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by 02.02.2011
Posted In: News, Congress, Republicans at 02:42 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)
 
 
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John Boehner, Tabloid Cover Boy

Less than a month after he was sworn into office as House Speaker, the long-rumored extramarital affairs of John Boehner have landed him on the cover of the National Enquirer.

Boehner is featured on the bottom-right corner of the cover of the issue that's on sale nationwide Thursday. A photo of Boehner's face is featured next to the headline, “Speaker of the House John Boehner Accused in Sex Probe! (Details inside).”

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by German Lopez 09.20.2012
Posted In: Courts, News, Business at 12:40 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
xlcservices

Procter & Gamble Sued for Religious Discrimination

P&G and contractor allegedly fired Muslim worker who was humiliated by coworker

Two Cincinnati-based companies are facing a lawsuit over the termination of a former Muslim worker. The lawsuit, filed in an North Carolina court Monday, claims a woman named Safa Elhassan was fired from Procter & Gamble facilities after facing discrimination in the workplace.

Elhassan worked for P&G through XLC Services, a Cincinnati-based company that provides manufacturing services and warehouse management to other companies, at P&G facilities in Guilford County, N.C. 

The lawsuit charges P&G and XLC with religious harassment, religious discrimination, failing to accommodate after religious discrimination in the workplace, national origin discrimination, sexual discrimination, two counts of retaliation, negligence, unfair and deceptive trade practices, assault, battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The lawsuit tells the story that led to the charges as follows: Elhassan, who wears a hijab and wedding ring for religious reasons, was employed at P&G’s facilities through XLC between 2004 and Sept. 16, 2011. During her employment, Elhassan followed P&G rules and regulations and kept “a performance record which was satisfactory or better.”

However, Elhassan was unaware of a company policy that banned jewelry in the workplace, even jewelry of religious significance. This policy was mostly not a problem for Elhassan because, as the lawsuit claims, “Other employees of different religions and national origins routinely wear jewelry under clothing and/or protective wear and are not punished or searched.”

That is until a woman named Ernestine Wilson allegedly approached Elhassan, forcibly searched Elhassan for her wedding ring and removed Elhassan’s hijab in front of coworkers, including men, according to the suit. Under Islam’s rules, a woman uses a hijab, which is a religious head and neck wrap, to maintain sexual modesty, and being exposed without a hijab to men who are not family is a major offense and source of humiliation.

Elhassan reported the forced search to higher-ups at XLC. After a few meetings, Wilson provided an apology, according to the lawsuit, but Elhassan claimed the apology was insincere because Wilson kept telling coworkers that she hoped Elhassan was fired. After Elhassan refused to accept the apology, she was suspended then fired, allegedly under the orders of P&G.

The lawsuit suggests that Wilson's actions were potentially connected to another workplace incident. The lawsuit says Elhassan was sexually harassed in the past by George (no last name provided), a man with whom Wilson was allegedly “engaged in a friendly, physical, and/or romantic relationship." Elhassan reported the incident, which got George fired. The lawsuit claims Wilson’s actions were in retaliation to George’s termination.

Since Wilson did work for P&G through XLC, Elhassan blames both P&G and XLC for the damages. The lawsuit claims she was unfairly fired in retaliation for not accepting Wilson’s apology. It also alleges that XLC forced Elhassan to sign a document she did not understand upon her termination without her lawyer present, even though Elhassan asked to have her lawyer read the document. The document, which P&G officials were supposedly aware of, allegedly sought to release P&G and XLC of any wrongdoing related to the termination.

Mary Ralles, spokesperson for P&G, responded to the lawsuit in an email: “As a matter of company policy, we do not comment on pending litigation, but I did want to make one correction. The individual was not (or ever) a P&G employee.”

The distinction Ralles made is that Elhassan was not officially employed by P&G, but she did work for P&G through her employment at XLC.

XLC could not be immediately reached for comment. This story will be updated if a comment becomes available.

 
 
by 01.17.2009
Posted In: 2008 Election, News at 09:41 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)
 
 

More Inauguration Coverage and Profiteering

CityBeat's inauguration page now includes a link to our alt weekly colleagues in D.C., the Washington City Paper, which features a huge inauguration guide for the millions of people already descending on their city. City Paper staffers are sending out constant updates on Twitter and a group blog, Inbloguration, including this multimedia gem from about an hour ago: "Here's a semi-live feed from my basement in Petworth, where whiskey-swilling guests collaborated on an unconscionably patriotic version of 'The Weight.' "

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by German Lopez 08.08.2012
Posted In: News, Human Rights, Sex at 03:29 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
mikedewine

Ohio AG Releases Disturbing Human Trafficking Report

Most common buyers of trafficking victims were law enforcement

The Ohio Attorney General’s office today released a report on human trafficking in Ohio which found that out of 328 self-identified human trafficking victims, more than one-third were trafficked while they were minors.

The victims were taken from all around Ohio, including Cincinnati. The report found that 63 percent of the victims had run away from home at least once, 59 percent reported having friends involved in selling, 47 percent were raped more than a year before being trafficked and 44 percent reported to be victims of child abuse.

In Cincinnati, the most common risk factors reported were dropping out of school and having an older boyfriend. Rape was third with 40 percent of Cincinnati victims reporting being raped.

In all of Ohio, the most common buyers for victims were law enforcement. Businessmen and drug dealers were second and third, respectively. In Cincinnati, the most common buyers were drug dealers, followed by factory workers, then truckers.

The report highlights the severity of human trafficking in Ohio. A 2010 report by the same commission found that 1,000 American-born youth had been trafficked in Ohio over the course of the year, and as many as 3,000 American-born youth in Ohio were at risk for trafficking.

Since the 2010 report, Gov. John Kasich has signed H.B. 262 into law, which outlaws human trafficking and enforces tougher rules.

However, the commission does not believe current law is enough, and it’s pushing for more rules against human trafficking. The new rules would identify trafficking as child abuse, place a focus on arresting and convicting buyers and invest in responding to adult sex trafficking. The commission also wants a better response to youth runaways, and it wants to establish better protocols for dealing with at-risk youth, especially in correspondence with school officials.

When contacted by CityBeat, the Ohio Attorney General’s office said they have no suggestions to specifically deal with law enforcement officials, which topped the list of buyers, who are involved in human trafficking.

The report was issued by the Attorney General’s Human Trafficking Commission. It was authored by commission member Celia Williamson, who is also a professor at the University of Toledo. The full report can be found here.

 
 
by German Lopez 11.07.2012
Posted In: 2012 Election, News, Voting at 01:08 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
barack obama 2

Election Results 2012

Democrats, progressives make gains all around nation

A version of this article was originally published in Morning News and Stuff, but to wrap up this year's overly long election coverage, we figured it would be a good idea to republish the results as a standalone article. You're welcome!

The election is finally over. All election results for Ohio can be viewed at the secretary of state's website. All results for Hamilton County can be viewed at the Hamilton County Board of Elections website.

President Barack Obama defeated Mitt Romney in what can only be called an electoral college landslide. He won every single “battleground state” on CNN’s electoral map with the current exception of Florida, although the current lead and remaining demographics to be counted will likely tilt Florida to Obama. Despite the insistence of conservatives and mainstream media pundits, models like FiveThirtyEight that predicted a big Obama win were entirely accurate.

In the U.S. Senate race, Democratic incumbent Sherrod Brown also handily beat Republican challenger Josh Mandel. CityBeat covered the policy and campaign differences between the two candidates in coverage of the first, second and third debate and a cover story.

For the First U.S. Congressional District, Republican incumbent Steve Chabot beat Democratic challenger Jeff Sinnard.

The big takeaway from election night at a federal level: Billions of dollars spent on campaigns later, the U.S. House of Representatives remains in Republican hands, the U.S. Senate remains in Democratic hands and the White House remains in Democratic hands. In other words, billions of dollars were spent to change almost nothing.

At the state level, Issue 1, which called for a constitutional convention, lost. But Issue 2, which was an attempt at redistricting reform, lost as well. CityBeat covered the rise and details of Issue 2 in a story and commentary.

In the state’s legislature races, incumbents swept. Republican Bill Seitz beat Democrat Richard Luken for the eighth district of the Ohio Senate. Republican Peter Stautberg beat Democrat Nathan Wissman for the 27th district of the Ohio House. Democrat Connie Pillich beat Republican Mike Wilson for the 28th district of the Ohio House. Republican Louis Blessing beat Democrat Hubert Brown for the 29th district of the Ohio House. Republican Lou Terhar beat Democrat Steven Newsome for the 30th district of the Ohio House. Democrat Denise Driehaus beat Republican Michael Gabbard for the 31st district of the Ohio House. Democrat Dale Mallory beat Republican Ron Mosby for the 32nd district of the Ohio House. Democrat Alicia Reece beat Republican Tom Bryan for the 33rd district of the Ohio House. 

For the Ohio Supreme Court, Republican Terrence O’Donnell kept his seat against Mike Skindell. But Democrat William O’Neill beat Republican incumbent Robert Cupp, and Republican Sharon Kennedy beat Democratic incumbent Yvette Brown.

At the local level, Issue 4, which gives City Council four-year terms, was approved. Issue 42, which renewed a tax levy for Cincinnati Public Schools, passed. Issue 50, a tax levy for senior health services, was approved. Issue 51, a tax levy for mental health services, was approved. 

In Hamilton County offices, things got a bit more blue overall. Republican incumbent Joe Deters beat Democrat Janaya Trotter for the prosecutor attorney’s office. Democrat Pam Thomas beat Republican incumbent Tracy Winkler for the office of the clerk of the court of common pleas. Democrat Jim Neil beat Republican Sean Donovan for the sheriff's office. Democratic incumbent Wayne Coates beat Republican Wayne Lippert for the county recorder's office. Republican incumbent Robert Goering barely beat Democrat Jeff Cramerding for the county treasurer's office. Democratic incumbent Lakshmi Sammarco beat Republican Pete Kambelos for the county coroner's office.

In the lower courts, Republican incumbent Pat Fischer beat Democrat Martha Good and Republican Pat DeWine beat Democrat Bruce Whitman for the First District Court of Appeals. Democratic incumbent Nadine Allen and Republican Leslie Ghiz beat Democrat Stephen Black and Republican Heather Russel for the court of common pleas.

In other states, gay marriage and marijuana were legalized. Minnesota voted against a same-sex marriage ban. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin also became the first openly gay candidate to win election for the U.S. Senate. Overall, the night was a big win for progressives all around the country.

 
 
by German Lopez 10.05.2012
Posted In: Prisons, News, Government at 12:10 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
Liberty for Sale

Private Prison Violates State Rules

Audit finds Northeast Ohio prison in compliance with only two-thirds of state standards

A recent audit of the Ohio prison bought by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) found the private prison is only meeting 66.7 percent of the state’s standards. The report found a total of 47 violations in the CCA-owned prison, which the state government sold to CCA last year as part of a privatization push set out in Ohio’s 2012-13 budget.

The news comes slightly more than two weeks after CityBeat published a story looking at the many problems presented by Ohio’s policy to privatize prisons (“Liberty for Sale,” issue of Sept. 19).

“It was apparent throughout certain departments that DRC policy and procedure is not being followed,” the audit said. “Staff was interviewed and some stated they are not sure what to do because of the confusion between CCA policy and DRC policy. Some staff expressed safety concerns due to low staffing numbers and not having enough coverage. Other staff stated that there is increased confusion due to all the staffing transitions.”

The report says “there has been a big staff turnover,” and only one staff person was properly trained to meet Ohio Risk Assessment System standards. The audit found that a workplace violence liaison wasn’t appointed or trained. Inmates complained they felt unsafe and that staff “had their hands tied’” and “had little control over some situations.”

The local fire plan had no specific steps to release inmates from locked areas in case of emergency, and local employees said “they had no idea what they should do” in case of a fire emergency.

The audit also found all housing units provided less than the required 25 square feet on unencumbered space per occupant. It found single watch cells held two prisoners with some sleeping on the floor, and some triple-bunked cells had a third inmate sleeping on a mattress on the floor. 

Searches in general seemed to be a problem for CCA. Documentation showed that contraband searches were only done 16 days in August. When the searches were done, the contraband was not properly processed to the vault and was sometimes left in desks. The private prison also could not provide documentation that proved executive staff were conducting weekly rounds to informally observe living and working conditions among inmates and staff.

These findings, although major, are only the tip of the iceberg: Inmates claimed laundry and cell cleaning services were not provided and CCA could not prove otherwise, recreation time was not always allowed five times a week in segregation as required, food quality and sanitization was not up to standards, infirmary patients were “not seen timely,” patients’ doctor appointments were often delayed with follow-ups rarely occurring, the facility had no written confined space program, the health care administrator could not explain or show an overall plan and nursing competency evaluations were not completed before the audit was conducted. Many more issues were found as well.

The one bright spot in the report is ODRC found staff to be “very professional, friendly and helpful during the audit.” Inmates were also “dressed appropriately and found to be wearing their identification badges.”

The findings shine some light into why ODRC Director Gary Mohr might have decided to stop privatizing Ohio’s prisons. On Sept. 25 — the same day the audit was mailed to Mohr’s office — Mohr announced his department would focus on sentencing reforms to bring down recidivism instead of saving costs by privatizing more prisons. The news came during the week CityBeat’s cover story on private prisons was in stands.

Mohr is one of many in Gov. John Kasich’s administration to have previous connections to CCA. He advised the private prison company “in areas of staff leadership, and development and implementing unit management,” according to the ODRC website. Donald Thibaut, Kasich’s former chief of staff and close friend, now lobbies for CCA. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine also helped CCA reopen its Youngstown facility in 2004 with a federal contract during his term as U.S. senator.

The report confirms a lot of what CityBeat found in its in-depth look at private prisons. The studies cited in CityBeat’s Sept. 17 story — including research by the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio — found multiple issues in private prisons’ standards around the country. One study by George Washington University found private prisons have a 50 percent higher rate of inmate-on-staff assault and a 66 percent higher rate of inmate-on-inmate assault. The troubling numbers were attributed to lower standards at private prisons that keep costs low and profits high.

The lower standards are coupled with a private prison’s need to house as many inmates as possible, contrary to public interests of keeping re-entry to prisons low.

“It doesn’t make any difference to them whether or not a person eventually integrates back into society,” said Mike Brickner, communications and public policy director at ACLU. “Looking from a cynical approach, it actually helps them if that person (is convicted again) because they come back into their prison and they get money off them again.”

Poor living and health standards were also found in a Youngstown prison held by CCA in the 1990s. In 1997, the Youngstown prison was opened by CCA to house 1,700 of the nation’s most dangerous criminals. Within one year, 20 prisoners were stabbed, two were murdered and six escaped. The ensuing public outrage led to higher standards at the facility. The more stringent rules were credited for leading to the prison’s eventual closing as the facility was quickly made unprofitable for CCA.

Steve Owen, spokesperson for CCA, responded to the audit in a statement: “CCA is taking concrete corrective steps to ensure that this facility meets not only the ODRC's goals but our own high expectations for our facilities. We are working in partnership with the ODRC on a development plan, which will lay out a road map to meet our goals, and our team will meet bi-weekly with ODRC staff and officials until we have this matter resolved.”

 
 
by German Lopez 08.22.2012
Posted In: News, Media Criticism, Education at 11:49 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)
 
 
gregwilliams

Why Did UC’s President Step Down?

Williams out after three years, 'Enquirer' publisher/UC board member doesn't know why

University of Cincinnati President Greg Williams stepped down yesterday. According to reports, Williams walked into a UC Board of Trustees meeting, announced he was resigning effective immediately and left.

Greg Hand, spokesperson for UC, said Williams resigned for “personal reasons.” No further explanation was provided by Williams.

Santa Ono, UC provost, is taking over temporarily as interim president. In a tweet, he promised to give the university 150 percent.

Williams was at UC since 2009. A year after arriving, he introduced his UC2019 plan. The plan seeks to make the university into a top school by 2019. The plan also implied Williams had long-term plans for UC, making his abrupt resignation even stranger.

The Board of Trustees seemed happy with Williams — at least happy enough to give him a raise. On Sept. 20, 2011, the Board gave Williams a $41,000 raise, bringing his salary up to $451,000. He also got a $102,500 bonus.

The news took UC students by surprise. Lane Hart, student body president at UC, told the school's independent student newspaper, The News Record, he was “shocked” when he heard the news. 

To give credit where credit is due, when The Cincinnati Enquirer first reported the story, the newspaper mentioned that Margaret Buchanan, president and publisher at The Enquirer, is on the UC Board of Trustees. However, The Enquirer did not mention asking Buchanan about the resignation — an omission that raised questions for Jim Romenesko, a popular journalism blogger. Since then, The Enquirer emailed Romenesko saying Buchanan did not know any extra information.

Buchanan's ties to local groups the newspaper frequently covers have failed to be disclosed in the past. Previously, CityBeat found in stories related to 3CDC, which Buchanan is also involved in as a member of the executive committee, The Enquirer overwhelmingly failed to report the possible conflict of interest. The newspaper only reported the connection one out of 32 times, although the number could be inflated due to The Enquirer’s system of posting duplicate articles. In one particular story, The Enquirer praised 3CDC but failed to bring up Buchanan’s role overseeing publicity and marketing there.

 
 
by Kevin Osborne 12.09.2011
Posted In: News, Media, Financial Crisis, Business at 02:05 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
metromix

More Metromix Outlets Close

The Denver Post reported Thursday that Metromix, a series of entertainment websites owned by Enquirer parent Gannett Co., is closing its localized websites in seven cities.

Metromix is closing its website operations in Denver, Atlanta, Cleveland, Minneapolis, St. Louis, Tampa and Washington, D.C. Each of the markets is where Gannett owns a television station but not a newspaper.

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by Hannah McCartney 05.23.2012
Posted In: State Legislature, News at 10:30 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)
 
 
ohio-no-smoking_sign

Ohio Supreme Court Rules Smoking Ban Constitutional

Judge rejects Columbus restaurant's argument that ban is "oppressive"

Since 2006, the Ohio Smoke-Free Workplace Act has banned indoor smoking at public establishments and places of employment, making Ohio the first Midwestern state to enact a state-wide ban. Despite controversy and contestment, that ban will continue to be enforced statewide.

The owner of Zeno's Victorian Village in Columbus who attempted to combat the law was shut down by a unanimous 7-0 vote in the Ohio Supreme Court today, which ruled that the state's six-year smoking ban is constitutional. 

Ohio's ban affects some 280,000 establishments across the state of Ohio, according to the Ohio Department of Health (ODH). 

According to the Supreme Court of Ohio's case summary, Zeno's was cited 10 times for violations of the ban from July 2007 and September 2009, receiving multiple fines, none of which were paid. In protest of the violations, the director of the ODH filed a complaint against Bartec Inc., the corporate entity that owns Zeno's, requesting the bar to pay all outstanding fines.

Bartec and legal representative 1851 Center for Constitutional Law, a nonprofit legal center, asserted that the smoking ban was unconstitutional, a violation of the state's policing powers and  that prohibiting smoking in an adults-only liquor-licensed establishment such as Zeno’s is "unduly oppressive," according to the case summary.

The ban and its enforcement, argued Bartec, constitutes an unlawful taking of property, meaning an improper confiscation of the owner’s control of the indoor air.

"The goal of this legislation is to protect the health of the workers and other citizens of Ohio. ...  It does so by regulating proprietors of public places and places of employment in a minimally invasive way.  We therefore hold that the Smoke Free Act does not constitute a taking,” wrote Justice Lanzinger in her opinion.

In her written opinion, Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger also cited 2002 Supreme Court decision, D.A.B.E., Inc. v. Toledo-Lucas Cty. Bd. of Health:

"We have previously stated that the General Assembly has the authority to enact a public-smoking ban. ... Although the Smoke Free Act was ultimately passed pursuant to a ballot initiative, the voters of Ohio also have a legitimate purpose in protecting the general welfare and health of Ohio citizens and workforce from the dangers of secondhand smoke in enclosed public places.  By requiring that proprietors of public places and places of employment take reasonable steps to prevent smoking on their premises by posting ‘no smoking’ signs, removing ashtrays, and requesting patrons to stop smoking, the act is rationally related to its stated objective.”

According to the Columbus Dispatch, the bar owes the state approximately $33,00 in violation fines, and the state has threatened to seize and foreclose the bar if the fines aren't paid.

See how Ohio's public smoking laws compare to those in other states across the U.S. here.

 
 
by German Lopez 11.06.2012
Posted In: 2012 Election, News, Media Criticism at 12:13 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
enquirer

Enquirer Mistakenly Reports False Voting Results

Apologizes for posting mock election results early at Cincinnati.com

The Cincinnati Enquirer earlier today posted fake data on its website showing Mitt Romney with a 92,000-vote lead in a supposed early vote count in Ohio. Editors later posted an apology, explaining that the election-results chart was created as a template and was inadvertently posted early.

The  Enquirer explained the error: “A Cincinnati.com front-page link to a chart with dummy data, created as a design template for election results, was inadvertently posted early Tuesday morning. It purported to show early voting totals in Ohio counties. However, no votes have been counted yet — by law counting doesn't start until the polls close. Cincinnati.com regrets the error.

The correction came a bit too late, however. Conservative-leaning Drudge Report had already tweeted the false results before the apology was published, and journalism blogger Jim Romenesko called The Enquirer out on it.


Providing voting results before polls close is typically frowned upon in media circles to avoid discouraging voters with potentially disappointing numbers.

 
 

 

 

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by Nick Swartsell 05.04.2015 6 hours ago
Posted In: News at 10:13 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
music hall

Morning News and Stuff

Music Hall renovation effort gets $12 million boost; SCPA admins reassigned, students protest; Hamilton County's income mobility problem

Hey all! Hope your weekend was grand and you did something fun to kick off bike month if you’re into that kind of thing. I am, and I spent some of my weekend biking — for a news story. You’ll find out more about that Wednesday though.

Anyway, here’s what’s up in the news. After a $10 million donation by American Financial Group and Edyth Linder, wife of AFG founder Carl Linder Jr., Music Hall is just $10 million short of the $125 million required for much-needed renovations. The historic Cincinnati landmark, built in 1878, hasn’t seen major work in 40 years and needs interior updates to its acoustics and seating, among other work. Also helping get closer to the goal, businessman Harry Fath and his wife Linda have pledged to boost their donation toward the renovation project from $2 million to $4 million. That’s all huge news for the building, which was cut last summer from a proposed sales tax increase that is currently funding renovation work on Union Terminal in the West End.

• Two top administrators at the School for Creative and Performing Arts will be leaving their posts, Cincinnati Public Schools Superintendent Mary Ronan announced Friday afternoon. Principal Steve Brokamp and Artistic Director Dr. Isadore Rudnick are both being reassigned at the direction of an oversight board for the school. The move comes as CPS searches for an executive director for the magnet school, a hire suggested by an outside consultancy group brought in to assess the school’s management. Students aren’t happy that Rudnick is leaving, protesting outside the building on Central Parkway today and taking to social media with the hashtag #reinstaterudnick.

• As Cincinnati gets more attention from national media outlets for the new restaurants, bars and other attractions springing up downtown and in Over-the-Rhine, more folks have visited our fair city. Specifically, and astounding 24 million folks visited the Queen City in 2013, spending $4.4 billion, according to a new study released by regional tourism groups The Cincinnati USA Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, meetNKY and the Cincinnati USA Regional Tourism Network. That’s a boost of 4 percent per year since 2009. All that money put nearly half a billion dollars into the coffers of the state of Ohio and local governments.

• Here’s a pretty incredible New York Times breakdown of social mobility by county. The interactive map is built on a study by Harvard economists that looks at social mobility in terms of how much income a child will make by age 26 as a function of what county they grow up in. The more likely a low-income child in an area is to add to their household income as they grow up, the more income mobility that area offers. The results: Hamilton County is worse than roughly 75 percent of counties in the United States.

Poor children in Hamilton County can statistically expect to lose $810 from their household income. That’s not evenly distributed, though: Poor males will actually do better over time to the tune of $700, while poor females will do much, much worse — statistically, they can expect to be down almost $2,700 by age 26. Nearby Warren County, however, is much different. There, children can expect to see their household incomes rise by $2,500 by the time they’re 26, and that rise is nearly equal among males and females. The study uses reams of data for every county across the country to paint a big picture of what income mobility looks like in America. The New York Times story is especially neat because not only does it map every county, but it will anticipate, based on your location, which county you’re interested in seeing. When I pulled up the story, it already knew to go straight to Hamilton County. Impressive.

• Finally, the ranks of Republicans officially running for president swelled today as Dr. Ben Carson announced his candidacy. Carson, a renowned and history-making neurosurgeon, has become something of a conservative celebrity in recent years and has garnered millions in funds for his campaign already. Much has been made of the fact that Carson is African American. Conservatives, including Hamilton County GOP Chair Alex Triantafilou, have touted Carson’s campaign as a sign that the GOP is a diverse and accepting party despite "stereotypes" to the contrary. Despite the fanfare, however, many Republicans including Carson himself acknowledge he’s a long-shot. He has little political experience and polls show him trailing other contenders such as former Florida governor Jeb Bush, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. A particular Carson weakness: his tendency to say pretty inflammatory things, including claiming that legalized same-sex marriage will lead to legalized bestiality and calling Obamacare the worst thing to happen in America since slavery. Youch.

That’s it for me. Tweet or email news tips and/or your favorite summer bike routes. I can’t wait to get out and ride some more.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 05.01.2015 3 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:12 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
bullhorn

Morning News and Stuff

Freddie Gray death ruled homicide; Ohio state officials' $9 million planes have wine bottle chillers; Larry Flynt makes his presidential endorsement

Good morning y’all. Like yesterday, I’m once again groggy this morning, but for different reasons that have everything to do with the news. So let’s talk about that.

Last night a group of about 300 gathered outside the Hamilton County Courthouse to protest inequities in the nation’s justice system and to express solidarity with Baltimore, where civil unrest has broken out after the April 18 death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray. Gray died from injuries he sustained while in police custody. The rally and subsequent march through downtown and Over-the-Rhine, which drew more than 100, were peaceful and lasted about four hours. No one was arrested, though there were a few tense moments as protesters tried to enter a highway on-ramp and the Horseshoe Casino. Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffery Blackwell was present at the protest last night, and this morning appeared on CNN touting the city’s protest response protocols, which have been adopted by the U.S. Justice Department as an example of how police should respond to such rallies.

Update: Gray's death has been ruled a homicide and the six Baltimore police officers involved will be charged. Officer Caesar Goodson, the van driver, will be charged with second-degree murder, Baltimore State Attorney Marylin Mosby announced today. Other officers involved in Gray's arrest will face lesser charges.

“I heard your call for 'No justice, no peace,' ” Mosby said at a news conference. “Your peace is severely needed as I work to deliver justice for this young man.”

• Drug overdose deaths in Ohio have hit record numbers, according to a report released yesterday by the Ohio Department of Health. In 2013, 2,210 people died of overdoses in the state, a 10 percent increase in a year. It’s especially grim here in the Greater Cincinnati area: About 440, or 20 percent, of those deaths happened in Southwestern Ohio’s Hamilton, Butler, Clermont and Warren Counties. Here in Hamilton County, deaths have increased 30 percent since last year, according to the report. More than 40 percent of those deaths statewide were caused by heroin overdoses, by far the biggest single cause of drug overdoses in the state. Heroin overdose deaths have spike sharply in the last four years, overtaking cocaine overdoses in 2012 as the leading cause of overdose death.

• Yesterday I told you about how the Cincinnati Enquirer swapped out a headline on a news article about a murder in OTR while taking criticism for its handling of that story. Several high-profile Cincinnatians have since called out the Enquirer for coverage they call sensationalist. You can read more about that, and CityBeat editor Danny Cross’ analysis, here.

• We all have needs. I maybe need to get around to buying a car eventually. Cincinnati needs better public transit. Ohio Gov. John Kasich and other top officials need $9.6 million worth of small aircraft to hop around the state in. The state has purchased two Beechcraft airplanes for officials to use on state business. State officials say the planes are needed replacements for older aircraft with rising maintenance costs. One of the shiny new planes holds nine passengers, the other six, and in case you’re wondering, yes, they do have all the necessary modern avionics equipment on board, including an entertainment center and the oh-so-vital wine bottle chillers because god knows you can’t drink room-temperature white wine while you’re floating somewhere above Youngstown on official state business.

• Speaking of Kasich, his profile is rising as he continues to kinda sorta run for president. I read this pretty long Atlantic article about him yesterday. The piece literally calls him a jerk and make him sound a little like he has attention deficit disorder. But the in-depth Atlantic piece also talks about his strengths, including his energy and his sometimes-gruff but sometimes-endearing plainspoken ways. Some other magazines and national publications have taken a closer look at Kasich over the past week or so, including conservative mag the National Review, which thinks his bid is a no-go. I’d tell you more about their article, but talking about the National Review makes my soul hurt so let’s just stop there, shall we?

• Speaking of the 2016 presidential race, Cincinnati’s uh, favorite (?) son Larry Flynt has endorsed Hillary Clinton for president. Good thing for Clinton? Bad thing for Clinton? Unclear. Flynt says he’s mostly behind Clinton because she has the best chance of winning and she’ll be able to appoint two or three Supreme Court justices, bringing the nation’s highest court under a decidedly liberal sway. Flynt was an ardent supporter of Clinton’s husband, former president Bill Clinton. He doesn’t have any illusions that Hillary is about to take him on the campaign trail with her, though.

“I’m sure that Hillary doesn’t necessarily approve of everything I do,” he told Bloomberg Politics.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 04.30.2015 3 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:45 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
marchers2

Rally in Solidarity with Baltimore Draws Hundreds

Activists gathered peacefully to protest racial inequities in justice system

More than 300 gathered outside the Hamilton County Courthouse today to protest racial disparities in the justice system and express solidarity with Baltimore. More than a week of unrest has gripped that city after 25-year-old Freddie Gray died in police custody there April 18. Gray sustained severe spinal injuries while riding in a police van, slipped into a coma and died from his injuries.

The Cincinnati rally was the latest of several that have taken place downtown in the last year after the  shooting death of unarmed teen Mike Brown by white officer Darren Wilson brought national attention to the issue of racially-charged police-involved deaths. 

After the rally, a crowd of more than 100 marched down Central Parkway, through Over-the-Rhine, and to the Cincinnati Police Department District 1 headquarters on Ezzard Charles Drive.  From there, a smaller group of about 40 took a zig-zagging route past City Hall and Fountain Square. That group had a couple tense standoffs with police at the eastern end of Fifth Street near a highway onramp and in front of the Horseshoe Casino. All told, the protest lasted about four hours, winding down about 10 pm.

The protests were peaceful and did not result in any arrests, police said, though one protester was briefly detained on Vine Street and issued a citation for jaywalking. 

Nick Swartsell
Nick Swartsell

Police speak to activists on Vine Street at an April 30 rally protesting inequities in the justice system
Nick Swartsell
Nick Swartsell
Nick Swartsell

Activist group Black Lives Matter Cincinnati organized the rally. Among attendees were long-time activist Iris Roley, who was a key participant in forging Cincinnati’s collaborative agreement which arose from civil unrest here14 years ago. That unrest was sparked by the 2001 shooting death of unarmed black man Timothy Thomas, the 16th person of color shot by Cincinnati Police over the course of a few years. Also in attendance were State Senator Cecil Thomas, police officer and Over-the-Rhine transit activist Derek Bauman, Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffery Blackwell and others active in the community.

Black Lives Matter Cincinnati activist Rashida Manuel speaks to the crowd at an April 30 rally
Nick Swartsell

Many attendees said they were concerned about wider disparities in the justice system beyond police actions.

“They are stealing our people off the streets. 2 million black people are in prison and no one is talking about it,” said rally attendee Alexander Shelton. Shelton, and many others, decried socioeconomic conditions that have led to higher rates of arrest, incarceration and wrongful conviction for people of color, including lack of educational and employment opportunities, the isolation of black urban neighborhoods and the stereotyping of black males as dangerous "thugs."

Shelton also called for an awareness of other struggles, including those in the LGBT and workers' rights communities. Several who took the bullhorn in front of the courthouse echoed that sentiment.

Many also came simply to honor the lives of people of color.

“We’re to remember,” said co-organizer Rashida Manuel. “We’re here to remember Freddie Gray. We’re here to remember Maya Hall, the black trans woman who was killed in Baltimore last month. We’re here to remember Mike Brown, we’re here to remember John Crawford, and so many others I can’t possibly name. We’re here to remember Timothy Thomas. We’re here because we’re tired.”

John Crawford III was shot two days before Brown in Beavercreek. His father, John Crawford Jr., attended the rally and spoke briefly to the crowd.
Nick Swartsell

This post has been corrected from an earlier version that misstated Freddie Gray's age.
 
 
by Nick Swartsell 04.29.2015 5 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:57 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Morning News and Stuff

Local rally to be held in solidarity with Baltimore; SCOTUS judges somewhat inscrutable on same-sex marriage; Sen. Bernie Sanders to run for Dem. presidential nomination

Good morning y’all. Here’s what’s happening today.

Activist group Cincinnati Black Lives Matter tomorrow will hold an event in solidarity with Freddie Gray, who died in Baltimore police custody April 19, and those protesting his death. The group says it will meet at 6 p.m. outside the Hamilton County Courthouse. More than 400 people have signed up on a Facebook event set up by the group.

“We will stand in solidarity with the women and men of Baltimore who have decided to protest the defacto execution of Freddie Gray,” the group says on the event page.

Law enforcement authorities say they’re aware of the planned event and will plan accordingly. Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Neil has said the department will work to allow peaceful, lawful demonstration, and Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell said the department is striving to work with peaceful demonstrators. 

Protests broke out in Baltimore after Gray died of an apparent spinal cord injury he received while in police custody. You can follow news from Baltimore at fellow alt-weekly the Baltimore City Paper's website. They're doing crazy good work.

Most of those protests have been peaceful, but a few have spilled over into violence, and the governor of Maryland had called in the National Guard and other law enforcement agencies. The Butler County Sheriff, for instance, has sent a six-person SWAT unit to Baltimore. The unrest in Baltimore is the continuation of a national debate over treatment of blacks at the hands of mostly-white police forces across the country sparked by the police shooting death of unarmed 19-year-old black man Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. last summer. Meanwhile, tensions in other cities, including Cleveland, continue to simmer.

• The former Deer Park country club bartender who is charged with making threats against U.S. House Speaker John Boehner’s life pleaded not guilty yesterday in U.S. District Court. Michael Hoyt was arrested after sending an e-mail to Boehner’s wife saying that he could have slipped something into the Republican’s drink on any number of occasions, but didn’t. When authorities arrested him, he told them he was Jesus and that Boehner was “evil” and needed to be killed. Hoyt has a history of mental illness, which his defense attorney says explains his actions. The U.S. District Court recently found Hoyt mentally competent to stand trial.

• Are fancy-schmancy glass bottles and frosted beer mugs not your style? There’s a new beer festival coming to Cincinnati this summer that might be more your speed. Washington Park will host the Cincinnati CANival, which, as you might surmise from the name, will celebrate the city’s best beers sold in convenient, portable aluminum cylinders. The festival is being organized by the same folks who bring you the Cincinnati Winter and Summer Beerfests, and will feature more than 125 varieties of beer. Tickets go on sale Friday.

• The big news for Cincinnati and the rest of the country, of course, is yesterday’s U.S. Supreme Court hearing on Obergefell v. Hodges, a combination of past cases from Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana and Tennessee on the legality of states’ same-sex marriage bans. So … how did it all go? Will the court force Ohio to, you know, step into the 21st Century? Well, first, it’s a bit of fool’s errand to try and divine how the court will rule based on the questions they asked at the two-hour plus hearing. We won’t know for sure until the court actually rules on the case, which could happen as late as June. But, it’s interested to parse what was said in that hearing, and, as you might expect, the court’s nine justices were split along ideological lines in terms of their questions and apparent leanings. The court is currently pretty evenly weighted, with a couple justices who are reliably liberal in a way that almost assures they’ll side with same-sex marriage advocates and a couple who are so conservative they’ll almost certainly side against. Take Justice Antonin Scalia, for instance, who let loose with this pretty tasteless joke during the arguments. If anyone is a deciding vote, though, it’s Justice Anthony Kennedy, a moderate justice in most matters. Kennedy has written majority decisions in past court victories for same-sex marriage advocates, but he also struck a skeptical tone with his questions this time around.

 “This definition [of traditional marriage] has been with us for millennia,” Kennedy said during a question to attorneys for the plaintiffs. “And it’s very difficult for the court to say, ‘Oh, well, we know better.’ ”

But later, Kennedy also highlighted the importance of acknowledging the dignity of same-sex couples. Other justices also hemmed and hawed in their questioning, so, you know, it’s hard to divine what the court will do. There was a lot more to the arguments, and the justice’s questions. This great rundown in the Washington Post is worth a look-through if you’re curious to untangle all the legal wrangling. For a more light-hearted view of the proceedings, this Politico piece is pretty hilarious.

• In other national news, the Democratic primary for the 2016 presidential election is about to get more interesting. Independent Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont will announce Thursday that he’s planning on seeking the party’s nomination, according to the New York Times, challenging Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton. Sanders isn’t really part of the Democratic Party, though he does meet with them and vote with them most of the time in the Senate. He’s an avowed socialist and looks to shore up support from the Democratic Party’s left flank, perhaps capitalizing on demand for a more liberal alternative to Clinton.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 04.28.2015 6 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:11 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Morning News and Stuff

Cincy State Pres supports weed legalization; SCOTUS hears same-sex marriage cases; unrest in Baltimore

Good morning y’all. Here’s the news today. There are a ton of things happening, so I’m just going to give you a brief rundown of them all.

A controversial Ohio marijuana legalization effort has a new booster. Cincinnati State Technical and Community College President Dr. O’dell Owens announced yesterday that he supports a ballot initiative by ResponsibleOhio that would create 10 state-sanctioned marijuana grow sites owned by the group’s investors and legalize the purchase of marijuana for people over the age of 21. Could future Cincinnati State students study marijuana agriculture? Could be.

“ResponsibleOhio’s marijuana legalization amendment will allow thousands of Ohioans to own and operate their own businesses and will create over 10,000 new jobs for Ohioans,” said Owens in a statement. “It will encourage new training programs at our state’s community colleges, which already play a vital role in developing talent for emerging industries.”

ResponsibleOhio says that Owens is not an investor in the $20 million effort, which will need to gain 300,000 signatures by this summer to get the proposed law on the November ballot.

• Does Cincinnati need more police on the streets? That’s what the city’s police union says. Police Union President Kathy Harrell told Cincinnati City Council’s Law and Public Safety Committee yesterday that the group would like to see 134 more officers join the 1,001 currently serving. Harrell says the department frequently experiences “Code Zeroes,” or situations in which no officer is immediately available to respond to a call. Harrell said some of the problem lies with the fact that nearly 300 officers are currently assigned to special units. Those units do good work, she said, but pull police away from general duties like responding to calls. City Manager Harry Black has said he will be adding money for more new recruits in next year’s budget. One question that comes up from this: If crime is at historic lows and Mayor John Cranley touts the fact that he’s added police, how many officers specifically do we need? Cincinnati’s police force is currently proportional to other comparable cities. Before Cranley’s boost, the city already had 3.3 officers per 1,000 people, which is the same as cities like Pittsburgh and higher than cities like Columbus.

• Cincinnati City Councilman and U.S. Senate hopeful P.G. Sittenfeld hasn’t raised nearly as much money since former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland entered the race to challenge Republican incumbent Sen. Rob Portman, the Cincinnati Enquirer reports. Their story asks if Strickland’s entrance into the race has slowed Sittenfeld’s campaign fundraising. Sittenfeld’s campaign says that’s not the case and that it has had some of its best fundraising days recently. The 30-year-old councilman was raising $10,000 a day starting in January, but after Strickland announced his candidacy that rate fell by half. Sittenfeld still bested Strickland in fundraising, netting more than $750,000 to Strickland’s $670,000 in the last fundraising reporting period. Despite that slim and perhaps receding  monetary edge, Sittenfeld is a big underdog in the race against Strickland, who has statewide name recognition and endorsements from Democratic bigwigs.

• One of the big arguments against shuttering poorly performing schools in Ohio, including controversial charter schools, is that doing so disrupts students’ education and cuts into their academic performance. But that’s not true, according to a study released today by think tank and charter school sponsors the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. The institute, with the help of researchers from the Ohio State University and the University of Oklahoma, looked at 198 school closures across the state of Ohio from 2006 to 2012. What they found was that students at those schools actually performed far better when the moved on to other schools after their poorly performing charter and public schools shut down.

“The results of this study shatter popular myth that closing schools hurts kids academically,” said Fordham’s Ohio Research Director Aaron Churchill in a statement. “Students usually make a soft landing. After closure, children typically end up in higher-quality schools, and they make strong academic progress.”

• Today is the day. The Supreme Court will hear arguments in what is potentially the biggest same-sex marriage case in history. Their decision could decide whether states are allowed to ban same-sex marriages and whether they can refuse to recognize such marriage performed in other states. The case features several plaintiffs from Cincinnati, as well as others from Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana and Tennessee. Amazingly, folks who want to witness the arguments started lining up as early as last Friday outside the Supreme Court. A ruling in favor of marriage equality seems likely, given that the Supreme Court has already struck down a federal same-sex marriage ban. Even opponents of such marriages are expecting a ruling in favor of marriage equality, both here in Cincinnati and nationally.

• The other big national story is the unrest in Baltimore over the past couple days in response to the police-related death of Freddie Gray. Tens of thousands of protesters have swarmed the streets of the city decrying the unarmed 28-year-old’s death while in police custody. Gray, a black man, was arrested two weeks ago by Baltimore police and dragged to a police van. At some point before he arrived at the police station, Gray suffered a severe spinal cord injury. He slipped into a coma and subsequently died. Unrest around his death has often been peaceful but at times has lapsed into violence — more than a dozen fires have been reported in the city, a number of police have been injured by rocks and other thrown items and some vandalism and looting have occurred. Fans at a Baltimore Orioles game Sunday night were kept in the stadium for a time as protests intensified around the stadium. Despite this, Orioles’ Chief Operating Officer John P. Angelos sided with the protesters who were peaceful, making some very cogent points during a Twitter argument with a sportscaster who criticized the protests. You can read his tweets here.

Angelos tied the unrest to the deep economic and racial divisions in Baltimore. The mostly black population where the riots broke out suffers from a 19-percent unemployment rate. The city’s black population suffers an infant mortality rate nine times that of its white population. These systemic conditions, folks like Angelos say, along with the unequal treatment of blacks in the justice system, are reasons why police killings of unarmed black men continue to elicit such anger in places like Baltimore, New York City, North Charleston, S.C., and elsewhere. As we explored in a feature last month on Cincinnati and police shootings, it will very likely take more than police reform to heal those wounds.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 04.27.2015 7 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:55 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
ac2_7-30_shakespeare in washington park - photo provided by cincinnati shakespeare company copy

Morning News and Stuff

Are funding cuts at JFS putting kids in danger?; Washington Park to get huge porch; epic Gannett video fail

Hey all. Looks like a good number of folks out there have read our big feature on a group of refugees struggling and building community in the often-forgotten Millvale and North Fairmount area. If you haven’t gone and checked it out, you should. The folks we talked to for this story are brave, kind and all-around amazing. Their stories are at turns heartbreaking and inspiring — they’ve survived gunshot wounds, break-ins and many other hardships since arriving here looking for the American dream. That all sounds grim, but I promise there are some incredible bright spots as well. Please: Fead and pass along this story so more people are aware of their struggles and they can get help.

On to the news. A report from the Cincinnati Enquirer today asks if Hamilton County’s Department of Job and Family Services is critically underfunded. Three recent fatal cases of child abuse occurred under the department’s watch. JFS has suffered a 1- percent decrease in its budget over the past 10 years. That means fewer caseworkers with fewer resources to help kids in poverty and dangerous parenting situations. The department says the blame rests with the parents of the children who died this year, but JFS’ shrinking staff (they’ve lost 39 percent of their workers in the last decade) isn’t helping the agency do its job keeping kids safe. Declining federal dollars to the department, as well as the fact Ohio spends the least of any state on child welfare, have contributed to the declining funding for JFS.

• 3CDC’s website was hacked over the weekend by a group expressing solidarity with Islamic militant group ISIS. A number of sites controlled by 3CDC were hacked Saturday night to read “I am Muslim and I love jihad. I love isis.” The sites were taken down within a couple hours of the attack and stayed down most of Sunday. It’s not the first time a local organization’s website has been hacked to bear a similar message. Last month, websites for Montgomery Inn and Moerlein Lager House were also hacked by someone claiming to represent ISIS.

• As a decisive Supreme Court case over same-sex marriage involving Cincinnatians looms, how do local religious groups stand when it comes to the issue? It’s an important question with a fairly predictable answer. Most of your more conservative religious organizations around the Cincinnati area, including a number of Catholic and Baptist churches, are against it. Some Jewish synagogues support it, some don’t. The most interesting part is that a  few churches seem to be breaking with tradition and coming out for marriage equality. Anyway, read more about the divide among faith groups here.

• Porch-less Cincinnatians can rejoice, because Washington Park is about to get a $400,000 deck for you sit on and tan yourself this summer. Well, at least when it’s not being rented for private events (hmm lame). The deck will have food and beverage vendors and chairs that are much comfier than the benches all around the park. The Cincinnati City Center Development Corporation, which led a multi-million renovation of the park in 2011, will build the deck.

• In other park news, University of Cincinnati Urban Planning students have come up with a number of prospective visions for the future of Burnet Woods, my favorite place in Cincinnati (well, it’s in the top five at least). The results are pretty interesting. My favorite project, and one that the Business Courier spends a good deal of time on, is a proposed land bridge between the Woods and UC. I used to walk from Clifton to UC through the park every day, and I would have paid a significant toll to use that land bridge. Most of these projects are probably too expensive or wild to see the light of day in their current form, but hopefully the ideas will spark conversation about how to make the park better.

• As mentioned above, tomorrow the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in what may be the biggest case in the history of the struggle for marriage equality. Here’s a great New York Times story about how lawyers on both sides of the argument are preparing for the showdown and what’s at stake. Marriage equality advocates hope for a big win: that is, a ruling that overturns states’ bans on gay marriages entirely, effectively making same-sex marriage legal across the country. But there is a possibility that SCOTUS will hand activists a more incremental victory, ruling that states like Ohio have to recognize gay marriages performed in other states but don’t have to make the practice legal themselves. Attorneys representing Ohio and other states, on the other hand, hope that the court upholds the decision of the Federal Sixth Circuit Court and rules that voters, not judges, should decide who is allowed to marry whom. That result seems unlikely, since a number of other circuit courts have decided otherwise and since SCOTUS overturned a federal gay marriage ban. Either way, it seems like the arguments, and the court’s expected June decision, will be historic.

 

• Oh boy. The above ad(?)/celebration of all things Gannett, which owns USA Today, the Cincinnati Enquirer and about 80 other daily papers across the country, ran last week during a company-wide "town hall" to announce structural changes. The video features Gannett execs lip-synching a song that admonishes folks that "everything is awesome when you're part of the team." That's a bit ironic considering Gannett made many of its employees re-apply for their jobs over the last number of months. I'm just going to stop talking and let you watch it. It's incredible.

• Finally, today is the funeral for Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man arrested by Baltimore police two weeks ago for running away from officers. Video shows Gray screaming as police dragged him to a van. Gray received a severe spinal cord injury while in the police van and subsequently died from that injury. His death has sparked large and ongoing protests in Baltimore, an echo of similar protests over police-related deaths in Ferguson, Mo., New York City and elsewhere around the country. Officials say they are investigating Gray’s death.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 04.23.2015 11 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:55 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Morning News and Stuff

Seelbach, Cranley debate OTR parking plan; CCV head Burress "not optimistic" about SCOTUS same-sex marriage case; GOP state lawmakers cut up Kasich budget

Hello Cincy. You know what time it is. Yep, news time.

It’s become a dependable, even comforting, routine. On Thursday mornings, I sit down and tell you all about the ways in which City Council bickered over the streetcar in its Wednesday meeting. The tradition continues.  A discussion yesterday about proposed Over-the-Rhine parking plans, which have been bandied back and forth for months, quickly devolved into a debate over the streetcar’s operating budget gap. Mayor John Cranley has been using that gap, which could be as high as $600,000 a year because of shortfalls in revenue and advertising receipts, as a reason council should pass his version of the OTR parking plan.

Cranley, who formerly proposed $300-a-year parking passes for residents in the neighborhood, now wants the passes to be valued at a market rate determined by the city manager. Meanwhile, Councilman Chris Seelbach has another idea: Cap the costs of the permits at $108. Seelbach’s plan calls for 450 permits, plus 50 non-metered, non-permitted flex spots for bartenders, waiters and the like who work in the neighborhood. Cranley’s plan calls for more flex spots. Either proposal would likely yield the highest-cost neighborhood parking permit in the country.

At issue is a philosophical debate: Cranley wants OTR residents to shoulder more of the cost of the streetcar. He also says the city has done enough to subsidize residents in OTR, citing tax abatements on many properties in the neighborhood and the fact that metered spots on the public streets around them would bring in more money than the permits do. Streetcar supporters like Seelbach and Councilwoman Yvette Simspon, however, say the streetcar is about economic development and that it will benefit the entire city, not just OTR residents. They say it isn’t fair to place its financial burden so much on those living in the neighborhood. Seelbach also points to residential parking permits in other neighborhoods, which are priced much more affordably than Cranley’s OTR plan.

• There was also a big hubbub about whether or not the streetcar will get in the way of major downtown events on Fifth Street like Oktoberfest and Taste of Cincinnati. Mayor John Cranley yesterday railed against, as he said, “the idea that the city was secretly trying to discourage these events from maintaining their historic location,” and touted measures by city administration to make sure it doesn’t happen.

The backstory: In 2014, then-City Manager Scott Stiles released a memo stating that no special events could disrupt the streetcar’s operation. Depending on what you take “special events” to mean (i.e. is something that has been scheduled every year for at least a decade a special event?) that could mean the streetcar would take precedence over some beloved Cincinnati traditions. However, an agreement between streetcar operators SORTA and the city also signed later in 2014 allows streetcar operations to be disrupted for events up to four times a year. Sooo, yeah. Were those events ever actually in danger of being moved for the streetcar? Unclear.

• Citizens for Community Values President Phil Burress thinks defeat may be at hand, at least in the short term, when it comes to the looming Supreme Court case around same-sex marriage. Springdale-based right-wing CCV has pushed a number of anti-gay rights measures over the years, and Burress was instrumental in engineering Ohio’s 2004 constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. That law is part of the current SCOTUS case. Burress told the Cincinnati Enquirer he’s “not very optimistic” about Ohio’s ban withstanding the court challenge, mostly because he says some of the justices are biased and don’t respect state sovereignty. But Burress also promised that the issue “won’t go away” anytime soon. You can read our story about case, and the local folks who are making history as the plaintiffs, here.

• The Ohio House of Representatives last night passed a record-breaking two-year budget for the state that looks much different than the one Gov. John Kasich suggested. The proposed budget spends more than the state ever has, while taxing top-tier earners less than it has in the past three decades. The proposal would put Ohio’s top income tax rate below 5 percent for the first time since 1982 but forgoes Kasich’s more regressive plan to lower income taxes by 23 percent and use a sales tax hike to pay for the cuts. The $131.6 billion spending package, the largest in state history, also zeroes out much of Kasich’s proposed reform to education spending. Kasich is not exactly stoked by the budget.

“After the fiscal crisis subsides people think it's OK to slip back to old habits,” Kasich’s office said in a statement to press. “The governor will do everything possible to prevent that from happening."

The budget isn’t a done deal. Next it heads to the state Senate, which is cooking up its own budget anyway. 

• After those long-winded updates, here's a quickie or two: Is former Florida Governor Jeb Bush really the cuddly moderate he's been made out to be, and, if not, does that open up a window of opportunity for Ohio Gov. Kasich in the GOP 2016 presidential sweepstakes? Despite being a proponent of Common Core and having some less-than-hardline views on immigration, ol' Jeb does have some harder right tendencies as well that make him more complicated to consider. This article gives some good examples.

• Finally, as a person who recently transitioned to Microsoft Office 365 for all my workaholic email needs, I really appreciate this hilarious Washington Post article about the company's new ad campaign. I really do love working while I'm also sleeping face down in my bed.

That is all. Tweet me. Email me. Or don’t. Actually, just go outside and enjoy the sun. But bring your smart phone just in case.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 04.22.2015 12 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:09 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
cannabis

Morning News and Stuff

Marijuana legalization intrigue; the cost of gun violence in Ohio; search for the Loch Ness Monster on the internet

Good morning! News time.

Here’s a juicy story involving alleged sabotage, political intrigue and weed. A marijuana legalization group called Ohio Rights Group filed a complaint with the Ohio Elections Commission last week alleging that ResponsibleOhio, another legalization effort, sabotaged its campaign to get a pro-marijuana law on Ohio’s ballot. The filing says that ResponsibleOhio’s Ian James and David Bruno infiltrated ORG last year in order to gain information about the group’s efforts, which they later used to dissuade potential ORG donors. James and Bruno are now involved in ResponsibleOhio’s effort to get a measure on the November ballot legalizing marijuana but restricting commercial growth to 10 sites around the state. They’ll need 300,000 signatures from Ohioans by this summer to do so. The group claims they’ve already collected more than 160,000. ResponsibleOhio called ORG’s complaint “bogus.”

• Good news on Earth Day here: The Cincinnati Zoo has saved a mind-boggling one billion gallons of water and millions of dollars with conservation practices it has been using over the last decade. That’s a year’s worth of water for 10,000 households. The zoo says it saved all that water through some rather mundane fixes: sealing up leaky pools, installing more water-efficient faucets and other fixtures, beefing up water filtration systems and other steps. The impact was huge, cutting water usage by more than three quarters. The zoo went from using 220 million gallons of water in 2005 to just over 50 million in 2014.  Very neat.

• Will the streetcar run later into the night? Some pro-streetcar activists hope so. A group of a few dozen that attended Monday’s Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority public hearing on the streetcar voiced concerns about the transit project’s hours of operation, saying they’d like to see it run later into the evening. Currently, it’s slated to start running at 6 a.m. Sunday through Thursday, it would stop running at 10 p.m., and Friday and Saturday it would run until midnight. But SORTA has said it could push that operating window up, having it start later in the morning and end later in the evening.

• The game is up for a planned challenge to Ohio’s Medicaid expansion, which Gov. John Kasich controversially pushed through the conservative-dominated state house in 2013. Kasich was at odds with much of the state’s GOP on the expansion, which accepted federal funds to increase eligibility for the federal government’s health care program as part of the Affordable Care Act. Federal funds for the expansion will begin to taper off in 2017 and the state will have to foot some of the bill. A plan by State Rep. Jim Butler, R-Oakwood, would have created a stipulation forbidding use of Ohio taxpayer funds to pay for the gap in the state budget state lawmakers are currently crafting. Butler, however, has since backed off of this idea and it looks as though the expansion, which gave 500,000 more Ohioans health coverage, is safe for now. That’s important for Kasich. The expansion is a key achievement in his time as governor and a talking point when it comes to the no-nonsense, get things done appeal he’s attempting to create as he mulls a presidential run.

• This investigative piece by left-leaning magazine Mother Jones is fascinating. According to 2012 gun crime data, gun violence in Ohio cost taxpayers more than $7.8 billion or $660 per capita per year. That’s chump change compared to some states like California, where it cost more than $25 billion a year. The state with the lowest per-capita cost was Hawaii at $234 a year; the state with the highest was Wyoming, which clocked in at $1,300 a year per capita. The per-capita data closely tracks with gun laws in states — places like Texas and Louisiana with permissive gun laws have much higher per-capita costs than tightly-regulated states. I can see some counter-arguments or questions about this, but it’s an interesting place to start a conversation about taxpayer costs and gun laws.

• Finally, the ultimate time-waster: Google has done its Google Maps thang in Scotland’s Loch Ness so you can search for the Loch Ness Monster.  I’ve been searching for the past two hours and I haven’t seen anything, but feel free to search the lake’s 263,162 million cubic feet of water yourself in search of the elusive prehistoric reptilian creature.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 04.21.2015 13 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:06 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news1_vlt2-nickswartsell

Morning News and Stuff

Panel debates charter schools; Kasich sets up presidential fundraising org; this train could get us to Chicago in 48 minutes

Hey all. News time.

Last night the League of Women Voters held a panel discussion in Clifton about Ohio’s charter schools, especially those in Cincinnati. The panel, titled “Charter Schools: Are They Accountable?," featured Cincinnati Public Schools Superintendent Mary Ronan, Aaron Churchill of charter school sponsoring organization the Thomas Fordham Institute, Steve Dyer of progressive think tank Innovation Ohio and Republican state Sen. Bill Seitz.

The answer to the titular question posed to the panel: No, charters aren’t being held accountable in Ohio, and that’s bad. Ronan said CPS loses about 8,000 students a year to charter schools in the city and that many of those schools aren’t prepared to educate them (see: the late VLT Academy, any number of other charters in the city). But some panelists argued that the oversight problems, which state lawmakers are working to fix with bills in the House and Senate, isn’t a reason to throw the baby out with the bathwater. They point to other charters that have succeeded and say that with reform and increased oversight, the privately run but publicly-funded schools will deliver on their promise. But there are probably going to have to be big changes: Charters in Ohio, most agree, are a big mess.

• At the same time a reasoned debate occurred on charter schools and the serious questions around educating Cincinnati’s next generation, elsewhere a highly paid grown man dropped numerous F-bombs about a game, reporters spilled much digital ink on the meaningless spectacle and we all clicked and clicked, spurring on the inane prattling of both. Well done, all of us.

• More changes to the Lytle Park area downtown are in the works, according to this Enquirer article. A few days ago, I linked you to a story in the Business Courier about the luxury hotel concept that will be moving into the Anna Louise Inn site, which has been occupied by a 104-year-old women’s shelter that is moving to Mount Auburn in June after a protracted legal battle. There’s way more happening in the neighborhood, including a $5 million-plus remake of Lytle Park, a $32 million ODOT rehab of the tunnel that carries I-71 underneath the park and other housing and commercial space in the area. Much of the change is being driven by Western & Southern, the insurance giant headquartered in the neighborhood, and its real estate arm Eagle Realty. I smell a new reality show called Extreme Corporate Makeover in the works here.

• Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s campaign registered a non-profit called A New Day for America with the IRS Monday, officially setting up a fundraising structure for the Republican’s nascent presidential bid. The group has some heavy hitters on its board, including former advertising executive and big-time GOP donor Philip Geier. A U.S. Senator from New Hampshire, a former state lawmaker and some Columbus businessmen round out the board of the group. It’s all a big sign that Kasich is more or less set on running for the Republican nomination, though he has yet to formally announce that intention. So far, Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida have all officially announced their campaigns. Others, including frontrunners former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, are expected to announce their bids as well.

Right now, Kasich lags behind all of them, but a big primary win in one of the early states like New Hampshire could boost his profile. He’ll have to somehow convince GOP primary delegates that he’s moderate enough to win a general election but also conservative enough to uphold strong conservative values. He has competition on that front: Both Bush and Rubio exhibit some combination of staunch conservative policy positions and more moderate and practical beliefs, and both are already national players. But both also have vulnerabilities: Rubio is on the outs with much of the party after he attempted to launch an effort at comprehensive immigration reform. That’s sunk him with the party’s far-right faction. Bush, meanwhile, struggles with the general bad aftertaste the public remembers from Dubya’s presidency. Kasich’s chances may come down to the GOP’s estimation of how toxic the Bush name still is. We’ll see.

• I’m going to be brief with this because it’s maddening, but newsworthy: There could be an end in sight to the big fight going on in Washington over Loretta Lynch. No, not Appalachian songstress Loretta Lynn. I'm talking about the woman President Barack Obama has nominated to replace outgoing U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. Lynch would be the first female African American A.G., and her nomination has been pending for five months as the Senate battles over voting on her. Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Republican Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has signaled he won’t put Lynch’s nomination vote through until another matter is settled: a Senate vote on a bill that would fight human trafficking. Sounds simple and like something everyone can get behind, right? Except that Republicans have tacked on an anti-abortion provision in that bill, and Democrats are refusing to pass it as it stands. But, according to this story, negotiations are underway to push the Lynch nomination to a vote after several high-profile Republicans have publicly criticized the hold up on her nomination. Phew. Everything is a mess. Everything sucks.

• Finally, let’s read this really quickly and dream: Japan’s maglev bullet train just set a new speed record of 375 miles an hour. At that speed, it would take you about 48 minutes to get to Chicago from Cincinnati. So if the United States was more forward-thinking in its transit policy, you could hop on the train after work, grab some deep-dish pizza and a can of Old Style (or if you like the taste of burning tires, a bottle of Malort), and be back before bedtime. (This is a slight exaggeration, of course, and it would be insanely complicated and expensive if not impossible to build such a train here, but still. We can dream, right?)

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 04.20.2015 14 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:07 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Morning News and Stuff

Developer eyes more condos for northern OTR; Mason Schools cancel Muslim event; Rand Paul's missed connections ad

Good morning all. Hope your weekend was rad. Let’s get down to business on this news thing.

The city of Cincinnati plans to ask the federal government for some cash for a network of bike trails branching off the proposed Wasson Way route between Avondale and Mount Lookout. The city is preparing to apply for Transit Investment Generating Economic Recover, or TIGER grants, that would help finance the network of commuter bike paths. The city applied with a narrower plan that only encompassed Wasson Way itself in 2014, but didn’t win one of the highly competitive grants. A lone bike trail doesn’t stand much of a chance in the application process, which favors transportation projects that provide a bigger impact over a wider area. The city hopes it can win some of the billions of dollars the federal government has awarded for such projects with its new plan, which will spread out through a number of Cincinnati neighborhoods. Mayor John Cranley has made bike trails a priority during his time as mayor, often over on-street bike lanes, which Cincinnati’s last city council preferred and which some bike advocates say are better for commuters.

• Let’s keep talking about transit projects for a second, shall we, because we never talk about transit and it’s an incredibly benign topic that no one could ever get upset over. (That is sarcasm, by the way.) Anyway, if you want to hear some, let us say, spirited civic debate, the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority is hosting the first of two public hearings about Cincinnati’s streetcar operating procedures and fare structure tonight from 6-8 p.m. at the main branch of the Cincinnati and Hamilton County Public Library. See you there! If you can’t make that one, there’s another one next Monday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Over-the-Rhine Community Recreation Center on Republic Street.

• Here’s the latest on the planned redevelopments around Findlay Market in northern Over-the-Rhine. Developer Model Group has announced it will forgo 35 of the apartments it originally planned for the area and will instead build nine condos. Seven of those have already sold. Model’s plans still include 23 apartment units. The shift signals a new turn for the northern part of OTR, which hasn’t seen as much condo development as the neighborhood’s southern portion. The move seems likely to fuel fears about gentrification in OTR as the neighborhood’s property values continue to skyrocket.

• Speaking of gentrification, it’s a serious topic, right? We’ve covered it a bunch here at CityBeat, and think it’s always worth discussion. However, this story is a bit mystifying. It seems to suggest that the spike in poverty in Covington is at least in part caused by development in Cincinnati neighborhoods like Over-the-Rhine. Sounds fascinating. The only problem is, there’s absolutely no evidence presented that supports that. 

Here’s one of the many puzzling questions that comes from assuming poor from OTR are heading to Covington en masse: Poverty has been rising across the region, including in Cincinnati, which saw a 5.1 percent increase in its poverty rate since 2009. Covington saw about the same boost. What’s more, the increases have been happening since at least 2000, well before much of the city’s current development boom. If both cities’ poverty rates are rising at the same rate and have been since before development started in earnest, doesn’t it seem like Cincinnati isn’t just pumping all its poor and displaced into Covington, and that a larger systemic issue is at play?

A much more likely scenario: Specific factors like the heroin crisis (which is mentioned in the article) and a general widening of income inequality nationally (which is not mentioned) are creating a greater divide between the middle class and the poor. Meanwhile, poor folks displaced by high prices in center-city places like OTR are heading off to an array of areas, some in the more obscure and distant parts of the city limits, some outside of it, creating small, incremental ticks in those neighborhoods’ and municipalities’ poverty rates.

• Briefly, in case you didn’t hear about it: A group of Muslim students in Mason wanted to have a (voluntary) day where other, non-Muslim students were encouraged to wear hijabs (head scarves) as a way to foster a broader cultural understanding and build bridges between students. Instead, that event, called “the Covered Girl Challenge” has been cancelled after an outside group called Jihad Watch raised a huge fuss about it. The group seems to be claiming that the student group has ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, a militant Islamic group. Jihad Watch says hijabs are oppressive to women and that Mason’s public schools shouldn’t be promoting them. The main trouble, according to the school, is that an invitation to the student-organized and led event was sent out in an official school email, something that comes across as promotion of a religion. That’s why the event was cancelled, school officials say. Jihad Watch has cheered the cancellation, because there’s clearly nothing scarier going on in America today than a young woman in a public school choosing of her own free will to wear a scarf on her head for a day in an attempt to understand the experiences of other young women at the same school.

• If a provision recently included by state lawmakers in Ohio’s budget passes, many of the state’s college professors will lose the ability to bargain collectively over salaries and benefits. The law would reclassify any professor who is involved in planning curriculum or other decisions as management, making them ineligible for band together and negotiate their terms of employment. As you might guess, a number of college faculty are up in arms over the sneak attack, which smacks very much of the state’s attempt several years ago to eliminate public employee collective bargaining rights with HB 5. That bill was defeated after statewide protests. 

• Gov. John Kasich was hanging out with powerful Republican groups in New Hampshire last week, where he made his strongest signals yet that he's running for president. He hasn't announced yet, but he's told big GOPers to "think of me" as they mull their choices.

• Finally, got a hot tip about Democratic presidential possibility Hillary Clinton? U.S. Sen. And Republican presidential hopeful Rand Paul wants to know. You can send tips about fundraising activities at the Clinton Foundation, Bill and Hillary’s charitable organization, from a form on Paul’s website. The outspoken libertarian-leaning Republican has been hinting for a while now that some big bombshell about the Clinton Foundation is about to fall and hobble Hillary’s campaign. Those bombshells are supposedly contained in a new book due out next month by author Peter Schweizer. The New York Times, Washington Post and Fox News all have exclusives ready based on information in the book, apparently, but Paul’s casting about for tips on the Internet does not inspire great confidence that he’s sitting on big info. A suggestion: Have you tried the Craigslist missed connections section? I can see the listing now:

“You were at a fundraiser for my presidential campaign. You whispered something vague but titillating in my ear about foreign donors and Hillary. Please contact me via my website, where you can also buy an awesome T-shirt.”

 
 
 
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