Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Apple Falls

Apple  Falls

Everyone's a  relative.
They  couldn't be nicer to you.
Kinship's a great palliative
If you're not drunk and feeling blue.

He hears, downstream, rushing water,
The turbulence of Apple  Falls,
Like Susanna, his stepdaughter,
Twisting the heads off of her dolls.

Leaning over in the canoe,
He plucks a solitary straw,
Takes another swig of brew,
Gaping in the collateral maw

Of kinship, looking for some clues
To what the patriarch Paw-Paw,
What the brothers,  uncles, nephews,
Might  do to his damned  son-in-law.

After the  last  drop of liquor,
He  stops paddling, begins to nod,
Drifting, drifting, down  Red River,
Like a straw in the hand of God.

Robert Forrey

[I maintain a poetry blog at http://xpalidosis.blogspot.com ]

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Gaming the System

America’s favorite pastime is no longer baseball; it is gaming the system, whatever the particular system may happen to be. And no state may be quite as good as Ohio, or any city in Ohio as good as Portsmouth, at gaming the system.

What is meant by “gaming the system” is when the players in any system, by breaking or at least manipulating the rules, subvert the system for their individual advancement or enrichment. Two large systems currently being gamed to death are Wall Street and major league baseball. The recent international financial meltdown was the result of financial players making enormous profits by bending and breaking the rules, that is by gaming the unregulated sector of the financial system. Banks had to play by rules that were instituted after the the Crash of 1929, but players in hedge funds and derivatives did not. Hedge funds and derivatives did not have to report their holdings and activities; did not have to maintain a minimum balance; did not have to make an accounting to federal or state agencies; did not, generally, have to do anything that would interfere with their freedom to game the system and fleece investors of billions.

A corresponding kind of deregulation and gaming took place in major league baseball. Because of lax oversight by the office of the baseball commissioner and the collusion of the union, cheating players were able to use performance enhancing drugs and supplements to bulk up like the Hulk and break records with banal frequency. When he appeared to testify before a committee in Washington, the retired slugger Mark McGwire, no longer on steroids, looked like the incredible shrunken man. Not just McGwire’s, but many of the records set in the major leagues in the last twenty years have become suspect, and the integrity of the game, and the huge profits tied to it, are in jeopardy.

Shadow Government

In Portsmouth, unscrupulous lawyers and developers have been gaming the system for almost half a century. They are able to do it in part because a form of deregulation took place in the early 1960s with the creation of a so-called “community improvement corporation,” which morphed into the Southern Ohio Growth Partnership. The SOGP is a private corporation, but, in conjunction with its acronymic cronies, the GPEC, CAOSC, SOPA, etc., it has become a shadow government with much more money and power at its disposal than the pathetic city government that operates out of the Municipal Building. In 1964, the Portsmouth City Council declared that the predecessor of the SOGP, the Portsmouth Area Community Improvement Corporation, had a mandate To promote the health, safety, morals [sic!] and general welfare of the inhabitants of the community . . .” “General welfare,” is a broad category that can and apparently has meant anything and everything having to do with the citizens of Portsmouth, including high school athletics.

What safeguards and rules did the City Council establish to insure the SOGP was not going to abuse its mandate and pull any fast ones? None whatsoever. The City Council provided the SOGP with a blank check, allowing the unelected and unregulated members of the SOGP, and their colluding allies, to fill in the blanks and do what they wanted, and what they wanted, not surprisingly, was usually to promote their own interests. Unlike public officials, the SOGP does not need to rely on or seek approval from voters. The SOGP does not need to placate the most vocal group in any community, the taxpaying property owners. The SOGP relies instead on rebates, dowager dollars, and, in particular, pork, a financial steroid provided by the government. Rebates, dowager dollars and pork provide the SOGP and its surrogates with the money to finance “community improvements,” which include everything from new offices for the SOGP (the Welcome Center) to a new high school athletic complex, a complex as impressive, according to original designs, as the televangelist Robert Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral, in California. In the worst recession since the Great Depression, in one of the most chronically depressed crime- and drug-ridden cities in Ohio, a multi- million dollar high school athletic complex is being built in the center of the city. In any other chronically depressed city, a multi-million dollar high school athletic complex might not rank near the top of municipal priorities, especially since the city already owns a historic municipal football stadium (built for the forerunners of the Detroit Lions) and a baseball field that has served high school athletes and a minor league base team well enough until now.

Shell Games within Shell Games

It’s one thing when children or adolescents play games; it’s another when dishonest adults do. The game the adults are playing is, in effect, pin the tail on the donkey, the donkey in this case being the hard-pressed property owners of Portsmouth, and the tail that is pinned on them being the property taxes that will be used to help pay for the long term maintenance of the athletic complex. Shell games are being played within shell games, a shell game being a swindle in which something of value (millions of dollars) is paid to Hatcher for something of little or no value (the blighted property he acquired to build a mall that did not materialize). Will the athletic complex bring new revenues into the city? Not likely. The tax base of the downtown area, further depleted by the new non-taxpaying public university will be further eroded by removing hundreds of additional acres of property permanently from the city’s tax base.

If we can’t have a mall, or a gambling casino, let’s have a high school athletic complex that is one part Woody Hayes and three parts Donald Trump. How did Portsmouth, without debate or the approval of voters, get a multi-million-dollar high school athletic complex? The athletic complex is the result not of a pressing need or of long-range careful planning but rather of the need to bail out the local developer, Neal Hatcher, who had acquired hundreds of pieces of property in the center of the city with the aim of building a mall. He ended up owning at least twenty-three pieces of property on John Street, once the la Rue Saint-Denis of Portsmouth’s prostitutes. Hatcher’s mall never materialized, just as the mall back in 1980 never materialized. If insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result, Portsmouth’s dream of a mall is insane. The craziness resulted in Hatcher having on his hands hundreds of pieces of property he helped blight, acquired through means both underhanded and heavy handed, such as eminent domain, means that have made him infamous locally.

Go Bucks!

With the cooperation of our corrupt city government, money laundering foundations, and the Portsmouth City School system, he unloaded his mall-apropism off on the public, just as the Marting Foundation did the Marting building, just as the Thatchers did their house on Franklin Boulevard, just as Dr. Rooney did his house on Camelot Drive, just as George Clayton did his Kenrick’s building on Second Street, and just as Dr. Singer did his festering eyesore on Washington Street. But when it comes to gaming the system, none of these crooks can compare to Hatcher, who is the Woody Hayes of Portsmouth and whose war cry should be (what else?) “Go Bucks!”

I love football and played it in high school and would not have gone on to college if I hadn't. But think of the pressure on high school athletes who will have to prove worthy of this Roman- or Trojan-like high school complex. Think of what will happen if the team ever ends a season with a 1 and 9 record, as Woody Hayes did in 1940, at New Philadelphia High School. Think of the scandals we have to look forward to when high school coaches and athletes cut the ethical corners that have historically been cut at Ohio State to meet the expectations of rabid Buckeye fans like Mike Mearan shouting, “We’re number one! We’re number one!” In a state where being number one in anything else appeared out or reach, being number one in college football was all that was left. If having “Road Rage” Hayes stomping the sidelines, punching reporters, officials, and even players; if having a notorious sore loser like him as coach and playing a schedule that somehow managed to avoid Notre Dame, the perennial powerhouse; if that was the price Ohio had to pay to be number one in something, well so be it.

Let’s hope Portsmouth can avoid similar shenanigans, but don’t bet on it. If you believe winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing; if you say you believe in competition but fix games and that you believe in democracy but “fix” city officials the way dowagers do lapdogs; if you say you believe in God but worship money, then you can’t help cheating, you can’t help gaming the system, because that’s the only way you can win. The current recession has resulted in the postponement of half of the athletic complex, but of course not the half that includes the football stadium. What we have to look forward to, however grim the next couple of years may be, is not bread and circuses, but Crispie Cream donuts and high school football games. Let the gaming begin!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Incredible Shrinking DAILY TIMES


Our anorexic local newspaper, the Portsmouth Daily Times, recently announced that because of shrinking revenues from advertisers it will no longer publish on Mondays. It will shrink from a seven-day to a six-day newspaper. Though it was not mentioned in the public statement, shrinking circulation probably factored into the equation. The paper claims a circulation of about 12,000, but someone who worked at the paper said PDT routinely inflates circulation. Truth, whether in regard to circulation or local politics, is not the PDT’s strong suit.

Over the last half century, because of shrinking circulation, the PDT has been decreasing in pages and increasing in price. On January 1, 1960, the paper contained 34 pages and sold for 7 cents. On January 1, 1970, it contained 38 pages and sold for 10 cents. On January 1, 1980, it contained 18 pages and sold for 20 cents. On January 1, 1990, it contained 16 pages and sold for 30 cents. On January 1, 2000, it contained 16 pages and sold for 50 cents. As of January 1, 2009, it contained 16 pages and sold for 50 cents. Even allowing for inflation, the cost per page to the reader has gone upward steadily with the passing years. A single page of the paper now costs the reader who gets it from a machine about fifteen times as much (ouch!) as in 1960.

The shrinkage in the number of pages and the cost per capita per reader reflects, in part, the shrinkage in Portsmouth’s population over the last century. In 1907, the city’s population was approximately 50,000; in 1950, it was approximately 35,000; in 2000, it was 20,909. In 2005, it had slipped, in one estimate, to 19,072. The 2010 census will probably show a further decrease. . The decline in Portsmouth’s population reflected the decline of heavy industry in the U.S. and in the Midwest in particular. The decline was what could be expected in an American Rust Belt city, and then some.

Shrinking in Influence and Moral Stature

Though it is not as easy to measure, there are some statistics to suggest that the Portsmouth Times has shrunk in terms of influence and moral stature in the community since it was founded in 1861 by twenty-one-year-old James W, Newman. According to Nelson Evan’s A History of Scioto County (1903), the Portsmouth Times, with Newman as owner and editor, “early became prosperous and attained a wide influence and prosperity.” Under a new ownership, it became a daily in 1894. “So far as circulation was concerned,” according to Evans, “the Daily Times bounded into almost instantaneous popularity.” Its success was all the more impressive because the paper was Democratic in its political sympathies though Portsmouth was staunchly Republican. That changed in the twentieth century, of course, with the paper becoming rabidly right wing.

With the formation in 1962 of what later became the Southern Ohio Growth Partnership, the instrument was created by which a handful of men, largely Republicans, were able to control the shrinking and decaying city economically and politically. Through pork and government monies, and Foundation finagling, they learned how to make poverty pay. A culture of dependency replaced a culture of enterprise and competition. City government was corrupted and city officials became puppets. Portsmouth became a a company town but without the company. Because the PDT became the mouthpiece of the Southern Ohio Growth Partnership, and the lawyers and developers who dominated it, the PDT’s name became mud with many citizens. Most newspapers are now experiencing extreme financial problems and a number are on the verge or already have folded, but the PDT has an additional problem. It has earned the enmity of a number of Portsmouth citizens who believe it is biased in its reporting and subservient editorially to the lawyers and developers who control the economic and political life of the city. Some of those critics of the PDT had this to say when I asked them for their reaction to the Monday cutback. “Given the nature of that rag, will it really matter?” “Maybe they should take some lessons from the Cleveland or Akron newspapers and do some real investigative reporting, but then they would lose all their crony advertisers!“Maybe they should just make it a weekend paper, that way it will at least have more than 6 pages.” “I do not waste my fifty cents on it, so I won’t miss it anyway!” “Speak the truth and the truth will set you free.”

The First Rule

In the first forty years of its existence, the Times, as a weekly and daily, had only three editors. The turnover among editors and reporters has been high in the twenty years I’ve been in Portsmouth. Maybe I’m being na├»ve, but I thought the high turnover was not just because of the low pay but because anybody with any self-respect, not to mention journalistic ethics, would get out as soon as they could, because if they stayed around for very long, they would end up getting fired, as two veteran reporters, Mike Deaterla and Jeff Barron, were last year. Not given to investigative reporting or liberal opinions. Barron was fired for making the mistake of mentioning that somebody arrested for dealing drugs was employed as a mechanic at Glockner Motors. A PDT reporter must never ever report anything that might embarrass a bigwig or a business that advertises in the PDT. That is a rule that should be hanging on the wall of the press room on 5th St. I didn’t think an editor could have been any more obliging to the SOGP than Arthur Kuhn was, but after he was fired not too long ago he was replaced by Jason Lovins, who has shown there were depths of casuistry and deceit that Kuhn apparently would or could not sink to.

It Pays Not to Advertise

Speaking of shrinking influence, it may pay to advertise, but not in the PDT. Look at what Jim Kalb’s ludicrous thousands-of-tiny words full-page ad in the May 3 PDT got him in the May 5 primary election. He lost by more than a 2 to 1 margin to a newcomer, Jane Murray, who ran no ad in the PDT, not even a teensy-weensy one. Kalb came out first in only one of the city’s twenty-four precincts; she won in twenty-two of them. Kalb had learned nothing from city solicitor David Kuhn who in 2007 spent thousands of dollars in PDT ads, including a quarter-page ad in which he boasted that he had the support of such local luminaries as Mike Mearan and Clay Johnson! Kuhn was clobbered in the election.

In influencing voters and swaying public opinion, an ad in the PDT is about as effective as an editorial in the PDT. Whatever position the PDT takes, the public opposes in the voting booth. I hope before much more time goes by that the shrinking PDT will completely disappear. The disappearance of the shrinking PDT will represent a step forward, not a step back for the city. I call it the Prostitute Daily Times. I look forward to the day when there are no prostitutes or PDT dispensers on the street corners of Portsmouth.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Dope Box Derby

Now that he has finished behind Jane Murray by a 2 to 1 vote in the May 5 primary, winning only one precinct to her twenty-two, expect Mayor Kalb and his disturbed wife to grow increasingly desperate and disruptive in the run up to the November general election. The Kalbs’ favorite trick is to crash other people’s meetings and try to turn them into Kalb campaign rallies. Why go through the trouble of organizing a meeting of your own, to which very few people probably would come, when you can like the cuckoo bird, lay your political eggs in somebody else’s nest?

Mooching every opportunity he can for public exposure during this election season, Kalb is currently appearing on Channel 25, enthusiastically endorsing the Soap Box Derby. Don’t be surprised to see a Soap Box Derby display in a Marting window, along with the Easter Bunny, Mothers (on Mother’s Day), the Girl Scouts, and other sanctified groups, which is the equivalent of putting statues of the Virgin Mary in the window of a cat house.

What we have in the current city government is a Dope Box Derby, with the Mayor, the Auditor, the City Solicitor, and members of City Council competing to see who is the dopiest, in more than one sense, and the most subservient to the rich white trash who run the city. As president of the City Council, Howard Baughman would have had the number 2 position in the Dope Box Derby if the voters in his ward hadn’t begun a campaign to recall him, which almost certainly would have removed him from office by the same kind of wide margin by which Murray clobbered Kalb in the primary. Rather than allowing himself to be recalled, Baughman resigned, enabling the city council to appoint his replacement, thus preventing the voters in his ward from making the decision of who would replace him. Resigning rather than being recalled so that another crook can be appointed in your place is a dirty trick that has been pulled before and will be pulled again.

Instead of competing in an honest race, Portsmouth politicians do what some unscrupulous entrants at the Soap Box Derby have done: they cheat. In 1973 the 14-year-old Derby winner had an illegal electro-magnetic device in his racer that gave him an advantage over his competitors. The electro-magnet pulled his racer forward toward the steel paddle that started the race. The mastermind behind the magnetic device was the boy’s wealthy uncle, whose own son had won the derby the year before in what was possibly another electro-magnetic powered racer. It took observers a second time around to figure out what was going on. The boys were only tools, as Kalb and other Portsmouth politicians like him are. The masterminds behind Portsmouth’s Dope Box Derby are a couple of wealthy individuals who do everything they can to eliminate competition in Portsmouth’s economic and political life. Why leave anything up to chance when a lapdog mayor can be installed in office the way an electro-magnet can be installed in a Soap Box racing car?

Kalb has complained that the 1999 Ford the city provides him does not reflect well on the dignity of the city. The truth is he reflects far worse on the dignity of the city than the 1999 Ford he is driving. If Kalb got the vehicle that a public servant of his limited ethical and intellectual development deserved, it would be a Dope Box Derby racer, of the kind shown above, which is powered only by gravity, and therefore needs a hill to run. When a visiting dignitary is in town, Kalb’s racer could be towed to the top of the reservoir via Sunshine Ave., and the mayor and the visiting dignitary could take turns whizzing down the hill like kids on a sled. Instead of traveling hundreds of miles to compete in motorcycle rallies for senior citizens, on geezercycles, as they are sometimes called by the younger crowd, he only has to spend an hour out of the Municipal Building, or at the most a morning, as he currently does on Thursdays to punch a cash register at Kroger’s.

When it began in 1934, the Soap Box Derby was for boys only. That form of discrimination eventually ended, and in 1975 a girl won the Derby. Up to the present time, Portsmouth has never had a female mayor. It is probable, but not a certainty, that next November we will elect our first female mayor. Not a certainty because six months is plenty of time for mischief, plenty of time for Kalb’s rich uncles and the lawyers they can hire to install electro-magnets. Or they may have already decided Kalb is hopeless, as many voters have decided, in which case they might reconsider their options. One thing is sure: they will not give up trying to stick the taxpayers with the Marting Building. That is the 125-year-old booby prize of the Dope Box Derby.