Understanding Trump Counties

When Did We Become Too Calloused To Improve Our Country?

We have a lot of buildings, but a declining number of jobs, prompting some property owners to sell advertising space hoping to attract the attention of people travelling on nearby state highways.

I watched a comedy the other night with my wife — Going In Style. It was a typical, and fairly well-written, B-rated show about three retirees who, out of financial necessity, rob a bank.

Although the goal of the film is to make you laugh (which it did, but I like the three actors), the subplot is a harsh reminder of the society we created. The aged men, largely dismissed by society, are exploited by banking scams and their former employer (which legally robs them of their pension). The subplot is ripped from everyday life — referencing the banking scandals that led to the Great Recession.

Tag You’re It

In our current political chaos, we have created a society where a bully voice wins. And the louder someone yells or the more outrageous their claims, the more power we give them through air time or page views.

This has also led to a ‘tag you’re it’ blame game. The game is hardly new, just refined, but it always plays out the same. Regardless what the problem is — whether it is heroin addiction, job choice or insurance needs — the fault always lies with the individual, not the system.

The blame game is further exasperated by special interest groups which handpick our elected officials.

My Congressman, Warren Davidson, utilized the ‘tag you’re it’ model of blame when a mother asked how her adult son — employed in the service industry and insured through Medicaid via the ACA — was supposed to get insurance if the ACA was repealed. Davidson reportedly said,

OK, I don’t know anything about your son, but as you described him, his skills are focused in an industry that doesn’t have the kind of options that you want him to have for health care. So, I don’t believe that these taxpayers here are entitled to give that to him. I believe he’s got the opportunity to go earn those health benefits.

You Can’t Always Get What You Want

It is the last sentence that speaks to the GOP’s unwillingness to address the real issue — the lack of economic opportunity. A party that has blended Herbert Spencer’s ‘survival of the fittest’ philosophy with Ayn Rand’s economic theories has gutted our communities with their horrendous approach to capitalism.

The man mentioned in the article doesn’t need career advice, he needs a livable wage job — and that is influenced by government policy. I’d bet the thought already crossed the man’s mind — that if he was going to work 40 hours a week — why not find a job that paid well and had good benefits.

Anyone who lives in Eaton  — or Enon — where Davidson was speaking that evening can easily determine the quality of jobs in the region. So, to suggest that the man just needs to land a better job is ludicrous.

We Want Solutions, Not A Marketing Campaign

In the 8th, the Club for Growth spent more than $1 million to help Davidson win the primary in 2015. In a gerrymandered District the primary is the de facto general election.

The Club’s policies, though, do not reflect the views of many of the constituents in the 8th. For example, the Club opposes farm subsidies and wants them completely eliminated. Between 1995 and 2014, Ohio farmers received $5.4 billion from the program. Of that $667 million was distributed to farmers inside Davidson’s district — with $107 million going to Preble County farmers.

Presumably, voters — at least the agricultural block that benefits from the program — do not share the Club’s view about farm subsidies.

So, Davidson has aligned with a special interest group whose policies, if enacted, could bring financial harm to people who cast a vote for him.

Who Is John Galt?

It seems to me that instead of politicians marketing a ‘free market’ agenda coupled with a stripped-down government approach of problem solving what residents inside the 8th really need is a government that works for them. We don’t need someone selling the philosophies of Ayn Rand or The Club for Growth.

Those philosophies won’t bring jobs to our region. They won’t help sustain family farms. They don’t reflect our values. Many here don’t even know how to pronounce Ayn. They couldn’t tell you the person’s gender, most haven’t read her books — but even Rand was pragmatic in the end.  She willfully cashed her Social Security checks even tbough she did not believe in the program. Apparently the will to live was stronger than her ideology.

And, although I don’t know for certain, I’m doubtful that many, if any, of the 100,000 members of the Club for Growth live inside Ohio’s 8th Congressional District.

Which begs the question — why are they influencing policy here?

Categories: 8th congressional district, Age of Discontent, My America, Preble County, Understanding Trump Counties | Leave a comment

Modern Definition Of Town Hall Meeting Indicative Of Political Dysfunction

Company, from a nearby county, offering heroin addiction treatment for residents in my county.

My Congressman, Warren Davidson, held a town hall meeting last night in the Ohio 8th Congressional District. I use the term town hall very loosely because it was a private event sponsored by the Tea Party. (But at least he had one — other GOP members are bowing out.) Attendees were apparently given Trump bumper stickers as they entered the meeting. I found this interesting given Davidson’s unwillingness to endorse Trump last year on the campaign trail. When asked if he would officially endorse Trump, Davidson reportedly said (at a Darke County Chamber of Commerce meeting),

“That’s been the question all year, and the answer has been the same for me all year…we were expecting Hillary Clinton to be the top of the ticket on the Democrat side, and I’ve spent the entire year as a candidate saying ‘Anybody but Clinton’ — ABC. First, second, and third priority for me is, Hillary Clinton, is not our next president…So Trump/Pence is the only way that is not going to happen.”

As the paper reported, it was a less-than-wholehearted endorsement of Trump.

But, now it’s bumper sticker time.

I Want To Hear What You Say, Unless I Disagree

Like many town hall meetings these days, Davidson’s meeting was attended by protesters. The protesters, who ranged widely in age (based on videos on the event), were eventually asked to leave. They had already been warned — and in an epitome of childish politicking they were informed they could not display their ‘Nay’ signs when they disagreed with Davidson.

So, expectedly some Davidson supporters clapped when the protesters exited the room.

What really unfolded at the Miami County event was a marketing campaign. Davidson, back home in his part of the District, leaned hard on his training as a soldier and did his soldierly duty by marching into the District with the GOP speaking points in hand. It was Top-Down management: A decision had been reached by those above him and his job was to sell the program. Trump and his lackeys decided that healthcare would, after all, be addressed before tax reforms (turns out healthcare was complicated for many reasons, including the need to siphon off ‘savings’ with a repeal and then funnel those into the tax reform — or as we say in southwest Ohio ‘rob Peter to pay Paul’).

This meant the ‘rank and file’ like Davidson are using the Congressional recess to bolster support to the latest version of ‘repeal and replace’ and, last night, to ensure the message stayed on target, attendees were asked to write out their questions in advance.

Can We Just Get Rid Of The Poor?

One of the complaints Davidson and others Freedom Caucus members apparently had with the first attempt at ‘repeal and replace’ was it did not slash Medicaid enough. Of course, cutting it deeper could have detrimental effects on Davidson’s district — and especially inside my county — where Medicaid is being used to address the heroin epidemic. Medicaid is the prerequisite for those defendants ordered to get a Vivitrol injection every 28 days. Vivitrol prevents a person from getting a high off of heroin.

The Common Pleas Court does not impose Vivitrol as a condition of probation/treatment for those without Medicaid. By and large the defendants in ‘possession of heroin’ cases in Preble County are ruled indigent by the court and the injections are just one step in a long, tenuous journey to recovery.

Davidson has stated that solving the heroin epidemic is the ‘challenge of this generation.’ But, slashing Medicaid or repealing ACA will only exasperate our problems in Preble County — a section of the county where adequate recovery tools are already extremely limited.

Cutting Them Off At The Need

Vivitrol is expensive — at least that is what a spokesperson with a heroin recovery medical practice told me. I called the number on one of the many ‘yard signs’ sprinkled throughout my county — signs that offer assistance for those addicted to heroin or opioids. Depending on where a person is employed, the spokesperson said, an injection of Vivitrol could range from a low of $25 or up ‘into the hundreds’ per shot. For two area employers, she said, an injection is above $1,000, but ‘I help the client find rebates in those cases,’ she assured me.

Most successful treatment involves, what in the industry is known as IOP (Intensive Outpatient Program), but what the companies advertising in my county are offering are a shot of Vivitrol every 28 days, a couple sessions of counseling each month, and assistance in setting up the client with NA meetings (which, of course, are free and heavily publicized already). The monthly costs for the first month or two — if Vivitrol is covered at $25 a shot — still ranges between $300 -$500 per month for the client. This is in a county where, according to an Indeed Job site app, the average starting wage for local jobs is about $10 an hour. Simple math demonstrates that someone recovering from a heroin addiction would spend roughly one-fourth of their monthly income on drug treatment.

That’s setting them up to fail.

No One Left Behind (Except The Ones Who Are)

But, as Davidson assured the crowd last night, the GOP does not want to leave anyone behind. I think recovering addicts (and their families) may disagree.

The community is getting left behind as well.

As these private events — masquerading as town halls — are held regions like Preble County watch as community members, addicted to a chemical, are processed through the court system for a mental health issue. It’s our children. Our friends’ children. It’s former co-workers. We watch as our county jail overflows. We watch as a new generation of felons are created — giving our community a workforce that local companies are reluctant to hire. We get to watch as national political leaders, like Davidson and Ohio comrade Jim Jordan, work to strip away the very few, and very limited resources, like Medicaid and the ACA, that trickled down from the federal government to the county level.

We watch as the addicted, denied IOP options, instead receive a monthly injection, short-term counseling, $1,000 to $4,000 in court fees and, as already mentioned, very poor job opportunities.

It doesn’t feel like the ACA is the biggest problem in Ohio’s 8th.

I Get High With A Little Help From My Doctor

Of course, someone always says — but they ‘got their self’ addicted so it’s their problem.

Most of the recovering addicts speaking at my local high school last week stated their heroin problem began with prescription opioids. Their statement is supported by data. And the heroin problem, not the ACA or tax reform, is what Davidson, the Freedom Caucus, the GOP, the Democrats, Trump — basically the entire federal and state government should be dealing with first.

It’s something that actually benefits citizens.

Doctors in Preble County doled out opioids like there was a lot of money to be made off the narcotic — societal impact be damned. Since 2010, we have consistently ranged above the state county average. For comparison, Warren County, Ohio’s second wealthiest county located just south and east of us, consistently ranged beneath the state county average.

Instead of trying to repeal and replace the ACA, building a ‘beautiful wall’ on our southern border, enacting a politicized tax reform, or finding a new war to wage — do something noble. Do something that benefits the people of Ohio’s 8th, Ohio and the United States — go after the pharmaceutical companies that delivered the opioid/heroin problem to our country. Hold them criminally and civilly responsible and take that money to restore health to our communities and our fellow citizens who are dealing with mental illness and chemical addiction.

It would be significantly more beneficial than last night’s approach of marketing a concept, kicking out dissenting voices, divvying out Trump bumper stickers, and pretending what you held was a town hall meeting.

Categories: 8th congressional district, Age of Discontent, My America, Understanding Trump Counties | Leave a comment

Shopping For My Own Version Of Reality In Trump Town

Sign popping up in the various communities in my county. This one is near the Eaton Municipal Court (pictured in the background).

(Note: Since the presidential election was won at the county level, I’ve come to believe that counties like Preble are a microcosm. And, how we deal — or do not deal — with problems is vitally important because the societal problems that are plaguing small towns are also negatively impacting the country.)

According to one local politician Preble County has a great workforce. It’s a great tagline, but it’s at odds with what the official said just a month earlier when he commented on the local job market. A month or so ago he said there were ‘plenty of good jobs, but workers can’t pass a pee test.’

The pee test comment may be closer to the truth since help wanted signs — mostly for temp service jobs — are popping up in the community.

But the politician’s shifting viewpoint speaks to the issue many Americans face these days. As Matt Taibbi points out in Insane Clown President, we now shop for our preferred version of reality. Those on the right shop at Fox News while those on the left shop at MSNBC. And, some find even more extreme venues of liberal and conservative information. This consumer-based approach to information led to the breakdown of a common narrative — a common set of facts we all can agree on.

Without a common narrative, solutions are improbable.

Gatekeepers Hold The Key

American history has shown that various regions of the country hold wildly divergent views on civic involvement. In southwest Ohio, with our strong historical ties to both the Backcountry and Virginia colonies, we have a tendency to look to leaders to solve our problems — as opposed to the New England colonies’ ‘town hall’ approach which tends to be more community based.

So, locally, if a public meeting has members of the public in attendance it is because someone is receiving an award or — most likely — because people in attendance are on the receiving end of a detrimental rule, law or ordinance. In a general sense, what the citizens in attendance say falls on deaf ears because the governing body is simply engaging in a CYA action to satisfy a public notice/public meeting regulation. By this point of the process, the governing board is not overly interested in citizens’ concerns because the political leaders are in the ‘selling/marketing’ phase.

So, our approach is simplistic: The leaders have reached a decision, and the public must accept it. Understandably, this method of governing generates a high level of mistrust from the average citizen. It also perpetuates a system where elected officials tamp down opposition as they bulldoze an agenda into law.

Not As Well Off As We Were

Ad from 1950s Twin Valley News publication in West Alexandria.

Like many communities in the Rust Belt, our level of affluence has fallen significantly in the past 50 years. In the 1950s, the community I grew up in the 1970s, West Alexandria (pop. 1,200), was able to generate the equivalent of  $400,000 — to build a community swimming pool. An editorial in the town’s newspaper bragged about how the community was able to accomplish this, without tax dollars, despite the lack of ‘wealthy’ citizens.

The approach used in 1953-1955 by the village differs significantly from the recent approach of local school districts to build athletic complexes. In these cases, the fundraising relied heavily on a handful of wealthy donors. This speaks to two current realities. First a strong sense of community binding people together in a common goal has weakened and, local residents do not have enough discretionary income to donate. The latter speaks to the quality of jobs that exist — or the skill level of the workforce and the jobs those skills can attract. In the 1950s, we were awash in manufacturing jobs, many with union wages. Today, in the United States, retail salesman is the most popular job title. In Preble County, retail is the second most popular segment, manufacturing is still our most popular segment, however, we are mostly a union-free county.

Heroin Addiction And The Workforce

Ohio’s job prospects — and its economy — has not performed as projected and as CNN recently reported, American workers are failing drug tests at the highest rate in a decade. Preble County is presumably no exception since we have a heroin problem.

But, one common theme in the heroin story is that heroin addiction does not distinguish by class. In other words, the rich and the poor are equally affected by the drug. Another common thread locally, at least with some of the gatekeepers, is ‘if you make a bad decision I can’t help you,’ which, although a popular stance, displays ignorance about drug addiction — and it’s politically lazy.

Living in a should’ve, could’ve world is a fantasy-based reality. People are addicted to heroin in Preble County and it needs to be solved, not vilified. It needs to be solved so employers can employ. So workers can work and spend. So a local economy can thrive.

It’s Economics 101.

Incriminating The Indigent

Preble County heroin cases, at least those processed through Common Pleas Court, suggest heroin addiction does discriminate based on class — unless, of course, wealthier users are able to bypass the court system through insurance-based treatment. Of the 63 cases processed between July 1, 2015 and December 31, 2016 in all but four of the cases the defendant was ruled indigent by the court.

This, of course, creates a financial drain at the county level while increasing the anger many non-addicts feel toward the addicted, making it easier to dehumanize heroin users. This is especially notable when political leaders refer to them as ‘druggies.’ Since I personally know friends, former co-workers and family members who are addicts or recovering addicts, I resist terms like ‘druggies’ because the individuals I know did not wake up one morning and decide that today was the day they would become addicted to a chemical.

Besides, it’s also about treating people humanely. A chemically-dependent individual is someone’s child, parent, sibling or relative.

Political Impotence

In a recent article, it was noted that my county is refunded, by the state of Ohio, 48 percent of the cost associated with indigent cases. The tone of the statement suggested county gatekeepers had negotiated us back ‘up’ to the 48 percent threshold, when in reality (I listened to the audio of the discussion) county officials did not negotiate. As a small, impoverished county we have the political power of a gnat. Ohio told us how much we would receive. It’s a twisted version of ‘what’s fair for the goose is fair for the gander.’ Although gatekeepers relish in their ability to ‘tell’ the indigent what they will receive and when, these same gatekeepers — based on their recorded posturing — are less open to the methodology when they are told by a more powerful gatekeeper what they will get.

Do We Have A Problem?

If anecdotal methods are proof of the type of workforce we have in Preble County, I will relay what one worker told me. They said the company they worked for had a lot of turnover because the ‘younger guys’ work until they were paid and then they ‘quit showing up.’ They indicated drug use was the culprit.

Other indicators include newspaper ads and articles which suggest local firms are struggling to find quality workers. For example:

  • One company, seeking manual laborers, has run an ad in the local newspaper for months to fill the position(s). The same holds true for a local bar seeking kitchen help. Their ad has run for at least two months.
  • Another company recently highlighted the fact that it is paying a higher starting wage in an effort to attract applicants.
  • A local government agency recently filled a position with someone already within the agency, which could indicate a lack of applicants.

But it may be the county’s own marketing site that offers the best clues about our workforce. Information on their site shows that prime-aged workers — those aged 25-54 — are moving out of the county. It also shows that the number of available jobs within the county has declined since 2007.

Categories: 8th congressional district, American Workplace, My America, Understanding Trump Counties | Tags: , , , ,