Wednesday, January 18, 2006


Still waiting for explanation of Ney gambling winnings

We still chuckle at the thought of Bob Ney playing baccarat with the big boys, not because he is the innocent, salt-of-the-earth-in-eastern-Ohio type (gone bad that the fairy tale the Times tries to portray), but because Bob's been getting a free ride on his utterly absurd story of miraculous luck.

With the fire under Ney being turned up these days, we still wonder why no reporter hasn't been digging on how/why Ney won $34,000 at a London casino parlaying two hands of baccarat.

Again, we assert that it was very possible to use the game as a way to cover payoffs. That casino hosts hands of the Chemin De Fer version of baccarat that is essentially an unregulated form of the game. Players can easily disguise their intents.

Who else was sitting at that table?


Howard Dean this AM in Columbus

If you are in the central Ohio area, Howard Dean is doing a news conference this morning to announce a new campaign on political reforms and honesty.

The event will be in the North Cross Hall at the Statehouse at 1o am.

After that, Gov. Dean will be hosting a meet-and-greet for Democracy Bond holders, noon to 1:30 pm at the Plumbers and Pipefitters Hall, 1259 Kinnear Road.


Cristocrats flout the IRS challenge

From the Dispatch:
Blackwell was the only candidate for governor invited to address 450 pastors and Christian conservatives at a luncheon north of Canton sponsored by the Ohio Restoration Project two days after it and several allied religious entities were accused of illegally engaging in partisan politics.

. . .

A spokesman for state Auditor Betty D. Montgomery, who supported the ban, said Johnson’s group did not invite her.

Asked why, Johnson replied: "She is pro-abortion."

Attorney General Jim Petro, a GOP candidate for governor who opposed the ban in 2004, and U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland, a Democratic gubernatorial candidate, also weren’t invited, according to their spokesmen.

Among politicians who attended yesterday’s event were Republican Ohio Supreme Court Justice Terrence O’Donnell and Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien, a GOP candidate for Ohio attorney general, both running this year.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006


Who the hell wrote the mining deregulation bill?

For several days now, we have been harping about S.B 191/H.B. 400 that is one of those 'fox guarding the chicken house' bills affecting Ohio surface mineral mines.

Let's recap: These mines - surprisingly - are more dangerous than underground mines and have lead to several fatalities in recent years. Also, the lost time incident rates for Ohio's surface mines have been worse than the national average for the past five years. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources is supposed to conduct quarterly inspections of each mine, but apparently the agency is so cash and staff strapped that they can only conduct a portion of the required inspections, and that been dropping off to the point to where they can only conduct 1/2 of the required inspections.

We've been asking around about who sought these changes. ODNR? The workers? Interested legislators?

No. The proponent name that keeps cropping up is the Ohio Aggregate and Industrial Mineral Association, i.e., the mine owners association, or at least 90% of them. No big surprise there, and certainly they have the same right as anyone else to lobby for legislation. But it sure seems odd that none of our public servants are raising some serious questions about this bill.

Questions like:
Not being safety and health experts, we've got a feeling that we've only begun to unearth the most obvious of the mischief the OAIMA has up it's sleeve.

When's someone going to speak up?

Monday, January 16, 2006


Petro's problems: Heimlich bows out

As has been rumored for several days, Phil Heimlich has changed his mind about being Jim Petro's running mate and made it official this afternoon that he was no longer interested in the lieutenant governor position. Instead, Heimlich will seek reelection as a Hamilton County Commissioner.
Sources said Heimlich was under intense pressure from Hamilton County Republican Party leaders who view him as their best bet for keeping the three-member county commission in Republican hands. They also said that Heimlich was concerned that Petro - once viewed as the front runner - was too much of a long-shot for the nomination.
Heimlich, a hardcore conservative, was legally barred from running for both jobs and had until today to make a decision. While not a fatal blow, his departure has got to have left Petro's campaign in something of a mess.


Pastors vs. Christocrats: Bring on the IRS [Updated]

For several years, Rev. Rod Parsley and his lapdog Russell Johnson have operated as the bullies in the religious school yard, twisting the arms of politicians, reporters and other religious leaders wouldn't fall in line with their narrow view of the world and God.

While the pols and scribes still cower, dozens of local pastors from mainstream churches yesterday decided they had had enough and called the bullies' bluff. The wonderful story is in the Dispatch and as you read the whole story you discover these pastors are serious and have hired at least one heavy-hitting expert to press their case:
More than 30 local pastors last night officially accused two evangelical megachurches of illegal political activities.

In a rare and potentially explosive action, the moderate ministers signed a complaint asking the Internal Revenue Service to investigate World Harvest Church of Columbus and Fairfield Christian Church of Lancaster and determine if their tax-exempt status should be revoked.

The grievance claims that the Rev. Rod Parsley of World Harvest Church and the Rev. Russell Johnson of Fairfield Christian Church improperly used their churches and affiliated entities — the Center for Moral Clarity, Ohio Restoration Project and Reformation Ohio — for partisan politics, including supporting the Republican gubernatorial candidacy of Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell.

The complaint asks the IRS to seek a court injunction "if these churches’ flagrant political campaign activities do not cease immediately." It was signed by 31 pastors from nine denominations during a meeting last night at the North Congregational United Church of Christ in Columbus and was to be faxed late last night to IRS Commissioner Mark W. Everson.

"For me, it’s church and state, not church in state and I really feel there are some churches in central Ohio crossing that line," said Eric Williams, senior pastor of the host church. "The law allows church involvement in issues. This goes beyond issue-involvement to partisan politics and we’re simply asking the IRS to uphold the law."

Williams and the other signers stressed that they were acting individually and not on behalf of their congregations, whose affiliations include: The American Baptist Churches/USA; the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ); the Episcopal Church in the USA; the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; Judaism; the United Church of Christ; the United Methodist Church; Presbyterian Church, USA; and the Unitarian Universalist Association.

The complaint makes three main allegations:

• That church-sponsored events conducted by Parsley and Johnson have showcased a single gubernatorial candidate — Blackwell.

• That Parsley and Johnson have launched a "partisan-oriented" voter-registration campaign "with the goal of registering 400,000 voters to support Blackwell’s candidacy."

• That Parsley and Johnson have been behind efforts to distribute "biased voter education" materials aimed at solidifying voter support for Blackwell.

. . .

John Green, a University of Akron authority on religion and politics, said the complaint is extraordinary because it was filed by pastors rather than watchdog groups that routinely monitor church and state issues.

"This complaint is detailed and complex enough that I think the IRS is going to say, ‘We better look into this,’ " said Green, author of Religion and the Culture Wars.

. . .

Marcus Owens, a Washington, D.C., tax attorney and director of the IRS tax-exempt division from 1990 to 2000, said that IRS investigations of churches typically involve theft, but examinations of churches for playing politics are becoming more common.

Owens, who helped the clergy draft the IRS petition, said they had extensively documented the alleged political activities of Parsley and Johnson and their affiliated organizations.

"You have a number of churches and charities involved with a number of road trips for Mr. Blackwell, all of which seem to be aimed at gaining him visibility for his political campaign," Owens said.

Blackwell, who often carries a Bible to GOP events, has actively courted Christian right voters and became a champion for many of them by leading the successful campaign to ban same-sex marriages through a ballot issue in the November 2004 election.

The complaint cites nine instances when Blackwell was featured at events by the churches or their entities. During an October gathering at the Ohio Statehouse orchestrated by Reformation Ohio and led by Parsley, the televangelist called upon supporters of his $38.5 milliona-year church and affiliated operations to sign up 400,000 voters statewide. Blackwell shared the dais with Parsley.

"Man your battle stations," Parsley commanded attendees, who had been bused Downtown from his World Harvest Church. "Ready your weapons. Lock and load. Let the reformation begin."

The University of Akron’s Green said the "most problematic allegation" in the IRS complaint involves preferential treatment accorded Blackwell by Parsley, Johnson and their affiliated organizations.

Marci A. Hamilton, a professor of constitutional law at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York City and an expert on the separation of church and state, said she was surprised by the pastors’ complaint.

"There are very few instances where anybody’s ever been turned in on this," she said. "Even though the laws are on the books, it’s rare that the law is enforced."

During the last 15 years or so, Hamilton added, churches have had "a tacit agreement" to look the other way and not criticize each other for political activities. But, she said, that appears to be changing as televangelists and conservative evangelical churches flex their muscles in the political arena.

"Those who have been in favor of separation of church and state have been pretty quiet, and it may be because they couldn’t get hold of the microphone. The agenda has been set by the religious right for so long."
[Update] The NYT story on the pastors is here.

Sunday, January 15, 2006


Don't let the door hit ya' where the good lord split ya'

Good riddance, Alex.


More on unsafe mines

The Dispatch's Randy Ludlow is doing of good job of highlighting Ohio's own mining problems in the wake of the Sago disaster.

First, we want to point out that Ludlow confirms the story that we broke in posts here and here week, namely that Ohio's surface mines have serious safety problems - perhaps more serious than underground coalmines:
State and federal inspectors regularly visit both surface and underground coal mines with a goal of keeping miners safe, Stewart said.

Surface-mining operations for sand, gravel and limestone have proven more dangerous than underground coal mines since 2000, with seven workers killed aboveground, he said.
Unfortunately, Ludlow fails to pick up on the fact that inspectors have only been completing one-half of the inspections that are mandated for these mines, nor does he mention the legislation - S.B. 191 and H.B. 400 - that will make the situation in these mines even worse.

Ludlow, nevertheless, does an admirable job of highlighting several of the most problematic mines and the tension between unionized and non-union operations:
Federal inspectors cited Ohio Valley Coal last year for 494 safety violations and the company paid $147,431 in fines — nearly triple the combined amount of fines levied against Ohio’s nine other underground coal mines.

More than 100 of the violations — for failing to test for explosive methane gas, accumulations of dangerous coal dust, ventilation problems, unsupported roofs, unsafe equipment and others — were "significant and substantial."

To federal mine inspectors, "significant and substantial" means there’s a reasonable chance the hazard could harm miners.

Inspectors also issued 13 orders instructing miners to clear areas where an "imminent danger" was detected.

On Dec. 7, the mine was evacuated when a fire consumed 2,400 feet of a conveyor belt. No one was hurt.

Powhatan’s record last year was an improvement from years past. In 2002, the mine attracted 620 safety-violation citations and $277,006 in fines.

"Conditions at that mine are a concern," said Tim Baker, who toured Powhatan six months ago as deputy administrator of occupational safety and health with the United Mine Workers of America.

The Century Mine near Beallsville attracted 157 safety violations, $18,452 in fines and no withdrawal orders in 2004.

On paper, it would appear the nonunionized Century Mine is safer, but that’s misleading, said Dennis O’Dell, the UMW’s safety and health administrator.

Federal mine inspectors are not as aggressive in citing nonunion mines for violations, O’Dell said. At Powhatan, union safety-committee members can press inspectors to address violations while the union contract protects them from retaliation. Nonunion miners have no such protection and balk at raising safety concerns, he said.


More on Pryce and Boehner

Dispatch DC stenos Torry and Riskind today rip off the point we made Saturday about Deb Pryce's failure to endorse Boehner for majority leader:
Most Ohio Republicans enthusiastically support Boehner. The exception is Rep. Deborah L. Pryce, of Upper Arlington, the No. 4 House Republican leader.

Pryce, who is friendly with Blunt, has declared that she is neutral, noting that she will chair the caucus meetings that decide the new leader.
We're sticking by our our view that Pryce is out of a job if either Blunt or Boehner is elected.


'Mayor' of Cap Hill steps down [Updated]

We wrote yesterday that the screws were turning and now word snuck out late Sunday that Bob Ney was giving up his position as the powerful chair of the House Administration Committee. The post, which gave Ney access to some of the most powerful lobbyists in Washington, bestows upon whoever hold the position the unofficial - but not hyperbolic - title of "Mayor of Capital Hill." Ney says his departure is only 'temporary.'
"Unfortunately it has become clear to me in recent days that the false allegations made against me have become a distraction to the important work of the House Republican Conference and the important work that remains ahead for the House Administration Committee," Ney said in a written statement.

. . .

A GOP leadership aide said Friday that House Speaker Dennis Hastert was pressuring Ney to step aside because he believes it would be inappropriate for him to head the committee with jurisdiction over the Republican reform agenda.

Ney's statement Sunday said he had notified Hastert earlier in the day of his decision.

"I want to assure my colleagues and my constituents that I have done absolutely nothing wrong, and I am convinced that I will be vindicated completely at the end of this difficult process," Ney said.

Ney will maintain his chairmanship of a housing subcommittee, said his spokesman, Brian Walsh.

The GOP leadership aide who spoke Friday on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of private talks between Ney and Hastert, said the speaker himself could not have fired Ney. Unless Ney agreed to step aside it would be at least three weeks until the GOP caucus could consider removing him, the aide said.
That last paragraph suggest that another shoe is going to drop sooner than three weeks. We're thinking indictments in a matter of days.

[Update] The General's links to new Ney revelations in Newsweek about Iran and bribery-related emails also provide a logical explanation for Ney's move today.

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