May 29, 2007

City Strobe

GOP 4 SaleRU a lobbyist seeking influence? Tuff-wristed Kentucky $enate prez seeks $$$ for Republican Party. Luvs long walks on former mountaintops, God, big corporations & making the state’s largest city dangle in the wind. Turn-ons: 10 cmdmnts, bashing gays, drowning gvt in bathtub. Let’s keep KY in Dark Ages 2gether 4ever. Corporate donations welcome. Convenient sway packages from $5k-$50k. Call David Williams (270) 864-5636.That little bit of prose might as well be the personals-ad equivalent of the message Kentucky Senate President David Williams delivered to a gathering of about 40 lobbyists last week at the Muhammad Ali Center. The shameless senator, perhaps recognizing that the GOP brand has lost some value in recent years, wants to shore up Republican coffers in advance of the 2008 election. But there‘s a pesky little problem: state law prohibits lobbyists from giving directly to candidates.  Because if it didn’t, a legislator might, you know, let the donation corrupt his or her legislative efforts. The gathered lobbyists represented banks, technology, medical and pharmaceutical companies, and other corporations keenly interested in the goings on in Frankfort.Not to be stymied by mere law, Williams printed up some handy pledge forms and invited lobbyists to give amounts ranging from $5,000 to $50,000 to a trust fund set up to filter money to Republican candidates. Because the campaign donations won’t go to candidates directly, the scheme is legal. If you’re a lobbyist seeking influence and you missed the shindig, don’t fret. Williams plans another sell-out in July. —Jim WelpBoyd bares allTerry Boyd is the sort of newspaper reporter you see in the old movies. He is skeptical to a fault and always pushes to get to “the real story.” Once, when I sat across the aisle from him at Business First of Louisville, a source got so frustrated that he angrily hung up on Terry, right after said source had threatened to punch the reporter in the nose. For the record, it turns out Terry’s skepticism about the guy’s project funding was well placed. The project was built — and then failed spectacularly.It is that doggedness and nose for adventure that led Boyd to take a job with Stars & Stripes, the independent newspaper that reports on and is partially funded by the U.S. armed forces. In 1999 he relocated his wife and two young daughters to Turkey, where they lived for about four years before a transfer to Germany. In that time, he reported on the ground in many global conflicts, including Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq.He recently returned to Louisville after an airborne epiphany.“I was going up in a helicopter when we just dropped suddenly,” he said. “I looked at my watch, and I was exactly 50 years old. I figure I’d used up all my luck. So I said that was it, right then.”Now he’s back in Louisville and reporting for Business First. Last Thursday night, he recounted some of his experiences for his local brethren, a grouping of a couple dozen communications professionals convened at Jennica’s by the Louisville Metro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.It is no understatement to say that Boyd, a longtime supporter of the military, is not sanguine about the situation in Iraq. While a slide show ran intermittently on a screen behind him, he held forth with a dizzying story.The Iraq war might have been winnable, he said, with a plan. Of course, it’s too late for that now. There are too many divergent ethnic strains with divergent goals to keep them straight, and too many years of history for westerners to comprehend, much less to navigate, in any meaningful way.Comparisons to Vietnam are not that accurate, he said. Better comparisons include Sierra Leone or Liberia, where the conditions were right for the situation to deteriorate into anarchy.The media have done a horrible job reflecting actual reality in Iraq, he said, and the American public doesn’t see the sort of stories and images that might drive home that reality. Americans might become more engaged if there was a military draft, but the President has shrewdly kept that discussion to a minimum while the war has been fought primarily by reservists and the National Guard. And, Americans need to understand the harsh reality that there are always winners and losers. Seeing as there are more Shiite than Sunnis, and seeing how the Kurds have a foothold in Northern Iraq (although they might get crushed between Turkey and Iran), he thinks the writing is on the wall. The only variable is time.Asked what he foresees in Iraq, beyond more suffering and more spending, he said, “Savor the moment, because a year from now, this will seem like the quiet period of the Iraq occupation.” —Cary StemlePutting the ick in MedicareWhat do you get when you combine a hopelessly complex Medicare system, a commission-motivated sales staff and confused senior citizens? Sweet, delicious profit, that’s what. At least if you’re Humana. The insurance giant’s agents got so greedy that they recently landed the company in the crosshairs of the U.S. Senate’s Special Committee on Aging. The practices that riled the senators — a body notoriously difficult to rile — include tricking seniors into switching to Humana products they didn’t need, misrepresenting the coverage of the plans they sold, and — a classic in the annals of capitalism that ranks right up there with long-distance carriers — selling Humana plans that invalidated seniors’ Blue Cross supplemental Medicare coverage without their knowledge.At issue are the Medicare Advantage Plans approved by Congress in 2004, which poetically combine the obfuscation of legalese with the bewilderment of actuarial science — plans so complicated that even the agents don’t understand them. The salesgoons were loosed by Humana to prey on seniors after just 16 hours of training.In a near-Sarandon-ish performance before the committee, Oklahoma insurance commissioner Kim Holland passionately described the abuses in her state, which included agents going door to door and into nursing homes and Wal-Marts to target senior citizens. The senators, who gamely discussed the insurance industry without using the word “slimeball,” threatened to hold the companies more directly responsible for the “abuses, deception and outright fraud” of their agents. Humana, lighting a cigar with a $100 bill, growled, “Hey, we’re an insurance company. That’s what we do.” No, seriously, the company said it would beef up training for agents and implement a zero tolerance policy for crooked sales agents. To watch the testimony, visit aging.senate.gov. —JW