers to shoot? Enough is enough. I don't want to live in a heavily armed, extremist police state. This is what the Republican Legislature has given us with SB1070 and the new gun law SB1108. Both laws go into effect next week.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Sky Bar out of touch with clientele on SB1070

What started as another xenophobic law proposed by wingnut Republican Russel Pearce, SB1070 could be labeled the Ultimate Law of Unintended Consequences.

In addition to helping our GED-toting, unelected governor vanquish her Republican primary opponents, the ill-conceived bill has become a national sensation, fodder for comedians, rationale for boycotts, and the deciding factor on where to buy pizza in Tucson.

In early July, the humanitarian group No More Deaths started We Mean Business, the business-friendly answer song to Congressman Raul Grijalva's call for boycotts of Arizona after passage of SB1070. Approximately 90 local businesses agreed to post anti-SB1070 We Mean Business or We Reject Racism signs in their establishments. The rationale was that flaming liberals like me who oppose SB1070 would know which businesses to frequent and which to... well... boycott. (For a list of these businesses and a map, click here.)

Given the huge economic impact of Mexican shoppers in Arizona-- $7.3 million per day-- it makes good business sense to oppose SB1070.

According to the No More Deaths website, businesses interested in participating in the We Reject Racism movement are asked to take the following three actions:

- Post the “We Reject Racism” sign to publicly oppose SB1070

- Not allow law enforcement into their business for the sole purpose of checking immigration status of people inside*

- Not financially supporting lawmakers who voted for SB1070

*Legally businesses have the right to prevent anyone from entering or ask them to leave. The exception for law enforcement is if they have a warrant for someone inside or believe an individual is an immediate danger to the public.

Tony Vaccaro, owner of Brooklyn's Pizza and the adjoining Sky Bar on 4th Avenue, was one of the Tucson businessmen who initially supported We Mean Business 2 weeks ago. In a turn of events, Vaccaro took the We Mean Business signs down this week and contacted the Arizona Daily Star stating his flip-flop support of SB1070.

Vaccaro is quoted in the Star as saying that after having read SB1070, he now agrees with it. The Star also quotes Vaccaro as saying, "...I do not believe that businesses should get involved in politics. That is for individuals, politicians and lobby groups. I feel that I have let some of my customers down by getting involved in the SB 1070 debate."

Businesses shouldn't get involved in politics? Has this guy been living in a cave? The corporatists control our elected officials, run our country-- and are trying to run our city!

I find it hard to believe that he really thinks he let his customers down by opposing SB1070 and racism. Vaccaro's 2 businesses-- Brooklyn's Pizza and Sky Bar-- are in the heart of the 4th Ave shopping district-- nestled between the University of Arizona, the downtown arts district, and Tucson High School (whose student population is less than 50% Anglo).

Personally, I liked (note the past tense) Sky Bar. The open, airy venue features affordable pizza and adult beverages, theme nights, eclectic live music, and dancing. The downtown crowd is far from white bread-- being diverse in race, ethnicity, age, and sexual orientation. Vaccaro's new position on SB1070 is out of step with them.

Artists for Action, another anti-SB1070 movement that popped up in July, may give Vaccaro-- who hires dozens of musicians to play at his club and whose clientele includes local artists-- some heart burn.

Spearheaded by Calexico's John Convertino and Joey Burns, Artists for Action urges artists and musicians to take a stand against SB1070 and help educate the public. The group is not advocating boycotts; in fact, it is encouraging out-of-state musicians to come to Arizona and voice their opposition to SB1070 -- rather than boycotting in protest.

Who will win this tug of war? Hopefully, not the xenophobes or those who exploit immigrants (documented or not).

Friday, July 9, 2010

53,000 a day: Brother can you spare a dime?

53,000 people are losing their unemployment benefits a day, according to the Ed Schultz Show on Thursday.

While the Senate quibbles about how or if unemployment benefits should be extended, people's lives are being destroyed.

It's time that we ask everyone who is running for statewide or federal office:
How will you prevent joblessness from becoming homelessness?

A great follow-up question for candidates like J.D. Hayworth, who relies heavily on his "Christian values" in his advertising, would be:
What would Jesus do?

A follow-up question for the Republicans would be:
Do you really want to push unemployment higher to improve your election chances? (If so, that's despicable.)

Here is a list of candidates' websites. Go ahead, ask 'em! Call them! Write to them! Or better yet, ask them at a public event!

US Senate
Rodney Glassman(D)
Randy Parrez (D)
John Dougherty (D)
John McCain (R)
J.D. Hayworth (R)
Jim Deakin (R)

Arizona Governor
Terry Goddard (D)
Jan Brewer (R)
Buz Mills (R)
Dean Martin (R)

Congressional District 8
Gabrielle Giffords (D)
Johnathan "Payday Loan" Paton (R)
Jesse Kelly (R)
Andy Gross (R) (This guy needs a new webmaster. His campaign website doesn't come up.)
Brian Miller (R)

Congressional District 7
Raul Grijalva (D)
Ruth McClung (R)
Christopher Flowers (R)
Robert Wilson (R)

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Council sends sales tax and charter changes to Nov ballot

An overflow crowd attended yesterday's Tucson City Council meeting to offer opinions and hear decisions on 3 major issues: a half-cent increase in the cap on city sales tax, a major revision to the Land Use Code, and proposed changes to the City Charter.

With split decisions, both the increase in the sales tax cap and the charter changes will be on the November 2010 ballot.

On the sales tax vote, Councilmen Steve Kozachik and Paul Cunningham were the dissenters. If voters approve raising the cap on city sales tax in November, this does not actually raise the sales tax; it allows for it to be increased in the future.

On the charter changes, Council members Regina Romero, Richard Fimbres, and Karin Ulich followed the will of the people they represent and voted "no." At public hearings in Wards 1, 3, and 5, there was strong opposition from neighborhoods and city residents against the City Charter changes proposed by business leaders represented by the Southern Arizona Leadership Council.

Only the changes in the Land Use Code received unanimous support from the Council. Several members said they were supporting these changes because it will help rid our city of blighted buildings by speeding development.

Mayor Bob Walkup remarked that the vote on the Land Use Code should answer detractors that call the city government unfriendly to business.

For more detailed information, check out the Arizona Daily Star or watch the lengthy meeting at Tucson Channel 12.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

7/7: A day of decisions for the Tucson City Council

Today--July 7-- will be a day of decisions for the Tucson City Council. It is the last day to decide what will be on the November ballot.

Two major ballot initiatives will be decided this evening-- the changes to the Tucson City Charter, proposed by business leaders in Southern Arizona Leadership Council (SALC), (1,2,3,4) and a half-cent sales tax to fund "core services" (ie, public safety, street maintenance, and parks and recreational services).

Political theater begins downtown at 9 a.m. with a jam-packed study session.

The Mayor and Council Meeting, which begins at 5:30 p.m., also has a full agenda. There will be time for public comment on the proposed city charter changes, the sales tax, and other issues.

Somewhat overshadowed by these two highly publicized agenda items, another issue that is near-and-dear to neighborhoods--proposed changes to the City Land Use Code-- also will be decided tonight. The draft ordinance can be viewed here. Neighborhood activists are concerned about the change to the Certificate of Occupancy ordinance. Here is information distributed by my neighborhood association (emphasis added).

The Mayor and Council will be considering a proposal for a change in how a property owner can obtain a Certificate of Occupancy when reusing an existing structure. If passed, this Certificate of Occupancy "waiver" would permit property owners to lease their commercial buildings without meeting virtually all of the Land Use Code requirements. These non-rules will apply to any commercial property where the owner submits an aerial photograph from 2005 to prove that no additions have been made to the property. The ordinance does not require the city to conduct a physical check of the subject property to confirm this.

We have numerous concerns with the Certificate of Occupancy ordinance which was basically written by those having a financial interest in leasing their properties. Removing 80 pages of Land Use Code requirements for a select group of property owners may have unintended consequences for neighborhoods and existing businesses. Additionally, this ordinance does not contain any credible enforcement provision that will ensure violations are addressed nor does it take in account any past neighborhood concerns about a given site which have not been recorded as past zoning violations.

This is an example of what gets crafted when the process is flawed, both in who has a seat at the table to contribute to the drafting of the ordinance and how an ordinance is evaluated by the Planning Commission.

Basically the neighborhood associations mistrust the businesses who have crafted this streamlined ordinance and want a seat at the table when ordinances that may negatively impact neighborhoods are drawn up. Interestingly enough this same mistrust of business was crystal clear at the Wards 1-5 public hearings on the proposed City Charter changes last week.

It's no wonder that the neighborhoods mistrust business owners-- especially in midtown and downtown historic neighborhoods. The Feldman's Neighborhood, which is on the National Registry of Historic Places, is quickly losing ground and historic homes to Michael "Mini-dorm" Goodman who is single-handedly destroying large swaths of Tucson's historic architecture to make a quick buck by building a "mini-dorm ghetto." Having watched the Feldman's Neighborhood drama makes me skeptical of the proposed Certificate of Occupancy changes.

Have an opinion on any of these issues? Feel free to comment here or better yet, call or write your City Council representative or come to the meetings today!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Brewer, beheadings, and those pesky facts

You're entitled to your own opinions but not your own set of facts.
-- Senator Harry Reid, during the televised bipartisan healthcare negotiations.

Those pesky facts. We don't like facts in Arizona-- or science for that matter.

Arizona Legislator Russel Pearce's penchant for making up facts about undocumented workers has catapulted him and his baby (SB1070) to national notoriety.

Not to be outdone, unelected Republican Governor Jan Brewer has started ginning up fear-mongering sound bites about beheadings and drug-smuggling illegal immigrants to keep ahead of her fellow reactionary ideologue Republican challengers in the governor's race.

Although right-wingers would like to blame convention cancellations and a tourism slump on Congressman Raul Grijalva's call for an Arizona boycott, Brewer is doing her part to further destroy the state's economy by signing SB 1070 and continuing to tell blatant lies about undocumented border crossers, the drug trade, and violence in Arizona.

Rather than rehash the facts -- or lack of them. Here are a few well-written blog posts on the subject:

Follow the Yellow Brick Road… “Gun-Fighting, Drug-Smuggling, Be-Headings, Oh My!”

Beheadings & Tourism. That's the Ticket.

Gov. Jan Brewer and Sen. John McCain lying with impunity
This one includes a video link to Brewer lying about illegals beheading innocent Arizonans.

Quick Thought of the Day

And here are 2 stories about the $250,000 public relations campaign-- started by Governor Brewer to combat the boycott Arizona fervor. Now it looks as if the PR folks also will be battling Brewer's own negative campaign tactics. (And this woman is somehow ahead in the polls???)

AZ battles negative image


I hope Brewer enjoys the protest rallies at the governors' conference this coming weekend.

Send 3-year-olds to school? The French do...

All-day kindergarten was one of the victims of Republican budget cuts this year. Ignoring the scientific research on the benefits (1,2) of early education, right-wingers in the Legislature and the Goldwater Institute said there was no data to prove it. (Ironically, this "no supporting data" argument was ignored when they funded abstinence only education, but that's a story for another time.)

Repeatedly Arizona's short-sighted Legislature has chosen to ignore our most vulnerable citizens by cutting education funding and thus forcing teacher layoffs, larger class sizes, shorter school years, and school closings. Arizona actually spends less per student than it did in 1987.

The crux of the problem is that Arizona's Republican Governor and Legislature see public education as an unnecessary expense-- not an investment in the state's future.

When compared to other states, our rugged individualism has earned us the #50 slot in education funding and the #5 slot in jobs that don't require a high school education. When compared to European countries, Arizona's public education efforts are paltry, at best.

Today, National Public Radio (NPR) aired a story about early childhood education in France, where all 3- and 4-year-olds attend public school.

"Society as a whole [not just students and parents] benefits from this," said one French education official. Early childhood education is "not an expense but an investment."

France's Ecole Maternal -- a nationwide, state-supported preschool-- gives all French children the same start in life-- regardless of income, gender, race or religion. According to the NPR reporter, the French view the Ecole Maternal as a symbol of their Republican Revolution, which toppled the French monarchy and brought equal rights and equal treatment for all citizens (including women).

In the US, preschool is a patchwork, and the determining factor is money. People who can afford it send their children to high-priced preschools (which offer a variety of stimulating experiences), hire in-home nannies, and/or have at least one stay-at-home parent.

Children growing up in middle and lower class homes have limited choices-- low-cost preschools and day cares; preschool scholarships; care by family members or unlicensed baby-sitters; Head Start. For these families, all-day kindergarten helped their children catch up, and now it's gone.

I know that the do-it-for-the-children, pro-education argument falls on deaf ears in the Arizona Legislature, but let's look at this as capitalists. How can the US -- and particularly Arizona-- compete economically inn the global marketplace with an uneducated workforce?

Don't get me wrong. I am not promoting a government requirement that would force parents to send all 3- and 4-year-olds to school. I am advocating for equal opportunities in education -- and life. Arizona needs an attitude adjustment; we need more "liberty, equality, and fraternity" and less "I got mine; screw you."

Arizona voters approved a new sales tax to fund education in May. We need to make sure the Legislature spends these funds wisely.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Community residents want more time, more inclusiveness in charter change process

At Thursday's combined Wards 1 and 5 public hearing, the message was loud and clear: The city should take more time and include more stakeholders in the process to change the city's charter.

Approximately 50 community residents and neighborhood leaders attended the hearing hosted by City Council members Regina Romero (Ward 1) and Richard Fimbres (Ward 5). Although she hosted her own public hearing earlier in the week, City Councilwoman Shirley Scott (Ward 4) also came to listen to south and west side residents.

The evening began with presentations by Pima County Democratic Party chair Jeff Rogers (above), who talked about forms of government and the need to update Tucson's charter; Southern Arizona Leadership Council consultant Jim Kaiser, who reviewed SALC's proposed changes to the charter; and City Attorney Mike Rankin, who reviewed the specific charter text changes.

Following these formal presentations, several neighborhood leaders, political activists, and residents took to the microphone.

Former City Councilman Steve Leal led the public comment portion of the evening by admonishing the current City Council to retain the system of checks and balances in city government and not relinquish their power to the city manager. Among other things, SALC's proposed charter changes would strengthen the role of the unelected city manager by eliminating civil service protection for several upper-level city positions and giving the city manager the power to hire and fire key personnel without the consent of the City Council.

Leal warned that concentrating power under an unelected manager would weaken the city's elected government and distance it from the voters.

Who holds the power of government, dissatisfaction with the lack of inclusiveness in the charter change process, and a general distrust of the business leaders who comprise SALC were three themes that echoed throughout the evening.

"This whole thing is about power-- who has it, who doesn't, and who wants it," said Angie Quiroz, president of the Santa Rita Park neighborhood.

"This is not about governance. It's about the balance of power," said Mark Mayer, Ward 6 resident. Mayer and several other Ward 6 citizens attended the Ward 1-5 meeting because Ward 6's Steve Kozachik, the City Council's sole Republican, decided not to hold public hearings on the charter changes.

"We know the relationship that the SALC business leaders have with their workers and the unions," remarked Jim Hannley, president of the El Rio Neighborhood and political activist. "And they wonder why we don't trust them?"

"Be careful that we are not privatizing city government through the back door," warned community activist Delores Grayam, who likened this process to the gradual privatization of education in Arizona.

"We're spending an enormous about of money [to put this on the ballot], and the question is: Is this going to improve the city?" asked Ward 6 resident Bob Clark. He and others suggested having the charter change to increase the mayor and council's salaries and the proposed 1/2 cent hike in city sales tax on the ballot together could torpedo both measures. Even though the salary increases are budget neutral, voters may think the two initiatives are linked and vote both down.

Repeatedly speakers told the City Council to slow the process down, gather more community input, and delay the charter changes beyond the November 2010 election. Unbundling the four charter changes also was suggested several times by residents and by Pima County Recorder F. Ann Rodriguez, who manages the local election process.

Rodriguez warned that if voters don't like one item in the bundle, they will vote "no" on the group of charter changes. Indeed, this was evident in last night's public testimony; people liked some suggestions but not others. For example, most speakers acknowledged that the mayor and council positions should be full-time and earn full-time pay, but many disliked giving the city manager more power. The pros and cons of a strong mayor vs strong city manager form of government also was discussed.

According to the Arizona Daily Star, the Ward 3 Councilwoman Karin Ulich heard much the same messages at her charter change public hearing the night before.

For a recap of the Ward 1-5 hearing, check Tucson Channel 12 who interviewed community residents and taped the public event.

On Wednesday, July 7 the Tucson City Council will decide whether to put the City Charter changes on the November 2010 ballot.

This article originally appeared in my Progressive Examiner column.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Senate Republicans block extension of unemployment benefits... again

Senate Republicans-- including Arizona's John McCain and Jon Kyl-- have repeatedly blocked extension of unemployment benefits in recent weeks.

Since benefits started to expire in May, more than 1 million Americans have lost their unemployment benefits.

Ironically, the same people, who spent like drunken sailors and cut taxes for the rich (thus reducing the country's revenue) during the Bush years, now use the we-must-live-within-our-means excuse when asked to support measures that will help working class Americans.

"The debate has little to do with economic reality and everything to do with political posturing," according to the NY Times.

At the same time they were ignoring millions of jobless Americans, Republicans worked to preserve loopholes in the banking reform legislation that would benefit wealthy money mangers and stopped moves which would halt tax avoidance by some small businesses-- thus ignoring 2 strategies that would nip away at the deficit.

The Republicans don't care about reducing the deficit; they're just using it as an excuse to say, "no" to Main Street Americans, while continuing to say "yes" to Wall Street.

The Congress has now left DC for an Independence Day break. Too bad McCain doesn't have any campaign events planned for this weekend. It would have been a great opportunity for jobless Arizonans to ask him about his vote.

July 1, 2010: The first day of the rest of your life

Today, a major wave of healthcare reforms begins.

Today, most importantly, the pre-existing condition dies. You can no longer be denied health insurance because you have a pre-existing condition.

If you are among the one in five Americans with a pre-existing condition and you have been denied healthcare insurance, you can sign up for a high-risk healthcare pool today.

Of course, since this system was designed by Congress, it's a bit complicated to apply. And, since state's like to hold some power, there will be some variability across states. For example, according to the LA Times, the rates for high-risk pools could vary from $140 to 900 per month. BUT, the main point is that you will not be denied coverage.

Ironically, some states that beat the states' rights drum most often-- like Arizona!-- have asked the feds to run their high-risk pools. Twenty-one states want the federal government to run their programs, while 29 others will be running their own high-risk pools.

What does all of this mean to you and your family? Check out the government's newly designed The site includes an easy-to-use interactive tool to help you find plans in your state.

For more background, the Los Angeles Times has an extensive series of articles related to reform.