City Strobe

Aug 21, 2007 at 7:36 pm

Iraq war costs Louisville $673 million
About 20 people gathered near the front steps of the federal courthouse at Sixth and Broadway last Thursday to call for an end to the U.S. occupation of Iraq and draw attention to the general acquiescence of Kentucky’s senior U.S. senator, Mitch McConnell, to President Bush’s calamitous war. It was part of a nationwide effort spearheaded by; the antiwar group Iraq Summer also pitched in.
The protest drew comparatively little media attention — other than LEO and The Courier-Journal, nobody appeared to be too interested in standing on hot concrete in the lunchtime sun of a 100+ degree day to observe garden variety protest placards.

But the event doubled as the release of a highly useful new report, by and the nonprofit National Priorities Project, which breaks down the $456 billion war by what it costs each congressional district.
The results are staggering. Every American household has thus far paid $4,100 in taxes toward the war. The Bluegrass State has put up $3.5 billion. We in the 3rd District have unwittingly offered some $673 million. For Hoosiers in Indiana-9, that tab is $715.4 million.

Here are some things Louisvillians could be getting instead, according to the report, for roughly that amount of money:
• Healthcare for 186,821 people
• 13,438 more elementary school teachers
• Renewable electricity in 542,429 houses
• 7,847 new units of affordable housing
• 74 new elementary schools

“With so many lives needlessly lost and hundreds of millions of dollars spent everyday in Iraq, I am proud that we have people in our community who are so committed to bringing our troops home safely and without delay,” U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, D-3, said.

There is only one Kentucky district outspending us on war funding: the 4th, where Republican Rep. Geoff Davis remains steadfastly supportive of the war, and Bush and McConnell. Pundits are already suggesting McConnell may have a tough re-election bid next year, due in large part to his unwavering support for Bush’s (untenable, costly, disastrous, civil, any other appropriate adjectives?) war. —Stephen George

U of L will get environmental
health center

There’s more going on in the environment than climatological cataclysm. Interaction with the world influences both health and disease in ways not fully understood, and Kentucky is about to be a place where it’s understood a little better: More than $4 million has been awarded to the University of Louisville for the creation of an environmental health center.

Sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, the new U of L Center for Environmental Genomics and Integrative Biology will perform research into the interactions between genes and the environment. The focus of the research will be environmental cardiology, environmental interactions that cause cancer, and the developmental roots of disease.

These particular focal points leverage some of the university’s existing research strengths. Extending these capabilities will be the inclusion of bioinformatics, computational biology and other new branches of research.
Larry Cook, executive vice president for health affairs, said the research emphasis will be on changes that occur in the human body between exposure to contaminants and the onset of disease, a tougher but more fruitful line of inquiry.

The center will be one of 22 scattered across the country. —Scott Robinson

Tension rises between union, Toyota
The 7,200 Toyota employees in Georgetown, Ky. have long been torn between two lovers. But after almost two decades of indecision, tensions may be forcing the issue.

Representatives of the United Auto Workers recently made yet another push to bring potential enrollees to the threshold 70 percent level, in the shadow of informal disclosures made earlier this year that the almost-No. 1 global auto giant intends to scale back wages over the next 48 months.

That disclosure came by way of a leaked memo that resulted in the firing of two employees, further heightening tensions. Despite chronic dissatisfaction with working conditions and complaints over management’s response to on-the-job injuries, the Georgetown workforce has remained reticent in recent years about accepting the UAW’s embrace: The once-mighty union’s membership is less than half of what it was in the years preceding the opening of the Georgetown facility, and its track record of late has been lackluster.

On the other hand, ToMoCo management policy with respect to wages discourages workers apart from leaked memos: In its newer facilities, wages are based on local manufacturing pay rates. Georgetown is ToMoCo’s flagship facility stateside, and is thus handled with greater care, for obvious political reasons; but workers are understandably nervous.

It gets worse: The automaker’s recent strategy, with respect to expanding its U.S. operations, has been to place new manufacturing facilities in rural environments where poverty abounds and potential workers are grateful to have a job at all, as in Tupelo, Miss. There, it is clearly easier to hold the union at bay. However, the prominence and political importance of the Georgetown plant have kept industry attention focused on this potentially precedent-setting showdown.

It comes to a head next month, when ToMoCo management unveils a new pay and benefits package. A conciliatory offering will be a severe body blow to UAW efforts, which are finally hovering in the effective range. On the other hand, a concession by corporate management on pay and benefits would be, in light of this year’s disclosures of long-term intent, a sign of weakness.

Not to put too fine a point on it: A recent prepared statement by New United Motor Manufacturing, Inc. (Toyota’s alliance with GM) made clear that the Georgetown plant might go away altogether if it fails to improve its “competitiveness.”

The establishment of the plant in central Kentucky almost two decades ago was a symbolic watershed in the state’s development of industry. Failure to reach a satisfying solution could cost Kentucky several thousand jobs. —SR

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