Sunday, January 28, 2018

Musings On Our Legislature

Things are not going well in Frankfort.

Despite promises to get to a pension bill in the “early weeks” of the session, zip has happened.
The dominant party is bogged down in charges and countercharges over possible sexual shenanigans in the ex-Speaker’s office and similar places; and whether taxpayers (that’s us) money was spent to bail out whatever happened. Shades of Washington (and past Democratic indiscretions.)

What have we got so far?  One proposed amendment to the Constitution, which would add more rights for crime victims—a worthy issue, but many advocates for them say it isn’t needed, that all those protections are currently granted them by state law.  It’s a matter of seeing that our state justice systems follows thru. (Which has a better chance to do so because Governor Bevin, to his credit, has upped dollars for judges, Kentucky State Police, and public defenders, etc.)

And we may get a proposed amendment to change our election cycle (again and just a few years after voters changed the election cycle) which could be just a party football and not an honest attempt to get more people to the polls.

What we don’t have here is an amendment to strike the crusty “anti-dueling oath” which each guv must take ever four years and which makes Kentucky the laughing stock of the world. Dueling? In the 21st century? Shirley you jest!

Or proposals to allow an independent commission to draw up state political districts as 16 or more other states do; or going back to the important and necessary reforms from the days of the BOPTROT scandals, which succeeding legislatures have all but overturned (do we ever learn?)  (This in the face of a report from the Illinois Institution on Public Corruption listing Kentucky as “the most corrupt state” in the US. ("Hey. we’re Number One!")

Or having the legislature admit that the true pension crisis was in a major way brought about by its refusal to put enough money into each budget until we are dangerously out of balance. (probably the worst in the US—"hey, we’re number one!")

Or doing an honest job on tax reform, which 20 state special commissions have urged. As the Herald-Leader points out, Kentucky exempts more in tax loopholes than it collects in tax revenues. That way lies madness.

Or answering the tragedy in Marshall County by offering bills to put more guns into our schools.
But wait...the session still has a few weeks to go. With luck we may get even more!

I'm just sayin'...

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

NOT A Good Idea

The state corrections head recently decided to RE-open a closed prison in Eastern Kentucky.
His reasons: the state’s prison population continues to grow and the state was running out of places to jail them, plus putting them in local county jails was becoming harder to do and was costing more money, and the state had no $$$ to build a new prison.
So he plans to re-open a prison closed in 2015, and hire the same private firm which didn’t run it right then, to run it again.
Without going into an argument over whether Kentucky jails too many people for too many offenses (including various minor ones - and we do, ) this is a baddd idea. For many reasons:   
First, hiring the same firm which the state fired in 2015 for not doing its job is just stupid. OK, the old firm, Corrections Corp. of America, has changed its name. It is now CoreCivic, but the same problems and controversies it had before still exist,
Its record in Kentucky includes two major riots at its facilities, charges that it skimped on food for inmates (which may have led to one of the riots,) lawsuits over sexual harassment and worse, including by a prison “chaplain," at one facility, various other charges, including violation of lobbying laws to keep its contract, etc.etc.etc.
In other states, similar and more such charges were made against this firm. Why give them a chance to repeat or enlarge their bad operations again?
Security of our citizens is a major state commitment. Why turn this over to private firms? In making billions in profits annually, which the state doesn’t need to make, surely  government can operate prisons more effectively than for-profit firms. If not, governments can be held accountable more than private firms, and changes made.  Try that with Wells Fargo or Tanaka.
There are, in my mind, also serious legal questions. I have been told, several times, by journalists and CCA reps, that its employees are private citizens, NOT state employees, not “sworn peace officers” or lawmen.
How then, can such people hold inmates jailed without running afoul of the “involuntary servitude” clause of the US Constitution? I would love to see an ACLU challenge to this use of privately operated prisons.
Til then, and til Kentucky revisits all the minor reasons it jails so many people (America jails more people per capital than almost any nation) this decision to reopen an old prison and hire a discredited firm to run it, makes very little sense.
I'm just sayin'...

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Some News Notes And A Correction

Correction first:
In my last blog, objecting to Ashley Judd’s barring broadcasters from her latest talk at UK (and the school’s going along) I said the silence from local broadcasters objecting was “deafening.” I also said the local chapter of the SPJ (Society of Professional Journalists) had not objected.  The president of the local group, Tom Eblen of the Herald-Leader corrects me, saying he had sent an objection to UK officials not allowing all members of the media to cover on behalf of the SPJ.  Good, but so far no changes that I know of in a bad UK policy.
News notes:
1--- When I was growing up the “Solid South” meant all those states voted Democratic. But ever since Southerner LBJ passed the Civil Rights Act of ‘64, the South has been growing more and more Republican (which says an awful lot!) Today the South is pretty much solidly GOP. So the recent victory in the Alabama US Senate race of Doug Jones over arch-conservative Roy Moore was global news. (Moore, BTW, is much worse than the recent sexual accusations would indicate. Google him for his actions as Chief Justice of Alabama for one example.)  But while the media put the major reason for his loss on those allegations, let me add another factor which may also have been a major contributor to his defeat...the charge by Pres. Trump in his next door speech in Florida that Jones “was soft on crime,”a major charge by the GOP on Democrats. Most people alive in Alabama knew that Jones, then a federal prosecutor, had been the driving force behind successful attempts to bring old Klansmen to justice in their horrendous bombing of a black Birmingham church that killed 4 young Sunday School girls years ago. State officials had done little to solve the case, and when Jones took it on in the '90s such actions could end your political career—or worse, get you killed.
Mr. Trump is entitled to his own opinions, but not his own facts, which many members of the media have spent the last year pointing out.
Which is the media’s job; speaking Truth to Power, trying to be the public’s advocate.
2---That has gotten a lot of reporters, editors, and photographers killed in 2017:  a  minimum of 81 in fact, according to the annual report of the International Federation of Journalists. (250 more were still in prison at year’s end.) The largest number were killed covering the drug wars in Mexico, while many more died covering wars in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan—and our disgraceful US policies in those 3 nations.
3---As the Kentucky legislature meets, issue Number Uno is: $$$.
Whether it be more $$$ for pension reform (which both legislatures and governors over the last decade or so are responsible for,) the need for tax reform (which exempts more $$$ than it brings in) or more $$$ for police agency needs, or more $$$ for adequate staffing of child protection agencies—or roads—or higher ed...or you name it, it’s still $$$.
Let us pray this year’s lawmakers will have the guts to tackle the $$$ issue head on, even in an election year, and raise taxes if need be to meet this state’s honest needs---but to do so without making marijuana legal, as more and more states are doing to raise more money. I support medical marijuana, and the industrial hemp industry, but recreational use, No Way. Even California won’t permit smoking weed in cars, even by passengers. We are setting ourselves up for another version of the lies and subterfuge and political corruption of Big Tobacco all over again; even if, as I suspect, smoking the darn stuff will have serious health effects too.
That’s not the way to raise $$$, as we have learned through the health and other costs of smoking.  One evil does not justify another.
I'm just sayin'...