Friday, December 31, 2010

NYE party tonight at Murphy's

If you're looking for a rocking party to ring in the new year, Big Daddy D and the Dynamites will be at Murphy's tonight, 8:30-12:30. It'll be a ton 'o fun if you're there!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Snow day

Nothing notable in the Courier, and we're staying in today. If you have to go into work, stay safe!

Noon: Great comment on the racism retrospective today and Councilman Blair's radio remarks in response. "Really Sad":

Until this AM, I was willing to give Blair a pass under the theory that any right wing politician appearing on a right wing station runs a higher risk of a mishap than most. His temporary removal from KYCA was arguably wrong, and the way people went after his family bread business was not right either.

After listening to his show this AM on KYCA however, the conclusion one sadly must reach is the good Councilman still does not get it. Like Nixon on Watergate and Clinton on Lewinsky, Mr. Blair has yet to accept that perhaps his remarks last Spring were the cause of his problems, not the few liberals in town or his political adversaries. Instead of feeling chastened by the damage his unchecked remarks brought to the image of Prescott across the planet, his attitude echos that of Nixon in his day with the same peculiar mixture of maudlin victimhood mixed with an arrogant mocking of those who disagree with his unfortunate comments.

The thing that both fascinates and repels about listening to Blair uncut, is the man's utter authenticity. He is truly the face of Prescott and truly represents eloquently the electorate that voted for him.

Quibble: It wasn't "people" who took away his bread-delivery franchise, it was his employer, in response to a complaint from the Olive Garden and other customers, who were concerned about blowback from Blair's unrepentant, continuing attacks on the mural, the Miller Valley School kids depicted in it, and the value on diversity. He had complete freedom to speak, and he did. Freedom of speech does not imply a right to freedom from consequences.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

No-news Wednesday

When the Courier's top front-page story is a retread of its own coverage and the most prominent local hard-news story is about a dog adoption, things must be pretty good in Everybody's Hometown. This is not to say there's nothing to report, of course.

The story most likely to affect the lives of everyone in Prescott for the next ten years is slipping by without Courier coverage. It seems our power-mad legislative leaders are trying to cheat the law by screwing around with the redistricting commission.

It'll be up to our state courts to make sure this doesn't succeed. Who's taking bets?

Update, 11pm: It seems the commission wouldn't be bullied after all and called Sen Pearce's bluff. Let's see if he and Speaker Adams follow through on their threat to sue.

Update, Friday: It didn't take long -- Russell Pearce Sues in Bid to Rig Redistricting

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Officers arrest fewer people for DUI during statewide enforcement

It seems our lawnforcement professionals arrested half as many people for drunk driving in this year's holiday push. Lisa's story -- and, I expect, the press release that appears to be her only source -- implies that there were half as many people to arrest, therefore fewer people driving drunk. Amazing!

Readers are encouraged to imagine that the same number of officers were working the same places with the same enthusiasm and methods as last year. None of this is detailed, and it seems unlikely given the deep budget cuts across the state in the past year.

A more critical (and likely) spin would be that our lawnforcement professionals were only able to do half the job they did last year.

Even though this story compares numbers from last year with this year's, the careful reader can't conclude anything solid from it about the trend in drunk driving. The news is obscured by incurious stenography passing as reportage, a regular feature of the Courier news pages.

Monday, December 27, 2010

ToMA: Ignorance runs rampant in online comments

City bureaucrat Linda Hartmann steps up to defend her co-workers from the "hateful diatribes" in the online comments, and calls on the editors to quit publishing them.

The twist in her undies is clearly caused by the Elks Theatre intrigue, but she won't talk about that directly. She thinks Steve Norwood is the best city manager in recent memory (she's wrong -- Mark Stevens was a fair bit smarter -- but they've all been mediocre at best), that Prescott PD is above reproach (wrong again, of course), and our Council is "doing what they think is right," which to Ms Hartmann apparently equates with "doing the right thing." She dogs on former employees who criticize current ones. She goes on for 800 words or so refuting the "uninformed" commenters, but ends by claiming she doesn't care what they think.

I can understand how a white, salaried, mid-level City desk worker could sincerely believe all these things. What she lacks is experience dealing with City Hall as an outsider. Courier employees often express the same sort of institutional defensiveness. It's to be expected. But it demonstrates how hard it can be to communicate with City employees about the problems they create and participate in. A far better response would be to give people the benefit of the doubt and try to see how you can be part of the solution.

This is the second major public display of official sensitivity about Courier comments, following the Mayor's attempt to strongarm Deb Thurston a few months ago. It demonstrates that many City employees and elected officials pay close attention to the comments on an ongoing basis, therefore the comments are a strong tool for communicating with City Hall. I would hope that might make commenters a little more serious about what they're writing.

Ms Hartmann is correct, of course, that a lot of comments are idiotic, emotionally driven BS and gratuitous and often unwarranted personal attacks. (She misses that her own opinions here are emotional and poorly informed.) She's also right that anonymity increases incivility. The commenters who defend anonymity don't realize how many reasonable, informed and civil people are so put off by the uncivil environment that they refrain from getting involved. This has all been true since online communities began in the '80s and it will always be true. With more personal skin in the game, there's a lot less venting and lying. Registration and real names would be a good and responsible thing for the Courier to institute.

Regular readers know that I'm very skeptical about the claim that using one's own name on a comment commonly leads to harassment by employers or ideological opponents. I've been a high-profile commenter taking unpopular positions for years without any untoward social consequences other than the odd hairy eyeball from a certain Courier employee. If you're afraid of consequences, what makes it so important to comment on the paper? Like as not you're really just afraid of shadows. Try taking a few months off from TV and see how you feel about it then.

Bonus track, Wednesday: A comment appears today titled "The Susan Thomas Story," in which the commmenter pulls some interesting research from the Courier archive. Excellent!

Air Force recruiter tries to help people better their lives

There are a couple of ways to look at this little puff piece for military life, and neither recommends it.

From the standpoint of the kid who's considering joining up, there's no mention of the purpose and sole mission of the organization: to kill people and blow stuff up at the behest of people who never have to deal with the consequences directly. If I'd read this without knowing what the Air Force is, I might've concluded that it was some sort of job-training program. There ought to be at least a nod to the gravity of the decision this boy is considering, for the benefit of other boys and girls coming out of our starved education system without the skills to work in the real world.

From the taxpayer's perspective, I always resent that we are encouraged to think of the military option as a career step for young people, even as therapy to give them maturity or a sense of responsibility. I'm not interested in hiring people into that sort of job who are chasing public benefits. It's serious business and should never be undertaken lightly.

This piece is light on both counts, mere stenography for the PR department of the military-industrial complex.

It hits close to home for me because my nephew, always unstable and irresponsible as well as brain-damaged in a car accident when he was 16, got the Army to take him on the fourth try and did three tours in Iraq as a grunt. Well, almost three -- before he finished the last one he was completely out of his mind and accused of murdering a civilian. Two years later they're still trying to figure out whether he's competent to stand trial. Had the adults around him taken the decision more seriously, we might have prevented this tragedy.

Followup: Catch-22

The results are in from our annual holiday perp walk of most-wanted evildoers. Of the 22 listees, five are new to the list. The rest are old familiar faces. Six are wanted for nonviolent offenses, and all are white. Of the 16 violent offenders, all but one are Hispanic.

My analysis is unchanged from May, and you can read that here. My bottom line is that this list and the practice of running it twice a year is either pointedly or negligently racist, and it ought to stop, both for its offense to the public discourse and its lack of news value. The particulars:

Miguel Franco: murder, 2006 4x
Claudio Lopez: murder, 2006 4x
Domingo Valdez-Anguiano: murder, 2004 4x
Joel Medina-Ortiz: murder, 2006 3x
Manuel Dera: homicide, 1998 3x

Valentine Hernandez: vehicular assault, 2003 4x
Luis Florez: vehicular assault, 2000 4x
Joel Vidrio: assault with a deadly weapon, 2004 4x
Carlos Pimentel: home invasion, 2007 4x
Eleazar Valdez, DUI hit and run, 2009, new
Juan Dominguez: assault, 2010, new
Lanny Kearns: arson, assault, 2010, new

Enrique Soto, child abuse, 2009, new
Ruth Cardoso-Gomez: negligent homicide, child abuse 4x
(Note that Nancy Collins, wanted in the Sylar Newton case, didn't make the list. Update: Flagstaff police found her on Dec 26.)

(sexual assault)
Jose Herrera-Martinez: child molestation 4x
Ernesto Romero-Salcedo: sexual conduct with a minor 3x

Kory France: drug mule, jumped bail 2x
Kristen Martin: meth possession and auto theft, 2005 2x
Olivia Sobelman: pot mule, jumped bail, 2010, new
Patrick Waibel: pot mule, jumped bail, 2010, new

David Dehart: failure to register 4x
Herschell Scott: failure to register 2x

I didn't see the stories detailing the apprehension of former most-wanteds Pablo Arredondo-Herrera (attempted murder, aggravated assault and kidnapping 3x), Travis Brewer (assault 2x) or Adam Stevenson (sexual assault on a minor 3x), but two out-of-state drug mules made the new list. How odd.

Time off

I had to take a couple of weeks off from the blog during our annual paroxysm of naked consumption disguised under quaint religiosity and pretended tradition. The continuous barrage of non-stories purportedly about the season but ultimately about buying more stuff was just too much to bear this year, sorry.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Media flashback

We saw Bob Roberts again over the weekend, still one of the funniest/scariest satires on the rise of radical corporatism. With its 1992 release the Robbins brothers predicted with alarming accuracy what was coming for this country. I have to wonder whether even they imagined it would go as far as it has today.

Editorial: Maintain your fear, but don't be scared

With today's editorial I get the feeling that the unnamed Courier editor has been taking some writing lessons from JJ Casserly. He dumps out his terrorism file in more or less random, unexamined statements, and in the end leaves the reader with a contradictory non sequitur.

"We need to be vigilant, of course," he says, supporting the ridiculous notion that amateurs keeping a close eye out for terrorists at Wal-Mart could somehow be useful, "and secure our country the best ways we know how. At the same time," contradicting himself, "we cannot live in constant fear. If [the terrorists] smell that, they win." Did anyone else laugh out loud at this?

Having our former governor on the Wal-Mart PA exhorting us to be suspicious of our neighbors is just the sort of absurdist nightmare that lends cheer to the hearts of fundamentalist manipulators of all stripes, including (especially) our home-grown ones. Making distrust fashionable and looking for the worst in each other erodes our social fabric, dividing us, isolating us and making us easy to stampede in whatever direction they like.

Editor, having you think it's reasonable and prudent to write confused, alarmist crap like this is exactly the sort of win "the terrorists" are looking for.

What you're not seeing is who the truly scary terrorists are -- the religious fanatics, the social oppressors, the authoritarians and would-be fascist dictators who wrap themselves in our nation's flag and do everything they can to undermine our values and government from within. You soak up their propaganda from your teevee every night, editor, and here you're doing their work for them.

Surprise! Supposed radical doing practical job

On today's op-ed page, Michelle Singletary's column (reprinted from WaPo) focuses on what Elizabeth Warren is doing with the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Republicans screamed bloody murder that she would be a firebrand radical writing rules guaranteed to take down our entire financial industry. Instead we find that she's doing steady, practical work to make consumers smarter about credit.

Will voters notice that once again the Republicans, through character assassination and lies, tried to sell us a bill of goods to protect the privileges of the industry that recently tanked our whole economy? Some of us will.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Letter: Bipartisan squabbles undermine progress

Just go read this great letter from David Hackathorn.

Friday catchall: "I don't see color"

In his personal column today, Tim protests that the Catch-22 features are misunderstood. "People assume that it's all about race," but "I don't see the color, folks. To me, it does not matter."

Perhaps if Tim cared about the strong undercurrent of racism in Prescott, he'd understand how he's facilitating it. Is it that you don't see it, Tim, or are you refusing to see it?

To sum up my previous analysis on this, the perps featured by Yavapai Silent Witness fall into two clear categories: offenders who are white and nonviolent, and long-gone old cases who are Hispanic and violent. No violent whites, no non-violent Hispanics.

YSW selects the offenders for this "most wanted" treatment, which implies a set of selection criteria. So far this round the only new "most-wanted" cases on the list are two white kids passing through the state on the highway who happened to get caught with pot and jumped bail. For pretty much any thinking person reading this, these offenses do not rise above the who-cares level. So we can reasonably infer that YSW does not have enough live cases to fill any of the 22 slots they set up for themselves.

With only who-cares and dead cases to choose from, what do they choose? Should we imagine that there are no dead cases of violence by white people? I think not.

As a professional newsman, Tim should have the skills to see this farce for what it is: a biannual funds promotion for the Silent Witness program with racist undertones and, most important, without news value. It's a failed experiment, and the Courier should take the lead in sending it back to the bush leagues.

Update, Friday night: The Saturday edition includes the first Hispanic perp wanted on a recent beef, assault on a cop.

Front page: Ousted mayor enjoys mountain biking, retirement lifestyle

Um, what in the world is this bit of attic-rummaging doing on the front page? What is it doing in the paper at all? Rick Killingsworth was out in PV six years ago, Ken. Is the Courier a personal scrapbook for its employees and their old friends? You could play up the biking angle and put it in the Vitality section, maybe, but it's not news despite the opportunity for Tom Steele to replay his glory days.

Just by the by, I was no fan of Killingsworth as mayor, but I was in on some of the awful stuff that Tony Mortillaro was doing at PV Town Hall, and his firing was well deserved and a long time coming.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Editorial: Feds butting in on Arizona law again

I have to say I'm getting awfully tired of the unnamed Courier editor's narcissistic childishness around immigration policy, exemplified in today's editorial.

The question of whether federal law trumps state law was decisively settled 145 years ago. But the kindergarten states'-rights argument in the headline is no more than clumsy agitprop.

If the Supreme Court were hearing a suit challenging the constitutional standing of state sanction of gay marriage in Massachusetts, the editor would be first to write in support of it. This happens to be a challenge to legislation he likes, and so out come the swords.

We have to accept that pretty much whenever the states try anything new, court challenge to establish that the new law works with older and higher law is an inevitable and necessary part of the process. Voters and legislators in the states can't just willy-nilly write any law they happen to like. In this way the courts test new laws to make sure they work in context, with the effect of giving them greater credibility when they pass the test.

Given the progress of the suit so far I expect the Supreme Court will uphold Arizona, but that's not nearly as interesting as watching the editor get his briefs in a bunch over nothing. It exposes an acute lack of understanding of the legal process and an emotional attachment to Arizona's anti-immigrant campaign that only confirms what he derides as "the assumption that Arizona is a racist and discriminatory state."

Arizona is people, editor, and a large number of us are indeed racist, including a majority of your legislature and your governor. That's just obvious fact. The courts are there to prevent the reflexive zeal that you exhibit here from running roughshod over our legal system. Where we fairly don't have the final say on a decision, adults deal with it. Children whine. Which are you?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Oh, great. Another big party.

So for the centennial celebration of our great state, we hear in Cindy's story today about what -- driving the first spikes on a new passenger rail corridor connecting north and south? A statewide push on science and technology education to train engineers and technicians for the switch to 80% renewable energy by 2025? A sustained statewide program to better preserve our parks, wilderness and historical heritage? Nope. We get another traveling trinket fair.

Can our tourism experts really think of nothing better to add value to the occasion than funnel cakes and tee-shirts? Are we really so lacking in imagination and guts that we can't go forward with something that will be remembered in another hundred years?

The street fair is fine as far as it goes, who cares? But fergadsake let's not pass up this opportunity to do something useful and important for the future, show the world and the rest of the state that we're not just a bunch of passive lumps.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Courier's annual Xmas perp-walk

Again we have the biannual "Catch-22" feature, and again we have mostly the same old faces from years past. I wrote on this last year and investigated it more extensively in May, and it'll be fun (if you're really hung up for something to do) to watch to see how many of this year's are moldy oldies. Out of the seven mugshots so far, six are repeats from May, and four of those are violent offenders, all of Mexican heritage. Again the Courier reinforces the perception that this qualifies for endlessly repeated coverage.

The only new face is a drug mule passing through on the interstate. Guess we live in a pretty safe place, huh?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Irony alert

Today's edition of Pop Rocket includes the first in what is to be a regular column by yours truly on politics, media and whatever else comes up. It's not widely known that Pop Rocket was recently acquired by Prescott Newspapers Inc., parent of the Daily Courier.

Tena Overacker is still editing, though for some reason they won't allow her the title, and there's no concern about the Courier editors interfering with content. Hope you like it!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Prosecuting Julian

I gotta quick question: How can the Justice Department justify prosecuting Julian Assange, who was handed some classified information and published some of it, with no mention of prosecuting The New York Times editors, who were handed the same classified information and published some of it?

Editorial: China's waffling is enabling North Korea

I gather our unnamed Courier editor is growing bored with our little town. Maybe the annual battle over the holiday sentiment expressed atop City Hall is no longer enough to float his boat.

Back when he was kept busier scooping up Ben Hansen's road apples, Tim had his Staples button reprogrammed to buzz "Local, local, local," at every opportunity. In today's editorial it appears he's promoted himself to editor of The Washington Post. It's great to have ambition, but best to bear in mind that success requires doing your homework.

Honestly, who in the world cares what The Prescott Daily Courier thinks China should do about North Korea? Maybe Tim heard that China's been hacking the Internet, and imagines some Charlie Chan-like bureaucrat poring over his editorials, searching for foreign-policy direction. Here's a hint, editor: When you're rewriting Krauthammer, anyone interested in the subject is either gonna go read Krauthammer instead or, for those more familiar with Krauthammer's analytical skills, write you off as a right-wing wacko and move on.

Here's the homework you missed. The idea that China still values the North Korean "buffer zone" against the west is a laughable antique. International conflict is no longer prosecuted with infantry and tanks, it's done with economics and information. China would love to have an industrial consumer state like South Korea on an accessible border offering easy profits, and even confirmed that in one of the recently leaked State Department cables.

China has almost as little leverage as the rest of the world does in Pyongyang. Diplomatic and even military principles rely on people pursuing their own best interests. But in a chess game where your opponent is not trying to win, it's impossible to make sense of the board. North Korea has essentially strapped on a suicide vest, and its goals are irrational, self-referencing and sociopathic. China and everyone else in the region are doing all they can to just keep the worst from happening for another day in hopes that the regime will eventually collapse from within without too much collateral damage. No one in the region imagines that this will end as tidily as it did in East Germany, or even Yugoslavia.

The editor warns, "unless something changes dramatically with North Korea, Beijing and Pyongyang can expect a nuclear-armed South Korea and Japan in the near future," as if the Kim regime could be rationally deterred from anything or Beijing would give a rat's butt about a Japanese bomb. This is nonsense. Kim maintains his power based on perceived and invented outside threats, so pointing more missiles at him only exacerbates the situation. South Korea is already armed with American "tactical" nukes. Japan knows better, and is constitutionally prevented from getting involved in nuclear weapons beyond the nudge and wink that allows it to resupply US Navy nuke carriers.

Please, editors, I beg you, get your heads out of the teevee and focus on your community. You can imagine yourselves in Yankee Stadium all you like, but you're still playing sandlot ball, and there's no shame in that.

Monday, November 29, 2010

No, we're not better than that

Today's letter from Philip Gates referring to W's enthusiasm for torture and stating that we should never do it has drawn some predictably bloodthirsty responses in the comments. "Sheesh Deluxe" responds, "Yes our enemies torture, but we are better than they are, and we do not." I think the tone of the comments shows that this is an ideal, not a fact.

A former President not just admits to it, but brags about prosecuting war crimes, and his partisans, all of whom I'm sure believe that they are morally superior beings, defend both the man and the practice with every infantile argument they can muster. Starla Ryer (aka Ryder) asks, "Shall we just sit idle and allow the current atrocities to continue or shall we retaliate and fight fire with their sort of fire?," apparently blind to the inevitability of this sort of behavior not only extending the atrocities, but escalating them.

There is of course no real intellectual debate about this. Military, intelligence and lawnforcement professionals agree categorically that torture does not produce useful intelligence, it impedes investigations and prosecutions, and it aggravates conflicts, creating more enemies than it eliminates. It's both morally and tactically indefensible. We know it's not just wrong, it's stupid. Yet a large body of us, including a recent President and Vice-President, continue to encourage the use of torture, evidently (from the comments) because it satisfies their lust for revenge.

Every religion and philosopher warns against this sort of passion. It is utterly destructive, and leads inevitably to terrible results. To the extent that we give in to it, regardless of the power of our cities, we are uncivilized.

This sort of thinking is a growing cancer in America, and we have to resist it everywhere. The tinpot Teapublican "patriots" who wrap themselves in flags even as they trample American values in the dirt would enthusiastically turn this country into a fascist, imperialist dictatorship on a scale that even Mussolini could not have imagined. Wherever reasonable, moral people fail to respond and maintain control, they win a little ground.

No, we're not better than this, and that's why we have to work harder to control our animal passions and defend our better values. Maybe one day we will be better, and this debate will be an antique curiosity. For now, it's an active threat to all Americans, and the world.

Comments jump the shark

Wednesday's awfully headlined "Man who used his cashier girlfriend to steal from store sentenced to probation" has attracted a bunch of comments from the girlfriend and the boy's father debating the relative goodness of people who "made a mistake" with the hang-'em-high crowd. It's a laff riot, and I think it bodes where our media may be headed.

Just around the corner, we may start to see perps, witnesses, neighbors and friends on teevee and in the papers, not responding to reporters' questions, but volunteering their points of view unedited and having their conflicts out in public, using their computers, cellphones, whatever.

This would be a new iteration of a phenomenon that's lately been out of style, the "open letter," in which people would use local papers to express themselves. I have copies of open-letter correspondence written by my great-grandfather and great-grandmother as they hashed out the grounds and defense for their impending divorce on the news page of the Kankakee Daily Gazette in 1920. It was ugly.

Like "reality teevee," I'm not sure that direct access to media like this will do much to edify society. But it will be "entertaining," so it will sell advertising.

Attention to detail

A couple of things caught my eye in today's edition that lead me to think someone left the controls on autopilot over the holiday weekend.

In the editorial highlighting local charities, the unnamed editor writes, "Two women are renovating, room by room, an old hotel for displaced veterans, which they have named the Downtown Prescott Inn." He's referring of course to what oldtimers remember as the AJ Head Hotel on North Cortez, renamed Downtown Prescott Inn years ago by some new owners who hoped to gentrify it. It resisted. The new people are just reusing the old name and signage. So the sentence is wrong in fact, and anyone who's been in town as long as the editor ought to know that backward and would not refer to the Head, the last historic, working residence hotel in town, as "an old hotel."

Over on the news side, "Elk's raffle under way" glares with an excess apostrophe, as if no one writing or editing the piece knows what the Elks Theatre is or understands basic punctuation. There's another one in the body of the piece ("Elk's building") right among better-punctuated references, so it's not just the hapless headline writer.

Roll your eyes at my pedantry if you like, but editors are supposed above all to be careful readers. These slips aren't small. So did the Courier staff farm out the weekend paper to a pasteup house in India, or what?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Holiday paper

There's gonna be a lot of dumb fluff in Thursday's paper. You have my permission to skip it.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The State of Hate

Stephen Lemons has a piece in Phoenix New Times on rising hate crime rates in AZ where everywhere else they're going down. Read "Joe Arpaio, Russell Pearce and Jan Brewer's Arizona: Hate Crime Stats Climb."

Column: The quiet side of Mexicans and their heritage

This op-ed conveys a bittersweet story of the death of Dora Borjon while on a sister-city delegation to Caborca in Sonora, and the town's support in returning her remains to Prescott Valley. I don't normally read the obits, and I missed hers when it was published on Oct 23.

For a media-watcher like me, there's a striking angle to this story. Ms Borjon was part of what cannot be described as anything less than a diplomatic delegation from our city. She died unexpectedly, and there was further news value in the aftermath of her death. This ought to have been a front-page story, not just an obit. Where was the Courier? Where was, at the very least, the followup on the obit? What makes this story unworthy of news coverage?

Monday, November 22, 2010

Brewer picks Brutinel for Arizona Supreme Court seat

Congrats to Judge Bob Brutinel, whom I know to be a pretty right guy, for making the Supreme Court cut at last.

Update/correction, Monday: I confirmed over the weekend that, contrary to the previous version of this post, there is no Senate confirmation process for AZ Supreme Court justices.  I got wrong information from a trusted source, sorry about that.

Editorial: Trust ideology over sense

After wasting half his column on the 1070-boycott non-story, the unnamed Courier editor turns to the heroic efforts of our state legislators to address our historic lack of government revenue by reducing revenues further.

Building on Saturday's report on the ATRA presentation at the capitol, the editor touts the fabulous new ideas of our two newbie legislators, which, oddly, sound a lot like their old ideas: cut taxes on business.

That supply-side argument has been utterly demolished by facts on the ground since the Reagan debacle, but they can't let it go. After all, isn't it just common sense that less taxation of business will create more jobs? Isn't it just common sense that a mystical supreme being made all the rocks and bushes by hand? Faith springs eternal.

The JLBC, our state accountants, gave a presentation to legislators last week stating unequivocally that recent proposals to further cut taxes on business will be completely counterproductive and should not go forward. Our legislators, thrust into leadership positions without the experience to back them up, are simply discarding the advice of staff experts who've been working on our budgets in many cases for decades.

They admit that these tax-cut proposals are not even supposed to have any effect on the current downturn, phasing them in over years. It's purely an ideological move. Further, the JLBC reports that "Between FY 2007 and FY 2010,
Corporate tax receipts declined from $986 million to $413 million," indicating not only that businesses are paying half the taxes they were three years ago, but their total contribution to an 8.5-billion-clam budget is already very low.

And while it's true that personal-property taxes are much lower relative to business property taxes, shifting the burden from profitable businesses to strapped and fixed-income homeowners is just not gonna fly, so we can count on seeing that piece negotiated away in the legislative process, leaving us with more looming revenue losses.

These guys are fiddling with ideology while the state burns out. The editor ought to be able to see that and call it for what it is.

It's only unethical when it's called 'news'

On today's op-ed page, Tina Dupuy laments that the left doesn't have a strong, coordinated messaging operation, and makes the case for a sensible parallel to Fox News, leaving out the 'news' canard. Maybe she's missed it, but the left does indeed have the core of such a messaging operation, though we haven't had the wit to capitalize and build on it. It's called Comedy Central.

Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and Bill Mahr are doing their best to counter the right's agitprop in a more ethical and positive way, with common sense, facts and above all good humor. They treat voters with respect for their intelligence and encourage greater connection to the political world, in ways that no news organization can. This is exactly what Dupuy is asking for.

Because of the pervasive loss of journalistic integrity in our media across the board, younger voters especially are turned off by news and straight punditry. They build personalized information menus for themselves out of everything from Foreign Policy to Facebook, and teevee news is at best a minor player in the mix.

Progressives would do well to take the comics more seriously as a model for communication. Note that while they are not journalists in the traditional sense, they are very long on the integrity of their information. This is the key, engaging people, building trust over time and maintaining it.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Editorial: An example needs to be made of Rangel (updated)

Here's an example of how squandering your journalistic credibility makes you look idiotic later.

The unnamed Courier editor sits in ponderous judgment of Charlie Rangel, a legislator who's done more good for the country than the Courier could ever do in its entire history. And Rangel did indeed do some dumb things and bring some tarnish on the House, and a clean ethics process is good for government, so I have to say that the editor and I agree on the bones of the issue.

But for the decade and a half that I've been watching this newspaper, the editor has uniformly failed to support a clean ethics process when Republicans were in the dock for much more egregious abuse of their offices, or when they should have been, but Republican majorities turned a blind eye. That makes the editor's position now clearly partisan, undermining the values that he hopes to uphold. This is confirmed in that he avoids mention that Rangel has been brought to account entirely by Democratic leadership. We haven't seen Republicans cleaning their own house in this manner.

Further, the paper's record of racist leanings regarding the browner members of our community forces the reader to consider the idea that the editor's upbraiding of Rangel, who is black and represents an important black constituency, may have darker motivations.

The paper would do well to look harder at itself before casting stones.

Addendum, 1pm: I just happen to be reading a little on the history of the Yavapai people, and I noticed a reference to an editorial in the Arizona Miner, one of the Courier's progenitors, calling for their extermination. That racist history goes back to the beginning.

Update,  Nov 24: With today's conviction of the amazingly shameless fixer and Dancing With the Stars contestant Tom Delay, threatening a sentence of up to life in prison, I'll look forward to the Courier editorial urging the court to throw the book at him. Any minute now.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Simple crime story gives editor stinkfoot

In "Man arrested on charges of fraudulent use of a city credit card" we hear about a former City employee getting busted for unauthorized use of a City credit card, either retained in his possession for over a year after he left City employ, or lifted while he was working there. No big deal, perfectly legitimate story. But then the editor stepped in it.

Unable to resist the rhythms of City credit-card causing trouble for two people sharing a common Mexican surname, the reporter asked Prescott PD whether the alleged perp in this story is related to Dawn Castaneda of Elks Theatre fame, and the cop confirmed that he's her brother-in-law.

Smelling news-value blood, the editor overcame good sense and journalistic practice and allowed the impertinent connection into the story. That's bad to start, as it's prejudicial to both cases and there's no connection between them. But then the comments came rolling in, and it seems that the brother-in-law thing is just wrong.

Yes, Arthur Castaneda and Dawn's husband Gabriel are from the same large Prescott family, but, say apparently authoritative commenters, related as cousins rather than siblings. It's a stupid goof-up that the reporter or the editor could have averted with one phone call.

But the lesson the editor (Steve?) should take away is this: work harder to separate the pertinent factors from the prurient ones, and blue-pencil the latter. They have no place in responsible journalism.

And rather than waste ink this way, I'd have had that reporter asking sharp and persistent questions of Mr Castaneda's former supervisors about how that card got away from them. That's where the public interest truly lies.

Answer the question, Tim!

The latest entry in the Ask the Editors web feature starts, "I'd like to know who owns the Elks building on Gurley Street, and the business." Tim responds "The City of Prescott owns the building and runs the business side. (To clarify, the city owns the Opera House portion and a law firm owns the office space above the Opera House.) The Elks Opera House Foundation is a fund-raising organization that hopes one day to buy the theater from the city."

This is wrong in several ways. The questioner clearly knows more about the situation than Tim does. The Elks Building is the office structure on Gurley St with Bill the Elk on top. The Elks Theatre* is on the alley behind the Elks Building, with a condominium wall and an easement through the first floor of the Elks Building for the lobby. The building is not "above" the theatre in any way.

The direct answer to the question is this: The Elks Building has been owned for many years by the partners in the law firm Murphy, Schmitt, Hathaway and Wilson via the shell corporation Prescott Elks Building LLC.

The Elks Opera House Foundation has nothing to do with owning the building or the theatre.

This is all perfectly public information. One has to wonder why Tim would feel the need to obfuscate so completely in his answer.

*: Is not, never has been and never could be an opera house.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Keep your commie mitts off my freedom fries!

Today's edition includes two bits about local authorities trying to do the tiniest little thing about childhood obesity and getting only black eyes for it.

In "Flagstaff schools send home warnings about overweight students," school officials decided to try a gentle notice to parents that half their elementary kids are headed for long-term psychological and physical problems, along with tips for healthier habits. The commenters go crazy, of course, foaming about this horrifying intrusion into the personal lives of children. (If the kid is overheard talking about sex or a joint, however, they're all for massive official intervention.)

Meanwhile over on the op-ed page the unnamed Courier editor is railing about taking toys out of Happy Meals and crackdowns on fast-food joints, crying, "We don't need government protecting Americans against themselves," except, presumably, if those Americans want to adjust their consciousness in some way, enjoy themselves sexually or experience art that involves naughty words.

You can't have it both ways, editor: either you believe in the libertarian ideal of no government intervention in any private choice, or you believe that government has a legitimate role to play in informing people about what they can do to protect and improve their own health and well-being.

If government doesn't do it, who will? McDonald's? It seems to me that government entities are best situated to provide that sort of information. Notice, carefully, that neither the Flag schools nor the California cities are requiring people to make any kind of choice. Rather, they are working within their mandates, the well-being of their people. And if you find yourself miffed about the idea that government cares whether you're overweight, maybe it's time to finally get that gym membership, bubba.

The insane obesity of Americans in general should be a matter of strong concern for all of us, as we're all going to be paying for it through our health-care systems and loss of economic productivity for generations. Get over it, and get healthier.

Update, Tuesday: And like the bad joke everyone can see coming, the editor steps right up today to blithely contradict his position yesterday.

This illustrates how many people form opinions based neither on facts nor philosophy, but rather on whether they trust the person espousing the opinion. It's good lesson for political action.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

My Veterans' Day Spiel

If you really want to honor the men and women of our military forces, get them the hell out of stupid, pointless wars and stop wasting their lives and skills.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The reactionary impulse, again

Today's editorial follows the grand Courier tradition of repeating chunks of yesterday's Page 1 story and adding a few lines of opinion. What motivated the story on what's been generically known as 'spice' for six years seems to be a talk with someone at Prescott PD who's working on a bid to make the stuff illegal. Lisa filled out her research with this Wikipedia entry and called it good, somehow leaving out the bit about "extremely large doses may cause negative effects" in favor of the PPD's clearly unscientific fear-mongering.

The editor, roused from his accustomed fog, immediately jumps to his computer to crib even more from Wikipedia and call for legal controls. Kids are doing stupid things, sound the alarm!

The reactionaries won't consider sanctions against economy-killing mortgage hustlers or elected torturers, but something that might make you sick if you really bomb out on it is worth new legislation. They'll do all they can to prevent schools from teaching kids about their bodies, reserving that role to parents, but not even parents are allowed to teach their kids about getting high. They'll defend parents who keep guns where kids can get to them, but if the kid finds a new way to alter consciousness, they call a cop.This is where, in a logical world, they would be ringing the bell of Freedom. But in right-wing Bizarro World, they ring the bell on the front of the Keystone Kops Kar.

The commenters have it right -- you ban the harmless drug of choice for many generations of Americans and you toss its users in the hoosegow, and you're surprised that people come up with legal ways to serve an active and growing market. It's completely insane.

Monday, November 1, 2010

News flash: Ideological purity rules Reps

I just got what I think is some important information for those who haven't yet voted: Rep Lucy Mason has been kicked off the speaker list at tonight's Republican rally on the square. It seems she hasn't been sufficiently pure ideologically to suit the current local party hacks, apparently including Rep Tobin, Rep Burges and others, so they gave her the bum's rush from behind the screen of the organizers. Couldn't even say it to her face. Imagine what they'll be like when they get back behind closed doors in Phoenix. Tell your Republican friends.

Update, 10pm: She showed up anyway, got an introduction and spoke despite them. That's the way to do it.

Mr Norwood's lonely, please write

Busy day, but I just noticed the quote by City Manager Norwood saying that he'd got not one email about the proposal to increase everyone's water rates by 40+% over the coming five years to pay for projects that should have been done over the past 20. I dunno about you, but for me that stings in the context of my own efforts to conserve and no mention of a more stringent structure of tiered rates for those who use too much.

It may be that Mr Norwood hasn't heard from you because he doesn't give out an email address. You can link to an email form for him here.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Prescott seeks 'over-arching' image for tourism promotion

After reading this, I'm not sure why I'm not hearing howls of indignation echoing across the valley. Another hired hotshot recommends that the City spend tens of thousands of clams for more hired hotshots to tell us how to market our town. And I can easily imagine our City Council sitting in their swivel recliners and staring like zombie mackerel as Mr Prince mystifies them with concepts like "branding" and a Tourism Advisory Council. Ecch.

This is nothing less than our podunk business community angling for more free marketing on the taxpayer dime, and what's most discouraging is that they're likely to get it, again. Having given up on more serious economic development, Council has reverted to the hopelessly dead-end idea of tourism as our primary economic driver.

Can I get an editorial on this? With mining and forestry long gone and residential construction at its limits, if we really want a sound economic footing for Prescott we're gonna have to do way better than this. Is Council still unaware that we're sitting on one of the very best bits of land in the country for solar energy generation, and every year local institutions are cranking out hungry young engineers, ecologists and construction tradespeople? Will Council be able to connect the dots before California, New Mexico and China eat our lunch for us?

News Flash: Kids actually walk to school

It's a sad day when we need a government grant and permission slips to see kids walking to school, especially in a town as small and friendly as this. I'll spare you the "in-my-day" rant, but if this story doesn't set off alarm bells for you about the direction our society is going, it should.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Column: Keep children safe, healthy, ready for school

Becky Ruffner makes a strong argument for saving First Things First, providing on-the-ground experience to counter the right's allegation that the program has done nothing but gather money and talk.

I really don't get how anyone can sincerely believe that we don't need to invest heavily in early child development and education, even old farts like me with no kids. The state can be rightly criticized for failing to make a better public case for the value and effectiveness of this and many other programs, but that's no excuse for public failure to understand. Our kids need to be smarter than we were. The cost relative to the benefits is negligible.

Editorial: Courier picks the usual partisans, mostly

With this cycle's candidate endorsements, the Courier demonstrates some intellectual progress. For the first time in my memory, Prescott's paper of record endorses a Democrat! Heads explode.

I can't be very enthusiastic about this advancement given the rest of the selected slate, however, which shows the same old reflexive support for anyone with an R after their name. I don't expect the editors are happy to support Rep Kirkpatrick, rather that her opponent is playing so deep in right field that he's too extreme even for them.

Up to now there's been no limit to Courier support for right-wing nutbars, so yes, it's moving perceptibly forward. But the blinders remain firmly ensconced in the other races.

The unnamed Courier editor describes old party hack Jan Brewer as a trend-bucker and writes that she "worked across party lines" to get the sales tax done. This is just fanciful. Brewer's budget process consisted of being months late with her homework, and after the legislative leadership predictably wrecked the train, she finally introduced a badly cracked budget and told them all it was her way or the highway, including the sales tax expansion, which Ds and Rs both opposed. How the Courier can draw its description of her from this is a complete mystery to me. It amounts to just making stuff up.

Similarly, its endorsement of John McCain is all about wishful thinking. McCain's campaign against JD Hayworth showed the Senator consistently chasing events rather than leading them, his positions and opinions careening to the right, pandering to the increasingly unhinged right wing. The editor writes that McCain "influences legislation all over Washington," but for anyone who's paying attention, it's clear that McCain is the one being influenced. Myth over facts again.

In the tag, I see another first: the editor lists the names on the editorial board, part of what I recommended yesterday. More progress. Left to do is detail the process and commit to integrity.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Council agenda skirts voter approval for new pump station

Cindy's regular Monday story on the Council agenda highlights the puffy Tourism Director presentation, while relegating to the middle grafs consideration of 600K clams to buy land from Ron James for a new pumping station for the eventual water pipeline from Big Chino.

It was the clear intent of voters with Prop 400 to require a public vote on expenditures related to the pipeline project. I said at the time that the measure's $40-million threshold was a loophole that the City could drive a truck through at the first opportunity, and that appears to be coming to pass. The $30 million pumping station has been "separated" from the pipeline project as a capital project, so no vote. I expect there'll be some words about that in Council tomorrow.

I'd have also expected to see some mention of this angle in the news coverage. I'm pretty confident that Cindy didn't miss it.

Editorial: Not the way to analyze teachers

In another deadly fail, the hapless Courier headline writer inadvertently warns the reader correctly about the content of today's editorial.

Our "local, local, local"-ly focused Courier editor sees something on his teevee about a proposal for teacher performance evaluations in New York City, and through some trick of logic (or lack of a better idea) decides it's relevant to his readers. I suspect it's just because the teachers union doesn't like it, and the editor likes pretty much anything a union doesn't.

Two things about this piece stand out for me: the editor's disdain for teachers, and an inflated image of his own competence in judging their expertise.

The editor wants to see teacher "ratings," simple labels he can use to determine whether a teacher is "deserving" or "undeserving." He calls this "transparency," even as he runs down a few of the ways such systems can do more to obscure than elucidate. He imagines that with public pressure based on ratings, "Deserving teachers get raises. Undeserving teachers get fired or reassigned."

Out here in the reality-based community, even the best teachers get little more respect in their profession than fast-food counter workers, and similar pay. They're expected to fill out acres of state- and federally-mandated paperwork daily, make unpaid time for regular required "trainings," pay for their own continuing education as well as classroom supplies to support the curriculum, and in their small slices of remaining time turn your spoiled little monster into a model citizen this week.

Now you want them to wear ratings on their chests so that parents can decide they know who's a good teacher and who isn't. That sounds to me like a great way to quickly drive more smart, self-respecting people right out of the profession.

At some point we have to realize that there is no single most effective way to teach anybody anything, and that each unique individual teacher has her own strengths, just as each student has his. What every parent wants is to find the teacher that will do the best job with her own kid right now, and that depends entirely on how those two personalities interact. It's not something you can possibly rate with a number or statistics. The highest-rated teacher in the world won't necessarily be able to reach your kid.

If we hope to be more effective at educating our young people, what we really need to do is turn the whole argument on its head. If you haven't done it yourself professionally, don't presume to judge a highly skilled and artful job. Find ways to help rather than hinder, and stop treating teachers as if they're trying to hurt your kid just because they're better informed than you are. Stop being suspicious of the teachers, instead start being suspicious of ourselves and demand that we're providing as much support and respect for this vital profession as we can. That attracts better people to the job, and that makes better teachers.

Editorial: Mixed bag of prop endorsements

Editorial endorsements of election issues and candidates are a very old tradition in the press, so much a part of public dialogue that a paper pretty much has to do them. Given the unusual length of this year's proposition list and the Courier's 750-word editorial block, there's not a enough room to build cogent arguments for these endorsements in a single column. Since the unnamed Courier editor didn't spread the topics out to provide the space to be clear, this quickie crib sheet from Sunday tells me that he didn't really have his heart in the job. It's like he sent out an email to his people asking for a show of hands on the issues, then dashed this off during his coffee break. Such treatment doesn't demonstrate much respect for the electorate, his readers, or his own job.

In any case, let's run down the editor's text-bite arguments. There are a couple of unexpected positions.

On 106, the editor says, "we believe 'choice' is important" and so votes yes, which tells me that he's bought into the doublespeak on a measure designed specifically to prevent the choice of government-backed health-care. No surprise here.

107 gets an editorial no vote because "discrimination still exists," demonstrating that the editor is still capable of grasping the obvious, which on this issue surprises me.

Another surprise is the no vote on 109, the constitutional right to slaughter defenseless animals for fun. This is the best evidence yet that Ben Hansen has left the building.

It appears that no one in the state has much problem with 110, involving state land swaps and military reservations, or 112, moving back the deadline for initiative filings, and neither does the editor.

The Courier likes 111, creating a lieutenant governor and joint ticketing of gubernatorial candidates. No surprise, it's easy to miss the negatives here.

The yes vote on 113 is another case of parroting the propaganda, this time against one of the editor's favorite bugbears, labor unions. Expected.

As one commenter pointed out, many readers will be aghast to see the editor endorse 203, the medical marijuana system. I'm not quite so surprised, given the editor's libertarian posturings, that we've passed this out before, and that there's been negligible negative effects in other states that are doing it. Many Republicans can smell the money involved as well.

The editor's negative reaction to 402, citing fear of a "trash monopoly," indicates that he doesn't understand the measure. Again, libertarian thinking plus ignorance equals reactionary bunk. But the City deserves this reaction for its laziness about explaining itself. You can't expect the editor of a local daily paper to actually go and ask a question, after all.

The editor's reaction to 403, the residency requirement for ballot eligibility, shows that parochialism trumps libertarianism in the editorial suite. No surprise.

404-409 all codify practices that already exist or should have existed, so the editor, as a good conservative, passes them all out without thinking much about them. Again, no surprises.

You can see my full take on all the measures here and here.

It may be that the editor feels little need to speak about these issues on the op-ed page because he's done most of his editorializing on these issues in the news pages, via sneaky characterizing headlines and the injection of irrelevancies and misleading propaganda in quotes.

What most interests me about this piece is the editor's reference to the Courier Editorial Board, which as I've said before is most likely the thing on which Tim makes his sandwiches. No one who regularly reads the editorials with half a brain can sincerely believe that a real board process guides editorials on a daily basis. I think it could, and it should, and the editor who writes them up could be a lot more careful with the product.

If there is a genuine process behind the decisions described in this piece and in general for determining editorial positions, the Courier editors would do well to name names and describe it in detail, thereby setting up a contract with readers that the process will be handled with integrity. Own it publicly, editor, and it will make you better at your job.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Editor hates babies too, but knows it's a waste of time

The unnamed Courier editor doesn't have a problem with the logic of denying birthright citizenship to children of illegal immigrants, citing the myth of "monumental costs" to society to support illegals and those children (who as citizens are as entitled to public services as regular white folk). He just doesn't think it can work legally.

The editor utterly fails to see that the phony "immigration" issue, including this push by the far right to punish children for the status of their parents, is nothing more than a strategy to win elections. These candidates don't hold any delusions about following through on their rhetoric, they know it won't hold up legally. They just know that if you get people scared and angry enough, you'll win the power game.

It would be so refreshing to see an occasional editorial that looks beyond the current teevee narrative to consider the real costs of what too many politicians and public pundits are saying. Please, editor, try to give these issues some genuine hard thought before you sit down to dash off another 300 words.

PS: "Ditch drive"? What's that supposed to mean?

Gosar backs out of today's TV debate

It's no surprise that Mr Gosar ducked another debate. It seems to be a theme for the extremists this cycle. What's surprising is that if I'm reading correctly between the lines here, the Courier is genuinely miffed about it.

It could have been a simple three-line item stating that the candidate had canceled the event, but Joanna's story on the withdrawal of the millionaire tax-dodging dentist from a high-profile debate on KAET at the last minute includes a fair amount of "context" that's just short of snarky. The subtext accuses the candidate of hypocrisy and disdain for the press.

Many of these radical-right candidates clearly decided early on to follow the Palin strategy of playing for home-court advantage, counting on the idea that voters are so angry with the Dems that they don't need to do anything to win but stay out of trouble. I have hope that once the ballots are counted this will prove less successful than they imagine.

But it's amusing that the Courier is taking umbrage at this point. Just look at the smug smirk on Gosar's official campaign photo. These candidates have been thumbing their noses at responsible public dialogue from the beginning, and the paper should have been on that long ago. Having given them a free pass for months, getting irritated about it now, with voting already under way, just looks self-centered and petty.

If the editors are genuinely surprised that the candidate is giving them and the voters the finger, it would be more on point to say so bluntly in an editorial than to waste ink on subtle implications in the news pages.

Maybe the editors fear damaging their cozy relationship with the Republican establishment. If that's the case, someone has to tell them that the rules have changed, and now if you're not a shameless and open booster of the TeaBirchers, you're their enemy.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Lawmakers prepare legislation to deny citizenship for anchor babies

Once again the editors tip their racist hand with this headline. Using the framing and terminology of extremism shows the careful reader that you're in bed with extremists. (Notice that "anchor babies" does not appear anywhere in this AP story.)

What the editors should have added is that Senator Pearce is the leading contender to be Senate President for the next two years and likely longer. Not only will this hateful extremist continue peddling his bile, most of which will be thrown out by the courts after long and expensive litigation, he will be setting and enforcing the agenda for the entire Legislature. We're facing an ugly future here.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Shilling for gangsters, editor plays blame game

Today the unnamed Courier editor, ever the amateur economic policy wonk, blames the Obama administration for aggravating the negative effects of recession by "vilifying" the national Chamber of Commerce. Apparently the Chamber is so sensitive to criticism that it is withholding economic prosperity from its members to assuage its own hurt feelings. If that makes sense to you, what follows probably won't.

At issue is the President's assertion that foreign money is helping fund the Chamber's unprecedented spending against Democrats in this election cycle. No one disputes that this is true, including, which the editor cites as refuting it. Factcheck says that "no evidence has been presented to prove" that the money goes into campaign media, but since the money is going into the Chamber's general fund and the campaign money is coming out of it, that's weak beer. Read the investigative results here.

No one is claiming that what the Chamber is doing is illegal, as the editor wrongly implies. The editor also claims that attention to the Chamber's funding sources is a "smokescreen" to somehow make us forget about high unemployment and "meager economic growth on the Democrats' watch," implying Democrat culpability for eight years of Republicans driving our economy into the ground. This must be how it is in the editor's looking-glass world, because as far as I can see it's completely divorced from reality.

The editor somehow missed that serious Republicans are also asking that the Chamber disclose its funders or undergo FEC audit, and that whole Chamber chapters are quitting in protest.

But the editor's right that the issue of foreign money isn't a huge deal in the greater scheme. What he's not seeing is that the traditionally non-partisan Chamber is using it and a whole lot more to fund a $75-million anti-Dem campaign. This is a challenge that cannot go unanswered.

The editor puts on his concern-troll hat and warns that the government might look like it's anti-business for saying bad things about the Chamber. Given that the President has bent over backward to be pro-business for nearly two years, bailing out big companies that didn't deserve it, reducing taxes and holding off on repairing the regulatory ruin left by the Bush administration, the more pertinent question is why business is being so anti-government.

I'm certain that Dem political strategists aren't concerned about Obama appearing to be anti-business at this point. The voters who respond to that meme are so deep in the other camp that they won't be moved by anything. The challenge for Dems this year is getting demoralized Dem voters to come out again and hold back the midterm tide.

Right now the media narrative holds that the Rs will sweep the Congress on the basis of "voter anger" over better, cheaper healthcare coverage and 10% unemployment instead of 18%. If that comes to pass, we can look forward to several years of even worse governmental paralysis as the American Taliban reasserts itself to do nothing but make things worse. Why is Big Business betting heavily on that future?

Have you noticed how the Mexican drug gangs have made their world safe for profits? They've taken over the government, creating their own fiefdoms and installing their own legal structure in the form of owned police and judges, freeing them from interference by the forces of public interest. It's not that different here, and that's exactly what the Chamber and its big-business members are trying to do. As we give away our power to regulate business for the public good, we fall further into gangster capitalism. That's not a world you want to live in, I don't care how libertarian you think you are.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Editorial: Elks' history, future are better than present

I've been writing about the Elks Theatre* and the poor management decisions related to it for many years, so it's no surprise to me that it's in the ditch again.

I was one of the people responsible for convincing the City to take it over from the foundation that had been running it into the ground for a couple of decades, and I don't regret that decision. Unfortunately the City stopped listening to us after the first line of the pitch, and didn't absorb the intelligence we presented: that once acquired, in order to be viable and work as an asset to the City, it would require separation from the general fund and professional management with operational and capital autonomy. We (PAAHC) recommended a nonprofit model in which the City would own the building (bought back for $1) and provide only backup financial security and logistical help, while the nonprofit would handle fundraising, renovations and operations.

Instead the City chose to try to run it alternately like a public department and an ordinary business, applying minimum funding and hamhanded decision-making in both capital and management functions. After several years of operation under the Parks and Rec Department, City Manager Steve Norwood eventually placed it in the hands of his Administrative Services director, former retaurateur Mic Fenech. The results have been predictably disastrous, culminating in the indignities of the past couple of weeks.

I've met and worked with Dawn Castaneda, and while I can't say with any authority whether she was pilfering the cookie jar, I have strong doubts. I've dealt with Mic Fenech, and I know the man is not to be trusted. You can take it from there.

Today's editorial glorifies the ancient history of the building and the recent success in making it a pretty museum piece, while completely glossing over the awful management decisions that have made it a continuing failure as a working City asset. Where is the demand for accountability that we should be able to expect from our only local daily? Heads should roll over this, and the responsibility goes all the way to the top.

Yes, editor, "capable hands" should be running the Elks operation now, as they should have done from the beginning, but you fail to inform your readers on what "capable" means in this case.

A capable management team for a theatre of this size is at least a full-time house manager and a full-time technical director. The house manager runs booking, marketing and audience-related operations. The technical director runs stage operations and plant maintenance. Both are separate and specialized skill sets, perfectly able to get decent pay, so we can't cheap out. We'll also have to give them a capital account and an operational budget to run on their own, and not expect to see anything like break-even for four or five years. With the capital budget they will have to do a lot of serious improvements to the stage facilities and equipment to bring the theatre up to something like modern standards to support today's contract riders, or you can forget seeing professional acts on that stage. The City needs to reduce expectations, be the sugar daddy and just get out of the way while professionals do what they can to clean up the mess the City has been making. Pretty seats do almost nothing for the bottom line, I'm afraid.

This matters to Prescott in general because the theatre could be one of the primary drivers of downtown foot traffic and related spending, as well as a regional draw and quality-of-life asset for all of us. The City has to stop goofing around with it and take it seriously, or put it in the hands of someone who will.

*: Is not, never has been and never could be an opera house.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Don't listen

You'll be hearing lots of silly stuff in the media in the last weeks before the election. Just don't listen, or at least take it all as light entertainment. Terry Goddard is not gay, and Jan Brewer is perfectly capable of horrifying public brain farts without drinking, drugs or a stroke.

Jorge Garcia dies

The Capitol Times is reporting this morning that Corporation Commission candidate Jorge Garcia has died suddenly.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

City issues, etc.

In case you didn't notice, I've completed my take on all the issues on the ballot in the pages on the sidebar at left. (Excepting judges, since voting will have no effect on those.) Choose from the list under "Election Issues and Candidates."

Q&A with John McCain, Rodney Glassman

Take a good look at the first question here:

How much do you think government should be involved in the creation of jobs? What would you promote to inspire entrepreneurship and small business development rather than government-created jobs? What are your thoughts about the outsourcing of jobs to other countries?
The subtext here is clearly that government jobs are less desirable than private-sector jobs, piling on with the Courier's long-held position that government is bad. Here's the thing -- a person producing value through labor is just as valuable in either sector, perhaps more so in the public sector, where there are no profits escaping into the ether. The properly neutral (unrigged) question would have been:
What do you believe is the best strategy for creating and supporting good jobs for Americans?
This is a great example of how editorial bias can subtly slant a story. It's no surprise to any reader here that the Courier favors Grampy McCrankypants. I'm just fascinated by the how.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Cookies for the editor

Tim merits a cookie for today's op-ed page overall.

The editorial decries harassment by radical religionists of the families of gay soldiers at funerals as morally indefensible (I'll add that it's anti-Christian), but doesn't cross the line to advocate suppression of their right to speech, leaving that for the court to sort out. It's hard to find the line between competing rights, and the editor wisely keeps both feet on the ground and out of his mouth.

Tim's Friday column debunks a common hatemail circulating among right-wingers, even citing, and calls for reasoned thought.

Finally there's the cartoon, which for once is fact-based and warns against right-wing extremism.

Enjoy, Tim!

The vote is on

I hear that some voters have already received their early ballots, so the election is under way. I've been working on my notes on the candidates and initiatives, and I'll be posting those over the next few days as separate pages, accessed on the sidebar at left. I'm flattered and humbled that some of you think my opinions are useful, and I want you to know that I take these endorsements seriously.

I'll add pages as they happen.

Update, Wednesday:
Finished, finally!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Something like a debate

I'm not wild about linking to a Fox video, but it's pretty much all we're likely to get this month in terms of one-on-one between Goddard and Brewer.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Thursday, September 30, 2010

You will vote

For anyone reading this blog who's thinking of skipping the vote this time, I'm invoking my Rasputin-like liberal thought-control. For the rest of you, don't look!

Listen to my voice ... you are slowly waking up ... you're almost awake now ... you're coming out if it ... now you're fully awake and you realize just how awful things could become if we let the nutbars win.

Make sure you're registered at your current address BEFORE MONDAY. Then vote. I recommend asking for an early ballot, so there's less chance something goes wrong to keep you away from the polls.

If you haven't had time or inclination to do your homework, I'll be writing about the candidates and propositions in the coming week. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Mayor leans on commenter

Cindy's story today describes official fallout from last week's story on the old Antelope Hills clubhouse boondoggle and comments thereto. Specifically, PAAHC Exec Director Deb Thurston commented critically, and the Mayor summoned her to a meeting with him, Councilman Lamerson and the new tourism director to 'splain things to her.

During nine years as a director and chairman of PCAC Inc., a City-funded nonprofit, I carefully kept my mouth shut about most of the corruption and incompetence I dealt with almost daily in City Hall to protect the organization. I also did a three-year term on the PAAHC board, which has taken more than its share of abuse by Council over the years, and I have some familiarity with the terrain here.

So I fully understand Thurston's frustration over the issue as she watches arts funding diminish, and I admire her pluck in standing up to publicly call the City on its decisions. I'm sure many readers will find it appalling that the Council and City staff think they can push people around in this way, but be assured that this goes on in more subtle ways all the time. There's a culture of entitlement and authoritarianism in City Hall that runs deep, and even Sam Steiger couldn't crack it. With the exception of Councilwoman Lopas, the current Council members are all enthusiastic participants in that culture.

While there may be backlash against her organization, which Council has been steadily starving out for years anyway, this treatment by the Mayor confirms that speaking out publicly and, most important, using your real name in comments can have strong effect on public issues in Prescott.

So thumbs up to Deb Thurston, but don't let her stand alone in the heat. Keep up the pressure, and keep commenting.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

State: Case of Arizona deputy's shooting reopened

This AP story details followup on the claims of a Pinal Co deputy that he was jumped and shot by pot smugglers in the desert. Apparently there's some doubt about his veracity in this matter.

The story leaves out what may be an important factor. The deputy's boss is Sheriff Paul Babeau, who's been doing a lot of grandstanding about the new anti-Mexican law, lining up directly behind Joe Arpaio and running for reelection on the issue. The deputy's quite possibly self-inflicted bullet wound has put the sheriff on national TV and got him miles of ink in the local papers.

No one likes to think that a law-enforcement professional might do anything so corrupt and craven as to fabricate evidence to whip up hysteria and win an election. But we always have to bear in mind that any group of humans includes a small proportion of people who are self-absorbed, greedy and evil, so vigilance and caution are called for whenever someone benefits hugely from "happenstance."

Rock concert benefits fallen officers

Speaking as a working musician, this press announcement raises concern.

Recently we've seen a several local benefits for the families of the Camp Verde corrections officers killed on 69. Now another pops up for more general benefit to cops. But there are a couple of odd things about it.

This "benefit" at Moc's will distribute only 15% to the charity (a statewide aid org for cops and firefighters, with little local presence), and the "promoter" listed here apparently doesn't have a Website.

I've done benefits that held back outlay costs, but never on a percentage basis. If you're doing a benefit, you want to minimize costs and furnish every possible penny to the charity. Musicians usually do this sort of thing for free.

This smells like a fly-by-night operation trying to make a few bucks using the generosity of our community as a marketing tool, so I'd advise prospective patrons to ask questions ahead of the gig.

Followup, 7pm: In the comments, the promoter invites the public to call him to ask just the sort of question I had in mind. Have at it: 928-499-4116.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Editorial: Public education needs transparent accountability

The unnamed Courier editor pushes his professorial eyeglasses down his nose and snores, "Have we let our universities become sacred cows?" Who is he hoping to kid?

Conservatives love to beat up on public schools, whether it's teachers unions indoctrinating first-graders with proletarian class rage, textbooks that don't give quite enough preference to superstitious drivel or the heroic struggle of the Confederacy, or public universities stamping out commie elitists like Xmas cookies. It's a conditioned reflex: say "public education" and a good conservative will always burp out some form of "socialist boondoggle." This goes back to the invention of public education, when people decided they'd prefer to tax themselves for an education system to build informed citizens rather than suffer with the one provided by the churches to frighten children and build good little tithers.

Conservatives love "accountability," which in real terms usually means blaming employees for the decisions made at the top. In Arizona's case the big decision is decades of underfunding our schools, and the big lie is blaming teachers for the results.

Here the editor urges the reader to keep an eye on the Board of Regents to make sure that our public universities don't cost the student too much. Sounds great until you realize that the Board of Regents has almost no control over that in real-world terms. The people controlling tuition prices are our state legislators in the budget process, when they determine the base funding of the universities every year, and they've been doing everything they can to divert public funds away from the universities. In their reelection appeals they won't tell you that they raised your kids' tuition, rather they'll brag (and lie) about "balancing the budget" and obfuscate about how they just transferred the real costs of government to the schools, counties, cities and towns, which have little choice but to shut up and deal with it in usually vain hope of avoiding worse treatment next year.

So if the editor is truly worried about the rising cost of public tuition, he should be asking pointed questions of Arizona's legislative majority leadership, particularly Senate whip Steve Pierce and House whip Andy Tobin. As should readers.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

For politics junkies

For readers who care about the details of how things are shaking out nationally for the general election, I recommend, which monitors polling and provides an interactive map of state races as well as daily news for political geeks. It's mastered by an academic statistician and it's been operating since the 2004 cycle.

Elks Opera House shake-up prompts city investigation

Cindy's story on the blow-up at the Elks Theatre* carries about a quarter of what's circulating in the theatre community, and some of the 'facts' presented are in dispute. Tip: Dawn Castaneda is not necessarily the target of the City's legal "investigations," despite the implication in the story. If there's any justice in this process, Mic Fenech has some 'splaining to do.

(He's the Director of Administrative Services, a mini-empire created by Norwood just for him some years ago. It appears an editing error cut out his first reference.)

I love that the City Manager is quoted as commenting on a personnel matter, then says that City officials do not comment on personnel matters. This is just the sort of snaky/incompetent move that drives so many people crazy in dealing with Norwood.

As background, Castaneda had taken on a job that paid a part-time salary for the work of what would normally be five skilled full-timers. Everyone who's seen the RFP on the job and knows anything about theatre management agrees it's an awful deal that sets the employee up for failure. City staff has been living in la-la land for years about the theatre's revenue possibilities, and no one in City Hall has a clue about how theatres are managed since Bob Bell left the building.

*: Is not, never has been and never could be an opera house.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Editorial: What does future hold for fairgrounds?

Today the unnamed Courier editor uses the editorial space to give us a vague and lazy retrospective of years of failure at the Fairgrounds and advocate:


No solutions, no ideas, not much beyond a limp interest in the outcome. Great, editor, so you know all this stuff. Who has good ideas? What do we do about this mess? When can we expect real change? Where is the money gonna come from? And above all, why should we care, either about the fairgrounds as a facility for -- what exactly? -- or the editorial column while you're so ignominiously wasting it?

(Personally, I think we ought to turn the whole thing over to the Tea Party crowd. They're a great fit for the conditions out there -- constant hot wind blowing up chaff, with monster trucks.)

This use of the editorial box for personal windbaggery has just got to stop. It clearly indicates an impacted, self-referencing culture in the Courier editorial offices that readers can smell on every page. If you want your staff to step up and readers to rely on you, editor, you're gonna have to take your own responsibilities more seriously. Get someone in the room with you who's not afraid to tell you that your column isn't up to pro standards, listen to them and do the work.

Wish I'd written this

Gene Weingarten in WaPo:

The English language, which arose from humble Anglo-Saxon roots to become the lingua franca of 600 million people worldwide and the dominant lexicon of international discourse, is dead. It succumbed last month at the age of 1,617 after a long illness. It is survived by an ignominiously diminished form of itself.

The end came quietly on Aug. 21 on the letters page of The Washington Post. A reader castigated the newspaper for having written that Sasha Obama was the "youngest" daughter of the president and first lady, rather than their "younger" daughter. In so doing, however, the letter writer called the first couple the "Obama's." This, too, was published, constituting an illiterate proofreading of an illiterate criticism of an illiteracy. Moments later, already severely weakened, English died of shame.
Read the rest.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Tip: Trouble at the Elks

I got some inside skinny today on a conflict between staff and management at the Elks Theatre over just the issues I've been warning about for years. I'll be looking for a news story in tonight's Courier deadline dump.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Tim bobs and weaves on comments

Here's a good example of my experience in asking for reasonable treatment of Courier readers:

Q: * I'm still waiting to hear why you do not post all comments submitted on articles. I've talked to many people who have submitted comments only to never have them appear. I would think that a newspaper would believe in Freedom of Speech...

A: Editor Tim Wiederaenders answered: We try to post all comments that do not violate our Terms of Use agreement for the site. The Use of Service states, "If you use the Service ... you agree to abide by and be bound by the following:

1. You may not post, upload, or transmit any material or links to material that is libelous, defamatory, false, misleading, obscene, indecent, lewd, pornographic, violent, abusive, threatening, harassing, discriminatory, racist, vulgar, invasive of another’s privacy, illegal, constitutes hate speech, or harms minors in any way. You may not post content that degrades others on the basis of gender, race, class, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sexual preference, disability or other classification. Epithets and other language intended to intimidate or to incite violence will not be tolerated. Debate, but don’t attack. The Daily Courier encourages vibrant discussions and welcomes active debate in its discussion forums. But personal attacks are not tolerated, and are a direct violation of these Terms of Use."

To include as many comments as possible, we try to edit out the offending parts, but some comments are beyond help. We try to e-mail the people who post such comments, but their e-mail addresses are not always valid. If you have further questions about this, please call me at 928-445-3333, ext. 1095. Thank you.

Well, Tim, my personal, direct experience has included comments that are at least as compliant as others you routinely post being edited arbitrarily and simply disappearing without notice and without any attempt to contact me by Courier staff. I have read similar complaints by many other reliable commenters. Your response to this question is blatant hooey to anyone who's been doing this more than a couple of weeks, and I guarantee nobody's buying it any more than I am.

I maintain this blog as a safe place to speak for myself and for other readers. I recommend that commenters compose comments offline and keep copies for reference, including the day and time you upload them to the Courier. If your comment goes missing or is edited unfairly, I'm happy to host it here (subject to my own comments policy, at left) and call the editors on their behavior.

What would help build credibility on this issue is if the Courier appended the comments policy with a statement promising fair dealing, direct notification for the user and explanations of edits (seeking permission) and deletions, and editorial-side compliance with the policy banning personal attack, including user-on-user attacks. Everything's being handled far too capriciously as it stands.

PS, Sunday: A questioner asks about online content vs print.
"A: The printed Courier will always contain more by it's very nature."
There's no diverting the blame for this one, the Q&A section is clearly marked as written by the Courier editors. Pardon my geekiness, but an editor who doesn't know the difference between the possessive and the contraction, or who can't see it in his/her own copy, should be interning, not editing.