Small Town Politics

Heroin, Meth Just Part Of Life In Small, Rural Town

14889598603_32441c00b0_zI live in Ohio, a state where the Attorney General has declared a heroin epidemic. My county is no exception. The possession of heroin cases in Common Pleas Court have skyrocketed from about five in 2012 to around 50 in 2016.

But heroin, is just one of the drugs the county deals with — meth has been in the region for years and it does not appear to be going away. In August, 2015 there were nearly as many meth cases (based on the presumption that the ‘manufacturing’ indictment is for meth production) as heroin — three versus four respectively.

When a community is hammered by drugs, typically thefts or burglaries rise as addicts seeks ways to fund their habit. In this regard, Preble is, again, no exception. In August, 2015 the grand jury handed down seven theft-related indictments.

Meth Nearly Destroys Iowa Town

methlandIn Methland: The Death and Life of an American Small Town, author Nick Reding examines a small rural, agricultural-based town in southeast Iowa which is about the same size as my hometown. The tale, mostly about the town’s (Oelwein) triumph over meth is an interesting read as it lays bare the wide-ranging reasons for the epidemic.

Three of the reasons are: political indifference, corporate irresponsibility and the myth of the American Dream.

Political Indifference

What may be most troubling about the meth situation is it never had to happen. As the author details in the book, research to create an alternative to pseudoephedrine — the chemical extracted from Sudafed to manufacture meth — was halted as in 2000. Before 2000, two approaches were being pursued that could have eliminated the ability to extract meth from Sudafed. The first was a chemical ‘mirror’ alternative to pseudoephedrine that eliminated the stimulant effect — making it worthless to the meth industry. The second approach was to use additives that blocked the ability to extract pseudoephedrine from cold tablets.

In the end, much like with the current heroin/opioid situation, Big Pharma’s profit potential influenced politicians to take a hands-off approach to regulating the industry — siding with business at the expense of American communities.

Corporate Irresponsibility

As president Calvin Coolidge famously said, the business of America is business — and this holds true even when it destroys livelihoods. Part of Methland deals with Ottumwa, Iowa where the meth trade skyrocketed in the late 1980s — making Roseanne’s Barr’s former sister-in-law Lori Arnold a very wealthy woman (and eventual felon). Arnold became wealthy by distributing meth to an ever-increasing base of factory workers.

When large companies, like Cargill, acquired food processing plants in the region, one of their first lines of business was to slash wages from about $18 an hour to $5. Workers, forced to work double shifts or take on a second job to sustain their earnings, turned to meth for the energy to get through the extended work week.

The companies also began actively recruiting immigrants, mostly from Mexico, to take jobs at the plant. The influx of immigrants, some with a direct line to the Mexican meth industry, increased the drugs presence in the workplace.

Today, with president-elect Donald Trump riding to the White House partially on the immigration issue, it remains to be seen if he will address one of the reasons illegal aliens are here. As Reding points out in the book, U.S. companies recruit inexpensive, illegal foreign labor and then hide behind legalities. Under U.S. law, companies are not responsible for knowing whether a worker is in the United States legally. They bring them here — and pretend to not know how they showed up. The scam has played a role in perpetuating an anti-immigration stance among Americans whose misdirected anger exists because they do not realize companies in their community caused the problem.

The American Dream

A significant portion of the book deals with Arnold who, within months of entering the Ottumwa meth business, becomes a very wealthy individual. Arnold looms high above the other small-time meth manufacturers featured in the book. But even the small time players create a significant cash flow because they have a captive market base — people working 60-90 hours weeks just to stay ahead of the economic curve.

The book is worth reading simply for Arnold’s story.

Even though the story is empathic to Arnold, and the other large and small time dealers, it does not shy away from what they are or what they do. It is very much a ‘warts and all’ type of tale. But, a bright side to the story does exist. It is seen mostly through the major of Oelwein, a progressive determined to purge his small town of meth while also returning viable jobs to the region. He takes some big gambles — and in the end they pay off.

It’s an approach small towns in the Rust Belt would be wise to follow.

Keen Observations

The book’s strength is the author’s many observations, including one about the American economic system. Reding posits that our economy is proving the theories of Karl Marx to be more accurate than Adam Smith’s —  noting that even the agricultural industry is being cannibalized by a handful of companies. This handful of large companies control the lion share of the market, pushing small farmers to the brink of extinction, destroying local economies in the process.

One small way this is seen, he notes, is the disappearance of locally-owned grain elevators. Under locally-owned systems, every dollar created through the sale of grain generates another three to four dollars in local transactions, Reding explains. This keeps small economies thriving.

Today, though, grain is typically owned and handled by one seed company and the dollar transactions are reduced to a 1:1 ratio, eliminating any local upside. This guts the local economy often causing family-owned grain elevators to close. It happened in the Iowa town — and in my community as well. The grain elevators that existed in the village of West Alexandria and the city of Eaton closed years ago.

In Eaton, a Dollar General store sits where the former grain elevator operated.

Rated 5 out of 5: The book is fairly short, very well researched and a nice blend of investigative journalism and personal essay writing.

Categories: Life In A Red State, My America, Ohio, Politics, Preble County, Small Town Politics

Christian’s Social Media Post Is Epitome Of Intolerance

As I come to grips with the reality that three out of four voters in my county chose Donald Trump, I’m not as worried about what will happen, I am more concerned about what we have become.

At some point, I’m sure the national protests will abate and life will move back into some semblance of normality. (Although, as I write this, Cincinnati braces for a verdict some fear will create more unrest.) But I’m afraid we may never fully understand the pain inflicted on some members of our society.

Some of my family members, like those with children or grandchildren of minority heritage or those who are victims of sexual assault, have taken this election very personal. And rightly so. Their family, friends and neighbors put someone in power who personally denigrated them. Some of them are legitimately concerned about their future.

Part of the blame of what we’ve become rests on the shoulders of president Ronald Reagan who in vetoing the Fairness Doctrine ushered in the age of Talk Radio and Fox News, where angry white men wearing American flag label pins, exploited Americans — preaching a message of intolerance that bolstered the network’s bottom line. Technology introduced social media which quickly became the source of additional misinformation and ignorance as it mainstreamed bizarre and fringe ideologies.

With all of this came, in many corners of the country, a removal of the American idea of ‘you stay on your side of the street and I’ll stay on mine.’ Zealots using social media as a tool began subjecting the country to their intolerance because diversity — an attribute that does make America great —  is, in their eyes, a liability. One of my family members learned this firsthand when they posted a meme expressing support for a close friend in the LGBTQ community. The family member was assaulted by a litany of comments from people she has not seen in decades. Some she does not even know. As the commenters waltzed unwelcomed into her side of the street one compared homosexuality to alcoholism.

I grew up in an evangelical church, so I am acutely aware of the mindset that pushes this faulty and immoral presumption that alcoholism and homosexuality are two sides of the same sinful coin. It’s a mindset afraid to live this life, choosing instead to bank everything on the next one. Politically it’s an easy mindset to exploit, because if this life does not matter, then social reform is irrelevant and tolerance cannot be accepted.

Masked behind this Christian’s superficial claim of love is an arrogance that they know the mind of God. Science and biology be damned, because the Apostle Paul decided homosexuality is ‘unnatural,’ so ‘it is what it is,’ the logic goes.

But, in the Christian tradition, Jesus has a closer connection to the mind of God than Paul. Jesus never broached the subject, but he did, like many spiritual gurus, offer a simple way to live. It’s the Golden Rule. Treat others like you want to be treated. In this case, treating others well means staying on your side of the street while securely locking away unscientific beliefs into the deep crevices of your mind.

However, if Paul is the Christian leader to follow, do what he says and ‘become all things to all men…”

For just a moment become that teenage boy who realizes he is not heterosexual. And, if you have the courage, and I doubt you do, feel the sting of the tears when he hears the word pervert directed at him for the first time. Watch him hold in those tears and refuse to cry because, even at 13, this young man knows a father should not call his son perverted. Then stare deep and long into the father’s eyes so you can know what hatred looks and feels like. Embrace the wrath and rejection. And, if you truly love this teen’s soul like you say you do, just for one minute watch his classmates’ obscene gestures as they ridicule him, a teen whose only crime is, just like you, he possesses a biological attribute.

Then, as Jesus said, go ahead an remove the ‘plank from your own eyes.’

But please, for the love of God, don’t try to protect any member of the LGBTQ community from Hell because most — even in the Land of the Free — have already been there.

It’s something moral people — both inside and outside the LGBTQ community — are trying to rectify.

Categories: Personal Essays, Politics, Religion, Small Town Politics | Tags:

Paranoia Will Destroy Ya: 2016 Election Comes To An End For Me

signs-say-it-all

Screenshot of image on Preble County GOP Facebook page.

It’s officially over. I cast my vote, sealed the envelope and dropped my ballot in a locked metal box inside the lobby of the Preble County courthouse.

And, like comedian Samantha Bee, I’m glad it’s finished.

It has been the most contentious election I’ve known and it definitely changed my opinion of the GOP — locally and nationally. For more than 30 years, I voted as an Independent, but this year’s debacle drove me to the primaries for the first time where I cast a vote as a Democrat.

Under Ohio law, I will remain a Democrat for two years.

Heroin, Not ISIS, The Killer Here

This election opened my eyes to the failings of the local political process and to the degree good people go to in the effort to rationalize their choice. The latter has become glaringly obvious on social media and in letters to the editor. Yet, despite all the local discourse about ‘stopping ISIS and Clinton’ and Trump being an ‘outsider’ — in Preble County we have more down-to-earth problems.

Residents in Preble County earn 75 cents on the dollar (it fell to 70 cents during Dubba’s presidency), heroin cases have skyrocketed in our court system — in 2011 five heroin-related cases were processed in Common Pleas Court, but today, through 10 months of 2016, 43 cases have been.

We have an underemployment issue  — 45 percent of our residents cannot afford a two-bedroom apartment (pdf) and only 11 percent of our 25 or older population (pdf) have a four-year degree — considerably less than Ohio’s 25 percent average. This, coupled with the fact that 11 percent of our 18-to-25-year-olds do not have a high school diploma, makes it difficult to attract higher-paying positions to the region.

Without higher paying jobs it is hard to build a strong tax base and so the Catch-22 begins: low-paying jobs, more children raised in poverty, children — who in adulthood — accept a reality that low-paying jobs is all they can have, take a low-paying job so our tax base declines, storefronts and buildings are empty, etc., etc., etc..

It seems, solving the local employment situation is more within the realm of what local leaders could — and should — address.

This issue impacts local lives significantly more than ISIS, Clinton or Trump.

Solutions, Not Slogans

But, addressing local problems means politicians must become effective. They must become astute at creating viable solutions for their constituents. They must generate answers.

Since I live in a One-Party town, I do lay the responsibility at the GOP’s feet. They should follow the advice found in the 2013 national GOP report, instead of

  • decorating their Victory Center with “Lock Her Up” signs,
  • embracing the counterproductive ‘deplorable’ movement,
  • posting alt-right videos on their Facebook page or,
  • promoting conspiratorial theories about the media (as the image above demonstrates).

In the Internet age, those with initiative can dissect information and come to an understanding of what most closely aligns with the truth. Fortunately, most Americans do not daily feast on a diet of conspiratorial stew.

Selling Fear

The absence of solutions is just one issue though. Another symptom of GOP woes can be found in the plethora of flyers I’ve received this election cycle. GOP flyers have a common theme: Fear.

Fear

  • of a ‘liberal’ Supreme Court,
  • of someone taking all our guns,
  • that someone, somewhere is getting a social good that I am not getting.

The list of GOP fears feels endless, while their list of viable options, solutions and ideas, based on the flyers I have received, is non-existent.

Republicans, it appears, have become the Puritans of the modern era.

Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy. — H. L. Mencken.

Brand Needs An Overhaul

I don’t have the mental energy to absorb the Party’s fear, distrust and paranoia. I want a political party that believes in progress, in America and in its people, one that embraces diversity — not a Party determined to oppose everything.

The GOP brand is tainted for me. It is the brand of anti-intellectualism and regression.

My Vote Counts

But, oddly enough, my little corner of the world may be an indicator of Ohio’s political pulse. According to political columnist Thomas Suddes,

Trump has to attract such anti-establishment voters, many in Ohio’s southwestern corner. That’s where to look, on election night, for clues about whether Clinton or Trump will likely carry Ohio.

This does give me a little bit of hope.

As the resident of a Trump County, I know Clinton will not carry it, however I do think, based on the political signs I have seen, her appeal is growing beyond the 30 percent I originally predicted she would carry. This upward tick may indicate she will carry Ohio since moving 5-10 percent of Preble County voters suggests she can do it on a wider scale in more liberal — and less anti-establishment — regions of the state.

Oh, the audacity of hope.

Categories: 8th congressional district, Age of Discontent, Small Town Politics, Understanding Trump Counties