by German Lopez
CPS helps rework school funding, cuts mean less teachers, judges against double-dipping
Cincinnati Public Schools seems to be playing a big role in reforming Ohio’s school funding formula.
Superintendent Mary Ronan got a call from Gov. John
Kasich’s office about the per-pupil funding formula CPS uses to
distribute funds to its schools. It seems the state might adopt a similar
method, but Ronan is cautious: “I do think it's one of the ways you
could do it, a per-pupil funding, but I have to say, we were always
tweaking every year ... because sometimes those formulas can be a bit off
and any time we saw one school getting a lot more than another ... we
tried to refine it every year over probably the 15 years we have used
it.” She also notes schools are getting “bare minimum” funding right
now. CityBeat covered budget problems at CPS here.
In general, state budget cuts have led to fewer teachers in Ohio schools. Gov. Kasich previously urged schools to focus on classroom instruction, but it seems the words aren't being followed up with proper funding.
Southwestern Ohio judges are clashing over double-dipping.
The practice involves government workers retiring and getting rehired
so they can collect pensions and a paycheck at the same time. At a
meeting, Hamilton County Judge Melba Marsh said she wants to allow
Magistrate Michael Bachman to retire and then be rehired so he doesn't
lose a 3-percent increase to his retirement, which is otherwise being
eliminated by the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System after 2012.
But the move has been met with resistance from other judges.
For Cincinnati hospitals, Medicare changes mean some loss and some gain.
The online campaign urging Macy’s to dump Donald Trump circled a “Dump Trump” billboard around Macy’s headquarters. The anti-Trump movement has gained about 680,000 signatures since it started.
On Christmas Eve, some spent time with family, while Butler County Deputy David Runnells helped deliver a baby in the back of a car during an emergency call.
Ohio will use $20 million out of $200 million in casino funds to train incumbent workers. Gov. Kasich says the program could help avoid layoffs.
It seems Mitt Romney's presidential campaign really thought they were going to win.
In campaign memos leading up to the election, campaign staff said the
race was “unmistakably moving in Mitt Romney’s direction,” and the
campaign ridiculed the possibility of losing Ohio due to the Romney
campaign’s “better ground game.” But President Barack Obama had a much larger
ground game for one-on-one interaction, which is one of the factors
former Romney staff now say led to their demise. But whatever. Romney didn't want to be president, anyway, says son Tagg Romney: “He wanted to be president less than anyone I’ve met in my life. He had no desire to ... run.”
Fiscal cliff talks aren’t going well. President Obama cut his vacation early to work out negotiations.
If Republicans and Democrats can’t work out their problems, a series of
spending cuts and tax hikes dubbed the “fiscal cliff” will kick in
throughout 2013. But it’s looking more and more likely the nation will head
off the cliff, considering U.S. Speaker John Boehner can’t even pass tax hikes on people making more than $1 million a year.
Ever wonder what dinosaur meat would taste like? Well, Popular Science has that covered.
COAST files two new lawsuits over old issues
0 Comments · Wednesday, November 7, 2012
The Coalition Opposed to Additional
Spending and Taxes (COAST) is making a lot of use of member and lawyer
Chris Finney these days. The group was recently involved in two lawsuits
filed within one week: one regarding the Blue Ash Airport deal and
another accusing Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) of campaigning for
by German Lopez
Conservative group involved in two lawsuits related to streetcar, CPS levy
A local conservative group is making a lot of use of member and
lawyer Chris Finney. The Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and
Taxes (COAST) was involved in two lawsuits filed this week: one regarding the Blue Ash Airport deal and another regarding Cincinnati
Public Schools (CPS).
Criticism of the Blue Ash Airport deal is not new for
COAST. The group has repeatedly criticized the deal, largely because as
much as $26 million from the deal will be used to fund Cincinnati’s $110
million streetcar. In the past, COAST has repeatedly characterized the streetcar
as a “boondoggle.”
The deal between Blue Ash and Cincinnati is not new, but
it did get reworked earlier this year. In 2006, the $37.5 million deal
had Cincinnati selling Blue Ash some land on the Blue Ash Airport
property, which Blue Ash would then use to build a park. Blue Ash voters
approved the deal, which contained a 0.25 percent earnings tax hike, in
a two-to-one margin.
When Cincinnati couldn’t get a $10 million grant from the
Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the city stopped working on the
airport as it became too costly. The city then tried to shift the
proceeds from the deal to the Cincinnati streetcar, but the FAA said
funding must be used for airports since the property is classified as an
Eventually, Cincinnati asked Blue Ash to rework the deal.
The plan was Blue Ash would rescind the deal, and then Cincinnati would
officially close down the airport and resell the land to Blue Ash while
it’s no longer classified as an airport.
At first, city officials said $11 million of the opened-up
money would go to the streetcar and $26 million would go to municipal
projects. Since then, the city has shifted $15 million of that municipal
project funding — supposedly temporarily — to help Duke Energy move
underground utility lines from the path of the proposed streetcar route,
at least until the city and energy company can work out an ongoing
The reworked deal, which was approved by
Blue Ash City Council in a 6-1 vote on Aug. 9, seemed like a win-win for
both sides. Cincinnati would get more funding for ongoing projects,
and Blue Ash netted $2.25 million from the deal — $250,000 to cover fees
for Blue Ash’s new park and $2 million was subtracted from the deal
since Blue Ash would no longer have to match the FAA grant.
But COAST does not approve. The organization doesn’t want
any funding redirected to the streetcar, and it claims the reworked deal
is not allowed. The lawsuit filed by Blue Ash resident Jeffrey Capell
and Finney cites a section of the Blue Ash City Charter that disallows
some contracts: “No contract shall be made for a term longer than five
years, except that franchises for public utility services and contracts
with other governmental units for service to be received or given may be
made for any period no longer than twenty years.”
Mark Vander Laan, Blue Ash’s city solicitor, says the
city charter section the lawsuit is referencing is irrelevant. He argues the deal is
not a contract as the city charter defines it; instead, it’s a mortgage and debt
instrument. In the Blue Ash City Charter, there’s another section that
deals with debt instruments, and that’s what the rescinded deal falls
under, according to Vander Laan. He says the city would not function as
it does today if the lawsuit’s claim was correct: “If that were the
case, all the bonds we’ve ever issued would have been incorrect.”
Vander Laan says the real issue here is disapproval of the
streetcar, not any legal technicalities: “They may have a complaint
about the streetcar, but that’s not the city of Blue Ash’s issue at all.
We don’t think it’s even an appropriate basis to challenge this.”
He added, “Frankly, if somebody had an issue with (the
deal), they should have taken that issue back in 2006 and 2007.” That’s
when Blue Ash voters first approved the airport deal, but back then, the
money wasn’t going to the streetcar, which didn’t even exist at the
In another legal battle, COAST filed a lawsuit against CPS
over staff allegedly campaigning for Issue 42, a ballot initiative that will
renew a CPS levy voters approved in 2008. The case goes back to 2002, when Tom Brinkman, chairman
of COAST, sued CPS for “illegal and unconstitutional use of school
property for campaign purposes,” according to the lawsuit. That case
ended in a settlement, which forced CPS to enter into a “COAST Agreement” that says, “CPS will strictly enforce a policy of preventing … Other
Political Advertisements on CPS Property.”
But COAST now says that agreement has been broken, and the
lawsuit cites emails as evidence. The emails show staff promoting voter
registration drives, which aren’t directly linked to Issue 42, and
staff offering to contribute and volunteer to the campaign. In the
emails, there are a few instances of Jens Sutmoller, Issue 42’s campaign
coordinator, asking CPS staff to give him personal emails, which shows
he was trying to avoid breaking any rules.
In CityBeat’s experience, CPS officials have been
pretty strict with following the settlement with COAST. In a Sept. 20
email, Janet Walsh, spokesperson for CPS, told CityBeat she could
not provide some levy-related information during work hours: “Yes, but
due to constraints about doing levy-related work on work time (we
can't), it may have to wait until I can get on my home computer.”
COAST has endorsed a “No” vote on Issue 42. In CityBeat’s
in-depth look into CPS and Issue 42 (“Battered But Not Broken,” issue
of Oct. 3), Brinkman defended COAST’s position by saying they’re not
necessarily against the school getting funding. COAST is more
interested in holding the school accountable: “It’s a five-year levy.
The reason we have five-year levies is so the public can gauge after
four or four and a half years how the entity where the taxes are going
to is doing with the money.” In that sense, for COAST, it’s important to
bring the levy renewal to voters as late in the game as possible —
November 2013 in this case. CityBeat this week endorsed a "Yes" vote on Issue 42 here. Criticism of CPS levies is
also not new for COAST. The group campaigned against last year’s new, permanent $49.5 million
levy, which CPS said it needed to meet new technology needs and keep
some buildings open.
by German Lopez
In-person early voting is underway in Ohio. Find your nearest polling booth here.
If there’s a Democrat-led war on coal in Ohio, it’s not showing in
the numbers. PolitiFact checked Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown’s claim that coal
jobs and production have gone up in the state since five years ago, and it turns out he’s right. Brown’s remark was in response to Republican challenger Josh Mandel’s claim that Democrats are leading a war on coal. Brown and Mandel are fighting for Ohio's U.S. Senate seat, which CityBeat covered in-depth here. Currently, Brown leads by 5.5 points in aggregate polling.
The presidential campaigns are turning it up in Ohio. Ann Romney was in Greater Cincinnati yesterday to campaign for her husband, echoing past visits from Michelle Obama. President Barack Obama will be in Cincinnati Sunday. Mitt Romney will hold a big rally in West Chester on Friday. Ohio could be the state to decide whether Romney or Obama is the next president. Due to Ohio’s importance, lawyers from around the county will be keeping a close eye on the state. With six days of voting left, aggregate polling shows Obama up 2.3 points in Ohio and the race tied nationally. FiveThirtyEight, The New York Times’ forecasting model, says Obama has a 79.9 percent chance of winning Ohio and a 79 percent chance of winning the election.
The Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST) is suing Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) for allegedly using city resources to campaign for Issue 42,
which will renew a CPS levy from 2008. In the emails, school officials
discuss voter registration drives, signing up to support the levy and
contributing to the levy campaign. But in a few emails, Jens Sutmoller, campaign coordinator for Issue 42, asks for personal emails to properly respond. COAST has endorsed a “No” vote on Issue 42. CityBeat covered Issue 42 and the problems facing CPS here. CityBeat also endorsed a “Yes” vote on Issue 42 here.
Dropping enrollment in urban district schools, including CPS, has caused some schools to revise building programs downward,
saving the state money. In CPS in particular, the school’s project has
dropped down to 50 buildings from 66 partly in response to a decline in
about 10,000 students since 2002 to about 32,687 enrolled students today. The shift apparently has less to do
with students moving to the suburbs and more to do with the greater
availability of charter and private schools.
The Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority’s CEO Laura Brunner laid out the Port Authority’s strategic plan yesterday.
The Port Authority seeks to fight poverty, attract residents and increase jobs by
expanding inland port operations, developing land, stabilizing targeted
communities, upgrading its public financing plan and transparently
communicating progress, according to Brunner.
A small fraction of absentee ballots might have been rejected due to a state data glitch.
The glitch caused Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted to deliver 33,000
updated registration records to local elections issues. Tim Burke,
chairman of the county Democratic Party and county Board of Elections,
expressed mixed feelings about the error: “Obviously, you hate like hell
to have the secretary of state’s office, which had promised to have a
very efficient election, popping something like that on us seven days
out. … Having said that, I’m glad at least once they recognized that
these names are out there they moved to get them to us so that we can do
our best to ensure that these folks are not disenfranchised because of
some administrative glitch.”
In related news, Husted got the emergency stay he asked for on a recent voting ruling. Husted said he was happy with the decision in a statement:
“With six days to go before Election Day, I am pleased that the Court
has granted a stay in this case so that I can give the 88 county boards
of elections the clear direction they need on the rules for processing
There are a few teachers campaigning for office in Ohio, and NPR says the campaigns could give Democrats and Obama a boost.
The surge of teachers is largely attributed to Senate Bill 5, which
tried to limit collective bargaining among public employees. The
teachers figure the only way to prevent another Senate Bill 5 is by
There are also Ohio Board of Education candidates on this
year’s ballot. StateImpact Ohio has a look into some of those candidates
found small firms are doing very little to prepare for Obamacare. Most
don’t know what the national health care plan will even do for them.
About 70 percent were unsure or incorrectly believed Obamacare will make
them pay a tax. Ever want to play Tetris with a pumpkin? Well, apparently someone has.
0 Comments · Wednesday, October 31, 2012
CityBeat recently covered
Cincinnati Public School’s (CPS) financial problems and what makes the
levy renewal a necessity for the school (“Battered But Not Broken,”
issue of Oct. 3). Under the broken state funding system for schools, CPS
has to rely on levies to sustain and improve its education program. If
CPS doesn’t get this levy renewed, it will be down $51.5 million — or
approximately 11 percent of its budget — in 2015. That’s a hard hit to
take after a decade of budget cuts at CPS. The school district has
already cut about 22 percent of its total staff in the last 10 years and
closed down 17 buildings. It shouldn’t have to do more.
0 Comments · Wednesday, October 24, 2012
After two years of racking up an
excellent rating on its state report card, Robert A. Taft Information
Technology High School appears headed for a lower grade.
by German Lopez
Posted In: News
at 10:49 AM | Permalink
Grant will support 50 tutors helping 100 students
The mayor, Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) and The Strive
Partnership announced today a new joint initiative that won a $40,000
grant. The grant, which is funded by Target through the Cities of
Service and Service Nation, will help tutors teach kids how to read by
the third grade.
Mayor Mark Mallory made the announcement in a joint press statement with CPS
Superintendent Mary Ronan and The Strive Partnership Executive Director
With the money, 50 tutors will help 100 students in first,
second and third grade in five schools to meet the state’s new Third
Grade Reading Guarantee, which requires third-grade students to be
proficient in reading in state tests before advancing to the fourth grade.
“It all starts with reading,” Mallory said in a
statement. “And there is no better way to help our kids learn to read
than with one-on-one tutors who they can get to know and trust. A
committed adult can make learning to read fun. This grant is going to
have a huge impact on the lives of a lot of kids.”
The tutors will focus on five CPS schools: Roberts Paideia
Academy in East Price Hill, Rockdale Academy in Avondale, Mt. Airy
School, Pleasant Hill Academy in College Hill and Pleasant Ridge
Cincinnati was one of eight cities to win the grant. The
other winners are Atlanta, Ga.; Baltimore, Md.; Charleston, S.C.; Chula
Vista, Calif.; Kansas City, Mo.; Orlando, Fla.; and Vicksburg, Miss.The new state reading requirement, which was pushed by Republican Gov. John Kasich, has received criticism from some Democrats and education experts. Research shows holding kids back hurts more
than helps. After reviewing decades of research, the National Association of
School Psychologists found grade retention has “deleterious long-term
effects,” both academically and socially.
by Kevin Osborne
The Samuel Adams Brewery in Cincinnati's West End is using $3.6 million in grant funding to expand its facilities. The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) awarded the grants so the firm could expand its operations onto an adjacent contaminated site that once contained dry cleaning and automotive businesses. “They had a business choice,” said Scott Nally, EPA director. “They could have chose to stay here and be landlocked or to expand and take some risk or to move out of the state.”Cincinnati Public Schools is grappling with rising transportation costs, which are contributing to a deficit. The district will spend $29.5 million this year to transport 21,000 kids to and from school each day. That’s nine percent, or $2.3 million, more than budgeted and $1.3 million more than last year. Officials are looking at options to reduce costs. One is negotiating with the Archdiocese of Cincinnati about changing some start times at parochial schools to allow CPS to run fewer routes, which would save about $400,000.Seven inmates have been mistakenly released at the Butler County Jail this year, including four in recent weeks. Some of the prisoners were jailed for misdemeanors such as traffic violations, but others were locked up for more serious crimes such as theft and burglary. An official said court personnel misread the court documents in some cases, but also admits a failure in oversight that led to nine jail employees being disciplined. (Maybe Sheriff Richard Jones should focus more on running the jail, and less on rounding up undocumented immigrants.)Starting today, motorists headed to Over-the-Rhine may park in the new garage that's been built under Washington Park, across from Music Hall. The garage has 450 spaces. Construction crews still are working above ground to renovate and expand the park itself, which is slated to open July 1.A southeastern Ohio village mayor suspected of repeatedly raping a girl has pleaded not guilty and is being held in jail in lieu of posting a $1 million bond. Michael Shane Shuster – who is mayor of Stockport, located near Athens – is charged with 10 counts each of rape, sexual battery and gross sexual imposition. He pleaded not guilty in a Morgan County court on Wednesday.In news elsewhere, the Obama administration has revealed that even after the United States withdraws its combat troops from Afghanistan in late 2014, the nation and its allies still will spend spend about $4.1 billion annually to prop up Afghan army and police forces. Most of the money will come from the U.S., they added. (Maybe that's the real reason politicians are telling us we need to cut Social Security and Medicare. Which would be a better investment in the long-haul?)Meanwhile, a U.S. military Black Hawk helicopter with four crew members on board crashed in southwestern Afghanistan on Thursday. A senior U.S. military official told NBC News there was bad weather in the area at the time of the crash, but couldn't rule out the possibility that enemy activity downed the helicopter.A proposed “personhood” law in Oklahoma that would grant embryos the same rights as people beginning at the moment of conception failed in the state's Legislature Thursday without coming to a vote in the House of Representatives. The bill, which backers hoped would provide a path to roll back the constitutional right to an abortion, had sailed through the Oklahoma Senate in February but Republican caucus leaders indicated some medical professionals and business leaders expressed their dislike for the measure. It's unclear if the bill will be revived for a final vote after this fall's elections.Fenway Park, the much-beloved home of the Boston Red Sox, is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. Thousands of diehard fans are expected to pour into the stadium today to help the team commemorate the event.In an effort to shore up his support from social conservatives, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Willard Mitt Romney will deliver the commencement address at Liberty University in Virginia on May 12. The evangelical Christian college was founded by the late Jerry Falwell, a TV preacher known for – among other things – blaming the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on gays and feminists angering God and incurring his wrath. The university estimated that 14,000 students will graduate at the ceremony, with some 34,000 guests watching.
by Kevin Osborne
In an effort to avoid an estimated $43 million deficit, the Cincinnati Board of Education decided Wednesday to eliminate 237 teaching jobs for next school year. Of the job cuts, 35 are layoffs, 112 are retirements or resignations, and 90 are long-term substitutes. In March, the board also approved laying off 40 administrators. The actions are expected to create $20 million in savings, but officials say more cuts are needed.Cincinnati City Council has approved an ordinance cracking down on so-called “predatory towing.” Some local towing companies haven't been following state guidelines about how much may be charged for the towing and impoundment of vehicles. The city law clarifies that they must be complied with, and companies that violate the fees can lose lucrative towing contracts with the Cincinnati Police Department.As part of their standard procedures, state regulators are reviewing the background of a company slated to open the state's first casino next month and Cincinnati's casino next year. The Ohio Casino Control Commission meets this week to review a newly completed report on Rock Ohio Caesars. It will include details about the company's financial stability and whether it has any criminal background.Although Earth Day isn't until Sunday, the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden is marking the holiday early by sponsoring an e-waste recycling drive today to collect and recycle unwanted electronic waste from guests. Collection is from 4-6:30 p.m., and all electronic devices will be recycled by 2trg, a certified recycler that operates under zero landfill and zero export policies. A $10 cash fee will be charged for each TV set, and all other acceptable items will be recycled for free. Other acceptable items include cables, CD-ROM drives, cellular phones, DVD players, keyboards, laptops, LCD monitors, microwave ovens, printers and more.Locally-based Fifth Third Bank says its first-quarter net income quadrupled, thanks in part to its stake in the payment processor Vantiv, which had its initial public offering. The company reported net income of $421 million today, or 45 cents per share. That compares with $88 million, or 10 cents per share, reported in the same period last year. Apparently, there's only a recession going on for some of us.In news elsewhere, House Speaker John Boehner (R-West Chester) is dismissing criticism brought against the Republican budget plan by Catholic bishops. Referencing Matthew 25, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops called on Congress to put the poor first in budget priorities and rethink cuts to programs that help them. But Boehner, a Catholic, said at a press conference Wednesday the cuts were necessary, despite the impact they may have on the poor. “What’s more of a concern to me is the fact that if we don’t start to make some decisions about getting our fiscal house in order there won’t be a safety net,” he said. “There won’t be these programs.” (Hey, John: Maybe you should take another look at the Pentagon's budget.)Six former employees of a company connected to a firm founded by GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney filed a federal lawsuit this week, alleging they were fired because they weren't Mormon. The plaintiffs worked for Sorenson Capital Partners, whose managing directors and officers are former partners or executives at Bain Capital and Bain & Co. Romney founded Bain Capital in 1984 after working for Bain & Co. The plaintiffs seek $5.35 million in damages for breach of contract, discrimination and retaliation.If the CIA gets its way, acting suspicious will be enough to get you killed in Yemen. The spy agency is seeking authority to expand its covert drone campaign in Yemen by launching strikes against terrorism suspects even when it does not know the identities of those who could be killed, U.S. officials said. Securing permission to use these “signature strikes” would allow the agency to hit targets based solely on intelligence indicating patterns of suspicious behavior, such as imagery showing militants gathering at known al-Qaeda compounds or unloading explosives. Remember: They hate us because we love freedom.Syria and the United Nations have reached a tentative deal to deploy observers to monitor the nation's ceasefire, officials from both sides said. A spokesman for peace envoy Kofi Annan said the agreement covered the observers' functions and Syrian government's responsibilities. It came after the U.N. secretary general said Syria was failing to comply with its peace plan obligations. The plan seeks to end unrest which has killed at least 9,000 people.The global economic downturn is even visible in China, where large amounts of retail and office space sit vacant, in nearly pristine condition, having never been used. Part of the problem is Chinese industry has been producing massive amounts of steel, cement, and aluminum, so much that its economy cannot absorb all of the output. For example, the seven-story Global Furnishing Design and Exhibition Center in Shanghai, the most populous city in the world, is known as “the ghost mall of China” due to its empty corridors and vacant stores.
by Kevin Osborne
Cemeteries have officially arrived in the 21st Century. A Crawfordsville, Ind., firm is now using Quick Response barcodes on tombstones. The Allen Monument Co. says the code can connect users to an entire memorial site about a deceased person, provided by Cincinnati-based Making Everlasting Memories. The site can include photos, a biography and other information. All it takes is a simple scan from a smartphone. That's either a brilliant step forward for convenience or a sign of consumerism and technology run amok. You decide.It looks like charter schools aren't quite the draw that many conservatives believed they would be. Cincinnati Public Schools will lose fewer students than expected next year to private schools and state-funded vouchers, a school official said Tuesday. Only 899 new students applied for new Educational Choice scholarships for the upcoming school year. That’s down from 1,078 applicants from CPS last year and it’s far below the 1,377 students that district officials had estimated to lose this spring.A Northern Kentucky police chief charged with drunken driving wants to suppress police dashboard camera footage of the traffic stop that led to his arrest. An attorney for Wilder Police Chief Anthony Rouse made the request during a pretrial hearing this week. Rouse is suspended without pay after his March 1 arrest by Alexandria police. We wonder if the Wilder Police Department uses dashboard cams in its cruisers. (What's good for the goose, etc.)They had better come on strong. The Bengals will be featured on the season opener of Monday Night Football on ESPN in September. The team will face off against the Ravens in Baltimore. Other highlights of the 2012 schedule, which was released Tuesday, include the Bengals playing their first regular season game in week two against the Cleveland Browns in Cincinnati, and playing divisional foes the Steelers in week 16 at Pittsburgh.A large swarm of bees has invaded Cincinnati's Covedale neighborhood. Residents on Woodbriar Lane are concerned about thousands of active bees going from yard to yard looking for a place to make a hive. The bees have been doing it for the last couple of days, and residents say they're swarming around different locations, changing locations in as little as 30 minutes in some cases. The buzzing sounds can be heard from 20 feet away or more, they added.In news elsewhere, friends of Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney insist their pal isn't an android. Romney is a nice guy, they said, adding they are at a loss to explain his stiff demeanor and unusual syntax on the campaign trail. Maybe he's simply trying too hard, some friends told The Washington Post. Yeah, that's it, I'm sure.Reacting to rising gasoline prices, President Obama proposed new measures this week to reduce oil market manipulation. The proposals, which observers say are unlikely to get support from a divided Congress, include increasing civil and criminal penalties on individuals and companies involved in manipulative practices involving commodities speculation.In yet another setback for U.S.-Afghan relations, photographs of American troops gleefully posing with corpses of insurgents they've killed were given to The Los Angeles Times. The U.S. soldier who released the photos said he did so to draw attention to the safety risk of a breakdown in leadership and discipline. The Army has started a criminal investigation.A shadowy conservative group that works behind-the-scenes to push laws that call for stricter voter identification requirements and “stand your ground” initiatives is disbanding its “Public Safety and Elections” task force. The task force, part of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), has been the prime vehicle for proposing and advancing what critics describe as voter-suppression and anti-democratic initiatives, not just restrictive voter ID laws but also plans to limit the ability of citizens to petition for referendums and constitutional changes that favor workers and communities. In recent weeks, numerous of ALEC's corporate members have left then group including Coca-Cola, Intuit and McDonald's.Thousands of documents detailing crimes committed during the final years of the British empire were systematically destroyed to prevent them falling into the hands of post-independence governments, an official review concluded. Those papers that survived the purge were flown discreetly to Britain where they were hidden for 50 years in a secret Foreign Office archive, beyond the reach of historians and members of the public, and in breach of legal obligations for them to be transferred into the public domain.