Will it be Progress or Treason? The Morning after Prop. 204

Prop 204 3

On November 7, Tucson residents will go to the polls to vote for City Council members in Wards 3, 5, and 6. They will also cast ballots on several propositions, including Proposition 204, aka “Strong Start Tucson.” If it passes, Prop. 204 will increase the Tucson city sales tax by one half-cent and generate an estimated $50 million a year to pay for as many as 8,000 children to attend high-quality preschool. If the proposition fails, we must closely examine what our elected Democratic leadership does next. Will they act in the name of progress, or will they choose inaction and thereby betray the values they claim to defend?

Increased funding for early childhood education is a Democratic Party no-brainer, but several Democratic state legislators, the Mayor of Tucson, and all of our City Council members (minus Ward 3’s Karen Uhlich, who isn’t running for re-election) have joined forces with Jim Click and the Koch Brothers to push for Prop. 204’s defeat. Mr. Click is particularly opposed to Strong Start Tucson; he has spent more than $80,000 spearheading the “No on Prop. 204” campaign. The reasons for this strange alliance can be divided between the nefarious and the virtuous, which will only become visible if Prop. 204 fails.

Prop. 101 vs Prop. 204:
How many police cars equal one preschool?

Exactly how and why the Koch brothers, Jim Click, and the majority of Southern Arizona’s elected Democratic officials teamed up to oppose increased funding for early childhood education is a question the local media has been surprisingly incurious about. However this coalition is extraordinary, and perhaps unprecedented. One possible explanation would, if true, confirm our worst suspicions about politics as mud-bathing and mutual back-scratching, and expose these officials as deeply duplicitous.

On May 16, 2017, 61% of Tucson city voters passed Proposition 101, a five year, 0.5% increase in the city sales tax to pay for road improvements and for new and upgraded fire and police equipment. Prop. 101 was endorsed and actively supported by our Democratic Mayor and City Council. It was also endorsed by the Tucson Metro Chamber of Commerce, and unopposed by millionaire Republican financier Jim Click – neither of whom generally favors any kind of tax increase, for any reason. If Strong Start Tucson fails at the ballot box, it may be in part because the Mayor and City Council made a deal with Mr. Click and the Chamber; Democratic leaders would oppose Prop. 204, if the conservative business community didn’t oppose Prop. 101.

Let us pause here for a moment in defense of pragmatism and good, honest government. Politics involves compromise, and more compromise, and not scuttling the practical good in order to achieve the impossible perfect. If the Mayor and City Council sincerely believed that it would be in Tucson’s best interests to trade Prop. 204 for Prop. 101, that may well have been a rational, utilitarian calculation. However the Democratic Party forces that are passionately denouncing Strong Start Tucson have never made this argument, and our elected officials have studiously avoided it. As politics is not a nursery, so too voters are not nurslings. If our elected officials believe we need to prioritize police and fire and roads over schools, they should come out and say so. Of course if voters disagree it might cost them their next election, but that is precisely how democracy is supposed to work. If our leaders value their jobs more than they value our fully informed consent, then they forfeit all right to call themselves Democrats. Or democrats.

Hopefully the scurrilous allegation that our elected officials sold our children to Jim Click in exchange for a few roads and police cars is false. Thankfully we have a unique opportunity to find out. If Strong Start Tucson fails on November 7, we will see what kind of Democrats really lead Southern Arizona. If they are true to their word, in 2018 they will propose the most progressive Democratic public education agenda in recent history.

Will Democrats be democrats?

I am a big supporter of Strong Start Tucson, and I know there are genuine, well-meaning arguments for and against its passage. I will not rehash them all here; The Arizona Daily Star, the Tucson Sentinel, and The Tucson Weekly have all printed multiple, detailed pro- and anti-Prop. 204 pieces. However for the sake of this argument some of the opposition’s points bear repeating:

  • Prop. 204 only funds early education for approximately 8,000 children, and therefore unjustly excludes tens of thousands of Tucson kids.
  • It will only fund Tucson schools, and therefore unjustly excludes tens of thousands of Pima County kids.
  • The state legislature has been chronically under funding Arizona schools for a very long time. They broke our education system, so they and not the city should be the ones who fix it.
  • Funding school expansion with sales tax revenue is regressive. Schools should be funded with far more equitable property and / or income tax increases.

If these arguments, which have been advanced by our Southern Arizona Democratic leadership, reflect a genuine concern for implementing a better early education system than the one Prop. 204 advances, then our Democratic leaders will wake up the day after Prop. 204’s defeat and push hard for well-funded, progressive educational policy at the city, county, and state levels. If our City Council has genuine policy objections to Prop. 204, and its opposition is not rooted in a cold-blooded political calculation that favors police cars over school buses, then the Council’s 2018 education agenda will be one for the record books. If the lack of early childhood education is the fault of the denizens of the state capitol, then come January our Democratic legislative caucus will introduce bills to institute state-wide, income tax-funded pre-kindergarten for all Arizona children. If funding schools with a sales tax hike is regressive, then our party will insist that our Democratic elected officials use legislative sessions to openly advocate for raising property and income tax dollars for schools.

Let us give our elected officials the benefit of the doubt, and assume they are not lying to our faces when they say they oppose Prop. 204 because it isn’t in the best interests of our children. Let us assume they are sincerely interested in funding pre-k for all Southern Arizona children. Finally, let us presume that our leaders are innocent until proven guilty of selling their ideals and our children’s future to Jim Click and the Koch brothers for the price of some roads and police cars.

At the same time, let us not forget our leaders’ insistence that, “Education is the key to success but Prop. 204 is not the right answer.” Come 2018, if Prop. 204 fails then all local Democrats should look forward to our City Council and state legislative caucus telling us precisely what the right answer is. If they do not, if the sound of education reform in city hall and the state capitol is the deafening sound of silence…Well, at least we know the value our elected officials place on telling us the truth, and bettering our children’s futures. We will know that, to them, our families and our democracy are worth a whole lot less than the price of a police car.

– Joel Feinman

The Three Problems with Kyrsten Sinema or: How Democrats Learned to Stop Worrying and Welcome the Apocalypse

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On September 28, Democrat Kyrsten Sinema, U.S. Representative from Arizona’s 9th congressional district in Phoenix since 2012, announced her intent to seek retiring Republican Senator Jeff Flake’s seat in the 2018 election. Media outlets are calling this good news for Democrats, hailing Ms. Sinema as a “top-tier” candidate due to her fundraising prowess and “her moderate, even GOP-friendly politics [that match] the state’s red-to-purple-ish profile.” And while Ms. Sinema will have to beat at least one other Democrat in the primary – Phoenix attorney Deedra Abboud – social media is already ringing with calls for Democrats to unify behind and vote for Ms. Sinema in the general election next November, because “she’s the only real candidate” and “she’s better than (Republican).”

The problem with these pleas is that Ms. Sinema embodies everything that is wrong with the Democratic Party. Her candidacy, even or perhaps especially if successful, will remind Americans once again just how little Democrats seem to care about electing real, inspiring leaders to public office who will change our state and our country for the better.


The Political

“I actually did vote for it before I voted against it.” – John Kerry

Ms. Sinema began her political career as a progressive, working on Ralph Nader’s 2000 presidential campaign and joining “Women in Black,” an anti-war organization which held vigils and protests against the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan in the early 2000s “till there’s no more war,” as Ms. Sinema herself stated. When she ran unsuccessfully for the State Legislature as an independent in 2002 with the support of the local Green Party, for which she once served as a spokeswoman, she was dubbed “too extreme” by the Arizona Democratic Party.

Later electoral success saw Ms. Sinema race away from her past, and the more elections she won the further she “evolved” away from her progressive roots. In 2011, while serving in the Arizona State House of Representatives, Ms. Sinema went on television and expressed her adoration for Russell Pearce, Godfather of SB1070, the breathtakingly racist anti-immigrant bill that made Arizona the rightful focus of international scorn.

I’d love to see him run for congress…Actually, I love Russell. We get along very well, not always on policy matters, but on personal matters we do.”

Yet it was in 2012, after Ms. Sinema was first elected to Congress from Arizona’s 9th congressional district, when she shed all qualms about throwing disabled people, sick people, war refugees, consumers and immigrants under the bus for the sake of her naked political ambition. What follows is a list of some of her more egregious congressional votes.

  • Co-sponsor with Matt Salmon of  H.R.4122 “Visa Waiver Program:” suspends the waiver program for individuals who in the last five years have traveled to Iran, Sudan, Syria, Afghanistan, Egypt, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, and Nigeria. Allows the U.S. Secretary of State to add additional countries to the threat list at any time.
  • Co-sponsor of H.R.620 “ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017:” removes incentives for businesses to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
  • Co-sponsor of H.J.R.81: balanced budget constitutional amendment.
  • Yes on H.R.3004 “Kate’s Law:” toughens penalties for people repeatedly caught crossing the border without proper documentation.
  • Yes on H.R.3219 “Make America Secure Appropriations Act:” appropriates $1.6 billion for a border wall.
  • Yes on H.R.3697 “Criminal Alien Gang Member Removal Act:” increases federal agents’ ability to detain and deport non-citizens solely because they live in an immigrant neighborhood considered to be “gang-affiliated.”
  • Yes on H.R.3003 “No Sanctuary for Criminals Act:” strips federal grant money from sanctuary cities.
  • Yes on H.R.411: opposes the nuclear peace deal with Iran.
  • Yes on H.R.567: establishes a committee to investigate the 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya, widely seen as a political stunt to damage Hillary Clinton’s presidential prospects.
  • Yes on H.R.238 “Commodity End-User Relief Act:” weakens Dodd-Frank financial reforms and cuts $32 million from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau budget.
  • Yes on H.R.30 “Save American Workers Act:” guts the employer mandate of the Affordable Care Act by defining full-time work at 40 hours a week, from the current 30 hour standard.
  • Yes on H.R.2997 “21st Century AIRR Act:” privatizes the United States Air Traffic Control system by removing it from the control of the Federal Aviation Administration and handing it over to private, for-profit industry.
  • Yes on H.R.2581 “Verify First Act:” prevents people from accessing health care through the Affordable Care Act until their citizenship status has been verified.
  • Yes on H.R.3350 “Keep Your Health Plan Act:” allows insurers to keep offering health plans that do not meet certain minimum requirements of the Affordable Care Act.
  • Yes on H.R.2936 “Resilient Federal Forests Act:” weakens conservation laws and expedites logging and tree thinning in national forests, potentially putting communities at higher risk of fire, flooding and degraded drinking water quality.
  • No on H.C.R.71: House Democratic Caucus substitute for the 2018 Republican budget proposal.
  • Yes on H.R.510: Extends section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which allows the NSA to warrantlessly target people in other countries who are communicating with Americans, and collect the personal communications of those Americans without their knowledge.

There is one more vote that is particularly galling. Ms. Sinema voted yes on H.R.4038, the “American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act,” which prevents Syrian and Iraqi refugees from being resettled in the United States until “tighter vetting processes” can be put in place. Never mind that the current process is already regarded as the “world’s most successful and secure.” Ms. Sinema’s vote demonstrates how thoroughly she has abandoned whatever moral compass she built through her Master of Social Work degree, her Ph.D. in Justice Studies, and her tenure as a former president of the non-profit group Community Outreach & Advocacy for Refugees. That compass seemed fine-tuned to righteous moral indignation in Ms. Sinema’s April 16, 2003, letter to the Arizona Republic, in which she denounced President Bush for trying to involve the U.S. in a war against Syria.

I wonder how long it will take us to invade Syria, kill their civilians, deprive the survivors of food and shelter, destroy their water and electricity systems, plant American flags all over the place and install a U.S. military government — all in the name of freedom?”

Apparently the idea of war-ravaged Syrian refugees is good enough to exploit in a letter to the editor, but their actual existence does not justify giving actual refuge to. Given her political and moral metamorphosis, Ms. Sinema’s Statute of Liberty might now read:

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
As long as they don’t cost, an election, to me.”

Keep in mind that Ms. Sinema’s votes are not akin to clicking “like” on Facebook. They are intended to irrevocably alter the lives of millions of flesh-and-blood people around the world. Nobody is forcing her to make life exponentially more difficult for immigrants, disabled Americans, and consumers; she is freely choosing to do so.

At what price the U.S. Senate?

How far are we willing to go? Where do we draw the line separating policies the Democratic Party is willing to abandon, from policies it insists on preserving? Many will draw it at abortion rights, and claim that Ms. Sinema will protect them while (Republican) will imperil them. Yet this argument invites some questions:

  1. How many people is it okay to shit on in order to protect a candidate who claims to favor abortion rights? (Which only the Supreme Court or a constitutional amendment – not the U.S. Senate – can ultimately imperil at the national level.)
  2. Considering Ms. Sinema’s track record, which rivals a San Diego beach BBQ for flip-flopping, why would anyone, especially a Democrat, doubleplus a progressive, trust any position she purports to hold?
  3. How long will Ms. Sinema’s pro-choice bona fides survive at a time when the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman states that the DCCC will not necessarily withhold financial support from Democratic candidates who oppose abortion rights?

The Democratic Party hinging its support for Ms. Sinema on the basis of her current position on abortion is the Democratic equivalent of a Gorsuch Paradox. Many of us know Republicans who find Donald Trump repugnant in almost every way, but are still glad he won the presidency because he elevated Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. How frustrated we get when we try to explain to our Reaganite friends that Gorsuch’s yuge winning-ness will inevitably diminish in the face of Chinese trade wars that will crater our economy, and North Korean missiles that will crater Tokyo and Seoul! We cannot understand how Republicans excuse and forgive so much misogyny, white supremacy, and unbridled stupidity just to pick up one Supreme Court seat. Yet Democrats are supposed to sit still and be quiet when our party asks us to help throw the disabled, immigrants, and refugees under the bus, just to pick up one Senate seat? That’s bullshit. Hypocritical bullshit – the smelliest kind.

(Editor’s note – We need to guard against the creeping influence of Zarzycki’s law, to wit; “As an online progressive criticism of a Democrat grows longer, the probability of a facile comparison involving Jill Stein supporters and/or Bernie Bros approaches 1.”


The Personal

“In politics, nothing is contemptible.” – Benjamin Disraeli

These are treacherous waters. Ms. Sinema is a smart, aggressive, exceptionally ambitious woman. In American men these traits are lauded, and the White House, Capitol Hill, and the Fortune 500 have always been filled with men who possess them. Yet women who follow this well-worn path are labeled shrill and bitchy, excoriated as unfit for public office, and threatened with politico-sexual assault. This kind of sexism is contemptible, and has erected a very real barrier to women succeeding to their rightfully prominent place in American life.

But a jerk is a jerk, regardless of gender. I ran for local office, am a very active Democrat, and have spent countless hours in the company of dozens of candidates and elected officials from the Democratic, Republican, and Green parties. I was less than impressed by many of them. None of them were anywhere near as big a jerk as Ms. Sinema.

I spent five weekends with her. She was one of the lead instructors at a multi-month political training and leadership seminar I attended in 2013-2014. I spent hours listening to Ms. Sinema pontificate on politics, political messaging and — I kid you not — how much she likes Russell Pearce. She was consistently rude and close-minded. During one break I approached her while she was playing a game on her cell phone, and very politely asked her why she voted to undermine the ACA when she voted yes on H.R. 3350, which would have allowed insurers to keep offering health plans that did not meet certain minimum requirements of the ACA. She snapped at me that she didn’t vote to undermine the ACA, said she would talk about her congressional votes when the entire seminar group reconvened, then turned back to her video game, dismissing me. After the break she never said a word about her vote. Ms. Sinema never discussed any of her votes with us. Her focus was readily apparent; win at all costs, climb the political ladder at all costs. Her single, all-encompassing motivation is personal advancement. She could not care less that our democratic republic demands she represent us, advocate for us, and explain her votes to us. She doesn’t give a shit about us. Yet somehow we are supposed to believe that she cares deeply about gun control, poor people, and the environment? We are supposed to take it on faith that this assiduous fundraiser will go to the U.S. Senate and act in the best interests of the disenfranchised and the dispossessed, who will never be able to donate one penny to her next campaign? We are supposed to ignore her execrable voting record and her contemptuous personality, just because she has a (D) next to her name? Remind me again why us Democrats are so upset that the Republican Party lined up behind a self-involved, money-obsessed reality TV star who doesn’t know the difference between the Chicago School and a preschool, just because he put an (R) next to his name?

I’ll wait.


The Psychological

“At least they are better than the Republican candidate!”
– no passionate, dedicated Democratic Party convert, ever.

Democracy is not a “marketplace of ideas.” Modern cognitive science teaches us that voters do not decide which party or candidate to support based on which side lays out the most compelling and comprehensive data set. Reason and knowledge — the head — play a very small role in voting behavior. It is emotion and feeling — the heart and the gut — that rule the day. Drew Westen and George Lakoff have been telling Democrats this for decades, yet we are shockingly — and self-destructively — unwilling to accept it. We rattle off facts and figures about degrees centigrade the oceans will warm in the next century, number of bullets contained in a high-capacity magazine, and dollar amount that working class citizens pay in health insurance premiums that do not cover pre-existing conditions. Meanwhile, Republicans talk about “guns, God, and country,” and go on to dominate every branch of the federal government and two-thirds of the states.

If we are serious about digging ourselves out of our electoral pit of despair, we need to field Democratic candidates who understand what people are feeling. Our candidates need to speak to voters’ concerns at an emotional level, and our party needs to support those candidates even at the expense of  incumbents and establishment candidates who are less-capable but have “paid their dues.”

Democrats used to speak from the heart and to the heart. Consider President Johnson’s March 15, 1965, address to Congress, one week after police brutally assaulted Dr. Martin Luther King and other civil rights advocates during their march in Selma, Alabama:

I speak tonight for the dignity of man and the destiny of democracy.

I urge every member of both parties, Americans of all religions and of all colors, from every section of this country, to join me in that cause.

At times history and fate meet at a single time in a single place to shape a turning point in man’s unending search for freedom. So it was at Lexington and Concord. So it was a century ago at Appomattox. So it was last week in Selma, Alabama.

There, long-suffering men and women peacefully protested the denial of their rights as Americans. Many were brutally assaulted. One good man, a man of God, was killed.

There is no cause for pride in what has happened in Selma. There is no cause for self-satisfaction in the long denial of equal rights of millions of Americans. But there is cause for hope and for faith in our democracy in what is happening here tonight.

For the cries of pain and the hymns and protests of oppressed people have summoned into convocation all the majesty of this great government – the government of the greatest nation on earth.

Our mission is at once the oldest and the most basic of this country: to right wrong, to do justice, to serve man.”

Consider also Hillary Rodham Clinton’s remarks to the U.N.’s “4th World Conference on Women” plenary session in Beijing on September 5, 1995:

It is a violation of human rights when babies are denied food, or drowned, or suffocated, or their spines broken, simply because they are born girls.

It is a violation of human rights when women and girls are sold into the slavery of prostitution for human greed – and the kinds of reasons that are used to justify this practice should no longer be tolerated.

It is a violation of human rights when women are doused with gasoline, set on fire, and burned to death because their marriage dowries are deemed too small.

It is a violation of human rights when individual women are raped in their own communities and when thousands of women are subjected to rape as a tactic or prize of war.

It is a violation of human rights when a leading cause of death worldwide among women ages 14 to 44 is the violence they are subjected to in their own homes by their own relatives.

It is a violation of human rights when young girls are brutalized by the painful and degrading practice of genital mutilation.

It is a violation of human rights when women are denied the right to plan their own families, and that includes being forced to have abortions or being sterilized against their will.

If there is one message that echoes forth from this conference, let it be that human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights once and for all.”

Now compare Ms. Sinema’s September 28, 2017 video announcing her candidacy for the U.S. Senate. Ms. Sinema makes it clear from the very beginning that this election will be about her. In her three minute and twenty second video she says “I” twenty-four times, “my” six times, and “me” four times.

When talking about why she is running for Senate, Ms. Sinema’s answer is the worst kind of emotionless, non-controversial, professional political consultant-speak.

I want to do more for my country. I have the chance to change things, and help Arizonans every day. Whether it’s a veteran who can’t get his benefits, a widow who needs social security, a businessman who is struggling with red tape, or parents worried their kids won’t have a better life than they have, I get to help people solve their problems. What a privilege.”

That is not inspirational leadership. That is not speaking to the hearts of Americans, or connecting with them on an emotional level. Ms. Sinema says not a word about our hopes and dreams, other than paying lip-service to the “American dream” of success through “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps,” which is itself a profound lie and an insult to the millions of American still suffering from the devastation of the Great Recession.

Ms. Sinema is studiously silent on human rights, civil rights, and advancing the causes of liberty and justice for all. She makes no mention of gun violence, foreign wars, chronic unemployment, or environmental peril. She shows no interest in the challenges faced by people of color, the LGBTQ community, or the millions of Americans subject to mass incarceration.

Per the only text featured in the entire video, the themes of her campaign are, “Real Life Experience,” “Personal Responsibility,” “Duty to Country,” and “Change Washington.” This is cookie-cutter pablum of the first order, meaningless phraseology that has been exhaustively focus-grouped to ensure it is not the least bit controversial or objectionable to anyone. It means nothing and stands for nothing, and has zero emotional impact. It is the polar opposite of:

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”
~ Martin Luther King Jr.

and,

True patriotism springs from a belief in the dignity of the individual, freedom and equality not only for Americans but for all people on earth, universal brotherhood and good will, and a constant and earnest striving toward the principles and ideals on which this country was founded.”
~Eleanor Roosevelt

Ms. Sinema speaks to no values, “hard work” being not a value but a habit. She goes out of her way not to emotionally engage her audience, save for an attempt to make herself relatable by speaking about her impoverished childhood. However, she doesn’t dare talk about poverty, let alone poor people. Ms. Sinema has no ideas, no bold plans, and does not seem to be bothered by our current existential political crisis, other than the vague statement, “Our nation is facing a lot of problems right now, but we can fix these problems if we work together.”

Before we forgive Ms. Sinema her many political and psychological trespasses on the grounds that it is only a three minute and twenty second announcement video in which she must be brief, we need to remember that brevity does not demand vapidness. Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address was 272 words long, and took under three minutes to deliver. Even more importantly, Ms. Sinema is her own person, and her own candidate. No one forced her to spend two-thirds of her announcement talking only about herself. No one forced her to remain silent about the endless array of social, economic, and political issues facing our country. She made those choices.

In her defense, they were honest choices. Ms. Sinema, and far too many Democratic candidates like her, have no interest in speaking to and channeling the hopes and dreams of the American people. They do not want to propose clear, inspirational policies that might help solve our country’s problems, such as universal background checks, single payer health care, or a new New Deal, because that would cost them votes and maybe ultimately their jobs. Thus comes the crux of the matter. At the end of the day Ms. Sinema’s political, personal, and psychological choices reveal her to be nothing more than a careerist. She will change any view, take any vote, and sacrifice any cause upon the altar of her own advancement.

“But she’s still better than (Republican)!”

Okay. Sure. For now. However even if, despite her myriad shortcomings, Ms. Sinema is and will always be “better” than the Republican candidate, the Democratic Party still faces two foundational questions:

  1. Does our party exist to elect self-identified Democrats to office, or does it exist to elect people who hold and act upon democratic values to office?
  2. Does our party really expect to regain political control of the state and the country with the message, “Vote for Democrats, because they are not Republicans?”

That is our party’s message to the American people every time it runs a Kyrsten Sinema for public office. Cognitive science proves that this an absolutely terrible message, and does not win elections. If it did, you would not be reading this in Trump’s America. How different would our country and our party be if we spoke to the hearts and souls of the American people? How much brighter would our party’s future be if Democrats talked to the American people like this;

The hour has come to remind ourselves, and the rest of the world, that we are Americans. The hour has come to remind ourselves, and the rest of the world, that America is the land of the free, and the home of the brave. We will not do this by barring refugees from our shores, or imprisoning and beating and murdering our African-American citizens, or launching unending foreign wars. We will not do this by using taxes to line the pockets of the rich at the expense of the poor, or allowing our factories and roads and bridges to crumble into dust to appease Wall Street.

The hour has come to proclaim that we have no need to make America great again, because the greatness of our people has never waned. It has always beat in the hearts of immigrants, who brave scorching deserts to labor in our fields and our homes while our culture demeans and vilifies them. It has always flowed through the veins of waitresses and carpenters and janitors, who break their backs to support their children at minimum wage and without health care.

The hour has come to reinvigorate the American Dream. This is not a false promise that all will be well if you just try harder, but a solemn vow that we are all in this together. We are only as free and only as rich as the least fortunate among us, and whatsoever we do to the least of our brothers and sisters, we do to ourselves.

The hour has come to make peace with other nations, protect our children from guns, and clean up our planet. The hour has come to wrestle our government away from professional politicians, and give it back to the people. The hour has come to resume our pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness, and rejoice in the fact that regardless of color or creed or class, we are all Americans.”


Epilogue

“Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair! Nothing beside remains ’round
the decay of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare.” – Percy Shelley

Everyday seems to bring news that is worse than the day before. Mass shootings, war, unemployment, government-sanctioned white supremacy, environmental degradation. No person of reason can argue with a straight face that the social, economic, political, or environmental trend lines are positive. If the Democratic Party keeps excusing and supporting candidates like Ms. Sinema, in the hope that their election will somehow lead to a progressive political revolution the next election, or the next next election, we will proceed head-first into the abyss. If we do not today revolutionize our party and our politics, then one day soon the next election will be our last.

– Joel Feinman

Tucson Police and Prosecutors Advance Fight Against Sexual Assault

No means no

Continuing the fight against sexual assault in our community, the Tucson Police Department and the Pima County Attorney’s Office have received a $1 million grant to help process a backlog of 1,200 previously untested rape kits. The grant has already enabled TPD to test 400 kits, allowing officials to connect 61 of those to a DNA profile in a national database. The first sexual assault case that has grown out of the grant program is the prosecution of Nathan Loebe, who was arrested in Kentucky and is now waiting to be extradited back to Tucson. Evidence from some of the rape kits recently tested with money from the new grant connects Mr. Loebe to nearly a dozen counts of sexual assault in Tucson dating back to 2002.

Struggling to prioritize sexual assault prosecutions

Sexual assault is a major problem in our community and at the national level. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18. Making it to adulthood is no guarantee of safety, though, as the NSVRC also estimates that 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lives.

Despite the severity of the problem of sexual violence, it remains a crime that is notoriously under-reported, under-prosecuted, and under-punished. The Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network reports that only 11 out of every 1000 rapists will be referred for prosecution, versus 37 out of 1000 robbers and 105 out of 1000 non-sexual assailants.

sexual assault numbers

Here in Pima County, the disparity between rates of prosecution for sexual crimes and other types of offenses is particularly problematic. For far too long, we have refused to prioritize the prosecution of sexual assault and instead focused on prosecuting non-violent drug offenses. For 11 out of the last 15 fiscal years, the highest percentage of criminal cases the Pima County Attorney filed in Pima County Superior Court were drug cases.

Pima County drug and sex prosecutions

The Arizona Department of Corrections’ own data shows that, as of February 2017, the highest percentage of prisoners in the state – 22.1% – are behind bars for drug offenses. Only 1.3% of prisoners are being held for rape/sexual assault.

February 2017 DOC stats

New $1 million grant helps process TPD’s rape kit backlog

TPD’s crime lab is constantly busy processing evidence from thousands and thousands of criminal cases. According to Police Chief Chris Magnus, the new grant allows TPD to outsource the testing of 1,200 previously untested rape kits, which will help make the detection and prosecution of sexual assault in our community more effective.

It goes without saying that the prosecution of sex crimes should be a top priority of the criminal justice system. The trauma associated with sexual assault can last a lifetime, and lead to a host of difficulties.

Sexual assault survivor stats

Additionally, there is a powerful correlation between surviving sexual assault and later involvement in the criminal justice system. Nearly 50% of imprisoned women that researchers spoke to in one study reported they were abused as children, and 70 – 80% of sexual abuse survivors reported excessive drug and alcohol use later in life.

 Not only will testing old rape kits help bring justice to people who have already been sexually assaulted, it will also help prevent future assaults. Many sexual assailants are repeat offenders. In one study undertaken by researchers from the University of Massachusetts and Brown University School of Medicine, most undetected rapists researchers examined were repeat offenders; almost two-thirds of them raped more than once, and a majority also committed other acts of interpersonal violence, such as battery, child physical abuse, and child sexual abuse. Repeat rapists each committed an average of 6 rapes and/or attempted rapes, and an average of 14 interpersonally violent acts.

The Tucson Police Department and the Pima County Attorney Office’s cooperation in securing the new grant is the kind of law enforcement that should be applauded and encouraged. The more our community steps away from imprisoning non-violent drug offenders, and the more we focus on investigating and prosecuting violent crimes and sex crimes, the safer and more just Pima County will become.

– Joel Feinman

Pima County Residents Owe $126 Million For Mass Incarceration

Taxing away mass incarceration

The staggering costs of mass incarceration

Mass incarceration costs Arizona taxpayers money – a lot of money. According to a comprehensive new report published by the American Friends Service Committee, the Arizona Department of Corrections (DOC) annual budget is now over $1 billion, and makes up 11% of the state’s general fund. That’s an increase of 28.4% over ten years, during which time Arizona’s spending on schools, economic security, and even public safety has decreased. Arizona ranks fourth highest among all 50 states in the percentage of total general fund expenditures on corrections.

Arizona budget spending changes

All Arizona taxpayers pay for DOC, but not all Arizonans make the decisions that drive mass incarceration. On the contrary those decisions rest with just fifteen prosecutors, elected at the county level who have no term limits, and some of whom have held office for decades. They have near total discretion to ease or aggravate the problem of mass incarceration in Arizona. But neither they nor even their voters pay much of the costs of the decisions they make – everybody else does. It is a classic example of the economic theory of negative externalities, meaning the person responsible for a particular action does not bear the cost of that action. Much like nuclear waste, the $1 billion expense of mass incarceration in Arizona harms us all, but it is generated by a very few.

Making mass incarcerators pay their way

Last year Michael McLaughlin, an economic researcher out of Washington University in St. Louis, proposed an intriguing solution to the negative externality problem of mass incarceration. McLaughlin’s paper, “Using a Pigouvian Tax to Reduce Incarceration,” argues that,

Local actors have considerable discretion whether to conduct a search, make an arrest, charge a person with a crime, classify a crime as a misdemeanor or felony, or issue a lengthy prison sentence…One way to correct this negative externality is with a Pigouvian tax. Charging local governments on a per-prisoner basis for the cost of incarceration could induce local actors to internalize the externality and reduce the number of prison admissions.”

A “Pigouvian tax,” named after English economist Arthur Pigou, is just a fancy way of describing a local tax that would apply to the party that generates negative externalities, and would require them to pay the costs of those externalities. An example would be taxing industrial polluters the cost of cleaning up pollution and treating medical issues it causes.

According to DOC, as of February 2017, 12.6% of Arizona prisoners were from Pima County.

Feb 2017 DOC county numbers

If we were to fund the $1 billion Arizona DOC budget with a Pigouvian tax, Pima County residents would pay an additional $126 million in county taxes.

I suspect that if a $126 million tax increase proposal came before the Pima County Board of Supervisors, it would be deeply unpopular. However that should not stop us from considering the justice of McLaughlin’s proposal. Why shouldn’t the people who drive mass incarceration be forced to pay for it, and forced to justify their policies when the economic fallout hits the taxpayers who elected them? Two of the fundamental tenets of conservative government are personal responsibility and paying your own way. Our elected officials, and indeed ourselves, should assume the responsibility of paying for the policies we advocate for. Perhaps it is only when we are required to pay for mass incarceration out of our own pockets that we will demand its end, loudly and permanently.

– Joel Feinman

The erosion of the right to a jury trial

The November 2016 edition of the New York Review of Books featured a disturbing article by U.S. District Judge Jed S. Rakoff on the disappearance of one of our most fundamental rights – trial by jury. His Honor lists many factors that are to blame for Americans’ increasing inability to have their day in court, including rising litigation costs and mandatory arbitration clauses. However he omits discussing the outsized role that American prosecutors have played in severely limiting most American’s right to a jury trial in criminal cases.

The authors of both the U.S. and Arizona constitutions considered the right to a jury trial so sacrosanct that its existence is guaranteed in multiple places. Article II Section 23 of the Arizona Constitution states that “[t]he right of trial by jury shall remain inviolate.” Article III of the U.S. Constitution, as well as the 6th and 7th Amendments to the Constitution also guarantee the right to a jury trial in most civil and criminal cases. But as Judge Rakoff makes clear, this right – which was so foundational to our national self-image that the Declaration of Independence lists King George III’s deprivation of it as one of the British offenses that justified revolution – has been steadily eroding.

The slow death of trial by jury in criminal cases is particularly worrisome. Judge Rakoff mentions that vastly increased mandatory minimum sentences in criminal cases have caused almost every criminal defendant to plead guilty rather than run the risk of serving years, or even decades, in prison (95% of the people charged in state criminal cases plead guilty and forgo a trial). His Honor acknowledges that this has exacerbated the development and institutionalization of mass incarceration nation-wide, which the Judge himself notes “has rightly become a source of shame for our country.”

But Judge Rakoff’s essay, while well-meaning and thoughtful, does not go far enough in ascribing agency to the problems he identifies, particularly within the criminal realm. What His Honor does not mention is that deciding which cases plead out and which go to trial does not fall to the judges who preside over them, or even with the legislators who write state criminal codes. In Arizona as in most states, determining a defendant’s charges, whether to offer them a plea agreement, and what kind of sentence to offer as an enticement to forgo the right to a jury trial rests entirely with the prosecutor. It was elected prosecutors across the nation who lobbied for the passage of mandatory minimum sentencing laws, and who use them daily to frighten defendants into taking plea agreements instead of insisting upon their rights to a trial. A real-life example best illustrates this.

When I was a public defender, I was appointed to represent a client whom I will call Dan. Dan was accused of breaking into a self-storage facility and stealing a stranger’s belongings: a gun, camera equipment, ammunition, a painting, and some electronics. All told the prosecutor accused Dan of stealing 24 items, all on the same day and at the same time. The prosecutor charged Dan with violating Arizona Revised Statue 13-1802(A)(1), which reads, “A person commits theft if, without lawful authority, the person knowingly controls property of another with the intent to deprive the other person of such property.” This crime is punishable by anything between probation and 7.5 years in prison, depending on prior offenses and other circumstances. But here’s the rub. The prosecutor charged Dan with one count of theft for each item he allegedly stole. Dan wasn’t facing a maximum of 2.5 years in prison (the top sentence for that crime for people, like Dan, who have no prior convictions). If he went to trial and lost Dan was facing 2.5 x 24 years – 60 years in prison for breaking into one storage unit, one time.

Imagine facing that choice. Sure, Dan was technically “innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt” like all accused Americans, and sure he had a “right” to a jury trial, but how hollow does that presumption ring and that right become when standing by them means gambling with your life and freedom for committing one act of theft?

This is the true scope of the power of the American prosecutor in the age of mandatory minimum sentencing and discretionary plea agreements. They are the real arbiters of some of our most basic rights and freedoms, and every day in courthouses across the land they decide how meaningful the “right” to a trial really is.

– Joel Feinman

On Shooting A Man Then Shaming Him For Bleeding

blaming the victim for crime 1

Police bias vs. black-on-black crime

The subject of black-on-black crime inevitably arises during any debate about race and racial bias in the criminal justice system. One of its most vocal denouncers is Heather MacDonald, the Thomas W. Smith fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research in New York City. On January 11, she participated in a debate entitled “Is Policing Racially Biased,” and stated that contemporary policing is data driven, and that patterns of policing today do not demonstrate police bias, because police simply go where the crime is. According to Ms. MacDonald, objective statistics show that crime is disproportionately a minority problem.

According to the Justice Department, Blacks die of homicide at six times the rate of whites and Hispanics combined. That’s because Blacks commit homicide at eight times the rate of whites and Hispanics combined according to the Justice Department. In the 75 largest counties of the United States, which is where most of the population resides, Blacks commit over 50% of all violent crime, though they’re 15% of the population in those counties. These crime disparities are repeated in every big American city. Here in New York, Blacks commit 75% of all shootings, though they’re 23% of the population…whites commit 2% of all shootings, though they are 34% of the city’s population. Add Hispanic shootings to black shootings, and you account for 98% of all shootings in New York City. This means that virtually every time the cops are called out to a shooting scene, they’re being called to a minority neighborhood on behalf of minority victims and being given a description of a minority suspect. The cops don’t wish that disparity. It’s a reality forced upon them by the reality of crime.”

There are well-written and well-researched pieces, supported by data, arguing these statistics are “a dodge, it’s a smokescreen, it’s a red herring, it’s bullshit.” But behind the debate over whose statistics are correct lies the question of how much Ms. MacDonald and her fellow travelers actually care about the lives of Black people.

The truth may be that they don’t care very much. The people who protest black-on-black crime the loudest are precisely the same people who vehemently oppose social policies that mitigate the poverty and inequality that so often causes crime. When Ms. MacDonald is not talking about policing, she does not seem the least bit concerned with protecting or enhancing the well-being of African-Americans.

The inseparable illnesses of crime and poverty

Crime does not arise in a vacuum, and none but the most ardent racists believes that one ethnicity is predisposed to commit more crime than others. One of the factors that intuitively and empirically contributes to crime rates is poverty. In 2014, the U.S. Department of Justice published a special report which found that black and white households living in poverty were much more likely to be victims of crime, and were victims of crimes at similar rates. Poverty also tends to create criminals, as two Scottish researchers documented in a groundbreaking study which followed the lives of 4,300 children as they transitioned to adulthood.

Yet poverty is not colorblind. As of February 2015, 1 in 10 Asians and non-Hispanic whites lived below the federal poverty line ($24,600 per year for a family of four), compared to 1 in 4 Hispanic/Latinos, 1 in 3 Native Americans, and over 1 in 4 African-Americans. In absolute numbers, 42% of all poor people are non-Hispanic whites, yet they make up 62.6% of the overall U.S. population.

federal poverty line by ethnicity

Percentage of population by ethnicity living below the federal poverty line

According to the Economic Policy Institute, while the overall U.S. unemployment rate dropped in 35 states in the fourth quarter of 2016, the African-American unemployment rate exceeded the white unemployment rate in every state where Black unemployment rates could be computed. The Black unemployment rate was highest in Washington, D.C. at 13%, while the white unemployment rate was highest in West Virginia at 5.3%. That unemployment picture looks far more dire when we factor into it how many Black men are locked behind bars, and therefore cannot look for work.

black unemployment rate including prison

While there has long been a gulf in wealth between white Americans and people of color (white families have earned on average $2 for every $1 that Black and Hispanic families have earned for the last 30 years), that gap has widened since the 2008 economic crises; by 2013 the average white family had about $632,000 in wealth, versus $98,000 for Black families and $110,000 for Hispanic families. Redlining – the arbitrary denying or limiting of financial services to specific neighborhoods because the residents are people of color or poor – has afflicted communities of color for generations, with economically devastating results.

Decrying the disease but criticizing the cure

Heather MacDonald’s crime stats may or may not be correct, but what they do for certain is falsely insulate crime rates from the old, pernicious problem of race-based poverty that commentators like her either completely ignore or consciously obfuscate.

Ms. MacDonald never digs below the surface to ask why crime rates are so high among communities of color. Nor does she seem very interested in proposing solutions to the crime problem that do not involve additional policing. On the contrary, Ms. MacDonald has been a vocal critic of exactly the kind of social policies intended to alleviate the poverty and systemic inequality that gives birth to high crime rates.

In her 2001 book “The Burden of Bad Ideas: How Modern Intellectuals Misshape Our Society,” Ms. MacDonald dismisses much of New York City’s social welfare programs as “progressive nonsense.” She has condemned putting day care centers in schools to simplify life for teenage mothers, and admitted that she has “always loathed” affirmative action. Ms. MacDonald has also criticized “out-of-wedlock births, particularly among blacks” as the real of cause poverty, and disdainfully asserted that school textbooks have been “revised in accordance with the multiculturalist agenda,” which presents “American history as a morality play whose primary theme is the oppression of virtuous ethnic minorities by a monolithic evil white majority.” She has displayed a startlingly ignorant, ethnocentric view of history by claiming, “The concept of an inclusive, tolerant society is the legacy of the European Enlightenment, and of it alone.” Finally, she has called for limiting Hispanic immigration into the United States, which she views as the importation of an underclass with the potential to expand indefinitely,  and sought to disabuse sentimentalists who cling to “the myth of the redeeming power of Hispanic family values, the Hispanic work ethic, and Hispanic virtue.”

A painful and transparent insincerity

In his masterful work Between The World And Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote,

Black-on-black crime is jargon, violence on language, which vanishes the men who engineered the covenants, who fixed the loans, who planned the projects, who built the streets and sold red ink by the barrel…The killing fields of Chicago, of Baltimore, of Detroit, were created by the policy of Dreamers, but their weight, their shame, rests solely upon those who are dying in them. There is a great deception in this. To yell “black-on-black crime” is to shoot a man and then shame him for bleeding.”

Crime among and between African-Americans cannot be separated from centuries-old policies of racism and oppression, which set the stage and skewed the risers. When criminologists and commentators like Heather MacDonald address the crime problem, they make no attempt to contextualize it or even engage with its historical roots. But Ms. MacDonald uses buzz words to make it seem like her focus on black-on-back crime is motivated by altruism, as she did during her January 11 debate, when she stated, “According to the Justice Department, Bureau of Justice Statistics, blacks die of homicide at six times the rate of whites and Hispanics combined. That, to me, is the civil rights issue that we should be most concerned about.”

This seems to be the very kind of linguistic violence that Ta-Nehisi Coates condemned. While Ms. MacDonald is more than happy to adopt the rhetoric of civil rights to defend American policing, she has consistently and vocally opposed social polices that would benefit the very crime victims she claims to champion. If Ms. MacDonald and other commentators of her ilk cared about the victims of black-on-black crime, or sincerely wanted to prevent such crime from occurring, they would champion school desegregation, oppose voter suppression, insist on investing in urban economic development, and demand radical reform to our failed health and child care systems. Instead Ms. MacDonald does the opposite. She condemns the black people who commit black-on-black crime, then actively opposes policies intended to alleviate the poverty and racism which breed that very criminality.  Ms. MacDonald isn’t just shaming the bleeding man; she is working to ensure an endless supply of blood-sotted shooting victims.

– Joel Feinman

Pima County Attorney Does Not Prosecute Hate Crimes

prosecuting hate crimes 3

The Pima Liberator has obtained copies of every incident designated a “hate crime” by the Tucson Police Department and the Pima County Sheriff’s Department in 2015 and 2016. After analyzing the police reports and court files of every single incident, The Liberator has learned that the Pima County Attorney has not prosecuted a single hate crime in the last two years.

Prosecutors must allege a crime was motivated by hate for it to be punished as a “hate crime”

In April 1990, the U.S. Congress passed The Hate Crimes Statistics Act (28 U.S.C. § 534)  which requires the U.S. Attorney General to collect data about crimes motivated by race, religion, sexual orientation, or ethnicity. The law was amended in later years to include crimes motivated by disabilities, gender and gender identity, and crimes committed by and against juveniles. As a result, Pima County law enforcement agencies make a practice of collecting information on crimes that appear to be motivated by hate towards one of these groups, and reporting that information to the FBI.

Arizona law does not define “hate crimes” as a unique kind of criminal conduct. Instead, Arizona Revised Statutes § 13-701(D)(15) and § 41-1750(A)(3) state that, when a judge decides how to sentence a defendant, they shall consider as an aggravating factor,

Evidence that the defendant committed the crime out of malice toward a victim because of the victim’s…race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender or disability.”

In other words, hate crimes in Arizona are more commonplace crimes such as assault, robbery, and murder that can lead to a harsher sentence if motivated by the victim’s membership in a protected group. However, in order for a judge to make a hate crime finding and sentence a defendant to a longer prison sentence, the prosecutor must first allege that the crime was motivated by hate. This allegation is made in a pleading attached to the formal criminal indictment, which lists what laws a defendant is charged with violating.

In 2015 and 2016 the Pima County Attorney prosecuted zero out of 20 incidents designated by law enforcement as hate crimes

The Pima Liberator obtained copies of all 20 reported incidents that the Tucson Police Department and Pima County Sheriff’s Department designated as hate crimes in 2015 and 2016. All 20 are listed and summarized here.

Among the findings:

  • The Pima County Attorney did not prosecute any of these incidents as a hate crime.
  • 11 of the 20 incidents involved race or color; 7 involved national origin; 7 involved a crime based on sexual orientation; 5 involved religion. (Some incidents were targeted at multiple protected groups.)
  • Only 3 of the 20 incidents resulted in an arrest.
  • 2 of those 3 incidents were prosecuted as misdemeanor disorderly conduct and threatening and intimidating cases – charges not included in Arizona’s current hate crimes laws.
  • Only once did the Pima County Attorney bring felony charges in an incident designated by law enforcement as a hate crime. In January, 2015, a male high-school student assaulted another male student in their high-school’s bathroom while calling the victim “faggot,” “retard,” and “bitch.” The victim suffered a ruptured spleen, internal bleeding, and a broken clavicle. The Pima County Attorney did not charge this as a hate crime, but allowed the defendant to plead guilty to a class 6 (the lowest level) felony in juvenile court. The defendant was sentenced to probation, and the charge was eventually designated a misdemeanor.

Actions speak louder than words

Despite this very thin record, Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall has previously trumpeted her commitment to prosecuting hate crimes, which she has said extends to serving on the Board of Directors of the National District Attorney’s Association, “Whose meetings deal with numerous issues of vital concern to our constituents, including issues related to…hate crimes.” Ms. LaWall has ordered her office to create and distribute – from Pima County taxpayer funds – glossy brochures in which she has bragged about working with community groups to hold hate crime offenders accountable.

LaWall hate crimes claim

“A Report To The People: Pima County Attorney’s Office 1996 – 2006,” pg. 32

In addition, Ms. LaWall’s employees and supporters have lauded her supposed dedication to the prosecution of hate crimes during her previous elections.

Taking the “mission to protect the public safety” seriously

Hate crime is a serious issue in our community and our country. The FBI reports that there was a 6% rise in hate crime in 2015, and there has been a huge spike in the number of anti-Muslim hate groups in the U.S.. Recent days have seen the brutal shooting of Indian immigrants, and dozens of bomb threats made against Jewish community centers across the country, including here in Tucson. The Tucson City Council is right now considering a new hate crimes ordinance that would prohibit misdemeanor hate crimes, and Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild issued a statement just last week promising that the Tucson Police Department will work vigorously “to apprehend the people behind any hate crimes.”

According to her own words, Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall gives special attention to helping victims and prosecuting violent crime, and takes seriously her “mission to protect the public safety.” But how well is this mission fulfilled when our chief prosecutor does not even attempt to prosecute hate crimes? It is unfair to expect any prosecutor to maintain a perfect record of hate crimes prosecutions, especially when such crimes often lack eyewitnesses or suspects. But it is also unfair to the voters and taxpayers of Pima County for an elected official to publicly and vigorously condemn hate crimes that they in fact do not seem to care all that much about prosecuting.

– Joel Feinman