All posts by Phil N. Ferrill

And of course, like any of us, I took the side of the apes.

Toward a Progressive Southern Strategy

Below the jump is a short essay by Lexington activist Janet Tucker.  Janet is a leader in many progressive organizations in the bluegrass, including Kentuckians For The Commonwealth, the Central Kentucky Council For Peace and Justice, and the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism.

This essay originally appeared in the journal Dialogue and Initiative.  It was forwarded to Barefoot and Progressive by local activists who thought it deserved broader consideration by the progressive community and is reprinted with Janet’s permission.

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Celebrating Moms Worldwide

Around this time every year, it behooves prog blogs to remind their readers of the radical origins of Mother’s Day. The first Mother’s Day was proclaimed in 1870 by Julia Ward Howe, author of the Battle Hymn of the Republic.  She had spent the aftermath of the Civil War dealing with orphans and wounded veterans and saw that war had long-term impacts on people’s lives.  She proclaimed the first Mother’s Day in 1870 as a response to the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War, calling for an international congress of women to meet and discuss how the world can live in peace.   I can’t help but find the fiery language of her proclamation inspiring.

From the bosom of a devastated Earth a voice goes up with
Our own. It says: “Disarm! Disarm!
The sword of murder is not the balance of justice.”
Blood does not wipe out dishonor,
Nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil
At the summons of war,
Let women now leave all that may be left of home
For a great and earnest day of counsel.
Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.
Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means
Whereby the great human family can live in peace…

We seem to be drawing down our boots-on-the-ground military presence in the Middle East, but I can’t help but think that Julia Ward Howe would disapprove of our on-going use of sky death robots to assassinate our enemies (and sometimes civilians).

In the spirit of Mrs. Howe, who believed the two important causes of her time were international cooperation and equality, I’m going to make a Mother’s Day gift suggestion to our readers.

Every year, 60 percent of the fresh-cut flowers sold in the United States come from Colombia, where most flower workers are women. This Mother’s Day, May 13, the U.S. Labor Education in the Americas Project (USLEAP) is again urging all of us to take action to help these women win economic justice by making a $35 donation to USLEAP’s campaign to support flower workers. USLEAP will then send a card to the mother of your choice with a personalized message inside, letting her know that you made a donation in her honor. . .featuring a photo of a Colombian flower worker with her child. . . .

I know that Mama Ferrill will be pleased with her card.

UK press 2012 Fall catalogue

The University of Kentucky press just released their catalogue for Fall 2012.  You can peruse their pdf catalogue yourself, but three books stuck out as particularly interesting for progressives.  First, big time black feminist bell hooks (who happens to be from Hopkinsville and teach at Berea College) has a book of poetry coming called Appalachian Elegy: Poetry and Place.

Next there’s a book by University of Cincinnati Africana Studies professor Nikki M. Taylor about Cincinnati-based black activist and educator Peter H. Clark (1829-1925) who according to the book’s title was America’s First Black Socialist.  The hype text says that we was this huge deal and influenced a ton of people, but we’ve forgotten about him.  In any event, he seems pretty cool from his Wikipedia article if only because he got booted from the Cincinnati Board of Education in 1853 for being really into Thomas Paine.  Barefoot will probably carry a review of this title.

Finally, continuing the racial justice theme, there’s a new printing of Cynthia Fleming Griggs’ 2009 book Yes We Did? which, “examines the expansion of black leadership from grassroots organizations to the national arena, beginning with Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. Du Bois and progressing through contemporary leaders.” If Professor Taylor’s right, Fleming Griggs probably forgets to mention Peter H. Clark, but it could still be some interesting election year reading.

Anyway, it’s worth looking at the catalogue yourself.  There are books about everything from women in pop culture to a biography of some dude who was Hitler’s rival.  I bet our friends at the Morris Book Shop would be happy to preorder any of it for you.

Who would have thought that privatizing Medicaid would lead to problems?

So remember last year when Steve Beshear told us he was going to save the state between $365 million and $375 million dollars by switching the Commonwealth’s 800,000 Medicaid recipients into a private, managed care system?*

Well, now we’re really reaping the benefits of having the same health insurance companies that are the bane of doctors and patients everywhere run our Medicaid reimbursement system. Recently Coventry Cares, one of the three companies that our Medicaid system was turned over to back in November, has announced that they are going to cease paying for patients to go Appalachian Regional Healthcare’s (ARH) eight hospitals and numerous rural clinics. Bill Estep and Valerie Honeycutt-Spears report ARH has brought suit to enjoin Coventry, because of the drastically negative impact this will have for patients and the local economy:

“We’re talking about 25,000 or more people who are going to be scrambling around trying to find health care in places where they’ve never been, trying to buy gas that they can’t afford,” Rick King, chief legal officer for the hospital chain, said at a meeting in Harlan on Tuesday. . . .

Many patients in ARH’s service area are covered by Medicaid, and most belong to Coventry.

That means there would be 300 to 400 jobs cut — resulting in a combination of layoffs and reduced hours — from facilities if Coventry cancels its contract, said Hollie Harris, an ARH spokeswoman.

(Earlier, another managed care company dropped ARH and that lawsuit is still pending.)

Beyond the above instance of abuse, there have been widespread problems with getting the private providers to reimburse doctors and pharmacies in a timely manner. Terry Boyd describes the private providers’ business model and it’s easy to see why there are problems:

Each bid was based on per-member, per-month health care costs projections. Low-bidder Centene bid $330 per member, per month. . . . WellCare bid was based on $400 per member per month and Coventry bid $436 per member, per month.

The algorithm state officials used to choose the winners favored the low-cost plans, obviously, because therein lies the savings Beshear was touting. . . .

If Centene’s manged care system, for example, could actually get each member to spend less than $330 per month, they’d make a profit. But crucial to getting costs that low would mean lowering reimbursements to health care providers such as doctors and pharmacies. . . .

For these middlemen to turn a profit, they have to convince the people they’re supposed to be serving to spend less on healthcare. This puts a perverse incentive in Medicaid that wasn’t there under a public-run system. Say what you will about incompetent people in Frankfort, but health insurance providers are vampires that make money off of human suffering. Our approach to paying for healthcare shouldn’t be designed to coax patients out of care they need or put the pinch on healthcare providers.

While the health insurance companies are evil, the problem is bigger than that. We switched to this shitty system because state revenues are so low and legislators from both parties are looking to cut where they can. The people of this state need to get organized to tell them to raise taxes on the wealthiest and to stop giving away absurd tax breaks to corporations and dino-themed fundamentalist amusement parks. Beyond that, our healthcare in the United States is so expensive, because we’re almost alone amongst developed nations in having left our heath insurance system in the private sector. Obamacare is a step forward, but we need single payer.

*(Wonk moment:  the privatization was also touted as creating 543 jobs, but it doesn’t take a genius to realize that privatizing a billion dollar aspect of state government also meant a significant loss of public jobs. And the Louisville Insider reports that those alleged savings are already running $43 million short of where the Governor said they would be.)

American Labor Activist uses Internet Fame to Greet Serbian Workers on May Day

Okay, so this mostly for the lulz, but in process of proclaiming his solidarity with workers in all countries, Joey DeFrancesco (of Joey Quits! fame) does a good job of explaining what May Day is all about.

You can read more about his Serbian adventures over at his tumblr.

Meanwhile Occupy protestors have been taking to the streets today to revitalize their movement and celebrate the proud history of International Workers Day.

The Student Debt Crisis

The amount of student debt has been more than the amount of consumer credit card debt for a while now and, in case you missed it, as of Wednesday the amount of student debt in the country is estimated to be at a trillion dollars.  Student debt is the most pernicious form of debt because you can’t discharge it in bankruptcy.  You’re a slave for life.  Victims of the student debt crisis across the country referred to Wednesday as 1T Day and had protests calling for a cancellation of their debt.

In a classic out of touch moment, my favorite Mormon proposed a solution. Students ought to borrow money from their parents!  Nice one, Mittens.

On the other side of the aisle, the Obama Administration has taken some positive steps (which Andrew Leonard has cheerled over at Salon): ending government-backed private loans and setting up income-based repayments at no more than 10% of income on loans that sunset after 20 years.   I wouldn’t give Obama too much leeway for being “constrained by the political circumstances” as some have suggested, but these reforms are an improvement and we need to support Obama in his fight with the Republicans (who are evil) on this issue.  That being said, there’s a ton of people who are still paying on privately held government-backed loans.  And, as a general principle, someone shouldn’t haven’t to pay 10% of their income to the federal government for 20 years just to go to college.  What’s more troubling, as Leonard notes, is how tentative the reforms are:

On July 1, the interest rate break included in the 2007 College Cost Reduction and Access Act expires, and the current Republican-controlled House has shown no interest in funding its extension. The recently released Ryan budget also calls for the repeal of Obama’s expansion of the income-based-repayment program.

There’s another problem.  As AlterNet’s Sarah Jaffe points out,

[T]oo many of Obama’s solutions simply kick the can down the road. Income-based repayment might make it easier for students to meet their monthly bill, but as they pay smaller amounts each month, interest continues to accumulate and the overall bill gets higher. A one-year fix on interest rates isn’t enough, and even the permanent fix does nothing to shrink the size of the overall debt burden—it simply prevents it from getting even bigger.

So what do we do about this and how do we get there?  Rep. Hansen Clark (D-MI) has a bill before Congress that would extend the income-based repayments and sunset the loans after 10 years.  Given the current Congress, the bill has no chance of passing, but that would be a nice start.  You can sign a petition to support it here.

We need a more structural change that though.  The esteemed Ms. Jaffe reminds us,

It’s important to remember that the spike in student debt is caused by a spike in tuition rates—often at state schools, which have borne the brunt of austerity-induced budget cuts as well as years of ideological slicing and dicing. As a recent report from think-tank Demos noted, as state support for public universities has declined, institutions have picked up the slack by charging students more—which becomes more debt.

I like Mike Konczal’s solution.  He suggests we make public education free:

Free public universities would function like the proposed “public option” of healthcare reform. If increased demand for higher education is causing cost inflation, then spending money to reduce tuition at public universities will reduce tuition at private universities by causing them to hold down tuition to compete. This public option would reduce informational problems by creating a baseline of quality that new institutions have to compete with, allowing for a smoother transition to new competitors. And it allows for democratic control over one of the basic elements of human existence—how we gather information and share it among ourselves.

(h/t Bhaskar Sunkara)

Of course, the government is controlled by powerful private interests and is certainly not going to cancel student debt and give us a free system of higher ed without a protracted fight.  The Occupy Student Debt Campaign has proposed that debtors organize themselves and default en masse.  There’s some criticism of this strategy.  Because there’s no bankruptcy protection on student loans, it’s actually more profitable for lenders like Sallie Mae (and the government for that matter) when students default because they get additional interest and fees.  Organizers counter that while individual defaults are profitable for lenders, if it’s done collectively it will give debtors power and leverage they can’t and won’t have otherwise.  I leave you to draw your own conclusion.

A lot of ink has been spilled on the topic of student debt.  It’s worth reading all of Sarah Jaffe’s piece over at AlterNet.  And if you’re still curious after that, Bhaskar Sunkara has a good run down of the literature on the subject over at Uprising.

And speaking of socialists…

Somehow I missed that back on Thursday, H-L columnist Marty Solomon posed the question, “Where is Karl Marx when we really need him?”

It is unfortunate that whenever someone mentions Karl Marx, eyes glaze over and instant rejection ensues.

But Marx was extremely insightful and warned us of impending trouble. In 1848 he told us that, over time, a vastly disproportionate share of wealth would be amassed by the most powerful and most capable in society, the oligarchs, and that would allow them to exploit the rest of the people.

In the 1920s, largely because of the lack of government regulations, the United States found itself in precisely the situation that Marx described. The oligarchs had become super–rich and the majority of Americans were dirt poor. While the super-rich were building castles for themselves, millions of ordinary people were standing in bread lines. And in desperation, millions were turning to Communism as an answer. . . .

That movie ended in about 1950 because a variety of government regulations were created to prevent such a tragic situation from ever happening again. Over time, new banking regulations would prevent undue speculation, Social Security was strengthened, aid for dependent children would help the poorest and laws were passed to protect workers and children from victimization. Estate taxes insured that dynasties did not accumulate more and more wealth and power at the expense of the rest of society.

Since 1950, the oligarchs were not asleep. They realized that the same government that had helped create a vibrant middle class could help them regain their enormous wealth of the past. They realized that legislators could be purchased like red meat in the grocery and in return for donations, legislators would allow the oligarchs to write the laws and tax code — and they did like kids in a sandbox.

Almost every single loophole imaginable to advantage the super-rich has been enacted. While most workers pay about 18 percent in income tax and another 6 percent for Social Security, the super-rich who depend largely on dividends and capital gains can pay only 15 percent. Oligarchs who own three mansions a yacht and a jet receive tax deductions on those properties whereas poor renters are left in the dust. . . .

Look at the current scheming of the oligarchs. They want to cut social programs that benefit the poor while shielding themselves from any sacrifice at all. How can they cut Pell grants and simultaneously give billionaire Bill Gates a tax cut? The oligarchs even refuse to tax people making more than $1 million at a 30 percent rate. To them, welfare for corporations is saintly while welfare for the poor is abominable. . . .

Karl, where are you when we need you now?

It’s unclear whether Marty Solomon is calling for rebuilding the welfare state or just going ahead and replacing capitalism with socialism, but I guess I’m okay with either solution so let’s do one of those things.

And as long as we’re throwing caution to the wind and having socialist Saturday here on Barefoot & Progressive, why not check out this book about the influence Karl Marx had on Abraham Lincoln.

Peace and love, comrades. Peace and love.

Socialists (?!) in Appalachia

There’s a new book about the rise and fall of the Socialist Party in West Virginia:

Fred Barkey is the author of the book “Working Class Radicals: The Socialist Party in West Virginia, 1898-1920.” . . . .

In the book, Barkey examines how the party became popular in the state at the end of the 19th century to its eventual decline after the First World War.

Barkey says the party got its state roots in the Wheeling area.

“Although you have these national figures, really it’s local Socialists who do most of the leg work. They are people as industrialism really begins to take hold in this state. They are drawn in here, who come into the state and bring more than their skill. They also bring ideas,” he said.

In 1910, Socialists in local communities elected candidates to office.

In the 1912 Presidential election, more than 15 thousand people voted for the Socialist Presidential candidate, Eugene Debs – a famous Socialist – who ran for President several times.

Debs visited West Virginia frequently and even served time at West Virginia State Penitentiary at Moundsville for a time.

“He played a significant role, particularly up North, in the Wheeling area. He came in there quite early in the late 1890s, to assist in the coal strike, and while he’s there, he’s in there making connections quite early,” Barkey said.

“A lot of people are converted to Socialism upon hearing Debs; he’s one of these charismatic speakers.”

Members of the Socialist Party were from various lines of work: miners, farmers, glassblowers, even bartenders.

(h/t CCDS)

I’m excited about this book.  It seems like an important contribution to remembering the socialist and radical parts of American history. There’s a chapter in John Nichols’ awesome book The “S” Word: A Short History of an American Tradition… Socialism sub-titled “The Socialism That Did Happen Here” about the importance of socialist elected officials at the municipal level during the first half of the 20th century. The socialist government of Milwaukee was responsible for a lot of urban innovations that we take for granted now like public sewers and planning and zoning. Nichols’ broader thesis is that America has always engaged with socialist and social democratic ideas and it’s only been in the past thirty years that we’ve cut them out of the equation (and that we’re a lot poorer because of this exclusion).

Still more on Richie Farmer’s incompetence, corruption

It seems like Richie Farmer’s time as Ag. Commissioner, with its lavish parties and missing rifles, is going to continue providing fodder for Herald-Leader investigative journalists well into the next decade.  Here’s the hilarity in today’s paper:

A distant relative of former Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer worked in the Department of Agriculture for nearly five years as an amusement ride inspector despite never receiving certification to do the work.

George “Doug” Begley worked from July 1, 2007, to March 12 inspecting amusement park rides in Eastern Kentucky, according to documents obtained by the Lexington Herald-Leader under the state’s Open Records Act.

Documents in Begley’s personnel file show he voluntarily accepted a demotion to the department’s fuel-testing division in March after Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, who took office in January, discovered that Begley never received his certification.

There’s something comical about the pettiness of cousin George Doug not getting a certification that would have probably been easy for him to get and that the state would have paid for.  Richie Farmer’s corruption was mostly just laughs.  Well, until somebody lost a foot.

A Louisville teen’s feet were severed after she was hurt on a ride at Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom in 2007. The park closed in 2009.

Begley, who worked out of Breathitt County and inspected rides in that area, could not be reached for comment.

I get the strong sense that Jamie Comer is, if not encouraging these stories, at least rooting for them because they show a lack of continuity between the two Republicans. Next to Richie Farmer, he looks like a high-minded reformer.  But make no mistake, Jamie Comer is a right-wing son of a bitch who voted against felon re-enfranchisement, against providing HPV vaccinations to girls, and against equal pay for equal work for women when he was a state rep.  Expect him to run for something fancier in 2014 or 2015 on his record of cleaning up Richie Farmer’s mess and expect a lot of Democrats to talk about how he’s a good man.

Also, expect a lot more stories like this next week after Adam Edelen releases his audit of the Ag. Department.

Time changed to 2:30pm for Saturday Rally Against the War On Women in Lexington

As our heroic founder reported a few days back Kentuckians are coming together to smash the patriarchy this Saturday.  We’ll be joining people all across the country who are standing up against the GOP’s War on Women.  Good times.

However, please note that the rally has been rescheduled to 2:30pm because of a conflicting event.  It will still be gathering at the court house on the corner of Main and N Limestone.