Spill, Baby, Spill

Sara Palin where are you now? Because of the tabloid style “debate” which passes for political discourse in this country- we don’t have intelligent discussions about cause and effect. Off-shore oil drilling sounds great and fine- as does nuclear power, as does strip mining and “clean coal” (which doesn’t exist except in some highly paid PR flak’s imagination- but it “sounds good”).

One little mechanical error and we won’t be eating shrimp at those lobbyists’ parties in D.C. anymore:

Billions of dollars generated by outdoor sports, commercial fishing and beach tourism along the Gulf of Mexico coast are at risk if crude oil leaking from a damaged well off the coast of Louisiana washes aground. BP Plc, which owns the well, says it is leaking five times faster than previously thought, spewing 5,000 barrels of oil a day into the Gulf.

The spill may threaten wildlife and seafood production in a state known as “Sportsman’s Paradise,” as well as in Mississippi, Alabama, Florida or Texas, said Robert Shipp, chairman of the Marine Sciences Department at the University of South Alabama.

“If this thing really gets to the coast, to those sugar-white beaches from Gulf Shores, Alabama, to Panama City, Florida, that would be just a horrible disaster,” Shipp said in an interview.

via Oil Spill Imperils Gulf Coast Fishing Industry (Update1) – BusinessWeek.

Even Florida Governor Charlie Crist- a Republican, has flipped on off-shore drilling- realizing that no one wants to come to Florida to lie on a beach covered in 10W40.

While it’s easy to throw these catch phrases about- and take things down to simple terms that morons can understand (voters and legislators)- the reality is we have to live with these decisions- and so will our children, and their children on into eternity (which may not be that long for the human race if we ruin our ability to feed ourselves).

Ecosystems are fragile. It’s not just the shrimp- it’s the things the shrimp eat- and what eats the shrimp- etc. -it’s all affected.

Much the same way that the growing CEO pay, the casinoization of Wall Street- the rewards for off shoring American jobs, two wars, a government out of control with spending and legislating has devastated the American economy/ecosystem driving millions out of their homes and jobs – to a point where groups of armed people are “protesting” in D.C. and comparing our President to Hitler- one little oil spill is going to wreak havoc on so many related economies. These create the breeding grounds for despots to rise to power.

Critical thinking and discussion are our only hope for getting rid of idiots like “Hell no” Boehner and”Drill baby” Palin so that we can move our country forward. We have to look at the big picture, and the long-term implications of our short-term actions- because catch phrase politics is a recipe for disaster.

Let’s dumb down the Dayton Daily News even more!

Having a Brit for a mother, and a journalist for a father I’ve always been interested in the difference between newspapers on each side of the pond. Our newspapers take themselves too seriously and the Brits- well, they have more fun. From the Page 6 girls, to the tabloid front page, news as entertainment is all part of “British humor” (which I’ve never understood).

“Dan and Dan” (yes, it’s the same guy) make fun of the Daily Mail- and their SUPERSENSATIONAL headlines in this brilliant short song. Almost makes me want to pick up a copy- just for the sheer audacity of it.

Hope you enjoy. Deep, serious discussion about other matters to return soon- when I have more time.

Gun laws we really need

The Dayton Daily News has a story about a group of church leaders planning a prayer vigil in front of the Bill Goodmans Gun and Knife show which is held at Hara Arena. They are calling for “criminal background checks on all firearm transactions”- which is already done- unless you are a private seller meeting a private buyer there. All dealers who have a Federal Firearms License (FFL) are required to do the checks.

Representatives from the churches that make up the Anchored in Peace network…will formally announce their plans to have a Prayer Rally at 1 p.m. on May 2 at the corner of Shiloh Springs Road and Wolf Road, in front of Hara Arena… (they) want(…) to bring attention and raise support for the passage of House Resolution 2324, which is the Gun Show Loophole Closing Act of 2009, … which requires criminal background checks on all firearm transactions occurring at gun shows, was introduced by U.S. Rep. Michael Castle, R-Delaware.

via Criminal background checks at gunshows wanted by group of churches.

However, there are much more important things that we could and should be doing to solve these problems.

  • The crime of trying to buy a gun as a convicted felon- isn’t prosecuted currently. A very small number of people get in trouble for this.
  • Being caught with a firearm under disability isn’t treated harshly enough either.

But my real gripe is- you can’t fill a SCUBA tank with air in this country without having successfully completing an intensive training course- where the only person you’ll kill is yourself- yet, we still have ZERO requirements for gun safety training before ownership.

The best part of the Carry Concealed Weapons (CCW) license is that it finally addresses the issues of proper firearms training.

A waiver should be granted for any properly discharged veterans, who have had proper firearms training- but, everyone else needs to take a proper safety course.

This hasn’t even been discussed by the legislature.

Yet, you can’t ride an under 50cc scooter in Ohio without a drivers license, you can’t cut hair without a barbers license, you can’t appraise homes without an appraisers licensee… oh, wait…

(I hope to see lots of other stupid licensing laws added in the comments of this post)

All those politicians cost you money

In the UK where me Mum is from, they have a word they like to use for layoffs and for downsizing: redundant. It even has specific legal meaning.

In Ohio we’ve never met a jurisdiction, legislator, or representative that didn’t think the world couldn’t live without them or what they do. It’s contributed to government getting bigger- and having the net result of driving costs up- and jobs and people away from the State. It’s why Republicans talk about smaller government all the time (but do squat to make it happen- Ohio continued to hire people under Bob Taft and a Republican Statehouse).

Now- the DDN reports:

Montgomery County has more tax levies on the ballot next week than any other county in the state, Ohio Secretary of State records show.

The county has 17 property tax levies on the May 4 ballot, one more than Cuyahoga County, the largest county in the state. Of those, eight are school levies and the rest are township issues replacing, renewing or adding to existing levies.

Of course, growth in government has been as unchecked as our sprawl, where the amount of developed land has increased at 3x the number of people.

Montgomery County’s 92 taxing districts have 277 levies on the books today, 18 more than a decade ago, according to county Auditor Karl Keith’s office. The total effective millage, or net tax rate, for homeowners and agricultural land owners has grown 25 percent over that time.

Some say the number of levy requests next week — 431 statewide — reflects a fractured system of local government and education, one that’s inefficient, costly and confusing to voters.

“Because there are so many of these jurisdictions, (voters) really don’t know what the priorities are, especially now in this environment — people are a little bit cranky, they’re tightening their belts and they’re wondering if they can afford another tax increase,” said Mark Partridge, an Ohio State University economics professor who studies rural and urban issues.

Partridge advocates a regional approach to government, where there’s greater collaboration and less competition among neighboring communities for jobs and development, tax dollars and services. Such a system could lead to more accountability, too, he said.

“When there’s too much local government, no one’s really accountable; no one knows who to blame when things go wrong or who to credit when things go right,” he said.

Of course the “Think Tanks” can tell us the obvious:

Partridge’s views are shared by researchers from the Brookings Institution and the Greater Ohio Policy Center, two pro-urban think tanks that issued a report in February entitled, Restoring Prosperity: Transforming Ohio’s Communities for the Next Economy.

The report found Ohio has some 3,800 local government units, including 250 cities, 695 villages and 1,308 townships. The state has a total local government payroll 10 percent above the national average and it has the ninth-highest local tax burden in the country, compared with the 34th highest for state taxes.

All of which is “undercutting our ability to be economically competitive,” said Lavea Brachman, Greater Ohio’s co-director.

“We have a preference for local service delivery and that’s understandable, but it’s not sustainable these days,” Brachman said Monday, April 26.

It’s been going on with the School systems as well- but the consultants can’t even get to the obvious- that 88 counties is too many- and that Countywide School systems like North Carolina and Georgia are what is needed at minimum- and since State standards are what is really being governed- there may not be any need for much of the County level administration either – imagine if we dumped responsibility down straight to the Principals of each school? Aren’t they the ones ultimately tracked now for delivery of test scores?

On the school side, Greater Ohio and Brookings say the state needs to cut the number of school districts it has by a third to around 400. “We’re 47th in the nation in terms of spending that goes to instruction and ninth (for spending) that goes to administration,” Brachman said. “That really raises questions about where is this additional funding going, is it contributing to quality in the classroom.”

all above indented material via Montgomery has highest number of tax levies on ballot.

Instead of voting on Constitutional Amendments on what piece of Real Estate a Casino should be on (Issue 2)- why don’t we start mandating for government reductions through consolidation and the elimination of unnecessary services (like “Economic development” which just seems to be an excuse to hire friends of politicians to pay them big bucks- to give our money away to Corporations that then donate to the politicians in an never ending cycle).

A ten year plan to cut numbers of jurisdictions by half and then half again in an additional 10 years would do more for “economic development” in Ohio than anything else. We can’t afford to continue to “buy” jobs from other States- and stay in business:

A lot of pieces, financial and otherwise, came together in the past year to convince law firm WilmerHale to locate its new business services center at Miami Valley Research Park.

Jay Westcott, the firm’s assistant managing partner and a Springfield native, said moving support operations from Boston, New York and Washington, D.C., would allow the company to save money and improve performance by consolidating to a single site.

There was also a list of financial incentives, most significantly a $1.46 million job creation tax credit approved Monday, April 26, by the Ohio Tax Credit Authority.

The Montgomery County Commission approved a $250,000 economic development grant April 20, and the city of Kettering and Miami Valley Research Foundation each pledged $500,000 in support.

via 187 new research, technology jobs coming to area.

Until we’re on a level playing field with all the other states, in not handing tax dollars and tax breaks to companies, the tax burdens on the rest of the State will continue to drive business and people out.

Any local government not discussing merging, reduction in taxes, consolidation and “redundancy” should be getting the message at the ballot box as the overtaxed citizens say enough is enough and start voting levy’s down.

At the State level- we should be implementing new laws to allow regional government, eliminating the “township” status for anything other than pure agricultural land (no more auto plants in cornfields- or the taxes on farmers and food go way up to support the infrastructure of automotive plants for example).

When have you heard a politician talking about this issue with a real, concrete plan? Why not?

Chief Biehl in the ‘hood

I’ve been meaning to write about this for a bit: The Chief of Police seems to understand what is happening better than the people in planning or in “economic development”- he’s redistricted South Park, the Oregon District and the Fairgrounds neighborhood into the Central Business District.

‘Bout time. Downtown just started being bigger than a thimble.

He’s coming to the Historic South Park, Inc meeting tomorrow night to fill us in.

The HSPI General Meeting is scheduled for this Tuesday, April 27th at 7:00 pm at Hope Lutheran Church (500 Hickory Street). This month’s guest speaker will be Dayton Police Chief Richard Biehl, who will speak about the redistricting of the Dayton Police Department and its impact on South Park.
Dayton Police Chief Richard Biehl today outlined plans to expand the boundaries of the Central Business District (CBD) to better align downtown policing services with the broader community and economic development strategies occurring in the area.
Currently the CBD is generally bounded by Washington Street to the south, Wayne Avenue and U.S. 35 to the east, and the Great Miami River to the north and west. The expanded CBD boundaries will extend eastward to include Wayne Avenue to Wilmington Avenue and further southward to encompass Irving Avenue and Stewart Street to the river, areas formerly included in the Second Police District. The change is expected to take effect mid-May.
“It makes more sense to broaden the CBD boundaries slightly to better connect police services with the various economic and community development projects occurring in the area,” Chief Biehl said. “As the greater downtown area grows and changes, we want our police services to grow and change with it.”
Now if we could only get planning on board.

More charter changes should make you wonder

The City of Dayton is having serious problems- yet instead of doing something that would really make a difference- like moving to a strong Mayor form of government (which I don’t agree with) or changing the system of voting to be a run-off system (which I do), or passing laws to stop foreclosures or selling off of loans- we instead are voting on ways to excuse commissioners from meetings and still playing with the residency rules.

• Issue 15 would insert a provision into the city charter clarifying that when commissioners miss a cancelled meeting, they are not considered absent.

If approved by voters, when a meeting is cancelled because there would not be a quorum, individual votes to excuse each member of the City Commission would not be required.

• Issue 16 would clarify which city employees are covered by civil service regulations and which are considered “at will,” who may be fired by the authority that appointed them, generally the city manager or the city commission.

Less than 100 top administrators are considered “at will” employees including city managers, department directors and division managers.

• Issue 17 would clarify language in the City Charter that “mills” strictly refers to property taxes.

“This will not raise taxes. It will not impose authority on the City Commission to raise property or income taxes without a vote of the people,” said Kary Gray, executive assistant to the City Commission.

• Issue 18 would align the city’s residency requirement for part-time city employees to mirror that of full-time employees.

via Dayton voters to decide city charter changes on May 4.

At first glance- I’d vote no on 15 – because as it is- no one gets in trouble for missing meetings (Dean Lovelace missed at least 3-4 months worth due to his stroke- but was excused- even though he wasn’t fulfilling his duties).

I’d vote yes on 18- because the residency requirements are illegal- and they should have been out of the charter when the Supreme Court ruled.

I still need time to research 16 and 17- both seem like there might be more to them.

The thing that bothers me the most is that I don’t remember anyone from City Hall coming to neighborhood groups to fill us in on these changes. I’m aware the DDN can’t be trusted to give us the info in a timely manner- but City Hall needs to learn how to present these better if they want the trust of the people.

We welcome any insight these charter changes- if you know something one way or another- please share it here.

StoryCorps interview of Stephen G Esrati

My father has lived a pretty interesting life. From having to learn three languages and three alphabets by age 10, to being imprisoned in Lebanon in 1948 and subsequently losing his passport, to being investigated by the FBI in the McCarthy era- there is a lot of history and perspective that always intrigues me.

He knew Martin Luther King Jr. before he was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr – as they used to argue at Boston University over how one effects change. He’s written three books- one of which is available for free (for now) on this site: “Dear Son; Do you really want to be an American?” which he wrote to me in 1968-69.

His first book was “The Tenth Prayer. A Novel of Israel” which is available from Amazon.

Review Not only “a good read,” but it recalls the heroic events and ideological struggles that marked Israel’s early days. — Jerusalem Post, May 11, 2001

Product Description Historical fiction about the early years of Israel with an emphasis about the problem of “Who is a Jew?” This question, which has been at the center of controversy since independence, includes such problems as non-burial of the child of an Israeli Jew and an American Baptist.

The book covers a wide spectrum of Israelis, from extreme left to extreme right. One of its principal heroes is Naomi Ben Horin, the broadcaster of the illegal radio of the Irgun Zvai Leumi, who becomes a lawyer after independence. The book ends with her decision on whether to defend Adolf Eichmann.

His last book is “Comrades Avenge Us”– which I read as it came off the typewriter in installments- sort of like reading pulp fiction, in my last years of High School.

Product Description Based on a true story, a novel follows two officers — American and Canadian — who are captured by the German Gestapo while on a mission in Yugoslavia and survive to form a postwar Nazi-hunting operation to avenge their slaughtered comrades.

You can get an autographed paperback directly from the author for $5 pickup or $7.50 if you want it mailed to you. Email me to get a copy.

So when I had a chance to interview him in the mobile StoryCorps booth last Thursday- I tried to get as much of that first hand history and perspective into 40 minutes.

This interview was recorded at StoryCorps, a national nonprofit dedicated to recording and collecting stories of everyday Americans www.storycorps.org

It’s 40 minutes and 20 mb. You can listen here- or download for your mp3 player. Enjoy.

United Way the Dayton Way

The last thing you do when you want to build trust is start meeting behind closed doors. At least that’s the way true leadership works in this information-driven economy. The Dayton United Way got in trouble by letting an incompetent executive pay himself way too much, for way too long, while not delivering enough of the money to the right places in an efficient way.

The new guy is fighting an uphill battle against the old guy’s legacy- but is still working within the old guy’s playbook. Do what the powers that be tell you to do. Not only that, we’re still caught up with the idea of “benchmarking” as the way out of a mess that can easily be cleaned up by doing the right thing and communicating that message clearly. Sure the economy has changed, but asking for help from the people who were supposedly watching the hen house while the last fox ate the chickens is tantamount to throwing in the towel.

Face it- if these 45 people wanted to prop up United Way and make it work, they could write the checks out of their personal accounts tomorrow. Pam Morris, CEO of CareSource- pays herself $3 million dollars a year to administer tax dollars that are supposed to be doing the same thing that the United Way does- fund the less fortunate. If we paid the head of United Way even 10% of what she made in a year, we’d be up in arms- because that’s 50% more than what we paid the “old guy” and 3x what we’re paying the “new guy.” It’s OK to grossly overpay a non-profit head that’s using tax dollars- but, it’s a no-no to do it to one who takes true charity and tries to distribute it fairly.

From the Dayton Daily News:

Forty-five business and community leaders from across the Dayton region gathered Thursday, April 22, to plot a new course for the United Way of Greater Dayton, an agency that’s seen its fundraising fall and mission challenged amid a troubled economy and rising need.

The invitation-only meeting, the first of three this spring, was mostly a brainstorming session, attendees said.

The meeting focused on, “What are the strategic challenges, No. 1, — what’s not right — and what are the opportunities?” said Ron Budzik, a member of the Dayton Business Committee and a former Mead Corp. executive. “We got all kinds of feedback.”

Budzik and others declined to provide specifics about what was said at the two-hour meeting held at the Entrepreneurs Center, 714 E. Monument. But they said attendees, who included chief executives Pamela Morris of CareSource and Roy Chew of Kettering Medical Center, gathered in five groups to discuss three topics: the United Way’s organizational structure, its fundraising model in the absence of NCR, General Motors and other big corporate donors of the past, and public perception.

“The perception (from the groups) is the United Way serves an important purpose but it needs to change because the economy has changed,” said Bill Burges, a consultant from Cleveland who’s worked on levy and public relations campaigns for Dayton Public Schools and Sinclair Community College. “We have to figure out ways to deal with a younger, smaller, more diverse workforce.”

The United Way ran deficits of more than $600,000 in 2006 and 2007 and ended fiscal year 2008 more than $1 million in the red. Fundraising has declined for years and fell $1 million short this year of its $9.5 million target.

A benchmarking study against seven similar United Ways, including agencies in Akron, Chattanooga, Tenn., and Anchorage, Alaska, showed Dayton is on the low side for staff size, donor participation and average gift size and its overhead is toward the median. But none of the other agencies was a model for Dayton to follow, said Jayne Klose, the agency’s vice president for marketing and resource development.

via Meeting plots new United Way course.

The Dayton Business Committee are the folks that brought you the Schuster Center. It was deemed important to prop up the property values of Virginia Kettering with the Kettering Tower, Tom Danis with the CitFed/5/3 tower (I don’t know what it’s name is this week) and the Mead Tower (now the Key Bank tower) at the corner of 2nd and Main. Other options like building it close to the Convention Center and the Oregon “Entertainment” district were never considered- even though there would have been synergy with the Convention Center, the Crown Plaza and the multiple dining options with an existing parking structure. They are also the people who have been quietly directing Dayton politicians for years. This group operates outside the public view- with its own agenda and zero oversight or accountability. If you are wondering who really runs Dayton- this would be the first place to look.

It’s also odd that a Cleveland PR/political consulting firm has its hooks into this process. Are no local PR executives competent? Burges & Burges worked on Mayor Rhine McLin’s re-election campaign if you need a “Benchmark” to measure them by, and they’ve also been receiving $6,000 a month for at least a year to work with the Dayton Public Schools on a no-bid contract that didn’t give any guidelines for actual deliverables. They did however find and deliver departing Dayton Public Schools Superintendent Kurt Stanic to the DPS board before they got the contract (for which they are to be commended- as he’s been the best person to occupy that position in several decades).

Once again, Dayton is stuck on the idea that everything has to be done:

  • In secret
  • By committee
  • With consensus
  • By the anointed ones

Strong independent voices are to be frowned upon.

But, that’s the Dayton Way.

Which hotel in Dayton will be the first with bikes for guests?

Reader Jim passed this NYT article on bike rentals around the world. When in Berlin, my hotel had a few bikes for guests- and this was back in 1990. Why hasn’t a hotel in Dayton gotten in on this yet? Or has one?

The idea of having a bike sharing system in place can have a huge impact on getting tourists to explore our city “up close and personal”- you experience a city differently on a bike. An excerpt from the NYT article:

visiting a city that has a free (or nearly free) bike-rental program. Many of these are quite famous — Paris’s Vélib’ is probably the best known — but cities in North America including Montreal and Irvine, Calif., have inaugurated similar programs. Two years ago, Washington, D.C., started SmartBike DC (smartbikedc.com), in which a $40 annual subscription gets you access (in three-hour increments) to bicycles at 10 locations throughout the nation’s capital. Not a bad deal.

The other cities and towns with bike-sharing systems are too numerous to mention, but the Bike-Sharing Blog (bike-sharing.blogspot.com) and a Wikipedia article on bicycle sharing systems(en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bicycle_sharing_system) keep good track of developments in that realm.

In a sign that more travelers are demanding bicycles, many hotels, including the Sullivans Hotel in Perth, Australia, and Hotel Heldt in Bremen, Germany, now offer them to paying guests. Last spring at the Ace Hotel in Portland, Ore., I was overjoyed to make use of the free bikes provided to guests, and while that sort of service was to be expected in the cycling capital of America, it’s nice to see it being expanded to other cities. Strangely enough, the New York branch of the Ace doesn’t have bikes, but both the Bowery Hotel and the Jane (where rooms start at a fantastic $99 a night) downtown offer bikes for guests.

via Pushing Pedals, Not Budgets – Frugal Traveler Blog – NYTimes.com.

Just think what free bikes on the Sinclair campus would do to get students off campus into the center city.

First we’ll kill off the bees

While we’re still convinced that building more highways and developing housing on prime farmland, we’re sort of forgetting about the smallest things that make a big difference: Bees.

Reading the comments on the Dayton Daily News site (I really have to stop doing that) makes me wonder if anyone who uses that site paid attention in junior high biology. Bees are critical to our survival- here is a quick take from the USDA Agricultural Research Service:

Why should the public care about honey bees?Bee pollination is responsible for $15 billion in added crop value, particularly for specialty crops such as almonds and other nuts, berries, fruits, and vegetables. About one mouthful in three in the diet directly or indirectly benefits from honey bee pollination. While there are native pollinators honey bees came from the Old World with European colonists, honey bees are more prolific and the easiest to manage for the large scale pollination that U.S. agriculture requires. In California, the almond crop alone uses 1.3 million colonies of bees, approximately one half of all honey bees in the United States, and this need is projected to grow to 1.5 million colonies by 2010.

via ARS : Questions and Answers: Colony Collapse Disorder.

In the same way that the stock market is connected to the financial health of our country- even though it only represents a tiny fraction of the businesses in this country- bees are critical to our entire ecosystem.

Here is the Dayton Grassroots Daily Shows discussion on the future of humankind- if we forget about the bees: