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Sunday, February 17, 2019
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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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  • Pence visits Auschwitz for first time
    “It seems to me to be a scene of unspeakable tragedy, reminding us what tyranny is capable of. But it seems to me also to be a scene of freedom’s victory. I traveled in our delegation with people who had family members who had been at Auschwitz — some had survived, some not. But to walk with them and think that two generations ago their forebears came there in box carts and that we would arrive in a motorcade in a free Poland and a Europe restored to freedom from tyranny is an extraordinary experience for us, and I’ll carry it with me the rest of our lives.” - Vice President Mike Pence, who visited the Auschwitz concentration camp in Oswiecim, Poland on Friday along with Second Lady Karen Pence and Polish President Andrzej Duda and First Lady Agata Kornhauser-Duda. It was Pence's first time at the scene where Nazi Germany murdered more than 1.1 million Jews and other groups during the World War II Holocaust.
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  • Our first national park at Indiana Dunes
    It continues to amaze me how many folks from central and southern Indiana have never visited Indiana's sea, known to most of us as Lake Michigan. If you need another reason to take a couple hour trip northward on U.S. 31, U.S. 421 or I-65, thank President Trump for our first national park. It's now the Indiana Dunes National Park. The move was included in the spending package compromise that Trump signed on Friday, inserted in the legislation with the help of U.S. Sen. Todd Young and U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky. 

    Visclosky said, "I also am heartened that because of the support of our U.S. Senators, the entire Indiana Congressional delegation, and numerous Northwest Indiana organizations, we have successfully titled the first National Park in our state. This action provides our shoreline with the recognition it deserves, and I hope further builds momentum to improve open and public access to all of our region’s environmental wonders.”

    The Dunes includes white sand beaches, trails and an array of flora and bogs, with a front row seat to the Chicago skyline. It richly deserves to be Indiana's first national park.
    - Brian A. Howey, publisher
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