Thursday, April 30, 2009

Oh, Jon. Say It Ain't So!

I'm a huge fan of Jon Stewart. But Harry S Truman is not a war criminal because he dropped the atomic bomb on Japan, and I cannot believe Jon Stewart thinks so. Stewart stated during a debate on torture the other night that he thought Truman's conduct would have only been acceptable had he set off an atomic bomb 15 miles off of Japan's coast as a fair warning.

I'm sorry, but I do not think we owed it to anyone to showcase our arsenal and let them take defensive measures first. Did the Japanese do that at Pearl Harbor? Also, the first atomic bomb was dropped on August 6, 1945. Japan could have surrendered immediately, but it didn't. This is why we dropped the second one on August 9, 1945. It took another six days before Japan surrendered. I have not seen anything yet to suggest that Japan knew we would not hit them again, and yet, they did not surrender for another six days. So, in other words, a warning wouldn't have worked, but it might have hurt our war effort.

The called World War II, the "good" war because it was against a clearly evil enemy, the Nazis, and Japan sided with them. War is not pretty, but we had a just cause, and we ended it early and avoided more American deaths, which (call me crazy) is one of the goals of war, as I see it. It's terrible that so many Japanese civilians died, but we're not talking about a hand grenade. Civilians were going to die no matter where the first bomb went off.

I know one bad act doesn't justify another, but I can't shake that Japan made it's own bed on December 7, 1941, and it stayed in that bed for four years, though it could have gotten out any time prior to August 6, 1945.


IPOPA Poll: How Long Before American Panic Buying?

CNN reports that Mexicans are now engaging in "panic buying."

Ipopa wants YOUR opinion. How long will it be before Americans start hoarding bottled water, toilet paper, canned goods, and batteries like before Y2K?

(a) Once the disease hit 20 states.

(b) Once the disease hits 1,000 cases.

(c) Once the disease hits 10 fatalities.

(d) I can't answer right now. I'm on my way out to get a surgical mask before they run out. (There's only one company that makes them, ya know?)

"It's the end of the world as we know it.....and I feel fine." - R.E.M.


Fellas, We Could Be In Trouble

Anytime people exercise their right to assemble and bring their grievances to their government, I am generally pleased. But this story has me troubled.

A coalition of Kenyan women's advocacy groups, dubbed "G10," are engaging in a seven-day sex boycott to push for reform and Constitutional review. Escalating violence and hunger is disproportionately affecting Kenyan women, and the hope is that this will bring attention to the issue.

I'd be interested to hear other people's impressions of this approach, but I seriously wonder if it might make things worse in Kenya. I know how crabby I get when.....ummm.....never mind.

But, in other contexts, I could see this working, though no man would ever admit it. For example, such an approach might improve women candidates' chances of getting slated by their respective political parties. If "behind closed doors" action stopped until "behind closed doors" conversations put more women on the ballot, it would happen.

But this would require ladies to stand together, and, curiously, gender has never unified American women in the same ways race, party identification, and socioeconomic status have. This might be why ladies comprise 52% of the overall population, and at least 3% more of them vote in every election, but they still only have 18% of the seats in the U.S. Congress (18 of 100 in the Senate, 77 of 435 in the U.S. House of Representatives), and they've never had a President.

I know women who say they won't use sex as a weapon. Politics is a contact (or in this case a "non-contact" sport), ladies. If it's in the arsenal...

(Gentleman, you may direct your hate mail to me at this blogsite).


Shella Shoots...AND SCORES on Governor Daniels' Taj Mahalian-Sized Hypocrisy

When WISH-TV's political reporter Jim Shella gets sarcastic on you, it can be lethal. These are the two best "zinger questions" I've seen on the Capital Improvement Board mess:

In all the public negotiating over the Capital Improvement Board bailout there are a couple of things worth pointing out.

Thing 1: When Jim Irsay, Bill Polian, and the Colts say that a deal is a deal and they won’t renegotiate, how does that apply to Reggie Wayne’s contract? That’s the one they renegotiated last week when the outcome benefited them.

Thing 2: When the governor criticized school districts for building Taj Mahal athletic facilities, was he employing a different philosophy than the one used for Lucas Oil Stadium?

Ohhhhhhh! Takedown.

I'm with Shella. The Governor's Taj Mahal comment made me immediately think about my favorite scene in Remember the Titans, when the white and black co-captains are arguing:

Julius: You been doing you're job?

Bertier: I been doing my job.

Julius: Then why don't you tell your white buddies to block for Rev better because they have not blocked for him worth a plugged nickel, and you know it! Nobody plays. Yourself included. I'm supposed to wear myself out for the team? What team? Nah, nah...what I'm gonna do is look out for myself, and I'ma get mine.

Bertier: See man, that's the worst attitude I ever heard.

Julius: Attitude reflect leadership....captain.

Captain Daniels, how can you criticize? When it came time to say, "No, it's just a game. The state isn't putting money into a new stadium," you didn't. You said, "We can make money by using this dome as an attraction."

Why would you expect a school board to think differently after you set the example? I can see school board members actually thinking, "With a big stadium/natatorium/soccer field, we can draw big fans and facility users, sell big advertising and big concessions, collect user fees for soccer league or swimming lessons, and pay for the cost in no time."

Isn't that close to the same thing we said about the dome?


Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Follow-Up To Prior Post on Teachers Unions

It is ironic that President Obama honored America's teacher of the year the same day IPS cut 300 teachers, including 9 who were nominated for local teacher of the year awards. Mr. Mullen proves you don't need decades to make an impact in education.

With only seven years under his belt, who knows if Mr. Mullen would have gone from national teacher of the year to out of a job had he been at IPS. But the fact it is even conceivable tells you how broken IPS is systemically.


Post Says Caldera Could Be Toast

The Washington Post reports that the White House won't rule out the prospect of President Obama firing Louis Caldera for the momentous gaffe he made in approving "the New York flyover."

The story stated President Obama was "furious," but more importantly, it clarifyies that the flying photo op idea originated from Caldera's office. In other words, Caldera cannot claim he was simply signing off on something the military wanted. This was his idea.


Teachers Unions are Killing Education

The Indianapolis Star reports today that IPS cut 300 teachers, including 9 who were nominated for teacher of the year. Why would we get rid of quality teachers in one of Indiana’s worst school systems? Because we have “no choice.” The contract IPS negotiated with the teachers union mandates that all layoffs be seniority-based. This is lunacy.

Anyone expecting a broadside against unions or seniority in every context will be disappointed. Father time is ruthless. As we age, we cannot lift as much or move as quickly. Without seniority, big industry would have stripped many Americans of their dignity and marginalized us. The young and vibrant workers would stay secure until cast out in droves when age (or the pension vesting date) approached, and cheaper, more “efficient” labor emerged. Without seniority, we would have no American middle class.

Seniority makes sense for factory workers, service workers, and even building trades that require a set of technical skills. But teaching isn’t manual labor or artisanship; it’s mental labor. Teaching isn’t automatically grasped by anyone who goes through an apprenticeship; it’s the art of motivation and creating enthusiasm for exploration.

As a Democrat, I believe education is second only to “providing for the common defense” among the services government offers us. Education is “the great equalizer” and the linchpin of the American dream. We tell our kids, “No matter where you come from, if you study hard, you can be or achieve anything you want.”

Then we take away the teachers who get them to study hard.

My goal as a Democrat is to make sure that those who cannot afford private schools have the opportunity for a comparable education as those who do. We cannot achieve this goal without the best teachers in the classroom.

The teachers union might say, “Increase education spending! Then we won’t have to layoff anybody.” This is true, but it also ignores the fact that study after study shows little correlation between education funding and achievement. Perhaps this is because we keep paying lackluster instructors.

I had an eighth grade history teacher, Mr. Andrews, who acted out major events in history in costume and with accents. He was excited to teach, so he tried something novel. I was excited to go to class, and nearly thirty years later, I can still visualize significant events in American history. In contrast, I had a social studies teacher who made government as boring as the textbook from which he read daily. Guess who made more because of seniority?

Of course, all education discussion comes back to “vouchers” or “school choice.” I would not characterize myself as a staunch choice advocate, but I have a hard time stomaching hypocrisy.
Many choice opponents in my party say that schools will get worse if we let some students leave because the remaining students will have a school with fewer dollars. The argument is essentially “we’re all in this together.”

Unfortunately, many of these same opponents send their kids to private or parochial schools. They get out of the boat before forcing everyone else to stay. Oh, and they also shoot holes in the boat by making sure seniority systems stay in place, so anything that could be done to improve the existing schools never occurs. They offer some nebulous promises about change that never comes. With friends like these . . .

What makes the choice opposition particularly insulting is the opponents act like they’re defending the disenfranchised by keeping them in the boat. But the strongest proponents of school choice I have met are single, African-American mothers who want their children to have better than they did.

Seeing a rising tide of political inevitability, teachers unions reluctantly signed off on dirty little compromises. They would permit pseudo-choice, but the students would have to stay in the same school district. This way, the money would at least stay under the same roof, and administrators could move it around. And therein lies the problem. The schools aren’t broken, per se. “The system” is, which is why even a pseudo-choice, magnet school-based system like IPS is still required to sack 9 quality teachers.

You want to avoid school choice forever? Take off the shackles. Let administrators do what they need to do to make the schools thrive. Otherwise, people like me will embrace choice as the means of last resort for the parents who care enough to move their children out of schools with crappy teachers.

The only people who fear the repeal of a seniority system are teachers who cannot deliver results. You know who you are. It’s time to innovate or hand over the chalk.


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Arlen Specter Jumps the Fence!

In a lesson of "don't push too hard"....

Pennsylvania Senator, Arlen Specter, has given the Obama administration a filibuster-proof majority of sixty, by agreeing to switch to the Democratic Party, or so say numerous sources to CNN.

Is there political opportunism at play? It's undeniable. Without this move, Specter would be retiring soon. Rasmussen had Specter 21 points behind Pat Toomey, his Republican primary opponent. In addition, GOP faithful and and the blogging conservatorati were churning up the discontent by bashed Specter for supporting President Obama's stimulus package, among a multitude of other alleged economic sins.

But this move makes sense for practical reasons, as well. Specter has been a Democrat in Republican's clothing for a long while now. I'm frankly amazed it took this long for him to cross-over.

Prepare to get bashed, Senator! But don't worry. We'll make you feel like family.


Monday, April 27, 2009

I Would Fire Louis Caldera In a New York Minute

I normally do not make personal political attacks, but I cannot stop myself.

I must be channeling the rant of fictitious White House deputy communications director, Toby Zeigler: "I'm tired of being the field captain for the gang that couldn't shoot straight."

This is not a nuanced, analytical argument, and I offer no apologies.

I don't care if Louis Caldera graduated from Westpoint and Harvard Law and served as President Clinton's Secretary of the Army. I don't care if the Latino community would be pissed. Louis Caldera is too stupid to hold any position of significance if he cannot foresee the public relations catastrophe associated with flying a plane low in the sky in New York City followed by F-16s. Yet Caldera, who now serves as President Obama's director for the White House Military Office, authorized exactly that.

And for what?

An Obama administration official to The Wall Street Journal: "The mission was to send [the aircraft] up to get a picture of (Air Force One) flying around the Statue of Liberty. They said they needed to update their photo files."

Are you (expletive)ing kidding me?!?

First, why was this exercised classified? Were they afraid somebody from New York was going to walk into the photo intentionally and wave at the camera? Or were they afraid that if people knew, a real attack might occur? If they thought there was any such risk, why would you do it at all when an intern with a Photoshop demo copy could get you what you needed?

Putting aside the idiocy of obvious and massive risks versus the non-existent rewards, who in America thinks this is how we should spend a single penny of government money during a recession? When did having a photo of Air Force one in the same frame as the Statute of Liberty become a national priority? Do we have to have one with all of our significant national landmarks? What's next? Scaring the (expletive) out of the people at the Hoover Dam?

I hope the media stays on the White House until Caldera is gone. I'm apoplectic and embarrassed in equal measure that somebody who got so high up in my party could be so incredibly, calamitously imbecilic.

I started my blogging crusade with an idea of helping craft a Marion County party of which all Democrats could be proud after a series of scandals and PR goofs. When I voted for President Obama, I never contemplated actually thinking, "Compared to the Obama's administration's PR operation, we're geniuses here." If Obama wants to save his own neck, he better start doing a little "off with their heads" and getting rid of the politicos who are worthless. Caldera is a good place to start.


Obama Administration Keeps Walking In It

If Barack Obama loses popularity, it is going to be because of self-inflicted PR injuries, not because of policy flaws. Today we get the story of the White House approving a plane buzz of the New York skyline for an FAA "photo shoot."

Unfortunately, a lot of New Yorkers had no idea. New York Police Deputy Commissioner Paul J. Browne said the department had been alerted to the flight by the federal agency "with directives to local authorities not to disclose information about it."

Democrat Chuck Schumer pegged it when he said, the FAA's decision to not announce the fly-by "really borders on being either cruel or very, very stupid."

The CNN story doesn't disclose the purpose of the photo shoot, which prompted several building evacuations and probably a boatload of anxiety attacks. Nice job, FAA!

(The story is unclear on what the photo shoot was for, but I will update as I learn more).


Friday, April 24, 2009

Mike Murphy Is Why We Need a New Law

Back in 1997, campaign finance reformers tired of the horrible impression (if not reality) created by both party caucuses and their candidates raising money from special interests during the General Assembly session.

In response, the General Assembly passed Indiana Code § 3-9-12-2, which prohibits legislators who are seeking "legislative office" from soliciting or accepting any campaign donations during the session.

The very legitimate premise was that it's unsavory to host a fundraiser the same evening budget conferees are going to decide where billions may or may not go. This was probably two-way protection. While the advocates could see special interests buying influence, those special interests probably felt shaken down by legislators as well. After all, who wouldn't feel the need pony up when decisions were still to be made?

Sure, senators and reps could still raise money the day before the session started, but at least we'd know there wasn't special interest money being doled out as bills mutated during the legislative process.

The ostensible goal of the bill was simple - let bills rise and fall on their merits, not on some perceived (or actual) quid pro quo. This was our way of saying as a citizenry that we do not want someone thinking about the financial advantages he or she might receive for casting a vote in a particular direction, at least not in the moment that vote is cast.

But this bill has a loophole in the definition of "legislative office," which refers ONLY to state senate and representative in the General Assembly under Indiana Code §3-5-2-28.

And this gets me to State Representative Mike Murphy. In the midst of the current General Assembly session, Murphy is soliciting contributions to run against Dan Burton for Congress. Though the FEC report says the committee is for "Iowa 5th," it's clear this is our man from Indy raising dollars.

Murphy might say that this list of donors is comprised of "just friends" on whose Board he serves. That would be true with respect to the donations from the execs at Monarch Beverage. But other notable donors include businessmen Bob Parker, Beurt Servaas, and Democratic gubernatorial contender Jim Schellinger. Are these"friend" donations or corporate interest donations? What about the donation from Rhonda Cook, the executive director for the Indiana Association of Cities? Without getting into the minds of every donor, we do not know what, if any, viewpoint the donations are attempting to influence or support. Future votes in Congress or current ones in the Indiana General Assembly?

If we do not want to make a mockery of the intent of this "no session fundraising" law, it must encompass fundraising for all political offices sought by sitting legislators, not just "legislative" ones.

Of course, such a law will never pass because half the General Assembly is thinking right now about running for Congress, and they would never want the competitive disadvantage of running against an incumbent in a two-year cycle is they had to go five months without raising money.

I get that, but all that does is firmly convince me that we need a new law that should let you run for Congress or serve in the statehouse...but not both.

You owe us better.


Colts' Stadium = Your Wife's Coach Purse

The Indianapolis Colts sent an e-mail to their fans yesterday. That statement makes a few legit points, but also, it says that the Colts never asked for a new stadium. Instead, Colts' owner Jim Irsay claims the City approached him about one.

Does Jim Irsay think we have NO memory? Irsay told Channel 6 back in 2003 that "sooner or later" the Colts would need a new stadium.

So here's what REALLY happened.

The City wanted the Colts to stay. The Colts were talking up how the "small market" finances were going to "regrettably, force us to leave." Irsay was complaining to anybody who would listen that the Colts didn't have enough corporate skyboxes to make money. So, the City rightfully thought if it got the guy bigger space, he could sell more skyboxes, add thousands more season ticket holders, and stay.

In other words, maybe the city DID bring the idea to Irsay, but it was the idea HE GAVE THEM as a way to placate HIM.

This is like having your wife leave pictures of the Coach handbag she wants for Christmas in every room of your house, then when you buy it and later complain about exceeding the Christmas budget, she tells you it wasn't her idea.

Sorry, Mr. Irsay, but you just KILLED your credibility. I find myself unable to "hear" anything else in that e-mail because you have been so incredibly disingenuous. This is particularly troubling from a man who wears his Christianity so publicly on his sleeve. Don't you know that creating a deliberate misimpression is a cousin to a lie, if not its brother?

Your effort to create goodwill through this e-mail will backfire mightily, and you should fire whoever put the paragraph about "who really wanted the dome" into the letter. If it's you, you might want to leave the PR to the experts in the future.


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Dan Burton Tests My Facebook Etiquette Rule

My rule of thumb is that if somebody sends me a Facebook "Friend" request, and I know and like them, they get a quick "add," even if I don't agree with their politics. I've got Republicans, Libertarians, and apoliticos in my list. This is the source of my consternation today. Somebody from Dan Burton's campaign sent a "friend" request to me.

I do my Christian best not to actively dislike people, but it's a struggle with Congressman Burton. It started when I was a senior at Ben Davis High School. Three classmates and I qualified for the National Debate Finals (insert nerd joke here), and as a reward, our debate coach, Larry Highbaugh, said he would get us in to see a member of Congress. Unfortunately, Alex P. Keaton wannabes populated our debate team, so the other three cancelled out my Andy Jacobs vote. Two of the guys did policy debate, and the topic for the year was Latin America, an area in which Congressman Burton was immersed at the time.

To this day, I remember thinking how ridiculously arrogant the Congressman was. He bragged about a trip to Nicaragua and made it sound like he single-handedly stopped the Sandinistas from turning the entire continent into a Soviet satellite. I recall him saying that current Nicaraguan president, Daniel Ortega, was a terrorist (he was - to his own step-daughter) and that Oliver North was a hero (he wasn't). I've always had a problem with people whose justification for violating a law is "I know better than you," unless they're willing to accept the full penalties as an act of civiil disobedience. As a result of my initial interaction, I have never been a Burton fan, although somewhere I still have an autographed photo.

Over the next two decades, the Congressman engaged in some of the most ridiculous theatrics in Congress and almost never took a position with which I agreed. His personal conduct while claiming to be so pious to his district's church crowd has always sat poorly with me as well. In fact, the only reason I can tolerate the man is because Congressman Andy Jacobs and Congressman Burton are good friends. Congressman Jacobs tends to be a good judge of character, so there must be something positive I'm not seeing in Burton. Like all of it.

But I guess he did take time to autograph a photo for me. I'll give him the "add"... but only so I can keep tabs on what I hope is his last term in office. If this were a two-way with Luke Messer versus Burton, Messer would own Burton. Unfortunately, Messer entered a field already populated by Brose McVey. Carl Brizzi has also allegedly stated interest, though the conventional wisdom is he'll only run if Burton steps down. A three or four-way primary that divides up the anti-Burton sentiment is the only thing that will keep Burton in office, and Republicans seem intent on giving it to him.

Wonder what a signed photo of a still-sitting Congressman can get you on E-Bay.


Thursday, April 16, 2009

Whoever Said the Pen Is Mightier Than the Sword Never Got Stabbed By One...and Marijuana is the Illegal Drug?!?

So I'm reading the Indianapolis Star yesterday morning, specifically the story about the guy who got drunk and killed two people....with a sword. According to the Star, the guy went from a happy to an "angry drunk." Ya think?

(As a quick aside, the sword story is great news for the gun lobby. The next time someone says we should restrict firearm acquisition, they'll just say, "You take away the guns, they'll just kill with samarai swords! Guns don't kill people. People with alcohol and swords kill people").

Alcohol is allegedly responsible for around 100,000 deaths per year. You get about 43,000 alcohol-related driving fatalities, then you add the fact that alcohol-related 60% of all homicides, 40% of all fatal accidental falls, 30% of all suicides, 30% of all fire fatalities, 15% of all deaths from respiratory system diseases, and 5% of all deaths from circulatory system disease. Now tally up the alcohol-related domestic violence, rapes, vandalism, and alley urinating. I forgot to add that this year we had one alcohol-related death at my alma mater, a college of approximately 800. That number exceeds the total number of deaths I’ve been able to find in the entire country that are attributed to marijuana this year. And marijuana is the illegal drug?

When was the last time you heard somebody smoked a joint and even got angry, let alone actually killed somebody?

People may read this as me being a stoner advocate, but I don't smoke marijuana. I just no longer see the value of the massive costs for waging a drug war against a drug that is so much less harmful than many drugs we sanction.

The FBI uniform crime stat report shows that American law enforcement made 1.8 million drug arrests in 2007, but 775,000 of those were for marijuana possession alone, and 97,583 of them were for dealing marijuana alone.

Now, I do not subscribe to the semi-hysterical claim that everybody in prison is there because they got caught with a single joint. This is because I read a pretty intriguing report from the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, and if the government says it, it must be true.

So I paid attention when the government told me that most marijuana users get a fine and diversion and that, when the report was written, ten jurisdictions - California, Colorado, Maine, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, Ohio, and Oregon—had eliminated incarceration as an option for a FIRST offense of simple possession of marijuana. Fines in most of those states range from $100 to $300, with Oregon allowing a fine of $500 to $1,000 and Nevada authorizing a fine of up to $5,000.18.

Putting aside why Nevada felt compelled to add the $.18 instead of just leaving it at a $5,000 fine, doesn't this evidence cut both ways? We actually spent untold man hours arresting 775,000 adults so we can send them to diversion?!? What a colossal waste of law enforcement manpower that could have been used solving violent crimes or keeping officers on the street to deter property crimes.

But the government only tells HALF the truth on incarceration. How many people are in jail on other offense now because they have had probation and parole revoked for only marijuana use? Some folks I know in the Marion County Probation Department say anecdotally that ALCOHOL and marijuana use are the two most common grounds for revocation of probation. Also, the government report omits what people get for a second or third marijuana possession offense. In other words, a fair phrasing of the question might be, "How many fewer people would be in jail or prison if marijuana were legal?" That number would be higher than the government admits.

Oh, I forgot to mention that tobacco causes 435,000 deaths annually, but that's completely legal to use, too.

You may say, Chris, marijuana is a “gateway” drug. People who use it go on to harder drugs. This is true. But you know the two primary gateway drugs in every study? Alcohol and cigarettes. Columbia University’s Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse found that youth who drank alcohol were 50 times more likely to use cocaine and those who smoked tobacco were 19 times as likely to use cocaine. What about marijuana? We don’t know. The number apparently isn’t significant enough for Columbia to tell us.

The time has come to either ban cigarettes and go back to prohibition or make marijuana legal. If we pick the latter, we can discourage its use through PR campaigns paid for by ever increasing taxes, which we'll use to fund healthcare. I’ll let you decide which approach makes America less hypocritical.


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

He Must Have Read Ipopa!?!?

Is DCS Director, Judge James Payne, even more ingenius then I thought?

The day after I asserted Judge Payne messed up by killing the ombudsman bill and leaving open the prospect of a stronger bill next year, State Senator Brent Waltz (R-not real sure) pulled a Lazarus and popped it back into the budget bill. Advocates for stronger DCS oversight talked to Senator Waltz, so it's unclear why he would have used language nobody favored except DCS unless.....ohhhhh! Things that make you go, "Hmmmmm!"

I wanted to make sure I'd grasped all the nuances in the bill, so I read it again. I hadn't. It's worse than I thought.

Say the ombudsman investigates a complaint and finds it has merit. He or she can now ask the agency to:

(1) ...consider the matter further; (I call this the "pretty please" option)
(2) ...modify or cancel its action;
(3) ...alter a rule, order, or internal policy; or
(4) ...explain more fully the action taken.

To say, "Thanks, but no thanks" to the ombudsman, all the agency needs to do is provide its reasons. Presumably, this would require more than, "We don't feel like it!" But who knows. Because of the confidentiality provisions in the statute, neither the general public nor the General Assembly gets the opportunity to critique the rationale offered by the agency (which is probably a good thing because even if it didn't like the rationale, there is no enforcement mechanism for putting the ombudsman's recommendations into effect).

Most of us would assume an agency that learns it has done something incorrectly would embrace a change of course once the information is brought to its attention. But were this so here, would we really need a statutory provision basically explaining how you tell the ombudsman to "shove it?"

This bill doesn't create a toothless tiger. It creates a toothless, blind tiger with chronic arthritisis.


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

From the Land of Not a Surprise...

...I don't generally read Us, People, or any other periodical that makes news of people's personal lives, so I'm not sure how old this information is. But call me not-at-all-surprised that Levi Johnston and Bristol Palin are no longer engaged. That was a marriage forced, and as soon as the impetus for it - the need to preserve the Palin family "clean livin' " myth - disappeared, so did the nuptials. Levi apparently went on a talking heads show and said he was "pretty sure" Sarah Palin knew he and Bristol were having sex. The Palin camp, in response, attacked Levi for resorting to "outright lies."

See the disconnect? He says basically that he THINKS Sarah Palin knew Bristol was having pre-marital sex, and in response she attacks him for outright lies. Now I'm more likely to believe she knew. Otherwise, she would have just explained why his "belief" was wrong. BUT that would have invited a debate over questions like, "Did he ever stay overnight with your family? If so, did they ever stay up late at night in the same room with your daughter when you and Todd went to bed? Did they ever actually sleep in the same room with Bristol?"

Palin would have come off either as supremely naive or as covering up for what any regular parent would have known, meaning she doesn't REALLY subscribe to the no premarital sex mantra. She just TALKS about it. Either way, she would have lost more of whatever luster is left of the Palin mythology.


Monday, April 13, 2009

Is Judge James Payne Politically Savvy Enough to Be Governor?!?

Sometimes when you watch political events, you can't help but speculate on what goes on behind the scenes. This is true of the debate over an ombudsman for the Indiana Department of Child Services (DCS).

With the support of DCS Director, Judge James Payne, State Representative Charlie Brown's (D-Gary) ombudsman bill (HB 1602) cleared the House 98-0. This should have spelled trouble to advocates. You get unanimous support for resolutions like, "We declare clear air is sorta nice," not on bills giving power to dig into the inner workings of a governmental agency, and definitely not from the guy who runs that agency.

"This bill must hamstring the ombudsman," I told myself as I read it. Yep. Feeble. Not completely terrible, but gravely flawed. The keys to having a good ombudsman are: (1) independence; (2) access to needed information; and (3) public accountability, be it to the actual public or their elected representatives.

HB 1602 failed on the first count by (1) giving the Governor the authority to appoint and remove the ombudsman at his whim and (2) housing the ombudsman office under the Department of Administration, an agency controlled by the Governor. Ideally, an ombudman would be appointed by legislative leaders in consultation with the Governor.

Though he left appointing authority with the Governor, Senator Tim Lanane (D-Anderson) authored a superior bill. Using the Inspector General statute as a guide, Lanane's bill states that an ombudsman, once appointed by the Governor, would serve a term of years equal to that of the Governor. In addition, he or she could only be removed for malfeasance, and his or her salary could not be cut during the term of service. Senator Lanane wasn't reinventing the independence wheel; his bill drew from Federalist Paper No. 48. How could these notions be controversial, unless your goal is to NOT provide independent review or investigation? His bill never moved.

On access, HB 1602 had no subpoena power for third-party records, and it only permited access to records from governmental agencies. On public accountability, the bill required the ombudsman to report to the complainant only. But there was no requirement for even a cursory result of the investigation to be provided to members of the Indiana General Assembly, or the public, even if the complainant agreed. Why not permit legislators to review the reports for their constituents? (Of course, I suppose the complainants could "go public" with their results).

So, a frail bill went to the senate judiciary committee, and inexplicably, got weakened. In the senate version, the ombudsman reported directly to the FSSA commissioner. BUT (and here's the weird part), the duties of the ombudsman, which initially included nothing more than "investigate complaints" and "write a report," are expanded to include:

(1) establish a public education program to secure and ensure the legal rights of children;

(2) periodically review DCS policies and procedures, with a view toward the safety and welfare of children

(3) recommend changes in procedure for investigating report of abuse or neglect and overseeing the welfare of children under juvenile court jurisdiction; and my personal favorite...

(4) examine policies and procedures and evaluate the effectiveness of the child protection system, specifically the roles of DCS, the court, the medical community, service providers, guardians ad litem, CASA, and law enforcement agencies. (If this last one isn't an effort by DCS to give the ombudsman the authority to throw blame on everybody else, I don't know what is!).

This amended bill passed 9-0, but instead of going to the Senate floor, it got re-routed to the Senate Appropriations Committee. Senator Kenley scheduled a hearing, at which Representative Brown testified that all of the amendments in the Senate version were made after consultation with DCS.

WHAT?!?!? Why would DCS EXPAND the ombudsman's statutory duties?

Stay with me. If you limit an ombudsman's authority to JUST investigating complaints, that's what he or she MUST do. Give him broader authority to tweak your internal operations, and he or she can basically do whatever he or she wants. What starts out as oversight of DCS ends up being a potential $454,000 allocation for additional DCS staff. The ombudsman can even take this money and do a PR campaign to recruit more guardian ad litem volunteers.

Were I a cynic (which is like saying, "were I me"), I would point to the political genius of Judge Payne and advise that this man has the savvy to run for Governor. Judge Payne clearly smelled the air of ombudsman inevitability. As the advocates gained steam in their rock pushing, he ran alongside voicing Mark Anthony-style support, and at the key moment, he redirected the rock to a new target.

At the appropriations hearing, Judge Payne said DCS supported the bill, but any objective observer could tell he didn't, as he undercut his own testimony by telling Senator Kenley that he understood the budget is tight and funding the ombudsman will be difficult. It's a wink and nod between two political heavyweights, and it was breath-takingly effective. At the end of the hearing, Senator Kenley killed HB 1602 by failing to put it to a vote.

As I testified after Judge Payne on the bill, though, I found myself in a weird place...agreeing with Senator Kenley's ultimate decision. To do the ombudsman function meaningfully, you have to have a decent budget, and we're talking about $150,000. I realize in the moment that certain death for this bill is best, and I'm tempted as I'm leaving the table to blurt out, "Give the $150,000 to Child Advocates!" (At least then we can get guardian ad litems on all Marion County CHINS cases from the start).

I have no sadness that this bill has died. Sham review or investigation is the same as no review or investigation, in my mind.

But I realize that maybe Judge Payne did his job TOO well. Had the watered down bill passed, when advocates asked for tweaking next year, legislators would have likely said, "Why are you still crying?!? We gave you a bill last year!?!"

At least now advocates can try to draft a reinvigorated bill. But advocates have a worthy adversary. It would be foolish to underestimate him.


Kenley Definitely Said, "Screw you, Greg Ballard!"

Reverse time. Luke Kenley stands in a bright spotlight, looking like he white horsed CIB salvation in a way Marion County residents might favor – evenly-distributed pain. He’s got Colts money handed back, Pacer costs reduced less than expected, raised admissions fees, a well-distributed hotel tax increase, and even a statewide alcohol tax increase. “We’re talking a PENNY more for a beer,” the Senator might say. Somebody call Christopher Cross because this thing is sailing.

Then Senator Kenley turns the mic over to the Mayor of Indianapolis, who hems and haws and kills the plan, not with faint praise, but with no praise at all.

In response, Kenley amends his proposal to “give Marion County an array of options, including possibly a local option alcohol tax.” Nobody will ever convince me that Kenley is not peeved at the Mayor of Indianapolis. Senator Kenley put his neck on a chopping block to solve a huge, mostly-Indianapolis problem, and he got a Mayor hiding his own head in a turtle shell.

Kenley told the Indianapolis Star of his initial proposal, "The alcohol people beat it. They got out there and lobbied, and everybody who ought to be standing out there saying, 'This is a good idea' didn't have the courage to stand up and say it."

To whom is Senator Kenley referring if not Mayor Ballard?

On behalf of all Marion County residents, I want to thank our Mayor for hosing us. Here's what I anticipate will happen. Kenley, operating under the "fool me once" philosophy, will astutely put this whole problem back into Marion County’s pocket. We will get the “ability” to raise a boatload of different taxes in Marion County, but the General Assembly won’t actually raise them. Kenley will give Ballard the “means” to solve the CIB problem, in the same way that you give people the rope with which to hang themselves. The Mayor will now have no choice but to pick from a parade of evils, which he claims he'll do this week.

We'll be listening, just like the Indianapolis Star, which bashed the Mayor this weekend for being MIA.

While the Star is completely on target, boy, did it do a visual hatchet job on Mayor Ballard with a photo of him throwing out a first pitch at Victory Field. He looks like he should be saying, "Mmm. I like them french fried potaters. Mm hmmmm."

The photo is next to a paragraph exhorting Ballard to "pitch a proposal...." Get it?!?! How clever!!! The Star suggests he isn't exhibiting leadership because he hasn't "pitched" a proposal but instead suggest he took time to literally "pitch" a... oh, forget it. Bad, Indianapolis Star! Bad!

I don’t like the idea of a bailout, but if we do one, my self-interest as a Marion County resident says I’d rather have a state solution that addresses the Colts' "regional" appeal (a/k/a "taxes people outside Marion County"). The Mayor may have sunk the boat on that notion though.

Also, people want to put this on Bart Peterson, but he told the Governor point blank that there was no money for operating expenses. The Governor just didn’t care because they wanted to force Peterson to raise taxes before his re-election. They didn’t foresee his defeat.

Now the chickens have come home to roost. And the chicken with the biggest feathers sits on the 25th floor of the city-county building.


Thursday, April 9, 2009

Andre Carson and the Art of Staying Uncommitted

Cynics on politicians: “See how crafty they are! They always take special interest money, give the interests a blank check, and lie to the public about it!”

While this probably won’t make you feel any better, more misdirection and outright deception in politics is directed toward “special interests” than anybody. They are repeatedly fooled into thinking they will get something the politician never intends to deliver.

That is real political skill – to speak in code or through emissaries so well as to suggest favor that never existed, to perform an interpretive dance of “no” without ever mouthing the word, let alone saying it.

And let’s be honest about two points. First, almost every political decision has a loser, so there’s a lot of misleading. And, second, the most “special” of “special interests” are other politicians seeking favors for themselves, their causes, or their families and friends.

So what does a smart politician do with competing suitors? Play on the fear each has of being outside the tent.

Say what you want about Representative Charlie Rangel, the Harlem Democrat, but the man is a fundraising genius. If Fed-Ex gives him money, UPS gets scared and matches. Then Rangel hoses them both and stands with the postal workers union. So the postal workers double-down on their donation, then Rangel hoses them on the next issue. Rangel’s campaign finance reports are littered with donations from diametrically opposed interests, prompting any objective observer to ask, “How can the bankers keep giving this man money when he keeps screwing them? Easy. Bankers fear the mortgage brokers will get LESS of a screwing at their expense if they don’t. Plus, since all these interests know they’ll need Charlie again, they cannot complain too loudly. Ahhhhhh, it’s good to be king….

….which brings me to Andre Carson. My man! You are sitting in the fundraising "catbird seat," to quote James Thurber. You have a cadre of Democrats jockeying early to challenge Greg Ballard, and they ALL want your magic finger to point at them prior to any slating convention. In fact, they all hope that finger will make slating unnecessary. The list of prospects I have heard (which is not exhaustive because it only includes those I’ve heard have personally confirmed interest) is, in alphabetical order: Joe Hogsett, Melina Kennedy, Woody Myers, Kip Tew, and Brian Williams.

Oh! And what do you know?!?! The first four of those folks are co-hosting a fundraiser at 300 East on April 17 for Rep. Carson and his alter-ego, Lacy Johnson, at $250 per head on the low end. (I promise you you’ll see a lot of $2,400 max out contributions). And I would bet that every one of these fiery competitors will host more Carson fundraising events on their own. Melina already has one on the books.

Were I the Congressman, I would feel like Yo Yo Ma right now because there’s no way to play this badly…as long as he stays publicly uncommitted. Every candidate can take his every cryptic pronouncement as indicia of tacit approval or support, but since they never know for sure, they have to keep sprinting to the finish line for fear that pulling up leaves them out of the race at the end. In addition to insane money, you are going to see the strongest GOTV effort for somebody without a real opponent in history.

If Rep. Carson says, “I value loyalty,” maybe it’s spun as support for Melina or Joe Hogsett's public speaking efforts on behalf of the Congressman. If Rep. Carson says, “We need bold new leadership,” maybe it’s a signal that Melina is too “Peterson-bound,” and Rep. Carson fears a replay of the past election. Or maybe it’s a putdown of Joe Hogsett and Kip Tew for being too old school political guard. These are, of course, made up examples, but I assure you the shamans of political spinnery in each campaign will be dissecting Rep. Carson’s every word, which probably explains why no fewer than 20 Marion County Democrats have told me which way Rep. Carson is leaning, though I’m pretty confident he hasn’t even twitched in anybody’s direction.

But most of us don’t know. And that’s the beauty of his position. Rep. Carson reminded us all of the critical difference between knowing early and saying early. I short-sightedly called out Rep. Carson for political cowardice because I felt he should have endorsed Senator Obama early to give Obama an Indiana boost. I'm told the Congressman always knew he would endorse Obama, but by playing coy and delaying, he negotiated an endorsement from the President. That’s political genius, folks.

Rep. Carson may know right now the horse he's backing, and maybe he knows he’s going to avoid alienating the others by sending his support through “back channels.” Or maybe that’s just what everybody vying for the mayor’s chair wants to believe in their heart of hearts. Or maybe that what the Congressman wants them to believe…that he will come out to play.

Stay inside, Congressman. There will be dollars raining all around you for a while.


Thursday, April 2, 2009

Now Ballard Hates Plan For Which He Appeared at Press Conference?

In the interest of fairness to Mayor Ballard, I need to share this.

The Indianapolis Business Journal writes that at a senate appropriations committee hearing today, Mayor Greg Ballard "wasn't shy about sharing his dislike for the (CIB bailout plan), namely the increase to the hotel and food and beverage taxes." Ballard said, "I'm scared to death ... of killing our convention business, the very thing that we're all here trying to support."

Okay, so the Mayor gets that this plan is a very bad thing. So did he use his bully pulpit to ask anybody NOT to vote for the bill. Of course not.....whiiiich is not surprising since he also "underscored the Pacers' and Colts' importance in promoting and growing the city and state."

He's like Mayor Rainman: "I definitely want to keep the Pacers, pay $47 million more for the CIB, and not raise taxes. Definitely."

I agree that it's cool to hear ESPN say, "We're coming to you from downtown Indianapolis" because it's free name ID for the city. But can anybody identify a specific company that located in Indianapolis because of the Pacers OR Colts? Can anybody me in touch with the convention booker who said, "I wasn't even thinking about Indianapolis for our Baptist convention, but I saw that amazing catch by Reggie Wayne, and now I'm sold!" In contrast, who can show me the person who has said, "Yeah, Louisville has reasonably priced hotels and fees and a great nightlife, but we can't have our convention there because they don't have an NFL football team. We'd rather pay more and go to Indianapolis? That way we can all say we stayed in a city that won a superbowl!


Mayor Ballard is a Coward!

Yes, Your Honor. I'm calling you out. By name. You are a coward with a logic deficit.

In the most insane example of having your cake and eating it, too, you had the audacity to glamour shot your way into Luke Kenley's press conference about the CIB bail out proposal only to offer the following, which comes from today's Indianapolis Star:

Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard, who joined Kenley at a news conference Wednesday at which the plan was outlined, wouldn't say he endorsed the details but said he supported the need to preserve the convention and entertainment business in Downtown Indianapolis.


If you're not there to endorse THIS deal, what deal are you there endorsing? We don't know. Because you won't say. And you won't say because you're a coward. You KNOW you came into office on a platform of lower taxes, and here you are, ready to stick it to us already to make sure we take care of billionaires who pay millionaires to play a game.

Let me be fair, you also said the following:

"This is not about any individual teams or anything. This is about Downtown Indianapolis. This is about the convention business. This is about $3.5 billion worth of convention business, 66,000 jobs in Central Indiana related to hospitality -- that's what this is about," Ballard said. "We must maintain this economic engine."
That's the illogical part. We COULD make up the entire deficit by raising admission per ticket at Conseco events. You know why we won't do that? We're told it would be too costly. People will stop going to Pacer games. But isn't this Republican Party orthodoxy? Raise taxes, lose voters? Raise prices, lose customers? And yet, here sits a Republican Mayor saying that by RAISING hospitality taxes to one of the highest IN THE NATION, somehow we're going to save our convention employees. (In fairness to the Mayor, his non-approach benefits millionaires primarily at the expense of average folk who will take the hit on these regressive tax increases, so that part is consistent with Republican philosophy).

NO convention group books here because they want to go to a Pacer game. They book because we have a lot of low-cost but nice hotel space, nice restaurants and nightlife to enjoy, proximity between hotel and convention space, and a clean and interesting cityscape (a/k/a "ambiance").

But, Mayor, you let Luke Kenley take the largest competitive arrow out of your quiver and break it over his knee before your very eyes. (Seriously, if you're currently in high school taking your first economics class, can you PLEASE call the Mayor's Office?)

You see, Mr. Mayor, in economics we have a notion called "competition." If person A can get something CHEAPER from city B than from City I (for incompetent), they will. This means And the 66,000 people you claim to protect are all laid off because NOBODY is coming here.

Here are two other concepts you might find "neat." Demand for a good can be "elastic" or "inelastic." If demand is "inelastic," people will buy even if the prices rise insanely. Medical care is a great example. Most people like to live, so they'll sell their second-born to finance a life-saving surgery, even if you double the cost. But if demand is "elastic," an increase in price means people won't buy the good or service anymore even with a slight increase. You know what makes demand "elastic?" Having options to do other things.

So, say for instance I'm already thinking about not eating out anymore because things are tight, and NOW I'm going to have to pay even MORE, not only in downtown but everywhere in Marion County. Guess what I'll do? Eat out less. So NOW your expected new tax money never shows up, and all you've done in the mean time is hurt the very restaurants you claim you're trying to help by keeping the Pacers downtown.

See what you've done? You've stood silent while the most powerful Republican at the Statehouse save Mitch Daniels constructed a fix on a shaky foundation. But the truth is, this is what Kenley and you wanted to do all along. You'll put this ill-thought out bailout into play, SAY "Mission Accomplished," and you'll pray that President Obama gets the economy moving. Then if it happens, you act like you're geniuses. If it doesn't, you'll blame Obama for the "sluggish national economy," though we'll all know the truth. Whatever protection of, or growth of, our "hospitality economy" you could have afforded RIGHT NOW was stagnated because one of your top advisors runs in a millionaire boys club. How grand. How Bob Grand.


Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Woe is Marsh! Don Should Have Followed the Star!

Don Marsh, the legendary grocery & party icon, takes a hit (no, not of congac) today in the Indianapolis Star from the new management group that purchased Marsh for $88 million.

Current management has sued Marsh for for abusing the company jet on over 300 trips for non-business purposes. All of these allegations may be true, but current management certainly wants to humiliate Marsh, as its complaint includes allegations that he took trips with "female employees" and then spent money on the same trips at "department stores."

Public reaction to this story is interesting, with most commentators taking an either or view. Marsh's defenders say the new group is trying to distract from its own performance woes.

When did our world become so black and white? These two things can both be true: (1) Don Marsh abused company funds, and he should reimburse the company. (2) Marsh’s current management group overpaid for the chain, and even WITH the reimbursement, they’ll still be in trouble.

But there's a larger lesson for Marsh and all other executives contemplating abusing their power. Disguise the trips by doing what The Indianapolis Star did with their Pacers contract!

As readers of this blog know, the Pacers recently took 60 corporate representatives, some from the Star, on a five-day, all-expenses paid vacation to Cancun. When questioned why the Pacers would do this while begging for a bailout from the CIB, the Pacers' spokesperson said the trips were part of their contracts (i.e., "we HAD to take them to Cancun and give them jewelry because that's what our contract with each company required).

Don, instead of just bilking the shareholders outright, which leaves a paper trail, you should have entered into a bunch of contracts with other vendors, overpaid them on the contract, BUT inserted requirements in the contracts that the vendors would pay for a boatload of your personal travel. See how easy it is to abuse corporate perks if you work the system the right way?

The Indianapolis Star needs to release to both the general public and to their shareholders the identity (and title) of every employee who attended the Pacer trip. And any other publicly-traded company with a similar "pay me to vacation" contract with the Pacers needs to follow suit.

Kudos to K.U. professor Dave Stone for bringing the shareholder angle into focus.