Friday, December 30, 2011

Editorial: Sen. Gould's priorities

I just thought I'd like to top off the year with a cookie for the unnamed Courier editor, who today calls down Sen Ron Gould (R-Bizarro World) for leading off his legislative agenda for the new session with the critical issue of making sure he can carry his concealed weapon onto any public campus of higher learning, whether or not anyone on that campus believes it would be a good thing.
   If you think Mr Gould is an outrider with goofball legislation, I'd recommend that you keep an eye on the Legislature's website for daily updates on the bills that will start dropping next week. Any whacked-out right-wing idea you can imagine is likely to show up. This session will be at least as crazy as the last, and likely more so.
   I appreciate the editor's attention to this. Now I hope he'll remember it when it comes time for the paper to endorse a candidate for Congress from our newly constituted district. Mr Gould or someone just like him will likely be the Republican candidate. If he's too extreme for our capitol, could he be not too extreme for Washington?
   Anyhow, here's your cookie, editor, and happy new year!

New Year's Eve

Join the party at The Raven Cafe with Big Daddy D and the Dynamites, 8:30 till you drop.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Follow the money

Something that may cause some head-scratching among the deficit weenies: If our deficit is so scary, why are our bonds doing so well?

Bloomberg: Obama Wins Most Demand for Debt of U.S. Presidents Since Before First Bush

More in The Atlantic

Great Ape news

"He could get you at 30 feet with bars in between" --  Cheetah dead at 80

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

More blaming the teachers

"The assumption that teachers are really doing their best for kids is being lost somewhere in there. ... I see these mysterious bad teachers everyone talks about as (teachers who are) overwhelmed, underfunded and unsupported," says high-school teacher Alaina Adams in an AP story on A1 today, echoing a point teachers have been making for decades as the "accountability" meme has infested public policy on education. The stark failure of the ironically named No Child Left Behind program should be an object lesson for us in moving away from result-oriented standard testing and back toward process-oriented teaching and valuing the profession.
    But the infusion of 25 million federal clams coming from the Race to the Top program will instead go to yet more testing and "accountability," and the unnamed Courier editor likes that just fine. From where I sit it's just more of the same going down the administrative-cost crapper. That the Obama administration set up the parameters for this is just disheartening.
   The editor adds another numbskull column by Tom Purcell on the same page that only reinforces the 19th-century ideals of education, adding a religious element. Perhaps the editor thinks of education in those terms, with religious leaders civilizing savages using equal parts propaganda and pain.
    Getting us back on the right track with education -- meaning most kids coming out of school prepared for good, productive lives in the 21st century -- will require that we stop looking at schools as factories that make standardized workers, managed with incentives and disincentives for the factory workers (teachers). If we truly believe that people are individually unique in their talents and potentials, we have to see teachers as research scientists who study their subjects and work with them to maximize those potentials. This can never be easy, cheap or standardized.
    The editor will sit back and watch to see whether the results of Arizona's worker-bee assembly line are any better in three years. I can guarantee they won't, not from this.

 Update, Thursday: In The Atlantic today: What Americans Keep Ignoring about Finland's School Success

Must read: Getting real about class

The new issue of Esquire carries an unsettling piece by Stephen Marche:

There are some truths so hard to face, so ugly and so at odds with how we imagine the world should be, that nobody can accept them. Here's one: It is obvious that a class system has arrived in America — a recent study of the thirty-four countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that only Italy and Great Britain have less social mobility. But nobody wants to admit: If your daddy was rich, you're gonna stay rich, and if your daddy was poor, you're gonna stay poor. Every instinct in the American gut, every institution, every national symbol, runs on the idea that anybody can make it; the only limits are your own limits. Which is an amazing idea, a gift to the world — just no longer true. Culturally, and in their daily lives, Americans continue to glide through a ghostly land of opportunity they can't bear to tell themselves isn't real. It's the most dangerous lie the country tells itself.
This sets out some important principles for how we should be thinking about ourselves as Americans and about how we are generally failing to address reality in our political calculus.

Worth your time: We Are Not All Created Equal

Monday, December 26, 2011

When editors don't edit

The piece on the guy who was arrested in PV on an allegation of exposing himself while in his car has drawn the most uniform response I've ever seen in the comments, amounting to: WTF, you mean you can go to jail based on nothing but someone's word? (This is not news to anyone who's been keeping an eye on our budding police state, of course.)
    I'm sure it makes a difference to readers that the guy is older, white and distinguished-looking, even wearing a tie for his mug shot, but when I saw this story last night I thought the same thing. The usual paucity of information in the parroted PVPD press release really makes you wonder on what basis this man's life is being summarily destroyed. Even if he's completely exonerated, he and his family will probably have to move out of state to escape the stigma, there to pursue years of civil litigation.
   Our popular obsession with "sex crimes" is way out of hand.
   The editors could have held back a bit on this one and given the poor sap a chance to clear himself before they splashed it into the paper. But I have a feeling that obsession lives in the editorial suite as well.

Update, Tuesday evening: The editors have added a "correction" to the online version redacting the  man's name and photo, and saying that the charge was a misdemeanor. I'm not clear on whether the Courier reporter got that wrong, or PVPD did in the original report. What's clear is that PVPD is doubling down on the righteousness of the bust without any new basis for it. In any case the correction reinforces that the many critics were correct and the editors should have held back in the first place. Barndoor shut, horse gone now, boys.

Editorial: Ethics and the Legislature

The unnamed editor high-fives Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery for advocating some technical legal changes to clarify rules and keep lobbyists from offering and legislators from accepting the kind of "gifts" that led to the Fiesta Bowl imbroglio. He intones thusly, "Herein lies an ethic. Elected officials serve the public and its best interests. Their constituents give them a gift when they elect them to office."
   Leaving aside  the endless frustration, public suspicion and flak that make up the largest part of this "gift," it's ironic that the editor can manufacture umbrage over the small potatoes of the Fiesta Bowl tickets while actively encouraging the vast suspension of ethics that our political culture has become.
  Should we really care about football tickets when huge international corporations are legally allowed more influence in our state and national governments than our citizens, or when we collectively attend far more to celebrity and advertising than policy or wisdom in choosing the people who will guide our future?
    Rules to prevent legislators from accepting a gift do nothing to keep people who would sell themselves so cheaply out of office. If anything they'll just find another way to get it.
     It's unrealistic to expect office-holders to act more ethically than the people who sent them there. Unless voters can get up off the couch and elect people who care most about making life better for all of us, who put service ahead of profit, who are unafraid of pressure and excited about doing the homework, our Legislature will be just as lazy and short-sighted as the rest of us.
   Imagining that a free football ticket will do anything real to change a vote in the Legislature is ridiculous. It's far more important to build a culture of collegial debate over serious public-policy issues, because the sort of person who cares about that will naturally and easily discredit anyone coming to him with trinkets and flattery. It's junior high down there now, because people like the editor care more about the color of a candidate's team jersey or what she's willing to say publicly about a litmus-test non-issue than how he works with people, maintains an open mind or does the mountains of homework. Let's get above the small stuff and talk about intelligence and commitment.
   The editor can show just how much he cares about ethics when it comes time for him to endorse a presidential candidate. Keep an eye out.

Must read: The competitiveness debate

Today's letter from Charles T Queen decrying our self-defeating ideas about competitiveness has drawn the predictable lashes from our local economic dunderheads. I happened across an article on the wonderful site Remapping Debate addressing a big question that's been hiding in plain sight of our punditocracy for years: how do German carmakers maintain  high profits and high output with high wages and good conditions for workers? If you've bought into the idea that we have no choice but to race to the bottom, the answers may surprise you: A Tale of Two Systems.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Must read: Extreme weather and why we can't study it

The New York Times is running a story today covering the weather record for 2011:

    A typical year in this country features three or four weather disasters whose costs exceed $1 billion each. But this year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has tallied a dozen such events, including wildfires in the Southwest, floods in multiple regions of the country and a deadly spring tornado season. And the agency has not finished counting. The final costs are certain to exceed $50 billion.
    “I’ve been a meteorologist 30 years and never seen a year that comes close to matching 2011 for the number of astounding, extreme weather events,” Jeffrey Masters, a co-founder of the popular Web site Weather Underground, said last month. “Looking back in the historical record, which goes back to the late 1800s, I can’t find anything that compares, either."
William Luther/The San Antonio Express-News, via AP
  But the more important and core thrust of the story is why our government agencies are not doing all they could to build good analysis of extreme events, which would help inform business and government about what to prepare for in the future:
   Lately, scientists have been discussing whether they can do a better job of analyzing events within days or weeks, not years.
    “It’s clear we do have the scientific tools and the statistical wherewithal to begin answering these types of questions,” Dr. Santer said
But doing this on a regular basis would probably require new personnel spread across several research teams, along with a strong push by the federal government, which tends to be the major source of financing and direction for climate and weather research. Yet Washington is essentially frozen on the subject of climate change.
    This year, when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration tried to push through a reorganization that would have provided better climate forecasts to businesses, citizens and local governments, Republicans in the House of Representatives blocked it
   The idea had originated in the Bush administration, was strongly endorsed by an outside review panel and would have cost no extra money. But the House Republicans, many of whom reject the overwhelming scientific consensus about the causes of global warming, labeled the plan an attempt by the Obama administration to start a “propaganda” arm on climate.
There's a lot more, it's worth your time: Harsh Political Reality Slows Climate Studies Despite Extreme Year

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Editorial: Prescott's popularity has its drawbacks

When I see a comment I should have written myself, I can only say 'bravo' -- and wish the writer had used his/her name. From "True West – True Prescott,"  commenting on today's editorial:  

With only a few days remaining in 2011, we may have a new frontrunner in the “Dumbest Courier Editorial of the Year” competition. The writer of this piece could stand to “appreciate the city’s history” with a bit more, uh, appreciation.
   Settlers of European descent began coming to Prescott over 150 years ago. In every year since, more have arrived, and wouldn’t ya just know it, almost immediately upon arrival nearly every damn one of them set about to “do everything they could to change their new community into the place from which they moved.” Decade after decade, established residents have complained vigorously about newer residents upsetting the delicate balance of all that is good and decent in our community. It is, far and away, the oldest and most ubiquitous lament in Arizona.
   Remove the gauzy, serene veil of nostalgia long enough to examine the true history of Prescott. Mixed in with our many dedicated and upstanding civic leaders over the years were some scalawags, tinhorns and drunkards, along with more than a few numbskulls. Just about every decade included episodes of shouting, name calling and near fist fights during city council meetings. We’ve had more recall drives than you can count. In short, our town has experienced its share of cultural turmoil and political upheaval. But not to worry – it always survived and moved forward. Sometimes it even changed.
   Certainly, the dominant local Democrats of the first half of the last century must have been resentful when the Republican ranks swelled during the second half of the 1900’s, creating the current political landscape. Dad-blasted newcomers.
   Paradoxically, it’s Arizona’s large landowners, developers and business owners who have been the greatest facilitators and beneficiaries of our continuous in-migration, yet on a personal level, they are often the people who complain most loudly about the unwanted influence of newer arrivals. (You can hear them wishing, “If only there was a way to take their money, but make them shut the hell up – at least for the first 20 years or so.”) But, alas, it’s easier to stop a Tsunami.
   For any newcomers who may be reading this, the word “naysayers,” as used above, is the favored way for the folks who currently run Prescott to refer to those who are in any way critical or even questioning of local government. It is often used interchangeably with the word “whiners.” Pay no mind, and disregard this silly editorial. Speak up, share your ideas and don’t be afraid to make your mark, just as true Prescottonians have been doing since the very beginning.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Editorial: Feds shrug off right-wing kibitzing

In today's editorial the unnamed Courier editor seems to anticipate a ruling by the SCOTUS that Arizona's beloved SB1070 is an illegal encroachment on federal jurisdiction and must be struck down. In a tone reminiscent of "Remember the Maine!" (does anyone?), he says, "as we have stated before, if the states are not to do the immigration work, then the federal government must. The legislation is a result of that lack of work."
     Yup, the editor's right -- federal responsibility over federal jurisdiction is correct. What he implies, though, and the reason for the whole argument in the first place, is this: "if the states are not to do the immigration work, then the federal government must according to how right-wing state legislators demand." This, I hope, is about to get the slapping-down it so impertinently deserves.
     The entire "immigration issue" as it's currently formulated was invented out of nothing by political manipulators and spread far and wide by political opportunists and unabashed racists with the sole aim of electing more Republicans. There is not and never has been any kind of public emergency or unusual problem related to illegal immigration. With Bush Jr showing just how badly a president can do in his second term, the Right needed something to run on, it's that simple, and it was brilliant in that it presented a problem that, in large part because it didn't exist, could never be solved in any practical manner.
     It worked. Lots of Republicans, with no better understanding of how the political world works than a hamster, got elected. But the legal wheel has at last turned to deal with the fundamental issues involved, as we always anticipated, and the customary overreach of the Right could well bring the whole shaky edifice down.
     Oh, and that Arpaio bust the editor mentions -- ICE refused to take Arpaio's prisoners because Arpaio has demonstrated severe malfeasance in how he arrests people, thereby screwing up the cases against them very broadly. This was Arpaio's fault, not the feds', and yet another clear example of why Maricopa County should boot Sheriff Joe from office forthwith.

Drive-by column shows aversion to homework

In his "Friday catch-all" column today, Tim features a cartoon from 1878 that the contributor says is "talking about stimulus funds and is accurate for our times today." Tim buys the line wholesale, since it fit so nicely with his own ideas about today's economic challenges. Had he done a little homework, he might have got a fresh perspective, as well as a warning that his line of thinking has failed repeatedly and spectacularly in the past.

     The cartoon was published near the end of what was known until 1932 as the Great Depression (now the Long Depression), a currency and banking crisis that raised unemployment in this country above 14%, beginning as the Panic of '73 and lasting into '79. In Europe, where it began with a currency pinch designed to raise interest rates, it lasted for 20 years and set the economic stage for WWI.
     Here it began with market manipulation: demonetization of silver in favor of gold. The opening of the West had led to large discoveries of silver, particularly in Nevada, destabilizing prices and leading to a crisis of confidence in it as currency. The panic spread to the markets through the previous decade's overbuilding of railroads, leading to a crash in railroad stocks and thousands of corporate bankruptcies, a stock bubble not unlike the housing bubble we've just experienced.
      As a result the Republicans, in power since the Civil War, were turned out nationwide starting with the elections of 1874. The cartoon seems to refer to the debate over the Bland-Allison Act of '78, which restored silver as legal domestic coinage and directed the government to buy silver, and the broad class of government actions considered inflationary, ringing out the ancestors of the alarms the deficit weenies are tying us to the tracks with today.
     There was no large-scale stimulus support for the economy of the kind we know today. That was invented during the 1930s and codified in the Keynesian Revolution. The depression ended here earlier than in Europe primarily because of another unforeseen event, the great wave of European immigration starting in '79.
     So the editor, trying to defend the neoclassical economic theory popular in the 19th century, uses an example from one of its great stumbles. If there's a lesson to be drawn from this cartoon, Tim, it's that the Right continues to employ long-discredited arguments and theories and turn a blind eye to their spectacular failures.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Redistricting: The bad news

We've been working the redistricting story hard on The People's Business because it's by far the most important government-beat story that voters need to understand, and the commercial media have handled it so badly. Lucy and I have defended the process against the Republicans' campaign to derail it, and we believe that given the complexity of the job, the results have been within spec.
     That doesn't necessarily lead to happy days for everyone, of course, and for those of us in Yavapai County hoping for more competitive elections and more responsible representation, there's only coal in the stocking this year. The AIRC has issued its final maps (tentative pending Justice Dept. approval), which shave off Yavapai's most progressive areas in the Verde and leave us in deep-red districts both legislatively and congressionally.
     The biggest heartburn over the new maps has come where incumbents have found themselves separated from familiar, reliable base voters.  On the legislative side, all three of our current LD1 representatives are safe in the new LD14, so we can look forward to Messrs Tobin and Pierce consolidating their power and continuing as the House and Senate leaders. With the loss of the Verde we have less chance than ever of electing a sensible progressive.
     It's worse on the CD side. With our new CD4 sprawling over a third of the state, one might've thought it could take in a more balanced electorate, but it includes progressive powerhouses like Lake Havasu City, Kingman, Parker, Florence and Colorado City up there in the FLDS reich. It's rumored that we gain a few blues in Carefree, Cave Creek and on the north side of Yuma, including a strong working Hispanic community, but not nearly enough, leaving us with a 27.8% Republican advantage in the district.

The flattop is the perfect metaphor.
     The scariest part right now is the candidate map. CD4 contains no congressional incumbent. Those of you who wanted to be rid of Paul Gosar have got your wish, but not as you hoped. The only known candidate for Congress in this district is state Senator Ron Gould of Lake Havasu City, he of Tea Party and haircut infamy.
     Electing a Democrat in this district is beyond hope, so if we want to have any credible representation in Washington, it's up to my Republican friends to get behind someone more reasonable and competent. And quick!
     If I had anything to say about it, I'd have Ken Bennett out of the Secretary of State's office and in Washington instead. Lacking an unexpected health issue for Governor Brewer, he hasn't a chance at the governor's office till 2014 anyway.

Update, Saturday: I learned today the Pinal Sheriff Paul Babeu  has formed an exploratory committee aimed at this district as well. I'd rather have Gould.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

21st Century Snowmen

We saw this idea online and had to swipe it. Lesley made 'em: Global Warming Snowman Cookies!

 Happy Hols!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Must read: The Racist Record of Ron Paul

With Ron Paul's star rising again in the runup to the Iowa caucuses, and with the Republican presidential bench so, um, weak, I know a lot of sensible people are looking at him as a credible candidate, most of them with little knowledge of his record. The Atlantic editor Ta-Nehisi Coates offers a solid summary of the evidence of Paul's recurrent racism in the past and his continuing defense of it today.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Friday, December 16, 2011

Second-guessing the courts

Today the unnamed Courier editor takes what looks like an easy shot, and blows his toes off again. In the editorial he excoriates Yavapai Superior Court Judge Tina Ainley for making the call on a plea deal that makes a "free man" (um, with lifetime probation) of the defendant.

The editor bases his judgment not on the facts of the case (he wasn't there and doesn't know what happened) or his knowledge of the plea deal (he has none), but rather on what seem to be the aesthetics of having someone charged with a crime and pleading guilty, but not going straight to jail.

I don't know why this is necessary, but: the reason we have judges is to prevent the rule of the mob. Here the editor is speaking for the mob, not realizing that he's speaking against the rule of law, and through his hat to boot.

We cannot know the specifics of what went on among the court officers or the factors that led the prosecution to advance and the judge to accept this deal. If the editor thinks he can do better, I think he ought to spend his time productively working toward becoming a judge, rather than waste it and ours undermining trust in our system with no basis in fact.

Visit to the real world

Bull Sluice on the Chattooga River, part of the border between 
Georgia and South Carolina (properly pronounced 'Sacuhlaina').

Last week Lesley and I traveled to the Appalachian redoubt of my mother, sister and brother-in-law for a little family gathering, which included some horsing around in the protected lands around the Chattooga River, famed for its grade-five rapids and starring role in Deliverance.

Along the way we endured the pleasures of modern air travel in the Land of the Free as well as navigating around Atlanta, and it struck me how different our lives in Prescott are from those of most people out in the real world. We had a swell time and all, but we are very happy to be home again.

You may notice a new box at left with links to my Muggs columns in Pop Rocket. The archive there doesn't seem to be working, so I'm making sure that my purple prose remains deathless and searchable.
Abandoned 19th-century hydropower plant and corn mill on Fall Creek, SC

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Guest editorial by Chicken Little

Today the unnamed Courier editor is inflamed by the news that Saadi Gaddafi, ex-football player and third son of the Libyan nutbar dictator, had failed to get into Mexico on false documents. He'd hoped to retire to obscurity there at a luxury resort under a false name The editor makes an Olympian logical leap to use this as an example of dangerous criminals coming though Mexico to hurt us, and scolds the federal government for "failing to secure our borders" again.

I really don't see a need to waste a lot of pixels explaining why this is just stupid. I'll distill it to this: show us a real problem, editor.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Dumb stuff about smart meters

Pop Rocket readers will recall I covered this subject at length in Muggs, and I'd have thought that since PR is a Courier subsidiary, the editors might have considered what I'd sold them in the mix, but there's no evidence of it here.

Starting with this op-news piece (meaning pseudo-news based on non-facts) on Sunday and carrying through to today's editorial, the Courier editors fall for the manufactured controversy around smart meters and conclude that since no one knows the real story, the technology is a real cause for concern. This is utter hooey, it just gets people stirred up over nothing, and worse, it leads people to slow down on a technology that will be important in moving forward on critically necessary energy infrastructure, as the unnamed editor advocates.

Talk about the possible dangers of RF radiation all you like, the source still has to be powerful enough and chronic enough to make a measurable difference. The smart meters that APS is installing put out very very very small amounts of energy in very very very short bursts just once an hour. These are just facts, they're not subject to interpretation. You get more RF radiation from five minutes in the sun than from these guys in a week.

There's no way this signal can carry any useful information about what you're doing in your house other than how much power you used in the last hour. The Big Brother scenario is neither plausible nor even possible with this technology. (Get over yourself, you're really not that interesting to The Man.)

But papers sell on controversy and journalists aren't expected to know anything about the real world, so from the editor's desk the unsubstantiated 'concerns' of people with no scientific or even mechanical skills rank as high as the clear assurances of scientists, medical professionals, engineers and everyone in Europe.

The reason that the press gets special dispensation in our Constitution is that we recognize the need for good information on which voters can base public policy. By playing the if-someone-disagrees-then-no-one-knows-anything game, the editors neglect this mandate and the community in favor of making a few bucks.

More egregious is the concatenation of the smart-meter issue with the larger issue of high-yield EM radiation from things like high-tension power lines and cellphone towers. This stuff is in a different part of the spectrum and orders of magnitude higher in power, making it a different beast altogether. But the Courier's editing makes them all the same. The WHO director talks about cellphones, and Dr Zieve talks about EM in general. Neither mentions smart meters (or baby monitors, or satellite clocks, or any of the other myriad tiny sources of RF and other radiation in a given home), but the article puts them all on the same footing as hazards. This is just wrong, and grossly misleads people who are unfamiliar with basic physics like the inverse-square law. A continuous video feed via wi-fi in your lap is massively different from a pokey little meter on the outside of your house, I don't care whether it's adjacent to your bedroom. (If it is, you should be far more worried about the EM field generated constantly by the wires in the wall, and at that it's not much.)

Please, readers, we can no longer afford to be ignorant about the complexities of the issues we have to deal with as voters. The future is arriving ever faster, our problems are more complex than ever, and we haven't got time to screw around with superstition. We have to learn to sniff out unexamined assumptions and do our homework.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Must read: The path to single-payer

A post today by karoli on Crooks & Liars nails down why we should all be more hopeful about the Affordable Care Act than the pundits have allowed. It's a pretty rosy view, but hard to dismiss when a writer for Forbes magazine says, "If you thought that the Obama Administration chickened out on pushing the nation in the direction of universal health care for everyone, today is the day you begin to understand that the reality is quite the contrary."

Like the arrest of Al Capone, it's about the money.

This is wonky and it requires a tiny bit of math to understand, but what's going on is the issuance of final rules on a vitally important but underappreciated part of the ACA package, the mandate to reduce the Medical Loss Ratio, meaning the percentage of income that insurers don't apply to health care. The new law requires that this ratio come down from 40-45% to 15-20%.

When it let the ACA through the legislative process in response to public outcry, the industry expected that the Department of Health and Human Services would ultimately provide enough loopholes to protect its gargantuan profits. Now it's quietly screaming. Good for us all.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Must read: Deficit weenies are marching the world into a swamp

Paul Krugman -- yeah, the Nobel-laureate economist that isn't as good an economist as any given Republican, apparently -- has a new op-ed in the NYT on how Europe is bravely marching the wrong way on its debt crisis, and likely taking us with it. As has happened so often in the past, I fear we'll be looking back on this as prophecy in a few years.

The hidden-unemployment fallacy

With news this morning that the official unemployment rate has dropped to 8.6%, the titans of media punditry have jumped into their Olympian sumo ring to tussle over whether this is good news or not-good-enough news. The argument is deeply flawed because it's based on inadequate statistics and methods, which every statistician admits readily.

The top talking point in the mainstream (corporate) media is that because the number of jobs created is less than that needed to mathematically reconcile the new lower unemployment rate, medium-city-sized groups of people are "giving up" on finding a job, so can't be counted in the labor-force survey, and are therefore "hidden" from the numbers, making the numbers worse in reality.

Can we think that through for a second? What could that actually mean in real life? Are we saying that hundreds of thousands of people, formerly employed and recently looking for income, can just decide that income is optional?

On the radio this morning I heard one talk-show caller, identifying herself as middle-aged, aver that after months of looking for new work, she'd decided to "coast" till she qualifies for Social Security. Okay, fine. But if she can afford to "coast," and this is the critical question, isn't she irrelevant to the unemployment number? She's still out there paying for housing, utilities, food, fuel, whatever. She may be relying on family, friends or even charity, but she's not relying on public resources (otherwise she would be counted). It's hard to imagine how she fits into the kind of unemployment that matters to public policy.

If people are dropping out of the labor force, they must have the resources to do it, ergo they're not in any way "hidden unemployed." Maybe they're going back to school on their parents' resources, maybe they're starting their own legit or grey-market enterprises, maybe they're living on savings, but they still have money and they're still eating. Rather than weighing down the job market, they've made room for others who continue to look for work, and that's gotta be a good thing for the employment picture.

Is there a conspiracy here to promote the idea that the government is ineffective in dealing with unemployment? It's a tempting thought, but it's never a good idea to infer malice where incompetence will do as well. I expect that the media simply react to the numbers as if they're important, thereby making them important, the pundits apply their standard biases to the matrix, and with all that garbage going in, we naturally get garbage out.

Let's just try to avoid making stupid decisions based on garbage reasoning.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Turning Worm

The Republic is ending anonymous comments, as I've been advocating in online communities for literally decades.

Yes, this will mean a lot of people won't comment. It'll also mean that those who do will be more responsible about what they're saying.

Happy Holidays


Family Pictures Taken With Santa, Machine Guns:

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Must Read: The Asshole Problem

Sara Robinson's guest editorial on Crooks & Liars details how and why to eliminate the snakes in our own nest first.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The undead blog

Zig E. writes: So Steven, should an obituary be written for your blog?

A few peeks at the posting history at left will confirm that a month or three off from blogging isn't all that unusual, and I've even taken an entire year off.  But beyond the persistent pull of other projects, I'll admit to a certain fatigue over the mission of this publication, and I've been fitfully considering what I can do to freshen it up or move it forward in some positive way.

What would you like to see? Have you been reading the column in Pop Rocket, and what do you think of that?

Sunday, September 4, 2011

A Republican speaks truth

An absolute must-read -- a Republican Senate staffer retires after 30 years and pulls no punches. The money quote:

It should have been evident to clear-eyed observers that the Republican Party is becoming less and less like a traditional political party in a representative democracy and becoming more like an apocalyptic cult, or one of the intensely ideological authoritarian parties of 20th century Europe.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Where's the followup?

A longtime reader writes:

Twice I have sent this to the Courier editor for inclusion with no response and once to the high school without reply. I smell one or more rats. I think my questions are responsible. I can’t seem to let this go and see no reason I should. Maybe you have a better idea to gain answers?

What’s going on at Prescott High School?

I read with curiosity an article printed in the Courier July 17th titled “Police, firefighters rescue 2 boys from locked car trunk”. We are fortunate that our public servants arrived at the high school and that the story had a happy ending, though the entire event does raise at least two important unanswered questions:

1.Why were 3 eleven year olds working on a car unsupervised, with know one else around, at the auto shop area on high school grounds, not even during the school year?
2.Whose Cadillac was being worked on, what work was being done and why were eleven year olds doing it?

I believe the first goal of our schools is to provide a safe place for students and faculty alike. What transpired to cause this event? How many hundreds or millions of dollars would the city be turning over to families of victims if the outcome had been much different? I have inquired to the schools principal via mail ten days ago and have received no reply.

Steven Major

Update, Thursday night: Ask and ye shall receive, as Tim promised in the comments.

But wait, what gives? I went back to the original story to check it, and find that the phrase "working on," which I clearly remember and Mr Major quotes above, now reads "playing around." The original version is still on display in the July 18 edition on

Going back to reedit the online edition is an unusual move. I guess this, um, typo was a little more embarrassing than usual.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Copping the attitude

"I do not believe in the general promiscuous toting of guns. I think it should be sharply restricted and only under licenses."

-- Karl T. Frederick, 1920 triple Olympic gold medalist in pistol events and President of the National Rifle Association in the 1920s and '30s

Fascinating read on the evolution of gun-control in the US by Adam Winkler in The Atlantic. My takeaway: The NRA has embraced and institutionalized the thinking of the Black Panthers.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Watson Lake auto show on the ropes (update)

On Monday I posted a comment on the story about this weekend's Prescott Antique Auto Club show at Watson Lake, asking whether anyone would confirm the rumor that after 37 years this will be the last event in the park because the City is raising the price to an unsustainable level. I got this reply yesterday, from "Car Guy":

It's kind of a kick in the pants really. PAAC is local and has brought a lot of people to this town every August for over 35 years. PAAC's local members raise funds to operate the club for another year. I'll bet many people don't realize how much time and effort the members put into charitable contributions that go back into the community. Parades, visits to the VAMC, Christmas presents for underprivileged kids. And the list goes on.
The real kicker is that the City wants to raise the cost of renting Watson Lake Park about 6 times what is contracted at now, to a fee of about $5200. PAAC currently pays for all garbage pickup and other expenses on top of their fee for the weekend. The first kicker is that the City wants to run PAAC out of town with unaffordable fees but will GIVE $20,000 per year to a group to bring in some bicycle racing!! Want a real kick in the pants? How about this? PAAC is currently rebuilding and restoring a City of Prescott fire engine with all volunteer labor and contributions from it's members!! Ask your council members to look into this. It's an absolute outrage.
I'd like to suggest to the Courier editors that in the context of the County Fair failure, the scattering of another decades-long tradition that draws statewide participation is what we used to call "news," and it would be a good idea to assign a reporter to talk with some PAAC members about that this weekend along with the standard photo review.

Update, Monday: And the story appears*. Well, some of the story, anyway. There are important followup questions that remain unasked in the paper. The club alleges it had a contract and the City is unilaterally "amending" it. This sort of escape clause is common in the City contracts I've seen, but that doesn't make it smart or fair. There's also an allegation that someone in City staff was working with the club either without proper authority or without subsequent support from superiors. The main unasked question is why there's this heartburn about the price change -- who is responsible for the communication breakdown, and why, if the price increase is "not a done deal," says the Mayor, the club has even seen this out-of-sight number? Sounds like someone is fumbling badly (hint: news).

*: No,  I won't claim credit for it, the editors could have heard about it the same way I did or in the Council meeting.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Usage note

"Self-confessed" = "confessed," "admitted"


They're here!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Local candidate forums

Also failing to appear in dCourier today is a notice of candidate forums taking place in the runup to the Prescott Council election. It's on 6A in the print edition, and I'll summarize here for you who already have better birdcage liners in stock. Bear in mind that this is the Courier reporting dates and times, so doublecheck ahead of time.

Tomorrow, July 29, 3pm, Las Fuentes Resort community room
Mayoral candidates, Mal Barrett Jr moderating

Weds Aug 3, 6-8pm, Hassayampa Hotel Marina Room
Mayor and Council candidates, Rep Karen Fann moderating
Sponsored by Prescott Chamber of Commerce and other biz groups
Meet&greet at 5:30

Mon Aug 8, 1pm, Adult Center
Mayor and Council candidates,  Tonya Mock moderating

Fri Aug 12, 2pm, Las Fuentes Resort community room
Council candidates

Sat Aug 13, 10-noon, Granite Creek Unitarian Universalist
Mayor and Council candidates, sponsored by CWAG (liberal-friendly!)

CYA and the Norway massacre

It's an unusual day when the Courier op-ed page carries no letters, and that drew my attention to the odd column that landed just under the cartoon, odd because its writer has not appeared before in the Courier. This tells me the editors thought what the columnist has to say is especially notable.

On reading this piece by Susan Stamper Brown, a name I'd never heard before, I find yet more oddness. (You can read it online here, as dCourier does not carry outside columns.) A quick scan of her blog (which seems to be her main outlet) shows that her beat is blaming liberals and Democrats for pretty much everything, without regard for facts or fear of over-the-top polemic. Yet she kicks off the column in question with a quote from famous uber-liberal ER Murrow, and launches into a why-can't-we-all-just-get-along whine.

In the back half, her real thesis gels. Parroting Bill O'Reilly, she tries to make a case that the Norway shooter isn't really a Xtian at all, and those evil liberals are just using the tragedy to pitch a new assault on Xtianity. In other words the editors heard the call on BillO and dug around for an opinion piece to chime in.

Breivik’s own writing extensively details how he built his ideology on Xtian tenets and history, inspiring him to take drastic action to stop what he sees as an invasion by Islamic culture and the pollution of multiculturalism. To pretend he is not a Xtian is poppycock, like saying Osama wasn't a Muslim because he was a bad one.

Stamper Brown is playing the old CYA game, diverting blame for her own intolerance by retroactively excommunicating a fellow-traveler who's jumped the shark. Through her, the editors are doing the same, pretending that Breivik's religious views are a matter of political interpretation and so just another volleyball in their endless culture war.

What's really sad about this reflex is that it prevents the sort of reflection and self-awareness that might lead to change for the better. You have to drive the snakes out of your own nest first, and to do that you have to be able to see them.

By recognizing how extremists use religion or other dogma to justify their violence, we can look for ways to moderate and qualify our own rhetoric or clearly disavow our criminal history to help prevent the sort of insane mental parody that leads to Oslo, or Oklahoma City, or 9-11, or Hiroshima. Dissociating ourselves from these acts wastes a multitude of opportunities. It's also un-Xtian, by the way.

No, his Xtianity did not make Breivik a mass murderer, but he did use it to justify his actions. A thinking adherent of any dogma should take this as a warning about stretching the ideology to suit motivations born in the darker cabinets of the mind.

Breivik's religion has a long history of stretching paternalism into oppression, evangelism into aggression, and faith into blood lust. No thinking adult can read any of that into the Jesus stories, yet for thousands of years that's exactly what's happened.

Breivik is no different from Hitler in how he stretched an elastic and ambiguous dogma to suit his radical authoritarianism. We see Muslims doing the same thing. Ditto with Marxists, corporatists and Tea Partiers.

What's always missing, and what allows these outriders to imagine that they're the vanguard of some grand and glorious movement, is the failure of whatever group they identify with to insist that peace and justice for all are their primary values, and consistently demonstrate that in word and deed.

You can run, editors, you can hide. But your running and hiding betrays some guilt you're not facing.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Editorial: New online tax law relies on conscience (update)

Note: On further research, I've rewritten this substantially.

Our hambone Republican Legislature makes another pointless, toothless law pretending to do something about revenues, and the unnamed Courier editor calls foul. He's right as far as he goes, that if they want to raise revenues, a new line on the annual tax form for volunteering your online sales-tax obligation is a dumb way to go about it. But is it really too much to ask that he think the issue through a little further?

Start with why online purchases have not been taxable till recently. This category was specifically exempted from sales taxes in the nineties to help get the industry off the ground (and attract a big operation by Amazon).

I always presumed that out-of-state transactions were exempt since the heyday of mail-order, but I'm informed that Arizona has been in theory taxing mail-order sales -- and legally, even purchases you  make out of state and bring back in -- since 1955. 

How legislators legally justify this is difficult to fathom. Out-of-state sales have no impact on in-state services. Other taxes infer some sort of cost-for-benefit element. How can we demand money for literally nothing?

With the rise of online purchasing, the Legislature decided to start trying to get at those lost transactions. So they're sticking a new line on your tax form so you can be right with the law, if you feel like it, and if you remember how much you spent. What they haven't figured out yet is how to enforce it. Before that happens, and I guarantee it'll be ugly, better we climb back in from this legal limb and find more sensible ways to generate state revenue.

Sales taxes are regressive, and the patchwork of state and municipal sales taxes we labor under is ridiculously complicated and bad for business. And because they're so easily circumvented in many cases, they lead to inequities in business and don't produce the revenue they're supposed to.

The people who get the most benefit from sales taxes are the investor class, who can engineer sales taxes in place of more progressive income taxes and more clearly justifiable corporate taxes.

If we continue to pick away at sales taxes, the result will be regressive for the state in terms of money flight, tourism impact, small business failures, and even less reliable state revenues.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Editorial: Switch to districts for better city governance

In an unusually short piece, the unnamed Courier editor pumps the idea of setting up city districts that would elect resident representatives to Council. I've had to think this over for a bit. 

I launched this as an idea balloon a year and a half ago, in reporting the results of the last city election.  I'm sure it's been mentioned elsewhere before and since. For me it came out of what could be interpreted as voter dissatisfaction with the candidate list, and this year's roster isn't any more inspiring. What the editor left out, despite a couple of grafs of vague exposition, is exactly what problem he's trying to solve and how council districts would help.

So I'll just riff on that. In terms of a problem to solve, I see tedious repetition in the types of people who seem exercised to run for Council: good ol' boys, wannabe good ol' boys, and axe-grinders. We sorely need a higher proportion of people who are known and respected in the community and who can think clearly about the greater good. The trick is motivating such people to get involved in a 60-hour-a-week job (if you're doing it right) that gets you pretty much nothing but constant irritation and five hundred clams a month.

There is no reason to think that council districting is a bad idea per se, despite the protestations of certain anonymous cranks who see all sorts of dark shenanigans in just about anything. On the plus side, it would certainly bring new faces to the table, since a given district would have to send someone from within its boundaries. It would very likely make it simpler and cheaper to run for Council, and the elected would likely identify much more closely with a smaller group of voters. It would also give the office of the Mayor more gravitas and a clearer role in Council politics.

On the downside, it would lower the bar for axe-grinders. In the last election, which drew participation by 13,093 voters, it took about 6,500 votes to gain a Council seat. Assuming a roughly even distribution of voters city-wide (and that's a stretch), you could divide by six for a given district: 2,182 voters, or about 1,100 votes to win a two-way race. On that scale, very small numbers of single-issue voters in a coordinated campaign could swing some serious mojo.

That considered, I'm inclined to think that districting could be a good thing. So what are the practical considerations in getting there?

The first decision is how many districts. Are a couple of thousand voters per district too few, or too many? Say we keep it at six seats. The next is how to do the transition. Council  has four-year terms so only half face election every other year. Would we set it up so we wipe the slate clean and start fresh? Would we require that half the districts only elect for two years the first time around? Might we even go to six-year terms and only elect two each round? Would we keep the Mayor as a two-year seat, or go longer to provide more continuity befitting the new gravitas?

There will be many more niggly details to solve, with no professional manager on hand at the moment. Does anyone think this Council could handle a project like this? Don't everyone raise your hands at once, now. Okay, so we go to the initiative process. Which group of axe-grinders would you want to write the initiative?

Let's not flap our arms too much over something so theoretical. Any system can work great for us if we elect the right people. That's always the trick.

See, the right people aren't showing up. Why should they? The hours are long, the pay insignificant, and most people think you're there to line your pockets from the public treasury. To do a term on Council you need an independent income, an astronomically high threshold of frustration, and a hide like a rhino. There are a thousand other ways for a civic-minded person to contribute that generate way more satisfaction and way less flak. Consequently it attracts a higher than average proportion of chest-puffers and rascals.

If we're out to solve the problem of better representation, we have to start by making the profession respectable. Better pay wouldn't hurt, either.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Facing down the crazies

Tim is taking heat from the commenters on his most recent pseudoblog column, in which he cites some basic facts about gunshot death in this country, and expresses doubts about "how the Arizona Legislature and Gov. Jan Brewer over the past two years have almost completely dismantled, for example, the required training and certification for concealed carry permits here."

What's really sad here is that showing a shred of common sense about guns in print has become a courageous act. From me this warrants a cookie.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011


Notice that that the "local, local, local" Courier editors can find space for the sensational but meaningless Casey Anthony case, but not for a case that's far more important and local: the Minuteman murders. The third conviction came down yesterday in this horrific, politically driven hate crime.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Today's Chuckle: The editorial

This faceplants into the so-bad-it's-funny category. Starting with a wannabe-hip headline ripped from the cultural memes of 1979, the unnamed Courier editor plunges wildly through a paranoid landscape, unable to tell mountain from molehill, and pretty sure the moles are out to get him. It's kinda Alien vs Caddyshack, with the editor standing in for Bill Murray.

Because organized hackers broke into the Email accounts of DPS officers, says the editor, "assume that nothing in cyberspace is safe." Presumably the editor also keeps a weather eye out for meteors as he sprints into the building from his truck.

Yet on the same day this hawkeyed newsman fills his Friday column (below) with a viral Email containing the most insidious sort of infection there is: facile hate for the weak.

Better idea: Assume that nothing on the Courier op-ed page is safe. And keep laughing. We're all in it for the lulz.

Wiederaenders: Assistance should come with conditions

Honestly, sometimes when I'm reading the Courier op-ed page I feel like I'm back at my high-school paper trying to edit some sense into the fevered punditry of all-knowing sixteen-year-olds. Tim's column today makes my Page Two team at the Creston Echo look like Washington Post material.

In it he quotes approvingly from a viral Email advocating adding various punitive costs to government assistance, carrying a clearly moralistic tone and descending into dog-whistle racism, sexism and classism. It's awful enough to make a thinking person blanch, and Tim claims he thinks it's funny. This is the same guy who proudly claims to be a Christian.

There are two reasons why we as a society organize to help those who need it: it's the right thing to do morally, and it's the right thing to do economically for all of us.

You don't have to be a Xtian to understand the moral value of helping your neighbors. It's who we are as social animals. But with relentless propaganda and social isolation it's relatively easy to create the idea that poor or unlucky or uneducated people are not our neighbors, and so are unworthy of our consideration. That's what's happening here, and the editor is a dupe for the hateful misanthrope he allows to publish anonymously in his column. Show me where Jesus said, "If a man be poor and without work, bind him into slavery for his bread." What I remember is "Judge not, lest ye be judged."

Economically, it's bad for all of us if some of us are homeless and hungry. The costs of welfare programs are a pittance compared to the costs of not having them. That's why we have them in the first place. It's only because we've generally forgotten how bad the bad old days were that the editor is able to get away with his facile 'jokes.' Read some Dickens, Tim, or some Sinclair Lewis.

Better yet, come to my neighborhood and talk to a few real people who are struggling to make ends meet. Failing that, at least make an attempt to avoid sleeping through the Sunday sermon at your church. I imagine what Jesus said might come up there on occasion.

Are there abuses of these systems? Sure. Show me a system that is free of abuse. If that's a reason to eliminate them, let's go after the most expensive abused systems first: Defense Department contracting, for example. But we don't punish the innocent for the sins of the guilty, remember?

Editorial: Court decision raises public money concerns

In Thursday's musing, the unnamed Courier editor careens from one concept to another, creating a limp, damp word salad. Did you let JJ write this one, Tim?

He writes, "Chief Justice John Robert (sic) said the provision 'imposes a substantial burden on the speech of privately financed candidates and independent expenditure groups,'" and accepts it as writ without explaining how the ability of one to speak in any way limits the ability of another. Of course, if the Chief Justice doesn't understand this either, I spoze we'll have to give the editor a pass on that one.

He "won't debate whether the provision violated freedom of speech," which for most writers would mean he's neutral on the question, but he immediately goes on to "applaud the justices who recognized that possibility and walked on the side of caution." Right. The sort of caution that specifically allows corporations to spend as much as they like to buy offices for their favored candidates.

He calls the influence of big money on politics a "sad state of affairs," and finishes up by advertising the Republican push to eliminate all public money from Arizona elections. Apparently it's only sad when the money is nonpartisan.

In the name of "free speech," he advocates taking the megaphone away from the ordinary working person and giving it to the corporate huckster and his pro cheerleading team.

This sort of ridiculously distorted decision by the Supreme Court proceeds from a cascade of terrible past decisions. The idea that money is equal to speech is one. The idea that corporations are the same as citizens is another. They make it impossible for good sense to even be heard, let alone prevail. Arguing the points that follow from these cracked premises can lead only to deeper absurdity.

Forget campaign finance reform, it's not gonna come anytime soon. The only way to improve the quality of our representation is to organize the old-fashioned way, person-to-person, one vote and one ten-dollar contribution at a time. Given modern technology and the rise of social media this has never been easier, but real people have to get out there and do it in an organized, consistent way.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Politics as Pro Wrestling

Al Gore presents a brilliant analogy for understanding how our mediated politics are not working for us in his Rolling Stone piece, "Climate of Denial." It's must-read stuff.

This is where he criticizes the President for his failure to follow through on his promises of progress on climate change. In the next graf he also predicts that the media would pounce on that criticism and strip away its context, which is exactly what happened this week.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Editorial: Business by email a risky proposition

In which the unnamed Courier editor parades his discomfort with cumpyewters.

He notes that a bidder on a county contract failed to respond to Email from the county, losing the bid because the communication was "in the company's junk mail, where it sat unnoticed until the deadline came and went." He blames the county for not wiping the contractor's nose for him and calling on the phone before the deadline passed.

By all means, editor, stick with proven communications technology. Presumably the Courier still gets its wire stories by teletype. I also gather the editor has better luck than I do getting through to people on the phone these days, and he believes that both businesses and government can get along fine without documentation of correspondence.

Reality check: This is not an indictment of the county for using a business tool that's been the standard for two decades, rather it's an indication of carelessness and/or incompetence at the company in question, and attempting to cover it with the 21st-century version of "the dog ate my homework." The editor wants this level of skill providing our public services. It's cheaper, after all.

What really launched my cheerios was the editor going on to warn us that "Demons fly around in cyberspace and sometimes steal what is sent from one computer to another. In a word, strange things can happen when we rely on computers to do what our voices should." No amount of snark from me could gild such a bizarre and hilarious lily.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Yavapai Downs series

Kudos to Joanna for her series on the Yavapai Downs fiasco, and to the editors for devoting a lot of space and resources to an issue that deserves serious research and long-form treatment. The last in the five-day series runs today, with links to the rest.

The track has been in trouble from the beginning, and I can't count the hours I've listened to track employees and customers count down the sins and weaknesses of the track managers.

It would have been useful to see this series come out long before the house of cards collapsed. I and many other readers have been urging the Courier to put more work into background and document research for years, to better inform the community about what's behind the stories that customarily flit through the paper unconsidered. Here's a cookie. I hope it helps motivate more timely work in the future.

Editorial: Higher education at a lower cost

In today's offering, the unnamed Courier editor complains about the rising cost of college tuition, and blames the AZ Board of Regents for jacking them up. He then compares the index costs of UA, ASU and NAU with the new extension NAU-Yavapai, concluding that the cut-rate school must be a higher value.

The reason state schools have traditionally been far less expensive than private and religious colleges is that they're nonprofit and subsidized by the state. Voters have always approved of investing tax revenue in our young people and giving the less affluent more access to higher education. It works both for the individual in upward mobility and for society in higher-value human resources. You basically can't have a broadly affluent society without it.

In Arizona our "conservative" Legislators have been systematically reducing state revenues for years, then crying poverty as an excuse to kill off social programs they've always hated. Public higher education is near the top on that list. All those subversive scientists and liberal eggheads teaching kids to think rather than just work for the man get under their skin.

So as state subsidies to universities have fallen, the Regents face the problem of reducing the quantity and quality of their educational programs or bringing in the necessary money from the students and their families. There's a lot of both going on.

The editor is right that reducing access to education by raising prices is negative, and not just for the students. Educated, capable workers are vital to economic sustainability.

Where he's completely off track is blaming the Regents, as if they're greedily gouging their customers. That's just idiotic. Fix the blame where it belongs, on the radicals in the Legislature who imagine that the state can function without funding.

In favorably comparing NAU-Yavapai to the Big Three, the editor is clearly inferring that it's providing the same education for half the cost. Does he really imagine that the experiences on offer are even comparable? Did he pick up his journalism degree in the stationery aisle at Wal-Mart?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Editorial: BOS budget talks are smoke and mirrors

It appears that the unnamed Courier editor is somehow concluding that Yavapai County Supervisors Carol Springer and Tom Thurman, heretofore reliable corporate fascists, have been mysteriously abducted and brainwashed into tax-and-spend liberals.

This because they are trusting management recommendations on pay levels and refusing to cut taxes willy-nilly, instead maintaining current levels, and with them vital services.

When a politician moves against type, it's a clue to pay attention. Based on long experience, I have no doubt that Thurman and Springer would happily eliminate pretty much all taxes and government services if they could.

But barring magical intervention, they have the responsibility of keeping county government working -- schools, health, roads and infrastructure, fire and disaster response, law enforcement, courts and jails, codes and permits, farming and ranching, and much more. Allowing any of these services to decay or die due to lack of funding would be not just irresponsible, but illegal. So we can safely deduce that these tax-hating supervisors understand that reducing revenues further will put the county into an untenable position. They can't do it.

And while Supe Davis criticizes them for allowing pay raises for a third of the county workforce, you'll notice that he's not arguing to reduce taxes. Rather, he's concerned about increasing expenditures, further straining the budget. Again, Springer and Thurman are not well-cast as public-employee-coddlers, making this another clue that they're feeling pinched.

An internal report from county management recommends adjustments across the pay structure to more fairly compensate employees for what they're doing. No sensible person can argue that this isn't sound management practice. (A better question is why the structure has deteriorated so far as to require this kind of action.) Springer and Thurman trust their managers on this, Davis apparently doesn't. Again, the unasked question is why.

The Courier editor goes no farther than assuming the county managers are corrupt featherbedders. "No wonder the public (meaning him) distrusts government," he chides. I'll give you that this kind of thing happens, but you really need to look for evidence before tarring everyone the same black.

Speaking as a stockholder in the corporation called Yavapai County, I want to be assured that the investment I've made in employee training and experience returns as much value as possible. Having experienced people leave because pay or conditions aren't up to standard is the worst kind of waste, I don't care what business you're in.

As a consumer of county services to whatever extent, I expect to get full value for my money in skilled, reliable services. Quality matters, and that does not come at whatever price happens to make the editor happy (hint: free). Voters have charged the county with certain responsibilities that we consider vital, and we've given them the authority to adjust tax rates to make that work economically. I think we can trust Republicans to keep those rates as low as possible, when they aren't starving services outright. (I also think we can trust most Dems to keep taxes as low as possible. The idea that politicians like to waste public money is largely a myth.)

The editor can't see beyond his property tax bill, and just falls into his customary unthinking, anti-tax brainfog.  If it were only him, it wouldn't matter much, but he's disinforming readers on a relatively large scale and pushing the easy anger button, causing more distrust without evidence to warrant it. This is a disservice to our community that can do real damage to real lives. At junctures like this we can be relieved that the editor has so little credibility among people in power.

Friday, June 3, 2011

No wonder

If one year equals seven dog years, that makes one day equal to a dog week.

How would you act if you only got fed twice a week?

Editorial: Current hierarchy presents a conflict

Perhaps there really is a conflict, editor, but it seems to me that your primary job entails finding out what the specific conflicts have been and how they have affected our city government and our community.

This editorial and Cindy's news-side story stink of clubby insiderism. Watching Council talk around the issue is not the core of the story, editor. To understand whether Council is addressing the situation usefully, we need to know what the situation really is. This coverage just ropes me off.

And by the way, it only further confuses civics-challenged voters to have you referring to this as a "separation of powers" issue. It's nothing of the sort.

If Council takes the Attorney's office out from under the Manager, it is effectively removing an arm from City administration and attaching it to itself. This is the opposite of what we normally understand as separation of powers, and would be considered a gross usurpation of administrative power by what amounts to our local legislative branch. Imagine the howls if the Congress decided to bring the President's legal team and Justice Department under its exclusive control.

Whether this would be a good idea is another question. If the administrative apparatus has become so corrupt that Council cannot trust the Manager to properly handle internal investigations, I'd expect to see personnel changes from the top down into the middle layers -- it's not the system, it's the people.

Should we infer that Council has known about this kind of problem for a long time and been too weak to deal with it? Or is this why Steve Norwood and his deputy left? I have no idea other than my own experiences with the Norwood regime, and the paper isn't helping me. Or you.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Editorial: Another whine about the world enforced by our own politics

I love it when the unnamed Courier editor moans about energy prices, as he does in today's editorial. Today's villain is our local electrical monopoly, APS. Can you imagine what the rates would be like if this behemoth were unregulated? Yet the Courier editorial board regularly pimps for the deregulatory libertarian paradise and candidates who promise it. He claims to love renewables, but sides with the NIMBies every time (see below). Our rising energy prices are largely driven now and more so in the future by the worsening scarcity of petro fuels, but getting past that dependency isn't "practical" if it involves a five-cent rise in the editor's fuel bill.

This is exactly how the shortsightedness of American "conservatism" leads to chronically unhappy conditions. Would that the editor could make a few painfully obvious connections.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Editorial: No easy solution for septic dispute

Western PV residents don't show up when officials summon them to talk about their septic tanks. I'm so surprised.

It does no good to speculate on whether they'll support a plan to improve their waste systems, editor. You and PV and county officials ought to go out and talk with them.

These largely lower-income residents are struggling already, holding multiple jobs or hunting for work, juggling kids at the same time. I expect a larger than usual proportion of homeowners are non-resident or in foreclosure. It makes no sense to conclude anything from a small turnout at an obscure public meeting.

If the editor would like to contribute to resolving the problem, he could do more to publicize both the problem and the community's efforts to resolve it, as well as to urge PV and county officials to be more proactive and circumspect with their outreach to the affected homeowners. What he's done here is lame.

The continuing hassle over comments

Promoting this from a comment on the previous post, by "Coyote Contraire™":

Mr. Ayres,

I know this is off-subject to memorial day, but the cartoon reminded me of the subject of comment burial by the Courier, and I've nowhere else to turn.

The majority of my recent comment submissions have been "disappeared" by the Courier ed. staff. None have been in violation of their Terms of Use, and most have been relatively on-subject. Navigating their capricious minefield of approval is tricky at best, but would probably be less difficult if only I would just type really nice, soft things -- like, "I like bunnies and kittens". Sometimes they quickly post stuff I'm sure they wouldn't touch, then they disappear something utterly innocuous.

To wit: I wrote a comment to this article, and it got posted.

Two commenters made inquiries to me about the recent addition of the ™ symbol to my pseudo. I wrote and submitted five different comments in attempting to respond and they all have been s**t-canned. The Courier, of course, is a private enterprise and is therefore under no obligation to consider the principles of freedom of expression.

What bewilders me, though, is that all five submissions were inoffensive, vaguely humorous, and in no way in violation of the TOU. I'm beginning to think it's personal.
I appreciate your concern, and it's this sort of arbitrary and apparently capricious interference with comments that led me to begin this blog in the first place. It's impossible to determine why this is happening, but from other comments it's clear to me that it is and it's obviously not good.

My response is to repeat my open invitation to any Courier commenter to post deleted, censored or edited comments here. Post them as comments on any entry, regardless of topical pertinence -- I'll create a pertinent thread and move them to it. Make a habit of copying your comments before posting them to the Courier and saving them as backups until they appear.

My own experience has been that since I started raising a regular stink over it, editing and disappearance of my comments has ceased. Interference also seems to have lessened since Ben Hansen left, but it's difficult to guage.

NB: I notice that comments frequently appear on unrelated stories, implying that the editors (or perhaps commenters) may be mistakenly attaching them in the wrong places, and that could account for some 'lost' comments.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Editorial: Those nasty solar panels again

In today's "Solar panels cloud homeowners' futures," the unnamed Courier editor makes clear that he agrees with the slant in Jason Soifer's story yesterday (see below).

I have to wonder why the headline isn't "Neighbors cloud solar plant's future." Open land inside the town limits -- there's a lot of that in Chino Valley -- is to be the site of the kind of energy-production facility that every community in the country needs to secure the future. The owners are promising to put serious money into preventing the neighbors from seeing a clean, low-traffic, emissions-free facility. The setbacks are huge. Still, the neighbors are able to raise the specter of "reduced property values" and grind the whole process to a halt.

This is the same town that last week voted overwhelmingly to allow a KOA campground into another residential neighborhood, with its attendant traffic, noise, waste and water draw.

The editor concurs with the property-value argument, based on exactly zero research. Maybe there are people who would be put off by the idea of living next to a solar plant, but it seems awfully likely to me that they're far outnumbered by people who would prefer it. I'll happily put my name on that list.

The editor goes on: "it's unclear just how much of the 20 megawatts of power expected to be generated will stay local," implying it would therefore be worthless and clearly indicating that he has no clue how grid power works. (In a given electrical system, the power is everywhere at once, so it's both never "local" and always "local.")

In the end he dourly warns, "It could be your backyard next." First, editor, it's not their backyards. It's adjacent property. It's clear the editor would prefer to have the property adjacent to his occupied by random people, but for me the prospect of a solar plant behind my property says peace and quiet -- no barking dogs, no midnight screaming matches, no revving engines or gangster rap, no creepy drums full of unknown liquids, no crop spraying, no industrial noise or dust, no screaming children, no crazy teenagers, no target practice. I'd love to see a line of trees.

The arguments against it are so nonsensical I have to consider that some see solar power as a political threat. We're on a sinking ship, and these people want to toss the lifeboats overboard. And here we see the editor, the supposed champion of renewable energy, pitching in to help them.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Today's chuckle

First comment on today's traffic-related editorial:

"The solution is obvious. Radar activated machine guns. It would slow people down and it would be totally awesome. I have suggested this already, but the council doesn't care about what the voters want."

Solar farm casts shadow

Jason Soifer covers the inevitable conflict between a proposed Chino Valley solar-farm project and NIMBY neighbors. But rather than just tell the story, he gets in a few editorial characterizations to fuel the silly fire.

Starting with the head and subhead, we get a decidedly dark view of the project. The first adjective Jason applies to the project is "sprawling," carrying firmly negative connotations compared to, say, "large." Later he writes,

"The plans includes a 41,000-square-foot substation, water tank and tower, communications building, fencing topped with barbed wire around the farm, and trees between the fence and the roughly 70 properties that will eventually watch their serene backyard views turn partially to black."
Leaving aside the idea that "properties" can "watch" anything, notice the contrast between "serene" and "black," even though he's just described a screen of trees that will clearly improve the view of treeless hardpan that we see in the photo. Maybe he thinks they'll be black trees. The graf should have ended with "70 (bordering) properties."

Jason runs two different versions of the "ram it down our throats" quote, but apparently never asks town officials to reply to this characterization of their actions. He also gives a lot of ink to a letter from a purported prospective property buyer that happens to agree with the homeowner. Clue, Jason: one opinion does not constitute a survey, and you didn't verify the letter was genuine. The faked letter from the assessor should raise red flags about how far people are willing to go on this, and should have been more carefully followed up.

People have a right to concern about what happens on the other side of their property line, and the paper has the right to publish an editorial opinion. But keep the editorials out of the news pages, please. This sort of thing is bad for the community and bad for the paper.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Finagling 401

Former Council candidate Mike Peters gets in a letter today about Council's work to "clarify" the successful initiative to require a vote of the people before approving expenditure on any project to cost more than $40  million.

The commenters variously want to go back and debate the value of the pipeline, the value of the initiative process, the venality of Council, and the qualifications of Mr Peters to speak. Another random food fight, in other words.What most seem to be missing is that this is an important issue of process.

I didn't favor the initiative myself, but it became law fairly and we have to respect that. The initiative didn't demand the end of the pipeline project. It requires a vote on it, that's all.

If we hold an election on the pipeline plan and it wins, it validates the value of the project and the process to get us there. It would put the issue permanently to bed -- or at least until it bankrupts us or gets us stuck for years in lawsuits over easements, etc.

But by dragging its feet on the clearly mandated election process, Council is only casting further doubt on the public value of the project as well as its own integrity. They may find a legal workaround, but that will inevitably lead to more court battles, citizen anger and delays. It may be tactically astute, but it's strategically stupid.

The developer combine pushing the pipeline seems to be  underestimating its ability to sell voters a bum steer -- we did wind up electing John Hanna, after all. That tells me that they really don't think they have the goods to win a popular vote, and need to try to get what they want the old-fashioned way: weasel tactics.