Monday, December 26, 2011

Lessons To Be Learned

Hats off to new UK Prsident Dr. Eli Capilouto! He gets it. Yes, this is a basketball crazy state, but the state of education is, properly, his first concern; and should also be ours.

So while many cities try to one-up the competition with fancier and fancier arenas (read: luxury suites for the well-heeled), our President has brought the discussion down to earth. UK needs its scarce funds for faculty salaries, student aid, and maintenance of buildings UK already has.

If Rupp is to be renovated, and thank goodness that seems to be the approach, (not building a new arena), UK has no funds to spare. Lexington will have to go it alone here; and that's not bad. It will clarify the funding picture, as well as the revenue picture, if any.

That said, I suspect some renovation of Rupp, and the entire Civic Center, is needed. That proposed sketch of what Rupp might look like is just excellent! That kind of bold architecture will bring people and conventions here, and upgrade the city's cultural status.

Hopefully, some type of bonding approach will allow us to proceed toward that goal. Using bonds would also negate UK's opposition to Lexington acquiring state funds which they might see as money that might otherwise have gone there.

Couple of caveats: (1) If UK had not slighted its maintenance and repair budgets so drastically over the years, it wouldn't need so much money now for repairs; and some seed money might, just might be available to help with renovating Rupp. (2) This really isn't just about Rupp but the larger issue of a possible upgrade to the Civic Center to attract more conventions. Rupp is a big part of that but not the whole cookie. (3) while I support the arts wholeheartedly I am a bit concerned by suggestions that some type of expanded downtown arts district should be part of all this, and have a place at the table, (or is it the trough?) for funds. Most of the art district proposals seem to be more "night life" than basic "cultural" expansion. Maybe we need to concentrate on getting Rupp and LCC renovated; that's a pretty big project by itself. (4) To get the entire county to support a $100 million plus project means selling it on county-wide benefits, and not just to hotels, bars, and the "hospitality industry" as primary beneficiaries.

The renovation approach works for me. That bold looking new Rupp is great. And a Cat Walk from campus to downtown is a logical next step after S. Limestone's face lift. Let's hope we can accomplish this in the next few years, without draining vital funds from our Flagship University.

I'm just sayin'...

Monday, December 19, 2011

A Few Words About Numbers

The National Transportation Safety Board said it loud and clear last week: ban all cell phones from cars (except in emergencies) or risk killing a lot more people; and I mean a lot. Not just texting while driving, but all cellphone activity. Among major cases cited for this recommendation was the texting trucker who wiped out a large Mennonite family on a Kentucky highway by his inattention.

CBS News researched this situation and came up with some startling statistics. Last year, 2010, there were 900,000 accidents in the US caused by driver inattention. These resulted in 3,100 deaths; in one year that's 78% of our almost 4500 combat deaths in 9 years in Iraq.

Now, not all deaths by inattention come from using various electronic devices, but our daily experience tells us many of them do. Kentucky, and the nation, needs to heed the NTSB's proposal and adopt it into law. Whatever your views here, 2012 is an election year in our Commonwealth and a lot of our state officials have indicated in the past little interest in this. These new figures and the NTSB proposal hopefully will help change their minds.

I mentioned our combat deaths in Iraq, almost 4500. Hopefully that won't grow as this week all our combat troops were reported out of Iraq. (Not forgetting 33,000 plus injuries including many major disabilities, and an estimated 100 to 150,000 Iraqi deaths.) As they come home, let's not make the mistake many of us did after Vietnam. Let's thank our troops. This totally avoidable war was made by politicians, not troops. Most of our men and women served with honor, valor and courage. They deserve the thanks of all of us; as we resolve not to engage in a similar misguided war again.

I'm just sayin'...

Monday, December 12, 2011

Clean Coal, Dirty Hands

The news came this week that the disgraced head man at Massey Coal, Don Blankenship, is a top executive of a recently chartered Kentucky coal company. Most Kentuckians know him from running the disastrous Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia, where 29 miners died in what a recent report called a "preventable" event.

Every probe so far, public or private, has shown that this mine, and Massey Coal in general, under his leadership, were accidents waiting to happen; and they operated in a culture of ignoring safety regulations, and much, much more. Blankenship later resigned, received an $86 million dollar "golden parachute", while the families of the dead miners got a pittance, Massey went out of business, was bought by Arch Coal--which has pledged to run things better.

That's what most Kentuckians know about this man. Dig deeper, Google, and you will find that a dozen years ago Mr. Blankenship spent three million dollars to get his candidate elected to the W. Va. Supreme Court. His guy won. When a major lawsuit involving Massey Coal (and Blankenship), which had been pending, finally came before the court, his man refused to recuse himself, and voted in favor of Massey. (Judges can not be forced to recuse themselves for a conflict of interest, something our judicial code probably needs to address.)

Even in the rough-and-tumble politics of the Mountain State this rubbed people the wrong way and a case went to the U.S. Supreme Court which said, mirabile dictu, this was a classic case and the bought judge could not vote because of his conflict of interest.

Somewhere I hear the voice of a famous Boston lawyer saying, "Have you no shame, no sense of decency?" The short answer is no.

Be it noted, neither Mr. Blankenship nor Massey Coal have yet been charged with any state or federal crimes. (One mine foreman has been found guilty.) But a lot of us who follow coal believe it is just a matter of time until such charges are filed.

Now Mr, Blankenship wants back into coal mining. His new firm has not yet applied for a mining permit. If it does it should be rejected, on any grounds legal and possible; and maybe then some. I hope the Kentucky Coal Association, which has been running all those ads about the importance of coal (true), and that coal can be made "clean" (I believe it can; I just want to see some substantial efforts here.) will urge the state not to issue such a permit. It would be a public relations disaster for Kentucky coal to have him involved in any of our mines; and a distinct possibility, given his record, of a real "disaster" down the pike.

If no grounds can be found, if moral turpitude isn't one or past performance (surely to goodness that's admissible), I hope the state will keep stalling until charges are filed in the West Virginia tragedy--and that ought to do it.

There should be no place for this man, or a firm like Massey, in the coal industry in Kentucky,or anywhere else.

I'm just sayin'...

Monday, December 5, 2011


I'm a veteran and I like to think that I keep up with war matters and how they affect my country. But I was somewhat surprised when I read the story on how our current wars have impacted London, Ky. to note that the war on terrorism at almost ten years is as long as WW1, WW2, and the Korean War---combined.

That sobering thought comes from a report Sunday in our two major papers. It was done by the McClatchy Newspapers, owners of the Herald-Leader, and the fact that it also appeared in its arch rival the Louisville Courier-Journal, attests to its importance.

Two things stand out in this report: (1) the patriotism of people of the London area--- who sent their sons and daughters away to various wars in a much greater percentage than might have been expected based on the size of the area. (Almost everyone there knows someone or some family with people in service. The report notes, however, "There are large swaths of the American public that don't directly know soldiers serving overseas". One of those "swaths", incidentally, is our Congress.)

(2) Unfortunately this also means a high incidence of disability and medical problems for returning veterans and their families. "The area has one of the highest rates in the country of veterans collecting disability payments for post traumatic stress disorder; one of the costliest and most prevalent ailments to emerge from the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts."

And it's not just the veterans. The report mentions problems of alcohol, stress, etc. with families and friends of those who died and also who survived.

This is but part of the cost of war that Presidents and Congresses..and the people..seldom take into account in the fervor of starting a new war...but it is very, very real.

Now that we have "won" in Iraq--at a horrible and tragic cost for a war we entered based on misinformation at the best--and lies from our top officials at the worse--maybe it's time to rethink our Afghan role---especially in light of Pres. Karzai's recent statement that in any future conflict Afghanistan would side with Pakistan, not the US; of the drone raids across the border that keep on killing innocent civilians, or even Pakistan soldiers, despite repeated attempts by our military to limit these deaths; or the fruit of the poppy that shows up on American streets because our GIs are told to look the other way when finding them in their world center--Afghanistan.

Want to save $110 Billions a year? That's Billions, the yearly cost of our war in Afghanistan, so maybe we don't have to cut funds for education, or social security, or health? Get out of Afghanistan now, not in 2014, or even partially in 2012...Now.

And then, hopefully, no more stories about sacrifice and death in London, Ky., or Wilkes-Barre, or Keokuk, or all the 16 Lexingtons spread across this great nation.

I'm just sayin'...