2011 - %3, June

Greetings From Ohio

| Tue Jun. 7, 2011 3:25 PM EDT

This is going to be a little bit different than my last assignment, which looked like this:

Photo: Joey Shemuel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My new one looks like this:

That's my room for the next month. I'm in Gahanna, Ohio, which, the welcome sign at the edge of this Columbus suburb notes, was one of the Top 100 Places to Live according to Money magazine in 2007. Ohio's new Republican governor, John Kasich (currently a contender for the most unpopular governor in the country) is gearing up to make some big changes around here. This month state legislators will come to an agreement on Kaisch's great big budget cuts, mostly to local governments. He is also proposing to dismantle unions' bargaining abilities, the cause of much protesting. He also wants to divert profits from state alcohol sales to a "jobs creating" semi-venture-capital fund he heads.

For the next four weeks, I'll be covering these developments, while spending some quality time with people who work for the state, college students, university administrators who are about to see their budgets slashed, and local politicians (if they'll talk to me).

But first, meet the folks who have agreed to take me on as a boarder/annoying journalistic presence. Erin Rodriguez was Erin Goodrich when I knew her at my undergrad alma mater Ohio State. She turns 31 next week, and teaches at a public middle school in a rural town outside Columbus. Her husband Anthony is a public information specialist at the Ohio Consumers' Counsel (OCC), an agency that advocates for customers in complaints, regulatory hearings, and court cases involving utility companies. They recently bought a three-bedroom house. (Katie, the subject of the American Girl stenciling in my bedroom, belonged to the previous owners.)

Running the house is Jocelyn, a supercute (even if you're not really into babies) and delightfully unfussy 10-month-old. These are the house rules I was given when I arrived yesterday:

1. Don't hurt the baby.

2. The baby is the boss.

2a. "Don't worry if you swear around the baby, but don't just be screaming random expletives. And don't swear at the baby."

Rounding out the family are a big gray cat named Princess Vespa, and a black one that the four-year-old Erin adopted it from had christened Barack Obama. Barack Obama will not stop rubbing up against me even though I'm violently allergic to cats.

Last night, Erin and I drove around my new digs, which she describes as "pretty typical suburbia." Gahanna is a solidly middle-class suburb. Lots of green lawns and trees, lots of shopping centers. It's not like some of the more bourgeois suburbs around here, Erin explained, "as evidenced by the lack of a Whole Foods"—which I'd inquired about. (Though I'm originally from Ohio, this and a question about the availability of composting prompted a lot of mocking about how I now live in California.)

We pulled back into the driveway at the same time as Anthony. He'd had a long day; that evening there had been a public meeting about the local electric company's planned rate hike. Things are busy at the office, too. In addition to the usual business, he has to move his desk; the office is being consolidated to one floor from two. Kasich's original budget draft called for a 51 percent cut to the OCC. The state Senate has proposed softening it to fortysomething percent, but a ton of layoffs are still on the table. "We're in that mode," Anthony says of himself and his coworkers, "where we're like, What the hell are we going to do?"

With his job up in the air, Anthony's been doing as much freelance consulting as possible. When we all got home at 8:30, he got back on his laptop to get some work done. As much as he could, anyway. Erin and I failed to sufficiently preoccupy the baby, who kept pointing at and asking for her dad. He took a break, to pick her up, singing us a soothing little song while he paced the family room carpet with Jocelyn in his arms.

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Fact-Checking Haiti's Death Toll

| Wed Jun. 1, 2011 6:47 PM EDT

We've all heard the numbers quantifying the horror of Haiti's 2010 earthquake: more than 300,000 dead, a million left homeless. Now a report is calling those figures into question.

The unpublished survey, commissioned by the US Agency for International Development, puts the death toll between 46,000 and 85,000. It also says there are 375,000 people still living in tent camps, whereas the International Organization for Migration, which does a lot of work with the displaced in Haiti, says there's 680,000. The Haitian government is standing by the higher numbers. A State Department spokeswoman says the report still has some inconsistencies. USAID's Haiti mission director says the commission that did the report isn't really qualified to settle the dispute. When I was in Haiti the first time, I heard some local businessmen laughing about how there was no way the death toll and the homelessness rate could possibly be as high as their government was claiming.

Now, I loooove me some fact-checking, but I'm having trouble getting worked up about this dispute. I understand it's important for the sake of, like, history. Also, analysts say the lower numbers might affect the plan to pump billions of dollars into the country for aid and reconstruction. I think it's a game-changer when a report concludes that, say, the war in Iraq killed 100,000 Iraqis in the first 18 months, rather than a widely reported 19,000. But whether 400,000 Haitians are displaced instead of 800,000 doesn't really change the overall fuckedness of the situation for me in this case. Either way, huge pieces of the entire country still need to be rebuilt. Either way, lots and lots of promised help still hasn't arrived. And honestly those displacement camps are so impossibly awful that nine people still living in them a year and a half after the quake would be cause for concern. Whichever way the dispute settles, hopefully it won't further impede the abysmal progress in the country's reconstruction.