Two Virginia media outlets are pushing gubernatorial candidates to lift a ban on uranium mining in Virginia while ignoring the state's particular vulnerability to environmental and health risks from mining.
In a March 21 editorial, The Richmond Times-Dispatch advocated for uranium mining, highlighting a study by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission which found that a radium and uranium refinery had no health or environmental effects on people in the surrounding area.
But the facility at the study's focus does not actually mine uranium at their site, it refines it. And in locations where they do mine, there are environmental differences between Canada and the United States. Cale Jaffe, a senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, said Canadian mines are located in areas with different climates and are more isolated from population centers. Indeed, a comprehensive report by the National Academy of Sciences found that storms and erosion from rainfall could pose a risk to uranium mines:
Virginia is subject to relatively frequent storms that produce intense rainfall. It is questionable whether currently-engineered tailings repositories could be expected to prevent erosion and surface and groundwater contamination for as long as 1,000 years. Natural events such as hurricanes, earthquakes, intense rainfall, or drought could lead to the release of contaminants if facilities are not designed and constructed to withstand such events, or if they fail to perform as designed.
A study by the city of Virginia Beach found that a "catastrophic failure" -- due to a natural event for example -- of a uranium containment structure could lead to radioactive substances contaminating drinking water for an extended period of time.
Canadian mines have also faced significant environmental problems in the past, according to a Southern Environmental Law Center report. On three occasions Canadian mines have flooded or contaminated waste water has leaked from these projects.
Virginia Watchdog, the Virginia affiliate of the Franklin Center For Government and Public Integrity -- a right-wing group which provides free statehouse reporting to local newspapers but receives large amounts of money from anonymous conservative donors -- similarly ignored the risks posed by Virginia's climate, instead quoting a Washington Times editorial in favor of uranium mining and the company who wants to mine the area.
The Casper Star-Tribune published a column that attacked wind energy as costly and ineffective, yet failed to note that wind energy is an expanding market that saves money and creates jobs.
A March 19 column by wealth management and investment advisor Bill Gunderson attacked wind energy technology as a poor investment, claiming that wind turbines are an unreliable source of power generation and warning investors to be wary. From the column:
Maybe wind turbines would be a good investment if the things actually worked. But they don't. Not that well.
Let's talk about what potential investors in wind energy may not know if they rely on the Green Energy Press: Wind turbines don't last as long as promised; don't produce as much energy as hoped; and require more maintenance than anyone imagined.
But wind turbines have proven they can stand the test of time. According to a story in the Financial Times, UK's Department of Energy and Climate Change said Britain's oldest commercial turbines have only had to be replaced after 20 years of operation. Those turbines were built in 1991 and as wind energy technology develops longevity will increase. As Dave Vince of Ecotricity, one of the UK's oldest wind energy companies, explains, "today's turbines have been designed and built to last 25 years."
Gunderson also falsely claims that natural gas is "threatening to make wind power even more economically obsolete." According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, some wind farms already produce power "as economically as coal, gas, and nuclear power." By 2017, new wind energy generation will be cheaper than new coal generation.
In 2012, wind-turbine installations beat natural gas-fueled power plants as the largest form of new energy for the first time. Jacob Susman, CEO of OwnEnergy Inc., a New York wind developer, said that "it shows that wind has firmly planted its foothold as a valuable energy source."
Although Gunderson didn't tell the readers of the Star-Tribune, Wyoming also has strong wind energy potential. The American Council On Renewable Energy said in a September 2012 release that Wyoming has "much room to further develop" wind energy and is exporting its current wind power to Colorado, Utah, and Oregon. In October 2012, a new wind project was approved in Wyoming, which is expected to create 1,000 construction jobs and 114 permanent operations and maintenance jobs over the next three years. This new project will have the potential to power about 1 million homes.
Kansas City Star columnist E. Thomas McClanahan continued his attacks on Equal Pay Day -- the day the average woman's salary catches up to the average man's from the previous year -- calling it an exaggeration of the extent of workplace discrimination because "women and men will always make somewhat different choices." However, studies have shown that, even when taking into account a myriad of factors, an unaccounted for gap still exists between women and men's salaries.
Two years ago, McClanahan attacked Equal Pay Day by claiming that "much of the supposed wage gap comes from life choices" and the fact that "men work longer hours than women." He concluded by recommending that "Equal Pay Day should fade quietly into history." In this year's iteration of his attack on Equal Pay Day, which takes place on April 9, McClanahan revived the same attacks as in the previous piece and dismissed the gender wage gap as an inaccurate measure:
What many people don't know is that this [the wage gap] is a cherry-picked number and the idea that it's an accurate measure of discrimination is grossly misleading. While workplace unfairness hasn't been banished, studies that correct for such factors as life choices and family situation show that discrimination today is minimal at best, and in some cases has reversed -- with women making more than men.
Because women generally work fewer hours than men, annual wages is a very poor measure of gender discrimination.
McClanahan's attacks leave out some key details about the wage gap. According to statistics from the Labor Department, in 2012 women made 81 percent as much as male workers, on average. As Meghan Casserly of Forbes explained, comparing men in all jobs with women in all jobs is "easy to laugh off as misleading," but when looking at individual professions, where presumably workers have similar skill sets, the gap is even higher -- especially in the financial and legal professions.
Regression analysis allows us to analyze the effect of multiple factors on earnings at the same time. Controlling for occupation, college major, hours worked per week, and many other factors all at once, we found that college-educated women working full time were paid an unexplained 7 percent less than their male peers were paid one year out of college.
Even 7 percent of lost income could mean hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost wages for the average female worker. As the Center for American Progress found, over a 40-year period, the average female worker could lose about $434,000 due to this wage gap. With a majority of women becoming the primary breadwinner for their families, entire households are feeling the effects of the persistent wage gap.
It's unfortunate that McClanahan's consistent attacks on the gender wage gap fail to reflect the real issue here -- as women continue to be paid less, men, women, and children all lose.
The Kansas City Star failed to note the significant influence of Koch-funded conservative groups in its coverage of two bills seeking to roll back Kansas' green energy standards.
A recent report by Greenpeace's Connor Gibson outlined several organizations that are influencing the debate surrounding an effort to repeal Kansas' green energy standards. As Gibson notes in his report, groups with significant ties to the fossil fuel industry and funded by billionaires Charles and David Koch, including the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council, the State Policy Network, and the Beacon Hill Institute, are trying to influence legislators to roll back green energy standards in Kansas. From Greenpeace:
ALEC and a hoard of other Koch-funded interests operating under the umbrella of the State Policy Network have hit Kansas legislators hard with junk economic studies, junk science and a junk vision of more polluting energy in Kansas' future. Koch Industries lobbyist Jonathan Small has added direct pressure on Kansas lawmakers to rollback support for clean energy.
Unfortunately, clean energy is not palatable to the billionaire Koch brothers or the influence peddlers they finance. All of the following State Policy Network affiliates (except the Kansas Policy Institute) are directly funded by the Koch brothers, while most of the groups get secretive grants through the Koch-affiliated "Dark Money ATM," Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund, which have distributed over $120,000,000 to 100 groups involved in climate denial since 2002.
Despite the pressure these groups have placed on the repeal legislation -- including the author of a Beacon Hill Institute report attacking green energy testifying before the Kansas legislature -- The Kansas City Star failed to note these groups' influence on either of the two pieces of legislation making their way through the state legislature.
The paper also failed to put Kansas' green energy initiatives in context. Wind energy in Kansas is a booming industry. A fact sheet from the Natural Resources Defense Council found that renewable energy in Kansas has created more than 12,000 jobs and provided $13.7 million in annual lease payments and royalties to Kansas landowners. According to the American Wind Energy Association, after the adoption of the green energy standard, wind turbine manufacturer Siemens announced a $50 million investment in its first American wind energy manufacturing facility in Kansas. Even Republican Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback was a supporter of green energy standards. In 2010, while a U.S. senator, he co-sponsored a national version of Kansas' successful renewable portfolio standard with Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), which, if enacted, would have required 15 percent of utilities to be derived from alternative energy by 2021.
The U-T San Diego editorial board hyped a court decision that would benefit a project to expand the San Diego Convention Center but never noted that the paper's owner, Douglas Manchester, has a financial interest in the convention center's development.
A March 11 editorial by the U-T San Diego called for the expansion project to "move forward as quickly as possible," now that the plans to finance it -- including a controversial hotel-room tax -- have been validated by Superior Court Judge Ronald S. Prager's tentative ruling. The editorial concluded that the "worst-case scenario" would be that the center does not expand at all, as "[t]ens of millions in annual tax revenue, and the creation of thousands of jobs, are at stake."
What the editorial does not say, however, is that the owner of the U-T San Diego, Douglas (Papa Doug) Manchester, is one of the driving forces behind the convention center's birth. According to Manchester's own website, "Papa Doug is considered father of the San Diego Convention Center after his generous contribution of the property for its development."
As a Media Matters report noted last year, the U-T San Diego was criticized soon after Manchester's acquisition of the paper when it ran a front page editorial hyping a "new vision" for the San Diego waterfront. The editorial said the waterfront -- where Manchester owned hotels -- should be redeveloped with more hotels, a convention center expansion, and a new NFL stadium. Although Manchester had sold the hotels near the convention center property, he owns stock in the company that purchased the hotels -- solidifying his financial stake in the development of the area.
Although the editorial touts the "thousands of jobs" that will be created as a result of the expansion, it fails to note that they will not be high quality jobs. According to a report issued last year by Murtaza H. Baxamusa, director of Planning and Development at the Family House Corporation, San Diego Building Trades, the city estimated that only 16.8 percent of the new jobs would be above the regional median wage of $18.41 and that 71.2 percent of the jobs would be below the self-sufficiency wage of $13.92. Baxamusa concludes that, "the results of this study indicate that the quality of jobs created by the project may actually depress wages, increase uninsurance and lower the standard of living in the region."
The Columbus Dispatch is criticizing journalists for not informing readers about a liberal group's vested interests and involvement in the state's political process, even though the paper has spent years obscuring the origins of the American Legislative Exchange Council and downplaying the group's influence in the state.
In a February 27 editorial The Columbus Dispatch wrote:
The ability of various interest groups to have a say in politics is a critical to our democracy. But just as voters should be aware of who is funding political ads, they should be informed of the vested interests of those groups that are cited as sources of commentary.
Policy Matters Ohio, with offices in Cleveland and Columbus, often is quoted in news stories as a "research firm" and as a liberal or "progressive" think tank in news stories concerning tax and budget issues. That description, though, doesn't give a full picture of an organization that has a direct interest in steering public money to labor groups, which in turn are big-money supporters of Democratic politicians.
The Dispatch's argument is disingenuous however, since the paper has failed to cover and conduct the same research for organizations heavily involved in state policy such as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
From January to October 2011, the shadowy right-wing organization had its hand in 33 bills in the state, nine of which became law. ALEC's ties in Ohio run deeper than merely crafting bills. According to ALEC's internal talking points, Gov. John Kasich, who was actively involved in ALEC in multiple capacities before becoming governor, "helped mold ALEC in its formative years" and was photographed at an ALEC event in 2010.
In 2012, ALEC was responsible for several pieces of legislation in Ohio, including a bill that weakened protections for victims of asbestos exposure, a bill which attempted to loosen firearms laws, and a bill seeking to prevent disclosure of certain ingredients in fracking fluids to the public.
ALEC also has a role in pushing big business' influence with legislators in Ohio. According to the Center for Media and Democracy's ALEC Exposed project, 41 legislators in Ohio are ALEC members. The money ALEC receives from businesses and conservative organizations goes to bringing these legislators to ALEC conventions where they can "rub elbows with rich, out-of state potential donors ... and to build similar relationships with ALEC's state corporate members."
Despite ALEC's influence and major ties to the state, The Columbus Dispatch only discussed ALEC in 7 news stories since January 1, 2011, according to a Media Matters search. When they did cover ALEC, the organization was either not identified or described as a "conservative" or "a conservative think tank that raises money from corporate and other interests to pay for legislators to meet with businesses" -- monikers that barely scratch the surface of what the organization really does.
While it's important for newspapers to disclose the ties behind organizations that have an influence on policy in the state, The Columbus Dispatch editorial board is picking and choosing which organizations should receive such scrutiny -- apparently aiming to disclose information only about the ones it disagrees with.
The New Hampshire Union Leader downplayed the effects of the impending sequestration cuts despite the devastating impact they would have on necessary programs in New Hampshire.
A New Hampshire Union Leader editorial on February 25 attacked the premise that sequestration would have devastating effects by claiming that it's "NOT the end of the world as we know it" and that it just means "government must start managing its money":
First, sequester is NOT the end of the world as we know it. Even if those mandated budget cuts occur, it does NOT mean that government, essentially, is shut down. It does not mean the end of services. It does not mean meat or drugs, would go unexamined, and, thus, would disappear from store shelves. It need not mean the air traffic control system must shut down. It does not mean the military would not be able to defend the United States.
It DOES mean government must start managing its money - and end non-essential activities. It does mean there might be far fewer $1,000 hammers purchased by the Pentagon. It probably means there will be far fewer colonels acting as aides to far fewer generals roaming the corridors of the Pentagon. It does mean priorities must be set. It does mean some things will no longer be affordable - and it does, very likely, mean that some people, particularly those employed in government, will lose their jobs.
Despite the Union Leader's assertion, the sequestration cuts would have devastating effects beyond those employed in government. As Politifact points out, the sequestration cuts would be indiscriminate, meaning that almost all non-defense discretionary spending would be cut by 5.3 percent, and would target far more than just "non-essential activities." Using the Union Leader's example, while meat and drugs will eventually be examined, the cuts will lead to furloughs among inspectors and potential delays in processing meat.
New Hampshire specifically would feel the effects of sequestration for essential activities in education and public health funding. According to a White House fact sheet, this year alone New Hampshire could lose of thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in necessary programs. The state is set to lose "approximately $1,078,000 in funding for primary and secondary education" which would mean less funding for about 1,000 students and 10 schools. The cuts to public health benefits and childhood vaccinations would also be drastic. From the White House fact sheet:
- Vaccines for Children: In New Hampshire around 680 fewer children will receive vaccines for diseases such as measles, mumps, rubella, tetanus, whooping cough, influenza, and Hepatitis B due to reduced funding for vaccinations of about $46,000.
- Public Health: New Hampshire will lose approximately $126,000 in funds to help upgrade its ability to respond to public health threats including infectious diseases, natural disasters, and biological, chemical, nuclear, and radiological events. In addition, New Hampshire will lose about $330,000 in grants to help prevent and treat substance abuse, resulting in around 300 fewer admissions to substance abuse programs. And the New Hampshire State Department of Health Statistics and Data Management will lose about $60,000 resulting in around 1,500 fewer HIV tests.
Though the Union Leader admitted that the cuts might slow economic growth initially, it failed to point out that even low-end estimates of nationwide job losses are around 750,000 with some estimating approximately one million jobs lost due to the cuts.
A U-T San Diego editorial claims that opposing the Keystone XL pipeline is "daft" because if President Obama were to block the construction of the pipeline, Canada would easily construct an alternate pipeline through British Columbia to export to China, ignoring that such a plan faces significant opposition.
The February 19 editorial claims that "If the president rejects the [Keystone XL] project, Canada will instead construct a pipeline from Alberta to the British Columbia coast, where it will build refineries and eventually ship most of the refined bitumen to Asia -- primarily fast-growing China."
But the route to British Columbia faces significant opposition in Canada. First Nation tribes have rejected the Northern Gateway pipeline project, which would transport tar sands oil from Alberta to British Columbia since 2006. At a series of community hearings in 16 different towns in British Columbia, the National Energy Board -- an independent federal agency that regulates pipelines and energy development -- heard 1,159 speakers opposed to the Northern Gateway project and only two in favor. In fact, Robert Campbell, a Reuters market analyst, explained in a column that a pipeline following this route is likely to face even more opposition than Keystone XL:
Despite what you may think, the delay or even cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline project from Canada to the United States does not ensure that China will become the go-to customer for Canada's vast oil sands.
Doubtless this theme will be dredged up by Keystone's backer, TransCanada and other oil industry lobbyists in Washington with an eye to fanning Americans' fears about oil supply security should the Obama Administration opt for further study of fresh routes for the pipeline.
But the simple fact is that this claim is at best a huge exaggeration. If anything a pipeline from Alberta across the mountainous province of British Colombia is likely to face more scrutiny from environmental groups than Keystone XL.
Thus it's not inevitable that the accelerated development of tar sands oil, which creates "14 to 20 percent more carbon emissions than other oil the U.S. imports," will occur. The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service estimated that if the Keystone XL pipeline were approved, it could increase United States carbon emissions by the equivalent of up to four million cars annually.
The U-T San Diego editorial also cites the New York Times' Joe Nocera -- who supports construction of the pipeline -- claiming that blocking the Keystone XL pipeline would harm our energy security, benefitting "our No. 1 geopolitical rival."
However, Nocera's column was factually challenged, and Keystone XL would have little impact on U.S. oil imports or energy security. As economist Ed Dolan explained, the pipeline symbolizes one more step toward dependence on oil, when the most effective solution to our energy security problems is exactly the opposite: reducing our oil consumption.
The editorial board's misleading right-leaning stance on this issue should come as no surprise given that the paper's new owner has turned the once respected paper into a corporate shill.
The Washington Times misled its readers by claiming that African-American workers would see fewer jobs and lower pay if immigration reform were to pass. Despite the assertions made in the piece, immigrant labor does not steal jobs from American workers -- specifically African-American workers -- and often has a net positive impact on the economy by creating more jobs.
A February 12 article in The Washington Times cited two members of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights who wrote to President Obama claiming that successful immigration reform would "likely mean fewer jobs and lower pay for black Americans" but failed to push back on their unfounded claims. From the article:
Two members of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights wrote to President Obama on Tuesday telling him that if he succeeds in enacting an "effective amnesty" for illegal immigrants, it will likely mean fewer jobs and lower pay for black Americans.
Pointing to hearings the commission held in 2008, the two members -- Peter Kirsanow and Abigail Thernstrom -- said the economics of the situation are clear: Low-skilled blacks compete with low-skilled illegal immigrants, depressing wages.
In fact, overwhelming evidence shows that immigration's negative effect on African-American employment is an unfounded myth. Testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Daniel Griswold of the Cato Institute called the idea that low-skilled immigrants take African-American jobs a "pernicious myth" and cited a 1997 report that found no evidence that African-Americans have fewer job opportunities because of immigration.
Another study by Robert Paral & Associates for the Immigration Policy Center found similar results. From the Immigration Policy Center:
One of the most contentious issues in the debate over immigration reform is whether or not the presence of immigrants in the U.S. labor force -- especially undocumented immigrants -- has a major adverse impact on the employment prospects of African Americans. The African American community has long been plagued by high unemployment rates, and a relatively large share of African Americans lack a college education. As a result, some commentators argue that undocumented immigrants, who tend to have low levels of formal education and to work in less skilled occupations, are "taking" large numbers of jobs that might otherwise be filled by African American workers.
If this is indeed the case, one would except to find high unemployment rates among African Americans in locales with large numbers of immigrants in the labor force -- especially immigrants who are relatively recent arrivals to the United States and willing to work for lower wages than most African Americans. However, data from the U.S. Census Bureau reveal that this is not the case. In fact, there is little apparent relationship between recent immigration and unemployment rates among African Americans, or any other native born racial/ethnic group, at the state or metropolitan level.
Gerald D. Jaynes, professor of Economics and African-American Studies at Yale University, who once believed that immigration played a role in the declining African-American workforce, launched a large-scale study that concluded that "declining black unemployment is due more to other factors and events that have been restructuring our nation's labor market during the past several decades," including the elimination of many factory jobs and other blue-collar employment.
Immigrants and other low-wage workers often fill different types of jobs which require different skills. However, when they do work in the same job type, immigrants and other workers often specialize in different aspects of the job, complementing each other rather than competing with one another.
Take the case in Georgia, where a harsh immigration law forced out many of the state's farm workers, which left approximately 11,000 open farm jobs. Despite the open jobs, however, so few people applied that Gov. Nathan Deal pushed farmers to hire 2,000 unemployed criminal probationers, many of whom walked off the job soon after starting.
Wages for native-born workers also, in general, tend to increase as a result of immigration. According to an Economic Policy Institute estimate, native born African-American males experienced an average wage increase of 0.4 percent from 1994 to 1997. Native-born men with less than a high-school education were the only group to see a decrease in wages by 0.2 percent.
In reality, immigration reform would be a huge benefit to the economy. It could add billions of dollars and millions of jobs to the economy, as well as potentially $4.5 to $5.4 billion in additional tax revenues.
This false claim about immigrant labor hurting African-Americans isn't new. Breitbart.com's Seaton Motley used this myth to attack President Obama's deferred action plan. The anti-immigrant nativist organization, NumbersUSA, ran ads hyping this myth during the run up to last year's referendum on the Maryland DREAM Act in an attempt to cause the measure's failure. But this effort backfired -- instead, African-Americans voted overwhelmingly for the measure.
The Chicago Tribune published an op-ed rehashing claims about undocumented immigrants that have been widely debunked, without noting that the author is a fellow at nativist organization the Center for Immigration Studies. CIS is an anti-immigrant organization whose affiliation with hate groups has been thoroughly documented by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
In the February 8 op-ed titled, "Legalizing Illegal Immigrants A Bad Idea," CIS fellow David Seminara repeated the false claims that undocumented immigrants steal jobs from hard-working Americans and that they put a strain on social services. The Tribune identified Seminara simply as a former diplomat who has "issued thousands of visas during his career at the State Department."
According to his bio on the CIS website, Seminara has been a fellow at the organization since 2009. He has written extensively for the group's blog, including writing posts that have criticized an undocumented immigrant fearful of applying for deferred action and attacked scholarships for undocumented immigrants.
Knowing Seminara's affiliation with CIS would have alerted readers that the op-ed was presenting a biased view of the immigration debate as it repeated many of CIS' and other nativist groups' talking points. Indeed, his claim that undocumented immigrants steal Americans' jobs is not new; it has been discredited by economists and immigration experts using mountains of research: Undocumented immigrants do not generally compete with Americans for labor, and in fact have been found to boost Americans' wages.
Immigrants given legal status under the immigration reform framework announced by the Senate are also unlikely to be a strain on the welfare system. Under the current framework, newly legalized immigrants would not be eligible for Medicaid or any government social benefit. In addition, immigrants are more likely to have jobs and over half have a high school degree or more.
In Illinois, consumer spending by undocumented immigrants already generates $5.45 billion in gross regional spending which accounts for 31,000 jobs in the Chicago area,according to the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. In fact, the Immigration Policy Center reported that in 2010, undocumented immigrants in the state paid nearly half a billion dollars in taxes.
As government scientists and policymakers attempt to safeguard disappearing populations of Atlantic Cod off of the New England coast with stricter catch limits, state and national media continue to ignore the role of anthropogenic climate change in displacing cod from their longtime habitats.
For over four hundred years, New Hampshire has maintained a thriving commercial fishing industry, reliant to a large degree on groundfish like the cod. Cod are now disappearing from the New England coast, and scientists are attributing this disappearance in part to warmer and more acidic waters -- driven by industrial emissions of carbon dioxide -- that are driving cod northward into preferred cold-water habitats.
Rising ocean temperatures pose a challenge for fish and wildlife managers attempting to protect these cod populations (and, by extension, the fishing industry in New England). From The Boston Globe (emphasis added):
Warming waters and an evolving ocean ecosystem possibly related to man-made climate change are contributing to the anemic populations, not just decades of overfishing, government officials say.
"While we are not blaming fishermen, this is not good news,'' said John Bullard, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's regional chief. "We can control overfishing -- it's hard but we can do it -- but how do you control this?"
The only option, Bullard and other regulators say, is to dramatically restrict fishing to give the bottom-hugging fish any hope of a comeback.
On the February 6 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, New Hampshire Republican and noted "climate change skeptic" Sen. Kelly Ayotte attacked the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) attempts to protect U.S. cod populations by implementing stricter catch limits. No one during this segment mentioned climate change:
And in Ayotte's home state, New Hampshire's largest newspaper -- the Union Leader -- has been following suit.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch failed to note that Virginia's education proposal to improve failing public schools is modeled after a Louisiana program which experts found does not lead to higher academic achievement.
A January 31 article from the Richmond Times-Dispatch discussed a new education initiative which hopes to take over failing Virginia public schools and allow a statewide school panel to run the schools until they reach higher achievement levels. As the article notes, these schools would be modeled after the Recovery School District (RSD) in Louisiana. From the Times-Dispatch:
In his most dramatic K-12 education initiative of this year, Gov. Bob McDonnell is proposing to create a statewide school division that would take over management of such schools.
The concept, roughly modeled after the Recovery School District in Louisiana, is a novel construct in Virginia and has the McDonnell administration at odds with education groups that have embraced other parts of the governor's public school agenda.
Supporters cast the so-called Opportunity Educational Institution as a way to remove obstacles that have led to chronically underperforming schools.
The article does note that there is opposition to the proposal on several fronts, including constitutional concerns about the law and whether local tax dollars would be diverted to an un-elected board rather than local school boards. However, the piece fails to note that the Recovery School District in Louisiana -- on which the Virginia program would be partially modeled -- has had mixed results, and any positive gains may have been the result of one time funding due to Hurricane Katrina.
The Louisiana Recovery School District was established in 2003 to provide parents with children in failing New Orleans public schools with other alternatives. After Hurricane Katrina, the RSD stepped in to take over most of New Orleans public schools, turning them into charter schools with the potential after 5 years of returning control to the public school board once they sufficiently improve. Despite teachers in some schools unanimously asking to return to the public school system, no school has been granted permission to do so.
The schools have also, so far, failed to meet the benchmarks of success established by the RSD. While supporters of the RSD program claim that the schools are making progress as charter schools, they have not performed much better than when they were public schools.
An article in the Times-Picayune from highlighted a report which found that the "district-run RSD schools are the worst performing in the city," in 2012. In addition, a Times-Picayune editorial noted that the RSD schools had the lowest percentage of students -- 11.3 percent -- score high enough on the college admissions test to earn a TOPS scholarship from Louisiana, compared to 38 percent of all students in New Orleans.
A fact sheet provided by the nonpartisan Council for a Better Louisiana shows that RSD schools are lagging well behind the rest of the state's schools. RSD schools still have a majority of students performing below Louisiana's basic grade level of skills and knowledge in reading and English and 59 percent of college freshman have had to take remedial courses after graduating from an RSD school. Meanwhile, RSD schools spend almost $12,519 per pupil compared to a state average of $10,622.
A scathing report by Research on Reforms, an organization dedicated to improving New Orleans Public Schools, found that the RSD relied spun data to make it seem that their schools were hitting their target goals. From Research on Reforms:
When the 2012 SPS/letter grades were released, the RSD-NO was quick to respond with the spin that 2012 results again supported the claim that that the LDOE's model for turning around failing schools had been extremely successful. They claimed that their schools had made incredible gains in New Orleans for 2012 in spite of the fact that the failing bar had been raised from 65 to 75. The RSD's District Performance Score (DPS) increased from an "F" (69.2) to slightly above the new "F" cutoff score of 75. Its new DPS was 76.7 which is equivalent to a "D". ROR's position is that a label of "D" hardly qualifies any school district to rejoice. While not indicating failure, it does indicate that a district is performing very poorly academically.
Did the RSD-NO's DPS gain represent significant progress in 2012? When viewed in the context of the most important annual growth indicator of the LDOE, (i.e., the SPS Growth Target), it is not. Sixty-seven percent of the 60 RSD-NO schools failed to achieve their growth target for 2012. When viewed in this context, one would hardly consider the 7.5 point DPS growth of the RSD significant considering the performance of the majority of its schools. Also note that the RSD's public relations spinners have rarely, or never, addressed the significance of this extremely crucial school indicator when assessing gains or growth.
A report by the National Education Policy Center, which was criticizing another report touting the school district's progress, highlighted what they called "historic and racially targeted neglect" which the supporters of the RSD never take into account when discussing circumstances behind failing New Orleans schools. In addition, another Research on Reforms report found that the RSD was neglecting non-charter schools under its control -- specifically Marshall Middle School -- regardless of the schools' success.
The Times-Dispatch has a duty to its readers to expose the flawed history of the RSD, given that Virginia's education plan, as the newspaper notes, is modeled after Louisiana's controversial program.
Ohio media reporting on Gov. John Kasich's (R) new education funding plan neglected to inform readers that the plan funnels millions of dollars in increased spending to private schools and charter schools whose operators have donated millions in campaign contributions to Kasich and Republicans in the state legislature.
The Akron Beacon Journal reported on the Kasich plan's significant enrichment of private school operators and the charter school management industry (emphasis added):
The $8.5 million expansion in the first year represents a 7 percent increase in allocations for vouchers. Based on the average voucher cost of $5,997, the additional funding could afford scholarships for more than 2,800 children by the end of the budget cycle in 2015.
The budget also expands funding for charter schools, adding an additional $100 per pupil for facility improvements at the privately operated alternative schools. That's an additional $11.9 million for charter schools based on the Beacon Journal's projection of 2011-2012 student enrollment figures.
The Beacon Journal didn't mention that the additional $11.9 million for charter schools represents a significant return on the investments of for-profit charter school operators who have helped fund Republican campaigns in Ohio for years. One such operator is David Brennan, whose White Hat Management is among the largest for-profit charter school operators in the state. Brennan and his immediate family contributed over $430,000 to Ohio Republicans in 2010, including $46,000 to Kasich's gubernatorial campaign, according to a Plunderbund.com review of state campaign disclosures. Brennan and another for-profit charter school operator, William Lager, have reportedly funneled over $4 million to Ohio Republicans since 2001.
Ohio's largest print news outlets -- including the Columbus Dispatch, Cincinnati Enquirer, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Dayton Daily News, Toledo Blade, and the Beacon Journal -- not only ignored the financial connections between Kasich's charter-friendly plan and his campaign donors, they also failed to note that the charter school industry is receiving this boon despite consistently performing well below Ohio's traditional public school districts. Recently released report cards for the 2011-12 school year indicated that "while 92 percent of the state's public school districts scored effective or higher...only 26 percent of charter schools did."
Brennan's White Hat Management has a particularly poor record of academic success, according to reporting by NPR.org. NPR's examination found that for the 2010-11 school year, no White Hat school in Ohio earned higher than a "C" on the state report card, and most received a rating of "D" or "F." White Hat was also sued by the schools it manages for pocketing "at least 95 percent of the schools' tax funding."
Nevertheless, White Hat stands to benefit from Kasich's new plan. Unfortunately, Ohio's parents and students are not benefitting from adequate media focus on Kasich's continued financial conflicts of interest.
As Republican lawmakers in Virginia moved to further tighten the state's voter ID requirements, the state's two largest newspapers abandoned the larger factual context of the debate by failing to report the scarcity of voter fraud and the state's history of voter disenfranchisement.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch and Norfolk's Virginian-Pilot reported that both a Virginia House of Delegates subcommittee and the Senate Privileges and Election Committee approved separate bills that would further tighten Virginia's voter ID requirements. The newspapers each employed a he-said/she-said presentation of the debate and failed to inform readers of the fact that in-person voter fraud -- the kind of fraud ID laws are supposedly meant to mitigate -- is extremely rare.
From the Times-Dispatch, which characterized the arguments for and against the proposed photo identification election bill in shallow back-and-forth fashion:
Sen. Mark D. Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, the sponsor of Senate Bill 1256, has said it would help ensure integrity in elections and deter voter fraud, while critics said it would further disenfranchise poor, elderly and minority voters.
Democrats, voting groups and civil rights organizations accuse Republicans of attempting to suppress the vote.
Meanwhile, the Virginian-Pilot balanced a pro-voter ID anecdote from a House panel witness who found "that someone else had voted under her name in 2008" against "a variety of other speakers -- representing groups from the League of Women Voters to the NAACP," who opposed the ID requirement "as costly and unnecessary, saying it would disenfranchise minority, elderly and low-income Virginians."
The Times-Dispatch and the Virginian-Pilot ignored objective realities about the kind of "voter fraud" Sen. Obenshain claimed to be fighting. According to NYU's Brennan Center for Justice, in-person voter fraud is "more rare than getting struck by lightning." Investigations by The New York Times, News21 and Demos have all found little or no evidence of in-person voter fraud, and there are no credible claims that voter fraud swayed the outcomes of any major election in 2012.
The editorial board of the Times-Dispatch acknowledged the scarcity of voter fraud in an editorial on January 17, describing voter impersonation as "virtually nonexistent" and noting that "the evidence of need for [tightened voter-ID requirements] is almost as scant as the evidence of Bigfoot." Yet this fact remained absent from the newspaper's January 30 news coverage of the voter ID debate.
Furthermore, both newspapers missed an opportunity to inform readers about Virginia's history of race-based voter disenfranchisement -- a history that remains procedurally relevant thanks to the Voting Rights Act, which (via Section 5 of the Act) requires states like Virginia to receive approval from the U.S. Department of Justice or a federal court before they may finalize changes to their electoral system.
Virginia media followed in the footsteps of the Associated Press, which failed to note the importance of the VRA in a similar story about a Republican voter ID push in North Carolina earlier this month. While the Virginian-Pilot acknowledged the existence of the VRA in the lawmaking process, it failed to explain the state's history of voter disenfranchisement, which is why the VRA Section 5 applies to Virginia. The Times-Dispatch failed to mention the Act at all.
The editorial boards of two newspapers owned by oil tycoon Philip Anschutz re-endorsed the controversial Keystone XL (KXL) Pipeline project days after Nebraska's Governor approved a new route for the pipeline, but neither paper acknowledged the continued environmental danger of the project and both exaggerated the project's potential for job creation and consumer benefits.
The editorial boards of the Colorado Springs Gazette and The Oklahoman claimed that the Obama administration should approve the pipeline now that TransCanada -- the corporation seeking to build the pipeline -- has rerouted the project because it won't have a negative environmental impact. But in fact, the risk of a spill over environmentally sensitive areas remains. Keystone XL will carry tar sands oil, which is potentially more corrosive and difficult to clean up than regular crude oil, according NPR. The existing Keystone pipeline has had 14 spills, and the new route will still cross a large aquifer and, according to some groups, will still cross the environmentally sensitive sandy soil around the Sandhills.
Despite these issues, The Oklahoman editorial claimed that "U.S. customers will get the benefit" if the pipeline is built. However, the pipeline will not lower gasoline prices for consumers any noticeable amount, and some experts believe it could raise gas prices for consumers in the Midwest. Much of the oil, after being transported over American soil, will be shipped overseas.
And while The Colorado Springs Gazette editorial claimed the pipeline could create "179,000 American jobs" by 2035, these numbers are wildly inflated. That figure actually represents 179,000 "person-years of employment" -- a job for one person for one year -- and comes from an analysis funded by TransCanada that independent analysts have called "dead wrong," "meaningless," and "flawed and poorly documented." According to a Washington Post article, TransCanada admitted that the project would only create around 6,500 construction jobs for two years. Independent analyses have found even less job creation, with one study by the Cornell University Global Labor Institute finding that the pipeline would create as few as fifty permanent U.S. jobs.
Editorial bias in the Gazette and Oklahoman isn't surprising -- both papers are owned by billionaire oil and gas tycoon Philip Anschutz. It's hard to take Anschutz's papers seriously given their distortions of the benefits oil and gas drilling, their dismissal of the environmental impact of oil and gas extraction, and their failure to acknowledge the dangers of climate change.