An editorial in the Akron Beacon Journal criticized recent maneuvers made by Ohio's attorney general Mike DeWine who has "join[ed] the bashing" of Planned Parenthood following release of deceptively-edited videos produced by the anti-choice Center for Medical Progress.
A December 16 editorial by the Akron Beacon Journal discussed the attorney general's investigation into Planned Parenthood based on the "heavily edited and thus misleading" videos which alleged the organization was illegally selling fetal tissue. The videos that prompted the investigation have been thoroughly debunked despite being continuously touted by right-wing media. As the editorial notes, the attorney general's investigation "found no indication that fetal tissue is sold by the Planned Parenthood organizations in Ohio" which "mirrored results elsewhere." However, the attorney general has recently claimed Planned Parenthood was violating state law in its disposal of fetal tissue, which the editorial explained, "fits the pattern" of Republican lawmakers "seizing [the] opportunity" to take "a range of steps to curb abortion rights in the state." The editorial said "nothing indicates that Planned Parenthood has been out of compliance in the past, let alone some dark, rogue operation":
Mike DeWine launched his investigation last summer to determine whether Planned Parenthood in Ohio sold fetal tissue for profit. That was the accusation Planned Parenthood faced in the wake of videos put together by anti-abortion activists. The videos proved heavily edited and thus misleading, to say the least. The state attorney general pushed ahead, anyway, as did officials in other states, encouraged by Republican presidential candidates.
What did DeWine discover? On Friday, he told the director of the state Department of Health, that "a thorough investigation ... found no indication that fetal tissue is sold by the Planned Parenthood organizations in Ohio." That outcome mirrored results elsewhere.
The attorney general didn't stop there. He argued that his investigation turned up information showing that Planned Parenthood violated state law in disposing of fetal tissue. State regulations require disposal in a "humane manner." The attorney general described Planned Parenthood contracting with a waste firm, the "steam cooking" of tissue and sending it to "a landfill ... in Kentucky," suggesting the tissue received treatment in line with trash left at the curb.
No surprise that many lawmakers in the Republican majorities at the Statehouse voiced their outrage. They already have approved denying funding to Planned Parenthood, not to mention taken a range of steps to curb abortion rights in the state. They now have proposed legislation that would define "humane" as either burial or cremation. One bill would require the woman to select one of the two as part of receiving an abortion.
The attorney general plainly is sincere and passionate about his opposition to abortion, as are many Ohioans. At the same time, it is hard to overlook the political theater at work, before the cameras, springing his revelation.
If Planned Parenthood weren't portrayed as such a villain by Republicans in the legislature, this episode might not appear so calculated. As things are, it fits the pattern, the attorney general seizing his opportunity to join the bashing, just as he eagerly enters controversial lawsuits across the country to trumpet his views.
And yet, Planned Parenthood makes a valuable contribution in communities, providing access to health care for many who are disadvantaged, earning a reputation for trust and quality. Its family planning services help to curb abortions. Still, when a woman chooses to end a pregnancy, difficult as that decision is, Planned Parenthood is there to see that it is done safely, without shaming and demonizing.
In Sunday's Cleveland Plain Dealer, Statehouse Bureau Chief Reginald Fields penned a 1600+ word article describing Ohio Governor John Kasich's (R) new proposal to impose a modest tax on fracking and give a personal income tax reduction that would be tied to the amount of natural gas production. Fields cited seven conservative or Republican sources, framing the controversy around a largely manufactured conflict between Kasich and the anti-tax conservatives of his political base. Meanwhile, Fields entirely ignored any discussion about the public health and environmental costs of Kasich's plan. Fields also failed to acknowledge ethical concerns over linking Ohio citizens' financial well-being with the potentially dangerous industry practice of fracking.
Fields summarized the bill:
Ohio Gov. John Kasich will propose a new tax on a form of oil and gas drilling known as horizontal fracking and then use the fresh revenue to give a personal income tax cut to Ohioans, The Plain Dealer has learned.
The complicated plan also would make changes to various existing taxes petroleum companies pay for pumping out oil and natural gas from beneath Ohio. And it even contains a tax break for some smaller operators, according to documents obtained by The Plain Dealer and confirmed by the governor's office.
The revenue would go into a newly created fund requiring legislative approval, which would be used to support the tax cut. The income tax cut would apply when there is annual growth on revenue of at least one-third of 1 percent. If there isn't sufficient growth, Ohioans wouldn't get the tax cut, but the pool of money would carry over to the next year.
The governor's office is projecting the first income tax cuts could come in calendar year 2013, but they are more likely to start in 2014 -- the year Kasich is up for re-election.
So, the amount of the income tax cut would be tied the amount of oil and gas extracted and according to market prices for those products.
Fields claimed that Kasich's plan is "expected to get a heap of criticism from conservatives who see it as nothing more than a tax hike," but the sources he used to back this up don't bear out that narrative. He quoted a spokesman for Ohio House Speaker William G. Batchelder (R), who is reserving judgment until he can "see what the actual language of the bill is," and briefly noted that Senate President Tom Niehaus (R) is "said to have" concerns about the plan. Meanwhile, Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform, which was "consulted" about the proposal, is tentatively approving the tax plan and giving Kasich the "benefit of the doubt" regarding any potential concerns about increased taxation. This lukewarm reaction to Kasich's proposal hardly qualifies as "a heap of criticism."
Fields did note real criticism coming from the Oil and Gas Association, whose members would face a slight increase in the cost of drilling in Ohio. But this predictable position adds little to a serious policy discussion.
Fields gave little attention to voices who believe that a policy discussion on fracking should be a little broader than the question of 'a nominal tax vs. no tax at all.' The article gave a cursory nod to two House Democrats proposing an alternative plan to tax the industry at a higher 7%, but was entirely devoid of any discussion about the external costs of fracking that will be borne by taxpayers. The practice of fracking may be responsible for toxic drinking water and increased earthquakes. If Ohio's taxpayers are footing the bill for public health hazards and infrastructure damage, among other costs, then a couple extra bucks off their income tax won't mean much.
Nor did Fields give any attention to the ethical dilemma behind the policy Kasich is proposing. By tying the natural gas industry's output to income taxes, he would provide the Ohio electorate with a perverse choice: accept the risks that fracking poses to the environment, public health and worker safety -- or pay higher taxes.
Ohio is just beginning to address the impending explosion of fracking in the state. Hopefully, the Cleveland Plain Dealer will provide a more balanced discussion of the facts in the months ahead.