Pakistan: Imran Khan Op-Ed in Guardian

Imprisoned cricket-star-turned-politician Imran Khan, leader of the Tehrek-e-Insaaf party and reportedly on a hunger strike, has a stirring opinion piece online at the Guardian:

But before we achieve our goal of building a free democratic society, the foremost challenge is to force general Musharraf to resign. General Musharraf's recent statements are proof that he is in denial mode. The time is ripe for change, for a fresh beginning. The present regime is under siege and we must never allow this opportunity to fritter away. All Pakistanis - particularly the students, workers, civil society members, and political workers - should join the peaceful protest led by the lawyers for the restoration of democracy.

OH-18: Space (D) Short-Circuits Travel Critics, Tacks Right on Guns and Illegal Immigrants

Targeted freshman Rep. Zack Space (D-Dover) is fighting back with deft political maneuvering on several fronts this week.

Cutting short criticism from the right of his upcoming Congressional trip to Greece, Space has taken the dramatic step of announcing that he will pay all of his travel expenses himself. Space was asked to join the delegation because of his Greek family roots. “It’s not something that most members of Congress would do, but it’s something I am going to do in order to exceed the public’s expectations and put the focus of this mission where it should be: on local economic development and U.S. security," Space said.

Bolstering his status as a political independent, Space is sounding very conservative on guns and illegal immigration this week. He has issued a press release praising the U.S. Supreme Court for taking a case challenging the District of Columbia ordnance banning handguns, pointing out that he is an NRA member and a co-sponsor of federal legislation to curtail the ban. Also, having completed a two-day fact-finding trip to the Mexican border, Space has written a newspaper column calling for tougher border and internal enforcement, a crackdown on employers, and stricter enforcement of laws against illegal aliens receiving government benefits.

Carnival of Ohio Politics #92: Feast Week Edition

Many thanks to Pho for another phine ephort, and on busy Pheast Week to boot. Go and fill up on holiday political reading, with all the trimmings!

Enquirer Editorial Slaps Down Combs (R) on Opposition to Hiring Bilingual Dispatchers

As I noted yesterday, State Rep. Courtney Combs (R-Fairfield) objected strenuously upon learning that state agencies have advertised a hiring preference for bilingual candidates for positions like dispatcher and customer service representative. Today the Cincinnati Enquirer upbraids Combs in an editorial titled "No Downside to Bilingual Skills":

Combs says he'll introduce an English-only bill that requires state and local governments to conduct business in English. "We want people in this country to speak English," he said. "It's a sellout to say they can't learn the language."

But having bilingual safety officials isn't about enabling people who can't or won't learn English. It's about providing assistance and service to those who haven't learned it yet.

And encouraging employees to master a second language is only to their benefit professionally and personally. Safety services work better for all of us - including the safety providers - when crucial time isn't tied up trying to communicate a problem, determine a location or figure out what kind of help is needed. ...

Our nation and region are continually growing more diverse. Acknowledging it in an area as crucial as public safety is a prudent approach. Weather emergencies, health crises, automobile accidents and other human difficulties don't just happen to those who speak "English only."

Good for the Enquirer.

Health Insurance Cost Up, Percentage of Employers Providing Insurance Down

Ohio Health Policy Review reports on a national survey of employer health plans, reported in the Enquirer yesterday:

* Health insurance costs rose just over 6% per employee for the third year in a row in 2007, pushing coverage costs to a national average of almost $8,000 per worker;

* In Ohio, costs jumped 4.5% for an average of $8,229 per employee; and,

* Nationwide, the percentage of companies with fewer than 200 workers that offer insurance dropped from 63% in 2006 to 61% in 2007.

Health care costs have risen at about double the rate of inflation for the last three years. They rose at a higher rate about a decade ago, but one of the reasons for tapering off is that employers have shifted more costs to employees through self-directed options like health savings accounts and health reimbursement accounts.

This report shows that there is good cause for 72% of Ohio voters considering the cost of health care a "very big problem" heading into the next election cycle.

OH-05: Weirauch (D) Airs First TV Ad

The campaign of Robin Weirauch (D-Napoleon) has its first television ad on the air, a nice 30-second biographical introduction:

The campaign is calling on supporters to donate up to $200 to help keep this ad on the air. Click here and make a quick donation today, in whatever amount you can manage!

Strickland Triangulates on Equality for Gays

An article in the Enquirer portrays Gov. Ted Strickland (D) as tempering his support for equal rights for gays, in an apparent attempt to sidestep controversy going into the 2008 election cycle.

At issue is last May's executive order that bans workplace discrimination in the executive branch of Ohio government based on sexual orientation and gender identity. So far, so good. However, the order refers only to "rate of compensation," a term that is being interpreted as monetary compensation only, not benefits like health insurance for same-sex partners.

OSU law professor Marc Spindelman, an advocate for gay equality, is incensed. He argues that the Ohio Supreme Court cleared the way for same-sex partner benefits when it ruled that the new marriage-discrimination amendment to the Ohio constitution doesn't bar legal protections for unmarried victims of domestic abuse. Of course, anti-gay bigot Phil Burress of Citizens for Community Values disagrees with Spindelman on that interpretation.

The article reports that Karla Rothan, Executive Director of Stonewall Columbus, does not join Spindelman in condemning Strickland at this juncture. "We need to give our governor more time," she says. "We'll see more equality than we have in the past 12 years."

Pakistan: Standoff Evolves Toward Ultimate Issue UPDATED

In news from Pakistan today, Gen. Musharraf has begun releasing thousands of party activists and lawyers from jail (3,416 let go, according to this AP story, with about 2,000 still detained) and is off to Saudia Arabia (that hotbed of democracy) for talks with autocratic King Abdullah. There is speculation that Musharraf may reach out to former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, deposed by Musharraf and living in exile in Jeddah, as an alternative to Benazir Bhutto for purposes of forming a Bush-placating power-sharing arrangement. Sharif, however, has rebuffed the idea of working with Musharraf. Another possibility is that Musharraf is negotiating with the Saudis to keep Sharif out of Pakistan until after the January elections.


* Pakistani bloggers scoff at the decision by the reconstituted Supreme Court to dismiss petitions challenging Musharraf's re-election as president (some petitions were dismissed for non-prosection, when the petitioners may well have been in jail at the time of the hearing);

* U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson met with Bhutto yesterday in an unsuccessful attempt to persuade her to resume talks with Musharraf about sharing power;

* Sports legend and media darling Imran Khan (leader of an opposition party) has begun a hunger strike in solitary confinement in Deraghazi Khan jail in Islamabad, calling for reinstatement of the constitution and deposed judges (more on this here);

* UPDATE: Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif had an op-ed in the Washington Post on Saturday:

Democracy holds the key to resolving Pakistan's problems. Musharraf hopes that other nations will prefer his despotism to the anarchy he claims would erupt were he to leave office. This is a lie that America and other Western nations should not accept. Tyranny is never a substitute for freedom, and there is no substitute for democracy. ...

Clinton refused to shake hands or be photographed with Musharraf when he visited Pakistan in 2000. People took that as a gesture from a friend who wished Pakistan well. By refusing to associate with a dictator, President Clinton essentially won the hearts of the Pakistani people. That was the policy that should have been pursued. That is the policy that should be pursued now. America should not alienate 160 million Pakistanis by supporting a dictator who prefers rifles to reason.

* Police beat and arrested 150 journalists in Karachi and another 23 in Hyderabad who protested Musharraf's press restrictions;

* Civilians are fleeing the Swat valley, a former tourist destination, as the Pakistani military begins a counterattack against militants who have occupied towns there;

The outlines of the ultimate standoff are beginning to appear. The Bush administration has sought to persuade Musharraf to roll back some elements of martial law, but has been silent on restoring the judiciary who appeared ready to challenge his eligibility to continue as president. Bush emissaries continue to try reviving the Musharraf-Bhutto shared government idea. Musharraf is groping for some middle ground, where most opposition figures are released from jail but some remain (and Sharif presumably remains in exile). Some activity by the independent press is reinstated, but severe restrictions (such as forbidding "ridicule" of Musharraf) remain. For their part, opposition leaders are insistent that the judiciary must be restored, and are resisting going forward with parliamentary elections under continued restrictions. Bhutto, Sharif, Khan and other opposition leaders continue to insist that Musharraf must step down from governing altogether, not merely from his military role.

It does not appear likely that Bhutto will step back into negotiations with Musharraf, as the White House desires, if for no other reason than the further damage to her standing among Pakistanis from appearing to cooperate with the unpopular dictator and the even more unpopular American president. So, the ultimate issue becomes whether the opposition parties will boycott the parliamentary elections, in essence refusing to back down from their demand for restoration of the judiciary (and effectively the end of Musharraf's rule), or instead participate in the elections and capitulate (for the time being) as to the impaired status of the judiciary and other residual elements of martial law. The former course of action requires unity of purpose among the opposition parties, who have inconsistent interests and a history of bitter rivalry, although there have been indications of talks toward some kind of alliance. The latter course, if it happens, would likely be the result of mistrust among the opposition parties.

OH-02: Wulsin (D) Slams Schmidt (R) For Voting Against Mortgage Crisis Bill

Dr. Victoria Wulsin (D-Indian Hill) takes Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Loveland) to task for sticking with the White House by opposing the bipartisan House bill on the mortgage foreclosure crisis:

This week, Americans are preparing to celebrate with their family and friends and share the simplest blessing – a meal with the people we love. I’ve spent time with thousands of families in Ohio’s 2nd District, and over the last year I’ve spoken to more and more of them who have been personally affected by the mortgage crisis sweeping the United States.

I was inspired to see that, last week, the House of Representatives passed the Mortgage Reform and Anti-Predatory Lending Act (HR 3915). ... The bill passed by a wide margin, 291-127, as 64 Republicans broke ranks and voted with Democrats to fix a problem that strikes at the heart of the American Dream. But Rep. Jean Schmidt voted against the bill. ...

As of today there are 2,103 foreclosure listings in Cincinnati alone, and a shocking 75 in Jean Schmidt’s home town of Loveland, OH, population under 12,000.

What do Jean Schmidt’s neighbors think of her voting against them? ...

We need to stand up for our hard working families, not the Wall Street insiders who made billions when times were good and are now looking for a government bailout. Maybe she’s listening to the developers who have supported her political career. ...

I have one question for Jean Schmidt: isn’t it Congress’ job to protect families who save up and buy a home in good faith and then lose it because the system was rigged from the start against them?

The bill that was passed didn't go far enough in dealing with the foreclosure mess, but it did take some important steps toward that goal and voting against it is inexcusable.

Paying Any Attention to the Stock Market Today?

The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 218 points due to two developments related to the subprime mortgage mess: Goldman Sachs downgraded Citigroup to "sell" based on its expectation that the bank will have to write down $15 billion in bad mortgage-related investments over the next two quarters, and Lowe's reported lower than expected earnings (and forecast low earnings for next quarter) because of the housing slump: housing inventory high, turnover low, home prices dropping, so people aren't indulging in home improvement. Also affecting the market, the price of oil is up again and the value of the dollar continues to drop.

Meanwhile, executives of charity organizations are attributing a sharp drop in donations to the housing slowdown:

Charity executives are nervously monitoring the mortgage debacle while food and energy costs continue to rise. Food banks and homeless shelters are already grappling with reduced federal aid as fears grow that more people will need help just as charity giving starts to decline. ...

The backbone of those charities, U.S. households with $200,000 or more in annual income or more than $1 million in assets, are also the ones most likely hit by the recent drop in stock prices sparked by the mortgage mess, according to research. ...

There are anecdotal reports the mortgage mess is forcing corporations to pull back too. Carol Schneider, media relations manager for the Food Bank for New York City, said a major U.S. bank — she wouldn't name the company — has reduced its donation by 60 percent this year, citing the fallout from mortgage losses. ...

Food pantries around the country are scrambling to meet rising demand from households that can't afford food because of rising housing costs.

Slavic Village Crime Wave Detailed on

A story posted today on describes the crime wave in Cleveland's Slavic Village neighborhood, the hardest-hit neighorhood in the nation, caused by the more than 800 houses standing vacant due to foreclosures.

Mark Wiseman of the Cuyahoga County Foreclosure Prevention program describes the influx of squatters and looters, saying that "it takes about 72 hours for a house to be looted after it is vacant." Metal siding goes first, but that's just the beginning. "If someone takes the doors, moldings, appliances, it's bad enough," said Wiseman. "But once they pull the piping out, it's all over; they do it with a sledge hammer." At that point fixing the house would cost more than the restored home would be worth, and the county has only a tiny fraction of the $100 million that it would take to tear down all of its demolished hones. So the houses stand ruined and vacant, becoming a location for drug transactions and other crime.

It is a depressing report, but it is good that the problem is getting national attention, which is critical to persuading the federal government to provide financial help to localities burdened by this crisis.

Pakistan: Latest Developments

Notes on ongoing events in the nation whose official languages are English and Urdu (a dialect of Hindustani that draws on Persian and Arabic vocabulary and is written in Perso-Arabic script):

Replacement Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Musharraf - A reconstituted Pakistan Supreme Court, minus the Justices who had resisted Gen. Pervez Musharraf and packed with loyal replacements, dismissed five out of six petitions objecting to Musharraf's eligibility to assume the office of president. Musharraf suspended the constitution and disbanded the court because the previous Justices had been expected to uphold the petitions. During the proceedings, lawyers were warned that they face contempt charges and cancellation of their licenses if they persist in challenging the legality of Musharraf's replacement judges.

Negroponte Resists Changing Course - The efforts of Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte in Pakistan over the weekend to defuse the crisis revealed the reluctance of the White House to change it's faltering strategy of continuing to rely on Gen. Musharraf as a key ally in the war on terror and attempting to prop up his rule by pushing a power-sharing alliance between Musharraf and Benazir Bhutto. While urging Musharraf to end emergency rule. Negroponte pointedly reaffirmed U.S. reliance on Musharraf as an ally against terror, urged Bhutto to resume negotiations with Musharraf, and refused to talk about cutting or restricting U.S. aid in response to the crisis.

U.S. Ambassador Calls For Lifting Media Restrictions - Today U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson visited the office of Geo TV, a Pakistani station which had been broadcasting via satellite and internet from Dubai in defiance of Musharraf's media crackdown until Pakistan pressured the United Arab Emirates into closing it down, and called for an end to media restrictions. "Such extreme and unreasonable measures are clearly not in Pakistan's best interest, and contradict the progress Pakistan has made toward becoming a fully democratic society," she said. "The media must be free to report on events and share their opinions with the public."

U.S. To Enlist Tribal Leaders Against Taliban and Al Qaeda - The New York Times reports today on a classified proposal by the U.S. military to recruit and pay leaders in the tribal area bordering Afghanistan to join in the fight against resurgent Taliban and foreign fighters in the area, against whom the regular Pakistani military have been waging a losing battle. The plan would increase the number of U.S. military advisors inside Pakistan, and would add a military dimension to what had been an exclusively CIA operation in the tribal region.

Protest in London - About 500 protesters led by Jemima Khan, British ex-wife of cricket-legend-turned-political leader Imran Khan; Hina Jilani of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan; and Member of Parliament George Galloway of the Labour Party, held a demonstration in front of the Pakistan High Commission yesterday in London. Khan is pictured with the younger of their two sons.

Musharraf's Military Successor Profiled - The Los Angeles Times has a good profile of Gen. Ashfaq Kiyani, Musharraf's No. 2 man in the Pakistani military and heir apparent to succeed Musharraf when (if!) he puts aside his military role to commence his next term as president. Kiyani is regarded as competent, taciturn, and uninterested in taking charge of public affairs. The AP also has a profile, including a discussion of the circumstances that might lead Kiyani to take action against Musharraf down the road.

Pakistan Teach-In at University of Chicago - An event was held Friday on the historical and political dimensions of the crisis. The blog Chapati Mystery has the text of interesting remarks by Prof. C.M. Naim reviewing U.S. involvement in Pakistan long before 9/11. (Naim is a revered figure in South Asian studies and the author of the Introductory Urdu textbook with which I struggled on a daily basis during my sophomore year in college.)

News and Notes: Ohio

What's happening on the Monday before Thanksgiving in the state that ranks 11th in the nation for overall turkey production, processing more than five million turkeys annually:

Flynt Joins Hollywood Stars in Backing Kucinich - Porn magnate Larry Flynt, an Ohio native, joined Woody Harrelson, Ed Norton, Sean and Robin Wright Penn, Frances Fisher, Stephen Stills, and Melissa Etheridge in co-hosting a fund-raiser for Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Cleveland) at Hustler headquarters in Los Angeles. By the way, Flynt says he's about to go public with more sex scandals involving Republicans.

Toledo Bishop Balks at Domestic Partner Registry Plan - Bishop Leonard Blair objected to a plan to let gay or other unmarried couples register their domestic partnerships at City Hall in a letter read at Sunday masses and sent to Mayor Carty Finkbeiner, who hasn't decided whether to proceed with the plan. Ohio blogger Man With The Muck-Rake comments.

Clean-Up at Dayton-Area Nuclear Site Stalled - The U.S. Department of Energy, owner of the former Mound nuclear plant in suburban Dayton, had budgeted $4.5 million toward clean-up this fall but now says it isn't environmentally necessary and plans to walk away from it early next year if local officials don't come up with another $5 million of their own toward the project.

GOP Legislator Objects to Hiring Bilingual State Employees - State Rep. Courtney Combs (R-Fairfield) doesn't like the fact that Ohio state agencies have been advertising a preference for bilingual job applicants for certain positions like dispatcher and customer service assistant. "We're getting more and more toward a bilingual nation," Cates said. "We want people in this country to speak English. ... It's a sellout to say they can't learn the language. To me, it's more important for them to learn English than it is for us to learn Spanish. It just doesn't make any sense to me."

Four Ohio Cities Among Most Dangerous - According to an analysis of FBI crime statistics, Cleveland ranked 10th, Youngstown 15th, Cincinnati 16th, and Dayton 19th. Parma (at 23rd) was the only Ohio city among the 25 safest. The methodolgy of the report has been sharply criticized, however.

OHFA Approves Funding for Affordable Housing - Developers around Ohio will receive $11.15 millionin loans and bond proceeds from the Ohio Housing Finance Agency Board, a self-supporting quasi-public agency governed by an 11-member board, under plans announced recently. Projects include over $1.5 million in loans for a senior housing community in Delaware County, $3.25 million in bond proceeds to renovate Palmer Garden and a $750,000 loan for the YWCA in Toledo, and a $1 million loan for Cogswell Hall in Cleveland.

OH-19: Harris (D) WIll Run, After All

A month after announcing that she would not renew her quest for the 19th Ohio House District seat of now term-limited State Rep. Larry Flowers (R-Canal Winchester), grandmother and feisty long-time political activist Marian Harris is back on the campaign trail. "Circumstances have changed," she writes on her campaign web site, "More information is forthcoming."

Harris won 45.06% of the vote against Flowers last year in a district that leans strongly Republican (PVI R+11.5). The GOP candidate is County Coroner Dr. Bradley Lewis (R-Groveport).

You Like Us! You Really, Really Like Us!

From a new USA Today/Gallup poll:

Republicans look at the low approval numbers for Congress and figure that the Democratic Party is losing favor with the public rapidly. Actually, public approval has been steady since the spring:

Approval of the Republican Party is on a generally downward slide since shortly after 9/11:

Americans identify themselves mostly as independents (41%), but those who call themselves Democrats (34%) outnumber those who call themselves Republicans (25%). Among independents, the attitude toward the Democratic Party is positive (47% to 40%) and toward the Republican Party is negative (33% to 50%).

Strickland (D) Signs Audit Law Sponsored by Taylor (R)

Gov. Ted Strickland (D) had signaled that he might veto the overhaul of state auditing procedures proposed by Auditor Mary Taylor (R) and passed by the GOP-led General Assembly, citing cost and usurpation of the Governor's authority. Strickland had proposed his own changes, but Taylor's plan creates an independent oversight committee and Strickland's plan did not.

Strickland has now signed Taylor's plan into law, and the key to him doing so was an adjustment to the role of the committee. As Columbus Dispatch reporter Mark Niquette puts it, the committee "now has the power merely to review and comment on audit plans rather than approve them." Having preserved his own authority to some extent, Strickland relinquished the veto pen, despite his continuing concern over the cost of the new panel.

This is another example of Strickland's pattern of getting bipartisan results through occasional compromise. Taylor's plan, like his own, is intended to tighten up the auditing process, hoping to avoid a repeat of the waste and fraud at the Bureau of Workers Compensation that occurred on the watch of two Republican administrations. It is a laudable goal. "This is one more example of a bipartisan effort resulting in something good for our state," he said. Precisely. A much better result than a veto and partisan confrontation, in this instance.

News and Notes: Pakistan

New reports on the crisis in the country to which we've given over $10 billion in aid since 9/11, most of it military, and much of that in untraceable cash payments:

Bhutto Rejects Caretaker Government - Released from house arrest in anticipation of the visit by U.S. envoy John Negroponte, former prime minister Benazir Bhutto promptly rejected the caretaker government that had been announced by Musharraf for the purpose of overseeing elections, and repeated her vow not to negotiate with Musharraf any more.

Some Opposition Party Workers Released, Some TV Outlets Back On the Air - Apparently playing for time, Musharraf has released some of the thousands of people who have been arrested and allowed some independent television stations to broadcast, although under strict new reporting regulations.

Opposition Leaders Negotiating Alliance - The leaders of the various opposition parties are forming an alliance to oppose Musharraf, and Bhutto has called for installation of a "government of national unity" in advance of the January elections.

Negroponte Spoke with Bhutto on Telephone - The Deputy Secretary of State called Bhutto, reportedly to "reiterate the importance of moderate forces working together" and "getting Pakistan back on the pathway to constitutional rule." He also wanted to hear from her on the political situation. He is expected to meet with Musharraf in person, a distinction no doubt freighted with diplomatic significance.

Insurgents Gain Territory Since Emergency Declared - In the last few days militants have captured more territory for their mini-state inside Pakistan’s borders, invading settled areas and chasing away frightened policemen, despite Gen. Pervez Musharraf's insistence that he imposed emergency rule in order to better fight against them.

Student Protests Against Handover of Imran Khan Continue - Thousands of Punjab University students protested again today over the actions of a few students affiliated with the religious party Jamaat-i-Islami in delivering moderate opposition leader Imran Khan over to the police. In this video clip, two law students say that they have resigned from that party's student organization over the incident, and assert that the cause of upholding the rule of law is non-political, i.e., all parties should support it:

(Translation is here.)

Musharraf Trying to Shut Down Geo TV - The independent Pakistani TV outlet Geo TV has been operating out of Dubai, although its programs have been blocked within Pakistan. Now, a blogger reports, Musharraf's government is using its influence with an unspecified foreign government to get Geo TV shut down altogether.

ABA Sponsored Rally, Web Site - The American Bar Association sponsored a rally of solidarity with the Pakistani judiciary and lawyers in Washington on Wednesday, with an estimated 600 to 700 lawyers marching past the Supreme Court building. The ABA has also set up an online media kit to focus attention on the issue, with audio and video. There is also an online petition you can sign.

Ohio Poll: Voters Glum About Economy

No big surprise here [pdf]:

* 20% say the Ohio economy is excellent or good, 46% say fair, 33% poor.

* 58% think economic conditions in Ohio will get worse, 21% think they will get better, 18% think they will stay the same.

* The cost of health care is rated a "very big problem" by 72%, gasoline prices by 61%, jobs leaving Ohio by 61%, home heating and energy prices by 46%.

Polls show that Ohio voters trust Democrats over Republicans on handling health care and the economy. If Democratic candidates offer sound policies and a clear message on these concerns, the voters will respond.

ADDENDUM: Marc Kovac reports on the excellent Capital Blog about the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services unemployment report this morning, indicating that the state rate remained unchanged from last month at 5.9%, up from 5.5% one year ago. Ohio's rate is more than a point worse than the national rate of 4.7%, also unchanged from one month ago. Not getting worse, but not getting better, and we still have fewer jobs than when the last recession ended in November 2001.

U.S. Senate Stalemate on War Funding

In votes that occurred within the last hour, the U.S. Senate failed to pass the $50 billion war funding bill with a phased withdrawal plan that the House passed yesterday 53-45 (seven votes short of the required 60), but also failed to pass a GOP-sponsored provision to approve the $50 billion with no strings attached by the opposite margin, 45-53. The matter is deadlocked, with Democratic leadership pledging that there will be no more "blank check" war funding and the Bush administration claiming that the Pentagon is unable to shift funds from other accounts to continue to pay for battlefield operations. Expect major recrimininations and posturing on this. Hopefully the Democrats will display more backbone this time. Omitting telecom immunity from the revised FISA/warrantless wiretapping bill is a good sign.

Foreclosure Crisis Developments UDATED

Lots of interesting news stories on the foreclosure crisis:

Federal Courts in Cleveland Toss Foreclosure Cases - Bill Callahan is all over this story, although you can also read about it in the New York Times, at Bill Sloat's The Daily Bellwether, and in some Ohio newspapers. Refusing to go along with the usual routine processing of foreclosure cases, two federal judges are dismissing cases that don't attach documentation to the complaint to show the chain of ownership of the loan from issuer to ultimate holder. These rulings may be overturned on appeal, or the defects may be cured by the plaintiffs so the cases can be refiled, but it acts as a mini-moratorium for some homeowners who might be able to negotiate a workout or otherwise save their home in the meantime. It is also wonderfully ironic, since lenders started filing foreclosures in federal court (taking advantage of "diversity of citizenship," meaning that the plaintiffs are all out-of-state) in order to avoid the backlog and long delays in foreclosures in state court.

U.S. House Passes Mortgage Reform and Anti-Predatory Lending Act - A measure sponsored by Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) and Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-AL) passed by a veto-proof bipartisan vote of of 291-127. Rep. Betty Sutton (D-Copley) issued a press release late yesterday calling attention to a provision she introduced which requires loan creditors or servicers to provide a separate notice to borrowers six months before their adjustable rates reset. Callahan is not impressed with the bill, which requires licensing of mortgage brokers and set new standards for mortgage origination, because it does "little to help — and may actually obstruct — real community efforts to keep our neighbors in their homes, stop the death cycle of 'flip-foreclose-flip.' and rebuild our damaged neighborhoods."

GM in Trouble Due To Mortgage-Related GMAC Losses - This is how it spreads to other sectors of the economy. General Motors may be unable pursue its bid to buy Chrysler because of huge losses at General Motors Acceptance Corp. due to subprime mortgage losses at a GMAC subsidiary. Meanwhile, GMAC and Cerberus (which acquired a 51% stake in GMAC from GM) may walk away from the troubled subidiary, Residential Capital LLC, which hasn't been able to meet financial requirements under its loan agreements, probably forcing the subsidiary into bankruptcy. Called "ResCap," the subsidiary is the biggest privately held U.S. mortgage lender. And so it goes.

Merrill Didn't Write Off Enough? - Merrill posted enormous losses in the third quarter, ostensibly writing off all of its exposure due to subprime mortgage-tainted assets. But did it? Blogger Kevin Drum highlights a story by CNBC, indicating that Merrill changed its mind about who to hire to replace the CEO forced out on account of the losses, because the first-choice candidate "said he would take the job but only if Merrill did a full accounting of its subprime exposure." Could it be that the $8.9 billion write-off didn't get to the bottom of the problem? That would be very bad, especially since other financial institutions didn't write off their problem assets as aggressively as Merrill.

Home Ownership Rate Dropping - It is down to 2003 levels, which was before many of the worst lending abuses occurred.

UPDATE: Over-sized Bank Profits Were a Clue - Floyd Norris has an intriguing column in the business section of today's New York Times, saying "we should have known something was strange" because banks were doing better than they should have been doing. Inexplicably large bank profits were "signs that banks were either lying about their results or were taking large risks that were not fully disclosed." Among the undisclosed risks were poorly understood "liquidity puts," which required the banks to buy back collateralized mortgage obligations if they became unmarketable.

Some Investors Leaving Stock Market? - "Treasuries rose to the highest level since 2005 as concern over subprime mortgage losses led investors to sell stocks and seek the safety of short-term government debt." I've been wondering when we might start to see some evidence of this. I personally know two expert legal scholars on predatory lending and one of them has taken her own money out of the stock market, the other has not. Yet.

OH-05: Weirauch (D) Attacks Trade Policy

Joshua Boak of the Toledo Blade has a good write-up today on a campaign appearance by Robin Weirauch (D-Napoleon) at the closed TRW plant in Fremont, calling for renegotiation of trade agreements to protect domestic jobs:

Mrs. Weirauch said agreements meant to increase foreign trade by limiting tariffs and other traditional barriers actually launched a "race to the bottom," in which American companies shipped their work forces to countries with low wages.

"They've all been cookie-cutter agreements," said Mrs. Weirauch ..., "They shouldn't be creating a climate where it does more harm than good for American workers." ...

Mrs. Weirauch said that if elected she would seek tax incentives for manufacturers whose products carry a "Made in the USA" label, explaining that current trade policies promote stagnant wages and unemployment.

State Rep. Bob Latta (R-Bowling Green) is quoted as responding that trade deals help domestic manufacturers gain greater access to global markets, resulting in job growth at home.

On the evening of the special primary, Weirauch talked about how the focus of her campaign would be blue collar concerns like jobs and the economy. She said these are issues that people "really care about," that they "wake up in the morning thinking about." Although she didn't say it, her strategy is plainly modeled on the success of the 2006 campaign of Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Avon), whose economic populist message helped him carry the 5th Congressional District as well as many other rural and semi-rural areas despite being an attacked as too liberal.

Polls show that most people feel that the economy is not doing well and the country is on the wrong track. There is proven potential for Weirauch's message to resonate with the voters, especially moderates and independents, if only she can deliver it effectively and get enough earned media coverage and advertising of her own to get it out there.

News and Notes: Ohio

What's doing in the state whose coldest recorded temperature was -39° F at Milligan on February 10, 1899:

Economic Pinch Takes Toll on Tollway - "The sluggish economy and rising gasoline prices are thinning out traffic on the Ohio Turnpike, reducing expected revenues and delaying construction projects."

Akron Food Banks Also Struggling - As reported yesterday with respect to Cincinnati, donations are dropping and the need is still great at Akron-area food banks.

No Mortgage-Tainted Holdings Among Ohio Investments - Treasurer Rich Cordray (D-Grove City) has sent out a letter assuring local governments that there are no troublesome mortgage-backed securities among the holdings of the $6.1 billion STAR Ohio fund where many of them park their money. He acted in response to a Bloomberg report that “state-run pools have parked taxpayers' money in some of the most confusing, opaque and illiquid debt investments ever devised.” Cordray has been in the forefront on responding to the mortgage crisis -- Ohio is fortunate to have him.

Video Games Distributor Hid Income - As Columbus-based Ohio Skill Games distributed thousands of now-illegal gambling devices across Ohio, it attempted to hide as much as $1.2 million a month in profits through transactions with Chinese and Canadian businesses. Why is this not surprising.

Ohio Gas Prices Up - Average prices in the Youngstown area were $3.10 yesterday, even higher elsewhere - the Cleveland area was at $3.14.

Ohioans Like Smoking Ban - A poll sponsored by the American Cancer Society finds that 79% approve of the new prohibition against smoking in bars, restaurants, and other public places. Lots of people say they are going out more because it is less smelly and easier to breathe.

Brown Wants Ban on Selling Cell Phone Numbers - Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Avon) has introduced a bill that would prohibit selling or publishing cell phone numbers without permission. “Among other reasons for the law, he cites safety concerns for children and domestic violence victims - kids could receive unsolicited calls from strangers while away from home, and abuse victims rely on their cell phone numbers remaining anonymous. An excellent proposal.

Space to the Border - Rep. Zack Space (D-Dover) is ridin' out to the Mexican border with pardners from Congress to see how come all those illegal immigrants are crossing over.

Two Lousy Votes

The House vote to override Bush's veto of the Labor-HHS-Education funding bill failed by two votes. 277 to 141. Two stinkin' votes.

The whole battle is over $10 billion in a bill that involves $606 billion. Bush signed similar increases in domestic spending bills passed by the GOP-led Congress in conflict with his proposed budget in previous years, but not now. And yet the GOP will rail against the Democratic leadership as getting nothing done. Who are the real obstructionists?

A couple of quick thoughts:

* The Republican leadership was better at winning tight floor votes. They used threats, inducements, intimidation, payback, bending procedural rules, whatever -- but they got it done.

* Quite a few Republicans backed this bill (54). They were lured by changes like funding abstinence-only sex education. In the debate GOP members' criticism of the substance of the bill was muted. Are they frustrated this morning, or are they cheering their party over its "victory"? I have to think that there is some unhappiness in the GOP ranks.

* Because the vote was so close, one would think it would be fairly easy to make minor modifications and get a veto-proof vote on a revised bill. One would think. It has not happened on the SCHIP bill, despite intense negotations. What is up with that?

America Votes Holiday Party

12/11/2007 - 6:30pm
12/11/2007 - 8:30pm

Holiday Party at the America Votes office, 399 E. Main Street #220, Columbus. Free parking on the street. All volunteers, partners, friends, and activists welcome.

They are also hosting a food drive and are asking everyone to bring at least 2 cans of food, a new toy, or a $2 or more contribution to go toward the United Laborers One New Toy Program which serves union families and the community in Central Ohio.

Click here to RSVP.

OH House-85: Pryor (D) to Challenge Schlichter (R) Again

Navy veteran Ray Pryor (D-Chillicothe) has announced that he will run again for the 85th Ohio House District seat held by Rep. John Schlichter (R-Washington Court House).

Pryor has worked for the Ohio Bureau of Employment Services for 25 years as a veterans representative and licensing coordinator. He recently testified at a hearing on regional discrepancy in veterans disability compensation held by Rep. Zack Space (D-Dover), and was given an award last Tuesday in 2002 [oops, wrong year!] in Washington D.C. by Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao for his outstanding efforts in providing employment and training services to veterans.

The 85th District includes Fayette, Pickaway and Ross Counties. Although it leans Republican (PVI R+5.3), Pryor came very close to winning in 2006. Schlichter got 51.41% of the vote and Pryor got 48.59%. Pryor carried his home county (Ross) but Schlichter carried the other two.

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