Friday, November 27, 2009

You Beeda Judge on Democrat's Treasurer Candidate

It has been a while since I've felt as much downticket excitement on the D side as surrounds treasurer candidate Pete Buttigieg (phonetically "boota-judge").

Okay, let's start with the obvious. Outside of South Bend, Pete is going to have some "name combat" problems. You can't put "butt" on the ballot without some Beavis & Butthead-types giggles. But if people weren't able to overcome "bad" political names, Republican John Doolittle (CA-4) wouldn't be in Congress right now.

Moreover, Pete has already taken a huge leap with a quirky mantra of "Meet Pete," which emphasizes folksy, Hoosier charm and accessibility, something impressive from a guy so well-credentialed.

Pete was valedictorian of St. Joseph’s High School, a magna grad from Harvard, and a Rhodes Scholar who studied economics at Oxford. Pete is now a business consultant who travels internationally, but that's only one of the many impressive things on his resume.

Pete was a co-founder of the Democratic Renaissance Project and a Fellow at the Truman National Security Project. He worked on Capitol Hill, and at NBC in Chicago. He won the John F. Kennedy Library’s “Profiles in Courage” national essay contest, has served as president of Harvard’s Institute of Politics, and also as an editor at the prestigious Oxford International Review. Pete’s work has appeared on NPR, local television and radio, the International Herald Tribune, the Boston Globe, and the New York Times.

What I like most about Pete is his vision for breathing some expanded life into the treasurer's office (let's call it the "vision thing"), and his ability to translate seemingly mundane tasks, such as portfolio management, into our most fundamental life goals. Nothing is more frustrating to me as a politico than a candidate who is unable to articulate why what he or she does matters to the common person's life.

"Pete" has a sweet reply for that question.


Thursday, November 26, 2009

Are People Near Brizzi Smelling Toast?

Wow. Talk about a good Thanksgiving. Who is the happiest man in Indianapolis? It's gotta be our future prosecutor, Democrat Terry Curry.

Many Democrats like me were probably thinking that, in a Democrat-trending county, we'd have a pretty good chance to take back the prosecutor's office in an open seat. But a strange thing happened. Nobody threw any job offers at Marion County Prosecutor Carl Brizzi, and if you have no options, you run for the job you have.

Anybody who thinks candidate Brizzi doesn't make things tougher for Democrats is lying. Brizzi is extremely PR savvy, and he put himself in a great position when he dusted off his trial suit and strung together three consecutive, high-profile convictions, two in the Hamilton Avenue slayings and the other in the Jason Fishburn shooting case. (I figure he'll add another conviction between March and June of next year, which would normally give him steamroller momentum).

BUT then....mmm mm mmmm...Tim Durham, a/k/a "Indiana Abramoff" happened. Durham was detained for questioning by the FBI, and his offices were raided the day before yesterday.

What does this have to do with Brizzi? Well, aside from receiving $160,000 in donations from Durham, Brizzi also serves (or served) with Durham on the Board of Fair Financial, whose office was raided.

The Star reported yesterday:

Brizzi did not return phone calls seeking comment. He issued this statement shortly before noon today: "Tim is a friend, and I’m sorry to hear about the recent developments. I have no knowledge of the allegations, and it would be inappropriate for me to comment."

Let me start off by saying that people too easily think that everybody really knows everyone with whom they associate, as if having a drink with somebody or taking their extremely huge check means you can see into their soul. Were that true, of course, nobody would be scammed by their pastor, and Bernie Madoff only could have done what he did by lacking friends.

Having said that, nobody was going to let Brizzi get a free pass with, "I can't comment." That might be the proper response for a prosecutor during a pending investigation he's on, but it's not the proper public response about a federal investigation by a guy who also happens to be a candidate for prosecutor.

The public deserves to know about every communication between Brizzi and Durham and Durham and Republican sheriff candidate Motsinger. (As an aside, if you're thinking about becoming a scam artist, it's probably prudent to "invest" heavily in local law enforcement, but be sure to diversify and invest federally as well).

Even if you can prove Brizzi didn't have the slightest inkling, at what point do Democrats get to use the "he should have known" tact taken by so many of President Obama's critics?

Understanding he needed to say more, Brizzi is now running from the Board connection. He told the Star that he never attended a meeting, never voted, and never received compensation from Fair Financial (did they name the company ironically?).

But here's the Brizzi statement that made me chuckle.
Brizzi's said he agreed to serve on the board at Durham's request. But after reading a story in the Indianapolis Business Journal last month about the company's financial practices, he said he told Durham that he had changed his mind.

"Upon reading the October IBJ article and uncertain whether I had yet formally taken a position on the board, I indicated to Mr. Durham that I was no longer interested in serving on the board," Brizzi said in the statement.

How do you not know whether you had formally taken a position? If Brizzi is such a good friend, how did he go from "Tim" to "Mr. Durham" in twenty-four hours? What specific explanation did he offer for wanting to come off the board? And more importantly, what counsel did he offer to his friend upon reading this IBJ article? He's in law enforcement, after all.

Inquiring minds want to know.


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Woodmansee Off to Strong Start

Earlier in the week, I reported that Todd Woodmansee was running for Warren Township Small Claims Court Judge, and he had landed Marion County Bar Association President, Ryan Gardner, as his treasurer. That was an error. Ryan serves as campaign chairman.

Woodmansee has also gained the endorsement of outgoing Indianapolis Bar Association President (and perennial criminal SuperLawyer) Jim Voyles.

Not a bad first week for the Woodmansee campaign.


Republican Bagman's Office Raided! iPOPA Challenges Advance Indy

When Marla Stevens was first investigated and then indicted, Advance Indiana, a local conservative blog, repeatedly mentioned that Stevens had donated $25,000 to Congressman Andre Carson. Advance Indiana called for the return of those funds, which he claimed were from ill-gotten gains. (Carson was ahead of him on the return, as I recall).

Today, we learn that one of the Republican Party biggest donors, Tim Durham, had his office raided by the FBI, and he is reportedly in custody. AI reports that Durham donated $150,000 to Carl Brizzi. But, strangely, that's where the reporting ends.

So I have to ask. If Durham's pyramid collapses, will AI call for the return of all the donations, just like he did with Carson?

What I've learned from exchanges with AI's publisher, Gary Welsh, is that the "return the money" rule applies only to those who don't have defunct committees, so that if, through some crazy coincidence, both John McCain and Andre Carson got a contribution from somebody who was indicted, only Andre would have to give the money back. Don't get it, but let's run with it for now.

I didn't have time to record all of the donations because there were so many of them, but here are some notable ones:

Mitch Daniels for Governor Committee:
2004 - $75,000
2005 - $10,000
2006 - $50,000
2007- $35,000
2008 - $5,000

Aiming Higher (Governor Daniel's Pac) - 2006 - $10,000

Greg Zoeller for Attorney General - 2008 - $11,000

Greater Indianapolis Republican Finance Committee - 2007 - $25,000

Marion County Republican Central Committee:
2005 - $1,250
2006 - $5,000

Indiana State Republican Central Committee:
2005 - $37,500
2006 - $27,500
2007 - $40,000

Hoosiers for Richard Mourdock - 2007 - $1,500

Committee to Elect Brian Bosma - 2007 - $10,000

Nineteen Pac - 2008 - $1,000

House Republican Campaign Committee:
2006 - $25,000
2007 - $8,580

Friends of Mike Delph:
2006 - $5,000
2007 - $5,000

Senator Bev Gard got $1,174 in-kinded to her for a fundraiser.

The only Democrat I found on the list is Baron Hill, who received $4,600 in 2007. Baron, send him back his money if you haven't already, dude!

I guess since Jon Elrod and Rudy Guiliani have defunct committees, they get a pass on their respective $2,300s.

I will wait and see what happens because we don't have all the information yet. But if Mr. Durham ends up taking a plea for financial misdeeds, I'll be waiting to hear from AI, and I'll be expecting the Governor and the multitude of Republican committees to cough it up, just like Advance Indiana would expect.


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

iPOPA Eats Plate of Crow!

Back in September, I opined that we would learn that the Kentucky census worker who was found hung with the word "Fed" on his chest was killed by some right-wing wackos whipped up by increasingly shrill anti-Obama and anti-government rhetoric. I even mocked the notion that the guy killed himself.

Well, guess what?

He killed himself!

Investigators say he took out two life insurance policies on himself shortly before his death, but neither paid for suicide. The government apparently also pays $10,000 additionally for somebody killed during the course of his or her employment. In addition, investigators apparently found no DNA from anybody except the gentleman, which is pretty improbable.

When I'm wrong, I say it.

While I still believe that people of all political stripes who ride the off-kilter train can be "set free" by extremely hostile and violent rhetoric, that certainly wasn't the case here. So, to right-wing wackos everywhere, I'm sorry, guys. I know this wasn't your fault. I made a mistake.

And, boy, am I thankful that so many conservatives and Republicans have been eager to point this out.

(Anybody have some hot sauce? I need to wash down this crow).


Warren Township Warring

Ricardo Rivera, the Democratic judge in Warren Township's Small Claims Court has met the enemy, and "they are us."

Indianapolis Democratic attorney, Todd Woodmansee, has already announced his campaign to unseat Rivera, and he's already held a fundraiser last Friday. Woodmansee's treasurer is Ryan Gardner, the President of the Marion County Bar Association.

Rivera has drawn the ire of Marion County Democratic Party Chair Ed Treacy by not paying his full slating fee from his last go-round and by not joining the Chairman's Club.

What does money have to do with being a good judge? Absolutely nothing. But these are the financial contributions smart judges make when they don't want their county chair implicitly endorsing other people's campaigns.

Woodmansee diplomatically and smartly talked to the chairman and every significant Warren Township official before making this jump. Understandably, nobody endorsed Woodmansee publicly. But word on the street is that nobody told him it was a bad idea either. That can't bode well for Rivera.

Lest people believe Rivera's opposition is driven by "all politics," allegedly, there are concerns that Warren Township lawsuit filings are down, and that Rivera is absent too much from the bench, as he hands off duties to lawyers who sit as pro tem judge for him.

On the issue of filings, all attorneys know that we small claims "forum shop," or file cases where we think we'll get most favor. (This is why small claims courts should come under the superior court system and have geographic boundaries tied to jurisdiction). If no lawsuits are filed in Warren Township, it loses money (as does its constable, which might explain some things). But nobody can dispute the last thing the Eastside needs is less revenue.

At the same time, you might also have banks or collections agencies upset they can't get foreclosures and garnishments as easily as they once did. In other words, until we know concretely why filings are down, we don't know whether this hurts or helps Rivera's Democratic bona fides. He might be making the right rulings for the little guy, and the law firms representing the Goliaths that generate the lion's share of small claims business just might not like it.

On the issue of attendance, one would think that would be an easy criticism to shoot down if untrue.

But what complicates affairs is that one of Rivera's frequent pro tem judges is the court administrator, Garland Graves, who is also looking at the race. Graves was slated by the Democratic party in 2008 for Superior Court Judge, but he was edged in the primary by slate-buster, Kimberly Brown.

I previously blogged about Graves' low ranking with the Indianapolis Bar Association (IBA) but noted how those rankings seems to disfavor non-judges, and Graves had an extended stint working for the City before his rating. Also, Graves had the lowest number of overall rankings, which means his stock is more susceptible to devaluing through "dirty rush" by those so inclined.

One thing is for sure...if this turns into a three-way, free-for-all, look for a nail-biter.


Monday, November 23, 2009

How Greg Bowes Is Right and Why It Won't Save Him (My Opus in Response to His Opus)

Marion County Assessor and prosecutorial candidate, Greg Bowes (D), dropped a four-paged, single-spaced letter that was the the campaign equivalent of War and Peace into D precinct committeeperson mailboxes this week. Bowes should expect to feel more war and less peace.

The letter's main points are:

(1) Bowes is qualified to be prosecutor based on his 25 jury trials and 85 criminal appeals in attempted murder, rape, child molest, and battery cases;

(2) Bowes is the most viable candidate because he won county-wide, managed a large office, and "successfully navigated the intense scrutiny that came with the property tax crisis" (as an aside, he did?); and

(3) The D's new slating agreement is unfair, so he won't sign it.

For the newbies, let's do a quick "slating 101."

Before the primary election lets self-identified D's, R's, or L's to decide who are "their" parties' candidates, the parties' hold "primary conventions" during which only precinct committee people get to choose who "the party" endorses. Why, you might ask, would parties host what is essentially a mini-primary before an actual primary?

Precinct committeepersons register voters, put up yard signs, staff the polls, and get out the vote. PCs do this for free (except in Lake County where precinct organizations routinely seek "walking around money" from statewide candidates). Slating is the one PC perk (if you discount getting invited to State Representative Greg Porter's annual barbecue. Tasty!)

Parties want to reward hard work, but when patronage got snuffed, this was what was left - the right to participate in a non-smoke-filled room with people who really are the party.

I understand the appeal. It's not right (or productive) that two DINOS (Democrats in name only) who never donate to, work for, or advocate for, the party's candidates might trump a PC's primary vote. It's like letting people who never show up for church but who call themselves Catholic have a vote equal to the members of the church board. This is why I support the general idea of slating.

But here's the problem. It's easily rigged.

The voting pool consists of all elected precinct committeepersons and their appointed vice-committeepersons, but Democrats never have enough elected PCs (those who run as candidates in the precincts they actually reside) to fill all the slots. According to Bowes, the current number of elected folk is only 260.

One might think, "Well, that's your voting pool. Go to it." Oh, no, my friends. State party rules gives county chairs the right to fill vacant slots, and the appointed PC need not reside in the vacant precinct. This appointment right is a commonly employed perquisite in Marion County politics. To illustrate how abuse might occur, here's a conversation I had within the last eighteen months:

Me: (Ring, Ring). Hello?
Caller: Would you like to be a precinct committee person?
Me: Sure. What do I need to do?
Caller: Do you like (insert candidate's name)?
Me: Yeah.
Caller: You're good.
Me: Is this in my precinct?
Caller: No, it's (insert township ward and precinct).
Me: It doesn't matter I live downtown?
Caller: No.

Shortly after slating, Marion County consolidated its precincts, and I lost my "home precinct."

Nobody can dispute Greg Bowes is putting it in Ed Treacy's eye when he writes "one might also think that the MCDP county chair might want to wait until PCs and VPCs have made their decision before he takes any action in support of one candidate or another." But Bowes is right that appointing PCs (or removing them) before slating is the best way to "stack a slating field."

Bowes is also right that this system can circumvent geographic representation, as some townships can gain a disproportionate share of influence by having its members spread throughout the vacant PC slots county-wide. This is completely counter-intuitive because a D PC working the "hard areas," such as Franklin Township, shouldn't see his or her vote diluted. There is little incentive to work for candidates hoisted upon you by perceived (or actual) political manipulation.

Admittedly, if the county chair likes your person or cause, you'd love the current system. By the way, guess who gets to elect the county chair? PCs! But my rule of thumb for how anything should be fairly structured is, "How would we set it up without regard to how it works for us right now?"

Unfortunately, that's not how we operate, and as a result, few candidates have confidence in the slating process, which makes slate challenges all the more likely. And this is the value of the new agreement.

One might think that the best way for the party to fend off slate challenges is to just destroy the unslated candidates in the primaries, right? Great idea. Except the MCDP gets beat often, in particular by African-American candidates (in particular women) with names at the top of the alphabet.

Bowes notes that people who have run against the slate include such party stalwarts as Julia Carson, Rozelle Boyd, Bill Crawford, and Billie Breaux (and I'll add both Linda and Kim Brown).

Normally, you "freeze out" or punish your political opponents, but if the MCDP loses a slating fight, the second the election results are certified, those opponents are the MCDP's candidates with whom it has to play kissy-face. Moreover, if a slate buster is part of a key D constituency group (such as African-Americans, labor, GLBT), the county chair can't even bash him or her publicly for fear of alienating the larger constituency, which might sit it out and damage the remaining slate.

That's got to be pretty frustrating for a county chair.

What to do, what to do.

So Ed Treacy put forth an idea in consultation with elected county Democrats. Here's how it works. You pay the slating fee, which is 10% of the salary of the office you seek. Normally, all but 25% of this would be refundable to unslated candidates.

Under the revised plan, you sign an agreement that says if you are not slated, you may not run in the primary. If you do, you forfeit your slating fee in total, and you cannot participate in slating for six years. The agreement also says that, if you are slated, you must be listed on promotional materials with the slate, the whole slate, and nothing but the slate. If you are an elected official, you must back all future slates during your term. If you do not comply on either count, you get the six-year ban.

I like this idea on the surface. If you swim in our pool, you don't get to pee in it with impunity. The idea that elected officials must back their fellow Democrats is appropriate. But will we actually enforce it equally? It would have been really amusing seeing Linda Brown not support her own sister, Kim, had this agreement been in place earlier.

But herein lies Ed's genius. He didn't get this approved by precinct folks. He got it approved by elected officials. This agreement is theoretically iron-clad, incumbent protection. It says "us and only us." Where can a candidate who isn't slated turn for comfort? Not to the party apparatus!

Now Ed just has to hold it all together. I'm told he approached some affinity groups about committing to only backing the slated candidates, too, but it was rough going. That's not surprising. Can anybody see labor standing with somebody who is lukewarm on their issues, or the Stonewall Democrats backing a homophobe, just because they were slated?

In sum, Ed Treacy has a good idea. And Greg Bowes knows how to make it better. But I don't see this peanut butter to coming together with this chocolate anytime soon. I'm pretty sure only one of these guys is still viable in Marion County Democratic politics.


Friday, November 20, 2009

National News Mashup: Republicans Paranoid? Obama on the Skids?

Republican Paranoia Hits Majority Level

Well, at least we know why so many Republicans are so virulent in their criticism of President Obama. Not only do some think he's not a legitimate American citizen, they think he's not a legitimate victor.

A new poll shows that a staggering fifty-two percent of Republicans think ACORN stole the election for President Obama. An additional twenty-one percent of Republicans say they aren't sure.

ACORN is an organization with staff so stupid they gave tax advice to a pimp. I'm supposed to believe ACORN orchestrated the dummying up of 9.5 million ballots without anyone getting wise. Yes, I know about the bogus voter registrations ACORN submitted, but I haven't seen any proof of voting by people "Mr. Baskin Robbins," have you?

Obama Disapproval Number Hits Majority Level

For the first time in his presidency, Gallup has President Obama's overall job approval rating below 50%. The bad news for the Prez is that he's the fourth fastest President to dip below fifty. The good news is that every President goes below 50%, and every one comes back up during his term. Also, Obama's ability to hang near 50% with this economy while fighting a blisteringly negative healthcare battle and, admittedly, wading into an occasional silly political faux pas is (depending on your level of conspiratorial paranoia), either (1) a testament to his incredible political acumen or (2) the result of the sycophantic, subservient press corps secretly doing his bidding. You decide.


Friday Local News Mashup! Dogs, Gods, and Odds

Today is an overwhelming news day locally, so here are the highlights….

Safety NOT in These Numbers!

How can anyone feel safer in Indianapolis now than two years ago? Masked gunmen robbed the downtown Dunkin’ Donuts this morning. (Learn to spell, oh, purveyor of greasy delights! It’s “doughnuts.”). A Village Pantry got hit a bit later, and we just added a homicide to our annual count. For the past two months, the city has suffered from a barrage of violent crime unlike anything I've seen in quite some time.

Dog-Killer, the Bounty Hunt

In South Bend, residents pooled together $1,000 as a reward for information about a home robber who shot and killed a three-legged dog who lost the limb to bone cancer. Only a sick puppy would kill a sick puppy, and I’d like to deposit this guy in a small closet with some Pit Bulls.

But I’m always intrigued at the heightened level of outrage over animal cruelty. Gina Oliver says that the robbers “crossed a line that no one should ever cross.” Surely, Gina Oliver knows of people who have been murdered in South Bend. Has she ever established a reward fund for the information about those murderers?

This story made me think of what D.L. Hughley said shortly after Michael Vick's arrest:

"White people love their dogs, boy. Michael Vick is gonna get the death penalty. Right now, O.J. Simpson is off somewhere thinking, "Man, I'm sure glad I didn't kill the dog, too.' "

Is there anybody who thinks that there are many human murder victims whose deaths prompt less outrage? What’s your take on this? Is it because people believe other people have a fighting chance and dogs don’t? What about if the dog that gets shot is a Doberman? What prompts so many to feel more sympathy for man’s best friend than for man?

Terre Haute Baptists "Go Negative" on Islam

A Baptist Church in Terre Haute (which the French translate as "high ground" but West Hautians translate as "terrible hole") posted the message "Jesus rose and died for your sins. What did Allah do?"

Now here's the insane part. Pastor Bob Parker said the sign wasn't meant to be derogatory to Islam. Does anybody believe this was posed on the little church board as an insightful, comparative religion question?!? Tsk, tsk, Pastor Bob. Last time I checked, lying was a sin.

This story reminded me of the late George Carlin's take on claims of religious superiority:

...if you read history, you realise that God is one of the leading causes of death. Hindus, Muslims, Jews, Christians all taking turns killing each other 'cuz God told them it was a good idea. The sword of God, the blood of the land, veangence is mine. Millions of dead (m.f.) all because they gave the wrong answer to the God question. 'You believe in God?' 'No.' BLAM! Dead. 'You believe in God?' 'Yes.' 'You believe in my God? 'No.' BLAM! Dead.

'My God has a bigger (expletive) than your God!'

Next Time Pay the Freakin’ Ticket

What the hell was he thinking? We don’t know.

Instead of paying a ticket for illegally parking his bike, a Purdue University student thought it would be funny to put the ticket, a bike lock, and a $20 bill in a box and leave it under suspicious circumstances in the Vistor’s Center.

Guess the joke is on him. The bomb squad had to scan the package, and now the student is being accused of “terrorist mischief,” a C felony. If you don’t know by now that Americans don’t play around with terrorism, you’re basically an imbecilic gluteus maximum.

Oxley Hospitalized

Indiana State Representative Dennis Oxley, Sr., is in critical condition with an “undisclosed illness.” The Star says nobody knows any more than that. Our prayers go out to Representative Oxley and his family.


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Conservative-Liberal Paradox on Religion

This is a guest post from Publius Deux, and it's one the most thought-provoking, painfully objective analysis on the politics-religion stew I've seen in some time. I hope you agree.

Imagine a subculture where you find the following: Dancing is not permitted. Drinking is not permitted. Women are expected to be subservient to men and remain in the home with the children. Women cannot preach. Gay persons are condemned. Abortion is unthinkable. Premarital and extramarital sex bring great shame on members. Women must dress modestly. Any persons who do not belong to this subculture will suffer damnation. God’s law is binding on all persons, even those outside the subculture. Popular culture and modern social mores should be avoided as unclean.

Do you find yourself condemning these people as misogynistic, homophobic bigots? Do you find yourself mocking these narrow-minded rubes? Do you find yourself lamenting the repressed members of the community? Are you sympathetic to their purity? Are you welcoming of their diversity?

Did you imagine an Evangelical Baptist community? Did you imagine a Wahabi Muslim community? Did you imagine an Amish community?

Ask yourself those questions in the second paragraph in regard to each community.

The first paragraph accurately describes any one of these communities.

Where do your sympathies lie? Where do your antipathies lie?

Do you support an gallery’s decision to display a crucifix in a jar of piss as legitimate social commentary? Do you support Yale’s decision to censor and remove the Mohammad Cartoons from its library out of deference to Muslim sentiment?

Do you believe placing the 10 Commandments at a municipal airport is antithetical to the Separation of Church and State? Do you believe ritual foot-washing basins at a municipal airport are reasonable accommodations?

Is it unconstitutional to allow pharmacists to refuse to dispense contraceptives on Christian principles? Is it constitutional to allow cab drivers to refuse seeing-eye-dogs as passengers on Islamic principles?

Conservatives tend to demand accommodations that they would refuse other religious groups. Liberals tend to demand tolerance and respect in regard to some religions but not others. Conservatives tend to ignore the similarities with some religions. Liberals tend to be deaf regarding the inequalities of some religions.

Where do you find yourself a hypocrite in the culture wars?


Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Ballad of Ballard - A Dramedy In One Scene

Scene 1.

Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard sits in his office drinking a supersized, diet Mountain Dew while reading over a stack of papers. Two advisors lurk over him, one holding the Mayor's Quarterpounder and the other holding his supersized order of fries.

Mayor: I tell you, boys, the Corps was a lot easier. Semper Fi! (SLURP!) See, back then, people would tell me what to do, and I was a whiz following their notions and whatnot. I was an implementer, not an idealator. But now I've got to figure things out all the time. I haven't had a lot of practice at that. (SLURP!)

Advisor 1 (emphatically): We know!

Mayor: 'Member when I let Senator Kenley try to solve our CIB problems with some of these so-called "ideas" while I hid under my desk? He shore got beat like a rented mule. That plan got blown up like a watermelon in Dan Burton's back yard! And 'member when I thought it was a good idea to let my donor buddy at the country club have an IMPD squad car? Look what that got me! An ethics complaint! Ideas are dangerous, so it's best not to have any. That's why I'm glad you guys invented all those Requests for Proposals, Requests for Information, and Requests for Ideas!

Advisor 2: Well, we didn't create Requests for Prop...

Mayor: They're awesome! (SLURP!) Like, you know how we still don't know what to do with the CIB, so we just said, "Here ya go, private sector boys! Tell us what you'd do, and maybe we'll let ya!" Know how we've got a City Market as productive as a Steve Buyer scholarship fund? If it weren't for consultants, private sector input, and that Board, I'd have to come up with an idea. And remember when I didn't have any ideas for neighborhood-based, crime-fighting strategies for our police, so we just privatized it by cutting some checks to neighborhood groups and ministers and telling them to use the money for idea-lizing the crime problem?

Advisor 1 (rolls eyes): Mr. Mayor, we're getting roasted on violent crime!

Mayor: Homicides are lower than ever, at least that's what somebody on Abdul in the Morning said I should be saying.

Advisor 2: We should tell people to take solace that they're only getting robbed and shot but not killed?

Mayor: That's right, they need to know that they probably won't die under my administration...because Wishard does such a great job. Good thing we're getting a new hospital. That right there....that's another good idea that I had nothing to do with. (SLURP!) See how awesome it is when you don't have ideas? You can jump on at the very end and have everybody treat you like the hero!

Advisor 1: Mr. Mayor, this is all fascinating, but we need to focus. We still have a budget shortfall, and you pledged a ten percent across-the-board cut, so we're going to have to come up with another idea for making or saving some money. We need ideas.

Mayor: Didn't you ever read Shakespeare, son?!? Remember Julius "Dr. J." Caesar? Remember when the seer warned, "Fear the Ideas of March?"

Advisor 2: Mr. Mayor, that was the Ides of M...

Mayor: Whoo hoo!!! I've got it, boys! Privatizing and selling assets is so cool, let's issue an RFP to see what ideas the private sector can come up with for my office. I bet if we talked to IBM, they might be able to figure out ways to do what I do better than I'm doing it now. I bet we could get them for a song, too, 'cause I heard they're looking for government work. Maybe if there wasn't a mayor's office here, we could do something really cool with it, like having a little Chinatown on the 25th floor with fortune cookies that read "Help! I'm trapped in a government bureaucracy!" Ha ha ha! Boy, I tell you, that'd be awesome. (SLURP!)

Advisor 2: I'm sorry, are you saying you want to privatize your entire office?

Mayor: Why not? I'm not using it all that much, am I?



Saturday, November 14, 2009

Debunking the "All Muslims Are Jihadists" Myth

Even with hindsight being 20/20, the President and his administration will be hard-pressed to conclude that the U.S. military didn't fall down on the job protecting our soldiers from Nidal Hassan. What is much murkier, though, is whether the military failed to keep Hassan from going jihadist, from going postal, or from going postal jihadist.

How Americans resolve this dilemma has weighty ramifications for the estimated 5.2 million Muslim-Americans.

Let me start by noting that a recurring theme in conservative blogs is that Muslims should be deported, expelled from the military, or "watched" because they are dangerous. We are told "they" are dangerous because Islam is a violent faith. Islam has also been parodied as archaic patriarchy.

These notions intrigue me because when I attended the Muslim Alliance of Indiana's annual conference a few weeks ago, Congressman Andre Carson expressed outrage over lack of a more pronounced public outcry when a renowned Muslim leader allegedly decapitated his wife. I'm paraphrasing here, but the Congressman bellowed, "If we do not speak out (on cases like this), nobody will give a damn what Muslims have to say about anything else." The crowd erupted in the most sustained applause of the conference.

I envisioned someone not as familiar with Muslims asking, "If Islam is led by violent patriarchs, how come none of them are at this statewide gathering of Muslim leaders?"

The better question for those not in attendance is, "Might your stereotype be off?" Is it really fair to brand an entire faith as violent based on the acts of a handful of extremists? People who proffer the notion of inherent Muslim violence usually make one of two claims: (1) most Muslims behave violently; or (2) Islam mandates violence against "the infidel."

The global estimate for Muslims ranges between 700 million and 1.2 billion. The global estimate for all acts of terrorism (including those by every separatist or "liberation" group in the world) is less than 10,000 annually. Even if you use the low estimate and attribute all 10,000 acts of terror to Islamic jihadists, that means that only .0014% of Muslims ever engage in violence. And this is what will make some condemn all Muslims?

We are able to see heterogeneity in our own faith, but not in others. As a result, when a Muslim named Hassan kills U.S. soldiers, it's an indictment not of an individual or even that individual's interpretation of his faith, but rather, of the faith itself. But when a Christian kills an abortion doctor, or when a Christian group thinks its Biblical duty is to shout "God hates fags!" during funerals of U.S. military members, it's an anomaly.

Americans, for some reason, also fixate on their perception of what Islam requires of its adherents more than on the overall morality of those adherents. I can point to serial killers and mothers who've drowned their own kids to purge their demons. They claim Christianity as their faith, as do a staggering number of violent felons and thieves in America. Even adjusted per capita, I'm less likely to die at the hands of a self-identified Muslim than I am at the hands of a self-identified Christian.

Oh, I hear people saying, "Actually, anybody who would be violent isn't really a Christian, so they take the title falsely." But somehow anybody who is violent as a Muslim is always really a Muslim? And what if the violent Christians say they killed because they thought that's what their faith required? Can only Christians be mistaken in their interpretations of holy texts?

People looking for justification for their anti-Muslim sentiments will invariably say, "Yes, Chris, but the Koran calls for jihad against the infidel."

Indeed, but isn't the proper question not what the ancient texts of a religion say, but rather, what the adherents of the faith actually do in response to those texts? The Old Testament calls for stoning a wayward child, but you can't find a Jew alive who does it. Until recently, the Catholic Church said birth control was a sin. How many Catholics absolutely ignored that edict? And how in the world can we have so many different sects of Christianity, and yet still look at Islam as a monolithic faith?

In truth, Islam is at war between competing ideologies, just as Christianity is now and had been over slavery. Tell a Christian that Christianity was used to justify slavery and it serves as the current core belief for the Ku Klux Klan, and he or she will redirect you to the fact Christianity lead to the abolition of slavery. And I would tell you that both of these things are true.

Yes, wrap your mind around this. You can have it both ways because NO RELIGION IS A MONOLITH.

Is there a sect of Islam that is radical, violent, and hellbent on destroying America? I'd say yes. But the significance of this sect is overexaggerated by an American media that lives by "if it bleeds, it leads." Ninety-nine percent of Muslims do not engage in religious-based violence. Yet, as with any "civil war" between peaceful and confrontational ideologies, the surest way to create new adherents to radicalism is to ostracize the peaceful by failing to differentiate between the camps.

In short, you can have a Nidal Hassan who just went nuts (not likely, given his communications and comments). You can have a Nidal Hassan who was a "homegrown terrorist" who always knew his mission (not likely, given he was in the military long enough to become a major but never acted violently before - ya gotta admit, that's some seriously long-range planning). Or you can have a guy who sorta thought he had a duty, but his desire to act would not have ever kicked in until he blew a gasket. (As an aside, how many Klansmen talk about harming minorities but never do? Why hasn't anybody every recommended deporting them? When the Christians kill abortion doctors, why don't we harass the larger Christian community for failing to keep it from happening?)

Your lesson is this. America must take its Muslims one at a time, just like its Christians. Monitor radical statements, undoubtedly, but do not leave it at Muslims. Before 9/11, the greatest violence against America was perpetrated by a member of the U.S. Army, Timothy McVeigh. Why didn't anybody foresee his violence?


Friday, November 13, 2009

Purdue Gets It Right on Chapman; Students....Not So Much!

Ahhhh....the idealistic and ignorant of public relations!

I might get grief for this, but...(1) Purdue University was absolutely right not to bow to student demands for the termination of professor Bert Chapman, and (2) the students, though well-intentioned, "chose poorly."

Calls for Chapman's ouster came after he posted comments about the alleged economic costs of homosexuality on his conservative blog.

The First Amendment says: "Congress shall make no law...abridging the freedom of speech." Too many Americans who haven't actually read the passage think "the First amendment" means speech without consequences. It doesn't.

The focus is on government stiffling free speech, not private individuals (or even groups of students). This is why I said "knock yourself out" when a bunch of good old boys with belt buckles bearing their names crushed Dixie Chick CDs with a steamroller. I said the same thing when people protested Don Imus and Lou Dobbs, as well as when conservatives boycotted the Teletubbies because one carried a purse and had a triangle on his head. (As an aside, did anyone else find it amusing that conservatives branded Tinky Winky gay while somehow missing that two of the other Teletubbies have phalluses coming out of their heads?)

Individuals and groups can protest, and they can boycott. But when they start trying to force government entities like public universities to take sides on a moral debate, they've crossed the line. In addition, if freedom of expression deserves extra protection anywhere, isn't it on a college campus, the alleged bastion of academic freedom?

Too many people in my party try to stifle dissenting views they find deplorable. We must ask more from ourselves, or we'll get trapped in the same yoke when the political tide turns. Remember the plea from The American President?

"You want free speech? Let's see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who's standing center-stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours. You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country cannot just be a flag. The symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Now show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms. Then you can stand up and sing about the land of the free."

Maybe it's the lawyer in me, but I get nervous when people try to stop others from raising questions, and that's what's transpired here.

I read Chapman's piece because I didn't want to be one of those folks who criticize without first-hand knowledge. Chapman asks, in an admittedly semi-demagogic and only semi-scholarly way what we could have achieved healthwise had we not spent billions on AIDS funding.

While I say, given how the federal government's tragic inaction in the early 1980's permitted the proliferation of HIV, sums spent thereafter were necessary, isn't the most fundamental question a citizen gets to ask his government, "What was the next best alternative for the dollars you spent?"

Chapman's piece is undoubtedly anti-gay, as it classifies homosexuality as "aberrant." But it does something else that is not customary in gay-bashing screeds - it classifies all sex out of heterosexual marriage as aberrant and costly to society.

This is noteworthy because many Republicans/conservatives tend to draw the lines of acceptable conduct right at the ledge where they stand, which is why a staggering number condemn homosexuality while also being serial adulterers. Chapman seems intent not to let them off the hook, and if he cannot ask his questions on a private blog without fear of the governmental hand slapping him down, where can he?

Now, do I think Chapman's comments are wrong? Yes. But this is precisely why I do not fear their injection into public discourse. If Chapman's views are off-base, they will not take hold, we'll win on the merits, and Chapmans of the world fade into obscurity.

That didn't happen here.

My hope is that one day the self-aggrandizing who are so eager to lead protests will realize that the main byproduct of their actions is nothing but heightened publicity for the ill-formed view and its purveyor. I promise you, Chapman is now a political martyr for the right and his blog traffic has gone up 1,000 fold.

Maybe it's the students who needed to be shut up.


Thursday, November 12, 2009

Tew for One! Kennedy Picks Up Kip, iPOPA Quotes "The Wire"

Here's a message for my fellow Marion County Democrats.

Kip Tew, President Obama's state campaign chair, has shelved his mayoral ambitions and endorsed Democrat Melina Kennedy for Mayor. Kip states that Melina's work ethic and ability on the campaign trail convinced him she's the best candidate for the Democratic Party.

Embracing the Kennedy talking points, Kip notes, “Melina is an experienced job-creator, she is passionate about all of our families’ futures, and her vision of an Indianapolis that reaches higher is something--as a father--I believe in.”

While iPopa is a fan of Kip's mavericky ways, objectively, I knew his vocation ("lawyer-lobbyist") wouldn't bode any better for his candidacy than the media's labeling of Brian Williams as a "venture capitalist." (Yow! Way to morph a thoughtful idea man into a cigar-chomping, Republican archetype!)

By stepping out now, Kip furthers the coalescence that has been building around Melina among Democratic Party regulars since Joe Hogsett stepped out.

Part of being painfully objective means you give both sides of a story, even when it pains you. So here it is.

It will be difficult to convince me the Kennedy campaign operation isn't getting smarter. Her press release bio footer no longer starts with her employment at a (gasp!) big, Indianapolis law firm. Instead, it centers on Melina's job growth efforts, both as deputy mayor and as co-owner of what, for my money, is the best athletic shoe store in Indy. The bio footer also highlights Melina's notable civic engagement. While this footer should have been done from the outset, I'm fond of the saying, "Don't complain they showed up late to the party; celebrate the fact they got here."

On the downside, while Melina has an endorsement from the Laborers, I'm hearing that she's got some selling to do in the labor community (which wasn't all that eager to cough up for her prosecutor's race until an eight-hundred-pound gorilla-mayor sat on some folks). Also, I've talked to too many people who, while acting certain Melina is going to be our consensus candidate, do so with an air of startling ambivalence. It reminds me of a guy whose crotch is sideswiped by a football toss - he knows the pain is coming, and so he just accepts its inevitability.

I'm sorry, but I'm just seeing too much muted enthusiasm for my tastes, but what galls me is that nobody will express reservations publicly (or for attribution).

I'm praying I'm reading this all wrong because Melina is amazingly talented and prepared. She's legit, not faux mayor dressing. But soon it won't matter because the window will close on everybody who thought about saying the Empress has No Clothes but didn't.

To paraphrase Slim Charles from the greatest show of all time, The Wire:

"Fact is, we went to war, and now there ain't no going back. Once you in it, you in it. If it's a lie, then we fight on that lie. But we gotta fight."
If you think our best hope to reclaim the 25th floor is Brian Williams, Jose Evans, or Melina, get off the fence and speak your piece urgently because when this moment passes, whoever emerges (smart money says Melina) will need your full-throated support and donations.

And anybody who thinks Mayor Ballard will not be formidable is delusional. Look at his bank account. Too many people that spit on him four years ago have a vested interest in him now.

We can win the Mayor's office, but only if all the good soliders are ready for battle. If Melina is our General, are you?


Daniels Gets Kudos From IPOPA?!?!

To some in my political circle, he's the man we love to hate. In the past month, I blasted him for pushing forward with privatization of public benefits in Indiana even though the same experiment failed miserably in Texas.

But my view of our Governor, Mitch Daniels, changed radically with a simple act last Friday.

I was standing in the hall at a Continuing Legal Education (CLE) program for the Julian Center and Heartland Pro Bono Council when my colleague, Shariq Siddiqui, got a phone call on his cell phone.


(Voice on other ends says something....)

"Oh, hello, Governor...." Ears perk up and open widely!

It's a brief conversation, and when it ends, I have to ask. "I'm sorry, but did you just talk to Governor Daniels?" Shariq knows a cross-examination is coming, as I'm always looking for a story, so he fesses up.

Shariq informs me that, yes, it was the Governor, and he called because he had read the press release issued by the Muslim Alliance of Indiana (MAI) decrying the actions of the shooter at Ford Hood, Texas. The Governor tells Shariq he's proud of MAI. Unlike some other Muslim organizations nationally, MAI does not focus solely on Muslim soldiers and the microscope they are undoubtedly going to face now. MAI's statement (and its ensuing editorial) is an unequivocal denunciation of the inexcusable act, and it calls on all Muslims to extend their prayers and generosity to military families.

Based on the tone of both comments on the Indianapolis Star and other papers throughout the country and the blog postings of the conservatorati, the Governor doesn't do himself any favors openly embracing MAI. And yet, he does it anyway, because he knows MAI has supported him, and he has supported it by hosting an annual Iftar at the Statehouse.

The Governor knows the scrutiny (and possible violence) coming next for Muslims in America, and he has the decency and intellectual honesty to not put every Muslim in a radical, jihadist camp (more on this in a separate posting).

Being painfully objective means giving credit where it's due, even to my political adversaries, and I tip my hat to the Governor for being, not just a leader, but a moral leader on this issue. I daresay that there will be segments of my own party that will not be this bold.

Then the next day, the Governor hit another one out of the park when he signals to casinos that there aren't going to be any special tax treats just because Ohio has passed land-based casino gambling. (As an aside, certainly the people who invested in the Indiana licenses contemplated new entries into the market? If not, sorry, but they're crappy business people).

The Governor states that, if "bailouts" were to occur, they certainly wouldn't go first to an industry that is profitable. However, the Governor agrees to scrap some costly and ridiculous regulations, such as requiring an engine and sea captain on a boat that never goes anywhere.

The Governor correctly ridicules what I have long called "the morality carwash" - the notion that somehow the sin of gambling washes off if it occurs in a large body of water.

You're batting two for two this week, Governor. I wouldn't be painfully objective if I didn't say so.


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Globalization and Civic Leadership Culture

What follows is a cross-post from Urbanophile. Reading what Aaron Renn penned on Cleveland gave me cause for pause. Yes, I supported Wishard because I believe high-quality indigent care is the mark of our humanity, and because I'm confident it can get done without taxpayer dollars, but I'm left to ask...what WILL Indianapolis's "next big thing" be? After Lucas Oil, then the Marriott, now Wishard, you can certainly see a pattern that, even if we disagree with Mr. Renn's ultimate conclusions, lends much food for thought.

“Cleveland’s leadership has no apparent theory of change. Overwhelmingly, the strategy is now driven by individual projects. These projects, pushed by the real estate interests that dominate the board of the Greater Cleveland Partnership, confuse real estate development with economic development. This leads to the ‘Big Thing Theory’ of economic development: Prosperity results from building one more big thing.“
- Ed Morrison, “Cleveland: Reconstructing the Comeback

Ed Morrison wrote the above about Cleveland, but he could have been describing any number of other cities. Why is it that so many cities have turned to large real estate projects to attempt to restart growth, turning away from strategies that previously made them successful?

The answer possibly lies in structural economic changes resulting from the nationalization and globalization of industry. Up until the 1990’s, many businesses, such as retailing, utilities, some manufacturing, and especially banking operated on a regional or local basis. The meant that the civic leadership of a community was heavily dominated by businessmen, again, especially bankers, whose success was dependent on the overall macroeconomic health of the particular city or region they were located in.

But with banking deregulation, we saw large numbers of hometown banks merged out of existence. Industry after industry was subjected to national or international level roll-ups as changes in the economy and regulatory environment gave increasing returns to scale.

Why is it that “real estate interests” dominate in a local economy like Cleveland? Because, to a great extent, they are among the only ones left. Consider the local industries that were not as subject to roll-ups. Principal among these are real estate development, construction, and law. This means the local leadership of a community is now made up of executives in those industries, and they bring a very different world view versus the previous generation.

Consider the difference between a banker and a lawyer. Banks make money on the spread between what they pay for deposits or wholesale funding, and what they charge for loans. This means the CEO of a bank is making money while he plays golf at 3. He’s got a cash register back at the office that never stops ringing.

By contrast, lawyers get paid by the hour for work on specific matters and transactions. The law partner is only making money on the golf course if he is closing a deal. It’s similar between many other “operational” businesses that were previously prominent in communities, and the “transactional” businesses that are now often dominant.

Additionally, even where the hometown bank or company did not get bought out, it likely escaped that fate by getting big itself and making large numbers of acquisitions or otherwise expanding. This means those institutions are less dependent on the health of the particular local market they happen to be headquartered in than they are overall macroeconomic conditions. While no doubt they want the headquarters town to be successful, not least of which so they can effectively recruit talent, they can afford to take a portfolio view of local markets.

Not only has the drying up of local and regional operating businesses led to a business leadership community unbalanced in favor of transactionally oriented firms, the loss of those local and regional operating businesses robbed many of the transactional companies such as law and architecture firms of their principal local client base. Large national businesses employ national firms for advertising, law, architecture, etc. If they use local firms, it is in a subsidiary role. (Or, if a smaller firm is fortunate enough to land a contract, it is servicing a client on a national, not local basis).

Richard Florida described this in his Atlantic Monthly article on the financial crash. “As the manufacturing industry has shrunk, the local high-end services—finance, law, consulting—that it once supported have diminished as well, absorbed by bigger regional hubs and globally connected cities. In Chicago, for instance, the country’s 50 biggest law firms grew by 2,130 lawyers from 1984 to 2006, according to William Henderson and Arthur Alderson of Indiana University. Throughout the rest of the Midwest, these firms added a total of just 169 attorneys. Jones Day, founded in 1893 and today one of the country’s largest law firms, no longer considers its Cleveland office ‘headquarters’—that’s in Washington, D.C.—but rather its ‘founding office.’”

Where then is the source of transactions these firms can turn to in order to sustain their business? The public sector, of course.

I would hypothesize that many local transactionally oriented services companies have seen the public sector take on a greater share of billings than in the past. With the old school bankers and industrialists mostly out of the picture, the leadership in our communities consists increasingly of the political class and a business community dominated by transactional interests.

When you look at the composition of this group, it should come as no surprise that the publicly subsidized real estate development is the preferred civic strategy. Politicians get to cut ribbons. Cranes always look good on the skyline. Local architects, engineers, developers, and construction companies love it. And there is plenty of legal work to go around.

This is not to say these people are acting nefariously. And nor were old school bankers and industrialists always acting purely altruistically. Rather, the difference comes from the world view and “theory of change” that people steeped in transactionally oriented businesses bring with them.

With the current financial crisis, bigness, as a strategy, is out of favor for the moment. Also, the gimmicky financial transactions that underlie much of the crisis are calling the entire transactional model into question. There’s an increasing alarm at the precipitous decline of manufacturing, particularly the auto sector. And people are questioning whether we as a country can survive simply through services, or whether we need to revitalize the concept of the operational business and actually making things. Plus, real estate deals are tougher to get done because of tight credit, and it seems unlikely that the go-go days of recent years are coming back soon.

We’ll see where this leads. But if we see more local and regional scale operating businesses start to emerge again, then perhaps the urban development pendulum will start swinging the other direction again. In the meantime, large scale real estate development will likely continue to be preferred.


Thursday, November 5, 2009

How Would Cheap Healthcare Affect Our Economy?

This is the first of two posts on the philosophical (and largely internal) debates I'm having about healthcare's role in the American economy.

I was fortunate to have a father who, without college education, got on at Eli Lilly and worked his way up the chain. His income helped pay for my college, at least the portion that wasn’t covered by a scholarship financed from my college’s endowment, which held massive amounts of Lilly stock.

Thousands of Indianapolis families have floated in the same boat. Without Eli Lilly, Indianapolis is nowhere near what it is today. The Lilly Endowment is our philanthropic core, and the Lilly workforce is a staggering, though now dwindling, part of the Hoosier tax base.

And herein lies America’s demon.

When we assert that pharmaceutical companies are soulless, we are right philosophically if they are hosing their employees and depriving the dying of necessary medications. But what if the company is touted as one of the best places to work? What if the majority of the workforce is American, and those Americans share in the profits in the form of high wages, low mortgages from the Lilly credit union, and robust retirement accounts?

We all know whether a person identifies an industry as “bad” hinges mostly on whether he or she benefits from it. After all, we rationalize self-interest better than anything. This notion got me thinking more broadly about the horror of paying a lot for medical care.

America spends more per person than any country in the world. These estimates include money paid to insurance companies for premiums, as well as direct payments to all measure of medical providers, hospitals, pharmacies, and nursing homes by both individuals and the government.

To make healthcare cheaper for consumers will require more than eliminating waste. It will also require we pay insurance companies and medical providers less. Would we be right in thinking lost money means lost profits and probably lost jobs in those sectors? Absolutely. If so, could creating these savings actually hurt our economy in the aggregate?

This is what I know. America only has three of the top ten pharmaceutical companies in the world, but almost every individual medical provider in America, from the brain surgeon to the physical therapist is American (excluding some who might be working on VISAs, but that's not more than a few boatloads, literally). Also, I haven't found a single foreign-owned hospital corporation in America. Even the reviled health insurance industry (evil because many companies deny coverage outright or fail to honor legitimate claims) is mostly American.

In other words, when Americans overpay in the healthcare system, at least we overpay fellow Americans. If we stop the "overpayments," don't we leave to millions of consumers what to do with their savings? That’s certainly the entitlement of every American. But we have to ask….

Is there any reason to believe that lower costs in medicine will make it more likely Americans (or their governments) will save (thereby helping us pay off our massive debt to China)? What if they take their newfound funds and buy Chinese-made electronics or foreign cars? What if the greatest stabilizing force to our economy is having over a trillion dollars tied to our most recession-proof and almost exclusively "local" industry? Isn’t that better than spending it on telecom companies that are moving their entire workforces to India?

Seriously, some IU economics professors just released a report that said Indiana's job growth over the next few years will come principally from the government (public jobs), construction (public construction), and health fields. Only one of those three doesn't require government to cut a check to stir the economic pot.

While I understand the notion of paying too much to see no improvement in health outcomes, such as infant mortality, that’s an issue of allocation of resources and priorities. You can keep the total number of dollars low, and put more into prenatal care to improve results.

But from the larger economics perspective, whether we collectively pay “too much” for something often depends on the next best alternative for that money.

Yes, I know this is a hypothetical exercise, so no, I’m not saying let’s not do healthcare reform. Runaway costs hurt the ability for regular folks to get preventive tests that could save money in the long run while lessening human suffering, and the measure of our humanity is how well we care for our ill.

I’m just asking whether we are certain that any dollars taken from physicians, hospitals, and insurance companies will go to deficit reduction or something as valuable to the economy as having American businesses and their employees thrive?

Discuss amongst yaselves!


What Would Jesus Do? He'd Tell the Truth About Socialism!

Somebody with a good sense of humor put me on a mailing list for the Christian Seniors Association. I admit the Christian part, but I’m decades from MCL cafeteria as my mainstay. Still, the mailing intrigued me because it showed how disingenuous people can be with labels if it helps their cause.

People think lawyers play word games to win arguments on technicalities. More times than not, lawyers just care more than anybody about definitions. Lawyers understand that the terms frame a debate, and only through agreement on terms can we compare similar concepts.

The CSA writes: “...the answer to the high-cost (sic) of health care is not Socialism – which is what President Obama and AARP are rushing to give us.”

CSA need to go back and watch Matlock, and it needs to take a good portion of the Republican Party with it. Doesn’t anybody know what socialism is? If not, it’s a monopoly created by government ownership of the means of production. In the context of medical care, it means that the government employs all the staff, including the physicians, and owns all the hospitals and treatment centers. Great Britain, which has a national health service, has socialized medicine. So does the United States military.

(As an aside, if government-run medical care is so terrible, why hasn’t the Republican Party dismantled the V.A. and agreed to provide top-of-the-line private health insurance for all service members to use with whatever physician they choose? Are Democrats right in their criticism that Republicans don’t really care about veterans except when they're on the battlefield, or are Republicans wrong about how terrible government-run healthcare is? You tell me).

But I digress. Can someone point to any page in any Democratic healthcare bill that says the government will do anything but pay for medical care? If not, then please pipe down about “socialized medicine,” “nationalized medicine,” and “government-run healthcare” because you’re being absolutely disingenuous. What President Obama is proposing is a system under which the government pays the bills but private entities provide the services and private contractors do the administration, just like with Medicare.

I have not yet found a member of Congress who has publicly called Medicare “socialism.” Have any of you? Name the Republican elected official who wants to stop this horrendous "socialist" experiment called Medicare by cutting its benefits even one dollar.

Now, do not misunderstand. Critics are free to contend that an Obamacare system redistributes wealth. They can call Obama Robinhood. They can say his system will be less efficient than our current system, will cost more in taxes, or will not be as effective in controlling costs. But if you use a phrase like “socialism” to describe Obamacare, you’re showing your ignorance and desperation. You muddy a clear definition to give people the impression that President Obama will turn us into Cuba or North Korea (whose dictatorial regimes are repeatedly invoked in the mailing).

I was also surprised to learn that millions are being killed by socialized medicine, according to the CSA. There is no attribution for this statistic, probably because most industrialized countries, whether they actually do have socialized or nationalized medicine or single-payer systems have better health outcomes than we do, even though we pay more for medical care per capita than any country in the world. The CSA also doesn't tell us how many have died because they couldn't afford medical care, so they passed on diagnostic tests.

Not familiar with CSA? I wasn’t either, but they claim they will have a million members before the year ends, and its mission is to “reverse the ACLU’s 40-year war on Christian and lobby Congress and other government agencies for laws and policies that will strengthen the traditional family and reinforce (instead of undermine) the traditional moral and religious values that made America great.”

(Thank God CSA added that parenthesis because I would have had no idea what “undermine” meant otherwise, as I am exceedingly stupid).

What does healthcare have to do with the ACLU? Who knows, but CSA is intent on countering the "ultra-left wing and socialist AARP." Who knew that the last bastion of socialism was the Old Country Buffet?

My favorite part of the mailing, though, is this line relating to an enclosed survey:

“P.S. Please don’t spend too much time thinking about each question on your survey. Your first instinctive response to each question will be the most accurate for measuring true public opinion.”

Of course, thinking too much is bad! Such contemplation might accidentally prompt some Christian seniors to wonder what Jesus, a man who healed every single person he encountered without cost (and who said render unto Caesar’s those things that are Caesar’s), would do were he president.

They wouldn’t like the answer.


Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Parting Thought on School Referenda

Last night on WXNT, radio host extraordinaire Abdul Hakim-Shabazz, Marion County Libertarian Party Chair Tim Maguire, and I read the tea leaves on the Wishard and school ballot referenda and dissected in every conceivable way what it all means. Are referenda's a good way to govern? Is the property tax outrage of 2007 gone? Do property tax initiatives fail in low turnout years? How much does organization and money help proponents?

All fair questions, but during the discussion last night I mistakenly stated that the Superintendent of Franklin Township Schools had threatened to take away bus transportation if the referendum failed. I confused him with the Superintendent of Beech Grove, and I wanted to apologize for my error.

But now it makes more sense why Beech Grove's referendum passed and Franklin's didn't. Abdul offered that there are fewer non-parents in Beech Grove. I agree. But I am adamant that it's always easier to stomach an increase if you have the impression of being able to"earmark" it or "control" it as a voter. We don't cut blank checks to government, but we will cut one for a good cause, which is also why Wishard won with close to eighty-four percent approval. (Kudos to Matt Gutwein and the proponents of Wishard. They ran such an impressive campaign that they demolished my prediction of 74% approval).

Also, while we all know objectively that dollars are fungible goods that can be moved in a budget from line A to line B with quickness, it's easiest to sell a tax increase if people can do a cost-benefit analysis of the per day benefit versus the per day cost. This is why Sally Struthers tells you that you can feed an entire village for $.42 cents per day. If she told you to send $150, you wouldn't do it as readily.

In Beech Grove, the increase would be $117 per $100,000 of assessed value. For that average person, that's less than $.50 per day for to and from transportation to school. What parent wouldn't pay this instead of buying the gas and having to rejigger their schedules?

But another thing that matters is the groundshaking that occurs from events predating the referenda. I've had colleague after colleague in Franklin tell me they are getting absolutely socked. That's not a hospitable climate for any referendum for any cause. As I said last night, if you have a history of budget-busting items like "the palace" in Franklin (as critics term the high school), you shouldn't expect anybody to give you the benefit of the doubt when you really are in a pinch.

Superintendents of Indiana, take heed. You can't cry wolf and expect not to get devoured if you haven't been a good shepherd over the taxpayers' dollars.


Sunday, November 1, 2009

Wishard Hurts Self With One-Sided Shell Game

As I said on Abdul in the Morning on Friday, I'm expecting the Wishard referendum to pass. I cast my vote weeks ago in favor. But I would be lying if I didn't tell you this process has made me a bit queasy.

On policy debates, there are two components: the policy merits and what I'll call the debate and information distribution process. Unfortunately, the latter can often overshadow or complicate the former, and this happened here.

Here's what I know.

First, nobody can read the Wishard referendum language without thinking that it is insanely one-sided in its phraseology. Perhaps this is just human nature, but I think most people assume when you have to bias so markedly the question that the drafter must think a fair phrasing would result in a different outcome to the question. That suggests fear, which makes people wonder, "What aren't you telling us?"

Second, nobody can guarantee that no taxes will need to be raised over the next thirty years to cover the bond service on a new Wishard. Nobody can even tell you no property taxes will need to be raised in the next thirty years. While I am reluctant to second-guess HHC CEO Matt Gutwein (after all, he is, by far, one of the smartest guys I know, and he's 4-0 before the United States Supreme Court), I think he did his cause a disservice by repeatedly stating with certainty something that can't be said with certainty. Fortunately, he has changed his approach. Though he repeatedly stated during his presentation to the Washington Township Democrat Club about six weeks ago that no tax increase would accompany the construction, here's what he said this week at the Rotary:

"The level of risk that the property taxpayers are taking in Marion County is a very small level of risk, and I don’t think at all it is disproportionate from what the county receives from Wishard."

Matt should have just said, "In life there are no absolutes. We will have the authority to tax you for this hospital. But it's not going to happen and here's why...."

Third, by the time we get to the time where any tax increase will be needed, none of the principals who helped push this will be in elected office or at HHC. For those who are so inclined, there will be nobody to "hold accountable," and I don't suspect saying "I told you so" through their dentures would be all that satisfying.

Fourth, too many people in my party act like if we get money from the federal government, it's not really money. If we get to build a new Wishard because the government is subsidizing bonds, it's not like we found the money in a parking lot. Also, if IU has to absorb the cost of demolishing or renovating the the old hospital, that is a cost as well that will likely be passed on through even higher tuition for students.

Fifth, Wishard tells you that if something happens to its revenue stream, (which is likely during the lifespan of these bonds), that it can avoid a tax increase by diverting some of its operating budget. But Wishard never told us (nor could it at this point) what services it would have to cut that it is currently offering.

Sixth, I was not surprised that every other hospital in the city supports a new Wishard. This ensures that low-income or no income patients aren't in their pristine new buildings. If there is racism in this process, Amos Brown, it's not just that white guys don't want to pay to build a hospital for "the indigent" (code for "a lot of brown and black folk"). It's that the other hospitals don't want to live without a place where they can ship what they perceive as their undesirables.

Seventh, Wishard acts like if this referendum didn't pass, it would have to close. It acts like if the refendum doesn't pass, any police officer shot in the future will die. This isn't true. Wishard could continue to renovate by shifting some of its apparently easy to shift general revenue into incremental renovation.

Eighth, I really am starting to see the power of the "Indianapolis construction complex," an alliance of construction companies, engineers, architects, law firms, government agencies, and the building trades, that seems to always make sure there is a major construction project going on at every moment in Indianapolis. It is an unstoppable juggernaut.

So, why, you may ask, iPopa, do you support the hospital?

Because, without inking a deal now, we will pay more in the future to keep Wishard up and running. Because I do not believe any tax increase will occur for the first decade, and then it won't be more than a nominal increase for the value provided, even if the total cannot be capped, and because I strongly believe what I said about the other hospitals. They will not absorb a Wishard overflow.

Further, if HHC did divert revenues later to offset what would be lost by foregoing the Obama bonds, care would suffer. HHC has numerous community-based treatment centers that would probably be the first thing on the chopping block. Only through new construction will indigent care in Indianapolis stay strong, and I view it as an indicator of our humanity how well we care for our sick. Plus, this project will create desperately needed construction jobs.

Finally, though I love the Colts, I'm just glad this time the Indianapolis Construction Complex is on the side of something a bit more noble than grown men playing a game.