Sarah and Gwen: the Two-Headed Monster

This blog is about everything involving Lexington, KY or anything else we feel like yapping about.

Friday, September 30, 2005

HELP! I Am Starting to Long for Yesteryear

I know that Kentucky politics were always dirty. I come from a county where the local high school gym was named for the sitting superintendent of schools. A good portion of the school system's staff was related to him in one way or another, and nobody gave any of this a second thought. It was politics, Kentucky style.

In many Kentucky counties, it is hard to have a staff that is not comprised of relatives. Families settled, raised their children, and those children stayed in the county. In a few generations, everyone was related to everyone else. For the most part, problems over nepotism came up when one relative wanted a job held by another (often less distant) relative. It was a family feud that spilled over into the courts. "Cousin Whoever" in Frankfort was forced to take time out from lining his own pockets and smack a few hands back home.

If you think I am condoning nepotism, I'm not. It was pervasively evil. The corruption was often rooted so deeply in the poverty of our state, that anyone holding high office had the sort of power wielded by feudal lords over their vassals. But as corrupt as the system was, it was no worse than the one we Kentuckians have replaced it with. The politics of money dominates our government.

In a kinship system, there is at least some protection for the poor relatives. Families are important to us. Corporate control of our government cares only for hoarding more wealth in the hands of those who already have more than they need. I am reminded of this as I watch the news of yet other resignations in Frankfort over hiring practices of the Fletcher Administration. As I watch, I can't help becoming a bit nostalgic over the corruption of yesteryear.

Do you ever start to wonder if voting for your cousin's half-brother by his father's third wife to keep your brother working his state or county job was really so bad? Sure he was a crook; everybody knew that. No honest person would run for office in Kentucky. Perhaps that's still the case.

I would rather return to the past, than face the bleak future of men like the ones in power now. There is a chance for a better Kentucky. It is a very slim chance, if we can find a few honest people to run. Otherwise, we are once again going to be standing in the voting booth, asking ourselves which crook is worse and hoping we don't get another one quite as bad as the last.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Rotten to the Core

I have been neglecting posting, not because there is nothing to say, but because the amount of corruption and waste is so pervasive that I am finding it hard to focus on one subject. Where do we turn when corruption has tainted every aspect of government?

I look at a local government riddled with officials elected through the machinations of a foreign corporation. Our mayor has the subtlety of a bull in a china shop. The upcoming election season is already shaping up to be one of the worst mud slinging fiascos in the history of Fayette County, as office seekers try to show that they are less dirty than their opponents.

Under normal circumstances, we might turn to the state for help, but whom would we ask? Unqualified political appointees have packed the courts. The administration is stonewalling a grand jury, while our governor hands out blanket pardons to wrongdoers before cases ever go to trial. My state representative blindly (or perhaps with eyes wide open) votes the Republican Party line. My state senator seems to be unaware that I even exist. Perhaps, if I were a member of her party, she would answer a letter or reply to my phone calls.

I don't know that we will ever be able to determine the extent of wrongdoing in the Fletcher administration. Those initiated have not rushed to turn down a pardon, which implies that the accused know they are guilty. Nor have they been particularly forthcoming with information when recalled by the grand jury.

I have no confidence that the Democrats would be any less corrupt if power were placed in their hands again. Governor Patton left office under the cloud of sexual harassment. My party chair is a convicted felon. Democrats across the state have been less than inspiring examples of integrity. There are those working to clean up the party, but it is a daunting task. Corruption in Kentucky politics is as old as the state.

I will not go into the sins of the federal government. There are a thousand better blogs than my own that detail those crimes against the public trust. But it is time to stop the madness. Our nation, our state, our city crumble under the weight of self-serving officialdom. The rot inside our government is far worse than the damage done to the Gulf Coast. It is a festering wound that threatens the life of the nation. Unless we clean out the wound, and rid ourselves of every entrenched manifestation of this corruption, the great experiment in democracy our ancestors envisioned will fail.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Facing the Storm

A storm is hovering off the coast of North Carolina and reminding me that danger still lurks just beyond the horizon. I thought about the storm as I faced the gray morning commute to the office. I considered the dangers and our response to the disaster along the Gulf Coast as I listened to NPR. Health care teams from across the country were discussing what went wrong. Government officials insisted that relief workers had what they needed to do their jobs, but I suspect that as these doctors and nurses return home and write their reports we are going to learn a lot about what they did not have. I expect we are going to see a pattern in those reports.

The government wanted paperwork from people who had no access to fax machines. The relief planes couldn't land because there were no lights on the runways. In short - technology failed and we were so dependent upon our machines that we could not do the job without them.

We are a high tech society facing an old and very low-tech situation, a natural disaster. Our response is inadequate because we are losing the skill set to deal with the world beyond our gadgets. Before we face the next storm we need to reacquaint rescue workers with old-fashioned skills children used to learn from parents and scout leaders. We can and must set up systems that are not dependent upon the phones and fax lines staying in tact. We must prepare for the lights going out before they go out.

In case you haven't thought about it...that means we need to get over the notion of outsourcing government responsibility to private contractors and charities. I am not saying we should not open our checkbooks to charities, but we cannot place the responsibility for this kind of relief in the hands of any charitable organization. They are not accountable to the citizens or obligated to do particular things in the event of an emergency. Government in recent years has placed too much dependence upon private charity for the preservation of our public trust. It is time for government to shoulder the responsibility as part and parcel of their duty to the citizenry. Charity is good but it is not a replacement for professional disaster relief organizations with the authority to get the job done.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Stan Lee Prefiles "Right to be Fired" Bill

Representative Stan Lee has introduced legislation under the misnomer of "Kentucky Right to Work Act" which amounts to the right to be fired without cause to Kentucky workers. Let me first present the act as it is written then explain why I believe it is wrong.

AN ACT relating to contracts.

Amend KRS 336.130 to prohibit mandatory membership or financial support of a labor organization as a condition of employment, and to name this Act as the "Kentucky Right to Work Act"; amend KRS 336.180 to conform; amend KRS 336.990 to make a violation of this Act a Class D felony, award damages, and provide injunctive relief; create a new section to exempt existing contracts or agreements; and amend KRS 67A.6904, KRS 67C.406, KRS 70.262, KRS 78.470, KRS 78.480, and KRS 345.050 to conform.

(Prefiled by the sponsor(s).)
To: Interim Joint Committee on Labor and Industry

Proponents of this bill and others of this type argue that they are protecting workers by preventing them from having to pay "tribute" to a union in order to work. They claim that these act do not change any laws they just repeal provisions that authorize firing workers for refusing to pay union dues. Who could be against this except the corrupt union bosses?

The problem with this line of reasoning is that for every corrupt union official there are ten times as many corrupt companies exploiting workers and a hundred stories of corporate greed. Day by day the gap is growing wider between workers and corporate executives. Today, when the typical CEO earns as much in a day as his average employee earns in a year, we must not forget that the gap is growing through pulling labor's teeth. It is not a coincidence that the South, where right to work laws are strongest, has the highest poverty rate in the nation. Much of the income gap can be attributed directly to Right to Work legislation having the desired effect of bankrupting collective bargaining organizations.

Proponents of the legislation argue that that they are acting to protect workers who do not want unions. They tell us there are laws in place to protect workers. It is time to remind them where labor law comes from. It was not the benevolence of the government or business that we have to thank for the eight hour work day, the end of child labor, employer insurance, retirement funds, a minimum wage, paid holidays, vacation time, or sick leave. These laws were put into place through the efforts of workers collectively bargaining through their unions. They extend to all workers, but are only as strong as the labor movement.

The "right" these bills protect is the right of an employer to fire workers without cause. It is the right poultry plants use to set impossible production quotas. It is the right Wal-mart uses to abuse hard working employees and keep thousands of workers just below the hourly requirements to receive benefits. It is the right of the fast food industry to be the most public sweatshop in the world. These laws are protecting the corporate balance sheets at the expense of workers. The "Right to be Fired without Cause" is not a right I want or need. It is the right of HMO's to turn doctors into minimum wage workers and universities to pay professors less than street sweepers. Stan Lee knows this and if we look closely at why he supports this bill perhaps we could see some corporate executive prompting his concern for our welfare.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

The Hurricane

How do we wade through the reports coming from the gulf coast and make any kind of sense of what this storm has done to America? As always, adversity has brought out the worst and best aspects of human nature. The stark inhumanity of a brother shooting his sister in the head for fresh water stands in contrast to the images of neighbors helping neighbors.

We look from a distance at a city where 75% of the infrastructure has been destroyed. 500,000 people have been displaced, thousands are presumed dead. The dead haunt us from our TV screen: bodies tied to stop signs to keep them from floating away, bodies stacked up at the Superdome, bodies on park benches... The living haunt us more, doubled over from hunger on the rooftops as they wait for rescue, police and firefighters resigning in exhaustion and desperation... Thirst, hunger, deprivation, exhaustion playing through the faces as they wait for us to help.

We cling to images of the supply convoy rolling through water to bring too little relief after too long a wait. We cheer at the sight of the National Guard carrying babies from the hospital where they were stranded, and the news of one child returned to his parents.

This is America, long after the hurricane has vanished. Now we face the clean-up. It is easy to look at George W. Bush and blame him for waiting two days to leave his ranch, for staging photo ops and press conferences instead of closed-door meetings to find out what went wrong. I could rant for hours on the pathetic response the federal government managed in this crisis. I detest the phony relief events and the arrogance of a president who would could tour the devastation then go play golf. It is equally easy to point fingers at our Secretary of State for the callousness shown in attending Broadway shows and shopping in New York while thousands on the Gulf Coast perish. But the cretins in Washington are little more than a pimple on the butt of the real monster.

Yes, they appointed or hired the useless individuals that failed to have an evacuation plan. Political cronies lurk behind every failure of the relief effort. But, we need look no further than the mirror to find the monster responsible for this mess. We are to blame for not crying foul when public officials appoint cronies to office instead of looking for the best-qualified candidate for the job. We allowed this in our name. We did nothing to prevent it.

If we do not stand up and start insisting that public officials be accountable for what they do, if we continue to silently watch while the cretins rule... You know the answers and you know it runs through every community in the nation. Lexington let a water company buy the city council. Kentucky has a governor appointing cronies and thumbing his nose at the electorate. We might not be facing the hurricane yet, but the winds are rising and the crisis lurks on every street corner in America.