May 8, 2007

City Strobe

Judge: MSD not subject to city ethics codeA Jefferson County Circuit Court judge ruled last week that the Metropolitan Sewer District does not fall under the purview of the Louisville Metro Ethics Commission, possibly putting to rest a 2-1/2-year-old complaint from a former MSD worker alleging ethical and legal transgressions among the agency’s top brass, including director Bud Schardein.Judge A.C. McKay Chauvin ruled in favor of MSD, which filed the lawsuit in April 2006 to try and stop the Commission from investigating the complaint. The agency argued that the Commission should not have jurisdiction over it because it is a quasi-government agency — a “municipal corporation” created by the General Assembly. In his five-page opinion, Chauvin wrote, “municipal corporations differ from government agencies in that they do not carry out functions which are deemed to be integral to the state government.” Therefore, MSD is not a Metro agency.The suit included Metro Councilman Bob Henderson, against whom former MSD engineer Sarah Lynn Cunningham initially filed an ethics complaint in November 2004. The ruling does not affect that complaint; however, according to Bill Patteson, spokesman for the County Attorney’s Office, which is representing Henderson, the effect of the ruling is to encourage the Commission to deal with the complaint in a timely manner. Patteson said they want the Commission to drop the complaint against Henderson. The Ethics Commission has until Monday to contest the ruling. John Reed, its attorney, said they plan to do that this week. He declined to comment further.If it stands, the decision means MSD — with an annual budget stretching into the hundreds of millions and whose main source of funding is its ratepayers, or every Metro resident who has running water — is accountable to no one but itself, which doesn’t appear to bode well for ratepayers. Earlier this year, a jury ruled that director Schardein violated state law in laying off two former workers, in part because they complained to the state Attorney General about alleged malfeasance at the agency, including direct references to Schardein, chief engineer Derek Guthrie, MSD board member William Gray (now deceased) and Councilman Henderson. The four have denied any wrongdoing. By the end of February — the last record on file as of LEO’s most recent open records request — MSD had spent $323,712.16 in legal fees on the whistleblower case. —Stephen George‘No Spin Zone’ actually full of spin, study findsBill O’Reilly, he of Faux News pedigree, employs name-calling more than once every 7 seconds during his “Talking Points Memo” editorials, which run at the beginning of every episode of “The O’Reilly Factor,” a recent Indiana University media study found. He uses fear as a rhetorical device in more than half of the commentaries, often creates a false dichotomy between good and evil, and lumps — among others — liberals, most of the media, illegal aliens and terrorists together as “bad.” And just over 68 percent of those to whom O’Reilly refers as “victims” — those who are unfairly judged, injured physically, undermined when they should be buoyed or adversely affected by the moral transgressions of others — are the military and the Bush administration. In other words, the “No Spin Zone,” as Bill-O fancies his show, is wrought with spin.“It was the idea that there’s so much, and of course it continues today, there was so much finger-pointing … and it seems like it’s getting us nowhere,” said Mike Conway, a former broadcast journalist and IU journalism professor, on why they decided to study a cable TV spin-meister. Conway is one of three — including Maria Elizabeth Grabe, an IU telecommunications professor, and journalism grad student Kevin Grieves — who conducted the study, which assessed 115 episodes of the Factor. They chose O’Reilly not for political nor ideological reasons, and not even because his show seems ripe for a study of shameless hypocrisy and denigration in mainstream media. Instead, his show was getting huge ratings at the start of 2005 (still is, though they’ve clipped somewhat) and his power and authority with his audience were striking. The researchers used techniques developed by the Institute for Propaganda Analysis, a group formed in 1937 to “teach people how to think rather than what to think.” The IPA compiled a list of seven propaganda devices by which it could assess the state of domestic propagandizing. Predictably, O’Reilly employs every one of them.Conway said he hopes other researchers will pick up the lead and look at the likes of The Daily Show, The Colbert Report or Countdown with Keith Olbermann, all largely considered liberal as opposed to O’Reilly’s arch-conservatism. “I think you’d find it in most, in certain ways, not saying it’d be the same results, but you’d get to see how they see the world. The whole point is how the world is seen by those people.” Check out the study at journalism.indiana.edu/papers/oreilly.html. —Stephen GeorgeLa situación de la inmigraciónOn May Day, hundreds of people took to Louisville’s streets and thousands marched in cities nationwide in support of immigration reform. The demonstrations were significantly smaller than 2006’s marches, no doubt due to fear of reprisals. Many workers were fired last year for being absent on May 1, and others were rounded up and deported. The rally in Los Angeles this year turned violent, and TV news video showed police firing rubber bullets at children and beating people with batons. Journalists (whom some also consider “people”) were seen being thrown to the ground by police in the melee.The marchers want Congress to get off the pot on immigration reform, and own up to the fact that 12 million hard-working, tax-paying immigrants are considered illegal aliens and live in fear of being deported. Many have children who were born in the United States and therefore have something their parents lack: citizenship. Congress, meanwhile, is hamstrung by what everybody from Palestinians to Native Americans to Lou Dobbs knows: Letting everyone onto “your” land can have some drawbacks. The lack of action is causing a crisis in everything from labor relations to law enforcement to homeland security, and millions of workers live in daily fear of raids by immigration agents.As the situation continues to worsen, Congress promises a sweeping overhaul of immigration laws, and a good, Christian nation grapples with just how much leeway Jesus allows on that whole “love thy neighbor as thyself” business. Those who were immigrants when immigration was cool can at least take solace in the fact that the tobacco is getting harvested, the chickens are getting plucked and the motel rooms are getting cleaned. —Jim WelpCheck out City Strobe daily at “The Lip: LEO’s News Blog,” www.leoweekly.com. Contact the writers at citystrobe@leoweekly.com