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Monday, October 22, 2018
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Wednesday, July 31, 2013 3:35 PM
LOGANSPORT - It is more than slightly ironic that the Indiana State Board of Education is hiring its own consultant to do what it could be doing collaboratively with its state school superintendent – improve education.

It would be nice if board members and a state school superintendent from different parties could be on the same page when it comes to the importance of education in this state, but state education reform has become so politicized that politics takes priority. The irony of the current Tony Bennett controversy involving a grade change for Christel House, the charter school funded by one of Bennett’s biggest campaign contributors, represents one of the worst kinds of academic fraud there is. Forget the NCAA hammering some college for giving a football player a D- in a math class he should have failed. What Bennett and his staff did for Christel House pales in comparison. He violated a public trust for the sake of a private school run by a campaign contributor.

Think about this for a minute: If the Indiana State Board of Education had really been holding Bennett accountable like it is holding Glenda Ritz accountable now, the Christel House controversy may never have happened in the first place. But the board didn’t.
  • SOUTH BEND - Opposition research enables Congresswoman Jackie Walorski to portray challenger Mel Hall in a far different way than he was defining himself all summer with his TV spots about youth on a Hoosier farm, service as a minister and experience as a successful South Bend business executive. “Oppo research,” as political consultants call it, is the search for something negative that can be used against an opponent, especially in the TV ads that seek to inflict a negative image. The search for useful information about Hall found that he had for a time lived in Washington and was an advisor on health care there for a large global law firm that does lobbying for some clients. Thus, in TV ads and debates, Walorski, the Republican incumbent in Indiana’s 2nd District, portrays the Democratic challenger as a lobbyist, a liar and a “Washington insider.”

  • MARTINSVILLE – With all the various sexual harassment stories popping up in the news, one is reminded of the old walnut shell game. Wondering which shell hides a kernel of corn is fun for a child, but for adults hunting for kernels of truth in the name of fairness, the political shell game is troubling. What factors hide the truth when public officials are charged with sexual harassment or other objectionable conduct? Universally, there are unwritten codes of conduct to not be a tattletale. Additionally, when an elected official holds perceived power over staff or other office holders, then support or silence may be seen as a critical political survival tactic. If the conduct and the threat of public knowledge are serious enough, an accused officeholder may make a payment or a settlement that includes a provision that the settlement or payment cannot be disclosed. This kind of agreement is known as a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) and has historically withheld the kernel of truth from public scrutiny. Such agreements or settlement are rumored to be fairly common. Who knows whether Indiana has legislators who have paid for such agreements? There are no requirements for public disclosure about sexual harassment claim payments and Indiana officeholders.
  • SOUTH BEND – Sen. Joe Donnelly is seeking to turn Mike Braun’s blue shirt inside out, seeking to make the Republican challenger look funny, phony. Braun’s trademark blue shirt was positive attire for him in defeating two formidable Republican congressmen in the GOP primary. He contrasted his open-collar look with cardboard cutouts of the congressmen, each with coat and tie, Washington lookalikes. His TV ads on that theme, blue-shirt outsider from the business world vs. Washington suits, were acclaimed as best in the Indiana primary, key to his victory. Blue shirt giveth. Could blue shirt taketh away? The Democratic Senate Majority PAC, supporting Donnelly, has countered Braun’s claim as an open-collar-blue-shirt kind of guy, mocking him in a series of TV ads as really a millionaire businessman mistreating workers and falsely denying selling “Made in China” stuff.
  • MERRILLVILLE – Maybe, just maybe, this casino thing will work out for Gary when all is said and done. Former state Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary, was the driving force that launched the casino industry in Indiana. She thought the casinos would do two things for Gary – make a drastic cut in unemployment and provide a huge revenue source for the city. Neither, unfortunately, happened. With the Horseshoe Casino in Hammond and the Ameristar Casino in East Chicago capturing the bulk of the traffic from Chicago, the Majestic Star Casino in Gary has remained at the bottom of the revenue stream. Initially, both the Majestic Star and Trump casinos were in Gary. When Trump bailed out, the two casinos both came under the Majestic Star name. A year after opening, I remember a Trump official saying they thought they could get enough Chicagoans south on Cline Avenue to make things work in Gary. It never happened.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – Allow me to put a few numbers before you to illustrate the problem with facts. I’m not referring to “fake facts” which is what real facts are called by the ideologically unbalanced. Some of these people are on the light-weight left and even more are on the degenerate right. The latest figures from the IRS based on income tax returns are for 2016.  In 2004, a dozen years earlier, the United States had 133 million individuals and households filing the 1040 income tax return. In 2016 that figure was up to nearly 150 million, a 12.6% increase. But it is money, not the number of returns, that counts and the Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) entered on those forms rose by 51%. As we look closer into the data, we find that returns showing AGI of $200,000 or more rose by 125% in numbers and 109% in dollars between 2004 and 2016. The $200,000+ bracket accounted for 2.3% of all returns in ’04 and 25% of AGI. It’s a lot of money for a small minority.
  • NASHVILLE, Ind. – When Vice President Mike Pence strides into the J.W. Marriott Friday night for the Republican Fall Dinner, and then the Saturday GOP “Right Track Barnstorm Tour” kickoff, he finds himself at the apex of Trump World. The president’s approval popped up to 41% in CNN tracking. Unemployment is the lowest in 50 years. Trump achieved his remake of NAFTA, and that has bought him some time with Hoosier farmers and manufacturers still nervously awaiting some resolution to the shotgun $200 billion tariffs aimed at China. Most Hoosier farmers are sticking with the president even as their bottom lines take a hit. On that front, Pence thrust himself fully into the China fray this past week by warning the emerging Pacific powerhouse that it mustn’t meddle or assault our elections, and it had better keep away from our ships, that latter notice coming after a close call with the USS Decatur and a Chinese interceptor ship. “The United States Navy will continue to fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows and our national interests demand,” Pence said at the Hudson Institute. “We will not be intimidated; we will not stand down.”

  • SOUTH BEND – Mayor Pete Buttigieg says a Democrat running against President Trump should avoid making the campaign all about Trump. But he isn’t ready to say whether he will seek to be that Democrat, the presidential nominee, or perhaps seek a third term as mayor of South Bend. Or do something else. In an interview in his political headquarters near the County-City Building, Buttigieg set this timetable: Until Nov. 6, he will concentrate politically on helping Democrats win, traveling on weekends for speaking engagements and hosting fundraisers. He expects this week to announce recipients of contributions from his political action committee. Help will go primarily to young congressional candidates (average age, just under 38) with a chance in Republican and swing districts. Then he will “settle on a personal direction by about Thanksgiving and be ready to make that public pretty soon after that.” By then, he said, “I’ll need to tell the community whether I’m seeking a third term as mayor.” He has ample funds and high popularity for reelection. A third term certainly is his if he wants it. If he decides not to run for reelection, he wouldn’t simultaneously announce a presidential bid or other future endeavor. “Whatever I have to say about South Bend will stand on its own, and then we’ll take things from there,” he said.
  • MUNCIE – Over the summer, Indiana’s economy showed clear signs of weakening. This same story played out across the manufacturing and farming intensive states of the Midwest. To be sure, it is still easy to paint a rosy picture of our economy. Jobs are plentiful, pay has finally begun to rise and tax coffers are full. We are less than a year away from tying the longest recovery in U.S. history, which began in early summer of 2009. Still, the warning signs are clear. Nationally, manufacturing employment growth has slowed since April, and here in Indiana, it dipped into negative territory for two consecutive months. The index of leading economic indicators declined modestly since spring, and auto sales dropped sharply across spring and summer. The manufacturing portions of the Fed’s Midwest economic index have been negative for four months. It’s risky to draw conclusions from a single six-month period, but growing evidence suggests manufacturing growth stalled over the summer. There’s more. This is a stunningly beautiful season in the Midwest, when combines harvesting beans fill the fields on warm October days. Driving by these fields, I often wonder what majesty and dignity a modern Winslow Homer might portray in this setting. However, even in these idyllic scenes, all is not good. 
  • MERRILLVILLE – Just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse for the Gary Community School Corp., something said you were wrong. And the embarrassment grows throughout Indiana. Such was the case last week when former schools Superintendent Cheryl Pruitt – who retired in February – was charged in Lake Criminal Court with theft for allegedly double-billing the school district more than $1,200 for a three-day trip she took to Los Angeles in 2016. She admitted the double billing but said it all was a mistake. The billing came at a time when the school system was more than $100 million in debt and under control of the Indiana Distressed Unit Appeals Board and a state-appointed emergency manager. This is the same Pruitt who was told by the state to repay a $30,000 bonus she said had been approved by the school board in March 2016,  which was just before the junket to California.
  • KOKOMO  – Let me make this as plain as I can: I don’t want Charles Schumer as my United States senator. Why would I worry about Charles Schumer serving as my senator? No, Chuck Schumer is not going to move to Indiana and run for the U.S. Senate. He doesn’t need to come to Indiana; he has Sen. Joe Donnelly to serve as his personal lap dog. The good people of Indiana could be excused six years ago when they were hornswoggled into thinking that Joe Donnelly was a reasonable, moderate alternative to voting for Richard Mourdock. An awkwardly juggled response to an abortion question at a debate and Donnelly didn’t seem like such a bad bargain for many former Richard Lugar Republican. What we’ve learned in the last six years is that the problem with voting for a chameleon is that you just never know what color they’ll be on any given day. Let me help you with this one. Joe the chameleon will be the one in a light shade of pink. On some days, good ole Joe from conservative Indiana will be downright fuchsia.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – It seems every Indiana county has a tourism agency. Some are very small, modest efforts working with tiny amounts of money from the private sector. Others are big time, by Hoosier standards. They have local tax money, thanks to local pressure on the state legislature which granted them the power to levy taxes on the customers of hotels, motels, restaurants, bars and cars. With big enough budgets, tourism expands from vacationers to visitors for any reason. The biggest prize is a national political convention of big-name big-spenders, lasting five days with contentious TV coverage. To hold these pow-wows of potted plutocrats, palaces must be constructed. Larger, more grand facilities must be planned and built by the public sector for the benefit of a city’s reputation and the enrichment of selected patrons. Even towns of smaller size lust after conventions of penurious professors or podiatrists.
  • MARTINSVILLE – There are days when I think how far we have come in making justice look like our community and then are the days when I wonder what I was I thinking. I am not sure we will ever see political selection, merit, and diversity come together in a way that reflects all members of our communities. The appointment of Judge Elizabeth F. Tavitas to the Court of Appeals offers a point of hope and optimism for increased inclusion of women on the Indiana bench as one facet of leadership in the legal community.  Her appointment bodes well even though I do not know Judge Tavitas well. However, other judges whom I do know well and whose opinions I respect, know her and consider her to be an excellent judge. On Oct. 1, I had the pleasure and honor of attending her formal swearing-in and robing ceremony. So, it was a good day to celebrate and recognize Judge Tavitas’ accomplishments. I found a specific pleasure in attending Judge Tavitas’s ceremony because 30 years ago this month, Gov. Robert Orr announced that he was appointing me to the Indiana Court of Appeals. 
  • BLOOMINGTON –  We live in a divided country. And I don’t just mean politically. Our economy is creating winners and losers, with no clear way up the ladder for millions of Americans. The last few decades have produced great inequality of wealth accompanied by unequal access to the levers of power. We’re split along regional lines. We’re divided along rural and urban lines. We increasingly struggle with differences of race, religion and class. We’re also divided politically and ideologically. Abortion, gun rights, same-sex marriage, the use and abuse of police power, curbs on corporate power, environmental protection: These issues elicit strong feelings and cut deeply through the electorate. They’re also reflected in the overt partisan divisions that show up in elections, and thus in legislatures and Congress.
  • WEST LAFAYETTE – From the auto assembly lines in Fort Wayne and Kokomo, to the RV belt in Elkhart and Goshen, to the rows of soybeans across the Hoosier state, there’s been much organizational angst over President Trump’s trade strategy and tariffs.  But if there was a hold-the-line mentality, it came from individual farmers, union workers and the assortment of President Trump’s 2016 voters. Even though candidate or President Trump has never so much as stepped on to a Hoosier farm, in many of Indiana’s agriculture counties, Trump had pluralities in the 65 to 70% range. Through dozens of press accounts and TV interviews we hear this: Trump gets the big picture. There was a method to the madness that seemed to defy conventional wisdom. And last Sunday night as the farm bill stalled in Congress, the word was that through ultimatum and insult, Trump had forged a deal with Canada and the president’s whipping boy, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. What emerged was the final part of a trilateral agreement with one of our staunchest allies. NAFTA would be replaced with the United States, Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement (USMCA).

     

  • INDIANAPOLIS – In case it has escaped your attention, America and Indiana are changing. Some of us cheer while others jeer; some of those changes are rapid while other are languid. Tradition, or stubbornness, keeps Indiana from changing as rapidly as the rest of the nation. According to the latest (2017) Census reports from the American Community Survey, the number of households in the U.S. grew by 4.4% between 2011 and 2017; Indiana added only 3.7%. Nonetheless, that’s more than 90,000 additional households. We don’t think in terms of households. Normally, we talk about the number of persons, the population, but households have different implications for a community, and its economy, than population alone. Households subscribe to newspapers and magazines. The number of households more than the population is a determinant of water, sewer and fire infrastructure. Households buy washing machines, dryers, air conditioners, de-humidifiers and coffee pots. 
  • MERRILLVILLE – Someone has forgotten to tell the city administration that Gary’s population has fallen over the years from 185,000 people to fewer than 80,000. If those at the top recognized that fact, the city wouldn’t be in the financial straits that now exist. And one has to wonder who is watching the store. So bad is the city’s financial picture that the City Council is considering a plan to raise $40 million through the sale/leaseback of the public safety building. The city says it will be out of cash by Oct. 31. The city also has to come up with a plan to eliminate a $17 million structural deficit by eliminating jobs and consolidating departments. And in the midst of all this, the city is probing the misuse of $8.2 million in emergency public safety dollars that went to cover payroll and other expenses.
  • MUNCIE – Amazon announced last week that it would be raising its entry wage to $15 an hour and would lobby for a higher minimum wage at federal, state and municipal governments. Other companies have announced this in recent months, including Walmart, who bumped their starting wages to $10 an hour. These are interesting developments that merit a bit of discussion. I’ll begin with a cynical view. Amazon is about to choose a headquarters location, and in the process will likely extract well over one billion dollars in incentives from some American city. For this, the company and its chosen city will receive significant criticism, and much of it will be well-founded. So, Amazon is likely trying to insulate itself from some of that criticism with some well-timed do-gooderism. To be honest, I’d rather see businesses be a bit more proudly self-sufficient in this regard. 
  • FORT WAYNE – A modern-day Rip Van Winkle, who just woke up and started to watch ads on television for the Indiana Senate race, might fairly conclude that Hoosiers are obsessing over how to choose between a candidate who had stock in a company run by his brother that had a plant in Mexico and one whose auto supply company sold parts made in China.  While I know some of you may have been losing sleep over this dilemma, it is obviously somewhere between 98% and 100% irrelevant in this race. It was apparent from the day the media first reported about Mexico Joe’s stock and his sale of it, that the ads would be coming. It was also apparent – in fact, I predicted it during the primary campaign – that anyone owning any automobile parts business (actually any retail store) would be vulnerable to a “you sell parts made in China” slam.  But all choices of what ads to run are instructive – about the candidates, about their allies, and frankly about us, the voters.  First, the obvious: Race matters, just talk about it indirectly. John Mutz lost his close gubernatorial race largely because of an ad that attacked him for bringing in a Japanese plant to Tippecanoe County, back when such things were inflammatory. It was a winking reference, but it was effective. Had it been more direct, it could have led to backlash. Instead, it effectively raised the point. The Japanese were getting our money.  

  • KOKOMO –  The Golden Rule of Politics, “Do unto others before they do unto you,” has been generally observed in this country for hundreds of years.  Since the first Congress was gaveled into session, the cutthroat nature of politics has only grown more intense. However, this rule flies in the face of another axiom that Mother Dunn generously dispensed to her seven children as they grew up in Central Indiana: “What goes around comes around.” Perhaps it was my mother’s Baptist upbringing, but she had a keen understanding of what the Bible meant when it said, “As you sow, so shall you reap.” Mom would employ these sayings and their many variations to address a wide variety of situations, from failure to study for tests to squabbles with a sibling. As we look to the current political turmoil fomenting in this country, it would do politicians of all political stripes some good to remember Mother Dunn’s reminder, “What goes around comes around.” Politicos of all persuasions, at every level of government, have become  increasingly Machiavellian. While this strategy of using the ends to justify the means may work very well in the short run, few of the perpetrators ask the question, “How is this going to come back to us?” And ladies and gentlemen of the political establishment, let me reiterate, “What goes around comes around.” Sometimes it comes around in spades.

  • SOUTH BEND  – Very close. That’s what the polls tell us about the race for the U.S. Senate in Indiana: Republican challenger Mike Braun vs. Sen. Joe Donnelly, the Democratic incumbent. Very important. That’s how the race is viewed nationally, as the once seemingly impossible chance for Democrats to win control of the Senate as well as the House seems at least possible. Very expensive. That’s obvious to anyone seeing myriad ads bought by the candidates and groups seeking to support or to destroy one or the other. Polls showing a close race aren’t surprising. They just confirm what long was expected, that Donnelly, popular in the state even with many Republicans because of his moderate approach, would have a fighting chance to win, even though President Trump carried Indiana by 19 percentage points.
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  • Trump wanted to shut down U.S. border with Mexico
    “Close the whole thing!” - President Trump in a stormy Oval Office meeting about immigration. The Washington Post reported that aides talked Trump out of shutting down the U.S.-Mexican border, telling him it would curtail $600 billion in annual trade. Chief of Staff John Kelly and national security adviser John Bolton reportedly had a “profane” argument that prompted Kelly to storm out of the White House. Meanwhile, an immigrant caravan coursing through Mexico is becoming a late mid-term campaign issue. Trump said in rally in Mesa, Arizona Friday night, "Democrats produce mobs, Republicans produce jobs."
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  • It's Oct. 20 and it's weirdly green in Brown County
    In another year of Category 4 hurricanes ravaging the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts, wildfires devouring hundreds of thousands of acres in the American west, and a landmark United Nations report painting dire consequences of climate change coming as early as 2040, this has been a strange, strange autumn down here in Brown County.

    It’s Oct. 20, and it’s still green. There is very little color here in what should be the heart of what locals call “leaf looker” season. The golds, yellows and reds are mostly missing. And most of the leaves are still on the trees (though today’s high winds will change that a bit). Looks like peak color will come next weekend. No matter the color, c'mon down! 
    - Brian A. Howey, publisher.
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