B.J. Bethel

A view of the world from Ohio

Monthly Archives: August 2016

Crime may be at historical lows, but Trump’s law and order appeal is based on reality for rural areas

Tragedy in West Virginia. Twenty-seven overdoses in four hours –  one death. The overdoses occurred in the same area, within a couple miles of each other.

All of the overdoses happened within a mile and a half radius, which leads officials to believe they are from the same batch of heroin. The overdose victims ranged from 20 years old to 50, according to Merry.

This story is familiar in Dayton and its exurbs and the rural areas surrounding it. The drug was likely bought by all 27 victims from the same dealer, and laced with fentanyl, a narcotic more powerful than heroin. Fentanyl is what killed musician and star Prince. Where I work, a metro newspaper and major local news affiliate, this is news we report every weekend.

When dealers are running low on heroin (which is in epidemical demand), they cut heroin with fentanyl, and dealers seldom let customers know the product has been cut and could be fatal. Overdoses occur regularly, many causing death. Police departments, such as the Dayton Police Department in Ohio, have officers carrying NARCAN, a drug used to revive and save heroin ODs. This is standard equipment for officers, like a flashlight, handcuffs or a sidearm.

This is recent news to most, but this surge is far from a recent happening. Over a decade ago, law enforcement and hospitals in rural areas began seeing a switch from meth to heroin. Meth imported from Mexico was cheaper than meth produced by local dealers. At the same time new legislation made it more difficult to acquire opioids and other prescription pain medication. Heroin acts in the bloodstream like morphine. For those addicted to pain medication (many through bad practice by their own doctors), it was a natural switch that politicians and law enforcement didn’t anticipate. Now the United States is in the midst of the worst drug epidemic in at least 20 years, maybe ever.

Mike Burkholder of The Evening Leader and Wapakoneta Daily News wrote extensively about this problem nine years ago, but like many small town reports, it fell on deaf ears to others outside rural areas. It’s news to Washington DC, but almost everything from rural America is.

When Donald Trump speaks of law and order, he isn’t only speaking about immigration, inner city violence, he’s hitting a chord with rural working class and poor whites who have watched crime skyrocket due to the exploding epidemic in small towns. One exburb of Dayton had 80 heroin ODs through three months. They’ve occurred locally in Walmart and McDonalds bathrooms, in a Walgreens, and it’s eaten into the middle and upper middle class families.

Trump will probably not be president. But this problem will remain if Hillary Clinton doesn’t push aside the normal fight among progressive identity groups and take on the white working class and poor as the most serious part of her agenda. The Obama administration this week announced $17 million in funding to fight the heroin epidemic – it’s not nearly enough. It wouldn’t be nearly enough in Ohio. Promising more would outrage other groups that make up the Democratic voting base (poor and working class whites tend to vote Republican), who use academic language and old arguments about white privilege, which automatically fall apart when discussing the heroin epidemic. When a study was released early this year saying the mortality rate is only rising worldwide among one group of people – working class and poor American whites – progressive journalists were standing in line to either discount the findings as a whole or to twist them to fit their own gender or race politics, the same aggrandizement contest that has become a breeding ground on Twitter, and was the focus of garbage sites such as Gawker.

Hillary Clinton has long needed her Sister Souljah moment. To explain, Sister Souljah was a female rapper in the early 90s. She appeared at an MTV event with then candidate Bill Clinton, who loudly denounced her lyrics as violent against police and something he didn’t support. Hillary needs to make an honest reach to the rural white and working class, and do so in a loud fashion. Until this bloc is brought back into play for both parties, the vast disintegration of the political center will never get fixed. The GOP will continue to be at the beck and call of the Breitbart faction and the danger that runs from extremism continues.

Trump is probably losing the election – I say probably, because nothing is a certainty. But his candidacy hasn’t caused divisions and rank and furor in the country – it has revealed issues that have been long standing to those outside the corridor. Until the Democrats put aside the pecking order of their coalition, and start to work to truly unify the country, these problems will only get worse, and extremist fringes will continue to have a large voice.

The Democratic convention was a great start, with Ronald Reagan invoked (given the changes in the GOP, I’m sure the former Democrat and President would not have minded), and there are Republicans who would be more comfortable working with Democrats from the center than their own party on he right (John Kasich is the example). But invoking it, preaching optimism and unity, and focusing the country as one is one thing on the stump, and another thing in government.

This will be Hillary Clinton’s toughest challenge if she’s president.


Trump’s entire campaign is a massive, Friday news dump

Chris Zappone of Fairfax Media, home of The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald, wrote a remarkable article on the nature of Trump’s media strategy, where it came from, and why it’s effective.

If you study political science, media and propaganda or pay attention to Eastern European or Eurasian politics, the approach is familiar. It’s pure Putin at its core, embraced by his surrogates across the former WARSAW Pact, flooding the media cycle with stories that are good, bad, false, more false – it doesn’t matter. Media fact checkers can’t keep pace with the flood, as Zappone notes, and neither can other candidates. Zappone’s critique, based off a RAND research paper titled the “Firehose of Falsehood,” explains this strategy – a strategy Trump used his entire campaign, and was quickly evident the night of the first debate, when he stole the news cycle from a willing media, an entire political party, and over a dozen other candidates.

Immediately after the first Republican debate, Donald Trump was hardly the topic of conversation. His pugilistic back and forth with Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly was noted, and negatively, but it didn’t rise to the level of historic ripostes of debates past (in terms of confrontations, it was no Jack Kennedy).

Afterward, Trump’s performance and his toe-to-toe with Kelly over his treatment toward female workers was note two or five depending on the source. John Kasich was the prominent moderate, the compassionate conservative, while the rest pushed their bona fides to the establishment conservatives. Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie was the chatter from the punditry into the night.

Then the sun rose, the morning came, and the dawn of a new era of campaigning, elections and politics in the U.S.. Donald Trump began attacking Kelly in the middle of the night on his Twitter account. By the time morning news shows and the reporters were up, the story shifted from the other candidates and Trump’s alleged sexism to Trump vs. Kelly.

This would be the proceedings for the rest of the Republican primary. Trump would dominate the news cycle by the hour, just on whatever he tweeted at the moment. He would trash CNN for hours on the trail, then the network would give him minute upon minute of primetime at his whim.

Trump’s name recognition, his say-anything sound byte moments, followed by incessant Tweeting and a network of dummy social accounts and overseas trolls turning the wheels and opening the gates.




Masculinity is not a problem in law enforcement – nor anywhere else

Frank Rudy Cooper, Professor of Law at Suffolk University, writes in the TheConversation.com the issue with police violence in the United States is masculinity.

By masculinity, I simply mean popular assumptions about what is manly behavior. For instance, men do not wear dresses, do not ask for directions and do not dance. Or so we are told.

If one is a man, or just wants to perform masculinity, one will be drawn toward the behaviors that are popularly understood to be manly. An important tendency of masculine behavior in the United States is to confront disrespect with violence.

In policing, this has meant punishing the “noncrime” of “contempt of cop” (offending a police officer) with trumped up charges of law-breaking or physical violence.

Cooper takes some of the bite out of the headline (who knows who wrote it), instead saying “popular assumptions of masculinity and manly behavior,” but reading further, what he’s referring to is power dynamics not masculinity. In the context he writes, one could replace masculinity with femininity and it wouldn’t mean anything different.

The shooting of Philando Castille can be better explained through what author and polemicist Christopher Hitchens called the relationship between the dominator and the dominated. In Castille’s neighborhood, he was pulled over 52 times, half his citations were dismissed. This same type of over-policing, of Orwellian abuse of power through the micro-violation or non-violation isn’t a product of masculinity, it’s political and systemic, of domination. The case in Ferguson was similar, with citizens regularly given dozens of citations for innocuous violations, or no violations at all.

This is abuse of law, abuse of citizens, is where violence starts. It’s not a matter of masculinity but of policy. Of keeping a bankrupt locality alive so some people can keep retirements, health care and a salary. It’s incremental, as is outrage.

Cooper isn’t talking system, he’s talking one-on-one interactions with the police, which is where perceived notions of respect and manliness, as he would suggest, are the issue with police and violence. Disrespect is given by a black male, a while male cop sees this disrespect and reacts in the perceived masculine way, with aggression.

I have no degree in gender studies, but losing your cool isn’t considered masculine. Righteous anger is one thing, psychotic isn’t.

Movies and culture have changed perceptions on manliness, but not in a good way. The Tim Allen sitcom “Home Improvement” was derisively called Man Improvement. It was assumed for years stay-at-home fathers were depressed or angry or jealous at their spouses. These assumptions were false.

The traditional John Wayne model of the frontier man, rugged and individual, is a stereotype that wasn’t reflect in Wayne’s films. His characters were rugged and individualistic, but they also showed community, cooperation, cool under pressure, and the ultimate trait of masculinity – responsibility. Maybe stoic, but had heart and was self-sufficient and sufficient to others, most of all family. Christianity supplied a value system, and most importantly, someone (God) you need to answer to.

That definition fits many police, it also fits many men, and it’s a proper description of masculinity.


Dear Trump campaign: This isn’t Kiev, this is the United States

Donald Trump’s “Bad 72 Hours,” as put delicately by CNN, started with the presidential candidate’s criticism of Khiz Khan, a Muslim father whose soldier son earned the Medal of Honor after saving 10 of his fellow troops from a suicide bomber in 2004.”Why didn’t we hear from his wife?” Trump questioned, addressing the legitimate point of women’s rights among those practicing Islam. But Ghazala Khan wasn’t having it, and addressed the criticism in the Washington Post, saying she did not speak at the convention due to the emotion of the moment and the loss she continues to feel for her son.

This led to most of the GOP, the VFW, and everyone short of the Islamic State blasting Trump for his remarks toward a Gold Star family.

As this unfolded, numbers from the Republican National Convention were historic – for the first time in history, a candidate came out of his own convention with voters less likely to vote for him than before it started. Hillary Clinton experienced a significant bounce, and is now nine points ahead of Trump in one poll. Despite the ultimate outcome of the RNC, Trump experienced a brief bounce among independents that had him leading Clinton for the first time since May – that quickly disappeared, as the DNC recalled the days of the 1980s GOP – the Shining City on the Hill; numerous Republicans deploring Trump and pledging votes to Clinton; a former General and Afghanistan commander blasting Trump’s foreign policy; and homage’s to American exceptionalism, most notably in the speech given by First Lady Michelle Obama, who left the podium emotional.

The Trump campaign’s response to the fiasco of their own making is to threaten a Constitutional crisis – if they can’t win, they are going to burn it down.

I’m afraid the election is going to be rigged,” Trump said in a visit to Columbus, Ohio. A comment strongly rebuked by President Obama. The real double-down came when Trump staffer Roger Stone went on the podcast of Milo Yiannopolous, and accused both parties of hacking election machines.

This point is important. Milo is a moderator on Reddit for Trump supporters forum. He’s also a favorite among 4chan and disaffected GamerGaters who felt burned by liberals they supported when media groups like Buzzfeed and Gawker supposedly turned on them so ferociously over what should have been no more than a message board soap opera.

“I have no doubt that after the last election, when Karl Rove, who was George Bush’s campaign manager and a Romney partisan, insisted that ‘no no, your numbers have to be wrong,’ he said on Fox, ‘Romney definitely carried Ohio,’ and the reason he was so certain is because it was bought and paid for,” he claimed. “He knew the fix was supposed to be in. Therefore I can only conclude that sometimes things don’t stay bought, and perhaps Obama came in with a better offer.”

The Rove rigging Ohio story is important. One legend traveling the message boards and 4chan for years is Anonymous came in and saved the sanctity of the Ohio election by de-hacking voting machines and counts that were rigged by Rove and his dastardly fellow Republicans. This was why Rove’s memorable 2012 election night meltdown occurred.

I don’t believe for a moment anything in Ohio was rigged. I think the Anonymous story is akin to thousands of tall tales you’ll find across the internet, most of which have more grounding in truth. The Republicans lost Ohio because their polling was awful and their understanding of the electorate was worse. In no fashion did they see Obama having a second term, this was conventional wisdom in the party dating back to 2008 and Mitch McConnell’s declaration that the Senate and Congress’s main purpose was to deny Obama a second term.

Exit polls showed the Obama “coalition” showed up in the same form it did in 2008, and the incumbent president won easily. That’s closer to what actually happened then the story of Anonymous hackers saving the day or the Obama’s having a better cyberwarfare unit stashed in some RV somewhere.

This reasoning also turned out wrong. The electorate is whiter than researchers suspect because most of the calculations on demographics are taken from exit polls, which have been inaccurate. More scientific surveys had evangelicals shorted by as much as six percent of the total electorate. If the numbers are wrong, how did Obama win? He did better among white voters than the media or exit polls suggested.

So rather than buck up, offer a positive message and try to swing voters skeptical of Clinton and Democrats on trade, social issues and security, Trump and company now say the election will be rigged.

Campaign manager Paul Manafort and the rest of Trump’s staff, who I will now refer to as “Red Team Six,” are now working to delegitimizing the election two months before it happens. This doesn’t occur in U.S. politics, it occurs in third-world countries Manafort finds himself in, making boat loads of money from Moscow, and helping soften images of dictators and people who think of assassination the way U.S. politicians think of town hall meetings.

In other words, it’s a disgrace. Obama has rebuked Trump and called him unfit for office. He’s called on Republicans to disavow Trump and not vote for him. Republicans who earlier offered tepid endorsements have criticized Trump, but have yet to dump him to the curb, a telling sign.

This is now on the GOP, conservative media, the large billionaire donor base, and cowardly politicians. Trump is the manifestation of the conservative movement, starting with with talk radio, to the takeover of the tea party by the donor class and the conservative media establishment, to Ted Cruz and his efforts to crash the government. Republicans can fix much of their own damage by dumping Trump.





Don’t look for the media to keep barbarian Donald Trump from the gates

My column in the Sydney Morning Herald: Donald Trump is the Day of Reckoning for conservative media, which now cries to legitimate media to save them from their own candidate and their own creation – their base.