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exit sign for Welfare, Texas
Arizonans not welcome.
Today the Arizona legislature did what no other state in the nation has been mean-spirited enough to do: they cut lifetime welfare benefits to one year for everyone — adults and children, the physically and mentally disabled. Most states have a five-year limit, while thirteen others impose a two-year cutoff. Texas (of course) has a flexible limit that can be as short as one year, but even children are exempt in the Lone Star State. Not so for Arizona! We're Number 1!
As a result, the Arizona Department of Economic Security will drop at least 1,600 families — including more than 2,700 children — from the state's federally funded welfare program when the budget year begins in July.
No doubt you'll continue to hear from the Cato Institute, Rush Limbaugh and other goonballs that lazy moochers sit at home because welfare pays more than work, but Arizona's payments were never generous to begin with, a whopping $275 per month for a two-person household. Now even that will be gone in a couple months for thousands of people — and as many as 300,000 total if legislators follow through with all their planned cuts to welfare, Medicaid and ACA.

The far-right fundies, who absolutely control Arizona's legislature, made the usual unproven arguments before voting to cut vulnerable families off at the knees:

"I tell my kids all the time that the decisions we make have rewards or consequences, and if I don't ever let them face those consequences they can't get back on the path to rewards," Republican Sen. Kelli Ward of Lake Havasu City said during debate on the budget. "As a society we are encouraging people at times to make poor decisions and then we reward them."
Rewarding poor decisions. Oh, you mean like Wall Street banksters?

Sen. Ward is widely considered to be the front-runner to challenge John McCain in the 2016 GOP senate primary, so here's her chance to earn points with the fringiest fringe of the party, which is leading the challenge. She's on a roll, having traveled to Cliven Bundy's compound of crazy last year to get her picture taken with the criminal coot. Then last week she appeared at a "Liberty on Tap" event where Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes said Sen. McCain should be "hung by the neck until dead." Sen. Ward said nothing and the crowd cheered. (Ward still refuses to condemn Rhodes, who recently appeared with her at "Freedom Fest" in Kingman.)

So is it any surprise this cruel excuse for a human being is leading the charge to throw needy families off welfare? I guess when you begin by kicking 500,000 low-income people off Medicaid, with hopes of eliminating Obamacare for thousands more, curtailing welfare is just the next step toward making Arizona the Somalia of America.

"This is a very small investment, but it is critical to people who need it the most," [Dem. Rep. Andy] Sherwood said. "You're talking about desperate families, those who are unemployed and underemployed. Single mothers and parents with kids."
It is a "small investment," only $4 million, but it means so much to so many. Jackass Gov. Doug Ducey tried to explain that the welfare cuts are necessary in order to protect K-12 and university funding. Bull! First of all, Ducey and the goobers at the legislature, with dark-money backing from the Koch brothers, have already decimated the education budget, so that's a rubbish excuse. Second, welfare funding comes as a federal block grant. It's a pass-through that's "revenue neutral" and shouldn't affect the state deficit at all. But Republicans want to steal the welfare funds to cover deep cuts they made to children's services. Assholes!

Just as Gov. Ducey and his legislative lackeys used the state's deficit to justify their hatchet job on education, they're dishonestly using it as an excuse to reduce welfare benefits. Addressing the deficit is their reason for whacking the poor at every opportunity, such as restricting food stamp purchases or drug testing welfare recipients. For that program they projected savings of nearly $2 million a year, but since drug testing began in 2010, they've nabbed three people and saved a total of $4,000.

Yet Arizona Republicans have no problem with reducing corporate taxes, which increased the deficit $112 million — roughly 30 times more than the cost of the welfare benefits they're eliminating. Nor do they see anything wrong with building more private prisons while slashing education, welfare and other public services.

As they say, it's not a bug, it's a feature. Less money for education and social programs = more need for prisons. The Corrections Corporation of America, which donated more than $10,000 to Ducey's campaign, is standing by to help.

Discuss
Arizona State Treasurer Doug Ducey speaking at FreePac, hosted by FreedomWorks, in Phoenix, Arizona.
Il Ducey
One thing Arizonans have learned in the few months that Gov. Doug Ducey has been in office is that the Koch-fueled pinhead does not like people questioning his decisions.

When educators and families protested the governor's draconian cuts to schools, Ducey and his dark-money backers brought the hammer down on officials who disagreed with him. In Mesa, they used a robocall campaign to smear Superintendent Dr. Michael Cowan, who had sent parents in his district an email describing the terrible consequences of Ducey's policies. When more than 230 superintendents signed a joint letter to legislators asking them to reject the governor's appalling education budget, he and the GOP tried to ram through a bill that would make their criticism illegal, which happily did not pass.

Bottom line: don't speak out, don't criticize, even if you're upholding the law by doing so. That was the predicament in which former acting director of Arizona's Weights and Measures Shawn Marquez found himself earlier this year. Marquez had worked for the department for 28 years and was two years short of retirement, but now he's out of a job because he enforced a law that Gov. Ducey and his business lackeys did not like.

Ducey is all for "the rule of law" when it's a law he supports. For instance, Bisbee was the first town in Arizona to enact a ban on plastic bags, like hundreds of other communities across the country, and Tempe and Flagstaff were considering a similar ordinance. But Ducey and his chamber of commerce chums did not like the idea that Arizona's blue communities might set stricter environmental standards, so he signed legislation that prohibits all municipalities in the state from banning plastic bags and other disposable packaging. If towns ignore the new state law, Gov. Ducey has said he'll prosecute because, you know, it's the law.

Other laws he's okay with ignoring, especially if doing so benefits the governor's business cronies. Until recently, Arizona law said that ride-sharing companies like Uber must license their drivers with the state, similar to taxis. So when the Super Bowl was here this year, and acting director Marquez suspected that Uber and Lyft were not complying with the state statute during the busy tourist season, he planned a sting operation to snare unlawful drivers.

When Gov. Ducey heard of the plan he fired Marquez, which we first learned of yesterday when the governor bragged about sacking the longtime employee at the RNC meeting in Scottsdale:

Ducey, a big supporter of the popular ride-sharing companies, told the audience that plan didn't sit well with him. "I'm happy to tell you that director is now in the private sector," Ducey said to the applause of a packed ballroom.
When reporters asked Gov. Ducey if he had fired the agency head for simply enforcing a law that was on the books at the time, he blathered some BS about government regulations killing innovation, but he did not answer the question, only stating, "We’re not looking to sting or surprise companies." Since the Super Bowl in February, Ducey has rolled back almost all regulations for ride-sharing firms, pushing through legislation that eliminates licensing and insurance requirements, business-friendly measures that even Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed.

So Ducey doesn't want to "surprise" companies with checkups. I guess now he'll eliminate all inspections so government agents don't "surprise" filthy restaurants, contaminated meat packers or manufacturers selling toxic products. In other words, it's still okay to surprise consumers. Because Doug Ducey said so, the law be damned.

Discuss
Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio announces a newly launched program aimed at providing security around schools in Anthem, Arizona, January 9, 2013. Arpaio plans to start deploying a volunteer posse to Phoenix-area schools as part of a new program to boo
The $10 million man
Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio has cost the people of his county nearly $45 million in lawsuits that were filed by victims whose civil rights were violated—people who were unfairly harassed, illegally detained or arrested, tortured or even killed. Arpaio was charged by the Department of Justice with abuse of powers, and a federal judge ruled that his office engages in racial profiling. The former county attorney and most of the sheriff's senior staff have been disbarred or fired for their role in helping to build Arpaio's police state.

Currently Sheriff Arpaio is in the middle of a civil contempt hearing for ignoring federal court orders to cease his immigration patrols and turn over evidence. Previous to the hearing, Arpaio admitted his guilt and tried to block the contempt hearing by offering to donate $100,000 to a civil rights organization. The judge declined that offer and the hearing began last month. During the first phase of the proceedings, which continue next month, Arpaio revealed that his attorney had hired a private detective to investigate the judge's wife. You can't make this shit up.

Here's something else that's hard to swallow: Sheriff Arpaio will run for re-election again in 2016, when he'll be 84, and unless he's jailed or otherwise prevented from running due to his legal battles, he will likely win. No strong candidates have registered to oppose him next year, and the few who have haven't raised a dime. Meanwhile, Arpaio's campaign has pulled in $5.5 million over the past two years, and more dollars are flowing in as a result of the federal charges, which nativists are spotlighting nationally.

"We have seen an uptick in fundraising. Whether it's related to this case, I don't know," said Chad Willems, Arpaio's campaign manager. "A flurry of calls have come into the office, with people saying they want to contribute, whether it's with a credit card or check."
Arpaio's professional fundraisers have been paid millions to wring every dollar possible from an active donor list of 250,000 people in all 50 states—suckers who love the sheriff's get-tough attitude, his anti-immigration yap, the birther investigation BS and the giant middle finger he constantly shoves in the Fed's face.

The current contempt charge provides the perfect fundraising tool: an "us-against-them" victimization scheme that turns a negative situation into a positive money-maker, and it appears to be working. The Arizona Republic reports that Arpaio currently has $2 million in his war chest and he hopes to raise at least $5 million more, with the possibility of reaching $10 million for a county sheriff's race! Heck, most Arizona congressional candidates in 2014 didn't even spend $1 million.

People often ask: How and why do voters in Maricopa County keep electing this blowhard? He costs you money and he's not a good lawman. But it matters little to his base that, in addition to the millions in lawsuits, his office misspent nearly $100 million on tanks and other toys. Nor does it matter that he mishandled hundreds of child sex abuse cases. The wingers don't care, they really don't.

Truth is, if it were up to longtime residents Joe Arpaio would not win—it's generally newer voters, often retirees in places like Sun City, who form his base. Also, if it were up to voters in Phoenix, Tempe and other urban areas, he would not win as his support lies mostly in outlying regions, which this 2012 election map illustrates. What's even worse is that most of the $10 million Arpaio's fundraisers hope to raise will come from people who don't even live in Arizona. The Maricopa County Democratic Party website says "we need to stand strong and united, determined to defeat Arpaio." And the plan is?

Discuss

If it weren’t for his racist and asinine blog posts, former Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal would likely be sitting in the same office today. Although the former conservative legislator and first-term education chief received a shitload of criticism from the left for his support of the Ethnic Studies ban in Tucson, as well as his constant pimping for charter schools, Huppenthal remained the GOP’s guy going into the 2014 election. Sure, he was primaried from the far right by moon-howlin’ Diane Douglas, but Huppenthal was generally seen as a safe bet to win the Republican primary and general election.

Oops! Then in June 2014 news broke that Huppenthal’s other job, which he occasionally performed at his real job, was as an online sockpuppet defending the indefensible policies of one John Huppenthal. The good folks at Blog for Arizona uncovered the ruse when they started to question the posts of “Thucydides,” that ancient historian. In his support of Arizona’s education policies, Thucydides revealed information about Superintendent Huppenthal and his state agency that only he could know. When confronted by the media, John Huppenthal confessed that, yes, he was Thucydides.

In itself, there’s nothing wrong here; heck, let’s encourage public officials to interact with citizens online. Nor is there a problem with Huppenthal blogging anonymously, a common tactic when the writer serves in a political or otherwise delicate position. The issue wasn’t that Huppenthal blogged anonymously: no, it was the nature of his posts, which were racist, historically inaccurate, insensitive and highly inappropriate, especially since he was in charge of public education.

"Obama is rewarding the lazy pigs with food stamps."
"It was Darwin, not Hitler, who named the Germans the master race."
"Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood was given the job of eliminating African-Americans."
"We now know that (Franklin D. Roosevelt) was almost completely responsible for the great depression."
You get the picture—writing worthy of the textbooks approved in Texas. His demeaning comments were even too much for Arizona’s looney tune GOP, and many called for him to exit the 2014 race. Huppenthal refused but was handed his ass in the primary by Diane Douglas, an ill-qualified, raving tea party pinhead. Given Arizona’s political demographics, in the November election Douglas defeated Democrat David Garcia, an experienced educator who was endorsed by nearly everyone, from the conservative Arizona Republic newspaper to political, community and education leaders statewide. Didn’t matter: Douglas had an R after her name, which is all that matters in too many Arizona races (think: Joe Arpaio).

Douglas and Gov. Doug Ducey immediately got into a highly publicized spat that seemed to indicate there’d be an ongoing war between the education department and executive office, but they did agree on one thing: students in Arizona don’t need so dang much government support. With help from the batshit crazy legislature, they cut K-12 another $13 million, wacked $95 million from the university system, and eliminated almost all community college funding. This hatchet job was on top of prior cuts to public schools and colleges that, since the recession, were among the deepest in the nation. Mission accomplished! After all, how else are they going to pay for those new prisons and corporate tax breaks?

The Chief of Staff for Diane Douglas who helped engineer this draconian policy is Michael Bradley, who was also responsible for the early standoff mentioned above between Douglas and Ducey, when he orchestrated the firing of two education board members because they weren’t as crazy as Douglas. Problem is, those appointments are gubernatorial and new Gov. Ducey did not look kindly upon the usurpation of his powers. He fired back and the two board members remained.

But now, in a scenario reminiscent of John Huppenthal’s online downfall, Bradley is being questioned for operating a website that some deem inappropriate for a person who’s in charge of education policy for over a million Arizona children.

Michael Bradley, who is in charge of day-to-day operations at the Arizona Department of Education, runs a website featuring items of general interest, including pictures of dogs and quirky news items, as well as thousands of photos of scantily clad women in costumes, and sexually suggestive images and humor.
The website (which I won't link to) receives about 3,000 hits a day and describes Bradley, who publishes a lot of time-travel books, as an author and public speaker, but it does not mention his role at the Arizona Department of Education. Like many personal websites, it includes a lot of pet photos, screen shots from movies and TV, jokes and his personal musings, including a recent rant about the Arizona Republic story in the blockquote above. Back issues contain more big boob photos than I’ve seen in one place, which children’s advocates call “offensive,” and Bradley has agreed to remove some images.

He says he told Diane Douglas about his online activity when she appointed him to the $150,000 a year position, and he warned Douglas that her opponents will use the website to attack her. Which raises the question: If they both knew this why did Douglas hire him, or why didn’t he shut the site down or at least change the content?

Frankly, we should be less concerned about Bradley's website than the ugly policies he's helped to push through. The site is pretty tame compared to a lot of what’s online, and he certainly has every right to operate it, especially as an outlet for his writing, which doesn't include, like Huppenthal, bogus education BS. But what is on the site does call into question his common sense.

Former schools Superintendent Jaime Molera says he supports freedom of speech, but that given his position, Bradley's online activity crosses a line for parents and teachers.

"If he's a private guy and this is his genre of writing, that's his decision, and certainly there's a whole lot of people who are into that," Molera said. "At the same time, he's the chief of staff to the state schools superintendent and there is a standard that they have to portray to the public—particularly schoolkids.”

The shit gets deeper: Bradley hired one of the women who poses on his website to serve as executive assistant to Diane Douglas. But that’s okay he says, because her position is “low level”—only the assistant to the state’s public school chief.

Is it any wonder Arizona continually ranks at the bottom of nearly every education measurement? For too many years rightwing agenda-driven ideologues have run the state agency, and public schools have clearly paid the price. If I were their consultant, I'd advise today's education officials to steer clear of the blogosphere, but I'm happy they don't, if only to shine a light on what they're doing to Arizona's students and teachers.

Discuss

Tuesday in Phoenix, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's civil contempt hearing began, and the first day was a doozie. US District Judge Murray Snow ordered Sheriff Arpaio to appear at the hearing because the bigoted blowhard had arrogantly defied the judge's orders following Melendres v. Arpaio. In that 2007 incident, argued by the ACLU, the court found that the sheriff's office did indeed use race as a determining factor in traffic stops and other detainments, the very definition of racial profiling.

Following the Melendres verdict in 2011, which was upheld by the 9th Circuit Court a year later, in 2013 Judge Snow ordered three major reforms: Arpaio must end his infamous immigration roundups (neighborhood "sweeps"), turn over video evidence from traffic stops, and install a court-appointed monitor to oversee compliance. Arpaio did none of this; in fact, he destroyed video evidence and continued his sweeps. Having run out of patience, last month Judge Snow, a George W. Bush appointee, ordered Arpaio and several key deputies to appear at this week's four-day contempt hearing.

Immediately after the judge announced the hearing, Sheriff Arpaio tried to buy his way out of the mess—admitting his guilt and promising to donate $100,000 to a civil rights organization if the judge would cancel the contempt hearing. Judge Snow said no and the proceedings began yesterday; he will decide if Arpaio and four key deputies are guilty of civil contempt or perhaps whether the case should move to a criminal phase.    

The hearing's first day was explosive, and not in a good way for the sheriff. First, his lead attorney resigned, stating a conflict of interest since he also works for Maricopa County.

Tom Liddy, one of Arpaio's attorneys, abruptly quit, citing a conflict of interest and saying he was "filing an application to withdraw from the case."
Another long-time Arpaio attorney, Tim Casey, had jumped ship back in November, leaving only one of the original three-person legal team. The worst turn for Sheriff Arpaio, however, was the testimony of two former deputies, who essentially said the sheriff willfully ignored Judge Snow's orders. "Willful" is key here, since it would lead to a criminal trial.
Sgt. Brett Palmer testified Arpaio's immigration tactics were driven by public relations and media attention, and never complied with court orders to stop Arpaio's highly publicized immigration roundups.
ACLU attorney Cecilia Wang said the sheriff ordered Palmer to detain immigrants, even though there was no cause, so he could "come and do a press conference." What a surprise, Sheriff Arpaio seeks the cameras! Another former deputy corroborated Palmer's testimony.
Another of the sheriff's top brass, retired Executive Chief Brian Sands, testified he made several suggestions as to how the sheriff's office should comply with the court orders, all of which he said the sheriff ignored.
According to the Arizona Republic, the two "statements were the strongest support yet for claims that Arpaio's failure to abide by Snow's orders were deliberate." And that was Day One—better than any soap on TV. It looks like Sheriff Arpaio will take the stand today or tomorrow. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: Wow!
Well, the hearing took a strange turn today. On the stand Wednesday and Thursday, Sheriff Arpaio did pretty much what everyone expected: admitted his guilt, apologized for defying Judge Murray Snow's orders, and blamed underlings for his conduct. But then, toward the end of his testimony, the sheriff said this:

Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio dropped a bombshell in court Thursday when he said his former lawyer had hired a private investigator to look into the wife of the federal judge presiding over a contempt of court case against the sheriff.
We've always known Joe Arpaio is a vindictive official—often investigating, indicting or otherwise harassing politicians, activists and others who object to his police state tactics. Now this! The judge's wife no less. Pass the popcorn.
Discuss

Mon Apr 06, 2015 at 11:12 PM PDT

McCain: I'm running

by Mother Mags

US Republican presidential nominee Senator John McCain (R-AZ) reacts to almost heading the wrong way off the stage after shaking hands with Democratic presidential nominee Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) at the conclusion of the final presidential debate at H
Off and running
Many people believed Arizona Senator John McCain would run again for his senate seat in 2016, by which time he'd be 80. Their belief was confirmed today when the senator told the Arizona Republic that he'll announce tomorrow.
Veteran U.S. Sen. John McCain will announce Tuesday that he will seek a sixth term in 2016. McCain, R-Ariz., plans to officially declare his bid for re-election during a speech before the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry at the Arizona Biltmore resort in central Phoenix.
The senator is certain to be challenged from the vocal tea party wing of the Arizona GOP—the goonballs who want a war at the border, who would ban gay everything if empowered, who still speak birther, who'd prefer mandatory church attendance. In the 2010 GOP primary McCain was challenged from the looney right by former congressman, TV/radio personality and Foghorn Leghorn impersonator JD Hayworth. His nativist campaign forced the senator, who used to embrace immigration reform, into making that "Build the Dang Fence" ad, reflecting a shift toward militia craziness on border issues.

But the nutters still think McCain is too moderate, believing his more extremist language is just electioneering, not core belief. It's still pretty much 24/7 McCain bashing at the far-right local blogs. Last year outgoing chair of the Maricopa Republican Party A.J. LaFaro, who's a Joe Arpaio ally and crackpot critic of Sen. McCain, called the rift between his hard right pinheads and McCain "one of the bloodiest political civil wars." It hasn't gotten better since LaFaro said that more than a year ago.

One name that's surfaced in Oz is Republican state Sen. Kelli Ward from Lake Havasu City, home of the London Bridge, but that's another diary. She certainly meets the NRA and Christian right's qualifications. When that tax cheat Cliven Bundy was all over Fox News, Sen. Ward and a few other Arizona pols drove up to get their pictures taken with the old Nevada coot, and talk about land-grabbing Nazis in DC. Sen. Ward gave a speech there that was covered by the local media—more bellyaching about government control, for stuff like driving. Yeah, she said that: no driving laws. Sen. Ward and the others posted those Bundy photos on their websites, until the criminal rancher explained what he knew about the Negro. The Ward-Bundy pictures vanished.

Heck, if she found and used those photos, that would probably earn her points with a lot of the Arizona GOP. But their clown car will soon fill with other candidates; we are not deficient in bible-thumping border hawks who hate Obama. It'll be interesting to see who the Koch Boys sponsor. Their dark money certainly influenced the governor's race, and if, in the senate primary, they threw a lot of cash at a winger like Rep. Matt Salmon, who said he's considering, it could be fun to watch.

They'll all wink-wink about Sen. McCain's age without mentioning it directly, although he confronted running at 80 head-on:

He shrugged off questions about his age, saying his health "is excellent" and noting that his mother is 103 years old and "doing fine." ... "I would be glad to show somebody my daily schedule, both here and in Washington," McCain said.
So, is he telling us he's going to be around another 23 years? Heck, at 80 he's a schoolboy compared to Sheriff Arpaio, who'll be 84 when he runs next year. And he is running, with a big fat war chest. And a crapload of lawsuits.
Discuss
Teaser panel for Jen Sorensen comic on plastic bags.
Sorry Arizona cities, no passing laws your citizens want
Chances are, if you live in an urban area in a big rural state, you might not be represented by your legislature. That's been apparent watching Indiana, where two of the largest cities, Indianapolis and Bloomington, are fairly progressive—one the capital, the other a cool college town. They tend to elect Democrats to the legislature and Congress, and both passed same-sex anti-discrimination measures. But then the state legislature and governor enact a POS like the Religious Freedom Act. Go figure.

It's a similar story here in Arizona. Many people in Tucson, downtown Phoenix, Tempe or Flagstaff don't share the values of the legislature, which passes some of the most hateful and asinine shit in the nation. They've shifted into a fifth gear of insanity with Gov. Ducey in the driver's seat: deeper cuts to education and social programs, more abortion restrictions, a larger role for the Christian right, voter suppression bills, giveaways to the wealthy and corporations, assaults on workers' rights.

In other words, an E-ticket ride at Kochworld. Documented: Dirty Koch money did dirty Ducey deeds, with his knowledge, after he was elected. It wasn't just that their money shaped the election, it's that their crackpot influence remains in the legislature and governor's office.  

Money goes after local laws over the fold.

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Three grandmothers trying marijuana
The enemy.
Sheriff Joe Arpaio isn't the only Maricopa County official who regularly makes an arrogant ass of himself; the County Attorney's office has done a pretty good job of it too. Andrew Thomas was the County Attorney who helped Arpaio erect his police state, giving legal cover to the sheriff's most discriminatory and vindictive practices. But then Thomas was disbarred for being such an overzealous, unethical, bigoted dickhead. He resigned in 2010 to run for attorney general but his racism in the name of Christ was even too much for Arizona's Republicans, and he lost in the primary.

After Thomas resigned to run for AG, Bill Montgomery won the County Attorney seat in a special election, even though former Republicans who held the office endorsed the Democrat. It's no wonder: Montgomery is another Christian fundy who's as looney as the rightwing zealots at the legislature. Remember Arizona's version of the Indiana LGBT discrimination bill that Gov. Brewer vetoed last year? Montgomery not only endorsed it but testified at the legislature in support of the vile POS.

Montgomery shifts his ugly attack to veterans over the orange cloud.

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Arizona state flag
Shut up or we'll shut you up!
Since 2008, Arizona has cut K-12 and university budgets more than just about every other state, to the point we now spend, in the public school classroom, roughly 70 percent of the national average per pupil: $7,382 in Arizona vs. $10,667 nationwide, one of the lowest rates in the country. For higher ed we're even worse, number 50 in per student spending.

Republicans like to say "education is not about the money," and that may be true to a point; but when you get down to the marrow, it is about the frickin' money, and the results here are predictable. For K-12 Arizona consistently ranks 40th or lower in nearly every performance category—graduation rates, teacher training, classroom spending, test results, and college and job preparation. The poor performance numbers ripple out into society at large, since we're not attracting high-value industries that demand an educated workforce.

In addition to reduced state funding, some K-12 schools find themselves in districts that include retirement havens, where residents historically turn out in droves to vote down budget overrides, the argument being, "I put my child through school in Michigan, why should I pay here?" Twelve of 36 school bond elections failed in November, so a district like Dysart, which has the misfortune of being near Sun City, had to lay off 143 teachers. Mind-boggingly, the dunderheads who voted against the override because they have no children here don't see why it benefits them to have good schools in the community—and don't get the meaning of "citizen."

For public education, the one-two punch of less state funding and failed budget overrides, in the face of increasing student populations, means districts are barely hanging on. Combine that with the legislature's giveaways to charter schools, and the GOP's goal is all too clear: privatized education. Also, the constant and very deep cuts to higher ed, including Arizona State, the largest university in the nation, have resulted in higher tuitions and increased corporate funding—making college less affordable to all but the wealthy and giving private industry more leverage in curriculum design.

More people are speaking out, many of them educators. I mean, really, what are they supposed to say when their profession is attacked and their budgets are dismantled year after year? "Thank you sir, stick it to us again!" Are responsible university presidents and district superintendents not supposed to inform the community about the effects of the legislature's dick moves? But now any such criticism or perhaps even discussion is about to be outlawed.

Head below the fold for more on this story.

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Arizona's GOP: Who cares if the procedure is unproven? Doctors must tell women about it
Let's say you have a stomachache and go to the doctor, but a new state rule mandates that your physician must tell you about an unproven procedure involving monkey dung and turnip juice. Hey, a guy in Malaysia says it works! For what medical procedure are doctors required to do something like this—tell you about unproven, experimental treatments? Well, we have one.

That's the substance of SB 1318 in Arizona, which passed the legislature yesterday and immediately landed on Gov. Doug Ducey's desk. He's been such a suck-up to Cathi Herrod and her far-right Center for Arizona Policy (CAP), which has spearheaded at least 30 anti-abortion measures here, that it's unlikely the former ice cream businessman will veto the bill.

UPDATE: Ducey did sign the bill on March 30. Herrod called it "a good day for Arizona women."

SB 1318 started out bad enough, as a measure prohibiting private insurers from offering abortion coverage to patients who signed up on the federal exchange. But it became even more odious when an amendment was slipped in that requires physicians to tell women about an unproven procedure that might reverse the effects of the abortion pill. The bill also directs the Arizona Department of Health Services to list the experimental and highly controversial practice on its website.

Worse and worser over the bump.

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Arizona Sen. Sylvia Allen won the Viral Emmy of Stupid a few years ago when she famously said, during a committee hearing on uranium mining, "the earth's been here 6,000 years" and has managed to survive human plundering this long, so don't worry about a little digging near the Grand Canyon. At the end of the video below, Sen. Allen also says that once the uranium is gone, the mining company will patch everything up and "You'll never even know the mine was there when they're done."

This Mensa candidate not only sits on the senate committee that oversees mining and other natural resource policies, she's also on the education committee. Heaven help us.

Actually, she would like heaven to help us, since apparently America is experiencing a "moral erosion" that can only be cured by more God. A devout Mormon, Sen. Allen travels dangerously close to the Cleon Skousen camp of dominionist LDS nutballs who believe the "divinely inspired" US Constitution is under attack by communists, gays, feminists and minorities, and only good white Christians can save us. Former Sen. Russell Pearce is also a Skousen acolyte; it's not hard to see where he got the idea for SB 1070, his "papers please" bill. Democracy is in danger, whites only need apply!

The darling of Arizona's theocratic tea party pinheads, Sen. Allen attended a hearing yesterday considering a bill that allows people to enter public facilities packing heat. She said she's in favor of the measure because carrying a weapon might bring about a "moral rebirth." Yes, I see the connection. It's all so clear now. Truth is, it doesn't matter to her whether the topic is guns or uranium, it all comes back to God and His 6,000-year-old creation that doesn't need the EPA's help. So, during the debate on guns in public places, Sen. Allen let loose with another doozie:

"Probably we should be debating a bill requiring every American to attend a church of their choice on Sunday to see if we can get back to having a moral rebirth," adding "that would never be allowed." ...

"I believe what's happening to our country is that there's a moral erosion of the soul of America," she said.

She later told reporters that this "erosion" began when "religion was kicked out of our public places, out of our schools." Wow, we must be one powerful species if we can expel the Almighty with a few court decisions!

Sen. Allen also said she wishes society today was more like the '50s, when "people prayed, people went to church." She might've added: when blacks couldn't vote and knew where to sit on the bus, when women were expected to cook dinner and vacuum (and little more, except make babies), when the elderly had no healthcare options, when Miranda rights did not exist and lynchings were common, and when gays had to stay in the closet or risk a ruined life. Yeah, those wonderful Ozzie and Harriet years.

Allen's wackiness aside, her "moral erosion" BS is so hypocritical it's sickening. After all, she represents the party in Arizona that:

• cut public education, both K-12 and higher ed, to the marrow—more than any other state
• decimated state health services, tossing thousands off Medicaid and closing most rural women's healthcare clinics
• wants to eliminate Obamacare for 200,000 Arizonans, and reject millions in federal aid that doctors and hospitals say is vital to combating diseases
• "adjusted" tax rates to serve the wealthy and corporations
• championed SB 1070 and other discriminatory measures
• would turn over our majestic public lands to corporate devourers
• cut assistance to children and the poor  

And on and on, just like Jesus Would Do.

Sen. Allen can bellyache all she wants about America's "moral erosion," but the fact is, nearly every friggin' bill she sponsors or supports hurts somebody: children who want an education, women who want healthcare, Latino families who want to stay together, gays and lesbians who want equal treatment, the poor and elderly who want to vote, families who just need fucking food.

Here's an idea: Rather than make it mandatory for everyone to attend Sen. Allen's church, how 'bout we make it mandatory that she live in the real world for a change, so she can experience the disastrous effects of her "morality."

Discuss

Nearly everyone who's lived in Arizona for a while has heard of Debra Milke, the mother convicted of arranging for her 4-year-old son's murder in 1989. We remember the bold newspaper headlines and TV news reporters breathlessly describing Milke's diabolical plot to rid herself of a troublesome child and collect on a $5,000 insurance policy she had taken out on him. Some people said she wasn't a good mother, her relationship with roommate James Styers was very suspicious and other circumstantial evidence was equally damning.

This much is clear: On December 2, 1989, Milke dressed little Christopher in his favorite cowboy outfit and sent him, accompanied by her roommate Styers, to visit Santa at the mall. In the state's version, however, she was a selfish monster who had plotted with Styers and his friend Roger Scott to kill Christopher. Styers did indeed shoot the boy; Scott knew about it, confessed and led police to the body in the desert. Christopher went to see Santa Claus but had three bullets in his head.

Milke was implicated by the men and charged with kidnapping, child abuse and conspiracy to commit murder. After a first-degree conviction in 1990, Debra Milke was sentenced to death, and would've been the first woman executed in Arizona since 1932. The worthless POS who shot Christopher, James Styers, refused to testify at Milke's trial, as did accomplice Roger Scott, so the prosecution's assertion that they had implicated Milke went largely unchallenged. Both men were convicted in separate trials and sentenced to death (they remain in prison).

Debra Jean Milke was a 25-year-old young mother when the crime occurred; she has spent the last 24 years in state prison, 22 of those years on death row. She is 51 today, having lived half her life in jail—even denied the right to visit her dying mother. Ever since the conviction, she and her lawyers, led by the Arizona Justice Project, have maintained Milke's innocence and filed appeals with numerous courts, usually with disappointing results. But they kept at it, for more than two decades. And won.

Today at a press conference in Phoenix, we heard from the lead attorneys and Milke herself, who described the Kafkaesque double-whammy: first the loss of her child, then being found guilty of his murder—based on bogus evidence.

Milke's conviction hinged on the testimony of Phoenix Detective Armando Saldate, who said Milke confessed to the crime during a 30-minute interrogation, a confession she says never happened. Saldate's interview with Milke, which she appeared at voluntarily, was not recorded or witnessed by another person, and he denied her request to have a lawyer present (he says she waived that right). Also, it's Saldate's word that Styers and Scott incriminated Milke; there's no recording of their confession and both men refused to testify at Milke's trial. Repeatedly at the press conference today Milke's legal team described Saldate as a "dirty cop," who decided Milke was guilty and invented evidence to fit his prejudices.

Milke has always maintained that she never confessed or waived her right to an attorney. She claims that Saldate, who has a record of misconduct and perjury, lied in his reports and on the witness stand. Prosecutors knew about Saldate's slimy past, which included at least 8 cases that were thrown out or overturned because he lied in court or violated defendants' rights. However, in its zeal to get a conviction, the state did not disclose Saldate's record to the defense or jurors. The prosecution's malfeasance, combined with Saldate's dirty tactics, was the basis for most of Milke's appeals.

Finally, in March 2013, after many appeals at various levels, the Ninth Circuit tossed Milke's conviction, ruling that her Miranda rights were compromised and she did not receive a fair trial.

"No civilized system of justice should have to depend on such flimsy evidence, quite possibly tainted by dishonesty or overzealousness, to decide whether to take someone's life or liberty," Chief Judge Alex Kozinski wrote for the court.
Milke was released on bond, and the case was sent back to Arizona, where the attorney general said he would retry Debra Milke. However, the new trial depended on the testimony of Detective Saldate, who subsequently invoked his 5th Amendment right not to testify, which the court granted. Just a few months ago, then, an Arizona appeals court ruled that a retrial constituted double jeopardy, and Milke was ordered freed; last week the Arizona Supreme Court declined to review that decision.

Yesterday, March 23, Judge Rosa Mroz dismissed the case. Today, we finally heard from Debra Milke, who most of us have never heard and only seen in prison photos.

Milke spent as much time talking about the false confession she said Saldate coerced her into making, and said her case should serve as a cautionary tale for anyone who finds themselves involved in the criminal-justice system.

"This could happen to any one of you," she said.

The crime will no doubt continue to divide people who follow the case, which Debra Milke herself acknowledged today. Even friends said the young Milke was not a great parent, so in some people's eyes she will always be guilty. Already journalists and others are saying that "in their gut" they still feel she's a devious murderer who got off on a technicality. Attorney Lori Voepel, who worked on the case for 15 years, challenged their gut instincts at today's press conference: "I've read more of the trial transcripts than you, I know Debra Milke better than you, my gut is more informed than yours."

Debra Milke has paid with the loss of her son and half her life. The prosecution? Not so much.

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