• Baby Jane, Victim Zero of the New Abortion Era, More to Come

    August 22, 2022 // 3 Comments »

    It was sad to see the glee with which pro-choice advocates welcomed the news the ten-year-old rape victim was real. Surprisingly she lacks a nom de guerre yet, something like Victim Zero, Baby Doe or Child Jane. She went from victim to martyr to symbol within a news cycle or two. The story just received new life as Indiana has voted to ban most abortions.

    We know now an illegal alien who should never have been in the United States (his status never to be talked about again of course as outside the narrative) twice raped the ten-year-old. He had been cohabitating with the child’s mother, pregnant with his child, who defended him (never to be talked about again of course as outside the narrative) as innocent even after an alleged confession. The child ended up at a local Columbus, Ohio physician right around the time the Supreme Court overthrew Roe. That’s when the exploitation of the child really began.

    The local doctor never challenged Ohio’s “health of the mother” abortion exception, choosing instead to pass the case to an Indiana colleague whose first duty was not do no harm but report to the media. It is clear alerting the media that the Perfect Case had arrived by stork on her doorstep was a priority. Never mind privacy (the core of Roe v. Wade, ironically) never mind outing the victim would eventually lead to exposing her identity as the press went about their ghoulish work, what was important was to call attention to Ohio’s strict six-weeks-heartbeat-limit on abortions (the initial physician near-magically predicted the victim was six week and three days pregnant) just as Ohio codified its post-Roe laws, and draw attention to the issues of cross-state border procedures.

    The victim became a political football kicked back and forth. No coincidence this case broke into the public eye just as Indiana lawmakers were poised to further restrict or ban abortion. The Indiana General Assembly convened in a special session July 25 to discuss restrictions, voting to ban most abortions.

    Alongside the obvious question of why no one challenged Ohio’s “health of the mother” exception (a ten year old body would never be able to carry a baby to term safely) was the way the victim was used as an almost literary device to conjure up other post-Roe horrors. After Joe Biden mentioned the then-unconfirmed case in a speech, calls rang out for him to declare a public health emergency over abortion, a formal federal designation like a state of disaster than frees up additional funding as well as — more importantly — making headlines.

    Even after Ohio’s Republican Attorney General said the child victim would have been eligible for an abortion to save her health, WaPo argued maybe she would not have been, unwilling to let a good horror story pass and allow Ohio to appear properly concerned about just the type of case its law was written for. Baby Jane would be an example, the progressives said, but not that kind of example. A bad one, you know, one showing evil not compassion. Confirming the theory, the New York Times stated the case was a “predictable result of an abortion ban” and devoted a full article to a victory lap scolding conservative media who initially doubted the veracity of Baby Jane’s case, concluding crudely “surely right-wingers, who love to accuse their enemies of pedophilia, understand that children are raped in America.”

    Not discussed: just one percent of abortions are the result of rape, and less than half a percent of incest. Another survey suggests the actual numbers were 0.3 percent in cases of rape, and 0.03 percent in cases of incest. Even with underreporting, exceptions truly are just that, though you would not know it given the media surrounding the current case. The proof is the 99:1 ratio of stories about the abortion, not the rape, in Baby Jane’s case. And ectopic pregnancies, which account for between one and two percent of pregnancies and are never viable, are legally abortable in all states. Meanwhile, despite the noise about extending abortion limits, nearly half of abortions happen in the first six weeks of pregnancy, and nearly all in the first trimester. How much, really, changes post-Roe?

    But as is required these days tragedy must morph into absurdity, and the most progressive commentators see the 10-year-old as a perfect excuse to warn soon crossing a state border for abortion services was likely to become illegal. Apart from the Constitution’s clear and unambiguous support for interstate commerce and movement, the House recently passing legislation affirming interstate travel for abortion, and no state has any such law on its books. Of course no one from Ohio is arrested for gambling coming home from Vegas, either. Criminalizing activities done out of state, or preventing interstate travel, is basically prevented by the Constitution’s Privileges and Immunities Clause, which holds a citizen of one state is entitled to the privileges in another state, from which a right to travel to that other state is inferred.

    There’s also Bigelow v. Virginia which dealt directly with the issue of out-of-state abortion pre-Roe. The Supreme Court concluded “a state does not acquire power or supervision over the affairs of another state merely because the welfare and health of its own citizens may be affected when they travel to that state… It may not, under the guise of exercising internal police powers, bar a citizen of another state from disseminating information about an activity that is legal in that state.” Nonetheless, the fear mongering persists.

    One 2022 commentator wrote “this whole notion of preventing interstate travel for abortions idea is complete lunacy. How about Amtrak? Or airports? Before the train or plane leaves a red state….what? A bunch of state troopers get on board and yell “PAPERS, PLEASE,” and then look for baby bumps?” A Blue Check on Twitter added “Or they could just say women can’t travel at all…” Others chimed in “I drove from Ohio to Illinois alone yesterday. A trip I’ve made 100s of times. But yesterday I thought “I’m afraid I wont always be able to do this. What if the police stop me thinking I’m looking for an abortion since they’re illegal in my state?” and “Belly fat might get you questioned? Detained? Tested? Sniffed?”

    Why stop there when it is possible to build whole arguments out of quotes from a work of fiction (or is it…?) Handmaidens Tale. A near decade after Snowden, someone is shocked to just realize “Retailers are already able to identify pregnant women by what they look at on line. Once a woman is flagged as pregnant, her whereabouts can be tracked by Google. If she starts heading for the state line the highway patrol can be notified.” But Team Progressive can fight back. One Hero of the Resistance writes “as a post menopausal woman, I can search for pregnancy related stuff every day and muddy up their data. Men can do it too.”

    Don’t laugh. The Guardian reports “Many American women in recent days have deleted period tracking apps from their cellphones, amid fears the data collected by the apps could be used against them in future criminal cases in states where abortion has become illegal.” Planned Parenthood created a period tracker which only stores data locally, on the phone, where it is easily deleted, as an impediment to law enforcement seeking out persons of the future who can get pregnant.

    The pattern is clear, that fear and paranoia will drive the discussion, not rational thinking. This could not come at a worse time for pro-choice advocates, just as many states are beginning the debate over their post-Roe abortion laws. Rather than base changes on carefully thought-out arguments, the arguments will be crazy all-or-nothing screeds, science fiction fears, and exploitive cases dressed up as the new norm for others to grimace sadly at and dismiss. Fears about period trackers and state lines have no more credibility than demonstrators massing around Justices’ homes in hopes of harassing them into compliance with the mob, or AOC on TV screaming people are going to die, or those collecting a million signatures thinking it will cause Justice Thomas to be impeached.

     

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, Other Ideas

    Abortion, Propaganda, and Cynicism

    July 11, 2022 // 3 Comments »

    A doctor in Ohio decided to become an abortion propagandist, assisted by journalists who decided to become abortion propagandists.

    You must have seen the horrific story, reported out of Ohio. A ten-year-old child became pregnant through sexual abuse. Under the new post-Roe abortion laws she is ineligible for a termination because she was found to be six weeks and three days pregnant. The unnamed doctor called a named abortionist in next-door Indiana where abortions can currently be performed past six weeks and began the process of arranging the abortion. Someone took the story to the press, where it quickly became a front-page Handmaidens Tale-level news item, the near-perfect example of everything wrong with overturning Roe v. Wade. Almost too good (too evil?) to be true.

    The victim was very young, below the average age of menses. She was pregnant via child abuse, the act itself horrific, with suggestions in the press the attacker was a relative. Ohio had just revised its laws following Dobbs (a month earlier and none of this would have been national news) and the kicker, the girl was six weeks and three days pregnant via abuse, just that 72 hours past Ohio’s deadline, all at obviously no fault of her own. Her only hope was an out-of-state abortion in next-door Indiana before it changed its own laws.

    No current technology can calculate pregnancy to the day. Instead a standard estimate is used, calculated from the first day of the person‘s last period. The key term here is estimate; only a tiny percentage of babies (about four percent) are born on the exact due date calculated off that last period, assuming a ten-year-old abuse victim would know the first day of her last period precisely. The articles about the child don’t mention it, but the period date is usually adjusted by an ultrasound scan, where another estimate is made, based on the size of the fetus, with practice being if the two “due dates” differ by a week or more, the scan is taken as the more accurate measure.

    The critical point is no one in the world could say that child was exactly three days past Ohio’s six week abortion deadline. The original doctor, sympathetic, could have easily consulted an ultrasound and come to the conclusion that she was instead five weeks and four days pregnant, for example, and eligible for an abortion. Ohio allows a complex exception for abortions even now when the mother’s life is in danger, clearly an option given the unlikelihood that a ten-year-old body would be able to successfully mature and birth a baby without injuring severely the child-mother.

    The broader point is none of this was discussed in the articles pointing out the horror Ohio was visiting on an abuse victim. None of the media asked the original doctor why he did not see the fetus as less than six weeks old, or why he did not seek to invoke the exception for a mother’s life at stake. Instead, he and the abortionist in Indiana worked hand-in-hand with the media to shape the narrative as ammunition pro-choice advocates would be able to use. It was all too perfect.

    Newly-restored to Twitter, I voiced some of these ideas. The story was obvious propaganda, albeit apparently true on its basic facts if not fudged on its presentation and omissions. As propaganda it seemed worth talking about. But in America we can’t talk about abortion it seems.

    The first wave of comments from anonymous women (I am unsure enough of  the mechanics of Twitter to not know how non-followers ended up seeing my Tweets) included some personal insults but were more in line with claiming I wanted to make the story about me (for having a questioning opinion as a man) and not about the “woman.” These were followed by many more anonymous women criticizing me as a male for not knowing much about women’s bodies because I asked some pointed questions about how much faith the doctor in question put in judging the pregnancy at six weeks and three days. Could someone really make a life-or-death decision for one of his patients based when a period had occurred? Someone whose bio says she is a doctor and activist seemed to lead the charges against me, calling me a whiner for wondering why this anger was directed at me and not maybe at some people in Ohio. And why was it impossible to find out anything about the attacker, such as if he was in jail?

    In the end I was told to “Just tweet, ‘I’m a twatwaffle who doesn’t know anything about women’ and save us all some time” and that seemingly ended the discussion.

    The Ohio case has become a test for politicians forced to show they are sensitive to the needs of women and girls in the face of growing restrictions on abortion. Republican governor Kristi Noem of South Dakota, mentioned as a potential running mate for Donald Trump, was pressed on the Ohio case on CNN, though no mention was made that South Dakota, like Ohio, allows abortions when a mother’s life is in danger. Instead the situation was visioned as “child rapist gets away with horror because abortion laws are too restrictive.” Noem replied: “I don’t believe a tragic situation should be perpetuated by another tragedy. There’s more that we have got to do to make sure that we really are living a life that says every life is precious, especially innocent lives that have been shattered, like that 10-year-old girl,” she said.

    It is a gross coincidence this playbook has been run before. In May 2019 as Ohio was considering its fetal heartbeat law, the press came up with an 11-year-old girl has been raped and impregnated by a 26-year-old man who had sex with her on multiple occasions as someone who might be forced to carry to term by the new law. The heartbeat law passed anyway.

    And by no small accident the Indiana General Assembly will convene in special session later in July to discuss what restrictions to abortion policy it will implement post-Roe as Indiana law did not immediately change when the Supreme Court issued its Dobbs decision. The state currently allows for abortions in the case of rape or incest. One wonder on the effect propaganda will have on all that, with the insertion of an already victimized 10-year-old into that process. Was the timing of the Ohio-referred-to-Indiana case really that cynical?

    Thinking to go on Twitter and call me cynical? Remember I’m not the one exploiting an already abused child for political purposes of getting my state to include a rape and incest exception, just writing about it.

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    Posted in Democracy, Other Ideas

    What Will It Take to Come Home to the Democratic Party?

    June 17, 2022 // 1 Comment »

    Raised in 1970s Ohio meant I was raised Democrat. In my area of industrial northern Ohio, Republicans were old people, or those younger, good natured guys from the Jaycees who always joked about “next year” at the get-out-the-vote rallies. It’s true. I used to write for The Nation, even a couple of articles for The New York Times. I didn’t change much, but my party did and one day a few years ago I woke up being yelled at by women in pink hats clamoring I was a racist if not an outright Nazi for supporting free expression they ignorantly called “hate speech.”

    I didn’t leave the Democratic party as much as I was abandoned. With the midterm crushing of the party coming as sure as the good guy wins in professional wrestling (big in Ohio) I can’t say I’m ready to go home. But if the Dems want to lure people like me back, here are some things they’ll need to do.

    Abortion. I am a practical person, and one in favor of people making decisions not government, and support some level of access to abortion. It is obvious in cases of the horrors of rape and incest. What beast wants a woman already victimized to be forced to give birth to her attacker’s child — hey, look, he has his father’s glowing red eyes! I understand religious objections, but remember the 1A protects all religion, even that which isn’t really religion. I understand Roe as an imperfect mess of judicial creative writing, but representing a distasteful flavor of compromise I could live alongside. But Dems, third trimester abortions? And because I support limited abortion rights you say I also have to buy into a whole full-meal deal of unrelated-to-everyone-but-you LGBETC rights and trans stuff? Didn’t you get the memo that trying to bundle all these things with the Equal Rights Amendment and with various abortion measures cost you support, not earned it? Stick with the basics post-Roe.

    Jettisoning the Blue-Anon rhetoric is a natural follow-on. I barely made it through four years under Trump hearing daily the sky was falling, the walls were closing in, and that damn clock would not stop tick-tocking. Every tweet by Trump was not the end of democracy, fall of the Republic, wrap party for the rule of law, etc. When the Supreme Court moves against your wishes, I don’t need to wake up to a headline like “The Supreme Court is a Tool of Tyrants” or worse, “Time for Canada to Offer Gender Asylum to American Women.” Same for when the Electoral College or the Senate does not bounce your way. These institutions were crafted by the Founders to achieve a balance of power, and they do it fairly well. Accept that “balance” means occasionally things will go the other way. The same court that rewrote society implementing Roe can do it again taking down Roe without you losing our mind.

    I just can’t support a party where people like Elizabeth Warren go on national TV and act like they just mainlined a warm syringe full of Tourette’s every time something goes wrong. So no more Op-Eds demanding a packed Court, or a change to equal representation in the Senate, or the end of the EC, or more weight on the popular vote, or any of all that. Instead shut down MSDNC and its hemophilia of fake news. I’m tired of the media taping a transcript the chosen candidate’s debate performance on the national refrigerator door.

    The Founders, speaking of them, still matter as examples of the more perfect Americans despite their flaws. As a group they were only in the 20s, kids, who for the first time in history created a nation based on a synthesis of ideas; they wrote the code running underneath the United States matrix. They risked “Our Lives, Our Fortunes And Our Sacred Honor” to do that, a dandy example for pols today not willing to stand up and offer an opinion without polling advice. Yes, yes, most of them participated in the ugly slave trade of their day. They weren’t perfect but they are deserving of those school names. Find something more important to fritter away political capital on. What we see in modern wokeness is the difference between a small mind and a great mind, between people who ignore their own flaws to pick at others’ out of time and out of context. Men like Jefferson were prime movers, the thing that lead to the next thing. That is worthy of a statue.

    The party should be a Big Tent, but that does not mean we all have to give up our seats for the meme-o-the-day. The Democratic party’s pandering to one racial group (black lives do not matter any more than any other lives, such as my own) or gay folks until they got boring and the party switched to the All Trans Network. Don’t leave more people out, leave more in. Stop elevating shallow clowns like AOC and her Squad. They are hypocrites, demanding we not judge by color or gender while demanding white men to the back of the bus. Look back to the 1950s and 60s Civil Rights movements, which stressed the inclusivity of human rights, not special treatment for every high school kid wanting to annoy his parents by wearing dresses junior year.

    Many of us currently outside the tent care as much about the First Amendment as any of the above issues. The 1a — speech in all its forms — is the fundamental right, the one that supports and drives forward all the others. That beautiful haiku of the 1A embraces everything from Jefferson’s eloquence to rotten pornography. It certainly protects what you call hate speech, something that if it started with good intentions has gone on to suck dirt in hell and mean anything that offends anyone anytime. The Supreme Court has found over and again nasty stuff is protected by the 1A, rightfully so, as in the past simply using words like “gay” has been prohibited. Let them sing, the rude and radical, and get back to fighting bad speech with better speech. And leave Elon alone. Twitter before him sold censorship, the promise your pretty little flower people would never encounter challenging ideas in that social media stream, an anathema to a democracy that must thrive on the marketplace of ideas. Right now social media isn’t a barometer, it’s a mirror.

    No more wars, okay? Nobody, after two decades of failures and lies and body bags in the Middle East, voted for Joe Biden to restart the Cold War. The United States, I thought, had learned some sort of lesson in the pathetic finale in Kabul, until Old Joe reminded us it was 1980 again by his watch. How in the hell did I end up worrying about nuclear war again? Trump (say what you will, I’ll wait) did not restart the Cold War. He did not go to war as you said he would with China, Venezuela, or Iran. He even tried to make peace with North Korea. I want more of that, not this.

    And please, Dems, if you want some of us back, really retire Hillary. She represents little beyond corruption, from the sleazy Arab “contributions” to the Clinton Foundation (which dried up alongside her political chances, funny thing) to a near-endless appetite that lead her to make terrible decisions on things as mundane as running her own email server to avoid FOIA requests. In 2016 we asked for change and we instead watched the party drive Bernie out to the marshes (leave the gun, take the lox.) In 2020 we asked for change and we got the sad skeleton of Joe Biden. So no more rigged primaries. No more Hillary and her “debates” with Martin O’Malley playing the role of the Washington Generals. Learn the lesson before 2024. Take a second look at some of the bright minds on your back bench to see if they might be part of the party’s future if you would like people like me to be part of the party’s future. Otherwise we’re going to vote Trump, or sit it out.

    That’s a lot of ask. And spare us “but the other party does…” because that line of argument sounds like “did to, did not” and that failed even fourth grade logic. People understand nobody is perfect, as is no party. Give it all some thought as you’re licking your wounds over the loss of Roe, and the very likely thumping of the midterms. You still have two years to find a real candidate and avoid the easy outs of clones like Harris, Beto or Buttigieg. It’s a hint when someone does not have what it takes when they’re available to run for the White House because they lost locally and were given a patronage job for four years.

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, Other Ideas

    Advice for Trump: It’s All About the Infrastructure

    March 21, 2017 // 25 Comments »



    Dear Donald:

    I didn’t vote for you and generally don’t support what you do, but hey, we both live in this country for now, and I don’t want to see you mess things up more than they are. So, as a public service, here’s some advice. I don’t see a lot of this in the media; mostly they just write articles mocking you. I’m pretty sure if you came out against poop the media would demand sh*t sandwiches for everyone in response.

    But we’re Americans, we look forward not behind where the poop comes out, so here goes.

    You need a grown up in the White House right away. Your team clearly hasn’t figured out how to work Washington when you need to do so. So go get yourself a James Baker. Baker was White House Chief of Staff and Secretary of the Treasury under Reagan, and Chief of Staff under George H. W. Bush. He may still be alive (check Wikipedia) but if not, someone like him. Not an ideologue, but someone who prefers to work behind the scenes, trusted by most in Congress, calm and steady but still enough of a conservative that he’ll fit in at meetings. He’ll be, what can we call it, a kind of Chief of Staff-concierge combo. That will also be very reassuring to your own party members.

    Next up is a new Secretary of State, in a few months. I get that Tillerson is there to debone the Department of State, and it is good that he do so. Let him get that done, make all the enemies, do the heavy lifting, and then get someone new in there who can take over the hassles of day-to-day foreign policy. It’s clear, Donald (if I may) that you don’t like the photo-ops and glad-handing with foreigners. OK, we’re not all good at everything. So outsource that part of the job, same as you’ve done pretty successfully with James Mattis over at Defense (see how that no-drama appointment thing can work out?) Get a SecState who can play nice with allies and let you be you on other stuff. C’mon, you know how to do this. As a businessman you delegated tasks all the time.

    With that team in place, get your plate clear of the ideological things you owe your base. Pass your healthcare, throw a bone to immigration reform, whatever The Wall, stop messing around too much with arts funding, just get that stuff off the front pages except in areas of the country where it being on the front pages is to your benefit.

    Then move on to the big deal, the thing that should be the signature event of your term, rebuilding infrastructure. You promised jobs, America needs jobs, the Democrats can’t be against jobs (well, they can, but at that point they’ll join the Whigs in political party trivia answers.) Don’t spend a lot of time at first sorting things out, just get money into the economy. Cut Retire one aircraft carrier, something. Have states send in proposals, or just start. Build a bridge. Fix an airport. Put people to work in Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania, places that really have been hit hard.

    Make it fast, make it visible, show (pardon the pun) concrete results.

    ALTERNATE POINT OF VIEW: “Forget your cheap theatrical Bruce Springsteen crap,” Kevin Williamson wrote of the white working class in National Review. “The truth about these dysfunctional, downscale communities is that they deserve to die. Economically, they are negative assets. Morally, they are indefensible.”

    Or from NY Magazine’s Frank Rich “Maybe they’ll keep voting against their own interests until the industrial poisons left unregulated by their favored politicians finish them off altogether. ”

    BONUS: For the Democrats, don’t chase away the man or woman who feels like a third party candidate. Don’t push a hack forward who you think you’ve dressed up to look like a third party candidate; it’ll just come off fake, like when Dad tries to look “cool” around the teenagers. Stop acting smug about how all those Trump voters won’t get the change they sought. You don’t have the best record there, either. Don’t tell people who have really been living with Obamacare in its imperfect form that it is not imperfect.

    Imagine yourselves taking control of the healthcare debate. Imagine saying “Obamacare has problems. We’re going to fix them, and yeah, it means working with the Republicans, but people before party.” Now there’s something to take into the 2018 and 2020 campaigns, especially if you do fix Obamacare.

    And for the love of Gawd, find something more to be in favor of. “We’re not Trump” and “Trump’s a stupid jerk” were the policy positions that cost you the election. Nobody besides your own paranoid base bought deeply into the Putin controls Trump line, and the longer you stick to that the more it will end up looking like the endless Benghazi hearings.

    See, people outside your base will see through your current war cry: July Comey bad, March Comey is good. July investigations mean nothing, March investigations are the end of democracy. Saudi money into the Clinton Foundation had no proof of quid pro quo, Some Trump guy appearing on RT.com is proof that the Kremlin controls Washington DC.

    Understand that you have to build your base out from the coasts; you will not lure middle-of-the-road voters back with #resistance. Resistance is just blunt opposition and you tried that and the result was President Trump. Don’t make it President Pence down the road.

     

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    Posted in Democracy, Other Ideas

    Radio Interview with Bob Fitrakis, 102.1 FM in Columbus, Ohio

    June 8, 2014 // 1 Comment »

    An interview with radio host Bob Fitrakis at 102.1 FM in Columbus, Ohio.

    We discuss Ghosts of Tom Joad, as well as the implications of a society where 99 percent of the people are beholden to one percent for their lives. You can sell your labor, but do you also have to sell your soul?

    Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman co-wrote Did George W. Bush Steal America’s 2004 Election?, Essential Documents, and How the GOP Stole America’s 2004 Election & Is Rigging 2008. He co-wrote What Happened in Ohio? A Documentary Record of Theft and Fraud in the 2004 Election with Steven Rosenfeld and Harvey Wasserman. So you know we had a lot to talk about.

    The full interview is online here.

    My portion starts about 10:50 in.



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    Posted in Democracy, Other Ideas

    Notes on Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99Percent

    May 1, 2014 // 15 Comments »

    Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99PercentI grew up in Ohio, more in a suburb than a place just like Reeve, the fictional setting of my book, but I saw for myself the changes that I’ve written about.


    Our town had a sprawling factory, making big aluminum bodied semi-trailers. Nearby was Lorain, Ohio, the nearest “city,” which had a huge steel making complex, a shipyard building ships for the Great Lakes (like the famous Edmund Fitzgerald from the song) and a string of Ford plants that built cars and trucks. If you saw or drove an Econoline van in the 1970s, it probably came from there. I watched every one of those factories downsize, get sold off to foreign firms or just give up and close during my high school and college years.

    Lorain, Ohio

    Lorain, Ohio is a snapshot of our modern economy. Population is down more than six percent since 2000. You can rent a house with a yard and a garage there for under $600 a month, and the landlord will be glad to have you. The median income is only $30,526, low even for Ohio where the average is over $45k. About one third of the households earn less than $20k a year even as the poverty line for a family of four in America is $23,000. Nationally, the numbers are equally grim: more than forty-six million Americans – about one in seven – rely on food stamps, the equivalent of the entire populations of Texas and New York. The program now consumes two percent of the federal budget, or $78 billion in fiscal 2011. It is not shrinking, and there are few people who need food stamps who think they are getting enough.

    The town I lived in, before the factories closed, had a sizable blue-collar population. Those people lived on the same streets with my own white-collar family. They had above-ground pools in the back yard, two cars, took vacations and sent their kids to college. Economically and socially there was no difference between the white-collar families and the blue-collar families, something that existed in America for a couple of generations after World War II and is now gone. I cannot for the life of me see how it can come back.

    Everyone went to one high school, except for a small Catholic school that enrolled a few kids every year. About one third of my senior class graduated into the military, a third went to college (Ohio State was the overwhelming favorite though a handful went out of state, even Ivy League, every year) and about a third went to work in one of the factories. Those who had taken “vocational education” in high school typically got better jobs as machinist trainees, but there were jobs for the others, as long as they would show up, and learn to handle a broom, or stack boxes, or drive a forklift. It was all expected and understood.

    The town is still there, though the population has turned over significantly. Most now commute to white-collar jobs. Anyone who still works in town is in the service industry, doing a job that does not make or create anything, putting in hours at a nail salon or retail store or, for many, behind the counter at a fast-food restaurant.

    As does the main character in my book, I did work in retail for minimum wage, both at age 16 and again at age 53, and all the stories about “Bullseye” in the story are true events that either happened to me, or the people I worked with (I have disguised their identities). While I lived a life from teenager stocking shelves to older adult stocking shelves, the minimum wage only rose by a few bucks. The minimum wage today is $7.25—is a large latte really what an hour of labor is worth? What has changed significantly is who is now working these minimum wage jobs. Once upon a time they were filled with high school kids earning pocket money, or the archetypical student earning her way through college. In 2014, the jobs are encumbered by adults struggling to get by. Some thirty million Americans are trying to live on such wages, so something is wrong in what many still insist is the world’s strongest economy.

    Resources

    There is a rich body of fiction describing the darkest episodes in American economic history. Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, and the masterful film of the book, stand out, and both obviously informed my own writing. Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle is almost equally as well known. Two other books worth reading along these lines are Appointment in Samarra by John O’Hara and Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson. My fictional town of Reeve, Ohio is located “near” the more famous fictional town setting of Samarra’s Gibbsville, Pennsylvania and the actual Winesburg location of Clyde, Ohio. In most cases written contemporaneously, these books captured the uncertainty and fear of the, as no one writing knew how the Depression would end.

    The 1970s as a transition decade, an explanation of how we got from prosperity to despair, is the subject of Stayin’ Alive: The 1970s, Last Days of the Working Class by Jefferson Cowie and The 1970’s: A New Global History by Thomas Borstelmann. All are accessible contemporary histories that build elements of the popular culture into the larger socioeconomic narrative.

    Left Out in America, by Pat LaMarche, is a sensitive, sympathetic look at the lives of homeless women in modern America. Pat, as part of her campaign as the 2004 Green Party Vice Presidential candidate, spent several weeks living in homeless shelters to educate herself and raise awareness for the special issues women face on top of the daily struggle to simply feed themselves and their children. Though I spent some time myself living out of my car to prepare for this book, Pat offered a perspective unavailable otherwise to me. Pat lost the election that year to Dick Cheney, but continues her work as a journalist.

    Nickel and Dimed, On (Not) Getting By in America, by Barbara Ehrenreich, is an evocative picture of life lived at minimum wage. Ehrenreich worked as a waitress, hotel maid, house cleaner, nursing-home aide, and Walmart salesperson. She discovered that one job is not enough; she needed at least two to live indoors.

    For those wishing to learn more about America’s working class, the very best nonfiction on the subject are the books by Dale Maharidge and Michael Williamson, particularly Someplace Like America: Tales from the New Great Depression. Maharidge as the writer, with Williamson as a photographer, chronicle the new landscape of the working poor in America, and focus specifically on Youngstown, Ohio and its former roll as a steelmaking town. Working this topic together since 1980, the two Pulitzer-Prize winners have followed the lives of several families over the thirty-year span to present a devastating portrait of joblessness. Short of growing up in the Rust Belt as I did, these books give you the most authentic feel for that time and place available.

    Bruce Springsteen wrote two of his more poignant songs about working life, The Ghost of Tom Joad (Rage Against the Machine offers a much rougher, more angry version, though the take with Tom Morello on Bruce’s new album is quite raw) and Youngstown, based on Maharidge and Williamson’s work, and contributed the foreword to their most recent book. Springsteen is the most relentless and prolific chronicler in popular culture of the plight of the working class, picking up the job from Dust Bowl singers like Woody Guthrie, and carrying the idea forward that America’s workers are resilient. Angry but ebullient, Springsteen echoes Maharidge and Williamson in believing that a new era will follow deindustrialization and that the men and women they write about will survive into it.

    The Future?

    For me, I am not as sure about the future.

    I wrote a piece of this story as a college student in 1981. I got an B+ on the assignment, the professor insisting people would not care to read about Ohio’s troubles. We’ll see if he was right or not. The details changed a lot over time and the current version is different from what I originally wrote (I am hoping for an A- this time around). The takeaway is that since I scribbled down those ideas, we invaded Iraq and the Middle East twice, along with Panama, Grenada, Afghanistan and a score of other places. In between wars I have heard commentator after commentator, politician after politician, talk about reviving the middle class, bringing back jobs, returning manufacturing to America, rebirthing the working class, how high-tech industries would solve everything, how green power initiatives would solve everything and on and on.

    None of it was true, none of it happened. Instead, over the forty years between then and now, America seems to have changed for the worse, with more people in poverty, less money devoted to education and fewer jobs. There’s still a lot of hope out there, young people so smart, older folks working true. It has been a long bus ride for me, for us, but right now I am not sure where the journey will end.



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    Posted in Democracy, Other Ideas