Friday, April 30, 2010

Sales Tax Day on p. 4

We've got three bits on the sales-tax initiatives on the oped page today.

First the unnamed Courier editor performs some entertaining contortions in an attempt to protect his bona fides as a tax-hater while supporting a vote in favor.

Next Sen. Steve Pierce covers his own butt on whipping the ballot measure through the Senate, apparently most concerned that reactionaries will blame him for allowing them to vote. I don't understand why anyone pays attention to the know-nothings, but it demonstrates the kind of thinking our legislators are using to guide their actions in office. He's against the tax. I knew you'd be surprised. Tom Cantlon provides the smackdown in the comments without breaking a sweat.

Third, in the letters, Carl Tenney makes a plea from Chino Valley in favor of the tax.

Below all of these, most of the commenters are screaming in protest, citing all sorts of myths, misperceptions and irrelevant political irritations.

I gave my take on April 9, but here I just want to emphasize one point. If the sales tax doesn't pass, the Legislature will reduce funding to the counties for schools, corrections, health care and many other important functions. The counties will not be allowed to just drop those balls, people won't stand for it and doing so would only expand costs elsewhere. So they will require us to pay for most of the cuts, by adjusting property tax rates. In other words, if you vote against the sales tax, you're voting for higher property taxes instead. This vote is the legislative equivalent of an offer you can't refuse.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Editorial: New tourism plan makes good sense

"Tourism or bust." Ack.

At several points in today's editorial the unnamed Courier editor admits explicitly that the City staff's plan to bring tourism promotion in-house is short-term thinking. He's following up on yesterday's story by Cindy in which Council applauds shearing off years of ties to PACT, rejigging the City bureaucracy and reallocating funds to pump up tourism.

Tourism is all very nice for kitschy downtown trinket-sellers, hoteliers and restaurants, but I have a hard time imagining that anyone thinks of it as a reliable foundation for economic activity in general, good jobs or municipal revenues. Communities that rely on tourism wind up out in the cold when the fashion changes or fuel costs rise, leaving their already overstretched minimum-wage workforces bankrupt, jobless and further reliant on public services for which funds have dried up. Tourism should be the frosting on economic planning, not the cake, and it's extremely disheartening to see our Council and staff so bereft of ideas that this is being hailed as some sort of great leap forward.

Does no one notice that the plan includes dropping the office of economic development director? This was the person charged with marketing the city's advantages to large companies and manufacturers. Does that effort go away while we goof around with tourists? The Courier apparently didn't ask the question.

I'm not convinced it was a great idea in the first place to privatize the bed-tax revenues by employing PACT, which farmed the whole thing out to an ad agency. But I'm also not convinced that City staff has anything like the marketing savvy to employ those funds effectively. Right off the bat they're talking about building events and a marketing plan from the ground up, and I have to wonder what we've been spending money on all these years that apparently leaves nothing useful in terms of planning from the previous regime. I also recall how eager certain City department heads have been to expand their personal empires. Finally it seems to me that with these new salaries City staff are recommending an overall increase in expenditures for tourism promotion, and I have to wonder what PACT could have done with those additional funds. It reads like an apples/oranges comparison designed to favor salaries to City staff.

In the new director's position the City is proposing to spend 10% of bed tax revenues on one person -- not on ad buys, not on communications or infrastructure, on the person in the chair. How can they possibly justify that expense in terms of benefits to our residents? The editor isn't bothering to ask. But I imagine it's occurred to more than a few business owners and managers who rarely see benefits from tourists on the square.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A rap on immigration

While today's Courier editorial is entertaining in its clueless confusion, I'm going to depart from accustomed practice today and try to say something more substantive than usual, from the perspective of a tenth-generation American citizen who's also had some experience as an illegal immigrant.

Only North Korean spies, Russian mobsters and American military get into Japan without some sort of documentation, so "undocumented" doesn't work for me, but I don't mind "illegal" at all. The Japanese immigration system is a maze of catch-22s, so most anyone who goes there for the work has to play the margins, working illegally until you can get someone substantial with a company to personally sponsor a work permit. This can take years. Meanwhile you're in more or less constant danger of sudden deportation if you run afoul of the notoriously rule-embracing authorities. Did I break the law? Yes, repeatedly and at length. Did I hurt anyone by it? It's quite safe to say no. Neither did the 35,000 other foreigners living in Tokyo at the time, serving the needs of businesses and individuals in an affluent and expanding economy.

So it is with illegals in the US. Crossing the border without official permission violates the law, but of itself it hurts nothing and no one. What matters is what you do after that.

So as the furor over AZ'a new anti-immigrant (or, materially, anti-Mexican) law plays out in the national media, I start there. If we seriously hope to resolve this issue and move on in a civilized, practical manner, we have to look past the political pantomime to the real, living challenges we face.

Immigration, legal and illegal, is an issue only because of political choices that ignore nature and practical reality. The idea that we can use an imaginary line in the sand to keep poor, hungry people from filling available jobs and taking the money back to their families is as dumb as a box of rocks, anyone with half a brain can see that. The people running this country for the last 200-odd years, their peace officers, their military, their businesspeople, their criminals and clergy, have generally been of at least average intelligence. So it's safe to conclude that the system is rigged to not work -- for a purpose.

That's how it was for me and thousands of other illegals in Japan. The system's official purpose is to protect Japanese jobs and society at large from international miscreants. But, like I said, the mobsters, spies and other criminals have no difficulty getting around it, nor do most legitimate job-seekers. Its true functions, demonstrated every day on the ground for anyone who cares to look, are to placate the voters' fear of foreigners while creating a cheap, pliable pool of off-the-books, politically powerless laborers. The same is true here, and it has been since immigration controls were first imposed.

Periodically, when economic conditions erode slightly here in the richest nation on earth, public attention turns to the 'foreigner problem' and how to address it. It's always been an easy sell politically, so it's been exploited by fearmongers since time began. This time is no different.

Today's illegal immigration is qualitatively the same as at any time since we've had a southern border, and quantitatively it only varies with the relative economic conditions in the US and the nations of Central America -- as you may have noticed, when Arizona's economy went south for a spell, lots of immigrants split for greener pastures. There is always a small contingent of people for whom fear of foreigners is the top concern, but the only reason we've seen "immigration" become a big public issue in recent years is that it's politically convenient for certain interests to make it so.

When you're selling something, you have to keep stock on hand, and if your product is fear you have to have an object for it. When the commies imploded, the fearmongers started selling Muslims. That pitch got old, and now they're flogging brown people from the south. It's so juvenile it would be funny if it didn't have such serious implications for our economy and national character.

But here we are. Lots of Americans are invested in the idea that illegal immigrants are suddenly "flooding in" to steal their jobs and stereos, make "anchor babies," defile their daughters, empty the government ATMs and cause general mayhem. Many shady businesses large and small depend on illegal workers to make their plans and balance sheets work. Many underqualified politicians need to provide voters with a reason to elect them. And I don't care if you throw a trillion dollars and every state militia at the border, you're not going to do much to separate poor, hungry people from available cash without an ocean. They're better motivated than we are.

For decades, immigration has been a safe issue for fearmongering authoritarians. They knew in their hearts that no amount of effort would actually have much real effect, so they could demand pretty much anything without risking success -- and losing the issue -- or substantially threatening the balance sheets of their buddies in the chambers of commerce. It was perfect.

But this time their shortsightedness has come home to roost. Having failed so miserably and spectacularly at governance for so long, they ran out of other issues to run on, and so had to ramp up the immigration issue to such a pitch that something had to give.

Enter the Arizona legislature, facing an election year with nothing to show but a bankrupt government and every fifth home in or on the brink of foreclosure, and its governor, Peter-Principled by happenstance into an office which she has neither the intellectual depth nor the leadership qualities to fulfill. When an out-of-state front group for old-school upperclass white-supremacists dangled what looked like a robust response to the "problem" of illegal immigration, our elected officials took the bait like a pike on a wiggler.

It's completely illegal, of course, the consensus among those who know is pretty clear. There will be an injunction, probably at the state level but perhaps from the federal level as well, and this legislation will not stand. The Rs only need it to get through the midterm elections, and I expect most of the survivors will back away from it after that.

But there's a new factor to bring the old edifice down. The Obama administration and the Congress are making noises about doing something, perhaps before the midterms, to intercept the ball and take back some yardage.

Obviously they can't out-fascist the fascists, so what could they do to successfully address the voters' fears and maybe do some good for us economically at the same time?

My answer is to expand NAFTA to include labor. Don't try to close a border that can't be closed -- open it further, and handle it like an adult.

Speaking as an illegal immigrant again, nobody with any sense prefers shady status. We have illegal immigrants because we impose artificial limits on how many we allow to be legal. The job demand exceeds the supply of legal visas, so more people come however they can. We can only eliminate illegals by making them legal.

We can live up to our rhetoric about free trade. We can allow Mexican (and Canadian) workers to compete on a level playing field, under the same worker protections and minimum wages, and paying the same taxes. After work we can let them go home to their families rather than force them to live as a vulnerable underclass. They can be free to speak up against criminals without fear of the legal system breaking up their homes and livelihoods. They can pay a fair share for the government services we all need. We can live up to our principles as we never have, and accept them into our society as people with dignity and and important roles to play. And we can fairly ask the Mexican (and Canadian!) government to reciprocate for US workers.

The mechanics of this are simple and relatively cheap -- way less than trying to build and staff a 2,000-mile Berlin Wall. We'll need to register everyone individually so they can be tracked and taxed, the same way we citizens are, and check them in and out at the border. Registration will not convey the vote -- only citizenship can do that, and that will remain an arduous road. We'll probably also have to modify the Constitution, though, to eliminate the blanket grant of citizenship based on birth on US soil, and instead require parents who are citizens or legal permanent residents. We're not trying to fulfill Manifest Destiny anymore.

We'll still get some criminals, of course. Everyone's human, and seven to ten percent of all humans are bad enough to be criminals. We won't keep them out as long as there is profit in smuggling. We can talk later about drug laws. But they won't be smuggling people anymore, and that's a big plus for us all. There will be challenges -- language, tax cheating, health care, education -- but we're already dealing with all of those, badly. They'll be more easily handled when the people involved aren't classed as criminals.

The businesses that have benefited from unfair compensation will have to find new ways to get by, and the fearmongers will have to find a new boogeyman to scare us with. We win. Show me the downside.

The hard part is getting past the core fear of The Other. Americans are not much different from any other group in that we identify as a group only when faced with people in other groups. For this to ever work, and if we're to ever resolve the "immigration" issue, we have to get past that irrational fear and start seeing not scary invaders but ordinary people, just like us, living in different circumstances but with the same human values.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Editorial: History is worth effort to save it

The unnamed editor is quite right that "We need the individual efforts of those who preserve our heritage," but this conclusion misfires, showing that he is among the many in our community who take our history for granted and think that "someone - usually someone else - will protect and preserve it."

Ms Ruffner is a truly dedicated and accomplished advocate for history and the arts, but she will be the first to tell you that individual effort is only effective in the context of large, dedicated groups. That means if you care, you don't wait to give Ms Ruffner a gold star, you pitch in and help row the boat. Perhaps the editor could better inform the public about how the Courier is spending sweat and money to help preserve our heritage. It's called leading by example.

In the comments, "Gracie xx" says "The (buildings) of a hundred years ago will probably still be standing and beautiful, but nothing being constructed these days will be standing beside them. Well, maybe to illustrate a lack of class," and it struck me that she's righter than she may realize. The historic structures we cherish in our town all rose before the advent of the middle class, when the skilled workers who built them typically put in 80- and 90-hour weeks under harsh and dangerous conditions for subsistence wages. Yes, Gracie, that class system is mostly gone, but as a result very few can afford the kind of construction that will endure for hundreds of years in grace and dignity, certainly not in a commercial building.

We pay that cost for our more comfortable lifestyle and better working conditions. It's a trade no civilized society regrets, but we have to be aware that only if have the vision to maintain the great legacy of the artisans of years past can we continue to live in a community with this kind of architectural depth and character.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Pseudebate: Should names go with online comments?

Readers will recognize that this is one of my cherished hobbyhorses, and it's odd to find myself on the same side as Ben. I imagine that having spent a lot of time editing his commenters, he's simply realized that most anonymous comments aren't worth the time.

Once again the Courier has set up a false dichotomy for "debate." As several commenters are pointing out, there are plenty of ways to provide identity without risking retribution. So there's a lot of grey between guaranteed real names and no names at all.

Richard argues the benefits of anonymity, but apparently doesn't notice that comments on dCourier are anonymous only to readers -- the editors have email addresses and traceback capability. He writes, "It would be foolish to listen to feedback only if you know a customer's name and personal information," but of course he does know. There is no advantage to anonymity when you're not really anonymous.

The advantage of anonymous posting is to the Courier, in that heated exchanges keep the hits coming, raising the ad numbers. Richard is also the IT guy, it should be noted, and more comments looks good for his department. Quality doesn't matter.

What no one's saying is that if you're truly afraid that some nut or your boss is going to give you some sort of hell for speaking up in a certain way on a public issue, maybe you should just keep quiet and deal with your life in chains. You have other issues to resolve before you pipe up. If you take a good hard look you'll probably find that your fears are silly. Free your mind first, then your speech.

Ben writes, "We require everyone to sign letters and give a phone number so we can verify that they wrote the letter," assuring us that we can trust what's printed. He'll have to explain separately the several people I've known who wrote regularly under different pseudonyms so they could get published more often. It's a mug's game for everyone.

Commenting makes the paper accountable to its readers, directly and immediately. Commenters are also made accountable for what they say. But if you're wearing a mask, there's no reason to care what anyone thinks. That's why the comment sections turn into food fights. That's bad enough, but the factor people rarely note is the people who had something important to contribute but didn't post because they felt intimidated by the jerks or that the conversation was a waste of time. You can't count those people, and you'll never hear what they have to say until you make them feel safe enough to say it.

Editorial: Ag exemption abusers rip us off


The only mystery here is why it's taken the unnamed Courier editor literally decades to figure this out.

Column: Public misunderstands bicyclists

Lisa Barnes is correct in pointing out that car and truck drivers are often actively hostile to bicyclists. This is obvious to anyone who's ever pushed a pedal in Prescott. The bigger problem, though, is the distraction and unawareness that many drivers live in as their default state while driving, which causes as many problems for pedestrians and other drivers.

Did you ever think about why we have curbs and sidewalks? They're to help keep cars in the roadway and away from pedestrians -- not because drivers hate walkers, but because so many people are incompetent to drive. We take these things for granted as civilized infrastructure. Why must it be so different for bikes?

Obviously a lot of people are incompetent to drive bikes as well, but that's only an argument in favor of separating them from car and truck traffic. As I've said before here, bike lanes aren't for bikes, they're for cars, keeping bikes from impeding traffic lanes. If drivers ever start to catch on to that idea, you'll see bikes lanes striping in lickety-split.

It would have been nice if Ms Barnes had gone beyond telling stories that everyone knows to advocate solutions for everyone, biker and driver alike.

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I thought proofreading on the paper had improved, but the egregious top line on this story shows the editors are still prone to distraction.

Editorial: Gun owners should get CCW training

It's revealing that the unnamed Courier editor thinks it necessary to say that gun owners should get training even though the new law doesn't require it. Isn't it dead obvious that society has little to fear from people who are competent and responsible enough to take this advice? The problem for us all is the many who are irresponsible and/or incompetent.

From the mouths and keyboards of that same group, the comments further illustrate why responsible people want and support restrictions on firearms. It's hair-raising what some people think.

Just as we institute speed limits because of the few who aren't responsible enough to keep fellow drivers safe, we maintain restrictions on firearms because of those who would abuse their rights stupidly, incompetently or irresponsibly. No one seriously argues that speed limits are an unconstitutional infringement of our right to free movement and assembly.

If the editor cared more about public safety than the imagined freedom of an armed populace and his personal right to make loud noises and break things whenever he likes, he'd have opposed the new law. Imagining that this "freedom" will not encourage irresponsible people to act irresponsibly is as woolly-headed as it gets.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

This week on Healthy Medicine

We just had a fabulous interview with Dr Jill Bolte Taylor, author of My Stroke of Insight. She also gave a great talk at the TED conference in '08. Check it out. Then listen to Healthy Medicine at 1pm this Saturday and Sunday on KJZA/KJZP, 89.5 and 90.1FM.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Feed-Your-Head Friday

What do you know about Neptune?

Gov. Brewer urges voters to support Prop. 100

Paula plays dutiful steno for the Governor as she stumps for the sales-tax initiative. The enormous pushback from the right, as seen in in the comments, would be amusing if it weren't so blockheaded and ill-informed. The fur is flying as everyone throws their favorite myths into the fray.

Myth 1: The tax won't really be temporary, they'll just keep it going. I've seen the legislation and its ironclad sunset provision, and in order to extend it the Legislature would have to write a new bill and either vote for it themselves, which they are obviously too frightened to even attempt, or get us to vote for it again.

Myth 2: The Republicans want more taxes to support unnecessary programs -- they can cut a lot more. The cognitive disconnect that allows people to maintain this idea without heads exploding amazes me. Our entire state government has been underfunded for decades as Republicans exploited every chance to reduce taxes and ignored every opportunity to restructure the revenue system on a more reliable and sustainable basis. Beyond programmatic efficiencies like reducing education paperwork, there really isn't anything significant left in the budget to cut that won't severely hurt vital programs or cause significant cost increases elsewhere.

Myth 3: Money is being spent on "government" that should be spent on education. Take a look at any pie chart of the Arizona budget: education and health care are already the vast majority of it, and administration is a sliver.

Myth 4: The schools are already well funded, they're just incompetent. There's no public school in America with sufficient resources to provide sufficient education to prepare students for real life and citizenship in the 21st century, and Arizona is consistently near the bottom of the rankings on both the funding and result scales. Yes, we could be spending what we spend more efficiently by demanding less of our education professionals in terms of paperwork and such, but we'd still be way behind the curve in giving kids the educational opportunities they need and we need them to have.

Myth 5: A temporary sales tax is the best way to bridge this temporary problem in the economy. No, more sales tax is probably the least smart way to fix a problem caused in greatest part by overreliance on sales taxes for revenue. It's just the easiest to get through the Legislature. Sales taxes are regressive in that they fall most heavily on those less able to pay, and they tend to dry up at exactly the point where recessive economic cycles increase the need for state services, as we have just experienced so famously.

The Republicans have taken our state economy for a long joyride, trashed it and left it in the farmer's field. They're culpable, but we're the adults who have to deal with the mess. Further, if we don't pass Prop 100 and tax ourselves more, the hammer falls harder on our kids and teachers -- that's built into the budget already. There is no alternative mechanism ready to fix that barring a magic and completely unforeseen infusion from the federal level through the Governor's office. We really don't have much choice about the sales tax -- we have to call the tow truck, pick the heap up and get it fixed. But as voters we do have the opportunity to fire the people who have been making the wrong decisions that led us here, and install those who understand the problem and will apply a better vision for our future.

Editorial: Trees, power lines always conflict

The unnamed Courier editor agrees that APS needs to slow down and that power lines don't necessarily warrant unchallenged right-of-way on Prescott streets. He even risked the 'p' word in urging utilities to "adopt more progressive policies about neighbors' coexistence with trees," at which point I about fell off my chair. But again I reached the end of the column disappointed that the editor can't seem to get beyond the surface of the issue.

The problem is far larger than one poorly planned power line vs one old Ponderosa pine. It's far larger than the widely reported gratuitous and radical destruction of trees by APS as well.

The situation that made the news came about because the rules changed a couple of times on how far lines must be spaced away from trees, and rather than provide a longer-term solution and move the lines, APS (with the City's blessing) has chosen instead to mow down trees that have been perfectly OK for many decades. The editor seems to have missed that dynamic entirely.

But that's still not the whole picture. Look around. We normally see right past it, but if you open your eyes a little wider you may notice that the view in most Prescott neighborhoods is dominated by electrical lines and raw poles. We've come to accept it as normal, but it's nasty to look at and, given weather and all sorts of moving hazards, unsafe and unreliable. Its only virtue is that it's relatively cheap. Should that be the primary value in this transaction?

APS is a monopoly provider sanctioned by the state for our area. We have no choice about that. In return for this captive market, it's both legally and ethically right to demand that the company serve our community values as well as it does its shareholders.

The hundred-year legacy of overhead power and communication lines is not a cherished tradition, it's always been an eyesore and safety hazard. A forward-thinking community that cares about quality of life will find ways to gradually move that creaky old infrastructure underground as roads, sidewalks and alleyways are repaired and replaced. Conserving our trees is an important part of a bigger picture, the sort of vision for our community that our elected leaders and City staff should bear in the front of their minds at all times.

A plea for typography

My introduction to the word biz included extensive training in typography, the arcane and underappreciated art that makes printed text both beautiful and easier to read. Despite what you see increasingly on the web, that art is even more important online, where readers are often reluctant to read from the screen.

So it's with some frustration that I've seen the style change on from paragraph separations to no separations and no indents. It's been bad enough that the Courier editors generally insist on splitting what should be paragraphs up into individual sentences. By removing any indication of the head of the line, they've made a mess of the page, and as a result I'm sure many readers tire and give up. That's bad for public information and it's bad in terms of eyes on pages and the revenues they bring into the paper.

This change happened a little while ago, and I've been holding off commenting on it in hopes that it was a transitory glitch someone was working to fix.

I expect it came about porting stories to the site from the paper edition, where the typography software automatically indents body text, and no one has bothered to set up a short conversion routine to simply double the end-of-line character. That's just one of many ways to skin this cat, it's easy and will cost nothing. Since the editors apparently don't care, can someone in IT just handle it? Your readers won't necessarily understand well enough to thank you, but they will get to the end of the story a lot more often and the Courier may then be able to afford to keep paying you.

Update, April 27: Perhaps this did the trick.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Editorial: Closed session undermines faith

The unnamed Courier editor gets it right today in calling the City Council (specifically, Messrs. Lamerson, Blair and Hanna, who forced the issue) on its secret meeting about "vagrancy," which is code for brown and homeless people.

If there's any way to legally justify invoking executive session for this topic under Open Meetings law, Council has an obligation to provide that publicly, and I expect the Courier to follow up and demand that public documentation. Short of that, some pertinent questions to the Attorney General's office are in order.

You've earned a cookie on this one, editor, now follow through and show Council that you mean it.

Too big to fail

Jon Stewart spots the strategy in the senator's scrapping his "maverick" brand.

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Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Editorial: Leaders show us what we can do

Today's editorial by the unnamed Courier editor's Barcalounger is too dull to matter, but as I was slogging through it I happened to notice the stock-image photo that the editor chose for it on the website, illustrating a handshake. It would also be too cliche to mention, but the details of the image struck me: the hands of two older white men in identical suits.

Despite the editor's applause for the women selected for honors in the article, the Courier's image of "leadership" remains, probably unconsciously, firmly wrapped in the company-man stereotypes of the 1950s.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Haddad: Sanctity of marriage must be protected

In his pseudoblog, Richard complains that "ever-swelling waves of political correctness threaten to erode the very foundation of the family unit." He doesn't mention the slowly building wave of equal protection nationwide for non-heterosexuals, but his dog whistle is good and loud, just to let us know that unashamed, blockheaded bigotry is not dead in Courierworld.

What's amusing is the photo he put on as an illustration, apparently shot by himself, showing a pair of happy newlyweds. Not all that long ago that white Marine and his brown bride could have been jailed in Arizona for that photo. The state instituted anti-miscegenation laws in 1865 and did not repeal them till 1962.

I imagine Richard's father in the role of Courier columnist in 1960, opining mightily that an "ever-swelling wave of disgusting racial impropriety threatens to erode the very foundation of the family unit." Ack.

Whenever you read some variation on "political correctness," dear reader, bear in mind that it can be fairly translated as "positive change that frightens the writer." What we've learned over and over again is that the fears that seem so important to one generation are often laughable to the next.

Amster: Corporations, politicians need work

I have no idea what the headline is supposed to mean, but Randall's column yesterday really gets to the meat of most of our big social problems. I've long advocated the idea that corporatism is the mostly hidden third force that distorts our social systems and politics beyond reason, and that corporations use our progressive-vs-conservative mental model to deceive us into giving them pretty much everything they want from us. It's a really important point, and we almost never hear it in our mainstream media, which despite all the screaming are neither conservative nor progressive, but firmly corporatist.

I appreciate that Randall used the health-care bill (which you can reference via the sidebar link at left) as his main example. Universal health care is something progressives have been fighting for since the '40s, and so conservative readers might expect Randall to favor anything that seems to move in that direction. One of the most effective ways of convincing people is to drive the snakes from your own nest first. The commenters don't seem to get the point at all, but that's par for this course, I'm afraid. What pains me is that conservatives so rarely seem to notice that corporations are equally inimical to their interests. Until we can see that we all share the pain of this cancer at the heart of our society, we'll never begin to address it.

I broadly agree with Randall here, but I'm not quite so cynical that the issue will end by simply enriching corporations again. They don't always win all the marbles, as our relatively shallow but firm national commitment to environmental protection is showing. Sometimes they're even teachable. New laws make small changes in a large, dynamic system, and more changes always follow. We have choices about where this first step will lead. If we can maintain clear vision and some hardheaded optimism, we can go far.

Editorial: The real priority on kindergarten

In today's rambling, apparently unedited editorial, it's difficult to tease out what the unnamed Courier editor is trying to say. He details the costs to school districts of the retraction of recently instituted funding for all-day K, and how they're allowing parents to make up the shortfall to keep the program going. (He doesn't mention that in relying on this sort of thing in cutting the budget, the Legislature has simply pushed the costs back onto taxpayers by other means than direct taxation.)

After pointing out the standards that kids are expected to meet for entering the first primary grade, he concludes that "the question we should be asking" is "are we putting too much pressure on them? Is childhood over way too soon?" and I have to wonder what planet the editor is inhabiting. Does he really think that all the kids growing up unsocialized and prepared only to be perpetual teenagers aren't getting enough of childhood? Yikes. Our entire society seems dedicated to never getting past adolescence, and it's getting worse, not better.

The idea that education is somehow separate from childhood is ridiculous. Education is the raw essence of childhood -- it's the whole point. Yes, there are a lot of important experiences that our factory-style education model does not usually provide for children, but that's not to say we couldn't be doing a lot better with it. That takes imagination, vision, dedicated professionals and the sort of serious funding that most "conservatives" won't countenance.

What would the editor prefer to early childhood education -- more TV? More baby-warehouse daycare with hordes of other kids? Or is the core idea, once again, forcing mothers out of the workplace and into barefoot-and-pregnant mode, where so many "conservatives" think they truly belong?

Friday, April 2, 2010

Feed-Your-Head Friday

What's going on with Mars, and an exciting, inspiring mission that's ready to go. At 18 minutes this one's a little longer than usual, but way worth it.

Today's Chuckle

Tim fires off an angry column about a frustrating experience on the phone, only to have commenters point out that he just failed to follow clear instructions.

Editorial: ADWR closure not end of world

The unnamed Courier editor's Barcalounger was hard at work again yesterday rewriting Tuesday's story on the closure of the local state water-agency office. As opinion the overstuffed chair offers little more than "that's life" and that no one will care very much, and since growth has ground to a near-halt, the water problem is on hold anyway.

Perhaps if the editor were in the chair while this was going on he'd have remembered that we were declared in violation of regulations against groundwater mining over ten years ago, and plenty more still-thirsty people are here now. The lull in growth we're experiencing is an opportunity to regroup, reassess our situation and create a new, more sustainable vision for our area without the pressure of thousands more homes going up and millions more dollars skewing the picture. So it's arguably more important that ADWR maintain a presence here now, to keep tabs on what's happening more directly and to be a trustworthy resource for local policymakers.

The editor's history of advocacy for unsustainable growth and disregard for environmental concerns belies his unconcern about the loss of our state water watchdogs -- this really makes him happy.

Notice also that the the lull isn't stopping the pipeline builders: Big Chino bills move through committees

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Editorial: Shift on drilling for oil is welcome

The unnamed Courier editor is mystified as to why the Obama administration might be willing to allow oil drilling off the East Coast and north of Alaska.

"Why the sudden change? We're going broke and supporting countries that harbor terrorists otherwise," he writes, giving himself a pat on the back for a pat answer. It's almost unsporting to point out that no, what the administration has done, even if it results in lots of new oil platforms dotting the continental shelves, will not begin to reduce oil importation or significantly change the country's economic prospects. There simply isn't enough oil there to make much difference, and getting the things built and producing takes many years. The arguments against it during the Bush administration still make the same amount of sense.

From what I've seen, the President is looking at two factors. In practical terms, well-run environmentally safe operations could be producing much higher-priced oil 15 or 20 years from now, when supplies are clearly dwindling worldwide and we'll still be shifting to sustainable energy sources. I suspect that despite the vast areas tagged for potential leasing, very few locations will both have useful oil in the ground and be suitable for extraction given environmental factors, so let's not get all twisted up in rosy (or nightmarish) scenarios just yet. I'll have a lot more trust in this administration to put rules in place to ensure that the southeast coast doesn't wind up looking like Alaska after the Valdiz than I would the Bush administration, which would have happily converted the Washington Monument into a derrick if it thought there were two barrels of oil under it somewhere.

The second and far more important factor is taking the issue away from the "drill, baby, drill" Republicans. With this move the President has effectively eliminated the criticism that he's only interested in solar panels on hippie domes as an energy policy. The Southeast can hope for thousands of jobs in building and operating rigs someday (not incidentally helping rebuild New Orleans as well), plus perhaps more environmental survey, assessment and monitoring jobs, building up a more useful and needed industry. It will also embarrass the financial Morlocks when they get what they've been saying they wanted all these years but won't actually take the financial risk and follow through. There's not enough oil there, see. The same goes for those Republican-run coastal states when the rich Republican folks in the beachfront condos start standing up for their right to a clear horizon and clean sand.

This will bring in better results for Democrats at the midterms, and could pull enough Dem votes together on energy to push through some more serious reforms quickly.

As for the editor's confidence that "Republicans surely will back Obama," I'm afraid he's in for disappointment on that score. The Reps have chosen a strategy -- no -- and they will be sticking with it at least until they take another drubbing in November. The current crop has neither the ideas nor the imagination to do otherwise.