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Wednesday, October 27, 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. 

  • INDIANAPOLIS –  Sen. Todd Young seems to have it all these days. He raised a record $1.6 million for his first Senate reelection campaign this past quarter, sitting on a lofty $5.6 million cash. He doesn’t have a primary opponent. The three Democratic candidates have raised a combined $100,000. But Todd Young is lacking what may count most: The endorsement of former president Donald J. Trump in a state where he won twice with 57%. According to Politico, Sen. Young’s campaign made inquiries for a Trump endorsement last winter, not long after the Jan. 6 insurrection and then Trump’s second impeachment trial, when Young voted to acquit the former president. Politico: “Trump’s revulsion to even minor instances of disloyalty only intensified. As an example, they noted that Trump is currently withholding an endorsement of Indiana Sen. Todd Young after Young called Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene ‘an embarrassment’ to the Republican party last month.” On Jan. 6 in a statement, Young said, “As Congress meets to formally receive the votes of the Electoral College, I will uphold my Constitutional duty and certify the will of the states as presented. I will not violate that oath.” In normal times, such statements wouldn’t be a problem. But over the past year, Trump has only amplified claims that the 2020 election was “rigged” and “stolen” despite little evidence and pushback from Republicans like Attorney General Bill Barr, Vice President Mike Pence, former veep Dan Quayle and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
  • LOGANSPORT – When former Gov. Evan Bayh took office in 1989, one of the first things he did was combine agencies under the umbrella of a new title, the Indiana Department of Transportation. The move made sense from a state coordination standpoint. For a state that bills itself as the Crossroads of America, it made perfect sense. Intermodal facilities need to be located at the nexus of highways and railroads. Ports on the Ohio and Lake Michigan have to have access. A growing reliance on small airports to transport executives was burgeoning. Now more than 30 years later, it’s hard to believe there was a time before INDOT. But if we turned back the clock and magically asked Hoosiers in 1989 if they thought there would be fewer passenger trains today and no high-speed rail at this point in history, they’d probably scoff at the notion. But that is what has happened.
  • SOUTH BEND - How do you defend the Big Lie without lying? That’s a problem for many Republicans in Washington. They know, after all the failed court challenges, recounts, audits and lack of any suspicious traces of bamboo on Arizona ballots, that Donald Trump lost the presidential election. They also know that Trump continues to promote the Big Lie that he actually won. And he demands obedience in furtherance of that delusion from Republicans in the House and Senate and other elected offices around the nation. Trump stresses that his base won’t support Republicans who reject harping about a stolen election. Woe to any admitting that fraud allegations have been thoroughly and conclusively disproven. Trump warned bluntly in a recent statement: “If we don’t solve the presidential election fraud of 2020 - which we have thoroughly and conclusively documented - Republicans will not be voting in ’22 or ’24. It is the single most important thing for Republicans to do.”
  • SOUTH BEND – Former Sen. Joe Donnelly appears to be a perfect choice for U.S. ambassador to the Vatican. Perfect for representing President Biden, described by Donnelly during the presidential campaign as someone he knows to be sincere in faith “because I know Joe Biden, and I come from the same Irish Catholic faith tradition.” Perfect for Pope Francis, who can express church concerns for moral issues from climate change to world hunger to an ambassador who knows the president and knows the faith. Perfect for Senate confirmation prospects, with quick bipartisan support from Indiana Republican Sen. Todd Young, who said: “Joe is a devout Catholic and longtime public servant, and I know he will serve the nation well and represent the best of our Hoosier values.”
  • BLOOMINGTON – As Americans, we tend—understandably—to focus on the Constitution as the source for our representative democracy. It is, after all, our basic operating document, the blueprint for the system we’ve been shepherding for the last 234 years. But the Constitution did not arise out of thin air; our forebears marked key steps along the way with other documents as well. Here’s a quick tour of some of them. The first was the Mayflower Compact, signed in 1620 by 41 of the male colonists, including two indentured servants, aboard the Mayflower after it made land in Massachusetts. There is no historical certainty about who actually wrote it, though it’s often attributed to William Brewster, one of the leaders of the community. It’s not long, and it essentially says that the colonists – who at the time were divided between the Pilgrims, who had intended to settle in Virginia, and the merchants, craftsmen, servants, and others who’d gone along for the ride –would work together to establish the colony and enact the “laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions and offices” the colony needed.
  • MUNCIE – Inflation talk continues to animate the airwaves, or at least cable TV, and remains part of the political conversation. Economists should have something to say about this; after all, it has been a central area of research for much of the past century. Still, we should approach the issue with an abundance of epistemic humility. Those who warned about high inflation in the wake of the Great Recession were wrong. A casual observer might view this with some relief, since we nearly all erred in overestimating inflation. Still, this should be of no comfort. The mathematical models we use to understand and predict inflation perform poorly, and there is plenty of opportunity for symmetry of error, so there is a real possibility of underestimating the risks of inflation this time. The fiscal and monetary stimulus following the pandemic recession is much larger than that of the Great Recession. Of course, the economic damage of the pandemic is far worse. One great unknown is whether we have too much or too little stimulus today.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – My neighbor, Phil Pillpusher, was raking leaves when I stopped. “Congratulations,” I said. “Just heard about the new miracle drug on the news,” “Yeah, blockbuster,” he smiled. “Going to be big once OxyBoZo is in the heads of doctors and their patients.” “That’s where your job comes in,” I smiled. “Get those ads on TV telling folks to ‘Ask your doctor about OxyBoZo’ and the cash rolls in.” “It’s a great example of how research keeps Big Pharma getting bigger,” Phil beamed. “Our social scientists found that 96.3% of all men have been identified by their loved ones as Bozos at some point in their lives. Then 92.8% of those 96.3% want to be free of that bozo identity, safe from Bozoitis.” “So this will be a popular drug for a social discomfort, not a real physical or emotional malady?” I said. “Exactly,” Phil confirmed. “It’s just the kind of product that could be kept from the market if Congress allows Medicare to negotiate prices for pharmaceutical products.”
  • WASHINGTON – Hoosier Democrats are at a crossroads. Republicans dominate the state’s politics. The GOP holds every statewide office, overwhelming majorities in the General Assembly, and seven of nine congressional seats.  When the next gubernatorial election rolls around in 2024, Republicans will have held the office for 20 uninterrupted years.  Democrats must start winning elections if they want to avoid historic irrelevance in the state. Of course, it wasn’t always this way. Democrats won a majority of House seats in 1990 and 2000, giving them an edge in redistricting. After Tim Roemer won the South Bend area congressional seat in 1990, Democrats held eight of Indiana’s 10 congressional seats. More recently, Barack Obama carried Indiana in 2008. And, Democrats Joe Donnelly and Glenda Ritz won statewide races in 2012. But today Hoosiers Democrats find themselves with virtually no visibility in the state. Not since the early 1980s have they been so completely shut out of participating in Indiana’s political decisions. Leading into the 1982 midterms, Republicans had gerrymandered the congressional districts to limit Democrats to no more than three seats out of 10. Ronald Reagan had just won the White House and conservatives were pushing their agenda nationally. Prospects for a Democratic resurgence in Indiana looked bleak. 

  • INDIANAPOLIS - As a prelude to Donald Trump’s presidency, his adviser Steve Bannon said in 2016, “Lenin wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.” A week before Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol insurrection – which ended up as the first violent encroachment of the U.S. Capitol since the British burned Washington in 1814, costing five lives, three police suicides, 150 cop injuries, and more than 500 criminal charges of sedition – Steve Bannon had President Trump’s ear. According to the Bob Woodward and Robert Costa book “Peril”, Bannon told Trump on Dec. 30, “You’ve got to return to Washington and make a dramatic return today. You’ve got to call Pence off the f------ ski slopes and get him back here today. This is a crisis. We’re going to bury Biden on Jan. 6. We’re going to kill it in the crib. Kill the Biden presidency in the crib.” The roadmap to this conspiracy to violently take away Joe Biden’s 81 million vote to 74 million vote victory (306 to 232 Electoral College) was a memo by “legal scholar” John Eastman who laid out the “Jan. 6 scenario” that claimed that seven states had transmitted dual slates of electors to the president of the Senate, Vice President Mike Pence. U.S. Sen. Mike Lee of Utah sought and could find no evidence of any dual elector slates.

  • INDIANAPOLIS – Rep. Tim Brown (R-Crawfordsville) chairs the Indiana House Ways and Means Committee, the source for tax and budget bills. He entered the House in 1994, was appointed as chair of the committee in 2012, and is about to retire. I don’t think we’ve ever met, and I have no bone to pick with him personally. But I wonder, do we live in the same state? Rep. Brown was interviewed by Emily Ketterer of the Indianapolis Business Journal (IBJ 10/01/21 p.4A). Her question, among others, “What were some of your biggest accomplishments since you took office?” Rep. Brown: “Over 28 years? I mean, the biggest thing is seeing the change in Indiana. Yeah. I mean, we were in the bottom third of lower economic growth, and now we’re in the top 10. So, to see that change in Indiana has been huge.” This is an interesting response. Rep. Brown does not celebrate his own contributions to the state, but to the economic condition of the state during his tenure. I do wonder, however, if he and I live in the same state. Typically, Gross Domestic Product (GDP) at the state level is used to measure the overall output of an economy. During Rep. Brown’s 28 years in the Legislature, Indiana’s GDP grew at a compound annual rate of 3.16% compared to 3.45% for the nation. Indiana ranked 28th among the 50 states.
  • SOUTH BEND – St. Joseph County Democratic officials are aghast over the Republican-controlled Board of Commissioners hiring a former Republican House speaker and other attorneys that challenged Donald Trump’s election loss to redistrict in the county. Aghast, I say, aghast! They are aghast that what they expect to be a blatant Republican gerrymander of the three commissioner districts is paid for by the taxpayers, with a commissioner-approved contract paying the attorneys up to $35,000 plus expenses. Aghast, I say, aghast! They already were aghast over the Republican-controlled state legislature’s redistricting that leaves Republican Congresswoman Jackie Walorski with even a slightly more favorable district in which she could win reelections for a decade. Aghast, I say, aghast! Should Democrats have been surprised? No. In the famous, oft-quoted words of William Marcy, a New York senator defending patronage clout of Andrew Jackson in 1832, “To the victor belong the spoils.”
  • MUNCIE – Two decades ago, as a brand-new professor, I worked with a team of researchers studying healthcare access in rural West Virginia. Our goal was to identify ways to measure the effects of missing medical treatment or barriers that might cause patients from following up with healthcare. This research was performed at the Robert C. Byrd Center for Rural Health. As most readers will imagine, it is difficult to isolate the effects of medical care access on patients. People who lack health insurance or fail to seek regular medical care also tend to have other problems that exacerbate poor health. Thus, the statistical tools economists use likely cannot differentiate between a patient’s inability to access care, and some other underlying condition related to poverty. This might be as simple as having access to reliable transportation, or the ability to take a whole day off work for a medical checkup.
  • ANDERSON – Poor Mark Zuckerberg. The Facebook founder already had enemies on both sides of the political aisle. He already had folks blaming his creation for much that is wrong in the world today. And then along came Frances Haugen, the former employee who says she was recruited in 2019 to be the lead product manager on Facebook’s civic misinformation team. She joined the company, she told a Senate subcommittee, because she thought it had the potential “to bring out the best in us.” “But I am here today because I believe that Facebook’s products harm children, stoke division and weaken our democracy,” she said. “The company’s leadership knows how to make Facebook and Instagram safer but won’t make the necessary changes because they have put their astronomical profits before people. Congressional action is needed. They won’t solve this crisis without your help.”

  • INDIANAPOLIS – When one gets up in the morning, peers into the mirror and sees a future president of the United States, it’s safe to say that with the exception of a tiny fraction of a percent of the population, this person is living in an alternative reality. The key to escaping this alternative universe is to act and say things that make sense to at least 50% plus one of the voters. Mike Pence is that person in his mirror. But what he said to Fox News host Sean Hannity earlier this week will be seen as disqualifying for residency at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., by many Americans, including those who had voted for the former Indiana governor and vice president in the past. “I know the media wants to distract from the Biden administration’s failed agenda by focusing on one day in January,” Pence told Hannity of the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol insurrection that resulted in five deaths, at least three police suicides, some 150 police injuries, more than 500 criminal charges, and brought about the second impeachment of his boss, former President Donald J. Trump, and the first such episode for a commander-in-chief already out of office.

  • INDIANAPOLIS – For those Hoosiers concerned with COVID-19’s effects on our communities and economy, could there be anything as disheartening as the energy and resources spent on the legal squabble among Gov. Eric Holcomb, Attorney General Todd Rokita, and the General Assembly? Since the spring, suit and countersuit have litigated – ostensibly – the constitutionality of the proper authority to invoke emergency powers. But it’s often felt more like intra-party posturing, a distraction displacing mature descriptions of the inevitable trade-offs involved in calibrating the separation of powers. At least as expressed so far, the anger surrounding emergency powers has little basis in a principled alternative understanding of the relationship between the legislative and executive branches. The standoff risks becoming, then, the latest expression of inchoate anti-establishment outrage in which “government control” becomes an empty signifier. Whichever partisan faction wins, Hoosiers lose. This is all the more frustrating given the vital importance of intelligently grappling with intra-governmental relations, a set of issues that had been simmering long before the pandemic ignited a turf war.

  • LOGANSPORT – Given all the coverage of Republican-approved redistricting plans and the overuse of the word “gerrymandering,” there’s now ample excuse for the Democratic Party to throw in the towel for the next 10 years. And therein lies the problem for the Indiana Democratic Party. You can’t build success on excuses. You have to build it on ideas, accomplishments and trends of change. So in this Halloween season when television reminds us of the Bela Lugosi era when Dracula was cool, it’s time to give a nod to Bram Stoker and introduce daylight to the discussion of competitive campaign races across our state. Let’s start by remembering the example of the late Jim Jontz. He was a liberal Democrat who won a conservative Indiana House district, then a conservative Indiana Senate district and finally, a conservative congressional district. He did it by connecting to the people and providing constituent service. He did it by going door to door, and being a familiar name and face to everyone he served, whether or not they voted for him.
  • CARMEL – Please allow me to give my Democrat brothers some inconvenient truths when it comes to politics in Indiana. Republicans hold every statewide elective office.  Republicans and Democrats are fully represented in these elections and yet the Republicans hold every office. Indiana Republicans hold super majorities in both the Senate (39-11) and House (71-29). Republicans hold 255 out of 273 county commissioner offices.  Every county resident gets to vote in each of the commissioner elections and yet the GOP dominates with over 93% of the offices held. Republicans hold 22 more mayor seats than the Democrats and cities and towns are where Democrats are expected to be the strongest. The most reasonable conclusion to draw from the above information is that Indiana is an overwhelmingly Republican state and that Republican lawmakers in both the Indiana House and Senate have nothing to apologize for as the final legislative maps were approved.  
  • SOUTH BEND – Democratic progressives seem to think they are operating from a position of strength. They aren’t. While Joe Biden got over 7 million more votes than Donald Trump – a fact, despite Trump’s protests – Democrats did poorly in congressional races, with 13 seats flipped from Democrats to Republicans, leaving Democrats with a weak and precarious control of Congress. They likely will lose control of the House in 2022. They will for sure if they make the same mistake made by Trump, costing him reelection as president. Trump concentrated on energizing his base, which he did successfully. But he rejected pleas of some of his own campaign advisers and Republican leaders to reach out beyond the base to moderates in the party and independents, particularly in crucial suburban areas. They wanted less strident rhetoric in tweets, rallies and coronavirus briefings. Democratic progressives could make the same mistake, energizing their base with uncompromising demands for all they cherish, but failing to reach out beyond to moderates in both parties and independents.
  • MUNCIE – Today, many businesses struggle to hire the workers they need. Whatever the causes, this current challenge will surely prompt widespread changes by employers. This type of adjustment isn’t a new phenomenon, but economists allocate very little time explaining the mechanics of change. Nor do we explain that these types of corrections are normal and generally, if not always, make society better off. This is true across many types of labor market changes. But, even as the world improves, there are some winners and losers, or rather each of us experiences some benefits and costs. That too is worth explaining, along with some examples. When businesses cannot hire enough workers at the wage they think is appropriate, they call it a labor shortage. Of course, workers get a voice in work as well, and a business thinking a wage is fair doesn’t matter if a worker doesn’t agree. This process of workers matching with employers is messy and slow, and government cannot do much about it. We try of course, and states are all funded by the federal government to create an online help-wanted database. It’s even possible that in a few years, with a few million dollars more, some states will have just as good a system as had back in 2004.
  • INDIANAPOLIS –  Arthur Ampersand, associate assistant deputy director at the state’s economic development bureau (EDB), announced Indiana is winning the civil war for good jobs. “If that’s the case,” I said, “our average compensation must be going up.” “Yes,” he declared. “Indiana’s average compensation per job has increased by $7,180 (13.3%) over the five years from 2014 to 2019. And that’s higher the 8% rate of inflation in that period. “Is that impressive?” I asked. “Oh, impressive indeed,” he bellowed. “We added more dollars to compensation per job than 18 other states. Our percentage growth was better than 23 other states.” “That means,” I said, “we weren’t in the top half of all states. Hoosier workers were almost $2,000 (22%) short of the national increase in compensation per job. But why,” I asked, “didn’t you use 2020 figures?”
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  • Mayor McDermott won't hire unvaccinated Chicago cops
    "This mayor is not interested in the head cases from Chicago coming to the Hammond Police Department. Officers willing to throw their career away over a political issue? I just don't want that. The number one killer of police officers across the country right now is COVID-19. If you're willing to throw all that away over a shot, during a pandemic; if you're that rigid, I don't really want you in the Hammond Police Department, I'll be honest with you. Because I imagine you're going to be a pain in my ass a couple years down the road also and you're going to be a pain in the chief's ass. You can't be a police officer and not take orders from the mayor." - Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr., on his Left of Center podcast, reacting to U.S. Sen. Mike Braun's call to welcome unvaccinated Chicago cops to Indiana police forces. McDermott is seeking the Democratic U.S. Senate nomination in 2022, seeking to challenge U.S. Sen. Todd Young.
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