Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Editorial: Federal, state laws keep butting heads

The unnamed Courier editor is confused: While the feds have struck down such laws in other states, why has Arizona's voter-ID law stood for years, yet we continue to have federal lawnforcement threatening to come after our medpot growers and even state employees? In standard conservative fashion, he seeks a simple answer to a complex question, and in so doing shows only surface understanding of pretty much everything he's talking about here.
    First, placing the two laws in the same category because they were both passed by initiative is completely fallacious. The courts look at the content and effects of a given law, not how it was written.
    Using Voter ID as a yardstick for a clean law remains an open question. The legal challenge to it is still in the works at the Ninth Circuit, which took oral arguments on it last June. So we have "the feds" challenging both laws. The contrast doesn't hold up.
    Looking to history, it was action by individual states that finally broke the back of Prohibition. That's what's happening now, albeit more slowly and incrementally, with medical cannabis laws. With this sort of progressive movement, surviving court challenge is partly the point.
    Regressive moves like Voter ID, on the other hand, are political tactics designed to help win elections by playing on voter fears. Those who truly understand the law on both sides of the political spectrum know that these are temporary structures that will eventually fall under legal scrutiny.Arizona's version of Voter ID has not fallen as fast as those in Texas and South Carolina because it is not as draconian, that's all. You have to look at the details.
    The real guffaw moment in the piece is here, though: "State elections officials should be more diligent before initiatives go to the ballot, vetting conflicts with federal law." This seems to be criticizing the medpot initiative, which was very carefully and extensively drawn, and the Secretary of State for allowing it to go forward. Like he had a choice. As established in the Arizona constitution, initiatives written in crayon on the back of a bar napkin in five minutes can become unassailable law with the consent of the voters. "Elections officials" can have no part in writing, editing or "vetting" initiatives, only in determining that they properly jump the legal hoops to get on the ballot.
     This in the context of our state legislators constantly writing and voting for new laws designed only to give the middle finger to clear and established federal law, stuff their own lawyers tell them will never fly.
    It looks like the editor really just wants things to be easy. Easy to do, easy to understand, easy to forget about. That choice isn't on the table, I'm afraid. Democracy is difficult, requiring that we pay attention.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Feeling wonky? Here's your chance

They say to pass it on:

Want to be more informed about the issues in local elections? Maybe you or someone you know might want to run for Prescott city council or serve on a city commission...? Spend a morning learning more about how the city of Prescott really functions. Saturday April 7 - and it's free. (details below and in the attachment.)

This is a NON-PARTISAN effort to help educate Prescott citizens with an emphasis on facts about how our city government is structured, what's the budget authority, etc. This session is not about issues per se.

Please pass this on to Prescottonians who might be interested.

Saturday, April 7th, 2012
9:30 AM-11:30 AM

Prescott College Crossroads Center- 220 Grove Avenue

Come learn about the authority of the Prescott City Government and the power of citizen involvement.

Presented by Elisabeth Ruffner and the Prescott Good Governance Committee

FREE and light refreshments will be provided

Note: There's no additional info in the attachment

Editorial: We seemingly kinda don't like this, maybe.

The headline on today's editorial makes a bold statement. The column itself, however, is so qualified and mealy-mouthed that you can almost see the editor squirming to get out of the assignment.
    The issue is Republican attacks nationally and locally on users of birth-control medications, trying to allow religionists to restrict coverage for employees, invade their privacy and even subject them to dismissal. This is wrong, and the editor could have said that. It appears that the idea that it's wrong was agreed in the editorial committee meeting. But the editorial dances around it.
    Starting at the top -- "Women are seemingly and perhaps unwittingly being shoved into the spotlight this year" -- the confusion is evident. The Courier has a long and storied history of eliminating the passive voice, even at the expense of sense, and here it's the other way around. It obscures the agent doing the thrusting -- the Republican religionists -- leaving a mishmash of adverbs characterizing women, who are obviously neither "seeming" or "unwitting" in the attack on them. But this is what happens when a writer can't bring himself to criticize his political team directly.
    He trips over his own typewriter in trying to say something sensible: "What a woman decides, no matter her convictions, is her business." I have to wonder what kind of mental short-circuit it takes to commit this nonsensical statement to paper and pass it through proofreading.
    Every time the editor reaches a point where the reader might expect a call to action, he fades: "Candidates have a right to their beliefs, as does the electorate in deciding when legislation crosses the line and intrudes upon personal freedoms." ... "You decide whether government has any right to give an employer the right to intrude this deeply into women's privacy."
     Nowhere in the piece does he bring the subtext to the surface and just say it: the Republican attacks on contraceptive users are morally wrong, legally wrong and politically idiotic. I'll give him credit for trying to get over the fence on this one, but he clearly caught something sensitive on the barbed wire and isn't quite disentangled yet.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Waving the red flag

Ken Hedler's coverage of the briefing by ACLU lobbyist Anjeli Abraham is accurate given the amount of space he had to work with, and I like that he made the calls to get reactions from our local party leaders. The quote from Mal Barrett was particularly illuminating, showing that not all Rs share the extremist social agenda currently fascinating the Legislature, and some understand its risks
    It's no surprise that the knives are coming out in the comments, the self-appointed vigilantes against fairness for everyone spouting every wacko idea they ever heard about the ACLU and every cracked argument against support for civil rights.
    For those who missed the briefing, I did an interview with Ms Abraham for The People's Business, in which we talk about what the organization is doing and why, as well as why it's so reviled on the right. It's obvious to me that it's a lot more about the "values" of the reactionary right than the actions of the ACLU. (Airing on Sunday (Mar 18, 2pm) and Saturday (Mar 24, 2pm), listen on 90.1 FM in Prescott, 89.5 in the rest of NorAZ, or the KJZA live stream here.)
    The sad part of this dynamic is that it makes reasonable Republicans hesitant, even afraid, to say anything supportive of the ACLU or its perfectly reasonable legal positions. To that extent it puts Republicans in the position of having to at least neglect and often attack our civil liberties even as they believe they are the primary defenders of the Constitution.

When editors don't edit, vol. 398

So I'm looking at the feel-good story about current former mayors raising money for charity, and I find Rowle Simmons' name misspelled as "Rollie." In both references. Then I notice that the caption on the photo has the names in the wrong order. Eyes roll, forehead meets desktop.
   I'm guessing (charitably) that what's happened here is the fundraisers wrote up a press release without professional help, sent it in with a photo, and the editors dumped it into the paper without looking at it. Someone's in a hurry or just doesn't care, and we wind up reading egregious errors that live up to the paper's reputation for amateurishness. This kind of thing embarrasses the profession, in largest part because it's so easy to fix -- just look at what you're doing. You want to charge for this thing, right?

Update, 11pm: The spelling and caption errors have been corrected online, and my comment pointing them out deleted, without a correction notice.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Editorial: Voters must do their part to meet ID requirements

This comment on today's editorial hits it on the head (from "justa thought"):

"'Does the Arizona law prevent voter fraud? Certainly, even though voter fraud is not widespread'
     "Does the Arizona law prevent dinosaur attacks? Certainly, even though dinosaur attacks are not widespread
      "The law has 1 purpose and 1 purpose only and that is to lower the turn-out of likely non-republican voters"
Not widespread.
    What needs highlighting here most is the sly use of the accepted lie that voter fraud is any kind of real problem. Voter fraud is a bogus issue, used to leverage laws to suppress disadvantaged groups of citizens from voting. The editor ought to know this.
    This week a federal court threw out the Texas version of this nonsense, for exactly that reason, as the editor points out. The US Senate is investigating Arizona's version now, though Governor Brewer has refused to testify in favor of it because the committee is run by a Democrat, and it won't be surprising if it does not survive court challenge as well, deservedly so.
    I was there as a poll worker for several election cycles after the voter ID requirement came on, and I saw its effects, consisting entirely of confusing and frustrating perfectly legitimate voters. Imagine having to tell a sweet old lady in a walker, who cast her first vote for Roosevelt, that she had to make a third trip back to her apartment to find the right papers to prove she could vote again in the same precinct she'd been using since the '80s. Those of us working the polls, R, D and other, uniformly hated this insult to the body politic. Many people didn't come back, and we could only speculate on how many didn't show up at all because of the additional burden.
    If we accept that voter fraud is a real problem on whatever scale, we're led to accept voter suppression as a necessary evil. In this case we don't have to accept the lie or the evil. We should also keep an eye out for this political tactic, which really is widespread, and firmly reject those who would employ it against our rights as citizens.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Editorial: Afghan war effort is out of justifications

My, my, how times have changed.
    It was only a couple of years ago that the unnamed Courier editor was lambasting the Obama administration for "twiddling" over the decision to send yet more troops into that famous graveyard of empires, Afghanistan. Today's editorial sounds remarkably like the sort of advocacy that in '09 he excoriated as an attempt to "appease the far-left wing of the Democratic party."
    Back then the right-wing commenters piled on for more troops. Today the right-wing commenters are piling on to bug out, demonstrating the old saw about how Republicans fall in line.
    Consider how the world would be different now had they seen this same light as we wacko lefties did back in '02.
     Here is my response to the previous editorial, and below is the very first graphic to appear on this blog.

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Obammunist speaks

From Mark Fiore. See how soon you get the joke.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

New abortion restrictions, by state

The researchers at Think Progress have published an interactive map of new restrictions on reproductive rights (meaning new controls on women's bodies, in case you missed the memo) moving in state legislatures this term. This stuff is generally under the radar of the national media, so seeing it all compiled may surprise you. I know it did me.
    This strikes me as a strong argument for doing more this election than cheering on the President.

Winning by deception

Priest to acolyte: "My mouth to your ear."
Rush Limbaugh's attack on Sandra Fluke and all women is the point of the spear in this year's election issue on the right, contraception and who pays for it. I don't mind watching Republicans play the holier-than-though game, particularly against each other, but to keep the zombie alive they're using some incantations designed to deceive. Wittingly or not, the Courier is taking part in this deception.
    In the first piece carried in the paper on the subject, an AP story in the Monday edition, Kasie Hunt and Steve Peoples write about a proposed "Obama administration mandate that employee health plans include free contraceptive coverage. While religious institutions are exempt, their affiliates, such as hospitals and universities, were at first included in the requirement. Under harsh criticism from conservatives, President Barack Obama later said the affiliates could opt out, but insurers must pay for the coverage.
    The use of the word "free" and the phrase "insurers must pay" is a point of confusion, caused by editorial shorthand at the expense of clarity. Almost everyone subscribing to employer health coverage in this country will tell you that the coverage is never "free" by any stretch of the imagination. Insurers pay out on claims based on the premiums that the subscribers pay. The mandate will require the coverage at no additional cost to the subscriber. This is not the same as "free."
    (We should not forget that contraceptive coverage saves both insurers and the subscribers cubic acres of money every day that would otherwise go for maternity and complication services. Reducing payouts is the religion of insurers, so let's not neglect their religious liberty here.)
    Left out of the AP story was the point of contention that brought Ms Fluke onto the Limbaugh targeting radar -- neither she nor any other woman was allowed to testify in the Republican-led Congressional hearing about the insurance-mandate issue, and she complained publicly about this obvious insult to women.
    In any case the AP story did outline the administration's compromise to effectively moot the religious-freedom angle, so, assuming that they read their own paper, the editors have a basis for understanding the facts.
    Later on Monday Tim Wiederaenders added a column to his infrequent pseudo-blog, in which he characterized the controversy this way: "At issue is whether women working for employers affiliated with a religion should get free birth control under Obama's health care law." This clearly disinforms the reader, and he should know better. It's not like he was writing under any constraint on length.
    We can take for granted his soft-pedaling Republican culpability in this and his lame attempt to claim that "no side is innocent" as essential to his unashamed political bias, though saying that Ms Fluke isn't innocent demonstrates the same blindness to the humanity of women that Limbaugh celebrates so profitably, and his Hail Mary play to blame the President for unspecified "gaffes" related to "other talk show hosts" must be pitied.
    The administration long ago provided an out for religious employers who don't want to provide contraception coverage to their employees directly, and that is to source the coverage from the insurance companies separately, paid for by the employees. There is no requirement that they violate their religious principles. Rather, they are squawking because the administration will not allow them to prevent their employees from receiving contraception coverage. In other words, they are not demanding religious freedom for themselves, but rather religious bondage for their employees.
    The Republican talking points invariably blur this picture to raise the emotional temperature and mischaracterize opposing views. The press and voters should reject this at every point. Let them compete on policy, but require that they work within the context of fact, not myth or lies.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Editorial: Please, we're desperate

With today's editorial the unnamed Courier editor instructs the Republican presidential candidates (who log in to daily to check for the editor's counsel) to can the spam and try to come up with something substantial on real issues. I read this as an anguished cry for something, anything, to inspire Republicans to get up off the couch and vote in November, because as of now they're likely to take a pass and allow the President an easy victory.
    The editor wants "to hear concrete answers" about a list of issues. Maybe he's missed them. For the record, here are the answers on what the candidates are promising to do, though the editor might not like them:

-- to create jobs
Cut taxes on the rich and big corporations, and gut regulatory regimes across the board.

-- bolster the economy

-- resolve the immigration problem
 Shout a lot and do nothing, since it's an issue they want to keep using.

-- stifle escalating gas prices
Ditto on answers 1 and 2, and bomb Iran.

-- reduce the national debt
Cut government benefits for anyone who's not rich, and bomb Iran.

-- end the war in Afghanistan
Relabel it a humanitarian effort, send more troops, and bomb Iran.

-- confront the crisis in Syria
Bomb Iran, that'll scare 'em.

-- and resolve the healthcare debacle.
Return to the debacle of ten years ago and make sure it can't ever be changed.

A good place to start

If you've ever mused on the idea of getting involved in accomplishing anything for the community or elective office, the Prescott Area Leadership program is a good place to start. Check out the introduction in today's press release.  Founded here by famous cranky liberal Ron Barnes, it's the local franchise of a nationwide organization to foster sane leadership skills and prepare people for pubic work. More involvement by people from the leftward of the spectrum would be good. It's a great way to put your toe in the water and see if you've got the head for this sort of thing. Think about it.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The state of print advertising

For the other real media geeks out there, Derek Thompson writing in The Atlantic provides some meat and potatoes about the decline of print advertising. Here's the graph:

This shows that in terms of revenue, print advertising has fallen back to its level in the 1950s. This is obviously a huge change, but Thomson notes that it's still a $20-billion business and nothing to sneeze at. The problem for newspapers isn't a lack of revenue per se, but rather their business models, which continue to rely on vanished revenue streams, and adapting to the changed conditions.
    It's obvious that the trend line over the past decade promises further decline, but at some point it will level off. (Note that since the recession, the decline has relaxed somewhat.) Publishers who are able to project that successfully and adapt their business models will survive, the rest will go under quickly.