Issue April 24, 2007

City Strobe

The unintended-irony capital of the world?
Imagine you live in Jeffersonville. You’re on a fixed income, and to help make ends meet you don’t drive. You work downtown — say Humana — and walk to work every day. There’s only one way for pedestrians to cross the Ohio River in Metro Louisville, by walking over the Clark Memorial Bridge. Your options: take a cab or bus, catch a ride or take the day off.

Here’s a real scenario: Jackie Green, who earns his livelihood in part by running Bike Couriers, tried to make a delivery in Jeffersonville last Thursday. But the Clark Bridge was closed to all traffic, pedestrian or otherwise, because it was wired with explosives for Thunder Over Louisville. Police sentries suggested Green take a cab.
Here’s another real scenario: Last Thursday, the head of Greater Louisville Inc. met with his counterpart from One Southern Indiana. They shook hands on a deal to work more closely on cross-border business issues.
Here’s something ironic: They met in the middle of the Clark Bridge.
More irony: They were discussing regionalism.

Now, a question: Has anyone in a leadership role thought about how the Metro’s growing traffic congestion might render all of this regional good will null and void?

That notion was on Paul Coomes’ mind when I rang him Tuesday morning. The U of L economist is hardly anyone’s idea of an alarmist or flaming liberal, but as we spoke I could feel his frustration. He’s been beating this drum for a while now. Basically, he told me, the gridlock that arose from closing the Clark Bridge for two business days last week is a mere appetizer for the sorts of traffic problems this community will be eating over the next two decades. He cited the Urban Mobility Report, which comes from the Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M and functions as a sort of industry standard regarding such issues. The trend it shows about Louisville over the past decade is ugly: We’re becoming increasingly congested, with no end in sight. Hence Coomes’ frustration.

This is clearly a complex issue. It’s challenging to balance things like Thunder, which appeals to hundreds of thousands, against inconvenience to a smaller, indeterminate number of people. Coomes said he’s unaware of any study quantifying lost time and productivity on those few days in April when the Clark Bridge is closed.
A larger problem in this regard, he said, is that there’s no central authority overseeing regional traffic issues. Once upon a time, he recalled, folks heading south to Florida got a headache getting through Atlanta, which routinely took three hours.

Coomes said he sees that scenario in Louisville’s future. I don’t think he was being ironic when he said it. —Cary Stemle

Making the farm bill more about farms

It is no secret that the farm bill, the expansive slab of legislation that determines who grows what by saying what they get to grow it, abets large-scale American agricultural corporations in ruling the food system not only of this country but of many parts of the world.

The farm bill offers billions in subsidies — tied to market fluctuations made more volatile when the industry you’re subsidizing is rewarded for overproduction — to growers of five commodity crops: corn, wheat, soybeans, rice and cotton. So Big-Ag can clean up on those five commodities. Think about all the crap you stuff through your mouth that has four of those. Think about what you’re wearing, and more importantly, who made it.

So every five years, when the farm bill comes up for debate, farmers, activists, people who like eating less-processed food than Spam and know why obesity is a poverty issue as much as a health one, get together and try to rouse interest. Tough gig, history has shown.

“Basically, the subsidy system as it is now, skews the whole system — it enables a broken system to continue with a policy of overproduction and cheap food,” says Stephen Bartlett of Agricultural Missions Inc., an international coalition of farmers and workers stuck on the less profitable side of the food system.

This year seems to be shaping up differently. There’s a growing international movement to support small-farm operations and farmers again in America, of which there are around 1.6 million right now, less than the nation’s prison population. This Sunday at the Brick House (1101 S. Second St.; 7:30-9:30 p.m.), the “Food Sovereignty Tour 2007” stops in for some chat with the firsthand and the well-informed about what we, the People, can do about the farm bill this year.

Sen. Mitch McConnell is on the agriculture, nutrition and forestry committee, which is beginning to dig into the bill. Call his office at 582-6304 and tell him why your vote is more valuable than Big-Ag’s money. —Stephen George

Candidates gone wild
The already-entertaining governor’s race took a turn for the hilarious last week. Democrat Bruce Lunsford had to defend charges of plagiarism when BluegrassReport.org blogger Mark Nickolas discovered that Lunsford’s campaign had copied language verbatim from the platform of Florida candidate Jim Davis. After downplaying the pilfering as inevitable in a world where good ideas are finite, Lunsford then outed Democratic foe Steve Beshear for swiping platform language from Iowa Gov. Chet Culver, which resulted in both campaigns cribbing heavily from the “Complete Idiot’s Guide to Denying Wrongdoing in an Election.”

Meanwhile, fellow Dem and orthopedic surgeon Steve Henry made headlines thanks to a previously undisclosed 2005 malpractice lawsuit. A 22-year-old Finchville woman sued Henry and two other surgeons, claiming that Henry damaged her hip during surgery and didn’t notice the damage on X-rays, forcing a subsequent hip replacement. The lawsuit comes after Henry’s 2003 settlement with the feds over Medicare “misbilling,” last year’s lawsuit against Henry’s wife Heather French Henry for not honoring the terms of a book contract, and a complaint filed by a former campaign worker, charging Henry with financial shenanigans in his current campaign. Proving he’s got gubernatorial chutzpah, Henry’s team noted: “Doctors and lawyers need to get at the same table and come to an agreement about how to handle issues related to medical malpractice.” (Of course, claims made in a lawsuit only represent one side of a case.)

Not to be out-headlined, Republican Anne Northup made news by offering to sell yard signs (“fade-resistant finish!”) instead of giving them away. Northup’s supporters must shell out 10 bucks if they want to display a yard sign, a sales campaign that is no doubt more successful in St. Matthews than in Monkey’s Eyebrow. The strategy raises several questions: Is Northup so self-confident that she believes she doesn’t need front-yard marketing? Or is her campaign worried about running out of cash? And will wise guys who wouldn’t normally deface a free NORTHUP/HOOVER yard sign feel free to rearrange the letters on one they bought fair and square to read, say, “PROVEN HURT” or “VOTER PORNO?” Only time will tell. —Jim Welp

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