CityBeat Blogs - Financial Crisis http://www.citybeat.com/cincinnati/blogs-1-1-1-34-15.html <![CDATA[County Commission President Lays Out Budget Plan]]>

The Republican head of Hamilton County’s governing board outlined his own alternative for a 2013 budget on Monday, proposing an austere path forward after rejecting other budgets that would raise some taxes.

Board of County Commissioners President Greg Hartmann said his proposed budget would reduce the size of county government by 30 percent, compared to five years ago. He said he wants the board to approve a budget before the Thanksgiving holiday.

“It is a budget of austerity and investment in growth,” Hartmann said. 

He added, “It is a structurally-balanced budget,” that doesn’t use one-time sources of cash to make up for shortfalls.

Hartmann’s proposed budget would cut the Sheriff’s Department by about $57,000  or 0.01 percent from 2012 levels; reduce the coroner’s appropriation by 3 percent or $99,000; cut economic development by 5 percent; cut 5 percent from adult criminal courts; and reduce subsidies to the Communications Center and Sheriff’s Department.

Hartmann stressed that it is important to fund public safety as fully as allowable in these tough economic times, as economic development is not possible without it.

Hartmann’s budget comes after commissioners rejected three proposals from County Administrator Christian Sigman.

Sigman proposed $18.7 million in cuts, which Hartmann’s budget maintained in addition to his own reductions.

Two of Sigman’s proposals involved increasing the sales tax to balance the budget.

Fellow Republican Commissioner Chris Monzel said he supports Hartmann’s efforts at austerity, but is working on his own budget proposal as well.

“An austerity budget is the way we’re going to go, and it’s going to be hard,” he said.

The board’s sole Democrat, Todd Portune, said he too is working on his own proposal that he had hoped to have prepared for the Nov. 5 meeting, but was still making tweaks and hoped to present it by the following week.

He hinted that the results of Election Day might impact how he crafts his budget proposal.

“Tomorrow’s results may have an impact as well on the budget that I present as it relates as well to those who are running for county seats,” Portune said. “We have in some cases two very different visions in terms of solutions.” 

Both he and Hartmann are up for re-election. Portune is running against Libertarian Bob Frey. Neither candidate has a major party challenger.

Hartmann, who has actively campaigned for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, had a joke in response to Portune’s waiting for the election results.

“I thought you were predicting Romney’s win would make the economy go on the right track,” Hartmann cracked. “I was thinking that’s what you were going to go with.”

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<![CDATA[Obama Makes Plea to Cincinnati Voters at UC Appearance]]>

Just two days before the general election, President Barack Obama made his case to 13,500 people packed into the University of Cincinnati’s Fifth Third Arena and 2,000 in an overflow room.

Obama cast the race in comparisons to the previous two presidents, comparing his policies with those of Bill Clinton and equating Republican challenger Mitt Romney’s plans with those of George W. Bush.

“So stay with me then,” Obama said. “We’ve got ideas that work, and we’ve got ideas that don’t work, so the choice should be pretty clear.”

With less than 48 hours before polls open on Election Day, a Reuters/Ipsos daily tracking poll had Obama and his Republican challenger locked in a statistical dead heat. However the same poll showed Obama with a slight edge in Ohio, up 48 percent to Romney’s 44 percent.

Obama touted his first-term accomplishments, including ending the war in Iraq; ending Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the policy preventing homosexuals from serving openly in the military; and overhauling the country’s health care system.

“It’s not just about policy, it’s about trust. Who do you trust?” the president asked, flanked by a sea of supporters waving blue “Forward” signs.

“Look, Ohio, you know me by now. You may not agree with every decision I’ve made, Michelle doesn’t always agree with me. You may be frustrated with the pace of change … but I say what I mean and I mean what I say.”

Nonpartisan political fact-checker PolitiFact on Nov. 3 took a look at Obama’s record on keeping his campaign promises from 2008. The group rated 38 percent as Kept, 16 percent Compromised and 17 percent Broken.

Twice during his speech the president was interrupted by audience members shouting from the stands.

The first was a man on the balcony level of the arena interrupted, shouting anti-abortion slogans and waving a sign showing mutilated fetuses before being dragged out by about five law enforcement officers. Both were drowned out by supporters.

Music legend Stevie Wonder opened the rally for Obama, playing a number of his hits, opening up “Superstition” with a refrain of “on the right track, can’t go back.”

Wonder discussed abortion policy between songs and urged Ohioans who had not already voted to do so either early on Monday or Election Day.

So far, 28 percent of Ohio voters have already cast their ballots. CNN reports that those votes favor Obama 63/35, according to public polling.

Meanwhile on Sunday, Romney campaigned before an estimated crowd of 25,000 in Pennsylvania, according to the Secret Service.

Political rallies always draw a number of the loyal opposition, and this late-evening appearance was no different. Only five people protested near the line to the arena, but what they lacked in number they attempted to make up for in message.

One large sign read “Obama: 666” and another “Obama is the Beast,” alluding to a character in the Christian Biblical book of Revelation.

A man who only identified himself as Brooks carried a large anti-abortion sign that showed pieces of a dismembered fetus.

“I’m here to stand up for the innocent blood that has been shed in this land to the tune of 56 million,” Brooks said. He said he was opposed to the politics of both major party presidential candidates.

“I pray for Barack Obama because his beliefs are of the Antichrist, just like Romney,” Brooks said.

Brooks said his message for those in line was for them to vote for Jesus — not on the ballot, but through their actions and through candidates that espoused Christian beliefs.

“Obama is not going to change things, Romney is not going to change things,” Brooks said. “In the last days there are many Christs, but not the Christ of the Bible. The Christ of the Bible is not for killing children, is not for homosexual marriage.”

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]> If you come from a large family, you might remember when older siblings would always get new clothes when you were a child and you'd get their hand-me downs. That's also been the situation at Paul Brown Stadium in the past, but Hamilton County commissioners are putting a stop to it. Because the county's Riverfront Parking Operations needs two new trucks, the plan had been to move two trucks from Paul Brown to parking services and buy new ones for the stadium. Commissioners balked at the plan Tuesday, saying the new trucks should be bought for Parking Operations. Commissioner Todd Portune estimates the county will save up to $20,000 because Parking Operations doesn't require the same kind of heavy-duty trucks the stadium uses.

Cincinnati City Council is considering restoring $250,000 to the Cincinnati Initiative to Reduce Violence (CIRV). Council had cut the money from CIRV's budget in late 2010, but statistics show that the number of shootings increased in the city afterward. When CIRV was in full effect, the percentage of shootings linked to gang activity fell from nearly 70 percent in 2007 to around 50 percent in 2008 and 2009, but has bounced up to 60 percent in 2011 and so far this year. Part of the cash allocated to CIRV would pay for a statistical analysis by researchers at the University of Cincinnati, to determine if there is a verifiable link.

Federal prosecutors want the jury in the upcoming insider trading trial of former Procter & Gamble Co. board member Rajat Gupta to hear secretly recorded telephone conversations with another man as evidence of the alleged conspiracy between them. The government said in a pre-trial filing that the conversations showed Gupta, also a former Goldman Sachs director, leaked Goldman board secrets at the height of the financial crisis in 2008. The Federal Bureau of Investigation recorded the calls.

The Reds postponed Tuesday's game against the Chicago Cubs due to high water on the field at Great American Ball Park. Heavy rains on Tuesday afternoon and evening saturated the area, and the stadium was no exception. A makeup date hasn't been announced. The action marks only the sixth time that the Reds have postponed a game since Great American opened in 2003.

Cincinnati Public Schools will make energy-saving renovations at 28 schools using a nearly $27 million low-interest loan. The school board approved the plan Monday, despite some board members' concerns about moving ahead with the projects while the district cuts jobs and faces an estimated $43 million deficit.

In news elsewhere, the rumors were true: Blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng was hiding at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing since escaping house arrest last month. Chen's presence was revealed today when he left the diplomatic compound to seek medical treatment after receiving assurances from China’s government that he would be treated humanely. Chinese leaders agreed that Chen would be reunited with his family, moved to a safe place and allowed to enroll in a university, U.S. officials said. (Well, that's one international crisis averted, and only about 50 more to go.)

One of Willard Mitt Romney's top campaign spokesmen is leaving his job less than two weeks after his appointment. Richard Grenell, Romney's national security spokesman, resigned after some hardcore conservatives complained about the hiring of the openly gay man. Others, however, say it also was because Grenell was coming under fire “for numerous sexist and impolitic statements he had made about prominent women and members of the media.” After the complaints, he scrubbed over 800 tweets from his Twitter feed and deleted his personal website. Some reporters who dealt with Grenell while he was a spokesman for the United Nations years ago called him the "most dishonest and deceptive press person" they had ever encountered.

An eyewitness to the 1968 assassination of U.S. Sen. Robert Kennedy says she heard two guns firing during the shooting and authorities altered her account of the crime. Nina Rhodes-Hughes, who is now 78, is coming forward as a federal court prepares to rule on a challenge to Sirhan Sirhan's conviction in the assassination. Sirhan, who is now 68, wants to be released, retried or granted a hearing on new evidence.

President Obama made a surprise visit Tuesday to U.S. troops in Afghanistan, just before today's first anniversary of the killing of terrorist leader Osama bin Laden. Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Willard Mitt Romney has been criticizing the president's recent comments about bin Laden's death, but the Obama campaign questions whether Romney would've made the same decision, given his past statements. While in Afghanistan, Obama signed a security pact that means the United States will maintain a military presence there through 2024 – despite supposedly ending combat operations at the end of 2014. (For those keeping track, the deal means the United States will stay in Afghanistan for 23 years; let's just end the suspense and declare it our 51st state.)

Tuesday was May Day, which traditionally is a day to celebrate workers' rights around the globe — or protest the lack of same. The Occupy Wall Street movement and its various off-shoots held demonstrations in New York, Seattle, San Francisco and elsewhere across the United States to commemorate the occasion.
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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]> A study by a housing advocacy group found that foreclosures in Hamilton County dropped by 13 percent compared to the previous year. But representatives with Working In Neighborhoods, the group that did the research, said the figures don't necessarily mean that homeowners aren't being affected by the economic downturn. Rather, they note that many large banks were delaying foreclosures due to the so-called “robo-signing” crisis, waiting until they struck a settlement deal with the federal government. In fact, many observers expect foreclosures to increase this year.

After a lengthy trial, former Bengals player Nathaniel “Nate” Webster was convicted Wednesday of having sex with an underage girl. A jury acquitted Webster on three charges, but found him guilty on four others. Hamilton County Common Pleas Court Judge Ralph “Ted” Winkler ordered Webster jailed until his June 6 sentencing, when he could be sent to prison for up to 20 years. Webster signed a five-year, $11.3 million contract with the Bengals in 2004, but played only in a few games.

City commissioners in Dayton are considering an ordinance to establish a domestic partnership registry which could be used by unmarried, same-sex couples. The registry is voluntary, and a couple doesn't need to live within the city. The ordinance says the registry will assist “businesses and universities in the recruitment of a talented and diverse workforce.” The registry would help area businesses that extend benefits to the partners of employees, straight or gay, by having a formal registry of such committed relationships. Local bloggers and others have been pushing for such a registry in Cincinnati for the past few years, but groups like Equality Cincinnati have said the time is not right.

What were the odds of that happening? A Columbus police officer who investigated a four-vehicle accident Tuesday that involved Gov. John Kasich is the same person that the governor had called “an idiot” in an earlier encounter. Officer Robert Barrett responded to the mishap on Interstate 71 in downtown Columbus that happened in stop-and-go traffic and did not result in any serious injuries. Shortly after taking office last year, Kasich recalled the citation he received from Barrett in 2008 for failing to yield to an emergency vehicle, calling Barrett an idiot during a meeting with state employees.

State lawmakers removed a proposal this week to enact a priority funding system for federal family planning dollars that would've essentially blocked funding for Planned Parenthood affiliates across Ohio. The Republican-controlled House Finance and Appropriations Committee pulled an amendment to Kasich’s mid-biennium budget review that was inserted last week. A committee chairman said the amendment mirrored that of House Bill No. 298, which is being worked in the House Health and Aging Committee. About $1.6 million of the $4.3 million in federal family planning money the state received last year went to Planned Parenthood affiliates.

In news elsewhere, House Speaker John Boehner (R-West Chester) is lowering expectations that the GOP will retain control of the House after this fall's elections. At a closed door meeting with rank-and-file Republicans, Boehner reiterated his concerns the party could lose seats in the House in November, according to The Los Angeles Times. "We’ve got a fight on our hands," Boehner said. Some observers wonder if Boehner believes the gloomy forecast or if it's a scare tactic to get unruly Tea Partiers to toe the party line.

After he scored victories in five primary elections this week, the Republican National Committee formally embraced Willard Mitt Romney as the GOP’s presumptive presidential nominee on Wednesday. Reince Priebus, the RNC's chairman, said in a statement that the party organization and its resources were now at the disposal of Romney’s campaign. Also, the campaign staffs of the RNC and Romney will merge and begin coordinating their efforts. Game on.

George Zimmerman received firearms training and bought a gun on the advice of an animal control warden, as a method for dealing with a belligerent neighborhood dog. That's one of many revelations in interviews with Zimmerman's relatives and neighbors conducted by Reuters News Service. Zimmerman is awaiting trial on a second-degree murder charge for the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager, in Sanford, Fla.

It's beginning to look like Israel's military isn't in as big of a rush to start a war as the nation's politicians. Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, Israel’s military chief, said Wednesday that he believes Iran will choose not to build a nuclear bomb, an assessment that contrasted with the statements of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Gantz said international sanctions have begun to show results and could relieve pressure on the Obama administration, undercutting efforts by Israeli political leaders to urge the United States to consider a potential military strike on Iran.

International judges have found former Liberian leader Charles Taylor guilty of aiding and abetting war crimes during the Sierra Leone civil war, at his trial in The Hague, the BBC reports. Taylor has been on trial at the U.N.-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone for almost five years. He was accused of backing rebels who killed tens of thousands during Sierra Leone's 1991-2002 civil war.
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<![CDATA[Enquirer Sheds 12 Newsroom Staffers]]>

The bloodletting in the newsroom at The Enquirer is over, at least for now.

Editor Carolyn Washburn sent an email to the newspaper’s editorial staff this morning, announcing the names of 12 people who have decided to accept a voluntary “early retirement” severance deal offered by The Enquirer’s parent firm, The Gannett Co.

CityBeat already has reported that political columnist Howard Wilkinson, longtime photographer Michael Keating and Editorial Page Editor Ray Cooklis were among those departing the media company.

Other editorial staffers who are taking the buyout are business reporter Mike Boyer; Features Editor Dave Caudill; news reporter Steve Kemme; Copy Desk Chief Sue Lancaster; Production Manager Greg Noble; Butler/Warren Editor Jim Rohrer; sports copy editor Bill Thompson; Copy Editor Pat Tolzmann; and Copy Editor Tim Vonderbrink.

They join Assistant Managing Editor/Sports Barry Forbis and Deputy Sports Editor Rory Glynn, who announced their resignations in March.

In her email, Washburn wrote that the company will throw a party in its conference room for the departing staffers on April 12.

As one ex-Enquirer reporter said when hearing about the plans, “Some sendoff for those leaving. Washburn is throwing them a ‘proper party,’ whatever that is, for them on the 20th floor, no doubt in the sterile training room where staffers learn about inane new corporate initiatives. A ‘proper party’ for the loss of 350-plus years of experience and institutional knowledge would be an employee tavern of choice with an open bar, but what would Washburn know?”

Gannett announced the buyout offer Feb. 9 and gave employees 45 days to decide whether to apply for the deal.

At the close of the offer period, editors reviewed applications and made final decisions; some people who apply for the deal potentially could've been turned down if their position is deemed essential to the newspaper’s operation.

Under the deal, newspaper employees who are age 56 or older and have at least 20 years of service with Gannett as of March 31 are eligible. Although executives said 785 employees meet the criteria, the deal only is being offered to 665 employees “due to ongoing operational needs at the company.”

As part of reductions mandated by Gannett, The Enquirer has laid off about 150 workers during the past two years. Also, employees have had to take five unpaid furloughs during the past three years.

Gannett recently gave Craig Dubow, its CEO who allegedly left the company due to health reasons, a $37.1 million compensation package. The Columbia Journalism Review examined what Gannett could’ve bought with that money instead, including paying for the starting salaries of 1,474 staffers at The Indianapolis Star or 310,720 annual subscriptions to The Tallahassee Democrat's website.

Here is the full text of Washburn’s email:

From: Washburn, Carolyn

Sent: Wednesday, April 04, 2012 8:39 AM

To: CIN-News Users; ohiodaily

Subject: saying thank you to our new retirees

It's official now. In the next couple of weeks we will say thank you and best wishes to these colleagues who have decided to take the company's early retirement offer. The complete group is, in no particular order:

Dave Caudill,
Greg Noble,
Jim Rohrer,
Sue Lancaster,
Pat Tolzmann,
Tim Vonderbrink,
Bill Thompson,
Michael Keating,
Mike Boyer,
Steve Kemme,
Howard Wilkinson, Ray Cooklis

Ray will be here until April 27. Greg's last day in the office was a week or so ago, before a furlough and vacation. Everyone else will have their last day next Thursday, April 12.

We will have a proper party in the 20th floor conference room on April 12 at 4pm.

I'll meet with some small groups in the next few days and we'll have a full staff meeting the week of April 16 to talk about what's next, now that we are confirmed on who chose to retire. There is a plan. :)

We will be very sad to say goodbye. But I am happy for these folks who decided this was the right thing for them.

Thanks again to Dave, Greg, JR, Sue, Pat, Tim, Bill, Michael, Mike, Steve, Howard and Ray. 

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<![CDATA[Media Companies Face Rough Times]]>

It’s a tumultuous time in Greater Cincinnati’s media scene. In addition to The Enquirer’s ongoing staff shakeups, troubles abound at Clear Channel Communications and at the firm that owns Cincinnati Magazine.

This all occurs just a month after the recent sale of CityBeat to Nashville-based SouthComm, Inc.

Clear Channel, which owns the most radio stations in the local market, laid off several employees last week.

Among the people who were let go were Tony Bender, the program director for WKRC (550 AM) and WCKY (1530 AM); Sherry Rowland, promotions director for WLW (700 AM); Mark Bianchi, digital sales manager; and traffic reporter Brian Pitts. The staffers reportedly were laid off due to budget cuts.

Based in San Antonio, Texas, Clear Channel owns 850 radio stations across the United States, making it the nation’s largest radio station group owner both by stations and revenue. Locally, the media giant owns the previously mentioned WKRC, WCKY and WLW, along with WEBN (102.7 FM), WKFS (107.1 FM) and WSAI (1360 AM).

If you're in the media and need a job, you might want to consider applying to become The Enquirer's new sports editor. The last editor, Barry Forbis, recently quit to work for Fox Sports in Los Angeles. Here are the requirements for the job.

Meanwhile, Emmis Communications Corp. — which owns Cincinnati Magazine — is struggling to keep its stock listed on the NASDAQ exchange while the firm’s owner is being roundly criticized for asking an Indiana court to approve a plan to vote so-called “dead shares” of the company.

Indianapolis-based Emmis is seeking to vote the shares of preferred stock that the company had bought from shareholders at a sizeable discount. Typically, such shares are considered “extinguished” and no longer viable under tax and accounting rules. But Emmis executives said the shares weren’t actually bought, they merely were part of a “total return swap.”

If a judge agrees, Emmis will be able to vote those shares and convert its remaining preferred stock into common stock, so it doesn’t have to ante up the cash for unpaid dividends.

To deal with its financial problems, Emmis has borrowed a total of $31.9 million from controversial businessman Sam Zell, chairman of Equity Group Investments, to help keep the firm afloat.

Besides Cincinnati Magazine, Emmis owns similar publications in Atlanta, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Austin, Texas and elsewhere. Also, it owns radio stations in New York, Los Angeles, St. Louis and Terre Haute, Ind., as well as in Bulgaria and Slovakia.

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]> A crowd estimated at close to 1,500 people attended a rally Monday evening at downtown's Fountain Square to express outrage that the alleged shooter of an unarmed teenager in Sanford, Fla., hasn't been arrested. The Feb. 26 killing of Trayvon Martin, 17, has sparked widespread outrage, but some of the marchers at the Cincinnati rally said it's a time to remember all victims of violent crimes. The Rev. Peterson Mingo, who's lost five relatives to violence, urged attendees to take non-violent action. "The same thing can happen to either one of you, someone you know, family or friends,” Mingo said. “And it doesn't matter the color of your skin. We have all the same rights."

Meanwhile, details about the shooter's account of the incident were leaked to a Florida newspaper near Sanford. Police reports indicate George Zimmerman, 28, the neighborhood watch volunteer who shot Martin, told police the teenager punched him in the nose and tackled him, bashing his head into the ground. That's when Zimmerman shot Martin at point blank range in the chest, the reports said. The reports state that Zimmerman was bleeding from his nose and the back of his head. Some — but not all — of the witnesses to the incident have corroborated this version of events.

Neighborhood activists in Avondale, where 11 murders occurred last year, will be the first in the nation to try a new anti-violence program that uses a relatively simple approach. The Moral Voice program involves using “people of influence” in the lives of criminals to speak to them, encourage them to stop shooting and selling drugs, and offer help to get their lives back on track. It's unclear how this differs from the Cincinnati Initiative to Reduce Violence (CIRV), which uses a similar approach.

Some area Tea Party groups have taken umbrage at letters they've received from the IRS. The agency has sent questionnaires to various groups, including the Liberty Township Tea Party and the Ohio Liberty Council, seeking information about their political activities because they've applied for tax-exempt status. But some groups think the questions are too intrusive and constitute harassment. A University of Notre Dame law professor, however, said the IRS inquiries do not seem overly intrusive or unusual.

The Great Recession hit Ohio harder than just about every other state in terms of private-sector job loss. Only three states lost more private-sector jobs than Ohio during the last four years, according to an analysis of data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The Buckeye State lost 266,300 private-sector jobs between 2008-12, leaving it with about 4.36 million positions.

A longtime West Side fixture has died. Demetrios Christos James Kostopoulo, or just “Jim” to his many friends and acquaintances, recently died at age 74 while working at his popular restaurant, Delhi Chili. A Greek immigrant, Kostopoulo came to the United States in 1956. He opened his eatery in 1963 and would work 12-day shifts before taking time off, his daughter said.

In news elsewhere, the impact of the individual mandate in President Obama's health-care reform law is being vastly overstated, some economists say. Even as the Supreme Court hears arguments about the law's constitutionality, analysts note that most Americans already have coverage that satisfies the mandate. For the remainder, the law would create subsidies that would help pay for coverage. The mandate most likely will affect about 25 million people when it takes effect in 2014 — many of whom are younger, healthier people who were taking the risk of going without health insurance. (That's probably you, dear CityBeat reader.)

Syria has reportedly accepted a ceasefire plan drawn up by Kofi Annan, a special envoy from the United Nations and the Arab League. Annan's spokesman confirmed that the government had accepted the six-point peace plan, which the U.N. Security Council has endorsed. Annan said it dealt with "political discussions, withdrawal of heavy weapons and troops from population centers, humanitarian assistance being allowed in unimpeded, (and) release of prisoners,” although few details were available. Syria has waged a violent crackdown against anti-government protestors for more than 12 months.

A strong earthquake shook northern Japan today, but no damage was reported and there was no risk of a tsunami. The Japan Meteorological Agency recorded a 6.4 preliminary magnitude. There may be a small change in sea levels, the agency said, but it didn't issue any tsunami warnings.

There was a close call in space over the weekend.  A leftover piece of an old Russian satellite forced six astronauts on the International Space Station to take shelter in a pair of lifeboat-like space capsules Saturday, but passed harmlessly by the outpost to the crew's relief. The space junk was spotted too late to move the orbiting laboratory out of the way and flew as close as 6.8 miles when it zoomed by, NASA officials said. Where's Bruce Willis, Ben Affleck and those other Armageddon space cowboys when you need them?
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<![CDATA[Don't Believe the Hype About Jobs]]>

There is an old saying that goes, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics." It’s alternately been credited to writer Mark Twain and British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli.

No matter where it originated, though, the quote applies well to unemployment figures released by the U.S. Labor Department.

Earlier this month the Labor Department reported the nation’s unemployment rate dropped for the fifth consecutive month in January to 8.3 percent, its lowest level in three years. That is good news, but not quite as good as it first appears.

Using that measure, 12.3 million people are unemployed, which is a decline of 0.2 percent from December.

The number of long-term unemployed — those jobless for six months or more — was 5.5 million people, accounting for 42.9 percent of the unemployed.

Critics of how the government calculates the unemployment rate, however, say it’s misleading because it doesn’t count so-called “discouraged workers.” Those are people who are jobless and have looked for work sometime in the past year but aren’t currently looking because of real or perceived poor employment prospects. In other words, they’ve given up.

Federal data shows a disproportionate number of young people, African-Americans, Hispanics and men comprise the discouraged-worker segment.

Including those workers, the unemployment rate was 16.2 percent in January. Some analysts, however, believe that grossly understates the numbers. (The highest the rate got during the Great Depression was 25 percent in 1933.)

Here’s some context. In the modern era (1948-present), the U.S. unemployment rate averaged 5.7 percent — reaching a record high of 10.8 percent in November 1982 and a record low of 2.5 percent in May 1953.

As economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman has noted, “we started 2012 with fewer workers employed than in January 2001 — zero growth after 11 years, even as the population, and therefore the number of jobs we needed, grew steadily.”

Krugman added, “at January’s pace of job creation it would take us until 2019 to return to full employment.”

In a little noticed report, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) stated last week that the rate of unemployment in the United States has exceeded 8 percent since February 2009, making the past three years the longest stretch of high unemployment in this nation since the Great Depression.

Additionally, the CBO — which is the official, objective analyst for the federal government — estimates that the unemployment rate will remain above 8 percent until 2014.

If that’s not depressing enough, consider this: The share of unemployed people who have been looking for work for more than a year — referred to as marginally-attached workers— topped 40 percent in December 2009 and has remained above that level ever since.

The CBO stated the high unemployment rate’s primary cause is weak demand for goods and services as a result of the recession and its aftermath, which results in weak demand for workers.

To produce the largest increases in employment per dollar of budgetary cost, the agency recommended reducing the marginal cost to businesses of adding employees; and targeting people most likely to spend the additional income — generally, people with lower income.

“Policies primarily affecting businesses’ cash flow would have little impact on their marginal incentives to hire or invest and, therefore, would have only small effects on employment per dollar of budgetary cost,” the CBO’s report stated.

“Despite the near-term economic benefits, such actions would add to the already large projected budget deficits that would exist under current policies, either immediately or over time,” it added. “Achieving both short-term stimulus and long-term sustainability would require a combination of policies: changes in taxes and spending that would widen the deficit now but reduce it later in the decade.”

Let’s make that clear — economic stimulus for poor people who would actually spend the money is most effective, and to have an impact the federal deficit needs to increase in the short-term.

Republicans, are you listening?

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<![CDATA[Council Proposes Crackdown on Foreclosures]]>

Two Cincinnati City Council members will unveil a proposal Wednesday to require banks to take better care of foreclosed properties.

Councilmen P.G. Sittenfeld and Cecil Thomas want city administrators to gauge the feasibility of launching a pilot program to improve vacant and blighted properties, which they said would help stabilize neighborhoods.

If ultimately deemed feasible and approved, the proposal would create a mandatory registry for vacant foreclosed properties and enact stiffer civil offense charges for properties that aren’t properly maintained. Also, it would require point of sale inspections prior to sheriff's sales, and assess the costs for code violation corrections to lenders.

The program would be tried on a one-year trial basis in Westwood, Price Hill, College Hill, Madisonville and Mount Airy. If successful, it could be expanded to other neighborhoods.

When foreclosed properties are left vacant, they often become targets of crime and sources of blight, and can ultimately end up in the hands of absentee landlords, Sittenfeld said.

"Our efforts are all about demanding accountability," Sittenfeld said. "Banks and lenders must maintain the properties they own, just like the rest of us."

He added, “We must all care about this issue because all of us are affected by it. If you live next to a vacant foreclosed house, your property values go down and your quality of life deteriorates. This pilot program provides an important step toward stabilizing our neighborhoods."

Sittenfeld and Thomas will formally announce the plan at a press conference Wednesday morning at a foreclosed home at 1540 Ambrose Ave. in College Hill. The property is owned by mortgage giant Fannie Mae, which has had 188 building code enforcement cases in Cincinnati during the past five years.

The proposal also has the support of Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls and Councilmembers Chris Seelbach, Charlie Winburn and Wendell Young. That gives it enough votes for passage, which means administrators will report back to council on the costs for such a program and whether it would be effective.

Community activists and advocates from Working In Neighborhoods and the Legal Aid Society also support the proposal.

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<![CDATA[Dems, Unions Protest Romney Visit]]>

As Mitt Romney gets ready to attend a $2,500 a plate fundraiser at downtown’s Great American Tower, the local Democratic Party chairman says the presidential hopeful’s economic plan “would do nothing to create jobs now.”

Hamilton County Democratic Party Chairman Tim Burke released a statement this afternoon describing why he believes a Romney presidency would be disastrous for middle-class Americans.


Meanwhile, a group of community leaders led a protest outside of the East Fourth Street office building as attendees arrived for the fundraiser. The protest was organized by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) District 1199, which represents more than 30,000 health-care and social service workers across Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia.

“Mitt Romney holding $2,500 per person fundraiser at the Great American Tower is a perfect example of exactly who he is and who he represents,” said Becky Williams, SEIU’s district president, in a prepared statement. “While Romney is hobnobbing on the rooftop with his wealthy donors hosted by American Financial Group, ordinary Ohioans are struggling to find work and provide for their families.”

The co-host for the fundraiser is S. Craig Lindner, co-president and director of American Financial Group Inc., whose total compensation in 2010 totaled $8.3 million, according to Forbes magazine.

“Nothing Mitt Romney says can change the fact that he spent his career as a corporate buyout specialist who put profits over people and lined his pockets by outsourcing jobs, closing down plants and laying off workers,” Burke said.

“His 59-point economic plan would do nothing to create jobs now, fix America’s economy or help struggling homeowners avoid foreclosure. His tax plan would benefit the ultra-wealthy and do nothing to help middle-class families in Greater Cincinnati,” Burke added.

In preparation for Romney’s visit today, the Democratic National Committee pointed out that the investment firm once led by the candidate, Bain Capital, rejected a government offer to invest in General Motors (GM) during the 2008 financial crisis.

Romney has said on the campaign trail that he opposed the government bailout of U.S. automakers because the private market would have provided loans so GM and Chrysler Corp. could go through managed bankruptcy. But sources told The New York Times that Bain turned down an offer to help GM at the time.

“To go through the bankruptcy process, both companies needed billions of dollars in financing, money that auto executives and government officials who were involved with Mr. Obama’s auto task force say was not available at a time when the credit markets had dried up,” the article stated.

It added, “The only entity that could provide the $80 billion needed, they say, was the federal government. No private companies would come to the industry’s aid, and the only path through bankruptcy would have been Chapter 7 liquidation, not the more orderly Chapter 11 reorganization, these people said.”

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

The wife of an Israeli diplomat in India and her driver were injured Monday when the car they were traveling in was bombed, while another bomb was defused outside an Israeli embassy in Tblisi, Georgia. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed Iran, which he called “the greatest exporter of terror in the world.”---

Readers should remember, however, that several Iranian scientists have been assassinated in recent years, with Professor Mostafa Ahmadi-Roshan and his driver killed in a bomb blast in north Tehran just last month. U.S. officials last week confirmed that Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency had been funding and training Iranian dissidents to assassinate nuclear scientists involved in Iran's nuclear program. What comes around goes around. 

Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden told his children "not to follow him down the road to jihad" before his death, according to an interview his brother-in-law gave to Britain’s The Sunday Times. "He told his own children and grandchildren, 'Go to Europe and America and get a good education'," said Zakaria al-Sadah. I suppose this can be viewed two ways: Either Osama was offering sage paternal advice so his children wouldn’t make the same mistakes he did, or the terrorist thought only the wealthy deserved a good life while the poor and uneducated served as cannon fodder for his political aims.

Malaysia has deported a young Saudi journalist who is wanted in his native country for Twitter posts about the Prophet Mohammad that led to calls for his execution, Al Jazeera reports. Hamza Kashgari, 23, is on his way back to Saudi Arabia, which is a U.S. ally. "We all agree that what he has done is absolutely wrong. He did tweet certain doubts about the prophet, which is blasphemous," said Abdullah al-Alami, a Saudi activist. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch had urged Malaysia not to send Kashgari back, to no avail.

Victories in Republican primaries in Michigan (Feb. 28) and Ohio (March 6) are crucial to Rick Santorum staying in the race for the GOP presidential nomination, Santorum’s strategists told Politico. “The privately held hope in the Santorum camp is that beating Romney in his native state of Michigan or in the ultimate general election battleground of Ohio would discredit, on a grand scale, the on-and-off Republican frontrunner and make the other candidates in the race irrelevant in the remaining contests,” it reports.

Want to see “vulture capitalism” in action? After singer Whitney Houston’s death on Saturday in Beverly Hills, iTunes increased the prices on her albums. For example, the price of Houston’s 2007 Ultimate Collection jumped from $4.70 to $12.60 within 30 minutes of the news about her passing, causing critics to blast Apple and Sony Music for their crassness.

Locally, some vacant and dilapidated homes might be demolished thanks to last week’s national mortgage settlement between several state attorneys general and five major banks. Ohio will get $75 million from the deal, and several area mayors are urging that some of the money be used to raze the eyesores.

Republicans on the Hamilton County Board of Elections this morning voted to appeal a federal judge's decision from last week that ordered the board to count 286 additional votes in the juvenile court race between Democrat Tracie Hunter and Republican John Williams from 2010. That means the case will go to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Although it appears the Republican-dominated Hamilton County Commission plans to block a public vote on a property tax levy for the Museum Center, a Democratic challenger said he would let it proceed, if elected in November. Greg Harris, the Democrat running against incumbent Republican Greg Hartmann, said “I will support allowing arts and cultural institutions to put their full requests to voters in the form of levies, and campaign in full to support them.”

 

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<![CDATA[Enquirer Offers Employee Buyouts]]>

The corporate parent of The Enquirer is offering a voluntary “early retirement” buyout proposal to rid the company of some older and more highly paid employees.

Robert J. Dickey, president of The Gannett Co.'s U.S. newspaper division, announced the buyout offer Thursday in a memorandum to employees.---

Under the deal, newspaper employees who are age 56 or older and have at least 20 years of service with Gannett as of March 31 are eligible. Although Dickey said 785 employees meet the criteria, the deal only is being offered to 665 employees “due to ongoing operational needs at the company.”

Eligible employees have 45 days to accept. At the close of the offer period, Gannett will review applications and make final decisions; some people who apply for the deal might be turned down.

Sources at The Enquirer say executives are looking to shed 26 employees at Cincinnati’s only remaining daily newspaper, most of which likely will come from the newsroom. If enough people don’t apply, layoffs are possible later.

Department heads and publishers aren’t eligible for the buyout, sources added.

The offer provides for salary continuation of two weeks’ pay for each complete year of service, capped at 52 weeks, along with ongoing health, dental and vision insurance coverage during this period.

“The Early Retirement Opportunity Program is one part of our ongoing strategy to transform the company with a focus on remaining the top news and information provider in your market,” Dickey wrote in the memo. “To accomplish this, it entails a ground-up assessment of our overall structure and resources. At this time we are offering this program instead of pursuing other cost management actions but we cannot rule out other actions in the future.”

More than 1,200 employees were laid off at Gannett's newspaper holdings nationwide in 2009, including 101 people at The Enquirer. About 20 other Enquirer employees were laid off last year, although the newspaper didn't disclose exact numbers.

Also, Enquirer employees have been required to take several rounds of unpaid leave during the past three years.

Like most newspapers, Gannett's circulation and profits have dropped as readers migrate to free content on the internet, and the loss has lead to declining advertising revenues.

Based in Virginia, Gannett is the largest U.S. newspaper publisher as measured by total daily circulation. Its 82 daily newspapers, including USA Today, reach 11.6 million readers on weekdays and 12 million readers on Sundays. Also, the firm owns 23 television stations in the United States.

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

The big news this morning is President Obama’s State of the Union address, which revealed an assertive, populist side to B-Rock that’s largely been missing during the first three years of his term.

Will Obama keep his promises to go after Wall Street excesses and reckless financial firms, or is it mere election year posturing like apparently many of his statements in 2008 were? Only time will tell.---

On the GOP side, Newt Gingrich threatened to boycott future Republican presidential debates if his supporters in the audience aren’t allowed to cheer and clap. His bluster comes one day after he appeared at a Tampa debate where rival Mitt Romney went on the attack. Without the feedback from his supporters, Gingrich often appeared nervous and uncomfortable. Oh, Newt: Who knew you were so needy?

In political news from another era, the final 45 hours of secret tape recordings made in the Oval Office by President Kennedy were released Tuesday. The tapes span the last three months of his presidency, before his assassination in November 1963. The existence of the tapes became public during Watergate hearings in 1973.

Ever wonder why food at McDonalds sucks so much (except for the french fries), and whether the fast food chain could do better? Look no further than France for the answer. 
C'est une bonne nourriture!

Locally, Cincinnati City Council is expected to approve $10 million in funding at its meeting this afternoon to build four homeless shelters. The action is part of the $25 million effort by Strategies to End Homelessness (formerly the Continuum of Care for the Homeless), which is designed to help create individual, temporary and permanent housing units for single homeless men and women, along with adding 191 transitional housing beds.

State Sen. Eric Kearney (D-North Avondale) was selected as the president of Ohio Senate’s Democrats, which are the minority party in the legislative body. He replaces a Cleveland area lawmaker who didn’t seek the post again.

Ground will finally be broken today for U Square @ The Loop, a long-delayed apartment, hotel and shopping project near the University of Cincinnati. The $78 million project is being managed by Al Neyer Inc. and Towne Properties, the latter of which is owned by the family of ex-City Councilman Chris Bortz.

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<![CDATA[Portman to Address Local GOP]]>

At least three members of Congress are set to attend the 13th annual Northeast Hamilton County Republican Pancake Breakfast next week.

U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Terrace Park), a budget director under President George W. Bush, is the keynote speaker at the event. Also scheduled to attend are U.S. Reps. Steve Chabot (R-Westwood) and Jean Schmidt (R-Miami Township), along with nearly 400 local Republicans from all levels of government.---

The event will be held from 9-11 a.m. on Jan. 28 at the Sharonville Convention Center, 11355 Chester Road. Tickets are $20 per person or $45 per family.

A presidential straw poll also will be taken at the breakfast.

Tickets can be purchased online or at the door, although seating is limited and it’s uncertain whether tickets still will be available on the day of the event.

Let’s hope one of the attendees will ask Portman about the Bush era tax cuts that caused the United States to go from a projected surplus to a deficit, and that cost about $1.35 trillion over 10 years. Or at least ask about the wisdom of Bush borrowing $489 billion from China to pay for the wars he started in Afghanistan and Iraq, rather than raise the tax rate.

Think it will happen?

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<![CDATA[Kearney Introduces Jobs Bill]]>

After a few months of preparation, two Ohio legislators today formally introduced an economic development plan that a nonpartisan group has said could create up to 16,000 jobs in the state.

State Sens. Eric Kearney (D-North Avondale) and Nina Turner (D-Cleveland) have submitted Senate Bill No. 278, known as “Forward Ohio,” for the State Legislature’s consideration.---

If passed, the bill would provide scholarships and grants to the long-tern unemployed — those people out of work for six months or longer — so they can learn new skills. Also, it would provide a $4,000 tax credit to employers who hire the long-term unemployed, along with awarding competitive grants through the Department of Jobs & Family Services to businesses so they can fund programs that provide summer employment opportunities for Ohio youth between the ages of 16 and 21.

Further, the bill would create a revolving loan fund to provide micro-loans, up to $50,000, to Ohio’s small businesses to help them expand operations and create jobs, among other changes.

A review by the nonpartisan Legislative Service Commission concluded that Forward Ohio could create up to 16,000 jobs.

Kearney represents Ohio’s 9th Senate District, which includes parts of Cincinnati, Addyston, North Bend, St. Bernard, Elmwood Place, Cleves, Cheviot, Norwood, Golf Manor, Columbia Township, Deer Park, Silverton and Springfield Township.

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<![CDATA[Gorby Tells It Like It Is]]>

Although he will celebrate his 81st birthday in less than two months, former Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev still is an astute observer of the world’s political scene.

Unlike his political contemporaries Ronald Reagan (who is dead) and Margaret Thatcher (who is acutely ill), Gorbachev remains sharp and aware, and keeps making headlines. Ever since the U.S. financial crisis of 2007-08, Gorbachev has advocated that the United States needs a similar period of reforms, or “perestroika,” that he advanced in the Soviet Union beginning in 1986.---

In the current issue of The Nation magazine, Gorbachev writes an essay in which he posits that the world is less safe today, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, than it was 21 years ago. He blames the situation mostly on an aggressive, unrealistic U.S. foreign policy that he believes should be reformulated so it is based on the recognition of the world’s interconnectedness and interdependence.

The essay’s most interesting portion, however, is Gorbachev’s assessment of the United States’ hyper-militarized approach to problem-solving and its “might makes right” strategy, which he asserts backfires in dealing with nations like Iran.

“Policy-making and political thinking are still militarized. This is particularly true in the United States, which has not renounced the methods of pressure and intimidation,” Gorbachev wrote. “Every time it uses armed force against non–nuclear weapon states, countries such as Iran become more determined to acquire nuclear weapons.

“During the first decade of the twenty-first century US military budgets accounted for nearly half the world’s spending on armed forces,” he added. “Such overwhelming military superiority of one country will make the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons impossible to achieve. Judging by the weapons programs of the United States and a number of other countries, they are setting their sights on a new arms race.”

Of course, Gorbachev's views aren't likely to sit well with the many highly lucrative U.S. firms that profit from the militarized approach like General Electric, Boeing, Halliburton and scores of others.

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<![CDATA[Groups: Mortgage Change Would Spur Growth]]>

A national coalition of community groups, including two Cincinnati organizations, are urging President Obama to push big Wall Street banks into writing down all “underwater mortgages” to market value. The groups said the action would pump up to $1.6 billion into Ohio's economy and create more than 24,000 jobs statewide.---

The two local groups, Communities United for Action (CUFA) and Working in Neighborhoods (WIN), said such a move could add about $256 million annually to Cincinnati's economy.

In many cities including Cincinnati, about one-third of all mortgages are underwater, meaning homeowners owe more on their mortgages than their homes are actually worth, according to a report compiled by the coalition, known as The New Bottom Line. If Obama required the banks to reduce the principal on all underwater mortgages to current market value, he could inject a direct cash stimulus into Ohio’s economy at no cost to taxpayers, the coalition added.

The action would save the average Ohio family about $3,406 annually on mortgage payments, the coalition said.

Also, it wants Obama to conduct a full investigation into the fraudulent activities of the Wall Street banks that caused the foreclosure crisis and economic meltdown; require a minimum of $200 billion from the big banks in principal reduction for underwater homeowners and restitution for foreclosed-on families; and target principal reduction and restitution to the families hardest hit by the banks’ predatory lending, including communities of color and regions of the nation with the highest percentage of foreclosures.

Instead of overpaying more than $280 each month on their mortgages, Cincinnati homeowners could spend that money on groceries, household necessities and other items, the groups said. As consumer demand increases, businesses would begin hiring, creating an estimated 3,783 jobs in the Cincinnati area and over 24,000 jobs in Ohio, they added.

The figures are based on a report compiled by The New Bottom Line, entitled, “Ohio Underwater: How President Obama Can Fix the Housing Crisis and Create Jobs.”

In a Dec. 6 speech in Osawatomie, Kan., Obama said the “breathtaking greed of a few” was responsible for plunging the U.S. economy into crisis, adding now is a “make-or-break moment for the middle class.”

“Will President Obama back up his election year rhetoric with real action?,” asked Marilyn Evans, CUFA's director. “Cincinnati area families from all walks of life think it’s time for this administration to hold Wall Street accountable for crashing the economy, and for overcharging homeowners.”

The New Bottom Line is a national campaign consisting of community groups, church congregations, labor unions, and individuals working to counter the political influence of big Wall Street banks.

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<![CDATA[More Metromix Outlets Close]]>

The Denver Post reported Thursday that Metromix, a series of entertainment websites owned by Enquirer parent Gannett Co., is closing its localized websites in seven cities.

Metromix is closing its website operations in Denver, Atlanta, Cleveland, Minneapolis, St. Louis, Tampa and Washington, D.C. Each of the markets is where Gannett owns a television station but not a newspaper.---

"The decision was made because the business model did not prove to be effective in broadcast," the company said in a statement.

During the past two years, Gannett has announced it was ending the print version of Metromix in several cities that have Gannett-owned newspapers including Indianapolis and Nashville, along with similar but differently named weekly publications in Louisville and Lansing, Mich.

The Cincinnati Enquirer continues to publish a local version of Metromix here.

According to The Denver Post article by Joanne Ostrow, most of the Metromix operations nationally are “generally under-performing.”

Ostrow reports that the cities with Gannett-owned TV stations “will continue to feature 'Express' versions of Metromix, 'which are database driven and pull event data into the site from multiple sources as well as other entertainment information.'"

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<![CDATA[Occupy Group is Recharging ]]>

After two days of testimony, the criminal trespassing trial of some Occupy Cincinnati protestors has been continued until Jan. 30 while attorneys on both sides continue to negotiate a possible resolution.

Meanwhile, the Occupy Cincinnati group isn't resting; it will stage an event called “Recharge Weekend” on Saturday and Sunday, designed to boost the morale of participants and devise a more precise, clear agenda for moving forward.---

Occupy protestors camped overnight for 10 days in November at downtown's Piatt Park, before Cincinnati police arrested them and removed their tents and signs from the plaza. About 45 people were arrested on misdemeanor charges of criminal trespassing.

The protestors were arrested for violating park rules that state people must leave by 10 p.m.

Hamilton County Municipal Court Judge Dwane Mallory, brother of Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory, presided over the initial trespassing cases Tuesday and today.

Another judge involved in the matter, Municipal Court Judge David Stockdale, stated in a letter to his colleagues and municipal prosecutors last month that the city’s charter lacks a section that codifies the breaking of park rules into a misdemeanor criminal violation. Further, he believes the city’s Park Board lacks the legislative authority to make the violations a criminal offense.

This weekend's events kick off Saturday with a rally and march for human rights around Over-the-Rhine and downtown. The rally begins at 1 p.m. at Piatt Park, with the march starting at 2 p.m.

During the rally, the Food Not Bombs organization will be sharing free free vegan and vegetarian meals with the hungry. Food Not Bombs works toward nonviolent social change through “the celebration and nurturing of life” by distributing free food.

The Recharge Weekend event will be held from 3 p.m. Saturday to 1 a.m. Sunday, and again from 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Sunday at Off the Avenue Studios in Northside. It's located at 1546 Knowlton St., near Jacob Hoffner Park.

“We’ll be recharging ourselves and rebooting our occupation, sorting through the biggest obstacles to being a cohesive and effective organization,” event organizers said. “As we speak, we are developing an agenda and entertainment and allowing ourselves to share some time together, just like we did before we were so rudely interrupted from our encampment.”

On Sunday a general assembly meeting will be held at 3 p.m. to try to reach consensus on a number of proposals being mulled by the group, including details of a winter occupation protest.

“We are reaching out to any and all interested folks for this powerful assembly, but we especially reach out to the many Occupiers that became disillusioned when our encampment was taken from us and those whose enthusiasm was squashed due to organizational and communication issues,” organizers said.

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<![CDATA[Mr. Chabot, Meet Mr. Will]]>

As far as conservatives go, I can tolerate columnist George Will and often enjoy reading his work. Unlike most of what passes as conservatism today, Will tends to base his arguments on logic and fact, not emotion and rhetoric.

Making him even more of an anomaly in Republican circles, Will acknowledges and corrects his errors, when he makes them. As an added bonus, he's also a deft wordsmith.

Despite his many years in office, Congressman Steve Chabot (R-Westwood) could stand to take a few pointers from Will. Chabot, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia, spoke during a hearing Wednesday about his concerns with a total withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq by year's end.---

President Obama announced in late October that he would withdraw the remaining 39,000 U.S. troops in Iraq by Dec. 31. Although Obama and his advisors originally had hoped to leave about 10,000 troops in Iraq, the Iraqi government’s refusal to grant those troops immunity from criminal prosecution for any future wrongdoing ended that plan.

Polls show Americans overwhelmingly support Obama's decision. A recent Gallup Poll found that 75 percent of respondents approve of the withdrawal. When broken down along party lines, 96 percent of Democrats support the decision, along with 77 percent of independents and 43 percent of Republicans. Other polls yielded similar results.

Since the United States invaded Iraq in March 2003, 4,485 U.S. troops have been killed there. Also, an estimated 1.45 million Iraqis have been killed. The United States has spent about $802 billion waging the war so far.

Mimicking the invective of some neocon GOP presidential hopefuls like Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry, however, Chabot wants troops to stay put.

Before Wednesday's hearing, Chabot read a speech that stated, in part: “It is painfully clear that although the Iraqi army has progressed remarkably from where it once was, Iraq is not yet prepared to defend itself from the threat posed by its nefarious neighbors, Iran and Syria … Public reports indicate that General Lloyd Austin, Commanding General of U.S. Forces Iraq, requested and recommended approximately 20,000 U.S. troops remain in Iraq. Unfortunately, these negotiations failed due to mismanagement by the White House. Amazingly, the White House is now trying to tout the breakdown and lack of agreement as a success inasmuch as it has met a promise President Obama made as a candidate. This blatant politicization calls into question the White House’s entire effort to secure a troop extension. Fulfilling a campaign promise at the expense of American national security interests is at best, strategic neglect and at worst, downright irresponsible.”

Chabot continued, “Although I understand that Iraq is a sovereign country, I believe there is much more we could have done to secure a reasonable troop presence beyond the end of this year. Accordingly, I’d like to again echo Senator Lieberman’s call to reopen negotiations with the Iraqis. It would be a failure of colossal proportions to withdraw our forces before Iraq is ready to stand on its own.”

In Chabot's mind, apparently, the Iraqi government's belief that it is ready to “stand on its own” isn't enough; its U.S. occupiers must agree.

Based on his stance, Chabot should answer some questions posed by Will in his Nov. 6 column. The piece, entitled “Let's Debate Iraq,” was aimed at Republican presidential contenders and asked them to better explain their foreign policy positions, but it applies equally as well here.

In the column, Will wrote, “How many troops would they leave in Iraq? For how long? And for what purpose? If eight years, 4,485 lives and $800 billion are not enough, how many more of each are they prepared to invest there? And spare us the conventional dodge about 'listening to' the 'commanders in the field.' Each candidate is aspiring to be commander in chief in a nation in which civilians set policy for officers to execute.”

Well, Mr. Chabot? We'd love to hear your answers.

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