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by Kevin Osborne 09.21.2011
 
 
seal_of_cincinnati,_ohio

Candidates On: Balancing the City's Budget

As CityBeat did in the 2007 and 2009 election cycles, we’ve once again sent a questionnaire to the non-incumbent Cincinnati City Council candidates to get their reactions on a broad range of issues.

Nine of the 14 non-incumbents chose to answer our questions. Others either didn’t respond or couldn’t meet the deadline.

During the next few weeks, we will print the responses from the non-incumbents to a different topic each time.

Today’s question is, “With the city facing a potential $33 million deficit next year, what specific cuts and/or revenue enhancements would you propose or support to eliminate the shortfall?”

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by German Lopez 11.26.2013
Posted In: News, Streetcar, City Council, Mayor at 11:06 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)
 
 
pg sittenfeld

Sittenfeld to Support Continuing Streetcar Project

Opponents might not have enough votes to prevent referendum if project is canceled

Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld on Monday announced he will vote to continue the $132.8 million streetcar project.

Sittenfeld’s support for the project means the incoming City Council might not have the six votes required for an emergency clause that would immediately halt the project and make a cancellation vote insusceptible to referendum.

If streetcar supporters successfully put a cancellation vote to referendum, the project would be forced to continue until the streetcar once again appears on the ballot in November 2014. The continuation would sink more costs into the project as construction is forced to progress for nearly a year.

Sittenfeld’s announcement preceded a vote from the outgoing City Council to officially write the streetcar project into law, which means Mayor-elect John Cranley, a streetcar opponent, won’t be able to take administrative action to halt the project and instead must bring the project to a City Council vote after he and other newly elected officials take office on Sunday.

The two remaining swing votes in the incoming council — David Mann, who Cranley on Monday named as his choice for vice mayor, and Kevin Flynn — previously discussed delaying the project as council analyzes whether it should permanently cancel or continue with currently ongoing construction.

But Sittenfeld equated a delay to total cancellation after warnings from the federal government made it clear that the city could lose federal funds for the project even if it only delayed progress.

If either Flynn or Mann move to support the streetcar project, streetcar proponents would gain a five-vote majority on the nine-member council to continue the project and preclude a referendum.

Sittenfeld characterized his decision as the better of “two bad choices.”

“We can pursue a project that has never earned broad public consensus and that has yet to offer a viable and sustainable budget,” he said at a press conference, “or we can scrub the project and throw away tens of millions of dollars in taxpayer money, forgo a massive federal investment and have nothing to show for the enormous effort and expense.”

To explain his decision, Sittenfeld cited concerns about how much money has been dedicated to the project at this point, including $32.8 million in sunk costs through November and a potential range of $30.6-$47.6 million in close-out costs, according to estimates from the city. Sittenfeld noted that, at the very least, half of the city’s $87.9 million share of the project will be spent even if the city pulls the plug now.

Sittenfeld also voiced concerns that pulling back from the project and effectively forfeiting $44.9 million in allocated federal funds would damage Cincinnati’s reputation with the federal government. That could hamper projects he sees as much more important, such as the $2.5 billion Brent Spence Bridge project.

“I did my part to avoid getting us into this reality, but it cannot be wished away,” Sittenfeld said.

There was one major caveat to Sittenfeld’s decision: the operating costs for the streetcar, which the city estimates at $3.4-$4.5 million a year.

Sittenfeld said the cost must not hit Cincinnati’s already-strained operating budget and instead must be paid through fares, sponsorships, private contributions and a special improvement district that would raise property taxes near the streetcar line.

A special improvement district would require a petitioning process in which property owners holding at least 60 percent of property frontage near the streetcar line would have to sign in favor of taking on higher property taxes to pay for the streetcar.

“Ultimately, that’s a decision for the citizens,” Sittenfeld said.

If the special improvement district doesn’t come to fruition, Sittenfeld cautioned that the streetcar project would be more difficult to support going forward.

Asked whether Sittenfeld thinks some of the people who voted for him will see his decision as a betrayal, he responded that his conclusion shows the “thoughtfulness and carefulness” people expect of him when it comes to taxpayer dollars, given the costs of cancellation.

 
 
by German Lopez 02.12.2014
Posted In: News, Parking, City Council, Mayor at 04:50 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)
 
 
news1_parkingmeters

What Is Cranley’s Parking Plan?

Proposal could increase parking enforcement, hours and rates

Mayor John Cranley on Feb. 12 officially unveiled his plan for Cincinnati’s parking meters, lots and garages, providing the first clear option for the city’s parking system since the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority agreed to halt the previous plan.

The proposal seeks to effectively replace the previous administration’s parking privatization plan, which outsourced the city’s parking assets to the Port Authority and several private companies, and maintain local control of the city’s parking assets.

Here’s a breakdown of the plan and all its finer details.

What is Cranley’s parking plan?

It’s a plan for Cincinnati’s parking meters, lots and garages. More specifically, Cranley calls his proposal a “framework” that focuses on upgrading the city’s parking meters and keeps City Council’s control of parking rates and hours.

Cranley’s plan, based on a Feb. 7 memo from Walker Parking Consultants, achieves his goals in a few ways:

• The city would issue bonds, backed by future parking revenues, to upgrade all parking meters to accept credit card payments.

• The amount of enforcement officers under the city’s payroll would increase to 15, up from five, to provide greater coverage of the city’s parking meters. (Currently, a few areas, including major hubs like the University of Cincinnati and Over-the-Rhine, are effectively unenforced for two to five hours a day, according to Walker.)

• Neighborhood meter rates would go up by 25 cents to 75 cents an hour. Downtown rates would remain at $2 an hour.

• Sundays and holidays remain free.

Cranley says the underlying idea is to maintain a few key principles, particularly local control over rates and hours. He cautions Walker’s proposal, including expanded enforcement hours, could change with public input and as City Council puts together the final plan.

Does the plan let people use smartphones to pay for parking meters?

No. Cranley says the upgraded meters will support the technology, but it will be up to council to decide whether it’s enabled in the future.

Smartphone capability is a double-edged sword: It introduces its own set of costs, including shorter battery life for meters. It also allows customers to avoid under- and overpaying at parking meters, which decreases citation and meter revenues. But smartphone access also increases ease of use, which could lead to higher revenues by making it easier to pay.

The parking privatization plan promised to provide smartphone access at all parking meters. The previous administration and Port Authority championed the feature as key to increasing convenience and revenue.

OK, that explains the parking meters. What about the parking garages?

Cranley’s plan makes two changes to garages:

• The Port Authority would take over Fountain Square South Garage. The Port would be required to cover expenses for the garage, but any net revenue could be used on projects within the city.

• The city would issue bonds, backed by future parking revenues, to build a garage at 7th and Broadway streets.

Otherwise, things remain the same as today.

In other words, the city would be on the hook for parking garage repairs and upgrades, which Walker estimates would cost roughly $8 million in capital expenses over the next five years.

But the city would also continue directly receiving around $2 million per year in net revenue from parking garages, according to Walker.

Still, the city isn’t allowed under state law to use the revenue from parking garages for anything outside the parking system.

The parking privatization plan tried to do away with the restriction by putting the Port Authority in charge of garages. State law allows agencies like the Port to tap into garage revenues for other uses, such as development projects.

But without the previous administration’s plan, Cranley claims the Port Authority declined to take over more facilities beyond Fountain Square South Garage. Given the rejection, Cranley says its up to council to figure out another way to leverage garage revenues beyond putting them back in the parking system.

What does Cranley’s plan do about the thousands of parking tickets already owed to the city?

Nothing. By Cranley’s own admission, the city needs to do a better job collecting what its owed. But he says that’s something City Council will have to deal with in the future.

So why did Cranley oppose the parking privatization plan?

Cranley vehemently opposed giving up local control of the city’s parking assets. He warned that outsourcing meters to the Port Authority and private companies would create a for-profit incentive to ratchet up parking rates and enforcement.

The previous administration disputed Cranley’s warnings. They pointed out an advisory board, chaired by four Port Authority appointees and one city appointee, would need to unanimously agree on rate and hour changes, and the changes could be vetoed by the city manager.

Without any changes from the advisory board, the 30-year privatization plan hiked downtown parking meter rates by 25 cents every three years and neighborhood rates by 25 cents every six years. The plan also expanded enforcement hours to 8 a.m.-9 p.m. in Over-the-Rhine and parts of downtown.

Still, City Council would lose its control of rates and hours under the privatization plan. Cranley and other opponents argued the outsourcing scheme could insulate the parking system from public — and voter — input.

Cranley also opposed the privatization plan’s financial arrangement.

Under the old deal, the city would receive a lump sum of $85 million and annual installments of $3 million, as long as required expenses, such as costly garage upgrades or repairs, were met.

In comparison, the city currently gets roughly $3 million in net revenue from parking meters and another $2 million in net revenue from parking garages. (As noted earlier, the parking garage revenue can only be used for parking expenses.)

Cranley characterizes the lump sum as “borrowing from the future” because it uses upfront money that could instead be taken in by the city as annual revenue.

Related: Compare Cranley’s plan with the parking privatization plan.

Why does Cranley think his proposal is necessary?

It solidifies the death of the parking privatization plan. That’s important to begin the process of legally dismantling the previous plan.

The plan also increases net parking meter revenues from roughly $3 million to $6 million in the next budget year and more than $7 million per year within five years, according to Walker’s original estimates. (The estimates are likely too high because they assumed evening hours would expand around the University of Cincinnati, Short Vine in Corryville, Over-the-Rhine and downtown. But Cranley shelved the expansion of hours, with no estimates for how the changes will affect revenues.)

Since parking meter revenue, unlike garage revenue, can be used for non-parking expenses, the extra revenue could help plug the $20 million gap in the $370 million operating budget.

Why do some people oppose Cranley’s plan?

Some people supported the parking privatization plan. They saw the lump sum as a great opportunity to invest in development projects around the city. Without the lump sum, critics claim Cranley’s plan accepts all the pain of the previous plan — increased enforcement, rates and hours — for very little gain, even though the city would get more annual revenue and upgraded parking meters and garages.

Politics are also involved. After the contentious streetcar debate, there’s not much Cranley can do without some critics speaking out.

When will Cranley’s plan go into effect?

City Council first has to approve Cranley’s plan for it to become law. Council will likely take up and debate the plan at the Neighborhood Committee on Feb. 24 and set a more concrete timeline after that.

This blog post will be regularly updated as more information becomes available. Latest update: Feb. 19.

 
 
by Kevin Osborne 03.16.2012
 
 
scrap-metal-theft

Morning News and Stuff

Cincinnati’s new law for selling scrap metal, which was scheduled to take effect today, has been put on hold pending the outcome of a lawsuit filed by two local dealers. The law, approved by City Council last month, would require people who sell scrap metal within the city to get a license and make businesses that buy the metal pay dealers by check with a two-day hold, among other changes. The law was designed to cut down on metal theft in Cincinnati, but Cohen Brothers in the East End and American Compressed Steel in Carthage argued it would adversely impact their livelihood. Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Robert Winkler issued a preliminary injunction Thursday afternoon.

In related news, the Ohio Senate unanimously approved a bill Wednesday that requires scrap metal dealers to photograph anyone who sells them scrap. Dealers would be prohibited from buying metal from anyone who refuses to be photographed. Also, dealers must keep the photos on file for 60 days. The Ohio House will now consider the bill.

Last week we learned that Aaron Boone would be the grand marshal of the Findlay Market Opening Day Parade, and now we know who will throw out the first pitch at the opener against the Miami Marlins. Hamilton County Sheriff Simon Leis Jr., who will retire later this year after a 41-year career in public service, has been selected for the honor. Just how far the 77-year-old Leis will be able to throw the ball remains to be seen, but we're betting he will do a better job than Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory did a few years ago.

Clermont County residents who suffered property damage in the tornado two weeks ago will be able to apply for Small Business Administration loans beginning this morning. The Disaster Loan Outreach Center is now open at the Washington Township Hall, located at 2238 Highway 756. Renters could receive up to $40,000 in loans while homeowners could receive up to $200,000 in loans to rebuild their home or replace furniture, said disaster relief officials.

Kroger, the Cincinnati-based grocery chain, is among the retailers that use so-called “pink slime” in some of its ground beef products. U.S. consumers generally have reacted with disgust after learning that many fast food restaurants and grocers use ground beef that contains “finely textured lean beef,” the product made from beef trimmings after all the choice cuts of beef are removed. About 70 percent of the ground beef sold at supermarkets contains the meat filler, according to reports.

In news elsewhere, a United Nations official this week formally accused the U.S. government of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment toward Bradley Manning, the American soldier who was held in solitary confinement for almost a year on suspicion of being the WikiLeaks source. Juan Mendez has completed a 14-month investigation into the treatment of Manning since the soldier's arrest at a U.S. military base in May 2010. He concludes that the U.S. military was at least culpable of cruel and inhumane treatment in keeping Manning locked up alone for 23 hours a day over an 11-month period in conditions that he also found might have constituted torture, London's Guardian reports. American media, however, seem curiously quiet on this news.

Although President Obama reiterated his intention this week to stick to a timeline that calls for the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Afghanistan in 2014, pressure is mounting to quicken the schedule. Afghan President Hamid Karzai is demanding that NATO withdraw its forces from the small, rural outposts around the nation and confine its soldiers to military bases. The demand is the latest fallout after the burning of Korans by U.S. service members last month and the massacre of 16 Afghan civilians Sunday, allegedly by an Army staff sergeant who went on a rampage.

The Columbia Journalism Review looks at what The Gannett Co., the owner of The Enquirer, could've bought with the $37.1 million compensation package it gave recently departed CEO Craig Dubow. CJR's findings include that the money would've paid for the starting salaries of 1,474 staffers at The Indianapolis Star or 310,720 annual subscriptions to The Tallahassee Democrat's website. “In October, four months after handing 700 employees pink slips, Gannett gave Dubow a $37.1 million package, also accumulated over decades. He earned a mere $9.4 million in 2010, some of which padded his retirement package. A few weeks later, the company announced it would force employees to take their fifth unpaid furlough in three years,” the magazine reports.

Much attention has been paid to a column published Wednesday by The New York Times, in which Greg Smith explained why he was resigning after 12 years at Goldman Sachs due to what he said was the unethical and corrupt culture at the investment firm. But lesser known is this letter to the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission by an unidentified whistleblower at JPMorgan Chase. The writer describes similar reckless practices at that firm, adding, “I am now under the opinion that we are actually putting hard-working Americans – unaware of what lays ahead – at extreme market risk.”
 
 
by 12.10.2010
 
 

More on Berding/COAST Battle

Although no one seems to want to comment directly on the situation, more details are emerging about the bitter political dispute between Cincinnati City Councilman Jeff Berding and several anti-streetcar groups.

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by 02.25.2010
Posted In: Community, City Council, Neighborhoods at 03:39 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 

Berding's Proposal Prompts Boycott Call

A long-simmering dispute about how much oversight should be imposed on a contractor that doles out city money for neighborhood projects is heating up again.

Just when it looked like Cincinnati officials were about to restore a contract to Invest In Neighborhoods Inc. (IIN) to manage the city’s Neighborhood Support Program (NSP), a stumbling block has occurred.

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by German Lopez 12.18.2012
Posted In: News, City Council, Gun Violence, Government at 05:10 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
city hall

Metal Detectors Could Come Back to City Hall

Councilman says more gun regulations unlikely at local level

In light of the Newtown, Conn., massacre, a City Council member wants metal detectors put back in City Hall.

Democratic Councilman Cecil Thomas says he’s always been concerned about security, and he hopes recent bouts of gun violence will make it clear more protective steps are necessary.

Thomas argues City Hall should not be an exception to a practice that’s carried out in other government buildings. He points to federal and county buildings and other city halls around the nation, which tend to use metal detectors.

Thomas, who was a police officer until 2000, acknowledges metal detectors are a “little bit of an inconvenience” to visitors, but he adds, “These are times when a little bit more inconvenience can go a long way to possibly save a lot of lives.”

So City Hall could get more security, but what about the city as a whole? Earlier today, Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls announced City Council will work on a resolution to encourage Congress to pass new gun regulations at a federal level. Beyond that, Thomas says not much is likely.

The problem is state law trumps local law when it comes to gun regulations, so City Council’s hands are tied on the issue. “I would like to see us be able to control our own destiny as it relates to gun laws, but, obviously, I have no control over that,” Thomas says.

Metal detectors were in place at City Hall until 2006, when Mayor Mark Mallory had them taken down to make City Hall more open to the public.

 
 
by Kevin Osborne 04.02.2012
Posted In: Courts, City Council, Spending, Neighborhoods, Poverty at 08:19 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
shelia

Morning News and Stuff

The person hired 15 months ago to lead the Hamilton County Public Defender's Office is having extreme conflicts with her staff, according to an assessment done for the commission that oversees the office. Before she was hired here, Shelia Kyle-Reno headed a much smaller public defender's office based in Elizabethtown, Ky. “It is obvious that the Hamilton County Public Defender’s Office is an office characterized by high conflict, mistrust, poor communication and a lack of a shared vision,” the report states. The office provides free legal services for poor people charged with crimes.

Cincinnati City Council's budget and finance committee will hold a public hearing Tuesday evening to get input on what cuts to make to deal with a reduction in federal funding. The city is grappling with a $630,000 drop in grant funding for neighborhood projects and a $300,000 drop in funding for affordable housing. Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld is urging his colleagues to block a plan to spend $4.4 million to renovate City Hall's atrium so it can be rented for special events, and instead spend that money to avoid cuts in the other programs.

A 20-year-old soldier from Kentucky was killed in Afghanistan. The U.S. Defense Department said Army Spc. David W. Taylor, of Dixon, Ky., died on Thursday in Kandahar province. The military didn't say how Taylor died.

Here's some good news for people getting ready to graduate from college. Hiring of college graduates is expected to climb 10.02 percent on campuses in 2012, a increase from the previous estimate of 9.5 percent, according to a survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

A Republican-backed bill that would limit the amount of damages paid to consumers by businesses found to have engaged in deceptive practices is expected to be signed into law by Gov. John Kasich this week. The bill would exempt businesses from paying certain damages if a consumer rejects a settlement offer and is later awarded less in court. The National Consumer Law Center has said Ohio would have one of the weakest consumer protection laws in the nation if the bill is signed, reducing incentives for companies to change fradulent practices.

In news elsewhere, research from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York shows that Americans age 60 and older still owe about $36 billion in student loans, and more than 10 percent of those loans are delinquent. As a result, some Social Security checks are being garnished and debt collectors are harassing borrowers in their 80s about student loans that are decades old. Some economists say the long-touted benefits of a college degree are being diluted by rising tuition rates and the longevity of debt.

GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney and other Republicans seeking elective office this year are strenuously avoiding any mention or appearance with the most recent president from their party, George W. Bush. Although Romney recently picked up endorsements from Dubya's father and brother, George H.W. Bush and Jeb Bush respectively, POTUS No. 43 is keeping a low profile. Do you think it might be due to two bungled wars and the recession that started on his watch? Nah. (And yet they want to continue his policies.)

Some British politicians and civil rights activists are protesting plans by the government to give the intelligence service the ability to monitor the telephone calls, e-mails, text messages and Internet use of every person in the United Kingdom. Under the proposal, revealed in The Sunday Times of London, a law to be introduced later this year would allow the authorities to order Internet companies to install hardware enabling the government’s monitoring agency to examine individual communications without a warrant. George Orwell was right: Big Brother is watching you.

In what's becoming an increasingly frequent headline, TV commentator Keith Olbermann has been fired from another job. Olbermann was terminated Friday by Current TV, and replaced by ex-New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer. Olbermann had hosted Countdown, which he brought from MSNBC after his exit there, since June. Sources say Olbermann was let go for various reasons including continual complaints about staff, refusing to toss to other peoples' shows or appear in advertisements with them.

Iraq's “fugitive” Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi has rejected Baghdad's demand for Qatar to extradite him, stating he enjoys constitutional immunity and hasn't been convicted of any crime. Hashemi is accused of having operated a secret death squad in Iraq.
 
 
by 12.20.2010
 
 

Note to City Council: Just Say No

Two far-reaching ideas by Cincinnati's fly-by-the-seats-of-their-pants City Council is being sharply criticized by people with extensive experience in policing issues.

As City Council acts surprised about a $58 million deficit that's loomed on the horizon for months, an amount that's only fluctuated slightly due to changing revenues, members last week proposed abolishing the Cincinnati Police Department's patrol bureau and contracting those services to the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office.

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by Kevin Osborne 04.30.2012
 
 
casino

Morning News and Stuff

Cincinnati City Council will soon create a working group of leaders from six neighborhoods near the planned downtown casino site. Once organized, the working group will examine ways to maximize the benefits from the visitors, jobs and tax revenue the new casino will bring, while dealing with any problems like possible increases in crime. The neighborhoods involved in the effort are downtown, Pendleton, Mount Adams, Mount Auburn, Over-the-Rhine and Walnut Hills.

A winner has finally been announced in a disputed judicial election from November 2010. Once a count of provisional ballots was completed Friday, Democrat Tracie Hunter was declared the victor over Republican John Williams by 71 votes. Because of the close margin, however, a recount likely will be held. Hunter seemingly lost the 2010 election by just 23 votes out of nearly 230,000 ballots cast by county voters, but 286 ballots weren't counted because they were cast by people who showed up to vote at the correct polling place but were misdirected by poll workers and voted at the wrong precinct table. Hunter filed a lawsuit, and two federal courts ultimately agreed the ballots should be tallied.

Since taking office in October, Hamilton County Clerk of Courts Tracy Winkler has cracked down on bail bond agents who owe money to the court system. During the past seven months, Winkler has collected $1.3 million of the $2.1 million owed by bond agents and their insurance companies. Since the early 1990s, several previous clerks of courts allowed some bond agents not to pay bonds forfeited when their clients didn’t appear in court, resulting in a large amount of forfeited but uncollected bonds owed to the governments involved in the cases.

The results of an investigation into the recent actions of Villa Hills Mayor Mike Martin will be released at a meeting tonight. Martin is accused of retaliatory behavior and comments, misuse of city facilities, violating the Open Records Act and burning city documents, according to WCPO-TV (Channel 9). Several council members have requested that Martin resign, but he has refused.

Motorists that use the Norwood Lateral to access southbound Interstate 75 will have to find a new route for the next 45 days. Beginning today, work to replace a bridge deck will require a closure of the ramp from westbound Norwood Lateral to southbound I-75. Traffic will be detoured to northbound I-75 to Paddock Road to southbound I-75.

In news elsewhere, the CIA is ignoring the Pakistani government's directives and has resumed the use of automated drone attacks within that nation's borders. The drone strikes killed four al-Qaeda-linked fighters Sunday in a girls’ school they had taken over in the North Waziristan tribal area. Some politicians said the drone strikes might set back negotiations over the reopening of NATO supply routes to Afghanistan that Pakistan blocked five months ago.

If the U.S. Supreme Court rules to strike down the federal government's mandate that individuals must buy health insurance, some observers say state governments might have to enact their own versions or pass other measures to draw healthy people into the system so their insurance markets remain viable. Ironically, lawmakers in the states opposing the federal mandate could face pressure from insurance companies to pass state mandates if the high court doesn’t also strike down the rules preventing them from charging more or denying coverage to sicker people.

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said negotiations with Iran should be given time to work before launching a military strike against the nation's nuclear facilities. Olmert, who was prime minister from 2006-09, was in office when a suspected nuclear site in Syria was attacked in five years ago.

A few days after the United Kingdom entered into a double-dip recession, Spain has followed suit. The recession, defined as two months of “negative growth,” was blamed on weak domestic demand that was only partially compensated by exports, according to data from the National Statistics Institute. It was the first official estimate to confirm a recession. Gross domestic product fell 0.3 percent in the fourth quarter of 2011.

Chen Guangcheng, a blind human rights activist under house arrest in China, has escaped his captors and gone into hiding. A dissident who met Chen in Beijing after his escape said Chen scaled a wall by night to escape from his village in eastern China, past guards and surveillance equipment. A human rights group says Chen has taken shelter in the U.S. embassy, but American officials have not publicly confirmed the reports.
 
 

 

 

 
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