Friday, August 31, 2012

National Polls Show An Incredibly Close Race for President

Unbelievable, in the last 14 national polls reported on RealClearPolitics, 13 have shown the spread between the candidates is two points or less.  I don't know how it could get any closer.

Gallup (Thursday)8/23 - 8/293050 RV2.04746Obama +1
Rasmussen (Thursday)8/27 - 8/291500 LV3.04545Tie
Democracy Corps (D)8/23 - 8/271000 LV3.14947Obama +2
CBS News8/22 - 8/261051 RV3.04645Obama +1
ABC News/Wash Post8/22 - 8/25857 RV4.04647Romney +1
CNN/Opinion Research8/22 - 8/23719 LV3.54947Obama +2
FOX News8/19 - 8/211007 LV3.04445Romney +1
Resurgent Republic (R)8/16 - 8/221000 LV3.14645Obama +1
Associated Press/GfK8/16 - 8/20885 RV4.14746Obama +1
NBC News/Wall St. Jrnl8/16 - 8/201000 RV3.14844Obama +4
Monmouth/SurveyUSA/Braun8/15 - 8/191149 LV2.94645Obama +1
LA Times/USC8/13 - 8/19954 LV3.24846Obama +2
Rasmussen Reports8/8 - 8/101500 LV3.04446Romney +2
Gallup8/6 - 8/123050 RV2.04646Tie

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Left for Dead, Challenger Todd Akin May Still Win Senate Seat Despite "Legitimate Rape" Comment

Following Republican Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin's statement about "legitimate rape," whatever that is, his candidacy was left for dead.   While he lost a good-sized lead on incumbent Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill, he still has a shot at pulling it out.  A recent poll in fact shows him with a 3 point lead.
Congressman Todd Akin

As a side note, when I heard Congressman Akin begin his explanation about pregnancy from rape, I knew where he was going. There has long been the theory out there in the pro-life movement that pregnancy is less likely to happen as a result of a rape than if the sexual act is consensual.  As far as I know, there are no scientific studies confirming this and Akin tortured his explanation of the theory.  I mean, how is a rape ever "legitimate?"  Words have consequences and words may well have cost Akin a Senate seat.

As another side note, pro-lifers hold a popular position when they oppose abortion on demand.  Abortion proponents want the game fought on the popular exceptions people want to abortion such as for rape and incest.  Pro-lifers are fools for not conceding those exceptions (I know the argument that doing so is inconsistent with the biological fact of unborn life) and instead letting abortion supporters fight the battle on turf favorable to them.  Isn't it better to win 99% rather than lose fighting over the the 1%?

Back to the main event.  Politico reports on a Family Research Council Poll that shows Akin leading 45-42. While the Family Research Council is a huge supporter of Akin, the pollster, Fritz Wenzel is a legitimate pollster.  According to Politico:
A survey commissioned by the Family Research Council — the prominent social conservative group standing with Akin — and shared with POLITICO found that Akin now pulls 45 percent support to McCaskill’s 42 percent.

That’s not to say Akin hasn’t sustained damage: his personal image is weak, with 44 percent of voters having a favorable impression of him and 50 percent having an unfavorable impression. But he still leads McCaskill by 10 points among independent voters and in the conservative-leaning state, Akin wins about the same percentage of Republicans (78 percent) that McCaskill wins among Democrats (82 percent.) 
Pollster Fritz Wenzel underlines the importance of Akin’s support on the right: “McCaskill holds a 58% lead over Akin among very liberal voters, but that pales compared to Akin’s 81% to 5% lead among very conservative voters in Missouri.”

“Despite the firestorm of news in the Senate race over the past few weeks, most voters have already made up their mind in the race, the survey shows,” Wenzel writes. “The fact that 80% said they were firm in their choice certainly indicates that this is a race that will be decided more by ideology and turnout efforts by the campaigns and less by breaking news that flashes across the news pages and cable news channels.”

While other less recent post-"legitimate rape" polls show McCaskill with as much as a 10 point lead, I expect that surge will be temporary and that it will eventually be a dead heat.  Of course without the "legitimate rape" comment, Akin would be ahead instead neck-to-neck with the incumbent.

I do agree though that people in Missouri have made up their minds and the outcome will depend on which side turns out their people the best.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Channel 16's Coverage of Council Committee is Cut as Councilors Consider TIF Proposals; Did Councilors Violate a Rule that Committee Chairs Have Absolute Control Over Agenda?

Councilor Steve Tally
Last night's Indianapolis City-County Council's Metropolitan and Economic Development Committee meeting was drawing to a close.  It had been a rather uneventful meeting.  Chairman Steve Tally indicates that he is ready to adjourn.  A minute or so later, Councilor Vop Osili, an architect and "developer of urban properties" (according to his campaign website), says he has some business not on the agenda, he wants to untable two ordinances dealing with the creation of two new TIF districts (or an expansion of the downtown TIF depending on how you look at it).  Councilor Tally said he wouldn't recognize the motion.  Councilor Mary Adams seconded the Osili's motion.  Tally, who supports TIF reforms that would stop their abuse and make them more transparent, said it wasn't on the agenda and wouldn't be considered.  He left the room. 

What happened from that point on is not clear except to those who were present of which I wasn't. Channel 16's video went black. In the background you could hear councilors discussing if they could proceed without Tally.  Eventually Councilor Cain asked Republican Attorney Jonathan Elrod if they could proceed without Tally.  Elrod gets ready to answer and the audio is cut.  (Additional video has since been added though there is still a gap.)

Councilor Vop Osili
Apparently Elrod's answer was that the remaining members of the committee could proceed.  According to published reports, the Talley-less council committee passed the two TIF expansions by a 5-1 vote.   Over at Indy Barrister, Abdul (who is clearly on the administration's payroll) praised the council action, continuing with the  line that the problem for the budget shortfall is there is simply not enough taxpayers and expansion of TIF districts will fix that problem. The line is either borne of profound ignorance about how TIF districts work or simply administration spin. 

The Indianapolis Star has a story discussing how the key votes of certain councilors were bought off by the administration:
But the ice thawed Monday after the administration reached an agreement with Democratic council members Vop Osili and Joseph Simpson. They represent districts near those proposed new development zones. 
In a newly released memo outlining the agreement, Deron Kintner, Ballard’s new deputy mayor for economic development, commits to tapping $13.5 million from city economic development funds for three loan and workforce training programs.
The committee also amended the proposal to require some local hiring by contractors on new projects and to promote minority employment.
“It adds opportunity for all participants in the community,” Osili said after the meeting, including for workers who could benefit from new jobs if they received proper training.
The article does not mention that Vop Osili's own firm might benefit from any development.

Over at Indiana Barrister (a misnomer since Abdul isn't licensed to practice law in Indiana), Abdul flippantly declares that "[a]lthough Committee Chairman Steve Talley had said the meeting was adjourned, there was no second and no vote, so there is no question about the legality of the proposal."

Not so fast.  I don't know council rules, but I know in most legislative bodies the chair of a committee has absolute power over what is heard in the committee.  Even if everyone on the committee wants to hear a bill, if the committee chair refuses to do so, the bill is dead.  The way around the recalcitrant chairman is to: 1) ask that legislative officer empowered to assign bills to committee, assign it to another committee with a more favorable chair; or 2) a discharge petition is filed to have it heard by the full legislative body.  There is no option of holding a meeting without the committee chair and vote on the bill in his absence, even if the committee has a quorum.  I'm a little surprised that Elrod didn't raise that point since he used to be in the Indiana General Assembly and that's the rule in that legislative body.  It's unlikely Elrod would have had the time to look up to see if the Council has a different rule than what he experienced in the General Assembly.

Regardless, I have to admire Councilor Tally's willingness to stand up to people who want to continue funnelling our tax dollars to politically-connected developers at the expense of schools, libraries, parks and public safety.  As is well-documented, the Indianapolis TIFs have become a slush fund for the administration to hand out money without council oversight. (Some of the TIF property taxes ended up being funnelled to the Pacers through the CIB.  Undoubtedly this practice will continue.) Now apparently that some Democratic councilors are seeing some of this money in their districts, they are willing to vote for the administration's proposal and against the best interests of the public.

Councilor like Tally and Brian Mahern understand the abuse of the TIFs and are insisting that safeguards and transparency be put in place before new TIFs are created or existing TIFs are expanded.  That frightens a lot of the city's public and private power brokers who have long depended on TIFs as a way of having the public assume the risk for private downtown development.  Tally was right to stand up to members of his own caucus who were seeking to rush the TIFs through before rules protecting the public from TIF abuse can be enacted.

Pat Andrews of Had Enough Indy has an excellent take on these developments as does Gary Welsh over at Advance Indiana.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Bike Lane Advocates Set to Do Bike Lane Count; Bias of Organizations Leaves Doubts it Will Be an Honest Count

Several pro-bike lane groups have announced that they will be participating in a count being conducted by Indianapolis Office of Sustainability, the office in City government that is responsible for installing and promote bike lanes.

IndyCog will participate.  IndyCog is an association made up mostly of weekend, recreational bicyclists, with very few serious bicycle commuters as members.  IndyCog has never seen a bike lane design that it found unsafe.

Then you have an outfit called "Health by Design,"a diverse and growing coalition" that says it wants to "increase...biking..options" and to "[r]educe dependency on automobiles."

Bicycle Garage Indy (which got a sweet location in the municipally-owned City Market) is also promoting the count with the declaration that "[a]s Indianapolis continues to add more bike lanes and trails, it is important to tell the story of how these additions have caused increased usage....  This will help us begin to quantify what most of have been seeing on our streets - more people riding bikes. "

Wow, what an objective bunch of people being assembled to do a count.  (Sarcasm.) It is like calling up your insurance agent and asking if you need more insurance.  What do you think the result of the count is going to be?  You think they're going to find Indy's (poorly-designed) bike lanes to be wildly popular?  You betcha.

Let me assist them in the count though.  I spent about 6:30-6:45 last Friday stuck in traffic, while trying to make a foolish attempt to drive across Broad Ripple Avenue from Keystone to College.  Because two lanes of traffic had been removed to make room for bike lanes, cars just sit at the lights, spewing carbon monoxide into the air.  I did have plenty of time to observe the number of bicyclists using the Broad Ripple bike lanes though during that time. That would be ZERO.  I had also just driven down Allisonville by the bike lanes there and the count there was also ZERO.  In fairness though I did see some bicylists yesterday using the Capital and Illinois Avenue bike lanes. Those are some of the worst designed bike lanes in the City, weaving in and out of very narrow traffic lanes and running right next to parked cars. Making bike lanes that are safe is just not a priority of city leaders and recreational bicycling groups.  For those of us who bike and drive in Indianapolis, that is unfortunate.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Neil Armstrong, First Man on the Moon, Returns to the Heavens; Are We on the Verge of a "Gold Rush" to the Moon?

The old photograph at first glance isn't anything special. It shows a couple young boys, lying on their stomachs on the floor watching a flickering black and white television.   When I saw the picture a few years ago, I at first didn't know what I was seeing.  I couldn't figure out why anyone would take a photograph of boys watching television.  Then I looked closer at the TV and saw the now familiar image of Neil Armstrong emerging from the Apollo Space craft to take his first step on the moon.  Then I remembered my mother had told me she wanted a photograph of us watching history being made.  I had never actually seen the picture until then.

Upon the news of Armstrong's passing, I looked unsuccessfully for that photo. I wanted to be reminded of my watching Armstrong's famous first lunar step.  That step, taken on July 20, 1969, I thought marked the beginning of a new and exciting era of space exploration.  Little did I know it instead represented the beginning of the end.  Just 3 1/2 years later, the United States would make its last mission to the Moon, never to return.   The most amazing thing about space travel is not that it happened, but that it suddenly stopped and has remained stopped for forty years.

That may be changing.  I believe that within the lifetimes of most of those people alive today, we may witness a "gold rush" to the moon, led not by miners with pans and pick axes in hand, but by big corporations seeking an extraordinary valuable substance that is rare on Earth but plentiful on the Moon.  Energy Digital reports:
Most people are unaware that our Moon holds countless resources. Some are familiar: titanium, platinum, silicon, ammonia, mercury, and even water (yes, H20 has been confirmed to be present on the moon). But a more elusive substance, which is a rarity here on Earth, is also found on the Moon: helium-3.  
Helium-3 is a non-radioactive hydrogen isotope with one neutron and two protons. It is carried through space via the Sun’s solar winds, but burns up as it enters Earth’s atmosphere, making it almost non-existent here on our planet. However, an abundance of helium-3 has built up on the Moon’s surface over the millennia as confirmed in soil samples collected by the Apollo 17 lunar mission, and it is just waiting to be mined. Why you ask? Because, helium-3 can fuel non-radioactive nuclear fusion reactions to produce safe, clean, abundant energy, and can completely transform our energy future.
Helium-3 nuclear fusion reactions release non-radioactive protons that can be harnessed to create electricity directly. This type of nuclear fusion is safer and far more efficient than the nuclear fission reactions used in nuclear plants today, which use heat to run steam turbines, losing energy in the conversion process and creating radioactive waste as a byproduct.

Projections estimate that on a commercial basis helium-3 would be worth around $40,000 per ounce. Roughly 100 tons of Helium-3 could power the entire population of Earth for a year and scientists estimate that the Moon could contain approximately 1 million tons—10,000 years worth of energy. ...
As Neil Armstrong departs this world, we now have a compelling reason to return to the moon.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Angie's List Stock Continues to Slide

On Monday, Forbes reported:
Angie’s List shares continue their astounding free fall in the wake of last week expiration of a post-IPO lock-up period. 
On August 14, all of the company’s outstanding share became freely trading. Until that time, 25.28 million of the company’s 57.76 million shares could not be traded in the open market. 
The expiration of lock-up agreements is hardly a new phenomenon, but the impact of those arrangements on Web 2.0 company stock prices has been considerable in recent weeks. Angie’s List shares, in particular, are down 26% over the last five days.
What makes this sort of thing so difficult to address is that this really isn’t about fundamentals; it is about supply and demand. If you flood the market with widgets, shares or bananas, their prices will fall. That’s what’s happening with Angie List – and it is what will continue to happen to Facebook as more shares reach the market.
Looking at the on-line stock market information for Angie's List,the company began its public life on November 17, 2011 with its stocks valued at $16.26.  On March 28, 2012, the stock reached its zenith at $18.91.  Today, the stock closed at $9.69 a share.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Fox News Poll Show Nine Point President Obama Lead Evaporated in Two Weeks, Romney Now Leads By One Percent

Mitt Romney
On Friday, August 9, 2012 Fox News released a poll showing President Obama leading Mitt Romney by 9 points, 49-40.   That poll was before the selection of Paul Ryan as Vice President.  It is one of the few polls showing Obama's lead outside the margin of error, which in that poll was plus or minus 3 points.

Yesterday, exactly two weeks later, Fox News released another poll, this time showing Romney leading by one point, 45-44.

Any time you look at polling, the best analysis compares apples to apples.  Don't compare a poll done by A to a poll done by B.  Every pollster has a different methodology that affects the results.  The best analysis is when you can compare a poll by A to an earlier poll by A.  When the comparison reveals a 10 point swing, as it does here, that is big news.

When I mentioned this over on Facebook, I was criticized for using a Fox News poll since the network is allegedly biased against President Obama.  You know what?  It doesn't matter one bit if Fox News is biased.   Unless you can say Fox News became more biased towards Obama from the first poll to the second, then the poll numbers have relevance.   That relevance is not the overall numbers, but rather the 10 point swing in Romney's direction.

While I still think President Obama is the favorite, continued bad economic news might change my view on his re-election chances.  I have long said too that he would be wise to replace Biden with Hillary Clinton as his running mate.  HC would energize a bland re-election campaign and eliminate Obama's concern with his gaffe-prone VP.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Polls Show Romney-Ryan Ticket Slowly Gaining Steam

It appears that the selection of Paul Ryan as VP has helped Mitt Romney in the polls.

A couple days after the Ryan pick on August 11th, the Real Clear Politics average of polls showed a 4.7% lead for President Barack Obama.  The RCP political barometer is now down to 1.5%.

More importantly, post-Ryan selection polls from Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Florida show the Romney-Ryan ticket leading.  While there are post-Ryan polls from those states also showing Obama leading, the fact there are any polls showing Romney ahead in those swing states is significant. 

Further, some pre-Ryan polls out of Colorado and Iowa a couple weeks ago showed Romney leading in those states, a change from previous polls in those states.

The traditional post-convention bounce should put Romney ahead nationally and in several swing states.  The Republican National Convention starts next week.  Of course, convention bounces are almost always temporary.

While my tea party and libertarian friends have pointed out some ill-advised Ryan votes, I'm thrilled to have someone on the ticket who is not only a conservative but someone with the courage to tell the American public the truth about the need to reform entitlements. I am just not convinced the American voters are ready to hear the truth and won't instead punish the messenger, i.e. the Romney-Ryan ticket.  Upon learning the news of the Ryan selection, I immediately thought of the famous line Jack Nicholson's character delivered in A Few Good Men:

Spokane Hires Frank Straub as Police Chief; City to Install "Google" on Computers Next Week

Mr. Frank Straub
Media sources are reporting that Frank Straub will be named Police Chief of Spokane, Washington this afternoon.  Straub, who has no experience working as a police officer, will assume the position after the Indianapolis City-County Council failed to confirm his appointment to another annual term as public safety director. 

In a related story, Spokane Mayor David Condon announced that "Google" would finally be installed on the city's computers next week.  Mayor Condon said, "This is great news.  Now we can research city job applicants and determine if they have something in their background we should be concerned about."

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Military Religious Freedom Group Attacks Religious Freedom in the Military

Unbelievable.  From the Indianapolis Star:
The head of the Indiana National Guard says he made a video promoting an evangelical Christian group because it helps soldiers who struggle with their marriages after coming home from war.
But a military watchdog group says Maj. Gen. R. Martin Umbarger, the Guard's adjutant general, violated military rules and the First Amendment by promoting a religious group in the 33-second video while in uniform.
Major General r. Martin Umbarger
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation, based in Albuquerque, N.M., sent a letter to the National Guard Bureau on Thursday asking that Umbarger be investigated and punished. Former Air Force attorney Mikey Weinstein founded the group, which seeks to guarantee religious freedom in the military.   
The issue, Weinstein said, is that Umbarger's message promotes one religious group over others. In the military, Weinstein says, such a show of support from a two-star general is intimidating. 
"He should be removed immediately," Weinstein told The Indianapolis Star on Monday, "and, from our perspective, court-martialed."
Umbarger made the video in September 2011 on behalf of Centurion's Watch, a Christian group based in Indianapolis that offers marriage counseling to military families. It was posted on the nonprofit's website.
The Star article goes on to quote a couple military attorneys, both with ethics background, who offer reasonable observations that he shouldn't have done the endorsement video while in uniform but it was a fairly innocuous mistake in judgment.

Then the Star article turns to Eugene R. Fidell, who teaches military law at Yale Law School.  Fidell called for Daniels to dismiss Umbarger saying that:
"Even if he had been wearing his birthday suit, I'd have a problem because he has a very limited function," Fidell said. "Everybody knows he's an adjutant general. He's not a clergyman, he's not a chaplain, he's not the head chaplain for the National Guard. It's just utterly wrong and utterly against the neutrality that a state agency should be displaying."
Obviously Fidell doesn't teach constitutional law.  A person, because of his employment, does not lose his free speech and free exercise or religion (that other religion clause in the First Amendment that people like Weinstein regularly ignore) rights.

In the 1947 Everson case, the Supreme Court rewrote the until then understood meaning of the First Amendment Establishment Clause to reflect its modern meaning - that government cannot endorse or promote a particular religion or religion over non-religion.  That clause has to be balanced with the Umbarger's rights under the Free Exercise Clause, which requires that government accommodate his religious beliefs.  Then you also have the Free Speech Clause which protects Umbarger's right to speak.

Bottom line is that Umbarger should not have done the video while in uniform because that can appear as government endorsing religion.  But Umbarger has every right to endorse whatever religious group he wants to endorse when he takes off the uniform, contrary to what some uninformed Yale law professor thinks.

Umbargers' violation deserves a slap on the wrist, certainly not court-martialing.  That someone purporting to represent "religious freedom" would take this position shows what this is really about - an attack on religious freedom.

Monday, August 20, 2012

New Leadership of the Indianapolis Star Pledges to be a "Partner" with the Community; Do Not Expect Newspaper to Return to Local Watchdog Role

Karen Crotchfelt, President and
Publisher of the Indianapolis Star
In listening to Karen Crotchfelt, publisher of the Indianapolis Star, being interviewed by Abdul of Indy Politics, it is clear she does not grasp the Star's content problem.  During the interview she talks about the Star being a "partner" with the local community, a clear indication she believes the Star's role is to continue being a cheerleader for everything local political leaders and their beneficiaries, i.e. the downtown business community, wants to do.  Of course, while it is one thing to take a pro-establishment position on the Star's editorial pages, it is quite another when the Star jettisons objectivity to slant the news to support their editorial position.  That is not quite accurate though.  Most often it is not the Star simply refusing to report facts that don't fit the newspaper's editorial position.

Want to know why the Star is getting its clock cleaned?  Let's look at what some other publications reported last week.   Local blogger Matt Stone (Indy Student) broke the news that GrowMassAve, an organization set up to promote a new tax increment financing (TIF) district for that area of the state was in fact started by Democratic activist Jennifer Wagner.  Gary Welsh (Advance Indiana) reported that Wagner is married to Gordon Hendry, who is with a local brokerage the City has designated to receive the millions of dollars in brokerage fees for development along Massachusetts's Avenue.

Instead of reporting this news, the Star produced an editorial in favor of the new TIF district and Star columnist Matt Tully said Council Democrats are "playing politics" by insisting that new rules prohibiting the abuse of TIF districts be in place before any new TIF districts, such as one on Mass Avenue, are created.

Meanwhile the IBJ broke the news that the Indiana Lottery has contracted with Oliver Wyman, a company that was behind the privatization of the Illinois lottery.  The IBJ documented extensive problems Illinois had with Oliver Wyman and published the observation from the Illinois lottery chief, "It's as if they (referring to Indiana lottery officials) didn't learn anything" from what happened in Illinois.

Speaking of the IBJ, this week's paper included at least 14 editorials from local community leaders on Federalism, health care, education reform, TIFs, and the poor advice Mayor Ballard is receiving from his advisers on recent issues before the Council.  While the IBJ embraces the presentation of alternative views on a range of national, state and local issues, the Star gives its readers wishy-washy columns by Tully and Erika Smith.  Example?  Smith's latest hard-hitting column (sarcasm intended) is titled:  "Let's keep Indy's weekends as busy as this one," a typical cheerleading, puff piece about downtown Indianapolis that you can expect from Smith on a regular basis, at least when she's not writing, ad nauseum, about bike lanes and public transportation.

If you want to know what is really going on locally, you read the IBJ, you watch stories done by local TV news reporters such as Journalist of the Year, Kara Kenney, and you read the blogs.  If you want cheerleading about local happenings, you pick up the Star.   Most people don't want cheerleading from their local newspaper. They don't want their newspapers to be "partners" with local power brokers. They want their newspaper to give them the straight, unadulterated facts, while not being afraid to step on the toes of local politicians and business leaders.  If readers don't get that from their local daily newspaper, they will continue to go elsewhere for content.   It is a shame that Indianapolis Star Publisher Karen Crotchfelt and Editor-in-Chief Jeff Taylor have not yet figured that out.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

New Mexico Supreme Court to Hear Case Holding Christian Wedding Photographer Liable for Refusing to Photograph Same Sex Commitment Ceremony

Elane Huguenin and her husband,
owners of Elaine Photography
An interesting piece of litigation is set to be heard by the New Mexico Supreme Court.  The owners of Elane Photography, citing their Christian religious and personal beliefs, refused to photograph the same sex commitment of Vanessa Willock and her partner. Willock sued Elane Photography under New Mexico's Human Rights Act which prohibits sexual orientation discrimination in public accommodations.   Willock prevailed in front of the New Mexico Human Rights Commission and was awarded $6,637.94 in attorney's fees and costs.  The decision was upheld on appeal, most recently in a decision by the New Mexico Court of Appeals on May 31, 2012.

The fact the New Mexico Supreme Court has indicated it will hear the case strongly suggests it will overturn the decision.  And rightfully so.  The case law interpreted the First Amendment's Free Exercise Clause is crystal clear that government must accommodate people's religious beliefs in its laws and regulations.  (You have a similar religious freedom provision in the New Mexico Constitution.)  Even if the New Mexico Supreme Court did not overturn the decision, I have little doubt that an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court would net an easy reversal on First Amendment grounds.  Even the most liberal justices on the Court would probably agree that the New Mexico cannot compel the owners of Elane Photography to photograph an event in violation of their religious beliefs.

The legal blog Volokh Conspiracy has written on this case several times.  Click here to view the numerous articles on the subject.

Friday, August 17, 2012

General Motors Begins Slide Toward Bankruptcy Again; Would a Second Term President Obama Do Another Bailout?

President Obama points to the General Motors bailout as a success.  What is not being reported much though is the stock price is sliding again, the government has lost a bunch of its investment (an unrealized loss thus far), and the company appears to be sliding toward bankruptcy.  Forbes reports:
President Obama is proud of his bailout of General Motors.  That’s good, because, if he wins a second term, he is probably going to have to bail GM out again. The company is once again losing market share, and it seems unable to develop products that are truly competitive in the U.S. market.
Right now, the federal government owns 500,000,000 shares of GM, or about 26% of the company. It would need to get about $53.00/share for these to break even on the bailout, but the stock closed at only $20.21/share on Tuesday. This left the government holding $10.1 billion worth of stock, and sitting on an unrealized loss of $16.4 billion.
Right now, the government’s GM stock is worth about 39% less than it was on November 17, 2010, when the company went public at $33.00/share. However, during the intervening time, the Dow Jones Industrial Average has risen by almost 20%, so GM shares have lost 49% of their value relative to the Dow.
It’s doubtful that the Obama administration would attempt to sell off the government’s massive position in GM while the stock price is falling. It would be too embarrassing politically. Accordingly, if GM shares continue to decline, it is likely that Obama would ride the stock down to zero.
The lengthy article continues, discussing how GM's cars continue to be surpassed in quality by foreign car manufacturers.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Would a Governor Pence Seize the Opportunity to Reorganize and Streamline Indiana Government?

Yesterday, I had an opportunity to attend the Indiana Leadership Forum, where Congressman and gubernatorial candidate Mike Pence was the featured speaker.  I have known Pence for a number of years.  Pence grew up in Columbus while I hailed from nearby Madison.  Our paths first crossed briefly at Hanover College.  Later we both attended law school at Indiana University School of Law at Indianapolis, he being one class ahead of me  Pence's political views became well-known by the weekly conservative cartoons he drew for the Dictum, the law school newspaper.  (Pence is a skilled cartoonist...a fact not many people know.) I was editor of the Dictum and wrote a conservative political column for that publication. 

Congressman Mike Pence
There is no doubt that Pence is a true believer when it comes to being a fiscal and social conservative.   But people who are turned off by his political views make a mistake when they also assume he's some sort of ogre, a mean SOB who want the less fortunate and non-Christians to suffer.  Pence was very well-liked by his classmates, even by the liberal students.  I found him to not only to be intelligent, but also extremely engaging and quick witted.  He knows how to use humor and self-deprecating humor in particular.

In attending the conference yesterday though I was interested in seeing what type of person Mike Pence had become since leaving law school.  Although his political career fizzled initially, Pence was eventually elected to Congress and quickly challenged more moderate Republicans.  The challenge succeeded and Pence was elected to the leadership of the U.S. House.  He played a major role in pushing the Republican caucus in the House to the right.

Being governor though is far different than being a legislator.   A governor's responsibility is to not only to set a legislative agenda and balance the books, but also to act as chief administrator of the state's bureaucracy.  While Pence has the advantage of following in the footsteps of the very popular Mitch Daniels, I thought very possibly he'd fall into the trap of simply campaigning with the promise to extend the Daniels legacy.

During his speech though Pence made it clear, that while he admired what Daniels had done in his eight years, he would be his own man and would make a priority of revolutionizing how Indiana's often unwieldy and inefficient bureaucracy operates.

That was music to my ears.  While I very much liked Governor Daniels' legislative agenda and his steadfast determination to hold the line on spending, especially on the perpetual increases in education spending, I always felt Daniels' Achilles' heel was administration and oversight of the agencies.  When Daniels turned to making state government more efficient, he naturally drifted to privatization, a reform that first became popular with conservatives in the early 1990s. Unfortunately, the last two decades have taught us the limit of privatization.  Giving a business a monopoly to provide services to the public with a long-term contract, does not result in efficiencies...a fact the Medicaid debacle proved all too well.   Not every government service is done better by the private sector, another fact proved by Medicaid privatization.  Outside of Daniels' interest in privatization, he didn't seem terribly interested in state government reorganization.  Worse yet, many of the agencies suffered from poor leadership while warnings from whistleblowers about problems at several state agencies went unheeded by the Governor's staff until they blew up onto the front page of the newspaper or the evening news.

According to a poll just released today, Pence has an 18 point lead over John Gregg.  Assuming that lead holds up, and I think it will, the Congressman turned Governor will be presented with a unique opportunity to build on Daniels' legacy by doing a comprehensive restructuring and reorganization of the state's bureaucracy.

It is a task that needs to be done.  I can give as an example, one I know best, is how Indiana regulates players in the real estate industry. As former head of Indiana's Title Insurance Division, we had to deal with a number of agencies when it came to regulating the real estate transaction.  We regulated title insurance agents and companies, though most of our work involved regulating the closing transaction.  The Attorney General regulates appraisers and real estate agents.  The Department of Local Government Finance regulates mortgage lenders.  The Secretary of State regulates mortgage brokers. Then you have federal and state law enforcement officials who might be involved if the real estate transaction involves fraud or some other crime. 

The current regulatory structure leads to horrible inefficiencies.  You often had investigatory work being duplicated, multiple files on the same matter, or the information not being shared between the agencies.  Then you had a problem of the lack of expertise.  I met with a couple new attorneys from the Secretary of State's office about an investigation of a broker who they were convinced had paired up with a title insurance agent to do something unethical if not illegal at a real estate closing.  They were very sincere in their efforts, but it was clear they just didn't have the experience necessary to understand how real estate closings in Indiana work.  In actuality what the broker and agent had done was common practice and certainly not unethical or illegal.  That scenario was repeated with law enforcement officials and prosecutors who simply don't have the experience to understand real estate enough to prosecute individuals for mortgage fraud.

This situation could be addressed by Indiana establishing a Real Estate Commission, putting the regulators of these real estate players into one agency.  That would help eliminate all the inefficiencies involved in real estate regulation.  Further, a REC would have the comprehensive expertise to offer assistance to county prosecutors wanting to go after mortgage fraud and other real estate crimes in their communities. If Indiana adopted this type of reform, it would be THE state leader in rethinking regulation of real estate.

FYI, I've written on the need for real estate reform before:
Sunday, January 4, 2009, The Forelosure Crisis; Real Estate Regulatory Reform
Saturday, November, 1, 2008, A Real Estate Regulatory Agenda for the Next Indiana Attorney General  
Sunday, October 5, 2008, Consolidating Real Estate Regulation in Indiana - Where Do the Governor and Attorney General Candidates Stand on the Issue?
Tuesday, September 16, 2008, Real Estate Reform - Why Indiana Needs It
That, of course, is only one example of possible government reorganization in a Pence administration.

For Pence to succeed as an administrator, he needs to be willing to take a different approach than his predecessor.   Part of that not only involves enlisting people with creative minds uncolored by self-interest in making a buck off state government, but also enlisting the state employee workforce a full partner in the reorgnization effort.   A Governor Pence needs to be thorough in interviewing individuals being considered for department heads and needs to insist that his staff listen to and act on the complaints of state employee whistleblowers ...and protect those individuals' jobs when they risk their jobs by blowing the whistle.

Can Pence succeed as an administrator and lead a revolutionary reorganization of Indiana state government.  I think he can. Whether he will is a story yet to be told.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Turnout Figures Since Indiana Adopted Photo ID Requirement Does Not Show "Voter Suppression" as Claimed by Democrats

In 2005, the Indiana General Assembly passed a law requiring persons to show a government-issued photo identification in order to vote.  Previously voters could cast a ballot simply by signing a name  (hopefully theirs) to the poll book.  Indiana leads the nation in adopting a photo ID requirement to vote and today the photo ID requirement is referred to as one of the most "restrictive barrier" to voting in the country.  Several states followed Indiana lead in adopting a photo ID requirement for voters, though not all required the identification be "government-issued."  Some states also provide an affidavit backup, allowing a voter who forgot the ID to cast a ballot by confirming his or her identity under oath.

While the measure received widespread popular support, Democrats continue to maintain that requiring a person to show a photo ID to vote is "voter suppression."

Now that state photo ID requirements have been in place a few years there have been a chance to study the changes.  One of the studies I looked at claims the requirement decreases turnout by 2%.  Frankly I did not buy that which led me to look at Indiana's turnout figures. 

In doing so, I compare like elections to like elections.  Presidential election years naturally have higher turnout while mid-term elections always have lower turnout.  I didn't attempt a look at municipal elections as I had state wide and county wide turnout figures most readily available.  Here is what I found:

Statewide (Presidential Election Years)
2004   58%
2008   62%

Statewide (Mid-Term Election Years)
2002 39%
2006 40%
2010 41%

The photo ID requirement was first used in the 2006 election.  It shows turnout increased in that year and the following years.

According to Democrats' claim the photo ID requirement impacts people who are impoverished the most.  So I took a look at the two counties that have the most such voters - Marion and Lake Counties.

Marion County (Presidential Election Years)
2004 54%
2008 55%

Marion County (Mid-Term Election Years)
2002 36%
2006 33%
2010 36%

Lake County (Presidential Election Years)
2004 55%
2008 71%

Lake County (Mid-Term Election Years)
2002 28%
2006 29%
2010 37%

Outside of the blip in Marion County's numbers in 2006, the numbers show turnout has stayed even or increased since the adoption of the photo ID requirement.

It should be noted that turnout numbers overall are questionable.  Here's why.  Registration figures show that most Indiana counties have over 90% of their adult population registered to vote.  Some are even over 100%.  Indiana voter rolls are filled with people who have moved (and are registered more than one place) or have passed away.  Because the number of people who vote are compared to these bloated numbers when figuring turnout, the turnout looks much lower than it actually is.

Nonetheless, if the apples are being compared to apples, this shouldn't matter.  My guess is that Indiana's photo ID requirement has eliminated some fraud, but it just was not widespread fraud. 

Given the history of the Democratic Party and what it did to African-American voters in the South, no one should know real voter suppression better than the Democrats.  Clearly the numbers do not substantiate their claim that Indiana's voter ID law is about "voter suppression."

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Law Does Not Protect Whistleblower Who Spoke to Council About Alleged Hotel Blacklisting Practices

Last night, the issue of whether to override the Mayor's veto of the blacklisting measure came before the council.  During the discussion, a Democrat council member raised the issue hotel worker Elvia Bahena being fired by contractor United Service shortly after speaking to the Council.  She claims it was in retaliation for speaking to the Council.  United Service told the Star in an article dated July 26, 2012, she wasn't fired, but rather just had not received another assignment yet.  The Hiatt, where she worked, told a different story to WISH-TV, saying that she was fired for missing too many shifts, an accusation that Bahena vehemently disputes.

Former Hiatt Worker Elvia Bahena
During the discussion, Republican Council member Bob Lutz who is both an attorney and former small claims court judge, said if Bahena was really fired for speaking to the council, she can file a wrongful termination lawsuit.

What Councilor Lutz didn't say, and perhaps he didn't know, is that she would have no chance of winning such a lawsuit.  Indiana is an at-will state. In order for her employment to be protected there would have to be a specific law shielding her from retaliation for testifying to the Council.   With very few exceptions, there is no law protecting the right of private employees to speak publicly against their employers, even when it is about a matter of a public concern.  Her  employer, United Service, can fire her for speaking to the Council.  And since Hiatt is not technically her employer, she may not be able to maintain an action against the hotel at all.

Whether Bahena qualifies for unemployment is an entirely separate matter.

Given Indiana's home rule, it is possible the Council could pass an ordinance prohibiting employers from retaliating against employees who decide to testify before the council.  That might actually work to give the employee some protection and might form the basis of a wrongful termination case should that employee later be fired for testifying to the council.  But as far as Bahena goes, she is almost certainly out of luck if she follows Lutz's suggestion and files a lawsuit.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Indy Tax Dollars Blasts Indianapolis Star's Continued Disregard of Facts Regarding City's Public Finance Policies

Fred McCarthy of Indy Tax Dollars writes some excellent articles, but this response to Matt Tully's column outlines exactly what is wrong with the Indianapolis Star and with Tully.   The problem is content. In a recent column, Editor-in-Chief Jeff Taylor failed to acknowledge any problems with the Star's content and promised (threatened?) readers that they will continue to receive the same stories under his leadership, just in a higher tech format.

Hopefully Fred won't mind my publishing his article in its entirety.  I couldn't find anything I wanted to edit out.  It is a home run from beginning to end.  Taylor needs to read it if he wants to understand why the Star continues to lose readers locally.
Star Columnist Matt Tully
We're just as tired... 
...of writing it as you are of reading it. But since it keeps happening we think public note should be made of it. 
Yes. It is the historic, ongoing, and probably the future practice of journalistic disregard of major facts when writing about this city and its public finance policies. 
Today’s column is headed, "A tough year is about to get even tougher for Ballard." The first 12 inches of a 19 inch story enumerate many of the problems facing the mayor in trying to budget for 2013. We are told of crime problems, property tax cap problems, income tax receipt problems, etc.. 
But nowhere is there mention of any questionable expenditure policies.   
There is no mention of the city building and giving away parking garages. 
There is no mention of property tax abatements and other grants and loans which have been handed out like candy canes by a department store Santa Claus. 
There is no mention of the monstrous abuse of TIF money by turning it into a slush fund to be used wherever politicians want to at the expense of ordinary and expected government programs.   
There is no mention of the commitment of nearly a billion and a half dollars in "investment" in real estate and improvements for professional sports franchises.   
There is no mention of additional direct annual subsidy in the millions of dollars for the basketball franchise.
Jeff Taylor, new Editor-in Chief
of the Indianapolis Star
Two thirds of the way into the column, we find this gem. "Remember, this is a city that has lived for years on a bare-bones budget. There is little if any fat..."   
Every one of the above "unmentionables" has been instituted with the promise that it would eventually be a financial boon to the city.
And every one of these "unmentionables" was instituted with the support of the downtown business community, the political leadership of both parties and most of the news media, specifically including the daily paper in which this column appeared.   
If this city has lived on a bare-bones budget, it has done so by the deliberate choice of the "leadership" of the city, with mis-information and half-truths providing the means of diverting tax dollars into the "unmentionables" while short changing public safety, parks, public transit and other services.   
Now there is a commission with specific recommendations concerning the establishment and operation of TIF districts which ought to be implemented immediately. But the politicians are hell-bent to start more districts - fairly obviously it would seem - before any changes can be made.    
We’re being told that, despite a 30-40 year of non-productive financial policies, we ought to dig a still deeper hole. And if we dig hard enough and fast enough, we might be lucky enough to find another "Football Game" to put into our Christmas stocking some years hence.    
A gift is not really all that pleasing when Santa has taken the money out of your bank account to begin with, leaving you unable to pay the rent. Even if Santa does tell you how great things will be by next Christmas.
Indy Tax Dollars is a blog that doesn't get a lot of attention, but it should.  It is an excellent read.

Friday, August 10, 2012

New Fox News Poll Shows Obama Up by 9 Points

President Barack Obama
There appears to, finally, be detectable movement in the national polls.  A recent Fox News Poll shows President Barack Obama leading by 9% over former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.  (That polls has a margin of error of +/- 3 points, which makes it one of the few outside the six point margin of error range.)  A CNN poll released this week shows the Obama lead at 7%.  Other bad news for Romney is that a CBS and Rasmussen poll show him trailing in Virginia.  While Obama won that state in 2008, I think it will go to Romney in 2012. However, the fact he may have to spend resources to win it is troubling for the Romney folks.  They need to put Virginia in the bag early on so the campaign can concentrate the campaign's efforts in the Midwestern battleground states.

Some good news for Romney is the Rasmussen (national) tracking poll shows him surging to 4 points ahead. Tracking polls, however, are really about detecting movement, not so much about giving an accurate picture of where the electorate stands.  Still it shows movement in Romney's favor, which doesn't seem to be showing up in other polls.  Instead of showing clear trends, the Rasmussen tracking poll has jumped back and forth for months.

I fully anticipate that Romney will trail in the national polls until the convention at which time he will move ahead with the traditional post-convention bounce.  Unfortunately for Romney, a week later the Democrats will host their own convention which also comes with a bounce for President Obama.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Independent Congressional Candidate Appeals Decision of Marion County Board of Voter Registation to Exclude Him From Ballot

Contact Person:     Paul K. Ogden, Attorney at Law, 317-297-9720 (office);

Yesterday, Rev. Mmoja Ajabu filed an appeal of the Marion County Board of Voter Registration's decision to exclude him from the ballot in his bid to win the newly-redrawn 7th Congressional District.

To recap, on March 2, 2012 Rev. Ajabu turned in over 4,700 signatures to the Marion County Board of Voter Registration (MCBVR) for review.  The MCBVR certified 1,300 of those signatures as being signatures of registered voters in the 7th Congressional District.  (A later review revealed an additional 130 or so valid signatures were missed by the MCBVR.)  When Rev. Ajabu submitted a second batch of some 4,421 signatures on June 26, 2012, the Directors of the MCBVR summarily declared that the petitions, consisting of 443 pages, contained no valid signatures whatsoever.  A review of those documents forwarded directly to the Secretary of State's Office from the MCBVR indicate that, unlike the first batch, the second batch of petitions were never reviewed by the MCBVR. 

The Directors of the MCBVR, Democrat LaDonna Freeman and Republican Susan Mowery are direct appointees of Marion County Democratic Chairman Ed Treacy and his Republican counterpart, Kyle Walker.  They serve at the pleasure of the county chairmen.

A review of the second batch petitions by Rev. Ajabu reveals they contain 2,418 signatures of registered voters in the 7th Congressional District.  A separate review by Ajabu's counsel, while not yet complete, suggests that the second batch petitions will total over 2,000 valid signatures when the review is completed.  The two batches of petitions contain far more than the 3,010 signatures required to be placed on the ballot as an independent candidate in Congressional District 7.

In speaking on the appeal, Rev. Ajabu stated:  "It is reprehensible that the Board would refuse to do their job in reviewing the petitions for valid signatures. This attempt at voter suppression to keep me off the ballot will not prosper!! I fully expect to succeed in front of the Election Commission."

 Paul K. Ogden, counsel for Rev. Ajabu, added:  "While the Marion County Board of Voter Registration has a history of letting politics intrude upon the purely ministerial job of reviewing whether signatures are of registered voters, the action the Directors have taken in this case cross ethical, and quite possibly, legal lines.  The Directors simply refused to review the signatures on Rev. Ajabu's petition in a transparent attempt to exclude him from the ballot.  I think it is very possible that the MCBVA may have been acting on the instructions of Marion County Democratic Chairman Ed Treacy when it refused to review the second batch of petitions which would have revealed Rev. Ajabu easily qualified for the ballot as an independent candidate."

Ogden has served the MCBVR with an open records requests asking for email and other written communications between the Directors (or other MCBVA employees) and the county chairmen who appoint them to their positions.  The request was served two weeks ago and the MCBVA still has not provided the requested documents. 

            **                     **                     **                     **                     **                     **

Appeals Court Previously Found Invoice Indemnfication to be Unconscionable and Unenforceable; So Why Did AG Zoeller Cave on Issue Against Best Interests of State Fair Stage Collapse Victims?

An AP story sets out the facts:
Indiana lawmakers presented their decision to offer an additional $6 million to victims of a deadly stage collapse at last year's state fair as a way to help those who weren't adequately compensated by its first settlement. But buried in the legislation was a clause protecting the state from having to pay even more. 
The clause sought by Attorney General Greg Zoeller enabled him to tie the state money to a settlement with the company that owned the stage, and thrust the state into the role of negotiator as lawsuits swirled over the Aug. 13, 2011, stage collapse at a show by country duo Sugarland.

Attorney General Greg Zoeller
The state would make $6 million available, and victims could share another $7.2 million offered by the stage owner and manufacturer if they agreed not to sue the companies.                              
"This is about putting victims first," Zoeller said in a June 22 press release announcing the combined settlement, which he said lawmakers had approved. 
What Zoeller didn't tout — and what has surprised even the bill's author — was that the enhanced settlement also was designed to shield the state from potentially paying out even more for the collapse that killed seven people and injured dozens more. 
Documents obtained this week by The Associated Press show Mid-America Sound Corp., which owned the stage, was ready to sue the state to get back any money victims won in lawsuits against the bankrupt the companies.                              
Invoices signed by fair executive director Cindy Hoye in the months after the collapse include an "indemnification" clause that requires the fair to assume all responsibility for any judgments, fines, injuries and loss of life resulting from use of the equipment and to hold the companies harmless.
Attorneys for Mid-America claim the invoices constitute binding contracts, a contention the state disputes. But after the state had already paid $5 million, and with lawmakers prepare to provide $6 million more, Zoeller decided it was better not to test that argument in court.
It's still unclear whether the settlement will stand. Zoeller's office has said a "sufficient number" of victims must accept the offer for it to go forward, but it won't say what that number is. The state has secured waivers from 51 of the 62 victims and their estates, agreeing to clear Mid-America Sound and stage manufacturer James Thomas Engineering of any wrongdoing. The companies have until Aug. 15 to decide whether that's enough for them to agree to the settlement and let the state off the hook. 
Attorneys I spoke with the past day or so were all puzzled by Zoeller's position that he had to surrender on the issue of the invoice indemnification.  When two parties have entered into a contract, especially those reviewed by attorneys on both sides, courts tend to take a very dim view of a party attempting to change the terms of that contract by slipping in clauses into other written documents that aren't going to get the same sort of scrutiny. 

Attorney Gary Welsh of Advance Indiana summed up what a lot of attorneys were thinking about Zoeller's decision to wave the white flag on the invoice indemnifications:
More shocking is Zoeller's decision to essentially reward Mid-America for what I would argue was a fraud on its part. The company should be barred from ever doing business with the state of Indiana again for pulling such a deceitful act. When a business signs a contract with the state, the terms of the contract can only be modified if agreed upon and signed by both parties. A business simply cannot tack on an indemnification clause in its invoices that wasn't included in the contract it signed with the state to shift its liability to the state, particularly when you consider the fact that the state's liability was already limited under state law by the tort claims act. Hoye could not have unilaterally increased the state's liability, even if she had intended to do so.  
As the AP article notes, Zoeller decided it was better to require victims to settle with Mid-America at the same time it was settling with the State rather than test the State's position that the invoices indemnifications do not constitute binding contract provisions.

But the issue has already come before the Indiana Court of Appeals which . came down squarely on the side the AG's position that the indemnification language in the invoices were unenforceable, the very position Zoeller now says he's afraid to assert in court.

In Maxon Corp. v. Tyler Pipe Industries, 497 N.E. 2d 570 (Ind. App. 1986), a case originating out of the Marion County Superior Court, the Indiana Court of Appeals dealt with the issue as one of first impression.  Tyler had purchased two "pre-mix blower-mixer" units from Maxon.  One of the units exploded, injuring a Tyler employee.  When the employee sued, Maxon asserted that the lengthy indemnification language included on the back of the invoice for the blower-mixer unit made Tyler financially responsible for any negligence by Maxon.

The Court of Appeals found that the indemnification language in the Maxon's invoices constituted a material alteration of the contractual relationship and therefore it would not be effective without the express approval of Tyler.  Although the Court applied provisions of the Uniform Commercial Code in its decision, it went even further finding that such clauses wouldn't be enforced for an additional reason - they are unconscionable:
When, as here, the imposition of a broad indemnification clause is attempted without the express assent of the proposed indemnitor, and when that clause is placed in relative obscurity on the back of an invoice, it is unconscionable.  Id. at 537.
While the focus is on the AG's attempt to reach settlements with the State that would waive liability for stage owner Mid-America, it should be pointed out that the AG is also asking that the victims waive their rights to pursue the stage manufacturer, James Thomas Engineering.  It is not clear whether the same or different invoice indemnity provisions may apply to JTE.  If that is the argument, you have  IC 26-2-5-1 which says such indemnity provisions are "void and unenforceable":
All provisions, clauses, covenants, or agreements contained in, collateral to, or affecting any construction or design contract except those pertaining to highway contracts, which purport to indemnify the promisee against liability for:
(1) death or bodily injury to persons;
(2) injury to property;
(3) design defects; or
(4) any other loss, damage or expense arising under either (1), (2) or (3);
from the sole negligence or willful misconduct of the promisee or the promisee's agents, servants or independent contractors who are directly responsible to the promisee, are against public policy and are void and unenforceable.
Given the Attorney General's decision to withhold facts about the State motivation for insisting that victims release from liability non-governmental parties, and given what now appears a very weak legal argument for doing so, it will be interesting to see how many victims reconsider their decision to settle.

To see the rest of the lengthy AP article, click here.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Press Release: Carlos May for Congress Names Campaign Staff

Editor's Note:  I typically publish these press releases without comment.  It is good to note though that Carlos May has hired the best media outfit east of the Mississippi - The Englehart Group.  I do not understand why campaigns go out of state to hire firms that produce commercials that aren't half as good as what Blair Englehart and his co-workers produce right here in Indianapolis


Ray Volpe, The Englehart Group

Office: 317-602-3620
Cell: 317-966-7328


INDIANAPOLIS – Carlos May, candidate for U.S. Congress in Indiana’s Seventh District, 
has solidified his campaign structure for the November 2012 election and continues to
gain national attention.

Congressional Candidate Carlos May
with Mitt Romney
Recently, May engaged The Englehart Group in the role of political communications counsel, which consists of advertising, public relations and media consultation for the campaign. In addition, May has named Kyle Babcock as his Senior Consultant to provide campaign consultation and direct his ongoing fundraising efforts. Tony Samuel will serve as the campaign’s Strategic Advisor.

“This team brings significant experience to our campaign,” said May. “Our goal is to use their expertise to help us dpread our message – that we will fight to fix our fiscal crisis and reduce our debt, protect small businesses, and restore individual liberty.”

May’s national profile continues to become more prominent, as well. On August 4, he attended a private fundraiser for presumptive presidential nominee Mitt Romney in Evansville, Indiana. During that event, May spent time with Romney, as well as with other statewide and national candidates. He also spoke with former Vice President Dan Quayle about the need for strength and diversity in the Republican Party.
There’s always a challenge when facing an entrenched and well-funded incumbent in an election. In this case, Carlos is receiving well-deserved attention, because he brings fresh ideas and a commitment to true Hoosier values to the Seventh District through his candidacy,” said Babcock. “At a time when our nation faces government intrusion into our daily lives and the imminent implementation of Obamacare, Carlos May will bring common-sense solutions to our community.”

Carlos May is the son of an Army Veteran and a graduate of Wabash College and the Thomas Jefferson School of Law. He served Indianapolis as the Director of the Mayor’s Office of Latino Affairs and a member of the Mayor’s Cabinet. He actively participates in the Helping One Student to Succeed (HOSTS) reading program and on the Board of Directors of The Boy Scouts of America. Previously, he was a member of the Board of Directors of the Beacon of Hope Center for Women. Additional information can be found at


My Diatribe for Today: We Republicans Need to Stop Defending Fiscal Irresponsibility by Mayor Ballard

I posted this over on Facebook. It proved so popular with people on the right and left, I thought I would also publish it here:
My diatribe for the day: Indy Republicans need to stop making excuses for why it was okay for the Mayor to increase salaries in his office as much as 30% while cutting back on the public safety budget. The Mayor screwed up. If a Democratic Mayor had done what Ballard did, we Republicans would be screaming at the top of our lungs and we would be right for doing so. The fact a Mayor has a Republican jersey on doesn't mean he gets a pass on acting as a responsible steward of the taxpayers' money. We Republican need to demand fiscal responsibility from all our elected officials, not just from the Democrats.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Star's New Editor Refuses to Acknowledge Problems With Newspaper; Promises More of the Same to Readers Wanting Better Content

The new editor of the Indianapolis Star, Jeff Taylor, penned a piece in Sunday's paper about what readers of the state's largest should expect:
Jeff Taylor, Editor-in-Chief, The Indianapolis Star

When I was in college, one of our journalism professors had a tradition of handing out an essay to his students each semester that reminded us of what newspaper readers expect.
They expect you to get it right, he said. All the time. They expect you to be fair and balanced. And to be watchdogs. And to tell stories, great stories, that stir the heart, that inspire the soul, that cause grumbles, that surprise and delight. They expect you to tell them about their neighborhood, their city, their state, the nation, the world. To take them behind the scenes of their favorite sports. To be a leader in the community and make it a better place. To be sure the comics are there. And the puzzles and the ads that help people find great deals. And they expect you to deliver all of this to their homes every day, dry and fresh, by the time they wake up. 
We give them all of this, he said, for less than the cost of a cup of coffee. 
The message is as true today as it was then, except now we deliver all of that content, and more, in ways we never imagined -- still on paper, yes, but also on desktops and tablets and smartphones. 
At The Indianapolis Star, we've been committed to meeting those expectations for more than 100 years. We look forward to doing the same for a long time to come as our business model evolves.
Then Taylor outlines how the paper has acted as a watchdog in the past:
You can count on finding exclusive stories with us. Our coverage of the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission, for instance, saved ratepayers hundreds of millions of dollars and led to the firing and resignations of government and business officials and the indictment of the state's top utility regulator. Our investigation into the tragic collapse of the State Fair stage rigging last year uncovered problems with inspection and permitting issues as well as failures in executing the fair's emergency plan -- all issues later confirmed by state-hired investigators. Our coverage of the state's Department of Child Services has exposed numerous incidents in which children were killed despite the agency's involvement or efforts to warn the agency.
You'll notice that Taylor never mentions the paper's role as watchdog when it comes to local, i.e. Indianapolis issues. There is a reason why.  The Indianapolis Star under the leadership of Dennis Ryerson gave up that role.  Time and time again, the Star has been scooped on local stories by the Indianapolis Business Journal, TV reporters and bloggers.  The  Indianapolis Star will not report critically on local politicians, in particular if doing so contradicts the editorial position of the Star.

The Star has opined against the state revolving door, but when it comes to the local revolving door, the Star never criticizes high level officials leaving city government to take jobs with companies doing business with the city.  Paul Okeson left from being Mayor Ballard's chief of staff to working for Keystone Construction, a company that has contributed big bucks to Mayor Ballard's campaign.  Keystone subsequently received the gift of the Broad Ripple Parking Garage built with taxpayer dollars and then simply given away to Keystone.  We taxpayers get zip in return, no money from parking, no money from commercial rents, no ownership.  Does the Star report the troubling details in the contract?  Or writean editorial criticizing the sweetheart deal?  No.

Then you have the parking meter contract. The City enters into a 50 year parking meter contract with ACS a politically-connected company that employs Council President Ryan Vaughn and the Mayor's attorney Joe Loftus as lobbyists.  The Star only mentioned Vaughn's connection in passing, as I recall, and failed to report on the details of the contract, including the details that made the 10 year out provision a farce.

And how about the Pacers $33.5 million gift from taxpayers two years ago.  Did the Star have someone analyze the contract which would have revealed that the penalty for breaking it was so large it was never a realistic threat that the Pacers could have actually moved?  Of course not.

The Star always opines in favor of Public Safety Director Frank Straub.  That's fine, but at the end of the day, the editorial position of the Star should not interfere with reporters being allowed to do their jobs, i.e. report the news.  Yet it does.  It always falls to someone else, such as TV reporters or bloggers, to report problems in public safety and Straub's leadership.

The bottom line is that under Ryerson Indianapolis Star became a cheerleader for the City, abdicating its responsibility to act as a watchdog on local politics.  When people want to the straight scoop on local politics in Indianapolis they read the IBJ, watch stories by reporters like WRTV's Kara Kenney or FOX-59's Russ McQuaid, or read blogs like Gary Welsh's Advance Indiana or Pat Andrews "Had Enough Indy?"  They will report issues that the Star will not.

I can't end this without commenting on the lack of quality political columnists at the Star.  The problem is not that Matthew Tully and Erika Smith are liberal.  I can live with that. The problem is their columns are about as interesting as watching paint dry.  They are afraid to attack any of the controversies in local government.  How many columns do we need extolling the virtues of mass transit, bike lanes or discussing how Indianapolis can "think bigger", whatever that means?  When movers and shakers want the straight scoop on what is going on in Indianapolis politics they read Welsh's Advance Indiana, they don't read Matt Tully.   If Taylor wants to know what a real newspaper columnist is like, he should go to the archives and read Dick Cady's columns.

Jeff Taylor recognizes that the Star has to find a way to adapt to modern technology.  What he fails to understand though is that the Star has a far bigger problem when it comes to content.  Instead of acknowledging that fact, he promises readers more of the same content that we received under Dennis Ryerson.  If that's his approach, the Star is doomed to failure.