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Tuesday, January 19, 2021
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Thursday, December 5, 2019 2:55 PM

How’s business? “Wonderful,” is the answer you’ll probably get from those who only know the stock market continues to rise. 

How is business in Indiana or in your sector of the economy? That answer is often hard to find. 

  • INDIANAPOLIS – If it were not for the rise of Donald Trump in 2016, there wouldn't be a Gov. Eric Holcomb. When that year began, Holcomb was running third in the Republican U.S. Senate primary field. His political fortunes began to improve when Gov. Mike Pence picked him to replace Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann. When Republican presidential nominee Trump tabbed Pence as his running mate, Holcomb won the Indiana Republican Central Committee caucus late that July. With Trump and Pence atop the ticket, winning the state with a 19% plurality, Holcomb's 100-day campaign was swept up in that wave and he defeated Democrat John Gregg. Their political fortunes have since diverged. Trump was defeated for reelection last November, while Holcomb won a second term in a landslide. During his presidency, Trump lost the House in 2018, his own reelection last November, and he kicked away two Georgia Senate seats earlier this month with sophomoric antics, giving up the Senate majority. Under Holcomb, the Indiana GOP has thrived, controlling 88% of all county elected offices, nine of 11 congressional seats, a record 71 city halls, all of the Statehouse constitutional offices and with super majorities in the Indiana House and Senate.

  • LOGANSPORT – Of all the reflections and reactions from Wednesday’s attack on Congress, the most transcendent harkens back to Sept. 11, 2001. I can’t help but think of Todd Beamer and all those passengers aboard a hijacked jetliner. They knew they were about to die, but they fought their way into the cockpit, diverting the path of a weaponized aircraft said to have been directed to Washington to destroy targets that could have included the Capitol. Those Americans died as patriots to protect our Capitol. What happened Jan. 6 is unnerving for many reasons, not the least of which is the sacrifice common Americans made for the sanctity of what we represent. Think for a moment what the typical American reaction would be to Wednesday’s news if the people accountable had been North Korean nationals, Iranian spies or Cuban dissidents.  They weren’t. They were Americans. They didn’t sneak in across the unguarded Mexican border. They weren’t out to avenge George Floyd’s death. They were there because their president encouraged them to be. And there lies the difficult dissection of the presidency and the officeholder. As Americans, we’re simply torn between the stark reality that a sitting president has solicited election fraud in Georgia and urged violence on our Capitol and the somber reality that this person is our highest elected official.
  • EVANSVILLE – Democracy requires the consent of losers. For over 220 years American democracy prided itself on peaceful transfers of power; and in all of that time, no president who lost an election sought to subvert the will of voters and reject Electoral College results – until Donald Trump. Despite a massive pandemic and faltering economy, Trump’s post-election focus remained firmly on overturning election results and undermining the democratic system he swore to defend. For weeks Trump spawned and repeated lies and unfounded conspiracy theories about faulty voting machines and destroyed or fabricated ballots; allegations without evidence and allegations universally rejected in over 60 court cases, many presided over by Trump-appointed judges. But with repetition and time, many of Trump’s supporters believed the lies; in their eyes his victory became a landslide and those who denied it were either naive or part of a vast conspiracy. Trump used these false election-fraud allegations to justify his lawlessness. “When you catch somebody in a fraud, you’re allowed to go by very different rules,” he argued. “You don’t concede when there’s theft involved. Our country has had enough. We will not take it anymore.”  Trump’s attempt to undermine and overturn the national election not only shattered norms and traditions, but also sowed seeds for insurrection, violence, and civil unrest by his supporters, saying it comes from a love of country. 
  • KOKOMO – And now we know the truth. It was never about draining the swamp.  It was never about building a wall. It was never about restoring power to the governed. It was, is and forever will be about doing what most benefitted Donald J. Trump.  First, let me start by acknowledging that there were some very good things that happened over the years prior to the pandemic. Our economy skyrocketed.  Bureaucratic red tape was cut and enabled all Americans to prosper.  Unemployment rates dropped to historical lows in every measurable subgroup.  The judiciary was nudged to a less activist and more conservative status by a wealth of newly appointed judges at all levels, including three outstanding appointments to the United States Supreme Court. Peace broke out in the Middle East when several nations struck long-awaited treaties with Israel.  Our military was beefed up to deal with threats from current adversaries and potential adversaries in the future. China’s threat to world peace and our economy was recognized and the process of reining in its abuses was well underway. All in all, the achievements of President Trump’s term in office were pretty impressive. But, then there were the other things that hallmarked the Trump Administration. The vainglorious, megalomaniacal rantings via Twitter, the revolving door staff changes that discarded a host of talented public servants like empty beer cans, the associations maintained with questionable friends, the vilification of anyone, friend or foe, who dared to disagree with The Donald. Worst of all, the incessant and unabated failure to tell the truth in the smallest to the most important matters. In certain ways, he conducted himself as a blended incarnation of Benito Mussolini and Joseph Goebbels. I don’t want to dance around this one. Donald Trump was a big fat liar!
  • BLOOMINGTON – If the months since the November elections have shown us anything, it’s that the U.S. is more deeply divided than we’ve experienced in a very long time. This has been building at least since the 1990s, starting in Congress and ultimately coming to be reflected in a polarized electorate, but it’s reached the point where, rather than take pleasure in the success of a politician elected to the presidency, you have to keep your fingers crossed on his behalf. For starters, we now have a Congress, and electorate, divided along multiple fault lines. There are, of course, the partisan differences on the complex challenges that beset this country on climate change, economic growth, the pandemic, policing and racial justice, our policies toward China and Russia. Political groups with opinions on these and other issues are more sophisticated, more active, more insistent, and more aggressive in trying to shape the public dialogue than ever before. Each side tends to be suspicious of the other, viewing their adversaries not just as wrong, but as attacking our national security interests. Now in the mix, though, we also have the divisions stoked by President Trump, whose desperation to hold onto power has led him and his followers to traffic in conspiracy theories lacking any evidence and to reject the norms, principles, and institutions we’ve relied on for centuries to build this nation. There now seem to be two Republican parties in Congress and in the country at large: One that is interested in enabling and appealing to people who reject constitutional democracy, and one that is willing to stand up for it.
  • MUNCIE – The essential basis of an economy is trust. As the founding father of economics, Adam Smith noted, an economy “. . . can seldom flourish in any state in which there is not a certain degree of confidence in the justice of government.” Our modern world subsists almost wholly on a high degree of trust in the justice and capacity of government, business and households. Thus, among the many crimes committed by the insurrectionists of Jan. 6, 2021, was a full-fledged attack on the American economy. It was an assault upon the ‘confidence in the justice of government’ not only by a few tens of thousands of protestors, but among far too many elected officials, including members of Congress and the president. It is they who must reckon with an event whose lawlessness demands terse retelling. On Jan. 6, our Congress and vice president met to fulfill a solemn, if mostly symbolic, constitutional duty to certify election results from states. Outside, on the streets of our Capitol, the president caused to assemble a crowd of many tens of thousands. This angry crowd was fueled by dozens of political groups and members of Congress. These people had been carefully groomed for weeks to believe the Big Lie, that the 2020 election was fraudulent or stolen.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – The COVID-19 pandemic inflicted sustained pain and hardship on too many for too long. The effect on our economy, however, is mixed. The shock to the economy occurred in March and April of 2020. In the United States, 24.7 million persons lost their jobs. Of these, 16.3 million (66%) were added to the numbers unemployed and 8.4 million left the labor force. During this recovery, through November 2020, 16.9 million persons have found new jobs or returned to previous positions. The number unemployed declined by 12.2 million and 4.6 million have come back into the labor force. (Don’t fret about the rounding problem with the numbers.) This partial recovery leaves us 7.8 million shy of the February employment numbers, distributed as 4.0 million unemployed and 3.8 million out of the labor force.
  • FORT WAYNE – These last few weeks have been a particularly tumultuous political brawl in our democratic Republic. Wednesday it changed to sustained violence. Excuses must stop. It is well past time to stop defending and excusing incendiary rhetoric that resulted in such behavior.  It is one thing to raise concerns about potential fraud in voting. There were policies implemented in an attempt to get around the dangers of COVID that were potentially vulnerable to large scale cheating. But “potentially” is not the same as actual fraud. Ballots in the challenged states were counted and recounted. There were 50 some court cases dismissed, without even being viewed as meritorious enough to have a trial. It became increasingly apparent, in legal terms, that the effort was not about proving fraud, but using the courts to convince supporters of President Trump that the election was stolen. No evidence, but because the courts dismissed the cases it was portrayed as de facto proof that the system was protecting itself from Trump. It was a cover-up. Then the states certified the results. Every state. Whether governed by Republicans or Democrats, every single state verified the results. In 2012, Mitt Romney received 47.2% of the popular vote for President. In 2020, Trump received 46.9%. Trump claimed that was because of California, which of course has been part of the count since it became a state in 1850. It is, in fact, the most populous state by far. But it should be noted that election victory comes from winning the Electoral College. This brings us to last night. The cause of the mob riot and attempt to seize our nation’s Capitol Building was the belief – falsely alleged again by Trump just before the riot – that the election was stolen. The constant attacks on the credibility of our government as a swamp, as untrustworthy in all respects, has fueled an anger that just boiled over. 
  • EVANSVILLE – If we gauge a nation’s performance in terms of economic prosperity, peace, freedom, and lack of corruption, the single biggest determining factor in ensuring that performance is citizens’ respect for the rule of law. Few things, if any, matter more to a nation’s success and longevity.  The rule of law depends on a citizenry collectively respecting those boundaries. We tell one another and ourselves that the words we ascribe to law – due process, equality, justice – carry force and meaning. Against cynicism, we believe we’re ruled not by raw power, but by these magical ideas underlying the rule of law. We underestimate what happens when we set aside the rule of law and we underestimate the utter fragility of modernity. Many times in history, we’ve turned the clock back to a much tougher and rougher past. The events of the past week offer just a peek at what may be in store for us.
  • MUNCIE – The holidays are an indulgent time, so I spoil myself here with a bit of political economy. By way of background, I think it is now obvious that significant changes to our economy have wreaked havoc with our political coalitions. While this itself isn’t necessarily a bad development, it is something we will reckon with for years to come, so deserves some reflection. I’ll focus primarily on the conservative coalition, because it experiences the most disruption. To be a conservative in America means something different than it does anywhere else. The differences are so profound that what we call conservatism is referred to in Europe as classical-liberalism. The reason for this is simple. Those ideals American conservatives wish to preserve remain the most radical in history. Their essence lies in that one sentence George Orwell said could not be translated into newspeak. It begins, “We hold these truths to be self-evident . . .” Even today, it is radical to believe we must be equal before the law, free to think, worship and speak as we wish and that governments exist to protect individual rights that transcend human design. The American conservative movement has long held these ideas as central to their philosophy. I am unabashedly that kind of conservative.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – On Wednesday Jan. 6, the whole world will be watching Vice President Mike Pence. He will find himself in the most conspicuous set of circumstances that any Hoosiers ever has. As president of the U.S. Senate, he will preside over a joint session of Congress, taking what would normally be about a half hour to count the Electoral College votes for the 2020 president race. The 50 states and the District of Columbia have certified 306 votes for Democrat Joe Biden and 232 for President Trump. This is a critical component for this cornerstone of our democracy and the fragile American experiment: The acceptance of defeat by a losing presidential candidate prior to the peaceful transfer of power. When this process went awry in 1860, seven Southern states seceded from the Union, resulting in the Civil War and more than 600,000 deaths. The reason the world will be transfixed on Pence is that President Trump has expressed his intent to "overturn" (as he tweeted) the will of the American people. "GREATEST ELECTION FRAUD IN THE HISTORY OF OUR COUNTRY!!!" this sophomoric president tweeted. He told WABC on Dec. 21, "It’s the most corrupt election this country’s ever had, by far." “Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!” Trump tweeted earlier this month in an appeal to his supporters. Trump's unsubstantiated allegations and his use of the Twitter pulpit have had an impact. A Fox News poll found 77% of Trump voters believe the election was stolen. A Reuters/Ipsos Poll found 68% of Republicans believe the election was "rigged." Since the Nov. 3 election, Trump and his allies have filed more than 50 lawsuits contesting the results, winning only one case. In case after case, judges assailed the Trump campaign for providing no substantive evidence of any vote fraud.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – President Trump is scheduled to leave office at noon, Jan. 20. He has had an extraordinary impact on the United States and Indiana and will leave behind a deeply divided nation. The 2020 election was basically a referendum on … him. As his presidency draws to a close, let’s take a dispassionate look at the metrics of his impacts: Elections: Trump won the contested 2016 Indiana presidential primary 53% (591,514 votes) to 36.6% for Sen. Ted Cruz and 7.7% for Ohio Gov. John Kasich. Trump carried 87 counties to five for Cruz. He won the 2016 General Election 56.5% to 37.5%, with 1,557,286 votes and helped Sen. Todd Young defeat Evan Bayh 52.1% to 42.4%, and Gov. Eric Holcomb over John Gregg 51.4% to 45.4%. In 2020, Trump defeated Joe Biden 57.1% to 41% with 1,729,516 votes, carrying 87 counties. He won the Electoral College 306-232 over Hillary Clinton in 2016 and lost it 306-232 to Biden on Dec. 14. Indiana Republicans now control 88% of all county offices, 70 mayors (an all-time high), nine of 11 congressional seats, all Statehouse constitutional offices, and hold super majorities in the Indiana House (71 seats) and Senate (40). Trump approval: Trump never cracked 50% approval in Gallup. He reached 49% in January 2020. It stood at 46% in the final preelection poll. In the October Ball State Hoosier Poll, Trump’s approval was 41% and disapproval at 45%. GDP under Trump: Candidate Trump predicted Gross Domestic Product rising into the 4 to 6% range. Here’s a look at annual U.S. GDP growth during Trump’s presidency. The 2020 estimate comes from the Federal Reserve: 2017: +2.3%; 2018: +3%; 2019: +2.2%; and 2020: -3.7%.
  • KOKOMO – The late founder of Walmart was a disruptor of major proportions.  His company launched a retail revolution from the sleepy backwaters of Arkansas and totally transformed Main Street USA by creating a dynamic big box retail entity that effectively replaced your local hardware, sporting goods, clothing, fabric, appliance, stationery, toy, dry goods, pet and you name it stores. His work was revolutionary, highly profitable and controversial. Worshipped by some and cussed by many, Sam Walton became the be all and end all to the world of retail. He created a concept that would last forever, or did he? Just when it appeared that Walmart would become the most dominant and powerful business in the world, along came a diminutive young man named Jeff Bezos and a quaint online bookseller named Amazon. While Walmart brought gale force winds to the retail world, Amazon brought five hurricanes tied together with a trio of tornados. Just as Sam Walton before him, Bezos and Amazon found themselves worshipped and reviled by nearly equal numbers. Such is the life of a disruptor. I believe that President Trump will be viewed by history as a disruptor and not just because he is scorned by such a large percent of the American people and much of the world. He will be viewed as the proverbial bull in the china shop that got things done at the same time that he crashed the aisles. With President Trump’s time in office quickly coming to a close, it’s time to take a balanced look at the legacy of his time at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.  It’s a mixed bag and deserves more than just knee jerk adulation or vile contempt.  

  • INDIANAPOLIS – As the Democratic presidential race wound down just as the pandemic was gearing up, there was no secret that Joe Biden had a lot of respect and affection for Pete Buttigieg. When the former South Bend mayor endorsed Biden in Dallas, the now president-elect said that Buttigieg reminded him of his late son, Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden. "Like Beau, he has a backbone like a ramrod. I really mean this. I think about it." The worst kept secret in American politics is that if Biden defeated President Trump, he would select Buttigieg for his cabinet. Over the past few weeks, Mayor Pete's name was floated out as a potential United Nations ambassador, the head the Veteran's Administration, or as envoy to Beijing. His supporters preferred a conspicuous posting that would allow him to burnish his policy chops and his credibility with the Black voters that eluded him during his meteoric presidential run. On Tuesday, the word was that Biden would nominate the 38-year-old Buttigieg to head the U.S. Department of Transportation. And that is the perfect post for the first Millennial to be nominated for a presidential cabinet. Some may view DOT as a backwater for a man who aspires to be president. But I look to history and an appointment President William McKinley made in 1897, which was to install Theodore Roosevelt as assistant secretary of the Navy. That's not a posting that has been a breeding ground for future presidents.
  • WASHINGTON – After strongly supporting or at least acquiescing for weeks to President Donald Trump’s attempt to declare himself the winner of the presidential election, Republicans in the Indiana congressional delegation accepted his defeat earlier this week – sort of. Democrat Joe Biden prevailed over Trump, 306-232, in the Electoral College on Dec. 14. Following the tally, one Hoosier Republican addressed the result. “Today, the Electoral College has cast their votes and selected Joe Biden as the president-elect,” Sen. Mike Braun said in a statement. “State legislatures, state courts, and the United States Supreme Court have not found enough evidence of voter fraud to overturn the results of the Electoral College vote. I, like many Hoosiers, am disappointed by the results of the Electoral College vote, but today marks a watershed moment where we must put aside politics and respect the constitutional process that determines the winner of our presidential election.” Sen. Todd Young, who is helping lead GOP efforts to hold two Georgia Senate seats in January runoff elections, was lower key in his acknowledgement of Biden’s victory.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – In nominating Pete Buttigieg to be his secretary of transportation, President-elect Joe Biden is maintaining at least one element of the present status quo in Washington; history will continue to be charted by Hoosiers. The unwritten, yet steadfast rule, of Hoosiers replacing Hoosiers permeates from the highest echelons of the federal government down to the entry level staff who make peanuts. Ron Klain, Indianapolis native and North Central graduate, will replace Vice President Mike Pence as the senior most Hoosier in the White House when he becomes Biden’s chief of staff. The Hoosier cabinet seat being vacated by Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar will be warmed, if confirmed, by Buttigieg. Jim Banks, the Fort Wayne area member of Congress, will claim our rightful spot at the congressional leadership table as the newly elected chairman of the Republican Study Committee after Todd Young’s term as chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee comes to an end. Why does any of this matter? If you know, you know. And if you don’t know, I might as well tell you. Hoosiers, the saying goes, are the best people in the world. While it’s unclear who exactly first said that (hint: it was me right here in this column), we do know that “where ever you go there is always a Hoosier doing something very important.” 
  • SOUTH BEND – After President Trump, what happens to the Republican Party? Quite a topic these days. So, let’s consider some questions about whether the Republican Party will remain solidly Trumpist or will be less Trumpy and whether future GOP prospects are bleak or bright. Q. Will Republicans in Congress now pull away from Donald Trump? A. No. Here’s proof. Only 27 of 249 Republicans in Congress were identified last week as having finally acknowledged that Joe Biden is president-elect. Q. Do all those non-acknowledging Republicans think Trump really won? A. Of course not. They aren’t politically stupid. They’ve known for weeks that Biden won and that Rudy Giuliani’s lawsuits are frivolous. Q. Well, if they know Biden won, why don’t they say so? A. Because, as I said, they aren’t politically stupid. They don’t want to anger Trump and his base and suffer a loss in the next Republican primary or fatal defections in the next general election. Just saying publicly that Biden is president-elect can bring a dreaded angry tweet. Many of them, showing they are fully in touch with reality, congratulate Biden privately. Q. Does Trump think he really won? A. There is one school of thought that he of course knows he lost but is cleverly spreading the myth of mass rigging to keep his base stirred up, maybe for another presidential race in 2024, and to keep donations pouring in.
  • MUNCIE – Summary: Our hospital monopolies are financially damaging to Indiana’s economy and Hoosier families. Last Sunday night I sat in front of the TV a few extra minutes basking in the Colts victory. Much to my delight, the venerable “60 Minutes” teaser announced they’d profile the civil anti-trust case of Sutter Health in Sacramento California. This reporting should be interesting to Hoosiers and their elected leaders. Here’s why. Since the Affordable Care Act was passed, healthcare systems in the United States have been rapidly acquiring independent hospitals. They have also bought up physician practices and specialty care clinics. This potentially limits patient choice of hospitals and monopolizes the stream of patients flowing into their facilities. Hospitals in the U.S. have also structured contracts that force bundles of services on employers.  Anyone who had a good American history course in high school might remember that these are textbook examples of those business practices that were prohibited by Gilded Age Anti-Trust laws. The landmark case was U.S. v. Standard Oil, which set the stage for modern anti-trust. Today, you can replace ‘oil company’ with ‘hospital system,’ ‘independent oil producer’ with ‘physician office’ and a tuxedoed John D. Rockefeller with a smiling CEO/physician in a lab coat, and you have much of today’s healthcare markets. It is a problem ripe for litigation. 
  • INDIANAPOLIS – Yes, this is the third column on townships. Be patient; the end to this series is in sight. Originally, townships were to be perfect squares of six miles in each direction, or 36 square miles. They were to maintain public roads, provide public education, provide relief for the poor, and help maintain public safety. Today, the average Indiana township has 35.5 square miles of land area. That fact would make the surveyors who laid out our townships pretty happy. However, Union Twp. in Montgomery County. is the largest at 111.6 square miles, while Albion Twp. in Noble County has but 3.8 square miles. Why? Because the Indiana legislature in the 19th century was inclined to go along with what local folks wanted. In the 1800s, many elected officials didn’t care whether counties and townships fit what some Easterners thought would be best back in 1787. Ask your neighbors or your representatives in today’s General Assembly, “What do townships do?” They may tell you those governmental units provide poor relief. This is almost perfectly true.
  • FORT WAYNE – Regardless of what happens next in his life, the last four years have been a remarkable experience for Vice President Mike Pence. There have been 48 vice presidents in U.S. history. Former Vice President Joe Biden will become only the third to be elected to the office since Abraham Lincoln (the other two were Richard Nixon and George H.W. Bush). The others first achieved office through the death of a president. In other words, being vice president is not a safe ticket to the presidency. However, Vice President Pence was unique among vice presidents. Most vice presidents had roles similar to the colorful description given the position by former powerful House Speaker James Garner that it “wasn’t worth a bucket of warm spit.” In other words, even powerful figures on Capitol Hill like Garner and later Lyndon Baines Johnson, watched that power be sapped away by aggressive presidents with clear agendas and a cadre of individuals who understood government and how to utilize its power as a team. President Trump had some potential problems from the very beginning. He was clear on a few things he wanted; for example, a wall along the entire southern border, withdrawal from Afghanistan as part of no more foreign wars, limitations on free trade, and an emphasis on nationalism not internationalism.

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  • Orwell on truth & consequences
    “The point is that we are all capable of believing things which we know to be untrue, and then, when we are finally proved wrong, impudently twisting the facts so as to show that we were right. Intellectually, it is possible to carry on this process for an indefinite time: the only check on it is that sooner or later a false belief bumps up against solid reality, usually on a battlefield.” George Orwell, author of "1984" writing in 1946.
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  • HPI Power 50: Crisis shapes 2021 list


    INDIANAPOLIS – After two decades of publishing Power 50 lists in the first week of January, this one comes in a true crisis atmosphere. As we watched in horror the U.S. Capitol being overrun by supporters of President Trump on Wednesday, the COVID-19 pandemic has killed more than 8,000 Hoosiers and 350,000 Americans, shutting down our state and nation for nearly two months last spring. While vaccines are coming, there will be a distinct BC (Before COVID) and AC delineations as this epic story comes to a close. It gripped like a vise key figures, from Gov. Eric Holcomb to Vice President Pence. It delayed an election, closed schools and restaurants, reordered the way we do business and buy things, and will set in motion ramifications that we can’t truly understand (like the virus itself) at this point in time. There’s another crisis at hand. It’s our society’s civics deficit, fueled by apathy that transcends our schools and societal engagement, and allowed to fester by a news media in atrophy. That three members of the Indiana congressional delegation – U.S. Sen. Mike Braun and Reps. Jim Banks and Jackie Walorski – signed on to a protest this week, induced by losing President Donald Trump to “investigate” widespread vote fraud that doesn’t exist, is another indicator of the risks a polarized and undisciplined political spectrum brings to the fragile American democratic experience.

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