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Monday, August 20, 2018
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  • INDIANAPOLIS – This is the way it starts. A few optimists get together. One says, “Wouldn’t it be great to commemorate [insert idea] right here in [our town]? “That’s a great idea,” says a second. “It could be educational, informative and patriotic.” Then a third offers, “It could bring tourist money.” The glow of gold suddenly fills the room. But the fourth, a skeptic, says, “All we need is an infusion of founders’ funds.” And here a dark cloud settles over the scene. No matter how virtuous, every project needs money to get off, and to stay off,  the ground. So, it is with the National Airmail Museum at Smith Field, Fort Wayne.
  • MUNCIE – The economic expansion is now a full nine years old, and we are less than a year from the longest period of uninterrupted economic growth in US history. This moment of good economic news holds some insight for many cities and towns in Indiana. It is, quite simply, if your community isn’t thriving, your problems are far deeper than you suppose. Let me explain. Across the Midwest, few metropolitan areas of more than a half million residents have lost population in this century. In contrast, a full 24 out of 56 Midwestern metropolitan areas with less than a half million residents have lost population. Since 2000, the big cities with more than half million residents grew by 9.8%, while smaller cities grew by an average of less than 2%.  The list of distressed places is a roll call of Indiana cities. Anderson, Evansville, Muncie, Michigan City, Hammond, Gary, LaPorte, Terre Haute and Kokomo are all losing population. The situation is even more dire in smaller cities and towns across the state.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – It was commonplace for Hoosier boosters and politicians in the 20th century to proclaim, “Farming is the backbone of the Indiana economy.” I loved to hear that statement. It opened the door for me to say sweetly, “Every corpse has a backbone.” For about 100 years, the beating heart of Indiana’s economy was manufacturing. Today, our state and national economies are more diversified and therefore depend less on manufacturing than in the past. The same is true for farming. In 1929, manufacturing accounted for 35% of all earnings by individuals in Indiana; farming was just 12% of total earning in the state. Nationwide, manufacturing was 26% of all earnings while farming was only 11%. That’s not the way our folklore would have it and folklore still has considerable sway in political circles. Manufacturing’s 35% of Indiana’s earnings was the 9th highest in the nation. By 2017, manufacturing had “fallen” to 21% of the state’s earnings, but that made Indiana first among the states. First! They give blue ribbons for first place; it’s the badge of honor for the victorious.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – I’ve been asked to explain tariffs. It can’t be done in 500 words, but here goes. Tariffs on imports are not like the property, sales or income taxes. Those taxes are meant to raise money for government spending or redistribution. American tariffs, today, are intended to shape the economic relationships between nations. America and France produce wine. A tariff by the United States on French wine will, in theory, increase the price of French wine for Americans, resulting in less French wine being bought. Americans then would buy more American wine, increasing the demand for American grapes and the land on which they grow, as well as the wages of those who work in vineyards and the wineries. The Gallo and Christian Bros. would prosper. In time, American wines could become as respectable and competitive as French wines, and the tariffs could be removed, their mission accomplished. Maybe. But it is also possible Americans will switch to other beverages if the price of French wine rises. The very idea of drinking American wine could drive those with sophisticated palates to British ginger beer.
  • INDIANAPOLIS  – Alex Azar, secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), lived in Indiana for the last 10 years as an executive for Eli Lilly and Company. Therefore, I humbly appeal to our fellow Hoosier for relief from the tyranny of the nanny state. Tell me, where, in the name of our Hoosier vice president, does the federal government, via the Department of HHS, get off telling me I’m obese? I know this is a leftover from some previous administration, but it’s a year now and the oppression continues. Now that I am shorter than I used to be, and in possession of a mature male figure (think Grover Cleveland or William Howard Taft), my Body Mass Index (BMI) tops 30, the magic number for being classified as obese. That’s right. HHS tells us that Indiana ranks 10th in the nation with 32.5% of the population age 18 and over wearing the “Big O” for Obese pinned to their triple XL tee-shirts. Imagine, one of every three adult Hoosiers is righteously rotund, compared to 29.6% of all Americans.
     
  • INDIANAPOLIS – This weekly column is focused on Indiana’s economy, rarely commenting on national issues. But this time, we must make an exception. Early morning, Friday, June 1, President Trump tweeted, “Looking forward to seeing the employment numbers at 8:30 this morning.” This most unusual national leader was telling his tweetees that he knew the closely guarded monthly employment data and he liked them. Presidents do get advance looks at all types of key data. Prior to this, presidents kept their mouths shut about economic data until an hour after the official release time. It wasn’t just tradition, it was a policy set down for a wide group of government employees by the Office of Management and Budget to avoid insider trading. But now, this president was wiggling his toes in the stock market bathwater. His words were enough of a favorable hint to send ripples of glee through the regular bathers in those waters where the big boys surf and the little guys drown.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – We now know the major party candidates for Indiana’s nine congressional seats. Few of us, however, know the diversity/similarity of those districts and the cities and counties they include. To refresh your memory of the geography of Indiana’s congressional districts, go to Stats.Indiana.edu to find a map. The latest (2016) data for Indiana indicate our most populous district, the 5th (northern Marion County, all of Hamilton, Tipton, Madison and Grant counties plus slices of Blackford, Boone and Howard) had 768,400 persons. The least populated district was the 1st (Lake and Porter counties with a slice of LaPorte County including Michigan City) with 712,000. The 6th District (Muncie, Richmond, Columbus and down our eastern border to the Ohio River) had a median age of 40.1 years with 17% 65 or older. The youngest population was in the 7th District (central and southern Marion County) with a median age of 33.8 years and only 11% 65 or older.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – It’s been years since I last talked with Rhonda Boutte, one of the state’s leading economic development professionals. She hasn’t changed a bit as far as I could tell.  She wasted no time with pleasantries. “Everybody’s trying to be somebody else. There’s a whole lot of chubby brunettes pretending to be slinky blondes. Unless you’re willing to undergo a real transformation, those dark roots will show through and the stress will sour you on getting anything done,” she said. “I don’t understand,” I admitted. “Bezos be damned,” she said. “Here’s a guy telling cities what they need to be if they are going to get the Amazon prize. He’s looking for another Seattle. He’s the typical narcissistic tycoon expecting to work wonders on whatever he touches.”
  • INDIANAPOLIS – A few introductory thoughts. First, I am not in the pocket of any automobile company. Second, I am very conflicted about the subject of this column, urban transportation. Third, for years I have argued that the private automobile is the greatest mass transit system ever developed. Uber, Lyft, and self-driving vehicles are reinforcing that argument. Fourth, while autos have been blamed for urban sprawl, congested routes, and the deterioration of civility, family and community, they are not the sole villains of contemporary life. Air conditioning must take part of the blame. Finally, the interstate highways have been a powerful and fundamentally positive force in America, where they have been allowed to be integrated into our cities.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – It’s one thing to have a job and another to make a living. What does it take for a single parent to support a family with two children? How old are those children? Do they own or rent their home? Do they have a car or depend on public transportation? Do they have any savings in the event of an emergency? It’s certainly more than the federal minimum hourly wage of $7.25 which has prevailed since July 2009. Many state and local governments have decided that $15 per hour is more appropriate. (If we assume 40 hours per week and 52 weeks a year, then $7.25 per hour = $15,080 per year and $15 = $31,200.)  How much do Hoosiers make in “A State That Works,” a state that boasts of its friendliness to business? Back in 2007, in Indiana the average hourly wage was $19.93 or 99¢ less than the national average. If you prefer, we were worth 4.7% less than the average worker in the United States.
             
  • INDIANAPOLIS – A few introductory thoughts. First, I am not in the pocket of any automobile company. Second, I am very conflicted about the subject of this column, urban transportation. Third, for years I have argued that the private automobile is the greatest mass transit system ever developed. Uber, Lyft, and self-driving vehicles are reinforcing that argument. Fourth, while autos have been blamed for urban sprawl, congested routes, and the deterioration of civility, family and community, they are not the sole villains of contemporary life. Air conditioning must take part of the blame. Finally, the interstate highways have been a powerful and fundamentally positive force in America, where they have been allowed to be integrated into our cities.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – Several readers contend this column expresses negativism about Indiana. They tell me to find something good to say about the state. That’s easy: Indiana’s borders have been Sanforized; they show no signs of shrinking. A different group of complaining readers chide me for using too many numbers. Somehow these readers never learned numbers represent people and their activities, real people. TV news (and too many newspaper articles) feature storybook people whose lives are supposed to make it possible for us to understand complex problems. This approach assumes we can’t grasp the human context without individuals as stand-ins for vast numbers of diverse people. Governments do a fine job spinning the news using carefully selected facts. One would believe Indiana is carpeted with blue and yellow spring flowers, fortuitously the state colors. Lately, however, the state has been covered with potholes.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – It’s exciting when a Hoosier city is chosen as number one on a list of favorable attributes. Clearly, being number one in pollution or crime would not be an honor. But to be named “the best affordable small town where you’d actually want to live” is a distinction, a recognition, a tribute of great value. Logansport received that honor just last month from realtor.com, an online publication of the National Association of Realtors (NAR). Hoosiers know Logansport as the place where the Eel River enters the Wabash. We recall Logansport as a longtime major rail junction, as the county seat of Cass County, and as a key city on the roads from Fort Wayne to Lafayette and Kokomo to Michigan City. We also know Logansport as home to Tony Hinkle, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, and the State Psychiatric Hospital. 
  • MERIDIAN HILLS - A few weeks ago, I wrote about a bill (HB 1005) to force township consolidation. That bill never got a hearing by the Indiana House. Despite support from the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, it died, as did many other good and bad bills. The governor wants the senators and the representatives back for a command performance. Yet, most Hoosiers see little merit in reassembling this ensemble unless they return motivated to serve the interests of Hoosiers rather than lobbyists. In addition, they should be tested to make sure they are not LUI (legislating under the influence of alcohol or drugs). Even if most members of our General Assembly are good, sensible and thoughtful persons, they do not have the collective courage to overturn generations of subservience to the past. Townships are a remnant of the past. I am not against townships nor am I opposed to retaining elements of the past. However, the arbitrary requirement of consolidating those with fewer than 1,200 persons seems senseless. 
  • INDIANAPOLIS – Alzo Incognito visited me in early January when the 2017 state population estimates were released. Therefore, it was no surprise to see him again last week when the county figures became available from the Census Bureau.  “How’d we do?” he asked. Before I could answer, he told me he got a job with Uplift Indiana, the “Happy News Bureau.” “Don’t bother with any downer stuff,” he said. I inhaled deeply and said, “57% of the counties in the United States gained population between 2016 and 2017. Indiana saw 60% of its 92 counties gaining population in that period.”
  • INDIANAPOLIS – Because no one asked for them, this week we’ll take a look at some foreign trade statistics, with specific attention to Indiana. At the national level, some pundits pontificate about the danger to our economy because the value of imported goods exceeded the value of goods we export. “This can’t go on,” we are told. Yet it does. “American jobs are being sent abroad by our failure to buy products made in America.” Yet no one ostracizes those who transport and sell foreign-made goods. Who refuses to buy underwear made in foreign lands? In 2017, the U.S. exported $1.1 trillion of manufactured goods. At the same time, we imported $2.0 trillion worth of manufactured goods. We sold passenger and military airplanes to customers all over the world, while carrying home cell phones and TV sets in cars, SUVs, and pickup trucks assembled in this country from foreign-made parts. For every dollar of manufactured goods we exported as a nation, we imported $1.85 of goods from elsewhere. Little Rhode Island led all states with $5.61 of imports for each dollar of goods exported. By contrast, Wyoming, where coal is more plentiful than consumers, imported just 38 cents of goods for each dollar of exports. Indiana, 20th of the 41 net importer of goods, sent $1.54 abroad for each dollar received in goods exported.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – “Pssttt.” The sound came from behind the statue with my name on it, right there on the steps of the Statehouse. I peered and saw a grubby, shabby-looking man, presumably a lobbyist for a small organization, not the well-heeled spokesperson of a major corporation, university, or foundation. “What?” I asked, fearful he would need bus fare. “You got a need for a few folks?” he said. “What do you mean?” I was flustered. Was he offering me illegals, some members of a minority group, like Democrats in Hamilton County, to perform gardening or other domestic labor? “HB1005,” he said in a conspiratorial manner. “It’s the bill to force consolidation of small townships. If a township didn’t have 1,200 people in the 2010 Census, then it must find a township that is willing to merge. There’s now a drive on to get people to stay or move to those condemned townships before the next census in 2020.”
  • INDIANAPOLIS - What are the annual costs of the potholes that decorate the cities of Indiana? Maybe our vacationing legislature could set up a summer study committee to reinforce their continuing neglect of our state? “Vacationing legislature?” you ask. Yes, I answer. They have been in session for weeks and not dealt seriously with any serious issue. Many come to Indianapolis and are on holiday, eating, boozing and schmoozing as they never could do at home. The few who are serious about their roles in our lives may require serious therapy, if they are not to retire discouraged, disgusted and depressed. What other body of irresponsible people could spend so much time debating Sunday liquor sales and cold beer regulation?       
     

  • INDIANAPOLIS – Once again, with the stock market tumbling as Lego blocks struck by a playful toddler, the inexplicable is explained by experts who declare, “The fundamentals are sound.” We recall the anxiety of the Great Recession which was built on these the facts:  The number of private sector jobs in the United States fell by 11.6 million between June 2007 and January 2010, a decline of 9.9%. Indiana’s experience was a job loss of 316,000 from June 2007 to February 2010; down by 12.2%. These private sector job losses result from market conditions which require divine explanation. Government jobs rise and fall with the political thought waves of elected and appointed deep thinkers.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – I spent part of a day last week at the Statehouse. I would have stayed longer, but I was getting dizzy and dissociated. It happens when one is too close to the Indiana General Assembly. While I still felt good, I saw something that made my heart swell with joy: The members of the House broke for lunch. They came pouring out of three chamber doors with broad smiles on their faces, babbling with excitement, flushed with anticipation. They might have been third graders let loose from an ISTEP exam. Morris Quiken, the state representative from Curious Creek, was among them. “Morrie,” I called. He turned, but didn’t give any sign he knew me. “Morrie,” I said again. “Not here,” he said under his breath. “Follow me, at a distance.”
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  • Lawson announces election security awareness campaign

    “In Indiana, the security of our voting systems is of the utmost importance. This public awareness campaign demonstrates to voters that proper precautions are in place to secure their vote. We take great care to prepare our election administrators for each cycle, and in partnership with counties, other states, and the federal government we are developing new answers to security concerns and election policy.” - Secretary of State Connie Lawson, announcing she will launch a public awareness campaign to build understanding of cybersecurity efforts in Indiana and help explain why voters should feel confident their vote is secure. Her Democratic challenger, Valparaiso attorney Jim Harper, believes the Indiana system is vulnerable to assault by foreign actors. Lawson explained that no piece of Indiana’s voting equipment is online. The machines and tabulators are not connected to the internet. In addition, the Secretary of State’s office has a mechanism known as the Voting System Technical Oversight Program hosted by Ball State University that tests all of the election equipment used in Indiana for an added layer of safety and security. Another tool is the Election Infrastructure Information Sharing and Analysis Center, an independent entity that partners with the Department of Homeland Security and allows 24/7 access to security information, threat notifications and security advisories.

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  • What you get with TV stars, sleazebags, billionaires and Mooch
    After reading about the Paul Manafort trial, hearing of Rick Gates testimony and now the “Unhinged” book by Omarosa Manigault Newman, several observations:

    1. The Trump 2016 campaign was, well, sleazy. Not the Indiana part, but all the alleged tax evasion, the embezzlement, backstabbing and conspiracy of Manafort and Gates. Donald Trump apparently had no idea that Manafort was broke, seeking wild bank loans and promising high ranking jobs if they pulled off a miracle (which they did). The campaign vetting process appears to have been non-existent.

    2. Omarosa’s qualifications were … what? That she was a TV star on “The Apprentice”? Or was she there to check off the “African-American” box on the diversity chart? Whatever the reason, this was resume-lite and she had no reason to be in the White House where she secretly recorded her final conversation with CoS John Kelly in the … Situation Room. That sounds like a national security breach to me.

    3. This has evolved into a presidential administration of TV stars, talking heads, billionaires … and Mike Pence. Mooch, we hardly knew ye.

    Sooooo, we shouldn’t really be shocked that the ethic limits are pressed and pushed, while protocols and securities are breached.
    - Brian A. Howey, publisher.
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