Archive for the ‘economy’ Category

What it means to be a crunchy conservative

First published Oct. 3, 2016

There are many mansions in the American conservative house, and some of them are old and funky and smell like a pot of organic mustard greens cooking down on the stove.

— Rod Dreher, from “Crunchy Cons”

It wasn’t until I was 45 that I started to think of myself as a conservative.

At heart, I had always been one, even in my 20s, when I called myself a democratic socialist, traveled to Nicaragua, read Hunter Thompson and listened to Neil Young.

I still listen to Neil Young.

Like many of my contemporaries, I had the idea that to be a conservative meant to be a belligerent neocon on foreign policy, a self-centered libertarian on economics and a closed-minded culture warrior on social matters.

I was wrong.

Although I’ve never met him — and he’s several years younger than I am — Rod Dreher had a big influence on my thinking after I had left the Democratic Party over its ideological rigidity, joined an Anglican church and become the managing editor of a daily newspaper.

Dreher’s book that introduced me to a different way of understanding this venerable philosophy had a title that could have been a chapter: “Crunchy Cons: How Birkenstocked Burkeans, Gun-loving Organic Gardeners, Evangelical Free-range Farmers, Hip Homeschooling Mamas, Right-wing Nature Lovers, and Their Diverse Tribe of Countercultural Conservatives Plan to Save America (or at Least the Republican Party).”

Crunchy conservatism, Dreher explained, is not a political program, but rather a “practical sensibility” based on what the wisdom of tradition teaches is best for families and communities.

It is about conserving those things that are good and true.

This summer, I read the book again, and was struck by how much things have changed in the 10 years since it was written.

What a different time 2005 was. George W. Bush was president, Pope John Paul II was succeeded by the even more orthodox Benedict XVI, the Defense of Marriage Act was still the law of the land, legal recreational marijuana was a pipe dream, we were engaged in costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Hurricane Katrina demonstrated how inept big government could be, the housing market was soaring, fueled by bad loan practices, and almost no one could foresee the financial meltdown that was coming.

I’m convinced that if the Republican Party had gone in the direction that Dreher and others suggested, rather than toward the hard-line libertarianism and isolationism of the tea party movement, it would have been able to compete with the Democratic Party for the hearts and minds of younger Americans and could have made a positive difference in our society.

Dreher’s crunchy (read: earthy) conservatism is traditional Burkean conservatism for a new generation. Edmund Burke, an 18th century Dubliner and British statesman, rejected abstract Enlightenment reason and “natural law” as guiding lights. All of us, he wrote, are influenced by our cultural traditions, and while individual liberty is important, community is no less so. We belong to one another, and that affects who were are.

Burke wrote that the individual is foolish, but the species is wise. We must learn from those who have gone before us and not rely solely on ourselves. And we must rely on the greater wisdom of the Supreme Being as handed down through the ages.

Mainstream liberalism and conservatism are both essentially materialistic, Dreher argues, and we should not be surprised that neither has led to the improvement of our national character. He describes his book as a rebuke to both the economic individualism of the right and the moral individualism of the left. Its purpose is to explore ways to live out conservative values in a culture that seeks to separate us from our values, families and communities.

In less than 250 pages, “Crunchy Cons” uses Dreher’s own experiences as well as those of people across the country who are living countercultural lives that are socially, spiritually and physically healthier than the ways of the dominant culture. He looks at organic farming and the slow food movement, new urban planning, walkable neighborhoods and aesthetically pleasing architectural design such as bungalows, the attraction of liturgical Christianity to a generation bored with “relevant” contemporary worship, and the understanding that conservation is the essence of conservatism.

“Crunchy Cons” was not a bestseller and is now out of print. It won’t make a list of the most influential conservative tomes, like William Buckley’s “God and Man at Yale” or Russell Kirk’s “The Conservative Mind.” But it influenced me more than any other book in my evolution into a conservative, and to see that I had been one all along. I recommend it to others.

You probably won’t be able to find it, though, unless you come across it at a secondhand bookstore or on Amazon, so in the weeks to come, I want to share a little more of it and hope it will stir your imagination, as it did mine.

Require insurers to pay for colonoscopies

Published March 7, 2015

The idea behind preventive health care is that if conditions are discovered and treated before they get worse, people will be healthier and pay less in the long run. But I believe insurance companies put profits before people, which is why regulation is necessary.

Last year this belief was reinforced by a personal experience that resulted in frustration and financial hardship.

In 2004, I was diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome, condition that affects one out of five adults. I’m usually able to control it by taking a fiber supplement and watching my diet. But last winter, I began noticing a dull pain in my lower right abdomen, where I thought my gallbladder was. I made an appointment with Dr. Bennett Asher, my family physician in Winchester for 40 years, and he found nothing to indicate gallbladder disease, but sent me to Clark Regional Medical Center for a CT scan, which confirmed his diagnosis. He also had me follow up with Dr. David McMenamin, a gastroenterologist a few doors down, whose practice, like that of Dr. Asher’s, is owned by the community hospital, which was recently bought by the for-profit company LifePoint.

Dr. McMenamin also concluded I had nothing more serious than IBS, but he wanted me to have a colonoscopy because I hadn’t had one in 10 years.

I had learned that Anthem, my employer’s group insurance carrier, covered routine colonoscopies at 100 percent, so I agreed, as long as there would be no out-of-pocket expense.

The day of the procedure, someone at the hospital told me I should make sure the operation was coded as routine rather than diagnostic, so I called the specialist’s office and was assured it was.

Imagine my surprise when I got a bill from the hospital for $900, plus a bill for outside lab work.

I couldn’t get anyone from the hospital’s billing department to return my calls, so I took time off from work to go there, and was told that because some tissue was sent off for a biopsy, it made the procedure diagnostic, not routine.

“I can’t pay this! It might as well be $9,000,” I said, but all the hospital offered to do was set me up on a payment plan.

I argued with the insurance company, and my employer’s HR person set up a conference call with a health benefits expert in our corporate office, the insurance company and the gastroenterologist’s billing person, who told Anthem the operation was coded as preventive. I thought we were getting somewhere until I got two calls in one day from Anthem telling me the coding was wrong.

I took more time off from work and made another three-hour round trip to Winchester to meet with the doctor and get copies of the paperwork, which showed that the colonoscopy examination was “completely normal” and that “a random biopsy” was taken from “the whole colon.” Nothing about a polyp.

The doctor was apologetic that his coding had been changed.

“They do it all the time,” he added.

I threatened to sue the hospital and the insurance company and even talked to a lawyer, but I’ve now paid about half of the bill, and I’ve given up. Maybe that’s their strategy, to wear you down and make it too costly to challenge them.

I’m still bitter about it, and I’ve said I’d never have another colonoscopy until the government does something about this practice.

Maybe it won’t be a long wait.

Last week, the Kentucky House of Representatives passed Senate Bill 61, sponsored by another Clark County doctor, Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester. The bill, similar to one Rep. Tom Burch, D-Louisville, shepherded through the House in February, would require insurers to cover follow-up colonoscopies resulting from colorectal cancer screenings without imposing additional deductible or insurance costs on patients. With Burch’s leadership, the Senate bill passed the House last week, 95-5, and was sent to Gov. Steve Beshear for his signature.

I hope the governor will, with a stroke of his pen, remove this financial barrier to encouraging those of us over 50 to do what we should to avoid the second leading cause of cancer deaths in Kentucky, but also one of the most preventable.

Wouldn’t that be a fitting way to mark Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month?

Lessons in faith from servants of the homeless

Published Feb. 20, 2015

Two out of three Sundays, my niece and I attend a Eucharist service in Lexington’s tony Chevy Chase neighborhood. The liturgy always ends with these words — “Send us now into the world in peace, and grant us strength and courage to love and serve you with gladness and singleness of heart.”

Then we drive back, past stately old houses and leafy yards, bicyclists, bakeries and boutiques, and onto Winchester Road, past greasy diners and gas stations, tattoo parlors, strip clubs and street people, and a brick building with a large Latin cross.

I never knew what the building was until I went there recently with students from St. Catharine College. It’s an overnight shelter, the Community Inn, run by the Catholic Action Center, which also feeds, clothes and provides laundry service to the destitute at other facilities nearby.

In these places, saints and sinners love and serve the Lord by loving and serving those he called “the least of these.”

The St. Catharine students’ class on faith and homelessness is taught by Matthew Branstetter, professor of philosophy and religion, who volunteered for the Catholic Action Center while he was in seminary in Lexington and was changed by his encounters with the poor. Now he wants his students to consider how they are changed once they’ve looked into the faces of those in need, and consider questions such as whether charity is enough and what their religious traditions say about poverty and social justice.

Helping the hard-core homeless can be frustrating and humbling. I know. For many years, I led a group of volunteers from my church who served meals at Lexington’s Hope Center to drug addicts, mentally ill men and some who seemed normal. It was as discouraging to see new faces and wonder how they ended up there as it was to see the same old faces month after month for nearly a decade.

Some of the Hope Center’s guests were ingrates. Others were gracious, like the ragged man who held my eyes with his when I asked how he was and answered with sincerity, “I’m blessed. I really am.”

In that moment my own hurts and disappointments didn’t seem so important anymore.

Sojourners founder Jim Wallis said, “Hope is believing in spite of the evidence and watching the evidence change.”

Ginny Ramsey, Gary McKinley and Barry McGuffin are believers. They spoke to the class on Fridays in February. Ginny runs Catholic Action and often does battle with city officials on behalf of Lexington’s outcasts. Gary is a Purple Heart veteran and cook at Catholic Action’s kitchen and ministers to homeless veterans. Barry is a pastor who operates Bethany Haven, a transitional homeless shelter in Bardstown.

Something I’ve learned from these people — and I hope the students have learned too — is that that to effectively serve those who are broken, you have to look past “their hang-ups,” as Matt said, and see them as our neighbors.

Barry told us Bethany Haven’s success rate — which is defined as someone getting an income and a permanent place to live — is a little better than 50 percent. But he added, “I can’t dwell on the 48 percent who don’t succeed because that would be devastating.”

While Bethany Haven serves women and families as a transitional residence, there is no emergency shelter or homeless shelter for single men in Nelson County. Barry and others hope to change that.

The need is great. We have people living in caves and woods, and, as I described in a recent story, in their vehicles in the brutal cold.

Some local leaders I’ve talked with about the need for an emergency shelter, who have a heart for the poor, are concerned that the shelter would attract vagrants and undesirables from other counties. It would. But there are ways to coordinate efforts among social service groups and faith-based charities to make sure those people aren’t gaming the system, and there are leaders among us who know how to make that work.

As I write this on Ash Wednesday, I’m reminded that each of us has failed. The fact that others have made mistakes shouldn’t keep us from doing what we can to help them.

We’ve heard it said God only helps those who help themselves. Nothing could be further from the Gospel. God helps those who deserve nothing, and so should we. And sometimes our helping can be the spark that reignites hope in them that they can help themselves.

Christmas is a season to count our blessings

Published Dec. 19, 2014

I’m dreaming of a white Christmas …

Here in Kentucky, Christmas is more likely to be wet than white, but the meteorologists are predicting a big storm the morning of Dec.25, so one can only hope.

There’s something magical about snow — the crispness of the air, the way it carries scents like cedar and bourbon, the beauty of sunlight on a field of white.

Today is the first day of winter, and I don’t mind. I like all the seasons.

The Season of Advent, which is supposed to be a time to unwind and reflect on the true meaning of Christmas, is an impossibly busy time for newspaper people, as it is for retailers and many others.

As I take a few minutes to write this, I’m exhausted from back-to-back interviews and working well into the night, and I think I may be coming down with the flu.

I’m looking forward to the Christmas season, which goes from Christmas Eve until Epiphany (Jan. 6), so that I can finally get a little relief from the stress.

My family and I have rented a cabin in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., and I can’t wait to visit Gatlinburg’s craft shops, drive through the scenic Smoky Mountains or just sit by the fire with a good book and a cup of coffee and enjoy the company of those to whom I’m closest, but separated from by distance.

Those are the things that matter most, and that we shouldn’t take for granted.

On the day I wrote this, I interviewed a young couple — Breanna Miller and Kevin Murray — who are staying in a homeless shelter in Bardstown. The woman was about to give birth any day to her fourth child. They had come to Bardstown because they wanted to be near Brianna’s other children, who live here with her mother, but there was no more room in the house, so almost as soon as they arrived, the couple were without a home until Bethany Haven took them in.

The same day they came to the shelter, they both got part-time jobs. Things are looking up for them, Kevin told me.

Brianna said she would enjoy having her children at Bethany Haven for Christmas.

Barry McGuffin, the shelter director, mentioned another family that had been sleeping in the woods until they came to the shelter, and a middle-aged man who has been sleeping in his truck.

For security reasons, Bethany Haven can’t take in single men, but the plight of this man, who has been living on the streets in Bardstown for months, has resulted in a flurry of activity on Facebook, and a local effort to find food and shelter for him.

Barry told me people here have raised hundreds of dollars to pay for a motel room for him for several nights, and others have provided gas cards and gift cards for food.

The same day I talked with the homeless couple, I was on the scene of a house fire. Kecia Copeland, a new city councilwoman, and her son, Joshua, who had recently rented the house in Wellington, were lucky to escape unharmed before the structure filled with smoke. They, too, may be without a place to call home for a while.

Someone wise, possibly the Scotsman Ian McLaren, said, “Let us be kind, one to another, for most of us are fighting a hard battle.”

Those are words we should heed year-round, but especially at Christmas, when there is much to occupy our thoughts, and yet many who have it harder than we do.

My wish is that you have a Merry Christmas and a prosperous and Happy New Year, and that you spread tidings of comfort and joy to all you encounter during this time of peace and good will.

Honestly, Abe Lincoln did not say that

Saturday, November 22, 2014

“The trouble with quotes on the Internet is that it’s difficult to discern whether or not they are genuine.” — Abraham Lincoln

This satirical “quotation” is one I recently posted on Facebook for laughs.

It’s a tribute to the sagacity of America’s greatest president that many of us want to give Lincoln credit for things he didn’t say when did say so much that is worth repeating.

I’m usually careful about verifying the authenticity of anything I read on the Internet, but a couple of weeks ago, I wasn’t careful enough.

In my Nov. 9 column, I wrote about what it means to be a “Lincoln Republican.” I included this quote attributed to Lincoln about the dangers to democracy caused by the stratification of wealth:

“I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. … corporations have been enthroned, and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.”

I attempted to verify its authenticity and learned it was included in a letter to a Col. William F. Elkins on Nov. 21, 1864.

It reflected Heather Cox Richardson’s description of Lincoln’s views in her history of the Republican Party, “To Make Men Free.” She describes the Kentucky of Lincoln’s youth as a place where the slaveholding aristocracy made it hard for men like his father to get ahead because the wealthy owned the best land and controlled the government and its laws.

In 1816, the Lincolns moved north of the Ohio River, where the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 had established a land of opportunity by prohibiting slavery and primogeniture, the tradition of a landowner bequeathing all of his property to the eldest son to keep large estates intact. The Republican Party was later founded there on such egalitarian ideals.

The quote also mirrored Lincoln’s speech of Dec. 1, 1861, in which he weighed the importance of labor and capital: “Labor is prior to and independent of capital,” Lincoln said. “Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.”

It turns out, however, that the wealth quote was a fabrication, though an old one.

Tom Hall, a history enthusiast, raised the red flag. In an email the day after my Sunday column, he said the quote seemed “a little too prescient, as if old Abe could see 30 or so years into the future to the day of the big railroads, Standard Oil and the Carnegie steel mills. In other words, this smells like the ‘quote’ is an Internet fraud, and you fell for it.”

Did I ever.

This is what Snopes.com, a website that researches information on the Internet to determine its veracity, said about the supposed letter of 1864: “These words did not originate with Abraham Lincoln … they appear in none of his collected writings or speeches, and they did not surface until more than 20 years after his death (and were immediately denounced as a ‘bold, unflushing forgery’ by John Nicolay, Lincoln’s private secretary). This spurious Lincoln warning gained currency during the 1896 presidential election season (when economic policy, particularly the USA’s adherence to the gold standard, was the major campaign issue), and ever since then it has been cited and quoted by innumerable journalists, clergymen, congressmen, and compilers of encyclopedias.

So I’m not the first journalist who fell for it. But that doesn’t make it less inexcusable.

I owe you an apology for being so easily taken in, and will be more diligent next time.

Gov. Jerry Brown — 40 years on

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Before there was a tea party, before Bill Clinton declared the era of big government “over,” even before the Reagan Revolution, there was Jerry Brown.

The son of a 1960s California governor, Brown was elected governor himself in 1974. He was an enigma. A former Jesuit seminarian who practiced Zen meditation, he dated country rock music star Linda Ronstadt, slept on the floor of a rented room and drove himself to work in a Plymouth rather than live in the opulent governor’s mansion and ride in the back of a limo.

A Democrat like his father, Edmund G. Brown Sr., the young governor defied ideological labels. He stood with Cesar Chavez and Hispanic farm workers against California’s agribusiness interests, yet he was a small-is-beautiful candidate, preaching limited government and riding a wave of property tax revolt to victory.

He was far more frugal than his Republican predecessor, Ronald Reagan, who had signed into law the largest tax increase in the state’s history and nearly doubled spending despite his popular image as a fiscal conservative.

Jerry Brown was the first politician I idolized. I was 15 when he ran for president in 1976, winning primaries against Jimmy Carter, despite having entered the race at the 11th hour. I followed his career as he ran for the White House again in 1980, and in 1992 on a flat-tax, anti-establishment platform.

Brown served as a missionary with Mother Teresa in India, became the tough-as-nails mayor of one of America’s toughest cities, Oakland, and earned a reputation as a crime-fighting attorney general.

In 2010, Brown was elected again as governor at a time when the state was in fiscal crisis, following the market collapse, recession and the administration of liberal Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger. In that race, he beat billionaire eBay executive Meg Whitman. In one of the most bizarre commercials of the campaign, Whitman’s own words were used to endorse Brown. It quoted her as saying, “30 years ago, anything was possible in this state,” and that was why, Whitman explained, she came to California.

Then the commercial reminded voters it was Brown who was governor when Whitman went there, and he who had cut waste, balanced the budget, cut taxes by $4 billion and helped create 1.9 million new jobs.

Very clever, and very effective.

When he first ran for governor, Brown was 36 and a bachelor with movie-star good looks. Today he is bald, married and 76, making him both the oldest and youngest governor in the state’s history.

According to an Oct. 28 story on Politico, Brown, with a 58 percent approval rating in an era of anti-incumbent feeling, is almost certain to defeat his Republican opponent, Neel Kashkari, Tuesday — almost 40 years to the day of winning his first term.

According to Politico, during his current term, Brown has led his state in turning a $25 billion deficit into a $4 billion surplus, got voters to approve California’s first broad-based tax increase in 25 years, and presided over the creation of a million new jobs and a 4 percent drop in unemployment.

Jerry Brown, who was dubbed “Governor Moonbeam” by the late Mike Royko, the Chicago newspaper columnist, is a bit eccentric; that’s true, but so is California.

It may be that Brown’s strange mashup of hippie philosophy, Clint Eastwood frontier justice and budgetary austerity may be just what the Sunshine State needs now.

 

Journey through the past in Bloomfield

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Little towns can be the most delightful places or the most disheartening.

As the crow flies, Clay City is about 50 miles from Midway, but in the charm factor, they’re worlds apart.

There’s nothing in the Appalachian slum but rural blight, while the Bluegrass village is a treasure trove of antique shops and eateries one would expect to see on the cover of Garden & Gun magazine.

Bloomfield is somewhere in between. It’s more like Midway, but without the thoroughbreds and tourists.

Downtown Bloomfield, restored by the Bruckheimers.

Last Saturday, I spent two or three hours in Bloomfield and talked with locals who painted contrasting portraits of their hometown.

“I’m glad to see anything here,” Roger Elmore told me on the opening day of the new Bloomfield Farmers Market.

Elmore said the town is depressed and its leaders aren’t business-friendly. Pointing to the vacant building across the road, he mentioned that Bloomfield doesn’t even have a grocery anymore.

But that’s one reason Mayor Rhonda Hagan and others wanted a farmers market.

“It could be a charming little town,” Elmore said.

I later learned that it is charming in its unique way.

After talking with guests and vendors at the farmers market, I went to Bloomfield Baptist Church for An Afternoon with the Past, an annual homecoming for septuagenarian former residents and their spouses.

I met couples from as far away as Florida and Arizona who had returned to their roots.

“It’s beautiful,” said Gary Caggiano, a native New Yorker who had come back to Bloomfield by way of Phoenix with his wife, Nancy, when I asked him what he thought of this part of the country.

What was most enchanting was what I discovered when I parked my car on Main Street and took a stroll. I first went inside the Old Sugar Valley Country Store, which was like walking into Ike Godsey’s store in “The Waltons.”

It looked like a movie set for good reason. It is one of a row of 19th century downtown stores owned and restored by preservationist Linda Bruckheimer and her husband, Hollywood producer Jerry Bruckheimer, who have a farm nearby. They also own both locations of Nettie Jarvis Antiques, one of which has a “Before I Die” chalkboard where people can record their most personal hopes, and Miss Merrifield’s Tea Room, where waiters were setting gorgeous table arrangements with old English china and fresh cut flowers.

“You don’t see tea rooms like this everywhere,” said Donna Cornell, an employee of the Bruckheimers.

The most captivating experience was across the street at the Olde Bloomfield Meeting Hall, with its vintage four-lane bowling alley, Ernie’s Tavern, with its bar and billiards, and the most eclectic décor I’ve ever seen in an arcade.

Jody Bartley, who manages the place, said aloud what I had heard others allude to — that the Bruckheimers had practically saved Bloomfield’s historic Main Street.

“She did a tremendous job of restoring this town,” he said of Linda. “She’s tried to put it back the way it was.”

As Bardstown, Georgetown, Danville and other small cities have shown, the way forward often involves looking back and reviving the best of past.

Bloomfield is off the beaten path, but so is Midway, and I think it has the potential to be the same kind of attraction for tourists and history enthusiasts with the right planning and the caring contributions of the Bruckheimers and others.

A fine restaurant similar to Tony York’s in Glendale or Boone Tavern in Berea could do wonders for the city’s economy. So might an independent grocery that sells Kentucky Proud products and garden-fresh produce — sort of like an indoor farmers market.

Maybe I’m dreaming, but there’s often a thin line between the dream and the reality.

Just ask Jerry Bruckheimer.

Odds stacked against those who can’t afford medical insurance

On my first day as a reporter at The Kentucky  Standard, I was given a suggestion about what one editor thought might be a news brief about a benefit for a Bardstown woman who needed help paying her medical bills. When I learned, however, that Bonnie Varnell, 59, had cancer and had been turned down by insurance companies because of a pre-existing condition unrelated to her illness, I knew it was a bigger story.

Ed and Bonnie Varnell. Photo by Randy Patrick, The Kentucky Standard

I had been looking for an example that would tie in with the debate over health insurance reform, and I had found it.

The story has gotten more attention than anything else I’ve done for the Standard in the short time I’ve been here. Recently, it was picked up by the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky, which is led by former Courier-Journal political reporter Al Cross.

Here’s the short version of what was posted on the IRJC’s The Rural Blog. By clicking on the link, you can read the story I wrote. It was published on July 31. (Link: The Rural Blog)

One story of health insurance and health reform, doable in any American community

Here’s a story for every news outlet in the United States, no matter how small or large: Randall Patrick of The Kentucky Standard in Bardstown shows how the federal health-care reform law is having an effect at the individual level by telling the story of Bonnie Varnell, right, a local resident who was uninsured and is more than $65,000 in debt due to her fight against cancer.

For 18 years, Varnell worked at a daycare that didn’t offer health insurance. She wasn’t able to buy individual coverage because she had pre-exisiting conditions as a result of surgeries. She is only 59, so does not qualify for Medicare, and she didn’t qualify for the federal law known as COBRA, which “allows workers to keep their company group health insurance benefits for up to 18 months after leaving their jobs, as long as they pay the entire premium,” Patrick explains.

As a result, the bills kept mounting, despite hospitals giving the Varnells reduced rates through charity care. “I’ve been trying to pay something on every one,” Varnell’s husband Ed said of the bills he receives and has to delay paying in full. “It’s really frustrating. We had never been late a day in our lives.”

Now, Varnell has health insurance through a program created under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. “It costs her $315 a month and covers most of her costs after the deductible is met, but the law stipulates that a person with a pre-existing condition must be uninsured for at least six months before she or he can be eligible,” Patrick explains.

Varnell’s fear now is the program will be taken away if the Affordable Care Act is repealed after the November election. Patrick gives opponents of the law their say. (Read more)

Varnell is among the estimated 15 percent of people in her county who didn’t have health insurance in 2009, the last year for which estimates are available. For the Census Bureau website with estimates for every county, go here.

The Other America: 50 years on

 By Randy Patrick/The Kentucky Gazette

The first time I read Michael Harrington’s “The Other America: Poverty in the United States,” I was a  college student.

Harrington was the founder of Democratic Socialists of America, an infinitesimal faction within the Democratic Party that sought to lead it in a more leftward direction: toward policies to give working class people more influence in the workplace and government and to reate a stronger safety net.

On my 22nd birthday, Harrington spoke at the University of Kentucky on the subject of poverty and his ideas for ending it. I didn’t attend the speech, but I read about it in the newspapers and was fascinated. Almost at once, I became a convert to democratic socialism, with its emphasis on co-ops, pension-fund investments, union representation on corporate boards and other examples of market-based, decentralized economic democracy.

A few days after his speech, I encountered Harrington outside a lecture hall at UK at the same moment that he encountered and spoke with another socialist, the former British prime minister Sir Harold Wilson, whom I had gone to hear. It was a pivotal moment in my political transformation. I joined DSA for a year or two and read everything I could get my hands on by Harrington.

That was 30 years ago. Since then, I’ve evolved into a Burkean conservative. And though I’m still as concerned about the poor as I was then, I now think the right approach is to give them “a hand up, not a handout” — in the phrase coined by Sargent Shriver, who led the War on Poverty in the 1960s.

The Great Society programs — Head Start, Upward Bound, Volunteers in Service to America and the rest — were, for the most part, shaped to help the poor help themselves, rather than make them dependent on welfare. Contrary to popular belief, those programs worked. Poverty declined sharply in the 60s, until the government cut its funding and commitment in the late 1970s.

Young Michael Harrington’s bestseller (Time magazine included it in a list of the 10 most influential nonfiction books of the 20th Century) has been credited with sparking the War on Poverty in the last days of Presdent John F. Kennedy’s administration.

What was bracing about the thin volume was that it was not a dry analytical piece, filled with statistics and theory. Rather, it was a portrait of the poor and a call to conscience.

Reading the 50th anniversary edition this spring, it’s obvious to me that in many ways it is dated. Today the author’s suggestion of a massive public jobs program, for example, would have almost no political support. But Harrington’s central thesis — that solving the problem of poverty requires changing how we think about the underprivileged and the culture of poverty, is as relevant today as it was half a century ago.

His words still sting and, at the same time, inspire: “I want to tell every well-fed and optimistic American that it is intolerable that so many millions should be maimed in body and spirit when it is not necessary that they should be. My standard of comparison is not how much worse things used to be. It is how much better they could be if only we were stirred.”

At a crucial moment in our nation’s history, Harrington stirred us to be a better society, and his legacy is with us still.

Randy Patrick is a freelance writer in Winchester, Ky., and a longtime community journalist.

‘I was a stranger and you took me in’

“For I was hungry and you gave me food. I was thirsty and you gave me drink. I was a stranger and you took me in.” – Matthew 25: 35.

The ragged man was one of more than a hundred who shuffled along the corridor at the Hope Center. As he reached to receive a fish sandwich and a bowl of beans, one of the servers smiled and asked him how he was. He smiled back and answered, “I’m blessed. I really am.”

How you see things depends on where you’re standing. For someone who has been sleeping under a bridge and scavenging food from garbage bins, a good meal and a clean bed is a blessing. For a man who is addicted to drugs or drink, getting treatment and support can give him the hope he needs to change his life.

Jesus taught that what we do for “the least of these,” we do for him. One way we at Apostles witness to the poor and those with substance abuse issues to serve at the Hope Center. For nearly a decade, our members have worked in the dining room at the homeless shelter and recovery center.

We not only want to be consistent about fulfilling our commitment to have volunteers there for our scheduled time of 5-6 p.m. on the second Friday of each month, but also to consider how we can do more. This is an exciting time to be involved because the Hope Center has moved its food program to the new Jacobs Hope Kitchen on W. Loudon Ave. (on the same side of the street as the YMCA and across from the George Privett Recovery Center and the Hope Center’s emergency shelter).

If you would like to be a volunteer, contact Randy Patrick or Tony Fox.

Note: I wrote this some time ago for Apostles Anglican Church’s publications and website. A group from our Lexington, Ky., church has been volunteering to serve dinner the second Friday night of each month for nearly a decade.

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