Ohio2006 Blog

News, analysis, and comments on Ohio elections.

Friday, August 31

Cordray Not Impressed by Bush's Proposal to Assist Mortgage Borrowers at Risk

Cross-posted at my new location, Ohio Daily Blog:

This morning President Bush outlined a relatively modest proposal to assist some of the mortgage borrowers at risk of losing their homes. (He also urged passage of helpful tax changes proposed by Sens. George Voinovich (R-OH) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI.) However, Bush minimized the extent of the overall problem, saying that the "recent disturbances" in the subprime mortgage industry are "modest in relation to the size of our economy," and emphasizing that it is "not the federal government's job" to bail out the mortgage lending industry. The Bush administration continues to oppose measures such as new laws to prevent lenders from steering low-income borrowers into riskier loans or raising the investment limits on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac so they can buy more mortgages.

Ohio Treasurer Rich Cordray (D-Grove City) was quick to react to the President's proposal. While "somewhat heartened," Cordray is "concerned that action by federal agencies is long overdue and will be far too little":
I have been immersed in the foreclosure problem at the local and state level and I can say with confidence that its effect on the economy is in no way "modest" ...

The U.S. Census Bureau earlier this week ranked the poorest cities in America. The only state with two cities in the top five was Ohio. This is not surprising for a state that has been a national leader in foreclosures for the past decade and experiences at least one foreclosure filing for every 71 households in the state.

The greatest tragedy is when families lose their homes, but the cascade of problems is extensive. Neighborhoods with vacant foreclosed properties decline. Property values sink. Other homeowners cannot afford to sell their homes. Local government services supported by property values suffer greatly as the need for services spikes. There are other less obvious problems: in some Ohio counties, for example, sheriffs must devote up to half of their work week to conducting foreclosure sales. ...

Some authorities - including those at the federal level - may say this is a ripple effect which can be handled. I see that ripple building to an economic and social tsunami: In Ohio, between 150,000 to 200,000 borrowers hold subprime mortgages with so-called ‘exploding ARMS’ which are beginning to reset now and which will continue to reset at large levels.

The president’s plan will help 80,000 homeowners across the nation and I can say with certainty every one of them will need it. But it will not be enough: in 2006 there were 79,072 new foreclosure filings - in Ohio alone.”
Cordray gets it. The foreclosure crisis in Ohio is like nothing seen here since the Great Depression. Strong measures are needed, and soon, or Bush's rosy comments about the strength of the overall economy eventually may be inducted into the same Hall of Shame as President Herbert Hoover's announcement in February 1930 that the preliminary shock of the stock market crash had passed and employment was on the mend.

Sen. Warner (R-VA) Will Retire

Cross-posted at my new location, Ohio Daily Blog:

It's official. This means that popular former Gov. Mark Warner (D-VA) becomes the likely next senator if he runs, as expected. There are now six Senate races where Democrats stand a very decent chance of picking up seats:
Colorado - Sen. Wayne Allard (R) is retiring; Rep. Mark Udall (D) takes on former Rep. Bob Schaffer (R).

Maine - Sen. Susan Collins (R) looks vulnerable to Rep. Tom Allen (D).

Minnesota - Sen. Norm Coleman (R) is on shaky ground against a wide open field that includes Al Franken (D).

New Hampshire - Sen. John Sununu (R) is in real trouble if former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen (D) gets in.

- Sen. Gordon Smith (R) has a tough race against Oregon House Speaker Jeff Merkley (D).

- Sen. John Warner (R) is retiring; it will probably be Mark Warner (D) against Rep. Tom Davis (R), former Sen. George Allen (R), or former Gov. Jim Gilmore (R). [UPDATE: Rep Davis has officially declared.]
2nd UPDATE: Stuart Rothenberg now rates Colorado, Virginia and New Hampshire as "toss up" races and Maine, Minnesota and Oregon as "narrow advantage to incumbent party." The only Democratic seat in either category is Louisiana, where Rothenberg says that Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) has a "narrow advantage." Her probably opponent is state treasurer John Kennedy (R), who just switched parties.

Thompson: Too Little, Too Late?

Cross-posted at my new location, Ohio Daily Blog:

I agree with Jerid on Buckeye State Blog that former Sen. Fred Thompson (R-TN), who will be announcing his official campaign with a web video and a whirlwind tour on Thursday, is probably entering the race too late. He is unlikely to mount a successful campaign at this point.

Former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA) has a huge lead in Iowa and has spent heavily to create a strong organization on the ground. Since his strong showing in the Ames straw poll, former Gov. Mike Huckabee (R-AR) has emerged as a "conservative alternative," undercutting Thompson's appeal on that basis. Thompson's fund-raising has been disappointing, so it is unclear how much he can pour into this state. Nevertheless, Thompson must make a very strong showing in Iowa - probably a second place finish - to do well in later contests.

Thompson is skipping the New Hampshire debate next week, and neither his rigid social conservatism nor his southern roots are helpful there. It is also virtually a home court for Romney, who is polling well. So don't look for Thompson to finish strong in the Granite State.

As pointed out today on The Trail, that makes South Carolina and Florida critical contests for Thompson. He has to win one or both convincingly. Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R-NY) has been polling well in both states, especially in Florida. Romney will be a strong opponent in South Carolina if he wins Iowa and/or New Hampshire as expected. It's a high hurdle for Thompson, and I don't see Thompson as such a stellar performer as to be expected to pull it off. His testing-the-water phase was hardly error-free, his staff turnover has hindered the creation of a solid foundation, and there are hints that he is not the kind of hard-charging campaigner who can make up a lot of ground quickly. I expect him to be a top tier candidate and to shake up the dynamics of the GOP race, but I do not expect him to become the eventual nominee.

Troop Fatalities Have NOT "Fallen Because Of The Surge"

Cross-posted at my new location, Ohio Daily Blog:

They keep saying it, but it isn't true. The above graph, courtesy of Kevin Drum based on information from Juan Cole, shows us the reality. YES, U.S. troop deaths have declined from May through August of 2007. They do that each year, because scorching summer temperatures bring activity in general to a halt. But, NO, the number of deaths are not down. Compared to 2006, they are consistently up, month after month. They are higher this August than last August, and were almost as high this August as they were in January, February, and March of this year when the surge was just getting set up. As Dr. Cole puts it:
I mean, how brain dead do the Bushies think we are, peddling this horse manure that US troop deaths have fallen? (There are always seasonal variations because in the summer it is 120 F. in the shade and guerrillas are too heat-exhausted to fight; but the summer 2007 numbers are much greater than those for summer 2006; that isn't progress.) And why does our corporate media keep repeating this Goebbels-like propaganda? Do we really live in an Orwellian state?
When you hear the puppets in the pep parade repeating the lie that U.S. troop deaths have fallen because of the surge, remember this post!

Breaking Story - Tony Snow Resigning

Cross-posted at my new digs, Ohio Daily Blog:

Announcement at 12:45 pm. Not unexpected, but another major departure from the Bush administration.

UPDATE: CNN says Snow is leaving September 14th and Deputy Press Secretary Dana Perino will replace him.

2nd UPDATE: It ain't the cancer, it's the dough. Snow says his cancer recovery is going well, but his $168,000 salary (highest level among White House staff) is not sufficient. He made a lot more as a commentator on Fox News and syndicated columnist, etc.

3rd UPDATE: Snow has three children. Can't afford to raise them on $168,000. The White House opposes letting states extend SCHIP Medicaid eligibility to children in families of four with household incomes any higher than $51,625.

Snow says it "was a blast," he had "fun."

News and Notes: Ohio

Cross-posted at my new location, Ohio Daily Blog:

It's Friday before a holiday in the Buckeye State - what's going on?

Strickland, Brown, and Brunner to Return Donations Related to Hsu - Joining a national wave of Democratic candidates, Gov. Ted Strickland (D), Sen. Sherrod Brown (D), and Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner (D) are all giving to charity the amounts of contributions received from New-York-based donor Norman Hsu (or, in Brown's case, individuals connected to him). Hsu is the subject of a 1991 warrant in California arising out of a fraud case, and is suspected of improprieties in bundling contributions purportedly from others.

Death of Two Prominent Ohio Democrats Mourned - Charlie Vanik, an outspoken liberal and 26-year member of Congress from Cleveland, died Wednesday in Florida, and Joe Shump, chairman of the Montgomery County Democratic Party for a quarter-century ending in 1994, died Wednesday at Kettering Memorial Hospital.

Smith Promotes "Second Chance" Bill - State Sen. Shirley Smith (D-Cleveland) held a forum yesterday to promote S.B. 197, her proposal to allow low-level repeat felons who have stayed out of trouble for five years to have their records sealed or expunged in order to help them find employment. Smith's proposal has gained national attention, not all of it favorable. Critics assert that multiple offenders don't deserve another chance, that employers are entitled to know the record of people they hire, and that there may be liability issues if such an employee commits another crime. However, there is broad support for the proposal among inner city residents and from those working in corrections and re-entry. Also supporting the bill is Sen. Jon Peterson (R-Delaware), who said "This bill is about redemption. There is a reason we call is the Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections -- there's a redemptive quality to it, and we should be able to move forward."

Strickland Renews Vow to Reform Ohio Education System - On a visit to Kent State University to discuss Ohio's troubled education system, Gov. Strickland said "I'm owning this problem." He restated his pledge to reform Ohio schools and provide adequate, equitable funding. To date his focus has been higher education rather than elementary and secondary education, including naming former State Sen. Eric Fingerhut to the new position of chancellor of the Ohio Board of Regents, creating The University System of Ohio to foster collaboration and cooperation among public institutions of higher learning, and increasing funding to such institutions while restricting tuition increases.

I Read the News Today, Oh Boy ... More Subprime Lending Woes

Cross-posted at my new digs, Ohio Daily Blog:

I read a lot of newspapers online, but we still get the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the New York Times in paper form and that's what we read during breakfast. This morning I turned to the business sections in each and was struck once again by the number of stories that relate to one degree or another to the crisis in the subprime mortage lending industry. From the PD:
* Mortgage worries are hurting automakers because "consumers were in no mood to buy a car this month as they faced rising mortgage payments and roiling financial markets, and some analysts already predict 2007 will be the worst year for U.S. auto sales in nearly a decade."

* The Gross Domestic Product grew by a healthy 4% in the second quarter, but economists expect it to slow to around 2% in the present quarter due to the current housing and credit woes arising from the subprime lending fiasco;

* Nobel economics laureate Joseph Stiglitz predicts a "prolonged economic downturn," although probably not a recession, due to the crisis. "Mortgage payments are going up, house prices coming down, incomes are stagnating. It's not a pretty picture. So the dynamics could unravel more and where it stops, we can't be sure," Stiglitz told reporters during a conference in Malaysia.

* Fairview Park-based Colony Mortgage Corp., employer of 88 at nine locations, is closing in September.
Turning to the Times:
* The Bush administration finally will announce several steps to help low-income mortgage borrowers with credit problems. Included is a change that will make borrowers who fall behind due to payment increases incorporated into adjustable rate mortgages eligible for mortgage insurance from the Federal Housing Administration, which may help them obtain refinancing. Previously Bush had insisted that market fundamental are strong and that no intervention is necessary, despite urgent pleas from Democratic leaders.

* The reason that the subprime mortgage crisis in the United States has been felt so strongly all around the world is the explosion in the global financial market of new finance vehicles like derivatives and structured products. Structured products are pooled assets that have been sliced into small, specialized pieces. The investments are so complex that international investors failed to appreciate the potential risks involved.

* H & R Block announced yesterday that the sale of its subprime lending unit, Option One Mortgage, might fall apart as credit markets deteriorate.

* The Mortgage Bankers Association, an industry group, has released a study showing that a significant portion of mortgage foreclosures involve investors seeking to turn a quick profit rather than homeowners paying for their primary residence. However, a big majority of foreclosures do in fact involve homeowners. The national average revealed in the study is 16% of defaults among loans based on strong credit relate to investors, while 12% of defaults among loans based on weak credit relate to investors.
That's a lot of news, most of it bad, and it shows how pervasive and troubling the crisis has become. In sum, the experts don't think the crisis will propel the country into another recession, but it is likely to result in at least a sustained economic downturn, with negative effects felt around the world.

Thursday, August 30

News and Notes: Ohio

Cross-posted at my new location, Ohio Daily Blog:

Newsy bits from our fair state:

Strickland Announces Wind Project Grants; Coal Plants Opposed - Mark Niquette reports in The Daily Briefing that today Gov. Ted Strickand (D) followed up yesterday's speech presenting his energy plan by announcing grants worth up to $5 million from the Ohio Wind Production and Manufacturing Incentive Program for two wind energy projects, one in Champaign and Logan Counties and the other in Wood County. Environmentalists are in favor of renewable alternative energy sources like wind and solar, but are deeply skeptical about "clean coal" and coal gasification. ActForChange.com is conducting a campaign that calls on Ohioans to contact Strickland and local lawmakers and urge them to oppose two coal-fired plants planned for Meigs County. However, coal is a huge resource in Ohio and Strickland is from coal country. There is tremendous pressure on Strickland and the legislature to include coal technologies in Ohio's energy plan.

Homeownership Preservation Clinic Underway in Cleveland - The U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development is sponsoring a six-hour clinic today (2:00 pm to 8:00 pm) at the Renaissance Hotel in downtown Cleveland, where borrowers who are having difficulty making their monthly mortgage payments can meet with representatives from fifteen area loan servicers, as well as attend workshops and meet with housing counselors about ways to prevent foreclosure. The clinic is being supported by the Ohio Treasurer, Ohio Department of Commerce, and Ohio Housing Finance Agency, who note that "the number of foreclosures is expected to increase in the next two years as many adjustable rate mortgages with lower 'teaser' rates are reset to higher interest rates and higher monthly payments." If unable to work out terms with their lender, borrowers at risk are encouraged to call the HOPE Hotline at 888-995-HOPE (4673).

Fedor Endorses Union-Backed Fuel Economy Measure - Ohio Senate Minority Leader Teresa Fedor (D-Toledo) today filed a resolution in the Ohio Senate backing passage of a bill in Congress to raise the corporate fuel economy (CAFE) standard from the present 27.5 mpg to 32 mpg by the year 2022. Former Secretary of Transportation Rodney Slater hosted a press conference to praise the measure. However, as pointed out today on The Daily Briefing, environmental groups favor a stronger measure, already passed by the U.S. Senate, that would raise the CAFE standard faster - to 35 mpg by 2020. Fedor (and the United Auto Workers) say the slower measure is needed avoid harming the domestic auto industry, and thus protect jobs. However, a recent analysis by the Union of Concerned Scientists concluded that switching to the higher 35 mpg standard by 2018 would "increase US employment by 241,000 jobs in the year 2020, including 23,900 in the auto industry."

Rate Finalists in the DSCC Bumper Sticker Competition

Cross-posted at my new location, Ohio Daily Blog:

Here are the four contenders, submitted by rank and file Democrats in the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee-sponsored competition to come up with a nationwide DSCC slogan for 2008. What do you think?




Vote for your favorite here. Then come back and tell me what you think in the comments.

Here are some initial thoughts:
1) Why so much red? The red/blue symbolism has prevaded popular culture pretty strongly. All else being equal, shouldn't the Democrats use blue as part of the Democratic brand?

2) All the slogans are grounded in reacting to the mess created by Republican rule. Given the dismal approval ratings for Bush that makes a certain amount of sense, but wouldn't it be better to convey a positive message as well?

3) Is it possible to distill the Democratic jobs-health care domestic agenda to a slogan?

4) No graphics! Where's the donkey?

5) Why just one slogan?
Tell me what you think.

Strickland's Energy Plan

Cross-posted at my new location, Ohio Daily Blog:

Faced with a utility deregulation policy that has failed to produce lower rates, and threatens to cause much higher rates if things go as they have in several other states, Gov. Ted Strickland unveiled a hybrid energy plan yesterday in a speech at the Ohio Statehouse. The governor's office is working with the Legislative Service Commission to put his plan into a bill, with hopes of getting some version of it passed by the end of the year.

Interestingly, some of the pressure to go back to complete regulation of utility rates is coming from business interests, faced with the frightening prospect of skyrocketing electricity prices. However, Strickland's plan does not do that. Instead, as reported in the Dispatch, utilities are given "the choice of returning to a regulated environment by having the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio approve their rates or opting for market pricing -- but only if they can prove to the PUCO that a competitive market exists."

However, the plan doesn't stop there. Strickland also calls for requiring that one quarter of the energy sold in Ohio by 2025 come from 'advanced energy technologies,' which would include fuel cells, so-called "clean coal," and nuclear power as well as renewables like wind, solar, low-impact hydroelectric, and geothermal power. As noted in the Toledo Blade story, at least half of the alternative energy would have to come from renewables. Also, half of the total alternative energy would have to be generated within Ohio, in order to boost the Ohio economy.

The plan lacks detail at this stage, and the general reaction from all sides has been "let's wait and see." However, there are some elements that set off alarm bells even at this stage. The alternative energy sources advanced by the plan include nuclear power and coal gasification, and both of those alternatives raise serious environmental concerns. The target of 25% alternative energy may seem impressive now, but given the trend to green energy it may actually be behind the curve by the year 2025. However, the general direction of the plan is encouraging, and there does appear to be potential for broad support for the plan.

UPDATE: Todd Hoffman has video from Strickland's speech on the Ohio Democratic Party Blog.

News and Notes: The National Scene

The political pulse of the nation (ba-bump, ba-bump, ba-bump):

GAO to Report Failure by Iraqi Government - The AP says that a General Accounting Office report ordered by Congress will conclude that the Iraqi government has failed to achieve 15 out of 18 political and security goals laid out by lawmakers to assess Bush's new war strategy. The Bush administration will argue that it was unfair of Congress to instruct the GAO to count only full completion of each benchmark as "success."

Clinton to Give Up Contributions From Donor Wanted for Fraud
- Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) will give to charity $23,000 received from businessman Norman Hsu, subject of an arrest warrant in California stemming from a 1991 fraud case. Hsu had been scheduled to co-host a Clinton gala next month featuring Quincy Jones.

Conservative Media Watchdog Group Complains About Network News Coverage - Unbelievable. A right wing group is complaining that Democratic candidates get more airtime on network morning news shows than Republicans. The networks say Republicans are less interested in appearing on their shows. Why should they? They're too busy being fawned over on Fox News Channel and conservative talks shows across the radio dial. If we're going to consider whether the amount of airtime is fair, let's take all of that into account, please.

Wyoming GOP Moves Caucus Up to January 5th - Now that's a move that seems certain to shove Iowa and New Hampshire's presidential nominating contests into December.

Craig Craters

Cross-posted at my new location, Ohio Daily Blog:

Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID), who is NOT GAY and NEVER HAS BEEN GAY, is disappearing into political quicksand. Facing a difficult reelection battle, and possibly offended at the misuse of a Minnesota public bathroom, Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN) has followed up his call for Craig's resignation with an announcement that he will return a contribution from Craig's political action committee, Alliance for the West PAC. Will fellow recipients Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Pete Domenici (R-NM) and John Sununu (R-NH) follow suit?

Meanwhile, Craig has been stripped of his committee assignments, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and a variety of GOP House members have joined the call for his resignation, the White House says it is "disappointed," and the matter has been referred to the Senate ethics panel.

Dan Abrams pointed out on MSNBC last night that ten out of fifteen recent major political sexual scandals have involved Republicans rather than Democrats. Why the disparity? The most interesting suggestion made by his guests was that persons with information about sexual improprieties are more likely to come forward when the subject is a perceived as a hypocrite, for example by demagoguing about family values while having an extramarital affair or denouncing gays while secretly engaging in gay sex.

Incidentally, have you been wondering why the GOP is being so noisy about the Craig incident while it has been so silent about the D.C. Madam scandal involving Sen. David Vitter (R-LA)? It could be because one incident involved straight sex while the other involves gay sex. However, Kevin Drum points out that Craig's replacement would be nominated by a Republican governor, while Vitter's successor would be nominated by a Democrat.

Wednesday, August 29

Very Moving Video - Edwards Responds to Health Care Question

Not cross-posted at my new location, Ohio Daily Blog, because my #%&!@ server is down right now:

I have to post this short video clip, placed on YouTube by the campaign of former Sen. John Edwards (D-NC), because I found it so incredibly moving:

The right wing noise machine, more afraid of Edwards than of Clinton or Obama, has been very carefully planting the impression in the public mind that Edwards, who is wealthy, is hypocritical and out of touch with the problems of lower-income Americans. It is in unrehearsed moments like this, however, when you can see for yourself that he unmistakably gets it. He not only empathizess with and understands the plight of the impoverished and of the struggling middle class, he is appropriately outraged by this fiasco of a health system that we have.

And, not an insignificant point, Elizabeth Edwards is terrific.

News and Notes: Ohio

Caught my eye:

Jean Schmidt Gets Testy With War Protesters - A shouting match broke out between and Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Loveland) and "Take a Stand Day" war protestors outside her office. Schmidt was backed by pro-war counter-protestors. The groups reportedly shouted at each other while passersby honked their horns and yelled.

Franklin County GOP Endorsements - The Columbus Dispatch blog Daily Briefing reports on endorsements by the county GOP in Ohio House races: Cheryl Grossman over Brett Sciotto in the suburban 23rd, county coroner Bradley Lewis over Nathan Burd in the 19th, Tim Rankin in the 24th, and Bill Schuck in the 22nd.

LaTourette Moves Closer to Challenger - This is ... odd. Rep. Steve LaTourette (R) has relocated from rental property in Concord Township (Lake County) to a $218,900 home in Bainbridge Township (Geauga County). That move puts him very close to challenger William O'Neill (D), who lives in adjoining South Russell. Keeping an eye on the competition?

Strickland to Unveil Energy Plan Today - Gov. Ted Strickland (D-Lisbon) is about to announce his new energy plan, formulated after months of consultations on replacing Ohio's disappointing deregulation policy. He is expected to call for investor-owned utilities and a statewide strategy for using more renewable energy sources like wind, solar, and biofuel.

News and Notes: The National Scene

Items of interest from outside Ohio:

Bush To Add New $50 Billion Request For Iraq - From the Washington Post:
President Bush plans to ask Congress next month for up to $50 billion in additional funding for the war in Iraq, a White House official said yesterday, a move that appears to reflect increasing administration confidence that it can fend off congressional calls for a rapid drawdown of U.S. forces.
This is on top of an already pending $147 billion supplemental. Bush figures that Democrats will fold after Gen. Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker deliver their pep talk in Congress on September 11. Is he right - to the tune of another $50 billion wasted on this insanity?

Americans Doubt New Orleans Recovery - A new CNN-Opinion Research Poll indicates that a majority of Americans (55%) don't think New Orleans will ever completely recover from Hurricane Katrina. A slimmer majority (52%) think the federal government is not doing enough to assist with the recovery; only 10% think it is doing too much.

Elizabeth Edwards Says Democrats Don't Try Hard Enough to Win in the South - Speaking to supporters a fund-raiser in a Nashville restaurant, the spouse of candidate John Edwards (D-NC) said she doubts that rivals Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Barack Obama (D-IL) will spend much time in the South, and she blasted the Democratic party for ignoring southern states in past campaigns:
Edwards said Democratic values parallel more closely with Southern values than those of the Republican Party, because of emphasis on family and small community issues, such as child care credits and universal health insurance.

But the Democratic Party isn't bothering to spend the money needed to connect to Southern voters, Edwards said, which she said showed it had written off the region.

Edwards said a Democrat is electable in the region where there are five states with Democratic governors — Arkansas, Louisiana, North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.
Obviously Something on His Mind? - The first words out of the mouth of Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID) at his news conference yesterday, held to deny that he is gay and to proclaim his innocence despite pleading guilty to a misdemeanor charge of creating a public nuisance disorderly conduct at an airport bathroom in Minneapolis by engaging in suggestive behavior toward an undercover police officer, were:
"Thank you all for coming out today."
By the way, 55% of Idahoans think he should resign.

Helmsley Left Millions to Dog, Nothing to Two Grandchildren - Yikes. The will of deceased hotel billionairess Leona Helmsley creates a $12 million trust fund for beloved white Maltese, named Trouble, but leaves nothing for two out of four grandchildren "for reasons known to them."

Tuesday, August 28

It's a Banner Day for Depressing Statistics!

Cross-posted at my new location, Ohio Daily Blog:

Quick - what do housing prices, SAT scores, earnings, and the percentage of Americans with health insurance all have in common?

Aaaaaugh - they are all dropping! In a perfect storm of really depressing statistical measures, we learn today that:
* United States home prices fell 3.2% in the second quarter, the steepest decline since Standard & Poor's began keeping track in 1987. "The decline in home prices around the nation shows no evidence of a market recovery anytime soon," states the report at CNN.

* Combined math and reading SAT scores for the high school class of 2007 were the lowest in eight years.

* Median earnings for individuals are down, according to the U.S. Census Bureau report issued today. "For men, earnings slipped 1.1 percent to a median of $42,300, while for women, earnings sank 1.2 percent to a median of $32,500." Now, this statistic is tricky, because median income of households actually went up slightly (0.7 percent to $48,200, adjusted for inflation). But that's because more people are working within each household.

* The U.S. Census Bureau also reports that the number of Americans not covered by health insurance rose to 47 million (15.8% of the population) in 2006 from 44.8 million (15.3%) the year before
. The percentage of people covered through their employers fell from 60.2% to 59.7%, and the percentage covered by government health programs fell from 27.3% to 27%.

OH-10: "Cleveland in Poverty, Dennis in Disney World"

Seizing on today's news that the U.S. Census Bureau has again ranked Cleveland as one of the poorest cities in the nation, and the fact that Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Cleveland) has scheduled a presidential campaign appearance at Disney World in Orlando, Florida, the campaign of challenger Rosemary Palmer (D-Cleveland) has released this deadly bit of video:

Chertoff Credibility Issues

Cross-posted at my new location, Ohio Daily Blog:

It now appears that the positioning of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff as a nominee to replace Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was a mere feint or ploy, but if Chertoff does become the nominee he will face stiff challenges to his credility. Mark Benjamin writes in Salon today that Chertoff mischaracterized Pentagon interrogation methods in testimony before Congress:
Just as Gonzales, under oath before Congress, failed to recall whether there was dissension within the Bush administration over a controversial war-on-terror-related policy, so Michael Chertoff seems to have suffered a similar lapse of memory while under oath before Congress when pressed on a different terror-related policy. Gonzales pleaded ignorance of a rift within the administration over warrantless wiretapping; Chertoff has denied knowledge of interrogation techniques that are tantamount to torture, despite regular attendance by his top aides at meetings on the subject.

"If Mr. Chertoff is nominated, the Senate needs to ask him some very tough questions about what he knew about the abuses at Guantánamo," said Hina Shamsi from Human Rights First.
In a similar vein, David Fiderer on Huffington Post details false statements by Chertoff in Congressional testimony about Katrina, including referring four times to non-existent newspaper headlines that said 'New Orleans Dodged the Bullet.'

Although Gonzales has been roundly criticized for a variety of failings, the flaw that weighed most heavily in eventually sinking him was his inability to speak plainly and truthfully to Congress. With that backdrop, these credibility issues would almost certainly doom a Chertoff nomination.

Spitzer Threatens S-CHIP Lawsuit; Can Dann Be Far Behind?

Cross-posted at my new location, Ohio Daily Blog:

During his campaign for attorney general, Marc Dann (D-Liberty Township) sometimes mentioned crusading state attorney general (and now governor) Eliot Spitzer (D-NY) as a personal inspiration. Yesterday, Spitzer threatened to sue the federal government over new regulatory restrictions on the S-CHIP program, which provides Medicaid coverage to children of lower-income working families). The lawsuit would contend that the regulatory changes are void as fatally inconsistent with the controlling statute.

I have written about the new S-CHIP regulations here. The regulatory changes, issued by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) on August 17th, impose virtually impossible preconditions on states that wish to raise the income limitation on families eligible for S-CHIP above 250% of the federal poverty level. The recently passed Ohio budget contains a plan to raise the eligibility to 300%. Other states are considering plans to raise the limit to 350% or even 400%.

Reaction to the changes has been swift and harsh. Gene Sperling wrote in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:
What is most inexcusable about the White House stance is what they don't say. They offer nothing -- no better idea, no alternative, no plan -- that has been shown to keep even a chunk of these 5 million to 6 million children from going to sleep every night without health insurance.

They are content to keep the status quo even with heartbreaking reports that uninsured infants with congenital heart problems are 10 times more likely to die because of delayed treatment than those with coverage.

Before, "compassionate conservatism" may have seemed like a political bumper sticker. Now it seems like the punch line of a sad joke, at the expense of millions of impoverished children.
Amy Swanson, Executive Director of Voices for Ohio's Children, wrote to me in an e-mail message last week:
[The CMS letter is] yet another example in the SCHIP debate that the White House is out of touch with America. Ohio passed a bipartisan child health expansion, and these decisions should be left to states and not to the whims of partisan politics in Washington. ...

The requirements create nearly impossible hurdles for states to overcome. ...

With passage of recent legislation [i.e., the SCHIP extension bills passed by both chambers of Congress], it is clear that Congress does not agree with the administration’s policies for SCHIP. ...

This policy restricts state flexibility – a cornerstone of the program – sets a bad precedent – what else with the administration due to undermine the current program for our children—many of these children we are talking about have lost access to employer coverage because of chronic care needs or worse, they never had access to the employer coverage. Middle-income families are being priced out of the private market due to escalating health care costs.
Last week, Gov. Ted Strickland (D) and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) joined in a strong protest letter to the Bush Administration, which includes the assertion that the changes "contravene the fundamental objectives underlying SCHIP and may overstep your Department's authority." That wording suggests that Ohio's new leadership concurs with Spitzer's assessment about the validity of the changes. Something tells me that Marc Dann might be working on draft pleadings for Ohio's SCHIP lawsuit at this very moment.

DeWine (R) a Potential Nominee for Attorney General?

Cross-posted at my new location, Ohio Daily Blog:

Okay, this is the second time I've heard the name of the recently defeated Ohio senator, Mike DeWine (R-Cedarville), mentioned as a possible nominee to replace Alberto Gonzales as U.S. Attorney General. I can't remember where I saw it the first time (and Googling didn't turn it up).

My instinct is to want to call DeWine for a reaction, but I'm having some trouble coming up with a number to call. Working on it. Will update.

Presumably, the minimum qualifications (at least for a consensus-type candidate) are someone with notable public stature, great skills as an administrator, independence from the White House, and a proven commitment to putting the interests of nation ahead of party politics.

UPDATE: Mike DeWine replied by email that he has no comment.

2nd UPDATE - I am told, by a person very familiar with the nomination process for federal judges, that when a putative nominee says "No comment" -- rather than, for example, "Are you out of your mind? No way!" -- it usually means that the person is in fact under consideration.

3rd UPDATE: See? What did I tell you! U.S. News & World Report also mentions DeWine as a possible nominee, citing a Fox News report.

Monday, August 27

Compare How Ohio's Senators React to Gonzales Resignation

Very instructive. From senior Senator George Voinovich (R), who sometimes deviates from the White House in word but rarely in deed:
“While the senator believes Congress has a duty to conduct oversight, he also understands the president has the right and responsibility to fill his own cabinet. He is looking forward to reviewing the future nominee and will work with his colleagues to help ensure a thorough but speedy process.”
From newcomer Sherrod Brown (D), who won his campaign largely by tying incumbent Mike DeWine (R) to Bush:
“Senator Brown believes the attorney general's resignation is long overdue. His tenure has been marred by incompetence at best and outright deceit at worst. Senator Brown hopes President Bush will put politics aside and nominate someone we can all be proud of for this important position. The American people deserve an attorney general whose first allegiance is to them, not the President.”
Both statements were issued through spokespersons.

By conspicuously not praising Gonzales in the statement, Voinovich hints at some level of disapproval of Gonzales' incompetence and partisanship. So much for preserving some minimal appearance of being a moderate. However, the substance of what he does say is that he is already an automatic "yes" vote for whoever Bush puts forward.

More on Bush's Iraq-Vietnam Comparison

Cross-posted at my new location, Ohio Daily Blog:

I commented before on Bush's analogy of Iraq to Vietnam in a speech before the VFW last week, asserting that:
[O]ne unmistakable legacy of Vietnam is that the price of America’s withdrawal was paid by millions of innocent citizens whose agonies would add to our vocabulary new terms like ‘boat people,’ ‘re-education camps,’ and ‘killing fields.’
The best reactions I think I've seen came not from professional pundits but from seven pithy letters to the editors of the New York Times, published on Saturday, which essentially noted that:
1. Iraq has added painful vocabulary terms of its own, like "Abu Ghraib" and "I.E.D."

2. It's hypocritical to evoke Vietnam now, after warnings of a Vietnam-like quagmire were ignored before going to war in Iraq.

3. Bush's declaration that a free Iraq "is within reach" is "not that much removed from Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s 'Peace is at hand' remark, and we know how many more lives were lost needlessly after that statement."

4. The appropriate comparison is not to the aftermath of Vietnam but "the flawed policies that led us to these battles in the first place."

5. Bush's "deeply flawed thinking invites the question: Why didn’t [Bush] step up and go?"

6. Bush's "contorted and inaccurate" analogy invites the critical question of "how long we Americans will accept this level of dishonesty from our president."

7. Perhaps Bush will recall that "after we left Vietnam, none of the predicted dominoes fell and Vietnam became a tourist destination welcoming Americans."
Of course, implicit in Bush's analogy to Vietnam is the notion that the United States could have "won" that conflict if only it had stayed the course. This is a blatant revision of history that originated during the Reagan era and is perpetuated by some right wing pundits, despite the consensus of expert opinion to the contrary. For an authoritative example, read a paper written by Dr. Jeffrey Record, a professor in the Department of Strategy and International Security at the U.S. Air Force’s Air War College in Montgomery, Alabama, entitled "Vietnam in Retrospect: Could We Have Won?" His conclusion:
The United States could not have prevented the forcible reunification of Vietnam under communist auspices at a morally, materially, and strategically acceptable price.

OH-15: Neither Petro Nor Lashutka Will Run

Cross-posted at my new location, Ohio Daily Blog:

It's a nightmare scenario playing out for the Ohio GOP as the top two remaining prospects to run for the seat of retiring Rep. Deborah Pryce (R-Upper Arlington) -- former Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro (R-Columbus) and former Columbus Mayor Greg Lashutka (R-Columbus) -- have now both rejected the idea of jumping into the race. Two other possibilities, State Sen. Steve Stivers (R-Columbus) and State Rep. Jim Hughes (R-Clintonville), previously turned it down.

Former Franklin County Commissioner Dewey Stokes (R-Columbus) has also been mentioned. He was defeated in his re-election bid by Marilyn Brown (D-Columbus) in 2006. However, Stokes has said that he is more likely to run for county commissioner again than for Congress.

AG Gonzales Resigns; Chertoff Likely Replacement

This story is breaking; details to follow.

UPDATE: Still nothing much to add. The New York Times broke the story, but reports only that Gonzales a senior administration official will make a statement later today.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Edwards has issued a statement pointing out that he called for Gonzales' resignation on March 13, 2007, and saying "Better late than never."

2nd UPDATE: CNN is reporting that Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff likely will be nominated to replace Gonzales. Chertoff has background as Assistant U.S. Attorney, Assistant Attorney General, and U.S.Court of Appeals judge. He also clerked for Supreme Court Justice sWilliam Brennan.

3rd UPDATE: The new conference is set for 10:30 a.m. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who led the charge against Gonzales, seemed sort of noncommittal about Chertoff on CNN just now, neither praising nor condemning him outright.

4th UPDATE: Solicitor General Paul Clement is being named as a likely temporary replacement. Other names I've heard for a permanent replacement are former Sen. John Danforth (R-MO), former Solicitor General Ted Olsen, and corporate attorney and former Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson.

Chertoff has competency issues because of the bungling of Hurricane Katrina during his watch (FEMA is part of Homeland Security). I don't think that would be enough to prevent his confirmation outright, but if the Bush administration wants a really quick and smooth confirmation process and Democratic senators object to Chertoff on this basis, it might prompt the White House to name someone else.

5th UPDATE: Although the traditional media has jumped on Chertoff as the virtually certain nominee, I'm not so sure just yet. One thing I will say is that this is an interesting test as to how Bush will handle the last part of his presidency. If he nominates Chertoff or anyone else closely associated with his administration, it's a sign that he will continue his combative style even as a lame duck. If he goes beyond his inner circle and nominates someone who was prominent before Bush took office, like Ted Olsen, that's a sign that he will be more cooperative with moderate elements within his own party and with Congress in general.

The GOP presidential candidates presumably don't want the White House to pick fights and create controversies, and generally draw attention to the unpopular current GOP president, during the next year while they are trying to sell themselves to the public as representing a new direction for the country. However, stubbornness and devotion to ideology have been the hallmarks of this administration, so it would represent a huge change of tone for the White House to seek a consensus nomination for AG. We'll just have to wait and see.

6th UPDATE: Cleverest reaction to Gonzale's resignation yet, from Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emmanuel (D-IL):
Alberto Gonzales is the first Attorney General who thought the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth were three different things.

Friday, August 24

Add Skindell, Celeste and Hagan to List of Potential Dem House Leaders?

Cross-posted at my new location, Ohio Daily Blog:

If the Democratic Party wins four seats and therefore control of the Ohio House of Representatives, their caucus leader will be House Speaker rather than just Minority Leader. Their current leader, State Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-Columbus), is term limited in 2008. So, the hunt for a new leader is on.

I reported previously that the Toledo Blade had suggested State Reps. Todd Book (D-Portsmouth), Jennifer Garrison (D-Marietta), and Matt Szollosi (D-Toledo) as possible choices. Today, Cleveland Plain Dealer reporter Mark Naymik identifies three more possibilities: State Reps. Mike Skindell (D-Lakewood), Ted Celeste (D-Grandview Heights), and Bob Hagan (D-Youngstown).

Skindell is an interesting prospect. He is in his third term and is the ranking minority member on the powerful Finance and Appropriations Committee. I heard him speak at a forum on the state budget and his grasp of substantive issues is impressive. However, the other two newly mentioned contenders have powerful political credentials. Celeste, in his first term after whipping incumbent Geoff Smith (R-Upper Arlington) last fall, is the brother of the former governor and ambassador Richard Celeste. He was a campaign manager for his brother and ran for U.S. Senate himself in 2000. Celeste has bolstered his position with solid fund-raising since taking office. And Hagan was a state senator (and minority whip) before running for his current seat in the House due to term limits. Hagan's father was a county commissioner and primary candidate for Lieutenant Governor, and his brother is a commissioner for Cuyahoga County.

Thursday, August 23

New and Notes: The National Scene

Cross-posted at my new location, Ohio Daily Blog:

Try them on crostini with arrugula and truffle confit (sorry, Top Chef moment):

Edwards Clings to Iowa Lead - A new Strategic Vision poll has former Sen. John Edwards (D-NC) holding on in Iowa at 23%, virtually tied with Sen Barack Obama at 22% and Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) at 21%. Gov. Bill Richardson is at 14%. Like Romney, who has a bigger lead in Iowa on the GOP side (31%, compared to Thompson at 15% and Giuliani at 13%), Edward's big hope is to pivot upward from an Iowa victory in terms of fund-raising and momentum going into later races. Thus, it is very bad news for the Edwards camp that Michigan Republicans are trying to advance that state's primary to January 15th. That move would cause New Hampshire to move up its primary to the first week of January, and Iowa's state law requires that its caucuses be held both before any other state and within the same calendar year as the election. If the Iowa caucuses are held on or around the New Year's Day holiday, they are likely to be of diminished significance.

Time Magazine Pokes Some Holes in Giuliani's "Tough on Terror" Image
- The latest issues looks closely at the question of how well Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R-NY) prepared for a terrorist attack before 9/11:
Giuliani spent eight years presiding over a city that was a known terrorist target. ... On 9/11, he earned the trust of most Americans; one year later, 78% of those surveyed by the Marist Institute had a favorable impression of Giuliani. ... The evidence also shows great, gaping weaknesses. Giuliani's penchant for secrecy, his tendency to value loyalty over merit and his hyperbolic rhetoric are exactly the kinds of instincts that counterterrorism experts say the U.S. can least afford right now.
NIE Report Says Iraqi Leaders "Unable to Govern Effectively" - Edwards and Richardson are sparring with Clinton over her comment in a speech to the VFW that new tactics have produced some limited success in parts of Iraq, but the political situation in Iraq seems to be washing out from under our military forces like so much beach sand at high tide. The latest National Intelligence Estimate released today says that civilian casualties remain high, sectarian groups are fighting, al Qaeda in Iraq is still committing high-profile attacks, and "to date, Iraqi leaders remain unable to govern effectively." What is the significance of a little military progress when the political reconciliation that this "surge" was supposed to produce remains as unlikely as ever?

Dumping al-Maliki to Stay the Course? - Uh oh. A scary piece by Craig Crawford at CQPolitics suggests that Bush's mixed signals about Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki could presage a shuffling of political leadership in Iraq, as a predicate to arguing that the new leadership needs more time to achieve success, much as "rearranging the military uniforms on the ground" last winter became the basis for buying more time for the military campaign.

Mapping Clinton vs. Giuliani
- Wow. Chris Bowers at OpenLeft has taken state-by-state polling information on the head-to-head matchup of Clinton and Giuliani and created a map showing the results if the election were held today, and it looks like this:

Clinton wins the election, 335 electoral votes to 203. And this is the "least electable" of the Democratic front runners.

Ted Strickland on VP Short List of Clinton Backers

Cross-posted at my new location, Ohio Daily Blog:

I can't get at the underlying source yet, but Taegen Goddard says that according to the latest Evans-Novak Political Report
"[I]mportant supporters" of Sen. Hillary Clinton "are laying the groundwork for a campaign against Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) for Vice President on grounds that he adds nothing to the ticket. Prominent names offered as alternatives: Former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN) and Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland.”
This is far from the first time that I have heard Strickland's name bandied about as a VP prospect. I have a few off-the-cuff thoughts about this:
1. Since Clinton is a Senator, it helps to have a Governor on the ticket. That is a plus for Warner as well as Strickland. (Why isn't Richardson on this list?)

2. Ohio figures to be one of the two or three most important swing states again in 2008. Location is in fact Strickland's most desirable feature.

3. Strickland provides "personality balance" to the ticket. He is genial and sincere and has inspired trust in rural voters (i.e., southeastern Ohio). Clinton has provided support for Strickland in the past and the two of them seem to have a genuine high regard for each other.

4. Although liberal on many issues, Strickland is more conservative on some social issues like guns and gambling. Another balancing factor? (Clinton has already staked out a few conservative social positions of her own, like that flag-burning nonsense.)

5. Strickland strikes me as a good -- but not stellar -- campaigner. He ran an excellent campaign for Governor, but he always seemed to come off more as solid and dependable than inspiring and visionary. If I had to guess, I'd say that the campaign was a very gruelling experience for both him and his spouse. Which leads to my last thought ...

6. I really, really don't think Strickland would want to run for Vice President. He has said that he wants to serve and retire as Governor and I believe him. He hasn't said or done anything during this run-up to the presidential nomination to indicate that he is paying any attention to it at all.

OH Hse 19, 22, 23, 24: GOP Candidates Reported

Cross-posted at my new location, Ohio Daily Blog:

The Columbus Dispatch blog Daily Briefing has a post up about potential GOP candidates for Ohio House seats in the Columbus area.

In the northwest suburban 19th District, where Rep. Larry Flowers (R-Canal Winchester) is term-limited, the screening committee of the Franklin County GOP is endorsing two candidates, former legislative aide Nathan Burd and county coroner Bradley Lewis. Burd is a pro-life zealot and rabid supporter of Mitt Romney; his opponent had ties to a group called "Ohio Republicans for Choice" so he may be pro-choice unless he has had a Romney-esque miraculous conversion. The challenger in 2006, Marian Harris (D-Columbus), plans to run again.

In the 22nd, which goes from Dublin to Clintonville, Rep. Jim Hughes (R-Columbus) is term-limited and former State Rep. Bill Shuck (R-Columbus) figures to get the nod. (Former State Rep. David Robinson was interested in this race but dropped out.) Health care attorney John P. Carney (D-Columbus) deserves and should get another shot at this district, a real pickup opportunity for the Democrats.

In the west-to-southwest suburban 23rd District, where Rep. Larry Wolpert (R-Hilliard) is term limited, the GOP candidate will be either Mayor Cheryl Grossman (R-Grove City), who has been endorsed by the screening committee, or Councilman Brett Sciotto (R-Hilliard). Grossman appears to be up for re-election as mayor in 2007, opposed by Bill Ferguson.

State Rep. Ted Celeste (D-Grandview), brother of the former Ohio governor, ousted Geoff Smith (R-Upper Arlington) handily in the westside 24nd District in 2006, and he has been very busy with fund-raising for 2008. The GOP candidate will be city councilman Tim Rankin (R-Upper Arlington), who spoke out against displaying Outlook Weekly and Gay People's Chronicle in the Upper Arlington Public Library as "offensive and inappropriate." (h/t Dave Harding at ProgressOhio.org)

Bush Jumps the Shark on Iraq?

Cross-posted at my new location, Ohio Daily Blog:

I have to say, George Bush's invocation of Vietnam in his speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars strikes me as a sign of desperation. If he felt that he had any chance of persuading anyone outside of his ultra-conservative base to support a continuation of the war, why would he draw parallels to a conflict that anyone but a right wing hardliner regards as a blunder and tragedy? The painful memory of Vietnam isn't going to help him turn around moderates and independents.

In addition, it irks me when Bush resorts to the notion that the slaughter of innocent civilians is a justification for continuing the war. He says that we must stay in Iraq to avoid the kind of suffering that plagued the Vietnamese after we left that country. But the suffering of foreigners wasn't given as a reason for us to go to Iraq in the first place. WMDs and the supposed support of Al Qaeda by Saddam were about protecting the U.S.A., not civilians in Iraq. Also, the tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis killed so far in this war have never provoked remorse from Bush to date. If humanitarian catastrophes called for military engagement, why aren't we sending soldiers into Sudan to stop the genocide there?

In any event, I agree with what Democratic candidate Gov Bill Richardson (D-NM) said in Nevada yesterday:
"The correct conclusion to draw from our experience in Vietnam," said Governor Richardson, "is that dragging out the process of withdrawal will be tragically worse in terms of U.S. lives lost and worse for the Iraqis themselves in terms of the ultimate instability we will create by staying longer."
The lesson of Vietnam is that it took us too long to get out. The suffering might well have been less if we got out sooner, and the suffering in Iraq might well be greater if we prolong our occupation.

Wednesday, August 22

News and Notes: Ohio

Cross-posted at my new location, Ohio Daily Blog:

Tasty tidbits in spicy commentary sauce:

Massive Flooding Across North Central Ohio - Record-breaking rainfall and flooding across north central and northwest Ohio closes part of I-75, causes many evacuations, as reported here, here, and here.

Foreclosure Statistics Grim - Ohio is a national leader as the number of foreclosures continues to spike upward. And the number of ways that the subprime mortgage lending crash and housing slump are hurting the economy keeps growing too - add real estate agents to home builders, hedge funds, and mortgage bankers as professionals who are feeling the pain.

Wagoner and Coley Defer to Dolan on House Speaker Position - The Columbus Dispatch blog Daily Briefing reports that Rep. Mark Wagoner (R-Toledo) and Rep. Bill Coley (R-West Chester) have decided to yield to Rep. Matt Dolan (R-Novelty) in the contest for House Speaker to replace Rep. Jon Husted (R-Dayton), based largely on Dolan's fund-raising clout. Rep. Bill Batchelder (R-Medina) is still contending for the job.

Stokes New Political Director for OHDC - Toledo native A. J. Stokes, who has a 2001 political science degree from OSU and experience working with unions and on the gubernatorial campaigns of Ted Strickland (D-OH) and Time Kaine (D-VA), is replacing Adam Hewit as political director for the Ohio House Democratic Caucus. Hewitt is leaving to work for lobbyist Darryl Deaver.

Ohio Unemployment Higher Than One Year Ago - There were 14,000 more unemployed Ohioans in July 2007 than in July 2006. Ohio's unemployment rate is at 5.8%, compared to the national rate of 4.6%.

Ashford Replaces Ludeman as President of Toledo City Council - After weeks of posturing and discord, Democrats united behind Robert Ashford (D) to replace Michael Ludeman (R). Mayor Carty Finkbeiner criticized the move.

Mine Owner Angrily Dismisses Safety Criticisms - Robert Murray of the Ohio-based Murray Energy Corporation angrily denies criticism by the United Mine Workers that he knowingly operated an unsafe operation at the Crandall Canyon mine in Utah, where six miners are missing (and probably lost) and three would-be rescuers were killed.

Tuesday, August 21

News and Notes: The National Scene

Cross-posted at my new location, Ohio Daily Blog:

What's up?

Levin Calls for Maliki's Ouster - Fresh back from Iraq, Chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) describes the Iraqi government as "non-functional" and says the Iraqi parliament should remove Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his cabinet if they can't arrive at a political accommodation with their political rivals immediately.

Obama Claims He Would Win Southern States By Increasing Black Turnout - Responding in New Hampshire to questions about his electability and a comment that it would require a "leap of faith" to vote for him, Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) made some startling electoral predictions if he is the eventual Democratic nominee:
* Black voter turnout will increase by at least 30 percent across the country.

* Young people's percentage of the vote will go up 25-30 percent.

* He will carry southern states like Mississippi and Georgia, and put South Carolina in play.
Obama says that he is the only candidate who can actually "redraw the electoral map." He pointed out that he fares best among independent voters, that he has lower negative ratings than his Democratic rivals, and is leading Giuliani, Romney and Thompson in head-to-head matchups.

Congressional Approval at All-Time Low - A new Gallup Poll shows approval of Congress at 18%, tied for lowest ever for this poll. The nine point drop since the last poll is due to a decrease in approval among Democrats and Independents. Bush's approval is still dismal at 32%, up three points from the last poll.

CIA Director Failed to Prepare for Al-Qaeda Attack - A long-classified report by the CIA Inspector General, released today, concludes that former CIA Director George Tenet did not marshal CIA resources to deal with the recognized threat posed by al-Qaeda before the 9/11 attacks. The report says it cannot identify a "single point of failure nor a silver bullet" that would have prevented the attacks, but "[t]he agency and its officers did not discharge their responsibilities in a satisfactory manner," thus failing to come up with a comprehensive approach to battling the threat.

Voinovich Under Fire Over Iraq Vote UPDATED W/ VIDEO

Cross-posted at my new location, Ohio Daily Blog:

Senator George Voinovich (R) is being hit hard for reversing course on Iraq, i.e., voting against troop withdrawal after expressing skepticism about the prospects for the war. Yesterday Americans United for Change (an umbrella group with major union backing) unleashed TV ads against four lawmakers on the issue, including Voinovich. (The others are Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM), Rep. Jon Porter (R-NV) and Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-MN).) Today, Americans Against Escalation in Iraq and ProgressOhio.org launch Voinvovich Doubletalk Express, a mobile 10' by 20' billboard that will visit 11 Ohio cities in a three-day tour. Here is the sign:

If you'd like to experience the tour in person, here is the schedule:

10a: Elyria- Ely Park Corner of Middle Ave and Broad Street
12:15p: Cleveland- Voinovich Park, 800 E 9th Street
3p: Painesville- In front of LaTourette’s district office, 1 Victoria Place
5:30p: Youngstown- Youngstown Federal Plaza


8a: Akron- Federal Courthouse Plaza, 2 South Main Street
10a: Mansfield- Hamilton Park, off Route 30 and Fern Road
1p: Columbus- ProgressOhio office, 251 S. 3rd Street
4p: Cincinnati- City Hall (Plum Street side), 801 Plum Street


10a: Dayton- Cooper Park, E. 2nd Street and St. Clair Street
1p: Lima- Town Square in front of City Hall, 50 Town Square
3p: Toledo- In front of the Toledo Blade, 541 N. Superior Street
UPDATE: Here is the TV ad:

Fed Rules Threaten Proposed Expansion of Ohio SCHIP Program

Cross-posted at my new location, Ohio Daily Blog:

Late last week the Bush administration announced new policies that will make it impossible, or at least extremely difficult, for states to expand Medicaid eligibility to children in families with incomes above 250% of the federal poverty line. (The poverty line is about $20,650 for a family of four, so 250% is about $51,625.). The rule changes are explained in articles in the New York Times and the Washington Post today.

SCHIP is a program with broad bipartisan support that provides health insurance for about 6.6 million children with parents who work but do not earn enough to afford private health insurance. Families under the poverty line qualify for Medicaid without resort to SCHIP, but this $5 billion-per-year program extends that eligibility for children in families up to 200% of the poverty line. Some states have already extended the eligibility to 250% or 300% using certain administrative waivers available to the states, and some propose to raise it even higher. Ohio has incorporated a plan to raise the limit from 200% to 300% in the recently passed 2007-2009 biennial budget.

However, SCHIP is scheduled to expire on September 30th unless renewed by Congress, and Bush and the legislature have been fighting about how much additional funding to include with the renewal. Bush has threatened to veto any renewal legislation that exceeds his proposal to renew with $30 billion in funding over the next five years, a total increase of $5 billion. The Senate has passed a bill to renew the program with $35 billion in funding (a $10 billion increase), and the House has passed a more complicated extension that would renew the program with $75 billion in funding (a $50 billion increase).

The Bush administration says that it is trying to re-focus the program on uninsured children in low-income families, and to avoid the possibility that middle-income families will choose free public insurance instead of paying for private insurance. Advocates for children argue that families above 200% frequently cannot afford the health insurance that they need, so the fear of expanded SCHIP coverage as crowding out potential purchasers of health insurance is a myth.

The rule changes impose three basic restrictions on states who wish to extend eligibility above 250%, as Ohio does. First, the state must have achieved an Medicaid and SCHIP participation rate of 95% for families under the 200% level. Second, SCHIP enrollment should require copayments or premiums that approximate private insurance, and should impose a one-year waiting period (i.e., the state must determine that the each child is uninsured for that long before enrollment). Third, states must first show that the number of children in the target population covered by private insurance has not decreased by more than 2% in the preceding five years.

This morning I called Amy Nicholls Swanson, Executive Director of Voices for Ohio's Children, and Ericka Thoms, Policy and Planning Associate at the Center for Community Solutions, for their initial reaction to the changes. They both said it is too soon to provide a detailed response (the changes were announced late Friday and public policy advocates are just now meeting to assess the situation). However, when I asked Swanson if the new procedures seem drastic and punitive she freely agreed. She was driving from a meeting with a state official involved in the administration of Medicaid funds and promised to deliver a more detailed appraisal of the changes later.

Thoms pointed out that no state has achieved 95% participation, and that the level of SCHIP funding increase supported by the Bush Administration appears to be insufficient for states to afford that level of participation. She also pointed out that the one year waiting period strikes her as "dangerous." Right now there is a thirty-day turn around period. Asking families to go without health insurance for children for a year means that you could have children who are sick not getting the care that they need.

In the Post article, Rep. Rahm Emmanuel (D-IL), an architect of the SCHIP program, comments that he thinks "states will see the letter [announcing the rule changes] for what it is, and that's a political ploy by the president. This is a political attempt by the administration to try to intimidate states." Thoms agreed that it may be a ploy, but worries that it may be a very effective one. What puzzles her is that the changes seem to be "kind of thumbing their nose at bipartisanship." There is broad bi-partisan support for the goal of covering children whose families can't otherwise obtain insurance, but these changes seem to be much more about protecting the profits of private insurers than achieving that goal. There is "much more support in Congress for covering kids than there is for this kind of really punitive regulatory procedure."

During the recess, Thoms said, members of Congress have been hearing about how important SCHIP is to their constituents. The concern among advocates for children has always been to come up with a compromise SCHIP extension bill that would garner enough bipartisan support to withstand a veto, and that is more likely to be at the Senate level of funding than the more expansive House bill, but both bills endorse expanding coverage for kids. "I don't see how Bush has support in Congress for blocking the expansion of coverage," she said.

It will be very interesting to see what happens in the next few weeks as policy experts react to the rule changes and members of Congress return from the August recess. I hope to post much more on this issue soon. What is clear already, however, is that the goal of approaching universal health care coverage for Ohio children is hanging in the balance.

Monday, August 20

Can We Finally Put "Al-Qaeda Would Follow Us Home" To Rest?

Cross-posted at my new location, Ohio Daily Blog:

One of the most widely repeated -- and most disingenuous -- arguments for maintaining the U.S. presence in Iraq is this familiar false choice: "If we don't fight them in Baghdad we will have to fight them on the streets of America." Today Foreign Policy has released the third installment of its periodic "Terrorism Index," a survey of over 100 of the most respected experts on foreign policy (including both Republicans and Democrats), and among other things the experts aren't kind to this "follow us home" argument:
It’s a scenario that the index’s experts say is unlikely. Only 12 percent believe that terrorist attacks would occur in the United States as a direct result of a U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq. Eighty-eight percent of the experts said that either such a scenario was unlikely or that they see no connection between a troop withdrawal from Iraq and terrorist attacks inside the United States. This line of thinking was consistent across party lines, with 58 percent of conservatives saying they did not believe terrorist attacks would occur at home as a result of a military drawdown in Iraq.

That could explain why a bipartisan majority, 68 percent, of the experts favor redeploying U.S. forces from Iraq during the next 18 months. Although most oppose an immediate pullout, the situation in Iraq has deteriorated to the point that 1 in 5 experts, including 25 percent of conservatives, now favor an immediate withdrawal. If opinion continues to move in this direction, it will become much harder to explain why the troops aren’t homeward bound.
It's long past time to for the media to stop aiding the GOP in perpetuating the "follow us home" canard. It's a logical fallacy, the experts disagree with it, and when conservative pundits and candidates trot it out reporters should challenge them on it.

The other parts of the report are just as damning to White House policy. A majority do not think the "Surge" is helping matters:
[53%] say the surge is having a negative impact on U.S. national security, up 22 percentage points from just six months ago. This sentiment was shared across party lines, with 64 percent of conservative experts saying the surge is having either a negative impact or no impact at all. When the experts were asked to grade the government’s handling of the Iraq war, the news was even worse. They gave the overall effort in Iraq an average point score of just 2.9 on a 10-point scale.
In addition, the experts are extremely alarmed about Pakistan. Asked which country is most likely to transfer nuclear weapons to terrorists, they picked Pakistan by a huge margin (74%, compared to North Korea as the next choice at 42%), and a plurality (35%) picked Pakistan as the most likely country to become the next safe haven for Al Qaeda (Iraq was next at 22%). A majority feel that current U.S. policy toward Pakistan is having a negative effect on U.S. national security.

RETRACTED - Reagan Dissed 40-Year-Old George W. Bush as "Ne'er Do Well"

Cross-posted at my new location, Ohio Daily Blog:

Ah, I must apologize - apparently this turns out to be a farce. It has been removed from my source (Taegen Goddard's Political Wire).

Hat-tip to Taegan Goddard for this choice bit from the diaries of Ronald Reagan, written on May 17, 1986 (emphasis added):
"A moment I've been dreading. [Vice President] George [H.W. Bush] brought his ne'er-do-well son around this morning and asked me to find the kid a job. Not the political one who lives in Florida. The one who hangs around here all the time looking shiftless. This so-called kid is already almost 40 and has never had a real job. Maybe I'll call Kinsley over at The New Republic and see if they'll hire him as a contributing editor or something. That looks like easy work."
The Gipper was perceptive, you have to grant him that. Too bad George W. didn't get the easy job Reagan had in mind ... and stay there.

UPDATE: My readers don't think this is genuine, and I'm starting to wonder as well.

News and Notes: The National Scene

Cross-posted at my new location, Ohio Daily Blog:

A few items of interest from outside Ohio:

Giuliani Spent More Time at Baseball Games Than at Ground Zero - So reports Alex Koppelman in Salon, referring to the three-month period after 9/11 during which a New York Times study shows that Rudy spent only 29 hours there. The candidate has compared himself to rescue workers, asserting that he spent about as much time at the site of the destroyed World Trade Center as the workers now reporting health issues from their exposure to toxic dust.

Biden Runs First Iowa TV Ad - Sen. Joe Biden (D-IA) is running the first of two 30 second TV ads in Iowa that are designed to distinguish himself from the other candidates on foreign policy experience and how he would handle withdrawing from Iraq. Here are both ads, which are quite good:

Biden proposes to divide Iraq into three autonomous regions and keep a residual force of U.S. troops there to prevent chaos and fomenting of a regional war.

Reporter Disputes Rove's Characterization of Valerie Plame Episode
- During his weekend media blitz, retiring White House political guru Kare Rove minimized his role in disclosing the identity of Valerie Plame (wife of former ambassador and White House nemesis Joseph Wilson) as an undercover CIA operative. However, former Time magazine reporter Matt Cooper said today that Rove's account is "dissembling, to put it charitably." Rove denied columnist Bob Novak's assertion that Rove confirmed Plame's CIA status to him, but Cooper responds that "[t]o imply that he didn't know about it or that this was all the leak by someone else, or he heard it as some rumor out in the hallway, is nonsense."

White House Blows Off Another Deadline for Turning Over Subpoenaed Material on Warrantless Surveillance - White Counsel Fred Fielding has indicated that the deadline of 2:30 p.m. today for the material to Congress (originally due on July 18th and pushed back at the White House's request) will not be met. Fielding wants until after Labor Day. Sen. Pat Leahy (D-VT), chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, however, is in no mood to grant more time.

News and Notes: Ohio

Cross-posted at my new location, Ohio Daily Blog:

What's happening out there?

Clancy Out; Seitz to Run - The Columbus Dispatch blog Daily Briefing reported Friday evening that State Sen. Patricia Clancy (R-Cincinnati) will step down from her 8th Ohio Senate District seat, and term-limited State Rep. Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati) of the 30th Ohio House District will run for the open seat. Clancy will become assistant chief probation office for Hamilton County in October, a job apparently arranged for her in order to avoid a Clancy-Seitz primary next year.

Sykes Replaces Donaldson at OCRC - Former State Rep. Barbara Sykes (D-Akron) has been appointed by Gov. Ted Strickland (D-Lisbon) to replace Jeanine Donaldson, who served only four months, as chair of the Ohio Civil Rights Commission. Since her narrow loss to then-State Rep. Mary Taylor (R-Green) in the 2006 race for State Auditor, Sykes has been CEO of Ohio United Way. (I saw Sykes and her husband, State Rep. Vernon Sykes (D-Akron), at the 20th Annual Urban League of Greater Cleveland banquet on July 13th, where retiring chief Myron Robinson was honored. I told them then how much I admire and appreciate their leadership, and I'm thrilled to see her back in government service.)

Blackwell Out and About - Former Secretary of State Ken Blackwell (R-Cincinnati), looking for ways to revive his political career after his dismal showing in the 2006 gubernatorial race, is scheduled to be a featured speaker at the Midwest Republican Leadership Conference in Indianapolis on August 24-26. GOP presidential contenders will be showcased at the conference.

Brown Denounces SCHIP Veto - Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Avon) is making public appearances today in Cincinnati to oppose President Bush's threat to veto legislation to continue and expand the Children's Health Insurance Program. He was at the Children's Hospital Medical Center this morning and will attend a discussion on covering the uninsured at the Lincoln Heights Health Care Center at 2:30 this afternoon. The Cincinnati Enquirer has a good story today on what's at stake for Ohio, i.e., the expansion of Medicaid coverage for children proposed by the governor and adopted by the General Assembly in the state budget.

Party at New Wulsin Headquarters
- Dr. Victoria Wulsin (D-Indian Hill), challenger to Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Loveland) in the 2nd Ohio Congressional District, will hold a party at her new campaign headquarters in Anderson Township at 5:30 pm on August 29th to thank volunteers and supporters from her last campaign, and to lay out her vision for the country and her plan to take back the district from the GOP.

Space Secures Federal Funding for Southeast Ohio - One of the key items on the re-election "to do" list of freshman Rep. Zack Space (D-Dover) is securing federal funding for projects in his district, and it looks like he has done a good job of it. His office recently announced that he has secured more than $7 million for projects in Southeastern Ohio. Moreover, Space says, “These projects are good, they’re worthy of federal funding, and they make sense for our region." The biggest items listed in the press release are $1,000,000 each for "Biorefining for Energy Security" in Athens and training equipment for the Ohio National Guard, $800,000 for airport improvement for Ohio University, $750,000 for Country Road 29 upgrades in Harrison County, and $500,000 for West Pike Sanitary Sewer upgrades in Muskingum County. No "Bridges to Nowhere" in that lineup. UPDATE: After posting this item, I received a notice that Space announced today he will introduce legislation after the August recess to provide a federal tax break to rural commuters to help them defray the cost of gasoline used in connection with employment. Rural residents are especially hard hit by high fuel prices because they typically drive longer distances than urban dwellers.