Friday, April 08, 2005

 

We guess Deb Pryce is speaking of her own financial literacy issues

"Our citizens do not possess a working knowledge of financial basics."

That's Congresswoman Deborah Pryce speaking on the floor of the House this week on the goals and of ideals of April being Financial Literacy Month. (And we thought April was just Time for Scumbags to Visit Ohio Month).

But, gee, wasn't it just a few weeks ago when Pryce wrote on her web site, "We need to permanently strengthen Social Security without raising payroll taxes and without changing Social Security for today's retirees and near retirees."?

We always found that the tradition among the ambitious is that those who could pass the economic courses went on to get their MBAs and those that couldn't went on to get their JDs. What's your experience, Deb?

 

Rove to slither into Ashland

Did someone declare April the offical scumbag month for Ohio?

It's bad enough that the likes of Keyes and Coulter have to be tolerated. Now we have learned that Karl Rove is to be honored (now there's an oxymoron!) in a special fete April 21 sponsored by the Ashbrook Center at Ashland University.

Hey! It's not too late to become an "Honorary Chairman" of the events (dinner and VIP reception). All it takes is a mere $10,000. Those slumming can sit in the back of the banquet for $250.

 

Ohio Theocons roll out carpet for Keyes, Coulter

Ohio's average IQ will take a nosedive April 16 when whackjobs Alan Keyes and Ann Coulter come into Columbus for a rally and fundraising dinner for what is being described as the launch of Rev. Rod Parsley's "Silent No More" 11-city world tour and moral extravaganza. The rally, at the World Harvest Church, is free but ya gotta pony up $50 to break bread with this two and Pastor Rod.

Our first reaction is that we doubt words "Silent No More" have ever been used before in the same sentence as the words "Alan Keyes" and "Ann Coulter."

But, in some ways this is perfect. Keyes and Coulter are so good at aggravating anyone with common sense and a desire to retain their sanity that it's laughable that these two are the only ones Parsley could get to sign on. If this is who the Republican Party wants to be their standard bearers in the future, we say let 'em do it. Independents and moderate Republicans are starting to serious doubts about the GOP after Schiavo and the attacks on Social Security, and bringing in Keyes and Coulter helps clarify their choices.

Keyes is truly crazy, and even his fellow Republicans avoided him when he was tapped to be Baraka Obama's opposition in Illinois. For those that don't know him, the fact that Keyes has frequently asserted that the 9/11 terrorist attacks were a warning from God that America should outlaw abortion gives you sense of how his mind works.

Whereas Keyes comes off as chemically imbalanced, Coulter gives the impression of a young SS officer: Vicious, shallow, loyal and willing to stoop as low as it takes. The Coulter quote we always remember is, "We need to execute people like John Walker in order to physically intimidate liberals, by making them realize that they can be killed too." (And, when she was asked if she had any regrets about saying that, Coulter responded, "Only that I didn't say it loud enough and in a large enough public forum.")

Oh, yeah. The event is being co-sponsored by the Ohio Restoration Project - you know, the folks that want to make another whackjob, Kenny Blackwell, your next Governor.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

 

Take your pick - you can't have both

The Wisconsin legislature is contemplating its own version of the Blackwell (TABOR) amendment, and the editors of the Wausau Daily Herald, looking at the government budget debacle that's happened in Colorado, suggest that, "Wise men learn from the mistakes of others. Fools repeat them expecting different results":
We can have low taxes or we can have high-quality schools and reliable services, but we can't have both.

Wisconsin doesn't need a tax freeze and it certainly doesn't need TABOR. It needs legislators and an executive who can be trusted to spend the people's money wisely.

If they can't trust themselves, they shouldn't pass a law tying their own hands with a tax freeze.

They should resign.
Powerful stuff.

 

Petro's Rx tool has bad start

Jim Petro's always been long on style and short on substance. His staff have always been strong on combing Petro's hair but weak on combing through consumer data bases.

The latest case in point in Petro's newest campaign (for governor) gimmick, AG Rx, which is described as an "new interactive tool will provide price comparisons, tips and referrals to assist you in making informed choices about your prescriptions."

We tried it and found it to have a just-slapped-together feel and not real practical.

You first have to select one of about 10 regions of the state, but some of the regions are impractical because there is no way the covered areas are homogenous. Then you can only select from a list of 25 drugs. We first selected Ambien and the Columbus area and got prices from eight pharmacies. One store showed a price of $0.00! Another showed that one dose would cost $99.02. When we selected the Cleveland region looking for Ambien, we didn't run into the same data problems and got what looked like prices from 30 pharmacies. But, upon closer inspection we saw that 28 of the 30 were actually from the same chain, Discount Drug Mart, so there really only prices from three pharmacies.

In fact, the lack of a broad cross section of prices makes this site suck. Yes, Petro, you've gotten Sam's Club and Discount Drug Mart to participate, but where are the prices from big boys like CVS and Walgreens where a lot of the public shop? Don't you have the clout or charm to get them involved?

On a functional level, the site sucks because users have to go through too many screens to get the answers, and then can't easily back up and search for the prices on another drug.

But, enough of our bitching. Plain Dealer reporter Susan Jaffe also tried AG Rx and found an entirely different set of problems:
Attorney General Jim Petro's drug prices Web site launched this week was supposed to help consumers, not confuse them. But late Wednesday, Petro spokesman Mark Anthony acknowledged that the price information contained on the site was "inconsistent," after The Plain Dealer pointed out a few glitches.

The bestseller Lipitor, a cholesterol-lowering drug, doesn't come in 30-milligram doses - as the Web site showed - at any price. Bargain hunters will never find Furosemide, a diuretic, or Norvasc, which controls high blood pressure, in 30-milligram doses, either.

The painkiller Neurontin, comes in 100-, 300-, 400-, 600-, or 800-milligram doses, not the 90 listed.

And doctors would never tell patients to simply take "four pills" of Fosamax to treat osteoporosis -- the dosage listed on the site. The drug is prescribed in doses of 5, 10, 35, 40 or 70 milligrams, according to the manufacturer's prescribing information.

"The dosage amount got confused with the number of doses in some cases," Anthony said.

He wouldn't say how many of the 25 drugs listed were incorrect, only that the problems would be fixed by today.

The Web site, www.agrx.ag.state.oh.us, provides local cash prices at 200 pharmacies across Ohio for some of the most prescribed drugs. It failed to mention, however, that some prices may be for seniors only, or for members of a buying club, such as Sam's.
We take issue with Jaffe's claim of 200 pharmacies since it appears that at least one-half to three-quarters are part of chains.

 

Social Security gauntlet thrown down for Tiberi, Ney

Central Ohio Congressman Pat Tiberi and Eastern Ohio Congressman Bob Ney have both so far refused to hold a town meeting on Social Security, so the Licking County Democrats have decided to hold one for them.

An excellent idea! We'd like to see ones held in every Republican district, too.

Anyway, here's the skinny. The meeting will be on April 20th, at the downtown Newark Library, 101 W main street. The event begins promptly at 7pm and will end at 8.45.

 

Ney news being withheld?

Wouldn't you know that just as soon as we praised Stephen Koff, we'd run across something that puts him somewhat of a questionable light. This puts the Dispatch's DC reporting in bad light, too, but we've known that bulb burned out a long, long time ago.

From Media Matters:
[. . . ] DeLay's colleague, Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH), has gotten off even easier. Ney chairs the House Administration Committee; recent news reports suggest that he, too, may have acted improperly in his dealings with lobbyist Jack Abramoff. The Washington Post reported on March 17:

The Senate Finance Committee yesterday opened an investigation into allegations that lobbyist Jack Abramoff used nonprofit organizations to pay for a variety of improper activities, including overseas trips for House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (Tex.) and another Republican lawmaker. Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) and Sen. Max Baucus (Mont.), the panel's top Democrat, faxed a letter to Abramoff's attorney seeking information from the Capital Athletic Foundation, a charity he created. The committee wants financial records and receipts for travel, which would include a 2002 trip to Scotland by House Administration Committee Chairman Robert W. Ney (R-Ohio) and lobbyist and former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed.

A December 26, 2004, Washington Post article noted:

One member of the House leadership already under scrutiny for his ties to Abramoff, House Administration Committee Chairman Robert W. Ney (R-Ohio), used the MCI Center [an arena in Washington] box, and his chief of staff was later hired by Abramoff. A Senate panel investigating Abramoff released e-mails last month showing that Abramoff directed a Texas tribe to contribute $32,000 to Ney in 2002, days after Ney took steps to sponsor legislation sought by the tribe.

Abramoff's fundraising log shows an event for Ney at MCI Center on March 15, 2001. FEC records show that Abramoff and three men associated with him in a Florida-based casino cruise line called Suncruz each donated $1,000 to Ney that day.

Ney had been helpful to them the year before, when Abramoff and a partner, Adam Kidan, were embroiled in acrimonious efforts to buy Suncruz. In an unusual step, Ney criticized the cruise line's owner, Gus Boulis, in statements placed in the March 30, 2000, Congressional Record, putting pressure on Boulis to sell; he then praised Kidan as Suncruz's new owner when the sale went through.

It almost goes without saying that Ney's dealings with Abramoff, which are being investigated by the Senate Finance Committee, haven't been mentioned - not a single time - on ABC, NBC, or CBS. Nor has The New York Times mentioned the two men in a single article - ever.

Perhaps more surprising is that the two major newspapers near Ney's congressional district - the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Columbus Dispatch - have combined to publish just one article that mentions Ney and Abramoff this year. [emphasis added]

On March 10, the Dispatch reported:

Faced with new questions about a 2002 trip to Scotland, Rep. Bob Ney denied any wrongdoing and said yesterday that he would be happy to discuss the matter with the House ethics committee.

The St. Clairsville Republican has found himself in a scandal involving controversial lobbyist Jack Abramoff. The latest twist concerns whether Ney accurately identified on a House disclosure form the sponsor of the Scotland trip, which included a golf outing at the famous St. Andrews course.

Ney said through a spokesman yesterday that Abramoff told him the nonprofit National Center for Public Policy Research paid for the trip, and that the purpose was to meet with government officials and attend a famous military festival, the Edinburgh Military Tattoo.

A report published yesterday in the Los Angeles Times quotes a center official denying that the research group - on whose board Abramoff used to serve - paid for the trip.

That's the only article the Dispatch has published on the topic since November. The paper's readers have not yet been told, among other things, that the Senate Finance Committee is now investigating the matter.

Still, they aren't as out of the loop as readers of the Plain Dealer. The last article that paper published that mentioned Ney and Abramoff came on December 10, long before the recent disclosures in The Washington Post.
One tiny correction: On March 28, as part of a long editorial on DeLays problems, the editors entire coverage of the Ney angle is reduced to this one parenthetical (literally) statement:
The Los Angeles Times reported at length on his ties to a lobbyist, Jack Abramoff, under investigation for his extremely lucrative dealings with several Indian tribes seeking his and others' influence in casino deals. (Among the others is Rep. Bob Ney, the St. Clairsville, Ohio, Republican whose 2002 golf trip to St. Andrews in Scotland may have been improperly funded by Abramoff.)
But, still no mention of the Finance Committee investigation . . .

 

Speaking of Ney . . .

Ohioans should look at a bill Ney is co-sponsoring that ostensibly helps consumers with predatory lending problems, but critics say the bill would pre-empt stronger state and local laws and lacks sufficient safeguards for consumers, and would “gut protections against predatory lenders.”

The American Prospect has more here.

 

More perspective on Oxley's dependency on out-of-state dollars

In our previous post we noted that Congressman Mike Oxley appears to be more and more dependent on money from outside his district - hell, from outside Ohio, then every before. We've gotta believe some wise Democratic strategists will see this as an enormous, revealing weakness on Oxlye's part.

Now, there is nothing, per se, wrong with getting out of state contributions. Sometimes, with large membership groups like unions or the NRA, even though the check might come from DC, it's reasonable to argue that they have substantial dues-paying members in the candidate's region.

So, again using OpenSecret.org's data, we decided to see how Oxley compares that to the rest of Ohio's Republican Congressional Delegation:
Out-of-state Contributions
Mike Oxley - 80%
Gillmor - 57%
Ney - 51%
Regula - 36%
Hobson - 30%
Portman - 25%
LaTourette- 17%
Boehner - 14%
Tiberi - 11%
Pryce - 10%
Chabot - 7%
Turner - 6%
To us, the results are a little surprising. First, Oxley doesn't just look like a whore for out-of-staters. He looks like a huge whore compared to his colleagues.

Second, we are surpised to see that so many of out-of-staters give to a dimwit like Gillmor. Or put another way, we aren't surprised that a lot of his constituents won't give to the guy. (Actually, it looks like OpenSecrets may not be reporting his numbers correctly since the amount of donations used to calculate his percentage is very small._

Now, Ney's 51% sort of jumped out, so we looked at the numbers from his previous campaigns:
Ney Out of State Contributions
2004 - 51%
2002 - 52%
2000 - 27%
1998 - 23%
This change over the years isn't much of a surprise to those of us that have followed his career. Back in his Statehouse days, Ney was an ambitious wheeler dealer, but he was not like the far-right wingnuts that came in after he left. Despite being master of the perpetual tan and ever-so gelled hair, he succeeded in cultivating somewhat of a poplist image among the steelworkers and others blue-collar groups in his district.

Ney stuck to his typical style for his first two terms, but his ambition appears to have gotten the best of him. As the number show, a turning point came in 2001 when he was appointed Chairman of the Committee on House Administration. The change in the amount and type of political donations available to him changed overnight. This explains the jump in out-of-state donations between 2000 and 2002.

Later, he also gained the additional job of being the Chairman of the Financial Services Subcommittee on Housing. As he likes to brag at his web site, "Ney is currently ranked the 11th Most Powerful Member of Congress."

He didn't get their on his own. Perhaps unfortunately, at least for his career, he decided to become one of DeLay's running dogs. We suspect that may be an association he lives to regret.

 

Oxley - Whore for out-of-staters?

Who owns Oxley? Not Ohioans.

As a followup to our earlier post on Congressman Mike Oxley's extravagent ways, it's worth noting that Oxley no longer gets into office every two years because the people around Findlay, Lima and the rest of his district reach deep into their pockets to help return their man to the Capitol.

Quite the contrary. To a greater and greater extent, the bulk of his campaign money, 70-80 percent, now comes from outside Ohio. Primarily it comes from the financial sector such as banks, brokerage houses and credit card companies.

In the past, we have listed some of his big donors as a way to explain his steadfast support for privatizing Social Security. But it's worth revisiting his financial reports to see exactly what part of the country his donations come from. For this exercise, we have used the handy feature of OpenSecrets.org that list the top five metropolitan areas for donations. Here are the results for Oxley for the last few election cycles, and the change over the years is startling:
2004
Washington, DC-MD-VA-WV - $100,300
New York, NY - $68,750
Columbus, OH - $63,950
Wilmington-Newark, DE-MD - $54,000
Dallas - $33,050

2002
New York, NY - $55,100
Washington, DC-MD-VA-WV - $45,850
Columbus, OH - $45,400
Newark, NJ - $11,350
Philadelphia, PA-NJ - $10,000

2000
Washington, DC-MD-VA-WV - $20,450
Mansfield, OH - $19,450
Lima, OH - $15,230
Columbus - $6,055
New York - $5,000
OpenSecrets reports that 80% of Oxley's money for his 2004 election came from out of state. As John Wayne used to say, that's re-goddam-diculous.

 

Oxley & Boehner: Not people like us

Back in March, it seemed like Blogger was stuck in quicksand for a couple of days and we had sit on our little hands in despair. One of the casualties of this period was great story - from beginning to end - in the Plain Dealer by Stephen Koff, chief of the PD's Washington Bureau, detailing the excesses of Republicans and (not in the same league) Democrats in using PAC money to lead what some might consider, shall we say, an extravagant life style. Unfortunately, the story had received little play around the state.

It should be noted that Koff's stories, almost always good reads, stand in sharp contrast to the hacktackular scribblings of the Dispatch's Jack Torry and "Flush the Jon" Riskind.

For Ohioans, here are a few highlights from Koff, starting off with his lede that rips one of the state's most vile Congressmen, Mike Oxley:
Chauffeured luxury sedans around New York. Excursions across the country on private jets. Ski trips to Vail. Golf outings in Scottsdale.

It is, by all descriptions, a fine life. And Michael Oxley, the Republican congressman from Findlay, Ohio, doesn't have to spend his own money on it.

Rather, when a chauffeured Cadillac drives him around Manhattan, the bills -- $25,000 for just the last two years -- go to a political account. Same with his 47 private jet rides in the same period, and his annual ski outing in Vail, Colo., and golf games in Arizona and Florida.

[. . . ]

Who pays for these expenses? Contributors, including corporate executives and lobbyists, who give money to so-called leadership PACs, or political action committees. The executives lend their corporate jets to the Congress members at a discount, too.

Congressional leadership PACs are ostensibly formed when Congress members want to raise money to help like-minded politicians win election.

[. . . ]

Yet rather than subsequently giving the money to political campaigns in need, some Congress members are spending major amounts - more than half of their PAC expenditures, in the case of Oxley and others - on their own operations, including travel, entertainment, staff and fees for fund-raisers.

That raises questions as to whether some leadership PACs are little more than self-sustaining accounts to boost the members' golf scores, lifestyles or status. "They'd probably be investigated by a state attorney general somewhere if they were a charity," says Larry Noble, a former Federal Election Commission general counsel who is executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan watchdog group.

Oxley's PAC treasurer confirmed his expenditures, but Oxley would not agree to an interview with The Plain Dealer.

[. . . ]

Oxley chairs the House Financial Services Committee, so executives from banks and investment houses want to talk to him, even if they have to go to some other politician's golf outing or dinner.

"Oxley helped raise nearly $2 million in the last election cycle," said Carl Forti, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.

In fact, corporations like Oxley so much that they provide their jets to take him to Colorado, Ari zona and lots of other locations. Oxley travels that way more than any other PAC leader, records show.
Koff also tees off on another of our loathsome favorites, John Boehner, who as we have noted previously dethroned Deborah Pryce. Koff noted that Boehner, while traveling around, was surprisingly generous with PAC money, giving out $9,600 in golf gifts to potential donors.
"You try to find something that other entities aren't doing that people are going to want to write a check to attend," said Mike Brady, spokesman for Reynolds, who convenes an annual golf tournament at Pebble Beach.

Ohio's Boehner, an avid golfer, even sponsors his own annual golf tour -- one tournament each in California, Arizona, Virginia and Ohio. In the first four months of 2003 alone, his PAC paid for expenses at the Miami Beach Golf Club, the Venetian Resort Hotel in Las Vegas, Turnberry Isle Resort in Florida, the Eden Roc Hotel in Florida, and the La Quinta Resort and Club in California.

Yet even with the expenditures, Boehner's PAC, called the Freedom Project, managed to give away more to fellow politicians than it paid out in operating expenses. So did Reynolds' PAC, despite its expensive Pebble Beach outings.

"We're not just spending it on an extravagant lifestyle for John Boehner, but actually for the cause," said Chris Singerling, director of Boehner's PAC.

Koff details how the jet-setting works:
Getting a corporate jet may be the easiest trick in Congress: All a member has to do is call.

[. . . ]

For example, the student loan companies Sallie Mae and NelNet have provided jets for Boehner. He chairs the House committee that oversees education, and is working on legislation that would affect the interest rates these companies get on student loans.

In the last two years, Oxley has used jets provided by E-Trade, MBNA America Bank, Stanford Financial Group, National City Corp., and others in the financial industry.
We have never understood what voters have seen in either Boehner or Oxley. Oxley at least has a reputation for decent constituent services. But we have to wonder how long it will be before his voters understand that the trade-off they've gotten from Oxley is that they have someone to call when a Social Security check is late, but the same guy is working to stop their Social Security checks forever.

Monday, April 04, 2005

 

Ohio version of "Terry's law"?

Mark Adams warns that the theocon wing of the Ohio Republican Party has Schiavo II in the works via a bill that require that when an individual left no clear instructions or living will, guardianship would have to go to a person willing to keep them alive. So much for the sanctity of marriage.

Mark makes good points, but from a strategic point of view we say, "Bring it on." While it takes an organized Democratic party to take advantage of the opportunity and frame the debate, there is a growing number of observers who believe that the whole Schiavo affair is a turning point for the public's honeymoon with conservatism.

We believe the majority of Americans 1) want government to stay out of this personnel matter, 2) believe the spouse should continue to receive preference in making determinations of medical matters, and 3) don't want opportunists to hypocritically force one set of rules on the public while enjoying a different set of rules in their private life (a la Delay).

 

Miller versus Petro: Double standard at the Statehouse?

We know - it's hard to imagine that Republican politicians in Columbus would be hypocritical, but this seems to us to be pretty blatant

The situations we are referring to are how differently the cases of State Senator Ray Miller and Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro are being handled.

Miller, in brief, has admitted that an aide did work for Reclaim Our Democracy which the Dispatch described as "a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to registering single black women who head households." Miller has reportedly paid nearly $1,000 to reimburse the state coffers for the 40 hours the aide worked and the staffer in question has resigned. Nevertheless, Republicans on a legislative ethics panel have referred the matter to a prosecutor for a theft-in-office charge.

Petro, on the other hand, seems to be able to openly use staff and other state resources for his campaign to be governor. For example, at a speech in November at the Columbus Metropolitan Club Petro introduced a plan to reduce the number of state government agencies and sack one-third of state workers. During the presentation, we understand that Petro said something to the effect that he would be running for governor and would have more announcements coming in the next few months related to his "vision" of the state. Kim Norris, Petro's Chief of Communications and also a state employee, accompanied Petro to the presentation and distributed information about the plan. Simultaneously, information on his plan went up on the AG's website (also paid for by taxpayers). He did a similar presentation in March on restructuring Ohio public universities, again with Norris's assistance and materials apparently prepared in the AG's office, and again a posting on the AG's website.

Now, we can imagine Petro defending himself, saying at the time that he had not officially announced his candidacy for governor. That supposedly didn't occur until March 22. That's seems to be a fairly semantical issue since Matt Cox was apparently already calling himself Petro's campaign director last September. But even if that somehow provides a legal loophole, can someone explain to us why these announcements are still posted on the AG's website? Norris seems to be still on the state payroll.

So, our point is this: how is it possible for Miller to be facing criminal charges for his transgressions, but Petro gets to use AG staff and resources to promote items that are purely political. We suspect the web postings are at least illegal, and maybe some enterprising reporter should ask if all this doesn't at least violate the spirit of Ohio's ethics rules and laws.

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