Wednesday, December 31, 2008

River Vices 2008: Year in Review


"Golden Wazoo," Jan. 13, 2008. "What are political campaigns but vast marketing exercises? What are candidates promoting if not variations of the two dominant brands, Republican and Democrat? What is religion in America today but a fierce struggle of varieties of the dominant brand, Christianity, for customer loyalty? What are the most successful brands of Christianity? The ones that promise the biggest bang for your buck. Do you remember councilman David Malone's 'Portsmouth: City of Prosperity' campaign, something he borrowed from the Ministry of Truth movement?"
Slashings & Rip-Offs," Jan. 22, 2008. "My thesis, which I apologize for taking so long to state, is that the difference between Sweeney Todd's London and Mayor Kalb's Portsmouth is that in London the people get slashed and in Portsmouth they get ripped off."ToxiCity," Jan. 30, 2008. "Whether or not the Viaduct is toxic chemically, and I repeat that I think it probably is not, it certainly is politically and financially toxic."


"Shady Acres," Feb. 11, 2008. "One of the striking similarities between the Marting and the Route 23 Viaduct scam was the way in which Bauer hurried up the sale of the property on the grounds that there was an emergency."
"Hillary, Ted, and Neal," Feb. 15, 2008. "For him [Strickland] to have accused Iowans of being undemocratic was not only untimely but somewhat hypocritical, because Strickland's home base is Portsmouth, which happens to be one of the most corrupt and poorest excuses for democracy in Ohio, if not America.""Go, Bucks," Feb. 25, 2008. "So, there was Bill [Clinton] on Febuary 25, in blue-collar Ohio, in down-and-out Portsmouth, speaking for the party of the working man, and, in the process of criticizing Republicans, revealing that he and Hillary are more or less somewhere in between being loaded and filthy rich. 'Go Bucks!' might be the Clinton campaign slogan for Ohio."

"Strickland Country," March 2, 2008. "The Bill Clinton rally in the Athletic Center might be described by rephrasing lines from a famous poem of William Butler Yeats, 'Slouching toward Bethlehem': 'Things fall apart; the Athletic Center will not hold;/ Mere anarchy is loosed upon Portsmouth.'"
"Theyre B-a-a-a-c-k!" March 10, 2008. In spite of repeated public resistance to the Marting scam, the mendacious Mayor Kalb, with the assistance of the salacious Mike Mearan, a criminal lawyer who has been appointed, not elected, to public office, the City Council is once again trying to revive the Marting's Scam." Portsmouth's Mr. Spitzer," March 13, 2008. "Mearan emerged from the sewers of Portsmouth after Timothy Loper was removed from City Council and Mearan was appointed to replace him. Appointed, mind you, not elected. Mearan has had the last umpteen years to run for City Council, but he didn't, and for good reason. The lecherous notoriety he has achieved would have made him unelectable, even in a city as corrupt as Portsmouth.""Prostitute Daily Times," March 17, 2008. "The two most experienced and respected reporters in Portsmouth, Mike Deaterla and Jeff Barron, were both fired by the Prostitute Times not too long ago. The last thing the SOGP wants are reporters who might present both sides of a controversial issue like the Marting building.""Selling Out," March 21, 2008. "I was in Stapleton's the week before it closed, and talked to employees. It was a sad occasion, but Stapleton's understood the time had come to get out, something that proponents of reviving downtown refuse to recognize. The Marting Foundation is trying to con everyone into believing downtown can be revived, as it once was, as if dinosaurs can be replicated by DNA, as in Jurassic Park.""Rocks," March 29, 2008. "Strickland's public statements on the Indian Head Rock controversy should be enshrined as the classically mealy-mouthed political fence straddling that they are."

"Marting Madness," April 4, 2008. "Clayton Johnson is not leading the city forward. He is leading the city backward, all the way back to 1883, when the Marting department store building was erected. He is leading the city backward to more turmoil, to more referenda, to more litigation, and to more delay."
Scams: 1980 and 2008," April 11, 2008. "It is instructive to compare the Marting Scam of 2008 with the Shopping Mall Scam of 1980. . . . The differences between the two scams and the differences between 1980 and 2008 are also worth noting. The nine blocks that were supposed to revive downtown Portsmouth in 1980 have been reduced in 2008 to one pathetic building that is supposed to revive downtown Portsmouth, the 125-year-old leaking and unwanted-by-anybody-else Marting Department store.""Packing the Meeting," April 17, 2008. "The meeting of Portsmouth City Council on 14 April 2008 illustrates what can be done when Democrats and Republicans put their heads together to screw the taxpayers of Portsmouth. The corruption in Portsmouth is as deep and pervasive as it is because it is bi-partisan.""Conventional Folly," April 20, 2008. "A survey conducted by SSU students found that about half the people interviewed thought downtown Portsmouth was ugly and unsafe.""Kalb's Confession," April 28, 2008. "At the City Council meeting on August 9, 2004, acting Mayor Jim Kalb made a remarkable confession. He admitted publicly that the sale of the 125-year-old Marting building to the city had been a fraud."

"Fart-Free Portsmouth," May 2, 2008. "The champion of the Fart Free movement in Portsmouth is Police Chief Charles Horner who launched the crusade for a Fart-Free Portsmouth on April 28, 2008, when he gave a stern warning to a retired Christian minister and recovering colon cancer patient who farted at a meeting of the Portsmouth City Council."
"Marc Dann: Marked Man,"May 11, 2008. "Once again, Gov. Ted Strickland is in the ironic situation of insisting on high ethical standards for others while the standards that prevail in Scioto County, now called Strickland Country, are scandalously low."
"Horner's Last Botched Drug Bust,"May 23, 2008. "The bizarre events on the corner of 4th and Market Street on Wednesday May 14 and Chief Charles Horner's equally bizarre account of those events in the Portsmouth Daily Times on May 22 tend to confirm the suspicion that we have as chief law enforcement officer in Portsmouth a man who appears to be not only incompetent, but to be psychologically as well as morally unfit for the important position he occupies."
"Land Scams," May 31, 2008. "In 2001 the city of Portsmouth sold almost 8 acres of land next to Route 23 to Portsmouth developer Elmer Mullins for the minimum asking price of $60,000. The price Mullins paid per acre, therefore, was about $7,500. In 2006, the county of Athens sold a little over 4 acres of comparable land on East State St. to developers for $2.3 million. The price per acre the developers paid in Athens, therefore, was about $510,000. In other words, the county and therefore the taxpayers of Athens county received a half a million dollars more per acre for public land on East State St. than the city of Portsmouth received per acre for public land on Route 23."
"Mearan's Conflict of Interest," June 19, 2008. "In his actions as a member of the Portsmouth City Council and as chairman of the City Building Committee (CBC), City Councilman Michael Mearan appears to have violated Sect. 160 of the Portsmouth City Charter, 'Oath of Office,' and Section 161 of the Charter, 'Financial Interests in Contracts, etc.,' which states, 'No officer or employee of the City shall have a financial interest, direct or indirect, in any contract with the City or be financially interested, directly or indirectly in the sale to the City of any land, materials, supplies, or services except on behalf of the City as an officer or employee.'
"American Dreams, American Nightmares," July 10, 2010. "Merriam-Webster defines a shyster as 'a person who is professionally unscrupulous especially in the practice of law or politics.' Since Mearan is both a lawyer and a politician, I can't think of a better word for him. In my opinion, Mearan is a shyster."
"Dirty Deeds," July 16, 2008. "As a result of her son's appearance in court on that date [Feb. 9, 2006], Mrs. Craft would lose her home. She lost it, she and her son claim, through trickery and deceit on the part of Mike Mearan. Mrs. Craft and her son do admit to signing, in the court hallway, the hastily drawn up hand-written 'contract' on Feb. 9, 2006 . . . But they deny vehemently signing any 'deed' that day."
"Loan Shark?" July 31, 2008. "But the mistreatment of the 70-year-old Karol Craft and her son in the county, state, and municipal courts raises the suspicion that in Ohio it is the Halls of Injustice, not the Halls of Justice, that sometimes prevail."
"Kalb's Brain," August 16, 2008. "It may say something about where this country is headed that the chief executive officer, at both the national and local levels, both the President of the United States and the Mayor of Portsmouth, appear to suffer from a very serious handicap: like the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz, neither of them appears to have a brain."
"Nuts Over Blogs," August 22, 2008. "Being police chief in Portsmouth is a highly stressful occupation. Working for a mayor who learned nothing in trade school except how to be a tool can be a demoralizing experience."
"Sidewalk Shenanigans," August 28, 2008. "[Larry] Justice followed the well-worn path down which the not too bright, the not too ethical, and the not too successful find a refuge in city government, where they advance by serving the interests of the kind of rich, clever, and overprivileged people they themselves are obviously not: think Bauer, think Kalb, think Baughman, think Mohr, think Loper, and think Malone."
"Our Jughead Mayor," September 1, 2008. "If you do find Kalb in his office, chances are, when he is not stewing over the inadequacy of the salary he is receiving for being the city's part-time mayor, he's stewing over the indignity of having to drive a city automobile that is not commensurate with his importance as the chief executive officer of Portsmouth."
"Shyster," September 12, 2008. "On July 7, 2008, a First Set of Interrogatories, a Request for Production of Documents, and Requests for Admission were served to Mearan via U.S. Mail. [One of those interrogatories was], "Admit that Attorney Michael H. Mearan has, within the [last] 10 to 20 years, within the City of Portsmouth and/or Scioto County earned a reputation for engaging the solicitation of prostitution, the use and/or sale of illegal drugs and/or participation in illegal gambling."
"Stop SLAPPing!" September 20, 2008. "SLAPP is an acronym for Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation. To quote Wikipedia, SLAPP 'is a lawsuit or a threat of lawsuit that is intended to intimidate and silence critics by burdening them with the costs of a legal defense until they abandon their criticism or opposition. Winning the lawsuit is not necessarily the intent of the person filing the SLAPP. The plaintiff's goals are accomplished if the defendant succumbs to fear, intimidation, mounting legal costs or simple exhaustion and abandons the criticisms.'"
"Kalbanomics," September 25, 2008. "There is so much political baggage, so much bitterness, so much dishonest shit attached to the moldering Marting building/City Center that it is like a cancer metastisizing in our community."
"Three Little Pigs and the Fire Truck," October 10, 2008. "Once upon a time there were three little pigs who were trying to waste millions of dollars of public money converting a decrepit 125-year-old department store in a City Center."
"Gutter Politics: Update," October 14, 2008. "Here in Portsmouth, supporters of the City Center (Marting's) and Justice Center (Adelphia) projects are resorting to gutter politics. Clayton Johnson was reportedly overheard saying at the now defunct William's Restaurant, where Mike Mearan owned the liquor license, that maybe it was time for another campaign like the one in 1980, when most of the city was mobilized by Johnson and others, including the newspapers and radio stations, to harass and intimidate three councilmen who wouldn't play ball on the Downtown Mall Scam."
"The Two Centers Scam," October 17, 2008. "On Thursday, October 16, 2008, in Columbus, Ohio, in a face-off between Harold Daub, representing the reform-minded citizens of Portsmouth, and Austin Keyser, representing the Progress Portsmouth Campaign Action Committee (PPCAC), the Ohio Elections Commission voted unanimously in a preliminary hearing that Daub had just cause, which is to say he was justified in charging that Progress Portsmouth is not telling the truth in ads that claim that the $12 million dollar cost of the City Center and Justice Center (the 'Two Centers' I will call them) will not require an increase in property taxes."
"440%," October 19, 2008. "The current 2008 property tax in Portsmouth is .7 mills. If the voters approve the City Center/Justice Center projects on November 4, the property tax will increase to 3.8 mills. That is more than a 440% increase, and that increase will continue for 30 years, from 2010 to 2040."

"Lies! Lies! Lies!" November, 2, 2008. "It comes down to this on the weekend before Tuesday, November 4: Is the Progress Portsmouth Committee (PPC) going to get away with the lies it has been telling about the Marting and Adelphia property for months?"
"The Morning After," November 5, 2008. "In 2004, Mayor Bauer was recalled by a large margin; in May 2006, by a nearly 3-to-1 margin, voters rejected the Marting building; and in last night's 58% to 42% defeat of the new Marting-Adelphia scam, by a margin of over a thousand votes, the concerned citizens have proved they are in the clear majority, that they are not just a disgruntled minority.""The Last Poster," November 7, 2008. "And then the citizens rose up, on November 4, 2008/ Like angry peasants, and drove a democratic stake/ Through the heart of the unrenovated monster,/ The leaking department store, the running sore . . .""Gambling," November 26, 2008. "Getting out of the economic hole that Portsmouth has been sinking into for almost a half century is going to be very hard, and there is no guarantee that it will ever get out of it, but what Portsmouth needs to give up is the illusion of finding prosperity through gambling."


"Miracle in Portsmouth," December 27, 2008. "Listen, America, and the world, an economic miracle is occurring right here in, Portsmouth, Ohio, on the banks of the polluted Ohio River, if you will only pay attention. Though it is portrayed by the outside media and by a few local naysayers as a hotbed of drugs, prostitution, and political corruption, Portsmouth, in the midst of the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression, is forging ahead with expensive new projects, including an extensive new high school athletic complex in the heart of the city, with new privately owned dormitories for the local state university, with a new city hall and police station, and with a new red hook and ladder truck for the fire department to go along with the new red fire truck the city council recently passed a tax increase for. And did I mention the new red Dodge Charger the mayor, who buys his cigarettes across the river in Kentucky, has ordered for himself to replace the Ford Victoria that runs fine but has cigarette holes in the front seat and a threadbare carpet?"

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Miracle in Porksmouth

Mayor Kalb being sworn into office by Ted Strickland

Listen, America, and the world, an economic miracle is occurring right here in, Portsmouth, Ohio, on the banks of the polluted Ohio River, if you will only pay attention. Though it is portrayed by the outside media and by a few local naysayers as a hotbed of drugs, prostitution, and political corruption, Portsmouth, in the midst of the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression, is forging ahead with expensive new projects, including an extensive new high school athletic complex in the heart of the city, with new privately owned dormitories for the local state university, and with a new city hall and police station, and a new red hook and ladder truck for the fire department to go along with the new red fire truck the city council recently passed a tax increase for. And did I mention the new red Dodge Charger the mayor, who buys his cigarettes across the river in Kentucky, has ordered for himself to replace the Ford Victoria that runs fine but has cigarette holes in the front seat and a threadbare carpet?

“What me worry?” is Kalb’s slogan and why it isn’t the slogan of the rest of the world is hard for any of us in Portsmouth to understand. Get with the program, world! Kalb is also planning a multi-million dollar convention center that will be built on the site of the present city hall, right next to the recently completed $38 million dollar bridge over the Ohio, which the naysayers have called “The Bridge to Nowhere.” The Portsmouth Convention Center, a shovel ready project, will be begun just as soon as the city hall can be torn down, because you see our visionary mayor wants to be ready for gambling when it is legalized. State Senator Sherrod Brown was recently in Portsmouth for a public meeting, and our mayor reportedly had one word for him. Not "plastics," not "bailout," but "gambling!"

This morning’s Washington Post (27 Dec. 2008) published a grim story about the economic crisis in Ohio. The Post reported, “In Ohio, which has shed 100,000 jobs in the past year, Gov. Ted Strickland (D) and his budget team spend a lot of time delivering bad news to constituents and plotting ways to wring money from the federal government. He announced $640 million in cuts for the budget year ending June 30, for a total of $1.9 billion since the economic crisis began.”

Gov. Strickland should know better. He is, after all, a local boy, born and bred. Which is all the more surprising, because he has completely capitulated to the doom and gloom that is permeating the rest of the country and globe. As reported in The Post, “‘We’re not crying wolf. This is real,’ Strickland said in an interview in his statehouse office, pointing to charts that project the most serious erosion of state income in 40 years and a two-year budget deficit of $7.3 billion. Revenue shortfalls in the upcoming two-year budget could amount to about 25 percent of the state's discretionary spending.” The Post went on to report that “Strickland recently picked up the telephone and called Rham Emanuel, the incoming White House chief of staff. When he heard the recorded voice of his former congressional colleague, he left a message: ‘Rahm, it’s Ted. You’ve never failed me and I need $5 billion.’” Strickland called Emanuel, when he could have called Mayor Kalb, whom Strickland did the honor of swearing into office? How quickly they forget! This I suppose is what happens when somebody starts reading liberal newspapers, such as the Washington Post and New York Times, and stops reading the ever-forward-looking Portsmouth Daily Times.

Along with many other Ohioans, I recently received a Christmas card from Gov. Strickland and his wife, with whom I have a slight acquaintance. I appreciate the card and wish the governor and his wife and the rest of the residents of the Buckeye state well, but I am saddened to realize how much this son of Scioto County has forgotten or perhaps never learned. Has he, in this holiest of holiday seasons, lost faith in miracles?

A Season for Miracles?

Has he been influenced by the neighing of the naysayers, of our local bloggers, of our domestic terrorists, who have nearly driven our poor chief of police crazy? I say pick up the phone, Ted, call Mayor Kalb and ask him how at the end of this financially calamitous calendar year, in this time of state $1.9 billion budget cuts and $7.3 budget deficits, Portsmouth still manages to have a million dollar balance in the city coffers. And if you can’t reach the mayor, who likes to spend as much time as he can on his motorcycle in the Carolinas or other venues, on well-deserved breaks from his stressful job in the city hall, then call City Auditor Trent Williams, who is always on the job and who follows the advice of his mother: “Count your pork chops and the pigs will take care of themselves.” Yes, I know Rahm Emmanuel made $15 million in the financial sector during his three-year hiatus from public service, and I know that since he left office Bill Clinton has made a bundle that could choke a stable of interns, but neither they nor Lawrence Summers nor Robert Rubin accomplished any lasting financial miracles, as Mayor Kalb has by following Porksmouth’s miracle recipe of pork, rebates, foundation money provided by doddering dowagers, and the prospect of legalized gambling. It’s that simple, Ted. That’s it in a nutshell. That’s our miracle.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

There is a Santa Claus

What follows is the woeful economic news I culled from just one day’s New York Times, for December 17, 2008. For the last year, stories like these began trickling into newspapers and other media, and they have now reached Niagara Falls proportions. The world is drowning in red ink and pink slips. Or at least the world outside of Portsmouth is.

The New York Times reported on December 17, 2008, among other things, that Goldman Sachs suffered a $2.1 and Morgan Stanley a $2.36 billion loss. I see also that Yale’s endowment has dropped over 13%, creating a $100 million shortfall for the coming school year. A survey revealed $107 billion worth of income-producing properties nationwide are already or potentially in default. Because of declining sales, Best Buy electronic stores are sharply cutting their workforce and their competitor Circuit City borders on bankruptcy. Unemployment claims have reached their highest levels in decades, forcing some states to plead for federal assistance. Funds for the jobless are drying up in New York State. On December 16, the Federal Reserve cut the rate for overnight loans to almost zero percent, sending more bad news to those who prefer putting their money in a low-yield saving account rather than speculating with it on the stock market and in their 401K’s. “The ripple effects of the recession and Wall Street’s slide have now fully engulfed the New York theater,” the Times reported. "The play's the thing," Hamlet said, but there are few angels willing to invest in new Broadway productions.

The bad news is not just national; it is international, according to the Times affecting every part of the global economy. “Japan’s Manufacturing Confidence Index Drops Sharply.” Honda projects a 64% drop in profits. “British Unemployment Up 137,000 at 1.86 Million.” OPEC is about to cut oil production, again, and with falling oil prices their plans for large scale projects are unlikely to begin any time soon. “The oil cartel has been stunned by the speed of the downturn, which has created a sudden nightmare for producers,” the Times reported. And Russia devalued the ruble for second time in a week. “Global Car Industry Fearful for Detroit,” read one headline. The source of the fear is that the financial crisis at Detroit’s Big Three is going to mean that their more successful units abroad are about to be battered. “There are growing concerns that the automakers’ problems in the United States will weigh down their more successful units in Europe, Asia and Latin America,” the Times pointed out. Speaking of Detroit, that city’s major newspaper, trying desperately to avoid going under, will stop home deliveries four days a week. (I wonder: Did the Portsmouth Daily Times realize it couldn’t afford to continue Art Kuhn as managing editor anymore because he was driving down circulation even further by angering readers by his shameless shilling for the City Center?) Here are a few more stories from the December 17 issue of the New York Times: “Retail Spending Weak in November,” “No Question We’re in a Financial Pickle,” “Job Losses in City Reach Up Ladder,” “Oil Demand Down; 1st Time Since ’83,” “U.S. Trade Deficit Grew in October as Exports Slowed,” and “Jobless Claims at Highest Level in 26 Years.”

In addition to all this depressing news, the Times also reported on the financier Bernard L. Madoff’s incredible Ponzi scheme by which he bilked gullible investors, including charities, of billions. “Wall St. Fraud Leaves Charities Reeling,” the Times reported, and “S.E.C. Issues Mea Culpa on Madoff." Charity begins at home, they say, but it is apparently Madoff's home, or homes, it begins at.

I mention all this not to spread gloom but to point, by contrast, to some not just good but remarkable financial news. Portsmouth appears to have escaped the economic tsunami that has washed over the rest of the world. I recall attending a Portsmouth City Council meeting early last January, as the crisis was getting under way. Our upbeat City Auditor Trent Williams reported Portsmouth was in reasonably good financial shape and mayor Kalb concurred. That apparently is why Mayor Kalb was able to put in his order for a new automobile for himself and why the city council and the mayor proposed spending $15 million (at least) on two new city building complexes, and why the city council made a large appropriation (to be paid for by property taxes) for a new fire engine and why at the last meeting, I've been told, they talked about buying another fire engine, maybe because there are going to be so many fire sales as a result of the recession.

Instead of being in the red, the city was in the black, and the auditor felt that city would have about a million in the General Fund by the following November 30. If the city didn’t, the city would be in trouble he said. I recently asked the auditor whether the city had that million by November 30 and he reported it had that amount, or very close to it, $955.171 to be exact. So the city is not in financial trouble, if the auditor is correct. The reason this is remarkable is that Ohio has not escaped the financial crisis. At every level of government, cutbacks, layoffs, and panic prevail. Education, assistance to the poor, social services of all kinds will be affected. A while back, a New York Times reporter began a story with the lead, “In the bellwether Ohio city of Chillicothe, population 22,000, residents are worried about the economy.” Having visited the Chillicothe city hall and met its mayor and auditor a few years ago, I think of it as Portsmouth's sister city, the sister city that did not become a woman of the streets, municipally speaking. Mayor Sulzer told the Times that “ the state of Ohio just tried to borrow $150 million dollars for low-income housing. But no one was interested in buying those bonds. So what will happen when the city of Chillicothe has to borrow a couple of million dollars to build a new bus garage?”

Chillicothe can’t afford a new bus garage? Chillicothe can't raise a couple of measly million dollars? How pitiful! Mayor Sulzer should pick up the phone and call Mayor Kalb for some financial advice and learn how it is possible for an Ohio city in this terrible crisis to afford to build two new city buildings, and buy two fire engines, and a new car for Mayor Kalb to boot. Don’t they have property owners in Chillicothe to pay for these things?

Portsmouth has drawn regional if not national attention in the past few years for unflattering reasons. Every month seems to bring news that we are leaders in the state if not the nation in some unpleasant category or other – for poverty, drugs, corruption, and filching historic rocks. But what about our financial miracle? Why doesn’t our city government get credit for that? What other city, in the middle of the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression, can afford to tax its property owners $15 million to provide the mayor and other city officials with spacious new offices, and provide His Honor with a new automobile as befits the dignity of his position? Why doesn’t Governor Strickland recognize the miracle in his own backyard? Why doesn’t he hire Auditor Williams as a consultant and make his old friend Mayor Kalb part of his brain trust?

We should feel sorry for those who don’t believe in Santa Claus, or who suspect that our auditor and mayor are engaged in some kind of Ponzi scam, that we are in fact not better but far worse off than Chillicothe and the other cities in Ohio and around the nation that are howling with pain. Yes, a Bernard Madoff could fool some of the smartest people in the world with his scam, but it is hard to believe that our city officials could fool the people of Portsmouth in that way. True, we no longer have Managing Editor Art Kuhn of the Daily Times around to explain to us how a 440% tax increase is not really an increase, but with unelected public servants like Mike Mearan to assure us that the city is in good financial condition, as he did in that council meeting last January, and who more recently said at a council meeting that if any resident of Portsmouth believes he or she can’t afford the 440% tax increase to build a City Center and a Justice Center on his client’s property, then he or she should move out of town. But why would anyone want to move out of a town that has miraculously escaped the current crisis? Not even an Alfred E. Newman would be stupid enough to move out of Santa’s Ohio getaway.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


The most recent unsuccessful attempt by Mayor Kalb and his cronies in city government to convert the Marting department store into the seat of city government at public expense, and the shyster Mike Mearan’s attempt to cut his Los Angeles absentee landlord client Dr. Singer in on the stick-the-public-with-worthless-property-scam neither of these crooked deals would have bedeviled Portsmouth for the last six years if it had not been for gambling, or the possibility of legalized gambling, coming to Portsmouth.

The unmarketable Marting building on Chillicothe St. and the worthless Singer property on Washington St. became hot properties only because the city could not hand over the municipal property to the crooked developers and shyster lawyers until a new home could be found for city offices. It was the need to find someplace, anyplace, to move city offices to, as soon as possible, that made these worthless properties have any value. No sucker had been found in the private sector to take the Marting building off the hands of the Marting Foundation, even though a ruse was employed to make it appear there was more traffic on Chillicothe St., near the Marting building. Nobody in the private sector was foolish enough to throw their money away on the Marting building, or on Dr. Singer’s toxic Washington St. building, so Clayton Johnson and the Marting Foundation and Mike Mearan unloaded these worthless structures on the city – in the case of the Marting building for $2 million, in the case of Singer’s property for the delinquent taxes Singer owed on the property and for an IRS write-off he could get after the city put it to public use.

Gambling is the domino that started the chain reaction: lose sight of that and you lose sight of the craze, the casino craze, of the last six years. Some downtown businessmen saw casino gambling as Portsmouth's salvation. "Kevin Johnson, co-owner of the Emporium of Portsmouth," reported the Portsmouth Daily Times in June 2005, "said there are a number of reasons he is supporting legalized casino gambling, including the potential for significant economic development." Analyze the current political impasse without factoring in gambling and you are analyzing nothing but the limits of your own understanding of Portsmouth and why some Portsmouth lawyers are reportedly buying up land across the river, in Kentucky. Gambling explains the deliberate neglect of the Municipal Building over the last ten or fifteen years. Gambling explains the empty Marting department store being unloaded on the taxpayers. Gambling explains the leaking and moldy Adelphia building becoming the proposed site for a Justice Center. Gambling explains what has happened with these buildings, and whatever other unmarketable properties the city might yet try to unload on the taxpayers as a possible site for city buildings. If Singer’s property turns out not to be the site for a new city buildings, the Fifth Third Bank building could become a possibility again. Mearan was at one time floating the Fifth Third as a possible home for city offices. Whether or not Fifth Third is still in the picture, the important point is that, given the scheme that Kalb & Co. have concocted, renovating and restoring the Municipal Building is absolutely out of the question because that would mean the land under it would not become available to developers for gambling-related purposes. That literally is what’s at the bottom of the city’s current political mess. The problem is not the alleged irreparable condition of the Municipal Building but the land, the potential goldmine, under it.

Hatching the Scheme

There are those who criticize Kalb and the city government for having no plan for the city. They are wrong. Kalb and Co. have a plan, or more accurately a scheme, even though they won’t admit it. The scheme is to turn over in a sweetheart deal the land on which the Municipal building currently sits to local developers and lawyers who will make many millions if casino gambling comes to Portsmouth and vicinity. That plan was first hatched more than ten years ago. Kalb said publicly more than once in the past that the municipal land is “prime real estate,” and that a local developer was very interested in it. More recently, he has become more cagey, claiming there is no party in particular interested in the property, just a general interest. He is, of course, protecting the identity or identities of those whose useful tool he is.

What else can we expect from a mayor who is addicted not only to nicotine but to gambling, who drives a city vehicle to Kentucky not only for his smokes but for his lottery tickets, a man who could be a poster child for the harmful effects of prolonged use of marijuana?

It doesn’t really matter how far from downtown the city offices will be as long as the site of the present Municipal Building is torn down to make way for gambling related development. Shawnee State U. could play an important role in helping Portsmouth out of the hole it’s in, but not as long as the university is in control of the kind of characters who have dominated the Board of Trustees for the last quarter of a century. If the trustees, led by George Clayton, could stash the president of Shawnee State university in an unmarketable house a couple of miles away from the downtown campus, at the top of Camelot Drive, where it had to be buttressed to stop it from sliding down the unstable hill, then what’s to stop the low-lifes in city government from erecting a new city building on the Singer property, in no-man’s land, in the shadow of the billowing Osco factory? They would build a city in Timbuktu, just as long as they could move out of the Municipal Building and let the bulldozers and the developers take over.

All claims that the Municipal Building is irreparable must be seen in the light of gambling. All claims that the decrepit Marting building, which is a half century older than the Municipal Building, would be a great place to relocate city offices must be seen in the light of gambling. The U.S. Post Office was built at about the same time and in the same style and of similar materials as the Municipal Building, but nobody claims that it is about to collapse. Nobody has neglected upkeep of the Post Office with the aim of tearing it down to make way for a “Convention Center.” Convention Center! Who the hell is going to come to a convention in Portsmouth? The National Society of Five Dollar Hookers? The Amalgamated Union of Drug Dealers and Crack Heads? The only thing a Portsmouth “Convention Center” would attract is gamblers and a higher class of hookers. Only the incorrigibly foolish expected a $6 million makeover of the Marting building was going to revive downtown Portsmouth when a $38 million dollar bridge to downtown Portsmouth did not. Voters knew that converting the leaky-creaky Marting department store into city offices and into a place to buy a newspaper and a cup of coffee was not going to revive downtown Portsmouth. By a large majority, voters made it clear twice, in elections in May 2006 and November 2008, that they wanted no part of that scheme.

Nobody is going to revive downtown Portsmouth as a retail shopping center. Nobody could in 1980 and nobody could in 2008. We are about to get instead a sprawling non-revenue producing high school athletic complex in downtown Portsmouth on land that Neal Hatcher tried and failed to build a large downtown shopping mall. Let the high school games begin! Hatcher gambled but, playing by rules that are all in his favor, it was the taxpayers who lost, as it will be if casino gambling ever comes to Portsmouth. The risk that has been wrung out of the local economy by and for the few who who have a chokehold on it would be reintroduced, in a distilled form, in casino gambling. The wheels of industry would be replaced by the wheel of fortune, the entrepreneur by the croupier, as I suggested in an earlier posting "Slots and Sluts."

Casino Capitalism

Kalb & Co.’s passion for casinos should be seen in the larger context of the financial crisis that now exists throughout the world as a result of what economist Robert Kutner calls Casino Capitalism, which to escape from creeping socialism has been snowballing ever since the beginning of rampant deregulation during the Reagan administration. Banks and other financial institutions whose names are now notoriously familiar have enticed and tricked the trusting and the desperate, the gullible and the elderly, into living beyond their means by piling up credit card debt and by taking out mortgages on property they couldn’t afford. Thomas Friedman in the NY Times called attention to a Mexican strawberry picker in California who, “with an income of $14,000 and no English, was lent every penny he needed to buy a house for $720,000.” Even some of those who had paid off their mortgages and owned their homes free and clear were bamboozled into remortgaging their homes with high-risk, high-interest loans. Peter J. Boyer in the New Yorker recounted the plight of a ninety-year-old African-American widow in Dayton, Ohio, who was talked into remortgaging her home, which she owned free and clear, and who when she couldn’t keep up with the high payments of the new mortgage and faced eviction, tried to shoot herself.

Casino Capitalism in America was not confined to the last twenty years. In his account of his experiences as a bond trader thirty years ago on Wall Street, in the 1980s, Michael Lewis in his book Liar’s Poker chronicled the astonishing greed of the people he worked with and for on Wall Street, and the contempt they had for anyone who made less money than they did. For the last four years in River Vices I have been blogging about similar greedy characters in Portsmouth, and three of them in particular who appear dehumanized by their lust for money, and one of whom, in a story I have heard a number of times, and find not hard to believe considering the man’s reputation, was asked how much money it would take to satisfy him. “There will never be enough money,” he reportedly replied.

The presumption prevails that a business that caters to a human vice, such as gambling, will always have plenty of money and can never go broke. Nevada, the gambling and prostitution capital of America, was once thought to be recession proof. Not any more. Nevada was one of seven states that led the way into the current recession. Nevada led the country per capita in subprime mortgages, which is the financial Russian roulette form of gambling that triggered the current world financial crisis. Las Vegas was hoisted on its own Peppard. ( I am thinking of “The Rabbit Who Ate Las Vegas” episode of the TV Series The A Team, starring George Peppard, in which an otherwise absent-minded professor devises a gambling system to beat the Las Vegas casinos.) What happened in Las Vegas, the gambling, didn’t stay in Las Vegas. It infected the rest of the country, and then it returned to Las Vegas in the form of subprime mortgages. Gambling is a parasitic industry that depends on a non-gambling host for its survival, and on otherwise normal people in surrounding states and regions who actually work for a living. The slice of the pie gets smaller and smaller as more states and localities take the gambling route and fewer and fewer people are gainfully and productively employed. When the whole economy becomes a gamble, when gambling becomes America’s national pastime, with the stock market as its field of dreams, and when Free Market Fundamentalism becomes our financial religion, even Las Vegas became a shit hole to Wall Street plungers.

Getting out of the economic hole that Portsmouth has been sinking into for almost a half century is going to be very hard, and there is no guarantee that it will ever get out of it, but what Portsmouth needs to give up is the illusion of finding prosperity through gambling. (Remember Rev. David Malone’s “City of Prosperity” program, not long before he pleaded for forgiveness for committing adultery with a member of his congregation?) The people of Portsmouth need to replace Malone, Kalb, Albrecht, and Mearan, as they have already recalled or helped forced out Bauer, Caudill, Sydnor, Loper, Mohr, Horner, and now Howard “I’m not really a politician” Baughman. Portsmouth needs to put more honest people in public office and more crooks in jail. It needs to stop the Southern Ohio Growth Partnership from fixing the game.

Above all, Portsmouth needs to stop believing the myths of the past, such as that three evil council members sabotaged "the Mall" back in 1980, and the myths of the present, perpetrated by Art Kuhn at the Portsmouth Daily Times, that a handful of "naysayers" are all that stand in the way of Portsmouth's revival. What Kuhn really can't stand is democracy and free elections in which the "naysayers" outvote him and those who listen to him by overwhelming margins. Portsmouth has got to stop listening to Kuhn's lies and stop gambling with its future.