Letters

From the week of December 612, 2001

Emotionally charged issues like this need the objective balance of accurate reporting more than ever. It's too bad the facts of the matter couldn't be brought to the public's attention at the appropriate time -- before the salt plant project was canceled.

By the way, you might ask Kristi Dempsey to reread the articles. It may point out to her the difference between what is important as opposed to merely sensational. Her hissy fit with Howard Seftel was pointless, stupid and way below the standards of your usually excellent reportage. Remember, you are the guys who uncovered the Baptist Foundation scandal. Keep up the good work.

Jack Katz
Mesa

Crying foul: In my review of "Crying Whales" and "The New Economy," I am astounded by the gross inaccuracies and misrepresentations that they present about the story behind the "Don't Buy It" campaign. As a staff member for the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) who worked closely on this campaign, I find that the article reads like a fictional tale that portrays Mitsubishi -- one of the world's wealthiest companies -- as the sympathetic protagonist.

In truth, Mitsubishi and the Mexican government at the time sought to build a saltworks plant twice the size of Washington, D.C., within a UNESCO World Heritage site that has four levels of legal protection from development. In 1994, Mexican environmental groups banded together to form Grupo de los Cien (Group of 100) in order to oppose the development of the saltworks plant in Laguna San Ignacio. Their objectives were simple: Stop the plant from being developed and preserve the quality of life in the region. Unlike the authors' contention, the gray whales were never the sole issue.

With limited resources to battle the mammoth Mitsubishi, the coalition recruited IFAW and other international NGOs to join the campaign. IFAW's involvement made possible the development and incorporation of objective science and research into the debate, by documenting the fragile nature of the marine habitat threatened by the construction of the saltworks plant. Curiously, while your article maintains that science did not prevail, Mitsubishi never released an environmental impact assessment on which it spent $2 million. Why not?

Other key facts are grossly omitted. While the authors portray the environmental performance of the Mitsubishi plant in Guerrero Negro in Laguna Ojo de Liebre as a rationale for a similar plant in Laguna San Ignacio, they omit Guerrero Negro's documented record of 290 environmental violations. Similarly, the authors' contention that no sea turtles were harmed by this facility is contradicted by the Mexican attorney general's confirmation of the deaths of 94 protected and endangered black sea turtles from exposure to toxic brine.

Lastly, far from abandoning local communities that so courageously opposed this development, IFAW has worked intensely with Mexican environmental groups and the Mexican government to establish a $2 million development fund for the local communities. Given the close working relationship we maintained with the local communities to this day, we find this distortion particularly vexing.

We at IFAW are proud of the role we played in preserving the pristine habitat of Laguna San Ignacio.

Helen Chin, acting deputy director
Wildlife and Habitat Program
International Fund for Animal Welfare

Budget Blues

Privatize the system: Arizona's budget problem can be solved without damaging programs, rescinding employee raises, using financial gimmickry, closing loopholes, borrowing or raising taxes ("Fiscal Fissure," John Dougherty, November 29). Instead, legislators should mandate performance improvements used by large, successful private organizations.

The first action the Legislature should take is to mandate annual 6 percent to 7 percent overall cost/service-unit reductions in personnel and procurement. Industry has demonstrated that this is achievable through innovation, restructuring, ending/replacing ineffective programs, taking advantage of hiring freezes, and improved matching of staff to workload. Potential annual savings: up to $400 million.

The second action required is to take advantage of three major improvement opportunities within education.

• Reduce administrative/overhead costs. Federal data reveal that the percentage of current Arizona education spending reaching the classroom is tied for second lowest in the nation. Raising it to the leader's (Maine) level would save about $400 million a year. Meanwhile, Edison Schools Inc. has cut administrative costs by 10 percent and plans another 10 percent reduction within two years. If Arizona emulated Edison, savings could be doubled.

Potential annual savings: up to $800 million, shared with local school districts.

• Improve incentives for parents to use cheaper charter, private and home-schooling alternatives. Each performs at least as well as public schools yet receives limited or no state support. Providing more equitable state financial support for these alternatives would both improve parent involvement (a key component of pupil achievement) and reduce spending.

Potential annual savings: up to $500 million, again shared with local school districts.

• Reduce college/university waste. According to one expert researcher: "On average, the economy generates only about half as many college-level jobs for the number of people we graduate, and only about half who begin college graduate. . . . So the actual four-year college success rate is one out of four . . . a pretty dismal return on the taxpayers' investment."

Potential annual savings: up to $200 million, shared with community-college districts.

The preceding total almost $2 billion a year, more than enough to solve the state's budget problem -- even after sharing the benefits with other political units.

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