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by German Lopez 09.18.2012
Posted In: Budget, News, Government, Spending at 12:46 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
hartmann1

Hartmann to Mallory: Cooperate

Commissioner asks mayor to live up to county-city collaboration promises

In contrast to the partisan gridlock at the federal level, Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Hartmann, a Republican, sent a letter to Mayor Mark Mallory, a Democrat, today asking the mayor to commit to earlier promises to boost collaboration between Hamilton County and the City of Cincinnati.

“I am writing to express my disappointment in the lack of progress of the City-County Shared Services Committee that we originally announced in October 2011,” Hartmann wrote. “Despite numerous attempts by my office and County Administration to make progress with the Committee, it appears you have abandoned your commitment to this important initiative.”

The committee was meant to increase collaboration between the city and county to bring together important county and city leaders and make government services more streamlined and competitive. According the letter, the county expected to “eliminate any duplicative services, overlapping departmental functions and competing initiatives with the City.”

With the county and city both facing budget shortfalls in the face of the Great Recession, Hartmann says the increased collaboration would help ease tight budgets. The Hamilton County commissioners are currently going through meetings with department heads to see what can and needs to be cut from county services to make up for what is projected to be a $20 million budget shortfall.

But the committee never came to be. Hartmann claims his office tried to contact Mallory again and again, but he never received a response. The county even set aside $100,000 for a promised joint review of city and county operations, and the Cincinnati Business Committee did as well. Mallory pledged to devote $100,000 to the effort in a letter to the Ohio Department of Development, but “the follow-up legislation by the City Council never occurred,” Hartmann wrote.

The commissioner even specified some ideas to the City Manager’s Office in February. The three areas covered: improved collaboration on purchasing, countywide fire hydrant maintenance and improved collaboration on economic development. The ideas never made it past discussion.

Jason Barron, spokesperson for Mallory, could not immediately comment on the letter. This story will be updated if a comment becomes available.

The full letter, along with the attached letter from Mallory:


 
 
by German Lopez 09.12.2012
Posted In: Government, News, Economy, Spending at 01:44 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
randall meyer

Inspector General: ODJFS Wrongly Reimbursed Companies

Hired organizations did not properly comply with federal stimulus requirements

Ohio’s inspector general released a report today criticizing the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) for improperly reimbursing federal stimulus funds to hired organizations that did not follow rules.

In a statement, Inspector General Randall Meyer’s office said ODJFS “failed to adequately oversee federal grant funds applied to the Constructing Futures jobs training initiative for Central Ohio.”

The report released by Meyer’s office today, which focused on stimulus programs in central Ohio, outlined a few instances of ODJFS failing to oversee proper standards. In total, the department, which was put in charge of carrying out job training funds in Ohio from the stimulus package President Barack Obama signed into law in 2009, wrongly reimbursed companies it hired for $51,700.81.

In central Ohio, ODJFS hired two organizations to carry out the job training program, or Workforce Investment Act: Associated Builders and Contractors, Inc. (ABC) and Construction Trades Networks (CTN). At ABC, the inspector general found limited problems with faulty reimbursements involving a newspaper subscription, travel and mileage totaling less than $100. The money was not accounted for as a questionable cost since it was so small.

However, at CTN, the faulty reimbursements piled up. The organization was reimbursed $560.61 for phone calls made prior to being hired as part of the federal grant. It was also reimbursed $1,613.62 for its invoices, even though documentation was not provided to link phone calls as necessary to the grant program.

Under the federal stimulus rules, CTN was required to provide 25 percent of its own funds for the program. CTN planned on using $91,800 of in-kind funds — payment that isn’t cash — by paying for trainee wages. The organization paid $60,927.70 by the end of the grant period, and the organization was reimbursed for $49,526.64 by ODJFS, even though the charges were supposed to be carried by CTN. The inspector general requested CTN give the money back to ODJFS.

When the inspector general contacted the organization to explain the findings, CTN attributed the requests for faulty reimbursements to confusion caused by multiple administrative changes at ODJFS.

“In addition, monitoring visits by ODJFS were not conducted until after the grant period expired, even though the partnerships were told the visits would occur as grant activities were underway,” the report said.

Meyer’s office concluded ODJFS should review the questioned costs, work to keep consistent guidelines through administrative changes and monitor grant funds during the grant period.

The full inspector general report can be found here.

A report was released for northwestern Ohio was released on May 10, and it also found wrongdoing. It can be found here. A report for stimulus programs in southwestern Ohio will be released later.

ODJFS could not be immediately provide comment on the report. This story will be updated if comments become available.

UPDATE (3:28 P.M.): Benjamin Johnson, spokesperson for ODJFS, provided a comment shortly after this story was published.

“As the report mentions, these were expenditures by local entities, not by the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services, he says. We appreciate the inspector general bringing this to our attention, and we'll work to resolve the matter.”

 
 
by Andy Brownfield 09.07.2012
 
 
josh_mandel headshot

Investigation: Secret Ohio Group Supporting Mandel

Investigation finds Super PAC headed by Columbus lobbyist running ads attacking Brown

An investigation by nonprofit journalism group ProPublica has uncovered the identity of one of the secret super PACs funding advertisements attacking U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and promoting his challenger, Ohio state treasurer Josh Mandel.

The group is the Government Integrity Fund and is headed by Columbus lobbyist Tom Norris. Norris’ lobbying firm Cap Square Solutions employs former Mandel aide Joe Ritter.

Ritter declined to comment to ProPublica about his role with Norris’ lobbying firm or whether he is involved with the Government Integrity Fund.

The race between Brown and Mandel is considered vital to Republicans who want to take control of the Senate and Democrats who want to hold on to their majority. It has turned into Ohio’s — and the nation’s — most expensive race.

The Associated Press reported in August that outside groups — like the Government Integrity Fund — have spent $15 million supporting Mandel, while similar groups have spent $3 million for Brown.

It’s unknown where the money is coming from because federal regulations and the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United case allow the groups to spend unlimited amounts of cash on political ads without disclosing their donors.

Such groups are classified as non-profit “social welfare” groups, which don’t have to release donor information or register with the Federal Election Commission. They’re supposed to be “primarily” engaged in promoting social welfare.

Super PACs aren’t supposed to coordinate with campaigns, but it is common for them to hire politicians’ former aides.

According to ProPublica, Ritter was first hired by Mandel as an aide when the candidate was in the Ohio Legislature. He was then the field director for Mandel’s state treasurer campaign and then became a constituent and executive agency liaison when Mandel won that race. He left the treasurer’s office after six months to work for Norris’ lobbying firm.

Ritter was part of an ethics complaint filed after a Dayton Daily News investigation into Mandel’s practice of hiring former campaign workers for state jobs. Ritter has contested the charges.

Norris' ties to the Government Integrity Fund was discovered by ProPublica through documents filed with Cincinnati NBC affiliate WLWT. The Federal Communication Commission requires TV stations to keep detailed records about political advertisers.

 
 
by Andy Brownfield 08.10.2012
Posted In: COAST, City Council, Spending, Streetcar at 03:51 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
streetcar

COAST Threatens to Block $11M for Streetcar

Group threatens referendum of Blue Ash Airport resale

The Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST) has threatened to block a move that would allow Cincinnati to use $37.5 million from the 2007 sale of the Blue Ash Airport for projects other than aviation, $11 million of which would go to the Cincinnati streetcar.

The Blue Ash City Council voted Thursday to re-do the sale of 130 acres at the Blue Ash Airport to the City of Cincinnati.  COAST says it wants to put the matter before voters in a 2013 referendum, which would halt the sale and re-instate the original agreement made in 2007 when Cincinnati made the sale.

The two cities decided to re-work the $37.5 million sale because a federal rule requires proceeds from the sale of an operating airport to be used for other aviation projects. The money would be returned, airport shut down and then the property re-sold to Blue Ash for the original amount.

“When they originally sold it they were stupid, which is typical of the City of Cincinnati, and did not realize that the proceeds on the sale of the airport have to go to other aviation-type things,” says COAST Chairman Tom Brinkman. “Now that they want to get the streetcar, they want to crack that money.”

Brinkman openly admits he doesn’t want the money to go to the streetcar (“We’re doing everything we can to make sure that boondoggle doesn’t occur”) but says COAST is working with a group of local pilots who want money from the sale to go to Cincinnati’s Lunken Airport.

Blue Ash is confident that the ordinance they passed approving the re-sale isn’t subject to referendum.

“Blue Ash believes everything enacted was lawful and would survive any challenge,” says City Solicitor Brian Pachenco. He declined to discuss specifics

The city wants the airport land to build a park.

Pachenco said the ordinance wasn’t written specifically to exempt it from referendum attempts, but nevertheless it falls under a section of the city’s charter that makes voters unable to recall it.

COAST isn’t so sure.

Chris Finney, legal counsel for COAST, said the buying and selling of land under the Blue Ash charter is subject to referendum. He said the ordinance was written to avoid using that language, but what was happening was in reality a sale.

For its part, Cincinnati doesn’t seem too concerned with the threatened referendum.

“We’re not going to talk 'what ifs' at this point,” city spokeswoman Meg Olberding said. “The streetcar has had two previous referendums that have been shot down.”

She pointed out that only $11 million of the sale was going toward the streetcar, and the remaining money would be available for other projects.

Cincinnati City Councilman Chris Seelbach was also unconcerned.

“COAST and groups like COAST have tried to put up every obstacle possible to prevent the streetcar from happening and we have overcome all of them,” Seelbach said. “I am 100 percent positive if this comes to a vote we will overcome it again and the streetcar will be built.”

 
 
by Danny Cross 06.06.2012
 
 
zeng

Morning News and Stuff

A local music teacher says Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy offered him a job and then rescinded the offer after asking him if he is gay. Jonathan Zeng says he went through the school's extensive interview process, was offered a position and then called back in for a discussion about religious questions in his application, during which he was asked directly if he is gay. Zeng says he asked why such information was pertinent, and an administrator said it was school policy not to employ teachers who are gay because they work with children and something about the sanctity of marriage. When contacted by local media CHCA released the following statement:

CHCA keeps confidential all matters discussed within a candidate's interview. We're looking into this matter, although the initial information we have seen contains inaccuracies. We will not be discussing individual hiring decisions or interviews.
Cincinnati's deficit isn't going to get better any time soon, according to a new report.

The Reds drafted high school pitcher Nick Travieso in the first round of the MLB draft on Monday. Here's a rundown of their other picks Monday and Tuesday.

Senate Republicans yesterday blocked a Democratic bill calling for equal pay in the workplace, and the Dems are going to stick it in their faces during this year's campaigns. From the AP:

As expected, the pay equity bill failed along party lines, 52-47, short of the required 60-vote threshold. But for majority Democrats, passage wasn't the only point. The debate itself was aimed at putting Republicans on the defensive on yet another women's issue, this one overtly economic after a government report showing slower-than-expected job growth.

"It is incredibly disappointing that in this make-or-break moment for the middle class, Senate Republicans put partisan politics ahead of American women and their families," Obama said in a statement after the vote.

"Even Mitt Romney has refused to publicly oppose this legislation," added Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. "He should show some leadership."

The Washington Post wonders whether Mitt Romney can use Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's template for surviving a recall election to try to win the presidency. It involves “big money, powerful organization and enormous enthusiasm among his base.” Exit polls in the state suggest Obama is ahead, however.

China wants foreign embassies to stop releasing reports and Tweeting about its poor air quality.

Gonorrhea growing resistant to antibiotics? Rut roh.

Dinosaurs apparently weighed less than scientists previously thought. Adjust paper-mache Brontosaurus as necessary.

Facebook is considering letting kids younger than 13 use the site.

The Boston Celtics took a 3-2 series lead over the Miami Heat on Tuesday and could send Bron Bron and Co. back home on Thursday.

 
 
by Danny Cross 05.31.2012
 
 
music hall

Morning News and Stuff

The Enquirer today offered a dramatic headline on its front page story, asking the figurative question, “Who will blink first on Music Hall deal?” Although Mayor Mark Mallory is able to literally blink, such involuntary action will not directly affect his stance on giving away Music Hall, which he is still opposed to.

Cincinnati's outstanding stadium tax bonds were downgraded by Moody's Investor Services, partially as a result of the county's sale of Drake Hospital last year and its unwillingness to cut the property tax rollback that helped convince rich people to vote for the tax in the first place.

Gov. John Kasich this week signed an executive order allowing the Ohio Lottery Commission to expedite new rules allowing slot machines at racetracks. The state's seven racetracks are expected to begin submitting applications for the 17,500 machines within the next few months.

Condoleeze Rice endorsed Mitt Romney, as the Republican presidential candidate struggles to differentiate his foreign policy from Obama's.

A Seattle man yesterday killed five people before shooting himself as authorities closed in on him. Various security cameras caught footage of the suspect entering a cafe, where he allegedly shot and killed four people. He reportedly killed another person during a carjacking. According to The Seattle Times, the suspect is Ian Lee Stawicki, 40, of Seattle, whose brother says he is mentally ill.

Florida Democrats are wondering what's up with Republican Gov. Rick Scott's effort to purge illegal voters from the state's rolls before this year's elections, partially in response to legal voters being booted.

Job creation: light. Unemployment claims: slightly up. Economy: growing a little slower than expected. Details here

Ever ordered a medium soda only to realize that the giant cup doesn't fit in a normal car cup holder? New York City could soon ban large sodas and other sugary drinks.

 
 
by Danny Cross 05.30.2012
 
 
josh_mandel headshot

Morning News and Stuff

Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel has already had a rough week, having to give back more than $100,000 in campaign contributions in response to an FBI investigation. Today The Cleveland Plain Dealer's Politifact website looked into one of the five claims made in Mandel's new 30-second TV ad, and it seems to be pretty false. Mandel claims that his opponent, Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown, “cast the deciding vote on the government takeover of health care." Politifact notes that since the health care overhaul passed by the minimum 60 votes necessary, that every vote was technically “deciding.” But, on the other hand, Brown was an early supporter of the legislation, and it is widely known that Ben Nelson of Nebraska was the final “yes” vote to join. Plus, technically, Brown was the seventh person to vote because it was taken in alphabetical order.

Ohio public schools have received a waiver for parts of No Child Left Behind that will remove a requirement to get all of their students proficient in math and reading by 2014. Nineteen states have received the waiver, meaning they'll have to create their own federally approved academic progress standards.

Covington leaders are expecting staff reductions as part of balancing the 2012-13 budget to cover $1.5 million that was left out. The city is facing $1.6 million in cuts to public-safety services and about $700,000 across other departments.

Mitt Romney officially won the Republican presidential nomination yesterday, but no one's talking about it because all the stories involve Donald Trump and the fact that his iPhone app misspelled “America.”

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has two weeks to offer arguments against extradition to Sweden after a U.K. supreme court ruling.

The makers of Blackberry are considering how to remake their products into something people will actually want again.

Facebook's public offering drama has caused experts to ask questions such as, “should investors see the wretched performance of Facebook’s IPO as any sort of signal about the likely future direction of the overall stock market and the economy?

While the rest of us were living our lives, two asteroids zipped past the earth early this week. Don't worry — they were small.

 
 
by Danny Cross 05.16.2012
 
 
james craig

Morning News and Stuff

The ongoing saga involving Cincinnati Police Chief James Craig and his nonexistent policing powers will continue into July, as a hearing scheduled for Thursday has been continued. Craig's attorneys will argue in front of the Ohio Peace Officer Training Commission that his prior experience, and certification in three other states, should exempt him from a state rule requiring all officers pass a certification exam before earning police powers. Craig believes he was hired to do things other than study for an entry-level policing test, and some states would already have certified him.

A statewide ban on texting while driving moved through the Ohio House of Representatives yesterday and is expected to be signed into law by Gov. John Kasich. The law makes the writing, sending or reading of a text message while driving a secondary offense, meaning officers may not pull over an adult driver for the act. Teens, however, under House Bill 99 will be prohibited from using any electronic device other than GPS and may be pulled over for it.

Kasich on Tuesday followed through with the GOP plan to overturn its own controversial election law that was to go before voters in November. State Republicans and election officials now say there's no reason for the law to go in front of voters thanks to the 300,000 signatures gathered by President Obama's re-election campaign and other opponents, but opponents of the election law point out that the repeal still reaffirms an election law change that would end early voting the weekend before an election. Democrats plan to keep the issue on the ballot.

But people on both sides of the issue say there's no precedent for a legislative repeal of a bill that also is the subject of a referendum, so it's unclear how a court might rule if a legal challenge is filed.

Jennifer Brunner, a former Democratic secretary of state and a leader in the Fair Elections Ohio campaign that brought the referendum, said Tuesday that the action taken by Gov. John Kasich and Legislature doesn't force the removal of the question from November ballots.

"Since this issue is a case of first impression for any court, we do not see the statement of the Secretary of State to be determinative on this issue," Brunner said in an email. "The issue remains on the ballot."

More drama from Columbus: Republicans are moving forward with a test program requiring some welfare recipients to submit to drug testing in order to continue receiving benefits. Opponents say the process stigmatizes the poor, while the GOP says it's just a simple process involving poor people paying the upfront costs for drug tests, being reimbursed if they pass and living on the streets for six months if they fail.

Northern Kentucky leaders plan to use the revitalization of Over-the-Rhine as a model for reinvesting in their urban core. A nonprofit organization has raised $10 million during the past five years to get started spurring commercial and residential investment.

Two Kentucky high school students who were turned away from their senior prom for arriving as a same-sex couple have argued that if their Catholic high school wants to ban students based on upholding the church's teachings, such a ban should include couples who have had premarital sex and kids who plan to get wasted after the prom.

Apparently viewers of Harry's Law, which was set in Cincinnati and used a stage-version of Arnold's as the lawyer gang's regular hangout, are too old to attract advertising dollars despite their relatively high numbers.

The show ranked very low among viewers ages 18 to 49, the demographic most advertisers care about. In fact, its young-adult numbers were beneath those for "Prime Suspect," a cop show that NBC canceled earlier this season, and roughly on par with those of "Off Their Rockers," the Betty White show about senior citizens pulling pranks on younger people.

"It was a difficult decision," an NBC executive said Sunday, quoted by the site Deadline.com. "Everyone here respects 'Harry's Law' a lot but we were finding it hard to grow the audience for it. Its audience skewed very old and it is hard to monetize that."

President Obama raised $44 million during April for his and other Democratic campaigns.

John Boehner says that when the federal government raises the debt limit again America can expect another prolonged fight about cuts.

George W. Bush has found “freedom” wherever he ended up after having little to offer the GOP after his tumultuous two terms as president. From ABC News:

We don't see much of Bush these days. He's the president that a lot of people would like to forget, still so toxic that he's widely considered more likely to hurt than help the Republican Party by participating in the 2012 campaign.

Bush's speech Tuesday morning was a rare exception. He spoke in a small, nondescript room to about 200 people about democracy activists, promoting a human rights campaign that's part of the George W. Bush Presidential Center.

His presence on the national stage is perhaps best seen in his presence on the small stage at 1777 F Street. At the end of the affair, Bush and his wife were called back up to be presented with writings by Czech human rights icon Vaclav Havel. They posed for pictures as the audience clapped, and when they were done, Bush glanced around as if unsure what to do next.

He walked back to his seat, but then quickly walked back onto the stage and behind the lectern. He leaned forward into the microphone, paused, and said slyly, "Thanks for coming."

Bush waited a second or two. Then he said, "See ya later."

He waved, and then he left.

Is U.S. energy independence a pipe dream? This article says no.

Apple might soon give you a larger iPhone screen.

A private rocket launch this week could be the start of commercial space travel.

Here are some important tips about sunscreen as summer approaches and the circle in the sky threatens to burn off our skin.

 
 
by Danny Cross 05.11.2012
 
 
screen shot 2012-05-11 at 10.06.00 am

Morning News and Stuff

Gov. John Kasich has something to say to anyone waiting on federal funding to help fix their bridges (and while we're at it, any local governments who need funding for something other than food and water): Forget about it. During an interview with Enquirer editors and reporters yesterday,* Kasich said tolls are the best means for funding a new Brent Spence Bridge.

“I do not believe that a white charger is going to come galloping (from Washington) into Cincinnati with $2 billion in the saddlebags,” Kasich said. “So if that isn’t going to happen and all we do is delay, delay, delay and we push this thing out until 2036 ... holy cow!”

* CityBeat had a similar meeting scheduled but we forgot about it and weren't here at the time — sorry Kasich, we'll get ya next time!

Things are about to get weird in a Clermont County courtroom if David Krikorian and Chris Finney get their wish — to have Jean Schmidt on the witness stand on May 17. Finney, the attorney for Citizens Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST), has been representing Krikorian, a former Democratic and independent candidate who unsuccessfully ran against Schmidt for Ohio's 2nd congressional district seat, has served Schmidt with a subpoena as part of Krikorian's lawsuit claiming a Schmidt lawsuit against Krikorian was frivolous. COAST's ghost-written blog posted commentary in February in response to accusations from Brad Wenstrup that Schmidt was using campaign funds to pay off legal fund debt from earlier campaign nonsense against Krikorian. Eastsiders mad.

Some high-level Procter & Gamble executives are getting the Bearcat Bounce out of Cincinnati, heading to Singapore where the company believes growth opportunities for its beauty care products are the highest. About 20 positions will be moved to the Singapore office during the next two years.

Does it matter that Mitt Romney might have led a group of teenagers in a “pin that dude down and cut his hair” prank during the '60s? The Nation says Obama's gay-marriage announcement caught Romney off guard.

As expected, Obama's fundraiser at George Clooney's house raked in the dough, raising $15 million in one night.

British Prime Minister David Cameron only recently learned what LOL means in text-speak. The explanation occurred during witness testimony from Rebekah Brooks, the former head of Rupert Murdoch's the now-defunct News of the World. Brooks was forced to resign last year amid a phone-hacking scandal.

"He would sign them off 'DC' in the main," Brooks said, referring to Cameron's initials. "Occasionally he would sign them off 'LOL' — 'lots of love' — until I told him it meant 'laugh out loud,' and then he didn't sign them off [that way] anymore."

It was certainly an LOL moment during Brooks' testimony in a London courtroom Friday as part of a judicial inquiry into media ethics. But the disclosure also underscored the warm personal ties between the prime minister and Brooks, the former head of media baron Rupert Murdoch's British newspapers who was forced to resign in disgrace last summer.

Someone found a really old Mayan calendar, and it offers good news: It goes way beyond Dec, 12, 2012.

Major League Baseball phenom Bryce Harper is in town for a three-game series with his Washington Nationals. The 19-year-old was the No. 1 overall pick in 2010 and is the first superstar-caliber player to make it to the big leagues this quickly prompting comparisons to Ken Griffey, Jr. at that age. Here's the local spin about on freak outfielder coming to town for a weekend series against the Reds.


 
 
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.
 
 

 

 

 
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