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by Ben L. Kaufman 05.14.2013
Posted In: Media Criticism, Media, Community, Gun Violence at 11:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
enquirer

Curmudgeon Notes 5.15.2013

Media musings from Cincinnati and beyond

Some Cincinnati IRS employees violated IRS rules and maybe the law by harassing scores of Tea Party and similar conservative groups seeking vital nonprofit status.  

As an example of IRS intrusiveness, the Enquirer reports that the Liberty Township Tea Party received a questionnaire demanding information the IRS is not allowed to seek. “The letter was signed by a local IRS official, who did not return calls seeking comment,” the paper initially reported. Who? Name names. If the IRS employee signed and sent an official government document, there’s no reason to grant anonymity. 

Later in its initial full page A-section story, the Enquirer quotes Ohio IRS spokeswoman Jennifer Jenkins saying, “Mistakes were made.” By whom? Again, names, please. Americans increasingly favor the passive voice, “mistakes were made” but no one made them. If the paper pressed for names of mistake-makers, it’s not evident. And who was fired? Anyone? 

The Associated Press — whose reporter broke this scandal story — says the Cincinnati mess is at least two years old. This isn’t new. We’ve seen IRS harassment of activists before and probably will again. Each time, it’s a scandal. Or should be. 

Any loss of residual confidence in IRS nonpartisanship is a helluva lot more serious than the muddle surrounding the killing of four Americans in Benghazi or the murder of three spectators at the Boston marathon. 

I’m sure it’s coincidence that the Cincinnati IRS harassment preceded the 2012 election. And I’m sure those employees were motivated only by zeal to protect the purity of the 501(c)(4) status from improper or illegal political activity. But I’m also sure that any agnostic or atheist Republicans are looking at this Cincinnati-born national IRS scandal as proof that “there is a God.” Now, to keep that wrath boiling with hearings until 2014 elections. 

The Associated Press says it’s the target of a sweeping Justice Department search for the news service’s confidential sources.  Monday, AP reported the Justice Department “secretly obtained two months of telephone records of reporters and editors . . . in what the news cooperative's top executive called a ‘massive and unprecedented intrusion’ into how news organizations gather the news.

“The records obtained by the Justice Department listed outgoing calls for the work and personal phone numbers of individual reporters, general AP office numbers in New York, Washington and Hartford, Conn., and the main number for AP reporters in the House of Representatives press gallery, according to attorneys for the AP. It was not clear if the records also included incoming calls or the duration of calls.

“In all, the government seized the records for more than 20 separate telephone lines assigned to AP and its journalists in April and May of 2012. The exact number of journalists who used the phone lines during that period is unknown but more than 100 journalists work in the offices where phone records were targeted, on a wide array of stories about government and other matters.”

Maybe it’s time to call in the Plumbers. 

I’m no fan of public radio’s Ira Glass. His whiney voice sends me to WLW 700 AM radio for something more insanely macho. Now, he’s shoveling natural soil enrichment in recorded promos for public radio fund raising. I heard them on WVXU-FM’s just-ended fund drive. His point: We should all be happy because everyone who listens to public radio helps support public radio. Not true. Never will be. At WVXU, fewer than 10 percent of us donate to its support. That means Ira Glass’s everyone are mostly parasites, listening but not paying. (Our family is a sustaining member of WVXU and WGUC . . .  )  

How do our local news media track Macy’s commitment to ethical sourcing of its house-brand clothing from Asian countries where factory fires, collapses, etc., are just a cost of doing business? Contracts go where labor is cheapest. People work or go hungry. It’s only going to get worse when huge numbers of youngsters mature. Macy’s said the right things after hundreds died after a Bangladesh factory crumbled, but now it’s up to reporters to stay on the story. 

I glad Macy’s says it will continue to buy products made in Bangladesh. Pleasing writers of anguished Letters to the Editor and leaving Bangladesh in a virtuous huff doesn’t employ or feed anyone. I’ve been in and out of developing countries for half a century. Lots of cheap unskilled or semi-skilled labor feeds more families than one machine (that breaks and rusts unrepaired). Whether it’s subsistence farming, breaking stones with hammers for roadbeds, pedaling a rickshaw or laborers carrying building materials up ladders in baskets on their heads, it’s work that feeds. We can feel guilty, but walking away helps no one...else. 

BBC accuses the Plain Dealer of racist news judgment over stories about kidnapped young women freed recently after a decade of imprisonment and abuse. BBC based its provocative judgment on its count of stories about two of the three young women, Gina DeJesus and Amanda Berry. “In Cleveland, the newspaper stories were mainly about the white girl,” BBC News Magazine reporter Tara McKelvey wrote. “In the 10 years Berry was missing, the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper published 36 articles about her, according to a search of electronic news archive Lexis-Nexis. During the nine-year period that DeJesus, who is Hispanic, was missing, the newspaper published 19 articles about her case.” 

This is typical of American news media where MWW (Missing White Woman) gets more coverage than black or Hispanic girls and women, according to academics McKelvey quoted. 

But Chris Quinn, the Plain Dealer’s assistant managing editor/metro, rejects McKelvey’s accusation. He says it’s not only wrong but “based on an analysis so simplistic we would have thought it beneath an organization such as yours.” Quinn said his “much more thorough review” shows the reverse of the BBC tally. “The number of stories about DeJesus actually is greater than the number mentioning Berry, contrary what you assert. Your analysis did not include all variations of the DeJesus first name, a rather glaring lapse.”

Quinn continued, “Because of the racial aspect your network chose to focus on, we also included in our review stories about Shakira Johnson, a black child who went missing around the same time as Amanda and Gina. The hunt for Shakira was as big a community effort as the hunt for the other missing girls.” Here’s his tally: 

Stories mentioning Shakira Johnson and not Gina DeJesus and Amanda Berry: 145
Stories mentioning only Gina DeJesus (or Georgina DeJesus): 24
Stories mentioning only Amanda Berry: 17
Stories mentioning Berry and DeJesus together: 8
Stories mentioning Berry, DeJesus and Johnson: 6
Stories mentioning DeJesus and Johnson together: 2

And Quinn closed, “The suggestion that this newspaper has used race as any kind of filter in its story choices is offensive in the extreme. We’re shocked that such a poorly reported story could be posted by a network with your reputation.”

You can thank Time magazine and writer Steven Brill for prying comparative hospital costs from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Enquirer carried a sample for local hospitals. 

According to Poynter.com, the journalism website, Brian Cook at the department’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services tells Brill the move “comes in part” because of Brill’s article from March about health-care costs. HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is also offering $87 million to the states to create what she calls “health-care-data-pricing centers.” 

Poynter continues, saying the centers will make pricing transparency more local and user friendly than the giant data file. Brill says the report “should become a tip sheet for reporters in every American city and town, who can now ask hospitals to explain their pricing...If your medical insurance requires you pay a percentage of a procedure’s cost, that’s very useful information.”

When are reporters going to call their bluff when speakers wax lyrical about the joys of good guys with guns stopping bad guys with guns? Instead of spreading these fantasies, interview people who train others in the defensive use of  handguns. Or talk to police and military firearms instructors and combat veterans on how difficult it can be to overcome the normal resistance to shooting another person.

Look at news stories that describe how many rounds officers fired in armed confrontations; adrenalin does nothing to steady the gun hand or restrain how many times an officer pulls the trigger. And these are the best we have. 

I’ve used handguns for more than 50 years. I passed the official Ohio 12-hour concealed/carry course for a CityBeat cover story. If anyone thinks that training prepared them to provide armed response in schools, movie theaters, malls, etc.,  they’re suffering a potentially deadly delusion. It’s time reporters began to add that context to the debate of guns in our society. 

College campuses are perfect for training student reporters. These schools typically are rich with conflicts of interest, executives with edifice complexes, misspent millions, and bureaucrats eager to escape blame or avoid offending alumni. The Columbus Dispatch reported this example last week about suburban Otterbein University, a United Methodist four-year school.  

It said Otterbein agreed to stop requiring students involved in sexual-assault cases to sign confidentiality agreements because student newspaper journalists discovered it was violating federal law. After initially denying it, the Dispatch reported, an Otterbein official told reporters for the student newspaper that he didn’t realize Otterbein had had victims, as well as others, sign a nondisclosure clause. 

“We just followed the bread crumbs,” Chelsea Coleman, a 21-year-old journalism and public relations major who wrote the Tan & Cardinal story with another student, told the Dispatch

One need not agree with Nobel-winning economist Paul Krugman to appreciate his recent criticism of how news media handle stories involving expertise. In his New York Times op-ed column, Krugman singles out the Washington Post but he could have included many if not most news media. 

Citing a controversial study by Harvard economists Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff, the Post warned that Americans are “dangerously near the 90 percent mark that economists regard as a threat to sustainable economic growth.” Krugman pounced. “Notice the phrasing: ‘economists,’ not ‘some economists,’ let alone ‘some economists, vigorously disputed by other economists with equally good credentials,’ which was the reality.” 

Reporters can be too eager to substitute formulaic brevity for accuracy: doctors say, psychologists say, weight loss experts say, police say, reporters say, etc. My advice: beware of any news story that identifies someone as an “expert” without a clear explanation of their expertise. 

 
 
by German Lopez 04.25.2013
Posted In: News, Budget, Mayor, Gun Violence at 09:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
chastity bunch

Morning News and Stuff

Budget pushes conservative policy, moms demand action on guns, mayor shrinking budget

For this week’s cover story, CityBeat analyzed the Ohio House budget bill that would defund Planned Parenthood, fund anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers and forgo the Medicaid expansion in favor of broader reforms. The bill passed the Republican-controlled Ohio House last week, but it still needs to be approved by the Republican-controlled Ohio Senate and Republican Gov. John Kasich. Ohio Senate President Keith Faber announced yesterday that the Ohio Senate will not move forward with the Medicaid expansion — a sign the Ohio Senate is agreeing with the Ohio House on that issue.

Facing the recent wave of deadly gun attacks around the nation, some moms have banded together to demand action. Moms Demand Action is using its political clout to push gun control legislation at a federal level, but it’s also promoting grassroots campaigns in cities and states around the nation.

Contrary to The Cincinnati Enquirer’s “exclusive” story, the mayor’s office is actually shrinking its budget by $33,000 between July 1 and Dec. 1 despite plans to give some employees raises. The mayor’s office says the raises are necessary because the employees will be taken a bigger workload to make up for reduced staff levels, but the budgetary moves will save money overall. Originally, The Enquirer reported the raises without noting the savings in the rest of the budget plan, inspiring a wave of angry emails from readers to the mayor’s office through The Enquirer’s “tell them what you think” tool.

This week’s commentary: “Streetcar’s No. 1 Problem: Obstructionism.”

At the NAACP meeting today, members will ask independent Councilman Chris Smitherman to step down from his leadership position. The disgruntled members told The Enquirer that Smitherman, who is an opponent of the streetcar and often partners up with the conservative Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST), is using the NAACP for his “personal and political agenda,” not civil rights. Smitherman told The Enquirer to focus on the legitimate work of the NAACP instead of a potential coup that he says isn’t newsworthy. Smitherman will not allow media into today’s NAACP meeting.

City Council unanimously passed a resolution yesterday to oppose anti-union laws that are misleadingly called “right to work” laws. The laws earned their name after a decades-long spin campaign from big businesses that oppose unions, but the laws real purpose is weakening unions by banning collective bargaining agreements that require workers to join unions and pay dues. The City Council resolution has no legal weight; it simply tells higher levels of government to not pass the anti-union law.

Metro’s budget would need to increase by two-thirds to implements the bus and public transportation agency’s long-range plan, which would add rapid transit lines, other routes and sheltered transit centers with more amenities.

Two Cincinnati economic entities are getting federal funds: The Cincinnati Development Fund will get $35 million to invest in brownfield redevelopment, nutritional access and educational improvements, and Kroger Community Development Entity will get $20 million to increase low-income access to fresh and nutritional foods and fund redevelopment projects.

As expected, Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald officially announced yesterday that he will run for governor against Kasich in 2014.

Kasich appointed former State Rep. John Carey to head the Ohio Board of Regents, which manages the state’s public university system. Carey says his biggest goal will be to better align higher education opportunities with jobs that are available in Ohio.

Sen. Sherrod Brown is unveiling a bill that would effectively break up the big banks by imposing strict capital limits and other rules. CityBeat wrote about Brown’s efforts here.

In a blog post yesterday, Rep. Steve Chabot, a Cincinnati Republican, criticized President Barack Obama for not calling the Boston bombers “Islamic jihadists.” Public officials typically do not publicly jump to conclusions in the middle of an ongoing investigation.

A new app gives you an automatic nose job.

Researchers are developing a solar dish that produces electricity and fresh water at the same time.

 
 
by German Lopez 01.03.2013
Posted In: Budget, News, Congress, Gun Violence, Energy, Education, Economy at 10:09 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
capitol hill

Morning News and Stuff

Fiscal cliff averted despite local politicians, defense cuts delayed, wind tax credit renewed

The fiscal cliff was averted, but some Greater Cincinnati politicians didn’t do much to help. U.S. Speaker John Boehner voted for the final fiscal cliff deal, but Republican U.S. Reps. Steve Chabot, Jean Schmidt and Mike Turner voted against the deal. Ohio’s U.S. Sens. Rob Portman, a Republican, and Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, voted in favor of the deal.

U.S. Congress may have averted the fiscal cliff, but the spending cuts were only delayed for two months. For jobs at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, that means another congressional showdown in March could decide the fate of thousands of jobs. On the other hand, no one is surprised Congress reacted to a crisis by kicking the can down the road.

As part of the fiscal cliff deal, Ohio’s wind industry should feel a little safer thanks to the extension of wind energy tax credits. Still, advocates are frustrated funding for wind energy is part of a “stop-and-start policy” that can suddenly continue or end depending on last-minute congressional deals.

The Buckeye Firearms Association is training and arming 24 teachers through a pilot program in the spring. A previous CityBeat analysis found no evidence that arming teachers would help stop gun violence; in fact, armed people tend to be in greater danger of violence.

Ohio and Kentucky are still in the bottom half of Forbes’ ranking for businesses, but they’re showing improvement.

The Ohio Liberty Coalition, a tea party group, is not happy with Gov. John Kasich. The group is upset Kasich supposedly violated the state’s Health Care Freedom Amendment by signing legislation that compels all Ohioans with health care insurance to buy autism coverage. If even conservatives are angry at Kasich, who’s happy with him?

Cincinnati-based Macy’s is closing six stores, but none of them are in the Cincinnati area.

Surprise! Research has linked being overweight (but not obese) with lower risk of mortality.

During her final days as commander, Sunita Williams of NASA recorded a tour of the International Space Station. 

A new study found newborn babies know the difference between their native language and a foreign one.

 
 
by German Lopez 09.17.2013
 
 
aaron alexis

Morning News and Stuff

D.C. shooting leaves 13 dead, disparity study advances, Commons at Alaska project on hold

Yesterday’s shooting at the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C., left 13 dead, including the suspected shooter. The suspect was identified as Aaron Alexis, 34, by the FBI. He died after a gun battle with police. Alexis was discharged from the Navy Reserve in 2011, the same year he was arrested for accidentally firing a bullet into his neighbor’s apartment. The Associated Press also reported that Alexis had been suffering from severe mental health issues and hearing voices. The Washington Post will continue live blogging about the events here.

City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee yesterday unanimously approved a proposal that will allow the city administration to study whether city contracts should favorably target minority- and women-owned businesses and report back with the results in February 2015. City officials support the measures because reported city contract participation rates have plummeted for minority-owned businesses and remained relatively flat for women-owned businesses since Cincinnati dismantled its previous minority- and women-owned business program in 1999. The study, which the city now estimates will cost $450,000 to $1 million, is necessary because of a 1989 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that requires governments to empirically prove there is a racial or gender-based disparity before enacting policies that favorably target such groups.

City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee also put a two-week hold on the controversial supportive housing project in Avondale while an independent mediator, who will be paid $5,000 by the city administration, goes in to take community feedback. The Commons at Alaska project has been criticized by community members who fear it will bring more deterioration to an already-blighted neighborhood, but supporters argue that a spread of misinformation has led to the current tensions. The proposed 99-unit facility would provide residence to the homeless, particularly those with severe mental health issues, physical disabilities and drug abuse histories. CityBeat covered the controversy in further detail here.

Gov. John Kasich yesterday reversed a decision from the Ohio Development Services Agency that prevented the public from seeing tax credit estimates that state agencies like JobsOhio use to gauge whether giving a business a tax break is worthwhile. Kasich agreed to the reversal after being questioned by reporters about whether keeping the estimates secret only further perpetuates the narrative that JobsOhio, the privatized development agency, is unaccountable. JobsOhio has been mired in multiple scandals in the past couple months after media reports revealed the agency suggested tax credits for companies with direct financial ties to the governor and JobsOhio board members. Republicans argue JobsOhio’s privatized, secretive nature helps it more quickly establish job-creating development deals, but Democrats say it allows the agency to waste taxpayer money without public scrutiny.

Kasich also hinted that his administration might pursue the Medicaid expansion without legislation, but he also clarified that the expansion will require agreement from legislators at some level. Under Obamacare, the federal government is asking states to expand Medicaid to include anyone at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty level; if states accept, the federal government will pay for the entire expansion through 2016 then phase its payments down to an indefinite 90 percent. Kasich has been a strong proponent of the expansion, but Republican legislators have so far rejected his support.

A national organization could target Ohio’s LGBT population as part of a nationwide campaign that will raise awareness about Obamacare’s benefits. Kellan Baker, founder of Out 2 Enroll, says the efforts are needed in Ohio and the rest of the country because gay, lesbian, bisexual and especially transgendered people are often uninsured at greater levels than the rest of the country as a result of outright discrimination and poor outreach efforts. But three major changes in Obamacare could help fix the trend: tax subsidies, online marketplaces that will allow participants to compare insurance plans and new regulations that protect LGBT groups from discrimination in the health care and insurance industries.

A downtown office building at 906 Main St. is being converted to apartments.

Piracy apparently plays a major role in Netflix’s show purchases.

Wait But Why helps put time in perspective.

Small animals see the world in slow motion.

 
 
by German Lopez 06.17.2013
Posted In: News, Health care, City Council, Gun Violence at 09:29 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
chastity bunch

Morning News and Stuff

Ohioans support Medicaid, bill would ease gun rules, Smitherman steps down from NAACP

Got questions for CityBeat about anything related to Cincinnati? Submit your questions here and we’ll try to get back to you in our first Answers Issue.

CityBeat is looking to talk to convicted drug offenders from Ohio for an upcoming cover story. If you’d like to participate or know anyone willing to participate, email glopez@citybeat.com.

A new poll from the Health Foundation of Greater Cincinnati found a majority of Ohioans support expanding Medicaid coverage, but state legislators have passed on a federally funded expansion in their latest budget bills and other legislation. About 63 percent of 866 Ohioans asked between May 19 and June 2 supported the expansion, with a margin of error of 3.3 percent. The question was part of the Ohio Health Issues Poll, which the University of Cincinnati’s Institute for Policy Research has conducted for the Health Foundation each year since 2005.

An Ohio bill would ease restrictions on semi-automatic magazines, making it so gun owners can more easily purchase high-round clips for their semi-automatic weapons. Supporters of the bill say the change helps differentiate between automatic and semi-automatic weapons — a differentiation that doesn’t currently occur under state law. Critics argue the bill makes it easier for offenders to carry out violent shootings, such as the recent massacre in Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Councilman Chris Smitherman is stepping down as president of the local branch of the NAACP while he runs for re-election. If he wins the election, Smitherman will then offer his resignation, which the NAACP's local executive committee can accept or reject. James Clingman, a vice president of the NAACP and founder of the Greater Cincinnati African-American Chamber of Commerce, will take Smitherman's spot  for the time being. Before the move, Smitherman was criticized for engaging in partisan political activity as he ran for re-election, which is generally looked down upon by the NAACP and federal rules regarding 501(c)(3) organization like the federal branch of the NAACP.

The world’s most advanced solar plane touched down in Cincinnati Friday before continuing its record-breaking journey across the nation to Washington, D.C.

Apparently, cities with more room to grow actually grow more. For Cincinnati, that could be a good sign as the city moves to build more apartments.

The Columbus Dispatch says Internet cafes make gambling more convenient and accessible to problematic gamblers. As a result of recently passed legislation, Internet cafes are being effectively shut down around the state.

Ohio gas prices are coming back down.

If someone wants to get away from the U.S. government, Popular Science has a few suggestions.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology built a robot that helps people be less awkward.

 
 

 

 

 
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