Sunday, February 28, 2010

Editorial: Democrats need to take a stand

The unnamed Courier editor gets after Dems to vote for a Republican initiative that would raid voter-protected conservation funds to keep state parks open. What's wrong with this picture?

The Reps have decisive majorities in both houses and the governor's pen, if they could hold together, yet the editor doesn't point at Rep no-votes. Somehow this becomes a test of whether Dems are sufficiently public-spirited.

Then there's the actual issue that the Sierra Club (the only organization that the editor identifies as against the bill) is raising: that the funds are voter-protected, so following though on this idea would be illegal. Have the Reps finally jumped the shark, from the "Party of No" to the "Party of No Law If We Don't Like It"? I wouldn't vote for anyone, Dem or Rep, who would attempt to disregard inconvenient laws in such a cavalier fashion. I hope no one reading this would either, including you, dear editor.

The Legislature is stuck with the budget mess in large part because it cannot legally raid voter-protected funds. Suddenly there's an exception, and it just happens to be funds for an issue that Reps generally hate? C'mon, tell me another one.

If you really want Dem votes, how about raiding something like coal or cotton subsidies to keep the parks open? I don't hear that sort of idea bandied about.

To top it off, the editor decorates his online column with Rep Tobin's official photo next to the stern headline aimed at Dems. A casual reader would be forgiven for assuming that Andy is now writing editorials for the Courier, especially as this is exactly the sort of sentiment one might expect from the Republican whip. (To clarify, dear editor, official editorials, like this one, never get bylines or uncaptioned photos, especially head shots. This is just wrong, even online.)

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Editorial: 'Birthers' seduce local lawmakers

I talked with Rep Mason about this today on the show. (Listeners: My apologies for the sound quality, I'm still trying to figure out how to get it right when both of us are on phone connections.) I said there and I'll say here that I agree completely with the unnamed Courier editor. It's obvious that the concurrent memorial is pure political grandstanding on the part of the radical right. The interesting thing is that it's not aimed at Dems, rather it's being used as a litmus test against moderate Reps.

What I got from the conversation with Ms Mason is something that neither the editors nor the commenters have apparently considered. It's this: if you're not a radical rightist or a Dem, the resolution is so far under your radar that it really doesn't matter.

I think this is a political blind spot, but I understand it. Obviously the federal government has clear process in place for determining the eligibility of presidential candidates, and obviously the President fulfilled those long before the radicals decided to create an issue out of nothing. But our state legislators are not any better informed about that process than anyone else who's not involved, so when the bill comes around that will send a postcard to Congress saying that Arizona wants presidential candidates to prove their eligibility, it's relatively harmless, whereas voting against it will give the radicals something to run against you.

Dems might be forgetting that the Republican party is in a civil war to decide who's running the show, the corporatists or the crazies, and the tactics in play are deadly. For Dem purposes, I think it's better if the crazies have the upper hand for a while.

It's a little over the top for the editor to decorate the editorial with the pic of Ms Mason, who only voted for the resolution, rather than Rep Tobin, who whipped it through the House, or Rep Burges, who wrote it. These last two are far more radical and have been favorites of the Courier editorial board, where Ms Mason has been often slighted by and far more critical of the paper throughout her four terms. Judy Burges wasn't "seduced by birthers," guys, she's a misspelled-sign-carrying member.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Another light week

I'll be away from my desk on vacation this week, so blogging will likely be light again. I'll check in when I can. Feel free to add open comments here on whatever strikes your fancy.

Editorial: Lawmakers spin wheels with bills

The unnamed Courier editor echoes a big chunk of The People's Business this past weeekend, pointing out lawmaker initiatives that pretty obviously waste the Legislature's time.

I'm not sure he goes far enough. More than "a few" are pointless, silly, venal or evil. It's worse in an election year (that is, every other year) as legislators trot out the hobbyhorses that they think will attract votes.

The trouble is, that's exactly what they're elected to do: express the will of the people as they see it. By their actions shall ye know them, and if they're not up to the task of office, it's not really their fault -- blame the voters who put them there and keep them there. It's pretty easy to spot the silly, and the incompetent, and the evil when they're running for office, if you pay attention and know what to look for. Dumb legislation ought to get them boosted out after the first term. To the Legislature's credit, only one of the bills the editor mentions, the divorce bill, is making any headway in the process. That's also how the system is supposed to work.

But hold on: The editor concludes that rather than spend any time on other legislation, "it is justifiable to ask them to concentrate on this (the budget) and only this," even after saying "many of these measures ... will be for the good of Arizona's citizens."

Perhaps the editor was otherwise occupied last year, when Senate President Bob Burns (who also appointed himself chair of the Rules Committee and so holds more power over lawmaking than any legislator in AZ history) decided arbitrarily to halt all other legislative processes until the budget went through. The upshot was that the session lasted into August, the bills that squeaked through in the last minutes were ill-considered, and despite two special sessions the budget never got finished anyway. They're still working on it, and they're already months late in getting started on 2011.

These are clear and direct results of legislative inexperience. Burns was elected Pres only because smarter and more experienced pols were termed out. Ken Bennett would not have made those mistakes. Inexperience across the board in the Legislature allowed the debacle to go forward. Here are the results of the term limits you so love, editor: silly bills, wasted time, venal behavior and a bankrupt state.

(Prescott cable subscribers can hear replays of The People's Business on Tuesday at 11:30pm and Thursday at 7am on Access13.)

Storm of protest

As an estimated three inches of snow fell on Prescott, hundreds gathered on the square today protesting what they called the "global-warming scam."

Friday, February 19, 2010

State lawmakers review alternative budget plan

Buried on 7A (and not on we find this story of a supposedly mystified House leadership playing catch-up with a budget plan that's been making the rounds for a couple of weeks. It seems Rep John Kavanagh has no idea who it's coming from.

The Courier could have scooped AP on this one if the editors listened to The People's Business over the last couple of weeks. This is the bipartisan plan that Rep Lucy Mason announced on the show. She's one of the plan's prime movers, advocating for compromise up the middle of the political divide that's brought the Arizona legislature to a standstill.

By the way, Kavanagh is not being entirely truthful about not knowing where it's coming from. Rep Mason and Rep Bill Konopnicki were keeping the plan inside so that leadership would have a chance to sign on before they went public with it.

We'll have more on this week's show, 2pm Saturday and Sunday on KJZA (89.5 FM) and KJZP (90.1 FM).

Update, Sunday morning:
Rep. Kavanagh responds in the comments. Here's a link to the story as carried on, including a big chunk the Courier left out.

Feed-your-head Friday

How figure skaters control spin speed, and how much fun you can have in a physics lab: angular momentum.

Editorial: Plan to keep Cubs in AZ is home run

Apparently the unnamed Courier editor has again forgotten that the editorial column is not a personal blog.

Stories about movie stars go in the entertainment section, stories about church services go on the religion page, and stories about sports go on the sports page. Papers traditionally do this so readers can conveniently toss out the useless pages en masse.

Stories about local sports a hundred miles away have no place in a local paper at all, and that doesn't change just because the editor happens to be interested in sports. Readers don't care about his saltwater fish tank or his stamp collection, either.

What's weird and noteworthy about this piece, though, is the editor's support for a new non-user tax to help pay for his entertainment. This follows his blanket refusal to accept any new taxes to balance the state budget just four weeks ago. Gotta have priorities, I guess.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Editorial: We need less blame and more solutions

On first read of today's offering by the unnamed Courier editor, you might think, "well, that certainly sounds reasonable." Who can argue with "Honest solutions and personal accountability"?

But taking a look into the right-wing codebook I boosted from the cloakroom at the Hayworth fundraiser, I find some hidden messages.

Code: "Good, because voters will have their say at the polls when it comes to foreign and domestic policies. Last month's shocking Massachusetts Senate race defined voters' strength in numbers."
Decoded: "Virtuous voters elect Republicans."

Code: "But voters will have to endure endless campaigns designed only to confuse, distort and generally raise rabble - hardly the hallmarks of a productive society. But is helping society the true agenda? Not in an election year."
Decoded: "Politicians only care about winning elections, and lying is the only way to do that."

Code: "The voters are acutely aware of what's wrong with our system."
Decoded: "Be afraid. Be very afraid."

Code: "Access to 24-7 information, solicited or otherwise, magnifies the flaws and expands the blame game."
Decoded: "When the media notice that Republicans are doing everything they can to block all government functions and can't seem to keep their pants zipped, it's just political blame-gaming."

Oh yeah, and how about "Honest solutions and personal accountability"? The codebook says: "Simplistic thinking and you're on your own, bubba."

I've got a better idea. When you're in Congress and the other party holds the largest majority in living memory, you accept that the voters said something pretty clear last time and get out of the way, like when you weren't picked for basketball that time. When the majority invites you to bring your ideas to the table, you show up, argue your points, and look for ways to advance compromise. It's called cooperation, and it's wildly unfashionable since Newt began his scorched-earth campaign, but it's how the system is supposed to work.

So no, we don't need less blame, we need less blameworthy actions. We need more statesmanship and devotion to public service. Look for that in your candidates this year, and where you find it, support those candidates.

Reagan Loves the Tea Party

That is to say his son Mike, high priest and oracle of the Reagan cult, thinks he would if he were, you know, alive. Today on the op-ed page he announces his new ReaganPAC "to seek out and support those candidates who share the principles of my father." I've got an idea who that is:

Republicans to Nominate Zombie Reagan in 2012

Regular readers know what I think of Mike Reagan. But today there's a little chunk in there that I can agree with wholeheartedly: "... too many have quickly dismissed elected officials and potential candidates because they failed to (live) up to every possible expectation. If we are to accomplish our goals, we must remember that while our elected officials are imperfect, they must also be our allies."

He's trying to get a halter on the Tea Partiers and bring them in line behind the GOP, of course, but responsible citizens of all stripes would be wise to bear this in mind rather than treat all public servants as unindicted co-conspirators.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

I love this guy's work

Letter: Court ruling forgets 'we the people'

Jeannette Myers writes protesting the recent ruling giving corporations free rein to spend as much as they like for or against any candidate for public office. Some of the commenters would have it that this is just another left-right tussle, 'cuz they loves them some right-wing Supremes. Turns out it's really not.

Today's WaPo reports poll results showing clear majorities left, right and center strongly against this ruling and the political environment it would have us all live in.

Like health care, this is an issue that should unite us in doing something positive about it. Instead we see our corporate media creating spurious controversy, dividing us and conquering us. The opposition leaders in Congress oppose any effort by the majority to head this disaster off. You who identify with the right have to ask yourselves, seriously, who those guys are working for. It's clearly not you.

Editorial: Proposed library fee sparks outrage

Most days it seems that the unnamed Courier editor has no difficulty cutting and pasting yesterday's front page into the editorial column. On this subject, however, it took from Thursday, when Cindy was writing up the Council retreat, to Tuesday night to come up with this little finger-wag. OK, it was a holiday weekend, there were a few dull, canned editorials already in the pipeline, and he didn't get to his desk to do anything about it till Tuesday. Anybody could understand that, right? (Well, except for Thursday and Friday. Dunno what happened there.)

What it tells me is that the paper is on autopilot not just on weekends but around them as well, susceptible to the Friday-news-dump strategy, and perfectly willing to be well behind the curve in responding, when it suits. Play the sleepy-small-town card.

PS Editor: You endorsed those boneheads for election, remember?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Changes at the top?

I normally skip completely over ads, so I'm three days late in noticing a box on A2 about a "coffee with the editors" scheduled for tomorrow and soliciting ideas and input for improving the paper. Fine idea.

What strikes me is that Exec Editor Ben Hansen's picture isn't in the ad, but that of formerly retired editor Karen DeSpain is, slugged as an editor, and she doesn't appear on the masthead. I smell change afoot. Karen is well regarded in the community and has been missed since she left the paper.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Where's the outrage?

Since Cindy's story on Friday I've been wondering when we might see a Courier editorial on the City talking about charging for customarily 'free' public services like the library and public parks and trails.

They're not free, of course. Our taxes pay for them. Now the City, or at least certain Council members, would charge us again to use them.

The free public library in particular is an American tradition that speaks loudly of our commitment to open government, education, free thought and responsible citizenship. I would think a newspaper editor, of all people, would understand the implications of making access to public information more difficult based on economic class, and say something about it. Something loud.

Format changes

Last week's revamp of the Courier's online offerings are overall very positive, I think.

The sleeker dCourier pages eliminate lots of clutter, fluff and advertising and look more professional, though I would like to see somewhat larger headlines to help distinguish the stories from one another. The home page is still a mess, trying to cram too much in, but it's easy to bypass.

I'm having fun with the new site, which brings back online pages as printed, following a long hiatus. The navigation and zoom work smoothly and much more quickly than the old version. Zooming in to read takes a little getting used to, as the zoom feature is maybe a little too sensitive to mouse movement, but you get the knack after a while. I'd only ask for a second zoom level for those of us who try to avoid getting too close to the monitor.

On the comments feature, I have to say that "requiring" first and last names, but disclaiming (above it, in red!) that you can use a pseudonym sort of defeats the purpose. Registering commenters with real names will lead to fewer but more responsible comments. You might also consider giving registered commenters pride of place and putting anonymous comments lower, or maybe a larger typeface for registered comments.

Here's a cookie for the IT department. Now marketing gets the challenge of making money on it.

One thing, though: The narrower pages of today's papers make the six-column format hard for readers. The lines are just too short. Go to five and you'll make it easier for your readers and have more interesting layout choices in the bargain.

U.S. debt will keep growing even with economic recovery

I guess the editors missed me over the past week, so to lure me back to my desk, they gave me this great big Monday-morning present, guaranteed to piss me off. They ran a politically charged opinion piece as news.

But wait, there's more. Having chosen this AP op-ed by Tom Raum for a box on 6A, they cut it on both the hard copy and dCourier to eliminate what little balancing information Raum used in favor of the Obama administration. (Sorry, cutting an outside story on the Website, where there is literally no space limitation, is just wrong.) Here's the original story in full.

I can understand it when subtle propaganda works its way into news stories. People often write from unexamined assumptions about the world and don't realize it. But this is far from subtle. The assertions of fact without references, the assertions of other people's motivations, the use of obvious opinions as facts all mark this clearly as an opinion piece. No editor could miss it. This was not a mistake, folks.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Slow blogging this week

I'm having a visit with one of my oldest and dearest friends, so there's not a lot of time for the paper. I notice big unannounced changes in the look of, and I'll have comments on that once I have a chance to get used to it. For now it doesn't seem that the editors are doing anything egregious or particularly interesting this week.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Something's missing -- again

I've been looking for the Courier's coverage of this week's press release from Rep Kirkpatrick on the budget, but nary a word.

It seems that our Mr Tobin can get his press releases printed anytime, but our representative in the big game is only covered when she's being criticized. A local newspaper monopoly ought to do better for us than that.

It's Feed-Your-Head Friday

What's cool about the seventh planet, and lots of talk about its funny name, which could have been George.

This silliness about the pronunciation might be avoided if English-speakers weren't so habitually bad at pronouncing classical words. The Greeks called the mate of Gaia Ouranos, and that was Latinized as Uranus, which in Latin is pronounced "oorahnoos."

Bonus: The Greek creation myth featuring Ouranos as a primordial player is wild and fairly gruesome, a fun read. Before you click through, a trivia question: From what dismembered organ did Aphrodite spring?

Signs of improvement

I've been a little hesitant to say anything that might jinx it, but I've been noticing that copy editing on the Courier has been much better of late. The rampant, glaring typos and embarrassing headlines that have been standard fare in the paper for many years are lately much diminished. I don't know who should get the credit for this, but here's a cookie for whomever you are. I'd love to hear from inside whether there have been relevant policy changes.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Editorial: A 'virtual fence' to nowhere?

The Bush administration's teevee-inspired border boondoggle turns out to be as unworkable as Reagan's "missile defense shield," and we're all just so surprised. But for once the unnamed Courier editor isn't hopping up and down about how the Feds are doing nothing to "control" the border against the illegals who are the root of all evil. While he doesn't really take any position, today he seems relatively thoughtful as he dips a few spoonfuls from the AP story (did this run in the print edition?) and scatters some numbers from 'studies' published by reactionary think-tanks.

Between this and the gun thing on Tuesday, one might wonder whether there's been a change in someone's medication this week.

Horse charity told to redouble efforts to win over neighbors

After years of searching, a charitable nonprofit providing disabled kids and adults with a very special, therapeutic service finds a permanent home, but can't get all the neighbors to sign off. If the comments are any indication, there's going to be some public pressure about this. If you'd like to help, here's the HwH website for a start. They can use it.

I've met with these people and put them on the radio. Their service is terrific and their community spirit is palpable. How anyone could think they and their ten horses wouldn't be the best sort of neighbors is utterly beyond me.

Update, Friday: I see the editor agrees.

Sweat Lodge organizer James Arthur Ray arrested

This is a nice, solid, researched and balanced news story, giving the subject its due without rehashing too much of the play-by-play that we've seen too often before. Lisa gets a cookie.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Editorial: Why do violent felons walk free?

If I read this correctly, the unnamed Courier editor is advocating mandatory life sentences for every violent offense. It would be fascinating to hear the editor argue this in a case of, say, a drunken bar brawl in light of the actual cost of incarceration and the inevitable effect this would have on his taxes.

Public safety matters, but perfect public safety is simply not possible in a nation that values freedom. Criminals will exist, cops and innocent people will be hurt and die, as long as we value our humanity more than imaginary safety. It's part of the price of liberty.

Before lightly dismissing the idea that our culture of adolescent worship of guns and violence might have had anything to do with this problem, the editor asks a few plaintive rhetorical questions demonstrating only his lack of imagination. Were he a journalist, he might have taken a more constructive tack with this and put those questions and others to some of our judges, prosecutors, corrections professionals and maybe a psychologist or social scientist. He might have got a good, informative story out of it. Instead, we get this pitiful waste of space.

Editing note: The editor leaves a crucial fact out of this piece, assuming that everyone knows it: the alleged shooter was in prison here for nearly four years on aggravated assault and related charges (AZ Dept of Corrections). That omission makes his argument nonsensical within the piece.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Editorial: Pearce's gun proposal sounds great to felons

The unnamed Courier editor displays some common sense in protesting Sen. Russell Pearce's attempt to roll back restrictions on firearms, even identifying Pearce correctly as "radical," qualifying for the cookie. I'm grateful that the Courier has lately been consistently applying a more nuanced position on guns than the blind devotion it did previously. It's just too bad the editor's not a little better at journalism, however.

Yesterday, before deadline, the bill passed out of committee carrying amendments addressing the editor's expressed concerns. In other words, the editor wound up writing about a different bill, getting his editorial completely wrong. Here's the update.

This might be just an "oh well,things change" moment, but the readers wind up utterly misled on the content of the legislation, so any input they give their representatives will misfire.

A newspaper editor should understand that the legislative committee process is where a raw bill gets hammered into something the body can vote on, and it's rare that a bill doesn't change substantially in the process. In Arizona it's relatively easy to find out online when a bill is being considered in which committee, and the state offers streaming real-time video of many committee hearings. It's not like the editor couldn't know what was going on.

A skilled journalist would have either published this before the committee process, when constituents still had time to weigh in on the raw bill, or held his fire until the bill was out of all committees and appeared on the floor agenda. On this the editor jumped the gun. (Sorry, sometimes I can't resist.)

Will we perhaps see a followup on the current bill?

Monday, February 1, 2010

Editorial: Make better use of 'call to public'

Befitting the regular Monday dump of press releases on the front page, here the unnamed Courier editor takes on a topic of kindergarten complexity -- public comments at City Council meetings -- and manages to live up to the challenge by saying pretty much nothing.

Windbags are a professional hazard of public meetings, and we have to face the fact that these opportunities exist every bit as much for the windbags as for anyone else.

Windbags do what they do because they don't feel they're being heard, either by the public officials they're addressing or by others in their daily lives. The only good way to reduce incidents of windbaggery is to build and resolutely reinforce a culture of caring respect, so people clearly understand that the officials aren't using the Council table as a wall between higher and lower classes, while reinforcing respect for the time of everyone in the room. But Council members must accept that windbaggery will happen on occasion, and they're drawing their pay in large part to put up with precisely that. Skilled leaders know that just expressing that they care to hear what the windbag is saying will reduce windbaggery by 20% out of the gate, and other leadership techniques can help a poor communicator get to the heart of what he wants to say and step down.

Even when those don't work, it's far better to have Council and the public put up with a windbag than to have the Mayor gaveling people off the podium to avoid hearing what they're saying, and the difference between worthwhile speech and windbaggery is in the ear of the beholder. The First Amendment does not say "Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech, unless it's boring or takes too long." Council must bear in mind at all times that they are elected to serve the public, not the other way around.

Note to editor: Where you wrote, "the presiding officer has the right to reign in a speaker," that should be "rein in." Given all the Western movies you so love to quote and our town's cowboy reputation, your readers expect you to know a little more about the terminology.

It could have happened