July 2007 Archive

Sorry, no posts today due to real work intervening. Why not add something to the OhioWiki instead? OhioWiki needs editors!

Don’t sleep on train tracks.

I, doctor

Robot hospital:

In just a few weeks, stroke patients who are taken to Mount Carmel East Hospital may be treated by a doctor located miles away. At the same time, that doctor will be bedside — all thanks to a robot….

If the doctor is out of the hospital when a patient arrives, the robot goes into action.

From a remote location, the doctor flips open a laptop and guides the robot to the patient’s bed. The doctor then sees the patient through a camera attached to the screen.

“Actually, they’re really not talking to the robot,” said Dr. Mark Hackman, vice president for Medical Affairs at Mount Carmel East. “They’re talking to the physician. The robot is just a tool. I’d say it’s a pretty revolutionary change.”

They call that sort of thing telepresence. I see some potential for stuff to go wrong with this. It would give new meaning to the phrase “blue screen of death.”

Farmer welfare passes House

The US House passed a $42 billion dollar welfare package for farmers on Friday. Dave Harding at Progress Ohio covers it- is he supposed to be proud that Democrats favored this? I don’t get it. There are some heros though:

[Passage of the bill] came after Democrats quashed a rebellion from one of their own, Rep. Ron Kind, D-Wis., who teamed with conservative GOP budget hawks and urban and suburban Democrats on an amendment to wean farmers from government payments. It would have imposed stricter income limits on farmers, barring subsidies to those making an average of $250,000 or more annually, and would have steered more money to conservation, nutrition, specialty crop and rural development programs….

“I had high hopes that this Congress — given market conditions and our commitment to a new direction for this country — would have the stomach to reform these outdated and unfair policies,” Kind said in a statement.

What are those billions for? Here’s one thing it does:

…leaves in place — and in some cases increases — subsidies to producers of major crops such as corn and soybeans at a time of record-high prices.

Nice. The Senate will work on their end of it in September.

Meh.

Less terrorism aid from the feds

Joe Hallet on the federal funds Columbus receives:

[Former official at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Matt A.] Mayer said Columbus should be in the top half of cities eligible for terrorism funds because it is the nation’s 15th largest city, has America’s biggest university and the fifth-busiest zoo, is home to several Fortune 500 companies and large shopping centers and has critical infrastructure such as power plants, dams, rail lines and airports.

Columbus has been one of the busiest areas in the US as far as terrorism goes:

[Christopher] Paul, who grew up in Worthington, is awaiting trial, accused of helping train terrorists for attacks on America. Former Columbus truck driver Iyman Faris is serving a 20-year prison term for scouting the Brooklyn Bridge for al-Qaida. And Nuradin Abdi of Columbus, a Somali immigrant, is scheduled for trial Aug. 7 on charges involving a plot to bomb an unspecified Columbus-area shopping mall.

With allegations of three al-Qaida-related plots in its backyard, Columbus would seem primed for steep increases in terrorism funds. The opposite has occurred: The city received $4.7 million this year, nearly $3 million less than it got in 2004, the first year funds were available.

You’ll recall that major cities like New York complained that other places were getting too much money. I guess they fixed that.

Spinning the State Auditor’s report

Buckeye State Blog is reporting that $20M was misspent under Ohio’s charter school program. This is either spin or a misunderstanding of the Ohio Auditor of State’s report. Here’s BSB:

Doc Wood, BSB’s resident education expert, has some bad news for us. The Ohio Department of Education misspent $20+ million through problems with charter school’s/accountability. For comparison’s sake, the whole intern blunder cost us $2.2 mil. Wonder if the Republicans will be debating this one? -Jerid

It should not have been any surprise to read that Republican State Auditor Mary Taylor found that our own Ohio Department of Education mis-spent over $20,000,000 in the Community School program. These schools, also known as charter schools, were the focus of much of the debate around Governor Ted’s budget this past spring. While the Governor wanted to put the program on hold (and end payments to ‘for profit’ charters) while issues like this were straightened out, the General Assembly charged ahead and funded the program without any new controls.

The audit report doesn’t actually conclude that the money was misspent, but rather that the proper oversight wasn’t in place to insure that the money, all of which was federal grants, wasn’t misspent. Apparently, the state had rules in place that said that only schools spending over half a mil in federal funds had to file certain reports, but that schools spending less than that accounted for the majority of the money. From the 2006 state audit report (pdf, real page 189):

During SFY 2006, EDU disbursed $20.8 million in Federal Charter Schools grant funds to qualified charter schools in the form of start-up (planning and design) and implementation sub-grants. EDU’s Office of Community Schools (OCS) is responsible for monitoring the use of the Federal Charter Schools funds by the charter schools. However, during the majority of SFY 2006, OCS did not have an effective system in place to determine whether subrecipients were using these Federal funds in accordance with applicable laws and regulations.

As in previous years the Department has a number of potential monitoring tools in place such as required site visit reports and other monitoring procedures performed by charter school sponsors, reviews of Annual Performance Reviews (APRs) and Final Expenditure Reports (FERs), and the monitoring of A-133 audits performed on the schools. However, these tools either were not used effectively or did not provide for adequate subrecipient monitoring during SFY 2006.

OCS did not have procedures in place to ensure that charter school sponsors were performing their required compliance monitoring. Furthermore, the majority of these schools did not expend $500,000 or more in Federal money during SFY 2005, and therefore were not required to have an A-133 audit. Of the 137 charter school subrecipients that received funding during SFY 2006, only three were required to have an A-133 audit for SFY 2005, and none of these three were submitted to EDU until after SFY 2006. Finally, while the APRs and FERs do address these Federal funds, they do not provide a level of detail which would allow the Department to determine whether subrecipients are complying with applicable Federal regulations.

This is a problem obviously, and one that is being resolved. But lack of oversight of the money is quite a different thing from saying that it’s known that the money was misspent. It’s no doubt that some of it was misspent, statistically speaking, but I think quite unlikely that anything approaching most of it was.

As BSB mentioned, this problem was the one Gov. Ted Strickland used in an attempt to trash the whole program, certainly a case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. The better solution is to fix the oversight problems.

NBC4i also covers this, and they get the story right:

Improper accounting practices led the state to overpay Medicaid providers $13 million last year and made it impossible to know whether $20 million in state payouts to charter schools was being properly handled, according to a state audit released Thursday.

In all, state Auditor Mary Taylor questioned $36 million in spending at six state agencies last year, most at the departments of Education and of Job and Family Services.

Don’t hold your breath waiting for BSB’s post on the $13 million in questioned expenditures “related to the Medicaid Cluster and State Children’s Insurance Program.”

Jeff at Urban In-Fill looks at the little-known second Parsons Avenue Kroger parking lot.

New immigrants need not apply?

The AP has this story on a proposal that Columbus cabbies should have had a US license for 5 years rather than the current 6 months:

The Independent Taxicab Association of Columbus, which represents mostly foreign-born drivers, says about 530 of the group’s 700 drivers would lose their jobs under the proposal.

A committee of city, community and business officials recommended the requirement to make the capital city a more cab-friendly town….

The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio says the proposal is somewhere between ill-advised and illegal.

I have to side with the ACLU on this one. If having a driver’s license is not a sufficient guarantor of good drivers, then increase the licensing requirements. Discriminating against recent immigrants isn’t the way to go.

Walker Evans is looking for input into the YP Commission “Convince” Subcommittee that he’s a member of.

Chiquita’s terrorist pay-offs and the Ohio media

Bill Sloat on Chiquita’s payoffs to a terrorist group in Colombia and the failure of Ohio media to cover the Cincinnati-based company:

Ohio’s newspapers seem to have been stricken with sleeping sickness. Or maybe they have lost consciousness. Or maybe they just don’t give a damn. What else could explain how the Los Angeles Times dug up a story about a $4.5 billion Oho corporation that seems to have been treated leniently by the Bush Administration in a case involving pay-offs to terrorists.

Big Fruit of course has a long and sordid history in Latin America. The fickle nature of the Ohio news media in what they choose to cover and what they choose to ignore has come up before.

A recent email pointed out a site that I wasn’t aware of before: Campaigns & Elections, which has an Ohio section. A couple of recent articles focus on Ohio Democratic blogs and conservative blogs. The site allows subscribing by email, but not by feed, which is so 2002.

Lots of posts about Sherrod Brown being named one of the 50 Most Beautiful People on Capitol Hill by The Hill. But Nancy Pelosi is number 4 on that list, so a huge grain of salt is certainly warranted here.

No light rail for Columbus

Light rail for Columbus is officially off the table for now. (Note: this does not refer to the city’s streetcar project.) From ThisWeek:

The Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC) has officially removed the proposed light rail transit plan from its Fiscally Balanced Transportation Plan and placed the concept on the commission’s “wish list.”

Ahmad Al-Akhras, assistant director of transportation, recently told the group’s policy committee that MORPC will continue to monitor conditions for the proposed light rail transit corridor and federal policy, but the project cannot move forward without federal support and approval.

The project doesn’t meet federal guidelines for subsidies, so it’s a no-go.

Ahmad Al-Akhras, by the way, is a defender of accused terrorist Christopher Paul, is one of Mayor Coleman’s closest associates, and is vice chair of the Council on American-Islamic Relations which has several former leaders convicted of terrorism-related charges and which is linked to the terrorist group HAMAS.

UPDATE: Blue Bexley has a good post on why Columbus doesn’t qualify for federal funds (and incidentally channels the Smiths). Bottom line: per dollar, the project doesn’t reduce transit times from current levels nearly enough.

1840’s Columbus

Ed Lentz at ThisWeek has a cool column on the Columbus social scene of the 1840’s.

Columbus is a created city, created in a special place for a special purpose - to be the center of things for the people and state of Ohio. Since 1812, it has been just that.

In 1900, a local writer named Alice Faye Potter wrote a short article describing what the social life of the capital city was like in the 1840s. It is worth recalling as a reminder of a world that used to be in the capital city.

Read about the Parsons, the Deshlers, and Dr. Goodale. Abraham Lincoln makes a cameo.

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