Media

Thursday, January 30, 2020

The Other Shoe Drops For Lee Enterprises

Posted By on Thu, Jan 30, 2020 at 11:09 AM

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In a power move worthy of Gordon Gekko, Alden Global Capital acquired a near six percent interest Wednesday in media rival, Lee Enterprises, after purchasing a $9.2 million stake in the company on the open market.

Alden’s subsidiary, MNG Holdings (DBA) Digital First Media reported purchasing 3.4 million shares to the Security and Exchange Commission at roughly $2.72 a share on Wednesday. By the final bell, Lee Enterprises stock closed at $2.11 a share. 

The acquisition comes on the same day billionaire Warren Buffett announced he was selling his media empire, BH Media Group, to Lee Enterprises for $140 million, bringing 81 dailies under their control. Lee Enterprises currently owns 46 newspapers, including The Arizona Daily Star. Buffett’s company, Berkshire Hathaway also loaned Lee Enterprises $576 million, at 9 percent interest, to finance the deal and help alleviate Lee’s $400 million debt.

According to Alden’s SEC filing, the company “intends to engage in discussions with management and/or the Issuer’s Board of Directors about certain operational and strategic matters, including, but not limited to the recently announced acquisition of Berkshire Hathaway’s newspaper operations and matters pertaining to the Issuer’s 2020 Annual Meeting."

Alden has built a vulture capitalist reputation after acquiring and gutting media companies, like Digital First Media, and numerous other dailies and weeklies over the past decade. Alden unsuccessfully tried to acquire control of Gannett, Lee’s 50-50 partner in the Arizona Daily Star, by attempting to plant their members on the media company’s board in 2019. Gannett shareholders overwhelmingly rejected the hedge fund’s attempt last May.

Lee Enterprises has declined to comment on the potential acquisition at this time.




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Monday, January 20, 2020

Results-Based Funding: The Haves and Have-Mores

Posted By on Mon, Jan 20, 2020 at 2:16 PM

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"This is an impressive crowd - the haves and the have-mores. Some people call you the elites. I call you my base." George W. Bush
Bush made the comment at a high-rollers charity dinner where presidential candidates poke fun at themselves and their campaigns. Like any good self-deprecating joke, Bush's quip is on the money. In this case, literally on the money.

The HHM, the haves and have-mores. They're as much Doug Ducey's base as they were George Bush's. You see their fingerprints all over Ducey's education agenda. When he favors tax cuts over bringing schools back to their 2008 funding levels, that's all about the HHM. And he was thinking about their children when he created the results-based funding scheme. The way the funding is given out, the HHM's children are nearly certain to come out winners.

In my last post I compared how much results-based funding went to students in TUSD, Vail and the BASIS charter chain. Vail, it turns out, gets more than three times as much per student as TUSD. With one exception, every BASIS school is fully funded. That's because funding is based on the percentage of a school's students who pass the state's high stakes test, which is right in the wheelhouse of schools in high rent areas. For a district like TUSD which draws from many families living below the poverty level, passing the state test and qualifying for the funding is more hit-and-miss.

In a world where Ducey is governor and the legislature is majority Republican, the rich get richer, and their children get a richer education courtesy of results-based funding.

I decided to take a deeper dive into the data to see how the money is distributed to schools with children across the economic spectrum. I found funding inequities everywhere I looked.

Before I lay out the numbers, here are a few things I know for sure.

• A school doesn't deserve results-based funding just because it has no more than 10 percent of its students living below the poverty level.

• A school with 60 percent of its students below the poverty level is not 10 times more deserving of results-based funding than a school with 59 percent of its students below the poverty level.

• Any competent computer programmer could create a system for giving out the results-based funding in a more equitable way.

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Thursday, January 16, 2020

Results-Based Funding: A Tale Of Two Districts And a Charter Chain

Posted By on Thu, Jan 16, 2020 at 10:56 AM

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If Doug Ducey bragged about adding $70 per student to the K-12 education budget, the news would be received with yawns from the vaguely interested and howls of outrage from people who know Arizona needs to add a thousand dollars per student to reach Mississippi funding levels, two thousand to reach Arkansas and three thousand to reach Louisiana. In Arizona funding dollars, that translates to an added one billion, two billion and three billion dollars respectively.

So $70 per student, about $72 million total, doesn't even qualify as small potatoes compared to the funding Arizona needs to equal some of the poorest southern states, let alone the rest of the nation. It's chump change.

But Ducey is getting away with bragging about $72 million for schools by spending it, using words from his State of the State speech, "to reward and replicate success in our best public schools." Those "successful" schools will get either $225 or $400 per student from a program with the impressive-sounding name, results-based funding. True, only a quarter of the state's district and charter schools get any money, but it's supposed to be a reward for success, which sounds like a good thing.

Except that "success" is measured by the percentage of a school's students who pass the state's AZMerit exam, and as most everyone knows, students from higher income families tend to do a whole lot better on the tests than students from lower income families. So if it's all about passing rates, all the money would go to schools in high rent areas, and that would be too obviously, grossly unfair, even for Governor Ducey.

What to do?

Continue reading »

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Laughing Stock: The Sound of Music

Posted By on Thu, Jan 16, 2020 at 9:14 AM

Neil Hamburger is a mess, a joke and a very smart guy. - SIMONE TURKINGTON
  • Simone Turkington
  • Neil Hamburger is a mess, a joke and a very smart guy.

Comedy so outsider it’s insider

Neil Hamburger is an awful comedian. His affect is palpably awkward. A Sartorial disaster, his clothes look like Goodwill rejects from the sixties. His hair needs a hot bath. His singing is like Leonard Cohen’s as it might sound in The Upside Down, which is to say it’s near perfect in spite of itself.

As colorful and character-drenched as his most obvious features are, they say little about the man. They provide cerebrally irreverent Gregg Turkington with cover for his subversive take on contemporary culture and values. If you don’t laugh at your life, you’re not listening. “Some might say this is a lowbrow show,” Turkington says. “but when I’m making doo doo jokes or jokes about Elton John, it's all in service of, you know, making larger points.”

He acknowledges that his Hamburger character requires a little more intellectual commitment than the average club comic. But his fans also expect more music. Turkington’s been recording for Drag City’s venerable indie record label for more than twenty years, from the moment he overthrew youthful punk immersion for fanzine-level commitment to deeply sincere emotional expression and top shelf musicianship.

“It’s got nothing to say,” says Turkington of current punk music. Perhaps it’s enough to say it’s just another genre, now. “I feel like punk became more regimented than just about any other style of music. Now, my favorite stuff to listen to is really well-produced pop records from the sixties. I just want something with some personality.”

Hamburger’s musical performance owes roughly 20% to Tiny Tim and another 20% to Steve Allen. The music, though, is splendid. Drag City, released his 12th record, Still Dwelling, a year ago in all formats. It inspired half a dozen visual artists around the world to create videos for it; four are now available online, including one animation and a puppet show.

“When Still Dwelling came out, people said the music is incredible because of the musicianship,” Turkington says, Songs include compositions by Paul Simon, Paul McCartney, Mark Eitzel and Nancy Wilson. Instruments include a sitar, a saw and a clarinet. Jack Black contributes vocals.
“But I’ve got people saying, ‘Yeah, but I don’t know about the vocals.’ I’m thinking 95% of the songs on the charts are autotuned. That sounds like robotic voices.” No one would confuse Turkington or and Hamburger with robots, though. In fact, they are sui generis.

Turkington appears as Hamburger at 191 Toole on Friday, Jan. 17. Tickets are $20 and $25, including fees, at rialtotheatre.com

Funnier than he looks

John Green was named “Best of the Fest” at the Burbank comedy festival, no mean feat in metropolitan area where you can’t swing a blunt without a half-dozen comics taking a hit.
Green was a long time coming back to his childhood dream of standup notoriety. He studied music through school, then trod the path to success as a Phoenix-area businessman. In his ‘30s, he fell in love with improv. First as a fan, then as a talented improviser, he honed the skills and, even more, the confidence to face an audience alone, even with what he calls his “resting murder face”.

Now Green’s set occasionally includes a song improvised at an audience member’s request to embarrass their friend or mate. Mainly, though, Green’s comedy backbone is good, clean fun. He says in his bio, “There seems to be a stigma about calling yourself a ‘clean’ comic, almost like you’re not a true artist. My only mission with comedy is to make people laugh and feel good about laughing.”

Green is featured at The O at 8 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 18. Reservations are $7, $5 in advance via Eventbrite.

MLK Weekend reminder

John Roy’s Jesuit father and psychotherapist mom may have had higher aspirations for him than to be a standup comedian. Alas for them, he absorbed the influence of their diverse, artsy and gritty Rogers Park, Chicago, neighborhood. It gave him the breezy confidence and wide-ranging comic flair that made him champion of CBS’s 2003 Star Search and led to appearances on The Tonight Show, Craig Ferguson, Last Comic Standing and Conan. He’s also performed regularly on cable network TV, independent comedy shows and satellite radio via his record, Dressed for Recess.”

Roy appears at Laffs Comedy Caffe on Friday at 8 and 10:30 p.m., Saturday at 7 and 9:30 p.m., And Sunday at 7 p.m. Reservations are $12.50 and $17.50 via laffstucson.com.

More Laughs!

Friday, Jan. 17, long-form improv with TIM Teachers Lounge and The Flower Boys at 7:30 p.m. ($5,) and The Soapbox featuring Bryan Sanders (flag shirt guy)($7) at 9 p.m., at Tucson Improv Movement (TIM) (both shows $10). Family-friendly improv with Not Burnt Out Just Unscrewed (NBOJU) at 7:30 p.m., Unscrewed Theatre ($5 kids and $8 adults).

Saturday, Jan. 18, Improv with The Ugly Sweater Show and Harold Alpha at 7:30 p.m., and another Ugly Sweater Show with The Dating Scene at 9 p.m., TIM ($5). Family-friendly improv with Not Burnt Out Just Unscrewed (NBOJU) at 7:30 p.m., and Unscrewed Double Feature at 9 p.m., Unscrewed Theater ($5 and $8)

Monday, Jan. 20, standup showcase Brew Ha Ha features Leland Long, Jimmy Callaway, Monte Benjamin and Stephanie Lyonga at Borderlands Brewing at 8 p.m., $5.

Wednesday, Jan. 22, standup with Tom Briscoe at the Desert View Performing Arts Center at 7P30 p.m. ($22)

Thursday, Jan. 23, standup showcase Casa de Comedy is at Casa Marana at 8 p.m., free.

Free Open Mics

Sunday, Jan. 19, 6:30 p.m., The O, and 8 p.m., Chuckleheads in Bisbee.
Monday, Jan. 20, 7 p.m., Comedy at the Wench, The Surly Wench Pub.
Tuesday, Jan. 21, 6:45 p.m., Neighborhood Comedy at The Music Box Lounge.
Weds, Jan. 22, 7 p.m., The Screening Room
Thursday, Jan. 23, 8 p.m., Laffs Comedy Caffe and 8:30 p.m., Rockabilly Grill.

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Thursday, January 9, 2020

Laughing Stock: Fringy, sketchy and forward-looking

Posted By on Thu, Jan 9, 2020 at 1:00 AM

Are the Cosmonauts fighting over who will ride shotgun on the drive from Phoenix to the Tucson Fringe Festival? - THE COSMONAUTS ON FACEBOOK
  • The Cosmonauts on Facebook
  • Are the Cosmonauts fighting over who will ride shotgun on the drive from Phoenix to the Tucson Fringe Festival?
Funny at the Fringe

By definition, Fringe Fest performers don’t fit any category, but many of them are comedy acts, and this year’s Tucson Fringe Festival, January 9 through 11, features more than most.

“There's so much comedy!!!” fest honcho Maryann Green texted us. "’<=2’, (less than or equal to two) is sketch comedy from the directors of the Elgin Fringe Festival. 'How To Contract Lycanthropy' is dry humor from award-winning Minneapolis Fringe Festival artist Matthew Kessen. 'Sexology the Musical' promises to be a rockin’ good time.” And Green is just getting started.

Tucson Fringe Fest is popular for a wide range of great, little-known talent. Green and her team see, screen and invite plenty of fringe acts they know will find a Tucson audience. But their strategy of short shows and low prices all but guarantees a good time. If you don’t love the show you’re seeing, there’s another within the hour that could blow you away.

Admission to the fest is $3 for a button. Shows are $10 each, but passes are available for two, five or eight shows each for $18 to $64. Tickets and details of all the shows are at shop.tucsonfringe.org.

Twenty-two shows will be performed more than 50 times in five venues that are less than a mile apart downtown. They include The Screening Room, Steinfeld Warehouse, StudioONE, the Cabaret Theatre at the Temple of Music and Art and The Circus Academy.

Much excitement around this year’s fest is about the 16 acts appearing for the first time, including Phoenix sketch comedy team The Cosmonauts. The eight-year-old ensemble has performed in multiple festivals. They suggest that the audience think of them “like Saturday Night Live, but R-rated”

Green continues, “Space Force is a political farce.” And then she touches on the one we want to see most: “‘Silly Woman’ is about two young comedians discovering the comedy genius of funny females of the past, like Phyllis Diller and Lucille Ball. ‘Tammy's Bachelorette’ is an interactive comedy romp through a ‘Whiskey Tango’ wedding.” We think she means “white trash,” but she wouldn’t ever punch down.

“(Longtime local favorite) Tom Potter is doing a set he calls ‘The History of American Musical Humor’," she says, comparing him, a little hesitantly, to Dr. Demento. We get that one! He’ll have funny lyrics to songs we recognize.

"’What Will You’, Green says,"is a modern queer take on Shakespeare’s comedy, Twelfth Night, and, finally, ‘You've Got To Be Kidding Me’ is a live comedy podcast about carrying the emotional baggage of childhood."

If you’re reading this on Thursday, you can head over to Café Passé for a preview party from 6 to 9 p.m. Fest acts perform two-minute samples of their sets, and audience members win raffles and prizes.

Martin Luther King Day weekend

There is so much comedy headed your way, you should just block out the next two weekends. Upcoming we have an impossible choice among three top comedians plus the usual great improv shows. And from Jan. 25 through Feb. 1, every night has at least one and up to eight shows for the Tucson Comedy Crawl. It’s more than two-dozen shows, produced by and with members of Tucson’s burgeoning comedy scene, and it’s all sponsored by Tucson Weekly and Tucson Local Media.

Here’s a head start on next weekend, though, with comedy booked especially for Martin Luther King Weekend.

Matt Kearney’s LOL Jam returns to The Viscount Suites at 8 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 18. Tickets are $15, or $20 for VIP seating, via grownsexy.ticketleap.com. Rob Rodriguez hosts, reminding us once again that we don't see him often enough in Tucson. The Lineup includes BET Allstar Drew Frazer, Kool Bubba Ice and local newcomer Janize.

Laffs Comedy Caffé hosts Jon Roy for five shows the same weekend. Clever and clean, with a megawatt resume, Roy riffs like a funny best friend on cultural anomalies, dilemmas of childhood, racial tolerance and the chaos that is contemporary media. His jokes can land with impressions or inspire a song. Jimmy Calloway features. Details and tickets are at laffstucson.com/coming-soon.html.

More Comedy

Friday, Jan. 10: Standup with Tyler Boeh featuring Jeff Horste at 8 and 10:30 p.m., Laffs Comedy Caffe ($12.50 and $17.50). Improv Happy Hour at 7:30 p.m. ($5) and The Soapbox at 9 p.m. ($7) at TIM Comedy Theatre (TIM)($10 for both shows. All shows $2 off with Cat Card). Family-friendly improv with Not Burnt Out Just Unscrewed (NBOJU) at 7:30 p.m. and Freeform Friday at 9 p.m., Unscrewed Theater ($5 and $8).

Saturday, Jan. 11: Standup with Phoenix prop comedian, Dan Hanson, featuring local favorite Josiah Osego opening and Nick Chant as host at 8 p.m., The O ($7 door; $10 Eventbrite. Tyler Boeh featuring Jeff Horste at 7 and 9:30 p.m., Laffs Comedy Caffe ($12.50 and $17.50). Kids improv, F.O.M.P. (Friends of Make Pretends) at 2 p.m. at TIM Comedy Theatre ($5) Improv at 7:30 and 9 p.m. at TIM ($7, both shows for $10, $2 off with Cat Card). Improv with Unscrewed Family Hour at 6 p.m., Family Friendly NBOJU at 7:30 p.m., and NBOJU: Uncensored at 9 p.m., Unscrewed Theater ($5 and $8).

Free Open Mics

Sunday, Jan. 12, 6:30 p.m., The O, and 8 p.m., Chuckleheads in Bisbee.
Monday, Jan. 13, 7 p.m., Comedy at the Wench, The Surly Wench Pub.
Tuesday, Jan. 14, 6:45 p.m., Neighborhood Comedy, The Music Box Lounge.
Wednesday, Jan. 15, 7 p.m., The Screening Room and 8:30 p.m., The Mint.
Thursday, Jan 16. 8 p.m., Laffs Comedy Caffe and 8:30 p.m., Rockabilly Grill.

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Friday, December 20, 2019

The Predatory History Of For-Profit Colleges

Posted By on Fri, Dec 20, 2019 at 1:49 PM

COURTESY OF BIGSTOCK
  • Courtesy of BigStock

It needs to be written in big, bold, flashing red neon letters: Beware of For-Profit Education. Kindergarten through college, all of it. If for-profit education is not banned outright, then we need to regulate and enforce the hell out of it.

Case in point: the for-profit college industry.

For-profit colleges have taken some recent, well deserved hits after decades of swindling their students. Just this month, the University of Phoenix was fined $191 million for its misleading advertising and predatory recruiting tactics. The 105-campus, for-profit Corinthian College chain dissolved in 2015 under the weight of its own misdeeds.

The Obama administration began the latest attempts to clamp down on the worst excesses of the industry — there were a number of earlier attempts — and set about forgiving college loans for students who were bilked by for-profit colleges. The Never-Obama Trump administration has reversed many of the previous administration's regulatory measures, while Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos was held in contempt of court for accidentally-on-purpose bungling the process of loan forgiveness.

Not many people were talking about the sins of the for-profit college industry when I began blogging about them a decade ago, beginning with a piece I wrote in November 2009, For profit colleges need oversight as well. At the time I thought I was being prescient. I thought I was ahead of the curve. It turns out I was actually three decades behind, or 60 years behind if you go back to the genesis of the problem at the end of World War II.

Here is a brief history of the abuses of for-profit higher education and ongoing, bipartisan attempts to fix the unintended consequences of well-meaning legislation which allowed the industry to run roughshod over its customers, followed by the George W. Bush administration's intentional reversal of anti-profiteering regulations so it could run rampant once again. I'm drawing most of the information from a long, detailed history contained in a report by the Century Foundation.

For-profit education scams date back to the 1944 GI Bill, which gave returning soldiers the opportunity to enroll in colleges and training programs. Unscrupulous entrepreneurs took advantage of the easy government money and offered bogus programs to GIs. Investigative reports exposed the fraud as early as 1946 in articles like the Saturday Evening Post's “Are We Making a Bum Out of GI Joe?” Congress passed a series of laws to correct the abuses beginning in 1948 and continuing through the 1950s.

In the 1960s, programs which were part of President Lyndon Johnson's War of Poverty opened new opportunities for scam artists to create fraudulent training programs. In 1971, Carl Bernstein, a few years before he and Bob Woodward began on their famous reporting on the Watergate break-in and its aftermath, wrote a series of articles about abuses at trade schools in Washington DC. Other investigative articles followed in other areas of the country. As a result, the office of Health Education and Welfare imposed new restrictions.

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Thursday, December 12, 2019

What Will It Take For Arizona's Education Funding to Catch Up With Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and That Distant Star, West Virginia?

Posted By on Thu, Dec 12, 2019 at 1:43 PM

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The next Arizona legislative session is on the horizon. Legislators are dropping bills ranging from the sublime — another attempt at ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment — to the ridiculous — prohibiting teachers from discussing the environment from an economic or social perspective.

It's never too early to talk about next year's K-12 education funding, even though the budget is usually the last thing the legislature votes on. So let's talk about it.

When I began blogging in 2008, I wrote a post, We’re Number One!.. In Lowest Per-Student School Spending. It was based on an article in the Star which cited a study putting Arizona at the bottom of the nation in per-student spending.

Ten years later, in 2018, we spent a thousand dollars less per student than in 2008 when you adjust for inflation. To get back to 2008's lowest-in-the-nation levels would have taken an additional billion dollars. We caught up a little this past legislative session thanks to pressure from the #RedforEd movement, but not much. We're still spending significantly less per student than we did a decade ago.

According to the state rankings for 2017-18 from the National Education Association, Arizona's per-student funding is $8,123. It's better than Utah and Idaho, but that's it. We're third from the bottom. The national average is $12,920, half again as much as we spend. You might find different figures elsewhere depending on how the numbers are crunched, but the NEA's are in the same ballpark as most other sources, and since it uses a consistent methodology across the country, we can compare spending state to state.

We have about a million students in our district and charter schools, which means it takes a billion dollars to add a thousand dollars per student. Arizona is $4,800 below the national average, so just to be average, we would have to spend another $4.8 billion a year.

It's true, Arizona isn't a rich state. It's possible average is more than we can manage. Maybe third from the bottom is the best we can do.

Or maybe not. I looked at what four southern states spend per student: Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and West Virginia. All four states have a median income about $10,000 lower than Arizona's. According to a listing of states from richest to poorest, they rank among the five poorest states, while Arizona comes in at 27. Yet all four states have figured out how to spend significantly more per student than Arizona, between a thousand and four-and-a-half thousand more.

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Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Where Have All The Teachers Gone? (Long Time Passing)

Posted By on Wed, Dec 4, 2019 at 2:52 PM

COURTESY OF BIGSTOCK
  • Courtesy of BigStock

A long time has passed since my first year of teaching. Fifty years ago this September I began my 30-plus year career as a high school teacher. (Yes, I'm that old.) I taught in a one-high-school district outside of Riverside, California. The district wasn't my first choice, but it was the only job I was offered. Teaching jobs were scarce.

The next year I applied for a job in the Portland, Oregon, area. Again, only one district offered me a job, which I took. I stayed there until I retired in 2003.

I was an English teacher, which was a liability. Too many prospective English teachers were chasing too few jobs. But the jobs were there if you looked. By the time I had been teaching a few years, though, college education profs were warning their students, if you're planning to get a credential in English or social studies, you could be in trouble. Openings in those areas were few and far between. It would be a good idea, students were told, to get a second credential in another area to hedge your bets. People who could teach math, science and special education were in demand, not English and social studies teachers.

Over the years, I may have had some colleagues who didn't have traditional teaching credentials. If so, I don't remember them, and I'm sure they weren't in the English department. I can say with reasonable certainty, no classrooms in schools where I taught had full time substitutes. There were plenty of credentialed teachers to go around.

Today, too many Arizona teachers lack a teaching credential. Too many classes are being managed by full time substitutes. And Arizona is hardly alone. The same is true in other states.

Where have all the teachers gone?

I kept my 1969 contract, my version of taping the first dollar I made to the wall. My salary was $7,140. That's in 1969 dollars, of course. A 1969 dollar would be worth a little more than seven dollars today. So figuring for inflation, my first year salary was the equivalent of $50,000 today.

Today's average starting salary in Arizona is in the $35,000 range.

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DO(OM) Yoga

Slow & low will be the tempo in this yin-based yoga class, inspired by a doom metal… More

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