Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy 2010!

Best wishes to all for a better year and a better decade. We could hardly do much worse than the naughties have been, good riddance to them.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Today's (creepy) Chuckle

From the comments:

Incent people being victmized be the police and judges, property taxes going up when property velues is going down tax returns 640 to 1280 less this year and a presdient that bows to other counturies spells terisam to me. Some say we are not vilanet, we will handle this thru leagel means but the leagle system is tated and the civil war was not won with words but with bullets.
Makes my head spin.

Getting ready for your blue-moon party?

It's another boring Wednesday in the paper, and I've been saving this photo for something moon-themed, like the first blue-moon New Year's Eve since 1990. I know, it should be a full moon, but with the weather we're likely to be having, half a moon is better than no moon at all.

Here's something just a little geeky to read about blue moons and moon lore.

Editorial: We should learn from Leon Noe

Yet again. By now you probably know what the chair means. If not, see this. Or this, this, this, or especially this, which says it all.

Judge admonishes feuding neighbors

So today Linda turns in what could have been the complete piece containing what ran just yesterday.

Are the editors budgeting these stories at random or what? It really looks like scribbling unfinished, poorly thought-out stuff straight into the paper willy-nilly.

I just want readers to notice one thing about what's at issue here: one side in the dispute is not commenting, the other is courting media attention and getting it.

Problems plague City Council election

Cindy follows the standard negative media narrative we had during the fall, but to me our local election was the most interesting in a very long time, and the hitches in the gitalong only pointed up that more people were more engaged, understanding that more is at stake, than ever. This is a good thing. I just wish they hadn't run that goofy photo of Tammy Linn again.

Shout-out to out-of-towners

I just want to say hi to the regular Courierwatch readers outside our local area. Yo Page, Phoenix, Tempe, San Francisco, Dallas, Minneapolis and Stuart FL! Drop me a comment and let me know what brings you to this tiny corner of the blogosphere.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

"It's a good day to die."

The Courier ran a story on the judge's release of documents in the James Ray sweat-lodge case, so I figured it would be interested in what's in those documents. So far, nothing.

The AP has some fascinating bits in a story today datelined Prescott. WaPo has it, and I saw others yesterday. Why doesn't the Courier?

Update, midnight:
The story shows up for Wednesday, a few grafs longer than the WaPo version, with stuff added from the affadavits, which are fascinating.

Editorial: Benefit denials may help budget

Let's do a little parsing, just for fun. The unnamed Courier editor:

"The federal government's continuing refusal to do anything about illegal immigration ..."
The editor apparently misses how much money and effort our government really does spend on border control and immigration enforcement. It's huge, of course, but the editor calls it "nothing." This indicates a certain cavalier attitude toward the truth.
"The American people are fed up with the problem and are not going to wait forever for the federal government to act,"
... meaning that a small group of people having a nice greasy breakfast with the editor are fed up and will do nothing but complain about it, giving the Republicans an issue to run candidates on. They won't do anything about it because a) they can't, as they showed when they were in power, b) it would interfere with the very large corporate interests that pull the strings on the right, and c) complaining rather than doing what they say they want gives them a continuing campaign issue, where attempting it would immediately prove their incompetence and short-sightedness.
"In 2004 Arizona voters approved an initiative to deny state benefits to illegal immigrants, but Attorney General Terry Goddard interpreted the law narrowly to apply to only a few categories of benefits."
Of course, implies the editor, the state's most senior law-enforcement official could not possibly have made the correct interpretation, as one might infer from the lack of a countervailing court judgment. He's a Democrat, after all. Instead,
"the Arizona Legislature expanded the list of government benefits illegals may not receive,"
rather than demand that Goddard do as they told him to do, because they're really kindly people who wouldn't want to offend.
"The latest legislation also requires that people applying for benefits must provide at least one form of identification, including a birth certificate or passport, and sign an affidavit saying their documents are authentic."
We can be confident that this will be so scary to holders of false IDs that they'll turn themselves in.
"That quickly raised hackles with Democratic legislators who rely heavily on Hispanic voters"
... since the jackboots will only be checking the papers of Hispanics, right? No, the law says the bureaucrats have to check everyone's papers, which might bother legislators who care about such things. Republicans apparently don't.
"... and the Arizona League of Cities and Towns filed an unsuccessful suit challenging the constitutionality of the benefit restrictions."
Everyone knows that the League is just a bunch of namby-pamby immigrant-huggers. Mesa, for example.
"800 people seeking benefits have not been able to prove their lawful presence in the country."
or perhaps just couldn't find or buy their papers. How many people applied for benefits in that time, editor, just to put things in perspective?
"... the state should not be handing out money to non-citizens here illegally."
And it doesn't, since AG Goddard has been enforcing the ban on the narrow class of welfare programs that are the only ones that "hand out money." The editor fails to understand that "public benefit" is a really broad and vague category, and includes many things we take for granted. Municipalities fairly want to know how much hassle and expense they have to put out and how many of their citizens they have to piss off to keep a few people from getting such benefits, even where the evidence is slim to none that there's any significant loss related to illegals.
"The declining economy and the employer sanctions law clearly have pushed illegal immigrants off to other states."
The illegals are moving on because there aren't enough jobs here, and that by far has been the most effective factor in reducing immigration both legal and otherwise -- economic disaster. That should tell us all something very important.

How much of the state's money would the editor spend to support this Republican political theatre? I gotta wonder.

Sheriff's K9 unit nabs 2 men and 7 pounds of cocaine

Over the past week or so I've been hearing about how the state wants to remove convicted illegals from our prisons and send them back to their home countries before they've finished their sentences.

So that's in the back of my mind as I read this story, of two drug mules caught on the way to parts unknown with a few pounds of coke under the back seat.

There's no indication that these guys are illegal immigrants, that's not the issue. Rather, they're apparently from New Mexico and Colorado, and in all likelihood they fully intended to get back there with their booty. Yavapai County just happens to be on the way.

But they were caught here and if convicted they will serve their sentences here. At our expense. Even though we can be pretty confident that they would have done nothing in Arizona more obnoxious than speeding.

We're generally happy to dump the expense of Mexican perps back on Mexico. Would it not be similarly just to dump New Mexican perps back on New Mexico, for example? The logic ought to hold.

I'd like to see more followup coverage on these guys -- whether they're convicted, whether there are outstanding charges elsewhere, where and for how long they're incarcerated, when they get out, and where they go afterward. Follow the story and we all learn more about how our justice system works and what this sort of bust costs us.

Update, Wednesday: Must be something in the air, I just heard on the radio about a move toward forcing prisoners to pay for their incarceration. Debtor's prison, here we come!

Victim of the court system?


Looks like the editors thought they had few inches of human-interest in this story of a guy getting arrested on a littering charge that had already been dismissed. Pretty funny.

So Linda ran with that, but the story as published neglects to give any other perspective of what is clearly a rancorous neighborhood feud. The story encourages the reader to judge on the basis of nothing but this guy's story.

So readers are doing exactly that, as seen in the comments. They're judging the protagonist, the deputies, the judge, the unnamed neighbors, the postal system, the town of D-H, and society at large, charging anything that strikes their imaginations. All on the basis of reporting that would embarrass a first-year journo student.

The reader might reasonably ask how this story came to the Courier in the first place. Given what it covers, we can reasonably infer it was a phone call from Mr Waters or his attorney. Didn't that raise a red flag at the editor's desk? I gather not.

Monday, December 28, 2009

New Arizona law rekindles immigrant benefit debate

Here's yet another example of how people get to hyperventilating over an issue and consequently can't think straight when certain words come up. Today's words are "illegal immigration."

Senator Russell Pearce used his impressive grasp of the holes in the legislative process to get some language passed through on a budget bill that really shouldn't have been there. This happens a lot, and you don't have to be a partisan of the specific issue to understand that the way the Legislature does this sort of thing is just wrong.

The League of Cities and Towns hear about it and discover that they're suddenly on the hook for a whole lot of new personnel and material costs to enforce Mr Pearce's vague language. They pipe up and say "Hold on, what's the deal here?"

Mr Pearce calls them "open-border anarchists who refuse to protect the taxpayer," which illustrates what intellectual level he's working on.

The commenters on the story weigh in with their views about how simple the world is if only everyone would listen to them.

The people freaking out about illegals are utterly blind to the inevitably complex consequences of what they propose. To them it's all perfectly simple, but where the rubber meets the road, our municipalities have to figure out in irritating detail what to enforce, how to enforce it, how to pay for that enforcement and what to do with the people they stop.

Legislators always understand what they mean to write into law, but rarely do they have the communication and systems-thinking skills to understand the real effects of what they write. Would you rather have your representatives calling people names and fighting lawsuits, or asking them about their concerns and working to craft a better legal solution to the problem? I know how I vote on that.

Editorial: Public will judge Arpaio, Polk, et al

Writing the editorial -- the considered opinion of the paper as a community entity -- is about taking a stand. Not every day is a big-news day, so frequently the daily editorial column carries lighter fare, but when the editors choose to address a controversial public-policy issue, the reader fairly expects to learn what the editors, who deal with public policy every day and so are supposedly up on the details, consider to be the better course. Journos generally love to do this, because it's the most direct form of participation in the news that the profession offers.

So when I see an editorial on a hot issue and read something as smarmy and mealy-mouthed as this, my red flags go up and the BS collision siren goes off.

Notice, dear reader, how the unnamed Courier editor uses subtle equivocation and characterization to undercut the case against Arpaio and Thomas. Putting Arpaio and Polk in the same "et al." headline, as if they're all the same. Reducing the arguments to "vitriol flying thither and yon." Describing the public demonstration of the attorneys rather than their documented concerns. The unschooled reader would naturally conclude from this that the issue is some sort of angry food fight among a bunch of lawyers and doesn't matter.

No, dear editor, Attorney Polk's letter is clearly not "vitriol" in any way. Her accusations are serious and measured, not angry or gratuitous. The "200 lawyers on the lawn" are actually over 350 attorneys in public and private practice, including other municipal and county attorneys, calling out Thomas and Arpaio for abuse of their offices. This is serious stuff, but the Courier editor handles it like a barroom argument over an umpire call.

Why, one might wonder. I have a guess. Taking a clear stand in favor of Arpaio and Thomas would win a few points among people who don't read much, but ultimately come a cropper when the two principles take their inevitable fall -- the evidence is overwhelming. Taking a stand in favor of the majority of the legal profession and Ms Polk puts the paper on the side of lawyers, whom they love to hate, and against the sliver of the extreme right that the editors identify with most strongly. And this last group, we can all attest, holds grudges when its members fail to measure up to this week's standard of crazy.

Letter: Fann outsources jobs for WV road project

Greg Harkleroad writes to let readers know that only a third of the subcontractors on the Williamson Valley Road project will be local. If I were the Courier city editor I would put some resources into looking into this question, both for this project and other public projects. People want to know about this, in terms of jobs for themselves and their kids, and in terms of how much of their tax contributions stay in the area regenerating the economy.

A commenter on the story makes the point that the law requires us to take the low bid, regardless of local economic impact or benefit. This is mostly true, I'm sure, but that system cannot change unless voters understand how the system works and demand change. This is (or should be) the core purpose of our news media -- providing the factual basis for understanding the state of our society and making choices about it.

Update, Tuesday: Check out Mike Fann's reply in the comments.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Pushback from the legal profession

AzBlueMeanie of the excellent Blog for Arizona posts a nice map of the high-powered artillery coming to bear on Sheriff Joe and Andrew Thomas, and recaps the issues and the tactics that the Republic characterizes as "using the law to pursue political enemies." Our County Attorney is in the thick of a much bigger push by an appalled profession to get control of these guys.

Buddy Ross shares this photo from Lamington National Park in Oz.

Editorial: Senate scruples sell briskly lately

The unnamed Courier editor again betrays his confusion of reality and fantasy -- the little "anecdote" he opens with as "popular legend" is of course a distortion of a famous exchange in the Jack Englehard novel Indecent Proposal, which became a hit film with Robert Redford in '93.

I absolutely agree with the editor that the rules of the Senate need sweeping reform to eliminate the sort of venal tyranny we both see in the actions he describes.

The editor would have a whole lot more credibility on the issue, however, if he could claim any consistency in criticizing this behavior by Republicans. But we know what that's about. Even a stopped clock, as they say.

I notice that Ben didn't have much time to write this week, so he built this by recycling chunks that aren't about Republicans from the newish post on his pseudoblog, which rehashes the same lame message from months of these sporadic columns. Just once I'd like to see Ben invite an actual Congressperson to respond to his ignorant foolishness.

Op-ed page on autopilot

I notice that someone on the online op-ed page is apparently asleep -- no less than five pieces are posted twice as I write this, one under two different headlines. Yeesh.

Update, 2:30pm: The duplicates are gone, along with the comments posted to them.

The annual canned spam

We're now deep in end-of-year-roundup season, where most of the paper's space is devoted to enervating canned features to allow the staff time off. It makes reading the paper in search of news pretty well pointless for probably another week or so.

For the reader who hasn't shut down her frontal lobe for the duration, I have a few recommendations:

The Boston Globe has a succinct comparison of the differences that the House and Senate will have to resolve in their health-care bills.

The Guardian furnishes a first-person account of who killed the Copenhagen initiative -- maybe not who you'd expect.

A little obscure history on a serious, well-financed plot to install a fascist government in this country by military coup in 1933.


Thursday, December 24, 2009

Polk: Officials should follow sacred oath

Our County Attorney has her say in the paper after the editors took a stab at hamstringing her yesterday. This piece quotes most of what the Republic published, edited a bit for the local audience. Did Ms Polk submit this at the same time as the Republic piece? Did the editors mess with it to make it appear that she submitted it in response to the Courier coverage? Given past experience, it's not unlikely. I also notice that someone neglected to post the byline.

No matter, Ms Polk comes through loud and clear that Sheriff Arpaio and Maricopa Attorney Thomas are far off the reservation and intent on worse. Joe's rabid fans will demand that she back up her opinion with facts, something she may not legally do. It's clear to me that she's gone about as far as she can with it.

Again, Sheila Polk is a stand-up girl and solid public servant. This will not please the power-brokers in her party, but I've never noticed that she cared much about that. Remember, she didn't have to do this, and there's no gain for her in it.

Update, Sunday: I see the byline eventually showed up.

Editorial: New deportation plan is a win-win

The unnamed Courier editor is all for the Accidental Governor's new plan to simply take the illegals out of our jails and give them to the Feds for deportation. What he doesn't ask is how we failed to think of this before.

So I took a look. The Daily Sun and other actual news outlets report that, surprise, this is nothing new. We've been doing it since 2005, azzamannerperfack, and

About 200 criminal immigrants are released early from prison in Arizona each month and turned over to federal authorities. Eighty percent of those are immediately deported to Mexico, while the rest are sent to federal detention centers, said Virginia Kice, a spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Admitting that ol' Janet was actually doing this for years before new Jan announced it as a big budget savings might be inconvenient to the Republican memory hole, of course. But
Under a previously approved program Brewer now wants implemented, about 1,300 prisoners would be turned over to ICE in the coming 18 months, saving the state about $5.7 million.

Hang on, check those numbers. We've been handing over 200 prisoners a month, and the Governor wants to up that to 1,300 in 18 months? I smell an arithmetic fail, if nothing else.

But cutting the budget is really really important, right? Even if by a measly six million clams that apparently the system has already been saving for four years.

If this little dance is enough to fascinate the editor, it's no wonder he can't figure out what Steve Norwood is doing.

Prescott man's 'Peanuts' collection ...

I have to say it, as a news story this feature on someone's penchant for accumulating kitschy dust-collectors is an embarrassment. Perhaps the editors are nursing a case of Peanuts envy.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The news you didn't read this year

Among the many boring year-end roundups crowding the media, perhaps the most interesting to news junkies is the annual Top 25 Censored Stories, by Project Censored. Check it out, I promise you'll learn something really intriguing.

Stockmar: Santa's workshop in the form of proposed prisons

Steve takes his column from the prison controversy to the 50,000-foot level, and offers a better idea for how to use that land. I gotta wonder whether Brad Fain is listening, but Steve gets a cookie.

Mixed reaction to Polk's published letter

The Courier headline writer tries to soften the impact of Sheila Polk's amazing opinion in the Republic. If you haven't, go read it. It takes my breath away to see something like this coming from our stalwart county attorney, and it adds a lot of lustre to her already sterling reputation as a serious and dedicated public servant.

Linda Stein's story is solid, covering the issue and giving the other side maybe a little too much space to respond, and then going for a neutral view as well. All good. The headline, by pulling "mixed reactions" out of someone's butt, is clearly meant to confuse the picture. Bad editor, no cookie for you.

I'll also bet that Ms Polk's letter came to the Courier offices as well, and is languishing on a spike somewhere. Space considerations, I'm sure.

Editorial: Construction is on; bumps lie ahead

The unnamed Courier editor comes out clearly, if limply, in favor of widening WVR, and by extension in favor of housing and commercial growth in upper Williamson Valley. It may be that he's only really thinking in terms of his own convenience in maneuvering his oversized pickup, but let's consider for a second the wider implications, so to speak

The City has made it clear that it has no interest in more annexations in the valley. So new homes up there will be on county land, exempt from the state water regime. Williamson Valley is a smaller but significant watershed for the Big Chino aquifer, and exempt wells are a significant factor in whether we can achieve safe water yield.

Closer in, the road serves an area of mini-ranches: horses (and horse-trailers), wildlife, pedestrians without sidewalks, tractors and school buses clog a road that winds through trees, dales and homes. Farther out it's straighter and easier to navigate, but in town there's a reason it's slow.

Widening the road will cut back hillsides, level out dips and hills, clear back trees, cut into properties and put the homes even closer to the road. There's no question that it will permanently change the character of the area, complicate people's lives, reduce quality of life and squash a lot more coyotes, skunks, deer, cats and dogs.

What's the upside? Smoother, faster traffic flow to places that haven't been built yet. If that's your idea of a good investment of public funds, you're welcome to it.

Column: Publishing journal died suddenly

I'm sure a lot of readers are scratching their heads over this. E&P has been the primary trade journal of newspaper editors for a hundred years, and that's why it seems important enough to the editors to place on the op-ed page. Ordinary readers probably know nothing about it, of course, and could care less, so it was more than a little self-indulgent for the editors to do this.

But for those who are curious, check out the Wikipedia entry as a start. It's another casualty of corporate media dominance, and a sad loss to my profession. I hope they can pull something together and keep going.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

ToMA: People need to learn about prison

The prison story broke in the Courier on Dec 17, a scant five days ago, so Councilwoman Lasker's column appears well ahead of the paper's usual two- to three-week publishing schedule for this sort of thing -- which only illustrates that they can get things printed in a more timely fashion when they want to.

I'm not taking a position yet on whether it's a good idea for PV to get into the prison business. I have to say that the idea of public officials panting after this sort of "growth business" is repellent, extending PV's history of rash, tasteless action for its own sake (the zombie civic center, the untenable public debt, the invented downtown, the tickytacky developments, the arena, the traffic cameras, ack). Having for-profit corporations operate such facilities is just wrong-headed as well, for a multitude of reasons. But if the project is necessary (debatable) and this is a good place for it, "not in my back yard" just isn't a good argument against it. And while I live in Prescott, I consider PV my back yard as well. The entire area has a stake in this decision, and PV officials should acknowledge that.

Ms Lasker plays the part of the smart shopper, but with no experience or homework to inform what she's seeing, she's a babe in the woods for a sales job, as we can infer from her comments here. The one thing a corporation will always do better than government is sales.

What concerns me most is the likelihood that a prison-town mentality will develop around it, a mindset that treats people as things. If we're to have a prison here, let's consider how we can do it better for everyone, the workers, the community and the incarcerated. Let's have some new ideas on facility and systems design to create a place where the people coming out are more likely to be better for the experience, and the community is as well.

Editorial: Water saving is worth turf plan

The unnamed Courier editor doesn't go far into the details of how he arrives at his numbers, but he concludes that the artificial grass will cost more over the long run and that this will be a good thing considering the water savings. This is a counterintuitive result in context, so I'm inclined to trust it, and the editor gets a cookie for choosing substantial water savings over a small margin of public money.

This goes a long way to clearing up the confusion that Ken Hedler left in the wake of his Nov 27 story on the deal, which implies the actual cost will be lower overall.

Never mind that we're spending public money of this order on sports, that's just stupid and it should be a subject for public debate. But at least they're planning to do it somewhat less stupidly. Now let's keep an eye on the contract fulfillment and see whether the numbers pan out.


An anonymous commenter writes:

"The Courier wrote an article several days ago claiming that a car crashed into the nonprofit People Who Care building at the Prescott United Methodist Church, seriously injuring one of their employees. It turns out they had the wrong agency and the accident actually occurred at Caring Presence, another senior care agency in the area. Despite a call from People Who Care correcting their mistake, the paper never printed a correction."

From Dec. 14: Truck crashes through Prescott building

Heather Murray pointed out the mistake in the online comments, but yes, it would be apropos for the Courier to publish a correction, because people might easily decide to not visit a business if the paper says the front's all caved in.

This leads to the issue of corrections policy, in my estimation always a weak area for the Courier. It appears that the editors believe that in general the readers don't notice or don't care about the paper's frequent egregious errors in reporting and editing, and what's published is already in the bottom of the bird cage, so why bother? It's apparently far more embarrassing to admit mistakes than to make them.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Feed-your-head Friday

Lightning bolts, river deltas and dust bunnies! Welcome to the world of fractal dimensions.

Editorial: Is APS reacting to conservation savings?

Sometimes I despair that the unnamed Courier editor is even capable of seeing past I-me-mine. Today's editorial notes that people are conserving energy (a good thing), and that APS wants higher rates (a normal thing), and jumps to another logic-free connection.

Perhaps someone should explain to the editor that people are conserving energy because they need to save money. If energy were cheaper, we'd have less conservation.

Meanwhile the fuels that APS uses are increasingly expensive and supplies are inevitably diminishing. The grid system we all rely on for electric power is technologically Stone Age and under-maintained, raising both fixed and labor costs. Shareholders demand profits, so managers must demand prices. That's just how it is. Reducing electricity use does not reduce generation -- the potential across the wires is always the same. So the only way to reduce costs in response to conservation is to reduce capacity, by taking generators offline. We're a long way from that kind of savings, and it'll probably never happen to any significant degree. What actually happens is that most of what we don't use here is used somewhere else. The rest is simply wasted as unused potential.

I have to say that higher energy prices -- prices that more faithfully reflect the true costs of the stupid system we have -- are good for us in that they force us to conserve and allow sensible alternatives to compete. Any sane projection for the future includes far higher prices for fossil fuels. Let's get used to it, and make lemonade.

CYMPO reaffirms elimination of Verde River crossing

Here's another case of failing to ask the most basic question. Cindy's CYMPO story covers the players on one side of the issue at length. But where is the quote from ADOT on why the river crossing is still on their maps? One phone call.

Fortune of events center ails with the economy

Notice anything missing from this story? It's the fans, the people the Fains have been counting on to make this unlikely venture work. Ken apparently asks questions of no one but those who are working to sell the idea. Consequently the reader can't trust anything in the article as fact.

Speaking as someone who's done a lot of shows, big and small, I've said from the beginning that the arena would quickly devolve to white-elephant status. Six thousand seats is just too big for people in this area, even including optimistic hopes of visitors, to reliably support. I grew up in an area where minor-league hockey is relatively popular and familiar, and I've seen how counting on that usually leads to bankruptcy. Trying to sell music in a barn like this one is iffy at best, and most ticket-buyers wind up hating it. The optimistic (for developers) population projections that sold Global Entertainment on the area are proving wildly wrong. It won't be long, I expect, before Global cuts its losses and pulls out, leaving PV with the question of what to do with the building. Maybe there's an opportunity here.

Maybe Ken's second half will include the other side of the story. I'll keep an eye out.

Update, Tuesday: Never happened. I'm so surprised.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Mason: Outlook 'bleak' for state budget remedies

I'm intimately familiar with what Rep Mason is saying to the District 1 municipalities -- we talk about it every week on The People's Business (2pm Sat and Sun, 89.5 and 90.1 FM) -- and while I wasn't there on Tuesday, I can be pretty confident that she said a whole lot more in her presentation to Council than shows up in Cindy's story. Tune in this weekend for the full megillah from Lucy, or check out the meeting itself on Access13.

The reason the outlook is so bleak is not because we don't have good choices available to us, but rather that the hardline Republican leadership, including our own Mr Tobin, refuses to consider those choices in favor of an ideology that demands taking advantage of every opportunity to kill off government services. Beyond reducing quality of life for all of us, this adolescent approach also stunts the business environment they think they favor.

Elections matter. If you've been resisting involvement in politics -- unlikely if you're reading this, I'm sure -- get up off your lazy duff and do your part to understand the issues and elect better people.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Editorial: Earmarked finances at risk of reallocation

Our legislators, continuously frustrated that voter protections keep it from exerting control over a large portion of the state's budget, are looking at how they can change the law to allow them to graze the forbidden fruit.

The unnamed Courier editor characterizes this as focusing only on "money that is not being spent," and while some lawmakers may be saying that, it would be supremely naive to imagine that any breach in the initiative firewall won't lead to wholesale withdrawal of any funds the Legislature wants. And bear in mind that our Legislature is currently owned and operated by the radical right, which risks the decimation of any program created by voter initiative that's to the left of Jesse Helms.

The editor goes further, imagining that the Legislature can simply repeal inconvenient initiatives. This betrays a gross lack of understanding of the Arizona Constitution. The initiative process is designed specifically to prevent legislative meddling in voter-created laws. It just don't work that way. This also implies a complete misunderstanding of the legislative process, in that programs and funding mechanisms generally go hand in hand, so repealing an initiative repeals its funding as well. That's a no-gainer, budget-wise, so you have to essentially siphon off taxes that the people have dedicated to a specific purpose and apply them somewhere else. That tends to piss people off.

There are a lot of good reasons for amending the Constitution to eliminate or restructure the initiative process. Voter-protection of funding really does impair legislative work to build constitutionally mandated balanced budgets, and as these protected chunks have built up over decades, everyone agrees the system is now seriously out of balance. Large out-of-state and corporate interests have also discovered that an initiative can be packaged and sold to voters like corn flakes, and this can be very convenient for snaking something into law that even the most expensive and devious lobbyists can't get through the normal process. We have a lot of bad and clunky law on our books as a result, and other states have found themselves facing bankruptcy over such idiocies.

What's happening now may result in the Legislature creating legal fig leaves for borrowing voter-protected funds to pay back later, while a Constitutional amendment goes forward to change the initiative process. This cannot legally change previous voter protections except by other specific initiatives, the Supreme Court will see to that. There's no going back, we can only go forward.

The editor's glib conclusion, that we should just "enact smart spending at all levels," is easy to say, but very hard to manage both politically and practically. The essential part he leaves out is gathering the necessary revenue and building a dependable tax structure, no surprise as he's never seen a tax he liked. We can only hope that our lawmakers are able to cobble together a more useful understanding of the complexity of our situation and more respect for voters and the law than our editor exhibits in this piece.

Update, 5pm: It seems our governor and legislative leadership aren't even competent to count days. ABC is reporting that tomorrow's special session will be too late to legally do anything about the March ballot measures on the agenda. (Readers of the linked story will note that Ken Bennett used to be Senate President, now he's Secretary of State, of course. Gad.) Now they're talking about a May ballot. Why not do the session anyway, aiming for May instead, rather than put it off again? I swear.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Editorial: Balancing bonuses in unbalanced times

The unnamed editor is cribbing from an article in The Arizona Capitol Times you'll find here. (Did the Courier carry this in the paper version, maybe?)

The first thing that jumps out at me is that the editor equates obscenely large bonuses for executives of big corporations with standard-practice longevity bonuses for non-executive employees of municipal authorities. The logic there is undeniably weak.

But his central point is that it doesn't make sense to pay bonuses to some employees while laying off others, not too strange on the surface, especially for the majority of people, who've never received workplace bonuses other than as holiday gifts and such.

A newspaper editor is supposed to have wider knowledge than that, though. "Bonus" is a hot-button word in the media context of big-bank bailouts, but that doesn't change its real-world value as a normal part of the pay package for many. It's clear from the Capitol Times piece that this is standard practice among Valley municipalities, and it's offered to reward and retain experienced employees.

Let's bring the numbers into human perspective. This year Phoenix is putting 14.3 million clams, from a budget of over a billion, into bonuses for about 7,000 employees. This amounts to an average of a little over two grand per employee. Not a huge differential, if you ask me.

Perhaps the editor forgets that the quality of municipal services depends on the quality of the people furnishing them, and that an experienced employee is usually far more valuable than a new one. The editor's corporatist worldview tends to see workers as interchangeable and disposable, but real-world business knows better. Quality specialized workers are in constant demand, regardless of the economic weather, and municipalities are never at the top of the list of high-paying employers.

But the big fail here is that the editor doesn't bother to ask the most fundamental question: do Prescott, PV or Chino Valley include this sort of bonus in their pay packages? If so, we have something to talk about and some numbers to look at. If not, he's wasting everyone's time, as no one cares what the Courier thinks about what Mesa is doing.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Krugman on reregulation

Pursuant to my point below, just go read.

The infrastructure clown parade

Following up on Karen Fann's two-part Talk of My Ass two weeks ago, today we see a letter from the Yavapai County Contractors Association neatly juxtaposed with the editorial saying essentially the same things Mayor Fann did, adding exactly nothing to the argument.

All three of these entities argue quite reasonably that our infrastructure is in sad shape and needs revamping. I agree completely. But none bothers to lay out any ideas for how to pay for it other than vague references to federal stimulus funds.

None seems to notice that we gave up trillions in revenue with the Bush tax cuts for the rich, that we've run our economy on the rocks with insane spending on pointless, self-defeating wars, or that we're giving away hundreds of billions to patch the mistakes of crazed profiteers in financial institutions. These are a big part of why there's no money, folks. And they all -- the editor, Ms Fann and I'll bet Ms Griffis -- supported every one of these stupid decisions to the hilt, so I wouldn't look to them for sensible solutions to the problem.

We're where we are, so what can we do about infrastructure? First we have to look at the problem in realistic context. A given bridge or highway is the responsibility of a municipality, the state or the federal government, so funding for the repair has to come to its governing authority. The federal government legally can't do it all, as our commenters imply. Even if it could, the money has to come from somewhere, just printing it at the mint would rob us all in a hundred ways. So we have to grit our teeth and admit that we have to pay for it.

At the state level, expenditures this year are still running around 20% ahead of revenues even after the draconian cuts the legislature has instituted, and the numbers continue to head south. Everyone who's paying attention on left and right agree that this derives from structural problems in the budget, specifically an overdependence on sales taxes (generated primarily by home construction) and neglect of more dependable revenue sources, specifically income and residential property taxes, both among the lowest in the nation. This is a bit like basing your weekly budget on your Xmas bonus.

We can do a lot to fix that and it won't hurt much, by raising the income tax a little or by broadening property taxes and lowering the rates. Our legislative Democrats are waiting with the ideas in hand for when the Republicans finally realize that their ideas can't work, cut their radical fringe loose and grudgingly let the Dems into the room. There's really no other good option on the table.

At the federal level, we need a massive rethink of our spending priorities, particularly on our war machine. We're like a 16th-century mounted knight, weighed down with so much armor that we can't stand up on our own (our Chinese squire propping us up), while our adversaries have switched to light infantry with economic rifles. Our dependence on war as an industry is serving everyone's interests but our own. Diverting just a small part of the resources we devote to warmaking instead to clean energy development would build us an industry for the future as well as bring that value back into our economy as vital long-term infrastructure.

On the revenue side, we still have to repair the damage done by the Bush administration. Allowing those tax cuts to expire will be a huge help and won't hurt anyone at all, and moving a portion of those funds into New Deal-style infrastructure-building is exactly what the doctor is ordering here. Going further and reregulating the financial industry, starting with reinstituting Glass-Steagall (the repeal of which was a Clinton-era mistake) will help stabilize our economy and get us back on track to sensible growth by repairing our credit infrastructure. This will require steady public pressure, as it appears the Obama administration is substantially favoring Wall Street over Main Street.

You may notice that while they are coming from the political left, all these ideas are deeply conservative at their core. Sensible revenue-generation, sensible spending on things that will have lasting value. The years-long binge by the political right has reached its inevitable sad end, much as it did in 1929, albeit with far less extreme results, and now we have to be adults and deal sensibly with the mess.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Please remove shoes and belt

I've been getting more frequent spam in the comments, so I've added a little security step to the routine. Sorry about that. It's too much like taking your shoes off at the airport for my taste, but the bad guys just never let up.

Radio news

As of yesterday morning KJZA/KJZP is running on 90.1 in Prescott in partnership with KAWC in Yuma. Hope you like it!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Feed-your-head Friday

Okay, so I stole the idea from Science Friday on NPR. So sue me. And yeah, I'm a day late. No cookie for you.

How snakes slither:

The Catch-22 list again, ack

Never mind how Joe Heller might feel about this ugly use of the title of his great novel. I'm wondering who's being served by our annual 22 Days of Prescott's Most Wanted (cue musical theme ripping off Highway Patrol).

If you thought a lot of these mugshots seem familiar, there's little wonder, just look at the dates. Many of them have been on the list for years.

Adam Stevenson, wanted since 2004. Manuel Acosta, 2002. Miguel Franco and Claudio Lopez, 2006. Hector Reyes, 2002. Joel Medina-Ortiz, 2006. Domingo Valdez-Anguiano, 2004. Others have no dates, but I'm sure I've seen them before, and not this year.

Yavapai Silent Witness, which is the primary source of these stories, carries the list. The Courier ran that list on May 1 of this year, and it contained all the same names as were on last year's Catch-22 list, one going back to 1998, one wanted for "prescription fraud," another a probation violation, locations from Holbrook to Wickenburg.

What does it mean when the annual push to "catch 22 felons in 22 days" focuses on the same people year after year? Maybe it means that there really aren't enough bad guys out there to scare us with. Averaged over ten years, that's only 2.2 per year.

I've seen and written about the tilt toward Hispanics we see on this list. Add in that the editors have at least ten years of bad guys to choose from, and the racial-profiling angle really lights up.

But what concerns me more is the suspicion that reportage is drifting over into newsmaking and adjusting public perceptions of reality for political purpose. Cherry-pick 22 uncaught, mostly Latino felons from over ten years, dump their mugshots and precious little else one by one on the front page over three weeks, and you might create the impression among those who aren't paying close attention that there's a lot of crime going on around here by scary brown people. Which spreads unwarranted fear, which sells newspapers and, not incidentally, Republican candidates for office.

Now note today's editorial, defending it as "a new list" of "the most violent offenders currently at large." Prescription fraud. Hmmm.

City use of pulverized glass on streets raises questions

Lots of people are clearly hopping mad about the glass-in-the-streets story, but a different factor comes to mind for me.

The point of recycling glass, going all the way back to the first new-era mandatory bottle deposits in Michigan in the '70s, was to keep the glass out of the environment and make more new glass with it, since it is so easy to recycle cheaply. It's not waste, it's a resource.

Recall a couple of years ago, when Mr Norwood removed the City glass containers from supermarket parking lots, calling the operation unprofitable? Now we see what should be reasonably valuable materials crushed and spread on our streets. We've come full circle, only where citizens were once the litterers, now it's our government.

The angle I'd have liked to see in the Courier's story isn't who's to blame for this little incident, but rather why a City asset is being systematically wasted in this manner. Has the raw-glass market crashed, leaving municipalities with worthless piles of glass? Have we failed to build the necessary market-to-manufacturer infrastructure to make recycling worthwhile? Are other materials similarly in glut or nearing it? Or are our administrators just unwilling to make it a priority and deal with it? There are many interesting questions of vital public interest to be asked here.

This is from, which tracks prices on recyclables, and this chart covers curbside-gathered materials over the past two years. I dunno much about interpreting these data, but it looks to me like prices track fairly well with the economy overall, and they're up substantially over a year ago. To me that means the City is wasting public assets of increasing value into our environment, not unlike burning a ten-dollar bill to light a cigarette.

I can see the amped-up Hollywood treatment now -- a film about Prescott City government with Heath Ledger as Steve Norwood.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Gettin' the ol' Xmas spirit on

Not a lot of time for blogging this week, we've got a big project to finish before the weekend, but but given the season I just had to get in here and deck the blog, as they say. This pretty well expresses the whole thing for me. Enjoy!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Feed-your-head Friday

The universe is quite likely weirder than we can imagine.

Holiday travel kept me away last week, so I've got a bonus for this week. National Geographic presents a piece in its latest issue to help us understand and teach about the carbon problem and why it's really important to get ahead of it. Check it out.

Editorial: DVDs free to use, not for the taking

This is exactly the sort of thing a careful reader might expect to see when editors get lazy. The unnamed Courier editor's Barcalounger has turned in yet another cut-and-paste version of yesterday's page-one story. But this time it ought to be particularly embarrassing, because he's failed to think through the basis for the story, uncritically passing on nonsense from a press release that seems designed to unfairly manipulate him and the public.

I like Toni Kaus and she seems to be doing well with a tough job as head of the library. This is the first indication I've seen that she or her staff may be doing anything less than above board. But the story of 1,500 stolen DVDs smells of week-old fish.

The library wants a new security system to mesh with those at other libraries in its network and reduce the workload on its staff and volunteers, and this will cost a lot of money. But to justify this expense, it points to people picking way too many things up and neglecting to check them out. This indicates to me that the library has been pretty well failing to provide adequate security against theft of public property. One might think that security would have been an important design factor in the recent total renovation of the library, but we must infer that it wasn't considered or isn't working. That's a fail worthy of note by a local paper. The editor misses it completely.

The library uses the value of the stolen DVDs to help justify the expense, valuing its donated, secondhand, hard-used discs at $25 each. Actual replacement cost for discs in better shape might run to six or seven bucks tops, more like four or five in my experience. Average that high with labor involved, factor in donations of a third of them, and replacing 1,500 DVDs might cost around $7K. Not cheap, but not any $37K. That's ridiculous price-inflation to justify the $93K price tag on the RFID system and imply that it will amortize in a fifth of the time. It may be in a good cause, but it's underhanded all the same, and a local newspaper editor ought to be asking why, if this is such a good thing for the library, the staff needs to use such tactics in pitching it.

We also see nothing but acceptance that the new system will be airtight -- it won't be, there will still be shrinkage, and we ought to know the relative projection -- and we don't hear how many DVDs wear out and have to be replaced anyway, another useful data point in gauging the importance of the security system relative to other spending priorities.

An important part of a news editor's job is critical thinking and skepticism about what people in authority say, particularly where it involves public policy and the public purse. On seeing this ham-handed move by the library, the editors could have asked pointed questions, or simply dropped the smelly elements from what is otherwise a perfectly good story. Instead the readers (and advertisers) get simple-minded stenography. Our city deserves better.