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Bad Medicine 

Drug companies protect their right to gouge Ohio.

According to a budget leaked to The New York Times, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America -- the industry's trade association -- plans to spend $15.8 million to fight "a union-driven, get-out-the-vote ballot initiative in Ohio" that seeks to cut drug prices by up to 50 percent for the 2.2 million Ohioans without prescription insurance.

Thank God. If prices fell too far, elderly Ohioans wouldn't have to drive to Windsor for drugs, thus badly damaging the Canadian economy.

Dale Butland, spokesman for the grassroots group pushing the issue, says Big Pharma has already gone to great lengths to challenge the 143,000 signatures gathered to force state legislators to vote on the price-cutting program. "Pharma has a history of incredible greed and a willingness to spend whatever is necessary to ensure what they regard as their right to gouge average people on the price of their prescription drugs," he says.

While the AFL-CIO is indeed part of the coalition, the steering committee also includes such nefarious "unions" as the League of Women Voters, AARP, the Ohio Council of Churches, and the United Way.

Bad medicine II

U.S. News & World Report's list of the best hospitals ranked the Cleveland Clinic below only Johns Hopkins and the Mayo Clinic. University Hospitals placed in the top 20 for cancer, geriatric, and pediatric care.

But none of this is scoring us any points in luring businesses, according to Expansion Management, a magazine for executives planning to expand or relocate their companies. Cleveland fell out of the magazine's list of 100 metro areas where employers can buy the best health coverage at the best prices.

The magazine's "health quotient" used a variety of measures: insurance premiums, nurse-per-resident ratios, number of community health centers, etc. Rochester, Minnesota, home of the aforementioned Mayo Clinic, graded out best for employers. New Orleans ranked 100th.

Research editor Michael Keating says Cleveland scored well in terms of beds, physicians, and teaching hospitals per capita. But patient bills are steep. Having the Clinic and UH in such proximity does not translate into lower prices, à la catty-corner gas stations. In fact, the reverse is true. "That's where the health field differs from other industries," Keating says.

Eastlake about to break

Screw Goodyear. Punch thinks the Hindenburg would make a more appropriate blimp for the Lake County Captains. The team's city-financed park has sent Eastlake's operating budget up in flames.

As Scene reported in "Money Pit Park" (April 30), Eastlake appears to have badly over-extended itself. Since then, it's only gotten worse. Consider:

Two weeks ago, city council borrowed another $4 million, $1.5 of which will pay for stadium construction. Funny, because most in Eastlake thought this was already paid for.

City service workers have been laid off, and those remaining are not allowed to work overtime. It's no coincidence that grass on city property is, according to one citizen, "fire-hydrant high."

Yet throwing basic services into jeopardy hasn't been a complete negative. Some residents are displaying a newfound appreciation for those they still have. "Oh God," exclaims one resident, watching out his window as he speaks on the phone. "They're picking up the trash. Thank God! Only two days late."

Boom after the bust

Kenn Louis and Andy Timithy's independent film website, spongi.com, provides streaming video of short, mostly humorous amateur films, in which spontaneity is prized and production values are not. The site beat out submissions from around the world to win a vaunted Webby Award nomination -- the first Cleveland site ever to earn the honor.

In past years, a nod for the Webbys ("the Oscars of the Internet") meant jetting to a black-tie banquet in San Francisco, attended by 3,000 of the industry's top geeks.

But in Dot-Com World, money once earmarked for galas is now poured into therapy. So the Webbys scrapped the ceremony and instead encouraged nominees to "celebrate everywhere" by watching a webcast of last week's awards.

"I guess we don't have to spend a bunch of money on a trip to San Francisco," Louis says half-heartedly.

Spongi.com already notched a victory at this year's South by Southwest Interactive Festival in Texas, where it bludgeoned big-budget competition from AOL Time Warner and HBO. Louis and Timithy were caught so off-guard, they weren't prepared to deliver a speech.

They didn't need one for the Webbys. Spongi lost out to Indiewire.com, a fancy-pants site from New York City.

Monkey business is booming

Cleveland may be choking in the biotech battle, but it's got old-school biology down cold.

The Metroparks Zoo is thriving -- at the same time that zoos around the country tumble into financial crisis. A recent Wall Street Journal story detailed how budget cuts have led to penny-pinching that ranges from slashed exhibits to layoffs. How bad has it gotten? Seattle's zoo peddles animal dung as garden fertilizer. Dallas replaced its gourmet snake food with the leading national brand. Philadelphia charges adults $75 to watch animal sex.

Cleveland, it appears, will take the high road to financial solvency. Run by the Metroparks, as opposed to the city or county, the zoo isn't greatly affected by the government-funding crisis. Its money comes from a fairly even split of zoo revenue and funds determined by Metroparks levies every 10 years. The last levy, in 1995, passed with 75 percent of the vote.

"People still love the zoo and parks," says Director Steve Taylor. "The zoo has never been in better shape." Memberships -- already 40,000 this year -- are at an all-time high. And there's no extra charge for watching animal sex.

Thome's revenge

The clairvoyants who make up The Plain Dealer's sports staff warned in the off-season that when Jim Thome bolted for Philly, the sky might fall -- on Thome.

" . . . He'll be playing a different style of baseball in a new set of ballparks," shuddered Tribe beat writer Paul Hoynes. "The pressure of expectation will be everywhere."

"Given the fickle Phillie fans," tut-tutted columnist Bill Livingston, "it would be good for Thome to snap his habit of slow starts and awful Aprils."

Columnist Bud Shaw speculated that the slugger's Humvee "will be stripped by angry fans if he gets off to one of his slow Aprils."

Consider Thome awake and alert. Through last week, he was leading the Phillies in both homers and RBI. Life with his new club is going so well that Phillies manager Larry Bowa -- who gives compliments as often as he passes kidney stones -- actually praised Thome's fielding ability. Oh, and one more thing: The Phillies are playing above .500 ball. The Indians, despite improving of late, have devoted their season to perfecting their impression of the Detroit Tigers.

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