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Commentary for 2024 April thru June

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STRONG ECONOMY? THINK AGAIN

Monday, May 13, 2024
David Stockman for the Brownstone Institute

Editors’ Note: We are grateful for David Stockman’s timely analysis. Originally approaching 2400 words, we have taken the liberty to shorten Mr. Stockman’s critique while preserving his concerns about the impossibilities of U.S. workers achieving the “American dream” of home ownership.

By the end of 2024 the US economy will be freighted down with more than $100 trillion of combined public and private debt. And it will not be characterized as either strong or even resilient.

So we’d bet that real output gains amounted to 1.5% per annum at best during the last six quarters. And that more than two-thirds of that was accounted for by the runoff of excess household cash. In short, maybe the US economy has actually been growing at 0.5% per annum.

Friday’s Jobs Report for April on May 10, 2024, provides further reinforcement. In fact, the 175,000 gain in the headline jobs number represented the action of an economy that is living on borrowed time but made to look more robust with a Bureau of Labor Statistics survey. By the BLS’ own reckoning, total hours worked in the private sector during April 2024 declined by 0.2% from the March 2024 level, contradicting the strong labor market promoted by Wall Street “permabulls.”

When you look at the proper metric for labor utilization—hours worked rather than headline job counts which conflated 15 hour per week burger-flippers with 50 hour per week oilfield roughnecks—that de-acceleration has fallen by nearly two-thirds.

The Feds would have you believe that between June 2023 and today’s April 2024 report about 2.26 million new jobs have been created in the US economy, which amounts to a seemingly healthy gain of 226,000 per month.

Thar impressive number based on “mail-in” ballots from about 119,000 US businesses or about 2.0% of the nation’s 6.1 million total business units that have at least one paid employee. Moreover, there is no special reason to believe that the missing 68,000 responses are random or consistent with the mix of firms actually mailing in their results in prior months, quarters, and years.

Never mind that everything below the Bureau of Labor Statistics report’s headline jobs number warns of disconnects, inconsistencies, puzzles, contradictions, and unreliability. For instance, today’s companion “household “survey, which is based on 50,000 phone interviews, as opposed to mail-in reports, indicated a job gain of just 25,000.

The BLS reported 161.004 million total employed workers in June 2023, with a figure posted at 161.491 million in April 2024. The implied gain is 487,000 “workers” compared to the 2,260,000 additional “jobs” reported for the ten months ending in April.

So either each new “worker” in April was holding down 4.64 “jobs” (2,260,000 divided by 487,000) or there is a skunk on the woodpile here somewhere. And in fact, the full-time versus part-time employee factor turns out to be a special kind of big when it comes to the stink on the numbers.

According to the BLS, here are the levels and the change between June 2023 and April 2024:

Full-Time Employees: 134.787 million versus 133,889 million for a loss of 898,000 full-time employees.

Part-Time Employees: 26.248 million versus 27.718 million for a gain of 1.470 million part-time employees.

We’d say go figure or, better yet, throw a dart at the BLS report and go with the number it lands on—since nearly all of them are badly massaged and incessantly revised.

To be clear, our point here is not to give the BLS a C- for its efforts at job counting. To the contrary, it’s to give the Federal Reserve an F for even presuming that it can fiddle America’s $28 trillion economy between full employment and inflation on a month-to-month and even day-to-day basis via massive open market operations on Wall Street.

The whole misguided effort at monetary central planning has been an abject failure in part because the US economy—integrally intertwined in the $105 trillion global economy—is too complex, fast-moving, opaque, and ultimately mysterious to be stage-managed by the 12 mere mortals who sit on the Fed’s Open Market Committee, and who on a daily basis command the movements of tens of trillions of securities and derivative financial instruments. That’s because the Fed’s rate curs and interest rate suppression long ago lost their potency in an economy now saddled with $98 trillion of public and private debt.

In any event, the proof is actually in the pudding from April’s jobs report. As detailed above, between 1964 and the dotcom peak in 2000—and at a time before money-printing really went off the deep end—the BLS’ reasonably serviceable metric for total hours worked in the private economy had grown by about 2.0% per annum. Add another 2.0% per year for productivity improvement due to robust investment, technology progress, and the equipping of workers with more and better tools and production processes, and you had a 4% growth economy.

Obviously, no more. The Fed’s massive inflation of financial assets has caused a drastic diversion of capital into speculation on Wall Street rather than productive investment on Main Street. So productivity growth has faltered badly to just 1.25% per annum since 2010.

At the same time, the inflation-saturated US economy has lost much of its industrial base to lower-cost venues abroad. Consequently, since the pre-dotcom peak in 2000, the growth rate of private sector labor hours employed has plunged to 0.74% per annum. Thus, the ingredients of economic growth added together now amount to just 2.0% or half the historic rate.

At the end of the day, there is no doubt about it. Both productivity growth and labor growth have been systematically undermined and diminished by monetary central planning currently pursued by the Federal Reserve. And there is a trend toward a new round of destructive money-printing.

The failure of the Fed’s monetary central planning policy has maximized its harm on Main Street America. For instance, during the most recent month (January 2024) US home prices were up by 6.0% on a Year to Year basis and were therefore just one more reminder of why the Fed’s pro-inflation policies are so insidious. In essence, they set up a running battle between asset prices and wages, and the former wins hands down.

Index of Median Home Price Versus Average Hourly Wage, 1970 to 2023

We have indexed the median sales price of homes in America and the average hourly wage to their values as of Quarter 1, 1970. That was the eve of Nixon’s plunge into pure fiat money at Camp David in August 1971 and all the resulting monetary excesses and metastases since then.

Home prices today stand at 18.2X their Quarter 1, 1970 value while average hourly wages are at only 8.7X their value during that same time period. The median home sales price of $23,900 in Quarter 1, 1970 represented 7,113 hours of work at the average hourly wage. Assuming a standard 2,000-hour work year, wage workers had to toil for 3.6 years to pay for a median-priced home.

With the passage of time, of course, the Fed’s pro-inflation policies have done far more to goose asset prices than wages. Thus, at the time of Alan Greenspan’s arrival at the Fed after Quarter 2,1987, it required 11,350 hours to purchase a median home, which had risen to 12,138 hours by Quarter 1 ,2012 when the Fed made its 2.00% inflation target official. And after still another decade of inflationary monetary policy, it now stands at just under 15,000 hours.

In a word, today’s median home price of $435,400 requires 7.5 standard work years at the average hourly wage to purchase, meaning that workers now toil well more than twice as long as they did in 1970 to afford the dream of home ownership.

Why in the world would our esteemed central bankers wish to impoverish America’s workers by doubling the working hours needed to buy a median priced home? And, yes, the above assault on the middle class is a monetary phenomenon. It was not caused by home builders monopolizing the price of new houses nor by shortages of land, lumber, paint, or construction labor over that half-century period.

To the contrary, when the Fed inflates the monetary system, the resulting ill effects work through the financial markets and real economy unevenly. Prices, including those for labor and assets, do not move in lockstep, because foreign competition holds down some prices and wages while falling real interest rates and higher valuation multiples inherently cause asset prices to rise disproportionately.

Thus, the reference rate for all asset prices — the 10-year US Treasury note (UST) — fell drastically in real terms during the last four decades of that period. Real rates at 5%+ during the 1980s fell to the 2–5% range during the Greenspan era, and then plunged further, to zero or below, owing to the even more commonplace money-printing policies of his successors.

The stated purpose of the easy-money trend depicted above, of course, was to spur more investment in housing, among other sectors. But that didn’t happen. The residential housing investment-to-GDP ratio dropped from the historical 5–6% zone prior in 1965 to an average of 4.5% during the period of the Greenspan housing bubble peak in 2005. After the housing crash during the Great Financial Crisis it barely posted at 3% of GDP before rebounding irregularly to 3.9% in 2023.

Any way you slice it, however, the aggressive monetary expansion after 1987 did not spur incremental housing investment on any sustainable basis. Instead, it led to debt-fueled speculation in the existing housing stock, sending prices rising far faster and far higher than the growth of household income and wages. That untenable inflation is a stinging repudiation of the low interest rates promoted by both Wall Street and the Washington bureaucracy. The Federal Reserve’s fiddling with the U.S. $28 million economy to achieve full employment and 2.00% inflation is a trainwreck in full flight.


David Stockman, Senior Scholar at Brownstone Institute, is the author of many books on politics, finance, and economics. He is a former congressman from Michigan, and the former Director of the Congressional Office of Management and Budget



U.S. FARMERS’ LOVE-HATE RELATIONSHIP WITH ITS BIGGEST TRADING PARTNER

Monday, May 6, 2024
Alan Guebert | South Bend Tribune

There’s a joke about my fellow baby boomers making the rounds that goes something like this: In the 1960s, boomers didn’t trust anyone over 30, but as soon as they reached their 60s, they didn’t trust anyone under 30.

American farmers and ranchers have nearly the same dynamic with China: As long as its people and companies buy our soybeans, beef, pork and corn, we love each and every one of them and their dollar-stuffed wallets.

When Chinese companies or citizens start buying our farmland, technology and businesses, however, our farm leaders and politicians call them every name under the sun except “customer” or “investor.”

American farmers and ranchers aren’t alone in their sometimes-sunny, oftentimes-dark view of China and its political — and possibly nefarious — role in international markets. New York University business professor and popular podcaster Scott Galloway sees TikTok, the popular China-based social media platform used by nearly 145 million Americans, as “the ultimate propaganda tool.”

Galloway, who has often described TikTok as the most addictive social media platform he’s ever seen, adds that China “would be dumb ‘not to put their finger on the scales’” to make “the West look bad.”

More than 30 U.S. states have that same concern; 10 have banned state employees from loading the app on state-owned electronic devices and 20-plus (the number keeps growing) are considering legislation to do so. India, the world’s most populous country, banned TikTok after its user numbers nationwide hit 190 million.

Many in U.S. agriculture see China’s growing presence in our business and political arenas as even more sinister. For example, in 2023, 10 states enacted “restrictions on the ability of land purchases by foreign nationals,” according to MultiState, a lobbying firm that operates throughout the U.S.

While only one of those states, Alabama, enacted its law against China specifically, five other states did direct their new laws against American “adversaries such as China, North Korea, Russia, and Iran.” Presently, 19 states have “introduced some form of foreign land ownership ban …” in their statehouses.

While all this worrying and banning has been going on, China spent most of 2023 learning one of capitalism’s biggest lessons: Economic growth isn’t an endless ride upward. Even though the Chinese economy did, in fact, grow last year, its rise was the smallest since 1990, noted the Wall Street Journal.

Leading the slowdown was real estate. Sales, as measured by square footage, were down a calamitous 23% in 2023. Worse, in mid-January a Chinese court ordered Evergrande, one of China’s largest real estate developers, to liquidate its crumbling $300 billion “debt mountain.”

Additionally, more signs of coming weakness — deflation, falling stock markets (as U.S. stock indices hit record highs), and flagging consumer spending — suggest China is well on the path to become the next Japan, a global powerhouse that’s about to stumble for years as it juggles too much debt, a declining population and flagging exports.

While those deepening signs of trouble suggest Xi Jinping, China’s 70-year-old president, will surely spend more time on domestic politics to maintain power and order, other experienced China watchers think Xi will work even harder to lower tensions between his nation and the U.S.

In fact, noted the Washington Post, relations between the world’s two superpowers have taken a decidedly positive turn — probably because of China’s worsening economic outlook. “Much of the shift … stems from Beijing’s recognition that its own economy has been foundering while the United States’ is booming,” the Post reported Jan. 27.

Which only proves the age-old axiom that there’s nothing like a good customer — China for our ag exports and America for China’s manufactured and digital goods — to move people from pounding their fists at the negotiating table to picking up forks at the dinner table.



AUBURN BOARD OF TRUSTEES – YOU WILL BE JUDGED BY YOUR FRUITS

Sunday, May 5, 2024
By Brian Massie, A Watchman on the Wall

As the never ending fiasco known as Auburn Career Center versus CATA (CAREER & TECHNICAL ASSOCIATION) plods on, we have permission to publish a recent event between citizen extraordinaire, Mr. Brian Ames of Portage County, and Matt Markling, attorney for the wasteful taxing authority known as the Auburn Vocational School District Board of Education.

Matt Markling, the attorney responsible for the interminable delays on the CATA case, got his ass booted of my Public Records Act case. I don’t know if it is because he beclowned himself before the 11th district or because Auburn is realizing what a huge mistake they made in ever having him involved.

Best regards,
Brian M. Ames

LFC Input: The additional legal expenses of Auburn Career Center started by Matt Markling filing for a “Motion for Definite Statement”: 2024_04_16_motion_for_definite_statement.pdf

LFC Input: Mr. Ames filed an original action in mandamus in response to Markling’s “Motion for a Definite Statement”: 2024_04_24_response_definite_statement.pdf

LFC input: And here is the coup de grâce for attorney Markling, a “Notice of Substitution of Counsel and Appearance of Counsel for Defendant” filed by Auburn’s new lawyer in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals: 2024_05_01_notice_substitution_counsel.pdf

LFC Input: Auburn continues to burn through the taxpayers’ money on legal fees fighting a claim that they have already lost about five times in court. (Honestly, we have lost count.)

A note to all taxpayers: it appears Auburn will continue to fight in court because their money supply is endless because we voted for a continuous levy. That means they will keep collecting property taxes forever, and do not have to be good stewards of the taxpayers’ money.

We call on the Board of Trustees to do what is right and settle this case with CATA, and stop wasting taxpayers’ money. Although we know that you are all appointed and not elected by the people, therefore, regretfully, not accountable to the people, we want you to know that we are watching your actions. Do we have leaders or followers on this Board? We shall judge you by your fruits.

We will give all Board members a “heads up” because we, as overtaxed and abused taxpayers, will be exploring our options with Judicial Watch this coming week.

Here are the Auburn Board of Trustees, minus the new Chardon School District member Todd Albright:


Neysa Gaskins
Mary Wheeler
Barb Rayburn

Roger Miller

Susan Culotta

Kenneth Cahill
Jean Brush
Geoffrey Kent

Sherry Maruschak

Thomas Hach

Mr. Paul Stefanko, a man of honor with a moral code, resigned as a Board member over the Administration’s unethical behavior.



MOUNTING DEBT ACCUMULATION CAN’T GO ON FOREVER. IT WON’T.

May 3, 2024
Tom Patterson | Townhall

Joe Biden loves to give away money, especially if it’s not his own. He has spent trillions of dollars for political benefit that didn’t need otherwise to be spent.

The recipients laud his compassion and generosity. Common Americans though are trapped in an inflationary spiral while our grandchildren face an unpayable bill.

Thus, in a recent presentation about his second attempt to forgive student loan debt, he actually bragged about the hundreds of billions it would cost. He twice mentioned the fact that many blacks would receive benefits.

He became so consumed in self-congratulation, that he apparently lost awareness of how blatant his political pandering. We know black voters are a key demographic in play in the upcoming election.

Biden’s sheer enthusiasm for spending again evidenced itself in his response to the Baltimore bridge collapse. His first reaction was to guarantee that the federal government would underwrite the entire cost of reconstruction. What a guy!

Neither offer made sense. Regarding student loan debt, the Supreme Court had affirmed that the Constitution means what it says, that the power to initiate spending lies solely with Congress. Most public criticism focused on the obvious unfairness of the policy, and how it would disadvantage those who had been responsible in favor of those who wished to renounce their legal obligations.

Biden’s bridge proposal was also nonsense. The bridge isn’t owned by the United States. There is no conceivable reason for the federal government to be deemed responsible for its repair. The bridge was demolished by a cargo ship, in an industry which insures heavily against such misfortunes. Other jurisdictions have also acknowledged partial responsibility.

RECOMMENDED

Here’s the problem with the mindset that it’s okay to get involved with all these giveaways: we don’t have the money. We’re seriously in debt, with expenses vastly exceeding our income and no plan in place for repayment or even deficit reduction.

Biden is hardly the only politician who has deduced that spending other people's money (OPM) can win elections. Even many Republicans, to their shame, support the spending juggernaut. The spenders are the moral equivalent of a wastrel with no money and no job, with bankruptcy looming, who continues to pick up tabs and buy pricey gifts with credit cards he has no intention of paying off.

Still, the spenders know that Americans have mostly normalized excessive spending even when unnecessary. So Biden was able to propose a whopping $7.3 trillion budget for next year (up $500 billion in the last year alone) without provoking much outrage.

The $2 trillion spent on Covid relief accomplished nothing. It was mainly an excuse to push more money out the door. At least it was supposed to be temporary. Biden’s budget though would pocket the Covid bump and add yet more permanent spending, mostly on programs for “climate change” and other boondoggles. A $10 trillion budget by 2033 is projected.

What can’t go on forever won’t. Our present course is unsustainable. Income tax revenues are soaring yet the debt continues to grow. We are using borrowed money to pay the debt interest, which has surpassed all budget items except entitlement programs.

How do we get out of this death spiral? The left’s favorite solution is to raise taxes. That doesn’t work. The historical record shows that tax increases put us further in the hole.

For example, the Obamacare tax increases raised $1.4 trillion but so hindered economic growth, according to the Congressional Budget Office, that the feds lost $3.8 trillion in revenues. In contrast, President Clinton signed the 1997 Republican tax and spending cuts. Four years of budget surpluses ensued.

It’s well known that reform of Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security is necessary for a balanced budget. Yet both parties are interested only in demagoguing the other if they catch them even considering the issue. If the politicians, including Donald Trump, continue to insist on prioritizing incumbent reelection, the only way out may be for the people to take matters into their own hands.

Is anybody else interested in seriously revisiting the notion of amending the Constitution to mandate a balanced budget? Sure it may (or may not) be difficult but the consequence of doing nothing is surely worse.

Thomas C. Patterson is a retired emergency physician who lives in Paradise Valley, Arizona. He is the former majority leader of the Arizona State Senate and was chairman of the Goldwater Institute from 2000-2013.



NPR’S NEW CEO SITS ON BOARD OF SOROS-FUNDED ACTIVIST GROUP THAT PUSHES FOR CENSORSHIP

Wednesday, May 1, 2024
By Judicial Watch

In a grim indicator of how news will be covered on taxpayer dime, the new head of the government-funded National Public Radio (NPR) is on the board of a leftwing activist organization called Center for Democracy and Technology that pushes for censorship and receives funding from George Soros’ Open Society Foundations. Her name is Katherine Maher, a former Wikimedia Foundation CEO, with liberal views publicly expressed throughout the years in her social media posts. In 2018, she called former President Donald Trump a racist in a post that has since been deleted, according to a mainstream newspaper report. A couple of years ago Maher shared a photo of herself in a “President Biden” campaign hat. In a 2021 video clip the new NPR chief describes the First Amendment as the top challenge in the fight against disinformation, a fictitious crisis created by the Biden administration to control information.

Maher takes over at NPR as a longtime NPR editor, Uri Berliner, reveals that liberal bias has altered the public radio network’s coverage in recent years, resulting in errors on major stories such as the Hamas attacks in Israel, Hunter Biden’s laptop scandal and COVID-19. “It’s true NPR has always had a liberal bent, but during most of my tenure here, an open-minded, curious culture prevailed,” Berliner, a 25-year NPR veteran wrote in a recently published essay. “We were nerdy, but not knee-jerk, activist, or scolding. In recent years, however, that has changed. Today, those who listen to NPR or read its coverage online find something different: the distilled worldview of a very small segment of the U.S. population. An open-minded spirit no longer exists within NPR, and now, predictably, we don’t have an audience that reflects America. That wouldn’t be a problem for an openly polemical news outlet serving a niche audience. But for NPR, which purports to consider all things, it’s devastating both for its journalism and its business model.” Berliner confirms that race and identity have become paramount in nearly every aspect of the workplace and journalists are required to ask everyone they interview about race, gender, and ethnicity.

A few days ago, Berliner, a senior business editor, resigned, citing Maher’s response to his recent exposé. In an email to the radio network’s new CEO, Berliner wrote: “I am resigning from NPR, a great American institution where I have worked for 25 years. I respect the integrity of my colleagues and wish for NPR to thrive and do important journalism. But I cannot work in a newsroom where I am disparaged by a new CEO whose divisive views confirm the very problems at NPR I cite in my Free Press essay.” NPR and its new chief declined to comment publicly but the network’s news executive, Edith Chapin, wrote a memo to employees saying that inclusion among staff, sourcing and overall coverage is critical to telling the nuanced stories of this country and our world.

NPR is simply following the mainstream media’s leftist trajectory, though it has a duty to remain objective because it receives taxpayer dollars. The radio network was created over five decades ago as an educational news source that operates under the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), which also includes television’s Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). Its headquarters are in Washington D.C., and it has more than 1,000 radio stations nationwide. CPB’s 2024 operating budget is a whopping $535 million and, though most of it does not go to NPR, the public radio network says “federal funding is essential” and its continuation is critical. In fact, the news outlet’s website states that the elimination of federal funding would result in fewer programs, less journalism and eventually the loss of public radio stations.

This month a Virginia congressman introduced legislation to strip NPR of public money so that no taxpayer dollars fund its “radical left messaging.” The proposed legislation prohibits federal funding of NPR and prevents local public radio stations from using federal grant money to purchase content or pay dues to NPR. “It is bad enough that so many media outlets push their slanted views instead of reporting the news, but it is even more egregious for hardworking taxpayers to be forced to pay for it,” said Congressman Bob Good, the lawmaker behind the measure. “My legislation would ensure no taxpayer dollars are used to fund the woke, leftist propaganda of National Public Radio.”



OHIO GOV. DEWINE SAID HE DIDN'T KNOW OF MILLIONS IN FIRSTENERGY SUPPORT. IS IT PLAUSIBLE?

Tuesday, April 30, 2024
Marty Schladen | Ohio Capital Journal

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s claim to not know about the millions an Akron utility spent supporting his 2018 campaign for governor simply isn’t credible, an Ohio political scientist said in a recent interview. A spokesperson for DeWine pushed back.

FirstEnergy provided that support, then spent more than $60 million to pass and protect a $1.3 billion ratepayer-financed bailout that mostly benefited the utility. In 2019, DeWine signed the law within hours of its passage.

But now that two GOP officials are in federal prison as part of the scandal and two others involved in the scheme have died by suicide, DeWine and Lt. Gov. Jon Husted are downplaying what they knew about FirstEnergy’s support for their campaigns. They’re also downplaying connections between their administration and the utility.

They say they supported the unpopular bailout because they thought it was good public policy to protect nuclear generation in Ohio.

However, a batch of records turned over in response to a records request by a group of news organizations — including Floodlight, the Energy News Network, the USA Today Network and the Capital Journal — are showing that the support they’ve gotten from FirstEnergy is greater than previously known.

BIG, DARK MONEY

The company made donations totaling $1 million to 501(c)(4) dark money groups supporting Husted in 2018 before he dropped his gubernatorial bid and joined the DeWine ticket. The records also reveal that the company gave as much as $2.5 million to dark money groups supporting DeWine the same year.

Husted’s office wouldn’t say whether the lieutenant governor knew about the contributions at the time they were made. DeWine Press Secretary Dan Tierney last week denied that DeWine knew about the trove of newly revealed FirstEnergy contributions.

University of Cincinnati political scientist David Niven said there’s a “zero-percent chance” that DeWine’s claim is true. He explained that in 2018, there was a nationwide backlash against the presidency of Donald Trump and support for Democrats was surging. That meant a “razor-wire thin” election for DeWine, a Republican running in a state Trump carried by eight points two years earlier, Niven said.

DeWine “was running in an election cycle when the tide was going against his party,” Niven said. “The notion that he was just this fumbling, naive grandpa who has no idea about seven-figure flows (supporting) his campaign is perhaps the single most far-fetched thing he’s ever said.”

There’s also the fact that it’s questionable for a company to make such a huge expenditure and not make sure the public official benefiting from it knew about it That seems especially true of FirstEnergy, which later admitted to paying an outright bribe of $4.3 million to Sam Randazzo just before DeWine nominated him to regulate the company and other Ohio utilities.

A state indictment of Randazzo and two former FirstEnergy executives says that on Dec. 18, 2018, the executives had dinner with Gov.-elect DeWine and Lt. Gov.-elect Husted and went from there to Randazzo’s condo to arrange the bribe. Randazzo, who was accused of helping to draft and lobby for the corrupt bailout, died by suicide earlier this month.

RETURN ON INVESTMENT

Tierney, DeWine’s press secretary, was asked last week why FirstEnergy would spend millions supporting his boss and not make sure DeWine knew about it. Tierney cited rules prohibiting dark-money groups from coordinating their activities with campaigns.

“Regarding your question regarding why donors to independent expenditures might not engage candidates directly on the independent expenditures, my guess is that this goes back to the fact that it is illegal for candidates to coordinate with 501 (c)(4) independent expenditure groups,” Tierney said in an email. “I would guess that entities that frequently make such donations are aware of those legal restrictions. I don’t believe you were trying to accuse the Governor of illegal conduct, as he follows the law, but I would vociferously push back on any such innuendo as there is no basis for it.”

However, merely informing a candidate of a contribution to an independent group doesn’t seem sufficient to meet the state’s definition of “coordination.” That applies to communications “made pursuant to any arrangement, coordination, or direction by the candidate, the candidate’s campaign committee, or the candidate’s agent… ” the Ohio Revised Code says.

Some special interests have made pious claims that they spend millions supporting candidates not to buy influence, but because they wish to support good governance. Niven, the political scientist, said such a claim would be laughable in the context of FirstEnergy and Ohio’s 2018 gubernatorial election.

“This is all about return on investment,” he said. “This isn’t even primarily about affecting the outcome of the election, it’s about affecting the behavior of the elected.”

And, Niven said, given that FirstEnergy’s expenditures in 2018 and 2019 won it a billion-dollar bailout, “The return on investment on this thing is spectacular.”

WHO BENEFITS?

In an email, Tierney questioned press coverage implying that groups supporting DeWine received all of the $2.5 million in dark money FirstEnergy put up in 2018. The donations were made to a dark money group affiliated with the Republican Governors Association, but only $500,000 was specifically labeled “DeWine.”

“… I am sure Ohio political reporters are laser-focused on Ohio matters, I would point out that FirstEnergy operates in seven states,” Tierney said. “Some of those states have Republican governors, others have had recent Republican governors, and even more have had competitive gubernatorial elections recently as well.”

However, of those states, only four — Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, and Maryland — had gubernatorial elections in 2018. And of those, Ohio’s was by far the closest and thus the most likely to be affected by big expenditures. It’s also the the state that had two nuclear plants that FirstEnergy was desperate to bail out.

DeWine beat Democrat Richard Corday by 3.7 percentage points. The next-closest race was in Maryland, where Republican Larry Hogan beat Democrat Ben Jealous by 12 points — or more than triple the margin in the Ohio race.

In addition, among the documents obtained by the news organizations are messages that demonstrate FirstEnergy’s interest in plowing dark money into Ohio’s 2018 gubernatorial election. One, from FirstEnergy Vice President Michael Dowling, attempted to ease worries over the company’s massive expenditures through the Republican Governors Association to help DeWine and Husted.

“Theoretically, DeWine/Husted could have a balance of $10M in their campaign account and the RGA could spend $40M in support of DeWine in Ohio,” Dowling said in an email first reported by the Cincinnati Enquirer. “My point is that comparing the size of a contribution to the RGA to what the DeWine campaign has raised or what the DeWine Campaign’s current balance is can be done, but I’m not sure is logical.”

OTHER CLAIMS

In addition to pleading ignorance of FirstEnergy’s dark money, the governor and his staff haven’t explained what senior members of his administration who had close connections to the company knew about about a vital part of the scandal — the relationship between FirstEnergy and the man DeWine picked to regulate it.

The governor and his staff have claimed that connections between Randazzo and FirstEnergy were common knowledge when DeWine took office in 2019. However, there’s little evidence to support the claim.

Meanwhile, Randazzo’s state indictment says Randazzo and FirstEnergy had a long, secret partnership that paid Randazzo millions even before his $4.3 million payoff in 2019. It also lays out evidence that both parties were anxious to keep it hidden.

Throughout the scandal, DeWine and his staff have staunchly maintained that the governor supported the FirstEnergy bailout not out of any ulterior motive, but because he thought it was good public policy. To support that, Tierney last week pointed to the fact that Cordray, DeWine’s Democratic challenger, also supported keeping FirstEnergy’s nuclear plants open.

But there’s some important context. FirstEnergy gave dark money to support DeWine and oppose Cordray. In addition, DeWine’s chief of staff, legislative-affairs director and his choice to regulate the industry all had lucrative financial connections to the company either contemporaneously or in the recent past.

“It’s just laughable,” Niven said. “They find themselves in the literal center of the biggest corporate-political swindle in the state’s history and their answer is, ‘Well anybody would have done this.'”



WHY DO MY GROCERIES COST SO MUCH?

April 26, 2024
Sulma Arias | Ohio Capital Journal

Giant corporations want to keep their taxes low and the prices we pay high. We can’t let them win.

In 2004, I was a single mom raising three daughters on my own. I worked three jobs, including an overnight shift as a translator at our local hospital, to make ends meet. Every time I stood in line at the supermarket, I worried about what I would have to put back on the shelf to stay within our weekly $100 food budget.

My daughters are all grown now. But whenever I’m buying groceries, I still get that horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach as I remember not knowing if we would have enough to eat, and how much — or how little — I could provide for my family with $100.

Prices for all of us have gone way up since COVID, and $100 now buys about $65 worth of groceries compared to five years ago. This puts a huge bite on working families, because we spend most of our income every month — as much as 90 percent — on food and other necessities. So when prices rise, we hurt the most.

Big corporations tell us that policies and supply chains are to blame for rising costs, but there’s a big part of the story they don’t want you to know: These giant corporations are themselves largely responsible for higher prices.

According to a new report by the Federal Trade Commission, the largest grocery retailers — which include Walmart, Kroger, and Amazon, which owns Whole Foods — used the pandemic as an excuse to raise prices across the board. The same is true for big agribusinesses like Tyson Foods and DuPont, which sell the lion’s share of meat products and seeds.

These giant companies wrote themselves a blank check during COVID, which they now expect us to pay for.

What all of these corporations have in common is they always want to get bigger. Why? Because when consumers have fewer choices, corporations can force us to pay higher prices. This is especially true with food, which none of us can live without. And according to the FTC, a big reason for these higher prices is corporate greed.

Time and again, big companies tell us that if they could only get bigger, they would pass savings on to consumers. This is almost never true. Instead, they give money back to their investors and reward executives — like Walmart’s Doug McMillon, who takes home over $25 million a year, and Kroger’s Rodney McMullen, who makes more than $19 million. That’s 671 times more than the amount an average Kroger’s worker makes.

Corporate consolidation can have deadly consequences. In health care, which my organization tracks closely, we see that the domination of private insurance by a handful of companies — Aetna, United Healthcare, and Cigna — leads to bigger bills, worse health outcomes, and lost lives.

The profits of retailers and agribusinesses have now risen to record levels, as much as five times the rate of inflation. How do companies like Tyson Foods, Kroger, and Walmart boost profits? The way they always do: by raising prices, while 65 percent of Americans live paycheck to paycheck.

No American should ever have to work three or more jobs just to survive: not in 2004, 2024, or 2044. We want a world in which every one of us has what we need not only to live, but also to dream. Identifying who is behind the rising cost of everyday essentials is a necessary first step.

Sulma Arias is executive director of People’s Action, the nation’s largest network of grassroots power-building groups, with more than a million members in 30 states.



MEET THE 'BARONS' WHO 'CORRUPT' YOUR DINNER TABLE

Sunday, April, 28, 2024
Opinion by Alan Guebert

The first economist, Scotland’s Adam Smith, had it right almost 250 years ago when, as writer Eric Schlosser notes in the foreword of an important new book by Iowan Austin Frerick, that “…merchants and manufacturers were ‘an order of men, whose interest is never exactly the same with that of the public.’”

Few groups know this better than American farmers and ranchers who have seen the most vital sectors of their food-producing business–like meatpacking, grain merchandising, and seed technology–overtaken by today’s ever-growing, ever-grabbing “merchants and manufacturers.”

Frerick, like Smith, gets it right from the start in the callout title of his new book, Barons: Money, Power, and the Corruption of America’s Food Industry.

(Full disclosure: Frerick is a valued colleague and friend. Barons includes a handful of references to previous Farm and Food Files.)

In it, Frerick digs deeply into the rise of seven of these powerful, largely unknown baronial food families to tell how each came to dominate their respective sectors and how they now wield their accrued market power to make everything–from their neighbors to the environment to you–pay for it.

He begins with the compelling story of Jeff and Deb Hansen, two of the most unlikely hog farmers you’ve never heard of. Both were Iowa farm kids who, after marriage, began a hog enterprise with three sows. Their drive, skill, and innovations soon led them to expand. Then expand again. Then really expand.

Now their company, Iowa Select Farms, Frerick writes, “employs more than 7,400 people… and brings about five million hogs to market annually.”

Iowa Select became a cornerstone for the CAFO, or concentrated animal feeding operations, takeover of Iowa’s–then the nation’s–hog sector. Since 1992, Iowa’s CAFO-based hog population statewide has increased by “more than 50 percent while the number of hog farms has declined by over 80 percent.”

That rise delivered the Hansens a private jet (whose tail is reportedly emblazoned with the humble brag, “When Pigs Fly”), multiple homes, and kingmaker status in Iowa’s agbiz-dominated state government.

Their home state, however, hasn’t fared as well. Pigs, for example, now outnumber Iowans seven to one and produce the “manure equivalent to the waste of nearly eighty-four million people,” or “more than the population of California, Texas, and Illinois combined.”

Some “farmers,” huh?

Wait until you read about dairy barons, Sue and Mike McCloskey, whose cows produce 4 million school cartons of milk each day and 430,000 gallons–or a staggering 16 times more–manure.

Or the “faceless” Reimann family of Germany whose Luxembourg-based JAB Holdings is now the “world’s second largest purveyor of coffee” through brands like Peet’s, Caribou, Krispy Kreme, Panera Bread, and others too numerous to name. What is known, however, is that JAB entered the coffee-slinging business just 12 years ago and is now a global, if unknown, baron.

Other barons include the Cargill-McMillian family, the world’s most dominant grain merchandising company; “The Berry Barons,” J. Miles and Garland Reiter, who own Driscoll’s through which they control “about one-third of the US berry market” while not “actually growing any berries” at all; the Brazilian “Slaughter Barons,” Joesley and Wesley Batista of JBS infamy; and the Walton family whose domination of American grocery retailing continues to grow.

Frerick’s skill as both a serious academic and gifted storyteller keeps the pages turning as his colorful cast of characters build empires with everyday dinner items like pork chops, milk, coffee, and strawberries while few Americans even know who they are.

And even fewer know the ruinous impacts their rise in market power has had on rural America’s environment, economy, and people.

Frerick, a Fellow at Yale University, knows and his Barons warns us that these modern “merchants and manufacturers,” just like their 18th century counterparts, are nothing more than naked mercantilists.



LETTER: PREVENTING ABUSE, OR SEXUALIZING CHILDREN?

April 27, 2024
Linda Harvey

WARNING: This report contains explicit content.

Recently, parents in several northern Ohio school districts became outraged when they discovered how schools were fulfilling a new Ohio instructional mandate. The new regulation, “Erin’s Law” went into effect in 2023, named after a victim of sexual abuse, and it requires child sexual abuse prevention education for children in K through 6th grade classes.

One curriculum recommended by Ohio officials to satisfy this requirement is Second Step, which many will recognize as a prominent provider of SEL programs (social emotional learning).

What these Ohio parents-- and they aren’t alone-- discovered is that Second Step’s bias is clear in promoting “LGBTQ” material to even young children, and then if you look at the underlying child development approach, their “expertise” is way off base and may even lead children into being groomed for sexual abuse.

Everyone wants to protect children from sexual abuse but not if the lessons are riddled with opportunities for children to be traumatized or to adopt an age inappropriate/harmful sexual perspective.

Second Step is owned by the Committee for Children, a Seattle-based company whose CEO, Andrea Lovanhill, is an open lesbian “married” to a woman. That one-sided, child-endangering perspective is woven throughout Second Step material.

When it comes to their abuse prevention lessons, we should pay particular attention to how this organization views normal child sexual development.

A CFC child sexual development chart compares “typical” behavior vs. areas of concern. CFC considers typical sexual behavior of children ages 2-3 years old to include the following: “Explore and touch their own genitals and show them to others” and “Rub their genitals on purpose (masturbate).” Children ages 4-6 year of age can be expected to “sometimes masturbate in front of others and can have orgasms.”

The Committee for Children “experts” also believe that children ages 7 to 12 may display these “typical” behaviors: “Masturbate, usually in private; play games involving sexual behavior such as ‘Truth or Dare’ or ‘Spin the Bottle’; try to see people without their clothes; look at pictures of people who are naked or with just a few clothes on; watch or listen to media with sexual content (TV, movies, music, websites, games).” They may also “Begin to be sexually attracted to their peers” and “Begin to have a sexual orientation,” i.e., something other than heterosexual as an identity or behavior.

And remember, these behaviors are what they consider normative -- not to be concerned about. On masturbation, a parent is only to be concerned if the child is doing this in public. This website is promoted to parents as a “support.”

Infamous sex researcher Alfred Kinsey would love this. Kinsey published the results of experiments on young children as if it was science, not horrific rape and abuse. Kinsey wanted to normalize child sexual behavior, even with adults, and included pedophiles among his academic collaborators. Yet his phony, criminally-obtained child research is still used to support countless policies on youth and sexuality.

No wonder parents don’t want Second Step teaching children about “child sexual abuse prevention.” Affirming the above activities among children is what many would consider grooming.

Those of us who were concerned from the outset that “Erin’s Law” would bring out the child sexualizers as school consultants were not wrong, unfortunately.

The pro-“LGBTQ” messaging and bias is throughout Second Step programming. For instance, CEO Lovanhill is featured in a Second Step video celebrating “pride” among youth. Second Step has a cozy relationship with GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network. CEO Lovanhill interviewed the executive director of GLSEN on her podcast: “In this conversation, .... they share their insights into how schools can create a safe, inclusive, and affirming environment for LGBTQIA+ youth, educators, and families.”

The Second Step website posts numerous links to GLSEN material, as if this group is a positive influence on youth. It’s exactly the opposite.

GLSEN is a child-corruption group that advocates “LGBTQ” behaviors and identities for children of all ages and supports the “rights” of children to express these identities when and how they want, even without parental knowledge.

Second Step not only normalizes homosexuality and gender deviance in its SEL program but also in the child sexual abuse prevention curriculum through the topic of “sexual harassment” (by their flawed definition): “Along with reinforcing a sense of personal empowerment, addressing sexual and gender-based harassment (harassment based on gender, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression) is a crucial part of sexual abuse prevention.” [emphasis added]

The Second Step SEL material is opposed by many parents throughout the country as they discovered not only the extreme bias and advocacy of teen sexuality, but links are provided that lead adolescents to explicit, even dangerous misinformation. For instance, a quick review of the Second Step recommended website “Love Is Respect” will flabbergast many parents.

Marsha Metzger, founder of Parents on the Level, has uncovered much of this troubling information about Second Step. For details, go here to listen to Marsha’s excellent webinar.

While the intentions of Erin’s Law are no doubt positive, the reality often plays out quite differently. If Second Step SEL or its program for sexual abuse prevention is in your school, remove those lessons now.



THE FCC RESTORES NET NEUTRALITY - HERE'S WHAT IT MEANS FOR THE INTERNET

Friday, April 26, 2024
Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor | ZDNET

Seven years ago, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), under President Donald Trump's hand-picked Chair jit Pai, a former Verizon in-house lawyer, killed off net neutrality. In a decisive move, the now Democrat-controlled FCC has restored net neutrality rules along a 3-2 party-line vote.

Overseen by FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel, the FCC has reinstated rules ensuring equal treatment for all internet traffic, marking a significant policy reversal from the Trump administration's deregulatory stance. The restored rules aim to ensure that broadband internet remains devoid of any preferential treatment or restrictions by internet service providers (ISPs).

Net neutrality seeks to ensure all internet traffic is treated equally, without discrimination. The policy means that ISPs shouldn't be allowed to speed up, slow down, or block access to specific websites or online services. Net neutrality aims to ensure that the internet remains a level playing field for everyone.

Net neutrality has been a vital component of the internet's operation for decades. Indeed, the basic concept of all ISPs sharing bandwidth equally and equitably dates back to the Commercial Internet Exchange (CIX), which made way for today's internet.

Specifically, the return of net neutrality in the US means, according to the FCC, that ISPs "will again be prohibited from blocking, throttling, or engaging in paid prioritization of lawful content." This is the formation of a national policy standard to "ensure that broadband internet service is treated as an essential service."

According to the FCC, these changes also mean that the agency can now play an active role "when workers cannot telework, students cannot study, or businesses cannot market their products because their internet service is out."

Rosenworcel also said the FCC can now stop ISPs from selling Americans' personal data or sharing it with tech companies to train artificial intelligence (AI) models. This does not mean, however, that the FCC will be "policing online speech. On the contrary, freedom of speech will be enhanced by open internet protections, because they will prevent broadband providers from blocking or disfavoring any type of online speech."

In an oral dissent, FCC commissioner Brendan Carr called this policy shift nothing more than a "power grab." He wasn't the only one. Republican politicians, including House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Senator Ted Cruz, also labeled the plan an" illegal power grab." They argue that it subjects the broadband industry to burdensome regulations, which could include rate regulations and other restrictive measures.

Other critics of the return of net neutrality, such as the US Chamber of Commerce, agree. The Chamber lambasted the recent FCC decision, claiming it re-imposes an antiquated regulatory framework on a modern broadband landscape, potentially hampering future technological investments and innovation.

Conversely, public interest advocates like Free Press heralded the move as a pivotal victory for consumers, empowering the FCC to keep major ISPs like AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon accountable for any detrimental practices affecting internet users.

"This is a huge victory for the public interest," Free Press said in a statement. "The agency now has the ability to protect the free and open internet -- and to track service outages, protect internet users from ISPs' privacy invasions, promote broadband competition and deployment, and take action against hidden junk fees, data caps, and billing rip-offs."

Some tech organizations, such as the Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA), which includes tech giants such as Amazon, Apple, Alphabet, and Meta, have voiced support for the restored net neutrality rules. The CCIA's chief of staff and SVP Stephanie Joyce said the "CCIA applauds and thanks the FCC for restoring the light-touch but necessary Open Internet rules that will give broadband internet access subscribers the protections that Congress established for all users of telecommunications."

This issue is far from settled. The battle for net neutrality will now be played out in the courts and the ballot boxes.



HOW CITIZENS UNITED CLEARED THE WAY FOR THE BIGGEST POLITICAL BRIBERY SCANDAL IN OHIO HISTORY

Thursday, April 25, 2024
David DeWitt | Ohio Capital Journal Editor-in-Chief and Opinion Columnist

Our first knowledge of the bailout that became known as HB6 was in 2018 when a group of us met with Jamie Callender, Ohio House district 57, in his office in Lake County. Though we came to Jamie with other issues, he spent most of the meeting lobbying us for a bailout for First Energy, owner and operator of Perry Nuclear.

It was some time later when we attended with a group of citizens a conservative meeting in the building across from Auburn Career Center. Two professional lobbyists took turns preaching to us about what we should believe. Davis-Besse plant in Oak Harbor, near Sandusky and Perry Nuclear plant, east of Cleveland, were the topic. The two lobbyists played a game, one for bailout and the other against. They conned almost the whole crowd.

Several weeks later we attended a Tea Party meeting at the Metzenbaum Center in Chester, Geauga County. This time a different professional tried to convince us pass the bill that became HB6, which became the most notorious scandal in Ohio history. Again, almost the whole group was mesmerized and in the lobbyist’s corner.

Together we witnessed first hand how dark money works. We are amazed just how easy it was to sway a group of people.

OHIO POLITICIANS HAVE BEEN AWASH IN DARK MONEY SUPPORT — AND DOING THE BIDDING OF THE BIG MONEY INTERESTS THAT FINANCE THEM

Next to gerrymandering, the biggest institutional driver of dangerous and destructive political misrepresentation in Ohio and across America is the U.S. Supreme Court’s disastrous 2010 Citizens United ruling allowing unbridled, dark money, pay-to-play corruption, which has now led to the biggest political bribery scandal in state history.

The central feature of that criminal racketeering scheme was the use of 501(c)(4) dark money groups by FirstEnergy and now-imprisoned former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder to launder campaign donations and prop up the candidacies of politicians who would support an unnecessary $1.3 billion bailout for the utilities industry at the expense of consumers.

CORPORATE DARK MONEY LARGESS

Householder’s dark money group, Generation Now, has pleaded guilty to participating in the conspiracy, and was used by FirstEnergy to funnel more than $60 million worth of bribes to Householder’s political machine to make him Ohio House Speaker and pass the bailout. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine signed the bailout the same day it was passed.

$15 million of the Generation Now came via another dark money group, Partners for Progress. FirstEnergy gave $25 million to Partners for Progress between 2017 and 2019. A FirstEnergy lobbyist named Dan McCarthy was listed as the principal of Partners for Progress in 2017, later leaving to become DeWine’s legislative affairs director where he lobbied to pass the House Bill 6 bailout. Certain FirstEnergy executives were also involved in choosing the three directors of Partners for Progress, two of whom were FirstEnergy lobbyists.

FirstEnergy also gave $1 million in 2017 to a dark money group called Freedom Frontier supporting Jon Husted as he made a Republican Party primary bid for the nomination to run for governor. The group then supported DeWine after Husted dropped out of the primary race to become his running mate.

In 2018, FirstEnergy donated $2.5 million to a Republican Governors Association-affiliated dark money group called State Solutions backing DeWine for governor. In 2019, they gave $300,000 to another dark money group called Securing Ohio’s Future, for a grand total of nearly $4 million in dark money to support DeWine/Husted.

Leaving no pocket unfilled, FirstEnergy also made a $300,000 contribution in 2019 to a dark money group called Liberty Ohio, which a FirstEnergy lobbyist tied to now-Ohio Senate President Matt Huffman, calling it “the Huffman C4.”

As far as traditional campaign spending, now-indicted former FirstEnergy executive Chuck Jones hosted a fundraiser for DeWine at his home. The company also gave nearly $1 million in traditional campaign money to legislators, other officeholders, candidates and political parties. This included FirstEnergy’s largely employee-funded political action committee, which gave $25,202 to the 2018 DeWine campaign and $10,000 to his inaugural committee. Alongside Jones providing $12,700 in food and beverages for the DeWine fundraiser, the total in traditional funding comes to $47,902. After the scandal broke in 2020, DeWine pledged to donate $35,000 of that, noting at the time that FirstEnergy executives had not been charged.

INFLUENCE PEDDLING

Shortly before winning the 2018 race for governor, DeWine met with FirstEnergy executives at an RGA fundraiser in downtown Columbus on Oct. 10, 2018, the Dayton Daily News first reported. FirstEnergy Solutions then donated $500,000 to the Republican Governor’s Association, according to tax records.

Shortly after winning the 2018 race for governor, on Dec. 18, 2018, DeWine, Husted, Jones and now-indicted FirstEnergy executive Michael Dowling met at the Columbus Athletic Club. That same night, Jones and Dowling went from that dinner to the German Village condo of FirstEnergy lobbyist Sam Randazzo, where they seem to have negotiated a $4.3 million payment that FirstEnergy has admitted in a deferred prosecution agreement was a bribe.

When Randazzo was indicted by the U.S. Department of Justice in December 2023 on 11 felony counts of bribery and embezzlement, the charges included allegations that Randazzo had a corrupt relationship with the FirstEnergy executives stretching back to 2010, allegedly serving as general counsel to the Industrial Energy Users of Ohio while secretly being paid as a consultant for FirstEnergy: Randazzo settled disputes over electricity rates on terms acceptable to the energy companies, then channeled the settlement money through shell companies where he skimmed off a portion, the indictment said.

Between 2016 and 2019, FirstEnergy paid $13 million into Randazzo’s shell companies, a state-level indictment of Randazzo said. Of that, Randazzo passed $7.75 million to the industrial users and pocketed the rest, it said. DeWine’s chief of staff, Laurel Dawson, was married to a man who had been a paid lobbyist for FirstEnergy — and who had received a $10,000 loan from Randazzo in 2016, the indictment said.

In January 2019, as Randazzo was being vetted to chair the PUCO, he told Dawson, DeWine’s then-chief of staff, about the $4.3 million payment, but he did not tell her about the other millions he had received from FirstEnergy, the indictment said. Randazzo didn’t report any of the payments to the Ohio Ethics Commission, it added.

A former aide gave DeWine a 198-page dossier reporting shady financial connections between Randazzo and FirstEnergy on Jan. 28, 2019. But the governor’s office says that Dawson never told the governor about the $4.3 million payment before DeWine nominated Randazzo to chair the PUCO on Feb. 4, 2019.

According to the state indictment, Randazzo spent the rest of the year and part of the next helping to draft and openly lobby for the corrupt bailout. The bailout was passed and signed in July 2019.

Householder and four others were arrested in July 2020. But it wasn’t until the following November — when the FBI searched Randazzo’s condo — that Dawson says she told the governor about the $4.3 million payout.

DeWine has staunchly defended Dawson, just as he defended McCarthy, the former aide and FirstEnergy lobbyist with the dark money bribery pass-through group. McCarthy resigned his position in September 2021, but DeWine has kept Dawson on staff as an advisor earning more than $180,000 per year. In September 2023, DeWine appointed McCarthy to the state racing commission.

WHAT’S HAPPENED SINCE?

After the scandal broke, the nuclear part of Ohio House Bill 6 was eventually repealed, but the law’s gutting of the state’s renewable energy portfolio still stands, as does the bailout of two 1950s-era coal plants, one of which is in Indiana.

Householder and former state GOP Chairman Matt Borges are serving 20 years and five years respectively in federal prison for their roles. Two other lobbyists cooperated and are awaiting sentencing, while a third died by suicide wearing a “DeWine for governor” t-shirt in June 2021. Randazzo died by suicide on April 9, 2024.

FirstEnergy shareholders have filed a lawsuit, an ongoing case in which DeWine has been subpoenaed and Husted has been called on to give a sworn deposition.

Asked this week about the Oct. 10, 2018 RGA fundraiser meeting with FirstEnergy executives, DeWine claimed, “I don’t remember that. I’m not disputing it. I just don’t remember. I don’t remember the meeting.”

As for the Dec. 18, 2018 dinner with FirstEnergy executives, DeWine has said he doesn’t recall Randazzo’s name coming up.

Asked this week about the $4 million that FirstEnergy spent in dark money supporting his bid for governor, DeWine claimed he didn’t know about it.

After the death of Randazzo, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost has said the state’s prosecution will proceed, and Jones and Dowling, who have pleaded not guilty, will still have to face their day in court.

U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio Ken Parker has said his team will also continue to pursue the widespread corruption case.

CITIZENS UNITED

Deploying one of the most absurd, naive, and destructively dumb statements I’ve ever read in a U.S. Supreme Court ruling from my lifetime, then-Justice Anthony Kennedy in 2010 authored the landmark campaign finance decision in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission:

“(W)e now conclude that independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption. … The fact that speakers (i.e., donors) may have influence over or access to elected officials does not mean that these officials are corrupt. … The appearance of influence or access, furthermore, will not cause the electorate to lose faith in our democracy,” Kennedy claimed.

What combination of delusional hallucinogenics was Kennedy on what he made that obnoxious declaration?

As then-Justice John Paul Stevens observed in his dissent, the majority’s Citizens United ruling is “a rejection of the common sense of the American people.”

This entire dark money political bribery and money laundering scheme in Ohio was made possible exactly because a narrow majority of Republican justices on the U.S. Supreme Court declared that for the purposes of the constitution, corporations are people and money is speech.

They followed the Citizens United ruling with several others that removed any and all accountability for dark money political spending, including upholding the SpeechNow.org v. FEC appellate ruling months after Citizens United, and their McCutcheon v. FEC ruling in 2014 by another 5-4 vote.

Combined, these decisions have cleared the way for wealthy individual donors, corporations, and other moneyed special interests to spend unlimited dark money on elections. And oh boy, have they ever.

Outside groups have poured billions of dollars into influencing American elections since the Citizens United ruling.

Take just our races in Ohio for one of our seats in the U.S. Senate, and just outside spending for or against candidates: According to OpenSecrets.org, in 2004 the amount was just over $45,000. In 2010, it was nearly $3.5 million. In 2016, it was more than $54 million. In 2022, it was just shy of $100 million dollars.

RESTORING REPRESENTATION

This is all so far beyond ridiculous there’s nary a word for it. Gerrymandered rigging of district maps to guarantee supermajority party power goes hand-in-hand with a system of campaign finance that allows for this kind of pervasive pay-to-play corruption infecting government.

If voters are ever to truly save Ohio and the American Republic by restoring true representation of the people and the people’s interests, poisonous gerrymandering and corrupt political spending have to be addressed as first priorities.

This should have been done here in Ohio nearly four years ago when the FirstEnergy scandal first broke. But supermajority Republican lawmakers, with DeWine by their side, instead spent 2021 and 2022 imposing more unconstitutionally gerrymandered maps. And while they’ve found time to indulge every culture war distraction on the extremist right-wing menu, they’ve done absolutely nothing to address widespread public corruption.

This relentless, belligerent misrepresentation of the people of Ohio and our best interests has only led to miserable public outcomes, and for myself, as a seventh generation Ohioan whose family moved here in 1805, it all embarrasses us deeply in the eyes of the nation.



TEACHER LAWSUITS OVER FORCED GRADE INFLATION WON’T FIX UNFAIR GRADING – HERE’S WHAT COULD

Thursday, April 25, 2024
Laura Link | The Conversation

After refusing to give some students grades they hadn’t earned, high school chemistry teacher Toni Ognibene sued the Clovis Unified School District in California for allegedly retaliating against her. The lawsuit was filed in December 2023.

In 2020, Michael Ramsaroop, a teacher at the Academy of Hospitality and Tourism High School in Brooklyn, New York, sued his principal, his union and the city’s Department of Education after he was fired following a series of disputes that began when he refused to change his students’ grades.

In 2018, fifth grade teacher Sheri Mimbs sued Henry County Schools in Georgia. She claimed she was fired in 2017 for objecting to the assistant principal’s directive to change a number of zeroes she reported for students’ missing assignments. The district had a policy, she asserts, indicating that a failing grade of 60% is the lowest possible score a student can receive on any particular assignment or exam.

Ognibene, Ramsaroop and Mimbs are among a growing group of teachers rebelling against orders to change grades – and filing federal lawsuits to allege they’ve been disciplined for their refusals or protests.

They object to directives to ease grading standards, pass failing students and implement minimum grade policies – for example, policies requiring all students to receive a grade no less than a “D” or 60%. The educators assert that these are dishonest and unfair practices that misrepresent students’ true academic performance.

As a scholar of education who studies grading practices, I view these lawsuits as proof that some districts are undermining teacher autonomy and disregarding the importance of accurate grades. I’m also aware that in many cases, administrators are trying to correct unfair grading itself.

I believe the system needs serious reforms, and I have some ideas.

LAWSUITS OVER ‘GRADE INFLATION’

Each of these lawsuits is alike despite differences in geography, subject matter and grade level.

Ognibene said she received a formal “Memorandum of Concern” after resisting pressure to raise students’ grades on multiple occasions. “I didn’t want to do it, but along with being against it for ethical and moral reasons, my credential was at risk,” Ognibene told the Sacramento Bee. Her lawsuit is pending.

Ramsaroop alleges that his refusal to inflate grades began a series of disputes that led to his 2017 termination. The principal “created a hostile work environment based upon his age and seniority at the Academy … in retaliation for his opposition to falsifying student grades,” the lawsuit claims. Ramsaroop’s lawsuit was dismissed in 2022.

Likewise, in 2018, Mimbs alleged that she was fired for protesting an administrator directive to not give grades below 60%. The case, dismissed on technical grounds, was revived by the Georgia Supreme Court in 2022. It is still pending. Mimbs, meanwhile, says she hasn’t been able to find a teaching job since her firing.

If teachers give students grades they haven’t earned, “how do we know when kids are failing or when they’re doing well?” Mimbs asked WSB-TV in Atlanta.

It’s an important question. Grades remain the primary basis for making important decisions about students. They determine a student’s promotion, honor roll status and enrollment in advanced or remedial classes. They factor into special education services and college admissions. Parents turn to grades to reward their child or determine if support, such as tutoring, is needed.

Everyone involved – the school, the teacher, the specific student, their classmates and colleges – suffers harm when grades are inaccurate, inflated and unjustified.

RESEARCH SHOWS BIAS, INEQUITY IN GRADING IS REAL

Still, there are serious concerns with how grading works. As I wrote for The Conversation in March 2023, there is also a wave of litigation across the U.S. in which students and parents are suing schools over grading schemes they claim are unjust and inappropriate.

While teacher autonomy is a bedrock tradition in education, my research shows it also results in inconsistency, inequity and even unreliability. What one teacher considers a quality assignment or paper, for example, can differ greatly from another. Teachers often include aspects of students’ behavior, such as effort and participation, in the grades they assign.

I contend that mixing students’ behavior with their academic performance distorts the meaning of grades and diminishes their academic accuracy. Students of color may get lower grades when teachers’ implicit biases influence how they consider behavioral factors when assigning grades, studies show.

Minimum grade requirements, then, are a way some schools address these issues. But multiple recent investigations show that report-card grades often don’t accurately reflect how students perform on tests at the end of the year.

THREE WAYS TO FIX THE PROBLEM

School leaders shouldn’t wait until a conflict arises to ensure grade integrity. Here are three practical steps administrators can take to head off problems in advance.

1. First, schools could conduct gradebook audits throughout each marking period to detect common issues like grade deflation, in which an overabundance of lower-than-expected grades or lack of grades are reported. A proactive intervention could avert headaches later.

2. Second, schools can create grade reports using a three- to five-point scale. This would provide a more accurate reflection of academic proficiency than a conventional 100-point scale. In a three- to five-point scale, a zero or low number wouldn’t excessively penalize a student for one missed assignment or poor performance early in a marking period. Students would still be able to recover from low scores, and this provides an incentive to try.

3. Finally, teachers could use grading rubrics that are explained to students at the start of the semester or when an assignment is given. As I have written, by establishing clear and detailed criteria for grading, teachers can be more transparent and lessen the potential for their own biases to affect how they grade.

Conflict over grades is a fixable problem. The teachers who are suing feel it’s a professional affront to be forced to alter grades, and families suing believe the grading systems are unfair. Both have important points and perspectives. If these three proactive solutions are implemented, many of the conflicts and legal challenges over grades can be averted.

Laura Link is Associate Professor of Teaching and Leadership, University of North Dakota



BIDEN WEAPONIZES THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT FOR HIS OWN REELECTION CAMPAIGN

Tuesday, April 23, 2024
by Jeff Reynolds| The Ohio Star

President Joe Biden has taken every part of the federal government and transformed it into his personal reelection machine, creating a hyper-partisan election apparatus out of supposedly neutral federal agencies. And American taxpayers pay for all of it.

Just since the beginning of April, several explosive revelations have surfaced that show the extent to which Joe Biden has weaponized the federal government in election matters. This should come as no surprise, as the administration continues to unfairly weaponize the federal courts against January 6 defendants, and state and federal courts maliciously prosecute Donald Trump, his rival in the presidential election.

The plan is as brazen as it is comprehensive, proving the Biden administration doesn’t want a fair election in 2024.

USING CHARITIES TO ENCOURAGE ILLEGAL ALIEN VOTING

A non-governmental agency (NGO) that receives taxpayer money—and also lobbies the federal government—encourages illegal immigrants to vote for Biden once they get established in the United States. The Daily Signal, citing MuckRaker.com, reported fliers found all over a staging center for migrants in northeastern Mexico, on the US border:

An advocacy group based in Northeastern Mexico that lobbies U.S. lawmakers has distributed and posted flyers encouraging illegal immigrants to vote for President Joe Biden in the 2024 election, according to The Heritage Foundation’s Oversight Project.
Translated from Spanish, the Oversight Project notes, the flyers posted by the organization Resource Center Matamoros say: “Reminder to vote for President Biden when you are in the United States. We need another four years of his term to stay open.”

The Resource Center Matamoros (RCM) works with the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), which the Oversight Project says “helps illegal aliens enter the United States.” Homeland Security Sec. Alejandro Mayorkas (D) formerly served on the HIAS board of directors. HIAS has received “numerous” grants from George Soros’ Open Society Foundations.

Many faith-based non-profits that take U.S. taxpayer money, including HIAS, help migrants cross the border illegally.

Independent war correspondent Michael Yon has spent significant time in the Darien Gap, a treacherous mountainous area on the border of Panama and Colombia. Yon documents the flow of illegal immigrants coming to America from across the world. In 2023, he recorded a HIAS employee as she instructed illegals how to make the long journey across Central America, through Mexico, and over the US border. Another video from Feb. 2024 shows the large caravans of migrants, sometimes aided in their journey with rides on brand new bus transports.

The U.S. House of Representatives delivered Articles of Impeachment against Sec. Mayorkas to the Senate on Apr. 16. This will have no effect on the almost 10 million illegal immigrants that have already come to the United States. The vast majority of those illegals will likely not vote in 2024. But if the election is as close as it was in 2020—in which Biden “won” the Electoral College with 81,139 votes in four swing states—it would take only a tiny fraction of those ten million illegals to vote and swing the election. Even if they don’t cast a vote, their mere presence on the voter rolls in swing states presents an inordinate opportunity for election malfeasance.

HOW DO ILLEGALS END UP ON STATE VOTER ROLLS?

According to the Voter Reference Foundation (VRF), while states have put in place several security steps to verify identity for new or updated voter registration records, no requirement exists to prove citizenship in order to vote in a federal election:

The only protection citizens have is the requirement for a registrant to attest that they are a citizen, and if an alien votes in a federal election, it is a crime under US law, punishable by fines and up to a year in prison. Many would argue that there need to be more controls and harsher punishments in place to deter bad actors and ensure only citizens are registering to vote, and we at the Voter Reference Foundation tend to agree. While the risk of non-citizens participating our election system is relatively small, the impact it can have on voter confidence is enormous and extremely disruptive to the electoral process.

In some states, illegal aliens can obtain driver’s licenses or driver’s cards distinct from a license. VRF notes that this presents a security vulnerability:

There are currently 31 states who do not issue drivers licenses to non-citizens, so any registrant information in those states would in-fact be checking for citizenship. The remaining 19 plus the District of Columbia do have programs that can issue drivers licenses to non-citizens with appropriate identifying information. All drivers’ licenses are not equal though, and in the [motor vehicle] databases there are distinctions between citizen and non-citizen drivers licenses that would indicate to the voter registration system the citizenship status of that registrant.

MIDNIGHT FLIGHTS BRING ILLEGALS TO RED STATES

According to the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), DHS has refused to publicly identify the “dozens of U.S. international airports for which it has approved direct flights from abroad for certain inadmissible aliens.” As of February, almost 400,000 “migrants” had flown to interior American airports under a program launched by the Biden administration in Oct. 2022. CIS Senior National Security Fellow Todd Bensman reports the vast majority of those flights landed in Florida, a state won by Republicans by an average of 20 points in the 2022 election cycle in statewide races. A smaller but significant number of those flights went to Texas, New York, and California.

Bensman reports that states have begun to sue the federal government for hiding the data from the public:

Public knowledge of where these flights deliver migrants should matter to local, state, and national leaders in cities struggling with migrant influxes, who could use the information to financially plan for their care, or petition the federal government to stop the flights. The information may also hold implications for litigation by Texas, Florida, and other states that have sued to stop the parole programs on grounds that the administration’s illegal abuse of the narrow statutory parole authority has directly harmed them.

Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody accused the Biden administration of “disproportionately taxing the resources of certain states.”

UNDERMINING STATES’ AUTHORITY IN ELECTIONS

Biden’s 2021 Executive Order (EO) 14019 directs all government agencies to “expand access to voter registration,” among other efforts. The Governmental Accountability Institute (GAI), run by author Peter Schweizer, has sounded the alarm. GAI raised the likelihood that the various agencies will exploit this order to target blue precincts and demographics that will vote for Democrats:

American federal elections are, by Constitutional design, administered by the states. This ingenious design was to prevent a tyrannical federal government from interfering in its own elections. The intent of Biden’s executive order undercuts that. And supporters of the effort think as many as 3.5 million new voter registrations will come of it.
How?
By “weaponizing” federal agencies that operate within the states to integrate voter registration efforts through careful targeting to their most reliable constituents. That’s why HHS has added voter registration assistance to the website Healthcare.gov, for example. It’s why the Treasury department is now integrating voter registration into the tax preparation services it offers to low-income people. It’s why the Housing and Urban Development department, which administers public housing, is integrating voter registration in the units the department manages, or why the General Services Administration has spent millions on translating voter registration forms.

GAI also reports that the US Marshals Service now offers voter registration to prisoners in pre-trial federal custody. They even plan to install voting booths in NINE HUNDRED federal prisons and jails for use on Election Day. Federal agencies even include voter registration on student loan application forms.

States with Republican Attorneys General have sued to stop all this, as GAI notes, calling them “partisan electioneering for Democrats, funded by taxpayer money.”

Campaigns should make these types of efforts. Federal agencies should not. The potential for partisan abuse is obvious.

REGISTERING VOTERS FOR THE ENVIRONMENT

The Daily Caller reported the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has handed out “millions of taxpayer dollars to a coalition featuring two immigration-focused activist organizations, one which pushes voter registration for traditionally Democrat-leaning demographics.” Under its Environmental Justice grant making program in December 2023, EPA gave $50 million to two “immigrant justice” non-profit organizations in the New York City area. These radical organizations explicitly engage in voter registration and GOTV efforts in heavily democratic precincts. The report also cites several studies showing immigrants “identify more frequently with the Democratic Party.”

WORK-STUDY PAY FOR REGISTERING DEMOCRATIC VOTERS

In February, the Department of Education publicized a new rule taking advantage of EO 14019. The new rule allows colleges to use federal work-study funds to pay college students who work on voter registration campaigns:

This work can include supporting broad-based get-out-the-vote activities, voter registration, providing voter assistance at a polling place or through a voter hotline, or serving as a poll worker. We believe this reading is supported by the language of 34 CFR § 675.22(b)(5) and adheres to the meaning of the regulation when read as a whole, namely promoting student employment in the public interest while ensuring that such work is neither associated with any faction in election for public or party office, nor constitutes political activity.

Yet another policy by a federal agency targeted to expand registration and get-out-the-vote (GOTV) efforts in demographics that strongly skew blue.

BIDENBUCKS > ZUCKBUCKS?

The Federalist reports the Biden administration mandated federal agencies, under EO 14019, to work with “approved, nonpartisan third-party organizations.” In 2020, the Zuck Bucks grants, now illegal in 28 states, distributed over $400 million to state and county election offices. Ostensibly for election support in these “unprecedented times” of the pandemic, Zuck Bucks often targeted GOTV and voter registration efforts in heavily Democratic precincts.

Hold my beer, says the Biden administration. $400 million pales in comparison to the resources the federal government can throw at these mandates. The Biden administration has sent those resources through the Department of Agriculture (USDA)—not exactly noted for its voter integrity function. The USDA will work with state agencies to “provide local program operators with promotional materials, including voter registration and non-partisan, non-campaign election information, to disseminate among voting-age program participants and their families”—via the school breakfast and lunch programs in various states. “The left doesn’t have COVID to lean on this time around,” The Federalist reports, “so it’s using the full force of the federal government in its attempt to keep and consolidate its power.”

That is the theme of everything the Biden administration has done. Using the excuse of “expanding voter access” and “combating systemic racism,” it has weaponized federal agencies of all types to mount the largest Democrat GOTV in human history—all paid by your taxes.

From voter registration, to voter turnout, to encouraging illegal immigrants to vote, Americ’’s most radical president has hijacked every arm of the federal government to drag him across the finish line this November. And you’re paying for it.

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Jeff Reynolds is the Senior Investigative Researcher for Restoration of America. He is the author of the book, Behind the Curtain: Inside the Network of Progressive Billionaires and Their Effort to Undermine Democracy. You can find all his work at www.whoownsthedems.net.