Saturday, January 07, 2006

 

Special prosecutor named in Noe money-laundering investigation

We'll have more on this in a day or two on this, but both the Dispatch and Blade report on the new special prosecutor. From the Blade:
A special prosecutor will review an investigation into whether Lucas County Commissioner Maggie Thurber and three other Republican public officials violated state ethics laws in the Tom Noe campaign money-laundering case.

Lynn Grimshaw, a former Scioto County prosecutor, was appointed by a Lucas County Common Pleas Court judge yesterday to investigate Ms. Thurber; former Toledo Mayor Donna Owens, an ex-director of the state Department of Commerce; Toledo Councilman Betty Shultz, and Sally Perz, a former state representative and gubernatorial appointee.

 

Delay out - What's next for Boehner & Price?

The story just broke about Tom's future or lack thereof.

The ever ambitious John Boehner is reported to by vying to take over Delay's slot, but the shakeup could also shake up Deb Pryce's shaky hold on the GOP chair. Boehner, who previously flirted with challenging Delay, was also once after Deb's job. We hear he will come out of the battle with one new position or another.

Friday, January 06, 2006

 

Ohioan named to labor board doesn't bode well

It's the weekend, so will use a little of our free time to bloviate on a story that has generally been overlooked by Ohio's newspapers (even though it's central figure is an Ohioan), an unfortunate situation since in affects about 2 or 3 million Ohioans who have a family member that belongs to a union.

This has to do with W's recess appointment of Peter Kirsanow to the National Labor Relations Board. Now in fairness, we have to say that the PD initially covered the fight that erupted when Bush announced his nomination of Kirsanow to the NLRB in a lengthy story in November.

The PD's interest is understandable since Kirsanow is a Clevelander and partner in the Benesch, Friedlander, Coplan and Aronoff law firm. He is also known as a "management" labor law person, meaning these days that one of his areas of expertise is help companies screw their employees "maintain a union-free environment" (from the B,F,C&A website: "In addition, our attorneys represent employers in proceedings before the National Labor Relations Board and regularly counsel employers on maintaining a union free workplace").

The reason that Bush had to make a recess appointment of Kirsanow is that Senate discussion of Kirsanow was starting to stir up a shit storm. No stranger to controversy, Kirsanow was a contentious appointment in 2002 to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission when chair Mary Frances Berry attempted to fight the appointment because it also required unseating a Clinton appointee, Victoria Wilson. In brief, his tenure did not suggest that he and MLK would have ever seen eye-to-eye except in discussions about what time it is.

What do more do we know about Kirsanow and labor issues? We know that:
More importantly, as Alison Grand of the PD somewhat reports, Kirsanow's appointment to the NLRB is a distressing development and a furtherance of the polarization within the Board.

But Grant's story about the NLRB is not fully accurate. What the story gums up is the fact that the official policy of the U.S. government - at least from the days of Roosevelt - is that it should, through agencies like the NLRB, facilitate employees right to organize unions, and to hold fair and free elections.

Put another way, the policy of the US is not to oppose unionization. Otherwise, agencies like the NLRB would have no reason to be created. By definition, the continued statutory existence of the NLRB - from a policy point of view - is an affirmation of the national policy of the right to organize.

Alison Grant is correct in stating that the members of the NLRB are supposed to be "impartial," but this impartiality isn't a reference to ideology. In the beginning, at least, it was simply a demand for integrity and no current or future conflicts of interest. It was understood, almost as common sense, that there was nothing, per se, wrong with unionism.

Early NLRB members were drawn from government or from neutral backgrounds. In subsequent years, other members were also drawn from the "mainstream" of labor-management relations, where there was little ideological opposition of unions. In otherwords, it was perfectly consistent to be pro-management but not anti-union. A subtlety, but an extremely important one, nonethless, that Grant totally misses.

That's surprising because one of Grant's main sources for her story is Joan Flynn, a law professor at CSU's school of law. Flynn recently wrote an excellent historical piece on the NLRB which was published through the OSU school of law.

Attacks on the integrity of the NLRB Board began during the Eisenhower era which opened the door to both openly partisan appointments and appointments of direct representatives of both management and labor.

Still, no appointee flirted with anything close to something that could be interpreted as "anti-union."

As Flynn points out, that changed with the Reagan administration:
Whereas his predecessors had appointed management lawyers from well-known law firms - solid members of the labor-management “club” - Reagan went wholly outside the mainstream labor relations community in his early appointments. His first choice for Board chair, John Van de Water, was not a management lawyer at all—but rather a management consultant who specialized in defeating union campaigns.
In other words, both ideological and conflict-of-interest barriers to being on the NLRB were tossed out under Reagan, despite the official policy of the US.

The only question left was how stridently anti-union the appointee could be. W has answered that question by appointing Kirsanow, one of the few people that could make John Van de Water look like John L. Lewis.

Nearly as distressing as Kirsanow's recess appointment is the fact that at the time the White House made it's announcement, there were actually two vacancies. As the AFL-CIO notes, W could have also made a recess appointment of Dennis Walsh, a former NLRB member who was nominated in April. Walsh is generally considered to be union-friendly and is a Democrat, and the act of appointing Kirsanow and not Walsh leaves the NLRB severely tilting in the anti-union direction.

 

Suddes is right

The PD columnist and former Statehouse reporter offers up some wisdom:
And economically speaking, what's on Ohio's supper tables matters a whole lot more to voters than what's on PBS - or Fox.

 

Deb's world: We're #2 . . . in bankruptcies!

More of evidence that "our economic policies have done the trick"? Sadly, no, Pollyanna.

From Friday's Thursday's Blade:
Marred by a weakened economy, Ohio finished as the runner-up in the national race for most bankruptcy filings last year. It was surpassed only by California, a state with three times as many people.

The Buckeye State logged about 135,140 new cases last year, compared with 164,860 for California, according to Lunquist Consulting Inc., a California firm that tracks bankruptcies.
The nation had 2.04 million cases. Michigan finished seventh highest, with 89,720 cases.

Experts have said that Ohio's struggling economy contributed to the relatively high number of filings. New cases in 21 counties in northwest Ohio that file at the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Toledo totaled 16,883 last year, far eclipsing the prior year's record of 10,623.

. . .

Ohio, according to Lundquist, was trailed by Texas, 119,650 cases; New York, 108,400; and Florida, 106,500. Last was Alaska, at 2,280 cases. Nationally, filings were up about 500,000 from the prior year.
Ten months ago we had a post on the fact that bankruptcies were climbing faster in Ohio than in any other state, so this latest report shouldn't come as any shocker to normal people, unlike Congresswoman Pryce, who are trying their best to weather the volatility of Ohio's economy (we plan on posting more about this volatility in a few days).

And, this is probably not news to the National City Bank, a Cleveland-based bank that confirmed last month that it is taking a substantial hit to its bottom line from bankruptcies.
National City Corp. said Tuesday that the rush of personal bankruptcies will cost it at least $20 million to $30 million in the fourth quarter. That reflects losses just from auto, boat and recreational vehicle loans, and from home equity lines of credit. In addition, Cleveland-based National City has seen an increase in losses stemming from credit card balances that customers are saying they can't repay, Treasurer Thomas Richlovsky said.

. . .


National City, the nation's 10th-largest bank by deposits, has customers across the country, including a sizable chunk in Ohio. Bankruptcies in northern Ohio in October increased by more than 550 percent compared with October 2004. The number filed in October, 26,245, was more than half the number filed in all of 2004.

The U.S. Bankruptcy Court's northern region covers Cleveland, Akron, Canton, Youngstown and Toledo. The number of filings in the Cleveland office increased by 630 percent compared with the number last October.
We must say that we are growing concerned about the ODP's failure, so far, to develop a sustained narrative about how the Republicans in both the Statehouse and congress have ignored the economic difficulties of average Ohioans and instead have focused on giving businesses the deregulation and tax reforms that their lobbyists have written.

Calling new chairman Redfern - don't blow your honeymoon!

Thursday, January 05, 2006

 

Dispatch details Ney allegations; Volz next to turn?

Stop the presses! The Happy Ney Year has delivered a journalistic surprise.

In a rare move away from their usual habit of rehashing others’ reporting and rewriting press releases, the Dispatch’s DC crew of Torry and Riskind actually bring some clarity to some of the Ney backstories. They also suggest that there will soon be a new witness against Golden Boy Bob:
The documents say:
• Ney performed favors for Abramoff clients based in such locales as California, Texas, Florida and Israel.
• The Republican from Heath, in Licking County, helped Abramoff get more lobbying clients and even met with one during a taxpayer-funded trip to Russia.
• Ney did Abramoff’s bidding by attempting to influence a variety of decisions and actions by unspecified government agencies and officials.
. . .

The most startling revelation from Abramoff’s plea agreement was his accusation that Ney met with some of the lobbyist’s clients during a 2003 trip to Europe. Records show that Ney led a congressional delegation to Russia, the Czech Republic and Great Britain between July 31 and Aug. 6, 2003, in his role as chairman of the House Administration Committee.

In a June 16, 2003, letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell notifying the Bush administration of the trip, Ney described the purpose as to "discuss with leaders of these nations voter technology, election procedures, the arts & humanities and related topics."

But Abramoff has told prosecutors that Ney met with some of the lobbyist’s clients and "among other things" agreed to help a relative of one of those clients obtain a visa for travel to the United States.
Now, we don’t necessarily agree that this was the most startling revelation, but the effect of this reporting, if nothing else, is to demolish the remaining wobbly legs of Ney’s “I obviously did not know, and had no way of knowing, the self-serving and fraudulent nature of Abramoff’s activities” excuse. It’s also a pretty strong signal to Ney loyalists that if this “ignorance” excuse continues to be the best Bob and his attorneys can muster, then it’s time to stick the fork in the congressman.

Torry and Riskind also lay out the case for why a former Ney staffer will become the fourth major witness, joining Kidan, Scanlon and Abramoff:
In addition, prosecutors likely will try to arrange a similar plea deal with Neil Volz, who served as Ney’s chief of staff before Abramoff arranged for him to take a private lobbying job. Brand said prosecutors "will try and get Volz to turn. My guess is they will be successful."
Ney must be to the point of wondering when the piling on is going to stop.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

 

Mumper trying to erode Ohio's mine safety

The latest news is grim about the Sago mine disaster. Unfortunately, not enough stories are reporting on the firm's history of safety and health violations.

But before Ohioan's start think mining accidents are something that happens elsewhere, we have been tipped off that within days conservative State Senator Larry Mumper will be trying to nearly eliminate Ohio's safety oversight for the state's mineral mines.

Just for clarification sake, it is important to note that mineral mines - as we understand it - are often quite different from coal mines, especially deep-shaft coal mines. Mineral mines are almost always open pit mines. Think enormous gravel pits and aggragate mining operations.

We'll have more to say about Mumper's SB 191, but in brief it exempts these mines from state's mine safety laws and replaces a random inspection program with a voluntary safety-training program. And, in true fox-guarding-the-chicken-house fashion, would have mineral mine companies employ their own safety expert.

Think it can't happen? Guess again. We understand hearings may start in a week or two.

 

Happy Ney Year! [Updated]

Hi kids. Hope everyone had a nice vacation. And how about those Buckeyes?

Ah, but we digress. . .

Back to business now, and it's truly starting out to be a Happy Ney Year. The shit hasn't quite hit the fan yet, but the turd bags are just microns from the twirlin' blades. It appears from today's allegations agreement that Bobby boy won't be the only one of Abramoff's pol buddies to ultimately face charges, but our guess is that he will be the first elected official to do the frog walk.

Interestingly, today's documents make valuable reference to the Affaire de Ney that has gotten the least attention: the Capitol wireless scam:
21. In 2001, defendant ABRAMOFF successfully solicited a wireless telephone company ("Wireless Company") to make at least $50,000 in payments to CAF. In exchange for making the payments to this entity, defendant ABRAMOFF stated that no lobbying payments need be made to Firm B, and that defendant ABRAMOFF would undertake a lobbying effort to assist Wireless Company in securing a license to install wireless telephone infrastructure for the United States House of Representatives. In 2001 and early 2002, defendant ABRAMOFF and his Firm B colleagues lobbied for the Wireless Company without any formal retainer agreement or any payments to Firm B. At no time did defendant ABRAMOFF inform his employer, Firm B, of the payments totaling $50,000 to CAF that were diverted from Firm B.
Then the agreement goes on to describe the "stream of things of value" Abramoff provided to a "Member of the United States House of Representatives" including the infamous Scotland golf trip plus sports tickets, other entertainment, free meals at Abramoff's Signatures restaurant and various campaign donations to Ney plus ones made to others on behalf of Ney.

The agreement continues by describing the work Ney did in exchange for the "stream of things of value" such as the well-known Congressional Record statements regarding the SunCruz venture. The agreement also denotes that part of the deal also his efforts in
. . . advancing the application of a client of defendant ABRAMOFF for a license to install wireless telephone infrastructure in the House of Representatives.
For those that haven't been following the "wireless" issue, below is a brief synopsis, and for those interested, there is a longer version in this story from last April in The Hill.

The wireless story primarily involves two companies, LGC and MobileAccess Networks (nee Foxcom Wireless), one politician and his former staffer-turned-lobbyist (Ney and Neil Volz) and one superlobbyist (Abramoff).

The first thing to understand is that the road to major improvements to the Capitol runs directly through Ney who, as chair of House Administration Committee, is fairly accurately dubbed the "Mayor of Capitol Hill."

Back around 2000, LGC had the inside track to improve wireless communications in the Capitol, but suddenly faced stiff competition from the relatively unknown MobileAccess. LGC was an experienced contractor with a successful string of high profile wireless installations, while MobileAccess was something of an upstart. LGC had the right technology and security specs and seemed a shoo-in until the brakes were put on the decision-making after big time lobbyists got involved. From The Hill's article:
The Washington Post reported that MobileAccess donated $50,000 to the Capital Athletic Foundation, which was run by Abramoff, in 2001. Two years later, MobileAccess paid Greenberg Traurig, Abramoff’s former employer, $240,000 in lobbying fees.
So, you start to see how today's agreement and past news stories start to line up.

Anyhow, once Abramoff get's involved, Ney reworked the criteria for choosing the vendor (discarding the first merit-based approach) to one that favored MobileAccess.

This is pay-to-play defined. Clear. Simple. Corrupt. Bye bye Bobby.

[Update] The Ohio Dems are calling on Ney to give up his unofficial mayorship and give up his committee chair.

Also, the Dispatch's DC steno corps posted a story late this afternoon.

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