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Monday, October 21, 2019
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  • INDIANAPOLIS –  Indiana’s public forests are primarily south of I-70, yet our population and industry are located primarily north of that interstate. Preserving existing public forests while developing new forested areas throughout the state would correct this imbalance. At the same time, enhancing the urban forest canopies, the linear street forests in our cities and towns, needs to be encouraged. These are long-term components of Indiana’s essential infrastructure that offer significant benefits on at least six levels: 1. Forests are silent workers cleaning the air of harmful substances while providing oxygen. They also are habitat for innumerable plants and animals. Trees stabilize ground water levels, reduce land erosion, and protect properties from flooding. The benefits of forests are local and world-wide. In cities, they not only improve the air we breathe and provide shade to reduce air-conditioning expenses, but they raise property values as a desired amenity. 2. Indiana has an undesirable image as a place lacking natural attractions of mountains and a seacoast. Forests can provide a place rich in opportunities for healthy, stimulating outdoor recreation, exploration, and education. Tourism and corporate investments are determined by the image we project.
  • INDIANAPOLIS — Here’s a simple fact. In 2017, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, the average wage or salary (AW&S) in Indiana was $46,897. At the same time, the figure stood at $55,463 for the United States as a whole, or nearly 19% above Indiana’s average. It’s easy to get into a tizzy about this. Loyalists would boast, “Our cost of living is lower than average.” Rebels might quote me saying “What Indiana produces is less valued than what is produced on average in the U.S.” However, right now, I would like to challenge that national figure. The data for the U.S.  include the District of Columbia, which is not a state. The AW&S for D.C. in 2017 was $91,720, 65% above the national figure and nearly double Indiana’s more modest level.
  • INDIANAPOLIS — Newspapers and television news have pointed to declines in the shipments of recreational vehicles as a warning signal of a forthcoming national recession. It’s true that nationally RV shipments are down. They have been declining, compared to the same month a year earlier, each month from August 2018 through July of this year. For the year as a whole, shipments in 2018 were 4.1% below 2017. However, 2017 was a bonanza year for the industry, shipping 504,600 units, up 17.2% from 2016. Yet that does not tell the story well; in March 2018 alone, shipments reached 50,600 units, a vertigo height for RVs. 
  • INDIANAPOLIS — This November Hoosier voters will make important decisions about the future economy of our state. They will choose the mayors and council members who will determine the members of local zoning boards and planning commissions. The choices of those boards and commissions will set the course of the state for 50 or more years. We have many examples of good and bad land use in Indiana’s past; let’s look at some recent developments. Boone County and Lebanon have guided development along their portions of I-65. Warehouses, heavy machinery sales and services, retail trade, and highway traveler services will be found adjacent to the interstate. Crown Point, in Lake County, has allowed housing right along I-65, north and south of the 109th Avenue (Exit 249). This breaks the line of commercial, industrial, and institutional uses adopted by Merrillville further north.

  • INDIANAPOLIS — As the leaves begin to fall, young people are heading back to school. For many, this is the senior year of high school. For others, this is the first year at college, in the military, or working at a full-time job. For each, it means answering the question: “So, whatcha gonna do wit ya life?" Little do they know they will spend the next 60 years trying to answer that question. Whereas, at some distant date, schooling meant education; today it means occupation. Some policy-makers want to stress maximizing the future earnings of students as the goal of schooling. But all students, it is believed, should be “job ready” when they graduate from high school and/or college. They should be “trained” for the workforce, ready to meet the expectations of today’s employers, as well as prepared for an uncertain future.
  • INDIANAPOLIS — Sadly, America is already immersed in the 2020 national election. It would be better for our nation, our state, and our communities, if we could focus on the elections of November 2019. We are neglecting the Indiana municipal elections upcoming in November 2019. Those elected this year, as mayors and council members, will be in office in 2021-22 when new election districts will be formed on the basis of the 2020 Census. Want to stop gerrymandering? Want to end unwarranted one-party rule? Then pay attention to the 2019 election in your city/town/county. Insist candidates pledge to oppose the corrupt gerrymandering practices of the past. With inordinate attention to the 2020 campaigns, vital local public services are ignored. 
  • INDIANAPOLIS — We’ve all heard the Social Security Trust Fund will no longer be able to finance Social Security payments in full after 20xx. We say “xx” because the date keeps changing. When folks think about Social Security, what mostly comes to mind is the Old Age Insurance aspect of the program. But there’s also a vital role played by Survivors’ Insurance for spouses and children and important Disability Insurance for those unable to work.  Why is this safety net, this trust fund, running out of money? For several reasons: We are living longer than expected. People are retiring too early. Congress gave an increase in benefits that was too generous. Too many people are claiming disability benefits for which they do not qualify. There are more disabled people than we ever anticipated.
  • INDIANAPOLIS — Indianapolis is preparing to celebrate its 200th birthday or anniversary. But Indianapolis isn’t that village invented by the General Assembly on the banks of the White River. Fifty years ago, Indianapolis took an important step forward by establishing Unigov. It was an imperfect consolidation of governmental units which has remained virtually unchanged for half a century. Today’s real Indianapolis is a composite of nine counties with a host of cities and towns, most of them remnants of pastoral villages, each battling to be “something.” Today, the mayor of Indianapolis speaks of regionalism. His is a genteel appeal to overturn inequities, either created or endorsed by the Indiana General Assembly, that home of irrational and irresponsible 18th-century sentimentality.
  • INDIANAPOLIS - “You know you’re making something out of nothing,” Faye de la Forêt admonished me. She was back on the deck railing, but no longer the rustic forest nymph. No, in her sequined green tunic, she had acquired airs. “It’s not nothing,” I responded. “The Reynolds tractor Xmas light show, along I-69 in Fishers, is moving to Conner Prairie. I’m allowed to complain, not about a private company making a big donation to a not-for-profit history museum, but about the privatization of what used to be a public event.” “Wrong again,” she smiled her voluptuous smile. “That brilliant annual display was a hazard to traffic. Now it will not be a danger to the public, but it will have an admission charge.”
  • INDIANAPOLIS  — In this space we’ve discussed the plight of Indiana’s many smaller towns edging toward extinction as viable economic communities. This has even become a topic for political lip-service with emphasis on individual places rather than a systemic approach to a statewide problem. The stagnation and decline of once thriving mid-sized Hoosier cities cause hands to be wrung and construction projects to be initiated that have little chance to make substantive change possible. Terre Haute’s numbers are virtually unchanged in this decade. Evansville and Richmond had population declines of 2% and 4% respectively. Lake County saw 12 of its 17 municipalities lose population from 2010 to 2018. How has the state responded? Federal funds for the most part will be used to build a questionable nine-mile mega-million-dollar extension of a commuter rail line. The South Shore serves downtown Chicago, but job growth in the southern portions of the Chicago metro area may be far more important. No public transit from Indiana serves those jobs.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – It’s been a while since we looked at state and county labor market changes. So, I pulled up the number of persons employed and the number unemployed as reported by the Indiana Department of Workforce Development and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The latest month I found was May 2019 for counties, June for states. But I dare not use unmatched months for fear some partisan critic would say I was cherry-picking the data by not using the same month. Of course, I’ve been doing this long enough to realize it doesn’t matter. Critics will carp regardless of the starting and ending points of any analysis. Anyway, from May 2017 to the same month in 2019, the number of persons employed rose by 3.7 million (2.4%) in the U.S. During the same time, the number unemployed fell by 1.1 million (a healthy decline of 16.7%).
  • INDIANAPOLIS  — The 2020 Census is coming! Yes, that’s going to be more fun than the 2020 elections. We’ll learn something from the decennial Census. Dyspepsia is all we can expect from the quadrennial elections. The Census will give us a better understanding of our communities compared with others in the nation. Nonetheless, we are not suffering from a lack of data. Unfortunately, too few Hoosiers know what is to be known about our communities. For example, the nation has 383 Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs). Indiana has eight of those metros entirely within our borders. In addition, we can count Evansville as a ninth, although it does have a Kentucky county included. Furthermore, Indiana has four counties in the Chicago MSA, three in the Cincinnati MSA, and five in Louisville’s MSA. How do we compare with metro areas in other places? Consider population. In 2017, only the Indianapolis MSA (I am leaving off the names of other places in the MSA titles) was in the 100 most populous metro areas, ranking 34th.
  • INDIANAPOLIS — Last week, the governor of Missouri was interviewed on NPR and stated that farming was the number one industry in his state. I’ve heard the same claim from Indiana politicians. In fact, one Hoosier solon claimed farming was “the backbone of Indiana’s economy.” I responded, “Every corpse has a backbone.”  Why do people in Missouri and Indiana believe such exaggeration? Perhaps, at one time (in the 19th century) it was true. Farming does take up a lot of the land we see when traveling from one place to another. Plus, the farm lobby is still disproportionately strong. How important is farming? Folks from Purdue love to say, “If you eat, you’re are part of farming.” Oh, so true! Plus, if you eat, you’re part of trucking, dentistry, and waste disposal. Let’s look at three different measures not provided by the biggest farm lobby of all, the U.S. Department of Agriculture:
     First, value added, the part of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), our basic measure of economic activity, attributed to Agriculture nationally (including farming, forestry, fisheries and hunting) is 0.8%, or 19th of 19 private sector industries. Number one is (drum roll… ) real estate, rental and leasing at 13.3%, followed by manufacturing at 11.4% of GDP. To be blunt, total value added from farming is less than 0.8% of the U.S. economy.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – You don’t want to hear it, but fractions are important. They guide our lives. The unemployment rate. The pollen count. The interest rate. The speed of a car. All are fractions with numerators (the numbers on top) and denominators (the numbers on the bottom). Per capita personal income (PCPI) is a fraction that became the holy economic grail for Hoosier politicians. What do they know of that annual numeric stew cooked by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis? PCPI is personal income divided by population? Yeah, but personal income is not the amount you report to the IRS. The top of the fraction (personal income) includes money paid by employers for Social Security, unemployment insurance and other sums you don’t see. Plus there’s dividend, interest and rental income “imputed” to you. Also included is the value of government payments you get (Social Security) or made on your behalf by government (Medicare and Medicaid).
  • INDIANAPOLIS - Once upon a time, in the Hoosier Holyland, our focus was on companies. How can we convince them to move to or expand in Indiana? What do they want? What can we give them to induce their capital expenditures within our borders? We could hear that wonderful Fats Waller song: “Find out what they like, and how they like it, and let them have it just that way.”  Proximity to a golf course, an interstate highway, an open sewer? We have it. Tax breaks? We’ll break every tax in the book. Compliant workers? You’ll never hear a mumblin’ word. Every county has a building just waiting for your company. Regulation is not the Hoosier way. Safety is a personal matter. Our motto is “No frills, no bills.” We’re comfortable being close to the bottom in most state rankings for education, environment, and economic progress.
  • INDIANAPOLIS - The new green is on the trees and the forest floor in front of me. Vibrant blues and startling yellows burst from hidden recesses in the leaves of last year. And Faye of the Forest is perched on the deck railing beyond my window. It’s raining, but she sits there, adjusting her hair, inspecting her nails, and smiling. I step to the open door and ask, “What are you smiling about?” “Why not?” she asks in return. “It’s a lovely day leading to an energizing season.” “Energizing? Agonizing,” I counter. “Don’t you realize millions of young Americans in high schools and colleges are talking to counselors or searching the web to find out what different jobs in different places pay?”
  • INDIANAPOLIS – Helping our communities grow is one objective of governors, mayors and their economic co-conspirators. We might thrive better if they focused on helping our communities develop. Development, as one of my co-conspirators reminds me, is a precursor, a foundation for growth. If diversity of ownership is considered development, then foreign direct investment (FDI) has many virtues. When a foreign-owned company invests in a local city or town, it does more than build or repurpose an existing structure. It hires local labor to do that work and may exhibit different expectations about construction methods and timing. This can be an improvement or a degrading, but it is a difference.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana Landmarks does a commendable job of historic preservation. They recognize the structures worth restoring because of certain events or persons of the past or for their architectural significance. Saving neighborhoods, however, by zoning them with strict standards designed to keep them looking as they did in some bygone day is contrary to good sense. Yes, others have different values and I’m supposed to respect them. It doesn’t make it easier for me or them when we insist the government be used to enforce our values. Not every Indiana courthouse is a gem worthy of eternal existence. Just because we grew up with it doesn’t mean succeeding generations should be burdened with our nostalgia. Public buildings constructed before 1920 were, in most cases, more charming than those erected in the past 100 years. But charm alone cannot accommodate the present or the future.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – You probably are familiar with Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs), groups of counties around cities of 50,000 or more persons. Sometimes an MSA is only one county, but often an MSA includes nearby counties because there is considerable commuting between the core county and the outlying counties. Bartholomew is the only county in the Columbus MSA. However, the Evansville MSA includes four counties, one of which is in Kentucky. In all, 43 of Indiana’s 92 counties are part of 14 metro areas, some extending into each of our four neighboring states. But do you know Indiana also has 26 Micropolitan Statistical Areas involving 27 counties? The federal Office of Management and Budget (OMB) says “Micropolitan Statistical Areas have at least one urban cluster of at least 10,000, but less than 50,000 population, plus adjacent territory that has a high degree of social and economic integration with the core as measured by commuting ties.”
  • INDIANAPOLIS - Americans seem indifferent to the level of personal debt and obsessed with public debt. My mother had an aphorism: “You had your fun, now you have to pay for it.” Debt, according to this view, is incurred for a lack of patience, a preference for current gratification over future comfort and security (health and other emergencies aside). As consumers, we put those concert tickets and those clothes on the credit card, which we do not pay off promptly. But in the public sector, we don’t want to build our streets and roads or operate our schools to a higher standard because we don’t want to pay higher taxes or user fees over time. In our homes we say, “It’s our money to do with as we please.” About government we say, “It’s the politicians and bureaucrats fault; they waste so much of our money on needless projects.” Neither statement holds up under examination.
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  • Adm. McRaven: The Republic is under attack from the President
    “The America that they believed in was under attack, not from without, but from within. These men and women, of all political persuasions, have seen the assaults on our institutions: on the intelligence and law enforcement community, the State Department and the press. They have seen our leaders stand beside despots and strongmen, preferring their government narrative to our own. They have seen us abandon our allies and have heard the shouts of betrayal from the battlefield. As I stood on the parade field at Fort Bragg, one retired four-star general, grabbed my arm, shook me and shouted, ‘I don’t like the Democrats, but Trump is destroying the Republic!’ If we don’t care about our values, if we don’t care about duty and honor, if we don’t help the weak and stand up against oppression and injustice — what will happen to the Kurds, the Iraqis, the Afghans, the Syrians, the Rohingyas, the South Sudanese and the millions of people under the boot of tyranny or left abandoned by their failing states? If our promises are meaningless, how will our allies ever trust us? If we can’t have faith in our nation’s principles, why would the men and women of this nation join the military? And if they don’t join, who will protect us? If we are not the champions of the good and the right, then who will follow us? And if no one follows us — where will the world end up? President Trump seems to believe that these qualities are unimportant or show weakness. He is wrong." - Admiral William H. McRaven, former commander of the United States Special Operations Command, in a New York Times op-ed titled "Our Republic Is Under Attack From the President: If President Trump doesn’t demonstrate the leadership that America needs, then it is time for a new person in the Oval Office." 
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  • Gen. Votel on what Kurd fighters did for the U.S.
    “Over four years, the SDF freed tens of thousands of square miles and millions of people from the grip of ISIS. Throughout the fight, it sustained nearly 11,000 casualties. By comparison, six U.S. service members, as well as two civilians, have been killed in the anti-ISIS campaign.” - U.S. Army Gen. Joseph Votel, who served as commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, on the role the Syrian Democratic Forces, made up mostly of Kurdish fighters. The United States has abandoned the SDF, which is now under an ethnic cleansing assault from Turkey after President Trump gave the green light for the incursion on Sunday.
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