Since its launch this summer, education reform advocate and former broadcast journalist Campbell Brown's "non-partisan education news site," The Seventy Four, has published 11 pieces from contributor Eric Owens. Owens, the education editor at the conservative Daily Caller, has a long history of penning racially insensitive, sexist, and transphobic attacks on students and teachers, and has continued to publish this offensive content since becoming a The Seventy Four contributor.
The October 13 Democratic debate on CNN offered the public a first look at a slate of candidates whose policy positions offer a stark contrast to their counterparts in the Republican party. However, in an election season that could determine whether or not the country continues to make strides toward progressive goals or instead takes steps backwards, it is crucial that the next debate explore these substantive differences even further. Here are some suggestions for the second Democratic debate scheduled to be hosted by CBS, KCCI, and the Des Moines Register on November 14:
Fox Business' Stuart Varney cited misleading research from the Cato Institute to disparage federal employees, claiming they make 78 percent more than private sector workers. In fact, when compared to private sector workers in similar occupations and with similar levels of education, government employees are often paid less than their private industry counterparts.
On the October 9 edition of Fox Business' Varney & Co., host Stuart Varney and Fox contributor Tammy Bruce used a misleading report from the right-wing Cato Institute to mockingly claim that federal workers are paid too much. Without any discussion of the different types of jobs performed by government and private sector employees, Varney and Bruce slammed "super, super rich" federal workers for contributing to economic inequality in Washington, D.C.:
TAMMY BRUCE: Well look, they're better than us, aren't they? And they deserve more money because they do such-- much more difficult work, and they're just more important and better people. Look, these are the people that all this-- those are the only people politicians really see. Its unionized of course. It goes through the framework of government and politicians wanting to spend more, make things bigger, make things worse. And they're right on that track.
STUART VARNEY: Look what is on the screen. Six of the top--of the richest neighborhoods are right around Washington, D.C.
BRUCE: But that's very small area of D.C., of course. And the talk about the distance between the poor and the wealthy. You see it. Government--super, super rich. And then those other neighborhoods in Washington, D.C, the poverty, the unemployment, the abandonment. That's classic big government where everybody else get pushed out and the people who genuflect, who pay allegiance to that big federal government get all the money, and everyone else suffers.
According to Cato's October 2015 report, total salary and compensation for an average federal worker in 2014 was $119,934 -- compared to just $67,246 for the average private sector worker. Cato's analysis blamed supposedly generous pay for driving federal budget deficits and demanded that compensation for federal jobs be reduced to better reflect the private sector. Cato even acknowledged that federal workers typically have higher levels of education and professional experience than the private sector as a whole, but still recommended that their compensation be arbitrarily reduced -- a common refrain among right-wing think tanks.
In reality, federal and private sector workers are compensated differently because they perform different jobs and have strikingly different levels of education, on average. According to a January 2012 report from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), "33 percent of federal employees work in professional occupations, such as the sciences or engineering, compared with only 18 percent of private-sector employees" and "21 percent of federal employees have a master's, professional, or doctoral degree, compared with 9 percent of private-sector employees."
The same CBO report found that after accounting for education and other "observable characteristics," average federal wages were only 2 percent higher than would be expected in the private sector.
According to the findings of an exhaustive November 2014 review by the Federal Salary Council, federal employees nationwide face an average pay disparity of 35 percent compared to private sector counterparts performing "the same levels of work."
Federal worker occupations and levels of education are too different from that of the private sector to easily compare side-by-side, a fact that even Cato's Chris Edwards -- who authored the study used by Varney & Co. -- readily admitted in a July 23, 2012 interview with The Washington Post:
Chris Edwards, director of tax policy studies at the Cato Institute, a conservative think thank [sic],and author of several papers concluding that federal workers are overpaid, acknowledged Monday that "it's hard to make an overall sweeping assessment" of whether private- or public-sector employees make more.
The New York Times published in print a story about the International Association of Firefighters backing away from an endorsement of Hillary Clinton, but only published in a blog online that the National Education Association (NEA), the biggest union in the country, announced its support for Clinton on Saturday.
On October 2, The New York Times published in print a 971-word report in print about the firefighters' union deciding not to endorse Hillary Clinton for president. The next day, the Times' First Draft blog posted a 519-word report about Clinton winning the support of the NEA, which appeared only online, and not in print. The NEA is the biggest labor union in the country, the second major group of teachers to endorse Clinton, and Clinton's eighth labor endorsement overall.
An op-ed in The Wall Street Journal by editorial writer Allysia Finley downplayed a labor judge's findings of employer misconduct to accuse California's Agricultural Labor Relations Board of teaming up with the United Farm Workers to "shake down workers" by throwing out the ballots of a decertification vote. Finley ignored several unlawful actions by the employer, Gerawan Farming, claiming that the misconduct "amounted mainly to a 'well-timed' raise."
Multiple conservative media outlets used a misleading report to attack public unions, claiming that unions hurt upward mobility and drive economic inequality -- a theory Media Matters has already thoroughly debunked.
Forbes contributor Carrie Sheffield claimed public sector unions hurt upward mobility for private sector workers, but ignored the effects the decline of private sector union membership have had on stagnating wages and reducing ladders of opportunity for American workers.
Right-wing media praised Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker ahead of his announcement that he will seek the Republican nomination for president, highlighting his record as governor and his efforts to reduce the power of labor unions.
As Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker formally enters the presidential race, journalists in his home state say the national press should focus their reporting on his polarizing history fighting abortion rights, gay marriage, and public information disclosure, while also highlighting his push as a state assemblyman for mandatory prison time that has overwhelmed the state's prison system.
Many Badger State scribes also point to the state's poor economic record, while describing Walker as an "extreme" politician whose far-right approach may not work in a national race.
"He is not as charismatic as I think a lot of people think," said John Nichols, an associate editor at the progressive Capital Times in Madison. "The drama, the excitement associated with Scott Walker is that he did some extreme things that scared a lot of people."
"He's a pretty polarizing character," said political reporter Kate Pabich of WMTV, the NBC affiliate in Madison. "If he gets the GOP primary nomination he is going to have a hard time appealing to a national stage. The things he's done, the ultra-conservative things he's done, the 20-week abortion, the stance on gay marriage, will be an issue."
Pablich was referring to the state ban on abortion after 20 weeks, which passed in the Wisconsin Assembly just last week -- with no exceptions for rape or incest, reportedly at Walker's insistence -- and which is likely to get Walker's approval.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel capital reporter Jason Stein said the abortion ban is important because "that could be banned at the national level" if Walker is elected president.
Stein also said media should examine a so-called "right-to-work" law Walker signed in March that strips unions of vital resources by allowing private-sector employees to opt out of paying union dues, as well as his support for a severely restrictive public information overhaul that would have disallowed public access to many state records and documents.
"They were sweeping," Stein said of the public information restrictions. "They would have exempted the vast majority of legislative documents" from review, allowing "the administration as well as any other state agency to withhold deliberative materials used to arrive at a policy decision," he concluded.
After the restrictions were approved in the legislature's Joint Finance Committee, they were shelved following public outcry.
Stein, who co-wrote a book about Walker's 2011 collective bargaining battle with state unions, also urged national reporters to look at Walker's time as Milwaukee County Executive, adding, "There was much more gridlock and his not being able to accomplish what he wanted. He was head-butting a lot with a Democratic County board."
Capital Times' Nichols said Walker's claims about a great economic record in Wisconsin are misleading.
"The Wisconsin economic story is not a particularly good story," he said. "Wisconsin trails a lot of neighboring states in economic vitality; its job growth is not particularly good."
He said Walker promised when he first ran in 2010 to create 250,000 new jobs in his first term. But that fell far short, according to Politifact, which estimates only about 146,000 new jobs created during that time.
"For all of his talk of becoming an economic savior, he is weaker on economics than a lot of people think," Nichols said.
Andy Hall, executive director of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism and a former longtime reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison, agreed.
"He did promise to create 250,000 jobs during his first term, the numbers show he got about half that goal," Hall said. "The economy here continues to concern a lot of people. Yes, jobs are being created, but are they the right kinds of jobs?"
Hall also cited the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, or WEDC, which Walker created to spark job growth. A state audit in May by the non-partisan Wisconsin Legislative Audit Bureau found problems with its compliance and practices.
Jim Fitzhenry, a top editor for Gannett Wisconsin Media, which operates newspapers and websites in 10 cities, said few national outlets seem to know about Walker's support for tighter mandatory sentencing that has ballooned the state's prison population.
Known as "Truth-in-Sentencing," the restriction, passed by the Wisconsin state legislature in 1998, requires that many inmates serve their entire sentences without parole and increased the length of prison time for others.
Walker co-sponsored the legislation as a state assemblyman and helped lead it to passage as chair of the state assembly's Committee on Corrections and the Courts, according to a lengthy report on his past prison reform actions in The Nation earlier this year.
"It took away quite a bit of judicial discretion in sentences," Fitzhenry said. "Unlike a lot of his counterparts, Scott is still very much adamant for Truth-in-Sentencing."
The Nation report detailed how Truth-in-Sentencing overburdens the Wisconsin prison system so much that it had to contract with a private prison operator, Corrections Corporation of America, whose executives have also contributed to Walker's campaigns.
A 2004 Journal Sentinel analysis of the law looked at data from Truth-in-Sentencing's first four years in existence and estimated that it would cost the state an additional $1.8 billion through 2025.
The Wall Street Journal editorial board is siding with four teachers in California who are suing their unions, claiming "coercion" and "political extortion" because "critical benefits" are being withheld from non-member employees who don't pay for them, but failed to mention the challenge is seeking to overturn decades-old precedent.
In April, four teachers filed suit against the California Teachers' Association and several other teachers' unions, arguing that their denial of certain benefits to non-members was unconstitutional, despite Supreme Court precedent to the contrary. The teachers had refused to join their representative unions because they disagree with the groups' "political activity," which is funded by members who pay full membership dues. While even non-members are required to pay some dues to the union -- a reduced share known as "agency" or "fair share fees" -- that money cannot be used for political activities.
In a May 4 editorial, the Journal sided with the suing teachers, calling their lawsuit an opportunity "to end the political extortion" by unions, despite the fact that the Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of agency fees. The editorial took special exception to the fact that non-members aren't covered by a disability insurance program that provides paid maternity leave, claiming that it is unfair for teachers to have to "ante up to receive substantial employment benefits":
Teachers who disagree with the union's agenda can opt out of membership and not pay dues. Trouble is, they then must forfeit material benefits including legal representation in workplace disputes as well as union insurance that is necessary for disability and maternity leave. They also cannot vote on collective-bargaining agreements that govern the terms and conditions of their employment.
The coercion is particularly insidious in the case of maternity leave, which the union does not collectively bargain. Teachers who want to take leaves of absence are guaranteed full-time pay only for their unused sick days. After that, their pay gets docked substantially. So if new mothers want to take a couple of months off, they in effect must either join the union -- and finance its political advocacy -- or take a huge pay cut.
Imagine if a bank made maternity leave and flex time available only to workers who contribute to a Republican political action committee. This is essentially what the union public-school monopoly does: restrict critical benefits to those who support their political spending.
Right-wing media and conservative financial interests are touting Gov. Scott Walker's latest anti-worker move as a model for America, but his policies will harm the economy and stand in stark contrast with the GOP's recent attempts to rebrand the party as a champion of the middle class.
This week, Wisconsin governor and 2016 GOP presidential hopeful Scott Walker signed into law a so-called "right-to-work" bill, which will hamper the ability of private-sector workers to organize into labor unions and bargain collectively. Walker proclaimed the bill "sends a powerful message across the country and around the world" and boasted about its economic advantages. His signature follows weeks of championing from conservative media. The Wall Street Journal published an opinion piece written by the CEO of Americans for Prosperity that lauded the right-to-work bill in Wisconsin, while misinforming readers about its likely economic impact. Fox News repeatedly praised the bill as well, while the editors of National Review called the Wisconsin bill a "righteous victory" for Walker and described organized labor as a "cancer."
Of course, economists point out that quality of life -- as measured by a variety of factors such as poverty and income rates -- is lower in right-to-work states. In fact, economist Gordon Lafer found that right-to-work laws "lower wages for union and non-union workers by an average of $1,500 a year" and lead to pension and health benefits cuts -- findings echoed in other economic studies.
But politically, Walker is hoping to bolster his conservative bona fides among right-wing media and others in anticipation of a competitive Republican primary season -- by taking a swing at the labor movement. And Wisconsin's latest attack on labor is just the latest chapter in a broader campaign against the middle class being waged in tandem by conservative media, corporate financial interests, and the whole of the Republican Party.
The nexus is easily demonstrable -- the right-to-work law Walker signed is a nearly word-for-word replica of model legislation crafted by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an organization funded mostly by corporations and conservative organizations, and whose purpose, according to Fortune magazine, is to "bring business-friendly state lawmakers together with lobbyists for corporations." ALEC receives large sums of money from billionaire conservatives Charles and David Koch to push legislation that supports the their political agenda, one often at odds with the well-being of middle and working class Americans. Indeed, the right-to-work bill in Wisconsin is just the latest in a string of such laws sweeping through GOP-controlled legislatures in the Midwest thanks to ALEC and the Kochs.
Walker has also been the beneficiary of the Kochs' financial clout. The Kochs directly and indirectly contributed millions of dollars to his gubernatorial campaigns while the Koch-funded group Americans for Prosperity (AFP) provided manpower in the form of political rallies and hundreds of volunteers contacting voters in support of Walker. Walker attended a "gathering of rich conservatives" along with other presidential hopefuls convened by the Koch brothers earlier this year.
On Fox News, praise for Walker is over the top -- he is a "sexy" 2016 candidate that makes one host's "toes curl." Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh has lavished Walker with compliments, mostly by suggesting Walker has adopted the host's own conservative ideas, while the Drudge Report crowned Walker the "clear GOP frontrunner."
If Walker's corporate-bought anti-worker agenda is the top choice for the conservative media, it symbolizes a striking detachment between conservative policy priorities and policies that would benefit average Americans. As an example, one economist found that declining union participation rates have exacerbated the problem of income inequality in the United States.
Washington Post syndicated columnist George Will dedicated his most recent column to Gov. Bruce Rauner (R-IL), praising the governor's plans to go after public-sector unions, but got some basic facts wrong in the process.
Rauner has quickly become a favorite among right-wing media figures, both during his gubernatorial campaign and since his election in November. The Wall Street Journal and National Review have also lauded Rauner for his February 9 executive order blocking public-sector unions from collecting "fair share" fees from state employees they represent. Although state employees are not required to join, their union is nevertheless required to represent every state employee -- including nonmembers -- during contract negotiations. Without fair-share fees, nonmembers would get all the benefits of unionization without having to pay for it. Rauner's order would effectively institute "right-to-work" rules for state workers without the headache of getting approval from the Democratic majority in the state legislature first.
In his February 25 column, Will called Rauner's election "this century's most intriguing political experiment" and endorsed the governor's plan "to change Illinois's political culture of one-party rule by entrenched politicians subservient to public-sector unions." Will went on to support Rauner's executive order on union dues, but completely bungled basic facts about the order and the ongoing legal challenges surrounding it:
By executive order, Rauner has stopped the government from collecting "fair share" fees for unions from state employees who reject joining a union. This, he says, violates First Amendment principles by compelling people to subsidize speech with which they disagree. The unions might regret challenging this in federal court: If the case reaches the Supreme Court and it overturns the 1977 decision that upheld "fair shares," this would end the practice nationwide.
Rauner hopes to ban, as some states do, public employees unions from making political contributions, whereby they elect the employers with whom they negotiate their compensation. Rauner notes that an owner of a small firm that does business with Illinois's government is forbidden to make political contributions. Rauner also hopes to enable counties and local jurisdictions to adopt right-to-work laws, thereby attracting businesses that will locate only where there are such laws.
Right-wing media are celebrating Gov. Bruce Rauner's (R-IL) executive order blocking public-sector unions from collecting "fair share" fees from the state employees they represent, even though there is no precedent for such a move. National Review and The Wall Street Journal are praising Rauner for "thinking creatively" by effectively turning Illinois into a "right-to-work" state without legislative approval, even though those same outlets have criticized President Obama for issuing lawful executive orders without Republican input.
Rauner's order specifically targets "fair share" dues that nonmembers in unionized workplaces pay to cover the cost of union representation for their collective bargaining agreements. Illinois law already prohibits fair share fees (as opposed to full membership dues) from being used to fund union political activities, but Rauner nevertheless issued his executive order and wrongly claimed that "an employee who is forced to pay unfair share dues is being forced to fund political activity with which they disagree." A number of states have passed "right-to-work" laws that target these kinds of dues with the express purpose of weakening the bargaining power of unions. But Rauner saved himself some time by ignoring decades of Supreme Court labor-law precedent and imposing the "right-to-work" standard on state employees without running it past the legislature first.
Right-wing media are not particularly concerned with Rauner's unilateral and legally questionable antics. Rauner's lawyers, however, apparently realize the unusual nature of this executive action. On the governor's behalf, they have defensively filed a lawsuit asking a district court to preemptively declare his order legal on the radical assumption that all union activity -- even that related to collective bargaining -- is inherently political.
In a February 11 post, National Review writer Patrick Brennan applauded Rauner's "daring" and legal maneuvering, celebrating that "Rauner's Illinois is in limbo -- and, duly elected, he deserves credit for putting them there." The Journal also praised Rauner in a February 10 editorial for "thinking creatively" since the "Democrats who have a supermajority in the state legislature won't make Illinois a right-to-work state."
This is an interesting about-face on executive orders from these outlets, which have attacked Obama's executive action on immigration in the face of an obstructionist GOP-controlled House as an "abuse of power" and "executive overreach" -- despite there being plenty of legal and historical precedent to support Obama's orders. In a November 16 editorial, the Journal argued that it would "support more liberal immigration but not Mr. Obama's means of doing it on his own whim because he's tired of working with Congress." Similarly, in a November 6 editorial, National Review complained that for Obama to "act on immigration without engaging the country's new congressional majority would be a defiance of the legislative branch, and of the American electorate."
But Rauner's order gets a pass from National Review now, because it is enough that "after a deep legal review, he thinks the fair-share fees are unconstitutional forced expression."
Apparently Rauner's deep legal review involves rewriting the basics of labor law. As the Illinois Economic Policy Institute explained, Rauner's claim that "state workers are forced to pay union dues for political purposes" is "false":
Illinois law does not prohibit labor organizations with state collective bargaining agreements from contributing to elected officials, but it also does not mandate that workers must pay for political activities that are endorsed by their representative union. The Illinois Public Labor Relations Act requires all employees covered by a collective bargaining agreement to pay their "fair share" of the cost of collective bargaining and contract administration. Fair share dues "shall not include any fees for contributions related to the election or support of any candidate for political office" but an employee can make "voluntary political contributions in conjunction with his or her fair share payment" [emphasis added]. Since the 1988 Communications Workers of America v. Beck case in the U.S. Supreme Court, unions are authorized to collect from non-members only fees and dues necessary to perform collective bargaining operations, and workers can object to paying a portion of their dues toward political activities.
As conservative Justice Antonin Scalia explained in a 1991 labor law case, nonmembers who don't pay dues "are free riders whom the law requires the union to carry -- indeed, requires the union to go out of its way to benefit, even at the expense of its other interests. In the context of bargaining, a union must seek to further the interests of its nonmembers; it cannot, for example, negotiate particularly high wage increases for its members in exchange for accepting no increases for others." Without compulsory fair share dues for the collective bargaining agreement from which both non-members and members benefit, unions face a serious "free rider" problem and threat to their financial viability.
Which, for the National Review and the Journal, is clearly the point.
There's no question that the current makeup of the Supreme Court is less sympathetic to the labor movement than it has been in the past. In 2014, the conservative majority ruled that home care workers in Illinois (who are paid with state Medicaid funds but are not full-fledged public employees) cannot be compelled to pay dues to a union they don't want to join, but ultimately declined to strike down a 1977 case that allows public-sector unions to collect "fair share" dues from nonmembers. Even though Justice Samuel Alito's majority opinion questioned the "foundations" of that 1977 ruling -- basically inviting a challenge like Rauner's -- the case is still good law.
In light of this precedent, some might call Rauner's actions an appeal to the "judicial activism" they frequently condemn. The Journal, on the other hand, is calling this "thinking creatively."
With two weeks to go before midterm elections, the North Carolina Senate race is on track to be the most expensive Senate race ever. But on Fox News, the focus is on spending by teachers unions, not the conservative-backed groups pouring money three times that amount into the state.
Fox News' America's Newsroom highlighted on October 21 how two prominent teachers unions, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and National Education Association (NEA), are "on track to spend a record amount this [campaign] cycle." Focusing specifically on the North Carolina Senate race, host Martha MacCallum asked, "What are the teachers unions doing there?" Correspondent Mike Emanuel noted that Democratic incumbent Sen. Kay Hagan is polling narrowly ahead of her Republican challenger Thom Tillis, as "the National Education Association super PAC has spent about $3 million on ads blaming Republican Tillis for making class sizes bigger and for reduced art and sports programs. Expect more of this down the final stretch," because Tillis is "a target."
With its focus on teachers unions, Fox conveniently left out the spending from outside groups that totals nearly three times more. For example, the North Carolina chapter of Americans for Prosperity, a conservative group backed by the Koch brothers has poured in at least $8.3 million in ad money. At least $6 million has come from groups linked to conservative Karl Rove, a Fox News contributor.
Such selective reporting on election spending is becoming standard for the network, which has worked to minimize the influx of money supporting Republican candidates into states with hotly-contested congressional races this election cycle.
News of a massive student protest in Colorado against a "conservative-led school board proposal" has prompted Fox News to rethink its stance on student freedoms.
Earlier this week, hundreds of students across six high schools in Arvada, Colorado, walked out of their classrooms amid news of a "conservative-led school board proposal to focus history education on topics that promote citizenship, patriotism and respect for authority." The Associated Press reported that the curriculum proposal would establish a committee to ensure certain history materials "don't 'encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law'":
Student participants said their demonstration was organized by word of mouth and social media. Many waved American flags and carried signs, including messages that read "There is nothing more patriotic than protest."
The school board proposal that triggered the walkouts in Jefferson County calls for instructional materials that present positive aspects of the nation and its heritage. It would establish a committee to regularly review texts and course plans, starting with Advanced Placement history, to make sure materials "promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free-market system, respect for authority and respect for individual rights" and don't "encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law."
On September 25, Fox & Friends hosted Ken Witt, president of the Jefferson County Board of Education, which oversees the Arvada schools, to discuss the protests. Amid chyrons like "Political Pawns" and "Teachers Are Using Students," Witt alleged that the real issue was not the history curriculum proposal, but rather the upcoming teachers union contract :
WITT: That's the unfortunate situation that's going on. I believe that there is a significant amount of union conflict right now that we would like to not have. The issue is that it's easy to get children out. It's easy to use kids as pawns and it's not right. We have a union contract that's expiring in August of this year.
Co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck parroted Witt's allegations, saying, "What concerns me is that what I'm hearing from you, and correct me if I am wrong, is that there is someone else behind this planting it and using these students for their own gain."