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.