Tuesday, June 28, 2005

The Liberal Case Against Gambling

The interminable casino debate is in the news again. An Oklahoma tribe is suing over land that was allegedly taken from them in Stark County. They have stated publicly that they plan on erecting a casino on whatever land they might secure.

Setting aside the prospects of the Oklahoma Shawnee actually succeeding, this latest move has brought the simmering pot of gaming advocacy once again to boil.

I am against it. I am against it because I am a liberal. This, apparently, puts me in a minority. I am sharing this bed with the likes of George Voinivich, Ken Blackwell and Rod Parsley. We four don't agree on much.

But I think a strong liberal case against legal gaming can and should be made. Liberalism is not libertarianism. Instead, liberalism at its root is about social contract -- the idea that we are all in this together and that we each relinquish certain freedoms to make this enterprise called civilization work. This is an oversimplification, but I'm not here to discuss the Hobbesian roots of Rousseau or contrast Locke vs. Hume on property rights.

At its root, legal gaming is about allowing a set of corporations sell to consumers a product that harms them and harms society. We as liberals have advocated in the past against corporate profits derived from harmful products. In this case we have a product that has traditionally been proscribed and that can remain proscribed without disrupting society (unlike, say alcohol or tobacco.) In my mind, this is little different.

I haven't read extensively on the economics of gaming, but did a Google search and found this. Two stats under the second heading jump out -- 30-50 percent of casino profits come from problem or pathological gamblers and the bulk of casino revenues are from slot machines. Why as liberals do we want to bring into our state an industry whose business model depends on addiction?

Add to this the problems with the economics of casino gaming. The summary cited gives a good run down on the fairly limited economic benefits and the serious economic costs due to the associated social pathologies.

But what I worry about most is a stat I heard once about Wal-Mart (and have unsuccessfully searched for to cite.) It went something like this -- a person spending a hundred dollars on, say a radio at Wal-Mart puts something like 17 dollars in the local economy; at a locally owned store the figure is in the mid-forties.

We are unlikely to have an Ohio-based gaming industry. That means the money spent, er, lost in a casino leaves the state. And unlike the guy who drops a bill at BigBox, the gambler has nothing of use for his trouble -- no computer or clock radio or bicycle, nothing that has tangible value and that may even lead to productive economic activity. The gambler is simply left with a hole in his wallet and the itch to gamble again to win it all back.

This certainly is not the sort of activity that a healthy society encourages. And as liberals, the last thing we should be doing is giving corporations the green light to encourage it.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Political Algebra, Pt. 1.

Every once in a while a couple of items pop up at around the same time that, read together, yield an amusing result. Today's installment:

Bill O'Reilly says undermining the war on terror constitutes treason


O'Reilly continues that those committing treason must be arrested


CIA says Iraq war undermines U.S. Security against terror attacks


George, Karl, Dick, bring your toothbrushes and report to the delousing station.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

An abysmal state budget for education.

Two things got me back into the grassroots activism of my younger days: George Bush and the realization that the Ohio General Assembly wants to dismantle the public school system.

After two campaigns -- one electoral and one legislative -- I am O for 2.

Due to the lateness of the hour, I am posting an excerpt of the postmortem on the education I sent out to my grassroots education advocacy network:

The state budget for the next two years is all but final now, and it is not what we hoped, to say the least. The final outcome can be viewed two ways. On the one hand you can say that the grassroots lobbying effort was unprecedented in its breadth and intensity, that in a year when revenue was extremely tight and in a General Assembly teeming with hostility toward public education, we held the line on some important items and made gains on others.

On the other hand, you could say that we got our butts handed to us.

* * *

All in all, I am saddened by the outcome but excited by the networks of parents and community activists that are coming together across the state to press our case going forward. We got beat in one battle in what promises to be a long, hard-fought campaign.

On to the specifics:

The Bad

Lets get this out of the way and try to end on positive notes. Here are the worst parts of the education bill.

· Expansion of the voucher program. As originally proposed, the vouchers were to be worth about $3000, to be charged of each school district’s SF-3 (i.e., taken out of the state share). In the final bill, this has grown to $5000 for high school and $4250 for K-12. How much it will hurt depends on how much it is used. The bite still is not as bad as that of charter schools for most students.
· Weakening of charter school caps. The Senate version of the budget contained a number of provisions improving accountability for charter schools. The final version has riddled the caps with loopholes.
· Elimination of the Cost of Doing Business Factor. Over the long run, this could hurt. For the next two years everyone is held harmless.
· Elimination of the Legislative Office of Education Oversight. Much of what we know about the shortcomings of charters comes from the work of this office. Generally when a government agency is zeroed-out, it is because it isn’t working. This one is gone because it worked too well.
· Schools get none of the windfall. Much of the last-minute deliberations were due to an unexpectedly high revenue stream. Instead of making a substantial investment in educations, the legislature socked most of it away in the Rainy Day Fund, and used the balance primarily to lessen cuts in Local Government Funds.

The Good

· No one goes down. In terms of overall funding, this was the big change from the budget as proposed. Everyone is essentially frozen for the next two years.
· New levy options for school districts. Now a school district can go to the ballot to ask for a municipal income tax hike or a levy on property tax that grows up to four percent a year. This is an attempt to ameliorate the effects of H.B. 920.
· Study on insurance plan. Since health insurance inflation is one of the primary challenges to funding education, the Blue Ribbon Task Force recommended putting all state teachers into an insurance pool to reduce costs. Rather than create such a pool from whole cloth, the legislature wisely chose to put together some real data on how such a plan would work first.
My ass hurts from getting kicked this hard. I'm going to bed now.

I like it, part 2.

Continuing the thought from yesterday. . . I surfed by the ODC home page (usually I just visit the sad little blog). There too you can find the clarion call to oppose Blackwell's candidacy by following the link to the Blackwell File. The Party has noticed something I diaried on Daily Kos a few weeks back -- that National Republicans are pulling for Blackwell in hopes of grooming him for national office sooner rather than later. And more ominously, the Right Wing Noise Machine is getting into the act.

A couple of Ohio blogs have noted a pro-Blackwell article on the cover of NewsMax -- a Richard Scaife publication. I disagree with their takes that this is a mistake for Blackwell. I believe it is part of the first wave of what will be a well-orchestrated national campaign to put J Ken in the governor's mansion and by extension on the national stage.

So, kudos for ODP for picking up on it and trying to turn it to their advantage. If J Ken is going to attract national support, it should work the other way as well.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

I like it.

While writing the previous post, I heard an ad on Air America from the Ohio Democratic Party. They are fundraising to defeat Blackwell. After over a decade of hibernation, they are coming out swinging. About time.

My Problem with Dean

When Howard Dean went on his foot-in-mouth rampage a few weeks ago, he left a trail of blogposts in his wake. There were the conservative condemnations, of course. On the progressive side, we had a wave of defenses, followed by a couple of waves of posts condemning the Democrats who woodshedded Dean.

Not much from the Left really questioning Dean, which distressed me. I wasn't happy. A couple of items in today's news reminded me why.

In the Plain Dealer today is an item about a dust-up during the debate over the military spending bill. Rep. David Obey (D-Wisc) proposed putting Congress on the record against coercive prostelization at the Air Force Academy. The Academy controversy has been pretty well documented. Here's a WaPo story on the controversy.

Anyway, in the course of the debate, John Hostettler (R-Ind.) went off on the Democrats-hate-Christians tip: "[l]ike a moth to a flame, Democrats can't help themselves when it comes to denigrating and demonizing Christians." He continued, "[t]he long war on Christianity in America continues today on the floor of the United States House of Representatives."

Now I concede that people who make such arguments will do so regardless of the state of the evidence. But does the Democratic Party chair have to give such made-to-order support? The statement that the Republicans are "the white Christian party" sounds hostile. It sounds like Dean is saying that it is bad that Republicans are Christian. It certainly will sound like that to people are paranoid to begin with. Imagine, for the purposes of contrast, if Dean had said something like "one problem with the Republican Party is its apparent hostility to people not exactly like themselves. I wonder how comfortable a racial minority or a non-Christian would be in that party." It says the same thing, but doesn't give quite so much copy for the next wave of Religious Right fundraising letters.

It reminds me of an interview I heard recently on a Christian radio station in Columbus with this woman. Her book -- the Criminalization of Christianity -- sounds as substantively ridiculous as its title. She cites a number of "examples" of hostility toward religion to bolster her case that the agenda of gays and liberals (is there any difference) is to proscribe religion altogether. She explicitly says that Christians have to win the culture war, not just to avoid to horror of a gay couple moving next door, but to (dramatic pause) stay out of jail. Again, she will spew this nonsence no matter what, but remarks like Dean's give her actual ammunition.

Many of the examples she sited on the radio were from other Western democracies -- Canada and Sweden I recall. But she did mention an evangelist being arrested for preaching on the street in the US, though she didn't mention where. If it was Columbus, said preacher has benefitted from the independent judiciary. A preacher there whose street sermon was interrupted by police telling him to move along settled a civil rights case for over $80,000.

This of course is why incidents from other countries is meaningless when talking about what is happening to religion in the United States. Democrats should be loudly celebrating an outcome like this. Here we have a wonderful example of the freedoms guaranteed by our constitution -- freedoms that the religious right want to pick and choose from. It is an example, first and foremost, of the fertile ground America is for religious expression. It is easier to convincingly celebrate the country's religious life when the head of our party refrains from making remarks that sound hostile to religion.

I did not sign the "Howard Dean speaks for me" petition that was circulating after the controversy. A petition saying "Howard Dean speaks for me but I wish he wouldn't do so with the jawbone of an ass," that is a petition I could get behind.

Friday, June 17, 2005

A little mud on a white hat

The Ohio Federation of Teachers released a report today alleging that David Brennan's White Hat Management -- purveyors of academic mediocrity in area charter schools -- have directly benefited from Brennan's generous campaign contributions. The report -- which has been in the works for some time, from what I hear -- is not yet online, so a real analysis will have to wait.

The response from the Brennan camp as reported in the BJ was interesting. First, we have OFT President Tom Mooney:

Mooney said the OFT would not take issue with the expenditures if Brennan's
company were accountable and producing results. The teachers union supports
charter schools that work, he said. ``There are other states where this works a
lot better,'' Mooney said, mostly because those states are more careful in
creating charter schools.

Sound reasonable, and a welcome change from the union's former categorical opposition to charters. Now lets see how former Voinovich education aide and current Brennan flack Tom Needles responds. After noting that the teacher's unions also give money to candidates, he lets loose with the money quote: "Needles said it is sad, but not surprising, that the OFT is trying to divert attention from what he calls the real issue: providing a choice for parents."

So there you are. Any attempt to create actual accountability is simply an attack on choice. Once upon a time the unions said that any attempt to require accountability was an attack on public education. They were roundly and justly criticized for their uncomprimising stand -- often by members of the education choice community.

Now the pigs are living in the farm house and some choices are more equal than others. Sad, indeed.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Photo ID to Vote?

While the mainstream media is busy with MJ's acquittal and the blogosphere is focused on BWC investments, our General Assembly is devising fun new ways to stay in power. One is Senate Bill 36 which will require all new voters to show a valid ID.

I have a couple problems with this. The first is the dishonest rhetoric bandied about to support it. The legislators I have heard on radio supporting the measure (if I see any in print I will post them) raise the old bugaboo about fictitious voters registering during last year's registration drives. Honestly, if a legislator truly worries about Dick Tracy or Mickey Mouse getting past the poll workers on election day, he/she needs a hobby.

That is not the real reason behind SB 36. The real reason is that traditionally democratic voters -- primarily poor and minorities -- are disproportionately affected by rules like this. First, because poor and minority voters are less likely to have a photo ID. Second, because they are less likely to be able to go back and get their ID and return to the polling place should they forget it or be unaware of the requirement.

The sponsors of SB 36 are riding a trend. States in which Republicans dominate the legislature have been passing ID for voting laws all year.

A few particular notes. First, SB 36 currently is not as bad as some as it only requires new registrants to flash the ID. This could, of course, change in later iterations of the bill.

Second, it has an odd exception for people who registered by mail -- those folks can show up with a utility bill or other proof that they live at the address on the registration. I am at a loss to figure out how this forstalls premeditated cheating. If people were registering fake voters in an attempt to commit voter fraud (as opposed to hose-the-people-who-hired-you fraud), why not send in a bunch of fake registrations by mail and forge a bunch of utility bills. Is our GA completely unaware of the existence of color laser printers? On the other hand, I also can't see a clear partisan advantage here, so perhaps the intentions on this small point are benign.

Finally, keep an eye out for an amendment excepting those without ID based "religious beliefs." Then you will know the Ohio Republicans are really looking out, because that will be about the Amish.

To reset briefly, the Rs went after the Amish in a big way in '04. Amish have traditionally been leary of registering to vote because they object -- on religious grounds -- to being called for jury duty. By shocking and inexplicable coincidence, the lame duck General Assembly -- that, mind you, took the entire summer off to forestall coverage of the Householder scandals before the election -- granted the Amish a blanket exemption for jury duty. The Amish. Ohio exempts no one from reporting for jury duty. But now we exempt the Amish.

So, since the Amish also object to photo IDs, odds are someone in Columbus will connect the dots and drop in an exemption.

Bottom line, absent a finding that there exists a real possiblity of voter fraud, we have no business putting new hurdles in front of people trying to exercise their right to vote. The photo ID requirement is a 21st century literacy test.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

My Token Michael Jackson Post

I've been resisting, but here it is. Having had some specific experience with this kind of case, I feel compelled to share.

First, to acknowledge: no, we shouldn't be paying as much attention as we are; yes, it is inevitable that we do so.

What struck me about the verdict is, in the end, how ordinary it was. From what I heard of juror comments (and I haven't exactly been seeking them out), the jury arrived at its decision in much the same way juries generally evaluate child sex abuse cases. I spent two years prosecuting these cases exclusively, and another couple of years evaluating them and working with law enforcement. Some basic patterns emerge.

1. Reasonable doubt becomes paramount. If you think about it, if person X say "yes" and person Y says "no," you almost by definition have a reasonable doubt. Unless you can corroborate X's story, Y's no will be enough to throw the verdict. This is particularly true in a child sex case. In the abstract people hate child molesters; in the courtroom, juries hate convicting them.

2. Juries don't like teenagers. MJ's victim was 13 at the alleged time, but 15 on the stand. By and large if I had a choice between persauding a jury to believe a teenager about sex or persuading them to believe a 3-time convicted perjurer, I'd take my chances with the perjurer.

3. Juries hate the lack of physical evidence. This is true now more than ever, thanks to the CSI shows. One way this plays out is that the jury will "punish" the victim for not going to the authorities sooner so that the evidence could be preserved. In this case it wouldn't matter as Michael wouldn't have left fingerprint's on the boy's penis, but try convincing a jury of that.

4. Juries dislike crazy moms almost as much as child molesters like them. I have to be careful here; I am not saying that if, God forbid, your child has been molested, you are crazy. But if you are crazy, your child has a much better chance of getting molested. Pervs seem to gravitate toward moms with serious issues. Like the sort of mom who lets her son sleep with a grown man who has been twice accused of molesting in the past. Juries do not like women like this victim's mom and have been known to punish them with acquittals. This, to me, is the best explanation for the acquittals on the lesser counts involving alcohol and porn. It sounded like those counts were well proven but the jury was not going to give mom the satisfaction.

Finally, lets have none of the he's-a-boy-in-a-man's-body crap, OK? He has kids, he has ex-wives, he has a porno stash. His sleepovers were on a whole other level.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Three Reasons to Vote Against TABOR

You will see me blog about the TABOR amendment. It’s one of my things. I am involved in this coalition opposing the amendment and feel it will be the most important issue in the November election.

For the uninitiated, TABOR would allow government spending to grow no faster than either the Consumer Price Index plus inflation or 3.5 percent. This formula has been tried in one other state – Colorado – and has been a slow-motion train wreck over the last few years. TABOR’s main problem is that the CPI is an inadequate measure of the rising cost of providing government services, primarily health care. The website has lots more info if you need a primer.

One of the many problems with TABOR is its inflexibility. Problems crop up; new needs become apparent; citizens clamor for help and TABOR stands unyielding. Brand new programs to address a brand new problem? Fine, says TABOR. Just fit it under the cap or find someplace else to cut. But because of the discrepancy between the growth rate allowed and the rising cost of doing business, TABOR requires cuts every year. There simply is no room for any new programs.

What kinds of programs am I talking about. Check out today’s Beacon Journal. First we have the page one spread on the spread of methamphetamine manufacture in NEO. When I was a prosecutor we were told this was coming our way (the knowledge and meth culture has been making its way east for the last 15 years or so.) Then we saw a little. Then we saw a lot. Now we have meth labs popping up all over and each one requires money to clean it up.

Next, on the front of the local section we have a story about cormorants. It seems the water birds are also invading Ohio and causing some significant problems for commercial fisheries and for the environment. ODNR’s solution is a grim one – a large scale kill program. But the point is, again we have a new problem and need to fund a solution.

What strikes me about both of these examples is that neither is high on the liberal wish list. The problems presented are problems that bother conservatives just as much or, in the case of the cormorants, even more than liberals. TABOR isn’t just about taking money from liberal social programs, it will starve the state’s ability to address the most basic needs of the state.

The third reason to vote against TABOR appears in the editorial section. The General Assembly is arguing over how to spend an unanticipated tax windfall. Democrats want to pump it back into schools and local government funds; conservatives want to build up the Rainy Day Fund and of course they have to talk about tax cuts. The point is this: this is how democracy works. We have more money than we thought we would and our elected representatives are arguing about what to do with it. They are not automatically spending it, they are debating how to best serve their constituents. It is messy, it is sometimes ugly and usually at least half of us are unsatisfied with the outcome. But that is the best way we have found to order our society. TABOR’s hocus-pocus won’t magically make things better, only harder.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Welcome to Pho's Norka Pages

I am a relative newby to the blogosphere, but seeing a need, I decided to jump in.

The primary topics for this blog will be politics in Akron and NEO; Ohio politics, especially with NEO tie-ins; Ohio blogs and progressive netroots.

My professional experience has been primarily in local government law, criminal law and public school advocacy. You will no doubt see particular emphases in these areas.

I will inevitably wander off-topic, mostly into national stories. We have hundreds of blogs and, counting commenters, thousands of voices sounding off on the big issues. I will try to stay away from this as much as possible, but if I haven't seen my take anywhere, or if mine is a somewhat contrarian position among progressives, I may drop it on you.

Because my schedule is hectic and unpredictable, most of my posts will be early in the day or late at night.

Finally, understand that this is an opinion blog written from a left-of-center perspective. I will not be balanced, though I will try to be fair. Additionally, I am involved in a number of liberal/progressive causes. When the subject is a group or cause I am directly involved in, I will try to remember to drop in a disclosure. But since I make no pretense about being objective, we will have no screeching about conflicts of interest here. Hope you enjoy my blog.