Monday, July 31, 2006

Blue Ohioan at Bloggapalooza.

I made an appearance at Bloggapalooza way back when. Getting away from the kids for a roady even just to C-town is always a challenge, so I wasn't there long. Because of the deluge outside, we crowded into the Town Fryer to feast on deep-fried oreos (the whole cookie liquifies) and listen to great bands.

And I worked in as many conversations as possible during the band breaks. If you aren't hip to it by now, understand that the network of bloggers loosely associated with Meet the Bloggers is a real network. We see each other at MTB interviews, but also at meetups, the odd comped ODP event, what have you. We email, we comment on each others' blogs, we occasionally call. Personally, I don't get enough time with these folks. This is a fascinating group of people I never tire of talking to.

Among the conversations was a video recorded interview with Anthony Fossaceca from Blue Ohioan. Anthony is a longtime political operative, most recently running Eric Fingerhut's gubernatorial campaign. He's assembled a blogging staff of one grassroots organizer (Susan Meara from North Olmstead), one policy wonk (Veronica Johnson) and Anthony himself blogging on party stuff. Blue Ohioan set up a makeshift video studio at the Town Fryer and interviewed pretty much everyone there who was even marginally anyone (they interviewed me, after all). Fossaceca is pictured here talking to Anastasia Pantsios from the Free Times.

I'm not entirely clear on the history of Blue Ohioan. The blog is one that existed at the time I started all this last summer and is no more. Ohio Watch, Seven Cent Nickel, An Age Like This -- all gone. Ditto Blue Ohioan.

Until now. I first learned of the "return" of the blog when he bought time on the MTB Ad NetworkFossaceca appears to be trying to bridge the worlds of the Dem insider and the guy with a gripe and a Blogger account.

Until Bloggapalooza, Blue Ohioan was annoyingly insular with no blogroll and few links to other blogs. Seeing (and participating in) the Ohio blogger interviews allayed some of my personal concerns that this was one of those Blogosphere-neutralizing gambits that touches off wearing and distracting blogstorms.

The Blue O crew has apparently done their videoblog mojo and is posting the interviews this week. I'm not up yet, but should be by week's end. And Blue Ohioan has earned a spot on my blogroll.

Speaking of the blogroll
, some folks contacted me about blogrolling and it's done. Bob Higgens runs an Ohio-based, world/national-focused blog called Worldwide Sawdust. Looking at it, I wonder how I've missed it so long. Bob is now a Phriend.

JD Amer emailed about his business and supporting blog. J.D. is an internet entrepreneur behind Lopico -- a "Social Business Directory." Basically, it's like a Wiki for business reviews. For you Akronites, J.D. is one of the West Hill Marathon Amers. At some point I may blog more heavily about Lopico. For now, J.D.'s blog is on the Akron roll.

Monday Morning

For those of you who have never heard of the place, a little rundown on Chincoteague Island. Chincoteage lies between the Eastern Shore of Virginia and the southern end of Assateague Island. Assateague is a barrier island, given over almost entirely to preservation. Most of it is either Assateague National Seashore or Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge with a bit of the northern end a Maryland State Park.

Chincoteague historically has been a working village -- mostly watermen, plus a bit of farming. In the Eighties when I was living in DC, it was gaining currency as a place to go among those looking for something a little less commercial and decadent than Rehobbeth, DE or Ocean City, MD. In the intervening time, it has obviously gotten more popular resulting in more development.

We stay at the Hampton Inn on Chincoteage which looks to be less than ten years old, part of this new wave of development. While most chain hotels are in commercial areas surrounded by malls or restaurant clusters or other hotels, this Hampton Inn is right next door to some guy's house. Some guy whose waterfront on the bay (the channel between Chincoteage and the mainland) serves a berth to a rotating array of commercial fishing boats.

So this is what we see out our balcony each morning. If we are really good and get up early enough, we can see the crew outfitting the boats for the day's work, then get underway and sail out the channel past the turnstyle drawbridge in the background here.

These contrasts highlight the tensions one might expect -- watermen vs. commercial developers. Environment vs. growth. Old-timers vs. newbies vs. summer regulars. It's an old story we've seen played out over our past three summers here.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Pho's Vacation Pages

Sunset on Chincoteage Bay.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Things to Do While I'm Gone

The House of Pho is on the road, blogging from whatever hotel will give me free wi-fi. Right now it is the Hampton Inn in Frederick, MD (plugs for free access are a tradition here on the Pages.)

A few event notices are coming my way via email and elsewhere. You might want to check things out to help fill the void left by my lengthy silences.

Both the Dem Party and MoveOn are encouraging nationwide DIY events marking the last 100 days until Election 06. The Dems are putting on Democratic Reunions. You can plug in your zip here to find one near you. An event showed up for Summit last week, but now is gone. Here’s the search result for 100 miles around my zip code. Unfortunately, nothing shows for where we will be vacationing, confirming my impression that the place is fairly red.

MoveOn does better in Summit Co. with an event in Copley Monday night. RSVP here.

Back to Sunday, my friend Debbie Phillips is having a fundraiser in Columbus with guest Francis Strickland. Contact the campaign for details. (And full disclosure, I contract with the agency she runs though she is now on leave, blah blah.) I hear tell a Cleveland FR is also in the works and will plug that one insufferably.

SCPD will be meeting as usual the second Tuesday of the week. I’ll try to get that up on Upcoming (memo to the Upcoming folks – I’d plug a lot more stuff in there if I didn’t have to go through all the rigmarole of inputting details of every new venue.)

Finally, Sherrod Brown will Meet the Bloggers -- no really!-- on Saturday, August 12. I will be back in town by then, but alas will be in Columbus for a work meeting.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The Time of the Mommydaddy

What has passed so far for productive Summer time is at an end. The kids are mine full-time until waning days of August. In addition, we are getting ready for vacation in a couple of days, meaning I have to get stuff ready and load up on work hours.

For the blog this means that the spare moments I scrape together to post here are even rarer. I'm aiming at five posts a week, but that's probably wildly optimistic. We can expect posting to be even more erratic and less tied to any semblance of a news cycle than usual. Thanks in advance for putting up with it.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Am I The Beast or The Whore?

UPDATED: Fixed the link for the main story.

Honestly, you shouldn’t be reading my blog. You should be reading the Columbus Dispatch. Yesterday’s CD runs a multi-story spread on the Governor’s race. They have a nice story juxtaposing Ted and J. Ken on how their faith guides their respective candidacies, a side-by-side Q&A on a number of issues, a recap of the latest poll showing Ted in the lead.

But the story you must read is an extensively reported multimedia piece focusing on the fundamentalist Christian allies of J. Ken Blackwell. It starts with this vignette:

    The Rev. Tommy Bates, a Pentecostal preacher from Kentucky, described the beast rising out of the sea: a horned, multi-headed creature with the body of a leopard, paws of a bear and mouth of a lion -- just like in the Book of Revelation.
    This, Bates said, was the political system of Babylon, the evil kingdom in the Bible that was opposed to God and his people.

    But there to stop the beast was the Rev. Rod Parsley -- the overseer of a worldwide ministry headquartered at World Harvest in southeastern Columbus, an outspoken critic of popular culture and a nationally known Republican ally.

    "The Lord spoke to me and said, 'I chose Rod Parsley to push this beast back for a season,' " Bates said. "He said it was Pastor Rod Parsley who I chose to alter the election, the presidential election. Not a Democrat, not a Republican situation, but the spirit of the Antichrist ... that came walking in America."

    Now, Bates said, that creature was returning, with "a great whore riding on the beast's back. ... She is identified with a city, a political city called Babylon which is going to usher in the Antichrist."
As you move through the story and meet the cast of characters, at times they appear to try to moderate their views for public consumption. But this opening reveals the true heart of those who would be in charge of Ohio’s Restoration, its Reformation and whatever else they seek to do to it. Parsley famously prayed that America would have the wisdom to make the right choice on Election Day 2004. Plug that into Bates’ story – apparently a vote for Kerry was a vote for the AntiChrist.

Elsewhere a Rabbi involved with one of the groups in the network opines that “irreconcilable differences between the right and the left [constitute] a conflict between two ‘religio-moral worldviews’ – essentially, those who believe in God and those who don't.”

"And here we have two parts of America," Lapin said, "that votes differently, that raises its children differently, that views family entirely differently, and has created two completely incompatible political visions for America.[sic]"

I hate – absolutely from the depths of my soul, hate – the way I sound like Chicken Little about this stuff, but it frankly unnerves me. History proves fairly definitively that when those in power convince the people that an Other is responsible for the trouble in the world, things rapidly go badly for the Other.

As a Liberal non-Christian I am apparently an Other.

If you are not a Fundamentalist Christian and you doubt what is at stake in this election, read the article, click through the media links. If you are still sanguine about a Blackwell victory, come back and tell me why I should be able to sleep at night. If it bothers you as well, decide what you are going to do about it and get to work.

And if you are a Fundamentalist Christian, you might start thinking about the point at which you would say “Hold, enough!” The Day of Reckoning may take a different form than you expect.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Market Forces Sully White Hat

Time to check in with Akron’s best-connected concerned citizen, David Brennan, and his government-funded empire. Yes, this is that White Hat post I mentioned earlier this week.

Last summer a storefront cropped up in the new Wallhaven strip mall. It was called Brilliant and, according to a blurb in Akron Family Magazine, was a White Hat venture. I suspected that the business plan centered providing school-funded tutoring help mandated under No Child Left Behind. Under NCLB if a school fails to meet Adequate Yearly Progress for three straight years, the “remedies” include tutoring help for any kids in failing schools on the district’s dime.

NCLB tutoring has some serious potential for scammage. I’ve reported before that some firms in other states are setting up shop here rather than their home states, raising the suspicion that Ohio’s standards for tutoring firms are unusually low.

Anyway, I thought that’s what Brilliant was up to and twice started writing posts on it (working title: "Just Fucking Brilliant"), both times junking them because I didn’t have the goods. Part of Brilliant's operation was “NCLB Tutoring,” but also has a number of programs that actual people pay for with their own money. So it looked like maybe this was an actual business venture as opposed to another of Brennan’s belly-to-the-trough deals. I only recently found this article which attempted to lay out the business plan.

Recently I went to the Caribou in that same plaza and noticed that the Brilliant store looked oddly dark. With a sign on the window.

I immediately went into irony shock: The man who professes that all of life should follow the dictates of the market unable to compete. Not terribly surprising; Brilliant’s tutoring arm tried to flex in an awfully crowded market. In the Akron area we have at least three different storefront tutoring operations – Kumon on Smith Road, Knowledge-something by White Pond and the grandfather of the market segment, Sylvan Learning Centers. I saw one TV ad for Brilliant marketing it as a low-cost alternative. Funny that people didn’t flock to the cheapest place to educate their kids.

In a story about Life Skills expanding into Florida, a White Hat flak bravefaces the Brilliant failure, saying that it was all about NCLB tutoring and the demand wasn’t there and White Hat is stronger without it. In fact the demand wasn’t there because APS has been successful of late. The district is poised to meet AYP for the second straight year, meaning it will go back to Year 0. That would mean at least another three years before the district would have to pay for tutoring district-wide.

So I don’t know which is worse: That Brennan has failed at the one business in the White Hat education empire that was subjected to market forces, then tried to spin it as a positive. Or that Brennan, who seems determined to have every landmark in Akron named after him, was short-selling the city’s school district. I don’t know what school system he actually has in mind for Pottersville – er – Akron, but it doesn’t sound like one I want my kids to go to.

Meanwhile, White Hat is losing Life Skills Centers in Columbus – they have severed ties and are looking for new management. And White Hat is expanding Life Skills into Florida. “Expanding” for White Hat means lobbying the state legislature to change the rules Life Skills fits under them. This is just me, but if you need to lobby to make your business legal, it probably isn’t a very good business to be in.

White Hat touts its 20% success rate as 20% that wouldn’t have any diploma without them. But anecdotally I know that some students are leaving traditional schools because White Hat exists. One has to ask how many of that 20% would have a diploma from a traditional school or would have a GED if there was no White Hat? And how many are attracted to White Hat because it is a cake ride compared to real school?

And finally, how many of the 80% who wash out are just biding time and keeping a parent and/or probation officer off their backs until they can split? Biding time and, by the way, wasting money that should be educating my kids.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Freudian Slip on Open?

From Thursday's Open:

    In a letter sent today to Blackwell’s office, New York Sen. Charles Schumer and Illinois Congressman Rahm Emanuel charge that Blackwell’s duel role as a secretary of state and as a gubernatorial candidate make it difficult for voters to trust him. [emphasis added]
Well, that's the problem, isn't it? He's supposed to be an impartial administrator but goes about his job like he's in a duel.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

That Was the Blogosphere Day that Was

I started my blog reading late today -- well yesterday since it's now 12:03 -- and discovered that Wednesday was Blogosphere Day. Based on OH2 Blog's post, I can piece together what it means, but I must cop to having missed the memo. In any event, I celebrated the waning minutes of Blogosphere Day with the latest round of revisions on my blogroll.

Cindy Zawadzi of HeightsMom fame is lead blogger on a new project -- a community political blog called As Ohio Goes. So far it looks good and very early on has a variety of voices contributing. For those newish to the blogosphere or who think maybe blogging looks kinda cool but you're just not sure, I highly recommend posting on community blogs. I got my sea legs on dKos and MyDD before growing weary of both. And believe me, running a stand-alone blog can be quite consuming.

I discovered two local political blogs I hadn't before. BlogginRyan on the center/left is fairly new and based in Munroe Falls. The author of Dane Bramage describes himself as a "fundamental [sic] Christian Rebublican of African ancestry." Apparently things are bad in the world and it's my fault. Sorry.

Callahan's Cleveland Diary has moved, so the link is fixed now.

I've added a link to Steve Dyer's website. Earlier this week he sent out a flash that the website had been revamped. It looks good and the horrible headshot is nowhere to be seen. If you had gotten scared off the first time, give it another go.

Also in my inbox this week was a plea from Tim Ferris to plug a group blog about the Fulton Road Bridge Project. They are agin' it. I'm not up on it, and so won't opine one way or another. I looked over the categories on my sidebar and frankly can't find a place to plug it in. Too specific for the progressive roll. Not Akron. Doesn't link to me, so it's not a Phriend. And I would put it in "Everything else I read," but I don't. So instead, just a plug. It's called Save Our Land. They are using the Blogger platform as a community organizing tool. If for no other reason, it's worth a look.

I did make a long-intended-but-never-remembered addition to the "Everything Else" list" Sweet Jesus, I Hate Bill O'Reilly. The full title is "Sweet Jesus, I Hate Bill O'Reilly, Int'l, A Website of Hope." It is what it says it is.

Hope you all had a very happy Blogosphere Day.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Light Reading

I'm in one of those crazy weeks -- work work, volunteer work, getting the house ready for visiting inlaws -- you know the drill. Don't know when I'll get a real post up again. In the meantime, consider the following.

Roger Bundy of Cleveland Equanomous Philosopher has done the point-by-point legal analysis of the Educate and Obfuscate Amendment that I've pined to find the time for. It's excellent work and essential reading for anyone considering voting for this thing.

In addition to my specific life craziness, I'm finding that the general world craziness is getting in the way of blogging. Just because Mideast violence hasn't escalated into a region-wide conflict before doesn't mean it never will. It's hard to get excited about a post in the works about, say, White Hat Management as the world again teters on the lip of an abyss. Toward that end, two of the best pieces I've found.

Michael Lerner of Tikkun was on Franken today and provided an enlightening and seldom-heard rundown of recent history. It was pulled out of this piece in Tikkun. Meanwhile, Slate's Fred Kaplan ponders why Condi Rice isn't already on the ground in the Mideast.

Back to mundane policy stuff, Policy Matters Ohio commissioned an analysis of the Capital Gains Tax Cut currently under consideration. From the summary:

    [T]he Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) analyze the proposed reductions. ITEP found that three quarters of the proposed tax cuts in the first three years would go to the wealthiest one percent of Ohioans. The plan would likely cost the state thousands of jobs, ITEP said, because a large share of the tax cuts would be diverted out of state, including almost a fifth that would be sent directly to the federal government in higher federal income taxes.
Medina County Democratic Action Committee has set up Dem TV -- a YouTube page with video of a number of political figures who spoke to their group, including Sherrod Brown and Betty Sutton. Speaking of Sutton, the PD today runs a story about her prodigious fundraising. I'm also hearing about some exciting upcoming events, so watch this space.

Sam Fulwood runs a piece today recounting Blackwell's efforts to supress votes in 2004.

Finally and to no one's surprise, the Beacon Journal's new owner has replaced publisher Jim Crutchfield.

Happy reading.


Sunday, July 16, 2006

Redfern in Lakewood

As announced, I made it to a program Thursday night in Lakewood sponsored by the Campaign for a New Ohio. I had my usual kid chaos and got a late break. That plus looking for parking got me in the door about 20 after. At the podium was Paul Marnacheck [right], who works for the Democratic Coordinated Campaign in Cuyahoga County.

Marnacheck is running through the logistics of the Coordinated Campaign. Three locations: Currently Shaker Heights and Parma are open now, Lakewood coming soon. They are phonebanking now from the two open locations and getting canvasses together.

After Marnacheck, Gary Pritts [photo didn't come out], co-chair of CNO gets up and asks that we go around the room and introduce ourselves. This part tickles me because it is so Cuyahoga County. Two people are from the East Side and both make a big deal of being there. I let people know I’m from Akron, that I work with SCPD and that I’m a blogger.

Next we hear from Jane Buder Shapiro. She is a CNO Board Member and founder of Ohioans for Democratic Values, a grassroots organization. She mentions that she also works with a Dems framing group that is open to volunteers. They meet in Shaker Heights.

Mostly she’s here to talk about the Voter Action Initiative. This initiative attempts to build a power base of Democrats who want to be involved and get better educated and energized.

The idea is to get people to talk to neighbors and friends. Identify yourself, tell people you are a contact for info on Dem candidates. Maybe host house parties. For most people this is how they get their information about issues and candidates.

At its best, people will sign up to walk their neighborhood. Some are uncomfortable knocking on doors. You can drop off a letter. Or you can just walk your block list. Or you can just send out info to friends.

Don’t want this to disappear after election is over. Building a power base of committed Democratic voters means starting in 2006, keep it going in 2007 to be ready in 2008. Not necessarily a 2 year commitment. Just think about this year.

ODV doesn’t have a website, but their email address is all over there lit: ohio4demvalues[at]gmail[dot]com

Then Chris Redfern takes the stage.

He immediately asks I blog for. He seems satisfied with the answer.

He speaks briefly before opening for questions:

It’s great to be in Ohio and a Democrat
Been a long time. I’ve been involved
Best slate in a generation. Right on the issues. And we think wer’e going to win afew of these.

It’s great to be up in the polls, but it’s bad to be up in the polls. We can’t just see Strickland up 12 point sand sit back. Need to get out there.

We’re going to change ohio and change the country.

So what are you going to do? People ask, Chris what are you going to do? What are we going to do?

On Nov. 8 we can gather not just as dems. We can talk about the issues that matter most. Need to get out tomorrow. No seat, no matter how obscure should go uncontested.

Rather than give a speech, I’ll take questions

Q: I get people saying Blackwell will just steal the election again? What are we doing? And what are we doing about Blackwell abdicating responsibility to educate voters about the voter ID law?

88 counties each have BOE run by 2 Dems and 2 Rs. All Dems need to know what their jobs are.

ODP has identified lawyers in all 88 counties. An attorney on retainer or a volunteer in each county. ODP is investing hundreds of thousands of dollars in training for poll workers.

I don’t think Ken Blackwell’s going to steal the election. I don’t think he’ll try.

Q: What makes you so confident?

A: I’m not confident. [laughter] there will be a kind of attention on Ohio this time unlike any time before.

We can't just dwell on 2004. RFK reporting doesn't mean now we won. We will win the election by talking to voters. If we just raise our performance by 1% in underperforming counties we win.

Q: Guy I’m most worried about is Karl Rove. Rove’s style is always the same – smear and steal.

A: The hate and divisiveness will dwarf the Kerry campaign. The difference between Strickland and Kerry is that Strickland is disciplined. This election will be won or lost in places like Stuebenville. Be on the offensive, go at them. Today in Western Ohio Strickland is spending $20,000 in Christian radio stations. Talks about being an ordained minister. Put Ken on defensive on issues of faith. That will continue to be our strategy. Ted won’t nuance his positions on abortion or gay marriage. He will continue to talk about issues that matter.

Q: Guy from Cleve Hts has a bunch of Qs from his group. Read them off to quickly to get them down. Redfern finds a thread and answers that.

A: After July 17 will have Dem HQ in Lakewood. Currently we’re in Shaker and Parma. Got HQs across the state opened now or We run out of Strickland literature, but Ben Espy has the same beliefs as Ted and we never run out of Espy for S.Ct. lit.

Don't forget July 29, Democratic Reunion Day.

Q: I ask about the Dems platform on education.

A: There is no Dem platform. Ted Strickland drives the issue. Turnaround agenda. His message is investment in higher ed and pre-K. The big question is how do we get that out – this stuff, without getting bogged down in arguments with Republicans who won’t vote for us anyway.

Q: I’m a pro-business Democrat. Begging people to put energy in suburbs. Outer ring of Cuy Co. You’re so worried about the rural areas, you are forgetting places like Mayfield Hts.

A: I’ve been to Jackson, Georgetown – hard hit areas.

I think low taxes create jobs. That’s why I’ve advocated the highest tax cut in history. And we have to stop talking about taxes being bad. They are an investment. There’s a balance. We have to keep pushing back.

Q: A lot of us would like Strickland offices to also be Sherrod Brown offices

A: Tricky because of McCain Feingold. Brown campaign is doing a good job all over Ohio.

Q: Health care issue. (announcement for a Single Payer Action Network event.) Where is Ted & state party on SPAN.

A: Ask Ted. I Don’t know. He’s in favor of affording it to everyone. As is Brown. That’s Browns’ thing – health care and blue collar jobs. It’s going to exec committee to decide if they will endorse. RON was never brought before party. Dem party will decide on the min wage issue next month.

Comment that’s it’s a new day for the Dem party thanks to Chris’s leadership.

Q: Debate schedule?

A: Party chairs won’t participate in debates by agreement of the campaigns.

Q: What can I do to help with House races?

A: Each can participate in the party by participating in a caucus. Expectations for caucus. LGBT Caucus is focusing on how to get LGBT to polls. Identifying precincts with high LGBT populations.

Also Dems are working on identifying lower-level elected officials and helping them. It’s as common for me to write a $500 contribution for a county commissioner candidate in Washington County as a $5000 contribution to Strickland.

For example, the party is trying to defeat Larry Householder for Perry County Auditor because if we nip him in the bud now he won’t come back.

Q: Concern about Cuyahoga County party leadership.

A: I take no position. If you have an issue, you need to run for precinct chair.

Q: How much are you working with Dems in Republican Counties. Specifically mentions Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune.

A: Easiest question to answer. Meets with Todd regularly. We look for people like that all the time. Example, Tim Horton running for Common Pleas Judge in Franklin County. ODP has given him a couple thousand so far. Working hard for him because he’d make an excellent judge, but also because he’s someone who could be a statewide leader someday.

[at this point the answer starts to wander and I stop taking notes except for this bit]

Great news about Barbara Sykes – she’s up 19 points in the latest poll.

Impressions: I’m leaning toward believing that Redfern is the guy he says he is. It’s been a long road for me because of the 800-pound-gorilla way he got elected. But this is the third time I’ve seen him speak and he’s sounding the same themes – grassroots involvement, compete in all 88 counties, get organized.

All in all the event was more October energy – even more impressive to see it sustained from the May dinner. It also sounds like the Dems have their act together in a way they haven’t in years.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Meet Stephen Dyer

Tuesday night SCPD PAC heard from Stephen Dyer, Democratic nominee for Ohio 43rd House District. Currently occupied by Mary Taylor who is running for Auditor against Democrat Barbara Sykes. The SCPD PAC meeting was pretty typical in that we had a ton of agenda items

Steve took the stage in the middle of the chaos for a five minute stump. He knew he was in friendly company when he announced that he was running for Taylor’s seat to a smattering of applause. He extemporized a couple more applause lines: “I have a button for my son saying ‘Vote for my daddy, not theirs.’” My opponent Chris Croce told ABJ that Plinton case was “nothing more than a minor marijuana case.”

Background: ABJ reporter 8 years. Just graduated from law school. Now working on the Summit County Executive’s office.

I’m running because I got sick of writing the same story out of Columbus. The story goes like this: We’re in a crisis. We are slipping. State legislature has the chance to turn this around.

The State no longer sees itself as its brother’s keeper and I believe I am.

I hate the most our school funding system. Half of the community hates the other half for taxing them. New Mexico since 1974 has more equitable system. Lower property, sales and income taxes. Because they had the will.

ABJ ran a story “Ohio look at the state we’re in. I thought that might catalyze change but it did not.

Organization downstate called rural Center for Higher Education. Makes a big deal of college trips, college acceptance letters posted. Started in Newcomerstown. Went form 20% to 80% of students matriculating to college.

The one panacea for life is education. With a BA you make an extra million dollars over your lifetime. Taft and the Republicans have closed the door to that million dollar promise to thousands of Ohio kids.

I am an eighth generation Summit County resident. My son is an 8th generation Summit County resident.

Later this week Steve sat down with YellowDogSammy and me for an extended conversation. I left my notes in Ohio, so this is what I remember plus a few impressions. If I find something worth noting in my notes, I’ll update. You can read YDS's extensive post about our conversation here.

More on his background: Graduated from Tufts with a BA in English in 1994 and from Kent with a journalism degree. His original thought was to use his journalism degree as a political consultant.

We had a wide-ranging discussion. It’s clear he has done some serious research in developing his platform. The New Mexico school funding system isn’t really on the radar screen of funding reform advocates, but he dug up some interesting information about it.

This is a young man with serious game. At the stump he is smooth without seeming slick. In person he’s a policy wonk’s dream. Just having someone in the Statehouse who understands the pitfalls of funding on a per-pupil basis would be a giant step. He’s also got that recently-minted lawyer thing where he actually remembers stuff from law school.

According to Steve, the race is targeted by the House Caucus and District is “indexed” Democratic – that is registered Dems outnumber R’s. Steve has staff and anticipates money enough for TV and radio buys and GOTV. He has a website up which looks decent, but desperately needs a new headshot.

As it happens I’ve worked with his opponent Christine Croce. She’s just not a likeable person. The more voters Steve is able to meet, the better he will do. It doesn’t work that way for Croce. House 43 is a potential pickup that hasn't been getting a whole lot of attention.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Random Ten w/Announcement

Weekend Warrior Edition

The fam and I are piling in the minvan and heading north for the weekend. The hotel advertises a free hookup, so I'm bringing my laptop, but no promises. I'll be working on the Stephen Dyer post and a recap of last night's program in Lakewood headlined by Chris Redfern.

In the meantime, here's your random ten.

1. "Brazil," Wire
2. "Blues," Art Blakey Quintet
3. "Polka on the Banjo," Bela Fleck
4. "Mothership Connection (Star Child)," Parliament
5. "Nighttime Story," Lo Fidelity Allstars
6. "Will You Still Love Me?" Urban Knights feat. Michelle Williams
7. "Nobody Wins," Radney Foster
8. "Smoke Along the Tracks," Dwight Yoakam
9. "Don't Lie to Me," Big Star
10. "Gouge Away," The Pixies

Thursday, July 13, 2006


Jeff, a.k.a. YellowDogSammy from Ohio 2006, came down to Akron this week for a brief meet with Stephen Dyer, running in Ohio House 43 (a post is in the works.) We got to talking about the General Assembly races and agreed to put out feelers on races to watch. This way we can focus our energies on following those races and start keeping a running tab.

So consider the antennae up here at the Pages. A couple of starting places are Staff's "Expectations" posts on Buckeye State and this Diary on Daily Kos (a diary on Ohio Senate was so fundamentally useless I won't bother with a link). Staff was running mostly on numbers. The Kos diarist seemed to have some on-the-ground intell.

We are looking for 1) information about ODP/Dem Caucus targeted races 2) races in which the incumbent goes against the prevailing trend in the county and 3) anything else that looks interesting. You can drop a comment or contact one of us through the blogs. We're looking for House and Senate and we're hoping for fairly specific information as opposed to "I'm volunteering for Candidate X and we're superconfident!" We''ll take that too, but it won't get much weight.And needless to say, anonymous commenters aren't going to have as much credibility.

We'll start posting as we get info.

Political Datebook

Tonight Dem Chair Chris Redfern comes to Lakewood Library speaking at a program entitled "Winning in 2006 with Grassroots Activism." The event is sponsored by Campaign for a New Ohio. As of right now -- and anything can happen with this -- I have childcare lined up to go. If so, I'll post a report.

Ted Strickland's Turnaround Ohio rally in Summit County has moved to Hudson. No more Strickland at Strickland's, but they promise to dish out ice cream nonetheless.


What: TurnAround Ohio Rally

Where: Hudson Springs Park
7095 Stow Road, Hudson

When: 2:00 pm – 3:30 pm

I won't be there, but Kyle and Terra at The Chief Souce will, so check there for a recap.

Rosa, Unmuzzled

The public/private dance between gubernatorial candidate J. Ken Blackwell and his wife, Cincinnati Public Schools Superintendent Rosa Blackwell generates considerable fascination. Like most conservatives, J. Ken has long been a critic of public schools. Like most critics of public schools, he cites failures in urban districts to paint the system as failing. Yet, here's his wife running an urban public school system.

Lately we've seen both blog and MSM speculation about whether Rosa will say anything about J.Ken's education platform, such as it is. Well wonder no more. Rosa sat down for an open online forum sponsored by the Enquirer yesterday. You can read the entire forum, much of which is specific to Cincinnati. I've pulled some highlights that touch on state policy and added a few comments.

thebishop (Jul 12, 2006 11:03:45 AM)
I am interested in the 65% solution for education proposed by some republicans. How will that help the schools in Ohio and do you support it?

Rosa Blackwell (Jul 12, 2006 11:03:45 AM)
Currently, Cincinnati Public Schools is funding the schools through our per-pupil formula. The monies actually follow the students. I believe that whatever percentage of money that we can get directly into the classrooms benefits the children, this district and the state should be our goal, whether it's 65% or 75%.

Rosa Blackwell (Jul 12, 2006 11:04:05 AM)
Currently we have 71% of our monies that are directly forwarded to the schools.

Comments: First off, she deftly avoids the actual question. She doesn’t say she supports a 65% mandate, only that any money that gets to the kids is good. And water will make you wet. Second, she doesn’t actually say whether or not CPS meets the 65% mandate as proposed. Third, she is conflating money that flows from “Downtown” with money that actually gets into the classroom. 71 gives a 6% cushion. Do principles, janitors, food service and transportation take up only 6%? I doubt it. Also, she doesn’t say whether the pot of money that makes up that 71% includes Title I moneys (which don’t count) and nutrition subsidies (which do.)
Jo (Jul 12, 2006 11:07:01 AM)
What is your opinion of the EdChoice Scholarship program (i.e. "vouchers") and what can/will CPS do to keep students from abandoning the public schools for state-funded private educations?

Rosa Blackwell (Jul 12, 2006 11:07:01 AM)
I am an advocate for quality education for all of the students within the city. I believe that Cincinnati Public Schools has a great opportunity to share with its public that the district is improving in its academic performance and competition is healthy

Again with the nonanswer of the oppose/support question.
citizen (Jul 12, 2006 11:20:04 AM)
Cincinnati Public enrollment is mostly African American population. CPS is lead by an African American and most of it Administrative positions are African American. Why is it that most of our African American children are failing?

Rosa Blackwell (Jul 12, 2006 11:20:04 AM)
It's important to note that staff in Cincinnati Public Schools are responsible for all children. Equally important is our responsibility to ensure that all children meet with academic success. We are not satisfied when any child is not academically successful. Regarding the African American students, there is a gap, however, we have begun to see that gap narrow, and we will continue to focus on closing the gap. What we know is that our African American children are bright, they are intelligent, and there are no excuses for them or any children not performing at higher levels. My focus has been and will continue to be on every child in every seat in every schoolhouse.
proud cps parent (Jul 12, 2006 11:44:41 AM)
Is there any initiative to encourage the hiring of more minority, specifically male teachers? (I know there may be legal constraints, however i'm a firm believer in diversity of education on each and every level of the education process)

Rosa Blackwell (Jul 12, 2006 11:44:41 AM)
We are committed to a diverse workforce. Our HR department attempts to recruit minority staff. Regretfully, there are not enough minority male teachers in education and therefore we are not as successful as we would like to be.

A fundamental tenet of Black conservatism is critiquing affirmative action as undermining self-sufficiency. Fascinating to hear Rosa speak positively about diversity hiring which conservatives regard as pretext for quotas.
Ama Shabazz (Jul 12, 2006 11:48:34 AM)
What policy suggestions would you offer to make school funding more equitable as the current income property tax scheme is extremely unfair to inner city schools where the property values are very low?

Rosa Blackwell (Jul 12, 2006 11:48:34 AM)
I would encourage the state legislature to look for ways to fund schools in a way that the property owner is not unduly penalized, which suggests that more funding needs to come from the state level.

Comment: This is a fundamental element in education advocacy. It’s why I said there were better things to do with the state surplus. It is again interesting to see Rosa make this point. And interesting that J. Ken has nothing to say about education except choice and 65%.
Toward the end, three questions about J.Ken’s run.

fred (Jul 12, 2006 12:47:06 PM)
Forgive me if this question seems out of line; I mean no offense. But, I feel I have to ask: how much of your husband's (gubernatorial candidate Kenneth Blackwell) political ideology and current campaign platform do you agree with? Disagree with?

Rosa Blackwell (Jul 12, 2006 12:47:06 PM)
Forgive me if I seem out of line, but I choose not to answer.
Joe (Jul 12, 2006 12:50:22 PM)
How would your husband being Governor reflect on your status as Superintendent of Cincinnati Schools?

Rosa Blackwell (Jul 12, 2006 12:50:23 PM)
I respect the work that my husband is doing and his commitment to the citizens of this wonderful state. During the 38 years that we've been married, we've had the opportunity to discuss many things. He retains the right to make decisions in the work that he does as Secretary of State and respects my right to make decisions as the Superintendent of Schools.
citizen (Jul 12, 2006 12:50:50 PM)
If your husband wins the Governors race, will you step down from your position with CPS?

Rosa Blackwell (Jul 12, 2006 12:50:50 PM)
It is my intent to honor my contract.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Know Pho Some Mo'

I am one of the interviewees on Episode 6 of the Plunderbund Podcast. We recorded the interview before the week's blogstorm, so we both sound quite happy and shiny throughout.

Use Me

Chris Baker, the Editor at Ohio 2nd, is taking a fair amount of heat this week for his interview with Sherrod Brown and his role – still a little unclear to me – in catalyzing the Hackett/Brown rapprochement. One of his most vocal critics -- Eric at Plunderbund -- posted a sincere and beautifully written apology today, after I had composed much of the foregoing. I'm still posting it because the controversy has some lessons about what we talk about when we talk about blogs. And because I already wrote it. But mostly the first thing.

One criticism is that Chris blogs about Ohio 2nd, but lives in Ohio 3rd. Color me unscandalized. In hindsight, Chris could have handled this better, but I’m not going to hate on him for it.

The other criticism runs along the lines of Chris letting himself be used by the Brown campaign. Much of how one feels about this depends on an individual blogger’s feelings about Sherrod. In this case, it is easier to work the facts into one point of view or the other because blogworld doesn’t have a consistent framework for evaluating a blogger’s actions.

Most political bloggers – myself included – toggle between a citizen journalism model and an activist model. A citizen journalist can be criticized much more easily under the assumption that the blogger aspires to a level of objectivity. Certainly we have all seen journalists used by public figures – get exclusive access and the questions get soft. Assume that Chris is acting as a citizen journalist and you can easily make the same criticism.

That criticism doesn’t stick if you evaluate Chris as a political activist. An activist focuses on achieving an end result. A party activist lives to be used. As it happens, I didn’t blog last night in part because I was at a meeting of SCPD PAC. One of the main agenda items was our effort to create a volunteer bank for campaigns. That is, we are recruiting people for candidates to use.

As Chris says, his actions were aimed at one end – facilitating Mike DeWine’s early retirement. The wreckage of the primary is of the heaviest roadblocks to that end. By helping to clear that wreckage, Chris as activist blogger nudged the Senate campaign a little further down the road.

There is a third framework – blogger as member of the community of bloggers. This seems to be where Chris is getting the most heat. Here, the thinking goes, Chris should have held out for an MTB appearance. I get that, and you won’t find a bigger MTB honk than myself. At the same time I understand Chris’s actions. I certainly didn’t turn down the chance to ask Sherrod questions at the Canton event. And I think that ship has sailed, so we might as well look to other ways to cover the race, including one-on-one interviews.

Like all bloggers, I wear multiple hats on these pages. It can't be overstated how challenging it is to take on these many roles. Right now I have some inside baseball on a couple of campaigns that the activist in me is holding off on because I don't want to hurt the races. Just last night this guy chased me down as I left an SCPD meeting. An awkward moment to be sure, but I have to give him major points for being nice about the fact that I pretty much, well, called him a fraud.

So I was torn about Chris's involvement. Pho the citizen journalist thinks Chris could have asked some harder questions about the sharp dealing in the primary. Pho the Democratic activist is thrilled at the thaw between Sherrod Brown and Paul Hackett. And Pho the blogger hopes against hope that at some point Sherrod will feel comfortable sitting down with MTB.

OK, I'm sufficiently familiar with my navel now.

J. Ken Targeting Blacks, Bashing Gays

We knew it was coming, but maybe not this soon. J. Ken Blackwell is campaigning hard on the gay marriage issue in the Black community. A friend who lives in a predominantly African American ward in Akron has received a pro-Blackwell robo call focused on gay marriage and says that at least one friend has received the same call. My friend is a registered Democrat.

The automated call asks the voter is African American. It runs through questions about coingate, the BWC, and whether “you think African American Children should have a choice to attend safe schools” The voter is then asked to speak a preference governor. If the answer is “Strickland” the call goes into a message asking if the voter is aware that Strickland "voted for gay marriage." After the negative message, the voter is again asked who he/she prefers. A voter who switches to Blackwell gets a thank-you from J. Ken and a reminder that “he stands for us because he stands for families.”

While doing a preemption check for this post I discovered blogger Pat Denino’s rundown on a Restoration Project flier for “values voters.” The flier prominently features J. Ken for his “efforts in passing one of the strongest constitutional definitions of marriage in America."

Apparently J. Ken didn’t get the memo from Laura Bush.

Strickland needs to figure out how to respond to this and fast. Meanwhile, I’ve found one of those quixotic, symbolic, ineffectual-but-I-feel-better petitions to sign. Equality Ohio has an online petition urging candidates not to "use the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community as a divisive distraction from issues that matter." The petition is smartly worded – don’t focus on divisions, show real leadership, talk about issues. I like it.

It also gives you an opportunity to send emails to your friends urging them to sign, so my real-life friends who read here should expect something in their mailboxes. soon. Equality Ohio is hoping for 20,000 signatures. That’s about right for an online state petition, but with a little push they should be able to bust it. Let’s give them a hand, blogosphere. Sign it, blog it, pass it on.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Programming Notes

I'll be on the road pretty much all day tomorrow. Don't expect to see anything up before 10 p.m. or so.

Carry on.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Educating Staff, Pt. 1

Staff at Buckeye State has been taking issue with some recent statements on this blog about education funding. This is the first of two which will be posted here.

Why here? Why now?

I'm posting here for a couple of reasons. First off, putting this togther is taking some serous time. Putting together Part 1, which is stuff I've been studying for three years now, took a long time. Part 2 involves some research and therefore will take even longer. That's a hell of a lot of effort for a comment to refute what was essentially a potshot.

I had been working on the "Tone" post for a few days when the stuff with BSB started. The post wasn't in specific response to that. Still what I said in that post holds true. I have a comments section. It works. People use it. If someone has a question or argument about something I've posted, they are welcome to drop a comment and I'll respond when I can, and if it takes a lot of work that's fine; it's grist for my blog. But I'm not interested in putting this kind of time into generating content elsewhere. Especially when my first attempt was studiously ignored.

As to why now -- I had a busy weekend and a busy Monday. In addition, I was fairly pissed at how this went down. I don't particularly want to take part in a war, so I waited to cool down a bit.

To reset the dispute itself. In my Educate and Obfuscate post I mentioned that K-12 and higher education are hurting for money. Staff pulled up NEA state-by-state data for the 2003-04 school year (the last year for which NEA has the data up.) Those data show that Ohio is mid-range for teacher salaries and class size and 16th in per-pupil spending.

Now here’s the thing. I’ve been blogging about education for as long as I’ve been blogging. I’ve written some almost absurdly detailed posts about the funding system. I’ve written about volunteering as a school funding advocate, about working on levy campaigns and about my recently acquired gig as an organizer for the Ohio School Funding Campaign. I’m not claiming to know all about school funding, but I have some game. When I find an article that advocates eliminating net neutrality rules, I don’t immediately declare Bill Callahan wrong. In fact, what I’ve done in that situation is contact Bill. Because he’s forgotten more about the issue than I’ll ever know.

So Staff shouting “Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!” based on one data set is a bit presumptuous, though not terribly surprising.

My reply to Staff’s first post is here. It’s not terribly detailed, but I thought the reply at the least explained why debate as to the meaning of the NEA numbers is open. Well apparently Staff disagrees, though he didn’t reply to my comment. Instead he seized on this post to accuse me of demagoguery. Apparently the question of school funding levels is settled and all that’s left is what to call me.

Let’s get two things settled up front. First off, demagoguery. I am not advancing arguments I know to be false, nor am I stoking prejudices against identifiable groups -- the two elements of the dictionary definition of demagoguery. Staff is welcome to disagree with me, but don't accuse me of lying. I don't believe this stuff because it's my job, I do my job because I believe this stuff.

Second, both posts talked about both K-12 and higher education. Staff doesn’t dispute that Ohio is shortchanging higher ed, so let’s at least apply that fact to both of my posts. Maybe I’m only a demi-demagogue.

OK, into the heart of the dispute. Staff’s argument is that since Ohio is at least “average” on a number of benchmarks, the problem is “distribution” rather than overall funding. Rather than spend more money, we simply need to repair the system.

Two interrelated problems with Staff’s argument: the data he sites are too old to be of use and he overreads the import of the data. Simply because it is easier on me, I'm handling the second one first.

Staff’s argument for simply distributing the money more “efficiently” appears to be based on a misunderstanding of how schools are funded in Ohio. It’s true the system fails to distribute resources effectively, but that is in large part due to Ohio’s over-reliance on local property tax revenues to fund schools.

As I pointed out in the comments the his first post, high-wealth districts distort the mean per-pupil expenditure figure by spending far above the mean. As a result, the distribution is absurdly skewed with an overwhelming majority of school districts below the mean.

Staff’s formulation, apparently, perhaps (he never really says) is to take money from the high-wealth districts and redistribute it elsewhere. This is politically untenable and probably unconstitutional. The high per-pupil expenditures in high-wealth districts result from high property tax collection. Just taking the property tax money won’t work.

What works is raising the amount of state aid. You don’t give more aid to high-wealth districts, and you don’t aim for everyone spending like Beechwood. But you do try to bring school districts up to a level of adequacy. What is that level? Ah, there’s the rub. That’s why all the various plans for funding reform, from the Governor’s Blue Ribbon Task Force to Flannery’s to the ideas currently being discussed all have some sort of costing-out mechanism.

In fact, the state’s failure to cost out was one of the three main inadequacies in the school funding system cited by the Supreme Court in State v. DeRolph. The other two were over-reliance on local property taxes (which see above) and phantom revenue.

I should also note that comprehensive funding reform isn’t currently on the tail end of the appendix to the addendum of the General Assembly’s dance card. It may be that a truly comprehensive reform wouldn’t cost significantly more to anyone outside the high-wealth districts, but instead would involve some sort of tax trade-off – higher income or sales taxes and lower property taxes, for example. In the meantime, most school districts are hurting for money and will continue to hurt until the GA increases the state share.

Finally, as I said the NEA data have some serious deficiencies. First and foremost, they are old. I’m trying to track down the methodology NEA used for putting their charts together as I have some additional suspicions. I will post that later this week.

Peace in Our Time

From the Sherrod Brown Campaign:

    CINCINNATI - Congressman Sherrod Brown and Iraq War veteran and activist
    Paul Hackett will co-host a Democratic Unity Rally in Cincinnati at 3 p.m.
    Monday, July 10, 2006 at Theodore M. Berry International Friendship Park
    at 1101 Eastern Avenue, Cincinnati.

    This event is open to the media.

    TIME: 3 p.m.
    DATE: Monday, July 10, 2006
    PLACE: Theodore M. Berry International Friendship Park at 1101 Eastern
    Avenue, Cincinnati.
I'd love to hear the backstory on this sometime. In the meanwhile, it's good to see it happen. Thanks to both parties.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Random Ten

Again, Friday passed and I forgot. Don't want to disapoint the R10 fans:

1. "A Thousand Miles from Nowhere," Dwight Yoakam
2. "Empty Arms," Stevie Ray Vaughn
3. "Painter Song," Norah Jones
4. "Let Down," Radiohead
5. "The Observer," The Flaming Lips
6. "Come on Home," Eddie Boyd
7. "Stars," Alison Krauss
8. "Lullabye," Concrete Blonde
9. "Back Door Man," Howlin' Wolf
10. "Return of the Son of Monster Magnet," Mothers of Invention

Pho Reflects in Church -- Annotated.

Note: Today I served as Worship Associate as our minister led a service about our congregation's involvement in We Believe Ohio and the challenges posed by the Religious Right. I've posted a copy of my five minute Reflection, with a few notes. Some of this will sound familiar if you read my earlier posts on the subject.

Due to some life circumstances, I find myself spending more time around political campaigns than ever before. If you spend any time at all in a campaign headquarters you notice how young everyone is. So I find myself pondering why I didn’t do that back when I was that young. I’ve always been a politics junkie, but mainly as a spectator and only occasionally as a participant.

An easy answer is that getting involved in campaigns in my day would have included working for Michael Dukakis. While that explains a lot, in fact the reason goes deeper than that. While I was not a Unitarian Universalist at the time, UU principles and my principles are a bad match with party politics. Contra our fourth principle, a political campaign is not “A free and responsible search for truth and meaning.” So I’ve always been an issue guy more than a candidate guy.

The topic Nancy presented for this reflection is “how I have brought my Unitarian Universalist beliefs into my work in the political arena.”

The short answer is that becoming a UU has made my commitment to my political beliefs far more personal and my approach to politics a little more flexible.

The best example of my political beliefs becoming more personal is in the area of religious liberty. Time was, I cared about religious freedoms, but cared in the abstract. During the period that I knocked around life as an agnostic [1], freedom of religion mattered, but it mattered because it was supposed to matter. Now I feel far more sharply that religious rights are my rights. As a Unitarian Universalist I am well aware of being in a religious minority. One measure – if you have ever typed about this church on a computer, you may have noticed that the word “Universalist” shows up as a misspelling – it does not exist in Microsoft Word’s spell check dictionary.

Since becoming a Unitarian Universalist government advocacy of a particular religion troubles me personally as it didn’t before I found this faith. And let’s name the thing – government advocacy for religion in this country at this time means government advocacy for Christianity.

Because we are UU’s we shy away from using words like holy and sacred and ordained and God.[2] But for me, the belief in one God and many paths to know God is holy. The parable of six blind men and an elephant is sacred. And this faith community in which people with different beliefs come together to worship is ordained[3] by God.

So Christian triumphalism offends my beliefs as much as my beliefs apparently offend those of conservative Christians. Government endorsement of the idea that the only path to God is through belief in Christ as savior would cut me to the core and undermine my effort to raise my children in this faith. So I fight vigorously for a separation of church and state, not because I believe the state must be protected from the church, but because my religion would be threatened by a Chistianized state.

Beyond that, the rhetoric of the Religious Right feels threatening. It’s tempting to look at an issue like the Religious Right’s constant assault on the rights of gays and paraphrase Pastor Martin Neimoeller’s “First they came for the Jews.”[4] I shared with Nancy as we were preparing this service that it is difficult to know what to think about the Religious Right because they are rather slippery about their end goals. I can’t honestly tell you if they are coming for anyone in the Pastor Niemoeller sense. But being a Unitarian Universalist means knowing that if they come for anyone, they are coming for me. And that gives a sense of urgency to drawing a line and saying this far, but no more.

As I said, religious freedom is the best example of an issue that has become more personal to me, but not the only one. In fact, much of what made the American middle class seems to be under attack. Where social justice work was once a matter of conscience, increasingly it feels like self-defense. As a result, I’ve made peace with politics. More than that, I’ve embrace the political process as a tool[5] – or increasingly a shield – in a time such as this.

It’s not easy. Politicians and political campaigns continue to disappoint me with their least-common-denominator approximations of truth.[6] But being a little more flexible about politics enables me to put my faith into action. If all this sounds like pragmatism and compromise rather than adherence to values and principles, so be it. It feels like truth to me.

[1] Until I was 22, by the way, though I didn't join the UU church until about eight years after that.

[2] This section is here in part to advocate my take on this ongoing discussion started at PeaceBang and which I read about first at Trivium.

[3] If I had it to do over again, I'd say "consecrated" instead of "ordained."

[4] Yes, I know the poem actually starts "First they came for the Communists." But this is the best shorthand to let the audience know what I'm talking about.

[5] At this point I should give a hat tip to Tim Russo who's postings of his book inspired this bit. I thought about quoting his answer to The Question, but couldn't find a BFD post on that.

[6] Tempted to say "truthiness," but by and large this isn't Colbert's demographic.

Rev. Arnold's sermon should be posted on the church website soon at which time I'll drop a link to it. We brought down the house. Seriously. In our church people applaud occasionally -- usually in appreciation of a particularly fine piece of music. Generally ours is not a Stand-up-and-say-AMEN! congregation and Rev. Arnold is not a I got a Stand-up-and-say-AMEN! preacher. But she was on fire today and the congregation was with her. I got a standing ovation for my bit and Rev. Arnold got one for her sermon.

All of which tells me that religious liberals are hungry for a call to arms. After years of being cuffed around and treated like the homely stepchildren of God, we are ready to stand up and witness for social justice and religious pluralism. If we can organize and channel the energy I felt in that room, we can turn this thing around.

Saturday, July 08, 2006


The original plan was to tell the story about initially not calling Scott Pullins a douchebag as a lead to this essay to advance the argument that maintaining a mature tone has value. Of course, Pullins himself ruined all that by eventually acting a douchebag, but the point remains.

While I don’t exactly regret the Pullins post, two misgivings remain. First off, I have since decided that responding to someone else’s blog on my blog without notice is a crummy way to do business. I don’t like it when I have to discover a counterargument through a Technorati search and I’m sure no one else does. From now on any argument here against someone else’s blog will be accompanied by a referral comment on the post at issue. (Doing that in the Pullins case would have been interesting; “Hey Scott, I’ve called you a douchebag over on the Pages.”)

The more fundamental misgiving is that the post was more about an exception without much discussion of the rule. As a whole, the Ohio blogosphere on both sides of the aisle exemplifies high-toned debate. I’ve been consistently impressed with the intelligence and civility of the right side of the blogosphere, and we do pretty well on this side of the divide.

This is not to say that all is sweet fluffiness. On both sides, bloggers argue passionately and sometimes harshly for their positions. Elbows get thrown, pols are called out and invective is in heavy supply. But namecalling across the blogosphere is rare as is sleazy rumormongering. There are exceptions, but I’m not in the mood to drop comments on other blogs about it, so they will remain nameless. They know who they are.

So like I said, my original intent in telling the Pullins story was to demostrate the virtues of maintaining a civil tone. Instead, I have Exhibit B. Last week NixGuy took up my post on why Ken Blackwells Godsmack scares me, wrote respectfully and taught me a couple things about his point of view. I chimed in with a comment and a question and he wrote another excellent post about that. It's one of the best things that has happened to me as a result of blogging. It gives me hope that we are headed somewhere other than protracted sectarian strife of one intensity or another.

This isn't a plea to be all lovey-dovey. I expect both sides to argue forcefully and it won't always be pretty. But we can keep it from being personal. We can make the posts about issues and not sleazy innuendo. It'll be a great blogosphere if we can be better at disagreeing in a civilized way than our leaders. One can hope.

Meanwhile, I'm ready to make another call. NixGuy: Not a douchebag.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Debating Debates

Depending on which newspaper you are reading, you either think the gubernatorial candidates may debate in Cleveland, or they will not debate or they definitely will debate. Such, apparently, is the world when newspapers are in the news.

As background, the Plain Dealer, Columbus Dispatch and Dayton Daily News have acted as a consortium to sponsor debates starting with the gubernatorial debate in 2002 (apparently some guy ran against Taft then. Who knew?)

The Blackwell and Strickland camps agreed to debates in Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati and Youngstown. But the campaigns jointly demanded four changes in the set up. Three were logistical; the fourth was adding Don King’s Ohio black newspaper the Call & Post as a sponsor. The newspapers agreed to 1-3 and nixed the fourth.

Here’s where it gets interesting. The Dayton Daily News has its debatemeter set at “maybe.” According to DDN, the candidates issued a joint statement agreeing that the Cleveland debate "be sponsored by a media consortium, including Cleveland's The Plain Dealer, Columbus Dispatch, Dayton Daily News and the Call & Post."

The newspaper consortium had not agreed to that and PD editor Brent Larkin was not amused. DDN quotes him charging that both campaigns "are engaging in flagrant distortion of the truth and they should be ashamed of themselves.” So DDN says that the candidates have agreed to the debates, but the statement casts doubt on whether it will happen.

Next up, the Plain Dealer which declared the Cleveland debate off. The PD’s story is a study in journalistic petulance. It focuses solely on the Cleveland debate, making no mention of the four others. While it leaves out Larkin’s money quote from the DDN, it lashes both candidates for, well, whatever it is they’ve done.

Finally, the Dispatch says that the four debates are still on, “Although [the] campaigns declined to reveal when or to name the sponsoring organizations.” Again, the Dispatch gives Larkin room to rail against the campaigns:

    "At the eleventh hour, the Blackwell and Strickland campaigns came along and tried to rewrite the rules and force a partnership that was incompatible with what we have been doing since 2002," Larkin said.

    "We are not going to be a party to the political gamesmanship that is going on between those two campaigns."
Meanwhile, no way to tell what the Call & Post thinks of all this since they haven’t updated their website since – I’m not making this up – 2003. Nothing on Open yet and the Beacon Journal doesn’t have anything up. Nothing on the Strickland site yet; Blackwell’s site has the joint statement up.

Why is Ted on board with all this? It looks to me like he’s being bullied by Blackwell on race. While the establishment newspapers may have a point about the Call & Post lacking expertise on state government, if Ted had sided with the papers against a Black media outlet, Blackwell would have flayed him for it. If I’m right, Ted called the bluff and J. Ken, pot-committed at that point, has been forced to participate in this buddy routine.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

One Trick Ponies

For their next feat of governance the Statehouse Republicans will [drumroll] CUT TAXES!!!

[golf applause]

The latest round of Republicans jumping through the tax cut hoop come compliments of Golfer-in-Chief Bob Taft who announced yesterday that he is accelerating the timetable for some planned cuts in personal income taxes. This proposal joins the capital gains tax cut idea the GA is currently kicking around.

But here’s my favorite part:

    State revenues for the past fiscal year that were $220 million ahead of projections, coupled with underspending in programs such as Medicaid and education, prompted Taft to act, said Tim Keen, the director of the state's office of budget and management.
While tax cut dressage is usually a little scary to watch, this time it just reeks of desperation. People care most about education? Sorry, gotta cut taxes. How about putting those kids kicked off the Medicaid rolls back on? No way, let’s cut taxes. People worried about their jobs? Let them eat tax cuts.

Clearly, the Ohio Republican Party is out of ideas. The mainstream party, that is. J. Ken Blackwell has no shortage of ideas – all catastrophic. But the folks in the GA got nothin’. Tax cuts, gay bashing and unconstitutional abortion bans. That’s what we pay these guys for.

To be sure, part of the reason for all this is to tout the success of the tax reform package past last year. Do they deserve credit? Not really. Republicans knew over the duration of their sixteen years in power that the corporate franchise tax and taxes on tangible business property were antiquated and a drag on business. But they couldn’t afford to do away with either completely, and they couldn't shift to new taxes lest their next opponents yell and scream that they voted for a new tax.

Instead that they nursed corporate franchise along like the ancient nag it was, doing nothing to tend to her ills, but burdening her with ever-gaudier and heavier tack. Finally, they had no choice but to shoot her.

They took the chance on CAT – the Corporate Activities Tax. Which J. Ken condemns as a new tax without acknowledging the old tax it replaced. Glad to know those fears about political gamesmanship were unfounded.

Meanwhile, the to cut income tax wins a trifecta of policy badness.

First, the priority is wrong. For years, the state has balanced the budget by eroding support for K-12 and higher education. If the money is there, now is the time to invest (that’s for you Naugle) in education. When I was lobbying on the budget bill, we heard more than once that the phase out of the tangible business property tax and the changeover to CAT would boost the economy raising more money and allowing the GA to make up for the cuts in support for education. Well, the revenue boost happened, but for the second time Columbus is giving the revenue away instead of making the education sector whole again.

Second, the tax cuts as a pump-priming strategy. If the idea is to put more money into the state economy, cutting taxes is a singular inefficient way to do it. Because state income taxes are deductible from Federal income taxes, a dollar cut in state taxes results in less than a dollar actually going to the taxpayer, with the balance going to the Feds.

Finally, these particular tax cuts are morally indefensible. If – and it’s a big if – it makes sense to cut taxes, it makes the most sense to cut the most regressive taxes – sales and real property taxes. The GA could cut or phase out the half-penny tax they kept in the budget. Or they could increase property tax roll-backs. Or they could give enough in state aid to schools that fewer need to ask for levy increases.

If Ohio is truly turning a corner, that’s great news. But one would hope that our elected officials would show a little more imagination than to just – oops. Stepped in something.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Educate and Obfuscate

I've been meaning for some time to take on Ohio Learn and Earn, but finding time to listen to the MTB podcast, breakdown the actual amendment and scry the internet for information has thus far eluded me. I'll do all that sometime, but fact is the proposal is plenty dislikable even if it works as advertised.

For those just catching up, Learn and Earn (hereinafter designated by my nickname Educate and Obfuscate or Ed and Obf) is the latest scheme to expand the decriminalization of gambling in the state. Instead of just legalizing gambling, they legalize gambling, then earmark the taxes for a college scholarship fund. Or to hear them put it, they create a scholarship program and fund it with . . . let me see here, what can we do . . . oh, taxes on slot machine earnings. That will work!

Seriously, they the gambling interests pimping this idea are touting it as a scholarship program. In fact, depending on the source, you might not know it's a gambling issue at all. Mind you, the fine print includes all sorts of pro-gambling industry goodies, like local option for full casino gambling. But remember, it's all about education.

Hence, Educate and Obfuscate.

The whole thing is so off-putting, it has accomplished something few people thought possible. No, not putting me in bed with David Zanotti -- that happened long ago. Ed and Obf has created a blog that I won't link to even though they blogroll me. In point of fact, the blogroll is like grass scent on astroturf, so it wasn't even a temptation.

While I have my differences with gambling as a growth strategy (you can catch up here, here and here), I take a particularly dim view of this scheme. First off, as a K-12 education advocate, I can testify to the albatross that is the Ohio Lottery. Talk to people about funding K-12 and they inevitably start complaining about how the lottery was supposed to take care of all of that.

The Ed and Obf folks will counter that unlike in the case of the Lottery, they have rigged their scheme so that the General Assembly can't offset the money from the slots. First off, they can find a way. But even if they don't trade off one-to-one, they can just fund schools less and let tuitions rise faster with the excuse that students should just rely on the Ed and Obf scholarships.

But more fundamentally than that, Ed and Obf lets everyone off the hook. The fundamental moral objection to gambling is that creates the illusion that a person can get something for nothing. As destructive as such an illusion might be for and individual, it is devastating for communities. Republicans have sold this illusion as fact for years. Just today we learn that a program that saves taxpayer money in the long run is going under the knife.

People are starting to see the folly in all this. People are starting to learn that "Cut taxes one more time" isn't a theory of governance.

Ed and Obf offers a mirage of free money in a state parched of education funding. Without Ed and Obf, the day would come that voters demand real leadership from their elected officials to lead them from the desert. With Ed and Obf's illusory promises, Republicans are in a win-win situation. They can run against the proposal, stir up their conservative base and paint the Democrats as amoral degenerates. But then if they win, they stand back and say "problem solved. You voted for this; it's now your higher education program."

Educate and Obfuscate is a sucker's bet.

All Eyes on Ohio

This week's Nation has a cover story about the looming "Ballot Meltdown" in Ohio.

Meanwhile, Josh Michah Marshall, who leads the blog-based fight against Social Security privatization, is trying to pin down where Mike DeWine stands on the issue.

Finally, an education advocacy group recently released a poll of Ohio voters on education. It finds, unsurprisingly, that education tops the list of the issues most important to Ohio voters, and that voters would like to see more state money go to education.

Do You Know Pho?

Now you have the chance. Wendy Hoke, proprietor of Creative Ink and contributor to Brewed Fresh Daily posts a series on BFD called Behind the URL. She's rolling down the list of NEO bloggers, sending us questionnaires and posting the results. Today it's my turn in the chair.

I've been meaning to update the PhAQs for some time now. This will have to do until then.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006


I love that we celebrate Independence Day as the birth date of our country. This is the anniversary of the date that the Founders declared that this was a new nation. Not the date it actually became a nation, mind you, the date they said so. We could have chosen so many other dates – Cornwallis’ surrender to Washington, ratification of the Articles of Confederation, Constitution Day – but we choose the day that men years ago decided to say they were independent.

I love it first off, because it’s so quintessentially American to say that the thing started on the day people started the thing.

But I also love it because as the beginning rather than an end, it underscores the idea that the American project is ongoing. We work every day to get closer to our ideals of liberty and justice for all. And for that matter, we work to understand what those ideals mean. We’ve now figured out – that slavery thing? – doesn’t really fit.

So as we celebrate the day – eating too much, getting sunburned, watching flaming chemicals – let’s also contemplate what this America thing can be and how we can get it there.

Happy Birthday, America.

Sunday, July 02, 2006


In addition to the general paucity of news, I've been devoting much of my computer time to work on a few things. I've finally switched over to Firefox and, yes, it's all that. I'm now researching plugins and plan to tranfer my RSS subscriptions from the glacial My Yahoo pages I've been using. Any Firefox devotees who have strong feelings about one RSS reader plugin or another are welcome to share.

I've also done another round of sidebar updates. I've added an Upcoming bar with the meetings, events and whatnot that I try to promote in posts.

I've also done another round of updating the blogroll. To the Ohio Prog roll I've added Blogesque, Liberal Common Sense, Roldo, Onward and The Religious Left. I found a few new area blogs for the Akron Area roll: Dave's Blog about environmental issues, Chief Source correspondent Terra Milo's side blog, and a second blog by That Chick of "Dude, WTF?" fame. William Green has shut down The Green Report, but since he's also the William behind WillBlog, I've just substituted one link for another.

Jim Eastman at Wine and Politics has me on his Roll, so he's added to the Phriends.

I've updated the candidate lists with all the statewide Dems, plus Lew Katz and Tim Ryan. Also Stephanie Studebaker gets a link because she rolls the Pages. The Sherrod Brown link formerly linked to a now-dormant unofficial blog. Now it goes to the official one. Generally a link goes directly to the campaign blog if a candidate has one. Otherwise it's a link the the campaign website. Also a Medina County Dems grassroots group has a blog going and I've linked to that.

In my trolling for area blogs I found Ohio Media Watch which is less watchdoggy and more inside baseball than the portentous title makes it sound. It's quickly becoming a favorite.

As always, suggestions for the blogroll are welcome. In particular, I'd like to hear from anyone
who is rolling me but that I have missed, and anyone in the Akron area who is blogging.

Slow News Weekend

The opening of Slate's Today's Papers says it all:

    The Washington Post leads with its study of farm subsidies
It is even so here at the Pages. I have some thought pieces in the works, but this is a pretty family-intense weekend, so no promises.