Saturday, July 29, 2006

Au Revoir, River Vices


July 29th , 2006, marks the second anniversary of River Vices. When I began River Vices, I committed myself to a two-year hitch. Now that I have reached the two-year mark, I am going to take a sabbatical to finish another writing project that I have postponed for far too long. I hope to keep River Vices online for old and new visitors.

Au revoir means not goodbye but “till we meet again.” I will try to resume River Vices as soon as possible. I will occasionally republish news stories and other items that I think will be of interest to readers. In the meanwhile I will be active in the Concerned Citizens Group and writing in other forums on a less regular basis. As the name River Vices was meant to suggest, and contrary to what the Chamber of Commerce and the SOGP want us to believe, Portsmouth has been for some time, is now, and will likely continue to be, a corrupt, crime-ridden, economically distressed river city. But there have always been citizens challenging the corrupt status quo, struggling for a better community. I am proud to be one of those citizens and proud of the political and legal victories they have won in the last several years. Electronic communications and blogs especially are a valuable tool in that struggle for a better community . The almost 48,000 visitors to River Vices and the occasional personal expressions of appreciation from Portsmouth citizens have been heartening, and to them I express my gratitude.

Robert Forrey
Portsmouth, Ohio
July 29, 2006

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Tips for Private Tussie


What tips, if any, about Portsmouth's problems can be derived from Jesse Stuart's
Taps for Private Tussie, a novel about Kentucky hill people published over sixty years ago? Sixty years is a long time in the lifetime of an individual but not in the history of a region or a nation; and the area of Kentucky Stuart fictionalized in Taps is not far from Portsmouth, across the Ohio River. Parts of south-central Appalachian Ohio were and still are Tussie country.

Taps for Private Tussie (1943), which I wrote about in a previous blog, is a great American novel, told in the first person by Private Tussie’s teenage nephew, Sid, who doesn’t know exactly how old he is (somewhere between twelve or fifteen, he figures) or who his father or mother are either. Taps is a coming-of-age novel in which the narrator tries to figure out who he is, both familially and existentially, and what he’s going to do with his life, whether he’s going to be shiftless and ignorant, like most of his male kin, or whether he’s going to get an education, stand on his own feet, and make something of himself.

The underlying conflict in Taps is between the American ideals of hard work, self-reliance, and success, on the one side, and the Appalachian realities of indolence, poverty, and dependency on the other. With satirical irony, Taps for Private Tussie shows how deeply dependent many Appalachians are on the “govinment” that they profess to distrust and even despise.

Taps takes place in the mid-1940s, at the end of the Second World War. The economic boom that accompanied the war had not made much difference to the hill people, the poor whites of the region. Many of them are uneducated and unemployed, and some are still receiving weekly government food allotments, or
relief, which had begun during the Great Depression of the 1930s. When the novel begins, the family to which Sid belongs, part of the large Tussie clan, had been on government relief for about a decade. The colorful, unambitious, and shiftless Tussies are good at making music, making moonshine, and making love, especially to their relatives, but they are not much good at making a living.

Works the System

As a result of political changes that had taken place between 1933 and 1945, the Tussies have split into two camps. The “relief” Tussies, led by the wily patriarch Grandpa “Press” Tussie, had made political compromises with the Democrats, who were in control in Washington and in the county. The pragmatic Grandpa Tussie adjusted his politics and voted accordingly. “‘B-gad, I’s allus a Republican until this relief thing come along,’” he said. “‘It looked like too good a thing to pass us up.’” The other camp was made up of those Tussies who remained at least nominally Republicans. If they had received relief in the 1930s, they were no longer receiving it in 1945.

It should not be assumed that the Republican Tussies had more integrity than the turncoat “relief” Tussies. On the contrary, the argument could be made that they were worse, because their principles and their Republican heritage did not stop them from sponging shamelessly off the “relief” Tussies when the latter came into some money as a result of the death of Private Kim Tussie. When Kim Tussie’s young widow, Aunt Vittie, collected ten thousand dollars from his insurance policy, Grandpa Tussie rented a sixteen-room mansion and soon their Republican kin came knocking. “‘You know the nature of the Tussies,’ Grandma said. ‘When one family has plenty, the kinfolks come to live with ‘em until everything’s gone.’” The Biblical metaphor that Grandma uses to describe the Republican Tussies is appropriate: “locusts.”

None of the Tussies, on relief or not, subscribe to the American ideal of “strive and succeed.” Though the male Tussies tend to be strong as an ox, they would never bear the yoke. There was, for example, “Bert Tussie who could kill a beef with his fist but had never done a day’s work in his life . . .” Though able-bodied, Mott Tussie, Sid’s alcoholic uncle, never worked. Sid says of him, “He’d send me to the woods to find sticks for kindling to start the fire in the coal stove while he lay under the shade of the hickory trees and picked his banjer. Uncle Mott was a good banjer player, so everybody said when he played at the square dances. But everybody said he ought to be a good banjer picker since he hadn’t done a day’s work in his life.”
Though he was strong as a mule, Sid’s grandfather is not much better than his uncle Mott when it comes to work. Except for a period of his youth when he lived in Michigan, where he claimed to have been industrious, Grandpa Tussie viewed work as worse than hoof-and-mouth-disease. Sid says of his grandfather, “I’d seen people come and ask Grandpa to work; but he’d always tell them he was down in his back. He’d tell them that he’d never be able to work. And Grandpa wouldn’t work for anybody. Soon, people quit askin Grandpa to work.” Tobacco picking was one way to earn money, but Grandpa refused. He said he loved to smoke, snuff, and especially chew tobacco, but he refused to pick it. His so-called bad back did not stop him from square dancing all night like a man half his age. He loved to dance, but he hated work and thought anyone who stooped to it was a fool. Sid noticed that when Grandpa and Uncle Mott went to town with their relief sacks to pick up the government grub, they joked about other people working.

The Relief Industry

At the same time that they milk the government, the Tussies are a fiercely independent lot who refuse to be tied down by convention or routine. They are the decayed descendents of a hunting culture where a rifle is a man’s most prized possession. But “strive-and-succeed” America is a land of farming and selling, of learning and earning, of slaving and saving, of getting up and going, but the Tussies stay put like bumps on a log. The only growth industry is government assistance. Even though the Depression was over and the economy had boomed elsewhere in America during the war, the “relief industry” just kept growing in Stuart’s fictional Kentucky county. As Grandpa said, “‘It’s one industry that keeps a-growin right through good times!’”

The Tussie’s independence is a myth of their own creation. They are as independent as parasites. They are willing to live off the larder of those who work and pay taxes. Their only callouses are from carrying their
relief sacks. While basking in their sense of independence, they make a career of mooching off the government. The only thing they work is the system, and nobody more cynically than Grandpa Tussie. Even after his daughter-in-law shares her insurance money with him, Grandpa Tussie does not want to give up the weekly government food handout. “‘B’gad, the relief grub is free and we’ll get it . . . I wouldn’t feel at home unless I got it. Been a-gettin it ten years and I’ll get it ten more if I can. That’s the way I feel.’”

T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land,” which deeply influenced several generations of American writers, including Stuart's, presents a dispiriting picture of contemporary life as a dry barren landscape, without faith or hope. Eliot's poem is famous for despairing lines like, “I think we are in rats' alley / Where the dead men lost their bones.” Though it is easy to miss it because of the Swiftean irony in which it is wrapped, the opening chapter of Taps presents Stuart’s version of an Appalachian wasteland. Withered is the key word in the chapter, including Grandpa’s withered cornsilk hair and tobacco-stained beard, the withered grass through which little lizards scamper like lice, and the spiritually withered people, hoping to cash in on Private Tussie's death, who carry what they think are his remains up the hill to the graveyard.

In Kentucky, July, not April, is the cruelest month, as the stench of the remains in Private Tussie's coffin remind Uncle Mott when he steps in to the coal shed just before the funeral. “‘That scent will knock you down,’” he warns Grandpa. What makes T.S. Eliot’s world a wasteland is the lack of religious faith; what makes Stuart’s Appalachia a wasteland is the lack of faith in the American Dream, the refusal of the lazy and intractable Tussies to lift a finger to achieve that dream.

There is another reason in addition to the satire that makes it difficult to see that Stuart’s Appalachia is a wasteland: Stuart is a bit ambivalent about the American dream of strive-and-succeed, just as he is ambivalent about the Tussies. For example, Stuart seems uncertain whether Grandpa’s longing for a piece of land of his own represents the best or the worst side of his character, whether being a landowner is the first stop to independence or the first step to the kind of servitude Thoreau warned against in Walden. Stuart begrudgingly admires the Tussies, he even begrudgingly loves them, perhaps because of their refusal to be emasculated and branded, to be regimented and repressed, or to be pussy-whipped by the American bitch-goddess Success. But at the same time Stuart cannot help being embarrassed and appalled, as only an intelligent, educated, and ambitious native of Appalachia could be, by the Tussies’ anti-social behavior, by their slovenly lack of ambition, by their failure to even begin to measure up to their primary obligation, the obligation that every red-blooded Americans is supposed to feel – the obligation to succeed.

Hail the Unconquering Hero

There is not a shred of patriotism in Taps, which is remarkable considering it was written and published while the war was still going on. The flag on the pole outside the county courthouse is neutralized by the soiled flag that shrouds Private Tussie’s coffin, a flag that Sid thinks of as dead, as dead as the corpse inside the coffin. Kim Tussie was no hero, even though he was given a hero’s funeral. Before he went off to war, he was just another ignorant, no-good Tussie. Sid says, “I remembered Uncle Kim how he used to come home drunk and throw the few pieces of furniture out of the house, break the dishes and winders, break the chairs over the stove and drive Aunt Vittie off. . . . I remember how the Law used to threaten Uncle Kim because he wouldn’t pay his debts and how he’d take to the woods with his pistols when the sheriff would come to get ‘im.”

Though it is a great novel, Taps lacks a resolution to the conflict at the heart of it, the conflict between self-reliance and dependency. After the laziness, incestuous lust, and violence of the first twenty-two chapters of the novel, the last two chapters resort to what was called in Greek drama a deus ex machina, or god from the machine. By some mechanical means, a god descended from the skies to the Greek stage to straighten everything out. The god-from-the-machine in Taps is Private Tussie himself who returns home very much alive and reformed to explain that it wasn’t him they had buried but some other unfortunate solider. We are supposed to believe that the war has civilized him, made him sober, sensitive, and kind – taken the Tussie out of him. It is a kind of miraculous rebirth.

Stuart ends his wasteland novel as a Shakespearean comedy, like All
s Well that Ends Well, with Kim and his wife Vittie on the final page snuggling up before a fire and presumably living happily ever after, with Kim serving as the father Sid had never had. Kim’s wife Vittie, whom Sid previously had been told was his aunt, was really his mother. She had given birth to Sid out of wedlock before she married Kim. So on both his mother’s and his father’s side (his biological father was middle-class), Sid is not a Tussie, which may be the equivalent of those fantasies children have who wish their parents were not really their parents, as Stuart may have wished at times he was not Appalachian. The ending of Taps is a happy one, but it is more or less stuck on the rest of the novel.

With a combination of nerve and na├»vete, Stuart wrote a culturally subversive, politically incorrect novel in the middle of a war. Industriousness, self-reliance, virtue, and godliness – these were the ideological cornerstones of the American nation, and no one better suggest otherwise, especially when a war is being waged. Everyone was supposed to pull together to defeat the evil enemy. No ethnic or racial group was supposed to be portrayed as anything but virtuous and patriotic. In creating the Tussies, Stuart was revealing the dark side of the American dream, if not of human nature; he was showing his own Appalachian kinfolk in as unflattering a light as they had ever been portrayed prior to the war on the radio and in comic strips and movies. But at the end of Taps, Stuart backed away from his satirical, unpatriotic vision.

Welcomed Relief

Many readers appreciated the novel, which sold well and won prestigious awards, probably because it was such a relief from the propaganda of that period. But the conservative guardians of America’s image, and war-time Hollywood in particular, wanted no part of Private Tussie; it wanted Sergeant York, a Kentuckian who had allegedly used his sharp-shooting skills to kill and capture scads of Huns in the First World War. We now have learned that Alvin York had not been quite the hero Gary Cooper had portrayed him as in the Academy Award-winning 1941 movie Sergeant York, but when nations, races, religions and civilizations war with each other for control of the world, in a survival of the holiest struggle, myth is usually a more useful weapon than the truth. Truth is the first casualty of every war, the adage says, and since undeclared wars often simmer between declared ones, many people go through their lives uncritically and usually unconsciously immersed in the myths they have been programmed by their culture to believe in.

Later in his career, as he moved further right politically, Stuart came up with an ideological rather than an artistic resolution of the conflict he had left hanging in Taps. He fell back on an Appalachian prejudice and blamed the government for having corrupted the poor hill people of Kentucky. Stuart dramatized that thesis in his novel The Land Beyond the River (1973), in which Ohio and Portsmouth are fictionalized as the places where salt-of-the-earth Kentuckians go to be corrupted by the welfare state. The Land Beyond the River is not anywhere near the artistic achievement Taps was, perhaps because there is no ambivalence in it: the love hate relationship with Appalachia and its people that Stuart creatively wrestled with in Taps is replaced by a monomaniacal right-wing Cold War conviction that government is the source of all that is bad in America.

Though a work of fiction set in the Buckeye, not the Bluegrass State, The Land Beyond the River  offers insights into the history and character of Appalachian Ohio and Portsmouth, where Stuart lived and taught school for a time. What I understood after reading Taps is that the Tussies are still with us, if by Tussies we mean those who milk the government at the same time they sing the praises of free enterprise and individual initiative. Grandpa Tussie, that clever and incorrigible old sponge, now has a law degree and a real estate license; he and his clan control the Chamber of Commerce and the Southern Ohio Growth Partnership. Our contemporary Tussies, all gussied up and with more
schoolin than their predecessors, have managed to keep Portsmouth poor and crime-ridden so that they can keep financial assistance rolling in from the state and federal government and pork from the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture in particular.

The dishonesty of the Tussies who control Portsmouth is equaled only by their clannishness. Those outsiders who dare to question the way things are done locally – even though those ways have fostered a culture of corruption and incompetence – run the risk of being harassed, arrested, and denounced as “domestic terrorists.”

Chamber of Commerce's Stuart

One of the Dept. of Agriculture pork projects in Portsmouth is the Floodwall Murals. That Jesse Stuart has found a niche on that Chamber-of-Commerce version of Portsmouth’s history is an irony that he
would have been able to appreciate better than anybody. Labor and learning, sacrifice and curing, community and caring are celebrated in the murals, but where are Stuart’s Tussies and the unpleasant truths they represent? The scalawag Uncle Mott had boasted, “‘[A] Tussie can stand anything when he has to,’” to which Grandma shrewdly replies, “‘He can stand anything before he’ll work to make it better . . .’” That can also be said of the Tussies who now control Portsmouth, and who try to get us to believe otherwise through the myths depicted on the trompe d'oeil (deceive the eye) pork-barrel murals.

Note: Taps for Private Tussie quotations are from the 1943 first edition published by E. P. Dutton, with illustrations by Thomas Benton.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Hoggville: A Fable

Pig Iron
Superhero Pig Iron

Harrison Hogg, a Kentuckian who had moved to Cincinnati, was given a thousand acres by the government after the Revolutionary War on the present site of the city named after him. Hogg had, in the words of the original grant, “rendered valuable service during the war.”

The service in question was supplying pork, profitably, to the American militia via the Ohio River by an ingenious invention of Hogg’s called “pork paddleboats.” The boats began their journey in Cincinnati, and made their way northward to Pittsburgh, where the animals were slaughtered, smoked, and shipped still further north to the bedraggled and hungry American soldiers fighting in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York.

At first, Hoggville was only a refueling stop on the Ohio River, but Harrsion Hogg quickly figured how he could increase his profits by having his pork paddleboats begin their journey at Hoggville instead of Cincinnati. There was an exponential increase of pork in Hoggville, and travelers on river boats claimed they got wind of the river city long before they could see it. In 1846, an ordinance required piggeries to relocate outside city limits, but within ten years Hoggville’s city limits had expanded enough to take in the piggeries again.

Ironically, the only industry to speak of in Hoggville other than pork was pig iron. The shape of the sand molds used in smelting pig iron resembles a sow suckling her piglets, which is how the brittle iron produced by the process got its name. When Hogg laid out the platte for Hoggville, he chose not the traditional square but the irregular shape of the pig iron molds, because by that time swine, and everything associated with them, began to take on a mystical character for the Hoggs, like the trowel and hammer for the Masons.

Because Hogg’s pork was foul-tasting and hard to chew, the soldiers nicknamed it “pig iron.” According to one legend, Washington’s starving troops at Valley Forge refused eat their Hogg pork. “Beef, beef . . .” the soldiers reportedly pleaded with the quartermaster. One soldier who did eat his Hogg ration at Valley Forge was Oliver Tidwell, of Titusville, New York, a young schoolmaster. He became delirious for days after eating his rations. He later claimed that the apostle Peter appeared to him in a vision, chastising him for eating pork. “You must not eat pigs or touch their carcasses; they are unclean for you,” St. Peter told Titus. “Do not listen to those who say that Jesus did away with the prohibition against pork,” St. Peter added. “Do you think our Savior would eat pork chops? No, no, never! Go forth and tell the nation, ‘Pork is an abomination!’”

For the rest of his life, Tidwell was a zealous anti-pork crusader. As a schoolmaster, he had been a Deist, with a Thomas Paine pamphlet in his pocket even while he was in his delirium. But after the war, he became a deacon in the Titusville church and established an organization, Christians Opposed to Pork, or COP, publishing a pamphlet, “The Abomination of Pork as Revealed in a Delirium at Valley Forge, December 1777.” Opposed to the separation of church and state, Tidwell called on the framers of the Constitution to include an article prohibiting pork. In an eerie foreshadowing of contemporary history, Tidwell had predicted in his pamphlet that the Islamic prohibition of alcohol and pork would give the followers of Mohammed a decisive advantage over Christians in the centuries ahead. “Rum and pork will be the ruination of the American republic,” Tidwell prophesized.

Tidwell had never forgotten that Hoggville was the city that supplied the pork that had made him deathly ill, so he made a trip there in the summer of 1802. In a COP convention in Albany, New York, in 1804, he denounced Hoggville as “that wicked city on the Ohio River.” He accused its inhabitants of capitulating to pork with all the accompanying physical, moral, and spiritual consequences. “The people of Hoggville eat so much pork that they have begun to look and act like pigs,” he wrote. Tidwell went so far as to claim that Catholic children in a Hoggville parochial school were being taught in pig-latin, which claim was derided in newspapers and pulpits of Hoggville as the ravings of a madman. When Tidwell read an editorial that had been published in the Hoggville Times on July 4th, 1801, the twenty-fifth anniversary of the birth of the nation, he said that independence was precisely what the people of Hoggville lacked; they were always looking for a handout, such as the government’s original land grant to Hogg.

Tidwell accused Hoggville of pagan porcine-centered practices, everything from serving stuffed pig at Thanksgiving to a bridegroom’s obligatory squeezing of the testicles of the larger-than-life-sized pig that stood in front of the Hoggville town hall at midnight on the last full moon before his wedding day. In other towns, people put statues of deer on their lawn; in Hoggville, Tidwell said, they put statues of pigs. The Hogg family was rumored to have invested most of its wealth in gold, which it melted down and cast in the form of pigs. Always inclined to believe the worst of Hoggville, Tidwell had no doubt the rumor was true. “They worship not the golden calf but the golden pig,” he said.

Whether of not the rumors about the gold pigs were true, in life as in death, pigs were on everyone’s mind in Hoggville, from kids in cribs to the aged on their deathbed. The imposing Hogg Mausoleum in the Hoggville cemetery featured not a golden but a
bronze statue of a sow suckling eight piglets. After Hoggville children said their prayers at bedtime, they pleaded with their parents to play “This little piggy went to market.” Because it was not unusual for children in their early teens to be still attached to the “little piggy” bedtime ritual, the minister of the Presbyterian Church preached a sermon on the question: “At what age should parents stop playing ‘This Little Piggy’ with their children?” Rumor had it that the marriage of a Hoggville pork heiress had ended in divorce because her husband’s sexual interest in her had consisted solely of his playing “This little piggy” with her toes.

Other industries emerged in Hoggville in the 1800s, but they were all pig-related. The finely crafted Krautmitz pig-skinned gloves, which reportedly graced the h
ands of Queen Victoria, were made by a German-American Hoggville company. And Rampant Sporting Equipment, owned by a French-American family, was once as familiar a name in sporting equipment as Spaulding and Wilson later were. In the late 1800s, Rampant footballs, made of pigskin, were passed and dropped-kicked all over the country, from sandlot scrimmages to the annual Harvard-Yale game. The Hoggville Pigskins, a local semi-professional football team sponsored by the Rampant Co., had a live pig as its mascot. (Photo at right of 1910 Pigskin captain holding Rampant pigskin football.) The poet Carl Sandburg dubbed Chicago “Hog-Butcher for the World,” but Hoggville satisfied itself with the slogan that appeared on the Hogg Co. pork products that were shipped all over the country: “From California to New York: Hogg’s is America’s Favorite Pork!”

The most famous and profitable Hogg product was pork rinds. Though the English claimed pork rinds originated in the so-called Black Country, in the Midland coal mining area, the Hoggs claimed they were the inventors. Hogg pork rinds came in two varieties, Hogg Regular and Hogg Hairy. Pork rind aficionados would eat nothing but the Hairy variety, for they claimed pig hairs added a subtle spiciness to the rinds.

Another Hogg product, Hogg Deviled Ham, was rumored to be the snack of choice in houses of prostitution, as prunes and figs had been in brothels in Shakespeare’s London. It was presumably for that reason that the sale of Hogg Deviled Ham was banned in Boston. Because of these alleged unsavory associations, Tidwell said that if salvation was Jesus’s gift to mankind, pork was the devil’s. The Women’s Christian Temperance Union denounced “demon rum,” but COP condemned “demon pork.”

Harrison Hogg II insisted that if the devil was responsible for anything, it was not pork but unions. When the Meatcutter’s Amalgamated Union attempted to organize the Hoggville workers in the early 1900s, Harrison II blamed the trouble on socialist agitators from Youngstown. The Hoggs, he said, had always been givers, not takers, Good Samaritans, not Scrooges. He pointed out that his grandfather had begun the practice of personally distributing smoked hams to the poor at Christmas. Harrison II continued the tradition, but he was dogged by accusations that Hoggville’s poor, like the soldiers at Valley Forge, got only tainted meat.

The prosperity pork brought to Hoggville seemed like it would go on forever. Republicans and Democrats united to make Hoggville a one-party town: at election times, people sported only the Pork button. Well into the 1900s, Hoggville continued its love affair with pigs. The Hoggville Pigskins adopted a live pig as their mascot, and the
Chamber of Commerce adopted Porky Pig as the city’s unofficial municipal logo. A Porky Pig cartoon festival was held each May at the Majestic Theater, which served free “Porkcorn,” a Hogg specialty item that popped like corn when heated but was actually another variation of pork rinds. The smell of Hogg Porkcorn was always in the air during the Miss Pigtail contest, for girls sixteen and under, which was held every Fourth of July. Where else in American could you find lard shakes, pig’s knuckle sundaes, and chitlin splits served at the local malt shop?

In the twentieth century, Hoggville adopted a patron Superhero named Pig Iron. From infancy onward, children were told the bedtime story of how a lackadaisical little pig named Peter Porkchop fell into a vat of molten pig iron and emerged an indestructible superhero. Every boy in Hoggville grew up collecting Pig Iron comic books. Superman, Batman, Spiderman, Captain Marvel – all played second-fiddle to the Swine of Steel, the Porcine Powerhouse, and the Swill Billy, to list a few of the nicknames by which Pig Iron was affectionately known in Hoggville.

Hoggville’s Decline

All things, the bad as well as the good, must come to an end. Around 1950, Hoggville began to decline economically. That was about the time the American diet began to change. The whole country was becoming cholesterol conscious, but in Hoggville cholesterol became a dirty word. Children who used it were made to eat a teaspoon of lard. But it was not just cholesterol. Footballs changed shape, no longer resembling a cross between a basketball and a football; and, more to the point, footballs were no longer made of pigskin. The long-lived Queen Victoria had eventually passed away and so did the fad for pigskin gloves. Kidskin was in. Pigskin was out, for footballs, wallets, belts, and saddles. For the cholesterol and calorie conscious, beef jerky became the healthy alternative to pork rinds. In time, as hard as it was for local residents to believe, the Hogg plant closed, moving its operations to a Maquiladora in Mexico.

Main Street storefronts were shuttered. Pig Out, the popular Main St. drive-in restaurant with an exclusively pork menu and a 1950s decor, served its last pig-in-a-blanket on Labor Day, 1978. By 1980, the population of Hoggville had dwindled to half what it had been fifty years earlier. It was in 1980 that a lawyer, a developer, and a couple of local politicians concocted a real estate scam under the guise of a mall that they claimed would revive downtown Hoggville. But nothing came of it except a string of antique/junk shops, with clever names like Pig-in-a-Poke, Higgledy-Piggledy and the Pig Sty. Pig-related relics of Hoggville’s prosperous past could be seen dimly, through unwashed cracked glass store fronts, cluttering the display area – piggy banks, lawn pigs, stacks of Pig Iron comics, life-sized cut-outs of Pig Iron himself, a painting titled “Pignacious,” of a pig in trunks and boxing gloves, yellowing photos of Porky Pig Festivals, and lumps of pig iron that once had served as centerpieces on dining tables. Locally, Main Street became known as Pig Alley after prostitutes and drug dealers drifted into the depressed city. A Baptist minister denounced Main St. in a radio sermon with a biblically inspired name: “Route 666,” which he pronounced “Route Sex-Sex-Sex.”

Government Assistance

“The Lord never closes one door that he doesn’t open another,” is a homily that would seem to apply to Hoggville, for having lost its pork foundation, the city, in the second half of the twentieth century, created another in the form of political pork. How that came about is complicated, but the simple explanation was Bigby Rampant Hogg, a descendant of Harrison Hogg on his father’s side and of the Rampants on his mother’s. “Biggie,” as he had been called as a boy, and “Big” as he was known as a man, was south-central Ohio’s perpetually reelected choice in the U.S. House of Representatives. By the time Lyndon Johnson declared war on poverty, “Big” Hogg was the Republican Minority Leader and a poker playing buddy of the President. Hogg was as successful at providing pork projects for his Hoggville congressional district as his ancestors had been at providing pork products for America. In the so-called War on Poverty, Hogg played General Patton to Johnson’s General Eisenhower, winning repeated legislative victories for his depressed Ohio Congressional district.

There was a catch , however. If the War Against Poverty was ever won, Hoggville would lose. Hoggville succeeded only by continuing to fail, for the worse conditions in Hogg’s congressional district were, the easier it was for him to persuade the President and the Democrats in Congress to go along with his many pet pork projects, as he in return went along with theirs. But the pork had to be dispensed in such a way that it did not end his district’s privileged status as one of the poorest in Ohio. Neighborhoods of Hoggville had to continue to deteriorate. The population had to continue to decline. And the rates for crime, drug dealing, and prostitution had to keep rising even as the public dollars that were supposed to reduce them were pumped into the city.


The solution to “Big” Hogg’s problem was to design pork projects so that it was not the poor but the relatively few well-to-do in Hoggville who profited from them. The decline of Hoggville had produced more than one millionaire among the bankers, lawyers and developers. The trick was to get dollars targeted for the poor to somehow trickle up to them. It was what a young reporter for the Hoggville Times dubbed “trickle up porkenomics,” a phrase he used in the company of his cynical buddies over a beer at a local watering hole but that he would never have used in the Times.

Hoggville became addicted to “Trickle-up porkenomics.” Risk was virtually eliminated from economic life. Only fools started a business without grants, subsidies, low-interest loans, tax breaks, or without an “entrepreneurial package” from some state or federal agency. In an example of Orwellian doublespeak, a federal agency designated Hoggville an “Entrepreneurial Zone,” or an “EZ,” for short. The cynical might say “Entrepreneurial Zone” was a euphemism for “Welfare Zone,” the kind of zone, incidentally, where existing businesses kept out other businesses that might compete with it for customers and for government dollars. It was all so “EZ,” so to speak. This kind of thing was going on in other urban areas in the so-called Rust Belt states, of which Congressman Hogg claimed Ohio was the rustiest. Just as the government had stepped in with acronymic programs like the WPA, FHA and NRA during the 1930s, the federal government from the 1960s on played the rich uncle by sending millions of dollars through programs such as EZ to private “non-profit” corporations known as Community Improvement Corporations, which in turn redistributed the millions to the privileged few to invest in faltering or startup businesses.

Few of the government-hatched businesses in Hoggville succeeded. When the government is the sperm donor, the result is usually a miscarriage. Main St. became “the street where businesses go to die.” In Hoggville, the failure of these new “enterprises” were as commonplace as a bowel movement, and those rare ones that did succeed made no noticeable difference in the high unemployment rate.

Hoggville suffered not just from trickle-up but also from “half-baked
porkenomics, for just as undercooked pork could carry the debilitating larvae of Trichinella spiralis, which migrate into the muscles of humans who eat contaminated pork, so did pork dollars end up destroying the moral and ethical fiber of Hoggville. Initiative went out the window, inventiveness went down the drain, and accountability up in smoke. Instead of pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps, local “entrepreneurs” supported themselves with government jockstraps. Instead of competing for customers, business people in Hoggville tended to collude with each other for government dollars. Instead of solving problems, they swept them under the rug. Cronyism replaced merit as the criteria for advancement. When outsiders moved to Hoggville, they learned that if they wanted to fit in, they couldn’t afford to keep whatever ethical and moral standards they might have brought with them. If they did not become team-players in the crooked game, they were benched or fired.

The least successful gravitated to public office and did the bidding of the unelected clique of millionaires. An important qualification for mayor appeared to be not having succeeded at anything. Along with businesses without competition, the city was cursed with government without ethics, religion without good works, schools without study, courts without justice, hospitals without cures, and lives without meaning.

All public institutions in Hoggville appeared infected by porkenomics, or the managerial equivalent of Trichinella spiralis. The hospital and local state university were the recipients of many millions of public dollars funneled to them by Congressman Hogg. But when measured by national and state standards, those institutions were shown to be near the bottom, just as the city, in regard to crime, drug use, and prostitution, was near the top.

Glory of Hoggsville

The glory of Hoggsville is that it has never been without pork opponents, of both sexes, and of various ages, races, and party affiliations, who have carried on heroically from generation to generation. At times they have been a handful; at others they have
numbered in the hundreds. Sometimes, they have been dismissed as misfits, malcontents, and vegetarians. At other times, they have been denounced as dangerous enemies of society. In the 1800s, they were accused of being COPs, secret members of Titus Tidwell’s Christians Opposed to Pork group. A hundred years later, in the 1950s, in the McCarthy era, the reformers were accused of being communists and queers, and of having ruined Hoggville by their un-American deprecation of pork. Then, more than a half a century later, at the beginning of the new millennium, in keeping with current fads, the reformers were accused of being domestic terrorists, as if they were allied to Islamic fanatics.

Until recently, pork opponents have struggled at a great disadvantage. The means of publication were always in the hands of the privileged few. The newspapers and radio stations were owned or controlled by the privileged. Reformers in Hoggville had to be satisfied with letters-to-the editor and mimeographed material distributed by hand, like samizdat material in the Soviet Union. The refusal of several council members to go along with the mall scam in 1980 resulted in a media-driven campaign that led to their removal from the office. A parade down Main Street denouncing the council members as “enemies of the people” had all the earmarks of a Ku Klux Klan rally, of which there had been several in Hoggville in the late 1970s. In Hoggville, people’s perceptions of what was what was heavily influenced if not dictated by the local media.

But that has changed dramatically in the last twenty years. An electronic revolution has democratized communication. Anyone with a computer and internet access has the potential to communicate with someone on the other side of the world or on the other side of Hoggville. The local media no longer have a monopoly on the news.

Now pork is a metaphor, representing all that is swinish in Hoggville – the lust for money, the plundering of the common weal, the debasement of local politics, the pollution of the environment, the eminent domaining of neighborhoods, the bulldozing of the past, the institutionalization of incompetence, the loss of initiative– all the things that motivate the reformers to do what they do and say what they say, day after day, year after year, only now what they are doing and saying is not a secret. Anyone can read it on the internet. The genie is out of the bottle and is not going to be put back anytime soon, if ever, and Hoggville may never be the same. Not even Pig Iron will stop them.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Unrepresentative Government

U.S. Constitution

For several pressing reasons, citizens of Portsmouth recently proposed that the terms for city council members be reduced from four to two years. Veteran community activist Richard Noel wrote to the Portsmouth City Council on 26 June 2006, “On behalf of the Concerned Citizens Group, I am writing to request that City Council place a City Charter Amendment on the upcoming November 2006 ballot that would change ‘SECTION 3 – POWERS, ELECTION, TERM, VACANCIES’ in order that council member terms of office be changed back to two years from the current four year term.” Portsmouth City Council members had been elected for two-year terms up until 1985, when that provision was changed by charter amendment.

It is important to note that the change the Concerned Citizens are proposing would affect only the six council members, not the Mayor (chief executive officer), the city solicitor (the chief legal officer), and the other city officials. Under the Concerned Citizens proposal, those officials would continue to serve four-year terms.

Historical Background

Some historical background is helpful to understand the reasons for the Concerned Citizens’ proposal. You can’t understand the structure of local government, including the Portsmouth City Council, without understanding the structure of state government, and you can’t understand the structure of state government without understanding the structure of federal government because what was decided at the federal level influenced what was decided at the state level, and what was decided at the state level influenced what was decided at the local level, in Portsmouth.

The Founding Fathers of our nation intended that the U.S. House of Representatives would be “the people’s house,” the body of the federal government that would be directly elected by, and therefore most accountable to, the people. It was to be the most representative and the most accountable body of the federal government. In the Federalist Papers, Hamilton or Madison wrote, “As it is essential to liberty that the government in general should have a common interest with the people, so it is particularly essential that the branch of it under consideration [the House of Representatives] should have an immediate dependence on, and an intimate sympathy with, the people.”

The best way they could think of to insure that the House of Representatives would remain “the people’s house,” was frequent elections. “Frequent elections are unquestionably the only policy by which this dependence and sympathy can be effectually secured (emphasis added),” they wrote in number 52 of the Federalist Papers. In regard to frequent elections, they quoted, in number 53, the proverb that held “that where annual elections end, tyranny begins.” But that proverb was an old one, and conditions had presumably changed. Elections every year were impractical when many people spread over large areas were involved. Somewhat reluctantly, the Founding Fathers decided that the maximum term for a representative should be two years. Elections would take place biennially. “All these considerations taken together warrant us in affirming, that biennial elections will be as useful to the affairs of the public as we have seen that they will be safe to the liberty of the people.”
In the U.S. Constitution, Article I deals with congress, suggesting how important the legislative branch was in the eyes of the Founding Fathers. American democracy begins with and is rooted in the legislative branch, and especially in the House of Representatives, the members of which were elected directly by the voters in the states. The direct vote helped to insure that the House of Representatives remained responsive to the people’s will, and the stipulation that the vote would take place every two years further strengthened the people’s control of the House.

When Ohio designed its state government, it closely followed the federal model, with a General Assembly that consisted of a House of Representatives and a Senate. Following the federal model, terms for the Ohio House, the “people’s house,” were two years.

Local Government

Most local governments in Ohio usually followed the state model. In local governments, the legislative body, the counterpart to a House of Representatives, is the city council. Following the House of Representatives example, two-year terms were the general rule for city councils. But a number of cities and towns have shifted to a mixture of two-terms for ward representatives and four-year terms for at-large council members; other communities have shifted to a four-year term for all council members. The Columbus City Council has four-year terms, but the city councils of Cleveland and Cincinnati retain two-year terms. While there are exceptions, generally smaller communities are more likely to have four-year terms for city council, the larger ones two-year terms. Why the difference?

A possible explanation is that larger urban areas with a history of municipal corruption and machine politics see two-year terms as a way of removing the bad apples before they can do their worst. Cities and towns that have been plagued by corruption and that distrust politicians as a class want city councils to be on the short leash that two-year terms represent. A clique or political machine would more likely arise and persist in a city where members of city council had four rather than two years in which to plot and scheme.

Communities that don’t have a history of crooked politics don’t want to go through the trouble of having elections every two years. But large cities like Cleveland and Cincinnati may have learned that biennial elections are worth the trouble because they make the city council accountable every two years. They have learned from experience that at least some politicians are not to be trusted. The same thing that makes four-year terms seem sensible in some communities makes them seem unwise in others. Communities with honest politicians and with little or no corruption think four-year terms are more practical; cities with dishonest politicians and a history of corruption think four-year terms are asking for trouble.

Checks and Balances

The Founding Fathers established three branches of government, the legislative, the executive, and the judicial, which were supposed to serve as checks and balances on each other. The counterparts of those three branches of government are discernable in local government in the city council (legislative), the mayor or city manager (executive), and the city solicitor and city courts (judiciary). Unfortunately, at the local level, too often the three branches of government, rather than checking and balancing each other, are in cahoots, forming a tyranny that represses and exploits the public they are supposed to be serving. If you want to see an example of the kind of tyranny our Founding Fathers were afraid of, just look at Portsmouth where the city council, the mayor, the city solicitor, the city clerk have worked secretly, like a gang of safe-crackers, to rob the people. The Marting robbery is the most recent and notorious example of their handiwork, but it is only one of many jobs they have pulled.

They will resist any attempt to shackle their activities, such as limiting city council terms to two years, with the same kind of campaign they waged after the Marting deal was nullified by the courts.

Council president Baughman

Just as Mayor Bauer predicted chaos would reign if he was recalled from office, and just as council woman Carol Caudill said “God help the city of Portsmouth” after she was recalled, the present city government has already begun claiming chaos will reign if the city council returns to the two-year term. Howard Baughman, the president of the city council, has already said that council members could not possibly learn to understand budgets in two years. Don’t believe it for a minute. The real reason Baughman and others will furiously oppose the two-year term is that two-year terms will loosen the grip of the lawyers and developers who currently control the city through the city council. It will be a little harder for the unelected few who control the city council if its members have to face the voters more frequently. The words of the Founding Fathers are worth repeating: “Frequent elections are unquestionably the only policy by which this dependence and sympathy can be effectually secured.”

Municipal Tyranny

What the Founding Fathers feared most was the “tyranny” and abuse of power by those in control of the government. To those who live in honest and peaceful communities, the notion of “tyranny” seems antiquated. But tyranny is still alive anywhere that corrupt individuals, either in elective office or in appointed positions, conspire to deprive the people of their rights and liberties.

Portsmouth is one of those cities where tyranny still rules and where the people need whatever protection is afforded by two-year terms for council members. The unhappy history of the city since the change to four-year terms in 1985 underscores this point. Portsmouth’s elected government has too often been the pawn of an unelected, shadow government, the chief vehicle of which is the Southern Ohio Growth Partnership. In the absence of two-year terms, frustrated citizens have had to resort to the recall provisions in the city charter. Two-year terms for council members are not going to work miracles or eliminate Portsmouth’s shadow government, but they will weaken the grip of the tyranny and make recalls less likely.

Portsmouth has one of the highest per capita crime rates of all Ohio cities, but politicians, unlike prostitutes and drug-dealers, do not have the law breathing down their neck. On the contrary, the police chief is out to protect the city council and other elected officials from being recalled. At one city council meeting, he called those trying to recall elected officials as “domestic terrorists,” and he mentioned the extraordinary efforts the police department had made in investigating the recall effort in the Second Ward, but not without also apologizing to other council members facing recalls for not having been able to do the same for them.

Honest capable people in public office have no reason to object to two-year terms, because they can be assured of reelection if they do a good job. It’s the dishonest council members, and especially those who have been appointed rather than elected, who want the four-year terms to continue. Four-year terms for city council members help perpetuate the political machine that controls Portsmouth on behalf of the SOGP.

Learning Curves, Chaos and Dummies

In responding to the request from the Concerned Citizens to put the two-year proposal on next November’s ballot, Baughman replied at the June 25th city council meeting, “There's a learning curve when you become a city councilman.” That Baughman could not come up with a better defense of four-year terms than “learning curves” shows what shaky ground he stands on. The argument that it takes council
members more than two years to understand budgets is absurd. The city charter gives the Mayor and the Auditor primary responsibility for the budget, and since they would continue to serve four year terms, the “learning curve” argument for council members is bogus. Given their learning curves, some council members could serve twenty years and not understand the budget, because some people have a better eye for figures than a head for figures.

The only other defense beside “learning curves” Baughman offered against two-year terms was that “It would just be constant turmoil and turnover every two years.” Though all council members would run for election at the same time, it is unlikely that they would all be defeated. And if they were, that might be the best thing for the city.

If biennial elections bring constant turmoil, how have the U.S. House of Representatives, the Ohio House of Representatives, and the city councils of many cities in Ohio managed to survive for as long as they have? Where is the two-term related turmoil in Alliance, Amherst, Athens, Blue Ash, Chillicothe, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Cuyahoga Falls, Lorrain, North Royalton, Norwood, Parma, Silverton, Warren, Wilmington, Wyoming, etc? There has been a lot of turmoil in the Portsmouth City Council in the past twenty-five years and much of it has been the result of four-year terms and the recalls that would not likely have taken place if council members had faced the electorate every two years.


What follows is a summary of the reasons the Concerned Citizens are calling for a return to two-year terms of council members.

1. The most pressing reason is that two-year terms will make council members more accountable to the voters. The voters should not have to wait four years to express their preferences via the ballot box. Four-year terms have not resulted in more honest and efficient city government. Four-year terms for council members, which replaced two-year terms in 1985, have made things worse, not better.

2. Reducing the terms of council members from four- to two-year terms will reduce the need for and justification of recall elections. The city charter permits the recall of council members, but the charter stipulates that the recall process cannot begin until the elected official in question has served six months in office. With only eighteen months to go before another election, frustrated voters are more likely to concentrate on defeating a controversial council member at the polls rather than going through the complicated and risky recall procedure. I say risky because Portsmouth police chief Horner has labeled the organizers of recent recall attempts as “domestic terrorists,” and one of the recall candidates, Native-American Russell Cooper, was arrested for alleged “irregularities” on his petitions. The only alternative voters have when the object of their ire has forty-two months left on his term is to resort to the recall process, and risk being harassed and even arrested. When a council member has eighteen or less months to go, campaigning to defeat him in the next election would be the most effective way to remove him or her.

3. Putting council members in office for four years is unwise because, as honest and conscientious as they may be, and as dishonest and underhanded as they have too often been, they are generally less well-educated and less financially secure and for various reasons more likely not to finish their term; and they are twice as likely not to finish a four-year term as they are a two-year term. Under the city charter rules, something as simple as moving out of the ward they represent disqualifies council members from continuing in office. For an example of unadulterated unrepresentative government, look no further than the First Ward. We recently saw a dishonest councilman, Timothy Loper, move from the First Ward to the Sixth Ward and then, with the connivance of the city solicitor, he not only did not resign but ran for another term as First Ward councilman! Because of these electoral shenanigans in the First Ward, where the council appointed a local lawyer, Michael Mearan, to replace Timothy Loper, who first got on the council as a result of a recall election, those of us who live in the First Ward have a right to revive the famous slogan of the American Revolution, “No Taxation without Representation.”

4. The four-year term for city council members undermines representative government because too many members first take a seat on the city council as a result of an appointment rather than an election. The city charter calls for the city council to appoint replacements when a vacancy occurs. If vacancies were a rare occurrence, this would not be much of a problem. But given the frequency of vacancies, the appointment power of the city council is a serious problem, a problem made even worse by four-year terms. The current president of council, Baughman, was originally an appointee. So is current Fourth Ward councilman Albrecht, and so is First Ward councilman Michael Mearan. They were all first appointed rather than elected. It is possible that within the foreseeable future the majority of city council will have been originally appointed rather than elected to office.

Unelected First Ward councilman

5. Council President Baughman’s argument that two-year terms for council members will bring chaos to city government is bogus and hides the real reason he and others will do everything they can to prevent a return to biennial elections: they want to maintain the corrupt status quo.