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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 – I didn’t see this coming. I figured that most Hoosiers would jump at the chance to get the COVID vaccine; that the anti-vaxers made up only about 5 or 10% of the population, as any school administrator could confirm regarding those who don’t want to comply with RMM vaccine requirements that have been in place for decades. Ditto for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who said today, “Honestly, it never occurred to me we would have difficulty getting people to take the vaccine.” But now at a time when the pandemic was supposed to be disappearing in the rearview mirror, Tuesday’s Indiana State Department of Health report showed 1,085 new cases, the first time it’s been over 1,000 since May 8. On Wednesday that grew to 1,248 cases with 12 deaths. The seven-day positivity rate, which runs a week behind, continues a month-long climb to 6.3%, the highest since Feb. 9, with some 15 counties over 10%. According to CDC stats as of Tuesday, only 58% of Hoosiers age 18 and up had received one dose of the vaccine which rank us 12th in the nation; only 54.9% had received both doses. In a state of 6.7 million people, less than three million have been vaccinated. In the U.S., the numbers were these: 69% for one dose, 60% for both. A frustrated U.S. Rep. Larry Bucshon, MD, tweeted Wednesday: “New CDC recommendations on masking are not based on science but instead based on politics including kowtowing to teachers unions. The problem is tens of millions of Americans are unvaccinated. Vaccinated people are very rarely spreading the virus. When does it end? Never?” While Gov. Eric Holcomb had received near universal credit for dealing with this unprecedented modern pandemic, he’s maintained a much lower profile this summer. 
  • CARMEL – The United States got lucky this time!  Everyone, and I do mean everyone, dropped the ball and was totally unprepared for the Covid-19 pandemic. We were very fortunate that the Covid-19 virus was a big sissy as far as pandemic viruses go and that we didn’t witness the extinction of mankind due to our lack of preparation, slowness of response, scientific confusion, political ineptitude and the rampant ignorance and pig-headedness of our population.  It may seem ridiculous to refer to a virus that has led to the deaths of over 600,000 Americans as a big sissy, but in the pantheon of viruses, it could have been terrifyingly worse. It could have been worse not because our response could have been worse, but because the virulence of the virus could have been worse.  Covid-19 largely bypassed our younger population, unlike the 1918 influenza pandemic, and tended to target those who were elderly or who had other health issues.  That is just plain dumb luck and not good public policy. It should not be our government’s public policy to play Russian roulette with our nation’s health.
  • SOUTH BEND – Three years ago, in a column published on July 29, 2018, I wrote that Pete Buttigieg, then mayor of South Bend, should run for president. Shows what I know about politics. Mayor Pete ran for president. He lost. He could instead have easily won a third term as mayor. And he would not now face pressures of dealing with the nation’s roads, rails, airports and bridges and seeking a trillion dollars to fix them. Actually, I said in that column that I thought Buttigieg would indeed run for president, “and will not win.” But he would win by losing. I never thought Buttigieg would win the presidency in 2020, although it seemed possible after his spectacular showing in Iowa and New Hampshire. Even before that, he had some chance. If Donald Trump could be elected, who couldn’t be president? Buttigieg became one of the finalists for the Democratic nomination.
  • MUNCIE – In May, Gov. Eric Holcomb’s announced an early end to pandemic unemployment assistance. This decision was a rare policy mistake for an administration that had spent more than a year handling COVID with admirable attention to data and good judgement. The mistake was also unusual in that the predictable result was economic damage to those Hoosiers who were most affected by COVID. This was a marked departure from the administration’s more than yearlong focus on the health and wellbeing of those most impacted by the pandemic. Fortunately, the courts reversed that decision and payments resumed earlier this month. Labor markets are slowly improving, so fewer families would’ve been substantially harmed by the payment turbulence. Ultimately, the decision to end pandemic unemployment assistance early will be only a footnote to an administration that performed commendably through the worst crisis Indiana faced since the Civil War. The sole reason I write about the topic is that this episode illustrates how inchoate Indiana’s workforce decision process has become. Moreover, the fiasco with pandemic unemployment assistance illuminates the folly of the Division of Workforce Development’s culture of supporting businesses at the expense of taxpayers as a whole. 
  • INDIANAPOLIS – This week, we break new ground. The conclusion of this column will precede the data supporting it. But don’t consider this a permanent feature. We’ll return to slugging through the data soon enough. Indiana workers, like their brothers and sisters nationwide, find their compensation declining as a share of GDP (the value all goods and services). The details may not make the nightly news on Fox or MSNBC, it might even escape attention on NPR, the fact is of long duration and widespread. The issue is a progressive transition of income from workers to business owners and managers. That may sound Marxist, but it is very much consistent with the most admired attributes of capitalism.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – The catastrophic events prior to the Sept. 11 foreign terror attacks at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the demise of Flight 93 in Pennsylvania occurred in a time of consequential political instability. The 2000 president election between Texas Gov. George W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore was a virtual tie, and wasn't decided until the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Florida recount on behalf of the governor. Gore was understandably dejected, but conceded on Dec. 13, saying, "I accept the finality of the outcome, which will be ratified next Monday in the Electoral College. And tonight, for the sake of our unity as a people and the strength of our democracy, I offer my concession.” Ten months later came the terror attacks that killed more than 3,000 Americans. In 2002, President Bush created an independent commission to study what happened and make recommendations to shore up the nation's defenses. He ultimately chose former Republican New Jersey Gov. Tom Keane to chair the commission, Indiana Democratic U.S. Rep. Lee Hamilton as vice chair, and former Hoosier congressman Tim Roemer to join the commission that included former senators, governors, a former Navy secretary and a former White House counsel.

  • BLOOMINGTON – Call me naïve, but I’ve never quite gotten why some politicians want to limit voters’ ability to cast their ballots. Sure, I know that plenty of people like to flip the classic Clausewitz quote and say that politics is war by other means. All’s fair, etc., they insist. But the cornerstone of representative democracy, the base on which everything else rests, is the people’s right to cast an informed vote to choose our leaders. There’s no argument about this; it’s just a basic right. Which means that the more Americans we hear from in the voting booth, the fairer and more representative the results. So, in my book, getting creative about restricting the ability to cast a ballot is pretty much an admission that you can’t win in the marketplace of ideas. Over the course of our history, despite fits and starts, we’ve moved steadily toward expanding people’s ability to vote – from white men with property only, to allowing women, Black people, Native Americans, and people 18 and older to cast ballots. Yet here we are in 2021, still in a pitched battle over this most basic of democratic rights, fought out this year in the state legislatures, Congress, and the courts, the same venues that have seen this issue for generations.
  • MUNCIE – Earlier this year, Indiana’s General Assembly passed Senate Bill 414, which required universities to survey students about the climate for free speech on campus. Schools must then report these findings to the Commission on Higher Education. Normally I’d be reluctant to weigh in on such a law; at first blush it looks like another volley in the destructive culture wars. But, I think this survey can be enormously instructive to university leaders and legislators alike. It should hardly surprise anyone that professors and college administrators are overwhelmingly from the political left. The balance isn’t even close. The Federal Elections Commission reports individual donations with place of employment. Since 2019, my colleagues at Ball State have contributed $120,765 to political campaigns and political action committees. These comprised 6,100 individual donations from fewer than 50 persons. Of these donations, 90.4% of were to Democrats, Democratic Socialists or left-leaning PACs. I choose Ball State University because it is often said to be the ‘conservative’ state university. That may be true, which should raise even more eyebrows on campus and in the General Assembly.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – As you probably heard, Indiana is looking for people. Not just any kind of people, but the right kind of people. Educated, skilled, mobile folks. We may not really know what they want, but maybe we could figure out how to find them. From what we believe to be true, educated and skilled people are highly mobile, moving to the growing places where there are opportunities. Remember, our efforts must be “data driven” to satisfy what the state is asking of regions seeking part of that tempting half-billion-dollar bucket This suggests we look where large numbers of people have been moving from other states. Sadly, we’ll have to wait for the 2020 Census in its full, great detail, state-by-state, even metro area-by-metro area. That’s two, maybe three, years away. But we do have the 2019 American Community Survey (ACS) which might be a good proxy for our purposes. Nationally, 7.4 million Americans moved from one state to another between 2018 and 2019. As you expected, Florida, Texas and California pulled in the most people, each over 480,000 persons. (Indiana attracted 151,400).
  • INDIANAPOLIS – Pandemic. Wildfires. Floods. Pestilence. Violence. Gridlock. Coup d'etats, Political intrigue. We need a break. It's time for this former sports writer to bring you some baseball. Some five miles beyond Hammond on the Dan Ryan Expressway is the home of the Chicago White Sox, the closest Major League Baseball team to Indiana. Some 101 years after the World Series Black Sox scandal ended the careers of eight star players, the ChiSox find themselves eight games up in first place in the American League's Central Division. Back in 1919, the young White Sox were poised to become a dynasty (they had won the World Series in 1917). But legendary sportswriters Ring Lardner and Hugh Fullerton figured out the fix was in in their series against the Cincinnati Red, and the new Baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis (who grew up in Indiana) forever banned Shoeless Joe Jackson, Ed Cicotte, Swede Risberg, Lefty Williams and others. The scandal inspired two movies - "Eight Men Out" in 1987 (starring John Cusack, Charlie Sheen, Chicago author Studs Terkel and a bit part by then-Goshen Mayor Max Chiddister) and was filmed at Bush Stadium in Indianapolis. Two years later came "Field of Dreams" starring Kevin Costner, James Earl Jones, Ray Liotta and Burt Lancaster. Had the Black Sox scandal not happened, the New York Yankee "Murderers Row" dynasty of the 1920s might not have been as prolific. Instead, it cast the franchise into 90 years of funk until they finally ended the drought with the 2005 World Series title.
  • EVANSVILLE  – In the middle of the 19th Century, the very idea of the German soldier was considered an absurdity. Southern Germany in particular was perceived as unsuited for war, especially versus the true martial races of Europe – for example the French. Then the Germans beat the Austrians. Then the Germans occupied Paris. Then the Germans plunged the continent into two generations of war. What was conventional wisdom on the Germans – that they were fundamentally not a nation for war – was abruptly reversed. A beaten country, a perennial plaything of its neighbors, suddenly became the supreme aggressor, earning respect and fear in equal measure in a metaphorical heartbeat. This isn’t the only time this has happened. It happens quite a lot if you look. The Russians were an incoherent and staggering nation in 1941, wracked by revolution and tyranny, the country of the humiliation at Brest-Litovsk. They were so enervated that they nearly lost a war to Finland, and the German dictator concluded that Russia was ready for the taking; just kick in the door, and the whole rotten structure comes down. Four years later, Russian soldiers scoured ravaged Berlin for his corpse.
  • CARMEL – It is always a perilous thing to predict the demise of a politician or a political party. History is chock full of examples where a premature death notice has been embarrassingly retracted. With this historical fact in mind, I gingerly look to the future and speculate on the systemic risk to the Republican Party of an out-of-control former president Donald Trump and his rising legion of legislative and state-wide candidates who appear to have no allegiance to their party, but only to the messianic message of The Donald. I’m not too old to remember when the Republican Party had a cogent, cohesive message about where we stood as a political party. We were a pro-growth, pro-equal opportunity party that championed fiscal discipline, low taxes, a strong national defense, law and order and personal freedom. I believe that the vast majority of Republicans still believe in these things. However, it appears to me that the Republican Party has been hijacked, manipulated and twisted to advocate for the personal and political interests of Donald Trump, his family and many self-serving candidates willing to ride to their own victories by pretending to ride the Trump train. I know many office holders and party leaders who are personally disgusted by the continued intrusion of Donald Trump in the machinations of the Republican Party. That being said, they are terrified to speak their minds publicly on the subject for fear of Trump retaliation and retribution.
  • SOUTH BEND – Joy would abound in post offices throughout the land if it were not for the “De” before “Joy.” Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, Donald Trump’s appointee last year in strategy to sabotage delivery of absentee ballots, still directs the postal slowdown we all experience. President Biden can’t fire DeJoy. That can be done only by a nine-member Postal Service Board of Governors, all of whom until recently had been appointed by Trump. Slowly replacements are being confirmed. It takes time. “Get used to me,” DeJoy told critics at a congressional hearing earlier this year. He’s not planning to go anywhere but to stay on, playing a part in Trump’s revenge. He’s unpopular with many Republicans as well as Democrats in Congress. They all hear complaints from constituents about slowdowns in postal service and concerns about further cutbacks. Many families had problems last Christmas with packages arriving after the holiday even though mailed in time for promised pre-Christmas delivery. My family did. 
  • MUNCIE – Independence Day weekend is a good time for reflection. The style of that rumination needn’t be tedious; after all, hamburgers, beer and s’mores beckon. For me, it’s as simple as re-reading the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence. The words can be so familiar that we fail to absorb just how radical these ideas were and remain. It begins, “We hold these truths to be self-evident. . .” Written at a time when our nation was ruled by a hereditary king and one in five people were enslaved, the perfection of these words continue to resonate. That world-changing revolution made clear that the principles that tore us from England were few but transcendent. These ideas came directly from the Enlightenment, and its core argument that individual liberty, reason and tolerance formed the basis for civilization. The Declaration repeated five interlocking ideas. They begin with the idea that each of us has inherent value, which is preserved by rights or protections. These rights are given to us by God, not government. This liberty cannot lawfully be denied, as it flows from the simple act of being human, not from religion or ancestry or race. Governments exist to secure these rights. Great Britain failed to do so. For these reasons we broke the bonds with England, and became a new nation.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – Some people say Hoosier education is a failure. That’s probably false. Others report Hoosiers are poorly educated. That’s true, if we measure education by degrees earned or years of schooling completed. In 2019, before the COVID crisis, the U.S. Census Bureau estimated 33.1% of Americans 25 years and older in the United States had a bachelor’s degree and/or a professional or graduate degree. Indiana ranked 42nd among the 50 states at 26.9%. We were between New Mexico (27.7%) and Alabama (26.3%). Massachusetts (45%) led the nation; West Virginia (21.1%) trailed all states. With college degrees now frequently expected, younger adults are more likely to hold the necessary degrees than their older relatives. Nationally, 37% of persons 25 to 34 years old have such degrees. Only 31% of Hoosiers in that age range do. At the other end of the age scale, 29% of Americans 65 years and older hold bachelor and higher degrees, compared with 22% of senior Hoosiers.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – One of the most vivid moments of my fatherhood was sitting in the woods one hot early July day on the Gettysburg battleground between Devil’s Den and Little Round Top, watching my two sons climb up what became the most important strategic heights of the American Civil War and a turning point for civilization. Had the Union lost at Gettysburg, the political will of the North to continue would have evaporated. There would have likely been a United States of America, the Confederate States of America, the Republic of Texas and, perhaps, a half dozen other nations. There would have been nations with slavery, regional wars, and the accompanying Pandora's Box of atrocity and horror. While raising my sons, there were the normal parental concerns sending them off to war on a foreign battlefield, but up until now, the notion that they face a second American civil war seemed far-fetched. In the America we grew up in, the regional battles young Hoosiers waged against Alabama and Texas took place on football fields, basketball courts and baseball diamonds. Ominously, that is changing. When a significant portion of one of our two main political parties refuses to accept the results of a presidential election, that calls into doubt the fragile American experiment.

  • WEST LAFAYETTE – We’ve got an inflation problem. What should we do about it? That depends on what kind of inflation problem we’ve got. In May the consumer price index was 4.9% higher than it was 12 months before. The last time we saw an inflation rate that high was July 2008. The last time it was that high, and it was more than just rising gasoline prices, was October 1990. It’s the highest inflation rate in almost 31 years. Inflation has increased these past three months, March through May. Partly that’s because the 12-month rate compares to March through May 2020, when prices were falling. That means the 12-month inflation rate would register high even if prices were just getting back to normal. It’s more than that. The three-month inflation rate jumped from 3.5% in February to 8.4% in May. That’s the annual rate, the inflation rate we’d get if prices kept rising that fast for a whole year. The last time the three-month annual rate was that high – and not just because of gasoline – was July 1982. It’s the highest inflation in almost 39 years.
  • SOUTH BEND – History will be kinder to Mike Pence than were the hecklers shouting “Traitor!” at him at a conference of religious conservatives last week. Much kinder than the insurrectionists chanting “Hang Mike Pence!” as they stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6. He may not go down in history at the other extreme either, as the man who “saved American democracy,” as Pence was described in a recent national column. How Pence is portrayed in history books decades from now will depend in part on what he reveals in his own book. He contemplates that now, back home in Indiana in his just-purchased mansion in Carmel. More could depend on revelations in the anticipated book on the 2020 campaign by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa of the Washington Post. Actually, Pence isn’t likely to give himself as much credit as he deserves for carrying out his constitutional duties as vice president, doing so despite Donald Trump’s demand for him to reject results of the presidential election.
  • ANDERSON –  I’m still getting the occasional email from defenders of coronavirus vaccine critic Dr. Michael Yeadon. The most recent noted that my column in mid-April had relied on Snopes, “a known purveyor of disinformation.” That’s actually the opposite of what Snopes does. The article I cited pointed out that Yeadon was never actually the chief science officer at Pfizer and he had no real expertise in vaccines. The division he once led focused on developing drugs to treat asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The library at American University has assembled a guide for identifying fake news. It calls Snopes “an independent, nonpartisan website that researches urban legends and other rumors.” “It is often the first to set the facts straight on wild fake news claims,” the library says. Snopes got its start in 1994, before many of us even knew about the internet, and it soon built a reputation as a reliable place to go for the real scoop on urban legends, hoaxes and folklore.
  • MUNCIE – My colleague Dagney Faulk and I recently completed an analysis of the fiscal effect of school choice on Indiana taxpayers. The data came from a Department of Education report on transfer students across the state, which we matched with state spending and overall enrollment. During the process of the Ball State CBER study, I learned a few surprising things that are likely to prompt anyone with strong feelings about school choice. So, it’s best to proceed with an open mind. Indiana adopted universal school choice a little more than a decade ago. That occurred through a series of changes that together made Indiana the national leader in school choice. Beginning after 2000, the legislature created and then expanded charter school programs. These are public schools that are overseen by a university, a municipality or a local public school system. These schools range from large online programs to specialized programs operated by local school corporations like the McCullough Academy for Girls in Gary. The state also instituted full public school choice, permitting students to attend the school of their choice, with state funding following the student. There are some limits on student movement.
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  • Dr. Carroll on 'different pandemics'
    “To suggest that Covid-19 is an escalating emergency in the United States is not quite right. The truth is that the vaccinated and unvaccinated are experiencing two very different pandemics right now. If we don’t confront that, the nation can’t address either appropriately.” - Dr. Aaron E. Carroll, chief health officer for Indiana University, in his New York Times column "Covid is now a crisis for the unvaccinated" on Wednesday.
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