Monday, May 19, 2003

Sticking Up for Nick and Slade

This week's column is kind of local--in fact, the first piece I'm responding to didn't run in the entire paper, but only the Scottsdale edition--but I came up with two punch lines and then worked backwards to set up the jokes. The Tribune has been extraordinarily negative on the fire department propositions, and the last piece, by Mark Scarp, contained an unnecessary dig at Nick Barbisan, one of the "yes" campaigners. It really wasn't necessary for Mark's argument, and was not only based on total surmise without any reporting, but also was absurd on its face. Another Tribune columnist, Becky Fenger, has gone after state Sen. Slade Mead a couple of times, and somebody needed to come to the guy's defense, even if I hadn't come up with the Kool-Aid line.

East Valley Tribune, May 18, 2003

I gotta defend Nick and Slade.

In arguing in Scottsdale edition of last Thursday’s Tribune against the Scottsdale fire service propositions, Mark Scarp laid into Nick Barbisan, whose young son died in a tragic accident and who now publicly supports replacing Rural/Metro Corp. with a municipal fire department.

Here’s the little rhetorical trick Mark played on Nick:

Nick Barbisan of McDowell Mountain Ranch, whose small son died last July, was recruited by the union to try to shame Rural/Metro, but as Barbisan, in this litigious age, never filed suit against the company over the death, voters have been rightfully skeptical whether the company had anything to do with it compared to the city, which for five years dawdled with its sole authority to build new fire stations in growing areas.

First, Dan Ables of the “Yes” campaign says they didn’t recruit Barbisan, he volunteered. You can believe the “Yes” campaigners or Mark Scarp, editorial writer -- just not Mark Scarp, objective reporter, who isn’t part of this discussion. Each version comes from somebody arguing passionately about the election. You decide who to believe (probably based on how you already decided to vote).

But the real irony is that the Tribune, which holds greedy trial lawyers responsible for halitosis, reality TV, and Third World debt, attacks poor Nick’s credibility because he didn’t sue. The Tribune wants to limit damages and block access to the courts -- but because Barbisan didn’t sue, we’re asked to dismiss his views.

Naturally, if Barbisan had sued, that would become an equally powerful reason for skepticism. There’s a word to describe reaching the exact same conclusion on exactly opposite facts, and it ain’t logic.

It’s “The World According to Scarp”: Damned if you sue, damned if you don’t.

The other guy getting “the treatment” in the Tribune is state Sen. Slade Mead, a personal piƱata for Becky Fenger and the Generalissimo Franco wing of the East Valley GOP.

Now, Becky’s idea of fact-checking is to put something negative about a Democrat in a GOP newsletter, and if nobody complains, then it must be true. I’m still waiting for any evidence that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg ever uttered remarks Becky attributed to her.

There’s something truly odd about these anonymous sources claiming Sen. Mead is bellicose or has popping veins being unearthed by Becky, who just loves J. D. Hayworth, who is to polite decorum what Bill Bidwell is to winning football.

Slade’s real problem is that he reads (and understands) the ingredients on the packages of Kool-Aid that the Republican legislative leadership demands he drink. The GOP leadership plays these little games, where they pack boatloads of unstated assumptions into a question (revenue projections, economic mumbo-jumbo, and their pet alt-fuels-style programs), then claim that if you don’t support their wacko proposals, you must want to raise taxes, by gazillions.

Of course, you could always eliminate handouts to hobby ranchers, or hobby horses like ineffective abstinence-only sex education, instead of slashing funding for autistic kids, but no! Those aren’t part of the GOP leadership’s unchallengeable secret plans.

Sen. Mead figured out that Becky’s favorite education statistic, that Arizona teacher pay ranks near the national median, is misleading because we kept increasing class size to compensate. You easily can pay teachers more if they each must “teach” 35 or 40 kids. (Heck, you have to pay teachers more to deal with 40-plus kids.) That’s why we rank 50th in the nation in teacher salaries per pupil -- a far more accurate statistic, more reflective of educational quality.

So when you read about Nick Barbisan or Slade Mead on these pages, better take it with a grain of salt -- or maybe the whole shaker.

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