Friday, March 25, 2011

'Folk Summit' brings genre's heavy hitters

I just need to point out that Bruce's piece implies that Tom Agostino created "The Folk Sessions" on his own. I'm sure that Tom would not slight the contribution of Alexa MacDonald, who co-hosted the show for years and co-organized the weekly live mini-concerts that evolved into the current series.

Also: KJZA's primary frequency for the Prescott area is 90.1FM. Use 89.5 north of Prescott Heights and in PV. KJZA is not affiliated with NPR.

Wiederaenders: More wasted space

Would someone please point out to Tim that his Friday columns are a whole lot more like Jerry's chatty back-page filler than anything pertinent to an op-ed page?

Like a magpie, he seems drawn to bits of shiny trash, like the annual how-dumb-Americans-are story. I mentioned this the other day, and Tim falls into the same old hackneyed response, picking up the results as if they're entirely new and implying that people are way dumber now than they were in the day.

The thing is, this survey has been done since the late '40s and the results have been more or less consistent. Every experienced newsman knows this -- or should -- because it comes in on the wires every year. It's non-news, and how most editors handle it is anti-news, because it disinforms the reader and passes up the important opportunity for discussion of public policy relative to education that the study was designed to provoke.

Editorial: Freedom for me, not for thee

The unnamed Courier editor commiserates with Councilman Blair on how proper enforcement of fair-housing law will allow icky group homes near respectable people and their precious property values.

It's not really about real-estate value at all, of course. It's about prejudice, class chauvinism, and reality-avoidance. Blair is already and justifiably world-famous for these. Everyone sharing these systems should be encouraged to move into gated HOA conclaves, where they can exercise their pathologies in private under the watchful eyes of tinplate Nazis in golf carts. Kind of a reverse-Soweto approach. Putting them outside the city limits would keep them off our Council and out of our voting mix as well. I'm liking this ....

Gad, editors, grow up, would you? This is infantile.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Failed State

The Boston Review is carrying an excellent think piece by Tom Barry bringing together the various threads contributing to Arizona's sudden pain. It's a great digest for voters who need catching up on the big picture, as well as a crystal-clear example of how businesspeople outside are evaluating Arizona as a prospect, and why marginal tax cuts won't attract sensible industry.

Mission creep

Today we see yet another fail for Tim's "local, local, local" mantra on 8A, a 3/4-page celebrity obit with no local connection. It makes a pretty stark contrast with 10A, wherein a dozen profiles of Prescott Area Leadership award nominees are crammed together with tiny photos. These are supposedly some great role models for our community doing interesting and underpublicized things. Smells like news to me.

Do the Courier editors imagine that Liz Taylor won't get blanket coverage across all media and supermarket tabloid displays? Or did they just have a loose page to fill? If the latter, they can call me, I'll be happy to offer some better ideas. Or ask any bum hanging out on the square, it just isn't hard.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Cantlon: Missing parts keep economy stalled out

Today Tom gets going on a metaphor and it takes him a few stops past where he wanted to get off.

He started out on the right route, outlining some of the systemic weaknesses of laissez-faire capitalism and why public policy is necessary to ensure that it works in service to society rather than the other way around.

I can't endorse Tom's definition of a healthy economy, bristling as it is with unquestioned self-references to the distorted 'norms' we generally accept. His core thesis is good, that we need to find a way back to sensible regulation, but it's buried in waffly verbiage that makes it hard to spot. I think he's fooling himself with the idea that our labor surplus will eventually go away and we'll naturally return to labor shortage. The global economy has done away with that dynamic for good.

Great pension plan, too.
But his automotive metaphor won't run. He writes, "Policies that aim at that healthy economy are the drive shaft of the system. Right now we have an engine that's humming along great, but it's not getting to the wheels. We're not getting the intended end result of moving us forward."

It seems to me, a lowly news editor for an international business paper, that the capitalistic limo is moving along just fine. The problem is that it's left American workers behind. The people driving that sleek machine feel no responsibility to carry anyone but themselves. If you want to ride, their response is "build your own vehicle, sucker." For them, workers aren't partners or passengers -- they're fuel.

Lacking a sense of responsibility to the community that might mitigate their greed, the world's tycoons would happily drive the rest of us into destitution, turn the planet into a dry rock, and call us all ungrateful for complaining. Rather than worship capitalism and pretend that it will take care of us, like some sort of ancient, fickle god, we have to consciously employ capitalist principles in the greater interest of society. Rather than hope in vain that it might give us enough work to live on, we must harness it and make it a tool for the greater good.

It's going in the wrong direction. We need to take the wheel.

Psst, Tom: Just as a temperature can't be hot or cold, a price cannot be cheap or expensive. "Cheap price" is nonsensical. You might like to check in with Eric Partridge. Your editor should have caught that.

Update, Thursday: Tom's a stand-up guy and friend, and puts a challenging question that inspired another tedious rant from me:
Okay, I'll bite. What would you change about the definition of a healthy economy?
For me economic health can be measured on three criteria: robustness, in terms of exchange and added value, sustainability (renewable production and freedom from destabilizing excess fluctuation in value), and freedom from exploitation of people or the environment.

What I infer you were trying to describe are indicators of relative health given the 'system' that Americans generally take for granted. But if we focus on robustness, we forget that this system is both exploitative and unsustainable. Should we really be satisfied with having workers simply cross the threshold from societal burden to subsistence? Is that the criterion for health? What about human
potential and freedom? Talking to a single mom pitching burgers at Mac's about the pursuit of happiness is not unlike spinning her a yarn about winning the lottery and living in a candy palace. Should we be satisfied that a skilled worker must expect to scrimp and labor until he's old so he can be rich enough to buy his freedom from wage slavery (retirement)? This is health?

I'll give you that things aren't working as well now as they did in the postwar boom, but those salad days were based largely on economic distortions left by the war, and they were really only a slight upgrade from the degrading exploitation of the robber-baron days. The depredations of the postmodern baronial acolytes have certainly made things worse again, but rather than hope in vain for a return to the old system and halcyon days, we have to adapt to a quite different
world and a smarter, more humane set of core values. Cosmetic improvements to the old system is nothing more than lipstick on a pig.

Our old empire is creaking into its dissolution precisely because most Americans are clinging to an unsustainable, illusory standard of wealth based on exploitation that is killing our planet. The longer we dick around with this, the worse it'll be for your grandkids. Sayin'.

Editorial: Editor hears all, understands nothing

In today's "United States is not the world's police," the unnamed Courier editor tells us that while he has no heartburn about having our military burn up metric tons of money in a feeble attempt to sort of limit Gaddafi's military strikes on his own people, he's ticked that various people in the government are expressing reservations about it, giving him the impression that US policy is unclear in the matter.

Against those reservations he contrasts the President's statement, "It is U.S. policy that Gadhafi needs to go," and concludes that there is no consensus in our government about this.

The editor forgets -- or never learned -- that the President is also the CinC, and what he says goes in this area. Lower-ranking officials have the right to speak their minds as well, but that's opinion, not policy. Further, the policy that Mr Obama articulated has been standing since Reagan or longer. What's unclear about that? Does he imagine that DefSec Gates will go rogue and undermine the mission because he's not wild about it? That Mike Mullen will "forget" to arm some of the cruise missiles? Gimme a break.

The editor finishes off with, "It's time for the U.S. to back off and allow the United Nations to take the lead," apparently oblivious that this is exactly what the Mr Obama is doing. You see, US policy regarding Gaddafi is not relevant to the UN action in Libya. Two different things.

I guess the editor thought it was a documentary.
This is not difficult to parse out unless you're really hung up on the idea that wherever the US goes, the US must be in charge.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Editorial: Let us make it simple for you

"At times the editorials that appear in this space have received criticism for being too simplistic. We call them logical," says the unnamed Courier editor today, simultaneously expressing cocky smugness and deep insecurity about his ideas in this new world of instant and often relentless online backtalk. It's a pity he won't work harder to base his opinions in defensible reality.

(Note to Ed.: it's not that the commenters hate you, man, it's that you just aren't doing enough homework or thinking these things through.)

He professes a value on logic, then falls into the easiest logical fallacy, the false premise. Build your argument on sand and, no matter how carefully you follow the rules of engineering, it falls apart. This is freshman stuff.

Here it is: "States across this nation are struggling with deficits that are either the result of overspending in good years or revenue shortfalls because of the recession, or both." He states this as fact, but it is unadulterated, fact-free political spin.

State budget deficits themselves are pretty simple: revenues do not rise to meet projections, so you can't afford what you planned to buy. The why is much more complex. In Arizona's case, our Legislatures (and, to a lesser extent, we voters) have made it increasingly difficult to maintain a stable financial base for government services.

This has come about over decades of misrule based on a short-sighted ideology that despises taxes and pays only lip-service to good governance, selling us on simple ideas that sound sensible on the surface but prove to be stupid and counterproductive. Need examples?

The balanced-budget requirement. Requiring that expenditures match revenues in a given fiscal year means that the state cannot rationally undertake any long-term capital project, cannot put money aside in the fat times for use in the thin ones, and cannot borrow to cover unforeseen shortfalls. In other words, it cannot use any of the standard fiscal tools any normal business or household uses to moderate the effects of transient change or invest for the future.

Tax-cut fever. Persons suffering from this highly contagious malady see any surplus government revenue as a refund check for themselves. They make it far easier to reduce taxes than raise them, building in a structural spiral to the bottom. For them, taxes are always too high, no matter how low they fall in real terms.

Competing for industry on tax rates. Our legislators are widely bought into the idea that reducing tax obligations on the new businesses that they happen to like will cause them to flock here and set up shop. There are a dozen things wrong with this notion, but the bottom line is that it's just not true -- ask a manager of a large business about the criteria for locating a new operation, and state tax rates won't be in the top five -- and it doesn't work. It only reduces the state revenue stream, irrevocably.

Scrimping on education. Just as the most important factor for a successful society is smart citizens, the most important factor for successful business is skilled human resources. Our education spending, by far the largest component of the state budget, is essentially direct investment for our current and future prosperity. There's no substitute for good education, and there's no second chance to be seven years old. Our education spending is meager and ineffective by any standard you care to choose. Cutting it further when times are hard is tantamount to me cutting off my leg because I'm feeling hungry.

Resisting the inevitable. Like most people, our legislators are suspicious of the new and like what they're used to. In the wild it's a survival trait, but in a rapidly changing, complex world, it's anti-survival. The inability to see beyond the status quo prevents us from moving with the world rather than against it. This is as true for energy policy as it is for education or immigration policy. Our Legislature is right now doing its best to turn the clock back a hundred years. It will not work.

Warmongering. Armed conflict is expensive, and should never be undertaken lightly, whether it's in a foreign land or along our southern border. We Americans seem to have made a habit of picking pointless fights and wasting obscene amounts of money only to make ever more enemies. This, above all, is something we cannot afford.

Every dollar that our Legislature has collected as revenue or allocated to programs over the years was considered necessary by a majority of lawmakers. Broad-brushing this as "overspending" is thoughtless and unfair, and it undermines our political system. Was it all smart? Of course not, nor have the outcomes always lived up to the theory. But most legislators and governors have believed it to be the best they could do at the time, and most of them have been Republicans. Don't accept the editor's cheap shot at a certain former governor from the other party.

The editor's five-point plan for fiscal solvency lists some eminently sensible ways for an individual to act, but as public policy it's laughable, as idealistic and wrong as any sophomore's libertarian rant. Simple, sure. Useful? Worse than useless. Logical? Hardly.

If we're to have stable prosperity at any point in the future, we have to dig in and do the hard, crappy foundation work. We have to act like adults, invest heavy and long in education and health, and quit spending money and energy on frivolities like racism, gay-bashing, trying to control women's bodies, and flouting our obligations as members of this federal republic. By all means expect high value for your tax dollars,  but don't shortchange a kindergartner's ability to read just so you can have another double mocha latte.

Imperiled by Ignorance

Newsweek is carrying a think piece on the continuing failure of Americans to have much of a clue about what's going on, but it refreshingly goes beyond the how-dumb-we-are headline to fill in why ordinary ignorance is no longer something we can afford to tolerate.

Enumerating how many Americans can't answer simple questions just pisses off those among us who consider 'simplicity' a virtue. More discussion of why it isn't will be fundamental to moving forward on public policy to help build a happier, more competent society.

Added thought: It's vitally important that we somehow make ignorance unfashionable again. 

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Editorial: Fawning over rock-star rich guy

The unnamed Courier editor embarrasses himself with today's drooling sycophancy over a stock boilerplate speech by megarich gambler Warren Buffett, battering the reader with a barrage of cliche non-thoughts.

There was a time in this country when we admired people for what the produce. Buffett's clearly not the worst of his ilk, but his riches are won entirely by betting on the production of others. His comments were directed exclusively at others in his non-industry, they're not of any use to those of us who actually work for a living.

Casserly: Prescott's a long way from Big Apple

What a steaming pile of pointless self-indulgence! I am completely mystified as to why this drivel gets space in the paper at all, leave alone on the op-ed page.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Food for Thought

"Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. Among them are H. L. Hunt (you possibly know his background), a few other Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or business man from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid."

-- President Dwight D Eisenhower

Expanding the ag exemption

In Joanna's Sunday news story and today's editorial we learn about HB2552 and SB1183, legislation moving through both chambers that will extend the agricultural designation to land used for commercial breeding, boarding and training horses and other equine animals. Joanna's piece provides some detailed research pointing up the chain of custody for this idea, apparently starting with an additional 800 bucks in taxes for a Republican-connected rancher in Skull Valley. It seems our county assessor has been applying the letter of the law a little more assiduously than her predecessors have. Good for her, and good for the state.

The editorial expresses a surprising amount of heartburn over this pretty obvious favoritism and its sponsorship by our own Sen Steve Pierce and co-sponsorship by Rep Karen Fann.

From my reading of the bills, I don't think it's fair to imagine that this tax break will go to most of the horsey set in Williamson Valley, etc. The legislation clearly states that this is for commercial uses, and I think our assessors can figure out what's commercial and what's not.

What puzzles me is that it's moving through both houses with almost no dissent. Why are the Dems going along? Then I notice that the House bill includes as a non-commercial exception "equine rescue facilities," and I suspect there may have been a deal done. It looks like the Senate version meant to include this as well, but someone left the word 'rescue' out, maybe by mistake. From the rest of the bill it's clear Mr Pierce doesn't put much stock in proofreading. In any case I firmly doubt that our Dem legislators, almost all of whom represent urban districts, know much about this as an issue. I hope to get some firsthand info this week.

I support the purpose of the ag exemption, which is to encourage the local growing of food, something that benefits us all in many ways. I don't get how boarding riding horses (or, say, dogs) fits that mandate. The bill could have specified land supporting horse operations directly associated with a clearly related purpose, like cattle. It doesn't.
The abuse of the ag exemption by developers (like Mr Pierce) is irritating and costs us dearly. This appears to offer those developers a new way to abuse it. Closing that loophole would do a lot to raise the credibility of rural Republicans. (By the way, everyone, horses and cattle are not agriculture, they're husbandry. Sheesh.)

At any rate, kudos to Joanna for the research and to the unnamed editor for calling a spade a spade. Here's a cookie!