Thursday, January 28, 2010

Weighing In On The Health Care Debate

There was a letter to the editors in today’s Lexington Herald-Leader (Jan. 27, 2010) that I am sure that many Americans can agree with, yet shows just how misguided the debate has become on the whole health care issue.

To begin with, he states:
I do not support government-run health care. It is just another way for the government to take control over our lives.
The issue here is not the one of government supplied health care but of a government funded insurance in order to pay for the health care that he already receives. Currently, my insurance company can deny certain medical procedures or just not cover them under the policy I have in place. I would assume that his situation is similar. I can choose any doctor I want to treat me as can he and my insurance may pay for it as his may as well. The problem comes when my insurance will pay and his will not, for the same procedure. At that point there is unequal health care in America. A single payer, government funded, universal insurance coverage would eliminate that. The government control would then be over the insurance companies and their regulation on profit margins and services, not the individual health care receiver.

All health care in America is regulated by the government in some manner. Which procedures are allowed and which ones are not. Which drugs are allowed and which are not. That is a function that we have ceded to the Federal government many years ago.

And, whether he wants to believe it or not, he does support a government-run health care of which he probably does not participate in yet expects to be there. Every county in America and all cities have a Public Health Department which is funded by taxpayer dollars.

He continues:
This is supposed to be America, the land of the free, not a socialized country. I hope to live to be a ripe old age, and many Americans are doing it now because of our health care.
This is America, a land very free of the idea of socialization. America is the land of “rugged individualism”. The American dream is to make ones way through life without any help.

Socialism is derived from the word social and the adjective “social” is defined as: a) Living together in communities. b) Of or relating to communal living. c) Of or relating to human society and its modes of organization. d) Inclined to seek out or enjoy the company of others. e) Spent in or marked by friendly relations or companionship. and f) Intended for convivial activities.

I can see where we, as Americans, would want to disassociate ourselves from a socialist country and social ideals. They stand in the way of our personal agendas, our God given rights to do things as we see fit. Here is to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, especially the pursuit of happiness.

I also hope to live to an old age along with these many Americans, but the United States ranks 50th out of 223 of the world’s countries according to the United Nations, so the odds are not good. That means that there are 49 countries with higher life expectancies than we and the majority of them have a socialized health care system. America also has one of the highest per capita costs for health care in relation to the life expectancy attained. Americans are not living longer because of our health care but in spite of it.

In terms of his control of his life he says:
I absolutely don't want the federal government deciding what medical care I am allowed to have. I will not vote for any politician who supports this health-care plan, which is simply socialized medicine
A board already decides what coverage he gets- the board of directors of his insurance company, an unaccountable group of men who profit every time a person like him is denied treatment. It is the insurance companies that he is allowing to limit that care, at his request. He is free to withhold his vote from whomever he chooses, but the idea of socialized medicine-which works for many in other civilized countries elsewhere- is not all bad. The hope for equal quality of health care for all Americans at an equal and lower cost than presently seen has existed since the Declaration of Independence and even earlier. Does “one for all and all for one” mean anything anymore?

In conclusion, he writes:
I also understand that this bill really doesn't have any effect on politicians, because they would be exempt and they have their own medical coverage.
This proposed bill does not affect the politicians. They are exempt. They and the military veterans. The medical coverage of which they may partake is a single payer, government-run health care system which they voted for themselves and many wish to deny to the rest of the country. They have socialized health care for their social strata and will not let it filter down.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Some Other Thoughts On Transit

I was reading a fellow blogger's post, The Serial Rider Chronicles, on limiting parking spaces and availability in downtown Lexington as a way to encourage increased ridership for Lextran.

In this post, the author expresses amazement that just about every new development in town acknowledges the need for some "deal" to be struck with Lextran for transit needs. Our government of late has tried to include every mode of transportation in the effort of satisfying a "complete streets" component in development plans. These 'deals" are to satisfy a mas transit mode.

From my vantage point, it seems that in each of these "deals" it is Lextran that is always the party which need to amend their way of operating. A re-arrangement of route or stop point is usually asked for either to serve the development better or to move further from the requested auto-centric entrance of the client. I rarely see a plan which takes a transit oriented approach to development in Lexington(and people wonder why the buses appear empty for a majority of their routes).

In my opinion, any future deals should strive to become more equal and fair so as to benefit each party in parity. Perhaps in the reality of a "great reset" as predicted by Richard Florida and others, this will come about.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

What Is To Be Proud About?

I don’t know that much about the “Kentucky Proud” initiative and maybe I should, but it sounds like something that promotes a very local oriented, food production and slow food lifestyle. I get the impression that more and more of the local restaurants are receiving fresh produce from a local source and that there is a minimum of processing involved. And, I don’t think of canned vegetables or fruit when I hear the words “Kentucky Proud”. That is why I was enthused to hear about an expansion into the distribution of locally produced beef products carrying the “Kentucky Proud” labeling.

The press release from the Commissioner of Agriculture Richie Farmer’s office was written to indicate that a statewide food distribution network has been established for all products by three experienced food service companies, but several key phrases lead me to realize that we are now talking about processed meat products - specifically beef.
The network is distributing beef raised by Kentucky producers such as the Greathouse family of Midway and other cattle purchased through Kentucky’s Certified Pre-Conditioned for Health (CPH-45) program, in which source-verified cattle are raised under a strict health regimen. The cattle are finished on a nutritional diet developed by Alltech of Nicholasville and processed by PM Beef of Windom, Minn.
I guess that I should be happy that they are buying locally raised cattle, but finishing them out of state and then processing them in Minnesota seems like insulting our intelligence. Does it matter to anyone else that cows are supposed to eat grass and not some other nutritional supplement, even if it does come from a local supplier in Alltech? Does it matter that the cost of shipping the animals out of state, slaughtering and processing the animals and then shipping the product back in to the state, has to be added to the final sales price?

To be sure, all of this transporting, slaughtering, processing, re-transporting and distributing is supplying jobs for folks but are they Kentuckians who are getting these jobs? I would think that, being a state government initiative, a primary purpose would be to promote local jobs and the local economy. I can understand that some of our local meat processing facilities may not be able to handle the estimated volume, but isn’t that just a matter of building our own infrastructure to be able to handle our own needs? That is how we can build our sustainability.

According to the article in Business Lexington, “Kentucky Proud” has been in place for nine years and “working to help Kentucky producers and value-added processors market Kentucky products” and yet for nine years we haven’t noticed that we have no local meat processors of any scale capable of the volume envisioned. Only lately, approximately six months ago, did a processor from out of state call upon the Kentucky Department of Agriculture (KDA), when they recognized our state’s need for their services. They were the one to propose a project, so there must be a profit in it. They were the one to initially identify a distributor.

If I may quote from the above referenced article:
It begins with family farms looking for a steady market for their products working with family focused processors like PM Beef. The processed products are then distributed by a network of family owned distribution businesses which deliver the Kentucky Proud products to small family restaurants across the state. Snell (a spokesperson for KDA) believes this system goes to the core of what the Kentucky Proud program is about, helping Kentucky families by promoting local Kentucky Proud products.
It also begins with the family farms which raise their livestock in a traditional way, unlike the giant agri-business herds, and the quality conscious consumers looking for such a producer. The missing component here is a local, traditional, quality conscious processor who will not dictate changes to either the farmer or the consumer that neither one wants. This is also what should be “the core of what the Kentucky Proud program is about”. Can the KDA and the Department of Economic Development not co-operate with each other for the advancement of all Kentuckians?

This article goes on to describe the potential for this beef program by stating, correctly, that people are requesting more quality in the products that they buy. Many Kentuckians also relate local production with better quality and so are looking for local products like those having the Kentucky Proud label. Some of us realize that just meeting the USDA standard is not enough and that even their “organic” qualifications are starting to be watered down, at the request of the large agri-business multi-national corporations. We would like the “Kentucky Proud” quality to be higher than it is. The estimate for full scale production is set at 400 head of cattle a week. That seems very low to me for a statewide program.

Once again quoting:
That is 400 head of cattle each week that were born and weaned on farms in Kentucky. That is 400 head of cattle each week that were sold through Kentucky markets to PM Beef for finishing. Then those 400 head a week would come back processed to be distributed…
That is 400 head of cattle that are trucked out of state and maybe not by Kentucky truckers. That is by truck, not rail which is 11 times more efficient than trucking. That is 400 head of cattle finished on something other than grass. That is 400 head of cattle that are slaughtered by non-Kentuckians and trucked(again no rail) back to the local folks to be sold as “local” products.
"As the largest beef cattle state east of the Mississippi we should be proud to see our beef come back to Kentucky as a branded product,"…
As the largest beef cattle state east of the Mississippi, we should be embarrassed to have no local processing plants, which employ local labor, and force our consumers to pay extra for a “local” product for which we are so proud.
"At the end of the day this is going to be bigger than the Kentucky Proud beef line. The distribution team is also networking with Kentucky family farms for chicken, pork, dairy and lamb," said Snell. "We are looking for sustainability and what is good for Kentucky, and we are building relationships and networks that will last. This is what being Kentucky Proud is all about."
If I recall correctly, a local economist told the Urban County Council lately that agriculture accounted for only 2% of the state's output and it is not expected to grow. With deals like this going on, then I can concur with that assessment. We in Lexington, have enacted a PDR program to preserve farm land. The Fayette Alliance has called the preservation of farmland and the local production of food a necessity and yet we still want to send our products out of state for processing.

I am still waiting for something to be really proud about.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Ms Iassac Gets A Turn

Today it was Ms. Issac's turn to face the Sisterhood of the Temple Adeth Israel and explain her desires and plans for pursuing the Mayor position. We did have somewhat better weather, it was raining slightly and well milder than last week, yet a smaller group of attendees. I would say about 15 at the most but the discussion became more lively.

Ms. Issac began by explaining why she felt that she needed to run again. To her and a seemingly growing number of Lexington residents, there is an expanding disconnect of the current administration from the various community factions; business, arts, youth, and even the city employees.

She cited, what she feels are some of the strong points from her administration that are missing from the Lexington of today.
  1. The desire to enhance the Department of Public Safety. She points to the latest incident concerning Haiti and the Fire personnel assigned to the FEMA special teams, as only the most recent situation to come up. (I am sure that some will bring up that collective bargaining for Police and Fire as something which led to the current fiscal problem, but all candidates will have to deal with how it is). Ms. Issac does still have a strong backing from public safety folks.
  2. The move to redevelop more of the inner city property, including surplus public land. This seems to be left to the developers as a whole and not coordinated by the City in any way. She feels that she should change that.
  3. The efforts of the City to develop and enhance public spaces as an element to increase the interactions of diverse groups. This is not limited to downtown and does not concern CentrePointe in any way.
  4. Efforts similar to the Indoor Smoking Ban. While the smoking ban has been expanded and pretty much accepted by Lexington(and other cities, including the State of North Carolina), other measures to improve the health and well being of the public are languishing.
  5. A dismantling of her Aging in Place initiative by the Newberry administration. This is something that I feel strongly about and that it should include such things as land use changes and more transportation choice as well as government programs on housing(this is something for a later blog).
  6. Her efforts for Employee Morale. Her interactions with the current employees have led her to conclude that they feel like the Newberry administration doe not work well with employees and changes are being thrust upon them which disrupt work flow much more than improve efficiency. Concerns over public employees and their treatment is always a questionable stand in an election and does not set well with some voters.
  7. The ongoing contact and dialogue between the City and the business community, not just downtown, but out in the subdivisions and including the rural areas. The need for inclusion in decision making processes is key for an open and transparent dialogue.
One point in concluding her prepared remarks was, that she had beaten Mr. Gray -once and Mr. Newberry -twice. What that means in the great scheme of things, I will let you decide.

Audience questions featured the usual suspects, CentrePointe, Lexington Mall and Ky American Water Co.

On CentrePointe, Ms. Issac noted the failures to involve the young patrons of the block and cited a need for a small area plan. I, alone, can remember many times when development removed locations where young people gathered without involving them and all resulting in no major economic disaster. I also believe that the Downtown Master Plan would serve as a small area plan, yet it was not adopted in full, either by the Planning Commission or the Urban County Council.

For Lexington Mall, she noted her statements on eminent domain of the property and the trouble it caused. She still feels that something more can be done to prod the owners although it is a tough situation.

As for the water company, the voters have spoken, and loudly, yet she still thinks that it was the right thing to do.

She summed up her questions with a list of her top three priorities, Public safety, Employee morale and community success with government support.

It will be a while before we hear from Mr. Newberry as he is scheduled to be there on March 21. I will be there to see how that goes too.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Urban Agriculture?

I have had these thoughts percolating for a few weeks now and, from some of the things that I have been reading lately, now is the time to get them out.

Lexington has been plagued by poor development along some of our major streams, where seasonal flooding in some residential neighborhoods, has resulted in a pattern of repetitive insurance losses. The City, after identifying this pattern, initiated a program of funding the flood-proofing those properties with minimal damage and purchasing, for demolition, those with major repetitive damage. This has left the city with several areas of un-developable greenspace along these streams, most of them even unusable for anything but scenic open space.

I took a look at one of these areas, back in November, with the thought of "Why can it not be a part of the Wolf Run Park? It is adjacent to the park, so what is the best public use of this property if not for recreation?" And this is only one of a handful of similar situations around town.

In my research of urban agriculture, I came across several stories concerning a millionaire in Detroit who is acquiring large parcels, sometimes whole blocks, for the purpose of creating farm fields and growing fresh, local produce for the beleaguered city. The idea is to provide food products and employment for the needy and maybe re-establishing a farming presence in Detroit area.

Then, last week, Steve Austin posted a video on urban agriculture in Dayton, Ohio. This program is sponsored by the City of Dayton and allows local residents to grow gardens of flowers or food(especially ethnic vegetables for the large immigrant population) while using public property in the foreclosed neighborhoods. While watching the video, I could not help but be reminded of the great work that Jim Embry, Seedleaf and others are doing in the downtown area here in Lexington. Thanks, Steve, I needed to see that post.

So, Lexington does not have the vast wastelands of former neighborhoods like Detroit or Dayton but we do have some acceptable(and available) areas along side available water sources just waiting to be put to good use again. Most of them are in existing neighborhoods, accessible by foot, and as a bonus some of these neighborhoods are somewhat ethnic or are tending that way. Beyond that, we have a need for more locally grown produce(that, if grow organically will not pollute the adjacent streams), the need for more school children to learn how food is produced, and the need to supply better food to those living in our own "food deserts".

I know that even with all the good restaurants in the downtown area and the presence of the downtown farmers market, for a majority of the residents it is a "food desert". Those who need the good food cannot afford it and those who can afford it just don't live there. The folks that I mentioned before are already working on that, but there are these other areas too. Areas where we can start to reestablish the values that are important to a community. Areas where we can work toward becoming a sustainable community.

If the local farmers and landowners will not help grow our own food in Fayette County and agriculture is not more than 2% of our economic workforce( I think that is what the economist told the Council today) and not expected to grow any, then we will have to find some other way to begin to become sustainable for the future.

Anybody wish to help elaborate on this idea?

Sunday, January 10, 2010

And So It Begins

Last week I received an e-mail from the Sisterhood Committee of Temple Adeth Israel concerning the first of a series of talks. The initial one was to spotlight one Jim Gray, Lexington's Vice Mayor and the topic was named Our City, Our Vision, Our Purpose. Here was a perfect opportunity to find out just what Jim Gray has planned for our fair city, so this afternoon I found myself in the assembled group.

I cannot call it a crowd because it was only about 40-50 people, but they wanted to hear about Mr Gray's plans for the future.

He gave a quick recount of how he had been invited prior to his decision to run for Lexington's top spot, although he had been thinking about it. The theme, Our City, Our Vision, Our Purpose, is one that I am extremely interested in and I really wanted to hear in which direction he would like to lead our city.

The three hallmarks of his vision, I think, will be Accountability, Transparency and Uniqueness. He then launched into a retelling of the need to more oversight or control of some of the outside agencies and the cost control measures that he would like to impose on some of our government projects. He spoke of the need for the city to expand their dialogue with the public and asked for the public to temper their expectations as to the time frame of the dialogues. Finally, he stated that he, along with most of the group, had moved here from elsewhere. That the uniqueness of Lexington was what had enticed most of them to stay and the "Lexington was the shining light on the hill". All in all I was not impressed with his vision so far.

When asked about his thoughts or vision for the "pasture in the center of town" he gave a rambling story of how he speaks to his downtown neighbor (Mrs Miller of Barney Miller's, a member of the Temple) quite often about the downtown situation, then into a story about how they came to located downtown. The story goes that they had already made the decision to move to Lexington, bought property and were designing a building, when the owner of the Wolf Wile building called to lower the asking price of the downtown location. Joe Wile was also a member of the Temple congregants, prior to his death. He was clearly playing to his audience but there was no solid answer for what should be or could be done on that block in the near future.

Concerning the Lexington Mall, he did say that he would like to talk to the owner(B.F. Saul Co) and that Lexington is in the process of getting a nationally known consultant on growing our commercial development possibilities. On our infill and redevelopment process and our student housing problems, he did say that we are making progress. There is a movement to establish a community design review board, but if it doesn't function any better than the Court House Area Overlay review board, which he stated that he thought that it had failed, why the bother.

As I read back over this, I am struck that it seems to wander and ramble a bit, but for the hour of the presentation this is pretty much how it went. In the end I know three things.

Our City is Lexington, Our Vision is still clouded by the future, and Our Purpose was not laid out in any shape, form, or matter.

Next week they will hear from Ms Issac, same time same location. I guess that I will have to go back.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Will We Need All This Roadway In The Future?

Tonight, the NBC News had a piece on the latest disappointing level of auto sales in America. It seems that both GM and Chrysler(both bankrupt and partially owned by the US taxpayers) are reporting precipitous drops in sales compared to a year ago. In stark contrast, Toyota and Ford were both showing an increase over last year. Ford even beat out Toyota by 1 percentage point.

The NBC reporters view was that the auto buying public was "rewarding"Ford for NOT taking any bailout money and for making better cars. He lay the primary difference in the "attitude of the buyer" being influenced by bailout money. My take on this is that, probably, the line up of auto choices, and particularly hybrid choices, lies with Toyota and Ford. I cannot see me buying a Ford product, but if one wants a hybrid American made vehicle, this company has the wider choices.

Add to this, the following article from the Globe and Mail. US auto ownership is slowly shifting into reverse. There are nearly 4 million fewer auto on the roadways in 2009 than in previous years, and this cannot be attributed to the "cash for clunkers" program which only totaled about 700, 000 vehicles.

The total number of miles driven in the US has declined for 8 of the past 9+ quarters and although it rose at the end of 2009, we are still well below the 2008 levels. Maybe this had something to do with economy and employment problems but the decline began before the price of gas reached $4 a gallon.

And, that age old rite of passage, a teenager getting a driving license at 16 is being practiced by fewer and fewer youngsters. The price of insurance and credit woes are driving a dagger through that part of growing up.

Most of you may discount these stories as simple anomalies, but what if...just what if, these are a precursor to the acceptance of the coming of Peak Oil and the transportation reset? With fewer vehicles sold AND fewer miles driven AND more efficient vehicles AND airline travel becoming more convoluted and troublesome, how will you commute to work or go on vacation?

Better yet, when will we as a city begin planning for the coming changes? Any thought candidates?

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Happy New Year?

Happy New Year

The oughts are over and we are entering the last year of the decade. Despite what the TV announcers have been saying, this is NOT the beginning of a new decade. A decade is a ten year period and the year 2000 was the last year of the 20th century.

Now, what are we going to do to cap off this wild and crazy first decade of the new century?

We started off riding hell bent into the future and riding a wave of economic boom times that some said was unsustainable, and we seem surprised that they weren't. We, as a city, continued to put off doing some of those inconvenient tasks and some of those promised enhancements, just because they got in the way of someones personal gain. Don't we hate it when the buzzards come home to roost.

I was asked last week, during a holiday party, my opinion on the upcoming election, how will it play out with Newberry and Gray. My comment was, that it will be so ugly between the two Jims, that we may just see Ms. Issac again, but that in any case Lexington will LOSE. My sister said that she thought that it looked bad for Newberry, given the strong support for CentrePointe and its troubles.

I reminded her, that as Mayor, when a private property owner proposed a $250 million project for a city, a project that was intended to bring jobs and investment, that I would expect that Mayor to be supportive of the development regardless of any personal preference toward the project. I would expect Mr. Gray to do the same, were he to be in the position of mayor someday. Any development just for the sake of development is not always a wise choice, but driving away development and hoping for something better, especially during a dearth of any economic progress downtown, is even less wise.

She asked about the loss of property tax revenue on the demolished block and the loss of jobs in the area. Again I pointed out that all the jobs had been relocated within a few blocks of the original location(well, maybe not the Buster's jobs but they are doing much better where they are now) and that the property taxes will now be paid on a value which is 5 times the assessment
of last year, and that will only go up.

We both agreed that Mr. Gray has not brought forth any economic development proposals of his own despite his being touted as a planning and development visionary and working with the Downtown Development group and the Infill/Redevelopment Committee. He does seem to jump on the bandwagons for various proposals, some for and some against, depending on the number of activists available as voters. I am very interested to see just what Mr. Gray does endorse in the coming campaign.

Mr. Newberry's "Horses, High Tech & Health Care" platform of four years ago has shown very little High Tech and absolutely no comments in the national debate on health care reform. Horses, in the form of the World Equestrian Games has consumed massive resources and discussion for what many consider a "ho-hum" event. Very similar to the NCAA Final Fours of the mid '80s ( men's and women's), something that we spent hours preparing for and then they were gone, and so very few of us have something to show for it.

The horse industry, which we proudly claim as our "signature" industry, is showing signs of fleeing to greener pastures. Is there more that we can do to salvage what so many of us enjoy yet so few of us can attribute any major benefit to our own well being? Will expanded gambling be a factor in salvation or another nail in the horse industry's coffin.

What I don't see coming out of this election is, any solutions for the real problems on the horizon. Subjects such as Peak Oil, the coming economic reset of priorities, the need for a relocalization of food production or the loss of a "signature" industry(something that other cities have and will continue to deal with). These are just as real as Global Warming and Climate Change. I don't see the local government working with others in a regional transportation network, or pressuring the state to advance some sort of statewide passenger rail system, because as I have said before, I don't see the electrical grid being able to withstand electric autos nor the general population being able to afford them. The mobility of people, goods and services may well be compromised if we do not plan for the coming situations.

The Council and Mayoral elections will not be the only things in transition in the coming year but they will be the major things. And I will be looking out for some of my other favorite subjects along the way.