Saturday, April 30, 2011

Gutless media fails American public schools

(This is the full text of my most recent Huffington Post column.)

When David Broder died recently, one colleague after another praised the highly respected Washington Post political columnist for his approach to his profession.

Broder did not sit in an office sifting through news releases from politicians, exchanging text messages with "highly placed campaign sources."

What made Broder stand out was his willingness to go to Iowa or to slush through the snow in New Hampshire to talk to real voters and find out what they were thinking. That approach, which has become a rare commodity in today's journalism, provided Broder's writing with an authenticity that set him apart from his peers.

Broder was a throwback to an era when the beat reporter was firmly planted in the middle class, a true representative of the people who read his stories each morning.

In his approach to political reporting, Broder knew that it was impossible to get a complete picture of what was going on without having access, not just to the candidates, but to those who worked for them, those who were in the party hierarchy, those who were challenging the party hierarchy, and those who would play the most important role of all: the ones who would cast the ballots.

We could use a David Broder on the education beat.

While there are exceptions, the coverage of today's education is being colored by reporters who have never sat in a classroom at a public school, never interviewed a teacher, and consider their reporting to be balanced because they talked to politicians on both sides of an issue and sought a quote from a representative of the teachers union.

That's not reporting, that's stenography.

For reporters and columnists to keep referring to grandstanders like Michelle Rhee, Chris Christie, and Scott Walker as "courageous" because they are willing to take on the "firmly entrenched teachers' unions" is lazy reporting and that is being charitable.

How is it courageous to provide simplistic solutions to the complicated problems of education by attacking a straw man that has been steadily declining in public perception ever since the creation of No Child Left Behind?

How is it courageous to attack teachers who almost invariably have no means to fight back? How is it courageous to take a stand against public schools when your pockets are being lined by the likes of the Walton family, the Koch brothers, and Bill Gates?

The media pundits were quick to jump all over public schools after the premiere of Davis Guggenheim's "documentary" Waiting for Superman, with nearly all of them failing to mention that Guggenheim did not interview one public schoolteacher. He was just another courageous reformer.

While an increasingly susceptible media continues to latch on to these courageous reformers, truly courageous people are involved in the practice of education every day.

It takes far more courage to stand in front of a classroom of 30 children than it does to stand in front of a collection of fawning reporters and talk about what "thugs" teachers' union members are.

While the Chris Christies and Scott Walkers spend their days in meetings with people dressed in suits, many public school teachers spend their time with children who cannot afford decent clothing.

While these courageous reformers are wining and dining the business interests who are pushing the privatization of American education, I have children in my classroom who may not even receive a meal once they leave the school.

True courage does not come from attacking those who are least able to fend for themselves. The critics can talk all they want to about the powerful teachers' unions, but even with those unions, classroom teachers have unfairly been cast as the bogey man for all of society's problems.

True courage would involve making an effort to solve those problems without designating a convenient scapegoat. You don't solve the problems in education until you solve the problems in society.

As long as there are children who are poor, children who suffer from physical, mental, or sexual abuse, and children whose parents don't care, there will be serious problems in education and in this country.

What happens when the "courageous" reformers have fired all of the "bad" teachers and the problem persists?

If the media were doing their jobs, we would not be in this situation. Education is not just something that takes place behind schoolhouse doors. The education of the public as a whole is the responsibility of an aggressive, truth seeking media.

Education could use a David Broder.

Video: Janet Kavandi gives President Obama, family a tour of NASA orbiting processing center

In the accompanying video, NASA astronaut Janet Kavandi, a Carthage Senior High School and Missouri Southern State University graduate gives President Obama, his wife, Michelle, their daughters, and Mrs. Obama's mother a tour of the orbiting processing center.

The president came to Cape Canaveral to watch the launching of the space shuttle Endeavour, but the launch was postponed.

GateHouse Media: We lost millions because of bad weather and a late Easter

After that headline, do I really need to say anything more? GateHouse Media's news release about its quarterly earnings is printed below:

FAIRPORT, N.Y. April 28, 2011 - GateHouse Media, Inc. (the “Company” or “GateHouse Media”) (OTC Pink Sheets: GHSE) today reported financial results for the first quarter ended March 27, 2011.

First Quarter 2011

Total revenues were $119.8 million for the quarter, a decline of 10.0% as compared to the prior year. Several timing factors and severe weather accounted for approximately 3.2% of the decline. Excluding these special factors, the Company estimates its revenues were down approximately 6.8% versus the prior year. The Company experienced the impact of a change in its reporting period in 2011 from a calendar year to a 52 week operating year (see note below) and the shift of the positive impact of the Easter holiday on advertising revenue to the second quarter of 2011 compared to the first quarter in 2010. The impact of these two timing factors on revenue is estimated to be approximately $3.1 million, or 2.2%. Severe winter storms also impacted the Company’s New England and Illinois regions, which account for 52.0% of total revenue. The Company believes this had a significant impact on its single copy circulation sales and advertising revenue.

Commenting on GateHouse Media’s results, Michael E. Reed, GateHouse Media’s Chief Executive Officer, said, “Our reported revenue decline of 10% in the quarter does not portray a clear picture of our revenue trends. Revenue was negatively impacted by several timing-related items in the first quarter including a planned change in reporting periods and a late Easter this year, which collectively made up approximately 2.2% of our total revenue decline. We expect to benefit from both of these timing factors later in the year. We also experienced severe winter storms in each of our largest markets in the first quarter. We believe this negatively impacted circulation revenue and caused retailers to hold back advertising dollars in anticipation of lighter consumer traffic.

“On a positive note, we continue to see very good results from our digital initiatives and the investments we are making in this area. Our online advertising revenues grew 23.3% during the quarter. New products launched in 2010, primarily and our behavioral targeted advertising platform with Yahoo!, combined with our traditional banner advertising, drove the improvement. We continue to roll out mobile apps across our top properties as we expand our digital offerings. We also continue to execute the roll out of metered pay systems on our websites to drive subscription revenues.

“I am also encouraged by the growth in both our print and online employment classified category. The new Monster platform provides us with additional functionality and we anticipate further improvement in this category throughout the year. The real estate category, both listings and legal revenue from foreclosures, was the primary drag on our overall classified revenue. The pace of legal revenues coming from foreclosures remains slower than we had anticipated, particularly when compared to the very strong volumes we saw in the first quarter of 2010. However, the outlook for our real estate category is a little brighter as we are starting to see legal revenue related to foreclosures pick up again and we are rolling out a new real estate vertical platform with a soon to be announced national partner.

“We are concerned about the slow trends experienced so far in 2011 and are taking extra steps to ensure we remain focused on initiatives and best practices to drive both print and advertising sales. In addition, we continue to look at permanent cost reduction opportunities and have accelerated some of these initiatives in order to more positively impact 2011. We remain committed long term to removing legacy infrastructure costs and positioning GateHouse to be a nimble, multi-media platform business.”

Total advertising revenue declined 11.7% on a same store basis in the quarter. Adjusting for the timing factors and impact of weather noted above, the Company estimates advertising revenue would have declined approximately 8.0%. Online revenue, which now accounts for 8.3% of total advertising revenue, increased 23.3%. Continued strength in the employment and auto categories were not enough to offset weakness in real estate and legal revenue and the category as a whole was down 15.1% for the quarter. Circulation revenue declined 6.4% in the first quarter, 5.0% after adjusting for the calendar days, and was impacted by the severe weather in our New England and Illinois markets. Commercial printing and other revenues declined 8.8%.

Operating costs and SG&A expenses were $110.6 million in the quarter, a decline of $8.7 million or 7.3% from the prior year. The expense declines were driven primarily by lower compensation expense and hauling and delivery costs. Newsprint expense was up slightly for the quarter due to higher average pricing.

Operating loss for the quarter was $3.7 million, a decrease of $4.4 million as compared to the prior year. As Adjusted EBITDA for the quarter was $10.3 million, a decrease of $3.9 million or 27.2% from the prior year.

Levered Free Cash Flow for the quarter decreased 88.6% to ($2.3) million as compared to ($1.2) million for the prior year. The timing of interest payments was impacted by the calendar change, with the March 31st payment of $2.4 million falling into the second quarter.

Non-cash compensation expense for Restricted Stock Grants in the fourth quarter was $0.3 million. One-time costs incurred and other non-cash expenses in the quarter were $2.7 million, and related primarily to reorganization efforts and initiatives introduced to realize permanent expense reductions.

GateHouse Media owns The Carthage Press, Neosho Daily News, Pittsburg Morning Sun and more than 300 newspapers across the nation.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Joplin Globe offers archive of royal wedding, but still no coverage of T. R. Hanrahan firing

From page one of today's Joplin Globe:

Did you miss the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton? Don't worry, we archived the video on our website at
From page one of today's Joplin Globe:

Joplin woman was in London for 1981 royal wedding
From page one of today's Joplin Globe:

Today's deal: Fifty percent off appetizers and beverages at Vinnie's Lounge at Savannah's Restaurant in Carthage.
Not on page one of today's Joplin Globe:

Any mention of Missouri Southern State University's firing of newspaper adviser T. R. Hanrahan. Thankfully, the First Amendment which is under attack at MSSU, offers the Joplin Globe the freedom to print whatever it wants to about the royal wedding.

McCaskill to Joplin eighth grader: NCLB demands lead to harmful focus on test scores

One of my eighth grade students at East Middle School, Rylee Hartwell, recently started his own blog, the Hartwell Observer, and landed an interview this week with Sen. Claire McCaskill, centering around the topid of education. In the interview, she offered some criticism of the federal No Child Left Behind law, including this observation:

I certainly understand and agree with the idea that all children should be expected to achieve a standard level of knowledge in the classroom, but I fear that the current demands for everyone to reach proficiency can lead to a harmful focus on test scores rather than providing a solid education. Teachers everywhere discuss the pressure to “teach to the test.” I think we should instead be focused on making sure that all children are on the path to be successful in college or in their chosen career, and that we are teaching not just reading and math, but other subjects, as well.

House approves charter school expansion

The Missouri House of Representatives continued its push toward the privatization of education this week:

Kavandi gives First Family a tour of orbiter processing center at Cape Canaveral

The focus would have been on Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' attendance today if the space shuttle Endeavour's launch had not been postponed, but White House records indicate there would have been a southwest Missouri presence at the launch, as well.

Astronaut Dr. Janet Kavandi, a Carthage High School and Missouri Southern graduate was scheduled to be at the launch at Cape Canaveral in Florida with President Obama, his wife and daughters, according to the White House.

Dr. Kavandi took the First Family on a tour of the orbiter processing center, according to the records.
Dr. Kavandi, of course, was a crew member on three shuttle launches.

The accompanying video about Dr. Kavandi was posted last month on the Smithsonian YouTube channel.

Plans continue for rally for T. R. Hanrahan

The following news release was issued today by the planners of a rally to show solidarity for fired Missouri Southern State University journalism sponsor T. R. Hanrahan:

A show of solidarity for fired Missouri Southern State University newspaper adviser and journalism instructor, Thom R. (T.R.) Hanrahan, will be held at 11:45 a.m. on Friday, May 6, 2011 on the University campus.

Hanrahan was recently notified that he has been fired as adviser to The Chart, the University’s student newspaper, and relieved of his teaching duties after five years on the job. His last day is slated for July 15.

The event is open to any and all concerned individuals. Join us as we exercise our First Amendment right to peaceably assemble and show our appreciation for one of the best men the institution has ever had on its payroll.

The peaceful gathering will begin by the lion statue outside Webster Hall at 11:45 a.m. At noon the group will march to the campus Oval and demonstrate. Individuals are welcome to speak at the event, and a plaque stating students’ appreciation for Hanrahan will be presented as part of the demonstration.

Attendees are encouraged to make signs, but please be civil.

For more information, contact Aaron DuRall at We also encourage you to visit the Facebook event page: “Solidarity for Thom R. Hanrahan.”

Cleaver: Republican budget falls short in moral department

In his latest EC from DC report, Congressman Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., says the American budget is a moral document and the Republican budget falls far short in that area:

On Tuesday, I was able to sit down with a group of area ministers to talk about next year’s budget. Let me be clear, I believe the budget is a moral document.

This year, as in every year since 1981, the Congressional Black Caucus, of which I am proud to Chair, developed and proposed a budget. This year we gathered economists and experts from across the nation to present advice and testimony. We crafted our budget, presented it on the floor, and received a majority vote from the Democratic Caucus.

As I talked with our area ministers, I was reminded that 100 days into this Congress, the new majority has yet to introduce one jobs bill or feasible solution to the table. Instead, they have proposed draconian cuts that will critically wound and significantly impact vulnerable communities.

Our nation’s communities are still reeling from the effects of the recession. Even as our economy slowly emerges from the recession, we still face high rates of unemployment, home foreclosure, educational regression and daily hardships at the fuel pump.

What the ministers I spoke with know perhaps better than anyone is that, as difficult as this recession has been for Americans, it has been twice as hard on our nation’s poor, infirm, elderly and handicapped. Increasingly, the vulnerable in our communities rely on public programs to meet their basic needs. These are the much-needed programs the Republican leadership diminishes with their budget proposal.

As I have explained in nearly every meeting I have been in this week, I believe that congressional budgets are a window into the moral compass of our conscience as a nation—and the compass is horribly off. Recklessly cutting vital programs like job training, education, and health care for millions of hardworking American families is not a roadmap to balancing the budget—it is a road to nowhere.

The American people do not deserve this. Instead they deserve good jobs to care for their families. They deserve educational opportunities for their children. They deserve retirement security and access to affordable healthcare for their families.

This afternoon, I spoke with the Eastern Jackson County Betterment Council, a bi-partisan group of Mayors, city staff and state elected officials in Lee’s Summit and discussed the need for civility and smart deficit reduction.

As I explained on the House floor when I proposed the alternative budget, I have a problem with the policy not the people who are advocating for those policies. We disagree and that is part of democracy. My concern is that the overwhelming message the majority’s budget sends to America is that we should balance the budget on the backs of the poorest of the poor. I simply fundamentally disagree with that approach.

In the last decade, the average income for the bottom 90% declined while the top 1% saw their income rise by more than $250,000. As a result, the 400 wealthiest Americans have more money and resources than 50% of the United States population.

Additionally, the Budget that eventually passed the House obtains two-thirds ($2.9 trillion) of its more than $4 trillion in budget cuts (over 10 years) from programs that serve people of limited means. In my opinion, this violates basic principles of fairness. This includes harmful cuts to programs like the Workforce Investment Act, which provides money for job training, and billions of dollars in cuts in Pell Grant assistance, which in particular, 46% of all African American students utilize to achieve higher education.

The Republican sponsored budget also eliminates Medicare as we know it, shifting costs to our seniors. Their plan downsizes Medicaid into a block grant program. Furthermore, it reduces Medicaid by $2.17 trillion. This will deny our vulnerable seniors and disabled populations access to long-term care and lead to extreme cuts to quality and reliable care. The problem is exacerbated in African American communities: the latest figures show that 4 million African Americans received Medicare assistance.

Finally, this budget ignores the economic context of deeply depressed home prices and the worst foreclosure crisis in American history. Their budget undermines a recovery in the housing market and raises borrowing costs for homeowners by eliminating government support for the housing market. By shuttering Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and gutting the Federal Housing Administration, the Republican budget would make it harder for people of color to achieve the American dream of owning a home, and impede recovery in the housing market.

As I explained to a rally of union members yesterday outside of Kansas City City Hall, hardworking American families may not be the priority in the misguided Republican Budget, but they are my priority.

My grandfather was routinely asked which one of his 18 children was his favorite. To that he would always answer with, the one that is sick, the one that is hurt, the one that is behind, the one that needs the most attention and love. That is what our nation’s Fiscal Year 2012 Budget should be about, the least of these among us. We can never, ever forget that they should be our first priority.

Stouffer: Education is first in a balanced budget

Sen. Bill Stouffer, R-Napton, reviews the budget in his latest report:

We are entering the home stretch of the 2011 legislative session, with several bills left to tackle and a budget to send to the governor.

The best part about the Fiscal Year 2012 budget for Missouri is that it will be balanced without raising taxes. Education remains our top priority, and we will continue to fund it at this year’s levels, plus it will add funding to school transportation and higher education. The Missouri Senate added $20 million for K-12 transportation, which means nearly $120 million will go toward transportation for school districts.

The 2012 fiscal year will start on July 1, 2011. The $23.2 billion budget represents a $6 million reduction from what the governor presented to the Legislature back in January. Once again, we have had to make very tough decisions. The state is required to have a balanced budget every year, unlike the federal government. We do not spend any money we do not have. When we heard late last year we could expect a $500 million deficit, we went to work finding ways to save in some areas and make all of state government function better.

Our work is not finished, though. We are already hearing that Fiscal Year 2013 could prove to be more challenging, depending on the economy for the next year. We could see anywhere from a $200 million to a $700 million shortfall for the fiscal year that will start in 2012. We knew, when the recession started, that this would be a long journey. We are prepared for what is to come. Smart budgeting has kept Missouri above where most states are financially, and this trend will continue.

Fortunately, revenues are up in Missouri, but now is not the time to start creating new programs and making promises that cannot be kept. Our policy of budgeting conservatively proves to be a successful method, and it will remain this way. My hope is to see continued economic growth combine with the pro-jobs agenda of the Missouri General Assembly to make the state an economic powerhouse and lead the country in the years to come.

Hartzler: People want jobs

In her weekly newsletter, Fourth District Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler reported on her town hall meetings:

What a good week we have had visiting with and hearing the ideas of so many Fourth District Missourians on how we can make our country stronger.

We held eight Town Halls throughout the District. I was so pleased with the overwhelming turnout from so many citizens who are concerned about our country. Town Halls were held in Warsaw, Sedalia, Marshfield, Lebanon, El Dorado Springs, Nevada, Harrisonville, and Blue Springs. We had overflow crowds at several of these venues. It is encouraging to me, as I work to address our national debt crisis, that so many people have had it with job-destroying, runaway spending. They want action taken to deal with the problem. The Fourth District’s voice was heard loud and clear: stick to our debt-reducing plan and restore our country’s fiscal health. Trust me. I am committed to doing that and will go back to D.C., next week, armed with the resolve and common sense from the Fourth District of Missouri that is so sorely needed in Washington.

Our debt crisis was not the only thing on the minds of people attending the meetings. We discussed such issues as skyrocketing gas prices, budget cuts, ensuring the future of Social Security and Medicare, border security, and making sure our men and women in uniform have the protection they need as they work to protect us. It was a great discussion of ways to address these pressing issues.

In addition to the Town Halls, I had the chance to visit with several Fourth District businessmen and women and tour their facilities. It was impressive to see all they are doing to create jobs and to provide a worthy product for Americans, but what I heard about government regulations is cause for concern. They told me story after story of how some bureaucracy in Washington is making it difficult for them to operate and compete against their competitors around the world. They sked me to help them to relieve the burden of this bureaucratic red tape and I have promised them I will continue to work on their behalf as they move toward putting our country back on the right track. We need more jobs here and Washington needs to help - not stand in the way!

There are concrete things Washington can do to help create jobs. This involves lowering taxes for individuals and businesses, simplifying the tax code, ending the uncertainty brought about by current and projected federal government mandates, repealing the government mandated health care onto businesses, getting the EPA off their backs, and reducing the national debt so the value of the dollar remains strong and we don’t invite another recession. Uncertainty stifles growth and harms our country. Things must be stabilized.

As I return to Washington next week, I will be working hard to promote sound economic policies which will be good for jobs, good for America, and good for the people of the Fourth District of Missouri.

In other news, we learned about the new U.S. House map approved by the Missouri General Assembly. Redistricting will bring many new Missourians into the Fourth District, but will move some residents into other congressional districts. I welcome the opportunity to represent Missourians who are currently represented by others, but I will sorely miss representing anyone who is going to be redistricted outside the Fourth with the new map. I want to assure anyone being placed outside the Fourth District after 2012’s election that these changes will not impact my service to the citizens in any of my counties during these next two years. I will continue to represent you, enthusiastically, and feel blessed to get to do it.

Dempsey: Tax credit reform will save state $1 billion plus

In his weekly report, Sen. Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles County, praises the compromise the Senate reached this week on tax credit reform:

For the past several years, one particular issue in Jefferson City has repeatedly escaped resolution. Many hours of work in Legislative committees and debate on the floor of the House and Senate had produced no real breakthrough. But this week revealed the hint of a silver lining as the Senate passed a landmark piece of legislation that appears to address the concerns of all involved.

The underlying issue is that of economic development and tax credits. For years, the Legislature has divided into two camps – the one side believing that the state earns a good return on tax credits and that they promote economic growth. The other side maintains that tax credits are inefficient and that they ultimately decrease state tax revenue.

By way of background, a tax credit is a reduction in state tax liability. These credits are granted by the State of Missouri when a person or corporation engages in certain activities (hiring new workers, expanding their business, giving to certain non-profit organizations, etc.). Often they are targeted at certain industries the state is trying to attract.

Over time, the amount of tax credits being given out had grown to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars the state was forgoing in tax revenue. With the recent slump in the economy, all sorts of programs and departments were forced to tighten their belts and the eyes of the Legislature once again turned to our policy on tax credits.

The bill that was hammered out this week after several hours of constructive debate represents a compromise that all parties can live with. It eliminates or reduces certain tax credits that were producing little or no revenue. It also gave the Legislature more control over the amount of certain tax credits the state was offering by forcing them through the regular appropriations process that schools and other state agencies have to go through each year. The bill also created certain new incentives, such as one targeted at making Lambert Airport (and the greater metro area) a hub for international trade. If proposed new air hub project comes to pass, the state will still gain a projected $1.5 billion in net savings under the compromise legislation over the next 15 years. No state tax credits will be awarded if the air hub is not realized.

I am pleased with the work of the Senate this week. This legislation will help streamline the state’s economic development programs and make them more efficient. After final Senate approval, the bill will be sent to the House for its consideration.

KOAM only Joplin market station offering local news, weather instead of royal wedding

A big thank you to KOAM, the only Joplin area station providing local news and weather instead of the royal wedding this morning.

At this writing, approximately 5:30 a.m., KSNF and KODE are carrying live coverage of the wedding.

Employee rightsizing helps GateHouse Media cut costs, but revenues continue to plummet

In its quarterly report. filed Thursday with the Securities and Exchange Commission, GateHouse Media reported more losses, but thanks to "employee right-sizing", the company was able to reduce costs.

They can call it "employee right-sizing," the rest of us call it laying off or firing workers.

From the quarterly report:

Revenue. Total revenue for the three months ended March 27, 2011 decreased by $13.3 million, or 10.0%, to $119.8 million from $133.1 million for the three months ended March 31, 2010. The difference between same store revenue and GAAP revenue for the current quarter is immaterial, therefore, further revenue discussions will be limited to GAAP results. The decrease in total revenue was comprised of a $10.8 million, or 11.7%, decrease in advertising revenue, a $1.9 million, or 5.6%, decrease in circulation revenue and a $0.6 million, or 9.1%, decrease in commercial printing and other revenue. Advertising revenue declines were primarily driven by declines on the print side of our business in the local retail and classified categories which were partially offset by growth in online. The print declines reflect an uncertain economic environment, which continued to put pressure on our local advertisers. These economic conditions have also led to a decline in our circulation volumes which have been partially offset by price increases in select locations. The advertising and circulation categories were also negatively impacted by severe weather in certain markets and the timing of Easter. The decrease in commercial printing and other revenue was due to declines in printing projects as a result of continued weak economic conditions and the strategic closure of certain print facilities.

Operating Costs. Operating costs for the three months ended March 27, 2011 decreased by $4.6 million, or 5.9%, to $72.4 million from $77.0 million for the three months ended March 31, 2010. The decrease in operating costs was primarily due to a decrease in compensation, delivery and postage of $2.8 million, $1.1 million, and $0.7 million, respectively. The majority of these decreases was the result of permanent cost reductions and were implemented as we continue to work to consolidate operations and improve the productivity of our labor force. The declines were slightly offset by increases in newsprint expense due to pricing.

GateHouse Media owns The Carthage Press, Neosho Daily News, Pittsburg Morning Sun, and more than 300 newspapers across the United States.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Amended complaint in Kanakuk civil suit: Pete Newman called boy at Texas home to discuss masturbation

In an amended complaint filed today in U. S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, the lawyer for a Texas boy who was molested by former Kanakuk Kamp director Pete Newman says part of Newman's grooming process with the boy involved calling him at his home to discuss masturbation.

The amended filing came after lawyers for Kanakuk and its president Joe White asked that the case either be dismissed or moved to Missouri because Pete Newman's crimes occurred in this state.

The new filing lists a number of connections to Texas, including White's efforts to encourage parents to send their children to the camp and Newman's phone calls.

Newman is serving two life sentences plus 30 years after pleading guilty to numerous sex crimes involving underage boys:

As a director of Kanakuk Kamps responsible for religious teaching, Defendant Newman called John Doe I at his home in Texas and spoke to his father, John Doe. As a religious leader, Defendant Newman offered to discuss masturbation with John Doe I. John Doe, knowing only of Defendant White, Kanakuk Ministries, and Kanakuk Heritage’s sponsorship and endorsement of Defendant Newman, and knowing nothing of Defendant Newman’s past inappropriate sexual behavior, which Defendants Kanakuk Ministries, Kanakuk Heritage and Joe White were aware of, permitted his son to discuss masturbation with Defendant Newman. Defendant Newman used this contact with John Doe I in Texas as a further opportunity to groom John Doe I psychologically and emotionally for sexual abuse by Defendant Newman.
Had it not been for the actions of Joe White and Newman that involved Texas, the petition says, John Doe I, the name given to the boy in the lawsuit, would not have been molested.

Most of the other details of the lawsuit were the same as the original, including the charge that White and Kanakuk officials knew about Newman's problems stemming from incidents in 1999 and 2003 when Newman and campers cavorted naked on the campgrounds.

Details of the lawsuit can be found at this link.

Engler: House bill gives us a chance to grow our economy

In his weekly report, Sen. Kevin Engler, R-Farmington, addresses bills that reform the state's tax credit system and requires those receiving public assistance to be drug tested:

With only two weeks left of the 2011 regular session, there are several measures we worked to approve this week. In these final weeks, there is sure to be a lot of activity in the Capitol as lawmakers push to get their priorities passed before the May 13 deadline.

There has been a lot of talk about economic development this year. This week, the Senate gave initial approval to House Bill 116, a bill that makes necessary reforms to the state’s tax credit system while also supporting programs that will make a positive impact on our economy. We can’t spend our way out of this recession, and HB 116 gives us the opportunity to grow our economy. From provisions which would sunset a variety of tax credit programs with a low return on investment to a measure to encourage international trade in St. Louis, the bill presents the right mix of economic development and reform.

This week, the Senate also gave first-round approval to a bill that would drug test suspected drug users receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits. The program provides cash assistance to families that are facing hard times and are unable to find work. House Bill 73 would require individuals receiving TANF benefits to submit to and pass a drug test to avoid losing payments, if there is reasonable cause to believe they are using drugs. If a person is found to be using drugs or refuses to be tested, they would be ineligible for TANF for a three-year period. If, however, the individual successfully completes an approved substance abuse treatment program and does not test positive for illegal use of a controlled substance in the six-month period beginning on the date the individual enters such treatment program, he or she could continue to receive TANF benefits.

The Senate and House also worked this week to resolve conflict on the new congressional district map. The compromised map puts less of northern Jefferson County in the 2nd Congressional District than the House’s proposed map. The bill now moves to the governor’s desk. If he vetoes the map, it is our hope that we will have enough time to override the veto before the end of the regular session.

Latest Huffington Post blog: Gutless media has failed American public schools

One of the more ridiculous things I have noticed over the past couple of years is how the media tends to label anyone who attacks teachers, teacher unions, or public schools as "courageous" and anyone who wants to gut public education is termed a "reformer."

In my latest Huffington Post blog, "Gutless Media Has Failed American Public Schools," I explore the failures of the media when it comes to reporting on education. The blog includes the following passage:

While there are exceptions, the coverage of today's education is being colored by reporters who have never sat in a classroom at a public school, never interviewed a teacher, and consider their reporting to be balanced because they talked to politicians on both sides of an issue and sought a quote from a representative of the teachers union.

That's not reporting, that's stenography.

For reporters and columnists to keep referring to grandstanders like Michelle Rhee, Chris Christie, and Scott Walker as "courageous" because they are willing to take on the "firmly entrenched teachers' unions" is lazy reporting and that is being charitable.

Billy Long on Obama birth certificate: He found his birth certificate, can he find the Constitution?

It did not take long for Seventh District Congressman Billy Long to provide his spin on President Barack Obama's release of his birth certificate. Long tweeted the following comment:

And for his next Act" - Now that he found his Birth Certificate can he find a copy of The Constitution?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Gannett papers freeze wages

Gannett appears to be instituting a companywide wage freeze. Reports have been confirmed that five Gannett newspapers have frozen wages.

The drastic measure was an absolute necessity for Gannett, if it intends to keep its top executives living in the lap of luxury. The problems facing the company were noted in the March 25 Turner Report:

It received just a small mention in a proxy statement filed by Gannett with the SEC Thursday.

Because of the continuing tough economy, all company employees will have to take a one-week unpaid furlough during the first quarter of 2011. Most of them have already done so.

But in the spirit of shared sacrifice, it isn't just the people selling ads or covering news at our area Gannett newspaper, the Springfield News-Leader, who are shouldering the burden. CEO Craig Dubow will also take a week off, giving up his salary. Whether he can file for unemployment during that week I don't know. He probably could if he were living in Missouri. After all, he will be giving up far more money than his Springfield News-Leader employees since he pulls down $1 million in base pay.

Times have been tough at Gannett over the past year, just as they have been at every newspaper organization in the United States. Employees have taken multiple furloughs and some, an estimated 2,400, have even lost their jobs, many of them in their 40s and 50s, a time when new jobs are not easy, almost impossible, to find.

In the Associated Press article on Gannett's SEC filing, the reporter diligently noted that Dubow had voluntarily reduced his base salary (it had been $1.2 million) and the proxy statement dutifully noted that everyone was taking the furlough.

But when all compensation is taken into consideration, the proxy statement shows a completely differenct picture of this shared sacrifice.

While Gannett employees take unpaid time off and wait for the day when the bell tolls for them, Dubow received a pay package totaling $9,405,049, an increase of nearly five million from 2009. Chief operating officer Gracia Martore's compensation was $8,175,946, up more than four million. Three other top officials, including the publisher of USA Today, also received massive increases in their total compensation.

Even CFO Paul Saleh, who only took over that job in November, had a total pay package of more than $2 million.

And thanks to their ironclad contracts, Dubow and his fellow top Gannett officials will never have to worry about that day when someone taps on their shoulders and tells them to clean out their offices. They are covered for every situation that could possibly occur.

The proxy statement shows upon his retirement or if he quits, Dubow will take away $22.9 million and Ms. Martore, a much more reasonable $13.3 million.

If Dubow dies while devising ways to make much lower paid employees take unpaid time off, his family will receive nearly $34.6 million. For Ms. Martore, that figure is $20.9 million.

Disability would work out even better- $37 million for Dubow and $23.5 million for Ms. Martore.

The best situation for the top Gannett officials would occur if there is a change in company ownership. In that case, Dubow would receive a package worth $45.1 million and Ms. Martore would rake in $34 million. If the new owners decided to clear the decks and remove Gannett's top six officials, those six would walk away with approximately $115 million, according to the proxy statement.

Considering the amount of stories the newspaper has run on CEO pay packages and employee layoffs, it is remarkable that one place that doesn't consider the pay packages of Gannett offficials to be news is USA Today.

The newspaper does not have one mention of the proxy statement in its weekend edition.

Maybe its editors are on furlough.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

National attention focused on MSSU firing of T. R. Hanrahan

The firing of Missouri Southern State University newspaper adviser T. R. Hanrahan is receiving some national attention, thanks to an article on the Student Press Law Center website:

T.R. Hanrahan, the Missouri College Media Association’s 2010 Adviser of the Year, said the decision was “not unexpected, but odd.” His students discovered he had been left off the fall schedule of classes before he found out Thursday he would be let go.

The department head told him they were going to go in a “different direction.” However, Hanrahan said, Department of Communications chair J.R. Moorman has been vocal in his support of the newspaper.

“How did I get so bad at my job in 12 months?” Hanrahan said. “Somehow my boss, in letting me go, praised my performance and said, ‘We’re going in a different direction.’ That doesn’t sound to me like it was made at the department level. To my knowledge he’s been nothing but supportive."

Show of solidarity planned for T. R. Hanrahan

A show of solidarity for fired Missouri Southern State University Publications Manager T. R. Hanrahan has been scheduled for 12 noon Friday, May 6, on the university oval.

The organizers placed the following message on the Facebook page created for the event:

We are gathering for a show of solidarity for one of MSSU's finest, T.R. Hanrahan. We students fully understand and accept that a protest will not get T.R. reinstated from his unjust termination by our university's shameful and deplorable leader, President Bruce Speck. However, we can exercise our first amendment right to peaceably assemble and show both our dissatisfaction for Southern's flawed leadership and express our love for one of the best men the institution has ever had on its payroll.

Bruce Speck has shown time and time again that he does not care about students. He does not care about first amendment issues. He does not care about treating his faculty and staff justly. He does not care about equality. He does not care about us - any of us. He is a self-serving man who has only driven our once fine institution of higher learning into a perpetual state of regression.

Shame on you, Bruce Speck. Shame on you.

Collings mistrial declared because potential jurors knew too much about case

A judge declared a mistrial in the capital murder case against Chris Collings Saturday because too many jurors knew too much about the case:

The Phelps County Circuit Clerk's Office assembled a jury pool of about 200 people last Wednesday. By Saturday afternoon, the judge and the attorneys decided about two-thirds of them knew too much about the case, or had formed opinions about it, or couldn't keep an open mind about whether Collings should get a death penalty or life prison sentence if he is guilty.

Sheffield granted a defense attorney's motion for a change of venue after declaring the mistrial. She hasn't decided if that means the trial will be in a different county or whether to bring a jury from another county to hear the case here. The judge scheduled a motions hearing for May 3 at 10 a.m. to hear from attorneys about possible dates and venues for a new trial.
Collings is one of two men charged with the brutal November 2007 rape and murder of nine-year-old Rowan Ford of Stella.

News-Leader: Billy Long says he has dissolved auction company

Seventh District Congressman Billy Long said he has dissolved his auction company, in accordance with Congressional rules, according to a Springfield News-Leader article, but online records at the Missouri Secretary of State's office do not show any change in the company's status.

The article also has Long saying he has been praised for his stance against raising the debt ceiling and says he has been meeting with constituents across the district.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Listing provided for Billy Long town hall meetings

The following unofficial list has been compiled of town hall meetings being held by Seventh District Congressman Billy Long during the current recess:

Disgruntled alumnus criticizes MSSU firing of Hanrahan, attack on First Amendment

(The following letter to the editor has been submitted to numerous publications, including the Joplin Globe, Chart, and Kansas City Star, and was written by MSSU alumnus Phil Dowden.)

After graduating in December of 2008 I was very proud of my degree from Missouri Southern State University. Not only did I enjoy my experiences, but was able to grow as an individual and in turn I believe that has helped me into a successful career as a professional.

However, after learning news of my advisor, teacher, and good friend T.R. Hanrahan being let go of his duties, I have never been more upset and embarrassed of where my degree has came from.

By no means do I consider myself an award-winning writer (which has been a product of The Chart and Mr. Hanrahan) nor do I consider myself a great writer, (which Mr. Hanrahan and The Chart has produced in great number) however, I do owe a great deal of credit to “one of our own” for where I am today.

So sit in here in my office wondering just how many others feel the same sentiment I do. With the boom of social networking and texting I didn’t have to wonder long as I have seen this story blasted with similar disdain as I currently have including a good number of text messages that I would happily save for any administration, or public figure that would care to test the waters.

This brings me to the greatest point I need to make, the first amendment. Administration at Missouri Southern has just let go not only one of the finest teachers I have had in my college career. I feel as though the university is dismissing someone based on the first amendment rights of The Chart and every American individual for that
matter. Has there really been so much controversy that an individual’s livelihood has been taken from him? Please let us not forget our first amendment right the United States government has given each and everyone of us, which ironically allows me to write this.

TR Hanrahan has been a substantial voice not just in media circles, but also in the lives of many students who have walked through Webster Hall. I have since moved on from Joplin and Missouri Southern, and have continually stood behind and defended many naysayers about the community and university. However, I feel as though it has come back to bite me as our administration has an agenda that has been discovered and is trying to stomp it out. I fully understand how politics work, and this is a part of that, but when you start limiting the freedom of press you have gone to far. Remember, it is not our fault you choose to respond with “no comment” or have a “gag order” about the university, but it just appears as shady and that’s where the real journalism and investigation comes in.

Nexstar Broadcasting CEO nets $2 million in 2010

Times were good for Nexstar Broadcasting CEO Perry Sook in 2010, according to a proxy statement filed last week with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

In addition to his base salary of $950,000, Sook received a $1,116,667 bonus, and $11,746 in other compensation for a total of $2,076,682.

The other compensation for Sook included his life insurance premiums and more than $7,000 described as an "automobile allowance." That's for those who can't make $2 million stretch as far as it used to.

Nexstar Broadcasting owns and operates KSNF and KODE in Joplin and KOLR and KSFX in Springfield.

MSSU honors programs expands to the west,another triumph for Leon

For those who have been waiting breathlessly for The Turner Report to feature good news about the wonderful academic programs fostered by the president at Missouri Southern State University, the wait is over.

Sadly, for those of us who have grown accustomed to missteps and ineptitude out of the current MSSU administration, the president who is responsible for the good news is no longer in Joplin, but serving as interim president of the University of Colorado-Pueblo.

The Pueblo Chieftain reported Sunday that Dr.Julio Leon has introduced the honors program, at one time a crowned jewel of Missouri Southern academics to his new university:

In just five months on the job, Leon will have achieved that goal when 25 high school seniors officially enroll in the honors program on Monday. The high-achieving high school students and their parents will sign letters-of-intent at the inaugural induction ceremony at 10 a.m. Monday in the Occhiato University Center ballroom.

Patricia Kluthe, former honors program director at Missouri Southern State University, will share her experiences with the honors program during a luncheon afterward.

Leon said he wanted to start an honors program to attract more of the best students from the region and to enhance the prestige of the university.

He said he believes an honors program will continue the momentum the university has gained the past few years in increasing the enrollment, adding new sports and academic programs and new facilities on campus.

Chart editorial: Bruce Speck is a bald-faced liar

An editorial posted today on the website of Missouri Southern State University's newspaper, The Chart, reveals just how far University President Bruce Speck has gone to tear down avenues of communication, while all the while blithely claiming that he has fostered greater communication.

Normally, I would not quote so much from another source, but just in case Bruce Speck or someone else decides this kind of defiance cannot be tolerated, I want to make sure that Brennan Stebbins' editorial reaches an interested audience:

"It is not appropriate to say the administration is held to a higher standard than anybody else on this campus," Speck told the Board. "We have tried to be very transparent in our communication with the Board, with all of our constituencies. No one can make the accusation and back it up that we have held back information. That has not happened." 
That statement was a bold-faced lie. 
It's  been exactly a year since the governing board for the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences voted unanimously not to partner with Southern to bring a medical school branch to Joplin. 
In a March 5, 2010 edition of The Chart, Speck is quoted in an article concerning the medical school project as saying "We'd like them to be clear and say, ‘Yes, we are planning on moving ahead, let's do it,' or, ‘No, we're not, let's don't do it.' I do not think it would be helpful for them to say, ‘Well, we're not sure,' because there are timing issues here. We'd like to get a very clear picture of what they'd like to do." 
Speck was referring to an upcoming April 2010 meeting of the KCUMB Board of Trustees during which discussion of the project was anticipated. 
The Chart eventually requested email correspondence between Speck and the acting president of KCUMB, Danny Weaver, and the documents indicated sparse contact between the two. An anonymous source provided The Chart with another email that had been withheld from the request that was sent from Weaver to Speck on Feb. 25. 
"Speaking candidly, if a vote were taken today, it would fail!!" Weaver wrote in the message, which he later confirmed to The Chart. 
It seems like a double exclamation point after the world "fail" would give Speck enough of a "very clear picture" of how KCUMB was planning to vote, but despite receiving that message, Speck continued to tout the project and act like it was a done deal in public.
Isn't that withholding information? 
During our reporting on the medical school project, Speck abruptly began enforcing a media policy that limited access to himself and other top administrators. In fact, after spring break of 2010, Speck refused every single interview request made by The Chart for the rest of the semester. 
Speck's actions and his media policy led to a front-page editorial in The Chart's April 2 edition, and the Student Press Law Center, a national organization advocating for the rights of student media, sent a letter of concern to Speck and the Board of Governors. 
"To the extent that the policy instead functions as a selective screening device—and that its purpose and effect is to obstruct access by The Chart to faculty, staff and administrators—it is questionable both legally and as a matter of sound public policy," SPLC Executive Director Frank LoMonte wrote in the letter. 
"It likewise is not accepted protocol for a college president to refuse to talk to his own campus newspaper. That is the mark of an institution attempting to insulate instelf against scrutiny and to ‘spin' the news. We might expect that behavior from a soft-drink company, but not from a public agency that is supposed to be transparent," LoMonte wrote. 
And finally,
"There undoubtedly will be times in the history of every institution when adverse publicity makes the school look bad. But a college that treats its employees and students with distrust, and elevates image control over transparency, does not merely ‘look bad.' It is bad." 
It appears I'm not the only one who believes Speck has  withheld information. 
I contacted Speck's office for a meeting last spring —not an interview—to discuss the media policy with the President and his refusal to accept interviews. 
He granted my request, on the condition that I not take any notes, I not record any of the discussion and I never repeat anything that was said. I agreed, and while I can't divulge what was said, I can say that the end result was Speck continuing to deny interview requests.
Isn't that withholding information? 
Speck's statement about withholding information was just plain stupid. There was nothing beneficial in making the remarks. Don't tell me it's sunny outside while I'm getting rained on.
"No one can make the accusation and back it up that we have held back information. That has not happened," Speck said. 
Well I am making that accusation, and I am backing it up.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

MSSU left Hanrahan off fall schedule even before telling him he was fired

It was bad enough that Missouri Southern State University's award-winning publications adviser T. R. Hanrahan had to be fired for simply doing his job without fear or favor, but university officials found a way to stick it to Hanrahan even before firing him.

As the Southern Watch blog reported April 7, the new fall schedule, which was published long before Hanrahan was told his services were not needed any longer, did not list a teacher for the classes that Hanrahan had been teaching.

This was also two days after Chart advisor TR Hanrahan found out from the published fall schedule book that he is apparently being shown the door. The Chart hasn’t been in good stead with the administration because it did its job and reported all the (expletive deleted) going on.

The signal is unmistakable. Even if you do your job well, if you disagree with the Dream Team, you will be punished.

No one deserve to be treated the way MSSU officials treated T. R. Hanrahan.

GateHouse Media to provide extensive coverage of royal wedding

GateHouse Media officials have a good idea of what their readers want and apparently it has nothing to do with strong local news coverage.

The company gushed with pride as it announced it is offering all of its newspapers, including The Carthage Press, Neosho Daily News, and Pittsburg Morning Sun in this area, access to comprehensive coverage of the upcoming royal wedding:

The site features News Distribution Network's video channel on the Royal Wedding, a Twitter plug-in, tips on when and where to watch the wedding in the U.S., photo galleries and interactive maps of the wedding route. It will be updated with live content after the wedding, which begins at 6 a.m. EDT/5 a.m. Central April 29.

GateHouse Media newspapers should Tweet all related Royal Wedding content to #royalwedding.

That insistence on knowing what its readers want is what makes GateHouse Media such a successful company.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Hanrahan fired; Speck puts the hammer down on First Amendment

When Missouri Southern State University journalism instructor T. R. Hanrahan was named Missouri College Media Association Adviser of the Year in 2010, he was praised by Dr. Bob Berglund of Missouri Western University for his courage.

In his speech, Dr. Berglund quoted Hanrahan as saying the faculty adviser position “is one of the few jobs in which the better you do your job, the more likely you are to lose it.”

Thanks to the hard work of his young reporters and the lack of support from Joplin’s daily newspaper, T. R. Hanrahan will soon join the ranks of the unemployed.

Hanrahan, who does not have tenure, was told a few days ago his services would not be required for the fall semester. Many were surprised he lasted this long. His young staff broke one story after another revealing controversy and incompetence during the three years the university has been led by President Bruce Speck.

Hanrahan never backed down from his belief that a reporter’s job is to seek the truth. Not once did he tell the young people under his charge to back off a story because it dealt with a sensitive subject. He never took the easy route. Had he done so, he might still have a job.

A few weeks ago, the Chart won MCMA’s Sweepstakes Award as the best newspaper in its division, while its editor, Brennan Stebbins, was named Journalist of the Year, for exposing the university’s hiring, without a background check, of an accounting teacher who had pleaded guilty to embezzling at least $130,000 when he worked at the William McKinley Museum in Canton, Ohio.

That was just the latest in a string of scoops that embarrassed university officials, including the following:

-A complete investigation into the hiring of Speck, who was the only person interviewed for the position.

-The back-door dealings between Speck and a Kansas City medical school president to bring a satellite school to Joplin. (The plan fell through and the medical school president has been indicted for theft.)

-One of Speck’s underlings removing all copies of the newspaper from a recruitment fair because it had stories that were critical of the university.

-Complete coverage of a faculty vote of no confidence in Speck’s administration

-Coverage of the president’s refusal to speak with members of the media, including the Chart, and a strong editorial noting how juvenile it was for the president to stay silent on important issues.

That is only a partial list. Were it not for the hard working young reporters at the Chart, the taxpayers would have remained blissfully unaware of what was going on in this area’s most prominent institution of higher learning.

For a long time, the Joplin Globe did not print anything about the controversy at MSSU. Finally, one intrepid reporter, Greg Grisolano, began mining the nuggets that had been unearthed by the Chart and delivered a series of hard-hitting stories that earned him investigative reporting awards.

Unfortunately, by the time he received those awards, Grisolano had been pulled off the beat and the critical focus on the university was abandoned by the area’s paper of record.

The reasons why were revealed in an e-mail sent from Joplin Globe Publisher Michael Beatty, formerly the publisher of the Baltimore Examiner, to Speck.

In that April 6, 2010, e-mail, Beatty said he had put a stop to Freedom of Information requests filed by Grisolano, offered to bring the newspaper’s editor to meet with Speck to give him "examples of positive stories" the Globe wanted to run about MSSU, and offered Speck advice on how to manage the news to avoid further controversy.

The university and some of its top financial supporters are major Joplin Globe advertisers.

The Globe publisher’s shirking of his responsibilities as a newspaper publisher would have remained a secret, as I am sure Beatty intended, had it not been for a Freedom of Information request filed by The Chart.

The job done by the Chart staff, under T. R. Hanrahan’s direction, has been a sterling example, not just of what student journalism should be, but what journalism should be.

With the Chart effectively neutered by university officials and the Joplin Globe publisher asking which part of the president’s anatomy he can kiss next, it may be a long while before anyone can shine a light on the darkness at Missouri Southern State University.

(Photo: Hanrahan with the award-winning 2010 Chart staff after winning big at the annual MCMA awards.)

Wheels of justice turn slowly in rape and murder of Rowan Ford

(After th e judge'sdecision to call a mistrial in the Chris Collings case, I thought this would be a good time to repring the following post from the Feb. 27, 2010, Turner Report.)

In a perfect world, Rowan Ford would be halfway through her sixth grade year at Triway Junior High School in Stella, Missouri.

The biggest trials for Rowan would already be completed- adjusting to the change from the one-teacher existence of elementary school to having different teachers every hour and learning how to deal with the eighth graders who rule the school.

Like all junior high or middle school students, Rowan would be worried about just where and how she fits in.

Unfortunately, we do not live in a perfect world.

Rowan Ford never had the chance to experience middle school, and will never experience first love, graduation, marriage, children, or any of the other parts of life that most of us take for granted.

On Nov. 3, 2007, Rowan, a nine-year-old fourth grader was brutally raped and murdered- and nearly two and a half years later the two men who were arrested later that week for the crimes are still awaiting trial.

Rowan Ford was one of those children who slip through society’s cracks. She showed up at school long before classes began, and she stayed long after the final bell rang. She never wanted to go home.

That was noted in a Joplin Globe article by reporter Derek Spellman published two weeks after her death:

Her bike was her steadfast companion and she knew the roads well.

Friends and others in the community of Stella would see her — a slender, brown-haired 9-year-old girl gliding along on her blue-tinted Blossom Quest bicycle.

Rowan Ford was careful to steer clear of heavy traffic, preferring quieter side streets that took her around the town’s tree-clad slopes and to the home of her best friend, Tyler, who happened to live across the street from Ford’s second home: the Stella Baptist Church.

A friend recalled at her funeral last week that Ford “just kept going and going and going.”

There’s speculation in hindsight now, speculation after Ford went missing nearly two weeks ago, speculation that intensified after Ford’s body was found, that the Stella girl spent so much time riding around town because she was keeping away from something.

After she was reported missing, it did not take long before her stepfather, David Wesley Spears, and his friend, Chris Collings, were arrested. Both made statements admitting to the crime, according to published reports.

The murder, as one might imagine, was devastating to the town of Stella, which has a population of about 200 and to the staff and students at Triway Elementary. Those students are now at the junior high school, still awaiting justice for their slain classmate.

David Spears’ trial is scheduled for this summer, while Collings will not see the inside of a courtroom until early 2011, thanks to a system that perverts justice through easily obtained continuances and built-in roadblocks designed to prevent trials from taking place on a timely basis.

Though I have never been a supporter of the death penalty, if anyone ever deserved the ultimate punishment it is the men who could even contemplate such evil, much less actually go through with the act. And the death penalty is on the table for both men.

Life has gone in Stella since the community was shaken to the core by the murder, but there is never a day when Rowan Ford is far from the townspeople’s thoughts.

Visitors still flock to a memorial webpage for Rowan, with condolences continuing to pour in and pages filled with pictures of Rowan and images of cartoon characters like Winnie the Pooh, a direct contrast to the violence that ended Rowan’s life.

When the community recently dedicated a memorial park for veterans, a tribute to the child was included. In her absence, she remains a part of Stella’s everyday life.

Rowan Ford was robbed over and over during her young life. She was deprived of her normal childhood, her innocence, and eventually, her life.

Meanwhile, the hourglass of justice continues to turn at a glacial pace, as the years pass since Rowan Ford, forever nine, was taken from us.

Second change of venue ordered for accused Rowan Ford murderer

Online Phelps County Circuit Court records indicate that the trial of Chris Collings, one of two men charged with the brutal November 2007 rape and murder of nine-year-old Rowan Ford of Stella, will be held in another county.

This marks the second change of venue for Collings, since the rape and murder of Rowan Ford, a fourth grader at Triway Elementary School, occurred in Barry County.

Court records do not give any indication of where the trial will be held.

The other man charged with the crimes, Rowan Ford's stepfather, David Wesley Spears, is scheduled to go to trial this summer in Pulaski County.

Collings mistrial declared after lawyers could not agree on a jury

Former KOAM reporter Jennifer Denman, now a reporter for KOLR/KSFX in Springfield, is reporting that the mistrial for Chris Collings, one of two men charged with the brutal November 2007 rape and murder of nine-year-old Triway Elementary fourth grader Rowan Ford, was declared after the two sides could not agree on a jury

Mistrial declared in trial of accused Rowan Ford murderer/rapist

The three and half year wait for justice for Rowan Ford will have to continue a while longer.

A judge has dcclared a mistrial in the case of Chris Collings, one of two men accused of brutally raping and murdering the nine-year-old Stella girl in November 2007.

The trial had been scheduled to start Monday.

A trial is scheduled for later this year for the other accused killer, Rowan Ford's stepfather, David Wesley Spears.

MODOT considering closing Joplin office

The Missouri Department of Transportation (MODOT) is considering closing offices across the state, including the one in Joplin.

The Missouri Highway Commission is scheduled to discuss the plan May 4.

The Houston Herald reports that most of the planning for the department cuts has been "secretive."

Missouri Highway and Transportation Commission Community Manager Sally Oxenhandler said no firm decision has been made. "We are facing a severe funding shortage and looking at becoming a smaller agency due to the shortage. Beginning in 2017, we won't have enough funds to match the federal funds," she said.
Decisions are set for the May 4 meeting, but she would not elaborate.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Blunt: It's okay to trim Medicare because it will only affect those under 55

You will have to listen to Roy Blunt and the host talk about their kids for more than one third of this audio clip, but during the remainder of the interview,Sen. Roy Blunt explains how trimming Medicare benefits is okay, because it will only be done to people under 55:

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Billy Long: I'm more Tea Party than the Tea Party

Continuing his program of restricting his media interviews to those within district, Seventh District Congressman Billy Long is featured in an interview in this week's National Journal.

In the interview, Long, who told the Joplin Tea Party audience that he was not very popular with House leadership is described as "developing a reputation as a straight talker and House leadership has taken a shine to him."

About the tea party, Long says, "I’m probably more tea party than the tea party. In southwest Missouri, we were tea party before tea party was cool. I don’t join caucuses unless I really feel like I have time to devote to them."

About whether he would vote to raise the debt ceiling:

"We are going to have to get some extreme, not extreme—we’re going to have to get some good-sized spending cuts before I’d even look at it. It’s going to be another negotiating thing."

Missouri House passes payday loan "reform"

Tim Jones explains work of redistricting commission

McCaskill: I'm going to keep my head down and keep doing my job

In the accompanying video, Missouri's 2012 U. S. Senate race is examined:

Nieves: I fully support our public schools but I have too much integrity to vote for them to receive $189 million

Brian Nieves, R-Washington, was one of six Missouri senators to vote against accepting $189 million in education money last week. In his weekly report, he reveals that it was integrity that kept him from voting for the federal cash infusion and that, despite his vote, no one loves public schools more than he does:

As a state senator, it is within my ability to stop just about any piece of legislation, as long as there are one or two other senators who will stand with me. There were at least four senators who were willing to stand against House Bill 15. The bill states that $189 million in federal dollars, borrowed from China, would help fund Missouri schools. As vice-chair of the Senate Education Committee and as a parent, I fully support Missouri schools, but I do not support spending money that we don’t have. However, we did not filibuster House Bill 15.

Before House Bill 15 and the $189 million of stimulus funds borrowed from China came up on the Senate floor for debate, the extension of unemployment benefits was a big topic of discussion. Three other senators and I filibustered the unemployment compensation bill (House Bill 163) until an agreement was made to reform Missouri’s portion of unemployment compensation, which would save Missouri employers well over $110 million per year. The unemployment benefits extension was about $104 million, so those two items came out to almost a dollar-for-dollar agreement. As a result of the filibuster, we were also able to negotiate the refusal of approximately $250 million in wasteful stimulus funds, therefore saving the people of Missouri and America hundreds of millions of dollars.

Since compromise was made during the House Bill 163 filibuster regarding federal funds and an agreement was made between lawmakers, I did not personally stop House Bill 15 from coming to a vote. However, I want to be perfectly clear — I cannot and will not support House Bill 15.

Please allow me to explain my position. As Americans, we will indeed learn, sooner or later, how foolish it is to continue pushing our problems off to the future, and how devastating it is for a nation to sink further and further into debt. What the governor and the federal government have cooked up is nothing short of parlor tricks and is yet another example of money shuffling and avoiding inevitable problems. Pushing problems into an uncertain future without fixing any aspect of the issue is asking for disaster, and I will not be a part of it.

I also want to point out that what the governor is trying to do by supplanting funds for next year is questionable, in the best of terms. Many people have been misled regarding the full fiscal impact of saying “yes” to federal, Chinese dollars. Those who promote the idea of saying “yes” to dollars the federal government doesn’t have do not understand that dollars always have strings attached, and they leave out many important aspects that the public should know. Often, these people say things such as, “If we don’t get these Chinese dollars, we’ll have to fire teachers and many other horrible things!” That is a typical and frankly, a worn-out technique, and I see it as less than honest.

Now, let’s talk about the clear will of the people and my philosophical beliefs that prevent me from being in favor of these federal, Chinese dollars that are offered to us from the federal government with strings attached:

•The people have made themselves clear for the last couple years that they are sick and tired of the federal government sticking their nose in our business.

•The people do not want the federal government to continue to get more and more involved with Missouri public schools.

•The people have asked us to begin weaning our state from influence and control of the federal government.

We, as a state, must begin to make extremely tough and gut-wrenching decisions that have been put off for far too long. We cannot continue the process of becoming more and more dependent on the federal government. We must begin to say “no” when the federal government tries to bail us out of every problem that we have.

I’m fully aware my stance is not popular, but I’m convinced it is the right thing to do. I have three children in our public schools and was a substitute high school teacher. I believe that what’s right is not always popular, and what’s popular is not always right.

Ridgeway breaks down Senate unemployment deal

In her weekly column, Sen. LuAnn Ridgeway, R-Smithville, breaks down the unemployment deal reached in the Missouri Senate last week:

After a filibuster which dragged on for several weeks, the Missouri Senate passed a measure extending unemployment benefits to Missourians who have been out of work for an extended period of time. The newly passed legislation was signed by Governor Nixon and will become law.

The filibuster was conducted by four senators wanting to send a message to the federal government to quit spending money it does not have. During the lengthy debate, it was also mentioned 79 weeks was enough time for someone to find a job, even if not in their chosen field. In Missouri, employers pay for the first 26 weeks of unemployment through taxes paid to the Missouri Department of Labor. Additional weeks may be applied for which are paid for through the federal government. Without the new law, 79 weeks was the maximum amount of time Missourians could draw unemployment. If the federal funds were accepted, a person could collect unemployment for 99 weeks.

Proponents of extending the benefits argued the money would go to other states if not spent in Missouri. Their stance was if it was not going to applied to the national debt, it may as well go to Missourians who would then spend it for items such as groceries and rent. The four senators remained resolute and the bill remained in limbo.

A two pronged compromise was reached this week after which the four senators agreed to stand down and allow a vote on the bill. First, a provision was added which reduced the number of weeks for which Missouri employers would be liable from 26 to 20. Extensions could still be applied for after the end of 20 weeks. There was some question as to whether the House would go along with this change since they were not part of the discussions.

The second part of the compromise is quite a bit tricker, as not all senators have signed off on the agreement. Some members of Senate leadership have agreed to work with the four senators in an effort to identify and eliminate spending of federal stimulus money in other areas of the budget.

Only four weeks remain in this year's legislative session. The budget must be completed one week prior to adjournment and appears to be on track. The Senate Appropriations Committee has finished its work and the full Senate will begin debating the budget bills next week. Any differences between versions passed by the House and Senate will be reconciled in Conference Committees before heading to the governor's desk.

Unlike the federal government, Missouri's Constitution requires us to have a balanced budget. How I wish we had a balanced budget amendment in the U.S. Constitution!

Richard: Senate turns focus to budget

In his weekly report, Sen. Ron Richard, R-Joplin, takes a look at the budget as the Senate turns his attention in that direction:

This week, the Senate began work on the 13 bills that make up the state’s core budget for the coming fiscal year, and we completed work on two supplemental spending bills. The budget is a difficult task for legislators as we work to create a fiscally responsible spending plan that will still support Missouri’s most essential services.

Supplemental budget bills address budget issues that were not passed or were not funded to the level of being sufficient for the whole year. This year, we dealt with two supplemental budget bills, House Bills 14 and 15, to help fund services in the current fiscal year, which ends on June 31, 2011. Now awaiting the governor’s signature, these bills will go into effect immediately.

House Bill 14 contains funding for several state programs including Early Childhood Special Education, A+ Schools, the Downtown Revitalization Preservation Program, and the Missouri Sheriff Methamphetamine Relief Task Force, as well as funding for the State Highway Patrol crime labs, state colleges and universities, and Division of Senior and Disability Services. Appropriations in the legislation total $227 million.

House Bill 15 specifically focuses on additional funding for the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. The legislation proposes holding over $189.7 million in federal funding available to schools through the Federal Education Jobs Fund. This bill is designed to hold K-12 education funding steady for the Fiscal Year 2012, which begins on July 1, 2011.

House Bills 1-13 make up the state’s spending plan for the 2012 fiscal year. The proposed $23.2 billion budget includes funding for K-12 classrooms, state universities and colleges, and social services. These bills have already been approved by the House and have been amended by the Senate Appropriations Committee to reflect the priorities of the Senate. This includes a $20 million increase for transportation for K-12 education and lessening cuts to public universities and colleges to only 4.8 percent. By reworking budget priorities, the committee was able to craft a budget plan that reflects true dedication to education.

Missouri is not like the federal government — we can only spend what we have. For this reason, it is essential that we work to pass a balanced budget. This is especially difficult now, as revenues are just beginning to bounce back after the recession. Just like households throughout the state, Missouri has to reign in spending, make tough decisions, and make every dollar count.

If members of the House do not approve changes made by the Senate, differences between the two versions of the bills will need to be ironed out by a conference committee. The budget plan that comes out of these negotiations will need final approval from both bodies before moving to the governor’s desk.

GOP criticizes McCaskill for tax hypocrisy

The Missouri Republican Party jumped all over Sen. Claire McCaskill today, alleging hypocrisy in the senator's criticism of the rich (referred to as job-creators by the GOP) for shirking their duty to pay taxes. From the news release:

Just weeks after Claire McCaskill became embroiled in a major scandal surrounding her failure to pay $320,000 in property taxes on her private plane, she is now attacking job-creators for not paying enough in federal taxes. According to KRCG, McCaskill assured members of the far-left Grass Roots Organizing (GRO) “that she wants to stop America’s largest corporations from paying zero taxes thanks to foreign tax havens and other loopholes.”

McCaskill’s attack is especially hypocritical considering that McCaskill herself has benefited from many of the same provisions she is now attacking. For example:

McCaskill’s wealthy husband, Joe Shepard, has a history of avoiding federal income taxes. Joe Shepard has created an intentionally-confusing network of more than 280 LPs, LLCs, and shell companies to shield his assets. In the past, this has allowed him to avoid taxes. According to the Kansas City Star (October 18, 2006), “[Shepard’s] 1995 returns, released in a divorce case… show he paid no federal income taxes that year.” Unfortunately, McCaskill has refused to release her family’s tax returns—hiding more recent data from public disclosure. But if the past is any indication, it is possible that McCaskill and her husband have been avoiding federal income taxes for years.

McCaskill has come under fire for maintaining her own foreign tax haven by sheltering business assets in a Bermuda company. In the past, McCaskill was criticized for her interest in a Bermuda-based reinsurance company. At the time, the ethics watchdog group Citizens for Tax Justice declared: “It’s all about avoiding taxes” (Kansas City Star, October 18, 2006). Following the criticism, McCaskill closed the tax shelter.

McCaskill’s private plane was registered in tax-friendly Delaware—an obvious and deliberate attempt to avoid taxation. McCaskill’s multi-million dollar Pilatus plane was registered in Delaware and owned by a Delaware-based corporation called Timesaver, LLC. Delaware is a well-known on-shore tax haven for the wealthy—and many people register their aircraft there for the tax benefits.

Given McCaskill’s history of tax problems and avoidance, she should think twice before hypocritically attacking others for dodging taxes.

Maverick freshman Republicans, including Billy Long, hit up special interests for campaign cash

In an article published this morning, the Washington Post notes that freshman Republicans, who rode into office on white chargers claiming that government is bad and it would not be business as usual under their watch, are raking in campaign cash from special interest PACS:

Many of the Republican freshmen in the House won election vowing to shake up Washington, so it’s a little surprising that many of them seem to be playing an old Washington game: raising much of their campaign money from corporate political action committees.

More than 50 members of the class of 87 GOP freshmen took in more than $50,000 from PACs during the first quarter of 2011, according to new campaign disclosure reports filed with the Federal Election Commission. Eighteen of the lawmakers took in more than $100,000.
 Among the Republican freshman who fought business as usual all the way to Washington and then settled into that same familiar routine is Seventh District Congressman Billy Long.

As noted in the April 12 Turner Report:

It did not take Long much time to get acclimated to the pace of Washington, according to his quarterly report, filed Tuesday with the Federal Election Commission.

Long received $78,517 during the last three months, with more than $40,000 of it that coming from either special interest PACS or lobbyists.

Among the contributions:

$1,000- Action Committee for Rural Electrification
$1,000- Allied Pilots Association
$1,000- Ameren Federal PAC
$1,000- American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry
$1,000- American Airlines PAC
$1,000- American Bus Association PAC
$1,000- American Hospital Association PAC
$5,000- Anheuser-Busch PAC
$1,000- Arch Coal PAC
$3,000- Boeing Company PAC
$500- CoalPAC
$1,000- Dairy Farmers of America PAC
$2,000- Emerson Electric
$2,000- FedEx PAC
$2.000- Free and Strong America PAC
$2,000- Honeywell International PAC
$500- MinePAC
$1,000- National Air Traffic Controllers PAC
$2,000- National Association of Convenience Stores PAC
$1.000- National Association of Realtors PAC
$1,000- National Rural Letter Carriers PAC
$1,000- Outdoor Advertising Association of America
$2,000- PriceWaterhouseCoopers PAC
$2,000- Raytheon Company PAC
$2,000- Southwest Airlines Pilots Association
$1,000- United Technologies Corporation PAC
 Long's reliance on those special interests continues as noted in the April 17 Turner Report:

Four Washington lobbyists are serving as hosts for a May 31 dinner honoring the freshman legislator at Hill Country Barbecue in our nation's capital.

The group includes Gregg Hartley, former chief of staff to Roy Blunt, who represents AT&T, as well as numerous other clients, Tim McGivern, also an AT&T lobbyist, National Rifle Association lobbyist Liz Williams, and Jeffrey Hogg, who represents Reynolds American.

If you want to be one of those honoring Billy Long, be prepared to pay dearly for the privilege. The event has a "suggested contribution" of $1,000 per PAC or $500 per individual.

The Washington  fundraiser will be the ninth for Billy Long since he took office in January. Six of those, including one on March 30, were held at the exclusive Capitol Hill Club. As noted in the April 13 Turner Report, Long spent $1,133 from his campaign account to the club for initiation and dues to the club.