Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Prescott seeks 'over-arching' image for tourism promotion

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

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

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

News Flash: Kids actually walk to school

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

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Column: Keep children safe, healthy, ready for school

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

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

Editorial: Courier picks the usual partisans, mostly

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 25, 2010

Council agenda skirts voter approval for new pump station

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

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

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

Editorial: Not the way to analyze teachers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Editorial: Mixed bag of prop endorsements

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 21, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

Gosar backs out of today's TV debate

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Lawmakers prepare legislation to deny citizenship for anchor babies

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

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

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Shilling for gangsters, editor plays blame game

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 18, 2010

Editorial: Elks' history, future are better than present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Don't listen

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

Jorge Garcia dies

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

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

City issues, etc.

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

Q&A with John McCain, Rodney Glassman

Take a good look at the first question here:

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

Friday, October 8, 2010

Cookies for the editor

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

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

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

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

Enjoy, Tim!

The vote is on

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

I'll add pages as they happen.

Update, Wednesday:
Finished, finally!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Something like a debate

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

Friday, October 1, 2010