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If you needed any proof that the Republican majority of the Arizona Legislature hasn’t the least idea what it is doing, look no further than its budgetary shell game with charter schools.

The Ledge under its august gubernatorial leadership sought to screw the smaller schools by lopping of $6.3 million in yearly funding. The department of education says that figure is more than double. They will be screwed double under the department’s reading of the law — the cut amounts to $15 million.

Here is Rep. Paul Boyer, Phoenix Republican, quoted in the Arizona Republic: “I was told by the governor that it would be $6 million the first year,” he said. “That was the agreement. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have voted for it. It was a tough pill to swallow as it was.”

Alas, poor Boyer. Didn’t know the gun was loaded.

There are many tough pills to swallow in the Great Desert Ledge. If there is a lesson there, Boyer should think twice before taking an Arizona governor’s word. Insofar as Republican governors are concerned, Whoppers aren’t just about hamburgers.

If Democrats were mean, nasty and vindictive, they might revel or delight in a few Republicans being hoist upon their arrogant petards after being summarily screwed by their governor. I, however, would never entertain such thoughts.

It would be so wrong.


Looking for vitality

The New York Times reported today that parents in Florida are bitching and moaning over standardized tests. Kids are taking Xanax to cope. They can’t sleep. They can’t eat.

One parent told the Times that her son who is a high school junior is so test-weary, “I have had to take him to his doctor.” She added: “He can’t sleep, but he’s tired. He can’t eat, but he’s hungry.” The Times said in Florida “many schools this year will dedicate on average 60 to 80 days out of the 180-day school year to standardized testing. In a few districts, tests were scheduled to be given every day to at least some students.”

Wow. Welcome to the Republic of morons who created the politics of educational testing. When it was discovered 30 years ago that sometimes Johnny could not read, politicians rose from the ether. They passed laws requiring Johnny be tested. And so it came to pass. Mandatory tests were imposed. Standards were created. If students passed, then OK. If not, kick their asses from here to John Dewey. And the schools and teachers, too.

Doris Kerns Goodwin points out (in “The Bully Pulpit”) that publisher S.S. McClure said at the dawn of the 20th century that the “ ‘vitality of democracy’ depends on ‘popular knowledge of complex issues.’ ” If we have such popular knowledge, it is well hidden amid the avalanche of 30-second TV commercials and nonexistent or cursory debates that dominate every election. This democracy is in desperate need of some political Geritol.

Imagine, if you possibly can, the format of the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858 being applied to today’s politics: One candidate spoke for 60 minutes; the other spoke for 90 minutes. The first candidate was allowed a 30-minute rebuttal. There were seven such debates. THREE HOURS EACH! Thousands of Illinois voters showed up.

And just think of all the progress we’ve made since then.

Political grammar

Anybody notice that Ethan Orr’s campaign (for District 9 state House) signs were still littering the roads, violating the landscape and offending north side eyeballs days after the election? His two opponents had taken down their signs immediately in accordance with certain principles of political etiquette. Mr. Orr is either not acquainted with the politics of Emily Post or a rube who plants his political elbows on the dinner table.

In any event, he’s neither worthy nor deserving. Hope the good doctor (opponent physician Randall Friese) maintains his slim lead over Mr. Neither/nor. Clearly this wasn’t a case of either/or.

Orr spent a huge pile of money. Can’t tell you how many days my morning newspaper was plied with sticky post-it tags at the top covering up news and urging me to vote Orr. Which I did not do. The governor reportedly gave him mucho moolah. Bless her lame-duck heart.

Eternal war

Death by drone is so clean, it’s antiseptic. No doubt the best gamers gathered by the military splash some anti-bacteria lotion, sitting in airconditioned comfort, Coca Cola at the elbow before they diddle their joysticks to kill people half the planet away.

Drones might not seem strange if they  won wars. It is a safe bet that with all the collateral damage, American drones won’t win hearts and minds in the Land of the Beheaders. Since 1945, this nation hasn’t greeted a war it couldn’t wait to lose. The thing is, we do it time after time with such complete hubris.

We such a nation of war lovers: The Wall Street Journal’s op-ed page last week carried a piece in support of U.S. troops on the ground in Syria, presumably to dispatch beheaders to their eternal reward of 70-some virgins.

We are far removed from the argument once made on the floor of the U.S. Senate that all of Southeast Asia was not worth one American soldier’s life. Alaskan Ernest Gruening was one of two senators — Wayne Morse was the other — to oppose the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. That little proclamation passed by the Senate on August 5, 1964, based on lies, gave Lyndon Johnson the authority to unleash the might of American power on the Democratic Republic of North Vietnam. It was called “escalation,” a murderous word that delivered defeat at a cost of more than 50,000 American lives.

The U.S. military learned one thing from Vietnam. Never, never, never depend on conscription to form a fighting force. Dump that draft. Buy the fodder. Lure them. Pay them well. Give them education money, guns and the understanding they may die or maimed.

There is a slow dance being played these days around the idea that there ought to be “American boots on the ground” in Syria. You have to admire that phrase. “Boots on the ground” is the distinction made between invading a sovereign nation via remote control 6,000 miles away or with flesh and blood bodies primed to kill or be killed.

I sometimes wonder what would happen if the United States left the rest of the world to its devices. It would be a humble policy one that recognized the limits of power. It’s worth considering given one of the premises in a new book written by Army General Daniel Bolger. It is titled: “Why We Lost: A General’s Inside Account of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars.” Gen. Bolger wrote a piece in the September issue of Harper’s, a short summary of the book:

“Once it becomes clear that the external forces won’t stay past a certain date, the guerrillas simply back off and wait it out. Had America treated Afghanistan and Iraq from the beginning as the future fifty-first and fifty-second states, counter-in surgency theory offered a way to pacify them. Saddled with incomplete authority over Afghan and Iraqi internal affairs, inept host governments, and ticking clocks, we could not do it.”

Hence we lost in Iraq and Afghanistan because we did not prosecute a policy of war forever. Anything short of a forever war for an occupying army means defeat. One cannot imagine Americans being amenable to the idea that ought to be states of the union or colonies for that matter.

The Obama administration contends that the bad guys in Yemen have been mostly defeated by American drones. It may very well be. But one suspects time is on their side. That is, barring some groundswell of popular support in this country for Yemen’s statehood.




The boon in the Social Security earnings suspense file

I was amused by Gabriela Saucedo Mercer’s question to her congressional opponent, Raul Grijalva. Mercer is a Republican — they are modestly amusing most of the time, or to paraphrase Churchill, a modest political party with much to be modest about. Grijalva owns, and has owned, Arizona’s Third Congressional District by virtue of a majority of Democrats. So she will lose despite her loaded, anti-immigrant question posed to Grijalva in the Oct. 5 edition of the Arizona Daily Star:

How do you think unrestricted access to social services, health care, public schools and the job market of the state of Arizona by illegal immigrants is going to help the average Hispanic U.S. citizen?

Grijalva gave a good answer, saying the Senate-passed immigration reform bill would be economically beneficial.

The fact is illegal immigrants have contributed mightily by paying into the Social Security system. If you receive Social Security payments, be grateful to illegal immigrants. They have helped finance your government pension.

When undocumented workers come to this county, they sometimes obtain a Social Security card and number through illegal means. It enables them to get a job and a paycheck. They become the falsely or illegally documented. But they pay taxes withheld by law in their paychecks.

The Social Security Administration keeps an account of irregular Social Security numbers, mismatched names, duplicate numbers and other oddities. These payments are recorded in what is called the earnings suspense file (ESF). Right now there is no one to claim the benefits.

The Senior Citizens League reports that the amount paid into the system by illegal immigrants is $952.4 billion since 1990 with more than nine million social security numbers contributing to the ESF. The last estimate I saw was that the fund grows at the rate of about $6 billion a year.

The Senior Citizens League is scared poop-less that the law may permit immigrants to claim benefits if they somehow acquire amnesty or citizenship, which seems about as likely as Charles Koch becoming a LIBERAL.

Koch is one half of the infamous brothers who finance all manner of right-wing groups, causes, candidates and think tanks.

It will not seem odd that the Cato Institute, a bastion of libertarian thinking, is one of those tanks of thought financed by Koch. What is odd, however, is that Cato has long argued against barriers to immigrants, legal or otherwise, working in the United States. It was on the Cato website that I first heard of the ESF. But it makes sense, A free market, after all, calls for a dynamic workforce uninhibited by national borders or laws. By extension, one should recognize that however conservative Koch appears on other issues, he is a raving rabid liberal on immigration.


What does 10 million gallons of sulfuric acid look like?



bout that “spill” of sulfuric acid from the big copper mine down in Cananea: We wonder what 10 million gallons of “spilled” sulfuric acid looks like. We understand spilled milk. But 10 million gallons? “Spill” doesn’t seem to be quite the right verb.

If you have ever spent time in and around the San Rafael Valley, these pictures from The Patagonia Resource Alliance will make you sick. We will be excused if we sound just a little skeptical about the view offered by Grupo Mexico, the owner of the Cananea mine, the Buena Vista del Cobre.

Last month Juan Rebolledo, a spokesman for Grupo Mexico, said: “The content of these acids is not toxic in itself.” He said there was “no problem, nor any serious consequence for the population, as long as we take adequate precautions and the company pours lime into the river, as it is currently doing.”

The website thinkprogress reported schools were closed because of the spill. People had no water. Evidently, lime did not resolve that problem.

A report from Forbes dated Sept. 29 says the spill of 10 million gallons of toxic chemicals is the worst environmental disaster in Mexico’s history. The story goes on to say that the owner of Grupo Mexico, German Larrea Mota Velasco, is worth more than $14 billion. And that’s very impressive, particularly in a country as impoverished as Mexico. The Forbes report also says Grupo has established a $151 million fund to clean up the mess caused by the toxic spill.

Meanwhile, Excelsior, the Mexico City newspaper, reported Aug. 25 a 240-ton sulfuric acid spill from a railcar in Nogales. This spill was near the Santa Cruz River. We should wonder if that spill will flow north. That is what happens because Nogales and the border region is at higher elevation than Tucson. The flow from the San Pedro and Santa Cruz Rivers is north to Tucson. The San Pedro flows to Benson and San Manual, skirting the Tucson area.

Arizonans have come to embrace the often-cited need for copper mines because they create jobs and make us all happy, very rich and prosperous. Moreover, we live quietly, if not comfortably, with the open pits they create — Morenci is a favorite — and the towering mountains of slag, particularly in and around Tucson. We all understand the importance of copper in the world, that is to say China, a country that is doing its best to subjugate and oppress the people of Hong Kong as this very moment.

As much as we revere copper, we wonder what all that orange liquid running through the streams of the San Rafael means? How will it affect flora, fauna and underground aquifers? What do you suppose will be done with the $151 million fund? You can buy only so much lime. And how come it’s $151 million?

After all that wondering, we will say this with some certainty: The San Rafael Valley is unique, one of the most beautiful spots in this or any state in the country, and to watch it suffer a major man-made environmental catastrophe is beyond painful.

Apparently we can only wonder what can be done about it.

Iambic pork belly

JC Martin responded to this post thus:

As one of the six or seven identified readers of A Mountain I have several comments: I rather like the idea of cherry jam and sauerkraut and  poetry based on the stock market but then, I haven’t “gotten,” poetry with the possible exception of Billy Collins for years.



Sometimes a thing doesn’t seem quite right, makes you a little squirmy. You scratch your head and look at your feet, kick a little dust. Some people call it the willies. I get that way when I think about spreading sauerkraut with cherry jam. Don’t ask how such a thought occurs to me. There’s no answer. I think weird.

As the six or seven regular readers of this wobbly little virtual corner know, I dabble in poetry. Don’t misunderstand. I don’t write it, could never presume to do so — save a limerick of questionable taste. Or two. I circle poetry.

To be sure I am no critic, having only a passing — fleeting, really — acquaintance with iambic pentameter. I was never properly introduced.  Nonetheless, my timbers were shivered when I received notice that the University of Arizona Poetry Center was to host what seems to me an unusual event: A presentation that will offer “insights into the relationship between poetry and the financial world. Come listen to what happens when the stock market becomes your muse!”

I can say that if the stock market were my Muse, I would suffer from an enduring sense of loss. It’s the sort of loss you are permitted to write off your income tax at a rate of three grand a year. The crash-bang-thunk you hear is not onomatopoeia.

Does this not have the feeling/appeal of French cherry preserves being slathered on sauerkraut?

To be fair, I might find some poetic charm in options, rather than expiring worthless, quadrupling in value and instilling the joy of rolling the hard eight at the craps table. I might even put some fancy dance steps to that sort of poetry. And there might be serious sonnets inspired by pork belly futures. Don’t get me started on gold, the Euro-dollar pair, Exchange Traded Funds or swaps. It all rhymes with greed.

For those who read poetry with a British accent, the ticker crawl at the bottom of the Greed Channel screen might parse in a way that nuzzles — even caresses — the ear. But it seems at best a remote possibility.

In any event, I shall try to keep an open mind. I am always open to moolah, iambic or free verse. Perhaps it is a good way to get in touch with your inner Gekko.


Love your NRA

Let us today pause to give thanks for the National Rifle Association.

If it weren’t for the NRA, the Second Amendment might be in tatters. Governments in this country might just suck up the guns and prevent gun murders in Seattle.

In Virginia.

In Tucson.

At the Navy Yard.

In Texas.

In Columbine.

At the Holocaust Museum.

In an Aurora, Colorado theater.

In Kansas City.

In small town Connecticut (God bless the children).

Thank our LUCKY Stars. You betcher sweet Charlton Heston.

Happiness is a Warm NRA.

A story filled with wonder

A short story on page C3 in today’s Arizona Daily Star said an unnamed Border Patrol agent yesterday killed an unknown fleeing “person” near the Torres Blancas golf club in Green Valley.

I was struck by the quote from the BP statement as reported in the story:

“Agents pursued the driver and during the encounter, an agent discharged his service issued weapon, resulting in the death of the driver.”

There’s a lesson there in how to back your ass into a story so it sounds like much less than a human being killed by a border cop in the desert.

Wonder why the BP had to kill. Wonder if the driver was armed. How come the BP gave chase? Did the agent fear for his life? Wonder if the agent fired a warning shot? Wonder if the agent fired more than one shot? Or did he shoot him dead with one shot, like Dead Eye Dick? Or did he empty his “weapon”? Wonder if the dead person (man or woman?) was an illegal immigrant. Wonder if this will turn out to be yet another case of government-sanctioned murder with impunity. When it comes to the BP, Justice is blind, deaf, hog-tied and passed out dead drunk.

Notice that the story was tucked in a back page of a back section. That’s because the when the BP kills people, it’s hardly news. Very routine.

It’s just the border.

Nobody gives a shit.

Ten hits from Irkutsk

humpty-dumptyrussia-putin.jpeg5-1057x960It appears Putin is nostalgic for the old Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and wants to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. In this case it appears all the Putin’s horses and all the Putin’s men might at least put some of Mssr Dumpty back together again.

I get a little nostalgic over the USSR myownself. The stats for this blog brought to mind a trip I took. The stats show 10 hits from Irkutsk, a city in Siberia about 16 time zones to the east of here. It lies on the shore of Lake Baikal, the biggest, deepest and probably coldest fresh water lake in the world. More than 30 years ago, I boarded the Trans-Siberian Railroad in Irkutsk and began a 36-hour trip to Novosibirsk.

We had a compartment. It smelled of dirty rags, strong tea and piss.  The dirty-rag aroma came from the linen — if you want to call it that. Babushkas were stationed at the doors at either end of car, and I think one had a samovar. The alleged toilets accounted for the pissoir-heavy air.

images-1In the bar car, we read “Zima Junction” by the fine poet Yevgeni Yevtushenko. We were on the way to Zima, northwest of Irkutsk. Yevtushenko was born there.

It is a not a political poem, but Yevtushenko became popular in the West as he danced around the Soviet iron fist. He did not even approach the Western celebrity status of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the unmercifully boring  novelist whose “The Gulag Archipeligo” attracted great notice in the West.
The luster of his heroism dulled for me when the boys in the politburo allowed him to leave mother Russia and eventually settle in New England. After spending much of his life  bitching and moaning about oppression in the Soviet Union, he bitched and moaned about rampant materialism and decadent values in a free society.

From Zima:

I’d like to see the old familiar pines,

the witnesses of the old-old  bygone times,

when great-granddad, along with other peasants,images

were banished to Siberia as rebels.

From far away

   to God forsaken place,

through mud and rain, deep in disgrace,

along with their wives and kids they were driven,

Ukrainian peasants, from Zhitomir region.

They  plodded,  trying to forget about

the things they treasured most of all, perchance…

The watchful convoy guards on the look out

would look askance at their heavy veiny hands.

The corporal would be playing cards as night would fall

while great-granddad, absorbed in thought all night,

would skilfully  pick up a piece of coal

straight from the fire, to have a light.

It is about going home again, a nostalgia piece from 1955. If Yevtushenko’s nostalgia yet lives, he’s not saying, at least publicly. He seems to be content out of the limelight with the Cold War a distant memory. He’s in his 80s and lives mostly in Tulsa. It was reported that he refuses to criticize Putin. And there is nothing about his views on Putin’s undisturbed waltz into the Ukraine, land of his grandfather.

I don’t suppose I want to see Irkutsk again. And I certainly don’t suppose the Stink Train still runs. Moreover, I’d guess Yevtushenko doesn’t want to return to Zima Station. When you get to a certain age, nostalgia isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Nonetheless, thank you dear Siberian readers for sparking a memory “from far away.”