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Wednesday, June 3, 2020
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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  — Early on in “The Man with Two Brains,” Steve Martin’s character needs guidance. He stares up at a gilded portrait of his recently deceased wife, begging her for a sign. Amazingly, the portrait detaches from the wall and begins spinning, slowly at first, then faster, as a woman’s voice wails a definitive “NO!” over and over. The ground rumbles, light bulbs explode, and the plaster behind the painting cracks. Smoke appears. The spinning grows faster, and the voice louder and louder. “Just any kind of sign,” Steve Martin says, seeming totally unfazed by the bizarre and horrifying display. “I’ll be on the lookout for it. In the meantime, I’m going to put you in the closet.”  We appear to be witnessing a similar scene here in Indiana, as some in our state legislature appear unresponsive to the signs right in front of them. Earlier this month, the Legislative Council met to assign interim study topics. These study committees present an opportunity to reach clarity and consensus on where public policy is falling short and what can be done to improve it, or to revisit priority topics that could not be fully addressed in the context of the short session. This year’s selection of study topics has such glaring omissions, it almost seems as though there exists a willful refusal to acknowledge the data. Indiana’s abysmal preterm birth, infant mortality, and maternal mortality rates deserve attention. In fact, they have been a priority item on Gov. Holcomb’s agenda for years. They have sparked at least some legislative attention to how and where pregnant women receive health care and, more recently, to the workplace experiences of pregnant women. 

  • KOKOMO – I’ve been a life-long Republican and I’ve been politically active for the majority of my life. My first overt Republican act was to send a fan letter to Presidential candidate Senator Barry Goldwater way back in 1964.  Funny, even Hillary Clinton was a Republican back then. The first Republican State Convention I attended was in 1972. As an 18-year-old brash young teenager, I bucked the demands of my county chairman to vote for William Sharp for governor and instead I voted for Otis Bowen. This early experience in observing the impotence of a county chairman should have deterred me from ever being a county chairman, but one day I would eventually be dragged into the maelstrom. Over my 58 years in Republican Party politics I have met and interacted with a wide variety of those who identify as Republicans. While the national media is quick to try and persuade you that all Republicans are Bible-toting, gun-slinging, fat-cat bigots, the truth is far different.
  • WEST LAFAYETTE — Enough already. The economy is bad. This is the sharpest, deepest recession in 80 years. We get that. Let’s talk about something else. Like, how does the economy recover? Unfortunately, to answer that question we need to know what kind of recession we’ve got. So let’s look at some measurements that tell us what’s been happening. Gross domestic product measures the value of goods and services produced in our economy. The growth of GDP is our most complete measure of how well the economy is doing. Most of the time we show the quarterly numbers at annual rates, basically multiplying by four, and we look at “real” GDP, which removes the effect of inflation. Real GDP in the first quarter fell 4.8%. Bad, but not catastrophic. But the recession started in March. January and February were fine, probably a lot like 2019. In 2019, real GDP grew 2.1%. If that growth continued in January and February, but the whole quarter showed a 4.8% decline, then real GDP must have fallen 19% in March. That is catastrophic.
  • MUNCIE  — The past several months ushered in unprecedented changes in economic activity. By the end of May, roughly one in four workers was unemployed and many sectors of American commerce ground to a virtual stop. The previous high of unemployment was registered at 25.5% in the summer of 1933, the depths of the Great Depression. While our data may soon eclipse that level, our economic conditions are far better. After adjusting for inflation, we are six times more affluent than we were during the Great Depression. This fact manifests itself in our economic worries. Today, we concern ourselves with internet access for students, economic security for gig workers and other matters an epochal distance from the worries of the Dustbowl. Our affluence permits us the ability to replace lost income and subsidize healthcare. In terms of human suffering, our economy today is not comparable to the Great Depression. Still, current economic conditions may well grow bad enough to destabilize the Republic. No democracy with an unemployment rate of 25% has failed to face significant challenges to its liberty. In 1932, the communist and socialist parties received nearly a million votes in the U.S. presidential elections.
  • INDIANAPOLIS — Everyone seems to be wishing we’d get back to normal from our attempts to evade the enemy virus. I earnestly hope we move ahead from normal. Let’s aim for something better than the normal we have known since the end of WWII. Last week the Bureau of the Census released the 2019 population estimates for cities and towns across America. I eagerly downloaded the Indiana data anticipating an article about increases and decreases among nearly 600 Hoosier hometowns. Yes, there is a story there. The 567 cities and towns (the incorporated places) of Indiana gained 265,700 residents between 2010 and 2019. That’s 17,300 more than the entire state. Much of that is rearranging the chairs on our landlocked cruise ship.
  • SOUTH BEND – Let’s consider today the premier political question in the nation. The answer provided by voters in November can determine the presidential election and also decide close legislative races. Q. How is President Trump regarded in his response to the coronavirus pandemic and in seeking a rebound of the economy? A. Well, recent Emerson College polls show Joe Biden ahead of Trump by 30 percentage points in California and by even more in Massachusetts, 34 points. Beyond a landslide. Q. So, Trump will lose? A. Actually, how much Trump loses by in those states has no meaning – none – for the outcome of the presidential election. Trump will lose by large pluralities in big Democratic states such as California, Massachusetts, New York and Illinois. He lost nationwide in the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by nearly three million votes in 2016. He could well lose by as many as five million votes this time. And win again.
  • WASHINGTON – Christina Hale is emphasizing bipartisanship in her attempt to win the 5th CD seat being vacated by the most bipartisan member of the Hoosier congressional delegation. Her first television ad, launched earlier this week, extols Hale’s ability to work across the aisle. The narrator says she passed 60 bills as a state legislator – all with bipartisan support. The spot said such a virtue is critical as Congress wrestles with the coronavirus outbreak. “Rebuilding will be our next test, and we can’t afford partisan bickering,” the narrator says. “We need problem solvers.” Hale is hoping that theme will strike a chord in the race to replace retiring Republican Rep. Susan Brooks, who achieved the highest score among Hoosier members of Congress in the latest Bipartisan Index. The survey, released last week and sponsored by the Lugar Center and the Georgetown University McCourt School of Public Policy, measures the extent to which lawmakers work with members of the opposite party in writing and co-sponsoring legislation. The question is whether Hale’s bet on bipartisanship will pay off at a time of extreme political polarization. Dan Diller, policy director at the Lugar Center, said the issue can gain traction. “It’s always a winner in November, especially in a district that’s proven to support a very bipartisan member, which Brooks is,” Diller said.
  • WASHINGTON —  Shelli Yoder, Indiana State Senate candidate and former Monroe County Council member, is a charismatic campaigner who has the ability to both energize a crowd and connect at one-on-one interaction. Her style and personality are perfect for old-fashioned retail politics. “But this pandemic has forced all of us to re-think what is and is not vital,” Yoder said in an e-mail exchange about her current Indiana Senate campaign. “Though we’ve cancelled all in-person activities, our campaign has continued to work hard to have meaningful interaction in Monroe County. We’ve shifted to phone banks, Zoom rallies, Facebook Live town halls with local leaders and letter writing.” COVID-19 is changing how political campaigns and voting are being conducted, casting aside the traditional methods of voter contact while making way for newer techniques. The days of knocking on doors and delivering a message directly to voters or physically helping voters get to the polls are on hold in these times of social distancing. Instead, it has forced campaigns to rely almost totally on digital means of communication and organization, some more creative than others.
  • NASHVILLE, Ind. — One of the most arduous jobs in America these days is being a governor of one of 50 states. The Trump administration has essentially kicked the response to the coronavirus pandemic to the states, and so Gov. Eric Holcomb and his 49 cohorts have had to make unprecedented decisions that have impacted millions of people. Indiana Republican Chairman Kyle Hupfer began getting calls after Holcomb's mid-March decision to shut the state down. "I used the line ‘The easy decisions were made about three days ago,'" Hupfer said. "They are all hard now. There are no easy decisions. So now every decision is between two bad things. There just aren’t good options left. It’s been that way through the whole thing.” Since that decision, deaths and jobless statistics have mounted at a startling rate. At this writing there have been 1,764 deaths, 29,936 total cases, and 202,995 tests. All of these health stats are significantly below what experts say the real numbers are. Nearly 650,000 Hoosiers have filed for unemployment compensation and many of the state's 500,000 small businesses are vulnerable, causing the state jobless rate to skyrocket from 3.2% in February to 16.9% in April, a truly jaw dropping and historic number. These statistics form the basis for the policy tug-o-war Holcomb and other governors face.

  • INDIANAPOLIS  — Joe Biden has an age problem. No, not that one. In March, Democrats “sound[ed] the alarm on Joe Biden’s young voter problem,” NBC News reported. By April, shortly after a group of seven progressive youth organizations issued Biden a list of “aggressive demands” in exchange for their support, the Wall Street Journal said “young voters could be Biden’s Achilles’ heel.” And by May it was all but forgotten when the backseat drivers of 2020 put the generational challenge in the rearview mirror as they began to agitate over the pandemic-induced geographical obstacle facing Biden. As the Washington Post’s Karen Tumulty puts it, “The party is in a state of high anxiety over the fact that its nominee-in-waiting appears trapped at home, like so many of the rest of us are during the COVID-19 pandemic.” And this, my friends, is where the handwringers and the bedwetters and the hair puller-outers and the teeth gnashers miss the point. Being trapped in his basement is Joe Biden’s youth outreach strategy! Yes, I willingly used an exclamation mark to demonstrably illustrate the seriousness of my declarative sentence. This! Is! His! (Intentional or Not) Strategy! And it’s time to lean in (h/t Sheryl Sandberg).  Typically, a candidate would be out kissing hands and shaking babies. But Joe Biden is not a typical candidate in the Populist Era. His unconventional shelter-in-place strategy, full of digital forums and “please be viral” social media posts, is a necessity when his name is not Bernie Sanders, a candidate who roused the passions of America’s 18-38 demographic with his “damn the torpedoes” governing philosophy.
  • MUNCIE  — If the media buzz is true, the Trump Administration will use the solemn occasion of Memorial Day weekend to further expand the disastrous trade war with China. This time, he will use the global pandemic as an excuse to restrict imports of medicine and medical devices. This is a bad policy that will raise health care costs on Americans while doing nothing to boost U.S. jobs. It is nothing more than a cynical ploy to divert attention from an erratic and unfocused response to this pandemic. Before explaining why this is such an imprudent turn of events, I must report some truths about China’s government that the Trump administration is unwilling to say out loud. The People’s Republic of China is a deeply evil enterprise. Right now, they have more people in concentration camps than did Hitler at the height of his powers. Their government scoffs at the value of the individual, and they export a malicious presence across Asia and Africa. If we lived in a moderately just world, tens of thousands of Chinese government officials would face Nuremburg-type trials for crimes against humanity. 
  • BLOOMINGTON – We’ve seen plenty of evidence lately of the deep polarization in this country. Even in the midst of this crisis, national politicians, the political parties, and their adherents are finding plenty to fight over; even as, for the most part, ordinary Americans have been remarkably united and many governors and mayors have worked hard to handle the coronavirus pandemic competently and guided by expert advice. The question as we look ahead is whether the trends we’d been seeing before the pandemic will reassert themselves, or instead there will be some sort of reset. Because those earlier trends are extremely worrisome. For years now, it’s been common for politicians to label their rivals as unpatriotic and illegitimate. The deep freeze in cross-aisle relations in Congress had made progress there extremely difficult, though the crisis has given congressional leaders and members of the Trump administration no choice but to keep bargaining until they hammer out agreements. Other trends are equally problematic.
  • INDIANAPOLIS — We are endowed with 24 hours each day. That, in a sense, makes us all equal. However, if we have it, money can be substituted for time. Thus, from here to there, the poor man walks for a longer time than the rich man rides. Our use of time is, partly, a measure of the value we place on an activity. Most economic information about us is expressed as money spent by individuals and households. We are called consumers. In truth, we are both consumers and investors. An automobile and a lamp are both investments which we will use in varying amounts over many years. Or which we won’t use, but will have the option to use, which itself has value. Economists have been occupied for generations trying to put a dollar figure on time spent. What’s the value of outdoor recreation? When I started studying economics, 60 years ago, that was a hot topic. It remains so today.
  • KOKOMO  — Flip on any television channel and they will be staring you in the face, United States Senators, Republican and Democrat alike, who apparently have nothing better to do with their time than pontificate on the absurd and engage in political bickering. It is enough to make you sick, but with Covid-19, we’re sick enough already.  Not all Senators have crawled into the mud for the daily wallowing about in front of the cameras. One in particular, Indiana Sen. Todd Young, has been devoting his entire time in public service to thinking about the big picture. Perhaps it is because of his former work as an intelligence officer in the United States Marines Corps that Sen. Young has taken a thoughtful and forward thinking approach to the nearly out-of-control menace of China.  Analyzing strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats is the hallmark of intelligence work and Young has excelled at bringing those skills to his career in government. While some of his Senate colleagues spend endless hours trying to reverse the 2016 Presidential Election, Young is squarely focused on the future. To Todd Young, China should dominate our national groupthink.
  • INDIANAPOLIS — In the hours after the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission suspended Attorney General Curtis Hill for groping four women at a legislative party, there was speculation as to how Gov. Eric Holcomb would respond. Hill said he accepted the 30-day suspension with “humility and respect.” Indiana Republican Chairman Kyle Hupfer released a statement, saying, “The Indiana Supreme Court unanimously confirmed that Curtis Hill committed battery against four female victims. Hoosiers would be best served by having a new Attorney General. I have faith in our delegates.” Some saw it as the governor, his hands full with the coronavirus pandemic, throwing the decision to Republican convention delegates. But that was quickly  dispelled by a Supreme Court filing by the governor’s legal counsel on Tuesday seeking “clarification whether the Court’s May 11, 2020 Order suspending Attorney General Hill from the practice of law for a period of 30 days means that he is not ‘duly licensed to practice law in Indiana’ as set forth in statute. “If Attorney General Hill does not have the requisite qualifications for the office … such that the Governor must name a successor for the remainder of Attorney General Hill’s current term,” the filing stated. “The clarifications being asked of this Court are necessary for the Governor to fulfill his constitutional and statutory obligations.” Thus, it became clear: Gov. Holcomb is going to play hardball.

  • MUNCIE  — Along with many states, Indiana is moving slowly away from some restrictions in the stay-at-home or shelter-in-place orders implemented in late March. Over that six-week period, more Hoosiers died of COVID-19 than died in the Vietnam War. The state’s economy experienced unprecedented damage. The next jobs report will be the worst since the Great Depression, even though it will understate the actual share of unemployed by 5% or more. State tax revenues were more than $1 billion beneath the expected level in April. While part of this reflects payment delays, we clearly face the bleakest government budgets in a lifetime.  In previous columns, I argued that Indiana’s response to COVID-19 saved lives and was clearly justifiable on economic grounds. As evidence continues to mount, my analysis looks even more right than it did three weeks ago. But, as we move away from the most restrictive shelter in place rules, evaluating the efficacy of those reductions proves more difficult. Both the economics and the epidemiology of the disease are now more complex. With this comes greater uncertainty.  It is clear Indiana flattened the curve, and so the challenge now is determining what restrictions to loosen or tighten over time. 
  • ANDERSON — No one is happy about this. Least of all newspapers. With businesses closed, advertising revenues have plummeted, and many newspapers have been forced to make some difficult choices. Some have closed. So, no, newspapers are not peddling stories of gloom and doom just to make a buck. No one really wants to read stories of misery and death. No one wants to write them. Not a single person delights in the news that millions of Americans have lost their jobs. No one cheers when another business files for bankruptcy protection or shuts its doors. No one celebrates as fellow citizens struggle to put food on the table or keep a roof over their heads. COVID-19 has slashed a wound in our economy that might take years to heal. Some of the jobs the virus has taken will never come back. Lots of us are getting grumpy about being stuck at home. Working in your pajamas might have some appeal for a little while, but the attraction begins to fade after weeks on end. And those Zoom meetings have helped businesses and families stay connected, but will anyone really be disappointed when we can go back to meeting face to face?
  • SOUTH BEND – Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is emerging as one of the top prospects for the Democratic nomination for vice president, thanks to unintended help from President Trump and gun-toting protesters who stormed the Michigan Capitol building. Trump’s belittling of the governor as “the woman in Michigan” and “Half Whitmer” brought greater national attention and focus on how her handling of the coronavirus gets higher poll approval than the president’s efforts. In his anger toward her as a possible opponent on the Democratic ticket, Trump once ordered the coronavirus task force to decline to talk with her, the governor of a state with the third highest death toll from the virus.
  • INDIANAPOLIS — Between 2008 and 2019, from the Great Recession to the most recent year in which “The Best of Times” was proclaimed, the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) averaged 3.5% growth annually. The West Region (AK, CA, HI, OR, WA), as defined by the Bureau of Economic Analysis, was the fastest growing regional economy in the nation at 4.1%. The Great Lakes (IL, IN, MI, OH, WI) managed to be seventh of the eight regions by averaging 3.10%, thereby beating out the bottom dwelling New England Region by a robust 0.02%. If you didn’t get lost in those postal abbreviations of state names, you noticed a spread among the regions of just one percent per year in GDP growth. Put that way the difference is small. But over the course of 11 years, that’s a 56% increase for the West Region and a 40% increase for the Great Lakes and New England.
  • LaPORTE —  As an attorney who represents several local government entities, it was just a week ago that I was closely following negotiations on the COVID 3.5 package and had become very hopeful that Saturday, April 18. Why? Because both the non-partisan National Association of Counties and the non-partisan Association of Indiana Counties (AIC) had just sent emails out to members backing the Pelosi/Schumer package of aid to local government entities which was being included in the latest Covid-19 relief bill that would also extend the Paycheck Protection program and provide needed aid to hospitals and additional testing. Why, even the president’s chief negotiator, Steve Mnuchin, had signaled he would not oppose this cash infusion to America’s cities, towns and counties that are on the front lines of this country’s fight against the COVID-19 virus. The plan was simple and straightforward. The allocation was based strictly on population and so of the $29.5 billion set aside for America’s counties, $596 million was to be allocated to Indiana’s 92 counties. LaPorte County, based on our 110,000 population, was in line for an immediate cash infusion of $9,743,450 to help us deal not only with COVID-19 related expenses but make up for significant lost tax revenues during this crisis. Cash-starved local government entities throughout Indiana and throughout the country stood on the brink that weekend of a much needed “bailout” by the federal government.  And then along came Mitch. That’s right, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, whose insane hatred of local government is only matched by his utter disdain for Minority Leader Chuck  Schumer. 
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  • Myers reacts to disturbances in Fort Wayne, Indy Friday night
    "Last night, Hoosiers across the state practiced their 1st Amendment rights in protesting the tragic and brutal death of George Floyd. The numbers don’t lie; the Black community has been disproportionately affected by this brutality, both here in Indiana and across the United States. Law enforcement officers took an oath to serve and protect, and their violence against Black Americans is not only wrong, but criminal. The actions that perpetuated these events have exposed the racial inequities in our society, and require us to confront these injustices honestly and openly. While the initial protests were peaceful, the opportunistic looting that followed does little to further the righteous cause intended by the original protesters and activists. Our nation needs to progress into a more equitable tomorrow. I join the world in its outrage and anger at the recent murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and Dreasjon Reed. We cannot accept that injustice remains the status quo in 2020 – the fight to provide a better future lands upon all of our shoulders to find a path together to justice." - Dr. Woody Myers, the presumptive Democratic nominee for governor of Indiana, following protests that ended in arrests and vandalism in Indianapolis and Fort Wayne Friday night.
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  • President Trump, Gov. Holcomb address the pandemic in their own words
    The COVID-19 pandemic is becoming the story of our time. As Sen. Todd Young explained, unlike the Great Recession of 2008-09 and the Oil Shock recession of 1979-82, what we are experiencing today is a double hammer: A pandemic and a severe economic panic. The Hoosier State is poised to go from a historic low 3.1% unemployment rate to double digits in the span of a month. At least one pandemic model says 2,400 Hoosiers will die.

    Tough times shift our attention to leadership. Here are quotes from President Trump and Gov. Eric Holcomb as the pandemic approached the U.S. and then impacted our nation and state.

    President Trump

    Jan. 22: “We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China, and we have it under control. It’s going to be just fine.” – CNBC interview.

    Feb. 10: “Looks like by April, you know, in theory, when it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away.” – New Hampshire rally.

    Feb. 24: “The coronavirus is very much under control in the USA. … Stock market starting to look very good to me!” – On Twitter.

    Feb. 25: “China is working very, very hard. I have spoken to President Xi, and they are working very hard. If you know anything about him, I think he will be in pretty good shape. I think that is a problem that is going to go away.”

    Feb. 26: “We’re going to be pretty soon at only five people. And we could be at just one or two people over the next short period of time. So we’ve had very good luck.” – At a White House news conference.
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