by Nick Swartsell
75 days ago
Posted In: News
at 10:04 AM | Permalink
New home for crime lab?; Seelbach pushes for streetcar plans uptown; is it time to abolish Ohio's death penalty?
Hey all! Hope your weekend was great. I spent my Saturday at the Neighborhood Summit, so mine was super fun because I’m a huge dork. If you’re like me and you’re into community building, urban planning, transit, or anything else at all city related, though, it’s kind of like our Midpoint. Highlights included a three-part panel discussion among Police Chief Jeffery Blackwell, activists Damon Lynch III and Iris Roley and other experts talking about how far the Cincinnati Police Department has come since 2001, as well as another set of presentations about immigration in Cincinnati. Anyway, on to the news. Could labs on Cincinnati’s East Side currently occupied by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health be a new home for the Hamilton County crime lab? County Commissioner Todd Portune says he’s looking into that possibility. Last month, the federal government announced it was providing $100 million to build a new facility for NIOSH to combine the organization’s two labs in Cincinnati into one complex over the next few years. That could free up plenty of lab space for the county’s cramped and outdated morgue and crime labs, currently in a building built in the early 1970s. What’s more, some of that $100 million could go toward renovating the current NIOSH lab so the county crime lab could move in. The idea comes after county commissioners killed a plan to move the morgue, crime lab and other county offices to a former Mercy Hospital in Mount Airy donated to the county for a dollar. Commissioners have said it would cost too much money to retrofit that building for the new offices.• A statewide task force on police-community relations put together by Ohio Gov. John Kasich in the wake of controversy over police shootings is coming to Cincinnati tonight. A public listening session will be held at 4:30 p.m. at the Kingsgate Marriott, 151 Goodman Drive, near the University of Cincinnati. City Locals Councilwoman Amy Murray, Pastor Damon Lynch III and others make up the panel, which will produce a report in April on ways to improve relationships between police and community members. Kasich ordered the task force in December in response to nationwide consternation over police shootings of unarmed citizens of color across the country. In Ohio, the August shooting death of John Crawford III in a Beavercreek Walmart and the October killing of 12-year-old Tamir Rice on a playground in Cleveland have gotten national attention. Both held toy guns at the time of their deaths, and police say they seemed to pose a threat. But the families of both Rice and Crawford say police were reckless and did not act appropriately. They say the shootings are indicative of a larger cultural problem between police and communities of color.• As political bickering continues to swirl around the streetcar’s first phase, Councilman Chris Seelbach is pushing the city to work on planning the rail project’s next leg. Seelbach has created a motion in council seeking to spur the city to begin work on plans that would take the streetcar uptown toward the University of Cincinnati and many of the city’s hospitals. The motion directs the city administration to give detailed accounting of how much the next phase of the project would cost and how it might be paid for with state and federal grants. Seelbach has also requested the city refine its process for engaging community members along the route to get better input on the project. Originally, plans for the streetcar treated the downtown loop currently being built and an uptown jaunt as one phase. But then Gov. John Kasich pulled $55 million in state funding for the project, resulting in the current scaled-down scope. Mayor John Cranley, who has been a vocal opponent of the streetcar, has said it’s much too soon to begin focusing on the next phase before the first is even finished. But Seelbach and other supporters say the only way to tap into federal funds and other sources of funding is to have a plan in place and ready to go.• Sen. Sherrod Brown, one of Ohio’s highest-profile Democrats, has endorsed former Gov. Ted Strickland in his run for the state’s other senate seat, currently held by Republican Rob Portman. That’s not a surprise — Strickland is one of Ohio’s other super high profile Democrats — but it does signal the challenge City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld has ahead as he challenges Strickland in the Democratic primary for the seat. Sittenfeld, who announced his candidacy last month, has recently said he won’t back down from the race despite his big name competitor. He’s raised at least $500,000 for his run and told supporters last week that he’s all in for the fight. Though Brown endorsed Strickland, he was careful to praise Sittenfeld in his announcement, saying the 30-year-old has a bright future in politics. • In the face of issues around execution drugs, a steady number of exonerations of those on Ohio’s death row and other factors, is it time to consider reforming or abolishing Ohio’s death penalty? Many feel strongly that it is, including unlikely conservative opponents to the punishment. Recent delays to executions caused by Ohio’s struggle to find a source for drugs that will end an inmate’s life humanely have renewed calls for the state to reconsider its death penalty entirely. This Columbus Dispatch story takes a deep look into the issue and is worth a read. • Finally, March 7 marked the 50th anniversary of the violent clash between police and protesters in Selma, Alabama, an event that helped fuel new national civil rights legislation, including the Voting Rights Act. Thousands visited Selma over the weekend to commemorate the anniversary, which was marked by passionate speeches by both President Barack Obama and outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder. Holder used his speech to question the future of the VRA, parts of which have been dismantled by recent Supreme Court decisions. Here’s a pretty in-depth New York Times piece about events in Selma over the past few days. That’s it for me. You know the drill. Tweet (@nswartsell), e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org), comment, send me a telegram or a fax (do people still fax? Is that still a thing?) Here we go. Tweet me about whether you still use a fax machine or even know what a fax machine is. I kind of do.
by Nick Swartsell
89 days ago
Posted In: News
at 10:58 AM | Permalink
Donors make it rain for Cranley; feds pledge cash for new Cincinnati labs; this man has been in jail for a quarter-century. Is he innocent?
Good morning y’all. I’m fresh off my epic, hour-long alpine adventure, also known as my walk to work. Did you wonder what happened to all the snow that had been on the roadways as you were driving leisurely to work this morning? It's now piled in mountains on the sidewalk by city snowplows. Thanks guys. I do have to say a city worker in a Bobcat drove by yesterday while I was digging my lady friend’s car out of the snow. He looped back around and with three or four quick maneuvers did what would have taken me 20 minutes with a shovel. Driving one of those things is an art, and I have met its Picasso. Enough grumbling. It’s news time. Mayor John Cranley is, as the kids say, stacking cash (note: kids these days don’t actually say that). Cranley collected more than $250,000 at a Feb. 17 fundraiser for his re-election campaign. That may be the biggest haul ever for a city candidate, according to Cranley’s campaign, which is all the more impressive because Cranley doesn’t face reelection for almost two years. A ton of big names were in attendance at the event, and it seems like the city’s movers and shakers are backing the mayor. Reds owner Bob Castellini was a host. So were Western and Southern CEO John Barrett, two members of the Lindner family and PACs from Kroger and Procter & Gamble. Cranley’s already got his eye on the election, having hired his campaign manager and setting a fundraising goal of $2 million. That’s a huge sum of money, some of which could go to help out allies in their City Council campaigns, though Cranley has said he won’t be doing that, focusing the cash on his own bid. Another possibility: Is Cranley setting such ambitious goals as a demonstration of his fundraising abilities so he can set up a bid for a higher office down the road? • The federal government has said it will give $110 million to build a new facility in Cincinnati for the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown has been instrumental in securing the funding for the building, which will replace two aging facilities in the city, the Robert A. Taft Laboratory in the East End and the Alice Hamilton Laboratory in Pleasant Ridge. The new facility will consolidate them, making work easier for the federal employees there. The Center for Disease Control oversees NIOSH. The agency researches ways to prevent injury and illness caused by occupational hazards, making recommendations to other federal agencies. The Cincinnati labs employ about 550 people. It’s not clear where the new labs will be located, but the Uptown Consortium, which represents major businesses and institutions in the Clifton, CUF, Corryville and Avondale neighborhoods including UC and several hospitals, is making a big pull to get the 14-acre site in that area. Other neighborhoods looking to get the facility include Bond Hill. • Cincinnati anti-abortion activist Dr. John Wilke has died. He was 89. Wilke founded Greater Cincinnati Right to Life and Ohio Right to Life in the 1970s with his wife Barbara as debate swirled about a woman’s right to choose. The two groups have been incredibly active in the decades since as the issue has continued to be one of the country’s most intense and divisive. Wilke also served as head of national and international pro-life groups. Among Wilke’s more controversial assertions: that the stress caused by rape made it very unlikely a woman being raped would become pregnant. Other doctors and experts have since challenged that assertion, calling it bunk science and a cruel perspective on a terrible experience. Last month, Wilke released an autobiography about his time as a pro-life activist. • A lawsuit over decades-old corpse abuse at the Hamilton County Morgue is in court today. The case involves the behavior of former morgue employee Kenneth Douglass, who was convicted six years ago of sexually abusing three bodies while he worked at the morgue. The families of the women whose corpses were abused have sued the county, charging that it should have known Douglass was engaging in illegal behavior at the facility and fired him. County officials and the estates of the former county coroner and supervisor, who the family also named in the suit and who have both since died, say they couldn’t have known Douglass would engage in behavior so abnormal and unpredictable. • Has Kentucky held the wrong man in prison for 27 years? Some evidence suggests that might be the case. The Kentucky Innocence Project has been working on the case of William Virgil, who was convicted for the 1987 killing of psychiatric nurse Retha Welch in Newport. Virgil was convicted based on witness testimony, though some of those witnesses have since been discredited. Meanwhile, DNA evidence tested since the trial suggests Virgil may not have committed the crime. His DNA wasn’t found at the crime scene, Virgil’s advocates point out, and hers was not found on his clothing. The state is waiting for more tests to be done, but the Kentucky Innocence Project holds that there isn’t enough evidence against Virgil to hold him in prison.
by Nick Swartsell
Posted In: News
at 10:55 AM | Permalink
Hunter won't get new trial; Reds bling for sale; Republicans sink tax cuts for low-income
Hey all. Here’s the news this morning.Former Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter won’t get a new trial, a judge has ruled. Hamilton County Judge Norbert Nadel has denied all three of Hunter’s motions for retrial after she was convicted last month of one of eight felony counts in relation to her time as judge. Since her conviction, three jurors have recanted their guilty verdicts, however, and Hunter’s attorney has alleged procedural mistakes mean she should get a new trial. With those motions denied, Hunter will be sentenced this Friday. She plans to file an appeal on her conviction.• Cincinnati must pay Duke Energy $15 million for moving utilities that stood in the way of the streetcar, a Hamilton County judge ruled Monday. The city already had that money in escrow as it awaited the ruling but plans to appeal Judge Carl Stich’s decision. That’s a good move, according to former city solicitor John Curp. Curp says the way Stich decided the case — by declaring the streetcar an “economic development project” — could set a hard precedent for other Ohio cities in the future. In order for Cincinnati to avoid paying Duke to move the utilities, the project would have to be something that benefits the city’s general welfare. Stich cited cases from the 1930s and the 1950s to justify his decision. Back then, public transit was run by private companies, a much different situation than today. Curp thinks the Ohio Supreme Court might have a different opinion of the streetcar and should hear the case to set a more modern precedent on transit projects.• Do you have about $6,000 just sitting around taking up valuable space that could be used to, say, store an enormous ring? Do you need a sports-themed piece of jewelry so ostentatious no one will ever question your love for America’s favorite pastime? If so, I have a solution to both of your weird, unlikely problems. A Cincinnati Reds 1990 World Series ring has gone up for sale at a local auction house, and for a few grand you can make it yours. But be advised: It’s not Chris Sabo or Eric Davis’ ring. Heck, it’s not even Glenn Sutko’s, who saw action in one game that season. It belonged to one of the team’s part-time accountants, who I’m sure did great work counting the Reds' money. Every position is important on a winning team. Anyway, it’s big, it’s red, it has the logo on it and you should buy the ring. Or, I dunno, you could buy me a nice used car instead. Up to you.• So it’s no secret the state’s Democratic party is hurting after last month’s disastrous statewide election. Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern stepped down after losing his own state representative seat to a guy accused of burglary. Now there’s a scramble to take his spot, and former Cincinnati city councilman and recent attorney general candidate David Pepper is a frontrunner. But he’s got a challenge ahead of him in becoming the top Dem in the state: Ohio’s powerful Sen. Sherrod Brown has backed one of his opponents, former candidate for lieutenant governor Sharen Neuhardt, for the job. Pepper still sees himself as a front-runner in the contest to lead Democrats in one of the country’s most important swing states ahead of the 2016 presidential election. The new state chair will be decided by a vote within the party Dec. 16.• Chicago City Council voted yesterday to raise the city’s minimum wage to $13 an hour over the next five years. The move was a proposal by Mayor Rahm Emanuel ahead of proposed Illinois laws that could hamstring city governments when it comes to raising minimum wages and February’s Chicago mayoral election. The boost is expected to benefit about 400,000 workers in the city. Other cities like Seattle have passed similar increases recently.• Finally, Republicans have scuttled an extension on tax cuts for low-income and middle class workers while pushing bigger corporate tax breaks. The cuts were part of a $400 billion bipartisan tax deal lawmakers in Washington were working to put together. But President Barack Obama’s announcement last month of an executive action allowing some undocumented immigrants to stay in the country has killed the deal as Republicans pull back from the low-income tax cuts like the Earned Income Tax Credit and double down on the corporate breaks. They say undocumented immigrants will take advantage of the EITC and other credits in large numbers and therefore can’t support the cuts. Translation: Obama made us mad so we’re taking the ball that keeps millions out of poverty and going home.
0 Comments · Wednesday, June 11, 2014
At a time when charges for borrowing
money have hit nearly historic lows, students and those currently
repaying federal student loans have been locked into older, higher
by Rachel Podnar
at 01:45 PM | Permalink
New bill would save students and government money, but tax those with big bucks
something that homeowners, business and local governments can do that college
from buying alcohol, everyone else can refinance loans for lower interest rates. But at
a time when charges for borrowing money have hit nearly historic lows, students have been
locked into their older, higher rates. A new bill looks to remedy that and promises to not only pay for itself, but cut government spending.So,
students, graduates and budget hawks are happy, and everybody wins.
tricky part — paying for the program — is something called the
Fair Share Tax. The reduction in spending would come from the second part of the bill.
called “The Buffet Rule,” named after Warren Buffet and championed by Elizabeth
Warren, the tax mandates a minimum rate of 30 percent on those who bring in a
million dollars or more a year.
students loans without a refinancing option is a profitable business — the
government is set to take in $66 billion on interest alone from loans issued
between 2007-2013, according to the Government Accountability Office. Eliminating that money would have big budget implications. That's where the Fair Share Tax comes in.The
Banking on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act would allow those with
loans issued before August 9 last year to refinance at the rates passed in 2013 — 3.8 percent
for undergraduate loans.
including Sen. Sherrod Brown, are trying to gather support for the bill. Brown filed the bill with Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
Warren introduced the bill in the Senate on May 5. She, Brown and other Democrats will be pushing it in the
“Every dollar a current borrower pays
in interest is a dollar he or she can’t spend on a car, on a mortgage, or on
starting a small business,” Brown said in an email sent out on Thursday requesting signatures to support the bill.
So far, 36 senators have signed it.
year, Congress lowered the rate of new loans but left existing rates the
Those higher rates are drowning graduates, keeping them stuck in their parents' basements, Warren said on the Senate floor last month. “Make no mistake, this is an
emergency,” she said. “Student loan debt is exploding and it threatens the
stability of young people and the future of our economy.”
The Congressional Budget Office released a report on the bill Wednesday. The report found that lowering
the rates of outstanding loans would increase spending by $51 billion, but with the new tax thrown in, the bill would also
increase revenue by $72 billion between 2015-2019.
report said deficits could be reduced in the next 10 years by about $22
billion. Congressional Republicans are sure to oppose the tax increase, considering most have signed
Americans for Tax Reform’s taxpayer protection pledge to not raise taxes.
won’t be the first time congressional Republicans have opposed the proposed
tax. It was introduced in 2012 as the Paying a Fair Share Act and fell short of
the votes needed to leave the Senate.
the meantime, student loan debt totals $1.2 trillion, greater than all
outstanding credit card debt.
0 Comments · Wednesday, June 4, 2014
For many Cincinnatians, the scariest part
of going across the Western Hills Viaduct is not knowing which lane you
should be in as you wrap around that McDonald’s that greets you on the
West Side — one wrong turn and you could be headed down State Street and
wondering both what year it is and if parts of Gummo were filmed
by German Lopez
Environmental groups call on Sen. Brown to show support
More than 200 Ohioans gathered at the Ohio Statehouse on
Saturday to call on U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman to support federal
regulations that would attempt to curtail human-caused global warming.
The regulations would impose stricter pollution limits on
power plants across the nation, which Environment Ohio says are
responsible for 41 percent of U.S. carbon emissions — a primary contributor to
The new rules are part of the climate plan President
Barack Obama proposed in June to skip legislative action from a
gridlocked Congress and slow down global warming by using the
already-established regulatory arm of the Environmental Protection
“Our message today is clear. The time is now to act on
climate,” said Christian Adams, state associate with Environment Ohio,
in a statement. “Global warming threatens our health, our environment
and our children’s future. Ohioans support President Obama’s plan to
clean up the biggest carbon polluters.”
The Obama administration proposed regulations on new power
plants on Sept. 20 that effectively prevent any new coal power plants
from opening up if they don’t capture and sequester carbon pollution.
Experts argue those limits will have little effect on future carbon emissions because new coal power plants are already being phased out by natural gas.
But the statehouse rally asked Ohio’s senators to support
incoming regulations that will impose further restrictions on existing
power plants and — if they’re effective — reduce the amount of carbon
going into the atmosphere.
The regulations could have large implications for Ohio. A previous report from Environment Ohio found Ohio’s power plants pollute more than those in any state except Texas.
Coal companies warn the regulations could cost jobs. St. Louis-based Patriot Coal says “burdensome environmental and governmental regulations” have already “impacted demand for coal and increased costs.”
But the regulations could simply shift jobs to cleaner energy sectors. A 2012 report from Environment Ohio found Cincinnati could become the regional capital of solar power and help revitalize its economy with new jobs in the process.
Scientists have historically called for reducing global
warming to 2 degrees Celsius to avoid the worst effects of climate
change. That would involve greatly reducing the amount of carbon that
goes into the atmosphere over the next few decades, according to the
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
In the IPCC’s 2013 report, scientists said they are at least 95 percent certain that human actions contribute to global warming.
Many economists argue a carbon tax and a cap-and-trade system
are better ways to tackle climate change than regulations. But those
policies would require legislative action that is unlikely in the
current political climate, especially since many Republican legislators deny the science behind human-caused global warming.
Gabrielle Giffords visits Cincinnati to support responsible state gun legislation after NRA defeats federal attempts
4 Comments · Wednesday, July 10, 2013
Gun control advocates lobby for legislation, even as it falters at the federal level.
by German Lopez
Ohio senator goes after big banks, governors clash, Ohio reduces prison re-entry
Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown is putting forward legislation
that would break up the big banks to avoid what has been colloquially
dubbed “too big to fail.” The liberal senator is teaming up with Sen.
David Vitter, a very conservative Republican from Louisiana, to put together the bill, which Brown says will make the economy safer, secure taxpayer
money and help create jobs. In his push, Brown has compared the big
banks to Standard Oil, which was broken up by the U.S. Supreme Court in
1911 after the oil giant breached antitrust laws.
Indiana Gov. Mike Spence fired back
at Ohio Gov. John Kasich for insulting Indiana in recent remarks:
“Indiana is the best state in the Midwest to start a business, grow a
business and get a job. … With the Hoosier state consistently winning
the competition for fiscal responsibility and reform, somebody should
remind the governor of Ohio that trash talk usually comes before the
game.” In a speech Monday, Kasich said, “This is not Indiana where you
go to Indianapolis … and then say, ‘Where else are we going to go?
Ohio is a leader in reducing prison re-entry,
and that’s translating to millions of dollars for the state’s
taxpayers. Ohio’s recidivism rate, which measures how many prison
convicts are returning to prison after being released, dropped to 28.7
percent in 2009, from 39.5 percent in 2003. The
latest data is from 2009, so it’s before Gov. John Kasich took office
and passed measures to further reduce prison recidivism, which provide
new ways for criminals to get records expunged, allow released criminals
to obtain a certificate of qualification from courts for employment and
offer sentence-reduction incentives for prisoners to get job training
and education programs while in prison.
The Ohio House approved a bill
that would effectively shut down Internet sweepstakes cafes, which
state officials claim are havens for gambling and other criminal
activity, by limiting their prize payouts to $10. The bill received
support from law-enforcement groups, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine,
some charity organizations and the state’s casino operators.
Mayoral candidate John Cranley says the city should redirect funding meant for the streetcar to the MLK/I-71 Interchange project,
but the funding is set up through federal grants that are highly
competitive and allocated specifically to the streetcar project.
Opponents of the city’s parking plan briefly celebrated
yesterday when they assumed Graeter’s had joined their efforts, but the
ice cream company says it was all a misunderstanding.
Graeter’s is allowing opponents to gather petition signatures in front
of its stores because the sidewalks are public property, but the company says it didn’t give permission to gather signatures within the stores.
Cincinnati’s Findlay Market earned a glowing review in The Boston Globe, sparking a wave of celebration on social media.
The Smale Riverfront Park is forging ahead largely thanks to the help of private funders, who have made up for an unexpected drop in state and federal funds.
The Ohio Senate paved ahead with legislation that will raise the speed limit
on some highways, particularly in rural areas, to 70 miles per hour.
The bill contains obvious time benefits for drivers, but environmental
groups say higher speed limits mean worse fuel efficiency and insurance
groups say it will make roads more dangerous.
A West Chester trucking company is cutting 250 jobs.
Popular Science has nine reasons to avoid sugar to save your life.
Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown finds bipartisan support for bringing America’s biggest banks in line
1 Comment · Wednesday, March 13, 2013
In 1911, Standard Oil underwent what many
of today’s conservatives would decry as government and judicial
overreach; the petroleum giant — 41 years old and originally from
Cleveland — was taken apart by the U.S. Supreme Court.