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.