Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Lord of the Lies


A Wannabe Ann Coulter

Kathleen Parker (below) is a syndicated right-wing columnist, called an Ann Coulter wannabe, who is connected to a newspaper with a long right-wing tradition, the Chicago Tribune. On December 30th, 2006, the Portsmouth Daily Times (PDT) published her column, “Beware of Bloggers.” The original name of the column was “Lord of the Bloggers,” which is a play on title of a misanthropic novel, Lord of the Flies. The title “Beware of Bloggers” was apparently chosen for Parker’s column by the PDT, which probably fantasizes about returning to 1950, when there was no internet and no bloggers to warn its dwindling readership to beware of. In her column in the PDT, Parker made an invidious comparison between blogs and the mainstream media. Who do you think came out smelling like roses? Who do you think came out smelling like crap?

“Say what you will about the so-called mainstream media,” she wrote in “Beware of Bloggers,” “but no industry agonizes more about how to improve its product, police its own members and better serve its communities.” Keep in mind that even small newspapers like the Portsmouth Daily Times are part of the mainstream media. Then ask yourself whether more preposterous claims for the PDT have ever been packed into one sentence?

The mainstream news media is an industry. Parker got that right, and like every other industry, its purpose, its reason for existence, is profits. That is the single most important thing to remember about the mainstream news media. Writing the truth about local political corruption and rampant drug-dealing is not the way to please Portsmouth advertisers and the Portsmouth Chamber of Commerce, as those of us in Portsmouth know all too well from the example of the Portsmouth Daily Times. The truth is bad for Portsmouth’s image, you see, and therefore bad for business. Those who try to tell the truth about Portsmouth are labeled as “troublemakers and malcontents,” and, in Chief of Police Horner’s latest game of one-upmanship, as “domestic terrorists.”

Shawnee Sentinel

When we need an exposé of the Marting scam or of Portsmouth’s role as southern Ohio’s hottest drug spot, we rely not on the PDT but on a non-mainstream newspaper, the Shawnee Sentinel, which has been sounding the alarm on corruption and drug activity in our river city for a decade. Eventually, the Columbus Dispatch follows the Sentinel’s lead, as it did in June 2004 when it reported on the Marting scam and as it did on 21 Jan. 2006, when it published an article on the heavy drug trafficking in our river city: “Columbus’ Crack Trade Takes Root in Portsmouth.”

The Sentinel is also host to several blogs, including Porstmouthcitizens.info, Doug Deepe, River Vices, Councilman Mollette’s Homepage, and Moe’s Forum. From Kathleen Parker’s perspective, bloggers are “insidious enemies of decency, humanity and civility – the angry offspring of narcissism's quickie marriage to instant gratification.” She allows that there are a few good bloggers, doctors, lawyers, and such, but most she says are unspeakably vicious. “Each time I wander into blogdom,” she writes, “ I’m reminded of the savage children stranded on an island in William Golding’s ‘Lord of the Flies.’ Without adult supervision, they organize themselves into rival tribes, learn to hunt and kill, and eventually become murderous barbarians in the absence of a civilizing structure.”

Like those punishers of impiety in Puritan New England, blogger-floggers like Parker are out in force and flexing their political muscle. They are sniffing out the innate depravity of human nature, especially when it is not held in check by a “civilizing structure.” And they are not advocating just verbal floggings. “I have to say I'm all for public flogging,” Ann Coulter said on MSNBC (3/22/97), adding, “And it might not be such a cool thing in the ‘hood to be flogged publicly.” Bloggers, blacks, Lewis Black – they should all have red stripes on their back.

A Million Little Lies

The recent controversy over James Frey’s “memoir” A Million Little Pieces shows that in publishing, as in the press and in politics, truth is often a fiction. From Kathleen Parker to Oprah Winfrey, truth is whatever those with money and power tell us it is. “Bloggers are murderous barbarians,” Parkers says, and mainstream newspapers like the Chicago Tribune and the PDT print such lies as truth.

If it weren’t for The Smoking Gun blogger William Bastone, James Frey (below) would have gone on pocketing millions of dollars and very few people would have known that his memoir was more fiction than fact. (The name of Frey’s website, incidentally, is Bigjimindustries.com.) Bloggers' livelihoods do not depend on the mainstream media, and bloggers are not “policed” by their industry because they are not part of any industry. Bloggers are more likely than the mainstream media to publish the truth, however unprofessionally and uncivilly they may do it. Do you think a blogger would have sat for a year on the story of the Bush administration’s domestic snooping, as the New York Times did? A Million Little Pieces is filled with profanity and vulgarity for which bloggers are verbally flogged, but because Frey’s memoir qualifies as self-help/uplift bullshit, of which Oprah is America’s prophetess, it continued to get her seal of approval, even after Frey was exposed as a fraud.

What does Kathleen Parker advise doing about the plague of bloggers? She concludes “Beware of Bloggers” with a grandiloquent pronouncement. “We can't silence them, but for civilization's sake – and the integrity of information by which we all live or die – we can and should ignore them.” Consider this as advice from a high class mainstream hooker about what to do about streetwalking bloggers.

As bad as Parker’s advice may be, a Portsmouth resident in a letter to the editor of the Portsmouth Daily Times (6 Jan. 2006) complained that Parker had not gone far enough. It is not enough to ignore bloggers, as Parker advocated. No, not nearly enough, this Portsmouth reader wrote. “Is it not sad that a communication tool that began over three-decades ago as a professional ‘Bulletin Board’ used nationwide by responsible and educated people has bottomed-out into a mass-communication quagmire hustled by bunches of unprofessional, clannish degenerates who verbally pat each other on the backside with every crass touché? What say ye, Congress? Why let back-stabbing sass be so openly easy? What do you gentlemen and gentle ladies do when insulted, for example, by a fellow cohort from across the aisle? Don't you ‘take steps’ to clean up the mess?”

National Review

The highfaluting, flatulent writing and shallow thinking in this letter-to-the-editor, might have been inspired by the National Review School of Writing. The letter is not so much to be read as deciphered. We gather that this Portsmouth pettifogger wants congress to outlaw or at least regulate bloggers, although the quotes around “taking steps” may hint at something worse. And the “mess,” as in to “clean up the mess,” appears to refer to something sexual as well as political.

Conservatives cannot stop obsessing about homosexuality, especially since same sex marriages have become a favorite subject in the mainstream media. With his references to “backstabbing sass,” patting “backsides” and, my favorite, “‘crass touché’,” this flogger is apparently implying that bloggers, whom he labels “clannish degenerates,” engage in anal sex. Choosing not to call an asshole an asshole is this backward flogger’s rhetorical right, but if he ends up in the process sounding like one himself that is only the more reason that he should have settled for clarity instead of cleverness.

Kathleen Parker lives in South Carolina, and her politics, if not her style, may owe something to all the Buckleys associated with the Palmetto State’s Buckley School of Public Speaking, whose founder is William F.’s younger brother, Reid Buckley. “Since its launch in 1988, the Buckley School,” its website boasts, “has provided speaking and writing instruction, private coaching and media training for nearly 2000 first rank executives and political leaders.” Where do the second and third rank executives and political leaders go for their writing instruction? What say ye? Why to Yale, of course.

Chinese Checkers

Blogger flogging flourishes in China, which tries to regulate the internet by putting pressure on Yahoo and Google, and on Microsoft, which kowtowed to the Chinese authorities. Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft are part of an industry whose goal is profits, and there is an awful lot of potential profits in China, with its 1.3 billion population.

Back in the USA, in the name of national security, the Bush administration puts pressure on Google to provide information on its users, but Google resists. Not because Google believes it would be an unconstitutional infringement of a fundamental American freedom but because it would be bad for business. Google is resisting the Bush administration because it does not want to reveal trade secrets to its competitors. It is free enterprise, not free speech, Google is defending. On that apolitical reed, on the profit motive, may rest the survival of blogging, as we know it.

In her review of A Million Little Pieces, New York Times book critic Michico Kakutani reminds us we live in an age that bends the truth in a million little ways (17 Jan. 2006). River Vices, like millions of other blogs, is hosted by Google, which could snuff us all out in a nanosecond. The U.S. government also could regulate every website. The U.S. government could provide the “civilizing structure” that Parkers says bloggers lack. Then we would be back in the mainstream, without a paddle, ruled over by the Lord of the Lies.

bush king-762069

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Open Letter

Daily Times photo of Strickland swearing in Kalb

Open Letter to Gubernatorial Candidate Ted Strickland

Ted, I have been a strong supporter of yours from your first run for Congress, but what were you thinking when you swore in James Kalb as mayor of Portsmouth at the Portsmouth Municipal Building on January 1? What a way to begin your Portsmouth campaign for governor!

I’ve heard some of your supporters try to put the best face on that Portsmouth Daily Times photo of you swearing in Kalb by saying you look unhappy, as if you were conscience-stricken. But nobody forced you into it, did they? As ripe for picking as the statehouse in Columbus may appear to some Democrats, the voters in Ohio will want more to choose between than Bob Graft and Conscience-Stricken Ted.

The swearing in was not just a ceremonial event. By participating in it, you made it also a political event. That’s the part that’s hard to figure out. It’s obvious what the controversial Kalb had to gain being sworn in by you, the presumptive favorite for the Democratic nomination for governor, but what did you have to gain politically? Yes, Kalb is a Democrat, but did you think swearing him in was going to enhance your image with local voters? Are you that out of touch with Portsmouth, now that it has been gerrymandered out of your district, that you didn’t know that Kalb and the corrupt and incompetent Portsmouth city government that he heads is as much an embarrassment and threat to democracy locally as the administration in Washington is nationally? A few of our local politicians are Democrats but more are Republicans. But what difference does that make? All politics is local, as the saying goes, and in Portsmouth all local politics is corrupt. The parallels between Portsmouth and Washington are depressing.

Ted, Portsmouth city government is in control not of K Street lobbyists, like Jack Abramoff, but of the Southern Ohio Growth Partnership, a Chamber of Commerce front group, and of two rich and powerful local Republicans in particular, the attorney Clayton Johnson and the real estate developer Neal Hatcher, both of whom the Democrat Kalb is the convenient tool of. Before they had Mayor Kalb to do their dirty work, Johnson and Hatcher had Republican Mayor Gregory Bauer, who reportedly lunched with them on a daily basis.

"A Marting We Will Go!"

Ted, let me fill you in on some recent history. Mayor Bauer and two city council members were recalled from office in 2004 because of their complicity in the illegal sale of the empty Marting’s department store to the city for $1.8 million dollars, which was more than twice the $762,000 figure for which the building was appraised. And even that $762,000 figure was an appraiser’s fee-inspired fantasy, which he justified in part because there was an alleged buyer of the Marting building in the wings, and in part because he used Ashland and Huntington retail real estate for comparison purposes to appraise the Marting building. I’ve been to Ashland and Huntington, Ted. They are not Portsmouth by any stretch of anyone’s imagination except the appraiser’s, who was under pressure from Clayton Johnson to wildly inflate the value of the one-hundred-year-old empty department store, Portsmouth's bad dream, in Portsmouth’s depressed downtown.

We have all heard of “Enterprise Zones,” distressed and impoverished areas that get targeted for special government assistance. What we have in Portsmouth is a “Lack of Enterprise Zone,” which author Jesse Stuart prophesied in his novel Land Beyond the River. Marting's is at the heart of Portsmouth's Lack of Enterprise zone. Owing in part to a lack of enterprise, Portsmouth’s anemic economy is dependent on drug-dealers, prostitutes, and, especially, government pork, of which the SOGP is the primary distributor in southern Ohio. If Mayor Kalb and his cohorts have their way, legalized gambling will be added to the mix, further corrupting our community.

Larry Leiter, president of Marting’s acknowledged the $2 million dollar figure for the Marting building was “ridiculous,” but it was all part of the scam Johnson was trying to pull to get a loan from the bank. “It ain’t worth anything,” city councilman Marty Mohr said in 2004 about the Marting building to a Columbus Dispatch reporter. That same reporter tried to talk to Johnson, but Johnson made himself unavailable. In a sworn deposition, Johnson was described by Robert Smith of American Saving’s Bank as going “berserk” because Marting’s was not being appraised at the ridiculously high figure he wanted. You can look all this up, Ted, under “Marting’s,” on Teresa Mollette’s very informative website.

Was Marting’s worth $2 million dollars? Marting’s is no more worth $2 million than Crosley Field is. People no longer go to Crosley field to see the Reds play or to downtown Portsmouth to do their retail shopping. Crosley Field was torn down in 1972, and the Marting building, which is older than Crosley Field, should have been torn down ten years ago. But instead of being allowed to die with dignity, the Marting building, after the expenditure of many millions of taxpayer renovation dollars, will house our corrupt city government and be hooked up to a publicly funded life-support system. The Marting building will become the brain-dead architectural equivalent of Terri Schiavo in downtown Portsmouth. Or at least it will if Mayor Kalb has his way, and you could be dragged into it, Ted, in the SOGP’s upcoming campaign to get voter approval of the Marting scam in a referendum.

There is an unwritten rule in Portsmouth, Ted, regarding structures like Marting’s. No empty house or building owned by one of the over-privileged is so worthless and unattractive that it cannot be unloaded on the city or county and converted at great public expense for some public use. Think not only of Marting's but also of the Kenrick and Adelphia buildings. On the other hand, no public or religious building, no matter how architecturally distinguished and historically important, can escape being torn down to make way for a jail or a parking lot. Think of the razed N&W railroad terminal. Think of the razed old United Wesley Methodist Church. Think of the Municipal Building, where you swore Kalb in. I was surprised to see that he allowed you to risk your life by entering that building to swear him in. The Municipal Building is at the top of Kalb's "This Property is Dangerous and Condemned" list. Some developer has his eye on that property, as Kalb has admitted, which is the real reason it will be bulldozed. We can be thankful that the U.S. Post office is federal, not city property. The Post Office is of the same age and style as the Municipal Building, but it has not been deliberately neglected to justify tearing it down.

It was the citizens, Ted, who pressured the city government to put the Marting issue on the ballot. Since you stood with Kalb at the swearing in, you might be asked during your campaign where you stand on the Marting building. Because of Kalb, you could be dragged into a scandal created by the Republicans Johnson and Hatcher. If you support keeping the Marting building alive, you could be seen as another Dr. Bill Frist (R. Tenn.), who disagreed with Terri Schiavo’s doctors that she was in “a persistent vegetative state.” And if you don’t support keeping Marting’s alive, you risk being perceived by the Portsmouth politicians and over-privileged as a “domestic terrorist.” I will return to the issue of “domestic terrorism” in a moment.

Kalb is not the only Portsmouth politician you were endorsing by administering him the oath of office. You were also endorsing his allies on the city council, such as the oafish Marty Mohr, mugging for Joe Ferguson in an infamously defiant pose (left.) Shrewdly deciding he was not going to be one of the council members who were recalled because they had defended the city’s purchase of the Marting building, Mohr had said in 2004, in perhaps his first and last honest public statement, “It ain’t worth anything.” Since then, after meeting with Clayton Johnson, Mohr has done a complete turnaround and enthusiastically endorsed the purchase of the Marting building. (Timothy Loper won a recall election in Ward 1 by running as a critic of the Marting purchase, but he too promptly switched his position once he was on the council.) According to Marty Mohr’s math, which is as fuzzy as councilman David Malone’s, the city is now getting a great bargain because it is paying “only” $400,000 for the Marting building.

Let me explain, Ted, how Mohr figured that paying $400,000 for the Marting building is a great deal when less than two years ago he said, “It ain’t worth anything.” You see, Ted, Clayton Johnson and the Marting Foundation, through poor investments, lost $400,000 of the $1.8 million it had illegally obtained from the city when it sold it the Marting building. When Judge Marshall ruled the sale illegal, Johnson was obligated to return the $1.8 million and take a $400,000 loss, but Johnson worked out a deal with Portsmouth’s crooked city council and with Mohr and Kalb in particular by the terms of which the city had to keep ownership of the decrepit building in exchange for the $400,000 Johnson was not returning. Oh, and get this, Ted: as part of the deal, Johnson dictated a number of conditions about the building the city had to agree to before he would give back any money. It was like a swindler agreeing to return part of the money he had obtained for selling worthless property, minus $400,000, but only if the victim, in this case the city, also agreed to take the worthless property off his hands.

Johnson’s offer of the Marting building to the city was spun as a philanthropic act, for the sake of Portsmouth’s dearly-beloved-but-long-since-departed Downtown, but in fact what Johnson as head of the Marting Foundation was doing in the name of philanthropy was unloading a property that was costing the Foundation money in the form of taxes, a property he had no hope of unloading on any retail merchandiser with an ounce of business sense. Furthermore, if the Marting building was used for public purposes, i.e., as a municipal building, the Foundation could take a tax write-off. The Marting building is like the old maid in the card game: whoever ends up with it loses, and Johnson is determined the Marting Foundation is not going to be the loser. Given the low level of intelligence and even lower level of ethics in the city government, Johnson is not having much trouble turning the city government, and the over-taxed people of Portsmouth, into the losers.

Do you see, Ted, what you were stepping into when you stepped into the Municipal Building on January 1 to administer the oath of office to Kalb? And that is not the half of it.

The opening prayer on the swearing-in on January 1 was offered up by our adulterous “praying councilman,” Rev. David Malone. Along with his felonious brother Michael, the convicted forger who came within a vote of joining his brother on the city council, David Malone was the sponsor of a religious revival in Portsmouth that had been inspired by a guest preacher associated with the Deeper Life movement. The Deeper Life movement was exposed by the Tampa Tribune as yet another religious fraud, as I pointed out in my blog “My Brother’s Keeper.” One of the tenets of the Deeper Life movement is that you don’t criticize Deeper Life church leaders, no one of whom, it seems, is less than a bishop. We are to think only positive thoughts about all our leaders, whatever community we are part of, whether they are bishops or public officials. (Come to think of it, the Daily Times has been following the Deeper Life philosophy for years.) I was present at a City Council meeting at which the felonious Michael Malone preached the Deeper Life philosophy to the City Council, even as he was continuing to pursue his chief means of income, writing back checks.

The voters in Rev. David Malone’s ward were not thinking positive thoughts about him last year and might have recalled him from office if his opponent, Native American Russell Cooper, had not been arrested for allegedly forging signatures on recall petitions. The charges against Cooper were dropped at the city level because City Solicitor David Kuhn dropped the ball, but the ball has been picked up again at the county level by County Prosecutor Mark Kuhn, his nephew. Meanwhile, Rev. David Malone still sits on the city council and prays at public ceremonies, such as the swearing in on January 1 that you dignified with your presence.

Police Chief Horner

A zealous investigation of Russell Cooper’s alleged forgeries was carried out by the Portsmouth Police Department under the direction of Chief Charles Horner, who incidentally, has his own mini-Marting going on. He had from the start endorsed the proposal to convert the Adelphia building, another empty building that "ain't worth anything" into a public facility, a police station, so the over-privileged absentee landlord could get a tax write-off. The Adelphia building, occupying a streetcorner, could be called “Horner’s Corner.”

“Horner's Corner,” with ubiquitous Hatcher sign (left)

Anyway, Ted, it was Horner who said in remarks to the City Council (9 Jan. 06), “I chose not to become involved in any other recall[election] because it [the investigation of Cooper] was so time-consuming.” And what was the result of Horner’s time-consuming investigation of Cooper? Cooper was guilty, Horner told the City Council on the same occasion, of “a series of improprieties.” An impropriety is something that is improper, something that is not suitable. Since when is an impropriety, even a series of them, a felony? If series of improprieties are felonies then what about councilman Mohr, with his bizarre statements at council meetings about punching the mouths and slashing the tires of drivers who illegally park downtown?

One of the reasons there are so many drug-dealers and prostitutes, we were told by an “investigative” reporter of the Portsmouth Daily Times is that local law enforcement officials have such scrupulous regard for the constitutional rights of all citizens, including drug dealers and prostitutes. But, Ted, what of Cooper’s constitutional rights? Why did City Solicitor Kuhn and City Clerk Aeh rush to judgment on him? Why were Chief Horner’s officers so thorough in its investigation of him? Why did they put him under surveillance and harass him, which is what Cooper has charged? Why have charges against him been dropped and then brought again? Is it part of a concerted effort to insure that David Malone would continue to serve on the city council and do the bidding of Johnson and Hatcher? Is it part of a concerted effort to discredit the recall process and change the city charter to make it even harder than it already is to win a recall election? The recall provisions in the city charter are more stringent than Ohio law requires them to be, the only honest councilman Bob Mollette claims, and yet the city council he patiently takes to task each meeting is determined to make the process by which they can be removed from office even more difficult. And why? To cover their corrupt political hides.

Howard Baughman and Mohr are now attempting to make it more difficult for citizens to recall elected public officials, claiming that that right is being abused under the present city charter provisions, that it is now too easy to recall. Too easy! Tell that to Russell Cooper. Tell that to Richard Noel. The majority of voters in Noel’s ward obviously preferred him to Marty Mohr, but because of the difficulty and confusion inherent in the current recall process, Mohr was returned to city council by relatively few votes.

David Malone claimed that voters would try to recall him if they didn’t like the color of his eyes. It is not the color of Malone’s eyes but his dishonesty, hypocrisy, incompetence, and adultery that made him a recall target. Chief Horner would not have his job if Bauer had not been recalled, because it is no secret that one of the first things Bauer would have done if reelected was fire Horner, whom the Shawnee Sentinel has long accused of corruption. Horner and Kalb and Loper would not be where they are now if citizens had not exercised their right of recall. But now members of the Kalb-led city government, as bad as the Bauer-led government ever was, wants to reduce if not eliminate the risk that they will someday be recalled from office.

What is behind all the recall activity are not domestic terrorists but a group of informed and concerned citizens who are deeply disturbed by the political corruption in Portsmouth, a corruption that emerged odiferously in the Marting scandal, like raw sewage backing up in the sewer pipes on Grandview Avenue. We have had as many attempts at recall as we have had not because we have a group of domestic terrorists in our midst but because we have a group of corrupt politicians who are pawns of the over-privileged of Portsmouth.

In closing, Ted, I want to repeat what I said at the beginning: the current city government is as much an embarrassment and threat to democracy locally as the current administration in Washington is nationally. At last Monday night’s council meeting, Chief Horner denounced those who have attempted to recall elected officials as “domestic terrorists.” The likeness of Horner (left), taken from a video of the council meeting, shows the police chief just before he rose to make his inflammatory accusation. What he told the City Council was, “A group of individuals have seized that recall process to engage in what I perceive as a form of domestic terrorism in this community.” (Teresa Mollette has an audio recording of Horner’s outrageous "domestic terrorism" remark on her website.) And then Horner went on to say, “I don’t think we can allow that to happen. Something should be done.” Something is being done, Ted. Cooper has been arrested for what Horner has said are “a series of improprieties.” And the city council is moving to change the city charter to make recalls even harder to accomplish than they already are.

Cooper claims that there is bad blood between himself and Kuhn going back to the mid-1980s. Kuhn is an amateur anthropologist with an interest in Indian artifacts. Cooper claims Kuhn is an Indian grave-robber. Native Americans are reportedly planning to come to Portsmouth to demonstrate on Cooper’s behalf, because they assume one of their own is being railroaded. They know that some arrogant white people, such as Abramoff, consider Indians “morons,” “troglodytes” and “idiots.” We can add Chief Horner’s “domestic terrorist” to Abramoff’s list of epithets.

Portsmouth is a microcosm of Washington, Ted, and you apparently are unaware of it. Or, even worse, you are aware of it but are going along to get elected. Based on what I know of you, I find that hard to believe. Distance yourself from this “domestic terrorism” crap, Ted, and distance yourself from a police chief who serves at the pleasure of Mayor Kalb; distance yourself from councilman Marty Mohr, who at a recent council meeting was recorded encouraging the punching of parking violators in the mouth and the slashing of their tires; distance yourself from the SOGP pork addicts, or be prepared to pay the electoral consequences. I look forward to being proved wrong. I look forward to seeing you sworn in as governor, but you may not be if you continue to show the kind of political misjudgment you recently showed at the beginning of the new year in Portsmouth. The proverb says “Those who lie down with dogs rise with fleas.” I say those who lie down with lousy politicians will be dogged for the duration of the campaign.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Droit du Seigner

Scioto County Courthouse
Scioto County Courthouse

Native American Russell Cooper, who tried to run for Portsmouth City Council last year, was accused of being a forger. As a result of the City Clerk’s and the City Solicitor’s investigations, Cooper was charged with having forged signatures on his election petitions.

The forgery charges against Cooper have since been dropped, as veterans in the reform movement had predicted they would be once they had served their political purpose, which was to prevent Cooper from effectively challenging David Malone for the Ward 2 council seat in a special recall election. Viewed as hypocritical and incompetent by a number of voters in his ward, Malone, the “praying councilman,” was perhaps the member most vulnerable to recall. The rush to judgment on the part of City Clerk Aeh and City Solicitor David Kuhn on Cooper’s alleged forgeries had the effect of keeping a rubber-stamp incumbent, David Malone, on the city council and a reform candidate, Cooper, off.

I have copies of Cooper’s petitions and I can see that there are questionable signatures on them, but since several of those whose signatures were allegedly forged had extensive criminal records, to immediately assume that it was Cooper who was responsible for the alleged forgeries was a convenient way to scuttle his candidacy. Cooper had no trouble finding enough Ward 2 voters willing to sign his petition, so why would he have forged signatures? It does not make sense. Where is the motivation?


Cooper (left) with lawyer as he faced charges of forgery

I believe there is a double standard in Portsmouth when it comes to forgers and alleged forgers, depending upon whether they are supporters or critics of the over-privileged of Portsmouth. Remember that convicted forger Michael Malone, who was a supporter, not a critic of the over-privileged, came within one vote of defeating his rival, the reformer Bob Mollette, in a city council recall election in 2004. Michael Malone, brother of councilman David Malone, claims he asked City Solicitor David Kuhn and City Clerk Jo Ann Aeh whether he could, as a felon who had been convicted of forgery, run for public office. Malone claimed he was told he could run. In the course of Michael Malone’s campaign, no one revealed that he was a convicted forger, not the City Solicitor, not the City Clerk, not his brother David, not the Portsmouth Daily Times, and not anyone else. The voters in Ward 3 were kept in the dark, as was everyone else. It was only after the election that Harold Daub discovered Michael Malone had served time for forgery. The double standard for forgers had probably protected Michael Malone, who had made it clear during the campaign that he was not one of the troublemakers, not one of the reformers, who were trying to recall elected officials.

In addition to having copies of Cooper’s disputed election petitions, I also have in my possession a photocopy of an older document that could serve as a classic example of the double standard that exists in Portsmouth in regard to forgers, which is a certified copy of a marriage license that is on file in the probate offices in Scioto County courthouse. That license purports to show that a marriage took place back in the 1960s between a Portsmouth woman and a soldier who was living at the time, temporarily, in Athens, Ohio. In researching the names on the marriage license, I found no evidence of the existence of the soldier, or anyone else whose name is on it except Scioto County Probate Judge Paul E. Fowler and the putative bride.

Fowler Building

It has been known for years by friends of the woman that the marriage in question never took place, and that the woman in question had been impregnated by Fowler, a member of an old and prominent Portsmouth family. The Fowler Building, in downtown Portsmouth, is an architectural reminder of the importance of the Fowler family. In his capacity as probate judge, Fowler signed the marriage license for a marriage that I could find no evidence had ever taken place. The marriage certificate is, as far as I have been able to determine, a forgery, apparently to cover up the fact that the “bride” listed on it was carrying Judge Fowler’s child. He signed a marriage license that has the earmarks of a clumsy forgery that contains the fictitious name and therefore the forged signature of a husband who did not exist, and the forged signature of a minister who, as far as I could discover, also did not exist, although I did find a minister with the same unusual name who lived in St. Louis in the late 1800s. The certificate also contains the names of the groom’s parents, whose existence I could not confirm. I have no knowledge of the circumstances surrounding the forgery, but I came up with an imaginary forgery in a short story for a blog in River Vices.

The broader implications of the unusual marriage license are worth noting. Probate records are what make civil society possible. Our legal identity, who we are as citizens, depends upon such records. The family, on which society as we know it depends, needs to keep clear who is a father and mother and who is a son and daughter. Without those family distinctions remaining clear and without probate records to prove their accuracy, we could end up singing, in the words of a comic song, “I’m my own grandpa.” How could a judge charged with the responsibility for assuring the integrity of probate records have anything to do with the criminal falsification of even one of those records? We don’t expect a fire chief to burn a church down or a lifeguard to drown someone. How could a family man and pillar of the community, how could a member of the Wesley Methodist Church and the distinguished president of the National Judges Association, how could a former member of the Ohio state legislature and an assistant attorney general of Ohio, how could a respected person in a position of public trust have dared to be party to an act that at the very least would have scandalized his family and ruined his career, and probably have resulted in some kind of jail time? I heard Newt Gingrich, of all people, recently say on TV, in a discussion of the Abramoff scandal, in which Ohio congressman Ney is implicated, that public officials who betray their public trust should be shown no mercy.

I have spent a several years trying to figure out the answer to why Judge Fowler did what he apparently did. Some of those who knew him thought he was eccentric, but no one considered him crazy. So the only answer I can come up with is that he dared to do what he did because the over-privileged of Portsmouth, the people in positions of authority, have been getting away with so much for so long that they are conditioned to think they are above the law. After all, who was going to look into the matter, even if they heard rumors of Fowler's waywardness? Who was going to go poking around in probate records? The city or county prosecutor? A reporter for the Portsmouth Daily Times? Fat chance.

A fire chief is in the best situation to get away with arson and a probate judge to falsify probate records, but if there is a pregnant woman in the picture any advantages the fire chief or judge has are more than outweighed by the desperateness of his situation. The original marriage license, on file at the county courthouse, is so obviously a frantic whited-out cut-and-paste document that it resembles a ransom note as much as a marriage license. It would not have taken a Sherlock Holmes or a Woodward and Bernstein to conclude there was something very suspicious about it. The marriage certificate indicates forgery far more than do Russ Cooper’s election petitions do, but Cooper is not one of Portsmouth's over-privileged, and that makes all the difference.

I would not have written about an old marriage license and exhumed this matter if it did not have direct relevance to the central theme of River Vices, which is the outrageous but long-running abuse of power on the part of the over-privileged of Portsmouth. However, compared to some of the crooked characters who control Portsmouth today, Judge Fowler was a scholar and a gentleman.

There is something feudal about social relations in Scioto County, and droit du seigner, the supposed right of the feudal lord to spend the first night with the brides of his lowly subjects, may have been one of the lordly privileges Fowler felt he was entitled to, although in this case the groom appears to have been imaginary. A probate judge signed off on a forged marriage license that covered up illicit behavior, and he was never called to account for it. By contrast, a native American who presumed to run for public office against one of the adulterous pawns of the over-privileged was arrested and accused of forging signatures on election petitions on the basis of a very dubious evidence.

I regret that in this blog I may be toppling a departed pillar of the community, just as a bulldozer last November toppled the tower of the Wesley Methodist Church, which Fowler, ironically, belonged to. But I am not doing it just to make room for another parking lot. I am doing it to make way for a truth, unfortunately an unpleasant truth, and that is that even one of the most respected and trusted of Portsmouth's over-privileged could not resist the temptation of thinking he was a law unto himself. And if that is what a "gentleman and a scholar" dared to do, it is even worse now with some of the unscrupulous characters who are in positions of authority and influence in our community, characters who have been screwing the public so long they think it is their birthright, like the droit du seigner.