The Media and Government’s Biased Response to Muhammad Youssef vs. Dylann Roof

“This, in spite of the fact that, since 9/11/01, white supremacist and other right-wing extremist hate groups have killed twice as many people and committed more than twice as many overall domestic terrorist attacks than Muslim extremists. Yet which image is it that is conjured up with mention of the word “terrorist”?”

United States Hypocrisy

domestic terrorist attackThe bullet-hole-sprayed recruitment center for the Navy Marines in Chattanooga, Tennessee

It took less than a few hours after the death of Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez, who shot and killed five U.S. Marines at a Marine training center in Chattanooga, Tennessee on Thursday, for the FBI to announce that the shooting would be investigated as an act of “domestic terrorism”. The corporate media, always true to form, began immediately speculating over whether Abdulazeez’s actions were perhaps inspired or directed by I.S.I.L. or some other self-proclaimed jihadist terror group. The contrast to the response in the aftermath of last month’s vicious attack on a Black Church in Charleston, South Carolina by avowed an white supremacist, Dylann Storm Roof, which left nine parishioners dead, couldn’t have been more stark. Initial reports in the wake of the Charleston Church Massacre seemed at a loss for words over what possibly could have motivated this obviously

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Moral Flynn Effect?

What is causing the IQ increase over the generations?

It’s an important question, as the rise hasn’t been minor. I’m amazed every time I consider that the average IQ used to be what, by comparison to the present, would be considered extremely low intelligence, functionally retarded even if you go back a few generations from present living generations. If you have an average person today take an IQ test designed earlier last century, they would get results, relative to the results when the test was first given, that show them as being quite brilliant.

It makes one wonder what is measured by IQ tests.

This IQ increase is called the Flynn Effect. It was named after James Flynn who wrote a number of papers about it based on his international and cross-generational observations of testing, although Richard Zynn first observed it on a more limited scale in the Japanese population.

The Flynn Effect has been seen in both crystallized and fluid intelligence. The former is basically learned intelligence. This shows what you know and how well you are able to use it. The latter is more about how you are able to think, specifically abstract thinking and non-verbal problem-solving. It is the ability to deal with new and unique problems.

(As a side note, I realized how this applies to my own cognitive abilities. When I was youngr, I was delayed in my crystallized intelligence and precocious in my fluid intelligence. I was so delayed in the one that teachers initially thought I might have been retarded, but IQ testing showed that I measured high in pattern recognition and puzzle-solving. My strengths helped me compensate for my weaknesses. But if it had been reversed, compensation would have been much more challenging.)

The greatest and most consistent IQ increases have been measured in the fluid intelligence. No one exactly knows why, but explanations are diverse. Flynn sees it as primarily an increase in abstract thinking in line with the demands of modern industrialized society with all of its complexities: infrastructures, social systems, economies, technologies, visual media, video games, etc. Flynn points out how rural people even just a century ago didn’t demonstrate much predilection for abstractions (see Luria’s interviews with isolated rural Russians). With a different focus, others propose that the main change has been in terms of health standards and environmental conditions, that have allowed greater brain development.

The reasons interest me less at the moment. I wanted to note that the changes seen across the generations are quite real and significant, whatever they might mean. They are also continuing in many countries, including the United States, although the pattern doesn’t hold in all countries. We Americans haven’t yet hit the ceiling of IQ limits, and that applies to all demographic groups, although those on the lower end of the scale are rising faster and hence the IQ disparities are shrinking.

So, about this trend, what does it represent? Where is it heading?

There are some correlations that I find intriguing. Higher average IQ correlates to greater liberal-mindedness. Many studies have shown this. It seems related to corrleations found between other cognitive abilities and predispositions: openness to experience, thin boundaries, fantasy proneness, creativity, empathy, emotional sensitivity, social awareness, etc.

This probably connects to fluid intelligence, the ability to deal with new, unique, and unusual situations and problems. I’ve pointed out before that the strength and weakness of liberalism is its emphasis on abstractions, both critical thinking and wide-ranging empathy being dependent on this. There is a psychological fluidity with liberalism that appears to be linked to cognitive and intellectual fluidity. I’ve also noted this may be the reason that research has shown it easier to shift a liberal into a conservative mindset than a conservative into a liberal mindset. Liberals easily fall prey to contact highs, both psychological and ideological.

Unsurprisingly, liberalism (in particular, social liberalism) has increased in unison with rising IQ. Also, social democracy has spread and become more dominant following the wide-scale availability of knowledge because of movable type printing presses, mass publishing, public libraries, public education, etc; and is likely to spread further as all of these contributing factors spread further and are magnified by the internet and various new media technologies. Others have observed that the Axial Age began and came to fruition because of the development and popularization of alphabetic writing, scrolls and then bound books, and the formation of libraries. That beginning, uneven and shaky, did more fully take hold during the Enlightenment and greater still with industrialization.

Steven Pinker has made the argument that this corresponds to an impressive decrease of violence per capita across the centuries. This is what is called the “moral Flynn effect.” It’s not just an improvement of social and health conditions, but an actual change at the level of psychological and cognitive functioning, at least so the theory goes.

Fluid intelligence isn’t just about cold analysis, dry logic, and intellectual problem-solving. It’s more importantly about seeing patterns and connections and the ability to shift perspectives, such as ideological worldviews, ethnic cultures, and personal experiences. It’s not just abstract thinking, but it definitely involves abstract thinking. To empathize with someone far different from you requires an abstract capacity of universalizing human nature and seeking commonality in human experience. There is no way to go from concrete thinking to such inclusive extremes of empathy, to go from the known of one’s own experience and into the unknown of imagining other viewpoints.

You can see this mindset having struggled to take hold during the Enlightenment and early modern revolutionary era, and even well into the 19th century. One of the greatest debates at that time, including among the American founders, was whether all humans had a basic human nature. Did all people, even peasants and slaves, have a common experience of self-awareness, thought, and feeling? Did all people feel pain and suffering, desire happiness and freedom? Were all humans really the same on some fundamental level or were some populations more like animals?

These seem like silly questions to many modern people in modernized societies, but that wasn’t always the case. It has only been over this past century that psychological understanding has become common, and this has been in concert  with scientific thought becoming more widespread, the two being inextricably connected. To see the world through a stranger’s eyes requires a quite complex process of cognitive ability. It has to be learned and developed. No one is simply born with this capacity.

It’s amazing that we have advanced so far that we now take so much of this for granted. Still, we have much further to go. It does get me to wondering. Will we reach a tipping point when the American or global population reaches a certain level of IQ and education, specifically in terms of increasing ability of complex thought and perspective-taking? The average American today is smarter and more well educated than was the ruling elite from centuries ago. If you think the present generations of Americans are stupid, you should have seen their ancestors before most of the population was educated and literate.

On the other hand, some worry that increased abstract thought is causing a loss of concrete thought.But I doubt it is a zero sum game. By way of transcend and include, abstract thought moreso builds upon than replaces concrete thought. It’s that combining of cognitive abilities that allows for ever more complex thought. That is what I hope is the case. We are presently undergoing a massive social experiment to test this hypothesis.

* * *

See:

Are We Becoming Morally Smarter?
The connection between increasing IQs, decreasing violence, and economic liberalism
by Michael Shermer

Swords into Syllogisms
by Randal R. Hendrickson

Opportunity Precedes Achievement, Good Timing Also Helps

None of the Above:
What I.Q. doesn’t tell you about race.

by Malcolm Gladwell, The New Yorker

Flynn brings a similar precision to the question of whether Asians have a genetic advantage in I.Q., a possibility that has led to great excitement among I.Q. fundamentalists in recent years. Data showing that the Japanese had higher I.Q.s than people of European descent, for example, prompted the British psychometrician and eugenicist Richard Lynn to concoct an elaborate evolutionary explanation involving the Himalayas, really cold weather, premodern hunting practices, brain size, and specialized vowel sounds. The fact that the I.Q.s of Chinese-Americans also seemed to be elevated has led I.Q. fundamentalists to posit the existence of an international I.Q. pyramid, with Asians at the top, European whites next, and Hispanics and blacks at the bottom.

Here was a question tailor-made for James Flynn’s accounting skills. He looked first at Lynn’s data, and realized that the comparison was skewed. Lynn was comparing American I.Q. estimates based on a representative sample of schoolchildren with Japanese estimates based on an upper-income, heavily urban sample. Recalculated, the Japanese average came in not at 106.6 but at 99.2. Then Flynn turned his attention to the Chinese-American estimates. They turned out to be based on a 1975 study in San Francisco’s Chinatown using something called the Lorge-Thorndike Intelligence Test. But the Lorge-Thorndike test was normed in the nineteen-fifties. For children in the nineteen-seventies, it would have been a piece of cake. When the Chinese-American scores were reassessed using up-to-date intelligence metrics, Flynn found, they came in at 97 verbal and 100 nonverbal. Chinese-Americans had slightly lower I.Q.s than white Americans.

The Asian-American success story had suddenly been turned on its head. The numbers now suggested, Flynn said, that they had succeeded not because of their higher I.Q.s. but despite their lower I.Q.s. Asians were overachievers. In a nifty piece of statistical analysis, Flynn then worked out just how great that overachievement was. Among whites, virtually everyone who joins the ranks of the managerial, professional, and technical occupations has an I.Q. of 97 or above. Among Chinese-Americans, that threshold is 90. A Chinese-American with an I.Q. of 90, it would appear, does as much with it as a white American with an I.Q. of 97.

There should be no great mystery about Asian achievement. It has to do with hard work and dedication to higher education, and belonging to a culture that stresses professional success. But Flynn makes one more observation. The children of that first successful wave of Asian-Americans really did have I.Q.s that were higher than everyone else’s—coming in somewhere around 103. Having worked their way into the upper reaches of the occupational scale, and taken note of how much the professions value abstract thinking, Asian-American parents have evidently made sure that their own children wore scientific spectacles. “Chinese Americans are an ethnic group for whom high achievement preceded high I.Q. rather than the reverse,” Flynn concludes, reminding us that in our discussions of the relationship between I.Q. and success we often confuse causes and effects. “It is not easy to view the history of their achievements without emotion,” he writes. That is exactly right. To ascribe Asian success to some abstract number is to trivialize it.

The Ethnic Myth
by Stephen Steinberg
pp. 125 -7

At least superficially, the streetcorner men exhibited many of the characteristics of a culture of poverty. They unquestionably had a present-time orientation, in that immediate pleasures were pursued without regard to long-range implications. Their aspirations were low, at least as gauged by the fact that they worked irregularly and did not look for better jobs. Their absence from their families meant households were headed by women. And the feelings of inferiority, helplessness, and fatalism that Lewis saw as endemic to a culture of poverty were in plain evidence. Yet Liebow forcefully rejects the view that these are “traits” that add up to a culture of poverty. He insists that the fundamental values of the streetcorner men are the same as those of the middle-class society, and that their behavior, though in apparent contradiction to those values, is only a response to external circumstances that prevent them from living according to conventional values.

Of paramount importance is the fact that these men are unable to find jobs that pay a living wage. As Liebow points out, the way a man makes a living and the kind of living he makes defines a man’s worth, both to himself and his neighbors, friends, lovers, and family. This operates with the same force as in the rest of society, but inversely, since the streetcorner men do not have jobs that are worth very much, either in status or pay. For Liebow, this is the controlling factor in their lives, distorting their values, their family relationships and their concept of themselves.

Thus if they do not plan for the future, it is not because they are observing a different cultural norm that emphasizes the pleasure of the moment but because their futures are bleak and they lack the resources and opportunities for doing much about it. Similarly their low aspirations are an inevitable response to restricted opportunity, particularly the improbability of finding a decent job. This is not a self-fulfilling prophecy, but a resignation born out of bitter personal experience. All the men in Liebow’s study had tested themselves repeatedly on the job market, and had come to realize that the only jobs available were menial, low-paying, dead-end jobs that would not allow them to support their families. […]

Thus, Liebow presents a strong case that the streetcorner men have the same concept of work and family as does the middle class. Indeed, it is precisely because they share these conventional values that they experience such a profound sense of personal failure. The attraction of the street corner, with its “shadow system of values,” is that it compensates for an impaired sense of manhood. In all these respects Liebow’s intepretation of the street corner is in direct opposition to the culture-of-poverty thesis. […]

Thus, similarities between parents and children are not the product of cultural transmission, but of the fact that “the son goes out and independently experiences the same failures, in the same areas, and for much the same reasons as his father.”

For Liebow, then, the poor do not neeed instruction in the Protestant ethic or other values, but jobs that would allow them to incorporate these values into their everyday lives. It is not their culture that needs to be changed, but an economic system that fails to provide jobs that pay a living wage to millions of the nation’s poor.

Conclusion

There is intellectual perversity in the tendency to use the cultural responses of the poor as “explanations” of why they are poor. Generally speaking, groups do not get ahead or lag behind on the basis of their cultural values. Rather, they are born into a given station in life and adopt values that are consonant with their circumstances and their life chances. To the extent that the lower-class ethnics seem to live according to a different set of values, this is primarily a cultural manifestation of their being trapped in poverty. In the final analysis, the culture-of-poverty thesis—at least as it has been used by Banfield, Moynihan, and others—is nothing more than an intellectual smoke screen for our society’s unwillingness or inability to wipe out unemployment and poverty.

pp. 134-5

Berrol’s inventory of educational facilities in New York City at the turn of the century shows that the schools could not possibly have functioned as a significant channel of mobility. Still in an early stage of development, the public school system was unable to cope with the enormous influx of foreigners, most of whom were in their childbearing ages. Primary grade schools were so over-crowded that tens of thousands of students were turned away, and as late as 1914 there were only five high schools in Manhattan and the Bronx. If only for this reason, few children of Jewish immigrants received more than a rudimentary education.”

Berrol furnishes other data showing that large numbers of Jewish students ended their schooling by the eighth grade. For example, in New York City in 1908 there were 25,534 Jewish students in the first grade, 11,527 in the seventh, 2,549 in their first year of high school, and only 488 in their last year. Evidently, most immigrant Jewish children of this period dropped out of school to enter the job market.

Nor could City College have been a major channel of Jewish mobility during the early decades of the twenntieth century. Until the expansion of City College in the 1930s and 1940s, enrollments were not large enough to have a significant impact on Jewish mobility. Furthermore, Jewish representation at the college was predominantly German; Berrol estimates that in 1923 only 11 percent of CCNY students had Russian or Polish names.

In short, prior to the 1930s and 1940s, the public schools, and City College in particular, were not a channel of mobility for more than a privileged few. It was not until the expansion of higher education following the Second World War that City College provided educational opportunities for significant numbers of Jewish youth. However, by the time New York’s Jewish population had already emerged from the deep poverty of the immigrant generation, and had experienced extensive economic mobility.

It was the children of these upwardly mobile Jews who enrolled in City college during the 1930s and 1940s. For them, education was clearly a channel of mobility, but it accelerated a process of intergenerational mobility that was already in motion, since their parents typically had incomes, and often occupations as well, that were a notch or two above those of the working class in general. As Berrol concluded:

. . . most New York City Jews did not make the leap from poverty into the middle class by going to college. Rather, widespread utilization of secondary and higher education followed improvements in economic status and was as much a result as a cause of upward mobility.

Are White Appalachians A Special Case?

I’ve had poverty on my mind. I was thinking about it in terms of violent crime and social problems more broadly. I will be writing more about this topic, but Appalachia seems like a good starting point. I’d been meaning to write about this for a long time, and I finally felt I had to do some more thorough research, despite my desire to focus on other things.

It has been bugging me. It’s a nagging set of thoughts at the back of my mind. Some time ago, I had a debate in the comments section of one of my posts. It was about white violence in specific areas of the South with a long history of violence. I made some claims based on data I’d seen, but once challenged to prove my claims I realized how complex the data was and too often lacking. I temporarily retracted my claims and promised myself I’d eventually get to the bottom of the issue.

I’ll explore this further in coming posts. For now, I wanted to share a few comments I made in response to a blog post that wasn’t particularly worthy of responses. I can be a glutton for punishment sometimes. Here is the post by someone who calls himself bharford:

Poverty Causes Crime? Meet White Appalachia

His basic argument is that white Appalachians are a model poor group, maybe similar to how Asians are a model minority. They’re poor, but still “good people.” Ya know, honest and hardworking folk who go to church on Sunday. Not like those other poor people.

There isn’t much point in reading the post itself. He only shares a bit of data. The only reason I cared at all was because these past weeks I’ve come across a lot of info that I’d never seen before, neither in the blogosphere nor in the mainstream media. Heck, much of it I haven’t even seen in the alternative media either. Some of this stuff gets lost and forgotten, hidden away in musty academic books that few people, besides other academics, read.

Apparently, bharford wasn’t all that interested in what I had to share. He didn’t approve most of my comments, specifically the ones that included data that disproved or challenged the claims he was making, but unlike me he probably isn’t going to retract claims just because the issue is more complicated than he realized. So, I’ll just have to post some of the comments here instead, as seen below. I’ll also include the one comment he directed toward me and my response.

* * *

Data does show that poor whites are more likely to own a house than poor blacks. Those houses in many cases are inherited along with land. People forget that many blacks used to own houses. A lot of their inherited wealth was loss. When blacks were driven out of communities and entire areas, there homes and property was either stolen or destroyed. This happened over many generations.

Whites, on the other hand, experienced generations of white affirmative action. Read Ira Katznelson’s book for the details.

Because of this history, poor whites are less likely to be highly concentrated in poverty and more likely to live near wealthier whites. Economic mobility is easier for whites, because that don’t have the added burden of racial biases in housing, employment, and incarceration. White privilege has been immense over this past century.

It’s easy to forget that Jim Crow, sundown towns, redlining, etc all happened within living memory. It wasn’t that long ago. Some blacks who voted for Obama spent the first part of their life not even having the right to vote.

Even worse, poor minority areas are more heavily polluted because bypasses and toxic dumps are more likely to be located there. This is called environmental racism and it has massive consequences.

Poor blacks have higher rates of lead toxicity than even poor whites, and the damage is hard to imagine on the level of entire communities. Lead toxicity increases rates of violent crime, aggressive behavior, impaired impulse control, ADHD, stunted brain development, cognitive impairment, lowered IQ, etc. That doesn’t even include all the other diseases caused or contributed to by heavy metal exposure. Entire populations of poor minorities are systematically poisoned.

In so many ways, black poverty is far worse than white poverty. Most poor whites have no idea how bad poverty can be.

* * *

http://www.filmsforaction.org/articles/when-exceptions-prove-the-rule-poverty-whiteness-and-privilege/

“So, in the case of Appalachians, the proper test of their racial privilege (or lack thereof) would be to compare whites in the region with blacks in the same region and to then ask, do whites have an advantage or privileges relative to their regional counterparts of color? That most people aren’t even aware of the existence of blacks in Appalachia (though they comprise about 6 percent of the region’s population, and are among some of the poorest) seems a pretty good answer to that question. That whites are the ones we instantly think of when we think of Appalachian poverty, and the ones for whom we typically then express such great sympathy, seems to indicate a very substantial kind of privileging; a kind that erases from our consciousness altogether, the problem of rural black poverty as though it were a non-factor.

“And indeed there is far more sympathy expressed for the white poor, historically and today, than for the black and brown poor: another form of implicit preference for, and privileging of, whiteness. Now that the economy is imploding, one can hear concern expressed about the poor (especially the once middle-class poor, mostly constructed as white), and how terrible it is that they are now facing such hardships. Yet when those same hardships were being experienced by the urban black and brown (whose communities have been in a recession or even depression state for entire generations in some cases) little sympathy attached. Indeed, as Martin Gilens explained in his book Why Americans Hate Welfare, as the media imagery of the poor began to shift in the early 1970s, from mostly white and rural to mostly black and urban, public animosity towards the impoverished rose in lockstep. As contrasted with the mostly sympathy-filled portrayals of the Dust Bowl poor in the 30s, or the white families that were losing their farms in the 80s, black families suffering under the combined forces of the decline in city-based manufacturing employment, as well as racism, redlining by banks and neglect of urban school infrastructure, were viewed as responsible for their own plight.

“The simple truth is, working people are not all in the same boat, and white working class folks have real advantages. Black and Latino workers are typically the first fired in an economic downturn, and remain twice as likely to be unemployed and 3-4 times as likely to be poor, in good times or bad; and white high school dropouts are twice as likely to find work as similarly uneducated African Americans.

“Furthermore, according to Thomas Shapiro’s groundbreaking work on the racial wealth divide, whites in the bottom fifth of all white households (in terms of income) have, on average seven times the net worth of similar blacks. In large part this is due to a major advantage in home ownership and thus equity, due to passed down property from parents. Indeed, whites with incomes below $13,000 are more likely to own their own homes than blacks with incomes that are three times higher, largely due to these intergenerational transfers of wealth.”

bharford:

Blacks have a Net LOSS when it comes to bank savings.
So for the poorest whites to have 7xs that saved, is not that far fetched. Owning a trailer may not be sexy but it beomces an asset and a place to call home.
The J EW author Thomas Shapiro glosses over that fact. If we cant trust J EWs to be honest reporters about race and racial matters, who can we trust? Oy vey.

The only advantages poor whites have is common sense and resiliency, as well as a certain country resourcefulness.
They get interest laden student loans for life- like the rest of the whites, while minorities get free paid for grants, they have no quota they can fill to see their admittance into college, though black colleges are still wide open and accepting students, and whites will get passed over at job employment time by less qualified minorities via Affirmative Action in the working world-corporate or municipal.

It’s unsurprising that blacks have a net loss of bank savings when they also have a net loss of earnings. Blacks with a college degree on average earn less than whites with a high school diploma.

Research shows that equally or less qualified whites are more likely to get both an interview and get hired than blacks. This kind of racial bias exists even when comparing just white-sounding names and black-sounding names, before an interview or any personal meeting has occurred. This is also true when the white has a criminal record and the black has no criminal record.

Just imagine what the chances are for a black with a criminal record. Also, consider the fact that blacks are more likely to be arrested, convicted, and hence have a criminal record for many crimes that whites commit at higher rates.

Studies have shown these kind of racial biases are found in diverse areas all across our society. This isn’t just something from the past. It continues to this day.

For these reasons, the average poor black person is far more poor than the average poor white person. Also, poor blacks are more likely to be economically segregated in poor communities and neighborhoods, because of a history of sundown towns, redlining, racially biased housing loans, etc. Poor whites, on the other hand, are more likely to live in wealthier communities. Unsurprisingly, poor blacks have lower economic mobility than poor whites, which means they are more likely to be trapped in poverty across generations.

My family is white and they came from poverty. But because of their whiteness it was much easier for my family to move up in the world. My grandparents didn’t have much education at all and yet were able to get good jobs with life-long job security, high pay, and benefits. My mother then went to college and graduated owing no money. This was common for white people, even poor white people, in the past. Ira Katznelson explains why this was so in her book, When Affirmative Action Was White.

The ability to move out of poverty or at least to move out of poor areas makes a major difference in life outcomes, including health outcomes. The stress of poverty, especially concentrated poverty, takes a large toll on people. This is true for whites as well as blacks, but of course blacks experience poverty too a disproportinate degree.

An example of this is lead toxitiy. Bypasses and toxic dumps have mostly been located in poor minority areas. This caused these areas to have more lead and other heavy metal pollution. Data shows that the poor have higher rates of lead toxicity than the wealthier, minorities higher rates than whites, and poor minorities higher rates than poor whites. Blacks even have higher rates of lead toxicity than Hispanics. This is largely to do with blacks being disproportionately urbanized, in particular during the era when lead pollution skyrocketed, an era also when whites fled the big cities for the suburbs and so avoided the worst lead exposure. Poor whites are more rural and so didn’t have to deal as much with such problems. However, back when lead pollution was initially a rural problem, whites did have high rates of violent crime.

Lead toxicity is nothing to dismiss. It impacts different populations to varying degrees, but few populations escape its negative effects entirely because pollution has become so widespread. Heavy metal toxicty is known to cause and contribute to all kinds of health, neurological, behavioral, and social problems. If you are a bigot who hates all non-whites, you should still care about this issue.

As history has proven again and again, these aren’t just non-white problems. All populations that have experienced these kinds of conditions have shown the similar or even worst rates for these kinds of issues. Violent crime among blacks today, for example, is small compared to violent rates for whites in the past. Similar changes have been seen with IQ rates, as the average black today is far higher IQ than the average white was when the first tests were done.

To my mind, these improvements found in all populations are to be praised. We should try to understand the causes so as to create further improvements. Even white supremacists should be excited to know that poor whites are doing so much better today than was seen in the 1800s and early 1900s. The violent crime rates of whites in the past, not just the poor, were mind-blowingly high. That proves the power of changing environmental conditions. No population, no matter how bad off, is forever fated to suffering and struggle.

Everyone should be able to agree that is a good thing.

* * *

Since your focus is on poor white Appalachia, there is no way that McDowell County, West Virginia should be ignored. According to the 2010 census, the population was barely above 22,000, about 89% non-Hispanic white. It is the southernmost county in state, one of the core counties of Appalachia, and one of the main focuses of the national War On Poverty,

West Virginia is one of the poorest states in the country (listed at the bottom with largely black states like Arkansas and Mississippi). And McDowell is one of the poorest counties in the country. McDowell County is so severely poor that it doesn’t even need to worry about economic inequality. The vast majority of people with any money or prospects of making money moved away. All those who remain are mostly the poorest of the poor. Also problematic, the state has one of the highest economic inequalities in the country, an economic inequality that is at a historic high and still growing. The former residents with money may be now living in nearby counties not far away. It’s economic segregation by default.

http://www.newgeography.com/content/003912-the-emerging-geography-inequality

http://www.movoto.com/blog/opinions/income-inequality-map/

http://www.wvpolicy.org/income-inequality-at-historic-high-in-wv

http://www.wvpolicy.org/income-inequality-continues-to-grow-in-west-virginia

The violence and crime numbers are surprisingly high for such a small town and they’ve been rising. It’s even worse when put in context of per capita rates. West Virginia overall has higher violence and crime rates than the national average, and McDowell has higher rates than both the national and state averages. The rates are higher for murder, suicide, rape, robbery, assault, burglary, larceny, motor vehicle theft, etc. That barely scratches the surface of the social problems involved.

http://www.wvnstv.com/story/26594861/mcdowell-county-tops-wv-truancy-rate

“State figures show that nearly a third of West Virginia’s public school students were truant during the 2013-2014 academic year.

“According to Department of Education data, 58 percent of McDowell County’s students were marked as truant. That was the highest rate in the state. Jefferson County had the lowest rate, 7 percent. The statewide rate was about 31 percent.”

http://www.clrsearch.com/McDowell-County-Demographics/WV/Crime-Rate

http://recordspedia.com/West-Virginia/Mcdowell-County/Crime-Statistics

“Between 2001 and 2007 there were 1,442 total crimes reported in Mcdowell County, West Virginia (174 of them violent). Of the 206 crimes that transpire each year in Mcdowell County, just about one half take place less than a mile from home. On average, someone is a victim of a crime in Mcdowell County, West Virginia 206 times a year. This includes 4 murders, 1 rape, and close to nine hundred thefts (including 99 automobile thefts).

“Throughout the last 10 years, crime data were available in Mcdowell County, West Virginia for 7 years. Over that period of time, reported crime in Mcdowell County has climbed by 37 per-cent. In the course of that same period, violent crime rose by 52 per-cent. Taken as a whole, the crime rates are a sign of a rapid worsening in crime over these years in Mcdowell County.”

http://talkingpointsmemo.com/news/west-virginia-sheriff-shot-dead-outside-county-courthouse

“Williamson, a town of about 3,200, sits along the Tug Fork River in a part of the state long associated with violence. Mingo and neighboring McDowell County are home to the legendary blood feud between the Hatfield family of West Virginia and the McCoy family of Kentucky, a conflict dating to the Civil War.

“Crum’s county was dubbed “Bloody Mingo” during the early 20th century mine wars, when unionizing miners battled Baldwin-Felts security agents hired by the coal operators.

“In May 1920, after evicting striking miners in Red Jacket, some of the Baldwin-Felts men tried to board a train in nearby Matewan but were confronted by the mayor and the chief of police, Sid Hatfield, a former miner, who had family ties to the Hatfields in the feud.

“After a gun battle recreated in the 1987 John Sayles film “Matewan,” the mayor, two miners, a bystander and three agents lay dead. Hatfield became a hero but was gunned down on the courthouse steps a year later in Matewan.”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McDowell_County,_West_Virginia

“In the 1980s the central Appalachian region lost more than 70,000 coal mining jobs. Between 1981 and 1992, according to the U.S. Department of Energy and the United Mine Workers union, coal mining employment in the state of West Virginia decreased by more than 53%. No county in the Appalachian region was more severely distressed by these losses than McDowell County. According to the United States Census Bureau, in 1980, the rate of poverty in McDowell County was 23.5%.

“By 1990, the poverty rate in McDowell County had climbed to 37.7%, the highest rate of poverty for any county in West Virginia. 50.3% of all children in McDowell County were living in families below the poverty level, up from 31.2% in 1980. The major losses in McDowell County during this period were the result of the closing of all mines and facilities operated by the United States Steel Corporation, terminating more than 1,200 jobs.

“The economic impact of U.S. Steel’s departure was particularly dramatic: personal income in the county decreased by 66% in one year. Housing values in even the most prosperous parts of the county plunged to devastatingly low values. Individuals and families who wanted to relocate outside the county were left with little or no equity in their property. Many walked away from their mortgages and simply abandoned their homes to the lenders.

“Marijuana crops, drug traffic, fraud, arson, and in one spectacular case at the Bank of Keystone—major white collar crime and embezzlement became factors in the unofficial economy of McDowell. County officials also reported significant increases in the rates of domestic abuse, suicide, and OxyContin abuse.

“By 2001 suffering major losses of tax revenue, McDowell County public schools had fallen into physical decay and high rates of academic failure. Enrollments declined, more than half of the children lived in poverty. […]

“The median income for a household in the county was $21,574, and the median income for a family was $27,605. Men had a median income of $25,994 versus $18,685 for Women. The per capita income for the county was $12,004. About 29.1% of families and 34.5% of the population were below the poverty line, including 43.4% of those under age 18 and 23.3% of those age 65 or over.[15]

“In 2013, press reports indicated that the average lifespan of a man in McDowell County was 63.9 years, compared to a national average of 76.3. This was the shortest lifespan for men in the country. Women in the county could expect to live 72.9 years; the national figure is 80.9. This was the second-worst number in the United States, with only Perry County, Kentucky doing worse.[16]”

http://www.alternet.org/corporate-accountability-and-workplace/mcdowell-county-usa-has-close-haitis-life-expectancy-welcome

“Those WHO figures for the U.S. take into account the country as a whole, and overall, Americans clearly aren’t living as long as Europeans. But the news becomes even more troubling when one examines a report that the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington released in July 2013. That study broke down life expectancy for men and women in different parts of the U.S., showing a strong correlation between income levels and longevity. The report found that life expectancy is 81.6 for males and 84.5 for females in Fairfax County, Virginia (a very affluent area) and 81.4 for males and 85.0 for females in Marin County, California (another upscale area) compared to only 63.9 for males and 72.9 for females in McDowell County, West Virginia or 66.7 for males and 73.3 for females in Tunica County, Mississippi.

“The fact that males in McDowell County are, on average, dying 18 years younger than males in Fairfax County or Marin County speaks volumes about inequality in the U.S. That type of disparity is more typical of a developing country than a developed country. Yet when one compares life expectancy in McDowell County to life expectancy in Guatemala, one of Latin America’s poorest countries, Guatemalans come out slightly ahead. WHO has reported an overall life expectancy of 69 for Guatemala (66 for men, 73 for women).

“So in other words, the poor in Guatemala are outliving the poor in McDowell County. In fact, McDowell County is only slightly ahead of Haiti, Ghana and Papua New Guinea when it comes to life expectancy for males: according to WHO, life expectancy for males is 62 in those three countries.”

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/chris-hedges/west-virginia-oxycontin-abuse_b_1820493.html

“About half of those living in McDowell County depend on some kind of relief check such as Social Security, Disability, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, retirement benefits, and unemployment to survive. They live on the margins, check to check, expecting no improvement in their lives and seeing none. The most common billboards along the roads are for law firms that file disability claims and seek state and federal payments. “Disability and Injury Lawyers,” reads one. It promises to handle “Social Security. Car Wrecks. Veterans. Workers’ Comp.” The 800 number ends in COMP.

“Harry M. Caudill, in his monumental 1963 book Night Comes to the Cumberlands, describes how relief checks became a kind of bribe for the rural poor in Appalachia. The decimated region was the pilot project for outside government assistance, which had issued the first food stamps in 1961 to a household of fifteen in Paynesville, West Virginia. “Welfarism” began to be practiced, as Caudill wrote, “on a scale unequalled elsewhere in America and scarcely surpassed anywhere in the world.” Government “handouts,” he observed, were “speedily recognized as a lode from which dollars could be mined more easily than from any coal seam.”

“Obtaining the monthly “handout” became an art form. People were reduced to what Caudill called “the tragic status of ‘symptom hunters.’ If they could find enough symptoms of illness, they might convince the physicians they were ‘sick enough to draw’… to indicate such a disability as incapacitating the men from working. Then his children, as public charges, could draw enough money to feed the family.””

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/21/us/50-years-into-the-war-on-poverty-hardship-hits-back.html

“McDowell County, the poorest in West Virginia, has been emblematic of entrenched American poverty for more than a half-century. John F. Kennedy campaigned here in 1960 and was so appalled that he promised to send help if elected president. His first executive order created the modern food stamp program, whose first recipients were McDowell County residents. When President Lyndon B. Johnson declared “unconditional war on poverty” in 1964, it was the squalor of Appalachia he had in mind. The federal programs that followed — Medicare, Medicaid, free school lunches and others — lifted tens of thousands above a subsistence standard of living.

“But a half-century later, with the poverty rate again on the rise, hardship seems merely to have taken on a new face in McDowell County. The economy is declining along with the coal industry, towns are hollowed out as people flee, and communities are scarred by family dissolution, prescription drug abuse and a high rate of imprisonment. […]

“Much of McDowell County looks like a rural Detroit, with broken windows on shuttered businesses and homes crumbling from neglect. In many places, little seems to have been built or maintained in decades.

“Numbers tell the tale as vividly as the scarred landscape. Forty-six percent of children in the county do not live with a biological parent, according to the school district. Their mothers and fathers are in jail, are dead or have left them to be raised by relatives, said Gordon Lambert, president of the McDowell County Commission.

“Beginning in the 19th century, the rugged region produced more coal than any other county in West Virginia, but it got almost none of the wealth back as local investment. Of West Virginia’s 55 counties, McDowell has the lowest median household income, $22,000; the worst childhood obesity rate; and the highest teenage birthrate.

“It is also reeling from prescription drug abuse. The death rate from overdoses is more than eight times the national average. Of the 115 babies born in 2011 at Welch Community Hospital, over 40 had been exposed to drugs.

“Largely as a consequence of the drug scourge, a problem widespread in rural America, the incarceration rate in West Virginia is one of the highest in the country.

““Whole families have been wiped out in this county: mother, father, children,” said Sheriff Martin B. West.

““These are good people, good families,” Sheriff West, an evangelical pastor, said of his lifelong neighbors. “But they get involved with drugs, and the next thing you know they’re getting arrested.” […]

“Many in McDowell County acknowledge that depending on government benefits has become a way of life, passed from generation to generation. Nearly 47 percent of personal income in the county is from Social Security, disability insurance, food stamps and other federal programs.

“But residents also identify a more insidious cause of the current social unraveling: the disappearance of the only good jobs they ever knew, in coal mining. The county was always poor. Yet family breakup did not become a calamity until the 1990s, after southern West Virginia lost its major mines in the downturn of the American steel industry. The poverty rate, 50 percent in 1960, declined — partly as a result of federal benefits — to 36 percent in 1970 and to 23.5 percent in 1980. But it soared to nearly 38 percent in 1990. For families with children, it now nears 41 percent.

“Today, fewer than one in three McDowell County residents are in the labor force. The chief effort to diversify the economy has been building prisons. The most impressive structure on Route 52, the twisting highway into Welch, is a state prison that occupies a former hospital. There is also a new federal prison on a mountaintop. But many residents have been skipped over for the well-paying jobs in corrections: They can’t pass a drug test.”

http://www.wealthandpoverty.net/2014/04/the-reign-of-poverty-in-mcdowell-county084741.php

“The details are harrowing. Fourty-six percent of children in the county don’t live with a biological parent. The death rate from drug overdose is over eight times the national average. The incarceration rate is among the highest in the U.S.

“In the 1950’s, 100,000 people called McDowell County home. In 2014, that number has plummeted to 21,300, and the county is populated only by those who can’t leave due to lack of education or skills, or have family connections that keep them rooted in the area.

“With the disappearance of coal mining jobs, many families now rely on Social Security, food stamps, and disability payments. Dependence on government money has become “a way of life, passed from generation to generation.” Fewer than one out of three participates in the labor force (works, or is looking for work)–a figure that compares poorly to the national labor participation rate of 63.2% (as of March 2014, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics).

“McDowell County is aware of their detachment from the rest of the country, and places a large importance on staying loyal to “us,” as opposed to “them.” Fifteen-year-old Emalee sees the possibility of pursuing a college education in her future, but her family doesn’t want her to go. Says Florisha McGuire of leaving her small West Virginian town to attend college: “you’d think I’d committed a crime.”

“There are so many factors that we could blame for the destitution of McDowell County. There’s the extensive dependence on welfare that disincentives productive work. There’s the economic shift that caused the disappearance of coal mining jobs. There’s pervasive drug use that puts otherwise good people in jail, separating parents from children and citizens from society. There’s the lack of hope for betterment in the future that discourages seeking out opportunity elsewhere.

“The truth is, all of these variables interact with and feed upon each other. Perhaps the one sure lesson that we can take away is that poverty, at its core, is not just a money issue–it’s a community issue.”

* * *

Why didn’t you approve my comments? In multiple unapproved comments, I offered quotes, data, and analysis from different perspectives. Don’t you want to have a discussion about what all this means? Aren’t you at least curious and hopefully concerned about what causes social problems, no matter what race or ethnicity is involved?

I’m sympathetic to poor whites. My mother came from lower working class people from what some call Kentuckiana, and it just occurred to me that several generations before her the family actually was living in Appalachia. She spoke with a Southern Hoosier dialect when she was younger, and when I visit her family I can still hear some of them speak that way. I don’t have to go back very far in my family history to find severe poverty. I’ve lived below the poverty line myself at one point in my life. The people you describe are what I consider my people.

If you really cared about these people, you’d dig much deeper in trying to understand and you wouldn’t create a stereotyped caricature that dismisses the harsh reality of poverty. And as a professed Christian (going by your About page), you should care. A good place to start is by getting an insider’s perspective. I’d suggest Joe Bageant’s Deer Hunting with Jesus (or you could check out his memoir, Rainbow Pie). Bageant doesn’t pull his punches and he most certainly cares as he writes about the people he grew up with. He was born and raised as a dirt poor Appalachian among the too often forgotten white underclass.

There is a lot more going on in this region and in these communities. The history alone is fascinating and times heartbreaking. Appalachia and the larger region isn’t even just about whites. Many areas that are majority white today had large black populations in the past, prior to Jim Crow, the KKK, and redlining. Even so, many blacks remain in these rural areas, especially in the South, but also in Appalachia.

Poverty is not a race issue. Rural blacks are basically the same as rural whites in rates of social problems, although rural blacks are less likely to commit suicide. The same goes for comparing inner city blacks and inner city whites. Back when most blacks were rural, they had strong communities and high marriage rates; and at least in some places (e.g., rural Louisiana) blacks committed less violent crime than did whites, both intraracial and interracial. Inner cities are a very different kind of place, but it’s been hard for blacks to escape those conditions. It’s similar to why poor Appalachians get stuck in poor communities, long after the employment dried up. Inner cities also at one time had high employment rates for blacks. Loss of factories in inner cities had the same basic impact as loss of mining in Appalachia.

That said, I agree with you that Appalachia is an interesting case to consider. It has poverty, no doubt about that. But I’d love to know more details. How severe is that poverty compared to the poorest communities and neighborhoods in the US? How concentrated is the poverty there? Research has found that concentrated severe poverty is, of course, far worse than sparse moderate poverty. Hence, the social problems vary greatly according to the specific type and conditions of poverty.

I know Appalachia and the Upper South. It’s a different kind of place. Kentucky has had great decreases in violent crime, but Tennessee for some reason hasn’t seen as much improvement. Both states have histories of violent populations. Tennessee remains one of the most violent states in the country, even to the extent of sometimes making it to the top of the list. Kentucky diverged from its sister state, Tennessee. I don’t know why that is. I’ve traveled around Kentucky and it truly seems like a border state, with similarities both to the Midwest and to the South. The Midwestern states also tend to have lower violent crime rates.

But there was something I noticed in Kentucky that I haven’t seen too many other places. If you drive down rural back roads, you’ll find shacks and old houses that are nearly falling down and yet sometimes nearby will be a well-kept mansion. It’s the strangest thing, especially from my Midwestern perspective. The extremes of poverty and wealth are often right next to one another, at least in rural areas.

I saw a similar phenomenon in South Carolina. My family lived in Columbia. There was a main road that headed into downtown. On one side of the road, there was a poor mostly black neighborhood (along with some Projects) and on the other side of the road was a wealthy mostly white neighborhood. There was no massive wall dividing the two worlds, just the road.

That kind of thing simply does not exist in Iowa. Ignoring the contrast to Iowa, I wanted to note some differences between the two examples above.

The South Carolina example was of concentrated poverty and concentrated wealth, even though they were right next to each other. If you looked at the county level data, you wouldn’t be able to see this concentration, but it was obvious just by driving down that road.

That kind of concentrated urban poverty, whether or not next to concentrated wealth, tends to lead to all kinds of social problems. This has been demonstrated in numerous examples throughout American history, in terms of diverse races and ethnicities. When Italians, Irish, and Jews lived in urban neighborhoods of concentrated poverty, they saw similar social problems as seen today: violent crime, family breakdown, low education achievement, job insecurity, alcohol and drug abuse, prostitution, etc.

Rural poverty may be less of a problem in some ways. It is spread out more, but that just means the problems are spread out more. Are the social problems less worse or less obvious?

I bet that interesting patterns would be seen in Appalachia if you were to break down the different areas. I’m specifically thinking of urban vs rural and concentrated poverty vs mixed class residences, but also other distinctions as well. The results might not fit what many would expect.

I’ll give some examples that shows how complicated it can be.

How the data is divided determines the conclusion that is made. According to how the data is normally divided, US rural areas on average are safer than US urban areas on average. But this is mixing up a whole lot of factors and averaging out across great diversity. Some urban areas are extremely safe. Many of the biggest cities, for example, have below average violence and crime rates, maybe because of more police presence or other reasons. Also, both inner cities and suburbs both share the trait of not being rural, but otherwise they are quite distinct.

The data can be divided up in other ways. By rural, what most researchers have meant is all small and/or sparsely populated areas. This has most often included small towns, even though one would think of a small town being an urban area, albeit a small urban area.

There was one study I came across that didn’t include small towns as part of rural areas and so entirely separated out sparsely populated rural areas, which is what many people think of when rural is mentioned. This study made three categories for analysis: rural areas, small towns, and big cities. The results showed the small towns were the safest of all for violent crime, although they had high rates of other crimes such as vandalism and larceny. Most interesting of all, is that divided up this way rural areas proved to have higher violent crime rates than even big cities. When people say rural areas are safer, what they really mean is that small towns are safer.

You also see differences according to regions. Compare the Midwest and the South. Both have high rates of gun ownership. Yet the Midwest has lower rates of gun violence and and the South has higher rates of gun violence. I know, for example, in the rural South that you are more likely to be killed by someone you know. There was a recent study that showed increasing gun ownership rates doesn’t correlate to increasing stranger gun homicides but it does correlate to increasing non-stranger gun homicides. That correlation, however, might also show great disparity between regions.

By the way, I don’t know if Appalachia is on average more similar to the Midwest or the South. Even though the Southern section of Appalachia is in the South, the northern part is in the Midwest. There might be great differences when looking at different areas of Appalachia.

It does make me wonder. I know that the South in general has higher rates of a wide variety of social problems, such as rates of teen pregnancy and high school drop outs. These social problems are mostly found among poor Southerners, both black and white. The South also has high rates of poverty and economic inequality which is always found anywhere there are social problems. Maybe Appalachia needs to be considered separately. The conditions of Appalachia might be different than other areas.

After writing the above, I came across a list of the top 50 most dangerous counties in America, based on 2012 data:

http://www.movoto.com/blog/top-ten/most-dangerous-counties/

It’s an imperfect list because the data is limited, but it still is interesting. A significant number of counties on this list are in or near Appalachia. I didn’t compare this list to that of the poorest counties in America. I bet some of the same counties would be found on both lists. For certain, I doubt many, if any, of the most dangerous counties are places of low poverty rates.

I was looking back through your post. I realized that you didn’t actually offer much in the way of data. You mostly just shared photographs and made many unsubstantiated claims. One piece of data you did share caught my attention:

http://cnsnews.com/news/article/america-s-10-poorest-counties-are-gulf-coast-states-kentucky-and-indian-reservations

“Yet, The violent crime rate for Appalachia in 2010 was lower than the national violent crime rate average by 56.76%”

You followed that with a map that showed economic by county in Appalachia. It made me realize that you weren’t clear in what point you were making. Appalachia includes many prosperous counties as well as poor. The poorest counties also probably are the least populated and so probably have the least amount of concentrated poverty, which makes a massive difference as research shows. Most Appalachians probably live in the prosperous counties because that is where most of the work is located. Nothing you said offers clear insight about the average Appalachian.

In Appalachia, the poverty rates and average income levels differ greatly. depending on the state:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Appalachian_Regional_Commission_counties

Talking about Appalachia is somewhat arbitrary. It not only crosses several state boundaries but also stretches between three different regions: Deep South, Upper South, and Midwest. Those states and those regions are very different kinds of places with different demographics, different economies, and different governments.

A similar problem exists in talking about the Midwest, something I’m more familiar with. The Lower South and Upper South might as well be considered separately. The lower edge of the Lower Midwest is culturally more Southern. The same difficult goes for the Eastern Midwest and Western Midwest. I live in Iowa, which is on the other side of the Mississippi and has no big cities. Iowa is quite different from the Midwestern Rust Belt.

I don’t mean to say that it is pointless to discuss generalizations about vast regions, whether Appalachia or Midwest. It’s just that one should be very careful and pay close attention to the details.

I’d say the same thing about even larger generalized categories such as all poor whites. Some poor whites are more severely poor than others. Some are only temporarily poor while some populations are intergenerationally poor. Some exhibit higher rates of social problems, but not all do. Many demographics considered as white today weren’t in the past. The crime data used to keep the numbers separate for not just races but all major ethnicities. A century or so ago, Italians, Irish, and Jews had high rates of crimes that went along with high rates of concentrated poverty.

Even some of the same whites show diverse rates of problems over time. Appalachia still does have plenty of violence, but it is worth noting that is far lower than it used to be. As far as that goes, all violent crime is lower in the US than it used to be and it is dropping the most quickly among minorities, for whatever reason. It likely has to do with changing environmental conditions, such as decreased heavy metal pollution.

Also, what about people who move. Many Appalachians in the past have since moved to other places. Where did they go? Did they simply assimilate into other populations? Even limiting ourselves to Appalachia, how has the population shifted around and which counties have the most population now? What are the poverty and violent crime rates like in the most populous Appalachian counties where most Appalachians live?

I don’t know the answer to those questions. You didn’t even think to ask them. If you really want to understand any of this, your post and the discussion in the comments has barely scratched the surface. Don’t these unanswered questions make you curious?

* * *

Crime and Policing in Rural and Small-Town America: Third Edition
by Ralph A. Weisheit, David N. Falcone, L. Edward Well
p. 48

“Informal social control, keeping things in, and showing a greater suspicion of government may also help account for rural-urban differences in the willingness of local communities to cooperate fully with reporting to the FBI’s UCR. Reporting to the CR program in 2003 differed by population density, with reports covering 95% of citizens living in metropolitan statistical areas but only 83% of those living in rural areas (FBI, 2003). Similarly, Laub (1981) has found that while the overall likelihood of reporting crime to the police is similar for rural and urban citizens, those in urban areas fail to report because they think nothing can be done, while those in rural areas fail to report because they consider the crime a private concern, even when the offender is a stranger. As a New Mexico state police officer observed: “In a lot of these [rural] areas, there’s really no law enforcement—no police, no sheriff, no state police station. People prefer to handle their own affairs and disputes themselves” (Applebombe, 1987, p. 11). The officer’s comment should be taken as more figurative than literal, although there are remote areas of Alaska where the statement could be taken literally. The statement does reflect two dimensions of the issue that are distinct but tend to reinforce each other. First, rural citizens may less often to choose to deal with a problem formally because they see it as a local problem. Second, in some rural areas formal police authority is in fact physically distant and is not an immediate option.”

p. 55

“Kenneth Wilkinson (1984) also used county-level data but came to a very different conclusion. In contrast to other data, he found that homicide rates were higher in rural areas. He accounted for this by noting that in a geographically dispersed population, social interactions occur more frequently among family members and close acquaintances; both are groups at a relatively higher risk for homicide. Wilkinson also observed that when compared with large cities, homicide rates were higher in rural areas but lower in small cities. Taken together, these findings highlight the importance of crime-specific analyses and of using care in defining the term rural. Simply treating everything outside of major metropolitan areas as rural can mask important patterns.”

p. 59

“Finally, official police data provided in the UCR also reveal some offenses for which the rates are higher in small towns and rural areas than for large cities… [R]ural counties are much higher than large cities in the arrest rate for DUI and for crimes against family members and children. This last finding conflicts with field research and some survey research that suggests that family violence rates are similar across rural and urban areas and that police in rural areas are more hesitant to respond to family violence… [S]mall towns are higher than either large cities or the most rural areas in arrest rates for fraud and vandalism. In small towns and rural areas arrest rates for fraud are about four times greater than in the largest cities. Curiously, arrest rates for vandalism are lowest in the most rural areas and highest in small towns, with city rates falling in between.”

http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/02/red-barns-and-white-barns-why-rural-crime-skyrocketed-late-1800s

“In short, lead paint simply wasn’t available in most rural areas before the 1880s except in very narrow corridors with good transportation. You can see this in the prevalence of white barns along the National Road. Then, starting in the 1880s, revolutions in both rail transport and mail order distribution made economical lead paint available almost everywhere—including rural areas. A couple of decades later, homicide rates had skyrocketed in rural areas and had nearly caught up to urban murder rates.

“By itself, of course, this would be merely speculative. What makes it more than this is that it adds to the wealth of other evidence that lead exposure in childhood leads to increased violence in adulthood. In the post-World War II era, lead exposure came mainly from automobile exhausts, but in the post-Civil War era it came mainly from the growth in the use of lead paint. And when lead paint became available in rural areas, farmers found it just as useful as everyone else. Given what we now know about the effects of lead, it should come as no surprise that a couple of decades later the murder rate in rural areas went up substantially.”

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2015/04/08/before-the-1890s/

American Homicide
by Randolph Roth
Kindle Locations 222-225

“Race and slavery are connected to America’s homicide problem, but not in a straightforward way. Before the 1890s, for example, African Americans were far less likely to kill than whites were, and especially unlikely to kill one another. Why, for the past century, has the opposite been the case? Why were Virginia and Maryland no more homicidal than Pennsylvania in the 1720s and 1730s, when they had more slaves and free blacks? Why did slave states become more homicidal after the Revolution, when free states became less homicidal?”

* * *

Here are two bonus articles:

The Violence Bred By Poverty Whether In Poorest Appalachia Or Poorest Philadelphia, Joblessness And Desperation Can Bring A Whole New Way Of Living – And Dying.
by Jeffrey Fleishman and Karl Stark, phily.com

Ferguson, like Appalachia, suffers from social and economic inequality
by Kieren Weisert

A Conservative Trend, To Where?

I was sitting at work and thinking too much, again. On such occcasions, my thoughts naturally drift toward particular topics. I got to thinking about government, as I’m a government employee, albeit a mere minion. How government operates in the practical sense is a personal preoccupation.

I’ve been with the local city government for more than 15 years now (along with having lived in this town off and on since the mid-1980s). My civil service position offers perspective on certain issues. It forces me to think about local community a bit differently. I regularly see my coworkers and I know people who work in other departments. Most of my coworkers are union members. I even work along side my union steward a couple days a week. In talking to various people, I get a bit of the inside scoop on what is going on in the department and in city government (plus, I get a sense of what is going on in the community in general). This is fodder for my mind.

Right now, the parking department is doing repairs to the ramps. Another coworker told me that the ramps were only built to last a couple of decades. Some of them are now several decades old. They’ve built new ramps over the years, but the old ones remain. To get an idea about how old they are, as one of these ramps has been worked on, a large chunk of concrete came loose in a different section of the ramp and it landed on a car. If that had landed on a person, that would have been a quite the lawsuit. Obviously, repairs are needed and have been needed for a long time… or maybe entirely new ramps built to replace the old, but that would cost even more money.

Not being privy to the decision-making process, I’m left curious about what goes on behind the scenes, beyond what little info I’m able to gather. Many changes have been happening in recent years and it is sometimes concerning or simply perplexing.

Like in many other cities, a particular kind of conservativism has taken hold here, in spite of it outwardly being a liberal college town. The city council, from what I can tell, has always been dominated by local business interests, most especially the Downtown Business Association. It’s certainly not the left-wing university professors and other intellectual elite running this town. Then again, local business owners around here don’t seem to be as right-wing as you’d expect in some places. This is still a liberal town and, as data shows, liberals have high rates of small business ownership. The conservatism that has taken hold has a vain of liberalism running through it (or is it the other way around, that this liberal town has a vein of conservatism running through it?). Besides, conservative-minded liberals aren’t all that rare, especially in a fairly small town in a rural Midwestern state, but that is another issue.

One aspect of this conservatism has been seen downtown. That is where can be found the pedestrian mall, the main public space. It has a permanent stage, a fountain, playground, and adjoining public library. It’s a popular gathering place, the heart of the community. But the idea of the public, all of the public, not just shoppers, freely using this public space has bothered many of the downtown business owners.

Through the Downtown Business Association, their voices get heard by local officials and their demands often get heeded. They helped push through a number of changes to discourage the low class people from hanging out too much downtown (by “low class” I mean average people, the common folk; not just bums, punks, and “ped rats”). They banned smoking in the pedestrian mall, banned people from setting their belongings down around them, and for a while banned dogs as well. They constricted the areas where panhandlers could do their thing. They made it illegal to lay down on a bench.

Still, that wasn’t enough. They removed a large number of the benches and picnic tables where the low class people convened and ‘loitered’ about. The place where that seating used to be is called the People’s Park because some decades ago, before the pedestrian mall was built, it was created by the public having demanded public space downtown (now it is part of the pedestrian mall). A new expensive, TIF-funded I might add, highrise was built and the People’s Park is now basically the front yard for rich people. That was also where a drum circle had met weekly for decades, but one of the rich people complained about the noise and the police made them leave, never to come back. I half expect to discover homeless spikes around one of these new fancy highrises popping up around downtown.

So, that is the mood right now of the local economic and political ruling elite. I should note that none of these changes were protested by any of the local liberal activists, and they have been known to protest about many other things (I’ve occasionally joined them, radical that I am). I suspect it’s the boiling frog scenario. These changes were put into place in a slow process stretched out over a number of years, many of them done covertly. For example, the seating was removed during some construction work and they were conveniently never put back. My brother at the time was working in the CBD department (Central Business District) and, according to him, management said this was done on purpose.

That gives you the context for my thinking. My direct focus at the moment, however, is on fiscal conservatism. It’s a strange beast. Most people are familiar with it at the federal level, i.e., big government. Reaganomics used the rhetoric of fiscal conservatism. But what is that rhetoric supposed to mean? It’s hard to take it at face value.

In the eighties, Republicans had plenty of control (with a majority in the Senate for the first 6 years of the Reagan administration) and the Democratic Party wasn’t being obstructionist (some key Democrats were Southern conservatives who later became Republicans, which meant that Reagan began with a “working conservative majority” in the House). The Reagan administration was able to act according to their own vision and agenda. Many cuts were made to taxes, only to later raise taxes again. Some government funding was slashed, while other government funding was increased massively. All of this was done according to Reagan and his advisors. Republican budgets were passed and Reagan basically got the spending he requested; actually, slightly less. The national debt almost tripled in Reagan’s eight years in office. This is how the Reagan administration created the permanent debt that we still have. Worse still, along with a bigger military, big government in general grew bigger still, including an increase of public sector jobs.

It’s not as if this happened on accident. They knew what they were doing. No one was forcing their hand. The question is why did they want to do this. Obviously, Reganomics was the opposite of acting fiscally responsible. If fiscal conservatism doesn’t mean fiscal responsibility, then what does it mean? I’ve read about suggested theories. For example, some see it as Starve the Beast. It’s seen as a way of attacking government by forcing it into debt. In reality, this just means attacking the social safety net and public services. It certainly hasn’t led to the shrinking of big government, as that was unlikely ever its real purpose.

It’s not just an issue of big government at the federal level. Even small local government is attacked using this same rhetoric and the same tactics. I’ve seen this firsthand in this town where I live and work. Although a liberal town, the business-friendly city council hired a fiscally conservative city manager. He has been the city manager for a while now, long enough to implement his policies. This includes a number of things:

1) They’ve been decreasing city employee numbers through attrition. However, at the same time in the department I work in, the number of office and management positions has increased. Also, one of the problems in the parking department is that they even decreased the number of the parking enforcement attendants (AKA “meter maids”) who actually bring in money, and so they are bringing in less money through tickets while also having less presence in enforcing the parking laws, the latter of which (parking enforcement) one presumes is or should be the main purpose of the parking department.

2) Decreasing employees has been made possible through several means. Unsurprisingly, they’ve privatized much of the work city employees used to do.* I’m not sure this actually saves money, but it sure helps to weaken the labor union. It really just seems like the city is doing less, rather than being more efficient or whatever. The contracted workers don’t do a lot of the work that city employees used to do and neither do the remaining city employees. All the workers are stretched more thin. So, basic maintenance often goes undone. Here are a few examples: the stairwells in the ramps are dirtier, parking lines get painted less often, weeding is low priority, large areas of green space are no longer mowed, and some of the multi-use trails weren’t plowed this past winter; not to mention repairs such as to the ramp were long overdue. It’s all very basic work that isn’t getting done.

They’ve sought to get rid of employees through other means as well. One method has been to mechanize particular jobs, such as putting an expensive (both expensive to buy and maintain) automated system with pay stations in the ramps to replace cashiers, but the system is too unreliable and so they still need to keep some of the cashiers around. I assume that the main justification for the new system was to save money. Did it save money? It is far from clear, as the financial investment in this new system is massive. Basic parking for a smaller town like this easily could be operated with a much smaller budget than is required for these high tech improvements. Parking cars doesn’t require some of the most advanced and expensive technology around. Such things can be nice, but they are far from necessary. There is nothing fiscally conservative about investments so large that they may never pay for themselves in savings.

* Let me offer some interesting backstory.

There is a company that does the contract work in the former departments of Parking, Transit, and Central Business District—all combined into a single department now. It might be the same company that also is contracted by the Parks and Recreation department. The company was hired by Parking/Transit management before there was ever any bidding. Then bidding took place, but management said it decided to go with that company because they were already doing the job. So, basically, it was a no-bid contract and the bidding was just a legal formality.

I don’t know that anything fishy was going on behind closed doors, but it is quite suspicious. It makes one wonder if there was cronyism going on. Of course, at the federal level, they often don’t even have to pretend to go through a bidding process and blatantly give contracts to cronies. More covert behavior is maybe required at the local level… or maybe I’m just being paranoid.

3) They have consolidated a number of departments.* This means there are fewer departments and so fewer department heads. However, in practice, this just means the remaining departments are much larger with more responsibilities and more staff (along with more expensive computers and other technology; specifically why they need more office and tech staff to operate/maintain it and more supervisors to oversee it all). Plus, this makes the remaining department heads all the more powerful in their greater authority and territory, especially as they are working closely with the city manager in making these decisions and implementing them. Isn’t it interesting that fiscal conservatism ends up growing the size of government departments and further concentrating power in the hands of a few? How does this shrink government or necessarily even save money?

* By the way, one coworker told me the best theory for some of the recent department consolidations.

The guy who was the head of the Parking Department is still the head of the new consolidated department, which is now called Transit, the former name of the separate department for buses and vehicle maintenance that was incorporated into Parking. Now, Refuse has also been brought into the fold, which is truly bizarre. Neither this department head nor any of the Parking/Transit staff below him knows anything about Refuse. Plus, going by what I’ve heard, it seems there may have been a number of occasions in the past when OSHA regulations were broken in management’s dealing with chemicals and waste disposal, although no investigation ever occurred. It doesn’t inspire confidence.

The only explanation that made sense of this departmental consolidation is that there was one commonality between Parking, Transit, and Refuse. They all receive major federal funding. I was told that the department head is highly skilled in getting federal funding, one of the most important skills of all for a bureaucrat.

4) The issue people in the local area are most familiar with are TIFs (Tax Increment Financing). It’s a way of giving temporary tax cuts to builders for specific building projects in order to incentivize development where it is needed. It’s original purpose was for blighted neighborhoods, but Iowa City has no blighted neighborhoods. Nor does Coralville, the adjoining town (essentially, the suburb for Iowa City) that has used TIFs to an even greater degree. All the TIFs go to major projects, such as upscale highrises (for expensive apartments and expensive stores). Also, a recent upscale grocery store also got a TIF. My father is the president of the local chapter of Kiwanis. He recently heard a city official speak (I think it was the assistant city manager or something like that). The city official admitted that every major project (i.e., big biz) expects a TIF to build anything. It’s become an expectation. Of course, no small business owner or lowscale builder received a TIF in this town. It’s become yet another form of cronyism via big biz subsidies.*

* This is odd and irritating for more than the obvious reasons.

If you give it a sleight amount of thought, you realize this means that these TIF-funded developers aren’t paying the taxes that pay for the services that the local government provides. Someone has to pay for them. So, already established businesses and smaller developers end up footing the bill, and in doing so essentially subsidize their competition.

This is at a time when the city government has lost revenue from other tax sources, because of a change in Iowa tax laws. This is the whole reason for tightening the public belt by reducing services, eliminating staff, privatizing work, etc. From the perspective of fiscal responsibility, this makes no sense. These TIF subsidies are in essence the giving away of money that will have to be offset somehow… or else the city will go into debt.

Furthermore, it’s not even that this TIF-funding is going to all big biz developers in a neutral fashion, as a favoritism has formed where TIFs have mostly gone to one particular developer. The city council says it gives TIFs to this developer because he is reliable, but few other probably reliable developers even bother because they know they’re systematically being excluded.

My father told me about one guy who wasn’t local and so had no crony connections. He wanted to build a hotel here. After dealing with endless red tape and other bureaucratic obstructionism, he gave up and decided not to build at all. Developers who have connections get TIFs and those who don’t have connections can’t even get their plans approved, much less get massive tax breaks through TIFs.

I suppose all of this is standard politics in this plutocratic and corporatist era. I’m used to hearing about this on the national level or even the state level. But it is so much more disheartening to see it with my own eyes at the local level, in my own community. This isn’t even a big city. It’s just a little college town surrounded by rural farmland.

The point I’m trying to make here isn’t to argue for cynicism. I’m genuinely curious what it all means. Where is this coming form? What is motivating it? Why is fiscal conservatism so fiscally irresponsible in practice and it seems intentionally so? What is the link between fiscal conservative rhetoric and social conservative rhetoric? Furthermore, what is the close tie between conservatism and cronyism or even outright corporatism?

It feels like there is some larger force or vision behind all of this, transcending any single place and government. Particular policies and government actions don’t seem all that significant taken in isolation. Yet when put all together, it points toward something. What exactly?

None of this is necessarily intended as a criticism toward those who genuinely believe in conservatism, and certainly not intended as criticism toward those who genuinely believe in fiscal responsibility and good governance. My point is that conservatives themselves should be mad most of all. Even ignoring the fiscal irresponsibility, actual functioning conservatism so often seems unconservative and anti-traditional, especially in its embrace of laissez-faire capitalism with its privatization of the commons and undermining of the public good. If that is conservatism, then conservatism has nothing to do with traditional values and social order.

To be fair, some conservatives are bothered by all of this or at least parts of it. My father has complained about what he sees here locally. We both live in the same town at present and so it comes up in discussions on a regular basis. Although my father fully supports fiscal conservative objectives, he doesn’t see this town as a shining example of fiscal conservative success. It doesn’t bother him that city employees are eliminated or that work is contracted out. Still, even he can’t shake the feeling of a cronyism that runs this town.

This is something that should bother all local citizens, across the political spectrum. Where is the outrage? Where are the protests? Heck, where is the local media to report on any of this?*

* One coworker I know well has wondered about that last question, in particular.

He has noted some of the close personal ties between city officials and those who run the local newspaper. He has also observed that the employees of the local newspaper get a special parking permit that no one else has, not even other permit holders from downtown businesses. The best coverage, for example, of local TIFs came from a small alternative publication and not from the main local newspaper.

But that is me being paranoid again.

It would be simple to see this as good versus bad, as evil cronies against the common man. But that misses the point. All of the people I’ve met who work in city government, including management, seem like nice people and many of them are quite dedicated to their jobs. I’d say the same thing about local business owners I’ve met, some of whom are part of multigenerational family businesses.

I think it is more of a systemic problem. It’s how our society functions. It’s how present capitalist systems are designed, especially as they transition into brutally competitive globalization. It’s a particular social darwinian worldview that is built into our culture, but is taking over many other societies as well. One could argue that most people are simply acting in the way that makes sense under these conditions and according to these biases.

Maybe most of the people involved really do hope to shrink government, lessen costs, and cut taxes. If so, why does that rarely materialize? Neither Reagan nor any other conservative has accomplished any of these things. It’s not clear that they even seriously tried. Still, I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt for the moment. As these policies don’t lead to what conservatives claim to want, then why do they keep pushing them? Is this really a failure? Or is there some other purpose? If so, what and whose purpose? Do conservatives even understand their own motivations? Do they know the master they serve? What is this vision and what is driving it? Also, why do so many Democrats and liberals seem to go along without any fight?

More importantly, what kind of society is being built in the process? What will the end result look like? Is it a world that I’d want to live in? Is it a world most people would want to live in? Do any of these changes make the nation and local communities better in any way?

The most problematic part of all this is that almost none of this has been part of public debate. No plans were presented to be considered and voted upon. No reasons were given for what they are hoping to accomplish. There is obviously some vision or agenda, but apparently only insiders know what it is. Even in the department I work in, management rarely explains much of anything. Changes just happen.

All of this is being forced onto an unwitting public. Maybe it’s the public’s fault for not paying enough attention, but still that isn’t much of an excuse for those who take advantage of this state of affairs. Certainly, there is nothing democratic or even libertarian about any of this. It’s simply people with power doing whatever they want without transparency or accountability.

What is happening in my town is a microcosm of what is happening all across the United States and in many other countries as well. The changes are too wide-ranging and concerted to be dismissed lightly as just politics as usual. Many have argued that the culture wars have been an intentional distraction, for all Americans across the political spectrum. No matter which side wins on the social issues, the monied elite will always win on the fiscal issues.

This is why it is in a sense irrelevant what people think about gay marriage, marijuana legalization, or whatever else. It doesn’t matter that the town I live in is socially liberal (nor that my state was one of the few to legalize gay marriage before it became a federal decision). It doesn’t matter that the entire country is becoming ever more socially liberal. None of that touches upon the fundamental social order or challenges the entrenched power within the system.

On top of that, fiscal issues are harder to grasp and to use for rallying people, even though most Americans are also rather liberal on many fiscal issues (e.g., most believe that the distribution of wealth is unfair and something should be done about it). Despite its importance, it is rare for a straightforward public debate to happen about fiscal issues and hence few seem to notice what is happening and what it all adds up to.

There is something about fiscal issues that makes people feel so powerless and apathetic. Part of the problem is that fiscal issues often seem boring and maybe are intentionally portrayed by the corporate media in boring ways. I don’t know. It seems strange that all of society can be transformed before our eyes and most people act as if they don’t notice or can’t be bothered to care.

* * * *

Public Good & Democratic Government (pt. 2)

The Mechanized City

TIFs, Gentrification, and Plutocracy
(more on local gentrification)

Shame of Iowa and the Midwest

Paranoia of a Guilty Conscience

John Bior Deng: R.I.P.

Officer Shoots Homeless Man: Comments

Iowa Biking & Rural Politics

Old Forms of Power

* * * *

Bonus article:

‘By the People’ and ‘Wages of Rebellion’
by George Packer

What Is A Superpower To Do?

There is a recent piece on American military superpower and its decline. The author is Tom Engelhardt. He concludes with these thoughts:

Under distinctly apocalyptic pressures, something seems to be breaking down, something seems to be fragmenting, and with that the familiar stories, familiar frameworks, for thinking about how our world works are losing their efficacy.

“Decline may be in the American future, but on a planet pushed to extremes, don’t count on it taking place within the usual tale of the rise and fall of great powers or even superpowers. Something else is happening on Planet Earth. Be prepared.”

The very last sentence is silly. I guess the author was trying to offer a glimmer of hope or something. I don’t think there is any preparing for the unknowable and unpredictable.

As for the rest, it resonates. There is no doubt that, in many ways, power is power and nothing really ever changes. However, something does feel different compared to past empires.

Still, Engelhadt in this piece isn’t up to tackling the full complexities. It’s not clear that the US military is actually failing. Most likely, it is simply serving a purpose other than what is stated. The global markets and access to foreign resources is being maintained for US corporate interests. The US military doesn’t need to win any wars to accomplish that.

Besides, I don’t think the military is the most basic issue. It’s just an expression of present conditions. The world doesn’t turn on mere military power.

Yet the point remains. Something seems different. We are up against walls that didn’t exist in the past. The world never before felt like such a small place. The superpowers are chafing against the constraints of earthly existence.

* * *

I noticed the article in question was posted in multiple places on the web, under different titles. I’ll give the link to two of these because you should read the comments sections.

The Superpower Conundrum: The Rise and Fall of Just About Everything
(Common Dreams)

America’s Got the #1 Military in the World — and It’s Increasingly Useless
(Alternet)