Who Turned My Blue State Red?

first_imgRelated stories: For more coverage of politics, read ProPublica’s previous reporting on Hillary Clinton’s mixed record on Wall Street, how the gas tax impasse explains Washington and how Congress explains its absences. By Alec MacGillis ProPublicaThis story was co-published with The New York Times’ Sunday Review.It is one of the central political puzzles of our time: Parts of the country that depend on the safety-net programs supported by Democrats are increasingly voting for Republicans who favor shredding that net.In his successful bid for the Senate in 2010, the libertarian Rand Paul railed against “intergenerational welfare” and said that “the culture of dependency on government destroys people’s spirits,” yet racked up winning margins in eastern Kentucky, a former Democratic stronghold that is heavily dependent on public benefits. Last year, Paul R. LePage, the fiercely anti-welfare Republican governor of Maine, was re-elected despite a highly erratic first term — with strong support in struggling towns where many rely on public assistance. And earlier this month, Kentucky elected as governor a conservative Republican who had vowed to largely undo the Medicaid expansion that had given the state the country’s largest decrease in the uninsured under Obamacare, with roughly one in 10 residents gaining coverage.It’s enough to give Democrats the willies as they contemplate a map where the red keeps seeping outward, confining them to ever narrower redoubts of blue. The temptation for coastal liberals is to shake their heads over those godforsaken white-working-class provincials who are voting against their own interests.But this reaction misses the complexity of the political dynamic that’s taken hold in these parts of the country. It misdiagnoses the Democratic Party’s growing conundrum with working-class white voters. And it also keeps us from fully grasping what’s going on in communities where conditions have deteriorated to the point where researchers have detected alarming trends in their mortality rates.In eastern Kentucky and other former Democratic bastions that have swung Republican in the past several decades, the people who most rely on the safety-net programs secured by Democrats are, by and large, not voting against their own interests by electing Republicans. Rather, they are not voting, period. They have, as voting data, surveys and my own reporting suggest, become profoundly disconnected from the political process.The people in these communities who are voting Republican in larger proportions are those who are a notch or two up the economic ladder — the sheriff’s deputy, the teacher, the highway worker, the motel clerk, the gas station owner and the coal miner. And their growing allegiance to the Republicans is, in part, a reaction against what they perceive, among those below them on the economic ladder, as a growing dependency on the safety net, the most visible manifestation of downward mobility in their declining towns.These are voters like Pamela Dougherty, a 43-year-old nurse I encountered at a restaurant across from a Walmart in Marshalltown, Iowa, where she’d come to hear Rick Santorum, the conservative former Pennsylvania senator with a working-class pitch, just before the 2012 Iowa caucuses. In a lengthy conversation, Dougherty talked candidly about how she had benefited from government support. After having her first child as a teenager, marrying young and divorcing, Dougherty had faced bleak prospects. But she had gotten safety-net support — most crucially, taxpayer-funded tuition breaks to attend community college, where she’d earned her nursing degree.She landed a steady job at a nearby dialysis center and remarried. But this didn’t make her a lasting supporter of safety-net programs like those that helped her. Instead, Dougherty had become a staunch opponent of them. She was reacting, she said, against the sense of entitlement she saw on display at the dialysis center. The federal government has for years covered kidney dialysis treatment in outpatient centers through Medicare, regardless of patients’ age, partly on the logic that treatment allows people with kidney disease to remain productive. But, Dougherty said, only a small fraction of the 54 people getting dialysis at her center had regular jobs.“People waltz in when they want to,” she said, explaining that, in her opinion, there was too little asked of patients. There was nothing that said “‘You’re getting a great benefit here, why not put in a little bit yourself.’” At least when she got her tuition help, she said, she had to keep up her grades. “When you’re getting assistance, there should be hoops to jump through so that you’re paying a price for your behavior,” she said. “What’s wrong with that?”Yes, citizens like Dougherty are at one level voting against their own economic self-interest, to the extent that the Republican approach on taxes is slanted more to the wealthy than that of the Democrats. This was the thesis of Thomas Frank’s 2004 best seller, “What’s the Matter With Kansas,” which argued that these voters had been distracted by social issues like guns and abortion. But on another level, these voters are consciously opting against a Democratic economic agenda that they see as bad for them and good for other people — specifically, those undeserving benefit-recipients in their midst.I’ve heard variations on this theme all over the country: people railing against the guy across the street who is collecting disability payments but is well enough to go fishing, the families using their food assistance to indulge in steaks. In Pineville, W.Va., in the state’s deeply depressed southern end, I watched in 2013 as a discussion with Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat, quickly turned from gun control to the area’s reliance on government benefits, its high rate of opiate addiction, and whether people on assistance should be tested for drugs. Playing to the room, Senator Manchin declared, “If you’re on a public check, you should be subjected to a random check.”It’s much the same across the border in eastern Kentucky, which, like southern West Virginia, has been devastated by the collapse of the area’s coal industry. Eastern Kentucky now shows up on maps as the most benefit-dependent region in the country. The welfare reforms of the 1990s have made cash assistance hard to come by, but food-stamp use in the state rose to more than 18 percent of households in 2012 from under 10 percent in 2001.With reliance on government benefits so prevalent, it creates constant moments of friction, on very intimate terms, said Jim Cauley, a Democratic political consultant from Pike County, a former Democratic bastion in eastern Kentucky that has flipped Republican in the past decade. “There are a lot of people on the draw,” he said. Where opposition to the social safety net has long been fed by the specter of undeserving inner-city African-Americans — think of Ronald Reagan’s notorious “welfare queen” — in places like Pike County it’s fueled, more and more, by people’s resentment over rising dependency they see among their own neighbors, even their own families. “It’s Cousin Bobby — ‘he’s on Oxy and he’s on the draw and we’re paying for him,’ ” Cauley said. “If you need help, no one begrudges you taking the program — they’re good-hearted people. It’s when you’re able-bodied and making choices not to be able-bodied.” The political upshot is plain, Cauley added. “It’s not the people on the draw that’s voting against” the Democrats, he said. “It’s everyone else.”This month, Pike County went 55 percent for the Republican candidate for governor, Matt Bevin. That’s the opposite of how the county voted a dozen years ago. In that election, Kentucky still sent a Republican to the governor’s mansion — but Pike County went for the Democratic candidate. And 30 percent fewer people voted in the county this month than did in 2003 — 11,223 voters in a county of 63,000, far below the county’s tally of food-stamp recipients, which was more than 17,000 in 2012.In Maine, LePage was elected governor in 2010 by running on an anti-welfare platform in a state that has also grown more reliant on public programs — in 2013, the state ranked third in the nation for food-stamp use, just ahead of Kentucky. LePage, who grew up poor in a large family, has gone at safety-net programs with a vengeance. He slashed welfare rolls by more than half after imposing a five-year limit, reinstituted a work requirement for food-stamp recipients and refused to expand Medicaid under Obamacare to cover 60,000 people. He is now seeking to bar anyone with more than $5,000 in certain assets from receiving food stamps. “I’m not going to help anybody just for the sake of helping,” the governor said in September. “I am not that compassionate.”His crusade has resonated with many in the state, who re-elected him last year.That pattern is right in line with surveys, which show a decades-long decline in support for redistributive policies and an increase in conservatism in the electorate even as inequality worsens. There has been a particularly sharp drop in support for redistribution among older Americans, who perhaps see it as a threat to their own Social Security and Medicare. Meanwhile, researchers such as Kathryn Edin, of Johns Hopkins University, have pinpointed a tendency by Americans in the second lowest quintile of the income ladder — the working or lower-middle class — to dissociate themselves from those at the bottom, where many once resided. “There’s this virulent social distancing — suddenly, you’re a worker and anyone who is not a worker is a bad person,” said Edin. “They’re playing to the middle fifth and saying, ‘I’m not those people.’ ”Meanwhile, many people who in fact most use and need social benefits are simply not voting at all. Voter participation is low among the poorest Americans, and in many parts of the country that have moved red, the rates have fallen off the charts. West Virginia ranked 50th for turnout in 2012; also in the bottom 10 were other states that have shifted sharply red in recent years, including Kentucky, Arkansas and Tennessee.In the spring of 2012, I visited a free weekend medical and dental clinic run by the organization Remote Area Medical in the foothills of southern Tennessee. I wanted to ask the hundreds of uninsured people flocking to the clinic what they thought of President Obama and the Affordable Care Act, whose fate was about to be decided by the Supreme Court. I was expecting a “What’s the Matter With Kansas” reaction — anger at the president who had signed the law geared to help them. Instead, I found sympathy for Obama. But had they voted for him? Of course not — almost no one I spoke with voted, in local, state or national elections. Not only that, but they had barely heard of the health care law.This political disconnect among lower-income Americans has huge ramifications — polls find nonvoters are far more likely to favor spending on the poor and on government services than are voters, and the gap grows even larger among poor nonvoters. In the early 1990s, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky freely cited the desirability of having a more select electorate when he opposed an effort to expand voter registration. And this fall, Scott Jennings, a longtime McConnell adviser, reportedly said low turnout by poor Kentuckians explained why the state’s Obamacare gains wouldn’t help Democrats. “I remember being in the room when Jennings was asked whether or not Republicans were afraid of the electoral consequences of displacing 400,000–500,000 people who have insurance,” State Auditor Adam Edelen, a Democrat who lost his re-election bid this year, told Joe Sonka, a Louisville journalist. “And he simply said, ‘People on Medicaid don’t vote.’ ”Republicans would argue that the shift in their direction among voters slightly higher up the ladder is the natural progression of things — people recognize that government programs are prolonging the economic doldrums and that Republicans have a better economic program.So where does this leave Democrats and anyone seeking to expand and build lasting support for safety-net programs such as Obamacare?For starters, it means redoubling efforts to mobilize the people who benefit from the programs. This is no easy task with the rural poor, who are much more geographically scattered than their urban counterparts. Not helping matters in this regard is the decline of local institutions like labor unions — while the United Mine Workers of America once drove turnout in coal country, today there is not a single unionized mine still operating in Kentucky.But it also means reckoning with the other half of the dynamic — finding ways to reduce the resentment that those slightly higher on the income ladder feel toward dependency in their midst. One way to do this is to make sure the programs are as tightly administered as possible. Instances of fraud and abuse are far rarer than welfare opponents would have one believe, but it only takes a few glaring instances to create a lasting impression. Edin, the Hopkins researcher, suggests going further and making it easier for those collecting disability to do part-time work over the table, not just to make them seem less shiftless in the eyes of their neighbors, but to reduce the recipients’ own sense of social isolation.The best way to reduce resentment, though, would be to bring about true economic growth in the areas where the use of government benefits is on the rise, the sort of improvement that is now belatedly being discussed for coal country, including on the presidential campaign trail. If fewer people need the safety net to get by, the stigma will fade, and low-income citizens will be more likely to re-engage in their communities — not least by turning out to vote. ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for their newsletter.center_img Sign up for our COVID-19 newsletter to stay up-to-date on the latest coronavirus news throughout New York last_img read more

Trump slashes US refugee admissions to record low

first_imgTopics : President Donald Trump’s administration said late Wednesday the United States will admit a record low of no more than 15,000 refugees over the coming year despite surging global displacement, stepping up its hard line one month before elections.The State Department announced the number just half an hour before the October 1 start of the 2021 fiscal year, narrowly meeting a deadline set by US law following criticism from lawmakers.The 15,000 figure — the maximum who can be admitted over the next 12 months barring a change in administration — is a further cut from 18,000 last year and down dramatically from more than 100,000 under previous president Barack Obama. Nearly 80 million people around the world are displaced, double the number a decade ago, according to the UN refugee agency.On September 8, a fire ravaged a bursting-at-the-seams camp that had been attempting to house 20,000 people on the Greek island of Lesbos, a key entry point to the European Union.Trump’s Democratic rival in November 3 elections, Joe Biden, has pledged to raise the refugee cap to 125,000, saying that welcoming the persecuted is in line with US values.The Trump campaign has run advertisements highlighting Biden’s stance on refugees, saying he is “weak” and would bring in people from “dangerous” places. ‘No more generous country’ Asked about impending cuts to the refugee quota, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Tuesday that there was “no more generous country” than the United States in providing humanitarian assistance. “You suggest somehow that we didn’t do our fair share when it comes to refugees – nothing could be further from the truth,” Pompeo said in response to a question at a news conference in Rome. “We’ve taken more refugees inside the United States than any other nation over the course of the last 20 years,” Pompeo said.The United States for years took in more refugees than the rest of the world combined. But last year Canada topped the US as the leader by resettling more than 30,000 refugees, according to UN data.Democratic lawmakers earlier feared that the Trump administration would not comply with the requirement to provide a refugee number by October 1, making it impossible to admit people. “We need to restore the refugee program and our moral authority around the world,” said Representative Zoe Lofgren, who heads a House subcommittee in charge of immigration.Trump launched his 2016 campaign on vows to keep out Mexican and Muslim immigrants, accusing them of violence, and took heat after a debate Tuesday with Biden for equivocating on condemning white supremacists.Trump has frequently assailed German Chancellor Angela Merkel for letting in hundreds of thousands of mostly Syrian migrants.Syria remains the world’s largest source of refugees after nearly a decade of brutal civil war. More than five million people have also fled Venezuela’s crumbling economy and political tumult.Pompeo last week on a visit thanked Colombia and Brazil for taking in Venezuelans and toured a migrant processing center in a Brazilian border town.The State Department statement on the refugee cap pointed to Venezuela as a case where the United States was focusing on “diplomatic solutions.”The Trump administration has been trying unsuccessfully since January 2019 to topple Venezuela’s leftist leader, Nicolas Maduro. Trump, who has campaigned on fierce denunciations of immigration, already suspended refugee admissions entirely for several months this year citing the Covid-19 pandemic.Explaining the proposed new numbers, which need formal White House approval, the State Department said the United States wanted to help displaced people “as close to their homes as possible” until they can go back.”By focusing on ending the conflicts that drive displacement in the first place, and by providing overseas humanitarian assistance to protect and assist displaced people, we can prevent the destabilizing effects of such displacement on affected countries and their neighbors,” a statement said.Refugee advocates had pleaded with the Trump administration to raise admissions in the face of global conflicts and fresh instability due to the pandemic. last_img read more

USC must overcome injuries on the road

first_imgThe USC women’s soccer team, fresh off a sweep of its two-game home stand, heads to Oklahoma for the first time this weekend as it faces No. 24 Oklahoma State and Oklahoma. But this is a much different USC team that is making this trip than anyone expected at the start of the season.The Women of Troy (3-3), No. 8 in the preseason national rankings, were supposed to travel to Oklahoma State (5-2), who lost only one game last year, this weekend for a battle of top-10 teams.Season-ending · Junior midfielder Ashli Sandoval will miss the remainder of the season after tearing her ACL against Gonzaga. – Geo Tu | Daily TrojanJunior midfielder Ashli Sandoval, the team’s leading point-scorer last season, was supposed to be the next big star for the Women of Troy, the 2007 national champions. Senior All-American Meagan Holmes was ready to have a full, healthy season and anchor USC’s backline.But the Women of Troy have struggled thus far this season. Sandoval tore her ACL against Gonzaga on Friday and is out for the season, and Holmes is still nursing a knee injury. The injuries, combined with the lack of experience from a young team and the loss of key seniors from last season, have caused USC to come out of the gate much slower than anticipated and have left a void in the leadership role on the team.“It just takes time. A lot of these kids are doing things we haven’t asked them to do,” coach Ali Khosroshahin said. “I think they’re coming along, slowly, but they’re coming along.”USC showed signs of improvement last weekend as it beat two non-conference opponents to get back to .500. Khosroshahin said the second half of Sunday’s game was the best half of soccer he’s seen from the team this season. But there are still areas the team needs to improve on. He changed practice this week to emphasize one-touch ball movement and reading plays, rather than reacting to them.“We just need to think faster, play quicker and just be more aware of what’s happening,” Khosroshahin said. “I hope we’re taking care of the ball and limiting our mental mistakes.”Sandoval and Holmes’ injuries have taken a big toll on the team as USC tries to replace them in the backline (Sandoval played defense in place of Holmes this season). In Sunday’s game, USC had just one player who saw significant minutes last year, junior Karter Haug in the backline.“It’s been difficult because a lot of us are fresh and new this season,” sophomore defender Chelsea Buehning said Sunday. “But Karter’s been doing an awesome job in the middle, and we’re all just taking our own responsibilities and pulling it together.”With all the new players in the back, the Women of Troy have struggled at times to find chemistry and build an attack.“Last year, we liked to play out of the back and knock it and dribble out of the back. But this year, we still have a target on our back, so a lot of teams have three forwards which means we’re playing one versus one a lot of the time,” sophomore defender Claire Schloemer said.The USC backline has been getting better in distributing balls to the attacking players. But while the forwards have been getting plenty of shots, they need to be more efficient around the net.Last weekend the Women of Troy had a combined 41 shots and only scored four goals in the two games. With away games against ranked Oklahoma State and an improved Oklahoma (4-2-1) that’s already won more games this season than all of last year, USC can’t afford to let chances go by the wayside.“We need to take care of our opportunities and be really aggressive in the box,” junior forward Megan Ohai said. “When we have those chances we have to take them because we don’t know how many we are going to get.”USC is finally starting to look like the team many thought they would be. But with the injuries and the inexperience on the field, Khosroshahin stresses that the team just needs time.last_img read more

Time machine: Don’t blame Orangemen for tournament success

first_img Published on April 1, 2016 at 3:59 pm Facebook Twitter Google+ Editor’s Note: The column below is republished column from The Daily Orange’s coverage of Syracuse’s Final Four run back in 1996. The Orange has made a similar run to the Final Four this year after many doubters questioned SU’s place in the Tournament to begin with.For the first time in nine years, the Orangemen are playing in April.They have a chance at winning their first national title.They’ve given fans some of the best games of the NCAA Tournament. Despite all of this, some people want to put a negative spin on Syracuse’s march to the national championship game.One national reporter even had the audacity to say, “I can’t believe this horsesh*t team is playing for the national championship.”AdvertisementThis is placeholder textSyracuse in the Final Four has been like the Christmas in March to Syracuse fans, but to call this team horsesh*t is both unprofessional and idiotic.The Orangemen have been criticized more for winning then they were for losing in the second round last year.The attacks have come from all angles. The most notable criticism floating around the media circus is that the Orangemen haven’t played anybody to get to the championship game.Don’t blame Jim Boeheim and the players for not playing tough opponents. You can only play the teams in your bracket.The path has been cleared of the powerhouses, but that shouldn’t diminish the achievements of these players. There is only one criteria a team needs to satisfy in order to play in the national final – win five consecutive NCAA Tournament games. The NCAA doesn’t stipulate as to the talent, record or seed of these teams. You just have to beat them.Those in the media have come up with other “brilliant” statements about this team. One says that Boeheim has done the best job of his coaching career this year.That’s not a brilliant statement, that’s stupidity. Boeheim didn’t become a good coach this year. Boeheim is either a good coach or a bad coach, but this year isn’t the criteria on which to base that judgment. He was one missed shot away from winning a national title in 1987. The Orangemen had the game won, but a terrific shot took that all away.If John Wallace wouldn’t have hit that shot against Georgia, the same people would probably say Boeheim can’t win the close ones. Everybody can have their opinions about Boeheim but they shouldn’t change because this team has gone to the Final Four.If he was a bad coach before this year, well, he hasn’t changed his style and he’s still a bad coach.If he is the present day John Wooden, well this year proves that point.Now to the game at hand. “Yeah, but wait till Syracuse gets beat by 30 against Kentucky.”That seems to be the motto here. Just another attempt to undermine Syracuse’s accomplishments. Big deal if the Orangemen get blown out, they’ve gone way above expectations. They won’t be the only team to get beaten badly by Rick Pitino and the Wildcats.Stranger things have happened that the Orangemen winning the national title this season.The ‘80s produced three incredible wins by underdogs, so it has been done before. If Danny Manning could lead Kansas to the title in 1988, maybe John Wallace can do the same in 1996.If the Orangemen catch fire from the field and handle the Kentucky full court press, Syracuse could prove all the “Experts” wrong and actually compete with the Wildcats. And just think if the Orangemen win. This “horseshit” team may teach some sportswriters the meaning of respect but, most importantly, to keep their mouths shut and wait for the outcome of the game before they crown the winner. Commentslast_img read more