Friday, February 19, 2010

Consider the lemon…..

What pops into your head? Lemon bars? Grilled salmon with lemon butter? Any number of dishes on both sides of the taste receptors-sweet and savory. Even more versatile than its distant relative the tomato-- a ubiquitous fruit that is most often found on the bitter side of the spectrum --the lemon’s dreamy yellow color puts a smile on your face just by being in the room .

Here in Arizona lemons grow well. Not quite as well as grapefruit it seems for there are far more sacks of grapefruit languishing in office break rooms waiting to be rescued by condo dwellers who lack lawns carved out of former citrus groves than lemons.

Luckily, I have a friend with acreage right in the middle of south Tempe whose lot is bordered by some of the biggest lemon trees I have ever seen. She always has a bumper crop. And I could not be smiling any wider.

It is becoming an annual tradition for us to trek over there on a Sunday to file our giant wire basket with these luscious footballs of bright yellow delight and spend a few minutes standing around and smiling about it. She is happy to have them put to use without having to do the schlepping and I am happy to have them. (And her fresh enchiladas were smile worthy as well!)

Apparently I am the sort of person who attracts friends that are living in the middle of city but just can’t get the country out of their system. I have another friend with horse property north of Dreamy Draw near Paradise Valley. Her place is in the opposite direction of my private lemon farm but a lot closer to my house. I make regular vigils over there to purloin fresh eggs. She has chickens of several varieties, ducks, geese and the occasion turkey. I have dozens of beautifully colored ovoids of varying sizes in my fridge at any given moment.

When the conditions are just right, these two ingredients come into contact with one another in my kitchen with delectable results.

Every Sunday my husband makes pancakes. When the weather starts acting like spring I have an almost Pavlovian hankering for a jar of lemon curd to compliment those discs of fluff that I usually douse with Grade A pure maple syrup that my brother in law Michael orders by the gallon from Vermont. While delectable, sometimes a person needs a change!

I was introduced to lemon curd by my dear friend and food expert, Judy Walker. We loved it so much we put a recipe for it in our third book, Gifts from the Southwest Kitchen. That was long before I found my lemon and egg pals and before I discovered Agave nectar.

Agave nectar deserves a digression here. My discovery of it is also tangentially related to Judy.

Last fall the Tucson Culinary Festival contacted Judy looking for local authors to sign their cookbooks for the foodies. Unfortunately she was busy in New Orleans that weekend. Fortunately, as the co-author, I was local and happened to be available. I was at a book-signing station with some other local authors and next to me was the extremely attractive and svelte cookbook author Janet Taylor. Her Healthy Southwest Table is published by Tucson Rio Nuevo. She was extolling the virtues of the indigenous ingredient agave nectar to anyone within earshot. Janet insisted that if everyone would simply switch from sugar to this nectar heart health would improve dramatically. This is due to the low glycemic properties of the nectar. Unlike refined sugar, agave does not cause your blood sugar to spike as it is being processed in your body, thereby leveling your sugar and decreasing the conditions that lead to diabetes.

Around that same time my herbologist had given me the same run down on the effects of sugar and complex carbohydrates on the blood. Surely this is not merely coincidence, I thought and I ran right to Costco and bought a bunch of nectar.

Well, I am here to tell you that as a substitute for sugar in cooking, it works great. It has some different qualities than sugar that will require a bit of experimentation or some good recipes until you get the hang of it. But you use 25% less of it than sugar which makes up a bit for the cost. I even used it in biscotti and didn’t notice any difference in the texture as a result.

I am absolutely wild about how well it works for lemon curd. And if you can get your hands on a duck egg, well, let me just say that compared to my lemon curd, grocery store offerings look wan up there on the shelf.

You can treat yourself to this joy because below is the recipe. And for the rest of the lemon cache please consider the preserved lemons technique that follows. Preserved lemons are great in everything from rice dishes to fish and especially wonderful in tagines (sort of Moroccan Dutch oven cooking-but that is for another day).

Lemon Curd, adapted from Gifts from the Southwest Kitchen

6 beaten egg yolks or 2 duck or goose egg yolks

3/4 cup agave nectarr

1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 stick butter, cut into small pieces

2 tablespoons packed lemon zest (the grated rind of 2 large or 4 small lemons)

In a 4-cup glass measure, whisk egg yolks, nectar and lemon juice together well. Microwave at 70 percent power for 1 minute; reach into the microwave and whisk well. Microwave for 1 minute more at 70 percent power and whisk again. Microwave again for 2 minutes (still 70 percent power), whisk again, and see if the mixture will coat the back of a wooden spoon. If not, continue to microwave at 1-minute intervals at 70 percent power until the mixture passes this test.

Remove from microwave. Stir in butter, one piece at a time, until all is melted. Add zest and stir well. Let cool. Divide into two half-pint jars. Refrigerate.

Preserved Lemons


Kosher salt

Cinammon Sticks

Canning Jars

Cut through lemons as if to quarter them but leave the end intact. Toss the seeds that pop out. Jam the lemon flesh into a sterilized jar, adding a couple of cinnamon sticks. Cover generously with salt. Repeat until the jar is filled to the top. Juice will be released in the process of jamming the lemons in the jar and this is fine. Seal the jars. Turn them over occasionally while storing them away from the sun for at least a month before using. I have used them up to a year later with good results.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Committing the Crime of Fallacy

For some time now I have been ruminating on some pet peeves about what is commonly accepted as debate in modern America. This is especially noticeable in emails and posts and responses to columns. It apparently has been recognized by others. Lately there are columns popping up that focus on "liberal condescension" a condition which is probably angling to be added to the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for psychiatry) that is currently being revised to update definitions of mental illness. (For more on DSM go to ).

My concern is not limited to any particular side of a debate. I called a very conservative blogger on an issue in his column just the other day that constituted a misrepresentation of the basic facts in his argument. He got completely sidetracked from that however with the personal issue that was raised in the column which was not my focus at all. Consequently, he never acknowledged the real point.

I used to teach a course called "Critical Thinking." The upshot of the class was to raise people's awareness of the many ways that argument can actually be erroneous and lead one to a completely unsupportable conclusion that they will nevertheless defend with dedication. It was interesting to take newspaper editorials into class and use them as examples. People who emotionally identified with an issue had a very difficult time stepping back and appreciating the cracks in the foundation of the case being made.

A great example I could have used in class appeared this very morning on the Arizona Republic editorial page, wherein the writer-- exorcised over the silliness of people snidely remarking that the unprecedented snow in the east this winter of 2010 must be the effect of "global warming" --argues that obviously this too is the result of human induced climate change and cites to earthquakes as another of those symptoms. Clearly in his zeal he got a bit carried away. I am extremely confident that there is not a single scientist who has ever suggested earthquakes are in any way connected to human activity. But he stated it with such conviction that he appears to be convinced that is the case. It would have been interesting to see if anyone in class would have fallen in line with this guy notwithstanding the pretty blatant absurdity of the human connection to earthquakes.

The class pointed out several ways one commits fallacy in reasoning. I have recently been noticing one major error that is creeping more and more often into contemporary rhetoric --the ad hominem attack. This term defines when, rather than arguing the merits of the topic, one resorts to calling into question the person on the opposing side. The tactic takes many forms: dismissal of all those who disagree as somehow intellectually inferior, silly or jaded; constant repetition of the person's name which keeps the focus on the arguer and distracts from the argument; misconstruing one's intention to impact his credibility; generalizing and assuming facts not in evidence by labeling an opponent as a member of a group whose agenda may not even relate to the subject matter of the argument. When you think about it personal attack is really what the "liberal condescension" concern is about.

There are about 17 other types of fallacious reasoning that impact our ability to intelligently discuss and ultimately resolve problems. They include the perennial problems of changing the subject, inapt analogies, iffy statistical analysis, hasty judgments, overlooking evidence, slippery slope, just not having all the data and so forth. But one of the easiest to employ yet toughest to deal with is the personal attack.

Its overuse threatens to suppress solutions, which are desperately needed in these uncertain times. It is ubiquitous. Just about everywhere you look it pops up. Only yesterday (02/11/10) I read a response to a criticism of a position on a utility regulation that cited the opponents name in almost every sentence (I am not exaggerating). The effect was that the gist of the guy's argument was completely blurred by this distraction of constantly bringing the personage of the fellow whose argument he purported to criticize. I honestly have no recollection of the substance of his repartee. How could this move the issue forward?

It takes a great deal of work to deal with constantly having to point out the errors of logic in these debates. Not only is it time consuming, it is a total distraction from the issue, actually creating an impediment to ever truly fleshing it out. This is endemic in a two party system and makes political solutions nearly impossible to attain. Much like a court case, the two sides assume an adversarial stance right out of the chute. That sets the tone and overrides everything else about the engagement, including the substance of the discussion. And much like court cases, these debates drag on for years and in the end proactive solutions are never attained. Instead reactive responses to what has become a crisis during the time of the pointless arguments drives the next move and everyone suffers. A perfect case in point is the economic crisis that is now taken on the pall of a doomsday scenario: bad scene, blame game, bailout, skyrocketing deficit. No calm and intellectual debate to come up with a solution as no one had time. But everyone has time to slam the other side.

I have two very intelligent and driven friends who are of the liberal persuasion. They are both very educated and skilled lawyers. One of them is almost vehement in his use of the ad hominem error, even after having been called on it and taken note of it. The result is that it becomes impossible to entertain his arguments and they are, therefore, dismissed. The other fellow, however, has never resorted to that tactic and with him it is a pleasure to engage.

This is neither liberal nor conservative, it is simply expensive and does nothing more than delay the inevitable. Amazing, isn't it, how a simply thing like a personal attack can derail an entire system?

So what to do? I suggest that you watch yourself. If you find that you are focusing on the person rather than the issue, take a step back and regroup. If you find your opponent doing so, kindly point out the problem of heading that direction and remap the conversation. If that doesn't work, find a new debate partner. But most importantly, in your research keep these concepts in mind so that you are more able to sort out the wheat from the chaff enabling you to come to well reasoned conclusions. If everyone just did that what a different world this would be; I could go back to cooking and not be possessed by the need to write these blog rants.

Sunday, February 7, 2010


I cook every day. Well, not quite—never on Friday (at the end of a typically busy week I am ready to be waited on). And usually on Tuesday and Thursday we eat something light upon our return from yoga. But most often that is something cooked at home. People are amazed by this. I, in turn, am amazed there is any other way to do it. I can't figure out what those amazed people eat. And they can't figure out where I find the time.

I thought it might help to share some of the methods I use to make eating at home at once easy and exotic. Okay, not exotic but certainly wonderful. So, from time to time I will post about what is up in my kitchen that I think would be helpful in yours. And I hope you will find that you don't have to spend two hours cooking to have something incredible. My intent is to share advice on appliances, recipes, shopping, the kitchen environment and general strategies for great eating.

Eating is fundamental so why not make it the best it can be? And next to sex, it is the most intimate way there is to connect with other people. Nothing makes me happier than having people love something I cooked for them.

The only drawback I have discovered is that once you find you can make such delicious and perfect food at home, restaurant eating can become a bit of a challenge. Fortunately, in Phoenix we have an abundance of really good restaurants, some of which are actually reasonably priced. So here anyway that is something we can all live with, right?



To start with, the acquisition of food can be complex and daunting. Cooking has parallels to DIY home repairs; without the proper planning you can find yourself running to the store repeatedly to make a single recipe. I used to do this but finally figured a way out of the trap. By properly stocking your pantry and fridge, this should become less and less of a problem over time as you acquire the range of items that make sense for you. Once you have the basics, you can concentrate on the perishable, which becomes less of a headache when you let the seasons make some of your decisions for you. This will eventually develop a rhythm that will only take as much time as you want to spend at it. And if it works out for you like it does me you may rarely visit a big chain grocery store, which in my view is a goal unto itself. Aside from the myriad benefits of shopping local, the grocery store experience always seemed like an arduous trek through a forest of consumerism, in short a chore.

I also pay attention to the corporate influences on food and I am here to tell you that while we do have access to an incredible (and almost embarrassing) array of food choices, that is at once a benefit and a curse. To get a good understanding of the big picture I recommend the recent documentary film, Food, Inc. It will open your eyes to the fact that many of the 48,000 items in the grocery story are rearrangements of corn molecules and controlled by only 4 companies. Kind of colors the concept of options a bit when you understand it.

Sure, I am familiar with the freezer section at the grocery store, but only because it houses ice cream (a rare indulgence, to be sure). I am also aware that the typical grocery carries over 48,000 food items (and tons of nonfood items that you probably don't need either but are nonetheless tempted to buy). That is just astonishing. But even more astonishing is, at least according to the film Food, Inc. almost all of those items come from just 4 companies and for the most part are rearranged corn. Yikes! I do not frequent those places, especially since I swore off Safeway who insulted me in a big way. I think I have been there once in 2 years. But I digress...

Rather, I make the rounds at just three places to acquire the bulk of the groceries we consume: the farmer's market, Costco (I never said I was not a consumer, just a picky one) and Trader Joe's. Once in awhile if I am making something in particular I will head to Fry's or Basha's (never liked the way those stores smell-the grease trap in the deli I believe is the culprit) or AJ's (if I am feeling particular flush with cash).

Oh yes, I do love Phoenix Ranch Market, the Disney land of Mexican cooking, but that is reserved for a special occasion. (Here is the link so you can get an idea of what it is all about: I understand there is an Asian equivalent, Lee Lee Oriental Supermarket out in the hinterlands of Peoria and Chandler but I have yet to plan a special day for that. It sounds like a version of 99 Ranch at the COFCO center which has been replaced by Super L Ranch Market where I have not visited in years, rarely being out that way.

I am also lucky to have a friend with a mob of poultry in her yard so I get fresh chicken, duck and turkey eggs fairly often. A side benefit is that the varieties of fowl produce eggs in colors so I don't have to fiddle around with dyes at Easter. And duck eggs are especially good for use in recipes as they are about twice the size of chicken eggs. But my favorite duck egg use is in lemon curd—so good. Urban chicken raising was a fad last year; many people were touting how easy it is to raise them in your yard, just like they have been thumping compost piles for many years. I am not that adventurous or energetic.


One of the special features of the cookbooks Judy Walker and I worked on together was the pantry list. This stroke of Judygenius really made me pay attention to what I had on hand. That and the hour I spent one time organizing her spice cabinet after a move; alphabetization was the only way to make sense of it. When I remodeled my own kitchen some years later, a favorite feature is the slide out pantry shelves, which are in two sizes: the entire 16-inch width in one; the other is split down the middle, giving two six- inch shelves with access from either side. The larger shelf works well for small appliances and boxes of cereal, bags of chips and bulkier items. The smaller variety is perfect for cans, bottles, and smaller bagged items and such. This is one thing I don't know how I did without.

The contents of that pantry represent a wide array of possibilities. For example, at any given time I can make probably 50 different types of salad dressing.

Here is a list of things that I try to have on hand at all times:

Fresh, Keep On Hand Most of the Time

    Note: Most produce I buy weekly at the farmer's market. The beautiful part is that the selection changes with the seasons, but there are some things that you can always get, like onions and tomatoes. The non-refrigerated items listed here are weekly purchases and are almost always available. I keep them in a basket on a shelf way from direct sunlight.

Onions: yellow, white and/or red, shallot, (I recently bought a bag of pearl onions at Trader Joe's which combined all colors-those went a long way and were easy to store);    

Garlic: A fresh head of garlic. I also keep granulated garlic in a jar which is transferred from the bag found on the wall in the "Hispanic" section of a traditional grocery store. Although this handy form of garlic is not fresh, having it also in your pantry is not redundant; it is great for seasoning meat and salads and for uses when fresh is not the preferred consistency.    

Limes: Great for food and cocktails. Mineral water in lime is also nice. I buy Pellegrino by the case; it has the nutrients from the minerals that are wiped out by the reverse osmosis so it is bubbly and healthy.                        

Lemons: You should always have at least one lemon in the house. If it looks like it is going to dry up before you can use it, squeeze it over a salad or juice it into a bottle which keeps well in the fridge.    Zest the rind and store it in the fridge as well.

Tomatoes: A cluster of tomatoes on the vine do well over the course of the week on the island. A handful of Romas which are great for snacking look beautiful in a cobalt blue bowl on my fridge shelf.    

Potatoes/sweet potatoes/yams: I don't necessarily always have these on hand; sweet potatoes more often that white or red potatoes but I do occasionally have a potato in a meal. I really love the purple potatoes and buy them whenever I see them.

Squash: Hard squashes are pretty seasonal but they keep for a very long time and they look great on the counter in the meanwhile.                


Green onions/leeks

Cilantro/ parsley: Very often the bunch is far more than I will use during its fresh period. I hang them from a magnetic clip stuck on the cooktop hood until they dry and then relegate them to a jar. I have a bunch of dill doing that this very moment. Dill is not around for long so it is best to grab it while it is there.

Cheese: cheddar is usually in the cheese drawer with a chunk of Parmesan. I usually rotate through others such as feta, gouda, goat for having a quick snack available or for a recipe. Mascarpone is a versatile cream style cheese for sweet and savory uses.



Milk: I buy 1% and the occasional whipping cream if I am doing something special or half and half.

Eggs: Hickman's eggs are locally farmed. It is a commercial family owned operation. They do a great job and their eggs are every bit as acceptable as "free range" eggs. Temple Grandin, who is currently the subject of an HBO movie, has brought great reform to animal processing through her autism which allows her to "see" what the animals do. As she noted, farmed animals would never have been born if it were not for their value as food. Her changes have increased awareness and added a humane element to the process. The Hickman's have not been subject to corporate pressure to conform to inhumane treatment of their chickens and are part of "Operation Good Egg." Google them and read about it.

Butter: I am a huge fan of butter; never touch margarine. I picked up whole pound butter last time and actually enjoyed cutting my own sticks, but that is probably a bit over the top for most people.

Mustards: A variety of mustards can be very accommodating; Dijon is a must, but a coarse grain German is also nice and champagne mustard is an indulgence that might stay around for a while.


Greek style yogurt: A recent discovery, this is by far the best yogurt ever. It has a wonderful consistency. I used it and a bit of mayo in avocado dip and it was the best I have ever made in thirty years.

Prosciutto or other cold cut of the week

End cuts of bacon: These come from the local pork grower and are so much better than strips. First they are not nearly as messy to cook, they are in chunks and render a nice amount of fat that should be reserved for other uses, and they make a perfect starter for all kinds of dishes. Another wonderful discovery is guanciale, unsmoked bacon from the pork jowl. Chef Wade Moises of the Pasta Bar (the best restaurant in Phoenix) asked the folks at The Meat Shop, local pig farmer/pork purveyors for it. They in turn told me about it one day when they were out of the bacon ends at the Farmer's Market. It is amazing and is used in the same way as the bacon ends. Guanciale is the true basis for pasta carbonara.

Broth-chicken, beef, vegetable: You simply cannot cook without broth. It is a miracle ingredient. You can spend lots of time making your own, but why do that when you can by Better Than Broth and have a concentrated base at the ready? I keep a jar of each of these flavors in stock at all times.



Chicken: boneless, skinless breasts; thighs; wings; whole chickens-I rotate these through depending upon what veggies are in season, but I almost always have some breast and thigh meat on hand.

Ground beef /sirloin, pork, lamb, turkey-The best ground beef comes from Costco. Buy a big package and break it down into useable portions to freeze.

Short ribs: bone-in or boneless; either way these are a versatile cut of meat that is always tender and flavorful, great for braising, one of my favorite techniques.

Pork chops, boneless, thick cut: Costco is a great source. These babies are very handy for stir fry dishes and the like. Also, these braise up nicely and can be cut in have to render two nice size cutlets, giving them extra versatility.

Shrimp, salmon and occasionally other varieties of fish/seafood

Peas and organic white corn: these are great for throwing into a quick batch of fried rice or a soup


Packaged and Canned

Oil: olive, canola    

Tomatoes, diced: I buy a Costco case so I always have them on hand.

Tomatoes with green chiles: Brands like Rotel come is small 5 ounce sizes which are most handy

Green chiles: whole, diced; of course there is nothing like the fall scent of fresh roasted green chiles and those can be frozen as well but they never last through the winter. The canned are needed for the off season.

Beans, dried and canned: pinto, great Northern, heirloom beans, garbanzoes, black-eyed peas, bean combination mixtures, black beans, small white beans, canned refried beans, peas-green/yellow, and Tepary beans, which are native to Arizona and come in 3 colors, are extremely versatile, quick cooking and rather small so they don't get mushy in soups


Tomato sauce/paste

Chipotles: most easily found canned in Adobo sauce, I prefer the dried version which come in packets in the Hispanic section of the typical Southwest grocery store; brands are Mohave, Tampico and El Guapo

Pure red chile powder and/or cayenne (red pepper)

Cumin: seeds, I like to crush them with a mortar and pestle, a throwback but very effective and energizing and easier to clean than an electric grinder, mine is marble

Coriander: seeds (see above)

Anise or fennel: seeds

Star anise: whole

Red chile flakes

Dried chiles, such as ancho, tepins, guajillo

Bay leaves

Pine nuts

Mexican pepitas or shelled pumpkin seeds

Rice: basmati, jasmine, arborio, brown, wild





Tortillas: whole wheat flour, corn, chips

Nonstick cooking sprays: plain,

Dried fruit: dates, currants, raisins, figs, cranberries/cherries (especially for granola) and apricots

Vinegar: Balsamic, rice or seasoned rice, red wine and apple cider vinegar

Sundried tomatoes

Almonds, pecans, walnuts, pine nuts, peanuts: Nuts also do very well in the freezer

Oatmeal: Buy the giant bag and store in the freezer; great for homemade granola

Curry powder: There are literally thousands of curries; find one you like or make up your own, or keep several on hand


Cinnamon-stick and powdered


Bay leaves

Saffron threads



Agave nectar

Salt: sea, kosher

Black pepper, whole and ground


Baking powder

Baking soda


Cocoa powder

Peppermint syrup or peppermint flavoring

Buttermilk baking powder

Dried milk

Evaporated milk

Coconut milk


You may wish to include herbs like rosemary, oregano and basil. I have plants in my yard but using the technique I mentioned in the cilantro/parsley entry in the Refrigerator section above works for the inevitable plethora you will end up with from buying a fresh bunch.


This list and some good cookbooks/magazines will get you off to a roaring start. I still regularly consult my ancient Betty Crocker cookbook. My favorite all time book is the pre-1990's Joy of Cooking (I gave this to my grandmother one time-she was a magician with her specialties—I still crave her donuts—and she wondered aloud how she managed all those years without it.) But the best of the best is Taunton's Fine Cooking magazine. I have issues 40-90 on my shelf and I consult them almost daily. The annual index is a quick way to find a recipe to fit the food you have on hand. The approach is clean and clear and comes with great pictures. For years I have been referring to a fabulous master braising recipe. Only recently I went back and looked at the article and discovered it was penned by Tom Colicchio, head Top Chef, the Bravo channel show that I am addicted to. The magazine issue came out years before the show. It was like discovering that my favorite sugar cookie recipe was invented by Mrs. Fields. Who knew!

I promise the next installment will not be so "meaty." In the meanwhile, if you want to interact, please comment/ask questions. I would love to make this interactive. It could be the next best thing to the next best thing to sex.








Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Back in October 2007 I posted with the following title:

Why you should not waste your time reading anonymous posts

You are welcome to look it up.

The reason I mention it now is that I notice I am finally getting comments on this blog but nearly all of them are anonymous. Thanks, but no thanks. If I don't know who you are why in the world would anything you say have any meaning to me or anyone else whatsoever?

I now take this opportunity to beg you: Please, please, please post your comments; this would be a lot more fun if we were interacting. But if you don't have the cojones to sign your name don't waste the carbon making the post.

Thanks and have a nice day!

Arizona Clean Elections-The Dirty Little Secret-From Whence the $ Comes

These are trying economic times. Just ask the petty criminal who is slapped with civil or criminal fines for everything from driving without having a license in his possession to shoplifting from Walmart. It can be tough to come up with the cash to pay a $340 fine for attempting a five finger discount on a $20 DVD. Yes, this is a stupid crime-- who could possibly be that desperate to own a movie? And yes, it is an expensive nuisance for the retailer. And yes, to maintain a civil society we need a system that provides proper punishment and deterrence. I get that and applaud that. This is not about that.

Through my own empirical study (about a decade of working misdemeanors in various municipal courts) I have found that even in the best of times very few people have the financial resources to pay their fines outright; fortunately for them, the court offers a pretty reasonable interest free payment plan for a flat $20 fee. Most of the people who commit these crimes and/or civil infractions are among the lowest classes in our society. Many of them are simply mentally ill.

The interesting part of the fine method of dealing with such miscreants is that the fines themselves often form the basis for the succeeding violation such as when their license becomes suspended for failure to pay and they drive anyway because they have to get to work or to their girlfriend's house; or they shoplift again because their meager entitlement payments don’t provide them enough money to live on and pay their fine payments. Clearly, someone who cannot pay these fines cannot pay for insurance. A ticket for suspended license and no insurance adds up to nearly $1800. A good majority of misdemeanor and civil violators are living in poverty and the fine system works very well to prolong that status and often exacerbate it.

And a hefty percentage of these folks, such as the mentally ill, are on disability. If I had a penny for every time a defendant replied “I am on social security and have to wait for my check to come in” to a query regarding their ability to pay I would be on a beach somewhere right now and not hanging around here trying to make a living. So for these people the fines represent a transfer of our tax dollars from one program to another.

How ironic then that these are the people (and until recently a large subgroup consisting of illegal immigrants) upon whose backs we have chosen to finance elections. Yes, you read that correctly, this is where 53% of the money that fills the Arizona Clean Elections coffers comes from.

Of course, the elections system only gets a small percentage of the large percentage increase in the fine represented by the various surcharges that are tacked on each and every fine assessed in this state. True, most of the money raised in this manner is at least tangentially related to administering the criminal system which is a proper function of government. But some of the things mixed up in there have a remote connection. And funding elections has no connection at all. In my view this is taxation without representation and very insidious because it can never be properly challenged as such.

Let’s break it down, shall we?

Using as an example a violation that carries a $250 fine actually costs the defendant $479:

$ 250 base fine
20 probation fee (added to everycivil or criminal charge to fund probation departments)
117 (47%) criminal justice enhancement fund, a long list of programs share in this ranging from
fingerprints to county jails
17 (7%)pays the State, County and City costs of chasing down criminals
18 (7%) pays for the DNA testing program
32 (13%) medical services enhancement fund-uses include adding substance abuse
considerations to emergency medical response protocols and seeding the state spinal and
head injury trust fund
25 (10%) Clean Elections
479 Fine + 84% surcharges

In another ironic twist, the Clean Elections Act itself created several class one misdemeanors that apply to people who knowingly abuse the system. So sometimes the criminal actually funding this thing may also be the recipient of the dough. If that isn’t turning justice on its head I am the flying nun.

But back to my point: the largest amount of money for funding elections in this state comes from the people who are most likely least able to afford it. And in the case of felons who pay these fines (which are probably even slower in actually hitting the coffers given that most of them are in prison and therefore not working and therefore not paying fines) they can’t even participate in the system for they are no longer eligible to vote.

And it is most unlikely that the people who can’t even figure out how to keep their driver’s license active are able to figure out how to register and actually vote themselves so that probably applies to the misdemeanants as well. But of course, this is pure conjecture.

When you fund your government by surcharges that are hidden in the fines that the vast majority of the citizens are not even aware of you are doing government a serious disservice. In this budget axing that we are currently experiencing, these surcharges don’t ever come up, nor do the programs that they fund.

Now I am all for the check off box on the income tax return as a means of allowing people to contribute to elections funding which is entirely voluntary. For those who don’t like the political process this is a nice way to feel like you are participating without having to give money to a particular party or be identified with a particular candidate. Of course, they have no control over how that money is spent, but not to worry, as government has created an entire agency to do that job for them. So they know what to expect.

But I can’t believe the poor shoplifter ever gives this whole idea even a thought. Unless of course he was able to get all the way out of the store with the Manchurian Candidate safely tucked between his legs.

References: as of 2/3/2010;
ARS § 12-114.01
ARS § 41-2401
ARS § 41-2421J
ARS § 41-2419
ARS § 36-2219.01
ARS § 16-954