Saturday, July 29, 2006

Odds & Ends

Hezbollah calls for a “war on all fronts” while Al Quida wants a “holy war” against Israel and the “Crusaders” (that’s us thanks to a slip of tongue by Bush). Hezbollah attacks Israeli outposts, and kidnaps Israeli soldiers. Israel responds, and now all hell is breaking lose. The world is demanding Israeli restraint against those who have sworn its total and utter destruction. What would any nation do in Israel’s situation? I have no doubt they’d respond the same way. Every country has the right to safe and secure borders. Every citizen has the right to be protected by their government from harm. Having served in the military and being something of an amateur military historian, I can tell you that Israel can take care of herself. Israel has perhaps the best “man for man” solders in the world, and losing isn’t an option. There is no place to go except into the sea.

Hezbollah and Al Quida have shown themselves for what they are. They spew only hatred. They seek out the weak spirited to commit murder while their leaders hide like cowards, all in the name of God. I see nothing “holy” about war. There isn’t anything glorious about it. War is about destruction, death, famine, and disease. If you truly want a “holy war”, how about trying to see who can be more tolerant and compassionate than the other guy? Let’s see who can build more schools and hospitals, or feed the most hungry children. Afterall, isn’t that what the Bible, Torah, and Koran teaches?

There’s a saying on Wall Street which goes like this, “As Exxon goes, so goes the oil industry”. Well, I guess the oil industry is doing just fine thank you. Exxon posted a $10 billion dollar profit over the last three months. Yelp, you read that right. A ten billion profit in just the last 90 days. And that comes on top of the record profits reported by Exxon and the other oil companies since the war in Iraq started. Perhaps I’m mistaken, but that used to be called “war profiteering” and it was a serious offense. Funny, I haven’t heard anyone calling for an investigation, have you? But, then again, with two oil men in the White House, this little war is more about controlling oil reserves than about democracy (unless democracy is defined as oil companies dominating another country’s oil reserves). Meanwhile, you and I are paying over three dollars a gallon! I think we just need to cut to the chase. Go ahead and raise regular to five dollars a gallon and premium to ten dollars and get it over with. After all, that’s where it’s headed. Again, if oil is such a strategic resource that we must wage war (under whatever pretext) to meet demand, then the federal government should nationalize the oil companies and a serious effort to find alternative energy sources should be made. By the way, if you think gas prices are high now, have you given any thought about how expensive it’s going to be to heat your home this winter?

How many of you caught the Congressional pay hike last month? Yelp, they did it so us again. Each member got a little over $30,000.00 apiece. As usual, they voted on the increase in the dead of night (hoping no one would notice I suspect). This is our money. They work for us. We are their bosses, not the other way around. When was the last time you told your boss you were going to take a pay raise? And what did he do after he stopped laughing? Since pay raises are generally considered the privy of the employer (and you and I are their employers), pay raises should be placed on the ballot for public approval with each state voting on its own representatives. What’s fair is what’s fair. They shouldn't be any different from anyone else; if you do a good job, you should get a raise. If you don’t, then you don’t. Period.

On the home front, it looks like the arena project is back on track…sort of. A few weeks ago, the Metro Council passed the budget for the arena 18-8, which included a provision for a PLA (that’s a Project Labor Agreement); giving unions a seat at the table (I did a little lobbying of Metro Council to get the PLA through). In true partisan form, the Democrats supported passage while the Republicans didn’t. They argued that it would give to little control to non-union businesses, minorities, and women and to much power to the unions. Democrats (and unions) responded by saying that all businesses, both union and non-union, were equally protected, including minorities and women. Governor Fletcher (R) weighed in and said he wouldn’t support any project with a PLA provision and added that funding for the project could be jeopardized if the PLA provision stayed. Mayor Jerry Abramson (D) seconded Fletcher’s remarks, and in what was his first veto, shot down it down. After several days of compromise, the bill was reworked with the PLA deleted and removing Labor from a direct role in the construction of the arena, though they will be allowed to “monitor” the construction, and there will be a ”monitoring committee” overseeing hiring practices and the prevailing wage issues.

So, is this a good or bad thing? I guess it depends on your point of view. First, there really aren’t as many people as it seems who want an arena. “Build it and they will come” was only a line from a mediocre movie. Louisville, and indeed, Kentucky is all about college hoops. The idea for the arena was to give UofL a new place to play until a professional team can be attracted. That would give the city two venues---the arena and Freedom Hall---in case there’s a conflict of schedules I suppose. Folks, Freedom Hall isn’t a bad place to play ball as it is now. For a ¼ of the cost it would take to build the arena, Freedom Hall could become a state-of-the-art facility. The next question which comes to mind is whether or not Louisville has the financial base to support an arena, and presumably a pro team. I strongly suspect it doesn’t. We have only two major employers, Ford and UPS. Season ticket prices may be out of reach for the average fan. Given too that this is recreation money, the arena will be in direct competition with the other sporting events, including Churchill Downs, not to mention the surrounding theme parks.

So, will the arena be able to sustain itself in the long run? Unlikely. If you have any doubts, ask yourself what became of the indoor “pro” football team? How many “pro” soccer teams have we gone through? When was the last time the Bats had a sold out season? Heck, when was the last time the stadium was ever more than half full? Remember too that the Bats are our second AA team. The first one packed up and left due to a lack of interest. How about the “pro” basketball team, the Kentucky Colonels? Not the one from 30 or so years ago. I’m talking about the revised team of two years ago (bet you didn’t even know about that one). Yeah, they’re kaput. This is a college sports town plain and simple. We lack the broad interest and financial base to support a pro team. As for “all those people” who support the arena, they tend to be the usual suspects looking to make a buck, which brings me back to my original point.

Business interests are going to be protected. You can bet on it. Although we’ve been promised no taxpayer money will go into this project, you and I know that somehow, we’re going to foot the bill. That’s why I think unions need to be a part of this project. Yeah, it may cost a little more because they’ll be paying a prevailing wage (which helps the local economy by the way), but union labor tends to do a better job. Don’t get me wrong, we need good oversight on the overall construction (workmanship and material) of the arena, but that holds true regardless. We need to make sure minorities and women get a fair shot too. I think unions would be in a better position to protect the workers…union and non-union alike…better than trusting some project management company. So, with or without a PLA, workers need a place at the table in planning and implementing this project, and the best folks for the job is organized labor. By the way, only Councilman Doug Hawkins (R) has stood his ground in opposing the arena.

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