Monday, June 30, 2014

Left Loses Battle in its War on Religious Freedom

Over the past few years, I have witnessed those on the left side of the political spectrum become increasingly hostile to religious freedom.   Those liberals seem to hold the position that religious freedom protected by our Constitution only applies to the right to worship at the church of one's choice.  Once a person leaves his or her place of worship, lireligious beliefs must be locked away and only brought out again during next week's services.
Barbara Green, one of the owners of Hobby Lobby

While Democrats tout a phony "War on Women" those on the left are conducting a real "War on Religion."  Today, at the United States Supreme Court, those who oppose religious freedom lost a battle in that war.

It was actually a very easy case.  The case centered on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Wikipedia has a surprisingly accurate description of the RFFA:
This law reinstated the Sherbert Test, which was set forth by Sherbert v. Verner, and Wisconsin v. Yoder, mandating that strict scrutiny be used when determining whether the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, guaranteeing religious freedom, has been violated. In the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, Congress states in its findings that a religiously neutral law can burden a religion just as much as one that was intended to interfere with religion; therefore the Act states that the “Government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability.”The law provided an exception if two conditions are both met.  First, the burden must be necessary for the “furtherance of a compelling government interest.” Under strict scrutiny, a government interest is compelling when it is more than routine and does more than simply improve government efficiency. A compelling interest relates directly with core constitutional issues.The second condition is that the rule must be the least restrictive way in which to further the government interest. The law, in conjunction with President Bill Clinton's Executive Order in 1996, provided more security for sacred sites for Native American religious rites.[3]
The law restoring religious freedom passed unanimously in the Democratically-controlled House in 1993 and nearly unanimously by the Democratically-controlled Senate. Democratic President Bill Clinton signed it into law.  It's hard to believe how much more anti-religious the Democratic rank-and-file are today compared to where the party was just 21 years ago.

The Hobby Lobby case involved the application of the RFFA to a private, family-owned, albeit incorporated, business.  The owners, members of the Green family are Mennonites whose religious belief is that life begins at conception.  Of the 20 types of birth control covered by the Affordable Care Act, four are abortifacients, methods of birth control which don't prevent contraception but rather prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the womb and growing.  The Green family members objected to the ACA requring that they pay for abortifacients in the health insurance policies they offer to their employees.
The majority opinion, written by Justice Samuel Alito, takes a very clear approach to applying the RFFA to the case at hand.  Justice Alito wrote that there is no indication that Congress intended to exclude the owners of corporations from the RFFA, then proceeded to make the conclusion that the mandate substantially burdened the Green family's religious beliefs.  Following that determination, Justice Alito applied the other two parts of the test, whether the law serves a compelling interest and whether there were less restrictive means of furthering that interest if it does exist.  Justice Allito's opinion was particularly strong in pointing out that there were a number of alternatives to the contraception mandate that Congress had made available to others, such as religious institutions and non-profits.

Unfortunately the dissenting opinion, written by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and joined by three of her left-leaning colleagues, doesn't being to match the in depth analysis of the RFFA offered by Justice Alito.  It is clear Justice Ginsburg doesn't like the outcome from a policy standpoint, but she fails to make a persuasive case that Justice Alito's dispassionate application of the RFFA to the facts at hand are incorrect.  This should have been a 9-0 or 8-1 case and the fact it was not demonstrates that politics unfortunately play a too big of a role in these cases.

Nonetheless, today was a good day for religious freedom, even if the victory was won by a narrow 5-4 vote.

City Officials Should Cease Doing Business With Legal Bully Browning

On this blog, I have written several times about SLAPP lawsuits, litigation filed usually by deep-pocketed corporations for the purpose of driving up legal costs for small litigants who dare publicly criticize those corporations.  (See links at bottom of page.)   The purpose of the lawsuit is not to win on the merits but to drive up litigation costs for the underfunded party, so much so that the party and others are intimidated into silence.

It turns out local, politically-connected developer Browning Investments isn't above such bully tactics. The Indianapolis Business Journal reports:
The developer of a $30 million apartment-and-retail project in Broad Ripple wants the development’s most vocal opponents to pay nearly $1 million in damages related to construction delays.
Browning Investments Inc. is asking that Good Earth Natural Foods and resident Patrick Skowronek pay the money for appealing the Metropolitan Development Commission’s decision to award Browning zoning variances to proceed with the project.
They lost the appeal in Marion Superior Court in March on a technicality, but are asking the Indiana Court of Appeals to overturn Superior Court Judge Michael D. Keele’s decision to dismiss the appeal.
On Wednesday, representatives of Browning Investments and opponents of the project appeared again before Keele, who admitted that Browning’s request for damages is “unique and different.”
...
The $1 million Browning Investments wants Good Earth and Skowronek to pay is an estimate of how much project costs could rise due to delays in construction, which might not start for another year depending upon how long the appeal process takes. 
Browning Investments is seeking $5.7 million of a $7.7 million city bond used to help finance the project along the Central Canal. The bonds would be paid off over time from property-tax proceeds in the North Midtown tax-increment financing district. The district, created in January 2013, includes the Browning project, which would be called Canal Pointe.
While the legal maneuver does not precisely fit the definition of a SLAPP lawsuit,  like a SLAPP lawsuit it is an attempt to use the legal process to bully someone.  All Good Earth and Skowronek is doing is using the legal process for challenging a zoning board decision.  But apparently the folks at Browning Investment believes they have an absolute right to our tax dollars for their private developments and that anyone who dares question that right or challenge it in court will be punished.  Make no mistake about it.  Bully Browning is attempting to send a message to every taxpayer in Marion County that if you get in the way of the politically-connected developer, you could find yourself in court having to at the very least paying thousands of dollars for your own defense.

There is a way of shutting down Bully Browning.  City officials, in particular members of the city county council, can simply declare that they won't approve any future tax subsidies for Browning because of the developer's tactics in bullying members of the public.  Problem solved.  Do our city officials have the guts to take such a stand for the public against a politically-connected developer?  Unfortunately, I'm not convinced they do.

See also: 

Thursday, December 13, 2012, Cooley Law School Attempts to Silence Critics with SLAPP Defamation Lawsuits


Tuesday, December 7, 2010, St. Francis Hospital SLAPP Lawsuit: Free Speech Wins Round As Hospital's Request for Emergency Injunction to Silence Critic is Denied

Saturday, November 8, 2008, Legislative Recommendation: Time for Indiana General Assembly to Slap Down SLAPP lawsuits

Friday, June 27, 2014

Soccer and the Libertarian Party

Writing in the USA Today, the only newspaper I receive (in paper form) at my Tampa hotel room, sports columnist Nancy Armour gushes with enthusiasm over American's sudden embrace of soccer:
Just as countries in Europe and South America have for decades, the USA came to a
standstill for two hours, die-hard fans and bandwagon jumpers alike glued to the American's game against Germany. 
Never mind that it was the middle of the workday. Companies rolled TVs into conference rooms and ordered in lunch.  Fans from one coast to the other packed parks, squares, streets and bars -- anywhere with a screen and a signal.   
.... 
For the first time, the USA finally - and fully is a soccer nation.
Cue to this blogger rolling his eyes in mocking disbelief.

You have to understand that I have been hearing this tired refrain since at least my first year of college, in 1979.  I was assured that Soccer was going to join the pantheon of the Big Three team sports loved by Americans: football, baseball, and basketball.  In fact, it's never done even come close to American's fourth loved sport, hockey, or even auto racing

But aren't young kids taking up the game?  Indeed they are and understandably so.  Soccer is a great participatory game.  Soccer doesn't cost much to play, scores of kids without extraordinary physical gifts can play the sport, and it is terrific exercise for kids who might otherwise spend their recreational lives playing on electronic gadgets.

Soccer is a great participatory sport, but the notion that it is going to become a great spectator sport, with millions of Americans regularly tuning in to be thrilled by 1-0 games, well that's not going to happen.  I have 35 years of experience that tells me that.

What does soccer have to do with the Libertarian Party Well, for as long as I've heard that soccer is going to become a great American spectator sport, I've been told that dissatisfaction with the Republican and Democratic politicians will cause Americans to embrace the nation's third biggest political party, the Libertarian Party.  I hear it every election and it never happens.  The Libertarians are no closer to electing people utilizing the third party strategy today than they were back in my early years of college.

That's not to say Libertarians don't bring good ideas to the table and espouse a philosophy worthy of adoption.  It's just that crafty Democratic and Republican politicians have learned that the minute a Third Party starts attracting converts based on the new party's ideas, the major parties begin adopting those ideas.  Republicans, in particular, are increasingly co-opting the Libertarian message and as a libertarian Republican I'm thankful for that.

So will this be the year when the voters finally elevate the Libertarian Party to major party status?  Sure it will be, just like this will be the year that Americans finally recognize soccer as a great spectator sport, right up there with Americans love for football, baseball and basketball.

Again, cue my eyes rolling.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Making the End of Life Decision: Why It's Not a Simple Issue

This past week the death of legendary radio host Casey Kasem brought to life the debate over the medical directive (often called a "living will") and end of life decisions. Although Kasem did have a medical directive indicating he didn't want to be kept on life support, his wife wasn't ready to give up hope while Kasem's children wanted to pull the plug.  In the end, Kasem's children prevailed in court.

Writing in the USA Today, Judy Neall Epstein, medical director; Compassion and Choices, gives the standard spiel when it comes to these matters:
The tragic legal battle between legendary radio host Casey Kasem's wife and children over his end-of-life care vividly illustrates the inescapable reality that we all need to prepare for our inevitable demise before the crisis stage so our caregivers don't experience this kind of conflict ("Kerri Kasem explains end-of-life decision for dad, Casey").

Unfortunately, completing an advance directive, as Kasem did, isn't enough. You also need to discuss your advance directive with all your immediate family members, and ensure that they all understand and accept your end-of-life wishes that are expressed in it.
In such matters, the family member wanting to continue life support is usually demonized as someone who refuses to accept reality and let death take its inevitable course. Any conflict always results in the same spiel:  Fill out the medical directive and let people know your wishes.  Then there won't be a problem.

If it were only that easy.

Casey Kasem
The fact is people on life support for weeks even months, in in what appears to be an irreversible state, sometimes recover.  Although people believe doctors know whether someone on life support is likely to recover, the fact is they often have no better idea of what will happen than the family and most steer clear of providing odds of the likely outcome.

I learned these facts few hand.  A few months ago, my brother, Jeff (I have four of them) fell off a ledge in a storage area while at work.  He landed awkwardly in the process breaking and puncturing his skull, breaking vertebrae in his neck, nearly ripping off his ear, puncturing a lung, and suffering broken ribs and other injuries.  After being on the floor unconscious and bleeding for an estimated 30 minutes, before he was discovered and rushed to a hospital.

For the next month and a half he remained virtually in a coma like unconsciousness, hooked to virtually every machine.  He couldn't breathe on his own, couldn't eat, couldn't drink, couldn't use the bathroom.  The few times he was conscious he stared out into space appearing not to recognize anyone in the room.  Because of the continued irritation of having tubes down his throat, the doctors ran a tube through his stomach to feed him and cut a trachea in his throat to give him air.  He had numerous lung collapses and bouts of pneumonia.    Doctors were continually calling my brother's wife to see if she wanted them to perform the latest medical procedure necessary to save his life.

After about six weeks of being in the intensive care unit there had been absolutely no progress.  If anything my brother had gotten worse.   My family had a conference call. The discussion touched upon the issue of continuing life support in what appeared to be a hopeless, never-improving situation.  Quality of life was also a consideration.  Even if Jeff recovered we feared with the massive blow to his head he'd be a vegetable with substantial brain damage and paralysis.  The doctors were evasive on discussing Jeff's chances and his long-term prognosis, but it seemed they were signaling that they didn't think he had much of a chance.

Within about 24 hours of that family conference, Jeff did something amazing.  He woke up and began talking, talking a lot.  His brain was functioned well, amazingly sharp after six years of little use.   Within a week of waking up, the numerous medical devices that had kept his vessel of a body alive for a month and a half were unplugged.

As of last week, Jeff has been relocated to a rehabilitation facility.  He eats, drinks, walks, and uses the bathroom on his own.  He uses the phone to call people and accept calls.  He's making such rapid progress that they are soon going to release him so he can go home.  He does not appear to have any brain damage or paralysis.  He appears to be on his way to making a full recovery.

Today marks the one month anniversary of the family conversation where we discussed at what point we should set aside what little hope we had left for Jeff's recovery and consider discontinuing life support.

The bottom line is that when it comes to whether someone who on life support is going to recover, it is not that easy to tell. That's the big issue that people fail to talk about in this end of life debate. In the end, only God knows whether people will on life support will ever recover.  For everyone else it is at best educated guesswork.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Will Council Democrats Foolishly Hand Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard an Election Issue With Rebuild Indy II?

My friend, Jon Easter, publisher of the Indy Democrat blog, on Tuesday penned an article talking about how the Indianapolis Council Democrats had won a battle with the Mayor over Greg Ballard's Rebuild Indy II proposal:
Democrats won the first battle over Mayor Greg Ballard's Rebuild Indy II plan. 
The Indianapolis Mayor announced that he had retooled the plan by knocking $50 million off of it and shortening the term of the planned bonds from 30 to 20 years. 
 Both are big steps in the right direction.  Now, I'm anxious to see what the Democrats propose. 
In my view, the biggest sticking point with the Mayor's first plan was the length of the bonds.  Park improvements, sidewalk repairs, and road and street repairs made now would not theoretically be paid off for 30 years.  If you think of how often some of those things are repaired or updated, you might be paying for something that had to be redone. 
Councillor Jeff Miller pointed out to me on Twitter that many of the projects on the Mayor's list were neighborhood projects and streets that see less travel than main thoroughfares.  Streets that typically last 20 years without improvement.

...
What Jon sees as a battlefield victory is what I see as a weakness in the Democratic caucus.  Apparently Mayor Ballard and Council Republicans think they can simply tweak the plan a bit and Democratic councilors will defect to hand the Mayor a major re-election issue.

Make no mistake about it, the Rebuild Indy II plan is as fiscally irresponsible proposal as I have ever seen.  It is embarrassing that it is being proposed by Republicans.

I wrote about the Rebuild Indy II plan back when it was introduced back in September of 2013:
Proposal 13-250, heard by the Public Works Committee, would have allowed the city to float $150,000,000 in 30 year municipal bonds "to finance certain street, road, curb and sidewalks improvements." 
In short, the measure would have allowed the City to continue its Rebuild Indy program, a massive infrastructure program began three years ago using money the City
Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard
obtained from the sale of the city's water and sewer utilities to Citizens Energy.  There is only $20 million left from the $400 million received from the sale.  As been noted on these pages before, the money the City received was not "free" money.  To pay the City's purchase price Citizens had to take out a 30 year loan.  We the public, who own Citizens Energy, have to pay that loan back. The sale was like a wife taking out a loan to buy a car from her husband, then her husband spending the money ignoring the fact that household income still has to be used to pay back the car loan. 
Back to Proposal 13-250.  $150 million would be borrowed using 30 year bonds. The money though would have to be spent in three years, no more than $50 million per year.  Public Works Director Lori Miser repeatedly insisted that under the ordinance the City could borrow as little as $135 million, which fact she for some reason seemed to believe was a key selling point but no one took seriously.  For good reason.  If there is one thing I learned about how the current administration operates it is that any loan or tax authority will be maxed out. Therefore, Pat Andrews of Had Enough Indy's excellent take on this issue, my analysis of the bonds will focus on the $150 million figure.

Under the ordinance the City is authorized to sell the $150 million in bonds to the Bond Bank for no less than 98% of par value.  That means the Bond Bank can buy the $150 million in bonds from the City for as little as $147 million.  So we lost $3 million there.
The ordinance caps the bond interest rate at 7%.  Deron Kintner, Deputy Director and counsel for the Indianapolis Bond Bank who strangely is also Deputy Mayor for Economic Development (conflict of interest anyone?), however, said the current interest rate is projected to be about 4.99%.  The ordinance caps the interest at 7%.    Kintner indicated that debt service (the monthly payment including principle and interest) on the 30 year bond would be about $9 million. 
Well, Kintner conveniently rounded that down.  The annual debt service is $9,651,792.  Over the course of 30 years, taxpayers, on the $150,000,000 bonds would have to pay back $289,553,741, i.e. that $150,000,000 bond would cost $139,553,741 in interest plus the aforementioned $3 million. 
During her PowerPoint presentation, Miser went through a number of projects that could be addressed if the Public Works Department received the money.  To further entice councilors into voting for the proposal, a longer list of possible projects were provided not all of which could be covered be addressed by the $150 million.  Some of the Democratic councilors, most notably Pam Hickman and Zach Adamson picked up on the fact that many of the projects were repaving and sidewalks, improvements that aren't going to last anywhere close to 30 years. 
Controller Jason Dudich attempted to come to the rescue saying that part of the requirement of getting the money is that any improvements have to last 30 years, which seemed to contradict Miser's emphasis on repaving projects for which the life expectancy is much shorter.  But the requirement is actually that the projects funded by the 30 year bonds only have to have an "average" life expectancy of 30 years.  Who conducts an audit to determine that the life expectancies assigned to the improvements are accurate and that the average is 30 years?  My guess is no serious audit is conducted because the City didn't seem in the least bit concerned that the list of improvements would fall short of that 30 year requirement. 
...
So the administration and Republican councilors wanted to take out a 30 year bonds, which money is to be spent in three years on improvements on road paving and sidewalks, i.e. many of which improvements won't last anywhere near 30 years. And the revenue source which is to be used to repay the 30 year loan is so uncertain that administration officials admit that another source of revenue will have to be found to pay for the borrowing.  How irresponsible can Republicans be with the taxpayers money and the future of our children and the future of Indianapolis?
While 20 years is better than 30 years, there is no way of enforcing the requirement that the improvements have an "average" life expectancy of that long.  As far as Councilor Miller's claim that many of the projects on the Mayor's list are for lightly traveled roads for which repaving could last 20 years, even if one were to assume his dubious claim that road repaving could last 20 years on virtually any road, the fact is there is nothing requiring the Mayor to pick a lightly traveled road to repave with 20 year money over a heavily traveled one.  Given the Mayor will be facing a tough re-election battle, you can bet he is going to pick the projects where there is the most traffic and he can get the most bang per buck.

Council Republicans are mortgaging the future for the Mayor's re-election bid today.  That is irresponsible and a violation of fiscal conservative principles.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Florida Governor Rick Scott Returns Rescue Dog "Reagan" Two Months After Getting Him

When I first heard about the story of Rick Scott returning to the pound his rescue dog "Reagan" a Labrador retriever he adopted shortly after winning the Florida Governor's Office in 2010, I thought it had to be made up.  After all, who would be not only that cruel, but that politically dumb?

Inevitably questions would come out about the dog and the Scott people would have to explain his disappearance.  There are a lot of Republicans and conservatives who have dogs and such treatment of a canine would undoubtedly not play well with many in Scott's base.

Turns out the story is mostly correct.

"Reagan"
The Scott people tried to duck questions about what happened to the dog who had seemed to have disappeared..  Scott finally admitted in an interview with a Tampa Bay Times reporter that two months after he adopted the "rescue dog" he returned him to the previous owner.  According to a report in the newspaper, which story was re-reported in the New York Daily News:
Reagan "scared the living daylights" out of people, Scott told the Times. Photographer Eric Tournay was taken aback whenever the dog "barked like crazy" every time he saw the camera, the governor said.
According to the article, Reagan was returned to the prior owner and is now living out his days at All Pets Grooming and Boarding in Naples, Florida.

So Reagan wasn't returned to the pound.  But he was returned to the previous owner, which begs the question whether it was truly a rescue animal to begin with.  Nobody asked that question apparently.  Also, no one apparently has obtained a picture of Reagan at his new living facility so the media is just taking Governor Scott's word about what happened. 

By the way, Governor Scott has a new "rescue" Labrador retriever, a 7 year old dog named "Tallee."

Note:  I'd like to link directly to the Tampa Bay Times article but it is not opening well on my computer so I linked to the New York Daily News article instead.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Establishment Loses Another One As House Majority Leader Eric Cantor Goes Down to Defeat

Just weeks after being declared for dead, Tea Party Republicans pull off another victory, this time a stunner as Republican Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Virginia) lost 56-44 to college economics professor Dave Brat.

Cantor outraised his opponent $5,447,290 to $206,663.  The congressman reported spending more at steakhouses than Brant spent on his campaign.

An internal poll had shown Cantor with a 62-28 lead in late May.  Just eight days before the election Cantor's lead had shrunk to 52-40.

It appears that Cantor's mixed support for immigration reform, labeled as "amnesty" by opponents, played a role in his defeat.  But that may be overblown.  On the same day that Cantor was losing, another immigration reform supporter, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) was cruising to re-election.  Further, Cantor support by immigration reform group was tepid at best.  The on-line political publication The Daily Beast reports:
The pro-immigration reform group America's Voice went out of its way to distance itself from Cantor. Frank Sperry, the group's executive director said," Let’s be clear: Eric Cantor was no friend of immigration reform.  He’s been the main person in the House blocking a vote on citizenship, and he proudly campaigned on his opposition to reform . . .Cantor has always seemed more interested in his own rise to House speaker than in tending to his district.  It appears the primary voters decided he was out of touch.
The Daily Beast reports on one eyewitnesses opinion on what lead to Cantor's stunning loss:
One Virginia Republican familiar with the race suggested that Cantor's loss was due to "a perfect storm" brought about by the fact that Cantor seemed to be schooled in "the George Armstrong Custer school of tactics as opposed to Sung Tzu school." The Republican suggested that while immigration was a factor, the bigger issues were internal party politics. As opposed to other Virginia Republicans in Congress, Cantor didn't show the most basic respect to Tea Partiers in his district. It wasn't about Cantor's votes but rather that he didn't even show up to explain himself and get yelled at. If the Majority Leader, who was the only Jewish Republican on Capitol Hill, had paid more attention to the words of Woody Allen, who said "80 percent of life is showing up," he would be in much better political shape.
It appears that Cantor simply had a tin ear for the increasing populism within the Republican Party.  Simply catering to corporate America and getting a 100% rating from the Chamber of Commerce is not enough to ensure a Republican nomination anymore.  You have to actually listen to working men and women in your district.  And that's a good thing.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Indianapolis Star Shreds Journalistic Integrity, Accepts Benefit of $5.5 Million from City Officials to Make Its Property More Valuable

Being down in Tampa for the summer (oh why couldn't this job assignment come during the middle of last winter?), I tend to miss things.  One story though I that initially escaped my attention that I would like to come back to though was one which appears to only be covered by Pat Andrews of Had Enough Indy.  More on that in a second.

For years, I've been astonished by the Indianapolis Star's flat-out to refusal to do investigative pieces on local government or to pen any articles, for that matter, critical of city officials.  The Star had no trouble sending its reporters down Market Street to write the occasional slam piece on state executive and legislative officials, but when it came to the City, well, the Star's readers have been given nothing.   Good examples are the issue of conflicts of interests and the revolving door.  The Star has no problem savaging legislators who are taken out for meals by legislators or those executive officials who leave state employment to take jobs  with government contractors.  Yet the Star has remained silent when government contractors wanting lucrative city contracts donate tens of thousands of dollars to the Ballard administration.   And what of administration officials who leave Indianapolis city government and go to work for those same contractors?  Has the Star ever report critically on Paul Okeson leaving the Mayor's Office to become a top executive official with Keystone Construction whose job is to get more money and contracts from the City?  No, the Star has remained silent while some of the worst abuses take place just a few hundred feet away from its offices.

Speaking of those Pennsylvania Street offices that the Star owns which are being abandoning in favor of Circle Centre Mall, well it looks like the newspaper is getting the benefit of a bunch of taxpayer money that will improve the area and make the Star's real estate much more valuable prior to any future sale.  And who decided to do this for the Star.  Well the Ballard administration, the same administration that the Star refuses to write critical articles about.  Pat Andrews reports:
Resolution 2014-B-002 goes to the MDC for a vote Wednesday. (Note:  This was last Wednesday.  Not sure if it passed but given how stacked the MDC is with mayoral appointments, I'm sure that it did.) 
This resolution would float $5.5 Million in bonds as taxpayer investment in two projects - the "Pulliam Place" and "Millikan-On-Mass" projects.
The Pulliam Place project will take about $3 M of the money.  The agreement was worked out an unknown number of months ago, and has been wending its way through the MDC system - first being discussed at the Economic Development Committee meeting in early May, and then again by all of the Commissioners at their May 21 pre-meeting.

During this time, the Star failed to inform readers of its many editorials and opinion pieces that the deal was pending, a clear violation of the Code of Ethics as expressed by the Society of Professional Journalists.  Under "Act Independently", the third item on its Code of Ethics webpage, the SPJ says in part:
Journalists should be free of obligation to any interest other than the public's right to know.
Journalists should:
—Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived.
— Remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility.
— Refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment, and shun secondary employment, political involvement, public office and service in community organizations if they compromise journalistic integrity.
— Disclose unavoidable conflicts.
The Ballard Administration gift of taxpayer money would be repaid by revenues of the Consolidated Downtown TIF. 
And what do you get for your gift?
 Some vaguely described improvements to N. Talbot, E. New York, and E. Vermont Streets, a dog park, and improvements of the existing Star building parking garage.
And how does this benefit you, the taxpayer?
Why the Pulliam Project is anticipated to create 49 new full-time jobs by mid-2017.  There is no mention in the resolution of the average salary of those positions.  And, there is no requirement that this number be reached.  That works out to a taxpayer investment of over $61,000 per job.  Of course the sales price of the Star building will rise concomitantly with the taxpayer gift.  One would also expect the time to sale would shorten with this sweetener, as well.   
....
There taxpayers who pay attention to such things, are familiar with the extravagant accumulation of TIF funds and equally extravagant expenditure of the same, all while elected officials, including Mayor Ballard, seek tax increases to pay for basic services.  This one is different in that it calls into question the independence and integrity of the Indianapolis Star
Pat also points out the absurdity of the part of the resolution which suggests an independent review of the worthiness of the project would be done by the Bond Bank.  The Bond Bank  is headed by a Ballard appointee  Deron "If My Lips are Moving I'm Lying" Kintner who was undoubtedly involved in the project to begin with.

The Indianapolis Star appears to have completely compromised its journalistic integrity and not a word from fellow journalists on the subject.  I can understand the Star not writing critically of itself, but what of the other media outlets?

I guess it is not surprising that the Star continues to lose readers.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Assessing the Stunning Upset in the Indiana Treasurer's Race

I am still in shock over what happened at the Indiana Republican Convention this weekend.  No not the vote on the marriage amendment, which was merely a vote to preserve the status quo, and no not the comments by outgoing Treasurer Richard Mourdock which have been deliberately spun to cast a meaning the man never intended.  If any other speaker would have made those comments, it would have been simply treated as an interesting way to illustrate our increasing loss of liberties in this country. But it was Mourdock and some people can't help themselves. They get their jollies out of kicking political corpses.

The real story at the convention was the stunning upset by Kelly Mitchell, the dark horse candidate who currently works in the Treasurer's Office.  While the focus was on the two major candidates in the race, Marion Mayor Wayne Seybold and Richmond financial advisor Don Bates, Mitchell was gaining support.  Seybold had been ripped in the press for his handling of financial affairs in Marion and Bates had been ripped by Seybold surrogates who willing manufactured supposed personal failings to try to cast Bates as being unqualified.  While the Seybold people did drag down Bates, they forgot about Mitchell who benefitted from Bates demise and the fact that 2/3 of the convention goers did not want Seybold.

Seybold, the establishment candidate, who had the support of every key insider in Indiana Republican politics.  He proudly pronounced on his website that his two chairmen were establishment political operatives Bob Grand and Dan Duzemich.  But Seybold has a tin ear for politics.  He did not understand that Grand and Duzemich are disliked by many party regulars and their role in his campaign would have been better off left in the background, not paraded out to mainstream Republicans as a badge of honor - it wasn't.   Despite the overwhelming money advantage Seybold had, he failed to appeal to average Republican party workers.

This race illustrates that there are three major divisions in Indiana politics.  First, you have the Establishment.  The Establishment is loaded with money, but has little popular support.  They claim to be fiscally conservative, but they are anything but.  They believe that the purpose of government is to pick winners and losers in our economic system and if that means raising taxes on working men and women to hand out more business subsidies, so be it.  Think Chamber of Commerce Republicans.

The second group is the Evangicals. Their big issues are social issues.  Same sex marriage, abortion, etc.  They may or may not be fiscal conservatives, but they are definitely socially conservative.  They are a huge group in the Republican Party.

The third group is Tea Party Republicans.  These people are fiscally conservative, populists with a strongly libertarian bent.  They strongly oppose corporate welfare and bigger, more intrusive government. 

The Evangicals and Tea Party Republicans have one thing in common - they detest Establishment Republicans.  What happened Saturday, with Bates damaged, a coalition of Evangicals and Tea Party Republicans simply lined up behind Kelly Mitchell.  It didn't hurt that she was very well organized and a strong, albeit underfunded, candidate.

The convention should send a message to Indiana Republican candidates.  GOP candidates need to have an appeal to the Evangicals and Tea Party folks or they may not have a political future.  As Governor Mike Pence drifts away from his base of Evangical and Tea Party supporters and more toward the Establishment, people like Bob Grand, you wonder if the message of Saturday's convention got through to him.  Pence should easily win renomination in 2016.  But it will be hard for Pence to win the general election without the enthusiastic support of Evangicals and the Tea Party.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

The Choice for the Republican Nomination for Indiana Treasurer? - Certainly NOT Marion Mayor Wayne Seybold

Marion Mayor Wayne Seybold
Republicans around the state have gathered in Fort Wayne (out of habit I started to type "Indianapolis") this weekend to holder their semi-annual state convention.  This convention has two major issues before it - whether to keep in the platform support for an amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman and the nomination of candidates for state treasurer.

Three candidates are running:  Marion Mayor and former Olympic gold medalist ice skater Wayne Seybold is seeking the nomination as is Richmond financial adviser Don Bates, Jr. and Kelly Mitchell, a top staffer in the Treasurer's Office.  Most of the people I know and respect in Republican politics support Bates.  The "issues" the Seybold people have tossed at Bates as disqualifying are as phony as a $3 bill.  This included the claim when one media person declared that Bates' had undergone a "criminal investigation" with respect to matters relating to a civil lawsuit involving Bates' church because the prosecutor had looked at it and said there was no criminal laws broken.
The only legitimate conclusion that can be culled from the Bates' stories is that the man has had some financial problems.  Given the news is filled with financial advisers who use their position to rip off their customers and make themselves fabulously wealthy, it's refreshing to meet a who clearly has not done that.  Bates is clearly an honest financial adviser and that is exactly what we need overseeing the Treasurer's Office

I can't say anything bad about Kelly Mitchell, who works in the Treasurer's Office as Director of the Local Government Investment Pool.   Some of my friends whose politics I trust wholeheartedly support her.  But I think much of that is because they assume there is legitimate concern about Bates, when there is not.  Mitchell may be a good candidate, but most people think the race is between Seybold and Bates.

Don Bates
Seybold's time as Mayor has left major concerns about his administrative judgment, his tin ear when it comes to conflicts of interest and the sharks who will likely have an open door to the taxpayers money if he is elected treasurer.  Gary Welsh of Advance Indiana has done a great job of following Seybold's troubling and conflict-ridden mayoral moves, which stories were originally detailed by the Marion Chronicle-Tribune.  From a May 26, 2014 Advance Indiana article written by Welsh:
The Marion Chronicle-Tribune exposes more transactions involving the use of tax increment finance district funds by the city that benefited businesses owned by the business partner of Mayor Wayne Seybold, who is seeking nomination at next month's state GOP convention for the office of state treasurer. In the latest disclosure, the Chronicle Tribune reveals two transactions where loans backed by TIF district revenues were made to two businesses, Western Place and Active Properties, both owned by Jim Swan. According to the newspaper report, Swan co-owns with Seybold a portable ice rink company, Ice Rinks 2 Go. Swan is also a member of the city's Board of Public Works and Safety, whose board members are appointed by the mayor. 
In December, 2008, city officials approved the use of $1 million in TIF loan proceeds for Western Place to make improvements to retail property that was later used for Moe's Southwest Grill and Culver's frozen custard franchise. The restaurant franchise is a partnership involving Swan and several other partners, while the Culver's is owned by Swan and another immediate family member.... 
The Chronicle-Tribune reports that although the original bond documents listed Swan's companies as the borrower responsible for repayment of the loan proceeds, the documents approved by the city's Redevelopment Commission, most of whose members are appointed by the mayor, pledged TIF revenues to repay the borrowed amounts. Swan's companies were only expected to repay loan proceeds to the extent TIF funds were inadequate to repay the bond debt. Swan defended the investment of the city's TIF funds in his businesses, noting their use for out-of-town interests. "If we're giving increment to people coming from out of town," he said, "I need that competitive (edge)." 
The newspaper previously reported that Marion officials had provided $2.5 million in funding to a Korean businessman, Michael An, to redevelop a former YMCA building for a mixed use. Mayor Seybold's brother worked for a company that An established to redevelop the building. The City's building commissioner, Larry Oradat, also owned a construction company that performed work on the building. An's project later failed to come to fruition, and his property was ordered sold at a sheriff's sale after he failed to pay taxes on it. Oradat's construction company has filed a lawsuit against An's company for money it claims it is owed for construction work it performed on the building. The Chronicle-Tribune previously reported that city officials refinanced the debt owed on the YMCA project as part of a larger bond issue and relieved him of all liability for the $2.5 million in loan proceeds provided to him for his project. Marion city officials were unable to account for how over $2 million in bond proceeds issued to An were spent. 
It turns out that the bond refinancing deal in 2009 for An's debt also included a refinancing of the prior bond proceeds that benefitted Swan's projects. Like An, Swan's businesses were released from any liability for repayment of the debt as part of the bonds issued to refinance the old debt. Swan told the newspaper that he was unaware that the debt had ben paid off until he got a letter saying that it was done to obtain a better interest rate for the city. The Chronicle-Tribune cites city council meeting minutes where the city's attorney, Barnes & Thornburg's Bruce Donaldson, had assured council members otherwise. "The city would not have any liability on it," Donaldson told council members at the time the TIF funds were approved in 2008 for Swan's Western Place. "If that (TIF) doesn't generate enough to pay them, then the company would be on the hook for the difference."
Kelly Mitchell
Unlike Bates, Seybold's travails are directly related to work he did as a public official.  Seybold has demonstrated beyond doubt he has no concept of conflicts of interest and is more than willing to use the public's money to make his friends wealthy.   Don't think for a second that Seybold's mistakes as Marion Mayor has caused him to reconsider the character and motives of those he surrounds himself with.  One of Seybold's campaign chairs is Barnes & Thornburg partner, Bob Grand, who has made a fortune off of getting politicians to hire his law firm for overpriced, often shoddy legal work.  Grand's secret to continuing getting legal work for his firm?  He kicks back part of those legal fees to the politicians in the form of campaign contributions which then, of course, leads to more legal work.  It's how pay-to-play operates in the legal world.  Grand doesn't contribute money to candidates.  He buys them and ones that allow themselves to be bought by Grand will undoubtedly do his bidding if elected.

Seybold's other campaign chair is Dan Dumezich, a Schererville (Lake County) Republican attorney who has practiced in Chicago and was a big supporter of former Senator Richard Lugar.  While I've heard bad things about him, I haven't witnessed first hand his antics like I have Grand's.

While the obvious choice today for Treasurer is Don Bates, I fear the decision within a couple hours will be Wayne Seybold.  It's hard to beat insiders, especially at a convention. Nonetheless, if Seybold does get the nomination, expect that will be the race the Democrats target to win in 2014.  Seybold's substantial baggage could actually cause a Democrat to win that office.