Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Voting Rights Act strikedown: Win or loss?

I expect most Arizonans don't know that our state is one of those selected for special scrutiny under Article 4 of the Voting Rights Act, struck down today by the Supreme Court. AZ won this honor with persistent,direct and official discrimination against minorities, particularly our native population.

An optimist who isn't paying much attention might think, terrific, we're finally past the era of racial discrimination, we can move on with an officially color-blind society. Sounds great.

Those paying closer attention will more likely raise an eyebrow. The continuing political fracas over "immigration issues," right-wing code for keeping the brown people in their place, and voter ID is prima facie evidence that the reflex to discriminate and segregate remains alive and well in our official apparatus. Does that warrant us having to run changes in our election laws and procedures through the Justice Department? Well, someone has to be the adult in the room, and as the majority of Arizona voters so far are clearly not up to the task, I think I'd prefer it.

Then there are those who are paying attention with different motives, and this ruling simply enables those who would continue to use and encourage racial fear to build their own power and wealth. They can say that the Supreme Court says there's no more discrimination, so we needn't worry about it anymore.

Without the federal backstop against voting discrimination, it falls to us as Arizona voters to take more responsibility to ensure that we not only don't backslide further, but make real progress on being an open and fair society for all our citizens.

Update, Thursday: Think Progress has the story on how seven of the nine preclearance states have already moved to restrict voting rights as a result of the Supreme Court decision. I'm guessing Arizona's reactionaries are only regretting that their legislative session didn't last long enough to get them in the game, too.

Editorial: Cheap is gooder

I've read today's editorial three times and I still can't say with much confidence that I understand what the unnamed editor is getting at. It verges on a drunken ramble, full of non-sequitur and tangential dead-ends and apparently unscathed by proofreading.

Peering through the murk, the best I can tell is that he's reacting to outlay for vital public services, using fire suppression as an ideal good (he could see the fire from his house), and comparing that skeptically to the removal of the widely hated traffic cams in PV in favor of live police officers, speculating that maintaining the level of traffic safety that the machines brought will cost more.

Let's posit for the sake of argument that PV officials never slanted their estimations of the effect of the cameras to justify their own decisions to apply them, and so the reductions in traffic injuries have been real and related to the cameras. Most people still hate them, and want live officers to handle traffic enforcement. Therefore the public sees higher value in getting rid of the cameras and, if necessary, paying more for that higher-value enforcement. That's just how our political system works, and understanding it requires a little better ken of economics than the Walmart model.

Of course, the exclusive "this thing or that thing" argument is far too simplistic to matter. If traffic safety is secured by reducing vehicle speed, then we could accomplish the goal more cheaply and effectively by, for example, removing paving or adding frequent speed bumps. The point here is that even if you believe that the cameras have been effective (and I think there's a persuasive argument against that), you have to admit that there are other ways to accomplish the goal that people will hate less.

Note: "Ravish" means "carry away for the purpose of rape," and is usually used archly today, though its application to a mountain remains outside even the boundaries of satire. (He meant to use "ravage," of course.)