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Saturday, June 12, 2021
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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. 

  • FORT WAYNE – Former U.S. House Speaker John Boehner has written a book titled “On the House: A Washington Memoir.”  Here is a simple review of the book: He still doesn’t like Donald Trump. Based upon my 16 years of interaction with him it accurately reflects Boehner’s political career, and – whether written solely by him or with lots of help from a professional writer – it sounds like John Boehner did in personal, small group, or public discourse. I stress those points because as someone who loves to read political history and memoirs, finding a book by someone inside of politics that is both accurate and not full of fake posturing for history is rare. John Boehner has decided to be remembered as John Boehner. Political best-sellers are usually of two types: 1.) Books by famous people that sell well because of the author’s name but are a slog to read. Few people even get to the mid-point. 2.) Books by commentators who get people excited but have never been inside of a room where the decisions are made, and probably couldn’t even get elected to a dogcatcher position by their neighbors. Even political history books these days are dominated by “wokeness,” not history. Because Boehner is fundamentally transparent about the process, it provides some good insight into how leadership works at all levels of government, not unlike private business, educational institutions, and all social organizations.
  • SOUTH BEND – Due to delay in completion of the Census, gerrymandering for congressional and state legislative districts will be rather late this year. The Indiana General Assembly moved its final adjournment deadline to Nov. 5 to have time to receive official data and play the gerrymander game. Better late than never? Good government groups in Indiana and other states would prefer never. They of course want redistricting, the once-a-decade drawing of new districts to reflect population shifts. But they never want to see another gerrymander. In gerrymandering, the party controlling the state legislature draws districts for Congress and the legislature that are designed to elect as many members of that party as possible. Districts sometimes have strange shapes as the prevailing party links together areas that vote for the opposition, surrendering those districts, but making more districts “sure bets” for their side. Gerrymandering usually works. In Indiana, where Republicans drew the districts after the 2010 Census, the GOP has built up super majorities in the state legislative chambers. Statewide totals for legislative races show that Democrats still would lose control of the chambers in a fair, nonpartisan redistricting. But Republicans wouldn’t always have super majorities, where Democrats have little voice and couldn’t even break a quorum if they all left the floor.
  • MUNCIE – As this pandemic hopefully winds down, it’s useful to think through the forecasts and analysis that economists got right, and what we got wrong. This is important because the U.S. has not ever been through such a deep, rapid, nearly simultaneous economic downturn. Never has our fiscal response been as rapid or comprehensive. Thus, economists have played an important and lingering role in this pandemic. I begin with what we got right. The pandemic’s effect on the economy was fast and furious. Nearly all the jobs lost during the downturn occurred before any government action to close restaurants and bars, enforce mask standards or limit gatherings. State governments responded with wildly different limitations, making it relatively easy to isolate the effect of disease and government action on the economy. Over the past several months a number of high quality studies have made clear that it was disease, not government, that delivered and sustained this recession. From the very beginning, the economics profession made it clear that fixing the economy meant ending the pandemic. 
  • INDIANAPOLIS – Here are the facts about Hoosier earnings, with comparisons to the nation, in the years of 1999 and 2019. These years were chosen to bracket two decades dominated by the internet and telecommunications revolution, while avoiding the Covid year of 2020. The data are from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. No adjustment for price changes were made because those changes themselves incorporate information about changes in demand and conditions of supply. Interpretations are left to the readers who object regularly to those supplied by the author. Some observations are in order, however. First, of 87 industries with complete data for both years, the U.S. had 81 (93%) with higher total earnings in 2019 than in 1999; Indiana had 75 (86%). Growing earnings will be observed if more workers are employed, and/or workers are employed at higher wages, and/or workers are putting in more hours than previously.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – For the first time in history, the president of the United States promised Americans “free beer.” This isn’t one of those “Free beer … tomorrow” signs that adorn a few Hoosier restaurants and taverns. It was President Biden seeking to lure hesitant Americans to get the COVID-19 vaccine after Anheuser Busch offered free brew to gin up vaccine rates. "Get a shot and have a beer," Biden said on Wednesday as he sought to convince enough Americans to achieve what epidemiologists have termed "herd immunity" in an effort to put this pandemic behind us. "Free beer for everyone 21 years or over to celebrate the independence from the virus," Biden said, seeking that elusive 70% penetration needed for herd immunity. In Ohio, Republican Gov. Mike DeWine opted for a “Vax a Million” lottery, spurring vaccination rates up 77%, or more than 68,000 per week. Many of us thought that the Nobel Prize-level scientific achievement of producing a vaccine in less than a year that is up to 95% efficacy would be the way to get this pandemic out of our lives, our schools, our businesses, out of our stadiums. But at this writing, Indiana has just 45.5% of its residents who have received at least one vaccine dose.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – Someone taking in a fine spring day at Indianapolis’ Garfield Park might stumble upon a strange statue dedicated to a Hoosier hero who has faded from memory over the last century. Attired in khaki field dress, topped with a tropical pith helmet, the impressive statue implies to the observer that its subject was once a giant among men. The name “Lawton” adorns the statue, but no clue is given to the amazing life of the man. As a young man, Henry W. Lawton aspired to become a humble Methodist Episcopalian minister. Yet, before his amazing life ended, this man of modest origins and Hoosier upbringing would obtain a Harvard law degree and serve his country for nearly 40 years, rising to the highest levels of responsibility in the United States Army. Lawton was born near Akron, Ohio, in 1843, and moved to Fort Wayne, Indiana, later that same year when his father found work in a mill. His mother died when he was 11 and he bounced around northeastern Indiana and northwestern Ohio following his father’s ever-changing employment.
  • COLUMBIA, Md. –- There’s a reason U.S. Sen. Todd Young has been fanning out across Indiana, meeting with policemen and sheriff deputies in recent weeks. He’s up for reelection next year, but he will likely be confronted with some controversies over the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. According to multiple media reports, about 140 U.S. Capitol and Washington Metropolitan PD officers were injured by the mob inspired by President Trump. They suffered injuries ranging from a lost eye, cracked ribs, severed fingers, smashed spinal disks, heart attacks after being repeatedly tased by their own weapons, to dozens of concussions. Some 38 Capitol Police employees have tested positive for COVID-19 since the attack, almost all of them had responded to the riot.  “I have officers who were not issued helmets prior to the attack who have sustained head injuries,” said the Capitol Police officer’s union chairman, Gus Papathanasiou to the Police1 website. “One officer has two cracked ribs and two smashed spinal discs and another was stabbed with a metal fence stake, to name some of the injuries. The officers are angry, and I don’t blame them. The entire executive team failed us, and they must be held accountable.”   In the days and weeks that followed, here’s what House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said, urging a congressional censure of Trump: “The president bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on Congress by mob rioters."
  • INDIANAPOLIS – The minimum wage discussion is remarkably complex. The Biden administration has proposed a gradual increase from the current federal minimum of $7.25 to $15 an hour. The word gradual has been ignored by critics who would have us believe that a radical, sudden move is being made to $15. A few facts: Nationally, there were only 392,000 persons in 2019 earning the $7.25 minimum. That was a tiny 0.47% of the 82.3 million wage and salary workers. The minimum wage is the lowest rung on the wage ladder. The lowest 10% of private sector workers earned $10.06/hr or less in 2019. The median private sector worker earned $17.64/hr and the top 10% were up at $46.64 or more. The minimum wage is $7.25 in 21 of our 50 states. Indiana and Kentucky are included, but not neighboring Ohio ($8.80), Michigan ($9.65) nor Illinois ($11.00). Washington State ($13.69) has the top minimum wage. In all, 29 states exceed the federal minimum.
  • SOUTH BEND – Arizona’s long-running recount of ballots, searching for bamboo, special watermarks and other signs that fantasies of conspiracy are real, brings understandable laughter. Really, though, it’s no laughing matter. Jokes abound about the failed search of ballots for traces of bamboo. Why the bamboo probe? If you don’t know, you’re not up on conspiracy theories of how the election was stolen from Donald Trump. One theory of why he lost Arizona is about a plane from South Korea delivering thousands of fraudulent ballots marked for Joe Biden. If they came from Asia, maybe in a Chinese plot to oust Trump, traces of bamboo fibers would be found. Alas, no bamboo fibers were found. Maybe they should have checked for traces of Russian vodka. No! No way. This recount seeks only conspiracies against Trump, not whether Putin could have done anything to help him. What’s with watermarks? Inspection of some ballots under ultraviolet light was to check on a conspiracy theory from QAnon, the cult believing the nation is controlled by pedophiles who cannibalize kids. The Q claim is that Trump, guarding against Democratic pedophiles out to steal the election, secretly affixed special watermarks on legitimate ballots. Counters finding no watermark would know the ballot was fraudulent. Alas, no watermarks were found. Does that mean all the Arizona ballots, for or against Trump, are fraudulent?
  • MUNCIE – This month, nearly 2 million Americans will graduate from college with a bachelor’s degree. Roughly 800,000 will receive a master’s degree, and just over 200,000 will receive law, medical or doctoral degrees. Additionally, just over 1 million students will receive an associate’s degree. Some of these graduates will continue their education immediately; most of the rest will directly enter the labor force. This is an interesting time to think about what those labor markets hold for them. The unemployment rates for college graduates is unusually high right now, at 3.5%. This is somewhat expected, given we are near the tail end of a very difficult economic downturn. However, the unemployment rate for high school graduates is almost double that, at 6.9%. The unemployment rate isn’t the whole story. The labor force participation rate of college grads is 72.2%, while the rate for high school graduates only is 55.3%.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – What we’re watching these peculiar days on the Washington to Mar-a-Lago axis isn’t so much Rep. Adam Kinzinger’s “rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic,” but more of a Hoovering out of the Grand Old Party. But first, a bit of family history. My Grandma Cunningham used to delight the family by saying she only voted in one election in her life: 1928. She voted for Herbert Hoover. “And then look what happened,” she would say. President Trump continues to have a D.C. Stephenson-like hold on the GOP, despite becoming the first president ever to lose the House and Senate majorities (the latter coming on Jan. 5 with the spectacular loss of two Georgia seats), going 1-for-2 in presidential races while never carrying the popular vote. You would think that trifecta would have prompted Jim Banks, Jackie Walorski and Todd Young to reproduce their 10-foot poles when it comes to enlisting the future of the GOP with Trump, particularly after the Trump-inspired Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol that killed five people and injured 130 cops that won’t play well in suburbia. Banks, Walorski and their Hoosier delegation colleagues are about to dispatch U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney from her party post because she keeps conjuring the bad B-roll from the Jan. 6 insurrection.
  • CARMEL – There’s a storm cloud rising in Indiana Republican politics and we may get an ugly glimpse of it in the coming year leading up to the 2022 and 2024 elections. Perhaps it is because of an embarrassment of wealth and the inevitable expansion of the Republican base, but overwhelming success many times breeds discontent when the party’s leadership does not move party and public policy at the same speed and direction demanded by its new activists. In my mind there are four types of Republicans: Fully committed Republicans who do the hard work of the party and who support our candidates whether we agree with them 100% or not; casual Republicans who lean in the direction of the party but need to be courted and cajoled into contributing time, money or even turning out to vote; opportunistic Republicans, who for personal benefit seek office or party leadership because it’s just darn difficult to be a Democrat in Indiana; finally, those true believers who have a political philosophy that they attempt to use the Republican Party for purposes of spreading it to the masses. On Election Day or during the election marathon that politics has now become, each of these groups adds votes to the bottom line, so all are critical to the Republican political dominance in Indiana.
  • SOUTH BEND –  Mark Torma, who directs a six-county program providing legal services for the needy, could soon perhaps provide political direction for a needy St. Joseph County Democratic Party. The need is clear for a party in a “Democratic” county in which all three elected county commissioners are Republicans. Torma is likely – though not certain – to be selected county Democratic chair on May 2. If he is, it will be an indication that the tone of a meeting at Mishawaka’s DiLoreto Club prevailed over the angry tone of battling factions in a divisive contest for chair in March. The private, informal DiLoreto meeting of party leaders on April 27 was just a little over two months after Democratic precinct committee members reelected Stan Wruble as chair after a contest featuring personal attacks, allegations of wrongdoing in the party and a nasty split between Wruble and South Bend Mayor James Mueller. With Wruble’s sudden announcement that he was resigning, moving to accept a position with an Arizona law firm, there loomed possibility of another contentious battle for chair.
  • BLOOMINGTON –  I’ve always been impressed that the Preamble to the Constitution begins, “We the People of the United States.” We’ve heard the phrase so often that we don’t even stop to think about it. But as the proposed constitution was being debated in 1787, there were people who did – notably, Patrick Henry, who in a famous speech to the Virginia ratifying convention asked why the drafters hadn’t said, “We, the states.” By their phrasing, the founders made clear that they were creating a government, as Lincoln later put it, “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” They were making a case that government should strive for the common good, which they went on to lay out: “Establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty.” Though they also laid out the rights of individuals that government couldn’t touch – speech, religion, the ability to read a free press, and so on – they made clear that there needed to be a balance. “Government is instituted for the common good…and not for profit, honor, or private interest of any one man, family, or class of men,” John Adams wrote.
  • MUNCIE – With Mother’s Day upon us, it is time to do what any loving son and husband must, and write about that sentimental topic of labor force outcomes for women. Of course, this year we have to dwell heavily on COVID and what it means to American women. The experience of women has differed from that of men in some key respects, some better and some worse. To begin, it is useful also to set down some pretty straightforward facts. First, women engage in formal work at a lower rate than men, but it is not a spectacular difference. Men work at about a 10% higher rate than do women. Most of this is attributable to at-home childcare, which women do at higher rates than men. Second, women on average earn less than men, but nearly all of that difference is due to the choice of occupation, educational attainment and tenure on the job. None of these facts suggests there is not job discrimination; there surely is.

  • INDIANAPOLIS –  When new population data concerning Indiana become available, the cry goes out in the Statehouse, “Better call B&P!” Bluff & Puff is the public relations department for the State. Their latest triumph was to note that Indiana’s population growth rate from 2010 to 2020 was greater than that of any of our four neighboring states. B&P would have us think this superiority over our neighbors is something new, something worth a trophy. Yet, for the past three decades (1990 to 2020), Indiana’s growth rate has exceeded that of our four neighboring states. B&P didn’t say Indiana’s 4.7% increase in population was well below the nation’s 7.4% growth rate. In addition, they were silent about the 2019 data which foreshadows the 2020 results to be released later this year.
  • INDIANAPOLIS - Your odds of being killed in a car crash are one in 102; being struck by lightning, one in 15,300; dying in a plane crash, one in 205,000; being eaten by a shark, one in 4 million; or dying in a tornado, one in 5.6 million. Your odds of developing a blood clot by taking the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine: Extremely unlikely. According to Reuters out of more than 8 million J&J vaccines given, only 17 developed a clot. I go over these morbidity figures as the Center of Disease Control reported earlier this week that just 25.4% of Hoosiers have been vaccinated, ranking 45th in the United States, while the Indiana State Department of Health puts it at 26.4%. Neighboring Michigan has turned into a COVID hotspot, with emergency rooms swamped with younger patients. It's encroaching into Northern Indiana, with hospitals in Elkhart and Goshen at capacity, while statewide hospitalizations were up 50% since March. Late last year, Indiana health officials were giddy over what has become a modern scientific breakthrough on the scale of the World War II Manhattan Project, Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine, or putting an American astronaut on the moon eight years after President Kennedy issued the challenge. That breakthrough was the COVID-19 vaccination, coming within a year. Nobel Prizes will be awarded for this achievement. The more of us who get it means the days of social distancing, mask wearing, fanless stadiums, and closed schools and businesses would soon be over.
  • FORT WAYNE – Mary Trausch-Martin faced a dilemma. She was aggressively supporting Congressman Todd Rokita in a three-way Republican primary for U.S. senator. Mary is what would have historically been called a Republican activist, a lead volunteer at the heart of the party. She does nothing moderately. She has strong opinions on  just about everything. Mary was also the vice chairwoman of the 3rd District Republican Committee. When Mike Braun, a candidate competing with Rokita, asked Mary for potential contacts at some meet-and-greet events in DeKalb and Steuben counties for his campaign, and then asked her to basically set them up, she was faced with the dilemma: Should she help him? When parties were dominant, as opposed to candidate organizations, there were differing expectations. The county parties could offer jobs and had quasi-publicly funded resources. Some public funding was direct (e.g., 2% club), some indirect (e.g., license bureaus), and other means were pressure-forced indirect (e.g., pay-to-play contracts). 
  • INDIANAPOLIS – Was the 2021 legislative session a sheep in wolf’s clothing? It depends on who you ask. Lawmakers and advocacy organizations concerned about the environment, justice reforms, and voting rights ended up with a proverbial mixed bag, with a few cliffhangers still remaining on the desk of Gov. Holcomb. From an array of voices, here are the poison-tipped arrows, the deservedly dead, the fallen righteous, and the universally beloved. 1.) In your eyes, what was the worst piece of legislation (most damaging to Hoosiers and our state’s future) that passed this session? Jeff Stant, Indiana Forest Alliance: “SEA389 is the worst piece of legislation to pass this session. IDEM estimates that SB389’s passage will result in the loss of all legal protection for 550,000 to 600,000 acres of the 800,000 acres of wetlands remaining in Indiana, 69% to 75% of all the wetlands we have. A large amount of the wetlands that will be lost are forested wetlands, some of the most biologically important forests in the state. They can be degraded to the status of Class I wetlands (that lost all protection in SB389), simply by logging them. The fact that the House Majority Leader, Rep. Matthew Lehman (R-Berne), personally lobbied hard for the second reading (floor) amendment that stripped the compromise language from SB389, that Chairman Douglas Gutwein of House Environmental Affairs had negotiated with IDEM, and replaced it with far more destructive language that the builders wanted shows the hypocrisy that the House Republican leadership was willing to engage in to get what the builders wanted done."
  • MUNCIE – Many businesses are reporting difficulty in finding workers. I hear this from business owners whose judgement I trust. I also read about it on social media, here in Indiana and around the country. These reports don’t square with the data that show very large numbers of unemployed. There are more than 130,000 fewer workers in Indiana than in February 2020. So, one would imagine there are plenty of available people to take open positions. There are a few possible explanations for the feeling that there is a labor shortage. One of the most popular arguments is that government benefits, especially the generous CARES Act supplementary unemployment payments, cause people to avoid work. That is surely true for some workers, but the notion that this is widespread is just not supported by the evidence. First, the benefits are generous, but temporary. There’s just not a lot of evidence that workers make long-term decisions about work based on short-term benefit programs.
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  • Mayor McDermott eyes challenge to Sen. Young
    "To me, when we are attacked, our nation's capital is attacked — it was — and the Republican Party is refusing to even open an investigation into it, it's a disgrace. It's about loyalty to our country, and I think that's missing right now in America. I'm troubled by where we are in America. I think that people like Todd Young should have been pulling people together and trying to work across the aisle, and I don't really see that. And Sen. Young knows better. He knows what the right thing to do about the Jan. 6 insurrection is. He knows what the right thing to do is, he knows what the political thing to do is, and he chose political. And it's not a patriotic vote." - Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr., on his "Left of Center" podcast saying he is considering a challenge to U.S. Sen. Todd Young in 2022 McDermott is a five-term mayor and also a former Lake County Democratic chairman. He lost a 1st CD primary race to U.S. Rep. Frank Mrvan in 2020.
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