Monday, January 30, 2012

Tree, meet forest

In today's opinion headline the unnamed Courier editor exhorts us all to "Hang up, or a law will tell you to," but as his thesis he seems to have cast a handful of random thoughts into the air and printed them as they fell.
   He is of course referring to today's public irritant du jour, the cellphone, and the threat that our clown-car Legislature may pass one of various flavors of law against using one while driving. He cites statistics, then says the statistics don't matter. He recognizes that there are all sorts of distractions that can cause driving hazards, then refocuses on cellphones as somehow exceptional, without an argument to support the idea. Overall he seems to berate the reader to be responsible to prevent a new "restriction on our freedoms," one of which is presumably the freedom to talk on the phone while driving.
   As usual, it's not seeing the forest for the trees. From the perspective of everyone outside that car, it's not the cellphone that's the problem, it's the driver's distraction. Neither the bills' sponsors nor the editor apparently understand that we already have a law in place providing a substantial penalty for distracted driving. There's simply no point making more. This is another case of lawmakers (and the editor) jumping up and down over their pet peeves and skipping their homework.
   This kind of reactionism isn't new or unusual, of course. What's instructive here is that in exercising his knee reflex, the editor demonstrates the helpless simplicity of shouting at traffic. The irresponsible minority will never hear a message like this, addressed to another minority, antiques like me who still read newspaper op-ed pages. People distract themselves while driving because they don't take driving seriously. For this minority, it takes direct acquaintance with serious danger and physical consequences to provide the wake-up call, not laws and not op-eds.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Editorial: Moral obligations outweigh logistics

CVFD: Should we stay or should we go?
In discussing the awful story of a rural house burning down while the nearest fire department refused to respond because the homeowners hadn't paid for the service, the unnamed editor seems to say that "moral obligations," as he puts it in his headline, should stand above the few bucks involved, and that's good. But he says it in such a mealy-mouthed way that the editorial seems to have a foot on either side of the fence.
   This situation has come up several times since I've lived in Prescott, it always makes the non-responding organization look bad, and nothing changes, because it's accepted that the homeowners didn't pay, therefore they accepted the risk of losing their homes. Fire resources have to be reserved for those who pay.
   But consider this: CVFD is saying that it could have responded if the homeowner had paid, so the only real logistical difference between a saved house and cinder pile is a few bucks in the district's bank account.
   The editor's sadly muffled point is that if you have the ability to help, you have the responsibility to help. That makes a lot of sense to me. Either the fire crews can or cannot reach the scene and be effective, and if they can, their own organizational mission should require that they try. People get this instinctively. When larger-scale catastrophes occur, fire crews will transport out of state to help. It makes no sense that they can't respond to a fire at this house when they can to one a quarter mile farther down the same road.
   The core problem that the editor seems afraid to touch is the subscription system, which favors those who are more able to pay. This really needs to go, and rural communities have to start thinking in more inclusive terms than who's willing to put up twenty bucks a month. The system as it stands clearly does not work.

Update, Monday:  The CVFD chief responds in this Sunday story, but the focus remains entirely on the finances and resources and off the mission. The comments add some pertinent details, such as how close the house was to the district line.

The wagging-finger story

The now-famous pic of Governor Brewer wagging her finger in the President's face is clearly overhyped on both sides of the political spectrum and another case of the media leaping on events that reinforce the preferred narrative, whether or not the facts support it. But when there are actual lies involved, we have to pay attention.
   Paul Davenport's AP story, carried in today's print edition on 9A, repeats Brewer's assertion that Obama "walked away" from her while she was in the middle of a sentence. The White House responded to this with dismissal, but no apparent denial. Not widely reported is the account of Mesa Mayor Scott Smith, who was there and says that it didn't happen that way at all.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Out to lunch for the weekend

Remarkably incoherent even for the Courier, today's editorial had my head spinning trying to parse the unnamed editor's carnival-ride argument, in which he attempts to paint the President as a socialist for -- get this -- deporting illegals.
   He starts out with standard right-wing magical thinking, identifying "to close or control the border" as an "easy answer." He then advocates a "contrarian approach" that he never gets around to describing.
   Then he goes right off the rails, claiming without citation, "according to the Associated Press, President Barack Obama's fourth year in office will be the 12th consecutive year that Americans have lived under a socialistic, Big Government answer to immigration." Yup, he's saying that over two terms Bush the Younger followed a "socialistic" approach, and then Obama took it further.
   He explains with this whipsaw head-spinner: "Socialists like to control the workforce and the freedom to roam, so aggressive immigration policies come naturally."
   So it appears that the editor accidentally flipped the channel away from Fox News for a second and has discovered that the Obama administration has been deporting far more illegals than the Bushites, for all their yammering about the Brown Peril, ever got around to. The only way he can explain this to himself is to confuse socialism with authoritarianism.
   But then the crafty socialists switched strategies again, and it must be to win back those illegal voters, who were presumably thinking of supporting Newt. Ultimately the editor seems to like the change, but blames the Prez for playing politics with the issue.
   Here in the reality-based world, what happened is that the Obama administration came into office and immediately began working on practical policy to address the widespread fear the Republicans whipped up over nothing -- in other words, responding to a popular complaint with practical action. It focused on apprehending and deporting criminal aliens, reporting record numbers and putting the Bushites to shame. Regular non-criminal illegals were not a target in the federal plan, that was Arpaio, Babeu and their ilk. There's no new policy, only a restatement of what's already working and a PR connection with the Utah Compact, which has been gaining traction here as well. This is the part that the editor suddenly likes, because some Republicans have given him permission to like it.
   The editorial demonstrates in excruciating detail how a dedicated right-wing mind has to contort itself to approve of any action by a perceived adversary -- cramming square pegs into round holes, scrambling the timeline and finding any possible way to see it as objectionable.

And no, I can guarantee that the AP never said "Obama's fourth year in office will be the 12th consecutive year that Americans have lived under a socialistic, Big Government answer to immigration." Some wacko pundit sold as part of the AP suite may have said something like that, but ascribing it to a news source is completely wrong and a vile distortion.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Editorial: Anti-piracy bills

The unnamed editor gets it right, more or less, but about two weeks late. When we're talking about public policy in the making, you have to inform people while it's still possible for them to have a say in it. Reactive editorializing is useless here.

Wiederaenders: A little harmless brown-nosing

In his weekly "whatever" column, Courier editor Tim Wiederaenders can't help but leak some foamy effusion over getting a personal audience with our LD1 legislators, with an extra lick or two at the boots of Speaker Tobin for his "heck of a memory and ... his eye on the ball." The commenters are doing a good job identifying the sort of ball Mr Tobin has been eyeing, and all I need add is a Congressional desk in Washington.

Lest we forget
   While I understand the optics of getting us out from under the awful deal our Legislature (including the three Tim is praising here) made to pawn our state buildings -- and not incidentally eliminate it as an election issue -- I agree that we could be spending the money on higher priorities right now. (Thanks to the impressive negotiating powers of the Leg, the buyback will cost exactly the same at any point in the coming nine years or so.)
   But where Tim writes, "Said another way, instead of burning the mortgage on three state buildings this year, it would be better to, oh, provide healthcare for however many thousands of people through AHCCCS," I'm confident that he's going a lot further than Mr Tobin ever will. Andy's spending priority will be on more tax breaks for business, leaving health care for the working poor somewhere around dead last.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Must read: Obama's long game

Andrew Sullivan has a piece in Newsweek giving the view from 50,000 feet of Obama's first term and the great deal he's accomplished despite unrelenting vilification from the right and unrealistic expectations on the left. The election will keep us deep in the weeds for the coming ten months, so this is a good opportunity to take a breath and reassess: How Obama's Long Game Will Outsmart His Critics

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Editorial: Scared of the dark

Today the unnamed Courier editor hops up and down about the idea of cuts to the military. Apparently he missed how much we've spent and how little we've gained in warmaking over the past, oh, I dunno, six decades or so.
   We've all grown up as citizens of the American Empire, so it's no surprise that the editor is enthralled by the myths that have sustained it for so long. It's disappointing, however, that someone we depend on to understand public policy issues is so poorly educated in them.
   In our warmaking policy, the concept of "threat to national security" is defined so broadly that it can be stretched to justify military intervention in any economic dispute or ordinary criminal behavior. The underlying purpose of this is not security for Americans, but rather securing profits for warmaking corporations and votes for warmongering politicians. It is also a license for allies to spend their money on building social and business infrastructure instead of defense, thereby eating our lunch for us in business and quality of life, or worse, maintaining policies of aggression against their neighbors and even their own people.
   If we were to redefine "threat to national security" to sensible limits, such as "imminent military threat to the physical security of US persons or the territorial integrity of the US or treaty allies," we could obviously reduce our military commitments by 80% or more.
   This will not happen, as most Americans have bought into the editor's idea that we are under constant existential threat by dark forces everywhere, and our military policy is insane as a result. But what we learned in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union, that it never had anything like the capabilities or aggressive motivations that our government ascribed to it for so many years, ought to give everyone pause.
   We have a ridiculously big military not because there's any real threat, but rather because we are collectively frightened of our own shadow. It's time to grow up and get over it.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

No-news Wednesday

I've been hearing lots of news of online content providers going dark on Wednesday, and I realized I'm an occasional provider as well, so I should get with the program. So Courierwatch will be offline on Wednesday as well, in solidarity. (I know, big whup.)
   The issue is the Stop Online Piracy Act and the new legal tools it would provide for censoring online content, as well as its scattershot, blame-the-messenger approach. Regular readers know I'm no fan of the Wild West online atmosphere so beloved of fourteen-year-olds, nor of taking intellectual works willy-nilly without paying for them, which is the baby in this bathwater. But Congress does not have this right, and protests are having some effect in forcing the bad guys to climb down. Again. (Hint: they won't ever quit.)

Update, 5pm Wednesday: Wow, I had no idea my readers are so influential! Support for SOPA crumbled in Congress today. Power to the people, man.

  Editorial: Stop Blaming Public Ed Big cookie for the unnamed Courier editor today as he lambastes the Legislature and parsimonious voters for defunding education and complaining about the results.
   This editorial shows progress in style as well as substance, moving past the forced folksiness of late to a more direct and real voice.
   He slips a bit where he tries a little too hard to distribute blame equally -- the schools don't decide how many days of instruction to provide, that's the Leg again.
   But the sentiment is correct. We can't go on with this regressive minstrel show. Education is far too serious an issue to play political games over. I might hope our legislators take this to heart, but let's say I have reason for doubt.

Must read: Half-Truths About the American Dream

Bob Lord has a fascinating think piece on Blog for Arizona about the millions of Americans who are left out of the conversation on economic justice even by the Left, and why it's important to expand our values beyond mere opportunity.

Worth your time: Half Truths About the American Dream

Everyone should know: Romney Owns Rush, et al.

Wouldn't it be weird if national opinion leaders owed their livings to a national political candidate?

Check it out: Bain Capital Owns Clear Channel (Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Michael Savage, Etc.)

Instructive historical example: William Randolph Hearst

You could see it another way as well -- if Romney's depending on Rush et al. for income, Rush owns Romney. Given Romney's demonstrated willingness to bow to idols of the far right that he clearly doesn't believe in, this may be the more salient angle.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Bill's back

Bill Moyers is returning to teevee tonight in most markets, and I expect a lot of us in the blue spectrum are looking forward to his committed, intelligent discussion and discourse on issues vital to our society. You'll be able to view the new show, Bill Moyers & Company, online starting tonight. Bookmark

Editorial: Showboats for Jesus

Who says Jews can't play football?
Regular readers know that I don't do sports and don't give a rat's behind about them, but the editorial today is but one example of how sports stories leak out into the adult media, so I've been aware of the sports idol of the week and his onfield antics.
   The unnamed editor deserves the rolling eyes he's getting today for his feigned puzzlement with religious showboatry. You'd have to be much thicker than I know the editor to be  to not get what's going on out there.
   The editor's supposedly parallel examples prove that Tim Tebow is an exception even as he asserts that his onfield prostrations are somehow normal. Greenberg and Koufax chose not to play -- stayed off the field -- humbly following the rules of their religion. In clear contrast, Muhammad Ali boasted of his religion as an expression of pride, and that's exactly what this silly quarterback is doing. You can't stand on a field with millions watching and pretend you're not playing to the crowd.
   The silliness of casting oneself as a warrior for gad while playing a child's game of mock combat is beyond laughable, and in a sane society might be properly diagnosed as a call for psychological help.
   But beyond the obvious pridefulness that somehow the editor doesn't get, these are expressions designed to include fellow devotees and exclude infidels, to separate the believer from nonbelievers. They are clear acts of culture war that break with our common traditions of sportsmanship and public decorum, which till now always cast such things as errors of taste at best. That's why they get attention, from the rabble and from the editor. This evangelical is in effect daring anyone to call him on his self-absorption, so he can bask in the glory of imagined persecution.
   The reader would be wise to bear in mind that commercial sports competitions are no more real than any other entertainment, and the characters you see are actors on stages, whether they're walking footlights or astroturf, scripted and directed. The play is metaphorical, the messages often subtle, and if you only look at the surface, you've wasted the price of your ticket.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Shocked, shocked!

The prurient finger-wagging going on over the Marines who were dumb enough to get caught wagging their extra fingers over some dead opponents (or victims) is pushing my ack-meter to the limit.

   Anyone involved in war on the ground knows firsthand that this is not aberrant behavior, it's common and always has been. How could it be otherwise? We train kids to be brutes, to kill, to hate whatever enemy is convenient today, yet we can't stand to see the brutal results. From the media to the pious government and military officials to Joe Six-Pack at the business end of his glass teat, it's hypocrisy of the highest order.
   What these kids are being pilloried for isn't what they did, but rather letting the folks back home find out about it in all its graphic ignominy. I'm sure this sort of behavior is no secret to the Afghans and Iraqis we've been routinely brutalizing for a decade.
   If we really hope to ensure that this doesn't happen anymore, our only choice is to get out of the war business, folks.

Editorial: Whaddaya expect?

The unnamed editor fuzzily reacts to recent examples of large corporations having to back down on boneheaded, tone-deaf attempts to wring a few more pennies out of their customers. Like the rest of the media, he misses the forest for the trees.

If you haven't seen "Network," do. Right away.
   I'm gratified to be able to note an unusual agreement with frequent commenter Tom Steele (who I know to be much more personable over coffee than in his writing), who gets an important piece of the truth when he writes, "it seems the link between top management and the real world has broken down." This is a lot of it, in a nutshell.
   The people who inhabit the top echelons of large corporations do not live in the same world that we do. The wealth that they take for granted does not allow ten bucks a month to matter, or even register as real. So when a bean-counter comes to the boss with a proposal to boost profits by .01% (and the value of their stockholdings by 2% = a couple million clams) by adding an insignificant fee, why not? Who would care?
   We 99%ers have historically accepted this sort of monetary paper cut without complaint. Have you thought about the fee breakdown on your phone bill or water bill lately? And whole industries have been able to successfully institute fees that most of us see as outrageous simply by acting as cartels. The airline fuel surcharges and baggage fees leap to mind. The top corporate dogs have been given every reason to think they can probably get away with this stuff.
   But it's not that corporate leadership is any further out of touch now than at any time in the past few decades. What's changed is that regular, normal people are finally reaching the limits of what they'll take without complaint. They've had enough, and they're not gonna take any more.
   Events like this encourage me to hope that the Occupy movement has moved from the streets into the popular consciousness. If we can now move beyond the I-me-my concerns of the individual purse to concern about how our society actually works, we'll be making real progress.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Missing letter

Odd: The letter from Alexandrea Horner about child sexualization is in the print edition, but not Why, I wonder?

Editorial: What PV said

Today the unnamed Courier editor earns his second Barcalounger since the departure of Ben Hansen for a shameless puff piece for Prescott Valley in the editorial space, involving neither analysis, editorial opinion nor even a public issue. Waste of space.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Brewer vs medpot

A story by Phoenix state-beat reporter Paul Davenport in today's edition reports that Governor Brewer has been thrown out of court again in her attempt to establish that state workers are liable under federal law and so the state cannot license dispensaries for medical cannabis. A lot of commenters are throwing well deserved  heads of overripe cabbage at her for this, but there's another angle worth considering.

Brewer: "Triffids! Run!"
   The court is saying that the state has no standing to sue until it has credible evidence or threat of harm, and that rings true, but there's also no question that the federal gubmint really does not want a ruling on the core question, at least not yet.
   The eventual ruling on this question will turn either on a real case of a state worker being federally indicted for administering state law, which has not happened so far and seems vanishingly unlikely (unless Rick Santorum somehow wins), or on the clear absence of federal action against any state worker.
   If the latter proves out, and it seems likely to me, the federal courts will have said in essence that the feds have been doing the right thing and may not interfere with state laws in this regard. This will turn the issue over to the states, invalidate any federal policy on medpot, and open the door wide for more medpot programs and state regulation (and taxation) of cannabis.
   The unavoidable inconsistency of both federal and state laws regarding cannabis will eventually force the public to face the issue of broader legalization in a more practical context. California may pass its legalization initiative soon, which will put an accelerator on the process nationwide.
   So Governor Brewer, in her clumsy haste to stop medpot here, may be doing more to ensure its institution. Go, Jan!

Update, Jan 13: Damn, she dropped the suit!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Must read: Krugman nails it again

Before the Occupy movement stole the headlines, Americans heard a lot about how terrible it is to use debt to leverage our economy, create jobs and prime the economic pump. The headlines are behind us for the time being, but a lot of reasonable people have adopted concern about public debt. Nobel-winning economist Paul Krugman speaks for the majority of real economists (as opposed to political economists) in continually trying to educate Americans about vital economic issues, and his current NYT column covers our common misconceptions about debt in a very informative way: Nobody Understands Debt

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Editorial: Lessons in responsibility

Today the unnamed Courier editor references the attempted assassination of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and the killings of six others last year to make a responsible point about the tenor of our public discourse that encourages the weak-minded to radicalization and violence. This vital topic has been missing from these pages till now, and hear, hear.
   But there's one important element missing. The editor writes of "a political discourse that, while considered provocative for generations before, now takes vile viral. Previously-unheard of levels of amplified propaganda spread like wildfire via the Internet and 21st century social networks. Self-editing is a thing of the past. Untrue statements become permanent public record for billions to access in minutes. Scurrilous opinions become the information superhighway's proverbial red meat for an audience looking to radicalize their (sic) own ideologies."
    Yup, the trash talk the editor despises is only on the Internet. Not in the mainstream media, not in The Daily Courier. Not his fault.
    I'll be more convinced of the editor's sincerity when I see evidence that he's vetting the weekly right-wing rent-a-columns, ranting letters and his own editorials to eliminate the lies, distortions and hate speech that fuel resentment, bigotry and intolerance. Perhaps he can then move on to assign someone to enforce his comments policy against personal attacks. There's a lot to do. Drive the snakes from your own nest first.

Monday, January 2, 2012

New Year's Day hike

Lots of people, dogs and horses out on the trail on Sunday. Great day for it too!

Juniper snag near Williamson Valley trailhead, Sunday

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Thought for 2012

Let's not wait for the end of the world as we know it -- let's bring it on, and make a better world happen.