8th congressional district

Tea Party Speaker Touts ‘Schools Are Liberal And Evil’ Message In My Conservative, Rural Town

Lisa Watson is a modern-day Apostle Paul.

According to Christian tradition, Paul was travelling to Damascus when a voice from heaven and a bright light interrupted the trip. The episode led to his conversion and, indirectly, to the creation of most of the New Testament.

Watson, a speaker on the Tea Party circuit, also experienced a conversion. A self-described former member of the Left, her moment of truth included a voice and new outlook on life. Something was missing in Watson’s life, she said, and one evening, she sat down to watch “I Don’t Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist.” This is how she described the aftermath (as reported in my local newspaper).

“By the time the show is over, I’m actually lightheaded. I curled on the side of my bed dizzy. And I heard a voice. The voice said, you are being lied to. My mind is racing. I’m thinking about everything he said.”

Fiscal Conservative Gone Bad

Watson presented her views in a small, inexpensive Eaton, Ohio venue ($25 an hour). The parking lot was filled on the night she advocated for a non-government funded approach to education — schools, she envisions, being operated by preachers and unpaid volunteers. The overall theme of her message (based on the newspaper article) was ‘public schools are the enemy — because they are liberal — and they are educating your children.’

She presented this message in a county:

  • That has supported a conservative political agenda for more than a century.
  • Where, in 2016, three out of four voters chose Trump.
  • That struggles to get ‘outsiders’ to teach — or substitute teach — in their school systems.
  • Where the local branch of the community college shuttered after less than a decade of service.
  • Where 11 percent do not graduate high school
  • Where 9 percent have an associate’s degree
  • Where only 14 percent have a 4-year college degree

Despite the lack of liberals in our educational system, and because of the lack of liberals in the community, her fear-based message resonates here.

Poor Choice of Venue

In a movement that prizes frugality above all else, the low-cost of the structure may have been a deciding factor, but Watson, and her supporters, could not have picked a more inappropriate edifice for the speech.

She presented the repressive ideology inside the Eaton Youth Center, located on the corner of Decatur Street and Park Avenue. When the building was constructed by Preble County youth, from reclaimed material, in the late 1930s, it was funded by the federal government as the activist government was seeking was to give young, unemployed individuals in small communities employment, and purpose. The head of the National Youth Administration, which funded the venture, said the building project was the ‘practical expression of the belief in the democratic form of government.’ In a Sunday edition of the Cincinnati Enquirer, the director said he was ‘especially proud of the Eaton Youth Center.’

But more desecrating than an ignorance that government involvement — and not unpaid volunteers — brought about the creation of the Youth Center — is the slap in the face of Stephen Decatur.

A Real Hero

Stephen Decatur, the man the street is named for, was the epitome of bravery. He faced a true enemy — as opposed to Watson’s manufactured ones. Decatur’s enemy was not his neighbors or fellow citizens.

In 1804 Decatur, and about 80 men, were commissioned to blow up a captured American ship. It was a suicide mission since the ship was anchored in a heavily-guarded enemy harbor. They embarked on the mission at night, without guns, so they would not alert nearby ships, and engaged in bloody hand-to-hand combat, before capturing the ship, setting it on fire, and escaping with their lives. The act was instrumental is changing the tide of the Tripoli War.

Preble’s Real Problems

Decatur’s history is obscure, so I would not expect Watson, or local members of the Tea Party to know it, but local organizers do know that Decatur Street is not heroic. If Watson, or her organizers, had researched problems affecting Eaton, and Preble County, they would have known that Decatur Street is home to much of Eaton’s drug activity.

About a month after Watson spoke, police agencies in Preble County conducted a ‘drug interdiction sting’ and posted the results on Facebook. In the comment section, one resident listed a Decatur Street home, close to the venue, as a drug house. But even a cursory look through the Eaton police reports demonstrate that Decatur Street has a drug problem.

Watson is correct on one thing — our society has problems in need of solutions — but she is woefully wrong on where she is placing the blame.


Afterthought

In Preble County we could start by:

  1. Improving wages for residents
  2. Creating more affordable housing
  3. Treating chemical addiction as a mental health issue, instead of a crime
  4. Removing blight buildings
  5. Developing amenities that improve the quality of life
  6. Upgrading our infrastructure
  7. Removing echo chambers and creating a community
  8. Solving the drug issue by going after distributors, and not focusing on small-time users/dealers
  9. Having employers create careers, instead of temporary jobs, so workers can build a future here
Categories: 8th congressional district, My America, Politics, Preble County, Understanding Trump Counties

‘Hollowing Out The Middle’ A Vivid Description Of My Hometown

“It is dangerous and misguided to fund and operate rural high schools with the primary goal of getting the academically oriented student to college and assuming that the non-college bound will somehow get a job on their own.” — Hollowing Out the Middle: The Rural Brain Drain and What It Means for America

“…thank goodness for us Walmart came to town when the economy was down and sales tax (revenue) continues on the rise,” Preble County Commissioner during the recent State of the County address.

In Preble County, 50 percent of the county’s revenue comes from sales tax, another 22 percent comes from property tax, the commissioners recently told those in attendance for the annual State of the County address. This was apparently presented without cause for alarm even though economists have argued for years that both taxes unfairly target the poor and underemployed.

It is these antiquated beliefs that Hollowing Out the Middle: The Rural Brain Drain and What It Means for America by Patrick J. Carr and  Maria J. Kefalas explores. Published in 2009, the book is the result of a married couple moving to a small Iowa rural community and interviewing 100s of residents as they sought to understand the demise of the Heartland’s dying small towns.

Four Types Of Students

Even though the book is a ‘scholarly study’ it’s an enjoyable read because of the way the authors tell the story. They do this by segmenting the story into the following types of students at the local high school: Achievers, Stayers, Seekers and Returners. They conclude the book with a “What can be done to save small towns’ section.

As I read the book, their types rang true locally, in large part, because of my daughter’s recent high school graduation. So my memories are fresh concerning her experience. One problem small towns have created for themselves is their approach to education, which like the quote above points out, is bias.

In Eaton, just like in the Iowa study, there is an effort to educate the ‘best and brightest’ along a career path which includes college with an understanding that these students will leave the region — contributing to our brain drain. Conversely, there is also a drive to let those who remain in the community fend for themselves.

A Stayer in the book talks about his high school experience — one too typical in rural communities. According to the man, a teacher advised him to quit — and he did. Years later he reflected on that moment and said that his mother,

“didn’t try to keep me in school, and my dad was kind of a bit [concerned], but he didn’t really say much. I mean, nobody really tried very hard to keep me in school…”

This can leave a region, like Preble County, with an under-educated workforce, one that easier to manipulate, and cheaper to employ, but a workforce that also makes it difficult to attract higher-skilled positions to the region.

Besides the four student types heavily detailed in the book, the authors also look at disturbing trends that exist in rural areas. Here are a few:

  • A disproportional amount of military personnel are culled from rural regions. As the study points out, though, this is not due to a abnormally high level of patriotism, but rather many join the military based on economic need.
  • Drug use is rampant in rural towns as drug cartels target them as easy markets.
  • The lack of in-migration has intellectually and economically hampered rural regions.
  • Low educational levels have reduced the ability of the regions to attract the creative class, and with it, higher-skilled and higher-paying jobs.

The book, which highlights the mindsets destroying small towns, is a strong indictment against the status quo. It ends with a very compelling quote,

Why let small-town America die when, with a plan and a vision, it could be reborn and once again vital?

Rating 5 out of 5. The book offers plenty of ‘food for thought’ for individuals wishing to understand why small towns are dying. For community leaders wishing to reverse the trend, the book offers suggestions for revitalizing the towns.


Afterthought

Ohio has been one of the hardest hit states post-Great Recession, and locally our over-reliance on sales tax revenue is tenuous at best since it puts our destiny in the control of a state economy. But, one of the most interesting aspects, for me, concerning the State of the County address was learning the county has about $26 million (roughly two-year’s worth of expenditures) in reserves. This buildup occurred during the national economy recovery which began under Obama in 2010.

A wise investment, of 5-10 percent of that fund, would be to invest it in the people of Preble County. Instead, our board of commissioners tends to let the state dictate what projects we pursue. A recent example of this is the ‘no-brainer’ decision to build a $1.3 million structure on the county’s fairgrounds. Like extreme couponers who cannot resist hording ‘free’ toilet paper and toothpaste, the commissioners could not resist the ‘free’ $400,000 (an Ohio grant) that will cost us of $900,000 (to finish the building). The building benefits a minority of the county’s citizens and Preble County has significantly more pressing needs.

Categories: 8th congressional district, Books I have read, My America

‘Beautiful Boy’ Chronicles Teen’s Descent Into Meth Addiction

Two of the selling points for living in a small, rural town, is less crime and less drug use. Life is often portrayed, especially in farming communities like mine, as more natural — even holy. But, the myth has been destroyed in recent years as news spread about the opioid epidemic ravishing small towns.

But, before heroin, we were dealing with meth.

Meth (and heroin) tends to be more devastating in towns like mine because of limited mental health services, fewer economic opportunities and our entrenched reactive belief system. And, although how we got here has been heavily documented, how we escape has fallen prey to lazy thinking and a naïve belief that if ‘they just say no,’ the problem will solve itself.

This approach minimizes human frailty and dismisses the long-term impact that childhood decisions and upbringing have on drug use. It fails to address the myriad reasons people relapse.

Meth has made a resurgence in Preble County, and in an Eaton police report, one local resident, who was arrested after police say they found meth in his vehicle, gives one indication of why we are dealing with it again. Some of the chemically-addicted are no longer able to handle ‘normal’ life stressors. The suspect named in the report said he began using meth again ‘to help him handle his long work hours.’ This is one of the tragedies of the small-town, arrest-our-way-out of the drug dilemma approach  — it seeks out the arrest (since arrest ‘prove’ we are doing something) instead of what is best for the community (treatment for individuals trying to work and overcome addiction).

One thing is certain about meth — it is highly addicted, and once entrenched in a community — it is very difficult to eradicate.

Books, like Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction by David Sheff, help explain why.

Painful Memoir

Like all parents, Sheff wants a great life for his son, instead though by his early 20s, the boy (Nic) is a hardcore meth user. The book offers a peak into the devastation that the boy’s addiction has on his parents and siblings. Since the story is told through the eyes of the father, readers get a better feel for the rollercoaster ride of hope and despair a family member endures when dealing with an addict.

Since it is a father’s story, after an opening hook of a college kid gone bad scene, Sheff quickly details his son’s childhood in the opening chapters. Included in this fairly quick sketch is the typical childhood — sports, events and outings. It is marred early on by his parents’ divorce, and the resulting long-distance parental sharing arrangement imposed by the court, but all-in-all his childhood feels very typical.

However, like many kids in the modern era (this was published in 2009), Nic was exposed to drugs at a young age. His first introduction into drugs are cigarettes, marijuana and alcohol — all before the eighth grade. What makes this more intriguing though is the author explains how he was gullible enough to believe it would not happen to his child. And, as the father learns he was too trusting. He relays an event to prove this — at a sleepover, when he thought his son and son’s friend had the flu — he later learned they were sick from being drunk.

This is one of the strengths of the book. It presents, in what feels like real time, the slow revelation of Nic’s illicit drug use, as the author realizes he’s failing to protect his son.

Understanding Addiction

Peppered throughout the book are significant sections about the drug itself. This is a testament to the father’s desire to understand why his son cannot shake the habit. Readers will walk away with a new appreciation for just how devastating the drug is to the brain — and how the drug destroys it to the point of creating a never-ending trap for users. This is one reason long-term rehab sessions are often required for meth addicts.

But, the father is not without fault –nor does he pretend to be. He openly admits to smoking marijuana with Nic when the boy was 17. Although, the father is empathetic — and open to some drug use — by the end of the book, he, like many others, reaches a point where he is no longer willing to solve Nic’s addiction.

Throughout this journey, the author does not hide his anger, fear, hate, and overwhelming love for his son. In the end, through all the drug-related disappearances and relapses, the father finally realizes he’s not the solution.

Nic must find his own way out.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5. The book effectively captures the emotional rollercoaster ride family members of addicts face. Many of us in Preble County have faced this. The book is filled with all the expected approaches to solving addiction: AA meetings, rehab, medication and therapy. But, mostly, the book is a story of hope.


Afterthought

Why Does Meth Appeal To Rural Counties?

This article from 2001 about Preble County gives three clues: inexpensive high, availability of raw materials, and the ability to turn a large profit from small investment. Our isolation also helps. Those wishing to learn more about the meth problem in rural towns can read Methland.

Categories: 8th congressional district, Books I have read, drug addiction, drug use, My America, Preble County