Life In A Red State

‘Get A Job’ A Familiar Phrase Of The Politically Lazy

Shuttered K-Mart store in Eaton, Ohio.

Everyone should read Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl twice in their life: once in their 20s and once in their 50s. I say this, not just because I happened to do it this way, but because the book changes over the course of one’s life.

When I read the book decades ago, I was enthralled by the first-person account of the cruelty inside Germany’s concentration camps. I was taken back by the reality that Frankl lived through it, lost his family, yet managed to write about the experience with searing details.

Today, although I still notice the details, my mind zeroes in on the minor moments to learn how calloused a person, any person, can become given the ‘right’ set of circumstances. But, others, as Frankl points out, survive the worst possible scenario and still find a way to be humane.

Victim Blaming

Shortly after finishing the book, I watched a documentary on Reading, Pa. It has the distinction of being the city with the highest poverty rate in the U.S. Although there is no comparison to a concentration camp and unemployment or poverty, what struck me was the similarity in the way the ‘enemy’ (in this case the poor) were treated. Once they were labeled — poor, lazy, unmotivated, etc. — it was easier to treat them as inferior. It was easier to blame them for their situation — and not the corporate citizens who bailed — and with their exodus dismantling the local economy.

Former high school in Preble County.

We’ve done the same thing here. We label the poor. We blame them for their situation — as we ignore the lack of economic opportunity. I first realized I lived in a poor community two or three years ago as I stood on the sidewalk watching my daughter march with the high school band in a Memorial Day parade. Despite our green porch lights, flags (U.S. and Confederate) and patriotic rhetoric, the sidewalks were sparsely filled. As I stood I watched a man, probably in his early-to-mid 60s, shuffle along the sidewalk across the street in front of one of our bars. The somewhat feeble-looking man was peering along the ground, stooping and picking up cigarette butts. It seemed oddly out of place at a parade celebrating the country’s greatness.

Systemic Poverty

After that, I started observing and listening more. Although I do not know that particular man’s story, I do know poverty is a multi-leveled narrative. It is not as simple as ‘they are lazy’. And, telling a homeless or poor man that they need  “to work 12 hours a day if they want a ‘handout'” may feel moral to a political tool, but the statement is indicative of ignorance. The barriers for those ‘at the bottom’ cannot be solved with a one-liner or a regurgitated (and debunked) belief system.

In places like Preble, which has become a region like too many in America, there is a need for a cooperative effort by the social safety networks, employers, law enforcement and political leaders to address the issue. In my hometown, a wide range of issues is causing our poverty — including: low educational levels, lack of affordable housing, loss of livable-wage jobs and a failed approach to our drug problem. The last is especially taxing. We can blame the end user “til the cows come home” while we arrest low-end users instead of suppliers, but if employers can’t find drug-free workers, they will go somewhere else — taking jobs and tax revenue with them — leaving us with the empty buildings.

Some say it’s the church’s responsibility to help the poor. After all Jesus commanded it. But the poor cannot help the poor — at least not enough to exit the poverty. In Preble County, our well-meaning churches have been stretched too thin.

Not My Problem

But, the real problem with poverty is a lack of political power which keeps institutionalized poverty intact. We have been taught from our youth that ‘if one works hard, it will work out.’ The wise eventually learn that is not true, at least it’s not true for everyone, and in Preble it’s not true for an expanding population.

The roots of our apathy run deep. In a 1915 history of Preble County, one resident feared he would be coerced, through taxation, to support someone else’s child.

The 19th century man, described  as an ‘upright, honest and respectable man and a good and generous neighbor,’ said,

“…Eaton was likely to grow to be a big city and that it would contain many people who would be great sinners and law breakers; that very probably there would be many bastard children, and that, as the townships had to bear the expenses of punishing the lawless, and to furnish support for the bastard children, it was unjust to tax them down in the country to pay for such things.”

The plea to not be his brother’s keeper ‘caught the fancy of the county commissioner’ and a township was named in his honor — a township not taxed for Eaton’s abandoned children.

This unwillingness to help is also connected to our deep-seated belief that the poor cause their own misery and that our systems are sacred. We know the poor are responsible for their plight. We have to believe that or repair the institutions.

While reading American Character by Colin Woodard, which is a ‘history of the epic struggle between individual liberty and the common good,’ I came across an 18th century quote that could easily be spewed in my county today. Woodard quotes social commentator Arthur Young, who said.

Everyone but an idiot knows that the lower classes must be kept poor or they will never be industrious.

This ‘make them work’ mantra is an act of deflection. Of course able-bodied individuals need to work, but pushing residents into low-paying jobs will not lift them, or the community, up. The situation is more complicated than a ’12-hour a day job.’ In Preble County, we’ve done an excellent job creating poverty. We’ve paired our belief that the poor are lazy with a century-old belief that government intervention is always problematic.

It’s a very ineffectual belief — we have the empty buildings to prove it.

Categories: 8th congressional district, Broken Promises, Life In A Red State, maga, My America, Ohio, Preble County, Understanding Trump Counties

So A Drop In Farm Land Values Nets 14 Percent Increase In My Property Tax Bill?

Abandoned school in Preble County.

The property tax on my Eaton, Ohio home is increasing 14 percent in 2018.

I knew the rate was abnormal (it’s roughly twice the increase of the last valuation) because the latest property audit generated five public meetings. In Preble County these meetings are only scheduled when something is being imposed on the public. Officials explain they ‘don’t want to do this, but outside forces are requiring it.’

In Ohio, every six years a ‘real’ audit is conducted where property is photographed, compared to other properties, questionnaires are distributed, and a new valuation is determined.

GOP Approved: The Anti-Tax Movement

Headlines from the mid-1970s highlight the frustration of Preble County farmers.

Plenty of factors affect a property’s value, and in the case of farm-rich areas like mine, so does the political system.

This year as my property value rises, a significant chunk of farmland in Preble County (and other parts of Ohio) will experience a significant decline in property value. It’s a Christmas miracle as the ‘invisible hand’ of the marketplace, guided ever so skillfully by lobbyists and legislators, yields to the pressure of the Farm Bureau and other agencies to readjust farm values.

Preble County farmers have a rich history of protesting taxes. (It is almost considered patriotic here to protest taxes — protesting violence against unarmed black men, though, not so much.) During one 1970s public meeting with Ohio and U.S. Congressmen Buz Lukens and Thomas Kindness nearly 800 farmers complained that their tax bill was out of hand. Some of them eventually marched on the capital in Columbus.

Movements, like the one in Preble County, worked and the tax laws were written in Ohio to accommodate the farmers’ concerns. They were rewritten this year.

When this latest law was implemented, it also meant a County’s revenue could take a hit, but miraculously, as in times past, it evened out as non-farm property values increased — offsetting any potential loss of revenue.

I’m not convinced it’s accurate, though, based on what I see and read.

What I See

First the anecdotal. Within a six-block area of my home:

  • A house ‘sat on the market’ for months before eventually being taken off because it did not sell.
  • Another house has been for sale, first by a realtor then by the owner, for more than a year.
  • A third house has been abandoned for more than a year. The lawn is maintained by the City of Eaton under property nuisance laws.

What I Read

A few statistics that suggest the 14 percent increase is erroneous:

  1. The increase of Dollar General stores in my county. According to Vox, the national chain intends to build more stores in ‘small communities that have otherwise shown few signs of the U.S. economic recovery.’  Since we are a target market for them, we now have seven of their stores. They replaced our ‘mom and pop’ establishments.
  2. According to the Census, our population is declining. People do not leave a thriving community.
  3. Our rising jail population. In the late 1980s to early 1990s, based on newspaper articles, we needed a new jail because we were spending “about $50,000” a year housing inmates in neighboring counties. Today the tipping point appears to be $100,000 — and one commissioner recently noted that, in 2017, we spent more than $80,000 housing inmates in neighboring counties. At this rate, we will build a larger jail. Jails can negatively impact private property value.
  4. We lost the drug war. According to one court official “about 80 percent” of the cases in the Preble County Common Pleas Court are drug-related. Viewing the jail roster, and comparing it to the court cases, one can quickly determine the majority of the defendants are indigent. But, in a case of a Catch-22, the county and City of Eaton are increasingly dependent on the income created by jailing the indigent. The Eaton Municipal Court, which handles about 600 cases monthly, generates $1 million in income that is diverted to the Preble County and City of Eaton budgets. This is in addition to the monies that pay the salaries for judges, bailiffs, and support staff. Losing the drug war negatively impacts property values and keeps potential employers from locating here.

But, the single most significant indicator that the 14-percent increase is inaccurate is our housing statistics. They show that Preble County has never recovered from The Great Recession.

High Foreclosures Rates

Although we are a small county (about 40,000) since 2007 we have consistently ranked high in Ohio home foreclosures. This indicates a systemic problem has not been alleviated. The initial wave of foreclosures were closely linked to Ohio’s lax predatory lending laws, the high-paying jobs exiting the Miami Valley region and a general economic decline caused by the Great Recession. Between 2007 and 2013, Preble County ranked in the Top 10 for foreclosures — peaking at 3rd in 2013. Although we fell to 16th in the state in 2014, 2016 data (the latest available) demonstrates we have not recovered — and definitely not at a 14-percent recovery rate.

With 4.5 foreclosures per 1,000, our foreclosure density ranks eighth in the state.

In 2015, we were 27th.


Farm Subsidies

One interesting paradox in the farm land value issue is farm subsidies. Farm subsidies are a wealth redistribution/entitlement program implemented in the 1930s by president Franklin D. Roosevelt when roughly 25 percent of the country earned its income from farming. Today, less than two percent do. If you are interested in who gets the (mostly Blue State) money inside your state or county, visit the Farm Subsidy Database. Between 1995 and 2016, Preble County farmers have received nearly $118 million in subsidies. Critics of the program claim that most of the money is funneled to large ‘corporate’ farms bypassing the small, family farms.

Categories: 8th congressional district, American Revolutionary War, Life In A Red State, My America, Ohio, Preble County, Things I'm Tired Of, Understanding Trump Counties

Memo To GOP: Never Forget — Ignorance And Fear Generates Votes

One local Facebook user said there were 300 currently available jobs in Preble County. The user based the claim on a Indeed job search, but the user did not take the time to look at the listed jobs — or their location. An October 7 Indeed search revealed there are 101 jobs currently advertised in Eaton (the county seat), 96 of those jobs had an annual salary estimate of $15,000. But even the 101 number is incorrect because included in that list are Border Patrol jobs for the federal government, a Chief of Police job for Sylvania Township, Ohio and a flight attendant for Delta Airlines, to name just a few inaccuracies. Also, some of the listing are repeated (for example the same Water Meter Installer ad appears on the first three pages of listings and three positions at Henny Penny are duplicated).

Framing Issues Just Like In The 80s

I’m amazed at the slanted information that filters onto social media.

Although Sanctuary Cities aren’t much of an issue in Ohio’s 8th Congressional District they were Warren Davidson’s pressing concern this week. His Tweet, with its xenophobic and racist undertones, implies the need to protect our (white) girls from darker-skinned gang members.

Davidson is correct in one aspect, though, Ohio has a rape problem.

He’s just framing it immorally.

Selling Fear

The day before Davidson’s Tweet, in my hometown newspaper, a rape was reported with a story line that is significantly more common in Ohio. Victims are raped by someone they know.

The suspect, who was convicted and is scheduled to be sentenced next month, was a resident of a small, rural town on the southern end of Preble County — a county that is 97 percent white. The 49-year-old man was convicted of raping his daughter’s friend — a 20-something who, after a night of drinking, decided to ‘crash on the couch’ at the friend’s house where the father also lived.

No gangs. Just a 49-year-old man with predatory behavior — a demographic and behavior that is much harder to politicize.

Just a few weeks earlier, in Eaton, another man — about the same age — tied up a 90-something-year-old female relative, stealing her vehicle, just a few blocks from my home. After being apprehended by the Eaton Police Department, the suspect escaped the cruiser while handcuffed — and within 24 hours was accused in the stabbing of another Preble County resident.

Again, no gangs — just a white American male.

What Would Ted Nugent Do?

The Tweet — with its nod to the infamous Willie Horton ad from the 80s — is troubling on many levels, but it comes in a week where the GOP has attacked women’s reproductive rights while intentionally ignoring action on gun violence. After the horrific incident in Las Vegas where roughly 600 people were shot by a high-powered assault rifle from the 32nd floor of a hotel — negating the possibility of a CCW-armed individual neutralizing the situation — the GOP proved its political approach is woefully out of whack with the leadership the country needs.

But some of their fans are egging them on.

I see this on Facebook since I live in a Red Zone. We love our guns more than liberty, and Facebook lit up with people justifying their 2nd Amendment right to arm themselves. They quoted Teddy Nugent and Pat Robertson to justify their position — all the while ignoring the context that the 3rd Amendment brings to the debate.

God Help Us

Part of our inability to stave off nefarious Tweets or solve problems like gun violence is an exploitation of social conservative beliefs. Many good, church-attending people in my community are convinced that only God can solve our problems — effectively removing human accountability. One Preble County resident, commenting on the Las Vegas shooter, said,

‘There is no way to figure out who these people are until it’s too late.”

Besides shutting down public discourse (since there ‘are no solutions’), as Redneck Liberal Trea Crowder points out, there is a level of hypocrisy in the statement. Crowder says, this is not the response white people have when a person of color fires the weapon. It is not the response they have when non-Christians fire the weapons. And, as Crowder also points out, other countries have found workable solutions.

For some, though, none of this matters. It’s easier to do nothing. It’s the reason ‘thoughts and prayers’ resonates with many here and throughout the country — a naïve belief that God’s will usurps authority over intellect — and we just need to trust Him to solve our problems.


Passive Americans

Preble County church.

After mentioning a local church’s response to Colin Kaepernick’s protest in a recent post, I listened to the minister’s argument. It boils down to: how would it look to children if we disrespect the flag/anthem? It’s a weak argument coming from an organization (Southern Baptist) that supported a man who bragged about sexual assault and called Kaepernick a son of a bitch. Besides, Southern Baptists may not be a moral authority on race relations since they owe their inception to slavery.

But, more importantly, Kaepernick’s protest could teach children that people have an obligation to denounce systemic racism or that the First Amendment was penned for situations like police accountability.

It is the story of Elijah the minister references, though, in his ‘kneel or stand’ sermon that offers a stronger clue to why communities like mine lack the skills to problem solve.

In the story, a destitute and hungry prophet Elijah, survives because God instructs birds to daily deliver food to him. This is accepted as a literal act of God — not a Aesop-type fable — but real birds delivering real food to a real man.  Elijah does not solve his hunger problem, the solution exists outside of him.

Categories: 8th congressional district, Life In A Red State, My America, Politics, Preble County