Monday, March 1, 2010

WILL BUS ROUTE APP UPDATE FOR RTA SERVICE CUTS?

Posted By on Mon, Mar 1, 2010 at 4:22 PM

A new free smartphone application can help you find out when your bus is arriving. The RouteShout app find bus stops, routes, and arrival times in over 25 cities, including Cleveland. It’s available for iPhones, Androids and text-enabled phones.

The Cleveland program is based on data from the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority. Users can browse by location or search for stops by street name

Standard text rates apply for the text version, and answers aren’t always precise. Most early reviews are positive, but highlight some of Routeshout’s limitations. In its current version, the app is basically a map that highlights routes. As with any map program, it might not have up-to-date information about temporary re-routings. Distinguishing between incoming and outgoing stops can be difficult. It’s definitely not an alternative to your favorite map app, and it doesn’t allow you to plot a journey with a start and end point.

Visit RouteShout.com to download the apps. The Android version is still a beta. For text, send “demo” to 25252.D.X. Ferris

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Thursday, February 25, 2010

DENNIS, YOU'RE NOT HELPING

Posted By on Thu, Feb 25, 2010 at 4:34 PM

We like Dennis Kucinich. We believe his heart is in the right place and his goals are sound. But sometimes he leaves us scratching our heads.

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Tuesday, following the announcement that foreclosure prevention money would be distributed to five hard-hit states not including Ohio, Kucinich drafted a letter to President Obama complaining about the oversight (cowritten, oddly enough, with his self-congratulatory Republican colleague Steve LaTourette from Geauga County).

Kucinich announced that today, the Domestic Policy Subcommittee of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which he chairs, would hold a hearing on how the money was allocated. Cuyahoga County Treasurer Jim Rokakis, a national leader on foreclosure issues, is in Washington now, preparing to testify this afternoon, according to a press release sent out by his office. It says, “Treasurer Rokakis is expected to stress the need for continued funding of face-to-face mortgage counseling programs and ask for federal help for the county’s successful Don't Borrow Trouble campaign. Additionally, Rokakis will address the ineffectiveness of the federal HAMP program.”

This is all great stuff which deserves attention, but once again, Kucinich’s timing is peculiar. Today is, of course, President Obama’s big bipartisan summit on health-care reform, the issue that’s overshadowing everything else. If Kucinich wants to draw attention to the issue of foreclosure, he could hardly have picked a worse day.

Even more peculiar, a “Medicare for All” activist group sent out a e-mail via Ohio’s Single Payer Action Network, promoting a rally outside Kucinich’s Lakewood office this morning and a meet-up with Kucinich in his Washington office this afternoon to complain about the exclusion of Kucinich and other single-payer advocates from the health-care summit.

The e-mail says, “On February 8, 2010, Congressman Dennis Kucinich, wrote President Obama, asking him to invite to the February 25 summit ‘a representative of the community that is advocating for the only health care that has consistently proven to address each of the criteria you have outlined for a satisfactory health care plan: Medicare for All.’ Congressman Kucinich added: ‘I would be happy to attend the summit as a representative of the Medicare for All community. Alternatively, I could provide names of other potential representatives for your consideration.’ To date, Mr. Kucinich has received no response to his request to be included at the summit."

So holding his foreclosure hearing while the health-care summit is going on could be interpreted as sulking. At best, it’s another example of his ineffective strategies on behalf of worthy aims that cause even some who share his aims to marginalize Kucinich. — Anastasia Pantsios

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TRANSITION TRIES TO STAY ON MESSAGE

Posted By on Thu, Feb 25, 2010 at 4:26 PM

With the Cuyahoga County government transition process picking up pace, the Plain Dealer's Henry Gomez reports today that three communications firms remain in the running to the promote transition work and handle media calls.

Gomez raises some intriguing points in his article. First, he notes how transition executive committee members — other than Cuyahoga County Administrator Jim McCafferty and former Parma Heights Mayor Marty Zanotti — continue to pass on interview requests. Those individuals include Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson; University Hospitals president/CEO Tom Zenty; Eaton Corp. chairman/CEO Alexander "Sandy" Cutler; Cuyahoga Community College President Jerry Sue Thornton; and Randy McShepard, a public affairs executive with Medina-based RPM International.

Zanotti and McCafferty have been responsive to the media so far, but said they need help. Some critics have voiced concerns that a PR firm would simply try to spin messages to an already distrustful public.

The three firms vying for the transition contract include Burges & Burges, Landau Public Relations and Lesic & Camper Communications. Those firms and two others were vetted in a public transition work session this week. The money to pay for the firm will come from business leaders and not from taxpayers; the vetting gesture appears to be more about establishing public confidence than anything else.

Gomez also notes that two of the remaining firms could be eliminated if they decide to remain in the political arena, where they do extensive work. Burges & Burges handled political strategy for the successful Issue 6 campaign that ultimately created the county's new government. Lesic & Camper works with the Greater Cleveland Partnership, the business coalition that was an instrumental force in the Issue 6 campaign (the coalition, made up of area CEO's, fronted $100,000 for the Issue 6 petition drive.) The firm, led by former Mike White press secretary Nancy Lesic, has already helped coordinate media interviews for the transition.

Lesic was also the mastermind of a public-relations stunt that enraged community activists in 2007. Those activist wanted to make the county's Medical Mart sales tax increase a ballot issue. As grassroots volunteers sought voter signatures for their efforts at an Indians game that summer, a small plane flew over the stadium with a banner that read "DON'T SIGN THE PETITION! WE NEED MEDMART!"

The sales tax increase ultimately did not get to the ballot. — Damian Guevara

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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

THE SHERIFF SHOT ME: TEA PARTY HERO RICHARD MACK

Posted By on Wed, Feb 24, 2010 at 1:09 PM

The New York Times recently took a stab at explaining the tea party movement to those of us not bleeding out the ears with rage over the past year of Democratic leadership. It's an interesting read, if not entirely satisfying: the writer, David Barstow, concedes: "The ebbs and flows of the Tea Party ferment are hardly uniform. It is an amorphous, factionalized uprising with no clear leadership and no centralized structure."

Barstow makes much of the individuals — many of them new to political activism — who are providing the foot soliders and, in some cases, leadership for these factions. Understandably, he only scratches the surface of the tea party ideology and its origins: "[T]he Tea Party movement that has less in common with the Republican Party than with the Patriot movement, a brand of politics historically associated with libertarians, militia groups, anti-immigration advocates and those who argue for the abolition of the Federal Reserve."

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But real understanding of the tea-partiers must begin with the much older and even more fractious Patriot movement, and perhaps no one better exemplifies the connection between past and present than the Arizona man making several appearances in Ohio next month, Sherriff Richard Mack. From the NYT article:

By inviting Richard Mack to speak at their first event, leaders of Friends for Liberty were trying to attract militia support. They knew Mr. Mack had many militia fans, and not simply because he had helped Randy Weaver write a book about Ruby Ridge. As a sheriff in Arizona, Mr. Mack had sued the Clinton administration over the Brady gun control law, which resulted in a Supreme Court ruling that the law violated state sovereignty by requiring local officials to conduct background checks on gun buyers.

Mr. Mack was selling Cadillacs in Arizona, his political career seemingly over, when Mr. Obama was elected. Disheartened by the results, he wrote a 50-page booklet branding the federal government “the greatest threat we face.” The booklet argued that only local sheriffs supported by citizen militias could save the nation from “utter despotism.” He titled his booklet “The County Sheriff: America’s Last Hope,” offered it for sale on his Web site and returned to selling cars.

But then some prominent online radio hosts interviewed him, leading to so many tea party speaking requests that he is once again a full-time agitator. His "No Sheriff Left Behind" Tour swings through Ohio (including Akron) in March, courtesy of the Ohio Freedom Alliance, whose site touts the appearances by asking, "What is the role of the sheriff in preserving that liberty from an encroaching federal government? What do YOU need to know to support your local sheriff?"

Theses questions are not academic, though even the tea party neo-Patriots may not fully understand their significance.

Continue reading »

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Friday, February 19, 2010

OBAMA LEAVES OHIO OUT IN THE COLD

Posted By on Fri, Feb 19, 2010 at 3:15 PM

From ABC News: "Later today, the President will announce administration plans to allocate $1.5 billion of TARP money toward funding state Housing Finance Authorities (HFAs) in the five states hardest hit by the housing crisis. … HFAs in California, Florida, Nevada, Arizona, Michigan will have access to new money.

The Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio is not pleased:

"Fourteen years of record foreclosure numbers — almost 90,000 last year alone — and we're excluded from federal help? Washington is throwing Ohio on the trash heap," said Bill Faith, executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio (COHHIO).

… According to the latest Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) report, the administration drew the line on which states to fund by using states' 60-plus-days delinquency rates. States chosen were higher than 12.5 percent. Ohio's fourth quarter delinquency rate, according to today's report by the Mortgage Bankers Association, is 11.5 percent.

[According to the same report], 15.7 percent of all mortgage holders in Ohio are either in foreclosure or past due in their payments by at least 30 days. That's up from 13 percent from the first quarter, 14.3 percent from the second quarter, and 15.3 percent in the third quarter 2009.

Ohio Supreme Court foreclosure filings also were released this week. Ohio set another record in 2009 with 89,053 foreclosure filings, a 3.8 percent increase over 2008. While three-fourths (65) of Ohio's 88 counties posted increases, more than a third (34) had double-digit increases.

… Faith is urging the Obama Administration to increase the allocation and help the other states, such as Ohio, that are suffering significant damage from the foreclosure crisis. "Obama is trying to stabilize the five hardest hit states in an effort to improve foreclosure numbers nationally. That certainly won't help Ohio, and it won't help the nation in the long run."

But The Atlantic's Business blog likes Obama's approach:

… [O]ne of the problems with the home buyers credit is that many homeowners who would have bought a home anyway still get the government money. That causes needless government spending. By targeting the worst-hit states, the unintended beneficiary problem will be less severe, though it's impossible to eliminate entirely.

I also like the idea that state governments will essentially have to "earn" this month by coming up with innovative ways to prevent foreclosures. … So what will these states come up with? Principal reductions? Payment deferrals for the unemployed? Home to rental conversions? Presumably anything goes — so long as the Obama administration approves.

Obviously the administration had to draw lines somewhere, and COHHIO's statement on the announcement probably would've sounded a lot different if Ohio were selected and Michigan got stiffed. But in Cleveland, where the national media send reporters for on-the-ground reporting on the foreclosure nightmare, it's hard not to despair that help is ever coming. And it's a shame that Ohioans who've been dealing with the crisis since before most of the nation realized there was one won't be able to contribute to this federally funded search for solutions.

“Foreclosure prevention counseling is the one tool we have proven over and over again works to get homeowners out of foreclosure and back into their homes," says Cleveland ESOP executive director Mark Seifert. "Yet, while big banks continue to get TARP subsidies, foreclosure counseling is the one tool the Obama Administration refuses to fund." (More on this.) — Frank Lewis

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SENATE RACE LOSES ONE LONGSHOT, GAINS TWO

Posted By on Fri, Feb 19, 2010 at 1:27 PM

Democrats have heard a lot from Lieutenant Governor Lee Fisher and Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner who both announced early last year their intention to vie in the May 4 primary for a shot at Republican Rob Portman for the U.S. Senate seat George Voinovich is vacating. (Portman’s opponent, car dealer Tom Ganley, dropped out and will run for Congress in Oh-13 instead, against Betty Sutton.)

Both Fisher and Brunner have filed their petitions to be on the Democratic ballot — but so have two other candidates: Traci “T.J.” Johnson of the Columbus area and Charlena Renee Bradley of Lyndhurst. Bradley is a complete cipher with no record of political activity on any level or available resume. Johnson reportedly worked for Fisher when he was attorney general from 1991-95, but it’s unclear whether there’s any ongoing relationship between them.

Johnson has a rudimentary website that was last updated in July, featuring a video of the candidate reciting woodenly from a telepromter, and a short message that suggests she may be trying to trump Brunner’s gender advantage: “You have an opportunity to make history in Ohio. With this election, you will be electing the first women and African American to the United States Senate for the State of Ohio. Let's send a message that we are tired of business as usual and that the United States Senate should reflect the richness of cultural diversity that is represented across this Great State of Ohio and the United States of America.”

If Johnson has any credentials for the job beyond being black and female, she’s not sharing them on her website. Still, a poorly reported AP story running in papers across the state refers to Brunner’s campaign as “lagging” and says she is running without the support of the state Democratic party (true, but so is Fisher). The article suggests that Bradley and Johnson could “spell trouble” for Brunner and “divide” the women’s vote. If anything, they’d be more likely to siphon off a bit of it, but since low-information voters tend not to vote in primaries to begin with, even that is mere speculation. And their petitions have yet to be validated. — Anastasia Pantsios

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CERTAINTIES: DEATH AND LIES ABOUT TAXES

Posted By on Fri, Feb 19, 2010 at 10:00 AM

A few weeks ago, the Chillicothe Gazette published an op-ed from the Tax Foundation, the (think tank behind the annual Tax Freedom Day stunt, railing against Ohio's supposedly growth-stifling tax system:

Ohio taxpayers have one of the highest state and local tax burdens in the nation and one of the worst tax climates for business. … Without sensible reforms soon, economic growth opportunities will pass Ohio by and the state's finances will continue to worsen. Cutting the state's tax burden and implementing pro-growth tax reforms can go a long way toward reversing these dismal trends.

"Sensible reforms" — like the massive tax cuts of 2005? We dealt with this nonsense recently, and this week Ohio tax commissioner Richard Levin came out swinging:

No one with a genuine understanding of Ohio taxation would make the kind of outlandish statements that the Tax Foundation recently circulated in a guest column to Ohio newspapers.

Take the group's claim that Ohio's economy could be improved by repealing taxes on "capital stock" and "intangible property."

That's preposterous. Here's the problem with that strategy: Ohio doesn't tax capital stock or intangible property, at least not in any meaningful way.

For example, those supposed taxes on intangible property? They were repealed almost 25 years ago.

I should know. I was there when it happened, serving as deputy tax commissioner for policy at the Ohio Department of Taxation.

In other words, the Tax Foundation's recipe for improving Ohio's economy appears to include repealing business taxes that exist primarily in the Tax Foundation's imagination.

What next? Will they demand a repeal of taxes on pixie dust and unicorns, too?

Read the whole thing. Blind faith in tax cuts played a key role in the deficits that Ohio, and the nation, now struggle with, and the conservative mystics who keep preaching that gospel need to be challenged at every turn. — Frank Lewis

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