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Monday, November 20, 2017
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Thursday, July 11, 2013 1:28 PM
ANGOLA, Ind. – These past few weeks, we’ve seen yet another example of sclerosis in Washington, this time with the farm bill. On a topic that begged for compromise, everyone dug in, and there was celebration in some quarters even as they were spitting the ashes out of their mouths.
Next up comes the immigration package, with House Republicans overwhelmingly balking Wednesday at the Senate passed bill despite warnings from Speaker John Boehner about the political consequences.
Later this year, we’ll get another debt limit faux crisis.
It is a city of gangs who can’t shoot straight, of rhetoric akin to methane gas seeping out of a melting tundra. Gallup has congressional approval at 10 percent, yet another historic low.
LaPorte Mayor Blair Milo’s column on page 1 hits a number of points that are resonating. And it underscores a recent piece by conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks on what he calls the “power inversion,” the rise of city states and regional governments that fill the void left by the partisan polarization in Washington.
  • NASHVILLE, Ind.  – A century ago, momentous events and lives were launched. There was a coup d’etat in Petrograd, often described as the “Russian Revolution,” but in reality was a violent Bolshevik power grab that created a 100 million human death toll over the next eight decades. In May of that year, John F. Kennedy was born and would go on to launch the New Frontier. And in Ann Arbor on Nov. 17, 1917, Robert Dunkerson Orr took his first breaths. His family was on vacation when he entered the world, and he would be raised in Evansville and find his early and late careers playing out on the world stage, buffeted by the two other events and lives. Gov. Orr, as he would become in 1981, was the first governor I covered as a journalist. His life traversed times of great upheaval, with him and first wife Josie serving in the U.S. Army and Women’s Air Force Service Pilots during World War II. His public service career ended in Singapore where he served as the U.S. ambassador for three years. On Nov. 4, nearly 100 former staffers of Gov. Orr gathered to remember his remarkable life. It didn’t have quite the movie characteristics of Gov. Edgar Whitcomb, who escaped from the Japanese at Corregidor during the early months of World War II and would later come close to circumnavigating the globe by sea after retiring from public life. But Orr through business, policy and politics helped create the Indiana we know today.
  • NASHVILLE, Ind.  – Lordy, they’re going fast, fast, fast on Grandma Barnes Road. No, not the Dodge Chargers, the Harley Softtail Breakouts or the F-150 Platinums. The Breaking news: You can find the fastest Internet speeds in America on Grandma Barnes Road deep in the hollers of Brown County. This was no accident and, in fact, purposely was almost a decade in the making. And it happened because of a unique collaboration between activist citizens, locally elected officials, the Brown County School Corporation and the highway department, state legislators, two gubernatorial administrations and a small company that is investing here and in places like Harrison and Washington counties. Or as Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch told the dozens of people gathered on a rainy Friday afternoon to celebrate the expansion of high speed Internet to close to 400 homes, “Government we like to have, but it is always the hard-working men and women who are taking the risks and the sacrifices to move your communities forward and move our state forward.” Brown County’s Vision 2020 plan of 2009 identified high speed internet needed for education, economic development and public safety. A task force was formed in 2011 to attempt to achieve that goal, with limited success. Two years ago, Nashville Town Manager Scott Rudd tried again, creating the new Brown County Broadband Task Force that includes this writer.
  • ANN ARBOR, Mich. – As the Republican deficit hawks molt into deficit doves, the GOP canaries – President George W. Bush and Sens. John McCain, Bob Corker and Jeff Flake – have chirped out their warnings. It comes on the heels of President Trump’s bizarre criticism of one of the nation’s newest Gold Star mothers. It comes as a third U.S. Navy carrier strike force heads toward to Korean peninsula, with the USS Nimitz joining the USS Ronald Reagan and USS Theodore Roosevelt. A week ago Bush43 said, "We have seen our discourse degraded by casual cruelty. We've seen nationalism distorted into nativism; forgotten the dynamism that immigration has always brought to America. Bullying and prejudice in our public life sets a national tone, provides permission for cruelty and bigotry, and compromises the moral education of children. The only way to pass along civic values is to first live up to them."

  • NASHVILLE, Ind. – In the wake of the Las Vegas massacre where 58 people were killed and about 550 people were injured, I surveyed all the “thoughts and prayers” reaction from our public servants and waited to write an analysis. Why? Because the “thoughts and prayers” reaction seemed so thoroughly trite and hollow. Since the Columbine High School massacre, as a journalist I’ve written columns with the predictable gamut of emotions: Sorrow, outrage, denial, guilt, acceptance. But even the personal wrath and this question – “What happened to the Constitution’s preamble that strives for ‘domestic tranquility’” – now seems platitudinous. As in waning empires, the dangerous reaction is one of resignation and that’s where we seem to be today. There were predictable quotes, like this one from 28-year-old Russell Bleck, who observed, “People would run one way and then you’d hit a dead end; it was just a kill box. You were kind of getting led down like cattle would to a slaughterhouse. I saw bodies everywhere. The guy was just spraying the crowd.”

  • NASHVILLE, Ind. - A national Quinnipiac Poll released this week puts President Trump’s approval/disapproval at 38/56 percent. Voters say 55-43 percent that he is “not fit” to serve as president. A Morning Consult Poll conducted in Indiana on Sept. 26 shows Trump’s approval/disapproval has declined from 55.3/33 percent in January to 49.8/44.9 percent. This comes less than a year after he carried the state by 19 percent. Why, why, why? Let’s review quotes and events from this past week, starting with the hurricane disaster in Puerto Rico.  Three weeks after Category 5 Hurricane Maria made landfall, 16 percent of Puerto Rico's residents have electricity; 63 percent have access to clean drinking water; and 60 percent of wastewater treatment plants are operating, according to FEMA and the Department of Defense. More than 40 percent of bank branches aren’t open and 560 ATMs are functioning for an island with a population of more than 3.4 million. Earlier this month, Vice President Mike Pence visited the embattled island and vowed, “We stand with you and we will be with you every step of the way. We will reach every community and bring aide to every Puerto Rican in need.” But in a Category 5 Tweetstorm Thursday morning, President Trump said, "Puerto Rico survived the Hurricanes, now a financial crisis looms largely of their own making. We cannot keep FEMA, the Military & the First Responders, who have been amazing (under the most difficult circumstances) in P.R. forever!” For the record, FEMA spent almost a decade dealing with the fallout of Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana and Mississippi after that Category 3 storm made landfall.

  • ANN ARBOR, Mich. - Take President Reagan’s “11th Commandment” (Thou shalt not criticize another Republican) and shove it. The Big Tent GOP is following Ringling Brothers into oblivion. There is a civil war brewing in the Republican Party and the revolt is fomenting … in the warrens of Vice President Mike Pence. Ever since that early summer day in 2015 when Donald Trump descended on an escalator to declare his bid for the presidency, the Republican Party has been torn. Trump won a hostile takeover nomination in the Indiana presidential primary in May 2016 with only Rex Early and Sullivan County Chairman Bill Springer as his conspicuous Hoosier advocates. When Pence joined the ticket, Hoosiers came around. What we’ve witnessed since has been an unprecedented Kabuki theater with the GOP presidential nominee bragging about the size of various body parts, the ability of the famous to grope female anatomy, and even a hint of martial law when Trump accepted the GOP nomination in Cleveland by saying, “The crime and violence that today afflicts our nation will soon come to an end. Beginning on January 20, 2017, safety will be restored. I alone can fix it.”

  • COLUMBIA CITY – Vice President Mike Pence journeyed back home to Indiana last Friday to make his pitch for President Trump’s emerging tax reform plan. “The good news is the Senate’s close to moving forward with legislation to repeal and replace Obamacare as we speak,” Pence told a crowd in Anderson in his old congressional district. “President Trump and I firmly believe that the Graham-Cassidy bill is the right bill at the right time to repeal and replace Obamacare.” But there was a problem. Simultaneously U.S. Sen. John McCain announced he couldn’t support the plan, saying, "I cannot in good conscience vote for the Graham-Cassidy proposal. I believe we could do better working together, Republicans and Democrats, and have not yet really tried.” It was the death knell. If there’s a déjà vu feel to this, you only have to go back to July when Pence spent hours just off the Senate floor twisting McCain’s arm to support another Senate Obamacare repeal/replace plan. McCain did the same thing, citing no hearings, no amendments, and tens of millions losing coverage. Zap! The vice president ardently believes that most Americans hate Obamacare - and many do - but a CBS Poll on Graham/Cassidy showed 20 percent support, with only 18 percent of independents and just 46 percent of Republicans.
  • NASHVILLE, Ind. - If you want to bear witness to one of the most dismal policy and political debacles in American history, consider the last five American presidents and the last dozen or so congresses when it comes to health care. In managing one-sixth of the nation’s economy and the needs of the populace, this is simply a sad story sans leadership. I will give some examples via my own personal prism. Last summer I was at my cabin, got tangled up in my dog’s tether and split my forehead open. A friend drove me to Columbus Regional Hospital emergency room where in 90 minutes I received 24 stitches and a tetanus shot. The bill: $1,600. My friend Mike Carr, a health consultant who helped Gov. Mitch Daniels devise the welfare “hybrid plan” observed: “That comes out to over $1,000 an hour.” It underscores a Rand Corporation analysis of Indiana hospital costs which it terms “shockingly high” for charges of in-patient and out-patient procedures, often three times that of other markets. I’m on an IU Health insurance silver plan, so the $5,000 deductible didn’t help. Since Obamacare was passed in 2010, I’ve been on MDWise, Anthem and IU Health plans. The latter two are pulling out of the Indiana Obamacare exchange, so I’ll be on my fourth insurer next January. My monthly premiums (for just me) have gone from $440, to $780, and $681 this year. I expect them to skyrocket next year.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – If I’m gonna go to the Amazon, I’m going to pack and pack tight, take a first aid kit, mosquito netting, a hammock, a Sears poncho, rations, trail mix, potable water and . . . cold beer. As the General Assembly’s Alcohol Code Revision Commission met last Monday, mayors from Indianapolis and Fishers, along with the Indiana Economic Development Corporation, were dreaming of Amazon’s HQ2, a $5 billion, 50,000 employee, high-wage gem. Analysis from the New York Times and others place Indiana in the mix along with dozens of other cities until “quality of life” and “mass transit” come into play. With this plum capturing site selector fantasy, Indiana is plunging into a debate about where carryout cold beer can be sold and whether it should be available on Sundays beyond Big Woods, Upland, Mad Anthony and dozens of other craft breweries springing up across the state. In 49 other states and the District of Columbia, the temperature of beer sales is unregulated. Indiana is the only state that bans retail beer, wine and liquor sales on Sundays.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – President Trump has promised “fire and fury” for his North Korean counterpart, the dictator Kim Jong Un. Last week, Trump tweeted, “Talking is not the answer.” On Sunday, Defense Sec. Jim Mattis, standing with Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Joseph Dunford on the White House driveway after meeting with President Trump and Vice President Pence, reacted to the North Korean detonation of a hydrogen bomb that measured 6.3 on the USGS Richter scale and just weeks after it lobbed a missile over Japan. “We have many military options, and the president wanted to be briefed on each one of them,” said Mattis. “Any threat to the United States or its territories, including Guam, or our allies, will be met with a massive military response – a response both effective and overwhelming.”  The war drums are now fully beating. Perhaps it’s time to channel our inner Andy. By this, I mean the late U.S. Rep. Andrew Jacobs Jr., author of the non-bestselling book “The 1600 Killers,” describing the war actions of the 20th Century’s last 10 presidents. As a young congressman in the mid-1960s, he defied President Lyndon Johnson, becoming an early critic of the Vietnam War. Jacobs had a relevant historical viewpoint. He joined the U.S. Marine Corps because he believed the snazzy dress uniform would attract the babes. He ended up in the Korean War.  His perspective, that it’s Congress that has the authority to declare war and not the president, came from a man who once found himself hauling off wounded Marines in a classic fog-of-war moment, staring down the guns of Chinese infantry, who inexplicably allowed him to live.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – In the two decades before and after the 20th Century commenced, there was a concerted effort to remember the Lost Cause or the War Between the States from the Southern perspective. The Daughters of the Confederacy funded, forged and erected more than a thousand statues honoring President Jefferson Davis, Gens. Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, along with dozens of others.  It extends beyond monuments, with several U.S. Army bases (Benning, Bragg, Beauregard, Gordon, Hood, A.P. Hill, Pickett and Lee among them) named for Confederate generals. Another 12 Confederate figures are in the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall, compared to just four civil rights leaders (Frederick Douglass, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., and Sojourner Truth). On the Gettysburg Battlefield in Pennsylvania, there are monuments to Lee, and Gens. James Longstreet and A.P. Hill, as well as those representing the 14 Confederate states.
  • NASHVILLE, Ind. - We had been the Hoosier State. The Crossroads of America, heart of the corn belt and the center of the basketball universe. Three years ago, we became something sinister. It was “Indiana: The Methamphetamine State!” The statistics were appalling. According to the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council, between 2013 and 2015 Indiana had dismantled 4,477 meth labs, and rescued 1,104 children living in meth lab environments. Over the corresponding time period, Indiana had seen a 32 percent increase in homicides, 26 percent increase in abuse and neglect reports to the Department of Child Services, a 90 percent increase in misdemeanor theft.  The collateral damage was appalling. In addition to the abused kids, first responders like cops, firefighters and code enforcers suffered chemical injuries in meth labs. Mayors were seeing dozens of homes and hotel rooms contaminated by the insidious chemical taint that comes with clandestine meth production. There was inertia at the Statehouse as governors and legislative leaders were slow to move, some fearing the wrath and political contributions from the home health consumer products industry. There were others, like prosecutors Dustin Houchin of Washington County, Mike Steiner of Martin County, Jeffrey Arnold in Delaware County and Vanderburgh County’s Nick Hermann, Columbia City Mayor Ryan Daniel, Kendallville Police Chief Rob Wiley and a several legislators - most notably State Rep. Ben Smaltz of Auburn, State Sen. Randy Head of Logansport and House Speaker Brian Bosma - who had had enough.

  • INDIANAPOLIS – On Aug. 6, 1945, President Harry S Truman, a mostly unknown political figure, commander in chief for just less than five months, and widely seen as a novice, made a stunning announcement: “Sixteen hours ago an American airplane dropped one bomb on Hiroshima, an important Japanese Army base. We shall destroy their docks, their factories, and their communications. Let there be no mistake; we shall completely destroy Japan’s power to make war.” On Tuesday, President Trump, widely seen as a novice on all things military and diplomatic, reacted to a report that North Korea had attained a miniaturized nuclear warhead with arms folded and clenched to his torso, saying, “North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.”  It was a chilling moment, underscoring comments U.S. Sens. Joe Donnelly and Todd Young made to me earlier this summer that Americans need to wrap their heads around the notion that we may be at war – nuclear war – in a matter of months. Perhaps it’s just weeks or days now.
  • NASHVILLE, Ind. - There were two burning questions for Republican Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson: Did Russian government entities or hackers compromise the state’s election system? And does she believe the 2016 election results are accurate? Lawson did not hedge in her responses. “Indiana did not get hacked,” she said flatly. Her office was informed by the FBI late last summer that at least two states had their systems entered, and dozens of states were probed. “We examined 15,500,000 logins from the 92 county clerks’ offices. They were processing candidate filings, absentee ballot requests and petition signatures and all the things that counties do. So we were fine. Those IP addresses had not touched Indiana’s system.” While there have been an array of news reports saying that anywhere from 21 to 30 states had their election systems probed, Lawson explained, “Not one secretary has been notified that their system was endangered in any way. Our systems are scanned multiple times a day, thousands of times a week. Some are by nefarious actors, some just curious who want to rattle the door knobs to see if any doors have been left open. We continue to work with our technology staff to make sure we haven’t left any doors open.”
  • FREMONT, Ind. - Can you hear the Gipper’s voice from the wayback machine? “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.” It was former California Republican Chairman Gaylord Parkinson who coined the phrase, and it became President Reagan’s mantra. What we’re seeing on an almost hourly basis, from the emerging Indiana U.S. Senate primary between U.S. Reps. Todd Rokita, Luke Messer to the White House, is a complete abrogation of the concept. The Grand Old Party and its “big tent” are being replaced with virulent fratricide. Messer announced this past Wednesday he would enter the Senate race and pose a challenge to Democratic U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly next year. It came after weeks of needling by Rokita, who conducted a whisper campaign against Messer that he actually lives in an affluent Washington suburb, and took aim his wife’s lucrative legal work for the city of Fishers where she makes about $20,000 a month. The rumor mill spun that Messer might skip the race to stay on a House leadership track where he is fifth in ranking. There was an IndyStar story about how Rokita’s line of attack against Messer had been edited into the latter’s Wikipedia page.

  • KOKOMO – There was President Trump, author of the “Art of the Deal,” dining with Vice President Mike Pence and Republican senators at the White House Monday night. He complained about the grind of the health care reforms, reaffirming his winter quote that “no one knew how tough” such a process could be. He trashed Sen. Rand Paul for his opposition. Pence had spent the previous weekend arm twisting 49 of the nation’s stone-faced governors in Providence (Gov. Eric Holcomb wasn’t there) on the Senate bill, simultaneously discrediting Congressional Budget Office estimates and using other CBO data to make his case. The governors were presented with an Avalere Health study that revealed Indiana’s Medicaid program would lose $4.9 billion in the next nine years, and $36.5 billion - or 32 percent - by 2036. And the Wall Street Journal reported on a CBO estimate of the Senate bill impacts: 32 million Americans would lose coverage, and while the federal deficit would decrease $473 billion, insurance premiums would double by 2026. Saturday night, Pence would intone with one of his “let me be clear” intros that is often followed by fallacy: “We’re on the verge of a historic accomplishment here in our nation’s capital. Because in the coming days, President Trump, working with the Congress that you helped elect, is going to keep our promise to the American people, and we are going to repeal and replace Obamacare.”

  • NASHVILLE, Ind. – U.S. Sen. Todd Young is a former Navy intelligence officer, an intellect in the tradition of Richard Lugar, and a pragmatist. So when he conjures the notion of a potential nuclear war, perhaps just months or weeks away, it makes one sit up straight. The war drums are beating within the administration, with President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence repeatedly saying “all options are on the table” when it comes to the rogue North Korean regime of dictator Kim Jong Un. At the G-20 summit last week, Trump promised something “pretty severe” after North Korea successfully tested an intercontinental ballistic missile. Trump promises a paradigm shift, and Kim keeps thumbing his nose and lobbing off missiles. “This is an issue that in the coming months could come to a head and the American people need to understand that,” Young said. Essentially, we have two leaders who are confronting each other and neither wants to lose face.

  • RICHMOND -  Gov. Eric Holcomb was riding shotgun in his black state-owned Chevy Tahoe Wednesday afternoon downtown when a pickup truck pulled up beside him at a stoplight. We looked over and the man give him an emphatic thumbs-up. My immediate question for evolving political realities: Has anyone flipped you off? “Not yet,” said Holcomb, though he’s realistic enough to believe that it’s only a matter of time. The affirmation continued in a downtown Richmond McDonald’s, the rookie governor’s fast-food stop of choice. A small parade of folks came over the say hello. One was a Brink’s armored truck guard. Others were just regular joes who wanted to say, “You’re doing a great job.”  Eighteen months ago, the first Republican state chairman to be elected governor was a relatively obscure former staffer to former U.S. Rep. John Hostettler, Gov. Mitch Daniels and Sen. Dan Coats. He pursued a U.S. Senate nomination in 2015 and 2016, then was given a more conspicuous station when then-Gov. Mike Pence chose him to replace Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann in February 2016. Six months later, with Pence joining the Donald Trump presidential ticket, Holcomb won a 12-day, 22-vote state committee caucus for the gubernatorial nomination, then waged a 106-day, $7 million campaign in which he saddled on to the Trump/Pence wave to a victory.

  • NASHVILLE, Ind. – Freshman Republican U.S. Sen. Todd Young articulated this month what should be a no-brainer: The looming health care reform legislation should be a bipartisan effort. Young wrote to the 48 members of the Senate Democratic caucus, “If we are going to achieve lasting results, we need to reach bipartisan conclusions. I firmly believe the best solution possible can be reached by working together. As this debate advances, give me a call; I would be happy to grab a cup of coffee and hear your thoughts and ideas.” He found partial agreement with Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly, who said on the Senate floor Monday, “Indiana and our country would be better off if we could work together to produce bipartisan legislation rather than a partisan bill drafted in secret and voted on without input or a single Senate hearing." Where Donnelly parts with Young is his belief that President Trump and congressional Republicans purposely blew up Obamacare instead of working over the past seven years to evolve the law.
  • INDIANAPOLIS - Attending five Donald Trump campaign rallies in Indiana last year was to witness a fledgling political figure connect with Hoosiers just as Barack Obama had done eight years prior, or as Ronald Reagan did in 1976 and 1980, and Robert F. Kennedy did in 1968. All of these figures drew huge, enthusiastic crowds while igniting American dreams. Trump rallies were streams of consciousness in which he articulated the desires, grievances and hopes for the part of our state bearing witness to the withering of Main Street while Hillary Clinton earned $400,000 paychecks for Wall Street speeches. Just as President George W. Bush defeated John Kerry here in 2004 57-37%, Trump gathered and surfed a 19% plurality here that became the foundation to the greatest upset in presidential history. And with this victory, Trump established the premise for great hopes. He would go to Washington, attack and shatter the congressional inertia, drain the swamp, bring broader and cheaper health coverage to the masses, build great projects unlike we’ve seen since the space program and the interstate highway system, protect the borders, reform the tax code for the first time in a generation, and charge up a second century of American dominance. If you were to script the opening six months to a presidency, you couldn’t have found a more deflating scenario than what we’ve just witnessed. Care Act that passed by one vote in the House and faces an arduous path in the Senate.
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  • Speaker Bosma backs Sunday alcohol sales
    “I’m anxiously awaiting the commission’s findings on all of those issues. Last year we enacted that legislation and I don’t want to make pronouncements to try and set the agenda. I have long been a proponent of Sunday sales. There is no good reason for us to not allow that in some fashion. Actually I enjoy a cold beer every once in awhile and did so yesterday when I was cleaning out my garage.” - House Speaker Brian Bosma, asked about Sunday alcohol sales and wider distribution of cold beer at Monday’s Indiana Chamber Legislative Preview luncheon. As for cold beer, Bosma said, “I’m smart enough to buy it at a package store Monday through Saturday.” 
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  • The slitherly slope and redemption
    Here are some thoughts on the “Pervnado” that is sweeping Hollywood, Capitol Hill, newsrooms and statehouses, though things at the Indiana Statehouse have been quiet.

    Does it make a difference when a decades-old allegation comes up that the perpetrator apologizes? Particularly if there’s no specific evidence? We’ve watched Kevin Spacey, Sen. Al Franken and comedian Louis C.K. seek some measure of atonement for their inappropriate behavior, while Republican Alabama U.S. Senate nominee Roy Moore, who has been accused of pedophilia, has not and remains defiant? Ditto for comedian Bill Cosby.

    As any crisis communicator will tell you, coming clean and being contrite is the better long term strategy even if one takes big losses in the short-term. And Americans have a penchant for redemption, as past controversial figures ranging from Muhammad Ali, Jane Fonda, Kobe Bryant to Barney Frank and even Presidents Clinton and Nixon eventually were restored some degree of trust and popularity.

    Is it inconsistent for U.S. Rep. Luke Messer to call for the resignation of Sen. Franken for one ribald photo and an inappropriate and slithery pass a radio personality Leanne Tweeden, while President Trump escapes a similar assessment despite a dozen or so similar complaints and the Billy Bush “Access Hollywood” tape?

    Just asking, as we watch many powerful figures tumble down the slithery slope.  - Brian A. Howey, publisher
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