The largest political picnic in the nation • Promise of coal strip mine legislation unkept • Expansion of farmers markets • Postal Service "default" wasn't
The largest political picnic in the country was held Saturday in Fancy Farm, Kentucky. This was the 132nd Fancy Farm picnic, but few politicians will be there — especially Democrats.
Kentucky’s Governor wasn’t there. Nor were the Lt. Governor or Attorney General. All are Democrats, which has led Republicans to say they are running away from an event where they would be expected to defend President Obama.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was at the annual fundraiser for the St. Jerome Catholic Church. Noting that Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear was on a trade mission to Germany and France, McConnell said, “He’s getting a preview of what the economy is going to look like if we have four more years of Barack Obama.”
Okay, the speeches were just a little entertainment on the side. The real attraction to Fancy Farm is the barbecued pork and mutton.
• Cris Ritchie of The Hazard Herald writes about the legacy of vote buying in Eastern Kentucky.
• There was a 9.6 percent increase in the number of farmers markets last year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. According to a USDA directory, there are 7,864 farmers markets in the country.
The states with the most markets are California (827 markets), New York (647 markets), Massachusetts (313 markets), Michigan (311 markets), Wisconsin (298 markets), Illinois (292 markets), Ohio (264 markets), Pennsylvania (254 markets), Virginia and Iowa (tied with 227 markets) and North Carolina (202 markets). These states account for half of all the farmers markets in the U.S.
• Former Western North Carolina postmaster Mark Jamison explains that the Postal Service’s $5.5 billion “default” this week was nothing of the kind.
Congress had ordered the Postal Service to prepay pension liabilities — and in order to diminish the federal debt, Congress ordered that the Postal Service continue paying even when those liabilities were covered.
• Mississippi is the only state in the South (and one of only 11 nationally) not to fund any pre-kindergarten schooling. The Hechinger Report’s Liz Willen reports that this is one of the reasons the state’s students lag behind the nation in national comparisons.
“Researchers have found that high quality pre-k programs can improve long-term outcomes for low-income children and help close an achievement gap for minorities that tends to worsen over time,” Willen writes. “Being able to stand in line, listen to directions and make eye-contact with the teacher play an important role when it comes time to teach children how to read and write.”
The state has argued about adding pre-k funding, but that position has never one the day. “Appropriating more money in general has not proven to make any change at all in outcomes,” says Forest Thigpen, president of the Mississippi Center for Public Policy, a right-leaning independent think tank based in Jackson. Thigpen told Willen that it was up to churches and families to get kids ready for school.
• We’ve noted the continuing decline of the eastern coal industry. Last week the Lexington Herald-Leader’s fine reporter Bill Estepp wrote about the scene in Eastern Kentucky:
The century-old coal industry in Eastern Kentucky has always been cyclical, spiking in the 1970s and then dwindling over two decades before swinging back up for a time.
That traditionally has raised hopes for another comeback, but there are concerns employment won’t ever return to the levels of just a few years ago.
Federal analysts project Central Appalachia is at the front end of a steep, long-lasting drop in coal production.
“Some of these mines are not going to come back,” said Michael Dudas, a managing director at investment firm Sterne, Agee & Leach, Inc. who follows the coal industry.
• Last week saw the passing of the 35th anniversary of the nation’s first significant law governing the surface mining of coal. Ken Ward Jr. writes that not everyone saw this as a time of celebration.
Ward quotes Kentucky’s long-time environmental attorney Tom FitzGerald, who turned down an award from the federal Office of Surface Mining. FitzGerald wrote:
I’m writing to respectfully decline acceptance of the first ECHO Award. While I appreciate the recognition of the coal-related work of the Kentucky Resources Council, the 35th Anniversary of the enactment of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act is not a time of celebration of achievement, but rather, a somber reminder that after 35 years of implementation, and fifty-five years after grassroots efforts to see enacted a national program for controlling surface coal mining operations, the promises made to the people of the coalfields remain largely unkept.