Here at the morning news desk (which is really just my desk, only in the morning), we usually lead off with some local news. But the big story of the moment comes from across the river.
Kentucky's gay marriage ban is unconstitutional, a federal judge ruled yesterday. The judge struck down Kentucky’s amendment to its state constitution banning same-sex marriages, though he is holding implementation of his ruling until after hearings here in Cincinnati next month. The next showdown over gay marriage in the region comes Aug. 6, when the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals downtown will hear cases from Ohio, Kentucky and other states about same-sex marriage bans.
Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune is pitching user fees for events at Music Hall and the Cincinnati Museum Center as a way to raise funds to renovate the historic buildings. He floated the idea in a letter yesterday, where he also indicated he’s not sold on the idea of a sales tax hike to pay for the renovation projects. Portune said he’s not a flat no on the tax hike but that it will be a tough sell for him without some kind of ticket price increase. The buildings need more than $300 million in repairs.
An Indianapolis-based developer working on rehab projects for three iconic historic buildings in Cincinnati is making progress. Core Redevelopment LLC is redeveloping the former School for Creative and Performing Arts building in Pendleton, the Crosley building in Camp Washington and the old Windsor Elementary School in Walnut Hills. The group was just awarded tax credits on the Windsor project, which will contain 44 units of housing. CEO John Watson indicated that he thinks Walnut Hills is on the verge of a “full scale redevelopment” as a neighborhood. The SCPA project is expected to break ground in September and will be home to 142 units. Finally, the group will develop 238 units in the looming white Crosley building, which was built in the 1920s by the Crosley company as a factory for radios and other items. All three projects will be market rate housing. The group expects the 800-square-foot, one bedroom units at the Windsor building will run a little over $800 a month.
The city of Middletown is officially dissolving its housing authority after complaints it tried to kick people off Section 8 rolls. The Middletown Public Housing Authority voted unanimously to dissolve itself yesterday. MPHA will shut down by September, turning over 1,662 Section 8 vouchers to Butler and Warren Counties.
Miami University of Ohio is the most expensive public university in the country, a new study finds, and Ohio’s other public universities are also among the priciest. Miami rings up at a net cost of $24,000 a year after financial aid is considered. As an alum, this makes me wonder if the resale value of their degrees is higher, too. I have one recent-model English/Poli Sci double if any one’s interested… rarely used, buyer takes over payments.
It’s not every day you see your state’s Democratic senator take a selfie with your ultra conservative, Republican governor. But Sen. Sherrod Brown and Gov. John Kasich apparently got cozy for the camera yesterday at The Banks while celebrating the new GE deal. Cincinnati, bringing people together.
Finally, scientists are working on breeding bald chickens that can withstand the increased heat caused by climate change in regions near the equator. That's... terrifying. I imagine they'll be able to do it, though, since they've already been able to genetically engineer the spicy and extra crispy varieties.
A federal judge today ruled Kentucky’s ban on gay marriage is unconstitutional. But same-sex couples in the state can’t get marriage licenses just yet.
U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn II ruled that a 2004 amendment to Kentucky's state constitution prohibiting same-sex marriage violates the guarantee of equal protection under the law found in the U.S. constitution.
It's another sign that the tide may be turning in the region. The decision comes as a similar ban looks to be in serious legal trouble in Indiana, and just before an August federal court date that will decide
questions surrounding the issue in Ohio and other states. Since February last year, federal courts have upheld the right to marry for same-sex couples 19 times.
The decision came in response to a challenge to Kentucky’s ban by two same-sex couples. Maurice Blanchard and Dominique James were denied a marriage license on Jan. 2013. They were charged with trespassing after refusing to leave the Jefferson County Clerk’s office after being turned down for their license. A jury eventually found them guilty, though the two were fined only $1. The two other plaintiffs in the case, Timothy Love and Lawrence Ysunza, applied for a license in February 2013. The two have lived together for 34 years.
The plaintiffs and other same-sex couples looking to marry will have to wait a little longer, though. Heyburn has delayed implementation of his decision until after Aug. 6, when a higher court, the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, will hear several gay marriage cases from Kentucky, Ohio and two other states. Those cases will be heard in Cincinnati.
Heyburn, who in February also ruled that the state must recognize same-sex marriages from other states, rejected Kentucky’s reasons for its ban. Lawyers hired by the Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear argued that traditional marriage helps ensure economic stability and a favorable birth rate in the state. The state’s Attorney General Jack Conway refused to defend the law on behalf of the state.
“These arguments are not those of serious people,” Heyburn said in his decision. He said there is “no conceivable, legitimate purpose” for the ban, which keeps same-sex couples in the state from enjoying the economic, social and emotional benefits of marriage. These include tax benefits, the ability to share insurance, the ability to adopt children as a couple and other rights.
The ruling continues a wave of recent decisions by federal courts upholding marriage rights for same-sex couples. But there’s still uncertainty even as the tide shifts. Most recently, on June 25, a judge struck down Indiana’s ban, allowing same-sex couples to immediately apply for marriage licenses. That decision was overturned a few days later on appeal, and couples who married in the three-day window are now waiting for a final decision to see if their marriages are valid in the state’s eyes. Currently, 19 states and the District of Columbia allow same-sex marriage.
Phew. It's only Tuesday and this week is already shaping up to be super intense. Let's get into it.
One of the Cincinnati area’s two abortion clinics must close, a Hamilton County magistrate said yesterday, though his official ruling on the matter will come July 10.
Magistrate Michael Bachman’s decision is the next step in a long legal process that began in January, when the Ohio Board of Health ordered Women’s Med clinic in Sharonville to close because it did not comply with an Ohio law requiring all outpatient abortion clinics to have the ability to transfer patients to local hospitals. A 2013 Ohio law made complying with that rule more difficult by prohibiting tax-funded public hospitals from entering into such transfer agreements.
The clinic appealed the decision, asking for a waiver to the rule. That initial request was denied, and as the clinic continues its appeals, a Hamilton County judge ruled it could stay open. Bachman’s ruling, which must be approved by the original judge, would overturn that temporary reprieve. The area’s other clinic is a Planned Parenthood facility in Mount Auburn called the Elizabeth Campbell Surgical Center. If both shut down, Cincinnati will be the largest metropolitan area in the country without access to a local abortion clinic, The Enquirer reports.
• Speaking of questionable decisions regarding women’s health, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine led a group of 19 other Republican AGs who filed a brief supporting Hobby Lobby before the Supreme Court ruled on the recent contraceptive case. The brief likely had little bearing on the final outcome and was more a political gesture from DeWine and others who are dead set against President Obama’s Affordable Care Act. The ACA is at the center of the Hobby Lobby case, which involved the company’s refusal to cover under its health insurance plan certain birth control devices it believes cause abortions. Scientists disagree with that assertion, but the court went with Hobby Lobby in a 5 to 4 decision yesterday.
DeWine’s opponent for attorney general, Democrat David Pepper, questioned whether the AG should have been filed the brief on Ohio taxpayers’ dime.
“Hobby Lobby has its own attorneys,” Pepper said. “They’re good lawyers, some of the best in the country. Let Hobby Lobby make its own arguments.”
* Some of Ohio’s heavy hitters are in town today to celebrate Cincinnati’s new agreement with General Electric. Gov. John Kasich, Sen. Sherrod Brown, Rep. Brad Wenstrup and a number of other political and business leaders are set to attend a special ceremony celebrating the deal downtown today. GE’s new site is expected to bring about 2,000 jobs to The Banks when it’s all up and running.
• Also going on downtown today, possibly: I saw a tweet floating around saying that the world’s longest Bierwurst, a 250-foot-long beer-flavored sausage, will be served at Fountain Square at 11:30 am. I haven't been able to confirm that, but you can bet I'll be there to investigate this mysterious meat monstrosity.
• A study by State Impact Ohio shows that the tax burden paying for Ohio’s schools has shifted in the past two decades. The business community is paying less and individual homeowners and other small landowners are paying more, according to the study. Individuals paid 46 percent of school taxes in 1991 and now pay 70 percent due to changes in the way businesses are taxed. Ohio schools get much of their operating money from these property taxes.
• This month marks the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which was passed July 2 that year. Here’s an in-depth look at how the law came to be and a pretty depressing take on why it probably wouldn’t pass in today’s Congress.
The first family of Hip Hop/R&B — and perhaps music in general — graced Cincinnati with their presence Saturday for Jay Z and Beyoncé’s On The Run tour. Downtown’s Great American Ballpark was Jay and Bey’s second stop on their first joint stadium tour, aptly abbreviated OTR (cue the wave of #thisisotr hashtags). The BeyHive was out in full force, along with whatever maniacal Jay Z fans call themselves.
After a stormy afternoon, skies cleared in time for the concert, which began around 9:30 p.m. (an hour-and-a-half past the show time listed on tickets, but no surprise to regular concertgoers or fans in-the-know). The couple kicked off the set with “03 Bonnie and Clyde,” their first collaboration, recorded more than a decade ago. Next up were two more duets, “Upgrade U” and “Crazy in Love,” followed by two hours of tag-teaming many of their hits.
People were blown away by the reported 42 songs performed at the inaugural OTR stop in Miami last Wednesday, and the couple delivered in Cincinnati (peep the full set list here), though every song was condensed and often mashed up with or bled into another tune.
The duo performed individually and together, creating a musical tapestry of their iconic hits (“Single Ladies,” “99 Problems,” “Diva,” “Dirt Off Your Shoulder”), classics (“Hard Knock Life,” “Big Pimpin’,” “Baby Boy”) and newer work (“Tom Ford,” “Pretty Hurts,” “No Church in the Wild,” “Yoncé”). Snippets of their short film/tour preview for On The Run, which featured a ridiculously long list of celebrity cameos, played throughout the show. Other high-production videos dazzled on the two big screens, ensuring everyone from the nosebleeds to the VIPs had a decent view.
For "Holy Grail," originally performed by Jay Z and Justin Timberlake (who toured together last year), Bey took on JT's lyrics, performing a powerful collaboration that left me asking, "Justin who?" "Izzo" was accompanied by a slideshow of celebrity mugshots, which culminated with Justin Bieber's — timed perfectly with the lyrics, "So poof! Vamoose, son of a bitch."
“Partition” was a sexy surprise: Jay came out to a center stage in the crowd, sat in a simple chair and rapped over the simple but catchy beat. Then Bey and her thonged backup dancers took the main stage, complete with poles, performing the infectious, erotic hit. So basically, we all watched Beyoncé dance for her husband, and we’re all better people because of it. Bey tore the house down as she recreated the video, moving behind a screen to dance/seductively mount her now-signature weirdly shaped chair thing. A very similar performance was screened at the BET Awards Sunday night.
Jay and Bey closed the show with “Part II ( On the Run)," “Young Forever” and “Halo,” walking through a crowd of fans to the center stage at one point. They kissed, which temporarily stopped the hearts of all in attendance, even if it was perhaps slightly awkward and possibly staged. A video medley of home footage played during the last two songs, featuring clips of the couple’s early years, engagement (where a romantic trip to the Crazy Horse strip club would later inspire Bey’s “Partition” video), secret wedding, daughter Blue Ivy’s birth and more recent shots of the family. Again, perhaps a bit overkill to non-diehard fans — “See, we’re really happy!!!” — but in the moment, it felt like the thousands of us in the park were sharing a special moment with the artists. And isn’t that what makes a successful concert?
Regardless of whether the tour is a big relationship-reaffirming publicity stunt, the show was a wholly entertaining spectacle. Both Jay Z and Beyoncé performed hard, making full use of the two stages, interacting with the audience and consistently changing ensembles. Another plus for fans: the duo really seemed to be having fun, which always keeps energy levels up. Jay was sure to throw in Cincinnati references in some of his songs — a small gesture that goes a long way for fans at shows. And Beyoncé teased us all during “Why Don’t You Love Me,” in which the singer plays up a crazy, needy girlfriend persona. She belted out the titular lyrics, then paused, playfully pouting, waiting for a loud enough roar from the audience before she’d continue. We roared.
The crowd at GABP was one of the most diverse I’ve ever seen at a concert in town, with visitors traveling from around the country to witness the power couple at work. Some came to dance to the Pop diva’s hits; for others, it was all about Hov’s famous rhymes; and many were eager for the rare opportunity to see two powerhouses collaborate — the audience represented a full spectrum of fans, eager to dance, drink and sing together.
Who run the world? Jayoncé.
The big news this morning is that President Obama will reportedly tap one of Cincinnati’s most prominent business leaders to head the Department of Veterans Affairs, which has been mired in some pretty hefty troubles lately.
Obama is expected to nominate former Procter & Gamble CEO Bob McDonald for the post. McDonald has a long military history — he’s a West Point grad and former Army Ranger — as well as having a lot of leadership experience with large, complex organizations. He became just the twelfth CEO at P&G in 2009 and left last year. He’s also the leader of the Cultural Facilities Task Force, which has been working to find ways to preserve both Union Terminal and Music Hall.
Despite his impressive resume, McDonald has his work cut out for him. The VA has recently faced a number of charges of mismanagement stemming from botched record keeping and long wait times for care, which critics say have resulted in the deaths of patients.
• In what has to be the biggest national news of the day, the Supreme Court ruled that employers can refuse to offer birth control as part of their insurance packages for religious reasons. The case involves the Hobby Lobby corporation, which refuses to offer contraceptives due to the Christian beliefs of the corporation’s founders. Some polls show that many Americans believe corporations shouldn't be allowed to decide what kinds of items are offered via health insurance, though pro-life groups are applauding the ruling.
The decision split the court 5 to 4, with all five in the majority men. If you're completely befuddled and saddened by the ruling, take heart from Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's dissenting opinion, which truly breathes hot fire. In it, she points out that some forms of contraception can cost a month's wages for minimum wage employees, that the court's ruling opens up a huge grey area about what can and can't be decided by corporations in terms of health care. She also warns that the court has "ventured into a minefield."
• I ride a bike to work so I don’t have to deal with traffic and roads being closed and whatnot. This usually works out great and I get to zip past all the chumps sitting in their idling cars. (Sorry if you drive to work. You’re not really a chump. I just hate driving and am really impatient in the mornings.) Except today. Twelfth and Race is shut down for streetcar work, throwing a serious obstacle in the route I and a lot of other people take. It’s going to be closed for the next six weeks. Also closed for the short-term: 12th and Clay, but that should be back in action Wednesday. Let’s just keep reminding ourselves that this is a sign that progress is happening, and that it’s a good thing. In the meantime, I need to figure out how to build that zip line I’ve been planning from my house to CityBeat’s office.
• The Enquirer today has a piece about “boomerang” residents — folks who move away to big metropolises but come back to the Queen City. As one of those folks myself, I feel fairly certain most people move back for the same reasons I did: easy access to Skyline and Putz’s blue soft serve ice cream. Mystery solved.
• An area man is about to go on trial. In North Korea. Jeffery Edward Fowle of Miamisburg visited the isolated totalitarian country in April and has been detained ever since for “hostile acts” against the state. Rumor has it he made disparaging remarks about North Korean ruler Kim Jong-un’s best friend Dennis Rodman and his rebounding skills.
• The Ohio State University welcomes its new president today. Michael Drake will be the school’s 15th head and the first African American to take the post. Drake was previously chancellor of University of California Irvine.
• ISIS, the brutal insurgent group of militants who have taken over a large swath of Iraq and some of Syria, have declared themselves a religious state governing the territory they’ve captured. That declaration is a challenge to the U.S.-supported Iraqi government's sovereignty and a new level of trouble for the already chaotic country. Meanwhile, the Iraqi government is making moves to take back some ground they’ve lost to ISIS, and Iran has pledged to fight the group as well, suggesting no end on the horizon for the bloody conflict.
* Finally, Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar has been dead for two decades, but Smithsonian reports his legacy lives on in the form of the country's hippo infestation. That's gangster.
There's a great array of theater this weekend, no matter what you like. That's a good thing, because local theater, like baseball, takes a kind of midsummer break (no All-Star Game onstage anywhere, however). So get out and see something this weekend, then enjoy the fireworks and picnics next. Here are some suggestions:
So I'm a bit late with news this morning, or the morning was a bit early, one of those. It probably has something to do with CityBeat winning six Cincinnati SPJ awards last night. Though I wasn't part of the team in 2013 when those awards were earned, I did my part by putting in extra hours celebrating.
Anyway, enough about us. Here's what's going on in the world.
Cincinnati’s startup community got some love yesterday when America Online cofounder Steve Case rolled into town with his Rise of the Rest tour, which celebrates entrepreneurs in American cities. Case praised Cincinnati’s progress in bringing vitality back to its downtown area and credited that renaissance at least in part to the city’s startups and young entrepreneurs.
U.S. Chamber of Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzger, who is riding shotgun on the tour, also praised the Queen City for the level of access startups have to the large corporations in town. She said what the city needs now is a big hit — a startup that really makes it big and shows the world that Cincinnati is a great place to start a business.
Mayor John Cranley was in the mix as well, touting Cincinnati’s strengths as a marketing town. He called the city “the best place in the world” for marketing entrepreneurs. While that’s kind of like your parents talking about how awesome you are to their work colleagues (of course he’s going to say that), Cranley’s point holds some weight — with so many big companies in town needing all sorts of fresh ideas, it can’t hurt to be living at their doorstep if you’re hoping to do some business with them.
One Cincinnati startup, called Frameri, got $100,000 from Case and an invitation to pitch their business in Washington, D.C. Frameri, which makes high-style glasses with interchangeable frames and lenses, beat out seven other local businesses in a pitch competition. The company is an alum of OTR’s business incubator The Brandery. No word from Case yet on my business idea, which involves a food delivery service that launches burritos from those pneumatic tubes you see in old bank building drive-thrus. Still waiting for that call, Steve…
• In other downtown news, Kroger is adjusting its ideas about starting a grocery store in the Central Business District. The Business Courier reports that Kroger CEO Roger McMullen discussed the chain’s plans for a downtown store at yesterday’s annual shareholder meeting, revealing that less may be more in the company’s eyes. Kroger had been mulling a full-size store here but is now considering something smaller and more specialized.
• Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld and other Democrats held an event this morning near UC criticizing Gov. John Kasich and the Ohio legislature for the low level of funding for higher education in the state. Democrats also gathered in Columbus to protest dwindling education spending, which they say make college unaffordable for many Ohio families. One talking point — Ohio’s budget spends less than 10 percent on higher education for the first time in four decades. Gov. Kasich has acknowledged that college affordability is a problem but says schools need to do more to cut costs and make sure degrees lead to good-paying jobs.
• The Associated Press reports that Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s office is having a difficult time documenting how it goes about choosing law firms for special assignments. DeWine says there’s a rigorous process used to vet firms and decide who gets the lucrative state contracts, but public records request by AP found… nothing. It’s entirely possible that the AG’s dog ate the records or that maybe DeWine just keeps all that info in his head. The revelation comes as allegations are being made that these kinds of contracts are often awarded to firms who donate to the state Republican party. DeWine’s opponent for the AG post, Cincinnati-based lawyer David Pepper, has said DeWine’s office is engaged in a “pay to play” arrangement. DeWine, however, says his office’s choices are transparent and fair.
• A study by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York found that political polarization, which is at an all-time high, contributes to income inequality. This is kind of like a two-for-one in the “hot political topics” world. The study doesn’t go so far as to nail down why the gap between America’s political ideologies tracks so closely with the gap in rich and poor Americans’ incomes, but it does make a couple guesses, which are worth reading about. Basically, it may have to do with the country’s rightward shift toward policies that tend to benefit more wealthy citizens. Or heck, maybe it’s just a big crazy coincidence and the tea party really will make everything great for everyone if we only embrace their Mad-Max style dreams for a government-less future. Could be.
A national group working to convince companies to change the way they buy produce picketed Kroger's annual shareholder meeting Thursday.
A national group working to convince companies to change the way they buy produce picketed Kroger's annual shareholder meeting Thursday.
About 100 activists showed up, holding signs and chanting as shareholders filed into the meeting at Music Hall. Some were local, while others came from Columbus, Florida and elsewhere.
The group organizing the event, Coalition of Immokalee Workers, is based in Immokalee, Fla., and pushes for higher wages and improved working conditions for farm laborers. A large amount of produce production takes place in Florida and throughout the South, and the industry is rife with complaints of worker exploitation and mistreatment.
Hundreds of thousands of farm workers labor in Florida, and many make just pennies per pound picked, meaning it can take picking a couple tons a day to make a living wage. That’s if they make any money at all. Florida has prosecuted a number of cases of slave labor in the agricultural industry in the past decade and a half, leading to the discovery of more than 1,000 people being exploited for unpaid slave labor.
The adverse conditions affect people of color disproportionately. A study by the Center for Racial Justice Innovation found that 50 percent of low-wage workers in the food industry are people of color, and that 65 percent of low-wage farm workers are Hispanic.
CIW started in 1993 as a small, local coalition working to improve these conditions, specifically working with tomato pickers. The group began near the city of Immokalee in southwest Florida, known as “the tomato capital of the world.” The organization had big success pushing for higher wages and better treatment and has grown to become a national-level organizing group for workers.
Oscar Otzoy picks produce and advocates for farm labor rights. He’s working in Columbus now but lived in Immokalee for eight years before that. He's been involved in the coalition to improve farm workers’ rights that entire time.
He says before the coalition, working days in the fields were long, and workers had little recourse when they were mistreated.
“Back then, you’d work long, hard hours, and if you were abused in the fields, if you were a victim of sexual harassment, as many women are, there was no system,” he said. “If workers wanted to complain, they would be fired on the spot. That’s all changing now.”
Otzoy says the life of a farm laborer can be hard, especially without groups like the CIW.
“You wake up very early in the morning, usually about 4 a.m., and then get on a bus to the field to work,” said Otzoy, describing a typical day before he joined the coalition. “But when you get there, you usually don’t start working until about 10 a.m., when the pesticides have dried and it’s safe to enter. All the time in between is unpaid.”
The CIW’s Fair Food Program, an effort to address some of the hardships of work in the produce industry, pushes for an extra cent per pound paid to workers, supports a code of conduct for companies and educates workers about their rights. CIW says the Fair Food Program has resulted in $12 million in extra pay for workers since it was first instituted.
McDonalds, Burger King, Taco Bell, Subway, Chipotle, Trader Joes, Whole Foods and Wal Mart, among other large companies responsible for billions of dollars in the produce trade, have all participated in the Fair Food Program. Some staunch holdouts include Wendy’s and Publix, a Southern grocery store chain.
Kroger is another company that has yet to join in.
“We’ve been here every year, and we’re trying to grow our numbers,” said Sameerah Ahmad, a local organizer working with CIW at the protest. “We’ve been organizing these protests for a few years. We want to show escalation and pressure and show we’re not going way.
Kroger is the nation’s largest grocer after Wal-Mart, with total sales of more than $34 billion. The chain has not yet responded to calls to join fair food efforts. While the company itself hasn’t participated directly in any known agricultural injustices, Ahmad said that as part of the produce industry, the company should make sure it’s sourcing its food ethically.
“Kroger can take a big step by supporting workers’ rights in the fields,” she said.