May 31, 2012

Are Brownouts in Ohio’s Future?

Filed under: Economy,Environment,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 11:59 pm

The direct voter frustration with what the Obama administration and regulations issued by its Environmental Protection Agency are doing to West Virginia’s coal industry seen in that state’s primary on Tuesday is surely also present in Ohio. Though coal mining is nowhere near as important in the Buckeye State as it is to West Virginia, it directly employed almost 3,000 Ohioans in 2010.

But the direct impact on the coal industry only scratches the surface of what could happen in Ohio as a result EPA’s overreach. Because it depends so heavily on coal to power its economy, Ohioans may begin seeing usage curbs or brownouts within five years.

Here’s what is leading to that possibility:

  • Ohio produced just over half of the coal its power plants consume in 2009 (27.4 million short tons produced vs. 50.7 million used). It imported and used the difference at its coal-fired power plants.
  • Several of Ohio’s coal-fired plants will be closing during the next several years because their owners have determined that it’s too costly to retrofit those plants to meet stringent EPA guidelines relating to emissions of mercury and other toxic metals.
  • To make up the shortfall, Ohio will have to import more power from other states.

Importing more power shouldn’t be a problem, right? Not so fast.

On May 1, the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s John Funk reported that FirstEnergy Corp. is delaying the shuttering of several plants originally targeted for closure on September 1 for several years, because “the closings would cause major voltage inadequacies and equipment overheating in the regional grid.” In other words, trying to import the energy lost if the plants were to close this year would (not could) fry the grid. Upgrading the grid to handle the higher level of energy imports will require “about $1 billion … in the next three years.”

If those upgrades don’t occur quickly enough, or if Ohio’s energy use increases more quickly than expected as its economy recovers, the identified upgrades may not suffice, or will become even more expensive. FirstEnergy may need to keep the plants whose death sentences have been commuted open even longer — if the EPA will let them.

But what if the EPA or an environmentalist organization’s lawsuit succeeds in forcing the closures before the transmission lines are completely ready? It would appear that Ohio’s utilities will have no choice but to use some combination of rate increases, which the state’s utility commission would be expected to resist, along with pleas to major customers (and perhaps even the general public) to cut back their usage. If that’s not enough, the only remaining resort would be moving to usage curbs, i.e., brownouts.

As bad as the EPA’s potential direct impact on the coal industry is, what really should be animating Ohio’s voters this November is the economically devastating prospect that in a few short years they may not be able to count on electricity being there when it’s needed because of a federal regulatory agency gone wild.

Looking at IBD’s Red-Blue State Differences

Filed under: Economy,Ohio Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 11:58 pm

They would be even greater if Ohio was more appropriately classified as a red state.

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On Tuesday, Investor’s Business Daily published an analysis comparing how the “blue states” President Barack Obama carried in 2008 have fared in comparison to the 22 “red states” won by John McCain during Obama’s presidency.

The quick answer: Not well. A more detailed answer, per IBD: “On every indicator but one, blue states have done worse, on average, than red states.” Red prevailed over blue in five metrics: average job growth, unemployment, changes in housing prices, gas prices and just barely in per capita income. Blue won narrowly in GDP growth.

The comparison is interesting but perhaps flawed in its treatment of the Buckeye State, because Ohio went blue for Obama in 2008 but was decidedly red in 2010, as John Kasich led a clean sweep of statewide executive branch officeholders. (A similar claim could also be made about “newly-reds” Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.) If Ohio were considered red in IBD’s analysis, the red-blue differences would have widened even further in most metrics.

Here are the ones we know where I believe the differences are significant enough to merit mention:

  • Job growth — IBD looked at the period from June 2009, the official end of the recession, to March 2012. During that period, red state seasonally adjusted job growth was 1.9%, while the blues grew by 1.2%. Ohio’s employment grew by 1.7% (86,200 on a June 2009 base of 5.05 million). Moving Ohio to the red column would lower its overall job growth slightly, but would lower the blues by more.
  • Unemployment — IBD compared the seasonally adjusted March 2012 rates in all states. The red rates averaged 7.4%, while the blues averaged 8.5%. Moving Ohio’s 7.5% rate into the red group would barely change its rate, while causing the blue rate to go higher.
  • Housing prices — The paper looked at changes during 2011. Red state prices barely budged, while blue state prices dropped 3.5%. Ohio’s price movement last year of -0.1% would leave the reds virtually unchanged if moved there, while causing the decline at the remaining blues to be greater.

Two of IBD’s metrics really aren’t that useful. The red-blue difference in per-capita income it found was negligible, as was Ohio’s outperformance of the rest of the country in 2011. In the final metric, Ohio’s gas prices are in the middle of the U.S. range, and its movement from blue to red wouldn’t have much of an overall effect on either when the overall blue-red differential was about 15-20 cents per gallon.

The final metric, GDP growth, is really an open item, as the government won’t release state-specific numbers for 2011 until June. Ohio’s GDP shrank by 2.6% in 2009 and grew by 2.1% in 2010; both figures trailed the national average. Based on its sharply reduced unemployment rate and decent job growth, the Buckeye State appears to have turned the corner a bit last year, both in comparison to its own past and the rest of the nation’s 2011 performance.

On GDP, we’ll just have to wait and see.

Ohio Full-year Unemployment Claims Filings Nearly Back to Early 2008 Level

Filed under: Economy,Ohio Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 11:56 pm

The number of Ohioans filing for initial unemployment claims continues to fall, as the following graph of 52-week trailing claims demonstrates:

Ohio52wkUnempClaimsto041412

In early January 2008, the average of the previous 52 weeks, which is therefore primarily a reflection on what happened during 2007, was 12,247.  That number peaked at 23,475 during October of 2009, meaning that during the previous 52 weeks, roughly 1.22 million Buckeye State workers, or nearly one-quarter of the state’s workforce (assuming few if any duplicates), filed for assistance.

Since that point, which occurred about four months after the recession’s official end in June 2009, the 52-week average has come down considerably. Most of the reduction occurred before former governor Ted Strickland left office in January 2011; reductions continued, but at a slower pace, after current Governor John Kasich took office. As of mid-April of this year, the 52-week average trailing claims figure is only about 500 weekly claims above where it was over four years ago. Only 9,558 initial claims were filed during the most recent report reflecting activity for the week ending April 14.

Looking ahead, if weekly claims average 10,000 or fewer during the next eight weeks, the 52-week average will be back to its early-2008 level — quite an improvement in a state where over 425,000 jobs were lost from 2007 through 2009. The biggest storm cloud on the horizon is the question of how much the nationwide slowdown in job growth seen during March and especially during April will affect the Buckeye State.

Ohio Employment: A Tale of Three Cities

Filed under: Economy,Ohio Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 11:55 pm

Employment in Metro Cincinnati and Columbus is expanding. In Cleveland? Not so much.

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Uncle Sam’s Bureau of Labor Statistics released the March Metropolitan Area Employment and Unemployment report today. It showed sharply contrasting results for Ohio’s three largest metro areas.

The report’s Household Survey tell us that Metro Cleveland’s unemployment rate (not seasonally adjusted) was 7.1%, down from 7.8% a year ago. But the good news largely ends there. According to the report’s Establishment Survey, the number of Cleveland-area jobholders is actually down by 1,400 from March 2011, and is up by only 7,000, or less than 1% of the workforce, in the past two years.

With roughly the same total potential workforce, Metro Cincinnati’s unemployment rate (7.8%, down from 8.9% a year ago) is higher than Cleveland’s, but its job-creation record (up by 21,900 in the past twelve months, and by 30,400 in the past two years) has been far superior.

Of the three, Metro Columbus has the best of both data sets. Its March unemployment rate was 6.8%, down from 7.8% a year ago. Despite a slightly smaller workforce base than its northern and southern couterparts, Columbus-area employment has increased by 15,000 in the past twelve months, and by 31,900 in the past two years.

Cleveland’s combination of low unemployment with little job growth may be due to people leaving the area, a greater number of potential workers not attempting to look for work (meaning that they’re not considered officially unemployed), or a bit of both.

This would seem to run against the Obama administration’s attempt to take credit for Ohio’s relatively strong overall job growth in the past year. Team Obama wants voters to believe that its decision to bail out General Motors and Chrysler largely explains the state’s comeback. But of the the state’s three big metro areas, Cleveland is clearly tne most auto industry-dependent, and has the worst record of employment growth.

There is an analogous situation up north in Michigan, where the Obama administration also is trying to hog the credit for the state’s falling unemployment rate. The trouble is, the unemployment rate in auto-heavy Metro Detroit, which has over 40% of the state’s workforce, is 9.6%. Since the state’s overall unemployment rate is 9.0%, the rate in the rest of the state, which is far less dependent on vehicle manufacturing, is about 8.5%.

The Obama campaign’s explanation also conveniently keep what Republican governors John Kasich and Rick Snyder have done in Ohio and Michigan, respectively, to turn their states’ situations around. It would appear that what has really happened is that areas which have been governed blue for decades aren’t turning around as fast as those which have and continue to be, relatively speaking, and despite the too-blue orientations of the cities of Cincinnati and Columbus, governed red.

BLUMER: NY Times Unfairly Targets Ohio Northern in Student Loan Story

On Saturday online and in Sunday’s print edition, supposed sharpshooters at the New York Times singled out Ohio Northern University in its coverage of the explosive growth of federal student loans and their impact on students’ life plans and aspirations.

Concerning ONU, reporters Andrew Martin and Andrew Lehren missed the mark.

The story’s lead anecdote involved Kelsey Griffith, who graduated on Sunday. I’ll congratulate her on that accomplishment, though she seems far more upset at than proud of what is now her alma mater: “As an 18-year-old, it sounded like a good fit to me, and the school really sold it. I knew a private school would cost a lot of money. But when I graduate, I’m going to owe like $900 a month. No one told me that.”

C’mon, Kelsey. You surely were told that you would be borrowing money and signed loan documents, did you not? And you surely understand that money which is borrowed must be repaid, right? Having said that, I should and will compliment Ms. Griffith for taking on two jobs as a waitress while still in school instead of moping about it once she figured things out.

Of ONU, the Times writes: “Here at Ohio Northern, recent graduates with bachelor’s degrees are among the most indebted of any college in the country.”

It just so happens that yours truly has a relative who is attending ONU. That relative was quite offended at what Martin and Lehren wrote, reacting as follows to the “among the most indebted” claim: “ONU has come under fire by many groups because our students graduate with more debt that most other colleges. They do not take into account that about 30% of our students are in pharmacy school which requires that you go 6 years (they get a Doctorate of Pharmacy Degree) at $40,000/year in tuition. And about 15% of our students are engineers. About a third of them ‘co-op’ where they basically intern for a whole year instead of doing classwork. This co-oping forces them to go 5 years total and thus incur another year of debt. These stats are not taken into account when ‘lists of worst colleges for debt’ are complied.”

All other things being equal, of course a school which almost half of its students attend for five years or more is going to have higher-than-average student loan debt. Martin and Lehren didn’t mention that mitigating factor, and should have.

One also has to wonder if the Times and its reporters took ONU’s informal reputation as a place where conservatives at least don’t feel out of place or ostracized as they are at so many other institutions of alleged higher learning into account when deciding which school to hit the hardest in their coverage.

African-American Former Congressman Artur Davis’s Switch from Dems to GOP Not News at NYT, AP’s National Site

Artur who? The seems to be the question at the New York Times and the national site of the Associated Press. Searches on former Congressman Artur Davis (in quotes at the Times, not in quotes at AP) return nothing relevant and nothing, respectively, even though Davis appears to be the only African-American current or former congressman to leave the Democratic Part and become a Republican in decades. As noted yesterday (at NewsBusters; at BizzyBlog), the AP treated the story as a local item yesterday, and the Washington Post carried the AP’s story in its Metro local section.

It appears that the two entities might be using the old “Well, Politico covered it, so we don’t have to” excuse. On Tuesday of last week, the online publication filed a story reporting rumors that Davis was changing parties. Two days ago (updated yesterday), Alex Eisenstadt made it appear as if anger and not political philosophy largely drove Davis to switch:

Artur Davis switches parties

Former Alabama Rep. Artur Davis announced Tuesday that he’s cutting ties with the Democratic Party, and said that he’s considering a future bid for Congress as a Republican.

Davis, who for a time had been considered a rising star in the Democratic Party, wrote a message on his website confirming that he is switching parties.

“[I]f I were to leave the sidelines, it would be as a member of the Republican Party that is fighting the drift in this country in a way that comes closest to my way of thinking: wearing a Democratic label no longer matches what I know about my country and its possibilities,” Davis wrote.

The former congressman said he was thinking about waging a comeback bid in Virginia, where he currently lives. Since leaving office in 2011, Davis has been working at a Washington law firm.

The announcement marks a dramatic turnabout for Davis, a Harvard-educated lawyer who had once been mentioned as a potential attorney general after Democrats won the White House in 2008. The ambitious Davis, who is black, routinely drew comparisons to Barack Obama.

But after Davis suffered a stinging defeat in the Democratic primary for Alabama governor in 2010, he turned sharply against his party. Much to the chagrin of party leaders, Davis refused to endorse the candidate who defeated him, Ron Sparks, and openly criticized his foe.

Note how the headline doesn’t identify which party Davis leaving and the one to which he is switching. The headline also fails to tag Davis as anyone whose party switch would be considered important (how about “former four-term congressman,” guys?). For all most readers probably know, Davis is just some local low-level politician.

Predictably, Isenstadt’s story failed to note that Davis was a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, was the only member of that caucus to vote against ObamaCare, and that he was Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign co-chair.

If anyone knows the last time this happened, please let everyone else know, because I believe it’s possible that it never has. In other words, it should be national news in the establishment press by any reasonable definition, and isn’t. Imagine how much attention a Republican at this level deciding to become a Democrat would get.

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.

BLUMER: OSU President Tells NYT He ‘Didn’t Think a Lot About Costs’

Filed under: Economy,Education,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 11:39 pm

Of course he didn’t.

By Tom Blumer | Special to Ohio Watchdog

In its coverage on May 12 of the student loan debt explosion and its impact on students and their families, the New York Times quoted Ohio State University President E. Gordon Gee making quite an astonishing admission: “I didn’t think a lot about costs. I do not think we have given significant thought to the impact of college costs on families.”

Therein lies the fundamental problem. For decades, universities haven’t had to “think a lot” about controlling costs. They have simply passed tuition and other increases on to students and their families, who have in turn been willing to borrow more and more from Uncle Sam to get the precious sheepskin.

As a former student there, yours truly remembers that in the mid-1970s, tuition for a year at Miami University in Oxford was $630. The then-controversial “general fee” was another $150. Even after adjusting for general inflation, those costs amounted to less than $4,000 in today’s dollars. Tuition and mandatory fees this year at the home of the Redhawks was $12,625. At the main campus in Columbus at Mr. Gee’s OSU, where costs were about the same as at Miami in the mid-1970s, tuition and fees were “only” $9,711. Does anyone believe that today’s universities are delivering two or three times more value in real terms now than the were in the mid-1970s?

On Sunday At the Power Line blog, Steven Heyward lit into Mr. Gee and by inference many of his highly paid colleagues: “Easy for Mr. Gee-Whiz to say, with his $2 million pay package at Ohio State.”

A bigger-picture question for Ohioans and university presidents such as Mr. Gee is why in-state tuition at state-supported schools is so much higher than in other states. Here are a few examples found in a study based on the 2010-2011 academic year by the Midwest Higher Education Compact: University of Florida, Gainesville – $5,045; University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill – $5,922; Iowa State University, Ames – $6,997. The MHEC shows that schools in the Midwest are more expensive than the national average. But costs at Ohio’s universities are even higher than that.

It seems doubtful that disparate levels in state government aid would explain much of the regional ro national differences just cited. I’m afraid that the attitude OSU’s Gee relayed to the Times betrays something more fundamental. In Ohio, schools increase their costs simply because they can — and because legislators, parents, and students who believe the increasingly questionable claim that a college degree will lead to a relative bonanza in lifetime earnings let them.

BLUMER: If you can’t beat ‘em, segregate ‘em

Filed under: Economy,Education,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 11:35 pm

Private schools’ sports teams win too often. Public schools want to “fix” that.

By Tom Blumer | Special to Ohio Watchdog

The bylaws of the Ohio High School Athletic Association (OHSAA) divide the state’s high schools into three classes to determine where they will compete in state tournaments in various sports: A, AA, and AAA. Where a school goes is determined solely by enrollment:

“Boys classification shall be determined by the total number of boys enrolled in grades 9-10-11. Girls classification shall be determined by the total number of girls enrolled in grades 9-10-11.”

Each class contains one-third of Ohio’s high schools. Every year, each sport has a tournament champion in each class.

Many of the state’s public schools, with apparently strong support within the OHSAA, say that the system is unfair. Really.

Why? Because they don’t like the results.

One person who agrees with the whiners is Columbus Dispatch sports reporter Michael Arace, who feels that something must be done about the fact that “private schools make up 17 percent of the association and win anywhere from 45 to 63 percent of the team titles, depending on the sport.”

Rather than suggest that public schools redouble their efforts to excel on the playing field, Arace sides with those who want to punish private schools for their success. Proposals involve bumping private schools into a higher class than their enrollments would otherwise dictate. Incredibly, eight other states are already doing this.

Arace’s description of a “solution” the OHSAA tried but narrowly failed to pass reads like something bureaucrats at Uncle Sam’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission might have worked up:

“The OHSAA wanted to go beyond enrollment in assessing school size. It wanted to use boundaries, tradition and socioeconomic considerations in determining sport-by-sport athletic counts. It proposed that a school could go up in classification depending upon how big a district it draws from, how many regional and state titles it has won over an eight-year period and how many free lunches it provides.”

Let’s translate: Having strong traditions and achieving success would mean that a relatively small school’s future athletes might have to compete against larger schools. Giving out a lot of free school lunches means that a school might get to up against smaller ones.

This is “fair”?

Arace writes that in some states which have, in his words, “aimed at leveling the playing field” (of course, it’s just the opposite), “the formulas do not seem to go far enough.” Those darned private schools are still winning too often. We can’t have that.

Support for separate tournaments for private and public schools is growing. Thursday’s Dispatch reports that “a group of northeastern Ohio superintendents favoring separate tournaments for public and nonpublic schools” is going to try to force a vote on separate public-private tournaments in May 2013.

Private schools outperform public schools in sports for the same reasons they outperform them academically. Their academic and athletic successes continually embarrass public school officials.

Parents who enroll their children in private schools often make extraordinary financial sacrifices to do so while paying the property taxes which support the public schools. Given that reality, the prospect that sports programs at the Buckeye State’s private schools might find their sports teams segregated from the rest of the state at tournament time simply because too successful is beyond outrageous.

BLUMER: ‘Ghost Voting’ in Ohio Is Far Too Easy

Filed under: Ohio Politics,Scams,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 11:23 pm

Thanks to no voter-ID requirement.

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Tom Blumer | Ohio Watchdog

At PJ Media last week, legal editor and former Department of Justice attorney J. Christian Adams reported that “Florida election officials are set to announce that the secretary of state has discovered and purged up to 53,000 dead voters from the voter rolls.”

Adams noted that Florida was able to conduct its purge because it “is now using the nationwide Social Security Death Index for determining which voters should be purged because they have died.” He contends that this index is “the best available data revealing which voters have died.”

There is still far too much potential for dishonest Ohioans to engage in undetected “ghost voting,” i.e., voting in the name of someone else. Though there has been notable improvement in preventing votes in the names of dead people, it’s way too easy to do so on behalf of other registered voters who are still alive.

Regarding ghost voting on behalf of corpses, in late 2006, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that Cuyahoga County had “1.05 million registered voters, which tops the number of adults in the county by 200,000″ when compared to the Census Bureau’s population estimate. A Cleveland TV station’s extensive investigation using Social Security death records “uncovered 27 people who are dead, but votes were cast in their name anyway.”

On Tuesday, Matt McClellan, Press Secretary for Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, told me that Ohio’s attempt to purge the voter rolls of those who are no longer with us now involves using the State and Territorial Exchange of Vital Events (STEVE). The related web page at the National Association for Public Health Statistics and Information Systems (NAPHSIS) touts STEVE as “an innovative messaging application developed by the for the electronic exchange of vital event data between jurisdictions,” including, according to McClellan, monthly information about reported deaths in other states. The Secretary of State’s office refers potential matches found in Ohio’s statewide database of voter records to the relevant county boards of elections for investigation and disposition.

J. Christian Adams’ contention noted earlier about Social Security’s records notwithstanding, what Ohio now does in this regard appears to be adequate. The same cannot be said of the state’s efforts to prevent ghost votes on behalf of the living.

Because of the travesty of early voting, it seems extraordinarily easy, especially on an absentee basis, to request and then cast an infirm or apathetic relative’s or acquaintance’s vote. Because anyone can vote early without offering a mitigating reason (as opposed to the pre-2006 regime which required voters to attest that they had an acceptable reason why they couldn’t vote on Election Day before they could receive an absentee ballot), the potential for such fraud has increased exponentially. Election Day and in-person early voting for someone else is a bit more difficult but far from impossible. Because you don’t have to present picture ID, you probably won’t raise any suspicions as long as you can make your forged signature appear comparable to the one the voting precinct has on file (and which you will ordinarily be able to see before you obtain your ballot).

The in-person version of “ghost voting” would be much more difficult if Ohio required voters to present picture ID at the polls. Absentee voting would only be complicatedhttp://blog.cleveland.com/metro/2011/10/secretary_of_state_husted_anno.html by the need to run a copy of your unsuspecting friend’s or acquaintance’s ID.

Up until sometime after the May 2010 Republican primary, both at his web site and in his campaign materials, Husted was an outspoken proponent of the voter ID requirement. He went silent on the topic until that year’s general election, and announced a change of heart last year. Reacting to the flip-flop, Mary Kissel at The Wall Street Journal anointed Husted “Ohio’s Pro-Fraud Republican.” The blocking and tackling Husted’s office is doing to prevent ghost votes on behalf of the dead and his attempt to restrict the time period for in-person early voting are both important. But regardless of the Secretary of State’s true intentions, I unfortunately must agree with Ms. Kissel.

BLUMER: Blade Rehashes Romney High School Haircut Story, Ignores WaPo Story’s Holes

Adds nothing new, while giving President Obama same-sex marriage cover.

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By Tom Blumer | Special to Ohio Watchdog

Ten days after the Washington Post published a 5,400-word tome on Mitt Romney’s high school years, two Toledo Blade reporters, and apparently their editors, thought it necessary to produce nearly 3,000 more.

The Post’s May 10 piece was mostly unremarkable except for its description of one incident in which Romney allegedly led a group of classmates who forcibly cut the hair of fellow classmate John Lauber against his will. The story required several corrections, not the least of which meant modifying reporter Jason Horowitz’s original claim that one of Romney’s classmates was supposedly bothered by the incident “for years.” The truth is that the classmate involved didn’t even know about the incident until shorty before the Post’s report appeared.

Beyond that, in essence refuting the report’s subtle contention that Lauber was traumatized by what happened for the rest of his life, his sisters publicly stated that he never told them about it. Lauber’s family publicly insists that “the portrayal of John is factually incorrect and we are aggrieved that he would be used to further a political agenda.”

None of these glaring weaknesses or objections seem to have at all bothered Blade reporters Tom Troy and David Yonke. Their story appears to have had three purposes: first, to make sure that Glass City-area readers, most of whom arguably could care less, learn about the Post’s report about the “bullying” incident; second, to find as many of Romney’s contemporaries as possible to say that they believe the incident happened, even if it seemed out of his character (“Fellow students reached by The Blade said they never heard of the incident and were convinced it happened only because they trust their four classmates who attested to it on the record”); and third, to marvel at how lucky Romney was that he wasn’t disciplined for the incident, which if known to school officials would supposedly have led to his suspension or dismissal.

In a classic case of what is almost certainly feigned ignorance, the Blade pair wrote:

“The incident came to light about the same time that Mr. Romney’s Democratic opponent, President Obama, announced that he personally supports the right of people of the same sex to marry, a reversal of his stance in 2008 when he said he viewed marriage as only being possible between a man and a woman.”

What misleading hogwash. The incident didn’t happen to “come to light”; its appearance was deliberately timed to appear shortly after Obama’s same-sex “marriage” announcement. Eight days before the Blade story appeared, the Post admitted as much.

By referencing only Obama’s 2008 position on same-sex “marriage,” Troy and Yonke left a clear misimpression that Obama had previously been steadfast on the subject. That isn’t the case.

Twelve years earlier in 1996, as Los Angeles-area blogger Patterico pointed out on May 11, Obama “signed a questionnaire in which he supported the right of gays to marry.” And yes, it was Obama’s signature. In 1998, as Fox News noted on May 9, Obama’s position moved to “undecided.”

Given all the potential news stories there for the taking in Northwestern Ohio, the Blade and its reporters seriously misallocated their finite resources in spending so much time and effort on what Romney was doing when he was 18, all while adding nothing new and failing to note Obama’s record of same-sex “marriage” flip-flopping. That is, unless they believe that their mission is to bring out as much derogatory information about Barack Obama’s reelection opponent as they can while protecting Dear Leader. If that’s the case, then the Blade’s tediously long story is a perfect fit — and yet another reason why Toledo-area residents should ignore what it publishes, as so many already do.

BLUMER: W. Va. and Ky. Dem Primaries show that Obama is in trouble in Ohio

Ohio is not leaning blue.

By Tom Blumer | Special to Ohio Watchdog

In case you’ve missed it — and it would be understandable if you have, given that the press has given the news little attention — incumbent President Barack Obama, who has no credible Democratic Party challenger, got less than 60% of the vote in the West Virginia primary a few weeks ago. His opponent, a convicted felon named Keith Judd who is currently serving time in Texas, received 40.7% of the vote.

On Tuesday in Kentucky’s primary, Obama again failed to garner 60% of the vote, this time against nobody. Literally. Just over 42% of the Bluegrass State’s Democratic Primary voters cast their ballots as “uncommitted.” 67 of the state’s 120 counties gave majorities to “uncommitted.” By comparison, the last three times an incumbent president ran virtually unopposed in his party’s primary in Kentucky, “uncommitted” took 7.5%, 17%, and 25% of the vote in 2004, 1996, and 1992, respectively. The 1992 result indicated that George H. W. Bush was indeed vulnerable to a centrist-posing general election challenge from someone like Bill Clinton. Bush lost the general election. The “uncommitted” percentage of Democrats effectively voting against Obama should be seen as even more troubling to his supporters than the figurative warning shot fired at Bush in 1992.

That there is a significant pocket of opposition to Obama’s reelection coming from mainstream Democrats in two states which happen to be on Ohio’s border is beyond dispute. Particularly sticking in their craw are Environmental Protection Agency rules which are shutting down coal-fired power plants, seem destined to send the coal industry into oblivion, and are needlessly stifling the growth of hydraulic fracturing, also known as “fracking.”

These factors are also at work in the Buckeye State. First Energy is closing several Ohio coal-driven power plants between now and 2015. According to the U.S. Senate’s Committee on Environment and Public Works, the EPA’s foot-dragging in granting coal-mining permits is putting over 1,800 coal-mining jobs at risk. The agency is seemingly doing everything it can to slow down fracking in the state.

These regulator-driven closures and roadblocks aren’t just academic exercises in how to create a pristine world which never existed. They are negatively affecting people’s lives. As of March, unemployment rates of 8.5% and higher abounded throughout the rural and Appalachian areas of eastern, southeastern, and southern Ohio. Eleven counties still have rates above 10%.

Early Wednesday, Jim Geraghty, reacting to Tuesday’s results in Kentucky and Arkansas, where Obama also received less than 60% of the vote, wrote:

“… these states are considered deep red for 2012, but the demographics of Jacksonian white working-class voters in these states aren’t culturally all that different from voters in large swaths of swing states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and even northern Florida.”

Of the states Geraghty identified, Ohio and Pennsylvania, where fights over fracking have been especially intense, are still seen as leaning towards Obama in November. The Keystone State, where Obama scored a 600.000-vote victory in 2008, is likely still in Obama’s camp. (If Obama can’t win Pennsylvania, turn out the lights, because the presidential race is over.)

But Obama won Ohio that year by only 262,000 votes out of 5.6 million ballots cast. In my view, Ohio is leaning Republican in the presidential contest, though probably not by much. General dissatisfaction with Obama’s record throughout the state, combined with vehement opposition from blue-collar workers and their families who often support Democrats but can’t abide the administration’s regulators gone wild, mean that Obama, contrary to current conventional wisdom, faces an uphill climb here.

BLUMER: Here’s a Tip for the Cincinnati Enquirer — Cover Real Ohio News

Wasting precious time and space on a “lousy tip” which didn’t even happen.

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In isolation, Carl Weiser’s entry at the Cincinnati Enquirer’s Politics Extra blog about House Speaker and Ohio Eighth Congressional District Representative John Boehner is merely annoying.

Weiser chose to note reports concerning a meal the speaker, his aides and his eight-person Secret Service detail had at Sam’s Chowder House in Half Moon Bay, California. Reporter Mark Noack at the local Half Moon Bay Review’s report on the group’s visit couldn’t resist getting in a gratuitous dig, followed by an error which has since been corrected:

“Boehner, who has staked his political career on spending reductions, nonetheless made no attempt to haggle down the costs of his meal. He paid the bill and posed for a couple pictures with (restaurant owner Paul) Shenkman, who politely offered to send the speaker a framed copy to hang up.”

“The group left in a hurry, leaving a tip that reportedly left the server feeling a little unappreciated.”

“One day later, a Secret Service agent phoned Sam’s Chowder House, saying he realized they skimped on the tip. He asked the restaurant to add another $30 to the bill.”

The paper has since corrected the time it took for the Secret Service agent to increase the tip to “an hour later.”

At the pathetic enterprise known as the Huffington Post, Nick Wing’s brief item was headlined “John Boehner Group Leaves Weak Tip At California Restaurant.” There is no “an hour later” correction present.

Weiser essentially split the difference with his post titled “Boehner and the allegedly lousy tip,” writing: “I’m not sure if this says more about West Chester’s John Boehner or the Huffington Post.”

Weiser’s work goes beyond annoying because of the Enquirer’s awful coverage of real news about Ohio. What happens outside of Southwestern Ohio rarely makes the paper.

Case in point: Since April 15, the Toledo Blade has run eight stories on Willard & Kelsey Solar (aka WK Solar Group), a firm which “which received $10.5 million in Ohio taxpayer dollars” from the state. In 2009, the firm was highly touted enough to merit a visit by Vice President Joe Biden.

If WK doesn’t survive financially, it will be accurate to call WK “Ohio’s Solyndra.” California-based Solyndra filed for bankruptcy last year, leaving U.S. taxpayers on the hook for $535 million in Department of Energy loan guarantees which were from all appearance whisked through without appropriate due diligence. At Ohio Media Trackers, Jesse Hathaway has presented evidence that political contributions to former governor Ted Strickland and unsuccessful U.S. Senate candidate Lee Fisher may have greased the skids to ensure that requested loans from the Ohio Department of Development and the state’s Air Quality Development Authority got funded.

$10 million is no minor matter, or at least it shouldn’t be. The state’s likely loss on WK expressed as a percentage of Ohio’s yearly “all-funds” spending of about $60 billion ($120 billion over two years) is a bit larger than the federal government’s expected Solyndra loss as a percentage of its $3.6 trillion in annual spending, even before considering Uncle Sam’s “off-budget” items.

A search at the paper’s web site on “Willard Solar” (not in quotes) indicates that the Enquirer hasn’t run a story since April 16; that story is no longer available to readers. Since then, Blade has run six items, including “State wants account of solar firm’s finances” (May 22), “State wants account of solar firm’s finances” (May 13), and “Willard & Kelsey Solar Group failed to file complete reports with state” (May 2).

Note to Carl Weiser and the Enquirer: These items are news, even in a town with frustrating provincial tendencies. As far as I’m concerned, you and the rest of the reporters at your paper and its web site can justify taking thinly-disguised (and not yet corrected) shots at John Boehner only after you give your readers Ohio news they should be but aren’t seeing.

BLUMER: Missing the Big Lesson in Ohio’s New Building Code

Energy savings with lower costs.

______________________________________

It’s difficult to glean from the coverage at the Columbus Dispatch and the Associated Press, but the new residential building code which will go into effect in Ohio on January 1 of next year promises to reduce the average cost of building the a home.

You read that right.

Consider the following far-apart paragraphs at Jim Weiker’s Dispatch coverage:

“Estimates indicate that the new rules will add between $1,100 and $1,200 to the cost of an 1,800-square-foot two-story home. A 2009 U.S. Department of Energy study of a similar proposed code change in Boston concluded that homeowners would save about $230 a year in energy costs with the new guidelines.”

… “At the urging of builders, the new code provides contractors two ways to meet the energy requirements: either by following the International Code Council (ICC) guidelines or by following an alternative set of guidelines designed by builders to achieve the same energy efficiency.”

“‘I think they came up with a code that works,’ said Vincent Squillace, executive vice president of the Ohio Home Builders Association, which opposed the initial proposal. ‘We came up with an equivalent code that’s more strict but is about $2,000 cheaper per home to implement than the original code.’”

I was so struck by Mr. Squillace’s quote that I called him. He confirmed what I thought: The builder-designed code, while achieving the desired energy efficiency goals, will make building a home less expensive than it currently is by about $800. That represents the difference between the $1,200 increase compared to current costs which will occur if a builder chooses to follow the ICC guidelines and the estimated $2,000 savings compared to ICC the alternative guidelines will achieve.

Talk about burying the lede. It’s not too difficult to figure out which set of guidelines most builders and their customers will prefer — and they’ll do so without compromising energy efficiency.

Squillance told me that builders were able to obtain their savings by customizing home designs to Ohio’s actual climate conditions as opposed to the ICC’s designs, which are more generic from a climate response viewpoint. Imagine that.

There’s an important lesson here, which the Dispatch and AP failed to effectively convey. It is that industry officials working with the government and regulators can come up with better solutions than one-size-fits-all, top-down bureaucracies. Taking that lesson further, a cooperative approach between regulators and the regulated, preferably involving regulators who are knowledgeable and experienced in the industry in question, will accomplish more than a confrontational relationship involving government coercion which is all too often administered by industry know-nothings who are trying to put notches in their belts.

A similar lesson deserves wider application in matters of employee safety, health, and working conditions. To name just one example, coal and other mining fatalities during the Bush administration, which pushed a cooperative approach while former industry officials ran the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), dropped from 72 in 2001 (42 in coal and 30 in all other mining) to an all-time low of 34 in 2009 (the Bush official in charge of MSHA left office in October of that year). With a clearly more adversarial Obama administration official in charge after that, fatalities jumped to 71 in 2010.

Getting back to the new Ohio residential building code, it appears to hold the prospect of making the state more competitive against neighboring states which aren’t as creative in developing solutions that satisfy almost everyone. That’s a really good thing.

BLUMER: ONU President — NY Times student loan report omitted key facts

Kelsey Griffith is not bitter.

By Tom Blumer | Special to Ohio Watchdog

On May 12, the New York Times published a report (“A Generation Hobbled by the Soaring Cost of College”) on the out of control growth of federal student loans and the effects excessive debt burdens are having on students’ current and future life situations.

As I noted on May 14, the Times took a special interest in Ohio Northern University, noting that its grads are among the “among the most indebted of any college in the country.” It also told the story of just-graduated Kelsey Griffith, who is “$120,000 in student debt … is already working two restaurant jobs and will soon give up her apartment here to live with her parents.” When interviewed by the Times, Ms. Griffith came off as not appreciating the idea that the borrowing such a huge amount of money would require large monthly repayments, and overall as quite unhappy.

On Wednesday, ONU President Daniel A. DiBiasio responded in a lengthy email (reproduced here) to Andrew Martin’s and Andrew W. Lehren’s report.

Among the points DiBiasio made:

… (Concerning Ms. Griffith) “it is important to note that her level of borrowing is not typical.The New York Times article focused its attention on students with the highest debt. Those with a debt of $120,000 are outliers and are not the norm, either at ONU or nationally. Indeed, those with debt over $100,000 make up fewer than 3% of students nationally.”

… “What is most disturbing about the article and a related NPR story is the implication that the University advises students to ignore the sticker price and suggests they don’t need to worry about costs. ONU never has offered such advice nor suggested to students that they take a worry-free attitude about cost, and we never will. What we do tell our students is that very few pay the full price because so many receive financial aid, and that we will work with them to do all we can to make ONU affordable in light of their particular financial circumstances.”

… “In the NPR story I cited above, the reporter asked Kelsey what she would do if she could hit the reset button and start anew. Kelsey’s answer may surprise you. She said she would probably borrow the same amount because her desire to come to ONU was so strong. While she regrets not being more aware of her situation, she does not blame the University and insists she received a great education.”

Indeed the NPR report to which ONU’s president linked quotes Griffith saying the following:

“‘I know I am in a lot of debt right now. And that is kind of scary, especially now that it’s become real for me. But I am really confident that the good education I got at the amazing school that Ohio Northern is, you know, I’ll be able to find a job soon and get my loans paid off little by little,’ she said.”

This is not the almost bitter impression of Griffith the Times communicated to its readers.

DiBiasio also pointed to specific and in my view hard to excuse failures by the Times to paint the complete picture at ONU:

“… our low default rate, our high placement rate, and our high ROI rate – together with efforts to identify students at financial risk and expand financial literacy activities, were shared with the Times reporter. None of them were included in the article.”

He also pointed out that only 55% of the schools which could be reporting their student loan data to the The Project on Student Debt (TPSD) do so. It would seem that schools with extraordinarily high debt levels would be more likely to be among those not reporting.

All in all, especially considering DiBiasio’s response, the Times report comes off as an attempt to pin sole blame on universities for their students’ plights. Plenty of others share responsibility, at least including the government for enabling schools to pay less attention to cost-consciousness than they should, as well as parents, students, and their high school counselors who all too often don’t crunch the numbers before deciding whether or not diving into a deep financial hole to get the sheepskin will really be worth it.

May 26 Unemployment Claims, Month of May ADP Private-Sector Employment (UPDATE: 383K SA Claims, Only 133K Private Jobs)

Filed under: Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 8:35 am

This is another post which probably won’t be done in real time.

Unemployment claims for the week ended May 26 will be reported at 8:30 a.m., as will ADP’s report on May private-sector employment growth. Bloomberg carried an estimates of 370K new claims and 150,000 private-sector job adds, respectively.

UPDATE, 9 A.M.: Unemployment claims — A seasonally adjusted 383,000. Ouch.

UPDATE 2: ADP — “Employment in the U.S. nonfarm private business sector increased by 133,000 from April to May on a seasonally adjusted basis. The estimated gain from March to April was revised down modestly, from the initial estimate of 119,000 to a revised estimate of 113,000.” Double ouch.

Even though GDP came in as expected at an annualized 1.9%, that’s a triple ouch.