Issue June 19, 2007

City Strobe

Temperance on Market
With everybody else complaining about too much dry, Metro Councilwoman Cheri Bryant Hamilton is worried about too much wet. Specifically, she’s concerned about the recent proliferation of liquor stores in her precincts in Shawnee and Portland. Citing a link between hooch and crime, a group headed by the councilwoman lined up the necessary 25 percent of residents and petitioned the Jefferson County Clerk to allow the neighborhoods to vote to make it illegal to sell booze there. The plan calls for a Sept. 11 wet/dry vote.

Neighbors are worried about crime in the West Market Street area, which has more liquor stores than a Quentin Tarantino film festival and a Dean Martin standup routine combined. Pleas by local residents to state officials to deny liquor licenses have gone unheeded, forcing the residents to push for the wet/dry vote.

The group faces an uphill battle. Not only does alcohol make furniture more comfortable and others more attractive, it also produces two trump cards in America: economic development and tax revenue. When residents in Old Louisville tried to go dry last year and residents in the Original Highlands tried to put the kibosh on that neighborhood’s Disneyland of Drinking in 2004, the measures failed for just those reasons. If a simple majority of residents vote the Shawnee and Portland precincts dry, the businesses would have to close by December. —Jim Welp

Working-man blues at Toyota Georgetown
With the on-again, off-again drama of a dysfunctional high school romance, the unconsummated dalliance between the United Auto Workers and Toyota Georgetown continues to tease with the possibilities of a happy ending or an embarrassing meltdown.

The UAW has been periodically camping out in Georgetown for years now, beckoning to a workforce of more than 7,000 — disgruntled by wage issues, plant conditions and treatment of injuries. The latest was inspired by recently leaked documents revealing management’s intent to cap wages in its stateside manufacturing facilities over the next four years. That also provoked a summit last week by the Kentucky Workers’ Rights Board.

More than 200 pro-union workers expressed concerns to the board at that meeting. Despite general agreement that the problems are real and the complaints valid, there is ambivalence among workers over whether the UAW can do much about it. With membership at less than half of what it was in its ’70s heyday (current UAW rolls hover above 600,000), its promise-filled recruiting efforts strike many workers as more than a little desperate.

On the other hand, while Toyota human resources VP Pete Gritton has issued well-supported assertions that Toyota rejects the U.S. manufacturing blast-or-bust model in favor of a more stable, humane production curve, the Georgetown workforce has good reason to distrust its management: The two alleged leakers, Noel Riddell and Manuel Eade, refused to resign, doggedly protesting their innocence — which was upheld by peer review. Management fired them anyway.

Finally, in a gesture worthy of Sun Tzu, Toyota chose the month of June to publicly display the Toyota Partner Robot at the plant, an exceptionally dexterous humanoid robot that none-too-subtly underscores Japan’s world supremacy in industrial robotics (the Japanese robot population outnumbers that of the rest of the world by almost a full order of magnitude). Intentional or coincidental, the implication is certainly poignant. —Scott Robinson

Small-media assault
July will be a painful month for small and independent media outlets.
Unless Congress changes new rules (a small group of representatives, not from Kentucky, is trying), July 15 is the day Internet radio stations see their royalty rates rise 300 to 1,200 percent. Seriously.
Previously, all radio stations — broadcast, satellite and Internet — paid royalties as a percentage of their income. But the federal Copyright Royalty Board now requires a fee every time a song is played, with a separate charge for each individual listener. Not only that, but the fees will be retroactive to 2006. Suddenly faced with one-and-a-half years of new bills due on a single day, hundreds of independent online radio stations are expected to shut down immediately.

’Net radio is not like illegal file-sharing Web sites. The new rules affect legitimate media, including our own Public Radio Partnership and several university radio stations, which stream content online. The only way the changes might be halted is through immediate congressional action.

Small print media will also get slammed by new rules. While the rest of us pay an extra 2 cents for postage, publications such as Mother Jones, Christianity Today, The American Conservative and The Nation will pay as much as 25 percent more in postal fees. The U.S. Postal Service suggested about a 10-percent increase for all publications, but the Postal Regulatory Commission eschewed that plan for one pushed by media giant Time Warner. That plan burdens small- and medium-sized publications while giving large ones — those who earn billions in advertising revenues — a free pass. It also goes into effect July 15. —Jennifer Oladipo

Synfuelly delicious
When Gov. Fletcher announced he might call a special session of the General Assembly to pass legislation giving tax incentives to a super-secret alternative energy company, rumors ran wild about what the exciting new energy might be. We here at LEO are totally betting it’s dilithium crystals! No, wait: the flux capacitor! Or maybe it’s the bullshit-burning engine, which could tap the abundant resources coming out of Frankfort. But the fuddy-duddy money is betting it’s coal-to-liquid fuel technology.

The technology to convert coal to diesel, gasoline or “synfuel” has existed since the 1920s. It’s easy to make, runs in standard engines and costs about the same as gas from oil. Nazi Germany and South Africa notoriously made synfuels when the world cut off their oil supplies during their respective atrocities. The United States has never embraced the technology, partly because its leaders have traditionally been oilmen, and partly because “coal-to-liquid” is harder to rhyme than “bubblin’ crude.” But with Team Bush’s Middle East in flames and Kentucky sitting on mountaintops of coal, synfuels are a natural for the commonwealth … to whore out to some megacorporation to get rich on.

So why the secrecy? Aside from the fact that it’s just good fun making the media squirm, it’s also an election year. One school of thought is that the governor wants to sneak in some pro-Goober legislation along with the alt-fuel bill, perhaps propping up much-needed support for God, the flag or heterosexuality. Or maybe it’s more convenient to sleep with the company behind closed doors a few times before you let it schtup you in public.

Whatever it is, it better be sweet. A special session costs $60K per day, and the governor lags about 20 points behind Democrat Steve Beshear in the polls. —J.W.

After a short break, LEO’s news blog,
“The Lip,” is back in action. Check it out

at www.leoweekly.com. Contact the writers at citystrobe@leoweekly.com