Ohio

‘Freeway’ A Tale Of Crack Cocaine And The American Dream

Although a segment of the ‘Freeway Ricky Ross” story winds through Cincinnati, Ohio, I was not familiar it. Ross is of one of America’s most successful drug traffickers. At one point, officials said Ross was worth $1 billion.

My interest in the roughly 2-hour documentary, though, is it offers a peak into the devastation caused by the ‘War of Drugs’ implemented by Ronald Reagan. (That ‘war’ help lead to Preble County’s economic demise, but I digress).

The film follows two basic narratives: the rise and fall of Ricky Ross and a background story — independent of Ross — that explores allegations of drug money being used, indirectly, by the Reagan administration to fund the Contras in Central America. This plotline is a little more complicated, but it is relevant, because Ross’ main supplier of cocaine was an individual funding the Contras.

In the documentary, Ross is portrayed as an amoral entrepreneur who surrounds himself with neighborhood and childhood acquaintances. He defies stereotypes as he eschews violence, helps his friends become wealthy, and takes a business approach to the trade. He simply sells an extremely large quantity of the highly-addicted product as a path to wealth.

This story line is engaging, intriguing, and offers a look at the societal, and political, forces that created a perfect storm for the drug’s acceptance.

Just importantly, though, is Ross’ new life. After spending 20 years in prison, the formerly illiterate Ross learn to read, write and became an activist — speaking out against drug use — and the “War on Drug” approach to addiction which left communities and families in ruin while spawning the prison industrial complex.

My Rating 4 out of 5: The film has it all: corrupt cops, reformed drug dealers, and a wide range of savory and unsavory characters. It gives a very detailed look at the drug scene in California and parts of the Midwest. My only qualm with the film is the Contra storyline. Although the Contra story and Ross’ story are intertwined, I would have preferred a Part One/Part Two scenario so the Contra story could be developed more fully.

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Categories: American History, movies, Ohio, TV Shows | Leave a comment

What I Believe: Children Are Ruling The Playground And The Religious Right Is Wrong

Hiking at Ceasar Creek State Park during first snow of the season.

I believe it was Ben Franklin who said that most people die at 25 but aren’t buried until 75. I strive to make each year a time of growth, and I challenge my beliefs because truth can stand the scrutiny. Part of this process means that, for the past few years, I’ve reflected on what I know for sure. (Here are my thoughts on 2015 and 2016.)

As 2017 ends, here is what I believe:

1.) Children Are Running The Playground. I’ve seen this on the national level as the Orange Menace and Congress push a trickle-down economic plan. It didn’t work the first time around for Preble County — we enjoyed a 12 percent unemployment rate in its first year (1982). But I’ve grown tired of national politics and am more interested in the local children. The policies championed by local gatekeepers are failing — entrenching our poverty. In this crimson-red county, those who hold the purse strings, especially at the county level, have become less transparent and less willing to compromise for the good of our community. Emboldened, perhaps by 45*, these ineffective leaders need to face the scrutiny of a strong media presence and/or citizens so their behind-the-scenes actions can enjoy a little sunshine.

2.) The Drug Epidemic Is A Symptom Of Our Hopelessness. The drug epidemic claimed a family member’s life in November. He was my cousin, 32, a hard-working man employed in Montgomery County. He died of an apparent overdose, coincidentally, on the anniversary of my father’s death. His death is difficult to accept. It’s a painful reminder of our abysmal approach to drug use and abuse in southwest Ohio.

In Preble County those with addiction issues are often treated as sub-human. Our abandoned dogs receive more compassion than the chemically addicted. It is a top-down problem as the hypocrisy of our political leaders, especially those who have melded their fundamentalism with their political agenda, perpetuate long debunked myths about addiction. I have met my share of chemically-addicted individuals in the past five years and the most common thread, in the lives I see, is a disconnect with the community.

Many here believe it is the church’s place to ‘help these people find a cure.’ If churches believe that, the first thing they should do is befriend a chemically-addicted individual. The second thing they should do is be quiet. When they are silent they can hear, and in listening, they may learn where we failed our community members — as too many of the chemically addicted are victims of horrific events. Save their soul, if that’s important to you, but begin by saving their life. And, as compassionate people keep our neighbors alive, gatekeepers can work to bring livable wage jobs here to help us pull out of the epidemic. It would be infinitely more valuable to our community than planning the construction of (yet another) building at the fairgrounds.

3.) Justice Is Not Blind. If court records, police reports and the local jail roster have taught me anything in 2017, it’s that justice is not blind. It despises the poor and hates the chemically-addicted, but less so in December when the jail population falls by about 25-30 percent. Although it looks like a Christmas miracle, the reduction in inmates may be more closely linked to limited court openings during the holidays. (I wonder if that’s why reformers believe all defendants should request a trial.)

Versa reflects on the condition of her soul.

4.) The Religious Right Is Wrong. I was raised in a white, evangelical church so I have a thorough understanding of their interpretation of the Bible. I’m also aware of their obsession with the afterlife as they postpone a quality life here to ensure a spot in the Treehouse in the Sky — and just as importantly — avoid an apartment in the Eternal Lake of Fire. At my age, a warm fire doesn’t sound so bad, but if there is a Hell my biggest fear is my roommate. If Hell is meant to torture, I’m stuck with Franklin Graham or Jerry Falwell Jr. — men who scream out in fear on a daily basis as they use their pulpits to decry gays, Democrats and Muslims (not necessarily in that order). If I had to listen to their impish drivel for an eternity — well, I think you get my point.

The Religious Right should sell bumper stickers that say: Believe like us — or go to Hell. But if they want a heavenly afterlife, they need to read — then live — Matthew 25. It’s not complicated.

5.) David Thoreau Was Correct. In many ways, it seems to me, Thoreau lived in a time similar to ours. There was a significant portion of the country entrenched in anti-intellectualism with a religious force ‘proving’ that the immoral institution of slavery was, somehow, ‘God’s will.’ As the political dysfunction of Thoreau’s era eventually led to the Civil War, Thoreau found peace in the woods doing his work. When 2017 began I attended a Unitarian church in Eldorado — one that, unlike the fundamentalist/evangelicals, exemplifies the inclusivity of Jesus.

In January, the minister spoke about ‘Now what’ and, referencing a scripture, she said we needed to plant our gardens, tend to our fields — or, in other words, do our work. Her message, and Thoreau’s approach of being in nature, became a practice for me. Although I was not able to attend the Unitarian church as much as planned, I hiked a lot of Ohio’s forests — finding peace and contentment despite the political mayhem created by a deplorable dotard.

Looking forward to 2018….

Categories: 8th congressional district, Age of Discontent, Life In A Red State, maga, My America, Ohio

‘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