Friday, November 18, 2011

Doug Manchester, the new San Diego Union-Tribune owner, thinks of himself as Richard III

November 18, 2011
Paper Will Call Out Stadium Opponents as 'Obstructionists'
Randy Dotinga
Voice of San Diego

Local hotel magnate Doug Manchester is buying The San Diego Union-Tribune, and heads are going to spin, if not roll: the paper's incoming president and CEO promises big changes.

John Lynch, a former local radio exec who's set to be that top boss, "said he wants the paper to be pro-business. The sports page to be pro-Chargers stadium. And reporters to become stars," our Rob Davis reports. In fact, Lynch said he wants the sports page to "call out those who don't (support a new stadium) as obstructionists."

Wow. However, Lynch said he expects that Manchester will "respect journalistic integrity" and adds that "we'd like to be a cheerleader for all that's good about San Diego."

Manchester says he paid above $110 million for the newspaper. That suggests the Platinum Equity firm, which bought the paper in 2009, made a tidy profit by flipping it.

Both Manchester and Lynch are known for their conservative bona-fides; in 2006, Lynch referred to then-Councilman Donna Frye, an iconoclast politician and hero not only to liberals, as "to the left of Mao."

So who's Manchester? Local reporter Tony Perry of the L.A. Times calls him "a minor league Donald Trump."

He's a polarizing figure, known for the moniker he insists on people using ("Papa Doug"), his stand against gay marriage (although he says he's not anti-gay and supports domestic partnerships), his luxurious hotels (a five-star rating for one of them made a big splash in the U-T this week), his push toward development (a state agency just rejected his mammoth $1.3 billion project planned on Navy property downtown) and his divorce after 43 years of marriage (it was messy).

* Check our reader's guide for a look back at the U-T's road from the glory days of the mid-2000s to post-boom heartache and dashed dreams under Copley ownership.

* News of the sale immediately sparked anger and threats of subscription cancellations. ("Manchester and his politics scare the **** out of me," wrote commenter Bill Paul, while Chris Brewster bemoaned "this unfortunate devolution in San Diego journalism.")

Fred Smith complained that the Copleys were "were extreme libs" (a comment that will send eyebrows rocketing skyward all over town) and says he "refused to read the rag when the Copleys ran it into the ground," while Darrell Thomas referred to "extreme left rags" like... the L.A. Times. (The sound you hear is even more wayward eyebrows.)

And then there's commenter David Hall. He weighed in with a zinger: "I don't think the UT has been consistently left or right. It has, however, been consistently bad."

In the U-T's defense, bashing the local rag has been a national pasttime since the first time headlines met hot type.

For more opinions, check our compilation of Twitter comments.

* And what of U-T employees? They're already sucking up to ... er, greeting their new owner. "We believe this is a step in the right direction for The San Diego Union-Tribune," the U-T's "Team" declared on Facebook. "As Dean Nelson pointed out, Doug Manchester is a brilliant guy. We're excited to have local owners who are in-touch with what's going on in our city and we look forward to the amazing things the future holds for our newspaper."

The U-T's story about the sale included not a discouraging word (or even a slightly non-positive one) about the paper or the owners, but had plenty of things-are-just-peachy verbiage.

We have two principal stories: one immediate analysis looking at the sale and getting reaction, and a second turning to the biggest question: in what direction do Manchester and Lynch take the news and editorial pages.

Tidbits about the U-T's New Owner

* A video on Manchester's website quotes a man identified as Jim Jameson as saying: "If Shakespeare were alive today, Shakespeare wouldn't write about most of us. But he would write about Doug Manchester. In the sense of Richard III or Julius Caesar, Doug has heroic qualities that are just extraordinary. He also has the human frailties that we all have. So that the mentions of these heroic qualities and frailties together, Shakespeare would write about today."

The video is, as San Diego Magazine puts it, "super odd."

Richard III and Julius Caesar, by the way, didn't come to good ends, either in real life or in Shakespeare's plays. (Maybe Manchester should watch his back, beware the ides of March and always keep a horse on hand?)

* As you might glean from the video, Manchester is not the humblest of men. San Diego Magazine found this quote on his website: "He creates and applies the magic that creates positive experiences. His memory-makers have routinely defined and enriched San Diego's skylines and landscapes. And when he reaches beyond San Diego, which he often does, his visions dot the landscape of America. This is what Papa Doug has done and from what he draws satisfaction."

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Journalist arrested in Milwaukee for filming house fire

Milwaukee Police Dept. v. Clint Fillinger

Posted October 6th, 2011 by CMLP Staff
Summary
Threat Type: Criminal Charge
Date: 09/21/2011
Location: Wisconsin
Party Issuing Legal Threat: Party Receiving Legal Threat:
Milwaukee Police Dept. Clint Fillinger

On September 21, 2011, Clint Fillinger, a photojournalist, was arrested for resisting and obstructing an officer after police confronted Fillinger while he was attempting to film at the scene of a house firm in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Fillinger, a 68-year-old journalist with 45 years of experience, was filming from outside the area that officers had cordoned off with police tape, where several members of the public had also gathered.

Fillinger's raw video of the incident was published by his employer, Fox6 Now. The raw video shows two officers approaching Fillinger and demanding that he step back. The video appears to show Fillinger complying as he stated that he had a right to be there as a member of the public. The officers tell him that he must move for his own safety. Fillinger ultimately falls to the ground, dropping his camera, though the video does not show the cause. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press reports that Fillinger was the only person asked to move away from the scene.

Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn told Fox6 the next day that he felt Fillinger was to blame, saying, "If the cameraman had simply complied with the instructions to back off from a working fire, none of this hullabaloo would be taking place." Fox6 posted the raw video of Flynn's statement on its website.

Several news associations – including the National Press Photographers Association’s Advocacy Committee, the Radio Television Digital News Association, and the Wisconsin News Photographers Association – have sent letters to Flynn demanding the charges be dropped and the officers involved be investigated and face disciplinary charges if necessary.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Meet the Fall 2011 IRP Fellows

Meet the Fall 2011 IRP Fellows
International Reporting Project
2011

Ten U.S. journalists have been awarded International Reporting Project (IRP) Fellowships to report on important global topics, including four reporting projects on global religion. http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gif

The nine-week-long reporting fellowships, which provide U.S. journalists with opportunities to do in-depth overseas stories, will begin in September and end in November. The IRP, now in its 13th year, is based in Washington D.C. at The Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) of The Johns Hopkins University.

The fall 2011 IRP Fellows, their affiliations and the countries where they will report are:

Emily Alpert, voiceofsandiego -- Bolivia
Alex Daniels, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette -- Benin
David Francis, freelance -- Nigeria
Alex Gallafent, PRI/BBC “The World” -- Swaziland
Matt Jenkins, freelance -- Taiwan
Krista Mahr, TIME Asia -- South Sudan
Megan Verlee, Colorado Public Radio -- Ethiopia
Andrea Wenzel, WAMU-FM -- Thailand
Jennifer Willis, freelance -- Ireland
Jamison York, NPR’s “On the Media” -- Malaysia

Friday, August 05, 2011

Who is watching the Watchdog? The San Diego U-T “disappears” its own reporting by moving it

Who is watching the Watchdog? The San Diego U-T “disappears” its own reporting by moving it
by Anna Daniels
OB Rag
August 1, 2011

For those of us who read the news and analysis of the news online, it is not uncommon to find a correction appended to an article or some part of the original text struck through, but still visible, with a modification following it. Online material is uniquely adaptable to quick corrections and updates in the interests of getting a story “right.”

Removing a story, scrubbing it from the site’s archives and replacing it with a completely new version is a jaw dropping breach of journalistic integrity and responsibility. The U-T did precisely that when it wrote that it had “moved” an article written by Wendy Fry on July 25 about the presence of paid “activists” at a series of Chula Vista city council meetings in which rent control in mobile home parks was being deliberated.

I had found Fry’s initial post extremely interesting and wrote about it here. The link that I provided however to Fry’s July 25 article now pulls up a page that says that the story was moved to the Watchdog section and we are invited to read it there.

It is impossible to read that story there because it is not posted there. Instead, there is a rewrite, a total do over dated July 28. It is also authored by Fry but the topic receives a new title and substantively different treatment from the original. This new story was not presented as a correction, update or retraction and the original article has disappeared from the signon archives (Read it here from a non U-T source.) leaving only the reader comments.

It is worth asking why Fry’s South Bay report on a topic that is not a particularly “hot” issue would even merit this kind of treatment. What entity (or entities) was disturbed by the content of the original and capable of exerting sufficient power upon the U-T to receive a rewrite? Who is really involved in this story and to what extent?

The bare bones story presented in both articles is that the Chula Vista city council held two public meetings on an agenda item about current rent control law as it applies to mobile home parks. An overflow crowd of interested parties, a significant number of whom were allegedly compensated by an individual or organization associated with the Republican Party, was able to weigh in on whether to continue rent control for residents or to let that law sunset, and “decontrol” rents with all new tenants. Those compensated individuals were there to oppose the continuance of rent control. The city council voted 4-0 to enable mobile home park owners to increase rent whenever a mobile home is sold, signaling the end of rent control.

If the bare bones of the story were not altered, what did change and why? Fry’s original article used the terms “activists’ and “seat savers” when referring to those who were paid to attend. Both of those terms disappeared completely from her rewrite. Attendees were simply “paid,” provided with “financial incentives” or “compensated,” which creates a significant change in tone from presenting the unusual to the unremarkable. The number of people provided with financial incentives also changed from “about 100” in the original to “at least 50,” which alters the degree of relevance of those compensated.

The question of who was doing the paying has been substantively reworked. She writes in her original article —“In the crowd July 12, a large group of young people wore green ‘Yes on Vacancy Decontrol’ stickers in support of the changes. Some of those attendees told other audience member they were with ‘the Young Republicans of El Cajon’ and that they were each paid $20 to attend.” Yet all allusions to this group as well as to the San Diego County Young Republicans, also quoted, disappear in the subsequent article. Why is that?

In Fry’s second shot at this, she presents a statement from Derrick Roach, the secretary for the Republican Party of San Diego “Roach, a Chula Vista resident, confirmed he helped recruit and pay 50 mobile-home residents to attend the meeting and gave McMurty $40 cash.” These 50 residents were the “seat savers” in Fry’s original article.

Fry goes on to write “Chairman Tony Krvaric said the Republican Party of San Diego County was not responsible for compensating people at the meeting.” This leaves the reader with the mystifying feeling that Krvaric, president, and Roach, secretary of the Republican Party, have never met each other, let alone spoken to each other. When Kravic outrageously responds to her question about who provided the cash behind the handout with “’What do you think? Who had the financial interest in the item? What was the issue being pushed and probably the people pushing the payments,’” and she lets go of that bald contradiction to Roach’s admission, you know it’s all over for the U-T’s reporting. Roach admitted to providing the money and he represents the obvious financial interest. Is Krvaric really trying to obfuscate that fact and why did Fry let him get away with it?

Roach is the fall guy in all this—the rewritten title states “GOP officer paid people to attend council meeting” and his picture is prominently displayed; Krvaric is obviously a person of influence; and it remains unclear whether the “South Bay campaign consultant who runs the politically involved San Diego Group” is a significant player; and there were no interviews in either of the articles of the actual mobile park owners who have a great deal at stake in the issue.

Ray McMurty, age 62 and living on social security disability is grateful for the forty bucks he was paid by the Republican Party and which helped out with his weekly groceries. He publicly states he sees no problem in attending those city council meetings, wearing a sticker in support of “decontrol,” even though he lives in one of the affected mobile home parks. His statements, one of the few included in both articles, provide a transparency lacking in the other interviews. We can assume that he is not the entity which has exerted the power over the U-T for a rewrite.

I do not understand why Fry was given a second chance to “get it right.” It strikes me as an odd opportunity for journalistic redemption, tantamount to writing “I was bad and will never be bad again” on the blackboard 100 times, yet the rewrite still stirs up the soup.

The U-T Watchdog wants us to know that it stands for “Journalism that upholds the public trust, regularly.” The cavalier acts of rewriting its own news and expunging all evidence to the contrary exemplifies an appalling disregard of what constitutes upholding that trust—and the very basis for reporting the news.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

It looks like Voice of San Diego might be taking some cards out of the deck before it begins to play

Has Voice of San Diego given up on journalistic ethics? They're starting to make the SDUT look good! I'm beginning to think VOSD is just a mouthpiece for a few people with money and/or influence who wanted some control over which voices are heard in San Diego. But apparently they didn't just want to give some new people a voice. They also want to keep some new voices silent.

Last night I sent two comments to VOSD about the Jackson story in Voice of San Diego:


To VOSD:
You guys are doing something wrong. I don't think your decisions are motivated by race, but the unbalanced racial makeup of the people you choose to attack exposes a problem. I'm not talking about the top elected officials. I am talking about how VOSD chooses which of the other 3 million people in San Diego to attack, protect, or discuss. There's something wrong with your methodology when so many of the people attacked are black women. There is something arbitrary and inequitable about your methods. The law of probability indicates that you are somehow pulling some of the cards out of the deck before the game begins.

You are exposing your methods unintentionally. The same thing happens with people who cheat on their taxes. The IRS spots them by looking for certain numbers that tend to pop up more frequently in the tax filings of people who are cheating. They use statistics to spot the fraud, without even looking at the reasons given for deductions.



VOSD has stepped gingerly around some stories, and stepped heavily into other stories.

The people that get the gentler treatment from VOSD tend to be white, not because VOSD is racist, but because, I suspect, the people whom Buzz Woolley and the rest of the top dogs at VOSD want to protect happen to be white. People high up on the food chain in San Diego schools are treated gently (and the superintendent there is a black man), while people who rank lower take the heat. Also, people down at SEDC get harsh handling.

Obviously, commenter "bigfan" doesn't like Shelia Jackson, and doesn't want to question VOSD's motives for choosing to attack Jackson while staying silent on more important issues in schools.

My point is that I think VOSD chooses stories for the wrong reasons, but not necessarily for racial reasons. But one must suspect that something is wrong when there is such a surfeit of black women being attacked. The laws of probability are being violated. The choices seem arbitrary. It appears that people are attacked if they are not on the protected list.

Let's look at the facts. When Regina Petty at SEDC wouldn't turn over public records, VOSD went after her with a vengeance. We were treated to 13 "Petty Watch" posts. It took two months of "almost constant hounding" to get SEDC to release public records.

But VOSD reported that when it asked for records from the County Office of Education "that would show if the trips were given to the agency rather than the employee, it didn't provide any." VOSD didn't begin an aggressive "Crosier Watch." No constant hounding. The difference in treatment was not due to the fact that the SEDC lawyer was black and Diane Crosier, the lawyer in charge of keeping public records out of public view at the County Office of Education, was white. It's because Petty had no friends at VOSD, and Crosier apparently does. I call it friendship when you meekly accept a "no" answer to a public records request instead of doing all you can to shame Diane Crosier into turning over the records.

I'm not saying VOSD shouldn't cover the Jackson story. I'm saying that we can clearly see that there is a problem when racial patterns emerge so clearly in VOSD stories. I'm saying VOSD needs to start telling the whole truth about schools in San Diego. And it should start with a "Crosier Watch."





At almost 5 p.m. today (July 30, 2011), my comments are not posted. Here's what I just wrote to Scott Lewis and Andrew Donohue.

Scott Lewis, Andrew Donohue:

You allowed a commenter to call me "pathetic" and say she was LMAO (laughing her ass off). Not coincidentally, I believe, she was defending VOSD's choice of subject for investigation.

Then you failed to publish my two comments explaining myself.

You're not even pretending any more, are you?



I'm beginning to think that although VOSD does cover some stories that the SDUT doesn't, it isn't because VOSD is more fair in who it attacks. It's simply that VOSD is politically motivated to attack different people. The main problem I see with both VOSD and SDUT is that they like to go after little stories of small corruption in which the taxpayers lose a small amount of cash to someone with sticky fingers, while at the same time both these newspapers leave unmolested the big guys who undermines society itself by corrupting the system to make the entire operation of government subservient to their wishes.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Now Two Murdoch Whistleblowers Dead

Now Two Murdoch Whistleblowers Dead
By John Romano
Yes, But, However
(YBH)
July 24th 2011

First it was Big George Webley who relayed a fear of the Murdoch machine and wound up dead. Now it’s Sean Hoare. Two British media whistleblowers. Two untimely deaths.

Let’s assume that neither was killed by Rupert Murdoch (toxicology reports haven’t been made available; foul play isn’t suspected by British authorities in either case), but something happened that put the fear of God into both men. Neither was known as a lunatic before their demise, both simply told the truth to British authorities about what they knew of Mr. Murdoch’s enterprises and died afterward at a relatively young age.

Sean Hoare

Mr. Hoare’s role in the evolving scandal is obvious: he worked at News of the World and broke the scandal wide open by charging his former editor, and then Prime Minister David Cameron’s Communications Director Andy Coulson, with lying about his role in NOTW’s phone hacking. Big George, for his part, allegedly revealed in private testimony to British authorities the fact that the Sky TV show he worked on in the early 90′s ,”Jameson Tonight”, had routinely bugged the dressing rooms of guests looking for scoops. Mr Webley’s charge was relevant because News Corp.’s initial defense was that the hacking at NOTW was the work of a rogue reporter. Big George’s charge threw cold water on that defense by helping to establish a pattern of subterfuge over many years at Murdoch-owned enterprises.

At first, Big George’s April 29th frantic phone call to me (eight days before his death at age 53, details here) didn’t make much sense. Now that the scandal has broken wide open a few things are much clearer:

The hacking/bugging taking place at News Corp. businesses was far more widespread than previously known.
Based on their dismissals from News Corp. it is shown that the hacking went far up the food chain all the way to Les Hinton, who resigned as head of Dow Jones last week.
The police were involved, as evidenced by the resignation of two of Scotland Yard’s top cops.
Prime Minister David Cameron’s Communication Director was a former Murdoch employee and News of the World editor.

The United Kingdom is the closest western country to a de facto police state. Surveillance cameras are everywhere. No Bill of Rights (in law or practice), and by living there you acknowledge that you are a subject of the British Crown. Britain is a great place, but it is not exactly a place where freedom flourishes compared with the United States, France or Canada.

Given the above, it is very easy to envision a scenario where the police could and would build a campaign of quiet intimidation against men like Mr. Webley and Mr. Hoare. London police were on the payroll of a Murdoch enterprise; why wouldn’t they act to protect their racket?

The Murdoch empire is fighting for its life, but let’s not forget both Sean Hoare and Big George Webley, two men that it would seem either directly or indirectly are collateral damage in the whole affair. Someone needs to speak for them.

Friday, July 22, 2011

UK lawmaker calls for police investigation of claim contradicting James Murdoch

UK lawmaker calls for police investigation of claim contradicting James Murdoch testimony
By Associated Press
July 22, 2011

LONDON — James Murdoch was under pressure Friday over claims he misled lawmakers about Britain’s phone hacking scandal, as a lawmaker called for a police investigation and Prime Minister David Cameron insisted the media scion had “questions to answer” about what he knew and when he knew it.

The presumed heir to Rupert Murdoch’s media empire testified before a parliamentary committee that he was not aware of evidence that eavesdropping at the News of the world went beyond a jailed rogue reporter. But in a sign that executives are starting to turn against the company, two former top staffers said late Thursday they told him years ago about an email that suggested wrongdoing at the paper was more widespread than the company let on.

32

Comments

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Graphic
The sequence of events at News Corp.

The sequence of events at News Corp.

Video
A British lawmaker wants police to investigate whether James Murdoch, son of Rupert Murdoch, lied to Parliament. (July 22)

A British lawmaker wants police to investigate whether James Murdoch, son of Rupert Murdoch, lied to Parliament. (July 22)

More on this Story

British PM adds to pressure on James Murdoch
Former execs accuse James Murdoch of lying
News Corp. PAC boosted donations in June
Michael Regan, Murdoch's man in Washington

View all Items in this Story

The claim brings more trouble for the embattled James Murdoch, who heads the Europe and Asia operations of his father’s News Corp., as his family fights a scandal that has already cost it one of its British tabloids, two top executives and a $12 billion-dollar bid for control of lucrative satellite broadcaster British Sky Broadcasting.

Tom Watson, a legislator from the opposition Labour Party, called for Scotland Yard to look into the allegation and said it “marks a major step forward in getting to the facts of this case.”

“If their version of events is accurate, it doesn’t just mean that Parliament has been misled, it means police have another investigation on their hands,” Watson told the BBC.

James Murdoch, who was not testifying under oath at Tuesday’s parliamentary hearing, could face sanction if it becomes clear he deliberately misled lawmakers — but the prospect is highly unlikely. The last time the House of Commons fined anyone was in 1666.

The House of Commons no longer has the power to imprison a nonmember, but it could refer a case to the Metropolitan Police...

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Righthaven LLC v. Hyatt Copyright Infringement

Righthaven LLC v. Hyatt
Citizen Media Law Project
Threat Type: Lawsuit
Date: 10/06/2010
Status: Pending
Location: Nevada
Legal Claims: Copyright Infringement

Righthaven LLC, a Las Vegas company associated with Las Vegas Review-Journal owner Stephens Media LLC, filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against Bill Hyatt, a New York blogger. Righthaven alleged that Hyatt copied an article from the Las Vegas Review-Journal without permission and posted it on his website, 1ce.org.

After Hyatt did not respond to Righthaven's lawsuit, on February 10, 2011, Righthaven filed a motion for default judgment and demanded it be awarded attorney fees, $150,000 in statutory damages, and an order that 1ce.org be transferred from Hyatt to Righthaven.

Update:

2/23/2011 - The Media Bloggers Association ("MBA") moved to file an amicus brief with the court. In the brief, the MBA argued that Righthaven's claim to ownership of the copyright in the article in question is dubious, as the copyright assignment appears to be invalid. The MBA also argued that Righthaven should not be awarded any more than nominal damages at most, as it "is not a content producer trying to preserve ts relevant market from the unceasing raids of content pirates, but a dedicated litigation house that acquires rights from other entities solely to sue essentially defenseless 'infringers' for their supposed infringement." And the MBA argued that the court lacked jurisdiction to order the transfer of 1ce.org to Righthaven, as such an award is only an appropriate remedy in cybersquatting cases, which this is not.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

San Diego Union-Tribune Watchdog highlights this question: "Should there be any pension for [teacher] retirees?"

Clearly, Les Birdsall of San Diego is not interested in attracting the best and brightest to work as teachers in San Diego. Since teachers don't pay for, or receive, Social Security benefits, Mr. Birdsall seems to be asking if retired teachers should perhaps live in homeless shelters and collect food stamps. Why would the SDUT Watchdog print such a silly comment while at the same time failing to investigate costly shenanigans of insurance companies and lawyers at the San Diego County Office of Education? Has the Watchdog received any rabies shots? Is it mad?

See Slaying the Mythical Tax-Fattened Hog regarding public sector pay.


Educator pensions report raised questions
“The average education pension in $40,663. Is this too high?“
By Maureen Magee
SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE
January 31, 2011

Underfunded public pensions have made big headlines in San Diego and elsewhere, igniting a debate over the cost of retirement packages that often pits taxpayer groups against public employees, with the public somewhere in the middle.

A recent report by The Watchdog on educator pensions contributed to the debate. Some readers wrote to raise questions and voice their views — from outrage over what they call excessive pensions to sympathy for public employees whose retirement packages they believe have been unfairly called into question.

Mary Jean Word, a retired San Diego teacher, objected to our report claiming the educator pension system, like other public funds, offers “high benefits with no clear way to pay them.” She said the broad brush was unfair to those on the lower end.

“Do not include administrators with teachers,” said Word, who retired with 25 years service credit in California and receives an annual pension of $24,000. “They do not teach 20 to 150 students a day.”

Public educators from counselors to superintendents pay into the California State Teachers Retirement System. The program does not classify them by position, however, so separate data analysis was not possible. Although the top pension for a retired San Diego County educator is $281,034, the average retired educator in the county takes home just over $40,000 annually.

Much of the response to our story centered around whether that is a high number. For perspective, recent U.S. Census Bureau estimates show the average person of retirement age receives about $19,000 from retirement, pension and/or Social Security benefits.
Teacher fund status

Jim Wirt of San Diego wanted to know more about the state of the teacher pension fund. “You could have at least mentioned that CalSTRS assets have fallen...”

The fund reported good news last month when it posted 12.7 percent investment returns for 2010, raising its portfolio to $146.4 billion. The fund peaked at $180 billion in 2007 and had fallen to $112 billion in early 2009.

Even so, the system is expected to go broke by 2045 unless contributions are increased by the state, school districts and California educators. Officials say the fund needs a 15 percent hike in employer contributions this year. Only the state Legislature has the authority to approve such an increase. Since the state faces a $20 billion budget deficit, many say it’s unlikely to happen this year.
Who’s to blame?

Marty McGee of La Jolla wants to know how California got into this mess. She wrote, “In order for your watchdog reports to lead to meaningful changes, the people need to know who did it.”

Some of the blame goes to California voters.

“A little-known ballot measure a quarter century ago, Proposition 21 in 1984, opened the door for much of the current controversy over California’s public employee pensions,” former Union-Tribune reporter and pension expert Ed Mendel wrote last year. The measure passed with 53 percent of the vote.

Before Proposition 21, pension funds had been required to put most of their money into bonds. The ballot measure allowed pension funds to shift most money to stocks and other riskier investments. Some have said that public pensions would be more manageable today if the funds had stuck with safer investments.

Other changes to CalSTRS have also contributed to the funding gap.

In an effort to address teacher shortages and convince veteran educators to put off retirement, CalSTRS benefits were sweetened about a decade ago under AB 1509, legislation sponsored by Mike Machado, D-Stockton.

To fund the added benefits, the legislation took a fourth of the money teachers had been contributing to their pensions and used it to seed the added benefit. The teachers no longer pay into the supplemental benefit fund, but they draw from it.
What about Social Security?

Tom Helmantoler, a retired Julian High School teacher, asks this: “What about Social Security? Why can’t someone who has qualified for Social Security in the private sector turn to teaching as a second career and keep the Social Security benefit they earned?”

More than two decades before the Social Security Act was signed, the Teachers’ Retirement Law took effect in California in 1913. Public educators decided to continue to opt out of Social Security in 1955 because CalSTRS offered better benefits. California teachers do not pay into Social Security while they pay into CalSTRS. But some have paid enough toward Social Security to qualify for the benefit from other jobs. Those retired educators see a significant reduction in Social Security benefits under a law designed to prevent double-dipping. Similarly, retired educators who qualify for Social Security as the spouse or widow/widower of a worker who was covered by Social Security also see a reduction in that benefit under the law.

Should taxpayers contribute anything?

Les Birdsall of San Diego asked broader, philosophical questions. “The story tells us the average education pension in $40,663. Is this too high? What would be a reasonable pension? Should there be any pension for retirees?”

Alicia Munnell, director of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, said governments must compete with private sector salaries and benefits or it will not attract a qualified work force. And that means offering a decent retirement.

“It’s very easy to say that public sector defined benefit programs are more generous than what most people get in the private sector,” she said. “But it’s really hard to say.”

The military/media attacks on the Hastings article

Feb 27, 2011
The military/media attacks on the Hastings article
By Glenn Greenwald
Salon.com

Last June, when Rolling Stone published Michael Hastings' article which ended the career of Obama's Afghanistan commander, Gen. Stanley McChrystal -- an article which was just awarded the prestigious Polk Award -- the attacks on Hastings were led not by military officials but by some of Hastings' most celebrated journalistic colleagues. The New York Times' John Burns fretted that the article "has impacted, and will impact so adversely, on what had been pretty good military/media relations" and accused Hastings of violating "a kind of trust" which war reporters "build up" with war Generals; Politico observed that a "beat reporter" -- unlike the freelancing Hastings -- "would not risk burning bridges by publishing many of McChrystal’s remarks"; and an obviously angry Lara Logan of CBS News strongly insinuated (with no evidence) that Hastings had lied about whether the comments were on-the-record and then infamously sneered: "Michael Hastings has never served his country the way McChrystal has." Here's Jon Stewart last year mocking the revealing media disdain for Rolling Stone and Hastings in the wake of their McChrystal story.

* Continue reading

Hastings has now written another Rolling Stone article that reflects poorly on a U.S. General in Afghanistan. The new article details how Lt. Gen. William Caldwell "illegally ordered a team of soldiers specializing in 'psychological operations' to manipulate visiting American senators into providing more troops and funding for the war" and then railroaded the whistle-blowing officer who objected to the program. Now, the same type of smear campaign is being launched at Hastings as well as at his primary source, Lt. Col. Michael Holmes: from military officials and their dutiful media-servants.

Ever since publication of this new article, military-subservient "reporters" have disseminated personal attacks on Hastings and his journalism as well as on Holmes and his claims, all while inexcusably granting anonymity to the military leaders launching those attacks and uncritically repeating them.

As usual, anyone who makes powerful government or military leaders look bad -- by reporting the truth -- becomes the target of character assassination, and the weapon of choice are the loyal, vapid media stars who will uncritically repeat whatever powerful officials say all while shielding them from accountability through the use of anonymity...

Sunday, February 20, 2011

San Diego Union-Tribune Watchdog highlights this question: "Should there be any pension for [teacher] retirees?"

Clearly, Les Birdsall of San Diego is not interested in attracting the best and brightest to work as teachers in San Diego. Since teachers don't pay for, or receive, Social Security benefits, Mr. Birdsall seems to be asking if retired teachers should perhaps live in homeless shelters and collect food stamps. Why would the SDUT Watchdog print such a silly comment while at the same time failing to investigate costly shenanigans of insurance companies and lawyers at the San Diego County Office of Education? Has the Watchdog received any rabies shots? Is it mad?

See Slaying the Mythical Tax-Fattened Hog regarding public sector pay.


Educator pensions report raised questions
“The average education pension in $40,663. Is this too high?“
By Maureen Magee
SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE
January 31, 2011

Underfunded public pensions have made big headlines in San Diego and elsewhere, igniting a debate over the cost of retirement packages that often pits taxpayer groups against public employees, with the public somewhere in the middle.

A recent report by The Watchdog on educator pensions contributed to the debate. Some readers wrote to raise questions and voice their views — from outrage over what they call excessive pensions to sympathy for public employees whose retirement packages they believe have been unfairly called into question.

Mary Jean Word, a retired San Diego teacher, objected to our report claiming the educator pension system, like other public funds, offers “high benefits with no clear way to pay them.” She said the broad brush was unfair to those on the lower end.

“Do not include administrators with teachers,” said Word, who retired with 25 years service credit in California and receives an annual pension of $24,000. “They do not teach 20 to 150 students a day.”

Public educators from counselors to superintendents pay into the California State Teachers Retirement System. The program does not classify them by position, however, so separate data analysis was not possible. Although the top pension for a retired San Diego County educator is $281,034, the average retired educator in the county takes home just over $40,000 annually.

Much of the response to our story centered around whether that is a high number. For perspective, recent U.S. Census Bureau estimates show the average person of retirement age receives about $19,000 from retirement, pension and/or Social Security benefits.
Teacher fund status

Jim Wirt of San Diego wanted to know more about the state of the teacher pension fund. “You could have at least mentioned that CalSTRS assets have fallen...”

The fund reported good news last month when it posted 12.7 percent investment returns for 2010, raising its portfolio to $146.4 billion. The fund peaked at $180 billion in 2007 and had fallen to $112 billion in early 2009.

Even so, the system is expected to go broke by 2045 unless contributions are increased by the state, school districts and California educators. Officials say the fund needs a 15 percent hike in employer contributions this year. Only the state Legislature has the authority to approve such an increase. Since the state faces a $20 billion budget deficit, many say it’s unlikely to happen this year.
Who’s to blame?

Marty McGee of La Jolla wants to know how California got into this mess. She wrote, “In order for your watchdog reports to lead to meaningful changes, the people need to know who did it.”

Some of the blame goes to California voters.

“A little-known ballot measure a quarter century ago, Proposition 21 in 1984, opened the door for much of the current controversy over California’s public employee pensions,” former Union-Tribune reporter and pension expert Ed Mendel wrote last year. The measure passed with 53 percent of the vote.

Before Proposition 21, pension funds had been required to put most of their money into bonds. The ballot measure allowed pension funds to shift most money to stocks and other riskier investments. Some have said that public pensions would be more manageable today if the funds had stuck with safer investments.

Other changes to CalSTRS have also contributed to the funding gap.

In an effort to address teacher shortages and convince veteran educators to put off retirement, CalSTRS benefits were sweetened about a decade ago under AB 1509, legislation sponsored by Mike Machado, D-Stockton.

To fund the added benefits, the legislation took a fourth of the money teachers had been contributing to their pensions and used it to seed the added benefit. The teachers no longer pay into the supplemental benefit fund, but they draw from it.
What about Social Security?

Tom Helmantoler, a retired Julian High School teacher, asks this: “What about Social Security? Why can’t someone who has qualified for Social Security in the private sector turn to teaching as a second career and keep the Social Security benefit they earned?”

More than two decades before the Social Security Act was signed, the Teachers’ Retirement Law took effect in California in 1913. Public educators decided to continue to opt out of Social Security in 1955 because CalSTRS offered better benefits. California teachers do not pay into Social Security while they pay into CalSTRS. But some have paid enough toward Social Security to qualify for the benefit from other jobs. Those retired educators see a significant reduction in Social Security benefits under a law designed to prevent double-dipping. Similarly, retired educators who qualify for Social Security as the spouse or widow/widower of a worker who was covered by Social Security also see a reduction in that benefit under the law.

Should taxpayers contribute anything?

Les Birdsall of San Diego asked broader, philosophical questions. “The story tells us the average education pension in $40,663. Is this too high? What would be a reasonable pension? Should there be any pension for retirees?”

Alicia Munnell, director of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, said governments must compete with private sector salaries and benefits or it will not attract a qualified work force. And that means offering a decent retirement.

“It’s very easy to say that public sector defined benefit programs are more generous than what most people get in the private sector,” she said. “But it’s really hard to say.”