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Tuesday, November 30, 2021
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Monday, November 29, 2021 9:51 AM
By BRIAN A. HOWEY, in Indianapolis

1. Pandemic pi

It was a horrified Purdue Prof. C.A. Waldo who in 1897 learned of a bill by State Rep. Taylor I. Record to redefine the mathematical concept of "pi", rushing to quell what would have been a national embarrassment. Memories of that episode has resurfaced after Speaker Todd Huston and Senate President Rodric Bray called a special session originally scheduled for today to "end the pandemic." After testimony last Tuesday on a draft bill by House Majority Leader Matt Lehman, that session was scrubbed on Wednesday due to what Bray called "the ongoing complexities" and "potential unintended consequences" of moving on the draft bill that would have prevented vax mandates that apparently lacked votes in the Senate.

On Friday, the "Omicron" variant of COVID-19 was officially recognized by the World Health Organization, the Dow reacting by falling nearly 1,000 points, and Americans girded for yet another "not again!" episode of this pandemic where vaccination is readily available (and free!) but 50% of Hoosiers and 40% of Americans are rejecting. On Nov. 24, Indiana topped 4,000 new COVID-19 cases for the first time since Sept. 17; with 9.2% of that day's batch of tests came back positive; 61 counties had positivity rates +10%; and 12 are over IDH's 15% high-risk red line. 

NWI Times'Dan Carden: "Historians of the COVID-19 pandemic may look back on last week in Indiana, when some Republican state lawmakers believed they could simply declare an end to the public health emergency, with amusement at their ignorance, or perhaps, their innocence (Carden, NWI Times). That's because, once again, the coronavirus is proving that even if Hoosiers are sick and tired of COVID-19, the virus isn't done making Hoosiers sick." IndyStar's James Briggs: "The Drumstick Dash is back and the political turkey trot is canceled. While you were preparing for Thanksgiving, and maybe for a run in Broad Ripple, the Indiana General Assembly’s gobbledygook plot to set a new speed record for bad policymaking ended in a sloppy, embarrassing fiasco."

2. How bad could Omicron be?

National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Francis Collins on Fox News Sunday: "If you've raised antibodies against [COVID-19] from previously being infected or from being vaccinated, the question is, will those antibodies still stick to this version of the spike protein, or will they evade that protection? We need to find that out, to be honest, though that's gonna take two, three weeks in both laboratory and field studies to figure out the answer." Dr. Anthony Fauci: "When you have a virus that has already gone to multiple countries, inevitably it will be here.” Dr. Scott Gottlieb: "The question here is going to be whether or not a fully boosted individual someone who's had three doses of vaccine has good protection against this variant right now." Dr. Michael Osterholm: “This is a stay-tuned moment. There a lot left to be learned.”

3. Holcomb extends public health emergency

Gov. Eric Holcomb extended Indiana's public health emergency for another month: “Last week I made clear what would be necessary to responsibly allow the state public health emergency to expire. However, following the announcement that the General Assembly will not return on Monday, Nov. 29, I plan to extend the state public health emergency and the executive order next week for another 30 days to preserve the necessary provisions. I will continue to work closely with Speaker Huston and Senator Bray as we move into next legislative session.”

4. USS Indianapolis survivor dies

Adolfo “Harpo” Celaya, one of the youngest USS Indianapolis survivors of its World War II sinking in 1945, died on Thanksgiving Day. According to The Library of Congress' Veterans History Project: "Those lucky enough to spend time with Harpo loved his quick wit and wonderful sense of humor. Even till the end he made us laugh, and was always there to remind us to 'mantente fuerte' (stay strong)." There are now only three surviving crew members from the USS Indianapolis tragedy.

5. The week ahead

Today, socialite Ghislaine Maxwell's trial begins in New York. On Tuesday, undefeated IU will play Syracuse at the Carrier Dome in a rematch of the 1987 NCAA men's title game. On Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear the Mississippi abortion case that could mean the end of Roe v. Wade. Next Sunday, 10-1 Notre Dame will learn if it makes the College Football championship to be played in Indianapolis in January. AP has the Irish ranked sixth.

The Colts need to learn how to close out games and quit snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, which has happened three times so far this season. Congrats to the Purdue Boilermakers for reclaiming the Old Oaken Bucket. It's The Atomic!
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    NEW YORK - "How are you doing today, Buddy?" the St. Vincent's intensive care nurse asked me in late November 2019. To which I replied, "Why do you all call me Buddy?" I was in ICU suffering from a bilateral subdural hematoma in November 2019, just five months before the COVID-19 pandemic engulfed Indiana's medical system. These nurses kept me alive. I remember thanking them for their care during my hospitalization, and I do so again almost two years into this pandemic that now seems unrelenting. We've gone from a statewide lockdown in 2020, to universally available vaccines a year later. Now, only 50% of Hoosier adults have chosen to be vaccinated, fueling what is essentially a fifth COVID surge that portends to a third bleak winter. While many of us have resumed pre-pandemic lifestyles, these ICU nurses are still living in a hell that has seen more than a million of us infected, 16,788 deaths at this writing, making this the most lethal public health sequence in Indiana history. It has to be deflating for nurses and doctors leaving crowded ICU wards filled with patients who opted not to protect themselves. This comes as the Indiana General Assembly had planned a Monday Nov. 29 to pass legislation that “ends the public health emergency.” According to a preliminary draft of a bill, it would prohibit employer vaccine and testing mandates. “If this bill passes on the 29th and effectively says we’ve addressed the governor’s concerns on ending this, I would hope at that point that the governor would then not extend this emergency," said Republican House Majority Leader Matt Lehman, noting the current order expires Dec. 1. 

    INDIANAPOLIS – What do Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, industrialist Charles Koch, former House Speaker John Boehner, Sarah Palin and Snoop Dogg have in common? They all back marijuana reforms. The rapper Dogg is no surprise, having built his career on a foundation of bongs and kush. But Justice Thomas? He recently wrote, "A prohibition on intrastate use or cultivation of marijuana may no longer be necessary or proper to support the federal government's piecemeal approach. Federal policies of the past 16 years have greatly undermined its reasoning. The federal government's current approach is a half-in, half-out regime that simultaneously tolerates and forbids local use of marijuana.” And Speaker Boehner? "My thinking on cannabis has evolved," he said. "I’m convinced de-scheduling the drug is needed so we can do research, help our veterans, and reverse the opioid epidemic ravaging our communities.” They've come a long way since iconic conservative commentator William F. Buckley Jr. smoked pot on his sailboat beyond U.S. territorial limits in 1965, advocating in 1971 decriminalization (but not legalization). Asked about the episode, he told the New York Times, "Yes. It was on my boat, outside the three-mile limit. I'm a law-and- order advocate, you know. To tell the truth, marijuana didn't do a thing for me.” Koch, whose Americans for Prosperity group has backed a generation of conservative congressional and state legislative candidates, has joined Mr. Dogg and criminal justice reform advocate Weldon Angelos to form the Cannabis Freedom Alliance. So beyond the whiff of weed I discovered at a Temptations concert at Conner Prairie this summer, there is definitely change in the air.
    MUNCIE – The U.S. Congress is turning its attention to something called the Build it Back Better (BBB) bill. This is a good time to think critically about the political economy of our national debt. It is good to start with some facts and acknowledge what we do and do not know about the economic consequences of a large public debt. A big part of this is discussion must be the question of how we tax ourselves to pay for this debt. Public debts aren’t new, and the U.S. government has spent more than it has received in taxes for almost all of the past half century. Despite our economic cycles, we remain the largest rich economy, with reasonable long-term growth and currency that is the most dominant in world history. Clearly, a rich nation can run a debt for a long time without meaningful consequences. A nation like ours can also finance big negative shocks, like a world war or global pandemic. We have been successful in paying these back over long periods, financed by sufficient economic growth that our tax revenues exceed spending. However, we can also hold debt for decades, if what we buy is a boost to long-term economic growth.
    BLOOMINGTON – It’s a cliché to say that everything’s connected. But we live in a world where this is clearly true. Ideas, goods, services, workers, tourists, commerce, communications, drugs, crime, migrants, refugees, weapons, climate impacts … and, of course, viruses; they all cross borders constantly. This is one reason I’ve come to believe that drawing a distinction between “foreign” and “domestic” policy, while often helpful, is also misleading. Globalization essentially means that we can’t escape the impact of what’s happening in other countries and regions around the globe, either at the policy level in Washington or on the street where you live. This is often beneficial. The free movement of goods and services from this country to others builds our economy and creates jobs. Likewise, goods and services produced elsewhere and imported or used here have provided many American consumers with a quality of life that would have been unthinkable a generation ago. The relatively free flow of ideas, cultural life, and people with talent, skill, ambition, or all three, have enriched this country and many others. Yet managing globalization is also a clear challenge, because it’s not only the good stuff that goes along with it.
    INDIANAPOLIS – In the small forest behind our house, the leaves are falling in showers of color. They return to the earth the nutrients taken from the earth. It is one of the great cycles of nature. Those who ascribe a consciousness to trees might say the trees are thanking the ground from which they grew. Others would claim the trees are acting in their own self-interest, assembling a form of savings for their own future betterment. This is also the season for organizations with all sorts of meaningful causes to solicit donations. The basic concept is parallel to the trees and the leaves. Our status in life, to some degree, is due to the conditions in which we have been placed or we have chosen.
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  • HPI Analysis: Pete and Mike angle for 2024 presidential race

    NEW YORK – Right now Donald J. Trump is sucking much of the oxygen away from other potential 2024 presidential contenders. But by the time that election cycle hits primetime, there could be two Hoosiers seeking the nation’s highest office. Mike Pence is already running. He’s maintaining a busy nationwide schedule and that is expected to increase as he stumps for Republican congressional candidates in 2022, collecting an array of potential IOUs. And U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has positioned himself in a way that conjures Theodore Roosevelt’s influential stint as assistant secretary to the Navy in the McKinley administration. Secretary Pete will play a crucial role in the Biden administration’s disbursement of an unprecedented $1.2 trillion infrastructure law funds, while Vice President Kamala Harris chafes about her difficult policy portfolio and bad staffing. Biden is signaling that he will seek reelection at age 82 in 2024. “He is, that’s his intention”, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said earlier this week. But many Democrats aren't convinced, setting off speculation as to who is heir to the Democratic mantle.

  • Atomic! Is Indiana's pandemic really over? INDems hit 55 rural counties; National Guard hunts 'Brandon' vandal

    By BRIAN A. HOWEY, in Riverhead, L.I.

    1. An 'end' the Indiana's pandemic: The Indiana General Assembly is poised to end the COVID-19 public health emergency during a special session next Monday. "Indiana is successfully moving beyond the pandemic," Speaker Todd Huston said in a statement Saturday. "There are only a few key components of the executive order that remain in place, including measures that help vulnerable Hoosiers." But is the pandemic really over? Overall, 3,388,095 Hoosiers or 50.33% of Indiana's population have been fully vaccinated, while 59.1 of all Americans have been vaxed. WIBC's Eric Berman on Friday: 3,767 new Indiana #coronavirus cases, with 9.6% of today's batch of tests coming back positive; 10% of counties "approaching high risk" level for the first time since Sep 27. Monroe County officials were alarmed at how few wore masks at Assembly Hall last week for IU basketball games.  
    Monroe County officials were alarmed at how few wore masks at Assembly Hall last week for IU basketball games. Politico: Though nearly 70% of the country has had at least one shot and hospitalizations have fallen from their September highs, the news in many states remains grim and the trend lines portend a fresh wave in the coming weeks, including Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin where cases have exploded. Natasha Bagdasarian, the chief medical executive for the Michigan health department: “No part of the state has been spared.”

  • Atomic! House passes BBB; Carson lauds; Walorski sees 'socialism'; Another COVID comeback; Hoosier turkeys rule!
    By BRIAN A. HOWEY, in Indianapolis

    1. House passes BBB Act: The U.S. House passed President Biden's Build Back Better Act this morning on a 220-213 vote, with all Republicans and one Democrat opposing. It's a $2 trillion package that would overhaul federal health care, education, climate, immigration and tax laws. Indiana Democrats say it will deliver universal pre-K (a goal of the late Gov. Frank O'Bannon), allow more access to HIP 2.0, while "solving" the state's childcare crisis. "Indiana Democrats will deliver this better future for Hoosiers," the party said. According to the White House, The Build Back Better framework will enable Indiana to provide access to child care for about 440,000 young children (ages 0-5) per year from families earning under 2.5 times the state median income (about $208,000 for a family of 4), and ensure these families pay no more than 7% of their income on high-quality child care. It will provide universal free preschool for 184,000 Hoosier 3- and 4-year olds. It will provide access to the Health Indiana Plan 2.0 to 136,000 uninsured people while 83,600 will on average save hundreds of dollars per year.

  • HPI Analysis: Post-pandemic session finds evolving state

    INDIANAPOLIS – Speaker Todd Huston had just taken the gavel during the waning days of the 2020 Indiana General Assembly as the COVID-19 pandemic began to wreak turmoil across the state. Now, less than two years later, he and super majority Republicans will begin to reshape the state during what has become a persistent problem. Facing the 150 members and Gov. Eric Holcomb are a worker shortage (including teachers, bus drivers, nurses, truckers), a state education system that still isn’t meeting the needs of employers, and a new technological revolution that will see the internal combustion engine give way to electrical propulsion that needs just a fraction of the parts that hundreds of Hoosier companies produce. There are 519 auto manufacturing establishments in Indiana, including 23 motor vehicle manufacturing (not including two Ford assembly plants just beyond state lines in Chicago Heights and Louisville), 165 body and trailer manufacturing, and 331 parts manufacturing establishments, according to CAR.
  • Horse Race; INDems embrace marijuana reforms


    INDIANAPOLIS – Hoosiers and Americans have supported marijuana reforms for years now. In October 2016, a Howey Politics/WTHR-TV poll found more than 70% of Hoosiers, including 58% of Republicans, favored marijuana reforms. 
    Gallup has documented increasing support for legalizing marijuana over more than five decades, with particularly sharp increases occurring in the 2000s and 2010s. In 2013, a majority of Americans, for the first time, supported legalization. As was the case in 2020, solid majorities of U.S. adults in all major subgroups by gender, age, income and education support legalizing marijuana. Substantive differences are seen, however, by political party and religion. While most Democrats (83%) and political independents (71%) support legalization, Republicans are nearly evenly split on the question (50% in favor; 49% opposed). 

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  • Conrad to seek GOP secretary of state nomination
    “I’ve heard from all four corners of Indiana, from county chairs and clerks to election board members, about how much experience matters and how important it is when it comes to elections and the Secretary of State. Now is not the time to learn as we go.” - Newton County Commissioner Kyle D. Conrad, telling Howey Politics Indiana that he will seek the Republican secretary of state nomination in 2022. Conrad will challenge appointed Secretary of State Holli Sullivan. He served 10 years as Newton County clerk. He was recognized by both the Association of Indiana Counties (1995) and the Association of Clerks of the Circuit Courts of Indiana (2000) as the state’s outstanding clerk. He was named Election Administrator of the Year by the Election Division of the Indiana Secretary of State’s Office in 2000. From 2009 to 2021 Conrad was an account manager for Governmental Business Systems, an election service and equipment provider in Indiana. Republican Diego Morales is also seeking the nomination.
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