The new governor of my native state, John Kasich, revealed his budget yesterday, and the news is familiar — a lot of what you like (education, libraries) gets slashed, a lot of things Republicans like (charter schools, “privatized” state institutions) get a boost, but most people take a screwing to some extent, and the bottom line is pretty much the same no matter where you stand. New Normal, folks.
Also, today, there was a story in the NYT out of Gallipolis, an impoverished little town on the Ohio River that was only on my radar screen during college, when I was a resident of southeastern Ohio. It was about what is increasingly the only avenue to the middle class available there — “government” jobs, that pay something above minimum wage and offer health insurance. The tale of the tape:
Now, as Ohio’s legislature moves toward final approval of a bill that would chip away at public-sector unions, those workers say they see it as the opening bell in a race to the bottom. At stake, they say, is what little they have that makes them middle class.
Gallipolis (pronounced gal-uh-POLICE) is a faded town on the Ohio River, one whose fortunes fell with the decline in industries like steel in bigger cities along the river.
…Today, storefronts are mostly dark. About one in three people live in poverty. Billboards advertise oxygen tanks and motorized wheelchairs. Old photographs in a local diner look like an exhibit from a town obituary. The region has some of the highest rates of prescription drug abuse in the state, with more people dying from overdoses than car crashes, according to Ed Hughes, executive director of the Counseling Center in Portsmouth, about 55 miles west of here.
It’s a rural Detroit, in other words, with less violence but maybe more despair. The “lucky” people in the story, the ones where two people can stitch together a household income of $63,000, have two sons, one of whom is a Marine, the other just enlisted. You want to know who puts boots on the ground while the College Republicans fight the war of ideas? There you go.
Although the story mentions “decades of decline,” you could come away with the idea that Gallipolis was once a thriving little town. Not in my lifetime, I’d wager. The region has always been the poorest part of the state, and the middle class has never had a firm footing in the Ohio Valley, dotted with towns like this. One of my roommates in college dated a young guy who’d hit the lottery of well-paid labor — he was a coal miner. Union wages for some of the most dangerous work available, with three showers at the end of every shift, one at the mine, another at home and sometimes another at our apartment, and still he left black streaks on her sheets. Coal dust gets deep in your pores. (And, of course, your lungs.)
But the woman with the two sons works as a janitor at a state institution for the mentally disabled, and considers herself lucky to have her job, as otherwise she’d be doing what her neighbors do — working three part-time jobs with no insurance. Here’s a chilling statistic:
A third of all private-sector workers under 30 have no health insurance, up from 15 percent in 1988, according to the census data.
What are we going to do with these people? Keep drumming up wars for their sons to fight? Or keep pushing propaganda at them and hope they don’t change the channel?
Well. I don’t want to hang crepe all over the place. Maybe we should change the tone to one of righteous snark-fury. Linda posted this low in the comments yesterday, but I want to make sure everyone sees it. Ezra Klein on Evan Bayh:
But Bayh did not return to Indiana to teach. He did not, as he said he was thinking of doing, join a foundation. Rather, he went to the massive law firm McGuire Woods. And who does McGuire Woods work for? “Principal clients served from our Washington office include national energy companies, foreign countries, international manufacturing companies, trade associations and local and national businesses,” reads the company’s Web site. He followed that up by signing on as a senior adviser to Apollo Management Group, a giant public-equity firm. And, finally, this week, he joined Fox News as a contributor. It’s as if he’s systematically ticking off every poison he identified in the body politic and rushing to dump more of it into the water supply.
For those of you who didn’t know Bayh when he was human, it’s even more distressing, what a comedown this is. For a while, he was golden, the sort of New Democrat in the Clinton mold that you thought might lead the state into a more progressive future, and away from the rube bumpkins (is that redundant?) who ran things when I arrived. But sadly, no. A political friend once told me, “Evan Bayh proved that it’s not impossible for a Democrat to out-Republican a Republican.” Where did I read recently — was it here? — that he’s only waiting for his father to die before he actually declares himself a Republican? I don’t know what shape Birch is in at the moment, but I’d say if he’s sentient at all, he already knows.
OK, I have to leave you with at least one smile on a day where the skies are still gloomy (although it’s above freezing!) at 10 a.m. Here’s one:
Arianna Huffington’s journalism ethics — laughable!