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Sunday, February 17, 2019
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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 – How South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg would fare in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary in Indiana is uncertain. Voters in Iowa, New Hampshire and other states will determine before then whether he is a viable contender. But one thing is certain: Buttigieg, if still an active candidate when Hoosier Democrats vote, would run away with the primary vote in his home area. That was demonstrated by the enthusiastic response for the mayor this week at the first book signing for “Shortest Way Home: One Mayor’s Challenge and a Model for America’s Future.” A capacity crowd of 800 packed the Great Hall of Century Center to hear the mayor and buy his book. They applauded long and loud when the moderator for a conversation about the book mentioned his presidential prospects. The most significant sign of enthusiasm for Buttigieg was the willingness of those who bought the book to wait in line for up two and a half hours to have the mayor sign it.
  • MERRILLVILLE — It has been three decades since Lake County has had one of those in-your-face Democratic mayoral primaries. One has to look back to the contests between Mayor Robert Pastrick and challenger Bob Stiglich for the last heated race in East Chicago. In Gary, one has to look back to the last few challenges to Mayor Richard Hatcher, who finally was defeated by Thomas Barnes in 1987. Look no further. A Gary politician and one from East Chicago have lighted fires under the politically stagnant landscape in Northwest Indiana. Within minutes of the close of filing last Friday, John Aguilera filed for East Chicago mayor against incumbent Anthony Copeland, the city’s first black mayor, who is seeking a third term. Aguilera long has been a popular Hispanic politician in a city that is majority Hispanic. He served from 1994 to 2000 as a Lake County councilman and then spent six years as a state representative. He ran unsuccessfully for state treasurer last year. While Aguilera promises to be a formidable opponent for Copeland, Jerome Prince promises to be an even stronger opponent for Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson. Prince has been one of the most prominent Gary politicians over the last two decades. 
  • MUNCIE – A year ago, my Center colleagues and I met with staff from Accelerating Indiana’s Municipalities to consider several different issues facing Indiana over the coming years. Among the leading issues they asked us to study was housing. That is the genesis of a housing study published by Ball State last week. The results will be surprising to many Hoosiers. Our study examined more than 20 years of home prices, construction costs, and other factors that influence new home construction across all Indiana counties. The chief finding of the study is that the traditional economic factors of supply and demand explain nearly all new home construction in Indiana’s counties. In short, in a world where markets often do not work well, housing is a place where markets set home prices and quantities very effectively.  The problem is that many folks don’t like those market outcomes. This will be especially hard for many groups who have been arguing that there is a shortage of housing in many corners of the state. That view is mistaken and it doesn’t take sophisticated economic models to debunk the notion of a housing shortage in Indiana. After all, the U.S. Census reports more than 300,000 vacant homes across our state. There are enough vacant single-family homes to house almost one-third of all Hoosiers. 
  • INDIANAPOLIS  – Let’s take a short stroll through the orchards of data prepared by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. While we are there, please consider how your county can increase the earnings (wages and salaries) of your residents. No, I’m not going to preach for higher minimum wages, more skillful workers, or generous employers. Leave all of that outside the orchard gate. Let’s just think about the income generated in our counties, but paid to workers who live elsewhere. That’s right. The person working next to you in a factory, warehouse, office or store may be an “alien” from Henry County (New Castle). He takes his earnings back home to Hancock County (Greenfield) where he buys groceries and pays property taxes, to say nothing of other spending. Do you have any sense of the magnitude of those funds flowing out as each commuter leaves for his or her home in another Indiana county? Or maybe even in an Ohio county?
  • MERRILLVILLE – Talk about the art of the deal. No, this one doesn’t involve Donald Trump. Instead, it’s Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. McDermott may have let the cat out of the bag the other day when talking about the potential site for a Lake County convention center. The possibility of a convention center has been bandied about for at least a decade. Most of the focus has been to build such a facility near Interstate 65 and U.S. 30 in Merrillville. It is at that intersection that the late Dean White operated the Radisson Hotel and Star Plaza Theatre. White was the wealthiest man in Indiana. Since his death, his hotel and theatre have been razed. Plans are in the works by White’s heirs to build a new complex on the property. It was because of White that Speros Batistatos was named president and CEO of the South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority many years ago. Because of his dedication to White, Batistatos never let talk of a convention center stray from I-65 and U.S. 30. McDermott, who always is looking for publicity, spilled his guts during his recent State of the City address.
  • MUNCIE – Monopoly is again becoming interesting, and I don’t mean the board game. Over the past few years, both academic and policy researchers have found growing evidence of market concentration or lack of competition in many business sectors. For a variety of reasons, this will likely emerge as a campaign issue in the next national election, so it is helpful to understand what economists mean when they talk about competition. Economists favor competitive markets over monopoly-like markets because competition yields much better outcomes to both consumers and producers. However, this remains a hard concept for many to grasp. It’s likely that everyone understands that competition yields lower prices, higher levels of production and, over the long run, more innovation. It also yields more efficient use of inputs such as land, talent and capital. Competitive firms also adjust more quickly to consumer demand, supplying everything from water or gasoline in a natural disaster to high-end consumer goods in the place and time people want to buy them. 
  • SOUTH BEND – Joe Biden, a Democrat, said something nice about Fred Upton, a Republican. How dare he! So, does that rule out Biden as the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee? You would think so if you read the New York Times story detailing what Biden said in Benton Harbor, Michigan, last year. The article suggests that “the episode underscores his potential vulnerabilities in the fight for the Democratic nomination and raises questions about his judgment as a party leader.” I don’t know if Biden will run or whether he could win. That’s not the point. The point is that daring to praise a Republican, even amid the partisan hatred in our election campaigns, shouldn’t rule out Joe Biden or anybody else, especially when the praise was for bipartisan cooperation. Nancy Jacobson, co-founder of No Labels, a group encouraging problem solving rather than eye gouging in Congress, said of the “breathlessly reported” tale of bipartisan language: “This sad little vignette exemplifies exactly what is wrong with American politics today.”
  • INDIANAPOLIS  –  Some politicians use a magic mirror to ask: “Which is the fairest tax of all?” Likewise, some economists and other social agitators look into the same mirror to ask: “Which tax, currently in use, is the most regressive tax of all?” Both groups are answered: “The sales tax!” It’s wonderful to have such a mirror. Some fair tax people are devoted to the sales tax. After all, with exemptions for the barest necessities, like food and medicine, a sales tax discourages consumption, which is a sin. They contend responsible people, regardless of income level, save. You must put away money for that inevitable day when ill fortune brings unemployment, accident, illness, or college education. Those savings are to be invested in corporate America via mutual funds or other stock market instruments.
  • INDIANAPOLIS - The last time I was with Dan Coats, we had breakfast at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. He looked and sounded like a man ready to retire and enjoy his grandkids. He had been a public servant since 1980, his career coursing through the U.S. House, Senate and as ambassador to Germany, taking that post just hours before the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks. Coats was a late supporter of Donald Trump. He and his wife, former Republican National Committeewoman Marsha Coats, had concerns about candidate Trump. Marsha wrote Trump a letter, hand-delivered by her husband, and at a subsequent appearance in Fort Wayne, Trump "sought her out,” the senator said. “He said, ‘Marsha, I will not let you down.” This Donald Trump listened and asked questions. But Coats understood the political attraction of Trump, in awe that he could draw 20,000 people to an arena. As for Trump's style, Coats told him, “If you change your speech, you might draw 250 people. I think you really need to be Donald Trump, but what I see now is a Donald Trump who listens and asks questions.”  Coats didn't retire at the end of 2016. By appeal from Vice President-elect Mike Pence, Coats became director of National Intelligence. He is guardian of the American empire, boss to spies and spooks, assessor of the plethora of threats we face and our ardent defender. He has had a tormented relationship with President Trump, most conspicuously coming to a head in Helsinki last July, when Trump met with Russian President Putin alone for two hours. A
  • MUNCIE – The past few weeks have contained more reports of newspaper downsizing at metro daily papers in Indiana. This news involved some of our state’s largest daily print publications, but it is a familiar story affecting papers large and small in the age of the Internet. Last week Muncie saw the first sentencing in a broad federal investigation of local government corruption. If reports are to be believed, this investigation has already touched nearly every arm of local government, the city’s largest institutions and has peeked into nearly every local public project. The local paper reported all of this to taxpayers, serving its primary goal as a watchdog of the public sector.  With local newspapers threatened, it is useful to evaluate the connection between newspapers and the corrupting influence of power in local government. One of the better studies of this is by Dr. Pengjie Gao of Notre Dame and two colleagues from Chicago. In this very carefully crafted study, Dr. Gao finds that the closure of a local newspaper leads to higher costs of local government borrowing. He attributes this to loss of monitoring of local government leading to higher inefficiencies in several areas. 
  • SOUTH BEND – Takeaways from national news media coverage of South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s launch of his presidential candidacy are clear. He is viewed as a serious contender for the Democratic presidential nomination. Right after his early-morning-hours disclosure of an exploratory candidacy, news that he was in the race was on morning network news and reported in the major newspapers. Think you could announce for president and get even two seconds or one sentence of national coverage? Buttigieg had extensive coverage throughout the day, even live interviews. Coverage continues and certainly will go on during his book tour in February. A key factor in this is that the mayor won by losing in his 2017 bid to be Democratic national chairman. He wasn’t selected but still gained national exposure and stature with his impressive bid for the post. Also clear from the coverage by the national news people is that they aren’t sure how to pronounce Buttigieg. Heck, even some of his South Bend constituents aren’t sure. Most of the national stories, TV and print, referred quickly to the way the mayor’s name is pronounced. Chuck Todd, host of “Meet the Press,” talked in his weeknight show about the confusion. “Thankfully,” Todd said, he goes by “Mayor Pete.”
  • BLOOMINGTON  – Over a lifetime in politics, I’ve met a lot of interesting, impressive politicians. But those I truly admired were men and women who were adept at the arts both of politics and legislating, a rarer combination of talents than you’d hope for in our representative democracy. They’re a reminder these days of what consummate skill looks like. For instance, Wilbur Mills, a Democrat from Arkansas who chaired the House Ways and Means Committee, was a master of legislative detail. When he brought changes to the tax law to the floor, members of the House of both parties would simply ask him questions, rather than challenge him, because his grasp of the internal revenue code was so overwhelming. When Mills was on the floor, it was never really an equal debate. The same held for Jim Wright of Texas and Hale Boggs of Louisiana, also both Democrats. They were great orators with vibrant, unique voices that drew audiences to the House floor and galleries simply to hear them. They seldom referred to notes, but I suspect they practiced — the chuckle in the right place, the extended pause at the perfect moment. They were masters at using humor as an effective weapon to counter an opponent and deflect critics.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – Like other Indiana cities, Columbus seeks to strengthen its downtown area. The plan was detailed by The Republic (Dec. 2, 2018). What appears to some as a progressive move forward is perceived by this aged observer as a reversion to previous concepts.  This is not a disparagement of the Envision Columbus plan. No. It’s a recognition of changing preferences and lifestyles, as well as the pendulum swings in urban land prices. Let’s look at some details. As the burdens of suburban living became manifest, downtown residences became popular again. The Columbus plan asserts: “young people and families expressed an interest and desire to live in the downtown area.” This might be a real trend or a transitory Millennials’ mirage.
  • NASHVILLE, Ind. - So South Bend Mayor Peter Buttigieg is running for president. For those of you out there who love the campaign trail, this is fantastic news. My mind takes me back to February 1996 ... and there stood U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar, seeking the Republican presidential nomination. Lugar was giving a talk to Drake University students on the topic, I recall, of Africa. Lugar did this with a sedate, academic flourish and after a few minutes, I wandered out. There was a commotion down the hallway. I came upon the Drake student newspaper office - the Times-Delphic - and I could hear shouting. I peered inside, and a couple of students cowered nearby. There was Lugar's campaign manager, Mark Lubbers, and communications guy, Terry Holt, both profanely bellowing into their cellphones. "I want you to $#%#@*& get those fliers out," Lubbers ranted. I couldn't tell what Holt was stirred up about and if I could, it couldn't be printed here. But it was an utter contrast between the statesmanly Hoosier senator, and the gritty campaign team trying to find a political foothold in the Hawkeye State. Buttigieg joins a small fraternity of Hoosiers who have looked into the mirror and envisioned a President of the United States. There were the Harrisons - William Henry and Benjamin - who actually won the White House in 1840 and 1888. Neither one of them had to mount the kind of campaigns we see today. Ben Harrison spent most of his time at his Delaware Street mansion in Indianapolis while marching bands and torchlight parades pranced before him nightly.

  • INDIANAPOLIS – For two years, Republicans controlled the White House and both chambers in Congress. They wouldn’t pass funding for a concrete or steel border wall. In September 2017, USA Today asked every Republican whether they would fund what was then a $1.6 billion appropriation for the wall. Fewer than 25 percent of House and Senate Republicans were willing to stand up for the legislation. It found only 69 of 292 Republicans on Capitol Hill said they would vote for the wall.  President Trump has now partially closed the federal government over the wall. The showdown began in mid-December, with Democrats poised to retake the House. On Dec. 11 in a contentious Oval Office meeting with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, Trump said, “I am proud to shut down the government for border security.” He vowed to “own the mantle.” On the day the shutdown began, Vice President Mike Pence met with Schumer, floating a compromise of $2.5 billion in border security funding, including money for a border fence. Schumer had no relationship with Pence (who has no relationships with any Capitol Hill Democrat) and didn’t trust that Pence was speaking for the president. It was canny sense, as Trump quickly cut Pence off at the knees. In the following weeks, that number was ratcheted up to $5.7 billion.

  • SOUTH BEND – Impeachment is a dirty word. Not in the sense of coarse words in the way President Trump talks and in the way a new Democratic congresswoman talked about him, but in the sense of a word that many people don’t want to hear spoken in public. And for two entirely different reasons. President Trump and members of his unwavering base don’t want to hear impeachment spoken about in any serious way in Congress. Actually, the president uses the word himself in a scoffing way, belittling the possibility of impeachment as he rallies his base. It could become a new mantra. Like his: “No collusion. No collusion. No collusion.” A new presidential chant of choice could be: “No impeachment. No impeachment. No impeachment.” Impeachment also is a dirty word that Democratic leaders in the House don’t want to hear mentioned in public by their members. Not now. Not yet. Maybe not at all as President Trump completes what they hope will be his only term.
  • BLOOMINGTON  – Looking back at 2018’s weather-related news, it seems clear that this was the year climate change became unavoidable. I don’t mean that the fires in California, coastal flooding in the Carolinas, and drought throughout the West were new evidence of climate change. Rather, they shifted the national mindset. They made climate change a political issue that cannot be avoided. The Earth’s climate changes all the time. But what we’re seeing today is different, the increasing frequency and severity of extreme weather. Wet places are becoming wetter; dry places are growing dryer; where it was hot a generation ago, it’s hotter now; where it’s historically been cool, it’s growing warmer. The global impact of human activity — specifically, the burning of hydrocarbons — is shuffling the deck. And we’re only beginning to grasp the impact on our political and economic systems. Warmer overall temperatures, for instance, have lengthened the growing season across the U.S. by about two weeks compared to a century ago. But the impact on fruit and grain production isn’t just about the growing season. Plant diseases are more prevalent, and the insects that are vital to healthy agricultural systems are struggling. Insects that spread human diseases, like mosquitoes and ticks, are flourishing.
  • MUNCIE – Manufacturing employment has enjoyed a long recovery since the darkest days of the Great Recession. As of late last year, we have a full 108,000 more factory jobs than in summer 2009, which marked the trough of the business cycle. This recovery eased some of the deep impacts of automation and trade that cost the United States and Indiana about one third of all factory jobs. Here in Indiana, from January 2000 through the start of the Great Recession, factory employment dropped some 126,600 workers. From the December 2007 through the end of the Great Recession in July 2009, factories shed a further 119,700 jobs. This employment loss was a full 36.8% of all factory jobs in Indiana. There is an interesting debate among economists about just what caused those factory job losses. The consensus appears that the majority of job losses in factories were due to productivity gains. However, much of the observed increase in productivity likely came from businesses responding to significant threat from foreign competition. It’s not clear how those job losses should be accounted for, but there are a few facts that bear on the discussion.  First, growth in transportation and logistics jobs has more than offset the losses in manufacturing, and so has growth in other sectors. International trade doesn’t cause a net loss of jobs, but changes the skills and location of jobs. Second, trade deficits and deals are not correlated with large factory job losses. The last two lengthy periods of factory job growth occurred in the years after NAFTA and following the Great Recession. These were two periods of growing trade deficits. However, the big factory job losses of the early 2000s occurred at a time of both rapid growth in our trade deficit and very rapid growth of factory productivity. 
  • INDIANAPOLIS – He was very pale and dressed in shades of gray. His business card read A.G. Bell. No address or contact information. Only the name. His Scottish accent was filtered through a generous white beard. “Youngster,” he said. “I be disturbed by excessive ringing in me ears.” “Tinnitus,” I was quick to diagnose. “I have it. It’s a continuous hissing sound that’s always in the background. Comes with age.” “I not be thinking that,” Mr. Bell said. “It’s truly ringing of me telephone. Not continuous, but frequent and excessive.” “Your popularity?” I offered. “So many folks wanting to talk with you. It’s a good thing you don’t put your phone number on your business card. Nonetheless our numbers do get out. And they do get used by all sorts of people.” “Six times in a single hour!” he roared. “Not one of them a call from someone I knew or even one who knew me. All of them trying to get into me purse for things or purposes.” “Ah, yes,” I said knowing the correct diagnosis now. “Unsolicited solicitations. Folks trying to sign you up for more comprehensive health insurance, advanced home safety systems, better credit cards, and exceptional good causes.”
  • INDIANAPOLIS - When Gov. Eric Holcomb addresses Hoosiers in his annual State of the State address next Tuesday, you will be looking at one of the strongest chief executives in Indiana history. Indiana has a constitutionally weak governor. This stems back to our territorial days when Gov. William Henry Harrison and others wielded such power that it stirred great resentment. When the state's 1851 constitution was drawn, the milquetoast governor was created, with no ability to form a cabinet (secretary of state, auditor, treasurer, attorney general and superintendent are elected) or propose budgets. Much of gubernatorial power seen in other states shifted to the judiciary and the General Assembly. The early governors could not seek reelection, though one, Gov. Henry Schricker, served two non-consecutive terms. Gradually, the Hoosier governor has been strengthened. During the Civil War, Gov. Oliver P. Morton took command of the state's militia and suspended a Copperhead General Assembly in 1862 after Democrats threatened to bolt the Union. Morton also took control of state finances during the war.
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  • Pence visits Auschwitz for first time
    “It seems to me to be a scene of unspeakable tragedy, reminding us what tyranny is capable of. But it seems to me also to be a scene of freedom’s victory. I traveled in our delegation with people who had family members who had been at Auschwitz — some had survived, some not. But to walk with them and think that two generations ago their forebears came there in box carts and that we would arrive in a motorcade in a free Poland and a Europe restored to freedom from tyranny is an extraordinary experience for us, and I’ll carry it with me the rest of our lives.” - Vice President Mike Pence, who visited the Auschwitz concentration camp in Oswiecim, Poland on Friday along with Second Lady Karen Pence and Polish President Andrzej Duda and First Lady Agata Kornhauser-Duda. It was Pence's first time at the scene where Nazi Germany murdered more than 1.1 million Jews and other groups during the World War II Holocaust.
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  • Our first national park at Indiana Dunes
    It continues to amaze me how many folks from central and southern Indiana have never visited Indiana's sea, known to most of us as Lake Michigan. If you need another reason to take a couple hour trip northward on U.S. 31, U.S. 421 or I-65, thank President Trump for our first national park. It's now the Indiana Dunes National Park. The move was included in the spending package compromise that Trump signed on Friday, inserted in the legislation with the help of U.S. Sen. Todd Young and U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky. 

    Visclosky said, "I also am heartened that because of the support of our U.S. Senators, the entire Indiana Congressional delegation, and numerous Northwest Indiana organizations, we have successfully titled the first National Park in our state. This action provides our shoreline with the recognition it deserves, and I hope further builds momentum to improve open and public access to all of our region’s environmental wonders.”

    The Dunes includes white sand beaches, trails and an array of flora and bogs, with a front row seat to the Chicago skyline. It richly deserves to be Indiana's first national park.
    - Brian A. Howey, publisher
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