November 7, 2006

City Strobe: God bless us, everyone

Ford Motor Co., which stayed the course for a few billion dollars too long before cutting and running from its gas-gulping, earth-slaying, DVD-booth Mallxplorers, announced more unpleasantness for its workers. Feeling the pain this time: salaried workers. Ford said it will cancel raises, increase health insurance premiums and drop coverage for salaried workers, retirees and spouses. The double whammy of lost raises and approximately 30 percent higher health insurance premiums means salaried Ford workers will earn less money next year than the previous year for the first time since that other George Bush was president. The cuts affect about 500 salaried workers in Louisville and a hard-to-peg number nationwide, because Ford is laying them off quicker than it can count them. Thanks to the slow-motion-rollover death of the SUV, the company is busily laying off 14,000 salaried workers and 30,000 hourly workers in its North American workforce. In an especially nice holiday touch, Ford is also delaying its traditional pre-Christmas paycheck until Dec. 29 in order to get a tax break. Employees won’t even get a lump of coal, which, as fossil fuels continue to disappear from the planet, could have been a sweet little nest egg for the future. —Jim Welp Increase the minimum wage in Kentucky Joni Jenkins, a Democratic state House representative from Louisville, pre-filed a bill in the state legislature last week to incrementally increase the minimum wage in Kentucky, from the current $5.15 an hour — aligned with the federal minimum wage law — to $7.25 an hour by July 2009. Lexington Sen. Ernesto Scorsone is expected to file the same bill in the Senate. “I think it’s very, very important,” Jenkins said last week of raising the minimum wage. “It really is just a small step. For it to be a living wage here in Louisville, it’d have to be $11 an hour.” Numerous bills have been filed to increase the minimum wage in the recent past, including in the last two General Assembly sessions. Jenkins said she expects this one to pass the House, and Speaker Jody Richards said recently he expects the same. “A lot of people would have you believe it’s just teenagers working at McDonald’s, but it’s not,” Jenkins said, referring to a common response from those who oppose raising wages. “It’s families.” Jenkins is part of a group called the Kentucky Values Coalition, which pursues social justice issues — like equal pay, restoration of voting rights for felons and public education — in the state legislature. —Stephen George Indymedia journalist killed in Mexico; Louisvillian will speak at memorial It was two Fridays ago, Oct. 27, that NYC Indymedia journalist and documentary filmmaker Brad Will was shot and killed in Oaxaca, Mexico. He was on assignment to cover a mounting revolution of teachers and workers demanding the resignation of the governor there, part of the ruling PRI party. Will was filming amid a protest when plain-clothed gunmen opened fire on the crowd, killing Will and two protesters, one of whom was a teacher. Two days later, Oaxaca’s mayor announced that four local government officials were being held in connection with the murders. Louisville poet and media activist Bil Brown, a friend of Will’s since the two were students at Naropa University in the early 1990s, is scheduled to read poetry and speak at Will’s memorial this Saturday in New York City. “Brad was about the autonomous communities, the little things everyone can do to make life worth living for each other,” Brown said in a statement. “Public gardens, alternative housing in abandoned spaces, reclaiming the safety of sources of information everyone deserves. He was noble, and friendly. Brad was able to go where most people wouldn’t or wouldn’t even dare. He was hero to everyone he met.” To learn more about the situation in Oaxaca and about Brad Will, visit www.indymedia.org. —Stephen George Couple files complaint over city’s agreement with Insight It’s a new twist on the saga that is Insight Communications’ hazy working relationship with Louisville Metro Government, and this time it’ll put Mayor Jerry Abramson in front of the Metro Ethics Commission. Dennis and Margaret Martin, a South Louisville couple who are no strangers to ethics complaints against Hizzoner (see: Naval Ordnance station), want Insight to drag cable lines into their neighborhood, which the cable giant has refused thus far to do. So they’ve filed an ethics complaint against the Mayor, alleging he allowed Insight to break the franchise agreement it maintains with Metro Government by failing to consult the Metro Council on its plans to sell 60 percent of the company — which was publicly owned by stockholders — to the Carlyle Group. Insight’s acting hypocritically, Margaret Martin told me Tuesday. The company told her it won’t stretch cable lines to her fairly remote South Louisville home because the franchise agreement doesn’t require it to; however, Insight has been allowed to violate the same agreement up to this point by not gaining permission for the merger. “Insight won’t hook me up to their cable because part of the ordinance is that I’m not in a very populated area here in the city,” she said. “On one hand, they’re following their contract to the T. On the other hand, they’re breaking the ordinance.” The couple’s complaint includes Jim Atkins, director of public works, and MetroTV, one of only two locally operated channels on the basic cable dial (the other is Public Access channel 98). The Martins have reignited a controversy over Insight’s sale that began near the end of last year when, just two weeks after the Carlyle Group acquired a 60-percent share of the company, it decided to move WYCS — Your Community Station, formerly channel 24, which aired mostly local programming aimed at the African American and Hispanic communities — to channel 759, putting it out of financial range for much of its constituency. The station lobbied heavily to stick around the lower channels, and in the process raised the larger issue to which the Martins’ complaint applies: The franchise agreement clearly requires Metro Council approval of any change of ownership or control over 10 percent. The County Attorney’s office, counsel for the Council, told LEO at the time that the July 2005 acquisition constituted a “60-percent change of ownership”; in other words, Insight violated the agreement. However, there was never any meaningful follow-through. The Council and the Mayor’s office ping-ponged the issue until it settled into public quietude, each relegating responsibility for enforcing the agreement to the other. WYCS got a better slot (you can get it through basic cable if you have “the box”) and backed off the issue to some degree. Meanwhile, the Carlyle Group — devil of the left-leaning populace, composed of consumer-protection champions like George H.W. Bush and connected financially to the Saudi royal family and several military contractors, and reportedly buying up media companies so as to avoid being filleted before millions of Americans like it was in Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11” — maintains the controlling financial interest in Insight, despite what the company’s attorneys claimed last year before a Council committee that briefly addressed the controversy. The Metro Ethics Commission is scheduled to meet Dec. 21, although members said at its last meeting (October) that that meeting would likely be canceled, as it’s four days before a big consumer holiday. —Stephen George Air America’s real killer Still on the subject of media consolidation: Last week, roughly a month after Air America declared bankruptcy and amid lots of chatter from the right-wing cable pundits about how the network didn’t have any listeners, the public got an inside look at the real reason the liberal talk radio network couldn’t pay the bills, courtesy of a leaked memo from ABC Radio Networks. The memo, dated Oct. 25 and sent to some of ABC’s 4,400-plus affiliate stations, informed directors that Hewlett-Packard had purchased ads with ABC and had requested their ads not be run during any Air America programming. So what, you say — HP, like any other ad buyer, is allowed to choose which programs its ads run with. True. In fact, ABC said later in a statement that it’s rather common for companies to request blackouts, a sentiment supported by the memo: It lists 90 other U.S. companies currently advertising with ABC that wanted the Air America blackout. The list includes some obvious ones — Wal-Mart, McDonald’s, Exxon-Mobil, Coke, Johnson & Johnson, United Healthcare — and some a bit more puzzling, like the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Postal Service. The real bitch of it is that a lot of these companies advertise all over bonehead conservative gab fests, wrought by such soulless cultural pythons as Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. An HP rep told The New York Times, in a story that ran Monday, that the company avoids “inappropriate or controversial programming environments.” Of course, HP advertises on the Fox News Channel, as does Wal-Mart, Microsoft, Visa and McDonald’s, all of whom are included in the ABC “blackout” memo. But why, if these corporations are such champions of cultural literacy and work so hard to stay above the political fracas, do they sponsor horse turds like Hannity and Bill O’Reilly, who babble inauspiciously for an hour a day on Fox News about how the “liberal media” writes the agenda in America? Well, have a go at this explanation: These corporations are the ones writing the agenda right now in America, and despite the fact that a lot of them contribute to Democratic politicians and political causes of the Left, they boycott Air America because the network attempts to report transparently on issues that have adverse effects on huge corporations like HP and Wal-Mart. Or so say Josh Silver (blogger for the Huffington Post) and Robert McChesney (co-founder of the group Free Press) in an article from late last week. Rather than contort and assess the already-contorted and assessed spin like O’Reilly & Co., Air America’s journalists and commentators drive hard on subjects most of the corporate media have already acquiesced to report softly, like deregulation and wage issues. When media is in the hands of companies like ABC Radio, which controls some 4,400 affiliates that collectively reach more than 105 million people, the public suffers a lack of transparency. It appears consolidated power among major corporations and very public monopolies is what killed Air America, not a lack of people yearning to hear what its journalists were saying. —Stephen George The Lip, at your service LEO’s news blog — The Lip — is now up and running. Check it out at www.leoweekly.com. It’s in the main menu on the left-hand side of our home page. What are we missing? Tell us here: citystrobe@leoweekly.com