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:

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?