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Yankee Rubes 

Even Argentinians are aghast at Ohio's judicial system.

Thomas Moyer has lobbied in vain for Ohio to appoint judges, rather than have them sully their robes and reputations on the campaign trail. Now the state's chief justice has finally found an audience that agrees with him -- in Buenos Aires.

Moyer paid a five-day visit to Argentina's capital last month to lecture on the finer points of the U.S. judiciary. Marred by corruption, sporadic violence, and interminable delays -- a divorce can take a decade or longer -- the South American nation's courts are nominally worse than our own. Nonetheless, his audiences were shocked -- shocked! -- to learn that we Yankee rubes vote our judges into office.

"They were incredulous . . .," Moyer told The Akron Legal News.

Moyer argues that subjecting judges to elections, as we do every other bought-and-paid-for politician, defeats the court's pretense of impartiality. Last year alone, Ohio Supreme Court candidates dropped a whopping $5.6 million on their races, more than any other state.

In the wake of that spending orgy, state Senator Kevin Coughlin (R-Cuyahoga Falls) has proposed creating a bipartisan committee that would nominate potential justices for the governor to appoint. Ohioans shot down a similar initiative in 1987.

But the justice has pushed harder for the change since 2000, when he faced ethics charges -- later dropped -- for allegedly endorsing the opponent of fellow justice Alice Robie Resnick.

Following that experience, Moyer blasted the voter-based approach, huffing, "How much more information do we have to have before Ohio gets it?"

Hmmm. Maybe a five-day trip to Argentina on the public dime will help us see the light.

Use coal: It's American

The coal industry is using the war in Iraq as an excuse to relax environmental standards.

Scene recently received an op/ed piece from a group called Americans for Balanced Energy Choices, which is what King Coal calls itself when it's pretending to be a grassroots movement. The industry reminds us that, while coal may make the skies look like nuclear winter, at least we don't get it from the Middle East. "Continuing to capitalize on domestic coal supplies will not only enhance energy security, but also ensure energy affordability, because coal currently produces electricity for about half the cost of other fuels," writes the group.

Yet said security is being threatened by -- you guessed it -- those damn tree-huggers, who are pushing for "environmental standards that could make many of the nation's coal-fired power plants economically unviable."

"Economically unviable," for those of you without your corporate-speak translation kit, means, "That bottom line ain't got enough zeros on it."

Under current rules, aging power plants have to install anti-pollution equipment when they expand. But coal burners have tried to skirt the law by classifying expansions as "routine maintenance." Last month, five northeastern states and the EPA forced Dominion Resources to pledge $1.2 billion to clean up eight plants. Dominion allegedly modified one facility without obtaining the necessary permits.

Yet Dominion won't have to scam much longer. At the end of last year, the Bush administration published new rules that would allow old plants to upgrade without having to make environmental improvements.

It's rocket science, after all

In other war-related news, Cleveland's NASA Glenn Visitor Center has reopened to the public. Access to the government research facility/family fun place was restricted on March 24, when the nation's terror-alert level reached an ominous orange.

"I think we're at yellow at this point, so they've told us we can open it back up," says NASA Glenn spokeswoman Lori Rachul, presumably the only person in America who knows what these colors mean.

Families who have been slumming at the art museum and other non-fed attractions are now welcome again at the visitors' center, which includes an Apollo capsule, microgravity exhibits, and tributes to Ohio's great aviators.

The only stipulations: All adults must provide a government-issued photo ID, foreign nationals must call in advance to learn whether their home country has been designated a "special concern or interest by the United States government," and all cars are subject to inspection. Have a nice time!

Four magazines indicted

The Justice Department last week indicted Scene and three leading magazines for Crimes Against Originality.

On our April 23 cover, we ran a picture of a man wearing a surgical mask who looks to be a descendant of the Manson family. About the same time, Newsweek, U.S. News, and Time all ran similar covers featuring people with masks -- only their models were better looking and didn't appear to be felons.

In announcing the indictments, Attorney General John Ashcroft condemned the "lemming media" and said that "this bald absence of innovation" would no longer be tolerated by the feds.

If convicted, the staffs of each national magazine could be sentenced to 10 years of reading Crain's Cleveland Business. Scene faces a lesser five-year sentence, since its story was about the Ohio Health Department. The others ran stories about SARS, which is so March.

The naked man speaks

Discussion of this week's Issue 15 vote should have been cut-and-dried: The state is slashing funding for stuff like drug treatment and foster care. The county wants to make it up by raising taxes. The question: Are such services worth more of our hard-earned dough?

Yet it ended up being a spectacular display of self-interest. First came the smear campaign from the service employees union, which claimed that the levy would raise property taxes by 60 percent. (The county says it's closer to 3.5 percent.) The union's commercials blasted away at waste within county-contracted agencies, notably one agency's purchase of a $70,000 Mercedes. But what the union really wanted was to muscle these same agencies into remaining neutral during efforts to organize their workers.

An even more naked argument came from the pro-15 side, compliments of Thomas Mulready, the self-appointed "Cool Clevelander," who pens an e-newsletter telling artsy types where to get their weekly dose of hip. Mulready, recently hired by Cleveland magazine, apparently considers those pesky orphans and widows a side issue as well. "Until health and human services are funded, everything else takes a back seat," he wrote in his inaugural column. "That means you should go out and vote for it; because if it fails, the arts-and-culture levy gets pushed down a notch."

Talk about shrewd positioning: "Jeepers, let's pass one tax so we can make room for another!" Expect his coming arguments about why single moms should subsidize performance artists to win an Emmy for Unintentional Comedy of the Year.

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