Archive for October, 2008

Racist Jerks Arrested In Lexington

Posted in Crime, Elections, Kentucky News, Lexington News, Politics on October 31, 2008 by stateofthecommonwealth

(mugshots from the Lexington Herald-Leader and kentucky.com)

Remember the other day, how some clowns in Lexington hung an Obama effigy on the University of Kentucky campus? Well, they’ve been arrested (story from the Lexington Herald-Leader):

University of Kentucky police announced the arrest of a UK student and his friend Thursday in connection with the hanging of an effigy of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama from a tree on campus Wednesday.

Interim UK police chief Joe Monroe said police received a series of tips throughout the day Wednesday that eventually led them to the two men. The men told police that the act was a stunt in response to news reports that an effigy of Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin was hung at a West Hollywood, Calif., home.

Joe Fischer, 22, a UK senior and a former football team walk-on, and a friend, Hunter Bush, 21, of Lexington were charged Thursday with burglary in the second degree, a felony; and theft by unlawful taking and disorderly conduct, both misdemeanors. The disorderly conduct charge was made for the hanging of the effigy.

According to the 2007-2008 UK football roster, Fischer is from Latonia, outside of Cincinnati. Court documents list a Lexington address for him.

The two were being held at the Fayette County Detention Center Thursday.

Fischer and Bush turned themselves in to university police Thursday afternoon.

Material used to make the effigy, including clothes, was stolen from a fraternity house, and it was through the fraternity that they were able to track down Fischer and Bush, Monroe said.

Both Fischer and Bush gave statements to University of Kentucky Police detectives admitting responsibility, according to Fayette District Court records. Between 1:30 and 2:30 a.m. on Wednesday, Bush and Fischer entered the Farmhouse Fraternity at 420 Hilltop Avenue. Inside, they took a black sports jacket and khaki pants. From a shed on the property, Fischer also took an 8-foot ladder, according to court records. Statements provided by residents of the fraternity house also placed Fischer at the scene, according to a criminal complaint.

Then, the two hung the doll resembling Obama 25 feet in the air with a noose. It was hung from a tree over a walkway, creating a hazardous condition, resulting in the disorderly conduct charge.

Neither Fischer nor Bush was a member of the fraternity, Monroe said.

“They expressed extreme remorse for a prank that they say got out of hand,” Monroe said of the two men. “They meant no harm or disrespect.”

That’s the failure of our educational system in a nutshell. Anyone with any inkling of the history of lynching in the United States would know that the imagery involving a hanged effigy is both harmful and disrespectful. Shameful.

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Crestwood Family in Obama Infomercial

Posted in Economics, Elections, Film, Kentucky News, Labor, Louisville News, Media, Politics, Transportation on October 30, 2008 by stateofthecommonwealth

One of the big presidential campaign stories from yesterday was the Obama campaign’s 30-minute infomercial which aired simultaneously on three network stations (excluding ABC) in prime-time. While Obama is not expected to win Kentucky’s electoral votes, the infomercial featured the Dowell family of Crestwood, just outside of Louisville. The Courier-Journal tells us a little (but not much) more this morning about Mark Dowell, who works at the Ford Kentucky Truck Plant in eastern Jefferson County:

Mark Dowell said he never expected the invitation to introduce Barack Obama when the presidential candidate visited Louisville in May, but he was even more surprised when the campaign asked him to share his story for a national audience.

The 35-year-old autoworker from Crestwood was one of several Americans featured last night in a 30-minute prime-time commercial that the Democratic nominee used to present his biography and policies to the public.

“It was a great feeling to see me and to know the nation’s seeing me,” Dowell said in an interview after the commercial aired. “I feel proud.”

In the commercial, Dowell talked about how the instability in the auto industry has made his financial future unclear. His wife was laid off from the Kentucky Truck Plant, where they both work, and he has “down” weeks or weeks where he is temporarily without work.

“Eight years ago we couldn’t build trucks fast enough and now they are slowing us down,” said Dowell, who is the father of two daughters, ages 4 and 14.

Dowell said he thinks that Obama’s economic policies will put more money back in the pockets of the middle class and keep jobs from going overseas. And he said he hopes that will eventually help turn the economy around.

“My grandfather retired from Ford, my father retired from Ford and I hope I can retire from Ford,” he said.

Ronnie Ellis on Coal’s Complications; Where Your Candidates Stand on Mountaintop Removal

Posted in Appalachia, Development, Drink, Economics, Elections, Environment, Kentucky News, Kentucky Small Towns, Louisville News, Media, Politics on October 27, 2008 by stateofthecommonwealth

(above photo of Lt. Gov. Dan Mongiardo from www.kydemocrat.com)

The always-excellent blog The Ville Voice hipped us to this excellent piece by Ronnie Ellis in the Glasgow Daily Times on his recent trip to southeastern Kentucky with Lieutenant Governor (and coal supporter) Daniel Mongiardo to observe mountaintop removal operations and reclamation. Here’s a fantastic excerpt:

At one reclaimed site Mongiardo said: “If you didn’t know better, you’d think you were in central Kentucky.” No. More importantly, I asked, if one wants to live in central Kentucky, why wouldn’t one move there instead of trying to turn a awesomely beautiful place into something other than what God created and which shapes the magnificent spirit and character of the equally wonderful people who live there?

At the end of the day, I thanked Mongiardo. I told him I recognized his genuine passion for eastern Kentucky and his understandable desire to pump economic life into the region. But, I concluded, neither the elk, the trails nor the faulty rationale could eradicate the scarred images from my mind nor the sense that we are in the process of destroying something which is sacred to the people of southeastern Kentucky in order to preserve it. You simply can’t preserve something by destroying it, I told him. For what does it profit eastern Kentucky if it sells its soul?

That’s why I was so surprised to learn Mongiardo told a meeting of the Kentucky Coal Association in Lexington a week later that he’d taken a reporter to show him the reality of mining and, “I think he’s got a different attitude now because he saw it first-hand.” He didn’t name me, but there were people in the room who knew Mongiardo spoke of me.

It’s not surprising that Mongiardo, who is from Hazard, would be so pro-coal, but we have to wonder to what extent has Appalachia ever benefited from exploiting the coal under its mountains? Certainly the residents of the region aren’t getting any richer, and if the so-called benefits of mountaintop removal include turning beautiful eastern Kentucky mountains into hills similar to beautiful-but-not-quite-as-beautiful central Kentucky’s, then we really don’t see the point.

However, it’s easy to second guess our dependence on coal from the big city, despite being the beneficiaries of coal-powered electricty. As LEO‘s Fat Lip blog reminds us, here in Louisville the choices we make for our political representation have an impact on eastern Kentucky. FL linked to the Watchdog Earth blog of the Courier-Journal‘s Jim Bruggers, who published two excellent posts comparing the proposed coal policies of US Representative John Yarmuth (D-Louisville) and challnger Anne Northup (R) and Senator Mitch McConnell (R) and challenger Bruce Lunsford (D).

TARC Gets Slammed By Diesel Prices

Posted in Economics, Louisville News, Transportation on October 27, 2008 by stateofthecommonwealth

Remember back in the summer, when TARC fares increased? And TARC officials looked, well, kinda smart for locking in a new diesel contract given that crude oil prices seemed to be going nowhere but up? Well, that’s all over now. The Courier-Journal reports this morning, in the top article on the front page, that TARC is getting hammered by these same contracts, now that the price of diesel has fallen:

With diesel prices hovering at $4.75 a gallon, the Transit Authority of River City in late July locked in a supply contract for $3.92 a gallon.

At the time, TARC officials breathed a sigh of relief “because of the volatility of prices. It also assured us of an adequate supply,” Barry Barker, TARC’s executive director, said last week.

But as the U.S. economy has slowed and demand for fuel has declined, the price of diesel has dropped to about $3.20 a gallon on the open market.

And what once looked like a good deal for TARC is now an iron-clad contract that could end up costing the agency — and its bus riders — $1.75 million more than might be paid by buying on the open market through next July 31.

To help cover its higher fuel costs, TARC raised its base fare 25 cents to $1.50 on July 1, and in August, cut service on a dozen routes.

The article goes on to give comparative fuel rates for other local government agencies, which is actually pretty interesting:

Not all Louisville area agencies that use a lot of fuel have been hit by the higher prices as hard as TARC, which usually uses about 2.6 million gallons of fuel a year in its 358 vehicles.

Louisville Metro Government uses about 600,000 gallons of diesel fuel and about 210,000 gallons of unleaded gasoline a year, said city spokeswoman Kerri Richardson.

She said the city is near the end of the fourth year of a five-year contract with Thornton Oil; the fourth year of the deal ends Dec. 31, and the contract will be put up for bid after the fifth year.

Under the contract, the cost to the city per gallon is based on a formula that is tied to the fluctuating retail pump price.

The city last week was paying $2.65 a gallon for unleaded gasoline and $3.02 a gallon for diesel fuel, Richardson said.

The city gets a discounted rate per gallon and doesn’t have to pay gasoline tax.

Indicative of the recent sharp drop in prices, the city paid an average of $3.60 a gallon for diesel during September, Richardson said.

The Jefferson County school system’s cost of diesel fuel changes almost daily. It was paying just $2.55 a gallon for diesel fuel on Thursday, said Mike Mulheirn, the school system’s executive director for facilities and transportation.

The schools pay a rate that is tied to the daily diesel-fuel rate published every morning by the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. The supplier can charge a markup of up to 24.5 cents per gallon. The school system is also exempt from fuel taxes.

The district just renewed a contract and has a new one-year deal through next October with Heritage Oil, based in Western Kentucky.

Otherwise, there isn’t much to say other than hindsight is 20/20. It’s doubtful that anybody really anticipated oil prices dropping to the level that they have.

Choice Cuts: Big Box Reuse Author on NPR

Posted in Art, Choice Cuts, Development, Economics, Environment, Kentucky Small Towns, Media, Transportation on October 24, 2008 by stateofthecommonwealth

(above image of Julia Christensen’s Big Box Reuse from npr.org)

It’s been a few days since it aired, but for part three in our irregular series called Choice Cuts (excerpts from longer pieces either by or about Kentuckians), we’d like to bring your attention to a book entitled Big Box Reuse by Bardstown native Julia Christensen (full disclosure: we went to Bard College with Julia back in the 1990s). NPR‘s All Things Considered program ran a profile on Julia’s book this past Monday called “Once A Wal-Mart: The New Lives of Big Boxes,” and you can read the full text here:

Across the country, communities are turning abandoned big-box stores like Kmart and Wal-Mart into churches, schools, libraries — even museums devoted to everything from Spam to Route 66.

Julia Christensen, an artist and professor at Oberlin College, crisscrossed the country to find out how these sprawling structures are being repurposed. Christensen first got the idea to study big boxes in her hometown, Bardstown, Ky., the bourbon capital of the world.

Bardstown has a charming, historic downtown, with little cafes and boutiques. Tourism is a vital part of Bardstown’s economy. People come from all over to visit the distilleries and the 18th century mansion that inspired Stephen Foster to write “My Old Kentucky Home.”

To keep the historic buildings intact, there are very strict design regulations downtown.

But like cities everywhere, the outskirts are a different story. Strip malls are just a few minutes’ drive away. Wal-Mart has already opened and outgrown two buildings here.

Prime Property

What intrigued Christensen is what happened at the site of the first Wal-Mart: A huge space that was also home to a number of other businesses that wanted to be close to Wal-Mart — a bar called Boots and Buckles, a restaurant called Hunan Dynasty, a movie theater. When the Wal-Mart left, so did the other businesses.

But the Wal-Mart lot isn’t empty anymore. Bardstown needed a new courthouse, so eventually the government bought the property, razed the big box and built the Nelson County Justice Center. A few smaller government agencies set up shop nearby. The bar and restaurant area are still vacant.

As for Wal-Mart, it moved into a bigger building across town. About five years ago, it made plans to leave that site and move to a third location. But this time, local officials wanted a say in the matter. Dixie Hibbs was the mayor of Bardstown at the time.

“We know you’re going to build a big building. We’ve seen them. We don’t like them,” Hibbs says. “You’re going to take a prime piece of property and build something we know will be there for 20 years. We want a building that will be pleasing to us.”

In response, Wal-Mart agreed to change the building’s design.

“It looks like a shopping center, not a shopping box,” Hibbs says.

Big Box Reuse

It’s important to note that sometimes, when a big box is left empty, it’s not necessarily the fault of retailers; they don’t always own the buildings themselves; often they lease them.

Christensen says she’s not interested in finding fault with the owners of big boxes. She’s operating on the assumption that they’re here to stay. Instead, she wants to focus on what people do with them when they’re abandoned.

In her new book, Big Box Reuse, Christensen looks at 10 different communities.

In Austin, Minn., Christensen went to a big box that had been renovated into a museum devoted to Spam, the canned meat. In Fayetteville, N.C., she went to a flea market that had once been a Kmart. And in Round Rock, Texas, a group of young entrepreneurs turned an abandoned Wal-Mart into an indoor racecar track. Christensen cites the racecar track for its imaginative use of such a large space — but they couldn’t keep up with the overhead costs and had to close down.

Christensen says cities have a huge incentive to find other uses for these buildings.

“Roads are widened. Stoplights put in. Entire bypasses might be created,” she says. “So all of this invested infrastructure remains after the retailer leaves the building behind.”

Which can make these sites good for repurposing. Take Lebanon, Mo. When a Kmart there went bankrupt, its building was left vacant for three years, and the area became depressed. So the community raised money to turn it into a new and bigger county library.

Cathy Dame, the library’s director, says it took awhile for some people to adjust.

“Sometimes, honestly, it was easier to say, ‘Remember where the shoe section was? That’s our children’s room,’ ” Dame says.

Since the structure was too big for just the library, they broke it up and now share it with a Route 66 museum and a cafe, among other things. And Dame says they are getting a lot of traffic, partly because it’s easy to park.

Dame stresses that the whole project was paid for in private donations, not taxes. Individuals and local businesses all chipped in.

“The comment I kept hearing the board say — and the public say — was how ugly the building was just sitting there,” Dame says. “It was a reminder of a business that went bankrupt. It was just depressing, frankly.”

“With these big-box buildings, they are constructed by the hundreds every year, and they are abandoned by the hundreds every year,” Christensen says. “We’re dealing with a limited resource here. There’s not an endless supply on Earth, so we need to think about what’s going to happen to the future of these structures.”

You can also listen to audio of the story on that page. NPR also published an excerpt from the book on that page. Big Box Reuse is available from MIT Press.

UPDATE: PNC to Buy National City

Posted in Economics, Kentucky News, Labor, Louisville News on October 24, 2008 by stateofthecommonwealth

The Courier-Journal (and just about every other media outlet) is reporting that PNC Financial Services (of Pittsburgh) is buying National City Bank (of Cleveland):

PNC Financial Services says it is acquiring National City for about $5.58 billion and will receive $7.7 billion in capital from the federal government. The deal includes $7.7 billion from the government’s bailout program.

Pittsburgh-based PNC will pay $5.2 billion for National City through a stock transaction that values National City at about $2.23 per share, a 18.9 percent discount from Thursday’s closing price of $2.75. The remaining $384 million will be a cash payment to certain warrant holders.

National City is Kentucky’s largest bank based on deposits. In Louisville and Southern Indiana, Cleveland-based NCC has 940 employees, and another 400 in other parts of Kentucky.

National City shareholders will receive 0.0392 shares of PNC common stock for each share of National City they own.

PNC says it will also receive a $7.7 billion investment from the government, under its $750 billion bailout plan.

As you no doubt recall, National City announced earlier in the week that it was slashing 4,000 jobs in response to heavy losses this quarter. No word yet on whether this merger will mean additional job cuts, or if any of those cuts will come in Kentucky.

Don’t Miss Fleur Delicious

Posted in Drink, Economics, Food, Happenings, Louisville News on October 23, 2008 by stateofthecommonwealth

Right now, the third annual Fleur Delicious — Downtown Louisville’s Restaurant Week — is going on:

Has going out to eat put a pinch on your pocket book?……….Then come downtown for Fleur De Licious. Fleur De Licious is the perfect opportunity to enjoy exceptional dishes prepared by Downtown Louisville’s hottest eateries. Want to impress that special someone?….Make a whole night of it downtown….Treat your date to a three-course dinner at one of our participating restaurants and then take in one of the many shows at Actors Theatre or The Kentucky Center.

With Fleur de Licious, there’s no passes to buy, coupons to carry or cards to punch; simply attend the participating restaurant of your choice and select from a special Fleur De Licious 3-course prix-fix menu for either $25.00 or $35.00 per person. (beverages, tax and gratuity are not included.)

With a deal like this, you don’t want to be left out. Make your reservations today!

Participating Restaurants

Bistro 301 Menu

BLU Italian Grille Menu

Bristol Bar & Grille- Downtown Menu

Caviar

Hard Rock Cafe Menu

Los Aztecas

Mayan Cafe Menu

Melillo’s Italian Restaurant Menu

Proof Menu

Red Star Tavern

Road to Morocco Menu

Vincenzo’s Menu

3-course meals for $25 at most of these places is a pretty awesome deal. 3 courses for $35 isn’t too shabby, either. Check it out and support local, downtown restaurants!