Nearly two years after the economic meltdown in fall 2008, the U.S. Senate voted Thursday to approve a sweeping financial reform bill aimed at the reckless Wall Street investors who caused the crisis.
The Senate voted 60-39 to pass the reforms sought by President Obama. Three Republicans — Scott Brown of Massachusetts, along with Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine — joined Democrats in supporting the bill.
In an effort to promote greater transparency about who makes campaign contributions, outgoing Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner today unveiled a new set of election rules.
The rules, which were approved by the Ohio Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review, is aimed at offsetting some of the impact of the Citizens United ruling issued by the U.S. Supreme Court in January. In the landmark 5-4 decision, the court overturned a lower court’s ruling and removed existing restraints on corporations, allowing them to spend unlimited amounts of money in political campaigns.
When CityBeat profiled the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in May, just after the conservative organization held a private meeting in Cincinnati, some of its members downplayed conspiracy theories about the group and its love of secrecy.
Fueled by corporate donations, ALEC is credited with working quietly behind the scenes to draft legislation that can then be introduced by elected state lawmakers. Among its efforts, ALEC spearheaded the push in Ohio, Wisconsin and elsewhere to introduce bills that limited or abolished collective bargaining rights for public-sector labor unions.
The membership list that contains the names of the roughly 2,000 state legislators and about 300 private-sector supporters who belong to ALEC is kept confidential.
State Sen. Bill Seitz (R-Green Township), who sits on ALEC's board of directors, noted in the CityBeat article that the identity of its sponsors aren't kept secret. They include the American Petroleum Institute, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., Coors and the National Rifle Association.
Now with the help of Aliya Rahman, an activist based at Miami University in Oxford who organized the Cincinnati protest, The Nation magazine has obtained more than 800 documents representing decades of ALEC's model legislation. The treasure trove of materials is featured in The Nation's Aug. 1-8 issue, which currently is on sale.
[UPDATE: Read more about Rahman's path to unearthing the documents here.]
In conjunction with the Center for Media and Democracy, The Nation asked policy experts to analyze this never-before-seen archive.
As The Nation's John Nichols writes, “Inspired by Milton Friedman’s call for conservatives to 'develop alternatives to existing policies (and) keep them alive and available,' ALEC’s model legislation reflects long-term goals: downsizing government, removing regulations on corporations and making it harder to hold the economically and politically powerful to account. Corporate donors retain veto power over the language, which is developed by the secretive task forces.”
A full archive of the exposed ALEC legislation is available here.
Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chad Ochocinco sheds his clothes in a new print advertisement for an animal rights group.
Never one known to be shy or retiring, Ochocinco appears naked and holding a football in front of his genitalia in the ad for the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). Referring to the many tattoos visible on his muscular frame, the ad's tagline is, “Ink, Not Mink.”
LGBT rights are becoming “the new normal” in corporate America, but American Financial Group and Western & Southern Financial Group are apparently exceptions. Both Cincinnati-based Fortune 500 companies received a 0 percent for LGBT policies in the 2012 Corporate Equality Index (CEI) from the Human Rights Campaign (HRC).
The index uses LGBT-related corporate policies to determine scores: non-discrimination policies including sexual orientation and gender identity, company-provided domestic partner health insurance, equal health coverage for transgender individuals, organizational LGBT cultural competency, engagement in actions that undermine LGBT equality and other categories. The full rankings, dubbed a “Buyer’s Guide,” can be found here.
In the Greater Cincinnati area, Cincinnati-based Omnicare, Covington-based Ashland and Highland Heights-based General Cable fared only slightly better than American Financial and Western & Southern. The three companies received 15 points for at least including sexual orientation in non-discrimination policies.
Other Cincinnati-based Fortune 500 companies did much
better in HRC’s rankings. Procter & Gamble got a 90 percent, Macy’s
got a 90 percent, Kroger got an 85 percent and Fifth Third Bank got an
85 percent. The high scores show some companies are providing more to LGBT individuals than local, state and federal governments through equal access to health care and other benefits that aren't written into law.
On a national level, the five low-scoring Fortune 500 companies in Greater Cincinnati show a surprising level of backwardness. In general, the nationwide rankings were very positive this year. In an emailed statement, HRC pointed out 252 companies got 100-percent scores in 2012, up from 13 companies in 1991. As HRC put it, “For American companies, 100 percent is the new normal.”
CityBeat could not reach Western & Southern or American Financial Group for immediate comment. This story will be updated if comments become available.
Cincinnati council members and community leaders today explained and defended plans to use the parking lease to fund a disparity study that would gauge whether the city should change its contracting policies to favorably target minority- and women-owned businesses.
But before City Council unanimously passed the motion at today's meeting, it was amended to allow the city administration to find alternate sources of funding.
Since the city dismantled its last minority- and women-owned business program in 1999, contract participation rates for minority-owned businesses have plummeted, while rates for women-owned businesses have remained relatively flat.
But because of a 1989 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, governments must conduct a study to prove there's a race- or gender-based disparity before policies can be adjusted to favor such groups.
Cincinnati has not taken up a disparity study since 2002. That study found evidence of disparities but ultimately recommended race- and gender-neutral policies to avoid legal uncertainty that surrounded the issue at the time.
"This is an opportunity to respond to a complaint and concern that has been around for as long as I can remember," Councilman Wendell Young said.
City officials claim they couldn't conduct another study until the administration finished implementing recommendations from OPEN Cincinnati, a task force established in 2009 after Mayor Mark Mallory and his administration were criticized for neglecting the city's small business program.
But the holdup has also been brought on by the study's cost, which city officials currently estimate between $500,000 and $1.5 million. Some critics argue the money would be better spent elsewhere.
Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, who's running for mayor this year, defended the cost by explaining a disparity study can potentially lead to economic development by lifting minority groups, who currently face unemployment rates higher than white Cincinnati residents. She said it's on the city to ensure everyone, including women and minorities, benefit from Cincinnati's economic growth.
Other critics, particularly mayoral candidate John Cranley, have criticized the motion's suggestion for funding. The motion asks the city administration to fund the study with part of the upfront money that will come from leasing the city's parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority, but it does allow the city administration to find other funding options if possible.
Cranley, who supports conducting a disparity study but opposes the parking lease, says the money should come from other, unnamed sources because parking funds are currently being held up while the city hashes out legal uncertainty surrounding the lease and the Port Authority works out contracts with private operators that will manage Cincinnati's parking assets.
In response to those concerns, Qualls said that "money doesn't grow on trees" and Council has to make do with what it has.
Councilman Chris Seelbach voted against the parking lease, but he supports using parking funds for the disparity study. He says that, while he may have voted against the lease, the vote is done and the money is there.
The amended motion was unanimously passed by City Council today. It asks the city administration to present a budget and timetable for the study at the Budget and Finance Committee's first October meeting.
Updated at 3:18 p.m. with results of City Council meeting.
Journalism-related Web sites have been abuzz this week with rumors that Editor Tom Callinan is about to leave his job at The Enquirer. Callinan is keeping mum for now, but one of his rumored replacements says he will remain in California and not return to Cincinnati.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney on Saturday laid out five steps that he said would have America “roaring back” during his first campaign stop since formally accepting the Republican nomination.
At Cincinnati's Union Terminal, Romney was joined on stage by his wife Anne, who spoke briefly, echoing her convention speech meant to humanize her husband.
He said his plan involved encouraging development in oil and coal, implementing a trade policy that favored American companies and not “cheaters” like China, making sure workers and students had skills to succeed in the coming century, reducing the deficit and encouraging small business growth.
“America is going to come roaring back,” Romney told the crowd of thousands packed inside Union Terminal.
Not everyone was so impressed with the GOP nominee’s promises.
About an hour after the Romney campaign event, Cincinnati Democratic leaders held a news conference to rebut the Republican’s speech.
“Much of his (Romney’s) speech was like his speech in Tampa, which is where Romney gave Cincinnatians nothing more than vague platitudes, false and misleading attacks without one single tangible idea on how to move forward,” said Democratic/Charterite Cincinnati City Councilwoman Yvette Simpson.
Simpson, along with Democratic Councilman Cecil Thomas and Bishop Bobby Hilton, attacked the tax plan put forward by Romney and his running mate, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan. They said it would cut taxes for the richest Americans while raising taxes on the middle class by about $2,000 per household, citing an analysis from the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center.
“Mitt Romney’s plan would take Ohio and Cincinnati backwards, and we don’t have time to go backwards,” Hilton said.
Hilton credited Cincinnati’s revitalization and urban development in part on federal money obtained from Obama’s stimulus plan.
“We deserve better than this. We deserve better than Romney/Ryan,” he said.
Romney would have disagreed with Hilton’s assessment of Cincinnati’s growth. During his speech he praised Ohio Gov. John Kasich, crediting him with bringing jobs and businesses to the state.
Romney also took time to attack President Barack Obama’s record in office. The GOP nominee said in preparation for his convention speech he read many past convention speeches — including Obama’s.
“He was not one of the ones that I wanted to draw from, except I could not resist a couple of things he said, because he made a lot of promises,” Romney said. “And I noted that he didn't keep a lot of promises.”
Romney also criticized what he called the bitterness and divisiveness of Obama’s campaign, saying as president he would bring the country together. He mentioned the “patriotism and courage” of the late Neil Armstrong, who was honored in a private service in Cincinnati on Friday.
“I will do everything in my power to bring us together, because, united, America built the strongest economy in the history of the earth. United, we put Neil Armstrong on the moon. United, we faced down unspeakable darkness,” Romney said.
“United, our men and women in uniform continue to defend freedom today. I love those people who serve our great nation. This is a time for us to come together as a nation.”
The candidate’s remarks ignited the crowd of thousands, many of whom wore shirts with slogans like “Mr. President, I did build my business,” in response to a remark made by Obama about businesses being helped to grow by government contracts and infrastructure, and “Mitt 2012: At least he never ate dog meat,” referring to a passage in Obama’s 2008 memoir during which he recalls being fed dog meat as a boy in Indonesia.
Steve Heckman, a 62-year-old environmental consultant from Springfield, Ohio, said he voted for Obama in 2008 but will likely vote for Romney in this election.
He said he’d written “some pretty ugly stuff” about Romney in the past but felt jobs was the No. 1 issue and thought the Obama administration’s policies were sending them out of the country.
“The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) has, to me, become a little too almost like a fringe group, putting so much pressure on businesses that they are moving to Canada,” Heckman said. “Things like air permits, the EPA is taking too long to issue them. It’s not just power plants they’re affecting, but all manufacturing.”
Heckman said he didn’t blame the president personally but thinks whoever he put in charge of the agency is being too strict.
“I grew up when the EPA was first put in place in the '70s, and they were, in my opinion, doing God’s work,” he said, citing the cleaning up of rivers such as the Cuyahoga near Cleveland, which famously caught fire because of pollution in 1969.
“I support the EPA, but it’s driving businesses out of here.”
Speaking ahead of Romney were U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, Sen. Rob Portman, U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot, Ohio treasurer and GOP senatorial candidate Josh Mandel and Republican U.S. House candidate for Ohio’s 2nd District, Brad Wenstrup.
“This election is all about changing Washington,” Mandel said. “The only way to change Washington is to change the people we send there.”
At the time of the announcement that the park would not be opening, The Beach had already sold 8,800 season passes. But rather than offering full refunds to the thousands of consumers who had purchased waterpark passes, the Beach offered a collection of day passes and various discounts to other local attractions, such as Kings Island and the Cincinnati Zoo, that it said was valued at "close to $200." Season passes to The Beach had most recently been sold for $89.99.
In response, 427 people filed complaints with the Ohio Attorney General’s office, resulting in the May 25 filing of a lawsuit against The Beach by Attorney General Mike DeWine. The lawsuit charges the business with failure to deliver, a violation of Ohio’s Consumer Sales Practices Act.
"It's unfortunate when a long-standing Ohio business closes," DeWine said in a press release. "But The Beach Waterpark took money from thousands of consumers and never delivered promised services. That's unacceptable."
The Beach in recent years has seen increased competition from such nearby attractions as Kings Island’s Soak City waterpark and the Great Wolf Lodge, which opened an indoor waterpark in Mason in 2006. In response to The Beach’s closing, Kings Island offered discounted rates for upgrades to its season passes and a complimentary visit to its amusement park and waterpark for Beach pass holders.
Dan Tierney, spokesman for DeWine, says companies that go out of business often refund money or provide a different product or service in place of that which was previously purchased, but it must be of equal or greater value and meet the consumer’s satisfaction.
“That has not occurred in this case,” Tierney says.
The lawsuit alleges that The Beach’s ownership partners have committed unfair or deceptive acts and practices in violation of the Failure to Deliver Rule and Consumer Sales Practices Act. Each violation of the Consumer Sales and Practices Act is punishable by a $25,000 fine. The lawsuit asks for reimbursements for all consumers, legal and court costs, an injunction and civil penalties.
“There’s a possible penalty on the punitive side of $25,000,” Tierney says. “That being said, the goal of this, because there is no bankruptcy protection, is to help affected consumers get refunds.”
According to Tierney, if The Beach had filed bankruptcy protection, the company would be protected and each individual consumer would need to file failure to deliver lawsuits.
“During a bankruptcy consumers can become creditors for not being delivered products,” Tierney says. “In absence of that they would have to each individually file failure to deliver lawsuits, but the attorney general is doing it on behalf of Ohio consumers.”
The lawsuit was filed in the Hamilton County Court of Common Please against the park’s owners and operators: The Beach at Mason Limited Partnership and Dayton-based Water Parks, Inc., and Cabana Equities, Inc.
According to the lawsuit, the Beach’s operators decided to close the waterpark on March 7, two days before announcing the canceled season and lack of refunds.
The attorney general’s office is encouraging other consumers who purchased passes to The Beach Waterpark to file a complaint a www.ohioattorneygeneral.gov.