Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Cartoon: Glass Recycling

Today's editorial cartoon twits the City staff for cutting off recycling service for the whole area. We've been talking about that here, too. Why is it that Flag and even Cottonwood can make it happen, but we can't? It's hard to believe there's anything at work here other than a lack of imagination and an excess zeal about making City services "profitable." Mr Norwood.

Perhaps the Courier would consider an investigation of this issue, including cash-flow numbers and exploration of options for the ground glass.

Rail service plan could start as far north as Prescott

Here's the money quote from the report: "It will not be possible to accommodate growth and avoid traffic congestion by improving roadways alone, . . .." Not possible. That's a pretty strong statement from a bureaucratic report, and I'm sure the planners would have qualified it if they could.

So all the commenters heaping scorn on the idea of a state rail corridor either don't understand the words in front of them or are happy to accept limits on growth and permanent traffic congestion.

Smart people have known this was coming for decades given AZ's growth-powered economy, of course. It's a big project that just gets bigger the longer we delay starting it. I'm glad the planners are thinking big, because it's the only way to create a system that will really work. No doubt the final report will recommend a phase-in starting with the corridor from Tucson to Sky Harbor and there'll be plenty of foot-dragging when the debate comes to starting the second phase. But for a dozen reasons this needs to be done, and I have little doubt that, barring a new Dark Ages, it will be done eventually.

What I don't get is why the report so far leaves out Williams. Failing to connect with Amtrak and Grand Canyon Railway at Williams (via Drake and Ash Fork) would be dead stupid, despite the expense.

PS: Thanks to whomever eventually corrected the headline fail in the original online version. Too bad about the print version, but at least the editors have discovered enough care about the product to correct where easy.

Park51 update: with friends like these ...


Taliban officials know it’s sacrilegious to hope a mosque will not be built, but that’s exactly what they’re wishing for: the success of the fiery campaign to block the proposed Islamic cultural center and prayer room near the site of the Twin Towers in lower Manhattan. “By preventing this mosque from being built, America is doing us a big favor,” Taliban operative Zabihullah tells NEWSWEEK. (Like many Afghans, he uses a single name.) “It’s providing us with more recruits, donations, and popular support.” [...]

Taliban officials say they’re looking forward to a new wave of terrorist trainees from the West like this year’s Times Square car bomber. “I expect we will soon be receiving more American Muslims like Faisal Shahzad who are looking for help in how to express their rage,” says a Taliban official who was a senior minister when the group ruled Afghanistan and who remains active in the insurgency. As an indication of the anger that is growing among some Muslims in the West, this official, who requested anonymity for security reasons, mentions the arrest of three Canadian Muslims in Ontario last week on charges of plotting to build and detonate improvised explosive devices. (A fourth individual was arrested in Ottawa last Friday in connection with the case.) The Ground Zero furor will likely add to that anger. “The more mosques you stop, the more jihadis we will get,” Zabihullah predicts.

Here's what you get when you start trying to selectively dismantle Constitutional protections for certain people you don't like. This should inform our phony "immigration" debate as well.

Previous entry

Monday, August 30, 2010

Hope for the pseudoblogs

New entries in two of the Courier's woefullly neglected "blog" sections offer signs of life.

The third entry in the "Eco-Logic" pseudoblog section brings us a new writer, Deb Weissmann, and some practical, readable advice on how to set up home landscaping for better use of water. Good work.

Steve Stockmar has posted a column in "The Inbox" that at last gets around to looking critically at some Courier content (every editor's primary job) rather than making pointless fun of online commenters. This is a good direction, Steve.

Editorial: Leaders must work to regain our trust

Yesterday the unnamed Courier editor showed up with a reaction to the five-year anniversary of Katrina. Like most in the media, s/he reinforces the clearly wrong idea that it was a natural disaster.

It would have greatly reinforced the editor's point about rebuilding trust in government to properly characterize the disaster as a predictable and predicted result of decades of shoddy engineering and negligence by the Army Corps of Engineers and state and federal regulators. So why sidle around that opportunity? Could it be related to the Courier's penchant for deifying the military and demonizing regulation?

'Utopian' Arcosanti near Mayer still uncompleted

I first heard about the Arcosanti project back in the mid-'70s while still in Michigan, and if we'd been able to scrape up a few bucks in those days of inflation and unemployment, my best friend and I would have been there helping build. Many years and happenstance eventually brought me to Prescott, and one of my first local trips was to visit Paolo Soleri's urban experimental laboratory.

The feature on Arcosanti casts the project as incomplete, "utopian," and cultlike, none of which is fair. The writer ignores or doesn't understand its context and important influence in the development of modern architecture and urban design, preferring to reinforce the derisive narrative that has helped keep the project small and grossly underfunded for decades.

While it necessarily has an overall design, Arcosanti is a laboratory and prototype, not a town, and its success cannot be measured in terms of "completing" the evolving design. Because of its rural location, high ideals, radical vision and participation by young people, the media have regularly painted it as some sort of hippie cult in the desert, which is where the "utopian" idea comes from. Soleri's vision is central to the experiment and he exerts firm control over its expression, and that has drawn both fair and unfair criticism, but he's an internationally respected, award-winning artist and educator, not a cult leader. The unnamed writer mentions his "workshops," but not his faculty position at ASU. Why is it "near Mayer" in the headline rather than "at Cordes Junction" or "on I-17"? All this would seem calculated to minimize if I weren't so familiar with the Courier's general disinterest in research.

Arcosanti is not about the buildings or its population, it's about the ideas. Much like Prescott College, it is underappreciated by most Prescott residents as a value feature, educational resource and attraction for our area. As Soleri nears the end of his life, major change is certainly coming for the project. The value we place on it as a community will have an effect on what it becomes going forward. This would be a worthy subject for newspaper coverage, also ignored here. Even the many arts events that Arcosanti hosts are left out.

The big question for me is why this story now? What's the news value here? And why didn't the Courier add local knowledge to this wire piece?

Update, Tuesday: Today's editorial offers a defense of the project (which only needs defending because the editors failed to deal with the bogosity of the AP story), touching on several of my points. Oddly, the editor still insists (twice!) that it's "a stone's throw from Mayer." (My maps put them about nine miles apart. Perhaps the editor is better at throwing stones than I'd imagined.) How about "on the edge of the Aqua Fria National Monument" instead?

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Channeling Norm Crosby

Learning language is often like a huge game of telephone. We hear someone else put something in a certain way, and we say it that way too, passing on the usage to others and reinforcing it. When it works right this process teaches us about usage and builds living language. But sometimes it goes off the rails. We don't generally stop and check an authoritative source to see whether the usage is correct. In print, that's what editors are for.

A misusage becoming increasingly common in street speech and creeping into print is the substitution of "reticent" for "reluctant," seen in the Courier here and here in the last week.

"Reticent" means "inclined to silence" or "uncommunicative in speech." Try plugging that meaning into this phrase: "Solop is reticent to narrow the potential field of winners." This construction is common, but it's nonsense. (Red flag: "Reticent to" is always wrong.)

Watch out for situations where two words sound similar and have related meanings. In this case "reticent" can be taken to mean "reluctant to speak," and away you go.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Wiederaenders: McCain wins by giving people what they want

On deep analysis, Tim reveals that McCain says whatever he thinks will win a vote. I'm sure you're stunned by this revelation. What's really amazing is why Republican voters continue to let him get away with it.

I have to take issue with the headline, though. McCain says he'll give you whatever you want, and then forgets to deliver anything but what will advance himself politically. The only thing we can count on about McCain is that he will say yes to any Sunday talk-show invitation.

And the idea that McCain is a pragmatic middle-of-the-roader at heart is a canard left over from his media honeymoon in the '90s, after the part about the corruption investigations. Tim's library could stand some updating, I gather. A good start would be McCain's Senate voting record.

Graphs help

The Kochtopus

The New Yorker piece about the huge influence of the Koch brothers is a must-read for anyone with the slightest interest in what's happening with our nation politically.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Editorial: We're closing in on political accountability

The unnamed Courier editor assigns homework for readers on election candidates, inadvertently illustrating his own narrow and cynical view of elections and candidates.

First, the cynicism. He hawks up a pretty ugly list of descriptors for a campaign season only just begun: mudslinging, accusations, inflated promises, deflated expectations, promise "more," dirtier, wild accusations, nastiness and divisions. He says, in essence, "don't listen to anything the candidates say, as they can't be trusted to act like adults." In how he calls for a "higher standard," he sets the bar really low.

The editor exhorts readers to make a little list, then tells them which issues should be on it: "the economy," secure borders, and illegal immigration, these last two being of course the same. Unfortunately, only two of the many people we will be hiring in this election will have much of anything to do with these vague issues, and they distract from the business of governing. These are the hot-button teevee issues, the newstainment that confounds our social sanity.

Further, while I firmly agree with the editor on the overarching concept of voters educating themselves and doing the homework, it strikes me that as the policy leader of our community's newsprint monopoly, he bears more responsibility that anyone else in building the information infrastructure that allows voters to inform themselves.

The founders of this country built a free press into our national fabric not because they liked reading papers per se, but because they understood that effective self-governance is only possible where the people are fully informed about what their elected representatives are doing. The free press has had its fluctuations in how well it has fulfilled this responsibility, and unfortunately we're in one of its seedier and more feckless swings now. There's little we can do about King Teevee, I'm afraid, but the editor is a member of this community and can be held to account. Continuous positive pressure from readers will push him to raise his own standard for finding and furnishing information that matters in electing representatives of quality.

So yes, voters, do your homework. But don't make it about distractions designed to divert you from substance. Meet the candidates, ask questions to determine how well they understand the jobs they seek, find out about their work ethic, their relative devotion to ideology or practicality, their tendency to rule or serve, their ability to get people working together. These qualities will tell you far more than pat answers on hot-button issues.

And editor, get to your knitting. So far your quality of service to the community around elections has ranged from shallow to blatantly self-serving. Exert yourself, bury your prejudices and try to be the sort of newsman we can all be proud of.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

No, he didn't. Not yet.

I cannot imagine how the editors justify today's Page 1 headline, "ELECTION: Tobin easily takes one of two LD1 seats," without admitting that they're doing all they can to throw the election to the Rs. I challenge them to try.

I don't need to clarify for any reader of this blog that this was a primary election, meaning the winners have won the privilege of standing for the real election. Rep Tobin has won nomination, not the seat.

Yet the entire article is written as if he had. While Mr Campbell contemplates a vacation and Ms Fann gets back to work on campaigning, Mr Tobin " will head to Phoenix Tuesday to resume work on the budget," as if he's already been rehired and needn't worry about campaigning further.

As analysis (opinion) you can get away with writing that the "likely" or even "likeliest" result of this is that Mr Tobin will return to the House, but saying that he already has is not just obviously wrong, it's bound to be confusing to many voters. The editors may have forgotten, but we fickle voters could very well elect Ms Fann and Ms Bell and leave Mr Tobin to his tea-party organizing. Ten weeks have yet to tell the tale.

Hayworth wins!

“Today, the Republican party of Arizona nominated for Senate JD Hayworth in the shell of a politician that was once John McCain. The complete takeover of the Republican party by the Tea Party has included taking over the soul of a Senator who was once the face of comprehensive immigration reform and who now would just build the ‘danged fence;’ a man who once reveled in being a maverick and who now is a rubber stamp for the extreme rightwing; a man whose name was synonymous with campaign finance reform and who now barely registers a notice when the law that bears his name was gutted by the Supreme Court to favor corporate America. So, we congratulate JD Hayworth on his nomination tonight,” said DNC National Press Secretary Hari Sevugan.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Debate: Should a mosque be built near Ground Zero?

I really can't pass this one up. For anyone who takes seriously our Constitution and our heritage as a free nation, the answer to the overarching question is obvious and unalloyed. Americans do not discriminate against religion. Period.

Leave aside that what's planned for lower Manhattan is not a mosque, and that it's being planned by Sufis, who are to al Qaeda's radical Wahabbis as free-love Jesus freaks are to Inquisition Catholics. Leave aside that the people involved are not in any way related to the criminal zealots who took down the towers. Never mind that they have clearly and repeatedly expressed their mission in terms of healing and solidarity against terrorism. Leave aside the distress of a few revenge-addled relatives of terrorism victims. None of this matters in light of the larger principle.

Freedom to practice religion is a sacred founding right of this nation, and our fundamental rights are never subject to votes or current public opinion. If that ever happens, this nation is well and fairly lost, and to the extent that we tolerate public "debate" like this, we shame ourselves. There is no equivalency here, no reasonable "other side."

Now knock it off. This is another phony issue raised by evil, power-hungry men and promoted by money-grubbing corporations to make you angry and careless about your vote. Don't fall for it.

Dentists push Gosar fundraising to top in crowded CD1 primary race

Joanna is taking a lot of heat in the comments over her citation that Gosar led Beauchamp in the tea-party poll. Coupled with Beauchamp's clear identification with the tea-party crowd, the pure volume of comments and lack of refutations made it inevitable that the story would need correcting, and a correction indeed appeared this afternoon. Take care of those tea partiers, they bite.

The real question is: where was the editor when this counterintuitive 'fact' showed up in Joanna's story? Did s/he leave Joanna out there on her own?

Between Beauchamp's tea-party endorsement, Gosar's Palin endorsement and the red-meat-addicted R primary voters, we can be pretty confident that Rusty Bowers, the only credible Rep in the race, will go down in flames, leaving a reasonable and experienced D up against a nutbar, amateur R in a Dem-leaning district.

Wiederaenders: Courier is working to catch 'mythtakes'

Tim responds to a reader complaining about "letters to the editor that present 'facts' as 'truth'," implying that he intends to fact-check such letters and do something unspecified about them. He tangents into a comment on "policing the online comments," citing "libel" and "fighting words."

"Have we made 'mythtakes'? Of course," he admits, but then shows that he doesn't really understand what that means, defending himself with, "There's always another side to the story, folks." No Tim, there are sides to a story, but not to facts -- facts don't take sides. "Fact" is the value the reader (and I!) want you to uphold separate from opinion, slant, analysis, dogma and human interest. You missed the point, and with your cute and folksy stylings you denigrate your own integrity.

I also notice painfully that you're willing to step up in response to criticism of letter and anonymous comment writers, who have no impact on the value of your product, but not the more serious criticism of the Courier's own myth-propagation and failures to fact-check. A regular and serious ombudsman's column, along with policy enforcement in response to it and real change, will go a long way to repairing the Courier's awful reputation and giving it a chance of survival in a future that's all about trust.

Editorial: Iraq War's purpose still unclear as troops return

Catching up on my writing after a few "days off" (read: real life), this headline would make me laugh out loud if the Bush apologists had been less successful in muddying American minds about the debacle we now refer to collectively as "Iraq."

Many readers are too young to remember the events of the late '80s that led us directly here, and generations have grown up since the US began running the serious dirty tricks in the region that brought Saddam Hussein to power. If you don't know this history, I'm sorry, it's too complicated for a blog, read a book. But what I can say definitively is that there has never been any question among serious people as to what has motivated the US to intervene militarily in Iraq -- not now, not in 2003, not in 1990, and not before. The US has only one practical strategic goal in the region, and that's to secure the supply of oil. Everything else derives from that -- including, ultimately, the politely termed "defense" of Israel. If you think you've got a cogent argument against that, you're allowing yourself to be bamboozled.

So no, editor, it's not "Washington's responsibility to see Iraq as a country and not as a war." It's our responsibility to see Iraq as a sovereign people and not as a strategic resource.

The editor writes, "scholars will dissect the past seven and a half years and no doubt will find elements of fault, deception and untold costs of human life and money," as if the reporting on what actually happened versus what you, editor, would have had us believe was happening* is some sort of academic exercise for the enlightenment of future generations.

*: Like this. Or this. Or this, fer gadsake. More lies here. More prevarication here. Ack.

The hard truth for the editor to swallow is that he has allowed himself to be deceived by better propagandists about the Iraq adventure for years. There has never been any serious doubt that the war was venally motivated, illegal, and doomed to abject failure and horrible follow-on consequences in a hundred predictably duh-level ways. But because empty-headed flag-wavers wanted to feel heroic and hit back a someone Arab-looking for 9-11, and because small men saw it, accurately, as a way to win power for themselves, we killed at least half a million innocent Iraqis. That was not an academic exercise, and it will haunt us for yet more generations.

No, editor, you can't get off that easy. That flag you're waving is missing its drape of mourning for our victims and our national integrity.

PS: My nephew is a casualty of the Iraq adventure, by the way. That's not academic, either. Our troops and their families deserve to know clearly what their sacrifices were meant to accomplish. Above all, it was never "our freedom."

Band coverage!

Thanks to Steve for his review of Down, Boy! in the online edition, and to Bruce for working in a reference to it in print. Read more on the band and hear samples at BigDaddyDBlues.com.

I'm happy to take the Muddy reference, but I haven't much use for Canned Heat. And as for "a repeat winner of our Courier Reader of the Week award," I'm afraid I'm still trying to work out where I can hang all those testimonial plaques.

And seriously, is it really so hard to get my name right? Gad.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Editorial: Don't pass the buck - take a stand

Following up on Monday's editorial, today the unnamed Courier editor nearly clarifies his position. He wants the gate open, and he wants the homeless cleared from the park, by force.

Having penned the Orwellian phrase, "a concerted coalition of resources to humanely clear the park of the offending population," he goes on to exhort Council to "provide leadership" in attacking "the root of the problem," which is clearly "unsavory" people who don't have anyplace better to sleep.

The preference for the use of force is obvious. But he hasn't apparently thought about what to do after these "offending" people are in handcuffs. Put them in jail? Put them on a bus for parts unknown? Maybe have them camp out in the editor's back yard?

Just as locking the gate won't prevent "pillage" in the shopping center, simplistic thinking will do nothing to improve any aspect of this issue.

ToMA: : 1070's logic is all in the Constitution

In today's Talk of My Ass, Ken Singer admits right off that he really doesn't have the background to say anything definitive about 1070, then proceeds to assert definitive authority on it. Do I really need to bother taking this apart? Why do the editors insist on putting column slugs on letters to the editor?

Mr Singer attempts through the logical fallacy of false equivalence to prove that 1070 is constitutionally legal. His argument fundamentally follows the well-worn path of state's rights over federal law, which has proved reliably futile in federal court.

Thrashing around for grounds, he comes up with ludicrous examples. "The federal government regulates interstate commerce. However, if you drive from Arizona to California on I-40, you will note that the speed limit on a federal interstate highway is regulated by each state," prateth he, but to me this only illustrates that driving on a highway by itself is not commerce (duh). I don't see big rigs changing their safety specs when they cross the border, though. "Although the federal government regulates citizenship, residency requirements between Arizona and Nevada are different for divorce," writes Mr Singer. And what exactly does divorce have to do with citizenship, hm?

He natters on with all the familiar nonsense about the phony immigration problem, drawing cracked and far-from-original conclusions from premises based on falsehoods ad misperceptions.

If this were labeled as a letter, I wouldn't care. The column treatment conveys the illusion of authority to speak, which this piece clearly does not deserve. Waste of time and bad editorial choice.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

China surges past Japan as No. 2 economy; US next?

Half the story is missing from this AP feature, carried on 5A in the print edition. The editors loved the headline, which they slugged at the top of 1A, no doubt for its sensational effect. In the part the editors left out, Chinese officials admit that this supposed milestone is nothing to crow about, because it means that on a per-capita basis China's people are on average now one-tenth as wealthy as the average Japanese.

This gives us a chance to ponder on how insignificant facts can be processed into scary fantasies.

ToMA: Nothing partisan about new local group

I am very proud to report that a group of readers has independently gone after the lies of Monte Crooks and utterly dismantled them in the comments, quoting chapter and verse. It's a pity the editors didn't bother to do this before publishing the piece in the paper, where the rebuttals will be two or three weeks coming if "space" allows.

I saw this crap for what it was on first read, but the commenters did my work for me. Bravo!

Editorial: Separating campaign fiction from facts

Rummaging around in a dusty attic full of long-disused things, a surprised Courier editorial board stumbled over a small, shabby box labeled "Journalistic Integrity." Just for a giggle they took the machine out of the box and found that after all these election years it still works like a charm.

Readers are hoping that they can find room for it on the kitchen counter among all the shiny modern appliances and put it back to regular work. The cooking was so much better when it was the primary tool.

I thought about checking the archives to see how long it's been since the unnamed editor wrote exactly the opposite of this, but, naah. Let's enjoy it while it lasts. Here's a yummy cookie. I haven't had to make a batch in quite a while.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Alert! Marauders pillaging Prescott businesses!

Today the unnamed Courier editor tells us the fence gate into Granite Creek Park is controversial because merchants say "vagrants travel to and from the park through that path and pillage their stores and loiter on the shopping center's sidewalks."

"Pillage"? Is the editor off his meds, or is looting going on at the Depot Marketplace, and somehow I missed it?

Okay, let's say the editor just wanted a more colorful word than "shoplifting," and just hasn't enough respect for words to care what they mean, rather than that he wants to exaggerate the scale of the problem and scare his readers with images of hordes of Huns tearing up the produce section at Albertson's. Let's move on to the logic here.

Say you're homeless, broke, dry and hanging out in the park one day, and you feel the urge for a hair of the dog. You know there's lightly guarded likker on the shelves at Walgreens next door. You head in that direction, but there's a locked gate. What do you do?

My guess is that you'll walk a couple blocks around the fence, drop into Walgreens and pocket a quick pint anyway, slipping out past the overburdened and none-too-nimble staff. And since the gate is locked, you'll go around the back to the loading dock area to quaff your prize before stumbling back around the fence to the public jons.

What world does the editor inhabit, wherin a chain-link gate is going to make any substantial difference to someone dealing daily with the grinding, ordinary challenges of homelessness?

It's perfectly clear that this isn't about loitering or pillaging, this is about keeping unsightly people away from Everyone's Hometown Shopping Center (and in the park instead, by the way). We don't care who they are, how they got there or where else they might go, we just want them gone. We know intellectually that there are problems for people in the real world, we just don't want to see the real world every day. That would be "shoving it in our faces," where we might have to think about it. Let it be someone else's problem.

The drag is that harassing homeless people enough to move them elsewhere doesn't work. They don't find out by broadcast text message that Granite Creek Park is off limits. They don't use hobo sign anymore. They just show up. And we run them off again, and they show up again.

If the problem is really so large, maybe the Council ought to ask whether the downtown businesses would like to contribute to funding and staffing a shelter where most of these "vagrants," as the editor characterizes them so charitably, can find safety and some basic resources for getting off the street. How about some put-up-or-shut-up action, hm? How about working to help solve a problem? And where's the editor been on a problem that people have been moaning about ineffectually for decades?

The editor mentions "three publics" toward the end, missing an important one: the people who use the park as a thoroughfare and would like to shop in the Marketplace or elsewhere downtown. See, the editor can't imagine any respectable person traveling our city without a car.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Why we should always read skeptically

Today's cribbed Game & Fish press release carries an object lesson in the reliability of self-generated news stories and why newspapers have to investigate stories carefully if they are to maintain their own credibility.

Back in the "Getting Out" section we find "Central figure in Macho B incident to pay $8,000 fine," slugged "Special to the Courier", by which we understand that the Courier got it whole and ran it unedited, i.e. a press release. In it we find the Game and Fish Commission fining the guy who originally trapped the last jaguar in AZ and revoking his game privileges for a "prohibited take," meaning he baited and intentionally trapped the animal illegally while working as a contractor on a Game & Fish cougar study. He also drew five years' probation and a $1,000 fine in criminal court.

Comparing this end-of-the-legal-road story with the first report on the incident back in February '09 is illuminating. In that press release, carried here, Game & Fish wrote that "The male cat was incidentally captured" by the department during the study -- by accident, in other words. They collared him and released him, but recaptured him after his movements seemed wrong, diagnosed him with terminal kidney failure and killed him, setting off a small but firm national wave of outrage. News stories like this focused on that decision and how it was reached, but generally glossed over the original capture, which no cat-owner will deny very likely precipitated the health problem (if there was one) and the cat's death.

The outrageous inaccuracy of the agency's first release, whether intentional, mistaken or just sloppy, should raise hackles in the Governor's office and red flags in every newsroom. For readers, when you see "Special to the Courier," you should read it as "Unsubstantiated Happy Talk and Lies." For the editors, I'd recommend you quit running press releases as news without checking them. No serious news organization does this. If you must carry them, label them properly and protect yourself from what's in them, because readers tend to assume you're actually doing your job.

Casserly: Prescott a microcosm of health care's future

I've been watching the recently-recurring column of JJ Casserly for a little while to get a bead on where this " longtime newsman and author" is coming from. From traces left on the Net, he ghostwrote an autobiography of Barry Goldwater in the '80s, apparently worked for the Republic for a while, and claims to have covered the Vatican "for years."

JJ's pieces have been more or less innocuous till now, but today he steps over the line into right-wing scare propaganda with this piece on Medicare.

JJ parrots Republican talking points designed to frighten you about health-care reform. The "no one has read it" canard is a quick tipoff for anyone paying attention to the slant here.

He leads off with "the Obama administration will cut present Medicare payments by $529 billion." This is a lie. JJ knows that when he writes "Medicare payments," most readers will think it means "payments to doctors for my care." The $529 billion figure (in reality, about $500 billion) is a ten-year goal for cost savings in Medicare by reducing fraud, abuse and inefficiencies within this gargantuan program. $200 billion of that will come relatively quickly with elimination of Medicare Advantage, a Bush-era program designed to line the already fat pockets of the HMOs we all hate. The legislation specifically forbids reduction of benefits to achieve that goal.

"Health experts say it will be impossible to get the massive enterprise up and running within a year or two," says Casserly -- yup, and that's why most of its benefits don't begin before 2014. I expect he's quoting experts who are in favor of the new system, even advising the administration. But he's flipped the implication to support his thesis. This makes it a lie.

JJ quotes Barnett saying, "What the feds will do is create greater rationing of dollars, cutting their payments to doctors and hospitals. That will ration care," indicating that he does not know what's in the legislation in terms of legal language or intent. What's true is that the system -- not yet operating, remember -- requires that Medicare maintain benefit levels. Notice also that he doesn't touch on the influence of varying state laws and policies on how to distribute Medicare funds. We're seeing lots of problems now because state legislators are raiding the cookie jar, and unraveling that will be a broader challenge than implementing the Affordable Care Act.

Probably the most egregious violation of journalistic ethics comes with this: "Barnett is concerned about the latitude that the Department of Health and Human Services will have in interpreting the new law. Bureaucrats will have absolute power in many health decisions. Just how fair and balanced they may be is open to question." This and a later graf evoke the "death panels" lie, and its the big lie. In point of simple fact, the system will allow no legal interference or influence by the bureaucracy on doctor-patient decisions. That's a problem created by HMOs, and an important part of what the new law is designed to fix.

JJ even tosses the phony illegal-immigration bomb. I'm sorely disappointed that the Courier has brought on yet another regular columnist who has so little respect for his readers that he'll lie and cheat to convince readers to vote his way. Shame on him, and shame on the editors.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


It just confirms all your worst feelings about humanity, dunnit?

Man arrested for allegedly stealing Emmett Trapp family fund donations

Be afraid! Minions of Dr Evil seen in Preskit

George Soros is here and determined to take over the world! Or at least a few nice luncheons and rallies.

Responding to today's ToT, this afternoon I attended a little rally on the Triangle, which I learned was the first event organized by a new local group affiliated with Moveon.org. With between 35 and 50 people ranged around the circle, several speakers preached to the converted as passing motorists responded to the colorful signs-on-a-stick (anything is better on a stick, don't you think?) with honks and thumb-ups.

Following up on the opinion piece, the main topic was the influence of corporate interests and money on our electoral and legislative processes. The speakers were earnest, but claimed no expertise on the issue, and I felt better informed about what they have in mind and inspired by the ToT than by the speeches. Note to Moveon: waving signs at cars is OK, but you'll change a lot more minds by engaging people who aren't already in your camp.

In the course of his talk, Bill Swahlen admitted that the credit for the ToT should go to BHS history teacher and coach Jon Vick, seen previously on the opinion page here and here. Jon told me he's taken some hits for speaking up, with people questioning his qualification to teach because they don't agree with his political opinions, hence the passing of the credit. I'd just like to encourage Jon to speak up more and consider greater involvement in politics. Our community needs more committed, articulate, energetic and personable leaders like him.

Ken Hedler was there taking names and notes, so look for a Courier report on the rally in the days ahead. I saw no other media people.

Editorial: GOP primary not about only illegals

Today the unnamed Courier editor asserts that "Candidates who take political advantage of immigration by neglecting other issues are as dangerous as voters who do the same thing." I agree, but there are two ways to look at this piece.

The first is to take it at face value. The editor would like to move the public discussion off its focus on immigration to more important things. This echoes the response of Senator Steve Pierce to the first question in last Wednesday's candidate forum. The entire editorial could be read as a rewrite of the senator's 90-second answer.

On the other hand, candidates taking political advantage of the phony immigration issue and neglecting others are following the standard GOP playbook this year. Could it be that the editor is saying, "most GOP candidates are dangerous"? Given the Courier's history, I rather doubt this would get through the editorial board.

The nagging question is why the Senator and the editor would try to soft-pedal being on the right side of what the Rs see as a 70+-percent positive issue among the public at large. Why not lean into immigration as a sure winner? How can the editor write, "immigration is hardly the lead dog in a pack of issues," when that is obviously untrue in terms of real political rhetoric?

How about this:

Saying the right things about illegal immigration is necessary to winning the R primary (the rightward version of political correctness), so every R running for a seat is saying those things, which negates the value of the issue in the primary. If everyone's saying it, there's no differentiation among candidates. Looking past the primary, the zealotry over the immigration issue becomes a negative in attracting moderate voters (and there are a lot more of us with serious concerns about how this is shaking out than the R polls suggest). So ramping down the rhetoric at this point and pushing the real nutbars into the closet until after November is a canny move politically.

So ultimately I agree with the editor that immigration-happy candidates are dangerous. But I'm guessing the editor is saying this for different purposes. Illustrating the piece with the GOP logo is a hint.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Where's the candidate forum?

If I were managing the local paper, there would be a story in today's edition about Wednesday's LD1 candidate forum, organized by the League of Women Voters at YC. I saw Lynn McMaster there taking pics and Bill Monroe and Don Steel taking sound and interviews. I didn't see a Courier photographer or reporter.

Quite apart from my agreement with her on most of the issues, I thought Lindsay Bell was clearly very confident, well prepared and well spoken, standing head and shoulders above Noel Campbell's know-nothing jingoism, Karen Fann's smug naivete and Rep Andy Tobin's all-about-me fatuousness. Lindsay brought clear, specific, positive ideas to the table, where her opponents relied on ideology and slogans.

On the Senate side, Sen Steve Pierce was able to coast on his cowboy-patrician air because Bob Donahue couldn't seem to organize his thoughts or project any confidence in his ideas, which on paper aren't bad. I got the feeling he'd be eaten alive at the capitol.

Followup, Sunday: I thought the editors might have been saving the story for the Sunday edition, but no dice. This adds to the mound of actions indicating unwillingness at the Courier to cover Democrats. Prove me wrong, editors.

Fumble on the field, who's got the ball?

As our Accidental Governor coasts to victory in the primary, I've been saying for a while that her biggest weakness in the general campaign will be that she'll have to open her mouth in public. Today's alert on the special session to fix the anti-card-check initiative contains a perfect example. Says the Gov:

"The right to cast your vote without fear or intimidation is a fundamental tenant of our democracy."

The interesting question here is how this telltale flub of the tongue got into the AP-slugged story, which is all over the Net. I'm completely confident that the Governor could confuse "tenet" with "tenant" in speech, but one would expect an editor to correct the fumble and print what she clearly meant to say. (Despite President Bush's consistent inability to pronounce it correctly, the papers always wrote "nuclear" when he said "nookyular.") So did the reporter and editors also mistake the word? Did the editors decide to leave the Governor's mistake in? Or did perhaps the Governor get it right and the reporter and editors inject the mistake?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Why this recession is different

Easily one of the most cogent presentations I've seen on the proper response to the credit crunch, from someone who's lived through doing it wrong. Readers should understand that Nomura Research is no liberal think tank, it's the Japanese equivalent of the research arm of Goldman Sachs.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Graphs help

Jailbreak followup:

The escape of three murder convicts from the private prison in Kingman is playing out like a slush-pile screenplay. Yesterday brought news (h/t to Cap'n Tom) of another amazing operation by Arizona's crack lawnforcement system, rousting an innocent family on the basis of a bad tip. I'm on the lookout for stories on the official response to the security failure at the prison, and why these guys were in a medium-security facility.

You'd think some of this might make it into the Courier, but I guess they needed the space to tell us that nothing's happening in the DeMocker trial this week.

Editorial: It's a crucial year for Arizona education

The headline writer gets it right, for once. But like a stopped clock, this headline would be accurate every year.

Kids grow, and development happens regardless of whether our education system is properly funded this year or that. Our failure to invest in education at any given time means that kids miss learning opportunities. There's no second chance on second grade, not really. Missing a development window for a child has long-term consequences.

The unnamed Courier editor is jubilant here: "The 2010-11 academic school year . . . will be the year education makes a comeback in Arizona," arguing that the institution of the temporary sales-tax hike puts a big pile of new money into the schools. Sounds great, dunnit?

I hate to pop your bubble, editor, but you missed a crucial factor in the basis of your optimism. Before the sales-tax initiative, and to a large extent anticipating its passage, the Legislature, directed by Gov Brewer, slashed the state budget by 2 billion clams, including cutting education funding, by far the largest budget category, back to the 2006 level. The new sales tax is meant to replace most of that funding, but it only brings us back to less than zero. From a funding standpoint, our education system is therefore at least a little worse off this year and in the coming years than its already parlous state.

Even that depends on new sales-tax revenues meeting the Governor's optimistic projections. State budget cuts and the 1070 controversy are playing hob with tourism and conventions, and the construction industry is still on life support. LD1 Rep Lucy Mason is not optimistic that the sales tax will pull the ed budget back up: "We hope that it can even out, but more than likely that's not gonna happen."

I'm willing to allow that the editor simply does not understand what the Governor and Legislature were doing with the budget. It was confusing, after all, like the shell game it was meant to be. But one would hope that the editor of a daily newspaper would be a little more on the ball about something so important to our community.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Incredible Invisible Dems, Greens and Libs

Following up on a week in which the three Republicans vying for the two LD1 House seats appeared on the front page every day, we have another piece by Joanna surveying Republicans for CD1 on a question that they are bound to agree on. We'll get to that.

I don't think Joanna's the problem, rather the headline writer who persists in implying that no one other than Republicans exist. Today's "CD1 GOP candidates reflect on federal health care legislation" again omits the "primary" qualifier that would have made this a fair headline. Previously:

LD1 GOP candidates describe the legislation they'd introduce
Candidates tackle Clean Elections issue
LD1 Candidates: What should the Legislature do to help Arizona's economy?
LD1 candidates: Is SB 1070 helpful or harmful for Arizona?
State House candidates in Prescott forum Friday

This isn't rocket science. You just have to look at what you're writing and see it from the readers' standpoint. What is the plain meaning of it that the reader takes away? In all these cases, the headline says these are all the candidates, with pictures to define the list.

I'm obviously no fan of skimming the headlines and thinking you know what's going on, but it would be ridiculously naive to assert that even a majority of readers are more thorough than that. These headlines make readers dumber about the election, and if it isn't intended by the Courier editors, they're demonstrating incompetent neglect.

Wait!, I hear you cry, it's about the primaries, and there are no contested Dem nominations! Not so. We have important Dem primary votes for Secretary of State, Attorney General, Supervisor of Public Instruction and Corporation Commission, and the results of those elections will affect our lives as much or more than the LD and CD races. Will we see profile and debate pieces on them as well? Color me skeptical at this point. The Libertarian and Green candidates deserve good coverage as well, and it's the primary duty of a local paper to fairly inform voters about who and what they'll be voting on.

Now, as promised, about today's piece. Joanna, please. You're asking Republicans about the Affordable Care Act? How could their predictably uniform answers possibly help voters differentiate among them? Rather than informing voters about the candidates in a meaningful way for the primary, it's like you chose the question simply to foreshadow the discourse in the general race. It makes this article a complete waste of time, both for Republican partisans and uncommitted voters.

Next time, for gad's sake, ask about something where the party isn't in lockstep. I admit that may take a little research.

Update, Wednesday: Another one.

The birthright-citizenship thing

The next session of Congress will likely include some kerfuffle over the 14th Amendment, with much throwing of the "anchor baby" epithet.

Following up on something I wrote earlier in this space, I'm looking for the policy arguments in favor of birthright citizenship for all, including the children of illegal immigrants. I get that the 14th institutes this right, but what I'm not seeing are arguments to support why we want this right protected. Yes it's American tradition now, yes it's liberal and charitable, but I want to see a solid, cogent argument based on national interest. If you've read something like this, please post a link in the comments.

The new Republican economic catechism

"Republicans used to believe that prosperity depended upon the regular balancing of accounts -- in government, in international trade, on the ledgers of central banks and in the financial affairs of private households and businesses, too. But the new catechism, as practiced by Republican policymakers for decades now, has amounted to little more than money printing and deficit finance -- vulgar Keynesianism robed in the ideological vestments of the prosperous classes."

"This approach has not simply made a mockery of traditional party ideals. It has also led to the serial financial bubbles and Wall Street depredations that have crippled our economy. More specifically, the new policy doctrines have caused four great deformations of the national economy, and modern Republicans have turned a blind eye to each one."

-- Reagan budget director David Stockman, The New York Times, July 31