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Tuesday, April 24, 2018
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  • 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, 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.”
  • INDIANAPOLIS – Some voters cast their ballots based on philosophical principles. Others are more concerned with the principals in their bank accounts. This week we’ll see how Hoosiers measure up in terms of Social Security (SS) payments from the federal government, as reported by the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (2016 vintage). There’s not much difference between the entire United States and Indiana in terms of the percent of households receiving SS payments. For the nation it’s 30.2%, with Indiana somewhat higher at 30.9%. Likewise, the U.S. and Indiana are close on median age of the population, with the U.S. a bit older at 37.7 years and Indiana a spritely 37.4 years. The median age is the number where 50% of the population is older and 50% younger.  
  • INDIANAPOLIS – People who have bought a house and started their pension programs already often ask, “Where should I be investing?” The question arises with a booming stock market as well as during the depths of a recession. My answer remains, “Diversify your investments. Invest in your education, your skills, and your ability to understand our complex world. Then, if applicable, invest in the education of your children and grandchildren. And don’t forget to invest in the education of your neighbors’ children, in the schools of your community.” This is the starting point of developing an informed citizenry and a capable workforce. Sadly, Hoosiers now recognize their failure over decades to make those investments. Thus, Gov. Eric Holcomb declares our need to upgrade the skills and employability of 55,000 workers.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – A friend is trying to examine the big issues facing our nation and the solutions available to us. I suggested that catalog include land use which reflects and often causes many of the dilemmas Americans have failed to resolve. We complain about congestion in our urban areas while bemoaning the decline of rural areas. This is a land use issue. The high costs of health care are a persistent concern. Our sedentary life style contributes to our need for health care, but we have organized our activities and our infrastructure to avoid exercise that involves exertion. This too is a land use issue. The wild fires, mudslides, and floods of California are largely problems stemming from land use decisions made in the public and private sectors. Americans delight in the variety and stimulation of the built world. Yet, simultaneously, we seek to escape the pressures, noise, and excesses of what we call civilization. We want access to places offering us solitude and the refreshment of nature. This desire can be satisfied by altering our land use patterns.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – Uncle Sam, via his Census Bureau, just before Christmas, gave us the news: Idaho had the fastest growing population in the nation. The great potato state had an estimated 2.2% increase from July 1, 2016, to the same date in 2017. “Why not us?” Alzo Incognito asked. “Is there something wrong with the Hoosier State, the spark plug of America, the carburetor of commerce?” “Population change is simple and complex,” I told him. “What’s complex?” he asked. “People are born, they die and they move from place to place.” “True, but why? There’s the complexity,” I responded. “Indiana ranked 24th among the50 states in rate of growth ’16-’17 at 0.5% increase. This compared with a 0.7 national rate and well behind Idaho’s 2.2%. However, we grew faster than any of our four adjacent, neighboring states.”
  • INDIANAPOLIS – Where was the latest U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) personal income report for Indiana? I didn’t see it in my newspaper. It didn’t even make a press release from the governor’s office or the Indiana Economic Development Corporation (IEDC). Perhaps all the attention was drawn to the tactless tax tacks stuck by Congress into voodoo dolls representing the American people. So what were the numbers? U.S. personal income in the third quarter of 2017 grew at an annual rate of 2.72% nationally; for Indiana the figure was a shade lower at 2.67%. Since both round off to 2.7, Indiana can claim to be right close to the national growth rate and snuggly at 21st place among the 50 states. Hey, that’s not bad. We’ll always rejoice when we’re in the top half of the states. Further, we were in the middle of our neighborhood, below Michigan and Ohio, but above Illinois and Kentucky.  
  • INDIANAPOLIS – “’Tis the season to be jolly!” Sol Sunshine tells me. “Too often your weekly homily paints a dark picture of Indiana. Lighten up. Tell us the truth, but spin it on the positive side.” “OK,” I say. “I’ll do it, but I have to trust you to see the grim shadows that are an important part of the truth.” Thus, this column is for Sol and all the readers who share his particular Seasonal Affective Disorder. To simplify matters, think of society divided into two groups, those in poverty and those not in poverty, whom we shall call affluent.
  • INDIANAPOLIS –   “I can’t listen to more complaints about Trump.” says Hector Huevos.  “There’s so much to be done locally and statewide, yet all we hear about is Trump and the adventures of his team.” “Hmm?” I say. “Yes, but what are the priorities?” “Redistricting our legislature, our congressional seats, our city and county councils,” Hector says. “And the distribution of income in our state is as cockeyed as the alignment of election districts.” “I don’t hear any complaints about income distribution in Indiana,” I tell him. “Hoosiers seem pretty satisfied.”
  • INDIANAPOLIS – Once upon a time, if you asked the average Hoosier, s/he would have told you, farming was the backbone of Indiana’s economy. But eventually reality did make an impression. Today, it is common to acknowledge manufacturing as our dominant economic activity. Of course, that may be changing, but let’s not go there. Instead, let’s look more closely at manufacturing’s transformation from 2005 to 2015 (the most recent data available from the Annual Survey of Manufacturers). Nationally, during that turbulent decade, two million (15.2%) of manufacturing jobs disappeared. Indiana’s loss was over 61,000 (11.5%). Production workers in manufacturing accounted for 75% of those job losses in Indiana compared to 71% nationally. Those declines were proportionate to the 2005 levels of production jobs in manufacturing. Despite these job losses, total payrolls in manufacturing rose nationally by 9.8%; yet the total wages of production workers fell by 16.3%. In the Hoosier state, manufacturing payrolls advanced by 7.1% with a corresponding 11.6% decline in the wages of production workers.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – One of the most popular numbers used to describe (and often judge) a community is educational attainment. The Census Bureau provides such data for the nation, states, counties, townships, cities and towns. With technological progress, we can expect to learn how many years of schooling or what degrees are held by the angels atop that famous pin. But years of schooling, certificates, and degrees are not precise measures of what a person knows, of his/her actual educational attainment. Nor do those metrics indicate what a person can do. They are, like Little League statues, participation awards. Yet, until something better comes along, that’s what politicians, business savants, even economists look for as an indicator of promise, capability, and innovative capacity. “Something better has come along,” a commanding voice says. I look around, but there is no one about. “Who said that?” I ask. “What is better than educational attainment?”
  • INDIANAPOLIS – “Week after week. Don’t you get depressed or bored telling us about Indiana’s problems and shortcomings?” That was Faye of the Forest, a sprite sitting on the rail of the deck overlooking our trees and creek. Her newly blue and blonde hair was down to her shoulders in ringlets. “Why the change in hair color?” I asked. “To celebrate Indiana,” she answered. “And I want to impress the governor when I see him with the fierce idealism of the Hoosier forest people.” “Yes, you’ve had some success recently saving forested land in Indianapolis,” I said. “Don’t forget the comprehensive urban forest maintenance program we’ve initiated in Highland,” she boasted. “It’s going to remove and replace rotted trees, keep older neighborhoods beautiful and sustain property values.”
  • INDIANAPOLIS – Last week in this space we reported on the poor performance of Indiana in terms of adding jobs (47th in the nation) and advancing incomes (48th). This week we’ll go down to the county level and see where there are bright spots and where conditions are dismal. The rate of change in the number of jobs is a measure of economic success the press and politicos have identified as important. The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis reports, from 2005 to 2015, jobs in the nation grew, by 5.9%. Through that recession and recovery, Indiana jobs increased by just 2.3%. Yet 16 Indiana counties surpassed that national rate. Of those 16 counties, four (Bartholomew, Decatur, Sullivan and White) stand out because they also saw average compensation for jobs grow faster than the nation’s 9%. These four are the super stars of a difficult decade.
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  • Former Sen. Coburn endorses Mike Braun
    "I am pleased to support and endorse Mike Braun, Indiana Republican candidate for U.S. Senate. Like myself, Mike is a social & fiscal conservative who supports term limits. As a successful businessman, Mike brings the very knowledge and background that is badly needed in our U.S. Senate today. Mike's opposition to deficit spending and pork barrel projects together with his proven leadership abilities will make him a highly effective U.S. Senator." - Former Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, endorsing Mike Braun for the U.S. Senate Republican nomination. Braun said, "I'm beyond honored to have earned the support of one of my idols in the U.S. Senate, Tom Coburn.”
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  • A changing tide on medicinal marijuana
    CNN medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta has changed his mind on medical marijuana. He writes Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a hardliner against pot, saying, “I feel obligated to share the results of my five-year-long investigation into the medical benefits of the cannabis plant. Before I started this worldwide, in-depth investigation, I was not particularly impressed by the results of medical marijuana research, but a few years later, as I started to dedicate time with patients and scientists in various countries, I came to a different conclusion.”

    And that conclusion? “Not only can cannabis work for a variety of conditions such as epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and pain, sometimes, it is the only thing that works. I changed my mind, and I am certain you can, as well. It is time for safe and regulated medical marijuana to be made available nationally. I realize this is an unconventional way to reach you, but your office declined numerous requests for an interview, and as a journalist, a doctor and a citizen, I felt it imperative to make sure you had access to our findings.”

    Gupta’s special report on “Weed 4: Pot vs. Pill” airs at 8 p.m. Sunday. It comes as James Higdon writes about “Legal Marijuana’s Big Moment” coming when former Republican House Speaker John Boehner “flipped” on the topic and became an adviser to a medicinal marijuana group. As the late John Lennon might have put it, strange days, indeed. - Brian A. Howey, publisher

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