Friday, May 22, 2015

Updated NASA Data Shows Global Warming Not Causing Polar Ice To Decrease

Forbes reports:
Updated data from NASA satellite instruments reveal the Earth’s polar ice caps have not receded at all since the satellite instruments began measuring the ice caps in 1979. Since the end of 2012, moreover, total polar ice extent has largely remained above the post-1979 average. The updated data contradict one of the most frequently asserted global warming claims – that global warming is causing the polar ice caps to recede.
A 10-percent decline in polar sea ice is not very remarkable, especially considering the 1979 baseline was abnormally high anyway. Regardless, global warming activists and a compliant news media frequently and vociferously claimed the modest polar ice cap retreat was a sign of impending catastrophe. Al Gore even predicted the Arctic ice cap could completely disappear by 2014. 
In late 2012, however, polar ice dramatically rebounded and quickly surpassed the post-1979 average. Ever since, the polar ice caps have been at a greater average extent than the post-1979 mean. 
Now, in May 2015, the updated NASA data show polar sea ice is approximately 5 percent above the post-1979 average.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Carmel Spends $1.4 Million on 17 Creepy Downtown Statues

The Indianapolis Star today has a story about how the City of Carmel has dropped $1.4 million on statutes in its downtown area that many visitors describe as downright  "creepy."  The individual statues range from $118,000 to $49,975.  The article is definitely worth reading to see how our northern suburban neighbor has no problem wasting taxpayer money, putting off until the next decade worrying about the bills that will become due for the municipality's wasteful spending.

Of course, Indianapolis' officials are renown for wasting taxpayer money on bad public art.  Carmel, however, wins the prize for creepiness.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Gubernatorial Candidate Bob Thomas Says Government Should Not Be Involved in Protecting Religous Freedom or Preventing Discrimination

Bob Thomas, a Ft. Wayne car dealer, earlier this month held a press conference to declare that he would:  1) be a candidate for Governor running against Mike Pence in the GOP primary in 2016; or 2) he would run in the Republican Primary for the Ft. Wayne area 3rd congressional district being vacated by Congressman Marlin Stutzman who is running for Senate. 

Thomas ran for that district in 2010.  Thomas lost the Republican primary to Congressman Mark Souder that year by 14 points.  Unlike state legislative seats, congressional candidates only have to
Bob Thomas
live in the state they seek to represent; they don't have to live in the district for which they run.

In a recent interview with Abdul-Hakim Shabazz, Thomas indicated he had dropped the idea of running for Congress and would focus instead on defeating Pence in the 2016 GOP primary.

Thomas, who has degrees from Princeton and Harvard, touts his business success as qualification to be Governor.  He like most political novices though cite a lack of political experience as qualification for elected office.  It was clear from the interview though that Thomas clearly is not prepared to be Governor.

Shabazz asked Thomas about Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act.  Thomas response was that government should not be involved in the issue.  Huh?  Government is already involved in the issue.  The whole impetus for RFRA was a 1990 U.S. Supreme Court decision that basically gutted the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, making the clause virtually toothless when it came to protecting religious liberty.  Congress and states have reacted passing RFRAs to restore that protection.  The whole "government should not be involved" line makes no sense.

Thomas was then asked about expanding Indiana's civil rights to include sexual orientation. Thomas again responded the same way...that government shouldn't be involved in the issue.  Of course, government is already involved in prohibiting discrimination in public accommodations.   Even if Thomas doesn't support expanding the law to include sexual orientation, that is still government being involved in the issue.  Not including sexual orientation is still a public policy choice.

Thomas' apparent belief that he can simply skate by these issues by using the "government shouldn't be involved" line shows how utterly unprepared he is to be a candidate for Governor.

Shabazz's interview with Thomas can be found here.

Monday, May 18, 2015

ABC Needs to Suspend George Stephanopoulos for Failing to Disclose Donations to Clinton Foundation

One of the Sunday morning news programs I like to watch is ABC's This Week hosted (usually) by George Stephanopoulos, the former communications director for Bill Clinton's first presidential campaign.  After that campaign, Stephanopoulos worked in the Clinton White House, leaving in 1996.  He later began working for ABC News.

ABC's George Stephanopoulos
I thought Stephanopoulos had done a good job modeling his career after the late NBC host of Meet the Press, Tim Russert.  Like Stephanopoulos, Russert had set aside a previous career as a Democratic partisan (Russert had been counsel to NY Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan and NY Governor Mario Cuomo) to run a popular Sunday morning news program.  Recently though Stephanopoulos showed he has a long way to go to match Russert when it comes to integrity and journalistic ethics.

It was revealed this past week that Stephanopoulos had given a total of $225,000 ($75,000 for each of three years) to the Clinton Foundation.  Stephanopoulos also participated in Clinton Foundation events.  This revelation came just weeks after Stephanopoulos had "Clinton Cash" author Peter Schweizer on This Week and Stephanopoulos had been dismissive of Schweizer because he could not produce a smoking gun that the donations had directly influenced Hillary Clinton in her role as Secretary of State. (An impossible level of proof.)   At no time during the interview, did Stephanopoulos reveal that he had contributed money to the Clinton Foundation or had been involved in its activities.

Stephanopoulos showed extremely poor judgment in contributing to the Clinton Foundation.  Journalists need to stay away from what could create conflicts.  But Stephanopoulos more egregious breach of journalistic ethics was his discussing the Clinton Foundation on his program while never mentioning to viewers his own donations to that foundation and his participation in its activities.

I hate the trend of people demanding that public figures to be fired every time they make a mistake.  No one is perfect, and that includes people in the public eye.  We need to be more understanding of other people's flaws and give them a second chance.  On the other hand, Stephanopoulos' apology on Sunday is certainly not enough for the very serious transgression he committed.   ABC should suspend Stephanopoulos for a few months for his breach of journalistic ethics and then let him come back. At that point, if Stephanopoulos screws up again, ABC should consider termination.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Hillary Clinton's Long Streak of Never Trailing in Republican Matchups Comes to an End

Fox News yesterday published the first national poll showing former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton trailing a Republican rival.

The poll, which was conducted by the bipartisan polling team of Anderson Robbin Research (D) & Shaw Company (R), showed former Florida Governor Jeb Bush leading Clinton 45% to 44%. The poll displayed a large gender gap, with women favoring Clinton by 12%, but men favoring Bush by 16%.

A review of the history of Fox polls on the Hillary Clinton- Jeb Bush matchup, shows that Clinton's electorate advantage has been slipping for some time:
3/4/14  Clinton by 13%
7/22/14  Clinton by 13%
12/9/14  Clinton by 7%
1/27/15  Clinton by 5%
3/31/15  Tie
4/21/15  Clinton by 4%
5/12/15  Bush by 1%

Other Republican candidates, however, continued to trail against Clinton in yesterday's Fox poll:
Rubio (-4%) Walker (-6%), Carson (-6%), Huckabee (-3%), Cruz (-5%), Kasich (-8%) and Fiorini (-12%).

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Wayne Township Caucus to Fill Constable Vacancy Features 90% PCs Appointed by Party Chair, 44% From Other Townships

Tonight there will be a caucus of Democratic Wayne Township precinct committeepersons to fill a vacancy in the township constable's office.  Democratic Constable Billy Newman passed away last month after a lingering illness. 

Marion County township constables provide security for the small claims courts and serve legal
process. They don't draw a salary, but instead receive a portion of the filing fees. Constables are  responsible for paying expenses associated with performing the duties of the office.  Thus, their pay is the profits they make after expenses.  Marion County constables do extremely well financially.  A couple Indianapolis Star articles several years ago investigated the pay of Marion County constables and found they were the highest paid elected officials.

Because of the amount of money that is paid to the constable, much of which gets kicked back to the party, they are extremely important positions for party chairmen.  Marion County Joel Miller is no different in wanting his person in the Wayne Township Constable's Office.  And that person is Kevin Kelly, who Miller appointed to fill in until a replacement could be chosen.  At tonight's caucus, Kelly will square off against the President of the Wayne Township Democratic Club, Dennis Poteet.  Poteet won't be playing on an even playing field. Chairman Miller has stacked the deck to ensure his candidate, Kelly, gets elected to fill the vacancy.

Under Indiana law, whether there is a vacancy in elected office, the county chairman of the party that occupies that office calls a caucus within 30 days to fill the vacancy. Those eligible to vote are precinct committeepersons in the district from which the person is elected.  Those PCs must have been in their position at least 30 days.  The idea of the process is that PCs elected by the voters representing neighborhoods in the district will represent their constituents in casting a vote to fill the vacancy.  How the process works in practice far different than the process the legislature intended.

Although PC is an elected position, few PCs are actually elected.  The parties generally discourage people from running for the office because if the PC is not elected, the county chairman gets to appoint someone to the PC person.  Unlike if the PC is elected, an appointed PC can come from anywhere in the county and serve at the pleasure of the Chairman. Many times PCs are simply appointed to show up and vote a certain way for slating (party endorsement) or in a vacancy election such as is taking the place today.

Because of the 30 day rule, Miller had ample time to fill the Wayne Township precincts with people from all over the County who would do his bidding at tonight's caucus by voting for Kelly.  The caucus voter list reveals how the deck has been stacked against Poteet. 

Of the 48 precinct committeepersons tonight who are eligible to participate in the Wayne Township caucus, only 5 (10%) were elected by Democratic primary voters.  Only 16 (5 elected and 11 appointed) PCs (33%) actually reside in the Wayne Township precinct they represent. 

It gets worse, only 27 of the 48 (56%) of the Democratic precinct committeepersons participating in the Wayne Township caucus tonight actually live and vote in Wayne Township.  Those outside of Wayne Township who were appointed Wayne Township PCs for tonight's caucus election include former Marion County Democratic Chairman Ed Treacy, who lives in Washington Township, and powerhouse attorney/lobbyist Greg Hahn, who lives in Lawrence Township.

The legislature last session failed to consider a bill aimed at limiting the ability of county chairmen to rig vacancy elections.  Next session it should get serious consideration.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Star Columnist Tully Demonstrates Intellectual Dishonesty Again In Latest Diatribe Against RFRA

Matt Tully once again demonstrates that when it comes to writing a political column, intellectual honesty takes a back seat to promotion of his and the Star's agenda. This time the target is a favorite of the Star, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.  Tully writes:
Matt Tully
As it turns out, we can't wish RFRA away.
No, the damage done by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act lives on. And it's costing Indiana in ways critical to its economy.
If you doubt that, consider a recent email Indiana State Fair Commission executive director Cindy Hoye sent to local convention, business, political and community leaders. In the email, Hoye noted with disappointment that Indianapolis recently lost out on a bid to become the 2018 and 2019 convention host for the International Association of Fairs and Expositions. That organization bills its massive four-day convention as the nation's "largest event serving fairs, shows, exhibitions, and expositions."
"The IAFE Board was presented pros and cons about each destination," Hoye wrote. "RFRA was listed as a negative to choosing Indy and the IAFE Board voted to take their convention to San Antonio. … More work must continue."
A quick three second Google search reveals that Texas also has the RFRA.   Of course, Tully never mentions this fact in his column which would have been the intellectually honest thing to do. Likewise Tully apparently never bothered to ask Hoye about this fact or to even demand Hoye provide some proof of her claim.  Hoye's statement fits Tully and the Star's agenda, so why question it?

Tully goes on to say that in order to stay competitive in attracting conferences such as the IAFE's Indiana needs to expand its anti-discrimination law that includes sexual orientation.

You know what Texas does not have? An anti-discrimination law that includes sexual orientation.

How long is Indy going to have to put up with a political columnist who has no interest in sparking community conversation with an honest presentation of the facts?

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Patriots "Indefinitely Suspend" Two Employees Who Carried out Brady's Deflation Orders

While everyone else is focused on New England Patriots Quarterback Tom Brady being suspended for four games for Deflategate, little attention has been given to the fact that Patriots on May 6th "indefinitely suspended" officials locker room attendant Jim McNally and assistant equipment manager John Jastremski.  McNally, who called himself "The Deflator" is the Patriots
employee who was determined by the NFL to have done the deflation before the AFC Championship game and quite likely on other occasions.  Jastremski acted as the go between with Brady and McNally. 

The NFL should not allow McNally and Jastremski, undoubtedly two low paid employees in the organization, to lose their jobs permanently over merely following the orders of Brady.  They were put in an impossible position.  If they would have rebuffed Brady's order to deflate the footballs, they would have undoubtedly lost their jobs.  But because they followed his orders and were caught, they should be punished? 

McNally and Jastremski may be like a lot of lower middle class Americans who are living paycheck-to-paycheck.  They now face unemployment and likely won't qualify for unemployment benefits because their employer had "cause" for their firings because of their misconduct.  Meanwhile, Patriots Quarter Tom Brady still has that $100 million net worth to fall back on and no doubt will still be able to afford to fly around on private jets with his even wealthier supermodel wife.

If the Patriots' "indefinite suspension" of these employees is allowed to stand, that sends the signal to all lower level NFL employees that you better be willing to do everything you can to help coverup wrongdoing by your team, including lying and hiding evidence, or you're going to lose your job.

Establishment GOP Candidate Jeb Bush Stands Up for Religious Freedom

It's a time when Indiana GOP Establishment types are wringing their hands over whether religious freedom remains a popular cause, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, the Republican presidential candidate who is most closely identified with the GOP Establishment, has no problem with the issue.  The Huffington Post reports:
Former Governor Jeb Bush (R-Florida)
Former Florida governor and likely GOP presidential candidate Jeb Bush offered a defense of conservative Christian principles and attacked the Obama administration for failing to preserve religious freedom during his commencement address at Liberty University, a Christian school in Lynchburg, Virginia.   
Bush accused the Obama administration of using "coercive federal power" to infringe on the religious rights of Americans.   
"What should be easy calls, in favor of religious freedom, have instead become an aggressive stance against it. Somebody here is being small-minded and intolerant, and it sure isn’t the nuns, ministers, and laymen and women who ask only to live and practice their faith," he said, according to remarks released ahead of the speech. "Federal authorities are demanding obedience, in complete disregard of religious conscience -- and in a free society, the answer is 'no.'”

Last year, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the Obama administration could not require closely held corporations to provide insurance coverage of contraception to employees if the employers objected on religious grounds.

Indianapolis Criminal Justice Center Appears Dead

The Indianapolis Star reports:
Proposed Criminal Justice Center
After months of furious debate, the $1.75 billion criminal justice center seems likely to go out not with a bang, but with a whimper.
City-County Council Republicans on Monday opted not to call for a vote on the facility, instead allowing the clock to run out on a contractual deadline.
As a result, Marion County’s aging, crowded jail facilities are likely now a problem for future leaders to solve. Barring an eleventh hour deal, the proposed criminal justice center will effectively be shelved until after the Nov. 3 election.
When he announced the winning bidder in December, Mayor Greg Ballard promised that the 35-year deal to build and maintain the facility would cost less than what the county already spends to keep its aging facilities running. But a second opinion commissioned by the council argued that the projected savings would fall nearly $38 million short over the first nine years of the contract, leaving taxpayers on the hook for the difference.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Open Records and Governor Pence's Continued Communication Failure

At the end of last week, Governor Mike Pence did something that was great for transparent, open government, something that was also popular.    He vetoed Senate Bill 369, a bill that would have allowed agencies to charge up to $20 an hour to retrieve public records.  The charge would have effectively shut down much of the investigatory work being private citizens.  Any more it is bloggers who first break stories, not the traditional news media.

Governor Mike Pence
Government officials didn't like being embarrassed by these nosy private citizens.  The news media meanwhile didn't like being scooped.  So they joined together in an unholy alliance to allow agencies to impose a hefty charge for document retrieval knowing it would block "regular people" from getting access to the documents..  The Hoosier State Press Association, which represents newspapers across the state, claimed it was a good deal to get open records requests in electronic form whenever possible. 

Nonsense.   Getting documents in electronic form has never been a problem.  In fact, agencies strongly prefer to do it that way.  Rather HSPA and the agencies just wanted to shut down citizen journalism.  Senate Bill 369 easily passed both chambers.

In steps Governor Mike Pence who, with veto pen in hand, repelled the attack on open government.

It was the perfect opportunity for the Governor to brag about what he did, to counter some of the unfair attacks on his integrity and begin to restore his popularity.  So how did Governor Pence take advantage of the opportunity?  Did he hold a press conference or send out a press release with the veto message, both which would have given him free, positive media coverage all across the state?

No, he sent out a Tweet:
Not only that, but a Tweet sent late Friday afternoon, the time you release BAD information when you want to kill a story?  Needless to say, the story which could have been a huge win for Governor Pence, got little coverage.

Even though a new communications director was appointed post-RFRA, the PR failures continue to mount.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Handicapping the 2015 Indianapolis Council Races

Now that the primary is over, it is time to look at the matchups between Democrats and Republicans this Fall.  By way of background, the new districts these candidates will be running in were drawn by Republican operative David Brooks with the intention of creating a 15-10 GOP majority.  The expectation at the time was that the four at-large districts would go to the Democrats but the Republicans would still have enough cushion for a majority.  The subsequent elimination of of the four at-large seats by the legislature requires the Democrats to make up even more ground in the districts.

But it appears to be ground that should be fairly easily traversed.   Looking at the baseline numbers it appears that District  2 and 16 originally drawn by Brooks to be Republican, are now marginally Democratic districts. In 2014, the Republican baseline shrank to 49.78% and 49.13% respectively.  (Brooks used a 2010 baseline.) 

Republicans are going to struggle mightily to win District 2 as Republican newcomer Colleen Fanning faces off against Democratic activist, Kip Tew, who will undoubtedly be very well-funded.
 Republicans have a better shot in District 16, as Republican incumbent Jeff Miller tries to hold off Democrat challenger Emily Shrock.

In looking at the other races, it is notably that the Republicans do not as of yet have a candidate in 7 districts (1, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 and 14) while the Democrats lack county council candidates in two districts (23 and 24).  The county party chairmen have over a month to find candidates for those districts.  However, none appear to be very competitive, with District 1 being the only one where the minority party (GOP) has a baseline over 40% (40.79%).

The races to watch on Election Day are:

District 21
Incumbent Democrat Frank Mascari faces off against Republican Anthony Davidson in a 50.75% Republican district.  That should be a nail-biter on Election Night, but with a strong mayoral candidate, Joe Hogsett, at the top of the Democratic ticket, and Mascari's name recognition, I have to give the edge to the incumbent.

District 6
Incumbent Republican Janice McHenry faces off against Democrat Frank Islas in a 51.55% Republican District.  There is probably no better door-to-door campaigner in local politics than McHenry.  However, the incumbent though has a record of voting for higher taxes and corporate welfare that wouldn't play well with her Republican constituents if the Democrats decide to exploit those issues to chip away at her base.  I'll assume the Democrats will be (reasonably) smart and exploit her vulnerabilities with her Republican base.  I give the edge to the challenger.

District 19
The next closest district features incumbent Republican Ben Hunter facing Democrat David Ray.  This Republican leaning district (52.5% baseline in 2014) is typical in that the GOP percentage plummets when there is higher turnout.  In 2012, the Republican baseline number in the district was 43.61%.  I have to give the edge to Hunter though Election Night should be close.

District 3
Democrats also have a shot at picking up District 3.  Incumbent district councilor Christine Scales faces incumbent at-large councilor Pam Hickman.  Scales' negative is that her support among Republicans might have been harmed by some brutal mailings sent during her primary battle with Tim Scales which she won by 130 votes.  Scales' positive is work is constituent work and her willingness to reach out non-traditional Republican constituencies.  Hickman's advantage is a strong Democrat at the top of the ticket with Joe Hogsett running for Mayor.  Her challenge will be reaching beyond traditional Democratic constituencies.   I give the slight edge to Scales.

The Best of the Rest:

Turnout will be extremely important on Election Day.  If Republicans are not motivated to come out to vote for their mayoral candidate, Chuck Brewer, Democrats will win scores of other Republican seats that are right now only marginally competitive. The races that could produce Democratic upsets include:

District 5:  Republican Jeff Coats faces Democrat Curtis Bigsbee in a district with a 55.08% GOP baseline (50.71% in 2012).

District 15:  Republican incumbent Marilyn Pfisterer squares off against Democrat Christopher Wall in a district with a 55.02 GOP baseline (45.3% in 2012).

District 22:  Republican incumbent Robert Lutz opposes Democrat Jared Evans ina  district with a 54.78% GOP baseline (44.75 in 2012).

District 4:  Republican incumbent Mike McQuillen faces Democrat Ray Biederman in a district with a 57.01% GOP baseline (51.47% in 2012).

I'll guess at the bottom end, Democrats end up with a 13-12 majority.  More realistically though, given the likely enhanced Democratic turnout due to the Mayor's race,, I expect it will likely be more like 15-10 Democrats on Election Night, and quite possibly the number of Republican councilors will shrink to single digits.

Note:  When I am referring to baseline, unless I indicate otherwise, I'm referring to the 2014 numbers in the district.  2014 is the most recent election that most closely resembles the low turnout of a municipal election.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Investigation Reveals Patriots' QB Brady, Two Employees Engaged in Conspiracy to Deflate Footballs

The last few days, I had the opportunity to read the Wells reports titled "Investigative Report Concerning Footballs used During the AFC Championship Game on January 18, 2015."  Actually the Report consists of 139 pages, with the balance of the 243 pages, consisting of a lengthy a report by Exponent, a company that the NFL engaged in to do extensive scientific testing relating to the allegations and the proffered explanations for the Patriots' footballs being below the minimum allowed PSI.

Here are some observations about the report:
  • The report detailed the activities of three people Jim McNally, the officials locker room attendant, John Jastremski, equipment assistant for the Patriots, and Tom Brady, the Patriots' 
    Tom Brady, Quarterback for
    the New England Patriots
    star quarterback.
  • Jastremski was essentially the intermediary between Brady and McNally, a lower level seasonal employee.  
  • Jastremski and McNally exchanges scores of text messages discussing Brady's constant complaints about the condition of the footballs, including excessive air pressure, and using a needle to deflate those balls.
  • McNally's dislike for Brady came through in the text messages in which he mocked Brady.  Jastremski meanwhile had a closer relationship to Brady.
  • McNally referred to himself as a "The Deflator" in texts to Jastremski and joked about getting back at Brady by inflating instead of deflating the footballs.
  • McNally joked about going to ESPN about his activities deflating the footballs and suggested he better receive some good memorabilia from Brady to keep quiet.
  • Jastremski agreed that McNally was owed valuable memorabilia, such as shoes and apparel, from Brady due to the stress he was under to deflate the ball.
  • Brady in fact provided Jastremski and McNally with autographed memorabilia.
  • Pursuant to NFL rules, the balls were to be inflated between 12.5 psi and 13.5 psi. 
  • Two air pressure gauges were used to measure the PSI of the footballs at halftime.  All 12 of the Patriots footballs measured below 12.5 psi on both gauges, some as low as 10.5, while all 4 of the Colts' balls tested above 12.5 on at least one gauge.
  • Exponent considered the scores of innocent explanations for the decreased air pressure offered by the Patriots and others, including the Ideal Gas Law (which says air pressure changes in response to temperature changes).  Exponent found that none of them could explain the degree of decrease in air pressure in the Patriots footballs.
  • McNally had apparently previously deflated footballs in an isolated portion of the officials' locker room when they had left alone in the room when the officials left for on field exercises.  But because it was the AFC Championship Game, additional individuals were in the locker room.
  • Instead McNally took the footballs with him to the field.  He was caught by security cameras taking the footballs with him into a small restroom close to the field.
  • The head referee reacted with alarm when he found the footballs had been removed from the officials' locker room, without his permission.  The officials were frantically searching for the Patriot's footballs minutes before the game.  They eventually learned McNally had taken the footballs to the field.  The head official said he had never had anyone remove footballs from the officials locker room without permission in his 19 year career.
  • When Brady was interviewed, he claimed to have never heard of McNally, a claim that was contradicted by his personally giving McNally signed memorabilia, an act witnessed by others.
  • Brady refused to cooperate by providing investigators electronic communications relating to the deflation investigation.
  • After a very early interview, the Patriots did not make McNally available for a critical followup interview that would have allowed the investigators to question "The Deflator" about the evidence that had been obtained during the investigation.
  • It doesn't appear that anyone else in the Patriot organization was involved in the conspiracy to deflate the footballs. 
  • The allegations of Patriots deflating footballs was not new.  The Colts had taken great pains to warn the NFL that the Patriots were deflating footballs before the AFC Championship Game, yet the NFL took no action to ensure it wouldn't happen during the game.  Even after the mysterious removal of the footballs by McNally, game officials took no steps to check the balls before the game started.  It is not clear, however,that the NFL actually communicated the Colts' concerns to the game officials.
  • It was not until the Colts alerted game officials that they had tested an intercepted football that had low air pressure, that game officials took action testing all the Patriots' footballs at half time.  
  • Upon testing the footballs at half-time and finding they were all low, the head official ordered the Patriots' footballs reinflated to 13.0 psi.
Given Brady was almost certainly involved in the conspiracy to deflate the footballs, and given his and the Patriots' failure to fully cooperate with NFL investigators, and,finally ,given the Patriots' records of rules violations,  I think a lengthy suspension of Brady is in order.  I'm guessing 6 games plus an addition 2 games tacked on for a lack of cooperation with investigators.  I also believe the Patriots will lose at least a first round draft choice.

Friday, May 8, 2015

A Win for Transparency and Public Accountability: Governor Pence Vetoes Bill Allowing $20 An Hour Charge for Records Searches

Late this afternoon, Governor Mike Pence vetoed Senate Bill 369 which would have allowed government agencies to charge as much as $20 an hour for public records searches.

The bill had been supported by government agencies and the Hoosier State Press Association, representing newspapers across the state.  Earlier this year HSPA spokesman Stephen Key said the charge was a worthwhile tradeoff for provisions in the bill requiring agencies to provide records electronically whenever possible.  As I've noted, I'm not aware that that has ever been a problem.
Agencies typically jump at the chance to provide documents electronically.

This is what I wrote about the bill last March:
I don't buy the electronic records reason cited by Mr. Key.  The benefit of getting electronic documents emailed is extremely minimal benefit as opposed to giving agencies a tool to avoid compliance with open records laws by charging $20 an hour for search.  When obligated to provide electronic information, most agencies prefer to email the information as doing so easier than burning a disc to provide the information to the citizen.   But anyone who has dealt with government agencies knows that those agencies will jump at the chance to utilize the $20 an hour charge to punish those citizen journalists, i.e. bloggers, who in the internet age have largely replaced the mainstream media when it comes to breaking stories culled by going through public records.

Indeed, a desire to eliminate competition might well be the true motivation of the Hoosier State Press Association's support of the bill.  The mainstream media can afford search fees imposed by agencies.  But the citizen journalist, blogging for free, can't pay a $100 bill issued by the agency for a public records search.  If the bloggers can't pay those fees, then they can't continue to break the stories, repeatedly scooping the mainstream media when it comes to uncovering political corruption and other wrongdoing.  Imagine depending entirely on the Indianapolis Star to uncover stories of local political corruption. Scary isn't it?
While I don't (yet) see much in the way of a message from the Governor on the veto of Senate Bill 396, his office would be foolish not to trumpet what would be an extremely popular position that strikes a blow for citizen journalism, transparency and public accountability. 

Marion County (Indianapolis) Slating Dealt a Setback in Primary Losses

For political insiders, Tuesday's election results were interesting in that they featured defeats of party organization endorsed candidates in 2 of 3 races as Republican Christine Scales defeated endorsed Tim Craft and Democrat Jared Evans bested Stephanie Vibbert who had the support of the local
Democratic organization.  In the only party organization win of the night in council races, the Democrats' slated candidate Leroy Robinson knocked off incumbent district councilor Angela Mansfield by 35 votes.

It is significant that the poor 1 of 3 record was compiled during a municipal primary, the lowest turnout election.  The party's slate has always done the best in primaries that feature low turnout in which only hard-core partisans are voting. With turnout in the primary at 7.72%, the candidates chosen by the party organizations bosses should have ruled the day. But they didn't.

Traditionally slated candidates have enjoyed several advantages over primary challenges:  These include:
  • Endorsement process lends credibility to slated candidate
  • Party organization works for the candidate on primary election day
  • Money, collective resources of the party are almost always superior to challenger
  • Party control of critical information such as detailed voter lists
It is apparent that the endorsement conferred by slating is not persuading even hard core partisans that the "best" candidate is the one who is slated.  In recent years, party bosses have used their appointment power to further stack the deck against candidates they don't want to get the endorsement.  As a result, slating contests which at one time were very common, are rare anymore.  If someone doesn't have the blessing of his or her party chairman, the possibility of being slated is virtually zero.

The consequences of stripping power of party organization workers to decide slating in favor of party bosses has undermined the credibility of slating with grass roots workers and the primary electorate.  Many party workers have no inclination to help out the slated candidate at the primary. Some even refuse to pass out literature of the slated candidate or even the slate itself.   Some organization workers will even work for the challenger against the slated candidate.

Slating still bestows a money advantage.  The collective resources of the party will swamp all but the best funded challenger.  But even this advantage is declining as the party increasingly finds itself strapped for funds.

The information advantage is the major card slated candidates have.  Without a good list of likely primary voters, a list that includes names, addresses, primary history and preferably phone numbers and emails, a challenger is likely defeated before he or she even begins the race.  Even in a small enough district in which the challenger can meet primary voters at their doorstep, not having a list of likely voters means the challenger is going to waste enormous resources contacting people who aren't going to vote in a low turnout primary election.

Of course, slated candidates have access to voter information needed to conduct a highly focused campaign.  But increasingly some challengers are finding ways around the slated candidates' information advantage.

The Marion County slating process is not going to end anytime soon. But if party bosses want it to have some relevance, if they want it to be something respected by grass roots party workers and the party electorate, they would be well advised to make changes to the process to make it more democratic and fair.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Low Turnout and the Need to Move Municipal Elections to the Mid-Term Election Year

Yesterday, turnout reached a record low in Marion County, Indiana for a municipal election.  It may be un-American to admit it, but I'm not terribly troubled by that.

Official turnout in yesterday's municipal primary was 7.39%, higher than 2007 when it was 6.5%.  However, as I've noted before, official turnout can be deceiving.  It is measured by comparing the number who vote against the number of registered voters.  The percentage of registered voters has skyrocketed the past two decades, an increase from 69% to 93%, an increase due almost entirely to a failure of Indiana officials to keep the voting rolls clean of deceased voters and those voters who have moved and are registered at multiple addresses.  In fact, Indiana officials are so poor at keep the voting rolls clean of ineligible voters that they have been sued for that failure.   In recent years, Marion County has done some cleaning up of its voter registration records which has lowered the number of registered voters.    In short, the better measure is to compare number of voters to the adult population.  When you do that, in 2015, that makes real turnout in Marion County is 7.0% while turnout in 2007 was 7.4%.
because automatic purges for non-voting have been eliminated and the rolls bloated with voters who have died and who have moved and are registered at more than one location.   Indiana is one of the worst states in cleaning up its voter registration roles which is why election officials here

I find it interesting that when you ask some activists why they think turnout in Indiana is down, invariably they cite to factors such as:
  • Polls in Indiana close the earliest in the nation (6 pm)
  • Gerrymandering
  • Lack of early voting options
  • Indiana doesn't allow same day registration
  • Indiana requires you to declare your party in primary
Of course, because none of these are changes, you can't cite them as cause for the supposed decrease in voting. 

I became very active in party politics in 1986.  Back then you had to be registered by an official registrar appointed by one of the major political parties...or go downtown to register.  Today, you can register on-line or while visiting the BMV.  In 1986, there was no option to vote early.  Now you can vote early, without even having an excuse.  Early voting options may not be as convenient as some would like, but there is early voting while there wasn't that option before.

But critics do point to one actual change in the law as suppressing the vote, i.e. Indiana's adoption of a photo identification requirement, which they claim is the "most restrictive" identification requirement in the country.  Supposedly this has led to a tens if not hundreds of thousands of Hoosiers not being able to vote.  Yet opponents of the law, almost exclusively Democrats, never can seem to find more than a handful of these disenfranchised citizens.  Also, you have that sticky fact that turnout has not decreased in presidential and mid-term elections since Indiana adopted the photo ID requirement.

The bottom line is that registering and voting is easier than it has ever been.  If people are not voting, it is because there are few, if any, competitive races on the ballot.  Indiana officials would be wise to move municipal elections to the mid-term election years.  Elections are expensive enough to run.  We don't need to have municipal elections in a separate year during when there is, quite understandably, little voter participation.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Predictions and More - Indiana's Municipal Primary 2015

It is difficult to find many interesting races out there in tomorrow's primary, but if you look hard enough there are a few.  Let's start in Indianapolis.

Indianapolis City-County Council District 2 features a battle of Democrats as incumbent district councilor Angela Mansfield squares off against at-large councilor Leroy Robinson.  When Robinson's
at-large district was eliminated by the legislature, he decided to relocate into Mansfield's district to take on the two term incumbent.  Robinson won Democratic Party slating against Mansfield.  However, Mansfield has a history in the district and reportedly is strong with constituent relations.  Even with support of the Democratic organization, I think Mansfield wins the race.

District 3 features a similar battle, but this time involving Republicans.  Republican district councilor Christine Scales takes on new candidate Tim Craft, a real estate broker with CB Richard Ellis, a company that has received several multi-million dollar no bid contracts from the administration of Greg Ballard.   Like Robinson, Craft moved into the district to run against Scales.  Like Mansfield, Scales is an independent-minded councilor who is strong with constituent relations.  Scales has had a falling out with GOP leadership on the Council because of her refusal to rubberstamp the Mayor Greg Ballard tax and spend agenda.  I expect, however, Scales will get more than 60% of the vote, a plus 20% victory.

For mayor, Democrat Joe Hogsett, the slated candidate squares off against activist Larry Vaughn.   Look to see what kind of numbers Hogsett runs up on Vaughn.  If Hogsett falls below 70%, that would mean that more than 30% of the Democratic primary electorate were willing to cast a protest against the former U.S. attorney.  My guess is Hogsett will exceed 70% and look strong for the Fall.

On the Republican side, business owner and slated candidate  Chuck Brewer faces four primary opponents, Jocelyn-Tandy Adande, Terry Michael, Darrell Morris and Larry Shouse.  This is by far the more interesting of the Indianapolis mayoral primaries to watch. The split of the anti-establishment vote between four candidates almost assures a Brewer victory.  However, if Brewer can't win 65% of the vote against terribly underfunded opponents who ran no ads and had no yard signs, that would demonstrate a substantial anti-establishment faction of the GOP exists and will vote against anyone the GOP power brokers put before the Republican primary voters.  Should Brewer's majority fall further, i.e. below 60%, then that will signal real problems for the Brewer and the Council Republican candidates in the Fall.

There are a couple interesting races in Indianapolis' northern suburbs.  Five term incumbent Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard faces off against his toughest challenge yet, Councilor Rick Sharp.  While I think Sharp will come close to 40%, better than any Brainard opponent so far, I can't see him getting that last 10% to put him over the top.

Finally, Westfield Mayor Andy Cook is facing a challenge from Pike Township firefighter Jeff Harpe.  While Cook won re-elect in 2011 by only 61 votes, I think Cook, the only person who has ever served as Mayor of Westfield in its short history as a city, will again win by a close margin, though not as close as last time. 

Those are my predictions. Bet the farm.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Republican Leaders Attack Christine Scales for Standing up for Her Constituents and Conservative Principles

Well, the attacks against Indianapolis Councilor Christine Scales came late, but now they've started in earnest.  Near the end of this week a letter arrived in a mailbox of Scales' constituents which was sent by Council Minority Leader Mike McQuillen.  In the letter, McQuillen claims Scales is not really
a Republican because she at times voted against the Mayor and complained about her giving information to "seedy on-line blogs."  (This is opposed to the many seedy "off-line" blogs.)  At about the same time, oversized postcards began arrived from Marion County Republican Chairman Kyle Walker saying the same thing and claiming that Scales couldn't be "trusted." 
Councilor Mike McQuillen

Gary Welsh of Advance Indiana has a good accounting of the mailings, which I won't repeat here.

When one side waits until the last minute to dump negative material in a district, you know that they are doing that because they want the opportunity to lie to the voters without the candidate having time to tell voters the truth.  McQuillen and Walker didn't start earlier because they knew they would have been outed for lying to the public about Scales.

I'll instead counter with the facts.   McQuillen is the one who has completely betrayed conservatives and the Republican Party by his consistent support for higher taxes and fees and endless taxpayer handouts to politically connected companies.  Earlier on this blog, I detailed that Mayor Ballard has
pushed for 40 plus taxes and fees during his tenure as Mayor.  How many of those tax and fee increases did McQuillen oppose?  Not a single one.  Not one.  McQuillen has also supported every corporate welfare scheme hatched by the Ballard administration.  He didn't oppose the parking meter deal, the Broad Ripple Parking Garage, the Regional Operations Center, the  Justice Center, the Vision Fleet agreement for electric cars.  To rub salt on the wounds, McQuillen has at every step of the way opposed transparency of those corporate welfare deals and a more open and ethical city government.   That McQuillen, who hasn't a conservative bone in his body, would challenge the bona fides of another  Republican is quite amazing.

Marion Co. GOP Chairman Kyle Walker
Then you have Marion County Republican Chairman Kyle Walker.  Walker has personally profited immensely during the Ballard administration.  His wife, Jen Hallowell, has acted as a "political consultant" of Mayor Ballard, mysteriously getting paid $10,000 a month even during years when there was no election.   Like McQuillen, Walker has supported every one of Ballard's tax and fee increases, often issuing press releases supporting those increases.  Like McQuillen, Walker is not even remotely a conservative and doesn't care one whit about the taxpayers of Indianapolis.  Walker's only interest in politics is using his position to stuff money into his pocket and the pockets of his friends, even if what he does hurts the long term future of the Marion County Republican Party.

As county chairman, the No. 1 job Walker has is to find candidates.  In 2014, he failed to find candidates in 8 of 15 Marion County house races, including in three districts that would have been  competitive.  He also for the first time in maybe 80 years or more, failed to field a Republican candidate in a county-wide race.  Instead of doing his job in 2014, Walker spent his time trying to recruit someone to run against Christine Scales in the 2015 municipal primary, eventually having to go outside of the district to find a sucker candidate, who is, not coincidentally, an employee of a company that has benefited from Ballard's giveaways of taxpayer dollars.
Councilor Christine Scales

What has Scales done that has McQuillen and Walker so upset?  She has stood for integrity and honesty, and has refused to simply rubberstamp the Mayor's tax and spend agenda.  Unlike McQuillen and Walker, Scales is not in public office to enrich herself. She cares about her constituents and wants to do what is best for them.  And unlike McQuillen and Walker, Scales believes fiscal responsibility is not just a slogan one spouts during a political campaign to get elected, but rather is a philosophy that should guide how an elected official should approach the issues.

The bottom line is that if the well-known Scales loses the primary Tuesday, current at-large councilor Democrat Pam Hickman will probably win the marginally Republican district in the general election.  McQuillen and Walker are, in fact, spending donations to the Republican Party to assist the Democrats by knocking off a popular incumbent Republican in the primary.  They would rather have a Democrat in office, than a Republican like Scales, a principled person driven by her conservative values and dedication to her constituents.

McQuillen and Walker are nothing more than Republican cancer.  Our Marion County GOP will be much better off when both of them are gone.

Friday, May 1, 2015

John Gregg or Glenda Ritz? Summing Up the Democratic Candidates for Indiana Governor

Yesterday was a big day for the future of the Indiana Democratic Party.  Former Indiana House Speaker John Gregg announced that he was making another bid for the Governor's Office.  In 2012, Gregg lost to Governor Mike Pence by just over 3 percentage points, or approximately 80,000 votes.  Pence failed to garner 50% in that face with Libertarian and Survivor celebrity Rupert Boneham pulling in nearly 4% of the vote.
John Gregg
Yesterday, Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz announced that she is considering the race.

Gregg cited the Religious Freedom Restoration Act as a reason he decided to run, even calling for its repeal earlier this month.  There is little doubt that Gregg's extreme position on this issue (most original opponents aren't calling for the repeal after the so-called "fix" was passed) is an attempt to counter the considerable flack he is receiving from liberals in his party upset with his well-documented previous opposition to same sex marriage.  But in trying to make amends with his own party, Gregg has the potential of pushing too hard against RFRA and becoming labeled as a liberal.  Gregg was such a formidable opponent last time exactly because many Hoosiers saw him as a conservative Democrat who shared their values.

Gregg's biggest problem in 2012 was strategy.  He introduced himself to voters with a series of ads originating in his hometown of Sandborn, Indiana.  While attempting to be funny and portray the candidate as a regular Hoosier, the ads came across as hokey and made Gregg look like he wasn't a serious candidate.  When Gregg finally abandoned the Sandborn ads, he quickly made up ground on Pence as the then Congressman attempted to run out the clock with a series of safe, feel-good ads.  If Gregg had run a different campaign from the beginning, he might well be called Governor today.

Glenda Ritz
Meanwhile you have the curious case of Glenda Ritz.  In winning in 2012, Ritz was the beneficiary of voter angst about incumbent Tony Bennett.  The then Superintendent had alienated a huge segment of educators who organized to assist Ritz.  But Bennett didn't just alienate education types, he also managed to educate many conservatives by his embrace of Common Core and his staff working behind the scenes to undermine education reform efforts, a rift that came to a head when Republican state legislators called Bennett out on his A-F program that downplayed the importance of growth.  Meanwhile, Ritz played it smart, appearing open to scrapping Common Core and indicating a willingness to support education reform efforts.

Since her election, Republican legislators and the Governor have feuded with Ritz and taken power away from her. These efforts, played out in the media all over the state, may well spark a backlash to Republicans of the sort that propelled Ritz to office in 2012.  But for Ritz, the former school librarian, winning re-election is one thing while being considered a serious candidate for Governor is quite another.  Ritz's whole political career has been built on a foundation of anger at Republicans.  To run for Governor, she'd have to develop policy positions in a wide assortment of subjects, positions that appeal to voters while putting together a strong organization.  It is doubtful that Ritz, who is still a political neophyte, can pull that off.

Other Democrats will no doubt throw their hats into the ring.  Former Congressman Baron Hill is considering the race.   Former Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson has been mentioned but is unlikely to give up his lucrative position with Lilly for a 1 1/2 year political campaign.

If I were betting, I'd put a wager on John Gregg emerging as the Democratic nominee.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Councilor Mascari Calls on Mayor Ballard to Abandon Vision Fleet Agreement for Failure to Comply with State Bidding Law

Mayor Greg Ballard
City of Indianapolis
200 E. Washington St., Suite 2500
Indianapolis, IN 46204

Dear Mayor Ballard:

I write you today in my capacity as City-County Councilor for District 20 to request that you immediately suspend all negotiations and contract execution procedures with Vision Fleet Capital,
Councilor Frank Mascari
LLC. The procurement process for the Master Fleet Agreement (Agreement) with this firm has violated Indiana Code § 5-22 and Indianapolis Marion County General Ordinance §§ 202-204 and 202-205.

The Master Fleet Agreement is a lease-purchase agreement for equipment – namely “energy saving vehicles” as identified in the Agreement. Any analysis that concludes otherwise is misleading and should be ignored. The Agreement is not merely a contract for “fleet management services” as the Agreement’s recitals suggest. The Agreement results in the city acquiring title to vehicles following the City’s payment of numerous “Rental” payments over time. Under any honest understanding, this constitutes a lease-purchase of vehicles.

The Department of Public Works is not authorized to unilaterally and without any authorized competitive process enter into a lease-purchase agreement for these vehicles. Such equipment must be procured by the “purchasing agent” of the City in accordance with competitive bidding practices outlined in Ind. Code §§ 5-22-7, 5-22-9, or other authorizing purchasing statute. G.O. Sec. 202-204 establishes the “Purchasing Division” of the Office of Finance and Management as the purchasing agency for the city and county. Because the Purchasing Division was not involved in this procurement and the procurement did not involve any competitive process under Indiana law, the resulting Agreement is not lawful, voidable, and should be abandoned immediately.

If you are unwilling to immediately cease negotiations and abandon the Agreement under the current procurement process, I will be forced to explore legal and procedural options to force your compliance. If you have further questions or concerns please call me...

Frank Mascari District 20
Indianapolis-Marion County Council
200 East Washington Street T-241
Indianapolis, Indiana 46204

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Mayor Ballard's Plan to Divert Parking Meter Revenue to Electric Car Program May Violate Indiana Law

The Indianapolis Star reports:
The city and BlueIndy have reached an agreement to close a $13 million shortfall to get the stalled electric car-share service up and running.   
The city will pour more than $6 million from parking meter revenues to help construct charging stations and Bolloré, the company that owns the service, will pitch in another $6 million, bringing the company's commitment to more than $40 million.   
But the deal has angered a council leader, who said the administration of Mayor Greg 
Ballard is inappropriately using targeted infrastructure dollars for a "boondoggle."   
This is outrageous, this is the second time he's done this," said Public Works Committee Chairman Zach Adamson, referring to Ballard's spending $5 million in infrastructure money on an Eastside sports and cricket complex....
Adamson said parking meter dollars can be used only for infrastructure improvements in metered zones and said electric cars don't count as infrastructure.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Indianapolis Star Reader Uses Math to Blow Away Idea that Wind Power is Good for Consumers

The Indianapolis Star published a lengthy article yesterday about how wind turbines in Indiana could end up tripling due to new EPA rules:
New EPA rules coming down the pike will cut carbon emissions from coal and gas power plants for the first time and boost demand for clean power such as wind. One result: Indiana could see two or three times as many wind farms as it has now. 
In its latest projection of U.S. wind energy needs, the federal Department of Energy says only five other states are in line to boost their wind power sectors as much as or more than Indiana.
Indiana has a good shot at tripling its wind power capacity in the next decade or so, from the current 1,744 megawatts to 5,000 or more, says Sean Brady, Midwest policy manager for the wind power advocacy group Wind on the Wires.
That would require erecting 2,000 wind turbines to join the 1,031 that now dot the state's landscape north of Indianapolis. "Indiana has quite a large upside. It has a great opportunity for wind development," Brady said.     
Wind power, in addition, is expensive to install ($2 million or more per turbine) and controlled to a great extent by foreign companies, which doesn't bode well for winning a lot of public support.
Any growth in wind farms also would put more money in the hands of farmland owners, who rent the land needed for the turbines. Average rents in Indiana now run about $5,000 a year per turbine, which amounts to about $5 million a year in statewide turbine rent payments.
Still, pushback to wind persists at policymaking levels. And that opposition could harden as wind energy use spreads and utilities are forced to spend billions of dollars nationally building transmission lines to handle the increased flow of power from new wind farms, said Tom Tanton, director of science and technology assessment at the Energy & Environment Legal Institute in Washington, D.C. The group has done studies suggesting federal subsidies to wind energy don't make economic sense.     
Tanton said wind farm developers are able to push "hidden costs" of wind energy onto utilities and ratepayers. Those costs include gas turbine plants required to back up wind power and balance its fluctuating energy flows caused by intermittent wind, he said.
A calculation accompanying one of the illustrations to the story indicates that "[a]ccording to idustry figures, one turbine can create enough electricity to power 580 average American homes."

An alert reader noted the absurdity of the math:
So if you take an average homeowners electric bill of say, $1,000 per year, just the cost of ONE of these turbines will take up the revenue of two hundred customers for ten years. Since the article mentions adding possibly 2,000 more turbines, that would account for the revenue produced by 400,000 residential customers over the next ten years. That doesn't even take into account cost overruns, maintenance, and the actual power consumed by these customers. Now throw in the land rental fees for the turbines, and you "lose" the revenue generated by another 10,000 customers, each and every year.
And that is before you even consider the cost of the federal subsidies and the higher electricity prices to consumers who are required to pay for the higher cost of wind-generated electricity.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Senate Democrats Turn Back on Civil Liberties in Supporting Civil Forfeiture Enthusiast for Attorney General

This weekend I had a chance to speak at the State Libertarian Party convention about civil asset forfeiture, a topic of great interest to me.  The political dynamics on the issue have shifted tremendously the past 10-15 years.  Libertarians have always strongly opposed civil forfeiture.  But increasingly Republicans have turned against civil forfeiture, in particular Tea Party Republicans who harbor a natural distrust of the over-reaching power of government.  On the other side, Democrats suddenly seem to have no problem with civil forfeiture, despite well-documented abuses.

Attorney General Loretta Lynch
This past week illustrated the shifting politics of the issue.  The Senate voted to confirm the Loretta Lynch, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, as Attorney General. was one of the few media outlets that focused on the forfeiture issue during Lynch's confirmation process:
U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch, nominated to replace Eric Holder as attorney general, sat before the Senate's Judiciary Committee to be asked questions (or sit through speeches from senators only vaguely approaching the concept of a question) about President Barack Obama's use of executive authority on immigration, waterboarding, prosecuting terrorists, marijuana legalization, Operation Chokepoint, gay marriage recognition, and a number of other issues. The hearings and speeches continue today.   
Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) yesterday brought up asset forfeiture to gauge Lynch's position. He wanted to know whether Lynch thought the way the Department of Justice in partnership with local law enforcement agencies handle criminal and more particularly civil asset forfeiture was "fair."
Lynch responded that "civil and criminal forfeiture are very important tools of the Department of Justice as well as our state and local counterparts." Speaking directly about civil asset forfeiture, she claimed that such forfeiture is  "done pursuant to supervision by a court, it is done pursuant to court order, and I believe the protections are there."
That would come as news to the three brothers of the Hirsch family in Long Island. In 2012, they saw $447,000 of their assets seized by the IRS and the Department of Justice over an allegation that their business Bi-County Distributors, which delivers snack foods to convenience stores, was deliberately depositing cash deposits in amounts smaller than $10,000 in order to avoid IRS reporting requirements.   
It was Lynch's office who handled this seizure and Lynch's office who kept the company's money for more than two years without ever setting a court date for the business to attempt to get its money back, nor was anybody in the family ever charged with any crime. The asset-forfeiture-fighting lawyers of the Institute for Justice (IJ) took on the Hirsch family's case, and just earlier this very month, Lynch's office agreed to give them their money back.
So, needless to say, Larry Salzman, the IJ attorney who represented the Hirsch family, did not agree with Lynch's statement that targets of DOJ asset forfeiture have necessary protections.   
"Her office in particular seized money under the civil forfeiture laws and held it for more than two and a half years without filing any sort of complaint in court," Salzman says, "without any hearing before a judge. That's the raw facts." 
Salzman says Lynch's office just ignored the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act of 2000, which mandates deadlines for the DOJ to make its case for seizing property, or claimed it did not apply.
One would think Democrats, who claim to be for civil liberties and for the little guy, would have had grave reservations about Lynch's use and abuse of civil forfeiture.  Instead the Democrats in the Senate voted for her unanimously.

Friday, April 24, 2015

My Advice to Indiana Governor Mike Pence: Clean House and Start a Reform Agenda

I was out to breakfast last week discussing politics with a prominent conservative local academic.  He said he spoke to a Republican who knows Mike Pence and said one of the problems with the Governor is that he's surrounded himself not with the "B" team but with the "C" team.  I don't disagree though I would, and will later, expand on that observation.

I too know Mike Pence.  Our paths crossed briefly at Hanover College, but where I grew to know him
the best was at IU-Indianapolis Law School.  (I refuse to call it the McKinney Law School.)  Pence was a year ahead of me.  He drew cartoons for the Dictum, the newspaper for which I was editor my second year.  (He is a very talented cartoonist.)  Because Pence and I were both well-known at the school for our conservative views and were often targets of resident liberals, we often discussed political issues.

Governor Mike Pence
The Mike Pence I knew in law school was smart, very personable and open-minded to listening to other views.  While disagreeing with his conservative politics, even liberals at the school couldn't help but like him.  When I hear liberals today talk about Governor Pence being cold, heartless, and not very bright, I am disappointed. That is not the Mike Pence I know.  It is a shame that Pence has kept his warm, gregarious personality and his intelligence, bottled up.  I am baffled by the political strategy Pence's handlers are using in presenting Pence in such a way that he appears to be little more than a cold-hearted robot spouting empty slogans.   That strategy is clearly not working.

My friend is right.  Shortly after entering the Governor's Office, Pence surrounded himself not with the "B" team, but rather the "C" squad.   Political advisers are supposed to be schooled in the skills one associates with playing chess.  Anticipate what your opponent is going to do several moves ahead and be ready with a response.  How in the world could the Pence people have not prepped the Governor for the inevitable, albeit irrelevant, RFRA question George Stephanopolous asked about the Governor's support for LGBT rights?  How could they not have prepared the Governor for how RFRA might be misrepresented by opponents?  How could Pence's people not have anticipated that calling JustIn a separate news agency might spin into a public relations disaster?

Those PR failures are not the result of failing to anticipate four or five moves ahead. They are PR failures from not anticipating one move ahead.  One move.  The labeling of Pence's political advisers as the "C" team is spot on.

Unfortunately the problems with Pence's administration are not confined to a few remarkably unskilled political advisers.  Pence has also incredibly retained Governor Daniels retreads throughout his administration, many of whom are scandal-prone and have absolutely no loyalty to Pence.  Two and half years into the Pence administration, most of those Daniels' appointees remain.  Pence has also become surrounded by profiteers, people whose only interest in his administration is how they can use the Governor to make more money.  Those profiteers don't have any loyalty whatsoever to the Governor Pence and certainly have no commitment to conservative values.

The good news is there is time for Mike Pence to rehabilitate his political career.  But he needs to act quickly to clean house by giving the profiteers and Daniels retreads their walking papers.  He also needs to put the "A"  team in, political professionals who know their craft and who, while loyal to him, are unafraid to give the Governor brutally frank political advice. 

Sadly one of Pence's strengths - that he is actually a very nice guy - is also his weakness.  Taking control of his administration means doing some mean things like firing people and telling the leeches who surround him stuffing taxpayer money into their pockets to take a hike.

Pence needs to also push a reform agenda.  Here is what I would suggest that would advance worthy goals while putting increasing his popularity for re-election.
  • Work on reorganizing the state's bureaucracy that is filled with redundancy and waste.  See here.
  • Push for changes to Indiana's outdated media shield law.  See here.  Also, see here.
  • Push for improvements to the state's toothless whistleblowing law which has done nothing to protect state employees who wish to blow the whistle on wrongdoing.  See here.
  • Push for reforms to the Inspector General's Office so that it no longer operates to aggressively target minor offenses by politically powerless state employees while forgiving, and giving cover to, transgressions of politically-connected state officials.   See here.  Also, see here.
  • Push for changes to the Public Access Counselors' Office so that the PAC is actually an advocate for the public to obtain public records and has enforcement authority.  Also, insist on more government records being available on-line.  See here.
  • Push for election reforms like voting centers to make voting easier while improving the integrity of the ballot.  See here.
  • Push for no brainer campaign finance reform such as requiring that LLCs be treated like corporations when it comes to contribution limits.  Support more transparency in campaign reporting and an end of the increased use of third parties to shield the source of contributions and expenditures.
  • Push for limits on runaway corporate welfare, especially at the municipal level.  See here.
None of these proposals would diminish Pence's conservative credentials one bit and, in fact, would enhance them..  But they also would be very popular with voters and the media.

Here's another thing I would suggest.  Have the Governor go down to the employee cafeteria in the State Office Buildings and have an open dialogue with those who work in state government.  Listen to their gripes and ideas.  The Governor would learn so much about how state government operates, and doesn't operate, simply by listening to lower level employees who work in the trenches.

Listening to people, of course, shouldn't be confined to those in state government.  The Governor needs to get out to the public, listen to the people talk about their problems and concerns, even when they're saying things he doesn't want to hear.  So many politicians forget that listening, and occasionally taking abuse from opponents, is part of the job of a politician.  Doing so gains respect, a commodity of which Pence is in short supply.  And mixing with the public would provide the opportunity for Pence to finally show off his No. #1 political asset, a warm, engaging personality that leave even his opponents saying that, while they disagree with him politically, they like him personally.  That's the Mike Pence we all knew in law school.

Can Mike Pence make a political transformation and rescue his political career?  Absolutely.   Will he?  Frankly I think he might be too nice of a guy to do what needs to be done.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

NY Times Connects Clinton Foundation to Russian Efforts to Gain Control of Uranimum Mining in Canada, U.S.

In an expose, the New York Times this morning connects the dots between the Russians push for control of a Canadian uranium company and contributions to the Clinton foundation:
The headline in Pravda trumpeted President Vladimir V. Putin’s latest coup, its nationalistic fervor recalling an era when the newspaper served as the official mouthpiece of the Kremlin: “Russian Nuclear Energy Conquers the World.”
The article, in January 2013, detailed how the Russian atomic energy agency, Rosatom, had taken over a Canadian company with uranium-mining stakes stretching from Central Asia to the American West. The deal made Rosatom one of the world’s largest uranium producers and brought Mr. Putin closer to his goal of controlling much of the global uranium supply chain.  
But the untold story behind that story is one that involves not just the Russian president, but also a former American president and a woman who would like to be the next one. 
At the heart of the tale are several men, leaders of the Canadian mining industry, who have been major donors to the charitable endeavors of former President Bill Clinton and his family. Members of that group built, financed and eventually sold off to the Russians a company that would become known as Uranium One. 
Beyond mines in Kazakhstan that are among the most lucrative in the world, the sale gave the Russians control of one-fifth of all uranium production capacity in the United States. Since uranium is considered a strategic asset, with implications for national security, the deal had to be approved by a committee composed of representatives from a number of United States government agencies. Among the agencies that eventually signed off was the State Department, then headed by Mr. Clinton’s wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton
As the Russians gradually assumed control of Uranium One in three separate transactions from 2009 to 2013, Canadian records show, a flow of cash made its way to the Clinton Foundation. Uranium One’s chairman used his family foundation to make four donations totaling $2.35 million. Those contributions were not publicly disclosed by the Clintons, despite an agreement Mrs. Clinton had struck with the Obama White House to publicly identify all donors. Other people with ties to the company made donations as well. 
And shortly after the Russians announced their intention to acquire a majority stake in Uranium One, Mr. Clinton received $500,000 for a Moscow speech from a Russian investment bank with links to the Kremlin that was promoting Uranium One stock. 
The lengthy article also contains a table showing some of the donors to the Clinton Foundation and their ties to the Uranium deal:  
Frank Giustra 
$31.3 million and a pledge for $100 million more
He built a company that later merged with Uranium One.
Ian Telfer   
$2.35 million 
Mining investor who was chairman of Uranium One when an arm of the Russian government, Rosatom, acquired it.
Paul Reynolds
$1 million to $5 million  
Adviser on 2007 UrAsia-Uranium One merger. Later helped raise $260 million for the company. 
Frank Holmes  
$250,000 to $500,000
Chief Executive of U.S. Global Investors Inc., which held $4.7 million in Uranium One shares in the first quarter of 2011. 
Neil Woodyer
$50,000 to $100,000    
Adviser to Uranium One. Founded Endeavour Mining with Mr. Giustra.  
GMP Securities Ltd. 
Donating portion of profits 
Worked on debt issue that raised $260 million for Uranium One.
To see the rest of the lengthy article, click on, Cash Flowed to Clinton Foundation as Russians Pressed for Control of Uranium Company

See also companion article to the NYT piece

For Clintons, speech income shows how their wealth is intertwined with charity

Reuters today has a related story on the Clinton Foundation:

Exclusive: Clinton charities will refile tax returns, audit for other errors