Issue July 3, 2007

City Strobe

Nurses, doctors simpatico with ‘Sicko’

Sicko: Photo by Ryan Real Activists and healthcare professionals rallied outside Baxter Avenue Theatres
Sicko: Photo by Ryan Real Activists and healthcare professionals rallied outside Baxter Avenue Theatres

The red that progressive doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals are seeing over the roughly 47 million uninsured Americans probably looks a lot like the blood-colored, “Sicko”-branded scrubs they wore Friday morning as they shouted, “I get sick!” in unison outside Baxter Avenue Theatres. The boisterous demonstration actually inspired a neighborhood dog to bark its own outrage at the insurance-driven woes of the American healthcare system — or maybe it just had a cough.

The gathering of medical professionals and activists before the premiere of Michael Moore’s new documentary, “Sicko,” was part of a nationwide effort called “Scrubs for Sicko,” using the film as a springboard to cull support for universal healthcare legislation, specifically House Resolution 676, which would establish a national healthcare program by extending Medicare to every U.S. resident — that includes those visiting the United States and its territories.

Many of those same professionals spoke at a press conference before the screening, along with civic and government leaders, including state Rep. Jim Wayne, D-35. Suzy Post, a veteran of multiple social movements, said healthcare rights must be won the way civil rights and womens’ rights have been.
“Civil rights are no damn good if you’re dead,” Post said.

Others extolled the virtues of HR 676, which currently resides in the House Ways and Means, Veterans’ Affairs and Energy and Commerce committees. Third District U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth is a co-sponsor of the bill, one of 74 representatives on that list; Michigan Democrat John Conyers originally floated the resolution in 2003. Marty Meyer, a representative in Yarmuth’s district office, delivered a statement from the Congressman in support of the bill.

Though attendees rallied behind Moore’s latest film, most of the discussion focused on the issues presented in “Sicko” rather than the movie itself.

“Medical care is a necessity rather than a commodity,” Syed Quadri, medical director at a free medical clinic in Elizabethtown, said. “Many people don’t agree with Moore’s politics, but no one disputes the facts coming out of this film. People know about the problems.”

Volunteers handed out literature and “Free Universal Healthcare” cards — like the I.D. cards HR 676 would require — that could only be activated when the legislation passes. —Ryan Real


Humana hearts TARC

Humana set a good example for other companies last month when it signed a deal with TARC to offer all its downtown employees free bus rides anywhere, anytime. The program covers 8,500 downtown employees and pays TARC $175,000 per year. Employees need only flash their employee ID badges to score a free ride.

But don’t expect Michael Moore to make a movie about it anytime soon. Despite the environment-, employee- and traffic-friendly niceties, Humana’s primary incentive is its inability to provide downtown parking spaces.

Humana, which is to “putting people ahead of profits” as Gov. Fletcher is to “cutting waste, fraud and abuse,” figures prominently in Moore’s “Sicko,” which has the nation talking about corporate healthcare and its deadly greed. The film specifically blames Humana, along with other insurance, pharmaceutical and for-profit healthcare companies, for the nation’s Slovenia-level healthcare services. It also hopes to give a boost to HR 676, which would establish universal healthcare.

But give Humana props for getting people in the groove of public transportation. If the United States is ever going to get the carbon monkey off its back, mass transit will have to figure prominently. And one of the barriers, especially in Louisville, is getting people to think outside the SUV. Priming the pump by getting people comfortable with the bus system can’t hurt. Besides the CO2 savings, the plan should help reduce traffic jams and in some small way reduce America’s need to invade other countries and take their oil.

Although Louisville Metro, LG&E and many other companies offer incentives to ride TARC to and from work, Humana is the first to offer unlimited rides (with a company ID) anywhere, anytime, even if it’s to go see “Sicko.” —Jim Welp

Ford’s “Way Forward”
Last week, the Kentucky Economic Development Finance Authority approved $66 million in tax incentives for Ford Motor Co. to retool its Kentucky Truck Plant over the next decade. The money, approved by the General Assembly in March, combined with a $105 million investment by Ford, along with wage and other concessions by workers, is part of Ford’s strategic “Way Forward” toward “No Longer Pissing Money Down a Rat Hole.” The company has also fired 40,000 workers recently.

Sounding a bit like he was trying to convince himself, Ford’s President of the Americas Mark Fields told reporters in Detroit, “We really are starting to deliver products that people will want.” (His thought balloon added, “No, seriously.”) The new plan stands in stark contrast to the company’s decade-long program of not delivering products people will want — Ford’s focus on huge trucks and SUVs stands in opposition to Toyota’s attempts to improve fuel economy and offer hybrids that look a little weird, a strategy that has kept the Japanese automaker’s stock rising dramatically.

Kentucky is optimistic about keeping Ford’s remaining 8,000 jobs in the state. With Ford’s investment and Kentucky’s tax incentives, the Chamberlain Lane plant’s future seems secure. Alas, the Louisville Assembly Plant on Grade Lane seems starcrossovered. Ford has not pledged to keep or modernize the plant, which manufactures the Ford Explorer, a now-antique SUV that is being quickly cannibalized by Ford’s own Escape, Edge, Flex and Taurus X crossover vehicles. Rumors have long circulated in the blog-o-mill that the plant won’t survive the next round of Ford cuts, which are expected in ’08 or ’09. Because of the extreme expense in converting a truck plant to one that produces smaller, fuel-efficient and environmentally friendly vehicles, any vehicles produced in either post-modification plant are likely to continue to have the power to haul ass. —J.W.

Abbey Road protester agrees
to Alford plea on one count

Carol Rawert Trainer, who was arrested on Memorial Day at the Abbey Road on the River festival while protesting the Iraq War, last week accepted a plea deal on the count of resisting arrest, a misdemeanor. Two other charges — a felony charge of assaulting a police officer and a misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct — were dismissed.

Trainer, 60, reluctantly filed an Alford plea, meaning she did not admit guilt but acknowledged that prosecutors may have enough evidence to convict her. Ken Nevitt, her attorney, said he advised her to take the Alford plea. She must complete 40 hours of community service; if she does, Nevitt said, the charge will be dropped when she goes back to court on Aug. 17, and then, 60 days later, the case would be expunged.

“If it had gone to trial, I was pretty sure we had a good case,” Nevitt said in a phone interview. “But with her facing a felony, ‘pretty good’ was not good enough.” The felony charge carried a possible prison sentence of five to 10 years.

Trainer was arrested about 5:30 p.m. on Memorial Day by Jefferson County Sheriff’s Deputy Ted Mitchell, who was off-duty and heading the festival’s security detail. According to the incident report, Mitchell said he received complaints that Trainer was harassing patrons, and he said he saw her arguing with someone in front of the main stage. He said he approached her and asked her to come with him so they could discuss the situation.

In an interview after the case was resolved, Trainer denied arguing with anyone and said Mitchell refused to say why she was being asked to follow him. She said she began following him but saw Mayor Jerry Abramson sitting nearby and went to ask him to intervene. At that point, Trainer said, the deputy and a Louisville Metro officer roughly whisked her away and put her in handcuffs.

The police report says Trainer resisted and hit Mitchell in the chest. Trainer says she did not resist but that she probably flailed when Mitchell picked her up from behind and her shirt came up, revealing her mid-section. She also noted that she screamed repeatedly after being cuffed because of severe arthritis in her left shoulder.
Trainer is a Vietnam War veteran who often protests the Iraq War as part of both the Louisville Peace Action Community and the Vietnam Veterans Against the War. She said she won’t quit protesting, but will always do so advisedly to avoid a repeat. She spent about 12 hours in jail.

After Trainer’s plea was accepted in Jefferson District Court, Mitchell told Nevitt he’d like to speak to Trainer, but the attorney advised against it. Nevitt said the officer did not say he was wrong but that he is sorry the incident happened.

Lt. Col. Carl Yates, a spokesman for the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, said his office was prepared to go to trial and believed it had a good case. He said the office is “very satisfied” with the outcome.
Trainer said she is exhausted from the ordeal but still angry. She said she has always been quite supportive of law enforcement and diligent about following laws.

“I used to think I knew what was going on, but I don’t know anything,” she said. “I walked out of the Hall of Justice … and I had to laugh. I don’t think I got justice, but it’s probably the best I could hope for.” —Cary Stemle

Yarmuth details plan
to help disaffected youth

U.S.  Rep. John Yarmuth dropped by The District Saturday to gather input on how locals feel about unaccompanied (read: homeless) youth in Kentucky. Yarmuth was selected by Rep. George Miller, D-CA, chairman of the Education and Labor Committee, to spearhead an effort to reauthorize the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act of 1974. The act is set to expire on Sept. 30, 2008, and if it goes, so will funding that supports national and local organizations like the YMCA Safe Place, which offers temporary shelter and access to other social services such as family reunification, employment training and healthcare, to name a few.

“Each child is in need of structure, stability and permanency,” Yarmuth told a crowd that included state Reps. Joni L. Jenkins, D-44,  and Reginald K. Meeks, D-42. Even with current federal funding (which offers about $175,000 for Louisville), salaries to keep experienced social workers on hand aren’t high enough. Several attendees expressed concern at the lack of coordination between different social service organizations, which they said hinders the overall effectiveness of familial support.

Bob Reeg, director of public policy for the National Network for Youth, said young people can end up at Safe Place for many reasons, often as a result of being kicked out of or fleeing their homes due to conflict within the family or parental substance abuse. Besides being an alternative to arrest and detention, Safe Place costs taxpayers less, too — compare $11,877 to serve an individual under the age of 18 in a transitional living project to anywhere from $25,000 to $55,000 in the child welfare or juvenile justice system.

Dennis Enix, executive director of YMCA Safe Place Services, said 600 to 800 youths are served annually in Louisville, but he stressed that is only a fraction of those who need help. Three teenagers who had utilized Safe Place also addressed the gathering, expressing their gratitude.

“The Safe Place saved my life,” said Essence, one of the teens who spoke. “They gave me a chance and believed in me.” —Mary Q. Burton

Best. Newspaper. Ever.
LEO cleaned up at Thursday’s Metro Louisville Journalism Awards dinner, taking home nine first-place awards and 14 overall.

Competing in the metro newspapers category, which includes Louisville’s largest daily newspaper, The Courier-Journal, and the city’s largest business newspaper, Business First of Louisville, LEO talent took first place in business reporting, minority affairs reporting, editorial writing, column writing, feature photography, sports photography, review/criticism, headline writing and page design. The alternative newsweekly also won second place awards in news writing, enterprise reporting, sportswriting, feature photography and graphic illustration.

The annual contest is sponsored by the Metro Louisville chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, which includes 26 counties. The contest judged work done in 2006 and drew a record 418 print and broadcast entries. The Utah chapter of SPJ handled the judging. For a complete list of winners, check out “The Lip: LEO’s News Blog” at www.leoweekly.com. —Staff

Visit “The Lip: LEO’s News Blog” at www.leoweekly.com. Contact the writers at citystrobe@leoweekly.com