Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Mr. Albrecht Goes to Washington

Jeffrey Albrecht speaking to WSAZ prior to his flight to Washington, D.C.

Do  Republicans really believe what Henry David Thoreau wrote in his essay “Civil Disobedience,” namely, “That government is best which governs least”? Tea Partiers seem to believe it in spades. Their motto could be, “That government is best which governs not at all.” But if Republicans believe this, do they practice it? Are Alaskan Republicans, for example, or at least the Palinistas,  rugged individualists or are they hooked on government aid as much as addicts in Scioto County are on Oxycontin? Are they hypocrites who denounce government aid except when it can help them build a bridge to nowhere? Because the Bachman family farm took government  subsidies, is Michelle Bachman any  less a hypocrite than Sarah Palin?
I thought about Republican hypocrisy when I heard that  Jeff Albrecht and three other Portsmouth businessmen, along with Portsmouth’s unelected Uncle Tom mayor David Malone, had flown to Washington, D.C., on 12 July 2011 in a corporate jet to lobby politicians  on behalf of a private corporation, the United States Enrichment  Corporation (USEC). The four businessmen flew to Washington to pressure elected officials and especially the president to co-sign  a $2 billion dollar loan to USEC so that it can proceed with its plans for a centrifuge project in Piketon, a small community located about 15 miles up Route 23  from Portsmouth. “Locals Lobby D.C. for USEC Approval,” was the headline of the story Frank Lewis wrote for the Portsmouth Daily Times. But theyre not lobbying for approval. Theyre lobbying for a $2 billion dollar guaranteed loan. “Ohioans Go to D.C. to Push for Uranium-Plant Guarantee” was the more accurate headline of Jessica Wehrman’s report in the Columbus Dispatch (click here). In  a New York Times story (20 July 2007), “Cost Cutters, Except When Spending is Back Home,” the lede reads,House Republicans who rode a wave of voter discontent into office last year may be pushing for spending cuts, but they’re also quietly funneling millions of federal dollars back home.” That’s what Republicans  Rob Portman and Jean Schmidt may be doing on behalf of USEC, risking not millions but billions of taxpayers money. 
Should the government be involved in co-signing a $2 billion dollar loan for  any private corporation, let alone one that critics say is badly mismanaged? According to principles Republicans swear by, shouldn’t it be the so-called free market, not the federal government, that decides whether USEC completes the centrifuge project in Piketon or whether it goes bankrupt, which it may if the government guaranteed loan doesn’t come through? What were these Republican businessmen from Portsmouth doing in Washington lobbying in favor of what may turn out to be Ohio’s version of Alaska’s bridge to nowhere?  Do Albrecht, Lute, Schmidt, and Glockner, the four Portsmouth businessmen, really believe in competition for everybody except themselves? Are they opposed to government intervention in business except when the business is in their backyard? Aren’t Republicans supposed to stand for free enterprise, not free lunches? Aren’t Republicans supposed to believe in “hands off government,” not “government handouts”? Aren’t Tea Party Republicans going so far as to threaten to shut down the government if it doesn’t stop spending and lending, if it doesn’t stop borrowing and “tomorrowing”? Don’t they understand that if  the centrifuge in Piketon goes kaput, the government as co-signer will have to  fork over  $2 billion of tax payer money to some bank?
It is ironic that the Portsmouth contingent seeking government financial support  was led by Jeff Albrecht, because he was the owner of the Ramada Inn, in Portsmouth. Over the years, the  Ramada scraped by with the assistance of public dollars: Shawnee State University lodged job interviewees and unhoused students in its spare rooms, of which there were usually plenty, and, in addition, government agencies  lodged non-violent offenders  waiting to appear in court to face various charges. If things were any worse, Albrecht might have reserved a floor for Section 8 tenants. Among seasoned travelers Albrecht’s Ramada gained notoriety as “The Queen of the Rust Belt.” (Click here.)  

Golden Opportunity for Government Assistance

Albrecht’s golden opportunity for government assistance came in October 2008, when presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama, campaigning in southern Ohio, had breakfast  at Albrecht’s Ramada Inn. Albrecht implied to Wehrman of the Columbus Dispatch that he  personally served the future president breakfast. In any case, Obama’s presence provided  Albrecht with an opportunity to ask for government help. According to Albrecht’s own account in the Dispatch, he asked Obama if he would support a loan for the United States Enrichment Corporation if he was elected president. Albrecht told the Dispatch reporter that Obama had promised him he would. This was good news for Albrecht because the USEC’s centrifuge project would be good for business in Portsmouth and therefore good for Albrecht’s  Ramada Inn.
On the basis of Obama’s alleged promise, Albrecht made an important business decision. He decided to transform his Ramada Inn, “The Queen of the Rust Belt,” into a completely renovated Holiday Inn. He made this important decision in spite of the fact that a Holiday Express Inn had not too long ago failed to make a go of it in Portsmouth, just a couple of traffic lights up Route 23. In fact, not only had Albrecht in his words “invested significantly” in transforming the Ramada into a  Holiday Inn, he had borrowed money to do it. He decided to borrow money at least in part because of the promise Obama had allegedly made to him to support a government guaranteed loan to USEC. Who in their right financial mind would have loaned Albrecht  anything based on a promise a campaigning politician, a Democrat,  had allegedly made to him during a campaign stop in Portsmouth?
From what I know of Albrecht’s ability as the operator of the Ramada Inn,  I think anybody who loans money to him  is engaging in unsafe financing. The Ramada had been mismanaged for a long time and did not improve in its dying days. Elijah on Yelp.com said in 2009, “Guests beware, your money is better spent by staying at a quality bed and breakfast rather than this dump.” Things weren’t any better in 2010, when  Nicole wrote, “The Ramada Inn in Portsmouth Ohio was one of the most unsanitary, gross hotel rooms I’ve ever stayed in!” Location! Location! Location! Albrecht's Holiday Inn is in downtown Portsmouth in the same location the Ramada was, with the same security problems, even though the Portsmouth Police Station is directly across the street. That fact had not stopped the police chief's son from dealing drugs at the restaurant in the Ramada, I was told. “During my stay,” one disgruntled guest complained online, “five vehicles including mine was broken into while parked in the Ramada parking lot. My car in particular was right in front of the lobby. When I told the front desk what had happened, they said that this happens all the time.” Critics are saying the same thing about USEC, whose reputation for mismanagement is not quite as bad as Albrecht’s, but USEC’s stock has plummeted like a lead sinker in a fishless pond.  Moody’s, the credit rating agency, downgraded USEC,  somewhat the way TripAdvisor, an online website, downgraded Albrecht’s new Holiday Inn. Although it is the newest of Portsmouth’s  four major motels, Albrecht’s Holiday Inn has been  rated last by TripAdvisor.
The Obama administration will probably back the loan to USEC, even though Fuel Cycle Week (click) a nuclear energy newsletter, says such a move would mean the federal government has formally adopted USEC “as a ward of the state.  Guaranteeing the loan may be unwise but it is not hypocritical. Unlike Republicans, Democrats are not infected by the virus of free market fundamentalism, although the liberal Nobel Prize economist Paul Krugman is not so sure about Obama.  Ohio’s Democratic senator Sherrod Brown, once a critic of the centrifuge  project, is now a strong proponent. In the current depressed economy, Brown, Obama, and other Democrats cannot afford politically to oppose the project, even if its prospects for success are not very good, anymore than are the prospects of Albrecht’s Holiday Inn. The loan made to Albrecht, like the loan that will likely be made to USEC, may have to be written off. Let's keep our fingers crossed on the centrifuge project for the sake of USECs employees.

Chickens Coming Home to Roost

If USEC doesn’t get the  $2 billion dollar loan guarantee from the government, and if Albrecht’s Holiday Inn is no more profitable than his Ramada Inn, then he will no doubt blame President Obama not only for the jobs that aren’t created in Piketon but also for the guests who choose not stay in his Holiday Inn. It is much easier, to my way of thinking,  to tilt the playing field to favor Portsmouth Boys  or rig the bidding at an auction in Athens, Ohio, which Albrecht was suspected of doing (click here), than it is  to control what happens in  Washington, D.C. The four Republican businessmen who visited Washington, and Albrecht in particular, may learn that it is much easier to have  the mayor of Portsmouth in their pocket, and on their corporate jet, than it is to have the Democratic president of the United States keep his campaign promises, even if Albrecht once fed him bacon and eggs at the Ramada. Mr. Albrecht and his Republican cohorts may have flown to Washington for government assistance, but the chickens, which must make do with chicken feed,  will still come home to roost in Portsmouth.

Chickens coming home to roost at the Holiday Inn