Posts tagged ‘Phoenix’
The first time I ever saw one of these coming at me, my first thought was to a Steven King novel (the Mist). I had a moment where I honestly thought to myself, "I wonder if, five minutes from now, I am going to regret not jumping in my car and driving like hell to stay ahead of this thing." More here
Basically an enormous dirt tsunami once inside of it things are not as bad as they look, with it being like a medium-dense brown fog. Of course, absolutely everything one owns outside or with the smallest non-airtight seal to the outside has to be hosed off afterwards.
One of the charities my family supports is Teach for America. Among other things, we sponsor a local teacher in the program. A bunch of our friends were kind enough to chip in with gifts for the kids in her class and my wife and I delivered them last week at the Phoenix Collegiate Academy, a charter school in South Phoenix for 5-8 graders.
The fun of delivering the presents was reduced later on finding out that at almost that same moment, another group of kids was being killed in Connecticut. But through a strange series of articles that seemed to have used the Sandy Hook massacre as an argument for teacher unionization and against charter schools (yeah, I don't get the connection either), I found out that teachers unions hate Teach for America. Which means that I will likely double my contribution next year.
Postscript: Teach for America began as a senior thesis at Princeton. Its key idea is to make teaching a viable job option, as least for a few years, for top college grads. The program is quite selective, and combines talented highly motivated young people with a proven teaching approach. They then drop these teachers into the public school system, often in classrooms with a high percentage of kids who qualify for school lunch programs (ie low income).
It's clear from the article that teachers union and education establishment types hate these teachers. Since they make a contrast by calling themselves "professionals", the presumed implication is that these young people are unprofessional. Its amazing to me that anyone who has spent even ten minutes in a room with a group of TFA teachers could be so hostile to them. I have met many of them, and they are a consistently amazing bunch who are both smart and genuinely love their kids.
I was skeptical, and still am a bit, of the notion of throwing great teachers into a failing public school system. They clearly help individual kids, which is why I am still behind it, but they do nothing to help the overall system. It's like sending great engineers into Solyndra -- at some level, it seems like a waste (though I am impressed with this particular charter school, which seems to be doing a good job with the limited resources it has -- it gets far less money per pupil than the average public school in Phoenix but does a better job given the demographic of its students).
Hotels Among the Favored Few in the Corporate State (Along with Sports Teams, Taxi Owners, and Farmers)
The various cities in the Phoenix metropolitan area have spent a fortune renovating ten spring training fields for 15 major league teams. I have seen a number like $500 million for the total, but this seems low as Scottsdale spent $100 million for just one complex and Glendale may have spent as much as $200 million for theirs. Never-the-less, its a lot of taxpayer money.
The primary subsidy, of course, is for major league teams that get lovely facilities that they use for about one month in twelve.
But these subsidies always get sold on their community impact. But that economic impact turns out to be really narrow. For in-town visitors, the economic impact is typically a wash, as money spent on going to sports games just substitutes for other local spending. But these stadiums are held up as great economic engines because they attract out of town visitors:
Cactus League baseball and year-round use of its ballparks and training facilities add an estimated $632 million to Arizona economy, according to a study released Monday by the Cactus League Baseball Association.
The study found that 56 percent of the 1.7 million fans attending games this past spring were out-of-state visitors and the median stay in metro Phoenix was 5.3 nights.
Spring training accounted for $422 million in economic impact in 2012, up 36 percent from the previous study in 2007. Both were done by FMR Associates of Tucson.
One of the flaws of such studies is they never, ever look at what the business displaces. For example, for local visitors, they never look at local spending sports customers might have made if they had not gone to the game. All spending on the sports-related businesses are treated as incremental. For out-of-town visitors, no one ever considers other visitors coming for non-sports reasons who are displaced (March was already, without all the baseball, the busiest hotel month in Phoenix) or considers that some of the visitors might have come to the area anyway.
However, let's for one moment of excessive credulity accept these numbers, and look at the out of town visitors. 56 percent of 1.7 million people times 5.3 nights divided by 2 people per room is 2.52 million room nights, or at $150 each a total of $378 million. So most of their spring training economic impact is hotel room nights. This by the way is the same logic that supports various public subsidies of local college bowl games.
Which begs the question, why are we spending upwards of a billion dollars in taxpayer money to subsidize sports teams and hotel chains? If the vast majority of the economic impact of these stadium investments is for hotels, why don't they pay for them, or split the cost with the teams?
PS- as an aside, it seems that to be successful in the corporate state, one needs ready access to consultants who will put absurdly high numbers on the positive impact of one's government subsidies. It's like money laundering, but with talking points. Take your self-serving spin, hand it with a bunch of money to a consultant, and out comes a laundered "study". In this case, the "study" architects are FMR Associates, which bills itself as specializing "in strategic research for the communications industry." The communications industry means "PR flacks". So they specialize in making your talking points sound like they have real research behind them. Probably a growing business in our corporate state.
In my high school days, I used to play a lot of wargames from Avalon Hill and SPI. I once spent an entire summer playing one game of War in Europe, which had a 42-square-foot map of Europe and 3500 or so pieces. Each turn was one week, so it was literally a full time job getting through it in a couple of months.
All that is to say I spent a lot of time hanging out at game stores, particularly Nan's in Houston (a great game and comic store that still exists and I still visit every time I am in Houston). I play fewer wargames now, but I still like strategy games that are a bit more complicated than Monopoly or Risk. But it is hard to find a game store with a good selection (if there is one here in Phoenix, I have not found it).
But I definitely want to try this place -- the Complete Strategist in New York City. Click through for some good game pr0n.
His list of games is good, though I have never played Gloom and I have never been a huge fan of Carcassonne. Ticket to Ride is an awesome game and is perhaps the most accessible for kids and noobs of either his or my list. If you recognize none of these games, it is a great place to start (there is also a great iPad app). To his list of games I would add:
- 7 wonders (our family's current favorite)
- Small world (our family's previous favorite, also look for the great iPad app)
- Dominion (my current personal favorite)
- Race for the Galaxy (you can also download an online version to try, one of my favorite quick computer games)
All of these games tend to present simple choices with extraordinarily complex scoring implications. In most cases, one must build infrastructure early to score later, but the trade-off of when to switch from infrastructure building to scoring is the trick. Five years ago Settlers of Catan would have been on any such list, but it is interesting it is on neither his nor mine.
Once you catch the bug, there are hundreds of other games out there. My son and I last summer got caught up in a very complex Game of Thrones expandable card game. Recommended only for those who love incredible complexity and are familiar with the books. There are also a couple of games I have liked but only played once so far. My son and I last summer played a fabulous though stupidly complex game of Twilight Struggle (about the Cold War, not hot vampire teens). This is considered by many to be one of the greatest war / strategy games ever. We also tried Eclipse (space game, again not the teen vampires) which we liked. I have played Le Havre and Puerto Rico as iPad apps. They were OK, but I think the fun in them is social and the of course does not come through in the iPad app. In the same vein, tried to play Agricola with my kids and they were bored stiff.
Apparently, the home in which L. Ron Hubbard invented Scientology is right here in Phoenix. In fact, it is right by my kids' school and I drive past it almost every day. In the next few days I will take a camera and snap a picture or two.
I was a fan of Hubbard's "Battlefield Earth" (the book, not the movie) as a young adult -- it is a classic example of 1950's pulp science fiction -- though I picked it up a few years ago out of nostalgia and found that it did not wear very well. I do not know much about Scientology, though I wonder why folks who go all-in for it aren't at least a bit suspicious of a religion involving ancient aliens that was cooked up by a science fiction writer.
The whole thing makes for a fascinating story, and I think it would be fabulous book material for someone who is not either a proselytizing Scientologist or an angry ex-Scientologist with an ax to grind.
Fortunately I am not vain, so that I can still post this terrible picture of myself. I am proudly holding the government-mandated flow restrictor I just removed from my most recent shower head purchase. I don't buy any shower head until I make sure it has a removable restrictor.
The Federal laws restricting shower head flows have got to be among the dumbest on the books. Some thoughts:
- Water is not equally scarce everywhere. So why is everyone required to conserve? Why is the ideal flow rate the same in Seattle as in Phoenix?
- Government policy for over a century has been to promote subsidized water prices that don't reflect its true scarcity (particularly to farmers). Then, having guaranteed overuse via its pricing actions, the government then implements silly laws like this to try to offset the harm from its meddling in prices.
- We have a lawn in Phoenix that needs constant watering and a pool that evaporates so fast in the summer one can almost see the water level dropping. But the state's priority is to knock of a few gallons of water use from my shower.
- With the low flow shower heads, it takes me three times longer to get the soap and shampoo off of me than with a full-flow head. So we cut the water rate by half, but extend shower times by three. And this helps, how? And don't even get me started on low-flow toilets
- The last three hotel rooms I have stayed in have had double shower heads, to make up the lost flow from wimpy government-approved single heads. This process of cutting back on how much a single head can flow and then adding extra heads is incredibly dumb and wasteful.
- I suspect this is all secret revenge from some English expat that wanted US showers to be as bad as those in Britain.
New taxes are frequently sold as protecting police, fire, and education, though these together represent barely 25% of all US government spending. Where does the rest go? It's a giant bait and switch, made worse by the fact that even within these categories, new headcount is more likely to be added in administrative and overhead roles rather than in promised functions such as "teachers". This is the subject of my Forbes column this week:
There is a way to reconcile this: While increases in education spending are sold to the public as a way to improve results in the classroom, in reality most of the new money and headcount are going to anything but increasing the number of teachers.
Let’s start with an example from the city of Phoenix, New York. Why this town? Am I cherry-picking? In fact, I was looking for data on my home town of Phoenix, Arizona. But I have come to discover that while school districts are really good at getting tomorrow’s cafeteria menu on the web, they are a little less diligent in giving equal transparency to their budget and staffing data. But it turns out that Phoenix, New York, which I discovered when I was looking for my home town data, publishes a lovely summary of its budget data, so I will use it as an example that helps make my point.
The city’s budget summary for 2012-2013 is here. Overall, they are proposing a 0.4% increase in spending for next year, which initially seems lean until one understands that they are projecting a 4% decline in enrollment, such that this still represents an increase in spending per pupil faster than inflation. But the interesting part is the mix.
What are the two things politicians are always claiming they need extra money for? Classroom instruction and infrastructure. As you can see in this budget, only two categories of spending go down: classroom instruction and facility maintenance and cleaning. Administrative expenses increase 4% (effectively 8% per pupil) and employee benefits expenses increase just under 1% despite a total decline in staffing. Though I am not very familiar with the program, one irony here is that the fastest growing category is the 8.7% growth (nearly 13% per pupil) in spending with BOCES, a New York initiative that was supposed to reduce administrative costs in public schools. In other words, spending increases are going to everything except the areas which politicians promise.
I don’t think these trends are isolated to this one admittedly random example. The Arizona auditor-general recently did a study on trends in education spending in the state. They found exactly the same tendency to reduce classroom spending to pay for increases in administrative headcounts.
Read it all, as they say.
Well, it looks like the NHL may have a buyer for the Phoenix Coyotes. I have not seen all the terms, but the problem in finding a buyer has been this: based on comps from other recent sales (e.g. Atlanta) the price for sunbelt teams is something like $100 million max, but the NHL has promised its owners it would not sell it for less than $200 million. The NHL has to find a sucker, and if billionaire buyers are not willing to be a sucker, then they have to find a third party sucker to just kick in $1oo million of present value to make the deal work.
Enter the city of Glendale. It has tried very hard on multiple occasions to be that sucker, and only was stopped from doing so by efforts of the Goldwater Institute to enforce a state Constitutional injunction on corporate welfare.
Glendale has apparently found a new way to subsidize the transaction by promising to pay an above-market stadium management fee. I have talked to some sports executives, including one very familiar with this stadium, and they have all said that in a free market, a third party might take the stadium management contract for free, because though it carries operational costs, it also yields offsetting revenues (like stadium rentals for concerts).
By paying an above-market rate for stadium management services, Glendale can provide a corporate subsidy but retain the fiction that this is a service contract rather than crony welfare. Over the last two years, Glendale has paid the NHL $25 million a year in stadium management fees, a payment everyone understands to actually be a subsidy to keep the team in town.
I presume the new buyer has met the NHL's $200 million price tag. But that is obvriously overpaying. So Glendale is going to kick a bunch of money back to the buyer to make it work, in the form of $306 million in stadium management fees. Via the Sporting News:
Longtime Glendale city councilor Phil Lieberman on Monday, in an interview with Sportsnet.ca, estimated that arena management fees paid by the city to Jamison under terms of the deal would total $306 million over the next 21 years, or an average of $14.6 million. A large chunk of that money, Lieberman says, is front-loaded, with Glendale on the hook for $92 million over the next five years. Nearby University of Phoenix Stadium, home to the Arizona Cardinals of the NFL, carries a $9.2-million management fee annually.
By the way, University of Phoenix Stadium is far larger and more expensive to operate, so one would expect the Coyotes arena management payment to be less than $9.2 million. And the $9.2 million, since it comes from Glendale as well, likely has a subsidy built in. But let's for a second assume something like $8 million a year is the high end for what a market rate for such a contract would be. This would be $168 million over 21 years, implying $138 million minimum in subsidy built into the management contract. There you go, there is the sucker payment to make up the difference between market value of the team and the NHL's price.
In fact, according to numbers at the WSJ, the city would have been better off leaving the stadium empty and just paying off the note (and they certainly would have been better taking Jim Balsillie's offer to move the team but help them pay down their note).
The NHL has announced a tentative sale to a group headed by former San Jose Sharks executive Greg Jamison, under terms that would essentially institutionalize Glendale's commitments. Under the proposal that the NHL has laid out for city council members, the city would continue paying an arena-management fee that would average about $14.5 million a year.
On top of the city's average $12.6 million in debt service, that amounts to annual expenses of about $27.1 million—to be offset by anticipated Coyotes-related revenue of $14.2 million, according to projections by Glendale's city management department. That adds up to a projected annual loss for Glendale of $12.9 million.
Of course, Glendale wants to keep the team because it cut a crony deal with a few real estate developers to build a retail and condo complex around the stadium. Of course, these ventures have also gone bankrupt. So the city is trying to bail out and keep a bankrupt hockey team to sustain an already bankrupt retail developer.
The logic of course is that Glendale wants to attract retail businesses to Glendale from nearby Peoria and Phoenix. But in the end, they are just messing up their own goal:
Some Glendale business owners may also oppose the deal, including David Kimmerle, owner of Sanderson Ford car dealership in Glendale. A longtime sponsor and fan of the Coyotes, Kimmerle felt betrayed when Glendale officials recently proposed raising the city's sale tax, in large part to support the cost of the team. The proposed increase would make a $30,000 car on Kimmerle's lot $330 more expensive than in the neighboring suburb of Peoria. "No one is going to pay a premium to shop in Glendale," Kimmerle said. "If it is choosing between the Coyotes or a business that is been in my family since 1955 and employs 500 people, I have to choose my business."
So, which would you bet on: That retail buyers will choose a location based on prices and taxes, or based on its proximity to a hockey team? Glendale is betting hundreds of millions of dollars its the latter. Which is why they are idiots.
Oh, and those Goldwater folks. Per the Sporting News article:
As for Goldwater Institution opposition to the deal, the league, Jamison and Glendale are aggressively striving to craft a sale that avoids Goldwater opposition and possible legal action.
And how are they doing this?
The NHL, city and Jamison are also not producing public documents on their deal so they can avoid records falling into Goldwater's hands.
Your transparent government at work. Its not breaking the law if no one can prove it.
Unfortunately, the combination of April being our busiest month every year (when all our seasonal operations start up), the addition of operations in two new states (which requires a myriad of registrations, permissions, licenses, etc), and several unusual very late bid packages for the operation of parks means that I am working on Sunday.
I spent my first hour of Earth Day, appropriately enough, fiddling with my building's computer HVAC system, trying to get the air conditioning (normally off on a Sunday) turned on. I was finally successful, so I can now enjoy a comfortable Earth Day even in nearly 100 degree Phoenix weather, thanks to modern technology and a generous helping of fossil fuel combustion.
I almost hate beating on the silly folks who run the City of Glendale even further, but they keep screwing up.
One of the reasons I think that city officials like those in Glendale like to dabble in real estate and sports stadiums is what I call the "bigshot effect." They don't have any capital of their own, and they don't have the skills such that anyone else would (voluntarily) trust them to invest other people's money, but with a poll of tax money they get to play Donald Trump and act like they are big wheels. The Glendale city council did this for years, and when their incompetence inevitably led to things starting to fall apart, they have simply thrown more money at it to try to protect their personal prestige.
But unfortunately, incompetence generally is an infinite reservoir, and apparently the City has screwed up again. Years ago, when the City promised the rich people who owned the AZ Cardinals a new half billion dollar stadium, they put a contract to that effect on paper. Granted, this was a sorry giveaway, spending hundreds of millions of dollars for a stadium that would be used by the Cardinals for 30 hours a year, by the Fiesta Bowl for 3 hours a year, and by the NFL for a Superbowl for 3 hours every 6-7 years. But, never-the-less, the City made a contractual agreement.
And then, in its rush to be real estate bigshots, the city turned about 3700 parking spaces promised contractually to the Cardinals over to a developer to create an outlet mall (of the sort that has been quietly going bankrupt all over the country over the last few years). Incredibly, the city did this without any plan for how to replace the parking it owed the Cardinals. To this day, it has no plan.
Apparently, there were also some shenanigans with $25 million that had been escrowed to build a parking garage.
The demand letter also blames the parking problem on the city's dealings with Steve Ellman, Westgate's former developer and a one-time co-owner of the Phoenix Coyotes. The letter states that Ellman's relationship with the city has been "characterized by a lack of transparency."
The letter raises questions about a January 2011 arrangement in which the city and Ellman equally split a $25million escrow fund that had been earmarked to build a parking garage in Westgate, the team said.
Ellman put that money in escrow in 2008 after failing to keep a promise to the city to provide a set amount of permanent parking in Westgate.
By early 2011, half of that money went back to Ellman's lenders as part of a deal to try to keep the Coyotes in Glendale, while the city received the other $12.5 million in the account.
What a mess. This is what happens when politicians try to be bigshots with our money.
For years now I have lampooned the crazy money Glendale, AZ has thrown at the Phoenix ice hockey team in a desperate attempt to trade taxpayer money for prestige. Let me bring you up to date:
Years ago a town of about 250,000 people committed about $200 million in taxpayer money to build a stadium for a professional ice hockey team, to attract it away from Scottsdale or downtown Phoenix to what is frankly the ass-end of the metropolitan area (I have no problems with the west side of town, but from a geographic, demographic, and economic logic standpoint this was roughly equivalent to moving the LA Lakers to Riverside or San Bernardino).
For some weird reason, moving an ice hockey team to the desert with no base of hockey fans and locating it a good 45 minutes from the wealthier parts of town caused the team to go bankrupt. Lots of people were willing to pay good money to haul the team back to Canada where there are, you know, ice hockey fans, but few wanted to pay good money to keep it on the west side of Phoenix.
So enter the NHL, which took the team over. The NHL commissioner promised the other owners that it would not lose money on the deal, so it set the price of the team not at the market price (which appears to be around $100 million based on the Atlanta sale) but based on its costs, which were about $200 million. It has agreed to try to keep the team in Glendale, but only if the city covers its operating losses of $25 million each year, which incredibly, the city has done for two years (note this is $100 a year for every man, woman, and child in the city to subsidize a hockey team).
The team may be worth $200 million in Canada, but it is only worth $100 million in Glendale (at most) so it does not sell. The city agreed to make up the $100 million difference with a bond issue (and throw another $90+ million in to boot), which almost closed the deal with one buyer until the Goldwater Institute pointed out that this kind of subsidy was illegal under the AZ constitution. And so the situation sits. The asking price is still $200 million, which no one will pay if they have to keep the team in Glendale. And the city keeps forking over $25 million a year to the NHL to keep the team running.
OK, so that is the background. Here is the new news.
The league, which purchased the Phoenix Coyotes at a bankruptcy court auction in 2009, has been managing the team and city-owned arena until an owner willing to keep the team in Glendale can be found. The city paid $25 million to the NHL during the 2010-11 season and pledged another $25 million for the current season, which is expected to come due in May.
To fulfill that pledge, the city put $20 million in escrow and still needs to come up with $5 million.
The hefty payouts have nearly drained the city's reserves, leading to a recent drop in the city's bond rating.
And the city is looking at a deficit next fiscal year that one councilwoman has estimated could reach $30 million. A possible sales-tax hike, furloughs and program cuts are on the table to close the spending gap....
During Tuesday's budget talks, [Glendale Mayor] Scruggs asked council members to join her in signing a letter to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman to "release us from that $20 million in escrow and let us pay over time."
None of the councilmembers responded to her request. Councilman Manny Martinez later told The Republic he would "have to think about it in light of what is going on."
Scruggs said if the city can get back the $20 million from escrow and pay the NHL an initial $5 million, "our problems and everything our employees are fearful of would pretty much go away."
Translation: Dear NHL, we are idiots and committed a bunch of money to a stupid purpose that we can't really afford. Would you pretty please let us out of our commitment? Hilarious and pathetic. The chickens are coming home to roost by the millions.
Even funnier, the Glendale mayor is trying to blame the NHL for bad faith
The mayor said she and four others councilmembers pledged the second payout last May because city staff and NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said a deal with a team owner was nearly complete and that "we should never have to pay that $25 million."
Scruggs said the city was told the money was just a place holder so that the NHL wouldn't move the team out of Glendale.
"Given the stress that our budget is under, there should be a payment plan developed," Scruggs said. "They have no right to that money. They held us hostage for a year."
She said the NHL never intended to do business with Chicago businessman Matt Hulsizer, who wanted to buy the team but walked away from the negotiation table in frustration just weeks after the council pledged the second payment to the NHL....
Scruggs said the NHL last spring "misled us and they can't do this to our city."
In fact, the NHL was totally serious about the Hulsizer deal. That deal fell through not because the NHL screwed up, but because Glendale did. The deal fell through because Glendale had committed to a subsidy of the deal which may not have been Constitutional, and even if it had proved legal, became impossible when Glendale's bond ratings started tanking and they realized they could not move the paper. Glendale officials have been amateurish and dishonest through this entire process.
By the way, several years ago, Jim Balsillie offered a deal worth over $200 million for the team, PLUS he offered to pay off something like $150 million of Glendale's stadium debt. Glendale opposed the deal, because they would have been left with an empty stadium and tens of millions in debt (given the crash in RIM's fortunes, the offer is unlikely to be renewed).
Glendale is likely going to wish they had taken the first offer. There is a very good chance that Glendale will lose the team without any sort of payment on their debt and after paying $25 million a year to the NHL. Glendale will end up with hundreds of millions in debt, an empty stadium, a junk-level bond rating and a busted budget.
There is a saying in the investment world - your first loss is your best loss. Glendale is about to learn this very expensive lesson.
Went away for a few days with my wife and came down with some kind of flu thing everyone we know in Phoenix seems to have. Temperature, sore throat, coughing, achy joints, headache but fortunately no barfing. Without the vomiting, I can power through what I have to get done, its just not fun.
I am wondering if the CDC uses social media data to track disease outbreaks. I have seem Twitter data showing dynamically when such and such event happened by geotagged Twitter traffic. Be interesting to do that with all tweets with the word "sick".
Women have wrinkles, pores and curves. And there's a movement across the world to make sure advertisers can no longer pretend otherwise.
Now, that movement has come to Arizona.
House Bill 2793, proposed by Rep. Katie Hobbs, D-Phoenix, would require advertisers who alter or enhance a photo to put a disclaimer on that ad alerting customers that "Postproduction techniques were made to alter the appearance in this advertisement. When using this product, similar results may not be achieved."
Really? You mean my wife isn't going to suddenly look like Demi Moore if she uses Dove soap? Next you are going to tell me that drinking Miller Lite does not cause me to suddenly be surrounded by hot women.
Update: Apprarently this is about empowering women by treating them like moronic rubes
"As an organization, we are all about empowering women and eliminating discrimination," Richard said. "We want to make sure that young women get a better start and better self-image."
He said girls need to understand that these photos aren't all real. Someone has airbrushed out the model's wrinkles and pores, or put a woman's head on top of a computer-generated perfect body.
"You need to disclose that so our young women don't grow up thinking a poreless face is possible," he said. "That's not the way that I think anyone wants to raise their daughters."
On the way to work today, which is normally only a 5-minute drive for me, there was a small fender-bender among a couple of cars. The cars did exactly what you are supposed to do: they pulled off the road into a nearby parking lot so they would not block traffic. The police could not be bothered, and just parked in the right lane, jamming traffic up for a mile or so. I looked - there was no debris or anything in the road that they were trying to block (you can confirm that from the picture below), the police simply did not have the common courtesy that the other drivers had.
Yes, the police car below is actually parked and unoccupied in the right lane at morning rush hour. The citizens involved can be seen pulled into the parking lot at the left. Though it is hard to see from the picture, the traffic backup extends well into the distance.
For those of you not in Arizona that wonder from all the articles about him why Sheriff Joe is still elected by almost landslide majorities, and why Republicans all over the state still beg him for his endorsement, here it is:
A subsequent examination of the sheriff's file showed that residents of Maricopa County wrote to him regarding the presence of Mexicans in greater Phoenix.
Citizens saw day laborers. They saw people with brown skin. They heard Spanish spoken.
And what the letters reveal is enormous anxiety about Hispanics:
- "I always see numerous Mexicans standing around in that area . . . These Mexicans swarmed around my car, and I was so scared and alarmed . . . I was never so devastated in my life regarding these circumstances . . . Although the Mexicans at this location may be within their legal right to be there . . . I merely bring this matter to your attention in order that all public agencies, FBI, etc., may be kept informed of these horrific circumstances."
- "I would love to see an immigrant sweep conducted in Surprise, specifically at the intersection of Grand and Greenway. The area contains dozens of day workers attempting to flag down motorists seven days a week."
- "The Mesa police chief drags his feet and stalls . . . the head of the Mesa police union is a Hispanic."
- "As a retiree in Sun City, formerly from Minnesota, I am a fan of yours and what you are doing to rid the area of illegal immigrants . . . when I was in McDonald's at Bell Road and Boswell (next to the Chase Bank) this noon, there was not an employee in sight, or within hearing, who spoke English as a first language — to my dismay. From the staff at the registers to the staff back in the kitchen area, all I heard was Spanish — except when they haltingly spoke to a customer. You might want to check this out."
And Sheriff Arpaio did check it out.
None of the Hispanics described in the letters had broken the law. It is not against the law to speak Spanish or work as a day laborer.
Arpaio nonetheless gave the correspondence to Deputy Chief Brian Sands. Federal Judge Snow determined that raids and roundups quickly followed. Hispanics were rousted because white people were uncomfortable.
Sheriff Joe once did a roundup in tony Fountain Hills, which I would be surprised if it had even 5% Hispanic population, and managed to drag in for various petty violations (e.g. cracked windshield) a group that was about 95% Hispanic. His favorite thing to do, when he isn't busting into homes with Hollywood celebrities, is to send his deputies into a business and have them handcuff everyone with brown skin and refuse to release them until they or their family members have arrived to prove they are in the US legally.
This whole article is a good roundup of yet another abusive side of Arpaio, his flagrant disregard for public records laws and the rules of evidence. In Maricopa County, "exculpatory evidence" and "shredded" have roughly the same meaning.
I know some of you live in Phoenix. I am offering a deal to get rid of some B&W Nautilus 805 speakers that are in great shape.
Dispatches From the Corporate State: Apparently, Taxpayers Don't Give Enough Money to Solar Companies
More subsidies for the solar industry in Arizona are crucial to avoid being left behind by other states and China, a Phoenix business leader said today at a solar-power conference.
Tax incentives and loan guarantees "make a lot of sense" right now in Arizona, which is already a leader in the industry, said Barry Broome, president and CEO of theGreater Phoenix Economic Council at the Solarpraxisconvention.
Despite the high-profile financial failure of the Solyndrasolar plant this year in California, Broome told a packed conference room that solar power is destined to be a major force in Arizona and elsewhere. The only question, as he sees it, is whether sunny-skied Arizona will take full advantage....
Behind Broome on an overhead screen, a chart showed that Texas, Oregon, Nevada and other states provide more "aggressive economic development tools," (a.k.a. public money), for solar power than Arizona, and the state can't compete without doing the same thing.
What is this, a football game? This strikes me as turn-of-the-century small town boosterism updated to the 21st century, with a dollop of tribal rivalry thrown in. He's talking mainly about manufacturing of solar components. I am left with a couple of questions
- Why should the fact that Arizona has sunny skies have any bearing on whether or not it is an appropriate spot to manufacture solar panels. Should Seattle subsidize umbrella manufacture because it is rainy there? My sense is that transportation costs are a small part of the price to end users. Arizona clearly will be a great spot for solar panels to be installed -- why does that mean we need to manufacture them?
- If other states like Oregon or China are subsidizing solar products that we might buy, shouldn't we celebrate that? Thanks, taxpayers of Oregon, for forking over your tax money so we can buy solar panels cheaper in Arizona. Why in the hell should be try to out-do them at this? Now we can go invest our capital in a business that actually makes money.
- I am obviously not a fan of government-led economic/industrial policy, but if I were, why in the hell would I want to direct my state's capital and manpower towards a business that requires subsidies, ie can't make a profit on its own in the marketplace?
Its just too easy to snipe at about everything in this article, but this caught my eye in particular
To help move the industry's message, Broome said, solar advocates must stop infighting over their competing technologies and present a unified and positive position.
Normally, I think an economist would argue that in an immature (both market-wise and technologically) product, competition and creative destruction between various competitors is critical to ultimate success. So in fact this advice is totally senseless, unless you see the industry as a taxpayer-money-magnet rather than a real business, and then it makes perfect sense. Politics, after all, demands simple sound bytes and a unified front.
Update: In the first week of Harvard Business School, I learned a lesson from strategy class, in a series of two cases, that still may be the most important thing I learned there. The cases were a hot, sexy electronics company, and a boring, dull as dirt water meter company. To cut to the chase, the electronics company sucked as an investment, and the water meter company was a gold mine. The moral, among several takeaways, is don't get fooled into thinking the hot, sexy business of the moment is necessarily a good investment. Our development agencies in AZ are making this mistake in spades. In fact, the entire history of government economic development efforts in Phoenix has been to chase sexy businesses at the top of the market, spend taxpayer money to get some plant relocations, and then see the businesses struggle. We certainly did this with semiconductor fabs a couple of decades ago.
For those of you in the Phoenix are, I would like to encourage you to check out the Arizona Ballet (disclosure: my wife is on the board).
I was never a big ballet fan. To be honest, the only times I really ever went in my younger days was when I was dating a girl who loved the ballet and when I was still in that relationship phase that I was bending over backwards to please her.
That being said, the Arizona Ballet is really doing a good job here. In particular, we were dating far above our heads when we lured Ib Andersen as artistic director. My wife wouldn't like me saying this, but we are not going to keep this guy in flyover country forever.
As I have grown to appreciate the ballet, I really like the more modern, story-less dances more than the classic ballets, but that is a matter of taste. But this week the company is putting on Prokofiev's Cinderella, and the music, sets, and dancing are just fantastic. This is not going to be the most daring or interesting dancing the company will do this year, but it is very likely the most accessible to the newcomer. Everyone knows the story, so there are not any wtf? moments I get in some ballets, even ones as overdone as the Nutcracker. And there is real humor in the ballet, in the form of the two stepsisters, that makes this perhaps the most accesible ballet for kids I have ever seen.
So go try it.
And he keeps getting re-elected by wide margins. Unbelievable.
In a performance worthy of a Mafia don, Sheriff Joe Arpaio dissembled under oath today in a disciplinary hearing for disgraced former Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas, and Thomas' ex-underlings, former deputy county attorneys Rachel Alexander and Lisa Aubuchon.
During more than two hours of questioning, mostly by counsel for the State Bar of Arizona, Arpaio's favorite response was, "I don't recall," which he repeated numerous times.
He asserted that he had delegated all authority concerning the investigations of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, county judges, and various other county officials to former Chief Deputy David Hendershott, Arpaio's hand-picked fall guy.
For those who don't live here, I can assure you that at the time, Arpaio took personal credit for everything the department did, using his simply astronomical PR budget.
Here, for example, is one of the key cases Arpaio is being asked to discuss. He and former county attorney Andrew Thomas waged a war for years against their bosses, the County Supervisors, who frequently had the temerity to try to circumscribe Thomas's and Arpaio's power. Among other craziness, Thomas, backed by Arpaio, filed a RICO suit against the supervisors. When a Judge hearing the case, Judge Donahoe, issued some unfavorable rulings in that case, Thomas and Arpaio filed a bribery case against Donahoe, their wacky theory being that since the Supervisors had authorized a new County Court building, this was a bribe to Judge Donahoe, whose court would now be in the new building. Arpaio claims he had nothing to do with any of this. Here is his uninvolvement, via the AZ Republic.
Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas on Wednesday filed criminal charges against Gary Donahoe, presiding criminal judge of Superior Court, accusing him of hindering prosecution, obstructing a criminal investigation and bribery.
The three felony charges relate to Donahoe's handling of criminal investigations into county officials, particularly a controversial court tower under construction in downtown Phoenix.
Thomas and Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who stood side by side during a news conference Wednesday, have repeatedly questioned the $340 million joint project of the Superior Court and Maricopa County government.
By the way, it is a nice touch, right out of some place like North Korea, for a prosecutor to bring a judge up on charges for "hindering prosecution" merely for issuing a ruling form the bench which wasn't exactly what the prosecutor wanted. Its more scary when you consider just how many judges truly are in the tank for local prosecutors.
From the Goldwater Institute, on the amount of money we in Phoenix are paying in taxes to support union management costs
Phoenix taxpayers spend millions of dollars to pay full salary and benefits for city employees to work exclusively for labor unions, a Goldwater Institute investigation found.
Collective bargaining agreements with seven labor organizations require the city to pay union officers and provide members with thousands of additional hours to conduct union business instead of doing their government jobs.
The total cost to Phoenix taxpayers is about $3.7 million per year, based on payroll records supplied by the city. In all, more than 73,000 hours of annual release time for city workers to conduct union business at taxpayers’ expense are permitted in the agreements.
The top officials in all of the unions have regular jobs with the city. But buried in the labor agreements are a series of provisions for those employees to be released from their regular duties to perform union work.
For top officers, the typical amount of annual release time is 2,080 hours, a full year of work based on 52 weeks at 40 hours each. They continue to draw full pay and benefits, just as if they were showing up for their regular jobs. But they are released from their regular duties to conduct undefined union business.
Union officials say the time is a good investment that leads to a more productive workforce. Critics say it amounts to an illegal gift of taxpayer money.
The "more productive workforce" line is just hilarious. 99.9% of the this work very likely is against the best interests of taxpayers, either raising future salaries or enforcing productivity-killing work rules or preventing the termination of incompetent employees.
I understand that there are similar provisions in some private union contracts, but if I was a shareholder in these companies I would be outraged about those as well. As it turns out, private companies that have these deals tend to be among the most dysfunctional and uncompetitive in the country (e.g. GM).
What's particularly ugly about this is that it is so reminiscent of a number of Soprano's episodes, with the mafia guys all sitting around in no-work and no-show jobs at taxpayer expense.
Have you ever notices how "partisan bickering" seems to be defined asymmetrically? In most of the media, when such a term is used, it generally means "folks trying to reduce the size of the state have gotten uppity of late." We have just such an example here in Phoenix:
A non-profit organization created by a former spokesman for the Phoenix Mayor's Office is bankrolling the political committee aiming to recall Phoenix Councilman Sal DiCiccio.
The group, Protect Voters' Rights, has contributed $50,000 to the anti-DiCiccio group called Save Phoenix Taxpayers, according to campaign-finance reports filed with the Phoenix city clerk. The contributions from Protect Voters' Rights make up all but $100 of the funding Save Phoenix Taxpayers reported earning since the group formed to launch its recall campaign against DiCiccio in April.
Scott Phelps, a retired Phoenix employee who served as the spokesman for four different mayors during his 19-year tenure, said he formed Protect Voters' Rights to protect the city from being destroyed by partisan politics.
"One of the things I find discouraging and destructive is the rush by folks to make city government more like Congress and the state Legislature," Phelps said. "I can't think of a single soul who looks at the partisan bickering there and says we can use a little more of that at City Hall."
The latter statement is telling, as it seems to be in response to Republican and Tea Party influence in Congress since the last election. Phelps longs for a return to one-party (Democratic) rule, and for him "bickering" means any sort of political opposition to his agenda, which seems to be the continued growth of government size and power.
DiCiccio is certainly a hell-raiser. Most recently, he has complained about the mayor's back-door efforts to slip large pay raises for city workers into the budget, despite the ongoing recession that has hit city finances hard. Further, he has suggested that private enterprises might be able to do things, like maintenance, janitorial, or clerical work, cheaper than government employees. It is this latter idea, which sounds good to me, which apparently puts him beyond the pale for agents of the state:
Save Phoenix Taxpayers received the first check because some of what DiCiccio has been doing is an example of what Protect Voters' Rights aims to fight.
Phelps specifically cited DiCiccio's lobbying of a bill during the last Legislative session that would have required Phoenix to competitively bid out city services that cost more than $250,000. Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed the bill.
"It's not the right thing to do to run down to the Legislature and try to get that group's leadership, which isn't being filled by the deepest thinkers that have ever held those positions, to impose the will of one or two council members on the entire city," Phelps said.
I will admit that seeking a state law to force Phoenix's hand is an odd approach, but the core objection here is not the odd legislative approach but the threat to government worker jobs. DiCiccio suspects the group is a front for government workers unions, and I think he is probably right. After all, it is extremely odd to see a group that nominally calls itself a good-government group shocked by the very idea of seeking competitive bids for city services.
Lefties are struggling with the concept of a libertarian doing a good deed (in this case, Radley Balko's great journalism leading to the release of Cory Maye.
Here is the real problem for the Left: This is exactly the kind of story -- a black man railroaded into jail in Mississippi -- that leftish reporters used to pursue, before they shifted their attention to sorting through Sarah Palin's emails. A lot of investigative journalism has gone by the wayside -- in Phoenix, it has really been left to independent Phoenix New Times to do real investigative journalism on folks like Joe Arpiao, as our main paper the Arizona Republic has largely fled the field.
Well, the execreble Sheriff Joe Arpaio, America's most-desirous-of-PR-exposure lawman, is at it again. Phoenix will be mobbed by the press in a couple of weeks when the MLB All-Star Game comes to town, and of course Sheriff Joe will be hurt and depressed if he doesn't get himself in front of all those cameras.
Sheriff Joe Arpaio's publicity stunt of choice for All-Star weekend: a female chain gang that probably will make a stop at Chase Field to pick up garbage as the national sporting press tries to cover a baseball game....
This particular gang is comprised of women convicted of DUI. They will be decked out in the standard striped uniforms. However, they will also be wearing pink T-shirts with messages about DUI.
Because nothing says "thoughtful and humane treatment for alcohol problems" like parading prisoners in front of national TV audiences like a modern remake of Cool Hand Luke.
We give special, unique powers to use force to the police, and it is horrifying to see them used for personal aggrandizement.
By the way, I will share my secret fear. As you may know, Apriao enjoys leading raids on businesses that hire Mexican immigrants. His MO is to zip-tie everyone with brown skin or an accent until they can produce proof of citizenship. My deep fear is that he will run a raid of the concession operations at the ballpark during the game.
Several times in the past I have posited that folks in power simply hate buses. How else to explain light rail and high speed rail projects that are both substantially more expensive and substantially less flexible than buses. Some of the reasons for this include:
- Politicians like rail better because it is sexier. Period. They are trying to spend taxpayer money to support their own re-election talking points.
- Unions and city workers like rail because it is more expensive. More money gets spent, either creating more union jobs or giving transit leaders bigger budgets which translate into higher salaries and more prestige for themselves. And the lack of flexibility is good for them because it makes their job immune to budget cutting. Just too many sunk costs.
- Middle and upper-middle class folks in the public have a deep disdain for buses, which they associate with poverty and blue collar labor. Riding buses hurts their self image, even if the service is no worse than trains. Rail is the Louis Vuitton handbag of transit.
In Phoenix, light rail requires a subsidy of $3.82 center per mile (that is the government spending above and beyond the fare), which is nearly 10x what we spend on buses. And light rail uses more energy per passenger mile here than driving.
Anyway, this story from Iowa seems to support my point -- the government is proposing to spend tens of millions of dollars to create a rail service that is slower and more costly than existing private bus service.
The latest in lunacy in high-speed rail lunacy: at Joel Kotkin’s newgeography.com Wendell Cox reports that the U.S. Transportation Department is dangling money before the government of Iowa seeking matching funds from the state for a high-speed rail line from Iowa City to Chicago. The “high-speed” trains would average 45 miles per hour and take five hours to reach Chicago from Iowa City. One might wonder how big the market for this service is, since Iowa City and Johnson County have only 130,882 people; add in adjoining Linn County (Cedar Rapids) and you’re only up to 342,108—not really enough, one would think, to supply enough riders to cover operating costs much less construction costs.
Oh, one other thing. Cox reports that there is already luxury bus service, with plus for laptops and wireless Internet, from Iowa City to Chicago. It’s part of a larger trend for private companies to offer convenient and inexpensive bus service. A one-way ticket on the bus costs $18, compared to a likely train fare of more than $50. And the bus takes only three hours and 50 minutes to get from Iowa City to Chicago. That’s one hour and 10 minutes faster than the “high-speed” train.