UP IN FLAMES

And while we're talking stupidity . . .: Ray Stern's story on the fire at Young Champions of America headquarters in Phoenix appears to be a tale of a "gang that couldn't shoot straight" and of misguided revenge.

But it's also about how an individual apparently manipulated his friends (who may not have been that savvy) into helping him carry out a crime. From your story, it looks as if Jonathan Antonucci persuaded Josh Robinson to strike that match and that he talked the other two — who had no visible stake in any of it — into participating.

And while we're talking about stupidity, Jon may have been smarter than the others, but how could anybody think they wouldn't get caught setting such a stupid fire? Even if he hadn't been so foolishly at the scene, he would have been the cops' number-one suspect in any arson, because of his long history of defrauding Young Champions and his firing.

Also, his alleged reasoning that they could just burn up evidence against him and Robinson and [at the same time] eliminate the competition to his future karate studio is truly something a 19-year-old would dream up.
Jason Bundy, Mesa

Antonucci's charisma did them in: It's mentioned in your story how Jeff Otto and Moniza Murrillo had nothing to gain from hooking up with Jonathan Antonucci, and this is true. But neither did Josh Robinson. From what I read in the story, it seems apparent that they were taken in by the persuasive Antonucci.

Interesting how Antonucci's natural salesmanship, if you believe what Ray Stern dug up, wound up getting him and his friends dead or headed to prison.
John Fenton, Phoenix

Give Antonucci the maximum: This article by Ray Stern gets to the bottom of what happened. Through Stern's extensive research and interviews, it should now be clear to all what transpired.

There is no doubt that Jon Antonucci is a habitual, conniving liar who will say anything to save himself. He has no remorse for Josh Robinson or the others he conned into this scheme. He ruined their lives and tried to take down Young Champions for his own greedy benefit. He deserves the maximum.
Name withheld

The real Antonucci is exposed: A very well-written article! It shows who Jon really is: a liar, a cheat, and a cold-hearted man. I believe in our system, and I know he will get what he deserves.
Name withheld

WHO'S COOKING?

How about some credit for her man?: With all due respect to [my husband's] boss, Chef Michael DiMaria, you never once mention my husband's name in your review [of Mid City Kitchen]

Chef Scottie Bissell is the driving force and creator of the wonderful food that you and your co-workers enjoyed. It would be terrific if you would in some way acknowledge his role at Mid City Kitchen.
Lisa Bissell, Phoenix

TAX TIME

A few words about arts and culture: It doesn't seem that the writer of this article did much research. If she had, she would have found that not just Metro Phoenix Partnership for the Arts and Culture has been involved in this effort [to institute an arts tax]. Many people (both inside and outside the arts and cultural community) have been involved for a number of years in careful and responsible preparation for this initiative.

Thanks to the leadership of the business and foundation community, it was possible to learn a great deal about the impact that arts and culture have in Arizona and that citizens view arts and culture to be important in their lives and in the lives of their children.

Arts and culture create an environment that attracts highly skilled workers to our state and have a huge impact on the state's economy through the employment of hundreds of arts-and-culture workers who pay taxes. [Also, there are] the many purchases made locally by arts-and-culture organizations.

Isn't this a good thing?

It has been proved that children involved in the arts do better in school and, with the severe cuts that our schools are facing, arts organizations are providing creative activities that many schools can no longer provide themselves.

The initiative isn't about subsidizing existing programs. It will truly be transformative for organizations across the state and will serve many more Arizonans with free and low-cost access to arts-and-culture activities not possible now.
Jessica Andrews, Tucson

Editor's note: Citing the ongoing state budget crisis, MPAC decided not to seek a sales-tax increase for the arts on the November ballot.

No chance in this economy: This is a tax in a bad economy. This is a bad idea right now. I love the idea of more funding for the arts, but pigs will fly before Arizona voters pass this tax during this economy.

Also, MPAC just theorizes that arts and culture will bring more businesses and highly skilled workers to the state. It was not able to prove [the theory] beyond pointing to Austin and Seattle — cities that had large arts-and-culture populations for years before they saw the payoff.

Does MPAC theorize how long Arizona will have to wait? Also, who else would this initiative serve but existing organizations? And who decides which organization gets what?

In this economy, you need more than lofty ideals to pass a tax! And, by the way, Arizona can't afford to keep its parks open, so there is no way that voters can afford to pass this.
Name withheld

It would be good for Arizona: Not only would this minimal sales tax help improve arts organizations across the entire state, it would also go toward other institutions that are dearly beloved and attended by many citizens and visitors — including the Phoenix Zoo, Reid Park Zoo in Tucson, the Desert Botanical Garden, the Sonoran Desert Museum, and the Arizona Science Center.

And it's really not about helping struggling arts organizations; it's about making Arizona a more vibrant place to live.

Look at Denver. What used to be a "cow town" is now a highly competitive place for new business and for new residents. Denver passed such a tax years ago.

Don't be shortsighted. This would be good for Arizona. If the 10 percent population erosion is, indeed, true (which I seriously doubt), having a more vibrant "scene" in Arizona would help tremendously.
Name withheld

SENT AWAY

Why expel these engines of progress?: It's heartbreaking that brilliant and polished minds can go to waste. Our academic and technological status in the world would only be helped by these kids.

I cannot understand the level of fear some people must have to choose to expel these engines of progress. Each of these kids [could] lead an organization or begin his or her own business — which would create job opportunities for many others.

If you cannot see how this benefits, you are purposely blind.

Truth is, even if the immigration issue were resolved and these kids were allowed to work here, those who suffer from fear and hate would still be complaining. These cowards hide behind an enforce-all-laws argument that holds no water. It's the same type of mentality that was behind the old Jim Crow laws in the South.

It is very nearsighted of legislators to propose and enact laws that punish children for the sins of their parents and that force these brilliant minds to waste their potential, or to take it elsewhere. Please support the DREAM Act.
Jorge Gutierrez, Laveen

Embrace the smart kids: Isn't it pathetic that our country takes out its ethnic hatred on brilliant children who could be the best we have to offer?

We need to get our act together, and for the sake of patriotism, embrace the intelligent young people in our midst — no matter where they came from.

If we don't, we're doomed. And all this to placate ignorant citizens who couldn't hold a candle to these kids when it comes to smarts?

We must let undocumented college graduates and students ready to serve in our armed forces contribute to our nation! It just makes sense.
Omar Tedesco, Phoenix

Time for immigration reform: Ironically, Arizona's best hope of returning to its old growth model of economic development (and thus far nothing substantive has been proposed as an alternative) is immigration reform at both the federal and (especially) the state levels.

Arizona has long depended on population increase to grow its economy: As new residents move here, new housing is needed for them; that, in turn, gives retailers new opportunities in the communities where new housing and new workers earning new wages now live.

The effect on the construction and retail sectors is direct, but the effect on the rest of the economy is just as real, as a chain reaction takes place when new wages, received by merchants, are invested in capital equipment, spent on other goods and services, and made available to the local financial community.

As for immigrants taking jobs, it didn't seem to be the case back before the Great Recession when the state unemployment rate was 4.5 percent. Don't forget: The number of jobs isn't fixed, provided that the economy is growing. It isn't a zero-sum game where winners win only at the expense of losers.

Arizona previously relied on three broad classes for its population growth: retirees from the Midwest and East Coast, undocumented immigrants, and citizen workers seeking a new start in sunny Arizona.

Now that the Great Recession has caused a housing glut and placed many mortgages underwater, many of the citizens who might have moved here from other states cannot afford to sell their houses and move. Many of the retirees have seen their wealth, whether in the form of housing values or stock values, decimated.

The weakness of the job market means that many of them will cling to jobs in their home states; many of the older ones will defer retirement and work part-time to supplement their Social Security income.

That leaves the immigrants. How very shortsighted of Republican moderates to allow their party to be taken over by extremists. How very shortsighted of Democrats to allow themselves to be intimidated into silence instead of embracing Hispanics as an up-and-coming electoral force.
Emil Pulsifer, Phoenix

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