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Art Modell, The Sequel 

Athersys works the strong-arm approach.

Last week Athersys, a biopharmaceutical company trying to commercialize stem-cell technology, revealed that its prospects for staying in Cleveland are "bleak." Unless, of course, Case Western Reserve, University Hospitals, and the Cleveland Clinic Foundation each pony up $25 million to keep the company humming. If not, Athersys would decamp to Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, or Raleigh, North Carolina -- places supposedly more "receptive" to throwing around free money.

Now Punch is all about keeping high-tech jobs and brains in Cleveland. But we also have deep respect for the time-honored art of the shakedown. If Athersys were to, say, "Give us $25 mil or we whack your parakeet," that would get our attention. But frankly, cloaking extortion as scientific research just isn't very imaginative. Have we learned nothing from Art Modell?

Saddam, Man of Commerce

With impending "regime change" in Iraq, it's perhaps responsible to note that Saddam Hussein was once a friend to Northeast Ohio, having brought the much-lauded international investment to these parts.

The year was 1987 when a company called TMG bought Matrix-Churchill Ltd., a London firm whose American subsidiary -- the Matrix-Churchill Corporation -- was in Solon.

Matrix-Churchill, as it happens, was Britain's leading producer of computerized machine tools, which were used to produce advanced weapons. And TMG, its new corporate master, was secretly controlled by a fella named Saddam Hussein.

The Solon subsidiary soon began brokering deals to help Iraq in a massive arms buildup, "locating new sources of supply, tapping into American expertise and becoming, in the words of one former senior government official, 'the eyes and ears' of Iraq's arms procurement network in the United States," according to The New York Times.

Eventually, ace federal investigators shut the place down, saying it had been "purchased by Iraqi interests for the specific purposes of illegally acquiring critical weapons technology." But that didn't happen until a month after Iraq invaded Kuwait.

Which just goes to show that international investment isn't always what it's cracked up to be, and that if you're thinking about a career in evildoing, you'll never escape the long arm of the law -- though it may take the feds four years to get around to it.

State of the obvious

"Booze, drugs among top campus offenses." -- Headline in the Daily Kent Stater

Deep Thoughts, by Ms. April

Today's Playboy bunnies are a savvy herd. No longer content being leggy arm candy for actors, rock stars, and jocks, they're now taking off their clothes and getting MBAs.

Carmella DeCesare, April's Playmate of the Month, is a prime example. She hails from Avon Lake, works for a local title firm recruiting mortgage company accounts, and is pursuing her degree in business administration.

DeCesare's first brush with Playboy was on the reality show Girl Next Door: The Search for a Playboy Centerfold. It creeped her out. "All of the other girls wanted to win the competition so bad. This was their dream. They were all like 'When I was 12, I wanted to do this.' When I was 12, I was playing with Barbie dolls." So she quit. But Playboy came knocking anyway, presumably for her financial acumen. So Punch decided to query her on the most pressing issues of the day:

Is now a good time to refinance a mortgage?

"Oh, definitely. It's the best right now. I can hook you up with a good mortgage broker."

You're in Playboy's music issue, so you probably know: Was Springsteen robbed of a Grammy?

"I don't know about that. I like him, but not that much."

Are you going to put your powers as Miss April to good use in Cleveland? Like, do you have a solution to this convention center debate?

"No."

Can you at least do something about the impending war?

"My powers aren't that strong. It makes me nervous. I watched that movie Outbreak the other day, and I'm like 'Oh, my God.' Something like this is gonna happen to us."

Did Hefner hit on you?

"No. I'm not blonde."

Pot, meet kettle

Lawyers have long had the run of the Ohio Statehouse. But Senator Leigh Herington, a Ravenna Democrat and attorney, now warns that -- gasp! -- a new scourge is sweeping the General Assembly. "There are more insurance agents in the Legislature than there are lawyers," he says.

Translation: State policy, once shaped by oiliness in a Haggar suit, is now shaped by oiliness in a V-neck sweater!

If President Bush really wants to protect our way of life, he should be sending troops to Capitol Square.

Idiot proof

The Ohio Environmental Council is now speaking to state legislators in a language they can understand: cartoons.

The OEC recently began distributing one-page "green papers" that assess a bill's environmental friendliness. To illustrate the point, the OEC will assign icons to pending legislation: Leopard frogs (good for the planet) or leaking barrels (bad). For example, a ban on oil and gas drilling in Lake Erie, proposed by Chris Redfern (D-Catawba Island), merited two happy frogs.

OEC public affairs guy Jack Shaner says the icons are a way to put an immediate stamp on legislation. "We want every lawmaker down there to get an early warning about whether a bill is fair or foul," he says.

And no, it is not a coincidence that the OEC is resorting to stickers at a moment when the collective IQ on Capitol Square leaves something to be desired. "We specifically designed this for a 12th-grade proficiency level of reading so that it would be completely understandable," Shaner says.

Unmasked Avenger

Speaking of large IQs, a Cleveland man recently embraced the entrepreneurial spirit by trying to sell Osama bin Laden T-shirts at Terminal Tower. It may not have been the wisest business concept, since there's limited demand for serial killer wear, and some people take umbrage at celebrating a guy who wants us all dead.

Among those in the umbrage camp is one Eddie Pierce, retired Marine and noted bard of West Park. Upon encountering the Osama fan, Pierce expressed his dissatisfaction with the salesman's selection by dispatching him with one punch. A nearby cop who witnessed the incident decided to take action by doing nothing.

The salesman was out of business 30 seconds later.

The prophet speaks

"We always say in this city that we need affordable housing. I don't quite understand what they're talking about. I bought a house for $28,000. The average house in the City of Cleveland is $52,000. This isn't Seattle. This isn't San Francisco. We have the cheapest housing in the country!" -- John Moss, Democratic ward leader

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