Thursday, October 31, 2013

Dead and buried: news that matters

While Buz Williams bloviates about the leftist media elite, the Courier and most other media outlets are largely burying a story affecting the lives of a million Arizonans, half of them kids. From Cronkite News Service via The Arizona Capitol Times:

Cuts to food stamp benefits hit more than 1 million Arizonans Friday


That's tomorrow. How many people in our area will be affected? How many kids will be going to school hungry? How much money will it suck out of the tills of our local grocers? How will this additional stress spread through families and the rest of the community? We'll likely never know the answers to these questions, because they just aren't as important to our local editors as, say, baseball games.

Update, Friday: Some numbers. If this isn't repaired within the year, the AZ economy will be out about 109 million clams. And no, you're not paying less taxes to balance that. 

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Must-read: Why competent opposition matters

Conor Friedersdorf, writing for The Atlantic, tees off on an example from the Obamacare "debate" showing how overstretching the truth leads to dismissive backlash that can further obscure important policy considerations. If you care at all about how media decisions affect your thinking, you have to check this out:
What a Small Moment in the Obamacare Debate Says About Ideological Media

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Those pesky apostrophes

I've written before that proofreading at the Courier has improved markedly over the years I've been writing this blog, but that's the sort of territory easily lost to inattention. I'm sure most of my readers would bug out quickly if faced with a daily litany of proof complaints, so I generally let them pass. But when the headlines display ignorance of the basics. I have to say something, even though I know most of my readers can see it as well as I can.

Today the problem is painfully wrong apostrophes on the op-ed page, one buried in Tom Cantlon's column — "It's more like a couple who own an apartment complex and one wants to add to it to increase it's revenue, ...." — but the other really glaring in the editorial headline — "State can't shun it's fiscal burden."


Last I knew you can't pass the ninth grade without the ability to distinguish between the contraction "it's" and the possessive "its." You definitely can't land a paycheck as an entry-level proofreader. Seeing this get by a suite of pro newspaper editors is just embarrassing to the profession.

Boilerplate: Why does it matter? Inattention to details like this indicates disregard for clarity of communication, sloppiness of thought, and low regard for readers, editors and the publication itself, all alarming qualities in people we depend on to inform us about the conditions, needs and actions of our community.

Update, 8:30pm: Someone corrected the headline fail in the online edition, but not the one in Tom's column. This is an improvement over the policy not so long ago of not bothering at all.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Editorial: A frameup for NAU

The unnamed editor today seizes on an apparently insensitive move by a real-estate developer to slam NAU, ulterior motive in hand.

Citing this AP story, he lashes out at the university and its president, John Haeger, for supporting the elimination of a piece of a crummy trailer park to build more substantial student housing. Except neither the editor nor AP made the phone call to ask for the school's position on the matter.

Instead we get a quote from a salesman for the developer asserting that NAU is "excited" about the new buildings. I expect if he'd mined the data set a tiny bit more deeply he'd have also found out that the developer is hoping to make money on the deal from NAU students, that NAU will not own any of it, and the salesman thinks the project is new and improved. Note that the developer takes no heat here, only the school.

The editor flashes his motivation in referencing the "loss" of his favorite baseball team's "traditional" spring training program from NAU to Glendale. We've recently seen another example of the importance of this topic to the editor.

That's pretty lame, but to go after John Haeger, one of the brightest lights and sweetest people in public service in our state, for the actions of a real-estate shark is just low.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Letter: Treat Obamacare just like Prohibition

Phillip Thiele attempts to rile up a supposed silent majority of Americans to oppose the inevitability of better access to health insurance for all by comparing it with Prohibition. Okay, you've had your chuckle, now consider the unintended wisdom here.

Prohibition was an idealistic campaign by social conservatives, not least women who had endured untold abuse, depradation and ruin at the hands of generations of drunks, rammed through legislatures that clearly understood that it couldn't work, but to vote against it risked being labeled as not 'clean' enough to hold office. The new women's vote in particular put legislators in fear of replacement by wild-eyed zealots that would be at home in today's Tea Party. Ultimately it failed, and was rather quickly repealed, as the predictable consequences were tearing society apart.

The proper parallel is the health-care 'system' we have endured up to now. Running against the successful examples of every other developed nation for half a century, we plowed forward on ignorant idealism about the sanctity of the market (and, for the real power brokers, the sanctity of immense profits), enduring predictable consequences that have been tearing our society apart for far longer than the tenure of Prohibition.

Where Mr Theile and his ilk, adamantly blinkered to the real effects of their ideology, projects a campaign by political idealists, in reality the ACA and the long, slow march toward responsible, practical health-care solutions are not parallel to the institution of Prohibition, but rather its repeal.

We still have the wild-eyed zealots in the wings, of course, and that's what's driven the House of Representatives to vote several dozen times for repeal of the ACA, to shut down the government for two weeks now in an attempt to extort a repeal, and to threaten the entire world economy with destruction of faith in the credit of the United States. (If that's not "getting down to business," Mr Theile, what is?)

In an admittedly flawed and patchwork way, the proponents of better access to health coverage are trying to correct a history of bad decisions. It probably won't work as well as we need, but it will be substantially better than we've been doing. The ship was on the rocks. Only a fool pours on more steam for that.

Drive-by editorial: Pay attention to abused kids, for a second

The unnamed editor draws another write-it-and-forget-it column from the passing fancy of the teevee news, describing the abuse, neglect and murder of children as "a singular facet of a complex societal ill that goes unchecked, ... What a sad commentary on life in modern-day America."

The really sad commentary is that a newspaper editor has so little grounding in social history that he thinks this is a "modern" phenomenon," so little understanding of our social systems that he imagines it's worse now, and such thin interest in the issue that it only comes to mind because a sports star is involved.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

At last, a glimmer of integrity

LA Times Letters Editor Paul Thornton, on October 5, explains why the paper did not publish letters arguing that Congress is exempting itself from Obamacare:

“Why? Simply put, this objection to the president’s healthcare law is based on a falsehood, and letters that have an untrue basis (for example, ones that say there’s no sign humans have caused climate change) do not get printed.”
This quote is making the rounds because it's an unusual, perhaps unique, statement of policy against printing lies. There's movement afoot to encourage the country's other papers of record to adopt it, something that most readers of any political stripe ought to be able to support. It would be a very positive choice for the Courier as well, assuming the editors could pay more than lip service to it.

Doing this right would mean actually knowing or discovering what's true and what's not, caring about knowing, and going beyond the obvious in fact-checking not only the LTEs but the news stories and opinion columns. Anticipating the complaint that this would require more work than the paper can afford, I have to say that confidence in the veracity of what's on the page is the only reason anyone reads a newspaper, and should be the primary responsibility and professional goal for every editor.

Update, Tuesday: Need an example? It doesn't get better than this. Today the editors publish a letter exactly like the one mentioned above, based entirely on that specific witless myth. I guess I've been told.

Editorial: Playing the blame game

Catching up a bit, I have to weigh in on yesterday's editorial in which the unnamed editor asserts cagily that all of Congress and the President are getting the blame for the current show (or no-show) in Washington. More to the point, I'll have some actual Republicans weigh in, via Tom Beaumont and AP:

From county chairmen to national party luminaries, veteran Republicans across the country are accusing tea party lawmakers of staining the GOP with their refusal to bend in the budget impasse in Washington.
     "It's time for someone to act like a grown-up in this process," former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu argues, faulting Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and tea party Republicans in the House as much as President Barack Obama for taking an uncompromising stance.
     Former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour is just as pointed, saying this about the tea party-fueled refusal to support spending measures that include money for Obama's health care law: "It never had a chance."
     The anger emanating from Republicans like Sununu and Barbour comes just three years after the GOP embraced the insurgent political group and rode its wave of new energy to return to power in the House.
     Now, they're lashing out with polls showing Republicans bearing most of the blame for the federal shutdown, which entered its 11th day Friday. In some places, they're laying the groundwork to take action against the tea party in the 2014 congressional elections.
    The Republican establishment also is signaling a willingness to strike back at the tea party in next fall's elections.
It's long past time to pretend that "they both do it" is a useful or informative position to take. This one is all on the Rs, with pretty much everyone publicly agreeing on the point save the teabaggers and the Courier editor.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Stand Your Ground = License to Kill Anyone

A Columbia SC judge has ruled with the defense, agreeing that "All that matters is that Mr. Scott felt his life was in jeopardy," in the killing of an innocent bystander to a situation in which there is no evidence of any real threat and the shooter didn't know at whom or what he was shooting.

We happen to be touristing in Sahcalaina this week, and the incident reminds me that this could happen to anyone in the several states that have instituted laws of the 'Stand Your Ground' sort, including Arizona. The prosecution reasonably offered, "If this law were to be applied the way (Scott) wants to apply it, he could shoot a 4-year-old playing in her front yard and still be immune from prosecution.” Or me or you, dear reader.

This reckless legislation relieves the gun-wielder of the responsibility to handle the weapon with respect for others. In defense of the gad-given right to wave deadly weapons we often hear about how well trained and responsible gun-huggers are supposed to be, and now we legally allow them to act with deadly force on whatever fear or fantasy happens to be passing through their brains, with no legal accountability. Does this really make any sense to you?


Read more here: http://www.heraldonline.com/2013/10/09/5291031/stand-your-ground-sc-judge-grants.html#storylink=cpy

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Editorial: Obamacare could shift public favor, duh

In which the unnamed editor realizes that the growing public support for the ACA and its success in practice could alter the political power map. He's only a couple of years behind the curve there, so give him a little (relative) credit.

But he goes on to opine, based on Republican gerrymandering, that "38 percent of the entire House (has) virtually no concern about losing a general election." It's true that those safe seats will likely remain Republican, but that doesn't mean incumbents are necessarily safe.

I read an interesting piece on Crooks and Liars this morning about this very topic, which posits a convincing thesis that less-crazy House Republicans are participating in the Suicide Caucus largely because their seats are so "safe" they are more threatened from the right than the left. This makes the government shutdown more about the conflict within the Republican Party than the standard left-right model the media, including the Courier, love to shovel out.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

More news you won't see in the Courier

Sometimes it's even worse than we thought possible. From AP via The Arizona Capitol Times (sub req):

Arizona’s decision to withhold welfare checks because of the federal government shutdown appears to make it the only state to cut off funding for the very poor because of the budget crisis, according to policy experts. 
The state stopped payments averaging $207 a week to 5,200 families eligible for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families after Tuesday’s government shutdown. TANF provides cash assistance and other support to low-income children and their parents. 
The Arizona Republic reports the decision came despite assurances from federal officials that states would be reimbursed for any payments they made for the federal program. It also comes as the state sits on a $450 million rainy day fund.
Update, Tuesday: Surprise, it turns up in today's editorial. (I'm on vacation and a little behind.) The Gov has decided to order a small release of funds to cover TANF for a couple of weeks, which the Courier editor describes as a "soft spot for the poor." Yeah, right: a soft spot for her own reputation, more like. But I'll take it.


Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Editorial: What's really important

The unnamed Courier editor today joins the right-wing media's told-ya-so bandwagon in blaming the President for glitches on the opening day of enrollment in the state-run health-care exchanges, blaming both houses of Congress for the embarrassing stupidity and intransigence of a few Republicans in the House, and then gets to what really bothers him: that he might miss a baseball game on teevee.

The Republicans who designed the Affordable Care Act demanded that the states have the option to run their own exchanges, preserving the illusion of local control with the practical reality of greater insurance-company influence, so it should be no surprise that your mileage may vary by state. What the editor glosses over is that the "software glitches" consist primarily of more people trying to sign up than the systems can handle. I suppose you might blame the President for promoting the system well enough that it attracts customers, but that's a success, not a fail.

Blaming Congress-writ-large for the shutdown didn't work in '95 and it's not working now, because it's very widely and accurately reported that if House leadership were to allow a vote on a clean spending bill, without empty ideological posturing about the ACA, etc., it would pass without fuss and the shutdown would be over. This is a small group (around 30 of 435) of Rs taking government services hostage over an argument they cannot win, in fact one they lost years ago.

If Dems share any blame for the shutdown, it's in their unwillingness to exert emergency powers and fund the government anyway, because that would appear to be illegal and certainly trigger a court fight (while poor families still got their food stamps and the Canyon continued to fuel the NorAz economy). I admit doubt that the Rs would be so gentle were the roles reversed.

If the editor were more self-aware I might take his pivot to lamenting the local loss of baseball games on cable teevee as satire, but, erm, no. He really does think he's writing about something important there. That sort of sums up the management style of the whole operation, dunnit?

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Climate change and market forces

The new IPCC report is unequivocal about the causes and dangers of climate change, and points optimistically to practical solutions. Governments worldwide are paying attention, but here in Bizarro Land, where we hold the strongest cards in the game, we still can't work up much interest, mostly because we've made a survival imperative into a political game. Nick Stern in The Financial Times, no bastion of progressive anti-business whackos:

Some politicians will still seek to deny the science and downplay the risks. Many of them have vested financial interests in protecting the status quo, or ideological beliefs that mean they cannot acknowledge the logic of correcting market failures that have created climate change in order to strengthen the role of markets in discovering opportunities and allocating resources. Although they are small in number, they still have the power to create confusion and slow action.
(Emphasis mine.) What we need more than anything here is a new angle for thinking about this problem in a way that speaks about pocketbooks. This is a pretty good example, imho.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Editorial: The banality of mass murder

Another mass shooting in America. Ho-hum. Another routine defense of our bizarre addiction to deadly weapons. Ho-hum. Nothing to see here, move along. These are not the droids you're looking for.

And today we have yet another Courier opinion piece trotting out the same tired old nags that pass for argument about the role of guns in our society, so listless and reflexive that I'm sure the editors have long since stopped bothering to think about them, just as their readers have ceased interest in reading them. Really? Is this all you've got, editor?

The bulk of the piece amounts to criticism of the shoot-from-the-hip segment of the media that got the description of the weapon wrong in the Navy Yard shootings. After that it's the same old argument against "blaming the weapon."

I don't think I've ever heard anyone blame a weapon for a shooting. I only hear that rhetoric from the gun lovers, an infantile non-argument to deflect all ideas for doing anything serious about reducing the numbers of bullets in the bodies of Americans by action on the bullet-supply side.

Good science and common sense agree that fewer weapons leads to fewer shootings. That's not because the weapons are discharging themselves. The argument most of us on the sensible side of the spectrum are usually too polite to make is that needing a weapon is reasonable cause for concern about a person's mental state. "Gun-crazy" isn't a metaphor.

It's right there in the editor's closing: "law-abiding citizens should be allowed to have weapons for use or protection." Leave aside that the true believers will be jumping on his ass for tolerating "allowed" when their right to deadly weapons is ordained by Gad, and look at "for use or protection." What use? To drill messy holes of specific size in wood? And "protection" from what? If one really feels threatened by crime, that should be motivation to move somewhere safer or work with one's neighbors to make the community safer. More likely you need to work on your own head. When you feel that your only choice is to take up a weapon and start watching for people to use it on, you've become the enemy you fear. The mass killers are mentally unhinged, yes, but they develop in the context of a society that is itself unhinged, and their acts are starkly extreme symptoms of a pervasive pathology.

Sensible, responsible thinking about guns by gun fans is over in this society, and we can no longer afford to pretend that Americans have generally healthy attitudes toward them. We can't treat this unhealthy dependence without reducing access to the object of the addiction.

Cantlon: So what is this about?

Tom hammers home the obvious point that keeping Mexican tourists away is stupid and particularly counterproductive where you've set a city policy of reliance on tourism. The headline declares that the proposal to expand the border zone "is NOT about illegal entry." What Tom diplomatically leaves out is what the objections of our local pols are really about, and that's racist anxiety.

As I've written many times, the whole "immigration issue" is nothing more than a political strategy to win the votes of frightened and generally older white people, a 21st-century take on the Southern Strategy that turned the Republican Party away from the slow-and-steady, pro-business policies of the first half of the last century to the fire-breathing anti-everything nutbar tournament we see today. At its core is reaction to the civil rights movement and the fear of  The Other, which has extended lately from black folk to anyone who is not white, Protestant, male, over 40 and Republican. (And now you have to be the right kind of Republican, too.)

Until we as a community face up to the poorly disguised racism that passes for policy decisions among our elected leaders and politically involved citizens and start calling it what it is, we cannot hope to see progress in the quality of life here. Prescott and Arizona in general will languish as an intellectual laughingstock, the Alabama of the West, and descend ever further into kookery and ultimately dangerous insularism.

Did you hear the one about Leith, ND, the tiny village where neo-Nazis are trying to stack the population in hopes of creating a new Aryan homeland? The residents uniformly stood up and said no. Our elected officials think that's what they're doing, fighting off the invading brown horde. Rather, we as voters should be standing up, vocally and resolutely, against the idiotic, racist self-destruction in our midst.

Friday, September 20, 2013

AZ's Private-Prison Deals

More news you won't see in the Courier: A new study from ThePublicInterest.org looked into the contracts and costs of private prisons nationwide, in particular deals that include guarantees by the states to pay for unfilled beds, with findings that ought to make even the most dedicated corporate patsy blush. From the summary:

— 65 percent of the private prison contracts ITPI received and analyzed included occupancy guarantees in the form of quotas or required payments for empty prison cells (a “low-crime tax”). These quotas and low-crime taxes put taxpayers on the hook for guaranteeing profits for private prison corporations.
— Occupancy guarantee clauses in private prison contracts range between 80% and 100%, with 90% as the most frequent occupancy guarantee requirement. 
— Arizona, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Virginia are locked in contracts with the highest occupancy guarantee requirements, with all quotas requiring between 95% and 100% occupancy.
Three Arizona for-profit prison contracts have a staggering 100% quota, even though a 2012 analysis from Tucson Citizen shows that the company’s per-day charge for each prisoner has increased an average of 13.9% over the life of the contracts.
Here's another case of egregious corporate bait-and-switch, selling the idea on promises of healthy competition and reduced cost, then padding out the contracts and privatizing profits while socializing the costs. This isn't a business, it's a racket. The really embarrassing part is where we elect people who claim to be sharp about business and they negotiate deals like this. It has to be either rank stupidity or collusion in robbing the taxpayers blind.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Williams: Buying the packaging

Buz signals the absurdity of today's column with a lead sentence that would be right at home in The Onion: "Some have criticized our Constitution as obsolete and racist, claiming it was written over two centuries ago by white slaveholders." I don't expect that he really doesn't know these are facts, rather that he just doesn't have the communication skills to understand what he's writing. But this goof clearly illustrates how confused many Americans are by right-wing propaganda.

Sorting through the chaff, his main point is his assertion that "conservatives" are victims of a government and a wider culture that does not value the freedoms afforded in the Constitution. He sees himself, in tricorn hat and wrapped in a flag, pitted against the Evil Ones who would send him into the gulag for defending his gad-given principles.

Never mind that all three examples of contemporary abuses he cites were built and run by his own team.

He can't see this because he puts all his attention on the packaging, trusting that what's inside is just as attractive. This "god and country" bait-and-switch has enthralled, used, ruined, maimed and murdered sincere, blinkered patriots like Buz by the thousand and their selected victims by the million for centuries. It may be the oldest trick in the propaganda book. Nixon used it. Joe McCarthy used it. The Klan still uses it. And of course it's the primary extremist-Republican tactic today.

Rather than using the flag-as-robe test to define a patriot, Buz would do well to set the bar a little higher. A patriot who respects and embraces the core principles of this country vigorously defends the right of every citizen to vote freely and be treated equally under the law, rather than hide behind invented problems to conceal unhinged prejudices and fears. If you really care about the threat of the surveillance state, declare that you want it demolished along with the fear-mongering security state you cheered for in 2002, since they're part and parcel. If you really revere the flag, bear in mind that it's a symbol for a people, and not just the ones who look, act and think like you do.

If you care about extremist ideology, look to yourself first, it's right there under the feel-good trappings you love to love, Buz. And if you want to understand something you're reading, try taking your hand off the paranoid-victim throttle and pay attention. You're making a fool of yourself otherwise.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

ToT: Polk on pot, again

On many important measures I think County Attorney Sheila Polk has been doing a difficult job well, and it's clear she's respected in the legal community statewide. By all accounts she is not angling for higher office, and her employees seem to like her. So when I see from her yet another redundant and ignorantly polemical diatribe against cannabis, it makes me a little sad.

It's not just a plant anymore.
A smart lawyer like Ms Polk knows how to build a cogent argument. You find solid facts, you reference them, you argue from strength. You firmly avoid anything in your argument that's even slightly dubious, because it would impeach your better evidence. That's exactly what these anti-herb rants are doing to Ms Polk's credibility, which might be considered impeccable save for  this recurring evidence that she can't think straight about at least one subject.

Up to the point where her term of choice switched from "dependence" to  "addiction" she might have skated. Americans clearly do have a dependency problem. But the object of dependence is not its cause, and any specific dependence can fall on the range from mildly annoying to self-destructive, whether it's cannabis, or chocolate, or god, or an abusive spouse, basketball or Big Macs. Can substance or religious or social dependence impact life outcomes? Perhaps, but it's the person doing the depending, not the thing, and dependence is more often a symptom than a cause.

"Addiction" as it's normally used means something quite different, a physiological attachment to a chemical. No one has ever shown that cannabis can have this effect, and no one is or has ever been "addicted to pot."

Even Ms Polk's math here is glaringly weak: "A loss of eight IQ points is titanic, dropping a person of average intelligence into the lowest third of the intelligence range." In IQ-test terms, 100 is average, making a range of 200. The "lowest third" is therefore under 67, not 92.

If you hope to persuade, particularly when you're a professional persuader, how can you let this sort of thing through? Reading this piece, no teenager of average intelligence or above will respond in any way other than outright dismissal of both the argument and the office.

Ms Polk has apparently missed the many studies showing that legalization does not increase cannabis consumption, so the primary point of the piece, to persuade Arizonans against legalization, is built on obvious illogic.

Then the astute reader has to step back and look at what Ms Polk is not talking about. She's quite lawyerly in saying "marijuana dependence in this country is twice as prevalent as any other illicit psychoactive drug." What that leaves out, of course, is the vastly more prevalent dependency and addiction to non-illicit, non-psychoactive drugs — caffeine, nicotine, alcohol and pharmaceuticals. The social problems directly related to alcohol in particular are so much greater than those of cannabis, even if you were to accept Ms Polk's assertions here, that they don't even chart on the same scale. Where is the Attorney's polemic on that?

The problem we really need to address is prisons bursting with harmless pot users, a massive waste of public resources and human potential.

The editors did allow her to slip in a true problem in the first graf, though: "... the number of adults struggling with addition is much higher." I see that every day in the checkout line, and I think Ms Polk should get on it, it's a real scourge.

Update, Sunday: Sen. McCain admits to no heartburn over legalization.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Letter: Peeple cain't spel.

I have a certain sympathy for concern about poor use of language in the public sphere — preventing it for my clients is my profession, after all — so I understand the frustration underlying today's LTE from Kevin Rawls. Unfortunately it's so badly proofed that it becomes self-satire.

I won't bore you with all the details, but just want to confirm that since there's only one 'd' in 'advertising,' there remains only one in its abbreviation. "Add" is a verb related to math.

I have little doubt that the editor who placed this letter saw at least some of the errors in it, and probably smirked at the irony. But was there any thought about bouncing it back to the writer with a suggestion that he might not want to publish it in that form? A little kindness would have been appropriate in this case, I think.

Previously in this space I have criticized editorial interference in reader expression, both in the LTEs and online comments. It's not the place of editors to arbitrarily change what does not belong to the paper. But it's not right to publish someone's letter as a joke on them, either.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Debate: Misfire

Sunday's paper brings us yet another pair of "debate" columns that are about as informative and credible as a monster-truck pull. Don't bother, they're a complete waste of time.

But if you want to talk about the "stand-your-ground"/fire-at-will phenomenon, I'd encourage a hard look at some of the results.

Dead: Julius Jacobs

Dead: Danny Clyburn Jr

Mark Hoekstra, Texas A&M: "Our study finds that, that homicides go up by 7 to 9 percent in states that pass the laws, relative to states that didn't pass the laws over the same time period ... we find no evidence of any deterrence effect over that same time period."

Dead: Brandon Baker

The Wall Street Journal: "Overall, the figures show the sharpest increase in justifiable homicides occurred after 2005, when Florida and 16 other states passed the laws. While the overall homicide rates in those states stayed relatively flat, the average number of justifiable cases per year increased by more than 50% in the decade’s latter half, the data show. In Texas and Georgia, such cases nearly doubled and in Florida, they nearly tripled."

Maimed: Randall White

Maimed: Billy Kuch

John Roman, Urban Institute: "SYG laws change how often shootings are ruled to be justified and that they are associated with racial disparities in justifiable homicide rulings.

Incarcerated: Marissa Alexander

Dead: Robert Many Horses

Who do you want to be, Arizona?

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Editorial: More muddle on Yucca Mountain

The unnamed editor's flip use of "fallout" in the headline is a sure sign that his editorial on the issue of nuclear waste disposal will be weakly drawn and poorly informed. What new readers may find surprising here is that he ultimately has nothing to say in the space.

This is a big problem in the industry overall. Journalists typically have minimal science or technology background to help them evaluate the stories they're called upon to cover, and the results are often lame to just wrong. The best are diligent about sourcing and quoting. Most just go along as if they know enough, the way they do with political issues.

It's true that Americans are going to have to find a way to deal with the nuclear waste we're already making and nuclear power as a bridge to a more sustainable regime. Mentally boiling that down to "Yucca Mountain, yes or no" is ridiculous.

Perhaps the editor hasn't bothered to look into the history of this plan. It came from the federal level, imposed on Nevadans almost arbitrarily and apparently because Easterners think that Nevada is nothing but wasteland anyway. The people of Nevada have stood up consistently and in great numbers to oppose it, which is why the feds suspended the whole process. The editor calls these obstacles "too high," meaning to me that the opinions of the people most affected shouldn't matter. I'll have to ask him what he'd write if it were Granite Mountain instead.

The nuclear industry brought suit to force the issue, and a judge agreed that once the application is in, the government must go through with the evaluation. This does not mean the government will find that the plan is safe enough to go forward. Most observers believe that it was poorly conceived to start and the long-term environmental and economic costs make it unfeasible. So suspending the application has been the thrifty choice. Why waste resources on a bad plan that won't ever happen?

Large concentrations of high-energy materials are inherently dangerous, so applying our habitual industrial-efficiency model to nuclear waste is just bad policy. We need a smarter solution, one yet to be proposed. The industry will only come up with that if it's forced out of its comfort zone.

At points in the piece the editor seems to agree with most of this, at others he doesn't, for example calling Yucca Mountain a "secure location." His general confusion is evident in the writing, as in this classic stumble across the keyboard: "Arizonans have never been too keen on the thought of truckloads of radioactive waste being trucked along out interstates on their way to Nevada."

The obvious lack of any conviction on the issue means to me that there's another intended message, which I find in "all of this highlights the dysfunctional state of civilian nuclear policy," and "As happy as Reid may be with the issue's paralysis, we as Americans should be distressed." He's probably been supping at the Fox News trough again, and just enjoys grasping the cudgel of a stupid Republican idea to batter Democrats about the head. Pity he can't hit anything with it. 

Finally, what the heck does a small-town paper think it's doing by even attempting to opine on this issue? We're in the middle of a "local-local-local" election, we have wildfires in every direction and more to come, we're not creating enough jobs to sustain our economy, our legislature is consumed with buffoonery — hasn't the editor enough to think about that really matters here?

Monday, August 19, 2013

Editorial: Just don't get caught at it

Today the unnamed editor chides public servants for exposing their brain-junk in social media. "You ought to know better than to toss offensive language and photos into cyberspace where it will remain forever," he writes, wagging a finger, and admonishes them to "Behave responsibly with high-tech devices." As if self-indulgent use of Twitter is the problem.


He tips his hand by first mentioning disgraced ex-Rep and New York mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner, who so famously leaked pics of his real junk, while skipping over exactly the same behavior by Pinal Sheriff and local congressional candidate Paul Babeau. With that I knew the editorial was going to be some sort of attempt at applying a strategic figleaf.

The editor's Facebook friend
But he did get to LD6 Rep Bob Thorpe, who launched himself into the national spotlight with a series of bonehead racist tweets last week. Thorpe's previous Western Newspapers mention was a fawning hagiography in the Verde Independent. The editor listed his "missteps," but couldn't bring himself to criticize the thinking behind them. Rather, Thorpe gets the blame only for exposing himself in public.

So we're left to conclude that the editor doesn't care what he thinks, only that he got caught at it.

If the editor thought like a newsman, he would be thanking his lucky stars that a politician would be demonstrating so clearly and so voluntarily the motivations behind his public-policy decisions. This is exactly the sort of factor that voters most need to know about the people offering to represent their interests in the statehouse and in Washington. But rather than express any concern that the Representative may not be acting in a manner worthy of his position or in the best interests of his constituents, the editor only tells him to button up his fly, a guy helping a guy out. This identifies the editor as a willing crony, exactly the opposite of the public-interest watchdog that is the most important responsibility of a free press.

This is what we're seeing with the Courier's endorsements of Prescott Council candidates as well, of course. Councilman Blair has a long history as a flasher of ugliness, and Mayor Kuykendall recently joined the fray in a Courier interview by accusing a grieving firefighter widow of greed while minimizing her as a "neat little lady." But they didn't rate mention in this editorial. That might be a little too close to home for the editor.

At least Thorpe will have to answer to his constituents for his "missteps" next year. It's a pity the editor doesn't face the same kind of accountability.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Cantlon: Vote, dammit.

If you're registered in Prescott you've probably received your ballot for the first round of the Council election. In today's column Tom sketches out the salient issues and candidate list with entirely too much equanimity. One thing he doesn't mention is that this ballot represents the highest-impact vote on the regular cycle.

Historically the first-round vote attracts the smallest proportion of eligible voters in the smallest constituency that isn't a micro-division (like school boards, fire districts, etc.). If you want bang for your buck in a vote, this is the one you can't miss. Ten or twenty votes can make a crucial difference here, and this time there is a very real potential for fundamentally changing the majority position of Council. You don't want to miss this one, spread the word.

News You Won't Find in the Courier, part 499: The next redistricting fight

Roll Call reports that AZ Republicans are organizing to rig the 2020 redistricting process in their favor. This is important, check it out.

If Dems could be half this organized and focused, we'd see some remarkable progress in this state.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Editorial: Helpful suggestions for (and from) people who aren't paying attention

I have to wonder whether the unnamed editor's obviously heavy teevee habit is eroding his attention span.

In today's column he proposes to "defrost debate" in Congress on immigration reform with the institution of "a national E-Verify system" of the sort that is "already in place here in Arizona." It's with some pain that I'm forced to confirm what you and every sixth-grader already know, that E-verify began and continues as a national system, with over 1,400 employers signing up for it every week, says the DHS website.

This bang-your-forehead-on-the-desk level of stupid isn't just an outrider in this piece, I'm afraid. The editor's characterization of the obviously-can't-ever-work border fence as a "good idea" is just as dumb as his subtext assumption that appealing to Latino voters is the only motivation for reform in Congress. What takes the cake is his characterization of the debate as "deport them all" versus "admit as many immigrants as possible," showing conclusively that when he turns to the teevee for news, he's got Fox on speed-dial.


The greatest disservice to his readers, however, is in completely missing why immigration reform is stalled in the House: extremist Republicans are working constantly to deny the administration anything it wants in terms of legislation. In point of simple fact the current outline of reform is built entirely of Republican ideas, as the editor should know, but Republicans won't vote for them if they think the President might support them in some way. There are no negotiable solutions, as the editor so hopefully suggests, as long as one side continues to play a purely political power game and refuses to negotiate.

Lately the editor is starting to make Buz Williams' columns look well researched. Ack.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Daddy hates me, mommy!

Today's edition brings us news that, as expected from the beginning, FEMA action in Yarnell will not be forthcoming, along with some unbelievably high bloviation from the unnamed editor, Governer Brewer, Rep. Tobin and even Sen Pierce, saying in plain terms that it's because the federal government dislikes Arizona. What bunk.

This flows of course from the local rhetoric of the past few years around Arizona's pointless and idiotic suits challenging federal authority, and the inference that the decisions around them have been emotional rather than legal, presumably because the decision-making has been emotional at Arizona's end.

Oddly enough, even the professional Obama-haters of the national right-wing media have passed on the FEMA story, at least as of this writing.

It's not hard to see why. FEMA spokesman Dan Watson: "FEMA, by law, cannot duplicate benefits provided by insurance companies or other federal agencies. In this case ... it was determined that the damage to uninsured private residents from this event was not beyond the response and recovery capabilities of the state/local governments, and voluntary agencies." the agency refers Arizona to additional federal resources are available, such as SBA and HUD loans. These are checkable facts, and there has been no refutation of them.

I'm as sympathetic as anyone to the plight of a fixed-income homeowner who's lost everything. Perhaps some really had to make the choice between food and homeowner's insurance. But they also made the choice to live in fire country without insurance, and as I've written before, this result was always a strong possibility.

It is clearly true that the county and the state have the resources to cope with what's happened, and we will. So the idea that FEMA is withholding needed aid is just wrong.

Notice what's missing from the story, both in the Courier and the Republic: no quote from a congressional representative, no senator, no Yarnell homeowner, no county official. It seems to me that any news organization worth its salt would have made those calls to confirm the claim of need. This is how the business slants coverage when editors desire it.

The editor, Governor and our state representatives are instead using the Yarnell homeowners as a political stick for beating up on the President, an opportunistic, cynical and ultimately futile effort that will no doubt backfire among their own base voters.

Arizonans have their faults, but neediness isn't one of them. I'm sure the irony of the Governor whining for federal aid after spending her entire tenure railing against federal interference is not lost on most Republicans. I don't expect it will turn them into Democrats, but it could easily result in credible primary challenges from the intelligent wing of the party. And yeah, Yarnell will heal.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Cantlon: Resisting the new normal

My friend Tom operates his own independent small business, as I do, so for me there's a certain disconnect in his column today, in which he highlights the challenges for workers presented with our general economic shift away from long-term employment.

With his reference to "our grandparents" Tom recognizes that the employment regime that Americans came to take for granted as our birthright (the "American Dream") was an ephemeral phenomenon. It evolved from the guild-like practices of the 19th century, in which workers chose or inherited a skill and basically stuck with it to the end, with the infusion of roaring profits here based on Europe's unfortunate self-immolation in the 20th. Corporations went big and then bigger, chewing through what looked like endless resources for endless profits. Workers demanded a piece of that pie, and employers could afford it, bringing in health and till-you're-dead retirement benefits. We had a generation or so of this following WW2. It began to break up in the '70s, and wages have stagnated in real terms ever since. Employment security and benefit standards have been in steady decline for half a century. So the halcyon days that Tom references were clearly an economic anomaly not likely to return anytime soon.

As in the rapidly changing 19th century, today's situation isn't good for people with low or outdated skills. But also like then, today's yet more rapid roil of change favors adaptability and embracing the new.

As the unimaginably fast climate change we're experiencing makes it impossible for many species to adapt, rapid economic change leaves many people less able to cope. This is a problem of education and training, obviously, but I see it more as a problem of expectations of the sort Tom leans into today.

The desperate straits of cities like Detroit and even large corporations like GM are rooted in those expectations too. How could anyone expect enough continuing profit to support open-ended pensions and benefits for an open-ended number of workers? Human dignity demands that the company reward the worker who took care of it, but it's clear now that the system we chose failed to account for important variables, like shifting industrial structure and worker longevity.

This doesn't mean that we have to return to squalid exploitation of workers, or what I call the Republican utopia. I think rather that we need to abandon the child-parent model of our relationship with our earning lives, grow up and accept more individual responsibility as entrepreneurs.

Every small retailer or service provider knows intimately that their businesses depend on their own work ethic, ability to ride out adverse times, and the broad uncertainties of the marketplace. My own business could dry up in any given five minutes, and I've accepted that risk from the beginning, placing more value on the freedom that this uncertain life affords me and faith in my own ability to adapt to whatever comes. But there's another less obvious angle.

My business has been generally reliable for over 25 years because of the mutual respect I share with my clients for our relationships. This is how things are done in Japan, and why I have no interest in selling my services to American companies.

Beyond training Americans for greater workplace flexibility and adaptability, which I think is vitally important to our industrial future, we have to bring the values of community to bear in a world where you're no longer a worker, you're a supplier, whether of goods, skills, labor or time, and the only job security is in the loyalty that you build with your customers. Remember loyalty?

For employers, or rather labor customers, the incipient shortage left by boomers leaving the labor force (and remaining active as consumers) means maintaining workplace cultures and conditions that respect the people involved and build those relationships. The concerns that go further in sharing the benefits and profits will do better and be more sustainable through the inevitable ups and downs of a more steady-state economy. I can't see us putting up with the currently ridiculous labor/owner income differential, it will eventually collapse as it did in the late 19th century and again in the 1930s. We have another opportunity ahead to learn from our mistakes and take measures to do better, by recognizing that the business does better long-term where everyone involved does better from it.

But if we continue to pine for a Mad Men-style top-down economic world, which was always a bit overstated and is now no longer even possible, it will distract all of us from the opportunities the new world presents. Don't expect to be able to lay back and get fat, it'll probably never be like that again. In truth there was never any real job security — that was luck — and everything is and always will be temporary. We'll have to learn to see that as a good thing.

There is certainly an important role for economic policy to play in helping build what Peter Vogel calls "entrepreneurial ecosystems" to support this kind of business culture. Check it out.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Editorial: Argle-bargle bragh

Today's contribution from the editorial board reads like an unprepared radio rant from a hungover Steve Blair. The unnamed editor can't even seem to follow his own thought.

He admits that federal action has helped prop up the housing market and support its recovery, and in the same sentence (and the headline) implies that the recovery is happening "despite" that action, as if it was meant to impede the market. In the same sentence he offers a contrast between "people" and "the regular Joe" with no indication of what he imagines that difference to be. Then he says essentially that he didn't want to talk about housing anyway, returning to what's become an obsession with Yarnell and yesterday's vague demand for federal money to rebuild.

The only clear takeaway is that he doesn't like the President. Now there's a useful contribution.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Editorial: Where's my daddy?

Today the unnamed editor complains that the federal government is not leaping in to assuage the wounded community of Yarnell, vaguely blames the President and Congress, and hopes aloud that Governor Brewer will "get the President's attention" to do something for the "handful of people" who lost everything.

This from the paper that consistently endorses the myth of independence from government and reliance on local charitable resources when we find ourselves in trouble, anything to reduce the editor's tax obligations. His continuous milking of the Yarnell tragedy has devolved to just another flavor of me-ism.

The editor does not say what he'd like "the feds" to do, exactly. Print money and hand it to the Yarnellians? Set up a FEMA camp for people who already have somewhere to stay? Send the FHA to build new homes for them? Free ponies and ice cream? I can't imagine.

The event was clearly a disaster for Yarnell, but its scale does not qualify for federal disaster status and, more to the point, it can't even be called unexpected given the geography of the area and the fire-friendly conditions we regularly experience in the county.

Yet the editor continues to bury his head on the starvation of the Forest Service and state fire resources over the past few years, most importantly the disastrous too-stupid-to-be-used "sequester" plan to reduce government functions and services, as well as the anti-American Republicans in Congress doing all they can to impede government processes and services. In that context the editor illustrates the pennywise pound-foolishness that has become "conservative" dogma.

So the editor asks "Where's my daddy?" and I have to say his fellow "conservatives" have Daddy tied up in the basement. Point the finger at yourself, editor, you keep voting for this kind of result.

Here's what a progressive government would do: accept some responsibility for the failure of fire protection and provide federally secured grants and loans for rebuilding uninsured primary housing, insist on adequate insurance in wildland interfaces going forward, and require insurance carriers to live up to their obligations through transparent, comprehensive coverage. At the state level we can do a lot more to limit society's exposure to fanciful decisions to build homes in areas that are difficult or impossible to secure, and to recognize that this kind of risk is increasing with climate change.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Council endorsements show thin thinking

The history of the Courier editorial board's election picks does not lend itself to much credibility, but today's endorsements are interesting not for what they say about the candidates, but rather how they illuminate the psyches of the editors.

There is a theme to these endorsements, including that of insurgent progressive Jean Wilcox, and that is political experience. The editors say they value experience and institutional memory even over competence or the ability to form a rational thought, as seen in their continuing support for Councilman Steve Blair, who has done more than any single person ever to make a laughingstock of our town, or at least its Council.

Experience does have its limits for the editors, as we see in the snub to Councilman Len Scamardo, the eldest of the candidates and arguably with the most time in the government saddle, in favor of Greg Lazell. But the editors' praise for Lazell still centers on experience, not ideas.  The editors clearly believe that more time on the job produces better results from the office, and readers know I generally agree with that.

Yet the editors have spent miles of editorial ink touting the wonderfulness of legislative and executive term limits, asserting exactly the opposite; that more time in office leads to corruption and less effective governance. They can't have it both ways.

The truth is that experience can lead in either direction, depending on the character of the officeholder, and the purpose of periodic elections is to reevaluate that experience in the context of what the constituency needs now.

What experience has given us over the past several councils is a devotion to small-time thinking and reactionary emotionalism. What Prescott needs is a return to the robust, visionary positivism that is our true heritage.

Mayor Kuykendall has taken pride in being the still center of a stagnant pool, while former Councilwoman Lindsay Bell has been working steadily for positive change here for decades, both in and outside government. The choice there is easy.

Councilman Blair is long past his sell-by date and an embarrassment to all of us for his big mouth and small mind. Any of the candidates is easily a better choice.

I agree with the editors on Ms Wilcox, who stands out both for her government smarts and her vision for the future. Her experience also leads me to expect she has the grit to see it through and stay on mission as the details of office inevitably peck away at her attention.

I'm less impressed with Mr Lazzell's public statements, which in aggregate seem to reflect the sort of overcautious uncommitment that has so consistently got us nowhere (and which the Courier editors call "realistic"). So far I see in him a younger version of Mr Scamardo.

Ellie Laumark's positions and bearing are more attractive, though I'm concerned about her buy-in on the idea that group recovery homes are an important problem, and while she expresses little understanding of our water issues, she seems to get the picture better than Mr Lazzell.

Alan Dubiel has made a personal mission of close attention to City issues and governance for years, and while I'm sure he'll agree he's not the greatest public speaker, I'm confident that he is dedicated to detailed understanding of the ins and outs of every issue he would confront on Council and is not committed to any ideology. He also knows more about our water issues than anyone on Council now. I think it should be Alan's turn at bat this time.

In any case, this election presents us with an opportunity to repudiate the know-nothing reactionism of our recent past and elect a new majority to Council that wants to move Prescott forward. The sooner the better, I say.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

What's the point of the "Xtian nation" meme?

I've been musing on Dave McNabb's letter published yesterday, in which he gives yet another go at the idea that the Founders intended this to be a "Christian country" by demonstrating his own ignorance about what the label might have meant to them in their own context. I don't need to debate that canard for anyone reading this, but there's an angle to it that's generally not talked about openly, and that is what's really wrong with the idea.

Start with the root question — Why is it important for certain Xtian extremists to win this argument? We don't see letters to the editor defending other extended tenets of faith, like ritual cannibalism, stoning adulterers or magical spirits, so this is not just another one. This is really about creating a religious identity for our country, meaning both that we are this and we are not that.

That leads to what they hope to accomplish if they win the argument. Say some future Congress and Supreme Court not too different from what we have right now were to conspire to alter the Constitution to say, in effect, 'the United States is a Christian nation.' Clearly the extremists want this to happen, so presumably to them it represents positive change. What would it mean, and what specific changes does it lead to?

Better bloggers than I have frequently offered the irresistible parallel to the nations in which secularism or despotism have given way to extremist Islamic states, so I needn't belabor the point, because our brand of religious extremist cannot see himself as part of that Christian tradition. The papal states of old won't do, because these people believe that Martin Luther's revolution purged the faith of its corruption and left it clean and good. Can I get an uh-huh.

I'm sure many would be surprised to learn the extent to which the democracies of Europe were built on explicit statements of faith, and so are a whole lot more Xtian in that sense than we can ever be. Similarly, smiling old corporate Japan and most of the the Asian tigers base their governance on the divine lineage of their monarchs (though nobody much cares). And leave us not forget old Blighty, with its brand-new heir to the throne of its own Xtian sect.

So there's a spectrum of realities between dour old Iran and happy Thailand in what constitutes a "religious state." How would Americans express this idea specifically?

Cotton Mather, the kind of founding father a religious extremist can heart.
I suppose the most relevant examples come from our own pre-revolutionary history, when many of the colonies were explicitly religious states. These were built and operated by people who were too annoying or too extreme to make it in Europe, and thought it would be great to isolate themselves from human society so they could better express their dogma. Here I go straight to Jim Jones in Guyana, but I'm a bit of a cynic in this area.

So while the rest of the nation was expressing its true nature by carving a life out of nothing in a drunken haze, these superstitious crackpot communities tried to enforce gad's law in ways much like those of the Colorado City cult — iron thought control under threat of being cast into what was then a non-metaphorical wilderness, dictatorship under self-appointed spiritual elites in a permanent state of emergency, and the exclusion of anything or anyone that might contaminate the purity of the community or threaten the established order.

This is the world people like Dave would take us back to, but with a high-tech post-industrial infrastructure and surveillance culture that literally runs on fear-based propaganda already. They don't think thngs through far enough to consciously understand what they're advocating, of course, but read what they're saying in public and it's always there in the subtext.

Here's the deal, Dave: the founders said no, no state religion, ever, and no matter what their personal beliefs, they saw this as essential to ensuring our freedom. I'm good with that.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Williams: Shapes in fog

Today Buz raises the bar for incoherence on the Courier op-ed page, trying to turn what should have been a couple of Facebook likes into a piece long enough to justify the paycheck. It may net the paycheck, but it just doesn't work as opinion. Waste of time.

Page One: Where advertising becomes news

Today's front page prominently features the very worst reflexes of the commercial news business in a shameless and embarrassing promotion of the consumer stampede called the "back-to-school season."

     Here's how it works. Start with a reasonable news-style question: What are people buying for their kids for school? You have to ignore the true value of the question, because there really is no useful information for a parent in knowing what another parent is spending on. So rather than serve your customer, the reader, you serve your client, the advertiser. Prominently feature the stores and the products. Quote children who are too young to have any awareness of what they're asking for. Treat the awfulness of the products as if it's cute and harmless. Push the idea that spending for these useless and awful things is necessary to the child's development. Then cash the checks.
     This stuff is not news, it is not useful, in fact it is asinine and counterproductive for the reader. The editors should be ashamed.

Monday, July 29, 2013

The climate "debate" again

I don't need to waste space here on the absurdly thin gruel that passes for content of the Courier's weekend "point-counterpoint" on climate change. What I will focus on is the editorial choices that created it.
     Whether humans are causing catastrophically rapid change in our climate is a question that can only be answered by good science. Assuming the editors are not complete idiots, they know this. Yet to present the data on this question, which is vital to every human and every living thing on the planet, the editors choose Dennis Duvall and Glenn Helm.
     Neither of these worthy men claims any qualification to opine on climate science. I don't know more about Mr Helm, but Mr Duvall is locally famous as a peace activist who takes it to the limit, and for that he has a reputation among the local non-hippies as a nut. Neither argument includes any new idea, or new angle, or even readable prose. Neither addresses the argument of the other, as usual. Both are bumpy rides on personal hobbyhorses.
     The resulting pair of rants amount to a discussion of the issue based on a little media coverage, personal issues, and, from the uncommitted reader's standpoint, a lot of dubious faith. From your imagined seat behind the editor's desk, why in the world would you waste most of your Sunday op-ed page on nonsense no more informative than a Three Stooges short?
     I'm not one to easily ascribe malice where incompetence will do, but the level of incompetence required to achieve this level of quackery strains imagination. It has to be intentional, I'm afraid, and the intent is ugly.
     To get to this I can only infer that the editors mean to undercut the credibility of the question itself, saying in essence that the people talking about climate change are idiots and thinking about the issue is a waste of time. This goes far beyond editorial bias to something far darker and more subversive.
      Don't fall for it.


Thursday, July 25, 2013

Editorial: Quit starving the schools

Is the editor correct that the Legislature should follow state law and provide inflation adjustments on school funding? Yes. Could he say it in a way that's simple and direct enough for the legislators to understand? One would think so. So why doesn't he? Why, whenever he's compelled to criticize Republicans, does he resort to this mealy-mouthed we'll-see crap?

Williams: Whining is the New Manly

Buz achieves a new low for trivial bunkum on the opinion page, it must be noted with the full support of the Courier editors, in his white-knight defense of Sarah Palin, set up as the innocent damsel of the "conservative" movement, against the dragon of the Angry Left in the person of mean old Bill Maher.
     In the first graf we get the gist, and we have to wonder how Buz imagines that he can predict the actions of people he doesn't know working in institutions whose missions he doesn't understand. From there you just know the path will have to be a bit crookedy.
     Buz is outraged that Maher would say mean things about Palin on a comedy show that's primarily about making fun of Republicans. He extends his mock chivalry further to other women and black "conservatives."
     With this he seems to mean to lance progressives for the hypocrisy of demanding equal treatment of people and then treating them equally as targets of scorn.
     There's no funnier moment in the piece than where he attempts to instruct on "the logical fallacy known as 'poisoning the well,'" as if Buz has ever paid the slightest attention to logic.
     As I stand back a bit and take the big picture of what Buz is saying, consciously and unconsciously, I'm struck by the white-male paternalism that motivates him to place Palin, Bachmann, Cain and Thomas behind his mighty white shield (for in Buz's world, women and nonwhite men are weak, second-class humans). His understanding of why they have become jokes ends at his own frame on them as "conservative" and nonwhite or female. Anything they've done to elicit public criticism is of course immaterial.

   

Buz imagines how Palin might abuse Maher's nose in person, but I find it funnier to imagine how Palin might react to Buz telling her she needs his protection.
     Since we're talking hypocrisy, I have to wonder where Buz was when his teammates were gleefully photoshopping the President as a bone-through-the-nose Hollywood witch doctor, or insulting Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton for years in the crudest terms, or slut-shaming Sandra Fluke.
     Here's a clue, Buz: If you hope to hold the high moral ground, drive the snakes from your own nest first.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Editorial: Prescott is not Detroit. Duh.

I'm sure many Courier readers are relieved to read that Prescott isn't like Detroit, so we shouldn't worry about falling into bankruptcy. Similarly, Prescott isn't like Neptune, so we shouldn't worry about how to calculate tides with 14 moons or how to breathe methane.
     It's truly comical to see how the editor's thinking is led and framed by teevee headlines. The idea that the experience of Detroit is in any way parallel to that of Prescott is beyond ridiculous. Detroit at its peak was well over forty times larger than Prescott. It is an international trade port, built for the export of timber, mineral and agricultural resources and expanding on broad-based industrial infrastructure and large-scale manufacturing. It anchors an industrial region spreading into four states and southern Ontario. No, it's not like Prescott.

This ...

      Where Detroit drives Michigan's economy, Prescott is subject to Arizona's whims. The industry that built Prescott is long gone, and today it depends on money earned elsewhere, spent by retirees, tourists and entrepreneurs. To operate the City depends heavily on state-controlled revenue sharing and sales taxes. Our prosperity (for yes, our town is a prosperous one) relies on the desires of people elsewhere to live here, or at least wander through and gawk.
     The editor fails to note the one instructive commonality that might have made his point — that Prescott, like Detroit did, has become complacent and backward-looking, failing to understand the implications of change or undertake a coherent vision for adapting to it.
... is not this.
      The editor's assertion that Prescott is doing well because "Arizona governments understand the balancing act of budgets" would be funny enough without his example of pawning our state buildings, as stupid a budgeting move as I have ever seen. His headline hints at proactivity, but he delivers nothing to support the idea, and anyone watching the legislative process over the past decade has to admit quite the opposite, that we have allowed reactivity and magical thinking to dominate.
     We can expect our retired population to grow in the short term, but we can also expect it to begin shrinking again within a couple of decades. Our population growth is in conflict with the quality of life that supports it. Our water input is gradually diminishing against that growth. Our industrial base is very thin, and our infrastructure for 21st-century industry is entirely lacking. These are soluble problems, but solving them will take higher-caliber thinking and longer-term goals.
     Vision is what voters should be looking for in its Council candidates as the election approaches. It's time for us to stop reacting, usually badly, to change and start embracing and leading it.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Editorial: The upside of the surveillance state

Pity the poor Courier editor. Ed Snowden forced him to think about the increasing electronic surveillance of Americans since the Patriot Act, but now he can't quite decide whether Snowden is a traitor or whether all this e-snooping is a good thing, crippling him with so much confusion that he's forced to write an editorial.
     The only opinion I can detect in the piece is this: "there may be a bright side to Americans drawing away from this obsession that every detail of every minute of life just has to be posted, ...," which I translate as, "it's a good thing they're watching us, as maybe we won't say so much in public," a rather odd position for any member of the fourth estate to take.
     But it clearly illustrates the frog-on-simmer thinking that has held sway in this country for over a decade, where the populace greets each new insult with an oh-well at its inevitability, much as the editor shrugs though his column today, complacent with the idea that whatever the NSA spooks are doing, they're not after him, so all's well.
     Noodging I-told-you-sos from those of us who warned about the creeping surveillance state years ago do no real good. What we need now is to use the Snowden incident to raise the question, what kind of country do you want to live in? I can't imagine anyone answering sincerely that we like being electronically strip-searched daily, cowering and sniveling in fear of phantom threats, while fat corporations rob us blind. Yet that's what the editor seems to be embracing.

Note to editor: as you apparently missed it, here's the first rule of writing anything: have something to say.


Sunday, July 21, 2013

Did he really say that?

Sen McCain seems to be saying that the AZ Legislature should review our "stand your ground" law. I'll bet that'll be very popular among our high priests of crazy down there.


Saturday, July 20, 2013

A formidable reporter

RIP Helen Thomas

Local candidate forums

The paper lists the schedule here for panel talks and meets with the Prescott Council candidates. Go, be better informed, ask better questions if you can, then vote. A few hundred votes can make a huge difference in this election. It's important.

Editorial: Drunk on kool-aid again

The editor thinks it's silly to be fighting over whether people should be required to show proof of citizenship to vote. To him and his fans it seems like a no-brainer, so he appropriately offers up a no-brain approach and no-brain solutions.

   He shows the depth of his naivete about voter suppression in the third graf, writing that because slow progress has been made in the courts and legislatures and it's now against the law to discriminate, "These biases, of course, have disappeared with time."
   What strikes me about this piece is that you have to buy into four separate cracked premises to even get to this argument. You have to believe that non-citizens want to vote, that there is enough voter fraud going on by non-citizens to make a difference, that demanding ID from every voter would be effective in preventing fraud, and that there is negligible cost to citizens in requiring proof of citizenship.
   Extreme bunker mentalities really do believe that hordes from beyond the borders want to subvert our electoral process using illegal voting, and even that they are having some success with it. But the argument for motivation is preposterous on its face, and the evidence of actual fraud utterly nonexistent. With no problem to solve, the approach to solving it is a waste of energy, but if someone were motivated to cast an illegal vote, fake documents are easily produced and acquired. Finally, there really is cost to every voter, ranging from annoying bureaucratic procedures to full disenfranchisement, and we have the results to prove it, varying from heartbreaking individual stories of voters who have been prevented from registering and voting to statistical anomalies in voter turnout and electorate makeup where these laws are in effect. I've seen for myself unjust disenfranchisement and discouragement as a poll worker right here in Prescott, and in doing my lawful job I've had a direct hand in it.
   The editor has literally no idea what he's talking about, and appears to have no interest in learning.
   I'll give him the benefit of the doubt that he's not motivated by conscious racism or political hegemony. He could easily be seeing the trumped-up BS on his teevee and soaking in the idea that if people seem to be worried about a thing, it must be worrisome. But that's not why it's an issue.
   The concern-trolling about voter fraud in the media and on the political stage came as a direct result and hard on the heels of the invented "immigration crisis," positing immense cost to society of inimical aliens bent on the subversion of the American way of life and stealing us blind (presumably by leaving the country by the millions). None of that is true either.
   As I've written before here and elsewhere, this issue is invented entirely to scare Americans into voting against their own interests, by appealing to their completely unjustified, parochial fears of The Other. It's the Southern Strategy all over again, and its authors are the same crew that Nixon used to win the South in '68.
   It's not working as well this time around, though, because voters born after the struggle for black civil rights are generally far less afraid and more likely to identify with those who are being hurt. That's why the darksiders have to continually up the ante with increasingly unhinged, reality-divorced rhetoric.
   This editorial carries a reasonable tone, but it is based entirely in the frightened, helpless flailing of the slow death of white supremacy and a crass and cynical political elite willing to do literally anything to extend its power. For them the editor is just a tool, and doing a good job at it.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Williams: 'War on coal' hurts Heritage Foundation funders

Today Buz Williams, the regular Courier columnist with no writing or intellectual credentials who chooses to misspell his own nickname, rails against the President for an unreasonable "war" against the coal industry at the expense of the poor and middle classes. He has a point, if you're willing to ignore every good reason to move away from our dirtiest fuel and you're unable to comprehend basic economics.
   First, the idea of moving the country to cleaner energy resources did not originate with the President, nor would he likely have much interest in the political fight over it if not for the solid majority of Americans who recognize that the preferred fuel of the 19th century is hurting us in the 21st. Long before anyone but a few scientists knew anything about climate change, we recognized that coal emissions are the primary source of ill health and broad economic impairment due to air pollution.
   Remember the unbreathable air in LA in the '60s? (I'm sure Buz does.) Remember acid rain eating up concrete all over the Northeast? The automotive component was significant, but that was primarily coal. When Congress in the '70s began addressing those issues, we heard the same "war on coal" arguments and the same predictions of doom, from the same people. The sky didn't fall for the industry then, and much as we might prefer, it won't fall due to the President's current initiative, which I hasten to add is far from even passing its first legislative or bureaucratic hurdles, let alone having real effect.
   Buz's research for the piece is rooted entirely in the Heritage Foundation, an organization funded primarily and generously by the coal and oil industries, which anyone reading this likely already knows. But I'm perfectly willing to posit that yes, as we move away from burning coal for electricity, there will be fewer people employed in the industry, his core emotional point.
   Here's where basic economics come into the picture. As those people leave coal, employment demand is ramping up in cleaner industries. Nowhere is this clearer than in the awful fracking fad, which is drawing people directly from oil drilling to gas drilling. Somehow Buz misses that reducing energy from coal doesn't mean less energy, it means more of other kinds in younger industries that will employ more people than coal has.
   Cleaning up the mess from coal will displace workers, yes, but in aggregate it will put them into better jobs. The only people who will feel pain from this inevitable change are those who continue to bet their extensive riches on dirty fuels, like the funders of Heritage.
   I suppose I don't really need to remark on the childish petulance Buz expresses at the end of the piece, but in a way it opens a window on the emotional basis for the resistance to the kind of change that we must embrace for our economic and even species survival. The thing is, as we do embrace it, we'll find that we'll be happier and more prosperous. But I doubt that Buz and his ilk will ever be able to see it.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Editorial: McCain saves the day

Honestly, sometimes the editor's ability to turn real life into Bizarro World takes my breath away.

Here "saving the day" means preserving the ability of Senate Republicans to permanently obstruct any kind of legislative progress without doing a lick of work. He gives McCain credit for high diplomacy for standing in front of his criminal gang and saying, "OK, we'll let you get a couple of small things done if you don't shoot us all in the head."

News you won't find in the Courier, episode 117

We can look forward to similar savings here if our Legislature gets out of the way.

NYT:  Health Plan Cost for New Yorkers Set to Fall 50%

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Trippy bug

Be glad it's not some cute puppy.

Editorial: Surprise! The whiter guy wins!

The editor's headline sets the properly comic tone, perhaps unintended, for his unsurprising expression of confidence in the law as the guy who killed the unarmed teen walks. This caps off the Trial of the Summer, an annual media event designed to keep viewers engaged with their teevees during the rerun/baseball season.

I have to think that he meant to put a comma in the head, i.e. "Legal system worked, as always," setting up his confident, ain't-we-the-greatest-country-in-the-world column. But he left it out, and for those of us with enough hashmarks to recall exactly how the legal system has historically worked for black folk in this country, it speaks more truth than the editor knows.


There's another angle to it, though, another blind irony, in that the law certainly worked as the Florida legislature intended when it passed its ALEC-dictated "stand your ground" law. They designed it to make it very hard to convict anyone who uses a gun to "defend" anything, anywhere, anytime from anyone they consider a threat. The person at the wrong end of the gun doesn't have to actually be a threat, of course. Now it's all so much simpler than the traditional lynching party.

Everyone seems to agree that both parties did stupid things, granted. But only one died, and only one had the tool for killing, and that is enough to put the killer in jail long-term in most of the developed world. Not in Florida, though, where juries must receive explicit instructions that if the guy with the gun is afraid, it's okay for him to kill.

True to form, the editor doesn't even think through the elements of the story as he writes them. Like the rest of white America, he's only looking for comfort. Justice? Not so much.

I'm sure it would utterly surprise him to learn that in most similar cases under similar laws where the person with the gun was black, the legal system still "works as always."

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Williams: Defending his right to be hateful

Buz trolls concern about campus codes against hate speech, but he doesn't call it hate speech, he calls it "debate."

He wants to be able to say racist things about the President and be protected (by whom, I wonder?) from being called on it.

The bottom line is that teaching kids to use accurate descriptions of people rather than demeaning slurs and epithets improves debate. Discouraging hateful and demeaning language against others is how we help ensure that everyone can safely participate, and it's always been what adults do.

Buz argues only for the poor downtrodden assholes who believe that the Bill of Rights is a Bill of Licenses to do whatever they want, whenever and to whom they want. This is nothing more than another spasm of nostalgia for the days of the unquestioned social supremacy of the white Protestant male, and no one should have any doubts about the exclusivity of that club.

If you want to argue that rights are impaired, you have to show the impairment. Buz doesn't bother, of course, as then we'd be talking about facts, which is just too hard for him.

Some commenters want to set him up as a martyr in a tricorn hat. The Americans who actually wore those tricorn hats would never have tolerated the boorish behavior he advocates outside the beer hall. Perhaps the whites-only, male-only beer hall is Mr Williams' idea of utopia.