Thursday, July 30, 2009

Lilly Willy Nilly, or I'm Silly on Lilly Shill-y?

I received some choice words after asserting that Eli Lilly CEO John Lechleiter's million dollar gift to United Way was motivated, in part, by the healthcare debate. In response, I wanted to say that I know people give to charity out of generosity, so I do not mean to discount that component.


Mr. Lechleiter could have donated anonymously and asked his family, friends, and fellow executives to do the same thing. He didn't.

Mr. Lechleiter, as board chair for United Way, could have given the donation publicly while instructing the organization NOT to issue a press release. He didn't.

Mr. Lechleiter, as board chair for United Way, could have said, "You know what? Issue a press release, but don't refer to me or Mr. Santini as Lilly executives, and also, don't include a whole paragraph at the bottom of the release ABOUT Lilly. He didn't. (Seriously, look at the release. Why is there a paragraph about Lilly when the company didn't make the donation?).

Mr. Lechleiter (and his wife) committed to give more money NOW than before, even though his Wife has been involved with the agency at least since 2003, and even though United Way receipts were down last year, too.

Mr. Lechleiter is keenly aware of the public perception of big pharma. In September of 2008, he gave a speech to the Economic Club of Indiana during which he stated that one of the 800-pound gorillas in the room is (and I quote), “The Image of the Pharmaceutical Industry” … and he is one ugly dude! He can barely win a beauty contest against tobacco or Big Oil … and that’s saying something!"

Mr. Lechleiter made his commitment NOW, even though the press release stated that the United Way's annual campaign has not begun.

It just so happens that NOW is when Congress is talking about voting on a massive overhaul of the healthcare industry.

I have heard legions of stories about how generous Mr. Lechleiter is. I cannot dispute that, though it sures seems easier to give $250,000 when you make $13 million per year (1.9% of your total income), doesn't it?

But if you can read all of this and say this is JUST philanthropy in operation and nothing more, you're either naive as hell, benefitting from Eli Lilly somehow financially, or somebody I need to hang out with more frequently for inspiration because you have a shockingly optimistic take on people that is refreshing. Let me know when you want to get a beer.


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Charity as PR for Lilly?

If you read this, there's no doubt you'll say, "It's official! iPopa is a cynic!"

The Indianapolis Star reports today: "Eli Lilly Chief's $1M Gift Boosts United Way"

Eli Lilly CEO, John Lechleiter, has committed to giving $250,000 per year for the next four years to United Way. Lechleiter also challenged other executives to "step up." Normally, I'd say, "Wow! What a great guy!"

Here's my problem. United Way donations were down substantially last year (though not as much as now), a fact Mr. Lechleiter would have certainly known as a board member of United Way of Central Indiana.

Is there any reason why the head of a major pharmaceutical company would want to have the PR associated with making this type of donation right now, at this very minute? Has anybody heard of anything going nationally that might concern Lilly?

As an aside, it's shrewd PR getting credit for a $1M gift now even though you aren't paying it all until four years. See, a guy could say, "I'm giving $250,000 this year" and know in his heart of hearts that he is going to do the same for the next three years. But that doesn't get you the headline of a million, does it?

The Star reports that Gino Santini, United Way's campaign chair and a senior vice president at Lilly, said in a statement. "We hope (the Lechleither's) example will inspire others to join them."

Absolutely! Come on, John! Inspire others! Just give United Way the full mill this year and forget the next three. They'll invest it wisely with you on the Board, I'm sure!

I had similiar cynical thoughts when Lilly hired an extremely high-profile, Democratic former mayor, too. Mostly this cynicism came from my belief (which might be inaccurate) that Mayor Peterson had never worked in pharmaceuticals. But also, it came from knowing the Mayor was tight enough with Senator Bayh (a/k/a "the critical healthcare swing vote") to serve as the then-Governor's chief-of-staff. Who wouldn't want that skill set (and political affiliation) running your government affairs group during a Democratic presidential administration that committed to sweeping healthcare reform?


Sunday, July 26, 2009

Dumbing Down The Healthcare Debate

My across-the-aisle colleagues at Hoosier Access have an interesting piece on the new political ad being run by Patients United Now to topple Obama's healthcare plan.

As an aside, I love the name "Patients United Now" because the name truly is a big PUN. This isn't a spontaneous group of patients who banded together. It's a front for Americans for Prosperity, which champions "the principles of entrepreneurship and fiscal and regulatory restraint." How'd that regulatory restraint work for you in the housing sector, guys?

Anyway, the TV ad highlights that the healthcare bill is 1,017 pages, and it suggests that you ask your Democratic members of congress if they have read the bill. Some schmoe at Red State went further and advised you to take a video camera to a town hall meeting so you can pull a Mike Wallace. (Yeah, I know...the ad doesn't specify D or R, but the ad only ran on television in D house districts).

We in the Democrat camp thought we had the Republican Party on the run. It was even allegedly searching in pizza parlors for a coherent identity. But have no fear, elephant lovers! One thing R’s do better than D’s is craft sound bites and visuals that instill fear (though Democrats do have some quality moments on social security). This is a classic example.

You see, Republicans strategists know that (s)he who tells the shorter tale wins. On healthcare, Democrats will talk about how the insured pay more because uninsured use emergency room medicine instead of a cheaper primary care physicians, or how big pharma overcharges to cover the cost of run-amok ad campaigns for erection pills, or how private insurance costs twice what it should because we have to cover both record profits and administration costs that dwarf Medicaid and Medicare. Yes, you heard me right. As a percent of total costs, our government runs a massively more efficient healthcare program than the private insurance system.

But that’s all blah, blah, blah when compared to….THIS….

THUNK! (heavy-metal style echo effect after bill is dropped on table)

That's deathly effective. How can you NOT think massive government takeover when there's that much paper on the table?!? And how can a Democratic legislator who hasn't even READ the bill serve you or know about the super-secret provisions to turn us all into slave laborers? (Oh, I know! Slave labor is not in there, but almost nobody in America who doesn't work in politics has read the bill, so whatever evils Limbaugh says it contains, that’s what a lot of Republicans will believe).

Sorry, but this stunt is just dumb-down hucksterism. Engage me on the specifics about cost or on what you lose choice-wise under the “government plan,” Republicans, but don't leave it at, "Gaaaaallleeee, Goober! That shoooore is big!"

This is the worst kind of cynical, hypocritical "gotcha" politics, and I cringe when my own party does it.

The President has to sign a bill to make it a law. Does anybody REALLY think George W. Bush has read every law passed during his eight years? I'd bet all the money I have that he didn't even read the TITLES of all of them, let alone the abstracts prepared by his staff.

You see, what Big PUN and the insurance industry want is "the visual" of a legislator who "supports something (s)he hasn't even read!!!" This will help them kill the bill on things that have nothing to do with the merits (or demerits). This ad isn't trying to engage you in a philosophical debate on whether those who legislate and sign our laws should have to personally read every one of them because, if this were the standard, we wouldn't have enough Congressmen for a quorum.

I hope you all keep this in mind if you're contemplating dumbing yourself down (and catching it on video, no less).

Also, to the D members of Congress who read me, I know you won't do this, but wouldn't it be a heckuva daydream TO have this conversation:

R: "Have you read ALL 1,017 pages of the bill?"

C: "Have you? No?!?! What a shock! Then how about you shut the (expletive) up until you know what you’re talking about and quit taking talking points from a Republican leadership that’s in the pocket of big pharma and the insurance industry?!?"


Saturday, July 25, 2009

Parting the Gates: The Last Word and What Crowley and Ron Artest Have in Common

Many critical of Sergeant Crowley argue that police officers are trained to de-escalate, and Crowley failed to do so. I'm one. In an ideal world, everybody speaks in a respectful, calm voice while maintaining decorum. But when voices are raised in a clash of citizen versus officer, the officer has to "take it." Is it fair that somebody who is protecting us is subjected to an accusatory tirade? Actually, yes, because that's the job.

Rewind to November 19, 2004. The Indiana Pacers are playing the Detroit Pistons. Ron Artest is feigning disinterest while refs talk over how to treat Ben Wallace for committing a flagrant foul. However, Artest is also acting like a smartass by reclining on the scorer's table. Artest is struck by a beverage cup, and he goes bananas by running into the crowd and attacking the guy he thinks threw the cup. Artest incites "malice at the Palace" (an episode David Stern calls the most "atrocious" in NBA history), and he kills any chance the Pacers have of a national championship. Stern suspends Artest for 73 games (or a year in NBA player terms).

My point is not to argue whether this suspension was warranted or to imply that if police officer who struck a civilian for throwing a cup at him wouldn't get worse (he probably would).

It is only to say that the NBA had an expectation of its players, which was, "We know fans can be a-holes, and you deal with it." Players' tales of fans uttering racial epithets are legion, but if a player reacts and breaks that imaginary player/fan line, he get suspended for leaving "the court." In other words, the NBA's expectation was that Artest would just suffer whatever indignity he felt from being hit with a cup.

That's the same with police officers. Sergeant Crowley's duty was to suck it up. You don't get to be vindictive and make a bogus arrest. If an officer cannot maintain his/her calm, (s)he can find another vocation....because this is what we ask of you.

Likewise, if you can't restrain yourself when people use harsh words or hit you with a cup, don't join the NBA. Or at least don't be on the Pacers during a title run.


Friday, July 24, 2009

Amended Gates Post-Mortem

Perhaps the most valuable byproduct of the Gates episode is a reminder of how racially divided we still are. With few exceptions (kudos to my colleague Will Doss), everybody had an opinion from the outset, including the President (though we learned yesterday he was only endorsing the notion that the arrest was stupid, not the racial allegation).

What is interesting is that people who weren't there, including me, decided who was telling the truth, and with few exceptions, most white people thought the white officer (who was the only guy present at the beginning) was telling the truth, and black folks mostly thought Gates was. Yesterday, a black officer who was present at the end of the episode said Gates should have been arrested. White people believed him without questioning why professionally or personally he might back up his white colleagues' story. Black people were more inclined to question his motive.

What accounts for this massive perception gap?

Whether we want to admit it, a lot of white people basically think black people cry racism over everything. I think it is used a lot. I also agree that false claims of racism could detract from our reaction when "real" racism occurs. But the funny thing is that for many of the white people who subscribe to this "don't cry wolf" philosophy, the case of REAL racism that they would be glad to decry never happens, and certainly not in a close case of he said/he said.

Many white people engage in an almost reflexive analysis to cast doubt on a claim of disparate treatment based on race. (Seriously, black folks - go up to your best friend who's white and ask him or her to name a case of race-based injustice. Some will have to go back to segregation in the 1960s).

I also think people misunderstand a subtle distinction between when something is racial and when it's racist. We are all subject to prejudices of varying degrees, and most are subconscious. The term "racism" is thrown around casually, but when I use the term, I mean an intentional use of power to subjugate. The officer in Cambridge might not have had that intent at all, but if he could have walked away from the Gates situation but instead chose to arrest a man for claiming racial profiling, well, in my opinion, there's probably a racial component to that decision.

The truth is, we'll never really know because it's almost always impossible to find a control group. Has this officer ever arrested someone else on their own porch for disorderly conduct? Has this officer arrested anybody solely for going off on him? If the answer is no, why is it so untoward to think there might be a racial component?

Now we learn that the officer's record is solid, and he has even taught sensitivity training. But this actually makes me think worse of the officer. If he can't understand Dr. Gates' reaction and diffuse it without making an unnecessary arrest, what about all the other white police officers who have excessive force complaints filed by African-Americans in their personnel files?

This won't be the last word on this subject because too many white people don't want to confront what makes black people distrustful. They just want to prove that in each case, that distrust is unwarranted.

I'm a huge fan of the The Wire, which had the most truthful handling of subconscious racial thinking I've seen. A white officer, Roland "Prezbo" Brezbylewski, was looking for a black suspect who had shot a cop in the middle of the night. He comes upon on a black man with a gun in and alley, and he shoots and kills him. It turns out to be a decorated, African-American, plain clothes police officer.

Prezbo's closest colleague and mentor is a black officer, Lester Freeman. Freeman, Prezbo's unit chief, Daniels, and detective in Prezbo's unit, all of whom are black, agree to testify at administrative hearings that Prezbo is not racist and race had nothing to do with the shooting. This lack of racial animus seems consistent with Prezbo's later career move into teaching. Prezbo turns out to one of the few truly committed people in an all-black school. In short, the people who know Prezbo best, don't see him as racist, nor does his conduct suggest it. (Admittedly, Prezbo had earlier pistol-whipped a fourteen-year-old black kid, but that was following an assault and Prezbo is described as a hot head, so the writers of the Wire make it seems unclear whether the action would Prezbo would have done the same thing to a white kid happened to a white kid).

But when he and Freeman talk about the shooting, Prezbo vacillates. He says, "I didn't shoot him because he was black. (Pause) Maybe I did. I don't know." The recognition that we don't always know what subconsciously transpires has finally come for Prezbo. Does it mean Prezbo is evil, or a racist, or did he just have a reflexive racial thought because he's the product of an information dissemination system in which he's trapped? To cure the latter issue, you have to acknowledge it exists. Racial thinking is like alcoholism. You can't get cured until you realize you have a problem, and all of us, no matter what race you are, suffer from it. The key is how we deal with it.

By the way, on May 29, 2009, life again imitated art when Omar Edwards, a 25-year-old old NYPD cop in plain clothes was shot and killed by a white officer. Was this racial thinking? What about the other cases in NYC alone? Notice how even when an officer is criminally convicted, the white higher ups in the department still maintain it wasn't anything about race?

What about Sean Bell, the groom who died in a hail of 50 bullets? What about Amadou Diallo, who was shot trying to pick up his wallet? What about Christopher Ridley, another black officer killed by a white officer in New York State?

What about the L.A.P.D. officer whose home was raided by S.W.A.T.? Was that racial thinking? Did "racial thinking" permit the officers who orchestrated the raid to "get away with it?"

What about the study that showed white police officers were more likely to shoot unarmed black suspects in a computer simulation? (Though this study seems pretty damning evidence on subconscious racial thinking, I promise you somebody white will reflexively try to debunk it or comment on this post by pointing out a flaw in the research. If you're that person, by all means have at it. We need a dialogue. But also do some introspection about why you're so invested in disproving even subconscious racial bias in every case).

What about historical evidence? I looked for hours on-line trying to find a story about a black officer who shot the unarmed white cop, and I couldn't find anything. I know somebody is going to say it's the "liberal media's selective coverage," so feel free to direct me to the conservative website that shows the black rogue cop shooting his white brethren.

What I can say for certain is that substantially more white people will say these episodes have no racial component than black people.

Welcome to the chasm of "post-racial" America.


Thursday, July 23, 2009

Dr. Gates and the Right to Outrage

As America knows, one of black intelligentsia's most renowned scholars, Dr. Henry Louis "Skip" Gates, was arrested for disorderly conduct, essentially because he accused a police officer of racial profiling.

Over the past three days, I have devoured comments from both journalists and regular joes on the internet, and almost all of them sadden me.

Though the African-American community (including President Obama, who said the officers acted "stupidly") has been overwhelming supportive, there is a minor backlash among those who suggest Dr. Gates has historically distanced himself from his "lesser" black brethren. It's almost as if they are giving him a collective, John-McLean-in-Diehard-style, "Welcome to the party, pal!"

How else can you explain the lack of empathy, if not for the notion that others not in Dr. Gates' social strata feel they have suffered worse for far longer? These critics act as if Dr. Gates' mind was saying, "Oh, my stars! I cannot believe there is racial profiling! Who knew?!?!?"

Of course, Dr. Gates foolishly gave weight to this notion by stating his intent to NOW make a documentary on racial profiling. Hello!?!?! DWB was decades-old before it became quantifiably demonstrable on the New Jersey turnpike in 1999. (Heck, I drafted the Indiana Democratic Party's anti-profiling plank in the 2000 party platform, and if this white boy knows it's going on, well.....).

But see how easily Dr. Gates comment can be mischaracterized to make him look like an idiot? It's unfair. The truth is, Dr. Gates has always known, and it's frustrating to see his own attacking him for being too pedigreed and somehow thinking HE thinks he's been above the fray until now. Even if this were true, if Dr. Gates is more motivated to speak now, maybe the black community should forget that he showed up late to the party and celebrate that he arrived at all.

These same critics contend Gates' alleged inquisition to the officer about "do you know him I am" was arrogant. I would wager it wasn't ego at all, but rather, a simple thought:

"Damn! If a middle-aged, hobbling, nationally-aclaimed African-American Harvard professor dressed like a Dockers commercial can be arrested on his own porch because he demands an officer's name and badge number, what hope is there for an eighteen-year-old African-American male with sagging pants walking down the street minding his own business who is in the general vicinity of a crime?"

For their part, most (though not all) white commentators have done two things, which are both distressing. The first is to accept the officer's version of events. If you go through the comments on every blog or about this incident, most white people (though not all) who chastize Dr. Gates have accepted the officer's version of events. We might all ask, "If an Harvard professor isn't credible to white America, what is the likelihood that a eighteen-year-old African-American male with sagging pants is going to be believed?"

But the second thing white America has done is to blame Dr. Gates, to essentially say that he "got what he deserved" because he was disrespectful to the police. Even some black commentators have agreed that Dr. Gates should have shut up after he showed his identification and just filed a complaint later.

I vehemently disagree that Dr. Gates did anything wrong. If the officer wanted respect, he should have given it, and he could have done so by stating simply, "Sir, a neighbor called in an alleged breaking-and-entering. I apologize I don't know you, but if you can show me your ID, I'll be on my way. My name is Officer Blah Blah, and my badge number is 326. The department phone number is 867-5309 (or whatever it is). Have a good day." Instead, the officer ignored the repeated request for identification, which he is obligated by law to give. Then the officer arrested Dr. Gates without cause.

The crime of disorderly conduct isn't committed by using your First Amendment rights to accuse police of profiling. It's not even committed if you are undeniably disrespectful and obnoxious to police. It's committed only when the conduct causes the threat of additional violence or mayhem. There was NO threat. So, yeah, had I been Dr. Gates, I would have been pissed from the jump, and I would have stayed pissed until I saw the officer fired, and I collected the money from my false arrest lawsuit.

And therein lies the REAL racial problem in America. It seems that for too many in white America, black people only get justice if their behavior is ideal. Many in white America subconsciously endorse the notion that only white people are entitled to "not be at their best."

And many in white American support explicitly the idea that black people just need to shut up. I say this based on the massive number of self-identified white comments to this effect. Curiously, almost none of the comments said, "Yes, Dr. Gates was right to be upset, but he should have stayed silent anyone." This wouldn't have occurred to a lot of white people because when you are white and upset, you get to actually ACT upset. This is why we can surmise that a white commentator who says Dr. Gates should have been quiet says so only because (1) he or she didn't understand WHY Dr. Gates was entitled to be upset (which is completely baffling), or (2) because he or she believes the bar is higher for black conduct.

Years ago when I worked for the Indiana General Assembly, I had left the sine die party, and I was heading West out of downtown. I was going about 65 miles per hour on I-70 West (55 mph limit), and I noticed that I was being followed by a police car. The car was tailgating me, which I could not understand because I was in the far right lane. I sped up to 70. The police car sped up and came even closer - literally half a car length - so I went to 72. Finally, the lights and siren came on, and I pulled over. The officer walked up and the following exchange ensued:

Officer (sarcastically): “You just haaaad to go 72, didn’t you? You just couldn't keep it at 65. I know you know I was following you because I saw you repeatedly look up in your mirror.”

Me: (pissed and yelling) “Yeah, I had to speed up because you were tailgating me so closely, I thought you were going to crash into me. You could have gone around me, but you chose not to, and your conduct was incredibly dangerous! I would have slowed, but I thought you'd plow into me.”

Officer: (clearly taken aback) “You need to slow down” (officer turns and pivots without even asking for my license).

I was twenty-one at the time. I could have gotten a ticket. I could have gotten arrested. I could have gotten beaten. I could have been a guy about whom everybody said after-the-fact, "He needed to treat the cop respectfully and shut up." But I wasn't. In fact, I have told this story seemingly a thousand times to white family, friends, and colleagues, and nobody has ever made that suggestion. They all recognize the cop was being a total jerk.

I can’t help but think any twenty-one-year-old black man who had gone at that white cop like that would have gotten a ticket, an arrest, as ass-kicking, or all of the above.

We will reach equality in America when black people CAN speak up and still have no greater likelihood of arrest than a white person in the same situation. Seriously, in what universe does a white professor protesting in the similar manner as Dr. Gates get arrested?

You see, in America, a lot of white people want black people to just take abuse like the rest of us. Except we never do, do we?


Thursday, July 16, 2009

Okaaaay, We Got Felons Covered!

Major kudos to Andy Gammill at the Star for flagging the "felon removal statute," which is in the part of the Indiana Code that deals with governmental opera........tjakj;alklz. Sorry my face fell into my keyboard. If you've read Title 5, you'll know why. It's kind of like reading Waiting for Godot if Beckett had tried even harder to avoid a plot.

Anyway, any "public officer," (person elected or appointed, who holds any state, county, township, city, or town office) convicted of a felony during the public officer's term shall be removed from office by operation of law when:

(A) in a jury trial, a jury publicly announces a verdict against the person for a felony;

(B) in a bench trial, the court publicly announces a verdict against the person for a felony; or

(C) in a guilty plea hearing, the person pleads guilty or nolo contendere to a felony.

If the conviction is overturned or vacated, the official gets reinstated (and whoever was serving in the breach gets the boot!).

But here's where it gets interesting, and you can see how politically-charged some court's rulings and prosecutor's actions can get.

Two ways a felony conviction can disappear are when either:

(1) A person has committed a D felony, but the Judge enters a conviction of A misdemeanor, provided the person does not have such a prior conversion (from D felony to misdemeanor) within the past three years or the offense is not for domestic violence of child pornography; or

(2) A Judge enters a conviction as a Class D felony with conditions. If these conditions, one of which must be include no new felonies, are met during a term that can last up to three years, the D felony is knocked down to a Class A misdemeanor. The prosecutor must agree to this, however.

The statute provides that the automatic removal does (follow this closely now) "not apply to for a felony other than a felony arising out of an action taken in the public officer's official capacity, reduced to a Class A misdemeanor under IC 35-50-2-7 (the judge sentence reduction part) or IC 35-38-1-1.5 (the felony probation part).

In other words, if you commit breach of public trust offense, the latter can't be done. Otherwise, it can...but what makes no sense is if you are given "felony removal probation," at the start of the term with conditions, you HAVE a felony, which means automatic removal. Then, after conditions are felony conviction, which ostensibly means reinstatement, provided the term of your office hasn't expired.

Can the General Assembly have meant to give a judge and prosecutor this power? To have someone resign in disgrace to get reinstatement by completing some conditions? Maybe they just trusted the no prosecutor and judge would agree.

But the short of it is, it appears that even if Doris Minton-McNeil is convicted, it's not a foregone conclusion she loses her office.


Has the General Assembly Given Felon Elected Officials Staying Power?

City-County Councilor Doris-Minton McNeil (D-District 15)now awaits a verdict, which Democrat Judge Annie Christ-Garcia took under advisement after concluding a one-day trial for D felony battery and resisting arrest charges (A misdemeanor).

The charges arose out of a June 2008 incident that started when Councilor Minton-McNeil called 9-1-1 (using some rather salty language) to inform police that a molester with a knife was in her home. Police arrived to investigate, and according to the allegations, Minton-McNeil shoved an officer and knocked her down, resulting in an injury to her wrist.

Jon Murray with the Star provides Minton-McNeil's explanation for her tone.

But as a lawyer, I'm interested in the following phrase from Murray's story:

"A guilty verdict on a charge of battery as a D felony would disqualify Minton-McNeil from holding elected office."
This sounds like she would have to resign, but I am not certain this statement is true.

The Indiana Supreme Court just addressed Indiana's disqualification statute, IC 3-8-1-5, and concluded that it stopped a felon from either being a candidate for office or assuming an office. It says nothing about stopping a felon from serving in an office.

In other words, unless there's another statute of which I'm unaware, it certainly seems that elected officials can serve out their terms following a felony conviction, as long as the conviction occurs after they assumed the office.

That, of course, is separate from whether a person should serve out his/her term. As a Democrat who cares about the party's reputation, my answer for Democrats who are convicted is always going to be an emphatic NO, they should not.

If the Indiana General Assembly thought a felony conviction meant you were dishonorable enough to serve at all, why wouldn't it also feel such a conviction made one too dishonorable to stay in office? Plus, what party in its right mind wants a recently convicted felon casting votes? (Please, please, please don't embarrass me on this if she gets convicted, Marion County Democratic Party!)

Does anybody have a different interpretation or know of another provision that forces the resignation of an elected official convicted of a felony?


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

IPOPA'S Open Letter to Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard - Don't Go!

Mr. Mayor:

I've never seen an incumbent mayor facing such swirling discontent about his administration without an accompanying scandal. The general tone of the criticism isn't that you have done something wrong, it's that you haven't done anything at all, or to the extent you have, it's been mishandled. Rumor is that you might not have the sea legs for the 25th floor and are looking to jump ship.

I was glad when I heard your press secretary denounced the rumors as "utterly ridiculous." He also said Democrats were spreading them, trying to weaken you. Oh, Caesar! You cannot see the Brutuses among you! Sir, my party would love nothing better than to have you on the ballot in 2011. You should ditch the partisan paranoia and start getting rough-and-tumble with the enemy within.

Because we Democrats would so very much much enjoy it if you stayed, can I offer a few thoughts?

Don't listen to the sirens who whisper that you need to resign for the good of the Republican party. Here's why. They will tell you that you can save face and say you needed to resign for health reasons. They will tell you that you can save face by looking like a stand-up guy when you say you needed to resign because you pledged to cut 10% of the budget or be a one-termer, and you won't reach those cuts. They will tell you that you can save face by saying you got a great offer to work in the philanthropic or up-and-coming life sciences industry, and they might even GET you that type of job.

BUT at the end of the day, any incoming Republican must distance him or herself from your mishandling or non-handling of a great many things. That means leaks regarding how they REALLY orchestrated your ouster. While you would have front-page quote friendliness, these same people will be absolutely destroying you behind your back out of political necessity. They MUST distance themselves from you; you will be treated no better than an outgoing Democratic administration. You will eat every mistake twice over "on background."

I would think a Marine would rather go to the bell in a fight. At least if you did that, you could control how your story is written. But the other road? As soon as you step out of that office and hand it back to the very people who savaged you during your campaign - those same wealthy, fat-cat Republicans who detested your populism and had the audacity to act like they were with you all along when they made their first appearance during your victory speech - well, sir, they will turn you into one of those blow-up punching bags, except you'd be the type that never bounces back up.

All the microphones and cameras you once had at your disposal to defend yourself will disappear, and you'll just be a man in front of blowing tumbleweeds, returning to the obscurity that started as your greatest political asset. Is that the legacy you want?


Can You Handle the Truth? Councilor Jose Evans' CIB Town Hall

Kudos to City-County Councilor Jose Evans (D-District 1) for hosting a much-needed town hall meeting entitled, "Future of the Convention Center, Downtown, and Proposal from the Special Session of the Indiana General Assembly."

Presenters at the event, which begins at 6 p.m. on July 23, 2009, include members of the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association, Barney Levengood, the Executive Director of the Capital Improvement Board, and CIB board member Dorothy Henry.

The event will be held at the Pike Government Center, 5665 Lafayette Road (corner of 56th and Lafayette Road).

Councilor Evans states, "Opportunity to comment and Q&A to follow. Public input and feedback is vital."

You think we're getting hosed by the CIB? By the General Assembly? By the ICVA? Come engage in a dialogue and find out what you might not know (and what THEY might not know or want to say).

For more information, contact Councilor Jose Evans at 317-698-8890 or at


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Isn't Kowtowing to Millionaires in the Capitol City Just Capitalism?

I want people to weigh in because this is very much a "stream of consciousness." I have been thinking about the CIB, Lucas Oil stadium, the Colts, the Simon Property group, the Pacers, and the firestorm of criticism surrounding it all.

The recurring theme from critics (who seem more Republican of late than Democrat) is that "powerful interests," usually the owners, the powerful law firms who represent them, and the contractors who stand to benefit from x, y, and z have worked hypnotic magic on elected officials while the public takes a bath. A great populist sound bite for any mayoral candidate: "I won't kowtow to millionaire ballplayers and their billionaire owners when we can't get air conditioning in our schools!"

Sounds great, but isn't kissing the behinds of millionaires what elected officials do in a capitalist society? Cities do tax abatement deals and pay for new infrastructure for specific companies all the time on the taxpayer's dollar. Has anybody calculated the value of Lilly's tax writeoffs? What about what the State of Indiana coughs up for every foreign auto maker? Some may say, "Yes, but those were worth it." Okay, but now we're just negotiating over price, right? We have agreed that instead of just setting a low tax rate and saying, "Come here if you want" to all businesses while letting the chips fall where they may, our elected officials pick favorites.

I wonder if any of the outrage comes from the fact that the critics don't like who was picked. The Pacers and Colts are functionally owned by two (Herb and Mel Simon) and one (Jim Irsay), respectively. It's easier to direct populist outrage toward Jim Irsay than a Lilly CEO most people don't know. Also, does any of the outrage come from the critics' personal sentiments about the intrinsic value of the product - in both cases, a game?

That's a hard thought to shake, but when you're talking about a billion to build a stadium plus operating expenses in the millions annually, you have to give the benefit of the doubt to critics. But how can so many people be outraged when it appears that no fewer than five people in the City could give you a meaningful analysis on the pros/cons of professional sports. (Mark Rosentraub, come back!)

What is the value for a city in having a professional franchise? How much WOULD a Pacers or Colts departure hurt us? Can we do a "fair" analysis on the dollars with some sense?

Here's what we might lose:

Direct and Immediate loss:

- State and local income tax paid by people who now work for the Pacers who would lose their jobs. (This would include taxes paid by some millionaire ballplayers).

- State and local income tax paid by people who now work to support Pacer games who would lose their jobs. (This would be the concession and security people who work at Conseco).

- Sales tax revenue paid for goods purchased by the Pacers. (This would not be equal to the Pacers total expense budget, of course, because goods are probably only half of that budget, if that, and only in-state goods would result in sales tax benefits to the state). Does anybody have figures on these top three, which would seem easy enough to gather?

- Sales tax revenue lost for goods purchased in downtown after Pacers games (patrons going out to eat, for example - but more on that in a second).

Secondary Loss:

- State and local income tax paid by people who now work for businesses that benefit from downtown crowds. (This would be people like restaurant waiters, taxi cab drivers, Circle Center Mall store employees, etc.)

- State sales tax paid for goods purchases by businesses that benefit from downtown crowds.

Tertiary Loss:

- Lost state and local income taxes when businesses that benefit from downtown crowds have to either close or reduce their workforce because there isn't enough of a "downtown presence."

- Lost sales tax when businesses that benefit from downtown crowds buy less from in-state vendors.

- Payments for unemployment insurance to employees with no jobs in all categories.

- State and local income tax, sales tax, and hotel tax losses when conventions don't come here because there isn't anything to do now that so many restaurants have closed due to inconsistent downtown patronage (a/k/a "the catastrophic collapse theory").

The restaurant industry is highly competitive. It is conceivable that not having at least 10-12,000 additional people downtown at least 42 nights per year might actually cause some restaurants to collapse. (Have you BEEN to Hooters downtown? Not all that great, folks!)

But do yourself a favor and distinguish between losses for the City of Indianapolis (meaning "to the county border") from "downtown" losses. You see, the SAs act like if you don't go to a Pacer or Colt game, you'll stay home and starve. They don't seem to account for you going to a neighborhood restaurant or theater for a Sunday dinner and movie. In other words, all of the sales tax dollars might still be injected into the county economy, just in different ways. Downtown's loss might be everybody else's gain.

I'd love to look at the total sales tax revenue in the county on a home game day and compare it to the total sales tax revenue on a non-game day. What IS the non game-day drop?
If we knew that, at least we could get a rough sense of how many people from out of county drop money into the county because they come to see the Colts. (As an Indianapolis citizen, that would be a compelling argument, by the way).

The SAs also act like we couldn't come up with anything else to do with the money currently spent to manage CIB facilities. Is that the limit of our vision? If we had scrapped Conseco and built an amusement park downtown for the same cost, wouldn't anybody show up? Is professional basketball all their is to do in the United States? I'm being tongue-in-cheek, of course, but this goes to the dearth of what I call "alternative thinking" on this subject.

In fairness to the SAs though, I have to offer three countervailing thoughts.

First, there is a definite benefit to preserving a thriving downtown core because that IS where the convention business goes. It doesn't go to Clermont. If we let Indianapolis turn back into Nap-town, we lose conventioneers.

Second, there is an intangible benefit to having a pro sports team, in particularly, if the team does well. The civic pride that came with winning a Superbowl was major. Also, we don't know why sports stars are so adored, we just know they are, and can anybody tell me that Peyton Manning hasn't improved the city's profile more than the next 25 people of note in the city? If top-of-mind awareness means something, it has to be valuable, even if subconsciously, to have people hearing "Indianapolis" every Sunday on ESPN over and over again.

Finally, can we lie to ourselves and act like capitalism isn't about kowtowing to millionaires? When we are trying to recuit, say, a life sciences company here, do you know who is going to decide? The CEO and his board. Do you know what the CEO and his board are going to think about, all things being equal on the business deal part? Schools?!? Ha ha ha! Don't make me laugh. They'll send their kids to private schools. Crime?!?! Ha ha ha! They'll live in gated communities. No, they will think about (1) how cheap it is for the company; and (2) what THEY get to do. If I'm a CEO and my options are to go to Indianapolis where I can entertain clients in a suite at Lucas Oil and watch Peyton Manning or go to Columbus, Ohio where I, I'm not real sure....where do you think I'll go? A fair rebuttal might be, "Show me a company who said it came here for football." I bet I could, and I would also bet that for every one I could find who would say it, there would be ten who would think it imprudent to publicly say so for fear of shareholder outrage.

Also, and perhaps most crucially, who would know best the "intangible" value of a pro sports franchise? Wouldn't it be the cities that have lost them? If so, why in the world would every city that played chicken with their franchise and lost pay MORE to get a team back after the fact? Seriously, cxcept for Brooklyn, I'm pretty sure there isn't a single city in America right now that once had a pro team that isn't trying to get a new one. Shouldn't that tell us that maybe we are overlooking something in the intangibles category? If we are not sold on the idea that losing a pro sports team hurts convention business (and I, for one, don't see any correlation), couldn't we just look at the convention business of a city that lost a team three years after departure to see if the city suffered any loss?

These are the very real considerations that seemingly nobody has articulated or analyzed in a meaningful (or certainly not in a persuasive) way. If we did our homework, we might realize that kissing the behinds of millionaires is just what you do because they are the engines of capitalism, and with monopolistic ventures, such as pro sports, the owners hold all the cards.

In the alternative, we might that the only difference between a brown-noser and a shithead is depth perception.


Monday, July 13, 2009

Senator Bayh in the Spotlight on Cap and Trade

Politico has a huge story on Senator Evan Bayh's "cap and trade" bill conundrum.

Basically, we live in a coal-dependent state, and voting for this proposal would stick it to some major Hoosier employers and the United Mine Workers. But voting against this proposal would be another body blow for the Obama Administration, which has been lobbying hard.

The article does a pretty good job showing the political calculations Bayh might be making around the bill, and I do not want to summarize it, as I think everybody should read it. However, the remark that held the most interest to me was essentially a threat to Bayh.

Paul Bailey, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity’s top lobbyist, is also among those monitoring Bayh’s maneuvering. “If I were Sen. Bayh, I would want to be careful,” he said.

Man, I don't know many lobbyists who sound so publicly gangster. Are they going to put a horse's head in Bayh's bed if he votes for the bill?


Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Sorry, Renters! The U.S. Government Doesn't Value Your Philanthropy!

Here's a story of two typical taxpayers.

The first is a single, new homeowner who pays $5,000 per year toward mortgage interest. She pays state and local taxes of $1,500, auto excise taxes of $100, and she also gives $3,000 per year in donations and direct gifts to charities, which include her church, Big Brothers & Big Sisters, and the American Cancer Society. Great gal.

On her IRS return, her standard deduction if $5,450 in 2008. Her deductions total $9,600, which means she can itemize deductions, and with a 33% rate, save an additional $1,480 on her taxes.

The second taxpayer is a single guy who rents. He pays state and local taxes of $1,500, auto excise taxes of $100, and he also gives $3,000 per year in donations and direct gifts to charities, which include his church, Child Adocates, and the American Heart Society. Great guy.

On his IRS return, he can't itemize his deductions because they don't exceed the standard deduction of $5,450. This means he gets NO tax benefit for his charitable contributions.

And herein lies the distortion that comes from a tax code that plays favorites for corporate interests (mortgage brokers, banks, realtors, inspectors, and homebuilders) who want you to buy and finance homes - one persons's charity is more valuable than another's.

Sure, the easy answer is....everybody get a house and carry the paper. That's what they want. But what if you can't? Or what if you've worked hard enough that you almost paid for your house in cash. Or what if you've paid long enough that the interest due is small. Now YOUR charitable contributions aren't worth as much because you aren't carrying the mortgage interest.
How is this fair?

Sorry, but if I were in Congress, I would pass a law that said every American would get a tax credit up to a particular dollar amount for charitable contributions. It would not cover ever contribution dollar for dollar, but at least the starting point would be more equitable.

I might even toy with the Biblical notion that giving is more meaningful when you don't have a lot to offer. Thus, if you made $50,000, and you gave $5,000 (or 10% of gross wages), you'd get a higher credit than if you made $200,000 and gave $10,000 (5% of gross wages). Of course, I wouldn't want to replace one "unfair" system with another, so the specifics would have to be worked out. But it would hopefully induce those with more resources to move their "donations" AWAY from high-interest homes and more into charitable giving.

Food for thought in the early morning. Discuss amongst yaselves.


Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Star Headline on Simon Discrimination Suit Not-Too-Specific

Well, now the CIB bailout is in the books, this won't be as big an issue, but it's still a bad time to have bad press.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has sued the Simon Property Group in Las Vegas federal court for allegedly failing to take corrective action after four Latino employees at Simon's Forum Shops at Caesars were subjected to racial slurs and a "hostile work environment." That's not good news for guys seeking taxpayer assistance in an increasingly Latino city.

But what I found interesting was the Star's headline. Newspaper people know of the studies showing many people read only the headlines. So if you want to obscure a story, even a bit, you write a non-descript headline (or keep the one scripted by the Associated Press - can somebody tell me if they write the headlines for their stories, or is that left for the locals!??!) Anyway, such a headline might be:

"Indy-based mall owner sued over racial slurs"

Is there any other mall owner here? Why isn't this headline: "EEOC sues Simon Group over racial slurs?" The EEOC involvement is major because the "federal agency" doesn't sue on every case. The EEOC has done investigation and felt justified in bringing its substantial resources to bear. Yet, the headline is passive voice.

I certainly could be over-analyzing this, but were the Pacers to get in trouble again, I would fully expect the Star headline to read:

"Indy-based professional basketball team sued over bar incident"