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Wednesday, December 12, 2018
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  • MARTINSVILLE – As a crossroads of the nation, Indiana has been surprisingly oblivious, even impervious, to political and social changes. That resistance includes writing ethical standards for office holders, state and local. Dr. Maury Kramer once explained his observations about Hoosier resistance to change with a comparison between settlers and pioneers. Now, several years down the road, his observations applied to the public ethics in Indiana are spot on. Growing up with parents who participated in community activities, being a precinct committeemen and going to political rallies at the Indiana State Fairgrounds, l did not know about political corruption as a kid. It was not until I started practicing law in southern Indiana when I was told how $5 and a pint could vote.  Even then, ever an optimist about honesty and inclusion, I worked for the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970’s. I tried cases in the 1980’s that involved local officials profiting from bribery.  On the Court of Appeals, I saw cases from around the entire state that involved allegations of bribery and other official misconduct. 
  • MARTINSVILLE – With all the various sexual harassment stories popping up in the news, one is reminded of the old walnut shell game. Wondering which shell hides a kernel of corn is fun for a child, but for adults hunting for kernels of truth in the name of fairness, the political shell game is troubling. What factors hide the truth when public officials are charged with sexual harassment or other objectionable conduct? Universally, there are unwritten codes of conduct to not be a tattletale. Additionally, when an elected official holds perceived power over staff or other office holders, then support or silence may be seen as a critical political survival tactic. If the conduct and the threat of public knowledge are serious enough, an accused officeholder may make a payment or a settlement that includes a provision that the settlement or payment cannot be disclosed. This kind of agreement is known as a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) and has historically withheld the kernel of truth from public scrutiny. Such agreements or settlement are rumored to be fairly common. Who knows whether Indiana has legislators who have paid for such agreements? There are no requirements for public disclosure about sexual harassment claim payments and Indiana officeholders.
  • MARTINSVILLE – There are days when I think how far we have come in making justice look like our community and then are the days when I wonder what I was I thinking. I am not sure we will ever see political selection, merit, and diversity come together in a way that reflects all members of our communities. The appointment of Judge Elizabeth F. Tavitas to the Court of Appeals offers a point of hope and optimism for increased inclusion of women on the Indiana bench as one facet of leadership in the legal community.  Her appointment bodes well even though I do not know Judge Tavitas well. However, other judges whom I do know well and whose opinions I respect, know her and consider her to be an excellent judge. On Oct. 1, I had the pleasure and honor of attending her formal swearing-in and robing ceremony. So, it was a good day to celebrate and recognize Judge Tavitas’ accomplishments. I found a specific pleasure in attending Judge Tavitas’s ceremony because 30 years ago this month, Gov. Robert Orr announced that he was appointing me to the Indiana Court of Appeals. 
  • MARTINSVILLE – Recent developments out of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) contained good news on several issues. Secretary Perdue announced more details of how the USDA plans to assist farmers in response to trade damage from unjustified retaliation by foreign nations. In his comments, Secretary Perdue summarized the reasons why the President should be given some negotiating space. “President Trump has been standing up to China and other nations, sending the clear message that the United States will no longer tolerate their unfair trade practices, which include non-tariff trade barriers and the theft of intellectual property.” Despite the naysayers in the Washington, D.C. area, the outcomes might benefit all sectors of the US economy, both consumers and producers. Our trade principles should be balanced, free and fair. For years, from Argentina’s default to World Trade Organization decisions, I had questions about United States and our bland acceptance of grossly unfair trade practices from other countries. China has been outrageously open in stealing our intellectual property, but certainly not alone in those activities.
  • MARTINSVILLE – Hyper headlines about trade, tariffs, and treaties are really nothing new, and neither are the terrified commentaries about what is going to happen to the U.S. economy. The history of trade debate is part of our country’s crazy quilt of political shifts and turns in policy. Just a quick look at history can calm us and provide a better context for the current trade debate.  Today’s low U.S. tariff levels are the product of a (mostly) bipartisan consensus in favor of progressively freer trade that dates back to the post-World War II era. But that consensus was emphatically not the case for the first 150 years or so of the nation’s history: Tariff policy was the subject of fierce disagreement between Republicans (and earlier, Whigs) who favored high rates to protect American industries from foreign competition, and Democrats who by and large argued that any tariffs higher than necessary to fund the federal government unfairly taxed the many to benefit the few. To be clear, we have learned lessons from the Smoot-Hawley tariffs. I do not suggest we should repeat that experience.  
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  • Lugar, Bayh warn Senate about emerging scandals
    "As former members of the U.S. Senate, Democrats and Republicans, it is our shared view that we are entering a dangerous period, and we feel an obligation to speak up about serious challenges to the rule of law, the Constitution, our governing institutions and our national security. We are on the eve of the conclusion of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation and the House’s commencement of investigations of the president and his administration. The likely convergence of these two events will occur at a time when simmering regional conflicts and global power confrontations continue to threaten our security, economy and geopolitical stability. It is a time, like other critical junctures in our history, when our nation must engage at every level with strategic precision and the hand of both the president and the Senate. We are at an inflection point in which the foundational principles of our democracy and our national security interests are at stake, and the rule of law and the ability of our institutions to function freely and independently must be upheld. Regardless of party affiliation, ideological leanings or geography, as former members of this great body, we urge current and future senators to be steadfast and zealous guardians of our democracy by ensuring that partisanship or self-interest not replace national interest." - 44 former U.S. Senators, including Richard Lugar and Evan Bayh from Indiana, writing a Washington Post op-ed article warning current senators about the emerging scandals involving President Trump.
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  • Weird scenes inside the White House
    The Nick Ayres saga fallout continues to be just ... weird. Vanity Fair's  Gabriel Sherman reports that last Friday, President Trump met with Ayers, Vice President Mike Pence, and out-going Chief of Staff John Kelly to finalize the CoS transition. A press release announcing Ayers’s hiring was reportedly drafted and ready to go for when Trump planned to announce Kelly’s departure on Monday. But Kelly was pressing for top aide Zachary Fuentes to get the job, Trump got pissed and leaked the story on Saturday. Ayres began getting calls from the press about his net worth estimated to be between $12 million and $54 million.

    Ayres then insisted he only wanted the job for several months. Sherman: “Trump was pissed, he was caught off guard,” a former West Wing official briefed on the talks said. By Sunday, Ayres not only bolted the Trump gig, but the Pence job, too, deciding to head back to Georgia. So by year's end, Trump and Pence will both be on their third chief in less than two years.

    This all comes amid rampant speculation that with scandal, House Democrat investigations and a tariff-bruised economy all looming over the horizon, who would want to work for a guy like Trump, where loyalty is a one-way street, allies get thrown under the bus, and careers can be tainted forever after folks wallow in Watergate or get the Kremlin Kramps. Trump and Pence had lunch on Monday. Wonder what was on the menu? Crow, perhaps?
    - Brian A. Howey, publisher.
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