Monday, February 28, 2011

Class, trip aim for social change through the bicycle

This really-oughtn't-be-on-Page-1 piece highlights a Prescott College program in which students work on bikes and learn about the economic and social effects along with the mechanicals. The comments seethe with bike-hate and PC-hate. It's entertaining if you enjoy that sort of thing.

What everyone seems to have missed is that there's a need for a college course on bike repair -- because most kids are growing up now with very little experience with tools and machines, and most of our secondary schools are no longer teaching mechanical skills.

So this course is not an indictment of the students, rather it's an indictment of our atrophying public-school system and American parents who never teach their kids (or don't know themselves) the business end of a wrench.

I'll tell ya, if a new Axis were to try taking over the world next year, we would have zero chance of building the sort of industrial machine that ultimately won that war. We no longer value the skills.

Editorial: Leaders Must Support Laws I Like, Never Mind the Constitution

Lacking any useful legal knowledge has never stopped the unnamed Courier editor from spewing frothy opinions on how the rule of law ought to work, and he spews mightily in Sunday's editorial about the administration altering policy on suits against the comically titled Defense of Marriage Act. It's sort of pitiful to watch him try to spin his purely emotional issue on a legalistic argument. It would be the ol' peashooter-in-a-gunfight problem, but he hasn't even got any peas.

Here's what happened. A little old widow lady got a bill for over 300,000 clams in taxes for which she'd be exempt if she'd been married to a man. She sued. I would too. The Attorney General marched into the Oval Office and reported, "Mr President, if we go to court against this little old lady, we'll waste a whole lot of money, we're guaranteed to lose, and when the Supreme Court strikes the law down the whole country will come unhinged. Maybe we should drop it." The President, being the pragmatic moderate technocrat that he is, said, "Sounds like we don't have much choice about that," and started drafting a pragmatic, technocratic speech about it. No change in the law, no fireworks. Someone else will have to spend the money to get that same Supreme Court judgment, like all those churchgoers who imagine being gay or not is important, including the Family Research Council.

Despite the reams of precedent for this kind of determination, the editor thinks it's the first time it's ever happened, and only because those Democrats are all secretly gay and want the editor and his wife to be gay, too. And his dog. Here, Fido ....

A clue for the editor to chew on: Equal Protection -- It's Not Just for Straight White Men Anymore.

Editorial: Nothing's More Important to Americans Than the Cost of Gasoline

In Saturday's editorial the unnamed Courier editor complains that "we Americans know that we are being jerked around by factors we can't begin to grasp or unravel" economically, and knits his brow over "escalating gas prices for reasons that are convoluted beyond understanding."

As I wrote in a comment that didn't make it onto the story, I'm not clear on what's so difficult to understand. Conflict in an oil-producing state makes the teevee news, and oil speculators ramp up prices, despite any evidence of disruption of the supply chain. Oil companies add to their record profits, and prices stay high long after the conflict fades from public view. What could be simpler? That's yer "free market" talking.

The editor warns that "Pretty soon, all of this will make the gas wars of the '70s pale in comparison," when the situation has been well beyond that for decades. Incidentally, editor, perhaps you're too young to remember, but the only "gas wars" were between senselessly panicked Americans fighting for places at the pumps. What was going on was a series of simple, predictable cartel actions to wring more profit from an essentially captive market, in other words the "free market" showing its true nature.

I'd like to point out here that Europeans and Japanese would fall over themselves for the bargain prices on gasoline that Americans complain about so tediously, kept artificially low by generous, entrenched government subsidies and protection for the oil industry (that's right, you actually pay a lot more for that gas through your taxes). It's no coincidence that the rest of the developed world suffers higher (read: closer to market) prices and is miles ahead of us in the race to develop and install sustainable alternatives. Damned socialists.

Rather than express thanks for his good fortune -- in the short term, of course -- the editor wants to save his ten cents at the pump by any means necessary: "we could empower stability in that region to some extent, at least," which would presumably mean military intervention that would somehow cost nothing. Look how well that turned out in Iraq and Somalia.

This infantile whining over a paper cut to his wallet while hope for freedom and self-determination spreads across one of the most corrupt and oppressed regions of the planet makes the editor look more than a little oafish. But it's all the more annoying when he draws on the kooky Moonie Times for analysis critical of the administration. Either he really doesn't know that this is a partisan rag on a par with Fox News, or he does and he's using it exactly that way against us.

Again, Courier readers deserve better. The editor reconfirms that he's stunningly uninformed about economics and foreign affairs, and should stay away from them. Get back to your knitting, editor, I'm sure there's a local flower show you can opine upon with authority.

Further reading: Rs love them some Big Oil some more

Friday, February 18, 2011

I'm not on Facebook

Or Twitter, or whatever's hot this week. So could someone let me know when the revolt against the insanity is starting? I wouldn't want to miss it.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Editorial: Health care starts with us, not reform

An unusually smug unnamed Courier editor opines, "If we all paid better attention to what we eat, health care reforms would be a formality and those who get cancer could be the exception." I think this only shows that most Americans, in particular the editor, really don't understand the breadth of what we mean by "health care," nor what it's like to live in a country where health care is secure.

Conservatives love to mouth the mantra, "America has the greatest health-care system in the world." If you accept that as true, it's got to be very hard to understand why we get below-average health-care results on pretty much every useful measure. So it's tempting to divert the blame for that from the system to the individual. You eat crap, whatever happens is your fault, right?

That said, I hardly know where to begin. Even leaving aside simple stuff like accidents and babies, one might conclude from this that the editor thinks a higher-quality diet prevents mental illness, viral and bacterial infections, parasites, genetic predispositions, drug reactions, allergies, and any number of other maladies.

I don't think the editor means what he seems to say. He's trying to talk about a complex issue in a very small space and just not managing to keep the result from sounding idiotically facile. That might take another ten minutes of editing, and deadline looms.

Yes, a better average diet will reduce health problems on average, but a forward-thinking, nonprofit, prevention-oriented health-care system, as well as a sustained public-policy priority on a healthy populace, would furnish a lot more support for eating right.

This isn't the tired old dichotomy of either I do for me or the government does for me. This is about working together to build systems that help us all to help ourselves.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Amster: Politician the loneliest job in the world

I fear Randall has been taking writing lessons from JJ Casserly. While it clearly demonstrates better understanding of the language, this ramble is more JJ's style in its confusing tediousness and ultimate banality.

Randall seems to want to encourage "empathy for politicians," but to get there he detours through the stylishly cynical rhetoric of Mencken, cutting himself off at the ankles.

Fergadsake, Randall, you've got a regular column, you might put it to good use. Rather than farble on with high-sounding generalities, why not do the homework and feature some examples of the political people and actions that you think deserve that empathy and respect?

Editorial: State's birthday countdown is on

It evades me why the unnamed Courier editor thinks this a worthy topic for an editorial. He doesn't seem to offer an opinion of anything other than that having a centennial is cool. But that's not to say that he doesn't inadvertently editorialize here.

Selecting from the copious writing of Marshall Trimble, he chooses to make fun of the accent of a Minnesota senator of Norwegian descent and recount how Arizona immediately stuck its thumb in the eye of President Taft, as if this indicated something noble about Arizonans.

Despite his gloss on our state historian's work, the editor had to have missed some of the history behind these anecdotes. Arizona came by its image honestly as "a wild and woolly place populated by nothing but Apaches, outlaws, rattlesnakes, cactus and Democrats," and it leaned into that image in 1912 by choosing February 14 for its elevation to statehood.

Arizona's original flag as a CSA territory
This had nothing to do with the Catholic feast of St Valentine, of course. Rather, it was the 50th anniversary of its recognition as a Confederate Territory by proclamation of Jefferson Davis. (At the time the Democrats were the reactionaries and slavers, of course. The party didn't turn progressive until the 1930s.)

In that context, the quote from the Minnesota senator takes on a little more nuance. Arizona began by saying that it didn't want to be American, and it had an established history of unreasoned, adolescent rebelliousness that it pridefully maintained with that 1912 election.

In 2011 we're not doing much to prove that we've grown up. The ghost of John Calhoun stalks the halls of our Legislature as the heirs to the party of Lincoln do all they can to subvert his legacy. In that context, our celebration of the state's centennial is following a proud, if stupid, tradition.

I won't be surprised if someone introduces legislation to update the AZ flag to acknowledge its history:

PS to editors: It's not really that hard to find an accurate rendering of the state flag. Your graphic on dcourier is pretty sloppy. Some people might read that as disrespect.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

What 'conservatives' think government is good for

It's a clear symptom of our collective focus on material consumption that the big news of the week revolved around a possible retail grocery opening and what we're willing to do to get it. The Courier covered this in three news stories (here, here and here), an editorial and Tim's Friday column.

Both opinion pieces were fully supportive of having the City empty its capital improvement fund -- the account from which we normally expect to pay for roads, water infrastructure, public building additions and remodeling, like that -- to buy a piece of land that it will then lease to a developer who will in turn lease it to the funky/trendy Trader Joe's grocery chain.

Many of the city folk who've moved here over the past fifteen years have clamored for TJ's, and periodic rumors of it placing a store here have raised anticipation levels eclipsing the Second Coming.

Council and the editors seem to agree that attracting the chain will only add to the City's tax base, and using the capital fund indicates they think it's necessary infrastructure. Let's say I'm skeptical of both ideas.

They also assert that this is a perfectly ordinary use of public funds, that cities do it all the time. As evidence Tim cites spending for infrastructure improvements and sales-tax relief offered in several large retail deals.

For starters, those deals did not in any way bet the expended funds on the success of the retailer. This one does, and it's a key difference. If TJ's doesn't make its targets it will pull up stakes with little warning and move to greener pastures, as we saw as recently as three years ago in the Phoenix environs, where it closed three stores and left empty mall pads -- during boom times for retail, I might add. In that event the developer is left holding the bag on the lease, likely to lead to a bankruptcy of its no doubt carefully firewalled operation, dumping the improved but empty property on the City to remarket.

Other commenters have brought up the obvious question: if this is such a good deal, there ought to be several banks happy to step up to lend the necessary dosh. It's called a mortgage. Nowhere in the coverage have I seen any justification for usurping the customary role of capitalism in this, or, worse, for taking on that role where private capital won't.

In the not-unlikely event of a default, the City moves from the banker's role into that of the developer and landlord. And I'm fairly sure most readers are familiar with just how easy it is to rent out retail space in Prescott right now.

Council members seem enamored of the idea of "making money" on public investment, promising a big return over something up to thirteen years or so. I guess this is unintended fallout from spouting the idea of "running government like a business," and it has to require a certain amount of mental contortion for people who complained bitterly about the automaker bailout to support this.

I'm not against seeing cash return on investment per se, but that should never be the core purpose of applying public funds. Profit derives from risk, and that's the opposite of what we should be doing with public resources.

Another important aspect is our already crowded retail-food market, which has been shedding players in the recession. How is it fair to use public money to give advantage to a new competitor for businesses that have had to find their own capital and paid their taxes (including into that capital fund) in many cases for decades? Does Council imagine that it will have no effect on existing business, that you and I will all keep buying just as much from everyone else and simply eat more? No, there will be fewer sales elsewhere, and likely slim-to-no net increase in jobs, which is the key driver of economic health.

People who identify across the political spectrum get this, it's not a left-right issue. In the sparkling eyes of its boosters we see the the real force driving 'conservative' politics in this country, and that's greed. If a certain core group of Republicans can find a way to apply your tax dollars to help a corporation make money, they're all over it. That is their idea of the best function of government.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Editorial: Sometimes spending is good

With the headline writer providing this weeks 'duh' moment, the unnamed Courier editor argues in favor of investment for the public good, picking as examples certain investments that may benefit a few of us in the public.

The editor allows for the possibility that municipal spending on the swimming pool in PV or Prescott's pie-in-the-sky baseball park or former golf-course clubhouse. Notice a theme? The editor likes sports. Apparently serving the minority of the population that gets involved in these sports is enough a public good to justify general-revenue expenditures.

If the City were proposing an investment in solar energy generation or broadband infrastructure, which would benefit everyone pretty uniformly, would the editor be so enthusiastic? If we proposed using the general fund to extend the sewer system and eliminate the risks of urban septic tanks, which directly involve a small number of homes but build value for all, would the editor approve? Let's say I have my doubts.

The editor believes that Prescott sinks or floats on tourism. I think that's a mug's game. But even if more tourists were to show up based on these investments, how -- specifically, how -- would that benefit the majority, those of us who don't depend on retail sales of tickets, trinkets, bed and board? He might cite the sales-tax revenues as a minor percentage, but does he ever count the costs that the rest of us pay for them?

I've inspected that old clubhouse as a potential commercial property very carefully as part of a team with broad and pertinent experience. The City designed and built it badly, in a hurry and on the cheap, as an addition to the kitschy old log pro shop (since removed for cause) at our small-town nine-hole municipal course. It's a box with an outdated kitchen and a couple of bathrooms. The City's been trying and failing to find a use for it for years. Creative management and substantial investment might do more with it, but not anything like enough to justify the expense. If it had been in the right spot for the new clubhouse, course management would have torn it down without hesitation. The only investment that makes any sense for that location is the teardown cost.

(Aside: City staff talk enthusiastically about how attractive it is for wedding receptions. It's true that the view on one side is the golf course, and that's kind of nice. They never talk about the other side, which is a busy and noisy airport runway.)

I don't have a stake in what the PV school district spends, but I know that if Prescott High was asking to add a pool to its campus, I'd be quick to argue that swimming doesn't make anyone smarter or better suited for a job other than as a lifeguard. And like, PV, we already have a pool. I don't mind investing in kids, but I object firmly to diverting that investment to frivolous (but profitable, for a few) projects that do not serve the education mission.

The baseball park is the sparkliest boondoggle of the bunch, of course, made more so by our large and ongoing public investment in the baseball complex at Pioneer Park.

Need examples of success? How well has PV done with its flyblown fairgrounds and track? How about that bankrupt hockey arena? I'll concede the editor's idea that lots of people like sports, but he's missing that the vast majority like them best from their loungers, with a beer and chips.

Why does the editor feel exercised to stretch his credibility this way? Does he really lack the imaginative tools to see better ways to spend money that benefit us all? Or does he really just like his sports and believe that our taxes are the best way for him to get them?

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Casserly: Arabs are All Liars

Chopping my way through JJ's prose jungle this morning, I was genuinely hopeful that he might have something interesting to say. He claims to have spent some serious time in the Middle East. Sure, it was a long time ago, but still, most people who live for any length of time outside the wire gain some useful perspective of the real world. I looked forward to finding a nugget or two of that among his usual maudlin incoherency.

Sadly, it was not to be. JJ is among that minor group of Americans who can't see beyond their self-imposed blinders no matter how closely they face reality, like tourists following rented GPS systems down closed roads to bad ends in Death Valley.

He wanders through pedestrian highlights of the region's history, recalls his days as a student in Beirut, then disgorges this: "The ultimate goal of Islamists is to establish strict Sharia, Islamic law, throughout the world. Arabs, in general, are split with their traditional past contending with a noncompromising, violent future." Leaving aside the syntax and sense problems, this is as clear a window on the neocon Bizarro world as any I've seen in a year. To spout something so blithely ignorant of the broad spectrum of Arab life is amazing enough. To get paid for it is breathtaking.

But wait, as they say, there's more. JJ goes on to wave the bloody shirt over the Muslim Brotherhood, a minor and moderate political force grown into a bogeyman for the right, and then hammer out three grafs stating pretty baldly that he thinks all Arabs are liars. (JJ, a hint: If you won't trust Mubarak when he says he won't run again, why are you trusting his word about the Muslim Brotherhood?)

How can even the Courier editors take this guy seriously? He's a stain on the profession.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Editorial: Gosar's 'house call' a good start

So the news is that Rep Gosar appeared in Prescott Council chambers. What he said (and didn't say) are apparently of rather less interest.

If and when Mr Gosar does anything significant in Washington, I want to hope that the Courier editors will be more exercised about covering and analyzing it than this gushing editorial predicts. If the Courier's coverage of Rick Renzi (R-20 Most Corrupt Members of Congress) is any guide, I'm not holding my breath.

Cantlon: Cuts to health care will cost us in long run

Tom gets his reanimated column back up to speed quickly by talking some basic sense about health-care economics. I've written on this as well in Pop Rocket, and it'll be no surprise to readers here that Tom and I are on the same page in this.

As a column it's perfectly sensible, but given the polarization of the public dialogue, I think we need to tighten up how we on the side of sense construct our arguments. In particular I'd like to see more authoritative references. The simple assertion of opinion is not enough to convince, and unconvincing arguments tend to confirm opposed opinions. I'd also recommend greater care in the editing process -- the column's final thought is handicapped by entrapment in a sentence fragment.

Welcome back, Tom!

Local Christians experience modern-day 'exodus' from Egypt

Hoping to generate something newsy from the factually ho-hum, Ken jumps the shark by comparing a minor delay in leaving Egypt by a Xtian tour group with a biblical story about the racial oppression and banishment of the Jews and their death march across the Arabian Peninsula. I expect the people in the story, who are likely a fair bit more conversant in the book than Ken, will be a little embarrassed by this. It's clear the Courier editors don't have a clue.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Editorial: All eyes on U.S. in Egypt debate

Oh my, aren't we self-important today.

To the unnamed Courier editor, the most important question about what's happening in Egypt is: "what is America's role in this?"

It couldn't be, "What's best for the people of Egypt?" of course. Or even the more-our-viewpoint but less self-absorbed "What will the Egyptian people want the US to do?"

The editor's narrow, all-about-US perspective, as often expressed in our foreign policy, is exactly why the Middle East has been in constant turmoil since the end of the Ottoman Empire. That mindset has us pursue policies promoting our short-term economic and strategic interests at the ultimate expense of the people of the entire region, leading inevitably to backlash, both against the despots we prop up with our bribes and subsidies and against us directly along the spectrum from popular suspicion to violent terrorism.

We have to hope that we will eventually learn our lesson and realize that supporting popular aspirations for self-determination and quality of life is the only way to build positive, long-term relationships internationally. We simply have to stop using people and start doing what we can to help. In many situations the best way to do that is just back off and quit trying to manipulate them.

Please, editors, focus your attention on your readers and what's happening here in your circulation territory. You haven't anything like the experience or knowledge to speak with the slightest authority about foreign policy or world events, and writing on them just makes you look foolish.