Naturally, the news had to bring in a lyin' ass Republican to counter the Edwards Tour on Poverty. This time around we have RNC Chairman Mike Duncan, your basic evil, entitled white guy speaking from Washington. The first thing he mentions is the haircut. *sigh... Then he says Edwards is out of touch with poverty in America - as statement dripping with such irony it makes my eyes hurt - and starts talking about how big Edwards house is and blaming him for the health care crisis in North Carolina because he used to sue doctors for medical mistakes.
Then, wouldn't you know, he mentions the bible. The Republicans' favorite line in the whole thing is "the poor will always be with us" and he trots it out, implying that we have no obligation to help the poor because Jesus says they can't be helped, and there's the implicit understanding amongst the Republican rich that anyone who wants a job has one, and if you were a good, "god"-fearing Xtian you wouldn't be poor anyway. I'm glad this guy isn't here in KY, because I might have to hunt him down and scream at him. Edwards even used the Gordon Gekko line in saying that the view in Washington has been "greed is good" and he resoundly rejects that. The Repubs don't have a leg to stand on here, put they keep throwing labels at Edwards that more accurately apply to themselves. When you haven't got a conscience, it's easy to lie like that, especially when you have no respect at all for your intended audience. Edwards does have the distinction of having used the "L" word in the debates for 2004. He said of Bush and Cheney "they will absolutely lie about anything." The person who will stand up and call shrub out for being the Liar that he is gets my vote, hands down.
Duncan next hammers the sore spot for this area - liquid coal plants. A lot of people in this area think liquid coal is going to save Eastern Kentucky, but they're only going to do what the coal industry has always done here - make the mine owners rich, get a bunch of miners killed, and destroy our environment. It won't do shit for poor people, even if they're directly employed by such a plant.
This area is still struggling to get plumbing and potable water to our poorest residents. (The coal industry has destroyed our ground water. You should see the sludge that comes out of the faucets in some places - or wells, if they don't have faucets.) The average income in the area Edwards visited today is $12,000 dollars a year. The drop-out rate is the highest in the state and therefore in the country. 1 in 4 people in Kentucky is disabled, and a large part of the population is simply unemployable, even for the most menial jobs because they are illiterate. Yet Floyd county has more millionaires per square mile than any other county in the country, because there are a few VERY wealthy mine owners who maintain residences here. Nowhere in America is the "2 Americas" analogy more accurate.
It's not a visible difference, though. That table full of guys in trucker hats and overalls at the local Dennys might have a combined worth that would make Donald Trump drool. Rich people here don't necessarily look rich, and their houses are hidden up in the hills behind gates and stone walls. The money isn't visible here.
Now here's where I get in trouble with my middle-class family...
The poverty in Eastern Kentucky is in. your. face. I can't begin to describe to you the conditions some people live in here. My best analogy is that Eastern KY is like an Indian reservation, without the sovereignty or government aid. We're isolated geographically and we have no infrastructure, so nobody gives a shit about us. They're trying to create tourism in this area with native arts and crafts, golf ranges, skate parks, ATV trails, horse trails and our new elk population, but tourists need things like hotels and restaurants. Except for fast food and an occasional Chinese smorgasboard or Mexican place, there's no such thing. The best meal in the area is supposedly the catfish at the Lodge at Jenny Wiley State Park. There is some higher culture in Kentucky, including fine restaurants, hotels and art galleries, but it's in Lexington and Louisville on the other side of the state.
Let me tell you about the hotels. There's a former Holiday Inn that one of my many, many cousins redecorated with a gun during a party. He was away for a few years. There's a motel that used to be the home of a satanic vampire cult that made the national news when it's "leader" - who was something like 17, and whose mom was a part of it and having sex with his friends - murdered his girlfriend's parents in Florida. There's one other place that Hillary Clinton got to stay in, which I understand is passable, but not great. So if you're coming to visit, bring a tent. We've got an abundance of open mountain land, as long as you don't mind copperheads, rattlesnakes (like the huge one my dad killed in the front yard last week) mountain lions (like the one my cousins down in hollow saw up on our side of the mountain the other night, so we can't let the dogs out after dark) bears, deer, tics and the aforementioned giant elk. No bees, though, so it's getting hard to grow anything. Don't get me started on the foreign insects and flora that have been brought into the area which all caused greater problems than they might have solved.
A friends husband once said that I lived in the middle of nowhere, but my reply was that I have to drive 3 hours to get to the middle of nowhere. That's why my family had to camp at the hospital in Lexington when my mom had two brain surgeries and couldn't be left alone. There are fabulous hospitals even in this area, though, because everyone is sick. Diabetes, heart disease and lung ailments (from exposure to coal) abound. Then there are the accidents, like the toddler who was burned this week when he dropped his sippy cup on some black powder some boys had been playing with, and the car that went driving down the state highway in front of my place shooting randomly the other night. Did I mention that we are the reason oxycontin is called "hillbilly heroin?" It's the number one form of recreation for our young people. We have the same pervasive problems with domestic violence and rape that are found on reservations, too.
Most people are older, poorly educated even if they finished school, and they're deeply indoctrinated in the local religion which is reactionary far beyond anything justified by the actual text of the bible, but they don't know that because the preachers they listen to are illiterate, too. Not just unschooled in theology, I mean can't read a word at all.
The middle class here is tiny, and even a county employee can be the biggest fish in this pond. The bigger fish get angry that this area is portrayed as impoverished. These are proud people, but frankly, they're in denial. You should see what passes for a newspaper here. It's more like a church newsletter, with columns by paperboys and adults who can't write, or even conjugate a verb. They won't touch anything controversial and there's no "investigative reporting" though we sorely need some for reasons I'll get into later on. I don't usually read it because it makes me want to hurt somebody.
Finally, the government recently decided not to put a bio-weapons lab in London, KY because they wouldn't be able to get anyone to work in it that would actually consider living here. The kicker for me is that people here were upset that they weren't going to get a lab full of anthrax and ebola in their back yards because it would have created jobs. Get that? They'd rather have a job doing scutt work around bio-weapons than live.
Is there really anything left to say after that? More power to you, John. Even if you don't succeed, at least you've got people thinking about the poor.