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 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.