Friday, January 17, 2014

Front Page News, for Real

What a front page in today's Star Tribune!

Not even counting the story about how Target's recent data breach indicates a much wider problem or the one recounting a divided open hearing about allowing copper mining in the wilds of northern Minnesota, there were three stories that made me exclaim in dismay:

Climate risk

It's simple: If nations keep dragging their feet about reducing carbon emissions for another 15 years, "the problem [will be] virtually impossible to solve with current technologies." The only way to fix it would be to suck huge amounts of carbon out of the atmosphere and store it underground… "But it is unclear whether such technologies will ever exist at the necessary scale, and even if they do, the approach would likely be wildly expensive compared with taking steps now to slow emissions."

And get this: "The report said that governments of the world were still spending far more money to subsidize fossil fuels than to accelerate the shift to cleaner energy."

The slight decrease in U.S. emissions over the past eight years was rightly pegged as a result of outsourcing our carbon emissions, along with the manufacturing of the goods we use, to China and other developing countries. And our increased use of less carbon-emitting natural gas (while we ship our coal overseas.)

It doesn't matter what country burns it, guys. It's all one atmosphere, and one world.

Drug testing in Duluth schools

Infected by the drug war and bad example set in Scott Walker's Wisconsin, just across the border, Duluth schools are considering random drug tests for their students. They'll only be able to require them of students who take part in voluntary aspects of school: sports, clubs, and parking in the school's lot because earlier court decisions have ruled out taking away students' rights completely.

Stupid, stupid, stupid. Especially since research shows this type of testing has no effect on student drug use. "But a positive school environment? That cut down on the share of students who started smoking cigarettes and using marijuana, according to research published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs." A positive school environment: isn't that the opposite of what you get by mistrusting your students and randomly testing them for drugs?

Superior, Duluth's Wisconsin neighbor, has been doing random drug tests since 2006. "The district has seen a surge in the number of students expelled…" Which gives the lie to a Duluth official who claimed the tests would be used to "get help for the students who need it."

As Chuck Samuelson of the Minnesota ACLU pointed out, testing only kids who participate in voluntary activities discourages participation in things that might be keeping them in school. It makes me think of Carl Hart's participation in basketball. If his school had been doing drug testing, would he have dropped out of basketball, or quit using recreational marijuana? Who knows, but it's stupid to force the choice.

Duluth officials claim they're "highly invested in creating positive climates" in their schools, with "responsive classrooms" and other programs. They believe drug testing will "amplify those efforts," despite the research that shows otherwise.

And they seem to have an unrealistic idea of the financial (not to mention the human) cost of the proposed program: They're budgeting $5,040 a year, despite the fact that Superior's program costs $30,000.

The story ends with this quote from a school official: "Whether its's something to do with drugs, academics or another area, our job is to take good care of these kids."

This is the wrong way to do that.

Cuts to rental aid

First, let's all remember: Getting a Section 8 housing voucher already meant spending an average five to seven years on a waiting list. And the mean household income of a Section 8 recipient is only $13,564 (not much more than the annual cost of a market-rate two-bedroom apartment in the Twin Cities).

So the program should be increased, not cut. But no. Now over 10 percent of the existing vouchers will be eliminated. Because of the sequester, people like Brittannea Stevenson, a Walmart cashier who finally got a voucher after two years on the waiting list in Mankato, had her voucher revoked just as she was finding an apartment.

Others, like Vicki Parchman, who lives with her adult son and 13-year-old grandson, are told their apartments are too large, so they'll have to pay the difference or move out. In her case, that's $325 more a month. Families with children are scrambling to get into one-bedroom apartments, leaving the parents to sleep in the living room, if they're lucky enough to find a place at all. And often it means changing buildings and neighborhoods, and thus their kids' schools. I'm sure that will improve educational outcomes.

Richelle Richardson, developmentally disabled and receiving $800 a month in disability payments, is being told she'll have to pay $200 more a month in rent. Her current place lets her 15-year-old attend what's considered the best high school in Minneapolis, and it's near a bus line and grocery store.

These are often the same people who have been hit by Head Start cuts, food stamp cuts, and the termination of long-term unemployment benefits.

What effect will this have on homelessness, which we're all so "committed" to ending? Where are these folks going to live?


These were all front-page stories. But when I went to the Star Tribune website to find links, the only stories that I found on the home page were the ones about Target and the mining hearing. I had to search the site to find the Section 8 and Duluth drug stories, and could only locate the climate change story by using Google. Even putting a unique bit of text from the Times story in quotes in the Strib's search engine didn't find the story.

A good example of how a physical newspaper is a completely different thing from a news website.

1 comment:

BLissed-Out Grandma said...

Wow. The stories are compelling, and the footnote is chilling. Or vice versa, take your pick.