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White Lies 

White Hat offers an advanced course in deceptive advertising.

The words scream out in huge type, "Love BIG numbers? When it comes to academic achievement, we sure do." In a series of full-page ads in The Plain Dealer, White Hat Management tries to convince parents to enroll their kids in its Hope Academies and Life Skills Centers. "Our numbers are good because our students are good with numbers," one ad blares.

Well, here's a number for ya: nine. Of the 13 taxpayer-funded charter schools White Hat operates in metro Cleveland, that's how many are in academic emergency, the state's lowest category for failing schools. Two more fall under academic watch, the second-lowest category.

For any teacher leading a class on how advertising can stretch the truth, these ads are a great place to start. The only reference to an actual school appeared in the first ad, which boasted, "We're doing well. In fact, our Hope Academy Cathedral School met AYP standards."

For those not aware, AYP stands for Adequate Yearly Progress, a pitifully low yardstick established by the feds. In reality, Cathedral School's students met just 4 of 22 state standards last year.

The ads also boasts that White Hat schools "operate in the light of state governing authorities." Turns out this light is as strong as a Bic's in a hurricane. Ten White Hat Schools have been failing for at least two years. One -- Hope Academy Broadway Campus -- has failed for four years straight, with nary a finger lifted by the Ohio Department of Education.

Here's one last number: Every time White Hat runs one of these full-page ads, it pays The Plain Dealer about $7,000 in taxpayers' money, according to the newspaper's online rate card.

MBNA buys protection
When President Bush signed the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act in April, Cleveland credit-card titan MBNA was handing out cigars. The company threw $1.5 million at politicians to make it harder for customers to file for Chapter 7. This would allow it to continue recklessly offering credit cards to anyone with a mailing address -- only without the risk.

But as the law's October 1 deadline approaches, "It doesn't appear MBNA got everything they paid for," says attorney Mark Knevel.

The looming deadline has created widespread panic, especially in Cleveland, where Chapter 7 filings were up 17 percent through July -- one of the highest increases in the country. And it's only gonna get worse. "In the next 60 days, we're planning on filing between 300 and 600 bankruptcies," says Knevel. "That's what we expect to do in a 6-to-12-month period."

Knevel, along with attorney Joseph Romano, say they've received tons of calls from those who believe they won't be eligible for bankruptcy once the law goes into effect. But apparently MBNA didn't buy off enough congressmen. The bill only excludes those who make more than the national median household income. In this case, Cleveland's poverty works in our favor. The city has the third-lowest median household income in the country.

"None of my clients are families that make more than $60,000 a year," Romano says. "It's just that you've got these piss-and-vinegar commercials coming out that say, 'File now, before you're kicked out.' I tell people, do it now or do it after October -- it doesn't matter."

Even after the bill goes into effect, Chapter 7 filings are expected to increase by 11 percent next year, says Knevel. He should probably consider investing in MBNA stock.

Pregnancy alert!
Last week, the Canton Repository reported that an astounding 65 girls were preggers for the first week of classes at Timken High. Jeepers, that was some summer vacation, huh, girls?

The paper blamed the usual suspects: movies, TV, video games, and lazy parenting. More likely, the city is just suffering from a libidinal outbreak.

The long-term economic impact of the baby boom is unknown. These girls are unmarried, and many don't have jobs, forcing their parents to support another child. Worse, Mom and Dad may soon be laid off.

In an ironic twist, William R. Timken Jr. -- great-grandson of the high school's namesake -- announced last year that he was cutting 1,300 jobs from the Timken Company. His bearings plant employs roughly 27 percent of Canton laborers. Union president Stan Jasionowski says negotiations are ongoing, but pink slips will be arriving soon.

So to help Mom and Dad out, underaged playas should get in touch with the Stark County Planned Parenthood office (330-456-7191), where the condoms are free.

She doesn't know Dick
Dick Goddard may be best known for inventing weather in Cleveland, but he's equally known for his love of animals. Sales of his annual calendars raise money for 60 area shelters. "I have a great affection for quadrupeds," he says merrily.

So one might consider it an honor to have Goddard approach his pooch for a little scratch behind the ears. That's what he did as a guest at Dennis Kucinich's most recent wedding at City Hall. Among attendees were actress Shirley MacLaine and her dog -- presumably "Terry," the subject of MacLaine's 2003 book, Out on a Leash. The book is described by its publisher as "a spiritual dialogue with Terry," which is California-speak for "Yes, I am a crazy old broad. Thanks for asking."

"I saw her dog there, but I wasn't going to approach her in any way," recalls Goddard. But when MacLaine finally set Terry down, he made his move.

"I said, 'Is it possible I could get a picture?' She said, No!"

An alternate account of the incident alleges that MacLaine's "no" was pronounced more like "Fuck you." Goddard, 75, doesn't recall being cursed by MacLaine, "Though I would think she'd be familiar with that language, since she's Warren Beatty's sister."

MacLaine was later informed by another guest of Goddard's lifelong passion for animals.

"Oh," she responded. "Then I guess I like him."

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