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Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Matt Bevin's War Against Appalachian Kentuckians...

...And All Other Kentuckians!


Three times in my lifetime Kentucky voters have made the mistake of electing a Republican governor.  In each case, it has become increasingly more disastrous.  The election of Louis Nunn was survivable and actually led to a period of extended peace from the Republican party.  Louie Nunn served from 1967 to 1971.  He is perpetually known for having raised the state sales tax from 3% to 5% and for many years it was known derisively as Nunn's Nickel.  Eventually, the tax was raised to 6% and Nunn lost some of his notoriety.  The next Republican governor elected was Ernie Fletcher who served from 2003 to 2007.  His administration resulted in multiple indictments of Republican officials which Fletcher managed to quash with executive pardons. These indictments included several members of the state highway department who had apparently been requiring membership in the Republican Party to receive a job in the state highway department. Due to the fact that prosecutors could no longer induce the pardoned officials to testify in court, Fletcher was able to escape by pleading guilty to a single misdemeanor and has wandered out of the public eye into the anonymity he deserves.  Fletcher was succeeded from 2007 to 2015 by Steve Beshear who conducted one of the most effective and progressive administrations in modern Kentucky history.  But in the election of 2015, an electorate of only 20% of registered voters made the tragic mistake of electing another Republican, Matt Bevin, who had lied, switched positions much like a flap jack on a griddle during the campaign, and had been clearly proven to be interested in only his own pursuit of power. This plurality of a very small minority of registered voters chose to elect Bevin over Jack Conway, a very effective attorney general. 
Literally, from the day the election was confirmed, Bevin has waged an economic war against every citizen of Kentucky.  Using the purchase of several elected Democrats in the state house by giving them highly paid state jobs, Bevin made an outright effort to buy the state house and made a political bet that Right Wing Republican candidates could win the special elections to replace the turncoat Democrats Bevin had been able to buy.  Luckily, voters in three of the four districts which were forced to hold special elections because of his efforts, Bevin's designated Republican candidates lost and Democrats maintain control of the state house.  This control of one house of the legislature has prevented a disaster from becoming a total conflagration of right wing legislation. 

From the start of his campaign for the governor's office, Bevin made another political bet that if he could be elected and manage to put enough money into the retirement fund for state employees that the current and retired state workers, a consistently high percentage voting block, would be loyal to him and help him gain further control and a second election as governor.  The outcome of that effort is waiting to be seen.  In a compromise, the Democrat controlled state house, Republican controlled state senate, and Governor Bevin placed about $800,000,000 in the retirement fund.  But almost immediately after the money went into the bank account, Bevin started an effort to remove the board members and replace them with Republicans who would be loyal to him.  It is my suspicion that the real objective all along has been to place the money in the fund, reshape the board to his liking and control, and ultimately to begin an effort to gain control of the fund for some of Bevin's friends on Wall Street which could open the door for massive mismanagement and potential theft via billing of outrageous management fees.

Bevin has also essentially seized control of the board of directors of the Kentucky Horse Park, the most financially successful of the state parks.  His first move in that effort was to remove Jane Beshear, the former first lady from the board.  He also cut the board from 17 to 15 members which is an effort to lower the number of loyalists needed to gain control of the funds available in the Horse Park budget.   
Bevin has also used executive orders to take two actions which have the capacity to actually cost human lives in Appalachia. Very early in his administration, Bevin issued executive orders ceasing all state mandated training of mine foremen and all state mandated inspections of coal mines.  His action was clearly intended as a payback to coal operators who had actively supported his candidacy.  Although coal mining is in serious decline in Kentucky, the logical outcome of these executive orders will be serious decreases in safety in the mines which are operating.  While less miners are working today and therefore less miners are likely to die in total during the Bevin Administration, I have no doubt that the statistical ratio of deaths, injuries, and accidents to man hours worked will rise significantly due to the lack of state inspections and the increasing number of poorly trained mine foremen. 
Bevin also waged a great deal of his campaign on a stated intention to shut down the stated healthcare exchange which Governor Beshear had begun as a function of Obama Care.  The Obama Care program, during the Beshear Administration, had raised the level of insured people in the state to the highest level in history.  Several hundred thousand low income, elderly, minority, and disabled Kentuckians had health care for the first time in their lives.  The state healthcare exchange had been a model for several other states and was a shining example of just how effective and important Obama Care is and can be.  Bevin literally closed down the advertising for the program during the signup month and forced Kentucky citizens to use the federal exchange.  There is little doubt that several thousand Kentuckians, especially the less educated and less technologically adept, will have lost medical coverage which they had been benefitting from for the first time in their lives.  This action by Bevin was a clear cut attack on the poorest in the state as well as many minority citizens. 
Matt Bevin has also begun a steady economic onslaught at state boards, legislative actions, and any other area where significant amounts of money are handled. 


Friday, May 20, 2016

One Miner's Death And An Age Old Problem

On Tuesday, October 14, 2014, Justin Mize, aged 31, was killed in an accident at the Tinsley Branch Mine in Bell County KY and, as I recall, the story made little impact on the overall news reports of the day.  But then on March 7, 2015, I found an update to the story on the Internet news page of  WKYT-TV 27 with considerably more information about the reason Mr. Mize died and realized instantly that it was a story which deserved to be addressed in a blog post.  It is a story about a type of tragedy in the mining industry which was common in Appalachia before unionization  in the 1920's and which is becoming more common once again in the 21st century nearly a hundred years after these types of tragedies had nearly stopped.  Justin Mize died because he had been induced to enter a 67 foot deep auger hole to retrieve a broken chain from a mining machine.
The WKYT news story quoted the official report about the accident: "Foreman ****  asked the machine operator if he was going to retrieve the chain. When the operator refused, 31-year-old Justin Mize said he would go, even though other miners said it was too dangerous.  The rock fell on Mize seconds after he entered the opening. Workers were able to free him but he died later that day, according to the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration." (WKYT-TV27)

Eventually MSHA concluded the investigation and released their report of the investigation.  The findings of the report clearly placed the blame for  Justin Mize's death on the foreman and mine management.  But the sad fact is that de-unionization of the coal industry and the breeding and nurturing of a strongly anti-union environment among miners as a result of structured programs such as the terribly misnamed "War On Coal" have created a level of employment fear among miners to the point that a miner would agree to enter a highly dangerous situation and place his life at risk at the behest of his foreman and in conflict with the admonitions of several of his coworkers. 

In the intervening time since this tragedy, Kentucky has made the terrible mistake of allowing a small right wing radical segment of the Republican party to elect Matt Bevin as governor.  The voter turnout was less than twenty percent and a far better Democratic candidate, Jack Conway, was defeated.  Almost immediately after his election, Bevin used an executive order to cease requiring state inspections of mines in Kentucky.  In the same executive order, Bevin also ended all requirements for state mandated training of mine foremen.  In the case of the inspections, Bevin's rationalization was that the federal government was already doing mine inspections and further inspections by state inspectors were unnecessary. He used the same rationalization to justify ending the state mandated training for mine foremen. 

A few days after this asinine action by the governor, I bumped into a former coworker and friend in a grocery store and we struck up a conversation which covered a range of topics including politics.  It is pertinent to state that this woman's father was killed in a mining accident in Ohio about twenty years ago when she was a small child.  It is also pertinent that she is a master's level social worker and a former winner of a Kentucky Governor's Scholarship.  She is generally well informed on news issues and coal mining issues.  But when I brought up the recent executive orders from Governor Bevin, she told me she was not aware of it.  This was a surprise to say the least.  But it is an example of how little attention most citizens of Kentucky have been paying to political actions in this state.  And that, my friends, is as great a tragedy as the death of Justin Mize or any other coal miner who dies because he is being coerced to perform a task which is clearly too deadly to be attempted.  This total ignorance of critical and destructive political actions by the citizenry along with their mass refusal to vote in crucial elections allows such Right Wing Radical Repugnicans as Matt Bevin to gain public office and perform asinine and destructive acts because they have no empathy or compassion for the citizens they allegedly "govern".  These executive actions by Governor Bevin will lead to the deaths of other men in unnecessary accidents just as Justin Mize did. 

Admittedly, there are far fewer miners working in Kentucky today and total numbers of fatal accidents and fatalities may be lower on their face in the four years to come.  But it can virtually be guaranteed that fatal accidents to man hours worked will be higher with such a governor in office who is willing to ignore the need for mine safety.  Statistically, the deaths per thousand man hours ratio will become higher because of this decision.  While the great majority of responsibility  for these future accidents and deaths will rest on the head of Matt Bevin, a portion of that responsibility also will rest on the heads of all the eligible Kentuckians who refuse to vote in such critical elections.  I will close this post with an axiom which I sadly find myself repeating more and more often these days: BAD POLITICIANS ARE ELECTED BY GOOD PEOPLE WHO DO NOT VOTE!