Home country: USA
Current location: West Virginia
Member since: 2002
Number of posts: 17,110
Home country: USA
Current location: West Virginia
Member since: 2002
Number of posts: 17,110
Cantankerous by nature, aspires to a genteel misanthropy. Interests include carpentry, organic gardening and sustainable living, history, genealogy, astronomy and paleontology, visual arts, lgbt activism. Caretaker for a brace of Scotties and several ungrateful, rescued cats. Addicted to watching sports and cheers for perennial losers. Education: I suppose, though some might think an MFA doesn\'t really qualify as such. Partnered for 23 years to a saint. Just lucky, I guess.
There are any number of DU groups to which this article could have been posted but because the conditions outlined in this article could apply to many areas of Appalachia, I decided to post it here. If you feel this article would be appropriate for another group please cross post because this is a discussion that needs a wider audience.
The New York Times Magazine
What’s the Matter With Eastern Kentucky?
JUNE 26, 2014
There are many tough places in this country: the ghost cities of Detroit, Camden and Gary, the sunbaked misery of inland California and the isolated reservations where Native American communities were left to struggle. But in its persistent poverty, Eastern Kentucky — land of storybook hills and drawls — just might be the hardest place to live in the United States. Statistically speaking...
...Despite this, rural poverty is largely shunted aside in the conversation about inequality, much in the way rural areas have been left behind by broader shifts in the economy. The sheer intractability of rural poverty raises uncomfortable questions about how to fix it, or to what extent it is even fixable.
The desperation in coal country is hard to square with the beauty of the place — the densely flocked hills peppered with tiny towns. It’s magical. But it is also poor, even if economic growth and the federal safety-net programs have drastically improved what that poverty looks like.
Fifty years ago, President Lyndon B. Johnson declared his “war on poverty” from a doorstep in the tiny Kentucky town of Inez, and since then, Washington has directed trillions of dollars to such communities in the form of cash assistance, food stamps, Medicaid and tax incentives for development. (In some places, these transfer payments make up half of all income.) Still, after adjusting for inflation, median income was higher in Clay County in 1979 than it is now, even though the American economy has more than doubled in size....
MORE at http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/29/magazine/whats-the-matter-with-eastern-kentucky.html?_r=0
Posted by theHandpuppet | Sat Jun 28, 2014, 01:21 AM (21 replies)
... in the rape of Appalachia. As long as the factories were humming, the homes were warm, there was plenty of timber to contribute towards the housing boom, folks didn't really seem to pay much attention to what was going on with the people of those hills whose toil and sweat was making that happen. The law and the government were on the side of the mine owners. They hid the truth about black lung from the men and boys, who have died slowly and horribly by the thousands. They let owners skirt flimsy safety regulations or paid off inspectors, resulting in the deaths of thousands more from preventable, tragic "accidents". They poisoned the land and the water, leaving its people and their children to suffer from chronic illness. When the miners finally rebelled, the gov't brought in troops who shot them down like dogs.
It was never in the interests of Big Coal and its cohorts, both in government and business, to reinvest the mountains of money they were making back into the mountains of Appalachia. An educated people are dangerous to an economic system that relies on backbreaking labor. A people making a good wage, able to feed their families and with dreams of sending their kids to college, does not provide the labor force necessary to keep that kind of money machine humming. It is poverty that breeds the very kind of desperation they need. It is that cry of desperation you are hearing now. It is the cry of desperation and fear that what little they still have will, too, be taken away.
So let's not be quick to blame the victims of this national disgrace for their own victimization. As I wrote here many years ago, "The poor are not our enemies, the powerless are not our enemies, the hungry or uneducated are not our enemies. The ones pulling the strings in this country can be found among the uber rich and their corporate allies." So the question we should be asking is where were the leaders of government and business who took and took and took from these people and gave nothing in return? And where were we?
Posted by theHandpuppet | Mon Jun 2, 2014, 07:27 PM (1 replies)
Talk about a culture shock! That must be a story unto itself.
About eight years ago I posted a thread about the origins of the term "redneck" and tucked it away in my journal:
There are others who contend that the term "redneck" came about as an identifier of the rural working classes, whose necks were burned from working out in the sun. I think both definitions are plausible and could have arisen independently of one another but either way, it was a derogatory term to define a person of coarse ways, backward, ignorant, of the working classes.
Now where the two pejoratives "hillbilly" and "redneck" differ in usage depends on who you ask; these days folks seem to use them interchangeably (which they are not) though to me there are recognizable applications. For instance, a farm boy from western Iowa might be taunted with calls of "redneck" but he's no hillbilly, which is yet another rung down on the ladder of insults. Redneck is of class origins, whereas hillbilly found its origins in both region and class. It's the American version of a caste system. Am I making any sense here?
It's my hope that by discussing the topic of class-based language on DU we can rethink just how freely we sprinkle our posts with insults that denigrate by class. The irony is that the easy use of these terms as insults seems in direct contradiction to how we as progressives and Democrats define ourselves. I don't understand how folks can claim to be a champion of the poor, the working class, the union worker with one breath and insult someone as a hillbilly or redneck with the next. Is Sarah Palin really "the Wasilla Hillbilly"? Are the wealthy, Connecticut-born Bushes truly the "Texas hillbillies"? Is that really the best we can do?
I'm of a mind that one the best ways to combat this class war is to reclaim those terms in a positive way, thereby stripping those words of the power to hurt the very people we claim to champion. As I wrote in yet another thread those eight years ago, "The poor are not our enemies, the powerless are not our enemies, the hungry or uneducated are not our enemies. The ones pulling the strings in this country can be found among the uber rich and their corporate allies. They can have Ivy-League educations. They live in the best homes. They're still scumbags. I'll proudly take my poor hillbilly neighbors any day over their kind of trash." And until we fully embrace that concept, even mindful of the language we use and why, we'll never truly appreciate how we progressives and Democrats have been manipulated to point an accusing finger at the already disenfranchised. Neat trick, that -- and it seems to have worked.
Posted by theHandpuppet | Sun Jun 1, 2014, 09:59 AM (2 replies)
Odd timing, that. Right after I posted about the barefoot taboo I had responded to the thread about "A Connecticut Yankee in Appalachia" with a link to an old Life Magazine article that featured an impoverished family from Portsmouth. It had been years since I read that article but perusing it afresh, I was reminded once again how the issue of shoes became one of such importance and identification with class.
"I like winters more than summers, because you can shovel snow in the winter," says Mike Copas. "And I'm the best snow shoveler in town." Mike hides his money under his mattress so little Jamie won't find it. "But I don't like to," he says. "Mice get under it. I hate them things. They get in your food. Poop in it. I 'bout puke when that happens. They got in one of my old shoes once and had babies in it." Chuck makes $8.64 a week on his newspaper route, but quickly points out that "thirty cents of that is for insurance. In case I break a leg or die. It'll pay half my funeral costs." Last year Chuck won a $100 gift certificate from the Daily Times for signing up the most new subscriptions. He shared his prize with his sister Jenifer. They used all the money to buy clothes. On a recent can-collecting mission, Carrie earned enough to buy a pair of purple jellies at the Dollar Store. "Guess how much they cost?" she asks Jake. "Three ninety-nine."
"Jellies" were rather hideous, colorful and cheap shoes with the consistency of... um... what folks jokingly call "booger glue". At the time they were particularly popular among little girls.
During recess, although she is athletic and loves to skip rope and ride the swings, Carrie stands by herself against the schoolhouse wall while her classmates play. "The rich children won't let Carrie play with them because she's poor," says her mother, Dorothy, who dropped out of school after eighth grade. "Not real dirt-poor, but poor. They just make fun of her. I don't know why. Jeff and Mike, they're having problems too. The other kids have better shoes on and all this. And they make fun of 'em."
Shoes... no shoes... better shoes... it's certainly not a subject foreign to anyone but to the poor (and especially to any hillbilly poor) it holds a special significance. The irony is that Portsmouth used to be a center for American shoe manufacturing, an industry that went the way of the steel mills, the railroad, the industries that made bricks and furniture and scores of other goods. When my beloved grandmother, who was herself quite poor, passed away, there was little in the way of worldly goods by which to remember her. The old leather-bound bible with its handwritten record of births and deaths and yellowed newspaper clippings tucked into the margins, is now mine. An old composition doll in a homemade wedding dress, carried by the little girl who was my grandmother when she came over on the boat from Germany, found a home with my elder sister, who didn't mind that a missing hand had been replaced with one cut from cardboard. But the last treasure that symbolizes more than any other our funny and sad ways is now in the loving possession of my eldest sister: a pair of shoes. The tiny, buttoned, high-top shoes of nearly a century ago, the leather still supple from her ceaseless care. The shoes that told everyone that she, too, was a person of dignity and worth. Such a small thing, isn't it.
Posted by theHandpuppet | Wed May 28, 2014, 06:06 PM (1 replies)
Many of my friends used to kid me mercilessly about my "barefoot hang up". Now, I can only speak for the idiosyncrasies of my particular area but back in the day, going around barefoot was tantamount to a scandal. Folks were very sensitive about being considered hillbillies and to go out in public with bare feet was considered especially low -- it made you a "white trash" hillbilly, the kind mocked in the funny papers and cartoons. So no matter how raggedy folks' clothes might have been, they all wore decent shoes because it at least identified you as a better class of hillbilly. Didn't matter if it was 95 degrees outside, socks and shoes. And no sandals. Any exposure of the bare feet was considered a no-no. Hell, if you were going to run around barefoot, why not completely shame yourself and go all out by stripping down buck naked!
About 20 years ago a group of my friends from NYC and DC came down to visit with me in my hometown and the subject of the barefoot taboo came up. They laughingly dared me to prove that the locals, even on this blistering summer day, would all being wearing socks and shoes when they should be found in flip flops, sandals, or (horrors!) barefoot. I took that dare and offered 20 bucks to any one of them who could find a single person, man woman or child, who had broken the rule. I even sweetened the pot by including sandals of any kind in my bet. We hopped in the car and drove to town -- they, joking and confident that within seconds they'd dispel that barefoot taboo and me, confident that I'd never have to pay that 20 dollars. I had to be pretty darn confident because I didn't have 20 dollars, anyway!
So we drove. And we drove. Up and down the streets of the town, down 'round the park and playground then to the municipal pool, where even kids dressed in nothing but ill-fitting trunks and hand-me-down swimsuits wore their socks and shoes until the very last moment when they made a dash for the water. At that I got a collective "Uncle!" from my gaggle of friends and they never again teased me about the veracity of the barefoot taboo.
Even in Appalachia things have changed so much over the years that the rules by which we once lived might as well be remembered as mere fables. Flip flops and sandals are everywhere, though to this day I wouldn't be caught dead exposing my feet like that. The old taboos die hard.
I can look back on that barefoot adventure now and chuckle, though it bespeaks a sad truth about class. Even when folks know -- or perhaps because they do -- that they're part of negative cultural stereotype, an "ignorant hillbilly", they will determine ways to separate themselves as a higher class of the commonly ridiculed and despised. In most of our society folks display their means by living in McMansions or driving expensive cars. In my little corner of Appalachia and in my time, it required only one thing. A pair of shoes.
Now this is certainly not the dissertation on or analysis of the cultural stereotypes you might be looking for, just a personal anecdote. Take it as you will. There are just some things that are hard to explain unless you've lived it.
Posted by theHandpuppet | Wed May 28, 2014, 08:22 AM (2 replies)
In countries around the globe the two often overlap. The fundamentalist influence on politics with regard to women's lives becomes more and more evident every day. When powerful religious leaders preach that women don't even have the right to the autonomy of their own bodies we witness its political effectiveness in the rollback of reproduction rights and the shutting of clinics. These are legislators who use God to justify outrageous levels of misogyny and fashion it into law. These same men who think women have no place in the leadership of the church also believe women have no place as equal partners in the home, the workplace, the country. They know this because the Bible tells them so, at least in their version of it. They've got to preach it in the schools, implement it in the workplace, enforce it in the bedroom, legislate it in the halls of Congress. The following example is just one of the most outrageous examples of how this works: http://thinkprogress.org/health/2012/02/16/426850/democratic-women-boycott-issas-contraception-hearing-for-preventing-women-from-testifying/
Some might say I'm straying from the topic here but I disagree. What frustrates me is that there seems to exist either a lack of recognition of or an unwillingness to confront the unholy alliance of church and state in creating a misogynic society. We tiptoe around the subject as to not hurt someone's feelings. Well that's just bullcrap my friends and it's exactly what the purveyors of misogyny count on -- that we'll react well, like "women", not wanting to bruise anyone's delicate ego especially if it involves religion, even to the point of silencing ourselves. Right here on DU there are those who would contend that we have a choice -- we can support the war on poverty OR women's rights. We can fight for environmental protections OR women's rights. Etc, etc, etc. But not both. So women are asked to choose either the planet or their rights, or between the poor and their rights, or between income inequality and their rights. The arguments are posited as a choice for which women must make the sacrifice and too often, some do just that. Anything else is called selfish. I see it all the time on what is touted as a progressive forum. The fact that it should be a choice at all is a ridiculous, manipulative fallacy. It's apparently an effective one because once again I find myself embroiled in just such a debate on DU, watching way too many women fall into that same old trap, rushing to the defense of an avowed and powerful misogynist and homophobe because we must sublimate the cause of our basic human rights to whatever causes supersede them... and that list seems endless. I've got news for some of those folks --as long as we are so willing to make the sacrifice there are those who are more than willing to take it. Our turn will never come if we validate and empower the very people whose aim is to oppress us. Those in power will not grant us respect for being acquiescent; they will only despise us the more for it.
If we want to formulate strategies for how to reform a society shaped by misogynic dogmas that are in turn enforced by legislated policies, we simply must face the fact that patriarchal religions have way too much influence in the political sphere. (That holds true no matter where you go or what you believe.) We can't afford to ignore this elephant in the room, hoping that if we don't make eye contact it will miraculously disappear. The more we hint at any trepidation in confronting this issue the more WOMEN WILL DIE. Not at some point in the distant future -- TODAY, tomorrow, and every tomorrow after that. They will die because too many boys and men are indoctrinated from birth that women are lesser human beings, that women's lives and bodies were created to service their needs, that a woman's value can only be measured by the degree to which she is willing to sacrifice herself on the altar of what we are told is "the greater good".
Posted by theHandpuppet | Sun May 25, 2014, 08:58 AM (1 replies)
First of all, let me get this out of the way: Alice Ely Chapman is a remarkable philanthropist for her Appalachian community and the world certainly could use a few more people of such resource and dedication. The programs she has initiated and supported in Washington County, Ohio will undoubtedly return their investment an hundredfold.
The article to which I'm referring is:
A Connecticut Yankee in Appalachia
by Howard Husock
Alice Ely Chapman wages a one-woman war on poverty.
The struggle I'm having with the article is the tone in which I perceive it is written. Perhaps it's just me. I went to bed last night really bothered by the nagging feeling that as Appalachians we had just received a good dose of condescension. I had hoped that if I gave it a fresh look this morning my hackles would smooth. Unfortunately, after several readings I'm still bothered by the slant of this article. Perhaps what I really need is some feedback from others here because I now question my objectivity.
Those of us who've posted here have pretty freely discussed some dire issues facing Appalachia: poverty, unemployment, drugs, lack of educational opportunities et al. It's when those problems are presented in the manner I have illustrated by the excerpts below I have to ask, "Who the hell do you think you're talking to?"
All this dysfunctional behavior—the disordered families, the aversion to work, the welfare dependency, the drugs and violence—is what Marietta leaders mean when they use the euphemistic phrase “Appalachian values.” Social thinker Edward Banfield, in his classic book The Unheavenly City, described something similar when he wrote of chaotic lives marked by “present orientation”—that is, unable to plan rationally for the future and addicted to immediate gratification. Sociologist Joseph Howell called the conduct “hard living.” Economist Thomas Sowell has gone so far as to suggest that the values of the poor, antebellum Scotch-Irish Southern whites who settled the region became the cultural norms into which poor African-Americans eventually assimilated. Appalachian values, he believes, were imprinted on black culture, with the urban underclass its cultural product. City treasurer Harper links the drug and alcohol abuse among the young to what she calls “community disorganization.” Around here, bad choices are so common that people just accept them as normal.
To me, the paragraph above seems to smack of the worst kind of stereotyping. To add further insult to injury, the author then proceeds to fold these descriptors into what is described as "black culture" (and here we must assume the author is referring to the litany of our moral failings, such as "the disordered families, the aversion to work, the welfare dependency, the drugs and violence"). I'm sorry, but to me that's racist, plain and simple. It's also a theme parroted more than once in the article.
The moral judgments seeded throughout this piece -- But school officials say that they are battling powerful and destructive forces in the community, with many students living in disorganized households with multiple children from multiple fathers. -- is the same lexicon employed against poor folks everywhere, not just Appalachia. Painting Mrs. Chapman as some genteel, cultured New England lady of breeding who stepped from the drawing room into a hillbilly pigsty rubs me the wrong way and I'm sure Mrs. Chapman doesn't view herself in that manner, either.
The efforts of Mrs. Chapman to uplift the youth of her Appalachian community is a noble legacy. For some it will provide a hand up but for many others a ticket out, further propelling the "brain drain" of the best and brightest from rural Appalachia. Therein lies the conundrum, because the underlying problems facing not only much of Appalachia but our society as a whole, remain. Income inequity and unemployment are the economic cancers of a people without hope. The people of whom Mr. Husock writes have been undone not by their own moral failings but by a plutocracy that has abandoned them and then as if to assuage the guilt, created a alternate reality wherein the victims themselves are to blame for being victimized.
Well, I've had my rant for this morning. Just had to get this out of my system. As I suggested, perhaps I'm just a bit too thin-skinned regarding this topic or perhaps I've misinterpreted the tone of the article. I'd appreciate some feedback.
Posted by theHandpuppet | Tue May 20, 2014, 09:20 AM (16 replies)
Please see post #17 of this thread: http://www.democraticunderground.com/10024561241
There are several DUers who have been reporting for some time on these attacks on Nigerian schoolchildren. I had to do a search but located that report on the slaughter of the schoolboys and how the military had mysteriously withdrawn its soldiers just before the attack.
Now we hear that the gov't had several hours' warning prior to the schoolgirls being abducted. There is NOTHING the Nigerian government can offer as a believable explanation for what has been happening there for months. They're a bunch of liars. I wouldn't believe them if they told me water is wet.
I hope this will not be misinterpreted but at least there is some global outrage now that the girls have been abducted. This kind of terrorism has been ongoing there but barely made a blip on the news radar. Even past threads on this subject here on DU could barely be sustained by a handful of posters -- the slaughter of civilians... the destruction of entire villages and burning of schools... the murder and abduction of schoolchildren, both boys and girls... the kidnapping and torture of LGBTs, carried out with the blessings of Christian churches. Only now has the outrage pricked the world's conscience. Have we become numb to the ceaseless conflicts in places like Sudan, Uganda, Nigeria and CAR? Make no mistake, these atrocities are being committed by Muslims and Christians alike.
In the case of Nigeria, they are Africa's largest economy, primarily due to oil -- and Europe is the largest importer of Nigerian oil. It would be disingenuous for any government sucking on the teat of Nigerian oil to claim ignorance of the atrocities being committed or the government's skimming of oil profits whilst 65% of the populations is mired in abject poverty. (Gee, I wonder where they got THAT model?) The world didn't care before -- why now?
If by some miracle all the abducted girls are returned safely to their families, how long will it take for a waking world to return to sleep mode? Not long, I fear. In the meanwhile, the wheelers and dealers are sipping cocktails and making deals at the World Economic Forum in Abuja with the knowledge that this too, shall pass.
Posted by theHandpuppet | Sat May 10, 2014, 06:35 AM (0 replies)
Why is it, come election day, so many of us who identify as Democrats and progressives feel as if we have to hold our noses while voting? Even when the Republican candidates on the ballot would make a Strom Thurmond look like Dennis Kucinich, too many times I feel as if I'm casting a ballot for any alternative, which of course is the person who simply has a (D) beside their name. Unfortunately, in Appalachia too many of the most liberal Democratic candidates could barely impersonate a moderate Republican elsewhere. Nowhere is this more evident, perhaps, than in West Virginia, a state run top to bottom by Democrats. Or so they say.
Look, we all know the money behind the politics here is Big Coal. There's simply no way to explain to anyone looking towards Appalachia from the outside just how completely their political clout has devoured us. So much of the economy of the region is dependent on coal that even nipping at the margins -- a rational discourse on climate change, for instance -- can cost an election. I was reminded of this once again when Alison Lunderson Grimes, who has a real shot at Mitch McConnell's Senate seat, declined to say whether she would participate or even support her fellow Democrats in their recent "Talk-A-Thon" on climate change and how human activity is the cause of changing weather patterns. Rather than proposals about how to wean the Appalachian economy from its dependency on coal she offered more rhetoric about "clean coal technologies" in response.
Long-range plans and proposals hold little sway over unemployed miners and all the businesses that depend on their income in what has been a co-dependent coal economy. It matters not that sooner or later, the Appalachian economy must diversify or die. The expected Indian and Chinese markets for coal have not met expectations due to global economic instability and the most sought-after low-sulfur coal from the Appalachians is also the most expensive, even as market prices have steadily dropped for years now. Developing countries with an insatiable appetite for coal don't really care if their own mines provide a high-sulfur product or that their workers are paid a dollar a day under abysmal conditions. We simply can't compete with that mindset, not unless we're willing to live in a cloud of perpetual, lung-burning smog as many Chinese do, or so poison our environment that we have nary a drop of clean water to drink.
The solution is not to become even more desperate for the cheap way out -- mountaintop removal, lifting of EPA regulations, or undercutting the UMW. The time has come to face facts and challenge the future. Long term investments in education, green technologies and manufacturing, et al could pull Appalachia from its addiction to coal but plans and goals don't put money in the pockets of the very people who could help us to realize those goals. All the best intentions in the world can't foot the bill for political campaigns. Further, since there is absolutely no incentive for Big Coal to encourage a more educated workforce and a technology or manufacturing-based economy, those long-term goals are not going to be promoted even by the standard bearers of our own party. It is a fact that if you keep people poor and dependent, if you deprive their kids of a decent education or even the possibility of a way out, if you keep men and women in constant fear of the next layoff or the next mine that closes, you control them all the way to the statehouses.
What's a progressive Democrat to do in the face of what appears to be such an entrenched force, one that doesn't even recognize it's on the road to extinction? I really don't know. Come November I'll once again cast a ballot for the Democratic candidates not because I'm excited about voting for them but because the alternative is even worse. In the end, I feel ashamed to vote for Democrats who can't even bring themselves to talk about climate change but concern themselves with passing even more restrictive laws against reproductive choice, who can't muster even a meek challenge to those who poison their own citizens en masse but can lead the same masses in revolt against sane gun laws.
And yes, I will wish Alison Lunderson Grimes well in her bid to unseat Mitch McConnell. Pray, who wouldn't? Still, there's a part of me that acknowledges, sadly, that she simply can't do it by throwing down the gauntlet at Big Coal. Not in Appalachia.
For more on this subject, see this recent article:
Alison Lundergan Grimes Unclear on Supporting Senate Democrats Climate Change 'Talk-a-Thon'
Posted by theHandpuppet | Thu Mar 13, 2014, 10:11 AM (2 replies)
Archbishop Desmond Tutu, on homophobia and anti-gay laws:
"I would refuse to go to a homophobic heaven. No, I would say sorry, I mean I would much rather go to the other place.
I am as passionate about this campaign as I ever was about apartheid," said Tutu, an Anglican archbishop who was a prominent force leading to the racist policy's eventual demise. "For me, it is at the same level."
"One thing that Ugandan legislators should know is that God does not discriminate among members of our family," writes Tutu. "God does not say black is better than white, or tall is better than short, or football players are better than basketball players, or Christians are better than Muslims… Or gay is better than straight. No. God says love one another; love your neighbor. God is for freedom, equality, and love."
"It is with supreme sorrow that I witness, to this day, the subjugation and repression of African brother and sisters whose only crime is the practice of love," writes Tutu. "Hate, in any form or shape, has no place in the house of God."
Tutu also challenges the notion that LGBTI Africans are a product of Western influence, pointing out that "LGBTI Africans have lived peacefully and productively beside us throughout history."
"We must be entirely clear about this: the history of people is littered with attempts to legislate against love or marriage across class, caste, and race. But there is no scientific basis or genetic rationale for love. There is only the grace of God. There is no scientific justification for prejudice and discrimination, ever. And nor is there any moral justification. Nazi Germany and apartheid South Africa, among others, attest to these facts."
Posted by theHandpuppet | Sat Mar 1, 2014, 09:47 AM (3 replies)