Monday, July 6, 2015

Democratic Lawrence City Councilman Switches to Republican Party

The Indianapolis Star reports:
Lawrence Councilman Carl Barnett has decided he's had enough. He's switching teams.
Citing his overall frustration with Mayor Dean Jessup, Barnett called a news conference at an abandoned firehouse Monday to announce his shift from the
Carl Barnett
Democratic Party to the Republican Party.
"This has been a long time coming," said Barnett
"It all started with the EMT," said Barnett, referring to when the mayor laid off 24 EMTs and took 18 firefighters off their regular duties in order to run the ambulances. That's why the firehouse Barnett chose to give his press conference was shut down, according to Barnett and other council members.
....
Four other council members also attended the news conference and said they, too, are disgruntled. The cut in EMTs and firemen was a particular concern.
The article failed to mention the highly competitive nature of the Lawrence City Council.  There are three-at large districts in the city which is split pretty much 50-50 between the parties.  In 2011, Republicans won 2 of the 3 seats with the second candidate, now Council President Tom Shevlot, squeezing by a Democrat by a mere 37 votes.   Winning 3 of the 6 district races, Republicans enjoyed a narrow 5-4 majority on the council before Barnett's switch.  Barnett, whose district is fairly solidly Democratic, lost the primary to Democratic challenger Tyrell Giles this spring.  The district most likely will stay in Democratic hands.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Socialist Sanders Uses Populism to Cut Into Hillary Clinton's Lead for Democratic Nomination

Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT)
Democrats like to point out that, the GOP nomination process, requires Republican presidential candidates to the right to please their base.  This supposedly makes them "too extreme" then to appeal to independents during the general election process. Democrats again claim this is happening again with the crowded GOP field.

While that theory that the GOP nominating process is producing candidates who are too extreme is questionable given the last two nominees have been moderates Mitt Romney and John McCain, there is no denying that presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton now finds her pushed to the left by her lead challenger Bernie Sanders. An avowed socialist, Sanders' rallies are regularly attended by thousands of Democratic activists who see in the Vermont Senator a spokesman for far left extremism, including redistribution of income and expansion of entitlement programs.

What the Democratic establishment doesn't understand is that Sanders' appeal goes beyond socialism that appeals to the base of the party.  He is tapping into a populism that is rampant in American politics today, a movement that crosses party lines.  On the left, populism translates into a need for bigger government to curb the abuses of big business.  On the right, populism translates into a demand that government stop rigging the game to benefit big business. 

Clinton is just ill-suited to match Sanders' populist appeal.  Worse yet, on the campaign trail she continues the "run out the clock" strategy of running the ball three times and punting figuring Sanders' doesn't have the resources and time to catch her.  She might be right.  But Sanders raised 1/3 of the money Clinton raised during the last reporting period and cut Clinton's lead in half in Iowa, down to 19 points.  A CNN poll shows Sanders only trailing Clinton by 8 points in New Hampshire.  All are very significant accomplishments.

But there is a significant obstacle to Sanders' drive to the Democratic nomination. A recent national poll showed that, among non-white Democratic voters, Sanders trails Hillary Clinton 61% to 9%.  It appears that while white Democrats are willing to consider Sanders, minority Democrats are sticking with Clinton.  At least for now.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Can Rev. Charles Harrison Survive Indianapolis' Signature Gauntlet to Get on Ballot as Independent Candidate for Mayor?

It has been reported by Jon Easter of Indy Democrat that a company was hired to collect signatures of registered voters to put community activist Rev. Charles Harrison on the ballot as an independent candidate for Indianapolis Mayor.  Yours truly was in fact solicited to sign the petition after leaving the Statehouse yesterday.  I signed the petition.  It is my policy that I sign everyone's petition as I
Rev. Charles Harrison
think

As Easter reports, it is not clear who hired the company and whether the petition effort is approved by Rev. Harrison or rather an attempt to draft him into the race.  (A website purportedly to encourage him to run was also set up.)  Earlier this year, Harrison closed his exploratory campaign.  Perhaps he has changed his mind.  Assuming a sufficient number of signatures are deemed valid (more on than that in a second), he has until July 15th to file the paperwork to be a candidate for Mayor.

Easter speculates that Republican County Chairman Kyle Walker might be behind the effort to get Harrison on the ballot.  I don't buy it.  Harrison is a strong personality and is not about to agree to be Walker's sacrificial lamb.   Further, I doubt Harrison would pull more from Democrat Joe Hogsett than Republican Chuck Brewer.  Although Harrison is African-American, it has been shown time and time again that black voters will vote for a white Democrat over a black non-Democrat.  I think Harrison would pull more from Brewer, in particular Harrison would attract conservative Republicans who are fed up with the big spending, big taxing, big borrowing Ballard administration. 

Of course it is possible that Harrison could catch fire and win a three way race.  But the only path to getting a plurality of the vote in a three way race would seem to be to assemble a coalition of conservative Republicans and an overwhelming majority of African-American voters who normally vote Democrat. As noted above, I have more confidence in the former than the latter.

It was also reported that the canvassers turned in approximately 7000 signatures to get Harrison on the ballot.   As the law only requires about 3200 signatures to qualify (2% of the total 2014 Secretary of State vote) one would think Harrison should be in the clear.  But the problem for Harrison is that it the Marion County Board of Voter Registration,is the body which certifies the validity of petition signatures.  The MCBVR, which is led by a Democrat and Republican, each appointed by her respective county chairman, is extremely partisan and has for years worked together to keep  independents and disfavored, anti-establishment party candidates off the ballot. 

One of the ways the MCBVR does this dirty business is to claim that signatures of registered voters signing the petitions do not match what the MCBVR has on file.  But those signatures are not updated.  People's signatures change over time.  My signature on file with the MCBVR is from when I signed a Social Security card when I was about 14 years old.  My signature looks nothing like that today.

A few years ago, I obtained a listing of the petition signature approval rate in every congressional district in Indiana.  Unfortunately I couldn't find those statistics for this article.  What it showed was that the 7th Congressional district, which is entirely within Marion County, by far had the lowest approval rate of petition signatures.    I've seen candidates get twice as many signatures only to see the MCBVR disallow enough to keep those candidates off the ballot.  Always, always, the candidates kicked off the ballot are independents or party candidates challenging the one favored  by the party establishment.

Assuming Harrison wants to be a candidate, I will be very interested in seeing the machinations the MCBVR goes through to disqualify signatures.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Marion County Libertarian Party Won't Support Religious Liberty for People of Faith, But Will Support it for Fake, Pot Smoking Church

I hate to write two straight articles on the same subject, but someone directed my attention to a ridiculous press release issued today by the Marion County (Indianapolis) Libertarian Party in which it professes to now support religious freedom after opposing it earlier this year:
Indianapolis , IN – In an apparent effort to intimidate and coerce the free expression of religion, Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry, along with IMPD Chief Rick Hite and other city officials held a press conference on Friday June 26th. During the course of that press conference, Curry and Hite made it clear that those attending the inaugural service at the First Church of Cannabis, scheduled on July 1st, would face criminal charges and possible arrest. Chief Hite went so far as to compare the first Church of Cannabis and their leader, Bill Levin to mass murder Jim Jones and the People’s Temple. 
The Libertarian Party of Marion County sees this as a direct attack on the inalienable rights numerated in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. An individual’s belief or disbelief in Deity is no business of the State of Indiana or the City of Indianapolis. The consumption of cannabis as a religious sacrament poses no threat to public safety and therefore, the state has no compelling reason to interfere with this, or any peaceful assembly of worshippers. Arrest, citation, harassment or intimidation of any persons peaceably assembled at the First Church of Cannabis will be regarded as an attack on the individual liberties guaranteed by the U. S. Constitution. 
The Libertarian Party of Marion County encourages Chief Hite to apologize for his outlandish and insensitive comparison of the first Church of Cannabis to the dark tragedy of the People’s Temple. We call on the law enforcement community throughout Indiana to abide by the Constitution which they have taken an oath to uphold. Most importantly, we call on the good people of Indiana to assemble in the spirit of Liberty to protect the rights of the First Church of Cannabis and any other religious body facing persecution from the overreach of the state.
Let's be clear about this.  Earlier this year the Libertarian Party had a chance to take a stand for the First Amendment Free Exercise Clause.  Contrary to the claim that Libertarian Party supports all constitutional rights, the party took a pass.  It became crystal clear during the RFRA debate that when the Libertarian Party says it is for "liberty" that liberty most certainly does not include religious freedom.

Today though the Marion County Libertarian Party suddenly reversed directions issuing a press release claiming the party has done a 180 and now supports religious freedom.  Why the sudden change?  Is it because the party leaders now realize that there are well-meaning people across the state who have deeply held religious beliefs and want to see their right to practice their faith protected from undue government interference?  Absolutely not.  It is because the Marion County Libertarian Party wants to lend support to a well-known religious bigot who immediately post-RFRA (a law he strongly opposed) set up a fake church so he could continue his two favorite pastimes mocking religion and smoking pot while enjoying his fleeting 15 minutes of fame.  

Is there any reason for people of faith to vote for the Libertarian Party after that insulting press release?

Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Libertarian Party, Again, Abandons Its Principles and the Constitution to Join the Political Bandwagon

Earlier this year I blogged about the Indiana Libertarians' curious and anti-constitutional position during the fight over Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act. RFRAs are adopted as a direct result of the 1990 Supreme Court case Employment Division v. Smith which rendered the First Amendment Free Exercise Clause meaningless when it came to protecting religious liberty.  Under Smith, as long as a law applied equally to everyone it could infringe on religious freedom.  That was a radical departure from the Sherbert standard which required government have a compelling interest to infringe on religious rights.   Smith rendered the Free Exercise Clause virtually meaningless.

Remarkably, during the RFRA debate Libertarians showed they were not interested in standing up for the Constitution or for freedom, at least not when it comes to religious freedom Instead,many, albeit not all, Libertarians bought completely the nonsense that RFRA was going to be "license to discriminate."   Of course RFRA is in 31 states and at the national level and in 22 years of existence there has not been a single instance in which RFRA overturning the application of an anti-discrimination law. That though didn't stop Libertarians, normally a thoughtful bunch unpersuaded by political slogans, to abandon critical thinking as well as their principles to join the mob bashing RFRA.

This week, the Libertarians had another chance to stand up for the principals in their platform and again took a pass..  This time the issue was same sex marriage.  Certainly the Libertarian Party has a long history of supporting same sex marriage.  Yet the Libertarian Party also had a long history of opposing judicial activism, a practice in which judges find new rights in the U.S. Constitution that other judges never saw before.  The Libertarian Party has also always trumpeted federalism, that when the Constitution is silent on an issue, the power to decide that issue should be left to the states or to the people.  (See 10th Amendment). 

On Friday the United States Supreme Court handed down Obergefell v. Hodges, a case in which the Court found that the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the 14th Amendment, protected the right of same sex couples to marry.  Apparently no on in the nearly 150 year history of the 14th Amendment noticed that this legal protection was contained in the words of the 14th Amendment.  Fortunately, though five justices on the Court had the wisdom to "find" it. 

Naturally Libertarians decried the abuse of judicial power and the undermining of federalism.  Certainly they argued that how to define marriage is a policy decision that under our system of government should have been left to the states.    After, all Libertarians support the Constitution and Federalism, right?  No, apparently not.  . On Friday, the Libertarian Party put out a press release saying the Party "applaud[s] and celebrate[s]" the decision. 

Given the chance to twice stand up for the Constitution, Libertarians twice denied their erstwhile support for that glorious document.    Not sure if it will happen a third time, but if it does I expect a rooster to crow.  Since Libertarians seem to care not one whit about religious freedom, maybe I should explain that that is a biblical reference.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Judicial Activism of Supreme Court Undermines American Democracy

This week, the United States Supreme Court displayed a contempt for Congress and state legislatures that is probably unprecedented in the history of this country.

In King v. Burwell, the Court considered a provision in the Affordable Car Act which provided for a premium tax credits when an individual is enrolled in an insurance plan through an "Exchange established by the State."  In a 6-3 decision, the Court rewrote the provision to "Exchange established by the State or the Federal Government."

There are rules associated with interpreting statutes.  One of those rules is that in order to look at
Chief Justice John Roberts
Chiefstatutory construction and legislative purpose to interpret a provision, one first must find that a provision is ambiguous and, thus, in need of clarification.  Chief Justice Roberts, writing for the majority, goes to astonishing lengths, including ignoring the statutory definition included in the ACA, to conclude that the phrase "Exchange established by the State" is ambiguous.

Armed with a far-fetched declaration of ambiguity, Roberts then proceeds to rewrite the provision. Although the majority suggests the phrase is a mere drafting error resulting from details of the bill being written behind closed doors instead of through the normal give and take legislative process, the fact is that same phrase, "Exchange established by the State" appears throughout the document as does the term "Exchange" which applies to those both state and federally created exchanges.  It is not the job of courts to rewrite inartfully drafted legislation.

Justice Scalia pens an outstanding dissent, schooling the majority on how the rules of statutory construction work.   Even though the lack of ambiguity in the questioned provision could have ended Scalia's analysis, he goes on to explain even if there is ambiguity, there are obvious reasons why  Congress may well have intended that "Exchange established by State" means exactly that.

Scalia details the choices the respective legislative bodies could have made had the Supreme Court not decided to shed their judicial robes for legislative suits:
Rather than rewriting the law under the pretense of interpreting it,  the Court should have left it to Congress to decide what to do about the Act’s limitation of tax credits to state Exchanges. If Congress values above everything else Act’s applicability across the country, it could make tax credits available in every Exchange. If it prizes state involvement in the Act’s implementation, it could continue to limit tax credits to state Exchanges while taking other steps to mitigate the economic consequences predicted by the Court. If Congress wants to accommodate both goals, it could make tax credits available everywhere while offering new incentives for States to set up their own Exchanges. And if Congress thinks that the present design of the Act works well enough, it could do nothing. Congress could also do something else alto- gether, entirely abandoning the structure of the Affordable Care Act. The Court’s insistence on making a choice thatshould be made by Congress both aggrandizes judicial power and encourages congressional lassitude. King v. Burwell is the third time now that the U.S. Supreme Court has rewritten provisions to accord with what a majority believed to be Congress' intent in passing the ACA.  The case represents a dangerous trend of judicial activism and in particular judges refusing to defer to legislative bodies in order to act as a super legislature with limitless power to rewrite legislation.
The trend of the Supreme Court relinquishing their judicial robes to enact what a majority believes is "good policy" was evident in today's marriage equality case, Obergefell v. Hodges.  In that case, the 5-4 majority, in an opinion written by Justice Kennedy, decided that the 14th Amendment's Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses protect the right of same sex couples to marry.  

Are we supposed to believe that the between 1847 and 2005 when Massachusetts became the first state to legalize same sex marriage, that every state in the union violated the 14th Amendment by only allowing marriage between a man and a woman?  What the majority did in Obergfell was, via the dictates five black-robed justices, reinterpret the Constitution to include a certain preferred policy position.  In doing so, the Court was acting as a super legislature subverting democratic self-government by usurping the role of state legislatures in defining marriage. 

Justice Anthony Kennedy
Certainly the public was rapidly toward same sex marriage were rapidly changing.  Those changing views were increasingly being recognized as legislative bodies were increasingly extending the definition of marriage to include a union between same sex couples  Yet our Federal Super Legislature, aka the United States Supreme Court, couldn't wait for the democratic process to play out.  Yet that process is critical for reaching consensus on contentious policy questions in this country.  If you think not, consider the never healed wounds that resulted from the Court deciding the Constitution mandated in Roe v. Wade that states allow abortion on demand.

Judges need to know their place.  They are not legislators. They are not on the bench to rewrite legislation or to substitute their policy preferences for that of representatives elected by the people.  Just as importantly, the result-oriented judging that is currently taking place at every level of the judiciary needs to cease.  Too often judges find a result they want, and then disingenuously go about twisting statutes, the Constitution and case law to get the result they wanted.  Burwell is the perfect example of that practice.  Rules of statutory construction are not liberal or conservative and they are extremely well-known Yet the justices in the majority were willing to ignore them in order to reach the conclusion they wanted.  Inexcusable.

Liberals should not celebrate judicial activism. Judicial activism transcends political philosophy.  It could well be that a Republican elected President in 2016 makes several appointments to the Supreme Court that tips the majority to the conservative side. Imagine those conservative justices shedding their previous advocacy of judicial restraint and deference to the legislature to enact a conservative political agenda through judicial fiat.  It's hard to feel sorry for liberals if that happens. After all, that's the judiciary they wanted.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Indianapolis Mayoral Candidate Joe Hogsett Pledges to End 34 Year Moratorium, Promises New Street Lights as Part of Crime Plan

In a speech to supporters inside the old city hall, former U.S. Attorney Joe Hogsett set out his public plans for public safety.  Hogsett provided a list of crime prevention measures, featuring most prominently a call for 150 more police officers.

Left: traditional street lights;  Right:  LED street lights
What unfortunately got second billing was Hogsett's call for an end to the 34 year old moratorium on putting up new street lights in Indianapolis.  It should have gotten top attention.  Probably nothing will  improve safety and reduce crime than to bring light to the darkened street corners all over the city.

It's an issue I've written about before.  In fact, I pondered whether Hogsett would pick up on the issue during his campaign.  He did that but unfortunately he didn't give it the attention I think the issue deserves.
It remains to be seen whether Republican candidate Chuck Brewer will also address this much needed issue. 

Below is the article I wrote in November of 2014 about Indianapolis street lights.
Fox59 broadcast this most interesting story last Thursday:
Marion County has not installed a new street light since 1981, when a moratorium was put in place under former Mayor William Hudnut.
The reason, says Stephanie Wilson with the Department of Public Works, was and remains funding. Marion County currently has 29,000 street lights, and their electric bills cost the city $5.1 million a year. Wilson says funding for street lights comes from the transportation budget.
That means adding more lights would result in less money for roads, sidewalks and bridges. When there is an area in need of more lighting, Wilson says existing lights are reallocated.  
“In conditions where there is either a dangerous area for pedestrians or for drivers, we work with public safety, with IMPD and IFD, and we listen to their recommendations. If it’s needed, we can repurpose existing street lights and place them in areas where they are more needed,” says Wilson.
If a new area is developed, street lights have to be paid for through private funds. 
The Mayor's Office admitted the importance of street lights to crime: 
Mark Lotter, Communications Director for Mayor Ballard’s office, says the city needs more street lights to cut down on crime rates and attract new residents as well.
“We understand that street lights and lighting of public streets and sidewalks is very important to making neighborhoods safer,” says Lotter. “It also makes them more inviting and better places to live.”
Lotter says that a "long term funding sources" have to be identified.  That's Ballard speak for residents needing to open up their wallet and pay higher taxes or fees if they want a city service funded.  That's been the history of Ballard's tenure as Mayor.  Existing revenue sources can always be found for corporate welfare for politically connected developers and  billionaire sports owners, but if residents want basic city services, they need to open their wallets and pay more. 
Let's do some basic month.  The current 29,000 in street lights use $5.1 million in electricity every year. That is $175.86 for every street light.  So if the city added a 1000 street lights, that is only an added cost of $175,860 a year. We can't find that in the budget without raising taxes? 
Further, the addition of new lights could be used to take advantage of new LED technology that would save on maintenance cost and offers substantial energy savings.  San Antonio converted its 20,000 street lights to LED in 2012.  Forbes last year reported on Los Angeles' retrofit of its street lights with LED illumination, the world's largest such project.  The Forbes article details not only savings, but has before and after pictures showing the LED lights providing much improved illumination.

A few weeks ago, the Ballard administration announced it was converting the city's fleet of cars over to alternative fuel vehicles by using a third party vendor from which the city would rent the vehicles.   As a result of this "green" initiative, the Ballard administration claimed taxpayers would save money, a claim that was easily refuted by anyone capable of doing sixth grade math.  But with LED conversion of street lights, the Ballard administration could actually adopt a green initiative that truly would save the taxpayers money.   Apparently though Mayor Ballard is only interested in things that make money for companies, not in proposals that save taxes. 
It will be interesting to see if f Democratic mayoral candidate Joe Hogsett picks up on this story. It's an ideal campaign issue.  It's easy to explain the connection between street lights and Hogsett's signature issue, crime.  It illustrates the misplaced priorities of the Ballard administration. Using the LED technology, the conversion of street lights could also be sold as saving the taxpayers money.  It's a win, win, win. 
Note:  A company named Leotek produces A Municipal Guide for Converting to LED Street Lighting that has useful information. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Next Crisis Around the Corner: Student Loan Debt

CNBC has an excellent article, published in the USA Today, on the next crisis that awaits - the growing student loan debt young people are incurring:
The numbers are staggering: more than $1.2 trillion in outstanding student loan debt, 40 million borrowers, an average balance of $29,000.
It's not hard to find indications that student debt is a large (and growing) problem. But unless you or someone you love holds student loans, it can be hard to feel the problem's immediacy.   
That may not be the case for long. Mounting student loan debt is ricocheting through the United States, now affecting institutions and economic patterns that have been at the core of America's very might. 
Men and women laboring under student debt "are postponing marriage, childbearing and home purchases, and...pretty evidently limiting the percentage of young people who start a business or try to do something entrepreneurial," said Mitch Daniels, president of Purdue University and the former Republican governor of Indiana. "Every citizen and taxpayer should be concerned about it."
I have often been critical of Daniels as Governor.  But as President of Purdue, Daniels has been a leader on the growing student loan debt crisis.  Unlike university administrators across the country, Daniels has talked about the need to control higher education costs that have spiraled upward the last few years as universities have gone on a building boom.  While some will argue for "free" college education, that merely switches who foots the bill.   If taxpayers are paying the bill there will be even less incentive for cost control of higher education costs.

The article continues on about the impact of the debt:
The high levels of student debt are also serving to perpetuate and even worsen economic inequality, undercutting the opportunity and social mobility that higher education has long promised. Americans almost universally believe that a college degree is the key to success and getting ahead—and the data shows that, generally speaking, college graduates still fare far better financially than those with just a high school diploma. 
But for those who are saddled with massive student debt, even getting by can be a challenge, much less getting ahead. 
"You wind up disadvantaged just as you begin. It has reduced the ability of our educational system to be a force for upward mobility, and for an equitable chance at upward mobility," said Melinda Lewis, associate professor of the practice at the University of Kansas School of Social Welfare. "It is still true that you are better positioned if you go to college, but you are not as much better positioned if you have to go to college with debt."
Even though state support of higher education continues to increase, it has not kept up with the above-inflation increases in tuition and room & board.  The article notes this fact.
[T]he cost of both a private and a public college degree has skyrocketed. Average tuition, fees, and room and board at a private, non-profit, four-year college were $42,419 for 2014-2015, up from $30,664 in real dollars in 2000-01. At public, four-year schools, costs for the 2014-15 school year, at $18,943, were up sharply from the $11,635 price tag in 2000-01, according to the College Board.
The gap has been bridged by students taking on more and more debt.  This situation has increased with the proliferation of for profit post-secondary education establishments that have worked hand-in-hand with lenders.   Lenders are more than happy to make such loans because, unlike other unsecured debt, it is next to impossible to discharge student loans in bankruptcy.

There also has to be an emphasis on students taking courses of study that can lead to profitable employment post-education.  Traditionalists praise the benefits of a liberal arts education and that college is a place where future employees will develop "critical thinking skills" that will be appreciated by employers.  I so wish that were true and that employers would be patient enough to hire and develop talent employees who enter the workforce with general education degrees or degrees in different areas.  But the world we live in today is filled with employers who want to hire college graduates who are ready to enter the work-force, knowledgeable about the subject area, from Day 1.
  
The lengthy CNBC article is a must read for those interested in knowing about our next financial crisis.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Angie's List Takes Fight With Amazon Local to an Indianapolis Federal Courtroom

The Indianapolis Star reports:
Angie’s List has sued Amazon Local, accusing it of stealing provider lists and other proprietary information from Angie’s. The federal lawsuit, filed Friday in Indianapolis, alleges that Amazon Local executives and other employees got access to the information by signing up as members of Angie’s and downloading provider profiles, member reviews and other information.
The information is being used by Amazon Local, a subsidiary of Internet giant Amazon.com, to establish a competing service to Angie’s, according to the lawsuit.
...
Angie’s said its member agreement “explicitly prohibits the use of Angie’s List’s accounts and information for commercial purposes.” 
But the lawsuit contends that more than a dozen Amazon Local employees violated the contract. The Amazon Local employees are named as co-defendants in the lawsuit.  
...
The lawsuit levels a host of charges against Amazon Local, including misappropriation of trade secrets, theft, computer trespass, civil conspiracy and violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.
...
I doubt that Angie's List can make information available to customers and continue to claim the information is a trade secret.  Of all the claims it would seem that the breach of contract is the best claim, i.e. that the Amazon Local officials who, allegedly, signed up for the Angie's List violated the terms of their contract by using the AL information for commercial purposes, is the best claim.   

Sunday, June 21, 2015

GOP Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard Appoints Democrat and LGBT Leader as Press Secretary

Today, the Indypolitics blog published an article by Brad Jacklin detailing why he decided to return to Indianapolis.  In the article, Jacklin is identified Mayor Greg Ballard's new press secretary.

A "google" search of "Jacklin" and "Ballard" reveal that not a single media outlet has reported that Jacklin is Ballard's new press secretary.  Curiously it appears from Jacklin's article that the Mayor Ballard had suggested that his name be left out of Jacklin's article.  It is not clear how Mayor Ballard thought he could keep under wraps his appointment of a press secretary.
Brad Jacklin

Jacklin, who is also an attorney, up until early this year served as Executive Director of the congressional LGBT Equality Caucus.  Before taking that position in 2013, Jacklin worked for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. The reason for Jacklin's departure from the Equality Caucus is not clear from published reports but may be tied to membership being cut in half earlier this year when the Caucus decided to impose $400 annual dues, which according to the Washington Blade, Jacklin said was for the purpose of increasing his $55,000 annual salary.  Over half the members of Congress in the LGBT Equality Caucus balked at paying the dues, including Indianapolis Congressman Andre Carson.

Being a Republican and supportive of LGBT rights is not unusual for Indianapolis politics.  But here is the thing.  Jacklin is not even remotely a Republican.  He's a liberal Democratic activist who has worked for Democratic congressman Sean Patrick Mahoney.   There is nothing in Jacklin's history or activism which suggests he has even remotely Republican leanings and should be put into a key position in a GOP administration where policy and communication of that policy will be debated.

Interestingly enough Jacklin concludes his article with this plea to keep his job after the 2015 municipal election: "I’ll be here in January 2016 if the next Mayor wants me."   I'm sure Jacklin will fit right in with the administration of Mayor Joe Hogsett.

Reason Magazine Details Chilling Assault on Free Speech by Federal Prosecutor, District Court

Reason Magazine reports:
For the past two weeks, Reason, a magazine dedicated to "Free Minds and Free Markets," has been barred by an order from the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York from speaking publicly about a grand jury subpoena that court sent to Reason.com.
The subpoena demanded the records of six people who left hyperbolic comments at the website about the federal judge who oversaw the controversial conviction of Silk Road founder Ross Ulbricht. Shortly after the subpoena was issued, the government issued a gag order prohibiting Reason not only from discussing the matter but even acknowledging the existence of the subpoena or the gag order itself. As a wide variety of media outlets have noted, such actions on the part of the government are not only fundamentally misguided and misdirected, they have a tangible chilling effect on free expression by commenters and publications alike.
Yesterday, after preparing an extensive legal brief, Reason asked the US Attorney's Office to join with it in asking that the gag order - now moot and clearly an unconstitutional prior restraint - be lifted. This morning, the US Attorney's Office asked the Court to vacate the order, which it did. We are free to tell the story for the first time.
Preet Bhara, U.S. Attorney
On May 31, Nick Gillespie published a post at Reason.com's Hit & Run blog discussing Silk Road founder Ross Ulbricht's "haunting sentencing letter" to District Court Judge Katherine Forrest, and the judge's harsh response. Gillespie noted that Forrest "more than threw the book" at Ulbricht by giving him a life sentence, which was a punishment "beyond even what prosecutors...asked for."
In the comments section of the post, six readers published reactions that drew the investigative ire of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York. In a federal grand jury subpoena dated June 2, the U.S. District Court commanded Reason.com to turn over "any and all identifying information" we had about the individuals posting those comments.
...
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara subpoenaed all of the identifying information we had about the authors of such comments as, "Its (sic) judges like these that should be taken out back and shot." And, "Why waste ammunition? Wood chippers get the message across clearly. Especially if you feed them in feet first." This last comment is a well-known Internet reference to the Coen brothers' movie Fargo.  
The subpoena also covered such obviously harmless comments as: "I hope there is a special place in hell reserved for that horrible woman," and "I'd prefer a hellish place on Earth be reserved for her as well."
The comments are hyperbolic, in questionable taste–and fully within the norms of Internet commentary.
It's worth stressing that, under established legal precedent, Reason.com (like any other website) is generally not legally responsible for reader comments posted at our site. Still, the chilling effect on Reason and our commenters is tangible. It takes time, money and resources to challenge, or even simply to comply with, such intrusive demands. 
Reason Magazine then took the bold step of informing the anonymous commentators that the U.S. Attorney's Office was demanding that they be identified pursuant to a subpoena.  In explaining its decision to the federal prosecutor, Reasons' attorney explained that First Amendment case law protects the right of commenters to speak anonymously, and that Reason would withhold the information of anyone who wished to fight the subpoena.  Despite case law to the contrary, Assistant U.S. Attorney Niketh Velamoor disputed that any such free speech rights exist and asked that Reason delay notifying the commenters until he could get a court order prohibiting disclosure of the subpoena.  Reason went ahead with the disclosure. The U.S. Attorney's Office then accused Reason Magazine of engaging in obstruction of justice and contempt of court and now indicated Reason would be investigated. 

Now that the matter has been resolved, Reason Magazine does a great job of summarizing concerns about the use of the secrecy associated with federal subpoena process to undermine civil liberties:
Reason's experience needs to be understood in a larger context. Especially since the 9/11 attacks, there has been a mounting conflict between the values of free speech and constitutional due process, with government making increasing demands–often under threat of punishment–for all sorts of information from innocent citizens. Coupled with the rise of a secretive and pervasive surveillance state, this tension means that Americans have no way of knowing just how unfree their speech really is. 
While it is impossible to fully ascertain the frequency of information requests from local, state, and federal law enforcement, there is every reason to believe websites are subjected to thousands of demands each year. It is also not clear how other websites interpret the type of letter requesting "voluntary" confidentiality that Reason received. How often is that letter sent along with subpoenas? And how often does it achieve its intended effect of securing silence? In other words, does it have the same effect as a gag order? 
In 2013, for instance, Mother Jones reported that Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Microsoft have between them received "tens of thousands of requests for user data from the US government annually," covering hundreds of thousands of accounts. Using corporate transparency reports, the magazine estimated that the companies complied with the demands between 72 percent and 89 percent of the time, and that it's impossible to know how many of those requests were filled without the affected users ever knowing their information had been targeted.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Indy Pride's Exposure of Hedonism and Debauchery to Children Is Not Something to Celebrate

Pete Heck, who has a weekly radio show on WIBC, hits a home run with a letter to the Indianapolis Star about the Indy Pride Parade:
Last Saturday on the streets of his city, Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard chose his defining moment. In an awkwardly fitting teal shirt, Ballard waved to the crowds while a short distance away nearly naked men performed pelvic thrusts and simulated sex acts. A refined choice indeed, Mr. Mayor.   
Not that Ballard’s participation as the grand marshal over the display of hedonism known as the “Cadillac Barbie Indy Pride Parade” came as a surprise to anyone. Like most politicians these days, Ballard is simply  riding the waves of pop culture and whatever seems likely to garner him good press.   
Ballard often speaks of lofty sounding ideals like “tolerance,” “acceptance” and “Hoosier Hospitality.” Yes, because nothing welcomes families to Downtown like subjecting them to city-sanctioned close encounters with men in dog collars and leather G-strings.
No one else seems willing to say it, so I will. It’s gross. And it in no way represents all people with same-sex attraction any more than a parade of pornographers would represent all with opposite-sex attraction. This isn’t about homosexuality, although that is the over-arching theme of the parade and larger festival.    
...
Not long ago, lesbian feminist activist Julie Bindel expressed this very frustration, shared by others in the homosexual movement. “(Pride parades) became about sexual hedonism,” she scolded, insisting that the only message sent by these spectacles of self-indulgence is, “this is just one great party all about sexual access to as many other men as we can secure.”
But for some reason, acknowledging that reality has become taboo and insensitive in our society. Just look at how the news media covered the festival. Local TV coverage made the parade appear as benign as the Tournament of Roses. Print media was worse, contrasting the “discriminatory” religious freedom supporters with the familial love that flooded the streets on Saturday.
Selectively displaying pleasant images of children with rainbow face paint along the parade route, these journalists omitted the truth. There was no footage showing barely clothed men sexually thrusting themselves against poles on their parade float in full view of children; no expression of concern at gender-bending drag queens in fishnets who in years past have walked through the crowd handing out condoms and lube.
Forget familial love. The point of this parade is to provide adults an opportunity to regress into immaturity and immorality. It’s an excuse to lose themselves in their lusts. And we applaud this as behavior to take “pride” in?
...
Not that Ballard was alone. The man who wants to take his place, Democrat Joe Hogsett, was there, putting his stamp of approval on the depravity. And newly announced gubernatorial candidate and current State Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz was there smiling amid the revelry as well. Yes, the woman who oversees the education of Hoosier children was prancing around with men in tutus and pixie dust, with great “pride” no doubt.
It is not that parts of the Pride festivities aren't family-friendly.  It is just that so many parts are about nothing more than hedonism and debauchery.  While those activities are fine behind closed doors between consenting adults, why does the City's children have to be exposed to those activities?  We need to demand better of Pride organizers and participants.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Colorado Home Destroyed as Police SWAT Team Pursues Shoplifter Who Fired on Officers

Channel 7 in Denver reports:
GREENWOOD VILLAGE, Colo. - "There was one gunman with a handgun and they chose to turn this house into something that resembles Osama Bin Laden's compound."
Leo Lech is more than a little upset, and he is not afraid to express it with colorful language.

After all, the house he purchased for his son now has gaping holes where it once had walls and windows. Past the exposed studs and insulation of the condemned structure, you can see artwork on the wall of a 9-year-old boy's bedroom.
"In any civilized nation ... this is the act of paramilitary thugs," he says he told the chief of the Greenwood Village Police Department.
The chief, Lech said, brushed it off. 
The damage was inflicted by police and SWAT officers who were working to capture Robert Jonathan Seacat, a suspected 33-year-old shoplifter who allegedly barged into a random home Wednesday afternoon, and opened fire on police when they tried to arrest him a short time later.   
The incident began Wednesday afternoon, when he was allegedly spotted shoplifting in Aurora. Seacat then drove to a nearby light rail station, where he ditched his car and ran.   
...
There was obviously some kind of explosive that was fired into here," Lech said, showing 7NEWS anchor Anne Trujillo the cavernous hole in the wall that used to protect the boy's bedroom.
Those holes are visible in nearly every room on the second floor.
A neighbor, who says the SWAT team used his home as a base of operations, points out that whatever the police used to blast the holes sent debris flying.


"When they used the explosives to blow apart the side of this house here, they broke our windshield," the neighbor said. blockquote>
...
His insurance will pay for the structure, but Lech's son did not have rental insurance and the possessions inside are therefore not being covered.
Interestingly, in a related story the Greenwood Village Police Commander said that the department followed "textbook" procures and that the department won because the got the suspect out alive.
"I value life more than property and I would hope you guys do the same," Varney told news reporters. "I could easily have instituted a plan to go in there, I assure you, in the first 15 minutes. But with that comes a cost, the cost of being reckless, probably not serving the community like you're supposed to and, even worse, that cost is possibly going to be possibly officers being shot. I refuse to do that on a sole barricaded gunman when I've got time on my side, and I've got more than enough tactics and resources in hopes to outlast him."
The city manager echoed Varney's viewpoint.
"I'm thankful we're not making funeral arrangements today as a result of the armed, barricaded individual who attempted to murder our police officers," said Greenwood Village City Manager Jim Sanderson.
After this story received some national attention, and the Greenwood Village police tactics subject to severe criticism, the city is now singing a slightly different tune, offering Lech and his renter and the neighbors some financial assistance.
The city said it will pay insurance deductibles for anyone from the surrounding homes in the 4200 block of Alton Street who suffered property damage during the 18-hour standoff that started Wednesday. 
Greenwood Village had also offered to pay the homeowner, Leo Lech's, deductible and pay the tenant, Lech's son, until he can find new housing. The city offered the son $5,000 for temporary housing.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Salon Magazine Admits Tea Party Right About Opposing Government Corruption, Crony Capitalism

Never thought I'd see the day when Breitbart would cite approvingly a Salon article, but that happened this morning.  

The Salon article titled  "Here’s how Bernie Sanders could win: The one issue where Hillary’s vulnerable, and where the Tea Party might be right", discusses how corruption in government and the very closely related issue of crony capitalism could be the key to winning the White House in 2016.

From the article:
Our government is so corrupt it is odious even in the eyes of patriots. In a Gallup poll measuring reputations of professions, nurses finished first; 80 percent judged their integrity to be high. Members of Congress finished last at 7 percent, a full 14 percent
behind lawyers. Even these numbers don’t capture the depth of public anger. If the anger turns to cynicism millions will walk away from politics. Millions already have. If it finds a voice we may have an Arab Spring of our own, maybe as soon as 2016. If so, the less-prepared party will be blown away. As things stand now, that would be the Democrats.
Republicans are by nature better at ginning up anger, but lately it’s as if they had the patent on it. Progressives were first to oppose the 2008 Wall Street bailout. The first protest was hosted by TrueMajority, a liberal advocacy group founded by Ben Cohen of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream fame. But by 2009 Obama owned the bailout and word went out that to attack it would only undercut him. Enter the Tea Party, amidst cries of “crony capitalism,” to tap the rich vein of public anger. For the first time, economic populism was the property of conservatives. It was some gift.
...
As for the Democrats, Hillary Clinton may not be the worst person to fly the reform flag, but then again, she might be. Her first problem is her past. If the Clintons didn’t invent pay-to-play politics, with such minions as Rahm Emanuel and Terry McAuliffe in tow, they came close to perfecting it. Her second problem is her present: her special way of handling her email; the alleged conflicts of interest over at the Clinton Foundation; the pricey speeches she gave and Bill still insists on giving. Her third problem is how she handles questions about it all: her defensive tone; her far-too-clever syntactical evasions; her insistence on being praised even as she stumbles; and, yes, her seeming sense of entitlement.
In a June 2 Gallup poll, 57 percent of respondents said Hillary is not “honest or trustworthy.” In a Public Policy Polling survey of Ohio voters this week, she led Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) by a point and was tied with Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL). The first poll explains the others. This week, Bill Clinton said he’ll stop giving $500,000 speeches if she becomes president. Yesterday, Hillary went to New York City to deliver a populist-themed speech. Neither Clinton has a clue about the depth of public anger over watching big-money interests treat government as their personal toy. If Clinton loses the nomination or the general election, this will be the reason why.
This is the very point I've been trying to make for so long. The economic populist positions of the Tea Party, which includes opposition to things like corporate welfare, taxpayer bailouts, and pay-to-play politics, resonate across party lines. Yet, by nominating the establishment Mitt Romney in 2012, the GOP gave up using those crony capitalism issues against President Obama who had come to embrace the policy of bailing out failed big business that began under former President George W. Bush.

It looks like in 2016 Republicans will again be handed a chance to win the White House against another anti-populist, Wall Street Democratic nominee. Will Republicans instead nominate a Main Street populist, someone who can connect with working men and women while demanding that politicians stop rigging our capitalist system to favor politically-connected big business? More specifically, will Republicans be foolish enough to nominate the 2016 version of Mitt Romney, someone like former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, to run against Hillary Clinton? Only time will tell.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Head-to-Head Poll Suggests Hillary Clinton's Once Large Lead in Ohio Has Evaporated

Democratic-leaning polling firm Public Policy Polling this week released polling results showing
Gov. John Kasich
several Republicans leading or even

PPP, a polling firm that polls exclusively for Democratic candidates and liberal causes, found that Ohio Governor John Kasich leading Hillary Clinton by a 7% margin.  Even more surprisingly that same poll found Kentucky Senator Rand Paul leading Clinton by 3% in Ohio, and Florida Senator Marco Rubio tied with Clinton.  Below is a table of the entire field showing the margin in the PPP poll versus an Ohio poll done by Quinnipiac University back in late March.

Name
PPP Poll Margin v. Clinton
Quinnipiac Poll Margin v. Clinton
GOP Gain
John Kasich
+7
Not polled
NA
Rand Paul
+3
-5
8 pts.
Marco Rubio
Tie
-9
9 pts.
Ben Carson
-1
Not polled
NA
Scott Walker
-1
-11
10 pts.
Ted Cruz
-1
-10
9 pts.
Jeb  Bush
-2
-9
7 pts.
Chris Christie
-3
-6
3 pts.
Mike Huckabee
-3
-10
7 pts

Indiana's RFRA Offers No Legal Protection for Pot-Smoking Members of the First Church of Cannabis

Anyone who knows Bill Levin, founder of the First Church of Cannabis, knows that he likes certain things.  He loves to smoke pot, he craves media attention and he enjoys mocking people who have religious faith.   By establishing the First Church of Cannabis, Levin is able to engage in all three passions simultaneously.

Levin has secured a southside building with plans to open services on July 1st, the day Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act takes effect. With the focus on RFRA and the IRS's approval of tax exempt status, Levin has projected the message to "followers" who pay monthly dues of $4.20 to the church that they will be able to smoke pot free of Indiana's laws prohibiting possession and use of marijuana.  By making such representations, Levin is exposing church participants to criminal prosecution and the church, and possibly himself, to civil liability.

The media has fawned over Levin's church and simply accepted at face value that Levin's idea is a new one made possible by Indiana's adoption of RFRA.  Of course if the reporters were not so lazy maybe they would have bothered to look at litigation in the other 30 states that have adopted RFRA's principles either by legislation or judicial fiat.  If they had done some research, they would have learned that Levin's idea is not creative or new.  There are at least 10 published appellate decisions in which RFRA was used as a defense to criminal charges for marijuana use.   In every case the defendant lost.

After Congress in 1993 nearly unanimously passed the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a bill signed into law by President Bill Clinton, a Wyoming resident decided to found the "Church of Marijuana."   When he was charged with possession, the resident, now a defendant, mounted a RFRA defense claiming he was a "Reverand" in the "Church of Marijuana" that he had founded twenty years earlier.  In the U.S. v. Meyers, the Wyoming district court began by observing:
As is true of the First Amendment, RFRA could easily become the first refuge of scoundrels if defendants could justify illegal conduct simply by crying "religion." To assert a free exercise defense, a defendant first must show that his "religion" is bona fide. Yoder, 406 U.S. at 215-16, 92 S.Ct. at 1533-34. On this issue, the Fifth Circuit has aptly observed:
While it is difficult for the courts to establish precise standards by which the bona fides of a religion may be judged,[*] such difficulties have proved to be no hindrance to denials of First Amendment protection to so-called religions which tend to mock established institutions and are obviously shams and absurdities and whose members are patently devoid of religious sincerity.
Even though the "Church of Marijuana" had a 20 year history, the court still found it was a faux religion that was created merely as an excuse to smoke pot.  Levin's case is much weaker than Meyers'.  Unlike Meyers, Levin did not come up with the idea for a "religion" until after RFRA was adopted in Indiana.  If Levin can find a court that will take his First Church of Cannabis seriously, I would be surprised.

In State v. White, an Idaho resident who was charged with marijuana possession asserted the claim "the sacrament of Marijuana is a gift from my creator and I enter into the experience of Marijuana with the intent to bless it.   The sacrament of Marijuana helps me be more receptive to ideas and the ultimate vision of my religion, by setting aside the mundane, and entering into the profound."  White further claimed that "[m]arijuana is taken as a holy sacrament during certain spiritual rituals, honoring the Savior." He also cited to bible verses which he claimed sanctioned the use of marijuana.

The Idaho Court of Appeals was not persuaded with White's RFRA defense finding that he was merely using the beliefs of various recognized religions "to meld into a justification for his use of marijuana."  The court concluded that the evidence did not establish that his marijuana use was motivated by a religious belief."

 With regard to Levin's First Church of Cannabis, certainly Levin and most of the church's congregants used marijuana long before Levin thought of establishing a church that integrated marijuana use in the services.  Thus, Levin claiming his use and the church members' use of marijuana is based on religious beliefs is dubious at best.   (Other cases, State v. Cordingly and State v. Pederson which reached the same conclusion as the White case.)

Some courts though have chosen, probably wisely, to focus on the other parts of RFRA to dispose of the defendant's defense to marijuana prosecutions.  To recap, under RFRA if a defendant can show that a law: 1) substantially burdens his legitimate religious beliefs, then the burden shifts for the state to show: 2) a compelling interest in the law; and 3) that the law is the least restrictive means for advancing that compelling interest, in other words that the law is narrowly tailored.

In the 1998 case, State v. Balzar, the defendant raised a RFRA defense.  The Washington Court of Appeals found that the state had a compelling interest in regulating the possession and use of marijuana:
In light of the substantial case law recognizing other compelling state interests in the context of religious free exercise, as discussed above, and considering the "social realities" of marijuana's effects and dangers, as recognized by the Legislature and Congress, we hold that the State has a compelling interest, in its enforcement of laws regulating drugs listed as Schedule I substances. See Mood for a Day, Inc. v. Salt Lake County, 953 F.Supp. 1252 (D.Utah 1995) ("The compelling nature of the state's interest in fighting illegal drug use can hardly be questioned. Congress, state legislatures, courts, and other government entities have long recognized serious societal problems associated with the use and abuse of controlled substances, including marijuana."). 
In State v. Hardesty, an Arizona resident claimed that Arizona's RFRA protected him from prosecution for possession of marijuana because he consumed marijuana as a sacrament as part of his membership in the "Church of Cognizance."  In the 2009 decision, the Arizona Court of Appeals cited approvingly the Balzar court's conclusion that there is a compelling interest in laws prohibiting the possession and use of marijuana.  The court then cited additional case law:
Other state and federal courts have reached similar conclusions about the dangers of marijuana.  See Rupert v. Portland, 605 A.2d 63, 66 (Me.1992) (stating that statute making possession of marijuana illegal reflects "legislature's determination that marijuana poses a threat to individual health and social welfare"); Mood For A Day, Inc., v. Salt Lake County, 953 F.Supp. 1252, 1262 (D.Utah 1995) ("Congress, state legislatures, courts, and other government entities have long recognized serious societal problems associated with the use and abuse of controlled substances, including marijuana."); State v. Smith, 93 Wash.2d 329, 610 P.2d 869, 875 (1980) (finding that marijuana use "creates a euphoric state of intoxication which impedes learning, incentive, efficiency, and, importantly, motor coordination"); Town v. Florida, 377 So.2d 648, 650 (Fla.1979) (stating that in Florida "cannabis remains a dangerous drug"). Thus, in light of the legislative history and legal precedent, we conclude that the State has a compelling interest in banning the possession of marijuana
In both Balzar and Hardesty, the courts had no problem also finding that the government had satisfied the "least restrictive means" part of the RFRA test.

Bottom line is that Bill Levin's First Church of Cannabis is not even remotely unique and claims that Indiana's adoption RFRA opened the door to the establishment of the church are as phony as the religion-hating Levin's claim to now be a religious leader.  If the Church's congregants think that RFRA provides them a legal defense to their consumption of a controlled substance, they are either being fooled or are fools.  Take your pick.