America is a country at war. While the war in Iraq ostensibly drew down in December 2011, the United States has been quagmired in a war in Afghanistan for more than a decade.
But we're also in the midst of a number of other wars — cultural wars. It started with Nixon’s War on Drugs, then quickly escalated.
President Barack Obama’s environmental regulations on coal mining caused proponents to claim he had declared a War on Coal. The Affordable Care Act’s mandate that companies pay for employee contraception caused many faith groups to claim a War on Religion.
Statements from Republican politicians about “legitimate rape” and “binders full of women” caused some Democrats to claim the GOP had declared a War on Women.
And the ever-vigilant conspiracists news hounds at FOX News have exposed a scheme by Jesus-hating liberals to wage a War on Christmas for trying to remove constitutionally questionable dolled-up trees and pastoral scenes of babies in unsuitable barn-life cribbery faith-based displays from public property.
But by far the most heinous altercation being waged originated with Republican Ohio Senate President Tom Niehaus, who has declared a War on Babies.
As first reported by The Enquirer, conservative groups this week sent out a press release vilifying Niehaus for killing tons of babies in a mass effort to wipe out the state’s youth population a 17-month old bill that would give Ohio one of the strictest abortion laws in the nation.
Niehaus moved the so-called Heartbeat Bill — which would ban all abortions after the first detectable fetal heartbeat — from the Health Committee to the Rules and Reference Committee to avoid a forced vote on the legislation. He also removed staunch anti-abortion Senators Keith Faber and Shannon Jones from that committee.
“I’m shocked by Tom Niehaus’ war on pro-life women,” wrote Lori Viars in the news release. Viars is the vice president of Warren County Right to Life and vice chair of Warren County Republican Party.
Viars called for Republicans to remove Niehaus from Senate leadership. Niehaus is term-limited and will not continue on in office after this year.
Niehaus blamed Romney’s loss for his decision to kill the bill, saying that the Republican’s victory would have increased the likelihood of a U.S. Supreme Court lineup that would uphold it against a likely challenge.
The bill was the topic of discussion at a Senate Insurance, Commerce and Labor Committee hearing on Nov. 27. At the hearing, supporters argued the bill would stop compensating illegal workers who aren’t supposed to be in Ohio to begin with. But opponents argue that the details in the bill add too many extra problems.
In fact, the bill might be going after a problem that doesn’t even exist. At an earlier hearing, Seitz, a Republican, said the state does not collect data on the immigration status of workers receiving compensation. To Brian Hoffman of Innovation Ohio, this means there’s no way to know if the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC) has ever compensated a single undocumented worker. “It just seems curious that this bill is being introduced and has gotten three hearings when there’s no proof that it’s actually even an issue,” he says.
Hoffman is also worried that the bill is imposing a new regulatory burden on BWC without providing additional funds. In his view, the state agency is essentially being told to do more without additional resources to prepare or train regulators. Considering how complicated the immigration issue can get, this makes Hoffman doubt the agency will be able to properly carry out the new regulations.
From a broader perspective, the bill imposes regulatory hurdles on all injured workers just so they can get compensation they're entitled to under state law. “Talk about kicking someone when they’re down,” Hoffman says.
But the burden could hit Hispanics even harder and lead to more discrimination in the workplace. After all, when employers are clearing legal statuses, who are they more likely to question, someone with a name like “Dexter Morgan” or someone with a name like “Angel Batista”?
In Hoffman’s view, the state should leave immigration issues to the federal government and worry about more pressing issues: “Why is the state legislature even wasting its time on the issue? There are plenty of really good ideas to bring jobs back to Ohio. Why aren’t they focused on those?”
The bill is still in committee, but it’s been the subject of multiple hearings. It’s unlikely the Ohio Senate will take it up in what’s left of the lame-duck session, but it could come back in the next year.
CityBeat was unable to reach Seitz for comment despite repeated attempts through phone and email, in addition to a scheduled interview that was canceled. This story will be updated if comment becomes available.
After CityBeat was criticized for “factual errors” in an article about The Cincinnati Enquirer’s new social media strategy by one of that newspaper’s editors, we offered her the opportunity early Thursday to elaborate and she responded today.
More than half of Cincinnati’s children live in poverty, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2012 American Community Survey released Thursday.
The 2012 rate represents a roughly 10-percent increase in the city’s child poverty rate in the past two years. In 2010, 48 percent of Cincinnatians younger than 18 were considered impoverished; in 2012, the rate was 53.1 percent.
If the number was reduced back down to 2010 levels, approximately 4,500 Cincinnati children would be pulled out of poverty.
Overall poverty similarly increased in Cincinnati from 30.6 percent in 2010 to 34.1 percent in 2012.
Black residents were hit hardest with 46.4 percent classified as in poverty in 2012, up from 40.8 percent in 2010. Meanwhile, the poverty rate among white residents went from 19.8 percent in 2010 to 22.9 percent in 2012.
Hispanics of any race were placed at a poverty rate of 51 percent in 2012, but that number had an extraordinary margin of error of 15.5 percent, which means the actual poverty rate for Hispanics could be up to 15.5 percent higher or lower than the survey’s estimate. In 2010, 42 percent of Hispanics were classified as impoverished, but that number had an even larger margin of error of 17.9 percent.
The other local numbers had margins of error ranging from 2.2 percent to 4.9 percent.
The child poverty rates for Cincinnati were more than double Ohio’s numbers. Nearly one in four Ohio children are in poverty, putting the state at No. 33 worst among 50 states for child poverty, according to the Children’s Defense Fund of Ohio.
In 2012, the U.S. government put the federal poverty level for a family of four at an annual income of $23,050.
Some groups are using the numbers to make the case for new policies.
“Too many Ohioans are getting stuck at the lowest rung of the income ladder and kids are paying the price,” said Hannah Halbert, workforce researcher for left-leaning think tank Policy Matters Ohio, in a statement. “Policymakers — at both the state and federal levels — are making a clear choice to not invest in workers, families or kids. This approach is not moving our families forward.”
The federal government temporarily increased aid to low-income Americans through the federal stimulus package in 2009, but some of that extra funding already expired or is set to expire later in the year. The food stamp program’s cuts in particular could hit 1.8 million Ohioans, according to an Aug. 2 report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
At a local level, City Council has consistently failed to uphold its commitment to human services in the past decade, which human services agencies say is making the fight against poverty and homelessness more difficult.
Supporters of the $133 million streetcar project on Thursday night packed Mercantile Library and Fountain Square to start a two-week campaign that seeks to prevent the incoming mayor and City Council from canceling the ongoing project.
Turnout was particularly strong as supporters reached the 200-person capacity at Mercantile Library before the event started. Another 200 watched the event from the Jumbotron screen at Fountain Square, according to the event's organizers.
In attendance were several Over-the-Rhine business owners and residents; council members P.G. Sittenfeld, Chris Seelbach and Wendell Young; and several supporters of the project from around the city.
The goal of the event was to organize supporters and begin a lobbying campaign to convince the three perceived swing votes in the incoming council — Sittenfeld, David Mann and Kevin Flynn — to support continuing the project. All three have spoken against the streetcar in the past, but they told CityBeat they want to fully account for the project's cancellation costs, completion costs and potential return on investment before making a final decision.
Speakers urged supporters to contact the nine newly elected council members and raise awareness about the streetcar's benefits before Mayor-elect John Cranley, who opposes the streetcar project, and the new City Council take office in December.
Ryan Messer, a lead organizer of the effort to save the streetcar, spoke about the advantages of the streetcar project for much of the event. "This is a good economic tool that helps all of Cincinnati," he repeatedly stated.
Supporters have some empirical evidence to base their claims on. A 2007 study from consulting firm HDR found the streetcar project would generate a 2.7-to-1 return on investment over 35 years. The HDR study was later evaluated and supported by the University of Cincinnati.
Project executive John Deatrick acknowledges the 2007 study is now outdated and the city is working on updating the numbers. But he says the streetcar project is supposed to be viewed as an economic development vehicle, not just another transit option.
Supporters also warned of the potential costs of canceling the streetcar project. Hours before the gathering, Mayor Mark Mallory released a letter from the Federal Transit Administration that explicitly stated the city would lose nearly $41 million in federal grant dollars if the project were canceled, and another $4 million would be placed in the hands of Gov. John Kasich to do as he sees fit.
City spokesperson Meg Olberding previously told CityBeat that the city already spent about $2 million of the federal funds. If the project were canceled, she says the money would have to be repaid through the operating budget that funds police, firefighters and human services instead of the capital budget currently financing the streetcar project.
The operating budget has been structurally imbalanced since 2001, so adding millions in costs to it could force the city to cut services or raise taxes.
The FTA letter might already be playing an influence for at least one of the swing votes on City Council. On the elevator ride up to Mercantile Library, Sittenfeld told Seelbach and CityBeat, "I will say that today's news is a big gain in the pro-streetcar column."
Another threat for the city is potential litigation from contractors, subcontractors, taxpayers and Over-the-Rhine residents and businesses who invested in the project or along the streetcar line with the expectation that the project would be completed.
Litigation costs would also come out of the operating budget, according to Olberding.
"As a trial lawyer, this is actually appealing," said Democratic attorney Don Mooney. "For the city, not so much."
Supporters also outlined the potential damage that pulling from the project could do to the city's image, given that developers, businesses and the federal government have put their support and dollars toward the streetcar.
"Is Cincinnati that city that will dine you and wine you and leave you alone at the altar?" Young asked.
But if the lobbying effort, cancellation costs and threat of litigation aren't enough, supporters also presented one more option to save the streetcar: a ballot initiative. Mayor-elect John Cranley on Thursday told The Cincinnati Enquirer that he would be open to allowing some sort of streetcar referendum on the ballot.
The ultimate goal for supporters of the streetcar, beyond ensuring sustainable growth in the urban core, is to connect all of Cincinnati through a vast transit network, much like the streetcar lines that ran through Cincinnati before the city government dismantled the old system in the 1950s.
That provides little assurance to opponents of the streetcar project. Cranley and at least three hard-liners in the incoming City Council — Amy Murray, Charlie Winburn and Christopher Smitherman — claim the project is too expensive and the wrong priority for Cincinnati. Discussing more phases makes the project appear even costlier to opponents who are already concerned with costs.
In its comprehensive plan for 2040, the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments put the cost of various extensions — to the University of Cincinnati and surrounding hospitals, the Cincinnati Zoo, the Cincinnati Museum Center and the Broadway Commons area near the Horseshoe Casino — at more than $191 million, or $58 million more than the estimated cost for the current phase.
But if Cincinnati never completes the first phase of the streetcar project, supporters say it could be decades before other light rail options are considered.
Former Cincinnati City Councilman Greg Harris has accepted a major, high-profile job in Detroit, where he will live during the week.
Harris, 39, was hired Monday as the first executive director for Excellent Schools Detroit. The new organization is comprised of various education, government, community and philanthropic leaders who have developed a 10-year, citywide education plan to improve Detroit's public school system.
There’s a lot of buzz among political junkies about Outrage, the new documentary by filmmaker Kirby Dick that premiered across the nation last week. The film explores the prevalence of politicians who remain closeted about their sexuality and whether their choice harms the LGBT community.
City Solicitor John Curp and Ohio Ethics Commission Executive Director Paul Nick said in an Oct. 22 email exchange that it was OK for Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls to retain her job as a realtor and vote in support of the streetcar project, even though the project could indirectly benefit Qualls by increasing property values — and therefore her compensation as a realtor — along the route.
The email exchange was provided to CityBeat and other media outlets after mayoral candidate John Cranley criticized Qualls, who is also running for mayor, for the alleged conflict of interest at an Oct. 22 press conference.
Curp stated in an email to Nick that Qualls’ potential gains from the streetcar project are too speculative and indirect to present a conflict of interest or ethical violation because the real estate sales are “arms-length transactions between private parties” with a flat 1 to 2 percent fee.
Nick’s emailed response cited two previous Ohio Ethics Commission opinions to support Curp’s analysis.
“It would be unreasonable to hold that lawyers, accountants, insurance agents, and other professionals have an interest in the contracts of their business clients. In general, such professionals are not deemed to be interested in the business dealings of a client, merely because they receive fees for professional services,” according to a February 1986 opinion.
The opinion then clarifies that ethics violations must be directly tied to a project. For example, an insurance agent on City Council would violate ethics law if he or she voted on a construction contract in which his or her insurance agency is charged with handling bond sales for the contract in some way.
Curp also noted that Qualls had asked about the potential conflict of interest on “a minimum of two prior occasions.”
Nick told CityBeat in a phone interview that it’s normal for city officials to go through city solicitors before going to the Ohio Ethics Commission with an ethical question. If the city solicitor and commission agree a formal analysis isn’t necessary, the situation is resolved with brief guidance.
For Cranley, the concerns suggest a contradiction to his previously touted beliefs about the streetcar.
Supporters of the streetcar project, including Qualls,
often tout potential property value increases and the economic gains
they would bring to Cincinnati as a reason to back the project. The economic gains were supported by studies from consulting firm HDR and the University of Cincinnati, which found the streetcar would produce a three-to-one return on investment in Over-the-Rhine and downtown.
Critics, including Cranley, say such property value increases are overblown to falsely justify what they call a “pet project.”
But if the property values never materialize, Qualls isn’t financially benefiting in the way Cranley’s campaign described.