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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.
  • CARMEL – Police stop a driver westbound on 96th Street in Hamilton County. They find less than an ounce of marijuana and this driver in arrested, complete with a stay in the county jail, facing thousands of dollars of legal bills, court costs, fines and a criminal record. Police stop an eastbound driver on 96th Street in Marion County. They find a doobie on the console. He is not arrested, faces no charges, legal bills, court costs or fines. That is the evolving state of marijuana prohibition in Indiana. It's like swiss cheese, with a big hole in the middle and others likely to form in college and border cities. Acting prosecutor Marion County Ryan Mears, then an unelected official, abruptly announced that his office will no longer prosecute marijuana possession cases of under one ounce, which was quickly reinforced by Sheriff Kerry Forestal. Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Chief Bryan Roach said his force would still make marijuana arrests. But after Mears dismissed nearly 150 possession cases, it's only a matter of time before the arrests stop. The cops I know aren't big fans of doing the paperwork, only to watch an offender go free.

  • SOUTH BEND – Note to Democrats: Be careful what you wish for. It just might come true, with unpleasant consequences. Like President Mike Pence. Many Democrats wish that President Trump would go. Quickly. Before the 2020 election. Through impeachment. Well, it appears likely now that the Democratic-controlled House will vote to impeach Trump. But that only sends impeachment charges to the Republican-controlled Senate, where chances that the president would be convicted and removed from office range from highly unlikely to none at all. Still, some Democrats hold out hope - wishing fervently - that Trump could be implicated so deeply in impeachable conduct and become so clearly unhinged that Senate Republicans would join in a two-thirds vote to remove him from the White House. If the unexpected happened, if that Democratic wish came true, Vice President Mike Pence would become president.
  • MUNCIE – Last week’s column on Indiana’s hospital monopolies generated ten times the emails of any other column I’ve penned over the last decade. Hoosier taxpayers are interested in understanding who caused this problem and how we can fix it. I commend the thousands of readers who visited our website to read the study.  What you learned is that my study is just one of several recent reports alerting Indiana to monopoly problems in hospitals. Moreover, you know that my study combined data from several different sources including the IRS, Department of Commerce, Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services and the Rand Corporation, the nation’s most respected think tank. Awareness of this issue is important because Indiana’s not-for-profit hospital industry surely earned a billion dollars in interest on their accumulated profits last year, through their hedge fund and money market investments. That kind of money should attract thorough scrutiny of my work.
  • BLOOMINGTON  – You’re probably chuckling already. Seriously? “The joy of politics”? That was pretty much the reaction I got the other day when, in the middle of a conversation about how confrontational, adversarial, and downright unpleasant politics has become of late, I suggested that it could be both fun and a source of satisfaction. Yes, of course there are always irritations and inconveniences. And the often mean-spirited tone of today’s contentious politics is well beyond anything I encountered when I was in office. But none of this erases the satisfactions that also come with the territory. They start with the people you can meet in the political arena: Able, ambitious, articulate, often at the top of their game. They may be friends or foes, but the foes aren’t usually permanent; sometimes they become friends, as the debate moves along to other issues and you find yourself sharing common ground. 
  • INDIANAPOLIS –  Indiana’s public forests are primarily south of I-70, yet our population and industry are located primarily north of that interstate. Preserving existing public forests while developing new forested areas throughout the state would correct this imbalance. At the same time, enhancing the urban forest canopies, the linear street forests in our cities and towns, needs to be encouraged. These are long-term components of Indiana’s essential infrastructure that offer significant benefits on at least six levels: 1. Forests are silent workers cleaning the air of harmful substances while providing oxygen. They also are habitat for innumerable plants and animals. Trees stabilize ground water levels, reduce land erosion, and protect properties from flooding. The benefits of forests are local and world-wide. In cities, they not only improve the air we breathe and provide shade to reduce air-conditioning expenses, but they raise property values as a desired amenity. 2. Indiana has an undesirable image as a place lacking natural attractions of mountains and a seacoast. Forests can provide a place rich in opportunities for healthy, stimulating outdoor recreation, exploration, and education. Tourism and corporate investments are determined by the image we project.
  • Merriam-Webster: Aberrant (n) 1: a group, individual, or structure that is not normal or typical: an aberrant group, individual, or structure; 2: a person whose behavior departs substantially from the standard. Synonyms:(Adjective)  aberrated, abnormal, anomalous, atypical, especial, exceeding, exceptional, extraordinaire, extraordinary, freak, odd, peculiar ....

    By BRIAN A. HOWEY

    NASHVILLE, Ind. - On July 27, 2016, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump made his infamous "Russia, if you're listening ..." appeal for dirt on Hillary Clinton. It commenced a two-year jigsaw puzzle type investigation that became President Trump's nightmare. It all seemed to end last July 24, when Special Counsel Robert Mueller testified before Congress that he could not indict Trump for obstruction of justice because of a Department of Justice rule that a sitting president can't be charged. Mueller distinctly said, “The President was not exculpated for the acts that he allegedly committed.”  July 25 should have been a new day, a new era for President Trump, the proverbial sigh of relief. The House could impeach, but there was no way the 55-seat Senate Republican majority would convict. So what does President Trump do?  According to a rough transcript released by the White House, the president essentially attempted to extort dirt on potential rival Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, from the rookie President Zelensky of Ukraine, a former comedian. It is the same Ukraine that gave up its nuclear weapons under the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, went through a revolution in 2014, then saw Russian President Putin annex the Crimea before launching a low-grade war on the eastern part of the country that has since claimed 13,000 lives. This summer, President Trump inexplicably held up close to $400 million in U.S. military aid from this new president, pulled Vice President Pence away from attending Zelensky's inauguration last May, and then subtly put the screws on him on July 25.
  • INDIANAPOLIS — A week ago Monday I began writing the “Double dog impeachment dare” story that headlined the Sept. 19 edition of HPI as a cautionary primer for why going down that rabbit hole would be dangerous for our nation because the consequences are often unintended and the ramifications impossible to gauge. By the time I published it a week ago, the emerging scandal of the DNI whistleblower’s urgent complaint involving President Trump and Ukraine President Zelensky had blown up like a mushroom cloud, as fast as Hurricane Rita did in 2005. It is a disconcerting circumstance. And I am disturbed by what appears to be another round of scandal and hyper media, allegations and denial, talking heads churning out conspiracies and illogical defenses. Our nation faces huge challenges. Our entitlements are on an assured crisis course, probably by the end of the next presidency. We are now running trillion dollar deficits with a good economy. We have no idea how bad that will get in a recession, or a severe recession. We have climate scenarios that are daunting in an immigration/refugee and humantarian sense, and we must begin preparing now.
  • SOUTH BEND – Why Iowa? Why would Mayor Pete Buttigieg already be opening 20 campaign offices there, with 100 organizers, and with further expansion likely before the Iowa caucuses next Feb. 3? Why, in a state with demographics not typical of the nation’s population, are these caucuses – meetings where a show of hands rather than ballots can determine the count – so darn important? Credit or blame goes to Jimmy Carter. Carter, who began his presidential quest as a former Georgia governor with little national name recognition and seemingly no chance for the White House, spent two years campaigning in Iowa, attracting the attention of the national news media and drawing other contenders into the suddenly important 1976 Iowa caucuses.
  • KOKOMO – As a fan of the television series “Stranger Things,” I’ve enjoyed seeing the program’s vision of the “Upside Down” alternate dimension existing parallel to the human world. It’s scary and dangerous and can be found pretty near to where you are standing. Of course, growing up, I closely followed the comic book adventures of Superman and its occasional tale of Bizarro World, a world where everything is pretty much backward from how it should be. If President Trump gets his way, the United States will soon join the “Upside Down” and Bizarro World with the introduction of negative interest rates.  Before we go charging off into the negative interest great unknown, we should all get a thorough education about what negative interest rates might mean. Let’s start with the situation of Bargersville, Indiana, retiree Elmer Toadsnuggle. Elmer has a small pension and Social Security. He scraped and saved $100,000 prior to retirement and he’s now shopping for a bank where he can buy one of those high interest certificates of deposit. 
  • MUNCIE - Several weeks ago, a concerned citizen sent me a financial summary of Indiana’s not-for-profit hospitals. He asked that I look into the issue of excessive profits by these systems. I was skeptical that the issue would be relevant. Profits are critical to an economy; they serve as a guide to pricing and investment decisions and reward the men and women who create value. The demonization of profits is a sure sign of unformed thought. Moreover, not-for-profit hospitals have explicitly chosen to forgo profits as part of their operations, so I doubted the financial summary would reveal anything important. I was mistaken. What I discovered will deeply anger every Hoosier and should embarrass most hospital administrators and board members. I also expect it to cause significant changes to state policy with respect to these hospitals. This is likely to change the way we tax them, regulate their competitors and enforce anti-trust laws. It will surely lead to civil litigation involving billions of dollars of excess profits.  It turns out the not-for-profit hospital industry and their network of clinics is the single most profitable industry in Indiana. These profits are so large that when accumulated, they account for roughly 9 percent of the state’s total economy. 
  • INDIANAPOLIS — Here’s a simple fact. In 2017, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, the average wage or salary (AW&S) in Indiana was $46,897. At the same time, the figure stood at $55,463 for the United States as a whole, or nearly 19% above Indiana’s average. It’s easy to get into a tizzy about this. Loyalists would boast, “Our cost of living is lower than average.” Rebels might quote me saying “What Indiana produces is less valued than what is produced on average in the U.S.” However, right now, I would like to challenge that national figure. The data for the U.S.  include the District of Columbia, which is not a state. The AW&S for D.C. in 2017 was $91,720, 65% above the national figure and nearly double Indiana’s more modest level.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – It took nine months after South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg kicked off his long-shot Democratic presidential campaign before he landed his first spate of Indiana endorsements. Ten Hoosier mayors – Tom McDermott of Hammond, Dave Kitchell of Logansport, Brent Bascom of Rising Sun, Gay Ann Harney of Rockport, Ron Meer of Michigan City, John Hamilton of Bloomington, Gabriel Greer of Peru, Greg Goodnight of Kokomo, Ted Ellis of Bluffton and Hugh Wirth of Oakland City – were part of a group of more than 50 mayors to endorse this upstart presidential campaign. Beyond his fellow mayors, Buttigieg hasn’t picked up much support from the Democratic Indiana political establishment. U.S. Reps. Pete Visclosky and André Carson aren’t on board, nor is former senator Joe Donnelly, who attended Buttigieg’s campaign kickoff last April. Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett was also there, but didn’t endorse this past week, presumably concentrating on his own reelection bid.

  • INDIANAPOLIS – A large part of the appeal of Guinness World Records is the obscurity of the records they track. Indeed, obscurity has always been the point: Ireland’s most famous brewery began publishing the book in 1955 as a way to help settle arcane pub bets. I may not be very useful if you’re interesting in knowing where the largest collection of Batman memorabilia is located, but I do feel a bit like the Guinness folks when I’m asked about some obscure piece of Indiana political history. Of course, I also relish the opportunity to dig in a little more and provide additional context. Such was the case last week, when Brian Howey pointed out to me that not a single congressional district in Indiana has switched parties since our current maps were implemented for the 2012 election. That begs the question: If there is no change in 2020, will that be the first time Indiana has ever witnessed a congressional map that produced no partisan turnover? There isn’t quite a straightforward “yes” or “no” answer, which fortunately means I get to dig in and provide some context.
  • SOUTH BEND – Pete Buttigieg and Bernie Sanders were separated by only a few feet, but by more than 40 years in age. Mayor Pete, 37, and Sen. Sanders, 78, were situated next to each other at the Democratic presidential debate Thursday night in accord with their standings in the polls. Is one too old? Passé? Is the other too young? Not ready? Is there some other candidate who’s just right, not necessarily with age but with electability? Viewers could draw their conclusions as they watched the performances of the 10 leading candidates for the Democratic nomination. It’s a diverse group. And the different approaches of Buttigieg and Sanders were shown clearly as they stood side by side in the long and tense debate.
       
  • BLOOMINGTON – A wave of protests is roiling Moscow. Millions of people, young and old, have been crowding the streets in Hong Kong. In Britain, members of the Conservative Party took to open revolt over Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s move to sideline Parliament on Brexit. If democracy is dysfunctional and on the ropes worldwide, as many voices currently insist, you’d have a hard time making the case from these headlines. In fact, at a time of concern and, in many quarters, cynicism about democracy and its prospects, they remind us of a basic truth: People want a say in how they’re governed. As Winston Churchill put it back in 1944, “At the bottom of all the tributes paid to democracy is the little man, walking into the little booth, with a little pencil, making a little cross on a little bit of paper – no amount of rhetoric or voluminous discussion can possibly diminish the overwhelming importance of that point.” To be sure, “democracy” is hard to define. The UN says that democracies are where “the will of the people is the source of legitimacy of sovereign states,” but that’s a broad definition.
  • INDIANAPOLIS — Newspapers and television news have pointed to declines in the shipments of recreational vehicles as a warning signal of a forthcoming national recession. It’s true that nationally RV shipments are down. They have been declining, compared to the same month a year earlier, each month from August 2018 through July of this year. For the year as a whole, shipments in 2018 were 4.1% below 2017. However, 2017 was a bonanza year for the industry, shipping 504,600 units, up 17.2% from 2016. Yet that does not tell the story well; in March 2018 alone, shipments reached 50,600 units, a vertigo height for RVs. 
  • NASHVILLE, Ind. - So there was President Trump in the Oval Office on Wednesday, mocking his most recently departed National Security Adviser John Bolton as a "Mr. Tough Guy." A few minutes later, President Tough Guy was seated with Health & Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, announcing a ban on flavored vapes. “We have a problem in our country,” Trump said, springing into action after five vape-related deaths nationally, including one in Indiana. “It’s called vaping, especially vaping as it pertains to innocent children.” But if you want to talk about protecting "innocent children," the huge elephant on the table is the epidemic of mass shootings in our nation in places like Sante Fe and Marjorie Stoneman Douglass high schools in Texas and Florida, and, of course, Sandy Hook Elementary School where more than 20 little kids and educators were slaughtered. Most of these involved AR-15s and many other incidents have killed hundreds of people. And on this point, “President Tough Guy” might as well be “President Mouse.” Because we have no idea where he stands on several issues with widespread support.
  • EVANSVILLE – Everyone has their 9/11 remembrances and that is fine. Understand just how rapidly it is receding into the unremembered past: The number of Americans with no real memory of it approaches one-third, and the number of Americans with no adult memory of it creeps toward half. With the forgetting comes the loss of emotive content. It is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, the falling away of emotion means we lose the felt sense of the only silver lining of the whole blood-soaked affair, the flowering of patriotism in the immediate thereafter. Those of us who lived through the bright autumn of 2001 witnessed the last mass expression of a common American patriotism of the 21st Century. No moment like it has come since, and it is unlikely to reappear. If in this vein we are the people we were two decades ago, the evidence has yet to present itself. That said, we should not over-valorize the people we were two decades past, either. The best of us rushed into burning towers in September or descended upon Afghanistan in October. The rest of us watched in stupefaction or satisfaction, or perhaps both. That goes even for direct witnesses of the great massacre, including me. We spectated. It was not two years later that the phrase emerged, not from Afghanistan but Iraq, that in the post-9/11 era only the American military was at war; the American people were at the mall. 
  • SOUTH BEND – “It’s the economy, stupid.” That’s the famous admonition to Bill Clinton’s campaign staffers attributed to James Carville, the colorful Clinton strategist in the 1992 upset of President George H.W. Bush. Bush, a very good president, especially in foreign affairs, handling so well the collapse of the old Soviet Union, had “unbeatable” approval ratings a year before. Well, it was the economy, or rather the perception of the economy and what Bush was doing about it, that enabled Clinton to win. Two points of clarification: 1. The headquarters message posted by Carville actually had no “It’s.” It was simply, “The economy, stupid.” 2. The brief recession during Bush’s presidency actually was over, recovery underway before the 1992 campaign started. But Carville was right. Clinton won. The perception of how the economy is doing and what the president is doing about it is a potent political factor in presidential politics.
  • KOKOMO – Lately the Zen Master has encouraged me to open up my sensory powers and observe more of the world around me. I’ve embraced my Zen Master’s suggestion, and I have to say that much of what I’ve seen is disturbing. So, for lack of a better title for this column, I’ll call it things that make you go “Hmmm.” By now I’m sure that you’ve noticed that you can’t turn on the television, peruse the internet, read the newspaper or go anywhere without being bombarded with the not-so-subtle message that a climate crisis is upon us, sea levels are rising, baby polar bears are dying by the thousands and you better buy your electric auto soon to save the planet. No less than our all-knowing former President Barack Obama warned us way back in 2009 that global warming and a rise in sea levels threaten our existence.  Surely, President Obama, a major supporter of the Paris Climate Accord, would lead by example and show the average Bible-toting, gun-loving dim-bulb American how to live. Well, guess again! Just last month former President Obama purchased his second home, a 7,000-square-foot beauty on Martha’s Vineyard for a whopping $14.85 million. Added to his 8,200-square-foot home in Washington, D.C., one can see that the Obamas are going to leave a monstrous carbon footprint.
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  • Adm. McRaven: The Republic is under attack from the President
    “The America that they believed in was under attack, not from without, but from within. These men and women, of all political persuasions, have seen the assaults on our institutions: on the intelligence and law enforcement community, the State Department and the press. They have seen our leaders stand beside despots and strongmen, preferring their government narrative to our own. They have seen us abandon our allies and have heard the shouts of betrayal from the battlefield. As I stood on the parade field at Fort Bragg, one retired four-star general, grabbed my arm, shook me and shouted, ‘I don’t like the Democrats, but Trump is destroying the Republic!’ If we don’t care about our values, if we don’t care about duty and honor, if we don’t help the weak and stand up against oppression and injustice — what will happen to the Kurds, the Iraqis, the Afghans, the Syrians, the Rohingyas, the South Sudanese and the millions of people under the boot of tyranny or left abandoned by their failing states? If our promises are meaningless, how will our allies ever trust us? If we can’t have faith in our nation’s principles, why would the men and women of this nation join the military? And if they don’t join, who will protect us? If we are not the champions of the good and the right, then who will follow us? And if no one follows us — where will the world end up? President Trump seems to believe that these qualities are unimportant or show weakness. He is wrong." - Admiral William H. McRaven, former commander of the United States Special Operations Command, in a New York Times op-ed titled "Our Republic Is Under Attack From the President: If President Trump doesn’t demonstrate the leadership that America needs, then it is time for a new person in the Oval Office." 
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  • Gen. Votel on what Kurd fighters did for the U.S.
    “Over four years, the SDF freed tens of thousands of square miles and millions of people from the grip of ISIS. Throughout the fight, it sustained nearly 11,000 casualties. By comparison, six U.S. service members, as well as two civilians, have been killed in the anti-ISIS campaign.” - U.S. Army Gen. Joseph Votel, who served as commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, on the role the Syrian Democratic Forces, made up mostly of Kurdish fighters. The United States has abandoned the SDF, which is now under an ethnic cleansing assault from Turkey after President Trump gave the green light for the incursion on Sunday.
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