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.