Monday, February 27, 2012

I love this

Concerned that there are better protections for business than your bodies, ladies? Here's a novel approach: Incorporate your uterus!

Babeu update: The feeding frenzy begins

ABC15 says it's been investigating this for five months. I gotta wonder whether last week's revelations finally got the story off the spike. Living with a 17-year-old under his charge? He'll be lucky to serve out his term if this gets legs.

Editorial: Hold your nose and vote

In the last days before an election it's customary to produce editorials urging voters to do their civic duty, and today we have the Courier's contribution, the pertinent portion consisting of four short sentences right at the end of the column. The rest is filler.
    Given the clown-car act that has been the Republican primary campaign, I'm not surprised at this phone-it-in performance. It's got to be dispiriting for any party loyalist.
    But these results are not random. The reason the field is so poor is right there in the filler: "It is the dedicated and committed few voting in a primary who set the choices for the majority in the November elections." And in today's Republican party, those few are dedicated and committed to repealing the 20th century, as Maureen Dowd wrote yesterday, "tripping over one another trying to be the most radical, unreasonable and insane candidate they can be."
    It's a bit pathetic to realize that for most voters in this country, showing up for the primary is considered a high degree of civic participation. But I have to disagree that it's the primary voters who are really making the decisions. Those belong to the sales and marketing teams that run the political parties. As in any corporation, these people value saleability over quality or substance, and you see the results in the headlines.
    Americans are encouraged constantly to devalue our political system, and we do. For the sake of making the quick sale, Republican operatives work tirelessly to fascinate Republican voters with trivialities, falsehoods and myths, giving their frightened customers the simple, comforting answers they crave. (Democrats are less effective at this because they're less organized and their voters are less fear-driven and more reality-conscious. Sorry, it's broadly true.)
    For the moment I'm quite happy to watch the Republican party tear itself to pieces, wasting its potency on pathetic dunces. But I have to hope that eventually the truly conservative voters will tire of the crazies and corporatists, cowboy up and take the party back from them. We need adults running the show on both sides of the aisle, because the challenges we're facing over the coming decades are very serious.
    Maybe the apathy and skepticism that the editor is addressing is a good sign.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Editorial: Allow high-achieving students to learn already

The unnamed editor goes off on the bill in the Legislature that would require most college students to put up at least 2,000 clams in cash.I agree wit the sentiment, but I gotta point out that the editor has undermined his argument by misunderstanding some of the facts.
    The editor unnecessarily conflates two kinds of education grants -- those that are need-based, and others that are based on academic achievement. This can be confusing because the bill specifically exempts those students who get a full ride based on being super-smart, and here the bill includes the word "solely," which is significant.
    Instead this bill is aimed specifically at the need-based grant, where a student has the grades to qualify for acceptance, but not the money. It would even prevent a relative from putting up the cash as a loan or gift. (How the state would enforce that is an interesting question, but it's there in black and white.)
     The schools will still furnish the grants, at least until the Legislature reduces their funding further. So the only clear purpose of this bill is to make it harder for kids from less well off families to get into our state university system. There's no clearer way to say it.
    Yes, many disadvantaged kids have to work hard academically to make up the gaps and qualify for admission, but that's a different level of academic achievement than the editor implies in the piece.
    The bill is disgraceful and mean-spirited, an embarrassment to any thinking being in the state, including those Republicans who haven't gone over the edge, as I've confirmed in personal conversations. But the over-the-edge crowd is powerful in our Legislature this year. A phone call to Rep Fann, Rep Tobin or Sen Pierce couldn't hurt.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

About that $4 gasoline

Following in lockstep with the rest of the media, Jason Soifer's story today reports the projection of $4/gal gasoline by the AAA, blaming it on worries about Europe and Iran, but leaving out crucial facts.
    The references to international concerns hint at what's really driving prices: speculation. Kevin Hall of McClatchy provides the details. Where speculation (meaning anyone in the market who's not planning to take delivery of what they buy) has traditionally been a roughly 30% component in fuel prices, right now it's running at over 60%, distorting the normal annual price cycle.
    The Dodd-Frank reform bill has charged the Commodity Futures Trading Commission with instituting new rules to reduce the market gambling that costs everyone so much, but thanks to Republican intransigence they can't take effect for another year.
    Meanwhile real demand for fuel in this country is consistently falling, and in a sane world that would mean steadily lower prices. But, taking a cue from the price-manipulation experts of OPEC, the US refiners are instead exporting fuel at record rates. The US is now a net exporter of gasoline and other refined products, demonstrating exactly what Big Oil would do with the additional resources they want in Alaska and the Keystone XL pipeline. The number of working American oil rigs has actually quadrupled under the Obama administration and domestic production is at an eight-year high, but that won't stop the Republican attack machine from blaming the President for higher prices.
    To make sense at all, any story on commodity prices should include the proportion of speculative effect and rates of real demand. This is just standard practice in journalism.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Editorial: Logic is too much to expect (Update: Entirely cribbed!)

Update, Thursday: Sometime this morning an attribution to "The Associated Press"  was added to the online edition.

Update, 7pm: This is why I love interactive comments. A couple of astute commenters on the editorial spotted that this piece has been circulating in syndication for at least a week, as near as papers in Colorado and as far away as The Jakarta Post. (I checked it out, it's true.) Is this really how it's done in the Courier editorial office now? Do I have to go out and google phrases from every editorial to see whether you're doing your own work, editors, like a junior-high English teacher? Ayayai.

So for every reference to "the editor" below, the reader should substitute "some hack writer somewhere."

Original post:
It's no surprise that the unnamed editor is setting out markers to attack the President. It's another election year. What's sort of sad is that his arguments hold no more firepower than a cap gun -- noisy, but irrelevant, and 100% fake.
   He's certainly popping those caps with vigor, though, accusing the President of "attempting ... to enlarge the entitlement society," meaning put more people on the dole, presumably so they'll vote for Dems who'll give them more benefits.He backs this up with a quote from former OMB Director Douglas Holtz-Eakin, slipping in "non-partisan" as a modifier. This is how we tell boldfaced lies in print. Holtz-Eakin was appointed by GW Bush, served three years, and wound up as budget director for the McCain campaign, so he's made a career of bashing Obama, culminating in frequent appearances on Fox News, where no doubt the editor found him. He's about as non-partisan as a Palin rally, and similarly credible.
   But let's get to the editor's "facts." He says the President's budget "avoids tough choices on the soaring costs of entitlements." This means that it doesn't sufficiently cut benefits that working people have paid for and earned over their lifetimes to suit the Republican drown-government-in-the-bathtub crowd. Instead it looks for revenues to help make up the revenue losses put in place by the Bush administration, because most Dems don't think dumping Granny off Social Security, out of her house and into the street to forage in trash cans is the right way to go. Presumably the editor disagrees.
   The editor seems particularly incensed that the President wants to spend $350 billion on additional economic stimulus measures (read: "jobs"), taking it be be a purely political ploy to attract votes. He clearly believes it's not possible that Obama really thinks that public spending is necessary to regrow the economy, as pretty much all serious economists have recommended publicly.
   So since this is a bribe to voters, which the editor seems to think will work, it will create "more takers," which I guess are people who are working at federally funded jobs. I'd like to see what happens when a Marine veteran of Iraq hears the editor refer to him as a "taker." But leaving that aside for the moment, this is what the editor calls the "entitlement society," so somehow a government-backed job becomes an "entitlement." I must have missed something in there, because the editor says that these people will be depending "on government for food stamps, retirement income, healthcare, job training and a host of other benefits." So I guess those government jobs will really suck, which ought to please a Republican. I'm confused.
   Oh, I get it, the editor was looking for a way to link up to that famous canard by de Toqueville about how our republic would survive only until we found out we can vote ourselves money from the public treasury. You know what, editor, it turns out that de Toqueville was wrong about that. We're still here, the oldest continuous republic on the planet. (Hint: If you were to actually read de Toqueville rather than grabbing an isolated quote off the net, you'd learn a lot about how European royalist thinking underestimated and misunderstood Americans at the time. I can lend you the book.)
   C'mon, editor, is that really all you've got? You're making your team look bad. Here's what you don't know: applying the President's budget (which won't happen, thanks to the kind of "thinking" demonstrated here) would help bring back the economy (including, indirectly, advertising for your paper, which has been pretty thin on the ground lately), it wouldn't cost you a nickel in additional taxes (and may save you some on your payroll tax), and it would reduce more spending than it adds. What's not to like? If a Republican were introducing this, you'd be telling us all how great it is and I'd be complaining that it doesn't go anywhere near far enough. Which I am doing, and that ought to make you feel better.

Want to hear the other side? Facts and figures at

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Editorial: GOP candidates crack crooked

In which the unnamed editor expresses some frustration that the Republican presidential candidates aren't offering useful rhetoric on addressing issues that engage Republican voters.
   I'd be lying if I said I feel the editor's pain, since idea-free platitudes and tired playground taunts are the standard playbook for the Rs in election season, and this year it appears that voters really are looking for something more substantial, which is good for the country.
    It's hard to know what to make of his penultimate paragraph, where he rolls out three disjointed sentence fragments with question marks after them. But sometimes I know we have to write for length on short deadlines.

Not much of a photographer, either.
   You have to admire how the editor manages a way to bring in this week's media hoot-fest over Sheriff Paul Babeu, though. For a journalist it's irresistible, of course -- he had to write something about it. So he shoehorned it into this column using its possible effect on Romney's campaign, uprightly naming only the real issues -- Babeu's alleged threats and romantic connection with someone he may have thought was illegal -- and saying nothing about the ones that will really ick out the right-wingers -- he's gay and he put nekkid pics of himself on the Web. You can't make this stuff up.
   The editor should know that the Babeu imbroglio will have negligible effect on the primary -- if it's not in commercials on Fox, most R primary voters won't hear about it.
   What's funny is that while the editor never did anything of the sort, some of the right-wing commenters are jumping up and down on him for playing the gay card, showing exactly how much it really does matter to them even as they insist it doesn't. Precious.
   In case you missed it, it was the Phoenix New Times that broke the Babeu story, and deserves more readers for it.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Cantlon: Garbage in, garbage out

In his column today Tom highlights the danger of monocultural news-sourcing, which not only can but inevitably does skew your perspective on the world. He frames it in terms of left-right politics, and I'm afraid he doesn't go anywhere near far enough.
    Most Americans believe that we live in the most open society in the world in terms of the variety of opinions and perspectives that our media bring us. But most anyone who's done any serious time outside the wire in the larger world will tell you that it's not what it seems.

It may seem alarmist, but it's truer than any of us
would like to believe.
    We live in the North Korea of materialist consumerism. What look like competing, opposite worldviews here are only subtly different flavors of the same pap to the rest of the world. The American ideological landscape is a giant ant-lion trap, pulling us closer to the jaws even as we think we're walking away. And the idea that we're free to choose makes the pervasive propaganda more effective. North Koreans think they're free, too.
    I learned how this works when I first got involved professionally in the propaganda business, back in the mid-'80s. I started getting work editing business news and communications, still my bread and butter today, and I needed more depth in the lingo, so I subscribed to The Economist. As its title suggests, this weekly publication, part newspaper and part magazine, primarily covers news and analysis about business and economics. But at least half its pages are dedicated to some of the best detailed news reporting in the world, bar none. It is erudite, excellently written for educated professionals, and its coverage is broad, worldly and international. It's dense and meaty, making Time and Newsweek look like supermarket coupon flyers, and it takes days to get through it. I studied up and it helped me a lot in my business.
    But after a couple of years I noticed that I had gradually started seeing everything in terms of money. The core perspectives of the paper's editors, despite their obvious high value on editorial objectivity and integrity, had seeped through between the lines and stained my value set. I spent a couple of months looking for conscious propaganda moves in the paper, but never found them. I canceled my subscription, and after a few months found that I got better. Since then I've been a lot more guarded about what I read -- not reading less, but rather reading more consciously.
    Our pervasive consumer culture, with its attendant sense of powerlessness, its low regard for spiritual and community values, and its mechanical simplicity, is the blinders on American culture today. Its messages are literally everywhere, inescapable if we're engaged with the world at all. Its central purpose is to get us to buy stuff, but the related values and methods infect everything we see and think, especially our politics. While I don't believe in a grand malevolent conspiracy, the results are indistinguishable.
    There exists no wonderland of objectivity anywhere on the planet, but outside this country the values and cultures are far less powerful and more competitive. Many nations actively control their media to better reflect the values of their culture, and while this sounds like totalitarianism to Americans, it also helps keep the consumerist wolf at bay, and there's a lot to be said for that. The competing voices coming across borders, so hard to find here, provide broader and more diverse perspectives for those willing to pay attention.
    So when Tom writes, "constant exposure to only one view really does ... limit your thinking," I hasten to add the warning that American media, left, right and "center," really do give us a remarkably uniform view of the world that is broadly inimical to our interests as individuals and communities.Our only defense is to be constantly and positively skeptical and conscious about the messages that bombard us daily, checking in with our internal values and aware of the larger context and bias of our mediated culture as a whole.

PS: Commercial television sucks your brain out through your eye sockets. There is literally no value there. For the survival of your own ability to think, get it out of your life. Try it for a couple of weeks and see what happens to your head. More here.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Editorial: So now you're sick of campaigns

As the Arizona Republican presidential primary approaches, the unnamed Courier editor is getting tired of all the political campaigning, and proposes taking a few moves from the UK system, including limits on campaign expenditures by parties, a ban on purchasing broadcast time, and shorter campaign seasons.

    With this he demonstrates utter cluelessness about the differences between the US and UK political systems, which is not all that surprising given the limits and Amerika-centricity of our education system and media. More to the point, he seems to have missed  the entire debate over campaign finance reform of the past couple of decades and the crushing blow to our democratic institutions that was the Citizens United decision by our sadly misguided SCOTUS.
    The editor's innocent fantasy of getting political attack ads out of his football games on teevee is literally impossible now without an amendment to the Constitution revoking corporate personhood and the direct equivalence of money and speech.
    Sure, we can wax romantic all we like about candidates taking the high road, but we might also hope that the guy with the butter knife might win against the guy with the tank. If you want a fair fight, editor, you'll have to start advocating stronger medicine for our failing system, and quick.
   You can join the campaign to amend the Constitution here or here. If that doesn't interest you, you're blowing smoke, so enjoy the mudfights.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Sincere, innocent bungling will hamper public-art policy

I've been watching the developing story of a public-art policy for Prescott, and as usual our town is a few years late to the gate, so the insane events at Granite Creek Park and Miller Valley School have sparked a reactionary process that will inevitably be about preventing controversy. Artists will be perfectly right to look on this with doubt if not suspicion.
    Unfortunately the City exacerbated the problem with its first move, in which it handed the hot potato to Elizabeth Ruffner and the Prescott Area Arts and Humanities Council with practically no public process.
    I served three years on the PAAHC board of directors and I believe the organization has the potential to be useful to artists and contribute to the community in important ways. But its modern incarnation has yet to find a clear mission or clear benefit for membership, making it a small, self-selected interest group, plagued with the inevitable weaknesses of such groups.
    This is not to say that PAAHC is incapable of doing the job. Rather, Council should have spent some time hearing public input on who should take on the responsibility and establishing credibility both for the process and the decision-makers. Score another hamhanded, amateur move for Council.
     Now PAAHC has to step up and establish its credibility with the public on its own. From what I've seen, it has selected a committee of officers and members, again without public process or deliberation, and set to. Score another hamhanded, amateur move for PAAHC.
     Elizabeth Ruffner's status as spokesperson for the arts community is entirely informal, based on her decades of work on behalf of the arts in Prescott as well as her status as matriarch of one of Prescott's old cowboy families. I do not doubt her sincerity or her political clout, but her political style favors the good-ol'-boy network and keeping things controlled and inside, which will lead inevitably to doubt among outsiders about any decision the group makes. Her organizational and leadership skills have been formed entirely in small-town Prescott, and her history over the past twenty years or so demonstrates her limitations in this area.
    Cindy Gresser is also a sweetie-pie and will bring a lot of positive energy to the project. But like Ms Ruffner, she's a fan, not a professional, thrust into a position of responsibility at Smoki Museum by circumstances rather than merit or training. The political situation at the museum has been in disarray for years, with Ms Gresser continually at the center of the storm. This does not inspire public confidence, whatever the facts are behind it.
   The best thing PAAHC could do at this point is rethink its strategy and start over. The obvious political heat around this issue requires a wide-open process that puts respected arts professionals in the key positions, publicly referencing established, successful precedents in other cities and inviting both professional and public input in open sessions that have been carefully and widely promoted. No one in Prescott should have the slightest reason to believe that they could not have participated if they'd just got up off the couch, or bitch about it afterward.
   PAAHC has a few extra-smart people already working on the committee (you know who you are), and I hope they'll be able to persuade the good-ol'-boy network to loosen up on this and stand back for the good of the project.
   Getting this one right could finally boost PAAHC up to organizational credibility. Getting it wrong, as it seems to be going now, will doom both the policy and the organization.

La Grande Vitesse by Alexander Calder, commissioned in 1967 as the centerpiece of the new government complex in Grand Rapids, MI, my home town. It was instantly accepted as the city's logo, a tradition that continues today. Public art matters, and can have huge impact if we let it.
Update, Saturday: Note the comment below by Charlene Craig, which is right on point and adds a lot to the discussion. On reflection, I'm concerned that the process will go beyond preventing controversy to the active exclusion of whole categories of human thought, issues and even people. Bear in mind that the manufactured controversy over the Miller Valley School mural was about excluding people of color as "not representative of Prescott." We could easily see the process pandering to the culture warriors and ensuring that the policy requires public art to be pretty, dull and non-threatening to right-wing sensibilities. I'd have to wonder whether the Vietnam memorial on the square would pass muster in the current political climate.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Editorial: Hang 'em high

One of the inherent weaknesses of conservatism is the inability to stop doing something when it doesn't work. The conservative's response instead is to do more of it.
   So it is with the unnamed editor and today's editorial, stumping for Rep Eddie Farnsworth's HB2373, which would increase minimum sentencing for certain repeat felons and maximum sentences for others in cases first- and second-degree murder.

Tell me how this improves anything.
   The editor agrees with Rep Farnsworth that judges, juries and parole boards cannot be trusted to fulfill their responsibilities to evaluate the character and actions of individuals in assigning and enforcing sentences. He prefers that we legislate sentences instead, removing the human element and therefore, he thinks, the possibility that scary criminals get out of prison to scare again. On some people he wants to throw away the key.
   What he's also apparently willing to throw away is our justice system, or more precisely the parts of it that focus on anything other than penalties. In the editor's world, all we'd need are cops to develop evidence, laws that describe the penalties, and prison guards to warehouse the transgressors.
    I certainly understand the reflex to punish those who break society's rules. It'd be nice if punishment worked. But it doesn't, particularly for the sort of person the editor imagines as "the worst of the worst." True sociopaths are mentally ill, and incarceration with other bad actors only exacerbates that illness, increasing the risk to society. Less enlightened societies simply kill them (or sometimes elevate them to dictator status). If we hope to reduce the risk of violence by people with mental challenges like this, we really need to focus a lot more on treatment.
   What the editor's conservative blinders won't admit is that non-sociopaths will be swept up in this hang-'em-high net, and mandatory sentencing takes a bad act and turns it into a career, again increasing the risk and cost to society.
   Violent crime has been decreasing steadily for decades, and will continue to do so, not because of incarceration but in spite of it, due to inevitable demographic changes. Aren't we better off trusting our judicial professionals and our juries to do their jobs? I expect the editor would certainly feel that way if he found himself in the dock.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Doing my job for me

Thanks to commenter "Silly Editorial" for the response to today's editorial, in which the editor buys the Republican propaganda move wholesale:

Do you not get that the point of this was to deny government employees a cost of living raise? I agree that Congress' performance has been terrible, but 595 people making $174,000 per year is probably the smallest impact of this vote. The real impact is on millions of federal employees, and is totally unrelated to their performance, other than the fact that they are being scapegoated for people's dissatisfaction with American politics.
Couldn'ta said it better.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Cantlon: Occupy redistricting!

In today's column Tom rightly calls foul on the efforts of Speaker Andy Tobin and Senate President Steve Pierce to subvert the will of the voters and get around the independent redistricting process. There is far too little reporting on this in the press and it really deserves much more extensive public attention.
    I spotted an interesting piece in The Atlantic today that I think adds a very significant but underappreciated point. Republicans are inspired to resist the redistricting changes because they see increasing political clout for minorities and Democrats, and from that they infer a biased process. Nate Berg reports that demographic changes over the past decade are turning the entire mountain West more Hispanic, more urban and therefore more purple. Any fair redistricting effort will naturally reflect these changes.
    If you need some sort of good news to get you through the day, you may appreciate the back half of Tom's column, but it's unrelated to his main point and feels like filler to me.