Friday, May 23, 2008

Asking Pat Tiberi for Help...

I once wrote a lengthy piece on the definition of "middle class." Recently, the Pew Research Center released a report on the middle class that stated:

At the outset, we should acknowledge that "middle class" is a term that is both universally familiar and devilishly difficult to pin down.

This report is referenced by Steve LaTourette in his announcement that he and Rep. Weiner (D-NY) have created the Congressional Caucus on the Middle Class, and again by my Rep., Pat Tiberi, in his announcement that he has joined the caucus as a founding member. As the bi-partisan nature of the caucus indicates, there is wide support for strengthening the middle class. As an abstract principle, it sounds good to me as well. But before I can get on board, I need to get a question answered, so I sent an e-mail to the Honorable Pat:

Congressman Tiberi,

I just read your announcement of the creation of the Caucus
on the Middle Class, which you have joined as a founding member.
In the announcement you mention a recent Pew report which, as
Congressman LaTourette has noted, finds that 53% of American
adults pick the label "middle class" to identify themselves.
According to that same report, if you include the labels
"upper middle class" and "lower middle class," then 92% of
American adults identify themselves as being in some part
of the middle class. That same report also defines "middle
income" as 75%-150% of the median income for a given household
type - in Ohio that means yearly income ranges of:

2-person families 36,249 to 72498
3-person families 43,598 to 87195
4-person families 51,434 to 102868.5
5-person families 52,075 to 104149.5
6-person families 48,911 to 97821
7-or-more-person families 44,097 to 88194

The Pew report notes that many people above and below
these cutoffs think of themselves as simply "middle class,"
while many within them classify themselves as upper, upper
middle, lower middle, or lower class.

As you and the caucus seek to strengthen the middle class,
do you envision helping people primarily in those income
bands? People who think of themselves as middle class, but
not 'upper middle class' or 'lower middle class'? Everybody
except the eight percent who think of themselves as rich
or poor? In other words, I would like to know if I am in
the middle class that this caucus is focusing on, so it
would be helpful to know who, exactly, is in the middle class,
and who is not.

Any clarification is appreciated,

Jason Sullivan,

Bexley, Ohio

If I get a response, I'll post it in full (and since I've started posting letters when I send them, the Honorable Pat's office has been consistent in responding).

The Drum Major Institute has a website called TheMiddleClass.Org which describes the "middle class" thusly:

The middle class is more than an income bracket. Over the past fifty years, a middle-class standard of living in the United States has come to mean having a secure job, the opportunity to own a home, access to health care, retirement security, time off for vacation, illness and the birth or adoption of a child, opportunities to save for the future and the ability to provide a good education, including a college education, for one’s children. When these middle-class fundamentals are within the reach of most Americans, the nation is stronger economically, culturally and democratically.

Most Americans identify themselves as middle class. Yet DMI is concerned not only with those who currently enjoy a middle-class standard of living, but also with expanding the middle class by increasing the ability and opportunities of poor people to enter the middle class. The middle class is strengthened when more poor people are able to work their way into its ranks. In a nation that is increasingly polarized between the very wealthy and everyone else, DMI sees the poor and middle class as sharing many of the same interests. Simply put: what strengthens and expands the middle class is good for America.

They also publish report cards based on support of these principles. Given Mr. Tiberi's grades, I'm expecting something different than this as a response.

Hey Equality Ohio, How You Feeling About That Goodman Endorsement Now?

Back in 2006, I questioned Equality Ohio's endorsement of David Goodman. They were good enough to respond:

...While we would all hope that more people from each of the parties would be supportive of LGBT Equality, Sen Goodman went above and beyond just voting against issue 1. On the day of the floor vote, Sen. Goodman took to the floor and implored his colleagues to vote against Issue 1. He reminded them of a history that now causes us to question how people could possibly have justified slavery, discrimination, sexism, religious intolerance and hatred. He warned the Senate that if they passed this measure in time they would be seen the same way. His remarks demonstrated true leadership, no matter what party he is from. The fact that he is a Republican makes it even more noteworthy, in not only did he stand up for us, he stood up to his friends to do it...

Fast Forward a year and a half, to this Dan Williamson piece on the anti-workplace discrimination bill SB 305 in The Other Paper:

...The good news for the bill is the committee’s chairman: David Goodman of New Albany, who happens to be the only Republican cosponsor of the effort in either chamber of the legislature.

But even as he reiterated his personal support this week, Goodman wouldn’t promise the bill will get as much as another hearing.

In theory, a chairman has the power to call a hearing or a vote on any bill before his committee. But that doesn’t mean he’ll use that power.

The unwritten Republican protocol is that a chairman should call a vote only if it has a majority of Republican senators in favor of it. Goodman and Stivers would, along with the three Democrats, give SB 305 a 5-4 majority on the committee. But among Republicans on the committee, the bill would still be looking at a 4-2 deficit...

Standing up to your friends is true leadership. Standing up to protocol when you hold the gavel... that's just crazy talk.

An Oldie but a Whatever.

I logged into my Daily Kos user account for the first time in probably more than a year recently. Looking back through stuff I posted there before I realized that it wasn't for me, I found the magnet design I made and offered into the public domain:

You can tell how dated this is. These days, I'm seeing more about 100 years and Iran, and a whole lot fewer yellow ribbons.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Streetcars, Light Rail, Wonkiness, and a Positive Note

There are a number of Columbus blogs that aren't incredibly political, but cover a lot of the general Metro Happenings. Lyndsey Teter wrote about them in a cover story for The Other Paper recently, and the issue of streetcars came up. When Mayor Coleman sat down for an interview with local bloggers last year, most of them wanted to talk streetcars. The mayor, showing a keen sense of his audience, gave us the exclusive scoop that the streetcar plan had been amended to stretch northward to OSU.

Recently, the streetcar plan has been big local news, with Coleman having a rare dispute with Council over who should be making the key decisions about going forward. The placement of the streetcar plan into the actual budget started a flood of commentary from local citizens, many of whom were opposed to the streetcar for various reasons. Many of these commenters also had suggestions for other transportation priorities.

I had a hard time keeping my mouth shut, because every time I started to open it, vile streams of profanity regarding the commenter's intelligence and that of their immediate ancestors threatened to come out. People didn't seem to be aware that millions of dollars has been spent studying every single one of the alternatives that they have suggested, and none (other than more frequent buses) has emerged as a viable proposal in the current funding climate, even though all of this information is pretty readily available. I had to force myself to remember that there was a time when I had no idea that MORPC, for instance, had been working for years to get light rail. I found out when I was looking for info to back up a comment I had made on Columbus RetroMetro saying that a streetcar didn't make sense unless it was part of a full regional solution, including light rail. Um, what was I saying about ignorance, again?

So I thought I'd update a post I did last year, explaining why the most promising light-rail proposal, the north-corridor project from downtown to Polaris, was going nowhere. At the time I explained that there were three elements that went into determining whether or not a project was eligible for federal funding: The cost, both in terms of annualized capital costs and yearly operating and maintenance, the number of riders, and the time savings in terms of the average number of minutes saved by each rider each trip by taking the train. Because Columbus has relatively quick commutes, it would appear that either an extremely unrealistic number of riders would have to take the train, or the train would have to operate faster than the speed of light, getting commuters downtown before they had left home. Otherwise, the cost/benefit ratio wasn't going to make it.

At the time, I freely admitted that I was not a transit policy expert, and I invited anyone with more knowledge to tell me when any of my assumptions were wrong, but unsurprisingly, no transportation authorities found my post worth commenting on, most likely because no such authorities found my post at all.

When I went to do this update, though, I found some things that did challenge those assumptions. First, from the latest Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC) Transportation Report, dated May 8, 2008:

The FTA acknowledged in the latest New Starts
guidance published in the Federal Register on May 22,
2006, that cities, like Columbus, where a fixed guideway
is not already in operation are disadvantaged under the
current evaluation process because it under-represents
the travel time benefits. The FTA intends to work
towards a methodology that adequately addresses the
unallocated benefits. This policy change with corridor
specific characteristics could position COTA to
compete in the near future for a fixed-guideway project.
While the project is currently focusing on the No Build
option with bus expansion, MORPC recognizes that the
light rail option needs to be revisited when the
circumstances change.

I hadn't seen this in the FY2009 guidance document, published in 2007, so I went to the guidance published in 2006. Still couldn't find it. Given that the above paragraph refers to the "latest New Starts guidance," I thought that the reference to the 2006 document may have been a mistake, because new guidance had been published in 2007, well after the referenced guidance, but well before MORPC's report. What I found was extremely interesting - The 2007 2007 Federal Register version referred to the same suggestion as the above paragraph, but in the context of accepting recommendations for actually changing the policy:

FTA adopts as final its proposal to
allow project sponsors that seek to
introduce a new transit mode to an area
to claim credits (implemented through
what is commonly called a modespecific
constant) for the user benefits
caused by attributes of that mode
beyond the travel time and cost
measures currently available in the local
travel model. FTA will continue to work
closely with sponsors of projects that
have calibrated mode-specific constants
to ensure that they are using constants
that are generally consistent with the
methods and values permitted for
sponsors of projects which are new to an
This policy establishes a reasonable
approach to crediting alternatives that
represent new transit modes locally
with the mobility benefits caused by
changes in transit service characteristics
that are universally omitted from
current travel forecasting methods. The
policy applies to both the transit
guideways identified as locally
preferred alternatives and to guidewaylike
elements of baseline alternatives
used to evaluate proposed projects. The
approach gives credit—and additional
user benefits—based on the specific
attributes of the alternative as they are
perceived by travelers. FTA will assign
credits for characteristics in three
categories: (1) Guideway-like
characteristics (equivalent to a
maximum of eight minutes of traveltime
savings); (2) span of good service
(up to three minutes); and (3) passenger
amenities (up to four minutes). Further,
FTA will define a discount of up to 20
percent on the weight applied to time
spent on the transit vehicle. These
credits and discount are applied to the
calculation of user benefits only;
ridership forecasts will not be affected.
This policy is effective immediately
except in the case of baseline
alternatives in areas that are considering
expansion of existing guideway systems.
The policy will apply to those
alternatives beginning in May 2008 so
that project sponsors have sufficient
time to modify their travel forecasting
FTA will issue technical guidance on
the application of this policy in the May
2007 Reporting Instructions.

I take this to mean that because Columbus has no fixed-guideway transit, that it is possible to add up to 15 minutes to the "time saved per rider." In addition, when 'time saved' is calculated by subtracting the light-rail commute time from the car or bus commute time, we can act as if the light rail commute only takes 4/5 of the time we are actually estimating. If we can actually add 20 minutes to the 'time saved' number, we can start talking about a fast train instead of a time machine.

This was published in June of 2007, so I'm not sure why MORPC didn't reference it, but it certainly would seem to impact any proposal for Metro Columbus.

Additionally, ridership was calculated at a time when gas was about half the price in nominal dollars as it is now. Given that we've finally (finally!) hit a price point that is affecting driving behavior, a possible revision upward of the ridership numbers is not as sketchy of an idea as it was even a year ago.

So, while I have gotten on board (so to speak) with the streetcar proposal from Mayor Coleman, I have to admit that it's in part because I was convinced it was a transit project we could actually accomplish, which was simply something that wasn't remotely true of other options. Given the changes that have taken place, both economically and at the Federal Agency level, we might actually have a shot at this in the near future, especially with a new Presidential Administration that takes climate change seriously.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Superdelegate Bashein backs Clinton

Immediately after the morning meeting on the day of the ODP convention May 10, when everybody was buzzing about the Marc Dann resolution, I was fixated on two names that were printed on a handout, but hadn't actually been spoken. One was Dave Reagan (sic), and the other was W. Craig Bashein.

I sought out some info to confirm that these were, indeed, the long awaited add-on delegates, and if so, what Redfern intended by naming them. What I got was that yes, they were supers, and that the intent was that the picks be neutral.

So I wrote that up and posted it, and followed up with info that made Dave Regan seem hardly neutral, and quite likely an Obama supporter. While I was doing this, an AP reporter was actually calling Regan and getting him on the record as an Obama supporter.

The timeline is a bit fuzzy, but around the time that the AP story would have first hit the wires, I was pulled aside at the Convention, and told that my second post was right, and that my first post was the result of a misunderstanding. Instead of "neutral," the operative word was "balanced."

I took this as a signal that Bashein leaned Clinton, though I wasn't as confident of my info from the party after my morning experience, so I posted it with caveats.

Then, Edwards endorsed Obama. I figured that if Bashein had been remaining uncommitted (unlike Regan), it may have been because of the fact that he had been a big Edwards supporter. Perhaps the 'balance' meant that Bashein was considered an Edwards delegate. But no, no word on Bashein after the endorsement.

Today, it turns out that the choices were, in fact, balanced. Bashein has committed to Clinton. So it seems like the whole uncommitted bit was just strategy and meant to play into the post KY/Oregon storyline. We'll see how that works out for them.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Toddler C is Ambivalent About Blog Treatment

Toddler C and I went to the library tonight. We piled the books up on the couch and got ready to read:

She couldn't wait to read about Chloe's Rainy Day or how Pippo Gets Lost, but there was something she wanted to do first:

After grabbing the copy of Ohio Politics, edited by Alexander P. Lamis and Brian Usher, she flipped to the index and found a single entry for "blog," on page 481. There are three paragraphs, with sentences like:

Gubernatorial candidates such as Ted Strickland and Brian Flannery would sit down together in dingy coffee shops to debate issues and answer questions from people with such blog handles as Psychobilly Democrat, Plunderbund, and Writes-Like-She-Talks.
-from Sharon Crook West's chapter on The News Media and Ohio Politics.

Toddler C closed the book, and gave me a look that said "I can't tell whether the author thinks bloggers are romantic or cheesy. Either way, her treatment is typical in that it seems to describe what she decided bloggers must be rather than what any individual blogger is. Of course, any irritation I may be feeling is lessened by her choice of blogs to name-check, even if she couldn't tell the difference between a "handle" like Redhorse and a blog name like "Psychobilly Democrat." Oh well, there's some truth to the notion that it doesn't matter what they write, as long as they spell your name right... For Jill's sake, I hope that still holds true if they punctuate it wrong."

Before I had even had time to properly appreciate all of the nuances in that look, she had dismissed me, and Ohio Politics, and gotten back to more important matters.

Candisky Re-Mixed - Two Takes on OBE and Zelman - Updated with Text Examples

For those interested in the ongoing story of Strickland's quest to get a more sympathetic Superintendent of Education, there are two very interesting articles online.

1) has Catherine Candisky's take.
2) has Catherine Candisky's take

That's not an error. The stories appear to share a common source, but are edited differently. The first emphasizes the discomfort that some on the Board of Education are feeling with searching for a replacement for someone who hasn't left, and the role the governor is playing in it. The second minimizes this and focuses on the case for replacing her ASAP.


During a two-hour meeting in Columbus last night, some members said the next superintendent must be able to navigate Ohio’s political terrain and build strong relationships with the governor, legislature, educators and school districts.

John Haseley, Gov. Ted Strickland’s chief of staff who also attended the meeting, told members that the governor wants a superintendent who understands Ohio values and the importance of education – kindergarten through college – to the state's economy. Finding an Ohioan for the job would be desirable, he and several members agreed.

The subcommittee also concurred that it should utilize a search firm but questioned where the money would come from. The board paid $80,000 to the search firm which found Zelman a decade ago.

Earlier yesterday, some board members said the meeting seemed premature.

“It's a little awkward,” said Coleen D. Grady, a board member from Strongsville. “She is still the superintendent. She has not tendered her resignation or given a timeline for her departure."

Susan M. Haverkos, a board member from West Chester, said she is uneasy about discussing Zelman's replacement before she's announced she's leaving.

“When I first heard about this I was afraid we were being driven by someone else's agenda,” Haverkos said.


While some on the 19-member panel feel they should wait until Zelman resigns before looking for her replacement, board president Jennifer Sheets said the search will take months so it makes sense to get started.

During a two-hour meeting last night in Columbus, the search subcommittee agreed the ideal candidate would be an Ohioan.

"Someone who understands Ohio culture," said Stephen Millett, a board member from Columbus.

Members also said the next superintendent must be able to navigate Ohio's political terrain and build strong relationships with the governor and legislature.

"We wouldn't be here if we had that now," said Eric Okerson, a board member from Cincinnati.

If you're looking for media bias, I think you've found it in at least one of these two pieces. It's just difficult to say if it's the first, the second, or both.

Home Field Advantage

Stuff I've been discussing elsewhere in the blogosphere, that I'd rather discuss here:

1) The Republican Party really did have a culture of corruption. This does not mean that every Republican was corrupt, but it does mean that corruption existed in networks, not just within individual offices, and that the corruption continued, in part, because of partisan resistance to ending it. In Ohio, Tom Noe used illegal fundraising with local Republican's help to raise money for Bush, helping him gain stature and influence with Bob Taft and the state legislature, leading to his ability to bilk the BWC for millions of dollars, which we found out about despite the AG withholding documents. In Washington, Grover Norquist and Tom Delay hatched the K-Street Project, to enhance ties between the GOP and lobbyists, leading to corporate authorship of regulatory legislation and creating the conditions under which Jack Abramoff sold influence on the Hill, most notably through his bribes of Ohio Congressman Bob Ney. William "The Freezer" Jefferson was corrupt, but he went it alone, not with a network of corrupt Dems. Marc "The Brotherhood of" Dann hired his unqualified friends to run rampant in, around, and over the AG's office and greater Franklin County. His network of insulation turned out to be about five people in Mahoning County.

A Culture of Corruption takes years to develop, usually in the context of single-party rule. This happened in Ohio and in the GOP during the first half of this decade. It has certainly happened before in Democratic strongholds like the first Daley in Chicago or Tammany Hall in NY. But it is not going on at this time in Columbus or D.C. Although I'm hopeful that it won't, it could happen by, say, 2012. Until then, it should be remembered that individual cases of corruption that don't spread between officials and are prosecuted without partisan resistance are not elements of a culture.

The only possibility of this changing that I see would be if it turns out that there is any truth to the rumors about money and influence from gaming interests in Dann's office. That's the type of lobbying network that could snag multiple officials. I'm betting against it (ha-ha), but I'm willing to wait and see.

2) Cynthia Ruccia. I'm done discussing Clinton Supporters Count, Too, but there are some in the blogosphere who are having a hard time finding Ms. Ruccia's Dem bona fides. Besides being a Gold-Level member of the FCDP (defined by financial support of the party), you can find her on the Executive Committee by using the Wayback Machine.

3) Ohio Daily Blog got credentials to cover the Democratic National Convention from the floor. Buckeye State Blog, therefore, did not (the DNC promised one slot per state). What this means is that one of Ohio's long-running, highly trafficked, and frequently updated left-leaning blogs was chosen over one of Ohio's other long-running, highly trafficked, frequently updated left-leaning blogs. For some, this is a problem because they thought that some automatic formula such as 2*Technorati Authority / Alexa Rank2 * months in existence + number of politics posts = credential score. When they found out that it wasn't just some arbitrary formula, and that the deciding factor among long-running, highly trafficked, frequently updated left-leaning blogs involved politics, they were astounded. How could a decision where a Political Party is picking a Political Blog to cover a Political Convention involve even a hint of Politics? It's an outrage!!

I like both blogs, and have posted at both. I was a bit surprised myself that ODB got the nod over BSB. But I think it makes sense, and all the talk from supporters of BSB getting Rogered or Jacked or Jobbed is some of the whiniest-ass crap I've heard from Dems in a long time.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Hit the Ground Running

I've got a lot to do this week and not much time to do it, so I'm anticipating less density in the posting here. I'm a really lousy clairvoyant, though, so we'll see how it goes.

1) The Robinson campaign has completely revamped their website, Lots of video, easy navigation, new text, etc. If you haven't checked this guy out yet, you really should at least read his bio.

2) The Garland campaign used their website to help promote the New Albany parade I mentioned here last week. This would appear to signal the anticipated re-emergence of the website as an active element in the campaign.

3) New Albany is looking to buy up undeveloped land, simply to prevent school-aged children from moving into the residences that could be built on it. In other words, they don't want to be the new Hilliard. While I'm happy about the unintended anti-sprawl consequences (at least in the short term), this is absolutely bonkers. When Emily Kreider ran for the 3rd district State Senate seat in 2006, she was asked what she would do to fix our unconstitutional school funding system. She would reply that Ted Strickland had promised to come up with a workable plan, and that she was pledging to support Strickland's plan. At the time I thought it was a really good answer.

4) I hate to say it, but McCain was actually pretty funny on SNL this week (Above all, America is looking for a president with oldness...). What I am finding more and more striking about McCain's approach, though, is his pretending to be a Democrat. He's putting issues like Climate Change, Health Care, etc. front and center in his campaign. For the last couple of cycles, many in the netroots (among others) have argued that given a choice between an actual Republican and a fake Republican, voters will choose the genuine article. Generally, they've been right. Now it looks like voters will have a choice between a real Democrat and a fake Democrat. I can't say I'm unhappy about the way that looks to play out.

5) If you were spending a week in Seattle on business, what would you do with your evenings? What's worth playing hooky one afternoon for?