Saturday, March 31, 2007

O-H! I-O! vs Hoya Saxa: Final Four Preview

The Final Four is set like most everyone thought it would be. On our side, the Buckeyes face Georgetown. To make things interesting Jill Miller Zimon and I have a bet going. Whoever wins gets a brag post, with logo, on the loser's blog.

I've been a Northeast Ohio sports fan long enough to know better than to talk junk before a big game. If ever I was going to talk smack, it wouldn't be about this game. If Ohio wins, the certainly deserve to win it all. Georgetown is a tough team that plays brilliantly. They run a Princeton-style spread offence with top-caliber players.

The potency of Georgetown's style was on full display in the Regional Final against UNC. Carolina was a better team for about 36 minutes. Then they hit a wall. Georgetown simply wore them down and, by overtime, they had nothing left in the tank.

Ohio will have to play 40 minutes of near-perfect basketball to end the game far enough up that they can hold off a comeback. So far, they haven't done that. On the other hand, they've had the legs at the end of their games to comeback. Ohio has more talent 1-5 and on the bench. We'll see whether Thad Matta can neutralize the advantage of Georgetown's offensive style.

Friday, March 30, 2007

De Vellis Speaks

OK, confession time. I've been talking to former Sherrod Brown staffer and Vote Different mashup ad creator Phil De Vellis. When I read the piece on HuffPo, I sent an email off to the address he sent me when he left for DC. (Like I said, I always got along with Phil, even though I didn't agree with everything that happened in the campaign.) Phil verified to me that he had. We've had a couple of conversations since.

Phil wanted to lay low for awhile after the story broke and he posted his essay on HuffPo, so everything was off the record. As such, I steered clear of the controversy here because I was uncomfortable

Well, Phil is talking now. We spoke on the phone and he let me know about a couple of vids on YouTube.

First off, if you haven't seen it before, Olberman on the unmasking of Phil was pretty funny. I ran across it while looking for the other stuff:

Interview with

Interview with YouTube

In both Phil explains the outlines of how he put the mashup together and why he did it. The new revelation I found most interesting was how he was found out. Ariana Huffington dispatched her people to make a list of people who could put together a video like it and called them. When she got to Phil, he owned up.

More People Coming to Talk to Akron

First off, don't forget Ben McConnell coming to Akron Press Club this coming Thursday. Details here and here.

And there's plenty more cool speakers on the way.

Dr. John Green, Director of the Bliss Institute for Applied Politics and currently on leave to work as a Senior Fellow at the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life will visit the Akron Roundtable April 19. The Roundtable doesn't announce topics, but obviously he will be discussing religion and politics and quite likely the '06 and '08 elections.

Main Library has some good stuff coming in their Main Event speaker series. On April 11 the Library will host David Eggers, author if A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and What Is the What. I dipped into Heartbreaking Work once and found it to be David Foster Wallace lite, but if if you like Eggers here he comes.

The really cool guy comes in May 23.

Chuck D.

Chuck freakin' D in Akron. The Co-founder of future Hall of Fame rap group Public Enemy will speak on "rap, race, reality and technology."

We've just had the first rappers inducted into the Rock Hall, D's old radio home Air America is on the financial ropes and a Black man is a serious candidate for President. So, yes, I think Chuck D might have some things to say.

You can read about both Library programs in their online newsletter (pdf.)

Developments in the Vinson Shooting

The routine drug stop that ended tragically continues to reverberate. From today's ABJ:

    The trail of the .45-caliber handgun that authorities say Demetrus Vinson of Akron used to fatally shoot himself in a standoff with police March 17 led federal and local anti-gang units to raid a Canton house this week.

    The raid on the home of Roy Turner on 16th Street Northeast produced 59 guns, thousands of rounds of ammunition and a convicted sex offender on parole living in the house.
    Dittmore said officers were able to trace the gun from Vinson back to Roy Turner using federal forms that are required when a gun is sold. However, he said it hasn't been determined how many times the gun may have changed hands between Turner and Vinson, 19.
Two thoughts. First this investigation has gone far deeper as a result of both the shooting and the community reaction. Stops out of known drug houses, like the one that started all this are a daily occurance at APD. There's at least a chance the police wouldn't even have been able to search the car. Much police work depends on dumbness on the part of suspects, though rarely dumbness on the vast scale at work here.

Second, the residents of Gunnutistan are convinced that records like place us but a half step from a police state. They should at least acknowledge that the price for eliminating the record keeping requirements would be to lose an important investigative tool which, in this case, uncovered what appears to be a guy selling guns to bad people.

Meanwhile, Eric Mansfield has been teasing us with hints about upcoming developments. Here's Wednesday's post:
    Shooting Update: Sources tell me there have been several significant developments in the investigation into Demetrus Vinson's death. He's the 19-year-old from North Hill who died 11 days ago during a traffic stop with Akron Police. Officers pulled him over after leaving a suspected drug house and shot him when they say he drew a gun. The Medical Examiner later ruled that Vinson actually died from a self-inflicted wound a minute or so after the police fired at him. Vinson's family and some others don't believe it and have been leading a charge for outside investigators and further review. I can't go on the air quite yet with what I'm hearing but let's just say some of these developments are scientific, some are in the courthouse, and some are outside of the city. Stay tuned.
And Mansfield Thursday:
    The net around the Vinson case is widening. Between the house of guns where the gun in Vinson's car was traced and the DNA test officers hope to perform on the 15-year-old witness, does anyone else feel like we're in an episode of Law & Order? I've learned that there's so more lab testing going on that will shed the spotlight on yet another sidecar to this speeding rocket ship too. And don't forget, as soon as the investigation ends, a special investigator from Cleveland gets to review all the evidence.
(I've written to Eric complaining about how his blog doesn't allow linking to specific posts. Needless to say, he's not the tech guy in charge, though he said he would pass it on.)

All of which brings us around to the second Vinson-related item in the in today's ABJ:
    [Chance Baker], [t]he teen in the car when 19-year-old Demetrus Rayshawn Vinson died in what police said was a suicide, will appear in court next week . . . with his lawyer Eddie Sipplen for a probable cause hearing.

    Sipplen is challenging an Akon police search warrant seeking fingerprints and DNA samples from his client Baker.
Presumably police found something that they suspect Baker had in his possession. It will be interesting to see what.

Initial Impressions of the Advance Northeast Ohio Launch

I attended the launch today. I have notes to go through and papers to read for some hopefully more detailed posts later. For now, some from-the-hip takes.

First off, we've moved well beyond Voices and Choices. The sign at the entrance to the hall proclaims "Voices and Choices Turns to Action." During the event, presenters mentioned V&C in passing, but part of the agenda was rebranding the efforts of the Fund for Our Economic Future. The Voices, as it were, have made their, as it were, Choices. Those Choices have been run through an expert mill of some sort and now Advance Northeast Ohio has set forth its agenda.
And let's work on the name. It's going to be shortened if the effort seriously catches on. I'm thinking AdNEO, but we'll take suggestions from the audience.

Also, as George noticed last night, the Advance Northea -- erm -- AdNEO website is up. You can register and, from what I've been told, post contend.

Beyond the change in focus, there is also a change in demographic. Gone is the great hoi poloi of the Voices Town Hall Meeting. No painter capturing the scene. No digitally-enable democracy. And, sadly, no rappers. This event was for the movers and -- hopefully indicated by my invite -- a few shakers. The audience was overwhelmingly in business attire. Among other things, this made the journalists (and the blogger) easier to pick out.

The commitment to regionalism was evident, though somewhat focused on the biggest counties. First off, meeting in Akron is in itself a symbolic nod toward regionalism. Last week I attended a more typical "regional" meeting in Cleveland (for something entirely different) in which I was the only representative from outside the Cleveland region. Even for Clevelanders, Akron represents a sort of not-West-Side/not-East-Side neutral ground. And apparently the folks from up north found their way down the dirt roads to Knight Center Holler without any problems.

The presenters came from Cuyahoga, Summit and Lorain Counties. I saw a pretty strong Youngstown contingent. But not a lot of serious talk about how to bring into the effort the less densely-populated counties or those on the perifery of what we are calling Northeast Ohio.

At this stage, discussion of K-12 education is minimal. I'll get into the wherefores in a later post.

Finally, I have to praise the overall blog-friendliness of the Fund. The Voices and Choices part of the effort got seriously cuffed around in the blogosphere as it unfolded. Nonetheless, the organizers reached out to us. While I was on the mailing list thanks to my participation in the Regional Town Meeting, FFEF Director Chris Thompson extended a personal invite to me and spoke to me afterwards.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Blogger Hooliganism

I ran across a piece on the BBC News website about a woman blogger who was being harassed to the point that death threats were being posted on other blogs. Whoa, I thought. Wonder what sort of radical Feminist critique of Virgin Birth she posted, I thought.

It turns out that Kathy Sierra is a tech blogger.

A. Tech. Blogger.

She writes about computers and sofware and creating passionate consumers for killer apps. And so naturally people who disagree with her Photoshop sadistic murder fantasy images of her. As a result, she may stop blogging.

According to the BBC interview:

    Other than being a woman, she can see only one other reason for the hatred she has experienced in the last four weeks.

    "They thought I was just too damned optimistic," she told the BBC News website.

    "These people are interested in rage and they think that if you aren't enraged then you are part of the problem. It seems that they hate my optimism. They think I am poisoning peoples' minds with my positive outlook," she told the BBC News website.
What the Hell?

When we write about politics, we write about what means the most to us. It's about what the world our children will inherit and personally, nothing means more. And yet, while rhetoric gets heated, we manage to stop well short of posting death threats. Even the lefty sphere's resident unbalanced troll traffics only in childish taunts. But when people are talking about technology, apparently some go all Mike Tyson on each other.

As a result of this, some are talking about somehow formalizing rules for blog behavior. I fail to see how anyone could think what has happened to Kathy Sierra is OK under any rules of behavior. What is needed is for people to act this side of beastly. And what is needed is for members of online communities to call out people who don't.

One of the reasons I stated opposition to some of the slurs launced at Ann Coulter was that such talk represents the first few steps down the road rolls past the dark spot where Ms. Sierra finds herself now. Everyone, even some obscure, borderline tech-illiterate local blogger in Akron, should stop and decry what has happened. We ignore it at our peril.


I'll be at the launch of Advance Northeast Ohio. This is the latest iteration of Voices and Choices/Fund for Our Economic Future.

I've had a fraught relationship with V&C since posting about my attendance at the Regional Town Meeting. On the one hand, it's always easy to be a cynic. On the other, a lot of good people have signed on at one time or another and, based on what David Abbott told us at my first-ever Meet the Bloggers, there's money available for projects. As an advocate for education -- one of V&C's priorities -- I can't pass up the opportunity to network with a potential ally, especially a well-funded one.

Also, the Voices posts pretty much put The Pages on the NEO blogospheric map, so this is kind of like going back to my alma mater or something. Except I don't expect they'll have rappers this time.

At this point, the hive mind experiment has concluded and the action begins. We find out what that means tomorrow. Stay Tuned.

Charter Schools Suing for Right to Fire White Hat

I'm trying to follow up on a truly extraordinary story in today's Beacon. It seems that a number of charter schools that contract with White Hat management are suing to invalidate a state law that, among other things, allows an education management organization (EMO) to appeal a decision by a charter board of directors to either terminate or not renew a contract with the EMO. If the charter board loses the appeal, they face an automatic death penalty:

    Under one provision, Education Management Organizations (EMOs) such as White Hat -- which receives a fee from charter schools for managing their operations -- are allowed to appeal a charter school board's decision to terminate or not renew a management contract.

    The appeal can be made to the school's sponsor or directly to the State Board of Education if the sponsor has been involved for less than six months.

    If the sponsor rules in favor of the EMO or charter school operator and against the board or governing authority, then the sponsor is required by law to fire the board. The law then requires the EMO to appoint a new board.

The new law was part of H.B. 79, a lame duck bill that was amended to carry all sorts of interesting things past the Governor's desk. I confess to missing the death penalty bit when the law was passed.

The lawsuit also challenges a provision limiting the number of boards of start-up schools on board member can sit on. It's unclear why the people discussed in the story are upset since they sit on boards of extant schools. For that matter, its unclear how one guy can sit on the boards of 19 different schools and believe that he is giving his position the time and attention it deserves.

The White Hat flak interviewed for the story may win some award for Most Disingenuous Spin of the Year:
    Bob Tenenbaum, a White Hat spokesman, said he is not sure why the company is part of the lawsuit. ``The core question needs to be asked of the General Assembly. It was their decision to change the law,'' Tenenbaum said.

By reports David Brennan is the most generous Republican contributor in the state, but neither he nor his company have any idea why the Republican General Assembly would pass a law that so obviously tilt the market in his company's favor.

One thing that's not unclear: This is a bad law. I suspect that part of the Governor's strategy in proposing to eliminate EdChoice and ban for-profit EMO's is bidding high to get the most out of subsequent negotiations. Hopefully with the help light shone by this lawsuit, Strickland will be able to win an end to the EMO appeal provision.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Some Comments on Comments

A couple of weeks ago Freakonomics posted a couple of pieces about why people comment on blogs. This created some ripples in the blogosphere as other people commented on it and it got me thinking about comments. maybe it only seems that way to me because I was thinking hard about comments and started mapping out this post last week. Anyway, here are a few thoughts:

In General

Comments have been up lately, which is great. Keep ‘em coming. Positive or negative, comments let a blogger know he’s not just talking to himself.

I’ve been trying to respond to comments better than I have in the past. Two classes of comments continue to flummox me. Comments saying “Great post, thanks for writing this,” are wonderful to get and give me a healthy pink glow around the ears, but seldom can I think of anything to say in response. Thanks, of course and I do drop that on occasion. But I don’t tend to take praise gracefully and without embarrassment. Mostly just understand that your comments are appreciated and, more than that, keep me going.

I also lamely have trouble with some truly heart wrenching comments. For instance, this one during the HPV vaccine debate really got to me, but I couldn’t come up with any response that didn’t sound facile and trite. Next time, I’ll ignore the inner critic and say something like “I really appreciate you sharing something so personal a painful to help us understand the issue.” Come to think of it, that would have worked

Some Specific Shout-Outs

The best comments are those that tell me something new or otherwise make me think. Daniel Jack Williamson has been one of my consistently best commenters on that score. Also, Tom Blumer from BizzyBlog wrote a great comment about the PD story on bloggers and journalists which offered some insight into how the article came together.

Finally, and not apropos of any of the above but nonetheless quite cool, Sgt. Brandon White, blogger of the Afghanistan-based GWOT dot US tracked back some click-throughs and left a very nice comment on the post about him. He mentioned that they are setting off on a major mission, so keep him and his fellow soldiers in you thoughts and prayers.


Are getting on my nerves again. Even if you aren’t going to set up a blogger ID, how hard is it to drop some sort of identifying information in a comment? Instead I have to muddle through with “Anon1, you said, but then Anon2, you noted that. . .”

Up the annoyance scale are people who cop harsh attitudes from behind the Anonymous wall. I know it may seem inconsistent to complain about this, given my nom de blog, but I haven’t made it all that difficult to track down Pho’s Secret Identity.

What’s more, there is a level of ownership to a comment attached even to an online persona that isn’t there. When a comment comes from someone who bothers to append a name it feels more like that person is engaging the discussion. When someone comments anonymously, it feels like an entirely gratuitous drive-by flaming. And maybe it’s my imagination, but people seem far more likely to adopt a snotty or abusive tone when the comment anonymously.

I won’t turn off anonymous commenting, but it would be nice to be able to make that veil of anonymity fit less comfortably. I would love someone in the Blogger hack writing community to allow bloggers to change how anonymous comments are announced. Right now they post with “anonymous says:.” I’d like to be able to change that to something like “I’m a Big Pussy says:.”

Some Ground Rules.
I’ve never really set out any, but here’s the basic contours of how things go in the comments section. The only reason I’ve ever deleted comments was when a commenter used the blog to attack someone else. That person is also the only commenter not allowed to post here (which is to say I delete him whenever he posts.) Generally speaking, I have less patience for incivility toward other guests of the Pages than incivility toward me. I don’t have that many friends, so I’m quick to defend those I have.

It’s conceivable that at some point someone could post something so sexist, racist or otherwise bigoted that I would be unwilling to leave it up. I wouldn’t leave up anything I know to be slanderous even though I’m apparently immune from action. Happily, I haven’t had any such problems so far.

So it’s fairly easy to get a comment up that will stay up. Nonetheless, a few aspirational guidelines are in order. I think I maintain a fairly respectful and respectable tone around here, even when in high dudgeon, and it would be nice if commenters could post in the same vein. I like when smart people who disagree with me challenge me to argue well. I don’t like comments that drag the discussion down.

The only action I take toward nasty comments is return volleys of nasty. If you disagree respectfully, we’ll be fine. If you want to come in on the attack, you’d best come in strong because I can and will bring it.

The Return of Comment Spam?

I've had a couple of instances of comment spam -- comments that serve only to steer readers to a website. It looks like there probably went up as a result of an actual human's work as opposed to a webcrawler, but I'm nervous. It's probably only a matter of time until the spam industry find away around Bloggers word verification and my blog will again be a playground for the world's penis enlargers.

An Interesting Tool

I tracked a SiteMeter hit back to something call I hadn’t seen it before and can’t find indication it has been around that long. It’s a bookmarking tool, kind of like (and this bit with breaking up perfectly fine words with random dots must end here and now, btw), but what it does is lets you bookmark a discussion in something like blog comments and it keeps track of the discussion for you. I haven’t tried using it yet, but there it is if you want to try it.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Spring Cleaning

It happens all the time: I plan or draft a post and find out someone has beaten me to the news item or the take. But this one is more than I can stand. I’m gearing down this week to work around the house and around my life, and Village Green posts pretty much everything I was going to post in announcing the light posting.

Right down to photos of my crocuses:


Anyway, as it is for Village Green, so it is here. The House of Pho is – literally, metaphorically and virtually – a mess and in need of my attention. Unlike last fall’s blog vacation, I’m not planning on going dark entirely. Partly it’s because I don’t want people to forget about your humble servant, but mostly because it’s far more painful to get back into the groove of blogging after staying away completely.

Instead, what I plan on doing is ignoring the news cycle. Instead of keeping up with what’s new on the news and checking for blog reaction, I’m generally staying away from the blogosphere during the day and will concentrate my evening blogging on thought pieces. Some will be based on the budget work I’m doing for my day job, some will be on more or less evergreen topics and some will seek to revive long-forgotten drafts of posts that never quite made it up. And at the same time, I’ll keep adding items to the account.

In addition to all that, I have the two other blogs to tend to and I have been neglecting both. And there will be some blog spring cleaning as well – tightening up the topics list and finishing the blogroll that got munched by the template change,

That’s my hope. I’m hoping for an entirely uneventful news week. On the other hand, if Paul Hackett spots Capri Cafaro necking with Julio Pino at an education funding conference and Phil Trexler writes about it, I’ll probably have something to say about it.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Education Forum Coming to Akron

The League of Women Voters of Akron will present "Shame, Shame Who's to Blame", a forum on education funding on April 14, Saturday, 9:30AM - noon. The event will take place at the Akron-Summit County Public Library main branch meeting room. The event is free and open to the public.

On the panel will be:

  • Tom Sawyer, State Senator, former Mayor of the City of Akron, former Congressman and recently elected former member of the State Board of Education.
  • Brian Williams, former Akron Public Schools Superintendent and current State Representative
  • Charles Parsons from White Hat Management
  • Ed Holland Superintendent, Cuyahoga Falls Public Schools
Topics for discussion will include funding, vouchers, accountability, teacher training.

Charles Parsons was hired by White Hat recently to bring up the performance of the Life Skills warehouses schools. As it happens, he was my principal when I was in high school, and went on to become the district superintendent, so he is an educator. Of course he was educating a mix of white rural and suburban kids, so hard to know how he prepared himself for Life Skills.

Cuyhoga Falls has sponsored at least one charter school -- Schnee Learning Centers, which is basically a publicly sponsored version of Life Skills. I've written about that before.

LWV Akron has a website, but doesn't have any information about the event on it.

Friday, March 23, 2007

JMZ on White Hat and Why It Matters.

I pity the fool who get's Jill Miller Zimon's dander up. If you are thinking of crossing Jill, I have three words for you: Fifty. Seven. Reasons.

The latest collection of poor souls is White Hat Management, the for-profit charter school management company founded by Akronite and generous GOP contributor David Brennan. Earlier this week, WCPN ran a show about school privatization on The Sound of Ideas. The guests included White Hat flak Rob Coker who at one point declined to answer questions about how much White Hat makes in profit, saying he didn't know. The next day, host Dan Moulthrop let the audience know that Coker said off air that he did indeed know the extent of WHM's profits, he just didn't want to say.

Jill was sufficiently incensed that she not only wrote a post, she emailed a bunch of us with a heads-up -- a rarity for her. She now has a second post up with a transcript of the relevant bits of the two shows.

When I first heard all of this, I kind of said, "Enh." There were plenty of shout-at-the radio moments during the show; this one ranked somewhere in the middle. But then I read other people's posts, thought about it, and realized that my reaction was because I'm used to this sort of nonsense from White Hat. For people who have been following the company less closely, the sheer hubris was probably shocking.

The most aggravating bit was Coker poor-mouthing White Hat's profits. What little we know indicates that White Hat makes tons of money, but they are notoriously close to the vest with the information. Check out this quote from a 2005 Columbus Dispatch profile of Brennan:

    Brennan said his schools overall make a profit, although he declined to disclose it, based largely on the performance of the Life Skills centers that fill three-hour computer-based learning classes three times a day. A free-market adherent, Brennan said he would prefer a voucher system in which parents could use state money to select any school of their choice, much like food-stamp recipients are permitted to choose their supermarket.
A CD story from early 2006 gives some idea of the magnitude of White Hat's jack:
    Akron industrialist David L. Brennan is reaping nearly $1 million in Ohioans' tax dollars for each charter school operated by his White Hat Management Co.

    A Dispatch analysis of recent state audits for 17 of Brennan's 34 schools shows White Hat made $15.4 million in combined profits and management fees last year.
The reason reason we don't know how much White Hat makes is that state law doesn't require them to tell us. That, and certain elected officials apparently don't want to know.

So White Hat keeping secrets is nothing new. What's a little new is that they are trying to keep secret the fact that they are keeping secrets. White Hat is rightly sensitive about it's public image. That image doesn't necessarily need to be positive, but White Hat is in danger of a public backlash if the perception turns broadly negative. White Hat's entire business model
relies on friendly legislation, and legislators will turn and run away if the voters turn.

This is why Coker's lie matters. He doesn't want people to know that White Hat's money is public, but its books aren't. Happily, Jill is on the case.

Budget Bill Introduced

House Bill 119. It was actually introduced earlier this week, but you may notice I'm a bit behind. Legislative Services has a Bill Analysis up already. The bill is currently sponsored only by Matthew Dolan (R-Columbus), the chair of the Finance Committee. Dolan was one of the go-to State of State Adress bashers, but concentrated his criticism on too much spending. Since then Repubs have been scrambling to find a way to criticize the budget as proposed without actually saying that the Governor isn't spending enough.

On the other hand, Speaker Jon Husted made some friendly noises about, presumably about the spending part of the budget in the PD earlier this week.


Tennesee 84
Ohio State 85

I mean just wow. I have four teams I seriously follow, and Ohio is the last one still in. I was all ready to write the obit on the season. Twenty freaking points down and they win it. Wow.

UPDATES. I've been looking around for indications of how OSU's comeback fits in history. The Beacon Journal notes that the biggest comeback ever was from 22 points down. OSU came back from a 17 point halftime deficit. That's the biggest ever comeback in the Sweet Sixteen or later, the biggest comeback to a win in regulation and the second biggest tournament comeback overall.

Next up is Memphis. If they can keep their hot free throw shooting pace from the second half, they should do well as Memphis is terrible at the stripe.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

The Vinson Case - Forward and Back

The biggish news is Akron Mayor Don Plusquellec's day. First, he scheduled a press conference to talk about the case, then cancelled it, apparently after reading family attorney in yesterday's ABJ. Says city spokesman Mark Williamson, "I'm not interested one bit in giving him anything more that he can manipulate and pass off as the truth."

So instead, Plusquellec announced that Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Bill Mason would conduct an investigation. At some point. It's not clear whether he will take over the official investigation or will review the case once the SummitCo. prosecutor is done.

It's smart of Plusquellec to find someone outside Summit to look at the case, then get out of the way. This case is shaping up as the Black community vs. the police and neither group trusts the mayor much.

Since yesterday's ABJ agit-prop got me interested in the case, I've gone back to review some of the earlier news stories. Yesterday morning WCPN interviewed Carl Chancellor. I wasn't inclined to single out one reporter for the tone of yesterday's story, given that three reporters contributed to the piece. But after comparing Chancellor's measured tone to the conpiratorially tendentious piece that ran in the paper yesterday, I'm ready to call it. It looks, walks and quacks like a Trexler piece.

I also checked out Eric Mansfield's blog in which Eric posts a timeline mixing the information in the public domain with some nuggets he got from sources and that haven't become part of the story yet. Here are the most fertile sections (It's the Tuesday post called "Facts and Truth."

    9:06 p.m. I hit the high points of the story and record my portion of the script or "package" for the evening broadcasts. As Tim begins to edit, I contact a source of mine at home for more background. I learn that after the 15-year-old was interviewed, police couldn't find anyone to come get him. One person reached by phone even said "I'm really tired. Can't you just take him to juvenile hall and I'll pick him up after I take a nap?" I start to realize what state of mind this teen must have been in when he spoke to the media Saturday afternoon. Considering he'd been up all night, had ducked as three bullets were fired past his head inside a car, had cowered as his friend shot himself in the head, and then had been interviewed by detectives as the sun was coming up, I doubt this kid was really coherent enough to talk to the media. Nevertheless, he did .. and with an attorney in tow. It also occurs to me that with the information on the cause of death being released so late in the afternoon, many in the gallery at city council may not have known that Vinson had shot himself. Instead, most were probably on their way to city hall as the evening news programs delivered the information. That bit of information might not have changed their minds about demanding an outside investigation but it would have been helpful. For that matter, council could have had someone tell the audience that at the beginning of the meeting. Just a thought.

    10:31 p.m. I finish the Akron news and try to catch up on my notes before going back on the air at 11. I learn that the teen had planned another press conference but has since changed his mind. I'm wondering now about how tough it will be for this young man to 'save face' with those closest to him. If his sensational tale of police brutality got all these people in an uproar for nothing, you can bet he'll hear about it behind closed doors. If instead he was lying to police to cover his own tracks, he'll end up in hot water too. One reporter asked the chief if there's any way the 15-year-old pulled the trigger inside the car. The Chief said that gunshot residue tests were taken on the teen as well as Vinson but the results weren't back yet. It's a good question, but it's a long shot reality at best. Still, with the twists and turns we've already seen in less than 72 hours, nothing would surprise me at this point.
Since I'm taking on the story again, I should mention the Anonymouse who rose to Trexler's defense. I have at least one frequent visitor from the Beacon Journal who comes to the blog by searching for "Pho's Akron Pages." Yes, it's a goofy url, but I'm amused by anyone who hasn't mastered the bookmark function on his browser. Anyway, the most likely candidate for the Anonymouse wasn't visiting from the Beacon Journal offices, but did surf over on a search for the blog title.

In any event, I'm suspicious of someone commenting who just happens to think that Phil Trexler is Mr. Objective. First, because probably less than five percent of the readers of the ABJ actually pay attention to bylines. Second, because the defense is laughable. Trexler has never written a story that leaves the reader wondering, "Gee, I wonder what the reporter think about this."

As for Anon's contention that it's a story that should be written about. True. That's why they did so the day before. But yesterday, they just handed the copy desk over to Orlando Williams.

I should mention that there's some history here. When I started at the beginning of Sherri Bevan Walsh's term in office, it became clear early on that Trexler didn't like Sherri and was determined to embarass her. He made life difficult for everyone in the office and I haven't forgotten. One of the reasons I steer clear of local crime stories is that it's easier than constantly checking myself about whether I'm just going after Trexler to go after him. But on the Wednesday story, I feel pretty solid.

Besides, Trexler and I both have our biases. The difference is, I just told you mine.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

HuffPo Says Phil DeVellis Created the "1984" Anti-Hillary YouTube Spot [UPDATED]

UPDATE: It's official! Phil de Vellis is LonelyConsultant15, er, ParkRidge47. Read my original post, revised to include the YouTube embed (apparently Blogger has issues when I try to do this with Firefox), then more updates.

First off, if you haven't seen the spot here it is:

MCDAC blog I believe is the first to spot the post on Huffington Post averring that Sherrod Brown internet coordinator Phil deVellis created the spot. Apparently, tracking down the real identityof ParkRidge47, (the creator's YouTube username) has been something of an obsession for online politicos.

Interestingly, MCDAC doesn't name the guy, only says it's Brown's internet coordinator. Funny how much more it means when you were actively blogging the race at the time. It will be interesting to see the Ohio 'sphere's reaction should this hold. I always liked Phil and cringed for him when he caught flak.

UPDATES: David at Left of Ohio noticed the statement on Blue State Digital's website that Phil had been terminated. His work on the 1984 video violated their policy against outside political work.

TechPresident has a little more on how Huffinton outed Phil

Phil has a post up on Huffington explaining what he did and why. Here's the meat of it:

    The campaigns had no idea who made it--not the Obama campaign, not the Clinton campaign, nor any other campaign. I made the ad on a Sunday afternoon in my apartment using my personal equipment (a Mac and some software), uploaded it to YouTube, and sent links around to blogs.

    The specific point of the ad was that Obama represents a new kind of politics, and that Senator Clinton's "conversation" is disingenuous. And the underlying point was that the old political machine no longer holds all the power.
Reaction from BSB has been swift and snarky.

Finally, of all the commentaries on the spot itself, my favorite is from John Dickerson at Slate. It's done as a voiceover to the spot itself.

More on What Journalists Do and What Bloggers Should Do.

As first reported by Jill, WCPN will be considering the question of whether/when bloggers are journalists tomorrow on The Sound of Ideas. As part of the groundwork, Dan Moulthrop sent George an email asking for input from BFD readers. The discussion about the resulting post is lively as always. Head over and add your two cents.

I'm not clear on whether WCPN is running their usual Thursday roundtable with the bloggers/journalists question as one topic or if they are devoting the show to the question. In any event, I have a meeting in Canton tomorrow morning, so it's unlikely that I will be able to call in and wait fruitlessly on hold as usual.

Meanwhile, a friend with, let's say, MSM sympathies sent me an email with a link to the ethical standards of the Society for Professional Journalists. I don't mean to suggest that the mere fact that journalists have a set of ethical guidelines should somehow tilt the debate. If you look through the standards, it is clear that many are only honored in the breach. What's more, the standards are merely aspirational. Unlike my former profession, no one gets a license to practice journalism that can be pulled if he violates the standards.

Nonetheless, it got me to thinking: What are the ethics for bloggers? I have some ideas, but time is short. If you have ideas, post them in comments and I'll be back with mine tonight.

Ohio Youth Voices Meets Frances Strickland

Ohio Youth Voices, an organizing project bringing high school students together to discuss how public policy relates to their lives, met with Ohio First Lady Frances Strickland last Thursday. The photo above was taken at the end of the meeting, with the First Lady in the center.

Ohio Youth Voices for Economic Justice is the brainchild of Michael Charney, an activist and retired Cleveland teacher. Ohio Fair Schools Campaign, an organization I do contract work for, is collaborating on the project. You can read my previous post on the effort.

According to the press release:

    Mrs. Strickland said that she was impressed by how clear and articulate the
    students were about their needs. She encouraged students to talk to
    legislators, and to make sure they know what the needs are. “Even the
    legislators who support you need to hear from you. Your personal stories
    will help them understand the real-life impacts of their decisions.”

Michael Charney wrote a narrative of the event. Some excerpts:
    They came from all across Ohio to the 31st floor of the Riffe Office Building. They came from small rural towns and from Appalachian counties and from the urban centers of Cleveland and Columbus. On Thursday March 15th these 30 high school students had a single purpose: To tell their stories as they communicated their Youth Agenda to the First Lady of Ohio.

    They wore the professional dress of the button down suit, the blue jeans of teenagers, and the Junior ROTC uniform of the high school cadet. One student came with her mother and grandmother as they squeezed in a college visit in the big city. Another student carried her 8-month old child. They all spoke candidly about their schools, their lives, and what the state of Ohio should do to increase their educational and economic success.
* * *
    Jonathan Lykes, a junior from Shaw High School in East Cleveland, moderated the discussion and explained how all students needed a full curriculum with art, music, technology and AP classes. Mason from Federal Hocking narrated how internships at his school have connected students with real life classes. Julian from Eastmoor Academy in Columbus described how a friend of his dropped out of school because he did not get the needed personal attention that smaller classes, peer counseling, and individual tutoring would provide. Casjmir from East High in Columbus, a teen mother, told how a special program at her school provided a counselor that helped her get what she needed for her baby but the difficulties of staying in school for her and her fellow teen mothers remain, especially without day care.

    Zufan from Eastmoor pointed out that too many schools don't have a counselor that can guide them through the college application and research process because they spend much or their time scheduling classes. Maggie from Warren High School in Washington County spoke about how the cost of college was out of range for middle class families. Diamond, from West High in Columbus, decked out in her JROTC uniform, forcefully and eloquently described how military recruiters are omnipresent at her school while college recruiters seldom appear. Na'Tasha from Shaw in East Cleveland captured the day with her frequent references to the "yearnings" of the students for real educational opportunities and for youth centers to provide a positive alternative to prevent youth violence and early pregnancy.

    Megan and April from Plymouth summarized the Youth Agenda by detailing the way in which school funding works in their small town where a reliance on property taxes has lead to teacher layoffs, demoralized students, and overburdened property owner reluctant to pass school levies.

    The First Lady listened intently and congratulated all the young people for their real life stories. Often when she visited schools the officials only wanted her to see all the positives and the students here were able to capture a more understandable reality. She also connected the recent State of the State speech by Governor Strickland and the Youth Agenda where there is so much in common.

    She then canceled her next meeting to ask the students many questions. Part of the focus was on the level of violence in their schools as well as some of her suggestions to continue the Youth Agenda and ways to tell their stories to the lawmakers who now will take up the state budget.

NOTE: Post was revised to correct the misspelling of Mrs. Strickland's first name.

BREAKING: Cindy George Conviction Overturned on Appeal

Cindy George's conviction for complicity in the murder of ex-lover Jeff Zack by other lover John Zaffino was overturned by the Ninth District Court of Appeals. Baird and Whitmore voted to overturn, Slaby dissented. As the ABJ notes, this decision holds that there was insufficient evidence at trial. Unlike an appeal in which the reviewing court finds errors at trial, the state cannot retry George if the appeal survives review by SCOhio.

Further information from the Plain Dealer.

Carnival of Politics

If you've never clicked through to Newhound's Carnival of Politics, you should. Bloggers from across the state send in their three best stories of the week and blogger Paul Miller assembles them into an easy-to-read narrative.

And if you blog, you should participate. Anyone is welcome. Though Paul is conservative on his blog, he is scrupulously fair in presenting the posts. I've noticed fewer liberal blogs participating lately, which isn't good on any level. I've flat out missed more than I've hit, so I know how it goes, but it's a good part of the Ohio 'sphere that has earned support from all sides.

In any event, Carnival #64 is up.

The Demetrius Vinson Case and the ABJ's Dangerous Game

Akron as a community is in a bit of a crisis point. Over the weekend police shot a Demetrius Vinson, 19-year-old suspect, who died in the encounter. In their first statement the police department stated that shots from the officers killed the suspect, but now they allege, based on the forensic examination and other evidence that Vinson shot himself in the head after being shot in the shoulder and leg by police. Large numbers of people in the Black community do not believe the story.

The situation is tense, especially given the backdrop of increased gang activity and a creeping murder rate. And a recent high-profile gang shooting of an innocent bystander that get uglier by the day.

So naturally, the Beacon Journal’s job is to fan the flames.

Today’s story in the Beacon is full of the dark rumblings and unstated accusations that have been the hallmark of criminal justice reporting there for the last half-dozen years. The reporters mutter darkly about the 56 hour lapse between the initial statement and the revised theory during which “the community festered.” They liberally quote attorney Orlando Williams, a civil rights lawyer retained by the Vinson’s family. And they intimate that the change in the police theory during the course of the investigation Means Something.

The situation is a mess because of the confusion about the sequence of events. But the alternative to the police story doesn’t fit with the suspicions the Beacon is casting.

Assuming that Dr. Kohler’s findings are correct – and in my experience Dr. Kohler and her staff do an excellent job – there are but two possibilities for how this went down. One is that Demetrius Vinson shot himself as the police now allege. The other is that someone shot him at close range and, assuming he had residue on his hand, did so by putting the gun in his hand, then pulling the trigger.

Now here is the problem I have: If the police did it, they knew what happened and they knew what the forensic evidence would show. In that case, they would have run the suicide story out to the press immediately. The fact that police waited until they had assembled enough evidence to have confidence in the theory is more consistent with their story, not less.

And by the way, if they were in the business of killing a suspect in cold blood, the 15-year-old witness who was in the car with Vinson wouldn’t be around to tell the tale.

An editorial today the Beacon uses the Vinson case to once again call on the mayor to appoint an independent police auditor. An independent police auditor isn’t a bad idea. But police shootings now are investigated by the Prosecutor’s Office – who often will convene a grand jury to look at the evidence and make a determination – and the Medical Examiner. If that’s not good enough for people who want to believe the worst about the police and the best about the guy who got shot, advocates for an auditor are dreaming if they think it will make any difference.

But a little responsibility on the part of the press might help.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Councilman Poda Wants to Hear From You

Summit County Councilman-at-large Jon Poda, who ran a successful, somewhat insurgent campaign last year, has a survey up on his website. He's using what looks like the free version of SurveyMonkey, so the utility is somewhat limited. Still, it's an opportunity for people to express their concerns to a member of Council and it's nice anytime someone uses the technology tools that are freely available. You can click through a link on Poda's homepage.

Freakonomists Coming to NEO

The Steves that make up the Freakonomics team are coming to the area. Stephen Dubner, the journalist half of the team will give the 2007 John S. Knight Lecture on Wednesday, April 4. at The University of Akron's E.J. Thomas Performing Arts Hall. The lecture starts at 7:30. Tickets are free but must be picked up at EJ. More info.

Second, thanks to I Will Shout Youngstown for letting us know that the economics half of the team, Steven Levitt will be in Youngstown next Monday, March 26. The tickets to that lecture are free. Check out Shout Youngstown's post on the Toffler lecture to dig up the details.

Meanwhile, check out the team's Freakonomics blog. The book is a pretty good read as well.

PD on Who Is a Jounalist

The Plain Dealer story is up. The reporter quotes to one blogger -- Tom Blumer at BizzyBlog. They talk to a bunch of journalism professors who -- surprise -- cling to an old media mindset:

    "I can go work on your car, take the gas cap off and look at the carburetor, but in no way does that make me a mechanic," said Hendrickson, an assistant professor of mass communications at John Carroll University.

    Media lawyers fear the issue will prompt changes in the state's shield law, which protects reporters from testifying before grand juries and trial juries about matters involving confidential sources.

    "This certainly has the potential to affect it," said Timothy Smith, a media-law professor at Kent State University. The shield law "could be broadened so much that the legislature steps in and does something about it. Seldom is that ever good."
Even more than journalists, journalism professors have a vested interest in perpetuating the fiction that journalism is something other than learning about stuff and writing it down. Fact is, journalism isn't brain surgery. Or, for that matter, auto mechanics.

The Clermont County "Who's a Journalist" Complaint, Deconstructed.

Word is the Plain Dealer is working on a story about the Clermont County case and the implications for bloggers. In any event, bloggers have been chattering offline and on about the case.

The complaint is now up on the Clermont County court website. For a law geek, it makes for interesting reading and kibitzing. If you want to fully understand the Clermont case an it's implications for non-traditional journalists like bloggers, understanding the complaint is a necessary first step.

Best you go to the docket page rather than I try to link you directly to the complaint which appears in web-based Adobe window. So go here and click on complaint if you want to follow along.


The complaint seeks a Declaratory Judgment. Generally, courts are not in the business of issuing advisory opinions – courts decide disputes. But when one party realizes that it has a dispute with another party and that acting or refusing to act could put it in legal jeopardy, the party may seek a declaratory judgment.

In other words, you don’t have to make the wrong guess and get sued to get into court. If you can see the problem coming, you can ask the court to declare what your rights and obligations are ahead of time.

The law of declaratory judgments in Ohio starts in Chapter 2721 of the Ohio Revised Code. It doesn’t end there, and I’m not tracking it down to the end, no matter how much I love you all.

The Parties.

The parties are the Sheriff on one side and Ted Strickland, Marc Dann, Jeff Garvas from Ohio Concealed Carry and Greg Korte from the Cincinnati Enquirer. This last is interesting. The complaint alleges that, in addition to Garvas, Korte from the Enquirer also requested information on concealed carry permit holders.

As to Strickland and Dann, it’s standard procedure to sue executive officers when seeking to challenge a state law, since both Strickland and Dann have the duty to enforce the law. It may well be that only one is a proper party, but I’m not doing the research to figure it out. We may well see a Motion to Dismiss one or both of the government officers on the grounds they are improper parties. We’ll hang back and let the court figure that one out.

By the way, I’ve seen dec. actions like this name the local prosecuting attorney as well, but since the prosecutor is statutory counsel for the sheriff, that would be a problem in this case.

The Counts. 1 & 2 for Declaratory Judgement

As you first read them, it looks like the two sections labeled Count 1 and Count 2 are don’t actually ask the Court to declare anything, they are just more allegations. They explain that the Sheriff can get in trouble for refusing to give info on CC permit holders to journalists but get into worse trouble for giving the information to non-journalists.

If you fast forward to the last section of the complaint – the Prayer for Relief – you see that the plaintiff asks the court to declare whether or not Garvas is a journalist, and the same for Korte. Not the most graceful complaint drafting I’ve ever seen, but it’ll do.

Count 3: Equal Protection

After all those preliminaries, we get into the fun stuff. Count 3 sets out an allegation of violation of due process. Plaintiff is going to get grief for the following:

    Sheriff Rodenberg alleges that Ohio Revised Code §2923.129(B)(2) violates both the United States Constitution and the Ohio Constitution’s right to equal protection under the law as the statute permits journalists to be treated differently from non-journalists with respect to the requesting and receiving records relative to the issuance, renewal, suspension or revocation of a license to carry a concealed handgun.

Problem is that Sheriff Rodenberg isn’t either a journalist nor a non-journalist trying to access the information. Therefore, he doesn’t suffer the equal protection injury he’s alleging. In legal parlance, he lacks standing.

All of which is a shame because this is the part of the complaint that bloggers would find most appealing – rather than differentiate between Journalists and Non-Journalists, let anyone see the information. This is the essence of Bill Sloat’s argument.

I mention this because of the blog-friendliness of the claim. Unfortunately, as a legal claim by itself, it’s a non-starter. The state needs only have a rational basis for this kind of classification which is not a suspect classification nor does it implicate a fundamental right. When a court always finds that the state has a rational basis. No, I mean always. If you are in rational basis land, you’re lost.

Count 4 – Violation of First Amendment.

He gets onto firmer ground here. The basic claim is that he is proscribed from speaking when the subject of his speech is concealed carry records.

Not only is this a decent claim, if he reworks his complaint, he can bring in the Equal Protection claim as well. The essence of an Equal Protection claim is that the state is treating different groups differently without a sufficient basis to do so. The differentiation Sheriff Rodenberg is going for here is people who disclose to journalists versus people who disclose to nonjournalists. Since this time we are dealing with freedom of speech – a fundamental right – you have an argument that the court should apply a stricter standard than rational basis.

Count 5 – Substantive Due Process

The essence of this claim is that the law if void for vagueness. The conservative judge is fond of saying that the Dormant Commerce Clause and the Substantive Due Process Clause have in common the fact that they don’t really exist. That should give you some idea of how difficult it is to make a Substantive Due Process claim understandable. It means that the law is bad and violates rights. In this case because it invites arbitrary


So that’s the complaint. The court can go a couple of ways here. He can decide who’s a journalist and who not and declare that the rest of the counts are moot. Or he can decide the whole thing and say the law is good as is, deal with it.

Or the judge could invalidate part of the law. If the court is amenable to any of the plaintiff’s arguments, he could well void the confidentiality provision of the concealed carry law. So the concealed carry folks could end up catalyzing a legal dispute that ends in wiping out the entire confidentiality provision rather than closing the loophole they despise. That would be a bit of amusing irony.

ABJ and Topix

The Akron Beacon Journal apparently has partnered with Topix, a news search and bookmarking service, to run the comments function on I'm not big on the ABJ comments section, so no idea how long this has been going on. While the Beacon joined up with with great fanfare, I can't find any announcement of the shift to Topix. You can see a sample of the new, enhanced comments here.

The move is a good one. It add functionality to the comments section and allows users to set up profiles, share bookmarks to favorites and basically do all those Topix things.

For myself, I may do a little more commenting. I've always had a problem with spending what limited online time I have on a comment that few see and that is usually in response to someone else's ridiculous comment. I can set up a profile that, as far as I can tell, will display a link to the blog. I think. Problem is, Topix doesn't have a preview function for your profile -- I can't see it as others see it. I see all the information they say isn't displayed.

This minor kvetch aside, I'm happy that the ABJ is finding parters to enhance the utility of their web presence. Despite the well-publicized problems, it's a welcome sign of at least some forward thinking.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Hot Topics On 90.3 Tomorrow:

On Tomorrow's Sound of Ideas, WCPN is taking up the Cuyahoga County Elections Board and the Julio Pino matter:

    Upheaval at the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections, after the Secretary of State decided she wants all the members removed - and gave them until Wednesday to quit or be fired.
    And does Freedom of Speech extend to allowing terroristic threats to be issued from the cloistered halls of a state university? It's a question many people want answered, following revelations about a Kent State professor and Islamic convert who now calls himself "The Most Dangerous Muslim in America."
Sounds like they were planning on the Pino story, then had to add the Election's Board piece when Brunner declared them Dead Board Walking today.

And I think it's safe to say that KSU's "Mums the Word" strategy isn't working. OhioDave noted yesterday the importance of blog in keeping the story of the fired US Attorneys on the front burner. I agree, and I have to give credit to conservative bloggers on this one. I still suspect that Pino's involvement on Global War may be overblown, but it's a story no matter what his involvement and I find the arrogance of the KSU administration and faculty every bit as aggravating as our friends across the aisle.

GABB Activity/Support Your Local Poet

You may recall some area bloggers and took a run at a group blog over the summer which we called GABB -- The Greater Akron Bloggers Blog. We had a pretty good run with some good content, but ran into the realities of summer blogging and things petered out.

Well, I'm looking to revive it. I have a couple of ideas that hopefully will see fruition in the next day or two. In the meantime, you can read about changes in the Summit area blog community (and resultant changes in the blogroll.) More importantly, Akron blogger, poet and GABBer Penultimatina has posted about her upcoming appearances in support of her newly published (and first) book of poetry. Read her post on GABB or surf directly to her blog which has included a running series of posts about the book and her first post-book conference. Most importantly, you can surf to her website and buy a signed copy of the book.

A New Stable for PsychoBilly

Our favorite horse in the blogosphere -- the red one -- has a new home and a fresh, clean stable. The new url is Bookmark it, blogroll it, and above all, read it.

Red has upgraded to Blogger2 and installed a very cool three-column template with adjustable colors. Can't say my middle-aged eyes are loving the white-text-on-azure color scheme, but Red says the final scheme isn't set yet.

Best of all, Red moved, but the digital schmutz that gave PBD a 10-minute download time did not move with him.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Callahan's Alert on Ohio Telecom Bill

Bill Callahan posts this weekend about a telecommunications bill that could seriously change the media landscape in Ohio. Bill is the liberal blogiverse’s undisputed expert in the business and economics of utilities in Ohio.

According to Bill, the telecom bill would remove from cities much of their power to negotiate franchise deals with local cable companies. He makes a compelling case that, as esoteric as this might sound, it is in fact a big deal. A Michigan law, enacted last year, provides the template for the bill and, most likely, similar bills across the country. From what I can tell, the franchise changes are much like those buried in the telecom bill considered by Congress last term.

Go to Bill’s blog and read both his post about the Ohio bill, and the old post about the Michigan bill. For that matter, you can check out his old blog for posts about last year’s telecom bill. Unfortunately, the Blogger search function seems not to be working there.

The bill, S.B. 117 is up on I finally used my user account on BillHop Ohio to post information about the bill.

Senate President Pro Tempore Jeff Jacobson is the lead sponsor on the bill. I had a quick look—see into Sen. Jacobson campaign filings. This is by no means a comprehensive review, but yes, there’s a there there.

On his 10/17/05 Semi-Annual report, Jacobson reports:

  • Ohio Cable Telecommunications Cable PAC: $2,000.00 01/27/2005

  • Three different Time Warner Employees giving donations totaling $400
On Jacobson’s 2005 Annual:
  • AT&T Ohio Employee PAC: $1,000.00 12/07/2005

  • Spring/United Telephone Company of Ohio Political Leadership Program PACC: $300.00 12/07/2005

  • Cincinnati Bell Federal PAC $200.00 12/07/2005
(Off the subject, Jacobson also got money from what is quite possibly the most unfortunately named PAC in history: Friends of Pork.)

(And while we're in parentheses, let me take some time to hate on Blogger for messing up html tables. There.)

Overall, it’s real money. It’s not “We Own Him” money, but it’s definitely “He’ll Return Our Phone Calls” money, and probably “He’ll Take the Meeting” money. I will also note that Jacobson gets a noticeable quantity of money from utilities generally, but I don’t know whether his haul is unusual. Bill says that bills like SB 117 are a collaboration between cable and telecom companies. Both groups have invested in Sen. Jacobson’s future.

Finally, note that this is yet another effort to strip cities of authority over business in their borders. From defunding local government funds to changes in school funding that disproportionately affect urban centers to whittling down home rule. If I didn’t know better, I’d suspect that majority Republicans have something against cities.

Julio Pino Story in the PD

Recent commenter "Julio Pino . . .not!" has alerted us to an impending Plain Dealer story on Pino and the now-defunct blog Global War. The story is up. They have more information linking Pino to the blog. I'm pretty blown away by the possiblity that Pino is blog author Lover of Angels, primarily because LoA comes of as such a clown -- more a Borat send-up of jihadism than an actual jihadist. But at this point Pino's silence is damning. More thoughts later; for now I'm off to church.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Local Soldier Blogging From Afghanistan

The ABJ leads today with the story of Sgt. Brandon White from Ravenna who is a serving and blogging in Afghanistan. His blog (or gwot dot us) is worth the visit. More than that, it's worth bookmarking.

First and foremost, Sgt. White is a good writer. His story, like the story of anyone serving in a combat theatre, is compelling. But unlike some military blogs, he can put the words together to tell it compellingly. His style is simple and straightforward. Even when he's getting exercised about something, he remains remarkable even.

But don't just take my work for it. Sgt. White's blog was voted this weekend to be the favorite Afghanistan blog and the fourth most popular overall.

Sgt. White describes himself as a "moderate conservative," so he and I don't agree on much. He still believes in both wars, though he thinks the surge and Bush's early unilateralism were mistakes. But politics is beside the point. His blog is a chance to read in more or less real time the story of one of our soldiers trying to do his job and stay alive. It shouldn't be this way, but knowing this man's family prays for his safe return in a house less than an hour from me, makes it more real.

I like the gwot dot us so much so that I added him to my reader and to a blogroll of basically miscellaneous cool stuff that I've been working on. It would be nice to be able to find other military bloggers from the area. Unfortunately the MilBlogging search function lets you search using a number of criteria, but not home town.

Meanwhile, with reports of a looming Taliban Spring offensive, we all wish the best for Sgt. White and his family.

Team GIRFOF Reacts to the Budget

First off, GIRFOF spokesman Jim Betts reported Friday morning in the Akron Beacon Journal:

    Jim Betts, a spokesman for the Campaign for Ohio's Future that is pushing for a school funding amendment on the ballot this fall, said the budget appears to flat-line fund many school districts.

    ``That hasn't convinced too many people that the governor has demonstrated a real commitment to addressing school funding problems,'' Betts said.
Hmmm. OK, here's the official response from the GIRFOF presser (pdf), posted later on Friday:
    “We appreciate Governor Strickland’s expressed commitment to repairing Ohio’s school funding formula, which remains unconstitutional since the first landmark Ohio Supreme Court ruling 10 years ago. However, we are disappointed that under his budget proposal, nearly half of Ohio school districts would receive no additional state dollars next year and nearly 250 would receive no additional funding for the two-year biennium.

    “We trust that the Governor and legislature will work with all interested parties to achieve the common goal to gain adequate resources to educate Ohio’s children. The sponsors of the amendment would welcome the opportunity to discuss a permanent comprehensive solution with the Governor and members to the General Assembly. Meanwhile, we anticipate that the constitutional amendment will be on the ballot this November so that the voters of Ohio can express their concerns as well. We are currently collecting signatures to ensure this process.”
Draw your own conclusions.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Ohio Case May Define "Journalist" [UPDATED]

A Bay Area case involving a blogger claiming journalists' privilege in refusing to turn over information to authorities has generated much chatter among both bloggers and journalists. One of the key questions in the Bay Area case is whether a blogger -- particularly a blogger who is alto a political activist -- is a "journalist" for the purposes of the state's reporter shield.

Today's Plain Dealer reports on an Ohio case that may define the question here without ever directly involving bloggers. The President of Ohioans for Concealed Carry has requested the list of people in Clermont County under a provision that only allows officials to release such information to journalists. The local prosecutor has filed a lawsuit seeking a definition of "journalists" (presumably by asking for a declaratory judgement, though the paper doesn't clearly say.)

In a bit of irony, OCC proclaims that they seeking the information to obtain information to -- wait for it -- bolster their case to close the journalist exception to the nondisclosure law. Without knowing the entire backstory, I can guess that journalists lobbied for the exception if for no reason than that they are absolutists when it comes to release of public information, opposing exceptions of any kind. So we have an activist organization clothing itself as a journalist in order to advocate against the expressed interests of journalists.

In the law biz we have a saying: hard cases make bad law. Calling a blogger who is also a professional journalist who is also blogger like Bill Sloat a journalist is an easy case. Calling a citizen blogger like Scott Bakalar a journalist is also pretty easy. The more a blogger's activity is about activism, the harder the case gets. The OCC case is pretty hard and could result in a ruling against OCC so broad that it knocks out anyone not actually employed by a news organization. It's a case that bloggers concerned about the issue should keep an eye on.

NOTE: While gathering links for the above, I noticed that Bill Sloat has posted an essay on the subject. I don't agree with everything he says, but it's compelling and well argued (of course) and definitely worth a read.

UPDATE: While I was writing, apparently Jerid was as well. He included a statutory definintion of "journalist," which is useful (though he erred in writing the subsection):

    As used in this division, "journalist" means a person engaged in, connected with, or employed by any news medium, including a newspaper, magazine, press association, news agency, or wire service, a radio or television station, or a similar medium, for the purpose of gathering, processing, transmitting, compiling, editing, or disseminating information for the general public.

O.R.C. §149.43(B)(5)

This is the definition in the public records law. It is replicated in the statute guaranteeing confidentiality of concealed carry permit records:

    As used in division (B)(2) of this section, "journalist" means a person engaged in, connected with, or employed by any news medium, including a newspaper, magazine, press association, news agency, or wire service, a radio or television station, or a similar medium, for the purpose of gathering, processing, transmitting, compiling, editing, or disseminating information for the general public.

O.R.C.§ 2923.129

I also uploaded the clip art I had forgotten the first time.

Voucher Proponents Cry Crocodile Tears

Of all the groups with gripes over the Governor's proposed budget, no one is talking louder or more angrily than advocates for school vouchers. And they are all about helping the poor. Here's a sample of typical rhetoric:

    Today Gov. Strickland slammed the door of opportunity in the faces of 14,000 of Ohio's poorest schoolchildren by calling for the elimination of the EdChoice program. He is forcing these children to leave the schools they love and sentencing them to return to the staggeringly low-performing schools they fled."
    -- Lori Drummer, Alliance for School Choice state projects director
Problem is, the EdChoice program doesn't appear to be helping the poor.

EdChoice Defined

Let's define terms for a moment. EdChoice, is a voucher program that provides $4250 to elementary students or $5000 to high school students to attend private schools that are enrolled in the program. To be eligible, a student must either currently attend or be assigned to a school building in Academic Watch or Academic Emergency, or live in the district of an underperforming building and currently attend a charter school.

A participating school cannnot charge tuition greater than the voucher amount to any family with an income less than 200% of the poverty line. For families over 200% of poverty, they can choose to either pay additional tuition or do volunteer work for the school to pay off the balance. A student must be accepted by a private school prior to applying for an EdChoice scholarship.

EdChoice is not the same as the Cleveland voucher program. It is also not the same as the charter school or as we call it in Ohio, "Community Schools" program. I thought people knew all that, but I keep seeing the three conflated.

Vouchers and the Middle Class

There's a fair amount of evidence that the voucher program is serving middle class families rather than the truly poor. A Policy Matters Ohio study on the characteristics of students in the Cleveland program (with limited data available) found considerable evidence that the kids were coming from families that could afford private school without the vouchers. And an Indiana University study on the effects of the program on achievement had to adjust the results for class and race because "the voucher group had a greater proportion of White and affluent children."

With regard to the EdChoice program, anecdotal evidence appears to show that families were finding ways to game the system to get into school vouchers despite the fact that they were otherwise able to get out of their home districts. A recent Toledo Blade story provides the latest example.

It's not hard to look at the structure of the program and imagine why. Certainly the scholarship amounts are a bit low for private school tuition, particularly for non-religious (and therefore unsubsidized) private schools. In addition, there is a fair amount of room for mischief that would bias the program in favor of more affluent families -- offering only unpleasant volunteer work, playing games with "acceptance," etc. The incentives are there -- more affluent students will be more attractive to private schools. The only way to be sure that no games are being played is to rigorously oversee the program and the experience with charter schools doesn't give us much hope of that.

To be sure, one can make arguments, based either on utility or some notion of "fairness" for providing vouchers to middle class families. For example, Buckeye Institute gamely tries to offer vouchers as a means to urban renewal. But if that's what we are doing, that's what the conversation should be about. The conversation shouldn't be dominated by arguments for helping poor kids out of bad schools without evidence that is happening.

And even if subsidizing middle class kids attending private schools is a good idea, we cannot afford all good ideas. Strickland's education budget is a real attempt to steer state money where it will do the most good. He was right to judge that the EdChoice program doesn't fit that bill.