Excuse Me While I Drown Myself

I’m pretty sure that’s the intended response to this screed in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, “Amerika, du hast es schlechter” (“America, You’ve Got it Worse”).  The author is a boy — a German — name of Stephan Richter.  He co-founded The Globalist, an on-line magazine (homepage here).

A quick scan through several of the articles on this morning’s (04 Dec 14) page shows some common sense (“How to Deal With the Return of Hard Power Politics in Europe“: We’re not going to put Putin back in his sandbox without both diplomacy and the acknowledged ability and willingness to fight with both arms free).  That’s combined with some touching if perhaps starry-eyed hope-over-expectation (same article: “Hence, the third track in dealing with Russia now is one on which a competition of values is presented. It is a track that has always existed and has become stronger and stronger with the rise of the kind of technology that allows individuals to connect across borders — and without governmental regulation.  This third track, then, is maximizing the interconnections among people.”).

We also have some breath-of-fresh-air offerings (“How African-Americans and African Immigrants Differ“), which I wish had been co-authored.  The author is an immigrant from Sierra Leone; I wish he’d found a West Indian immigrant to pitch in, since we have a not-inconsiderable contingent from there (judging by their accented English a family of them was my back-yard-fence neighbors in Charleston in the 1990s).  I also wish the article had been longer, since its central idea is the comparison of how the two groups’ differing histories (the one descendants, by and large, of slavery, and the other frequently survivors of civil war, murderous domestic tyranny, and poverty the likes of which has never been seen on these shores since the days of the earliest European settlements) lead them to interact with and participate (or not) in the predominating “white” society and culture.  Thomas Sowell has touched on this notion as well, here and there (he may be among the deeper students of immigration and integration, worldwide, that we’ve got in the U.S.).  It deserves much more extensive examination than The Globalist offers space.  Interesting observations, though:

“When they come to the United States, it has been my experience that Africans can easily identify with white Americans because they understand each other. Before migrating to the United States, the majority of Africans have had little to no direct negative experiences with whites. They simply do not hate them.

* * * *

“Most African immigrants to the United States often live in mixed neighborhoods instead of black neighborhoods and they easily integrate. African immigrants know who they are. They are not easily offended when someone tries to put them down. They know where they come from and why they are here.”

I’d like to see this author explore the psychological intricacies of that last sentence.  He needs an essay-length format, at the least.

We also have the first installment of an entirely predictable That Awful South screed (and surprise! it’s from Comrade Richter): “America’s Mezzogiorno: A Thanksgiving Reflection“; the author seems to be mostly thankful that he’s not a Southerner.  The feeling is mutual, buddy.  He trots out the usual nonsense about how the rest of the country is “subsidizing” the South through the “spreading” of defense facilities “and production” through the South.  Oh dear.  It’s as if he’s never set foot outside the beltway.  Or worn a uniform (he’s German, and of an age that he would have had either to be drafted or done his “Zivildienst,” so that blind spot is hard to understand).  Let me explain it to him:  Where defense installations are placed is a function in North America (which has a continental climate and a very non-uniformly-dispersed population), overwhelmingly, of (i) weather; (ii) population density, and (iii) land values.

To illustrate:  Across most of the northern tier of the country, for a large portion of the year the weather is simply too brutal for infantry to train without massive health issues arising.  By all means, do cold-weather training, but only a dip-stick or someone with no other options would willingly base his ground forces where for weeks at a pop the high temperature will reliably be 15º F.  You can’t get around the fact that most of the South, most of the time, in most years, is well-suited for year-round outdoor training.

Population density:  Geez, do we put the Minuteman program and the B-52s in the Northeast Corridor, where something like a quarter of the U.S. population lives, so that when the Soviets (or now the Chinese) pickle off an alpha strike, they wipe out the centers of commerce, finance, and government?  Or do we scatter them over the Dakotas and Montana, where we can minimize the number of, you know, dead civilians?

Land value:  When the U.S. military went from pretty damned tiny to among the world’s largest, land was cheap in the South, not well-suited for agriculture, and in many areas not even very much used.  Hey:  Let’s buy up enough land to put Fort Hood in Westchester County, or maybe in Livonia, Michigan, or even Cincinnati.  Or we could put it out in the dried-up Texas landscape.  Well, Comrade Richter might reply, we could have put that up in the Dakotas, too.  See my comments about weather, above.  See also a map of the damned country.  It costs a boat-load of money to move stuff around an area as large as the United States; do you put major enterprises where you can get things to them relatively easily, or where you’re going to have to build all those networks from scratch? [In 1986 someone did a study of West Germany’s energy consumption:  They found that fully a third of their use was just moving people and things around the place.  Like the Victorian statesmen, Brer Richter’s been looking at the wrong-scale map.]

The South is also penetrated by a great deal of navigable water, from the Mississippi to the Ohio to the Tennessee to the Red to several others.  In the East you’ve got the fall line jammed up against the coast (except in, you know, Virginia and the Carolinas).  Additionally, across a huge chunk of the Upper South (Tennessee and northern Alabama) there was the TVA to provide cheap power, which had been building since 1933.  That program was most definitely not started as a government largesse operation, but rather as a pilot project for the destruction of the private electrical utility industry (Amity Schlaes tells the whole sordid story in The Forgotten Man).  The war intervened and the TVA become a one-off, but that had not been the design.  The Tennessee Valley was selected for the opening moves in the attack because of its cheap land (take a look at the lands those lakes flooded before the TVA came), its relative political backwardness, and its poverty, which made resistance less likely.

So let’s see:  Cheap land, easy access, useful climate.  No, no, no:  Let’s take our army and build its 102,000-acre (Ft. Campbell, Kentucky), 214,000-acre (Ft. Hood, Texas), or 100,646-acre (Ft. Riley, Kansas), and 160,000-acre (Ft. Bragg, North Carolina) facilities right outside Springfield, Massachusetts.  Or in Pennsylvania somewhere.  When we need someplace to put a brand-new 16,000-acre naval base for our Ohio-class submarines (too big to fit elsewhere), let’s buy up Newport, Rhode Island and do it there.  Or an even better idea:  Let’s take the naval installations at Norfolk, Virginia (which are historical outgrowths of maritime industry dating back before the Revolution, I’ll remind our dim-bulb author), shut them down, and go replicate them . . . oh . . . I don’t know, maybe in Oregon.  Because that’s such a better use of money.

Comrade Richter also seems to ignore the extent to which Southern California’s modern economy was pretty much built on the defense dollar.  Pull federal activities (military and otherwise) out of Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah, and what exactly do you have left, except for hard-rock mining?  As for manufacturing, Boeing, McDonnell-Douglas, General Dynamics, Northrop-Grumman, General Motors, and Colt acquire new home addresses in Richter-land.  The steel mills which produce the HY-80 that’s in all those submarine hulls?  Those are in Arkansas, it seems.  Hanford is now in South Carolina.  USS Kennedy (CV-67) was kept in the fleet and put through a SLEP to keep not the Philadelphia but rather the Dothan, Alabama Naval Shipyard in business.  And let’s not forget the submarine fleet built by General Dynamics in Baton Rouge.

None of the above is to deny that Congresscritters of all stripes fight to pump money into their home districts.  It’s why Oak Ridge is in Tennessee.  But there were and remain very legitimate reasons why it was completely logical to build enormous bases for specific kinds of military activities (e.g. Edwards Air Force Base, which is not in Cobb County, Georgia) where the military built them.

Richter is also much exercised about Southern states’ reluctance to accept federal money to expand Medicaid programs, or as he says, “Washington sends money to help these regions to overcome wide-spread poverty, which is – 150 years after the end of the Civil War – often still race-based.  However, the South — as based largely on the wishes of its republicans governors — doesn’t want to have a huge chunk of it!”  For starts, coach, poverty is not “race-based”; it may be racially-correlated, but so is murder.  No one goes around enrolling blacks to be poor, nor does anyone check your skin color before you go broke.  [By the way, Richter’s own article’s last sub-heading is “Poverty is blind to race”.  Well, jackass, which is it?  You can’t have it both race-based and race-blind.  Pick your asinine position and stick with it, at least.]

More importantly, Richter ignores the principal reason why the expansion of Medicaid was resisted:  The federal money was time-limited.  Three years, but the program expansions would have been permanent.  We all got to see what happened in Tennessee, which did pretty much exactly what Richter demanded, starting in 1994, and almost bankrupted itself.  At one point something over a quarter of the state’s total population (including people making $60,000-plus per year, this back in the 1990s) was on the public dime.  The average patient had 19 active prescriptions.  It took the state more than a decade worth of litigation to prune the program back.  So no, dear ol’ Stephan, this refused offer of “federal money” for a limited time to blow up your state’s budget forever and ever was not some perverse desire to keep the darkies down, but rather a prudent refusal of a poisoned chalice.

But hist! it’s not all federal money that Them Awful Southerners don’t like.  “Contrary to their ideological opposition to Medicaid, Republican governors and legislatures in the South accept two types of federal funds: Farm subsidies and defense contract money.”  Archer Daniels Midland, Cargill, the Central Valley, and the Cadillac Desert are not Southern institutions, ol’ sport.  That’s not to say that the sugar industry does not have its hand in the till (it was the principal shareholder in the largest U.S. sugar company who was on the telephone with Wm. J. Clinton while the latter was getting his knob polished by a 20-year-old intern named Lewinsky), or that hogs and chicken don’t see to it their share comes their way.  But the Big Dollars go to the Midwest and Plains states.  And by the way, farm subsidies and defense contract dollars don’t go to states or state legislatures, but rather to individuals and private businesses.  So there’s simply nothing there for “Republican governors and legislatures in the South” to accept, nitwit.

But what allows Them Awful Southerners to suck so hard at the public tit?  Why of course, it’s that they’re all a bunch of <pass the smelling salts, please> Republicans.  O!  The horror!  Yes, Southerners make up over half the Republican House majority.  This enables the South, which accounts for 37% of the population and 34.2% of the economy (what a mismatch!! takes your breath away, doesn’t it?), to force the rest of the 435 House members to shovel money all over the place.  Or something.

The Republican South dates from the 1980s, at the earliest.  The defense facilities which Richter deplores having been built in the South were built during the — not year, not decades, but — generations when Democrats controlled, and not by wafer-thin margins, both houses of Congress.  The Soviet-style American agricultural system was a brain-child not of Newt Gingrich, but of FDR’s Soviet-inspired “planners.”

Yes, “The rest of the world is perplexed by the anti-government attitude and/or gross negligence toward the people by the governors and legislatures in the American South.”  What Richter really means by “the rest of the world” is the dozen or twenty or so people who’ll speak with him (if he’s as tiresome and ill-informed in person as he is in print).  He might ask the Chechens, the Uighurs, the Marsh Arabs, the Crimean Tatars (if any are still alive), the Volga Germans, the surviving Russian or Polish or Hungarian Jews, the Hmong, the Kurds, the Yezidis, the Estonians, the Lithuanians, the Latvians, or the Armenians about their understanding of “anti-government attitudes,” particularly their attitudes about powerful, centralized government.  How about the immigrant from Sierra Leone who’s got an article in his own damned magazine; did Richter ask whether he is “perplexed” by the notion that government (especially Great Big Government) ain’t your friend?  Or he might just take a look at where the floods of immigrants over the centuries came from and went to.  I’ll give you a hint so you needn’t pull your head out:  They didn’t go to Tsarist Russia, or Bismarck’s Prussia, or to Spain, or to dirigisme France.  For that matter, he might take a look at where the internal migration in the United States is headed.  It’s no accident that the IRS no longer reports it, but you can find the numbers if you try.  They’re flooding South, ol’ boy, and they’re not leaving.  Individuals might goof and guess wrong about where they need to be living, but millions of people over the course of several decades now can’t be explained away as some sort of latter-day Flagellant movement.

This article in The Globalist is, in other words, just another installment in a long line of Them Awful Southerners pot-boilers (of which it’s not the first I’ve exploded).  I’m only mildly surprised he didn’t work the word “protocols” into the title.

There’s more from Brer Richter:  “Take the Money and Run,” in which he recites the by-now-tired data (genuine enough, to be sure), that for every dollar a “taxpayer” in, say, Mississippi pays, he “receives” $3.07 in “benefits,” and 45% of Mississippi’s economy “comes from federal funding.”  Of course, data like that remind one of the old joke in response to the data point that “everyone three minutes, someone is robbed”: Doesn’t he get tired of it?  Given that roughly 40% of the American population pays no federal income taxes at all, one can be forgiven for posing the aggregation issue to Comrade Richter.  I’d be interested to see whether in fact the average Mississippi resident who is a net payer of federal income taxes is doled out $3.07 in direct or indirect transfer payments.   Because if the complaint is that for every tax dollar coming out of Mississippi there are $3.07 being paid to residents of Mississippi, I’d like to know who’s paying and who’s receiving.  Are they in fact the same people?  And what unspecified “federal funding” is Richter talking about?  If he’s talking about payments to or for the benefit of poor people . . . well, yes, you would expect states with poorer populations to receive more federal dollars, in the aggregate, than places with fewer poorer people, or places with more and wealthier people to skew the averages.  If he’s got a point to make, let him cough up some data that actually say something.

For Part III of his I Don’t Like Southerners and Neither Should You, our learned mentor explains to us “How the South Really Operates.”  I was truly looking forward to this read, because after spending over 40 of my 50 years living in the South, and paying attention to what happens and who makes it happen, I confessed myself flummoxed.  Richter to the Rescue!  He enumerates four aspects in which he informs us how the South really operates.  First come agricultural hand-outs, in which he recites several prominent Republican politicians who happen to be Southerners and who suck at the public tit of agricultural hand-outs.  See my comments above re: where the agri-business money is actually, you know, at.  And by the way, just as a counter-example, I believe it’s Dianne Feinstein (it may be Pelosi, but it’s definitely one of the California Congressional delegation) whose husband owns a good chunk of a company that processes some sort of seafood or fishery product in, I believe it is, Guam (possibly Samoa; I’ve slept since I read about this).  Guess which American overseas possession is uniquely exempted from minimum wage laws that apply to the others?

Second comes that awful ol’ Congressional power.  The South which accounts for 37% of the population overall has just over half of the Republican House caucus, and therefore — you really have to envy Richter his simple-mindedness — 53% of the House Appropriations subcommittee on defense, and 55% of the subcommittee on homeland security.  God save the mark.  Well, you know, numbskull, if Congressional committee assignments were to be handed out based on state population instead of party affiliation, where would the majority party come up with committee members from states which decline to elect members of that party?  But the litany of horrors does not stop there:  Oh noes: Fully 63% of the committee on military construction and veterans affairs subcommittee come from the South.  Maybe Comrade Richter would care to examine where the all-volunteer force comes from and where American veterans live?  Don’t worry, ol’ sport:  I’ll do the math for you.

The Veterans Administration has a nice state-by-state interactive map showing each state’s veteran population data as of September 30, 2014.  Out of their estimated 21,999,108 living veterans, 8,208,679 lived in the states of the old confederacy (plus West Virginia and Kentucky), or almost exactly 37% of the total.  I don’t know which states Richter includes to get to his 37% of the U.S. overall population living in the South, so you can’t really draw a great deal of meaning from those numbers.  The U.S. Census Bureau has a convenient estimate of each state’s population as of July 1, 2013.  Let’s see what percentage of each state’s gross population consists of veterans.  In the states of the former confederacy (plus Kentucky and West Virginia) we range from a high of 9.46% for Virginia (which you really can’t treat as a meaningful number since so much of Virginia is actually South District of Columbia, but there it is) to 9.03% for West Virginia to a low of 6.35% for Texas.  Throw out the high and low and you get an average of 8.00%.  Only two of the states other than Texas are even below 7.5%: Louisiana and Mississippi.  Just for giggles I ran the same numbers for several large northern states, and Washington State as well (there’s HUGE defense industry and installations up there, which Comrade Richter seems to have forgot about).  Here are some numbers:  California: 4.83%; Michigan: 6.65%; New York: 4.54%; Massachusetts: 5.67%; Illinois: 5.60%; Washington: 8.66%.

The VA site also has a spreadsheet that breaks down each state’s population by era of service.  So you could theoretically strip out the all-volunteer veterans from the draftees.  You could strip out the dwindling World War II contingent and the Korean War contingent.  You could strip out the Vietnam contingent (reckon which states saw the most student draft deferments: those with large or with small college enrollment among the overall population).  I don’t have the time or energy to do so.

Gee, what would someone who believes in, you know, representative democracy think?  Reckon he might figure that for House members from those states with a higher percentage of their voters being veterans (veterans vote disproportionately to their numbers, recall), getting on the veterans affairs subcommittee might be . . . you know, maybe . . . representing his goddam voters?  Anyone want to bet which states’ representatives scramble to get on the maritime affairs committees?  Wyoming, perhaps?  Maybe in Richter-land.

Then Richter recycles his shop-worn defense spending as a welcome stimulus.  This part of the article is more than a bit incomprehensible, since what he talks about is salary caps for CEOs of defense contractors and salaries of management relative to engineer or worker, and then recites the average CEO pay for the five largest defense contractors.  Only one, Lockheed-Martin, is headquartered anywhere near the South, and that’s Bethesda, Maryland (which I categorically deny to be Southern in any meaningful sense).  In fact, in not a single sentence of that section of the article does he even mention the South.

The final section of How the South Really Operates is a diatribe against Georgia and its decision not to get on the Medicaid expansion bandwagon.  Again, the program expansions, which would have been permanent, were going to be funded by the federal government . . . for three years.  You wouldn’t let your 16-year-old budget for his first motor-scooter on that basis.  Richter’s pretending that a state can do so is just irresponsible.  He of course recites all the ills of the current system (all true enough), but he doesn’t answer Question No. 1:  Where is the damned money going to come from?  If he thinks that any governmental entity, state or local, which exists in a polity in which there is free movement of money, people, and economic activity across borders can budget on a nice-to-have basis, he’s just stupid.  Period.  There’s no other way to describe that outlook.  In a free society people won’t stand still and let you skin them.  They’ll leave, and then what you’re left with is Mississippi.

You know, I’d actually intended this little post to be a take-down of his comically ill-informed anti-American splenetic in the FAZ (he does, however, manage to work into even that one an accusation that the South is still Fighting the War; I’d really like to know from which data he draws that conclusion since I’ve not noticed it in anyone of above-average intelligence in over 40 years; even when we were kids playing army, we fought not the Yankees or even the dinks or gooks, but rather the Germans (which was hilarious because one of my best buddies had a grandfather who’d been a machine-gunner . . . for the Kaiser)).  I’d not thought I’d spend the whole thing exposing his English-language fatuities.  But I can never resist an easy target, and boy howdy! Stephan Richter’s incomprehension of the American South is a stationary target at point-blank range.

Someone hand me a cigarette.  I feel all aglow.

Update [08 Dec 14]:  In the context of why the national Democrat party seems to have such problems running successful candidates in the South, Moe Lane drives the ten-ring:  “It’s not demographics, and it’s certainly not gerrymandering, and shoot, it’s not even Barack Obama. It’s that the people who run the Democratic party [expletive deleted] hate the South.”  Brer Richter’s thoughts merely express openly what the Democrats’ national-level leadership mutually congratulates itself on believing.

The gently ironic part of it is that it doesn’t have to be that way.  In my semi-rural county, which voted for Geo. W. Bush twice, for McCain, and for Romney, all by enormous margins, and which by a similar margin in a recent Republican primary swamped the Establishment incumbent in favor of a Tea Party insurgent . . . all three of our trial judges are Democrats; our sheriff is a Democrat, most of our elected county-wide officials are Democrats, and a good number of elected officials at the municipal level are Democrats.

Among the bunch of people I regularly find myself working (and drinking beer) with are people who range all the way from caricatures of far-right reaction to cartoonish lefties who actually think Dear Leader’s got it all figured out.  No.  Really.  There are people — and not dummies, either — who truly think that way.  We all work together, we all pitch in together, and together we’re making our county a better place to live, where each year’s crop of high school graduates has something to look forward to other than an entire lifetime trapped behind a cash register at the stop-n-rob.  Not that “politics” doesn’t get discussed, and heatedly sometimes, but here, for the moment, we can accept our differences as being good-faith disagreement.  Among the most cartoonish of my leftish friends is a fellow who got there by way of his religious convictions . . . and the fact that for a period when he was younger, if his family had meat on the table it was because he’d gone out and shot it in the middle of the night.  I think he’s wrong on the merits, but I can accept his thinking as coming from somewhere honorable.

At the national level, that assumption is simply denied to Republicans.

So Moe Lane’s right:  When you spend a half-century insisting that everyone who lives in a particular place is for that reason inherently evil, and that everything they think, believe, and hope for is necessarily an outgrowth of that evil and need not be engaged with for that reason . . . Well, exactly what did you expect in terms of electoral outcomes?

Leave a Reply