CityBeat Blogs - Congress http://www.citybeat.com/cincinnati/blogs-1-1-1-34-97.html <![CDATA[More Than 36,000 Ohioans Could Lose Unemployment Benefits]]>

Despite lingering signs of a weakened economy, a bipartisan budget deal working through U.S. Congress will not extend emergency benefits for the nation’s long-term unemployed past Dec. 28.

If the emergency benefits are allowed to expire, the cut will hit more than 36,000 Ohioans in December and 128,600 through 2014, according to left-leaning think tank Policy Matters Ohio.

Without the extension, Ohioans can tap into just 26 weeks of state-provided jobless aid. Federally funded emergency benefits give the unemployed another 37 weeks to find work before losing government assistance.

The emergency benefits were originally adopted by Congress to help Americans hit hardest by the Great Recession. The economy has improved since then, but some question whether it’s improved enough.

“There are 4.1 million workers who have been unemployed for more than six months, which is well over three times the number of long-term unemployed in 2007, before the Great Recession began,” write Lawrence Mishel and Heidi Shierholz of the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute (EPI).

Supporters claim the benefits boost the economy by allowing the long-term unemployed to continue buying goods and services that effectively support jobs. EPI estimates the benefits would sustain 310,000 nationwide jobs in 2014.

But at $25.2 billion a year, the emergency benefits come at a hefty price tag for conservatives who are trying to rein in federal spending.

EPI claims the “sticker price” overestimates the net cost of the benefits.

“The 310,000 jobs created or saved by the economic activity this spending generates will in turn generate greater federal revenues from the taxes paid on the wages earned by those who otherwise would not have jobs,” write Mishel and Shierholz. “They will also save the government money on safety net spending related to unemployment (for example, Medicaid and food stamps).”

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, an Ohio Democrat, last week joined 31 other Democratic senators in support of extending the benefits.

“We must do everything we can to support those who are still struggling following the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression,” Brown said in a statement. “These are hardworking Americans — many with children — who have fallen on tough times.”

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters on Thursday the administration “absolutely expects” Congress to extend emergency benefits, but the extension could come after Congress reconvenes from a winter recess in January.

The House of Representatives on Thursday passed a bipartisan budget deal without an extension for the long-term unemployed. The Senate expects to take up the same budget bill sometime this week.

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<![CDATA[Northern Kentucky Congressman Wants Guns In School Zones]]>

U.S. Rep. Tom Massie, the congressman who represents the Kentucky side of the Cincinnati metropolitan area, used his first day in Congress to file a bill that would erase a 23-year-old federal ban that makes it a crime to carry guns near schools.

At the moment, Massie does not have any co-sponsors signed up. Details are sparse because the government printing office says it does not yet have the full text of the measure to put online.

The existing Gun-Free School Act of 1990, which was adopted when former president George H.W. Bush, a Republican, was in the White House is viewable here. The bill was amended in 1995. As late as 1999, the National Rifle Association (NRA) was testifying in support of the measure, a position it seems to have dropped after the Sandy Hook massacre.

Under the existing law, so-called “school zones” include but are not limited to parks, sidewalks, roads and highways within 1,000 feet of the property line of a public or private elementary, middle or high school. The law makes it practically impossible to travel in populated areas without entering a "gun-free school zone." People with state-issued licenses or permits to carry guns are exempted by the federal law, but the exemption is only good in the state that issued the permit.

The law doesn’t exempt out-of-state travelers who have permits, nor does it allow off-duty police officers to pack a weapon in a school. And it is a violation for anyone other than an on-duty police officer or a school security guard to discharge a firearm in a school zone for any reason. A state permit does not exempt a person from the discharge prohibition. 

Here is a copy of the bill that retired U.S. Rep. Ron Paul introduced while the Texan was campaigning for the Republican presidential nomination. He called his repeal measure the Citizen Protection Act, and he got no support from co-sponsors. Paul’s bill died when the new Congress was sworn in yesterday, but Massie is now resurrecting it.

Massie is a tea party adherent — elected last fall to replace Geoff Davis — who largely shares the political philosophies of Paul and his son, Sen. Rand Paul, who is also from Kentucky. Massie voted against John Boehner for speaker on the opening day of the 113th Congress, an act of open defiance against the Republican House leadership.

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

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.

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<![CDATA[Activists Urge Boehner to Make Pentagon Cuts]]>

Activists gathered on Thursday outside of the West Chester office of U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, asking the House’s top official to look at reducing military spending when coming up with a budget.

The group of nearly two dozen — which included nuns, a veteran, a retiree advocate, a small businessman and progressive activists — held signs reading, “It is time for Nation Building in the United States. Cut Massive Pentagon Budget Now!” and “End Tax Breaks for Richest 2%.”

“We’re here today in front of Speaker of the House John Boehner’s West Chester office to drive home the fact that we believe that over 50 percent of the budget magically, this elephant in the House, has failed to be discussed as we discuss taking away services that provide human needs,” said David Little of Progress Ohio.

“Any discussion that fails to address excesses in that budget is failing the American people.”

Little added that it was possible to support the troops and veterans without spending billions on pointless wars.

Butler County attorney and Navy veteran Bruce Carter said the military can be more efficient in what he called the changing mission.

“When you refuse to have a discussion on over half of the budget, that’s like trying to tell the Bengals to win a game without going over the 50 yard line,” he said.

The group had a letter to deliver to Boehner, which contained what they called a statement of principles.

“We believe in a holistic approach to the budget crisis, and in order to protect the middle-class, cuts to the Pentagon need to be at the forefront,” the letter states. “We understand that Pentagon cuts are a controversial issue, however, Pentagon cuts in the sequester do not threaten our national security.”

The letter suggests that some of the money currently being spent on the Defense Department goes to providing services for veterans.

The military accounted for about 52 percent — or $600 billion — of discretionary spending in fiscal year 2011.

In contrast, education, training and social services collectively made up 9 percent of the budget.

The group of four activists weren’t allowed into Boehner’s office, but a young staffer met them outside. He said that the speaker thought everything should be on the table when it came to budget cuts.

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<![CDATA[Ohio Democrats Push for Puerto Rico Statehood]]>

A group of Ohio House Democrats wants Congress to move quickly and grant statehood to Puerto Rico, which has been a U.S. possession since the Spanish-American War ended in 1898.  The Ohioans do not say where the star should go on a redesigned American flag, but they said statehood would “respect the rights of self-governance through consent of the governed of our fellow United States citizens residing in Puerto Rico.”

The chief sponsor of the resolution, H.C.R. 57, is State Rep. Dan Ramos of Lorain, a northern Ohio city where about 25 percent of the 64,000 residents are Hispanic. Lorain is considered the most Hispanic city in Ohio, and nearly 20 percent of its population claims Puerto Rican descent. The resolution urging statehood was introduced this week in the Ohio House where it likely faces an uncertain future. The current term of the legislature is scheduled to end in December, and it has no Republican co-sponsors.  The GOP controls the House, which means that Democratic proposals often get bottled up or receive short shrift.

Earlier this month, a slight majority of Puerto Ricans voted in favor of statehood for the Caribbean Island. It was the first time a statehood referendum has won there, and the non-binding vote was seen as signaling that many Puerto Ricans appear ready to end the island’s status as a U.S. commonwealth. The move by the Ohio House Democrats also appears aimed at cementing the party’s support among Hispanic voters. Some 70 percent of Hispanics backed the Democrats and President Obama on Election Day, and Hispanics are emerging as a key bloc with increasing power at the ballot box.    

With the exception of State Rep. Alicia Reece, a Cincinnati Democrat, all of the other House Democrats backing the statehood resolution are from Columbus or further north in Ohio. The resolution urges Congress to take swift action “towards admitting the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico to the Union as a State.” Statehood decisions are up to Congress. The Ohio resolution points out that Puerto Ricans are already U.S. citizens (although they cannot vote in presidential elections), and that many serve in the U.S. military. A 1917 law granted residents U.S. citizenship.

There is a historical footnote involving Cincinnati in Puerto Rico’s fate. Former GOP President William Howard Taft, a Cincinnatian who went on to serve as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in the 1920s, delivered a major legal decision in 1922 that helped keep Puerto Rico separate. Taft said the congressional act that conferred citizenship on the islanders did not contemplate that they would be incorporated into the Union. He ruled the U.S. possession had never been designated for statehood. Taft gave the island a unique status that has been described as a commonwealth, or as it is said in Spanish, “Estado Libre Asociado de Puerto Rico.”

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<![CDATA[Seelbach Touts Obama's LGBT Record, Urges Early Voting]]>

On National Coming Out Day, Cincinnati’s only openly gay city councilman told CityBeat that equality for America’s Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgendered people would take a hit under a President Mitt Romney.

“On day one (of his presidency) he (Romney) could hurt gay families by reinstating Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and hurt security for our country,” Seelbach said. “We need as many people serving as possible.”

Councilman Chris Seelbach spoke to CityBeat as he waited to vote early outside of the Hamilton County Board of Elections.

Proponents of the measure that prevented openly gay service members from serving in the military have said repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell would damage the country’s combat-readiness. 

A study published by the Williams Institute at University of California Los Angeles Law School in September found that there has been no overall negative impact on military readiness, unit cohesion, recruitment, retention or morale.

Seelbach said there would be a stark contrast for LGBT people under President Barack Obama and his GOP rival. He pointed to the Obama administration’s refusal to defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court; his vocal approval of same-sex marriage; anti-discrimination measures signed by the president that, among other things, give same-sex partners the right to visit their loved ones in the hospital and make medical decisions.

He said the next president would also likely have the opportunity to appoint new justices to the U.S. Supreme Court. The court will likely decide the fate of California’s Proposition 8, which outlawed gay marriage.

"If you care about equality, you've got to vote," Seelbach said. "The easiest way to vote is to vote early."

The Obama campaign in Ohio plans to release a new online ad touting the president’s accomplishments for LGBT people.

The ad, made available to CityBeat, features Zach Wahls, a gay-rights activist born to a lesbian couple via artificial insemination. Wahls is known for his testimony before the Iowa House Judiciary Committee against a constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriage in that state.

In the ad, Wahls touts the president’s accomplishments and exhorts Ohioans to reelect Obama.

“We want to make sure that we’re all doing everything we can this fall to get out, register voters, canvass, knock on doors, get our family members and friends out to the polls so that we can re-elect the best president this country has ever seen on LGBT rights,” Wahls said.

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<![CDATA[Obama Announces Trade Action against China at Cincinnati Stop]]>

President Barack Obama announced a new trade action against China during a Cincinnati campaign stop on Monday, where he also took the opportunity to attack Republican challenger Mitt Romney.

The U.S. filed the case at the World Trade Organization on Monday and claims that China offers “extensive subsidies” to native automakers and auto-parts producers.

The Chinese government filed its own complaint before the WTO on Monday, challenging tariffs the U.S. imposes on Chinese products ranging from steel to tires. The tariffs are meant to protect American manufacturers against what the U.S. government claims are unfair trade practices by China.

“(The U.S. action is) against illegal subsidies that encourage companies to ship auto part manufacturing jobs overseas,” Obama said before an estimated crowd of 4,500 at the Seasongood Pavilion in Eden Park. “These are subsidies that directly harm working men and women on the assembly lines in Ohio and Michigan and across the Midwest.”

“It’s not right, it’s against the rules, and we will not let it stand. American workers build better products than anyone. ‘Made in America’ means something. And when the playing field is level, America will always win.

Obama went on to criticize his Republican challenger, saying Romney made his fortune in part by uprooting American jobs and shipping them to China. Obama accused Romney — who has criticized Obama’s foreign policy, saying the president apologizes for American interests — of talking the talk without being able to walk the walk.

The Romney campaign countered with an email after the rally, saying that Obama’s economic policies were hurting the private sector and harmed manufacturing.

“The President’s misguided, ineffective policies have hampered the private sector and allowed China to flaunt the rules while middle-class families suffer,” Romney campaign spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg wrote. 

“As president, Mitt Romney will deliver a fresh start for manufacturers by promoting trade that works for America and fiscal policies that encourage investment, hiring and growth.”

The email pointed to reports from Bloomberg finding that manufacturing and production have shrunk recently.

Before the Obama rally several Ohio Republicans held a news conference behind a Romney campaign bus near Eden Park, where they focused more on the deficit than foreign trade.

U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot said it was “laughable” that Obama considers himself a budget hawk. He pointed to the decline in budget negotiations between the president and the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, saying Obama “walked away” from talks with Speaker John Boehner.

“Basically as president from that time last August until now, it’s been all politics,” Chabot said.

Chabot also attacked Obama on foreign policy, claiming the president has left Israel hanging in the Middle East and is not serious with Iran, who he says is on the brink of getting nuclear weapons.

The president in his speech said he did have a plan to reduce the federal deficit, and would reduce it by $4 trillion over the next 10 years without raising taxes on the middle class.

Monday’s visit to Cincinnati was Obama’s second of this campaign and his 12th trip to Ohio this year. Romney has visited the state 18 times during his campaign.

Obama was scheduled to fly to Columbus Monday afternoon for a campaign appearance there.

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<![CDATA[Investigation: Secret Ohio Group Supporting Mandel]]>

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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<![CDATA[Mallory Calls Chabot’s Streetcar Amendment ‘Political Stunt’]]>

Mayor Mark Mallory is working to thwart an effort by Cincinnati’s own U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH) to prevent federal funding from being used to construct a streetcar in the city. Chabot offered an amendment on June 27 to the 2013 Transportation and Housing Urban Development spending bill that would bar federal transportation money from being used to design, construct or operate a “fixed guideway” project in Cincinnati.

Mallory called Chabot’s move “nothing but a political stunt.” Mallory today said in a press release that he is reaching out to legislative leaders in both the U.S. House and Senate to remove the amendment. Mallory said he’s also making calls to the White House.

“Steve Chabot seems determined to stop progress in Cincinnati,” Mallory said in the release. “He seems determined to make sure that other parts of the country thrive, while Cincinnati is left in the past. That is not the kind of leadership that we need in Washington, D.C..”

The city has procured a $25 million federal Urban Circulator Grant. That funding would not be jeopardized, as the Chabot amendment would only apply to federal funding for fiscal year 2013. 

The U.S. House approved the amendment on a voice vote. To become law, it would have to be passed by the Senate and signed by the president.

“Far from a necessity, the Cincinnati streetcar is a luxury project that our nation and our region simply cannot afford,” Chabot said during testimony on the House floor.

Some opponents of the amendment worry that it could prevent funding for other transportation as well.


According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, fixed guideway refers to any transit service that uses exclusive or controlled rights-of-way. That means the ban on federal funding to those modes of transportation could apply to ferryboats, designated bus or carpool lanes and aerial tramways in addition to streetcars.
Chabot’s office did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday. (Andy Brownfield)

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<![CDATA[Boehner Ducks Augusta Female-Membership Question]]>

National media are reporting about how West Chester’s favorite son is avoiding taking a stand on whether women should be admitted into the Augusta National Golf Club.

As poll after poll shows the Republican Party lagging in support among female voters, various GOP politicians have spoken in favor of admitting women into the club, seeing it as an easy way to restore some goodwill with women. The all-male institution has been roundly criticized because it typically extends membership to the CEOs of IBM Corp., but hasn’t done so to its current leader, Ginni Rometty.

Among those who’ve recently said Augusta should admit female members are Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and John McCain. But not timid House Speaker John Boehner (R-West Chester).

Politico tried to ascertain Boehner’s stance on the issue last week, to no avail. The website reported:

Asked if Boehner thinks women should be permitted into Augusta, his spokesman Michael Steel said he has "never heard him discuss it." Pressed again, he demurred.
The Masters Golf Tournament is held annually at Augusta, Ga. This year’s event ended Sunday, with Bubba Watson emerging as the winner.

It seems like a fairly simple question to us. Either you think Augusta should open its membership or you don’t. What are you so afraid of, Mr. Boehner?

Romney has said, "If I were a member and if I could run Augusta, which isn't likely to happen, but of course I'd have women in Augusta."

Also, McCain tweeted last week, “Don't you think it's time Augusta National joined the 21st Century — or the 20th — and allowed women members?”

Another website, Talking Points Memo, gave a possible reason for Boehner’s reticence. It stated:

"That could be because Boehner — an avid golfer — is himself a member of an all-male golf club. The AP reported last year that Boehner has ‘been chided for his membership at Burning Tree, an all-male golf club in Maryland.”
Located in Bethesda, Md., Burning Tree has even more restrictive policies than Augusta. “Beyond the no-women membership policy, women are not even allowed on the grounds as guests,” ESPN reports.

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]> At the risk of alienating some readers, we have to say it: If you don't know that today is Opening Day, you're not a real Cincinnatian. The 93rd annual Findlay Market Opening Day Parade begins at 1 p.m., and the Reds will kick off the 2012 season with a game against the Miami Marlins at 4:05 p.m.

Hamilton County commissioners want to help you enjoy the day if you're heading downtown to catch either or both of the events. They've lowered the parking rates today at the garages in The Banks district near Great American Ball Park. There are now 6,000 parking spaces near the stadium that will cost $10 for the day, down from $12 last year.

Just in time for the season opener, first baseman Joey Votto has agreed to a $251.5 million, 12-year deal with the Reds, the longest guaranteed contract in Major League history. The deal adds $225 million over 10 years to his previous contract and includes a club option for 2024, when the 2010 National League MVP turns 41.

Shortly after an independent assessment criticized her performance in the job, Hamilton County Public Defender Shelia Kyle-Reno has reached a deal to leave the position nearly a year before her contract ends. Until a permanent successor is found, Kyle-Reno will be replaced by W. Kelly Johnson, a former federal public defender who will work for free.

A recount is under way this morning to see which Democrat will challenge Brad Wenstrup for U.S. Rep. Jean Schmidt's seat in Congress. For now, the winner of the 2nd District Democratic primary is William Smith, a Pike County man that party leaders had never even met before he beat David Krikorian by 60 votes. Because the margin of victory was so small, Ohio's Secretary of State ordered a recount in 13 of Hamilton County's 222 precincts.

In news elsewhere, a new poll finds Google beats out Apple Computer in favorable ratings by 82 to 74 percent. The Washington Post-ABC News poll also found Facebook has a 58 percent favorable rating.

An important historical document has recently been uncovered and released. In 2006 an adviser to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice authored a memo opposing the Bush administration’s torture practices. The White House tried to collect and destroy all copies of the memo, but one survived deep in the State Department’s files and was declassified this week in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by the National Security Archive. The memo argues that the Convention Against Torture, and the Constitution’s prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment, do indeed apply to the CIA’s use of “waterboard(ing), walling, dousing, stress positions, and cramped confinement.”

Syrian troops have launched new assaults on rebels as an envoy of United Nations mediator Kofi Annan arrived in Damascus today to discuss implementing a ceasefire plan. Anti-government activists said several towns, including Homs, Deraa and the Douma suburb of Damascus, have been shelled. U.N. officials report the conflict has cost more than 9,000 lives since it began a year ago. The Syrian government blames violence on "terrorist gangs" and allege about 3,000 members of the security forces have been killed. The U.N. wants a truce deal by April 12.

A major Chinese insurance company said it will stop indemnity coverage for tankers carrying Iranian oil beginning in July, narrowing insurance options for Iran's main export that already are constricted by economic sanctions pushed by the United States. This is the first sign that refiners in China, Iran's top crude oil buyer, may struggle to obtain the shipping and insurance to keep importing from the Middle Eastern nation. Iran's other top customers -- India, Japan and South Korea -- are facing similar problems.

In lighter fare, an animal rights group is urging a pastor who preaches about the importance of marital sex to teach about how becoming vegan can add extra spark to the faithful's sex lives. The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) told The Rev. Mike Scruggs that vegans are less prone to heart disease, cancer, diabetes and obesity than meat-eaters, and they often have more stamina, lower body weight, and a reduced risk of sexual dysfunction. People who choose vegan meals are also following God's call to mercy, PETA added, as plant-based meals save animals from immense suffering on factory farms and in slaughterhouses.
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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

Supporters of low income housing programs are criticizing a bill proposed by U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Westwood). Chabot's proposal would impose restrictions on people who use the federal Section 8 housing program, which provides vouchers to help poor people pay their rent. Among his changes, people only would be able to use the program for five years. In Cincinnati, however, 53 percent of clients already leave the program within five years. Of the 47 percent who remain, many of them have problems like mental health issues and likely would become homeless and more expensive to deal with for the government, a housing advocate told The Enquirer.

To prepare for an influx of foreign visitors when the World Choir Games begin here in July, a new language translation tool is being launched. Cincinnati-based Globili is testing its text and mobile application for cellphones and smartphones that translates signs, menus and ads into about 50 languages. The event will be held July 4-14 at various locations in downtown and Over-the-Rhine including the Aronoff Center for the Arts and Music Hall.

It's been 147 years since the U.S. Civil War ended, but Kentucky lawmakers are just now getting around to abolishing a pension fund for Confederate veterans. The measure, which passed Kentucky's House of Representatives unanimously on Feb. 29, now heads to the state Senate for a vote. No one who is eligible to receive the pension has been alive for at least 50 years, lawmakers said. I guess things really do move more slowly in the South.

Business at the venerable Blue Wisp Jazz Club has increased since it moved to a new location at Seventh and Race streets in January. The club's owners attribute the jump to more pedestrian traffic and the number of hotels located near the new site. The front room includes a bar and restaurant accessible with no cover charge, while the back room is reserved for performances by Jazz musicians.

Steep spikes and drops on standardized test scores, a pattern that has indicated cheating in Atlanta and other cities across the nation, have occurred in hundreds of school districts and charter schools across Ohio in the past seven years, a Dayton Daily News analysis found. The analysis doesn't prove cheating has occurred in Ohio, but documents show state officials don't employ vigorous statistical analyses to catch possible cheating, discipline only about a dozen teachers a year and direct Ohio’s test vendor to spend just $17,540 on analyzing suspicious scores out of its $39 million annual testing contract.

In news elsewhere, the U.S. Supreme Court begins its constitutional review of the health-care overhaul law today with a basic question: Is the court barred from making such a decision at this time? The justices will hear 90 minutes of argument about whether an obscure 19th-century law — the Anti-Injunction Act — means that the court cannot pass judgment on the law until its key provisions go into effect in 2014.

When it recently was announced that a U.S. soldier who allegedly went on a shooting spree in Afghanistan would be charged with 17 counts of murder, many people wondered about the number. After all, early reports indicated Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, a Norwood native, allegedly killed 16 people. Military officials decided to charge Bales with murder for the death of the unborn baby of one of the victims, a senior Afghan police official said today.

In a possibly related incident, a gunman in an Afghan army uniform killed two NATO soldiers today at a base in southern Afghanistan, NATO's International Security Assistance Force has said. Details were still sketchy, but NATO said in a statement that an individual wearing an Afghan soldier's uniform had turned his weapon against international troops. Coalition forces then returned fire, killing the gunman.

China and the United States have agreed to coordinate their response to any "potential provocation" if North Korea goes ahead with a planned rocket launch, the White House says. North Korea says the long-range rocket will carry a satellite, but U.S. officials say any launch would violate United Nations resolutions and be a missile test.

Somehow, 71-year-old Dick Cheney managed to get a heart transplant Saturday after spending nearly two years on a list waiting for a suitable organ to become available. Cheney, a former U.S. vice president and — some would say — unindicted war criminal, got the transplant even as much younger, healthier people continue to wait for a new heart. (My guess is he made a pact with Beelzebub.) Cheney has had five heart attacks over the years, the first occurring at age 37.

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<![CDATA[Schmidt Drops Lawsuit]]>

Nearly two years after she filed the lawsuit, a congresswoman who lost in the March primary election has dropped her legal action against a political opponent.

A spokesman for U.S. Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Miami Township) told
The Enquirer today that she decided to drop her defamation lawsuit against Madeira businessman David Krikorian. Schmidt filed the suit in June 2010, and had sought $6.8 million in damages.

Krikorian is claiming victory in the dispute, and told
CityBeat the lawsuit was an intimidation tactic by well-funded special interests.

“Her lawsuit was entirely without merit,” Krikorian said. “It was meant to silence and intimidate me and cost me money.  It did not work.”

Krikorian ran as an independent against Schmidt in 2008; he unsuccessfully ran in the Democratic primary for the same seat in 2010 and again this year.

During the ‘08 campaign, Krikorian distributed a pamphlet alleging Schmidt had received “blood money” from the Turkish government in return for her opposition to a congressional resolution that declared Turkey had committed genocide against Armenia during a 1915 conflict.

But the lawsuit proved to be Schmidt’s undoing. She received more than $400,000 in free legal assistance from the Turkish Coalition of America to support her suit. In August 2011 the House Ethics Committee ruled that Schmidt received an “impermissible gift” but didn’t “knowingly” violate the law. She was ordered to repay the coalition, which she has yet to do.

Shortly thereafter, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a nonpartisan watchdog group, dubbed Schmidt as
one of the most corrupt members of Congress.

All of the drama took its toll: Schmidt lost the GOP primary earlier this month to challenger Brad Wenstrup. He defeated her 49-43 percent.

“It’s time to move on,” Barrett Brunsman, Schmidt’s spokesman,
told The Enquirer today about dropping the lawsuit.

The Turkish Coalition of America was among Schmidt’s top contributors, donating $7,500 to her 2010 reelection campaign through its political action committee, and donating $7,600 to her in 2008.

Schmidt also traveled to Turkey at least twice while in office. The coalition picked up the tab for one of the trips.

Politico reported March 12 that Schmidt was in Washington, D.C., on Election Day, March 6, at a private luncheon with Turkish Ambassador Namik Tan.

“At times, Rep. Jean Schmidt has been closer to Turkish interests than those of her Cincinnati-area constituents,”
Politico’s Jonathan Allen wrote. “Never was that proximity problem more telling than on Tuesday, when Republicans denied Schmidt renomination to run for another term.”

When Allen sought comment for the article, Brunsman refused to confirm if the meeting occurred and sent an email that stated, “I think you have lost your way.”

For his part, Krikorian said the experience has taught him that Ohio needs to pass legislation that penalizes lawsuits filed solely to silence critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defense until they abandon their opposition. Such a tactic is known as a “strategic lawsuit against public participation,” or SLAPP.

“I think the Ohio Legislature should consider passing an anti-SLAPP statue to prevent these kinds of abuses of the legal process,” he said. “This lawsuit was an attempt to intimidate and silence me by Rep. Schmidt and the Turkish lobby.”

Krikorian apparently lost in the March 6 Democratic primary by just 59 votes to William R. Smith, a virtual unknown from Pike County who didn’t campaign, answer questionnaires or grant interviews. A recount is under way and Krikorian has asked for a federal investigation of Victory Ohio Super PAC, which made robo-calls on Smith’s behalf but isn’t registered with the Federal Election Commission.

Krikorian picked up 14 more votes in Hamilton County on provisional ballots once the results were certified. Meanwhile, Clermont County certifies its results on Tuesday.

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<![CDATA[Anti-Immigration Group Targets Boehner]]>

A conservative organization that advocates for immigration reform will begin running TV and radio commercials in Southwest Ohio next week that attempt to pressure House Speaker John Boehner (R-West Chester) to allow a vote on the “E-Verify” bill.

The group, Numbers USA, said Boehner is letting the bill languish in the House Ways and Means Committee so Republicans don’t anger Latino voters in an election year. The House Judiciary Committee approved the bill last year.

The commercials include a 30-second TV ad and a one-minute radio ad.

Next to an image of Boehner, the TV spot states, “Meet House Republican Speaker John Boehner. He won’t let Congress vote on E-Verify. Thanks to Speaker Boehner, illegal aliens can keep American jobs. Now Americans, meet the telephone … tell him to bring E-Verify for a vote or he may not like your vote in November.”

Under the bill, the federal government’s voluntary E-Verify system that is used to check the immigration status of employees would become mandatory nationwide.

Currently seven states require E-Verify checks and 12 others require state agencies and contractors to use it. The federal government has operated its system for the past 15 years.

About 300,000 of the 2.2 million U.S. employers with five or more employees were enrolled in E-Verify as of autumn 2011, according to workforce.com.

The Internet-based system checks any employee’s personal information against the Social Security database and several Homeland Security databases.

If the employee is confirmed, that person is authorized to work. If the person isn’t confirmed, he or she has eight working days to contest the finding with the Social Security Administration or the Department of Homeland Security.

“Speaker Boehner has supported legislation with E-Verify in the past, and the issue is currently working its way through the committee process,” Michael Steel, a Boehner spokesman, told The Washington Times earlier this month.

But Numbers USA isn’t convinced, and has launched the ad blitz in response.

Numbers USA said the bill would crack down on the hiring of undocumented immigrants and free up jobs that could be taken by unemployed U.S. citizens.

Critics, however, said the electronic monitoring system proposed by the E-Verify bill would be fraught with errors due to it reliance on incomplete or outdated databases. They cite the number of people who have mistakenly been placed on Homeland Security’s terrorist watch list as an example.

Further, opponents believe the bill would lead to more under-the-table hiring, while some Libertarians have worried that it’s a backdoor method for implementing a national I.D. card system.

The bill has caused some unlikely political alliances.

Supporters of the bill include President Barack Obama, GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Opponents include the American Civil Liberties Union and several labor unions.

Based in Virginia, Numbers USA was founded in 1997 by Roy Beck, an author and ex-journalist who worked for anti-immigration activist John Tanton. Tanton also helped form two other groups, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) and the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS).

Numbers USA wants to reduce U.S. immigration levels to pre-1965 levels. The group’s website states, “The 1990s saw the biggest population boom in U.S. history … this population boom was almost entirely engineered by federal forced-growth policies that are still in place. The Census Bureau states that Americans will suffer this kind of rapid congestion every decade into the future unless Congress changes these policies.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights organization that monitors extremist groups, has said Numbers USA, FAIR and CIS have connections to white supremacist and neo-Nazi leaders.

A 2009 report by the center states, “FAIR, CIS and Numbers USA are all part of a network of restrictionist organizations conceived and created by John Tanton, the ‘puppeteer’ of the nativist movement and a man with deep racist roots.”

The report added, “As the first article in this report shows, Tanton has for decades been at the heart of the white nationalist scene. He has met with leading white supremacists, promoted anti-Semitic ideas, and associated closely with the leaders of a eugenicist foundation once described by a leading newspaper as a ‘neo-Nazi organization.’ He has made a series of racist statements about Latinos and worried that they were outbreeding whites.”

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<![CDATA[No Sex for You!]]>

If you’re a horny little bugger, you might want to get as much sex as you can during the next six weeks.

A left-leaning advocacy group, Liberal Ladies Who Lunch, is calling for a nationwide sex strike from April 28 to May 5. It says all “women and people who want to join in solidarity should withhold from having sex with their partners.”

The protest is in reaction to recent attempts by Republican lawmakers to overturn a new federal rule that requires all insurance companies to provide contraceptives to women free of charge beginning in August.

“This will help people understand that contraception is for women and men, because men enjoy the benefit of women making their own choices about when and if they want to get pregnant,” the group states on its website.

“Once Congress and insurance agencies agree to cover contraception, we will then resume having sex,” it adds. “Until then men will have to be content with their hand.”

Meanwhile, the wife of a Virginia lawmaker already has begun the strike. Rita Von Essen Albo, who is married to State Del. David Albo (R-Fairfax Station), recently refused him sex due to his support for the state's transvaginal ultrasound bill. The lawmaker complained about his wife’s action on the floor of the Virginia House of Delegates.

On the Facebook page for Liberal Ladies Who Lunch, the group lists several similar strikes in recent years including ones in Colombia in 2006, Italy in 2007, Kenya in 2009 and Belgium in 2011.

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

Since it's an election year, it must be about time for pandering by lawmakers seeking to keep their offices. Cue U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Westwood), who is proposing a bill in response to fears about an influx of publicly subsidized housing for the poor into suburban areas. Chabot wants to impose time limits and work requirements on most people who get Section 8 federal housing vouchers. If approved, the bill would impose a five-year time limit on Section 8 recipients and require those 18 and older to work for at least 20 hours each week. Even if the measure passes the House, it's unlikely to pass the Senate and be signed by President Obama, leaving us to wonder what Chabot's true motive is. Any guesses?

Believe it or not, Cincinnati is Ohio's wealthiest city, sort of, according to a Business Courier study of U.S. Census data. A total of 3.7 percent of households in the Cincinnati-Middletown metropolitan area have income of $200,000 or more. The No. 2 metro area in the state was Columbus, with 3.63 percent of its households earning that much. Of course, the rankings involve entire regions, not just the city itself, and Greater Cincinnati includes such affluent enclaves like Indian Hill, Mason and West Chester Township. (Suck on it, Bexley.)

Crews from Duke Energy are investigating what caused an explosion and fire under a downtown street on Tuesday. The blast happened under the intersection of Fourth and Main streets at about 9 a.m., and both streets were blocked for much of the day. No one was injured in the mishap.

Brad Wenstrup, a podiatrist from Columbia Tusculum who scored an upset victory Tuesday in the GOP primary against U.S. Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Miami Township), is crediting grassroots organization for his unlikely win. Wenstrup and his surrogates actively campaigned in all corners of the sprawling 2nd Congressional District, which was recently redrawn through redistricting. Although Wenstrup portrayed himself as a moderate when he sought his first political office, in the Cincinnati's mayor race in 2009, his latest campaign positioned him as a darling of the Tea Party movement.

The American Red Cross has established a hotline for Clermont County residents to call if they have an immediate need for housing as a result of last Friday's tornadoes and severe thunderstorms. The number is 513-579-3024.

Despite rumors to the contrary, U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Cleveland) said he won't move to Washington state to run for one of the three open congressional seats there. The longtime progressive congressman lost in Tuesday's Democratic primary against U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur. The two lawmakers recently were redistricted into the same area. Kucinich told reporters Wednesday he will stay on and represent his Cleveland district through the end of his term in January 2013. He would have to resign his current seat if he were to move to Washington state to establish residency for a campaign there.

In news elsewhere, U.S. intelligence officials are monitoring the transfer of millions of dollars to foreign accounts by wealthy Syrians who have ties to President Bashar al-Assad. The officials are trying to determine whether the transfers mean Assad's regime is weakening or if the elites are merely hedging their bets. Assad is under increasing international pressure due to his violent crackdown on anti-government protestors during the past year.

Meanwhile, a Syrian deputy oil minister says he is resigning to join the revolt against the government. Abdo Hussameddin, 58, announced his defection in a video posted on YouTube.

The Obama administration is being criticized for how it treats whistleblowers who reveal instances of misconduct in the public and private sectors. In recent years, the White House has set a record by accusing six government employees, who allegedly leaked classified information to reporters, of violating the Espionage Act, a law dating to 1917. Also, it is alleged to have ignored workers who have risked their careers to expose wrongdoing in the corporate and financial arena, even though there are laws available to protect them.

The House is expected to vote today on a jobs bill that would mark rare agreement between the Obama administration and House Republicans, CNN reports. The proposal is comprised of six measures aimed at removing barriers to small business investment.

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<![CDATA[God Save the Queen]]>

No matter what you think about her, you’ve at least got to admire her spunk.

Perennial candidate Sandra “Queen” Noble has suffered another defeat at the polls. Noble ran in the Libertarian Party’s primary Tuesday to be the nominee for Ohio’s 1st Congressional District seat.

Noble received just 20 votes (12.74 percent of ballots cast) and lost to Jim Berns, who got 137 votes (87.26 percent).

Berns will face off against U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Westwood), the Republican incumbent, in the November election. Others in the race are Democratic candidate Jeff Sinnard and Green Party candidate Rich Stevenson.

For comparison, Chabot got 57,005 votes in Tuesday’s primary, while Sinnard got 4,509 and Stevenson got 91.

Regular CityBeat readers are familiar with Noble, who ran as an independent last year for Cincinnati City Council. She received 2,726 votes, and finished in 21st place.

During that election, Noble responded to CityBeat’s questionnaire to candidates, but her answers didn’t always connect to the queries posed. For example, when she was asked about a garbage fee proposed by City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr., Noble replied, “He's a morpher, over-charging folks for the grand larceny committed by public and staff officials dipping in the till. In '05, I ran for mayor. I offered a guaranteed cure for male-pattern baldness. I'd still do Mr. Dohoney, damn!”

Also, she became known for her unusual public appearances and actions on the campaign trail, such as dressing in a makeshift cat tail and cat ears, and drawing whiskers on her face. In a candidate biography, she described herself as a “fashion designer in Walnut Hills who designs tails, which she wears.”

At one memorable candidate forum, Noble left the room by walking across the table tops where people were seated in the audience. She also has a personal injury lawsuit against the “Stolen United States of America,” in which she’s seeking “$994 trillion” in damages.

Noble, 56, previously ran unsuccessfully for Cincinnati mayor in 2005, receiving 121 votes; and for Congress in Washington, D.C., in 2010, receiving 785 votes.

Additionally, she was a candidate for U.S. president in 2004 and 2008, ran for mayor in Las Vegas and Los Angeles, and ran for Los Angeles City Council, according to Project Vote Smart.


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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]> Tuesday's primary election yielded a few surprises that even jaded political pundits didn't see coming. Chief among them was the stunning upset that Brad Wenstrup pulled off against incumbent Republican Congresswoman Jean Schmidt. Wenstrup, a podiatrist who is an Iraq War veteran, got 49 percent of the vote to Schmidt’s 43 percent, according to final, uncertified results. That means Wenstrup will either face off against Madeira businessman David Krikorian or William R. Smith – a virtual unknown who didn't campaign – in the November election for Ohio's 2nd Congressional District seat. The race between the two Democrats remains too close to call.

Another surprise was U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur's victory over U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich in the Democratic primary for a Congressional district in northeastern Ohio, near Cleveland. The two veteran lawmakers were redistricted recently into the same area, meaning one would be knocked off after Tuesday's primary. Kucinich was one of the most progressive members of Congress and an ardent Iraq War opponent; it's unclear if he plans to stay in politics in some fashion.

In what's bad news for Mitt Romney, no matter how his handlers try to spin it, the ex-Massachusetts governor scored a razor-thin 1 percent victory over upstart Rick Santorum in Ohio's contest for the GOP presidential nomination. Romney got just 12,019 more votes than Santorum, despite outspending the former senator from Pennsylvania by a sizable margin. Romney also won in Alaska, Idaho, Vermont, Virginia and his home state of Massachusetts; Santorum won in North Dakota, Oklahoma and Tennessee. Meanwhile, Newt “I coulda been a contender” Gingrich scored a single victory, in his native Georgia. Bye, Newt.

Despite being defeated twice before in the general election, former appellate court judge William O'Neill of Cleveland easily won over Hamilton County Municipal Court Judge Fanon Rucker to become the Democratic Party's nominee for the Ohio Supreme Court. O'Neill received nearly 72 percent of the vote. He will face off against incumbent Republican Justice Robert Cupp in the fall.

The Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST) suffered a defeat Tuesday when one of its leaders, ex-State Rep. Tom Brinkman Jr., lost to Peter Stautberg to get the Republican nomination for the newly created 27th District seat in the Ohio House. Stautberg handily defeated Brinkman by 61-39 percent.

It also looks like State Rep. Denise Driehaus prevailed in the hotly contested Democratic primary race for the new 31st District seat in the Ohio House. In Hamilton County, Driehaus got 57.5 percent of the vote, compared to 24.5 percent for Luke Brockmeier and 17.9 percent for Terry Tranter.

In non-election news, the small Clermont County town of Moscow is beginning to clean up four days after a tornado leveled much of the area. Teams from the Federal Emergency Management Agency inspected the damage Tuesday, and will issue a report to Gov. John Kasich within a few days.

Speaking of Kasich, our (not so) beloved guv was the sole person out of the nation's 50 governors not to sign a letter protesting proposed cuts to the Air National Guard. A Kasich spokesman said Odd John didn’t add his name to the letter because it was circulated at a meeting of the National Governor’s Association in Washington last month, and Kasich didn’t attend because he’s not a member.

On the national scene, President Obama held his first press conference of 2012 on Tuesday. Obama accused the Republican presidential candidates of casually "beating the drums of war" over Iran without having the political courage to directly advocate a military attack before voters. “Now, what's said on the campaign trail – those folks don't have a lot of responsibilities. They're not commander-in-chief. And when I see the casualness with which some of these folks talk about war, I'm reminded of the costs involved in war," he said.

About 600 people were ordered to leave their homes today in southeastern Australia due to rising floodwaters. Floods have hit three eastern states this week, causing at least two deaths and millions of dollars in damage. Nine thousand people had been evacuated from New South Wales on Tuesday.
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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[No Women Allowed (At First)]]>

Two Democratic congresswomen walked out of a hearing today in the House after a Republican colleague blocked a woman from testifying about a new federal rule that will require most employers to provide free birth control.

U.S. Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) left the hearing after House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) prevented the woman from being added to the witness list.

Announced last month, the rule reclassifies birth control as a preventative health measure, which means most employers must cover contraception in their insurance plans with no cost sharing like co-pays or deductibles. Initially, an exemption was granted for churches but not for religiously affiliated schools and hospitals, which angered some Catholic bishops and others.

In a compromise unveiled Feb. 10, President Obama said religiously affiliated schools and hospitals wouldn’t be forced to offer coverage for free contraceptives. Rather, insurers will be required to offer the coverage free to any women who work at such institutions.

That wasn’t good enough for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and some conservative politicians, who said the coverage shouldn’t be required at all.

Issa’s staff informed Democratic members of the committee that the hearing was about religious liberty in general, and not the contraception mandate, in explaining why Sandra Fluke couldn’t testify.

“As the hearing is not about reproductive rights and contraception but instead about the (Obama) administration’s actions as they relate to freedom of religion and conscience, he believes that Ms. Fluke is not an appropriate witness,” Issa’s staffers wrote in a letter.

Fluke wanted to tell about an incident involving a 32-year-old friend who was diagnosed with ovarian cysts and prescribed birth control pills as the only remedy for her condition. Because the woman’s insurance didn’t cover contraception, the friend couldn’t afford her medication and eventually lost her ovary.

Read what Fluke had planned to tell the panel here.

Eleven people were on Issa’s witness list, led by the Rev. William Lori, the Roman Catholic bishop of Bridgeport, Conn. Eight of Issa’s witnesses are Orthodox Christian, Catholic or evangelical, and represent Christian institutions.

Originally, Issa only planned on calling nine witnesses — all men. After the public flap, he added two women to the list.

 

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