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.